Factbox: Countries evacuating nationals from China coronavirus areas

(Reuters) – A growing number of countries around the world are evacuating or planning to evacuate diplomatic staff and citizens from parts of China hit by the new coronavirus.

Following are some countries’ evacuation plans, and how they aim to manage the health risk from those who are returning.

– Canada, after evacuating 215 last week, flew back 185 Canadians from Wuhan on Feb. 11. All evacuees will be quarantined on the Trenton, Ontario base for two weeks.

– Ukraine is preparing to evacuate its citizens from Wuhan on Feb. 11 by special charter plane to Kiev, the country’s embassy in China said on Feb. 10. Returning citizens would be put into mandatory quarantine for two weeks.

– A second evacuation flight is bringing back another 174 Singaporeans and their family members from Wuhan to the city-state on Feb. 9, Singapore’s foreign ministry said.

– Thirty Filipinos returned to the Philippines on Feb. 9 from Wuhan, the Department of Foreign Affairs said. The returning passengers and a 10-member government team will be quarantined for 14 days.

– Britain’s final evacuation flight from Wuhan, carrying more than 200 people, landed at a Royal Air Force base in central England on Feb. 9. A plane carrying 83 British and 27 European Union nationals from Wuhan landed in Britain last week.

– Two planes with about 300 passengers, mostly U.S. citizens, took off from Wuhan on Feb. 6 bound for the United States – the third group of evacuees from the heart of the coronavirus outbreak, the U.S. State Department said.

– Uzbekistan has evacuated 251 people from China and quarantined them on arrival in Tashkent, the Central Asian nation’s state airline said on Feb. 6.

– A plane load of New Zealanders, Australians and Pacific Islanders evacuated from Wuhan arrived in Auckland, New Zealand on Feb. 5, officials said.

– Taiwan has evacuated the first batch of an estimated 500 Taiwanese stranded in Wuhan.

– The 34 Brazilians evacuated from Wuhan landed in Brazil on Feb. 9, where they will begin 18 days of quarantine.

– Italy flew back 56 nationals from Wuhan to Rome on Feb. 3. The group will spend two weeks in quarantine in a military hospital, the government said.

– Saudi Arabia has evacuated 10 students from Wuhan, Saudi state television reported on Feb. 2.

– Indonesia’s government flew 243 Indonesians from Hubei on Feb. 2 and placed them under quarantine at a military base on an island northwest of Borneo.

– South Korea flew 368 people home on a charter flight that arrived on Jan. 31. A second chartered flight departed Seoul for Wuhan on Jan. 31, with plans to evacuate around 350 more South Korean citizens.

– Japan chartered a third flight to repatriate Japanese people, which arrived from Wuhan on Jan. 31, bringing the number of repatriated nationals to 565.

– Kazakhstan, which previously evacuated 83 people from Wuhan, will send two planes to China on Feb. 10 and Feb. 12 to evacuate its citizens. Out of 719 Kazakhs remaining in China, 391 have asked to be repatriated.

– Spain’s government is working with China and the European Union to repatriate its nationals.

– Russia said it would begin moving its citizens out of China via its Far Eastern region on Feb. 1, regional authorities said. It plans to evacuate more than 600 Russian citizens currently in Hubei, Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova said. A first Russian military plane took off on Feb. 4 to evacuate Russian citizens from Wuhan, the RIA news agency reported.

– The Netherlands is preparing the voluntary evacuation of 20 Dutch nationals and their families from Hubei, Foreign Minister Stef Blok said. The Netherlands is finalising arrangements with EU partners and Chinese authorities.

– France has evacuated some nationals from Wuhan and said it would place the passengers in quarantine. It said it would first evacuate nationals without symptoms and then those showing symptoms at a later, unspecified date.

– Swiss authorities said they hope to have about 10 citizens join the French evacuation of nationals from China.

– A plane brought 138 Thai nationals home from Wuhan last week. They will spend two weeks in quarantine.

(Compiled by Aditya Soni and Milla Nissi; Editing by Susan Fenton)

States sue U.S. over the census, fight against reporting if citizen

FILE PHOTO: An attendee holds her new country's flag and her naturalization papers as she is sworn in during a U.S. citizenship ceremony in Los Angeles, U.S., July 18, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A group of U.S. states on Tuesday filed a lawsuit to stop the Trump Administration from asking people filling out their 2020 census forms whether they are citizens.

The lawsuit was filed in Manhattan federal court, and challenged the U.S. Department of Commerce’s alleged “unconstitutional and arbitrary decision” to add the citizenship question.

All U.S. residents are required under the U.S. Constitution to be counted every 10 years. The results are used to draw political boundaries, and allocate hundreds of billions of dollars of funding.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Turkey says citizens traveling to United States face risk of arbitrary arrest

Turkish demonstrators rally against the coup attempt in Turkey at the White House in Washington, U.S., July 17, 2016.

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey has warned its citizens against travel to the United States, saying Turks face the risk of arbitrary arrest and should take precautions if they do decide to travel.

The comments from the Turkish Foreign Ministry come after the U.S. Department of State this week made a similar warning to its citizens, saying Americans planning to visit Turkey should reconsider plans due to “terrorism and arbitrary detentions”.

Ties between Ankara and Washington, both NATO allies and members of the coalition against Islamic State, have been strained by the U.S. arrest and conviction of a Turkish banker in an Iran sanctions-busting case, a trial Turkey has dismissed as politically motivated.

“Turkish citizens traveling to the United States may be subjected to arbitrary detentions based on testimonies of unrespected sources,” the ministry said in a statement dated Thursday.

Ankara has said that the case against the banker was based on false evidence and supported by the network of the cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom it blames for orchestrating a failed coup in 2016. Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in the United States since 1999, has denied the charges and condemned the coup.

Speaking to reporters after Friday prayers, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the reciprocal travel warnings did not help the strained ties between Ankara and Washington.

“The ‘Turkey is not a safe country’ statement does not benefit ties between the two countries,” Yildirim said.

The travel warning updates come after the United States and Turkey lifted all visa restrictions against each other in late December, ending a months-long dispute that began when Washington suspended visa services at its Turkish missions after two local employees of the U.S. consulate were detained on suspicion of links to the coup.

(Reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by David Dolan)

With Islamic State gone, East Mosul residents face uncertain future

library of University of Mosul that was burned and destoryed by ISIS

By Michael Georgy

MOSUL (Reuters) – When Islamic State militants swept into Mosul in 2014, they wandered into Manaf Younes’ billiards hall and declared it un-Islamic, taking away his billiard balls with a stern warning.

A hall that was often packed with players until midnight was suddenly abandoned. Photographs of awards that made Younes proud gathered dust for two years and the billiard tables remained covered up.

Iraqi government forces have now pushed the militants out of east Mosul and are poised to attack the west. While Younes is thrilled, like many other small businessmen in the city, his joy is tempered by uncertainty as he tries to revive his former life.

Islamic State imposed a radical version of Islam in Mosul after establishing the country’s second biggest city as its de facto capital: banning cigarettes, televisions and radios, and forcing men to grow beards and women to cover from head to toe.

“I am broke. I had to sell my two cars to survive. Now my landlord is demanding two years of back rent,” said Younes, picking up a trophy that reminded him of the old days.

He frowned at explosions in the distance, where Iraqi forces and jihadists are exchanging fire along the Tigris River that bisects the sprawling metropolis, once a trade hub and center for higher learning.

“These explosions hurt the business. They shake the billiard tables and make them imbalanced,” he said.

The fighting has already caused widespread destruction.

U.S.-led airstrikes have demolished scores of buildings and left huge craters that destroyed roads. Rooftops have collapsed into the bottom floors. Other buildings have gaping holes from rockets or machinegun fire.

Mortar bombs still land in the city and gunfire is heard.

Across from Younes’ billiard hall stands what’s left of Mosul University, once one of the finest education institutions in the Middle East.

Islamic State sold the university’s ancient manuscripts and imposed its own form of education, banning philosophy books. When the army arrived, the jihadists burned down many of its buildings, leaving piles of ashes.

A few pages of textbooks on hematology and diffusion were scattered on floors cluttered with debris. Upstairs in the cafeteria were blackened tables and chairs, below huge holes from airstrikes.

A few bakers and restaurant owners in the neighborhood stood mostly idle.

They too recalled hardships under Islamic State rule.

The militants and their wives would show up clutching AK-47 assault rifles and jump to the front of queues, demanding discounts, they said.

One restaurant owner, Qusay Ahmed, said he was dragged away to an Islamic State jail and tortured for four months after militants accused him of stealing.

“They ripped my toenails off with pliers,” he said.

The torturers may be gone, but there are new challenges.

He and other restaurant owners have no potable water and scarce electricity, and hardly any customers.

(Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

A billiard table covered in plastic sheeting and dust stands in an empty billiard hall which was closed by Islamic State militants, in the city of Mosul, Iraq January 30, 2017. Picture taken January 30, 2017. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

Exclusive: Assad linked to Syrian chemical attacks for first time

women affected by chemical weapon attack in Syria

By Anthony Deutsch

(Reuters) – International investigators have said for the first time that they suspect President Bashar al-Assad and his brother are responsible for the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict, according to a document seen by Reuters.

A joint inquiry for the United Nations and global watchdog the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had previously identified only military units and did not name any commanders or officials.

Now a list has been produced of individuals whom the investigators have linked to a series of chlorine bomb attacks in 2014-15 – including Assad, his younger brother Maher and other high-ranking figures – indicating the decision to use toxic weapons came from the very top, according to a source familiar with the inquiry.

The Assads could not be reached for comment but a Syrian government official said accusations that government forces had used chemical weapons had “no basis in truth”. The government has repeatedly denied using such weapons during the civil war, which is almost six years old, saying all the attacks highlighted by the inquiry were the work of rebels or the Islamic State militant group.

The list, which has been seen by Reuters but has not been made public, was based on a combination of evidence compiled by the U.N.-OPCW team in Syria and information from Western and regional intelligence agencies, according to the source, who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue.

Reuters was unable to independently review the evidence or to verify it.

The U.N.-OPCW inquiry – known as the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) – is led by a panel of three independent experts, supported by a team of technical and administrative staff. It is mandated by the U.N. Security Council to identify individuals and organizations responsible for chemical attacks in Syria.

Virginia Gamba, the head of the Joint Investigative Mechanism, denied any list of individual suspects had yet been compiled by the inquiry.

“There are no … identification of individuals being considered at this time,” she told Reuters by email.

The use of chemical weapons is banned under international law and could constitute a war crime. (For graphic on chemical attacks in Syria, click http://tmsnrt.rs/2cukvFr)

While the inquiry has no judicial powers, any naming of suspects could lead to their prosecution. Syria is not a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC), but alleged war crimes could be referred to the court by the Security Council – although splits among global powers over the war make this a distant prospect at present.

“The ICC is concerned about any country where crimes are reported to be committed,” a spokesman for the court said when asked for comment. “Unless Syria accepts the ICC jurisdiction, the only way that (the) ICC would have jurisdiction over the situation would be through a referral by the Security Council.”

The list seen by Reuters could form the basis for the inquiry team’s investigations this year, according to the source. It is unclear whether the United Nations or OPCW will publish the list separately.

‘HIGHEST LEVELS’

The list identifies 15 people “to be scrutinized in relation to use of CW (chemical weapons) by Syrian Arab Republic Armed Forces in 2014 and 2015”. It does not specify what role they are suspected of playing, but lists their titles.

It is split into three sections. The first, titled “Inner Circle President” lists six people including Assad, his brother who commands the elite 4th Armoured Division, the defense minister and the head of military intelligence.

The second section names the air force chief as well as four commanders of air force divisions. They include the heads of the 22nd Air Force Division and the 63rd Helicopter Brigade, units that the inquiry has previously said dropped chlorine bombs.

The third part of the list – “Other relevant Senior Mil Personnel” – names two colonels and two major-generals.

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, an independent specialist in biological and chemical weapons who monitors Syria, told Reuters the list reflected the military chain of command.

“The decisions would be made at the highest levels initially and then delegated down. Hence the first use would need to be authorized by Assad,” said de Bretton-Gordon, a former commander of British and NATO chemical and biological defense divisions who frequently visits Syria for professional consultancy work.

The Syrian defense ministry and air force could not be reached for comment.

CHLORINE BARREL BOMBS

Syria joined the international Chemical Weapons Convention under a U.S.-Russian deal that followed the deaths of hundreds of civilians in a sarin gas attack in Ghouta on the outskirts of Damascus in August 2013.

It was the deadliest use of chemicals in global warfare since the 1988 Halabja massacre at the end of the Iran-Iraq war, which killed at least 5,000 people in Iraqi Kurdistan.

The Syrian government, which denied its forces were behind the Ghouta attack, also agreed to hand over its declared stockpile of 1,300 tonnes of toxic weaponry and dismantle its chemical weapons program under international supervision.

The United Nations and OPCW have been investigating whether Damascus is adhering to its commitments under the agreement, which averted the threat of U.S.-led military intervention.

The bodies appointed the panel of experts to conduct the inquiry, and its mandate runs until November. The panel published a report in October last year which said Syrian government forces used chemical weapons at least three times in 2014-2015 and that Islamic State used mustard gas in 2015.

The October report identified Syria’s 22nd Air Force Division and 63rd Helicopter Brigade as having dropped chlorine bombs and said people “with effective control in the military units … must be held accountable”.

The source familiar with the inquiry said the October report had clearly established the institutions responsible and that the next step was to go after the individuals.

Washington on Thursday blacklisted 18 senior Syrian officials based on the U.N.-OPCW inquiry’s October report – some of whom also appear on the list seen by Reuters – but not Assad or his brother.

The issue of chemical weapons use in Syria has become a deeply political one, and the U.N.-OPCW inquiry’s allegations of chlorine bomb attacks by government forces have split the U.N. Security Council’s veto-wielding members.

The United States, Britain and France have called for sanctions against Syria, while Assad’s ally Russia has said the evidence presented is insufficient to justify such measures.

A Security Council resolution would be required to bring Assad and other senior Syrian officials before the International Criminal Court for any possible war crimes prosecution – something Russia would likely block.

(Additional reporting by Ellen Francis in Beirut; Editing by Pravin Char)

Iran sentences two U.S. citizens to 10 years in prison

Family handout picture of Iranian-American consultant Siamak Namazi with his father Baquer Namazi

By Bozorgmehr Sharafedin and Yeganeh Torbati

DUBAI/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – An Iranian court has sentenced an Iranian-American businessman and his elderly father to 10 years in prison on charges of cooperating with the United States, the Iranian judiciary’s official news website reported on Tuesday.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps detained Siamak Namazi, a businessman with dual U.S.-Iranian citizenship in his mid-40s, in October 2015, while he was visiting family in Tehran. The IRGC arrested his father, Baquer Namazi, 80, a former UNICEF official and also a dual citizen, in February.

Both men have been sentenced to 10 years in prison “for cooperating with the hostile government of America,” the Mizan website said, citing “an informed source.” It did not specify when exactly the sentences had been handed down.

The sentences are the latest sign of an intensifying crackdown against Iranians with ties to the West directed by hardliners who are powerful in Iran’s judiciary and security forces, in the aftermath of Iran’s historic nuclear deal with the United States and other world powers last year.

Siamak Namazi, who was born in Iran and educated in the United States, worked as a business consultant in Iran for several years, and was well-known in Washington circles.

The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the sentences.

Siamak’s brother, and Baquer’s son, Babak Namazi, called the sentences unjust.

“In the case of my father this is tantamount to a life sentence,” Babak Namazi said in a statement. It said each man received a single court session lasting a few hours before the sentences were handed down.

“The details of the charges are unknown to us as of yet.”

Washington and Tehran have not had formal diplomatic relations since the 1979 Islamic revolution that toppled the U.S.-backed shah.

According to the Iranian penal code, cooperating with foreign states against Iran’s government is punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment. Last month, Iran sentenced Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese information technology expert and permanent U.S. resident, to 10 years imprisonment.

On Sunday, the Mizan news site published video images of Siamak Namazi, set to dramatic music and spliced together with images of U.S. President Barack Obama and Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, who was himself released from Iranian jail in January after more than 18 months in detention.

The video shows Namazi’s U.S. passport and identification card from the United Arab Emirates, where he previously lived. It then shows Namazi standing and holding his arms outstretched, as if being searched, while being filmed by at least one other cameraman. The web site said the video depicted “the first images of the moment of Siamak Namazi’s arrest.”

HARDLINE BACKLASH

Iran’s deal with world powers lifted most international sanctions and promised Iran’s reintegration into the global community in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.

The potential detente with the West has alarmed hardliners, who have seen a flood of European trade and investment delegations arrive in Tehran to discuss possible deals, according to Iran experts.

Those hardliners have gained authority since the nuclear deal was signed, at the expense of President Hassan Rouhani, who campaigned on promises of ending Iran’s diplomatic isolation.

Security officials have arrested dozens of artists, journalists and businessmen, including Iranians holding joint U.S., European, or Canadian citizenship, as part of a crackdown on “Western infiltration.”

Four other Iranian-Americans, including Rezaian, were released from Iranian prisons in January as part of a prisoner swap with the United States.

The arrests have undermined Rouhani’s goals of reviving Iran’s business and political ties with the West, as well as pushing for more political and social reforms at home, Iran experts and observers said.

In a 2013 visit to New York to the United Nations General Assembly, his first as president, Rouhani told an enthusiastic crowd of Iranian-Americans that his government would make it easier for them to visit Iran. He has criticized his hardline opponents, saying they sought their own interests, not those of the Iranian people.

Siamak Namazi was most recently working for Crescent Petroleum, an oil and gas company in the United Arab Emirates. He was chosen as a “Young Global Leader” by the World Economic Forum in 2007.

Baquer Namazi, a former Iranian provincial governor, served as UNICEF representative in Somalia, Kenya, Egypt and elsewhere, and for a time ran Hamyaran, an umbrella agency for Iranian non-governmental organizations.

He has a serious heart and other medical conditions requiring special medication, his wife wrote on Facebook in February.

The United Nations human rights investigator for Iran called earlier this month for the immediate release of three Iranians with dual nationality whose health is a matter of concern, including Baquer Namazi.

(Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Alison Williams and Grant McCool)

New Policy States Jerusalem-Born Americans Can’t List Israel As Birthplace

The right of U.S. citizens born in Jerusalem to list “Israel” as their country of birth on passports has been changed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The court ruled on a 6-3 decision that Congress violated the Constitution when it passed a 2002 law telling the State Department any American born in Jerusalem could list Israel as their birthplace.

The new policy has been implemented in an attempt to stay neutral over any nation’s sovereignty over Jerusalem while Palestinians and Israelis negotiate its status.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority that the President has the right to recognize foreign nations and that the ability is his alone; meaning the Congress cannot assign nationality to any foreign land.

“Recognition is a matter on which the nation must speak with one voice. That voice is the president’s,” Kennedy wrote.

US Policy has held that Jerusalem’s city status should be resolved through negotiations between the parties.  Congress has for years pushed administrations of both parties to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

In his dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the Constitution “divides responsibility for foreign affairs between Congress and the president.”  He was joined in dissent by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito.

The ruling ends a 12 year old lawsuit brought by a Jerusalem-born American.