Satellite images suggest Chinese activity at Himalayan border with India before clash

SINGAPORE/NEW DELHI (Reuters) – In the days leading up to the most violent border clash between India and China in decades, China brought in pieces of machinery, cut a trail into a Himalayan mountainside and may have even dammed a river, satellite pictures suggest. The images, shot on Tuesday, a day after soldiers engaged in hand-to-hand combat in the freezing Galwan Valley, show an increase in activity from a week earlier. India said 20 soldiers were killed in a premeditated attack by Chinese troops on Monday night at a time when top commanders had agreed to defuse tensions on the Line of Actual Control (LAC), or the disputed and poorly defined border between the nuclear-armed neighbours. China rejected the allegations and blamed frontline Indian soldiers for provoking the conflict which took place at the freezing height of 14,000 feet (4,300 metres) in the western Himalayas. The 4,056-km (2,520-mile) border between India and China runs through glaciers, snow deserts and rivers in the west to thickly forested mountains in the east. The Galwan Valley is an arid, inhospitable area, where some soldiers are deployed on steep ridges. It is considered important because it leads to the Aksai Chin, a disputed plateau claimed by India but controlled by China. The satellite pictures, taken by Earth-imaging company Planet Labs and obtained by Reuters, show signs of altering the landscape of the valley through widening tracks, moving earth and making river crossings, one expert said. The images shows machinery along the bald mountains and in the Galwan River. “Looking at it in Planet, it looks like China is constructing roads in the valley and possibly damming the river,” Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at California’s Middlebury Institute of International Studies. “There are a ton of vehicles on both sides (of the LAC) – although there appear to be vastly more on the Chinese side. I count 30-40 Indian vehicles and well over 100 vehicles on the Chinese side.” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said he was unaware of the specifics on the ground but reiterated that the Indian army had crossed into Chinese territory in several places in recent days and that they should withdraw. Graphic: Satellite images of the Galwan Valley – here BACKLASH The clash was the most serious since 1967. Since early May, soldiers have faced off on the border where India says Chinese troops had intruded and set up temporary structures. The confrontation turned into a deadly brawl on Monday. The fighting was triggered by a row over two Chinese tents and observation towers that India said had been built on its side of the LAC, Indian government sources in New Delhi and on the Indian side of the border in the Ladakh region said. China had sought to erect a “structure” in the Galwan Valley on India’s side of the LAC even after military officials had reached an agreement on June 6 to de-escalate, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar told China’s senior diplomat, Wang Yi, in a phone call on Wednesday, the Indian Foreign Ministry said. It was not immediately clear to what structure he was referring. The problem arose when an Indian patrol visited the area near a ridge to verify a Chinese assertion that its troops had moved back from the LAC, the two government sources aware of the military situation said. The Chinese troops had thinned out and left behind the two tents and small observation posts. The Indian party demolished the towers and burnt the tents, the sources said. The satellite images show possible debris from the observation posts on Tuesday morning on a ridge on India’s side of the LAC. There was no such structure in the image taken a week earlier. A large group of Chinese soldiers arrived and confronted the Indian troops, led by Colonel Santosh Babu. They were lightly armed in line with the rules of engagement at the LAC, one of the sources said. India and China have not exchanged gunfire at the border since 1967, despite occasional flare-ups. Soldiers are under instructions to keep their rifles slung at their backs. It was not clear what happened next, but the two sides soon clashed, with the Chinese using iron rods and batons with spikes, one of the sources said. Colonel Babu was one of the 20 victims, they said. More Indian troops were rushed in and the confrontation turned into an hours-long brawl eventually involving up to 900 soldiers, the source said. Still no shots were fired on either side. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao rejected the Indian version of the events. “The rights and wrongs of this incident are very clear. The responsibility does not lie with China.”

At least 13 killed in landslide in Ivory Coast’s main city

ABIDJAN (Reuters) – A landslide on the outskirts of Ivory Coast’s main city of Abidjan in the early hours of Thursday caused by heavy rains killed at least 13 people, the defence minister said. The landslide occurred on the northern outskirts of Abidjan, where some neighbourhoods saw more than three times as much rain between June 12 and 15 than is usual, according to Ivory Coast’s weather service. “The provisional toll is 13 dead,” defence minister Hamed Bakayoko told journalists. Amidou Sylla, mayor of Anyama, told Reuters the death toll was set to rise. “The toll could get higher with ongoing search. We could have at least 20 dead as a result of the landslides because there are still a lot of houses to explore,” Sylla said. Landslides and deadly floods are common in Abidjan during the rainy season, which runs from April to the end of October, routinely costing lives in informal settlements built into eroding hillsides. There were heavy downpours in other parts of the country as well this week, raising concerns they could damage crops in the world’s top cocoa producer. Farmers in the western region of Soubre, at the heart of the Ivorian cocoa belt, said the rains were so heavy they fear the torrents could pluck off young pods and flowers from trees. This could reduce crop output in August and September. They added that harvested beans could become mouldy in the coming week as the weather remained cloudy, making it difficult to dry their beans properly because of lack of sunshine. “The rains are a bit heavy,” said Salame Kone, who farms near Soubre, adding that if it continues, farms could become flooded. Data collected by Reuters showed rainfall in Soubre was 229.3 millimetres in the week to Wednesday, 175.2 mm above the five-year average.

Bank of England to remove any portraits of former governors linked to slave trade

LONDON (Reuters) – The Bank of England said on Thursday it would remove any portraits still on display within the 325-year-old central bank of former governors or directors with links to the slave trade. “As an institution, the Bank of England was never itself directly involved in the slave trade, but is aware of some inexcusable connections involving former Governors and Directors and apologises for them,” a spokesperson for the Bank said. “The Bank has commenced a thorough review of its collection of images of former Governors and Directors to ensure none with any such involvement in the slave trade remains on display anywhere in the Bank,” the spokesperson added.

Mexico enlists F1 racetrack, military barracks to fight coronavirus

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico has repurposed a Formula One racetrack, converted a huge convention center and put hundreds of beds into military barracks to create new hospital space to ease the strain on its health system in the mounting coronavirus pandemic. Mexico’s coronavirus death toll has leapt 14-fold since President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador first declared the country had “tamed” the pandemic on April 26. Mexico has logged almost 160,000 cases and more than 19,000 fatalities, the seventh-highest total worldwide. To prevent the system from collapsing, authorities in the epicenter of the outbreak, Mexico City, have scrambled to conjure up additional capacity to meet surging demand as the country tries to exit lockdown and revive the economy. “This health emergency is really a kind of natural disaster,” said Lieutenant Colonel Raul Sandoval, who oversees one of the provisional hospitals. The Mexican army, which has a tradition of providing humanitarian aid after earthquakes and hurricanes, reconditioned three barracks into clinics, and added 400 hospital beds. Meanwhile, the navy built so-called voluntary isolation centers in the city to house patients with mild symptoms. And authorities put another 200 beds in a temporary hospital inside an convention center and established a similar clinic at a racetrack typically used for Formula One and rock concerts. At one of the converted barracks, dozens of convalescing patients, some hooked up to supplemental oxygen, are treated by a team of 100 civilian and military doctors. The makeshift clinic has X-ray machines and a laboratory for taking samples. Last week, almost half of its 100 beds were occupied by patients, mostly civilians sent there from other hospitals. “(Either) the patient gets better and is discharged,” said Sandoval. “Or if there are complications and they need intensive therapy or intubation, they’re sent to another place.” The requisition of unconventional spaces for medical use appears to have helped the capital avoid a collapse in its hospitals as cases numbers surged in May and June. As of this week, some 74% of the 4,677 general public hospital beds and 59% of the 1,893 intensive care beds with ventilators were occupied in Mexico City, official data show. That is a slightly lower level of occupation that in recent weeks. Health experts say Mexico may be close to the peak of new infections, but the government has repeatedly had to walk back its forecasts for when that would occur. Still, amid the bustle of doctors and nurses rushing back and forth between the rows of hospital beds of the Sixth Mortar Battalion, optimism is spreading. “Thank God, I feel much better,” said Martha Ruiz, a 53-year-old housewife who caught coronavirus from her husband and has been recovering in the women’s pavilion for two weeks. “Hopefully I can be discharged soon.”

Belarus president’s main rival detained in crackdown before election

MINSK (Reuters) – Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s main rival was detained on Thursday and accused of siphoning $430 million out of the country, in a widening crackdown on opponents before an Aug. 9 presidential election. Lukashenko has allowed little dissent in the former Soviet republic since coming to power in 1994 but faces the biggest challenge to his authority in years, with thousands taking to the streets to support opposition candidates. [nL8N2DE1YC] Viktor Babariko, widely seen as Lukashenko’s main challenger in the election, was “a direct organiser, a leader of illegal activities”, the head of the State Control Committee (KGC), Ivan Tertel, said on state television. Babariko was accused of trying to influence witnesses, hiding previous crimes and taking $430 million out of Belarus in money-laundering schemes, Tertel said. Hundreds took to the streets of Minsk in solidarity with Babariko and other detained opponents of Lukashenko. Babariko has accused Lukashenko of using criminal cases to put political pressure on him, which Lukashenko denies. Babariko’s lawyers said they were not allowed into the building where he was taken. “This is a flagrant violation of the constitutional right to defence,” said one of his lawyers, Dmitry Loevsky. Babariko’s election team said the authorities were also conducting a search at Babariko’s house. Public frustration with Lukashenko’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and grievances about the economy and human rights have reinvigorated opposition to his rule. Babariko is a former head of the local unit of Russia’s Gazprombank, whose offices were raided in June in a tax evasion and money laundering case. Belgazprombank has been taken into temporary administration and 15 employees have been detained. [nR4N2DH02D] [nL8N2DP4L4] Another election candidate said this week she was pressing on with her campaign despite receiving a threat to have her children taken away. [nL8N2DT3VI] Svetlana Tikhanouskaya decided to run after her husband, an anti-Lukashenko blogger, was arrested last month for threatening public order. [nL8N2DM2A4]

Canada’s Trudeau backs opposition leader kicked out of Parliament in racism row

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday backed the leader of an opposition party who was ejected from the House of Commons for branding a member of another party a racist and refusing to apologize. New Democratic Party head Jagmeet Singh, the first minority leader of a federal Canadian political party, had been trying to win support for a motion on Wednesday recognizing the existence of systemic racism in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. When a legislator from the Bloc Quebecois refused to support the motion, Singh called him racist, prompting the speaker to eject Singh for the rest of the day. “It is important that we recognize when the only racialized leader in the House of Commons makes a statement like that, that it comes from a place that yes, will make people uncomfortable, but needs to be dealt with as we move forward as a country,” Trudeau told reporters. Trudeau has frequently said there is a need to address systemic racism in Canada. In a sometimes tearful address to reporters on Wednesday, Singh told reporters he had been angry and added: “In that moment, I saw the face of racism.” Many Canadian cities have been the sites of anti-racism rallies in recent weeks, on the heels of similar protests in the United States. Singh, a practicing Sikh who often pairs bright turbans with stylish suits, is a former criminal defense lawyer. The Bloc said it had objected to Singh’s motion because the House of Commons public safety committee was already studying systemic racism in the police. Bloc Quebecois leader Yves-Francois Blanchet demanded Singh apologize for making what he called unwarranted accusations. Canada is a multicultural country, with more than 22% of the population is made up of minorities and another 5% aboriginal, according to the latest census.

‘Palestinian lives matter’: Killing of autistic man by Israeli police draws George Floyd parallels

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The killing of an autistic Palestinian by Israeli police has sparked protests by both Palestinians and Israelis, drawing comparisons with the death of African-American George Floyd in the United States. Iyad al-Halaq, 32, was on his way to volunteer at a special needs school in Jerusalem’s Old City on May 30 when police chased him and shot him dead, suspecting him of carrying a weapon. “The boy surrendered and he lay on the ground like a baby in his mother’s womb,” Kheiry al-Halaq said of his son, whom police said was found to be unarmed. “They shed the blood of an innocent young man who did not experience much from this life … he was one of God’s weakest creatures,” his mother, Rana al-Halaq, said from her son’s bedroom, surrounded by his possessions and a poster of him. Police are investigating the shooting and two officers have given testimony, a police spokesman said. Both Floyd, 46, and Halaq were from communities that often complain of police brutality and racism. Floyd died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes while detaining him on May 25. He was unarmed and his death has led to protests around the world. Demonstrations for Halaq have been held in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank, where protesters lit candles and chanted “Palestinian lives matter”, in what they called an act of solidarity with African-Americans. Palestinian artist Taqi Spateen has painted murals of Floyd and Halaq on a concrete wall Israel built through parts of the West Bank. The painting of Halaq is captioned, in English: “Not only Floyd. Iyad Hallaq too”. “Both men were killed by the arrogance of racism,” Spateen said. Halaq’s killing drew condolences from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who called it a “tragedy”. Palestinians have long complained of heavy-handed tactics by police and troops using lethal force in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Israeli rights group B’Tselem says that of the 133 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces in 2019, 56 “were not taking part in hostilities” and 28 were minors. Salem Barahmeh, a Palestinian rights advocate in the West Bank city of Ramallah, said he believed Israeli police officers might be lightly punished for Halaq’s death. “But a proper charge? I don’t have much hope,” he said. “It won’t be the justice that Iyad al-Halaq deserves.”

London faces up to former role insuring Atlantic slave trade

LONDON (Reuters) – London is facing up to its role in insuring the slave trade as part of a sweeping global reassessment of history and racism. This reappraisal was triggered by the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes while detaining him. For centuries, London has maintained a pre-eminent role in financing global trade and on Thursday the Lloyd’s of London insurance market apologised for its “shameful” role in the 18th and 19th Century Atlantic slave trade. About 17 million African men, women and children were torn from their homes and shackled into one of the world’s most brutal globalised trades between the 15th and 19th centuries. Many died in merciless conditions By the late 18th Century, Britain was the leading slaver nation, carrying about 40% of Africans transported between 1761 and the abolition of the trade in 1807. Other major traders were Portugal/Brazil, with about 32% of the market, and France, with about 17%. American and Dutch ships were also involved, with around 6% and 3% respectively. How important was slavery to British maritime insurance? There is a lack of documentary evidence from the time, but historians have estimated that the slave and West India trades combined accounted for 41% of British marine insurance in the 1790s. here “Between a third and 40 percent of London marine insurance in the 18th Century was accounted for by the slave trade and by the movement of slave grown produce across the Atlantic,” said Nick Draper, former director of the Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership. “Those ships bringing sugar to Britain had a valuable cargo and the ships themselves were valuable and often coming through enemy waters because Britain was at war for long periods.” Who were the big players? There were three main marine insurers in the 18th Century: London Assurance, Royal Exchange and Lloyds of London. “Lloyd’s had the dominant insurance business – probably had 80-90 percent of the market,” said Draper. “By 1807 when the slave-trade was abolished it was relatively unimportant to marine insurance and by the 1830s when slavery was abolished the sugar economy in turn had become less important. We were shipping then huge amounts of raw slave-grown cotton, for example, back to the UK from the American south.” How did it work? Slaves were seen as cargo by the insurance market of the time and generally included in the general insurance rate. Often slaves were termed as a “parcel” whose value was determined by ethnicity, size, height, age, gender and health. Slaves were also classified by underwriters as “perishable goods”, alongside cattle. Underwriters and courts dealt with slave losses arising from revolt as the equivalent of damage and losses caused by livestock panicking during a tempest. “Most insurance policies for the slave trade excluded the death of enslaved people from disease or insurrection – they were insuring the ship against the perils of the sea,” said Draper. “But they were not insuring so that people were disembarked at the other end in a healthy condition.”

U.S. offers $10 million reward for capture of former Colombian rebels

BOGOTA (Reuters) – The United States on Thursday said it was offering rewards of up to $10 million each for information leading to the arrest or conviction of two former leaders of Colombia’s FARC rebel group. Seuxis Hernandez and Luciano Marin, best known by their respective noms de guerre Jesus Santrich and Ivan Marquez, had originally supported the 2016 peace accord between Colombia’s government and the Marxist-led Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). But both later rejected the deal. The two “have a long history of involvement in drug trafficking activities, which resulted in their criminal indictments,” the U.S. State Department said in a statement. The Colombian government, in a separate statement, said the capture of the men would contribute to the stability of the peace process. Marquez, a FARC commander who was one of the negotiators of the peace accord, disappeared in 2018 after his nephew was arrested and bundled off to the United States. Santrich had been set to serve in one of 10 congressional seats granted to former rebels under the deal. But he was indicted by the United States for drug trafficking that allegedly occurred in 2017, after the peace deal. The indictment sparked months of legal wrangling, including his arrest, before he too disappeared in mid-2019. Both men reappeared in August 2019 in a video they said was filmed in the Amazon announcing a new offensive against the government. The announcement was condemned at the time by President Ivan Duque’s government, the United Nations and the FARC political party, whose leadership said the majority of former rebels remain committed to peace. Implementation of the accord has been hampered by the murder of hundreds of former guerrillas and human rights activists. Delays in funding to create more economic opportunities for former combatants have also set back the peace process amid deep political polarization in the South American country.

Former White House aide Bolton says Trump not “fit” to be president

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former top White House aide John Bolton delivered a damning indictment of his former boss, saying Donald Trump’s behavior in office and dealings with foreign leaders showed he was unfit to be president of the United States. “I don’t think he’s fit for office,” Bolton told ABC News in an interview aired on Thursday. “There really isn’t any guiding principle that I was able to discern other than what’s good for Donald Trump’s re-election.” In a new book, the former national security adviser accused Trump of sweeping misdeeds including explicitly seeking Chinese President Xi Jinping’s aid to win a second term in the Nov. 3 presidential election. U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi told a news briefing on Thursday she is consulting with her fellow Democrats on whether to subpoena Bolton about the allegations in the book, “The Room Where It Happened,” and echoed Bolton’s criticism. “President Trump is clearly ethically unfit and intellectually unprepared to be the president of the United States,” Pelosi said, adding: “That doesn’t seem to matter to the Republicans in the United States Senate.” Bolton refused to testify in the House’s impeachment probe last year and threatened to sue if subpoenaed. He offered to testify in the subsequent trial in the Senate but the Republican-controlled chamber did not take him up on the offer. Democrats were angry that Bolton saved his revelations for a book, rather than participate in the probe. The Republican president rejected the book as a “compilation of lies” and called his former adviser a “sick puppy” who was trying to avenge his firing. The U.S. Justice Department on Tuesday sued to block Bolton from publishing the book. Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chairman who led the impeachment inquiry late last year, sharply criticized Bolton as unpatriotic for withholding the information. “We will continue to hold Trump accountable, and work to expose his abuses and corruption,” Schiff said in a statement. The new allegations, Schiff said, are “further proof” that Trump’s actions in Ukraine are part of a pattern of abusing his power and the U.S. government for personal political gain. The allegations include far more extensive accusations of impropriety than those that drove Trump’s impeachment, however. In his memoir, Bolton, who left the White House in September, said Trump expressed a willingness to halt criminal investigations to favor dictators he liked. He cited multiple conversations in which Trump demonstrated behavior “that eroded the very legitimacy of the presidency.” Bolton also wrote that Trump said invading Venezuela would be “cool” even as the U.S. government has said it does not favor using force to topple Venezuela’s socialist President Nicolas Maduro. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Bolton’s revelations explain the president’s puzzling performance on China issues, including his initial praise for Beijing’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and silence on alleged human rights abuses. “President Trump cannot be trusted to deal with China policy any longer,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. According to Bolton, Trump told China’s Xi in June 2019 to go ahead and build camps for its mostly Muslim Uighur minority and other Muslim groups despite his administration’s criticism of China’s mass detention. White House trade adviser Peter Navarro disputed Bolton’s account of Trump’s conversation with Xi. “I didn’t hear that at all,” Navarro told reporters at the White House on Thursday. “Bolton’s depiction of that event is not how I would describe it. That’s an alternate universe.”