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Model soldiers and secret bunkers on Taiwan’s front line with China

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October 26, 2021

By Ben Blanchard and Ann Wang

KINMEN, Taiwan (Reuters) – Chen Ing-wen strides up to a rocky outcrop some 3 km (1.9 miles) from China’s coast on Taiwan-controlled Kinmen island and demonstrates how as a soldier he used to shoot from there at Chinese trawlers that got too close.

“It was just to scare them – but they weren’t scared,” said Chen, 50, who did his military service on Kinmen from 1991 to 1993. “We were not trying to kill them, just warn them away.”

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Sitting on the front line between Taiwan and China, Kinmen is the last place where the two engaged in major fighting, in 1958 at the height of the Cold War, and where memories of war are burned into minds decades later – large model soldiers point guns at China from some old bunkers.

(Open https://reut.rs/3aZpKrd in an external browser to see a picture package on Kinmen island.)

China views Taiwan as part of its territory, and has never renounced the use of force to bring it under Beijing’s control.

A recent spike in tensions, with China’s air force carrying out four days of mass incursions into Taiwan’s air defence zone starting on Oct. 1, caused alarm in Western capitals and Taipei that Beijing may be planning something more dramatic.

But in Kinmen, less than an hour by plane from Taipei and directly facing the high rises of China’s Xiamen, there is no sense of panic nor restrictions on visiting from Taiwan, but only a feeling of surprise over questions about whether it is advisable to come.

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“We are a very safe place. Whether economically or on people’s lives we have not felt any impact from cross-strait tensions,” Ting Chien-kang, who runs the Kinmen government’s tourism department, told Reuters outside a ruined house briefly occupied by Communist troops in an abortive invasion of the island in December 1949.

Kinmen, along with the Matsu archipelago further up the Chinese coast, has been held by the government in Taipei since the defeated Republic of China forces fled to Taiwan in 1949 after loosing a civil war with the Communists.

Regular shelling did not end until Dec. 15, 1978, when Washington formally recognised Beijing over Taipei, though by then it was shells fired on odd-numbered days carrying propaganda leaflets that fell.

Still, those shells could and often did kill people, and terrified residents – a memory that haunts older Kinmeners.

“I don’t want that to happen again,” said Jessica Chen, 53, who runs a tea shop and remembers the shelling. “People may think the situation is tense, but we’re used to it.”

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TIME WARP

At its nearest point, from the Mashan observation post, the main island of Kinmen is at low tide less than 2km from Chinese-controlled territory. It was from there former World Bank chief economist Justin Lin swam across to defect to China in 1979.

A much-reduced military garrison remains, way down from 100,000 at the height of fighting, with tanks on occasion rumbling through back roads and soldiers guarding hidden entrances to command posts dug under the thick rock.

With new weapons, including precision missiles, any Chinese attack now would likely bypass Kinmen and go straight to military targets on Taiwan, though Kinmen, which relies on China for a stable water supply, could easily be blockaded.

Kinmen’s government is working hard to promote the island as more than just a war monument, hoping to entice younger visitors to see its otters and go bird watching, to stay in trendy new boutique guest houses and enjoy the local oysters.

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The time warp Kinmen exists in is everywhere to see, though much of that is intentionally kept for the tourists.

The old-fashioned language on carefully preserved propaganda signs calls the Communists “bandits”, and statues of late leader Chiang Kai-shek, a man now vilified by many Taiwanese for his often brutal dictatorship, laud him as the “people’s saviour”.

Some have turned the past tensions into profit, like Kinmen’s renowned makers of knives from old shell casings, even if they too do not want to go back to the old days of hiding in air raid shelters from Communist attacks.

“Reunification is best – not war,” said knife maker Lin You-hsin, 60. “Peaceful coexistence is much better.”

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Ann Wang; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

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Germany’s Free Democrats back coalition agreement

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December 5, 2021

BERLIN (Reuters) – Members of Germany’s pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) voted on Sunday by a large majority to back a coalition agreement with the Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens, paving the way for the three-way alliance to form a new government next week.

The coalition, the first at federal level between the environmentalist Greens, the FDP and Olaf Scholz’s centre-left SPD, will end 16 years of conservative governments led by Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The SPD approved the agreement on Saturday and the Greens are due to announce the outcome of a member survey on the deal on Monday. The three parties hope the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, will vote Scholz in as chancellor on Wednesday.

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The “traffic light” alliance, named after the parties’respective colours, will usher in a new era of relations with Europe, and plans to speed up digitalisation of the continent’sbiggest economy and put a focus on fighting climate change.

(Reporting by Alexander Ratz; Writing by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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Gambian President Barrow on course for resounding election win

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December 5, 2021

By Bate Felix

BANJUL (Reuters) – Gambia’s incumbent president, Adama Barrow, was on course for a resounding election win on Sunday, partial results indicated, that could help to draw a line under recent political turmoil.

Saturday’s vote was the first in 27 years without disgraced former president Yahya Jammeh, who lives in exile in Equatorial Guinea after refusing to accept defeat to Barrow in 2016.

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Jammeh, whose 22-year rule over the tiny nation of 2.5 million people was characterised by killings and torture of political opponents, had tried to persuade supporters to vote for an opposition coalition in telephoned speeches that were relayed to campaign rallies.

But his lingering influence was not enough to dent Barrow’s showing. The president, who only needs to win more votes than the second-placed candidate, won 36 of the first 41 constituencies announced, taking 315,547 votes.

His nearest rival, political veteran Ousainou Darboe, had 133,177 votes, with four other candidates far behind.

Only 12 constituencies remained to be announced.

The election was seen as a test of Gambia’s democratic progress and its ability to leave the Jammeh era behind.

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Barrow’s first term was marked by the coronavirus pandemic, which damaged an economy that relies heavily on tourism, as well as exports of peanuts and fish.

(Writing by Edward McAllister; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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S.Africans protest against Shell oil exploration in pristine coastal area

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December 5, 2021

By Siyabonga Sishi

PORT EDWARD, South Africa (Reuters) – South Africans took to their beaches on Sunday to protest against plans by Royal Dutch Shell to do seimsic oil exploration they say will threaten marine wildlife such as whales, dolphins, seals and penguins on a pristine coastal stretch.

A South African court on Friday struck down https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/shell-wins-court-case-start-seismic-surveys-offshore-south-africa-2021-12-03 an application brought by environmentalists to stop the oil major exploring in the eastern seaboard’s Wild Coast, rejecting as unproven their argument that it would cause “irreparable harm” to the marine environment, especially migrating hump-back whales.

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The Wild Coast is home of some of the country’s most undisturbed wildlife refuges, and it’s stunning coastal wildernesses are also a major tourist draw.

At least 1,000 demonstrators gathered on a beach near Port Edward, a Reuters TV correspondent saw.

“It’s just absolutely horrendous that they are even considering this. Look around you?” said demonstrator Kas Wilson, indicating an unspoilt stretch of beach. “It’s unacceptable and … we will stop it.”

Shell officials were not immediately available for comment, but the company said on Friday that its planned exploration has regulatory approval, and it will significantly contribute to South Africa’s energy security if resources are found.

But local people fear the seismic blasting conducted over 6,000 square kilometres will kill or scare away the fish they depend on to live.

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“I don’t want them to operate here because if they do we won’t be able to catch fish,” said 62-year-old free dive fisherwoman Toloza Mzobe, after pulling a wild lobster from the ground. “What are we going to eat?”

Environmentalists are urging Shell and other oil companies to stop prospecting for oil, arguing that the world has no chance of reaching net zero carbon by 2050 if existing oil deposits are burned, let alone if new ones are found.

Earlier this year, a Dutch court ordered Shell to reduce its planet warming carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 from 2019 levels, a decision it plans to appeal.

South Africa’s environment ministry referred Reuters to a statement late last month that “the Minister responsible for environmental affairs is … not mandated to consider the application or to make a decision on the authorisation of the seismic survey.”

(Writing by Tim Cocks;Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

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