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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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Russian court remands mine director, inspectors in custody after deadly accident

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November 27, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) – A court in Siberia on Saturday remanded five people in custody for two months to face charges related to a mining accident that killed more than 50 people this week.

Three managers of the Listvyazhnaya mine, including its director, were ordered to remain in custody until late January for flouting industrial safety standards, a spokesperson for the regional prosecutor’s office said.

The court also ordered two safety inspectors, who had issued a certificate for the mine this month but had not actually checked the facility, to remain in custody until late January.

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The accident, which regional authorities say was likely caused by a methane explosion, claimed the lives of 51 people, including five rescuers who were sent to bring out dozens of men stuck deep underground.

The health ministry said on Saturday that 60 people were being treated in hospital for injuries sustained at the mine, TASS news agency reported.

The accident at the mine, located some 3,500 km (2,200 miles) east of Moscow in the Kemerovo region, was Russia’s worst since 2010 when explosions killed 91 people at the Raspadskaya mine in the same region.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Christina Fincher)

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Russia spy chief says Ukraine invasion plan ‘malicious’ U.S. propaganda

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November 27, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia has no plans to invade Ukraine and suggestions to the contrary are malicious U.S. propaganda, Moscow’s foreign intelligence chief said on Saturday.

U.S., NATO and Ukrainian officials have raised the alarm in recent weeks over what they say are unusual Russian troop movements near the border with Ukraine, suggesting that Moscow may be poised to launch an attack.

Russia has repeatedly said it is free to move its troops on its own territory and that such movements should not be a cause for concern.

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“I need to reassure everyone. Nothing like this is going to happen,” Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia’s foreign intelligence agency, said in an interview broadcast on state television, referring to comments on Russia’s alleged invasion plans.

“Everything that is happening around this topic right now is of course malicious propaganda by the U.S. State Department.”

Naryshkin spoke a day after the State Department’s top U.S. diplomat for European affairs said all options were on the table in how to respond to Russia’s troop buildup near Ukraine’s border and that NATO would decide on the next move after consultations next week.

While U.S. officials have voiced concerns about a possible Russian attack on Ukraine, Moscow has accused Washington, Kyiv and NATO of provocative and irresponsible behaviour near its borders.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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Spanish police march in Madrid to protest against ‘Gag Law’ reform

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November 27, 2021

By Miguel Gutierrez and Marco Trujillo

MADRID (Reuters) – Thousands of Spanish police officers marched through Madrid on Saturday to protest against a proposed reform of a security law which they say will hamper their ability to do their work.

Politicians from Spain’s three main conservative parties joined police officers in the protest against proposed changes to the 2015 Citizens Security Law, which critics say violates the right to protest and limits free expression.

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Dubbed the “Gag Law” by those who oppose it, the legislation allows authorities to fine media organisations for distributing unauthorised images of police, strictly limits demonstrations and imposes heavy fines for offenders.

Spain’s leftist government has proposed reforms including no longer classifying the taking of photographs or making of recordings of police at demonstrations as a serious offence.

Under the changes, police will also have to use less harmful materials at protests after a number of people were seriously injured by rubber bullets fired by officers.

The time that suspects who are arrested at protests can be held in custody will be cut from six hours to two and fines will be proportional to how much offenders earn.

“They should either leave the current law as it is or make it better for the police and for the citizens,” Civil Guard officer Vanessa Gonzalez told Reuters.

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Ivan Espinosa de los Monteros, of the far-right Vox party, said: “There is strong opposition against (the reform) of this law. It is against our police and we will not let it happen.”

However, Isa Serra, spokeswoman for the far-left Unidas Podemos party, said at a rally in Cantabria in northern Spain that the law had done a “lot of damage to Spanish democracy”.

Organisers said 150,000 people took part in the Madrid demonstration but the government put the figure at 20,000.

(Reporting by Graham Keeley, Miguel Gutierrez and Marco Trujillo; Editing by Alexander Smith)

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