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Iraqi PM chairs security meeting after drone attack on residence

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November 7, 2021

By John Davison and Ahmed Rasheed

BAGHDAD (Reuters) -Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi escaped unharmed in an assassination attempt by armed drone in Baghdad, officials said on Sunday, in an incident that dramatically raises tension in the country weeks after a general election disputed by Iran-backed militia groups.

Kadhimi appeared in a video footage published by his office on Sunday chairing a meeting with top security commanders to discuss the drone attack.

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“The cowardly terrorist attack that targeted the home of the prime minister last night with the aim of assassinating him, is a serious targeting of the Iraqi state by criminal armed groups,” the premier’s office said in a statement issued following the meeting.

Six members of Kadhimi’s personal protection force stationed outside his residence in the Green Zone were wounded, security sources told Reuters.

Three drones were used in the attack, including two that were intercepted and downed by security forces while a third drone hit the residence, state news agency INA quoted an interior ministry spokesman as saying.

A spokesman for the armed forces commander in chief said the security situation was stable inside the fortified Green Zone – which houses the residence, government buildings and foreign embassies – following the attack.

No group immediately claimed responsibility.

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The attack came two days after violent clashes in Baghdad between government forces and supporters of Iran-backed political parties, most of which have armed wings, since those groups lost dozens of seats in parliament after a general election on Oct. 10.

Kadhimi has ordered an investigation into the deaths and injuries of demonstrators and security forces in those clashes.

President Barham Salih condemned the attack as a heinous crime against Iraq. “We cannot accept that Iraq will be dragged into chaos and a coup against its constitutional system,” he said in a tweet.

Shi’ite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose party was the biggest winner in last month’s election, called the attack a terrorist act against Iraq’s stability that aimed to “return Iraq to a state of chaos to be controlled by non-state forces”.

The United States, Saudi Arabia and Iran condemned the attack.

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DAMAGE TO RESIDENCE

Video footage released by the prime minister’s office showed damage to some parts of the prime minister’s residence and a damaged SUV vehicle parked in the garage.

Footage also showed unexploded ordnance on the rooftop of the prime minister’s residence after the drone attack.

Remains of a small explosive-laden drone were retrieved by security forces to be investigated, a security official with knowledge of the attack told Reuters.

“It’s premature now to say who carried out the attack,” the security official on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to comment on security details.

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“We’re checking our intelligence reports and waiting for initial investigation results to point the finger at perpetrators.”

The Iraqi military said in a statement the attack targeted Kadhimi’s residence and that he was in “good health”. It provided no further detail.

Two government officials said Kadhimi’s residence had been hit by at least one explosion.

Western diplomats based nearby in the Green Zone said they heard explosions and gunfire in the area.

U.S. CONDEMNATION

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The United States offered assistance with the investigation.

“This apparent act of terrorism, which we strongly condemn, was directed at the heart of the Iraqi state,” U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.

Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry said the attack was a “cowardly terrorist act”, Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya TV reported.

Iran’s top security official, Ali Shamkhani, condemned the attack, calling it “a new sedition” in a tweet.

The groups leading protests and complaints about the result of the Oct. 10 vote are heavily armed Iran-backed militias that lost much of their parliamentary power in the election. They have alleged voting and vote-counting irregularities, allegations rejected by the country’s election officials.

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Demonstrations by their supporters turned violent on Friday when protesters pelted police with stones near the Green Zone, injuring several officers.

The police responded with tear gas and live gunfire, killing at least one demonstrator, according to security and hospital sources in Baghdad.

Independent analysts say the election results were a reflection of anger towards the Iran-backed armed groups, which are widely accused of involvement in the killing of nearly 600 protesters who took the street in separate, anti-government demonstrations in 2019.

Heads of various political parties, most of which have armed wings and are aligned with Iran, denounced the drone attack and called on the government to conduct an investigation and hold the perpetrators to account.

A security official from the Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah group in Iraq dismissed suggestions on Sunday that Iraqi groups were behind the attack on Kadhimi.

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(Reporting by John Davison, Ahmed Rasheed, Baghdad newsroomAdditional reporting by Lucia Mutikani in Washington; Editing by Christian Schmollinger, William Mallard and Frances Kerry)

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China top representative in Macau to advise govt on national security-state media

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December 3, 2021

HONG KONG (Reuters) – China’s top representative in the semiautonomous gambling hub of Macau will begin advising the former Portuguese colony’s government on national security matters, state news agency Xinhua reported on Friday.

The move highlights increased scrutiny from Beijing over Macau affairs after the central government declared outflows of Chinese gambling-related funds into Macau and other gaming hubs a national security risk.

Last week Macau authorities arrested Alvin Chau https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/gambling-group-suncitys-shares-set-rise-61-after-arrested-chairman-resigns-2021-12-02, the founder of Macau’s biggest junket operator, which brings in high rollers to play at casinos, along with 10 others, for allegedly using Macau as a base for an illegal “live web betting platform.”

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A warrant for Chau’s arrest has also been issued by the mainland Chinese city of Wenzhou, accusing him of forming an extensive junket agent network that helps citizens engage in gambling activities and of setting up a company that helps gamblers make cross-border fund transfers.

The move was seen as a warning that Macau and mainland Chinese authorities were adopting a zero-tolerance approach to the promotion of gambling in mainland China where it is illegal.

Xinhua said Macau asked Beijing to appoint a national security affairs adviser in the city and that Beijing tasked the head of its Liaison Office Fu Ziying to “supervise, guide, coordinate, and support” the government on the matter.

Beijing will also appoint three national security technical advisers from within the Liaison Office, which is Beijing’s main representative institution in Macau.

(Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

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S.Korea makes vaccine pass mandatory for many more venues as Omicron fears rise

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December 3, 2021

By Sangmi Cha

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea announced on Friday that people visiting restaurants and cinemas and other public spaces will have to show vaccine passes, amid a surge in COVID-19 infections and five confirmed cases of the Omicron variant.

The government also re-imposed limits on private gatherings, which had been recently relaxed, as the country posted record numbers of new cases this week.

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Desperate to fend off the Omicron variant, authorities halted quarantine exemptions on Thursday for fully vaccinated inbound travellers and made a 10-day quarantine mandatory.

From next Monday, people visiting 14 designated public spaces, including hospitality and entertainment venues, will have to show their vaccines passes, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum told a coronavirus response meeting, setting out the plan to reduce the risk of community spread. The public will have a grace period of a week to get used to the new rules.

While people have been required to show their vaccine pass at high-risk venues such as gyms, saunas and bars, it is the first time that the requirement has been extended to restaurants and cafes.

From February, anyone aged 12 years or older will have to show a vaccination pass. The government decided to lower the exemption age, currently set at 17 years, to encourage teenagers to get vaccinated as the under-18 age group accounts for 20% of all infections, Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol told a briefing.

The limit on private gatherings was cut to six people in the greater Seoul area, and eight outside, from the current limit of 10 in Seoul and 12 outside, Kwon said.

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South Korea has so far confirmed a total of five Omicron cases after a fully vaccinated couple tested positive for the variant after arriving last week from Nigeria. The patients are either asymptomatic or have mild symptoms such as headache, low-grade fever, dizziness and sore throat, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.

KDCA reported 4,944 COVID-19 cases for Thursday, a slight decline from record high 5,266 cases on Wednesday. It has reported a total of 462,555, with 3,739 deaths overall.

South Korea has fully vaccinated 91.6% of its adult population aged 18 and over, yet the booster dose uptake remains at 8.1%.

(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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U.S. House to consider bill to clamp down on products from China’s Xinjiang

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December 3, 2021

By Michael Martina and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. House of Representatives is set to consider a bill as soon as next week that would ban imports from China’s Xinjiang region over concerns about forced labor, Representative Jim McGovern, the bill’s sponsor, told reporters on Thursday.

“Next week is an important week for human rights,” McGovern said. “… We think it’s important to move some China legislation, hopefully much of it focused on human rights. The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act we want to see that get over the finish line in some form.”

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President Joe Biden is hosting a summit of democracies next week, seen as an effort to push back against China’s growing influence.

Republicans and Democrats have been arguing over the Uyghur legislation for months. Most recently, Republican Senator Marco Rubio has been demanding that the measure be included as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, delaying the Senate’s consideration of the massive annual bill setting policy for the Pentagon.

Rubio’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether House passage of McGovern’s bill would change his stance on the defense bill.

If the Uyghur measure becomes law, it would create a “rebuttable presumption” that all goods from Xinjiang, where the Chinese government has set up a vast network of detention camps for Uyghurs and other Muslim groups, were made with forced labor.

China denies abuses in Xinjiang, which supplies much of the world’s materials for solar panels, but the U.S. government and many rights groups say Beijing is carrying out genocide there.

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Republicans have accused Biden’s Democrats of slow-walking the legislation because it would complicate the president’s renewable energy agenda. Democrats deny that.

“I just want to see a strong, a much stronger, approach when it comes to forced labor in Xinjiang,” Democratic Representative Dan Kildee told Reuters in a telephone interview, arguing that domestic production of solar panels could be ramped up.

(Reporting by Michael Martina and Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Sam Holmes)

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