Friends, family, public flock to funeral of physicist Stephen Hawking

CAMBRIDGE, England: Well-wishers filled the streets of Cambridge on Saturday for the funeral of British physicist Stephen Hawking, hailed by another leading scientist as “an imprisoned mind roaming the cosmos”.

Hawking, crippled since a young man by a degenerative disease, beat the odds stacked against him to became the most celebrated scientist of his era. His work ranged from the origins of the universe itself, through time travel and probing black holes in space.

He achieved international renown after the publication of ““A Brief History of Time” in 1988.

His coffin was topped with white “Universe” lilies and white “Polar Star” roses and carried by pallbearers from the University of Cambridge, where he worked. It was greeted by a large crowd outside the church who clapped as it was carried in.

The 76-year-old scientist was mourned by his children Robert, Lucy and Timothy, joined by guests including playwright Alan Bennett, businessman Elon Musk and model Lily Cole.

Eddie Redmayne, the actor who played Professor Hawking in the 2014 film “The Theory of Everything” was one of the readers in the ceremony and Felicity Jones, who played his wife, Jane Hawking in the film also attended the service.

The ceremony included space-themed music composed specially for Hawking called “Beyond the Night Sky”, inspired by a poem and quotes from “A Brief History of Time” and whistling and “shh” sounds based on recordings of space.

Astronomer Royal Martin Rees, a personal friend, read from Plato’s Apology 40, “The Death of Socrates”, which talks of the search for knowledge persisting after death.

Confined to a wheelchair for most of his life after being diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease when he was 21, Hawking’s towering intellect and sheer persistence struck a chord with ordinary people, Rees said in an appreciation published earlier this month.

“Why did he become such a ‘cult figure’? The concept of an imprisoned mind roaming the cosmos plainly grabbed people’s imagination,” he said.

“His name will live in the annals of science; millions have had their cosmic horizons widened by his best-selling books; and even more, around the world, have been inspired by a unique example of achievement against all the odds – a manifestation of amazing will-power and determination.”

Hawking’s ashes will be interred at Westminster Abbey in June, among some of the greatest scientists in history, Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin.

15 dead as thousands of palestinians march near Israel border

Gaza City: Clashes erupted as tens of thousands of Gazans marched near the Israeli border in a major protest on Friday, leaving 15 Palestinians dead and hundreds more wounded in the conflict´s worst single day of violence since the 2014 Gaza war.

Late in the day, Israel´s military targeted three Hamas sites in the Gaza Strip with tank fire and an air strike after what it said was an attempted shooting attack against soldiers along the border that caused no injuries.

Protesters, including women and children, had earlier gathered at multiple sites throughout the blockaded territory, which is flanked by Israel along its eastern and northern borders.

Smaller numbers approached within a few hundred metres (yards) of the heavily fortified border fence, with Israeli troops using tear gas and live fire to force them back.

Israeli security forces also used a drone to fire tear gas toward those along the border, in one of the first uses of the device, a police spokesman said.

The health ministry in Gaza said 15 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces.

More than 1,400 were injured, including 758 by live fire, with the remainder hurt by rubber bullets and tear gas inhalation, it said.

Palestinians accused Israel of using disproportionate force, as did Turkey.

Egypt, which has a border with Gaza, issued a foreign ministry statement saying it “denounces the use of force against civilians in the occupied Palestinian territories”.

The Cairo-based Arab League condemned what it called Israel´s “savagery”.

Israel´s military alleged that the main protests were being used as cover by militants to either break through the border or carry out attacks.

“It is not a peaceful demonstration,” an Israeli military official told journalists.

“There was no small number of attempts to damage the fence and cross” the border, she added.

The army said it estimated some 30,000 demonstrators were taking part in the protests.

“Rioters are rolling burning tyres and hurling firebombs and rocks at the security fence and at (Israeli) troops, who are responding with riot dispersal means and firing towards main instigators,” it said.

´Playing with your life´

Protesters were demanding hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees who fled or were expelled during the war surrounding Israel´s creation in 1948 be allowed to return.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniya attended the protest, believed to be the first time he had gone so close to the border in years.

Hamas and Israel have fought three wars since 2008, the most recent of which in 2014 ended with a fragile truce.

Far smaller protests broke out in parts of the occupied West Bank.

On Friday evening, Gazan leaders called on protesters to retreat from the border area until Saturday, with the demonstration planned to extend six weeks, until the inauguration of the new US embassy in Jerusalem around May 14.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas declared Saturday a day of national mourning.

The upcoming embassy move has added to tensions surrounding the march.

US President Donald Trump´s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel´s capital in December has infuriated Palestinians, who claim its annexed eastern sector as the capital of their future state.

The protest also began as Jewish Israelis were to mark the Passover holiday.

Israel announced a “closed military zone in the area surrounding the Gaza Strip,” accusing its Islamist rulers Hamas of using the lives of civilians “for the purpose of terror”.

It deployed reinforcements, including more than 100 special forces snipers, for fear of mass attempts to break through the security fence.

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in tweet directed to Gazans in both Hebrew and Arabic that “Hamas´s leadership is playing with your life”.

Rare family protest

Protests along the border are common, often culminating in young Palestinian men throwing stones at Israeli soldiers who respond with tear gas, and rubber and live bullets.

The “March of Return” protest is different because it is intended to include families with women and children camping near the border for weeks.

Five main camp sites have been set up spanning the length of the frontier, from near the Erez border crossing in the north to Rafah where it meets the Egyptian border in the south.

Cultural events were planned in the larger communal tents, including traditional Palestinian dabke dancing, while tens of thousands of meals were to be handed out on Friday, organisers said.

A young couple were married near one of the camps on Thursday evening.

Saeed Juniya had erected a small tent a few hundred metres from the border fence east of Gaza City, where he was accompanied by his wife and children.

“We are determined and not scared as we are not doing something wrong. The people are demanding their land and to return to their country,” he said.

Organisers say the camps will remain in place until May 15 when Palestinians commemorate the Nakba, or “catastrophe”, of the 1948 creation of Israel with the exodus of more than 700,000 Palestinians.

According to the United Nations, some 1.3 million of Gaza´s two million residents are refugees and the protest is calling for them to be allowed to return to land that is now Israel.

Washington´s plans to launch its new embassy to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the Israeli state, further stoking Palestinian anger.

Israel´s ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, has called the protest an “organised planned provocation” and reiterated “Israel´s right to defend its sovereignty and protect its citizens”.

The launch of the protests comes as Palestinians mark Land Day, commemorating the killing of six unarmed Arab protesters in Israel in 1976.

Russia tests new intercontinental ballistic missile

MOSCOW: Russia has successfully tested its latest intercontinental ballistic missile, the country’s military said on Friday.

The Defence Ministry said the launch from Plesetsk in northwestern Russia tested the Sarmat missile’s performance in the initial stage of its flight.

Sarmat is intended to replace the Soviet-designed Voyevoda, the world’s heaviest ICBM that is known as “Satan” in the West.

Presenting Sarmat and an array of other nuclear weapons earlier this month, President Vladimir Putin said that they can’t be intercepted.

Putin said that Sarmat weighs 200 metric tons and has a higher range than Satan, allowing it to fly over the North or the South Poles and strike targets anywhere in the world. He added that Sarmat also carries a bigger number of nuclear warheads, which are more powerful than the ones on Satan.

The Russian president also said the new ICBM accelerates faster than its predecessor, making it harder for the enemy to intercept in its most vulnerable phase after the launch. He also said Sarmat could carry an array of warheads capable of dodging missile defences.

Natural gas: An underrated driver of Saudi hostility towards Iran and Qatar

Debilitating hostility between Saudi Arabia and Iran is about lots of things, not least who will have the upper hand in a swath of land stretching from Central Asia to the Atlantic coast of Africa. While attention is focused on ensuring that continued containment of Iran ensures that Saudi Arabia has a leg up, geopolitics is but one side of the equation. Natural gas is the other.

With signatories to the Paris climate accord moving towards bans on petrol and diesel-driven vehicles within a matter of decades and renewable energy technology advancing in strides, natural gas takes on added significance.

These global energy trends are hastening in an era in which oil will significantly diminish in importance and natural gas, according to energy scholar Sergei Paltsev, will fill gaps in the provision of renewable energy that await technological advances.

Saudia Arabia’s problem is that Iran and Qatar have the gas reserves it does not. That is one reason why renewables figure prominently in Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 reform program, not only to prepare Saudi Arabia economically for a post-oil future but also to secure its continued geopolitical significance.

Prince Mohammed, like his counterpart in the United Arab Emirates, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, hopes that the kingdom will have an advantage in the generation of solar energy given that the sun hovers higher over his country than over Europe and other parts of the world and that it has less interference from clouds.

As a result, natural gas is a factor in mounting tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and say some analysts, a driver of the Saudi-UAE-led, ten-month-old diplomatic and economic boycott of Qatar.

In what could constitute a serious escalation of hostilities, the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen threatened this week to retaliate against Iran in response to missile attacks on the kingdom by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.

“Perhaps, the Saudi elite knows all too well that the basis of its power is hollowing out rapidly as a result of the global climate response and anticipated dwindling of conventional oil. The stakes could never have been higher,” said international relations scholar David Crieckmans in a recently published volume on the geopolitics of renewables.

Contributing to the same volume, Thijs van de Graaf, another international relations scholar, suggested that of all the Middle Eastern oil producers, Saudi Arabia may have the most to lose.

Ironically, crippling sanctions that severely hampered Iran’s oil production and only began to be lifted following the 2015 international agreement that curbed the country’s nuclear program coupled with US threats to withdraw from the accord and potentially reimpose sanctions may work in Iran’s favour in the transition to a post-oil world.

“Iran…has a lot of advantages. It has a much broader economic base, a longer tradition of trading, and lower fertility rates… The country’s oil production is much under its potential due to years of sanctions. This might in the long run turn out to be an advantage as these economies prepare themselves for a post-oil age,” Mr. Van der Graaf said.

Add to that the fact that it is likely to be be gas supplies from Iran and Turkmenistan, two Caspian Sea states, rather than Saudi oil that will determine which way the future Eurasian energy architecture tilts: China, the world’s third largest LNG importer, or Europe.

“Iran, within five years, will likely have 24.6 billion cubic metres of natural gas available for annual piped gas exports beyond its current supply commitments. Not enough to supply all major markets, Tehran will face a crucial geopolitical choice for the destination of its piped exports. Iran will be able to export piped gas to two of the following three markets: European Union (EU)/ Turkey via the Southern Gas Corridor centring on the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP), India via an Iran-Oman-India pipeline, or China via either Turkmenistan or Pakistan. The degree to which the system of energy relationships in Eurasia will be more oriented toward the European Union or China will depend on the extent to which each secures Caspian piped gas exports through pipeline infrastructure directed to its respective markets,” energy scholar Micha’el Tanchum argued.

In other words, the existential threat Iran poses to Saudi Arabia goes far beyond the fact that the Islamic republic challenges Saudi monarchical rule by offering an alternative, albeit flawed, form of Islamic governance that incorporates a degree of popular sovereignty. It involves competition in which Iran can leverage assets Saudi Arabia does not have, leaving the kingdom dependent on containment that at best postpones issues rather than accommodates solutions. It also means that the antagonists’ regional proxy wars in Yemen and elsewhere are unlikely to remove the fundamental issues that drive the Saudi-Iranian rivalry and translate into destabilizing short-term policies.

Hardliners, including US President Donald J. Trump’s newly appointed national security advisor, John Bolton, and nominee for the post of secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, may be proponents of regime change in Iran, yet, the question remains whether that would truly alleviate Saudi fears that are shared by Israel. If successful, it would eliminate the Islamic governance challenge, but do nothing to alter the reality of a changing energy landscape.

Barbara Slavin, an Iran expert at the Washington-based Atlantic Council, cautions that a possible US withdrawal next month from the nuclear agreement with Iran does not necessarily mean either the demise of the accord or a re-imposition of a crippling sanctions regime.

“Twenty years ago, Congress passed similar secondary sanctions—the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act—threatening penalties against foreign companies investing in Iran’s oil and gas sector. Europe cried foul and the sanctions were never implemented. That could well be the outcome in May” when Mr. Trump has to decide whether the United States remains a party to the accord, Ms. Slavin noted.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and co-host of the New Books in Middle Eastern Studies podcast. James is the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title as well as Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa, and the forthcoming China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom

North Korea’s Kim shows unity with China’s Xi in first foreign trip


North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was treated to a lavish welcome by Chinese President Xi Jinping during a secretive trip to Beijing as both sides seek to repair frayed ties ahead of landmark summits with Seoul and Washington.

On his first trip abroad since taking power, Kim and his wife were met with honour guards and a banquet hosted by Xi, according to state media, which confirmed the “unofficial” visit on Wednesday only after Kim had returned to North Korea.

The two men held talks at the stately Great Hall of the People during which they hailed their nations’ historic relations, with Kim pledging that he was “committed to denuclearisation” on the Korean peninsula, according to China’s Xinhua news agency.

“There is no question that my first foreign visit would be to the Chinese capital,” Kim said, according to North Korea’s official KCNA news agency.

“This is my solemn duty as someone who should value and continue the DPRK-PRC relations through generations.”

KCNA said Xi accepted an invitation to visit Pyongyang, which would be his first trip to the North Korean capital since he took power in 2012.

The two men had not met since Kim took over after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, in 2011, and relations have been strained as China has backed a raft of UN sanctions against Pyongyang over its nuclear and missile tests.

But Xi underscored the importance of developing ties, saying it was “a strategic choice and the only right choice” and that he was willing to maintain frequent contact with Kim “under the new circumstances”, according to Xinhua.

Xi and Kim shook hands and sat across from each other at a long conference table, both flanked by officials, at the Great Hall of the People, according to television images which showed the North Korean leader taking meticulous notes.

Later, Xi and his wife, Peng Liyuan, waved goodbye while Kim and his spouse, Ri Sol Ju, smiled as they left in a black car.

Chinese and North Korean state media said the visit started on Sunday and ended0 Wednesday.

Analysts said Xi likely wanted to see Kim to ensure North Korea does not cut a deal with US President Donald Trump that hurts Chinese interests during a summit expected to be held in May.

Beijing had appeared sidelined by Pyongyang’s approaches to Seoul and Washington, but Kim’s visit puts China firmly back at the centre of the diplomatic game.

“It shows that at this crucial juncture, Kim and Xi believed that it was time to seize the opportunity to consult,” Bonnie Glaser, a China expert at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, told AFP.

“Both likely concluded that further deterioration in relations would be harmful.”

Deng Yuwen, an independent Chinese international relations scholar, said North Korea needed to turn to its old ally ahead of the US summit, as Kim will be sceptical that Trump will guarantee the security of his regime.

“North Korea needs the big brother to protect it at a crucial moment,” Deng said.

Trump informed

Xinhua said Kim expressed his willingness to hold summits with Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

“The issue of denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula can be resolved, if South Korea and the United States respond to our efforts with goodwill, create an atmosphere of peace and stability while taking progressive and synchronous measures for the realisation of peace,” Kim said, according to Xinhua.

South Korea said last month after talks with Kim in Pyongyang that he would consider abandoning his nuclear weapons in exchange for US security guarantees, and flagged a halt to weapons tests while talks were under way.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Trump received a personal note from Xi about Kim’s visit on Tuesday.

“We see this development as further evidence that our campaign of maximum pressure is creating the appropriate atmosphere for dialogue with North Korea,” Sanders said.

Confirmation of the visit ended 24 hours of speculation about the identity of a mysterious North Korean visitor after Japanese media spotted a green train, similar to the one used by Kim’s father, arriving in Beijing on Monday and departing the following day.

During the news blackout, a heavy police presence at key venues, barricades and mysterious motorcades hinted at his presence.

North Korea’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper on Wednesday featured photos of Chinese officials greeting Kim and his wife with flowers at the train station, and his motorcade being escorted by police motorbikes in front of the Forbidden City.

Frayed ties

His visit to China came as a surprise given the state of relations between the Cold War-era allies, which fought together in the 1950-53 Korean War.

China chaired six-party talks on North Korea that collapsed a decade ago, but its calls to revive that forum have not been heeded so far and Beijing appeared to be on the margins when South Korea announced that Kim had offered to meet with Moon and Trump.

Frustrated by its neighbour’s nuclear weapons programme and under pressure from Trump, China has used its economic leverage to squeeze Kim’s regime.

At the same time, Beijing fears the collapse of the regime in Pyongyang and the instability it would bring, potentially sending waves of refugees into China and the possibility of US troops stationed on its border in a unified Korea.

But Kim’s visit appears to have put relations back on track, with Xi inviting Kim and his wife to visit China again.

64 dead in fatal Russian shopping mall inferno

A total of 64 people some of them children perished in a fire that ravaged a busy shopping mall in an industrial city in Siberia, as rescue teams Monday struggled through piles of charred rubble to recover bodies.

Russian television showed images of thick black smoke pouring out of the Winter Cherry shopping centre in the city of Kemerovo, which also houses a sauna, a bowling alley and a multiplex cinema and was packed with people on Sunday afternoon.

Russia’s Investigative Committee said the roof collapsed in two theatres in the cinema in the blaze which erupted at around 4pm (0900 GMT).

Witnesses told Russian television that some did not hear alarms or did not take them seriously and that the fire took hold very quickly, leaving many children separated from their parents.

“The alarm system didn’t work, people ran out screaming and in panic,” said a teenager, Milena, who had visited the mall with her parents.

Emergency services minister Vladimir Puchkov said on Russian television: “We have recorded that unfortunately as a result of the accident 64 people died”, up from a previous toll of 56.

He said “64 is the final figure”, and included six people still buried under the rubble.

The preliminary findings of an inquiry said the fire started in one of the cinemas and destroyed more than 1,000 square metres (1,200 square yards) of the centre, news agencies reported.

The local office of Russia’s emergency services ministry said the fire broke out on the top floor of the four-storey mall, causing floors and the roof to collapse.

One witness, Anastasia Klepova, told Rossiya 24 television: “The evacuation signal only went off twice. We didn’t believe in the evacuation at first, we thought maybe rubbish had caught fire in the toilet.”

“We emerged out of darkness and smoke. We were already all black. In two or three minutes, such smoke had risen up.”

Witnesses said many children were separated from adults, after coming to enjoy facilities including a trampoline centre.

‘It was just awful’

“People started running around, it was just awful. There were a lot of children, children without parents,” said witness Klepova.

“There were children and adults, they ran out in T-shirts… we tried to help bring out people,” said teenager Danila Plyut.

“The smell of plastic was very strong and the smoke was acrid on the top floor, you just could not go up there by then.”

Health minister Veronika Skvortsova said at the scene that the most seriously injured person was an 11-year-old boy who jumped from the top floor to escape the fire, which killed all his family, but there were hopes for his survival.

She said an 18-year-old boy was also seriously injured from jumping from the top floor, while nine other people were suffering from smoke inhalation.

On Monday more than 500 firefighters were struggling to break down walls and clear rubble amid smoke-filled air and high temperatures, deploying drones.

Russia’s Investigative Committee said it had opened a criminal inquiry and four people, including the tenant renting the premises where the fire broke out and the head of the company that manages the mall, had been arrested.

President Vladimir Putin expressed condolences and ordered the minister of emergency services to fly to the scene, the Kremlin said.

‘Where to look for people?’

Around 120 people had been evacuated from the burning centre, rescuers said on Sunday.

“This shopping centre on several floors was packed with people midday Sunday. No one knows exactly how many people there were inside when the fire broke out,” Alexander Yeremeyev, an official with the local Russian emergency services ministry, said in a statement.

“Where to look for people? How many are there? That has greatly complicated the work of the firefighters,” he said, adding that the thick smoke was also hindering their task.

Some 300 firefighters and rescue personnel were rushed to the scene and the fire was brought under control late in the night, local emergency officials said.

It was the deadliest blaze in Russia in recent years.

A shopping mall fire in March 2015 killed 11 people in Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan some 800 kilometres (500 miles) east of Moscow.

In April 2013, a fire ravaged a psychiatric hospital in the Moscow region, killing 38 people, most of them patients who were engulfed by flames as they slept behind barred windows.

Just months later, in September 2013, 37 people were killed when a fire swept through a psychiatric hospital in the village of Luka in northwest Russia.

In 2009, 156 were killed in a nightclub fire in the city of Perm, 1,200 kilometres east of Moscow in one of the deadliest accidents in Russia’s modern history.

Israeli police arrive at PM Netanyahu’s residence for corruption case interrogation

Israeli police are questioning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as part of an investigation into a corruption case involving the country’s telecom giant.

Police were seen arriving at Netanyahu’s residence on Monday. Media reports said Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, and son Yair are also being questioned at another location.

Two Netanyahu confidants have been arrested on suspicion of promoting regulation worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the Bezeq telecom company. In return, Bezeq’s news site, Walla, allegedly provided positive Netanyahu coverage.

It’s the second time that Netanyahu, who held the communications portfolio until last year, is being questioned over the affair. Police declined to comment.

Police have recommended indicting Netanyahu on corruption charges in two other cases.

Netanyahu has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, dismissing the accusations as a media witch hunt.

China threatens US with tariffs, says ‘not afraid of trade war’

China warned Washington on Friday that it was “not afraid of a trade war” as it threatened tariffs on $3 billion worth of United States (US) goods in retaliation over President Donald Trump’s moves against Chinese imports.

Beijing unveiled a hit list of products that could face duties of up to 25 per cent, from fresh fruit to pork and wine, though it stopped short of pulling the trigger as it indicated its readiness to negotiate an agreement.

The latest trade action sent stocks diving as fears rise that the US, which accuses China of mass theft of intellectual property and other unfair practises, could provoke a damaging trade war.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged more than 700 points, while Tokyo closed 4.5 per cent lower and Hong Kong and Shanghai were both down more than three per cent.

“China does not want to fight a trade war, but it is absolutely not afraid of a trade war,” the commerce ministry said.

Hours earlier, Trump signed an order that also could result in restrictions on Chinese investment in the US, saying it would be the “first of many” trade actions.

“We have a tremendous intellectual property theft situation going on,” Trump said as he signed the new trade order, which could include duties as high as 25 per cent.

The action did not immediately impose any new tariffs, but within two weeks US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is due to publish a list of the products that could be hit with tariffs, which will be followed by a period of public comment.

As Trump has marched towards a confrontation, Beijing has repeatedly warned that trade wars benefit no one and that it would not stand by as Washington imposed new punitive measures.

US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on Thursday suggested the new measures on intellectual property were in fact a way of bringing Beijing to the table, telling CNBC they were “the prelude to a set of negotiations”.

China’s commerce ministry warned that a 15 per cent tariff on 120 goods worth almost $1 billion — including fresh fruit, nuts and wine — would be imposed if the US fails to reach a “trade compensation agreement” within an unspecified timeframe.

In a second step, a 25 per cent tariff would be imposed on eight goods totalling nearly $2 billion, including pork and aluminium scrap, after “further evaluating the impact of the US measures on China,” the statement said.

The measures were specifically in response to US steel and aluminium tariffs, which were due to take effect on Friday.

The list noticeably does not include soybeans, which Chinese state-run newspaper the Global Times had suggested should be targeted by Beijing.

That would be a major blow to US farmers, as a third of their soybean exports go to China in a business worth $14 billion last year.

The political stakes are high: Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the 10 top soybean-producing states in the 2016 election.

Betty Wang, an economist at ANZ bank, said China’s reaction is “relatively mild” as it tends to seek solutions through negotiations.

“From China’s perspective, it absolutely does not want to see a trade war.

Coming back to the negotiation table is a relatively good result,” Wang said.

Years of ‘failed’ dialogue

US Vice President Mike Pence hailed the new measures, saying they made it clear “the era of economic surrender is over”.

Senior White House economic advisor Everett Eissenstat said the new import duties would target industrial sectors where “China has sought to acquire an advantage through the unfair acquisition or forced technology transfer from US companies”.

The order also directs the US Treasury to develop new proposals to increase safeguards on Chinese investments in the US that could compromise national security.

In addition, the US trade representative will go after China in the World Trade Organization — a body Trump and his officials have criticised as ineffective — charging Beijing with preventing US companies from freely licensing their own technology in China.

White House officials said the actions came after years of efforts failed to convince China to change its behaviour.

While Trump hit out at China, he authorised the suspension of steel and aluminium tariffs on key trade partners, including the European Union and six other countries, until May 1.

Pain for US consumers?

The US had a record $337.2 billion trade deficit with China last year.

American industry, and US agriculture in particular, as well as members of the president’s own Republican party have voiced strident opposition to Trump’s recent trade moves.

The US Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai said American companies face market access barriers in China but it said both sides should avoid a trade war.

“We welcome the US government’s determination to address China’s unfair trade practices but call on the Administration not to impose tariffs as its principal response,” the chamber said in a statement.

But White House trade adviser Peter Navarro told reporters that China benefitted far more from trade with the US, meaning retaliation could be difficult for Beijing, and that lawmakers would broadly support the measures.

Influential Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said he was “very pleased” with the moves, but other Republicans called on Trump to be judicious in designing the tariffs, warning of consequences for American consumers.

Palestinian teen protester Ahed Tamimi gets 8 months in prison after agreeing to plea deal

Palestinian teenage protest icon Ahed Tamimi on Wednesday was sentenced to eight months in prison for slapping and kicking a pair of Israeli soldiers outside her West Bank home, capping a case that sparked uproar in Israel, turned the 17-year-old girl into a Palestinian hero, and attracted international attention.

Tamimi’s Israeli lawyer, Gaby Lasky, said Tamimi agreed to the sentence as part of a plea deal with prosecutors that allowed her to avoid more serious charges that could have imprisoned her for years.

Under the deal, she is due to be released in the summer. She is also being fined the equivalent of about $1,400.

Lasky called the legal proceedings a “farce”. She said “they are trying to deter other Palestinian youth from resisting occupation as Ahed did.”

The judge agreed to a similar plea deal for Tamimi’s mother Nariman, who has been charged with incitement.

“This is injustice, this court is designed to oppress the Palestinians,” her father Bassem said. He said they agreed to the deal because they had been threatened with three years in jail.

Bassem had visited his daughter and wife for the first time in prison the day before. He said Ahed spends her time doing school work.

An Israeli supporter of Tamimi slapped a prosecutor after the ruling and was later arrested by police.

Tamimi was arrested in December after video surfaced of her kicking the soldiers outside her West Bank home.

While some praised the soldiers for showing restraint, hardline politicians criticised what they felt was a weak response and called for tough action against the girl, whose family has a long history of run-ins with the Israelis.

But the full-throttle prosecution of Tamimi, who turned 17 behind bars, has drawn widespread international criticism.

An Israeli official’s revelation that he had once had parliament investigate whether the blond, blue-eyed Tamimis are “real” Palestinians drew accusations of racism and helped stoke additional interest in the case.

The case touches on what constitutes legitimate resistance to Israel’s rule over millions of Palestinians, now in its 51st year, in territories it captured in the 1967 war.

“No justice under occupation and we are in an illegal court,” Tamimi said to reporters in court.

Ahed Tamimi’s supporters see a brave girl who struck the soldiers in anger after having just learned that Israeli troops seriously wounded a 15-year-old cousin, shooting him in the head from close range with a rubber bullet during nearby stone-throwing clashes.

In Israel, she is seen either as a naive youth manipulated by her elders or a threat to Israel’s military deterrence. The incident also sparked debate about the soldiers’ refusal to act.

Israel has treated Tamimi’s actions as a criminal offense, indicting her on charges of assault and incitement that carry up to 14 years in prison.

Since 2009, residents of Tamimi’s village of Nabi Salah have staged regular anti-occupation protests that often end with stone-throwing clashes.

Ahed Tamimi has participated in such marches from a young age, and has had several highly publicised run-ins with soldiers.

One photo shows the then-12-year-old raising a clenched fist toward a soldier towering over her.

Following her latest arrest, images of the girl became popular on posters in the West Bank. Some 1.7 million people worldwide have signed a petition calling for her release.

The case has drawn attention to Israel’s military court system, which is used to try Palestinians in the West Bank. Israeli West Bank settlers, on the other hand, are tried under Israeli civilian courts.

The duelling justice systems have drawn criticism from international rights groups.

The military courts have a near 100 per cent conviction rate, in part because so many Palestinians agree to plea bargains. Critics say the system gives Palestinians few rights, and they are often coerced into plea deals.

Hundreds of Palestinian minors are processed by the military court system each year.

“Ahed will be home in a few months, but Israel is putting this child behind bars for eight months for calling for protests and slapping a soldier, after threatening her with years in jail,” said Human Rights Watch Middle East Director Sarah Leah Whitson.

Trump prepares China trade sanctions, Beijing vows retaliation

President Donald Trump is poised to unveil sanctions against China on Thursday for the “theft” of US intellectual property, fueling fears of a trade war as Beijing vowed to retaliate.

White House spokesman Raj Shah told AFP that Trump will announce actions following an “investigation into China’s state-led, market-distorting efforts to force, pressure, and steal US technologies and intellectual property”.

According to his schedule, released by the White House on Wednesday evening, he will sign “a Presidential Memorandum targeting China’s economic aggression.”

The Chinese commerce ministry issued a pre-emptive warning, saying in a statement on Thursday that Beijing “will certainly take all necessary measures to resolutely defend its legitimate rights and interests”.

It is just weeks since Trump short-circuited White House deliberations and announced a raft of sanctions on foreign-produced steel and aluminum off the cuff.

That move prompted the resignation of top economic advisor Gary Cohn, a global stock market selloff, legal disputes and threats of retaliatory measures.

On Wednesday, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell warned that the prospect of a trade war was a growing threat to the world’s largest economy.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang urged Trump on Tuesday to not act “emotionally,” but the impulsive president is showing no sign of backing down.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer recently put a separate proposed package of $30 billion in tariffs on Chinese imports on the president’s desk.

And Trump appears to have agreed to at least that amount, as he tries to fulfil campaign promises to get tough on “cheating” by US trade partners, which he says have destroyed American jobs.

The US trade deficit with China ran to a record $375 billion last year — but US exports to the country were also at a record.

Washington has long accused Beijing of forcing US companies to turn over proprietary commercial information and intellectual property as a condition of operating in China.

Trump claims to have built up a generally good relationship with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping whom he has praised for his role in pressuring North Korea over its nuclear program.

However, the trade dispute threatens to cast a pall over those relations, especially given the recent warnings from Beijing.

A laundry list of grievances

A senior official in Lighthizer’s office said on Wednesday that the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations had attempted over the decades to coax China into respecting market economics and trade liberalisation, but had all failed.

The Trump administration opened an investigation last August, acting on a series of allegations against China, including that as a condition of doing business, Beijing forces US companies to enter joint ventures and transfer technology and trade secrets to domestic partners, and that American firms are not able to license intellectual property in China as freely as Chinese companies.

US officials also allege China has hacked US networks and conducted industrial espionage to steal US intellectual property.

Xi sent his top economic advisor Liu He to Washington this month to discuss trade tensions, but the US official said that at no point had the Chinese made a constructive proposal.

“Certainly by November, the background was such that officials in China had reason to know about the concerns we’ve raised […] at least, as of today the administration has not been satisfied with the types of responses we’ve been getting from China,” the senior official in Lighthizer’s office said, speaking on condition of anonymity in a briefing to reporters.

“Obviously the president will have the final say in terms of what we end up doing here.”

“As a general matter, we do have very strong evidence that China uses foreign ownership restrictions such as joint venture requirements and foreign equity limitations to require or pressure technology transfer from US companies to Chinese entities,” he added.

Tariffs talks

Along with the announcement of that offensive, Washington also held out the possibility of a detente with regards to the European Union, which reacted furiously to the news of steel and aluminum tariffs.

In a joint statement, US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said they had agreed to immediately begin “a process of discussion” on the tariffs and other matters “with a view to identifying mutually acceptable outcomes as rapidly as possible.”

Malmstrom had called for Europe to be exempted as a whole. Speaking to reporters in Brussels on Wednesday, European Council President Donald Tusk said he harbored “cautious optimism” on the prospects for a resolution.

The White House already said Canada and Mexico, which are major producers of the metals, will temporarily be exempt from the tariffs during talks to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.