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24 Jan

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

The Foreign Press

English Online International Newspapers

Nearly all of these are English-edition daily newspapers. These sites have interesting editorials and essays, and many have links to other good news sources. We try to limit this list to those sites which are regularly updated, reliable, with a high percentage of “up” time.

US politics >>

The president has belatedly designated his inauguration day as a date to ‘inspire the American heart’

Pass notes

Donald Trump in front of US flag

Name: National Day of Patriotic Devotion.

Age: Four days old.

Appearance: A piece of paper with writing on it.

What does the writing say? Oh, a bunch of stuff. “A new national pride stirs the American soul and inspires the American heart … we must maintain faith in our sacred values and heritage … There are no greater people than the American citizenry …” Then it’s signed by Donald Trump.

He has just become US president, hasn’t he? That’s right. Well done. And one of his first acts was to declare the day of his inauguration a “National Day of Patriotic Devotion”.

That sounds a bit scary. I mean, people who talk about national destiny and patriotic duty are usually dangerous tyrants, aren’t they? That’s certainly how some have reacted. The novelist Robert Harris drew comparison to the Nazi “day of awakening” to celebrate Hitler’s election in 1933.

Crikey. Erm, help. But don’t panic just yet. US presidents declare national days of things all the time. President Obama proclaimed the day of his own inauguration a National Day of Renewal and Reconciliation, and called on “all of our citizens to serve one another and the common purpose of remaking this nation”.

That just sounds like a friendlier version of the same thing. It sort of is. There’s even been a Day of Patriotic Devotion before, when Woodrow Wilson started drafting soldiers for the first world war. And, of course, 11 September is now Patriot Day. Basically, American politicians talk about patriotism a lot.

Blatant overcompensating. They just wish they had a queen. Yeah, maybe.

Still, at least everyone got a holiday on 20 January. Nope. It wasn’t a national holiday, just a day of “observance”.

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Campaigners warn Trump’s reinstatement of a policy cutting aid to organisations who offer abortion services will devastate family planning provision

A community reproductive health volunteer gives contraceptive advice to a young family in Kasese, Uganda

A community reproductive health volunteer gives contraceptive advice to a young family in Kasese, Uganda.
Photograph: Jake Lyell/Alamy

Each day she sets out to speak to young girls about family planning, Elizabeth Akoth, 23, sees how myths about the use of contraceptives are entrenched in her western Kenyan community.

When she explains the various methods they can use to prevent unintended pregnancies, they ask searching questions such as, “Is it true drugs offered for family planning can lead to death?” and “Do they even work?”

Akoth and her fellow peer educators in Homa Bay, a town on the shores of Lake Victoria, have educated dozens of girls on the family planning options available to them, undoubtedly saving many from the unintended pregnancies that often force girls to drop out of school.

But their work may well grind to a halt following the re-imposition by the Trump administration of the global gag rule, a policy that cuts funding to foreign organisations if they provide abortion information, referrals or services, or if they engage in any advocacy on abortion rights with their own funds. Organisations are offered the choice to stop offering these services and still receive funding, or to continue and lose financial support.

Campaigners say the policy will have a devastating impact on millions in many developing countries.

“This blocks access to sexual and reproductive health services in the poorest and hardest to reach communities where we are currently changing lives,” says Tewodros Melesse, director general of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF). “We can’t support something which tries to restrict people’s choices or take them away. The global gag rule undermines those human rights, so IPPF cannot sign the policy.”

Ending this US aid, which currently stands at $600m (£474m), will result in cuts to funding for sexual and reproductive health services in at least 30 countries where IPPF partner organisations work.

Campaigners say this will have a negative effect on the most vulnerable groups that benefit from family planning advice: teenage girls.

About 16 million girls aged 15 to 19, and one million girls under the age of 15, give birth every year, according to the World Health Organization. The majority of these girls live in low- and middle-income countries. Globally, complications during pregnancy and childbirth are the second leading cause of death for girls aged between 15 and 19.

Girls who become pregnant in their teens face considerable stigma and are often

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Related

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Announcement of construction in occupied territory is second since Donald Trump became US president

Benjamin Netanyahu

The plans were authorised by Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman. Photograph: Reuters

Israel’s defence ministry has announced plans to build 2,500 more settlement homes in the West Bank, the second announcement of new construction in the occupied territory since Donald Trump became US president.

A statement from the ministry said the plans, authorised by the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman, were intended to fulfil a demand for new housing “to maintain regular daily life”. Most of the new construction will take place in existing settlement blocs.

The statement said 100 of the homes would be built in Beit El, a settlement that according to Israeli media has received funding from the family of Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

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A 14-month government ‘cleanup’ of internet access services will make it harder for users to access websites that are usually censored or restricted

Some 171 out of 1,000 of the world’s top websites are blocked, including Google.

Some 171 out of 1,000 of the world’s top websites are blocked, including Google. Photograph: Sinopix/Rex

China has begun a crackdown on the use of virtual private networks, or VPNs, making it harder for internet users to circumvent the Great Firewall.

The nation’s ministry of industry and information technology announced a 14-month “cleanup” of internet access services, including making it illegal to operate a local VPN service without government approval.

VPN services use encryption to disguise internet traffic so that web surfers in China can access websites that are usually restricted or censored by the Great Firewall.

The Great Firewall is a vast internet surveillance and content-control system that prevents people in China from accessing certain websites and pages. It blocks content that’s critical of the Chinese government or that covers controversial political events, such as the Tiananmen Square protest or spiritual movements such as Falun Gong.

Some 171 out of the world’s 1,000 top websites are blocked, including Google, Facebook and Twitter, according to censorship monitor Greatfire.org. In order to access these sites, Chinese internet users can use VPN services, although the government has been trying to clamp down on these for several years.

According to the ministry, the crackdown is designed to “strengthen cyberspace information security management”.

“China’s internet connection service market,” the ministry said, “has signs of ­disordered development that ­require urgent regulation and governance.”

The campaign is timed ahead of a leadership overhaul that takes place at the Communist party congress in late 2017.

Greatfire.org’s Charlie Smith said that the measures predominantly affect domestic players.

“Foreign ones will be largely unaffected unless they offer their customers a China server, in which case they will probably have to register in China or drop the China server,” he said. “Most of them will do the latter.”

Smith is concerned that domestic VPN providers that register with the authorities could share data and information relating to their

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Beijing warns White House to tread carefully after after Rex Tillerson likens island-building to Russia’s taking of Crimea

A 2015 exercise in the South China Sea: Philippine and US troops on board a US navy amphibious assault vehicle close to the disputed Scarborough Shoal.

A 2015 exercise in the South China Sea: Philippine and US troops on board a US navy amphibious assault vehicle close to the disputed Scarborough Shoal. Photograph: Bullit Marquez/AP

China has warned the US to “speak and act cautiously” after the White House said it would act to foil Chinese attempts to “take over” the South China Sea, amid growing hints that Donald Trump’s administration intends to challenge Beijing over the strategic waterway.

At a press conference in Beijing on Tuesday, the foreign ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying, urged Washington to tread carefully “to avoid harming the peace and stability of the South China Sea”.

Hua was responding to comments made by White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, the previous day.

Speaking at a press briefing on Monday, Spicer vowed the US would “make sure that we protect our interests” in the resource-rich trade route, through which $4.5tn (£3.4tn) in trade passes each year.

His comments came less than a fortnight after Rex Tillerson, Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, set the stage for a potentially explosive clash with Beijing by likening its artificial island building campaign in the South China Sea to “Russia’s taking of Crimea”.

Tillerson told his confirmation hearing the White House needed to send China a “clear signal” that such activities had to stop and that its access to such territories was “not going to be allowed”.

“They are taking territory or control or declaring control of territories that are not rightfully China’s,” Tillerson said.

Chinese media responded by warning that any attempt to prevent China accessing its interests in the region risked sparking a “large-scale war”.

At his first question and answer session with the press on Monday, Spicer again hinted Trump’s administration would take a harder line on the South China Sea.

“It’s a question of if those islands are in fact in international waters and not part of China proper, then yeah, we’re going to make sure that we defend international territories from being taken over by one country,” he told reporters.

Spicer declined to explain how such steps might be enforced. “I think, as we develop further, we’ll have more information on it,” he said.

However, scholars who have been advising Trump’s team on China policy back a more muscular military approach, primarily through a dramatically strengthened navy in the region.

“We’ve talked a big game on security but haven’t really followed it up all that well with the military muscle that was needed,” Daniel Blumenthal, the director of Asian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington-based thinktank, told the Guardian.

Blumenthal said a “strong, persistent US naval presence” was required to back up a foreign policy “that at its bottom line says that China’s not going to control the South China Sea … But you can’t do that without military resources.”

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At first glance the quiet town of Live Oak seems an unlikely venue for a stand against Big Energy. But in recent weeks it’s become a centre of opposition

Opponents of the Sabal Trail pipeline say it is not only harming the natural beauty of the Suwannee river but also doing irreversible environmental damage.

Opponents of the Sabal Trail pipeline say it is not only harming the natural beauty of the Suwannee river but also doing irreversible environmental damage. Photograph: Richard Luscombe for the Guardian

A north Florida river that attracted the state’s first tourists a century before Walt Disney’s famous cartoon mouse is emerging at the centre of a fight against a contentious 515-mile natural gas pipeline that many are calling America’s next Standing Rock.

One section of the so-called Sabal Trail pipeline is being laid beneath the crystal waters of the Suwannee river, whose pure mineral springs were once fabled to cure anything from marital strife to gout.

Today, the abandoned stone bathhouse at Suwannee springs is a crumbling ruin, and the four hotels that once stood here, the last of which burned down in 1925, are long consigned to history.

The Suwannee river itself though is currently a scene of ongoing conflict amid the opposition to a $3.2bn pipeline designed to carry a billion cubic feet of natural gas daily through Alabama and Georgia to power plants in Florida upon its scheduled completion later this year.

At first glance, the quiet town of Live Oak, with a population of fewer than 7,000, seems an unlikely venue for such a stand against big energy. But in recent weeks a sizeable woodland protest camp has grown on the banks of the Suwannee and a number of non-violent direct actions have taken place, including one last week that temporarily halted construction and resulted in eight arrests.

Opponents say the building of the pipeline is harming not only the natural beauty of places such as the Suwannee, but irreversibly damaging sensitive environmental and culturally important areas in all three states, and threatening the supply of clean drinking water for millions.

“This is our land and our water, not theirs,” says John Quarterman, president of the WWALS Watershed Coalition that advocates for the conservation of five rivers in Georgia and Florida, including the Suwannee. “We can’t just sit here and let them come through here. We have to do something about it.”

In these parts of northern Florida, as in much of the rest of the state, the karst bedrock being drilled for the pipeline is a fragile and porous limestone.

Campaigners say that drilling has already resulted in sinkholes forming at several sites, and claim to have evidence of inadequate construction practices, including photographs from the air appearing to show the leaking of drilling mud into Georgia’s Withlacoochee river from a frac-out.

The consortium of companies behind the project, Spectra Energy of Houston, NextEra Energy of Juno Beach (the parent company of Florida Power and Light) and Duke Energy of Charlotte, North Carolina, insist that stringent safety measures are in place and that the threat to the environment is minimal. Drilling the pipeline, they say, creates a much smaller construction footprint than highways, railroads and water mains.

We can’t just sit here and let them come through here. We have to do something about it

John Quarterman, president of the WWALS Watershed Coalition

But opponents claim Spectra in particular has had issues around its safety record, pointing to an explosion caused by a rupture of a natural gas pipeline across the Arkansas river in 2015; a pipeline explosion near its Nig creek compressor station in British Colombia in 2012 and documented regulatory fines of more than $650,000 for various environmental violations since 2010. Not least of the campaigners’ worries is the possible threat to the underground Floridan aquifer system that provides drinking water for about 10 million people, according to the US Geological Survey.

Environmental impact studies and an independent hydro-geological report commissioned respectively by the Sierra Club of Florida and a Native American clan leader warn of the risk of “catastrophic collapse” of parts of the cave system essential to the free flow and purity of water through the aquifer.

Sabal Trail Transmission LLC, the entity set up by the three energy companies to run the project, says campaigners’ fears are unfounded. “Sabal Trail will not significantly impact karst terrain, springs or the Floridan aquifer with its construction or operations,” Andrea Grover, the company’s director of stakeholder outreach, wrote in written statements to the Guardian.

The pipeline, she said, was needed to upgrade Florida’s “fully or near-fully subscribed” natural gas transmission infrastructure and its route and construction techniques were determined, after a lengthy consultation period, to “avoid, minimize or mitigate impacts”.

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English Online International Newspapers

Nearly all of these are English-edition daily newspapers. These sites have interesting editorials and essays, and many have links to other good news sources. We try to limit this list to those sites which are regularly updated, reliable, with a high percentage of “up” time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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