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Dhaka court indicts five militants for blogger’s murder in 2015

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A Dhaka court on Wednesday charged five activists of a banned militant outfit for the 2015 murder of popular blogger Oyasiqur Rahman Babu, who wrote against the Jamaat-e-Islami and radical Islamists.

An additional metropolitan magistrate court indicted the Ansarullah Bangla Team militants and fixed August 4 for depositions by witnesses, bdnews24 reported.

Three of the suspects were presented in the court for the hearing, an official said.

The remaining two are absconding and will be tried in absentia, the official added.

On the morning of March 30, 2015, machete-wielding religious fundamentalists hacked Oyasiqur to death near his home in Dhaka’s Tejgaon area.

Oyasiqur’s attackers targeted his neck and head, similar to previous attacks on bloggers, Ahmed Rajib Haider and Avijit Roy.

According to bdnews24, one of the arrested is a madrassa student from Hathazari area of Chittagong and the other attends a madrassa situated in Dhaka’s Mirpur area.

Locals managed to nab two of the attackers and handed them over to law enforcers while the third suspect was arrested by police later.

According to the Dhaka Tribune, Oyasiqur worked as a travel agency executive and had over 2,600 friends on Facebook. The blogger wrote under pseudonyms on popular blogs.

On his Facebook account, Oyasiqur wrote several notes opposing irrational religious beliefs, superstitions and radical Islamists.

He was also an admirer of Avijit Roy, a US-based Bangladeshi — founder of Mukto Mona, a web forum for South Asian rationalists — who was hacked to death on February 26, 2015.

Oyasiqur wrote against Jamaat-e-Islami and radical Islamist groups. He was also vocal against human rights violations on the religious minorities and indigenous people of the country.

Oyasiqur was member of eight Facebook group pages including Atheist Bangladesh.

Russia

Lavrov, Tillerson discuss need for urgent North Korea negotiations: Moscow

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday discussed North Korea’s nuclear programme with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, stressing the need to start a negotiations process.

“The sides were united in the opinion that nuclear missile projects in North Korea violate the demands of the UN Security Council,” the Russian foreign ministry said after the two men spoke by telephone.

Lavrov “once again highlighted that it is unacceptable to exacerbate tensions around the Korean peninsula with Washington’s aggressive rhetoric toward Pyongyang and increasing military preparations in the region,” it said.

“It was underlined that it is necessary to move from the language of sanctions to the negotiating process as soon as possible,” the statement said, adding that it was Tillerson who initiated the call.

The UN Security Council on Friday slapped new sanctions on North Korea that will restrict oil supplies vital for its missile and nuclear programmes, the latest response to Pyongyang’s ICBM test last month.

US President Donald Trump has threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea if it attacks the United States, while North Korea insists the world must now accept that it is a nuclear power.

Pyongyang has slammed the UN sanctions as an “act of war”.

Moscow has called for talks between North Korea and the United States, warning of a “risk of uncontrolled escalation”. Russia has also criticised Washington’s military drills with South Korea saying it provokes Pyongyang.

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America

‘He’s such a dreamer:’ Skepticism dogs U.S. envoy’s North Korean peace efforts

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Saddled with the toughest job in American diplomacy, the chief U.S. negotiator with North Korea stands between a U.S. president who insists he doesn’t want to talk and an enemy who shows no interest in listening.

While veteran State Department Asia hand Joseph Yun might be Washington’s best diplomatic hope for reducing the risk of a devastating war on the Korean peninsula, he serves an administration riven by divisions over how to handle Pyongyang.

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On the other side, North Korea’s young leader, Kim Jong Un, shows little interest in negotiating either, at least not until he has developed a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland.

Despite the daunting obstacles, South Korean-born Yun has told colleagues and others he hopes his diplomatic efforts can lower the temperature in a dangerous nuclear stand-off, according to Reuters interviews with more than a dozen current and former U.S. officials and South Korean diplomats.

Most were deeply skeptical about his chances.

“He’s such a dreamer,” a White House official said, with a note of sarcasm.

“We don’t think this is going anywhere,” said another U.S. official, although he suggested it was still worthwhile to keep engaging at some level with the North Koreans as long as Yun does not appear to be undermining President Donald Trump’s public rejection of direct negotiations.

Trump has told aides that his military threats will drive North Korea to capitulate and rein in its nuclear and missile programs, four White House officials said, a view not shared among most U.S. intelligence agencies.

Yun, however, is quietly pursuing direct diplomacy with North Korean officials at the United Nations and has a mandate to discuss issues beyond the release of U.S. citizens, a senior State Department official told Reuters this week. In June, he secured the release of U.S. student Otto Warmbier, who returned to the United States in a coma and died days later.

‘RUNNING OUT OF TIME’

Trump headed to Asia on Friday as a senior aide warned the world is “running out of time” on the North Korea crisis. Behind the scenes, Yun is trying to keep open a fragile line of communication that could be used to prevent any miscalculation by one side or the other from spiraling into military conflict.

Further aggravating tensions, two U.S. strategic bombers conducted drills over South Korea on Thursday. That followed word from South Korea’s spy agency that North Korea may be preparing another missile launch.

U.S. officials have said privately that intercepting a test missile is among options under consideration, though there is disagreement within the administration about the risks.

In the midst of this is Yun, a soft-spoken, 32-year foreign service veteran who took on the job a year ago, near the end of the Obama administration.

He is grappling with Trump’s strident rhetoric as well as disagreement among the president’s top aides over whether saber-rattling will force Kim to capitulate and what the threshold for any military actions should be, according to several U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Concern about Yun’s difficulties has surfaced in Seoul, where he visits regularly and where Trump will travel next week on the second stop of his Asian tour.

Several South Korean officials expressed worry that Yun’s diplomatic efforts with North Korea lack any real underpinning of support from the White House.

“Things are clearly not easy for him,” one South Korean diplomat said. “Yun is precisely that person (to talk to North Korea), but Trump is killing the whole process.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters on Sept. 30 the United States was probing for a diplomatic opening, only to be slapped down by Trump, who told him via Twitter this was a waste of time.

At the same time, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who regularly briefs Trump on intelligence matters and is considered one of the most hawkish voices on North Korea in the president’s inner circle, has apparently gained stature.

Several officials familiar with those discussions say Pompeo is feeding Trump assessments that U.S. military threats will force Kim to bow to U.S. demands for nuclear disarmament, a position that some U.S. intelligence officers privately contest.

The CIA declined comment.

NORTH KOREAN NEGOTIATOR ‘SHOCKED’

A U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity said Yun has become diplomatically “untethered,” not fully connected to a core U.S. approach that is emphasizing economic sanctions and the threat of military action rather than diplomacy.

The one tangible achievement of Yun’s diplomatic efforts in the past year was winning the release of 22-year-old Warmbier in secret talks with North Korean officials in Oslo and New York. Yun flew to Pyongyang in June to medically evacuate Warmbier.

When Choe Son Hui, head of the North Korean foreign ministry’s North America bureau, met Yun in Oslo, she was unaware of how serious Warmbier’s condition was, a source in Washington knowledgeable about the matter said.

But once she learned about it she was “shocked” and Yun was summoned urgently to meet a North Korean diplomat in New York, which quickly led to Warmbier’s return home, the source said.

Warmbier’s death complicated Yun’s efforts as it contributed to a chilling of U.S.-North Korean contacts around that time, the State Department official said.

STUMBLING IN THE DARK

Despite Trump’s threats of military action against Pyongyang, the State Department official said Yun’s view was “the less you engage diplomatically, the more likely you are in the dark.”

Even so, Trump’s rhetoric has raised questions among allies, and possibly even in North Korea, about how serious, if at all, his administration is about diplomacy and how much of a mandate Yun may have to pursue it.

Trump “personalized” the conflict – deriding Kim as “Little Rocket Man” – against the advice of his national security and intelligence experts, some of whom warned it could be counterproductive, a senior national security official said.

Another official pointed out, however, that Trump, who in May said he would be honored to meet Kim, had not hurled any fresh insults at Kim in recent days, raising hopes for an altered approach.

A South Korean official in Seoul said it was necessary for Washington to have someone in contact with North Korea to help spur future negotiations if they are ever to take hold.

But Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, told Japan’s NHK television this week: “What we cannot afford to do is enter into these long, drawn-out negotiations that allow North Korea to use these negotiations as cover for continuing their nuclear and missile programs.”

Former U.S. negotiators sympathize with Yun, whose authority to negotiate has been undercut by the tug-of-war between a White House breathing fire and a State Department pushing a peaceful solution.

“Nobody doubted my authority,” said Wendy Sherman, one of the lead U.S. negotiators who achieved the 2015 deal under which

Iran agreed to restrain its nuclear program in return for relief from economic sanctions. “All of this undermines our ability to do the job.”

Robert Gallucci, who was chief U.S. negotiator during the North Korean nuclear crisis of 1994 and has had recent contact with Yun, said the envoy is “realistic about the challenges of negotiating in the current atmosphere, including the tone set by the president, but he believes in the mission even as his approach is guided by realism.”

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South Asia

Trump puts Pakistan on notice on Afghanistan, seeks Indian help

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Washington/New Delhi, Aug 22 : President Donald Trump has unveiled his long-awaited Afghanistan policy, warning the US will take action within Pakistan if it did not stop backing terrorists battling American forces. And in a first for an American President, Trump brought India directly into the equation by assigning a strategic role for New Delhi.

In an address to the nation on Monday from Fort Myer near Washington, Trump put long-time ally Pakistan on notice with a virtual ultimatum that it “has much to lose” by backing terrorists.
He accused Islamabad of sheltering “the same organisations that try every single day to kill our people”.

“We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars, at the same time they are housing the very terrorists we are fighting. But that will have to change and that will change immediately.”

In an implied warning to Islamabad, he added: “These killers need to know they have nowhere to hide – that no place is beyond the reach of American arms.”

Trump also asked India “to help us more with Afghanistan” and said a “critical part of the South Asia strategy for America was to further develop its strategic partnership with India — the world’s largest democracy and a key security and economic partner of the US”.

The new US policy, a reversal of Trump’s threats during the Presidential campaign to quit Afghanistan, was hailed by Kabul and New Delhi. But the Taliban denounced it — so did leading figures in Pakistan.

Trump presented his strategy for the 16-year Afghanistan war, three weeks before the anniversary of 9/11 attacks on the US by the Al Qaeda which was then based in that country.

He said from the Oval Office he now saw things differently after receiving advice on Afghanistan.

But he stuck to a core tenet of his policy, limiting American missions: “We are not nation-building again. We are killing terrorists.”

The Taliban warned on Tuesday that the US would lose many more lives in Afghanistan.

“If America doesn’t withdraw its troops from Afghanistan soon, Afghanistan will become another graveyard for this superpower in the 21st century,” Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid said.

India, which enjoys close ties with Kabul, welcomed Trump’s “determination to enhance efforts to overcome the challenges facing Afghanistan and confronting issues of safe havens and other forms of cross-border support enjoyed by terrorists”.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said he was “grateful” to Trump “for this affirmation of support for our efforts to achieve self-reliance and for our joint struggle to rid the region from the threat of terrorism”.

There was no reaction from the Pakistan government but leading politicians slammed Trump.

“Blaming Pakistan will not win the war for the US in Afghanistan nor will embracing (Indian Prime Minister Narendra) Modi,” said Shireen Mazari, a PTI member in the National Assembly.

Trump declared: “We will no longer use American military might to construct democracies in far away lands, or try to rebuild other countries in our own image – those days are now over.”

“The next pillar of our new strategy is a change in our approach to Pakistan,” he said. “We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organisations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond.”

He added he would not set any timetables as his predecessor Barack Obama had.

“From now on, victory will have a clear definition: attacking our enemies, obliterating IS (Islamic State), crushing Al Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over the country, and stopping mass terror attacks against Americans before they emerge.”

The other danger he saw was from Pakistan’s backing for terrorists against India. “The threat is worse because Pakistan and India are two nuclear-armed states whose tense relations threaten to spiral into conflict.”

He said he wanted India’s help but made it appear a transactional issue by referring to New Delhi’s trade with the US.

India pledged a $1 billion package for Afghanistan in 2016.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson affirmed India’s role outlined by Trump.

“India will be an important partner in the effort to ensure peace and stability in the region and we welcome its role in supporting Afghanistan’s political and economic modernisation,” he said.

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