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Mexico, Canada, US plan new round of NAFTA talks for April

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Mexico City, March 6: Mexico, Canada and the US will hold their eighth round of negotiations to revise the North American Free Trade Agreement in early April, and to accelerate the process they will conduct a series of working meetings – involving cabinet officers – before the talks, Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said on Monday.

At a press conference after the end of the seventh round of talks to update NAFTA, Guajardo said that the new round will take place during the “first part of April,” meaning that authorities in the three-member nations have “five weeks” to consider their options and prepare, Efe reported.

“It’s not that there’s just going to be one meeting, but rather a working group” will hold assorted meetings in Washington, Mexico City, Ottawa and Toronto.

Moreover, negotiators will discuss working agendas regarding “associated issues that are very close to being resolved.”

He also said that during the coming five weeks the ministers tasked with recrafting and updating NAFTA, which went into effect in 1994 and the renegotiation of which US President Donald Trump had demanded, will be in contact with one another and meet to begin “getting an idea about comprehensive solutions” on issues of “great complexity.”

Guajardo said that the site for the eighth negotiation round has yet to be established, but it is expected that it will be in Washington since the sixth round was held in Montreal and the seventh – which lasted from Feb. 25 through March 5 – in the Mexican capital.

He said that Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s government is ready to negotiate up until the last day of his presidency, Nov. 30.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said that the new pact should be concluded “quickly” because of the nearness of the Mexican presidential election – scheduled for July 1 – and the US mid-term elections in November.

Lighthizer said Monday that it was regrettable that negotiators had only managed to conclude discussions on three of the issue areas during the seventh round, although Guajardo was more positive and said that now agreement had been reached on six of the 30 NAFTA issues areas.

IANS

Middle East

US sanctions 17 Saudi officials over killing of Khashoggi

The sanctions were handed down after Saudi Arabia’s attorney general, Saud al-Mojeb, said Thursday that he would seek the death penalty for five of the 11 suspects charged in connection with the journalist’s death.

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Washington, Nov 16 (IANS) The United States’ government on Thursday sanctioned 17 Saudi Arabian officials for their alleged role in the killing of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was last seen entering the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul early last month.

Among those sanctioned by the US Treasury Department is Saud al-Qahtani, one of the chief advisers to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Efe reported.

“The Saudi officials we are sanctioning were involved in the abhorrent killing of Jamal Khashoggi (on October 2). These individuals who targeted and brutally killed a journalist who resided and worked in the United States must face consequences for their actions,” US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was quoted as saying in a press release.

“The government of Saudi Arabia must take appropriate steps to end any targeting of political dissidents or journalists,” he added.

The US Treasury Department accused al-Qahtani of helping to plan and execute the operation that led to the killing of Khashoggi.

The other people hit with sanctions are Saudi Arabia’s consul general, Mohammed al-Otaibi; al-Qahtani’s subordinate, Maher Mutreb, who allegedly coordinated and executed the operation; and 14 others who purportedly participated in the crime.

“As a result of these designations, any property or interests in property of the individuals designated today within or transiting US jurisdiction is blocked,” Thursday’s press release said.

“Additionally, US persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with blocked persons, including entities 50 percent or more owned by designated persons.”

The sanctions were handed down after Saudi Arabia’s attorney general, Saud al-Mojeb, said Thursday that he would seek the death penalty for five of the 11 suspects charged in connection with the journalist’s death.

In a press conference in Riyadh, the top prosecutor said the crown prince had not had any prior knowledge of the operation.

Al-Mojeb said the investigation had shown that Khashoggi, a government critic and Washington Post columnist, died after being restrained and injected with a tranquilizer following a fight inside the consulate.

His body was then dismembered and handed over to a Turkish collaborator, the attorney general said.

Al-Mojeb said the then-deputy head of intelligence, Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri, had masterminded the operation that was intended to get Khashoggi back to the kingdom.

He added that the order for the killing was given by the head of the delegation of agents that had traveled to Turkey, although he did not name that individual.

Khashoggi, long a part of the Saudi establishment, became estranged from Riyadh as a result of his criticism of the crown prince and had been living in self-imposed exile in the US since 2017.

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Repatriation of Rohingya refugees suspended : Bangladesh

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Rohingya Protest Bangladesh

Dhaka/Naypyidaw, Nov 15 : Bangladesh on Thursday suspended the first planned phase of repatriation of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, citing a lack of volunteers.Dhaka and Naypyidaw had agreed to repatriate 2,251 refugees in the first batch.

The first phase of their return to Myanmar, from where hundreds of thousands of them fled from a military crackdown in 2017, was due to begin on Thursday, as per an agreement signed between Bangladesh and Myanmar on November 23 that year.

The process was expected to take two weeks with 150 people due to be transferred every day. The repatriation was to be done on voluntary basis.

“We waited here until 4 p.m. but no one came”, Bangladesh’s Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Abul Kalam told Efe news.

“It was already getting dark and Myanmar is one hour ahead of us, so we (…) suspended our activities today. We will now analyse the situation before we decide the next course of action”.

Over 723,000 members of the mostly Muslim minority fled to Bangladesh escaping a military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in August 2017.

International observers, including the UN, had urged Bangladesh to halt the plan, warning that the repatriation would violate international law and put the lives of the Rohingyas at serious risk.

Rohingya community leaders echoed those concerns, saying it was too soon to start the repatriation.

“This repatriation is not going to be sustainable,” said Abdur Rahim, a leader of Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights.

“They (Myanmar authorities) are going to keep people in camps,” he said.

Another community leader, Dil Mohammad, said the situation in Myanmar was not yet conducive for the refugees’ return. “We will go back only if the security of our life and livelihood is ensured.”

A UN report released in September said the military campaign against Rohingyas in Rakhine had elements of genocidal intent and experts had found evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Myanmar classifies Rohingyas as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, denying them citizenship and imposing a number of restrictions, including limits on their freedom of movement.

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Bangladesh set to repatriate Rohingya despite security concerns

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Dhaka, Nov 14 :Bangladesh on Wednesday was preparing to go ahead with the planned repatriation of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who last year fled a violent military crackdown in Myanmar, despite concerns over their safety.

The plans to send Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar gathered momentum, with reports of Bangladesh armed forces gathering in the Cox’s Bazar camps and allegations that refugees were assaulted by the authorities for refusing to cooperate, according to a report in the Guardian.

The first phase of the Rohingya’s return to Myanmar will begin on Thursday, according to an agreement signed between the two countries on November 23, 2017.

“We have seen their concerns, but so far the decision has not been changed,” Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Abul Kalam told Efe news.

The two governments agreed to repatriate 2,251 of some 723,000 Rohingya refugees living in camps in Cox’s Bazaar of Bangladesh.

The Army, police and paramilitary troops moved into several of the camps in Bangladesh, where over 700,000 Rohingya have been living after fleeing a campaign of violence, described as genocide by a UN fact-finding mission.

According to the Guardian, there have been reports of Bangladesh camp officials assaulting Rohingya refugees who refused to cooperate, in a sign that the repatriations may not be voluntary, despite multiple assurances by Bangladesh that it would not force any Rohingya to go back.

Meanwhile, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Tuesday urged Bangladesh to halt the plan, warning that the repatriation would violate international law and put the lives of the refugees at serious risk.

Rohingya leaders echoed those concerns, saying it was too soon to start the repatriation.

“This repatriation is not going to be sustainable,” Abdur Rahim, a leader of Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, said.

“They (the Myanmar authorities) are going to keep people in camps,” he said.

Another community leader, Dil Mohammad, said the situation in Myanmar was not yet conducive for the refugees’ return.

“We will go back only if the security of our life and livelihood is ensured.”

Spokesman of UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Firas Al-Khateeb said that they started assessing “the voluntariness of the refugees cleared for return to Myanmar to ascertain if they would like to exercise their right to return at this time”.

The Rohingya exodus began on August 25, 2017 when a rebel group of the mostly Muslim minority community launched a series of attacks on government posts in Rakhine state in western Myanmar.

The Myanmar Army responded with an offensive that has been condemned globally, with the UNHCR saying it had all the attributes of ethnic cleansing and bore elements of genocide.

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