China confirms detention of accused spies

Chinas has confirmed that it is investigating six Japanese citizens, following a Japanese news report that Chinese authorities had detained six men possibly for spying.

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Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a regular briefing that six Japanese nationals are suspected of engaging in “illegal activities,” but did not give details.

Japan’s Kyodo News reported earlier that three Japanese were detained in Shandong province and three in Hainan province – two regions with major Chinese naval facilities – in March.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Monday that China told Japan that authorities detained six Japanese in Hainan and Shandong provinces in March for violation of domestic law. He said he would not provide further details.

China has periodically detained Japanese citizens on suspicion of spying, including four in 2015.

Last December, a Chinese military-run newspaper lashed out at Kyodo for publishing photos of an under-construction aircraft carrier and suggested that the incident highlighted the need for China to better protect its military secrets, even though satellite images of the vessel were publicly available at the time.

China’s government and state media have repeatedly warned of the country’s vulnerability to foreign spies. Beijing, the capital, has encouraged neighbourhood patrols and offered large cash rewards for tips about foreign agents, while the national government has introduced an annual National Security Education Day and disseminated cartoon posters warning government workers to stay vigilant against attractive foreigners who might seek to seduce them.

China’s government crippled a US spy network in China by killing or imprisoning more than a dozen CIA sources between 2010 and 2012, The New York Times reported Sunday.

Hua, the foreign ministry spokeswoman, declined to comment about the Times article on Monday but said that as a general matter, China’s state security apparatus investigates threats to national security and carries out its duties effectively and according to law.

Duterte hopes to boost ties with Russia

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has vowed to “correct” the country’s over-dependence on traditional partners such as the United States as he embarked on a visit aimed at boosting ties with Russia.

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Duterte lamented that, while the Philippines and Russia have had diplomatic relations for the past 40 years, co-operation has remained minimal and must be increased for the mutual benefit of the two countries.

“Russia must cease to be at the margins of Philippine diplomacy,” he said in a speech before leaving for Moscow.

“Over-dependence on traditional partners has limited our room to manoeuvre in a very dynamic international arena.”

“This is a strategic oversight that has led to many missed opportunities for our country. I am determined to correct this.”

Duterte said he would push for “pragmatic engagement in the politico-security sphere, increased economic co-operation, and enhanced cultural and people-to-people exchanges” in meetings with President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

“My visit underscores the independence of the Philippines’ foreign policy and the firm resolve to broaden the horizons of friendship and cooperation with other nations,” he said.

“Russia is a country that we must work with. There are opportunities for co-operation that cannot be ignored.”

Duterte has been forging stronger ties with such non-traditional partners as Russia and China as part of an effort to shift the country’s foreign policy away from long-time ally, the US, which has criticised his anti-drug campaign, which has left thousands dead.

He has an invitation to meet with US President Donald Trump, but no date has been set.

Bomb at Bangkok hospital, wounds 24

There was no claim of responsibility for Monday’s blast at the Phramongkutklao Hospital, which is popular with soldiers and their families and retired military officers.

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“It was a bomb. We found the pieces that were used to make the bomb,” Kamthorn Aucharoen, commander of the police’s explosive ordnance team, told Reuters, adding it was not clear who was behind the attack.

“Right now, authorities are checking out closed circuit cameras,” Kamthorn said.

Government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said 24 people had been wounded. Most of the wounded were hit by flying glass, the military’s national security unit said.

Suspicion is likely to focus either on political dissidents opposed to military rule or Muslim separatists based in the south of the predominately Buddhist country.

Soldiers cordoned off the hospital’s entrance, a Reuters reporter at the scene said.

Deputy national police chief General Srivara Rangsibrahmanakul said the bomb had been hidden in a container by the entrance of a pharmacy.

Monday is the anniversary of a May 22, 2014, military coup that toppled a democratically elected government and ended months of unrest, including sometimes deadly street demonstrations.

Since the coup, the junta, known as the National Council for Peace and Order, has clamped down on dissent and ramped up prosecutions under sedition and royal defamation laws.

The military has always played a prominent role in Thai life but since the coup it has become embedded in society with military men more entrenched than under previous governments.

The military government has acknowledged it wants to weaken political parties and maintain permanent influence over elected governments, partly through a new constitution approved by the king last month.

An election is due by the end of next year.

Labor Senator to refer secret Ashby recording to police, electoral commission

Queensland Labor Senator Murray Watt is concerned there may be evidence of intent to commit electoral fraud.

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He now plans to refer the matter to the electoral commission, Australian Federal Police and Queensland Police.

But there’s no evidence the issues raised by One Nation staff James Ashby were ever acted on. It’s not suggested that any wrongdoing occurred.

Mr Ashby said the comments were part of a brainstorming session and a “poor choice of words”.

“They were quite clearly secret recordings, it captured some off-guard comments, there’s only one thing I regret and that’s a poor choice of words,” he told AAP on Monday.

Listen to the Ashby recording and Hinch’s response

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He claimed the conversation was recorded illegally by a disaffected staff member, saying One Nation would make its own complaint to police.

“This almost has a flavour of blackmail, which has been used over the last 12 months,’ he said.

According to the recording obtained by The Courier-Mail, Mr Ashby is heard suggesting the party could “make some money” at the upcoming state election by charging candidates to cover half the cost of campaign expenses.

Asked to explain, he replies: “Because when you lodge the receipt at the full price with the Electoral Commission of Queensland you get back the full amount that’s been issued to you as an invoice.”

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Mr Ashby said no action was taken and stated the party didn’t profit from its candidate’s electoral expenses.

The recording have attracted attention from all sides of the political spectrum.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said it was important political parties complied with electoral laws.

“It is vitally important that all of our electoral laws are strictly complied with. They go to the heart of our democracy,” he said in Canberra.

Deputy Queensland Premier Jackie Trad said authorities should investigate.

“Clearly, if there are issues there in relation to whether electoral laws are being circumvented or they are being used in a way that they weren’t intended to be used then that should be looked at,” she told reporters.

Queensland opposition frontbencher Scott Emerson said he “firmly backed” an investigation.

Ms Hanson’s Senate colleague and fellow crossbencher Derryn Hinch said contents of the recording were “shocking”.

Ms Hanson is in Perth on Monday and is expected to make a statement.

‘Extremely high’ number of deaths expected as Yemen slides into Cholera epidemic

Cholera has killed 315 people in Yemen in under a month, the World Health Organisation has said, as another aid organisation warned Monday the outbreak could become a “full-blown epidemic”.

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The WHO has recorded another 29,300 suspected cases of cholera in 19 provinces across the war-torn country from April 27 to Sunday, it said on Twitter late Sunday.

“Cholera continues to spread in Yemen,” it said.

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The UN health agency said that in a single day last week, 20 cholera deaths and 3,460 suspected cases had been registered in the country, where two-thirds of the population are on the brink of famine.

“The speed of the resurgence of this cholera epidemic is unprecedented,” WHO country representative for Yemen Nevio Zagaria told reporters in Geneva by phone from Yemen last week, warning that a quarter of a million people could become sick by the end of the year.

Cholera is a highly contagious bacterial infection spread through contaminated food or water.

Reining in the disease is particularly complicated in Yemen, where two years of devastating war between the Houthis and government forces backed by a Saudi-led Arab military coalition has left more than half the country’s medical facilities out of service.

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Many health workers in the country have not been paid for seven months.

Zagaria said that humanitarian workers cannot access some parts of the country, and that the number of suspected cholera cases could be far higher than those registered.

At the same time, he said, lacking electricity meant water pumping stations were only functioning in an intermittent way, and the sewer systems were damaged.

“The population is using water sources that are contaminated,” he said.

The United Nations is planning to dramatically scale up the number of treatment centres and rehydration centres.

Without dramatic efforts to halt the spread of the disease, “the price that we will pay in terms of life will be extremely high,” he warned.

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Save the Children on Monday warned that at the current rate more than 65,000 cases of cholera are expected by the end of June.

“Save the Children staff in Yemen are warning that a deadly cholera outbreak could become a full blown-epidemic,” it said in a statement.

An epidemic refers to the spread of a disease in excess of normal expectancy, according to the WHO. 

“The upsurge comes as the health system, sanitation facilities and civil infrastructure have reached breaking point because of the ongoing war” in Yemen, Save the Children said.

It said the cholera response is “massively underfunded”, calling for “urgent financial support”.

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