Philippine critics alarmed by Duterte’s martial law talk

Agence France Presse
Fri, 2016-12-23

MANILA: Critics and victims of military abuses expressed alarm on Friday after President Rodrigo Duterte said he wanted Philippine leaders to be able to wield martial law powers without judicial and congressional approval.
Duterte, a fiery populist politician who was elected by a landslide earlier this year largely on a vow to kill 100,000 criminals, has cultivated an image as a no-nonsense leader.
He has made reviving the death penalty in the mainly Catholic nation his top legislative priority as part of his war on crime, and has likened himself to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler as he said he was “happy to slaughter” three million drug users.
Speaking during a visit to the northern Philippines on Thursday, the 71-year-old lamented how the constitution tied the president’s hands in dealing with security crises including war.
“If you have martial law, only one person should be in control,” Duterte said.
“If there’s invasion or war and I declare martial law, I cannot proceed on and on to deal with the trouble as I still have to go to Congress, go to the Supreme Court,” he added.
“That’s why that needs to be replaced.”
The Philippines adopted a new constitution in 1987 to curtail presidential powers after millions of Filipinos took to the streets the year earlier in a famous “People Power” revolution, to oust dictator Ferdinand Marcos and end his 20-year rule.
Under the former leader, who imposed martial rule from 1972-1981 to fight crime and a communist insurgency, thousands were killed and tortured to suppress dissent, previous Philippine governments have said.
Today the president can impose martial rule for up to 60 days to stop invasion or rebellion, but parliament can revoke it within 48 hours, while the Supreme Court can also review its legality.
Bonifacio Ilagan, imprisoned and tortured under Marcos’ martial law reign, said Duterte could be floating a “trial balloon” to gauge public opinion before taking actual steps to amend the constitution.
“I honestly believe that the people will resist,” said Ilagan.
Asked to explain Duterte’s intentions, spokesman Martin Andanar told AFP on Friday: “I will ask the president.”
Duterte has spent his first six months in office waging a brutal campaign against drugs that has left more than 5,300 people dead and raised concerns over alleged extrajudicial killings.
The president has previously declared he does not need martial law, but has also threatened to impose it during a row in August with the chief justice of the Supreme Court who had criticized his drug war.
Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, who ministers to the Tondo slum district where many drug suspects have been killed by police, told AFP the country was now under virtual martial rule due to the crackdown.
“It is not necessary that you have a declaration of martial law to have martial law,” the bishop said.
Another prominent critic, Senator Francis Pangilinan, said Duterte’s shifting position on martial rule was not reassuring.
“He said a few days ago that martial law was stupid and didn’t work, and yet now he says something else. His lack of clarity is a serious cause for concern.”
Duterte’s allies who control parliament have backed his proposal for it to convene as a “constituent assembly” before he leaves office in 2022 to change the centralized government to a federal system.
Ilagan said the constituent assembly would also be able to amend the president’s martial law powers.

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Putin says killing of Russian Ankara envoy won’t hurt Turkey ties

Fri, 2016-12-23

MOSCOW: The assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey won’t hurt Russia’s relations with Ankara, President Vladimir Putin said on Friday.
Speaking at an annual news conference, Putin said the murder of Andrei Karlov was an attempt to spoil relations between Moscow and Ankara.
Karlov was shot in the back and killed as he gave a speech at an Ankara art gallery on Dec. 20.

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Trump: US must ‘greatly strengthen’ nuclear capability

Fri, 2016-12-23

WASHINGTON: President-elect Donald Trump on Thursday abruptly called for the United States to “greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability” until the rest of the world “comes to its senses” regarding nuclear weapons.
His comments on Twitter came hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin said strengthening his country’s nuclear capabilities should be a chief military objective in the coming year. The president-elect’s statement also followed his meetings a day earlier with top Pentagon officials and defense contractors.
Trump, who is spending the holidays at his palatial private club in Florida, did not expand on the actions he wants the US to take or say why he raised the issue Thursday.
Spokesman Jason Miller said the president-elect was referring to the threat of nuclear proliferation “particularly to and among terrorist organizations and unstable and rogue regimes.” Miller said Trump sees modernizing the nation’s deterrent capability “as a vital way to pursue peace through strength.”
If Trump were to seek an expansion of the nuclear stockpiles, it would mark a sharp shift in US national security policy. President Barack Obama has made nuclear non-proliferation a centerpiece of his agenda, calling in 2009 for the US to lead efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons — a goal he acknowledged would not be accomplished quickly or easily.
Still, the US has been moving forward on plans to upgrade its aging nuclear arsenal. Earlier this year, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said the Pentagon planned to spend $108 billion over the next five years to sustain and improve its nuclear force.
The US and Russia hold the vast majority of the world’s nuclear weapons. In 2010, the two countries signed the New START treaty capping the number of nuclear warheads and missile launchers each country can possess. The agreement is in effect until 2021 and can be extended for another five years.
Thomas Karako, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the last comprehensive review of the US nuclear force — which was conducted during Obama’s first term — occurred against the backdrop of efforts to reset relations between Washington and Moscow. The relationship has since deteriorated, with Obama and Putin clashing over Russia’s provocations in Ukraine and support for Syrian President Bashar Assad.
“We need to candidly assess what the environment is and what the prospects are for Russian compliance with current treaties,” Karako said.
Trump has repeatedly called for closer relations with Russia and has spoken favorably about Putin. Democrats have questioned his ties to the Kremlin, particularly after US intelligence officials assessed that Russia had interfered in the US election on Trump’s behalf.
Putin addressed his country’s nuclear capabilities during an annual year-end meeting of the Russian defense ministry. He said Russia should enhance missile complexes that can “penetrate existing and future missile defense systems.”
A US-backed missile shield in Eastern Europe has been another source of tension between Washington and Moscow. Russia argues the system is a threat, while US and NATO officials say it’s meant to deter Iran from targeting Europe.
The state of the US nuclear arsenal was rarely addressed during the presidential campaign. To the extent it was, Trump showed faint understanding of its details. During a Republican primary debate, he appeared unfamiliar with the concept of a nuclear triad, the Cold War-era combination of submarines, land-based missiles and strategic bombers for launching nuclear attacks.
Trump’s vanquished campaign rival Hillary Clinton repeatedly cast the Republican as too erratic and unpredictable to have control of the nation’s nuclear arsenal.
The president-elect’s transition website says he “recognizes the uniquely catastrophic threats posed by nuclear weapons and cyberattacks,” adding that he will modernize the nuclear arsenal “to ensure it continues to be an effective deterrent.”
Trump has spent the week at Mar-a-Lago, his South Florida estate, meeting advisers and interviewing candidates for a handful of Cabinet positions that remain unfilled. On Wednesday, he met with Pentagon officials and the CEOs of Boeing and Lockheed Martin, companies with lucrative government contracts.
Since winning the election, Trump has complained about the cost of Boeing’s work on two new Air Force One planes and Lockheed’s contract for F-35 fighter jets. Following the meetings, both CEOs said they had discussed lowering costs of the projects with the president-elect.
On Thursday, Trump pitted the two companies against each other on Twitter. “Based on the tremendous cost and cost overruns of the Lockheed Martin F-35, I have asked Boeing to price-out a comparable F-18 Super Hornet!” he tweeted.
Boeing spokesman Todd Blecher said Thursday, “We have committed to working with the president-elect and his administration to provide the best capability, deliverability and affordability.” Lockheed declined to comment.
Trump’s tweet came after the close of trading on Wall Street. But in after-hours dealings, shares of Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed Martin Corp. fell 2 percent, while Chicago-based Boeing Co.’s stock rose 1 percent.
Boeing and Lockheed are also among the companies pursuing a contract for replacing Minuteman missiles in the US nuclear arsenal. Spokespeople for the two companies declined to comment on whether that contract came up during Trump’s meetings with their CEOs.
The president-elect was also building up his White House staff, announcing Thursday that campaign manager Kellyanne Conway would serve as a counselor. The move will put Conway in close proximity to the president, though she is also expected to remain a visible presence promoting Trump’s agenda in the media.
Trump also announced veteran Republican operatives Sean Spicer as his press secretary and Jason Miller as communications director. Hope Hicks, Trump’s long-serving campaign spokeswoman, is also joining the White House in a senior communications position.

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Australia arrests 7 over ‘imminent threat’ of Christmas Day attacks

Tom Westbrook | Reuters
Fri, 2016-12-23

SYDNEY: Australian police said on Friday they had foiled a plot to attack prominent sites in the city of Melbourne with a series of bombs on Christmas Day that authorities described as “an imminent terrorist event” inspired by Daesh.
Six men and a woman, all in their twenties, were arrested in overnight raids across Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city, involving counter-terrorism police and Australia’s domestic spy agency, Victoria state police said in a statement.
“This is a significant disruption of what we would describe as an imminent terrorist event in Melbourne,” Australian Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin told reporters in Sydney.
He said the threat had been “removed … in its entirety,” however security in Melbourne was boosted on Friday.
Acting Victorian police commissioner Graham Ashton said extra police would be on patrol on Christmas Day and at the annual Boxing Day cricket test, which attracts tens of thousands of fans every year, in Melbourne the following day.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told reporters that the planned attack was an “Islamist terrorist plot” and “one of the most substantial terrorist plots that have been disrupted over the last several years.”
The plot targeted high-profile locations in Melbourne, including Federation Square, Flinders Street Station and St. Paul’s Cathedral “possibly on Christmas Day,” Ashton said.
It was inspired by the Daesh militant group and the suspects had been under close surveillance for a fortnight, he said. One of the suspected planners in custody was an Egyptian-born Australian and the others were all Australian-born of Lebanese descent, Ashton told reporters.
Two of those arrested, including the woman, were released without charge but at least four of the five men still in custody would likely face court on Friday, a police statement said.
Police are able to hold terror suspects without charge for four hours but they can also apply to a court to detain them without charge for as long as two weeks.
Few details were released about what evidence was collected by police during the raids in suburbs in Melbourne’s northwest but Ashton said the attacks would likely have involved explosives and either guns or knives.
Australia, a staunch US ally which sent troops to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq, has been on heightened alert for attacks by home-grown radicals since 2014.
Authorities have said they have thwarted a number of plots, particularly involving radicalized teenagers, in recent years.
There have also been several “lone wolf” assaults, including a 2014 cafe siege in Sydney in which two hostages and a gunman were killed, and the killing of a police accountant in 2015.

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