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China foils bid to blacklist Kashmir attacker; U.S., India vow to keep pushing

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UNITED NATIONS/NEW DELHI (Reuters) – China prevented a U.N. Security Council committee on Wednesday from blacklisting the head of Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), which said it attacked an Indian paramilitary convoy in disputed Kashmir.

FILE PHOTO – Maulana Masood Azhar, head of Pakistan’s militant Jaish-e-Mohammad party, attends a pro-Taliban conference organised by the Afghan Defence Council in Islamabad August 26, 2001. MK/JD

India said it was disappointed at the block, which sparked calls for boycotts of Chinese products on domestic social media, while the United States said it was counter to a goal it shared with China of achieving regional peace and stability.

The Feb. 14 attack that killed at least 40 paramilitary police was the deadliest in Kashmir’s 30-year-long insurgency, escalating tension between the nuclear-armed neighbors, which said they shot down each other’s fighter jets late last month.

The United States, Britain and France asked the Security Council’s Islamic State and al Qaeda sanctions committee to subject JeM founder Masood Azhar to an arms embargo, travel ban and asset freeze. The 15-member committee operates by consensus.

China placed a “technical hold” on the request, according to a note from its U.N. mission to the committee, seen by Reuters. China gave no reason for the hold, which places the request in limbo.

In a statement on Thursday, the U.S. embassy in New Delhi said it did not comment on specifics as the deliberations were confidential, but added:

“We will continue working with the sanctions committee to ensure the designations list is updated and accurate.”

China had previously prevented the sanctions committee from sanctioning Azhar in 2016 and 2017.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said on Thursday that the Security Council has specific procedures for naming a person or organization on the terror list.

China conducted a “comprehensive and thorough evaluation,” Lu told reporters. “We still need more time.”

In a statement late on Wednesday, India’s Ministry of External Affairs vowed to pursue “all available avenues to ensure that terrorist leaders who are involved in heinous attacks on our citizens are brought to justice”.

Many social media users urged Indians to boycott Chinese products, with hashtags China and BoycottChineseProducts the top trends on Twitter India.

Trade between China and India touched $89.71 billion in the year ending March 2018, hugely in China’s favor here

“There is really no moral rationale for blocking this proposal (on Azhar),” Anand Mahindra, chairman of the Mahindra Group conglomerate, said on Twitter.

“Frustrating for those wanting to strengthen Indo-Chinese relations. How should India respond?”

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a U.N. Security Council diplomat said that if China continued to prevent the designation of Azhar, other council members “may be forced to pursue other actions at the Security Council.”

The diplomat added, “The case for designating Masood Azhar – the leader of a group the U.N. already calls an al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist organization – is undeniable.”

Western powers could also blacklist Azhar by adopting a Security Council resolution, which needs nine votes in favor and no vetoes by Russia, China, the United States, Britain or France.

Blacklisted by the U.N. Security Council in 2001, JeM is a primarily anti-India group that forged ties with al Qaeda.

In December 2001, an attack on India’s parliament by the group’s fighters and those of another Pakistan-based militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, nearly triggered a fourth war between the neighbors.

Azhar founded JeM in 2000 after a hostage exchange that freed him from an Indian prison in return for 155 people held on a hijacked aircraft.

Pakistani authorities have linked JeM with two assassination bids on former President Pervez Musharraf in 2003 as well as the kidnap and murder of U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols at the UNITED NATIONS and Krishna N. Das in NEW DELHI; Additional reporting by Sanjeev Miglani, and Michael Martina in BEIJING; Editing by James Dalgleish and Clarence Fernandez

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Stocks splutter as oil races to near six-month high

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LONDON (Reuters) – Oil prices jumped to near six-month highs on Tuesday as the United States tightened sanctions on Iran, sending shares of energy companies higher but largely failing to help the currencies of the main crude-oil producers.

FILE PHOTO: Visitors are seen as market prices are reflected in a glass window at the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) in Tokyo, Japan, October 1, 2018. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

News that the U.S. had told buyers of Iranian oil to stop purchases by May 1 or face sanctions pushed Brent toward $75 a barrel and made for a lively return from the four-day Easter break for Europe’s markets. [O/R]

Oil and gas shares jumped more than 1.7 percent for their best start in six weeks, though almost every other sector suffered. So did bonds, as higher energy costs hung over profits and nudged up inflation expectations. [.EU][GVD/EUR]

Foreign-exchange market volatility was still largely absent. The dollar held near a three-week high, but the usual beneficiaries of higher oil prices, the Canadian dollar and Norwegian crown, dipped to $1.33 and $8.52 respectively. [/FRX]

“Oil is interesting, but the interesting thing for FX is that we are not getting the usual feed-through in the petrocurrencies,” said Saxo bank’s head of FX strategy, John Hardy, adding that might be caused by questions about Chinese stimulus.

Both the Canadian dollar and the crown had gained on Monday, and the Russian rouble, another petrocurrency, hit its highest against the euro in more than a year its highest against the dollar in a month.

Overnight, MSCI’s index of Asia-Pacific shares ended 0.1 percent higher and Japan’s Nikkei closed up 0.2 percent. Oil and gas gains were offset by losses for airlines and other transport shares facing higher fuel costs.

The White House said after its Iran move it was working with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to ensure oil markets were “adequately supplied,” but traders had already been worried about tight supplies.

Oil prices are up nearly 50 percent since late December, and before the re-imposition of sanctions last year Iran was the fourth-largest producer among the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, at around 3 million barrels per day.

Oil prices are “not so high that it crushes manufacturing by putting energy-price inputs up, but it is producing a nice boost to oil-producing nations,” said Robert Carnell, Singapore-based chief economist and head of research for Asia Pacific at ING.

Carnell sees Brent crude’s sweet spot at between $65 and $75 per barrel: “Above this, you may see some negative impact.”

SRI LANKA

Sri Lanka’s stock market and government bonds both fell as trading resumed after bombings had killed more than 300 people on Sunday. Tourism is likely to collapse, which would deal a serious blow to the island’s economy and financial markets.

The International Monetary Fund last month extended a $1.5 billion loan to Sri Lanka into 2020, a key step in keeping foreign investors involved in what so far this year has been a top-performing frontier debt market.

In China, major benchmarks dipped in and out of negative territory amid concern that Beijing will slow the pace of policy easing after unexpectedly strong first-quarter economic data last week.

China’s blue-chip stocks have surged over 30 percent so far this year on expectations of more stimulus and hopes Beijing and Washington will reach an agreement to end their nine-month trade dispute.

“We’ve had a fantastic run in Chinese equities year-to-date. Some profit taking is completely normal. I don’t think China is changing its policy that quickly,” said Stefan Hofer, chief investment strategist at LGT Bank Asia in Hong Kong.

Additional reporting by Noah Sin in Hong Kong and Tomo Uetake in Tokyo; editing by Larry King

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Sri Lanka detains Syrian in investigation of blasts; toll rises to 321

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COLOMBO (Reuters) – Sri Lankan police detained a Syrian among 40 people being questioned about the Easter Sunday attacks on churches and hotels, government and military sources said on Tuesday, as the toll from the coordinated bomb attacks rose to 321.

Security personnel stand guard outside St. Anthony Shrine, two days after a string of suicide bomb attacks on churches and luxury hotels across the island on Easter Sunday, in Colombo, Sri Lanka April 23, 2019. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, which officials said were carried out by at least seven suicide bombers on three churches and four hotels. About 500 people were also wounded.

However, the focus of suspicion is falling on Islamist militants with links to foreign groups. U.S. intelligence sources said the attacks bore some of the hallmarks of the Islamic State extremist group.

Tuesday was declared a national day of mourning and the funerals of some of the victims were held as pressure mounted on the government over why effective action had not been taken in response to a warning this month about a possible attack on churches by a little-known domestic Islamist group.

Police said the number of people arrested since Sunday had risen to 40, most of them Sri Lankans. The investigation of those detainees had led to the Syrian, three government and military sources told Reuters.

“He was arrested after the interrogation of local suspects,” one of the sources said.

The first six attacks – on three churches and three luxury hotels – came within 20 minutes on Sunday morning during Easter services and as hotels served breakfast.

Two more explosions – at a down-market hotel and a house in a suburb of the capital, Colombo – came in the early afternoon.

Most of the dead and wounded were Sri Lankans, although government officials said 38 foreigners were killed. That included British, U.S., Australian, Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch and Portuguese nationals.

FBI TO HELP

The bombs brought a shattering end to a relative calm that had existed in the Buddhist-majority Indian Ocean island since a bitter civil war fought by Tamil separatists ended 10 years ago and raised fears of a return to sectarian violence.

Sri Lanka’s 22 million people include minority Christians, Muslims and Hindus. Up to now, Christians had largely managed to keep out of the worst of the island’s conflict and communal tensions.

The government imposed an emergency law at midnight on Monday, giving police extensive powers to detain and interrogate suspects without court orders.

An overnight curfew has also been imposed since Sunday.

U.S. President Donald Trump called Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Monday to pledge U.S. support in bringing the perpetrators to justice.

The Washington Post quoted an unidentified law enforcement official as saying Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents were being sent to Sri Lanka to assist in the investigation.

The FBI has also offered laboratory expertise to test evidence and analysts were scouring databases for information that might shed light on the attacks, the Post said. Counter-terrorism officials from Britain were also due to arrive on Tuesday, a Western diplomat in Colombo said.

U.S. intelligence sources said the attacks carried some of the hallmarks of the Islamic State militant group, although they were cautious because it had not claimed responsibility.

Islamic State is usually quick to claim responsibility for, or links to, attacks against foreign targets or religious groups whether they were involved or not.

Footage on CNN showed what it said was one of the bombers wearing a heavy backpack. The man patted a child on the head before entering the Gothic-style St. Sebastian church in Katuwapitiya, north of Colombo. Dozens were killed there.

INTERNAL FEUD

The attacks have also underlined concern over fractures in Sri Lanka’s government, and whether the discord prevented action that might have stopped them.

The government got a tip-off from India this month about a possible attack on churches by a little-known domestic Islamist group, the National Thawheed Jama’ut group.

It was not immediately clear what action, if any, was taken in response. A government minister said on Monday Wickremesinghe had not been informed about the warning and had been shut out of top security meetings because of a feud with President Maithripala Sirisena.

Sirisena fired Wickremesinghe last year only to be forced to reinstate him under pressure from the Supreme Court. Their relationship is reported to be fraught.

The U.S. State Department said in a travel advisory “terrorist groups” were plotting possible attacks in Sri Lanka and targets could include tourist spots, transport hubs, shopping malls, hotels, places of worship and airports.

China’s embassy in Sri Lanka warned Chinese nationals against traveling to Sri Lanka in the near term because of “huge security risks”.

China is a major investor in Sri Lanka. The embassy said one Chinese national was killed, five wounded and five were missing.

Among the victims were three of the four children of Anders Holch Povlsen, Denmark’s richest man.

Eight Britons were also killed, including Anita Nicholson, her 14-year-old son and her 11-year-old daughter. Nicholson’s husband survived the attack on the Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo.

Slideshow (19 Images)

(GRAPHIC: Sri Lanka bombings – tmsnrt.rs/2Xy02BA)

(GRAPHIC: A decade of peace shattered – tmsnrt.rs/2W4wZoU)

Reporting by Sanjeev Miglani; Additional reporting by Joe Brock, Mark Hosenball and Kieran Murray in WASHINGTON, and Stella Qiu and Ryan Woo in BEIJING; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Michael Perry and Paul Tait

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Samsung retrieving all Galaxy Fold samples after defect reports: source

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SEOUL (Reuters) – Samsung Electronics Co Ltd is retrieving all Galaxy Fold samples distributed to reviewers to investigate reports of broken screens, a day after it postponed the phone’s launch, a person with direct knowledge of the matter said on Tuesday.

The retrieval comes as the world’s biggest smartphone maker met with embarrassment ahead of the foldable device’s U.S. release on April 26, with a handful of technology journalists reporting breaks, bulges and blinking screens after a day’s use.

The South Korean tech giant postponed the handset’s launch for an unspecified period of time while it investigated the matter. It said initial findings showed the issues could be associated with impact on exposed areas of the hinges.

A representative declined to comment further on Tuesday.

Samsung’s share price was 0.4 percent lower as of 0425 GMT, in a flat Seoul market. However, parts suppliers fell, with hinge maker KH Vatec Co Ltd shedding 3.1 percent.

A person with direct knowledge of the supply chain said KH Vatec conducted an internal review of hinges used in the Galaxy Fold and found no defects. The supplier declined to comment.

In March, Samsung released a video showing robots folding Galaxy Fold handsets 200,000 times for its durability test.

Samsung’s head of IT and mobile communications, DJ Koh, has repeatedly said foldables are the future of smartphones.

Though the issue does not hurt Samsung’s balance sheet, the postponement damages the firm’s effort to showcase itself as an innovative first mover, not a fast follower, analysts said.

In some cases, reviewers had peeled off a layer of film which they mistook for a disposable screen protector.

“It’s disastrous that Samsung sent samples to reviewers without clear instructions on how to handle the device, and that the firm needs to fix screen flickering,” said analyst Kim Young-woo at SK Securities.

Slideshow (2 Images)

One Samsung employee, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, “On the bright side, we have an opportunity to nail down this issue and fix it before selling the phones to a massive audience, so they won’t have same complaints.”

Samsung emailed pre-order customers upon delaying the launch, online outlets said on Twitter.

“Your pre-order guarantees your place in the queue for this innovative technology,” Samsung said in the email. “We’ll update you with more specific shipping information in two weeks.”

Reporting by Ju-min Park; Additional reporting by Heekyong Yang; Editing by Christopher Cushing

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