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Russia to Release Killer Whales in New Habitat, Despite Expert Advice

Russia is to free captured killer whales over the next month, but will not return them to their original habitat despite expert advice, a scientist said Wednesday.

The animals will instead be released from their pens in Russia’s Far East and may “disrupt vacationers” at resorts nearby, said Vladislav Rozhnov, who was involved in talks over their fate.

Nearly 100 belugas and orcas were captured last summer and kept in small pens by commercial firms who had planned to deliver them to aquariums, including in China where the industry is booming.

Ten killer whales, or orcas, will be released “in late May to early June,” Rozhnov said during a briefing at the Russian environment ministry.

He said it would be more ideal to transport them to where they had initially been captured, as Russian and foreign scientists have advised, but this was deemed too costly.

Instead they will be freed in the bay where they have been held near the town of Nakhodka — more than 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) south from where they were actually caught in the Sea of Okhotsk.

There is a risk that the whales will “stay near the pens where they were fed” and bother humans, he said.

“Science gives recommendations, but the decision is taken by government authorities,” said Rozhnov, who heads the Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Environment and — with other agencies — is part of a council on the fate of the whales.

“We hope that the released animals will go north and return to their native waters,” he said.

Time constraints

The environment ministry said in a statement that transporting the animals to the Sea of Okhotsk could injure the animals and cause stress. Constructing rehabilitation enclosures at a faraway release site would be too complicated, it added.

“Due to constraints of time, the realization of this is difficult,” the ministry said.

Russian officials last month met with U.S.-based conservationists Jean-Michel Cousteau and Charles Vinick, who visited the facility with the killer whales and 87 beluga whales, also captured last year.

Rozhnov said there was no precise decision on the beluga whales, but that scientists now were looking into genetic evidence of family ties between the captured juveniles and known beluga groups in the wild.

‘Aggressive’ orcas

In a statement Wednesday, Cousteau’s team warned that releasing the killer whales near the facility where they were being held carried a “high number of significant risks.” They included potential conflict with people and boats in the area due to “aggressive behaviours observed in some of the orcas.”

Such a release “leads to likely long-term costs and diminished potential for survival,” the team said. They said the whales should be taken to where they were captured following an “acclimatization period” in remote enclosures.

Russia is the only country still catching wild orcas and belugas. The controversial trade of marine mammals has boomed in recent years together with the aquarium industry in China, which uses Russian animals in its new marine parks.

Although some fisheries officials have defended the capture as a legitimate industry, scientists argue it threatens the species’ populations.

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Costs Mounting in US From Trump’s Tariff Fight With China   

The costs seem to be mounting in the U.S. from President Donald Trump’s tit-for-tat trade tariff war with China, both for farmers whose sales of crops to China have been cut and U.S. consumers paying higher prices for imported Chinese products.

The government said Wednesday that to date it has paid out more than $8.5 billion to American farmers to offset their loss of sales to China and other trading partners because of foreign tariffs imposed by Beijing and other governments.​

​WATCH: Consumers Start to Feel Pinch From US, China Trade Standoff

Trump last year pledged up to $12 billion in aid to farmers — chiefly soybean, wheat and corn growers, and those who raise pigs. Trump says he could ask Congress for another $15 billion if U.S. farmers continue to be hurt by China’s tariffs of as much as 25%  on U.S. agricultural imports.

The U.S. had been shipping $12 billion worth of soybeans a year to China, but Beijing’s imposition of the tariff severely cut down on the U.S. exports as China bought the beans from other countries.

Trump said Tuesday on Twitter, “Our great Patriot Farmers will be one of the biggest beneficiaries of what is happening now. Hopefully China will do us the honor of continuing to buy our great farm product, the best, but if not your Country will be making up the difference based on a very high China buy. This money will come from the massive Tariffs being paid to the United States for allowing China, and others, to do business with us. The Farmers have been ‘forgotten’ for many years. Their time is now!”

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow acknowledged to a television interviewer last weekend that “to some extent” U.S. consumers will bear the brunt of higher costs on Chinese goods after Trump’s tariffs have been levied on the imported goods.

Trade Partnership Worldwide, a Washington economic consulting firm, estimates in a new study the typical American family of four people would pay $2,300 more annually for goods and services if Trump imposes a 25% tariff on all Chinese imports, as he says he is considering.

Such higher tariffs would hit an array of Chinese-produced consumer goods — clothing, children’s toys, sports equipment, shoes and consumer electronics — that are widely bought by Americans.

If that does not happen, but the existing U.S. tariffs remain in place, the research group says the average U.S. family would pay $770 in higher costs each year.

The U.S. imported almost $540 billion in Chinese goods in 2018, while the U.S. exported $120 billion, a trade imbalance that Trump is seeking to even out with imposition of the tariffs. The U.S. exported almost $59 billion in services to China, while importing only $18 billion, but services are not directly affected by tariffs.

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World Leaders, Tech Bosses Work on Stemming Online Violence

Livestreaming terrorist attacks. Using social media to spread deadly ideas. Manipulating banned videos to keep sharing them online.

World leaders and tech bosses are meeting Wednesday in Paris to find ways to stop all this. They’re working all day on the “Christchurch Appeal,” named after the New Zealand city where 51 people were killed in a March attack on mosques.

 

The attacker streamed the killing live on Facebook, which announced tougher livestreaming policies on the eve of the meetings “to limit our services from being used to cause harm or spread hate.”

 

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern welcomed Facebook’s pledge to restrict some users from Facebook Live and invest in research to stay ahead of users’ attempts to avoid detection.

 

She said she herself inadvertently saw the Christchurch attacker’s video when it played automatically in her Facebook feed.

 

“There is a lot more work to do, but I am pleased Facebook has taken additional steps today… and look forward to a long-term collaboration to make social media safer,” she said in a statement.

 

Facebook said it’s tightening up the rules for its livestreaming service with a “one strike” policy applied to a broader range of offenses. Any activity on Facebook that violates the social network’s most serious policies, such as sharing a terrorist group’s statement without providing context, will result in the user immediately being blocked from Facebook Live for as long as 30 days.

 

Previously, the company took down posts that breached its community standards but only blocked users after repeated offenses.

 

The tougher restrictions will be gradually extended to other areas of the platform, starting with preventing users from creating Facebook ads.

 

Facebook said it’s also investing $7.5 million in new research partnerships to improve image and video analysis technology aimed at finding content manipulated through editing to avoid detection by its automated systems — a problem the company encountered following the Christchurch shooting.

 

“Tackling these threats also requires technical innovation to stay ahead of the type of adversarial media manipulation we saw after Christchurch,” Facebook’s vice president of integrity, Guy Rosen, said in a blog post.

 

Ardern is playing a central role in the Paris meetings, which she called a significant “starting point” for changes in government and tech industry policy.

 

Twitter, Google, Microsoft and several other companies are also taking part, along with the leaders of Britain, France, Canada, Ireland, Senegal, Indonesia, Jordan and the European Union.

 

Officials at Facebook said they support the idea of the Christchurch appeal, but that details need to be worked out that are acceptable for all parties. Free speech advocates and some in the tech industry bristle at new restrictions and argue that violent extremism is a societal problem that the tech world can’t solve.

 

Ardern and the host, French President Emmanuel Macron, insist that it must involve joint efforts between governments and tech giants. France has been hit by repeated Islamic extremist attacks by groups who recruited and shared violent images on social networks.

 

Speaking to reporters ahead of the meetings, Ardern said, “There will be of course those who will be pushing to make sure that they maintain the commercial sensitivity. We don’t need to know their trade secrets, but we do need to know what the impacts might be on our societies around algorithm use.”

 

She stressed the importance of tackling “coded language” that extremists use to avoid detection.

 

Before the Christchurch attack, she said, governments took a “traditional approach to terrorism that would not necessarily have picked up the form of terrorism that New Zealand experienced on the 15th of March, and that was white supremacy.”

 

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Economy Dominates Final Days of Australian Election Campaign

Australians vote in a general election on Saturday. The management of the economy has been central in the campaign. It has not been in recession since the early 1990s, but the economy is showing signs of slowing down. The environment is another key concern for voters as the campaign enters its final days.

Money is being pumped into this election campaign like never before. Cash-infused minor parties, including one backed by a billionaire mining tycoon, are competing with the two dominant players: the center-right Liberal-National coalition and the Labor opposition.

“We are seeing expensive elections, said Stewart Jackson from the University of Sydney. “We have been seeing them for some time. I actually think you will see the expenditures go up considerably at this election. There is an awful lot of television advertising, but then also onto Facebook and onto Twitter and onto Instagram and the social media platforms.”

Scott Morrison, the Liberal Party prime minister, is asking voters to trust his management of the economy that is based on a simple philosophy.

“My family story is not uncommon in our country,” he said. “Australians quietly going about lives with simple, decent, honest aspirations. Get an education, get a job, start a business, take responsibility for yourself, support others, work hard.”

The economic focus of the opposition Labor leader Bill Shorten is major tax reform.

“We have said that we want multinationals to pay their fair share,” he said. “I announced yesterday a new scheme to stop some multinationals treating the Australian tax system as a doormat, which they wipe their boots on coming in and out of Australia.”

For many Australians the environment is their number one concern in this election. A lightning rod for conservationists is the Carmichael mine in Queensland that is proposed by the Indian company, Adani.

It would be one of the biggest coal mines in the world if it goes ahead.

Mary Carroll, who runs a tourism agency in the city of Rockhampton, says the region needs the resources industry.

“There’s seven mines at the moment,” she said. “They’re all going through their approvals process at the moment and I think one of the fears out there with all of the talk about one particular mine, the Carmichael mine, is that if it doesn’t proceed, perhaps the others won’t.”

But a Queensland voter, Rochelle Rodier, says the Indian-run project must be rejected.

“Adani is just no! No! No! If Adani opens up, the whole Galilee Basin opens up. Terrible. Disaster for Australia, disaster for the world,” she said.

Australia’s Climate Council, an independent campaign group, is warning that if left unchecked, global warming could wipe more than $2.5 trillion from the domestic economy over the next 80 years.

The council’s chief executive, Amanda McKenzie, says the situation is already dire.

“What this report shows us is that there is a real cost to failing to act. In the last four years, pollution has gone up and up and up in Australia,” she said. “At the same time, we have seen mass bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef, we have seen nearly 50 C [Celsius] days in some parts of Australia, fruit cooking on trees. There are real costs of failing to act on climate change and that is what we have tried to quantify in this report.”

Sixteen million Australians are eligible to vote. Many yearn for political stability and an end to party infighting in a country where it’s been more than a decade since a prime minister served a full term in office.

 

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Indonesia Government Looks for Alternatives to Overcrowded Prisons

The visiting room at Kerobokan Correctional Facility in Bali is usually full in the morning until noon on weekdays, when families and friends are allowed to visit. About 15 inmates were standing from behind bars and talking to their guests on the other side.

Amalia, not her real name, was visiting her son to bring him lunch on Thursday last week. He was recently incarcerated for getting into a fight in Denpasar, the capital of Bali. She complained that the Kerobokan Prison is overcrowded.

 

“I think they have too many prisoners, but other than that the condition is alright. My son said the wardens are friendly,” she said without disclosing her son’s name for security reasons.

Kerobokan prison now hosts more than 1,700 people in a facility that was designed for 323 inmates. The Governor of Bali, I Wayan Koster, told the media during a visit to the prison at the end of April that the government is trying to find a solution.

“I think we need to relocate, this is no longer feasible,” he stated.

Meanwhile in Cipinang Correctional Facility in Jakarta, there are more than 2,900 inmates in a building that is supposed to accommodate only 880. Other facilities suffer from the same condition, according to the Directorate General of Correctional at the Indonesian Ministry of Law and Human Rights, there are 265,574 incarcerated people while the facilities across Indonesia only has the capacity for 126,963.

Drug cases as biggest contributor

According to Genoveva Alicia, a researcher from the Institute of Criminal and Justice Reform (ICJR), overcrowding in prisons in Indonesia can be categorized as extreme and the problem occurs in almost all provinces in Indonesia.

“It’s not only a problem in the big cities, on average the overcrowding is more than 99 %. Only in six areas, including Yogyakarta the problem is not as bad,” she said.

Alicia cited one of the reasons for the overcapacity of correctional facilities in Indonesia is because in the judicial system, it is easy for people to end up in jail and stay less than one year. But the biggest contributors of the prison population are those who were involved in a drug case.

Ade Kusmanto, the head of Public Relations at the Directorate General of Correctional, said drug cases make up around 48 percent of all criminal activities. There are more than 127,000 incarcerations due to drugs. Out of that number 75,000 are dealers and 51,000 are users.

“I’m hoping the politics of law will change in dealing with drug cases, so that users will not be sentenced to jail. It can be alternative punishment such as rehabilitation or community service while they are being rehabilitated,” he told VOA.

 

Drug crime in Indonesia is regulated under the law no. 35/2009 on drugs. While the law stated that users should be rehabilitated, oftentimes they end up in jail for drug possession. Kusmanto mentioned it was also because rehabilitation for drug users has not been fully applied, law enforcement usually resorts to a prison sentence.

“If these (drug) users are given alternative sentencing, other than prison, imagine how many of them would be out of jail,” he added.

Alternative non-custodial sentences

Alicia said to solve the problem of prison overcapacity, the government should be prepared to give alternative punishment other than prison time. She believes that Indonesia already has a system for non-custodial sentences, such as fine, probation or community services, which can be applied to less severe crimes with no victim.

“But the problem is, these alternatives are not being utilized. We have a problem in resources, with the institutions, and also with technical regulation,” she told VOA. The only thing that has been running well for the law enforcement is jail sentencing.

“That’s why in their minds, you can only punish people by putting them in correctional facilities,” Alicia added.

Kusmanto admitted there is a lack of human resources which would make it difficult for the law enforcement to give out alternative punishment. He gave an example with probation after serving prison time. The parole officers have to cover such a big area with too many parolees that it becomes difficult for them to supervise everyone.

“We have limited number of officers, meanwhile there are a lot of parolees they have to visit one-by-one. Make sure they are behaving well,” he said.

Revitalization of correctional facilities

Kusmanto said the Indonesian Minister of Law and Human Rights, Yasonna Laoly, issued a ministerial decree no. 35/2018 on revitalization of correctional facilities in Indonesia. The Directorate General will also reduce overcrowding by evenly distributing the number of inmates from one facility to other neighboring facilities that are less full.

“And we will focus on changing the behavior of inmates and provide them with services such as counseling and guidance, to prevent them from going back,” he explained. Kusmanto added that with the new decree, other institutions including the law enforcement and other ministries will work together to find a solution.

But Alicia said the problem cannot be solved if the government does not start to think about non-custodial alternatives.

“We’re talking about input and output, even if all region has a facility, if we don’t regulate the input the number will never be reduced. The government should think about the alternative,” she said.

 

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US, China Trade War Already Reshaping Trade Links

With the Trump administration locked in an escalating trade war with China, much of the media focus is on the immediate impact of decisions by leaders on both sides to impose sharp tariffs on goods flowing between the two countries. But while consumers and exporters in both countries will suffer in the near-term, an even more disruptive possibility looms in the long term: a “decoupling” of two massive economic systems that have become deeply interdependent over the past several decades.

At the root of the dispute is a U.S. effort to force China to bring its trade policies in line with other major industrialized countries.

Specifically, the U.S. wants to see China stop subsidizing domestic firms to help them compete on the world stage, eliminate the widespread theft of intellectual property by Chinese businesses, and open its markets to foreign competition.

The U.S. is also putting pressure on specific Chinese telecommunications firms, out of concern that they could be used by the Chinese government to spy on global rivals.

In recent days, the two countries have both ratcheted up economic pressures. As negotiations over a major trade deal stalled last week, President Trump announced that he would direct his administration to hike tariffs to 25% on Chinese goods that accounted for $200 billion in imports last year.

He indicated that he would eventually move to place that same levy on all $540 billion of annual Chinese imports. The Chinese government retaliated Monday with the imposition of tariffs on $60 billion worth of U.S. goods that flow into its country, and indicated that it will take more drastic steps if necessary.

While many experts believe that the two countries will strike a deal before the new tariffs really start to bite, there is increasing concern that strife between the world’s two largest economic powers could persist, forcing a disruptive overhaul of global supply chains that would echo around the world.

In fact, there is evidence that companies are already taking the first steps in a significant reorientation of global supply chains.

According to Paul Triolo, practice head for Geo-Technology at the Eurasia Group, there already has been a significant amount of decoupling by companies in the information and communications technology industries, as well as furniture, apparel, and agricultural products.

“US technology companies are already withholding new investment in manufacturing facilities based in China, and shifting parts of supply chains as feasible to southeast Asia and beyond,” he said in an interview. “There is a spectrum of potential options here, and so far most of the ‘easy’ stuff has been moved. The equation becomes much more complicated for things like advanced electronics.”

Understanding why this would be so disruptive requires digging below the surface of most discussions of US-China trade.

Political rhetoric about trade, much of it originating in President Trump’s Twitter feed, tends to oversimplify — and frequently misrepresent — the reality of global trade flows. The exchange of goods between the two countries is portrayed as a zero-sum game, in which U.S. consumers face a simple choice between buying widgets manufactured in China and buying competing products manufactured in the U.S.

Bilateral trade, intermediate goods

The truth is far more complex. Combined exports and imports between the two countries totaled $650 billion in 2018, according to U.S. government figures. Goods moving from China to the U.S. make up just under two-thirds of that total, and they are not limited to the cheap clothes and toys that made up a large portion of Chinese exports a generation ago. Smartphones, appliances, computers and other goods travel in a constant stream across the Pacific to U.S. markets.

Importantly, though, those finished goods often contain key elements, like microchips, that were originally manufactured in the U.S. and exported to China. These “intermediate goods” represent a huge market for U.S. technology firms.

Similarly, intermediate goods made in China find their way into finished products that bear the “Made in the U.S.A.” stamp. As a whole, intermediate goods make up between 60% and 65% of all global trade flows, which further illustrates the complexity of worldwide supply chains.

Restructuring supply chains

These complex manufacturing relationships have grown up over decades, and are very much baked into the way companies in both countries do business. Now, as the trade war escalates, they are facing the real possibility that ongoing conflict between Washington and Beijing could require companies to restructure global supply chains in a way that will provide more certainty and stability in the future.

But doing so would be a long and difficult process, experts warn.

“These value chains, or supply networks are both highly specialized and quite idiosyncratic,” said Scott Miller, a senior adviser to the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Abshire-Inamori Leadership Academy said in an interview. “Company A and Company B might be in the same business, but the way they organize their supply network could be quite different.”

“The idea of ‘decoupling,’ well, if you’re in a business that requires assembly at scale, you’re going to find it hard replacing China,” Miller said. “It can be done, but it’s real work.” The problem is even worse if a company has developed a network of qualified suppliers in China. Replacing them is not like flipping a switch, he said. “It takes time, energy and capital to develop suppliers,” Miller said.

Should it come to that, economists warn, the effects on both countries, at both the macro- and microeconomic levels, could be immense.

Cost of tariffs

Within the U.S. alone, the potential damage from the proposed tariffs would be huge, warned Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics.

Writing in a note to investors on Wednesday, he said, “The hit from 25% tariffs on all imports would be at least 0.6% of GDP, and probably much more as companies would have to rebuild entire supply chains. The hit to earnings growth would be of the order of 10%.”

It is also apparent that many of the supposed benefits of decoupling won’t necessarily accrue to the United States. President Trump has suggested that his trade policies will bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S., but by all indications, the manufacturers who are already starting to move away from China are relocating to other low-wage countries, like Vietnam and Mexico.

As grim as some of these predictions are, there is a school of thought in which the divisions between the U.S. and China, and their global impacts, become much, much worse.

Worst scenario

In an appearance on the television program Face the Nation on Sunday, former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson warned that if China and the U.S. successfully isolate themselves from one another — particularly in the realm of technology — the result could be a bifurcated global system that will devastate economic relationships.

“The real risk is that both countries through their actions will throw up or create an economic iron wall which means we’ll be decoupling global supply chains, right?” said Paulson, who also served as CEO of the investment bank Goldman Sachs.

“We’ll be having two systems with incompatible standards and rules,” he added. “And so as I look at it the defining strength of America is innovation and we need to protect our technology, need to protect our innovation. But if we close ourselves off from other, you know, other innovative economies and entrepreneurs, we jeopardize our leadership position in the world and we’re much less attractive as a destination for foreign investment.”

Triolo, of the Eurasia Group, gave voice to a concern that fewer commentators are willing to discuss out loud, but which must lurk in the back of many business leaders’ minds.

“Many companies are now for the first time factoring in the potential for the trade and tech conflict to morph into a real shooting conflict, either by accident or miscalculation or deliberately,” he said. “The potential for actual conflict has now gone way up for the period 3-5 years out, and this has to be taken into account when multinationals are looking at global supply chain risk.

“The best case scenario, a trade truce with China making some limited concessions, will not necessarily improve this dynamic,” he said. “U.S. focus on the nature of China’s political system, the control of the Party over information, [Chinese President] Xi’s unwillingness to cede more state control of the economy, etc. are all contributing to the ‘clash of civilizations’ meme which is gaining traction among the extreme factions on each side, diminishing the room for rebuilding trust, which is now arguably at an all time low.”

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Small Parties Put Thai Coup Leader on Track to Remain in PM Post

Thai Prime Minister and 2014 coup leader Prayuth Chan-ocha took a giant leap closer to holding on to his post after 11 small parties endorsed his candidacy Monday, although a scramble for control of the lower house of parliament continues.

The 11 parties each landed one of 500 seats in the House of Representatives thanks to an unorthodox formula the junta-appointed election commission devised after the March 24 poll. The algorithm dropped the threshold of votes needed to secure a party-list seat — based on the proportion of nationwide ballots won — from about 71,000 to 30,000.

Along with the expected support of the 250 members of the junta-appointed Senate, their endorsements give the bloc of pro-military parties led by Palang Pracharath the combined majority it needs in both houses to vote Prayuth into a new term.

But with a combined 135 elected seats, the bloc is lagging in the race to shore up a majority in the House of Representatives itself, which it will need to push through any legislation.

Its rival for control of the lower house is the Democracy Front, a bloc of seven parties with 245 seats on a single-minded mission of breaking the stranglehold the military has had on Thai politics since the coup.

The main mid-size parties in play, with more than enough seats to swing the lower house either way, are the Democrat Party and Bhumjaithai. Neither has yet declared for either bloc.

Days after the election, Pheu Thai, the heavyweight of the Democracy Front, offered to consider Bhumjaithai leader Anutin Charnvirakul for prime minister if he joined, said Thepparith Senamngern, a deputy spokesman for Pheu Thai.

Heir to one of Thailand’s largest construction companies, Anutin made headlines on the campaign trail for pushing a pro-cannabis platform. He wants to make marijuana — legalized for medical use in February — the country’s next major cash crop and give every Thai the chance to grow up to six plants each.

Thepparith said the front was still in “hard negotiations” with Bhumjaithai. But now that the 11 smallest parties have called for Palang Pracharath, he conceded it could only make Anutin prime minister on the off-chance that enough senators break faith with the junta that appointed them and either vote for someone other than Prayuth or abstain.

With a majority in the lower house, he added, the front could not only block legislation from pro-military parties but start rolling back the new Constitution the junta drafted after taking power. He said enough votes in the lower house could bypass attempts by the Senate to block amendments.

“We just need six seats, right, to be [2]51,” Thepparith said. “So is it farfetched? I don’t think so. Is it a bit hard?…. Yeah.”

Titipol Phakdeewanich, dean of the political science faculty at Ubon Ratchathani University, said it was unlikely at best.

He said the 11 parties’ decision to declare for Palang Pracharath was expected as a quid pro quo for their seats, and all but certain to cement Prayuth’s return as prime minister.

“It’s quite certain that they can make Prayuth the prime minister with the 250 senators,” he said. “But they also still want to make sure that they have enough seats in the lower house, in the House of Representatives. Otherwise, it wouldn’t make sense for them to become a government with a minority voice in the House.”

Titipol said Monday’s endorsements gave Palang Pracharath the momentum to keep adding to its bloc and that Bhumjaithai and the Democrat Party were likely to end up cutting deals with it as well.

“At the moment, Bhumjaithai and Democrat still can play the game… to get what they want. I don’t think they would decide not to be with Palang Pracharath. At the end, they would go with some deal that they get from Palang Pracharath and support Palang Pracharath to form a government,” he said.

“If you look back at Thai politics, in the past, it’s always like this. They negotiate to have good Cabinet ministries, so that they can perhaps get some interest or benefit to the party.”

A spokesman for Palang Pracharath did not reply to requests for comment.

Regardless of which bloc prevails, it could be weeks before Thailand has a new government.

Parliament is due to convene by May 25 and will vote on a prime minister early next month. The new Cabinet will then form in late June, clearing the way for the junta and the government it set up after the coup, the National Council for Peace and Order, to step down.

 

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Diplomats Visit Canadian Think Tank Expert in China Custody

Diplomats have visited a Canadian think tank expert whose detention in China is believed to be an attempt to pressure Canada to release Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.

Canadian consular officials visited with Michael Kovrig on Monday, the country’s diplomatic service said in an emailed message. No details were given in keeping with privacy rules.

Chinese official media have accused Korvig, a former diplomat and Asia expert at the International Crisis Group, of acting with Canadian businessman Michael Spavor to steal state secrets.

Both were arrested on Dec. 10 after Meng was arrested in Vancouver on Dec. 1 at the request of U.S. authorities who want her extradited to face fraud charges.

In its statement, Global Affairs Canada said it was concerned about the men’s “arbitrary” detentions and called for their immediate release.

Meng, the daughter of Huawei’s founder, is accused of lying to banks about the company’s dealings with Iran in violation of U.S. trade sanctions. Her attorney has argued that comments by U.S. President Donald Trump suggest the case against her is politically motivated.

Washington has pressured other countries to limit use of Huawei’s technology, warning they could be opening themselves up to surveillance and theft of information.

China and the U.S. are currently embroiled in a trade dispute that has beleaguered global financial markets.

Another Canadian held in China, Robert Schellenberg, was re-sentenced to death in a drug case following Meng’s detention. His case is currently under appeal.