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‘Beauty and the Beast’ Shelved in Malaysia Despite Approval

Walt Disney has shelved the release of its new movie “Beauty and the Beast” in mainly Muslim Malaysia, even though film censors said Tuesday it had been approved with a minor cut involving a “gay moment.”

The country’s two main cinema chains said the movie, due for to begin screening Thursday, has been postponed indefinitely. No reason was given.  

Film Censorship Board chairman Abdul Halim Abdul Hamid said he did not know why the film was postponed as was been approved by the board after a minor gay scene was axed. He said scenes promoting homosexuality were forbidden and that the film was given a P13 rating, which requires parental guidance for children under 13 years of age.

“We have approved it but there is a minor cut involving a gay moment. It is only one short scene but it is inappropriate because many children will be watching this movie,” Abdul Halim told The Associated Press.   

He said there was no appeal from Disney about the decision to cut the gay scene.

Disney officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Star English-language newspaper cited the Disney company as saying the movie was postponed for an “internal review.”

The film’s characters include manservant LeFou, who plays the sidekick to the story’s villain Gaston, and, according to director Bill Condon, “is confused about his sexuality.” Condon has described a brief scene as a “gay moment.”

Russia last week approved the movie but banned children under 16 from watching it.

Malaysia’s censors in 2010 loosened decades of restrictions on sexual and religious content in movies, but still kept a tight leash on tiny bikinis, kisses and passionate hugs. The new rules allowed depiction of gay characters, but only if they show repentance or are portrayed in a negative light. Sodomy, even if consensual, is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and whipping in Malaysia.

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As Drought Slashes Rice Harvest, 900,000 Face Hunger in Sri Lanka

The worst drought in five years has pushed 900,000 people in Sri Lanka into acute food insecurity, the World Food Program (WFP) says.

An unpublished survey conducted by government agencies and relief organizations in February found that both food insecurity and debt were rising sharply among families hit by drought, the WFP office in Sri Lanka confirmed to Reuters.

The country’s rice harvest could be the worst in 40 years, charity Save the Children predicted. The just-completed harvest was 63 percent below normal, it said.

The survey found that over one-third of the drought-affected households had seen their income drop by half since September, and 60 percent of the households surveyed were in debt.

The average amount of debt was about 180,000 Sri Lankan rupees, or $1,200, WFP said.

The survey findings are expected to be formally released later this month.

Sri Lanka’s government said over 1.2 million people have been affected by the country’s current drought, which began last November and continues despite some occasional rainfall over the last two months.

Save the Children estimates that over 600,000 of those affected — two-thirds of the total — are children.

The Western and Northern Provinces have been worst hit, with over 400,000 people struggling with drought in each province.

Rice harvest halved

Government and WFP assessments suggest Sri Lanka’s 2017 rice harvest could be less than half the 3 million metric tons recorded last year.

The government has already taken steps to increase rice imports to stave off shortages, Disaster Management Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa said.

“We have a shortfall in the rice harvest. We have been taking action to prevent any shortfalls and will allow for tax-free rice imports until the harvest recovers,” he said.

Worst-affected by the drought have been farmers and those relying on agricultural work for income. The joint WFP and government survey indicated that one out of five farmers and one out of four farm laborers is now classified as food insecure in the drought region.

Preliminary data in the survey also indicated that female-headed households in drought areas were faring worse than others, with almost 20 percent reporting “poor” to “borderline” ability to access enough food as a result of the drought.

Yapa said that the government was devising a plan to help those affected and “we will begin cash assistance very soon.”

The initial plan is to provide 500,000 persons with cash assistance, he said. The government has so far set aside 8 billion rupees ($52 million) for cash-for-work programs in drought-hit areas.

Over 50 million rupees ($300,000) has been allocated to distribute water to affected populations in 22 of the island’s 25 districts, he said.

The drought is expected to continue into April, according to seasonal forecasting by the Meteorological Department.

“The big rains will come with the next monsoon,” which is expected to arrive in late May, said Lalith Chandrapala, director general of the Meteorological Department.

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Experts Divided Over What Trump Administration Should Do With Pakistan

The U.S. has been relying on Pakistan as an ally in the war on terror in the region and has provided the country with billions of dollars in aid over the last 15 years.

But American military and diplomatic officials have time and again expressed concerns about Pakistan’s inability or unwillingness to crack down on terrorists and extremists that are based in the country.

As the new U.S. administration is positioning itself to address some of the pressing foreign policy challenges in the region, experts offer mixed recommendations as to what approach the new administration should pursue in its relations with Pakistan.

“People are much smarter about what the region needs, the challenges, where the policy works and where it doesn’t,” said Shamila Chaudhary, a senior South Asia fellow at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

“We actually have built a pretty significant infrastructure to address what the problems are. What we don’t have are any answers, and that’s what I think we need to focus on when we talk about a review,” she added while speaking at a panel discussion on U.S. policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan at the Washington-based Middle East Institute.

Last 10 years a failure?

Lisa Curtis, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, argued that U.S. policy toward Pakistan in the last 10 years has been a failure.

“I would propose that as a starting point, we do look at the failure of our Pakistan policy over the last 10 years,” Curtis said. “I would say that we need a clear eyed approach on just how detrimental Pakistan’s continued support has been to fundamental U.S. national security interests.”

She added, “15 years later we still have Taliban and the Haqqani network sanctuaries inside Pakistan.”

Former U.S. Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan Daniel Feldman pushed back against Curtis’ analysis.

“I tend to disagree with Lisa’s analysis about it [U.S. policy] being purely a failure. What I believe is that there are many equities that we have with the U.S. Pakistan relationship, all of which we have tried to address in some way or another,” Feldman said. “Certainly over the tenure of the Obama administration we had highs of significant bilateral cooperation relationship with the strategic dialogue, with assistance and we also had lows.”

Cutting aid did not work

Feldman added that at times the U.S. has gone as far as cutting all assistance to Pakistan, and none of those measures necessarily produced a result in which the U.S. has been able to influence or change Pakistan’s core strategic calculus.

John Gill an associate professor at the National Defense University, argued that a review should not mean starting all over again.

“It makes a lot of sense to have a new review, but that does not necessarily mean that we have to change. If there are pieces of the strategy that seem to be on track or going in the right direction, we should not be afraid to stick with those even if they are holdovers from previous administrations,” Gill said.

US should take the risk

Some analysts propose that the U.S. should adopt a different approach to changing Pakistan’s behavior.

“I think in the past whenever we thought about imposing conditions or actually implementing conditions on Pakistan you bring up the fact that Pakistan is a nuclear weapon state and the conversation sort of ends,” Curtis of Heritage said. “I would argue that our counter-terrorism interests in the region are so fundamental that we need to be willing to take some degree of risk in evoking a different Pakistani response.”


Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States and director for South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute, thinks there is a two-way street when it comes to getting Pakistan to change its behavior.

“I think most people agree that Pakistan needs to change its behavior on terrorism, and in relation to Afghanistan and India, and that change is unlikely to come without the rest of the world changing its policies towards Pakistan,” Haqqani said.

Haqqani who co-authored a new policy paper on U.S.-Pakistan relations with Lisa Curtis, argues that American interests in the region are not in line with Pakistan’s strategic thinking, which is heavily influenced by its belief that India wants to weaken and break it.

“Continued U.S. assistance, offered in the hope of a gradual change in Pakistan’s terrorism policies, only provides Pakistan an economic cushion and better quality military equipment to persist with those policies,” argued Haqqani.

In their defense, Pakistan’s military and civilian leaders have argued that they have sacrificed in the war against terror and have paid with blood and treasure. The country’s State Bank published a report late last year, alleging a $110 billion loss to the country’s economy since 2002.


Pakistan could do more

U.S officials acknowledge Pakistan’s efforts and view U.S.-Pakistan relations as important.

“The Pak-U.S. relationship remains a very important one,” General Joseph Votel, head of the U.S. Central Command, said last week during testimony to the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee.

However, U.S. officials continue to assert that Pakistan could do more.

“We have seen progress. We have seen them take some steps to address these safe havens, but clearly the problem persists and it is something, which is part of our ongoing conversation with Pakistan,” said U.S. State Department spokesperson Mark Toner.

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UN Report Warns Myanmar May Try to Expel Rohingya

A new report presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council accuses Myanmar of “institutionalized discrimination and long-standing persecution” of its mainly Muslim Rohingya population amid appeals by a government representative to the international community to support Myanmar “in its efforts to promote democracy and human rights.”

While Yanghee Lee, special investigator on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, acknowledged the new government has been in power for barely one year, she noted that there were a great many human rights violations that could not wait to be addressed and needed immediate attention.

Lee cited reprisals against human rights defenders and the suppression of voices of dissent through arrest and imprisonment as main concerns.  She said she had never “felt more anxiety over potential acts of retaliation and reprisal” than in Rakhine State during her visit to Myanmar in January.

Lee’s assessment follows another report issued by the U.N. human rights office on February 3, which documented acts of cruelty, by Myanmar’s security forces, triggered by the October 9 killing of nine police officers by armed men who attacked three border guard police facilities in Rakhine.

Rights officials say this unleashed weeks of retaliatory measures and gross violations by security forces, including mass gang-rapes, killings, and disappearances, prompting more than 66,000 Rohingya to flee northern Rakhine State to Bangladesh.

In her effort to investigate the issue of reprisals, U.N. investigator Lee said she went to Cox’s Bazaar in neighboring Bangladesh where she interviewed around 140 Rohingya.

“I heard allegation after allegation of horrific events like these – slitting of throats, indiscriminate shootings, setting alight houses with people tied up inside and throwing very young children into the fire, as well as gang rapes and other sexual violence.

“Even men, young and old, broke down and cried in front of me telling me about what they went through and their losses,” she said.

In response to the deadly attacks on October 9, Htin Lynn, Myanmar’s ambassador in Geneva, said, “Security forces had to launch operations to restore peace and maintain law and order in northern Rakhine State.  Such operations have now ceased.”

Investigator Lee expressed her disquiet about clearance operations, including the dismantling of people’s homes and a household survey in which, she said, those absent may be struck off the list facing what “could be the only legal proof of their status in Myanmar.”

She said this indicated that “the government may be trying to expel the Rohingya population from the country altogether.  I sincerely hope that that is not the case.”

She noted that there have been several commissions of inquiry and investigations set up to examine the situation of the Rohingya, but that none has proven to be “truly independent.”

“There is a need for a new set of investigations, which are prompt, thorough, independent and impartial, and this needs to happen soon, before the evidence is compromised.  Prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigations are not only needed in Rakhine, but also in conflict-affected areas such as Kachin and Shan,” she said.

Lee noted that similarly serious violations to those in Rakhine have been reported in those states for years, often been overlooked and “also gone uninvestigated, with the situation in these areas worsening and still receiving little attention.”

Lee warned the conflict in Kachin and Shan states is escalating.  She said more than 10,000 people were forced to flee to China.  

Lee said she continued to receive reports of serious human rights violations committed by all parties to the conflict, including torture, inhumane and degrading treatment, sexual and gender-based violence, arbitrary killings and abductions, “all of which frequently go uninvestigated.”

Lee called on the government in Myanmar to reform and modernize its judiciary, executive, and legislative branches.  She said the country’s 1982 Citizenship Law, which stripped the Rohingya of their birthright, was discriminatory and needed to be overhauled.

She assured the Myanmar representatives who attended the council session that she had “absolutely no reason whatsoever to present a biased, one-sided report.”

She added, “I have every reason to present the situation to reflect the reality, even if some may not like what I have to say.”

Ambassador Htin Lynn was not persuaded.  He said his government could not subscribe to many of the recommendations in the report.

“Myanmar does not accept an idea of a Commission of Inquiry as we are seriously addressing the allegations nationally.”

He also dismissed the term “crimes against humanity,” saying it was based “on unverified and one-sided allegations.”

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У НАТО закликали Туреччину і Нідерланди до стриманості і взаємоповаги

Проявляти стриманість і взаємну повагу закликав Туреччину й Нідерланди генеральний секретар НАТО Єнс Столтенберґ.

«Жвава дискусія завжди є невід’ємною частиною демократії. Але там має бути присутня й взаємна повага. Я закликаю всі країни-союзниці НАТО проявляти одне до одного повагу, зберігати стриманість і діяти зважено, щоб знизити напруженість і розрядити ситуацію», – заявив керівник Північноатлантичного союзу, коментуючи нинішнє дипломатичне протистояння Нідерландів і Туреччини, які є членами цієї військово-політичної організації. 

«Нині важливо зосередитися на тому, що нас об’єднує, перед викликами й загрозами, які постали перед державами НАТО, а також на адаптації альянсу, аби відповідно на них реагувати», – додав Столтенберґ.

Генеральний секретар альянсу підтвердив, що мав розмову і з керівництвом Туреччини, і з представниками уряду Нідерландів, але відмовився надавати деталі цих розмов. Водночас, він зауважив, що закликав обидві сторони «не зациклюватися на питаннях, які сіють розбрат».

13 березня Туреччина викликала посла Нідерландів в Анкарі, щоб офіційно висловити протест на видворення свого міністра і «непропорційне» застосування сили проти демонстрантів.

Протест з’явився після того, як влада Нідерландів видворила турецького міністра у справах сім’ї Фатму Бетуль Саян Каю і не дозволила сісти на території країни літаку з міністром закордонних справ Туреччини Мевлютом Чавушоглу.

Обидва міністри планували виступити на мітингах 12 березня на підтримку референдуму в Туреччині, планованому на наступний місяць, що збільшить владу президенти Реджепа Таїпа Ердогана.

12 березня поліція Нідерландів застосувала водомети і собак для розгону сотень демонстрантів, що протестували під консульством у Роттердамі.

Ердоган пообіцяв вжити заходів у відповідь проти Нідерландів, заявивши, що «нацизм на Заході живий».


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Столтенберґ: лише 5 країн НАТО витрачають на свою оборону необхідні 2 відсотки ВВП

Лише п’ять із 28 країн-учасниць НАТО витрачають на свою оборону необхідні два відсотки від внутрішнього валового продукту, заявляє генеральний секретар альянсу Єнс Столтенберґ.

«У 2016 році тільки п’ять держав-членів виділили два або більше відсотки ВВП на оборонні потреби, але цілком реальним є те, що всі держави можуть вийти на цей рівень», – заявив голова НАТО, презентуючи річний звіт про діяльність союзу за минулий рік. 

Згідно зі статистикою, ріст оборонних видатків у європейських державах НАТО минулого року вперше в історії склав 3,8 відсотка.

Доля США в бюджеті НАТО за 2016 рік склала 45,9 відсотка, тим часом, як доля європейських країн і Канади складає 54,1 відсотка.

Єнс Столтенберґ, зокрема зауважив, що «оптимістично виглядають можливості Румунії», яка готова до виходу на 2-відсотковий рівень вже цього року. Латвія і Литва очікують на такий самий крок у наступному році.

«Прогрес очевидний, але ще багато залишається зробити, бо досі немає справедливого розподілу витрат всередині нашого союзу НАТО», – заявив Столтенберґ.

Нова адміністрація США на чолі з президентом Дональдом Трампом закликали країни-союзниці НАТО збільшити зусилля для виконання своїх фінансових зобов’язань у рамках НАТО.

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Зубко: комісія виявила низку порушень у роботі шахти «Степова» на Львівщині

Віце-прем’єр-міністр Геннадій Зубко заявляє, що комісія виявила низку порушень у роботі шахти «Степова» у Львівській області.

«Зараз ми з’ясовуємо, як на шахті опинилося небезпечне обладнання, яким чином замість 450 кубометрів повітря, які повинні були бути в шахті, там було лише 120 кубометрів повітря. Ми з’ясовуємо, чому не спрацювала система оповіщення про небезпечну концентрацію метану», – сказав Зубко.

За його словами, в ході розслідування стало відомо, що шахта не мала дозволів на проведення робіт.

«Ми зараз проводимо перевірку, що під час вибуху на шахті не було дозволу на проведення небезпечних робіт всередині шахти», – сказав Зубко. 

2 березня о 12:46 на горизонті 550 метрів у 119-й лаві внаслідок вибуху сталося завалення гірської породи. На шахті працювали 172 гірники, на аварійній ділянці – 34. Загинули восьмеро людей. За попередніми даними, причиною став вибух метану, іскра спричинила пожежу.

За фактом загибелі гірників на шахті «Степова» прокуратура Львівської області порушила кримінальне провадження за статтею про «порушення правил безпеки під час виконання робіт з підвищеною небезпекою». У Кабміні повідомили, що родинам загиблих виплатять по 500 тисяч гривень, постраждалим – по 75.

В уряді також створили комісію для розслідування трагедії, а також перевірки ситуації з безпекою на інших вуглевидобувних підприємствах України.


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Refugees Surge into China as Myanmar Ethnic Border Conflict Escalates

Within earshot of mortar fire echoing from beyond a ring of hills, a sprawling relief camp in Southwestern China is swelling steadily after fighting erupted last week between a rebel ethnic army in Myanmar and government troops just across the border.

In a recent Reuters visit to the rugged area in southwestern Yunnan province, aid workers and those displaced expressed fears of a more violent and protracted conflict than a previous flare-up in the Kokang region in early 2015.

“Every day, more people come,” said Li Yinzhong, an aid manager in the camp, gesturing at the mostly Han Chinese refugees from Myanmar’s Kokang region trudging through the reddish mud earth around rows of large blue huts where they sleep on nylon tarpaulin sheets.

“We will look after them until they decide they want to go back.”

Blue disaster relief tents provided by the Chinese also dotted the terraced sugarcane, maize and tea terraces flanking the mountainous winding road to Nansan. The town, close to the Kokang region of Myanmar’s Shan State, is providing refuge for a stream of refugees that Chinese authorities estimate number more than 20,000.

The violence is a blow to efforts by Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, to reach a comprehensive peace agreement with Myanmar’s ethnic minorities, some of them in rebellions spanning decades.

The conflict is also fraying ties between China and Myanmar, which Beijing has hoped could be a key gateway in its multi-pronged “One Belt One Road” strategy to promote economic links between China and Europe.

Kokang has close ties to China. The vast majority are ethnic Chinese speaking a Chinese dialect and using the yuan as currency.

‘State of war’

The Kokang began fleeing when the rebel Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) launched a surprise raid on Myanmar police and military targets in the town of Laukkai, resulting in the deaths of 30 people on March 6.

The Myanmar military has launched “56 waves of small and large clashes”, using cannons, armored vehicles and heavy weapons over the past two months, according to a statement published by the military on March 6 after the attack.

Rebel forces who lay historic claim to the Kokang region have attacked government troops with rocket-propelled grenade launchers and other military hardware.

In an “urgent notice” posted on Sunday on its official website, the MNDAA said the Kokang area was now in a “state of war” as fighting worsened.

On the Chinese side, paramilitary police have sent in battalions of reinforcements, mostly in readiness for disaster relief, according to Chinese officials who spoke on background.

Reuters saw seven Chinese armored personnel carriers moving west along the hilly road towards Myanmar and the relief camp sprawled across a muddy wasteland the size of 10 football fields.

The fresh unrest comes after fighting in early 2015 and in 2009 involving the MNDAA, both flare-ups displacing tens of thousands of people.

Ordnance has occasionally strayed into China, with five people in China killed in 2015 during a round of fighting then.

This time round, the door to a village house was blown out, and the upper floor of the Anran hotel in Nansan was shelled forcing its closure, according to local residents and one official. Reuters was unable to corroborate these accounts.

China has lodged “solemn representations” with Myanmar over its citizens put at risk by the conflict, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular news briefing on Monday.

“The Chinese will be very angry if it escalates to the level of 2015,” said Sino-Myanmar expert Yun Sun, a senior associate with the Stimson Center in Washington D.C.

Beijing wants the Kokang to be included in the comprehensive peace negotiations that Aung San Suu Kyi initiated last August, she said.

The military has blocked that, saying the rebels can only join if they lay down arms first.

“The Chinese actually tacitly and privately support the Kokang being included in the negotiations, but they can’t say that,” Sun said.

Unresolved peace

At around three in the morning on the day of the rebel raids, loud explosions and gunfire woke the Cao family, prompting them to flee at first light with few possessions.

“I was scared,” said Cao Junxiang, who fled in a convoy of four rudimentary, three-wheel farm lorries tethered to powerful motorcycles — joining a nearly 15-hour snaking exodus of jeeps, trucks, buses, carts and motorcycles bound for China.

“More than half the people [in my village] left,” he said, as others crowded around an open sitting area of a Chinese village house transformed into a makeshift refuge.

Yao Xiao’er, the 49-year old head of the household, said she sent the farm vehicles across the border soon after hearing the first bursts of distant thudding. She eventually got nearly 100 relatives and friends to safety including a two-year-old toddler and a nonagenarian, half-blind, family matriarch, who was dozing on a tatty sofa.

One young mother with a baby strapped to her back said many refugees were seeking out odd jobs to make ends meet.

“We have no money so some of us cut sugar cane,” she said.

“We get around one yuan for every 20 sticks we chop, peel and uproot.”

A Chinese taxi driver plying the route between a Chinese airport in Lincang and the seedy frontier casinos of Myanmar’s Laukkai, said business was drying up. “No one is coming here anymore.”