By Yeganeh Torbati ONBOARD THE USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT, South China Sea (Reuters) - As soon as the guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen breached 12-nautical-mile territorial limits around one of China's man-made islands in the disputed South China Sea last week, a Chinese warship shadowing its movements began demanding answers. "'Hey, you are in Chinese waters. What is your intention?'," it asked, as recounted to reporters on Thursday by Commander Robert Francis, commanding officer of the Lassen. His crew replied that they were operating in accordance with international law, and intended to transit past the island, carrying out what U.S. officials have called a freedom-of-navigation exercise designed to challenge China's claims to the strategic waterway. The response from the Chinese destroyer? "The same query, over and over," said Francis, speaking onboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt as it sailed 150 to 200 nautical miles from the southern tip of the Spratly archipelago, a chain of contested islands where China's seven artificial outposts have taken shape in barely two years. The Lassen had joined the carrier strike group the night before, ahead of a visit to the Theodore Roosevelt by U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, who while on board blamed China for rising tension in the region. Beijing has rebuked Washington over the Lassen's patrol, the most significant U.S. challenge yet to territorial limits China claims around its new islands. China claims most of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion in global trade passes every year. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan have rival claims. In comments that underscore the frequency with which U.S. warships now come across Chinese vessels in Asian waters, Francis said the Lassen had had about 50 "interactions" with Chinese military ships and aircraft since May while on patrol in the South and East China Seas, something he described as routine. "Every day a U.S. ship is down here, we interact with the Chinese," Francis said. Experts say China has dozens of naval and coastguard vessels deployed in the South China Sea at any given time, adding that encounters with U.S. warships are likely to increase after U.S. officials said the navy planned to conduct patrols within 12 nautical miles of China's artificial islands about twice a quarter. "WHAT ARE YOU GUYS DOING THIS SATURDAY?" The Chinese destroyer shadowed the Lassen for 10 days before and after its Oct. 27 patrol near the artificial islands, said Francis. The Lassen got to within six to seven nautical miles from the nearest Chinese land formation, he added. But not all U.S.-Chinese naval interactions are tense, especially when things are slow on the high seas. "A few weeks ago we were talking to one of the ships that was accompanying us, a Chinese vessel ... (We) picked up the phone and just talked to him like, 'Hey, what are you guys doing this Saturday? Oh, we got pizza and wings. What are you guys eating? Oh, we're doing this. Hey, we're planning for Halloween as well'." The intent, Francis said, is "to show them ... that we're normal sailors, just like them, have families, just like them." The Chinese sailors, speaking in English, responded by talking about where they were from, their families and places they have visited, Francis said. Eventually, the Chinese destroyer that had followed the Lassen on its mission past the artificial islands peeled away. "They were very cordial the entire time ... even before and after the Spratly islands transit," Francis said. "When they left us they said, 'Hey, we're not going to be with you anymore. Wish you a pleasant voyage. Hope to see you again'." As for Francis and his crew of 300 sailors, they were unfazed by the intense media coverage of one of the most highly anticipated U.S. naval patrols in years, although Francis said his mother, having seen the news, did call to ask whether he was actually in China. "It's another day in the South China Sea. All of it is professional," he said. (Editing by Dean Yates and Will Waterman)
A jihadist message, "Islamic State endures", is still graffitied on the front gate of Thanoun Yahya, an Iraqi Christian from the northern city of Mosul, scrawled by Islamist militants who occupied his home for three years when they ruled the city. He refuses to remove it, partly in defiance of the militants who were eventually beaten by Iraqi forces, but also as a reminder that Iraq's scattered and dwindling Christian community still lives a precarious existence. "They're gone, they can't hurt us," said the 59-year-old, sitting in his home which he reclaimed when Islamic State was driven out in 2017.
A Dutch appeals court said on Friday the government had been right to impose a night curfew in the fight against the coronavirus, overturning a lower court's order which had caused confusion over the measure last week. In a clear victory for the government, the appeals court said it had rightfully used emergency powers to install the curfew, the first in the Netherlands since World War Two, and had adequately proved that the measure was necessary to rein in the pandemic. The district court in The Hague last week had ruled that the government had failed to make clear why emergency powers were needed at this stage of the pandemic, siding with anti-lockdown activists who had brought the case.
- The Independent
Texas senator shamed for Cancun trip delivered a high-energy CPAC speech studded with Star Wars references
The Biden administration announced sanctions and visa bans on Friday targeting Saudi Arabian citizens over the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but stopped short of imposing sanctions on Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman himself. U.S. President Joe Biden's actions in the first weeks of his administration appear aimed at fulfilling campaign promises to realign Saudi ties after critics accused his predecessor, Donald Trump, of giving the Arab ally and major oil producer a pass on gross human rights violations. A senior Biden administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the approach aims to create a new launching-off point for ties with the kingdom without breaking a core relationship in the Middle East.
- The Independent
Controversial congresswoman previously said the Republican party belong to former president
- The Independent
Biden raises human rights in call with Saudi king as intelligence officials to release report on Khashoggi killing
President Joe Biden has spoken with King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud of Saudi Arabia ahead of the release of a report from US intelligence officials that is expected to reveal that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved and likely ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. A White House report of their phone call on Thursday did not disclose whether they discussed the findings in the report. The leaders “discussed regional security, including the renewed diplomatic efforts led by the United Nations and the United States to end the war in Yemen, and the US commitment to help Saudi Arabia defend its territory as it faces attacks from Iranian-aligned groups,” according to a readout of their call.
- Associated Press
Saudi Arabia's crown prince likely approved the killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, according to a newly declassified U.S. intelligence report released Friday that instantly ratcheted up pressure on the Biden administration to hold the kingdom accountable for a murder that drew worldwide outrage. It leaves no doubt that as the prince continues in his powerful role and likely ascends to the throne, Americans will forever associate him with the brutal killing of a journalist who promoted democracy and human rights.
- Charlotte Observer
ESPN’s Mel Kiper has the Panthers’ picking Mac Jones No. 8 in his latest mock draft. What to make of it.
Libya's designated prime minister, chosen via a U.N.-facilitated process last month, said on Thursday he had proposed a governing plan to the country's divided parliament as part of a peace process. The new interim government is intended to replace Libya's two rival administrations and oversee the run-up to national elections planned for December in a roadmap to end years of chronic chaos and violence. "It will be a government of technocrats representing the whole Libyan spectrum," designated prime minister Abdulhamid Dbeibeh told a news conference in Tripoli, adding that he had attempted a "fair distribution" of posts between the west, east and south of the country.
- Associated Press
President Joe Biden’s pick to be the top U.S. trade envoy promised to work with America’s allies to combat China’s aggressive trade policies, indicating a break from the Trump administration’s go-it-alone approach. Tai dodged questions on two politically sensitive questions — whether the Biden administration would drop President Donald Trump's tariffs on imported steel and aluminum and whether it would revive former President Barack Obama's Asia-Pacific trade deal that was jettisoned by Trump.
- The Telegraph
Coronavirus latest news: 'This battle is not won yet,' says Jonathan Van-Tam after cases increase in parts of UK
Teachers, police and BAME will not get vaccine priority Analysis: Queen shows personal commitment in a time of crisis Merkel refuses Oxford jab amid calls to 'lead by example' Age remains the key factor that determines each person’s level of risk Subscribe to The Telegraph for a month-long free trial Coronavirus cases are rising in parts of the UK showing that "this battle is not won," Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam has said. Prof Van-Tam, speaking at a Downing St briefing, said some parts of England were "burning quite hot" with new cases, including in the Midlands and, increasingly, the west coast of England. "This is not a good sign and reinforces the fact that I'm afraid this battle at the moment is not won." Prof Van-Tam said there were some worrying signs that people who had received a vaccine were breaking lockdown rules. "This is all going very well but there are some worry signs that people are relaxing and taking their foot off the brake at exactly the wrong time. "Do not wreck this now, it is too early to relax, we are so close." Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the rate of cases in England was down to one in 145 people but the decline was "slowing". Follow the latest updates below.
- Business Insider
Federal investigators zeroed in on the assailant after video footage showed the suspect attacking officers with bear spray, The Times reported.
- The State
“Her daddy got to heaven just before she did.”
- National Review
After only a month in power, President Biden has used lethal military force in reaction to Iranian-sponsored attacks on Americans in Iraq. The strike, said to be by F-15 jets, apparently attacked buildings owned by Iraqi Shiite militia groups along the Iraqi-Syrian border. It’s worth pausing to note that those Iranian-backed Iraqi Shiite groups and not the government of Iraq control that part of the border. In other words, Iran and its proxies control a route from Iraq through Syria to Lebanon, where the largest Iranian proxy, Hezbollah, is situated. The borders have been erased. The Biden strike is a message to Iran, a warning shot against continuing attacks by the militias Tehran backs. According to press reports, Biden was presented with a range of options and chose one of the softest — a limited strike inside Syria rather than Iraq. There is a logic to this choice. First, U.S. attacks inside Iraq would likely complicate life for Prime Minister Kadhimi, whom we are generally supporting, and spur the forces hostile to any U.S. presence — not least the Iranian-allied militias — to demand that all U.S. forces be expelled. Second, should further Iranian-sponsored attacks require Biden to hit Iranian-backed forces again, this limited strike allows him to say he tried patience and restraint and they failed. But the strike inside Syria and at Iranian proxies may also send messages Biden does not intend: that the United States will never hit Tehran’s proxies inside Iraq and that it will never hit Iran. If that’s what the Iranian regime infers, they will have the militias strike again and again; they will not be deterred because they will see the attacks as nearly cost-free. The law of averages suggests that sooner or later these continued attacks will kill Americans. That’s when the president will face the need to punish Iran and truly establish deterrence; merely attacking its proxies will be inadequate. One of the key functions of the Shiite militias in Iraq is to allow Iran to attack U.S. forces while, by absorbing any penalty, keeping Iran safe. If there are a series of attacks, harming Americans and eventually killing one or more, the kind of limited response from the United States that we saw this past week will not be enough. That does not mean World War III and it does not mean American bombers over Tehran, but it does mean that Biden must contemplate striking Iranian assets rather than expendable proxy groups. Meanwhile, there was zero progress on the nuclear-negotiations front this past week. On the contrary, Iran did not agree to attend the EU-sponsored talks that the United States has agreed to attend, it limited International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors’ access to Iran, and it threatened to enrich uranium to 60 percent. Nuclear power requires enrichment to no more than 5 percent; the only use for uranium enriched to 60 percent is in preparing a nuclear weapon. The very least that can be said about President Biden’s second month in power is that we are seeing any dreams of a quick return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, also known as the JCPOA, and a quick resolution to U.S.-Iranian confrontations dissolve before our eyes. The president’s refusal, thus far, to lift any sanctions and his willingness to use force against Iranian proxies suggest a more realistic assessment of Iran than many feared. No doubt there will be many deep discussions, even debates, within the administration over what the next move should be. The administration’s willingness to return to the JCPOA if Iran went back into compliance with it has not moved the Islamic Republic an inch. Similarly, the administration’s reversal of the designation of the Houthis in Yemen as a terrorist group, and its decision to halt the sale of “offensive” weapons to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen, were met with zero flexibility by the Houthis — who have carried out additional terrorist attacks since the policy changes. Down the road the administration faces an even greater challenge than what to do about attacks on Americans in Iraq. President Biden has already decided that they will be met with force, and one must assume that if the attacks continue and escalate, the counter-attacks will as well. But what about Iran’s expulsion of nuclear inspectors, which violates the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and the “Additional Protocol” to the JCPOA (that allowed snap inspections)? What about enrichment to 60 percent, if that indeed occurs? How far down the road toward building a nuclear weapon will the administration be willing to let Iran go? That’s a hypothetical question today, but if Iran keeps going it will soon be keeping U.S. officials up at night. Biden is the fifth American president in a row, by my count, to say Iran would never be permitted to build a nuclear weapon. Unless Iran changes course he could be the first to have to prove it.
- Charlotte Observer
This is the shocking story of the alleged sexual abuses that led to the January arrest of Sandra Hiler — aka Charlotte piano teacher Keiko Aloe — as told by her 21-year-old daughter.
Residents of an Indian slum thought they were getting vaccinated like everyone else but were unknowingly part of a clinical trial
After a white van advertised COVID-19 vaccines to a central-Indian slum, many of its residents feel duped after finding out they were in a trial.
Greece will toughen laws to combat sexual abuse and protect minors, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Thursday following a cascade of recent scandals in culture and sport. "Greek society underwent a shock when it began to learn about its hidden facades," Mitsotakis told parliament. The measures he outlined include stricter penalties for crimes against sexual freedom, changing the statute of limitations for cases of child abuse, creating a registry for professionals who work with children and a website where victims can submit allegations in real time.
- Business Insider
Ted Cruz rants about comedians, late-night TV, and mask-wearing before shouting at people to 'just have fun' in wild CPAC speech
"Orlando is awesome. It's not as nice as Cancún, but it's nice," Cruz said, referring to the scandal he sparked by leaving Texas for Mexico.
Ben Affleck says his divorce from Jennifer Garner and other 'life experience' shaped him into a better actor
In a new interview as part of The Hollywood Reporter's Actor Roundtable series, Affleck spoke about Garner and the three kids they share.
The tech-heavy Nasdaq index rallied in choppy trading on Friday, even as sentiment remained fragile after the index's worst performance in four months the day before as fears of rising inflation kept U.S. bond yields near a one-year high. The S&P 500 ended little changed, while the Dow index closed lower after earlier dropping to a three-week low. The Dow still posted gains of nearly 4% for the month, as investors bought into cyclical companies set to benefit from an economic reopening.