The News of the Day for Thursday September 19, 2019


The United States said on Thursday it was building a coalition to deter Iranian threats following a weekend attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities. Iran has warned President Donald Trump against being dragged into a war in the Middle East and said it would meet any offensive action with a crushing response. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Trump, who has ordered more sanctions on Iran, wants a peaceful solution to the crisis. Pompeo also spoke on Thursday with Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, the de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates, which is Riyadh’s main Arab ally. He did not provide details about the coalition. Pompeo described his proposed coalition as “an act of diplomacy while the foreign minister of Iran is threatening all out war”. Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammed Javad Zarif, told CNN that the Islamic Republic “won’t blink” if it has to defend itself against any U.S. or Saudi military strike, which he said would lead to “all-out war”. Pompeo said the attacks would be a major focus of next week’s annual U.N. General Assembly meeting and suggested Riyadh could make its case there.




A U.S. drone strike, intended to hit an Islamic State (IS) hideout in Afghanistan, killed at least 30 civilians that were resting after a day’s labor in the fields. Officials said the attack on Wednesday night also injured 40 people after accidentally targeting farmers and laborers who had just finished collecting pine nuts at mountainous Wazir Tangi in eastern Nangarhar province. A survivor of the drone strike said about 200 laborers were sleeping in five tents pitched near the farm when the attack happened. Angered by the attack, some residents of Nangarhar province demanded an apology and monetary compensation from the U.S. government. Afghanistan’s Defence Ministry and a senior U.S official in Kabul confirmed the drone strike, but did not share details of civilian casualties. About 14 thousand U.S. troops are in Afghanistan, training and advising Afghan security forces and conducting counter-insurgency operations against IS and the Taliban movement.




Secretary of State Pompeo said on Thursday the United States is withdrawing about $100 million earmarked for an energy infrastructure project in Afghanistan and is withholding a further $60 million in planned assistance, blaming corruption and a lack of transparency in the country. In a statement, Pompeo said the United States would complete the infrastructure project, but would do so using an “‘off-budget’ mechanism”, faulting Afghanistan for an “inability to transparently manage U.S. government resources”. The decision comes a day after the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, John Bass, in a tweet called out the country’s National Procurement Authority (NPA) for not approving the purchase of fuel for thermal electricity. Residents of Kabul have accused the NPA of ignoring people’s need for energy, as large parts of the city have been without power for more than seven hours every day this month. The power crisis intensified further this week after insurgents attack pylons in northern provinces. About a third of the country has been hit by blackouts.




Nearly two decades after the World Health Organization declared polio eradicated in the Philippines, the malady - preventable by vaccine - has returned in a new outbreak. The Philippines health department said Thursday, one case involves a 3-year-old girl and another suspected case is awaiting confirmation. The department said traces of the poliovirus were detected in Manila and Davao. Polio is a crippling infectious disease that can invade a patient's brain and spinal cord, causing paralysis and possibly death. The last known case of wild poliovirus in the Philippines appeared in 1993, and the WHO declared it eradicated in 2000. Polio is rare around the world, and no cases have originated in the United States since 1979.




U.S. and Chinese deputy trade negotiators were set to resume face-to-face talks for the first time in nearly two months on Thursday, as the world’s two largest economies try to bridge deep policy differences and find a way out of a bitter and protracted trade war. The negotiations, which run through Friday, are aimed at laying the groundwork for high-level talks in early October that will determine whether the two countries are working toward a solution - or headed for new and higher tariffs on each other’s goods. Sources said the discussions are likely to focus heavily on agriculture, including U.S. demands that China substantially increase purchases of American soybeans and other farm commodities. White House officials signaled warming negotiations as the deputies were set to begin their sitdown. Last week, Trump delayed a scheduled Oct. 1 tariff increase on $250 billion worth of Chinese imports until mid-month, as China postponed tariffs on some U.S. cancer drugs, animal feed ingredients and lubricants.




Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized Wednesday after Time published a 2001 photo showing him wearing brownface makeup at an Arabian Nights-themed gala at the expensive private school where he was then a teacher. "I'm really sorry," he said. "I didn't consider it racist at the time, but now we know better." Trudeau also admitted he wore blackface while singing "Day-O" at a talent show when he was in high school. The news came a week after Trudeau kicked off his re-election campaign. He faces a challenge from Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer, who called the brownface photo "an act of open mockery and racism." National Council of Canadian Muslims' executive director, Mustafa Farooq, called the image "deeply saddening" but thanked Trudeau for his apology.




California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed a bill requiring many companies to treat contract workers like employees, entitling them to more benefits. The new law could have far-reaching effects on the so called 'gig' economy. The legislation stemmed from concerns that some powerhouses in the 'gig' economy, including ride-hailing giants Uber and Lyft, had exploited drivers by treating them as independent contractors rather than employees, depriving them of benefits and protections, including sick leave and minimum wages. Unions backed the bill and said it would improve conditions for many people, while businesses, including tech companies and health-care providers, said the new rules would be hard for them to handle. Lyft said it might have to cut 300 thousand drivers if it has to give everyone employee status.




Federal authorities have charged 58 people with health-care fraud involving illegal distribution of opioids in Texas. Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski said the suspects, including six doctors and seven pharmacists, are accused of dispensing more than six million opioid pills. One Houston pharmacy alone allegedly distributed 760 thousand pills from March 2018 to September 2019. Benczkowski said, "The data in our possession shines an inescapable light on those dirty doctors, clinic owners, pharmacists, and others who may have long believed that they could perpetrate their fraud in the dark, behind closed doors." Nearly 400 thousand people died from opioid overdoses between 1999 and 2017, about 218 thousand of them from prescription opioids.




Chinese smartphone maker Huawei on Thursday released its first 5G device -- the Mate 30 -- without Google-licensed apps, due to a U.S. blacklist. The device was revealed in Germany and will use an open-source, but non-proprietary, version of Google's Android operating system. The Trump administration has barred Huawei technologies in the United States and its armed forces due to national security concerns. President Trump declared a national emergency related to the Chinese company in May. The device, however, still functions like an Android-powered phone. Huawei created its own interface this year and its own store with 45 thousand apps. The company said the phone chip is the "most sophisticated" to date -- but some experts expect Huawei will struggle with sales. The company is also developing its own operating system, but it wasn't yet ready for the Mate 30.