Vietnam legislators back cyber law clamping down on tech firms, dissent

Vietnamese legislators approved a cybersecurity law on Tuesday that tightens control of the internet and global tech companies operating in the Communist-led country, raising fears of economic harm and a further crackdown on dissent. The cyber law, approved by 91 percent of attending legislators, requires Facebook (FB.O), Google (GOOGL.O) and other global technology firms to store locally “important” personal data on users in Vietnam and open offices in the country.

The vote in the National Assembly came two days after legislators delayed a decision on another draft law that had sparked violent protests in some parts of the country.

Thousands of demonstrators in several cities and provinces denounced a plan to create new economic zones for foreign investment that has fuelled anti-Chinese sentiment. Some protesters had also derided the cybersecurity bill, which experts and activists say could cause economic harm and stifle online dissent.
Tuesday’s vote was held amid tight security, with police manning barricades outside the legislature in the capital, Hanoi. It was not clear when the cyber law would take effect.

Human rights group Amnesty International said the law was a “devastating blow” for freedom of expression, allowing the state to force tech companies to hand over potentially vast amounts of data, including personal information, and censor users’ posts.

“With the sweeping powers it grants the government to monitor online activity, this vote means there is now no safe place left in Vietnam for people to speak freely,” Clare Algar, Amnesty’s director of global operations, said in a statement.

Under the law, social media companies in Vietnam are required to remove offending content from their platforms within one day of receiving a request from the authorities.

Vo Trong Viet, head of the defence and security committee that drafted the law, said the requirement to store data inside Vietnam was feasible, crucial to fighting cyber crime and in line with international rules.

“Placing a data centre in Vietnam increases costs for businesses but is a necessary requirement to meet the cybersecurity need of the country,” he told legislators.

The United States and Canada had urged Vietnam to delay the vote and review the law to ensure it aligned with international standards and address concerns that it may hurt the growth of a digital economy in Vietnam, where its 94 million people are a target for global consumer brands. About 55 million Vietnamese are regular social media users, according to a 2018 global digital report by the media consulting firm We Are Social, and Hootsuite, a social media management firm. Vietnam ranked seventh among active Facebook-using countries, the report said, while its economic hub, Ho Chi Minh City, was number 10 among cities with active Facebook users.Canada said some of the localisation requirements might increase costs, uncertainty and risks for Canadian businesses and inhibit their global operations. The Vietnam Digital Communication Association said the requirements could reduce Vietnam’s gross domestic product by 1.7 percent and wipe off 3.1 percent of foreign investment. Trade and foreign investment are crucial to Vietnam’s economy.

Summit with North Korea’s Kim ‘better than anybody expected’ – Trump

By News Desk, with Agency Report,

U.S. President Donald Trump said a historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Tuesday had gone “better than anybody could have expected”, and they would sign a document following talks on ways to end a nuclear standoff on the Korean peninsula.

Kim stood silently alongside Trump as he spoke to media during a post-lunch stroll through the gardens of the Singapore hotel where the summit was held, but the North Korean leader had earlier described their meeting as a “a good prelude to peace”.

Both men walked to Trump’s limousine and looked in at the rear seat, with Trump apparently showing Kim something inside. They then resumed their walk.

“A lot of progress – really very positive. I think better than anybody could have expected. Top of the line, very good. We’re going now for a signing,” Trump told journalists, without giving details on what would be signed.

Should they succeed in making a diplomatic breakthrough, it could bring lasting change to the security landscape of Northeast Asia, like the visit of former U.S. President Richard Nixon to China in 1972 led to the transformation of China.

Both men had looked serious as they got out of their limousines for the summit at the Capella hotel on Singapore’s Sentosa, a resort island with luxury hotels, a casino, manmade beaches and a Universal Studios theme park.

Putin rejects G7 criticism, stresses cooperation

By News Desk, with Agency Report,

Russian President Vladimir Putin said, that it was time to start cooperating again, dismisses Group of Seven (G7) industrialized nations criticism, on Sunday.

Putin during a press brief said, “I believe it’s necessary to stop this creative babbling and shift to concrete issues related to real cooperation”, during a Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit.

On Saturday, G7 participants slammed Russia’s support for the Syrian regime and Moscow’s attempts to undermine democracy at a meeting in Quebec City, Canada.

G7 leaders also endorsed Britain’s accusation that Russia was behind the nerve gas attack on former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in March.

Putin said the G7 countries “again” failed to provide any evidence that his country was behind the Skripal poisoning in the southwest of England.

“Everyone demonstrated solidarity with London over a certain event in Salisbury but nothing concrete was said again,” he added.

Putin’s diplomacy

Although G7 leaders ignored US President Donald Trump’s proposal to invite back Moscow into the club, Putin said he would be happy to be readmitted. Russia was kicked out of the G7 after it annexed Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014.

The G7 group consists of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US.

“As for Russia’s return to the G7, G8 — we never left it,” Putin said. “Back in the day, colleagues refused to come to Russia due to certain reasons. Please, we would be happy to see everyone in Moscow,” he added.

He emphasized the significance of the SCO, which includes Russia and China, and said the combined purchasing power of the SCO was bigger than G7.

The SCO was created in 2001 by the leaders of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyztan, Russia, Tajikstan and Uzbekistan. India and Pakistan joined the grouping as full members last year at a summit in Astana, Kazakhstan.

Putin also lambasted Trump’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, saying the decision could “destabilize the situation” in the region.

Iran forces kill 9 border crossing militants

By News Desk, with Agency Report,

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) said, they had killed nine militants in a security operation carried out in the northwest of the country near the border with Iraq on Saturday.

In a statement released by IRGC, it was revealed that the militants had planned an attack in northern Iraq before crossing over the border into Iran on Friday.

“Members of the terrorist team received orders from the heads of terrorist groups in northern Iraq and had careful plans to carry out terrorist and anti-security actions after infiltrating (Iran),” the statement said.

It did not elaborate on the identity of the militants, but when using the word “terrorists” the IRGC generally means Sunni Muslim militants who are sworn enemies of Shi’ite Iran.

The IRGC suffered no casualties in the security operation in the northwestern Iranian town of Oshnavieh, it said.

Iran’s border with Iraq is porous and there is little coordination between the security forces in either country.

In June 2017, Islamic State militants carried out coordinated attacks at the parliament building in Tehran and the mausoleum of Iranian revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini south of the capital, killing at least 18 people.

Dutch govt drops Kaspersky software, citing security concerns

By News Desk and Agency Report 

The Dutch government is phases out the use of anti-virus software developed by Russian firm, Kaspersky Lab amid fears of possible spying, despite Moscow-based cyber security company denial.

The Dutch Justice and Security ministry disclosed in a statement late Monday, the decision had been taken as a “precautionary measure” in order “to guarantee national security”.

But Kaspersky Lab, whose anti-virus software is installed on about 400 million computers worldwide, said Tuesday it was “very disappointed” by the move.

The firm, which is suspected by US authorities of helping the Kremlin’s espionage efforts, also announced Tuesday that it was moving its core infrastructure and operations to Switzerland.

“Our new centre in Switzerland will strengthen the proven integrity of Kaspersky Lab’s products, (and) significantly improve the resilience of our IT infrastructure to any trust risk ?- even theoretical ones,” the Russian company said in a statement.

Last year, the US federal government removed Kaspersky from its list of approved vendors, weeks after senior US intelligence agency and law enforcement officials expressed concerns about the safety of its software.

The Netherlands fears Kaspersky’s anti-virus software is “deep in systems” and any abuse could “pose a major security risk.”

Dutch officials also voiced concern that under Russian law companies such as Kaspersky are “required to cooperate with the Russian government”.

But the company hit back saying “Kaspersky Lab has never helped, nor will help, any government in the world with its cyber espionage or offensive cyber efforts” and adding it was “being treated as guilty merely due to geopolitical issues.”

It said it would try to arrange a meeting soon with the Dutch coordinator for security and counterterrorism to discuss the situation.

Dutch intelligence officials have increasingly warned however that they fear the Kremlin is trying to hack into Dutch companies and manipulate elections here.

“Russia has an active offensive cyber programme focusing on the Netherlands and vital Dutch interests,” the ministry warned, adding it had therefore concluded there was a risk of “digital espionage and sabotage.”

North Korea free three American prisoners

By NewsDesk, with Agency report,

The North Korea has handed over three released American prisoners over to U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, clearing a major obstacle to an unprecedented summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

However, the United States President, Donald Trump, said the three men, who were freed after Pompeo met Kim, were on their way back home from Pyongyang on chief U.S. diplomat’s plane.

The president on Wednesday disclosed plan to meet with freed US nationals once touch ground at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington at 2 a.m. EDT (0600 GMT) Thursday morning.

As viewed, the release appeared to signal an effort by Kim to set a more positive tone for the summit and followed his recent pledge to suspend missile tests and shut Pyongyang’s nuclear bomb test site.

While Kim is giving up the last of his American detainees, whom North Korea has often used as bargaining chips with the United States, a release could also be aimed at pressuring Trump to make concessions of his own in his bid to get Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear arsenal, something it has not signalled a willingness to do.

But Wednesday’s announcement gave Trump a chance to tout a diplomatic achievement just a day after his decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal drew heavy criticism from European allies and others.

“I am pleased to inform you that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in the air and on his way back from North Korea with the 3 wonderful gentlemen that everyone is looking so forward to meeting. They seem to be in good health,” Trump wrote in a post on Twitter.

The family of Tony Kim, one of freed prisoners, thanked Trump, saying in a statement: “We are very grateful for the release of our husband and father, Tony Kim, and the other two American detainees.”

South Korea heralded the move as positive for upcoming talks between Trump and Kim and called on Pyongyang to also release six South Korean detainees.

The fate of the three Korean-Americans had been among a number of delicate issues in the run-up to the first-ever meeting of U.S. and North Korean leaders.

As Pompeo returned to his Pyongyang hotel from a 90-minute meeting with Kim, the secretary of state crossed his fingers when asked by reporters if there was good news about the prisoners.

A North Korean official came to the hotel shortly afterwards to inform Pompeo that Kim had granted their release, according to a senior US official present for the exchange.

Pompeo replied: “That’s great,” according to the official.

“You should make care that they do not make the same mistakes again,” the North Korean official was quoted as saying. “This was a hard decision.”They were in the air less than an hour after leaving custody.

The three are Korean-American missionary Kim Dong-chul; Kim Sang-duk, also known as Tony Kim, who spent a month teaching at the foreign-funded Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) before he was arrested in 2017; and Kim Hak-song, who also taught at PUST.

North Korean state media says they were detained either for subversion or committing “hostile acts” against the government. Many of the foreigners detained by North Korea in the past have said the government forced them into making confessions to false or trumped up charges.

Speaking to reporters as he returned from North Korea, Pompeo said a place and date had been set for a one-day summit in good, productive conversations between U.S. and North Korean officials. But he did not offer specifics.

Trump viewed the release of the three Americans as a “positive gesture of goodwill” ahead of the planned summit, the White House said. It is planned for late May or early June.

The White House said the three Americans appears to be in good condition and all were able to walk without assistance onto the plane.

“I think there is reason for some optimism that these talks could be fruitful,” U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said of the coming summit.

There was no immediate sign, however, that Pompeo’s visit had cleared up the question of whether North Korea would be willing to bargain away nuclear

5.2 magnitude earthquake hits southern Iran, 31 injure

By News Desk, with Agency Report

A magnitude 5.2 earthquake rattled a remote, mountainous region in southern Iran, leaving at least 31 people injured and disrupting power and communication lines, state media reported on Wednesday.

It was revealed that the earthquake shook town of Sisakht, some 700 kilometers (430 miles) south of Tehran, causing people to rush out into the streets. The town has a population of 10,000. Footage showed cracks in the walls of buildings.

The semi-official ISNA news agency quoted Jalal Pouranfard, the head of provincial emergency services, as saying 18 people were transferred to medical centers and another 13 received treatment.

Iran is prone to near-daily earthquakes as it sits on major fault lines. In November, a magnitude 7.2 quake hit western Iran, killing more than 600. In 2003, a magnitude 6.6 quake flattened the historic city of Bam, killing 26,000 people.

Trump ‘threatened with subpoena’ amid Russia probe

US Special Counsel Robert Mueller warned he could order President Donald Trump to testify as part of a probe into alleged Russian election meddling, US media report.

Mueller suggested the move during talks with Trump’s lawyers in March.

The threat to issue a subpoena, as it is known, was reportedly met with a sharp response from one of Trump’s former lawyers.

It is believed to be the first time the special counsel has raised such a possibility.

Trump’s lawyers insisted during the meeting that the president was under no obligation to face questions by federal investigators in relation to the Russia inquiry, the Washington Post reported.

However, Mueller’s team reportedly responded by suggesting they would issue a subpoena if Trump declined. They agreed to provide the president’s lawyers with more specific information about the questions they wished to ask Trump.

The president’s former lawyer, John Dowd, has also said that Mueller mentioned the possibility of forcing Trump to face questions.

Dowd, who resigned about a week and a half after the meeting, said he told investigators that the probe was not “some game”, adding: “You are screwing with the work of the president of the United States.”

The list of possible questions has since been published in the New York Times, and it reportedly covers the president’s motivations in dismissing former FBI director James Comey last May and his campaign’s contacts with Russia.

Trump has called the leak “disgraceful”, repeating his claim that the Russia inquiry is a “witch hunt”.

The US president himself has said he is willing to speak to Mueller, but CNN reports that his enthusiasm has cooled after the offices of his personal attorney were raided.

The network cites sources close to Trump as saying they are yet to make a recommendation about whether he agrees to an interview with Mueller. Some advisers reportedly believe Mueller would not go so far as to issue a subpoena.

If one was issued, Trump’s lawyers could fight it in court, or he could refuse to answer questions by pleading the Fifth Amendment.

Prominent US lawyer, Alan Dershowitz, who has expressed support for Trump, advised against the US president speaking to the special counsel.

“The strategy is to throw him softballs so that he will go on and on with his answers,” he told the Washington Post.

“Instead of sharp questions designed to elicit yes or no, they make him feel very comfortable and let him ramble.”

What is Robert Mueller investigating?

The special counsel is looking into Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 US election, whether there was any collusion between the Kremlin and  Trump’s election campaign and whether the president unlawfully tried to obstruct the inquiry.

Mueller was appointed special counsel following Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey last May.

What does the special counsel do?

The president insists there was no collusion between his election campaign and the Russians.

US media reported that sources familiar with the case said Mueller informed Mr Trump’s attorneys in March that he is a subject of the investigations, but not a criminal target.

It remains unclear when Mueller will request a meeting with the president.

U.N., EU, Russia backs Iran nuclear deal

By News Desk, with Agency Report

US allies stepped have up pressure on President Donald Trump to keep alive an international nuclear deal with Iran, with French President Emmanuel Macron due to urge him in person not to tear up the 2015 agreement, on Monday.

Trump revealed that unless European allies fix what he has called its “terrible flaws” by May 12, he will restore U.S. economic sanctions on Iran, which would be a severe blow to the pact.

Macron, who arrived in Washington on Monday for a state visit, said on Sunday there was no “Plan B” for keeping a lid on Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Minutes after President Macron’s plane landed, the White House said, it had no announcements on the Iran deal. White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders added, “The president has been extremely clear that he thinks it’s a bad deal. That certainly has not changed.”

The agreement between Iran, the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany was born of longstanding concern among major powers that Iran was seeking to develop an atomic weapon and imposed curbs on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief for Tehran. Critics of the pact, including Trump, have said it does not adequately contain Iran.

Trump sees three defects: a failure to address Iran’s ballistic missile program; the terms under which international inspectors can visit suspect Iranian nuclear sites; and “sunset” clauses under which limits on the Iranian nuclear program start to expire after 10 years.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said both Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is due to meet Trump in Washington on Friday, would urge the U.S. president to stay in the deal, which is formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

“We believe it is extremely important to uphold this agreement. Were it to fail or the U.S. to drop out, we would not have anything comparable to it and we fear that the situation would significantly deteriorate with everything that goes with it,” Maas told reporters.

He was speaking at a meeting in Toronto of foreign ministers from the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations.

Britain’s foreign minister, Boris Johnson, echoed this, telling reporters in Toronto, “There is a strong view around the (G7) table that we need to make the case for the JCPOA.”

“We accept that Iranian behavior has been disruptive in the region, we accept the president (Trump) has some valid points that need to be addressed, but we believe they are capable of being addressed (inside the deal),” Johnson said.


Japanese oldest person, Nabi Tajima, dies @117

By NewsDesk, with Agency Report

The world’s oldest person on record has died in southern Japan at the age of 117, regional authoirities say.

At 117, Tajima was older than modern-day Australia, and everyone else known to live on the planet.

Tajima, born Aug. 4, 1900, in Araki, Japan, and recognised as the world’s oldest person, has passed on that mantle.

She died Saturday, having been hospitalized since January and was the last known person born in the 19th century.

She was living in the small island town of Kikai, the AP reported.

The title of “world’s oldest living person” is a remarkable, if fleeting, one.

Tajima claimed the distinction in September, when fellow 117-year-old Violet Brown died in Jamaica.

Brown was the oldest person in the world for about five months.

Tajima was in the exclusive group of supercentenarians, people who have crossed the 110-year threshold. The U.S.-based Gerontology Research Group, which tracks certified people who become supercentenarians, reports 36 worldwide.

All but one of them are women, and 18 of them are Japanese. Good diets and supportive family structure have been linked to Japan’s world-leading life expectancy.