Beijing denies request for Hong Kong visit by US carrier group

This file handout picture from US Navy dated February 21, 2007, shows the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis as it conducts operations in the Gulf. (AFP)
Updated 30 April 2016
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Beijing denies request for Hong Kong visit by US carrier group

WASHINGTON/HONGKONG: China has denied a request for a US carrier strike group led by the USS John C. Stennis to visit to Hong Kong, the US Defense Department said on Friday, amid heightened tensions over China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.
A Pentagon spokesman, Commander Bill Urban, said a US warship, the USS Blue Ridge, was currently in Hong Kong on a port visit and the United States expected that to continue.
The Chinese government and its embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Urban said the request for the Hong Kong visit by the carrier and its accompanying vessels, which have been patrolling the South China Sea, was recently denied, despite a “long track record of successful port visits to Hong Kong.”
The Blue Ridge, the command ship of the US Seventh Fleet, arrived in Hong Kong waters at 11:20 a.m. local time (0320 GMT) on Friday, according to the on-line log of the Hong Kong government’s Marine Department.
The nuclear-powered Stennis has been conducting patrols in the South China Sea, which China claims most of and where Beijing has sparked US and regional concerns by building artificial islands to bolster its claims.
US Defense Secretary Ash Carter visited the Stennis while it transited the South China Sea on April 15 to underscore US concerns about the need to maintain freedom of navigation in the South China Sea in the face of Chinese moves.
A wide range of US military vessels and aircraft have long routinely stopped in Hong Kong, a reflection of the “one country, two systems” formula under which Britain handed the global financial hub back to China in 1997.
The visits occasionally have been suspended in periods of heightened tensions, such as after a mid-air collision between a US EP-3 surveillance plane and a Chinese plane off China’s Hainan island in 2001.
The USS Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier also was denied permission to enter Hong Kong over Thanksgiving in 2007 but was cleared to visit five months later.


At least three dead in multiple shooting in Utrecht, police hunting Turkish-born man

Updated 29 min 6 sec ago
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At least three dead in multiple shooting in Utrecht, police hunting Turkish-born man

  • Police are not ruling out terrorism as a possible motive
  • ‘Threat level has gone to 5, exclusively for the Utrecht province’

DUBAI: At least three people have been killed and five others injured in a shooting incident in Utrecht, in The Netherlands on Monday morning.

Dutch security forces were hunting for a 37-year-old Turkish man in connection with the incident, in what authorities said appeared to be a terrorist attack. The city's mayor confirmed the death of three people on Monday afternoon.

"At this stage, we can confirm three deaths and nine wounded, three of them seriously," Utrecht Mayor Jan van Zanen said in a video statement on Twitter. The number of injured was later reduced to five.

"We are working on the principle that it was a terrorist attack," he added.

Police forces walk near a tram at the 24 Oktoberplace in Utrecht, on March 18, 2019 where a shooting took place. (AFP/ANP)

Dozens of armed police plus canine units later surrounded a building a few hundred metres away, an AFP reporter at the scene said, but it was not clear if the gunman was inside.

Police said they believed a red Renault Clio had been carjacked around the time of the shooting and had been found abandoned later.

The Utrecht municipality said it advised "everyone to stay indoors until more is known, new incidents are not excluded," but this was withdrawn at around 4:30pm local time. The local hospital said it had set up a crisis centre. Tram traffic in the area was halted.

Emergency services stand at the 24 Oktoberplace in Utrecht, on March 18, 2019 where a shooting took place. (AFP)

Authorities raised the terrorism threat to its highest level in Utrecht province, schools were told to shut their doors and paramilitary police increased security at airports and other vital infrastructure, and also at mosques.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte convened crisis talks, saying he was deeply concerned about the incident.

Utrecht Police tweeted an image of a man named Gökmen Tanis, asking people for information on him in connection with the incident — but warned members of the public not to approach him.

The main counterterrorism unit in The Netherlands, the  National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism (NCTV), told the Dutch public broadcaster that the incident had all the characteristics of a terrorist attack.

Counter-terrorism forces have surrounded a building where the gunman may be located, local broadcaster NOS News reported.

There was gunfire at several locations in the city, the Dutch national counter-terrorism chief said.

“Shooting took place this morning at several locations in Utrecht,” Dutch anti-terror coordinator Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg told a news conference in The Hague. “A major police operation is under way to arrest the gunman.”

Aalbersberg said in a statement that the “threat level has gone to 5, exclusively for the Utrecht province,” referring to the highest level. 

“The culprit is still on the run. A terror motive cannot be excluded,” he said in a Twitter message. He called on citizens to closely follow the indications of the local police. 

Police spokesman Bernhard Jens did not exclude more people might be involved. 

“We want to try to catch the person responsible as soon as possible,” Jens said.

A hotline to address queries about the situation. The Netherlands has one of the strictest gun laws and ownership is limited to law enforcement, hunters and target shooters.

Local media reports have said counter-terrorism police were seen at the scene.

“Shooting incident... Several injured people reported. Assistance started,” the Utrecht police Twitter account said. “It is a shooting incident in a tram. Several trauma helicopters have been deployed to provide help.”

The 24 Oktoberplein is a busy Utrecht traffic junction, with a tram stop. Tram traffic was temporarily stopped due to the incident, but the trams are currently running again between Zuilenstein, Nieuwegein and IJsselstein.

(With AFP and Reuters)