China holds live-fire drills in disputed Himalayan territory, tells India to withdraw

A Chinese soldier, left, talks to an Indian soldier at the Nathu La border crossing between India and China in India's northeastern Sikkim state. (AFP file photo)
Updated 19 July 2017
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China holds live-fire drills in disputed Himalayan territory, tells India to withdraw

BEIJING: China renewed a call for India to immediately withdraw its troops from disputed territory high in the Himalayan mountains, following a report that Chinese forces recently held live firing drills in the region.
Foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said that Indian forces had to leave the area to avoid an “escalation of the situation.”
“We have stated many times that we hope the Indian side will get a clear understanding of the situation (and) immediately take measures to withdraw the troops that illegally crossed the border back to the Indian side of the border,” Lu said at a regular news briefing Tuesday.
Beijing and New Delhi have engaged in more than a month of saber-rattling as officials from both sides talk of a potential clash even bloodier than their 1962 war that left thousands dead.
Lu’s comments came after Chinese state broadcaster CCTV reported late last week that an army brigade equipped with rocket launchers, heavy machine guns and mortars recently practiced a simulated live-firing assault on an enemy position in Tibet. The drills also involved tracking and targeting enemy aircraft, the report said.
The current standoff is in the southernmost part of Tibet in an area also claimed by Indian ally Bhutan, although the report did not say exactly when or where the drills took place.
The slow-motion crisis is expected to be discussed when Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval visits Beijing on July 27-28 to take part in a security forum under the BRICS group of large developing nations that includes Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
However, with nationalist sentiments among the public running high in both nations, neither side is expected to back down before the bitter Himalayan winter arrives in a few months, according to experts.
China insists Indian troops withdraw before talks can take place to settle what has become the longest protracted standoff in recent years between nuclear-armed neighbors who share a 3,500-kilometer (2,174-mile) border, much of it contested.
The most recent dispute flared in June after Chinese teams began building a road onto the Doklam, or Donglang in Chinese, Plateau that is claimed by both China and Bhutan, which cooperates closely with India on security matters.
Although China and Bhutan have been negotiating the precise border for decades without serious incident, the tiny Himalayan kingdom turned this time to help from New Delhi, which sent troops across the border from the northeastern state of Sikkim.
China retaliated by closing a nearby mountain pass that Indian pilgrims use to reach Mount Kailash, a sacred Hindu and Buddhist site in Tibet. China’s foreign ministry has also presented to reporters historical documents that it says prove China’s claims to the plateau.
Although the Doklam Plateau is not part of Indian territory, New Delhi has been particularly sensitive to Chinese building activity in a region with strategic significance.


French police clear fuel protesters as movement wanes

Updated 57 min 53 sec ago
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French police clear fuel protesters as movement wanes

PARIS: French police cleared demonstrators blocking roads and fuel depots Tuesday in a crackdown on the so-called "yellow vest" protests against President Emmanuel Macron that have left two people dead.
Hundreds of thousands of people blockaded roads across France on the weekend, wearing high-visibility yellow vests in a national wave of defiance aimed at 40-year-old centrist Macron.
The protests had waned by Tuesday but the disruption underlined the anger and frustration felt by many motorists, particularly in rural areas or small towns, fed up with what they see as the government's anti-car policies, including tax hikes on diesel.
Macron, who has made a point of not backing down in the face of public pressure during his time in office, called Tuesday for more "dialogue" to better explain his policies.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, meanwhile, urged ruling Republic On The Move lawmakers to stand firm in the face of voter criticism, saying the party would reap the rewards of its "constancy and determination".
Two people have been accidentally killed and 530 people injured, 17 seriously, over four days of protests that have come to encompass a wide variety of grievances over the rising cost of living.
A 37-year-old motorcyclist died Tuesday from injuries sustained a day earlier after being hit by a truck making a u-turn to avoid a roadblock in the southeast Drome region, a judicial source said.
The other victim was a 63-year-old woman accidently killed by a panicked driver in the eastern Savoie region on the first day of protests.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner has instructed police to break up the remaining roadblocks, particularly those around fuel depots and sites of strategic importance.
"We can see today that there are real excesses from a movement that was for the most part conducted in good spirit on Saturday," he told France 2 TV.
The ministry said about 20 "strategic" sites and fuel depots in several regions were cleared of protesters Tuesday.
Some hardliners kept blockades and slowdowns at some tolls, motorway junctions, and roundabouts.
"The movement won't run out of steam," said Olivier Garrigues, a farmworker at one protest in the south. "There are less people because everyone is working. But we are organised."
Several of the injuries were caused by motorists trying to force their way through roadblocks, but some protesters have also been accused of intimidating and endangering motorists.
A 32-year-old man with a history of violence was given a four-month prison sentence by a Strasbourg court for putting lives at risk by taking part in a human chain across a motorway.
Protests have also erupted in Reunion, a French overseas territory island in the Indian Ocean, where authorities introduced a partial curfew in some neighbourhoods after a night of violence.
AFP judicial sources Tuesday denied media reports that a group of men arrested earlier this month in the city of Saint-Etienne on suspicion of plotting an attack had planned to strike during Saturday's fuel protests.
On Tuesday, the "yellow vests" appeared to be losing steam, with only a fraction of the nearly 300,000 people that manned the barricades on Saturday still camped out in the bitter cold.
Further protests are planned for the weekend, with some calling for a blockade of Paris.
The grassroots movement, which has won backing from opposition parties on both the left and right as well as a majority of respondents in opinion polls, accuses Macron of squeezing the less well-off while reducing taxes for the rich.
"It's about much more than fuel. They (the government) have left us with nothing," Dominique, a 50-year-old unemployed technician told AFP at a roadblock in the town of Martigues, near the southern city of Marseille.
Macron's government, trying to improve its environmental credentials, has vowed not to back down on trying to wean people off their cars through fuel taxes.
The government has unveiled a 500-million-euro package of measures to help low-income households, including energy subsidies and higher scrappage bonuses for the purchase of cleaner vehicles.