Dhaka, Aug 14 (UNB) - Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has said Myanmar must accept Rohingyas because they are their citizens as they have lived in Myanmar for generations.
Mahathir blasted Myanmar's treatment of Rohingya Muslims and said he was "very disappointed" with leader Aung San Suu Kyi's failure to halt oppression of the group.
"It’s grossly unjust to do what they’ve done, killing people, mass murder, that's not the way civilized nations behave," Associated Press (AP) reported quoting the Malaysian Prime Minister.
During an interview on Monday with The AP, he commented on lopsided China-backed projects, treatment of Myanmar's Rohingya Muslims, the South China Sea furor, a water treaty with Singapore and the country's financial mess.
AX CHINA-BACKED PROJECTS
Days before heading to Beijing for his first visit since his stunning electoral victory three months ago, Mahathir said Malaysia does not need a Chinese-backed $20 billion East Coast Rail Link and two energy pipelines worth $2.3 billion. The projects have been suspended pending renegotiation.
"We don't think they are viable. So, if we can, we would like to just drop the projects," Mahathir said.
If scrapping the projects altogether is not doable, Malaysia will need to put them on hold until the future, "where perhaps the need will arise," he added. Some of that money has already been paid and could be difficult to recoup.
STOP MILITARISING SOUTH CHINA SEA
Mahathir cautioned against further militarising the disputed South China Sea by reiterating his call for warships not to be permanently stationed there, warning it could cause an unhealthy "arms race."
"We’re all for ships, even warships, passing through, but not stationed here," he said. "It’s a warning to everyone. Don't create tension unnecessarily."
China claims much of the sea as its own and has built up several manmade islands and equipped them with runways, hangers, radar installations and missile stations to bolster its claim. It has accused the US, which routinely deploys warships and aircraft to the sea, of meddling in a purely Asian dispute. Chinese ships also patrol the sea.
STAYING OUT OF SAUDI CONFLICT
Mahathir said Malaysia wants to maintain a neutral stance and not be dragged into the Middle East conflict. His government has shut a Saudi-backed anti-terrorism centre launched last year and plans to withdraw Malaysian troops from the kingdom.
"Saudi Arabia is at war. We don't want to be involved in any foreign war... we won’t be accused of helping any aggressive wars," he said, citing strikes by a Saudi-led coalition on Yemen and Saudi's conflict with Qatar.
FAIR TRIAL FOR NAJIB
Mahathir said the government will ensure a fair trial for former leader Najib Razak, who faces trial on multiple charges related to the alleged multibillion-dollar looting of the 1MDB state investment fund.
"We promise that there’ll be no vengeance but the law will take its own course.... He’ll get a fair trial in this country," Mahathir said. But he added: "Najib is the main culprit. The world knows that Najib stole money."
Mahathir said fixing Malaysia's finances remains the key priority of the government, which will mark its 100 days in office this week.
"There may be a need for us to sell government assets to raise money to pay debts. That is the extent of Najib's wrongdoing," he said. This could include selling stakes in government-linked businesses and property, with a priority given to Malaysians,” he said.
SINGAPORE WATER DEAL
Mahathir said the price of raw water sold to Singapore should be increased by more than 10 fold. Under a decades-old water deal that expires in 2061, Malaysia sells raw water to Singapore at 3 sen ($0.0073) per thousand gallons and buys treated water at 50 sen ($0.12) per thousand gallons.
"Today 3 sen can buy nothing. I think every treaty needs to be revised because the cost of living changes," he said. "It won't make a dent in their finances just to give us a little bit of the money they’re making from us."
Southern Johor state sells raw water to another state at 30 sen ($0.073) per thousand gallons and that's a "charitable" price for a domestic deal, he said. "For a foreign country, we need to get more than that," Mahathir added, but declined to say what price Malaysia is seeking.
Mahathir, who has been accused of anti-Semitic views, said he was not against Jews but was criticizing their wrongdoing.
"There’s one race that cannot be criticised. If you are anti-Semitic, it seems almost as if you are a criminal ... anti-Semitic is a term that is invented to prevent people from criticizing the Jews for doing wrong things," Mahathir said.
"When somebody does wrong, I don't care how big they are. They may be powerful countries but if they do something wrong, I exercise my right of free speech. They criticize me, why can't I criticize them?" he said.
NO PERSONALITY CULT
Mahathir, the world's oldest elected leader at 93, said he doesn't care how history will judge him.
"Frankly, I don't care. I won't be around," he laughed. "When I’m dead, it doesn't matter anymore."
Mahathir said there are no roads, schools or buildings named after him in Malaysia except for a rare scholarship in his name.
"I don't allow a personality cult," he said. "If I want to be remembered, I can paint the whole country with my name. I don't care if people remember me or not."
Beni, Aug 14 (AP/UNB) — Congo's health ministry says a deadly Ebola outbreak has spread into Ituri province as a vaccination campaign in neighboring North Kivu province continues in the country's northeast.
The ministry is reporting 57 cases of hemorrhagic fever, 30 of them confirmed as Ebola and 27 listed as probable. Of 41 reported deaths, 14 have been confirmed as Ebola.
The ministry said Tuesday that a man who was treated for a heart attack in Mangina, where the outbreak was declared Aug. 1, returned home to Mandima in Ituri province just across the border. He has since died and tests confirm he had Ebola.
The outbreak response is challenged by the presence of several armed groups in the densely populated region close to the Uganda border.
Milan, Aug 14 (AP/UNB) — A bridge on a main highway linking Italy with France collapsed Tuesday in the Italian port city of Genoa during a sudden, violent storm, sending vehicles plunging 45 meters (nearly 150 feet) into a heap of rubble below. A transport official said at least 22 people were killed and eight injured in the tragedy.
A huge section of the Morandi Bridge collapsed over an industrial zone, sending tons of twisted steel and concrete debris onto warehouses below. Photos published by the Italian news agency ANSA showed a massive, empty gulf between two sections of the bridge.
Amalia Tedeschi, a firefighter, told RAI state TV that some 20 vehicles, including cars and trucks, were caught up as an 80-meter (260-foot) stretch of the bridge collapsed.
She said two people had been pulled alive from vehicles in the rubble. Officials said they were transported by helicopter to a hospital.
Edoardo Rixi, a transport official, told Sky TV that 22 were dead and 8 were injured in the collapse.
Video captured the sound of a man screaming: "Oh God! Oh, God!" Other images showed a green truck that had stopped just short of the gaping hole in the bridge and the tires of a tractor trailer in the rubble.
Firefighters told The Associated Press they were worried about gas lines exploding in the area from the collapse.
ANSA said authorities suspected that a structural weakness had caused the collapse, but there was no immediate explanation for what had happened.
Italy's transport minister, Danilo Toninelli, called the collapse "an enormous tragedy."
News agency ANSA said Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte will travel to Genoa later Tuesday. Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said some 200 firefighters were responding to the accident.
"We are following minute by minute the situation of the bridge collapse in Genoa," Salvini said on Twitter.
The disaster occurred on a highway that connects Italy to France, and northern cities like Milan to the beaches of Liguria.
It came on the eve of a major Italian summer holiday on Wednesday called Ferragosto, which marks the religious feast of the Assumption of Mary. The day marks the high point of the Italian summer holiday season when most cities and business are closed and Italians head to the beaches or the mountains, which means traffic was heavier than usual on the Genoa highway.
The Morandi Bridge is a main thoroughfare connecting the A10 highway that goes toward France and the A7 highway that continues north toward Milan. Inaugurated in 1967, it is 45 meters (148 feet) high, just over a kilometer (.6 miles) long.
The collapse of the bridge comes eight days after another major accident on an Italian highway, one near the northern city of Bologna.
In that case, a tanker truck carrying a highly flammable gas exploded after rear-ending a stopped truck on the road and getting hit from behind itself. The accident killed one person, injured dozens and blew apart a section of a raised eight-lane highway.
Beirut, Aug 13 (AP/UNB) — An explosion in northern Syria killed at least 36 people Sunday and wounded many others, but the cause of the blast wasn't immediately known, opposition activists said.
The opposition-run Syrian Civil Defense, first responders also known as the White Helmets, said the blast occurred in the village of Sarmada near the Turkish border, killing 36 people and wounding many others. The explosion collapsed two five-story buildings, burying many of the victims, it said.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll at 39, including 21 women and children.
An opposition media collective known as the Smart news agency, said the dead included civilians as well as members of the al-Qaida-linked Levant Liberation Committee.
The Observatory said an arms depot in the basement of a building had detonated. It said the depot was run by an arms dealer close to the Levant Liberation Committee.
Meanwhile, Syrian government forces fighting rebels in Idlib province have sent more reinforcements ahead of a potential offensive on the last major rebel stronghold in Syria.
The pro-government Al-Watan daily said Sunday that huge military reinforcements have reached the outskirts of Idlib province as a preliminary step to launch a wide-scale offensive.
Quoting military sources, the paper said that troops have reached the northern countryside of the neighboring Hama province as part of military preparations to recapture Idlib province.
The expected offensive on Idlib comes after government forces captured major rebel strongholds earlier this year near the capital Damascus and in the southern provinces of Daraa and Quneitra.
The paper said that the battle would be "comprehensive" starting from Hama's northern countryside to the southern countryside of Aleppo, adding that the target of the battle is to seize Idlib City.
Government airstrikes on the province on Friday killed dozens.
Pro-government activists said on social media that the elite Tiger Force, led by Brig. Gen. Suheil al-Hassan, arrived in northern Syria to spearhead what they called the "Dawn of Idlib" operation.
Putrajaya, Aug 13 (AP/UNB) — Malaysia's prime minister said Monday he will seek to cancel multibillion-dollar Chinese-backed infrastructure projects that were signed by his predecessor as his government works to dig itself out of debt, and he blasted Myanmar's treatment of its Rohingya minority as "grossly unjust."
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad made the comments during a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press days before the 93-year-old leader heads to Beijing for his first visit there since returning to power in an electoral upset three months ago.
Mahathir said he wants to maintain good relations with China and welcomes its investment, so long as the projects benefit Malaysia.
But he took his toughest stance yet on Chinese-backed energy pipelines and a rail project along peninsular Malaysia's eastern coast struck by his predecessor Najib Razak, who faces trial on multiple charges related to the alleged multibillion-dollar looting of the 1MDB state investment fund.
"We don't think we need those two projects. We don't think they are viable. So if we can, we would like to just drop the projects," he said.
During his time in office, Najib drew Malaysia closer to China, which sees the multiethnic Southeast Asian country as a key part of its ambitious One Belt, One Road global trade initiative. The former prime minister reached deals for the 688-kilometer (430-mile) East Coast Rail Link and the two gas pipelines in 2016.
Malaysia's new government has already suspended work on the projects, being built by Chinese state-backed companies, and called for drastic cuts in their ballooning cost, which it estimates at more than $22 billion. Some of that money has already been paid and could be difficult to recoup.
If scrapping the projects altogether isn't doable, Malaysia will need to at least put them on hold until the future, "where perhaps the need will arise," Mahathir said.
Mahathir also urged China to respect the free movement of ships throughout the South China Sea, where China and multiple Southeast Asian nations including Malaysia have competing claims on islands and reefs — along with the rich fishing grounds and potential fossil fuel deposits around them.
China claims much of the sea as its own and has built up several man-made islands equipped them with runways, hangers, radar and missile stations to bolster its claim. It has accused the U.S., which routinely deploys aircraft carriers, other warships and aircraft to the sea, of meddling in a purely Asian dispute. Chinese ships also patrol the sea.
Mahathir cautioned against further militarizing the disputed body of water by reiterating his call for warships to not be permanently stationed there.
"We are all for ships, even warships, passing through, but not stationed here," he said. "It is a warning to everyone. Don't create tension unnecessarily."