Two Reuters reporters jailed in Myanmar freed after more than 500 days By Simon Lewis and Shoon Naing•Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo gesture as they walk free outside Insein prison after receiving a presidential pardon in Yangon, MyanmarReuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo gesture as they walk free outside Insein prison after receiving a presidential pardon in Yangon, Myanmar, May 7, 2019. REUTERS/Ann Wang By Simon Lewis and Shoon NaingYANGON (Reuters) – Two Reuters journalists jailed in Myanmar after they were convicted of breaking the Official Secrets Act walked free from a prison on the outskirts of Yangon on Tuesday after spending more than 500 days behind bars.The two reporters, Wa Lone, 33, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 29, had been convicted in September and sentenced to seven years in jail, in a case that raised questions about Myanmar’s progress toward democracy and sparked an outcry from diplomats and human rights advocates.President Win Myint has pardoned thousands of other prisoners in mass amnesties since last month. It is customary in Myanmar for authorities to free prisoners across the country around the time of the traditional New Year, which began on April 17.Reuters has said the two men did not commit any crime and had called for their release.Swamped by media and well-wishers as they walked through the gates of Insein Prison, a grinning Wa Lone gave a thumbs up and said he was grateful for the international efforts to secure their freedom.”I’m really happy and excited to see my family and my colleagues. I can’t wait to go to my newsroom,” he said.Kyaw Soe Oo smiled and waved to reporters.Before their arrest in December 2017, the two had been working on an investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys by security forces and Buddhist civilians in western Myanmar’s Rakhine State during an army crackdown that began in August 2017.The operation sent more than 730,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh, according to U.N. estimates.The report the two men authored, featuring testimony from perpetrators, witnesses and families of the victims, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting in May, adding to a number of accolades received by the pair for their journalism. (https://reut.rs/2KFTSgQ)Calls to a spokesman for the Myanmar government were not immediately answered.Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler said he was thrilled with the news.”We are enormously pleased that Myanmar has released our courageous reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. Since their arrests 511 days ago, they have become symbols of the importance of press freedom around the world. We welcome their return,” Adler said.’MONTHS OF DIALOGUE’Myanmar’s Supreme Court had rejected the journalists’ final appeal in April. They had petitioned the country’s top court, citing evidence of a police set-up and lack of proof of a crime, after the Yangon High Court dismissed an earlier appeal in January.The reporters’ wives wrote a letter to the government in April pleading for a pardon, not, they said, because their husbands had done anything wrong, but because it would allow them to be released from prison and reunited with their families.The Reuters journalists were released at the prison to Lord Ara Darzi, a British surgeon and health care expert who has served as a member of an advisory group to Myanmar’s government on reforms in Rakhine State, and a Reuters representative.”This outcome shows that dialogue works, even in the most difficult of circumstances,” Darzi said.In a statement, Darzi said discussions about the pardon for Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo had involved the Myanmar government, Reuters, the United Nations and representatives of other governments but did not provide more details.Darzi had informed Reuters this year of his efforts to secure the release of the two and the company was grateful for his role in making it happen, a Reuters spokesman said.Darzi has been a member of an advisory commission that was formed to see through the advice from a panel headed by former U.N. chief Kofi Annan on solving the long-running conflict in Myanmar’s western region in the state of Rakhine.Rakhine State, on the Bay of Bengal, was the home to most Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. Hundreds of thousands fled to Bangladesh after a military-led crackdown on the region in 2017. (Reporting by Poppy McPherson and Simon Lewis; Editing by Alex Richardson, Robert Birsel)
Trump’s approval hits highest rating ever in Gallup poll•Washington (AFP) – US President Donald Trump is enjoying the strongest polling of his presidency following the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report and positive economic news, according to public opinion poll agency Gallup.Trump’s job approval rating crept up one point to 46 percent for the two-week period ending April 30, a substantial rise from the 39 percent approval he recorded in early March.”In addition to the initial interpretation of the Mueller report, which Trump claimed vindicated him from charges that he had colluded with Russia, the economy has offered several reasons for Americans to look more favorably on Trump,” Gallup said late Friday.Trump remained underwater in Gallup polling, however, with disapproval of his performance at 50 percent, although down from 57 percent on March 10.The polling was conducted before it was revealed that Mueller had written to US Attorney Bill Barr to complain how Barr summarized the investigation’s findings.It also preceded Barr’s refusal to testify before a House panel, and came before Democrats threatened to hold Barr in contempt for failing to turn over a full unredacted version of Mueller’s report on Russian 2016 election interference.
UPDATE 2-Pentagon says U.S. carrier, bombers sent to Middle East on ‘credible threat’ by IranBy Idrees Ali•(Adds Pentagon statement, background)By Idrees Ali WASHINGTON, May 6 (Reuters) – U.S. acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said on Monday he had approved sending a carrier strike group and bombers to the Middle East because of indications of a „credible threat by Iranian regime forces,” but did not provide any details on the underlying intelligence.U.S. national security adviser John Bolton said on Sunday the United States was deploying the Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the Middle East to send a message to Iran.While neither Shanahan nor Bolton provided details on U.S. intelligence, other U.S. officials told Reuters there were „multiple, credible threats” against U.S. forces on land, including in Iraq, by Iran and proxy forces and at sea.”(It) represents a prudent repositioning of assets in response to indications of a credible threat by Iranian regime forces,” Shanahan said on Twitter.Still, questions remain on what specific intelligence- gathering method was used, how relevant the intelligence was, and how those threats differ from the usual concern about Iranian military activity in the region.”We call on the Iranian regime to cease all provocation. We will hold the Iranian regime accountable for any attack on US forces or our interests,” Shanahan added.In a statement later on Monday, the Pentagon said the step was taken in response to „indications of heightened Iranian readiness to conduct offensive operations against U.S. forces and our interests.”While Iran has not yet responded to the recent moves by the U.S. military, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told Reuters recently that he did not believe U.S. President Donald Trump wanted war with Iran, but that a „B-team,” including Bolton, an Iran hawk, and conservative Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could goad Trump into a conflict with Tehran.Three U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters on Monday there were also concerns about U.S. forces in Syria and in the waters nearby in addition to the threats to personnel in Iraq.One of the officials said the intelligence was specific enough that it detailed the locations of potential attacks against U.S. forces and the time frame within which they could occur. The official added that the threat was not only against U.S. forces in Iraq but those coming in and out of the region.The Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group, which was ordered to the Middle East, was expected to go to the region eventually, but its movement was „expedited” because of the threat, another U.S. official said.The official said it would still take at least several days for the carrier strike group to reach the Middle East because it would have to slow down to go through the Suez Canal and the hope was that the announcement on Sunday would act as a deterrent itself.The Trump administration’s efforts to impose political and economic isolation on Tehran began last year when it unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear deal it and other world powers negotiated with Iran in 2015.U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking in Finland where he was attending the Arctic Council meeting, said on Monday the United States has seen activity from Iran that indicated a possible „escalation.”In September, the United States said it would effectively close its consulate in the Iraqi city of Basra, following increasing threats from Iran and Iran-backed militia.There are currently about 5,200 U.S. troops in Iraq and under 2,000 American forces in Syria.BOLTON FOCUS ON IRANThe action marked the latest in a series of moves by Trump’s administration aimed at ratcheting up pressure on Iran. Some experts have raised concern about Bolton’s focus on Iran and point to his history of being at odds with U.S. intelligence community assessments on Iran.In a 2017 article in the conservative National Review magazine, Bolton charged that Iran committed „significant violations” of the 2015 nuclear accord.Yet, U.S. intelligence agencies have consistently assessed Iran to be in compliance with the deal and that the agreement to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear warhead was working as designed.Some have said the United States must be careful not to end up with a situation like 2003, when prior to the invasion in Iraq, President George W. Bush and top aides made the case for intervening by citing intelligence that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had ties to al Qaeda and was secretly developing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.Both claims were proved false. (Reporting by Idrees Ali; Additional reporting by Jonathan Landay and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Mary Milliken and Peter Cooney)
Should the U.S. military intervene in Venezuela?Mike Bebernes Editor•Should the U.S. military intervene in Venezuela?The 360 is a feature designed to show you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories.Speed read What’s happening: Long-running tension over Venezuela’s political leadership boiled over last week resulting in violent clashes. Opposition leader Juan Guaidó and groups loyal to him have attempted to stir revolt since President Nicolás Maduro was sworn in for a second term in January. Maduro remains in power after an uprising intended to oust him fell apart when key military leaders — who were expected to turn on the embattled leader — instead remained loyal.Under Maduro, who became president after Hugo Chávez died in 2013, the Venezuelan economy has crumbled. In recent years, the country has suffered through widespread hunger, the collapse of its public health system and violent protests that have led to dozens of deaths.In January, Guaidó declared himself the nation’s interim president, in a direct challenge to Maduro. The U.S. joined several other prominent nations in recognizing Guaidó as Venezuela’s true president. Maduro, however, has maintained the support of the country’s military leaders, allowing him to remain in power.Why there’s debate: The U.S. has taken aggressive steps to compel Maduro to step down, including issuing sanctions and political pressure. But these nonmilitary options have so far come up short. And some argue the Trump administration’s anti-Maduro maneuvers have allowed the Venezuelan leader to use the United States as a boogeyman to blame for the country’s problems.The administration has remained steadfast in its position that the only acceptable way forward involves Maduro’s removal, prompting the question of how far the U.S. is willing to go to make that happen. The president said “all options are on the table.”The notion of military intervention in Venezuela has sparked concern among those who worry it might lead to an outright civil war or leave the country in a worse position. Some foreign policy experts warn that military victory will not be as easy and could lead to a prolonged postwar recovery effort that would last long after Maduro was gone.The situation is complicated by the influence of Russia, which potentially raises the stakes of military conflict beyond Venezuela’s borders. There are also legitimate questions about whether the use of military force would be illegal without prior approval from Congress.What’s next:Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said military intervention is „possible” and national security adviser John Bolton is reportedly pushing for intervention. So far, no one in the administration has openly called for military action. Guaidó said he welcomes U.S. military support, but only as a complement to Venezuelan forces that have turned against Maduro.Perspectives U.S. involvement may lead to a civil war„Venezuela is a polarized country and overthrowing the government — even if Washington were not involved in the fight — would only increase this polarization and the chances of greater violence or even civil war.” — Mark Weisbrot, The Intercept America’s history of intervention in the region makes other nations skeptical„Washington lacks credibility as a disinterested actor dedicated to the good of the Venezuelan people. Alas, Americans well-earned their reputation for ‘Yankee imperialism’ through more than a century of military intervention in Latin America.” — Doug Bandow, Cato Institute„The concept of regime change, so sullied by the Iraq War and the U.S. overthrow of unfriendly Latin American governments during the Cold War, is suddenly back.” — Uri Friedman and Kathy Gilsinan, The AtlanticThe focus should be on helping Venezuelans, even if it means Maduro stays„With no security concerns and no direct interests at stake, the best thing the United States can do for the people of Venezuela — and for Americans — is to forget about regime change, help relieve the humanitarian crisis, encourage all parties to resolve their disputes according to their own laws and constitution, and engage in regional diplomacy with other like-minded countries.” — Daniel Davis, Fox NewsThe current strategy is working and will lead Maduro to step down„Far more often than not, when you’re trying to topple a dictatorship … the job is to keep creating and exploiting cracks in the wall. The job is not to bring the whole wall down in one fell, heroic swoop — because every time that fails, as it usually does, it sets you back.” — Tim Padgett, NPRMilitary action in Venezuela would be illegal„In addition to being a prolonged, costly undertaking, intervention in Venezuela would be illegal as well as unwise. Congress won’t authorize an air war or an invasion, and the president has no authority to initiate a war against another country on his own.” — Daniel Larison, American ConservativeThe U.S. could end up mired in an extended postwar recovery effort„There’s no such thing as risk-free military action. But in this case, the social, economic, and security costs of intervening far outweigh the benefits. Whether the United States launched limited air strikes or a full ground invasion, it would almost certainly get sucked into a long, difficult campaign to stabilize Venezuela after the initial fighting was over.” — Frank O. Mora, Foreign Affairs„Many in the U.S. military fear it would be easy to attack Venezuela, but it wouldn’t be easy to get out. Many fear it would lead to another Syria or Afghanistan-like quagmire.” — Andres Oppenheimer, Miami HeraldVenezuela must be allowed to make its own change„Only one course of action will forestall this scenario: The Venezuelan military must render itself to its own people, not to a foreign power.” — Douglas A. Johnson and Kathryn Sikkink, The HillVenezuelans don’t want U.S. intervention„Many [opposition leaders] believe U.S. troops could ignite internal conflicts within the military, irregular forces linked to Maduro and criminal cartels. Intervention would also undermine Guaidó’s claim to be a grassroots Venezuelan leader by seeming to confirm that he’s exactly what Maduro has claimed: a puppet of the United States.” — Anthony Faiola and Mariana Zuñiga, Washington Post