Malaysian Party Picks Old Hand as New President

Malaysia’s former ruling party picked a familiar face as its new leader on Saturday, as they grapple with a spectacular defeat in a May general election

that pushed them from power after more than 60 years.

The United Malays National Organization (UMNO) elected Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, formerly deputy premier under Prime Minister Najib Razak who was voted out of office amid anger over a multibillion-dollar scandal at state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and an unpopular consumption tax.

Ahmad Zahid is popular among grass-roots members but his position as part of the old guard tainted by the 1MDB scandal may do little to rebuild trust with voters.

“The people have high hopes that UMNO will continue to fight for the interests of religion, race and the country,” Ahmad Zahid said in a statement after he was declared the new party leader.

Ahmad Zahid, who was made acting party head after Najib quit the post last month, takes over at a time of intense scrutiny by the public and the authorities.

On Friday, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) froze several bank accounts linked to UMNO as part of the investigations into 1MDB.

Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng told Reuters in June that UMNO was not the only political party to have received 1MDB funds.

Several UMNO lawmakers have quit the party since the election, and it has been abandoned by most of its coalition partners.

U.S. authorities say more than $4.5 billion was misappropriated from 1MDB, and that nearly $700 million from the fund was diverted into Najib’s personal bank accounts.

Najib, who has been barred from leaving the country and was questioned by the MACC, denies wrongdoing and says the $700 million was a donation from the Saudi Arabian royal family.

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Journalist Slain Ahead of Mexican Elections

A Mexican journalist was slain in the southern state of Quintana Roo, authorities said Saturday, in the latest case of a reporter being killed before a presidential election riddled with violence.

Jose Guadalupe Chan was killed in the village of Saban, in the municipality of Jose Maria Morelos, the state government said. Local media reported that he was shot dead in a bar around 10 p.m. Friday.

“We condemn this incident and ask that the state attorney general’s office investigate,” the government statement said. “We reiterate our commitment to guaranteeing a peaceful election on Sunday, July 1.”

Voters head to the polls Sunday, with leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador widely seen as the likely winner.

Mexico’s 2018 election campaign has been one of the most violent in modern history, with dozens of politicians killed across the country.

Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists — 45 journalists have been killed in Mexico since 1992, according to the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

Quintana Roo was previously one of Mexico’s safest states, full of tourists and Caribbean resorts, but security has deteriorated rapidly in recent years as gangs have fought over lucrative drug markets.

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Iran Seeks Ways to Defend Against US Sanctions

Iran is studying ways to keep exporting oil and other measures to counter U.S. economic sanctions, state news agency IRNA reported Saturday.

Since last month, when U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal that lifted most sanctions in 2015, the rial currency has dropped up to 40 percent in value, prompting protests by bazaar traders usually loyal to the Islamist rulers.

Speaking after three days of those protests, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the U.S. sanctions were aimed at turning Iranians against their government.

Other protesters clashed with police late Saturday during a demonstration against shortages of drinking water.

“They bring to bear economic pressure to separate the nation from the system … but six U.S. presidents before him [Trump] tried this and had to give up,” Khamenei said on his website Khamenei.ir.

With the return of U.S. sanctions likely to make it increasingly difficult to access the global financial system, President Hassan Rouhani has met with the head of parliament and the judiciary to discuss countermeasures.

“Various scenarios of threats to the Iranian economy by the U.S. government were examined and appropriate measures were taken to prepare for any probable U.S. sanctions, and to prevent their negative impact,” IRNA said.

One such measure was seeking self-sufficiency in gasoline production, the report added.

Looking for buyers

The government and parliament have also set up a committee to study potential buyers of oil and ways of repatriating the income after U.S. sanctions take effect, Fereydoun Hassanvand, head of the parliament’s energy committee, was quoted as saying by IRNA.

“Due to the possibility of U.S. sanctions against Iran, the committee will study the competence of buyers and how to obtain proceeds from the sale of oil, safe sale alternatives which are consistent with international law and do not lead to corruption and profiteering,” Hassanvand said.

The United States has told allies to cut all imports of Iranian oil by November, a senior State Department official said Tuesday.

In the separate unrest, demonstrators protesting against shortages of drinking water in oil-rich southwestern Iran clashed with police late Saturday after officers ordered about 500 protesters to disperse, IRNA reported.

Shots could be heard on videos circulated on social media from protests in Khorramshahr, which has been the scene of demonstrations for the past three days, along with the nearby city of Abadan. The videos could not be authenticated by Reuters.

A number of protests have broken out in Iran since the beginning of the year over water, a growing political concern because of a drought that residents of parched areas and analysts say has been exacerbated by mismanagement.

Speaking before the IRNA report on the clash, Khamenei said the United States was acting with Sunni Muslim Gulf Arab states, which regard Shiite Muslim Iran as their main regional foe, to try to destabilize the government in Tehran.

“If America was able to act against Iran, it would not need to form coalitions with notorious and reactionary states in the region and ask their help in fomenting unrest and instability,” Khamenei told graduating Revolutionary Guards officers, in remarks carried by state TV.

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Senior US Diplomat for Asia to Retire

A senior U.S. diplomat for Asian affairs is leaving State Department at the end of July amid ongoing and critical negotiations with North Korea, weeks after the leaders of the U.S. and North Korea met in Singapore.

“Acting Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Susan Thornton has announced her intention to retire from the Foreign Service at the end of July,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Saturday in a statement.

“We particularly appreciate her dedication to department and interagency colleagues, her extraordinary leadership, especially as acting assistant secretary over the past year and a half,” Nauert added.

Thornton was formally nominated by President Donald Trump as assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs last December. She began serving in the position in an acting capacity soon after Trump took office.

Thornton’s nomination, which requires Senate confirmation, has been blocked by key Republicans, including Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.

In a tweet in May, Rubio said Thornton was “undermining” Trump’s effort to negotiate with North Korea by suggesting that the U.S. might accept a “partial” surrender of its nuclear weapons at the start of the talks.

Rubio was quoting Thornton’s remarks at a Wall Street Journal conference in Tokyo.

The State Department later clarified, saying Thornton’s position was in line with that of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. 

“What Susan Thornton was talking about is very similar and the same thing to what Secretary Pompeo spoke about, and that is that we would like to see a bigger, bolder, different, faster deal than the kind of deals that have been proposed before,” Nauert said in a briefing May 17.

Pompeo is said to be working diligently on nominations to fill key leadership roles across the State Department, including the position of assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.

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