News Briefs – July 20, 2016

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Asylum hearing for 8 Turkish military who fled to Greece

Eight Turkish military personnel who flew to Greece aboard a helicopter during an attempted coup in Turkey are appearing before immigration authorities for interviews on their applications for asylum.
The eight were being interviewed July 19 near the northeastern city of Alexandroupolis. One of their lawyers has said they deny involvement in Friday’s attempted coup in Turkey, saying the helicopter had been used to transport wounded and had come under fire from police, at which point they fled fearing for their lives.
Turkey is seeking their return. Greece has said their asylum applications must be examined under international law, but the fact that they are accused of participating in a coup would be taken into account.
The eight face trial July 21 for illegal entry into Greece. AP
 

Biden meets Australia prime minister, talks up military ties

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden met with Australia’s prime minister and other leaders July 19, amid America’s continued push to boost its presence in the Asia-Pacific region.
Biden, who is in Australia as part of a tour of the Pacific, also met with troops aboard an Australian navy ship, where he shook hands with veterans of Middle East conflicts and thanked Australia for being a close military ally.
Biden’s visit comes five years after President Barack Obama announced that U.S. Marines would begin rotating through the Australian port city of Darwin as part of the U.S. military pivot to Asia.
“Thank you for having America’s back and we will always have your back,” Biden told the troops gathered on the flight deck of the HMAS Adelaide. “We are a Pacific power, we are here to stay, and thank God we have you to lead us and to be with us.”
Later, Biden met with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and other government leaders, with Turnbull praising the vice president for his push to accelerate research efforts toward a cure for cancer. Earlier this week, Biden announced that the U.S. and Australia would share the genetic information of around 60,000 cancer patients to help researchers better understand what causes particular cancers.
Biden has brought along three of his granddaughters on his trip Down Under, which he said was not initially part of the plan — until he remembered that one of the teens had long dreamed of visiting Australia.
“She said to me four years ago when she was 14, `You know, Pop, going to Australia’s on my bucket list.’ Fourteen years old — bucket list?” Biden said during his meeting with Turnbull. “So I said, `Honey, I’m going to Australia, want to come?’ She said, `Yes!’”
Biden flies to New Zealand July 20. AP
 

Defense chief says UK will have to work harder after Brexit

Defense Secretary Michael Fallon says Britain will have to work harder to maintain its military and political influence on the global stage because of its decision to leave the European Union.
Fallon said July 18 Britain’s June 23 vote to leave the EU will force it to intensify bilateral relationships and strengthen existing alliances to demonstrate it has no intention of stepping back from its long-established international role.
“We’ll do more in NATO to compensate, we’ll work harder at the key alliances within NATO, the United States but also France, and we have already signaled our intention to do more with Germany,” he told several U.S. reporters before a long-planned trip to Washington to deal with counter-terrorism strategy.
Speaking from his spacious Ministry of Defense office, featuring an oversize photograph of Winston Churchill and Defense Intelligence maps of Libya and South Sudan, Fallon said Britain “absolutely” plans to meet commitments made to NATO allies on defense spending.
He said freeing Britain from EU procurement rules may give Britain more flexibility to pick and choose the equipment it needs.
“We are still around, and we have to demonstrate that leadership all over again, so we have double down on our NATO commitments,” he said. “That’s why we’re putting a whole battalion in Estonia and an additional company of troops into Poland.”
Fallon said the UK recently decided to add 250 troops to Iraq for the same reason.
The defense secretary was the most senior minister to retain his position last week when new Prime Minister Theresa May installed her Cabinet. Fallon noted with approval that the Treasury chief Philip Hammond, a key figure in budget decisions, was a former Minister of Defense.
Fallon said he has set up a small team to study Brexit-related defense issues, including the future of EU missions Britain is participating in.
Chief among these are the Royal Navy-supported mission in the Central Mediterranean designed to rescue migrants at sea and disrupt people trafficking gangs and the EU’s anti-piracy operation off the Horn of Africa. Britain is also heavily involved in EU missions in Bosnia.
“We go on being members of Europe until we leave, so we’re not going to pull the ships out,” Fallon said.
He said it was “too early” to know if Britain would still have a role in these EU operations when it leaves the 28-nation bloc. AP
 

China to close part of South China Sea for military exercise

China is closing off a part of the South China Sea for military exercises this week, the government said July 18, days after an international tribunal ruled against Beijing’s claim to ownership of virtually the entire strategic waterway.
Hainan’s maritime administration said an area southeast of the island province would be closed from July 18-21, but gave no details about the nature of the exercises. The navy and Defense Ministry had no immediate comment.
Six governments claim territory in the South China Sea, although the area where the Chinese naval exercises are being held is not considered a particular hotspot. China’s navy and coast guard operate extensively throughout the South China Sea and regularly stage live firing exercises in the area.
The announcement of the drills came in the middle of a three-day visit to China by the U.S. Navy’s top admiral, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson, to discuss the South China Sea dispute and ways to boost interactions between the two militaries.
Although the tribunal’s ruling was likely to be raised in Richardson’s discussions, the head of the Chinese navy, Adm. Wu Shengli, did not mention it directly in opening remarks before reporters at a meeting Monday between the two men at navy headquarters in Beijing.
Several times in the past year, U.S. warships have deliberately sailed close to one of those islands to exercise freedom of navigation and challenge the claims. In response, China has deployed fighter jets and ships to track and warn off the American ships, and accused the U.S. of threatening its national security. AP
 

UK Parliament votes to renew submarine-based nuclear arsenal

British lawmakers voted July 18 to replace the country’s aging fleet of nuclear-armed submarines with new vessels, heeding Prime Minister Theresa May’s warning that relinquishing atomic weapons would be a “reckless gamble.”
May’s Conservative government is committed to keeping the country’s nuclear arsenal, a powerful but costly symbol of the country’s military status that consists of four Royal Navy submarines armed with Trident missiles.
After six hours of debate, lawmakers in the House of Commons voted by 472 to 117 to build new submarines to replace the current fleet, in service since the 1990s. The government estimates the cost of the new subs at up to $54 billion over 20 years.
Although the result was lopsided, the debate stirred strong emotions — and split the opposition Labour Party.
In her first House of Commons session since taking office last week May didn’t hesitate when an opposition lawmaker asked the toughest question for any leader of a nuclear state: Would she be willing to order a nuclear strike?
“Yes,” May said.
May said “the nuclear threat has not gone away; if anything, it has increased,” with a newly assertive Russia and a desire from countries including North Korea to acquire nuclear weapons in defiance of the international community.
May said that although Britain has voted to leave the European Union, “we will not leave our NATO and European allies behind.” AP

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