Assad behind chemical attack, says Macron; China-Philippines agree on South China Sea boundaries

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  • Macron says he has proof Assad used chemical weapons – French President Emmanuel Macron said he has “proof” that Bashar al-Assad’s government used chemical weapons in last weekend’s alleged attack on the rebel-held Syrian town of Douma. The attack killed at least 34 people, according to investigative platform Bellingcat. Macron said he would decide “in due course” whether to retaliate against Syria. Western nations are reportedly preparing to strike over the alleged chemical strike, with the United States and France taking the lead.
    • A fact-finding team is on its way to Syria and will start its work on April 14, a spokesperson for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) confirmed on Thursday.
    • Earlier, British Prime Minister Theresa May summoned her cabinet to consider military action against Damascus. A source told the BBC that May is willing to act against the Assad regime without seeking parliamentary consent. Assad denies any responsibility, though May has said that “all the indications” suggested his forces were involved. U.S. President Donald J. Trump tweeted on Wednesday that actions against Syria “will be coming.” On Thursday, he said an attack will be “very soon or not so soon at all!”
  • China, Philippines agree to ‘red lines’ in South China Sea – Hotly contested maritime boundaries in the disputed South China Sea may be cooling a bit. Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano told the South China Morning Post this week his country and China have worked out a deal to accept each other’s “red lines” over sovereignty claims. According to Cayetano, as part of the agreement, Manila has secured a “firm guarantee” from Beijing that it will not build new installations on the disputed Scarborough Shoal, a rocky outcrop in a fishing-rich area claimed by both countries (and Taiwan), and which may lie in an area with large underwater deposits of oil and gas. In 2012, the Philippine Navy seized eight Chinese fishing vessels in what came to be known as the “Scarborough Shoal standoff.” China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei each have competing claims to areas in the South China Sea  (BBC).
  • Chemical weapons watchdog confirms nerve agent – OPCW has confirmed the UK’s findings of the nerve agent used in the Salisbury attack on former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. Britain, and dozens of its allies, have blamed the attack on Moscow. The Kremlin has denied involvement leading to an ongoing diplomatic crisis. The OPCW investigation was carried out at the request of the UK government. (Read our report on the attack on the Skripals.)
  • UK launched cyber-attack on Islamic State – The director of the UK’s intelligence agency GCHQ said that Britain conducted a “major offensive cyber-campaign” against the Islamic State (IS) group. The campaign’s goal was to suppress the group’s propaganda and hinder its ability to co-ordinate attacks. “This is the first time the UK has systematically and persistently degraded an adversary’s online efforts as part of a wider military campaign,” said director Jeremy Fleming (Bloomberg).

Earlier

  • Facebook hearing shows senators’ lack of tech knowledge  – After two days of interrogation by Congress over Facebook’s data misuse, analysts are united in the view that Mark Zuckerberg got off lightly. General consensus was that Congress should’ve asked harder questions (Recode) instead of basic inquiries over Facebook’s working. That lack of understanding, as Vox explained, will make regulating the tech giant much harder for Congress. (Read WikiTribune’s analysis of Facebook’s business model.)

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  • The close relationship between President Donald J. Trump and supermarket tabloid The National Inquirer is examined in this piece from The New York Times. David J. Pecker, chief executive of AMI, the company behind the Inquirer, is a close friend of Trump, and the publication has taken a more political turn during this presidency. Former Playboy model Karen McDougal sold a story about her alleged affair with Trump to AMI, but the publisher shelved it. Last year Pecker told a magazine that an attack on Trump was an attack on AMI. – Angela Long

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