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Singapore parliament to debate bill to tackle foreign interference



Singapore‘s parliament is set on Monday to debate a proposed law to counter foreign interference that has sparked concerns from opposition parties, rights groups and experts about its broad scope and limits on judicial review.

The small and open city-state says it is vulnerable to foreign meddling. The measure, which comes after a far-reaching law targeting fake news in 2019, is likely to be passed, as the ruling party has a majority in parliament.

The new law will give authorities powers such as compelling internet, social media service providers and website operators to provide user information, block content and remove applications.

But some critics have said its broad language risks capturing even legitimate activities, while rights group Reporters Without Borders said the law could ensnare independent media outlets.

“The pre-emptive powers … and broad scoping of provisions could potentially provide the government with significant wherewithal to curb legitimate civil society activity,” said Eugene Tan, a law professor at Singapore Management University.

“FICA has the makings of being the most intrusive law on the statute books,” he said of the bill, to be formally known as the Foreign Interference Countermeasures Act (FICA).

The measure targets content that can cause immediate and significant harm and imposes obligations on those it designates as “politically significant persons” directly involved in Singapore’s political processes, such as MPs.

But others could be also be designated that way if their activities are directed towards a political end.

The bill allows the home minister to order investigations in the public interest to “expose hostile information campaigns”, based on suspicion of foreign interference.

Instead of open court, an independent panel, chaired by a judge, will hear appeals against the minister’s decisions, a move the government says is necessary as matters may involve sensitive intelligence with implications for national security.

In response to a Reuters query, the home ministry said the bill does not apply discussion or advocacy by Singapore citizens, or the vast array of their collaborations with foreigners.

But orders can be issued if a citizen acts for a foreign principal in a manner contrary to the public interest, it added.

As use of social media and communications technology increases, experts and opposition parties have agreed on the need to counter a growing threat of foreign interference in domestic affairs.

But the main opposition Workers’ Party has called for changes to the draft law, such as narrowing the scope of executive powers to reduce the chance of an abuse of power.

Earlier, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had said the bill would not apply to foreign individuals or publications “reporting or commenting on Singapore politics, in an open, transparent and attributable way.”

Rights groups had warned the 2019 law on fake news could hurt freedom of expression. The government said legitimate criticism and free speech are unaffected.


(Reporting by Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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Costa Rica, Milan among winners of Prince William’s Earthshot environmental prize



Milan and Costa Rica were among the winners of the Earthshot Prize on Sunday, an environmental award created by Britain’s Prince William, who has criticized world leaders for an uninspiring response to the climate change crisis.

The honours were established to find solutions through new technologies or policies to the planet’s biggest environmental problems, with a winner in each of the five categories receiving 1 million pounds ($1.37 million).

Milan won the “Build a Waste-Free World” award for its food waste hubs, which recover food to give to those most in need, while Costa Rica received the “Protect and Restore Nature” prize for programmes paying citizens to plant trees and restore ecosystems.

“We are alive in the most consequential time in human history,” William, second in line to the British throne, said in a video message to the ceremony held in London.

“The actions we choose or choose not to take in the next 10 years will determine the fate of the planet for the next thousand.

British royals have recently made a series of comments on environmental issues.

William took a thinly veiled swipe on Thursday at billionaires embroiled in a space tourism race, saying the world’s greatest brains should instead be focused on solving the environmental problems facing Earth.

Queen Elizabeth has said she was irritated by world leaders who talk about climate change but do nothing to address global warming, and added it was still unclear who would turn up at the upcoming  (COP26) climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland.

($1 = 0.7273 pounds)


(Reporting by Costas Pitas; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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Michigan judge tosses GM lawsuit against Fiat Chrysler



A Michigan judge has thrown out a lawsuit that General Motors Co filed against Stellantis’ Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) that accused its rival of fraud and unfair competition.

GM sued FCA in 2019, alleging it bribed United Auto Workers (UAW) union officials over many years to corrupt the bargaining process and gain advantages, costing GM billions of dollars.

Wayne County Circuit Judge David Allen on Friday dismissed GM’s state court lawsuit, which also named two former FCA executives who previously pleaded guilty in a Justice Department bribery probe.

The judge said that GM “failed to adequately demonstrate that FCA caused it any actual, legally recognizable harm through its bribery scheme.”

Allen noted that GM’s allegations against FCA spanned more than a decade, dating back to 2009, adding: “Even the most enthralling drama must eventually reach a conclusion. This one is no exception.”

GM’s lawsuit had sought “damages in an amount to be determined at trial, including but not limited to the billions of dollars in damages GM suffered.”

Stellantis spokeswoman Shawn Morgan said on Sunday: “As we have said from the date the original lawsuit was filed, it is meritless. The courts once again agreed and dismissed GM’s complaint.”

A GM spokesman said on Sunday: “We respectfully disagree with the ruling and are considering our legal options.”

In July 2020, U.S. District Judge Paul Borman rejected GM’s federal racketeering lawsuit that made parallel bribery claims against FCA. GM’s appeal of Borman’s ruling is pending.

In August, Stellantis’ North American operating subsidiary known as FCA US LLC was sentenced in federal court after pleading guilty to conspiracy to violate the Labor Management Relations Act.

FCA was convicted of making $3.5 million in illegal payments to UAW officers between 2009 and 2016. FCA paid a $30 million fine and faces three years of oversight by an independent monitor.

To date, 14 have been convicted in the probe, including three former FCA executives and two former UAW presidents.


(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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Thousands protest in El Salvador against Bukele government



Thousands of people in El Salvador took to the streets on Sunday to air a range of complaints against President Nayib Bukele, from adopting bitcoin as legal tender to firing Supreme Court judges, viewed by critics as a power grab.

At least 4,000 people, according to estimates by local media, marched through capital San Salvador with banners and signs rejecting bitcoin, which officially became legal tender in the Central American country in September, the removal of Supreme Court judges and the potential for Bukele to seek a second consecutive term.

People in the streets chanted slogans including “What does El Salvador want? Get rid of the dictator!” Near the capital’s main square, protesters set fire to a doll bearing the likeness of the 40-year-old president.

Bukele proclaimed himself “dictator” of the Central American country on his Twitter account last month, in an apparent joke amid concerns about his increasing concentration of power.

In May, a Congress dominated for the first time by Bukele’s New Ideas party voted to fire the judges on the constitutional panel of the Supreme Court, among the most senior jurists in the country, as well as the then-attorney general. Replacements seen as friendly to Bukele were swiftly voted in to replace them, which generated harsh criticism from the United States as well as top international rights groups.

Bukele’s administration then came under fire from the United States after the Supreme Court judges ruled that the president could seek a second consecutive term, which Washington saw as unconstitutional.

“We are totally losing rights because today they do not respect the laws. Here, what’s done is the will of Nayib,” said Rosa Granados, a labor union member who participated in the protests.

“If he raises his hand, all the deputies approve it and there is no law and no legal process that is respected,” she added.

Bukele, a seasoned and often provocative user of social media, dismissed the protests as a “failure” on his Twitter account.

“The march is a failure and they know it….. Nobody believes them here anymore,” he wrote.


(Reporting by Nelson Renteria, writing by Cassandra Garrison, Editing by Nick Zieminski)

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