Hong Kong expresses condolence

HONG KONG – Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Friday she shares the compassion of people over the death of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo and acknowledged “anxieties” about “incidents” in the former British colony that can potentially erode its autonomy.

Ms Lam was speaking in her first interview with the international media since she was sworn in as the city’s new leader by Chinese President Xi Jinping on July 1.

“Hong Kong people are always very compassionate and so I share that compassion of many Hong Kong people by sending my condolences to the wife and the family of Mr Liu,” Ms Lam, a devout Catholic, told a Reuters Newsmaker event in Hong Kong.

US unable to prove death

WASHINGTON – US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Friday the United States could not prove that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was dead.

Earlier this week, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it had “confirmed information” that Mr Baghdadi had been killed, but Western and Iraqi officials have been sceptical.

“If we knew, we would tell you. Right now, I can’t confirm or deny it,” Mr Mattis said. “Our approach is we assume that he’s alive until it is proven otherwise, and right now, I can’t prove it otherwise.”

Brexit talks

BRUSSELS – EU officials hoped the British Government showed more sense of urgency about a Brexit deal when its negotiators come to Brussels on Monday for a first full round of talks aimed at smoothing Britain’s departure.

“The hard work starts now,” the European Union’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said on Wednesday, again sounding a note of alarm that London was yet to provide detailed proposals on a range of key issues, with barely a year left for bargaining.

A year after the referendum vote to leave the bloc propelled her to power, Prime Minister Theresa May still faces a complex task in finding consensus at home on what kind of Brexit Britain wants — a job made all the harder by losing her parliamentary majority in an election last month.

Her Brexit minister, veteran anti-EU campaigner David Davis, is expected to meet Barnier, a French former cabinet minister, at the European Commission’s Berlaymont headquarters on Monday morning.

They and their teams will then spend up to four days in a mixture of smaller working groups and plenary sessions, with the priority being to identify areas of accord and discord on a set of issues agreed on during an initial day of talks on June 19.

These issues, notably the rights of expatriate citizens, how much Britain may owe to the EU budget and how to manage the new EU-UK border, especially with Ireland, are ones both sides want to settle in a withdrawal treaty. Barnier says this must be ready by about October next year if it is to be ratified on both sides of the Channel before Britain leaves in March 2019.

“The clock is ticking,” he said on Wednesday, displaying a degree of impatience with British ministers who continue to dismiss EU demands that they first must agree in principle that London will owe the Union a hefty amount — probably in the tens of billions of euros — to cover its existing commitments.

“The first serious test of the negotiations will be them agreeing to pay the bill,” a senior EU official said, describing the coming week as a vital moment to establish rapport among the senior civil servants who will handle what is arguably the most convoluted and far-reaching diplomatic deal of modern times.

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