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Australia says Chinese spy ship has been hugging west coast

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia’s defense minister said Friday that a Chinese warship with spying capabilities had been hugging the nation’s western coastline in what amounted to an “aggressive act.”

Minister Peter Dutton said the ship was sighted Friday morning heading north about 250 nautical miles from Broome in Western Australia, and had been tracked along the coastline for the past week.

“Its intention, of course, is to collect intelligence right along the coastline,” Dutton said. “It has been in close proximity to military and intelligence installations on the west coast of Australia.”

He said it was without precedent for a Chinese warship to venture so far south and that authorities were monitoring the ship closely with planes and surveillance techniques. He said he wanted to be open and honest with Australians about the situation.

“I think it is an aggressive act, and I think particularly because it has come so far south,” Dutton said.

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Asked about the ship sighting, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said he had no information about the specific situation, but that “China always abides by international law and international practice.”

“The relevant Australian politician should see the relevant situation objectively and calmly, and not make sensational remarks,” Zhao told reporters at a daily briefing.

Tensions between China and Australia have been heightened recently after China signed a security pact with the Solomon Islands.

Australians will go to the polls in eight days to vote in a general election. Dutton said the timing of his announcement had nothing to do with the election campaign.

Australia’s Defence Force identified the ship as a Dongdiao Class Auxiliary Intelligence ship named Haiwangxing.

“Australia respects the right of all states to exercise freedom of navigation and overflight in international waters and airspace, just as we expect others to respect our right to do the same,” the Defence Force said in a statement. “Defence will continue to monitor the ship’s operation in our maritime approaches.”

The European Union’s foreign policy chief said Friday he is hopeful that stalled talks with Iran over the country’s nuclear program can yield reach an agreement.

The talks between Tehran and world powers deadlocked in part over Iran’s demand for the United States to lift a terrorist designation on the country’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.

Speaking on the sidelines of a meeting of the Group of Seven major economies in Germany, Josep Borrell, the EU’s high representative for foreign policy, said an EU envoy visited Tehran this week for talks that had “gone better than expected.”

“The negotiations have been stalled for two months due to this disagreement about what to do with the Revolutionary Guard,” Borrell said.

“These kind of things cannot be solved overnight, but let’s say the negotiations were blocked and they have been deblocked,” he added. “Which means there is a perspective of reaching agreement.”

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Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian echoed Borrell’s assessment, saying on Twitter that the discussions between the EU envoy and Iran’s negotiator “were another opportunity to focus on initiatives to resolve the remaining issues.”

“A good and reliable outcome is within reach if US makes its decision & adheres to its commitments,” Abdollahian wrote.

Meanwhile, the EU’s envoy, Enrique Mora, said Friday that he was briefly detained with colleagues at Frankfurt Airport while transiting from Tehran to Brussels, in breach of diplomatic rules.

Mora said he had received “not a single explanation” from German authorities for why he was detained. “An EU official on an official mission holding a Spanish diplomatic passport. Took out my passport and my phones,” he wrote on Twitter.

He said the EU ambassador to the U.N. in Vienna and the head of the EU’s Iran task force were also detained.

“We were kept separated,” Mora wrote. “Refusal to give any explanation for what seems a violation of the Vienna Convention.”

Neither German police nor Germany’s Foreign Ministry responded immediately to requests for comment.

Borrell declined to speculate on the incident, saying only that “the issue is over.”

Dutch prosecutors said Friday that a Rwandan man has been arrested based on an extradition request from Rwanda on suspicion that he was involved in the African country’s 1994 genocide.

The 65-year-old man, who was not identified, has been living in the Netherlands since he was granted asylum there in 1999. He was arrested on Wednesday in the town of Ermelo, some 70 kilometers (44 miles) east of Amsterdam.

“In 1994, the man was an officer of the gendarmerie in Rwanda. According to the Rwandan authorities, he played a prominent role in the massacres committed in the Rwandan capital of Kigali and the municipality of Mugina,” the prosecutors said in a statement.

The mass killing of Rwanda’s Tutsi population was ignited on April 6, 1994, when a plane carrying President Juvénal Habyarimana was shot down and crashed in Kigali, the capital, killing the leader who, like most Rwandans, was an ethnic Hutu.

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The Tutsis were blamed for downing the plane, and although they denied it, bands of Hutu extremists began killing them, including children, with support from the army, police and militias.

An estimated 30,000 civilians are said to have been killed during the Mugina parish massacre.

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Dutch prosecutors said that, according to the Rwandan authorities, the officer was closely involved in the planning and execution of the massacres in Mugina, including by supplying weapons to militias that killed Tutsi refugees.

The man received Dutch citizenship in 2013 but immigration authorities sought to revoke it in court after the allegations against him came to light. He was arrested after his final appeal was exhausted on Wednesday.

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