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UK Parliament Can't Stop Brexit, Johnson to Tell Macron, Merkel

Sun, 08/18/2019 - 06:10

LONDON - Prime Minister Boris Johnson will tell French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel that his nation’s Parliament cannot stop Brexit and a new deal must be agreed if Britain is to avoid leaving the EU without one. 

In his first trip abroad as leader, Johnson is due to meet his European counterparts ahead of a G-7 summit on Aug. 24-26 in Biarritz, France. 

He will say that Britain is leaving the European Union on Oct. 31, with or without a deal, and that Parliament cannot block that, according to a Downing Street source. 

The United Kingdom is heading toward a constitutional crisis at home and a showdown with the EU as Johnson has repeatedly vowed to leave the bloc on Oct. 31 without a deal unless it agrees to renegotiate the Brexit divorce. 

Refusing to reconsider

After more than three years of Brexit dominating EU affairs, the bloc has repeatedly refused to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement, which includes an Irish border insurance policy that Johnson's predecessor, Theresa May, agreed to in November. 

The prime minister is coming under pressure from politicians across the political spectrum to prevent a disorderly departure, with opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn vowing to bring down Johnson's government in early September to delay Brexit. 

It is, however, unclear if lawmakers have the unity or power to use the British Parliament to prevent a no-deal Brexit on Oct. 31 — likely to be the United Kingdom's most significant move since World War II. 

Opponents of no-deal say it would be a disaster for what was once one of the West's most stable democracies. A disorderly divorce, they say, would hurt global growth, send shock waves through financial markets and weaken London’s claim to be the world’s preeminent financial center. 

Brexit supporters say there may be short-term disruption from a no-deal exit but that the economy will thrive if cut free from what they cast as a doomed experiment in integration that has led to Europe falling behind China and the United States. 

Wildfire Prompts Evacuations in Canary Islands 

Sun, 08/18/2019 - 05:47

TEJEDA, SPAIN - A wildfire in the Canary Islands led to the evacuation of a small town in Gran Canaria island on Saturday, and officials said the blaze had a "great potential" to spread. 

The wildfire started in the town of Valleseco, and an emergency area was also declared for the municipalities of Moya and Tejeda. In the latter, most parts of the town of 1,900 inhabitants were evacuated for precautionary reasons and roads were closed, the regional government said. 

Seven helicopters, as well as firefighters on the ground, were battling the blaze. 

Tejeda had been evacuated last week when another wildfire affected the area. 

Dozens Killed, Injured by Blast at Kabul Wedding Hall

Sun, 08/18/2019 - 03:59

Updated at 5:52 p.m. Aug. 17.

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN - Authorities in Afghanistan said a massive bomb blast late Saturday inside a packed wedding hall in Kabul "killed and injured dozens of civilians." 

There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the bombing in a western part of the Afghan capital. The victims were mostly members of the minority Shiite Hazara community. 

Interior Ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi confirmed the blast and blamed "enemies of Afghanistan" for plotting the carnage. He did not explain further. 

Rahimi said police and ambulances quickly reached the site, and victims were transported to city hospitals. He said the nature of the blast was being determined, and he promised to issue soon an exact casualty toll and other details. 

Local journalists quoted survivors as saying they saw dozens of bodies all around the hall following the powerful explosion. 

Taliban insurgents routinely carry out attacks against government security forces in Kabul. But almost all recent bombings against the Hazara community in the city have been claimed by Islamic State's Afghan branch, known as Khorasan Province. 

Civilians continue to bear the brunt of the conflict in Afghanistan, where more than 1,500 civilians were killed or wounded in July alone, according to the United Nations. 

Roadside Bomb Kills 2 Pakistani Soldiers

Sun, 08/18/2019 - 03:30

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, PAKISTAN - Pakistani intelligence officials said a roadside bomb attack killed two army soldiers Saturday in the country's northwest. 
The officials said the planted bomb exploded when a security forces vehicle was patrolling in the Ladha area of South Waziristan.  
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.  
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but past such attacks have been claimed by Pakistani Taliban.  
South Waziristan was a stronghold of Mahsud militants until the army carried out multiple offensives against them in recent years. 
The army claims to have cleared the area near the Afghan border of Islamic militants. 

Civilian death toll mounts as Syrian offensive widens 

Sun, 08/18/2019 - 02:37

BEIRUT - Airstrikes have killed more than two dozen civilians in northwestern Syria in the last two days in an escalation of a Russian-backed offensive against the last major rebel stronghold, a war monitor and local activists said Saturday. 

An airstrike in the village of Deir Sharki killed seven members of one family, most of them children, on Saturday morning, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Another seven people were killed by bombardments in other areas, it said. 

On Friday, airstrikes in the village of al-Haas killed 13 people. The dead included a pregnant woman and her unborn baby, local activists and the observatory said. They had been seeking shelter after fleeing another area. 

Rami Abdulrahman, director of the observatory, said the government's aim was apparently to force civilians to flee from areas that had been relatively unscathed in the military escalation that began in late April. 

"They are bombing the towns and their outskirts to push people to flee," he said, adding that hundreds of families were moving northward, away from the targeted areas. 

No military positions 

Ahmad al-Dbis, safety and security manager for the U.S.-based Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM), which supports medical facilities in the northwest, said the bombardment had widened into populated areas where there were no military positions. 

"They are being targeted to drive the people towards forced displacement," he told Reuters. 

Dbis said the number of civilians killed by government or Russian forces stood at more than 730 since late April. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has said more than 500 civilians have died in hostilities. 

Russia and Syria have said their forces are not targeting civilians and are instead aimed at militants including the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a jihadist group formerly known as the al-Nusra Front and Jabhat Fatah al-Sham. 

The northwestern region including Idlib province is part of the last major foothold of the opposition to President Bashar al-Assad. 

Government troops advance

The government side has been advancing toward Khan Sheikhoun in southern Idlib province, threatening to encircle the last remaining pocket of rebel-held territory in neighboring Hama province. 

Capt. Naji Musafa, spokesman for rebel National Liberation Front, said fierce clashes were raging in southern Idlib province and adjoining areas of Hama province. 

France called Friday for an immediate end to the fighting. The French Foreign Ministry added that it condemned in particular airstrikes on camps for the displaced. 

The surge in violence has already forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee toward the border with Turkey, which backs some of the rebels in the northwest and has its own troops on the ground in the area. 

A Turkey-backed Syrian rebel force based north of Aleppo, the National Army, said it had yet to send reinforcements to help the Idlib rebels because of technical reasons. 

The National Army had said it would send the fighters Friday. 

"There is a meeting today among the factions over preparations for the National Army to enter Idlib, and we are awaiting the results of this meeting," Maj. Youssef Hammoud, its spokesman, said. 

Military: 3 Rockets Fired From Gaza Toward Israel 

Sun, 08/18/2019 - 02:14

JERUSALEM - The Israeli military said Saturday that three rockets had been fired from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip into southern Israel. 
Israeli aerial defense batteries intercepted two of the missiles, the military said. 
Israeli media reported that shrapnel from the Iron Dome defense system landed on the patio of a house. There were no immediate reports of injuries. 
It was the second incident of rocket fire from Gaza in the past 24 hours. 
Early on Saturday, Israeli aircraft hit two underground Hamas targets. 
Israel blames the Islamic militant group for any attack originating from the Palestinian enclave. 

UN Condemns Government Crackdown on Peaceful Protests in Zimbabwe

Sat, 08/17/2019 - 23:46

The U.N. human rights office is condemning a crackdown Friday in Zimbabwe by riot police on peaceful protesters in the capital, Harare.  The agency is calling for an investigation into excessive use of force by security forces.

U.N. Human Rights spokesman Rupert Colville says there are better ways to deal with the population’s legitimate grievances on the economic situation in the country than by cracking down on peaceful protestors.

“We are deeply concerned by the socio-economic crisis that continues to unfold in Zimbabwe.  While acknowledging efforts made by the government, the international community and the U.N. in Zimbabwe to mitigate the effects of the crisis and reform process, the dire economic situation is now impacting negatively on the realization of economic and social rights of millions of Zimbabweans,” Colville said.

Zimbabwe’s citizens are struggling with hyperinflation, which has sent prices soaring for essential commodities such as fuel, food, transportation and health care.  Compounding the problems is the ongoing impact of cyclone Idai that hit Zimbabwe in March and a severe drought.

The United Nations says one third of Zimbabwe’s population of 16 million people is in need of humanitarian aid.  

The fallout in terms of casualties and possible arrests from Friday’s protests is not yet clear.  But Colville tells VOA his office has received disturbing reports of human rights violations over the past few months.

“There are, as I said, reports coming through right now of very recent abductions, beatings and so on of activists or human rights defenders.  We have not had a chance to verify those and look in detail apart from the two that occurred a few days ago,” Colville said. "So, it is clearly a very tense situation.”

Colville says state authorities have a duty to ensure people’s rights to freedom of expression and to protect the right to peaceful assembly.  

The U.N. human rights office is urging the government to engage in a national dialogue to ensure that civil society in all its guises can carry out its activities without fear of intimidation or reprisals for its work.

Africa 54

Sat, 08/17/2019 - 23:30

Iranian Tanker to Leave Gibraltar Soon Despite US Pressure

Sat, 08/17/2019 - 23:23

The shipping agent for an Iranian supertanker caught in a diplomatic standoff says the vessel is ready to depart Gibraltar on Sunday or Monday, as the U.S. made a last-minute effort to seize it again.

The head of the company sorting paperwork and procuring for the Grace 1 oil tanker in the British overseas territory said the vessel could be sailing away in the next “24 to 48 hours,” once new crews dispatched to the territory take over command of the ship.

“The vessel is ongoing some logistical changes and requirements that have delayed the departure,” Astralship managing director Richard De la Rosa told The Associated Press.

De la Rosa’s comments came a day after the U.S. obtained a warrant to seize the vessel over violations of U.S. sanctions on Iran. It was unclear if that could happen within a 24-hour time frame as Gibraltar officials have said any request to seize the vessel would have to make its way through the territory’s courts.

He said the new crews were Indian and Ukrainian nationals hired by the Indian managers of the ship and that his company had not been informed about the supertanker’s next destination.

Iranian Oil Tanker Freed by Gibraltar Despite US AppealBritish overseas territory of Gibraltar releases Iranian supertanker Grace 1 from detention after receiving assurances from Tehran that it would not send its crude oil cargo to Syria

The tanker, which carries 2.1 million barrels of Iranian light crude oil, had been detained for over a month in Gibraltar for allegedly attempting to breach European Union sanctions on Syria. The arrest fueled tension between London and Tehran, which seized a British-flagged tanker in the Strait of Hormuz in apparent retaliation.

Analysts had said the release of the Grace 1 by Gibraltar could see Britain’s Stena Impero go free.

But late on Friday, a day after the tanker was released from detention, the U.S. obtained a warrant to seize the vessel over violations of U.S. sanctions, money laundering and terrorism statutes. Washington is seeking to take control of the oil tanker, all of the petroleum aboard and $995,000, unsealed court documents showed.

The latest turn of events come as tensions continue to rise in the Persian Gulf since President Donald Trump last year unilaterally pulled the U.S. out of the 2015 nuclear deal signed by Iran and other world powers. In recent weeks, oil tankers in the region have been the subject of attacks and seizures, dragging among others London and Tehran into a bitter diplomatic row.

The Gibraltar Supreme Court didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on whether the U.S. request had been filed there. Britain’s Foreign Office deferred questions to the government of Gibraltar, but calls and emails to its offices on how authorities planned to respond to Washington’s move went unanswered.

Messages left with the U.S. Embassy in London were not immediately returned.

The chief minister of Gibraltar, Fabian Picardo, had warned the U.S. that a new legal case would need to be examined by the territory’s courts following the end of the tanker’s detention this week. Picardo said he had been assured in writing by the Iranian government that the tanker wouldn’t unload its cargo in Syria.

Richard Wilkinson, a lawyer representing three crew members of the Grace 1 oil tanker, including its Indian captain, said he was “not aware of any reason why the ship won’t sail on Sunday, as it is to be planned.”

“As far as Europe is concerned, and it’s common ground, there’s been no criticism or complaints that this vessel is carrying oil from Iran, the only problem from the European point of view was the destination of the vessel and that has been sorted,” Wilkinson said.

He also said that he doubted that the U.S. had any jurisdiction to enforce its own sanctions in Gibraltar, where he saw “little political will” to re-seize the tanker.

The time window for a new seizure was also rapidly closing, as workers were seen by an AP crew hanging on a ladder to repaint the vessel’s bow with the name “Adrian Darya 1” over the place where “Grace 1″ had already been blackened out.

The ship was reportedly no longer sailing under a Panamanian flag, but no signs of a new one could be seen on Saturday.

The shipping agent, De la Rosa, said that “if the Americans came forth with some kind of request or specific order, it would have to be looked into by the judges, but I don’t think that’s materialized.”

Sanam Vakil, a senior research fellow at Chatham House, said the Iran policies of the U.K. and the U.S. governments overlapped in some aspects but differed on the 2015 nuclear deal, which London wants to maintain despite the Trump administration’s efforts to scrap it.

The British, Vakil said, “think it’s de-escalation that’s going to result in the release of the Stena Impero and preserve the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” as the nuclear deal is officially known.

“The Americans are trying to provoke Iran,” she added. “If they do manage to seize the ship, it’s all about provoking the Islamic Republic. They’re trying to create a new cycle of tensions.”

Sanders, Warren Among 2020 Candidates to Address Native Americans

Sat, 08/17/2019 - 23:00

For the first time in more than a decade, Native Americans have the opportunity to question presidential candidates on issues of importance to Indian Country.

“This is our chance to tell candidates that they can earn our votes,” said organizer O.J. Semans, co-executive director of the national Native American voting rights organization Four Directions.

FILE - O.J. Semans, of Rosebud, S.D., executive director of the voting advocacy group Four Directions, At a South Dakota Election Board hearing, July 31, 2013.

Nine presidential hopefuls, Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar, former U.S. secretary of housing and urban development Julian Castro, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Montana Gov., Democrat Steve Bullock, Navajo pastor Mark Charles and author Marianne Williamson say they will participate in the Frank LaMere Native American Presidential Forum.

The two-day event opens Monday in Sioux City, Iowa. Organizers say invitations were extended to candidates from all major political parties, although so far only these nine candidates hoping to unseat President Donald Trump in the 2020 election have confirmed their attendance. The organizers also say talks are continuing with several other campaigns.

Mark Trahant, a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe and editor of Indian Country Today, will moderate a series of panels, giving tribal leaders and Native American youth a chance to air concerns and ask candidates questions on matters of particular importance to Native voters. 

‘We are here’

Semans expressed delight that many major news organizations will be covering the event.

"For two days, all of the United States is going to know we’re here,” Semans said. “We didn’t get wiped out, we are not extinct, and we have a political voice in which issues that until now have been set on the back burner are now going to be able to be discussed."

Four Directions co-founder O.J. Semans, right, and Marcella LeBeau, whose ancestor died at Wounded Knee, June 25, 2019,

Of the hundreds of issues of importance to Native American voters, panelists will focus on two in particular, said Semans:

The Remove the Stain Act, which Washington Rep. Denny Heck introduced in the House in June as H.R. 3467. If enacted, the bill would rescind the 20 Medals of Honor awarded to members of the 7th Cavalry who on December 29, 1890, murdered nearly 150 Lakota in the Wounded Knee Massacre. The Medal of Honor is America’s highest military honor, given out to members of the armed services who demonstrate outstanding bravery and valor.

“Our second priority issue for the forum is missing and murdered indigenous women and children,” said Semans. “Women and children are sacred to our societies, and in order for us to maintain our societies and cultures, we must do what we were taught, which is to protect women and children, who we are losing in outrageous numbers.”

According to the U.S. Justice Department, Native women are 10 times as likely to be murdered as the national average, falling victim to domestic or drug-related violence, sexual assault or sex trafficking.

The National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center has called on lawmakers to expand tribal jurisdiction over cases of missing and murdered women and children; allocate more resources for victim services; improve data collection and expand tribal access to federal criminal databases, among other measures.

Earth Feather Sovereign, left, of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, playing drums and signing in the Capitol Rotunda after Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill into law, Wednesday, April 24, 2019, in Olympia, Wash.

“Actually, underfunding is the fundamental to all these issues,” said Semans. “We wouldn’t have to be discussing funding for our transportation or infrastructure, we wouldn’t have to have discussions on housing and health care and law enforcement if the federal government fully honored the treaties.”

In a related development, Sen. Elizabeth Warren announced Friday she will work with New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland (Pueblo of Laguna) on legislative proposals addressing chronic federal underfunding of tribes, as well as barriers to tribal sovereignty.

The federal government has a responsibility to write a new chapter in the story of its government-to-government relationship with tribal nations. Read my and @SenWarren's OP-ED in @IndianCountry: https://t.co/6dmxGrzswm

— Rep. Deb Haaland (@RepDebHaaland) August 16, 2019

The last time Native Americans had a chance to speak directly to presidential candidates was in August 2007 at the “Prez on the Rez” forum on the Morongo Reservation in California. Only three candidates, all Democrats for the 2008 race, participated. Then-New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, former Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich and former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel took part.

This week’s forum is named for civil rights leader Frank LaMere, a citizen of the Winnebago tribe in Nebraska. He died in June.

Co-sponsors include the Native Organizers Alliance, the National Congress of American Indians and the Native American Rights Fund.

Italy's Salvini Agrees to Disembark Minors on Migrant Ship

Sat, 08/17/2019 - 21:43

Italy’s hard-line interior minister appeared to buckle under pressure Saturday to ease the political standoff over a migrant rescue ship with 134 people aboard, saying he would allow minors to disembark after being at sea for two weeks.

Premier Giuseppe Conte had written a second letter to Interior Minister Matteo Salvini demanding that minors be allowed off the boat. Salvini wrote back Saturday with a three-page missive of his own saying he would do so but made clear it was Conte’s choice and that it didn’t set a precedent.

It wasn’t clear how many youngsters were aboard, or when the disembarkation might begin.

The standoff laid bare the split between Salvini’s anti-migrant League and the 5-Star Movement, which together govern Italy. Salvini is seeking to end Conte’s populist coalition with a no-confidence vote and early election that Salvini hopes will give him the premiership.

Spanish aid group Open Arms had rescued the migrants in the Mediterranean near Libya two weeks ago, and won a legal battle to enter Italy’s territorial waters despite a ban by Salvini preventing humanitarian aid groups from docking.

The ship has been off Italy’s coast waiting to disembark after Spain and five other European Union nations agreed to take them in.

Open Arms chief Oscar Camps warned Saturday that the group couldn’t guarantee the safety of the migrants anymore, as tensions were rising and fights breaking out.

He warned European leaders that as of Saturday “we cannot be responsible nor guarantee the security of the people on board Open Arms.”

Amid the standoff, the aid group filed a formal complaint with prosecutors in Sicily alleging that both the migrants and the crew were being held hostage. Salvini and other ministers have been investigated in the past for alleged kidnapping stemming from previous standoffs, but no charges have ever been brought.

US City Braces for Conflicting Demonstrations

Sat, 08/17/2019 - 21:13

Conflicting demonstrations were expected to draw hundreds of protesters Saturday to the city of Portland, Oregon, where police were positioning in the downtown area to keep the peace.

Far-right protesters are expected to march in the same part of town where local anti-fascist groups intend to conduct a counter-demonstration.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler joined leaders of the city's religious, and business to warn those "who plan on using Portland on August 17th as a platform to spread your hate. Those groups are not welcome here.'' community

FILE - Joey Gibson, left, founder of the Patriot Prayer group, argues with a bystander at right as Gibson's group marched following a rally supporting gun rights, Aug. 18, 2018, at City Hall in Seattle.

Friday police arrested Joey Gibson, the leader of the right-wing group Patriot Prayer's, prompting him to urge his followers on social media to “show up ten-fold, one hundred-fold” for Saturday’s protests.

Gibson, who was not involved in organizing this weekend’s event but has planned similar rallies in the past, surrendered Friday on an outstanding warrant for a fight that broke out in May between his right-wing supporters and left-wing adversaries.

Portland Police Arrest Leader of Right-Wing Group Ahead of High-Profile RalliesThe city braces for trouble ahead of opposing demonstrations by far-right groups and anti-fascist counter protesters

Mayor Wheeler said all of Portland's nearly 1,000 police officers will be on duty Saturday and will be helped by the Oregon State Police, other local police forces and the FBI.

The rally was organized by a member of the Proud Boys, which has been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.  Expected to join them are the American Guard, Three Percenters, Oathkeepers and Daily Stormers.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the American Guard is a "white nationalist group," Three Percenters and Oathkeepers are "extremist," anti-government militias and the Daily Stormers are "neo-Nazis."

Countering the right-wingers is Portland's Rose City Antifa, a local anti-fascist group that has called on its members to take to the streets in an opposing rally.

Antifa has grown more visible recently and experts say the groups are not centrally organized, and their members may espouse a number of different causes, from politics to race relations to gay rights. But the principle that binds them — along with an unofficial uniform of black clothing and face masks — is the willingness to use violence to fight white supremacists, which has opened them to criticism from both left and right.

At a June rally in Portland, masked antifa members beat up a conservative blogger named Andy Ngo. Video of the 30-second attack grabbed national attention.
The city's leadership and residents are on edge ahead of the rallies. Many summer staples like music festivals and  recreational events have been cancelled. A 5K race has changed its course to avoid possible violence and most businesses in the area plan to close.

New York City Subway Scare Suspect Taken Into Police Custody

Sat, 08/17/2019 - 20:23

New York City police say they've apprehended a man suspected of placing two devices that looked like pressure cookers in a subway station.
Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea tweeted Saturday morning that a man seen holding one of the rice cookers in surveillance video was taken into custody.
The discovery of the cookers Friday led to an evacuation and roiled the morning commute.
Police said cameras near the World Trade Center captured a man with a cart putting cookers in two locations in the subway station.
A third cooker of the same type was later discovered 2 miles (3 kilometers) away on a sidewalk.
Authorities determined they were not explosives. Pressure cookers can be turned into bombs.
Police say they didn't have details on the man's apprehension. No charges have been announced.

Rally, Pickets Call for Fair Moscow Elections

Sat, 08/17/2019 - 19:53

About 4,000 people have held a rally in Moscow to demand fairness in upcoming city council elections, and solo pickets protesting the exclusion of some opposition and independent candidates are taking place at prominent monuments.

The actions Saturday have been much smaller and less heated than recent weekend protests over the issue. Two unauthorized demonstrations were previously harshly broken up by police, with more than 2,000 people detained altogether; a sanctioned demonstration last week attracted as many as 60,000 people, the largest protest in several years.
The authorized rally on Saturday was organized by the Communist Party. The solo pickets are following a law that demonstrations by a single person do not require official permission.
No detentions have been reported.

Fire at Saudi Oil Field Yemen Rebels Claimed Attacking

Sat, 08/17/2019 - 19:44

Saudi state TV says a fire has been controlled at a massive oil and gas field after a drone attack claimed by Yemen's Houthi rebels.

State TV said the fire struck the Shaybah oil field, which produces some 1 million barrels of crude oil a day.

Saudi-led Coalition Moves Against Separatists in YemenA fracturing of the alliance could further stall any work toward peace and might deteriorate into a ‘civil war within a civil war’ 

Aramco and Saudi officials did not respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press.
The oil field at Shaybah is in the Arabian Peninsula's Empty Quarter, a sea of sand where temperatures routinely hit 50 degrees Celsius (122 degree Fahrenheit).
The site is also just a few kilometers (miles) from the border of the United Arab Emirates and some 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) from rebel-held territory in Yemen, demonstrating the range of the Houthis' drones.


Sudanese Military, Protest Leader Sign Transition Deal

Sat, 08/17/2019 - 18:35

Updated Aug. 17, 2019, 8:14a.m.

Sudan's Transitional Military Council and protest leaders have signed a historic power-sharing agreement in the capital, Khartoum.

The pact opens the way for the two factions to form a joint military and civilian council that will lead Sudan for three years until elections are held for a civilian-led government.

The transition deal follows months of demonstrations that erupted in December over the high price of fuel, and eventually evolved into demands for authoritarian President Omar al-Bashir to step down.

The military forcibly removed Bashir from power in April, but the demonstrators continued with protests, calling for democracy after 30 years of Bashir's rule.

The transitional council and the opposition leaders agreed to form the transitional government in July after three months of violent protests that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of pro-democracy demonstrators.

Sudan's Opposition Alliance Chooses Prime MinisterForces of Freedom and Change nominate economist Mohammed Abdalla Hamdok as PM for the transitional government

Under the agreement that was formalized Saturday a prime minister is to be named Tuesday (Aug. 20) and eight days later, the cabinet ministers are to be revealed. The military will remain in charge of the country for more than a year before the civilians take over.

"I am 72 and for 30 years under Bashir, I had nothing to feel good about," Ali Issa Abdel Momen told the French news agency AFP. "Now, thanks to God, I am starting to breathe."

Bashir has been on the wanted list of the International Criminal Court since 2009, on charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide.


Conference to Tackle Illegal Trade in Endangered Species

Sat, 08/17/2019 - 17:57

Tackling the illegal trade in endangered wild fauna and flora and strengthening trade rules for fisheries, timber, and exotic pets are just a few of the many controversial and emotional issues to be discussed over the next two weeks at a World Wildlife Conference opening in Geneva Saturday.  

Thousands of delegates are expected to gather at Geneva’s cavernous Palexpo Exhibition center.  They will be lobbying for their pet wildlife projects through elaborate, imaginative displays and persuasive talk fests.

The 183 Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES, is hosting this extravaganza.  CITES sets the rules for international trade in wild animals and plants.  

Governments interested in changing the levels of protection that CITES provides have submitted 56 new proposals for discussion.  These, says CITES range from proposals to ensure trade in at-risk species remains sustainable to calls for a ban on trade in species threatened by extinction.

FILE - Conference attendees walk by a display of elephants and other wildlife at The International Union for Conservation of Nature World Conservation Congress on Friday, Sept. 9, 2016, in Honolulu.

One of the hot button issues on the agenda is that of the conservation of African elephants.  Chief of CITES Scientific Services, Tom De Meulenaer, says the debate on trade in elephant ivory has been raging for 25 years.  He says three new proposals will be under debate.

“Two of them are coming from southern African countries and they seek to liberate or to open up trade in ivory again," said De Meulenaer. "There is a third proposal from other countries in Africa, which is in competition with this one because it seeks to close all trade in ivory.  Obviously, these three proposals are not compatible and will be subject of deliberations by the COP (Conference of the Parties).” 

The conference also will consider new wildlife trade rules on an array of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and plants.  A topic likely to generate a lot of interest is whether to exempt musical instruments made of precious wood from trees protected by CITES.

Bass guitars, violins, clarinets and other musical instruments are made wholly or partially from Rosewood and other precious woods.  Organizers promise a fascinating debate with prominent members of the music industry.

One of the overarching problems threatening the survival of many wild animals and plants is that of illegal international trade in wildlife.  CITES warns the growing involvement of organized crime groups increases the risks faced by enforcement officers such as park rangers.

The conference is not just a talking shop.  It has teeth.  CITES is a legally binding treaty.  So, officials say anything decided at the conference will have a concrete impact on citizens, businesses and governments in 90 days when the new rules come into effect.


India Begins Restoring Communications to Kashmir

Sat, 08/17/2019 - 17:41

Officials in India-controlled Kashmir began restoring telephone service Saturday to the Himalayan region.

The Indian-controlled section of disputed Kashmir has been under lockdown since early August, when New Delhi deployed tens of thousands of additional troops to the region as it cut off landlines, mobile phones and the internet and stripped the Muslim-majority region of its autonomy.

UN Security Council Discusses Kashmir Escalation Council meets on issue for first time in nearly 50 years

The U.N. Security Council held a private meeting Friday to discuss India's decision to revoke Kashmir's special status which has escalated tensions with neighboring Pakistan.  

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, but is claimed in full by both.  

Kashmir has been a regional flashpoint for decades.  Nuclear powers India and Pakistan have fought several wars over Kashmir since they both gained independence from Britain in 1947.

Hong Kong Teachers Rally, Start Weekend of Protests

Sat, 08/17/2019 - 16:32

Thousands of schoolteachers in Hong Kong marched to the official residence of the city’s leader Saturday as another weekend of protests got underway in the Chinese territory.

An overflow crowd rallied at a nearby public square before setting off on streets that had been closed to traffic, carrying signs that read “Protect the next generation” and umbrellas to ward off intermittent downpours.

The teachers tied white ribbons to a metal fence near Government House to show their support for the protesters, who have taken to the streets since early June and include many students. They said the government of leader Carrie Lam should answer the protesters’ demands and stop using what they called police violence to disperse demonstrators who have taken over streets and besieged and defaced government buildings.

“We want to protect our students, our youngsters, so teachers are willing to come out and speak for the youngsters, and also, to stand by them so they are not alone,” said Fung Wai-wah, president of the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union, which organized the march.

People take part in the "Reclaim Hung Hom and To Kwa Wan, Restore Tranquility to Our Homeland" demonstration against the extradition bill in To Kwa Wan neighborhood, Hong Kong, Aug. 17, 2019.

Protesters were marching through a district on the Kowloon side of Victoria Harbor, and a counter-rally backing the government was planned for later Saturday.

“Even though we’re all scared of getting arrested, we have to keep going,” said Minnie Lee, a 31-year-old logistics worker who was marching in Kowloon. “What we are fighting for is democracy and our rights. We’re not doing anything wrong. If we stop now, things will only get worse.”

Police drills across border

A rally in Victoria Park has been called for Sunday by a pro-democracy group that has organized three massive marches through central Hong Kong since June.

The movement’s demands include Lam’s resignation, democratic elections and an independent investigation into police use of force.

Chinese paramilitary vehicles are parked at the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center in Shenzhen near the border with Hong Kong, Aug. 17, 2019.

China’s paramilitary People’s Armed Police has been holding drills this week across the border in Shenzhen, fueling speculation that they could be sent in to suppress the protests. Officers could be seen drilling inside a sports stadium on Saturday, and dozens of army-green armored carriers and trucks are parked in and outside the facility.

The Hong Kong police, however, have said they are capable of handling the protests.

“I can tell you we’re confident the police have the capability to maintain law and order,” Yeung Man-pun, commander of the Kowloon City district, said Friday when asked about the possibility of a deployment of mainland security forces.

Australia, Taiwan protests

Outside of Hong Kong, demonstrations were held in support of both the pro-democracy movement and China. 

In Australia, at least 200 protesters descended on Sydney Town Hall, chanting “Long live China” and singing the Chinese national anthem, while a protest in support of the pro-democracy movement continued in Melbourne.

The Melbourne rally turned ugly Friday night, with police moving in to separate some 100 pro-China protesters from those sympathetic to Hong Kong. Saturday’s protest in the southern city was peaceful.

In Taiwan, people held a flash mob demonstration in Taipei, the island’s capital, in support of the Hong Kong protests.

Stranded Tourists Free as Crews Reopen Denali Park Road

Sat, 08/17/2019 - 15:51

DENALI NATIONAL PARK, Alaska  - Road crews have cleared one lane in Alaska’s Denali National Park and Preserve, and buses are beginning to return about 300 stranded tourists back to the park entrance.

The tourists became stranded Friday after heavy rains triggered mudslides and caused excess water from a culvert to damage a road.

A shuttle bus carrying tourists makes its way along the park road with North America's tallest peak, Denali, in the background, in Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska, Aug. 26, 2016.

Park spokesman Paul Ollig told The Associated Press that all the stranded passengers are expected back at the park entrance Friday night, but he didn’t have an exact time of when they would arrive.

“Our team did an outstanding job responding to multiple debris slides along a pretty remote section of road,’’ said Erika Jostad, Denali’s chief ranger. “The geohazard team monitored conditions while the road crew was clearing debris. It was a great example of teamwork.’’

Earlier Friday, Denali’s superintendent closed Denali Park Road to all traffic at mile 30. The road is the only one inside the vast park.

Similar debris flows led to daylong traffic restrictions last week. Continued heavy rains since kept the road and surrounding tundra saturated with water.

Also Friday, the Alaska Railroad said it has halted service north of the park because of the failure of a retaining wall caused by high water in the Nenana River.

Passenger and freight service will be suspended through the area until late Monday at the earliest, the railroad said in a statement.

The railroad added that passengers traveling north to or south from Denali Park on the Alaska Railroad or on an Alaska Railroad provided service through Holland America/Princess or Premier Alaska Tours should expect delays.