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Africa 54

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 23:30

Boeing to Spend $50 Million to Support 737 MAX Crash Victim Families

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 23:19

Boeing Co said on Wednesday it will dedicate half of a $100 million fund it created to address two crashes of its 737 MAX planes to financial relief for the families of those killed, with compensation expert Ken Feinberg hired by the world's largest plane maker to oversee the distribution.

The announcement of Feinberg's hiring came minutes before the start of a U.S. House of Representatives hearing that featured dramatic testimony by Paul Njoroge, a father who lost three children, his wife and mother-in-law in a 737 MAX Ethiopian Air crash in March.

Feinberg told Reuters his team will "start immediately drafting a claims protocol for those eligible," with the first meeting with Chicago-based Boeing later this week in Washington.

The 737 MAX, Boeing's best-selling jet, was grounded globally in March following the Ethiopian Airlines crash after a similar Lion Air disaster in Indonesia in October. The two crashes killed 346 people.

Njoroge told reporters after he testified that he did not think the public would trust Boeing going forward. "Do you want to fly in those planes? Do you want your children to fly in those planes?" he asked. "I don't have any more children."

Njoroge told a House subcommittee that he still has "nightmares about how (his children) must have clung to their mother crying" during the doomed flight.

Njoroge said Boeing has blamed "innocent pilots who had no knowledge and were given no information of the new and flawed MCAS system that could overpower pilots."

Boeing did not immediately comment on his testimony.

A Boeing official told Reuters last month that after a new software flaw emerged the company will not submit an MCAS software upgrade and training revision until September, which means the planes will not resume flying until November at the earliest. U.S. airlines have cancelled flights.

Boeing said on July 3 it would give $100 million over multiple years to local governments and non-profit organizations to help families and communities affected by the crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia.

Feinberg, who will jointly administer the fund with lawyer Camille Biros, said the other $50 million in the fund is earmarked for government and community projects.

Boeing reiterated on Wednesday that the money distributed through the fund would be independent from the outcome of any lawsuits.

The company is facing a slew of litigation from the families of victims of both crashes.

"Through our partnership with Feinberg and Biros, we hope affected families receive needed assistance as quickly and efficiently as possible," Boeing Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg said in a statement.

Feinberg has administered many compensation funds including for victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, General Motors ignition switch crashes and numerous school shootings.

Boeing's initial announcement of the $100 million fund was met with anger by some victims' families, who described the offer as a publicity stunt.

At the hearing in Washington, Representative Peter DeFazio, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said he would call Boeing officials to testify at a hearing. DeFazio said the committee is in the middle of an in-depth investigation and had just received a "trove" of documents that panel investigators are reviewing.

Asian Entertainment Industries Grappling With #MeToo Issues

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 23:07

Asian Entertainment Industries Grappling With #MeToo Issues

When Wu Ke-xi was looking for a frightening plotline for her latest film, she didn’t need to look further than her own industry.

The Taiwanese actress and screenwriter’s latest movie, “Nina Wu,” is the story of an actress who, in pursuit of a role that will lead to stardom, is abused and psychologically scarred by a man in power.

Wu found herself closely following the #MeToo movement in Hollywood, and decided to write something for women affected by sexual assaults in the entertainment industry. Directed by Midi Z, it was selected to show at the Cannes Film Festival.

“After 2017, after the year the Harvey Weinstein stuff occurred, I read a lot of documents and interviews. I was so purely curious about what happened,” said Wu. She said she has been threatened in her career, but never sexually assaulted. “It’s still a humiliating experience,” she said.

“So I felt really connected to those women.”

Asia is having its own #MeToo moment, with its homegrown entertainment industries grappling with many of the issues that have upended entertainment careers in the United States and elsewhere.

Earlier this year, the K-pop scene was shaken when two male stars were accused of sexual misconduct in South Korea. Solo singer Jung Joon-young faced allegations he secretly filmed himself having sex with women and shared the footage on a mobile messenger app; he apologized to the victims. And Seungri, the youngest member of the quintet Big Bang, was accused of trying to steer sex services to business investors. He denied the charges and retired from the group.

Last year, in India, Bollywood actress Tanushree Dutta came forward with details of a 2008 complaint she filed against actor Nana Parekar for alleged sexual harassment, which he denied. A flood of stories of sexual harassment and assault followed on social media from Indian actresses and writers.

Indian actor, singer and filmmaker Farhan Akhtar, a United Nations “He For She” ambassador with his own “Men Against Rape and Discrimination” initiative, says there is unease in the industry.

“Fear runs down the spine of everyone, thinking that, ‘Oh my God, maybe I’ve done something in the past that might come back to bite me,’” he said.

He encourages other women to come forward and speak out.

“Nobody can do it for her. Nobody can out her story and put her in a position that maybe she doesn’t want to be in,” he said. “But when she does, then it’s important that people rally around her so that she feels she’s done the right thing. And through her, through that conversation, and through her words she will hopefully inspire, motivate many more people to come out. And that’s the way the system will be cleaned.”

Screenwriter Zhou Xiaoxuan did speak out. She became a central figure in China’s #MeToo movement after an essay she wrote privately, claiming she was sexually assaulted by a TV star, went public on the social media platform Sina Weibo last summer. A prominent television host, Zhu Jun, sued her for defamation and Zhou followed with her own suit, for infringing on her personal rights. Women’s rights advocates in China are following the case.

Zhou says the movement has only reached so far in China, affecting mostly a group of high-profile, well-connected men.

“They were frightened by the #MeToo trend and they stopped. But most people in this society, they’ve never heard of #MeToo,” she said.

“I’ve actually been lucky because Zhu Jun is well-known,” Zhou said. “It’s extremely difficult for women who have been assaulted by their friends, colleagues or partners to seek legal recourse.”

Japanese TV journalist Shiori Ito said she experienced months of trolling and shaming after she revealed in May 2017 that she had been raped. That was before the #MeToo movement got under way in the United States.

“I’m very grateful to all the other women that have spoken up because I felt very lonely,” she said. She said she has felt a change in Japan and in her own family “who were really against me speaking up, and then they started saying, ‘You know what, maybe she’s right.’”

An emotional television interview with South Korean prosecutor Seo Ji-hyun in January 2018, in which she said she had been assaulted eight years earlier, is credited with starting the #MeToo movement there. Seo has since won a court case for abuse of power against her alleged assaulter. She said that watching women reveal their stories in Hollywood helped give her the courage to speak publicly. Supporters marched in the streets with candles and #WithYou banners.

“I told myself that, ‘Yes, this was not my fault and that I should not be ashamed at all,’” she said.

In Pakistan, dancer, theatre director and activist Sheema Kermani is campaigning against sexual abuse, trying to make the movement there more than a moment.

“When actresses, big actresses, started calling out big names of actors for sexual harassment, I think it gave Pakistani women and women in media . the courage to speak out,” she said.

In Thailand, model and TV personality Cindy Sirinya Bishop launched the “Don’t Tell Me How To Dress” campaign after receiving a wave of support for a “social media rant” — her response to an article advising women not to wear sexy clothes for the Thai New Year in order to avoid sexual assault.

“It all started when that clip that I posted went viral overnight with the support of many, many women all over Thailand, chiming in, commenting, sharing and saying ‘Yes, this is exactly what we feel.’ Why are we always the ones that have to cover up, or why, when we are harassed or assaulted, is it somehow our fault?” she said.

Bishop also created an exhibition displaying clothing worn by sexual-assault victims. “We have university student outfits to toddler’s clothing to sweatpants and T-shirts,” she said.

She says her movement would have happened regardless of the stories arriving from America. But she adds: “In some way, the #MeToo movement has collectively empowered women without our knowing it, all over the world.”


Finland Says Russian Aircraft Suspected of Air Violation

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 22:59

Finland's defense ministry says a Russian aircraft is suspected of having violated the Nordic country's airspace.

The ministry said in a short statement that the alleged violation took place Wednesday morning on the Baltic Sea near the town of Porvoo, east of Helsinki. It provided no further details and said the Finnish Border Guard is investigating the matter.

Spokesman Kristian Vakkuri separately told Finnish newspaper Iltalehti that the alleged violation by a Russian aircraft lasted for about two minutes, entering about one kilometer (0.6 miles) into the airspace of Finland, which is not a member of NATO.

It was the second reported air violation of Finland's airspace this year.
In April, the Portuguese Air Force said one of its surveillance planes unintentionally strayed into Finnish airspace during a NATO mission over the Baltic Sea.  


Gardner Had Good News for Colorado. But Trump Had Tweets.

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 22:55

Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner had reeled in a big political fish.

A major government agency, the Bureau of Land Management, was moving to his state and marking a victory years in the making for one of the Senate's most vulnerable Republicans. But Gardner's moment of triumph rolled out Monday in the shadow of President Donald Trump's racist tweets calling for four congresswomen of color to “go back” to where they came from. Republicans, perhaps Gardner most of all, struggled to respond.

A conservative radio show host wanted to know: Had Gardner heard about Trump's tweets?

“We have been working on the BLM move, and that's basically everything we've been trying to get done,” Gardner replied.

“I translate that as `I don't want to talk about it,”' chortled Denver host Steffan Tubbs.

It's a feeling widely shared among Republicans in Congress weary of answering for Trump's assorted provocations about Mexicans, Muslims, immigrants, people of color, women and more.

But as Gardner's response showed, Trump's pass-or-fail loyalty tests don't leave “no comment” as much of an option for the Republican senators running for reelection in 2020. The president has a record of helping unseat “disloyal” members of the GOP in the House and the Senate. Love, hate or tolerate Trump, Gardner and other endangered Republicans will need his support as the president amps up his own bid for reelection.  

There was a sense this week that Trump's “go home” controversy marked an intensifying phase in the president's approach and that Gardner may have offered an early clue for 2020 campaigns on how to respond when the president steps on an accomplishment. The answer: blandly and minimally, with relentless pivots back to issues.

On Sunday, Trump launched an unapologetic stream of tweets suggesting that the four women leave the United States and casting them as haters of America, Jews and Israel. He didn't name the members of the self-styled “squad,” but his remarks were in clear reference to liberal freshmen Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. Condemnation rolled in from Democrats and a few Republicans, and Trump offered no apologies.

Then came what was supposed to be Gardner's rollout Monday, when he tweeted midafternoon that he was “thrilled” to announce that the administration was moving the agency from Washington to Grand Junction, Colorado. The Interior Department, which oversees the bureau, said about 300 jobs would move to Western states, with about 85 jobs for Colorado.

“This is a victory for local communities, advocates for public lands and proponents for a more responsible and accountable federal government,” Gardner said in a statement.

By Tuesday, Gardner offered up a more on-point answer to the question of whether and how much he supports Trump's racist tweets.

“I disagree with the president,” Gardner told Denver-area KOA NewsRadio. “I wouldn't have sent these tweets.”

But asked by CNN later at the Capitol, he would not say whether he thought Trump's tweets were racist.

His caution may have been informed by the election math. Gardner was elected to the Senate by a little under 2 percentage points in the Republican wave year of 2014, while Democrats swept statewide offices in Colorado last year, winning the governorship by 11 percentage points. Democrat Hillary Clinton defeated Trump in Colorado by 5 percentage points in 2016. Voter registration in the state is divided more or less evenly three ways, among Republicans, Democrats and independents.

That makes Gardner perhaps the most vulnerable GOP senator in the country as Republicans defend 22 seats and their Senate majority.

Like many in his party, Gardner has a complicated history with Trump. Gardner briefly endorsed the reality television star-turned-presidential candidate in 2016 but rescinded that backing after the “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump boasted of groping women.

This time, Gardner has already endorsed Trump's reelection campaign.

He's had to walk a political tightrope. To win another term, Gardner will need to hold the votes of Colorado's Trump-allied Republicans who remain suspicious of the senator's rescinded endorsement in 2016, while winning over independents who reject the president but are wary of the Democrats' agenda.  

Gardner has occasionally chastised the president after controversial moments - notably after Trump praised “both sides” following a confrontation between neo-Nazis and activists in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 that left a counterprotester dead - and he's carved out a distinct path on immigration. But Gardner has also voted for most of Trump's priorities. He's supported the president's effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, his tax cut, both his Supreme Court justices and several other federal judges, along with most of his Cabinet.

Gardner, who has a sunny disposition, has also embraced elements of Trump's incendiary remarks. In a speech at a conservative gathering in Denver on Friday, Gardner, who has bemoaned Democrats' embrace of “socialism,” slammed what Republicans describe as the leftward drift of Democrats.

“Since when did wearing the Betsy Ross flag become akin to wearing a swastika?” Gardner asked. “Since when did men and women trying to protect our borders and keep our country safe become Nazis running concentration camps?

Gardner's approach apparently passed Trump's loyalty test and by late Tuesday was being cited as an example for others in the party.

“Sen. Gardner is rightly focused on policies, not personalities,” said Sen. Todd Young of Indiana, chairman of the Senate's Republican campaign arm. “If we do that, we win.”

But Trump's efforts to rally his base of supporters can flip well-laid plans, said one pollster.

“It's difficult to have that be an effective strategy when the president decides to blast away at four women of color,” GOP pollster David Flaherty said of Gardner's efforts to focus on a pro-Colorado agenda.

Cuba Says Nationwide Blackouts to End by Saturday

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 22:54

Cuba's energy minister says breakdowns in the country's power plants have caused a string of blackouts across the country this week, and he promises the problem will be solved by Saturday.
Minster of Energy and Mining Raul Garcia Barreiro told state media Tuesday night that a series of blackouts in cities and towns throughout Cuba was due to mechanical problems in three power plants as two others were down for maintenance.
The statement came after days of official silence in response to reports on Twitter from Cubans experiencing power cuts. Dozens of users reported the times, duration and locations of blackouts, in a dramatic example of the government's broken monopoly on information in the face of increased access to mobile internet, which came into wide use this year.



Indian Court Convicts 1 for 2008 Death of Teen British Girl

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 22:14

An Indian appeals court has overturned the acquittal of one of two suspects in the rape and murder of a teenage British girl whose body was found on a beach in the western resort city of Goa in 2008.

The High Court in Goa on Wednesday convicted Samson D'Souza in the attack of 15-year-old Scarlett Keeling. But prosecutors say the court upheld the acquittal of another suspect accused of leaving Keeling to die on the beach after drugging and sexually abusing her.
The case caused outrage among millions of Indian and foreign tourists who throng Goa's beaches.
A trial court acquitted both of the accused in 2016. The High Court took up the case in 2017.
The court will sentence D'Souza on Friday. He faces up to life in prison.



International Court of Justice Orders Pakistan to Review Indian Officer's Death Sentence

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 22:04

The International Court of Justice on Wednesday ordered Pakistan to review a death sentence it handed down to an Indian national convicted of spying.

Kulbhushan Jadhav, a retired Indian naval officer, was arrested in Pakistan's Baluchistan province on March 2016 on charges of espionage. Pakistan alleges that Jadhav was spying in an insurgent region of the nation at the time of his arrest.  India disputes this, claiming that the former military officer was kidnapped from Iran, where he was doing business.

A video of Jadhav's confession to charges of espionage was released by Pakistani officials, however India asserts that the confession was given under duress.  

India also alleges that Pakistan is in violation of the Geneva Conventions, in depriving Jadhav of consular access. Pakistan says he is not entitled to consular access, due to his alleged identity as a spy.

After being sentenced to death in 2017, India filed a complaint with the Hague-based ICJ.  The international court ordered Pakistan not to execute Jadhav, pending a hearing.

Now, Pakistan has been tasked with reviewing the conviction of Jadav, but Pakistan has not said if it will comply with ICJ's ruling.


Mexican Drug Kingpin 'El Chapo' Guzman Sentenced to Life Behind Bars

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 22:03

Former Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman has received a sentence that will see him spend the rest of his life in prison.

Judge Brian Cogan sentenced Guzman Wednesday to life in prison plus 30 years in a federal court in New York.

The 62-year-old was convicted in February of trafficking tons of cocaine, heroin and marijuana as a top leader of Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel.

As head of one of Mexico's largest and most violent drug dealing groups, prosecutors said Guzman was involved in multiple murder conspiracies.

Guzman was finally captured in 2016 after two daring escapes from Mexican maximum-security prisons. He was extradited to the U.S. in January 2017 to face trial.

'El Chapo' Loses Bid for New Trial in US Drug Trafficking CaseJoaquin Guzman sought a new trial in March after Vice News published an interview of one of the jurors, who said that multiple jurors ignored U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan's instructions not to read or talk about the case

Guzman gained notoriety in the 1980's after digging tunnels beneath the U.S.-Mexico border that allowed him to transport larger amounts of drugs more quickly that his competitors.

He consolidated power in the 1990s and 2000s through deadly wars with rivals.

Before his sentencing, Guzman complained about his solitary confinement in New York's Metropolitan Correctional Center and that he did not get a fair trial.

"My case was stained and you denied me a fair trial when the while world was watching," he said. "When I was extradited to the United States, I expected to have a fair trial, but what happened was exactly the opposite."

Guzman's lawyers argued he was framed by rivals who became government witnesses in exchange for leniency.


A Breathless Ocean

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 21:52
Denise Breitburg is a marine ecologist with the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.

Students in Cameroon Separatist Areas Urged to Go Back to School

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 21:49

Cameroon's civil society groups are urging young people to return to schools in the country's volatile English-speaking regions. Most schools in the two regions have been closed because of attacks and kidnappings stemming from the war between separatists and the military.  

The back-to-school campaign is being carried out by associations of traditional rulers, clergy, parents and members of Cameroon's national assembly. 

"We have come with a message of peace so that our children should go back to school," Donatus Nembo, who works for the education department of the Catholic Church, said of his group's efforts speaking to parents in the market square in Menji, southwest Cameroon.

"To those of our children who are still holding arms we are begging, begging them to lay down their arms, join us in good faith," he said. "They should trust us, because with us they can be re-integrated so that together, we continue to rebuild our division [administrative area] which has been rendered backward."

Nicoline Asherri, 16, is excited to go back to school.

"Yes, I really want to go back to school," she said. "We cannot sit for years without schooling. It is not normal. … Seriously, so that we can go back to school because children are growing and some of them will never go back to school again. Some of them are already pregnant, some of them have gone astray now."

Asherri has not been in school for two years, since she and 90 other students were kidnapped from a college in the northwestern town of Kumbo and released after two days. 

The fighters had warned school authorities to stop all academic activity.

Teacher Mercy Beri says she is afraid to return to her high school. 

"I was kidnapped. My principal was kidnapped. How do you expect me to go back?" she said. "I do not know whether if I go back they will kidnap me or what. Schools have been burned, they have not done any reconstruction. Where are we going to be teaching the children? How are we going to teach them, where, in space? Outside? How are the children going to be secured?"

An estimated 80 percent of the schools in the north and southwest have been closed since separatists began their uprising in 2017, citing the alleged overbearing use of French in the African country. 

The only schools still open are in big towns such as Bamenda, capital of the northwest region, and Buea, capital of the southwest region, where there is relative calm.

Cameroon's minister of secondary education, Nalova Lyonga, speaks to the media after encouraging teachers to go to school, in Buea, Cameroon, July 17, 2019. (Moki Kindzeka/VOA)

Cameroon's minister of secondary education, Nalova Lyonga, praised children and teachers who want to brave the crisis and return to schools in their villages.

"It takes a lot of courage to get up and say, 'I am going to school at this time,'" Lyonga said. "That is why I am here to say that you have carried the sacrifice so far. Carry it to the end. These are people who have sacrificed a lot."

The government says at least 130 schools have been burned by separatist fighters. But on social media, separatists blame the military, saying it is destroying schools suspected of being used as hiding places by the fighters. 

The military has denied the accusation.

UN Human Rights Council Divided Over China’s Xinjiang Policies

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 21:48

Members of the U.N. Human Rights Council are divided over China's hardline policies in its Xinjiang region, where more than one million Muslim Uighurs have been detained in reeducation camps that critics say are aimed at destroying indigenous culture and religious beliefs.

Observers say Beijing has successfully used its political and economic clout to impact the impartiality of the U.N. body, citing a recent letter from 37  ambassadors, mostly from Africa and the Middle East and including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, and Russia, that positively evaluated the human rights developments in Xinjiang. The letter, addressed to the president of the Geneva-based council and the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, proclaimed China's counter-terrorism and de-radicalization success in its western region of Xinjiang.

Days earlier, 22 mostly Western nations signed a similar letter to urge the world body to investigate China’s human rights violations in Xinjiang.

China’s Infiltration
“If [people] continue to tolerate and connive China’s infiltration into the UNHRC, people will have to be doubtful if the council can still truly remain impartial,” said Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the exile Germany-headquartered World Uighur Congress (WUC).
The Friday statement by 37 ambassadors has not only divided the council, but also dashed the Uighurs’ hope on the council to stand up against China in order for the justice to prevail, he added.
The signatories justify China’s efforts by saying “Faced with the grave challenge of terrorism and extremism, China has undertaken a series of counter-terrorism and de-radicalization measures in Xinjiang, including setting up vocational education and training centers.”
China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang, on Monday, voiced appreciation to the ambassadors, saying that Xinjiang hasn’t seen any terrorist attacks in the past three years and people there support the government's measures with a stronger sense of happiness, fulfillment and security, according to state media.
Anti-Beijing Stance
The 22 signatories from democratic countries including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan and Britain expressed concern about “credible reports of arbitrary detention” in Xinjiang and “widespread surveillance and restrictions” particularly targeting Uighurs and other minorities. 
They called on China to uphold its national laws and international commitments, including as a member of the Human Rights Council.
Aside from the geographic divergence between both letters, the pro-Beijing statement features many Muslim-majority states, which Raxit denounced as “a lack of justice” as they have turned a blind eye to Beijing’s oppression of the Muslim population in Xinjiang. 
China’s economic lure?
Analysts say that economic power and potential benefits from China’s One Belt One Road Initiatives aren’t the only factors that countries weigh on when deciding to side with China or not.
“For many, China’s economic heft is a primary concern when deciding to rebuke Beijing so publicly. For other states, such as Russia, Saudi Arabia, and North Korea, their own human rights records at home have come under frequent attack abroad and so defending China becomes a roundabout way of defending themselves,” Catherine Putz, managing director of a monthly magazine The Diplomat, wrote in a commentary.
Shih Chien-yu, a Central Asian specialist from Chu Hai College in Hong Kong, argued that most of those Muslim states chose to side with Beijing for they‘ve shared a similar history of being suppressed by western imperialist powers.

FILE - Ethnic Uighur women leave a center where political education lessons are held in Kashgar, in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, Sept. 6, 2018.

They hence begin to uphold China’s role as an influential balancer in the region, he added.
“They believe that the rise of China presents them with an opportunity to strike a balance so that they no longer need to closely follow the Western world. Through China, a balance can be found between them and the west. So, in spirit, they’re more than willing to support China,” Shih said.
The professor noted that China will come under serious pressure if the United States, which doesn’t appear on either letter, takes a stance and considers sanctions on China over Xinjiang’s Uighur internment camps.
But he doubts that the United States will take any drastic move since it is now in the middle of trade negotiations with China.
WUC’s Raxit urged the United Nations to kick China out of the UNHRC for it has failed to honor its commitments as a council member. 
And, instead, the U.N. Security Council should address China’s inhuman treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang now that its human rights council is biased with China, he said.

ACLU Asks Judge to Block Trump Asylum Rule as Case Is Heard

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 21:21

Civil liberties groups are asking a federal judge for a temporary restraining order blocking the Trump administration's effort to effectively end asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The American Civil Liberties Union and others filed the request Wednesday, seeking a Thursday hearing in San Francisco. The groups sued Tuesday and want the judge to block the policy while the case is heard.
The Trump administration rules went into effect Tuesday and prevent most migrants from seeking protection as refugees if they have passed through another country first. It targets tens of thousands of Central Americans who cross into the U.S. through Mexico. But it also affects people from Africa, Asia, and South America who come to the southern border.
Immigrant advocates say the plan illegally circumvents the asylum process Congress established.

Texas Town Drops Measure to be 'Sanctuary City for Unborn'

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 21:15

Leaders of a small town in Texas are abandoning a proposal that would have essentially banned abortions in their community.
Mineral Wells Mayor Christopher Perricone says he proposed making his town a "sanctuary city for the unborn" after the town of Waskom became the first in Texas to do so . But at a meeting Tuesday in Mineral Wells, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) west of Dallas, city leaders voted 5-2 to take no action at the recommendation of the city's legal staff.
The Star-Telegram reports that earlier Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas sent a letter to Mineral Wells council members warning that its proposal was unconstitutional.
There are currently no abortion clinics in either Waskom or Mineral Wells, so the measures are largely symbolic.  



Victims' Families, Nations Commemorate MH17 Tragedy

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 20:59

Families of victims and their countries' embassies are marking the fifth anniversary of the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine, amid mounting evidence of Russia's involvement in shooting the passenger plane out of the sky.

The airliner flying between Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur was shot down by a Buk missile on July 17, 2014, over territory in eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatists, killing all 298 people on board, including 80 children.

In the Netherlands, which lost 193 citizens, commemorations began on July 16, when family members of 15 of the victims assembled in the town of Hilversum for a vigil.

It was led by a priest who grows sunflowers from seeds brought from eastern Ukraine where the plane was shot down.

A separate MH17 conference took place in the Netherlands on July 16, as well as a roundtable in Washington, D.C.

Speaking in Washington, George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of state at the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, said that "Russia set the stage for the shoot-down of MH17 by financing, organizing, and leading proxies in eastern Ukraine."

He also said that "Russia continues to deny the presence of its forces and materiel" in non-government-controlled parts of Ukraine.

Moscow has repeatedly denied any involvement in the MH17 tragedy.

Nine embassies whose citizens perished on the flight plan to hold a memorial on July 17 in Malaysia, which lost 43 citizens.

Another memorial is taking place at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam that is closed to the media.

Investigators from the Dutch-led Joint Investigative Team (JIT) have concluded that a Russian antiaircraft-missile brigade transported the sophisticated projectile system from and back to Russia into Ukraine.

The JIT in June furthermore indicted three Russians with military and intelligence backgrounds and a Ukrainian man with no prior military experience on murder charges.

The four suspects are scheduled to be tried starting in March 2020 in the Netherlands, although all are believed to be in Russia.

And investigators promised to continue investigating suspects, including those in the "chain of command."

Western states imposed sanctions on Russia after the incident, bolstering existing measures that were put into force after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March 2014.

Dutch prosecutors might get to question a possible key witness of the events after an elite Ukrainian unit on June 27 detained Volodymyr Tsemakh at his home in a separatist-held city in the Donetsk region.

Tsemakh oversaw an air-defense unit in a town near the crash site.

His lawyer and daughter told local media that Ukrainian authorities are charging him with terrorism that carries a maximum 15-year prison sentence.

Meanwhile, Tsemakh's wife sent a pro-Moscow separatist official a picture of her husband after he was arrested with a bandaged wound on his forehead, according to online open-source sleuth Bellingcat.

TV footage uncovered by Current Time, the Russian-language network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA, showed Tsemakh claiming that he was in charge of an antiaircraft unit and that he helped hide the Buk missile in July 2014.

He furthermore shows the interviewer where the civilian airliner fell.

A July 15 RFE/RL report also outlined how Russian and Moscow-controlled media in nongovernment-controlled parts of eastern Ukraine first reported that separatists had downed a Ukrainian military plane during the time when MH17 was downed.

US Expands Mediating Role in South Korea-Japan Dispute

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 20:52

As a trade dispute rooted in historical tensions spirals toward a full-blown trade war between Japan and South Korea, there are signs the United States is starting to take a bigger mediating role.

The top U.S. diplomat for East Asia, who visited Japan earlier this week, met Wednesday with top South Korean officials in Seoul, where he urged a quick resolution to the dispute.

“The U.S., as close friends and allies to both, will do what it can to support their efforts to resolve [the situation],” said David Stillwell, the new U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha talks with David Stilwell, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, during a meeting at the foreign ministry in Seoul, July 17, 2019.

The crisis erupted earlier this month when Japan restricted exports of high-tech materials to South Korea. The materials are used to produce semiconductors and displays in smartphones and other electronics that are key to South Korea’s export-driven economy.

In restricting the materials, Tokyo cited national security reasons. But the move is widely seen as retaliation for recent South Korean court rulings ordering Japanese companies to compensate Koreans who were forced to work during Japan’s colonial occupation of Korea.

The U.S. is traditionally reluctant to become too involved in issues related to contentious historical disputes between South Korea and Japan, which are both key allies of Washington. The Trump administration has especially taken a hands-off approach during the current round of tensions.

Speaking in Japan last week, Stillwell told Japanese broadcaster NHK he doesn’t “plan to mediate or engage, other than to encourage both sides to focus on the key issues in the region, especially with North Korea.”

Wide-ranging effects

Since then, the situation has only worsened.

Notices campaigning for a boycott of Japanese-made products are displayed at a store in Seoul, South Korea, July 9, 2019.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in told South Korean companies to prepare for a prolonged dispute and that the “framework of economic cooperation” between Seoul and Tokyo has been broken.

Japan is also considering removing South Korea from its “white list” of trusted trade partners - a serious escalation that would make it harder for the two countries to trade a wide range of technologies.

A trade war between Japan and South Korea, the world’s third and 11th largest economies respectively, would have wide-ranging ramifications.

It could threaten global technology supply chains, since South Korea produces 70 percent of the world’s memory chips. It could also further slow global growth already hampered by U.S.-China trade tensions.

U.S. interests in Asia could also be hurt if Japan, South Korea, and the United States are not able to work together to counter challengers like North Korea and China.

Expanded U.S. mediation?

To help resolve the dispute, Matt Pottinger, senior director for Asian affairs on the White House National Security Council, is headed to South Korea and Japan, according to one report.

Speaking Wednesday after meeting with Assistant Secretary Stillwell, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha welcomed U.S. mediation.

“It certainly helps to have an interlocutor who can really play a role of a bridge and communication channels between the two sides,” said Kang.

A senior South Korean official said he warned Stillwell the dispute could impact “trilateral cooperation” between South Korea, Japan, and the United States, especially if Japan removes South Korea from its “white list.”

“That would be a very, very significant act,” the South Korean official told foreign media, speaking on condition of anonymity. “If that happens, it will cause a tremendous amount of problems and it would definitely put a strain on Korea, Japan, U.S. trilateral cooperation.”

The official added that South Korea believes it can resolve the dispute through “constructive dialogue with Japan.”

In the past, the U.S. has attempted to mediate disputes between South Korea and Japan.

During a period of tensions in 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama helped bring together Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and then-South Korean President Park Geun-hye for their first face-to-face talks.

But this time around, some analysts say the United States does not appear as invested in helping resolve the dispute, pointing out U.S. President Donald Trump’s longstanding trade criticisms of both Japan and South Korea.

“The Trump people think that both Japan and Korea are security free-riders. Trump picks fights with both of them on trade,” says Robert Kelly, professor of political science at South Korea’s Pusan National University.

Longstanding tensions

The trade dispute is the latest flare-up in tensions rooted in Japan’s brutal 1910-1945 occupation of the Korean peninsula. A major source of friction is how to compensate those forced into labor and sexual slavery in the colonial era.

Japan says the reparations issue was resolved with a 1965 treaty that normalized Japan-South Korea relations. Japan has complained that subsequent South Korean governments have not accepted further Japanese apologies and attempts to make amends.

The issue re-emerged last year after South Korea’s Supreme Court ordered Japanese companies, including Mitsubishi Heavy, to compensate Korean forced labor victims. The companies have not complied with the rulings, leading some victims to begin the legal process to seize or liquidate the companies’ assets in Korea.

Japan says the rulings are unacceptable. But South Korea says it cannot overturn them, saying that doing so would amount to interference in South Korea’s independent court system.

Japan maintains that national security concerns, not the South Korean court rulings, are the impetus for its export restrictions. But while announcing the measures, Japanese officials mentioned how the forced labor issue had broken trust with Seoul.

Domestic support

Analysts say both Korean and Japanese leaders are using the issue to drum up domestic support.

Japan on Sunday holds an Upper House election. Since the flare-up of tensions with South Korea, some polls have suggested Prime Minister Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party has extended its lead over opposition parties.

Popular opinion in South Korea also appears to give President Moon little reason for backing down. According to a poll released last week by Gallup Korea, 67 percent of South Koreans would support a boycott against Japan.

“I think a boycott would be positive,” said Kin Seon-hwa, a 33-year-old office worker in Seoul. “I sometimes drink Japanese brand beer, like Asahi, but right now there’s no reason to have that brand.”

“Right now, though, I would not travel to Japan,” said Hwang Gwang-hyun, a 29-year-old who also works in Seoul.


Confusion, Fear Reign on Mexico Border With New US Policy

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 20:51

Asylum-seekers gathered in Nuevo Laredo, across the border from Texas, grappled to understand what a new U.S. policy that all but eliminates refuge claims by Central Americans and many others meant for their bids to find a better life in America amid a chaos of rumors, confusion and fear.

The policy went into effect Tuesday and represents the most forceful attempt to date by President Donald Trump to slash the number of people seeking asylum in the United States. It denies asylum to anyone who shows up on the Mexican border after traveling through another country, something Central American migrants have to do.

In some parts of Nuevo Laredo, migrants continued to trickle into shelters, including seven members of a family from the Mexican state of Michoacan, who fled the shootings and extortions in their violent region and were happy to find shelter even though some had to sleep in the hallway. They hoped they could get asylum because they did not pass through another country to reach the border.

But about 70 mostly Central American migrants, who had crossed Mexico to reach the border, were returned to Mexico with an appointment with a judge tucked in a transparent plastic bag. Some bitter, they assembled in the National Institute of Migration facility next to the international bridge, with a cluster of women cradling children, men asking questions and small children running around under the watchful eye of parents.

“They didn't deport us but they took us out [of the U.S.] in a bad way; in theory we wait for an audience,” said Nolvin Godoy, a 29-year-old Guatemalan who has gone deep into debt paying a coyote almost $10,000 to take him, his wife and her 2-year-old son to get them across the Rio Grande to turn themselves in to U.S. authorities.

After 10 days in a detention center in the U.S., they say they were given an appointment with a judge in September to begin the asylum process. Now they've been sent back to Mexico and hold out little hope of being able to appear before the judge on the date set.

“Today the law fell on us and they are going to take us to Monterrey - 200 kilometers from Nuevo Laredo - and we don't know what is going happen after that because we don't know anyone; I am sinking into debt,” Godoy said.

Mexican migration officials gave them food and a document that is a certificate guaranteeing them access to official programs but which does not specify which ones, though Mexico has said the returned will be able to get jobs. They received an official telephone number and email where they can get advice.

Godoy, who says the stained shirt on his back is his only possession, believes it will all be worth little if he has no means of survival. “Maybe it's best to go back.”

No migrants dare to go outside the migration installations. “Outside is organized crime,” he said.

Dozens of people like Godoy were returned to Nuevo Laredo on Tuesday and by nightfall had been put on a bus with the only explanation that they were being taken to Monterrey, in the neighboring state of Nuevo Leon. Most of them had reached the U.S. irregularly, and did not fit the profile of migrants who would wait in Mexico for weeks or months, sign up on waiting lists and then be called by U.S. authorities to process their asylum claims.

Some said they had not originally planned to request asylum in the United States, and said the idea only occurred to them when they were offered the option.

However, as late as Tuesday morning a group of 15 migrants, including four children,  showed up at the international bridge because their names had come up on the list that has long been used to allow migrants to request asylum. The idea that the old process might continue to work gave some hope to migrants like Linerio Gonzalez, 24, and Ana Paolini, 20, who fled Venezuela for political reasons. It was unclear if the new measures would change things for Venezuelans like them.

“It drives you to desperation,” said Gonzalez.

“You hear a lot of things, but we don't know,” Paolini said, adding that the prospect of being able to file for asylum, only to be returned to Nuevo Laredo, fills her with fear.

Rev. Julio Lopez, director of the Roman Catholic shelter Albergue Nazaret, said the border was in the grips “of a lot of confusion because of all the changes.”

Lopez said the situation had become worse for migrants, and immigrant traffickers were likely to be the only winners.

On top of it, more deportees might be expected from the planned raids in the United States, something that could overwhelm shelters.

“Added to all this is now the uncertainty about mass deportations, that could put our shelters in a difficult position,” said Rev. Lopez.

Taliban Close Afghan Health Facilities Run by Swedish Group

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 20:38

The Taliban forced a Swedish non-profit group to close 42 health facilities it runs in eastern Afghanistan, the organization said Wednesday, the latest attempt by the insurgents to show strength amid negotiations to end the country's nearly 18-year war.
In Sweden, the group's director called the closures ``an obvious violation of human rights and international humanitarian law'' and demanded the facilities be allowed to reopen right away.

The Taliban currently control nearly half of Afghanistan and are more powerful than at any time since the October 2001 U.S.-led invasion.

Sonny Mansson, the country director of the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, told The Associated Press that the Taliban threatened the NGO's staff by saying that if they do not close the facilities, “it would have consequences for themselves and their families.''

“We treat equally anyone who needs medical care regardless of who they are. Everyone who needs help gets it,'' Mansson said, adding the facilities that closed over the weekend were in a Taliban-controlled area of Maidan Wardan province while others are still open in the province's government-controlled areas.

Parwiz Ahmad Faizi, the group's communications manager, said the closures came after Afghan forces last week raided a clinic run by the NGO in Daimirdad district. The Afghan troops, acting on intelligence, were allegedly looking for suspected Taliban fighters hiding in the clinic.
Ahmad Khalid Fahim, program director for the Swedish group, said two staff members, a guard and a lab worker, and two other people were killed in the attack, while a fifth person has been missing.
Insurgents contacted the staff and ordered the NGO to shut down, Fahim added. Faizi said the closures would affect health services for around 6,000 patients, particularly women and children.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed the closure of the NGO's facilities.

The developments come amid stepped-up efforts by the United States to find a negotiated end to the country's conflict, America's longest war. Afghan talks that brought together the country's warring sides ended last week in Qatar's capital, Doha, with a statement that appeared to move closer to peace by laying down the outlines of a roadmap for the country's future.

The same Swedish-run health facility in Daimirdad was hit in 2016, in a joint raid by Afghan and foreign forces, said Fahim. Three people were killed in that attack, after which the NGO demanded an investigation but no probe results were ever released.

“We request the Afghan government give us an immediate response as to why the health facility came under attack,” Fahim said.
The Swedish organization, which has been in Afghanistan over 30 years, runs 77 health facilities in six out of nine districts of in Maidan Wardan. The closure of the 42 likely more than slashes its activities in half.
Mansson dismissed claims the Taliban had used their clinic in Daimirdad as shelter, which may have triggered the Afghan forces' raid.

Mansson said the organization informed the Afghan government of the closures but that the authorities have done nothing beyond acknowledging the shutdowns and saying ``we regret it happen.''

“We demand immediate reopening of all health facilities for the people and we strongly urge all parties involved in conflict to refrain from such actions which deliberately puts civilian lives at risk,” Mansson later said in a statement.


Police Launch Huge Operation Against 2 Major Italian and US Organized Crime

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 20:31

Italian police and the FBI carried out a wide-ranging joint operation involving more than 200 police officers on Wednesday following investigations which revealed links between Sicily's Cosa Nostra and New York's Gambino crime family. The investigation code-named "New Connection" showed a strong bond being re-established between US and Italian organized crime. Nineteen people were arrested.
The “New Connection” coordinated operation between Italy’s police and the FBI was launched at dawn on Wednesday and targeted the Inzerillo clan in the Sicilian capital Palermo and the Gambino crime family in New York. 19 arrest warrants were issued. The suspects are accused of crimes including mafia association, aggravated extortion and fraud.

The Inzerillo family had been decimated by the late "boss of bosses’ Toto" Riina in a turf war in the 1980s and had been forced into self-imposed exile in the United States. But since 2000, and with Riina’s death in prison in 2017, the Inzerillo family had been looking to reclaim its old business in Sicily helped by powerful allies in New York.

Wiretaps were carried out by the police of members of the Inzerillo family revealing strong ties between Cosa Nostra members in Sicily and organized crime in New York. Their activities involved a wide range of businesses, such as wholesale food supplies, gambling outlets and online betting.

Members of the Inzerillo family had re-built their stronghold in the Palermo area of Passo di Rignano. Among those arrested were Francesco and Tommaso Inzerillo, respectively the brother and cousin of Totuccio Inzerillo, a boss murdered by Riina's Corleonesi group in the 1980s.

Salvatore Gambino, the mayor of the Palermo provincial town of Torretta, was also arrested with the accusation of external participation in mafia association. The operation also involved the seizure of goods belonging to the suspects worth some 3 million euros.





Court Orders Danish VW Importer to Pay Dissident Artist

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 20:23

A suburban Copenhagen court has ordered the importer in Denmark of Volkswagen to pay 1.5 million kroner ($226,000) to Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei for ``unjustified use of artwork in an advertisement.''
The Glostrup City Court says Skandinavisk Motor Co. A/S used one of Ai's large-scale installations on the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean Sea as backdrop in an ad featuring a Volkswagen Polo parked in front of the artwork.
The court said Wednesday using Ai's installation composed of more than 3,500 life jackets collected from refugees arriving on the Greek Island of Lesbos ``was a violation'' of Danish marketing laws.
The court also granted Ai compensation for non-financial damage of 250,000 kroner ($38,000).
The artwork was installed on the exterior of a downtown Copenhagen art gallery in 2017.