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Showing posts from July 15, 2014

Syria's Western-backed opposition elects new president

Syria's Western-backed opposition, the National Coalition, elected Hadi al-Bahra, chief negotiator at the Geneva peace talks, as its new president on Wednesday after a three-day meeting in Istanbul. _0"> The United States and other key powers have designated the National Coalition as the main body representing the opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but it has little power inside Syria where disparate militant groups outside its control hold ground. Bahra, a U.S-trained industrial engineer, has close ties to regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia, as did his predecessor Ahmad Jarba, who stood down after serving the maximum two six-month terms. "We will not give up the fundamentals of the revolution and our demands are freedom and human dignity," Bahra told a news conference in Istanbul on Wednesday evening. Bahra's election is unlikely to have any impact on the situation in Syria or within opposition ranks for now, though France - the first Western

Mexican train derails, stranding 1,300 migrants headed toward U.S.

A cargo train used by Mexicans and Central Americans to travel toward the U.S. border derailed in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca on Wednesday, stranding about 1,300 migrants, emergency services said. _0"> Many of the migrants aboard were young people and nobody was injured when the train nicknamed "the Beast" came off the tracks, a spokesman for local emergency services said. Since last October, more than 50,000 unaccompanied minors, most from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, have been caught illegally crossing the southwest border of the United States. Children say that they are fleeing violence at home and hope that they will be able to stay in the United States. Several days of heavy rain in southern Mexico may have caused the train to derail, authorities said. (Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz; Writing by Joanna Zuckerman Bernstein; Editing by Lisa Shumaker )

China's top prosecutor orders more transparency in corruption cases

China's top prosecutor has ordered greater transparency in publicising corruption cases involving senior officials, state media reported, as the government steps up efforts to win the public's confidence in its battle on pervasive graft. _0"> Such information should be released in a timely way rather than on a case-by-case basis as tends to happen now, the official Xinhua news agency said late on Wednesday, citing an order from the Supreme People's Procuratorate. "The public will be informed in a timely manner of cases such as suspected duty-related violations by provincial-level officials and those behind serious accidents or major food and drug safety scandals," it cited the notice as saying. "Information to be published should include the suspects' identities, the crimes they are suspected of, basic facts and latest developments in cases during investigation, arrest and prosecution," Xinhua added. Pictures and videos will also be rel

Japan denies report on North Korea's abduction survivor list

Japan on Thursday denied as "sheer misreporting" a front page newspaper story that North Korea had provided a list of some 30 Japanese survivors still living in the isolated country, including known victims of state-sponsored kidnapping. _0"> The Nikkei business daily said North Korea produced the list at a July 1 meeting in Beijing to discuss North Korea's plan to resume investigations into the fate of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 80s. North Korea agreed in May to reopen the probe, prompting Japan to ease some sanctions. "I'm aware of the report, but nothing like that happened during the meeting or during a recess," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a regular news conference. "It's sheer misreporting." The Nikkei, citing sources, said Tokyo had matched about two-thirds of the names on the list with domestic records of missing persons. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made the abduc

Pakistan army seizes control of key city from Taliban

The Pakistani military has seized control of 80 percent of Miranshah, the capital of the remote tribal region of North Waziristan, where the military launched an operation against Islamist militants last month, a general said on Wednesday. Previously, the city was largely under the control of the Taliban and militants used it as a base to prepare bombs and plan attacks, said General Zafarullah Khan, the top commander in rugged North Waziristan, which borders Afghanistan. "North Waziristan had transformed into a hub and safe haven for terrorists of all colors and creeds," he said during a media trip to Miranshah. "But with the operation, 80 percent of Miranshah and the adjoining areas has been cleared." The offensive in North Waziristan began on June 15, following months of failed negotiations between the government and the militants. Taliban attacks continued during the talks. A brazen assault last month on the airport in the southern city of Karachi killed 34.

China dismisses planned Macau democracy vote as meaningless

China has dismissed as meaningless a proposed referendum on democracy in its southern gambling hub of Macau, a poll that would follow in the footsteps of a similar informal vote in nearby Hong Kong. _0"> Three activist groups said on Monday they would stage a referendum among Macau's 600,000 residents to coincide with the widely expected re-election by a local council of local leader Fernando Chui in August. China denounced the June poll in Hong Kong, underscored by a march by hundreds of thousands of protesters demanding the right to freely elect their local leader in 2017. Five student leaders were arrested after a later sit-in. The former British colony of Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997, followed two years later by the Portuguese-run enclave of Macau, now the world's biggest gambling center. Both enjoy wide-ranging autonomy and free speech not permitted on the mainland. "An administrative region has no authority to establish a system of refere

Son of local hero bids to lead Slovenia to limited makeover

Miro Cerar may be a newcomer to politics, but he is already a household name to the 2 million people of Slovenia, the euro zone state whose fragile economy he will have to nurture if he wins an election on Sunday. The son of one of his country's greatest sportsmen is front runner to become prime minister and take on the task of dragging Slovenia, once seen as a model for post-Communist prosperity, out of financial crisis and economic malaise. Slovenia narrowly avoided having to seek an international bailout for its banks late last year. Sunday's parliamentary election is rattling investors' nerves again, this time over the fate of measures the outgoing government agreed with its EU partners to steady Slovenia's finances and remake an economy roughly 50-percent controlled by the state. A bespectacled law professor and adviser to parliament, Cerar, 50, takes his celebrity from his father Miroslav Cerar, a two-time Olympic pommel horse champion in the 1960s when Slov

Three Ukrainian soldiers killed in further clashes in the east

Three Ukrainian soldiers have been killed and 27 wounded in clashes with pro-Russian separatist rebels in the east of the country, the military said on Thursday. _0"> Government forces have recently gained the upper hand in the three-month conflict against separatists in the Russian-speaking eastern regions in which more than 200 government troops have been killed as well as hundreds of civilians and rebel fighters. But though government forces pushed the rebels out of a stronghold in Slaviansk at the weekend, the heavily armed separatists have dug in in Donetsk, a city of 900,000 people, and remain active in and around Luhansk on the Russian border. The government's "anti-terrorist operation" said that one soldier was killed late on Wednesday when rebels fired machine-guns at a truck carrying soldiers at Muratova near Luhansk. "The vehicle was ambushed. In the course of the fighting one serviceman was killed and three were wounded," it said in a s

Britain says to pass emergency phone and email data law

Britain said on Thursday it would rush through emergency legislation to force telecoms firms to retain customer data for a year, calling the move vital for national security following a decision by Europe's top court. Communication companies had been required to retain data for 12 months under a 2006 European Union directive but this was thrown out in April by the European Court of Justice on the grounds that it infringed human rights. Britain's coalition government said the scrapping of that directive could deprive police and intelligence agencies of access to information about who customers contacted by phone, text or email, and where and when. Prime Minister David Cameron said it was vital these powers were not compromised at a time of growing concern over Britons travelling to Iraq and Syria to join militant Islamist groups. Those concerns prompted the government to take the unusual step of announcing fast-track legislation which, under a deal brokered behind closed d

Fifty-three blindfolded bodies found in Iraq as political leaders bicker

Iraqi security forces found 53 corpses, blindfolded and handcuffed, south of Baghdad on Wednesday as Shi'ite and Kurdish leaders traded accusations over an Islamist insurgency raging in the country's Sunni provinces. Officials said dozens of bodies were discovered near the mainly Shi'ite Muslim village of Khamissiya, with bullets to the chest and head, the latest mass killing since Sunni insurgents swept through northern Iraq. "Fifty-three unidentified corpses were found, all of them blindfolded and handcuffed," Sadeq Madloul, governor of the mainly Shi'ite southern province of Babil, told reporters. He said the victims appeared to have been killed overnight after being brought by car to an area near the main highway running from Baghdad to the southern provinces, about 25 km (15 miles) southeast of the city of Hilla. The identity and sectarian affiliation of the dead people was not immediately clear, he said. Sunni militants have been carrying out att

Iran nuclear talks sides far apart: UK's Hague tells paper

Significant differences remain between six world powers and Iran in negotiations over its nuclear program, an Austrian newspaper quoted British Foreign Minister William Hague as saying. _0"> Wiener Zeitung said a spokesperson for Hague had provided his remarks via email on Wednesday and they were published on Thursday. The quotes appeared identical to a statement Hague made on July 2 about the Iran nuclear negotiations, which resumed last week and continued in Vienna on Thursday. Hague said a deal was far from certain but that all possibilities should be exhausted in a final round of talks now taking place in Vienna, according to Wiener Zeitung. Iran and the powers - the United States, France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China - aim to reach a long-term deal to end the decade-old standoff by a self-imposed July 20 deadline. Some diplomats and analysts believe an extension may be needed in view of the still-wide gaps in negotiating positions. "Achieving an agreement

Kerry faces uphill battle to defuse Afghan election standoff

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will arrive to a sceptical audience in Afghanistan this week to try to resolve a deepening crisis over a disputed presidential election which has stirred ethnic tensions in the fragile country. Afghanistan has plunged into political chaos in recent months as a protracted election process to pick a successor to President Hamid Karzai has run into a deadlock between two leading candidates, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani. Preliminary results from the June 14 second-round run-off put Ghani, a former World Bank official, in the lead with 56.4 percent of the vote, but Abdullah has rejected the count and his aides have threatened to set up an alternative administration. Kerry is expected to arrive in the Afghan capital Kabul on Friday to try to mediate between the feuding camps, according to Abdullah, although U.S. officials have not confirmed the trip. Kerry is currently in neighbouring China. Ghani's camp, confident in its victory, is wary of

'Prime Evil' apartheid killer up for parole in South Africa

Apartheid death-squad leader Eugene de Kock, dubbed 'Prime Evil' for his role in the torture and murder of black South African activists in the 1980s and early 1990s, will learn on Thursday whether he will be released on parole after 20 years in prison. _0"> Justice Minister Michael Masutha is due to announce his decision on de Kock's application for parole at 0530 ET at a news conference in Pretoria. Whatever his ruling, it is likely to be highly contentious in a country still dealing with the legacy of repression and brutality meted out by the white-minority administration that prevailed from 1948 to 1994. As head of an apartheid counter-insurgency unit at Vlakplaas, a farm 20 km (15 miles) west of Pretoria, de Kock is believed to have been responsible for more atrocities than any other man in the efforts to preserve white rule. Arrested in 1994, the year Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress (ANC) came to power, he was sentenced two years later t

Australian minister under fire for not meeting Tamil groups on Sri Lanka trip

A Tamil group criticised Australia's immigration minister on Thursday for visiting northern Sri Lanka without meeting Tamil leaders, days after Australia returned a boat of asylum seekers, including Tamils, under its hardline border security policy. Some of the 41 Sri Lankans intercepted and sent home by Australia said on Tuesday they had been mistreated by Australian Customs, accusations Immigration Minister Scott Morrison denied. A second boat carrying 153 Sri Lankan asylum seekers remained in legal limbo as the Australian High Court considered whether their interception was legal. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott came to power last September partly because of his tough stance on asylum seekers. His government has touted its success in blocking such boats, saying there have been no illegal arrivals since last December. During a visit on Wednesday to the northern city of Jaffna, Morrison met the governor of the Northern Province, G.A. Chandrasiri, a presidential appoin

Drone kills six in NW Pakistan, army seizes most of key city from Taliban

Missiles from a U.S. drone slammed into a mud house and killed six suspected militants in Pakistan's rugged northwest on Thursday, officials said, as the Pakistani military said it had seized control of 80 percent of a key city from the Taliban. Drone strikes in Pakistan resumed after a six-month hiatus, days before the military launched an air campaign on June 15 to drive Pakistani Taliban militants out of the remote border region of North Waziristan. Thursday's strike in the Datta Khel district killed six militants and injured two, security officials said. The site of the strike was about 45 km (28 miles) west of the regional capital of Miranshah, near the Afghan border. A senior officer took reporters on a tour of the region on Wednesday to underscore what the military says is a successful offensive to bring under control 80 percent of Miranshah, North Waziristan's main town. The region, the base of some of the country's most feared al Qaeda linked terrori

Special Report: All work and no pay for thousands in the Balkans

Complaining they had worked without pay for months late last year, employees of the Serbian farming company Agroziv staged a short strike in January. Why should they work for no money, they said. The company, a poultry producer in the north of the country, was short of cash and pleaded for more time to pay wages, workers said. "The management told us, 'Please be patient for another two weeks,’” said Vesna Srdic, a packaging worker with the firm. “We waited and nothing happened. Some workers grew so desperate they were buying bread on credit from local bakers. But after some months even bakers refused to give them bread for nothing." Patience ran out on June 4. Using chains and padlocks, Agroziv employees locked every door and gate they could find on company property. Then they blocked a main road leading to the border with Romania for two hours. "My salary is 29,000 dinars ($343) a month and I haven't received a penny since January. I'm drowning in debt,

German language rule for immigrant spouses invalid: European court

Germany cannot insist the spouses of Turkish nationals living in the country speak basic German when they apply for a family reunification visa, Europe's highest court ruled on Thursday. _0"> Since 2007, Germany has demanded basic German language skills from those wishing to join their partner in Germany from outside the European Union, in an effort to prevent forced marriage and promote integration. In the case of a Turkish national who lived in Germany since 1998 and whose wife was refused a visa in 2012 because she did not speak German, the European Court of Justice said that the rule ran counter to European Union (EU) law. The court said this was because of an agreement the European Union made with Turkey in the 1970s to prohibit new restrictions on the freedom to settle in the EU. Some three million people of Turkish origin live in Germany, about a half of them German citizens. While the case itself dealt with Turkish nationals only, the court added that the lan

Seized nuclear material in Iraq 'low grade': IAEA

The U.N. atomic agency said on Thursday it believed nuclear material which Iraq said had fallen into the hands of insurgents was "low grade" and did not pose a significant security risk. Iraq told the United Nations that the material was used for scientific research at a university in the northern town of Mosul and appealed for help to "stave off the threat of their use by terrorists in Iraq or abroad". Iraq's U.N. envoy this week also said that the government had lost control of a former chemical weapons facility to "armed terrorist groups" and was unable to fulfil its international obligations to destroy toxins kept there. An al Qaeda offshoot, Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, took over swathes of Syria and Iraq before renaming itself Islamic State in June and declaring its leader caliph - a title held by successors of the Prophet Mohammad. The U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) "is aware of the notification from Iraq and

Taliban kill six de-miners in western Afghanistan

The Taliban shot and killed six people working for a demining company in western Afghanistan, police said on Thursday, a day after the United Nations said the number of civilian casualties in the country jumped by a quarter in the first half of 2014. _0"> "The Taliban killed six de-miners from the Halo Trust landmine clearance organization while they were on an operation in Kohsan district of Herat. They abducted three people," said Abdul Rauf Ahmadi, a spokesman for the provincial police chief. "The de-miners started their trip very early in the morning and hadn't informed the police," Ahmadi said, adding that a manhunt was under way to rescue the three abducted workers. The United Nations has documented 4,853 civilian casualties in Afghanistan, including 1,564 civilian deaths and 3,289 injuries, in the period between Jan. 1 to June 30. In southern Zabul province, four policemen were killed by three of their colleagues overnight. The rogue policem

Likely new Indonesian leader warns against tampering with vote

Indonesia's likely next president, Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, warned on Thursday against tampering with ballots ahead of a final count of votes from a disputed election. Both Jokowi and his rival, former general Prabowo Subianto, claimed victory in Wednesday's election, the closest ever in the world's third biggest democracy and biggest Muslim nation with a history of deadly political violence. The Elections Commission is to announce the official result around July 22. "We ask everyone's cooperation to now safeguard the election result from yesterday until the official result by (the Elections Commission)...," Jokowi, who was named the election winner by several non-partisan pollsters who have been accurate in the past, told a news conference. "I would ask everyone not to taint the sincerity of Indonesian society's aspirations in the election," he said, a clear reference to fears of doctoring votes that were cast. Prabowo has ac

China agrees to reduce FX intervention 'as conditions permit'

U.S. and Chinese leaders have agreed that China will reduce its intervention in the currency market when conditions are ripe, reaching an understanding on a prickly issue that has hurt ties between the world's two biggest economies for years. China's Central Bank Governor Zhou Xiaochuan said on the sidelines of annual high-level talks between the two nations that China will "significantly" reduce its yuan intervention when some prerequisites are met. He did not give further details. Analysts said Zhou's unusual candour about China's currency intervention, which was echoed earlier on Wednesday by the Chinese finance minister, suggested that China may be ready to let the yuan rise again once its economy stabilises. Indeed, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew told reporters at the end of talks on Thursday that China was committed to reducing its interference with the yuan, "as conditions permit". China will also increase the transparency of its cur

Utah to appeal gay marriage ruling to U.S. Supreme Court

Utah's attorney general will appeal directly to the U.S. Supreme Court over last month's ruling by a federal appeals court that backed gay marriage in the conservative, heavily Mormon state, his office said on Wednesday. An appeal by Utah was widely expected after the June 25 decision by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver that the state could not prohibit same-sex couples from marrying. That ruling was put on hold pending Utah's appeal. The office of Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said he would petition the Supreme Court in the coming week, and that the state's measure banning gay marriage was presumed to be constitutional "unless the highest courts deem otherwise." Utah had the option of asking the entire 10th Circuit appeals court to review the ruling or taking the case directly to the nation's top court. The June 25 decision was the first time a regional federal appeals court had made such a ruling in

Police shoot knife-wielding woman dead outside Idaho hospital

Police shot and killed a woman brandishing a knife outside a regional medical center in northern Idaho that had been locked down amid reports of a weapons threat, authorities said Wednesday. _0"> Officers investigating the threat late on Tuesday at Bonner General Hospital in Sandpoint said they found a knife-wielding woman who ignored their demands to drop the weapon. An altercation ensued and officers opened fire and killed the 35-year-old woman, Gary Johnston, detective sergeant with the Bonner County Sheriff’s Office, said in a statement. "A preliminary investigation indicates the female aggressed the officers while refusing to comply with commands to drop the knife. The officers responded to the threat using lethal force," Johnston said. Authorities declined to release further details, including the number of officers involved, pending an investigation by the sheriff's office and other law enforcement agencies in Idaho. (Reporting by Laura Zuckerman;

Florida cat owners call 911 after Russian blue 'freaked out'

Kush the cat was quarantined in central Florida after her owner called 911 over the weekend for help, saying the ferocious feline had her trapped in her home. "I can’t get out. She’s got us trapped in our bedroom,” Teresa Gregory, 50, told the emergency police dispatcher, according to the record of the call. 'She’s just sitting outside my bedroom door right now. We don’t know what to do.” Gregory told the dispatcher that Kush, a 4-year-old Russian Blue, began behaving badly earlier in the day so her husband James locked the cat in the bathroom for a while. Gregory said she might have accidentally stepped on the cat, sparking the aggressive behavior. When the cat was released, “she freaked out on us,” hissing, scratching and scaring them, Gregory said. Gregory said both she and her husband were bleeding from scratches to their arms and legs but both later declined treatment. "I don’t know what’s wrong with her. I love this cat to death,” Gregory told the dispatche

Exclusive: U.S. grills suspects in new strategy to build bank laundering cases

U.S. prosecutors are using a new tactic to crack down on banks that fail to fight money laundering: systematically asking suspects in a wide range of criminal cases to help them follow the money back to their bankers. The efforts are paying off in probes of banks and other financial institutions now filling the prosecution pipeline, according to Jonathan Lopez, who last month left his post as deputy chief of the Justice Department’s Money Laundering and Bank Integrity Unit (MLBIU). "Asking criminals the simple question 'Who is moving your money?' can lead the Department of Justice to a financial institution's doorstep," said Lopez, who declined to identify specific targets. The department confirmed the stepped up reliance on criminal informants in anti-money laundering investigations, but also declined to discuss probes underway. The four-year-old MLBIU, which includes a dozen prosecutors, is responsible for insuring that financial institutions adhere to U.S

Texas robbery suspect sets himself on fire, then is shot by police

Police in a Dallas suburb shot a suspected burglar after he poured a flammable material on his clothing and set himself on fire on Wednesday outside a chicken wing restaurant, a city official said. _0"> Three officers also suffered severe burns including one who had to be airlifted to a hospital for emergency care, said Corky Brown, a spokesman for Cedar Hill, the suburb southwest of Dallas where the incident took place. There were no reports immediately available on the condition of the suspect or the officers, Brown said. The officers were pursuing the man, a suspect in an apartment robbery, and confronted him outside the restaurant in the shopping center, Brown said. The suspect, who was brandishing a bottle of what appeared to be gasoline, entered the restaurant and then quickly exited engulfed in flames, witness Robert Gonzales told Dallas broadcaster WFAA. "He looked like a human torch. He had no facial features," Gonzales said. (Reporting by Jon Hersk