Afghan girls robotics team wins in Washington

A team of girls from Afghanistan has won a special award at an international robotics competition in Washington in the US.

The six girls were taking part in the FIRST Global Challenge competition, which took place across three days and saw 158 nations compete against each other.

They took home a silver medal for courageous achievement, which was awarded to teams "that exhibit a can-do attitude throughout the challenge, even under difficult circumstances, or when things do not go as planned".

According to the New York Times, the team's mentor Alireza Mehraban said: "We are simple people with ideas. We need a chance to make our world better. This is our chance."

Their story made the news because, at first, they weren't going to be allowed to go to the competition because of visa problems.

They were told twice that they weren't allowed to enter the country so wouldn't have been able to take part.

However, US President Donald Trump stepped in at the last minute and the girls were able to travel to the US and participate.

The competition - which hopes to inspire young people to want careers in science, technology, engineering, and maths - will take place in Mexico City next year.

Source: bbc.com

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20/Jul/2017

Teens from Burundi robotics team go missing in US

Six teenagers from Burundi taking part in a robotics competition in the US have been reported missing, police say.

Four boys and two girls - aged from 16 to 18 - disappeared during the First Global Challenge tournament in Washington DC.

The DC Police Department says they were last seen on Tuesday - on the closing day of the competition.

Reports say two of the teenagers have since crossed into Canada but this has not been confirmed by the police.

On Thursday, the DC Police Department posted fliers of the missing group on its Twitter page, asking members of the public to get in touch if they had any information.

The teenagers were identified as Don Ingabire, 16, Kevin Sabumukiza, 17, Nice Munezero, 17, Audrey Mwamikazi, 17, Richard Irakoze, 18, and Aristide Irambona, 18.

Competition organisers say they alerted police after Burundi's team supervisor was unable to find the teenagers.

In a statement, First Global Challenge spokesman Jose Escotto said "the proper reports have been submitted to the police who are investigating the case", according to the Washington Post.

The three-day robotics competition saw teams from 150 nations compete against each other.

The event aims to inspire young people to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and maths.

However, it made the news earlier this month after a team of girls from Afghanistan were initially not allowed to attend the competition because of visa problems.

But US President Donald Trump stepped in at the last minute and the girls were able to travel to the US and participate.

The Afghan team later won a silver medal for courageous achievement, which was awarded to teams "that exhibit a can-do attitude throughout the challenge, even under difficult circumstances, or when things do not go as planned".

Source: bbc.com

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20/Jul/2017

OJ Simpson wins parole

OJ Simpson, the former American football star and convict, had told a court in Nevada that he "basically lived a conflict-free life" as he expressed regret for getting involved in an armed robbery, and pleaded for his freedom on live TV.

Simpson was convicted in 2008 of an armed robbery involving two sports memorabilia dealers in a Las Vegas hotel room.

The 70-year-old is today asking four parole board members to release him after serving the minimum nine years of a 33-year sentence.

His daughter Arnelle, 48, testified on his behalf, describing him as a flawed but ultimately good man, and saying: "We just want him home".

Simpson appeared as inmate No. 1027820, dressed in blue jeans and a blue button-down shirt, in a stark hearing room in a remote Nevada prison.

OJ gets parole

"It was a serious crime, you deserved to be sent to prison'" says Nevada Parole Commissioner, Tony Corda. "You have complied with the rules of the prison and you have programmed in an acceptable manner. You are a low risk offender according to our guidelines and you have community support." The other three commissioners concur.

Source: The Telegraph

 

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20/Jul/2017

Press release: 65% of Ghanaians Blame The Increasing Spate of Mob Injustice On The Corrupt Police And The Court System In Ghana - Piran

In recent times, Ghanaians have experienced many instances of mob injustice leading to the lynching of innocent people on suspicion of being thieves, armed robbers or witches without allowing the law to take its course. This is mainly due to distrust in the police and court. Many people in certain communities have a countless number of instances where suspected criminals and outlaws are left to go free or treated with kit groves, encouraging offended persons and communities to result in this uncivilized and barbaric ways of seeking redress and justice that has been denied them by the law enforcing authority.

Many individuals, groups and communities in Ghana are not pleased with the work of the police and court adjudications because of the belief that justice in some cases as shown in some of Anas Aremeyaw Anas undercover works confirming an open secret that justice is given to the highest bidder, making the offended party with no money angry and trying to seek justice their own way. It is therefore appropriate for the law enforcement authority to be alive and responsible for their duties of prosecution and adjudication of justice in a fair, honest and transparent manner to win back the confidence of Ghanaians, and to discourage people from resulting in this inhuman and barbaric means of seeking justice.

The average Ghanaian do not see the willingness and the readiness of the Police to win the trust and confidence of Ghanaian with respect to their handling of certain criminal cases, because there has been instances where people who are supposed to be in either prisons or police custody have been involved and mention  in crime and offences committed during their period of incarceration, a typical case is the gruesome murder of the former Ashanti Regional GJA Chairman, Mr. Edward Best Enning, where some of the reports that came suggested certain outlaws in prison might have come out of prison to commit that murder, there has also been an online publication by a Kumasi base ultimate FM that a notorious armed robber who is suppose to be in prison is walking around and acting as a bodyguard to some

prostitutes who give information about their client to these robbers for attack to rob them of their monies and properties. How would victims of these robbers on the loose feel if they see them on the street or catch them on robbery mission and the police are not available or the police station is far away? Your guess will be as good as mine.

Many people are de-motivated to report offences to the police because of the lackadaisical attitude of some policemen and women who make financial demands and other conditions such as complainant hiring cars before they attend to them.

There is a recent mob injustice in the Northern Region where a suspected motorbike thief’s throat was slash by the mob that arrested him and dump his body elsewhere, before his body was taken to Tamale West Hospital, indicating that many people still uphold the criminal ways of seeking justice they believe the authority responsible may not give them a fair justice to their satisfaction.

In our quest to get the mindset of Ghanaians on this menace of mob injustice, we pose a question, are Ghanaians pleased with the work of the police and the court in adjudicating crime cases? 325 of the 500 people representing 65% of the respondents says empathic no whiles the remaining 175 out of the 500 respondent representing 35% said yes they are pleased with the work of the police and the court. In all 6 regions out of 10 regions were selected with each region having 83 respondents in the major district capital within the said regions of Northern Region, Brong Ahafo Region, Ashanti Region, Greater Accra Region, Volta Region and Central Region.

 

Signed

Timothy Fiadjoe

(secretary)

0244471923

 

Signed

Felix Djan Foh

(President)

0244691605

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26/Jun/2017

US and UK ban cabin laptops on some inbound flights

The US and UK are banning laptops from cabin baggage on flights from certain countries in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as Turkey.

The US ban on electronic devices larger than a smartphone is being imposed as an anti-terrorist precaution.

It covers inbound flights on nine airlines operating out of 10 airports. Phones are not affected.

The British ban, announced hours after the American measure, is similar but applies to different airlines.

Downing Street said airline passengers on 14 carriers would not be able to carry laptops in cabin luggage on inbound direct flights from Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.

The Turkish government said the US ban was wrong and should be reversed.

Large electronic devices will still be allowed on board in checked baggage.

Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau said his country was also considering restrictions on electronics in the cabins of planes.

Which flights are affected?

British Airways and EasyJet are among the airlines affected by the UK ban.

The nine airlines affected by the US ban are Royal Jordanian, EgyptAir, Turkish Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Kuwait Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad Airways.

They have been given a deadline of 07:00 GMT on Saturday to impose the ban, US officials said, adding that the restriction had no end date.

However, an Emirates spokeswoman told Reuters news agency the airline understood that the US directive would come into effect on 25 March and remain valid until 14 October 2017.

The airports affected are:

Airports affected by electronics ban

  1. Mohammed V International, Casablanca, Morocco
  2. Ataturk Airport, Istanbul, Turkey
  3. Cairo International Airport, Egypt
  4. Queen Alia International, Amman, Jordan
  5. King Abdulaziz International, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
  6. King Khalid International, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
  7. Kuwait International Airport
  8. Hamad International, Doha, Qatar
  9. Abu Dhabi International, United Arab Emirates
  10. Dubai International, United Arab Emirates

Why now?

The restriction is based, we are told, on "evaluated intelligence", BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner writes.

That means that US intelligence has either intercepted discussion of a possible extremist plot or has been passed word of one by a human informant.

The Middle Eastern and North African airports affected are nearly all ones with close, friendly relations with Washington, so this will be seen by some as a drastic and unpopular measure. Wealthy Gulf Arab business leaders flying to the US, for example, will no longer be able to work on their laptops mid-flight.

But aviation security experts were alarmed by an incident in Somalia last year when the insurgent group al-Shabaab smuggled an explosive-filled laptop on a flight out of Mogadishu, blowing a hole in the side of the plane. The aircraft was still low enough that the pilot was able to land the plane safely.

How is the ban being justified?

In a statement, the DHS cited attacks on planes and airports over the past two years.

Bombs, it said, had been hidden in such items as a soft drink can, in the downing of a Russian airliner over Egypt in October 2015 with the loss of 224 lives, and the laptop used in the unsuccessful Somali attack last year.

"Terrorists have historically tried to hide explosives in shoes in 2001, use liquid explosives in 2006, and conceal explosives in printers in 2010 and suicide devices in underwear in 2009 and 2012," it noted.

"Evaluated intelligence indicates that terrorist groups continue to target commercial aviation, to include smuggling explosive devices in various consumer items," the DHS said.

A British Government spokesperson said: "The additional security measures may cause some disruption for passengers and flights, and we understand the frustration that will cause, but our top priority will always be to maintain the safety of British nationals."

Will the ban be effective?

Turkish Transport Minister Ahmet Arslan told reporters the ban was "not a right move". Ataturk Airport, which has stringent security checks in place, was attacked last year.

A security official looks at a screen displaying X-ray screened parcels in Turkish Post's (PTT) postal logistic centre at the Ataturk International airport in Istanbul, Turkey, 6 November 2010

"We particularly emphasise how this will not benefit the passenger and that reverse steps or a softening should be adopted," he added.

Philip Baum, editor in chief of Aviation Security magazine, told the BBC: "If we cannot, in 2017, distinguish between a laptop that contains an IED [improvised explosive device] and one that does not, then our screening process is completely flawed.

"And encouraging people to check laptops, and other such items, into the luggage hold simply makes the challenge even harder. Cabin baggage can, at least, be inspected piece by piece and the accompanying passenger questioned."

Simon Calder, travel editor of the UK's Independent newspaper, suggested the British ban would affect travelers differently because it included budget flights.

"It's easy for the Americans, they don't have as many flights as us coming in and furthermore they don't have things like low-cost flights where I'm not going to pay to check in a bag," he told the BBC.

"And suddenly I've got my laptop, I'm going to have to put that in a little bag and hand it in. Oh, and by the way, good news for petty thieves all over the airports of the world because lots of rich pickings are going to be around."

Is this linked to the Trump travel ban?

Officials quoted by Reuters news agency said the new measure was not connected to US President Donald Trump's efforts to ban travelers from six Muslim-majority states.

Source: bbc.com

 

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21/Mar/2017

Trump administration widens net for immigrant deportation

The Trump administration has issued tough guidelines to widen the net for deporting illegal immigrants from the US, and speed up their removal.

Undocumented immigrants arrested for traffic violations or shop-lifting will be targeted along with those convicted of more serious crimes.

The memos do not alter US immigration laws but take a much tougher approach towards enforcing existing measures.

There are an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the US.

Five questions ahead of new US travel ban

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said on Tuesday the new guidelines would not usher in mass deportations but were designed to empower agents to enforce laws already on the books.

"The president wanted to take the shackles off individuals in these agencies," Mr. Spicer said.

"The message from this White House and the Department of Homeland Security is that those people who are in this country, who pose a threat to our safety, or who have committed a crime, will be the first to go."

What's changed from the Obama era?

The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) new blueprint leaves in place Obama-era protections for immigrants who entered the US illegally as children, affecting about 750,000 young people known as Dreamers.

But it expands the more restricted guidance issued under the previous administration, which focused its policy on immigrants convicted of serious crimes, threats to national security or those who had recently crossed the border.

Donald Trump's immigration order marks a sharp break with those Obama-era policies. Instead - according to the Department of Homeland Security implementation memos - the Trump administration essentially will "prioritize" the deportation of almost all undocumented immigrants, everywhere.

The Homeland Security Department's list of prioritized "removable aliens" is so broad as to include just about every class of undocumented immigrant - with only a carve-out for individuals who entered the US as children.

All this will require more money and manpower - and the Trump administration is going to ask Congress for the former and go on a hiring spree to address the latter. Local and state law-enforcement officials will also be allowed to arrest unauthorized immigrants.

While Mr. Obama aggressively enforced immigration law and ramped up deportations in some areas and at some times, there were notable instances where he de-emphasised action. In the Trump era, immigration authorities are now being given the power to make a sea-to-sea, border-to-border push.

What's in the new orders?

The two memos released on Tuesday by the agency also allow Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement to deport people immediately.

During Mr. Obama's presidency, expedited removals were applied to people who had been in the country for no more than 14 days and were within 100 miles of the border.

Under the new guidance, agents can expedite deportations for undocumented immigrants who are unable to prove they have been in the country for more than two years, located anywhere in the US.

Some of the new priorities include:

  • Expanding deportations to undocumented immigrants who have been charged with a crime, misrepresented themselves, pose a risk to public safety, or "have abused any program related to receipt of public benefits" - effectively allowing agents to arrest any illegal immigrant they encounter
  • Ending US policy to release those caught on the border and instead placing them into detention centers until their cases are resolved
  • Calling for authorities to prosecute parents who help smuggle their children into the country
  • Allowing plans to begin on an expansion of the border wall along the US southern border

The DHS plans to hire an extra 10,000 agents for Immigration and Customs Enforcement and 5,000 more border patrol officers to enforce the new guidance.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly wrote in one of the memos: "The surge of illegal immigration at the southern border has overwhelmed federal agencies and resources and has created a significant national security vulnerability to the United States."

Mr. Kelly's memo also includes instructions to enforce an existing provision of the US Immigration and Nationality Act that allows authorities to send some people caught illegally at the border back to Mexico, regardless of where they are from. It is unclear whether the US has authority to force Mexico to accept foreigners.

A US Border Patrol agent apprehends an undocumented immigrant near Falfurrias, Texas, on 25 July 2014

A US Border Patrol agent apprehended an undocumented immigrant near Texas in July 2014

Where's this guidance come from?

It is a blueprint to implement executive orders that Mr. Trump signed on 25 January, days after taking office.

The new guidelines did not explain how Mr. Trump's border wall would be funded and where undocumented immigrants apprehended in the crackdown would be detained.

The memos instruct agents to use "all available resources to expand their detention capabilities and capacities," but Congress would probably need to allocate money to build new detention centers.

Source: bbc.com

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21/Feb/2017

Amend Ghana’s laws to ban homosexuality – Oquaye

The Speaker of Parliament Professor Mike Oquaye has called for the amendment of Ghana’s laws to completely ban homosexuality and make it illegal.

According to the Speaker, who doubles as a pastor, the despicable act is against the country’s culture and cannot be accepted.

Speaking during a courtesy call by the Royal House Chapel led by its founder Rev. Sam Korankye Ankrah, Prof. Oquaye said existing legislations are not clear of the illegality of the practice.

“It is unfortunate that people have become so liberal that they will want to liberalize Christianity…even priests are approving of homosexuality and allowing a man and a man [to] marry, a woman and a woman [to] marry and these are manifest abominations.

“I trust that with your kind of insistence, the Parliament of Ghana…will find its way clear in strengthening the laws to ban homosexuality as they exist. As for this, may God forbid that it becomes a Ghanaian culture,” Prof. Oquaye said.

Ghana’s laws are silent on homosexuality, but persons found to be engaging in such acts are mostly attacked and brutally assaulted.

Most African countries also frown on the act and in some countries, people suspected to be homosexuals are jailed or killed.

Source: starrfmonline.com

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21/Feb/2017

The village aiming to create a white utopia

A village in Hungary has banned the wearing of Muslim dress and the call to prayer. By leading what it calls "the war against Muslim culture", it hopes to attract other Christian Europeans who object to multiculturalism in their own countries.

"We primarily welcome people from western Europe - people who wouldn't like to live in a multicultural society," Laszlo Toroczkai tells the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme. "We wouldn't like to attract Muslims to the village." This is a village where Muslims and gays are unwelcome.

Mr Toroczkai is mayor of Asotthalom, a remote village in the southern Hungarian plains, situated around two hours from the capital Budapest.

"It's very important for the village to preserve its traditions. If large numbers of Muslims arrived here, they would not be able to integrate into the Christian community.

"We can see large Muslim communities in western Europe that haven't been able to integrate - and we don't want to have the same experience here," he says. "I'd like Europe to belong to Europeans, Asia to belong to Asians and Africa to belong to Africans. Simple as that."

The refugee crisis has contributed to a rise in anti-immigrant sentiment across large parts of Europe and Hungary is no exception.

At the height of the migrant crisis, as many as 10,000 people crossed the border - just minutes from Asotthalom - from Serbia into Hungary each day.

The mayor has capitalised on the anxiety about such an influx and introduced by-laws of questionable legality.

The new local legislation bans the wearing of Muslim dress like the hijab and the call to prayer and also outlaws public displays of affection by gay people. Changes are also being brought in to prevent the building of mosques, despite there being only two Muslims living there currently.

Many lawyers think the laws contravene the Hungarian constitution and, as part of a general review of new local legislation, the government will rule on them in mid-February.

The laws, however, have support among many members of the community.

One resident, Eniko Undreiner, said it was "really scary" to see "masses of migrants walking through the village" last year as they crossed into the country.

"I spend a lot of time at home alone with my young kids - yes, there were times when I was scared," she says.

The two Muslims living in the village did not want to speak to the BBC for fear of attracting attention to themselves.

However, one member of the village said they were "fully integrated" within the community.

"They don't provoke anyone. They don't wear the niqab, they don't harass people... I know them personally. We get on just fine."

The mayor hopes the village can be at the forefront of what he calls "the war against Muslim culture".

He has employed round-the-clock border patrols, which he thinks will attract white Europeans to live there.

The Knights Templar International has been advertising homes in Asotthalom on its Facebook page.

Its members include Nick Griffin, former leader of the British National Party, and the party's former treasurer Jim Dowson.

"I have been contacted by Jim Dowson," Mr Toroczkai explains. "He came to Asotthalom a few times as a private individual, just to have a look. Nick Griffin also came with him."

Mr Griffin has previously described Hungary as "a place to get away from the hell that is about to break loose in western Europe".

"When it all goes terribly wrong in the West, more will move to Hungary and Hungary needs those people."

We have asked Knights Templar International and Nick Griffin for an interview, but neither responded.

Mr Toroczkai says he would be happy to welcome people from England.

Asked if he is trying to establish a white supremacist village, Mr Toroczkai replies: "I didn't use the word white. But because we are a white, European, Christian population, we want to stay [like] this.

"If we were black we'd want to stay a black village.

"But this is a fact and we want to preserve this fact."

Source: bbc.com

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07/Feb/2017

Quebec mosque attack: Student Alexandre Bissonnette charged

Canadian police have charged a French-Canadian student over the fatal shooting of six Muslim worshippers at a mosque in Quebec.

Alexandre Bissonnette faces six counts of first-degree murder and five of attempted murder.

The 27-year-old briefly appeared in a Quebec City court over Sunday evening's attack, during evening prayers at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre.

Vigils have been held across Canada to commemorate those killed and injured.

More than 50 people were at the mosque when the shooting erupted just before 20:00 on Sunday.

Nineteen people were wounded - all men - and of five people still in hospital, two were in a critical condition.

A man of Moroccan heritage who was also arrested after the attack, Mohamed Khadir, is now being treated as a witness.

Quebec provincial police have released the names of all six victims who were killed:

  • Father-of-three Azzeddine Soufiane, 57, a grocer and butcher
  • Khaled Belkacemi, 60, a professor in the food science department at Laval University
  • Father-of-three, Abdelkrim Hassen, 41, an IT worker for the government
  • Aboubaker Thabti, 44, and two Guinean nationals, Mamadou Tanou Barry, 42, and Ibrahima Barry, 39

Mr Bissonnette did not enter a plea as he appeared in court on Monday, wearing a white prison-issue jump suit, his hands and feet shackled.

The suspect was arrested in his car on a bridge leading from Quebec City to Ile d'Orleans, where he called police to say he wanted to cooperate with the authorities.

According to local media, Mr Bissonnette studied political science and anthropology at Laval University, whose campus is about 3km (two miles) away from the mosque.

The Montreal Gazette reports that the suspect dressed up as the Grim Reaper for Halloween, according to his Facebook page, which has now been taken offline.

On the social network, he also reportedly "liked" US President Donald Trump and French National Front leader Marine Le Pen.

Francois Deschamps, an official with an advocacy group, Welcome to Refugees, said the suspect was known for his far-right views.

"It's with pain and anger that we learn the identity of terrorist Alexandre Bissonnette, unfortunately known to many activists in Quebec for taking nationalist, pro-Le Pen and anti-feminist positions at Laval University and on social media," Mr Deschamps wrote on organisation's Facebook page.

At the scene - Jessica Murphy, BBC News

The streets around the mosque are mostly deserted except for the police investigators milling around the cordoned-off site.

Noemie Roussel Paradis is standing alone across from the empty mosque holding a Koran. She is a proud convert to Islam and came to pay her respects after "this murder, this attack, this act of terrorism", even though this was not the mosque where she prays.

"This is Allah's home, and there was blood spilled on the floor," she said.

She said it's likely that she shared a Ramadan meal with one of the people who was in the mosque during the attack. "The only thing we can do now is cry and hope that Allah will make those responsible face their actions," she said.

Nearby, Martin St-Louis is holding a large wooden board, its painted message carrying a call for peace.

"Where terror stands or walks, peace must stand," he said. "I'm no philosopher or priest, but for those people who fall, we have to stand."

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard both described the shooting as a terrorist attack.

Addressing the more than one million Muslims who live in Canada, Mr Trudeau said: "We are with you.

"Thirty-six million hearts are breaking with yours. Know that we value you."

The shooting came amid heightened global tensions over Mr Trump's travel ban on seven Muslim countries.

But the White House, which condemned the attack, said it was also an example of why the US president's policies were needed.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said: "It's a terrible reminder of why we must remain vigilant and why the president is taking steps to be pro-active, rather than reactive when it comes to our nation's safety and security."

The mosque has been a target of hate crimes in the past, including last summer when a pig's head was left on its doorstep during Ramadan.

Mohamed Labidi, vice-president of the Islamic centre, said the victims had been shot in the back.

"Security at our mosque was our major, major concern," Mr Labidi said tearfully. "But we were caught off-guard."

The predominantly French-speaking province of Quebec has welcomed thousands of immigrants from Arab countries and other nations.

But there has been a longstanding debate over the "reasonable accommodation" of immigrants and religious minorities.

Source: bbc.com

 

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30/Jan/2017

Trump sacks defiant attorney general

President Trump fired his acting attorney general on Monday after she defiantly refused to defend his immigration executive order, accusing the Democratic holdover of trying to obstruct his agenda for political reasons.

Taking action in an escalating crisis for his 10-day-old administration, Mr. Trump declared that Sally Q. Yates had “betrayed” the administration, the White House said in a statement.

The president appointed Dana J. Boente, United States attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, to serve as acting attorney general until Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama is confirmed.

Ms. Yates’s decision confronted the president with a stinging challenge to his authority and laid bare a deep divide at the Justice Department, within the diplomatic corps and elsewhere in the government over the wisdom of his order.

“At present, I am not convinced that the defense of the executive order is consistent with these responsibilities, nor am I convinced that the executive order is lawful,” Ms. Yates wrote in a letter to Justice Department lawyers.

The extraordinary legal standoff capped a tumultuous day in which the White House confronted an outpouring of dissent over Mr. Trump’s temporary ban on entry visas for people from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, went so far as to warn State Department officials that they should leave their jobs if they did not agree with Mr. Trump’s agenda, after State Department officials circulated a so-called dissent memo on the order.

“These career bureaucrats have a problem with it?” Mr. Spicer said. “They should either get with the program or they can go.”

Ms. Yates’s decision effectively overruled a finding by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which had already approved the executive order “with respect to form and legality.”

Ms. Yates said her determination in deciding not to defend the order was broader, however, and included questions not only about the order’s lawfulness, but also whether it was a “wise or just” policy. She also alluded to unspecified statements that the White House had made before signing the order, which she factored into her review.

Dana J. Boente, United States attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia

Mr. Trump responded to the letter with a post on Twitter at 7:45 p.m., complaining that the Senate’s delay in confirming his Cabinet nominees had resulted in leaving Ms. Yates in place. “The Democrats are delaying my cabinet picks for purely political reasons,” Mr. Trump said. “They have nothing going but to obstruct. Now have an Obama A.G.”

One of Mr. Trump’s top advisers condemned the decision as an illustration of the politicization of the legal system. “It’s sad that our politics have become so politicized that you have people refusing to enforce our laws,” Stephen Miller, the senior policy adviser, said in a televised interview.

Mr. Trump has the authority to fire Ms. Yates, but as the top Senate-confirmed official at the Justice Department, she is the only one authorized to sign foreign surveillance warrants, an essential function at the department.

“For as long as I am the acting attorney general, the Department of Justice will not present arguments in defense of the executive order, unless and until I become convinced that it is appropriate to do so,” she wrote.

Ms. Yates’s letter transforms the confirmation of Mr. Trump’s attorney general nominee, Mr. Sessions, into a referendum on the immigration order. Action in the Senate could come as early as Tuesday.

The decision by the acting attorney general is a remarkable rebuke by a government official to a sitting president that recalls the dramatic “Saturday Night Massacre” in 1973, when President Richard M. Nixon fired his attorney general and deputy attorney general for refusing to dismiss the special prosecutor in the Watergate case.

That case prompted a constitutional crisis that ended when Robert Bork, the solicitor general, acceded to Mr. Nixon’s order and fired Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor.

Ms. Yates, a career prosecutor, is different because she is a holdover from President Barack Obama’s administration, where she served as deputy attorney general. She agreed to Mr. Trump’s request to stay on as acting attorney general until Mr. Sessions is confirmed to be attorney general.

At the State Department, which is also without a leader, career officials are circulating a dissent memo that argues that closing the borders to more than 200 million people to weed out a handful of would-be terrorists would not make the nation safer and might instead deepen the threat. Mr. Spicer countered that the effects of the ban had been exaggerated and that it would help fulfill Mr. Trump’s vow to protect the country.

Taken together, the developments were a stark confrontation between the new president, who is moving swiftly to upend years of policies, and a federal bureaucracy still struggling with the jolting change of power in Washington. There is open hostility to Mr. Trump’s ideas in large pockets of the government, and deep frustration among those enforcing the visa ban that the White House announced the order without warning or consulting them.

Source: www.nytimes.com

 

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30/Jan/2017

Nigerian jet 'kills at least 50 civilians' in accidental attack

A Nigerian air force jet has accidentally killed and injured many civilians in Rann, in the north-east of the country, the military has said.

International aid agency MSF says at least 50 people were killed and more than 100 injured in the incident.

Aid workers are among the casualties - the Red Cross says six of its workers are confirmed dead.

The attack took place near Nigeria's border with Cameroon where the army has been fighting Boko Haram militants.

Army spokesman Maj-Gen Lucky Irabor said the jet's pilot had mistakenly believed he was attacking insurgents. He said the mission had been ordered, based on intelligence about a gathering of Boko Haram fighters.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has sent a message expressing his dismay at the loss of life and pleading for calm.

His spokesman said Mr Buhari's administration would offer help to the government of Borno state "in attending to this regrettable operational mistake".

'Shocking and unacceptable'

MSF said many of the casualties were believed to be displaced people who had fled from areas where Boko Haram had carried out attacks.

The charity's director of operations, Jean-Clement Cabrol, said: "This large-scale attack on vulnerable people who have already fled from extreme violence is shocking and unacceptable."

MSF spokesman Etienne l'Hermitte urged the Nigerian authorities to facilitate evacuations of those injured, by land and air.

"Our medical and surgical teams in Cameroon and Chad are ready to treat wounded patients," he said.

"We are in close contact with our teams, who are in shock following the event."

It is the first time an accident of this type has happened in north-east Nigeria and comes as the military carries out what it is calling its final push against Boko Haram.

Source: bbc.com

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17/Jan/2017

USA: Fort Lauderdale airport shooting; five people shot dead by Florida gunman

Five people have been shot dead by a gunman at Fort Lauderdale airport in Florida, officials say.

It happened at the baggage claim area in Terminal 2, just before 1300 local time (1800 GMT), the airport confirmed.

Eight people were injured. The gunman, believed to be an Iraq war veteran, was taken into custody.

Hundreds of people were standing on the tarmac outside the terminal as dozens of police cars and ambulances rushed to the scene.

Witnesses said the attacker walked along the baggage carousals, shooting people as they tried to run or hide. They said he appeared to be in his 20s, was wearing a Star Wars T-shirt and did not say anything as he fired.

Florida Senator Bill Nelson told US media that the gunman had been identified as Esteban Santiago, but that has not been confirmed by law enforcement.

The suspect surrendered to police when he ran out of ammunition, the witnesses added.

Officials said he was a passenger who had checked in an unloaded gun and ammunition with his luggage, but then loaded it in the bathroom after landing and collecting his bag.

Flying with firearms is legal in the US as long as the guns are kept in a locked, hard-sided container as checked baggage only, under rules of the Transport Security Administration (TSA). Ammunition is allowed only in checked luggage. Are we safe?

Source: bbc.com

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06/Jan/2017

Berlin truck attack: Tunisian fugitive, Anis Amri, had been under surveillance

The man wanted for the Berlin lorry attack that killed 12 people and injured 49 had been under surveillance earlier this year according to media report.

 

Anis Amri, 23, was reportedly monitored on suspicion of planning a robbery in order to pay for guns but that surveillance was lifted for lack of evidence.

 

Prior to entering Germany, Anis Amri had served four years in Italy for arson and also faced a jail sentence in absentia in Tunisia.

 

The failed asylum seeker is now the subject of a manhunt across Europe for the attack that happened in Berlin, Germany.

 

An arrest warrant has been issued after his residence permit was found in a car that left a trail of carnage at a Christmas market near the Kurfuerstendamm, on Monday evening.

 

German authorities have warned he could be armed and therefore dangerous. They are offering a reward of up to €100,000 (£84,000; $104,000) for information leading to the arrest of Anis Amri.

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21/Dec/2016

US President-elect breaks stance with direct Taiwan call

US President-elect Donald Trump had spoken directly with the president of Taiwan, therefore, breaking the US policy set when the formal relationship between the two nations was cut in 1979. The US still maintained friendly non-official relations with Taiwan.

 

According to Mr. Trump's transition team, President-elect Trump and Tsai Ing-wen noted "close economic, political, and security ties" between the US and Taiwan in the said phone call. A spokesman for the White House National Security Council said Mr. Trump's conversation did not signal any change to long-standing US policy, which is a commitment to the,“One China' policy.” The call risks angering China, which sees Taiwan as a breakaway province.

 

China has hundreds of missiles pointing towards the island and has threatened to take it by force if necessary. However, Beijing is yet to make public comment on the latest development.

US President-elect Trump "congratulated" Ms. Tsai on becoming the first female president of Taiwan in January's elections after the leading the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to a landslide victory in the poll. The DPP has traditionally leaned towards independence from China.

 

President Tsai Ing-wen waves to the crowd after her swearing in, with a man in a white military uniform standing behind her, in Taipei on 20 May 2016

Ms. Tsai's presidency is expected to see a change in the relationship between Taipei and Beijing

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02/Dec/2016

Ohio State University attacker was 'Somali refugee'

Abdul Razak Ali Artan who injured 11 people, one critically, in a rampage at Ohio State University, was of Somali descent and a student on campus according to US officials.

Abdul Razak Ali Artan,18 years of age, rammed his car into a group of pedestrians at the college before he began stabbing people.  Police shot him dead and has started investigating whether the incident was a terrorist attack. CCTV cameras filmed the suspect, Artan, arriving on campus alone which is an indication he did not have an accomplice helping him during the attack. The FBI has joined the inquiry at the 60,000-student campus in Columbus, Ohio. Artan who studied logistics management in the college of Business at Ohio State was a Somali refugee living in the United States as a legal permanent resident.

The incident began at 10:00 local time on Monday when Artan drove his vehicle over the curb on campus, striking pedestrians near Watts Hall, which happens to be the science and engineering building.

As if that wasn't enough Artan got out of the vehicle and began stabbing bystanders with a "butcher's knife" according to Ohio State Police Chief Craig Stone. A policeman, 28-year-old Alan Horujkowho, nearby shot the attacker dead in less than a minute. Those directly affected by the attack included a mix of academic faculty, maintenance staff, and graduate and undergraduate students of the University.

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28/Nov/2016

Assange faces Sweden "rape" questions in Ecuadorean embassy

Sweden's chief prosecutor is questioning WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange about a rape allegation at the Ecuadorean embassy in London. He denies the allegation that he raped a Swedish woman in 2010.

Swedish prosecutor Ingrid Isgren is listening as an Ecuadorean prosecutor puts the questions to Mr Assange.

He took refuge in the embassy four years ago, fearing extradition. He says the sex was consensual and believes the allegations are politically motivated.

The accusations relate to a visit Mr Assange made to Stockholm in August 2010 to give a lecture.

He has refused to travel to Sweden for questioning citing concerns he would be extradited to the US over WikiLeaks' release of 500,000 secret military files on the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. However, lawyers argue that his extradition from Sweden would be even less likely than from the UK.

Mr Assange is accused of raping a woman, named in legal papers as SW, at her home in August 2010.

Swedish prosecutors dropped part of their investigation last year because of a statute of limitations.

Mr Assange is "not hiding" at the embassy, but he will not go to Sweden because he would thereby risk losing his Ecuadorean asylum status, his lawyer Jennifer Robinson told the BBC on Monday.

"Sweden refused to provide assurances against onward extradition to the United States," she said, accusing the Swedish authorities of "dragging their feet" over the case.

It's taken many months of tortuous diplomatic and legal exchanges just to get the Swedish prosecutor in the door.

Under the agreement worked out with Ecuador, the Swedes were not allowed to question Julian Assange directly. Instead questions were to be submitted in Spanish and put to the WikiLeaks founder by an Ecuadorean prosecutor.

No follow-up questions were allowed.

This may explain why the Swedish prosecutor had been reluctant to question Julian Assange in London, insisting it would "lower the quality of the interview". She changed her mind in March 2015, a few months before lesser allegations made against Julian Assange had to be dropped because of a time limitation.

At the embassy Mr Assange is beyond the reach of the UK authorities. Sweden has issued an arrest warrant for him, which he has appealed against.

Shortly after Ms Isgren entered the embassy, a cat - said to belong to Mr Assange - appeared at one of the windows and began watching the journalists and Assange supporters gathered outside.

The cat has its own Twitter feed, which says it lives with Mr Assange and is "interested in counter-purrveillance".

Mr Assange's cat - sporting a tie - kept watch on the crowd outside

Confidentiality

A statement on behalf of the Swedish prosecutors, quoted by the Press Association, said the investigation would remain confidential, including the interview at the embassy.

"Therefore, the prosecutors cannot provide information concerning details of the investigation after the interview," it said.

One of Mr Assange's lawyers, Per Samuelson, said his client "is very happy that he finally will be given the opportunity to give his statement to the Swedish prosecution.

"He has been waiting for this for over six years. He has prepared himself very carefully and will give a statement and will co-operate to the full extent."

Source: graphic.com.gh

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14/Nov/2016

South Africa: Jacob Zuma report points to possible corruption

An investigation into South Africa's President Jacob Zuma has found evidence of possible corruption at the top level of his government.

In the report, former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela recommends Mr Zuma establish a judicial commission of inquiry within 30 days.

Mr Zuma is accused of an improper relationship with wealthy businessmen.

He had tried to block the release of the report, but dropped his court bid on Wednesday.

The president and leader of the governing African National Congress (ANC) has been dogged by corruption allegations for more than a decade, but has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

Police fired water cannon to disperse protesters who marched on Mr Zuma's main office in Pretoria to demand his resignation.

The 355-page report by former anti-corruption chief Thuli Madonsela is entitled "State of Capture" and is illustrated on its front page with a hand strung with puppet wires.

Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas is quoted in the report as saying that businessman Ajay Gupta offered him 600m rand ($44.6m; £36.2m) last year, "to be deposited in an account of his choice", if he accepted the post of finance minister.

Mr Gupta also asked him if he had "a bag which he could use to receive and carry 600,000 rand in cash immediately", Mr Jonas alleged, adding that Mr Zuma's son, Duduzane, was present at the meeting.

He was expected to remove key Treasury officials from their posts and advance the Gupta family's "business ambitions", Mr Jonas is quoted as saying.

The businessman has not yet commented on the report, but has previously denied any wrongdoing.

The Gupta family is close to President Zuma, and the two have been nicknamed by the opposition as the "Zuptas".

After Mr Jonas rejected the alleged offer, little-known ANC MP Des van Rooyen was appointed finance minister.

Ms Madonsela said she had obtained evidence, including telephone records, placing Mr Van Rooyen at the Gupta's family home on seven occasions, including the day before the appointment.

Mr Zuma was forced to sack him four days later after South Africa's currency went into a tailspin.

The report also contains allegations that:

  • Ajay Gupta boasted that as a family they had "made a lot of money from the state", putting the figure at 6bn rand, according to Mr Jonas
  • Mr Zuma told former government media chief Themba Maseko that the "Gupta brothers need your help, please help them"
  • Mr Gupta asked Mr Maseko to channel advertising to a newspaper the family was setting up
  • The board of power utility Eskom appeared to have been improperly constituted
  • It made payment of nearly one billion rand to a firm linked to the Guptas and the president's son
  • The payments may amount to "wasteful expenditure"
  • Eskom boss Brian Molefe and Mr Gupta made 58 telephone calls to one another between August 2015 and March 2016.

Opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Musi Maimane said state coffers were being "plundered" by "crooks", but the "good guys" were winning in the battle to safeguard the democracy which emerged in South Africa at the end of minority rule in 1994.

There has not been any immediate reaction from Mr Zuma, who did not co-operate with the investigation, saying he had not been given enough time.


Will Zuma live to fight another day? Milton Nkosi, BBC News, Pretoria

This report is bad for President Zuma but certainly not as damning as opposition parties and many others had hoped when they went to court.

The findings and subsequent remedial action seem to kick the can down the road. It says that the president should appoint a judicial commission of inquiry. This means that Mr Zuma would still occupy the highest office in the land for many months to come, as he slowly approaches the end of his second and last term.

There is no doubt that should the inquiry recommend that Mr Zuma be censured, there would be grounds for impeachment.

But that would present a political problem in the house of assembly because Mr Zuma's own party, the ANC, holds an overwhelming majority.

The loyal MPs have overcome many attempts by the opposition to have a vote of no confidence in the president.

Mr Zuma lives to fight another day but he must surely be nearing the last of his nine lives.


An earlier statement from the president's office said the decision to abandon a court bid to block the report's release was made "in the interest of justice and speedy resolution of the matter".

"The president will give consideration to the contents of the report in order to ascertain whether it should be a subject of a court challenge," it said.

Mr Zuma survived an impeachment vote earlier this year after South Africa's highest court upheld another finding of Ms Madonsela - that he had "unduly benefited" from government money used to upgrade his private home in the rural area of Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal province.

Ms Madonsela stepped down as Public Protector at the end of her seven-year term last month.

The Guptas in South Africa:

Ajay and Atul Gupta, and Sahara director, Duduzane Zuma

Jacob Zuma's son Duduzane (right) was a business partner of the Guptas until recently

  • Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta moved to South Africa from India in 1993
  • Set up businesses in air travel, mining, energy, technology and media
  • Opposition nicknamed them and the president as "Zuptas" because of their close relationship
  • Deny influencing ministerial appointments to advance their business interests
  • Accused of being involved in "suspicious" transactions worth about $490m (£400m)
  • Say they are withdrawing from their South African businesses because of political backlash
  • Big banks have refused to do business with them

Who are the Guptas?

Source: bbc.com

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02/Nov/2016

Italy quake: Norcia tremor destroys ancient buildings

Towns and villages in central Italy have been hit by an earthquake for the fourth time in three months.

The 6.6-magnitude quake - Italy's strongest in decades - struck close to the region where nearly 300 people were killed by a quake in August.

This time no-one appears to have died, but about 20 people were injured.

The medieval basilica of St Benedict in Norcia, the town closest to the epicentre, was among buildings destroyed.

An evacuation of buildings in the region deemed vulnerable to seismic activity last week, following strong aftershocks from August's quake, may have saved lives.

Tremors from this latest earthquake were felt in the capital Rome, where the Metro system was shut down, and as far away as Venice in the north.

Quake map

The head of the national civil protection agency, Fabrizio Curcio, said there had been extensive damage to many historic buildings but no deaths had been registered.

"About 20 people are injured. As far as people are concerned, the situation is positive, but many buildings are in a critical state in historic centres and there are problems with electricity and water supplies," he added.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has promised that everything will be rebuilt, saying resources will be found.

"We are going through a really tough period," he said. "We must not allow the profound pain, fatigue and stress that we have now to turn into resignation."

Pope Francis mentioned the quake in his Sunday blessing in Rome's St Peter's Square.

"I'm praying for the injured and the families who have suffered the most damage, as well as for rescue and first-aid workers," he said to loud applause.


Why multiple quakes are hitting Italy - by Jonathan Amos, BBC science correspondent

We have now seen three magnitude-6 tremors in Italy's Apennines region in just three months.

The big picture is reasonably well understood. Wider tectonic forces in the Earth's crust have led to the Apennines being pulled apart at a rate of roughly 3mm per year - about a 10th of the speed at which your fingernails grow.

But this stress is then spread across a multitude of different faults that cut through the mountains. And this network is fiendishly complicated.

It does now look as though August's event broke two neighbouring faults, starting on one known as the Laga and then jumping across to one called the Vettore.

The mid-week tremors appear to have further broken the northern end of the Vettore. But both in August and mid-week, it seems only the top portions of the faults have gone, and the big question is whether the deeper segments have now failed in the latest event.

Read more from Jonathan Amos


The US Geological Survey said the epicentre of the quake was 68km south-east of the regional centre of Perugia and close to the small town of Norcia, which is believed to be the birthplace of St Benedict.

Images from the town show the almost complete destruction of the medieval basilica erected in St Benedict's name, with just its facade left standing.

"It was like a bomb went off," said the town's deputy mayor, Pierluigi Altavilla.

"We are starting to despair. There are too many quakes now, we can't bear it anymore."

The earthquakes have left the residents of Norcia anxious and shattered. Stefano and his family have slept in a camper van since the first quake in August - they decided it was too dangerous to sleep indoors. He's now looking to get his family out of here.

In the hour after I arrived, there were two sizeable aftershocks - which sent bits of masonry from the town's ancient walls to the ground. The aftershocks added to the tension felt by residents here.

An emergency HQ has been set up in a car park. Civil protection officials are assessing the damage.

Next to a petrol station, there is a group of people with their bags packed, ready to leave. They don't want to wait for another quake to hit.


Giuseppe Pezzanesi, mayor of Tolentino in the neighbouring Marche region, said the small town had "suffered our blackest day yet".

"The damage is irreparable. There are thousands of people in the streets, terrified, crying. Let's hope that is an end to it, the people are on their knees psychologically."

The towns of Castelsantangelo and Preci have also suffered considerable damage, but were mainly abandoned after last week's quakes, of magnitude 5.5 and 6.1.

Castelsantangelo's mayor, quoted by La Stampa newspaper, said there were no casualties at all in the town as "everyone had already left".

The mayors of the villages of Ussita and Arquata said many buildings had collapsed there too.

Fire engine passes near cracks on the road outside the center of Norcia

Central Italy has seen several major quakes in recent years. Earthquakes which devastated the town of L'Aquila in 2009 and Amatrice in August this year killed about 300 people each.

But they both measured only 6.2 and were deeper than Sunday's earthquake.

Source: bbc.com

 

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30/Oct/2016

Women 'nearing equality with men - in alcohol consumption'

Women have all but caught up with men at knocking back alcohol, a global study of drinking habits shows.

The analysis of 4 million people, born between 1891 and 2001, showed that men used to be far more likely to drink and have resulting health problems.

But the current generation have pretty much closed the gap, the BMJ Open report says.

The changing roles of men and women in society partly explain the move towards boozing parity.

The study showed that in people born in the early 1900s, men were:

  • More than twice as likely as women to drink alcohol at all (2.2 times)
  • Three times as likely to drink to problematic levels
  • And 3.6 times as likely to develop health problems from drinking, such as liver cirrhosis

But over the ensuing decades, the gap closed so that for those born at the end of the century men were only:

  • A smidge - 1.1 times - as likely as women to drink alcohol at all
  • A much lower 1.2 times as likely to drink to problematic levels
  • And 1.3 times as likely to develop health problems from drinking

The team at the University of New South Wales, in Australia, analysed data from people all over the world - although it was massively skewed towards North America and Europe.

They concluded: "Alcohol use and alcohol-use disorders have historically been viewed as a male phenomenon.

"The present study calls this assumption into question and suggests that young women, in particular, should be the target of concerted efforts to reduce the impact of substance use and related harms."

Prof Mark Petticrew, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: "Men's and women's roles have been changing over the decades, this is likely to account for some of these trends - but not all.

"The increasing availability of alcohol also plays an important part, as does the way that alcohol marketing is often targeted specifically at women and particularly young women.

"Health professionals need to help the public - both men and women - to understand the health risks of alcohol consumption, and how to reduce those risks."

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24/Oct/2016

Quetta attack: Militants kill dozens at Balochistan Police College

At least 58 cadets and guards have been killed after militants attacked a police college in the Pakistani city of Quetta, officials say.

Three militants wearing suicide bomb vests entered the college late on Monday, reportedly taking hostages.

A major security operation lasted for hours and all attackers were killed.

No group has said they carried out the assault, but Quetta has seen similar attacks by separatists and Islamist militants in recent years.

Hundreds of trainees were evacuated from Balochistan Police College as troops arrived to repel the militants. Local media reported at least three explosions at the scene.

"I saw three men in camouflage whose faces were hidden carrying Kalashnikovs," one cadet said according to AFP news agency. "They started firing and entered the dormitory but I managed to escape over a wall."

The police academy is home to about 600 students and many of the cadets who died were killed in the blasts, said Major General Sher Afgan of the Frontier Corps.

The exact sequence of events is unclear but there was intermittent exchange of fire between the attackers and security forces for several hours, according to Dawn newspaper. There were also reports of a hostage situation.

More than 100 people, mostly trainees, were injured.

Pakistan's army and the paramilitary Frontier Corps took part in the military counter-operation, which Balochistan provincial home minister Mir Sarfaraz Ahmed Bugti said was now over.

Two of the militants died after detonating their bomb vests and one was killed by security forces.

Officials blamed a faction of the Lashker-e-Jhangvi militant group and said the attackers "were in communication with operatives in Afghanistan".

Quetta is the capital of Balochistan province, which is battling an insurgency as well as Islamist militants, with violent attacks common.

Earlier in the day, two customs officers were shot dead and another critically wounded in Surab, south of Quetta.

In August, 88 people were killed in separate bomb attacks targeting a hospital and lawyers in Quetta.

The Pakistani military has been conducting military operations against militants in volatile tribal areas near the Afghan border.

Source: bbc.com

 

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24/Oct/2016

Thirteen die in California tour bus crash

Thirteen people have been killed and more than 30 injured in southern California after a tour bus ran into the back of a lorry, media reports say.

Most of the passengers are reported to be from Latin America.

The crash happened on Interstate 10 close to the resort town of Palm Springs in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Investigators are examining the cause of the crash, which happened as the bus was bound for Los Angeles.

Rescuers used ladders to climb into the bus windows to remove bodies. Five of the injured passengers are in critical condition.

Workers and law enforcement personnel inspect a truck that was in collision with a tour bus on Interstate 10 near Palm Springs (23 October 2016)

The lorry involved in the accident was also extensively damaged

An investigator documents the scene of a mass casualty bus crash on the westbound Interstate 10 freeway near Palm Springs (23 October 2016)

The front of the bus was severely mangled

The Los Angeles Times described the crash as the deadliest in California for several decades. It said that the bus careered into the rear of the truck at high speed, mangling the front third of the bus.

Most of those who died were apparently at the front of the bus, the newspaper reported. The driver was among the fatalities.

Officials quoted by the paper said that identifying the victims could take days, because some were not carrying identity cards or had lost their belongings when they were taken to hospital.

They have warned that it may not be possible to determine exactly why the accident happened because of the driver's death.

Investigators will assess whether he might have fallen asleep or had a heart attack, in addition to determining if there was a mechanical failure or some other kind of emergency.

The westbound lanes of the interstate were closed near the crash site but are now reported to have been reopened.

According to the Desert Sun newspaper, the tour bus, run by US Holiday, was coming from Red Earth Casino, near Salton City in California.

The small Los Angeles-based company, runs trips to casinos in California and Las Vegas. The driver of the bus was one of the owners of the tour company.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration records show the company had one vehicle and one driver. According to the data the company held a satisfactory safety rating and had not been in a crash for two years.

This photo provided by KMIR-TV shows the scene of crash between a tour bus and a semi-truck crashed on Interstate 10 near Desert Hot Springs, near Palm Springs, in California's Mojave Desert Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016.

The cause of the crash is still unknown

Map of southern California

Source: bbc.com

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23/Oct/2016

'Smart' home devices used as weapons in website attack

Hackers used internet-connected home devices, such as CCTV cameras and printers, to attack popular websites on Friday, security analysts say.

Twitter, Spotify, and Reddit were among the sites taken offline on Friday.

Each uses a company called Dyn, which was the target of the attack, to direct users to its website.

Security analysts now believe the attack used the "internet of things" - web-connected home devices - to launch the assault.

Dyn is a DNS service - an internet "phone book" which directs users to the internet address where the website is stored. Such services are a crucial part of web infrastructure.

On Friday, it came under attack - a distributed denial of service (DDoS) - which relies on thousands of machines sending co-ordinated messages to overwhelm the service.

The "global event" involved "tens of millions" of internet addresses.

Security firm Flashpoint said it had confirmed that the attack used "botnets" infected with the "Mirai" malware.

Many of the devices involved come from Chinese manufacturers, with easy-to-guess usernames and passwords that cannot be changed by the user - a vulnerability which the malware exploits.

"Mirai scours the Web for IoT (Internet of Things) devices protected by little more than factory-default usernames and passwords," explained cybersecurity expert Brian Krebs, "and then enlists the devices in attacks that hurl junk traffic at an online target until it can no longer accommodate legitimate visitors or users."

The owner of the device would generally have no way of knowing that it had been compromised to use in an attack, he wrote.

Mr Krebs is intimately familiar with this type of incident, after his website was targeted by a similar assault in September, in one of the biggest web attacks ever seen.


Media affected by attack - Leo Kelion, technology desk editor

It has emerged that the BBC's website was also briefly caught up in Friday's attack. The BBC is not a customer of Dyn itself, but it does use third-party services that rely on the domain name system hosting facilities provided by Dyn.

I understand that these include Amazon Web Services - the retail giant's cloud computing division - and Fastly - a San Francisco-based firm that helps optimise page download times.

Both companies have acknowledged being disrupted by the DDoS assault. Only some BBC users, in certain locations, would have experienced problems and they did not last long.

But there are reports that other leading media providers also experienced similar disruption.

It serves as a reminder that despite the internet being a hugely robust communications system, there are still some pinch points that mean a targeted attack can cause widespread damage.


The incidents mark a change in tactics for online attackers.

DDoS attacks are typically aimed at a single website. Friday's attack on Dyn, which acts as a directory service for huge numbers of firms, affected several of the world's most popular websites at once.

The use of internet-connected home devices to send the attacking messages is also a relatively new phenomenon, but may become more common.

The Mirai software used in these attacks was released publicly in September - which means anyone with the skill could build their own attacking botnet.

Smoking toaster image

Any number of home devices could be used in such attacks - so long as they're connected to the internet

On social media, many researchers and analysts expressed frustration with the security gap being exploited by attackers.

"Today we answered the question 'what would happen if we connected a vast number of cheap, crummy embedded devices to broadband networks?'" wrote Matthew Green, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Information Security Institute.

Jeff Jarmoc, head of security for global business service Salesforce, pointed out that internet infrastructure is supposed to be more robust.

"In a relatively short time we've taken a system built to resist destruction by nuclear weapons and made it vulnerable to toasters," he tweeted.

Source: bbc.com

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22/Oct/2016

Mosul battle: Hundreds treated over toxic fumes in Iraq

Hundreds of people in Iraq are being treated for the effects of toxic gases after a sulphur plant was set alight in fighting with so-called Islamic State.

The US military says IS fighters set the plant on fire earlier this week, as they fled an advance by pro-government forces on their Mosul stronghold.

On Saturday, US soldiers at a base near Mosul donned protective masks as wind blew smoke towards them.

Reuters said another 1,000 people were being treated for breathing problems.

An Iraqi commander, Qusay Hamid Kadhem, told AFP news agency two civilians had died from the fumes and "many others" had been injured.

Meanwhile, advancing Iraqi forces entered the town of Qaraqosh, 32km (20 miles) south of Mosul, the IS capital.

Qaraqosh, Iraq's largest Christian town before the war, is said to be largely empty but IS has laid landmines on the approaches to Mosul.

The militants have been attacking with suicide bombers elsewhere, driving vehicles laden with explosives at high speed towards government lines.

Friday's IS attack on the city of Kirkuk, 170km (105 miles) south-east of Mosul, now appears to be over, leaving at least 35 people dead and 120 wounded, according to medical sources.

Is the IS group finished?

Voices from Mosul as battle nears

Dodging ghosts of IS in the desert

The latest on the toxic smoke

Qayyarah, where the plant was set alight, acts as the main US hub for supporting the Iraqi government offensive to drive IS out of their Mosul stronghold.

The fire began two days ago, when IS fighters reportedly set the sulphur plant alight in Mishraq, south of Mosul.

"The winds have actually shifted south, so, as a precautionary measure, the troops at Qayyara West have donned their personal protective equipment - continuing their operations at this point in time," an official told Reuters news agency, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A similar fire at the Mishraq plant in 2003 burnt for weeks, sending huge amounts of sulphur dioxide into the air. It caused respiratory problems for local people and damaged the environment.


How harmful can sulphur dioxide be?

Sulphur dioxide gas is toxic when inhaled or when the skin or eyes are exposed.

When inhaled, it causes irritation to the nose and throat. Exposure to high concentrations causes nausea, vomiting, stomach pain and corrosive damage to the airways and lungs.

Skin contact causes stinging pain, redness of the skin and blisters, while eye contact causes watering and, in severe cases, may cause blindness.

Source: Public Health England


Turkey's role under scrutiny

US Defence Secretary Ash Carter made an unscheduled visit to Baghdad on Saturday after talks with Turkish leaders in Ankara on Friday on how they might play a part in the Mosul operation.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told Mr Carter: "I know that the Turks want to participate, we tell them thank you, this is something the Iraqis will handle. If help is needed, we will ask for it from Turkey or from other regional countries."

Differences between Iraq and Turkey have come to the fore since hundreds of Turkish soldiers began training Sunni Muslim fighters at a base in northern Iraq last year.

The Sunni Turks fear the liberation of Mosul may be spearheaded by Shia Muslims and Kurds. Turkey says Kurdish fighters in Syria and Iraq have ties to the Kurdish militant PKK in Turkey.

The presence of the Turkish military has also drawn protests among radical Shia in Baghdad.

Mr Carter, who is in Iraq for the third time this year, has overseen a steady increase in US troop numbers there.

More than 4,800 US soldiers are in Iraq and at least 100 US special operations personnel are operating with Iraqi units.

The offensive against Mosul, which began on Monday, is a two-pronged operation, with Iraqi government forces attacking from the south and Kurdish fighters advancing from the east.

Reports on Tuesday that Qaraqosh had been liberated caused an outpouring of joy among Christians who had fled to Kurdish areas when IS swept into Mosul in June 2014.

But the reports turned out to be premature as snipers impeded the progress of government forces.

In Kirkuk, the governor, Najmiddin Karim, said "all" of the IS attackers had been killed by the security forces.

However, Kurdish forces controlling the city detained a number of suspected IS members on Saturday, according to an AFP photographer who recorded the arrests.

Photos of damaged buildings in the city show the full ferocity of Friday's combat, with facades peppered by gunfire.

A damaged building in Kirkuk, 22 October

Concern for the fate of civilians in Mosul increased on Friday after reports that IS was herding villagers into the city, possibly to use them as human shields.

The UN is also investigating reports 40 people were shot dead by IS fighters in one village.

Source: bbc.com

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22/Oct/2016

Is Angela Merkel really on the ropes?

At the end of July, Germany was hit by a series of violent attacks, three of which were carried out by asylum seekers. So are Germans turning against Chancellor Angela Merkel's refugee policy? Damien McGuinness in Berlin is not convinced.

"Merkel on the ropes!" screeched one headline, after the recent attacks in Germany, before going on to predict confidently that her "premiership is hanging by a thread".

"Calls for Chancellor Angela Merkel to stand down grow," wrote another paper.

But what's interesting about these and similar articles is that they were written by English-speaking journalists reporting from outside Germany.

No leading politician suggests that Germany should stop accepting refugees fleeing war

And in both these cases, the only evidence that Merkel's government was apparently about to fall was a video filmed by Russian TV of right-wing extremists protesting in Berlin. No polling data. No evidence. Just that video.

You can't necessarily blame the journalists. From the outside the narrative makes sense. Merkel allows Germany to take in more than a million asylum seekers from the Middle East. A year later there are violent Islamist attacks committed by migrants. So it stands to reason that her government is on the verge of collapse.

The problem is, though, the facts really get in the way of that story. Almost 70% of Germans do not think that Merkel's refugee policy contributed to the attacks, and the violence has barely had any effect on support for her centre-right party, making it unlikely that anyone else will lead the next government, let alone topple the present one.

Since the attacks, her personal approval ratings have slipped, but almost half of German voters, across the political spectrum, say they still want her as chancellor. In fact, she has no credible rivals - the left-wing opposition is small and the anti-migrant Alternative for Germany party is riven with internal rivalries.

German chancellor Angela Merkel attends a memorial service for the victims of last week's shooting spree that left nine victims dead on July 31, 2016 in Munich

Angela Merkel at a memorial service for the victims of the Munich shooting spree

In times of turmoil, history shows that the unflappable Angela Merkel actually does quite well. With every crisis she's written off by many commentators. But weirdly, like some indestructible rubber cartoon character, she bounces back. From Brexit to eurozone chaos, she's seen as a safe pair of hands.

Even, to a large extent, after these latest attacks. At first there was some criticism that she was too slow to respond. Immediately after the Munich shooting, in which 10 people died, French President Francois Hollande condemned what he called a brutal act of Islamist terror. Some here said: "Why does the French leader speak, and not ours?"

Until, it turned out, that it wasn't an act of Islamist terror at all - but rather a US-style shooting spree, carried out by a disturbed German-born teenager obsessed with right-wing extremism and mass shootings.

And that's the point: despite what the most lurid headlines indicate, unlike France, Germany hasn't yet been hit by a major Islamist terror attack. In the two recent attacks by asylum seekers, which were claimed by so-called Islamic State, no victim was killed.

That's not to ignore the fierce debate around Berlin's refugee policy - Germany is split. People are nervous about more attacks and increasingly uneasy about migration. And with parliamentary elections next year, Merkel faces pressure from all her rivals - from the left and from the right.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel talks with refugee children at a preschool, during a visit to a refugee camp on April 23, 2016 on the Turkish-Syrian border in Gaziantep

Angela Merkel meets children at a refugee camp on the Turkish-Syrian border in April

There are calls to screen migrants better. Many now say failed asylum seekers should be sent back, whether they've come from a war zone or not. And dip into German social media, and the criticism of Merkel becomes vicious.

But no leading politician suggests that Germany should stop accepting refugees fleeing war, and some of the pressure on Merkel comes from left-wing critics, who say she's not doing enough to help migrants.

The debate in the mainstream media, meanwhile, is the very opposite of alarmist. The tabloid, Bild, Germany's best-selling newspaper, has positioned itself as the crusading champion of refugee rights, while traditionally tough-talking ministers have warned against stigmatising migrants since the attacks.

More violence, or a major IS terror attack, could endanger this measured approach. And some do question whether too cosy a consensus in the mainstream marginalises legitimate concerns that should be debated.

But the attitude of German political leaders also hints at a deeper question - namely, what is the responsibility of government? Should it lead or follow popular opinion?

Angela Merkel's idea of government is top-down, trust-us-we-know-best, which in this age of referendums and social media is not exactly fashionable. But she's not following, she's leading. Not everyone agrees with her, and her approach is not risk-free. Merkel, though, is not changing her mind. And, for now at least, she's staying exactly where she is.

Source: bbc.com

 

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07/Aug/2016

Belgium machete attacker was Algerian, say officials

Belgian officials say a man who wounded two policewomen with a machete was a 33-year-old Algerian with a criminal record but no known terror links.

An inquiry for "attempted terrorist murder" has been launched into Saturday's attack in Charleroi.

The man reportedly shouted "Allahu Akbar" ("God is greatest") during the assault outside a police station. He died after being shot by officers.

On Sunday the so-called Islamic State group called him one of its "soldiers".

The statement was similar to those released after recent attacks in France and Germany.

Following standard practice, prosecutors did not name the attacker but gave his initials as KB.

He had been living in Belgium since 2012 and had minor offences to his name.

Belgium has been on alert since bomb attacks on the city's airport and subway system in March killed 32 people.

Charleroi was used as a base by some of the jihadists involved in that attack, and in the attack on Paris in November 2015.

Prime Minister Charles Michel, who broke off his holiday after the attack, has urged people to remain "constantly vigilant" but "keep a cool head".

Saturday's attack unfolded at just before 16:00 local time (14:00 GMT).

A police spokesman said the attacker pulled the machete out of a sports bag as he approached a guard post outside the police HQ.

According to a local news agency, one of the policewomen was treated for serious facial wounds, while the other suffered only minor injuries.

The assailant was shot and killed by another officer, who was nearby.

Source: bbc.com

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07/Aug/2016

Tropical Storm Earl death toll jumps to 38 in Mexico

The death toll in Mexico's landslides and flooding has jumped to 38 after Tropical Storm Earls swept through the country's eastern regions.

The state worst hit is Puebla, where officials say 28 people died. Another 10 people were killed in the state of Veracruz.

Previously, the confirmed number of deaths was six.

Earl made landfall in Belize this week as a Category One hurricane, after causing destruction in the Caribbean.

The storm was later downgraded to a tropical depression but it still left a path of destruction in Mexico.

Destroyed houses in Coscomatepec, Veracruz

Some remote localities - like Coscomatepec in Veracruz - were virtually wiped out by powerful landslides

Rescue operation in Huahuchinango, Puebla

A rescue operation is under way in and around Huauchinango, Puebla

Most of the victims were in the remote town of Huauchinango, Puebla.

They died after their houses were engulfed by tonnes of mud and rocks.

A whole hill collapsed near Huauchinango, sweeping down on a nearby village, officials say.

"It is a tragedy what has happened to our people in Huauchinango," Mayor Gabriel Alvarado was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

Heavy rain continued in the region, forcing officials to close a section of the main federal motorway to the capital Mexico City.

Earlier this week, at least nine people died on due to extreme weather in Haiti and the Dominican Republic as the storm passed over the Caribbean.

Source: bbc.com

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07/Aug/2016

Turkey coup: Erdogan backs return of death penalty at vast Istanbul rally

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has told a vast rally in Istanbul that he would approve the return of the death penalty if it was backed by parliament and the public.

He was speaking to at least a crowd of at least a million who had gathered in Turkey's biggest city.

The rally followed last month's failed military coup.

Mr Erdogan also said the state would be cleansed of all supporters of the US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.

The cleric is blamed by the Turkish government for the attempted uprising. He denies any involvement.

Religious figures and leaders of two of Turkey's three opposition parties attended the rally. The Kurdish party was not invited.

More than 270 people died in events surrounding the 15 July coup attempt, which triggered a government crackdown.

Thousands of alleged supporters of Mr Gulen have been detained or dismissed from government jobs.

Western nations have been critical of the government's response to the coup. The European Union - which Turkey has applied to join - refuses to accept capital punishment in member states.

'Five million'

The parade ground, built to hold more than a million people, was overflowing, with streets of surrounding neighbourhoods clogged by crowds, Reuters news agency reports.

Turkish government sources said five million people had attended, with the event broadcast live on public screens at smaller rallies across Turkey's provinces.

Mr Erdogan told the rally: "It is the Turkish parliament that will decide on the death penalty... I declare it in advance, I will approve the decision made by the parliament.

"They say there is no death penalty in the EU... Well, the US has it; Japan has it; China has it; most of the world has it. So they are allowed to have it. We used to have it until 1984. Sovereignty belongs to the people, so if the people make this decision I am sure the political parties will comply."

Istanbul anti-coup rally

Government sources say five million people turned out

The president railed against Mr Gulen's movement, hinting of further hardline measures to come.

"July 15 showed our friends that this country isn't just strong against political, economic and diplomatic attacks, but against military sabotage as well. It showed that it will not fall, it will not be derailed," Mr Erdogan said.

"Of course we have to uncover all members of this organisation and eradicate them within the framework of the law, but if we content ourselves with just that, then we as a state and a nation will leave weak our defence against similar viruses."

The "Democracy and Martyrs' Rally" was the climax of three weeks of nightly demonstrations by Mr Erdogan's supporters around the country.

Speaking ahead of Mr Erdogan, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told the rally that Mr Gulen would be brought to Turkey and made to pay the price for the coup attempt.

"Let all of you know, the leader of this terrorist group will come to Turkey and pay for what he did," Mr Yildirim said.

In a rare address to a public rally, the head of Turkey's armed forces, Hulusi Akar, said "traitors" would be punished in the harshest way, and thanked civilians for their role in defeating the uprising.

Former ally

The crackdown in Turkey has seen tens of thousands of public sector workers suspended or dismissed, with many having their passports cancelled. There has also been a massive reshuffle of the military.

About 18,000 people have been detained or arrested.

Local branches of the AK Party have been told to begin a purge of suspected Gulenists in their ranks.

Mr Gulen was a close ally of President Erdogan until a bitter split between his movement and the party of the president three years ago.

Turkey has listed Mr Gulen's movement as a terrorist organisation.

Source: bbc.com

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07/Aug/2016

Bikini-clad Swedish policewoman 'stops thief'

A bikini-clad Swedish police officer has been praised for tackling a suspected thief while she was off-duty sunbathing with friends in Stockholm.

Mikaela Kellner told the Aftonbladet daily that she and a fellow officer pursued the man when they realised he had taken one of their mobile phones.

She told the paper that she would have intervened "even if she were naked".

A photo of the incident on Ms Kellner's Instagram page has attracted more than 9,000 likes in less than two days.

The incident is said to have taken place in Stockholm's Ralambshov Park on Wednesday, where the off-duty policewoman was sunbathing with friends.

The group was approached by a man who claimed to be selling publications on behalf of the homeless.

Ms Kellner reportedly became suspicious when the man began lingering, setting some papers down over their blanket.

As soon as he left, collecting his papers, one of her friends noticed that her phone was missing.

"There was no time, so I ran after him, maybe 15 metres or so," Ms Kellner told Swedish news site, The Local.

"One of my friends is also a police officer, so we got hold of him. He tried to get away so we held onto him harder."

The stolen phone was swiftly recovered, and the man was arrested by a police patrol.

"I've had a lot of positive comments both from friends and colleagues," she told The Local.

"It happens all the time that valuables are taken like this... I mainly just wanted to raise awareness of how cunning these people are, almost like magicians."

Source: bbc.com

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04/Aug/2016

US Supreme Court blocks transgender toilet ruling

The US Supreme Court has temporarily overturned a ruling that allowed a transgender high school student to use the bathroom of his choice.

It is the first time that the fraught discussion over transgender bathroom rights has reached the country's highest court.

Judges voted 5-3 to halt a lower court's order that Gavin Grimm, 17, be allowed to use the boys' bathroom.

They will consider the case again in the autumn.

Mr Grimm who was born female, filed the lawsuit after his school board in Virginia adopted a policy that required students to use a private toilet or one that corresponds to the sex listed on their birth certificate.

An appeals court ruled earlier this year that the ban was discriminatory and violated Title IX, a federal law which prohibits gender discrimination at schools that receive federal funding.

The issue has gone back and forth between several different courts which have made opposing decisions.

As the Supreme Court is yet to rule definitively on the matter, it has set things back to the way they used to be, ahead of its eight justices beginning to hear the case in autumn 2016.

Mr Grimm appealed to the court not to discuss the matter, local media report, but its actions are exactly what the school board asked for.

A divisive issue

A number of places in the US - most recently North Carolina - have passed laws requiring transgender people to use a public toilet that corresponds to the sex listed on their birth certificate.

The North Carolina law in particular has been sharply criticised as discriminatory and several companies have stopped doing business in the state as a result.

Some people have said that allowing transgender people to choose their restroom could lead to women and children being attacked.

They said they feared that predatory men could pose as transgender people and use legal protections as a cover. Gender-neutral toilets are becoming more common in some parts of the US.

Source: bbc.com

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03/Aug/2016

One dead, several hurt in central London knife attack

A woman has died and five others were injured in a knife attack in Russell Square, central London.

Police and ambulance crews were called at 22:33 BST on Wednesday to reports of a man in possession of a knife and injuring people.

Up to six injured people were found at the scene; one woman was pronounced dead a short time later.

The man was arrested at 22:39; a taser was discharged by one of the arresting officers.

Terrorism is one possible motive being explored, the Metropolitan Police say.

Forensics officer on the scene

Forensics officers have been examining the area where the attack took place

Eyewitnesses have reported a police forensics tent has been erected on Southampton Row, outside the park in the centre of the square, which is close to the British Museum.

There is a heavy police presence in the area and the initial cordon around the crime scene has One dead, several hurt in knife attack been extended, according to BBC reporter Andy Moore, who is at the scene.

The condition of those injured and the extent of their injuries is not known at present.

Source: bbc.com

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03/Aug/2016

White House: Iran cash payment not ransom for hostages

The White House has dismissed claims that the US paid a ransom to Iran in exchange for the release of five American prisoners.

The five prisoners were released in January in exchange for seven Iranians who were detained in the US for violating sanctions.

The exchange came as the US lifted international sanctions against Iran as part of the country's nuclear deal.

The US also airlifted $400m (£300.3m) worth of cash to Iran at the same time.

The Wall Street Journal reported that US officials sent an unmarked cargo plane loaded with Euros, Swiss, Francs and other currencies, suggesting that the payment may have been related to the release of five Americans, which included Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian.

But White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest denied the link, saying the payment settled a longstanding dispute between the two countries from before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Mr Earnest said Republicans who oppose the landmark Iran nuclear deal have used the payment as a means of undermining the accord.

"They're struggling to justify their opposition to our engagement with Iran," he said at a White House press briefing.

Normalising relations

After the world's six major powers announced they would lift sanctions against Iran as a part of the implementation of the historic landmark deal, Tehran and Washington also agreed to settle a number of disputes between the two countries.

As Mr Earnest said in a press briefing on 19 January, the $400m (£300.3m) payment was "the result of a long-running claims process that had been at The Hague".

The then-Iranian government had purchased $400m (£300.3m) in US military equipment before it was overthrown in the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The Obama administration had agreed to repay Tehran $1.7bn, which included the original payment as well as interest.

Cash payment on a cargo plane

Since Iran's financial institutions were completely cut off from the global electronic banking system at the time of the payment, it had to be made in cash.

The sanctions also meant it was illegal to make the payment in US dollars.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump took to Twitter to blame his Democratic opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, for the payment.

Donald Trump tweets:

Though Mrs Clinton is credited with initiating talks for Iran's nuclear deal, the accord was reached under current Secretary of State John Kerry.

Republican National Committee spokesman Reince Priebus also released a statement on the report.

"The Obama-Clinton foreign policy not only means cutting a dangerous nuclear deal with the world's number one state sponsor of terrorism, it also means paying them a secret ransom with cargo planes full of cash," the statement read.

State Department spokesman John Kirby responded to the claims on Wednesday, vehemently denying any link.

"As we've made clear, the negotiations over the settlement of an outstanding claim at the Hague Tribunal were completely separate from the discussions about returning our American citizens home," he said.

"Not only were the two negotiations separate, they were conducted by different teams on each side, including, in the case of the Hague claims, by technical experts involved in these negotiations for many years," Mr Kirby said.

Source: bbc.com

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03/Aug/2016

Kabul explosion: 'Foreign compound' targeted by Taliban

A huge explosion has rocked the Afghan capital Kabul.

Witnesses said it was heard across most of the city about 01:25 local time on Monday (20:55 GMT Sunday).

Reports say it was caused by a lorry bomb at the North Gate compound housing foreign contractors and four attackers may be involved. The Taliban said it carried out the attack.

There is no word about casualties. Power in parts of Kabul was briefly cut off shortly after the explosion.

Gunfire was also heard at the scene of the blast, reports say, and police and security forces later sealed off the area.

North Gate is a heavily guarded compound, which was attacked by militants three years ago.

Earlier reports suggested that Monday's blast was in a gas storage facility.

Last week, two suicide bombers linked to the so-called Islamic State (IS) killed 80 people and wounded 230 more in Kabul.

Map of Afghanistan showing Kabul

Source: bbc.com

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31/Jul/2016

France church attack: Two arrested over priest's killing

Two men have been placed under formal investigation over the murder of a priest in a Normandy church, including a cousin of one of the killers.

Farid K, 30, a cousin of attacker Abdel Malik Petitjean, was arrested on suspicion of "terrorist association".

The other man, Jean-Philippe Steven J, 20, was put under formal investigation for allegedly attempting to travel to Syria in June with Petitjean.

Petitjean and accomplice Adel Kermiche, both 19, were shot dead by police.

They had interrupted a church service in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, near Rouen, last Tuesday, taken hostages and slit the throat of Father Jacques Hamel, 86.

What we know about church attack

Tributes to Fr Jacques Hamel

Profile: Abdel Malik Petitjean

Kermiche 'was brainwashed'

The Paris prosecutor's office said both men arrested on Sunday were being held in custody.

The development came as Muslims across France attended Catholic Mass in a gesture of solidarity after the murder.

Abdel Malik Petitjean's driver's licence

Abdel Malik Petitjean, pictured on his driver's licence, was on a watch list

France's Muslim council, the CFCM, urged Muslims to show "solidarity and compassion" over the killing.

Petitjean had been on a watch list as a potential security threat since June after trying to enter Syria from Turkey.

Adel Kermiche was also known to the security services.

So-called Islamic State (IS) released a video of what it said were the two men pledging allegiance to the group.

A photo of Priest Jacques Hamel taken from the website of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray parish

Father Jacques Hamel was a well-known figure in St-Etienne-du-Rouvray

Source: bbc.com

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31/Jul/2016

Dusseldorf residents told to pay for Nazi-era road

Homeowners on a street in Germany have been told they must foot the bill for their road's construction - even though it's been there for nearly 80 years.

Residents on Auf'm Rott, in suburban Dusseldorf, went to court after city authorities told them pay an average of 10,000 euros ($11,000; £8,400) per household for what looked like a long-established road, Die Welt reports.

The bills included a conversion from the Nazi-era Reichsmark currency into euros for the original road surface, first laid in 1937, which is being dubbed "Hitler asphalt" by the German media. The figures were also adjusted for inflation.

While homeowners were perplexed, a court has now confirmed that they must cough up the cash. It determined that while construction began in the 1930s, the road was only officially completed in 2009 when pavements were added. For the intervening period it was considered to be under development.

In Germany, residents have to pay a "development contribution" to the local authority for things like new roads, cycle paths and street lighting.

According to Die Welt, the council says people weren't required to contribute towards road construction under the Third Reich, so the costs are simply being billed now. The court agreed, saying that the length of time involved doesn't matter. "There is no statute of limitations in relation to the construction work," says Franziska Hoette, a judge at Dusseldorf's Administrative Court.

So, Auf'm Rott's current residents will be shelling out for the "Hitler asphalt", streetlamps dating back to 1956, a sewer from the 1970s, and pavements and greenery added in 2009. But despite taking a sizeable financial hit, the residents appear to have accepted the court's verdict. Spiegel Online reports that they've withdrawn their complaint, saying: "If this is how it is, then this is how it is."

Source: bbc.com

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31/Jul/2016

Texas hot air balloon crash: No survivors among 16 on board

A hot air balloon has caught fire and crashed in the US state of Texas, with all 16 on board confirmed dead, the Texas department of safety says.

The balloon came down in fields near Lockhart, about 30 miles (50km) south of the state capital Austin.

Caldwell County sheriff Daniel Law said the basket of the balloon was on fire when emergency crews arrived.

Videos posted by local media suggest the balloon came down near tall power lines, but the cause is not yet known.

The balloon crashed at about 07:40 (12:40 GMT), officials said.

"It does not appear at this time that there were any survivors of the crash," the sheriff's office said.

It is the deadliest hot air balloon crash in the US.

Local resident Margaret Wylie said she was outside her home when she heard two "pops" which she thought was a gun going off.

"The next thing I knew you saw a big fireball go up. I was just praying that whoever was there got away from the thing in time," she said.

Police cars block access to the site where a hot air balloon crashed early Saturday, July 30, 2016, near Lockhart, Texas

The hot air balloon came down near power lines

The National Transportation Safety Board will lead the investigation. Erik Grosof, an NTSB official at the scene, said only that there had been "a number of fatalities".

He said the balloon was believed to have belonged to the Heart of Texas Balloon Rides, an Austin-based company that offers trips to see the sunrise with champagne.

A Fox News reporter from Lockhart who is at the scene says contact was lost with the balloon about half an hour into a scheduled one-hour flight.

Two years ago, the NTSB called for better regulation of hot air balloon flights in the US, recommending they should be subject to the same oversight as tour planes and helicopters.

"The potential for a high number of fatalities in a single air tour balloon accident is of particular concern if air tour balloon operators continue to conduct operations under less stringent regulations and oversight," it said.

Governor Greg Abbott asked in a statement that "all of Texas to join us in praying for those lost".

Map of Texas showing Austin and Lockart

Other deadly hot air balloon accidents

May 2013: Three Brazilian tourists killed and more than 20 other people injured as two balloons collided in the central Turkish region of Cappadoccia

February 2013: A hot air balloon caught fire and crashed in Luxor, Egypt, killing 19 foreign tourists

August 2012: Six people died and another 26 were injured when a hot air balloon caught fire and crashed near Ljubljana, Slovenia's capital

January 2012: A hot air balloon struck power lines and exploded near Carterton in New Zealand, before crashing to the ground - all 11 people on board were killed.

October 2009: Four Dutch tourists died in Guangxi, China, after a hot air balloon caught fire and crashed

August 2001: A hot air balloon touched a power line in south-west France, killing six people

Source: bbc.com

 

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31/Jul/2016

Merkel rules out migrant policy reversal after attacks

Recent attacks in Germany involving asylum-seekers would not change its willingness to take in refugees, Chancellor Angela Merkel has said.

She said the attackers "wanted to undermine our sense of community, our openness and our willingness to help people in need. We firmly reject this".

But she did propose new measures to improve security.

These include information sharing, deciphering web chatter and tackling arms sales on the internet.

What is going on in Germany?

Ansbach attacker: From asylum seeker to IS suicide bomber

What drives individuals to commit mass killings?

Two recent attacks in Bavaria were both by asylum seekers. A suicide bomb attack in Ansbach on Sunday that injured 15 people was carried out by a Syrian who had been denied asylum but given temporary leave to stay.

An axe and knife attack on a train in Wuerzburg on 18 July that wounded five people was carried out by an asylum seeker from Afghanistan.

Both men had claimed allegiance to so-called Islamic State.

The deadliest recent attack - in Munich on 22 July which left nine dead - was carried out by a German teenager of Iranian extraction but was not jihadist-related.

Police officer at scene of attack in Ansbach, Germany, on 25 July 2016

The suicide attacker in Ansbach targeted crowds attending a music festival - he injured 15 people

'We can do this'

Mrs Merkel, who interrupted her summer holiday to hold the news conference in Berlin, said the asylum seekers who had carried out the attacks had "shamed the country that welcomed them".

But she insisted that those fleeing persecution and war had a right to be protected, and Germany would "stick to our principles" in giving shelter to the deserving.

Referring to the attacks that have taken place in France, Belgium, Turkey, the US and elsewhere, she said "taboos of civilisation" had been broken, and they were intended to "spread fear and hatred between cultures and between religions".

But in reference to her famous phrase "Wir schaffen das" or "We can do this" - uttered last year when she agreed to take in a million migrants - Mrs Merkel said: "I am still convinced today that "we can do it".

"It is our historic duty and this is a historic challenge in times of globalisation. We have already achieved very, very much in the last 11 months".

Train where the attack took place in Wuerzburg, Germany, on 18 July 2016

An Afghan asylum-seeker injured five people in an axe attack on this train in Bavaria

Mrs Merkel said that "besides organised terrorist attacks, there will be new threats from perpetrators not known to security personnel".

To counter this, she said: "We need an early alert system so that authorities can see during the asylum request proceedings where there are problems."

Mrs Merkel added: "We will take the necessary measures and ensure security for our citizens. We will take the challenge of integration very seriously."


Seven deadly days

A week of bloody attacks has frayed nerves in Germany, which led the way in accepting asylum seekers from Syria. To date, two of the attacks have been linked to a militant group:

  • 18 July: An axe-wielding teenage asylum seeker from Afghanistan is shot dead after injuring five people in an attack on a train. IS claims the attack, releasing a video recorded by the attacker before the incident
  • 24 July: A Syrian asylum seeker is arrested in the town of Reutlingen, Baden-Wuerttemberg, after allegedly killing a Polish woman with a machete and injuring two other people. Police suggest it was probably a "crime of passion"
  • 24 July: A failed Syrian asylum seeker blows himself up outside a music festival in the small Bavarian town of Ansbach, injuring 15 other people.

Germans shaken by violence

German media on the attacks

WATCH: 'We must fight hate with love'

Source; bbc.com

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28/Jul/2016

German-Iranian teen behind Munich deadly shootings

In the last hour police in Munich have said the suspect in the shopping mall shootings is an 18-year-old German-Iranian national. He had been living in Munich for some time and acted alone, before killing himself.

Nine victims are dead, including "adolescents", police say. Twenty people remain injured, including three people who have life-threatening injuries.

Police say "the motive or explanation for this crime is completely unclear".

Earlier, shooting began at about 18:00 (16:00 GMT) on Friday. Witnesses said the attacker opened fire on members of the public in Hanauer Street, near a branch of McDonald's, before he moved to the nearby Olympia shopping centre.

Some 2,300 police officers were deployed and a manhunt was launched, as the Bavarian capital's transport system was suspended and the central railway station was evacuated.

The body of the suspect was found about 1km (0.6 miles) from the Olympia shopping centre in the north-western suburb of Moosach. 

We are now halting our live coverage for the night.  

Please continue to follow the main news story, which can be found here.

Summary

  1. Police in Germany have given a 'cautious all-clear' following a mass shooting at a Munich shopping centre
  2. At least nine victims have died. More than 20 were injured, including three critically
  3. The suspect was an 18-year-old German-Iranian dual national who lived in Munich
  4. He is believed to have been acting on his own and killed himself. His motive is "completely unclear", say police
  5. Young people and "adolescents" are among the dead, and children are among those injured

Source: bbc.com

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22/Jul/2016

Teenage boys in Rottingdean school skirt protest over hot weather

Four teenage boys have worn skirts to school in protest at being disciplined for wearing shorts on the hottest day.

The year nine students at Longhill High School in Rottingdean, East Sussex, were among about 20 boys who wore PE shorts instead of trousers on Tuesday.

Some were sent home, and others kept in isolation and excluded the next day.

When the four boys turned up in school skirts on Thursday, head teacher Kate Williams said they could "wear any part of the agreed school uniform".

The mother of 14-year-old Michael Parker, who was one of the group, said three of the boys were initially told to remove the skirts, but all four of them kept them on.

Angela Parker said they wore them to school again earlier, and were joined by a further 10 boys.

The PE shorts worn by the boys on Tuesday were an official part of the uniform, bearing the school logo.

Michael Parker in school PE shorts (left) and school skirt (right)

Michael Parker in the school's branded PE shorts (left) and in the school skirt

Pupils who changed out of the shorts and back into trousers were not disciplined.

In a statement on Tuesday, Ms Williams told The Argus: "Students have access to water in order to keep themselves hydrated. We have made reasonable steps to ensure that classrooms are as comfortable as possible.

"I have high standards regarding uniform, and today, in the warm weather conditions, these high standards have been challenged by approximately two percent of parents/students."

Another of the pupils, Kodi Ayling, said he put his trousers back on as he did not want to be excluded from school, but when he wore the skirt, Ms Williams "okayed it and said it was alright".

His father, Wesley Allen, said he hoped the protest would persuade the school to reconsider its school uniform policy.

Longhill High School has now broken up for the summer holidays.

Source: bbc.com

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22/Jul/2016

Manson follower Leslie Van Houten denied parole by California governor

California Governor Jerry Brown has denied parole for Leslie Van Houten, a former follower of Charles Manson, who is serving a life sentence for murder.

A prison board had recommended parole.

However, Governor Brown said her "inability to explain her willing participation in such horrific violence" made him think she was still a risk to society.

Relatives of her victims opposed her release with a petition signed by 140,000 people.

Van Houten has now been denied parole 20 times over the 1969 killings of Leno La Bianca and his wife Rosemary.

Then 19, she held down Rosemary La Bianca while someone else stabbed her and she later admitted she stabbed the woman after she was dead.

Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten in a Los Angeles court, 20 August 1970

Van Houten (right) was found guilty with other Manson Family members at a 1970 trial

"I don't let myself off the hook. I don't find parts in any of this that makes me feel the slightest bit good about myself," she said at her April parole board hearing.

Since her conviction, Van Houten, now 66, completed college degrees and demonstrated exemplary behaviour while in detention.

She was the youngest Manson follower to be convicted of murder.

She has been seen as the most sympathetic of cult leader's followers.

The La Bianca killings came a day after other followers of Charles Manson carried out the grisly murder of actress Sharon Tate and four others.

Prosecutors at the time said he controlled his followers using drugs and other means.

Manson, who directed but did not take part in the murders, thought the killings would start a race war, called "Helter Skelter" after a Beatles song.

Now 81, he remains in prison, as do others of his followers, including Patricia Krenwinkel and Charles Watson.

Source: bbc.com

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22/Jul/2016

Munich shooting: Police hunt 'attackers'

Police in the German city of Munich say the perpetrators of a shooting attack are still on the run, and they advise people to avoid public places.

There are reports of at least six people killed, but police have not confirmed that figure.

A big security operation is under way at the Olympia shopping centre in the north-western Moosach district.

Shop workers have been unable to leave the building. There is no information about a possible motive for the attack.

The police Facebook page quoted eyewitnesses as saying they had seen three attackers carrying guns.

Police are now describing it as "an acute terror situation".

Public transport has been suspended as the extensive security operation continues. The city's central railway station has been evacuated.

People stranded by the emergency and unable to get home are being offered shelter by locals. The initiative was launched with the Twitter hashtag #Offentür (open door).

Follow the latest developments in our live blog

Munich shopping centre

Police helicopters are flying over the city and special forces are involved in the massive police deployment.

The security forces have been on alert after a teenage migrant stabbed and injured five people on a train in Bavaria on Monday in an attack claimed by so-called Islamic State.

The authorities had warned of the danger of further incidents.

Security forces at the shopping centre

Police at the scene of the Munich shooting, 22 July 2016

Police have been deployed in large numbers

A man working at a petrol station in Munich told the BBC: "We see just ambulances and it's like firemen and police but all this area is evacuated, all the streets.

"Now [there] are no cars just on the side of the streets. All of the streets are blocked. I see that the people are scared. Everybody are running around."

Munich police said they did not know where "the perpetrators" were. "Look after yourselves and avoid public places".

Munich map

Source: bbc.com

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22/Jul/2016

Fox News boss Roger Ailes resigns amid sexual harassment charges

Roger Ailes, the long-time boss of Fox News, has resigned after a number of female employees accused him of sexual harassment.

The network's parent company, 21st Century Fox, announced his resignation.

The announcement does not mention the sexual harassment allegations, which have now come from multiple Fox presenters.

Executive chairman Rupert Murdoch wrote that Mr Ailes has made a "remarkable contribution" to Fox News.

"We continue our commitment to maintaining a work environment based on trust and respect," Fox executives Lachlan Murdoch and James Murdoch said in the statement. "We take seriously our responsibility to uphold these traditional, long-standing values of our company."


Analysis: Nick Bryant, BBC News, New York

Roger Ailes has long been viewed one of America's most powerful conservatives. The one-time media consultant to Richard Nixon was the key figure in building the Fox News channel into a ratings, profits and, most important perhaps, political powerhouse.

Prior to his dramatic and embarrassing downfall, Mr Ailes was said to be one of the few employees that Rupert Murdoch actually feared. But it was the media mogul's admiration for his long-time lieutenant and ideological soul-mate that came through in the warm statement released by Fox News Channel's parent company, 21st Century Fox.

"His grasp of policy and his ability to make profoundly important issues accessible to a broader audience stand in stark contrast to the self-serving elitism that characterises far too much of the media," said Rupert Murdoch, in a tribute that did not touch upon the allegations of sexual harassment against the former news chief. Noticeably, it was left to Mr Murdoch's sons, Lachlan and James, to point out that the company is committed "to maintaining a work environment based on trust and respect."

I'm told by a source close to the company that the Murdochs wanted to move quickly, a lesson learnt from the handling of the phone hacking scandal.

It's also measure of the importance that Mr Murdoch attaches to the Fox News channel that he is personally taking over as chairman and acting CEO after losing one of the central figures in his global media empire. What makes Mr Ailes' departure all the more dramatic is that it should happen on the final day of the Republican convention at a time when a deeply divided conservative movement was already in such a state of flux.


Mr Ailes, 76, said he was stepping down because he had become a "distraction".

"I will not allow my presence to become a distraction from the work that must be done every day," Mr Ailes wrote in a letter to Rupert Murdoch.

He has run Fox News since it launched in 1996 and is credited with reshaping the American media and political landscape.

A veteran of Republican political campaigns, he turned the cable news network into a ratings leader and an influential force in the Republican Party.

"Rupert Murdoch is a conservative, but the Republican intensity, the conservative passion including the viciousness toward the Democrats that we now see against Hillary Clinton and has been going on against Obama all these years, all that is Roger Ailes,'' Paul Levinson, communications professor at Fordham University, told the AP news agency.

Less than two weeks ago former presenter Gretchen Carlson sued Mr Ailes for sexual harassment and wrongful termination, claims he denies.

Ms Carlson had her own show on the Fox News network

Ms Carlson (right) worked for Fox News for 11 years

With hit shows like Hannity, Fox News is the highest-rated news network in the US

With hit shows like Hannity, Fox News is the highest-rated news network in the US

Ms Carlson, who worked for the network for 11 years, alleges that he proposed having a sexual relationship with her and he instructed her to turn around in his office so he could look at her backside.

Mr Ailes also allegedly called her a "man hater" and that she needed to "get along with the boys".

A report in New York magazine, citing anonymous sources, said lawyers for 21st Century Fox gave Mr Ailes a deadline of 1 August to resign or face being fired.

Further allegations surfaced in US media that Mr Ailes sexually harassed another Fox News presenter, Megyn Kelly, about 10 years ago, claims he has also denied.

Source: bbc.com

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22/Jul/2016

Are we safe? Florida policeman shoots autistic man's unarmed black therapist

A Florida policeman shot and wounded an autistic man's unarmed black therapist on Monday, local media reports.

Charles Kinsey, who works with people with disabilities, told WSVN television he was helping a patient who had wandered away from a facility.

Mobile phone video shows Mr Kinsey lying down with his hands in the air, and his patient sitting in the road with a toy truck.

The latest shooting follows weeks of violence involving police.

US police shootings: How many die each year?

Why do US police keep killing black men?

North Miami Assistant Police Chief Neal Cuevas said officers were called out on Monday, following reports of a man threatening to shoot himself.

Police ordered Mr Kinsey and the patient to lie on the ground, he told The Miami Herald.

The video shows Mr Kinsey lying down while trying to get his patient to comply.

'Wow was I wrong'

He can be heard telling officers he has no weapon, and that the other man is autistic and has a toy truck.

An officer then fired three times, striking Kinsey in the leg, Mr Cuevas said. No weapon was found.

Police have not released the name or race of the officer who shot him but said he had been placed on administrative leave.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating the incident.

In an interview with the TV station from his hospital bed, Mr Kinsey said he was more worried about his patient than himself during the incident.

"As long as I've got my hands up, they're not going to shoot me. This is what I'm thinking. They're not going to shoot me," he said. "Wow, was I wrong."

Mr Kinsey is a member of the Circle of Brotherhood, a collective of African American men and community activists in south Florida.

"It could be any of us," Lyle Muhammad, a spokesman for the group, told BBC.

"Here's an individual who is going about his daily employment and doing it well, and speaking clearly and following every single instruction he was given, and he still finds himself assaulted."

Worsening relations

Picture of Alton Sterling displayed at his funeral

Alton Sterling's death, which was caught on mobile phone camera, sparked off widespread protests against police treatment of the black community

The shooting comes amid concern over worsening race relations in the United States.

Mr Muhammad said there was an "inherent fear of black men in this country that allows us to to be gunned down without provocation".

He said he hoped better community policing training would come to the North Miami Police Department as a result of the incident.

Three law enforcement officers were shot dead and three others wounded in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on Sunday.

The killer was shot by police. It later transpired he had posted videos complaining at police treatment of African Americans and urging them to "fight back".

Two weeks earlier, on 5 July, two white officers in Baton Rouge killed a black man, Alton Sterling, 37.

That shooting, also captured on mobile phone video, provoked widespread protests about police treatment of the black community.

A day later, on 6 July, another black man, 32-year-old Philando Castile, was killed in Minnesota when a police officer pulled him over. The next day, a sniper killed five Dallas police officers as they guarded a peaceful protest.

Source: bbc.com

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21/Jul/2016

Turkey coup attempt: General Akin Ozturk denies role in plot

A former air force commander has denied being a ringleader of Friday's attempted military coup in Turkey.

Gen Akin Ozturk and 26 senior officers were charged with treason and remanded in custody by a court on Monday, the state-run Anadolu news agency said.

But in a statement to prosecutors, the general insisted: "I am not the person who planned or led the coup."

Anadolu had earlier quoted him as telling interrogators that he had "acted with intention to stage a coup".

Officials have blamed the unrest, which killed at least 232 people and wounded 1,400, on the US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen and the "parallel structure" they say he has formed to topple the government.

"I don't know who planned or directed it. According to my experiences, I think that the [Gulen movement] attempted this coup," Gen Ozturk was quoted as telling prosecutors by Anadolu before appearing in court in Ankara.

"But I cannot tell who within the armed forces organised and carried it out. I have no information. I have fought against this structure."

In an interview with the BBC on Monday evening, Mr Gulen called the attempted takeover "treason" and urged the government to produce evidence of his alleged involvement, saying Turkey was no longer really a democracy.

Earlier, the interior ministry dismissed almost 9,000 police officers as part of a purge of officials suspected of involvement in the coup attempt.

That followed the arrest of 6,000 military personnel and suspension of almost 3,000 judges over the weekend.

After a breakfast meeting in Brussels with US Secretary of State John Kerry, European Union foreign ministers warned that Turkey's ambitions to join the bloc would be over if the death penalty was reinstated.

"We need... to have Turkey respect democracy, human rights, and fundamental freedoms," EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said.

Mr Kerry urged the Turkish government to "maintain calm and stability throughout the country", but also cautioned "against a reach that goes well beyond that and stress the importance of the democratic rule being upheld".

But Mr Erdogan refused to rule out executing those convicted of treason if the death penalty were to be restored by parliament.

"Why should I keep them and feed them in prisons, for years to come?' - that's what the people say," he told CNN.

"They want a swift end to it, because people lost relatives, lost neighbours, lost children... they're suffering so the people are very sensitive and we have to act very sensibly and sensitively."

Mr Erdogan also insisted the US should extradite Mr Gulen, warning that it "should not keep such a terrorist".

Mr Gulen told the BBC that the US authorities would not respond to any request that was unlawful.

But he added that he would die eventually - and that whether that happened at home or in prison did not matter to him.

Turkey's Western allies expressed concern at the crackdown and urged President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to respond in a measured way.

Source: bbc.com

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18/Jul/2016

Why is America so angry?

What has propelled the rise of the outspoken rabble-rousing billionaire, Donald Trump? I went to Bakersfield, a hardcore Republican enclave in the otherwise liberal state of California, to find out.

"If you go to the Mexican neighbourhoods where a lot of illegals are," said David Rogers, a white IT expert who lives here, "they're all dirty. I don't want to hang around people that throw trash out on the street."

Mr Rogers was born in Bakersfield in 1946, when it was a largely white town. Now, about half the population is Hispanic or black. Mr Rogers, like many of Mr Trump's supporters I met here, believes crime levels and drugs problems in his town are largely due to the influx of immigrants.

The United States is in the throes of a historical wave of immigration that began in the 1960s. Fifty-nine million immigrants, many Mexican, have changed the face of America. Mr Trump's supporters, like Mr Rogers, say they do not object to immigrants as a whole. They say it's just the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants they resent.

Donald Trump is promising to "put America first", with sweeping pledges to deport illegal immigrants, negotiate better trade deals for America, and make the United States great again.

David Rogers with Hilary Andersson at a Trump rally in Fresno, California

David Rogers with Hilary Andersson at a Trump rally in Fresno, California

On a hot Sunday evening, Mr Rogers invited friends over for a barbecue. The discussion turned to Mr Trump's proposal to build a wall along America's entire 2,000-mile (3,200km) border with Mexico, to keep out illegal immigrants.

"You've got to have a boundary if you're going to have a country," said Mr Rogers. "What they should do is they should shoot them as they get to the top and if they fall over on the Mexican side then we're in the clear," said Mr Roger's son, Alex.

As Mr Trump's campaign gains steam, the presidential hopeful is attracting a broader base of supporters. Not all have views as extreme as Mr Rogers and his friends.

But here in Bakersfield, there is a lot of support, not just for Mr Trump's plan to build a border wall, but also his more radical proposal to deport 11 million illegal immigrants.

"When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best," Mr Trump said last summer. "They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people."

The Chevron oil field in Bakersfield

The collapse in the price of oil has hit Bakersfield hard

Many of Mr Rogers's neighbours now are Hispanics. "All these people are hard workers," said Roxi Mankel, who lives across the street from him. "How can somebody get so much support with so much hate?"

The answer, locally at least, is that many feel immigrants are taking scarce jobs. And times are hard in Bakersfield nowadays.

On a street corner in the rough part of town called Oildale, an exhausted looking woman sat on her front porch with a motley collection of old furniture, pots and clothes for sale out on her lawn.

"Everybody's been laid off," said Shari Kent, who was selling her possessions to try to make money. "People have got to eat," she added. Bakersfield is dotted with oil rigs, stretching as far as the eye can see. Many are idle. The global collapse in oil prices has hit this oil town hard. Ms Kent has had her hours cut at the local grocer's shop because there are now so few customers.

"Hispanics will work for less money, you know," Ms Kent's neighbour Ramona told me. "They can undercut the price."

America's illegal immigrants make up a workforce of an estimated eight million people that helps to drive America's economy.

Bakersfield has a long history of racial tension. In Oildale, where Ms Kent lives, you were not welcome after dark when Mr Rogers was a youth, unless you were white. "No blacks across that bridge after dark," said Mr Rogers. He and his friends used to throw things at black people to hound them out.

A protestor sits in front of a cordon of riot police at a Donald Trump rally in Fresno, California

There were protests at Trump's Fresno rally

It's not so different now. Walking along a backstreet, we passed a garage with a swastika on the wall. Locals say white white gangs roam the streets, and that there are often street fights between African American and white youths.

In some ways Mr Rogers has adapted to the changing face of his town. He has Mexican friends. One night when we were with him, he arranged food for a sick Mexican neighbour. He says it's not about race. But he supports Mr Trump's call for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the US, saying American lives are the most important.

"Muslims... have a certain look, and I just feel like, OK, I don't like that person,' you know," he told me. "If we save one person's life, [an] American's life, it's worth stopping everybody from coming in."

Many Americans never expected Donald Trump's presidential bid to make it this far. Some Republicans have disavowed him completely, because of his hard-line proposals. Others hope he will tone his message down.

It's a message that appears to have tapped into a groundswell of anger, resentment and racial tension.

"I think Donald Trump opened up Pandora's Box to what's been hidden, with all the racism and hatred that's been in the United States," said Roxi Mankel.

Dealing with what comes out of that box may yet decide the outcome of this November's presidential contest.

Source: bbc.com

 

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18/Jul/2016

North Korea 'fires three ballistic missiles into sea'

North Korea has fired three ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan, say US and South Korean military officials.

The missiles were launched from the western city of Hwangju, said South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The US said the first two were believed to be short-range Scud missiles while the third was presumed to be a mid-range Rodong.

It comes after the US and South Korea said they would deploy an anti-missile system to counter the North's threats.

North Korea is barred by UN sanctions from any test of nuclear or ballistic missile technology. But tensions have soared since it carried out its fourth nuclear test in January.

It has also conducted several launches in recent months, including a test of mid-range missiles in June which were considered its most successful yet.

Seoul has said activity detected recently in North Korea indicates it could be preparing to conduct a fifth nuclear test imminently.

The latest launches happened between 05:45 local time (20:45 GMT on Monday) and 06:40, the South's military said, in a statement quoted by Yonhap news agency.

North Korean missile range

"The ballistic missiles flight went from 500km (310 miles) to 600km, which is a distance far enough to strike all of South Korea including Busan," South Korea's military said in a statement. Busan is a port city in the south.

The US Strategic Command said it had tracked the launches, but that they had posed no risk to US interests.

Earlier this month, Seoul and Washington agreed to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) anti-missile system in the South. The system will be based in the town of Seongju, in the south-east.

The North's military had warned it would retaliate with a "physical response".

China has also criticised the decision, saying it will destabilise security in the region.

Source: bbc.com

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18/Jul/2016

Germany axe attack: Assault on train in Wuerzburg

A teenage Afghan refugee armed with an axe and knife injured four people on a train in southern Germany before being shot dead by police, officials say.

Three people were seriously hurt and one suffered minor injuries in the attack in Wurzburg, police said.

Initial reports said up to 20 people had been injured but it was later revealed that at least 14 had been treated for shock.

The motive for the attack is not yet clear.

Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann said the attacker was a 17-year-old Afghan refugee who had been living in the nearby town of Ochsenfurt.

He told public broadcaster ARD that the teenager appeared to have travelled to Germany as an unaccompanied minor.

Mr Herrmann said authorities were looking into reports that the attacker had yelled out "an exclamation". Some witnesses quoted by German media said they had heard him shout "Allahu akbar" ("God Is Great") during the attack.

Bloodstains on the floor of the train carriage. 18 July 2016

Bloodstains could be seen on the floor of the train carriage

The incident happened at about 21:15 (19:15 GMT) on the train which runs between Treuchlingen and Wurzburg.

"Shortly after arriving at Wurzburg, a man attacked passengers with an axe and a knife," a police spokesman said.

Police said the attacker had fled the train but was chased by officers who shot him dead.

Although the motive has not been established, the BBC's Damien McGuinness in Berlin says there is nervousness in Germany about attacks by Islamist extremists following the attacks across the border in France.

In May, a man reportedly shouting "Allahu akbar" killed one person and wounded three others in a knife attack at a railway station near the German city of Munich.

He was later sent to a psychiatric hospital and authorities said they found no links to Islamic extremism.

Source: bbc.com

 

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18/Jul/2016

Nice attack: Sarkozy blames government for failing to prevent attacks

In the wake of the attack in Nice, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy has criticised the government for not doing enough to provide security.

The centre-right opposition leader called for any foreign nationals with links to radical Islam to be expelled from France.

More than 80 people died when an attacker ploughed a lorry into people celebrating Bastille Day on Thursday.

Eighty-five people remain in hospital, 18 of them in critical condition.

Many survivors are still waiting for news of their loved ones. Only 35 bodies have so far been officially identified.

Prosecutors say painstaking measures are needed to avoid errors of identification.

Forceful message

Speaking to French television, Mr Sarkozy said "Democracy must not be weak, nor simply commemorate. Democracy must say 'We will win the war'."

He said he supported stronger measures like expulsion of radicalised Muslims, and electronic tagging for those at risk of radicalisation.

France's government has said it is at war with violent jihadists.

But a third major attack in 18 months has led to criticism of the country's leaders.

Forensic team examining the lorry cab

Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel was shot dead after ramming his lorry into crowds

Radicalised too quickly?

There is no indication that the Nice attacker, Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, was a jidhadist.

Neighbours have described him as a violent loner who liked to drink, lift weights and go salsa dancing.

But France's Prime Minister Manuel Valls has suggested he may have been radicalised too quickly to trigger the authorities' attention.

He was shot dead by police when his vehicle's path along the Promenade des Anglais was eventually halted.

French media reported that he researched the route in the days before the attack.

The reports say Lahouaiej-Bouhlel drove through the seafront promenade area of the French city on Tuesday and Wednesday in preparation.

Europe 1 radio said CCTV footage from the days beforehand showed him driving through the area in the lorry, closely observing the scene.

Tunisian security sources have told the BBC he visited Tunisia frequently, most recently eight months ago.

So-called Islamic State said the attacker was acting in response to its calls to target civilians in countries that are part of the anti-IS coalition.

At the scene - By Tom Burridge

Tributes to Nice victims on promenade

An impressive air of normality in much of tourist-packed Nice is deceptive. As well as grief, bewilderment hangs in the sea air.

There are tears, hugs and silence at the mountain of candles, flowers and cuddly toys on the beach promenade, where joggers stop and parents bring young children to read the messages.

A large white banner says: Why children? And, in a child's handwriting: Why do you want war?

The bloodstains on the tarmac are gradually disappearing. The lampposts the lorry smashed into will be replaced.

But for those who knew or loved the victims, things will never be the same. More armed police and soldiers guarding the streets will serve as a reminder.

Amid the fear and sadness, and the unanswerable questions, defiance acts as a source of comfort.

He will never defeat us, says one message on the promenade. Another reads: Love defeats hate.


Six people are being held in connection with the killings.

The latest arrests, of an Albanian couple who have not been identified, were on Sunday morning, French judicial sources said.

Lahouaiej-Bouhlel's estranged wife, who was detained on Friday, was released on Sunday.

Source: bbc.com

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17/Jul/2016

Baton Rouge shootings: Obama calls for calm after three police officers killed

President Obama has called for restraint after three police officers were shot dead in the city of Baton Rouge in Louisiana.

The gunman, an African-American who had served for five years in the Marines, was also killed.

Tensions in the city have been high since a black man Alton Sterling was shot dead by police two weeks ago.

It remains unclear whether Sunday's incident was related to that death and a second police killing in Minnesota.

Those two deaths spared protests across the United States and triggered a revenge attack by a black army veteran who shot dead five officers in the city of Dallas.

In a live broadcast from the White House, President Obama called upon all Americans to unite and refrain from divisive language.

"Regardless of motive, the death of these three brave officers underscores the danger that police across the country confront every single day, and we as a nation have to be loud and clear that nothing justifies violence against law enforcement," he said.

"Everyone right now focus on words and actions that can unite this country rather than divide it further," he added, as the US begins two weeks of political conventions with Republicans meeting in Cleveland later on Monday.

"We need to temper our words and open our hearts... all of us," said the president.

A vigil was attended by police officers and members of the public on Sunday evening at Saint John the Baptist Church in Zachary, just north of Baton Rouge.

Vigil at Saint John the Baptist Church in Zachary, Baton Rouge, 17 July 2016

Exchange of fire

The incident began on Sunday morning with shots being fired at a petrol station on Airline Highway in Baton Rouge.

Police received reports of a man with an assault rifle.

Witness Brady Vancel told WAFB TV he saw what may have been gang members shooting at each other before police arrived.

Another witness said she saw a gunman wearing a black mask and military-style clothing.

Shots were exchanged over a period of more than 15 minutes, leaving three police officers and the suspect dead, with three other officers wounded, one in a critical condition.

The dead officers were named as Montrell Jackson, 32, and Matthew Gerald, 41, of the Baton Rouge police department, and Sheriff's Deputy Brad Garafola, 45. All three men had families.

The suspect was named as 29-year-old Gavin Long, of Kansas City, Missouri, a former Marine.

He received an honourable discharge, and won several medals while in the military, including one for good conduct.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards told a news conference it was an "absolutely unspeakable, heinous attack."

Although no other suspects have been identified, police said they were investigating whether the gunman had help from unknown others.

"We are not ready to say he acted alone," said state police spokesman Major Doug Cain.

Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden said he had spoken to White House officials who had offered assistance. He said it was "a defining moment" for community relations.

But he also told local media the "rhetoric from some people" after the death of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge may be connected to the shootings, without elaborating who.

"Everything's been anti-police," he said.

Source: bbc.com

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17/Jul/2016

Nice attack: Lorry driver confirmed as Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel

The driver of a lorry that killed 84 people in an attack in the French city of Nice has been confirmed as Tunisian Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, 31.

Ten of the dead were children. Some 202 people were injured; 52 are critical, of whom 25 are on life support.

Prosecutors said Lahouaiej-Bouhlel had driven the lorry 2km (1.2 miles) along the famous Promenade des Anglais and fired at police before being shot dead.

The attack happened as thousands in Nice marked Bastille Day on Thursday.

Other weapons found inside the lorry were replicas or fake.

What the prosecutor said

Francois Molins said no group had admitted carrying out the attack but that it bore the hallmarks of jihadist terrorism.

Lahouaiej-Bouhlel drove the 19-tonne lorry into crowds at about 22:45 local time (20:45 GMT).

He fired at officers with a 7.65mm calibre automatic pistol when the vehicle was close to the Negresco hotel and continued for another 300m, where his vehicle was stopped near the Palais de la Mediterranee hotel and he was shot dead.

Also found in the lorry were an ammunition magazine, a fake pistol, replica Kalashnikov and M16 rifles, and a dummy grenade.

There was also a bicycle, empty pallets, documents and a mobile phone. Items were later seized from Lahouaiej-Bouhlel's Nice home.

Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, a chauffeur and delivery man, had three children but had separated from his wife, who was taken into police custody on Friday, Mr Molins said.

He was known to the police as a petty criminal, but was "totally unknown to intelligence services... and was never flagged for signs of radicalisation", the prosecutor added.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said he could not confirm links to jihadism.

However, Prime Minister Manuel Valls told France 2 television that Lahouaiej-Bouhlel was a "terrorist without doubt linked to radical Islamism in one way or another".

 

What has the president said?

Francois Hollande, who arrived to Nice on Friday, said the attack was of "an undeniable terrorist nature".

He said the battle against terrorism would be long, as France faced an enemy "that will continue to attack those people and those countries that count liberty as an essential value".

Mr Hollande said the attack was carried out "to satisfy the cruelty of an individual or possibly a group" and that many of the victims were foreigners and young children.

"We will overcome the suffering because we are a united France," he said.

A state of emergency, in place since November's Paris attacks carried out by militants from the so-called Islamic State group, in which 130 people died, has been extended by three months.

What witnesses saw

Simon Coates, a solicitor from Leeds told the BBC: "I saw one woman lying on the ground talking to her dead child, as other people desperately did what they could to save their loved ones.

"As the lorry passed by me a young boy of 10 or so just managed to leap to one side and escape by inches. Tragically dozens of those on foot, young and old alike, were not so lucky. Virtually everyone I saw on the promenade was either dead or beyond real help with truly terrible injuries."

Source: bbc.com

 

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15/Jul/2016

Dutchman jailed for 30 days for 'insulting' the king

A court in the Netherlands has sentenced a man to 30 days in jail for insulting the king on Facebook.

The 44-year-old Dutchman "intentionally insulted" King Willem-Alexander, accusing him of being a murderer, thief and rapist, the Dutch judiciary said.

He was convicted of breaking seldom-used royal defamation laws.

A Dutch political party has proposed scrapping the laws and the king has pledged to accept the outcome of any debate on the issue.

Profile: Willem-Alexander, King of the Netherlands

How the Dutch fell in love with their new queen

The court in Overijssel suspended 16 days of the sentence and the man will not spend any more time in jail, having already spent 14 days in preventative custody last year.

He was found to have doctored images of executions online to include the king's face in place of those of the actual victims, the judiciary said.

"This behaviour is unacceptable in our society and demands that a penalty be imposed on the suspect," it said in a statement.

The Dutch D66 political party is campaigning to abolish the lese majeste law, which was last used in 2014 after an activist shouted obscene slogans about the royal family during a protest.

Prosecutors initially charged the protester but reversed the decision after the move was condemned as an attack on freedom of speech.

The Netherlands' lese majeste law dates from 1881 and carries sentences of up to five years jail or a fine of 20,000 euros ($22,200; £16,700).

In total 18 prosecutions were brought under the law between 2000 and 2012, half of which resulted in convictions, Dutch TV reported.

Source: bbc.com

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14/Jul/2016

US police shootings: Obama urges unity amid racial tension

US President Barack Obama has urged police, and black communities to come together, saying it should not be "us versus them", in a town hall meeting on race and policing.

Mr Obama and ABC News held the forum amid an increase in racial tensions in the US in recent weeks.

Last week a gunman killed five Dallas police at a Black Lives Matter protest.

Micah Xavier Johnson told police he was angry after recent shooting deaths of black men at the hands of officers.

Alton Sterling was killed by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on 5 July. A day later, Philando Castile was shot and killed during a traffic stop outside Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Videos of both shootings were widely publicised.

"I don't want a generation of young people to grow up thinking either that they have to mistrust the police or alternatively, that the police who are doing a good job and out there... that they're constantly at risk not just from criminals but also because the community mistrusts them," Mr Obama said.

He added: "It's going to require all of us not to close ourselves off and go to corners but rather require us to come together and listen to each other."

Guests in the town hall meeting included Sterling's 15-year-old son, Cameron, and Castile's girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds - who live streamed the aftermath of Castile's shooting.

Mr Obama tried to bridge the divide between police and the black community.

He empathised with victims of police violence but also acknowledged that police face huge challenges - challenges they can't handle alone.

"It is absolutely true that the murder rate in the African-American community is way out of whack compared to the general population," Mr Obama said in response to a question from Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn.

"We can't put the burden on police alone," Mr Obama said. "It is going to require investments in those communities."

Mr Obama also offered a rare personal account about how he has been affected by racism.

He talked about how, when he was a child growing up in Hawaii, a female neighbour once refused to go in a lift with him.

She was just "worried about riding the elevator with me," Mr Obama said.

He said that sense of being feared as a black man continued as he grew older.

"Over time you start learning as you're crossing the street, suddenly the locks start going on doors," Mr Obama said.

In one tense exchange, Texas Lt Governor Dan Patrick - who has been critical of the Black Lives Matter movement and the president - pressed Mr Obama on his commitment to law enforcement.

Mr Obama insisted that it was possible to be critical of police while still being supportive.

"We shouldn't get too caught up in this notion that somehow people who are asking for fair treatment are somehow automatically anti-police," the president said.

Source: bbc.com

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14/Jul/2016

Attack in Nice: Many dead as lorry hits crowd

A lorry has struck a crowd after Bastille Day celebrations in the southern French city of Nice, killing at least 80 people and injuring dozens, officials say.

It happened on the famous Promenade des Anglais after a firework display. The driver was shot dead and guns and grenades were found inside the lorry.

President Francois Hollande said the attack was of a "terrorist nature".

He said he was extending a state of emergency by three months.

France had been on high alert following last November's attacks in Paris in which 130 people died and hundreds were wounded.

The state of emergency had been due to end on 26 July.

"France is badly hit," Mr Hollande said, adding that "we need to do everything we can to fight against" such attacks.

"All of France is under the threat of Islamic terrorism."

About 50 people were injured, 18 of them critically, in the incident on Thursday evening.

Prosecutor Jean-Michel Pretre said the lorry drove 2km (1.2 miles) through a large crowd, the AFP news agency reports.

One image on Twitter showed about a dozen people lying on the street.

Live updates

Attack in pictures

The mayor and police urged residents to stay indoors.

Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet denied earlier reports of hostage situations and said the driver of the lorry had been "neutralised".

He added that officials were investigating whether the driver acted alone.

No group has so far claimed responsibility, however, prosecutors said the inquiry would be handled by anti-terror investigators.

Some reports spoke of shots being exchanged between police and the occupants of the lorry but these have not been confirmed.

Social media video showed people running through the streets in panic following the incident.

A journalist with the Nice Matin newspaper reported from the scene that there was "a lot of blood and without doubt many injured".

An AFP reporter said the incident took place as the firework display was ending, adding: "We saw people hit and bits of debris flying around."

Another image on Twitter showed a white lorry stopped in the middle of the promenade with damage to its front, and four police officers observing it while taking cover behind a palm tree.

One eyewitness told BFM TV: "Everyone was calling run, run, run there's an attack run, run, run. We heard some shots. We thought they were fireworks because it's the 14th of July.

"There was great panic. We were running too because we didn't want to stick around and we went into a hotel to get to safety. "

Another witness, Roy Calley told the BBC that there were "thousands of people on the promenade" when the incident happened.

"The police have completely taken over the city, the promenade has now been closed down. Everybody was physically pushed away from the site and told to get back in no uncertain terms by the police."

"I live 200m from the promenade and it took nearly one hour 30 minutes to get back to my flat because all the roads have been closed down."

US President Barack Obama condemned "in the strongest terms what appears to be a horrific terrorist attack in Nice", the White House said.

The president had been briefed about the situation "and his national security team will update him, as appropriate", National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said.

On Friday, flags will be flying at half-mast, and Nice's jazz festival has been cancelled.

map

Source: bbc.com

 

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14/Jul/2016

Oldham 'urinating' row: Man charged with actual bodily harm

A 46-year-old has been charged with assaulting a pensioner who had asked a man to stop urinating in the street.

Derek Laidlaw, 70, was attacked after confronting a man near the wall of his partner's house in Failsworth, Oldham.

Mr Laidlaw suffered severe bruising to his face and head during the incident at about 22:45 BST on 2 July.

Stephen Anthony Glynn, from Massey Avenue, Failsworth, is due to appear before magistrates on Monday charged with actual bodily harm.

Source: bbc.com

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13/Jul/2016

Arizona police hunt for serial killer linked to seven deaths

Police in the US state of Arizona say a single suspect may be responsible for a series of shootings that have left seven people dead.

The first attacks were reported in March when two men were shot while walking outside; both survived.

The last incident was reported on 12 June when three women were shot and killed outside a home in west Phoenix.

All of the shootings occurred at night, and the victims appear to have been targeted at random.

A witness to one of the shootings helped detectives develop a sketch of the suspect.

Police described the suspect as a white or Hispanic man between 20 and 30 years old. He may have an accomplice, police said.

"Someone out there knows who did this," Phoenix Police Chief Joseph Yahner said. "We need our community to help us solve these cases."

Source: bbc.com

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13/Jul/2016

Zimbabwe pastor Evan Mawarire calls for more protests

A Zimbabwean pastor who was briefly detained after organising a nationwide strike last week has called on people to keep protesting.

Evan Mawarire told the BBC people should stay at home as part of a campaign against corruption, economic mismanagement and unemployment.

He said the campaign was serious about wanting change.

Mr Mawarire was freed on Wednesday when a court in Harare dismissed a legal case against him.

His lawyers successfully argued that the charge of subversion had been added at the last minute, denying him a fair trial.

Zimbabwe's flag fury

The pastor has been at the heart of a social media campaign denouncing the government's management of the economy.

He said the #ThisFlag movement's goal was to "get as many citizens as possible involved in nation-building".

His latest call for people to stay away from work in protest at the economic crisis went largely unheeded, with most businesses opening as normal on Wednesday.

Mr Mawarire admitted the protest was not as successful as last week's - when the country's cities were deserted - but said the strike should continue on Thursday.

He said: "Let's all shut down and send a message to our government that enough is enough, we need changes in very simple things, in very simple areas.

"And our protest - non-violent, non-inciting, stay-at-home, is the best because it is within the confines of the law.

"Every Zimbabwean who does not participate is robbing us of a great opportunity to add to the momentum of where our country is going."

Source: bbc.com

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13/Jul/2016

Islamic State confirms key commander Omar Shishani dead

A news agency linked to so-called Islamic State has confirmed the death of key leader Omar Shishani, who the US said it killed in March.

The Amaq news agency said Shishani was killed in combat in the town of Shirqat, south of Mosul in Iraq.

The Pentagon said in March he had died from injuries sustained in a US air strike in north-eastern Syria.

Shishani's real name was Tarkhan Batirashvili but he was also known as Omar the Chechen.

The red-bearded jihadist was said to be a close military adviser to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The confirmation came on the Amaq website, which IS regularly uses to issue news and which had denied the Pentagon's claims in March.

Amaq said he died trying to repel forces campaigning to retake the city of Mosul.

It did not specify when, but the statement conflicts with the US claims made in March.

It said its strike on 4 March had taken place near the north-eastern town of Shaddadi, where Shishani had reportedly been sent to bolster local IS forces.

Last year, the US offered a $5m (£3.5m) reward for Shishani.

It said he had held numerous senior military positions within the group, including "minister of war".

Source: bbc.com

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13/Jul/2016

US sentences Chinese hacker for stealing military information

A Chinese businessman who pleaded guilty to hacking sensitive military information has been sentenced to nearly four years in prison in the US.

Su Bin admitted collaborating with hackers in the Chinese military to steal data from US defence companies between 2008 and 2014.

He was arrested in Canada in 2014 and extradited to the US.

The Chinese government has repeatedly denied any involvement in hacking foreign companies or governments.

In addition to the 46-month prison sentence, the Los Angeles court also ordered Su to pay a $10,000 (£7,600) fine.

"Su Bin's sentence is a just punishment for his admitted role in a conspiracy with hackers from the People's Liberation Army Air Force to illegally access and steal sensitive US military information," assistant attorney general John Carlin said in a statement.

"Su assisted the Chinese military hackers in their efforts to illegally access and steal designs for cutting-edge military aircraft that are indispensable to our national defence," he explained.

Financial gain

Mr Su pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to gain unauthorised access to a protected computer and to violate the Arms Export Control Act.

He said he helped the hackers for personal financial gain, admitting he passed on information to Chinese hackers about which persons, companies and technologies to target.

He also pleaded guilty to translating the stolen material into Chinese.

The hack had targeted information on transport planes and fighter jets that was then offered for sale to Chinese companies.

China and the US have regularly swapped accusations about who is behind the cyber-attacks they each suffer.

In 2015, China arrested a group of hackers after the US government supplied them with a list of cybercrime suspects, accused of having stolen research and development information.

Source: bbc.com

 

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13/Jul/2016

Theresa May to hand out more jobs in first cabinet

New Prime Minister Theresa May will continue to form her new government later - as she begins her first full day in Downing Street.

Leading Brexit campaigner Boris Johnson said he was "humbled" having been named new foreign secretary, in one of Mrs May's first cabinet appointments.

Philip Hammond became chancellor, Amber Rudd is home secretary, and Eurosceptic David Davis is new Brexit secretary.

Mrs May later told European leaders she was committed to the UK leaving the EU.

In a series of congratulatory phone calls taken by Mrs May on Wednesday evening, the UK's second female prime minister spoke to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

A Downing Street spokesman said Mrs May had "emphasised her commitment to delivering the will of the British people to leave the European Union".

"The prime minister explained that we would need some time to prepare for these negotiations and spoke of her hope that these could be conducted in a constructive and positive spirit," the spokesman added.

Mrs May will continue to fill out her new cabinet later on Thursday, with the new secretaries of state for health, education, and work and pensions among those expected to be appointed.

Mrs May began forming her new cabinet shortly after her arrival into 10 Downing Street.

Her first cabinet announcement was former foreign secretary Mr Hammond as chancellor - replacing George Osborne.

Mr Osborne had been fired because his "brand" was seen as "too tarnished", BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said.

Mrs May also appointed Liam Fox to the new position of secretary of state for international trade, while Michael Fallon was retained as defence secretary.

By Laura Kuenssberg, BBC political editor

Whenever she happens to be near a microphone, Theresa May tends to say - absolutely truthfully it appears - that she just wants to "get on with the job".

Well she certainly has done that, wasting no time in announcing the most senior jobs in her cabinet, the first appointment only an hour or so after she walked in.

No surprise on appointment one - Philip Hammond, the former foreign secretary, becomes the money man. He's the embodiment of the phrase, "a safe pair of hands", and takes on the biggest role as Mrs May's supporter.

The biggest surprise is the appointment of Boris Johnson, the Tory members' darling, as the foreign secretary - one of the greatest offices of state, with a hugely different role as the UK contemplates life outside the EU.

Read more from Laura


Speaking on Wednesday night, Mr Johnson said he was "very humbled" and "very proud" at the appointment.

"Clearly now we have a massive opportunity in this country to make a great success of our relationship with Europe and with the world and I'm very excited to be asked to play a part in that," he told the BBC.

However, Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron predicted Mr Johnson would "spend more time apologising to nations he's offended" than working as foreign secretary.

After visiting Buckingham Palace, where she was formally appointed as prime minister by the Queen, Mrs May made her first speech outside 10 Downing Street.

She vowed to lead a government that worked for all, not just the "privileged few", promising to give people who were "just managing" and "working around the clock" more control over their lives.

For an "ordinary working class family", she added, "life is much harder than many people in Westminster realise".

She highlighted the "precious bond" between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and between "every one of us".

Mrs May also paid tribute to her predecessor, David Cameron, saying he had been "a great modern prime minister".

Mr Cameron had earlier given his final speech as prime minister outside Number 10, saying the job had been "the greatest honour" of his life and that the UK was "much stronger" than when he took over.

He took part in his final Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, where he was given a standing ovation by Conservative MPs, before formally tendering his resignation to the Queen.

Source: bbc.com

 

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13/Jul/2016

Brexit: Tensions emerge over UK-EU trade negotiations

UK and EU politicians have given very different accounts of how the UK's Brexit negotiations should proceed.

The EU's Trade Commissioner, Cecilia Malmstrom, says the UK cannot begin negotiating trade terms with the bloc until after it has left.

"First you exit then you negotiate," she told BBC Newsnight.

But the BBC understands other EU Commission officials privately believe it is "inconceivable" that trade talks would not start before the UK's exit.

One of the candidates to be next UK prime minister, Liam Fox, called Ms Malmstrom's stance "bizarre and stupid", saying the Brexit talks would include trade.

But the BBC's Chris Morris in Brussels says Ms Malmstrom's view of two consecutive sets of negotiations appears technically correct.

'Divorce' proceedings

At the EU summit this week the 27 government leaders - without the UK - agreed Brexit "divorce" talks should begin and end before any talks on a new settlement for the UK, Chris Morris says.

Brussels sources told our correspondent there was a real determination among the leaders not to mix the two.

The statement from the 27 said they wanted the UK to be "a close partner of the EU". But they also spoke of an agreement to be "concluded with the UK as a third country".

The phrase "third country" means the UK post-Brexit.

Outside the EU, the UK would trade with the bloc under World Trade Organization rules, pending a possible new deal on free trade.

WTO conditions would mean trade tariffs and non-tariff barriers, as the UK would no longer be in the EU single market.


When do Brexit talks start?

Not until a new Conservative leader is elected, who will replace David Cameron as prime minister by October.

Then it will be up to the new leader to decide when to trigger the EU's Article 50, the procedure for withdrawing from the EU.

Article 50 sets a two-year deadline for withdrawal from the EU. But the detailed negotiations on the UK's future relations with the EU could last years longer.


What sort of deal does the UK want?

Much depends on who wins the Conservative leadership. There are also divisions in the Leave camp over which of the UK's current EU arrangements should be kept.

Immigration was such a key issue in the referendum there is likely to be hard bargaining over free movement of EU workers.

But EU leaders have said access to the single market requires the free movement of people.

Achieving continued preferential access to the EU single market of 500m consumers would be a big prize for the UK. But there are also voices in the Leave camp urging a UK focus on trade with other partners.

Could there be free trade without free movement?


Who will negotiate with the UK?

Once the UK has given notification under Article 50, the European Council - that is, the other 27 governments and council president - will adopt guidelines for the negotiations.

It is not yet clear how the EU will organise its negotiating team, but the European Commission will take charge of the details.

The final deals on UK withdrawal and a future UK-EU relationship will have to be agreed by the EU's top institutions - the European Council, Commission and European Parliament.

Source: bbc.com

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01/Jul/2016

Gunmen take hostages in Bangladeshi capital Dhaka

Gunmen have stormed a popular cafe in the diplomatic area of the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, taking a number of hostages, officials say.

Several foreigners are among those being held by eight or nine armed men in the city's Gulshan district, they add.

Two police officers have been killed about 30 others injured in a gun battle, a spokesman said.

So-called Islamic State has said it carried out the attack.

A statement on the group's self-styled news agency Amaq said militants had attacked a restaurant "frequented by foreigners." It said that more than 20 people "of different nationalities" had been killed, but this has not been confirmed.

Security forces say they are trying to negotiate the hostages' release.

Initial reports said that as many as 20 foreigners were among those taken captives.

"We want to resolve this peacefully. We are trying to talk to the attackers," said Benazir Ahmed, chief of the Rapid Action Battalion, Bangladesh's elite police force.

"Our first priority is to save the lives of the people trapped inside."

Police said the gunmen burst into the Holey Artisan Bakery Cafe at about 21:20 (13:20 GMT) and opened fire.

The cafe is described as being popular with expatriates, diplomats, and middle-class families.

Bangladeshi security forces near restaurant attacked by unidentified gunmen in Dhaka. July 2, 2016

Police and officers of Bangladesh's Rapid Action Battalion are at the scene

Media reports quoted witnesses as saying that "Allahu Akbar," meaning "God is greatest," was heard as the attack took place.

An eyewitness said she heard a loud noise, followed by continuous gunfire.

"The glass of my drawing room shattered," Rashila Rahim said.

"My auntie, her daughter, and two friends went there for Iftar (breaking of the Ramadan fasting), and they have not come back. We cannot even check where they are."

Another local resident, Tarique Mir, said he could hear sporadic gunfire nearly three hours after the attack began.

"It is chaos out there. The streets are blocked. There are dozens of police commandos," he said.

BBC South Asia editor Jill McGivering says that although high-profile gun attacks are rare in Bangladesh, the latest incident follows a series of murders widely blamed on Islamist extremists.

Source: bbc.com

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01/Jul/2016

North Korea test-fires missiles in defiance of UN sanctions

North Korea has test-fired two mid-range ballistic missiles from its eastern coast, says South Korea.

The first launch was considered to have failed, travelling about 150km (90 miles) before landing in the sea.

The second, launched hours later, flew about 400km. Military officials in the South said both were intermediate-range Musudan missiles.

A confirmed successful test would mark a step forward for North Korea after four failed launches in recent months.

South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said Seoul and the US were "carrying out an in-depth analysis" of the second launch, and did not say whether it was considered a success.

North Korea, which is developing nuclear weapons, is banned by UN resolutions from any use of ballistic missile technology.

South Korea's presidential office announced that it would hold a national security meeting to discuss the launch.


Analysis: Stephen Evans, BBC News, Seoul

North Korea has tested these medium range missiles six times now in three months. Outside experts and intelligence agencies believe the first five launches were certainly failures, but aren't sure about the sixth (today's second launch).

It seems to have gone about 400km (250 miles), far short of its maximum range. That may be because it failed or it may be because a decision was taken not to send it over Japan which had said it would shoot any missile down.

So why is North Korea conducting tests so frequently?

Some Western scientists say that the more conventional way of testing is to conduct the test, and if it fails, to go away and work out why before trying again some months or even a year later.

If this steady method over a long period isn't being followed by North Korea, it may be because of intense pressure from the top, a pressure the scientists on the ground will no doubt feel.


'Provocative actions'

The US State Department has strongly condemned the launches, with spokesman John Kirby saying the tests would only increase efforts to stop North Korea's weapons programme.

A Musudan missile on display at a military parade in North Korea (2010)

North Korea has yet to conduct a full flight test of a Musudan missile

"We intend to raise our concerns at the UN to bolster international resolve in holding [North Korea] accountable for these provocative actions," said Mr Kirby in a statement.

North American Defense Command (Norad), which tracked the missiles, determined they did not pose a threat to North American territories.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said such tests "clearly cannot be tolerated".

The Musudan is believed to have a range of about 3,000km (1,800 miles), enough for it to hit South Korea, Japan and the US territory of Guam in the Western Pacific.

North Korea is thought to have dozens of them but has never successfully tested one.

The four other missiles tested in the last two months either exploded mid-air or crashed.

Surrounding countries had detected preparations for a launch in the past few days and warned that it was about to happen.


The Musudan missile

  • The Musudan, also known as the Nodong-B or the Taepodong-X is an intermediate-range ballistic missile.
  • Estimates differ dramatically on its range, with Israeli intelligence putting it at 2,500km and the US Missile Defense Agency estimating about 3,200km. Other sources put its upper limit at 4,000km.
  • The lower range of the Musudan will enable it to hit the whole of South Korea and Japan. At its upper range it would be able to target US military bases on Guam.
  • Its payload is unknown, but is estimated at 1.0-1.25 tonnes, according to AFP news agency.

Source: bbc.com

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21/Jun/2016

Trump says US should consider profiling against crime

The presumptive Republican candidate in the US presidential election, Donald Trump, has suggested the country should consider using profiling to combat crime.

Mr Trump made the remarks when asked if he supported more profiling of Muslims in the US, in the context of last week's shooting at an Orlando gay club.

Profiling uses ethnicity, race and religion to determine whether a person has or is likely to commit crimes.

Critics say it could alienate Muslims.

In an interview with CBS, Mr Trump said other countries had "successfully" adopted the measure.

"I hate the concept of profiling but we have to start using common sense," he said.

"I think profiling is something that we're going to have to start thinking about as a country... It's not the worst thing to do."

'Orlando justifies my Muslim ban' says Trump

21 things that Donald Trump believes

Mr Trump has stepped up his rhetoric since a gunman, New York-born Omar Mateen, killed 49 people at a night club in Orlando, in the worst mass shooting in recent US history.

The attacker claimed allegiance to so-called Islamic State as he carried out the massacre, but US officials believe he was "self-radicalized".

In the wake of the attack, Mr Trump called for a ban to people from all countries with a history of terrorism against the US.

He had previously expressed support for a temporary ban on foreign Muslims entering the country.

Orlando shooting: Special report

In the interview, the Republican also repeated a call for the Muslim community to report suspicious activities and reiterated his support for more scrutiny of mosques.

He said this could resemble a controversial surveillance programme in New York City that was shut down following lawsuits and complaints.

His proposals have been heavily criticised by some fellow Republicans and also by political opponents and campaigners.

In a separate interview, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said such measures could backfire by severing contacts with the Muslim community.

"It's very important for us to maintain our contacts within the Muslim community," she said in an interview on CNN.

"Because, often, individuals, if they're from that community and they're being radicalised, their friends and family members will see it first. They will see activity first. And we want that information to come to us."

Source: bbc.com

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20/Jun/2016

UN says refugee numbers at record level

The number of people displaced by conflict is at the highest level ever recorded, the UN refugee agency says.

It estimates that 65.3m people were either refugees, asylum seekers or internally displaced at the end of 2015, an increase of 5m in a year.

This represents one in every 113 people on the planet, it adds.

Meanwhile, the UN refugee chief says a worrying "climate of xenophobia" has taken hold in Europe as it struggles to cope with the migrant crisis.

The influx of people, the biggest since World War Two, has led to greater support to far-right groups and controversial anti-immigration policies.

In its annual report marking World Refugee Day, the UN said it was the first time ever that the number of refugees worldwide passed the 60m mark.

Over half of all of them came from war-torn Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia, it added.

Are more people on the move?

Migrant crises through history

Refugees wait for registration process prior the asylum procedure at the Helliniko refugee camp in Athens on 13 June

Europe has introduced a number of measures to curb the influx of migrants and refugees

Despite the huge focus on Europe's migrant crisis, the UN said 86% of the refugees were being sheltered in low and middle-income countries.

It pointed out that Germany received the most asylum requests, reflecting what was described as the country's readiness to accept refugees.

More than 1,011,700 migrants arrived in Europe by sea last year, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), although other agencies put that number much higher.

Some 35,000 arrived by land, the IOM said.

The preferred destination for most of them were richer northern countries like Germany and Sweden.

'Climate of xenophobia'

The crisis has caused significant political rifts within the EU, with some states inside the border-free Schengen area putting up fences and reimposing frontier controls.

The European bloc reached an agreement with Turkey in an attempt to stem the flux, a deal that has been heavily criticised by human rights groups.

People try to jump in the water right before their boat overturns off the Libyan coast on 25 May

Thousands of people continue to make dangerous journeys in trying to reach Europe

Some of the world's many migration routes

Source: bbc.com

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20/Jun/2016

Health: Obesity boom 'fuelling rise in malnutrition'

Malnutrition is sweeping the world, fuelled by obesity as well as starvation, new research has suggested.

The 2016 Global Nutrition Report said 44% of countries were now experiencing "very serious levels" of both under-nutrition and obesity.

It means one in three people suffers from malnutrition in some form, according to the study of 129 countries.

Being malnourished is "the new normal", the report's authors said.

Malnutrition has traditionally been associated with children who are starving, have stunted growth and are prone to infection.

These are still major problems, but progress has been made in this area.

The report's authors instead highlighted the "staggering global challenge" posed by rising obesity.

The increase is happening in every region of the world and in nearly every country, they said.

Hundreds of millions of people are malnourished because they are overweight, as well as having too much sugar, salt or cholesterol in their blood, the report said.

'Totally unacceptable'

Professor Corinna Hawkes, who co-chaired the research, said the study was "redefining what the world thinks of as being malnourished".

"Malnutrition literally means bad nutrition - that's anyone who isn't adequately nourished.

"You have outcomes like you are too thin, you're not growing fast enough… or it could mean that you're overweight or you have high blood sugar, which leads to diabetes," she said.

While many countries are on course to meet targets to reduce stunted growth and the number of underweight children, very few are making progress on tackling obesity and associated illnesses such as heart disease.

In fact, the report says, the number of children under five who are overweight is fast approaching the number who are underweight.

Co-chairman Lawrence Haddad said: "We now live in a world where being malnourished is the new normal.

"It is a world that we must all claim as totally unacceptable."

The report calls for more money and political commitment to address the problem. It says for every $1 (70p) spent on proven nutrition programmes, $16 (£11.25) worth of benefits ensue.

Source: bbc.com

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14/Jun/2016

French police chief's killer 'claimed allegiance to IS'

A man claiming allegiance to so-called Islamic State (IS) stabbed a French policeman to death before being killed when police stormed a house, in what officials say was a "terrorist act".

The attacker took the officer's partner and their son hostage in their home in Magnanville, near Paris. Officers of an elite police unit stormed the house in Magnanville.

The partner was found dead but the child was rescued.

French media say the attacker had been sentenced in 2013 for involvement with jihadist groups with links to Pakistan.

Unnamed sources identified him as 25-year-old Larossi Abballa, who lived in nearby Mantes-La-Jolie and was convicted for "criminal association with the aim of preparing terrorist acts".

He was sentenced to a three-year term, with six months suspended, they said.

Islamic State's Amaq news agency said an IS "fighter" carried out the attack.

If that is confirmed, it would be the first militant attack in France since a state of emergency was imposed following last November's attacks which left 130 dead in Paris.

And it happens as the country is in high alert as it hosts the Euro football championship, which started on Friday.

French prosecutors launched an anti-terror investigation, AFP news agency reported.

'Abject act of terrorism'

French Interior Minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, said the attack was an "abject act of terrorism".

He spoke as a cabinet meeting was being held by President Francois Hollande.

Man attacked policeman before entering house and taking a woman and child hostage, witnesses said.

In a statement earlier, Mr Holland called it an "abominable drama."

Witnesses quoted by AFP said that the knife-wielding man may have shouted "Allahu akbar" (God is greater) when he attacked the 42-year-old policeman, who was not in uniform, outside his home.

The attacker then went inside the house and took a woman and child hostage.

He is reported to have claimed allegiance to IS while talking to police negotiators.

Interior ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said France's elite police Raid unit was brought in after the officer's killer took hostages at around 21:00 (19:00 GMT).

He said negotiations had been unsuccessful and a decision had been made to "launch an assault" at about midnight.

Witnesses reported hearing loud explosions as the officers from the Raid unit moved in.

"The toll is a heavy one," Mr Brandet later told reporters at the scene.

"This commander, this police officer was killed by the individual... (and) we discovered the body of a woman. The assailant, the criminal was killed. Thankfully, a little boy was saved. He is safe and sound."

A source later told AFP: "The anti-terror department of the Paris prosecution service is taking into account at this stage the mode of operation, the target and the comments made during negotiations with the Raid."

The victims have not yet been named. Magnanville is about 55 km (35 miles) north-west of the French capital.

Source: bbc.com

 

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14/Jun/2016

Orlando shooting: Vigils held around world to honour victims

Vigils have been held in Orlando, Florida, and around the world for the victims of Sunday's deadly gun attack on a gay nightclub.

A Muslim cleric told those attending the Orlando event that Muslims stood united with them against "the ideology of hatred, death and destruction".

Similar gatherings have been held in countries including France, Australia, the UK and Germany.

The attack on Orlando's Pulse nightclub left 49 people dead and dozens wounded.

US authorities say gunman Omar Mateen pledged allegiance to so-called Islamic State (IS) shortly before the attack.

Several Pulse customers have told US media that Mateen was a regular visitor to the nightclub.

"Sometimes he would go over in the corner and sit and drink by himself, and other times he would get so drunk he was loud and belligerent," Ty Smith told the Orlando Sentinel.

Other witnesses said they recognised him from gay dating apps.

President Barack Obama is due to travel to Orlando on Thursday to pay his respects to the victims.

How attacks unfolded

Who was Omar Mateen?

US gun companies see share price rise

Orlando shooting: Special report

Thousands of people gathered in central Orlando on Monday night, holding candles and flowers in tribute to the victims.

Imam Muhammad Musri, of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, said the attack had been "an act of terror, an act of hate".

"We condemn the ideology of hate and death and destruction and we call for all Muslim leaders and communities across this nation and across the world to stand up and to deal with this cancer and to remove it once and for all," he said.

Vigil for victims of Orlando nightclub shooting outside Admiral Duncan pub on Old Compton Street, Soho, London. 13 June 2016

The vigil in London brought crowds on to the streets of Soho

The vigil was held outside the area's main performing arts venue, the Dr Phillips Center, which has become the site of a makeshift memorial.

"Pulse gave me confidence, made me realise I was normal and so much like everyone else," said Cathleen Daus, a former employee at the club who attended the vigil.

In New York, the lights of the Empire State Building were turned off as thousands attended a memorial event for the Orlando victims.

A vigil was also held in London's Soho district, the hub of the city's gay community, and there were cheers as 49 balloons were released, one for each of those who died.

Australia's landmark Sydney Harbour Bridge was lit in the rainbow colours of the gay community flag as hundreds gathered to pay tribute.

"This could have happened anywhere," Paul Savage told AFP news agency at the candlelit vigil.

Paris's Eiffel Tower was also lit up in rainbow colours, as well as the colours of the US flag, as people held a memorial to honour those killed and injured in Orlando.

In Berlin, more than 100 people gathered outside the US embassy to light candles, lay flowers and wave rainbow flags.

Vigil in Paris. 13 June 2016

The Eiffel Tower was lit up in tribute to the Orlando victims

Vigil for Orlando victims in Sydney, Australia. 13 June 2016

Flags and candles formed a makeshift memorial in Sydney, Australia

The deadliest mass shooting in recent US history ended when police shot Mateen dead. The attack also left 53 people injured, five of them in a serious condition.

On Monday, President Obama said the inquiry was being treated as a terrorist investigation.

However, he said there was no clear evidence that Omar Mateen was directed by IS.

FBI Director James Comey said there were "strong indications of radicalisation and of potential inspiration by foreign terrorist organisations".

"We're highly confident this killer was radicalised at least in some part through the internet," he said.

The two presumptive candidates running for US president spoke about what they would do to stop similar attacks.

Republican Donald Trump said changes were needed to the US immigration system which he blamed for allowing Omar Mateen's family to come to the US from Afghanistan.

Democrat Hillary Clinton called for action to stop militants getting hold of assault rifles, saying weapons of war had no place on America's streets.

What happened on the night?

Mateen began shooting inside the club around 02:00 (06:00 GMT) on Sunday, when the club was holding a Latin night and was packed with revellers.

An off-duty police officer working at the club fought Mateen in a gun battle before police reinforcements arrived.

Plan of the Pulse nightclub showing the layout of the venue

Graphic showing layout of Pulse nightclub and sequence of events

Forced to retreat into a toilet, Mateen took hostages, Orlando police chief John Mina said.

Another 15 or so people were in another toilet, across the hallway, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said.

Believing Mateen would kill again imminently, police used explosives and an armoured vehicle to break through a wall of the building and survivors began streaming through the hole they had created.

Mateen himself followed them out shooting and was killed, police say.

Cities around the world have been flying rainbow gay pride flags and illuminating buildings in solidarity with the victims of the shooting in Florida.

Clockwise from top left: Images of Orlando shooting victims Edward Sotomayor, Stanley Almodovar, Luis Omar Ocasio-Ocampo, Juan Ramon Guerrero, Luis Vielma and Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera

Clockwise from top left: Orlando shooting victims Edward Sotomayor, Stanley Almodovar, Luis Omar Ocasio-Ocampo, Juan Ramon Guerrero, Luis Vielma and Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera

The names of 48 of the 49 victims have now been released: 41 men and seven women. They include:

  • Edward Sotomayor, 34, who worked for a company that organised gay cruises
  • Stanley Almodovar, 23, a pharmacy technician who was remembered as "kind and sassy"
  • Kimberly Morris, 37, who had only recently moved to Orlando and worked at Pulse as a bouncer
  • Luis Vielma, 22, who worked at the Harry Potter section at Universal Studios - author J K Rowling paid tribute to him online
  • Eddie Justice, 30, who sent his mother a series of text messages while inside the club - read more on him here
  • Akyra Murray, 18, who graduated from high school a week ago - her school described her as a "superstar"

The Pulse nightclub was holding its Latino night when the attack took place and many of the victims have Latino or Hispanic names.

Read more about the victims here

LGBT community under siege

Graphic showing numbers of victims in major US shootings

Source: bbc.com

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14/Jun/2016

Dutch woman arrested in Qatar after making rape claim

A Dutch woman is being detained in Qatar on suspicion of adultery after she told police she had been raped.

The 22-year-old, who was on holiday, was drugged in a Doha hotel and woke up in an unfamiliar flat, where she realised she had been raped, her lawyer says.

She was arrested in March on suspicion of having sex outside of marriage. She is due to appear in court on Monday.

The alleged rapist is also being held, but says the sex had been consensual.

A Dutch foreign ministry spokeswoman said the woman, who she named as Laura, had been arrested but not yet been charged.

"We have provided assistance to her since the first day of detention. For the sake of the defendant's case we will not make further comments at this point," the Dutch embassy said in a statement.

'Great horror'

The woman had gone dancing at a hotel in Doha where alcohol was allowed, "but when she returned to the table after the first sip of her drink... she felt very unwell" and realised she had been drugged, her lawyer Brian Lokollo told Dutch broadcaster NOS-Radio1.

Her next memory was waking up in an unfamiliar apartment where she "realised to her great horror that she had been raped," Mr Lokollo added.

The woman may also be charged with an alcohol-related offence, news website Doha News reported.

It is an offence to drink alcohol or be drunk in public in Qatar, although alcohol is allowed at certain hotels and expatriates can obtain a permit for purchasing alcohol.

In 2013, a Norwegian woman in neighbouring United Arab Emirates was given a 16-month prison sentence for perjury, extramarital sex and drinking alcohol after she told police she had been raped.

She was later pardoned and allowed to return to Norway.

Source: bbc.com

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11/Jun/2016

EU referendum: Sir James Dyson says Britain better off out

Britain will gain more from leaving the EU than it will lose, billionaire entrepreneur Sir James Dyson has said.

The inventor said the idea that Britain could not trade successfully outside the EU was "absolute cobblers".

He said the single market did not work because exporters had to adapt products like his to cater for different languages and different types of plugs.

Britain Stronger In Europe said: "James Dyson wanted the UK to join the Euro. He was wrong then and he is wrong now."

Court battle

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph Sir James, who is best known for designing a bagless vacuum cleaner, said the UK "will create more wealth and more jobs by being outside the EU than we will within it".

 

"When the Remain campaign tells us no one will trade with us if we leave the EU, sorry, it's absolute cobblers. Our trade imbalance with Europe is running at £9bn a month and rising. If this trend continues, that is £100bn a year."

Sir James argued that if, after a vote to leave, the EU imposed a 10% tariff on UK goods, Britain would do the same on imported EU goods. He said that because Britain imported far more from the EU than it exported there, it would bring in an extra £10bn a year for the UK.

The entrepreneur, who is worth over £3bn, also criticised the EU's free movement for not allowing the talented staff he needed to work in the UK.

Dyson vacuum

Sir James has been involved in several battles with the European Court against the EU's energy labelling policy

"We're not allowed to employ them, unless they're from the EU," he said. "At the moment, if we want to hire a foreign engineer, it takes four and a half months to go through the Home Office procedure. It's crazy.

"Why on earth would you chuck out researchers with that valuable technology which they then take back to China or Singapore and use it against us?"

Sir James has been involved in several battles with the European Court against the EU's labelling policy for vacuum cleaners.

"It's a politically motivated court of justice," he said. "Politically motivated to protect vested interests."

But Britain Stronger in Europe accused Sir James of "wanting to have his cake and eat it when it comes to the EU".

It highlighted that in 2000 Sir James had said Britain would be "suicidal" not to join the single currency and that in 2014 he had called for the free movement of people within the EU to be retained.

Sir James's announcement comes as a new poll suggests the Brexit camp has a 10-point lead. The latest online survey of 2,000 people on Wednesday and Thursday by ORB for the Independent put the scores at 55% to 45% in favour of pulling out, after allowing for an individual's likelihood to vote.

Vote Leave has tweeted that it does not believe the poll, adding it thinks the split is closer to 50-50.

In other developments:

  • Jeremy Corbynwill make a fresh push to persuade Labour supporters to back keeping Britain in the EU. Amid questions over his commitment to the cause, he told Channel 4's The Last Leg that he was "not a huge fan" of the EU but was 70-75% in favour of staying
  • A group of 13 Nobel prize-winning scientists have urged voters to back Remain saying leaving the EU was a "key risk" to the future of British science
  • The Remain campaign has also been backed by some of Britain's largest developers and house builders who say a vote for Brexit will make the housing crisis worse
  • Nigel Farage says he thinks the Leave campaign is on course for victory in the EU referendum with its "upbeat" message about life outside the EU

Source: bbc.com

 

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11/Jun/2016

How South African women are reclaiming the headscarf

African women have worn headscarves for many years for religious, cultural reasons and even as a fashion statement but they were traditionally worn by older, usually married women.

They are a common feature in ceremonies such as weddings and even funerals.

Many also love the convenience of it - it can be a quick fix for a bad hair day.

And young South African women are embracing the doek (as it is known in Afrikaans).

One of the most popular forms of headscarves across Africa is the gele from West Africa. It can be incredibly elaborate and is usually starched so the material becomes stiff to hold its shape.

In Nigerian how a Yoruba woman wears her headscarf can be a sign of her marital status - if worn with the ends facing down its means a woman is married and if worn with the ends up, she is single.

Here in South Africa, there is a necessary debate about the doek in the corporate world.

Reporters in the ENCA newsroom, showing their support for colleague Nontobeko Sibisi (F)

Reporters in the ENCA newsroom, showing their support for colleague Nontobeko Sibisi (F)

A news reporter for ENCA, an independent news channel trended on social media after it emerged that her story had been taken off air because she filmed it wearing a doek.

Cue social media storm.

The hashtags #RespekTheDoek and #DoekTheNewsroom trended for a number of days here last week with many people - including men and even women from all racial groups - wearing a doek to show their support for the young journalist.

The channel, while explaining that its dress code does not allow on-air journalists to wear headgear to work, has said it is now reviewing that policy.

But many believe the channel's reaction showed how the workplace has not changed with the times.

Some say it shows an intolerance to black culture.

"We are, after all, in South Africa where we have to be sensitive to everyone's culture and not just of those that don't wear doeks," says former entertainment writer Itumeleng Motuba.

"But don't forget that the workplace also insinuates that black natural hair is unprofessional. It seems looking African is unprofessional, which is rather ludicrous."

Kgothatso Maditse, a poet, agrees.

"It just goes to show just how far we are from accepting anything African if it doesn't have the 'right' stamp of approval. The longer we keep avoiding these topics, the longer we prolong and pacify an obviously stale way of thinking," she says.

'Good woman'

Pumza Fihlani

Wearing a headscarf, as a married woman, is a part of my Xhosa culture

In Xhosa culture, my culture, a married woman must wear iqhiya, which is what we call it, around her in-laws. This is seen as a sign of respect.

The in-laws will often show their makoti (daughter-in-law) how they'd like her to wear her scarf. In my case, mine needs to always cover my hair and ears.

My mother-in-law, who has been married for more than 40-years, wears it the same way.

For a while I had a love-hate relationship with the doek - it felt like a throwback to the past. It seemed like yet another way society was controlling how black women should look.

But a new generation of young women have now reclaimed the look - sporting a range of prints from all around Africa, they see the doek as an expression of what it is to be African.

And so I've grown to appreciate the delicate balance between ancient symbolism and modern identity - and made it my personal mission to celebrate its new-found power.

Kamogelo Seekoei, a Johannesburg writer, describes her headscarf as "a crown".

"Only a matriarch will know that a covered head means queen. We as black girls are out here celebrating our existence like never before," she says simply.

She says headscarves are a sign of "Queening" - a term used to refer to a social movement of black women from around the world who are embracing black beauty and power.


A selection of names for headscarves around Africa:

  • South Africa - Doek
  • Malawi/ Zimbabwe - Dhuku
  • Ghana - Duku
  • Nigeria - Gele
  • Sudan - Tarha
  • Sierra Leone - Enkeycha
  • East Africa (Swahili) - Kilemba
  • DR Congo (Lingala) - Kitambala
  • Rwanda/ Burundi - Igitambara
  • Uganda - Ekitambala (Luganda)/ Latam wich (Acholi)
  • Zambia - Chitambala

From oppression to power

A number of high-profile African women are often pictured in elaborate headscarves, such as Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, African Union (AU) head Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

But the doek here is also rooted in racial politics.

Boitumelo Ndaba, owner of Tuku Affair

The doek has become a popular fashion accessory among young South Africans

In South Africa, black domestic workers have worn it as part of their cleaning uniform for decades and it has served as a not-so-subtle reminder of that person's social standing.

It is a way of exerting control - an outward symbol of the gulf between servant and master.

This perhaps explains my reservations about headscarves at first.

Some say it is beginning to shed that image.

Kamogelo Seekoei (C) with friends in Johannesburg

Kamogelo Seekoei (C) says wearing a headscarf is also about convinience

"Africans are going through a state of being woke [awakened]. Africans are coming back to themselves," says Tumi Ndaba, the owner of Tuku Affair, a Pretoria-based company that sells headscarves from materials bought all over Africa.

"The doek never left, it was just worn in a way that wasn't really appealing us, but the more we fall in love with ourselves, the more we work harder at perfecting and beautifying everything that belongs to us," she tells me.

South Africa, whose constitution is rooted in celebrating cultural diversity, is growing up and its people are now more than ever using their voice and asserting their identity.

And so on days when I wear a doek (which is admittedly sometimes on bad hair days), I feel regal.

Like many young people here, I now wear it as a statement, to celebrate Africa - with all its flaws and beauty and its journey to finding itself.

Read Pumza's article about the politics of African hair

Source: bbc.com

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11/Jun/2016

Award-winning Lagos lagoon school collapses

An award-winning floating school that provided classes to children on a lagoon in Nigeria's biggest city, Lagos, has collapsed during heavy rains.

It had been out of use since March and no-one was injured. The school had been in use for three years in Lagos' Makoko waterfront slum.

Makoko school

This was the three-storey floating school when it was in use

"The structure collapsed at around 10:00 on Tuesday following a rainstorm," the school's head teacher Noah Shemede, told the AFP news agency.

He said 58 students who had been taught there had been relocated to the main school nearby.

Architect Kunle Adeyemi said the building was a prototype which had been used "intensively" over the last three years and a new building would be constructed to replace it.

Makoko school children

Makoko school children are going to a main school at the moment

Source: bbc.com

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09/Jun/2016

Ghana: Accra hit by more flood after heavy rain

Heavy downpours in Ghana's capital city Accra have caused widespread flooding today.

The city is still recovering from the deadly floods of June 2015 when around 100 people were killed when the petrol station that they were sheltering in following floods exploded.

Collins Pobee, from Modern Photos Ltd, used a drone to capture the extent of the flooding around Kwame Nkrumah Circle, where the deep flood water brought traffic to a halt.

Ariel shot of flood water in Accra

Deep flood water beneath the circle bridge area stopped traffic passing through

Buildings and shops in rising flood waters

Shops and building were abandoned because of the rising flood waters

Source: bbc.com

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09/Jun/2016

Suspect extradited for people smuggling 'is wrong man'

Friends of a man extradited to Italy on Tuesday on people smuggling charges say police have the wrong man.

Prosecutors believe Mered Medhanie, known as The General, is at the heart of the operation to smuggle migrants from Africa to Europe.

An Eritrean man authorities say is Mr Mered was held in Sudan in May and flown to Rome on Tuesday.

But the man's friends told the BBC there had been a case of mistaken identity and he was innocent.

He was named by friends as Mered Tesfamariam.

A spokesman for Britain's National Crime Agency (NCA), that was involved in the operation, told the Press Association they were "liaising with our partners".

It added: "This is a complex multi-partner operation and it is too soon to speculate about these claims."

An Italian police official told the BBC that he was unaware of any investigation into the identity of the suspected smuggler. The BBC understands that the Italian police still believe they have the right person.

Has Eritrea's migration problem been exaggerated?

Europe's migrant story enters new phase

Crisis in seven charts

Left: An image of the man believed to be Mered Medhanie previously released by the UK National Crime Agency; Right: the man extradited to Italy

Left: An image of the man believed to be Mered Medhanie previously released by the UK National Crime Agency;

Right: the man said to be to be Mered Medhanie who was extradited to Italy

The NCA said it had tracked the suspect down to an address in Khartoum, where he was then arrested.

Images of him arriving in Rome were distributed by Italian police on Wednesday.

The BBC spoke to one man, Hermon Berhe, who lives in Ethiopia and said he grew up in Eritrea with the man shown in the pictures.

"I don't think he has any bone in his body which can involve such kind of things," he said. "He is a loving, friendly and kind person."

Another Eritrean man told the BBC's Will Ross he recently shared a house in Sudan with the man who was arrested.

Meron Estefanos, a Swedish-Eritrean journalist who interviewed Mr Mered last year, told Swedish media the man in the images was not him, but was instead a 28-year-old man with the same name.

"He's just a refugee who was in Khartoum, poor guy," she told Aftonbladet newspaper.

Eritrean people attend the commemoration ceremony for the victims of the boat sinking disaster off the Lampedusa coast on October 21, 2013 in San Leone near Agrigento, Italy

Mr Mered is believed to have planned a boat trip during which more than 350 migrants died

Italian news agency Ansa said Mr Mered was accused of being "the leader and organiser of one of the largest criminal groups operating between central Africa and Libya".

Prosecutors accuse Mr Mered of running the network alongside an Ethiopian accomplice, who is still at large.

The two men are accused of buying up kidnapped migrants from other gangs and sending those migrants on barely seaworthy ships across the Mediterranean towards Europe.

Known as "The General", as he styled himself on late Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi, Mr Mered is also said to have driven around in a tank and boasted: "Nobody is stronger than me."

The NCA says Mr Mered is thought to have arranged the transit of a boat that sank near the Italian island of Lampedusa in October 2013.

At least 359 migrants died when the boat, travelling from Libya, capsized. Most were from Eritrea and Somalia.

Source: bbc.com

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09/Jun/2016

Papua New Guinea moves to block more student protests

The University of Papua New Guinea has obtained an injunction to stop protests after a number of people were hurt when a demonstration turned violent.

Police opened fire as students were trying to march from their campus in the capital, Port Moresby, towards parliament.

Police say 23 people were hurt.

The students want Prime Minister Peter O'Neill to stand down to answer corruption allegations, which he denies.

Mr O'Neill is also facing a possible no-confidence motion in parliament.

'Fight will continue'

On Thursday, protest leader Noel Anjo told Reuters news agency that the students' demonstrations would continue despite the ban.

"We're not going to give up," he said. "The students are not going to give up until and unless the prime minister resigns or surrenders himself to police and is arrested and charged. This fight will continue."

The court order also bans students from boycotting classes, which they have been doing for the past five weeks.

A statement by Mr O'Neill's office said an investigation was under way to determine to what extent the protests were "promoted by individuals outside the student body".

"The inquiry will also seek to uncover the source of external funding that has underwritten student protest in recent weeks," the statement said.


What are the students protesting about?

Papua New Guinea PM Peter O'Neill

Mr O'Neill has rejected calls for his resignation

In 2014 a warrant was issued for Mr O'Neill's arrest, in an investigation into whether he authorised millions of dollars in illegal government payments to a large legal firm.

He has consistently evaded the warrant with court orders, and disbanded the anti-corruption watchdog.

Thousands of UNPG students have been boycotting classes for five weeks, demanding he resign. Classes were officially suspended last month.

What has Peter O'Neill said?

In May, Mr O'Neill responded to a petition from students saying that he would not be resigning.

He said the corruption allegations against him were of "questionable political intent", as reported by ABC.

Why is PNG so turbulent?

Papua New Guinea was ranked one of the most corrupt countries in the world in 2012 by Transparency International.

According to the World Bank, 70% of the country, the most linguistically diverse in the world, lives in poverty.


The country's higher education minister, Malakai Tabar, welcomed the injunction, Australia's ABC News reported.

An injured man is helped into a hospital, during clashes between protesters and police in Port Moresby. Photo: 8 June 2016

A number of people were reported injured during the clashes

"The overwhelming majority of students simply want to go to class, sit their exams and proceed to the next semester," he said, while blaming the violence on "thuggery".

Police commissioner Gari Baki said 23 students were injured, four seriously, local news site EMTV reported. He said an investigation would determine if they were shot.

A handful of police officers were also injured, he added.

Footage obtained by the BBC appeared to show a large crowd of students at the campus running away as shots and tear gas were fired.

Images circulating on social media also showed injured students being carried away.

Opposition MPs had told parliament on Wednesday that four people were killed, but the government and hospitals have denied there were any deaths.

Source: bbc.com

 

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09/Jun/2016

Tel Aviv shooting: Four killed in shopping centre attack

Two Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded six others after opening fire at a popular open-air shopping and restaurant area of central Tel Aviv, Israeli authorities say.

The attacks took place in two locations in Sarona Market, close to Israel's defence ministry and main army HQ.

Police said the gunmen were from Yatta, a Palestinian village near the West Bank town of Hebron.

Both are in custody. One is undergoing surgery in hospital, police added.

There has been a rise in Palestinian attacks on Israelis since last year, with a series of shootings, stabbings and car rammings, although the number of incidents had dropped in recent months.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who visited the scene of the attack late on Wednesday, called it "a savage crime of murder and terrorism".

'Ran like lightning'

The attacks happened at around 21:30 (18:30 GMT) as people were relaxing in the market's restaurants and bars.

Video footage showed crowds running from the scene and ambulances arriving. Pictures showed upturned tables and chairs at one restaurant.

One woman told Israel's Channel 10 TV that she had been celebrating her son's birthday when she heard shots and "immediately understood it was a terror attack".

"We ran like lightning with the baby and the stroller," Meital Sassi said. "I yelled at people who didn't understand what was happening to run."

Ichilov hospital said four wounded people brought there had died and at least others were in a critical condition.

Tel Aviv police chief Chico Edri called it a "pretty serious terrorist incident" but said fears of a third attacker were unfounded.

"Two terrorists arrived at the complex and while firing, and to our regret, nine people were injured to different degrees," he said.

"Of the two terrorists, one was arrested and the other wounded by gunfire. The weapons they were carrying have been seized."

The director of the market, Shlomi Hajaj, told Channel 10 that security guards at the entrance had "prevented the attackers from entering the facility, averting a bigger disaster as the compound was packed with people".

"I think a larger tragedy was avoided by the resolute action of citizens, of security people, police," said Mr Netanyahu.

"We're going to take the necessary steps to attack the attackers and defend those who need to be defended."

Source: bbc.com

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09/Jun/2016

Papua New Guinea police open fire on student protest

Police in Papua New Guinea have opened fire on students protesting against Prime Minister Peter O'Neill.

Several students were injured but local media say there have been no fatalities.

They were marching from their campus in the capital, Port Moresby, towards parliament, where Mr O'Neill faces a possible motion of no confidence.

The students are demanding that he stand down over corruption allegations, which he denies.

Footage obtained by the BBC appeared to show a large crowd of students at the campus running away as shots and tear gas were fired.

Medical officials in Port Moresby told Reuters that at least 10 students had been admitted "in a difficult situation".

Images circulating on social media also showed injured students being carried away.


What are the students protesting about?

Political tension in the country has been rising for weeks, with thousands of students at the University of Papua New Guinea boycotting classes demanding the resignation of PM O'Neill over alleged corruption. Classes were officially suspended last month.

What has Peter O'Neill said?

In May, Mr O'Neill responded to a petition from students saying that he would not be resigning. He said the corruption allegations against him were of "questionable political intent", as reported by ABC.

Why is PNG so turbulent?

Papua New Guinea was ranked one of the most corrupt countries in the world in 2012 by Transparency International.

In 2014, Mr O'Neill himself was accused of fraud by the national anti-corruption watchdog, which issued a warrant for his arrest. The warrant has not been carried out so far.

According to the World Bank, 70% of the country, the most linguistically diverse in the world, lives in poverty.


One eyewitness, David Rupa, told the BBC he was on his way to work when he became caught in the protest at about 08:50 local time (23:50 GMT Tuesday).

He said he could see tear gas and people running for cover and heard shots fired.

"I saw policemen hit and kick girls who couldn't run [fast enough] and were bashed up. I cried and was told I will be shot if I was going to take photos or video."

He also said he had seen smoke coming from a dormitory at the university, and that parents were coming down to the campus to make sure their children were not hurt.

Gary Juffa, an MP and vocal critic of the prime minister, said on Twitter he had been told the shooting began with an argument between one student and a police superintendent.

Reports suggest the students had refused to hand over their protest leader to police.

Opposition figures told parliament that four people had died, while some reports said one person was dead. But local news site EMTV told the BBC there had been no confirmed fatalities.

EMTV said the university had suspended classes to deal with the student boycott, but they were supposed to resume this week.

The students were continuing their boycott, however, as opposition parties lodged a no confidence motion against Mr O'Neill.

Mr O'Neill, who has a majority in parliament, has consistently denied wrongdoing and has refused to stand down.

Source: bbc.com

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07/Jun/2016

Scientists grow human organs for transplant inside pigs

Scientists in the United States are trying to grow human organs inside pigs.

They have injected human stem cells into pig embryos to produce human-pig embryos known as chimeras.

The embryos are part of research aimed at overcoming the worldwide shortage of transplant organs.

The team from University of California, Davis says they should look and behave like normal pigs except that one organ will be composed of human cells.

The human-pig chimeric embryos are being allowed to develop in the sows for 28 days before the pregnancies are terminated and the tissue removed for analysis.

The BBC's Panorama was given exclusive access to the research for Medicine's Big Breakthrough: Editing Your Genes.

Creating a chimera

Creating the chimeric embryos takes two stages. First, a technique known as CRISPR gene editing is used to remove DNA from a newly fertilised pig embryo that would enable the resulting foetus to grow a pancreas.

This creates a genetic "niche" or void. Then, human induced pluripotent (iPS) stem cells are injected into the embryo. The iPS cells were derived from adult cells and "dialled back" to become stem cells capable of developing into any tissue in the body.

The team at UC Davis hopes the human stem cells will take advantage of the genetic niche in the pig embryo and the resulting foetus will grow a human pancreas.

chimera embryo

Human stem cells being injected into a pig embryo - the cells can be seen travelling down the tube on the right of screen

Pablo Ross, a reproductive biologist who is leading the research told me: "Our hope is that this pig embryo will develop normally but the pancreas will be made almost exclusively out of human cells and could be compatible with a patient for transplantation."

But the work is controversial. Last year, the main US medical research agency, the National Institutes of Health, imposed a moratorium on funding such experiments.

The main concern is that the human cells might migrate to the developing pig's brain and make it, in some way, more human.

Pablo Ross says this is unlikely but is a key reason why the research is proceeding with such caution: "We think there is very low potential for a human brain to grow, but this is something we will be investigating."

Biological incubator

His team has previously injected human stem cells into pig embryos but without first creating the genetic niche. Prof Ross said although they later found human cells in several parts of the developing foetus, they "struggled to compete" with the pig cells. By deleting a key gene involved in the creation of the pig pancreas, they hope the human cells will have more success creating a human-like pancreas.

Other teams in the United States have created human-pig chimeric embryos but none has allowed the foetuses to be born.

Walter Low, professor in the department of neurosurgery, University of Minnesota, said pigs were an ideal "biological incubator" for growing human organs, and could potentially be used to create not just a pancreas but hearts, livers, kidneys, lungs and corneas.

He said if the iPS cells were taken from a patient needing a transplant then these could be injected in a pig embryo which had the key genes deleted for creating the required organ, such as the liver: "The organ would be an exact genetic copy of your liver but a much younger and healthier version and you would not need to take immunosuppressive drugs which carry side-effects."

But Prof Low stressed that the research, using another form of gene editing called TALENs, was still at the preliminary stages, trying to identify the target genes which must be removed in order to prevent the pig from developing a particular organ.

His team is also trying to create dopamine-producing human neurons from chimeric embryos to treat patients with Parkinson's disease.

These embryos have been allowed to develop for up to 62 days - the normal gestation period is around 114 days.

Like the team in California, Prof Low said they were monitoring the effects on the pig brain: "With every organ we will look at what's happening in the brain and if we find that it's too human like, then we won't let those foetuses be born".

Animal viruses

Gene editing has revitalised research into xenotransplantation, and the concept of using animal organs for humans.

In the mid-90s there were hopes that genetically modified pigs might provide an endless supply of organs for patients, and that cross-species transplants were not far off.

But clinical trials stalled because of fears that humans might be infected with animal viruses.

Last year, a team at Harvard Medical School used CRISPR gene editing to remove more than 60 copies of a pig retrovirus.

Prof George Church, who led the research, told me: "It opens up the possibility of not just transplantation from pigs to humans but the whole idea that a pig organ is perfectible.

"Gene editing could ensure the organs are very clean, available on demand and healthy, so they could be superior to human donor organs."

Animal suffering

But organisations campaigning for an end to factory farming are dismayed at the thought of organ farms.

Peter Stevenson, from Compassion in World Farming, told me: "I'm nervous about opening up a new source of animal suffering. Let's first get many more people to donate organs. If there is still a shortage after that, we can consider using pigs, but on the basis that we eat less meat so that there is no overall increase in the number of pigs being used for human purposes."

In Greek mythology, chimeras were fire-breathing monsters composed of several animals - part lion, goat and snake. The scientific teams believe human-pig chimeras should look and behave like normal pigs except that one organ will be composed of human cells.

Scott Fahrenkrug, whose Minnesota-based company Recombinetics is teaming up on the chimera research with Prof Low, told me: "Perhaps the term chimera is going to take on a new meaning and it will be one that's much more affectionate: chimeras will be seen to be what they are which is a saviour, given that they will provide, life-saving, sustaining organs for our patients."

Seven thousand people in the UK are on the transplant waiting list and hundreds die each year before a donor can be found.

Source: bbc.com

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06/Jun/2016

Australia storm leaves three dead and homes in danger

Three people are confirmed dead after massive storms flooded rivers, uprooted trees and tore into beaches along Australia's east coast.

Rain and wind continue to batter southern New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania.

Erosion at Sydney's Collaroy Beach has forced the evacuation of multi-million dollar homes, which are now in danger of collapsing.

The storms cut power to 86,000 homes in New South Wales at the weekend.

On Monday morning, a man's body was found in the Cotter River near Canberra. Police said the 37-year-old was caught in floodwaters at a river crossing.

Police divers have also retrieved the bodies of two men whose cars were washed off roads in separate incidents.

A 65-year-old man was caught inside his vehicle at Bowral, while another man was killed after his utility vehicle was washed off the road on Sydney's south-west fringe.

Flood warnings have been issued across several states, with northern Tasmania facing its worst flooding in decades on Monday.

Drone shot shows beach at Collaroy

A swimming pool attached to a mansion at Collaroy has collapsed on the beach and residents have been evacuated from waterside mansions

Picture taken from a drone shows a long shot of Collaroy beach

Collaroy, located in Sydney's north, is considered a prestigious suburb, but the beach is considered an erosion hotspot

Damage to the beach at Collaroy, NSW

Another king tide is expected to hit Collaroy Beach on Monday and residents have been evacuated

Source: bbc.com

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06/Jun/2016

US journalist and translator killed in Afghan ambush

A veteran US photojournalist and a translator have been killed in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan.

David Gilkey of National Public Radio (NPR) and Zabihullah Tamanna were travelling with the Afghan army when they came under fire and their vehicle was hit by a shell, NPR said.

The attack also killed the driver of the vehicle, an Afghan soldier.

Two other NPR employees travelling with the pair were unharmed, the US public radio network said in a statement.

The vehicle Mr Gilkey, 50, and Mr Tamanna, 38, were travelling in was struck by shellfire near the town of Marjah, NPR said.

Mr Tamanna was a photographer and journalist in Afghanistan, as well as a translator.

This undated photo provided by NPR shows Zabihullah Tamanna, left, and David Gilkey

Zabihullah Tamanna (left), pictured with David Gilkey, also worked as a photographer

Michael Oreskes, senior vice president at NPR, paid tribute to the photographer.

He said: "David has been covering war and conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11. He was devoted to helping the public see these wars and the people caught up in them. He died pursuing that commitment.

"As a man and as a photojournalist, David brought out the humanity of all those around him. He let us see the world and each other through his eyes."

Mr Gilkey is the first US journalist outside the military to be killed in the conflict in Afghanistan.

He received a series of awards during his career, including a 2007 national Emmy for a video series about US Marines from Michigan serving in in Iraq.

In 2011, he was named still photographer of the year by the White House Photographers' Association, one of nine first-place awards he received from the body.

His work on an investigation into veteran medical care and his coverage of the Ebola crisis helped secure awards for NPR.

Last year, he received the Edward R Murrow Award for his coverage of international breaking news, military conflicts and natural disasters.

Source: bbc.com

 

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06/Jun/2016

Fort Hood: Bodies of soldiers missing in Texas floods found

The bodies of four missing US soldiers have been recovered after their vehicle overturned while crossing a flooded riverbank at Fort Hood, Texas.

The discovery brings the death toll from the accident to nine.

Three soldiers were found dead shortly after the incident and two more bodies were recovered late on Thursday night.

Foot Hood officials said the 2.5-ton vehicle was conducting a routine exercise when it was swept away by the current amid heavy flooding.

Three of the occupants survived and were discharged from Fort Hood's hospital on Friday.

The four bodies were found downstream from the Owl Creek Tactical Crossing where the vehicle was swept away, said Maj Gen John Uberti, deputy commander at Fort Hood.

The army has not identified any of the victims while it notifies relatives.

"This tragedy extends well beyond Fort Hood and the outpouring of support from the country is sincerely appreciated," said Gen Uberti.

The Light Medium Tactical Vehicle was at a low-water crossing point when it was swept away, said Fort Hood spokesman Chris Haug.

The vehicle was in the "proper place for what they were training", Mr Haug said, adding: "It's just an unfortunate accident that occurred quickly."

Aircraft, canine search teams and swift-water rescue watercraft were deployed to sweep the 20-mile (32km) Owl Creek for the missing soldiers.

News of the deaths comes as torrential rains and flooding continue to grip large swathes of Texas. May saw record-breaking downpours. At least six people have died as a result.

Gov Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster in 31 counties across Texas. Severe storms were expected to hit the state Friday and Saturday, intensifying floods caused by swelling waterways and rivers.

Source: bbc.com

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04/Jun/2016

MH17 crash: Prosecutors increase pressure on Russia

Prosecutors have sought to put pressure on Russia to provide information about the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine in July 2014.

They said they wanted information about the Buk missile that shot down the airliner, killing 298 people on board.

The criminal inquiry was at "a very advanced stage", they said, and results would be presented after the summer.

The West and Ukraine say Russian-backed rebels were responsible but Russia accuses Ukrainian forces.

In a statement, the Dutch-led prosecutors said they had made "several requests" for assistance - but were still waiting for information from Moscow.

They said a few issues, including forensic tests, were taking more time than expected.

However, the first conclusions regarding the type of the weapon used and the exact launch site are expected to be published in autumn.

Ongoing cases

Flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur crashed at the height of the conflict between Ukrainian government troops and pro-Russian separatists.

Last year, a Dutch report concluded it was downed by a Russian-made Buk missile, but did not say who fired it.

Some families of the victims are suing Russia and its President Vladimir Putin in the European Court of Human Rights.

MH17 route

Their claim is based on the violation of a passenger's right to life, News.com.au reported earlier this month.

They are seeking A$10 million Australian dollars ($7.2m; £4.9m) for each victim, and the lawsuit names both the Russian state and its president as respondents.

A senator with Mr Putin's party was quoted in state media as saying the claim was "legally nonsensical and has no chance".

Separately, families of six Malaysia Airlines crew members who were killed filed a lawsuit on Thursday blaming the carrier for the tragedy.

They accuse the company of negligence and breach of contract.

Source: bbc.com

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03/Jun/2016

Paris floods: Seine at 30-year high as galleries close

The River Seine in Paris is at its highest level for more than 30 years, with floods forcing closed parts of the metro systems and major landmarks.

The Louvre and Orsay museums were shut while staff moved artworks to safety as flood levels climbed above 6m (18ft).

The Seine is set to reach as high as 6.5m and unlikely to recede over the weekend, with more downpours forecast.

At least 15 people have died across central Europe as heavy rainfall caused flooding from France to Ukraine.

While two people died in France, 10 were killed in southern Germany as several towns were devastated.

Two more fatalities were reported in Romania and one in Belgium. Austria, the Netherlands and Poland have also been affected.

Tens of thousands of people have been forced from their homes.

The flooding could cost French insurance companies more than 600 million euros (£470m), according to the industry association AFA.

In Paris, the Cluny - La Sorbonne and St Michel metro stations were closed as a precaution while the river spilled onto the city's streets.

Bridges were closed and non-emergency boats were banned from the Seine as its swelling forced the closure of museums, parks and cemeteries.

At the Louvre, curators scrambled to move 250,000 artworks to higher ground from basement storage areas at risk of inundation from what President Francoise Hollande called "exceptional flooding".

graphic showing historic water levels against statue of Zouave

Authorities have even taken initial steps to transfer the presidency and key ministries to secure areas, AP news agency reported.

An apparent equipment fault led to the river's depth being wrongly measured for several hours on Friday.

Many locals have preferred to benchmark the rise against the statue of a soldier - known as the Zouave - standing below the Alma bridge: His frame is currently submerged up to the waist.

While France's rainfall levels in May were the highest since 1873, the current crisis is eclipsed by the 1910 floods that saw Paris submerged for two months, when the Zouave was up to his neck in the Seine.

The river level peaked at 8.62m that year, and has since reached 7.1m in 1955 and 6.18m in 1982.

Source: bbc.com

 

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03/Jun/2016

Thailand Tiger Temple: Forty dead cubs found in freezer

Forty dead tiger cubs have been found in a freezer at a Thai Buddhist temple accused of wildlife trafficking and animal abuse.

Police and wildlife officials started an operation on Monday to remove all the living tigers at the Tiger Temple.

Pictures from journalists at the scene posted to social media showed the 40 cubs lined up on the floor.

The site in Kanchanaburi is a popular tourist attraction but has been closed to the public since the raid.

Temple's long history of controversy

Police colonel Bandith Meungsukhum told AFP news agency that wildlife officials would file new criminal charges after the discovery, and added that the cubs were just one or two days old when they died.

He said it was not yet clear how long they had been dead for.

The dead cubs "must be of some value for the temple", Adisorn Nuchdamrong, from Thailand's Department of National Parks, told Reuters news agency. "But for what is beyond me."

Tiger bones and body parts are used in traditional Chinese medicine.

Monks at the temple were not available for comment but have previously denied trafficking allegations.

A dead tiger cub is held up by a Thai official after authorities found 40 tiger cub carcasses during a raid on the controversial Tiger Temple,

The temple has long been accused of mistreatment, though the monks deny the allegations

In a statement on its Facebook page, the temple said the mortality rate for tiger cubs at the temple was "comparatively low" and that it used to cremate dead cubs but the policy changed in 2010.

The statement did not say why the temple started freezing cubs' remains, and also denied selling cubs.

Body parts from other animals were also found in a freezer, Tom Taylor, from Wildlife Friends Foundation, told the BBC.

A reporter from the Khaosod news website said he had seen animal intestines in containers, a dead boar and other animal parts.

Thai DNP officers collect samples for DNA testing from the carcasses of 40 tiger cubs found undeclared at the Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua Tiger Temple on June 1, 2016 in Kanchanaburi province, Thailand.

The cubs were found during a week-long raid of the temple to remove all living tigers

Dozens of living tigers have already been removed, out of 137 at the temple. The 1,000-strong police operation is due to continue all week.

Some workers and volunteers at the temple spoke out against the operation.

On Facebook, Canadian Gary Agnew, who has worked at the temple for more than a decade, said "the fatality rate could be catastrophic" as tigers were being transported in the heat of day before being fully sedated.

He said the cats were not being moved to spacious surroundings and would be auctioned off for "the highest price". He said hearing the tigers would be moved was "news worse than [staff and volunteers] could have ever dreamed".

But the World Wildlife Fund welcomed the news and called on the Thai government to prohibit the temple from keeping tigers in future.

Since 2001, authorities have been locked in a battle with the monks at the temple to confiscate the tigers after allegations of wildlife trafficking and abuse surfaced.

The monks deny any wrongdoing.

The temple, officially known as Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua, has been a stop on many tourists' itineraries for decades. Visitors could pose for photographs with the tigers or help with their exercise routine.

But animal rights campaigners have long campaigned to close it down. Peta said animals there are "imprisoned and denied everything that is important to them".

Source: bbc.com

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01/Jun/2016

Kenya announces Dadaab refugee camp will close by November

he world's largest refugee camp will close in November, Kenya's Interior Minister Joseph Nkaisserry has announced.

The Dadaab camp in Kenya is home to more than 300,000 Somalis.

Mr Nkaisserry said Kenya would work closely with the UN and the Somali government to repatriate the refugees.

Dadaab was set up in 1991 to house families fleeing conflict in Somalia, and some people have been living there for more than 20 years.

Kenya says it wants to close the camp over security concerns, saying attacks on its soil have been planned there.

Mr Nkaisserry said the decision was final.

Kenya did not follow through on a previous threat to close down the camp, made last April following the deadly attack by Somali militant group al-Shabab on a university 100km (62 miles) away.

The al-Qaeda linked group has staged several attacks on Kenya in recent years.

Kenya has set aside $10m (£6.8m) for repatriation, which Mr Nkaisserry insisted would carried out in a humane manner.

Source: bbc.com

 

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01/Jun/2016

Chinese stowaway found in hold of Emirates flight to Dubai

A Chinese teenager has been found hiding in the cargo hold of an Emirates passenger jet that had flown from Shanghai to Dubai.

Emirates said on Tuesday the stowaway had been found on Flight EK303 from Shanghai last Friday and had been handed over to Dubai police.

The airline did not name the stowaway but China's official Xinhua news agency said he was a 16-year-old boy named Xu.

The boy is reported to have said he was "very comfortable" in the hold.

However, he said he had eaten nothing during the nearly nine-hour flight. Gulf News said the cargo hold was pressurised.

He said he had heard that even beggars in Dubai could make a lot of money, Xinhua reported.

"We are co-operating fully with authorities in Dubai and as this is a police matter we are unable to comment further at this time," Emirates said in an emailed statement.

Xinhua said that consulate staff had been sent to the airport to learn more about the situation.

According to a translator appointed by prosecutors, the boy said he had jumped over a fence at Shanghai airport and climbed into the cargo hold while a security guard looked away, Xinhua added.

Source: bbc.com

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01/Jun/2016

World's longest and deepest rail tunnel to open in Switzerland

The world's longest and deepest rail tunnel is to be officially opened in Switzerland, after almost two decades of construction work.

The 57km (35-mile) twin-bore Gotthard tunnel will provide a high-speed rail link under the Swiss Alps between northern and southern Europe.

Switzerland says it will revolutionise European freight transport.

Goods currently carried on the route by a million lorries a year will go by train instead.

Switzerland's engineering triumph

The tunnel will overtake Japan's 53.9 km Seikan rail tunnel as the longest in the world and push the 50.5 km Channel Tunnel linking the UK and France into third place.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi are due to attend the grand opening.

Tunnel map

The project, which cost more than $12bn to build, was endorsed by Swiss voters in a referendum in 1992. Voters then backed a proposal from environmental groups to move all freight travelling through Switzerland from road to rail two years later.

The completed tunnel travels up to 2.3 km below the surface of the mountains above and through rock that reaches temperatures of 46C.

Engineers had to dig and blast through 73 different kinds of rock, some as hard as granite and others as soft as sugar. More than 28m tonnes of rock was excavated. Nine workers died during the work.

Now the completed tunnel - delivered on time and within budget - will create a mainline rail connection between Rotterdam in the Netherlands and Genoa in Italy.

Its trajectory will be flat and straight instead of winding up through the mountains like the old rail tunnel and a road tunnel opened in 1980.

About 260 freight trains and 65 passenger trains will traverse it in as little as 17 minutes every day once testing ends later this year.

The tunnel is being financed by value-added and fuel taxes, road charges on heavy vehicles and state loans that are due to be repaid within a decade.

Swiss bank Credit Suisse has said is economic benefits will include the easier movement of goods and increased tourism.

the northern gates of the Gotthard Base Tunnel near Erstfeld

The Gotthard tunnel runs 2.3 km under the mountain at its deepest point

Source:bbc.com

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31/May/2016

Migrant boat rescue: Two Britons charged over Channel incident

Two British men have appeared in court charged with immigration offences after a boat carrying 20 people was rescued off the Kent coast on Sunday.

Robert Stilwell, 33, from Dartford, and Mark Stribling, 35, from Farningham, appeared at Medway Magistrates Court accused of people smuggling.

Those rescued included 18 Albanian migrants, two of them children.

An ex-chief immigration inspector said earlier people would die unless more were done to stop crossing attempts.

Mr Stilwell and Mr Stribling were charged with conspiring to facilitate the entry of non-EU nationals, and remanded in custody to appear before Maidstone Crown Court on 27 June.

The UK coastguard said it was called just before midnight on Saturday to an incident off the coastal village of Dymchurch.

Residents: 'It's a bit of a worry'

How is the UK-France border policed?

Those on board the boat reportedly alerted their families in Calais after their inflatable boat started taking in water.

Rescuers said a helicopter from nearby Lydd and two lifeboats from Dungeness and Folkestone were sent to the incident off Dymchurch.

At about 02:00 BST on Sunday, a rigid-hulled inflatable boat, known as a "rhib", with 20 people on board was found.

Trevor Bunney, who was part of the RNLI lifeboat rescue team, said the people they rescued were "a bit dishevelled, [had] obviously been at sea a long time and not in the best of conditions".

"One lady had the first signs of hypothermia," he said.

After being rescued, the group were handed over to the UK Border Force and taken to Dover.

A second vessel - which officials say could be linked to the incident - was discovered on the beach at Dymchurch.

'Not doing enough'

Since the rescue on Sunday, concerns have been raised that sea tragedies, similar to those seen on the voyage to Turkey, Greece or Italy, could occur in the English Channel.

There is an "equal chance" of migrants drowning in the Channel as in the Mediterranean, former chief inspector of borders and immigration John Vine said.

Mr Vine, who was chief inspector until 2014, said: "We have seen the tragedies that have occurred in the Mediterranean.

He added that the hazards of Channel sea traffic, weather and sea conditions "are going to mean there is an equal chance of people losing their lives unless this is stopped."

"Clearly if this is now the start of something new, then really that needs to be reassessed and resources need to be put in," he added.

Analysis

By Simon Jones, BBC correspondent

Many people living along the Kent coast are shocked, but not surprised at what's happened.

The Channel is a huge stretch of water to patrol - and the authorities are often relying on tip-offs to try to catch those responsible.

Some residents are asking how many migrants are managing to get through without being detected.

The fear is that with the recent security clampdown at the Port of Calais and Eurotunnel, more and more migrants will attempt to cross the Channel on small boats, putting their lives at risk.

At the Port of Dover, the boat from which the migrants were rescued has been painstakingly examined.

It would have been a tight fit to get 20 people on board, crammed into the small craft in the busiest shipping lane in the world.


Damian Collins, MP for Folkestone and Hythe, however, said it was "too early to say whether this is a new trend".

He told BBC Radio 5 live it was wrong to say the UK's coastline was "undefended", saying the Channel was "probably the most monitored stretch of water in the world".

'Biggest onslaught'

UKIP Leader Nigel Farage said it was "essential that a clear message is sent that no migrant arriving on our shores by boat is allowed leave to remain".

"We have all seen the horrors of the Mediterranean, with thousands crossing and hundreds dying, we cannot allow that to happen off the shores of Kent and Sussex."

Lucy Moreton, general secretary of the Immigration Services Union, which represents border agency and immigration staff, said large stretches of Britain's coastline were being left unpoliced, and officials simply did not know how many migrants have entered the country undetected.

Her "gut feeling" and anecdotal evidence suggested Britain's coasts are facing the biggest ever onslaught of people smugglers, she said.

Map of the English Channel

Sunday's incident comes after 17 men, thought to be Albanian migrants, were detained when a catamaran arrived at Chichester Marina in West Sussex on Tuesday, along with a 55-year-old British man wanted on suspicion of murder in Spain.

The Briton, who was the subject of a European Arrest Warrant, was detained on suspicion of facilitating illegal immigration and the 17 men were held on suspicion of entering the UK illegally.

Also last month, two Iranian men were found floating in a dinghy in the Channel.

Meanwhile, Greek coastguards rescued 29 migrants adrift off the island of Lefkada, in the Ionian Sea, as they attempted to reach Italy 150 miles (241km) away.

They are the first migrants known to have attempted the sea crossing from Greece to Italy since the northern land route via Macedonia was closed in March.

Source: bbc.com

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30/May/2016

The prisoner 'trapped' 10 years into a 10-month jail sentence

Justice Secretary Michael Gove has ordered a review of the position of thousands of prisoners serving a sentence known as an IPP or Imprisonment for Public Protection.

Many are considered to be languishing inside because they are several years over the minimum sentence they were given.

James Ward was given a 10-month IPP for arson in 2006. Now nearly 10 years on, he is still inside and has no release date.

He regularly self-harms, sets light to his cell, barricades himself in and has staged dirty protests. With a low IQ, and mental health problems, he cannot cope with prison life.

His sister, April, fears what he might do next.

"I do believe that one day we'll get the phone call that Jimmy has taken his own life, definitely."

'Trapped in a box'

Now 31, James has been writing to Radio 4's Today programme to explain what life is like for him inside.

"I find prison hard to cope with, being trapped in a box," he writes. "Prison is not fit to accommodate people like me with mental health problems. It's made me worse. How can I change in a place like this? I wake up every morning scared of what the day may hold."

James' teenage years were troubled. He was in and out of trouble with the police and his parents could not cope with his behaviour.

He got into a scuffle with his father, Bill, over the family dog and lashed out resulting in a year in prison for actual bodily harm. But Bill says James regrets what he did.

"He's told me it was the worst mistake he's ever made... he was young, he is a nice lad, everybody likes James," Bill says.

Close to the end of his year-long sentence, but unable to cope with prison life, James set fire to the mattress in his cell. Because of this, a judge gave him an IPP for arson and told him he would have to serve a minimum of 10 months. That was 10 years ago.

Since then, James has set light to his cell several times. His solicitor, Pippa Carruthers, says it is linked to his mental health.

"He becomes overwhelmed," she says. "He loses sight of what he needs to do to prove to a parole board that he is no longer a risk and he acts destructively."

'Kafkaesque'

IPPs were introduced by Labour in 2003. The then-government estimated the sentence would apply to 900 serious violent and sexual offenders but was actually applied far more widely and at its peak 6,000 people were serving the sentence - some for relatively minor offences such as stealing a mobile phone.

The sentence was abolished by Conservative Justice Secretary Ken Clarke in 2012 who called them a "stain" on the criminal justice system.

But 4,000 people remain in prison and nearly 400 have served more than five times the minimum term they were given.

The sentence has been called Kafkaesque as prisoners remain trapped inside because they cannot prove to a parole board that they are no longer a threat to the public.

They may have to wait years to get a parole review, or are unable to get on courses to deal with their behaviour.

Mr Clarke told Radio 4's Today programme: "It is quite absurd that there are people who might be there for the rest of their lives, in theory, who are serving a sentence which Parliament agreed to get rid of because it hadn't worked as anybody intended.

"The trouble is this ridiculous burden on the Parole Board of saying they can only release people if it's proved to them that they're not really a danger to the public.

"No prisoner can prove that - you never know when people are going to lose their control, what's going to happen to them when they're released."

He added that the key thing was to protect the public by making sure fewer criminals go on to reoffend, through helping them find work and accommodation upon release from jail.

Michael Gove has now asked chairman of the parole board Nick Hardwick to review how IPP prisoners are treated.

While the justice secretary has said that dangerous offenders must be kept inside, he says he wants the majority of IPP prisoners to be "given hope and a reason to engage in rehabilitative activity". He wants to see the prison population reduced.

'Lost and confused'

James' mother, father and sister visited him recently in prison. They said they were worried by his appearance describing him as "lost and confused".

The Parole Board has not reviewed James' case for two years and because the system has failed to carry out a required psychological and psychiatric assessment of him, it could be another year before he gets a parole board hearing.

He could be in prison for several more years.

In his last letter to the Today programme, James said he felt like he was "rotting" in the prison system.

Source: bbc.com

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30/May/2016

Tearful end to 11-year US church protest

Parishioners in Massachusetts have admitted defeat in their efforts to keep their church open, bringing to a tearful end their 11-year protest.

A group of about 100 worshippers at St Frances X Cabrini Church in Scituate have kept an around-the-clock vigil.

This month, the US Supreme Court refused to hear their final appeal against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston's decision to close it.

But on Sunday the protest came to an end at an emotional final service.

It was described as a "celebration of faith and transition" and many of the parishioners shared an embrace and cried.

As the service came to an end, quilts depicting each year of the vigil were taken from the walls of the church and carried down the aisles and out of the church door.

The archdiocese decided to close St Frances X Cabrini and more than 75 other parishes due to dwindling attendances, a shortage of clergy and buildings in decline.

Churchgoers hug outside church

Worshippers fought a decade-long fight to prevent the church closing

Nancy Shilts hugs another parishioner before the final service

Nancy Shilts hugs another parishioner before the final service

Several of the churches earmarked for closure held vigils in protest but St Frances X Cabrini was the last church to keep up its occupation.

In parallel with the sit-in was a legal challenge that went through civil courts and even reached the Vatican, but all in vain.

A judge at the state's Superior Court ruled that the archdiocese was legally able to evict the protesters, as the legal owner of the property.

That ruling was upheld by the Massachusetts Appeals Court.

An archdiocese spokesman said he hoped the protesters would be able to attend another church within the district.

Source: bbc.com

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30/May/2016

Iraq troops in 'final assault' on Islamic State in Falluja

The Iraqi army is facing fierce resistance and counter-attacks as it attempts to storm Falluja, a bastion of so-called Islamic State (IS).

The army's dawn offensive came a week after it began efforts to retake the city, just 30 miles (50km) west of Baghdad and held by IS since 2014.

An estimated 50,000 civilians are trapped inside, with only a few hundred families escaping so far.

Meanwhile IS militants launched a wave of bombings in and around Baghdad.

The attacks in the Iraqi capital killed at least 21 people.

The commander of the army operation in Falluja, Lt Gen Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi, said: "The counter-terrorism troops along with other armed forces and Anbar [province] police have started pushing into the city. Violent clashes took place on the outskirts."

The Iraqi air force and international coalition jets carried out strikes in support of ground troops.

IS is thought to have about 1,200 fighters, the majority from the city itself.

The BBC's Jim Muir in Baghdad says government forces have taken over two townships on the southern fringes of Falluja, but on other fronts they are some way from the edge of the city itself.

The impression is that the army is trying to close a ring of steel around the city, he says.

Militia leaders taking part have said there is likely to be a pause before the assault on the city centre begins so, to allow more civilians to escape.

There is alarm over conditions faced by civilians, with reports of people starving to death and of being killed for refusing to fight for IS.

The Iraqi military has urged those remaining to either leave the city or stay indoors, though IS is preventing civilians from fleeing.

Falluja fell to IS in January 2014, a key moment in the jihadist group's rise that saw it declare a caliphate across swathes of Iraq and Syria.

Along with Mosul, it is one of two major cities held by IS in Iraq.

Map showing movement of Iraqi forces towards Falluja (24 May 2016)

Meanwhile three districts of Baghdad have been targeted in attacks.

  • In the worst incident, a car bomb detonated at an army checkpoint in the mainly Shia area of Shaab, killing at least 11 people
  • Another suicide attacker, on a motorbike, targeted Sadr City, a Shia area of Baghdad, killing three people
  • A suicide bomber struck a market in Tarmiya, a town 50km (30 miles) north of Baghdad, killing at least seven

All three bombings have been claimed by IS in an online statement.

IS frequently targets Shia Muslims, whom the extremist Sunni militant group regards as apostates.

The attacks may also be an attempt to deflect attention from the operation in Falluja.

Falluja. Photo: August 2010

Falluja - key facts:

  • had population of more than 300,000 before it was seized by first al-Qaeda and then by IS in 2014
  • has always been a hotbed of Sunni defiance, becoming a symbol of resistance to US forces in violent battles in 2004
  • controls main highway from Baghdad to both Jordan and Syria
  • is known as the "city of mosques" - more than 200 mosques in city and surrounding area

Source: bbc.com

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30/May/2016

Hissene Habre: Chad's ex-ruler convicted of crimes against humanity

Chad's ex-ruler Hissene Habre has been convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced to life in prison at a landmark trial in Senegal.

The judge convicted him of rape, sexual slavery and ordering killings during his rule from 1982 to 1990.

Victims and families of those killed cheered and embraced each other in the courtroom after the verdict was given.

It was the first time an African Union-backed court had tried a former ruler for human rights abuses.

Habre, who received strong backing from the US while in power, has been given 15 days to appeal.

Survivors from the Habre era welcomed the verdict.

"This is a historic day for Chad and for Africa. It is the first time that an African head of state has been found guilty in another African country," Yamasoum Konar, a representative of one of the victims' groups, told the BBC.

"This will be a lesson to other dictators in Africa," he added.

After he was sentenced, Habre remained defiant, raising his arms and shouting to his supporters as he was led from the courtroom.

"Down with France-Afrique!" he shouted, using a term which is critical of France's influence in its former colonies.

Throughout the nine-month trial, he refused to recognise the court's legitimacy, frequently disrupting proceedings.

The ex-president denied accusations that he ordered the killing of 40,000 people during his rule from 1982 to 1990.

His critics dubbed him "Africa's Pinochet" because of the atrocities committed during his rule.

Survivors had recounted gruesome details of the torture carried out by Habre's feared secret police.

One of the most notorious detention centres in the capital N'Djamena was a converted swimming pool.


Analysis: Abdourahmane Dia, BBC Afrique, Dakar

The verdict will be seen as a major step forward by those who are campaigning for African leaders to be tried on the continent for war crimes.

They have been pushing for a permanent African court of justice to be set up, believing war crimes suspects should be prosecuted on the continent rather than at the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC).

But some people were critical of the AU-backed court, set up specifically to try him. They argued that it was under Western influence as it had been partly funded by the European Union and US.

However, survivors of Habre's atrocities did not seem to care who funded the court. They were just relieved that justice had been done, 25 years after his rule ended.


His critics dubbed him "Africa's Pinochet" because of the atrocities committed during his rule.

Survivors had recounted gruesome details of the torture carried out by Habre's feared secret police.

One of the most notorious detention centres in N'Djamena was a converted swimming pool.

Witnesses said victims endured electric shocks, near-asphyxia, cigarette burns and having gas squirted into their eyes.

Pencil sketch of a man being tortured with a rope around his head

Victims drew sketches of torture techniques for the case

Some were subjected to "supplice des baguettes" (torture by sticks), when the victim's head is put between sticks joined by rope which is then twisted.

Gberdao Gustave Kam, president of the special court, said Habre had also committed three acts of rape.

Habre was arrested in Senegal, where he was exiled, in 2013.

Many of his victims campaigned for him to be tried following his overthrow in 1990.

"Today will be carved into justice as the day that a band of unrelenting survivors brought their dictator to justice," said Reed Brody from Human Rights Watch, who has worked on the case for 17 years and was in court for the judgement.

In 2005, a court in Belgium issued a warrant for his arrest, claiming universal jurisdiction but, after Senegal referred the issue to the African Union, the AU asked Senegal to try Mr Habre "on behalf of Africa".

In 2013, a court in Chad sentenced him to death in absentia for crimes against humanity.

Who is Hissene Habre?

• Born in 1942 to ethnic Toubou herders in northern Chad

• Given scholarship to study political science in France

• First came to the world's attention in 1974 when his rebels captured three European hostages to ransom for money and arms

• Seized power in 1982 allegedly with the help of the CIA

• Ousted by current President Idriss Deby in 1990

• Accused of systematically persecuting groups he distrusted

Source: bbc.com

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30/May/2016

At least 6 dead, 2 missing after floods in Texas, Kansas

HOUSTON –  Authorities in central Texas found two more bodies along flooded streams Sunday, bringing the death toll from flooding the state to six.

It's unclear whether a body found in Travis County near Austin is one of the two people still missing in Texas. An 11-year-old boy is still missing in central Kansas, too.

The latest flooding victim identified by authorities was a woman who died when the car she was riding in was swept from the street by the flooded Cypress Creek about 1:30 a.m. Sunday, Kendall County sheriff's Cpl. Reid Daly said.

The car, with three occupants, was in Comfort, about 45 miles north of San Antonio. The driver made it to shore, and a female passenger was rescued from a tree. But Daly said 23-year-old Florida Molima was missing until her body was found around 11 a.m. Sunday about 8 miles downstream. She becomes the sixth flood-related death in Texas this Memorial Day weekend.

In Bandera, about 45 miles northwest of San Antonio, an estimated 10 inches of rain overnight led to the rescues of nine people. The rain caused widespread damage, including the collapse of the roof of the Bandera Bulletin, the weekly newspaper, KSAT-TV in San Antonio reported. Photos from the area showed campers and trailers stacked against each other, but no injuries were reported.

Torrential rains caused heavy flash flooding in some parts of the U.S. over the last few days, and led to numerous evacuations in southeast Texas, including two prisons. But the threat of severe weather has lessened over the long Memorial Day holiday for many places, though Tropical Depression Bonnie continued to bring rain and wind to North and South Carolina.

Near Austin, a crew aboard a county STAR Flight helicopter found a body Sunday on the north end of a retention pond near the Circuit of the Americas auto racing track, which is close to where two people were reported to have been washed away by a flash flood early Friday, Travis County sheriff's spokesman Lisa Block said. The body still must be recovered and no identification has been made.

To the southeast along the rain-swollen Brazos River near Houston, prison officials evacuated about 2,600 inmates from two prisons to other state prisons because of expected flooding, Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark said. Inmates in a low-level security camp at a third prison in the area are being moved to the main prison building, Clark said.

All three prisons are in coastal Brazoria County, where the river empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

"TDCJ officials continue to monitor the situation and are working with our state partners as the river level rises," Clark said, noting that additional food and water has been delivered to prisons that are getting the displaced inmates and sandbags have been filled and delivered to the prisons whereflooding is anticipated.

Another prison that's about 70 miles northwest of Houston saw a brawl between inmates and correctional officers on Saturday that began when flooding caused a power outage. Clark estimated as many as 50 inmates in the 1,300-inmate prison were involved.

The rising water in several Houston-area rivers and creeks prompted Harris County officials on Saturday to ask about 750 families in the Northwood Pines subdivision to voluntarily evacuate their homes and apartments. Officials also warned residents living near the west fork of the San Jacinto River, north of Houston, that rising waters were likely to flood homes, even those that are elevated, Sanchez said.

"The skies are clear and things look good. But we want to make sure people understand that we are not out of the woods yet. We have to keep an eye on water that's coming through our bayou system," said Francisco Sanchez, a spokesman for the Office of Emergency Management in Harris County.

In Kansas, the search for the missing 11-year-old resumed Sunday and expanded beyond the swollen creek he fell into Friday night, according to Wichita Fire Department battalion chief Scott Brown. "We are more in body-recovery mode than rescue," Brown said Saturday night.

Four people died from flooding in rural Washington County, Texas, located between Austin and Houston, where more than 16.5 inches of rain fell in some places Thursday and Friday. The bodies of two missing motorists were found Saturday in separate parts of the county, according to Judge John Brieden.

Tropical Depression Bonnie reached the South Carolina coast early Sunday, bringing heavy rain and rough tides to an area packed with tourists for the Memorial Day weekend. Forecasters say up to 8 inches of rain have fallen in parts of southern South Carolina. About 3 inches of rain fell in Charleston in 24 hours and more is expected, according to the National Weather Service.

Source: foxnews.com

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29/May/2016

Okinawa base imposes curfew on US troops after woman's death

The US military base on Japan's island of Okinawa has imposed a midnight curfew and a ban on alcohol after the arrest of an ex-Marine suspected of killing a Japanese woman.

There would be no "celebrations and parties while the Okinawan people are in mourning", the military said. The restrictions will run until 24 June.

Kenneth Shinzato, 32, was arrested on 19 May but has not yet been charged.

Many Okinawans resent the US base and the incident has reignited tension.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe raised the woman's death with US President Barack Obama ahead of the recent G7 summit in Japan.

'Terrible act'

The Okinawa facility, home to some 30,000 US troops, has banned them from visiting clubs and bars and drinking alcohol off-base.

Festivals and concerts at the base have been postponed.

Kenneth Shinzato , 20 May

Kenneth Shinzato has not yet been charged

Marine Corps commander in Japan Lt Gen Lawrence Nicholson said at a news conference: "We should not be out shooting fireworks... If we really believe we are part of the Okinawan community, then we too must be in mourning. And we do."

He said: "There are no words in the English language that can adequately convey our level of shock, pain and grief at the loss of life of this innocent victim.

"My request to the Okinawa people is simple: please do not allow this terrible act of violence to drive a wedge between our two communities."

The ban also applies to military families and civilians employed by the military.

Kenneth Shinzato, a US military worker in Okinawa, was arrested on suspicion of dumping a woman's body.

The body of the 20-year-old woman, missing since April, was found at a location he gave.

Police say the man admitted abandoning the body. They also suspect he killed her but have not charged him with this yet.

A suspect can be held for 21 days before charges must be brought.

In 2013, US troops throughout Japan were placed under a night-time curfew after two US sailors pleaded guilty to the rape of a Japanese woman on Okinawa.

In 1995, the rape of a 12-year-old girl on Okinawa by US servicemen prompted mass protests.

The Okinawa base houses about half of all US troops in Japan. There are plans to relocate part of it - the Futenma air base - to a less-populated area of the island, but many Okinawans want the air base removed altogether.

Source: bbc.com

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28/May/2016

European migrant crisis: Weekly boat rescues reach 13,000

The rescue of more than 600 migrants off Libya on Saturday by a flotilla of EU ships took the weekly total to at least 13,000, Italian authorities say.

The rescues were the latest by a patrol of Italian, German and Irish ships operating in the Mediterranean.

Spring weather has led to a surge of people attempting the perilous crossing from Africa to Europe.

It is now the main migration route since an EU-Turkey deal curbed numbers sailing to Greece.

An Irish vessel saved 123 migrants from a people's smugglers' rubber dinghy on Saturday, the Irish military said, while the Italian coastguard said a German ship had carried out four rescue operations from similar unseaworthy vessels.

Meanwhile, about 4,000 migrants plucked from the sea earlier in the week arrived in Italy on Saturday. Many others are known to have drowned.

In one dramatic operation caught on camera by Italian rescuers on Wednesday, a migrant boat overturned after spotting a patrol boat. The Italian navy rescued 562 people, whil five died.

The same patrol boat rescued a further 108 migrants in another incident later that day.

On Tuesday, another 3,000 people were rescued from smugglers' boats.

Most migrants are fleeing conflict and poverty in Africa and the Middle East.

Under a European Union plan, tens of thousands of those rescued at sea were supposed to be relocated to other EU countries from Italy and Greece, where most land.

However anti-migrant sentiment in other countries have meant that few of have actually been transferred.


A note on terminology: The BBC uses the term migrant to refer to all people on the move who have yet to complete the legal process of claiming asylum. This group includes people fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria, who are likely to be granted refugee status, as well as people who are seeking jobs and better lives, who governments are likely to rule are economic migrants.

Source: bbc.com

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28/May/2016

Islamic State: Iraqi army makes gains in Falluja offensive

Iraqi government forces have made gains in their offensive to drive Islamic State militants from Falluja - one the country's two major cities in IS hands.

The nearby town of Karma, the first line of IS defence, is now in the army's hands, a BBC correspondent says.

Large numbers of elite combat troops have also been deployed near Falluja, about 45km (28 miles) west of Baghdad.

But IS hit back north of Falluja, killing and injuring some Iraqi forces in a suicide car bomb attack.

A counter-attack south of the city was repelled with the help of helicopter gunships, the BBC's Jim Muir in Karma reports.

This comes just days after the IS commander in Falluja, Maher al-Bilawi, was killed along with dozens militants in US-led coalition air strikes, according to Washington.

How tough will it be to take Falluja?

Islamic State: The full story

Ghost town

Karma is now firmly under control of government forces, including rapid reaction troops and federal police, our correspondent says.

Iran-backed Shia militias, which also took part in the fighting, have left graffiti on the walls of buildings in the town, including one saying: "Thank you, Iran."

But Karma is now a ghost town, with not a single civilian to be seen and with rows of shops battered and burnt out and some bigger buildings badly damaged, our correspondent adds.

Large number of the elite Counter-Terrorism Force have been brought up in preparation for an assault on the city itself.

However, it is not clear when the attack will begin.

Falluja. Photo: August 2010

Falluja - key facts:

  • had population of more than 300,000 before it was seized by first al-Qaeda and then by IS in 2014
  • has always been a hotbed of Sunni defiance, becoming a symbol of resistance to US forces in violent battles in 2004
  • controls main highway from Baghdad to both Jordan and Syria
  • is known as the "city of mosques" - more than 200 mosques in city and surrounding area

Some 50,000 civilians remain trapped in the city and have been told via leaflet drops to avoid IS areas and put white sheets on their roofs, the US military says.

The UN says it has reports of people dying of starvation and being killed for refusing to fight for IS.

Falluja fell to IS in 2014, a key moment in its rise that saw it declare a caliphate across swathes of Iraq and Syria.

The other major Iraqi city still controlled by IS is Mosul.

Map showing movement of Iraqi forces towards Falluja (24 May 2016)

Source: bbc.com

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28/May/2016

G7 Japan: World leaders visit Shinto religion's holiest shrine

Japanese PM Shinzo Abe has taken world leaders to the Shinto religion's holiest site, as the Group of Seven (G7) summit begins in the country.

Mr Abe said the visit was so that they could "understand the spirituality of Japanese people".

The two-day G7 meeting in Ise-Shima brings together industrialised nations.

On Friday, US President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima - the site of the first atomic bomb - the first sitting US president to do so.

The visit to the shrine is controversial because critics say Mr Abe is catering to his conservative supporters who want to revive traditional values.

Ise shrine

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  • The shrine is 2,000 years old but in line with Shinto practice the buildings are taken down and reconstructed regularly.
  • Followers of Shintoism believe that everything - rocks, fire, trees, the sky - has its own spirit or god.
  • The sanctuary is dedicated to the sun goddess Amaterasu Omikami who is prominent in Japanese creation myths.

Top of the agenda for the G7 nations - the US, Canada, Britain, Italy, Germany, France and Japan - will be concerns over the health of the global economy.

Europe's refugee crisis will also feature prominently at the meeting. European Council President Donald Tusk said on Thursday he would ask the G7's support for more global aid for refugees.

"If we (G7) do not take the lead in managing this crisis, nobody would," Mr Tusk said to reporters.

Terrorism, cyber security and maritime security are also on the agenda.

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School children welcomed the leaders to the Shinto shrine

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Mr Obama has previously said there would be no apology for the dropping of the world's first atomic bomb in Hiroshima

On Wednesday, Mr Obama and Mr Abe met for talks where the US president expressed regret over the arrest of a US military base worker in Okinawa in connection with the death of a local woman.

Mr Obama also mentioned his upcoming visit to Hiroshima, saying it would "honour all those who were lost in World War Two and reaffirm our shared vision of a world without nuclear weapons, as well as highlight the extraordinary alliance that we have been able to forge over these many decades".

He has previously said he would not be apologising for the dropping of the bomb by the US.

Source: bbc.com

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26/May/2016

French labour dispute: Nuclear power plant workers to join strike

Workers at French nuclear power stations are due to down tools on Thursday amid growing industrial action over controversial labour reforms.

The CGT union said staff at 16 of France's 19 nuclear plants had voted for a one-day strike.

The government said on Wednesday it was dipping into strategic oil reserves as strikers blockaded refineries.

Unions want the government to reverse controversial labour reforms forced through parliament earlier this month.

France's state-run power company, Electricite de France, declined to comment on how Thursday's one-day strike at nuclear plants would affect supply.

Nuclear power provides about 75% of the country's electricity.

Strikes and blockades are already disrupting six of France's eight oil refineries.

Clashes broke out at one refinery on Tuesday when police broke up a blockade at Fos-sur-Mer in Marseille.

Workers at a large oil terminal in the port of Le Havre were due to go on strike on Thursday to block imports.

Transport Minister Alain Vidalies said 40% of petrol stations around Paris were struggling to get fuel.

Motorists have been panic buying to avoid shortages.

President Francois Hollande told ministers on Wednesday that "everything will be done to ensure the French people and the economy is supplied".

Analysts say France has nearly four months of fuel reserves.

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Police are trying to clear the blockades around oil refineries

Industrial action also spread to France's railways on Wednesday, with a strike by train drivers cutting some high-speed TGV services as well as regional and commuter trains. More transport disruption was expected on Thursday.

The CGT has also called for protest rallies in cities across France.

The BBC's Lucy Williamson in Paris says the escalating action is raising concerns for the Euro 2016 football championships due to begin in France in just over two weeks' time.

The government provoked union outrage when it resorted to a constitutional device to force its watered-down labour reforms through parliament without a vote.

The government says the reforms, which make it easier for companies to hire and fire staff, are needed to bring down unemployment.

French labour reform bill - main points

  • The 35-hour week remains in place, but as an average. Firms can negotiate with local trade unions on more or fewer hours from week to week, up to a maximum of 46 hours
  • Firms are given greater freedom to reduce pay
  • The law eases conditions for laying off workers, strongly regulated in France. It is hoped companies will take on more people if they know they can shed jobs in case of a downturn
  • Employers given more leeway to negotiate holidays and special leave, such as maternity or for getting married. These are currently also heavily regulated

Source: bbc.com

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26/May/2016

EgyptAir: Images released of debris found in plane search

The Egyptian military has released images of items found during the search in the Mediterranean Sea for missing Egypt Air flight MS804.

They include life vests, parts of seats and objects clearly marked EgyptAir.

The Airbus A320 was en route from Paris to Cairo with 66 people aboard when it vanished from radar early on Thursday.

Investigators have confirmed smoke was detected in various parts of the cabin three minutes before it disappeared, but say the cause is still not known.

Speaking on Saturday after meeting relatives of victims, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said "all theories are being examined and none is favoured".

Images posted on the Facebook page of the spokesman for the Egyptian Armed Forces showed life vests and other items with the EgyptAir logo.

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Investigators say nothing has yet been ruled out in the search for the cause of the crash

The search has also reportedly found body parts and luggage.

The main body of the plane and the two "black boxes" which show flight data and cockpit transmissions have not yet been located.

While no bodies have been recovered, memorials have been taking place for the victims.

A service was held in a Cairo church on Saturday for air hostess Yara Hani, who was aboard the doomed plane.

Smoke alarms

The Aviation Herald said that smoke detectors had gone off in the toilet and the aircraft's electronics before the signal was lost.

It said it had received flight data filed through the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) from three independent channels.

It said the system showed that at 02:26 local time on Thursday (00:26 GMT) smoke was detected in the jet's toilet.

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A minute later - at 00:27 GMT - there was an avionics alert indicating smoke in the bay below the cockpit that contains aircraft electronics and computers.

The last ACARS message was at 00:29 GMT, the air industry website said, and the contact with the plane was lost four minutes later at 02:33 local time.

ACARS is used to routinely download flight data to the airline operating the aircraft.

Confirming the data, France's Bureau of Investigations and Analysis told AFP it was "far too soon to interpret and understand the cause of the accident as long as we have not found the wreckage or the flight data recorders".

Agency spokesman Sebastien Barthe told Associated Press the messages "generally mean the start of a fire" but added: "We are drawing no conclusions from this. Everything else is pure conjecture."

Philip Baum, the editor of Aviation Security International Magazine, told the BBC that technical failure could not be ruled out.

"There was smoke reported in the aircraft lavatory, then smoke in the avionics bay, and over a period of three minutes the aircraft's systems shut down, so you know, that's starting to indicate that it probably wasn't a hijack, it probably wasn't a struggle in the cockpit, it's more likely a fire on board."


Analysis: Richard Westcott, BBC transport correspondent

This data could be the biggest clue yet as to what happened. It suggests there was a fire at the front of the aircraft, on the right-hand side.

The sequence begins with a warning of an overheating window in the cockpit. Smoke is then detected in the lavatory (we assume it's the one behind the cockpit) and in a bay right underneath the cockpit, which is full of electronic equipment.

Finally, another window becomes too hot, before all the systems begin collapsing. All of this takes place over a few minutes, then the aircraft drops off the radar.

Some pilots have suggested that the 90 degree left turn the plane then made is a known manoeuvre to get out of the way in an emergency, when an aircraft needs to drop height suddenly.

The 360 degree turn after that, they say, could be the crew managing a crisis.

So it seems that the aircraft caught fire and that the fire spread very quickly. But whether that fire was deliberate or mechanical, we still can't say.


Security consultant Sally Leivesley said the timing on the data suggested an "extremely rapidly developing flame front from a fire that has overwhelmed the avionics very, very quickly".

She cited the case of "underpants bomber" Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to set off an explosive device hidden in his underwear on a Detroit-bound flight in 2009.

Although the attempt failed, a fire from the device's chemicals still spread "right up the side of the plane".

Greece says radar shows the Airbus A320 making two sharp turns and dropping more than 25,000ft (7,620m) before plunging into the sea.

The search is now focused on finding the plane's flight recorders, in waters between 2,500 and 3,000 metres deep.

In October, an Airbus A321 operated by Russia's Metrojet blew up over Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, with all 224 people on board killed.

Sinai Province, a local affiliate of the Islamic State jihadist group, said it had smuggled a bomb on board.

Source: bbc.com

 

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21/May/2016

MH17 crash: Victims' families sue Putin and Russia

Families of victims of downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 are suing Russia and its President Vladimir Putin in the European Court of Human Rights.

The jet was shot down by a Russian-made missile over eastern Ukraine in 2014, killing all 298 on board.

The West and Ukraine say Russian-backed rebels were responsible but Russia accuses Ukrainian forces.

The families' claim is based on the violation of a passenger's right to life, News.com.au reported.

The claim is for 10 million Australian dollars ($7.2m; £4.9m) for each victim, and the lawsuit names both the Russian state and its president as respondents.

Jerry Skinner, a US-based aviation lawyer leading the case, told News.com.au it was difficult for the families to live with, knowing it was "a crime".

"The Russians don't have any facts for blaming Ukraine, We have facts, photographs, memorandums, tonnes of stuff."

Mr Skinner said they were waiting to hear from the ECHR whether the case had been accepted.

The Kremlin said it was unaware of the claim, the Interfax news agency reported, but a senator with Mr Putin's party is quoted in state media as saying it was "legally nonsensical and has no chance".

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There are 33 next-of-kin named in the application, the Sydney Morning Herald reported - eight from Australia, one from New Zealand with the rest from Malaysia.

Sydney-based law firm LHD Lawyers is filing the case on behalf of their families.

Flight MH17 crashed at the height of the conflict between Ukrainian government troops and pro-Russian separatists.

A Dutch report last year concluded it was downed by a Russian-made Buk missile, but did not say who fired it.

Most of the victims were Dutch and a separate criminal investigation is still under way.

Source: bbc.com

 

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21/May/2016

Top US commander makes secret visit to northern Syria

The top US commander for the Middle East secretly visited Syria on Saturday, officials said.

General Joseph Votel, head of US Central Command, spent about 11 hours in northern Syria.

He met US military advisers and the leaders of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), made up of Kurdish and Arab rebel forces.

The US wants local forces to defeat the so-called Islamic State (IS) group, which holds territory in the country.

Speaking after the visit, Gen Votel said training local forces to fight IS was the right approach.

"I left with increased confidence in their capabilities and our ability to support them. I think that model is working and working well," he said.

The SDF comprises about 25,000 Kurdish fighters and about 5,000 Arab fighters. The US is hoping to increase the number of Arabs in the force.

Syrian Arab trainees at an undisclosed training range in northern Syria on May 21, 2016

The US is training Syrian Arab fighters to take on IS

Arab commanders who spoke to journalists during the visit said their forces needed more help.

SDF Deputy Commander Qarhaman Hasan said he wanted armoured vehicles, machine guns, rocket launchers and mortars.

The SDF currently had to rely on smuggling to get weapons, he said.

"You can't run an army on smuggling," he added.

Tribal leaders also called on the US to do more, both militarily and with humanitarian aid.

The US has about 200 military advisers in Syria, where 270,000 people have died in five years of civil war.

Source: bbc.com

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21/May/2016

Afghan Taliban leader Mansour 'probably killed' in US air strike

Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour has probably been killed in a US air strike, US officials say.

He and another male combatant were targeted as they rode in a vehicle in a remote area of Pakistan close to the Afghan border, the officials said.

The Pentagon has confirmed it targeted Mansour in strikes but said they were still assessing the results.

Mansour assumed the leadership in July 2015, replacing Taliban founder and spiritual head Mullah Mohammad Omar.

The operation took place near the town of Ahmad Wal at around 15:00 (10:00 GMT) on Saturday and was authorised by President Barack Obama.

Both Pakistan and Afghanistan were informed about the strike, said a US State Department spokesperson, without clarifying whether the notification was made in advance.

"We are still assessing the results of the strike and will provide more information as it becomes available," said Pentagon spokesperson Peter Cook.

An unnamed Taliban commander told the Reuters news agency: "We heard about these baseless reports but this not first time. Just wanted to share with you my own information that Mullah Mansour has not been killed."

False rumours have often surrounded Taliban leaders.

Omar died in 2013 but this was only confirmed by the Taliban two years later, while Mansour was reported to have been killed in a gun battle last year, something dismissed by the Afghan government.

Mansour's appointment as Taliban chief was disputed, with a rival group selecting their own leader.

The Pentagon's statement said Mansour was actively involved with planning attacks "presenting a threat to Afghan civilians and security forces, our personnel, and Coalition partners".

The Taliban have made gains since international troops withdrew from an active fighting role in 2014.

Nato forces are increasingly being deployed in battle zones to support Afghan forces fighting the Taliban.


Who is Mullah Mansour?

  • Long seen as acting head of the Taliban, and close to its founder Mullah Omar
  • Born in the 1960s, in Kandahar province, where he later served as shadow governor after the Taliban's fall
  • Was civil aviation minister during the Taliban's rule in Afghanistan
  • Had an active role in drug trafficking, according to the UN
  • Has clashed with Abdul Qayum Zakir, a senior military commander, amid a power struggle and differences over negotiations with the Afghan government
  • A man claiming to be Mansour met former Afghan President Hamid Karzai for peace talks in 2010 - but it later emerged he was an imposter

Profile: Mullah Akhtar Mansour

Source: bbc.com

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21/May/2016

EgyptAir flight: Search intensifies for missing plane

A massive search is continuing for a second day for an EgyptAir plane that disappeared over the Mediterranean.

Greek, Egyptian, French and UK military units are taking part in the operation near Greece's Karpathos island.

Flight MS804 was en route from Paris to Cairo with 66 passengers and crew when it vanished early on Thursday.

Greece said radar showed the Airbus A320 had made two sharp turns and dropped more than 25,000ft (7,620m) before plunging into the sea.

Egypt says the plane was more likely to have been brought down by a terrorist act than a technical fault.

Most of the people on board Flight MS804 were from Egypt and France. A Briton was also among the passengers.

So far, no wreckage or debris from the aircraft has been found.

Initial reports late on Thursday, based on Egyptian officials' comments that wreckage had been found, later proved unfounded.

Greece's lead air accident investigator Athanasios Binis said items including lifejackets found near Karpathos were not from the Airbus A320.

"An assessment of the finds showed that they do not belong to an aircraft," he said.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has ordered the country's civil aviation ministry, army-run search-and-rescue centre, navy and air force to take all necessary measures to locate the wreckage.

The French air accident investigation bureau has despatched three investigators, along with a technical adviser from Airbus, to join the Egyptian inquiry.

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In France, the focus is on whether a possible breach of security happened at Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport.

Security was already tight, and under review, after last November's attacks by jihadist militants in the French capital.

Since then, some airport staff have had security clearance revoked over fears of links to Islamic extremists.

Eric Moucay, a lawyer for some of those employees, told the BBC that there had been attempts by Islamists to recruit airport staff.

"That is clear. There are people who are being radicalised in some of the trade unions etc. The authorities have their work cut out with this problem," he said.

No response

Flight MS804 left Paris at 23:09 local time on Wednesday (21:09 GMT) and was scheduled to arrive in the Egyptian capital soon after 03:15 local time (01:15 GMT) on Thursday.

On the plane were 56 passengers, seven crew members and three security personnel.

Greek aviation officials say air traffic controllers spoke to the pilot when he entered Greek airspace and everything appeared normal.

They tried to contact him again at 02:27 Cairo time, as the plane was set to enter Egyptian airspace, but "despite repeated calls, the aircraft did not respond". Two minutes later it vanished from radar.

Flight MS804's possibly final movements

Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos told reporters: "The picture we have at the moment on the accident as it emerges from the Greek air force operations centre is that the aircraft was approximately 10-15 miles inside the Egyptian FIR [flight information region] and at an altitude of 37,000 feet.

"It turned 90 degrees left and then a 360-degree turn toward the right, dropping from 37,000 to 15,000 feet and then it was lost at about 10,000 feet."

Egyptian Aviation Minister Sherif Fathi said: "Let's not try to jump to the side that is trying to identify this as a technical failure - on the contrary.

"If you analyse the situation properly, the possibility of having a different action, or having a terror attack, is higher than the possibility of having a technical [fault]."

In October an Airbus A321 operated by Russia's Metrojet blew up over Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, with the deaths of all 224 people on board. Sinai Province, a local affiliate of the Islamic State jihadist group, said it had smuggled a bomb on board.

French President Francois Hollande said: "We will draw conclusions when we have the truth about what happened.

"Whether it was an accident, or whether it was - and it's something that is on our minds - terrorism."

Flightradar24 listed details of the plane's journey on Wednesday which showed it had flown from Asmara, in Eritrea, to Cairo, then on to Tunis, in Tunisia, before heading, via Cairo, to Paris.

Aviation analyst Alex Macheras told the BBC that Airbus A320s were regularly used for short-haul budget flights and had "an amazing safety record".

In March, an EgyptAir plane was hijacked and diverted to Cyprus. The attacker later surrendered and all hostages were released.

Source: bbc.com

 

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20/May/2016

San Francisco police chief quits amid racism row

San Francisco's Police Chief Greg Suhr has stepped down hours after a police officer shot and killed a young black woman driving a suspected stolen car.

The resignation was announced by Mayor Ed Lee, who had asked him to quit.

Mr Suhr and city police had in recent months come under fierce criticism over fatal police shootings of several black suspects.

Reports also recently emerged that a number of officers had exchanged racist text messages.

At a news conference on Thursday, Mayor Lee said he hoped the resignation would help "to heal the city".

The mayor, who until now had supported Mr Suhr, added: "The progress we have made has been meaningful but it hasn't been fast enough, not for me and not for Greg, and that's why I have asked Chief Suhr for his resignation."

He named Toney Chaplin as acting police chief.

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Earlier, protesters held a rally outside the city hall, demanding the sacking of Greg Suhr

The black woman, 27, was shot and killed earlier on Thursday in the city's Bayview area.

Police said one of their patrols approached her as she sat in a car that had been reported stolen.

The woman allegedly tried to drive off and then crashed into a nearby vehicle.

There was no immediate indication that she had a weapon or had tried to run down a police officer before the shooting, the city authorities said.


Analysis: BBC's David Willis in California

A 34-year veteran of the San Francisco PD, Greg Suhr was once a popular and professional policeman.

"Greg was always respectful, always a servant of the community," recalled London Breed, who first encountered Suhr when the latter was a young narcotics officer working the beat. Both men would go on to greater things: Suhr to police chief, Breed to president of the local Board of Supervisors.

But for Suhr there were missteps along the way - among them a demotion from deputy chief after a female friend told him she had been assaulted by her boyfriend and he failed to file a police report.

Reflecting on Suhr's resignation, London Breed said he hoped the city would now come together so that everyone would feel safe in their communities.

The job of reforming the police department now rests with Greg Suhr's former deputy Toney Chaplin - another insider, with 26 years of service under his belt.


In April, five people went on a hunger strike, demanding Mr Suhr be sacked. They ended their strike last week.

Mr Suhr, a veteran officer, was appointed city police chief in 2011.

There are more than 1,000 fatal shootings by police in the US each year, and those killed are disproportionately African-American.

Source: bbc.com

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20/May/2016

Canada fires cost oil sands production $763m

A new report into the financial impact of the McMurray fires says some C$763m (£527m) in oil sands production has been lost.

The analysis says the blaze has meant the loss of 1.2 million barrels of oil a day over two weeks.

The sum is equivalent to 0.33% of the province of Alberta's projected GDP this year, as well as representing 0.06% of the country's projected GDP.

"These are big numbers," Kevin Birn, an analyst at IHS Energy, said.

"The industry was already feeling the impact of a very low price environment in the first quarter of the year, with prices lower than in the rest of the world," he told the BBC's Bill Wilson.

The analysis, by economic research organisation the Conference Board of Canada, projects that national economic impacts will be "minimal".

He said the oil sands firms affected were among the biggest energy companies in the world, and that they would be "pushing to get facilities up and running as soon as possible".

"Some facilities had already started ramping up ready to restart production, but have had to stand down again and evacuate workers. There is rain forecast for this weekend which will hopefully bring an end to this disruption."

Mr Birn added that most of the Canadian sands oil produced was sent to the US mid-west for processing, and that a knock-on effect would be that refineries there would be having to look for alternative sources, "which comes with additional costs for them".

The fire is now 1,366 square miles (3527km) and conditions are getting more dangerous for fire fighters north of Fort McMurray.

It is moving east and encroaching the border with Saskatchewan, officials said on Tuesday, and continuing to "burn out of control".

The Alberta government is taking a "second look" at plans for re-entry into Fort McMurray, said Alberta premier Rachel Notley.

"We're not going to have people going back until we know it's safe," she said.

She said said it is unclear when oil production can resume.

Gas service has returned to 60% of the city and electricity is restored in undamaged areas, she said.

Workers who were sent to Fort McMurray to begin working on the hospital have now been evacuated.

Alberta Highway 63 is likely to be threatened and could be closed for a period of time, she said.

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Canada's oil sands industry

  • Oil sands are a mixture of sand, water, clay and a thick, heavy oil called bitumen
  • Bitumen is extracted using surface mining and drilling, and must be treated before it can be turned into petrol and other usable fuels
  • Canada has the third largest oil reserves in the world after Venezuela and Saudi Arabia
  • The Alberta oil sands produced about 2.3 million barrels a day in 2014

Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau told CBC News that the cost of the disaster was still being evaluated.

"We're obviously going to stand shoulder to shoulder with the people in Fort McMurray and rebuild the city," he said.

Source: bbc.com

 

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17/May/2016

West Virginia mom dies while getting 'Brazilian butt lift'

A West Virginia mom who traveled to Florida to undergo cosmetic surgery died Thursday after police say she suffered medical complications during the procedure, WSVN reports.

Heather Meadows, 29, who has a 6-year-old and a newborn, was rushed to a Hialeah ER from Encore Plastic Surgery and pronounced dead after experiencing medical complications.

CBS Miami reports Meadows was having a "Brazilian Butt Lift" done at Encore; the procedure begins with a liposuction, with the removed fat then injected into the buttocks.

The Miami-Dade Medical Examiner says death was caused by fat clots in the arteries of her lungs and heart. When the fat was injected, it probably was introduced to her bloodstream via a vein, reports the Miami Herald.

Per the New York Daily News, although there aren't any active complaints against Encore, two doctors listed as working there, Orlando Llorente and James McAdoo, are also tied to a practice called Vanity Cosmetic Surgery, where a 51-year-old woman died in 2013 after a breast augmentation.

A third doctor listed in Yelp reviews for Encore has been deemed "an immediate serious danger" to public health by state health officials and banned from performing lipo and fat transfers to the buttocks after four patients were reportedly badly injured as he performed those procedures.

A woman set to have surgery at Encore and standing outside its Hialeah office tells WSVN, "I'm not having surgery here. Are you kidding me? This is a chop shop." The station says she got her $4,000 back, while NBC Miami notes she said it could have cost up to $12,000 at another practice.

(What happens when people get cheap leg-lengthening.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: WV Mom Dies While Getting 'Brazilian Butt Lift'

Source: foxnews.com

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17/May/2016

Transgender toilet use: US schools 'must respect gender identity'

The Obama administration has told schools to let transgender pupils use toilets matching their gender identity.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch said schools that don't comply may face lawsuits or lose federal aid if they do not comply.

One senior Republican politician has condemned the move as the "beginning of the end" of the current school system.

In a separate move, the president also strengthened protections for LGBT people receiving health care.

The federal government is fighting the state of North Carolina in court over a law requiring people to use toilets according to their gender at birth.

However the Obama administration education and justice departments say public schools must respect transgender pupils' gender identity even if their education records or identity documents indicate a different sex.

"There is no room in our schools for discrimination of any kind, including discrimination against transgender students on the basis of their sex," Ms Lynch said.

Mapping safe toilets for transgender Americans

How one woman's 'bathroom bill' campaign went viral

Why bathrooms matter to trans rights

Campaigners hailed the move.

"This is a truly significant moment not only for transgender young people but for all young people, sending a message that every student deserves to be treated fairly and supported by their teachers and schools," said Chad Griffin from Human Rights Campaign, a gay, lesbian and transgender rights organisation.

But the directive, which has been sent to all public schools, was immediately rejected by senior Republican Party politicians meeting at a convention in Texas.

Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick said: "This will be the beginning of the end of the public school system as we know it."

"President Obama, in the dark of the night - without consulting Congress, without consulting educators, without consulting parents - decides to issue an executive order, forcing transgender policies on schools and on parents who clearly don't want it," he told 5NBC television.

A new gender identity comes into force as soon as a parent or guardian notifies the school that their child's identity "differs from previous representations or records" and must be respected even if it makes others uncomfortable, the directive says.

Ms Lynch said North Carolina's new state law had echoes of policies of racial segregation and efforts to deny gay couples the right to marry.

The federal government and the state are suing each other over the law, which the federal authorities say violates the Civil Rights Act.

North Carolina's Governor Pat McCrory has said the law is a "common sense privacy policy" and that the justice department's position is "baseless and blatant overreach".

However, many businesses and entertainers have criticised the measures as discriminatory.

Musicians have cancelled concerts in the states and several companies have pledged to curtail their business in North Carolina.

Last month a US appeals courts ruled that a Virginia school policy that barred a transgender pupil from using the boys' toilet was discriminatory.

Transgender health care

On Friday afternoon, President Obama and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) gave the LBGT community further protections when receiving health care.

A new rule in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act guarantees equal treatment for transgender people by insurance companies and health care providers.

It states people must be treated in line with their gender identity, including access to facilities such as toilets, and given the same treatments which are available to their chosen gender.

The rule applies to all federal funded health care and insurers.

The Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said the measure was a step towards "realizing equity within our health care system and reaffirms this Administration's commitment to giving every American access to the health care they deserve."

Transgender Americans can make civil rights claims if denied coverage or care based on their sex, which will be assessed by HHS's Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

HHS said the new rule was the first federal civil rights law that tackled sex discrimination in government-funded health care.

Source: bbc.com

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13/May/2016

Trayvon Martin death: Zimmerman handgun 'auction reaches $65m'

An online auction for the pistol used to kill unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin has apparently reached $65m (£45m), organisers say.

The sale has been plagued by fake bidders including "Racist McShootface".

George Zimmerman, who shot and killed the teenager, had planned to auction what he called "an American icon" on the website Gun Broker on Thursday.

But the web posting was removed just as the auction was due to begin with a reserve price of $5,000 (£3,450).

United Gun Group is now hosting the auction.

In a statement on Twitter they defended the sale of the gun on their site. They were "truly sorry" for the Martin family's loss but said it was their goal to "defend liberty".

"Unless the law has been violated, it is the intention of the United Gun Group to allow its members to use any of the available features. While not always popular this is where we stand."

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Mr Zimmerman said the gun was recently returned to him

On Friday afternoon, the top bidder was a user named Craig Bryant.

Mr Zimmerman, 32, a neighbourhood watchman, was cleared over the death of the 17-year-old in February 2012 after saying he acted in self-defence.

Does the gun belong in a museum?

In an online posting to announce the auction, Mr Zimmerman said that he would use the profits to "fight" the Black Lives Matter movement and oppose Democrat Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

A lawyer for the Martin family told the Washington Post that "it is insulting to this family that he would decide that he would sell the gun that he killed their child with".

"Think about what that means: This is a gun that took a child's life and now he wants to make money off of it."

On the auction site, Mr Zimmerman said it was recently returned to him by the US Department of Justice.

He claimed that the Smithsonian museums had expressed interest in buying the 9 mm handgun, but Smithsonian officials denied that in a statement.

Speaking to a Florida television station, Mr Zimmerman had defended the auction saying "I'm a free American, and I can do what I'd like with my possessions."

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Zimmerman has had several encounters with police since being acquitted

Analysis - Nick Bryant, BBC North America correspondent

Few cases in recent years have been more racially sensitive or led to such an anguished national conversation as the killing of Trayvon Martin. It sparked demonstrations around the country, prompted President Obama to remark that if he had a son, he'd have looked like the black teenager and brought about the first use on social media of the hashtag "Black Lives Matter."

So the decision of the former neighbourhood watchman, George Zimmerman to put the gun he used up for auction not only seems extraordinary but also cruel and callous - especially since he refers to the weapon on the online site as an "American icon."

This is not the first time that Zimmerman has sought to cash in on his notoriety. His first painting of an American flag, emblazoned with the words "God One Nation with Liberty and Justice For All," sold on eBay for the staggering sum of $100,000. But it did not impress critics, who called it "primitive" and "appalling."

Harsher language will no doubt be used to describe the sale of the pistol that killed Trayvon Martin.

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Protests were launched nationwide following Martin's death, which helped to create the Black Lives Matter movement

Congressman Hakeem Jeffries said on Thursday that "Trayvon Martin's cold-blooded killer should be in prison. Instead, he is trying to profit from the stunning miscarriage of justice."

Florida police did not arrest Mr Zimmerman for six weeks after the shooting in Sanford, Florida, provoking mass rallies in Florida and throughout the US.

Police justified their decision not to detain him by citing the state's controversial "stand your ground" law, which allows a citizen to use lethal force if he or she feels in imminent danger. Police initially said the law prevented them from bringing charges.

Profiles: Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman

Mr Zimmerman's defence said Trayvon Martin had punched their client, slammed his head into the pavement and reached for Mr Zimmerman's gun. Prosecutors accused Mr Zimmerman of telling a number of lies.

The case led to protests in several cities in the US and to the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Mr Zimmerman's name has been in news headlines several times since his closely watched trial.

Twice, assault charges against his girlfriend were dropped.

Source: bbc.com

 

 

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13/May/2016

US Congressmen: Drop baggage fees to cut airport congestion

Two US senators have urged airlines to temporarily stop charging passengers baggage fees in an effort to speed up security queues.

Senators Richard Blumenthal and Edward Markey said passengers often bring extra items through the security screening process to save money.

They asked major US airlines to suspend the fees during the busy summer season.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has struggled with long queues at major airports.

"Passengers report waiting for so long in these lines that they miss flights, despite arriving at the airport hours in advance." the senators wrote in a letter to the airlines.

"Travel officials, including TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger, have expressed fears of a meltdown this summer as travel increases."

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Senators Blumenthal and Markey said baggage fees encourage passengers to bring more luggage into the cabin

A spokeswoman representing the many of the airlines said the senators plan is a misguided attempt to re-regulate airline and would raise ticket prices.

Jean Medina of Airlines for America said the TSA should hire additional staff at the busiest airports instead.

Federal budget cuts have recently reduced the number of TSA screeners.

American and Delta airlines said they planned to loan employees to the TSA to handle low-level tasks.

The TSA was created in response to the 9/11 attacks, but the agency has been often accused of mismanagement and using inept screening procedures.

American Airlines recently complained to Congress about TSA checkpoints, saying more than 6,000 American passengers missed flights in one week because of security delays.

"The lines at TSA checkpoints nationwide have become unacceptable," said Ross Feinstein, a spokesman for American.

Many airlines introduced baggage fees in 2008 to cope with soaring fuel costs.

Despite historically low oil prices and record airline profits, the fees have not been revoked.

Source: bbc.com

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12/May/2016

US naval commander demoted after Iran's capture of sailors

The US Navy has fired the commander of the 10 US sailors who in January entered Iranian territorial waters and were briefly detained.

In a statement, the US Navy said it had lost confidence in Eric Rasch, who was in charge of a riverine squadron at the time of the incident in the Gulf.

A Navy official said Mr Rasch had been re-assigned, the Associated Press says.

The sailors were released after intense diplomacy between US Secretary of State John Kerry and senior Iranian officials.

On Thursday, the US Navy official said that Mr Rasch had failed to provide effective leadership, leading to a lack of oversight, complacency and failure to maintain standards in his unit.

The official - who spoke on condition of anonymity - did not say what the former commander's new role was.

In January, the sailors - nine men and a woman - were detained when one of their two vessels broke down while training in the Gulf.

They were then taken to Farsi Island, in the middle of the Gulf, where Iran has a naval base.

The incursion was "unintentional", the Iranian Revolutionary Guards were quoted as saying at the time.

The sailors were released after about 15 hours, and after Iran said they apologised.

But Vice-President Joe Biden later said that the boat had had simply a problem and there was "nothing to apologise for".

The US said at the time it was investigating how the sailors entered Iranian waters.

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Sourcee: bbc.com

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12/May/2016

London receptionist 'sent home for not wearing heels'

A London receptionist was sent home from work after refusing to wear high heels, it has emerged.

Temp worker Nicola Thorp, 27, from Hackney, arrived at finance company PwC to be told she had to wear shoes with a "2in to 4in heel".

When she refused and complained male colleagues were not asked to do the same, she was sent home without pay.

Outsourcing firm Portico said Ms Thorp had "signed the appearance guidelines" but it would now review them.

More on this story and other news from London

High heels and flip-flops: Work dress code victims

PwC said the dress code was "not a PwC policy".

Ms Thorp said she would have struggled to work a full day in high heels and had asked to wear the smart flat shoes she had worn to the office in Embankment.

But instead she was was told she should go and buy a pair of heels on her first day, back in December.

"I said 'if you can give me a reason as to why wearing flats would impair me to do my job today, then fair enough', but they couldn't," Ms Thorp told BBC Radio London.

"I was expected to do a nine-hour shift on my feet escorting clients to meeting rooms. I said 'I just won't be able to do that in heels'."

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The office in Embankment where Nicola Thorp was told to wear high heels for work by Portico

Ms Thorp said she asked if a man would be expected to do the same shift in heels, and was laughed at.

She then spoke to friends about what had happened, and after posting on Facebook realised that other women had found themselves in the same position.

"I was a bit scared about speaking up about it in case there was a negative backlash," she said. "But I realised I needed to put a voice to this as it is a much bigger issue."

She has since set up a petition calling for the law to be changed so women cannot be forced to wear high heels to work. It has had more than 10,000 signatures, so the government will now have to respond.


Is this legal?

As the law stands, employers can dismiss staff who fail to live up to "reasonable" dress code demands, as long as they've been given enough time to buy the right shoes and clothes.

They can set up different codes for men and women, as long as there's an "equivalent level of smartness".

Read more here.


"I don't hold anything against the company necessarily because they are acting within their rights as employers to have a formal dress code, and as it stands, part of that for a woman is to wear high heels," Ms Thorp said.

"I think dress codes should reflect society and nowadays women can be smart and formal and wear flat shoes.

"Aside from the debilitating factor, it's the sexism issue. I think companies shouldn't be forcing that on their female employees."

Simon Pratt, managing director at Portico, said it was "common practice within the service sector to have appearance guidelines", which Ms Thorp had agreed to.

"These policies ensure customer-facing staff are consistently well presented and positively represent a client's brand and image."

However, he said the firm had "taken on board the comments regarding footwear and will be reviewing our guidelines".

A PwC spokesman said the company was in discussions with Portico about its policy.

"PwC outsources its front of house and reception services to a third party supplier. We first became aware of this matter on 10 May, some five months after the issue arose," the spokesman said.

"PwC does not have specific dress guidelines for male or female employees." Ms Thorp said she did not blame the company involved but the law should be changed so women could not be required to wear high heels.

Source: bbc.com

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12/May/2016

BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes and team expelled from North Korea

BBC correspondent Rupert Wingfield-Hayes and his team are being expelled from North Korea after being detained over their reporting.

Our correspondent, producer Maria Byrne and cameraman Matthew Goddard were stopped by officials on Friday as they were about to leave North Korea.

He was questioned for eight hours by North Korean officials and made to sign a statement.

All three were held over the weekend but have now been taken to the airport.

The BBC team was in North Korea ahead of the Workers Party Congress, accompanying a delegation of Nobel prize laureates conducting a research trip.

The North Korean leadership was displeased with their reports highlighting aspects of life in the capital.

A BBC spokesman said: "We are very disappointed that our reporter Rupert Wingfield-Hayes and his team have been deported from North Korea after the government took offence at material he had filed.

"Four BBC staff, who were invited to cover the Workers Party Congress, remain in North Korea and we expect them to be allowed to continue their reporting."

Source: bbc.com

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09/May/2016

Etihad turbulence: More than 30 passengers injured

More than 30 people were injured when an Etihad Airways flight hit "severe and unexpected turbulence" flying into Indonesia, the airline said.

The flight from Abu Dhabi was about 45 minutes away from Jakarta on Wednesday when the turbulence hit.

The plane, an Airbus A330-200, landed safely after the incident, but 10 people were taken to hospital.

Video footage apparently from the flight showed passengers crying out as the plane shook.

The United Arab Emirates' national airline told AFP news agency the cabin luggage bins were damaged and passengers said oxygen masks were released during the shaking.

The airline did not provide details on the severity of the injuries but nine passengers and one crew member were taken to hospital. The rest were treated by airport paramedics.

Etihad said it had cancelled the return flight and was booking alternative flights and providing accommodation.

Airport and Indonesian National Transportation Safety Committee officials are inspecting the plane, the airport said.

Source: bbc.com

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05/May/2016

Italian court rules food theft 'not a crime' if hungry

Stealing small amounts of food to stave off hunger is not a crime, Italy's highest court of appeal has ruled.

Judges overturned a theft conviction against Roman Ostriakov after he stole cheese and sausages worth €4.07 (£3; $4.50) from a supermarket.

Mr Ostriakov, a homeless man of Ukrainian background, had taken the food "in the face of the immediate and essential need for nourishment", the court of cassation decided.

Therefore it was not a crime, it said.

A fellow customer informed the store's security in 2011, when Mr Ostriakov attempted to leave a Genoa supermarket with two pieces of cheese and a packet of sausages in his pocket but paid only for breadsticks.

In 2015, Mr Ostriakov was convicted of theft and sentenced to six months in jail and a €100 fine.

'Right and pertinent' ruling, say papers

For the judges, the "right to survival prevails over property", said an op-ed in La Stampa newspaper (in Italian).

In times of economic hardship, the court of cassation's judgement "reminds everyone that in a civilised country not even the worst of men should starve".

An opinion piece in Corriere Della Sera says statistics suggest 615 people are added to the ranks of the poor in Italy every day - it was "unthinkable that the law should not take note of reality".

It criticised the fact that a case concerning the taking of goods worth under €5 went through three rounds in the courts before being thrown out.

The "historic" ruling is "right and pertinent", said Italiaglobale.it - and derives from a concept that "informed the Western world for centuries - it is called humanity".


However, his case was sent to appeal on the grounds that the conviction should be reduced to attempted theft and the sentence cut, as Mr Ostriakov had not left the shop premises when he was caught.

Italy's Supreme Court of Cassation, which reviews only the application of the law and not the facts of the case, on Monday made a final and definitive ruling overturning the conviction entirely.

Stealing small quantities of food to satisfy a vital need for food did not constitute a crime, the court wrote.

"The condition of the defendant and the circumstances in which the seizure of merchandise took place prove that he took possession of that small amount of food in the face of an immediate and essential need for nourishment, acting therefore in a state of necessity," wrote the court.

Source: bbc.com

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04/May/2016

Instagram hacked by 10-year-old boy

A 10-year-old boy Finnish boy named Jani has been given $10,000 (£7,000) after he found a security flaw in image-sharing social network Instagram.

The boy, who technically is not allowed to even join the site for another three years, discovered a bug that allowed him to delete comments made by other users.

The issue was "quickly" fixed after being discovered, said Facebook, which owns Instagram.

Jani was paid soon after - making him the youngest ever recipient of the firm's "bug bounty" prize.

After discovering the flaw in February, he emailed Facebook.

Security engineers at the company set up a test account for Jani to prove his theory - which he did.

The boy, from Helsinki, told Finnish newspaper Iltalehti he planned to use the money to buy a new bike, football equipment and computers for his brothers.

Facebook told the BBC it had paid $4.3m to bug bounty recipients since 2011.

Many companies offer a financial incentive for security professionals - and young children, evidently - to share flaws with the company, rather than selling them on the black market.

Source: bbc.com

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04/May/2016

Canada wildfire forces mass evacuation in Fort McMurray

A huge wildfire has forced the evacuation of about 60,000 people from Fort McMurray - the entire population of the Canadian city.

The blaze has destroyed a number of homes, dropping ash on the streets of the city in the province of Alberta.

Fleeing residents have caused gridlock on the main road leading from the city, 380km (235 miles) north of Edmonton.

The evacuation from Fort McMurray - which lies in an oil sands region - is the biggest in Alberta's history.

"If you just walk outside, you feel it (ash) falling on you. You see it floating in the air. I can take a broom and brush it off my deck," resident Mark Durocher was quoted as saying by the Globe and Mail.

Plumes of smoke rise in the air, as people flee the wildfire in their cars in Fort McMurray

Roads were packed as people fled the wildfire in their cars

Homes in at least two neighbourhood have been gutted, and the fire has now spread to Highway 63 - the main road into Fort McMurray from the south.

Firefighters are continuing to tackle the blaze, but the local authorities have called for reinforcements, including a water-dumping helicopter.

So far there have been no reports of any injuries.

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Source: bbc.com

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04/May/2016

Groups of parents keep children off school in test protest

Groups of parents are keeping their children off school for the day in a protest about primary tests in England.

More than 40,000 parents have signed a petition calling for a boycott of primary school tests, which are due to be taken later this month.

Parents supporting the Let Our Kids Be Kids campaign have complained of a damaging culture of over-testing.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan says taking pupils out of school "even for a day is harmful to their education".

It remains uncertain how many primary school children are being kept off school, but a social media campaign has been urging parents to take children on educational activities for the day.

The campaign organisers say children are "over-tested, over-worked and in a school system that places more importance on test results and league tables than children's happiness and joy of learning".

They have raised concerns about the impact of primary tests, so-called Sats tests, taken by seven-year-olds and 11-year-olds, which are being made more difficult.

They have challenged what they claim is a "dull, dry curriculum" based around tests.

test paper

Parents have claimed that the tests are causing stress for primary pupils

In an open letter to the education secretary, campaigners have warned of schools becoming "exam factories" and that testing causes stress and can make young children feel like "failures".

Fiona Robertson, a parent and primary teacher who is keeping her children out of school on Tuesday, says that such tests can "turn children off" school.

She says that a narrow emphasis on testing and completing targets was taking away children's creativity.

"They're not producing really imaginative pieces. They're too scared to," she said.

'It's too hard'

Dawn Slater is keeping her six-year-old twins George and Josie away from lessons at Cheam Fields Primary School, Surrey on Tuesday. She said they had been stressed since returning to school this term.

Her son had been having tantrums and her daughter suffered nightmares.

"She's been saying things like 'I can't do it, it's too hard', in her sleep," she said.

"When I do the literacy test, it's hard," said Josie. "When we have the story, when we're we're stuck on a word, we can't read it. So the story won't make sense."

Instead, the family are going to Nonsuch Park to "find birds, trees and insects", Josie added.

'Basket case'

But Education Minister Nick Gibb said tests improved standards.

He said: "Schools should not be putting pressure on young people when taking these assessments. I've been to many schools where the children don't even know they're taking the tests, they don't have an effect on the children themselves because they have no consequences for the children.

"They [the tests] are to hold schools to account, to make sure that every school in the country is equipping children with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed."

And parent's and teachers' claims were dismissed by Chris McGovern, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education.

He said that any short-term stress was worth it if in the longer term it meant that children finished school with better results.

Mr McGovern said that tests in England's schools needed to be tougher to catch up with international competitors.

"We're three years behind the Chinese at the age of 15. We are a bit of a basket case internationally.

"We've got to do something, we've got to act early, and a health check at seven is a good idea."

Ministers have already had problems with the administration of primary school tests this year.

The baseline tests, which were intended to be a benchmark for measuring progress, were found to have unreliable results and have been postponed.

Tests for seven-year-olds in spelling, punctuation and grammar also had to be called off when it was found that test questions had mistakenly been published on a Department for Education website.

Labour's shadow education secretary Lucy Powell said she did not "condone children being taken out of school".

But she accused the government of "creating chaos and confusion in primary assessment".

Russell Hobby, leader of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "I think the gap between the profession and the government has never been wider than it is at the moment."

He warned of "an enormous number of mistakes, delays and confusions around testing".

But Ms Morgan has argued that raising standards will improve creativity and not restrict it and keeping children home, "even for a day, is harmful to their education".

Source: bbc.com

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03/May/2016

China investigates search engine Baidu after student's death

China has launched an investigation into search giant Baidu after the death of a student who tried an experimental cancer therapy he found online.

Wei Zexi, who died last month from a rare form of cancer, had sought the treatment from a hospital that came top of the list on his Baidu web search.

Baidu has come under fire for allegedly selling listings to bidders without adequately checking their claims.

In a statement Baidu said it was investigating the matter.

The company told the BBC: "We deeply regret the death of Wei Zexi and our condolences go out to his family.

"Baidu strives to provide a safe and trustworthy search experience for our users, and have launched an immediate investigation of the matter."

Baidu owns search engine and social media services, and is often compared to Google. Shares slumped in the US on news of an investigation by China's internet regulator, with Baidu's Nasdaq-listed shares falling 7.92%.

According to state news agency Xinhua, Wei was diagnosed with synovial sarcoma in 2014.

He and his family said he found out about a controversial treatment at the Second Hospital of the Beijing Armed Police Corps through an advertisement on Baidu.

But the treatment was unsuccessful and the 21-year-old student died on 12 April.

Before his death, Wei publically accused Baidu of promoting false medical information and the hospital of misleading advertising.

Baidu has said on its Weibo account that it had filed a request for the hospital to be investigated. The hospital has yet to comment and efforts to contact hospital officials have been unsuccessful.

In addition to the Cyberspace Administration of China, several other government agencies including the State Administration of Industry and Commerce, and the National Health and Family Planning Commission are looking into the matter.

The outcry over the case follows a similar scandal in January involving ethical practices regarding healthcare advertising.

The story has also reignited public concern over Baidu's advertising ethics, following an earlier scandal where it admitted it allowed healthcare companies to moderate online health forums.

On popular microblogging network Sina Weibo, the hashtag #Wei Zexi Baidu Advertising Incident# has been trending for days as netizens have called for a boycott of Baidu.

Source: bbc.com

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03/May/2016

Migrant crisis: EU 'to back' visa-free travel for Turkey

The European Commission will give conditional approval for Turks to travel without visas to Europe's passport-free Schengen area, sources have told the BBC.

The move is part of a deal in which Turkey is taking back migrants who have crossed over the Aegean Sea to Greece.

But Turkey must still meet EU criteria, and the deal must be approved by the European Parliament and member states.

The EU fears that without a visa deal, Turkey will not control migration.

What is the Schengen agreement?

Turks look to EU to scrap visas

The large influx of migrants and refugees arriving in Europe from Turkey, and from North Africa, has caused a political crisis among EU states.

A formal announcement from the European Commission is due on Wednesday.


Analysis by Katya Adler, BBC Europe Editor

If the European Commission (the EU's executive body) does make the recommendation this Wednesday that Turks be granted visa-free travel in Europe's Schengen area, as whispers from well-placed EU sources suggest, then it will be doing so holding its nose and its breath.

The freedom of speech; the right to a fair trial; and revising terrorism legislation to better protect minority rights - these are just some of the criteria demanded by the EU of countries before it lifts visa requirements, even for short-term travel.

It is hard to see how Turkey could be described as meeting these conditions. The government in Ankara increasingly cracks down on its critics in a manner more autocratic than democratic.

But these are desperate times for the EU. The European Commission and most EU governments are under huge public pressure to ease the migrant crisis.

My sources say the commission will therefore keep to the agreed script. But they insist this is no blank cheque. Turkey will get the green light over visas this week to keep it sweet. But it will also be informed of the outstanding criteria it still needs to meet.

Read more from Katya


Under the EU-Turkey agreement, migrants who have arrived illegally in Greece since 20 March are to be sent back to Turkey if they do not apply for asylum or if their claim is rejected.

For each Syrian migrant returned to Turkey, the EU is to take in another Syrian who has made a legitimate request.

Under the agreement, Turkey must meet 72 conditions by 4 May to earn access to the EU's Schengen area by the end of June, subject to full EU approval. Diplomats have suggested that fewer than 10 still need to be met.

Human rights groups question the deal's legality and argue that Turkey is not a safe place to return people to.

Last month, however, European Council President Donald Tusk said the deal had begun to produce results.

He praised the Turkish government as "the best example in the world on how to treat refugees", despite criticism by rights groups of the agreement.

At the same time, Turkish PM Ahmed Davutoglu said his country had fulfilled its part of the agreement and that the issue of the visa waiver for the EU's Schengen area was "vital" for Turkey.

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Source: bbc.com

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03/May/2016

Colombia legalises gay marriage

Colombia's top court has legalised same-sex marriage, making the country the fourth in Latin America to do so.

Gay couples were already allowed to form civil partnerships, but Thursday's ruling extends them the same marriage rights as heterosexual couples.

Earlier this month the constitutional court dismissed a judge's petition against equal marriage rights for heterosexual and homosexual couples.

Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay have previously legalised same-sex marriage.

Argentina was the first Latin American country to take the step in July 2010.

In Mexico, gay marriage is legal in the capital and in certain states.

Source: bbc.com

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02/May/2016

Russia challenges US after Baltic jet face-off

Russia says it was right to confront a US Air Force reconnaissance plane over the Baltic Sea on Friday.

The Pentagon said a Russian jet fighter acted in an "unsafe and unprofessional manner", and performed a barrel roll over its plane.

Russia said that the American jet had turned off its transponder signal, which helps others identify it.

It is the second incident in the Baltic this month in which the US has accused Russian planes of flying aggressively.

"All flights of Russian planes are conducted in accordance with international regulations on the use of airspace," a statement by the Russian defence ministry said. "The US Air Force has two solutions: either not to fly near our borders or to turn the transponder on for identification."

US jets "regularly" try to approach Russia's borders with transponders switched off, the statement said. Over the past 18 months, Russia has been repeatedly accused of the same practice over the Baltic and near UK waters.

It is not clear how close to Russia's waters Friday's incident occurred.

On Friday, Pentagon spokesman Daniel Hernandez said there had been "repeated incidents over the last year where Russian military aircraft have come close enough to other air and sea traffic to raise serious safety concerns".

"The US aircraft was operating in international airspace and at no time crossed into Russian territory," he said.

"This unsafe and unprofessional air intercept has the potential to cause serious harm and injury to all air crews involved."

Such actions could "unnecessarily escalate tensions between countries," he said.

Mr Hernandez said the Su-27's "erratic and aggressive manoeuvres" also threatened the safety of the US aircrew, coming within 7.6m (25ft) of the fuselage of the American plane before conducting its barrel roll.

Military encounters between Russia and the US and its allies have escalated significantly over the past two years, ever since Russia's annexation of Crimea and the breakdown of relations between East and West.

Two Russian planes flew close to a US guided missile destroyer almost a dozen times in the Baltic on 13 April.

The BBC's Gary O'Donoghue in Washington reported after the destroyer incident that Russia's actions were regarded by defence analysts as a flexing of muscle, a reminder that Russia has military might and cannot be pushed around.

Source: bbc.com

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02/May/2016

Zika virus: Risk higher than first thought, say doctors

The mosquito-borne Zika virus may be even more dangerous than previously thought, scientists in Brazil say.

They told the BBC that Zika could be behind more damaging neurological conditions, affecting the babies of up to a fifth of infected pregnant women.

Rates of increase in Zika infection in some parts of Brazil have slowed, thanks to better information about preventing the disease.

But the search for a vaccine is still in the early stages.

And Zika continues to spread across the region.

What you need to know: How dangerous is Zika?

2.2 billion in 'at risk' Zika areas

Travel advice: Countries affected and what you should do

Most doctors and medical researchers now agree that there is a link between the Zika virus and microcephaly, where babies are born with abnormally small heads because of restricted brain development.

While it is estimated that 1% of women who have had Zika during pregnancy will have a child with microcephaly, leading doctors in Brazil have told the BBC that as many as 20% of Zika-affected pregnancies will result in a range of other forms of brain damage to the baby in the womb.

A separate study, reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, said that "29% of scans showed abnormalities in babies in the womb, including growth restrictions, in women infected with Zika".

Graphic showing babies' head size

Zika: What are the symptoms?

Deaths are rare and only one in five people infected is thought to develop symptoms.

These include:

  • mild fever
  • conjunctivitis (red, sore eyes)
  • headache
  • joint pain
  • a rash

A rare nervous system disorder, Guillain-Barre syndrome, that can cause temporary paralysis has been linked to the infection.

There is no vaccine or drug treatment so patients are advised to rest and drink plenty of fluids.

But the biggest concern is the impact it could have on babies developing in the womb.

Source: bbc.com

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02/May/2016

Hitomi: Japan to abandon costly satellite sent to study black holes

Japan's space agency had said it will abandon efforts to restore or retrieve the ASTRO-H satellite.

Also called Hitomi, the satellite was launched in 17 February to observe X-rays coming from black holes.

Contact was lost with $273m satellite on 26 March sparking a scramble by Japanese scientists to find out what had happened.

The next time a similar satellite will be launched is in 2028 by the European Space Agency.

Hitomi was a joint effort between Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), NASA and other groups.

A H-IIA rocket, carrying X-ray astronomy satellite

The rocket carrying the ASTRO-H satellite lifted off from Tanegashima Space Centre in Japan

"We concluded that the satellite is in a state in which its functions are not expected to recover," Saku Tsuneta, director general of JAXA's Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, told a press conference on Thursday.

"JAXA will cease the efforts to restore ASTRO-H and will focus on the investigation of anomaly causes," the space agency said in a statement.

It added that it was likely two solar arrays had broken off their bases.

Until now, there was hope that the satellite could be recovered after JAXA said it had received three signals from Hitomi. It said on Thursday that it now thinks those signals were not sent by the spacecraft.

Source: bbc.com

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29/Apr/2016

African leaders meet for Giants Club elephant summit

African leaders are to meet in Kenya to discuss how to save the continent's elephants from extinction.

The inaugural summit of the so-called Giants Club will be led by the Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.

As well as heads of state, the conservation group will bring together business leaders and scientists.

Experts say Africa's elephant population has fallen by 90% over the past century and warn that the animal could be extinct within decades.

Among those expected to attend the summit are Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and President Ali Bongo from the west African nation of Gabon.

After the summit, Kenya will set fire to nearly its entire confiscated stock of ivory, 105 tonnes, equivalent to the tusks of more than 6,700 elephants.

The ivory has been piled into a dozen giant pyres, which will be lit by dignitaries at the summit.

The mass burning on Saturday will be seven times the size of any stockpile destruction so far, and represents about 5% of global ivory stores.

Some 1.35 tonnes of rhino horn will also be burned.

The street value of the ivory destroyed is estimated at more than $100 million (£70m), and the rhino horn at $80 million (£55m).

"We don't believe there is any intrinsic value in ivory, and therefore we're going to burn all our stockpiles and demonstrate to the world that ivory is only valuable on elephants," said Kitili Mbathi, director general of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).

Africa is home to between 450,000 to 500,000 elephants, but more than 30,000 are killed every year for their tusks.

Elephants in Amboseli National Park, file picture

There are up to 500,000 elephants in Africa....

A wildlife ranger strokes a northern white rhino near Nanyuki, Laikipia County, Kenya 28 April 2016

... but there are only three northern white rhino left in the world

Source: bbc.com

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29/Apr/2016

US man Kim Dong-chul jailed for spying in North Korea

North Korea has sentenced a US man to 10 years of hard labour for spying.

Kim Dong-chul, a 62-year-old naturalised US citizen born in South Korea, was arrested last October.

Kim had made an apparent confession in Pyongyang last month in front of reporters, saying he was paid by South Korean intelligence officers.

The US has previously accused North Korea of using its citizens as pawns in a diplomatic game. Pyongyang denies the accusations.

In March, US student Otto Frederick Warmbier was jailed for 15 years for stealing a propaganda sign and "crimes against the state".

North Korea has previously said Kim had a USB stick containing military and nuclear secrets on him when he was arrested in the special economic zone of Rason.

Kim, who used to live in Virginia, had said he was introduced to South Korean spies by US intelligence officers.

Forced public confessions by foreign prisoners are common in North Korea.

Kim's imprisonment comes amid a period of high tensions. North Korea has recently conducted a series of missile tests following its fourth nuclear test in January, both of which break UN sanctions.

Pyongyang attempted to launch two mid-range ballistic missiles on Thursday which crashed shortly after their launches, prompting an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council.

It is believed it will attempt a fifth nuclear test soon.

The recent burst in activity is thought to be a ramp-up to a rare party congress due to be held on 6 May, where leader Kim Jong-un is expected to consolidate power.


Foreigners detained in North Korea

Other recent cases include:

  • Otto Frederick Warmbier, a US student who was sentenced to 15 years of hard labour in March 2016 for trying to steal a propaganda sign from a hotel and "crimes against the state".
  • Hyeon Soo Lim, a Canadian Christian pastor of South Korean origin, was sentenced to a life term of hard labour in December, also for "crimes against the state".
  • Sandra Suh, an American aid worker, was arrested then expelled in April 2015, accused of gathering and producing anti-North propaganda.
  • Matthew Todd Miller was sentenced to six years' hard labour in September 2014 for what North Korean state media described as "hostile acts", but was released in November the same year.
  • Kenneth Bae was arrested in November 2012 and accused of using his tourism business to form groups to overthrow the government. Sentenced to 15 years' hard labour in May 2013 but was released along with Mr Miller.
  • Jeffrey Fowle, held for five months and charged with "anti-state" crimes, was released in October 2014.
  • Korean War veteran Merrill Newman, held in October 2013 on charges of "hostile acts", was released in December the same year.

Source: bbc.com

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29/Apr/2016

Dennis Hastert, ex-US House speaker, sentenced to 15 months in jail

A federal judge has sentenced Dennis Hastert to 15 months in prison, calling the former House Speaker "a serial child molester" who tried to cover up his abuse with hush money.

Using a wheelchair, Hastert, 74, told the court he was "deeply ashamed" that he "mistreated" students while he worked as a school coach in the 1970s.

One of the victims said the abuse left him "devastated" and "betrayed".

Hastert served as an Illinois congressman from 1987 to 2007.

He was the longest serving Republican House Speaker in US history. As House Speaker, Hastert was second in the line of succession to the presidency.

Many of his former Republican colleagues had appealed to the judge for leniency.

President George Bush pauses as he is welcomed to the House Chamber to deliver his annual State of the Union speech before a joint session of Congress

Hastert (top right) was second in the line of succession to the presidency

In October, he pleaded guilty to violating banking reporting laws after he tried to pay someone $3.5 million to keep quiet about his past sexual abuse.

Prosecutors allege Hastert abused five boys while he was working in Yorkville, a suburb of Chicago, between 1965 and 1981.

However, Hastert could not be charged with the sexual abuse of his victims because of the amount of time that has passed since the crimes.

His defence lawyers had sought to avoid a prison sentence, saying Hastert is in poor health and had already paid a high price in disgrace.

After his guilty plea, Hastert's portrait was removed from the House of Representatives in the US Congress.

Judge Thomas Durkin said on Wednesday that Hastert must also undergo sex offender treatment, serve two years of probation after his release and pay $250,000 to a fund for victims.

Source: bbc.com

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27/Apr/2016

Bursa: 'Suicide bomber' hits western Turkey

A suicide bomber has struck in the western Turkish city of Bursa, injuring at least seven people, officials say.

The attack took place near the city's 14th Century Grand Mosque, a symbol of the city, reports said.

The governor of Bursa said the attacker was a suspected female suicide bomber.

Turkey has been hit by a wave of suicide bombings blamed on both Islamist and Kurdish militants. Earlier reports said one person had been killed in the blast.

However, Reuters news agency later quoted Turkey's health minister as saying 13 people had been wounded, none seriously, while the Bursa governor's office said seven people had been hurt.

On Tuesday the US warned of "credible indications" of terrorist threats at tourist areas in the country.

map

Recent attacks in Turkey

  • 31 March: attack on a bus stop in mainly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir killed seven
  • 19 March: a suicide bomber killed three Israelis and one Iranian in a shopping area in Istanbul
  • 13 March: 35 people killed by Kurdish militants in Ankara
  • February: 28 killed in military convoy in Ankara
  • January: 12 German tourists died in a suspected IS suicide bombing in Istanbul; seven killed in a suicide attack on a police HQ in Diyarbakir
  • October 2015: More than 100 people are killed in a double suicide bombing at a Kurdish peace rally in Ankara

Source: bbc.com

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27/Apr/2016

US mother accidently shot dead by two-year-old son

A two-year-old boy has accidentally shot and killed his mother in the US city of Milwaukee after finding a gun in the back of their car.

The woman, Patrice Price, had been driving a car owned by her security guard boyfriend who had left his gun in the car, her father Andre said.

Milwaukee police said she was shot once in the back while driving on a local highway on Tuesday morning.

Also in the car were Price's mother and her other son aged one.

Mr Price said she also had an older daughter, and described Patrice as "hardworking".

"Now I don't have her no more. My chest has been hurting," Mr Price told Milwaukee station WISN.

"I have a knot in my chest. They won't even let me see my daughter. I wanted to hold my daughter for one last time."

Last month, a four-year-old boy in Florida shot his mother, Jamie Gilt, in similar circumstances.

A gun had slid from underneath the front seat of the car to the back and he unbuckled himself to get it. Ms Gilt survived the shooting.

Source: bbc.com

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27/Apr/2016

Eleven bodies found at Cape Verde barracks

Police in the Cape Verde islands off northwest Africa say they have found the bodies of 11 people, including eight soldiers, at a military barracks.

The authorities say they believe a disgruntled missing soldier was behind the killings.

A government statement said the deaths were not an attempted coup or connected to the drugs trade.

The victims included eight soldiers and three civilians, two of them Spanish nationals.

The Spaniards were working on repairs at a hilltop communications hub protected by soldiers at the barracks.

A police officer found the bodies at about midday local time (01:00 GMT) at the Monte Tchota barracks north of the capital Praia on the biggest island, Santiago, Cape Verde Television said.

It said police later found an abandoned car containing eight Kalashnikovs and ammunition.

Map

The former Portuguese colony, an archipelago about 600km (370 miles) of the coast of Senegal with a population of 500,000 people, has been praised by international organisations for its commitment to democracy and development.

However, it has also been targeted by international drug rings as a destination for smuggling cocaine.

Last week police seized 280kg of cocaine from a yacht and officials have linked two recent attacks on public figures to the drugs trade.

A new government took office last Friday following an election in March and has promised a zero tolerance approach to crime. Cape Verde has been targeted by international drug smuggling rings.

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26/Apr/2016

Islamic State: Up to $800m of funds 'destroyed by strikes

Up to $800m (£550m) in cash held by so-called Islamic State (IS) has been destroyed in air strikes, a US military official says.

Maj Gen Peter Gersten, who is based in Baghdad, said the US had repeatedly targeted stores of the group's funds.

The blow to the group's financing has contributed to a 90% jump in defections and a drop in new arrivals, he said.

In 2014, the US Treasury called IS "the best-funded terrorist organisation" it had encountered.

How is Islamic State funded?

Islamic State's struggle to stay rich

In a briefing to reporters, Maj Gen Gersten, the deputy commander for operations and intelligence for the US-led operation against IS, said under 20 air strikes targeting the group's stores of money had been conducted.

He did not specify how the US knew how much money had been destroyed.

In one case, he said, an estimated $150m was destroyed at a house in Mosul, Iraq.

Forces fighting IS received intelligence indicating in which room of the house money was stored. The room was then bombed from the air, Maj Gen Gersten said.

While it was difficult to know precisely how much money had been destroyed in total, estimates put the figure at between $500m and $800m, he said.

Islamic State's exact wealth is not known, but, after seizing oil fields and setting taxes, it approved a budget of $2bn and predicted a $250m surplus last year.

Since then, however, the group has lost territory, and its oilfields have been targeted in air strikes by the US-led coalition.

'Posing as women'

US intelligence indicated the group's cash troubles had led it to start selling vehicles to make money, Gen Gersten said. In January, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that IS announced it was to cut fighters' salaries in half "because of the exceptional circumstances that the Islamic State is passing through".

"We're seeing a fracture in their morale, we're seeing their inability to pay, we're seeing the inability to fight, we're watching them try to leave Daesh in every single way," Gen Gersten added, using an Arabic term for IS.

Some defectors had been captured posing as women or as refugees in Iraq, he said.

The number of those arriving to fight for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria had fallen to about 200 a month, Gen Gersten said, down from a peak of between 1,500 and 2,000 per month a year ago.

Syria map[ of control

In February, the White House said it believed there were some 25,000 people fighting for IS, down from close to 31,500 last year.

Turkey has come under repeated pressure by the United States to tighten its border with Syria and prevent people crossing into IS-held territory.

On Tuesday, the US confirmed it would place rocket launchers in Turkey close to the border of territory held by the group.

Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told Haberturk newspaper the system would be deployed near the Syrian town of Manbij, through where IS brings in new supplies and fighters.

Source: bbc.com

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26/Apr/2016

Bangladesh LGBT editor hacked to death

Bangladesh police say a top gay rights activist and editor at the country's only LGBT magazine is one of two people who have been hacked to death.

The US ambassador to Bangladesh condemned the killing of Xulhaz Mannan, who also worked at the US embassy.

Another person was also injured when the attackers entered a Dhaka flat.

Since February last year suspected militants have killed several secular or atheist writers and members of religious minority groups.

The two men were murdered two days after a university teacher was hacked to death by suspected Islamist militants.

So-called Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility - but the Bangladeshi government insists there is no IS presence in the country.

Lurching from secularism to sectarian terror?

Who is behind the Bangladesh killings?

"I am devastated by the brutal murder of Xulhaz Mannan and another young Bangladeshi," said US Ambassador Marcia Bernicat.

"We abhor this senseless act of violence and urge the government of Bangladesh in the strongest terms to apprehend the criminals behind these murders," she added.

BBC Bengali Service editor Sabir Mustafa said staff at Roopbaan, a magazine and activist group for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community that had not been condemned by the government and received some support from foreign embassies, had been careful to protect their identities but had not believed their lives were at risk.

Suspected extremists in Bangladesh are gaining a sense of security that they can carry out killings with impunity, he says.

A British photographer who knew Mr Mannan and the other victim, known as "Tonoy" and named in Bangladeshi media as Tanay Mojumdar, said they and other friends had set up Roopbaan with the aim of spreading tolerance.

Homosexuality is technically illegal in Bangladesh and remains a highly sensitive issue in society.

Both men were openly gay and believed that if more gay Bangladeshis came out then the country would have to accept them, the photographer said.

They were also were behind the annual "Rainbow Rally", held on Bengali New Year, 14 April, since 2014. This year's rally was banned by police as part of widespread security measures.

"Both were extremely gentle, non-violent and aware that being openly gay and active in their work was a personal danger," the photographer said.

Their killings were likely to spread fear among Bangladesh's gay community, he said.

"Until a year ago the only threat to coming out was shame of the family and having to start a new life elsewhere in Bangladesh. Now it's one of danger," he said.

Long line of killings

Meanwhile Bangladesh's best known blogger said he had received a death threat on Sunday.

Imran Sarker, who led major protests by secular activists in 2013 against Islamist leaders, said he had received a phone call warning that he would be killed "very soon".

Earlier this month, a Bangladeshi law student who had expressed secular views online died when he was hacked with machetes and then shot in Dhaka.

Last year, four prominent secular bloggers were also killed with machetes.

The four bloggers had all appeared on a list of 84 "atheist bloggers" drawn up by Islamic groups in 2013 and widely circulated.

There have also been attacks on members of religious minorities including Shia, Sufi and Ahmadi Muslims, Christians and Hindus.

Two foreigners - an Italian aid worker and a Japanese farmer - have also been killed.

Muslim-majority Bangladesh is officially secular but critics say the government has failed to properly address the attacks.

Source: bbc.com

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25/Apr/2016

John Ridsdel: Hostage from Canada killed in Philippines

A Canadian man held captive by Islamist militants for months in the Philippines has been killed.

John Ridsdel, 68, was taken from a tourist resort along with three others by the Abu Sayyaf group in September last year.

Confirming the death, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called it "an act of coldblooded murder".

On Monday a severed head was found on a remote Philippine island, hours after an Abu Sayyaf ransom deadline expired.

The Philippine army has not confirmed if it belonged to one of the captives.

Mr Ridsdel was kidnapped from a marina near the city of Davao along with another Canadian, Robert Hall; a Norwegian, Kjartan Sekkingstad; and a Philippine woman, Mr Hall's girlfriend, Marites Flor.

They were taken 500km (300 miles) to the island of Jolo. Abu Sayyaf released a video of the group in November, demanding $80m (£55m) for their release.

Map showing Jolo and Davao

Mr Ridsdel later warned that he was due to be killed if no ransom was paid.

Several hours after the deadline, a severed head was found in a street on Jolo. The Philippine authorities said it belonged to a foreign man but it has not yet been formally identified.

Former mining executive

"It's hard," a friend of Mr Ridsdel, Bob Rae, told CBC News. "It's just very hard. I've been involved behind the scenes for the last six months trying to find a solution and it's been very painful."

A former mining executive, Mr Ridsdel is described by Canadian media as semi-retired.

He also worked as a journalist.

Offering his condolences, Mr Trudeau gave few details, saying he would not compromise the safety of the other captives.

Abu Sayyaf was set up in the 1990s with funding from al-Qaeda, and is fighting for an independent Islamic province in the Philippines.

One of its commanders recently pledged allegiance to so-called Islamic State. The group is also holding several other foreigners.

Eighteen Philippine soldiers were killed in clashes with the militants on Basilan island near Jolo island earlier this month.

Source: bbc.com

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25/Apr/2016

Army rape accused 'thought threesome idea was joke'

A former Army corporal accused of raping a colleague with another soldier said he thought it was a joke when his co-accused and the alleged victim suggested a threesome.

Jeremy Jones and Thomas Fulton, both 28, deny raping Cpl Anne-Marie Ellement, from Bournemouth, in 2009.

The men say the sex with Ms Ellement, who died in 2011, was consensual.

Mr Jones said the three were "giggling and laughing" during the encounter in the early hours of 20 November 2009.

Ms Ellement was later found outside her accommodation at the barracks in Sennelager, Germany, wearing only a cardigan, crying and with muddy feet.

Thomas Fulton (left) and Jeremy Jones

Thomas Fulton (left) and Jeremy Jones both deny rape

Mr Jones told the court he could not remember whether it was fellow corporals Mr Fulton or Ms Ellement who first discussed having a threesome.

"I thought they were joking but they made it quite clear it was not a joke," Mr Jones said.

"She was fully aware of what was going on and she made the decision, and the three of us were all excited to go back to the room."

After the encounter, Mr Jones said he asked Ms Ellement to return his blue hooded jumper, which she was wearing, and she put on her brown cardigan.

He suggested to Mr Fulton that they go into Sennelager, which appeared to upset Ms Ellement, who left.

Anne-Marie Ellement

Anne-Marie Ellement joined the Army at the age of 25 and had insisted she would not have consented to sex with either of the men

Previously, Mr Fulton told the court that Ms Ellement had left the room wearing his trousers and, when he tracked her down to a nearby car park to get them back, an argument ensued before she pulled them off and threw them at him.

The men were initially arrested on suspicion of rape but the case was dismissed. They were later charged with rape in 2015.

A panel of civil servants and senior military officers at the hearing in Wiltshire was not initially told the circumstances of Ms Ellement's death in 2011. They later heard in evidence that she had taken her own life.

Mr Jones, formerly of Close Protection Unit Royal Military Police Operations Wing, and Mr Fulton, formerly of 174 Provost Company 3 Royal Military Police, each deny two charges of rape.

The trial continues.

Source: bbc.com

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22/Apr/2016

US suicide rate surges, particularly among white people

The suicide rate in the US has surged to its highest level in almost three decades, according to a new report.

The increase is particularly pronounced among middle-age white people who now account for a third of all US suicides.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report did not offer an explanation for the steep rise.

However, other experts have pointed to increased abuse of prescription opiates and the financial downturn that began in 2008 as likely factors.

The report did not break down the suicides by education level or income, but previous studies found rising suicide rates among white people without university degrees.

"This is part of the larger emerging pattern of evidence of the links between poverty, hopelessness and health," Robert D Putnam, a professor of public policy at Harvard, told the New York Times.

CDC reported on Friday that suicides have increased in the US to a rate of 13 per 100,000 people, the highest since 1986.

Meanwhile, homicides and deaths from ailments like cancer and heart disease have declined.

In the past, suicides have been most common among white people, but the recent increases have been sharp.

CDC chart on suicides

The overall suicide rate rose by 24% from 1999 to 2014, according to the CDC. However, the rate increased 43% among white men ages 45 to 64 and 63% for women in the same age-range.

In 2014, more than 14,000 middle-aged white people killed themselves.

That figure is double the combined suicides total for all blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Pacific Islanders, American Indians, and Alaska Natives.

The suicide rate only declined for only two groups: black men and all people over 75.

Source: bbc.com

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22/Apr/2016

Eight family members killed in Ohio gun rampage

At least eight people have been killed in "execution-style killings" in four places near each other in rural Ohio.

It is believed the victims - seven adults and one teenager - are from the same family, the state's attorney general said in a statement.

They were all shot to death in the head and any suspects are still at large, police said.

More than a dozen officials from multiple agencies were sent to crime scenes in Piketon, south of Columbus.

A pastor at the scene said the violence may have been the result of a "domestic situation".

All of the victims are members of a family called Rhoden, said Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader.

Three young children survived the shootings. The boy who was killed 16 years old.

"There is a strong possibility that any individual involved in this is armed and incredibly dangerous," Mr Reader said.

Police have not determined a motive or identified the dead, and have not determined whether the killer is among the deceased.

Scene in Pike County, Ohio

Aerial view of one of the locations being investigated in Pike County, Ohio

Piketon, Ohio

There are 'multiple crime scenes' in Piketon, Ohio

All of the victims were found in homes along Union Hill Road in Pike County. The Pike County Sheriff said there are four active crime scenes spanning about 30 miles (48km).

Sheriff Charles Reader said he would "suspect the family was being targeted".

Ohio Attorney General Mike Mike DeWine said it is possible some of the victims were shot overnight because they were found in their beds.

"One mom was apparently killed in her bed with [the four-day-old child] right there," said Mr DeWine. "It's hard to believe."

Authorities do not believe any of the deaths were suicides and are urging residents of the county to come forward with any information they might have.

Local schools Peebles Elementary and Peebles High School were earlier on "lockout" - no-one went in or out - due to the ongoing situation in Piketon, a spokesperson for Adams County Ohio Valley Schools said.

The FBI in Cincinnati tweeted that they are "closely monitoring the situation".

Ohio Governor John Kasich and Republican presidential candidate tweeted that the situation is "tragic beyond comprehension".

Source: bbc.com

 

 

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22/Apr/2016

Venezuela cuts power to four hours a day to save energy

Venezuela is introducing power cuts of four hours a day from next week to deal with a worsening energy crisis.

The cuts will last for 40 days as the country struggles under a severe drought limiting hydroelectric output.

It is the latest setback to Venezuela's economy which has been hit by a sharp fall in the price of its main export, oil.

The country's main brewer, Polar, also says it will stop production because it has no dollars to buy grain abroad.

The company, which produces 80% of the country's beer, says 10,000 workers will be affected by the stoppage.

Announcing the restrictions on Thursday, Energy Minister Luis Motta Dominguez said the hours of suspension would be published on a daily basis in newspapers and on ministerial websites. He added that the cuts would not happen between 20:00 and midday.

Venezuela's energy crisis has been deepening all this year, in February, shopping malls were told to reduce their opening hours and generate their own energy.

Partial view of the plant of Cerveceria Polar, maker of Venezuela

Polar is Venezuela's best-known brand of beer.

President Nicolas Maduro has accused the country's business elite of colluding with the US to wreck the economy.

He has accused the President of Polar, Lorenzo Mendoza, of being allied to the opposition which now dominates the Venezuelan parliament against him.

Many businessmen and opposition politicians blame the energy crisis and shortages of basic goods on government economic mismanagement.

They say tough currency controls introduced in 2003 by the late president, Hugo Chavez have only made this worse.

Venezuela's economy is in dire straits, suffering from spiralling inflation, shortages of some basic goods and dwindling revenue from oil.

The country's almost exclusive relies on oil, the price of which has fallen sharply.

Source: bbc.com

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21/Apr/2016

Barack Obama arrives in UK for three-day visit

US president Barack Obama has arrived in the UK for a three-day visit.

During his stay the president is expected to give his views on the UK's forthcoming EU referendum, and advise voters to remain in the union.

He and First Lady Michelle Obama are due to have lunch with the Queen at Windsor on Friday, and dinner with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Mr Obama will also speak at a news conference with Prime Minister David Cameron.

His UK stay is part of a tour which also includes a visit to Germany and Saudi Arabia - from where he has just left after having discussions with King Salman on issues including Iran, Syria, Yemen and the fight against so-called Islamic State militants.

'Hypocrisy'

In the UK, debate has circulated over the president's views on the forthcoming EU referendum, due to take place on 23 June.

Mr Obama's national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters in the US before the trip: "As the president has said, we support a strong United Kingdom in the European Union."

But last week Boris Johnson accused Mr Obama of "hypocrisy" over his support for such an outcome.

The London mayor said everything about the history of the US suggested they would never share sovereignty.

"I don't know what he is going to say but, if that is the American argument then it is nakedly hypocritical. The Americans would never dream of it," he told the BBC.

During his visit the US leader will also dine with the Queen in Kensington Palace.

Mr Obama arrived at Stansted Airport and was greeted by the the Lord Lieutenant of Essex John Petre and the US Ambassador to the UK Matthew Barzun.

Mr Obama arrived at Stansted Airport and was greeted by the the Lord Lieutenant of Essex, John Petre, and the US Ambassador to the UK, Matthew Barzun.

The Obamas previously met the Queen, Prince Philip and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge during their state visit in 2011.

Source: bbc.com

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21/Apr/2016

Huge US-Mexico drugs tunnel found in San Diego

One of the longest cross-border drugs-smuggling tunnels between Mexico and the US has been found by authorities in San Diego, American officials say.

They say the 800m (874 yards) tunnel was used to transport an "unprecedented cache" of cocaine and marijuana.

It was the 13th sophisticated secret tunnel found along California's border with Mexico since 2006.

But a local official described it as "ingenious" and unlike anything seen before.

Three have been found on the same short street in San Diego that runs parallel to a border fence with Mexico.

In the latest incident about 1,016kg (2,242lb) of cocaine and 6,350kg of marijuana suspected of being transported through the tunnel was seized, officials say.

A border patrol special operations supervisor next to the entrance of a tunnel leading to Mexico from a lot along the border (20 April 2016)

The entrance to the tunnel on the American side was hidden under a big bin

"This is the largest cocaine seizure ever associated with a tunnel," Southern California District Attorney Laura Duffy said, and is the second "super tunnel" to be discovered in recent weeks,

In March, authorities uncovered a 380m tunnel that ran from a restaurant in Mexico to a house in California.

The latest tunnel ran at a depth of 14m (46ft) from the bottom of an elevator shaft built into a house in Tijuana to a hole in the ground on the American side enclosed within a fenced-in lot set up as a pallet business.

Map

The hole was hidden under a trailer-sized rubbish bin that smugglers used to move the drugs from the lot, federal officials said.

"They put the drugs in the dumpster and then hauled the dumpster to another location to unload it," Ms Duffy said.

Federal agents followed a truck that took the bin to a central San Diego location about 40km (25 miles) north of the border and witnessed the cargo being loaded onto a box truck, which drove away.

San Diego County sheriff's deputies then stopped the truck and seized the drugs, arresting three men in the process.

Ms Duffy said that federal agents searching the pallet lot and the tunnel recovered additional supplies of marijuana and arrested three more suspects.

The tunnel used in the operation was sophisticated, The Los Angeles Times reported, and had a ventilation system and lighting. On the Tijuana side, the tunnel was connected to an elevator that ascended into the house.

"I think it fair to say that few would suspect that traffickers were moving multi-ton quantities of cocaine and marijuana in this very unassuming way, in full view of the world around them," the paper quoted Ms Duffy as saying.

"It's a rabbit hole,'' she said of the latest tunnel to be found.

"Just the whole way that it comes up right out into the open is a bit ingenious. It's something completely different than what we've seen before."

Source: bbc.com

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21/Apr/2016

Anders Behring Breivik, Norway murderer, wins human rights case

Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik has won part of a human rights case against the Norwegian state.

The court upheld his claim that some of his treatment amounted to "inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment".

After the judgement, Breivik's lawyer, Oystein Storrvik, called for his solitary confinement to be repealed.

Breivik, a right-wing extremist, killed 69 people at a summer camp for young centre-left political activists on the island of Utoeya in July 2011.

Earlier that day, he set off a car bomb in the capital, Oslo, killing eight people.

Kept alone

In her ruling, judge Helen Andenaes Sekulic said the right not to be subjected to inhuman treatment represented "a fundamental value in a democratic society" and also applied to "terrorists and killers".

Breivik had challenged the government over his solitary confinement, which saw him kept alone in his cell for 22 to 23 hours a day, denied contact with other inmates and only communicating with prison staff through a thick glass barrier.

How bad is solitary confinement?

How cushy are Norway's prisons?

His prison regime deviated so markedly from that enforced upon any other prisoner in Norway, regardless of the severity of their crimes, that it had to be considered an extra punishment, the judge said.

However, article three of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) required that prisoners be detained in conditions that did not exceed the unavoidable level of suffering inherent in detention, given the practical requirements of the particular case, she said.

The prison authorities had also not done enough to counteract the damage he had suffered from being in isolation, she said.

General view of a cell inside Skien prison, south of Oslo, February 12, 2016

A typical cell in Skien prison looks like this

Judge Sekulic also noted that Breivik had been woken up every half hour at night over a long period of time and on some occasions subjected to strip searches with female officers present, which he found particularly difficult.

"Taken together with the other stringent restrictions which he was subject, this was regarded as degrading treatment in the Convention sense," said the judge, Norwegian national broadcaster NRK reported.

'Facilitate a community'

State lawyer Marius Emberland said the government was surprised by the verdict but had not decided whether to appeal.

If neither side appeals within four weeks, the prison is obliged to make Breivik's regime more lenient in line with the judge's remarks, NRK reported.

The prison must work to bring in other prisoners and "facilitate a community", the judge said.

However, the judge ruled that strict controls on Breivik's correspondence were justified and his right to a private and family life under article eight of the ECHR had not been violated.

The court also ordered the Norwegian state to pay Breivik's legal costs of 330,000 kroner ($40,000; £28,000).

Eskil Pedersen, a survivor of the shootings on Utoeya island, said he was "surprised, and then angry and upset" by the ruling.

"It was like being punched in the gut that the perpetrator won such a public victory," he told NRK.

Another survivor, Bjorn Ihler, tweeted that the judgement in Breivik's favour showed Norway had a "working court system, respecting human rights even under extreme conditions".

Lisbeth Kristine Roeyneland, who runs a support group for the victims' families, told NRK she was surprised and "a little disappointed", but also relieved that the ruling prevented him making contact with other extremists.

Breivik makes Nazi salute in court

Breivik gave the Nazi salute when he appeared in court

Source: bbc.com

 

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21/Apr/2016

Canada to push for making sale marijuana legal

The Canadian government will introduce legislation next year that would make the sale of marijuana legal, its health minister has said.

If enacted, the move would make Canada one of the largest Western countries to allow widespread use of the drug.

Health Minister Jane Philpott pledged on Wednesday to keep marijuana "out of the hands of children and profits out of the hands of criminals".

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pushed for legalisation during his campaign.

The announcement coincided with 20 April - an unofficial holiday among cannabis advocates. Hundreds of marijuana users demonstrated outside Parliament in Ottawa on Wednesday.

Medical use of marijuana is already legal in Canada. Some have argued that legal marijuana would reduce stress on Canada's criminal justice system.

"We will work with law enforcement partners to encourage appropriate and proportionate criminal justice measures," Ms Philpott said. "We know it is impossible to arrest our way out of this problem."

The Canadian Parliament is expected to take up the legislation in the spring of 2017

The Canadian Parliament is expected to take up the legislation in the spring of 2017

However, Gerard Deltell, a legislator from Canada's opposition Conservatives, opposes the change, saying it would harm Canadians' health.

"That's one of the worst things you can do to Canadian youth - to open the door to marijuana," he told Reuters news agency.

Mr Trudeau has named Bill Blair, a former Toronto police chief, as the government's point person on legalisation.

"We control who it's sold to, when it's sold and how it's used," Mr Blair said likening marijuana to how alcohol is regulated. "And organised crime doesn't have the opportunity to profit from it."

He stressed that marijuana would remain illegal in Canada while legislation is being discussed.

Ms Philpott said the exact details of the legislation are still being worked out.

In the US, voters in four states plus the District of Columbia have already legalised the recreational use of the drug in ballot initiatives.

In other parts of the US, however, the drug remains illegal.

Source: bbc.com

 

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21/Apr/2016

Mexico explosion: Three dead in Veracruz oil plant

A large explosion at an oil facility in the south-east Mexican state of Veracruz has killed at least three people and injured 136 more.

The blast hit a facility owned by Mexico's state oil company, Pemex, in the port city of Coatzacoalcos.

Hundreds of people have been evacuated and schools closed. Footage showed a large fire and vast plumes of smoke.

The cause of the blast is unclear. Several explosions have been reported at Pemex facilities in recent years.

In pictures: Mexico explosion

The latest incident occurred at around 15:15 local time (20:15 GMT), Pemex said in a statement. Veracruz state Governor Javier Duarte told a radio station the blast was felt 10km (six miles) away.

The fire was under control by early evening, Pemex said. Residents were told to stay indoors because of the possible toxic nature of the smoke from the blast, but Pemex said the smoke dissipated quickly, lessening any possible toxic effects.

Of the 136 people injured, 88 remain in hospital, 13 of whom are in a serious condition, Pemex said.

Video posted on social media purporting to show a local hospital showed scenes of chaos and patients suffering heavy blood loss.

View of smoke following an explosion at the petrochemistry installation of Mexican Oil Company PEMEX in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz state, Mexico on April 20, 2016

Image of large plume of smoke in Veracruz, Mexico - 20 April 2016

Map of Veracruz state in Mexico showing town where blast in oil plant occurred - April 2016

Pemex said the part of the factory hit by the explosion was managed by a sister company, Mexichem.

Associated Press reported that the plant produces vinyl chloride, a dangerous chemical used to make PVC pipes and packaging materials.

Export of oil from the plant, one of the largest terminals for oil distribution in Mexico, would not be affected, the company added.

In September 2012, an explosion then a fire at a gas plant in the northern state of Tamaulipas killed 33 people.

Pemex's own headquarters in Mexico City was hit by a large gas blast in January 2013, killing 37 people.

A number of fires also struck the company's rigs in the Gulf of Mexico last year, and a worker was killed in another fire at the Veracruz plant in February this year.

Source: bbc.com

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21/Apr/2016

Zika virus: 2.2 billion people in 'at risk' areas

More than two billion people live in parts of the world where the Zika virus can spread, detailed maps published in the journal eLife show.

The Zika virus, which is spread by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, triggered a global health emergency this year.

Last week the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that the virus causes severe birth defects.

The latest research showed mapping Zika was more complex than simply defining where the mosquito can survive.

One of the researchers, Dr Oliver Brady from the University of Oxford, told the BBC: "These are the first maps to come out that really use the data we have for Zika - earlier maps were based on Zika being like dengue or chikungunya.

"We are the first to add the very precise geographic and environmental conditions data we have on Zika."

By learning where Zika could thrive the researchers could then predict where else may be affected. The researchers confirmed that large areas of South America, the focus of the current outbreak, are susceptible.

In total, 2.2 billion people live in areas defined as being "at risk".

The infection is suspected of leading to thousands of babies being born with underdeveloped brains.

South America risk

The at-risk zones in South America include long stretches of coastline as well as cities along the Amazon river and its tributaries snaking through the continent.

And in the US, Florida and Texas could sustain the infection when temperatures rise in summer.

Dr Brady added: "Mosquitoes are just one condition needed for Zika to spread but there's a whole range of other ones.

"It needs to be warm enough for Zika to replicate inside the mosquito and for there to be a large enough [human] population to transmit it."

Both Africa and Asia have large areas that could be susceptible to the virus, the researchers said.

Africa risk

Asia risk

However, the study cannot answer why large numbers of cases have not already been reported.

One possible explanation is that both continents have already had large numbers of cases and the populations there have become largely immune to the virus.

An alternative is that cases could be being misdiagnosed as other infections such as dengue fever or malaria.

Europe seems likely to be unaffected, but that could change as more evidence emerges on which mosquitoes the viruses can spread in.

Source: bbc.com

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21/Apr/2016

Utah declares porn a public health hazard

The US state of Utah has become the first to declare pornography a public health risk in a move its governor says is to "protect our families and our young people".

The bill does not ban pornography in the mainly Mormon state.

However, it calls for greater "efforts to prevent pornography exposure and addiction".

One group representing the adult entertainment industry attacked what it called "an old-fashioned morals bill".

Pornography, the bill says, "perpetuates a sexually toxic environment" and "is contributing to the hypersexualisation of teens, and even prepubescent children, in our society".

Further steps must be taken to change "education, prevention, research, and policy change at the community and societal level" against what it calls an epidemic, but it does not suggest how changes should be implemented.

The bill was signed by Republican Governor Gary Herbert, who said the volume of pornography in society was "staggering".

One 2009 study by Harvard Business School said that Utah was the state with the highest percentage of online porn subscribers in the US.

Some studies have, however, indicated that porn may not be addictive.

'Avoid stigmatism'

The bill was supported by the anti-porn campaign group Fight the New Drug. Reports have pointed out the group's founders are all members of the conservative Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or the Mormon Church.

Close to 63% of the state's residents are Mormon, but Fight the New Drug's leaders have denied working on behalf of the Mormon Church.

The Free Speech Coalition, a porn industry association, called for more dialogue.

"We should live in a society where sexuality is spoken about openly, and discussed in nuanced and educated ways, and not stigmatised," said Mike Stabile, a spokesman for the group.

"We all should work together to prevent non-adults from accessing adult material."

Source: bbc.com

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20/Apr/2016

Police helicopter sent for US governor’s lost wallet

A police helicopter was used to retrieve the lost wallet of the Alabama governor, at a reported cost to taxpayers of $4,000 (£2,800).

In late 2014, Robert Bentley left Tuscaloosa for his beach home five hours' drive away, but left his wallet.

He then asked his security to deliver it, a trip completed via state police helicopter, according to flight logs.

Mr Bentley, who is facing calls to resign over a sex scandal, said he never asked for a helicopter.

"I requested they deliver my wallet, I didn't know how they were going to do it," the governor told AL.com. "I did not request that a helicopter was used.

"You have to have your wallet for security reasons. I'm the governor. And I had to have money. I had to buy something to eat. You have to have identification."

AL.com said using the state helicopter to retrieve his wallet cost Alabama taxpayers about $4,000 (£2,800).

Alabama Law Enforcement Agency chiefs have differing stories about the helicopter incident.

One said he had permission to use the helicopter from the governor's former bodyguard.

Another said he was never told about the wallet and did not approve use of the helicopter.

On Tuesday, state lawmakers made initial steps to impeach Mr Bentley over an alleged sex scandal with an aide.

State representative Ed Henry told NBC News Mr Bentley "betrayed the trust of the people of Alabama" and that "if he truly loves the people of the state, he will step down".

Source: bbc.com

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15/Apr/2016

Japan earthquake: Powerful new tremor in Kumamoto

A more powerful earthquake has rocked the southern Japanese city of Kumamoto in the middle of the night, a day after an earlier tremor killed nine people.

The magnitude-7.3 quake hit at a depth of 10km (six miles) at 01:25 on Saturday (15:25 GMT on Friday) in Kyushu region. At least three people died and hundreds were injured.

A village has been evacuated after a dam collapsed, it says.

A tsunami warning was issued, and lifted some 50 minutes later.

Japan is regularly hit by earthquakes but stringent building codes mean that they rarely cause significant damage.

This new earthquake in Kyushu was much bigger and hit a wider area than the one that struck Kumamoto on Thursday night, says the BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes in Tokyo.

In one town near the coast, the city hall has been so badly damaged there are fears it could collapse. A hospital has been evacuated because it is no longer safe.

A road newly damaged in Mashiki, Kumamoto.

Roads have buckled and some power supplies are now disrupted

Thousands of people have fled on to the streets and into parks - where they are huddled under blankets looking dazed and afraid, our correspondent says.

But there are numerous reports of people trapped inside buildings, including at least 60 inside an old people's home.

Public broadcaster NHK says the dam collapsed in the Nishihara village.

Television pictures showed thousands of people filling streets and parks, looking dazed across the region.

NHK had warned of sea waves of up to 1m (3ft).

Japan's nuclear authority said the Sendai nuclear plant was not damaged.

The quake was originally assessed as magnitude 7.1 but revised upwards to 7.3 later.

Gavin Hayes, a research geophysicist with the US Geological Survey (USGS) in Colorado, told the BBC that the latest earthquake would hamper the earlier rescue operation that was already under way.

He said more damage could be expected as the earthquake had been shallower and the fault-line had been much longer.

"The ground surface would have moved in the region of 4-5m (yards). So, you are talking very intense shaking over quite a large area. And that's why we'll probably see a significant impact from this event."

The Associated Press news agency said guests at the Ark Hotel near the Kumamoto Castle, which was damaged, woke up and gathered in the lobby for safety.

The stone wall of Kumamoto Castle is seen damaged by the earthquake

Kumamoto Castle is said to have suffered more damage in the new tremor

Thursday's magnitude-6.2 quake caused shaking at some places as intense as the huge earthquake that hit the country in 2011, Japan's seismology office said.

That quake sparked a huge tsunami and nuclear meltdown at a power plant in Fukushima.

Most of those who died in Thursday's quake were in the town of Mashiki where an apartment building collapsed and many houses were damaged.

More than 1,000 people were injured.

Some 40,000 people had initially fled their homes, with many of those closest to the epicentre spending the night outside, as more than 130 aftershocks had hit the area.


Analysis: Jonathan Amos, BBC science correspondent

Japan is one of the most seismically active areas on Earth, accounting for about 20% of global quakes of magnitude 6.0 or greater. Seismometers are recording some kind of event every five minutes, on average.

It is through bitter experience that Japan has learnt the strategies to mitigate damage, injury and death. Not only does it implement some the best building construction practices but it has also established an early warning network.

This system relies on the lightning analysis of the developing quake, establishing its location and strength. Alerts are then broadcast that can give people more distant from the epicentre vital seconds' notice.

Just 10 seconds is more than sufficient to drop and get under a sturdy table or open the doors of a fire station.

The prospect of buildings already damaged in Thursday's quake toppling over in this latest tremor will be a concern.

Source: bbc.com

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15/Apr/2016

Woman accused of live-streaming rape on Periscope

A woman from Ohio has been charged with streaming the rape of a teenage girl via Twitter's live video app Periscope.

The offence is alleged to have occurred two months ago and was brought to the authorities' attention by someone who said they had seen the broadcast.

The accused's lawyer says that she "categorically" denies the charges.

An expert said the case highlighted the impossibility of controlling content on live-streaming services, which are gaining in popularity.

According to the indictment, the sexual assault took place in the city of Columbus on 27 February.

Marina Lonina is also accused of taking a photo of the 17-year-old in a state of undress the previous night.

Lonina's boyfriend, Raymond Gates, has been accused of carrying out the assault. It is not yet known how he intends to plead.

The two face charges of rape, kidnapping, sexual battery and pandering sexually-oriented matter involving a minor.

Inaccurate systems

Twitter declined to comment. Periscope's guidelines say that graphic content is banned.

But this is not the first time the app has been linked to an alleged offence.

Earlier this month, it was reported that police in London had intervened after a fight between two rival gangs had been arranged via the app.

Other incidents include:

The app has hosted more than 100 million broadcasts since it launched last year, the vast majority of which are innocuous.

But the issue of live-streamed crime could become more common as the activity becomes more mainstream.

Earlier this week, Facebook announced it was adding a tab to its app to help users find live-streamed videos.

The social network had already altered the algorithm of its news feeds to prioritise such feeds.

"The volume of content being created and uploaded every day is far too great to be regulated manually and automatic systems are simply too inaccurate to be practical," commented Dr Joss Wright from the Oxford Internet Institute.

"There is almost no practical way to prevent content like this being uploaded and shared if people want to do it and any system to do so would also have serious implications for freedom of expression and the publication of legitimate but controversial content.

"The internet has undoubtedly made this case worse for the alleged victim. But as with other real-world crimes, prevention is not always possible."

Source: bbc.com

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15/Apr/2016

Deadly earthquake topples buildings in southern Japan

At least nine people have died and more than 250 are injured after a powerful earthquake hit southern Japan, toppling buildings and cutting power supplies.

Officials say more people could be trapped under collapsed buildings.

Thousands fled their homes and many people spent the night in the open in the town of Mashiki, near Kumamoto city on the island of Kyushu.

Troops have been sent to the scene but rescue operations are being disrupted by aftershocks, officials said.

In pictures: Mashiki evacuees huddled in the streets

No tsunami warning was issued after the magnitude 6.4 quake struck at 21:26 on Thursday (12:26 GMT) east of Kumamoto.

Nuclear reactors on the island are not reported to have been affected.

The two Sendai nuclear reactors on Kyushu were operating as normal while the three Genkai nuclear reactors still in operation were already closed for routine inspection.

The quake struck at a depth of 10km (six miles) and was followed by aftershocks measuring 5.7 about 40 minutes later and 6.4 just after midnight local time.

But Japan's seismology office recorded the shaking at some places to be as intense as the huge magnitude nine earthquake that hit the country in 2011.

That triggered a tsunami in a double disaster that left more than 18,000 people dead or missing and led to meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

"The shaking was so violent I couldn't stand still," Hironobu Kosaki, a local police official, told the Associated Press news agency.

Initial reports said two people had died but the toll rose to nine as rescue teams worked through the night.

Yasuhiro Soshino, of the Japanese Red Cross Kumamoto Hospital, told BBC World News on Friday morning that they had received 254 injured people including 15 severe cases.

"Red Cross medical teams in other areas are also gathering at our Red Cross hospital," he said.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at least 19 houses had collapsed and officials were still assessing the extent of the damage.

About 16,000 homes were left without electricity and 38,000 without gas, reports say.

At least two deaths occurred in Mashiki, where the shaking was most severe. The town lies 15km (nine miles) east of Kumamoto.

One victim died after being pulled from the rubble and another was killed in a fire, Kumamoto prefecture disaster management official Takayuki Matsushita was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency.

Mashiki residents said houses and walls had collapsed and the water supply had been cut off.

An official in the nearby city of Uki said houses there had also collapsed as well as part of the city hall's ceiling.

The BBC's Japan Correspondent Rupert Wingfield-Hayes says the quake took place at a time when most people were at home.

Some train services were suspended as a precautionary measure.

Japan is regularly struck by earthquakes but stringent building codes mean that damage usually does not occur.

Source: bbc.com

 

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15/Apr/2016

Nigeria Chibok girls 'shown alive' in Boko Haram video

A video released by the Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram appears to prove that some of the schoolgirls kidnapped two years ago from the town of Chibok are still alive.

The video, sent to the Nigerian government, shows 15 girls in black robes identifying themselves as pupils abducted from the secondary school.

Some of those filmed have been identified by their parents.

It is the first footage of the girls to be seen since May 2014.

The kidnapping of the 276 girls triggered the global social media campaign #BringBackOurGirls, involving US first lady Michelle Obama and a host of celebrities.

But despite their efforts, most of the girls are still missing.

Meanwhile, hundreds of parents are due to hold a march in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, to demand the government does more to find their daughters.

The BBC's Martin Patience in Abuja says they blame the previous government for doing nothing when the abduction took place and now the current administration for failing to devote enough resources to the search.

Boko Haram militants attacked the government boarding school in Borno state on 14 April 2014, seizing the girls who had gone there to take exams.

Shortly afterwards they released a video of them and demanded a prisoner exchange.

Boko Haram's leader, Abubakar Shekau, said the girls had converted to Islam and he threatened to force them into marriage with his fighters or sell them into slavery.

As the months passed, about 57 students managed to escape but at least 219 are still missing.

The latest video, apparently filmed on Christmas Day 2015, shows the girls pleading with the Nigerian government to co-operate with militants on their release.

They said they were being treated well but wanted to be with their families.

Two mothers, Rifkatu Ayuba and Mary Ishaya, said they recognised their daughters in the video while a third mother, Yana Galang, identified five of the missing girls, Reuters reported.

They were shown the video at a screening organised by local officials in Maiduguri, capital of Borno state.

"They were definitely our daughters... all we want is for the government to bring back our girls," said Mrs Galang.

Amnesty International says about 2,000 children have been abducted by Boko Haram since 2014. Many are used as sex slaves, fighters and even suicide bombers.

Although the militants are still launching attacks, the Nigerian army has made progress in its fight against them over the past year, our correspondent adds.

It has retaken towns and villages controlled by Boko Haram and has also freed hundreds of women and children held captive.

  • Founded in 2002, initially focused on opposing Western-style education - Boko Haram means "Western education is forbidden" in the Hausa language
  • Launched military operations in 2009
  • Thousands killed, mostly in north-eastern Nigeria, hundreds abducted, including at least 200 schoolgirls
  • Joined so-called Islamic State, now calls itself IS's "West African province"
  • Seized large area in north-east, where it declared caliphate
  • Regional force has retaken most territory last year

'Boko Haram took my children'

Town divided by Boko Haram legacy

On patrol against Boko Haram

Who are Boko Haram?

Source: bbc.com

 

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13/Apr/2016

Russian warplanes 'aggressively' pass US missile destroyer

Two Russian planes flew close to a US guided missile destroyer almost a dozen times, American officials have said.

The Sukhoi SU-24 warplanes, in international waters in the Baltic Sea, had no visible weaponry and the ship took no action.

One official called the events on Monday and Tuesday "one of the most aggressive acts in recent memory".

The commander of the missile destroyer, the USS Donald Cook, described the flights as a "simulated attack".

The passes were "unsafe, potentially provocative" and "could have caused an accident," officials said in a release.

At one point the jets were so close, about 30ft (9m), that they created wakes in the water around the ship.

The actions may have violated a 1970s agreement meant to prevent dangerous incidents at sea, but it is not clear whether the US is going to protest.

A Russian helicopter taking pictures also passed by the ship seven times.

The Donald Cook was conducting deck landing drills with an Allied military helicopter when the jets made their passes, according to a statement from the United States European Command.

Flight operations were suspended until the jets left the area.

The next day, a Russian KA-27 helicopter did circles at low altitude around the ship, followed by more jet passes.

The aircraft did not respond to safety warnings in English or Russian.

Two Russian Sukhoi Su-24 attack aircraft fly over USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) in the Baltic Sea, 12 April 2016

The jets were so close they created wakes in the water near the ship

These close encounters of a military kind between the US and its allies and Russia have escalated significantly over the past two years, ever since Russia's annexation of Crimea and the substantial break down of relations between East and West.

They take various forms. They can be violations of national airspace; narrowly avoided mid-air collisions, close encounters at sea and simulated attack runs.

The incidents have taken place over a wide area - in and around the Baltic states; in the Baltic sea; the Black Sea and even close to Stockholm, when the Swedish authorities believed a Russian submarine had violated its territorial waters in 2014.

They are regarded by defence analysts as a flexing of muscle - a reminder that Russia has military might and cannot be pushed around.

But the frequency of such situations means many fear that a full on confrontation - be-it deliberate or accidental - is just a matter of time between the world's two great military powers.

"We have deep concerns about the unsafe and unprofessional Russian flight manoeuvres," the statement read. "These actions have the potential to unnecessarily escalate tensions between countries, and could result in a miscalculation or accident that could cause serious injury or death."

US officials are reviewing the incident.

A similar incident occurred last June, when Russian warplanes made close passes over a US destroyer in the Black Sea.

Russian media had reported at the time that the USS Ross was acting "aggressively" but the Department of Defense refuted that.

Source: bbc.com

 

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13/Apr/2016

US health experts confirm that Zika causes birth defects

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed that the Zika virus causes severe birth defects, including microcephaly.

Hundreds of babies were born in Brazil last year with microcephaly, a syndrome where children are born with unusually small heads.

The defects coincided with a spike in Zika infections, leading experts to suspect the mosquito-borne virus.

Research has now affirmed those experts' suspicions, the CDC said.

"This study marks a turning point in the Zika outbreak. It is now clear that the virus causes microcephaly," said Dr Tom Frieden, the head of the CDC.

Map showing the countries that have had confirmed cases of the Zika virus

Microcephaly: Why it is not the end of the world

What you need to know Key questions answered about the virus and its spread

Travel advice Countries affected and what you should do

The mosquito behind spread of virus What we know about the insect

Abortion dilemma Laws and practices in Catholic Latin America

On Monday, US health officials warned the Zika outbreak could have more of an effect on the United States and called for additional funding to combat the virus.

"Everything we know about this virus seems to be scarier than we initially thought," said Dr Anne Schuchat of the CDC.

Zika virus was first diagnosed in 1947 in Uganda, but symptoms have typically been mild, including rash, joint pain and fever.

The current outbreak started in 2015 in Brazil and the symptoms have been much more severe. Nearly 200 babies have died as result of the virus.

Researchers are interesting learning why some cases of the virus result in birth defects while others do not.

Some women who were infected with Zika while pregnant gave birth to apparently healthy children.

This file photo shows an Aedes Aegypti mosquito photographed on human skin in a laboratory of the International Training and Medical Research Training Center (CIDEIM) in Cali, Colombia.

The Zika virus can be transmitted via mosquito

There have been 346 confirmed cases of Zika in the continental United States, according to the CDC, all associated with travel.

CDC officials said the findings do not change the agency's earlier guidance to pregnant women.

The CDC has discouraged pregnant women from travelling to places where the Zika virus is spreading, mostly in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Dr Frieden said intensive research was under way to find out much more about the mosquito-borne virus and to develop a vaccine for it, although he warned that that could still be years away.

This is the first time that mosquito bites have caused birth defects, Dr Frieden said. The virus can be transmitted by sexual contact as well.

Source: bbc.com

 

 

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13/Apr/2016

Plane turned around for couple to visit dying grandson

A pilot allowed an elderly couple to get off a plane moments before take-off so they could visit their dying grandson in hospital.

They had boarded the Abu Dhabi-bound aircraft at Manchester Airport when they received a text message about their relative's condition.

The flight, which had been taxiing towards the runway, returned to the gate so the couple could rush to their grandson's bedside.

He died later on the same night.

The couple's travel agent Becky Stephenson said the 30 March incident was "very unusual".

"I've been in the travel business for 25 years and never heard of this happening," she said.

Airline praised

Ms Stephenson, who is based in Bradford, praised the Etihad Airways pilot and said she had not heard of an airline going "above and beyond with their customer service" in such a way.

"I'm just really grateful that my customers could get back to see him," she said:

"My customers were so grateful that staff were very helpful and they were taken care of."

"The flight still went ahead after the couple got off," Ms Stephenson added.

"Etihad have said they can use the ticket again on a different date.

"But my customers are not thinking of when they're flying back out again."

Source: bbc.com

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12/Apr/2016

North Carolina governor wants to change 'anti-gay' law

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory has said he wants to make changes to a controversial new state law condemned by business groups, activists and celebrities as anti-gay.

The law invalidated several local anti-discrimination measures that protected gay and transgender people.

It also requires people to use public toilets that correspond to the sex listed on their birth certificates.

The state's anti-discrimination rules should be strengthened, McCrory said.

However he said the restrictions on access to public toilets should remain.

Major companies such as Bank of America and Apple have criticised the law and others vowed to curtail their businesses in the state because of it.

The fallout included:

  • Pay Pal dropped plans to open an operations centre in the state that would have employed about 400 people
  • Deutsche Bank stopped plans to add 250 jobs to the state
  • Rock singer Bruce Springsteen cancelled a concert in Greensboro
  • A TV production for the streaming service Hulu relocated to Canada
  • Greater Raleigh Convention & Visitors Bureau said five groups have cancelled conventions with 16 others considering

Mr McCrory acknowledged receiving a large amount of "feedback" about the law over the past few weeks.

"Based upon this feedback, I am taking action to affirm and improve the state's commitment to privacy and equality," he said.

Under Mr McCrory's suggested changes, gay, lesbian and transgender people would be able to sue in state court over discrimination. That change would require the approval of the legislature.

Using an executive order, Mr McCrory will expand the equal employment policy for state employees to include sexual orientation and gender.

He also affirmed that private businesses are able to set their own policies regarding public toilets.

Gay rights activists said Mr McCrory's actions to did not go far enough and called for a full repeal of the law.

The state American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which is challenging the law in court, said the governor was making "a poor effort to save face".

North Carolina is one of a number of states in the southern US that have recently considered or enacted legislation that many deem anti-gay.

Last June, a US Supreme Court ruling made gay marriage legal nationwide. In response, conservatives have sought to enact protections for religious people who believe marriage should only be between a man and woman.

Last year, Indiana made changes to a "religious freedom" law after business groups and others threatened to boycott the state. The updated law included language that prohibited discrimination of any kind.

This week, Mississippi passed a religious freedom law. That measure, however, specifically allows people to refuse service to gay people on religious grounds.

Georgia's Governor Nathan Deal vetoed a similar bill in March after pressure from prominent firms including Coca-Cola and the Walt Disney Co.

Source: bbc.com

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12/Apr/2016

The city that allows women to sell sex

A suburb in Leeds is the first place in the UK where it is permitted for women to sell sex between specified hours. The "managed approach" was introduced to try to control the trade. The Victoria Derbyshire programme spent a night there to find out how it is working.

Chelsea, whose name has been changed, 29, has been a sex worker for five years. She's addicted to crack cocaine and earns roughly £150 a night - which she spends on drugs and gifts for her children. They do not live with her and she would hate for them to know what she does.

In the evenings she puts on her make-up and gets the bus to Holbeck, a mainly industrial area to the south-east of Leeds city centre.

During the day it is bustling, but on a cold March night it is quiet with lots of small, dark areas for sex workers to operate.

Chelsea knows her work is dangerous. "You don't know what type of man you're getting next. They may look all right but they could be nasty. You take a gamble with yourself. It's life or death," she says.

It is not actually illegal to sell sex in the UK, but it is illegal to solicit - offering sex in a public place.

But in this specified network of roads, street prostitutes can sell their services from 19.00 to 07.00 BST, without being stopped by police.

Traditionally, workers operated across the whole of Holbeck - this scheme has moved them from residential streets to places where businesses operate in the day but not at night.

managed area

The 'managed area' in Holbeck

What are the rules of the managed area?

  • Working on streets outside the agreed area or times will not be tolerated
  • Litter including condoms/wrapping/syringes should not be left
  • People should respect business and other properties
  • Crime, public disorder and anti-social behaviour will not be tolerated
  • No drug use is allowed

Source: Safer Leeds Partnership


Chelsea points out a cul-de-sac where men pull up if they want business and the railway bridge that marks the end of the managed area. She says most of the people driving past are punters as they stare at her as she walks down the main road.

"I charge a lot. I tell them if they pay for steak they get steak, if they pay for mince they get mince," she says.

Around 40 women work here regularly - a mixture of migrant and British sex workers - who must be over 18.

Chelsea says street work has "changed a lot" since the area was introduced last October after a year-long pilot. Police check their welfare instead of arresting them.

"I used to get a lot of cautions. It's better like this. We are all in agreement. They're giving you a time, you have to stick to it. If you go over you've only got yourself to blame," she says.

But this approach is more than just a physical zone. The police, council and charities also support the sex workers and try to keep them safe.

Emily, a caseworker from the charity Basis, visits regularly to check if there is anything the women are concerned about and offers hot drinks and condoms.

"If we have a managed area, we know where people are. It's policed properly with marked vehicles and a liaison officer. There's extra street cleaning. It's a whole approach," she explains.

Woman killed

Chelsea was attacked two years ago on a nearby back street - badly beaten and raped while she was pregnant.

"What I suffered was bad, I was close to dying at one point. He was a vicious man. He's serving a 10-year prison sentence," she says.

But a woman has been killed since the zone was established. In December, Daria Pionko, 21, from Poland, was found injured and later died in hospital.

A 24-year-old man has been charged with her murder.

Emily admits it is not completely safe, but says it is safer, with the key being an improved relationship with the police.

The percentage of crime victims willing to report their incidents has increased from 26% to 51%, according to National Ugly Mugs - a sex worker support organisation which runs database sharing information on potentially dangerous clients.

"What happened as a result of the managed area - the trust now between girls and police - girls coming forward, punters coming forward," she said.

Safer Leeds - the police and council partnership - says the previous approach of police enforcement had not worked, so the zone was an attempt to reduce a long-standing nuisance. It says it has led to fewer complaints in residential areas and a significant increase in women accessing support services.

'Offensive debris'

But some people want it to close and it is under review this month.

Greg Adams, owner of an office supplies company, says while he cannot disagree with a scheme that supports the vulnerable, he feels the problem has been forced on to the businesses.

"It's just every time you drive to the end of the road you see street prostitutes plying for trade - it's very obvious - they eye you up.

"It's not that offensive, but what is offensive is the debris from nefarious activities. Used condoms, drugs paraphernalia. In the first month, two items of soiled undergarments on the street, in my yard used condoms. It's all shocking," he says.

At the end of her night's work we meet Chelsea again - she has earned £150 from three men in an hour: "Doesn't take me long to make money. Sexy girl like me. Who can resist?" she says.

The next morning it is clear it has been a busy night, they leave behind litter - beer cans, condom wrappers - you can see why people coming back to work are not happy.

It is a difficult balance - women like Chelsea would still be on these streets with or without the permission of the authorities. But the impact some feel the managed approach has had on this area's reputation may force its closure.

Source: bbc.com

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12/Apr/2016

Canadian Attawapiskat First Nation suicide emergency

An indigenous community in northern Canada has declared a state of emergency after 11 people attempted to take their own lives in one day.

The Attawapiskat First Nation in Ontario saw 28 suicide attempts in March and more than 100 since last September, Canadian media said, with one person reported to have died.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the news "heartbreaking".

Canada's 1.4 million indigenous people have high levels of poverty.

Their life expectancy is also below the Canadian average.

Bruce Shisheesh, the chief of the Attawapiskat First Nation community, said 11 people attempted to take their own lives on Saturday, prompting him to declare a state of emergency.

He tweeted that the regional Weeneebayko Health Authority was flying in a crisis team, mental health nurses and social workers, and that he was waiting for Ontario's minister of health to deliver more emergency workers to the area.

The First Nations government was sending a crisis response unit to the community following the declaration on Saturday, Canadian media said.

Attawapiskat First Nation

  • isolated First Nation tribe in Kenora District, northern Ontario, Canada
  • population around 2,000 on the reserve
  • former chief Theresa Spence had a hunger strike in 2013 to protest over the Canadian government not providing enough money, education and health care for the tribe
  • had a state of emergency in 2011, the third in three years, due to low temperatures and insufficient housing
  • in 2013 accused Stephen Harper's Conservative government of being right-wing and racist

The Health Canada federal agency said in a statement it had sent two mental health counsellors as part of that unit.

Charlie Angus, the local MP, said: "This is a systemic crisis affecting the communities."

"There's just not been a serious response from any level of government until now," he said.

"We'll continue to work to improve living conditions for all Indigenous peoples," Prime Minister Trudeau said.

Another Canadian aboriginal community in the western province of Manitoba appealed for federal aid last month, citing six suicides in two months and 140 suicide attempts in two weeks.

Suicide and self-inflicted injuries are among the top causes of death for First Nations, Métis and Inuit people, according to studies from Health Canada.

National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Perry Bellegarde called for a national strategy to combat indigenous suicide last month.

"Immediate support to communities is essential & a #FirstNations driven national strategy on mental health," he tweeted on Monday.

Source: bbc.com

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12/Apr/2016

US Navy officer charged with spying for China and Taiwan

A US Navy officer has been charged with espionage, accused of passing military secrets to China and Taiwan, according to US military officials.

The Associated Press news agency named him as Lt Cdr Edward Lin, a US citizen who was born in Taiwan.

He is being held in Navy brig in Virginia awaiting a court-martial.

Officials believe he passed information to a Chinese girlfriend, the New York Times reported. Lt Cdr Lin is also charged with lying about his travels.

United States Naval Institute (USNI) News first reported the charges against Lt Cdr Lin. The website said that Lin worked as a signals intelligence specialist on the Navy's EP-3E Aries II reconnaissance planes.

He joined the Navy as an enlisted sailor in 1999 and became a US citizen in 2008.

"I always dreamt about coming to America, the 'promised land," Lt Cdr Lin said when he became citizen. "I grew up believing that all the roads in America lead to Disneyland."

Source: bbc.com

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12/Apr/2016

Zika virus 'scarier than thought' says US

The Zika virus is "scarier" than first thought and its impact on the US could be greater than predicted, public health officials have admitted.

A wider range of birth defects has been linked to the virus, said Dr Anne Schuchat of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And the mosquitoes that carry the virus could travel to more US states than previously thought, she said.

The current Zika outbreak began almost a year ago in Brazil.

It has been linked to thousands of birth defects in the Americas.

"Most of what we've learned is not reassuring," said Dr Schuchat at White House briefing on Monday.

"Everything we know about this virus seems to be scarier than we initially thought."

Earlier this year, US President Obama asked the US Congress for $1.8bn (£1.25bn) in emergency funding to combat the virus.

In the meantime it has been using money totalling $589m left over from the Ebola virus fund.

Map of Zika cases

Microcephaly: Why it is not the end of the world

What you need to know Key questions answered about the virus and its spread

Travel advice Countries affected and what you should do

The mosquito behind spread of virus What we know about the insect

Abortion dilemma Laws and practices in Catholic Latin America

That was a temporary stopgap and inadequate to get the job done, said Dr Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health.

The US now needs more money to fight the mosquitoes and to fund better research into vaccines and treatments, he said.

"When the president asked for $1.9 billion, we needed $1.9 billion."

He said there had been recent discoveries about how destructive Zika appeared to be to foetal brains.

Passengers walk by a signboard about Zika virus at the passenger terminal of Incheon International Airport in Incheon, South Korea, Tuesday, March 22, 2016.

The rapid spread of the Zika virus has spurred travel warnings across the globe

There were also reports of rare neurologic problems in adults, he said.

The CDC announced that Puerto Rico is to receive $3.9m in emergency Zika funding as the number of cases there doubles every week.

In February, the first US case of locally transmitted Zika was reported in Dallas, Texas - spread through sexual contact, not a mosquito bite.

Source: bbc.com

 

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12/Apr/2016

North Korea 'tests long-range missile engine'

North Korea says it has successfully tested an engine designed for an intercontinental ballistic missile.

The new type of engine would "guarantee" the ability to launch a nuclear strike on the US mainland, the KCNA news agency said.

The test was conducted at the country's long-range missile launch site near its west coast.

It is the latest in a series of tests and launches carried out by the isolated nation.

Can South Korea defend itself?

Dealing with the North: Carrots or sticks?

How advanced is North Korea's nuclear programme?

Leader Kim Jong-un supervised the test, state media reported, during which "the engine spewed out huge flames with a deafening boom".

The country would now be able to "keep any cesspool of evils in the earth including the US mainland within our striking range," Mr Kim was quoted as saying.

In March, North Korea said it had developed nuclear warheads small enough to fit on ballistic missiles.

However, experts cast doubt on the claims.

March also saw North Korea threaten "indiscriminate" nuclear strikes on the US and South Korea as they held big joint military drills, which the north sees as a rehearsal for an eventual invasion.

Meanwhile, the US has imposed new sanctions on North Korea following a nuclear test in January and a satellite launch in February, which was widely seen as a test of banned missile technology.

The US has also held talks with South Korea aimed at deploying a US missile defence system to the Korean peninsula, a move strongly opposed by North Korea, Russia and China.

Beijing says the Thaad anti-missile system compromises its security and would undermine its nuclear deterrent.

Source: bbc.com

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09/Apr/2016

Two dead in US Air Force base shooting

A shooting at a US Air Force base in Texas has left at least two people dead, police say.

Officials have told US media that an airman shot his commander in an apparent murder-suicide.

Police responded to reports of a shooting at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland around 09:00 local time (15:00 BST), a spokesman said.

Two bodies were found in a room at the base, and authorities believe the gunman is one of the dead.

The Bexar County Sheriff's Office said they continued to search the buildings after finding the people who were killed.

"There are no indications that this was a terrorist attack," an Air Force statement said.

Joint Base San-Antonio Lackland is the military's largest joint base, where airmen do basic training.

Lackland Air Force Base

Source: bbc.com

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08/Apr/2016

Paris attacks: Key suspect Abrini arrested in Brussels

The key remaining suspect in November's Paris terror attacks, Mohamed Abrini, has been arrested in Belgium, prosecutors have confirmed.

Belgian media say Abrini is also likely to be the "man in the hat" seen on CCTV before bomb blasts in the Brussels airport departure hall on 22 March.

Five arrests were made on Friday. One suspect, Osama K, will be investigated over the bomb attack on the metro that followed the airport bombing.

The two attacks left 32 people dead.

The gun and bomb attacks in Paris on 13 November killed 130 people.

New footage

Amateur footage said to be of Abrini's arrest shows a man being bundled into a car in Place Albert in the Anderlecht district of Brussels.

Abrini had not been directly linked to the Brussels attacks until today.

Belgian investigators confirmed at a press conference that Abrini was among those detained. Two more suspects were arrested with him.

They said the fourth arrested man, named as Osama K, was being investigated for helping suicide bomber Khalid el-Bakraoui at the Maelbeek metro station.

The prosecutor's office said he had been filmed in Brussels buying sports bags used to hide the airport and metro station bombs.

The authorities had on Thursday released new video footage of the so-called "man in the hat", appealing for the public's help in finding him.

The individual in the footage was seen beside the two suicide bombers at Brussels airport. He left the airport shortly before the blasts.

At the press conference, the investigators said they were trying to determine whether the "man in the hat" was Abrini.

Childhood friends

Abrini, 31, a Belgian national of Moroccan origin, is believed to have been filmed at a petrol station with Salah Abdeslam, another arrested Paris attacks suspect, two days before the attacks there.

Abrini and brothers Salah and Brahim Abdeslam were all childhood friends from Brussels.

Abrini is believed to have driven twice with the brothers from Belgium to Paris and back on 10 and 11 November.

Salah Abdeslam was detained in Brussels in March, days before militants launched attacks in the Belgian capital.

Brahim Abdeslam blew himself up at the Comptoir Voltaire restaurant after a shooting spree.

Graphic

Source: bbc.com

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08/Apr/2016

Pope Francis to make key marriage pronouncement

Pope Francis is to make public the conclusions of his two Synods on the family in a document eagerly awaited by 1.3 billion Roman Catholics.

It will detail the pope's views about family life, marriage, contraception and bringing up children.

Many hope it will open the way for the church to offer communion to the divorced and civilly remarried, something conservatives have resisted.

The document is the culmination of three years' work by the Pope.

BBC religious affairs correspondent Caroline Wyatt says that what is known as an Apostolic Exhortation is a wide-ranging document of more than 200 pages entitled The Joy of Love.

Pope's reforms polarise the Vatican

Interpreting pope's contraception hint

The Pope sent a questionnaire to families across the world asking them about their hopes and their fears.

Then he brought bishops and cardinals together for two Synods in Rome, at which he encouraged them to debate and even to disagree over issues that divide the church in many countries.

Those range from offering communion for the divorced and remarried, contraception and the treatment of Catholics who are gay.

Our correspondent says the lengthy document will show exactly where Pope Francis stands - with some already describing it as a Papal bombshell - as he steps into the minefield of Catholic teaching on the family.

While conservatives do not want him to change doctrine, liberals hope he will tell the church to show a more merciful attitude to those whose families do not conform to the current Catholic ideal.

Some in the church have called for measures which allow a priest or a bishop to decide privately, on a case-by-case basis, if a Catholic who has divorced and remarried can be fully readmitted and receive communion.

While progressives such as the influential Cardinal Walter Kasper of Germany support this policy, conservatives maintain it would devalue the principle established by Jesus of marriage being indissoluble.

At the conclusion of the Synod last year, Francis castigated church leaders who he accused of burying their heads in the sand over the issue, arguing that their adherence to rigid doctrine was over-riding their concern for the suffering of families.

The papal document is also expected to call for better marriage preparation while repeating the Synod's view that homosexual unions cannot be on a par with heterosexual marriage.

Source: bbc.com

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08/Apr/2016

Migrant crisis: Deportations resume from Greece to Turkey

A second group of migrants is being sent back from Greece to Turkey as part of an EU deal to reduce the numbers reaching Europe.

Three protesters dived into the water to try to stop a ferry carrying 45 Pakistani men as it left Lesbos but were fished out by coastguards.

Other protesters tried to enter the gates of the port, Mytilene.

Some 200 mainly Pakistanis were deported on Monday but the process stalled as asylum applications surged.

Under the EU deal with Turkey, migrants who have arrived illegally in Greece since 20 March are expected to be sent back to Turkey if they do not apply for asylum or if their claim is rejected.

And for each Syrian migrant returned to Turkey, the EU is due to take in another Syrian who has made a legitimate request.

Water and breakfast

Each person being deported is accompanied by a guard from the EU's border agency, Frontex.

A Frontex spokesperson said there had been no trouble bringing the migrants from a camp to the port.

"There were escorts with each returnee plus a back-up team," Ewa Moncure told reporters. "Also, in addition, on board the ferry there was a doctor and translators.

"Now on the way to Turkey, migrants will be given water and breakfast. They all had return decisions. Nobody indicated to our escorts last-minute that they would like to apply for international protection."

Greek customs officials told the BBC that 140 people would be travelling on two boats on Friday, with the second carrying 95 from other islands.

Of those being returned to Turkey on Friday, the non-Syrians will be taken to deportation centres while any Syrians will be taken to refugee camps to take the place of Syrian refugees who will be directly resettled in the EU.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned his country will only implement the deal if the EU sticks to its side of the bargain:

  • A further €3bn (£2.4bn; $3.4bn)
  • Galvanising Turkey's EU accession process
  • Granting Turks visa-free travel to the EU's Schengen area by the end of June

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country has taken in the bulk of the asylum seekers so far, said on a visit to France she was "very happy" with progress in resolving the migrant crisis.

'Shame on you'

The small group of protesters in Mytilene chanted "EU - shame on you".

One million migrants and refugees have entered the EU by boat from Turkey to Greece since early last year.

The returns arrangement has alarmed rights groups, who say Turkey is not a safe country for migrants.

Citizens of Pakistan make up the fourth-biggest group of undocumented migrants arriving in Greece this year, after Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis.

Migrant arrivals to Greece

152,137

in 2016, up to 4 April

  • 37% of 2016 arrivals are children

  • 53% arrive on Lesbos

  • 366 died on Turkey-Greece route

  • 853,650 arrivals in 2015

Read more
08/Apr/2016

Panama papers: Iceland names PM replacement

Iceland's ruling coalition has named Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson as the new PM, with early elections to be held in the autumn.

Mr Johannsson, 53, is agriculture and fisheries minister and deputy leader of the Progressive Party (PP).

The move comes after PM and PP chairman Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson stepped down in the wake of the leaked Panama Papers.

The leaks, from Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca, showed Mr Gunnlaugsson owned an offshore firm with his wife.

It was not declared when he became an MP. Mr Gunnlaugsson says he sold his shares to his wife and denies any wrongdoing. But he is accused of concealing millions of dollars' worth of family assets.

Protester prepares to throw egg - 6th April

At the scene: Paul Adams, BBC News, Reykjavik

With protesters keeping up a steady drumbeat of pots and pans outside parliament, for the third day in a row, members of Iceland's political parties held lengthy discussions inside.

The demonstrators sensed a deal was in the offing, and hurled eggs and fruit at the building as a mark of disgust. For many of them, nothing less than the resignation of the entire government would do.

But eventually came word that the two coalition parties, the Progressives and Independents, had reached agreement.

Opposition parties don't like the deal and some are vowing to go ahead with a vote of no confidence. The government has a comfortable majority and it seems the crisis may be over, for now.

But polls suggest the Progressive Party has lost much of its support and that the tiny Pirate Party, founded just over three years ago, stands to make significant gains. Unless this government's fortunes change, it could be out of power in a few months' time.


Mr Gunnlaugsson is one of dozens of high-profile global figures mentioned in the 11.5 million leaked financial and legal records, which were first published on Sunday.

Pressure on Mr Gunnlaugsson to step down had been building since then, with thousands of people protesting outside the parliament building in the capital Reykjavik on Monday and opposition parties tabling a confidence motion.

Earlier on Tuesday, Mr Gunnlaugsson had asked President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson to dissolve parliament and call an early election, although the president said he would need to talk to parties.

Screengrab taken from video showing Iceland's Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson walking down stairs after a meeting in parliament (5 April 2016)

Iceland's prime minister stepped down ahead of a confidence vote in parliament

But later on Wednesday, Mr Johansson said: "We expect to have elections this autumn," adding that in the meantime the government had work to do.

"We will continue to lead a good government and keep up the good work we have worked on for the last three years and get finished with all those good works we have started on," he said.

Pirate Party leader Birgitta Jonsdottir also told reporters in parliament that early elections would be held in the autumn.

Mr Gunnlaugsson has put out a statement insisting he has not in fact resigned and that Mr Johannsson will take over the post "for an unspecified amount of time".

The documents leaked from Mossack Fonseca show that Mr Gunnlaugsson and his wife bought the company Wintris in 2007.

He did not declare an interest in the company when entering parliament in 2009. He sold his 50% of Wintris to his wife, Anna Sigurlaug Palsdottir, for $1 (£0.70) eight months later.

Mr Gunnlaugsson maintains no rules were broken and his wife did not benefit financially.

In his statement, Mr Gunnlaugsson said he had no wish to stand in the way of further government work, such as reform of the financial system.


Panama Papers - tax havens of the rich and powerful exposed

  • Eleven million documents held by the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca have been passed to German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung, which then shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. BBC Panorama is among 107 media organisations - including UK newspaper the Guardian - in 76 countries which have been analysing the documents. The BBC does not know the identity of the source
  • They show how the company has helped clients launder money, dodge sanctions and evade tax
  • Mossack Fonseca says it has operated beyond reproach for 40 years and never been accused or charged with criminal wrong-doing
  • Tricks of the trade: How assets are hidden and taxes evaded
  • Panama Papers: Full coverage; follow reaction on Twitter using #PanamaPapers; in the BBC News app, follow the tag "Panama Papers"
  • Watch Panorama on the BBC iPlayer (UK viewers only)

Source: bbc.com

Read more
06/Apr/2016

Fake US university exposes 'pay-to-stay' immigration fraud

Twenty-one people have been arrested after US authorities set up a fake university to expose immigration fraud.

Officials said the accused knew that the University of Northern New Jersey did not exist, but they were unaware it was a ruse run by immigration agents.

The defendants acted as brokers for more than 1,000 foreigners who sought to maintain student and work visas, prosecutors said.

Most foreign nationals involved in the scheme came from China and India.

Immigration authorities will deal with the nationals affected, but they will not be prosecuted, officials said.

"This was just another stop on the 'pay-to-stay' tour," Paul Fishman, US attorney for New Jersey, told the Associated Press.

Federal agents set up a fake website and posed as administrators who dealt with suspects.

The agents' recorded conversations with the defendants showed that the practice of paying to extend visas had been going on for years, prosecutors said.

Source: bbc.com

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05/Apr/2016

Whatsapp adds end-to-end encryption

Instant messaging service Whatsapp has announced it will encrypt all its users' communications from Tuesday.

With end-to-end encryption, messages are scrambled as they leave the sender's device and can only be decrypted by the recipient's device.

It renders messages unreadable if they are intercepted, for example by criminals or law enforcement.

Whatsapp, which has a billion users worldwide, said file transfers and voice calls would be encrypted too.

The Facebook-owned company said protecting private communication was one of its "core beliefs".

Encryption was thrown under the spotlight after the FBI asked Apple to help it access data on an iPhone used by California gunman Syed Farook.

Whatsapp said: "The idea is simple: when you send a message, the only person who can read it is the person or group chat that you send that message to. No one can see inside that message. Not cybercriminals. Not hackers. Not oppressive regimes. Not even us."

Users with the latest version of the app were notified about the change when sending messages on Tuesday. The setting is enabled by default.

Amnesty International called the move a "huge victory" for free speech.

"Whatsapp's roll out of the Signal Protocol, providing end to end encryption for its one billion users worldwide, is a major boost for people's ability to express themselves and communicate without fear," the organisation said in a statement.

"This is a huge victory for privacy and free speech, especially for activists and journalists who depend on strong and trustworthy communications to carry out their work without putting their lives at greater risk."

Whatsapp encryption

Whatsapp's decision was also welcomed by security professionals.

"Wire-tappers lament, law-abiding citizens rejoice, for WhatsApp's latest update is a victory for communications privacy," said Lee Munson, a security researcher for Comparitech.

"With the ability to access data removed even from the company behind the app, only ill-informed law enforcement agencies are likely to mutter 'terrorists' as the masses enjoy the encrypted text messages, photos, video and phone calls they've been demanding ever since Edward Snowden blew the lid on government surveillance."

The move is likely to irk law enforcement agencies, particularly the US Department of Justice which has recently expressed concern over "unreachable" information contained in devices. The DoJ did not respond to the BBC's request for comment on Tuesday.

Other messaging apps with end-to-end encryption include Telegram, which is known to be used by the so-called Islamic State to share information.

Source: bbc.com

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05/Apr/2016

Two aeroplanes collide at Jakarta airport

Two planes collided at an airport in Indonesia's capital Jakarta, resulting in a wing bursting into flames.

A Batik Air passenger plane was taking off when its wing clipped the tail of a TransNusa aircraft being towed across the runway.

Authorities said there were no injuries in the Monday night incident, and all passengers were evacuated safely.

Indonesia has had a dismal air safety record amid a boom in air travel, particularly with budget carriers.

Mangled parts

The incident took place at the largely-domestic Halim Perdanakusuma airport in Jakarta, causing the temporary closure of the airport.

The damaged wing of the Batik Air aeroplane

The Batik Air plane (pictured) and the TransNusa aircraft both suffered damage

The Batik Air plane was carrying 49 passengers and crew, reported AFP news agency.

A spokesman for budget carrier Lion Air Group, which owns Batik Air, told the wire news agency that the pilot had aborted the takeoff after the collision, and passengers and crew were safe.

Transport ministry officials said the collision had mangled parts of both aircraft. A video posted online shows flames erupting from the Batik Air plane wing.

In 2013, a Lion Air plane overshot the runway at Bali's Denpasar airport and crashed into the sea, in an incident that hospitalised at least 22 people.

That same year another Lion Air plane skidded off a runway on the island of Sulawesi after it crashed into a cow.

In 2014, an Indonesian subsidiary of AirAsia flying from Surabaya to Singapore crashed into the sea, killing all 162 onboard.

Source: bbc.com

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04/Apr/2016

Vitamin D 'heals damaged hearts'

Vitamin D supplements may help people with diseased hearts, a study suggests.

A trial on 163 heart failure patients found supplements of the vitamin, which is made in the skin when exposed to sunlight, improved their hearts' ability to pump blood around the body.

The Leeds Teaching Hospitals team, who presented at a meeting of the American College of Cardiology, described the results as "stunning".

The British Heart Foundation called for longer trials to assess the pills.

Vitamin D is vital for healthy bones and teeth and may have important health benefits throughout the body but many people are deficient.

No safe way to suntan - warning

The average age of people in the study was 70 and like many people that age they had low levels of vitamin D even in summer.

"They do spend less time outside, but the skin's ability to manufacture vitamin D also gets less effective [with age] and we don't really understand why that is," said consultant cardiologist Dr Klaus Witte.

Patients were given either a 100 microgram vitamin D tablet or a sugar pill placebo each day for a year.

And researchers measured the impact on heart failure - a condition in which the heart becomes too weak to pump blood properly.

The key measure was the ejection fraction, the amount of blood pumped out of the chambers of the heart with each beat.

In a healthy adult the figure is between 60% and 70%, but only a quarter of the blood in the heart was being successfully pumped out in the heart failure patients.

But in those taking the vitamin pills, the ejection fraction increased from 26% to 34%.

Dr Witte told the BBC News website: "It's quite a big deal, that's as big as you'd expect from other more expensive treatments that we use, it's a stunning effect.

"It's as cheap as chips, has no side effects and a stunning improvement on people already on optimal medical therapy, it is the first time anyone has shown something like this in the last 15 years."

The study also showed the patients hearts became smaller - a suggestion they are becoming more powerful and efficient. 

In the UK, people over 65 are advised to take 10 microgram supplements of the vitamin.

However, Dr Witte does not think high-dose vitamin D should be routine prescribed just yet.

He told the BBC: "We're a little bit off that yet, not because I don't believe it, but data have shown improvements in heart function, they may show improvements in symptoms and we now need a large study."

It is also not clear exactly how vitamin D is improving heart function, but it is thought every cell in the body responds to the vitamin.

Most vitamin D comes from sunlight, although it is also found in oily fish, eggs and is added to some foods such as breakfast cereals.

Prof Peter Weissberg, from the British Heart Foundation, cautioned that the patients seemed no better at exercise.

And added: "A much bigger study over a longer period of time is now needed to determine whether these changes in cardiac function can translate into fewer symptoms and longer lives for heart failure patients."

Source: bbc.com

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04/Apr/2016

Panama Papers: Mossack Fonseca 'helped firms subject to sanctions'

The Panama legal firm at the heart of a massive data leak kept clients who were subject to international sanctions, documents show.

Mossack Fonseca worked with 33 individuals or companies who have been placed under sanctions by the US Treasury, including companies based in Iran, Zimbabwe and North Korea.

One had links to North Korea's nuclear weapons programme.

The information comes from the leak of 11m of the company's internal files.

Mossack Fonseca registers companies as offshore entities operated under its own name. This meant the identities of the real owners were hard to trace because they were kept out of public documents.

Owners from Pyongyang

Some of the businesses were registered before international sanctions were imposed. But in several cases Mossack Fonseca continued to act as a proxy for them after they were blacklisted.

DCB Finance was established in 2006, with its owners and directors based in North Korea's capital Pyongyang. It was later put under sanctions by the US Treasury for raising funds for the North Korean regime and being linked to a bank helping to fund the regime's nuclear weapons programme.

The leaked files reveal the owners of DCB Finance were a North Korean official, Kim Chol Sam and Nigel Cowie, a British banker who was also CEO of the sanctioned Daedong Credit Bank.

Mossack Fonseca appears to have overlooked that the owners and directors of the company were based in Pyongyang until it was contacted by the British Virgin Islands (BVI) authorities in 2010, inquiring about another company Mossack Fonseca had set up with directors in North Korea.

Mossack Fonseca resigned as agents for DCB Finance in September 2010.


Panama Papers - read more from BBC News

In 2013 the BVI authorities contacted Mossack Fonseca again, asking what checks they had carried out before opening DCB Finance in 2006.

An email from Mossack Fonseca's compliance department on 9 August 2013 says: "We have not yet addressed the reason we maintained a relationship with DCB Finance when we knew or ought to have known from incorporation in 2006, that the country, North Korea was on the black list."

It adds: "We should have identified from the onset that this was a high risk company."

Mr Cowie was not placed under sanctions. He has said that DCB Finance was established for legitimate business purposes and that he was "unaware, whether directly or indirectly, of any transactions being made with any sanctioned organisation or for any sanctioned purpose, during my entire tenure".

Assad's cousin

Another case involves Rami Makhlouf, who is the cousin of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and has reported wealth of $5bn.

In 2008 the US Treasury imposed sanctions on him because it deemed him to be a "regime insider" and someone who "manipulated the Syrian judicial system and used Syrian intelligence officials to intimidate his business rivals".

Mossack Fonseca continued to front six businesses - including one company called Drex Technologies - for Mr Makhlouf after the restrictions were put in place.

The files also show the Swiss branch of HSBC provided financial services for the firm.

In 2010, two years after the sanctions were imposed, HSBC wrote to Mossack Fonseca saying it believed Drex Technologies was a company of "good standing".

An internal email from Mossack Fonseca's compliance department also suggests HSBC staff dealing with Drex Technologies knew who Rami Makhlouf was.

The email, dated 17 February 2011, says: "We have contacted HSBC who stated that they are very aware of the fact that Mr Makhlouf is the cousin of the President of Syria.

"The HSBC compliance department of the bank not only in Geneva but also in their headquarters in London know about Mr Makhlouf and confirm that they are comfortable with him."

HSBC said: "We work closely with the authorities to fight financial crime and implement sanctions. Our policy is clear that offshore accounts can only remain open either where clients have been thoroughly vetted where authorities ask us to maintain an account for the purposes of monitoring activity, or where an account has been frozen based on sanctions obligations."

War fuel

Mossack Fonseca cut all its links with Rami Makhlouf in September 2011, nine months after it was first recommended.

But the leaked documents reveal the firm also provided business services to another company that was registered on a US sanctions list in 2014.

The company is called Pangates International Corporation Limited. The US Treasury Department believes it supplied aviation fuel to the Syrian government to fly military aircraft during the current civil war. The files show Mossack Fonseca first incorporated the petroleum firm in 1999.

Nine months after the sanctions came into effect, it was still handling the paperwork for Pangates International Corporation and certified it was a company in the Seychelles of good standing.

It was not until August 2015 that Mossack Fonseca acknowledged the company was on a blacklist and reported it to financial regulators in the Seychelles.

Mossack Fonseca said: "We have never knowingly allowed the use of our companies by individuals having any relationship with North Korea or Syria. We have our own procedures in place to identify such individuals, to the extent it is reasonably possible."

Panama's President Juan Carlos Varela told the BBC his country was willing to contribute to any investigation in any country relating to the documents.

"We are an open country," he said.


Panama Papers - tax havens of the rich and powerful exposed

  • Eleven million documents held by the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca have been passed to German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung, which then shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. BBC Panorama and UK newspaper The Guardian are among 107 media organisations in 76 countries which have been analysing the documents. The BBC does not know the identity of the source
  • They show how the company has helped clients launder money, dodge sanctions and evade tax
  • Mossack Fonseca says it has operated beyond reproach for 40 years and never been accused or charged with criminal wrong-doing
  • Tricks of the trade: How assets are hidden and taxes evaded
  • Panama Papers: Full coverage; follow reaction on Twitter using #PanamaPapers; in the BBC News app, follow the tag "Panama Papers"

Source: bbc.com

Read more
04/Apr/2016

Kenya's William Ruto due to hear war crimes case ruling

Kenyan Vice-President William Ruto is due to find out whether a crimes against humanity case against him will be thrown out by judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Mr Ruto denies murder, deportation and persecution charges during violence that followed the 2007 elections in which about 1,200 people were killed.

His lawyers want the case to be terminated due to a lack of evidence.

Mr Ruto is one of the most senior politicians to be tried by the ICC.

The prosecution case against him has been dogged by repeated setbacks.

In February judges at the ICC barred the use of recanted testimony, meaning that prior recorded witness statements could not be used by prosecutors.

Several key witnesses in the case have changed their statements, which prosecutors said was due to intimidation and bribery.

Mr Ruto's lawyers say he should be acquitted because so many key prosecution witnesses have either dropped or changed their original statements.

ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has acknowledged that the loss of witnesses has weakened the case against the deputy president - but she has argued there still remains enough evidence to proceed with the trial.

A spokesman for the ICC has told the BBC's Anna Holligan in The Hague there are a number of possible scenarios.

The judges could clear Mr Ruto of all the charges, they may ask the prosecution to consider changing the charges or they could reject the defence team's arguments and allow the trial to continue.

In 2014, the prosecutor dropped similar charges against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, alleging that witnesses had been intimidated to make them change their testimony.

The future of the case now appears to depend on whether the prosecution has proved that it has sufficient evidence to offset a no-case-to-answer move from Mr Ruto's lawyers.

The use of prior testimony falls under Rule 68 of the Rome Statute, which set up the ICC.

But William Ruto's defence team argued this was unfair because changes to the rule were brought in after the case against him and his fellow defendant, the journalist Joshua arap Sang, had started.

Presiding Judge Piotr Hofmanski ruled that prior-recorded testimony was delivered without an opportunity for the accused to cross-examine the witnesses.

Mr Sang, who is accused of using his radio show to organise attacks in the election aftermath, said at the time that the decision was "one step to our freedom".

Mr Ruto and Mr Kenyatta were on opposite sides of the 2007 election, but formed an alliance that won the 2013 election.

Source: bbc.com

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04/Apr/2016

Native American chief Joe Medicine Crow dies aged 102

The historian, World War Two veteran and chief of Montana's Crow tribe Joe Medicine Crow has died aged 102. President Obama awarded Joe Medicine Crow the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.

His grandfather was a scout for US military commander George Custer, who lost his life in the Battle of Little Big Horn fighting Native Americans.

Medicine Crow earned the title of war chief in his tribe through stealing horses and other exploits during World War Two.

He later worked as his tribe's historian, lecturing into his nineties.

"When you spoke with Joe Medicine Crow, it was impossible not to be inspired," Montana senator Jon Tester tweeted.

War bravery

Medicine Crow was raised on the Crow Reservation in the state of Montana where he spent much of his life.

He was the first of his tribe to get a master's degree in 1939, later helping catalogue his people's history through oral testimony.

To become a war chief he successfully performed four daring deeds, including wrestling a weapon from an enemy warrior - in his case a Nazi soldier.

"I never got a scratch," he said decades on, the Billings Gazette reported.

In 2009. President Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

"His contributions to the preservation of the culture and history of the First Americans are matched only by his importance as a role model to young Native Americans across the country," the White House said at the time.

Read more
03/Apr/2016

Panama Papers: Putin associates linked to 'money laundering'

A suspected money laundering ring involving close associates of Vladimir Putin has been uncovered in a leak of confidential documents.

The billion-dollar operation was run by Bank Rossiya, which is subject to US and EU sanctions following Russia's annexation of Crimea.

Evidence seen by BBC Panorama reveals for the first time how the bank operates.

Documents show how money has been channelled through offshore companies.

They suggest Sonnette Overseas, International Media Overseas, Sunbarn and Sandalwood Continental have profited from fake share transactions, bogus consulting deals, uncommercial loans and the purchase of under-priced assets.

The documents show that International Media Overseas and Sonnette Overseas were officially owned by one of the Russian president's closest friends.


Panama Papers - tax havens of the rich and powerful exposed

  • Eleven million documents held by the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca have been passed to German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung, which then shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. BBC Panorama is among 107 media organisations - including UK newspaper the Guardian - in 78 countries which have been analysing the documents. The BBC doesn't know the identity of the source
  • They show how the company has helped clients launder money, dodge sanctions and evade tax
  • Mossack Fonseca says it has operated beyond reproach for 40 years and never been accused or charged with criminal wrong-doing
  • Tricks of the trade: How assets are hidden and taxes evaded
  • Panama Papers: Full coverage; follow reaction on Twitter using #PanamaPapers; in the BBC News app, follow the tag "Panama Papers"
  • Watch Panorama at 19:30 on BBC One on Monday, 4 April, or catch up later on the BBC iPlayer (UK viewers only)

Concert cellist Sergei Roldugin has known Vladimir Putin since they were teenagers and is godfather to the president's daughter Maria.

On paper, Mr Roldugin has personally made hundreds of millions of dollars in profits from the suspicious deals.

But documents from Mr Roldugin's companies state that: "The company is a corporate screen established principally to protect the identity and confidentiality of the ultimate beneficial owner of the company."

Sergei Roldugin

Sergei Roldugin owns a number of offshore companies

The cellist has previously told reporters that he is not a businessman. His involvement in the complex offshore deals will raise suspicion that he is simply acting as a front for someone else.

Suspicious activity

In one example, documents show that Sandalwood Continental bought an asset for just $1 (70p) and sold it three months later for $133m (£93m).

Sandalwood was also given $800m (£562m) of loans by a Russian state bank. There is no evidence in the documents of Sandalwood providing security for the loans or making repayments.

Tom Keatinge - who runs the Centre for Financial Crime and Security Studies - says the transactions appear to be evidence of money laundering.

"There's nothing that I have seen which would make me say anything other than 'Stop, we need to investigate very closely what's going on here.' Whether it's loans being written off with no apparent compensation, other than the dollar, or whether it's loans being assigned through multiple pairs of hands for no obvious reason."

The documents show that one of the Roldugin companies, International Media Overseas, borrowed $6m (£4.2m) in 2007. Three months later the loan was written off for just $1, so the cellist's company had been given $6m.

In another suspicious deal in 2011, International Media Overseas bought all the rights - including interest and repayments - to a $200m (£140m) loan.

International Media Overseas paid just a single dollar, even though the interest payments alone were worth $8m (£5.6m) a year to Mr Roldugin's company.

Andrew Mitchell QC, one of the UK's leading experts on money laundering, says the deals are highly suspicious: "There can't be a commercial basis for transferring $200m and the rights to $8m a year for a dollar."

Source: bbc.com

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03/Apr/2016

Khalid al-Barnawi: Nigeria Islamist group head 'arrested'

The leader of al-Qaeda-linked Islamist group Ansaru has been arrested in Nigeria, authorities there say.

A military spokesman said Khalid al-Barnawi was captured in Lokoja, capital of the central state of Kogi.

The US had placed a $5m (£3.5m) bounty on his head after branding him one of three Nigerian "specially designated global terrorists" in 2012.

Ansaru is a splinter group of Nigeria's largest jihadist group, Boko Haram, known for kidnapping foreigners.

Ideologically aligned to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, it is also accused of killing a number of Westerners.

Ansaru said it carried out an attack on a maximum security prison in the Nigerian capital Abuja in 2012, freeing dozens of inmates.

"Security agents made a breakthrough on Friday in the fight against terrorism by arresting Khalid al-Barnawi, the leader of Ansaru terrorist group in Lokoja," military spokesman Brigadier General Rabe Abubakar said.

"He is among those on top of the list of our wanted terrorists."

Source: bbc.com

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03/Apr/2016

Panama Papers: Mossack Fonseca leak reveals elite's tax havens

A huge leak of confidential documents has revealed how the rich and powerful use tax havens to hide their wealth.

Eleven million documents were leaked from one of the world's most secretive companies, Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.

They show how Mossack Fonseca has helped clients launder money, dodge sanctions and evade tax.

The company says it has operated beyond reproach for 40 years and has never been charged with criminal wrong-doing.

The documents show links to 72 current or former heads of state in the data, including dictators accused of looting their own countries.

Gerard Ryle, director of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), said the documents covered the day-to-day business at Mossack Fonseca over the past 40 years.

"I think the leak will prove to be probably the biggest blow the offshore world has ever taken because of the extent of the documents," he said.


Panama Papers - tax havens of the rich and powerful exposed

  • Eleven million documents held by the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca have been passed to German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung, which then shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. BBC Panorama is among 107 media organisations - including UK newspaper the Guardian - in 78 countries which have been analysing the documents. The BBC doesn't know the identity of the source
  • They show how the company has helped clients launder money, dodge sanctions and evade tax
  • Mossack Fonseca says it has operated beyond reproach for 40 years and never been accused or charged with criminal wrong-doing
  • Tricks of the trade: How assets are hidden and taxes evaded
  • Panama Papers: Full coverage; follow reaction on Twitter using #PanamaPapers; in the BBC News app, follow the tag "Panama Papers"
  • Watch Panorama at 19:30 on BBC One on Monday, 4 April, or catch up later on the BBC iPlayer (UK viewers only)

The data contains secret offshore companies linked to the families and associates of Egypt's former president Hosni Mubarak, Libya's former leader Muammar Gaddafi and Syria's president Bashar al-Assad.

Russian connection

It also reveals a suspected billion-dollar money laundering ring that was run by a Russian bank and involved close associates of President Putin.

The operation was run by Bank Rossiya, which is subject to US and EU sanctions following Russia's annexation of Crimea.

The documents reveal for the first time how the bank operates.

Money has been channelled through offshore companies, two of which were officially owned by one of the Russian president's closest friends.

Concert cellist Sergei Roldugin has known Vladimir Putin since they were teenagers and is godfather to the president's daughter Maria.

On paper, Mr Roldugin has personally made hundreds of millions of dollars in profits from suspicious deals.

But documents from Mr Roldugin's companies state that: "The company is a corporate screen established principally to protect the identity and confidentiality of the ultimate beneficial owner of the company."

Read more: Putin associates linked to 'money laundering'

Iceland connection

Mossack Fonseca data also shows how Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson had an undeclared interest in his country's bailed-out banks.

Mr Gunnlaugsson has been accused of hiding millions of dollars of investments in his country's banks behind a secretive offshore company.

Leaked documents show that Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson and his wife bought offshore company Wintris in 2007.

He did not declare an interest in the company when entering parliament in 2009. He sold his 50% of Wintris to his wife for $1 (70p), eight months later.

Mr Gunnlaugsson is now facing calls for his resignation. He says he has not broken any rules, and his wife did not benefit financially from his decisions.

The offshore company was used to invest millions of dollars of inherited money, according to a document signed by Mr Gunnlaugsson's wife Anna Sigurlaug Pálsdóttir in 2015.

Read more: Iceland PM's investments questioned

'Beyond reproach'

In addition, Mossack Fonseca supplied a front man who pretended to own $1.8m, so the real owner could get the cash from the bank without revealing their identity.

Mossack Fonseca says it has always complied with international protocols to ensure the companies they incorporate are not used for tax evasion, money-laundering, terrorist finance or other illicit purposes.

The company says it conducts thorough due diligence and regrets any misuse of its services.

"For 40 years Mossack Fonseca has operated beyond reproach in our home country and in other jurisdictions where we have operations. Our firm has never been accused or charged in connection with criminal wrongdoing.

"If we detect suspicious activity or misconduct, we are quick to report it to the authorities. Similarly, when authorities approach us with evidence of possible misconduct, we always cooperate fully with them."

Mossack Fonseca says offshore companies are available worldwide and are used for a variety of legitimate purposes.

See more at the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists

Source: bbc.com

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03/Apr/2016

BNI frees man accused of leaking pictures of NDC branded cars

The Bureau of National Investigations has released the Managing Director of a quarry company, Marbles and Granites, who allegedly circulated photos of Mahindra vehicles, branded in National Democratic Congress (NDC) colours.

Sources close to the situation told Citi News that Dr. Edmund Ayo Ani was released on Sunday afternoon.

Dr. Ani was picked up by the Police on Friday with two others and handed over to the BNI for their involvement in the circulation of photos of vehicles which were allegedly procured for the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE), but were being re-branded to aid the NDC’s campaign ahead of the November elections.

Initial reports had indicated that the MD of Marbles and Granites Company, Dr. Edmund Ayo Ani, and two others, were picked up by the BNI on Friday, while they were at work.

But sources within the National Security clarified that the Police rather caused the arrest, following a complaint lodged by the National Security Advisor, Alhaji Baba Kamara.

According to the National Security Adviser, Alhaji Baba Kamara, who owns the land in which the cars were allegedly being sprayed, it was wrong for someone to take photos of his premises and circulate them.

Citi News understands that the Police later handed over the MD and the two to the BNI for further investigations.

It is unclear whether the two who were arrested together with Dr. Ani have also been released.


Source: citifmonline.com

The Bureau of National Investigations has released the Managing Director of a quarry company, Marbles and Granites, who allegedly circulated photos of Mahindra vehicles, branded in National Democratic Congress (NDC) colours.

Sources close to the situation told Citi News that Dr. Edmund Ayo Ani was released on Sunday afternoon.

- See more at: http://citifmonline.com/2016/04/03/bni-frees-man-accused-of-leaking-pictures-of-ndc-branded-cars/#sthash.ACt272Zs.dpuf
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03/Apr/2016

Nuclear terrorist attack would 'change our world', says Obama

The threat from terrorists trying to launch a nuclear attack that would "change our world" is real, President Barack Obama has said.

The world has taken "concrete" steps to prevent nuclear terrorism, he told the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington.

But the so-called Islamic State (IS) obtaining a nuclear weapon is "one of the greatest threats to global security," he added.

More than 50 nations were represented at the summit.

World leaders convening in Washington for the summit expressed concern about North Korea's nuclear weapons programme and Russia's lack of attendance.

Mr Obama expressed concern that Russia has been building up its military at the expense of nuclear arms reductions.

Russian President Vladimir Putin refused to attend the summit, and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan cancelled his trip after the deadly bombing in Lahore. Both countries are nuclear-armed.

As the summit closed, the leaders reaffirmed their commitment to fight proliferation.

Mr Obama cited progress in making large parts of the world free of nuclear materials. South America had already achieved this, and Central Europe and South East Asia were expected to do so later this year.

"Together, we have removed the world's most deadly materials from nuclear facilities around the world," he said.

Despite these gains, Mr Obama said the Indian subcontinent and the Korean peninsula were areas where more could be done to combat proliferation.

Mr Obama said the world cannot be "complacent" and must build on its progress in slowing the stockpiling of nuclear weapons.

IS has already used chemical weapons in Syria.

"There is no doubt that if these mad men ever got their hands on a nuclear bomb or nuclear material, they would certainly use it to kill as many people as possible," he said.

"The single most effective defence against nuclear terrorism is fully securing this material so it doesn't fall into the wrong hands in the first place."

Could Islamic State make a 'dirty bomb'?

Mr Obama hailed his own nuclear agreement with Iran, which has been criticised by Republicans and other groups for the sanctions relief it provides. He called it a "substantial success".

"This is a success of diplomacy that hopefully we will be able to copy in the future," he said.

Mr Obama said Iran has so far followed the letter of the agreement. He urged patience as the country becomes re-integrated into the global economy.

"So long as Iran is carrying out its end of the bargain, we think it's important for the world community to carry out our end," he said.

At the summit, Mr Obama was asked about recent comments by presidential hopeful Donald Trump.

The Republican front-runner had floated the idea that Japan and South Korea should have nuclear weapons, a dramatic departure from decades of US foreign policy.

"The person who made the statement doesn't know much about foreign policy, nuclear policy, the Korean peninsula or the world generally," Mr Obama said.

Source: bbc.com

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1/Apr/2016

Greyhound shooting: Police officer killed at Virginia bus station

A gunman shot and killed a state trooper inside a Greyhound bus station in the US state of Virginia.

Several Virginia state troopers were conducting a training exercise at the station when the gunman approached the trooper and shot him in the chest.

Other troopers, who were in uniform at the time, then fired back and killed the gunman.

Two bystanders were hurt in the shooting and taken to a hospital with non-life threatening injuries.

The Virginia State Police did not identify the gunman.

Najee Wilson, 18, of New Jersey was waiting for a bus when he heard gunshots.

"We heard a lot of people screaming," Mr Wilson told the Associated Press. "It definitely was a scary experience."

The Greyhound station in Richmond is just west of the city's downtown area.

Greyhound issued a statement on Thursday afternoon, saying the Richmond bus station would be closed "until further notice".

Police officers from multiple agencies flooded the area after the shooting. The gunman's weapon was recovered, police said.

Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham said law enforcement officers have become targets.

"It's unfortunate these are the days we're living in, where folks want to harm law enforcement," Mr Durham said.

Source: bbc.com

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01/Apr/2016

North Korea nuclear tests: US and China to co-operate

China and the United States will work together to try and prevent further missile tests by North Korea, US President Barack Obama says.

In recent weeks, North Korea has carried out a hydrogen bomb test and repeatedly test-fired missiles.

Mr Obama met Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of a nuclear summit in Washington on Thursday.

But hours later, South Korea's Yonhap news agency said the North appeared to have test-fired another missile.

The latest test saw what appeared to be a ballistic missile land off the east coast of the Korean peninsula, Yonhap reported.

Mr Obama said he and Mr Xi were seeking to agree "how we can discourage action like nuclear missile tests that escalate tensions and violate international obligations".

Mr Xi, quoted by China's state news agency Xinhua, said it was critical all parties "fully and strictly" implemented newly-agreed sanctions. China is North Korea's closest ally and largest trading partner.

Zheng Zeguang, China's assistant foreign minister, said the presidents had a "candid and in-depth exchange of views on a variety of issues...and reached an important consensus". He called the meeting "positive, constructive and fruitful".

North Korea's nuclear test on 6 January and a satellite launch on 7 February were violations of existing UN sanctions.

Since then, the UN and Washington passed further sanctions on Pyongyang. The UN steps were drafted with support by China and reportedly came after two months of negotiations between Beijing and Washington.

Previous UN sanctions imposed after North Korean tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013 did little to dispel its nuclear ambitions.

Much of the burden of making sure the sanctions are implemented is falling on China.

Under the new measures, any North Korean ships arriving in China must be inspected for contraband and imports halted if there is proof profits from those exchanges go towards the North's nuclear programme.

Washington has long pushed for Beijing to put more pressure on North Korea. A White House statement in February said China's "unique influence over the North Korean regime" gave it the chance to do so.

A map of previous North Korean nuclear tests

China's foreign ministry last week said it was keen to push for wider talks on North Korea, involving a number of regional powers, during the meeting with Mr Obama. There was no confirmation whether new talks were agreed on Thursday.

Mr Obama also vowed to closely work on the same issue with its allies South Korea and Japan after meeting their leaders on Thursday.

"We are united in our efforts to deter and defend against North Korean provocations," he said.

Source: bbc.com

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01/Apr/2016

India Kolkata flyover collapse: Dozens remain trapped

Rescuers have worked through the night to reach dozens of people believed to be trapped under a collapsed flyover in the Indian city of Kolkata (Calcutta).

The bypass was under construction in the Girish Park area when it collapsed suddenly on Thursday night.

At least 23 people were killed and scores were injured.

The 2km-long (1.2 mile) flyover had been under construction since 2009 and missed several deadlines for completion.

Scene of flyover collapse

Volunteers initially used bare hands to try to reach people trapped under the rubble

The cause of the disaster was not immediately clear, but safety issues such as lack of inspections and the use of substandard materials have plagued construction projects in India.

The company in charge of the construction, IVRCL, said it would co-operate with investigators. However one of its senior officials said in a news conference that the collapse had been "an act of god" as the company had a good safety record.

India's collapsing building problem

The flyover was in one of Kolkata's most densely populated neighbourhoods, with narrow lanes, and shops and houses built close together, making it difficult to get heavy equipment to the scene.

The BBC's Rahul Tandon in Kolkata described chaotic scenes on Thursday night, with officials trying to clear the area in case the structure collapsed further.

CCTV footage posted on social media appears to show the moment a 100-metre section of the structure collapses, hitting passers-by, auto rickshaws and nearby buildings.

Witnesses said other cars, buses and lorries were also hit. People are said to have been living in makeshift homes under the flyover.

Emergency teams are using sniffer dogs, concrete cutters, drilling machines and sensors to detect life, a rescue official told AFP news agency.

A spokesman for the National Disaster Management Authority (NDRF), Anurag Gupta, told AFP that soldiers and NDRF personnel were at the scene alongside hundreds of police and local officials.

The chief minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, has said the authorities will take "stringent action" against those responsible for the disaster.


A recurring tragedy

Collapsed building in Chennai in June 2014

  • August 2015: At least 11 people die after a building collapses near India's western city of Mumbai
  • July 2015: Five killed after a four-storey building collapses in Delhi
  • April 2013: 74 people die after a high-rise residential building in Mumbai collapses
  • June 2014: At least 10 people killed when a three-storey building in Delhi collapses
  • June 2014: At least 60 people killed when a building collapses in a Chennai suburb
  • November 2010: 69 killed and more than 80 injured in a collapse in Delhi
  • September 2009: Chimney of a power plant in Chhattisgarh caves in, killing 40 people

Other building collapses in India

Source: bbc.com

Read more
01/Apr/2016

Hull set for City of Culture mass nude photograph

Hull has been chosen as the latest place to stage a mass nude gathering, all in the name of art.

Internationally-renowned photographer Spencer Tunick is to create a new work there to celebrate its year as UK City of Culture.

The gathering is to be photographed in the East Yorkshire port on 9 July, with the resulting work unveiled in 2017.

Organisers hope hundreds of people will strip to become part of the work, entitled Sea Of Hull.

Participants are to be covered in cosmetic body make-up, before assembling to form the multiple colours of the sea and create abstract shapes for the camera.

New York-based Tunick has created more than 90 similar human installations worldwide, including at the Sydney Opera House, Place des Arts in Montreal, Mexico City and Munich in Germany.

His work in the UK has used places including Gateshead and Folkestone as backdrops.

The photographer at work in Mexico City

Tunick hopes people will help create "a sea of humanity flooding the urban landscape".

"I'm very interested in the history of the city and its place as a seafaring centre and its relationship to a rich maritime past," Tunick said of Hull.

"It intrigues me that in some places where there are major streets or parks today, previously there was water."

He said he hoped he would create "a sea of humanity flooding the urban landscape" and the body paint would help many people to overcome their inhibitions to posing naked.

Kirsten Simister, of Hull's Ferens Art Gallery, said: "It's an opportunity to involve people directly in an amazing live performance that will temporarily transform the city."

Gateshead

Tunick's UK work has included photographing mass events in Gateshead and Folkestone

The artist is to also create a second installation on 10 July inviting a select group of participants to take part in another event in North Lincolnshire.

Anyone over 18 can take part.

Source: bbc.com

 

 

 

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31/Mar/2016

US to increase military presence in eastern Europe

The US is boosting its troop presence in eastern Europe in response to an "aggressive Russia", the military says.

An extra armoured brigade is being deployed, meaning a total of three will be there on a continuous basis.

The BBC's diplomatic correspondent says it is the most significant US reinforcement of Nato since tensions flared over Russian action in Ukraine.

Last month the Pentagon announced plans to quadruple its budget for European defence in 2017.

The additional presence will increase US ability to conduct military exercises in the region.

The plan demonstrates "our strong and balanced approach to reassuring our Nato allies and partners in the wake of an aggressive Russia in eastern Europe and elsewhere", said Gen Philip Breedlove, the senior US commander in Europe.

"Our allies and partners will see more capability. They will see a more frequent presence of an armoured brigade with more modernised equipment in their countries," he added.

'Division's worth of stuff'

Each brigade will rotate through the region for nine months before being replaced.

There are about 4,200 soldiers in a brigade, bringing with them military vehicles and other equipment.

"There will be a division's worth of stuff to fight if something happens," Deputy Secretary of Defence Robert Work told the Wall Street Journal.

Relations between Russia and the West have plummeted since Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in March 2014.

The intervention sparked fears that Russia was considering other incursions into neighbouring countries.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told Reuters on Wednesday the situation in Ukraine had "gone backwards over the last few months, with more and more violations of the ceasefire".

Russia has accused Nato of using the situation in Ukraine as an excuse to move closer to Russian borders.

"Stories are being spread that Russia will send its tanks into the Baltic states, into Sofia or into Budapest. No-one intends to do that," Russia's Deputy Defence Minister Anatoly Antonov told German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

Some analysts suggested the US military could be planning for the post-Obama era.

The frontrunner to be the Republican nominee for the presidential election, Donald Trump, has strongly attacked the economic cost of US foreign policy.

US military presence in Europe

EUCOM - the US European Command - aims to support "enduring stability and peace" on the continent

62,000

US service personnel are permanently based in Europe

  • 25,000 of these are army soldiers

  • 4,200 more under new plan

  • 21 US bases across Europe

Read more
31/Mar/2016

'Drastic' Antarctic melt could double global sea-level rise

Global sea levels could rise by more than double the current best estimate, according to a new analysis of climate change in Antarctica.

The modelling assessment says that Antarctic melting alone could contribute more than a metre to sea level by the end of this century.

By 2500, according to the study, the same source could cause levels across the world to rise by 13m.

The authors say that rapid cuts in carbon emissions could limit this risk.

Competing ideas

In 2013, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted that, without any restrictions on carbon emissions, the seas around the world likely rise by up to 98cm by 2100.

However, the IPCC estimates contained a minimum contribution from Antarctica.

Other analyses since then have projected bigger increases, with a recent study suggesting that the oceans were rising faster than at any time in the past 2,800 years and by 2100 they could be up to 1.31m higher.

The exact level of Antarctica's impact on these projections has been vigorously debated. Late last year, a research paper suggested that projections of a contribution of a metre or more were not plausible.

But this new study argues that by 2100 the world could see 1.14m of sea-level rise from Antarctica alone.

Additions to the model

The scientists say that their model is able to provide a more accurate prediction because it incorporates the impacts of some physical processes for the first time.

While other models have focussed on the impact of warmer waters melting the ice shelves from below, this new study also includes the effect of surface melt-water and rain trickling down from above and fracturing supporting ice, hastening its slide to the sea.

The model also calculates the impact of the disintegration of floating ice shelves. If this happens, it will reveal walls of ice so tall that they cannot support their own weight.

The scientists involved expect that these extra factors will kick in over the coming decades, as warming from the atmosphere (not just from warmer waters below) becomes the dominant driver of ice loss.

ice melt

The collapse of ice cliffs could be a significant factor in the new projection

"One reason that other models didn't include the atmospheric warming is because it hasn't started to happen just yet," said co-author Dr David Pollard from Penn State University, US.

"In Antarctica, around the edges at sea level, it's just beginning to get up to the melt point in summer.

"With that warming, the flanks of Antarctica will start to melt drastically in about 50 to 100 years - and then it will start to kick in according to our model."

The authors believe that they have demonstrated the accuracy of the new model by correctly replicating sea-level rise in warm periods, millions of years into the past.

"Recently, we looked at the long-standing problem posed by geological evidence that suggests sea level rose dramatically in the past, possibly up to 10 to 20 metres around 3 million years ago, in the Pliocene," said Dr Pollard.

"Existing models couldn't simulate enough ice-sheet melting to explain that."

'Right questions'

If the world continues to emit "business as usual" levels of carbon dioxide over the coming decades, the scientists argue that sea-level rise will be double what has already been estimated for the coming 100 years.

"If these processes do kick in and they end up being as important as we think that they could be, then they really do have a big impact," said Prof Robert DeConto from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

"West Antarctica is responding very soon in these simulations and that ends up having a big impact on North America in particular."

Other researchers have praised the development of the new model for including impacts such as surface melt water and ice-cliff collapse, but they are uncertain about the conclusions.

"I have no doubt that on a century to millennia timescale, warming will make these processes significant in Antarctica, as well as Greenland, and drive a very significant Antarctic contribution to sea-level rise," commented Prof David Vaughan of the British Antarctic Survey.

"The big question for me is, how soon could this all begin, and could it be early enough to drive substantially higher sea levels by 2100? I'm not sure, but these guys are definitely asking the right questions."

The authors believe that there is "good news" in their report. If global emissions of carbon are curtailed significantly then the extra factors that substantially boost Antarctic melting will be avoided.

Seas will continue to rise, but not at the runaway rates suggested by this paper, which has been published in the journal Nature.

Source: bbc.com

 

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31/Mar/2016

Governor of Georgia vetoes 'religious freedom' bill

The governor of the US state of Georgia has vetoed a "religious freedom" bill after facing pressure from business interests.

The bill would have allowed faith-based organisations to refuse service to gay and transgender people.

Disney, the National Football League, Coca-Cola and others threatened to pull business out of the state.

The veto comes as other US states enacted similar laws that limit gay rights.

"I believe it is a matter of character for our state," Governor Nathan Deal said.

"I do not think that we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia."

Protesters hold up signs as the dome of the Capitol stands in the background during a rally against a contentious

Republicans lawmakers said the bill would protect religious people who believe serving gay and transgender people violates their beliefs.

The bill also would have protected clergy not wishing to perform gay marriages, and people who would not attend weddings based on religious beliefs.

If passed, opponents said it would have legalised discrimination and flattened ordinances passed to protect gay and transgender people.

Mr Deal said his decision was "about the character of our state and the character of our people. Georgia is a welcoming state; it is full of loving, kind and generous people."

Disney said it would not shoot films in Georgia if the bill became law.

"Disney and Marvel are inclusive companies, and although we have had great experiences filming in Georgia, we will plan to take our business elsewhere should any legislation allowing discriminatory practices be signed into state law," a Disney spokesman told Variety last week.

Warner Bros and cable network AMC released a similar statement last week. AMC produces the hit show The Walking Dead, which is filmed in the state.

Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank denounced the bill, and the National Football League said passing the bill would have hurt Atlanta's chances of hosting the Super Bowl.

"The message to Governor Nathan Deal was loud and clear: this deplorable legislation was bad for his constituents, bad for business and bad for Georgia's future," said Chad Griffin, president the Human Rights Campaign, a leading gay rights group. "Discrimination and intolerance have no place in the 21st century,"

Republican State Senator Josh McKoon said he was "disappointed" and thought Mr Deal was someone "the faith community could rely on".

After the US Supreme Court legalised same-sex marriage last year, many conservative states drew up laws in an attempt to protect the religious community.

Last week, North Carolina's legislature passed a sweeping bill that bars its cities and counties from having their own anti-discrimination rules.

Legislators pushed for the bill after Charlotte passed an ordinance allowing transgender people to use restrooms according to gender identity.

Lawmakers in several other US states have proposed similar legislation - sometimes referred to as "bathroom bills".

The North Carolina law has also drawn criticism from the business community with Charlotte-based Bank of America, Apple and other large companies expressing concern about the law.

On Monday, a federal lawsuit was filed against the governor of North Carolina over the new law.

Two transgender men along with the two civil rights groups filed the lawsuit, asking a judge to declare the law unconstitutional.

Source: bbc.com

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28/Mar/2016

UAE fire: Huge blaze hits Ajman residential tower

A large fire has hit a residential tower in the United Arab Emirates, police say, in the third such incident in a little more than a year.

The fire struck the tower in the emirate of Ajman, north of Dubai, the region's police said on Twitter.

Reports in the UAE say there were no casualties, and that everyone was evacuated from the tower in al-Sawan.

On New Year's Eve, a large fire engulfed the luxury 63-storey Address Hotel in central Dubai.

The latest fire struck late on Monday in the Ajman One complex, a development of 12 towers with some 3,000 apartments.

Videos posted by Ajman Police on Twitter show flames engulfing most of one side of the tower, reaching several storeys high.

An earlier video shows a large amount of burning debris falling to the ground. The UAE Minister of Interior, Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, visited the scene.

The 2.7bn dirham (£515m; $735m) project had been due to open in 2009, but was completed years later.

In the New Year's Eve hotel blaze, which burned for more than 20 hours, police say 16 people were injured. Planned fireworks at the nearby Burj Khalifa went ahead despite the fire breaking out shortly before.

Police said cladding used on the outside of the building did not meet safety standards.

The blaze was caused by a short circuit in a spotlight, investigators said.

In February 2015, a large fire badly damaged the Torch skyscraper in Dubai, one of the tallest residential towers in the world.

Source: bbc.com

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28/Mar/2016

Brussels attacks: Belgium releases terror murder suspect

A man known as Faycal C, the only person arrested and charged with involvement in the Brussels attacks, has been released for lack of evidence.

Belgian media said the man had been suspected of being the mystery third man in CCTV footage of the bombers.

But a judge found there was no evidence to justify holding him, the prosecutor's office said.

Last Tuesday's attacks on the airport and the city's metro system killed 35 people and injured more than 300.

The attacks were claimed by the Islamic State (IS) militant group.

Of the 35 victims, seven have still to be identified, the country's crisis centre said on Monday (in French).

At least 12 of the victims are foreign nationals from the US, the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, France, the UK, Italy and China, it said earlier.

The death toll does not include three attackers, two of whom blew themselves up at the airport and one in the metro.

EU institutions based in Brussels will reopen on Tuesday, following the Easter break, "with important additional security measures in place", European Commission Vice-President Kristalina Georgieva said in a tweet.


Belgium terror arrests

A man referred to officially as Facyal C was released on 28 March after being arrested on 24 March in Brussels and charged with "participation in the activities of a terrorist group, terrorist murders and attempted terrorist murders".

Others detained on suspicion of terrorist activity include

  • Salah Abdeslam - arrested on 18 March in the Molenbeek district of Brussels. Key suspect in the Paris attacks last November. Charged with "terrorist murder"
  • 'Amine Choukri' - arrested on 18 March with Abdeslam, real name not yet known. Also used the alias Monir Ahmed Alaaj. Documented by German police near Ulm in a car with Abdeslam last October. Charged with "terrorist murder" over the Paris attacks
  • Rabah N - arrested on 25 March and charged with participating in terrorist activities in relation to a foiled plot to attack Paris
  • Abderamane A - shot in the leg and arrested on 25 March at a tram stop in the Schaerbeek area of Brussels. Charged in relation to the foiled plot to attack Paris. Jailed for seven years in France in 2005 and banned from entering France for life aiding in the assassination of Afghan commander Ahmed Shah Massoud in 2001.
  • Aboubakar A - arrested on 24 March in a car in Brussels, charged with participating in terrorist activities
  • Yassine A, Mohamed B and Aboubaker O - arrested during raids on 27 March and charged with belonging to a terrorist group

'Not substantiated'

In a statement, the Belgian federal prosecutor's office said: "The clues that led to the arrest of Faycal C were not substantiated by the ongoing inquiry.

"As a result, the subject has been released by the examining magistrate."

He had been charged only two days before with "taking part in a terrorist group, terrorist murder and attempted terrorist murder".

Belgian media say the charges remain, even though he has been released.

Belgian public TV and Le Soir daily identified the freed man as Faycal Cheffou, a freelance journalist.

Airport worker Geoffroy Lemaitre, who was injured in the bombing, talks to fellow airport workers prior to the start of an ecumenical service for the victims of the Brussels bomb attacks at the Cathedral of St Michael and St Gudula in Brussels, 28 March

An injured airport worker caries a single candle as she walks in the procession during an ecumenical service for the victims of the Brussels bomb attacks at the Cathedral of St Michael and St Gudula in Brussels, 28 March

Injured airport workers attended a religious service in Brussels on Monday. The service was held at the Cathedral of St Michael and St Gudula

CCTV footage released by Belgian police on Monday shows the two airport bombers alongside a third man, who is wearing light-coloured clothing and a dark hat. Each is pushing a loaded luggage trolley.

Twin blasts struck the main terminal of Zaventem Airport, in the north-east of the city. A third, even bigger, bomb was abandoned, prosecutors said at the time. It exploded after the security forces had secured the scene and nobody was hurt, they added.

The man in the hat is believed to have fled the scene.

Tuesday's other attack targeted the Maelbeek metro station in the city centre, close to several EU institutions.

Brussels was the second large-scale attack on an EU capital city claimed by IS, after gunmen and bombers killed 130 people in Paris on 13 November.

IS, an extreme Sunni Muslim group known for its ruthless tactics, has seized large tracts of territory in Syria and Iraq in recent years, attracting hundreds of young Europeans to its ranks, many of them Belgians.

Source: bbc.com

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28/Mar/2016

US Capitol shooting: Police shoot armed man at visitor centre

Police shot an armed man as he tried to enter the US Capitol building's visitor centre in Washington, officials said.

A female bystander suffered minor injuries when police fired at the suspect.

Officials said the suspect was known to Capitol police and ABC News reported that the man had disrupted a House session last year.

The massive complex was placed on lockdown, but the security precaution has since been lifted.

US media identified the suspect as 66-year-old Larry Dawson of Tennessee.

In October, he was arrested for interrupting a Congressional session, yelling "prophet of god".

Washington's city police called the shooting an "isolated" incident, saying there is "no active threat" to the public.

Officials originally said a police officer had been hurt, but Capitol Police Chief Matthew Verderosa said no officers were shot.

"There is no reason to believe this is anything more than a criminal act," Mr Verderosa said.

He said the suspect's vehicle was found on Capitol grounds and the weapon was recovered.

The gunman was undergoing surgery at a hospital and his condition was unknown, Mr Verderosa said.

US Congress is on recess for the Easter holiday, but some members of Congress and staff members were on site.

To enter the US Capitol or any Senate or House office buildings, visitors must go through a metal detector and weapons are not permitted.

Mr Verderosa said the suspect pulled out his gun just before being screened by those metal detectors.

Diane Bilo, a woman from Ohio, told the Washington Post her husband heard the shot.

"My husband said he heard a shot followed by a full clip," she said. Multiple members of Congress have posted to social media, reporting that their staff were safe.

In 1998, an attacker shot and killed two police officers at the Capitol. The visitor centre was built as a way to strengthen security after the shooting.

Many tourists are in Washington for the annual Cherry Blossom festival - about 1.5 million people visit the city during the four weeks of the festival.

The White House was also put on lockdown temporarily due to a separate incident.

Source: bbc.com

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28/Mar/2016

FBI-Apple case: Investigators break into dead San Bernardino gunman's iPhone

The FBI has managed to unlock the iPhone of the San Bernardino gunman without Apple's help, ending a court case, the US justice department says.

Apple had been resisting a court order issued last month requiring the firm to write new software to allow officials to access Rizwan Farook's phone.

But officials on Monday said that it had been accessed independently and asked for the order to be withdrawn.

Rizwan Farook and his wife killed 14 people in San Bernardino in December.

They were later shot dead by police. US officials said Mr Farook's wide, Tashfeen Malik, pledged allegiance to the so-called Islamic State on social media on the day of the shooting.

Is this the Israeli firm that hacked the phone?

UN human rights chief backs Apple

Apple boss hits back at FBI conduct

Last week, prosecutors said "an outside party" had demonstrated a possible way of unlocking the iPhone without the need to seek Apple's help.

A court hearing with Apple was postponed at the request of the justice department, while it investigated new ways of accessing the phone.

At the time, Apple said it did not know how to gain access, and said it hoped that the government would share with them any vulnerabilities of the iPhone that might come to light.

On Monday a statement by Eileen Decker, the top federal prosecutor in California, said investigators had received the help of "a third party", but did not specify who that was.

Investigators had "a solemn commitment to the victims of the San Bernardino shooting", she said.

"It remains a priority for the government to ensure that law enforcement can obtain crucial digital information to protect national security and public safety, either with co-operation from relevant parties, or through the court system when cooperation fails," the statement added.

Analysis: Dave Lee, BBC North America technology reporter

A court case that had the US technology industry united against the FBI has, for the time being, gone away.

Now this debate moves into more uncertain times. The US government has knowledge of a security vulnerability that in theory weakens Apple devices around the world.

To protect its reputation, Apple will rush to find and fix that flaw. Assuming it can do that, this row is back to square one.

Read more from Dave

An Israeli newspaper last week reported that data forensics experts at cybersecurity firm Cellebrite, which has its headquarters in Israel, are involved in the case.

Cellebrite told the BBC that it works with the FBI but would not say more.

Its website, however, states that one of its tools can extract and decode data from the iPhone 5C, the model in question, among other locked handsets.

The court order had led to a vigorous debate over privacy, with Apple saying allowing officials access to users' data would set a "dangerous precedent".

The company received support from other tech giants including Google, Microsoft, and Facebook.

And earlier this month, Zeid Raad al-Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights, warned enforcing the order risked opening a "Pandora's box".

FBI director James Comey said it was the "hardest question" he had tackled in his job.

However, he said, law enforcement saved lives, rescued children and prevented terror attacks using search warrants that gave it access to information on mobile phones.

Source: bbc.com

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28/Mar/2016

Top US Navy officer jailed over massive bribery scandal

A high-ranking US Navy captain has been sentenced to nearly four years in jail for passing classified information to a Malaysian defence contractor.

Daniel Dusek provided the information in exchange for luxury hotel stays and the services of prostitutes.

Dusek was also ordered to pay a $70,000 (£50,000) fine and $30,000 in restitution to the navy.

He is the highest-ranking officer to be charged in one of the US military's worst bribery scandals.

Sentencing Dusek in San Diego, California to 46 months in prison, Judge Janis Sammartino said: "It is truly unimaginable to the court that someone in your position with the United States Navy would sell out based on what was provided to you - hotel rooms, entertainment and the services of prostitutes."

Dusek, 49, who pleaded guilty in January 2015 to conspiracy to commit bribery, told the court he would never forgive himself for his actions.

The former captain was among several current and former naval officers charged in the scandal that involved tens of millions of dollars in bribes. At one point, Dusek served as deputy director of operations for the US 7th Fleet.

The man at the centre of the scandal, contractor Leonard Francis, plead guilty in the case last year, admitting that his Singapore-based port services company, Glenn Defence Marine Asia (GDMA), plied Dusek and others with meals, alcohol, luxury hotel stays and other gifts to ensure US Navy ships stopped at ports where GDMA operated.

In one instance, Dusek arranged for an aircraft carrier - the USS Abraham Lincoln - to stop at Port Klang, Malaysia, a port terminal owned by Francis. The 2010 port visit cost the United States about $1.6 million, officials said.

"Captain Dusek's betrayal is the most distressing because the navy placed so much trust, power and authority in his hands," said US Attorney Laura Duffy.

"This is a fitting sentence for a man who was so valuable that his conspirators labelled him their 'golden asset'," she added.

Source: bbc.com

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25/Mar/2016

Brussels attacks: Belgian police arrest six suspects

Belgian police have arrested six people in Brussels as a major investigation continues into attacks that claimed 31 lives in the city on Tuesday.

The arrests were made in the Schaerbeek district. There is no word yet on the identities of the suspects or their possible connection to the attacks.

Separately, in France, a suspect who was plotting an attack has been arrested near Paris, officials said.

The Brussels bombings have been linked to last November's Paris attacks.

So-called Islamic State (IS) has claimed the attacks in both Paris and Brussels.


More about the attacks

Why have jihadists targeted Belgium?

Why Brussels warning signs were missed

From Paris to Brussels: Why the attacks are linked

What we know so far

Victims and survivors


The arrests in Schaerbeek were made late on Thursday, and followed house-to-house searches in the area.

Also on Thursday evening, French police launched an anti-terror operation in Argenteuil, north-west of Paris, following the arrest hours earlier of a man suspected of planning an attack.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said the suspected militant, of French origin, was in an "advanced stage" of a plot, adding that no connection had been made to either the Brussels or the Paris attacks.

Last November, 130 people died after militants opened fire and detonated bombs in a number of locations in the French capital.

Earlier on Thursday, Belgium admitted that it had made "errors" relating to one of the Brussels attackers.

Turkey has said it arrested and deported Brahim el-Bakraoui last June, warning Belgium he was a "foreign fighter" - but was "ignored". The Dutch authorities had also been alerted, Ankara said.

The Belgian interior and justice ministers said they had offered to resign over this but added that the prime minister refused to let them.

Brahim el-Bakraoui is one of three men - pictured in the middle on a CCTV image of them - who carried out the bombings at Zaventem airport that killed 11 people.

Turkey police photo of Brahim el-Bakraoui taken in July 2015

Brahim el-Bakraoui was arrested in Gaziantep on the Turkey-Syria border

Unconfirmed reports say another of the Brussels airport attackers was the wanted jihadist Najim Laachraoui, whose DNA was found on explosives linked to the attacks in Paris.

The third suspected airport attacker has not yet been identified and is on the run.

Bakraoui's brother, Khalid, struck at Maelbeek metro station, where 20 people died.

There are reports of a second suspect being sought for that attack. One source told AFP news agency that a man with a large bag had been seen beside Khalid el-Bakraoui on surveillance footage at the metro station.

Meanwhile, VRT reported that investigators were working on the assumption that the cell had been planning a far bigger attack, involving Paris-style shootings as well as suicide bombings.

Links have also emerged with Salah Abdeslam, a suspect in the Paris attacks.

Abdeslam was arrested and wounded in a police raid on a flat in the Forest area of Brussels last Friday - four days before the attacks in the Belgian capital.

Investigators say Khalid el-Bakraoui used a false name to rent the same flat.

On Thursday, Abdeslam's lawyer said he had changed his mind and would not fight extradition from Belgium to France.

Abdeslam, a 26-year-old French national born in Belgium, did not have prior knowledge of the Brussels bombings and had stopped co-operating with police following the attacks, his lawyer Sven Mary said.

A court hearing on Thursday on the detention of Abdeslam and two other suspects has been postponed until 7 April.

The director of the EU's police agency, Europol, has told the BBC the network of jihadists in Europe is "more extensive than perhaps we first feared".

Robert Wainwright said there were concerns about "a community of 5,000 suspects that have been radicalised in Europe, that have travelled to Syria and Iraq for conflict experience, some of whom - not all - have since come back to Europe".

Connections between Paris and Brussels attacks

Source: bbc.com

 

Read more
24/Mar/2016

North Carolina revokes transgender and gay protections

The US state of North Carolina has enacted a law that bars its cities and counties from having their own anti-discrimination rules.

Legislators pushed for the bill after Charlotte passed an ordinance allowing transgender people to use restrooms according to gender identity.

A Republican-controlled General Assembly voted on Wednesday to invalidate the ordinance.

The governor, who signed the bill, called it a matter of "basic privacy".

Governor Patrick McCrory said in a release that "the basic expectation of privacy in the most personal of settings" was violated by "government overreach and intrusion" by Charlotte's city council.

Lawmakers several other US states have proposed similar legislation - sometimes referred to as "bathroom bills".

A Houston anti-discrimination ordinance that offered protections for gay and transgender people was overturned by voters in November.

Democrats in North Carolina's Senate walked off their chamber floor in protest as the bill was being debated. It later passed 82-26.

Republican leaders booked the one-day session for $42,000 (£30,000) because the ordinance was set to take place on 1 April.

Local governments cannot prohibit discrimination in public places based on gender identity and sexual preference under the new law.

"We choose not to participate in this farce," said Dan Blue, a Democratic state senator.

Transgender people in North Carolina must use restrooms that match the gender listed on their on their birth certificate

Transgender people in North Carolina must use restrooms that match the gender listed on their on their birth certificate

North Carolina Republicans said they felt it was necessary to intervene to protect women and children from Charlotte's "radical" action, arguing that men could enter women's restrooms by calling themselves transgender.

"It's common sense, biological men should not be in women's showers, locker rooms and bathrooms,'' said Republican representative Dean Arp.

Gay rights advocates said the law places a stigma on the transgender community and spreads dubious claims about increased risk of sexual assault. The law will deny the LGBT community basic protections, the groups said.

"McCrory's reckless decision to sign this appalling legislation into law is a direct attack on the rights, well-being and dignity of hundreds of thousands of LGBT North Carolinians and visitors to the state,'' Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said in a statement. "Civil liberties groups pledged to push for repeal and were weighing legal options."

The law requires public schools, government agencies and college campuses bathrooms and locker rooms marked by gender. Transgender people in North Carolina now must use restrooms that match the gender listed on their on their birth certificate .

Source: bbc.com

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24/Mar/2016

Ghana's US Embassy To Issue Travel Certificates Instead of Visas

The Ghana Embassy in the United States has directed individuals wishing to travel to the West African country to apply for Travel Certificates instead of Visas as they work to resolve the passport-printing crisis that has bedeviled the outfit.

The embassy has been unable to print passports for a long while causing massive discomfort to Ghanaians and other travelers seeking to come to the oil producing country. Starr News sources say most travelers, especially Ghanaians seeking to go home for the Easter festivities have been left stranded.

The embassy has not yet disclosed the reasons for the failure to print passports.

However in a notice posted at its premises, the embassy said it is working round the clock to fix the challenge which has existed since last year.

Below are details of the notice


The embassy of Ghana hereby informs that due to technical challenges the issuance of Ghana passport is temporary on hold.

Whiles we work tirelessly to resolve this challenge, the embassy takes this opportunity to express our sincere apologies for the inconvenience.

You may have to apply for travel certificate in writing. Now this comes with its own issues.

1.Not all airlines accept travel certificates
2.You can only use it for a one way trip to Ghana only
3.You will have to make your own arrangement to get a passport once you get to Ghana
4.The fee for travel certificate is $50

Source: starr FM

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23/Mar/2016

MH370 search: Mozambique debris 'almost certainly' from missing plane

Australia's transport minister says two plane parts found in Mozambique "almost certainly" came from missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370.

The two pieces of debris were found separately by members of the public and were flown to Australia for analysis.

Darren Chester said the finds were "consistent with drift modelling" of how debris from the missing plane may have been carried by ocean currents.

MH370 vanished in March 2014 with 239 people on board.

It was flying from the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur to Beijing and is widely believed to have gone down in the Indian Ocean after veering off course.

The fate of the plane, its passengers and crew remains one of aviation's biggest unsolved mysteries.

The only confirmed piece of debris found so far has been a section of wing called a flaperon, which was found on the Indian Ocean island of Reunion.

'Search continues'

One of the parts retrieved in Mozambique was found on a sandbank by an amateur US investigator in late February and the other in December by a South African tourist.

Plane part found in Mozambique in February

Mr Chester said the investigation team had finished examining the debris and found both were "consistent with panels from a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 aircraft".

"The analysis has concluded the debris is almost certainly from MH370," he said in a statement.

He said it showed that the vast deep-sea search for the plane in the southern Indian Ocean, being led by Australia, was focusing on the right place.

Map

The search, also involving experts from China and Malaysia, is scanning the sea floor, much of it previously unmapped, in the hope of locating the wreckage.

Mr Chester said it would continue for now, with 25,000 sq km (10,000 sq miles) of ocean still be to searched.

"We are focused on completing this task and remain hopeful the aircraft will be found."

But the three countries have said that barring significant new evidence, they will end the operation once the area has been fully searched. The search is expected to be completed in the coming months.

Map showing the last-known movements of flight MH370

Source: bbc.com

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23/Mar/2016

Moon used to spin 'on different axis'

The Moon used to spin on a different axis and show a slightly different face to the Earth, a new study suggests.

Using data collected by Nasa's Lunar Prospector mission in the late 1990s, scientists spotted two hydrogen-rich regions near the Moon's poles, probably indicating the presence of water ice.

The icy patches are opposite each other - the line between them passes through the middle of the Moon - so it appears that this used to be its spin axis.

The work appears in the journal Nature.

It describes a gradual wobble, or "true polar wander", adding up to about a six-degree shift altogether.

A likely explanation for this shift, which the researchers suggest took place over several billion years, is volcanic activity in a region called the Procellarum.

This swathe of territory includes most of the Moon's dark patches that are visible from the Earth. Volcanoes and associated geological activity would have made it warmer and lighter than the rest of the Moon.

According to Matt Siegler, from the Planetary Science Institute in Arizona, and his colleagues, that drop in density produced enough wobble to explain the two "palaeopoles" they detected in the Lunar Prospector data.

"The Procellarum region was most geologically active early in lunar history, which implies that polar wander initiated billions of years ago," they write.

illustration of the location of the ancient poles

The presumed icy patches are opposite each other, nearby the present lunar poles

Dr Siegler and his colleagues discovered the hydrogen-rich patches in data from the Lunar Prospector's neutron spectrometer: measuring the neutrons bounced off the Moon's surface by incoming cosmic rays.

That hydrogen signal is taken to indicate the presence of water ice, which can - and does - exist in permanently shaded craters at the Moon's poles.

Precisely why it has persisted in these regions, which have now drifted away from the poles and into sunlight, is a mystery.

The researchers suggest it may have been buried by asteroid impacts, but this will require further investigation.

Previous studies have suggested that the Moon may have wobbled around to an even greater extent - perhaps as much as 35 degrees.

The lead author of one of those earlier papers, Ian Garrick-Bethell from the University of California Santa Cruz, wrote in a comment piece for Nature: "A key goal will be to reconcile these many stories of the changing orientation of the Moon, and to determine what density changes drove it to wander."

Source: bbc.com

 

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23/Mar/2016

Brussels attacks: Scores remain critical after bombings

Scores of people remain in intensive care following suicide Tuesday's bomb attacks in Brussels that left 31 people dead, Belgium's health minister says.

Maggie de Block said that of about 300 wounded people, 61 were still in a critical condition, and suggested that the death toll could rise further.

Earlier, prosecutors confirmed they had identified two of the four attackers as brothers Khalid and Brahim el-Bakraoui.

Two other attackers have yet to be named. One died, another is on the run.

Brahim el-Bakraoui blew himself up in the attack at Zaventem airport that killed 11 people while Khalid struck at Maelbeek metro, where 20 people died, prosecutors said.

Unconfirmed reports say another of the attackers was the wanted jihadist Najim Laachraoui, who is thought to have links with last year's attacks in Paris.

So-called Islamic State (IS) has said it was behind the attacks.

EU interior and justice ministers are due to hold a crisis meeting in Brussels on Thursday to discuss their response to the bombings.


More about the attacks

What we know so far

Why was Brussels attacked?

Victims and survivors


Ms de Block said in a statement (in French) that the injured were from 40 nationalities, and 150 were still being treated in hospitals across Belgium.

Many are suffering from burns or wounds normally seen on a battlefield, such as shrapnel injuries. The death toll, the statement said, was still "provisional".

Ms de Block added that four patients were in a coma and had not yet been identified, which was delaying the process of naming victims.

Belgium's king and queen visited the airport on Wednesday and also met some of those injured in the attacks. A minute's silence was held at midday.

Federal Prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw said Brahim el-Bakraoui had been identified as the middle of three suspects caught in a CCTV image at the airport.

CCTV grab of suspects

The airport CCTV image. The man on the left has not been officially identified and is believed to have died. Brahim el-Bakraoui is in the middle and was also killed. The man on the right has not been identified and is on the run

The man on the left is believed to have died at the airport. The man on the right, wearing the hat, is thought to have fled the scene.

Mr Van Leeuw said the man in the hat had left a bag containing "the biggest bomb", which later partially exploded after police had evacuated the terminal, injuring no-one.

Reports in Belgian and French media suggest the man on the left is Najim Laachraoui, but this is not confirmed. Analysts say Laachraoui is believed to be a key bomb maker, and French media say he played a key role in the terror attacks in Paris.

Mr Van Leeuw said a taxi driver had told police he had picked up the three men from an address in the Schaerbeek area of Brussels.

The apartment was raided later on Tuesday and bomb-making materials, including 15kg (33lb) of high explosive, were found.

A note from Brahim el-Bakraoui was found in a nearby rubbish bin. In it, he wrote: "I'm in a hurry (...) they're looking for me everywhere. I'm not safe any more. If I give myself up they'll put me in a cell."

Mr Van Leeuw said the brothers, who were Belgian nationals, were known to police and had criminal records. They were identified by DNA records.

Broadcaster RTBF quoted a police source saying that Khalid el-Bakraoui had used a false name to rent a flat in the Forest area of Brussels where police killed a gunman in a shootout last week.

It was during that raid that detectives found a fingerprint of Salah Abdeslam, the main suspect in the Paris terror attacks of 13 November.

He was arrested in a raid in Brussels last Friday.

Turkey said on Wednesday that Brahim was detained by Turkish officials on the border with Syria in June 2015 and deported to the Netherlands.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Belgium had "ignored our warning that this person is a foreign fighter".

Belgian Justice Minister Koen Geens said he was aware that the suspect had been deported from Turkey but denied that he had been flagged as a possible terrorist.

Belgium has raised its terrorism alert to the highest level, and its international airport will remain closed on Thursday.

Map of Brussels attacks

Source: bbc.com

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23/Mar/2016

Brussels explosions: Why has Belgium's capital been attacked?

These are the darkest days Belgium has known since World War Two, according to one Belgian politician.

The attacks, claimed by jihadist group Islamic State (IS), murdered people at Brussels international airport and in a metro train in the heart of the Belgian capital.

And the targets were among the most sensitive in Europe. Brussels is home to the EU, Nato, international agencies and companies, as well as Belgium's own government.


Why has Brussels been attacked?

Not only is Brussels a high-profile target for Islamists, Belgium has struggled with Islamist groups for years and hundreds of its citizens have been lured into fighting for IS in Syria and Iraq.

Several cities have housed Islamist cells, but the most active have been in Brussels and in the south-western suburb of Molenbeek in particular - an area with a high ethnic Moroccan population.

Several of the bombers and gunmen who targeted Paris last November, killing 130 people, had been living in Molenbeek. The main suspect not to die in the Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, returned to Belgium the day afterwards and managed to evade police until 18 March. He and an accomplice were captured alive, again in Molenbeek.

Many Belgians were expecting a response from jihadists. "I had certainly expected something else would take place, but not that it would happen on this scale," says Belgian jihadism expert Pieter Van Ostaeyen.

More about the attacks


Pre-planned attacks or revenge?

So were Tuesday's bombings retaliation for last Friday's success in capturing two Islamists alive? The arrests were clearly a blow to IS and Belgian jihadists.

Abdeslam has been described as the logistics expert in the Paris attacks. He rented flats, drove militants across Europe and bought bomb-making equipment. Days before his arrest, an accomplice who had been hiding with him, Mohamed Belkaid, was shot dead by police. He had been wrapped in an IS flag.

"What seems likely is that attacks were already being planned and due to specific arrests they were accelerated because the terrorists knew they were being hunted," says Prof Dave Sinardet of Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Free University Brussels).

In fact Brussels had already tried to guard against multiple attacks following an apparent threat 10 days after the Paris attacks. For several days the city went into lockdown, much as it did on Tuesday, with public transport at a standstill and people told to avoid travelling around.


Did Belgium's security forces fail?

Heavily armed men were able to enter the airport at Zaventem, open fire and blow themselves up. An hour or so later another man was able to enter a metro train a stone's throw from the headquarters of the EU and blow himself up.

Security forces had a dry run in November, the terror threat was at its second highest and soldiers were already deployed on the streets of several cities.

A beleaguered police force has clearly buckled under the weight of an almost non-stop Islamist threat. And yet it suffers from institutional problems too.

Brussels is a relatively small European capital, and yet it still has six police zones. Its CCTV system is far less developed than London or Paris.

"It's clear there are inefficiencies in the level of security services. For years we haven't put enough energy into issues of security and terrorist threats," says Prof Sinardet. However, he argues this kind of terrorist attack is very difficult to avert, as witnessed in Madrid, London and Paris.


Are further attacks likely?

For Belgians, this is the most awkward question. Several suspects are still urgently being sought by police.

One of the suspected airport attackers (the man in the hat on the right of the picture) was on the run on Tuesday and police were already actively hunting two other suspects after the Paris attacks who were both accomplices of Salah Abdeslam.

One of the missing Paris suspects is Najim Laachraoui, whose fingerprints were found in the Brussels flat where Paris bombs were made, and the other is Mohamed Abrini, another Belgian Islamist.

After the Paris attacks, US counter-terrorism expert Clint Watts wrote of the "iceberg theory of terror plots": for every attacker, there were usually several others helping to facilitate the plot, but what one saw was just the tip of the iceberg.

Mr Watts believes that the Brussels bombings are the fallout from the Paris attacks. What is not clear is whether those still on the run plan further bloodshed.

Source: bbc.com

Read more
22/Mar/2016

Brussels attacks: Zaventem and Maelbeek bombs kill many

More than 30 people are believed to have been killed and dozens injured in attacks at Brussels international airport and a city metro station.

Twin blasts hit Zaventem airport at about 07:00 GMT, with 11 people reported killed.

Another explosion struck Maelbeek metro station near EU headquarters an hour later, leaving about 20 people dead.

Brussels police have issued a wanted notice for a man seen pushing a luggage trolley through the airport.

He was pictured in CCTV footage with two other suspects who are believed to have died in the blasts.

The Islamic State (IS) group said it was behind the attacks in a statement issued on the IS-linked Amaq agency.

Belgium has raised its terrorism alert to its highest level. Three days of national mourning have been declared.

Prime Minister Charles Michel called the latest attacks "blind, violent and cowardly", adding: "This is a day of tragedy, a black day... I would like to call on everyone to show calmness and solidarity".

'The worst thing I've seen'

Two blasts tore through the departures area of Zaventem airport shortly after 08:00 local time (07:00 GMT).

A suicide bomber was "probably" involved, the Belgian prosecutor said.

Eleven people were killed and 81 wounded in the blasts, Belgian Health Minister Maggie de Block said.

"People were running over others that had fallen, I couldn't breathe. I can't believe I'm alive," 15-year-old Antoine told me as he walked with his school friends in a line of hundreds being escorted on foot and by bus to a sports hall, now a makeshift reception centre.

Three hearses passed, heading towards the ruins of the airport departure hall. People sobbed at the sight of them.

Several tourists were asking police what they should do now, where it was safe to go - and when the airport might reopen.

The police were confused too, but offered what little information they had, telling people to head to a reception centre. An officer repeatedly shouted: "Quickly, keep moving, evacuate, this is serious."


Carnage on the Metro

The metro blast occurred shortly after 08:00 GMT during the rush hour at Maelbeek station.

It struck the middle carriage of a three-carriage train while it was moving away from the platform.

Alexandre Brans told AP: "The metro was leaving Maelbeek station when there was a really loud explosion. It was panic everywhere. There were a lot of people in the metro."

Brussels Mayor Yvan Mayeur said "about 20" people had died and more than 100 had been injured, 17 of them severely.

Eyewitnesses recall explosions

In pictures: Brussels explosions

Full coverage

The station is close to EU institutions. The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, has told employees to stay indoors or at home. All meetings at EU institutions have been cancelled.

Ryan McGhee, a catering worker at a college in Brussels, told the BBC: "The entire city is in lockdown. People are calm at the moment but the atmosphere is tense."

Security raised

Local and international travel has been suspended or disrupted and security tightened across Europe.

All flights have been cancelled. The airport is due to reopen on Wednesday.

Eurostar has cancelled all trains to and from Brussels. The Thalys France-Benelux train operator says the entire network is closed.

In the UK, security has been stepped up at Gatwick and Heathrow airports. The UK Foreign Office has advised British nationals to avoid crowded areas in Belgium.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron chaired a meeting of the Cobra response committee on Tuesday.

In France the cabinet has held an emergency meeting. There is also extra security at Dutch airports.

'Outrageous' attacks

There has been strong international condemnation:

  • US President Barack Obama called the blasts "outrageous attacks against innocent people".
  • The 28 EU leaders said the bombings were an "attack on our open democratic society" in a joint statement.
  • "The terrorists have struck Belgium but it is Europe that was targeted," said French President Francois Hollande.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin called the attacks "barbaric".

Belgium's Interior Minister Jan Jambon had said on Monday that the country was on the highest level of alert for possible revenge attacks after the capture on Friday of Salah Abdeslam, the main surviving suspect from the Paris attacks in November.

Mr Jambon told Belgian radio: "We know that stopping one cell can... push others into action. We are aware of it in this case."


Gaps in intelligence: By Chris Morris, Europe correspondent

European security experts had been braced for another attack for months. But it is always a huge shock when it actually happens.

If this was "revenge" for the arrest of Salah Abdeslam on Friday, it will be a source of considerable concern that a functioning terrorist network was able to respond so quickly and with such devastating effect.

It is possible that a cell linked to Abdeslam brought forward the timing of a future attack because they thought he might blow their cover.

Either way, it shows how advanced the planning was in terms of logistics, explosives, weapons and people willing to carry out such attacks on civilian targets.

The priority now will be to ensure that anyone else who poses an imminent threat to the public is apprehended as soon as possible. But it is clear that there are still huge gaps in intelligence, and Brussels is seen as a soft target.

In the words of French President Francois Hollande, the response from Europe will need to be "calm, lucid and determined" - and it will have to last for a long time.

Source: bbc.com

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22/Mar/2016

Pianist's estranged wife charged with killing daughters in US

The estranged wife of world-renowned concert pianist Vadym Kholodenko has been charged with killing their two daughters in Texas, US officials say.

Authorities suspect Sofya Tsygankova last week killed one-year-old Michela and Nika, five, and stabbed herself at the family home near Fort Worth.

Ms Tsygankova, who is originally from Russia, now faces a mental evaluation. The charge can bring the death penalty.

Mr Kholodenko, a Ukrainian musician, is not a suspect, the officials say.

Last Thursday, Mr Kholodenko, 29, called emergency services after finding his 31-year-old estranged wife in an "extreme state of distress", as well as the bodies of his two children.

The children were found in their beds in Benbrook with no visible signs of trauma. A post-mortem examination will determine the cause of death.

Ms Tsygankova, who also performed as a concert pianist, is currently being treated at local hospital.

On Monday, Benbrook police Commander David Babcock said: "We have probable cause, reason to believe that she committed the homicides."

He added that police had collected physical evidence at the scene.

Mr Kholodenko won the prestigious Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth in 2013 and has performed with a number of major orchestras.

He married Ms Tsygankova in 2010. They moved to Fort Worth from Moscow in 2014.

The couple divorced in November, according to court records.

The children lived with their mother, but Mr Kholodenko would routinely pick up the girls from the home in the mornings, police said.

Source: bbc.com

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22/Mar/2016

Sven Mary: The 'scumbag's lawyer' acting for Salah Abdeslam

Sven Mary has earned the nickname "avocat des crapules" ("scumbag's lawyer") from his work defending a series of notorious criminals in Belgium.

But now his profile is set to go international through his latest client - Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam.

Mr Mary was once a youth footballer at top Belgian side Anderlecht before suffering an injury and it would appear he has channelled the same competitive spirit needed in professional sport into his new vocation.

"If someone is described as public enemy number one, I want to fight that abuse of authority," Belgian paper Metro quoted him as saying.

And few would accuse him of shying away from a fight. He had to repeat the first year of his law degree three times but went on to be regarded as one of Belgium's best legal professionals.

Former clients include Fouad Belkacem, who led the Sharia4Belgium group and was convicted of sending jihadists to fight in Syria.

He has also defended Michel Lelievre, an accomplice of Belgian serial killer and paedophile Marc Dutroux.

Mr Mary suggested as far back as in January he would be prepared to represent Abdeslam, after he was contacted by someone close to him while still on the run, Le Soir reported.

The fugitive was finally captured in a dramatic raid in Brussels last week and is now fighting extradition to France.

Abdeslam does not deny his presence at the brutal Paris attacks last November. Indeed, Mr Mary told L'Express he would be "bothered" by having to defend such a line - and was not prepared to do so.

Instead Mr Mary has focused on procedure, accusing the Belgian foreign minister of political interference and the French authorities of legal overreach by seeking his client's extradition.

"We have to stop kneeling, to stop this guilt complex that seems to exist in Belgium over the attacks in France," the lawyer told La Derniere Heure newspaper.

He has also said he will sue French prosecutor Francois Molins after the official revealed that Abdeslam said he had abandoned plans to blow himself up during the attacks, something Mr Mary said was a violation of judicial confidentiality.

Despite this Mr Mary said his client was co-operating with the authorities and that there "is no single reason that he won't go to France".


Salah Abdeslam's luck runs out

Is Molenbeek a haven for Belgian jihadis?

What happened during the Paris attacks?

Who were the Paris attackers?


The Belgian will not be the first or last lawyer to be accused of lacking principles. But is "avocat des crapules" fair?

His actions do not fit a template. He has acted for the victim of a horrendous sulphuric acid attack and has said he will not represent members of the extreme right.

All defendants have the right to an advocate, however abhorrent their crimes may be - it is an essential part of a fair trial.

Not everyone believes he is just a man doing his job of course. Comments on social media have labelled him "inhuman" and "callous", and of cynically exploiting a tragedy for his own publicity.

Mr Mary says he is motivated by "the fight against impunity and the abuse of power".

"Do you remember the live press conferences by the federal prosecutors in the days, and even nights, after the attacks?" he told Le Soir.

"I was sickened by the way by the way they exploited fear just to gain more power."

Source: bbc.com

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22/Mar/2016

Machine that 'unboils' eggs may help fight cancer

A machine that can "unboil" protein-rich egg whites, winning an Ig Nobel Prize in 2015, may also have important medical applications, its inventor says.

Prof Colin Raston, a chemist from Flinders University in South Australia, has discovered that his Vortex Fluidic Device (VFD) can also slice tiny carbon nanotubes (CNTs) to uniform length with unprecedented precision.

Individual CNTs, which are just a few nanometres in diameter or about the width of a small virus, have incredible properties - they are 200 times stronger than steel yet five times more flexible, and conduct electricity five times more efficiently than copper wires.

But an inability to consistently create nanotubes with uniform lengths and properties has been one of several obstacles that has frustrated scientists' efforts to harness these materials, which can be used for highly targeted drug delivery in cancer therapy.

"When you make CNTs normally, they're entangled - it's like a bowl of spaghetti. They're all stuck together and they're different lengths," Prof Raston told the BBC.

Shortening them currently requires toxic chemicals, which can chemically alter the surface of the CNTs, changing their properties and limiting their functionality.

Prof Raston's VFD, which mixes fluids inside a rapidly spinning glass tube, could offer a cleaner, faster alternative for cutting CNTs down to size, also opening up applications for electronics.

"What our device does is untangle the carbon nanotubes and then slices them, so you overcome two problems in one go," he says.

Carbon nanotubes

Carbon nanotubes resemble a "bowl of spaghetti" when created and must be cut down to size

Using just water, a liquid solvent, and a laser, his team was able to consistently produce CNTs with an average length of 170 nanometres, without degrading their properties. The results were published in Nature's Scientific Reports.

"It's one of highest tensile strength materials, and yet you put it in a liquid, and you spin it in a special way and with a laser you can cut it down," he says.

Prof Raston says his sliced CNTs are small enough for drug-delivery vehicles, and could also improve the efficiency of solar cells.

Eureka moment

The idea for the VFD was conceived on a 15-hour flight from Los Angeles to Sydney in 2010. Prof Raston wanted a small machine to use for continuous flow processing, a type of manufacturing where chemical reactions take place between fluids mixing inside a tube.

"It was a eureka moment," recalls Prof Raston. "I came up with the idea for the device, and I drew the plans on the plane."

The VFD has what looks like a glass test tube, about 20mm in diameter, tilted at a 45 degree angle. This tube is spun at very high speeds, up to 9,000 revolutions per minute.

"While you're spinning it, you actually add liquid to the bottom of the tube through stainless steel jet feeds," explains Prof Raston. "The speed of the spinning tube coupled with the incoming flow creates intense, highly dynamic micro-mixing."

This mechanical energy means the machine can create bio-diesel without adding any heat, and can also unravel and correctly fold proteins, he says.

Prof Raston and his colleagues demonstrated protein unravelling by successfully unboiling an egg, reverting gelatinous whites back into liquid form. It was an achievement that in 2015 earned the research team an Ig Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

The tongue-in-cheek Ig Nobels honour scientific research that seems unusual or funny at first glance but on closer inspection has merit.

That same protein-folding mechanical energy is what enables the device to manipulate CNTs: "Because of the complex way the liquid moves it has intense shear [force], and therefore it bends the nanotube," says Prof Raston.

This creates a kink in the structure - with the nanotube bent, his team added vibrational energy, using a near-infrared laser to slice through the weakened kink where the tube was folded.

Like a washing machine

Assoc Prof John Stride from the University of New South Wales in Sydney is an expert in carbon nanostructures, and says "if the researchers can reliably slice the CNTs 'to order' then this is a real advance".

"Anything that allows us to control and manipulate these nano-objects will be of use in developing applications," he says.

"The beauty of the approach is the relative low-tech aspect of it essentially being a spinning column of liquid that does the initial work… with a near-infrared laser providing the energy to cut the tubes.

"It's almost like laundry in the washing machine being spun out… it's very simple to picture what's happening, but of course that's occurring on the molecular scale, which is really quite intriguing."

Prof Stride also says that, if they're proven to be inert, shortened CNTs may provide an "effective mechanism for drug delivery to the inner cell region".

"It's a nice finding. I don't think it will completely revolutionise carbon nanotube research, but it's a significant advance in the field."

Source: bbc.com

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21/Mar/2016

US Election 2016: Donald Trump names foreign policy advisers

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has revealed the first members of his foreign policy team.

The advisers include academics and former military officers with expertise on the Middle East and energy issues.

Mr Trump told the Washington Post that he would name more advisers in the coming days.

Several of his advisers have served as experts for other Republican presidential candidates such as Mitt Romney and Ben Carson.

On Monday, Mr Trump named retired Lt Gen Keith Kellogg, Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, Walid Phares and retired Gen Joseph Schmitz.

The team is led by Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama who has helped shape Mr Trump's policies, most notably on immigration.

Mr Trump has come under criticism in recent days over his policy credentials. When cable news network MSNBC asked him who was advising him on policy, Mr Trump named himself.


Analysis: Anthony Zurcher, BBC North America reporter

Donald Trump recently boasted he was his own top adviser on foreign policy matters, noting that he had a "good instinct for this stuff".

After more than a month of hints and promises, however, the Republican presidential front-runner has announced who else has his ear on international affairs.

The names are hardly a who's who in the Republican foreign policy firmament - which could be good or bad news depending on one's perspective.

Mr Trump's positions on trade deals and military intervention put him decidedly outside the Republican Party establishment, and this list of advisers will do little to change that perception.

If Republicans hoped they could bend Mr Trump to party orthodoxy, this may be their latest Trump-related miscalculation.


While some of his team are not well known in Republican academic circles, others are seen as controversial figures.

Gen Joseph Schmitz resigned from the military in 2005 amid accusations of misconduct. However, Mr Schmitz was never charged with wrongdoing.

Another adviser, Walid Phares, was criticised when he was named as part of Mr Romney's foreign policy team in 2011.

Muslim advocacy groups took issue with Mr Phares's close ties to right-wing Christian militia groups during the Lebanese civil war.

He is an outspoken critic of Sharia, or Islamic religious law, and has appeared on Fox News and other conservative media outlets as an expert on the Middle East.


More on the US presidential race

Jorge Ramos on Donald Trump's rise - Meet the Republican front-runner's nemesis

Who is funding the US election? - Money is a big issue in the 2016 US presidential race

Could Hillary Clinton face jail time? - The case of David Petraeus may signal how she will fare


George Papadopoulos recently served as an adviser to Mr Carson, who dropped out of the race in February. Mr Papadopoulos has worked as a consultant for energy companies in the Middle East.

Also on Monday, Mr Trump told the BBC's Gary O'Donoghue that he believes the UK may leave the European Union when a referendum is held in June.

"I think they may leave it based on everything," Mr Trump said. "I have a lot of investments in the UK, and I will tell you I think they may leave based on everything I'm hearing."

He also said the US should spend less money on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato).

"We are paying disproportionately," he told CNN. "It's too much and frankly it's a different world than it was when we originally conceived of the idea."


More on the advisers:

Retired Lt Gen Keith Kellogg

  • Served under Coalition Provisional Authority leader Paul Bremer during the Iraq war
  • Vice-president at defence contractor CACI International

Carter Page

  • Long time energy industry executive
  • Expert on the Caspian Sea region and economic development in former Soviet states

George Papadopoulos

  • Director of the London-based Center for International Energy and Natural Resources Law & Security
  • Research fellow at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank

Walid Phares

  • Professor at National Defense University
  • Adviser to members of Congress

Retired Gen Joseph Schmitz

  • Former inspector general at the Defense Department
  • Former executive at defence contractor Blackwater

Source: bbc.com

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21/Mar/2016

FBI 'may be able to unlock San Bernardino iPhone'

The FBI says it may have found a way to unlock the San Bernardino attacker's iPhone without Apple's assistance.

A court hearing with Apple scheduled for tomorrow has been postponed at the request of the US Justice Department (DOJ), Apple has confirmed.

The DOJ had ordered Apple to help unlock the phone used by San Bernardino gunman Rizwan Farook.

But Apple has continued to fight the order, saying it would set a "dangerous precedent".

Rizwan Farook and his wife killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California, last December before police fatally shot them.

UN human rights chief backs Apple

Apple boss hits back at FBI conduct

McAfee offers to unlock iPhone for FBI

Analysis: Dave Lee, BBC North America technology reporter

Ever since this issue arose, security experts have been saying "surely the FBI can do this themselves?" Well, maybe now they can.

An "outside party" - you'd assume a security company, but we don't know for sure - has approached the FBI and said it could unlock the phone.

If they can do it, the court case is irrelevant. The FBI gets what they need. But if it doesn't work, we'll find ourselves back here to resume the trial.

Apple's legal team told reporters it wasn't treating it as a legal victory. The issue still looms large over the company. If the FBI has found a way, who's to say it'll always work? Apple will, as any software maker would, frantically try and fix the flaw. After all - if the FBI can do it, so can any other hacker privy to the same information.

If this method works, then what? With each new iteration of iOS, Apple could find itself back in court.

The technology industry, led by Apple, has called for the matter to be debated in Congress. This case may be on the brink of going away, but the debate is just starting.

Prosecutors said "an outside party" had demonstrated a possible way of unlocking the iPhone without the need to seek Apple's help.

"Testing is required to determine whether it is a viable method that will not compromise data on Farook's iPhone," a court filing said.

"If the method is viable, it should eliminate the need for the assistance from Apple."

DOJ spokeswoman Melanie Newman said in a statement that the government was "cautiously optimistic" that the possible method to unlock the phone would work.

The government said it would update the court on 5 April.

Attorneys for Apple told reporters that the firm had no idea what method the FBI was exploring to try to unlock the phone.

They said they hoped that the government would share with Apple any vulnerabilities of the iPhone that might come to light.

The FBI says Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik were inspired by so-called Islamic State and that the encrypted iPhone may contain crucial evidence.

It wants to access the data but the device can only be unlocked by entering the correct passcode.

Guessing the code incorrectly too many times could permanently delete all data on the phone, so the FBI had asked Apple to develop a new version of its operating system that circumvents some of its security features.

Last month the DOJ obtained a court order directing Apple to create that software,

But Apple has fought back, stating that creating a compromised version of the operating system would have security implications for millions of iPhone users and would set a precedent.

The company has received support from other tech giants including, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook, as it resisted a court order to unlock the iPhone.

Source: bbc.com

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21/Mar/2016

Cuba visit: Obama and Castro spar over human rights

Cuban President Raul Castro and US President Barack Obama sparred over human rights issues including the American prison at Guantanamo Bay and Cuba's political prisoners.

At a historic news conference, Mr Castro said if he was given a list of political prisoners, he would "release them tonight".

The White House has said it has given Cuba lists of dissidents in the past.

Mr Castro does not view the prisoners as dissidents, US officials said.

That disagreement is central to the conflict between US and Cuban officials.

More needs to be done to lift the US embargo on trade with Cuba, Mr Castro said, adding that the Guantanamo Bay detention camp must close.

Mr Obama, the first serving US president to visit Cuba since 1959, said the trade embargo would be fully lifted.

"Cuba's destiny will not be decided by the United States or any other nation... The future of Cuba will be decided by Cubans not by anybody else," Mr Obama said.

Mr Obama and first lady Michelle Obama were later welcomed at a state dinner, along with some members of US Congress and senior White House staff.

The Failde Youth Band entertained the guests, who dined on shrimp mousse, cream soup flavoured with rum, and traditional pork with rice and plantain chips. Waiters passed round Cuban cigars after dinner.

Earlier on Monday, Mr Castro defended Cuba's record on human rights and pointed to problems in the US.

"We defend human rights, in our view civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights are indivisible, inter-dependent and universal," Mr Castro said.

Mr Castro is not usually subject to any aggressive questioning from reporters and called the prisoners question "not polite", later ending the news conference by saying "I think this is enough".

"Actually we find it inconceivable that a government does not defend and ensure the right to healthcare, education, social security, food provision and development," he said.

Speaking to ABC News after the conference with Mr Castro, Mr Obama did not directly say he would be giving Mr Castro a list of political prisoners.

"We have given them a lists in the past and they have responded intermittently to our engagement," he said. "And this I think is an example of why it was my belief that this would be a more successful mechanism for us to advance the values that we care about than an embargo and silence and no communications."


Analysis: Tara McKelvey, BBC White House Reporter

President Obama and his aides hoped that the Cuban President, Raul Castro, would approach the news conference with an open mind.

The White House officials also hoped that Mr Castro would be receptive to new ideas and to new ways of doing things. Specifically, the US officials hoped that he'd take questions from reporters. Surprisingly enough, he did, marking a departure from his past.

The two men joked around during the question-and-answer period, and they worked out some of their differences. When one of Mr Castro's aides interrupted his boss during the conference, for example, Mr Obama looked annoyed. But he and Mr Castro moved on, talking about the future of Cuba.

In a similar way, Mr Obama and his aides hope they can overcome other issues, including difficult ones such as human rights, as they forge a new relationship between the two countries.


Mr Obama could not say exactly when the trade embargo would be lifted, but recognised it was necessary.

"The reason is what we did for 50 years did not serve our interests or the interests of the Cuban people," he said.

His administration has done what it can on lifting trade restrictions, he said, but further action will require Congress which is "not as productive in an election year".

He also said further easing of the trade embargo will depend on actions Cuba takes on human rights.


More on Mr Obama's visit to Cuba

Mr Castro and Mr Obama were congenial but had some disagreements about human rights

Mr Castro and Mr Obama were congenial but had some disagreements about human rights

Six sticking points to better relations - Guantanamo Bay, human rights and media freedoms are among the unresolved issues

Cuba's DIY economy - A new generation of Cuban entrepreneurs are launching private businesses

Internet access still restricted in Cuba - Only about 5% of Cubans have web access at home


Mr Obama said it is not just Cuba that the US has "deep disagreements" about human rights with - it also has disagreements with China and Vietnam.

"I believe if I engage frankly, clearly, stating our beliefs but I can't force change on any country - it ultimately has to come from within - that is a more useful strategy," he said. "I have faith in people".

Reporters described the press conference as "tense" and "remarkable".

Karla Olivares, an independent journalist from Cuba, told the BBC's Tara McKelvey Mr Castro "talked more than usual" and the claim that Cuba does not have any political prisoners "complicated".

Before the speech, it was announced that Google was opening an online technology centre for free Internet access at much higher speeds than what is available on the island now.

Google hopes the centre will be part of a larger effort to improve Internet access in Cuba.

Source: bbc.com

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21/Mar/2016

Russia plane crash: Dozens killed in Rostov-on-Don

A passenger jet has crashed in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don killing all 55 passengers and six crew on board, officials say.

The FlyDubai Boeing 737-800, coming from Dubai, missed the runway as it attempted to land at 03:50 local time (00:50 GMT) on Saturday.

It is not clear what caused the crash but poor visibility and high winds are being considered as a factor.

There were reports of a fire or an explosion on board.

Most of the passengers on board flight FZ981 were Russian, the regional governor said on television.

Another official said three foreigners were on the passenger list, Reuters reported, but this has not been confirmed.

About 700 rescue workers are at the site of the crash and the fire has been extinguished, media reports say.

Other flights have been diverted away from the airport.

A CCTV video showed what appeared to be a plane landing at the airport before being engulfed in a huge fire. Its authenticity has not been verified.

In a statement on its Facebook page, the airliner confirmed the "tragic accident" and said an emergency response has been put in place.

Boeing said on Twitter its team was working to gather more details.

FlyDubai, a low cost carrier launched in 2009 with a hub in Dubai, operates flights to some 90 destinations.

Source: bbc.com

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19/Mar/2016

Migrant crisis: EU agrees joint position to put to Turkey

EU leaders have agreed a joint position to put to Turkey in an attempt to reach a deal over the migrant crisis, Luxembourg's prime minster says.

Xavier Bettel said the common EU position would be put to Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoglu on Friday morning.

The proposed deal would see all migrants travelling to Greece from Turkey sent back.

In return it is thought the EU might offer Turkey financial aid and visa-free access to Schengen countries.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Turkey had to meet international standards of protection for all migrants, Reuters reports.

She said that legal resettlement of Syrian refugees from Turkey to the EU under the deal could start a few days after the first returns from Greece.

However, she added that the EU needed to be ready to start returning migrants from Greece to Turkey rapidly to avoid a "pull factor" creating a surge of migrants before the new system takes effect.

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite has warned that the plan to return people to Turkey is "on the edge of international law" and difficult to implement.

Mr Davutoglu has said he will not accept Turkey becoming an "open prison" for migrants.

To meet concerns over the plan's legality, the leaders discussed providing assurances that each person claiming asylum will be given a full hearing in Greece, the BBC's Damian Grammaticas reports from Brussels.

French President Francois Hollande warned that "I cannot guarantee that there will be a happy outcome" to the search for a solution.

Since January 2015, a million migrants and refugees have entered the EU by boat from Turkey to Greece. More than 132,000 have arrived this year alone.

Tens of thousands are now stuck in Greece as their route north has been blocked.

Map

Under initial proposals, for each Syrian migrant returned to Turkey, a different Syrian would be resettled in the EU directly from the country.

In return, the EU had suggested it would double financial aid to Turkey promised last year, make a fresh push on talks over Turkey's eventual membership of the EU and offer visa-free travel to Europe's Schengen states.

However, those proposals have since been watered down, lowering expectation on greater financial help and talks on EU membership and linking visa-free travel to 72 conditions to which Turkey must agree.

A number of EU countries have raised concerns about what is on offer to Turkey amid a clampdown by the Ankara government on academics and journalists.


A note on terminology: The BBC uses the term migrant to refer to all people on the move who have yet to complete the legal process of claiming asylum. This group includes people fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria, who are likely to be granted refugee status, as well as people who are seeking jobs and better lives, who governments are likely to rule are economic migrants.

Source: bbc.com

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17/Mar/2016

Migrant crisis: 'Many issues' in way of EU-Turkey deal

EU leaders are to meet to finalise a deal with Turkey to help ease the migrant crisis.

European Council President Donald Tusk admits a "catalogue of issues" in the way of an agreement remains unresolved.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is due to join the summit on Friday.

The proposed plan would see all migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey sent back. For each Syrian returned, a Syrian in Turkey would be resettled in the EU.

Hundreds of thousands of migrants have travelled through Macedonia over the past year, heading north, the vast majority of them arriving after making the dangerous sea crossing from Turkey.

No 'cast-iron' incentives

At a meeting last week where the plan was initially proposed, EU leaders said that in return for action on the migrant crisis, visa-free travel to Europe for Turkish citizens would be available from June.

They also promised to speed up financial aid promised last year and to make a fresh push on talks over Turkey's eventual membership of the EU.

However, in the latest draft of the deal the incentives being offered to the Turkish government appear to be far less cast-iron than Ankara would like, the BBC's Chris Morris reports from Brussels.

There is no guarantee that Turkey's EU membership bid will be speeded up - only a commitment to prepare for further negotiations as soon as possible.

Secondly, visa-free travel to the Schengen area for Turkish citizens by the end of June will depend on Turkey complying with all 72 conditions that the EU has set out.

Finally, there's no certainty that financial aid for Syrian refugees in Turkey will be doubled to €6bn - only a promise to consider it, if the first tranche of money produces positive results.

In addition to these points of potential disagreement, there is continuing criticism of the legal basis for the idea of returning all irregular migrants from Greece to Turkey, our correspondent adds.

The Spanish foreign minister has said Spain will oppose the "blanket return" of refugees to Turkey.

Despite the obstacles, the head of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker said ahead of the summit that he was "cautiously optimistic" a deal could be reached.

Map

Meanwhile UK Prime Minister David Cameron is expected to warn the summit of a possibility of a fresh wave of migrants coming to Europe from Libya this summer.

Although recent attention has been focused on migrants arriving in Greece, the sea route to Italy from Libya has also been a key route for migrants including refugees fleeing conflicts and oppression in Syria, Eritrea and other countries.

Libya has suffered from chronic instability and lawlessness since forces backed by Nato countries including the UK and France overthrew long-serving ruler Col Muammar Gaddafi in October 2011.

Last week, US President Barack Obama suggested Mr Cameron had become "distracted" in the aftermath of the intervention. "I had more faith in the Europeans, given Libya's proximity, being invested in the follow-up," he said.

A note on terminology: The BBC uses the term migrant to refer to all people on the move who have yet to complete the legal process of claiming asylum. This group includes people fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria, who are likely to be granted refugee status, as well as people who are seeking jobs and better lives, who governments are likely to rule are economic migrants.

Source: bbc.com

 

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17/Mar/2016

Letter from Africa: Ghana opens doors to other Africans

In our series of letters from African journalists, Ghanaian writer Elizabeth Ohene reflects on Ghana's decision to remove visa requirements for citizens of all African countries.

After President John Dramani Mahama delivered his State of the Nation address two weeks ago, most of the discussions were on local and internal affairs, and this being an election year in the country, the debates were heated and will continue for a long time.

But hidden somewhere in the speech and lost in all the discussion was a major foreign affairs initiative which slipped by without media reporting or analysis and it seems likely people may have missed this completely.

Ghana's new visa-on-arrival policy for citizens of African Unity member states, to be introduced from July, only came to light after an announcement from the African Union.

Nationals from African countries complain loudly about the humiliations they go through to get visas for Europe and the United States but the process for African visas is often just as frustrating.

Anyone who has tried to cross borders on the African continent will have experienced the difficulties with travelling in Africa.

Air fares cost more than anywhere else and few roads or railways connect the countries to each other.

The immigration and police check points turn the journeys into veritable obstacle courses.

Displaced people who fled the anti-immigrant violence are seen in a camp on April 19, 2015 in the village of Primrose, 15 kms east of Johannesburg

South Africa is one country where other Africans do not always receive a warm welcome

We no longer have to go through Europe to fly to each other's countries, but flight connections are so few and so random, you are tempted to resort to the old routes through Europe to go to the country next door.

However, this is nothing compared to the hassle one has to go through to get visas for another African country.

Business people trading in the continent felt frustrated in the past at spending weeks trying to get visas for each country.

They pointed out that once armed with a European Schengen visa, they could travel through many European countries and conduct business without hassle.

Pointless bureaucracies

Unsurprisingly Ecowas, the West African regional body established in 1975 was at the time considered an attractive union due to the introduction of visa-free travel among member states.

Continental organizations like the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), formed to foster cooperation between African states and its successor the African Union (AU), launched in 2002, have few passionate supporters these days in Ghana as they are seen as pointless bureaucracies that have no bearing on the lives of people.

President Mahama's policy could boost AU's significance once again.

African unity was taken very seriously here in Ghana. It was our first President, Kwame Nkrumah, who was the driving force behind the establishment of the OAU back in 1963.

During the struggle for independence, Ghana provided a place of refuge for many freedom fighters, especially from South Africa with many being given Ghanaian passports.

As countries gained independence, Ghanaians were dismayed to discover they were not particularly welcome in these countries.

In the early years of Ghana's independence, and before the establishment of Ecowas, there were visa exemptions for "persons of African descent" born in the neighbouring west African countries, and members of the Casablanca group, which consisted of Guinea, Tunisia, Mali, United Arab Republic, Morocco and Algeria.

But these arrangements were scrapped after the overthrow of President Nkrumah.

With the new visa policy, Ghanaians will be watching to see if the number of non-Ecowas African nationals coming to Ghana will rise.

We in Ghana have a reputation for restless feet and are always trying to find new destinations to get to.

Obtaining visas for travel is often the greatest obstacle to travel and any country that makes it easier for us to enter becomes very attractive.

Whilst many here will be feeling that Ghana is taking a lead in implementing an AU directive, there will be greater interest in knowing how many other African countries will be allowing Ghanaians to enter their countries on a visa-on arrival policy.

Source: bbc.com

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14/Mar/2016

Google car crash 'not a surprise' - US transport secretary

The recent crash involving a Google self-driving car and a bus was "not a surprise", the US transport secretary has said.

Anthony Foxx told the BBC that accidents were inevitable, but that the emerging technology should not be compared "against perfection".

Nobody was hurt in the crash, but it was the first time Google's on-board computer has been blamed for causing a collision.

Secretary Foxx was attending the South by Southwest Interactive festival in Austin, Texas.

He announced that seven US cities - Austin, Columbus, Denver, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Portland and San Francisco - had reached the final stage of a competition to receive $40m in government funding for "smart" technologies.

Secretary Foxx agreed that smart technologies could put some people out of work.

"Driverless technology presents a lot of potential for disruption on a number of fronts," he said.

"It's unclear to me now exactly how that future unfolds."

Relative comparisons

Secretary Foxx is leading efforts to bring self-driving cars to US roads. The Obama administration has committed $4bn to that goal - which includes attempts to develop standardised regulations for autonomous cars across the entire country.

On the public perception of self-driving cars following the February Google crash, he said: "It's not a surprise that at some point there would be a crash of any technology that's on the road.

"But I would challenge one to look at the number of crashes that occurred on the same day that were the result of human behaviour."

"I think the question here isn't comparing the automated car against perfection, I think it's a relative comparison to what we have now on the roads which is you and I, and our eyeballs, and our brains."

One challenge would be to tackle the legal issue of responsibility when crashes occur - and whether the passenger should be liable, or, given that the computer was driving, the companies behind the software that failed.

"That's precisely the type of question that we're hoping over the next several months to provide feedback to both the states and the industry on."

Source: bbc.com

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14/Mar/2016

Syria conflict: Damascus under pressure ahead of peace talks

Western powers have condemned efforts by the Syrian government to set limits to the agenda of fresh peace talks starting on Monday.

Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Muallem on Saturday ruled out any discussion of presidential elections.

US Secretary of State John Kerry responded by accusing Damascus of "trying to disrupt the process".

The UN-led talks represent the first serious diplomatic intervention since Russia began air strikes in September.

At the Geneva talks, diplomats are hoping to build on the fragile and partial truce, which has reduced the level of violence in Syria since it came into effect at the end of February, notes the BBC's Bethany Bell.

But expectations for the talks are low, she adds.

Mr Kerry met foreign ministers from France, Germany and the UK in advance on Sunday.

A cessation of hostilities agreed by most participants in the conflict began late last month. It excludes so-called Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda's branch in Syria.

The purpose of the partial and temporary truce was to enable the warring sides and their foreign backers to launch a fresh attempt to end the five-year conflict.


More on this story

The story of the conflict

What is a cessation of hostilities?

How Putin is succeeding in Syria


But the latest diplomatic row began when Mr Muallem said that any talk of a new presidential election was off the agenda. "This is an exclusive right of the Syrian people,'' he said.

The main Syrian opposition umbrella group, the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), said the pre-conditions could halt the talks before they had even started.

On Sunday Mr Kerry said Mr Muallem was "clearly trying to disrupt the process", adding that Syria's allies, Russia and Iran, had made clear "there must be a political transition and that we must have a presidential election at some time".

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Syria's "provocations" were a "bad sign and did not reflect the spirit of the ceasefire".

On Sunday the HNC said it would push for an interim government in which President Bashar al-Assad and the current leadership would have no role.

The indirect talks in Geneva are mediated by the United Nations. UN special envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura has said he wants presidential elections to be held in the next 18 months.

The fate of President Assad has been one of the main stumbling blocks in previous talks. The last round collapsed in February without agreement.

More than 250,000 Syrians have been killed and about 11 million people have been forced from their homes in five years of Syria's civil war, which began with an uprising against Mr Assad.

Government forces, supported by Russian air strikes, have made gains against rebel fighters in recent months.

 

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14/Mar/2016

Ivory Coast: 16 dead in Grand Bassam beach resort attack

Al-Qaeda-linked militants have killed at least 16 people in a gun attack on a beach resort in southern Ivory Coast.

The attackers fired on beach-goers in Grand Bassam, about 40km (25 miles) from the commercial capital Abidjan.

The resort is popular with both locals and foreigners. Four of the dead were Westerners, including a French and a German national, officials say.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has claimed the attack. The gunmen have been "neutralised", officials say.

Ivory Coast was once one of the most stable countries in West Africa.

However, a civil war broke out in 2002, pitting the mainly Muslim north against the largely Christian south. Since then, peace deals have alternated with renewed violence.


Analysis: Tomi Oladipo, BBC Africa security correspondent

The attack confirms the fears of the Ivorian government, which has attempted to beef up security, particularly in its northern border regions, to keep Islamist militants out.

Grand Bassam is all the way to the south on the Atlantic coast, though. That shows that the militants have not just crossed the border but they might have even have a greater presence in the country. It furthers prove the capacity of jihadists to blend into the public and strike soft targets.

This threat is spreading across West Africa. To halt it, regional governments would need to step up their act in policing, as well as gathering and acting on intelligence individually and collectively.

France, too, is likely to boost its military campaign to protect its vast and entrenched interests in its former colonies.


A witness to Sunday's attack told AFP news agency that "heavily armed men wearing balaclavas" had opened fire near the L'Etoile du Sud hotel, which was full of expats.

Fourteen of those killed were civilians and two were soldiers, officials say. Interior Minister Hamed Bakayoko four of the civilians were Westerners, and included a French and a German national.

There is no word on the nationalities of the other victims. French President Francois Hollande condemned the "cowardly attack".

BBC regional reporter Maud Jullien says Ivory Coast has been identified as one of several countries in West Africa at risk of being targeted by Islamist militants.

AQIM claimed deadly attacks on luxury hotels in Mali in November and Burkina Faso in January.

The group, which has its origin in Algeria's civil war of the 1990s, has expanded across the Sahel regions south of the Sahara in recent years.

Source: bbc.com

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14/Mar/2016

Ankara bombing: President Erdogan vows to bring terror 'to its knees'

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to bring terrorism "to its knees" after an attack in the capital Ankara that killed at least 34 people.

Mr Erdogan said the suicide car bomb would serve only to strengthen the resolve of Turkey's security forces.

The explosion, in Guven Park in the Kizilay district, a key transport hub, wounded at least 125 people.

Interior Minister Efkan Ala said an investigation would conclude on Monday and those responsible would be named.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but government sources are casting suspicion on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

The Kurdish rebels have carried out a series of attacks on Turkish soil in recent months. The so-called Islamic State group has also targeted Ankara recently.

Mr Erdogan said in a statement that terror groups were targeting civilians because they were losing the battle against Turkish security forces.

Calling for national unity, he said Turkey would use its right to self-defence to prevent future attacks.

"Our people should not worry, the struggle against terrorism will for certain end in success and terrorism will be brought to its knees," he said.

According to Turkey's state-run news agency, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has postponed a visit to Jordan following the bombing.

The United States condemned the attack. US State Department spokesman John Kirby said: "We reaffirm our strong partnership with our Nato ally Turkey in combating the shared threat of terrorism."

Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also condemned the attack, saying there was "no justification of such heinous acts of violence".

Turkey's pro-Kurdish political party issued a statement condemning the attack. The Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) said it shares "the huge pain felt along with our citizens".

The HDP is frequently accused of being the political wing of the PKK, an accusation it denies, and of not speaking out against PKK violence.

The blast happened at about 18:40 (16:40 GMT) on Sunday and the area was evacuated in case of a second attack.

Turkish Health Minister Mehmet Muezzinoglu told a news conference that 30 people were killed at the scene and four died later in hospital. Two of the dead are believed to be the attackers.

Mr Muezzinoglu said 125 people were being treated at several hospitals in Ankara, of whom 19 are in a critical condition.

Last month, a bomb attack on a military convoy in Ankara killed 28 people and wounded dozens more.

That bombing was claimed by a Kurdish militant group, the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK). It said on its website that the attack was in retaliation for the policies of President Erdogan.

Turkey, however, blamed a Syrian national who was a member of another Kurdish group.

Last October, more than 100 people were killed in a double-suicide bombing at a Kurdish peace rally in Ankara.

The BBC's Mark Lowen in Istanbul said three attacks in the Turkish capital in less than six months show the multiple security threats that Turkey now faces.

The country that was the stable corner of the Middle East and the West's crucial ally in a volatile region is now at a dangerous moment, he said.

Source: bbc.com

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14/Mar/2016

Migrant crisis: Leaders gather for Turkey-EU summit

Turkish and EU leaders have gathered in Brussels for an emergency summit on tackling Europe's worst refugee crisis since World War Two.

The EU has pledged €3bn (£2.3bn; $3.3bn) to Turkey in return for housing migrants and stemming the flow.

Last year, more than a million entered the EU illegally by boat, travelling mainly from Turkey to Greece.

Some 13,000 are stranded on Greece's border with Macedonia as European states seek to restrict entry.

Nato is expanding its naval mission against people-smuggling in the Aegean Sea to cover Turkish and Greek territorial waters, and will also increase its co-operation with the EU's border agency Frontex in the region.

The UK has announced that the amphibious landing ship RFA Mounts Bay will join naval vessels from Germany, Canada, Turkey and Greece in the area.

Migrants, many of them fleeing war zones in Syria and Iraq, continue to make the hazardous sea journey from Turkey to Greece's outer islands.

The human cost of the crisis was brought home again on Sunday when a boat capsized off Turkey with the loss of 25 lives.

EU states are divided over their response to the crisis with strains showing this year even in Germany and Sweden, seen as the countries most open to refugees.

Anti-migrant parties won a general election in Slovakia on Saturday which saw the far right gaining seats.

Turkish promise

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte met their Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoglu, at the Turkish embassy in Brussels late on Sunday to prepare for the summit.

The 28 EU states are expected to ask Turkey to take back thousands of migrants who do not qualify for asylum.

Last week, European Council President Donald Tusk said he had been told by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that his country was ready to take back all migrants apprehended in Turkish waters.

A draft summit statement seen by the Associated Press news agency pledges to "stand by Greece in this difficult moment and will do its utmost to help manage the situation''.

"This is a collective EU responsibility requiring fast and efficient mobilisation," it adds.

More than 2,000 migrants continue to arrive daily in Greece from Turkey, hoping to reach the richer EU states to the north.

But Macedonia, which aspires to EU membership, is blocking them on its border, now fenced off with razor wire and watchtowers.

A ramshackle tent camp that has grown up around the Idomeni frontier crossing has become the focus of the crisis.

On Sunday, reports from the area said Macedonia had stopped allowing entry to anyone from areas in Iraq and Syria it did not consider to be active conflict zones.

Many migrants in the camp rely on food distributed by volunteers and items like firewood are scarce.

"We have been here five days, or six - who remembers the days anymore?" asked Narjes al Shalaby, 27, from the Syrian capital Damascus, in conversation with AP.

She is travelling with her mother and two daughters, Maria, five, and Bara'a, 10. Her husband and third daughter are already in Germany.

"All we do here is sleep, wake up, sleep," she said. "We get hungry, we wait in the queue for two hours for a sandwich, we come back, we sleep some more."

Migrants scuffle over firewood near Greece's Idomeni border crossing with Macedonia, 6 March

As many as 13,000 migrants are camped near Greece's border with Macedonia, many of them in tents. These men were collecting firewood

Source: bbc.com

 

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07/Mar/2016

Nancy Reagan death: President Obama leads tributes

US President Barack Obama has led tributes to former First Lady Nancy Reagan, who has died at the age of 94.

Mr Obama and his wife Michelle said they were "fortunate to benefit" from Mrs Reagan's "proud example".

Mrs Reagan, who died of congestive heart failure in Los Angeles on Sunday, was also praised by other senior US politicians and foreign leaders.

Her 52-year marriage to Ronald Reagan was once described as the US presidency's greatest love affair.

From 1981-89 she was one of the most influential first ladies in US history; initially criticised for an expensive renovation of the White House, but later becoming a much-loved figure.

Nancy Reagan: Her husband's greatest supporter

Praise for 'devoted' First Lady

'Gracious first lady'

In a statement, the Obama family said: "Nancy Reagan once wrote that nothing could prepare you for living in the White House. She was right, of course.

"But we had a head start, because we were fortunate to benefit from her proud example, and her warm and generous advice. Our former first lady redefined the role in her time here."

Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romneytweeted that "with the passing of Nancy Reagan, God and Ronnie have finally welcomed a choice soul home".

Former President George W Bush said: "Mrs Reagan was fiercely loyal to her beloved husband and that devotion was matched only by her devotion to our country. Her influence on the White House was complete and lasting."

Meanwhile, former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is a Democratic presidential hopeful, said: "Nancy was an extraordinary woman: a gracious first lady, proud mother and devoted wife to President Reagan - her Ronnie."

Stepson Michael Reagantweeted: "I am saddened by the passing of my stepmother Nancy Reagan... She is once again with the man she loved. God bless..."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: "I remember Nancy as a noble woman who supported President Reagan and stood by his side. She will be remembered as a great friend of the state of Israel."

Anti-drugs campaigner

Mrs Reagan will be buried next to her husband, at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, the library said in a statement.

Like her husband, Mrs Reagan was a former Hollywood performer who made it all the way to the White House.

As Nancy Davis, she was an actress during the 1940s and 1950s and married Mr Reagan, a prominent film actor, in 1952.

She served as first lady of California during her husband's stint as California governor from 1967 to 1975 before moving into the White House after his decisive victory over Democratic President Jimmy Carter in 1980.

As first lady, she sought to emulate the style of one of her predecessors, Jackie Kennedy.

To this end, she extensively redecorated the White House, and accepted designer dresses worth $1m (£600,000) and a 4,732-piece set of china worth $209,000.

But this spending spree provoked a huge outcry from people outraged by what they saw as profligacy and waste while millions of Americans were losing their jobs.

Public opinion was also swayed by accusations that Mrs Reagan had a frosty personality, often consulted astrologers, and ordered the dismissal of White House chief of staff Donald Regan in 1987.

"I see the first lady as another means to keep a president from becoming isolated," she once said.

Mrs Reagan's best-known project as first lady was the anti-drugs "Just Say No" campaign.

After her husband died of Alzheimer's in 2004, she became a champion for Alzheimer's patients, raising millions of dollars for research and breaking with fellow conservative Republicans to argue for stem cell studies.

Source: bbc.com

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06/Mar/2016

Fla. woman won't face charges after drownings in filthy pool

Prosecutors say a central Florida woman won't face criminal charges in the drowning deaths of her daughter and grandson.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal reports that a State Attorney's Office memorandum released Thursday says there is "insufficient evidence" that Martha Jenkins exhibited a "gross and/or flagrant violation" while caring for the 2-year-old girl and 1-year-old boy.

Sheriff's investigators say Ashton Jenkins and Shana Cavanaugh died July 30 after slipping out of a sliding glass door and falling into a filthy backyard pool. Investigators had recommended two counts of aggravated manslaughter of a child after interviewing Jenkins' relatives and seeing their poor living conditions.

Officials say 33-year-old Jenkins, of Holly Hill, near Daytona Beach, was sleeping when the children left the house. Jenkins' mother told officials the door was left slightly open so cats could come and go.

Source: foxnews.com

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05/Mar/2016

Major donor calls for ouster of Wounded Warrior Project executive

A major donor to the Wounded Warrior Project veterans’ charity called Thursday for the nonprofit’s CEO to resign in light of allegations of lavish spending on staff meetings, according to a CBS News report.

Fred and Dianne Kane, the parents of two Iraq War veterans, have donated $325,000 to the Wounded Warrior Project since 2009 through their personal charity, Tee-off for a Cause.

Slightly more than half of the Kanes' donations directly benefitted veterans, according to CBS News.

But after recent tax forms reflected questionable spending by the veterans’ charity on staff expenditures, including $26 million on conferences and meetings at luxury hotels in 2014 alone, Fred Kane called for CEO Steven Nardizzi to be fired.The expenditure on conferences and travel was up from just $1.7 million in 2010, according to reports.

“Hearing that there was this waste of money, donor dollars that should have been going to servicemen and women that were injured, and that it was spent on [Wounded Warrior Project staff] having a good time—it’s a real disappointment,” Dianne Kane told CBS News.

The Kanes also initiated an online petition calling for a public audit of the Wounded Warrior Project in addition to canceling the next golf tournament Tee-off for a Cause was to hold to benefit the Project.

In January, Charity Navigator, a group that oversees nonprofit organizations, placed Wounded Warrior Project on its watch list, Fox News reported, citing a separate CBS report.

Army Staff Sergeant Erick Millette, who returned from Iraq in 2006 with a bronze star and a purple heart, told CBS News at the time that he admired the charity’s work and took a job with the group in 2014 but quit after two years.

"Their mission is to honor and empower wounded warriors, but what the public doesn't see is how they spend their money," he said.

Millette said he witnessed lavish spending on staff, with big “catered” parties.

Also in the previous interview, two former employees, who were so fearful of retaliation they asked that CBS News not show their faces on camera, said spending has skyrocketed since Nardizzi took over as CEO in 2009, pointing to the 2014 annual meeting at a luxury resort in Colorado Springs.

"He rappelled down the side of a building at one of the all hands events. He's come in on a Segway, he's come in on a horse,” one employee told CBS News.

Fred Kaine, in the recent interview, questioned Nardizzi’s apparent public absence while his organization has been under scrutiny.

“Where is this guy? You lead from the front—good or bad—you don’t hide,” he said, “If no one is going to talk about this right now and it has to be me, then it has to be me.”

Kane said he has cut charitable ties with the Wounded Warrior Project, embarking on a new charge to effect change at the organization.

Source: foxnews.com

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05/Mar/2016

LA police testing knife found buried at OJ Simpson's former estate

A knife found buried under O.J. Simpson’s former Los Angeles estate where he lived at the time of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman is undergoing forensic testing, Fox News confirmed Friday.

TMZ reports a construction worker found the knife years ago and gave it to an off-duty cop who kept it in his home before finally turning it over to police in January. TMZ did not specify when the knife was found, but reported that it may have been around the time the home was destroyed in 1998.

"It is being treated as we would all evidence," LAPD Capt. Andy Neiman said Friday. He added that police were "quite shocked" to learn about the knife after so many years.

Simpson's property was in the Brentwood section of LA. In 1995, a jury found him not guilty of murder after the so-called "Trial of the Century" dominated the media for months. Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, her friend, were found stabbed to death in June of 1994.

In 1997, a jury found Simpson civilly liable for the slayings. He's now imprisoned in Nevada on a robbery-kidnap conviction.

The weapon used in the killings has been a mystery for decades. Law enforcement sources told TMZ the blade is a folding Buck knife. It's now being tested for hair and DNA after it was handed over to the LAPD’s Robbery and Homicide Division.

NBC News, citing unnamed law enforcement officials, reported
that it was a smaller, relatively inexpensive utility-style blade typically carried by construction workers or other laborers and inconsistent with it being the murder weapon.

"We discovered it and our investigators immediately followed up on it," Neiman added. Simpson likely cannot be prosecuted again for the stabbings because of constitutional protections against being charged for the same crime twice, or double-jeopardy.

One source told TMZ the knife appeared to have blood residue on it, but it’s extremely rusted and stained, requiring further testing.

A member of Simpson's legal "dream team" in his murder trial called the find "ridiculous." Attorney Carl Douglas told the Los Angeles Times, "It's amazing how the world cannot move on from this case!"

The cop who kept the knife, an officer assigned to the traffic division, was off-duty at the time and never alerted higher-ups to the discovery, TMZ reported.

In late January the cop reportedly contacted a friend in the homicide division and told him he was getting the knife framed for his wall.

According to TMZ, the cop even asked his friend to get the department’s record number for the Simpson-Goldman murder case so he could engrave it in the frame. He was forced to surrender the knife to LAPD when the friend told superiors.

Sources told TMZ authorities are keeping their investigation top secret and under wraps, even logging the case into a computer system outside the official case file.

Source: foxnews.com

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05/Mar/2016

Student charged after sharing nude photos of teacher

A high school student who went through his teacher's cellphone, found a nude picture of her and posted it online has been charged with a computer crime and voyeurism, authorities said Friday.

Union Public Safety Department Chief Sam White said the student, who is being charged as a juvenile, was taken into custody at Union High School without incident.

The 16-year-old is charged with a count of violating the state's computer crime act in the second degree and a count of aggravated voyeurism.

He is being held in juvenile detention for a hearing in family court. There have been no other arrests, but the investigation is continuing, the chief said.

Officials say it's not clear how many people may have seen the social media postings of the photo.

The teacher, Leigh Anne Arthur, has quit her job teaching mechanical and electrical engineering and computer programming at the school's vocational center.

Arthur, 33, told police on Feb. 18 that while she stepped out of her classroom, a boy took her unlocked smartphone from her desk, opened the photos application and found a nude selfie she had taken for her husband as a Valentine's Day present.

An online petition has been started, urging school district officials in the community in northwestern South Carolina to give Arthur her job back. The superintendent has said it was the teacher's fault for leaving students unattended during a four-minute break between classes.

The Associated Press left a phone message with Arthur on Friday seeking comment on the arrest.

The voyeurism charge makes it illegal, for the purpose of sexual gratification, to record or make a digital file of another person without his or her consent. The computer crimes charge makes it illegal to take possession or deprive the owner of a computer of computer data.

Both charges are misdemeanors for a first offense. But if the teen is convicted on both counts he could be sentenced to a maximum fine of $10,500 and four years in prison.

Source: foxnews.com

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05/Mar/2016

Mahama grants charter to Central University to award degrees

President John Dramani Mahama has granted a Presidential Charter to the Central University College, making it a fully-fledged university that can now award its own degrees.

The institute becomes the fourth private university to achieve this feat after Valley View University, Trinity Theological Seminar and Akrofi-Christaller Memorial Research Institute.

Central University was accredited as a private university college in 1998, but in 2009, was turned down by the National Accreditation Board when it applied for the Presidential Charter. Five years down the line, the President has approved an application submitted by the NAB to grant a Charter to the school.

It is required that every university college, after operating for a minimum of 10 years, sends an application to the NAB for a comprehensive assessment of the institution, its programmes, facilities and finances; and a report is presented to the Minister of Education for onward recommendation to the president.

When the application is approved by the president, he then grants that institution a Charter, which enables it to award its own degrees, diplomas and certificates.

Deputy Minister of Education, Samuel Okudzeto Ablarkwa, who disclosed this to the media, said the NAB is very careful about which schools it recommends to the president for a charter, as it wants to protect the country’s tertiary education system’s dignity and integrity.

He therefore urged authorities of private universities to support the NAB to protect the accreditation system so as to ensure holders of certificates from Ghanaian universities get value when they enter the global job market.

“They should understand the strict guidelines from the NAB. It is for a good reason that the NAB is so stringent in accreditation assessment. We don’t have to open the floodgates; we need to protect the accreditation system’s integrity,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Council of Independent Universities of Ghana has described the affiliation system in the country as a “grand exploitation” scheme, designed to rip-off nascent tertiary institutions and make private university education “expensive”.

They argue that the affiliation system where a private university college understudies a public university until the private university college becomes mature and receives a Presidential Charter to run its own graduate programmes, has become a major source of revenue for the mentor universities, as exorbitant fees are charged for it.


Source: citifmonline.com

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01/Mar/2016

Nigeria government's audit removes nearly 24,000 non-existent workers

The Nigerian government has removed nearly 24,000 workers from its payroll after an audit revealed they did not exist, the Finance Ministry has said.

The move has enabled a monthly saving of around $11,5m (£8m).

The audit is part of an anti-corruption campaign by President Muhammadu Buhari, who took power last year.

Corruption and mismanagement have long been a challenge to Nigeria's growth, and the government has promised to cut costs to face an economic slowdown.

Nigeria is Africa's biggest economy and the continent's top oil producer, and its finances are under strain due to the recent collapse in oil prices.

The country has also faced rising inflation, a stock market slump and the slowest pace of economic growth in more than a decade.

Nigeria's budget fiasco

Is corruption Nigeria's biggest challenge?

Profile: Muhammadu Buhari

The audit started in December used biometric data and a bank verification number to identify holders of bank accounts into which salaries were being paid, Reuters news agency reports.

This process allowed the identification of some workers who were receiving a salary that did not correspond to the names linked to the bank accounts.

Nigeria's economy

  • Africa's largest economy, biggest oil producer and most populous nation
  • Oil-rich, but facing worst economic crisis in years after falling oil prices
  • 62.6% of its 170 million population live in poverty
  • Average annual earnings - $1280 (£850)

Source: UN


It also revealed that some employees were receiving salaries from multiple sources.

Some 23,846 non-existent workers were removed from the payroll, an adviser to the finance minister was quoted by Reuters as saying.

Periodic checks and electronic audit techniques will be periodically carried out to prevent new frauds, the ministry said.

Officials have said the savings resulted from the anti-corruption measures will help the country tackle its crisis and prevent job cuts.

Source: bbc.com

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01/Mar/2016

Nigeria's ex-Interior Minister Abba Moro charged over stampede

Nigeria's ex-interior minister has been charged with fraud over a botched recruitment drive, which resulted in stampedes that left 20 people dead.

Abba Moro led a scheme which encouraged young graduates to apply for jobs in the immigration ministry in March 2014.

Stadiums, which were being used as test centres, were overwhelmed by huge crowds of people turning up to apply.

Mr Moro has pleaded not guilty to his role in an alleged $2.5m (£1.8m) fraud, involving missing application fees.

There is a high level of unemployment in Nigeria, especially among young people.

Court papers filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) allege that more than 675,000 people were defrauded by the scheme, which required them to pay a $6 (£3.50) application fee to take the initial recruitment test.

The case has been adjourned until 2 March.

On 15 March 2014 deadly stampedes occurred at stadiums in the Nigerian cities of Abuja, Benin and Port Harcourt, as well as a school in Mina city, as people scrambled to apply for the new jobs.

Many Nigerians online have been commenting on the irony that a former minister in charge of the country's prisons is facing a lengthy stint behind bars if he is found guilty.

abba moro

At the time, Nigeria's interior minister rejected calls for him to step down and initially refused to accept any responsibility for the disaster.

He blamed the officials in charge of the stadium for the deaths, as well as the job seekers themselves.

Source: bbc.com

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01/Mar/2016

Somalia's al-Shabab killed '180 Kenyan troops' in el-Ade

At least 180 Kenyan troops were killed when al-Shabab attacked their base last month, Somalia's president has said.

Kenya's army said the number was untrue, but again refused to give its own casualty figures for the assault in the southern Somali base of el-Ade.

The Islamist militant group said it had killed about 100 Kenyan troops.

If it is confirmed that 180 troops were killed, it would be al-Shabab's deadliest assault since it was formed nearly a decade ago.

Its previous most deadly attack was the killing of 148 people in the day-long assault on Garissa University College in north-eastern Kenya last April.

Somalia's President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud gave the death toll of 180 in an interview with a Somali television station, while defending his attendance at a memorial for the soldiers in Kenya.

Some Somalis accused him on social media of showing greater concern for the killing of Kenyans than his own nationals.

President Mohamud said it was important to pay tribute to the troops killed in el-Ade, which is in Somalia's south-western region of Gedo.

Map of Somalia

"When 180 or close to 200 soldiers who were sent to us are killed in one day in Somalia, it's not easy," he told Somali Cable TV.

"The soldiers have been sent to Somalia to help us get peace in our country, and their families are convinced that they died while on duty," he added.

'Counted bodies'

Kenyan army spokesman David Obonyo said the Somali president's information was untrue.

"Ask the source of the information to clarify it. Maybe he knows his sources," he told the BBC.

"Secondly, we should stop trivializing the dead. They are not mere statistics. They ought to be treated with honour and respect," Col Obonyo added.


Analysis: Tomi Oladipo, BBC Africa security correspondent

The el-Ade attack was hugely embarrassing for Kenya, and it is not surprising that it has rejected the Somali president's figure without giving its own. Kenya's government possibly fears that confirming a high death toll would fuel doubts among Kenyans about its military presence in Somalia.

It is unclear where Mr Mohamud got the figure from, and whether he had had intentionally disclosed it, something that could strain diplomatic relations with Kenya.

Kenya's military is clearly upset with him, but it has previously said that a company-sized battalion, usually made up of 100 to 250 men, was targeted by the militants.

And there is no doubt that this was the bloodiest attack on Kenyan troops since they crossed into Somalia in 2011, even if the exact death toll remains unclear.

The Kenyan army has sought revenge for the attack, carrying out a series of air strikes against suspected al-Shabab bases in southern Somalia, even saying that it has killed the group's intelligence chief, a claim the militants deny.


Mr Mohamud's figure is similar to that a community leader in el-Ade gave to the BBC Somali service after the attack on 15 January.

He had counted about 190 bodies, he said.

It is unclear why al-Shabab put the number of killed at about 100, but one possibility is that it excluded ethnic Somalis who were Kenyan soldiers, correspondents say.

After the attack, Kenya said the bombs used by al-Shabab were three times more powerful than those used by al-Qaeda in the 1998 US embassy attack in the capital, Nairobi, which left 224 people dead.

Its troops withdrew from el-Ade 11 days after the attack.

Kenya has about 4,000 troops in the 22,000-strong African Union force battling al-Shabab, which is part of al-Qaeda, in Somalia.

Source: bbc.com

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25/Feb/2016

Uhuru Kenyatta: Kenyans are 'experienced thieves'

Kenyans are "experienced in stealing and perpetuating other crimes", the president has said, during a state visit to Israel.

Uhuru Kenyatta added that Kenya was "20 times more wonderful" than Israel, but "all we ever do is complain".

Kenyans were also abusers, and promoted tribalism, he said, in an address to Kenyans living in Israel.

Mr Kenyatta has been accused of failing to do enough to curb corruption and of stirring up ethnic violence.

His comments were seen as an attempt to encourage Kenyans to develop their country, like Israel, says the BBC's Wanyama Chebusiri in Kenya's capital, Nairobi.

He seemed to question why Kenya was lagging behind, and had to even learn about irrigation from a desert country, our correspondent adds.

However, many Kenyans believe that the president's speech was just rhetoric, and he was not serious about tackling corruption or ethnic divisions in the East African state, our reporter says.

They complain that ethnicity determines whether they get government jobs, and bribery and corruption are endemic in government, he adds.

Mr Kenyatta was accused by the International Criminal Court (ICC) of crimes against humanity for allegedly inciting ethnic violence after elections in 2007, in which more than 1,200 Kenyans were killed.

But the case was dropped in 2014 after the prosecutor's office said it did not have enough evidence against him.

He always denied the charges.

Source: bbc.com

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25/Feb/2016

Apple asks court to reverse FBI iPhone order

Apple has asked a US court to overturn an earlier ruling ordering the company to help the FBI break into a phone used by one of the San Bernardino killers.

In court papers Apple says law enforcement authorities are seeking "dangerous powers" and the move violates its constitutional rights.

The FBI and White House have said the request is limited to one iPhone.

But Apple says the software needed to comply with the FBI's request "simply does not exist".

Instead Apple says it would have to create a new version on the iPhone operating software, containing a back door to the device's encrypted data.

It argues that the lower court did not have the authority to force Apple to do that.

Apple also says no court had ever forced a company to weaken the security of its products to gain access to personal individual information.

"This case is about the Department of Justice and the FBI seeking through the courts a dangerous power that Congress and the American people have withheld," the filing said.

Analysis - Dave Lee, BBC North America technology reporter

In appealing to the American public, there are numerous boxes you can tick to quickly gain support; strings that tug at the mind of almost every person living in this country.

In this case, the FBI went with fighting against terror, and the need to beat the so-called Islamic State. Few would disagree with that motive, and even Tim Cook has acknowledged the compelling moral argument for unlocking the phone.

But if there's one things Americans worry about more than terrorists, it's the erosion of their constitutional rights. In Apple's court motion on Thursday, the company ticked the biggest box of all: freedom of speech.

The code it writes, the company argues, is the company's speech, it's expression.

Forcing it to write code and create a "GovtOS" - a play on iOS, the software that powers the iPhone - would be forcing Apple to write code it disagreed with, the company says.

It may be the argument that tips the balance in the court of public opinion.

Apple's boss hits back at FBI conduct

Bill Gates calls for terror data debate

Apple v the FBI - a plain English guide


'Hardest question'

On Thursday FBI director James Comey, said the government's dispute with Apple was, "the hardest" he had faced in government.

Testifying before congress Mr Comey said: "This is the hardest question I have seen in government and it's going to require negotiation and conversation."

The row between Apple and the FBI blew up last week when the bureau asked the electronics firm for help to unlock the smartphone of Syed Rizwan Farook - who along with his wife killed 14 people in December 2015.

So far, Apple has refused to unlock the phone.

In an interview aired yesterday with US TV network ABC, Apple boss Tim Cook said the FBI was asking it to make "the software equivalent of cancer".

He added: "Some things are hard and some things are right. And some things are both. This is one of those things."

Constitutional questions

Apple has argued that the FBI's request violates its constitutional right to freedom of speech, because a 1999 court case ruled that computer code is considered speech.

By forcing Apple to create a new code the FBI was violating a constitutional right, the company said.

Apple's attorney, Bruce Sewell will testify before Congress on 1 March about the encryption case.

Tech leaders, including Google's boss, and Apple customers have praised the company for standing up to the FBI.

Apple supporters rallied in front of the company's stores on Tuesday to show their support.

A Department of Justice court filing from February accused Apple of refusing to help to boost its "marketing strategy".

Source: bbc.com

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25/Feb/2016

India caste unrest: Ten million without water in Delhi

More than 10 million people in India's capital, Delhi, are without water after protesters sabotaged a key canal which supplies much of the city.

The army took control of the Munak canal after Jat community protesters, angry at caste job quotas, seized it.

Keshav Chandra, head of Delhi's water board, told the BBC it would take "three to four days" before normal supplies resumed to affected areas.

All Delhi's schools have been closed because of the water crisis.

Sixteen people have been killed and hundreds hurt in three days of riots.

At the scene: Defiant India protesters stand ground in Haryana

Watch: What future for India's caste system?

Sixteen million people live in Delhi, and around three-fifths of the city's water is supplied by the canal.

Mr Chandra said that prior warnings meant that people had managed to save water, and tankers had been despatched to affected areas of the city, but that this would not be enough to make up for the shortfall.

The army took control of parts of the canal on Monday morning, but repairs are expected to take time.

The BBC's Sanjoy Majumder, who is near Delhi's border with neighbouring Haryana state, said protesters who have set up road blocks are refusing to budge.

"We don't trust them. Let's get something in writing. Let them spell it out," one demonstrator who refused to be named told the BBC.

The damaged canal in Haryana

The Munak canal which was damaged by Jat protesters

Indian people fill up canisters and containers with water from a tanker in New Delhi, India (22 February 2016)

Millions in the Indian capital are without running water

Indian children walk with containers to collect water from the hand pump, a ground water source of water , at the Azadpur area of in north Delhi, India (22 February 2016)

Families are dependent on tankers delivering water supplies

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted that the army was "trying to assess in how much time water would reach Delhi and whether any damage had been done to the canal".

Protesters went on the rampage despite a curfew and the deployment of the army, which is reported to have opened fire on them in the districts of Rohtak and Jhajjar.

Why are the Jats angry?

  • The land-owning Jat community is relatively affluent and has traditionally been seen as upper caste.
  • They are mainly based in Haryana and seven other states in northern India.
  • Comprising 27% of the voters in Haryana and dominating a third of the 90 state assembly seats, they are a politically influential community. Seven of the 10 chief ministers in Haryana have been Jats.
  • The Jats are currently listed as upper caste but the demonstrators have been demanding inclusion in caste quotas for jobs and education opportunities that have been available to lower castes since 1991.
  • In March 2014 the Congress-led national government said it would re-categorise Jats as Other Backward Castes (OBC), opening the way to government job quotas.
  • But India's Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that the Jats were not a backward community.
  • As jobs have dried up in the private sector and farming incomes have declined, the community has demanded the reinstatement of their backward caste status to enable them to secure government jobs.

Haryana state minister Ram Bilas Sharma said the situation was returning to normal, traffic had resumed on national highways and that railway lines between Delhi and the cities of Jaipur and Chandigarh had reopened.

Mr Sharma also confirmed that the government would introduce a bill on reservations and quotas for the Jat community in the next assembly session, although he did not say when that would be.

Meanwhile, India's federal government has said it will set up a top-level committee to look into the grievances of Jats.

The violence had earlier forced the closure of several key roads and national highways, and paralysed the railway system in northern India.

Source: bbc.com

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22/Feb/2016

US-Based Ghanaian Arrested For Attempting To Smuggle Weapons To Ghana

A Charlotte man is facing federal charges after investigators said he attempted to smuggle weapons and ammunition into West Africa.

Richmond Attah, 30, was charged with one count of violating the Arms Export Control Act, one count of illegal firearms dealing, two counts of smuggling goods from the United States and four counts of making false statements to a firearms dealer, according to federal authorities.

Officials said between September 2013 and December 2015 Attah purchased approximately 63 firearms and 3,500 rounds of ammunition from various stores, Internet vendors and at gun shows. The indictment then states on Sept. 4, 2015, Attah travelled from Charlotte to Ghana.

Attah hid $30,100 in his luggage during his return trip, falsely declaring on customs paperwork that he was bringing $350 back into the United States, according to the charges.

Most recently, between November 2015 and December 2015, the indictment alleges Attah purchased 22 more firearms and ammunition from dealers in North Carolina.

Specifically, the indictment said Attah lied on his application and said the guns were for him when he purchased several of the weapons from Mount Holly Gun and Pawn.

A manager of the store told Channel 9 Attah actually bought the guns online and they simply handled the paperwork. The man added it did seem odd Attah purchased more than one of the same kind of weapon.

The court document goes on to state Attah then hid more than two dozen weapons and another 3,500 rounds of ammunition inside a washing machine and dryer and tried to have them shipped to Ghana. U.S. Customs found the weapons and ammunition before they were shipped out of the United States.

Attah was arrested from his place of employment Thursday, according his father.

Sampson Attah said federal agents came to their home looking for his son early that morning. Channel 9 spoke with him Thursday afternoon following his son’s arrest.

“Look at the door,” said Sampson Attah. “They broke through the house.”

Sampson Attah showed Channel 9 where federal agents broke through the front door of his home. The father said he came home to a slew of federal agents inside his home.

“My breakfast sandwich is still sitting on the table,” Sampson Attah pointed out. “I haven’t been able to eat all day.”

Sampson Attah said he’s shocked by the allegations and firmly denied any knowledge of the alleged gun trafficking scheme.

“If it is true, that he’s been doing this — not in this ho