Execution claims shadow Mexico’s militarized drug war
27 Sep 2014
The arrest of eight Mexican troops over the killing of 22 people highlights President Enrique Pena Nieto’s dilemma of fighting the drug war with the military while avoiding human rights abuses.
The military detained an officer and seven soldiers Thursday on dereliction of duty charges in the high-profile case, after a witness contradicted official accounts that 22 gang suspects were killed in a shootout.
The witness told Esquire magazine that 21 of the suspects, including her 15-year-old daughter, were executed after surrendering, while only one person died during the June 30 gunfight.
Doubts were also raised because only one soldier was wounded in the confrontation in Tlatlaya, a town 240 kilometers (150 miles) southwest of Mexico City.
The military has been dogged by accusations of torture and other abuses ever since then-president Felipe Calderon deployed tens of thousands of troops to combat drug cartels in 2006.
The defense ministry has not identified the detained soldiers and did not specify their roles in the case, which is also being investigated by civilian prosecutors.
The officer faces additional charges of violating military discipline and disobedience.
The allegations, if confirmed, would be the worst massacre committed by the armed forces since Pena Nieto took office in December 2012.
Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, asked about the case during an appearance in Congress, promised “transparency” in the civilian investigation and said that if any crime was committed, “it would be the exception because we have a great army.”
- ‘Massacre and coverup’ -
For Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director of Human Rights Watch, two crimes were committed in the Tlatlaya case: “A massacre and a coverup.”
“The coverup has been the policy that has been historically adopted in Mexico to protect such acts to avoid that anybody is held accountable,” he told AFP, calling for investigators to look into any manipulations by higher-ups.
“The risk is that these seven soldiers and low-ranking officer will become the scapegoats to ensure this investigation goes no further,” he said.
The case will test recent judicial reforms requiring civilian courts to try soldiers for crimes against non-military personnel.
Legal and human rights experts said the case should be solely handled by the attorney general’s office to ensure due process is respected.
Juan Carlos Gutierrez, a human rights expert at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences, said the military should transfer its case to civilian prosecutors because the constitution prohibits double trials for the same allegations.
“If the military has evidence or proof, it should immediately transfer the case to the attorney general’s office to avoid serious violations of due process,” he said.
Hours before the arrests were made public, Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos said any violation of fundamental rights by the military “must be taken to the corresponding judicial courts.”
The US government, which has provided more than $1 billion in drug war aid to Mexico’s security forces, has called for a “credible review” by civilian authorities.
- Withdraw soldiers, ‘security collapses’ -
Human rights groups have urged Pena Nieto to withdraw troops from the streets, but he insists they must remain on the ground until Mexicans feel safe.
Javier Oliva, a security expert at Mexico’s National Autonomous University, said the Tlatlaya case was a “dramatic lesson” for the government.
“This is very dramatic evidence of the risks of the overexposure of the armed forces when local authorities don’t take their responsibilities regarding security,” Oliva told AFP.
More than 80,000 people have died in turf wars between cartels and confrontations with security forces in the past eight years.
Last month, a coalition of rights groups asked prosecutors of the the International Criminal Court to investigate allegations of widespread abuses committed by Mexican security forces against civilians in Baja California between 2006-2012.
But Oliva said the government is forced to use the military to fight crime because local authorities are too weak.
“You remove the soldiers or marines and security will collapse,” he said.
on: Sep 27, 2014, 05:57 AM
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on: Sep 27, 2014, 05:54 AM
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No single ‘missing link’ found in dinosaur-to-bird evolution process
27 Sep 2014
The early stages of the process through which birds evolved from dinosaurs was slow and gradual, and there was no single “missing link” separating the two different types of creatures, according to research published in Thursday’s edition of the journal Current Biology.
Lead author Dr. Stephen Brusatte, a paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, and his colleagues analyzed the anatomical make-up of more than 850 body features in 150 extinct species in order to map the evolutionary journey from meat-eating dinosaurs to ancient birds. Based on the fossil records, they found that the emergence of birds took place bit-by-bit over the course of 150 million years.
“There was no moment in time when a dinosaur became a bird, and there is no single missing link between them,” Dr. Brusatte said in a statement. “What we think of as the classic bird skeleton was pieced together gradually over tens of millions of years. Once it came together fully, it unlocked great evolutionary potential that allowed birds to evolve at a super-charged rate.”
“Our study adds to a growing number of works that approach this problem from different angles, but all seem to confirm that the origin of birds was a truly special event in Earth history,” added Dr. Graeme Lloyd, a lecturer at the University of Oxford. “It is particularly cool that it is evidence from the fossil record that shows how an oddball offshoot of the dinosaurs paved the way for the spectacular variety of bird species we see today.”
According to Dan Vergano of National Geographic, birds are essentially defined by the unique traits that they possess - including feathers, hollow bones, a beak and a wishbone. While paleontologists previously believed that the 150-million-year-old Archaeopteryx, the earliest known bird, marked a massive evolutionary leap forward, research conducted over the past 20 years indicates that the avian characteristics had started showing up in dinosaurs far earlier.
The new study “confirms” the latter point-of-view, Vergano said, by discovering that “the dinosaur forebears of birds began gradually evolving avian traits almost as soon as dinosaurs appeared on Earth some 230 million years ago.” The research indicates that the first 80 million years of the evolutionary process occurred gradually, and was followed by “a burst of bird diversity” following the arrival and first powered flights of the Archaeopteryx.
“Once the whole body plan finally came together, then something was unlocked and they started evolving really fast,” Dr. Brusatte told Vergano, with Oxford colleague Roger Benson adding that the study provided “statistical confirmation of a view about bird evolution that paleontologists have described for a while. Scientifically, it would have been crazier if they had shown birds appearing from dinosaurs all of a sudden out of nowhere.”
Though the process began slowly, it eventually reached a point where it exploded and produced thousands of species in a relatively short period of time, LiveScience reporter Tanya Lewis wrote on Thursday. This took place after the basic body-type of the bird had been established, and avian species began arising far more quickly than other types of dinosaurs – which supports a hypothesis put forth by US paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson in the 1940s that suggested that extreme bursts of evolution typically follow the origin of a new body type.
Lewis said the authors were uncertain what about birds made them so successful. Dr. Brusatte suggested that their prosperity might have been due to the fact that they were small, warm-blooded and quick-moving, but that is only speculation. “But the researchers really don't know why avians outperformed their comrades,” Lewis added. “You might as well ask why Homo sapiens were so successful, compared with other human relatives.”
on: Sep 27, 2014, 05:49 AM
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US gives 'strong support' to Yemen government despite Shia rebel uprising
Administration still backing President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi despite Houthi protesters taking key installations in Sana’a
Spencer Ackerman in New York
theguardian.com, Friday 26 September 2014 19.16 BST
The United States is continuing its full-throated support for the government of Yemen, despite an uprising in the country that threatens the hold on power of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, whom the White House considers a critical counter-terrorism ally.
Administration officials say there has been has no dropoff in backing for Hadi, days after Shia minorities, who have endured a brutal crackdown, took hold of government and military installations in the capital of Sana’a. Barack Obama’s counter-terrorism chief, a critical manager of the relationship with Yemen, passed along the US president’s “strong support” for Hadi in a phone call to him earlier this week.
Obama, in announcing air strikes against the Islamic State (Isis) in Iraq and Syria earlier this month, referred to Yemen as one of his models for successful counter-terrorism. “He’s always made clear that we need to take the fight to terrorists and that’s what he’s done in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia,” Ben Rhodes, a top foreign-policy aide, said Thursday.
As Houthi protesters have backed Hadi’s government to a precipice, the State Department on Thursday moved non-essential staff out of its Sana’a embassy and warned US citizens against travel to the country. It characterized the move in a statement as resulting from an “abundance of caution” over the “changing, unpredictable security situation in Yemen.”
But US praise for Hadi remains robust. On Wednesday, assistant secretary of state Anne Patterson said that the “fragile moment” in Yemen made it “more important than ever that we sustain practical, unified and coordinated support” for Hadi and his “unwavering commitment to difficult political and economic reforms.”
In a call to Hadi that day, Lisa Monaco, the White House counter-terrorism director, reaffirmed that the US-Yemen counter-terrorism partnership remained central to the bilateral relationship. She blasted Hadi’s adversaries in what the White House said was a “strong condemnation of members of the Houthi movement and other parties who have resorted to violence.”
Obama made the Yemeni president’s enemies his own through an executive order issued shortly after Hadi took office in 2012. The order banned any US-based financial transactions of anyone found to be “obstructing the political process in Yemen,” which Obama considered an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States”.
Eclipsing human rights concerns, the US sees an interest in a strong Yemeni leader as a bulwark against al-Qaida’s local affiliate, known as Aqap, which has attempted to plant bombs on US-bound aircraft. The US considered Hadi’s predecessor Ali Abdullah Saleh a mercurial proxy, but worked closely with him until Arab spring demonstrations drove him out of power after three decades.
Saleh’s departure paved the way for a restoration of security aid to Yemen. The country is the single largest recipient of US aid for training and equipping foreign partner militaries, which Obama describes as the cornerstone of his counter-terrorism approach.
A congressional report from April tallied $147m in funding for modernizing Yemen’s security services between fiscal 2012 and 2014, an increase of some $400m since 2006. The money provides Yemeni security forces with everything from enhanced intelligence gear to drones to night-vision equipment to enhancements for its US-trained commandos.
That aid is a component of total security funding to Yemen, which reached $500,000 from 2007 to 2012, according to a March 2013 government report. Washington considers the expenditure a worthwhile nvestment, building a local force capable of attacking Aqap and minimizing direct US involvement.
Yet direct involvement is evident in the skies above Yemen, where US drones have launched 18 strikes so far in 2014. The total strikes are on the decline after Obama announced new restrictions on drone attacks last year – 26 in 2013, down from a 2012 high of 41, according to the Long War Journal website – but there have been at least two thus far this month. The most recent, on Thursday, targeted an Aqap commander, according to a tweet from a spokesman for Yemen’s embassy in Washington.
It is unknown how many civilians US drone and cruise missile strikes have killed, but the New America Foundation estimates they have caused between 798 and 1043 total fatalities.
Even with the rise of Isis, US security officials routinely describe Aqap as the al-Qaida affiliate most devoted to attacking the US domestically. This week’s unexpected strikes on the Khorasan group, a cell within al-Qaida’s Syria-based affiliate, followed concerns of bombmaking expertise learned from Aqap.
Monaco frequently calls Hadi and visits Yemen to maintain Yemeni pressure on Aqap, as did her predecessor at the White House, John Brennan, currently the director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Monaco, Patterson and other US officials point to US support for Yemeni political and economic development, which Patterson totalled at $875m since Saleh agreed to leave power.
But centrality of counterterrorism to the US approach to Yemen has yielded repeated criticism for subordinating human rights and exacerbating the country’s internal instability, a concern driven home by Hadi’s uncertain future, analysts said.
“The Obama administration has precious few options in Yemen, having poured most of its energies into its drones campaign and the man, Hadi, whom it thought would unquestionably do its bidding in the fight against Aqap,” said Letta Tayler, a counterterrorism researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“The current crisis in Yemen underscores the need for the US to start fostering political inclusion and democracy in Yemen, rather than trying to solve the country’s problems primarily through drones.”
on: Sep 27, 2014, 05:47 AM
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Ivory Coast to resume flights to countries struck by Ebola virus
President Alassane Ouattara claims lifting suspension of flights shows solidarity with nations affected by the lethal illness
theguardian.com, Saturday 27 September 2014 00.38 BST
Ivory Coast president Alassane Ouattara said on Friday his country will lift the controversial suspension of flights to countries stricken by the Ebola virus to show solidarity with the nations affected by the lethal outbreak.
He said the initial decision to suspend flights was prompted by uncertainty about the threat, which he called a terrible problem for the people of west Africa.
“When Ebola first broke out, people got panicked,” he said. “Obviously we rushed to make certain decisions. Now that everything is under control – there is no case of Ebola in Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) – I have decided that next week we will lift the suspension of flights and the maritime suspension.”
In addition, he said Ivory Coast has opened a “humanitarian corridor” so that people who want to enter Ivory Coast can be checked. The country has also contributed $1m to the international anti-Ebola effort.
Ouattara, who addressed the United Nations general assembly on Friday, said initial concerns were prompted by Ivory Coast’s shared borders with two countries – Guinea and Liberia – hit by Ebola.
“I think we are the only country that has two Ebola countries to its borders and we have to really work on its prevention and we are very grateful to President Obama – the centres for disease dontrol has sent two experts to work on this control,” he said. “We are trying to work on specific measures to contain and to prevent.”
In the first few days of the crisis, Ouattara said his first response was to send health and military personnel to the borders because of reports that infected people had entered Ivory Coast.
He then called his security council into a series of crisis meetings, but added health officials to the gatherings.
“We discussed specific measures, one by one, for several hours, then we sent a communique on television to explain to our people: yes, there is a problem, don’t be scared, we’re handling it, we have taken measures. You can count on the government not to hide a single case of Ebola. If there is a case of Ebola, we’ll say that there is a case.”
He said he is following World Health Organization guidelines to prevent the spread of the disease. As a recommended precaution, he no longer shakes hands with people in Ivory Coast and also frequently washes his hands in public so that residents will see that practical steps can help reduce the threat.
International health officials had said flight suspensions and the closure of sea ports and borders were not needed.
on: Sep 27, 2014, 05:45 AM
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U.S. Considers a No-Fly Zone to Protect Civilians From Airstrikes by Syria
By HELENE COOPER and ANNE BARNARD
SEPT. 26, 2014
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration has not ruled out establishing a no-fly zone over northeastern Syria to protect civilians from airstrikes by the Syrian government, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Friday.
Mr. Hagel and General Dempsey indicated they are open to considering the request of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey for a buffer zone along the Turkish-Syrian border, where tens of thousands of Syrians have sought refuge. Mr. Hagel said, “We’ve discussed all these possibilities and will continue to talk about what the Turks believe they will require.” He said 1.3 million Syrian refugees are now in Turkey.
General Dempsey added that “a buffer zone might at some point become a possibility,” but he said it was not imminent. Creating a buffer, or no-fly zone, would require warplanes to disable the Syrian government’s air defense system through airstrikes.
Both men spoke as the Pentagon continued its own airstrikes against the Islamic State. The extremist group is battling President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and Syrian insurgents backed by the United States — a complication of the American military campaign in Syria that began this week.
On Friday in Turkey, the Syrian Kurdish enclave of Kobani near the border with Turkey was on the verge of falling to Islamic State militants, residents said. Kurdish militants there said they had struggled to fight off the militants all week even as an American-led coalition launched airstrikes against the Islamic State elsewhere in Syria.
By late afternoon, Islamic State militants could be seen along the border both east and west of the main town of Kobani, also known as Ain al-Arab, a constellation of mostly Kurdish farming villages with a population of 400,000. Fighting intensified as night fell, with heavy clashes reported near the town.
Refugees fleeing into Turkey and Kurdish fighters seeking to cross into Syria to defend Kobani expressed anger and perplexity that the American-led coalition had not launched airstrikes against their assailants to avert what the refugees said would be a massacre. The Islamic State’s attacks on Kurdish civilians in Iraq triggered the first American strikes on the group last month.
“If they need to locate them I can insert a smart chip in my heart and go to the Islamic State fighters,” said Hajjar Sheikh Mohammad, 22, a Syrian Kurd trying to return to Syria to fight, suggesting that he would sacrifice himself to spot Islamic State targets for American warplanes.
Increasingly desperate Kurds broke through a border fence on Friday afternoon in the border village of Mursitpinar and crossed in both directions, with women, children and old men streaming into Turkey with livestock and belongings, and men crossing into Syria, unarmed but determined to fight. Turkish forces fired tear gas canisters into the crowd at short range, sending people fleeing in panic.
The Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or Y.P.G., had been issuing urgent calls for help, saying they had only light weapons and were struggling to hold off Islamic State fighters who are armed with tanks and artillery. But aiding the group could be politically difficult because of its link to the P.K.K., a Turkey-based Kurdish separatist group that Turkey and the United States consider a terrorist organization.
In the news conference at the Pentagon, General Dempsey indicated that a moderate Syrian rebel force of about 12,000 to 15,000 fighters would be needed to defeat the Islamic State — three times the number of fighters that the United States is planning to train. But he said the current plan for 5,000 fighters to be trained and armed by the United States in Saudi Arabia was never meant to be a ceiling.
Congress last week approved the Obama administration’s proposal to train and equip up to 5,000 moderate members of the Syrian opposition; the State Department and the Pentagon have been evaluating people before beginning the training program in Saudi Arabia.
Both Mr. Hagel and General Dempsey acknowledged that even with airstrikes in Syria, degrading and defeating the Islamic State — President Obama’s stated goal — could not happen without troops on the ground.
Mr. Hagel put the cost of the American military campaign in Iraq and Syria at between $7 million and $10 million a day.
Separately, United States Central Command, which oversees American military operations in the Middle East, said that American warplanes conducted 10 more airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria on Thursday and Friday. The warplanes destroyed three Humvees and one vehicle, disabled two armed vehicles and damaged one mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle, or MRAP, in five airstrikes south of Kirkuk.
Airstrikes west of Baghdad destroyed a guard shack, an armed vehicle and a bunker. An airstrike near Al Qaim destroyed four armed vehicles, a command and control position and a checkpoint.
In Syria, three strikes south of Deir al-Zour destroyed four tanks and damaged another, according to the Central Command.
on: Sep 27, 2014, 05:43 AM
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Mahmoud Abbas calls on UN to back deadline for Israeli withdrawal
Palestinian president accuses Israel of genocide in Gaza conflict and declares US-brokered peace process dead
Peter Beaumont in Jerusalem and Julian Borger in New York
The Guardian, Friday 26 September 2014 17.55 BST
The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, has called on the United Nations security council to support a resolution setting a clear deadline for Israel’s withdrawal from the occupied territories as he in effect declared the US-sponsored Oslo peace process over.
In a hard-hitting speech to the UN general assembly in New York, he also accused Israel of “war crimes carried out before the eyes of the world” during the recent 50-day Gaza war that ended in a ceasefire on 26 August, adding that Israel had “perpetrated genocide”.
“We will not forget and we will not forgive, and we will not allow war criminals to escape punishment,” Abbas declared. Palestinian officials were expected to start working with members of the security council to seek backing for a resolution setting a timeframe for the ending of what he called the “racist and colonial” occupation – a resolution certain to be opposed by the US.
According to diplomatic sources, the proposed resolution has caused a rift with the US, which had been working for some months on another resolution with the Israelis, Jordanians and Qataris aimed at bolstering the Gaza ceasefire with an exchange of Palestinian security guarantees for some loosening of Israel’s economic stranglehold.
The official US reaction described the was comments as “offensive and deeply disappointing”.
State department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said: “Such provocative statements are counterproductive and undermine efforts to create a positive atmosphere and restore trust between the parties.”
Abbas’s speech drew a furious response from senior Israeli officials, with foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman describing it as “diplomatic terrorism”.
“Abu Mazen’s [a nickname for Abbas] statements to the UN general assembly clearly illustrate that he doesn’t want to be – and cannot be – a partner to a diplomatic settlement,” Lieberman said. “There’s a reason that Abu Mazen entered into a joint government with Hamas.”
He added: “Abu Mazen complements Hamas in that he is preoccupied with diplomatic terrorism and slanderous claims against Israel.”
Aides to Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu were also harsh in their condemnation. “Abbas’s speech was full of lies and incitement. This is not the way a man who wants peace speaks,” said one.
The White House later said that Barack Obama would host Netanyahu for a meeting on Wednesday to discuss Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians, the situation in Gaza, Iran nuclear talks, and the fight against Islamic State militants.
Even though the US holds the presidency of the security council, diplomats said the Abbas resolution would most probably find support from the nine council members necessary to pass. Only Britain, Australia and Lithuania would be expected to abstain, forcing the US to use its veto.
Although Abbas insisted Palestine was committed to “a just peace through a negotiated solution”, the moves underlined the frustration among Palestinians over US proprietorship of the peace process amid a new desire to internationalise efforts to secure a two-state solution.
Faced with a veto of the resolution, Palestinian sources say Abbas will accelerate moves to join UN and international bodies, including accession to the international criminal court.
In some of his strongest language to date, Abbas declared that the American-backed Israel-Palestinian peace process, which has dragged on for two decades, was dead, saying it was “impossible to return to negotiations”.
He said: “It is impossible, and I repeat – it is impossible – to return to the whirlwind cycle of negotiations that failed to deal with the substance of the matter and the fundamental question.
“There is neither credibility nor seriousness in negotiations in which Israel predetermines the results via its settlement activities and the occupation’s brutality.
“ There is no meaning or value in negotiations for which the agreed objective is not ending the Israeli occupation and achieving the independence of the state of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital on the entire Palestinian territory occupied in the 1967 war.
“And, there is no value in negotiations which are not linked to a firm timetable for the implementation of this goal.”
Instead, he accused Israel of planning “ghettos for Palestinians on fragmented land, without borders and without sovereignty over its airspace, water and natural resources, which will be under the subjugation of the racist settlers and army of occupation, and at worst will be a most abhorrent form of apartheid”.
Some observers had expected Abbas to go further and set a deadline of three years in his speech to the general assembly, a timeframe senior Palestinian sources say was never on the cards.
“We discussed different timeframes in our internal discussions from six months to three years, but without acceptance by the security council for the need for a deadline any time frame is meaningless.”
Abbas’s speech follows several weeks of intense diplomacy with Arab states that also saw him travel to France for bilateral talks. It also follows remarks by President Barack Obama in his own speech to the general assembly criticising the “too many Israelis ready to abandon the hard work of peace”.
The other main theme of his speech was the recent war in Gaza and his call for the long Israeli blockade of the coastal strip.
“This last war against Gaza was a series of absolute war crimes carried out before the eyes and ears of the entire world, moment by moment, in a manner that makes it inconceivable that anyone today can claim that they did not realise the magnitude and horror of the crime.
Putting the blame for the failure of the peace process squarely on Israel, Abbas continued: “Throughout the months of negotiations, settlement construction, land confiscations, home demolitions, killing and arrest campaigns, and forced displacement in the West Bank continued unabated and the unjust blockade on the Gaza Strip was tightened.
“The occupation’s campaign specifically targeted the City of Jerusalem and its inhabitants, attempting to artificially alter the spirit, identity and character of the Holy City, focusing on Al-Aqsa Mosque, threatening grave consequences. At the same time, racist and armed gangs of settlers persisted with their crimes against the Palestinian people, the land, mosques, churches, properties and olive trees.”
on: Sep 27, 2014, 05:41 AM
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Australia PM Abbott Applauds FBI Partnership
by Naharnet Newsdesk
27 September 2014, 07:22
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott hailed international police cooperation Friday during a threat briefing at the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force in New York.
Abbott's visit came just days after authorities in Australia carried out anti-terror raids. He praised Australia's partnership with US security forces, underlining the importance of swapping information.
"The relationships between Australian and U.S. law enforcement agencies are extremely strong," he said at the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Manhattan offices.
"It is, of course, absolutely critical that we have this ability to exchange intelligence and capabilities."
The pre-dawn raids carried out by more than 800 officers in Sydney and Brisbane on September 18 foiled a plot by Islamic State jihadists to carry out executions, authorities said.
The FBI said that while no specific threat existed in New York, it encouraged cooperation between countries.
"Terrorism can’t be fought alone, it must be fought together," FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge George Venizelos said.
Fifteen people were arrested following the Australia raids, and authorities warned of "lone wolf" terror attacks from radicalized Australians returning from Iraq and Syria, where militants from the Islamic State group have taken swaths of territory.
About 12,000 foreign fighters are thought to have traveled to Syria and Iraq from 74 countries, including around 60 from Australia.
Source: Agence France Presse
on: Sep 27, 2014, 05:40 AM
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David Cunliffe stands down as NZ Labour leader but will stand again
Support for him in the 32-member caucus is believed to have fallen to fewer than six
Australian Associated Press
theguardian.com, Saturday 27 September 2014 04.17 BST
David Cunliffe has stood down as leader of New Zealand’s Labour party but will contest the leadership.
He made the announcement after a party council meeting in Auckland on Saturday.
Cunliffe’s resignation will be effective from Tuesday, but he says he will put himself forward for a leadership contest.
He had wanted to continue leading Labour despite a crushing defeat in the 20 September election but has been under pressure to stand aside.
Support within the 32-member caucus is believed to have dwindled to fewer than six.
Grant Robertson is the frontrunner to succeed Cunliffe with Jacinda Ardern as deputy leader.
on: Sep 27, 2014, 05:38 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
North Korea admits to Kim Jong-un’s ill-health for first time
Leader suffering from ‘discomfort’, says documentary broadcast by state media amid speculation over 31-year-old’s health
Justin McCurry in Tokyo and Enjoli Liston
The Guardian, Friday 26 September 2014 10.44 BST
That Kim Jong-un is carrying a few extra pounds has been obvious since he became North Korea’s leader in late 2011. But speculation that his increasing weight – apparently partly due to a weakness for cheese – has brought on debilitating spells of gout rose dramatically this week, after he failed to attend an important parliamentary session.
Rumours that Kim, reputedly a heavy smoker, is in less than robust health surfaced earlier this year when state TV footage showed him with a pronounced limp and looking noticeably bulkier than he did during his first few months as leader.
On Friday, North Korean authorities, in a rare display of openness about their leader’s health, admitted for the first time that Kim was suffering from an “uncomfortable physical condition”, although they did not confirm rumours that the 31-year-old, Swiss-educated leader was suffering from gout.
State media issued the brief comment on Kim’s physical condition after he failed to appear at a session of the supreme people’s assembly – North Korea’s national legislature, where leaders would normally be expected to make an appearance.
In a one-hour documentary aired on Thursday that showed a limping Kim visiting a factory near Pyongyang, the narrator said: “The wealth and prosperity of our socialism is thanks to the painstaking efforts of our marshal, who keeps lighting the path for the people, like the flicker of a flame, despite suffering discomfort.”
Kim’s three-week public absence comes months after he was shown limping, and wearing loose clothes, during inspections of military units and factories.
His last appearance was on 3 September, when Kim, accompanied by his wife Ri Sol-ju, was shown sitting in the front-row seats at a concert by the North Korean girl group the Moranbong Band.
Despite his love of baseball and basketball – evident in his friendship with the former NBA star Dennis Rodman – Kim is not known for his sporting prowess beyond occasional outings on horseback. South Korea’s Joongang Ilbo newspaper charitably speculated that his limp had been caused by a sports injury, but Yonhap suggested that the portly dictator’s health problems were more serious.
The South Korean news agency quoted a source said to be familiar with North Korean affairs as saying that Kim was suffering from gout, diabetes and high blood pressure. Kim Il-sung, Kim’s grandfather and North Korea’s founder, and his father Kim Jong-il both suffered from gout, as does his elder brother, Kim Jong-nam.
Yonhap’s source said that a North Korean medical team had visited Germany and Switzerland, where Kim is thought to have been educated, to consult colleagues about his health issues.
South Korea’s unification ministry said on Friday that it was monitoring Kim “with various possibilities in mind, including the rumours about health problems”.
Speculation is mounting that Kim, who may have been trying to gain weight to resemble his revered grandfather, was paying the price for his penchant for alcohol and rich food.
“I’m not a physician, and even if I were, I probably would not be his. That said, his lifestyle – the weight gain, smoking, and extreme stress do not help,” said Daniel Pinkston, deputy project director for the North East Asian programme at the International Crisis Group.
Pinkston said he believed Kim’s most loyal supporters were likely to be “sympathetic” and wish him a speedy recovery. However, if his condition proves serious, it could trigger instability – the threat of which could affect his treatment, especially if it involved surgery, he added.
“Dictators are very suspicious of potential challengers, and of course, they are vulnerable when sedated,” said Pinkston. “Notice that his grandfather never got his tumour removed from his neck”.
It is not the first time that Kim Jong-un has disappeared from public view. He was absent from TV broadcasts for 21 days in March 2012 and for a slightly longer period in June that year. Early last year he was out of the public eye for 18 days.
Some analysts were sceptical about rumours surrounding Kim’s health. “Kim Jong-un’s failure to attend yesterday’s [supreme people’s assembly] meeting does not necessarily indicate he has a health problem,” said Michael Madden, an expert on the North Korean leadership and contributor to the 38 North website.
“His father often skipped these legislative meetings. On the other hand, Kim Jong-un has not made any observed public appearances since 3 September, which is somewhat unusual for him. Also, unlike his father, there were no reports in state media that he participated in any on-site inspections or visits, which we used to see with Kim Jong-il even when the old man’s health was precarious.”
on: Sep 27, 2014, 05:36 AM
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HK Police Arrest Protesters at Gov't Complex
by Naharnet Newsdesk
27 September 2014, 09:24
Riot police in Hong Kong on Saturday moved in to arrest the remaining 50 students who occupied the premises of government headquarters during a night of scuffles to protest China's refusal to allow genuine democratic reforms in the semiautonomous region.
About 100 others continued to shout slogans outside the square where the government complex is located, and chanted at police to stop arresting their colleagues.
The dispersal followed a night of scuffles between police and protesters who forced their way into government headquarters, some scaling a tall fence. Police on Friday night responded with pepper spray to push them back. At least 29 people have been injured, police said.
Hong Kong's Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok said he regretted the chaotic events in an otherwise "peaceful" society and urged students to leave the square and other protesters not to join them.
The scuffles erupted at the end of the weeklong strike by students demanding China's Communist leaders organize democratic elections in 2017.
Tension over Hong Kong's political future has risen significantly since control of the former British colony passed to China in 1997.
China's leaders have promised universal suffrage for the semiautonomous region, but last month ruled out letting the public nominate candidates, instead insisting they be screened by a committee of Beijing loyalists.
Hong Kong's young people have become vocal supporters of full democracy in recent years, fueled by anger over widening inequality.
Thousands of university and college students who had spent the week boycotting classes were joined Friday by a smaller group of high school students.
Organizers said those arrested at government headquarters included Joshua Wong, a 17-year-old leader of the activist group Scholarism, who was dragged away by four officers. Wong, a recent high school graduate, gained prominence two years ago after he organized protests that forced the Hong Kong government to back off plans to introduce a Chinese national education curriculum that some feared was a form of brainwashing.
"Our movement is peaceful and does not use aggression," said University of Hong Kong students' union president Yvonne Leung. "Students who decided to storm inside (the government complex) knew about their legal responsibility."
The student protest was organized independently of Occupy Central, an alliance of pro-democracy activists that plan to blockade Hong Kong's financial district to call for genuine democratic reforms.
On Saturday, several Occupy Central members joined students protesting outside the square.
Benny Tai, a key leader of the movement, told reporters the group would "stay with the students until the end and risk getting arrested ourselves". Tai also criticized the amount of force police used on students.
Occupy Central has hinted that their blockade would begin Wednesday, China's National Day holiday, and Tai said the protest would go ahead as scheduled.
Source: Associated Press