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Archive for August, 2016

Strong quake rattles central Italy: “The town isn’t here”

August 24, 2016

AMATRICE, Italy (AP) — A strong earthquake struck central Italy early Wednesday, collapsing homes on top of residents as they slept. At least 10 people were reported dead in two hard-hit towns that were partially demolished.

“The town isn’t here anymore,” Amatrice mayor Sergio Pirozzi said. The magnitude 6 quake struck at 3:36 a.m. (0136 GMT) and was felt across a broad swath of central Italy, including Rome where residents of the capital felt a long swaying followed by aftershocks.

The hardest-hit towns were Amatrice and Accumoli near Rieti, some 80 kilometers (50 miles) northeast of Rome. The center of Amatrice was devastated, with entire palazzos razed to the ground. Rocks and metal tumbled onto the streets and dazed residents huddled in piazzas as aftershocks continued into the early morning hours.

As daylight dawned, residents, civil protection workers and even priests began digging out with shovels, bulldozers and their bare hands, trying to reach survivors. The Italian Geological service put the magnitude at 6.0. The U.S. Geological Survey reported the magnitude at 6.2 with the epicenter at Norcia, about 170 kilometers (105 miles) northeast of Rome, and with a relatively shallow depth of 10 kilometers (6 miles).

The mayor of the quake-hit town of Accumoli, Stefano Petrucci, said at least six people had died there, including a family of four, and two others. “There are deaths,” he told state-run RaiNews24. In Amatrice, the ANSA news agency reported two bodies had been pulled from one building. The Rev. Fabio Gammarota told ANSA another three were killed in a separate collapse.

Amatrice Mayor Pirozzi told state-run RAI radio and Sky TG24 that residents were buried under collapsed buildings, that the lights had gone out and that heavy equipment was needed to clear streets clogged with debris.

The office of Premier Matteo Renzi tweeted that heavy equipment was on its way. In 2009, a 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck in the same region and killed more than 300 people. The earlier earthquake struck L’Aquila in central Italy, about 90 kilometers (55 miles) south of the latest quake.

A 1997 quake killed a dozen people in the area and severely damaged one of the jewels of Umbria, the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, filled with Giotto frescoes. The Franciscan friars who are the custodians of the basilica reported no immediate damage from Wednesday’s temblor.

Winfield reported from Rome.

Greece returns 14 migrants to Turkey under EU deal

August 18, 2016

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greek authorities have returned to neighboring Turkey 14 migrants over the past two days, bringing to nearly 500 the total of people sent back under this year’s deal between the European Union and Turkey.

The public order ministry says four Pakistani and two Algerian nationals who had entered Greece illegally were taken back by boat from the eastern island of Lesbos Thursday. Another eight Syrians were returned Wednesday on a chartered plane, again from Lesbos.

More than a million refugees and other migrants have reached Greece in smugglers’ boats from Turkey since the beginning of 2015, on their way to Europe’s prosperous heartland. Since the EU-Turkey deal came into effect on March 20, the flow has slowed down to just over 10,000 people — 482 of whom have been returned.

Sarkozy to run for French presidency next year

August 22, 2016

PARIS (AP) — France’s former conservative president Nicolas Sarkozy announced Monday he is running for the presidency again in next year’s elections, an awaited move that is expected to lead to a tough battle with rivals from his own camp.

In an extract of a book released on his Facebook page and Twitter account, Sarkozy wrote: “I have decided to be a candidate to the 2017 presidential election.” “I’ve felt I had the force to wage this battle at a so tormented time of history,” he added.

Sarkozy, 61, is expected to lead a campaign based on hardline ideas on immigration and security in a country marked by recent attacks carried out by Islamist extremists. The attacks have prompted a national debate about the place of Islam — France’s No. 2 religion — in a strictly secular society. With his strategy, Sarkozy hopes to grab some votes from the far-right National Front, whose leader Marine Le Pen has already announced her candidacy for the presidency.

In recent interviews, Sarkozy has said he wants to widen the 2004 ban on the Muslim headscarf in public schools to also include universities. In the name of secularism, he has also said he opposes pork-free options proposed by many school canteens for Muslim and Jewish children, and he has suggested that children born in France to parents staying illegally in the country shouldn’t be granted French nationality.

Sarkozy must first win the primaries organized by the French right in November where he’s expected to face tough competition. The former prime minister under Jacques Chirac in the 1990s, Alain Juppe, 71, is the current favorite in the polls. Other contenders from the conservative party include Sarkozy’s own former prime minister, Francois Fillon.

Sarkozy lost the presidential election to Socialist Francois Hollande in 2012 after his first term. When he left the Elysee Palace, he said he was leaving politics and would find a different way to serve his country.

Yet he made a successful comeback in 2014, winning the leadership of the conservative party, known at the time as the UMP. He explained he was moved to return to politics by the “hopelessness, anger and lack of future” that he sensed among the French. Since then the party changed its name to “the Republicans.”

Since 2010, Sarkozy’s name has been mentioned in several legal cases relating to corruption and influence-peddling, but he has never been convicted of wrongdoing or been sent to trial. Last February he was handed preliminary charges for suspected illegal overspending on his failed 2012 re-election campaign.

The French presidential election will take place in two rounds in April and May next year. The race remains wide open with primaries to be organized by the left in January. Unpopular Hollande has not said if he will run for re-election.

Syrian refugees support each other in Britain

August 21, 2016

LONDON (AP) — A summer rainstorm pounded down on the eaves of Christ the Saviour church hall in London as Fardous Bahbouh poured tea and set up the makeshift classroom where she teaches some 25 Syrian refugees how to ask for directions in English, shop for groceries and navigate British norms in making new friends.

Bahbouh’s class is part of a larger Facebook community called “Ahlan Wa Sahlan” — Arabic for welcome — one of many small local efforts that have sprung up across Britain to help migrants who have made their way to the country after fleeing civil war in Syria.

“Being a refugee myself, I know how it feels to be away from home and having no option to return,” said Bahbouh on a recent Thursday. A language teacher in her 30s from Syria, she was studying for a master’s degree here when war broke out and prevented her from going home. Now she teaches others as a way of giving back to those who helped her.

As the U.K. struggles to implement its commitment to resettle more than 20,000 Syrians, the government is counting on charities and community groups to help the newcomers adjust to life in Britain. The Home Office has for the first time set up a program to allow local organizations to sponsor refugees and the agency’s website directs volunteers to migrant charities that need their help.

While Britain initially resisted international pressure to accept large numbers of refugees, more than 9,000 Syrians have filed for asylum in the U.K. since 2011. That is a tiny fraction of the 1.1 million Syrians who registered throughout Europe during the same period, including almost 377,000 in Germany alone, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Local groups say they can be incubators for programs, providing a blueprint for transition that will help larger efforts succeed. After all, local communities are fundamental to the success of any resettlement effort, said Maurizio Albahari, author of “Crimes of Peace: Mediterranean Migrations at the World’s Deadliest Border,” and a social anthropologist at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

“By working to facilitate every aspect of refugee resettlement, local communities quietly but steadily demonstrate to all levels of government that the arrival of refugees is neither unwanted nor impractical, and that xenophobia cannot be taken for granted,” Albahari said.

One of the groups that is already serving refugees is Citizens UK, which helps them get health care, schooling and housing. Bekele Woyecha, a community organizer and former refugee from Ethiopia, said individuals — not the central government —have taken the lead.

“This is a county known for offering sanctuary,” Woyecha said. “We want to keep that tradition.” In addition to language classes, Ahlan Wa Sahlan hosts social events, such as recent communal meal during Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting. Such occasions are important, because they offer the newcomers a chance to talk about home and speak with others who share similar stories about the war and the treacherous journey they faced to get here.

All ages and walks of life are represented in Ahlan Wa Sahlan: An elderly painter pulled from the rubble of Aleppo, a shy newlywed couple, and Karam AlHabbal, who dreams of going to a British university and becoming a pilot.

Confident and funny, his English is already so good that he volunteers to help others. He has just turned 18 and gained residency status but will reveal few details of his travels to Britain for fear of endangering others.

“I have a normal life now I’ve come to a safe country.” he said. “My country has been destroyed.” At a picnic in London’s Regent’s Park, in the shadow of the golden dome of London’s Central Mosque, Bahbouh’s group meets once again. This time, bikes and biscuits replace notepads and pens.

Bahbouh arrived with two decorated cream cakes to celebrate AlHabbal’s birthday and new residency status, and the aspiring pilot rushed to upload photos on Instagram. Some of the young men took selfies in the sunshine, while another sat on the grass and broke into a melancholy Arabic song.

From the outside, they looked like any other group of Londoners enjoying a picnic on a rare day of sun, but they were also compatriots helping one another navigate a new society and piece together a new life.

While Bahbouh’s group can’t replace the jobs, property and prospects the refugees left behind in Syria, she is trying to replenish the intangible assets of love, hope and confidence. “I am optimistic,” Bahbouh said. “No war lasts forever.”

Lithuania receives surplus vehicles from the Netherlands

Vilnius, Lithuania (UPI)

Aug 18, 2016

Lithuania is touting its bilateral military partnership with the Netherlands, which has resulted in the procurement of surplus military vehicles.

Over the past six months, Lithuania has received about 200 combat and medium-lift Mercedes-Benz GD vehicles, trucks and other military vehicles from the Netherlands to supplement and update the Baltic country’s military fleet.

The vehicles were delivered in several phases and more equipment is scheduled for delivery this year and next under the $7.89 million deal.

“This is the second military equipment procurement contract between Lithuania and the Netherlands,” Lithuania’s Ministry of National Defense said. “In 2012-2013 the Lithuanian Armed Forces bought vehicles, communications containers and airport service equipment (to replace outdated and not cost-efficient equipment then used in the Lithuanian Armed Forces) from the Netherlands Armed Forces for a good price.”

Lithuanian Minister of National Defense Juozas Olekas and Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Lithuania Bert van der Lingen were meeting in the country Thursday to celebrate the successful cooperation between the two countries and future cooperation.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Lithuania_receives_surplus_vehicles_from_the_Netherlands_999.html.

Obama to become first US president to visit Laos

Washington (AFP)

Aug 18, 2016

President Barack Obama will visit Laos next month, a first for a US president, in a trip that begins with a G20 summit in China, the White House said Thursday.

The September 2-9 tour will be the president’s 11th visit to Asia since he took office in 2009.

Obama has made a “pivot” to the region a pillar of US foreign policy. Next month’s swing will come about five months before the Democratic president steps down after two four-year terms.

In Laos, which this year holds the presidency of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Obama will participate in the US-ASEAN Summit and East Asia Summit from September 6 through 8.

The East Asia meeting will include the major regional powers such as China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and Russia.

“President Obama will be the first US president to visit Laos,” the White House noted.

Secretary of State John Kerry has visited Laos, which has strained ties with the US, twice this year — in January to prepare for Obama’s arrival and in July for ASEAN meetings.

Kerry raised issues related to the devastation caused by US bombings during the Vietnam War and the future of Southeast Asia in the face of an increasingly assertive China.

Laos became the world’s most-bombed country per capita from 1964 to 1973 as the United States tried to cut supplies flowing to North Vietnamese fighters during the Vietnam War.

More than two million bombs were dropped. About 30 percent did not explode and some 50,000 people died by the end of the war.

In January, Washington and Vientiane discussed beefing up a US program to clear mines and disarm unexploded devices.

Before the Laos visit, Obama will attend his last meeting of leaders of the Group of 20 economic powers, on September 4-5 in Hangzhou in eastern China.

There Obama will also hold “in-depth” meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the White House said in a statement.

The leaders of the world’s superpowers will discuss “a wide-range of global, regional, and bilateral issues,” it said.

At the last US-China strategic and economic talks, in Beijing in June, the two sides clashed over human rights and China’s expansion in the South China Sea while proclaiming cooperation on climate change.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Obama_to_become_first_US_president_to_visit_Laos_999.html.

Alaskan town votes to relocate as climate change submerges island

By Shawn Price

Aug. 18, 2016

SHISHMAREF, Alaska, Aug. 18 (UPI) — The Alaskan village of Shishmaref narrowly voted to abandon their island and relocate to the mainland due to the effects of climate change, a town official said.

The 89-to-78 vote Wednesday makes Shishmaref, north of the Bering Strait, one of the first towns in the United States to move due to climate change. Melting sea ice is raising ocean levels and will submerge the island in a few decades.

The town dates back approximately 500 years according to Donna Barr, secretary of the Shishmaref Council.

Relocation would cost at least $180 million and residents will still have to choose a new location at a town meeting later, the Shishmaref city clerk’s office said.

“About 15 years ago, they estimated the cost at $180 million, but I would figure it’s much higher now,” Barr said. “We don’t see the move happening in our lifetime because of the funding.”

The Army Corps of Engineers has identified nine Alaskan villages at imminent risk because of erosion and rising seas. They have been urged to move, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Another 200 to 300 villages face similar risks in the next few decades, the Corps said.

The village of Newtok, about 370 miles south of Shishmaref, has already voted to move using state and federal funds from HUD, spokeswoman Maria Gonoa said.

Source: United Press International (UPI).

Link: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2016/08/18/Alaskan-town-votes-to-relocate-as-climate-change-submerges-island/2091471512295/.

Obama administration to end use of private prisons

August 18, 2016

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department says it’s phasing out its relationships with private prisons after a recent audit found the private facilities have more safety and security problems than ones run by the government.

Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates has instructed federal officials to significantly reduce reliance on private prisons. As of December 2015, more than 22,000 federal inmates — or about 12 percent of the total — were in private facilities. That’s according to report this month from the Justice Department’s inspector general.

The government began to rely on private prisons in the late 1990s due to overcrowding. In her memo Thursday, Yates says the decline in the prison population over the past three years contributes to the decision not to renew private prison contracts.

South Sudan government recruited child soldiers, UN says

August 19, 2016

JUBA, South Sudan (AP) — South Sudan’s government has recruited child soldiers in the past week to prepare for a renewed conflict, according to an internal United Nations document obtained by The Associated Press.

The document says a senior politician appointed by President Salva Kiir led the recruitment of an entire village of boys using intimidation. Some were as young as 12 years old. It was not clear how many children were involved.

Armed groups in South Sudan often coerce children to join their ranks by threatening to confiscate their family’s cattle, a key source of wealth and status in this pastoral society. The U.N. document indicates that the recruitment of children took place shortly after the U.N. Security Council a week ago approved sending an additional 4,000 peacekeepers to the East African country to protect civilians after renewed fighting in the capital, Juba, last month.

Separately, UNICEF on Friday announced that at least 650 children have joined armed groups in South Sudan this year alone. Around 16,000 child soldiers have been recruited since civil war began in December 2013.

Army spokesperson Lul Ruai Koang said youth who join the military are not forced. He said he was not aware of the recent recruitment of children. South Sudan’s military and opposition forces have made repeated promises to address allegations of child recruitment, but both sides have continued recruiting since July’s outbreak of violence, according to Justin Forsyth, UNICEF’s deputy executive director.

“They believe they can easily control and manipulate young minds,” Forsyth said. The children then “can commit atrocities, and they will do what they are told.” Child soldiers are defined as anyone recruited to join armed groups under the age of 18, and the International Criminal Court considers the recruitment of those under 15 to be a war crime.

In an interview this month in Unity state, one former child soldier said he had expected to do cooking and cleaning in the army when he joined at age 16 but instead was sent to fight on the front lines.

“If you go to the front line, two things would happen: either you will kill someone or you will be killed,” he said. He was released from the army a few months ago, one of more than 1,000 child soldiers who have been demobilized from different armed groups as part of a UNICEF program.

“I was not happy because I was given a gun when I was so young,” the teen said. “If you are afraid, the commander will beat you.” Since the outbreak of civil war, children have been recruited at an expedited rate to protect their communities, according to Joseph Manytuel, the governor of Northern Leich state.

“When you are in a crisis, whoever is ready to join will not be left alone,” Manytuel told the AP from Bentiu earlier this month. Last year, President Barack Obama issued a partial waiver to South Sudan from the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008, allowing the U.S. to continue military assistance to support South Sudan’s peace process.

Duterte threatens to withdraw Philippines from UN, hits US

August 21, 2016

DAVAO, Philippines (AP) — The Philippines’ brash-talking president has threatened to withdraw his country from the United Nations in his latest outburst against critics of his anti-drugs campaign that has left hundreds of suspects dead.

President Rodrigo Duterte ridiculed the U.N. as inutile, and lashed at U.S. police killings of black men. He pointed early Sunday to the haunting image of a bloodied child pulled from the rubble of a missile-struck building in the Syrian city of Aleppo to hit U.N. and U.S. inability to stop such deadly conflicts while he said he comes under fire for the deaths of criminals.

Duterte also pressed allegations against a Philippine senator and critic, accusing her of having an affair with her driver whom he linked to illegal drugs.

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