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Update February 2019


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Tear gas, hate speech marks 14th yellow vest protest

Yellow vest protesters wave a French flag Saturday, Feb.16, 2019 in Paris. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

Elaine Ganley

Paris (AP) — Police fired tear gas and brought in water cannons and a horse brigade to disperse several thousand yellow vest protesters Saturday massed near a Paris landmark at the end of a march through the French capital, the 14th straight weekend of demonstrations.

Anti-Semitic remarks hurled by a few at a noted philosopher on the protesters' route were the bitter finale to a day of tension.

Acrid clouds of tear gas filled the esplanade of Les Invalides monument, obscuring the gold dome that crowns the monument housing Napoleon's tomb.

Tension also marked demonstrations in other cities.

In Rouen, in Normandy, a car blocked by demonstrators pushed through the crowd, slightly injuring four people, the all-news channel BFMTV reported. Police used tear gas and water cannon in Bordeaux, a stronghold of the yellow vest movement, and other cities on the 14th straight Saturday of protests. Another demonstration in the capital was planned for Sunday to mark three months since the movement held its first nationwide protests Nov. 17.

In Paris, an array of insults, some anti-Semitic, by a handful of yellow vest protesters targeted a well-known French philosopher, Alain Finkielkraut,  underscoring excesses that surge within an increasingly divided movement with radical fringes.

President Emmanuel Macron tweeted that "the anti-Semitic injuries he received are the absolute negation of what we are and of what makes us a great nation."

The president's was among a chorus of tweets, with Interior Minister Christophe Castaner denouncing "the surge of pure hate," while government spokesman Benjamin Griveau tweeted that "the ugly beast lurks in the anonymity of the crowd."

The insults included words like "Zionist!" and "Go back to Tel Aviv!" and "We are France!" Finkielkraut once showed sympathy for the movement but criticized it in a recent interview with Le Figaro daily. Some yellow vest protesters have expressed racist or anti-Semitic views online and on the sidelines of protests.

"I felt an absolute hate," Finkielkraut told the Sunday paper Le Journal du Dimanche. He expressed relief that police intervened.

Lines of riot police used tear gas and an impressive backup, a special horse brigade and water cannons — apparently not used — to force the agitated crowd to disperse.

The Paris prosecutor's office said 15 people were detained for questioning, far less than the scores detained in earlier, larger demonstrations that degenerated into scattered rioting and destruction.

Violence has marked most of the protests that started against fuel taxes and grew into a mass movement against Macron and his pro-business policies. However, the increasingly divided movement is having trouble maintaining momentum, and support from the public that initially massively backed protesters, polls showed.

French media quoted the Interior Ministry as saying that 41,500 protesters nationwide turned out Saturday, some 10,000 less than the previous week, with 5,000 in Paris.

"No social peace without equitable sharing ... The people aren't a milk cow," was the message scrawled on a wooden cross, carried by a protester dressed in monk's garb.

In Paris, tensions mounted as the more than four-hour march ended at the Invalides, with projectiles thrown at police, some by masked individuals dressed in black, a uniform for the ultra-leftist Blackblocs. BFM showed people running after moving police cars, hitting the windows.

The march — one of seven yellow vest demonstrations in Paris on Saturday — began hours earlier at the Arc de Triomphe at the top of the Champs-Elysees, the stage of past rioting, and wound through Paris, from moneyed Right Bank streets with high-fashion boutiques to Left Bank student quarters.

Many French are asking aloud how long the yellow vest movement will keep up its protests, which drain security forces and have dented the French economy.

Emilie Bidois, from the Normandy town of Gisors, who was taking part in the Paris protest, admitted she was growing tired — but remaining determined.

"We're fed up but we won't give up. We won't give up on anything because they want to muzzle us and we want to be heard," she said. "I will carry on until the movement runs out of steam, if it runs out of steam, but I don't think it will."

Leo Peyrade, a 70-year-old Parisian, referred to the violence that has hit numerous protests, often triggered by small extremist groups, and said he has learned to be careful. Last week, a young protester lost four fingers from a grenade. Others have lost eyes.

"Every time I come, some are wounded, arms, legs. I'm careful," he said. "I can't run like a young person, not as fast in any event."


8 miners rescued in Zimbabwe; dozens more feared dead

Families react after hearing eight artisanal miners survived after rains flooded mines on the outskirts of Kadoma, west of Harare, Zimbabwe, Saturday, Feb, 16. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

Farai Mutsaka

Kadoma, Zimbabwe (AP) — Eight subsistence miners who were trapped underground for several days after heavy flooding in Zimbabwe have been rescued, though dozens of their co-workers are still missing and feared dead.

Rescuers on Saturday pulled the exhausted, muddied survivors from the ground and took them to a tent for medical treatment. Relatives waiting at the scene ululated, cheered and hugged each other.

Later came the retrieval of the dead. One by one the bodies were pulled from one of the tunnels in the gold fields, put in blue body bags and into a police truck which is transporting them to a tent for identification.

Dozens of the small-scale gold miners were caught underground Tuesday on the outskirts of Kadoma, west Zimbabwe's capital, Harare, when a dam wall collapsed and water rushed into the nearby mining tunnels.

It is unclear how many miners remain trapped, but the government has said between 60 and 70 people were working underground at the time of the accident. The government has declared it a national disaster.

Uniformed police, government workmen and artisanal miners, some of them wearing shorts, T-shirts and sandals, are working together in the retrieval operation using a hand-powered winch and ropes.

Ignoring a strong stench, some people broke through the police perimeter to catch a glimpse of the process, while others hoped to identify their friends and relatives.

At least 20 bodies had been identified underground, while the search for more bodies continued, said Henrietta Rushwaya, the leader of Zimbabwe's association of small scale miners.

A government statement Friday said that $200,000 is needed to complete the operation. Local head of the Civil Protection Unit Cecilia Chitiyo told reporters Saturday that "well-wishers" should donate body bags, masks, gloves, diesel fuel and other needed items.


Retired Indian general urges caution against Pakistan strike

In this Oct. 2, 2016 file photo, Indian army soldiers patrol near the Line of Control in Nowshera sector, about 90 kilometers from Jammu, India. (AP Photo/Channi Anand)

Aijaz Hussain

Srinagar, India (AP) — As India considers its response to the suicide car bombing of a paramilitary convoy in the disputed region of Kashmir that killed dozens of soldiers, a retired military commander who oversaw a much-lauded military strike against neighboring Pakistan in 2016 has urged caution.

A local Kashmiri militant rammed an explosive-laden van into a convoy bus on Thursday, killing 41 soldiers and injuring two dozen others in the worst attack against Indian government forces in Kashmir's history. India blamed the attack on Pakistan and promised a "crushing response." New Delhi accuses its archrival of supporting rebels in Kashmir, a charge that Islamabad denies.

The retired commander, Lt. Gen. D.S. Hooda, told The Associated Press on Saturday that while "some kind of limited (military) strike (against Pakistan) is more than likely," he hopes for "rethinking and reconciliation" from all sides in the conflict.

The former general, who was in charge of the army's northern command at the frontier with Pakistan in Kashmir and counterinsurgency operations, oversaw India's "surgical strikes" in September 2016 after militants attacked a military base in the frontier town of Uri near the highly militarized Line of Control.

Nineteen Indian soldiers and three assailants were killed in that attack. India instantly blamed Pakistan for supporting the attackers, who New Delhi alleged were Pakistani nationals.

At the peak of a 2016 civilian uprising triggered by the killing of a charismatic Kashmiri rebel leader, Hooda called for all sides to take a step back from the deadly confrontation, suggesting that political initiatives be taken instead. It was a rare move by a top Indian army general in Kashmir.

Later that year when the attack on the base in Uri happened, Hooda commanded what New Delhi called "surgical strikes" against militants in the Pakistan-controlled part of Kashmir — which India said involved the country's special forces killing an unknown number of insurgents. Pakistan denied that the strikes ever occurred, demanding that India produce evidence to back up the claim.

Hooda has since said that the constant hype of "surgical strikes" was unwarranted.

Pakistani Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua rejected India's allegations about Pakistan's involvement in the attack, saying Saturday that it was part of New Delhi's "known rhetoric and tactics" to divert global attention from human rights violations. According to foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal, Janjua called for implementation of U.N. resolutions to solve the issue of Kashmir.

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both in its entirety. Rebels have been fighting Indian rule since 1989, demanding Kashmir be made part of Pakistan or become an independent country. Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.

A pre-recorded video circulated widely on social media showed the purported attacker, Adil Ahmed Dar, in combat clothes surrounded by guns and grenades claiming responsibility for the attack and calling for more such measures to drive India out of Kashmir.

Since 2016, soldiers from India and Pakistan have often traded fire along the frontier, blaming each other for initiating the skirmishes that have resulted in the deaths of dozens of soldiers and civilians on both sides in violation of a 2003 cease-fire accord.

Hooda said that considering the state of affairs in Kashmir, he wasn't surprised by the bombing.

"I just hope this all leads to some introspection, some deep thinking and engagement to do everything afresh and rethink what we all should be doing to settle issues once for all," he said.


US military planes land near Venezuela border with aid

A United States Air Force C-17 cargo plane loaded with humanitarian aid lands at Camilo Daza airport in Cucuta, Colombia, Saturday, Feb. 16. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)

Cucuta, Colombia (AP) — The U.S. military airlifted tons of humanitarian aid to a Colombian town on the Venezuelan border Saturday as part of an effort meant to undermine socialist President Nicolas Maduro and back his rival for the leadership of the South American nation.

Three scheduled Air Force C-17 cargo planes that took off from Homestead Air Reserve Base in Florida had landed in Cucuta. That border city, swollen by a flood of migrants from Venezuela, is a collection point for aid that's supposed to be distributed by supporters of Juan Guaido, the congressional leader who is recognized by the U.S. and many other nations as Venezuela's legitimate president. He has called for the aid.

"This wasn't the first, and it won't be the last," said USAID Administrator Mark Green, standing on the tarmac in Cucuta at a ceremony to receive the aid. "More is on the way."

Commercial planes had been used for earlier shipments of aid, which is aimed at dramatizing the economic crisis — including hyperinflation and shortages of food and medicine — gripping Venezuela. Critics say last year's re-election was fraudulent, making Maduro's second term illegal.

"We are saving lives with these airplanes," said Lestor Toledo, an exiled politician who is coordinating the international aid effort for Guaido.

Maduro has been using the military, which remains loyal, to help him block the aid from entering Venezuela, describing it as "crumbs" from a U.S. government whose restrictions have  stripped his administration of control over many of its most valuable assets.

"They hang us, steal our money and then say 'here, grab these crumbs' and make a global show out of it," Maduro told The Associated Press on Thursday. "With dignity we say 'No to the global show.' Whoever wants to help Venezuela is welcome, but we have enough capacity to pay for everything that we need."

His vice president has alleged, without evidence, that the aid packages are contaminated. Green on Saturday called the allegations "absurd."

Saturday's 180-ton shipment includes high-energy food products or hygiene kids of soap, toothpaste and other goods for more than 25,000 people.

Guaido spoke to a crowd of supporters gathered in eastern Caracas on Saturday and vowed to form caravans of activists to reach the border and bring in aid on Jan. 23. He also called for people to gather in cities across the country to receive the aid — and called for the armed forces to allow it into the country.

In the crowd was Anibrez Peroza, a 40-year-old nurse, who said she was ready if necessary to go to Cucuta in a caravan to bring in the aid.

"We have to do something to save so many people who are suffering and dying for lack of medicine," she said. Peroza wept as she described a dehydrated child dying in her arms for lack of a catheter to rehydrate him.

The U.S. and widespread European recognition of Guaido complicates Maduro's efforts to find funds to keep his government, and its own food programs, running.

The U.S. has placed Venezuela's U.S. assets, including oil company Citgo, under Guaido's control and bans financial transactions by Maduro-controlled entities. Scores of Venezuelan officials also face personal financial sanctions in the United States.


French yellow vest anti-govt protests turn violent in Paris

A burning command car belonging to France's anti-terror 'Vigipirate' squad, dubbed 'Operation Sentinelle', is pictured during a demonstration as yellow vests protesters keep pressure on French President Emmanuel Macron's government, for the 13th straight weekend of demonstrations, in Paris, France, Saturday, Feb. 9. (AP Photo/Kamil Zihnioglu)

Thomas Adamson

Paris (AP) — A French yellow vest protester's hand was ripped apart Saturday during violent clashes in Paris as demonstrators tried to storm the French National Assembly in a 13th consecutive week of unrest.

Police said the injured protester lost four fingers as police swooped in to stop protesters from breaching the parliament's exterior. Police could not confirm French media reports that the hand of the demonstrator, who is now being treated in the hospital, was blown up by a grenade used to disperse unruly crowds.

As scuffles broke out in front of the National Assembly and French police responded with tear gas, paramedics huddled around the injured protester at the National Assembly gates.

Police used batons and fired tear gas in Paris to disperse demonstrators, some of whom threw debris at riot police. Cars, motorbikes and trash bins were set ablaze as the protest moved toward the city's Invalides monument and onto the Eiffel Tower.

French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner went to Twitter to express his "disgust" as protesters set alight an anti-terror military car. Its yellow smoking plumes, against the backdrop of the Eiffel Tower, made for a powerful image of rejecting authority.

Such vehicles have been a common sight in Paris since deadly extremist attacks in 2015.

"Every day the military ... protects our compatriots from the risk of terrorism. These attacks are intolerable," Castaner said.

Police said 31 demonstrators had been arrested in the unrest. But France's Interior Ministry said this week's protest was significantly smaller than last week's.

The yellow vest activists, who have brought hundreds of thousands onto the streets over the past three months, are now trying to achieve electoral success but the movement is politically divided and has no appointed leader.

French President Emmanuel Macron — the target of many demonstrators' anger — seems to be clawing back support from the public as he tries to address the movement's anger with a national political debate on economic injustice. Recent polls show Macron's approval ratings are rising.

Earlier Saturday, activists in Latvia staged a picket in front of the French embassy in Riga, the capital of the small Baltic EU country, to support the yellow vest movement and urge Latvians to demand higher living standards.

The activists waved Latvia's red-and-white flag, shouting slogans like "the French have woken up, while Latvians remain asleep."


Illegal construction blamed in Istanbul building collapse

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, center, carries a coffin as he joins hundreds of mourners who attend the funeral prayers for nine members of Alemdar family killed in a collapsed apartment building, in Istanbul, Saturday, Feb. 9. (Presidential Press Service via AP, Pool)

Mehmet Guzel and Zeynep Bilginsoy

Istanbul (AP) — Turkish officials blamed illegal construction practices for the collapse of an apartment building in Istanbul as they joined hundreds of mourners Saturday at a funeral for nine members of one family killed in the disaster.

As the overall death toll rose to 18, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said there were "many lessons to learn" from the tragedy. He said the government would take "determined" steps after investigators complete their work and called for speedy urban renewal.

The eight-story residential building collapsed in the city's Kartal district Wednesday. By Saturday, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu increased the death toll to 18. He said rescuers had reached another person under the rubble, who was thought to be dead.

Murat Kurum, Turkey's minister for environment and urban planning, said the collapsed building had permits for only six floors. He said someone had illegally built its top two floors with low quality concrete and sea sand instead of construction-grade concrete and stronger steel.

"In this area, we have faced a very serious problem with illegal businesses like this done to make more money," Erdogan told reporters on his first visit to the site.

Experts say a majority of buildings in Istanbul lack proper licenses and are built illegally or without engineering services. They have criticized a government decision to grant amnesty for illegal construction last year ahead of the country's general election.

Turkish cities have grown massively under Erdogan's 15 years in power. Istanbul, Turkey's biggest city of more than 15 million people, is also located on a seismic belt.

Earlier Saturday, Erdogan and other officials joined mourners at the funeral for nine members of the Alemdar family who lived in the collapsed building. Five other relatives, including two children, are among the 13 people hospitalized in the collapse. Seven of the injured were still in serious condition on Saturday.

Friends and relatives have been waiting near the apartment building for news of their missing loved ones as emergency teams, aided by sniffer dogs, worked around the clock. Fourteen people have been pulled alive from the rubble, including a 16-year-old boy on Friday.

Officials haven't disclosed how many people are still unaccounted for. The collapsed building had 14 apartments, 43 registered residents and three businesses.


Woman acquitted of blasphemy still can't leave Pakistan

In this Nov. 20, 2010, file photo, Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman, listens to officials at a prison in Sheikhupura near Lahore, Pakistan. (AP Photo)

Kathy Gannon

Islamabad (AP) — A Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy after spending eight years on death row in Pakistan has been transferred from a secret location near the capital to another in Karachi, but is still unable to leave the country to join her daughters in Canada, a friend said Saturday.

Aman Ullah, who spoke to Aasia Bibi by telephone Friday, said the 54-year-old Bibi is being held in a room in the southern port city. He said Bibi, who faces death threats by radical Islamists, is frustrated and frightened, uncertain of when she will be able to leave Pakistan.

"She has  no indication of when she will leave ... they are not telling her why she cannot leave," said Ullah, who fled the country Friday after receiving threats from extremists angered by his assistance to Bibi, which began while she was on death row.

Ullah has been a liaison between Bibi and European diplomats, who have sought to assist her. The Associated Press spoke to Bibi by telephone with Ullah's assistance following her October acquittal, which was upheld last month.

Bibi's ordeal began in 2009 when two fellow farmworkers refused to drink from the same container as a Christian woman. There was a quarrel and the two Muslim women later accused Bibi of blasphemy. The Supreme Court judges said there were widespread inconsistencies in the testimony against Bibi, who has steadfastly maintained her innocence.

The acquittal should have given Bibi her freedom, but Ullah said diplomats were told that her departure from Pakistan, where she feels her life would be in danger, would come not in the short term, but "in the medium term."

He said Bibi told him she is locked in one room of a house.

"The door opens at food time only," said Ullah, and she is allowed to make phone calls in the morning and again at night. He said she usually calls her daughters.

Bibi's husband is with her, he said.

"She is living with her family and given requisite security for safety," Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said in an email.

He said the government was responsible for taking "all possible measures" to protect her and her family, adding that "she is a free citizen after her release from jail and can move anywhere in Pakistan or abroad."

Bibi told Ullah the security detail assigned to her refuses to explain why she is still confined.

Bibi's case has brought international attention to Pakistan's blasphemy law, which carries an automatic death sentence for a conviction of insulting Islam. There have been widespread complaints that the law is used to settle scores and intimidate religious minorities, including Shiite Muslims.

The mere suggestion of blasphemy can incite mobs to kill. After Bibi's October acquittal the radical Tehreek-e-Labbaik party called its followers onto the streets, where they protested for three days demanding Bibi's immediate execution as well as the death of the judges who acquitted her. The party leadership also advocated overthrowing Prime Minister Imran Khan's government and incited the military against the army chief.

Since then the party's leadership has been arrested along with dozens of their supporters for inciting violence.

Ullah, a rights activist, first began aiding those falsely charged with blasphemy when his wife was wrongly accused, and has since helped several people gain their freedom. Bibi's case brought him to the attention of religious radicals.

In recent months, he has been physically assaulted, gunmen have opened fire on his home, and several religious radicals attacked his home. Ullah said he fears being attacked again or charged with blasphemy.

Bibi hopes to be able to join her daughters in Canada, where they have been granted asylum.


UK scraps Brexit ferry deal with firm that has no ships

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May talks to journalists after her meeting with European Council President Donald Tusk at the European Council headquarters in Brussels, Thursday, Feb. 7. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

Jill Lawless

London (AP) — The British government has canceled a contract to ship goods to the country after it leaves the European Union with a company that turned out to have no boats and no experience running a ferry service.

Authorities had been criticized for the 13.8 million pound deal with Seaborne Freight, part of plans to keep trade flowing if Britain leaves the EU without a divorce deal.

The U.K. Department for Transport said Saturday that it had ended the contract because an Irish firm that was backing Seaborne Freight, Arklow Shipping, had withdrawn its support.

The department said no taxpayer money had been transferred to the company. It said the government was "in advanced talks with a number of companies to secure additional freight capacity" if there is a no-deal Brexit.

Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29 but British lawmakers have not yet agreed upon a divorce deal outlining departure rules and future trade terms. A withdrawal agreement between British Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative government and the EU was rejected last month by Britain's Parliament, and EU officials are resisting U.K. attempts to renegotiate it.

British businesses fear a no-deal Brexit will cause gridlock at ports by ripping up the trade rulebook and imposing tariffs, customs checks and other barriers between the U.K. and the EU, its biggest trading partner.

Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament's chief Brexit official, said this week that a no-deal Brexit would be "a disaster on both sides of the Channel." The 27 other EU nations, as well as Britain, have started hiring more customs officials and taking other steps to protect themselves against the worst effects of Brexit.

Seaborne had been contracted to provide services between Ramsgate in southeast England and the Belgian port of Ostend to ease pressure on the busiest cross-Channel route between Dover, England, and Calais, France.

Criticism of the deal increased when it was discovered that part of Seaborne's website appeared to have been copied from a food delivery firm.

U.K. opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said May's Conservative government claimed to have "'looked very carefully' at Seaborne Freight before giving the company the contract, but apparently not carefully enough to notice that it didn't have any ships."

Labour transport spokesman Andy McDonald accused Transport Secretary Chris Grayling of "heaping humiliation after humiliation on our country" and said he should resign. Grayling has also been in charge as British commuters have howled about deficiencies in the country's train services.


Australia police say man in custody after airport evacuation

In this image made from a video taken on Saturday, Feb. 2, travelers stay outside Brisbane International Airport after their evacuation during a bomb scare. (Australian Broadcasting Corporation via AP)

Rod McGuirk

Canberra, Australia (AP) — A man who falsely claimed to have a bomb and menaced a woman with a knife forced the evacuation of Brisbane International Airport for more than two hours, police said on Sunday.

Police ended the emergency late Saturday by shooting the 50-year-old man with non-lethal bean bag shotgun rounds and arresting him. There were no injuries reported, and police said the emergency was not related to terrorism.

The airport reported that the disruption had caused delays to arrivals and departure of up to three hours.

The emergency began in the terminal's food court when the man pulled a knife on a screaming woman and placed a metal box on a table.

Hundreds of panicked travelers fled the scene.

"It was a blood-curdling little scream, and she just bolted across the forecourt," a man, who was not identified, told Nine Network television.

Another man, who also was not identified, told Nine: "He had one knife to start with, then when he looped back around he pulled out a second knife."

"They were big carving knife-like things. There weren't normal little knives, they were big," the same witness added.

A woman, who was not identified, told Nine that the sound of the woman screaming sent people running. Somebody yelled that a man was armed with a knife or gun, she said.

"I just grabbed my kids, and I just ran out the door," she said.

Police opened fire with bean-bags rounds after the man claimed to have a bomb in the metal box, Police Detective Superintendent Tony Fleming said. He was arrested soon after.

"His behavior elevated such that they were quite concerned about him, and some bean bag rounds were discharged and they struck him in the torso," Fleming told reporters.

"That was important so we didn't have someone whom we suspected at that time might have been up to no good wandering the airport," Fleming added.

The man, from Gold Coast city near Brisbane, was examined by paramedics and had "no significant injuries." Fleming said.

Police locked down the airport for more than two hours and halted airport train services.

The man was charged on Sunday with contravening a restraining order, stalking with a weapon, stealing, assaulting police and making a false statement about a bomb. He has not been publicly named and will appear in a Brisbane court on Monday.


Philippine troops battle Muslim militants after church blast

Soldiers attend the scene after two bombs exploded outside a Roman Catholic cathedral in Jolo, the capital of Sulu province in southern Philippines, Sunday, Jan. 27. (AP Photo/Nickee Butlangan)

Jim Gomez

Manila, Philippines (AP) — Philippine troops clashed with Abu Sayyaf gunmen in fierce jungle fighting that left five soldiers and three militants dead, as the military pushed forward with a fresh offensive following a deadly church bombing last weekend.

President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered government forces to destroy the Abu Sayyaf after the bombing last Sunday of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral in the Sulu provincial capital of Jolo that killed 22 people and wounded more than 100. The attack has renewed terrorism fears across the Philippines, where the national police went on full alert and security has been strengthened in churches, shopping malls and other public areas.

Regional military spokesman Col. Gerry Besana said another five soldiers and 15 militants were wounded in nearly two hours of fighting Saturday between the army and about 150 Islamic State group-linked fighters in the jungles near Patikul town.

The militants were led by Abu Sayyaf commander Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, who is suspected of helping plot the bombing. The Abu Sayyaf, which has about 300 to 400 armed fighters, has been blacklisted by the United States and the Philippines as a terrorist organization because of years of bombings, kidnappings and beheadings in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation.

Government forces have over the years pressed on sporadic offensives to crush the group, including in Jolo, a poverty-wracked island of more than 700,000 people where Muslims are the majority. A few thousand Catholics live mostly in the provincial capital.

Since the church attack, the air force has launched airstrikes on suspected militant bases near Patikul and police killed a suspected militant on a raid in the city.

Duterte told reporters earlier this week that the church bombing was a suicide attack carried out by a militant couple.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano said Friday that an Indonesian couple was responsible for the bombing aimed at fomenting sectarian conflict in the south. The Indonesian man reportedly used the nom de guerre Abu Huda and Philippine authorities said they would coordinate with their Indonesian counterparts to try to validate the identities of the two.

Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir said the government had not been able to confirm the involvement of Indonesian nationals in the attack.

There has been speculation that the bombing may be a diversionary move by Muslim militants after troops recently carried out an offensive that killed a number of IS-linked extremists in an encampment in the hinterlands of Lanao del Sur province, also in the south. The area is near Marawi, a Muslim city that was besieged for five months in 2017 by hundreds of IS-aligned militants, including foreign fighters.

Troops quelled the insurrection, which left more 1,100 people dead, mostly militants, and the heart of the mosque-studded city in ruins.

Duterte declared martial law in the entire southern third of the country to deal with the Marawi siege, his worst security crisis. His martial law declaration has been extended to allow troops to finish off radical Muslim groups and other insurgents, but bombings and other attacks have continued.


Russia to pull plug on nuclear arms pact after US does same

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, speaks to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu during a meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, Feb. 2. (Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Vladimir Isachenkov

Moscow (AP) — Following in the footsteps of the U.S., Russia will abandon a centerpiece nuclear arms treaty but will only deploy intermediate-range nuclear missiles if Washington does so, President Vladimir Putin said Saturday.

President Donald Trump accused Moscow on Friday of violating the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty with "impunity" by deploying banned missiles. Trump said in a statement that the U.S. will "move forward" with developing its own military response options to Russia's new land-based cruise missiles that could target Western Europe.

Moscow has strongly denied any breaches and accused Washington of making false accusations in order to justify its pullout.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in explaining that Washington on Saturday formally suspended its treaty obligations, said in a statement that Russia's "continued noncompliance has jeopardized the United States' supreme interests." He said the treaty will terminate in six months unless Moscow returns to "full and verifiable compliance."

The collapse of the INF Treaty has raised fears of a repeat of a Cold War showdown in the 1980s, when the U.S. and the Soviet Union both deployed intermediate-range missiles on the continent. Such weapons were seen as particularly destabilizing as they only take a few minutes to reach their targets, leaving no time for decision-makers and raising the likelihood of a global nuclear conflict over a false launch warning.

After the U.S. gave notice of its intention to withdraw, Putin said Russia would do the same. He ordered the development of new land-based intermediate-range weapons, but emphasized that Russia won't deploy them in the European part of the country or elsewhere unless the U.S. does so.

"We will respond quid pro quo," Putin said. "Our American partners have announced they were suspending their participation in the treaty, and we will do the same. They have announced they will conduct research and development, and we will act accordingly."

The U.S. has accused Russia of developing and deploying a cruise missile that violates provisions of the pact that ban production, testing and deployment of land-based cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers (310 to 3,410 miles). Trump's move also reflected his administration's view that the pact was an obstacle to efforts needed to counter intermediate-range missiles deployed by China, which isn't part of the treaty.

NATO allies have strongly backed Washington and urged Moscow to save the treaty by returning to compliance.

Russia has rejected the U.S. claims of violation, charging that the missile, which is part of the Iskander-M missile system, has a maximum range of 480 kilometers (298 miles). Russian officials claimed the U.S. assertions about the alleged breach of the pact by Moscow were intended to shift the blame for the pact's demise to Russia.

The Russian Defense Ministry on Saturday released a satellite image of what it described as new production facilities at the U.S. missile maker Raytheon's plant in Tucson, Arizona, noting that their expansion began in 2017 as the Congress authorized spending for the development of intermediate-range missiles.

"The character and the timing of the works provide an irrefutable proof that the U.S. administration had decided to pull out of the INF treaty years before making unfounded claims of Russian violations," it said.

Putin has argued it makes no sense for Russia to deploy a ground-based cruise missile violating the treaty because it has such weapons on ships and aircraft, which aren't banned by the pact.

Speaking Saturday in a televised meeting with his foreign and defense ministers, Putin instructed the military to work on developing new land-based weapons that were previously forbidden by the INF treaty. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reported to Putin that they would include a land-based version of the Kalibr ship-based cruise missile and a new hypersonic intermediate-range ballistic missile.

Putin emphasized that such new weapons won't be deployed unless the U.S. does so.

"Russia will not station intermediate-range weapons in Europe or other regions until similar U.S. weapons appear in those regions," he said.

The Russian leader said Moscow remains open to talks with Washington, but added it would be up to the U.S. to take the first step.

"Let's wait until our partners are mature enough to conduct an equal and substantive dialogue on those issues," he said.

At the same time, Putin told his ministers that he would like to review the progress on building other prospective weapons that don't fall under the INF treaty, including the intercontinental Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle and the Poseidon underwater nuclear-powered drone.

He noted Shoigu's report that a key stage in testing of the Poseidon was completed several days ago. The drone is designed to carry a heavy nuclear weapon that could cause a devastating tsunami wave.

The Russian leader last year unveiled an array of new nuclear weapons, including the Avangard and the Poseidon, saying that they can't be intercepted.

Putin also noted during Saturday's meeting that he would like the military to prepare a response to the possible deployment of weapons in space.

The Pentagon's new strategy unveiled last month calls for a new array of space-based sensors and other high-tech systems to more quickly detect and shoot down incoming missiles.

Putin instructed the military to make sure the research and development works on new weapons don't swell military spending. He said the military must reconfigure the existing defense budget to find money for the new weapons.

"We must not and will not be drawn into a costly arms race," he said.


French yellow vest protesters condemn injuries, blame police

A bleeding demonstrator is taken away by police officers during a yellow vest protest, Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019 in Paris. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

Sylvie Corbet

Paris (AP) — France's yellow vest protesters were back on the streets Saturday to keep up the pressure on French President Emmanuel Macron's government and to decry the number of people being injured by police during the anti-government demonstrations.

Multiple protests in Paris and other cities denounced Macron's economic policies, which they view as favoring the rich, for the 12th straight weekend of demonstrations. Most were peaceful.

In Paris, scuffles broke out between some protesters and police around the Republic plaza, northeast of the city center, where hundreds of demonstrators headed on Saturday afternoon. Police managed to disperse most of the crowd.

Some clashes between protesters and police also took place in the southern cities of Bordeaux, Toulouse and Valence.

Thousands of demonstrators in the French capital paid tribute to the yellow vests who have been injured during clashes with police in an effort to unite the movement despite growing divisions. Several competing groups of yellow vests are getting ready to present candidates for the European Parliament election in May, while other figures insist the movement must remain non-political.

The government says around 2,000 people have been injured in protests since the movement began Nov. 17, including at least four serious eye injuries. Separately, 10 people have died in traffic accidents related to yellow vest actions.

Franck Dideron, 20, said he was protesting peacefully, speaking on the phone to his mother, when his eye was injured by a rubber bullet fired by police during a Dec. 1 protest near the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

"The policeman shot me voluntarily. And I was just turning around — how was that violent behavior? How was I dangerous for him?" he asked The Associated Press. "Today, I would like to see this policeman come and stand in front of me, look me in the eye and tell me why he shot me."

Jerome Rodrigues, a prominent member of the movement who suffered an eye injury last week, was widely applauded by the crowd Saturday.

A French police investigation is still trying to determine how Rodrigues was injured. Video images show Rodriguez collapsed on the ground last Saturday near the Bastille monument, where protesters throwing projectiles clashed with police.

Antonio Barbetta, a 40-year-old protester with injured foot, call the police response to the yellow vests "excessive."

"I'm in contact with a large number of injured people and I can tell you that these were nonviolent people. I myself am against all forms of violence on either side," he said.

France's Council of State ruled Friday that security forces have a right to use controversial high-velocity rubber bullets for crowd control.

Benjamin Cauchy, a yellow vest spokesman from southern France who came to the Paris protest, called that a "regrettable decision."

The weapon "is extremely harmful, imprecise and in the end is causing more sorrow than security," he told BFM television.

The Council of State noted the frequency of violence and property destruction at the protests and concluded the devices are not a "grave attack" on the freedom to demonstrate and are not inhumane treatment.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner tweeted Friday that "if the law was respected, there would be no injured."

The French parliament is debating a bill to strengthen measures against troublemakers who use protests to attack police. Rights groups and opposition lawmakers, however, say it goes too far in restricting the right to protest.

The bill could let local prefects prevent people they see as a serious threat to public order from taking part in protests. It could also make it a crime for protesters to conceal their faces.

Around 69,000 people nationwide took part in French protests last week, down from more than 80,000 the previous two weekends, according to the French Interior Ministry.

The yellow vests movement began in November and was named after the fluorescent safety vests that French motorists must carry.


Malaysia crowns Pahang state's Sultan Abdullah as 16th king

Malaysia's King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, right, prays next to Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad during his welcome ceremony at Parliament House in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Thursday, Jan. 31. (AP Photo/Yam G-Jun)

Eileen Ng

Kuala Lumpur (AP) — Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah of central Pahang state was crowned Thursday as Malaysia's 16th king under a unique rotating monarchy system, nearly a month after the sudden abdication of Sultan Muhammad V.

Garbed in aqua blue regalia, Sultan Abdullah, 59, took his oath of office in a nationally televised ceremony at a cavernous hall in the national palace. Dozens of dignitaries, led by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and his Cabinet ministers, attended the event.

Nine ethnic Malay state rulers take turns as the country's king for five-year terms under the world's only such system, which has been maintained since Malaysia's independence from Britain in 1957.

Sultan Muhammad V, 49, of northeast Kelantan state, abruptly resigned Jan. 6 as Malaysia's king after just two years on the throne in the first abdication in the nation's history. No reason was given, but it came after he reportedly married a 25-year-old former Russian beauty queen in November.

British-educated Sultan Abdullah, a prominent figure in sport bodies, was sworn in Thursday after inspecting a military honor guard and receiving a 21-gun salute at Parliament. He is a council member of the world football governing body FIFA, president of the Asian Hockey Federation, and an executive board member of the International Hockey Federation.

Known as the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong, or "He Who is Made Lord," Malaysia's king plays a largely ceremonial role, since administrative power is vested in the prime minister and Parliament. But the monarch is highly regarded as the guardian of Islam and Malay tradition, particularly among the ethnic Malay Muslim majority.

The king is the nominal head of the government and armed forces. All laws, Cabinet appointments and the dissolution of Parliament for general elections require his assent. The king also issues pardons for criminals. Malaysia's Constitution allocates some 5 million ringgit ($1.21 million) a year for the expenses of the king and his household, including palace maintenance, although the sum can be increased with Cabinet approval.


Migrants disembark in Sicily as latest EU standoff ends

 

The migrant rescue ship Sea-Watch 3, carrying 47 migrants, comes into dock at the Sicilian port of Catania, southern Italy, Thursday, Jan. 31. (AP Photo/Salvatore Cavalli)

Rome (AP) — Europe's latest migrant standoff came to a conclusion Thursday as 47 migrants kept at sea for nearly two weeks while Italy pressured European countries to take them in finally disembarked from their rescue ship in Sicily.

The Sea-Watch 3, operated by the German aid group Sea Watch, pulled into Catania's port and the migrants, who were rescued off Libya on Jan. 19, were taken ashore to be identified and processed. Wearing aqua colored scarves to stave off the cold, some of the migrants waved good-bye to the crew as they walked down to police and Red Cross workers waiting on shore.

"We wish them all the best. We hope Europe will welcome them and let them live as they deserve," Sea Watch Italy tweeted.

Premier Giuseppe Conte announced a breakthrough in the standoff earlier this week, saying six European countries had agreed to take in the migrants so Italy didn't have to shoulder the burden alone. The countries he identified were Germany, France, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal and Romania, as well as Italy. On Thursday, Lithuania said it would take five of the migrants, the Baltic News Service reported.

Italy's populist government has refused to allow humanitarian ships to dock in a bid to dissuade them from conducting rescues, and to force other countries to take asylum-seekers. The Sea-Watch case was just the latest in a series of standoffs that have kept migrants at sea for days and weeks at a time while Europe scrambles to determine their fate.


January was officially Australia's hottest month on record

In this Jan. 24, 2019, photo, a beachgoer jumps off a jetty at Glenelg Beach in Adelaide, Australia, as temperatures climb to 45 Celsius (113 Fahrenheit). (Kelly Barnes/AAP Image via AP)

Canberra (AP) — Australia has sweltered through its hottest month on record in January and the summer of extremes continues with wildfires razing the drought-parched south while expanses of the tropical north are flooded.

Australia's Bureau of Meteorology on Friday confirmed the record heat during January as parts of the northern hemisphere have recently experienced record cold.

Australia's scorching start to 2019 — in which the mean temperature across the country for the first time exceeded 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) — followed Australia's third-hottest year on record. Only 2005 and 2013 were warmer than 2018.

Rainfall was below average for most of the country, but the monsoonal trough has brought flooding rains to northern Queensland state in recent days, leading to a disaster declaration around the city of Townsville.


King Tut tomb restored to prevent damage from visitors

In this Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015, file photo, tourists look at the tomb of Egypt's famed boy pharaoh Tutankhamun, displayed in a glass case in the Valley of the Kings, located on the west bank of the Nile River in Luxor, Egypt. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

Luxor, Egypt (AP) — The tomb of Egypt's famed boy pharaoh Tutankhamun has undergone restoration to help minimize damage by tourists.

The work, done by the Getty Conservation Institute after years of research and officially presented Thursday, aims to minimize scratches, dust damage and microbiological growth from breath and humidity brought in by tourists.

The nearly intact tomb of King Tut, who ruled Egypt more than 3,000 years ago, was discovered in 1922 by Howard Carter in the Valley of the Kings, located on the west bank of the Nile River in Luxor. For many, King Tut embodies ancient Egypt's glory, because his tomb was packed with the glittering wealth of the 18th Dynasty, which ruled from 1569 to 1315 B.C.
 


DAILY UPDATE

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Tear gas, hate speech marks 14th yellow vest protest

8 miners rescued in Zimbabwe; dozens more feared dead

Retired Indian general urges caution against Pakistan strike

US military planes land near Venezuela border with aid


French yellow vest anti-govt protests turn violent in Paris

Illegal construction blamed in Istanbul building collapse

Woman acquitted of blasphemy still can't leave Pakistan

UK scraps Brexit ferry deal with firm that has no ships


Australia police say man in custody after airport evacuation

Philippine troops battle Muslim militants after church blast

Russia to pull plug on nuclear arms pact after US does same

French yellow vest protesters condemn injuries, blame police


Malaysia crowns Pahang state's Sultan Abdullah as 16th king

Migrants disembark in Sicily as latest EU standoff ends

January was officially Australia's hottest month on record

King Tut tomb restored to prevent damage from visitors