South Korea charges ousted president Park Geun-hye and Lotte chief with bribery
MMNN:17 April 2017
South Korean prosecutors on Monday charged ousted president Park Geun-hye and Lotte Group chairman Shin Dong-bin with bribery in the latest twist to a corruption scandal that rocked the country for months.
Prosecutors charged Shin without detaining him.
The retail giant Lotte, with interests ranging from hotels and retail to food and chemicals, becomes the second conglomerate mired in the political scandal after Jay Y. Lee, the chief of the biggest, Samsung Group, was arrested suspected of bribing Park and her friend, Choi Soon-sil.
Lee, Park and Choi are being held at detention centres.
Lotte, South Korea's fifth-biggest conglomerate, is grappling with the Chinese shutdown of dozens of its stores in China, after it agreed to provide land for the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system outside Seoul.
South Korea, which accuses China or discriminating against some South Korean companies working in China, and the United States say the sole purpose of THAAD is to guard against North Korean missiles. China says its powerful radar can penetrate its territory and undermine its security and spoke out against it again on Monday.
Lotte's chief Shin is also on a separate graft trial involving family members charged with embezzlement and breach of trust.
Prosecutors accused Park of colluding with Choi to receive 7 billion won ($6.16 million) from Lotte for favours, they said in a statement. Park was also charged with abuse of power and coercion by pressuring big businesses to contribute funds to non-profit foundations, the prosecutors said.
Park is also charged with taking bribes worth about 29.8 billion won from Samsung scion Lee in exchange for supporting his succession, according to the prosecutors' statement.
Lotte denied allegations that it made improper deals with Park, or those linked to her, for favours, but said it would explain itself at court to resolve suspicions.
"We find the decision on the indictment regrettable," Lotte Group said in a statement.
Park, Lee, Choi and Samsung Group have also denied wrongdoing.
Erdogan wins Turkish referendum: What are the immediate fallouts
MMNN:17 April 2017
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has won the crucial referendum for a new constitution that will vastly increase his executive authority. The crucial referendum has laid a new course for the future of Turkish politics. So what does the yes vote mean and what are the immediate fallouts of the win for Erdogan?
According to state-run Anadolu news agency, the referendum won a yes vote of 51.3 per cent Turks against 48.7 per cent that voted no.
In 2010, the ruling Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi (AKP) enacted a law governing electoral process. However, despite the clear provisions of the legislation, the High Electoral Board allowed counting of nearly 1.5 million unsealed ballots for the April 16 referendum. Erdogan won by 51% votes taking a lead at the last minute.
President Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) were of the opinion that an executive presidency would herald an ever more stable political environment in Turkey and that was the base of their referendum call. The yes vote, however, has left the Opposition, particularly the principal Opposition party, the Republican People's Party (CHP) crying foul over the result calling it fraudulent. The referendum could result in Turkey becoming more religious and divided.
The yes vote effectively means executive powers to Erdogan to a degree unprecedented since 1980s when the country was under military rule. It will also bring more of a 'one-man rule' situation in the country diluting the segregation of power in Turkey to great measure.
Erdogan can now expand his powers to an executive presidency which means that he will be the head of state and the head of government.
The victory has shown that the country has reached near the peak of its polarisation point. Study by Ihsan Yilmaz, professor of Islamic studies at Deakin University, westernised Turks as well as secularists account for a third of the Turkish population. Much of it stands against the AKP. The Alevis-non-Sunni Muslims-who follow a hybrid mix of Shia Islam-Turcoman Shamanism and Anatolian Sufism-have been apprehensive of the AKP and the possible rise of Salafists. Also, according to a study by Fondation-Institut kurde de Paris, Turkish Kurds account for around 20 per cent of the Turkish population. Much of this population is unlikely to stand with Erdogan.
The faultlines in Turkey continue to drop deeper with the increasingly undemocratic country led by a leader with no ambitions of a European Union membership. Erdogan is realistically left with less than half of an amalgam of of conservative, nationalist, Muslim voters.
What Erdogan could do
Unless he is occupied elsewhere, he could focus more on his bid to clamp down on Kurdish dissidents and the secularists (white Turks) as well as the Alevis. The leftist and anti-Gulenist purges are more than likely to go on, with increased force this time.
As Erdogan would now exercise more control over AKP as well, Abdullah Gul (former foreign minister of Turkey, prime minister and president and co-founder of AK Party), Bulent Arinc (former deputy PM, speaker and AKP co-founder), Ahmet Davutoglu (former foreign minister and prime minister) among other top leaders now face the threat of being purged and being imprisoned.
Egypt declares state of emergency after Palm Sunday church bombings
MMNN:10 April 2017
A day after brazen ISIS attacks killed dozens at two Coptic Christian churches on Palm Sunday, Egypt declared a three-month state of emergency, a measure designed to help authorities root out the killers.
A stunned nation watched funerals for victims of the bombings on national TV and citizens raised questions and fears about what some consider lax security at churches..
"The state of emergency means absolutely nothing to me," said Andrew Abdel Shaheed, an Egyptian Copt in Brussels.
"It means that people will get trailed for no reason and arrested with no warrants, but what does it do for the future of Egyptians? I personally do not feel safe to return to Egypt."
Mourners in Alexandria carry the coffin of one of the blast victims.
The Sunday strikes, which targeted Egypt's persecuted and vulnerable Christian minority on the first day of the faith's Holy Week leading up to Easter, left at least 49 dead, state TV said Monday.
At least 27 people died in a bomb blast inside a church in the northern city of Tanta, and 78 people were injured, according to Egypt's state-run news agency Al-Ahram.
In Alexandria, 18 civilians and four police officers were killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a Coptic church, Al-Ahram said.
ISIS, which claimed responsibility, warned of more attacks in a statement. "The Crusaders and their apostate followers must be aware that the bill between us and them is very large, and they will be paying it like a river of blood from their sons, if God is willing," the group said in Arabic.
After the bombings, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi declared a period of mourning. The government formed a council to counter terror and extremism and announced a three-month state of emergency.
"The attack will not undermine the resolve and true will of the Egyptian people to counter the forces of evil," the President said in a statement.
In a statement issued on the Telegram messaging platform and circulated by several ISIS supporters, the militant group identified the bombers as Egyptian nationals. Egyptian authorities have not confirmed the bombers' nationalities.
France isn't responsible for mass arrest of Jews in Paris during WW II: Marine Le Pen
MMNN:10 April 2017
North Korea fired a ballistic missile on Wednesday ahead of a summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and China's President Xi Jinping in Far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen drew protests from her political rivals and the Israeli government on Monday by denying the French state's responsibility for a mass arrest of Jews in Paris during World War Two.
Two weeks before the first round of the election in which she is a frontrunner, Le Pen touched a raw nerve by reopening debate about the state's role in one of the darkest episodes in French history under the Nazi occupation.
"I think France isn't responsible for the Vel d'Hiv," Le Pen said on Sunday, referring to the German-ordered roundup by French police of 13,000 Jews in July 1942. Most were crammed into the Velodrome d'Hiver cycling stadium, commonly known as the Vel d'Hiv, before being deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp.
"I think that, in general, if there are people responsible, it is those who were in power at the time. It is not France," Le Pen said in an interview with media groups Le Figaro, RTL and LCI.
Le Pen's rivals pounced on her comments, which could set back her attempts to clean up the image of her anti-immigration National Front and distance it from the anti-Semitic views of her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the party's founder.
"Some people had forgotten that Marine Le Pen is the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen. They haven't changed," centrist presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron told BFM television. The Israeli foreign ministry said it regretted that anti-Semitism "is raising its head again today".
"This contradicts the historical truth as expressed in statements by French presidents who recognised the country's responsibility for the fate of the French Jews who perished in the Holocaust," a ministry spokesman said.
"Vel d'Hiv" was the top trending topic on Twitter in France on Monday, the first official day of campaigning for the election, whose first round is on April 23. Gilles Ivaldi, a political scientist at the University of Nice, said Le Pen's remark was damaging for her. "It runs completely counter to the party's efforts and gives ammunition to all those who say that the National Front remains a party with extreme right militants and culture."
Jitters about the French election hit financial markets on Monday after polls tightened, with support growing for far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon - who, like Le Pen, wants a referendum on the country's membership of the European Union. France's borrowing costs hit their highest level compared with Germany's for six weeks while the euro edged lower against the dollar.
Polls have for weeks shown Le Pen and Macron topping first-round voting and qualifying for the May 7 run-off that Macron is predicted to win easily.
But there has been a recent surge by the Communist-backed Melenchon, who would take France out of NATO, and support for conservative Francois Fillon, whose campaign has struggled as he fights nepotism allegations, has stabilised.
An Opinionway survey on Monday showed Le Pen winning 24 percent in the first round, ahead of Macron on 23 percent, Fillon on 19 and Melenchon on 18.
"Two weeks ago, investors were starting to get comfortable with the idea of a Macron victory, but with the rise of Melenchon this is on the verge of becoming a four-horse race," said Rabobank strategist Lyn Graham-Taylor. France has long struggled to come to terms with its role under the collaborationist Vichy regime during World War Two.
Altogether 76,000 Jews deported from France were killed. In 1995, then President Jacques Chirac recognised that the French state shared responsibility for deporting Jews to Nazi death camps, the first time a post-war French head of state had fully acknowledged France's role. Socialist President Francois Hollande in 2012 described the 1942 mass arrest as "a crime committed in France, by France."
Russia Chooses Its Own Path, Defends President Assad In Syrian Chemical Attack
MMNN:5 April 2017
Russia suggested on Wednesday it would publicly stand by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad despite outrage over a chemical weapons attack, setting Donald Trump's new US administration on course for a head-on diplomatic collision with Moscow.
Western countries including the United States blamed Assad's armed forces for the chemical attack, which choked scores of people to death in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in a rebel-held area of northern Syria hit by government air strikes.
Washington said it believed the deaths were caused by sarin nerve gas dropped by Syrian aircraft. But Moscow offered an alternative explanation that could shield Assad. It said it believed poison gas had leaked from a rebel chemical weapons depot struck by Syrian bombs.
Hasan Haj Ali, commander of the Free Idlib Army rebel group, called the Russian statement a 'lie'.
"Everyone saw the plane while it was bombing with gas," he told Reuters from northwestern Syria.
"Likewise, all the civilians in the area know that there are no military positions there, or places for the manufacture (of weapons). The various factions of the opposition are not capable of producing these substances."
The incident is the first time Washington has accused Assad of using sarin since 2013, when hundreds of people died in an attack on a Damascus suburb. At that time, Washington said Assad had crossed a "red line" set by then-President Barack Obama.
Obama threatened an air campaign to topple Assad but called it off at the last minute after the Syrian leader agreed to give up his chemical arsenal under a deal brokered by Moscow, a decision which Trump has long said proved Obama's weakness.
The new incident means Trump is faced with same dilemma that faced his predecessor, whether to openly challenge Moscow and risk deep involvement in a Middle East war by seeking to punish Assad for using banned weapons, or compromise and accept the Syrian leader remaining in power at the risk of looking weak.
Trump described Tuesday's incident as "heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime", but also faulted Obama for having failed to enforce the red line four years ago. Obama's spokesman declined to comment.
Washington, Paris and London have drawn up a draft U.N. Security Council statement condemning the attack and demanding an investigation. Russia has the power to veto it, as it has done to block all previous resolutions that would harm Assad.
Six killed, 18 injured in Lahore blast
MMNN:5 April 2017
Four Pakistani soldiers were among six people killed and 18 injured in a targeted attack on army men escorting a census team by a young suicide bomber here, the latest in a series of bombings to hit the country.
The blast happened near a Cantonment area in Lahore, the provincial capital of Punjab province.
"Six people, including four army men, have been killed in the suicide attack. Over a dozen injured have been shifted to Combined Military Hospital (CMH) and General Hospital Lahore," Punjab government spokesman Malik Muhammad Khan confirmed.
TV footage and photographs from the scene showed two vans and a motorcycle damaged in the blast.
No group has claimed responsibility for the blast so far.
Khan said the area has been cordoned off and law enforcement agencies were at the site collecting evidence.
The blast struck when the army personnel accompanied a team carrying out Pakistan's first census in 19 years and launched in March.
Security has been put on high alert in Lahore.
A Lahore police source told PTI the young suicide bomber came near the army vehicle on foot and then blew himself up.
"The severed head of the suicide bomber has been found. It appears that some eight to 10 kilogrammes explosives were used," the source said.
An eyewitness, Taimur Shahid, said he was heading to a shop near the blast site to get groceries when he heard a loud bang metres away.
"I moved to the blast site and saw a number of soldiers lying in a pool of blood. The locals moved them to a nearby hospital. Later, rescue and army personnel reached the spot and cordoned off the area," he said.
Punjab Health Minister Imran Nazir said four of the injured were critical. He said an official of the Pakistan Air Force, who was passing by with his wife on a motorcycle at the time of blast, was among the four soldiers dead.
Lahore Corps Commander Sadiq Ali said the people would not be cowed down by such cowardly attacks. "The war against terror will continue," he said.
Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said terrorism in Pakistan could not end till the terror camps of Jammatul Ahrar and other terror groups are not eliminated in Afghanistan.
On February 23, a suicide blast in an upscale area in Lahore killed eight people and injured 30 people.
Another blast targeting police officers at a demonstration in the city in the same month killed 13 people, six of them police men. Jammatur Ahrar had claimed its responsibility.
US-led coalition strike on school in north Syria leave at least 33 dead: Sources
MMNN:22 March 2017
At least 33 people were killed in a US-led coalition strike on a school used as a centre for displaced people near a jihadist-held Syrian town, a monitor said Wednesday.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the strike south of Al-Mansoura, a town held by the Islamic State group in the northern province of Raqa, "took place in the early hours of Tuesday."
"We can now confirm that 33 people were killed, and they were displaced civilians from Raqa, Aleppo and Homs," said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.
"They're still pulling bodies out of the rubble until now. Only two people were pulled out alive," Abdel Rahman told AFP.
The Britain-based monitor -- which relies on a network of sources inside Syria for its information -- says it determines what planes carried out raids according to their type, location, flight patterns and the munitions involved.
"Raqa is Being Slaughtered Silently," an activist group that publishes news from IS-held territory in Syria, also reported the raids.
"The school that was targeted hosts nearly 50 displaced families," the collective said.
The US-led coalition has been bombing IS in Syria since 2014 and is backing an offensive to defeat the group in Raqa city, the de facto heart of the group's so-called "Islamic caliphate".
Earlier this month, the coalition said its raids there and in Iraq and unintentionally killed at least 220 civilians.
But other monitors say the number is much higher.
More than 320,000 people have been killed and millions more displaced since Syria's conflict erupted in March 2011 with protests against President Bashar al-Assad.
Trump administration hosting first meeting of anti-ISIS coalition
MMNN:22 March 2017
Foreign ministers from 68 countries meet in Washington on Wednesday to agree on the next steps to defeat Islamic State, the first such gathering of the U.S-led military coalition since the election of President Donald Trump in November.
The meeting will be hosted by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Trump has vowed to make the fight against Islamic State a priority and directed the Pentagon and other agencies in January to submit a plan for defeating the militant group.
The militants have been losing ground in both Iraq and Syria, with three separate forces, backed by the United States, Turkey and Russia, advancing on the group's Syrian stronghold of Raqqa.
The meeting is the first of the international coalition since Iraqi government forces, backed by the U.S.-led international coalition, retook several Iraqi cities from Islamic State last year and liberated eastern Mosul.
While the jihadist group is overwhelmingly outnumbered by Iraqi forces, it has been using suicide car bombs and snipers to defend its remaining strongholds.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who met with Trump in Washington on Monday, said he had won assurances of more U.S. support in the war against Islamic State.
A White House statement after the meeting said both Trump and Abadi agreed that "terrorism cannot be defeated by military might alone," and the two leaders called for deepening commercial ties.
Discussions on Wednesday will also focus on how to help Mosul rebuild and ways to tackle Islamic State operations in Libya and elsewhere.
In Syria, the U.S.-led coalition has been working with an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias. Its current focus is to encircle and ultimately recapture Raqqa - Islamic State's base of operations in Syria.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is supported by Russia and Iran, has said he saw scope for cooperation with Trump, although he has dismissed the U.S.-backed military campaign against Islamic State in Syria as "only a few raids."
Over 30 dead as gunmen dressed as doctors attack military hospital in Kabul
KABUL:MMNN:8 March 2017
Gunmen dressed as doctors stormed Afghanistan's largest military hospital on Wednesday, killing more than 30 people in a six-hour attack claimed by the Islamic State group as it makes inroads into the war-battered country.
Around 50 others were wounded in the assault on the Sardar Daud Khan hospital, with explosions and gunfire rattling Kabul's diplomatic district as dense clouds of smoke rose in the sky.
Medical staff hunkered down in the hospital wards posted desperate messages for help on social media. Television footage showed some of them trapped on the ledge of a top-floor window.
"Attackers are inside the hospital. Pray for us," a hospital staff member wrote on Facebook.
Hospital administrators told AFP three gunmen wearing white laboratory coats began spraying bullets after a suicide bomber on foot blew himself up at the backdoor entrance, sparking chaos inside the 400-bed facility.
"I saw one of the attackers, armed with an AK-47 and dressed as a doctor, shooting at patients and guards on the third floor," hospital nurse Abdul Qadeer said.
"They shot my friend but I managed to flee ... I had to jump over the barbed wire to escape."
At least two other loud explosions - including what the defence ministry called a car bomb in the hospital's parking lot - were heard as Afghan special forces launched a clearance operation that lasted around six hours.
The attackers were gunned down after special forces landed on the roof of the hospital in a military helicopter.
"More than 30 people were killed and around 50 wounded in today's attack," defence ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri said. "Most of the victims are patients, doctors and nurses."
Afghanistan's warring parties, including government forces, have repeatedly targeted medical facilities, decimating the country's fragile health system and preventing conflict-displaced civilians from accessing life-saving care.
"This is a criminal act. Nothing can justify an attack on hospitals," Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah said of the latest attack.
"We will never forgive these criminals. Unfortunately, this attack has resulted in some casualties."
Islamic State jihadists claimed the attack via a verified Telegram account.
The more powerful Taliban said they were not behind the raid. The militant group, Afghanistan's largest, is known to distance itself from attacks on medical facilities or those that result in high civilian casualties.
The assault comes just a week after 16 people were killed in simultaneous Taliban suicide assaults on two security compounds in Kabul.
Dozens of others were wounded as a suicide car bomber struck an Afghan police precinct in western Kabul and a five-hour gun battle ensued after another attacker sneaked in.
In the second attack last week, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the gates of an Afghan intelligence agency branch in eastern Kabul.
NIA releases 2 Pakistani youths arrested in connection with Uri attack
MMNN:8 March 2017
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Wednesday handed over to the Army two Pakistani youths whom it had arrested in connection with last year's terror attack on a military base in Jammu and Kashmir's Uri that claimed the lives of 19 soldiers.
A spokesperson of the NIA said they handed over Faisal Hussain Awan and Ahsan Khursheed to the Army's 16 Corps headquarters in Jammu and they would be be sent back home.
The NIA's probe "revealed that the two had crossed over to the Indian side after altercation with their parents due to pressure of studies," he said.
"Evidence collected in the form of statements, technical analysis of their mobile phones, seized GPS devices and other circumstantial evidence collected by the NIA did not reveal any linkage of the suspects with the Uri attackers," the spokesperson added.
It was initially suspected that the two acted as guides for the Uri attackers.
The two were arrested by the BSF and the Army in a joint operation at 'Angoor Post at Gavalata village in Uri when they were trying to get into India.
They were also brought to the NIA headquarters here for detailed interrogation.
The NIA has claimed that terror group LeT was behind the Uri terror attack.
Senior Taliban commander killed in northern Afghanistan air strike
MMNN:27 Feb. 2017
After having been declared dead several times in the past, a senior Taliban commander has been killed in an air strike in northern Afghanistan, officials of the militant group confirmed on Monday.
Mullah Abdul Salam Akhund, who commanded Taliban forces in Kunduz, was one of three fighters killed in a weekend strike by an unmanned aircraft, a senior Taliban official in the province said on condition of anonymity to ensure his safety.
"He was on a journey a few days ago and stopped at a house at Dashte Archi town when the drone fired missiles," said the official.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed Akhund's death in a statement. A US military spokesman said an American warplane had conducted a strike in Kunduz on Sunday, but the command did "not have confirmation of the results".
The strike killed Akhund and eight other Taliban, said Sher Aziz Kamawal, a senior police commander in northern Afghanistan. Akhund, who oversaw the Taliban offensive that briefly seized Kunduz city in 2015, had previously been reported dead several times by Afghan officials.
This time however, his apparent death was confirmed by top Taliban officials, including a commander in the eastern province of Khost. "It's part of our life," said the commander. "We are proud to confirm that he was martyred for a cause."
Donald Trump to sign new immigration executive order on Wednesday
MMNN:27 Feb. 2017
US President Donald Trump is likely to sign a new immigration executive order on Wednesday, a day after addressing lawmakers at a joint session of Congress. Trump had initially planned to sign the new order last week, but according to Homeland Security spokesperson Sean Spicer, the president was apparently holding off the decision "to make sure that when we execute this, it's done in a manner that's flawless."
Several weeks back, Trump's initial order calling for temporarily halting entry from seven Muslim-majority countries into US was blocked by a federal judge. Trump had severely criticised the decision. Meanwhile, latest enforcement memos issued by the Homeland Security are the latest efforts by President Trump to follow through with his campaign promises to strictly enforce immigration laws.
Here's look at some of what the memos say the government will do:
1. Immigrants who have crossed over illegally be sent to Mexico, regardless of where they came from
A border security memo suggests use of a long-standing albeit obscure US law to send some immigrants who have crossed the border illegally back to Mexico, regardless of which country the are from. However, the memo and the corresponding law it cites don't give details on how the country can force Mexico to allow foreigners into that country.
2. Stop providing legal protection to child immigrants caught crossing the border
One of the memos tells the Homeland Security Department to stop providing certain legal protections to child immigrants caught crossing the border alone if they are reunited with their parents or a legal guardian inside the United States. According to the protections given to them, it allows for those children to have their case decided by a judge. But if the new policy is anything to go by, it would likely subject them to fast-track deportation proceedings that do away with judge's approval
3. Local police likely to enforce federal laws
Under the Barack Obama administration, activities of local police and jailers acting as immigration agents was curtailed. There were communities who complained that some jurisdictions were overtly aggressive in enforcing federal laws. But the memos make it amply clear that the present government plans to restart those programs.
4. Jail and prosecute more people crossing border illegally
The memos says if people are caught crossing border illegally, they will face criminal charges. The government considers it illegal to cross the border without permission, and charges those with felony. But this process is costly and resource intensive. One of the memos also calls for more jails.
Barack Obama Bans New Oil, Gas Drilling Off Alaska, Part Of Atlantic Coast
WASHINGTON:MMNN:21 Dec. 2016
US President Barack Obama on Tuesday banned new oil and gas drilling in federal waters in the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, in a push to leave his stamp on the environment before Republican Donald Trump takes office next month.
Obama used a 1950s-era law called the Outer Continental Shelf Act that allows presidents to limit areas from mineral leasing and drilling. Environmental groups said that meant Trump's incoming administration would have to go court if it sought to reverse the move.
The ban affects 115 million acres (46.5 million hectares) of federal waters off Alaska in the Chukchi Sea and most of the Beaufort Sea and 3.8 million acres (1.5 million hectares) in the Atlantic from New England to Chesapeake Bay.
Trump, who succeeds Obama on January 20, has said he would expand offshore oil and gas drilling. A recent memo from his energy transition team said his policy could increase production in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, as well as the mid- and south Atlantic.
A Trump representative did not immediately comment on the announcement.
Even if Trump tries to fight the move, few energy companies have expressed a desire to drill anytime soon off the coasts thanks to abundant cheap shale oil in North Dakota and Texas.
Exploratory drilling in the Arctic is expensive and risky. Shell Oil ended its quest to explore in harsh Arctic waters in 2015, after a vessel it was using suffered a gash and environmentalists uncovered a law that limited its drilling.
The American Petroleum Institute oil industry group disagreed about the permanence of the ban and said Trump could likely use a presidential memorandum to lift it.
"We are hopeful the incoming administration will reverse this decision as the nation continues to need a robust strategy for developing offshore and onshore energy," said Erik Milito, API's upstream director.
JOINT ACTION WITH CANADA
The White House and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau jointly announced their move to launch "actions ensuring a strong, sustainable and viable Arctic economy and ecosystem."
Obama said in a statement that the joint actions "reflect the scientific assessment that, even with the high safety standards that both our countries have put in place, the risks of an oil spill in this region are significant and our ability to clean up from a spill in the region's harsh conditions is limited."
Canada will designate all Arctic Canadian waters as indefinitely off limits to future offshore Arctic oil and gas licensing, to be reviewed every five years through a climate and marine science-based life-cycle assessment.
The law under which Obama is acting enables a president to withdraw certain areas from leasing or drilling "for any public purpose," such as to limit the impacts of climate change, according to a legal briefing by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Earth Justice.
Under that law, a president is not authorized to "undo" a previous withdrawal, making it more difficult for Trump to target without a lawsuit.
"No president has ever tried to undo a permanent withdrawal of an ocean area from leasing eligibility," said Niel Lawrence, Alaska director and attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The provision has been used by six presidents from both parties over the past 65 years, including to withdraw as much as several hundred million acres at a time, he said.
'SMART BUSINESS DECISION'
In 2015, just 0.1 percent of US federal offshore crude production came from the Arctic. At current oil prices, significant production in the Arctic will not occur, according to a Department of Interior analysis.
There is currently no crude oil production in the Canadian Arctic. A number of companies including Chevron Corp , ConocoPhillips and Imperial Oil hold exploration licenses, but all three have put their drilling plans on hold, partly because of weak global oil prices.
On the US Atlantic coast, local groups have opposed offshore drilling and would fight the Trump administration's attempts to open it up.
"The people of the Atlantic coast have refused to allow their way of life to be compromised," said Jacqueline Savitz, senior vice president of Florida-based ocean conservancy group Oceana.
She said the Obama administration move to protect the Atlantic coast was a "smart business decision" since it would protect the lucrative tourism and fishing industries of East Coast communities.
Islamic State group claims responsibility for Berlin Christmas market attack
BERLIN:MMNN:21 Dec. 2016
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility on Tuesday for a truck attack on a crowded Berlin Christmas market that German authorities said came right out of the extremist group's playbook.
The Monday night attack on the popular market by the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in the heart of former West Berlin that left 12 dead and 48 injured, was the first mass casualty attack by Islamic extremists carried out on German soil. German security forces were still hunting for the perpetrator after releasing a man from custody for lack of evidence.
The claim of responsibility carried on the Islamic State group's Amaq news agency described the man seen fleeing from the truck as "a soldier of the Islamic State" who "carried out the attack in response to calls for targeting citizens of the Crusader coalition."
Germany is not involved in anti-IS combat operations, but has Tornado jets and a refueling plane stationed in Turkey in support of the coalition fighting militants in Syria, as well as a frigate protecting a French aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean, among other assets.
The claim of responsibility came not long after German prosecutors said they had released a man picked up near the scene of the attack, initially suspected of driving the truck.
The man, a Pakistani citizen who came to Germany last year, was taken into custody based on a description from witnesses of a suspect who jumped out of the truck and fled after the attack.
Even before his release, officials had expressed doubt the man was behind the attack.
"We may still have a dangerous criminal out there," warned Berlin police chief Klaus Kandt, whose office urged people to be "particularly vigilant" and report "suspicious movement" using a special hotline.
Obama raps Putin, says U.S. can strike back on cyber
WASHINGTON:MMNN:17 Dec. 2016
United States President Barack Obama put his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on notice on Friday stating that the U.S. could use offensive cyber muscle to retaliate for interference in the U.S. presidential election, his strongest suggestion to date that Mr. Putin had been well aware of campaign e-mail hacking.
"Whatever they do to us, we can potentially do to them," Mr. Obama declared.
Caught in the middle of a post-election controversy over Russian hacking, Mr. Obama strongly defended his administration's response, including his refusal before the voting to ascribe motive to the meddling or to discuss now what effect it might have had. U.S. intelligence assessments said it was aimed at least in part on helping Republican Donald Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton, and some Democrats say it may well have tipped the results in his favor.
Though Mr. Obama avoided criticising President-elect Trump by name, he called out Republicans who he said fail even now to acknowledge the seriousness of Russia's involvement in U.S. elections.
Mr. Obama expressed bewilderment about GOP lawmakers and voters who now say they approve of Mr. Putin, and he has said unless that changes the U.S. will be vulnerable to foreign influence.
'Reagan will roll over in his grave'
"Ronald Reagan would roll over in his grave," Mr. Obama said as he closed out the year at a White House news conference. Afterwards, he left for the family's annual vacation in Hawaii.
Mr. Obama declined to state explicitly that Mr. Putin knew about the e-mail hacking that roiled the presidential race, but he left no doubt who he felt was responsible. He said that "not much happens in Russia without Vladimir Putin" and repeated a U.S. intelligence assessment "that this happened at the highest levels of the Russian government."
He told Putin: cut it out
Mr. Obama said he confronted Mr. Putin in September, telling the former KGB chief to "cut it out." That was one month before the U.S. publicly pointed the finger at Russia. Suggesting his directive to Mr. Putin had been effective, Mr. Obama said the U.S. "did not see further tampering" after that date.
The President has promised a "proportional" yet unspecified response to the hacking of the Democratic Party and Ms. Clinton's campaign chairman. E-mails stolen during the campaign were released in the final weeks by WikiLeaks.
To help Trump win: CIA Director
On Friday, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director John Brennan said in a message to employees that the Federal Bureau of Investigation agreed with the CIA's conclusion that Russia's goal was to help Mr. Trump win.
Mr. Trump has dismissed the CIA's assessment and talk about Russian hacking as "ridiculous," while arguing both Democrats and the CIA are trying to undermine the legitimacy of his victory. He made no mention of the hacking or of Mr. Obama during the latest stop on his "thank you" tour in Orlando, Florida, on Friday night.
Ms. Clinton has even more directly cited Russian interference. She said Thursday night, "Vladimir Putin himself directed the covert cyberattacks against our electoral system, against our democracy, apparently because he has a personal beef against me."
The Senate intelligence committee said on Friday that it would conduct a bipartisan investigation and hold hearings about what led the intelligence agencies' finding. "The committee will follow the intelligence wherever it leads," said chairman Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C.
At the same time, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., chairman of the House intelligence committee, complained that his committee's oversight into the hacking had been stymied because the intelligence agencies had not provided information to the committee.
'Let the pundits decide'
Mr. Obama said he'd leave it to political pundits to debate the question of whether the hacking swayed the election outcome. He did, however, chide the media for what he called an "obsession" with the e-mails that were made public during the election's final stretch.
"The idea that somehow public shaming is gonna be effective, I think doesn't read the thought process in Russia very well," Mr. Obama said.
Slams Russia on Syria also
Accusations of Russian election interference have heightened the already tense relationship between Washington and Moscow. Separately, Mr. Obama has blamed Russia for standing in the way of international efforts to stop the civil war in Syria, where government forces have beaten back rebels in Aleppo.
Mr. Obama has said he feels "responsible" for some of the suffering in Syria, but he defended his decision to avoid significant military action there. He said that while military options short of invasion were tempting, it was "impossible to do this on the cheap."
'Blood and atrocities on their hands'
Still, he pinned the bulk of the blame on Russia, as well as Iran, for propping up Syrian President Bashar Assad.
"This blood and these atrocities are on their hands," he said.
Meanwhile, the President rejected any notion that the dispute over hacking was disrupting efforts to smoothly transfer power to Mr. Trump. Despite fiercely criticizing each other during the election, Mr. Obama and Mr. Trump have spoken multiple times since the campaign ended.
"He has listened," Mr. Obama said of Mr. Trump. "I can't say he will end up implementing. But the conversations themselves have been cordial."
Taiwan phone call
The President did weigh in on Mr. Trump's decision to speak with the leader of Taiwan, a recent phone call that broke decades of U.S. diplomatic protocol. Mr. Obama advised Mr. Trump to "think it through" before making changes in the One-China policy, in which the U.S. recognizes Taiwan as part of China.
In a moment of self-reflection, Mr. Obama acknowledged he had not been able to transfer his own popularity and electoral success to other Democrats. His party is now reeling from the White House loss and failure to win back either the House or Senate.
"It is not something that I've been able to transfer to candidates in midterms or build a sustaining organization around," Mr. Obama said. "That's something I would have liked to have done more of, but it's kind of hard to do when you're dealing with a whole bunch of issues here in the White House."
US demands immediate return of underwater drone 'unlawfully' seized by China
MMNN:17 Dec. 2016
China "unlawfully" seized an unmanned US naval probe in international waters in the South China Sea, the Pentagon said Friday, a move sure to heighten tensions around Beijing's military presence in the disputed area.
The underwater vehicle was taken around 50 nautical miles (90km) northwest off Subic Bay in the Philippines late Thursday in a non-violent incident, said Captain Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman.
The event unfolded as the civilian-crewed USNS Bowditch was retrieving a pair of "naval gliders" that routinely collect information on water temperatures, salinity and sea clarity.
A Chinese Dalang-III class submarine rescue ship then stopped within 500 yards (meters) of the Bowditch and snatched one of the probes. The Americans safely hoisted the other one back onto their ship.
Davis said he could not recall another time when something like this has happened, and the Pentagon issued a statement calling on Beijing to "immediately" return the probe that it had "unlawfully seized."
The US personnel "were asking over bridge-to-bridge radio to please leave it there," Davis said.
Other than a brief acknowledgment that it had received the message, the Chinese ship did not respond.
"The only thing they said after they were sailing off into the distance was: 'We are returning to normal operations,'" Davis said.
Washington has issued a formal request through diplomatic channels to ask for the probe back.
"It is ours. It is clearly marked as ours. We would like it back, and we would like this not to happen again," Davis said.
Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said China had acted unlawfully.
"The UUV (unmanned underwater vehicle) is a sovereign immune vessel of the United States. We call upon China to return our UUV immediately, and to comply with all of its obligations under international law," Cook said in a statement.
Davis said the seized vessel is off-the-shelf technology that is commercially available for about $150,000. Data it gathers are unclassified and can be used to help submarines navigate and determine sonar ranges in murky waters.
The incident comes as President-elect Donald Trump has repeatedly infuriated Beijing, by questioning longstanding US policy on Taiwan, calling Beijing a currency manipulator and threatening Chinese imports with punitive tariffs.
"This was very likely a highly planned and escalatory move to show China will not take matters lightly when it comes to" Trump, said Harry Kazianis, the director of defense studies at the conservative Center for the National Interest.
"Beijing is showing it has the capability to respond in a time and place of its choosing."
Unless it is prepared to ramp up regional tensions, Washington has few options except to ask for the underwater vehicle back.
Senior Republican Senator John McCain said the United States should not tolerate "such outrageous conduct."
"This brazen provocation fits a pattern of increasingly destabilizing Chinese behavior, including bullying its neighbors and militarizing the South China Sea," McCain said.
"This behaviour will continue until it is met with a strong and determined US response, which until now the Obama administration has failed to provide."
The incident comes amid broader tensions in the South China Sea, where China has moved to fortify its claims to the region by building out tiny reefs and islets into much larger artificial islands.
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam have competing claims in the South China Sea, which is laced with the world's most heavily traveled international trade routes.
While the United States takes no position on sovereignty claims in the South China Sea, it has repeatedly stressed all maritime claims must comply with international law.
The US military has conducted several "freedom of navigation" operations in which ships and planes have passed close to the sites Beijing claims.
Such missions have provoked angry rebukes from China, which accuses Washington of provocation and increasing the risk of a military mishap.
The USNS Bowditch is a research and survey vessel, and does not look like a warship.
The Chinese ship's hull number was ASR-510, the Pentagon said.
US: Will keep challenging Beijing's 'aggressive, assertive' behaviour in SCS
MMNN:14 Dec. 2016
The United States will keep challenging Beijing's "assertive, aggressive behaviour in the South China Sea", the US Pacific commander said on Wednesday as tensions between two powers rise over comments by Donald Trump. Admiral Harry Harris, head of the US Pacific Command, warned Washington would not accept Chinese control of the region, despite Beijing's rapid development of artificial islands capable of hosting military planes. His remarks come as Beijing reacted angrily after Trump, the US President-elect, broke convention by speaking directly to Taiwanese leader Tsai Ing-wen - and suggested Washington could jettison Washington's decades-old "One China policy".
The "One China policy" is a diplomatic compromise allowing the US to do business with both China and Taiwan while only recognising Beijing diplomatically.
"We will not allow the shared domains to be closed down unilaterally, no matter how many bases are built on artificial features in the South China Sea," Harris said. "We will cooperate where we can but we will be ready to confront where we must." China insists on sovereignty over virtually all the resource-endowed South China Sea, despite rival claims from its Southeast Asian neighbours.
But Washington has repeatedly said it does not recognise the claims, and has regularly sent warships into the strategically vital area to assert the right to freedom of navigation. "Should others (countries) signal in this way in freedom of navigation operations? I think so, but that is again up to each individual country to make that decision," the admiral told Australian think tank the Lowy Institute in Sydney.
"The US fought its first war following our independence to ensure freedom of navigation, and we did that when we were weak and small," he added. "This is an enduring principle, and one of the reasons our forces remain ready to fight tonight." Harris added that Washington would not make Australia choose between its traditional ally, the United States, and rising world power China.
"Australia is more than capable of chewing gum and walking at the same time, and so we're not asking you to make a choice," he said.
Five things to know ahead of the Shinzo Abe-Vladimir Putin hot springs summit
Tokyo: MMNN:14 Dec. 2016
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will become on Thursday the first G-7 leader to allow an official visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin since Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014.
The reason? His eagerness to resolve a 70-year-old territorial dispute that has kept their countries from signing a peace treaty formally ending World War II. A look at the two-day talks, which open at a hot springs resort in Abe's ancestral hometown of Nagato and wrap up Friday in Tokyo:
Japan says the Soviets took the southern Kuril islands illegally at the end of World War II, expelling 17,000 Japanese to nearby Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan's four main islands. About one-third of the former residents are still alive. The Soviet Union, unilaterally scrapping a 1941 neutrality treaty, entered the war against Japan a week before the latter's surrender on Aug. 15, 1945. It occupied the disputed islands _ known as the Northern Territories in Japan _ within weeks, a process Russia says was legal. The two countries signed a Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration in 1956, ending their state of war and restoring diplomatic relations, but failed to conclude a peace treaty because of the island issue. Russia governs the islands and the Russians who live there.
Japanese hopes for a settlement sank after Abe met Putin last month on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Peru. James Brown, a Russia-Japan expert at Temple University's Japan campus said "there are too many obstacles to an agreement on the territorial issues to actually sign a peace treaty. I think they are trying to come up with some sort of formulation that gives the impression of progress." Former Japanese diplomat Kazuhiko Togo said in a recent commentary that serious negotiations began only after Abe and Putin met in Sochi, Russia, in May, "and seven months is too short to untie this complicated knot."
Russia wants to attract Japanese investment, particularly to its far east. Japan's trade minister in charge of Russia, Hiroshige Seko, said about 30 projects in eight areas are ready for signing: Japan would provide advanced medical, health and environmental technology and help with the industrialization of the far east, while receiving expertise from Russia in decommissioning nuclear plants, energy and cyber security. "We will have a win-win situation, at least in economic relations," he told a news conference this week. Joint development of the disputed islands is also on the table, but Japan is wary of the sovereignty issue: If it's Japanese territory, shouldn't Japanese laws apply?
THE LEADERS' WORDS
Abe told a group of former residents of the islands this week that "I'm determined to put an end to this issue in our generation." Putin told Japanese journalists Tuesday that there is a chance of a breakthrough, but his government doesn't mind the status quo. "We think that we have no territorial problems. It's Japan that thinks that is has a territorial problem with Russia," he said.
A Russia-friendly approach from U.S. President-elect Donald Trump could buy time, taking pressure off Japan to strike a quick deal before a change in U.S. leadership, said Alexander Gabuyev, a Carnegie Moscow Center expert on the Pacific region. Trump's opponent, Hillary Clinton, had been expected to take a tougher stance toward Moscow. At the same time Trump's "America first" policy has raised concern in Japan that any reduction of the U.S. military presence in Asia could mean increased risks for Japan as China's regional ambitions grow. Even short of a territorial agreement, Japan is keen to have closer relations with Russia for security reasons.
Pentagon chief announces 200 more US troops for Syria
MMNN:10 Dec. 2016
Washington will send another 200 troops to Syria to help an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters seize the ISIL group bastion of Raqa, Defence Secretary Ashton Carter said on Saturday.
"I can tell you today that the United States will deploy approximately 200 additional US forces in Syria," Carter told Gulf policymakers in the Bahraini capital Manama.
They will complement 300 American special forces already in Syria to assist US-backed Kurdish-Arab fighters who in recent weeks began their offensive on Raqa.
That operation coincides with a US-backed Iraqi effort to retake Mosul.
The two cities are the last major urban centres under IS control after the militants suffered a string of territorial losses in Iraq and Syria over the past year.
Carter told the Manama Dialogue security forum that the troop reinforcements will include bomb disposal experts and trainers as well as special forces.
Car bombs and elaborate networks of booby traps and mines have been the militants' favoured weapons as they battle to defend what remains of the "caliphate" they declared across Iraq and Syria in 2012.
"We're now helping tens of thousands of local Syrian forces to isolate Raqa," from which they are only about 25 kilometres (15 miles), he said.
Raqa, which has also served as a hub for militants plotting attacks abroad, is being isolated according to plan, Carter said.
With the offensives against Mosul and Raqa, the US-led coalition against IS has reached "a critical milestone", Carter said.
"This is a complex mission that will take time to accomplish but I'm confident that ISIL's days in Mosul are numbered," Carter said, using an alternative acronym for the militant group.
He warned that it is unclear what form IS will take after its eventual defeat in Iraq and Syria, so the coalition of Western and Middle Eastern nations battling it will need to remain vigilant.
"We must be ready for anything," said Carter, who is on a Middle East tour before leaving office at the end of President Barack Obama's term in January.
In Syria, government warplanes have been pounding the remaining districts of Aleppo in rebel hands as US officials were to meet with their Russian counterparts on Saturday in a last-ditch bid to prevent a bloodbath.
Secretary of State John Kerry said that the talks in Switzerland would try to stop Aleppo "being absolutely, completely destroyed".
Won't allow H-1B visa holders to replace US workers: Donald Trump
WASHINGTON: MMNN:10 Dec. 2016
President-elect Donald Trump has said he would not allow Americans to be replaced by foreign workers, in an apparent reference to cases like that of Disney World and other American companies wherein people hired on H-1B visas, including Indians, displaced US workers.
"We will fight to protect every last American life," Trump told thousands of his supporters in Iowa on Thursday as he referred to the cases of Disney world and other US companies.
"During the campaign I also spent time with American workers who were laid off and forced to train. The foreign workers brought in to replace them. We won't let this happen anymore," Trump vowed amidst cheers and applause from the audience.
"Can you believe that? You get laid off and then they won't give you your severance pay unless you train the people that are replacing you. I mean, that's actually demeaning maybe more than anything else," he said.
Disney World and two outsourcing companies have been slapped with a federal lawsuit by two of its former technology staff, alleging that they conspired to displace American workers with cheaper foreign labour brought to the US on H-1B visas, mostly from India.
The two employees - Leo Perrero and Dena Moore - were among 250 Disney tech workers laid off from their jobs at Walt Disney World in Orlando in January 2015. They have also dragged two IT companies HCL Inc and Cognizent Technologies into this class action lawsuit.
"You know the name of one of the companies that's doing it. I'm going to be nice because we're trying to get that company back. Don't forget much harder when a company announced a year and a half ago - some of these companies, like Carrier, they announced long before I even knew I was going to be running for president," Trump said.
On immigration, Trump reiterated that he will build the wall along the Mexico border.
"We will put an end to illegal immigration and stop the drugs from pouring into our country, the drugs are pouring into our country, poisoning our youth and plenty of other people," he said.
"We will stop the drugs from pouring into our country. We will stop the drugs from poisoning our great and beautiful and loving youth. OK? We'll do it," he said, adding that the Trump administration will stop the violence that is "spilling across our border."
Myanmar bans workers going to Malaysia after Rohingya crisis
Yangon:MMNN:7 Dec. 2016
Myanmar has banned workers from going to Muslim-majority Malaysia as relations sour between the neighbours over a bloody military crackdown on the Buddhist country's Rohingya minority. The move came after Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak lashed out at Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi for allowing "genocide" on her watch during a rally Sunday in Kuala Lumpur that drew thousands of people.
The crowds were protesting against a military crackdown in Myanmar's western Rakhine state that has pushed more than 20,000 Rohingya Muslims into Bangladesh. Survivors have told AFP horrifying stories of gang rape, torture and murder at the hands of Myanmar security forces, while dozens have died trying to cross the river that separates the two countries.
Buddhist-majority Myanmar has long discriminated against the stateless Rohingya and the recent crisis has galvanised protests in Muslim countries around the region, including
Malaysia. "We want to tell Aung San Suu Kyi, enough is enough… We must and we will defend Muslims and Islam," Najib said at Sunday's 5,000-strong rally. "The world cannot sit and watch genocide taking place."
A Malaysian government minister has also called for a review of Myanmar's membership inside the regional ASEAN bloc. Myanmar officials have denied the allegations of abuse and Suu Kyi has told the international community to stop stoking the "fires of resentment". Late on Tuesday, Myanmar's immigration ministry said it had ceased issuing new licences for its nationals to work in wealthier Malaysia - for years a top destination for migrant
"Myanmar has temporarily stopped sending workers to Malaysia because of the current situation in Malaysia," it said in a statement, without elaborating.Malaysia already hosts tens of thousands of Myanmar workers, most of whom take on low-paid jobs in factories or in the food and hospitality industries.According to Malaysia, some 56,000 Rohingya have arrived on its shores in recent years, many taking perilous boat journeys to flee poverty and discrimination in Rakhine state.
However, on Tuesday, former UN chief Kofi Annan, who heads a commission on troubled Rakhine, told reporters he thought the crisis would not split the region apart. "I think it can be contained. There is a possibility here to contain what is going on," he told a news conference in Yangon at the end of a week-long visit.
Indonesia earthquake toll jumps to 97 as more bodies found in rubble
MEUREUDU:MMNN:7 Dec. 2016
The death toll from a powerful earthquake that struck western Indonesia on Wednesday has nearly doubled to 97, the military said, as more bodies were pulled from the rubble of scores of shattered buildings.
The shallow 6.5-magnitude quake struck Pidie Jaya district in Aceh province at dawn as many in the mainly Muslim region on Sumatra island were preparing for morning prayers.
The death toll has steadily climbed as rescue crews search, often by hand, through the homes, mosques and shops reduced to ruins.
The earlier figure of 52 dead was revised up significantly by the Indonesian military, which has taken over responsibility for the search and rescue operation.
"So far 97 people have been killed and the number keeps growing," Aceh military chief Tatang Sulaiman told AFP.
"When we retrieve bodies sometimes there's five, sometimes 10 corpses."
More than 1,000 soldiers and about 900 police have been deployed to the worst-hit areas to set up shelters and evacuation points, he added.
Hundreds of houses and shops had been levelled by the quake, leaving countless people homeless and in need of basic supplies like food and water, officials said.
"The electricity is still off. Some places have generators, but there are not many," local disaster agency head Puteh Manaf told AFP.
"If it rains there will be disease."
The sole hospital in Pidie Jaya was quickly overwhelmed, with patients treated on the grass out front or sent to neighbouring districts with better facilities.
The district health office chief Said Abdullah said nearly 200 injured had arrived since the quake, but many would not enter the hospital for fear of aftershocks.
"We are treating people outside. We took the beds out because nobody is daring enter the hospital," he told AFP.
Another regional hospital had suffered serious damage in the quake, along with schools and other key infrastructure, a national disaster agency spokesman said.
In the hard-hit town of Meureudu, terrified residents rushed outside as their homes buckled and crumbled.
"Everything was destroyed," said Hasbi Jaya, who pulled his two children unconscious from the rubble of their home.
"It was pitch black because the electricity was out. I looked around and all my neighbours' homes were completely flattened."
An AFP correspondent said dazed residents were wandering debris-strewn streets, unable to return to their damaged homes in fear of aftershocks.
Some fled to higher ground for fear of a tsunami although no alert was issued.
A huge undersea earthquake in 2004 triggered a tsunami that engulfed parts of Aceh and other countries around the Indian Ocean, killing more than 170,000 people in Indonesia alone.
Indonesian seismologists said the latest earthquake was felt across much of Aceh province, with many aftershocks following the initial tremor.
The US Geological Survey upgraded the magnitude to 6.5 from an initial reading of 6.4 and issued a yellow alert for expected fatalities and damage.
Indonesia experiences frequent seismic and volcanic activity due to its position on the Pacific "Ring of Fire", where tectonic plates collide.
Aceh lies on the northern tip of Sumatra island, which is particularly prone to quakes.
In June a 6.5-magnitude quake struck off the west of Sumatra, damaging scores of buildings and injuring eight people.
China hopes Trump's call with Taiwan leader won't damage ties
MMNN:3 Dec. 2016
China's foreign minister said on Saturday that he hoped Beijing's relations with the U.S. would not be "interfered with or damaged" after President-elect Donald Trump broke with decades-long diplomatic tradition and spoke directly with Taiwan's leader.
It is highly unusual, probably unprecedented, for a U.S. president or president-elect to speak directly with a leader of Taiwan, a self-governing island with whom the U.S. broke diplomatic ties in 1979.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the call between Taiwan's president and Trump was "just a small trick by Taiwan" that he believed would not change U.S. policy toward China, according to Hong Kong's Phoenix TV.
"The one-China policy is the cornerstone of the healthy development of China-U.S. relations and we hope this political foundation will not be interfered with or damaged," Mr. Wang was quoted as saying.
Washington has pursued a so-called "one China" policy since 1979, when it shifted diplomatic recognition of China from the government in Taiwan to the communist government on the mainland. Under that policy, the U.S. recognises Beijing as representing China but retains unofficial ties with Taiwan.
Taiwan looking to strengthen bilateral ties
A statement from Trump's transition team said he spoke with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who offered her congratulations.
"During the discussion, they noted the close economic, political, and security ties... between Taiwan and the United States. President-elect Trump also congratulated President Tsai on becoming President of Taiwan earlier this year," the statement said.
Trump tweeted later: "The President of Taiwan CALLED ME today to wish me congratulations on winning the Presidency. Thank you!"
The Taiwanese presidential office issued a statement early Saturday saying Mr. Trump and Mr. Tsai discussed issues affecting Asia and the future of U.S. relations with Taiwan.
"The [Taiwanese] president is looking forward to strengthening bilateral interactions and contacts as well as setting up closer cooperative relations," the statement said.
"The president also told U.S. President-elect Trump that she hopes the U.S. will continue to support Taiwan's efforts in having more opportunities to participate in and contribute to international affairs in the future," Mr. Tsai's office said.
It said the two also "shared ideas and concepts" on "promoting domestic economic development and strengthening national defence" to improve the lives of ordinary people.
Trump's unconventional style of diplomacy?
The White House learned of the conversation after it had taken place, said a senior Obama administration official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitive diplomatic relations involved.
China's embassy in Washington, its foreign ministry in Beijing and Taiwan Affairs Office did not respond to requests for comment.
US defence bill pledges $900 million to Pakistan
ISLAMABAD:MMNN:3 Dec. 2016
The US House of Representatives has passed a defence bill that pledges $900 million in economic and other assistance to Pakistan, a significant portion of which is dependent of a Pentagon certification that the country is taking demonstrable steps against the dreaded Haqqani Network.
The US National Defence Authorisation Act for fiscal year 2017 was passed in the House of Representatives yesterday.
The bill limits the overall amount available for reimbursement to $1.1 billion, of which $900 million is available for reimbursement to Pakistan.
It extends Congressional notification and certification requirements regarding reimbursements to Pakistan. The bill specifies that certain reimbursements to Pakistan are ineligible for a national security waiver unless Department of Defense makes specified certifications regarding the activities of Pakistan with respect to the Haqqani Network.
According to Dawn newspaper, the bill conditions $450 million from this assistance to a certification.
This year the amount was $300 million, which was not released after Defence Secretary Ashton Carter refused to certify in Pakistan's favour.
The bill is schedule for a vote in the Senate next week. Since it is a consensus bill, it is unlikely to face any opposition.
The bill notes that "the United States and Pakistan continue to have many critical shared interests, both economic- and security-related, which could be the foundation for a positive and mutually beneficial partnership."
In a conference report, which combines the House and Senate versions of a legislation, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee John McCain had underlined the importance of a continued relationship between the United States and Pakistan.
He noted that the bill "refocuses security assistance to Pakistan on activities that directly support US national security interests".
Football mourns as plane crash kills Brazilian players
Colombia:MMNN:30 Nov. 2016
The football world mourned Tuesday after a plane carrying a Brazilian team crashed in the mountains in Colombia, killing 71 people but miraculously leaving six survivors, officials said.
Football legends Pele and Maradona as well as current superstars Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo led tributes to the players of Chapecoense Real, a humble team whose march to glory was cut abruptly short.
Having risen only recently from obscurity, the team was on its way to play in the finals of the Copa Sudamericana, South America's second-biggest club tournament, when disaster struck.
"The pain is terrible. Just as we had made it, I will not say to the top, but to have national prominence, a tragedy like this happens," club vice-president Ivan Tozzo told Globo SporTV.
The charter plane, flown by Bolivian company LAMIA, reported "electrical failures" around 10:00 pm Monday (0300 GMT Tuesday) and crashed soon after near the city of Medellin, its destination, officials said.
The plane's black box recorders have been found, but there was no word on how long it would take to analyze them.
The wreckage of the white fuselage was plastered over a remote hillside in northwestern Colombia.
The dead included most of the team and 20 Brazilian journalists traveling to cover the match.
The six survivors are being treated in hospital, officials said.
"I have just seen the plane and given the state it is in, it is a miracle that six people survived," said Governor Luis Perez of Antioquia department, where the plane went down.
One survivor, goalkeeper Jackson Follmann, had to have his right leg amputated, said the San Vicente Foundation Hospital outside Medellin.
It reported he was "stabilizing" in intensive care.
Colombia's civil aviation authority initially said 75 people were killed. But it later emerged that four people on the passenger manifest had not in fact boarded the plane -- a club official, a journalist, the mayor of the team's hometown and the speaker of the state assembly.
"It's one of those things in life. Only God knows why I ended up staying behind," said Luciano Buligon, the mayor of Chapeco in southern Brazil.
Crying, Plinio Filho, the head of the club's advisory council, recalled the players telling him they were off to "chase a dream" as they left.
"The group was like a family. It was a group of friends, where everyone laughed a lot, even in defeat," he said.
Footage of the club on board the plane before take-off aired on TV channel Gigavision in Bolivia, where the team departed from the city of Santa Cruz after taking a commercial flight from Brazil.
Coach Mauro Stumpf told the TV network he hoped the plane would "bring (us) luck" like it did when the team flew the same company to a quarter-final match last month.
The British Aerospace 146 airliner entered into operation in 1999 and previously belonged to two other airlines, a spokesman for the manufacturer told AFP.
Specialist sites said the same plane was used two weeks ago to fly the Argentine national team with Messi on board to San Juan, Argentina for a World Cup qualifying match.
Britain's Air Accidents Investigation Branch said it was sending experts along with representatives of the plane's manufacturer BAE Systems to Colombia to help with investigations.
The plane went down about 50 kilometers (30 miles) from Medellin, in a remote mountain area called Cerro Gordo.
"We found ourselves faced with a disastrous scene. The plane was completely destroyed," fire service captain Elkin Gonzalez told AFP.
Rescuers and aviation authorities said the survivors were three players, two crew members and a journalist.
The team's lead goalkeeper, Marcos Danilo Padilha, 31, died on the way to hospital, the civil aviation authority said.
His last-minute save in the semi-final had sealed the team's place in the Copa Sudamericana final.
The journalists killed included six employees from the Brazilian affiliate of Fox Sports television. One of them, Mario Sergio, was a well-known announcer and former Brazilian international player.
The cup final first-leg had been scheduled for Wednesday against Atletico Nacional of Colombia.
Australia falls well behind in STEM simply by failing to improve
MMNN:30 Nov. 2016
A study looking at mathematics and science for Years 4 and 8 students show Australia's ranking has slipped behind countries seeing improved results, such as Kazakhstan and Slovenia.
The results come from the four-yearly Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study.
Professor Nalini Joshi from the University of Sydney's school of Mathematics says it's an area that needs greater attention.
"I call it abysmal, actually. If you look at the scores rather than the rankings, then what's happened is that Australia has basically remained level while other countries have accelerated past us. And if you look at what we want for our future society, we want growth. We want to train people who are going to be the wonderful experts of the future to develop the technology that we need that we can't even imagine right now to flower for Australia. That means we need people trained in science and mathematics and if that's not going to happen, that I'm afraid Australia will do worse than staying still."
After 20 years of testing, Australia is in the middle of the pack with performance stagnating.
Professor Joshi says it's a multi-dimensional problem that needs to be examined on many levels, and professional development of teachers plays a big part.
"There are issues to do with teacher training, teacher support, in terms of leadership in schools, in terms of the messages being passed down from the top level in terms of, for example, for prerequisites in universities."
A quarter and a third of year 4 and year 8 students did not achieve the intermediate international benchmarks in maths or science.
For some students it's the level of engagement that's the obstacle.
"Math is nice but it can be more fun."
"There's loads of other subjects that are more fun."
And teachers such as Doctor Margarent Ghosn from the Maronite College of the Holy Family have noticed.
"It's not just so much pushing and getting tutors and what kind of tutors is a big issue, but it's allowing children to enjoy the subject, to delve into it and to ask the questions and show critical thinking and until we do that, no matter what we do they're not going to show an interest so we need to make science and maths exciting."
She says it would be costly but the benefits of greater funding is clear.
"It's necessary. As we see Australia is plummeting at where we are in the world. I did go to a conference recently and it's very clear Finland and a lot of other countries are doing exceptionally well in numeracy and literacy, it's because their government has put a lot of funding in their schools. I mean, we might say it costs a lot but in the end we reap the rewards. When we've got a country doing extremely well in numeracy and literacy it benefits everyone."
Education minister Simon Birmingham says the statistics are a wake-up call.
"Australia is not performing to the standard we should expect as a developed economy, as a country with high standards providing record investments in our schools. Australia should be a world leader in terms of school education, not a world lagger. Of course there are things that we can learn from other countries and I want us to listen carefully to the evidence that's there."
Threat to NASA climate role a 'disaster' for global warming action: researchers
MMNN:23 Nov. 2016
A threat by the incoming Trump administration to the climate research of US space agency NASA would be disastrous for global efforts to monitor and counter global warming, Australian researchers said.
NASA's earth science division would be stripped of funds, with the money diverted to deep space exploration, the Guardian reported on Tuesday, citing comments by Bob Walker, a senior advisor to president-elect Donald Trump.
"I believe that climate research is necessary but it has been heavily politicised, which has undermined a lot of the work that researchers have been doing," Mr Walker was quoted as saying. "Mr Trump's decisions will be based upon solid science, not politicised science."
The election two weeks ago of the Republican candidate to replace Democrat Barack Obama next January for a four-year term sent shockwaves through the global climate research community. Mr Trump has said climate change was a hoax "created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive".
Australian scientists are keenly aware that much of the climate monitoring and models they rely on are sourced from US agencies including NASA.
Matthew England, a professor of oceanography and climate dynamics at the University of NSW, said NASA was "one of the iconic climate science centres in the US".
"Cutting NASA out of earth observation would be disastrous," Professor England said. "We need the observations that this lab underpins."
Professor England, though, said Mr Trump was sending mixed signals on his intentions. During a meeting with New York Times journalists on Monday, the President-Elect declined to repeat his campaign promise to abandon the international climate accord reached last year in Paris, saying, "I'm looking at it very closely."
Mr Trump told the Times "I have an open mind to it" and that clean air and "crystal clear water" were vitally important, the paper reported.
While those comments were welcomed, Professor England noted many of Mr Trump's appointments so far bore "almost a hatred of our field of research".
"They are people who don't have an open-mind," he said, adding that many of them had close ties to the fossil-fuel industry - one that Mr Trump had pledged to help.
Roger Jones, a former CSIRO scientist now at Victoria University, said "the whole world" uses systems developed by NASA such as the satellite observation system MODIS.
"In Australia [the data] is used to monitor floods and drought on an on-going basis," Dr Jones said. "It's used to ground our understanding of soil moisture and production systems."
"This is an area where global-scale earth system science is seen as an aspect of 'globalisation' and thus suspect," he said. "The UN agenda is to use science funded by the people of America against the interests of everyday Americans - this is what they see as happening now."
Mr Walker's comments have added to international anxiety over the future of US climate research.
Stripping NASA of its climate role "would be a shockingly stupid move that would deal a very severe blow to global research on environmental change across the world", Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science, said.
"Stopping all funding would, for instance, mean abandoning satellites that monitor the earth's surface and would be an enormous waste of billions of dollars of scientific research," Mr Ward said. "It would also trigger the departure of many world-class scientists that would have catastrophic consequences for the competitiveness of universities and businesses in the United States."
'Senior Al-Qaeda Leader' Killed In US Strike In Syria: Pentagon
Washington:MMNN:23 Nov. 2016
A US drone strike has killed a senior Al-Qaeda leader in Syria who previously operated in Afghanistan, the Defense Department announced Tuesday.
The November 18 strike near Sarmada in northwestern Syria targeted Abu Afghan al-Masri, Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said.
"He had ties to terrorist groups operating throughout Southwest Asia, including groups responsible for attacking US and coalition forces in Afghanistan and those plotting to attack the West," Cook said.
Al-Masri was an Egyptian who originally joined Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and later moved to its Syrian affiliate, Cook said.
The Pentagon did not immediately provide further information about Masri, only that he had a "senior leadership role" in Al-Qaeda.
"This is someone who helped organize Al-Qaeda activities," Cook said.
He "has been on our radar for some time."
A US-led coalition is striking ISIS targets in Syria, but has also hit leaders from other groups including the Al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, which has renamed itself Fatah al-Sham.
In October, the Pentagon said a US air strike near Idlib had targeted a Nusra senior leader, Ahmed Salama Mabrouk, an Egyptian also known by his nom de guerre Abu Faraj.
Trump Turns to His Right Flank to Fill National Security Posts
WASHINGTON:MMNN:19 Nov. 2016
President-elect Donald J. Trump moved quickly on Friday to begin filling national security posts at the top echelons of his administration, selecting a group of hawks and campaign loyalists who reflect the hard-line views that defined his run for president.
Mr. Trump said he would nominate as attorney general Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who has been a fierce supporter of a crackdown on undocumented immigrants. The president-elect also moved to install Michael T. Flynn, a retired lieutenant general who has said that Islamist militancy poses a global existential threat, as his national security adviser. And as director of the C.I.A., Mr. Trump selected Representative Mike Pompeo of Kansas, who harshly criticized Hillary Clinton during the House investigation of the 2012 attack on the United States diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.
All three are regarded, in some ways, as outliers from conventional Republican thinking, shunned at times for strident statements, controversial positions or highly partisan moves.
The flurry of announcements indicated that Mr. Trump was gaining control over a transition operation that had been entangled in infighting during its early stages. The results were the first seeds of an administration-in-waiting that will break starkly with that of President Obama.
Transition officials said Mr. Trump would meet over the weekend with a broad array of potential cabinet members and other advisers as a signal that he wanted to build a diverse team, without regard to political affiliation or support for his presidential bid. Among them are Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee and one of his party's harshest critics of the president-elect's campaign, who is a contender for secretary of state, and Michelle A. Rhee, a Democrat who pursued sweeping reforms during her controversy-filled tenure as the District of Columbia's chancellor of schools.
Mr. Trump also planned to meet on Saturday with James N. Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general who headed United States Central Command and is being considered for secretary of defense.
But there was no evidence in Friday's selections that Mr. Trump, who has hinted that he might pursue a more centrist agenda once he sits in the Oval Office, is inclined to moderate his approach on key questions of national security and civil rights.
In a statement on Friday, Mr. Trump called Mr. Sessions a "world-class legal mind," and added that Mr. Pompeo would be "a brilliant and unrelenting leader for our intelligence community."
Of General Flynn, he said: "I am pleased that Lieutenant General Michael Flynn will be by my side as we work to defeat radical Islamic terrorism, navigate geopolitical challenges and keep Americans safe at home and abroad."
Both Mr. Sessions and General Flynn were early and fervent supporters of Mr. Trump's presidential campaign, even as many establishment Republicans were criticizing Mr. Trump for inflammatory statements and dismissing his chances of winning the nomination. Mr. Pompeo initially supported Senator Marco Rubio of Florida in the Republican primary, but switched after it became clear Mr. Trump would be the nominee. Mr. Pompeo is also close to Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who is heading the transition effort.
In 1986, Mr. Sessions - who, if confirmed, would be charged with safeguarding civil rights in the United States - was blocked from becoming a federal judge by the Senate's Republican-controlled Judiciary Committee because of previous racially charged comments and actions.
In testimony before the committee, former colleagues said that Mr. Sessions had referred to the N.A.A.C.P., the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and other civil rights groups as "un-American" and "Communist-inspired." An African-American federal prosecutor, Thomas H. Figures, said at the time that Mr. Sessions had referred to him as "boy," and testified that Mr. Sessions had said the Ku Klux Klan was fine "until I found out they smoked pot," a remark Mr. Sessions later dismissed as a joke.
Aides to Mr. Trump dismissed the past statements, and described Mr. Sessions as a champion of civil rights, citing as evidence a number of desegregation lawsuits he filed while serving as a United States attorney in Alabama, his votes to extend the Voting Rights Act and to confirm Eric H. Holder Jr. as the first African-American attorney general, and his efforts to award the Congressional Gold Medal to Rosa Parks.
"Senator Sessions is someone who's universally respected across party lines in the United States Senate," said Jason Miller, a spokesman for Mr. Trump's transition team, calling him "very well qualified for this position."
Another terrorist attack in US could lead to violent reaction against Pakistan: Ex-envoys
Washington:MMNN:19 Nov. 2016
Former United States and Pakistani officials have warned that a crack in ties between the two nations is not in the interests of either and cautioned that another terrorist attack in America could lead to a violent reaction against Islamabad. The officials met at the US Institute for Peace on Thursday to discuss the future of Pak-US relations under President-elect Donald Trump's administration which will take effect from Jan 2017.
South Asia expert Lisa Curtis and Pakistan's former ambassador to the United States Hussain Haqqani described the worst possible scenario: a major terrorist attack in the United States with roots in Pakistan would lead to an "all bets off" retaliation, reports the Dawn.
Former US assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian Affairs Robin Raphel discussed the possibility of the militant Islamic State (IS) group growing deep roots in
Afghanistan and Pakistan. In such a case, "if the administration does what Trump had suggested...you could have another period of an increase in (US) military assistance to Pakistan," she said.
The participating members noted that the US-Pakistan ties received little attention in the presidential campaign but the Trump administration will have to deal with the important relationship when in power.
The former officials also reviewed the impact of about two billion dollars of US aid on the bilateral relationship.
Curtis, member of a conservation think tank the Heritage Foundation, warned that US security assistance to Pakistan would "continue to decline, unless we have some changes in Pakistan's policy, including arrests and prosecutions of terrorists".
A decline in relations could be averted, she said, if Pakistan denies free movement of the Afghan Taliban in the country and assert pressure that would bring the extremist leaders to the negotiating table.
Haqqani, said that the "most likely scenario, we will have, of course, curbs on immigration from Pakistan....aid will decline, and there will be some reaction in Pakistan".
He added: "I hope that it is measured so that it doesn't provoke another reaction cycle here."
The most likely scenario, according to Raphel, would be the new administration having "a re-look and tighten up, harden up on the issues" such as the Afghan Taliban's use of Pakistan as a safe haven. She hoped that "Pakistan will probably, at least in the short term, pull up its socks ... and ... accelerate plans that it might have to deal with some of these groups."
In speech to Greeks, Obama to warn against nationalistic impulses
ATHENS:MMNN:16 Nov. 2016
President Obama will deliver a speech to the Greek people Wednesday in which he's expected to address the economic and social forces that are upending American and European politics, warning against what he's called a "crude nationalism" that threatens to divide people along ethnic, religious and class lines.
The speech comes as Obama prepares to hand over power to President-elect Donald Trump, whose upset victory was fueled in part by anxieties about immigration, globalization and trade. But in delivering the speech in the birthplace of democracy - and after touring the Acropolis, the iconic hilltop ruins that have become an enduring symbol of Western civilization itself - Obama will also make clear that Trump is not a uniquely American phenomenon.
Obama has argued that Western governments need to address the underlying issues driving economic anxiety before being consumed by populist backlash.
"The lesson I draw - and I think people can draw a lot of lessons, but maybe one that cuts across countries is we have to deal with issues like inequality," Obama said at a Tuesday news conference with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. "We have to deal with issues of economic dislocation. We have to deal with people's fears that their children won't do as well as they have. The more aggressively and effectively we deal with those issues, the less those fears may channel themselves into counterproductive approaches that pit people against each other."
Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, who writes Obama's foreign policy speeches, said the remarks in Greece will echo some themes of Obama's eight-year presidency: That globalization, technology and trade will ultimately lead to greater prosperity - but that it needs to be carefully regulated to mitigate the dislocation of workers and families that also can result.
Those effects are "clearly something that can be seen in multiple election results, including our own," Rhodes said. "So even with all the progress we've made, we recognize no matter what had happened in November, that more work needed to be done."
At a state dinner at his honor at Greece's presidential mansion Tuesday night, Obama said his speech also will acknowledge "the ties of history and heritage that bind our peoples together" - ties that include a love of the Olympic games.
"Greeks rightly take pride as the founder of the Games -- and in Leonidas of Rhodes who, for 2,000 years, held the record for winning 12 individual gold medals, the most of any athlete," Obama said. "And we Americans take pride in Michael Phelps, who set the new record this summer."
Michelle Obama racist post: West Virginia town tries to move past backlash
MMNN:16 Nov. 2016
As a small West Virginia community tries to move past the backlash of a racist Facebook post that targeted first lady Michelle Obama, a council member had some inviting words for outsiders who look down on her town. "Come see us," Joyce Gibson said. "Spend a day with us. If I knew you would come, I would bake a cake. We're very decent people." Clay Mayor Beverly Whaling resigned Tuesday and the Town Council later met to accept it. The resignation came after another woman whose post Whaling responded to was placed on leave as director of the nonprofit Clay County Development Corp.
The council meeting was brief, with councilman Jason Hubbard reading a statement condemning the "horrible and indecent" post. He apologized on behalf of the town to Michelle Obama and anyone who was offended.
"Please don't judge the entire community for one or two individual acts," Hubbard said.
The council plans to act quickly to name a replacement for the remaining three years of Whaling's term.
"She was a good mayor, I thought, and she knew how to get things done," Gibson said. "It's just a shame that this has happened. But, you know, there could be good things come out of it."
She doesn't know what that will be or how the town will repair itself "unless we just go day by day to live like we have lived," Gibson said.
Clay County Development director Pamela Ramsey Taylor made the post following Republican Donald Trump's election as president, saying of incoming first lady Melania Trump: "It will be refreshing to have a classy, beautiful, dignified First Lady in the White House. I'm tired of seeing a Ape in heels."
Whaling responded: "Just made my day Pam."
Whaling later issued a written apology to news media outlets, saying her comment wasn't intended to be racist.
"I was referring to my day being made for change in the White House! I am truly sorry for any hard feeling this may have caused! Those who know me know that I'm not in any way racist!"
Taylor, who told WCHS-TV on Monday night that she was put on leave, did not return a call seeking comment.
Gibson said the post gave the town of about 500 residents a label it didn't want. After news of the post circled the globe, the small office's voicemail system quickly filled to capacity with irate callers. An online campaign calling for Taylor and Whaling to resign drew tens of thousands of responses.
The nonpartisan town council has five members, plus the town recorder and mayor. Whaling's seat was empty during Tuesday's meeting in a small office attended by a few local residents along with several journalists and some people from outside the area who said they wanted to see justice served.
Annie Thacker of Barrackville drove 117 miles to the meeting.
"I saw what was happening in small town West Virginia," she said. "I'm from small town West Virginia. I wanted to see hate put down in West Virginia, especially after this election cycle. Everyone's watching."
Lish Greiner of Belpre, Ohio, said she had volunteered during flood cleanup in West Virginia over the summer and returned for the town council meeting because "I will not tolerate hate in my home and in my area."
Clay County Development, which provides services to elderly and low-income residents in the county, is funded through state and federal grants and local fees. It is not affiliated with the town of Clay, which is about 50 miles east of Charleston.
The uproar occurred as the town is still trying to recover from severe flooding in late June along the nearby Elk River. Clay County also has been hit by hundreds of layoffs in the coal industry this decade.
Gibson was asked what was worse, the flood or the attention from the Facebook post.
"I'll have to think about that," she said. "This (backlash) will go away."
4 Killed, 14 Wounded In Explosion At Largest US Base In Afghanistan
KABUL:MMNN:12 Nov. 2016
Four people were killed Saturday in an explosion inside the largest US military base in Afghanistan, NATO said, with local officials blaming a suicide attacker posing as a labourer for the major security breach.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the blast inside the heavily fortified Bagram Airfield, north of Kabul, which wounded 14 others as the insurgents ramp up their nationwide offensive before the onset of winter, when fighting usually ebbs.
The nationalities of those killed and wounded were not immediately known after the explosion, which highlights rising insecurity in Afghanistan nearly two years after US-led NATO forces formally ended their combat operations.
"An explosive device was detonated on Bagram Airfield resulting in multiple casualties. Four people have died in the attack and approximately 14 have been wounded," NATO said in a statement.
"Response teams at Bagram continue to treat the wounded and investigate the incident."
The blast was caused by a suicide attacker who blew himself up near a dining facility inside the base, said Waheed Sediqi, spokesman for the governor of Parwan province where Bagram is located.
"We don't know the identity of victims yet but the attacker was one of the Afghan labourers working there," Sediqi told AFP.
Bagram district governor Abdul Shakoor Quddusi described the explosion around 0100 GMT as "powerful", saying it reverberated across the area.
The United States has around 10,000 troops in Afghanistan, with the largest contingent stationed at the Bagram base.
The brazen attack represents a major security breach inside what is regarded as one of the most heavily guarded military installations in Afghanistan.
"To the family and friends of those who lost their lives today, we share your loss and our thoughts are with you. We offer you our deepest condolences," said John Nicholson, the top US and NATO commander in Afghanistan.
"For the family and friends of those wounded in today's attack, let me assure you they are receiving the best care possible, and we will keep them in our thoughts today."
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the insurgent group was behind the suicide attack inside Bagram, claiming it inflicted "heavy casualties on US invaders".
Bagram Airfield has frequently come under attack by Taliban insurgents.
Last December, a motorcycle-riding Taliban suicide bomber killed six US soldiers near the base in one of the deadliest attacks on foreign troops in the country in 2015.
The latest assault came after a powerful Taliban truck bomb struck the German consulate in Afghanistan's northern Mazar-i-Sharif city late Thursday, killing at least six people and wounding more than 100 others.
The uptick in attacks against Western targets comes just days after a bitter US presidential election.
Afghanistan got scarcely a passing mention in the election campaign -- even though the situation there will be an urgent matter for the new president.
President-elect Donald Trump is set to inherit America's longest war with no end in sight.
Indian-origin Kamala Harris has the potential to be the first woman President of US
WASHINGTON:MMNN:12 Nov. 2016
Indian-origin California Attorney General Kamala Harris has potential to become the first woman president of the United States, a media report has said, days after Hillary Clinton was unable to break the highest glass ceiling .
51-year-old Harris, whose mother was from Chennai and father from Jamaica, won the US Senate Seat from California in a landslide election this Tuesday, becoming the first black and Asian Senator from the state.
Soon thereafter, she has launched her nationwide campaign against Trump's anti-immigrant policies and mass deportation.
"Meet Kamala Harris, Who could become the first woman President. California's popular attorney general is headed to Capitol Hill. The White House might be next," The Huffington Post wrote on Friday.
The article came a day after she denounced Trumpism .
Noting that she has already made history with her Senate win, the daily said she has impressive track record as California Attorney General and has top Democratic leadership including the outgoing President Barack Obama and the Vice President Joe Biden on her side.
"These alliances could help boost Harris' profile across the country should she choose to run for president in 2020," The Huffington Post wrote.
In her concession speech, Clinton had said that the glass ceiling could be broken much earlier than thought.
"I know we have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling, but some day someone will and hopefully sooner than we might think right now," Clinton told her supporters in New York on Wednesday.
"To all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams," Clinton said.
Trump is 45th U.S. President ; with Donald Trump elected president, immigration requests to Canada, New Zealand swell
Washington:MMNN:9 Nov. 2016
Donald Trump has been elected President of the United States. The Republican nominee won on Wednesday after capturing Wisconsin's 10 electoral votes, putting him over the 270 threshold.
Canada's main immigration website appeared to crash while New Zealand reported increased traffic from US nationals, as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump inched closer to the White House on Wednesday.
Canada's main immigration website appeared to suffer repeated outages on Tuesday night as Trump took the lead in several major states and his prospects for winning the U.S. presidency turned markedly higher.
In New Zealand, immigration officials told Reuters on the eve of the vote that New Zealand Now website, which deals with residency and student visas, had received 1,593 registrations from US citizens since 1 November - more than 50 percent of a typical month's registrations in just seven days.
Visits to New Zealand Now from the United States were up almost 80 percent to 41,000 from 7 October to 7 November, compared to the same period last year.
Rod Drury, the chief executive of NZ-based global accounting software firm Xero, said the statistics matched up with interest his company has been seeing from prospective US national employees concerned about a Trump win.
Drury said what started as a joke was becoming a reality. "I've got lots of messages coming through at the moment asking for a job in New Zealand, and we're saying 'yes you can'," Drury told Reuters by telephone on Wednesday. "It will be interesting to see whether it translates into real action, it's an active conversation that moved to getting more serious and we'll see what will happen in the next month," he added.
NZ immigration officials declined to comment. Meanwhile, some users in the US, Canada and Asia saw an internal server error message when trying to access Canada's immigration website.
Canadian officials could not immediately be reached for comment, but the website's problems were noted by many on Twitter.
After some Americans, often jokingly, said they would move to Canada if Trump was elected, the idea was taken up by some Canadian communities.
In February, the island of Cape Breton on Canada's Atlantic coast marketed itself as a tranquil refuge for Americans seeking to escape should Trump capture the White House.
Drury said New Zealand and other non-American tech companies would benefit from a Trump win. "A lot of the tech world has been driven out of the US, and I think this does change the landscape quite a lot," he said.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg told the New York Times in July that her late husband Martin D Ginsburg would have been advocating a move to New Zealand if Trump became president.
New California Senator Kamala Harris Leads A Desi Wave In US Elections
WASHINGTON:MMNN:9 Nov. 2016
An unprecedented 'desi' wave hit the US general elections as a record number of five Indian-Americans were all set to be elected to the US Congress today.
Indian-American women put up a good show in the 2016 elections, with Kamala Harris, 51, a two-term attorney general from California, creating history by winning the US Senate seat from the state.
Pramila Jayapal, 51, won the Congressional seat from Seattle to enter the House of Representatives, the first Indian-American woman to accomplish this feat.
Ms Jayapal would be joined in the House of Representatives by Raja Krishnamoorthi, who made it to the highest citadel of democracy in their second attempt.
Ro Khanna and Ami Bera were leading in the race for the House of Representatives from their districts in California.
With 56 per cent of the votes counted in California's Silicon Valley, Democratic Congressman Bera was leading with 54 per cent votes at 47,427, ahead of his Republican party rival Scott Jones who got 46 per cent votes.
If elected for the third successive term, Mr Bera would become the longest serving Indian-American Congressman ever.
Mr Khanna, the democratic party candidate from California's 17th District, was leading with 58 per cent votes at 50,952 after 72 per cent of the votes were counted.
His closest rival Mike Honda, also of the Democratic Party, had so far garnered 42 per cent of the votes.
Interestingly, the outgoing US President Barack Obama had endorsed Harris, Krishnamoorthi and Bera.
Senator Bernie Sanders and former US President Jimmy Carter had endorsed Ms Jayapal.
Mr Harris, who was born in Oakland, California, is the daughter of an Indian mother who emigrated from Chennai in 1960 and a Jamaican American father.
California Democrats had overwhelmingly endorsed Harris for US Senate, solidifying her front-runner status in the race to become California's next Senator.
Endorsing Mr Harris, Obama had said "Kamala Harris fights for us. Thats why I am so proud to endorse her for United States Senator.
And if you send her to the Senate, she'll be a fearless fighter for the people of California, all the people of California, every single day."
Ms Jayapal entered the US Congress on her maiden try. Born in Chennai, she left India at the age of five for Indonesia, Singapore and eventually for the US.
Ms Jayapal says her life transformed for the better after she spent some time in India when she returned to the country after a gap of 25 years in April 1995.
US strike killed top Al-Qaeda leader in Afghanistan: Pentagon
Washington:MMNN:5 Nov. 2016
The US has confirmed the death of a top Al-Qaeda leader in an air strike in northeastern Afghanistan last month, and claimed it as a major blow to the terror group in the war-torn country.
"We can now confirm that the precision strike conducted by the US military on October 23 in Kunar, Afghanistan, resulted in the death of senior Al-Qaeda leader Faruqal-Qatani," the Pentagon Press Secretary, Peter Cook, said on Friday.
Al-Qatani was Al-Qaeda's emir for eastern Afghanistan and one of the terrorist group's senior plotters of attacks against the US, he said.
"This successful strike is another example of US operations to degrade international terrorist networks and target terrorist leaders who seek to attack the US homeland, our interests and our allies abroad," Cook said.
Turkish army hits 71 so-called Islamic State targets in Syria
MMNN:5 Nov. 2016
The Turkish army said it had hit 71 so-called Islamic State targets in Syria in the last 24 hours, intensifying strikes against the group which has claimed responsibility for the latest bomb attack in southeast Turkey.
Five IS fighters were killed in the strikes, along with five Turkey-backed rebels and one Turkish soldier, the army said in its statement.
It said coalition forces conducted five air strikes, killing another eight so-called Islamic State militants.
Turkey is backing a group of Syrian Arabs in northern Syria in its Euphrates Shield operation which has swept IS from its southern border.
President Pranab Mukherjee arrives in Nepal on three-day visit
Kathmandu:MMNN:2 Nov. 2016
President Pranab Mukherjee arrived in Nepal on Wednesday on a three-day state visit - in the first presidential visit from India in 18 years to the Himalayan nation. Mukherjee was received at the VVIP Lounge at Tribhuvan International Airport by his Nepalese counterpart Bidya Devi Bhandari. He arrived at the head of a 36-member delegation.
Authorities shut down the Airport ahead of Mukherjee's arrival.
The airport administration issued a public notice on Wednesday morning stating that all international flights will be stopped 25 minutes ahead of his arrival and another 25 minutes after he lands. Over 5,000 security personnel have been deployed in the capital city for the visit.
All major roads inside Kathmandu that President Mukherjee will be travelling on have been shut for public use. The government has announced a public holiday in honour of the visiting Indian President.
The last Indian President to visit Nepal was KR Narayanan on May 28, 1998. Mukherjee is slated to hold a meeting with Bhandari later in the day at the Sheetal Niwas, the official residence of the President.
On Thursday, Mukherjee will offer prayers at the Pashupatinath temple and will visit the Kathmandu University, where he will be honoured with an honorary degree. He will participate in a seminar hosted by India Foundation.
He will also attend a dinner hosted by Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal 'Prachanda'. On Friday, he will visit Pokhara and Janakpur. He is to perform a puja at the Janakpur-based Janaki Temple.
Mukherjee will return to Kathmandu on the same day and head back to India.
Hillary Clinton made me a better president and didn't ask for credit: Barack Obama
ORLANDO:MMNN:2 Nov. 2016
Barack Obama on Wednesday said Hillary Clinton made him a better president but did not take credit for it as the outgoing US president made a strong pitch for the Democratic nominee for having taken some tough decisions and working "tirelessly" as his former secretary of state.
"Her efforts are not always flashy and they're not always appreciated here at home, but she made me a better president, and she didn't ask for credit," Obama said as he hit the ground for a campaign blitz in key battle ground states ahead of the November 8 general elections.
Clinton will be a commander-in-chief who would defeat the ISIS, he said, adding she will make a "smart and steady" US President, though not without her share of mistakes.
"I saw her as my Secretary of State. I saw her in the Situation Room, making the argument to go after (al-Qaeda chief Osama) bin Laden even though it was risky. Tirelessly circling the globe as Secretary of State. Respected around the world," he told his supporters at an election rally - his first in the last week of the presidential campaigning - in the key battleground state of Ohio.
Obama said when Clinton was challenged, she does not "make things up on the spot". "She doesn't double down on lies - that obviously are lies because there's video," he said in Columbus in an apparent reference to some videos of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump that have resurfaced.
"She actually understands the world. She understands the challenges we face. And when things don't go her way, she doesn't whine or complain or blame others, or say everything is rigged," he said amidst laughter.
Obama contrasted Trump's complaints of "rigged polls" to the 69-year-old former secretary of state, who takes criticism in her stride and works towards bouncing back better.
"She doesn't say the polls are great when the polls are in her favour, and then when they don't go in her favour, the polls stink and nobody knows what they're talking about. She just works harder and she comes back better," he said, adding that she has concrete plans to do what she promises.
"She's thought it through. And she values hard work, and she respects working Americans. And she'll be a commander-in- chief who finishes the job of defeating ISIL. And she will be a smart and steady president of the United States," he said, using another acronym for the dreaded ISIS.
"Has she made mistakes? Of course. So have I. There's nobody in the public arena over the course of 30 years that doesn't make some. But she is a fundamentally good and decent person who knows what she's doing and will be an outstanding President," Obama said amidst applause from the audience.
He added: "There's a reason why we haven't had a woman President before. And I think that sometimes we're kind of trying to get over the hump. We have to ask ourselves, as men - because I hope my daughters are going to be able to achieve anything they want to achieve and I know that my wife is not just my equal but my superior.
"I'm just being honest. I want you to think about it, because she (Clinton) is so much better qualified than the other guy. She has conducted herself so much better in public life than the other guy. That this notion that somehow, oh, you know, this is hard to choose - it shouldn't be."
Taliban insurgents abduct, kill 20 Afghan civilians in Ghor
Afghanistan:MMNN:26 Oct. 2016
Taliban insurgents have killed at least 20 Afghan civilians after abducting them in the remote central province of Ghor the previous day, officials said Wednesday.
The slain civilians were from a group of 33 taken by the militants near the provincial capital of Ferozkoh, according to Ziauddin Saqib, the deputy provincial police chief.
The abductions took place while battles were underway between the Taliban and Afghan security forces on Tuesday that saw two militant commanders killed, he added.
Both commanders were infamous figures in Ghor and were involved in many anti-government activities, Saqib also said, adding that the "cowardly insurgents killed innocent civilians in revenge for their commanders killed by security forces."
There was no immediate statement from the Taliban on the incident in the largely lawless Ghor.
However, Abdul Hai Khateby, the spokesman for the provincial governor, said he is convinced the militants behind the attacks and abductions were a renegade Taliban group that had sworn allegiance last year to Afghanistan's Islamic State affiliate.
"The group is former Taliban who just a year ago announced their support to their Islamic State group and changed their white flag to black," Khateby told The Associated Press, speaking over the telephone from Ghor.
The two different statements could not immediately be reconciled. Khateby also said he believed the abductions and killings were in revenge for the deaths of the two commanders.
The civilians who were abducted are all poor people from the area, mainly villagers and shepherds, and there were even children among those taken, said Khateby.
Ghor is one of Afghanistan's poorest and least developed provinces, with many areas outside Ferozkoh, the provincial capital, believed to be under Taliban control.
The Taliban have in recent months stepped up attacks across Afghanistan, taking advantage of the warm weather to wage war against the Kabul government. Many civilians have been caught in the cross-fire and also targeted by roadside bombs, which are among the insurgents' weapons of choice.
Recently, the Taliban have attacked Afghan security forces in northern Kunduz province, briefly taking control of a district headquarters. The militants have also overrun a district in northern Baghlan province and in eastern Paktia province.
Meanwhile, in eastern Nangarhar province, Taliban militants have fought pitched battles with security forces. Afghanistan's Ministry of Defense says its forces are waging operations in 15 provinces.
In July, Kabul was shaken by a massive suicide bombing that struck a peaceful rally by Afghanistan's minority ethnic Hazara community, killing more than 80 people and wounding hundreds. That attack was claimed by the Islamic State group, which emerged last year in Afghanistan as an affiliate of the militant group fighting in Iraq and Syria. Analysts believe the Islamic State affiliate in the country is mostly made up of disenfranchised Taliban fighters.
The Hazara attack was the IS Afghan branch's first assault in the country's capital and the deadliest attack in Kabul since the US-led invasion to oust the Taliban regime in 2001.
Quetta attack: A primer on Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, who allegedly carried out strike
MMNN:26 Oct. 2016
Pakistan on Tuesday mourned the killing of at least 61 people in a brutal gun and suicide bomb assault on a police academy, the deadliest attack on a security installation in the country's history.
Three masked gunmen burst into the sprawling academy in the south-west, pretending to be soldiers as they targeted sleeping quarters home to some 700 recruits.
Major General Sher Afgan, chief of the paramilitary Frontier Corps in Balochistan which led the counter-operation, blamed the attack on the Pakistani Taliban-affiliated Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) militant group, and said the counter-strike was over in three hours.
An emailed claim from the Pakistani Taliban, which shares close operational ties with LeJ, backed that assertion.
"This attack was carried (out on the instructions of) Mullah Daud Mansour, close ally of Hakimullah Mehsud and head of Pakistani Taliban in Karachi," it said, adding that four fighters took part.
It said the attack was revenge for the deaths of its fighters "outside jails" in Punjab province, in an apparent reference to the recent surge in extrajudicial killings of LeJ fighters.
The Islamic State group also made a claim via Amaq, its affiliated news agency, and released a picture of what it said were the three attackers.
LeJ officially pledges allegiance to Al-Qaeda, the IS group's major rival. But the dual claims could be evidence of new linkages that remain unofficial, analysts say.
"Lashkar-e-Jhangvi's claim seems to carry more weightage but IS has released photographs of the militants and this link between LeJ and IS will be determined in the coming days," said analyst Amir Rana, the director of the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, a think tank.
What is most interesting about the group is that while it does not feature as prominently as the likes of Hizbul Mujahideen or Laskhar-e-Taiba in terrorism discourse, it is responsible for some of the most brutal and audacious terror strikes on the subcontinent. One reason for this could be the fact that although India has designated LeJ as a terrorist organisation, the outfits attacks are almost exclusively limited to Pakistan (not even PoK).
Formed in 1996, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) is a Sunni-Deobandi terrorist outfit formed under the leadership of Akram Lahori, Riaz Basra and Malik Ishaque.
The outfit derives its name from Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, the slain co-founder of Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), a Sunni extremist outfit. LeJ broke away from SSP, accusing the latter of deviating from the ideals of Maulana Jhangvi after his death.
SSP, which emerged around 1985, had initially resorted to violence against the Shia community. But after a decade of fighting, which also resulted in te death of Maulana Jhangvi, cracks began to appear in the outfit.
Riaz Basra, rejecting calls to join mainstream politics and scale down attacks, formed LeJ and began allying itself with the Taliban movement which was taking over in Afghanistan.
Both the groups affiliated themselves to the Deobandi tradition.
The LeJ aims to transform Pakistan into a Sunni State, primarily through violent means.
The group set up their base in Afganistan after securing support from the Taliban regime, which also served as safe havens for Pakistani criminals and militants.
Basra was suspected of involvement in a plot in January 1999 to assassinate Nawaz Sharif, the then prime minister, reports The Guardian.
In 2001, then Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf proscribed LeJ. After the ban, some of its members fled to Afghanistan.
Lahori took over the operations after Riaz Basra killed in 2002 and began developing ties with Al-Qaeda.
The outfit was also involved in the car bomb attack on French nationals in Karachi in May 2002, and car bombings outside the US Consulate in Karachi in June 2002 and March 2006.
In 2003, LeJ carried out two failed assassination attempts against Musharraf.
In 2007, the Interior Ministry said that the suicide bomber involved in the assassination of Benazir Bhutto belonged to LeJ, reports CNN.
LeJ chief Qari Zafar is suspected of involvement in the September 2008 truck bombing of the Marriot Hotel in Islamabad.
In 2009, LeJ terrorists were allegedly involved in the attack on Sri Lankan cricket team while they were travelling in a bus.
In 2013, LeJ claimed responsibility for the snooker hall attack in Pakistan which killed 115 people. In February the same year, LeJ claimed responsibility for Quetta bomb blast which killed at least 81 people.
According to Voa News, analysts believe the group is now linked with Islamic Sstate through an alliance of anti-Shia ideology.
And since 2013, there's been very little news of the group until now.
Pakistan's The Express Tribune, reported that the former leader of LeJ was planning to join IS, which has recently shown signs of expanding in Pakistan, before he was killed in a police shootout earlier in 2016.
Massive Crowds Sing Royal Tribute To Late Thai King
BANGKOK:MMNN:22 Oct. 2016
Tens of thousands of black-clad Thais gathered outside Bangkok's Grand Palace on Saturday to sing the royal anthem in a striking display of devotion to the recently deceased King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
The monarch, who died on October 13 following years of poor health, was seen as a guiding light and rare source of unity in a kingdom dogged by corruption and political rivalries.
His death has plunged the nation into grief, with the government declaring a one-year mourning period and urging the public to don black and dial down all festivities for at least 30 days.
Crowds have been massing outside his glittering Bangkok palace for the past week, with many journeying from far away provinces to pay respects to a man celebrated as the father of the nation.
Some have pitched tents on a large grassy field outside the royal compound, while others have been sleeping under the stars on simple bamboo mats.
On Saturday, a sea of black filled the field and surrounding roads to stand and sing a royal anthem alongside a 100-piece orchestra and professional choir.
Many held up portraits or bank notes bearing the face of the bespectacled king as they sang in unison, some through tears.
"I came here to sing a song and pay my last respects to his majesty the late king," said Chotika Pattanateeradej, who like most was dressed all in black despite Bangkok's sweltering midday sun.
"Many people have come today and they are helping each other. I feel very proud," she added.
Public displays of mass devotion have been encouraged by Thailand's arch-royalist military rulers, who grabbed power in a 2014 coup many believe was staged to ensure a smooth succession.
A flurry of free or discounted bus, train and plane rides have helped move thousands to the capital, where city workers and volunteers are providing free food and medical care to mourners.
While the outpouring of grief has been overwhelmingly sober and dignified, it has also unleashed small pockets of ultra-monarchist forces that have shamed, mobbed and in some cases beaten Thais seen as criticising the monarchy.
The government has condemned this vigilantism but stepped up its own surveillance of royal defamation -- a crime that carries 15 years in jail for each offence under the kingdom's lese majeste law.
The legislation has seen scores of Thais thrown behind bars -- sometimes for decades -- for perceived slights against the monarchy.
All media based inside the country must heavily self-censor to avoid violating the law, which has been wielded with renewed vigour by the junta.
Forget Duterte. The Philippines loves the United States
MMNN:22 Oct. 2016
In the few months he has been in power in the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte has seemingly convulsed relations between his country and the United States, a longtime ally and former colonial ruler. He has repeatedly made vulgar comments about America's president and envoy in Manila and, without much warning, threatened to throw out U.S. special forces operating in the country and end annual exercises with the U.S. military.
Duterte went one provocative step further on a visit to China this week.
"In this venue I announce my separation from the United States," he declared in Beijing's Great Hall of the People. He would go on to suggest that "Americans are loud, sometimes rowdy," and that their vocal chords are "not adjusted to civility" - a rather peculiar claim given Duterte's notoriously salty tongue.
As my colleague Emily Rauhala reports, Duterte's camaraderie with China has surprised many and compelled even his own officials to attempt to backtrack. The U.S. State Department has expressed bemusement.
"We are going to be seeking an explanation of exactly what the president meant when he talked about separation from us," State Department spokesman John Kirby said. "It's not clear to us exactly what that means and all its ramifications."
Rauhala brings up a crucial point about Filipino public opinion: "Many Filipinos are also perplexed. Though opinion polls suggest the president remains popular at home, his anti-U.S. rhetoric is at odds with public opinion. The vast majority of Filipinos hold a positive view of the United States; many are skeptical of China."
This is undeniably true. According to Pew Research Center's last survey of global attitudes, no country in the world had a greater proportion of people who admired the United States than the Philippines.
In 2015, 92 percent of respondents in the Philippines said they had a favorable view of the United States; only 54 percent said they regarded China favorably. Filipino enthusiasm for the United States was considerably greater than attitudes in other traditional American allies in Asia, including Japan and South Korea. As one Manila-based newspaper put it in 2014, "Filipinos like the U.S. even more than the Americans do."
As territory shrinks, Islamic State looks for new money sources
WASHINGTON:MMNN:19 Oct. 2016
As the Islamic State group sees its territory shrink to half its original size and its dreams of a caliphate evaporate, the extremist fighters are losing access to the sources of revenue that once gave them their power, prompting them to turn to extortion, kidnapping or foreign donations like their predecessors, the militant group al-Qaida. The Islamic State group had a unique ability to capitalize on the natural resources of its territory in Iraq and Syria and swiftly implement a system of taxation and governance that allowed it to rule an area that once was the size of Switzerland.
As the battle gets underway to retake Mosul, the group's largest stronghold in Iraq, the Islamic State group is being denied access to revenue sources such as oil and gas and cash reserves that once amounted to more than $1 billion in 2014, said Daniel Glaser, the Treasury Department's assistant secretary for terrorist financing. With those resources slipping away, the Islamic State group is expected to revert to "traditional methods we see al-Qaida using whether it's deep-pocket donors, whether it's charities, whether it's NGOs, whether it's criminal activity," Glaser said in a recent discussion at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Beyond oil and gas sales, the Islamic State group also generated some $30 million per month in Iraq from taxation and extortion in 2015. Hisham al-Hashimi, an expert on IS who advises the Iraqi government, said the militant group currently makes about $4 million per month from taxes in Mosul alone. Al-Hashimi said the group charges a 4 percent income tax on salaries less than $600 per month, and 5 percent on monthly salaries between $600 and $1,000. Bank robberies made up the Islamic State group's third biggest source of revenue, mainly in Mosul, where there was more than $500 million in state-owned bank vaults when they captured the city in June 2014, but that was "a one-time take for them," Glaser noted, and they are quickly burning through that cash.
Glaser says the Islamic State group is under financial duress. Fighter salaries have been cut in half in some areas, including in Raqqa, Syria, its de facto capital. The group also set up an internal corruption agency, suggesting corruption may be a factor, Glaser and al-Hashimi said. To compensate, there's been a noticeable spike in the IS group's revenue from criminal activity, such as extortion the Paris-based Center for the Analysis of Terrorism says extortion accounted for a third of its revenue in 2015, compared to 12 percent in 2014.
In Syria, Islamic State-run services are lagging and the group recently shifted from paying fighter salaries in U.S. dollars to Syrian pounds, indicating that their access to money markets has been disrupted, said Ziad Awad, editor of The Eye of the City, an online publication in Deir el-Zour. He added that the militants' access to resources in Deir el-Zour, including oil, has been halved amid ongoing coalition airstrikes, which are complicating oil sales and transportation.
The oil wells were "bringing in about $2 million daily," Awad said in a Skype interview from Turkey. "This has shrunk because they've lost markets inside Syria and Iraq, due to shrinking territory." The Iraqi government moved to suspend government salaries to people living in IS-controlled areas last year in an effort to hit its taxable revenues. Glaser said that the move dealt a significant blow to the group, since the Iraqi government payroll is about $2 billion per year in Islamic State-held territories.
But the challenges remain with reports that the militants coerce some employees to leave IS-controlled territory to collect their salaries, holding their property as collateral, only to retroactively tax them when they return home. The group is shifting from a governing force to a militant group on the run.
"In a traditional terror financing model, you don't have an organization that is focused on governance and on holding and managing territory," said Yaya J. Fanusie, director of analysis at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies' Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finances and a former CIA counterterrorism analyst. "Al-Qaida's money went to mainly operations and training."
Beyond criminal activity, Fanusie said IS will likely pursue money through any number of sources as its territory shrinks, from charities to nonprofit groups, sympathetic, wealthy donors, or the huwala system, an alternative remittance system used in countries around the world that allows the transfer of funds domestically and internationally without using formal financial institutions.
"ISIS losing territory is good, but to launch an attack in Europe or the U.S. or any part of the world doesn't cost a lot," he said, using an acronym for the group. "If they're being squeezed in Syria and Iraq and directing their resources on attacks externally and less on governance, then it doesn't mean they're not a dangerous force."
Russia accuses US-led coalition strike of killing 6 in Syria
Moscow :MMNN:19 Oct. 2016
Russia's military says a US-led coalition airstrike on a Syrian village in the province of Aleppo has killed six civilians.
The military's Reconciliation Center in Syria says Tuesday's strike on the village of Hassajek also wounded four people and destroyed two houses.
The center says Russian military surveillance means spotted two Belgian F-16 fighter jets over the area at the time of the strike.
It noted that Russian and Syrian warplanes weren't flying over the area Tuesday.
Russia's Tass news agency reported from Brussels that the Belgian defense minister denied Belgian aircraft had struck the area.
Russia announced that Russian and Syrian warplanes halted their airstrikes on the besieged city of Aleppo,
in preparation for a temporary pause in the military push that Moscow has announced for Thursday.
Why Hillary Clinton Would Be Good For India
WASHINGTON:MMNN:12 Oct. 2016
As the date for the Presidential polls is fast approaching, the political temperature has risen to an unprecedented level in the United States, with both the Democratic Party's presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and the Republican Party's presidential candidate Donald Trump exploring all the possible means to ensure their victory in the election.
If the latest polls survey is any indication of the political dynamics, the people of the United States may create history by electing the Democratic Party's presidential candidate Hillary Clinton as their first woman President. This is evident from the fact that she continues to have significant edge over Donald Trump. The revelation of Donald Trump having perhaps avoided paying taxes for 18 years and the appearance of a 2005 tap containing his obscene comments about women can further adversely impact his prospect of entering into the White House as the 46th US President.
Indeed, domestic issues including the economic slowdown, increasing unemployment, health care, social security and others have been the main focus of the election campaigns of both the presidential candidates. It is also true that foreign policy affairs have equally assumed huge importance in the US presidential campaign. In fact, people within and outside the US have been curious to know about how Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, if elected, would deal with the burning international issues like China's assertive behaviour in the South China Sea and beyond, the crisis in Syria and Ukraine, the menace of the terrorist organisation ISIS and others.
India is also closely observing the US presidential election to understand how the bilateral ties between the two countries would progress under the new Administration. In turn, Indian strategist, experts and of course, common people are engaged debating who would be the better President as far as India is concerned - Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Consequently, there is an increasing feeling that under the Trump's administration New Delhi and Washington may face obstacles in sustaining the momentum gained in their bilateral ties over the last two years. Undoubtedly, there are some convincing reasons for making this assessment.
One factor that casts dark clouds over the future of India-US ties under the Trump administration is his announcement of initiating a tough immigration policy and hiking the minimum wage paid to the H1B visa holders, if elected the President. This in turn would not only reduce the prospect of job opportunities for skilled Indian workers, but there would also be a sharp decline in remittances that India receives from its non-resident people in the US. This in turn would have an adverse impact on the Indian economy.
Trump's saying that Muslims should be banned from entering the US has also set off alarm bells ringing in India, which has the second largest Muslim population in the world. Though sections of Hindu nationalists have expressed their consonance with Trump's view, the fact remains that the secular character of Indian democracy does not allow the Indian government to share Trump's degrading view about the Muslim community. This is possibly the reason that while replying to a question to this particular issue in the US, India Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said, "we don't look towards communities with suspicion."
Further, except calling Pakistan "probably the most dangerous country in the world" because of its nuclear weapons, he has not outlined his approach towards South Asia. Added to this is Trump's comment that the US should not automatically come to the defence of its NATO allies if they are attacked has started off a debate about a possible shift in US's security thinking under the Trump administration. Of course, at a time when India and the US are trying to develop a strong relationship with Japan, Australia and other like-minded countries to contain China's assertive behaviour, Trump's election as the President may adversely impact this process. In addition, as Donald Trump does not have the experience of working at any level in the US administration, his ideas and capabilities on many issues including foreign policy are yet to be tested.
On the other hand, Hillary Clinton enjoys personal bonhomie with India, the genesis of which was in 1995 when she visited India as a part of her twelve-day trip to South Asia. It is believed that she played a crucial role in persuading her husband Bill Clinton to revive the India-US relationship, which had hit the lowest point, following the 1998 nuclear tests by India. She co-haired the Senate India Caucus and supported the India-US Civil Nuclear Agreement.
During her tenure as the US Secretary of State (2009-2013), she further consolidated the deepening engagement between the two countries. Her contribution is greatly recognised in facilitating cooperation between the two countries in the field of high technology, defence and in establishing the strategic dialogue in July 2009. She played an important role in strengthening ties with New Delhi under President Obama's rebalancing American policy to Asia.
Her speech in Chennai in 2011 was viewed as a historic moment in the bilateral ties between the two countries, where she said that "the time has come for India to lead... Much of the history of the 21st century will be written in Asia which, in turn, will be influenced by the partnership between the US and India and its relationship with neighbours.""
She also said that India should "not just look east, but engage east and act east"- to emerge and consolidate its position as an Asian power. Her strong stand against Pakistan for its dismal performance in eliminating terrorist heavens from its soil continues to have its impact on the minds of Indian people. One can imagine the closeness between India and Hillary Clinton from the fact that Donald Trump has alleged that she has received funds from Indian leaders.
Hillary Clinton enjoys good reputation among sections of the India-American community, which is the third largest ethnic group among Asians in the US, with a population of about 3.2 million. Unlike Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton has recognised what the US has garnered from its outsourcing policy. In turn, it can be hoped that during her stint as President, the US would take necessary steps to ease the process of the H1B visas application for Indians.
In fact, her election campaign chief John Podesa has said that Hillary Clinton will take relations with India to a new level and better economic strategic ties will help anchor the US in the region. More importantly, Hillary Clinton's becoming the US president would ensure the continuity of the upward momentum in the relationship between the two countries, enabling India and the US to further expand cooperation in several areas of their common interests including economy, security, counter-terrorism, climate change and others.
NASA resupply mission to space station postponed due to Hurricane Nicole
Washington:MMNN:12 Oct. 2016
The next US cargo supply trip to the International Space Station has been postponed until Sunday due to Hurricane Nicole, which is bearing down on Bermuda, NASA said. Initially set for Thursday, Orbital ATK will now launch its unmanned Cygnus cargo ship no earlier than Sunday from Wallops Island, Virginia, the US space agency said yesterday.
Nicole is expected to reach Bermuda on Thursday, and could interfere with key equipment used to assist with the launch which has been rescheduled at 8:03 pm (0003 GMT Monday).
"The tracking station at Bermuda is required to conduct the Antares launch from Wallops," said Steven Kremer, chief of the Wallops Range and Mission Management Office.
"The ability to support a launch will depend on the impact the storm has on not only our systems, but also the overall
Bermuda infrastructure." Once the storm has passed Bermuda, experts will assess the damage and see what, if any, steps are needed to make the site operational again.
Nicole was upgraded from a tropical storm to a Category One hurricane yesterday at 2100 GMT by the US National Hurricane Center, which issued a hurricane warning for Bermuda.
Packing winds of 80 miles (130 kilometers) per hour, the hurricane is currently the weakest on the Saffir-Simpson scale's 1-5 ranking, but is expected to strengthen in the coming days.
Nicole could become a major hurricane, meaning Category Three or higher, by Wednesday, forecasters said.
U.S. allows religious accommodation for Sikhs in armed forces
WASHINGTON:MMNN:8 Oct. 2016
Meeting a long-pending demand of the Sikh community, the U.S. has allowed career-long religious accommodation for them to serve in the armed forces while maintaining their articles of faith like the turban and beard.
The directive issued by the Department of Defence, provides for career-long accommodation for Sikh Americans and others to serve while maintaining articles of faith.
"We are a stronger nation, and a stronger military, because of our respect for religious and personal freedom, and I'm pleased to see the US Army once again recognise this with its new directive," Congressman Joe Crowley, who had spearheaded the campaign on behalf of Sikh Americans, said in a statement.
"Sikh Americans love this country and want a fair chance to serve in our nation's military on equal footing. I believe we should embrace this wish for religious freedom, not place restrictions on it," he said.
Mr. Crowley said he looks forward to reviewing this directive carefully, though it initially seems like a step forward in the right direction.
As of now, Sikhs and others must be granted an accommodation, or permission, to serve in the U.S. Army while maintaining their articles of faith.
Such accommodations are neither permanent nor guaranteed, and had to be renewed after virtually every assignment.
Service members have also been required to remove their articles of faith while their accommodation request is pending, once again subjecting them to the difficult position of choosing between their faith and their job.
Both US and EU condemn Israel's latest plan for the expansion of illegal settlements
Washington:MMNN:8 Oct. 2016
The spokesperson for the European Union Friday strongly condemned Israel's plans to construct 98 new housing units in occupied Palestinian territory in the northern West Bank for the establishment of a new Israeli settlement. The condemnation came two days following notably harsh criticisms by the United States over Israel's illegal settlement enterprise.
Last month, the Higher Planning Committee (HPC) of Israel's Civil Administration approved for "depositing" -- the planning phase prior to final approval -- a plan for 98 housing units for a new settlement to be located east of the already established settlement of Shiloh, on lands of the Palestinian village of Jalud in the northern West Bank district of Nablus. It is part of a larger plan for 300 units yet to be promoted.
Meanwhile in April, Palestinian residents of Jalud reported that Israeli authorities delivered notices alerting them that 5,000 dunams (1,250 acres) of private land were slated for confiscation.
A new industrial area west of Ramallah was also given approval at the time, near to Israel's separation wall and the Green Line that divides the occupied West Bank from Israel.
The EU spokesperson emphasized that the new settlement units represented the "accelerating trend of new settlement announcements since the start of 2016," adding that the move has threatened to further separate the West Bank districts of Ramallah and Nablus while disrupting any possibility of a contiguous Palestinian state.
"The retroactive authorization of nearby illegal outposts or redrawing of local settlement boundaries contradicts previous public statements by the government of Israel that it had no intention of creating new settlements," the statement said.
"The decision to continue settlement building and expansion goes directly against the recommendations of the Quartet Report, weakens rather than strengthens the prospects for a two-state solution to the Middle East peace process, and makes the possibility of a viable Palestinian state more remote."
The statement then went on to underscore the fact that all of Israeli settlements are illegal under international law, and that their continued expansion "calls into question Israel's commitment towards reaching a negotiated agreement with the Palestinians."
The EU statement came just two days after the White House and Department of State released scathing criticisms of the recent settlement plans, with the Deputy Department Spokesperson Mark Toner calling the move another step toward a "one-state reality of perpetual occupation."
Toner emphasized in the statement that the new settlement, which would comprise more than 300 housing units and which is located "deep in the West Bank, far closer to Jordan than Israel," would "link a string of outposts that effectively divide the West Bank and make the possibility of a viable Palestinian state more remote."
"It is deeply troubling, in the wake of Israel and the U.S. concluding an unprecedented agreement on military assistance designed to further strengthen Israel's security, that Israel would take a decision so contrary to its long term security interest in a peaceful resolution of its conflict with the Palestinians," he added.
Last month, the Israeli and United States governments signed a $38 billion military aid package, promising Israel the hefty sum in the form of financial assistance and missile defense systems over the course of 10 year. The aid deal is the largest in US history to be given to a foreign government.
Meanwhile, White House Spokesperson Josh Earnest also slammed the announcement during a press conference on Wednesday, saying that the "actions of the Israeli government in announcing this settlement undermines the pursuit of peace."
The US has condemned Israel's settlement expansions in the past, but the government has yet to take any concrete actions to end settlement building in the Palestinian territory. Critics have claimed that instead the US has inadvertently encouraged Israel's settlement enterprise through its consistent inaction over Israel's violation of international law and its continued support of the Israeli government through an inflated military aid package.
In response to the wave of criticism, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement refuting claims that the housing units constituted a "new settlement."
"This housing will be built on state land in the existing settlement of Shilo and will not change its municipal boundary or geographic footprint," the statement read, adding that "the units are intended to provide a housing solution for the residents of Amona who must leave their homes in accordance with the demolition order issued by Israel's High Court of Justice."
However, rights groups have instead claimed that the new housing units are a direct resistance to the Israeli Supreme Court ruling in 2008 which ordered Amona's demolition after Palestinians from neighboring villages -- with the support of Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din -- successfully petitioned the court to remove the outpost on grounds that the construction was carried out on privately held Palestinian land.
Israeli human rights watchdog Peace Now at the time of the settlement approval predicted that Israel would argue the plan is "only" for the expansion of Shiloh, despite the fact that the land is located one kilometer from Shiloh, and also one kilometer from the recently retroactively legalized outpost of Shvut Rachel.
According to Israeli domestic law, government-approved settlements are legal, but unauthorized settler outposts -- which oftentimes are established to create corridors between existing settlements -- are illegal under Israeli law, but they are often retroactively legalized following their establishment. However, according to international law, all Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory are in direct violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
"The real obstacle to peace is not the settlements - a final status issue that can and must be resolved in negotiations between the parties - but the persistent Palestinian rejection of a Jewish state in any boundaries," the statement concluded.
Peace Now warned last month of an inevitable "one-state reality," after data released by the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics (ICBS) showed that Israeli authorities increased settlement building by 40 percent in the first half of 2016.
Construction inside of Israel, however, experienced a 3 percent decrease from previous months, according to the data.
There are an estimated 500,000 to 600,000 Israeli settlers residing in 196 illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem, and a further 232 settler outposts considered illegal both by international law and Israeli domestic law, according to the Applied Research Institute - Jerusalem (ARIJ).
Human rights groups and international leaders have continued to strongly condemn Israel's settlement construction, claiming it is a strategic maneuver to prevent the establishment of a contiguous, independent Palestinian state by changing the facts on the ground, while members of Israel's parliament, the Knesset, have publicly announced their support for plans aimed to annex the entirety of Area C -- the more than 60 percent of the West Bank under full Israeli military and civil control.
While members of the international community have rested the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the discontinuation of illegal Israeli settlements and the establishment of a two-state solution, Israeli leaders have instead shifted further to the right.
A number of Palestinian activists have criticized the two-state solution as unsustainable and unlikely to bring durable peace, proposing instead a binational state with equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians.
Afghanistan: Army clashes with Taliban continue in Kunduz as US provide support
Kabul :MMNN:5 Oct. 2016
Afghan forces battled the Taliban in the northern city of Kunduz for the third straight day on Wednesday and American helicopters provided air support to troops on the ground in the wake of the multipronged attack on the city launched by insurgents this week.
The fighting in Kunduz, which fell briefly to the Taliban a year ago, came as Afghanistan's leaders and officials from over 70 nations gathered in Brussels, seeking to drum up billions of dollars for the cash-strapped Kabul government as it battles the powerful Taliban insurgency and rampant corruption.
Afghan General Qasim Jungalbagh, the provincial police chief, said Taliban gunmen launched fresh attacks on Afghan forces in Kunduz from the south and east early on Wednesday.
He said "clearance operations
" have begun inside the city but that heavy clashes continue on the outskirts. "Once again insurgents attacked our forces from two different directions and heavy battles are taking place to the south and east of the city,
" Jungalbagh said.
Since pushing into Kunduz on Monday and briefly hoisting their flag at a main intersection, the Taliban were pushed back but their fighters hunkered down in residential homes, slowing the counter-offensive by the Afghans.
The US military was providing air support to Afghan forces fighting on Wednesday to secure a number of areas in the city, US Army Brigadier General Charlie Cleveland said.
The US military spokesman described the fighting as "sporadic,
" saying that since Tuesday night, "US forces have conducted two engagements from the air to defend friendly forces.
" He did not provide further details.
Jungalbagh said 42 insurgents have been killed and more than 25 others wounded in the battles. Earlier, the Defense Ministry said five Afghan security personnel were killed and 13 others wounded.
Mohammad Yusouf Ayubi, head of the Kunduz provincial council, said food prices have almost tripled since the attack began and that food, water and electricity are all in short supply.
The Taliban said in a statement emailed to media that they have taken the Kunduz office of the national intelligence agency but the claim could not be immediately confirmed and the insurgents regularly exaggerate battlefield successes.
Kunduz, a major crossroads in the country's north, briefly fell to the Taliban a year ago before they were beaten back by Afghan forces with the help of US airstrikes.
US Vice Presidential debate: Mike Pence calm and steady, but dodges in defending Donald Trump
Washington:MMNN:5 Oct. 2016
Republican Mike Pence was calm and steady in the face of Democrat Tim Kaine's fiery and frequent challenges. But when it came to defending Donald Trump, Pence dodged, sidestepped or was silent about some of his running mate's most provocative words.
Kaine aggressively pressured Pence to vouch for Trump throughout the 90-minute debate, often citing the brash businessman's own words. Pence defended Trump's tax history, but maneuvered around criticism of Trump's demeaning comments about women, his public doubting of President Barack Obama's citizenship and broader questions about temperament.
"I can't imagine how Governor Pence can defend the insult-driven, me-first style of Donald Trump,
" said Kaine, the Virginia senator and Hillary Clinton's No. 2.
The usually easygoing Kaine went on the attack from the start and seemed determined to make the debate a referendum on whether Trump has the disposition for the Oval Office. He slammed Trump for having called women pigs and slobs, and condemned the GOP nominee's praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Pence frequently avoided taking the bait, a shrewd move for a conservative darling who could have eyes on the Oval Office himself if Trump loses in November. But for voters seeking assurances from Pence about Trump's temperament, there was little to cling to.
Five weeks from Election Day, the White House race appears to be tipping in Clinton's favor. She was widely viewed as the winner of last week's first presidential debate, rattling the real estate mogul with jabs about his business record, responding to his attacks with calm rejoinders, and sending him into a multi-day tailspin over comments he made about a beauty queen's weight 20 years ago. New public opinion polls have shown her improving her standing in nearly all battleground states.
Pence was markedly more prepared and more detailed in his answers than Trump was on the debate stage. He was also more consistent in painting the Democratic ticket as career politicians unwilling to shake up Washington.
"Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine want more of the same,
" Pence said. He repeatedly accused the Democrats of running an insult-filled campaign, an ironic attack line given that Trump has leveled repeated insults against Clinton and his former rivals in the Republican primaries.
Republicans hope Pence's performance will help steady Trump's campaign. But that boost could be short-lived if Trump has another weak performance when he and Clinton meet Sunday in their second of three debates.
Trump is sure to be peppered with questions in the next debate about his tax records, as Pence was Tuesday. Asked about reports that the businessman might not have paid any federal taxes for years, Pence said his running mate "used the tax code just the way it's supposed to be used, and he did it brilliantly.
Records obtained by The New York Times showed Trump suffered more than $900 million in losses in 1995 that could have allowed him to avoid paying federal income taxes for as many as 18 years.
Kaine, too, defended his running mate's weaknesses, chiefly the public's questions about her honesty and trustworthiness. He said that while Trump was "selfish,
" Clinton had devoted her career to helping children and families.
Social issues were a bigger part of the conversation than in the first presidential showdown, reflecting both candidates' religious faith.
Kaine, a Catholic who personally opposes abortion but has consistently voted in favor of abortion rights, said of the Republican nominee, "Why doesn't Donald Trump trust women to make this choice for themselves?
" He also pointed to Trump's assertion that women should face some kind of "punishment
" for abortion, a comment Trump later walked back.
Pence stressed his opposition to abortion and said he was "proud to be standing with Donald Trump
" on the issue.
On national security, Kaine revived Trump's frequently flattering comments about Putin, the Russian president.
"He loves dictators,
" Kaine said. "He's got like a personal Mount Rushmore: Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un, Moammar Gadhafi and Saddam Hussein.
Pence tried to flip the tables by accusing Kaine's running mate of stoking Russia's belligerence.
"The weak and feckless foreign policy of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama has awaked an aggression in Russia that first appeared in Russia a few years ago,
" Pence said. "All the while, all we do is fold our arms and say we're not having talks anymore.
On criminal justice, Kaine argued that Trump's embrace of "stop-and-frisk
" style policing was a mistake. Pence argued that Clinton has used police shootings to argue that there is "implicit bias
" in police departments, and he said the Democrats should "stop seizing on these moments of tragedy.
Kaine quickly shot back, "I can't believe you are defending the position that there's no bias.
The vice presidential debate was held at Virginia's Longwood University, which Pence called Norwood University. While last week's first presidential debate was watched by a record-setting television audience of 84 million people, Tuesday's contest was expected to have smaller viewership given Pence's and Kaine's lower profiles.