Protesters urge discussion of Hong Kong issues at G-20

Posted on: June 25th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

Protesters In Hong Kong opposed to contentious extradition legislation are calling on leaders of the U.S., the EU and others to raise the issue with Chinese President Xi Jinping at this week’s G-20 summit in Japan

The Latest: Saudi Arabia says it shot down Yemen drone

Posted on: June 25th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

The Latest: Saudi Arabia says it has shot down a drone launched into the kingdom by Yemen’s Iranian-allied Houthi rebels

As US sanctions hit Iran, residents complain of medicine shortages

Posted on: June 25th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

Spencer Platt/Getty Images(TEHRAN, Iran) — Ghader Daemi Aghdam, an Iranian doctor and head of a pharmacy in the capital, Tehran, sat in his office, avoiding the chaos at the reception desk where patients were complaining that their prescriptions for medicine were not being filled.

“Out of every 20 people, we have to tell at least to ten that we have run out of medications they need,” Daemi Aghdam told ABC News.

Since pulling out of a deal reached under the Obama administration, the U.S. government under President Donald Trump has reinstated a series of tough sanctions on Iran, with the latest, targeting Iran’s supreme leader and other top officials in the the Iranian regime, being announced on Monday.

While humanitarian supplies, including medicine, is technically exempt, Iranians are already facing severe shortages and inflated prices for what is in stock.

“The main problem with importing medication is the restrictions in international transactions,” said Bashir Khaleqi, member of the Healthcare Commission of Iran’s parliament, in an interview about the medication condition in the country with the semi-official Tasnim News Agency, on Tuesday.

“The artificial tear drop that my son has to use for his eye condition” has doubled in price, from the equivalent of about $2.50 to $5, said Maryam, 45, a housewife and mother of two who asked that her last name not to be used to protect the honor of her family. Another drop went from $1.50 to $8 in a year, she said.

Maryam’s husband, who works full time, and her daughter, a part-time secretary, bring in a combined $75 a month.

“We have to cut many expenses out to afford medication for my son and for myself,” Maryam said, who suffers from lung problem after years of weaving carpets.

Some people have begin asking doctors to avoid prescribing foreign medications, and to instead prescribe medicines that were produced in Iran and might be more widely available. But others have voiced concerns about how sanctions have impacted the quality of medications produced domestically.

Daemi Aghdam believes that the sanctions might have impacted quality control in Iran’s pharmaceutical companies.

“I can name companies that even the quality of their simple cold tablets has suffered after the sanctions” he said.

“People understand the difference. When they see the domestic medication does not work on them, they ask for its foreign sample,” he added.

 It is not just the long lines of complaining patients at pharmacies that have revealed the problem. In the past few months, Iranians have taken to social media to post the names of drugs they need but cannot find in pharmacies.

In some cases, people have posted that they have a surplus of a given medicine and are willing to share the medication with others who need it.

“Friends, this is what remained from my mother’s inflation medication after her recovered. Please let me know if you need this medication, or if you know anyone who does. Please retweet so anyone who needs it can get it. Thanks,” said one post.

As for Maryam, she said she hopes that leaders can work out a solution.

“I know absolutely nothing about politics,” she said. “But I do hope politicians care more about people. All I want is my son not to lose his sight and I can breath.”

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US-led Palestinian economic workshop opens to rejection, indifference

Posted on: June 25th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

Brian Ach/Getty Images for TIME(WASHINGTON) — A U.S.-backed Palestinian economic workshop began in Bahrain Tuesday evening with no Palestinian or Israeli participation, facing rejection or indifference across much of the Middle East.

Palestinian leadership had decided against participating in the Peace to Prosperity workshop in Bahrain’s capital, Manama, where Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, is scheduled to present an economic proposal to help solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Trump administration is proposing a $50 billion investment fund to be spent in the next decade in Palestinian territories and neighboring Arab countries as part of its Middle East peace plan.

The proposal has been spearheaded by Kushner, and the White House calls the plan the “most ambitious and comprehensive international effort for the Palestinian people to date,” although it has not made clear where the money would come from.

Although the workshop in Manama deals with one possible solution to a conflict, neither the Palestinians nor Israeli leaders are attending.

Palestinian leadership has decided against participating in the conference because it does not accept the principle that solutions to economic hardship should precede goals that Palestinians consider to me more pressing: the end of the 52-year-long Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the creation of a Palestinian state and help for Palestinian refugees.

“The potential of our people lies in their ability to live in a sovereign and free Palestine,” Palestinian diplomat Saeb Erekat said in a statement Tuesday. “Our right to self-determination, freedom, and independence should be honored through the implementation of UN resolutions and international law. This is the only way to peace and prosperity.”

Another leading Palestinian figure, Hanan Ashrawi, echoed the same view, convinced that a free Palestinian people in its own sovereign country will be able to build a vibrant and prosperous economy.

“First lift the siege of Gaza, stop the Israeli theft of our land, resources &funds, give us our freedom of movement & control over our borders, airspace, territorial waters etc.” Ashrawi tweeted. “Then watch us build a vibrant prosperous economy as a free & sovereign people.”

Palestinians in the West Bank rallied Tuesday to protest both the Trump administration’s Peace for Prosperity plan and the meeting in Bahrain. Demonstrations reportedly took place in Hebron, Bethlehem and Ramallah. In Gaza, a general strike was observed. Other protests reportedly took place in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

 In Israel, the Peace to Prosperity initiative — pitched by a U.S. administration friendly to Israel’s leadership — has been tacitly accepted. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the initiative will be examined fairly and openly.

Israel’s minister of regional cooperation, Tzachi Hanegbi, criticized Palestinians’ refusal to participate, tweeting that their lack of participation was “astonishing.”

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The Latest: Trump says Iran still takes threats seriously

Posted on: June 25th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

Trump says Iran still takes his threats seriously even after he decided against approving strikes in retaliation for Tehran’s downing of a more than $100 million American surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz

Guide murdered alongside American doctor had trouble with a local gang, police say

Posted on: June 25th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

Courtesy Carilion Clinic(NEW YORK) — An American doctor was murdered in Belize in what local authorities are saying was a shooting involving a member of a gang.

Dr. Gary Swank was found dead Sunday alongside a local tour guide, identified by local authorities as Mario Graniel.

Chester Williams, the commissioner of police in Belize, said that Swank was a victim of circumstance.

Williams said the tour guide “had a misunderstanding with one of the notorious gang figures in San Pedro” and that his home was shot at before the murders.

“Police detained the persons who we suspected did the shooting, waited for Mr. Graniel to give the report,” Williams said. “He never showed up to give the report. We maintain police presence in the area to protect him and the community from further shootings but we can’t follow the man everywhere he goes. He decided to go out with a tourist. We don’t have a boat to follow him and we can’t put police on every tour guide boat.”

He went on, “We did what we could have done in terms of detaining those who we believe were responsible and maintaining presence in the area where he lived. I don’t see what else we could have done.”

Superintendent Hilberto Romero, the acting head of the National Crimes Investigation Branch, said both Swank and Graniel had “multiple” gunshot injuries.

“One of the decreased was on board the vessel while the other was in the water. Both were taken out and taken to the San Pedro Polyclinic where they were pronounced dead on arrival,” Romero said.

“We are working on several leads. We know that they were fishing in that particular area and thereafter the report came in that there had been a shooting,” he said.

Word of the murders traveled to the U.S., prompting Swank’s hospital to release a statement about the “tragic news.”

“We are heartbroken at his loss. Dr. Swank was a well-respected and well-loved colleague who, each and every day, embodied the values that we hold dear,” said Chris Turnbull, the director of corporate communications at the Carilion Clinic in Virginia. “His absence leaves a void in our team and in our community. Our thoughts, prayers and attention are now focused on helping his family navigate this difficult time.”

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Fiancee of Saudi Khashoggi seeks UN action over his killing

Posted on: June 25th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

She urged the UN to take "the next step" following a blistering report.

American cardinal severs ties with Bannon-linked group

Posted on: June 25th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

A conservative American cardinal has distanced himself from former White House adviser Steve Bannon and severed ties with a Bannon-linked institute that wants to train future populist leaders in Italy

AP Exclusive: Imprisoned supercop’s escape from Venezuela

Posted on: June 25th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

Political fugitive Iván Simonovis was racing toward an island rendezvous with freedom when Venezuela’s crisis, in the form of water and sediment-filled gasoline, choked off his boat’s motor _ almost sabotaging a meticulously planned escape

European Court of Human Rights reaffirms that Amanda Knox’s rights were violated

Posted on: June 25th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

Paula Lobo/ABC(NEW YORK) — The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, announced Tuesday that a closed court hearing reaffirmed the court’s January decision that Amanda Knox’s defense rights had been violated in 2007 during police questioning about the murder of her British roommate Meredith Kercher.

The court had ruled this January that Italy had to pay approximately $20,000 in damages and legal costs to Knox for failing to provide her with a lawyer or proper translator during hours of police questioning on Nov. 6, 2007, during the initial stages of the investigation into Kercher’s murder in Perugia, Italy.

In rejecting the request, the court made the ruling final, and the Italian state will have to pay Knox damages. The judgment will be transmitted to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, which supervises the enforcement of European Court judgments. This should end Knox’s legal proceedings in Italy.

Knox was a 20-year-old college student studying abroad in Italy when she and Raffale Sollecito, her boyfriend at the time, were accused of murdering Kercher in November 2007. They spent close to four years in an Italian jail while the court proceedings unfolded.

Knox, along with Sollecito, were definitively acquitted of Kercher’s murder in 2015 after a long judicial ordeal, which involved two appeal court trials and two Italian Supreme Court decisions.

Rudy Guede, a young man from the Ivory Coast who had grown up in Perugia, was convicted of Kercher’s murder in a separate trial in 2008 and is serving a 16-year sentence.

Knox left Italy in 2011 immediately after her first acquittal and had not returned to the country until earlier this month, when she took part in a conference on wrongful convictions and spoke on a panel about the media’s role in criminal trials.

Knox’s lawyers had originally presented her case to the EU court in Strasbourg in 2013 to request damages from the state of Italy for her treatment during her questioning at the start of her legal proceedings when she was quickly put under investigation – along with Sollecito – for Kercher’s murder.

Tuesday’s court press release states: “The Court took the view that the Italian Government had not succeeded in showing that the restriction of Ms Knox’s access to a lawyer, at the police interview of 6 November 2007 at 5.45 a.m. – when there was a criminal charge against her – had not irreparably undermined the fairness of the proceedings as a whole.”

While ruling that her defense rights were violated, the court also ruled that “it did not have any evidence to show that Ms Knox had been subjected to the inhuman or degrading treatment of which she had complained [about]”.

Lawyer Carlo della Vedova told ABC News Knox was informed of the EU court’s decision Tuesday via email, to which she replied, “Amazing. Thank you Carlo.”

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New US sanctions ‘outrageous and idiotic’: Iran

Posted on: June 25th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

Iran’s president described the White House as "afflicted by mental retardation."

Pompeo makes surprise visit to Afghanistan ahead of next round of Taliban talks

Posted on: June 25th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

JACQUELYN MARTIN/AFP/Getty Images(KABUL, Afghanistan) — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Tuesday, just days before the latest round of U.S. talks with the Taliban are set to begin.

Pompeo said “real progress” has already been made, and he hopes to have an agreement by Sept. 1. But the security situation in the country is still so tenuous he had to travel in and out of the country in secret, and the Afghan government of President Ashraf Ghani has grown increasingly concerned about so far being excluded. The Taliban, which now controls more territory than at any time since 2001, has refused to meet representatives of the Afghan government, which it calls illegitimate and a U.S. puppet.

Beyond the Taliban, there are also growing fears that ISIS is gaining ground in the country, while civilian casualties in 2018 reached their highest recorded number since the United Nations started tracking data in 2009.

“The hour has come for peace,” Pompeo said in Kabul, praising the agreement in principle reached by U.S. chief negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad and his Taliban counterparts in January on four pillars: U.S. troop withdrawal, Afghan national peace talks, a nationwide ceasefire, and preventing Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for terror groups.

It’s that last issue that brought the U.S. to Afghanistan nearly 18 years ago after al Qaeda plotted the September 11th terror attacks from Afghanistan.

But it’s also the issue where the most progress has been made, according to Pompeo, who said the two sides “are nearly ready to conclude a draft text outlining the Taliban’s commitments to join fellow Afghans in ensuring that Afghans soil never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists.” He declined to say what those commitments would look like, but said the U.S. understands even with certain promises, “the terror threat will remain.” The U.S. will ensure that Americans and American interests are protect, he added, although he deferred questions of how to accomplish that to the defense department.

Despite any progress at the negotiating table, the situation on the ground seems to be quite different. The U.N. reported two weeks ago that al Qaeda “has grown stronger operating under the Taliban umbrella across Afghanistan and is more active than in recent years.”

“The Taliban continues to enjoy support and endorsement from Al-Qaida in Afghanistan and it remains to be seen whether they will be willing to give this up in favour of progressing peace talks,” according to the report — which also found that “Afghanistan remains [ISIS’s] largest and most threatening manifestation outside” Iraq and Syria.

In exchange for the Taliban commitment, Khalilzad, a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, and his team have opened the door to withdrawing U.S. troops. But the U.S. has not given the Taliban a firm timeline, Pompeo said, denying claims from the Taliban that it has.

The two sides will meet again on June 29 in Doha, Qatar, for their seventh round of talks. Khalilzad has expressed optimism because “I believe all sides want rapid progress,” but he warned in a tweet last week, “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”

During his visit, Pompeo met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and former President Hamid Karzai. He also met with senior defense officials and the top U.S. and NATO commander, Gen. Austin Miller, as well as civil society leaders, including women’s rights activists, and opposition politicians.

The U.S. has held successive rounds of talks with Taliban leaders since last summer.

Left out of talks, Afghan government officials have grown increasingly angry and concerned the U.S. will abandon them. That anger exploded into public view in March when Ghani’s National Security Adviser Hambdullah Mohib condemned the U.S. talks as the “wrong approach” and “delegitimizing the Afghan government and weakening it and at the same time elevating the Taliban.”

The U.S. dismissed Mohib’s concerns at the time, and on Tuesday, Pompeo again defended the strategy, saying U.S. diplomats have had “detailed discussions” with the Afghan government “in parallel” with Taliban talks and the two partners are “fully aligned in our approach.” Ghani told reporters he is “always” optimistic about peace talks and “dedicated to achieving” them.

A U.S.-Taliban agreement on terror safe havens and U.S. withdrawal would “open the door to intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiation,” Pompeo added — the kind of negotiations Afghan officials have been seeking.

But he seemed to wash American hands of the outcome: “The objective of those negotiations is for Afghans to agree on a timeline and a political road map for reaching a comprehensive peace agreement. It’s not America’s role to dictate the outcome of those negotiations,” he said, although he added later, “The United States will help Afghans preserve the gains of the past 18 years.”

Among those gains are the improvements in women’s rights and opportunity, especially education, that many Afghan women are concerned could disappear.

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Duchess of Cambridge takes over from Queen Elizabeth as patron of The Royal Photographic Society

Posted on: June 25th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

Chris Jackson/Getty Images(LONDON) — Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, has picked up a new patronage that focuses on one of her favorite hobbies: photography.

On Tuesday, the Royal Photographic Society announced that Kate, 37, was a patron. Queen Elizabeth II had previously held the role for 67 years.

The Duchess of Cambridge is well-known for taking photos of her three children, Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis. The photos are released by Kensington Palace to mark special occasions like their birthdays.

Recent photos include shots of 1-year-old Prince Louis and 4-year-old Princess Charlotte.

Kate also snapped an adorable photo last year of Charlotte holding and kissing her then-newborn brother Louis.

As patron of the Royal Photographic Society, Kate will highlight the work of a society that has over 11,000 members and runs more than 500 events in the U.K. and around the world. The society was founded in 1853.

Kate combined the work of two of her patronages Tuesday. She joined kids from Action for Children, of which she is a patron, in sessions led by Royal Photographic Society Honorary Fellows Jillian Edelstein and Harry Borden.

The duchess joined the kids in learning about elements of photography including portraits, light and color, according to Kensington Palace.

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A German village bans together to ensure there is no beer for Neo-Nazis

Posted on: June 25th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

BravissimoS/iStock(BERLIN) — An alcohol ban in the East German village of Ostritz ensured that Neo-Nazis attending the Schild und Schwert (Sword and Shield) festival would be starved of a favorite German concert-going beverage.

A court near Dresden called for a ban on booze at the music event, saying the festival had an “aggressive character” and that alcohol would make violence more likely, according to Saxony police. The event is well-known for a genre called “Rechtsrock,” which has promoted far-right nationalism.

The arrival of several hundred far-right extremists was unwelcome by many in the 2,300 person village near the Polish border, which prompted locals to take matters into their own hands.

Knowing that concertgoers would make a beeline to local grocery stores to stock up on alcohol, locals beat them to it, purchasing vast quantities of alcohol on their own dime.

Local activist Georg Salditt told German daily paper Bild that “the plan was devised a week in advance. We wanted to dry the Nazis out. We thought, if an alcohol ban is coming, we’ll empty the shelves.”

He said they purchased 100 cases of beer.

According to Saxony police, 4,400 liters of alcohol were confiscated.

Around 1,400 police officers were deployed around the area, including some from German states outside of Saxony, and the atmosphere remained largely relaxed, Saxony police tweeted.

Around 500-600 far-right concertgoers attended, according to police, while 2,000 people took part in anti-festival demonstrations, according to German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung.

The state of Saxony has garnered a reputation for far-right extremism. Last year, the city of Chemnitz, located in the region, was the site of xenophobic violence and far-right demonstrations.

Still, 30 years after the fall of the Berlin wall, East German states still suffer from higher levels of unemployment and have lower living standards than states in the West, according to recent research, such as that of Duesseldorf’s Institute of Economic and Social Research (WSI). As a consequence, anti-immigrant party Alternative for Germany (AfD) has gained popularity in the region, where many are unhappy with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and particularly her decision to welcome refugees primarily from the Middle East into the country in 2015.

In the European Union Elections this May, far-right anti-immigrant party Alternative for Germany (AfD) beat Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) in the polls to become the most popular party in the region.

Yet, as the weekend’s action showed, many Ostritz residents are eager to distance themselves from the far-right movement.

“We are glad that we were able to set an example for civic engagement,” activist Michael Schlitt told German press agency DPA on Sunday.

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Prince Harry and Meghan’s home renovation brought a $3M price tag to British taxpayers

Posted on: June 25th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

Samir Hussein/Samir Hussein/WireImage(LONDON) — The renovations undertaken by Prince Harry and Meghan to turn Frogmore Cottage into their family home came at a price of 2.4 million pounds, or about $3 million, for British taxpayers, according to new figures released by the Royal Household.

Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, moved into the home on the grounds of Windsor Castle estate earlier this year, ahead of the birth in May of their first child, Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor.

Frogmore Cottage was given to the couple by Harry’s grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, last year as their official residence. The 18th century home was previously five separate residences used by royal staff and had not been fully inhabited in for several years.

The complete overhaul of Frogmore Cottage to become the Sussex’s family home included installing new ceiling beams and floor joists, total internal rewiring, the establishment of new gas and water mains and the installation of a new environmentally-friendly heating system.

The total cost of the renovation project could be even more than the $3 million bill footed by taxpayers. Anything done inside the house, like furniture and decorations, would have been paid for by Harry and Meghan.

The couple relied on the expertise of interior designers Vicky Charles and Julia Corden, a guest at Harry and Meghan’s wedding, who own their own firm, Charles & Co., headquartered in New York City, according to ABC News royal contributor Omid Scobie.

The public renovation costs for Frogmore Cottage were detailed in the Sovereign Grant Report, the annual financial statement published by the Royal Household. The report, released Tuesday, covers the financial year 2018-2019.

Here are the biggest takeaways:

How much does the British royal family cost?

The queen is funded, in part, by the British public through a sum of money allocated annually by the British government known as the Sovereign Grant.

Each British tax payer is paying £1.24, or $1.58, to keep the queen in the style to which she has become accustomed, according to this year’s Sovereign Grant Report. That means that the British government handed over £82.2 million ($104 million) to the Royal Household.

What is the Sovereign Grant and what is it used for?

The Sovereign Grant supports Queen Elizabeth as she carries out her official duties as the Head of State and the Head of the Nation.

This money is used by the Royal Household to cover the costs of their communications teams (now including the newly-formed Sussex team), official travel for the royal family and the maintenance of occupied royal palaces like Buckingham Palace, St James’s Palace, Clarence House, Marlborough House Mews, the residential and office areas of Kensington Palace, Windsor Castle and the buildings in the Home and Great Parks at Windsor, and Hampton Court Mews and Paddocks.

It is managed by the financial secretary to the queen, also known as the Keeper of the Privy Purse, who is currently Sir Michael Stevens.

What are the big spends?

The Sovereign Grants for 2018-2019 and 2017-2018 are substantially higher than previous years as they contain a contribution for the refurbishment of Buckingham Palace — £32.9 million, nearly $42 million, has been set aside for this year.

A government-sponsored report from 2016 found that “the Palace’s electrical cabling, plumbing and heating have not been updated since the 1950s. The building’s infrastructure is in urgent need of a complete overhaul to prevent long-term damage to the building and its contents.”

Therefore, a certain amount of money has been allocated to these much-needed renovations that will take at least a decade to complete. This re-servicing is being done in phases with certain areas of the palace off limits while the repairs are taking place. This was apparently why President Donald Trump and his family couldn’t stay in Buckingham Palace during their recent state visit.

Another figure in the Sovereign Grant Report that may cause some controversy is the cost of the royal train, £109,684, or approximately $140,000, for five journeys inside the United Kingdom.

Advisers to the royal family justify the expense, saying the train also acts as a secure form of accommodation for members of the royal family when they’re travelling.

Where else does the queen’s money come from?

The Sovereign Grant only pays for a portion of maintaining the monarch. The queen has two other sources of revenue: the Duchy of Lancaster and her own personal income.

“The Duchy of Lancaster is a portfolio of land, property and assets held in trust for the Sovereign in his/her role as Sovereign,” according to the royal family’s website. “Its main purpose is to provide an independent source of income, and is used mainly to pay for official expenditure not met by the Sovereign Grant (primarily to meet expenses incurred by other members of the Royal Family).”

The queen also personally owns the Balmoral and Sandringham Estates, which were both inherited from her father. Any revenue coming from them will be used for personal expenses.

Similarly, she has a personal investment portfolio that she can use as she sees fit.

Queen Elizabeth has a net worth of £370 million, roughly $470 million, according to the Sunday Times Rich List, which ranks the fortunes of Britain’s wealthy.

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Hong Kong protests signal alarm special freedoms fading

Posted on: June 25th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

Most Hong Kongers want to keep the freedoms they inherited from British rule.

NATO chief calls for Gulf calm, ahead of US visit

Posted on: June 25th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is calling for calm in the Gulf region but says the military alliance has no formal role to play there amid a standoff between the United States and Iran

US National Security Adviser Bolton says ‘all options remain on the table’ if Iran exceeds uranium enrichment limit

Posted on: June 25th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

US National Security Adviser Bolton says ‘all options remain on the table’ if Iran exceeds uranium enrichment limit

Indonesia military: Use of child soldiers a rights violation

Posted on: June 25th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

An Indonesian military spokesman says any use of child soldiers by Papuan independence fighters would be a violation of human rights that implicates both the rebels and state institutions

Albania president rejects ruling to hold municipal elections

Posted on: June 25th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

Albania’s president has condemned a decision by electoral authorities in favor of holding municipal elections this weekend, calling on the ruling Socialists to hold talks and not carry out an "imaginary" voting process

The journey to nowhere: Little hope for Saudi women since driving ban was lifted

Posted on: June 25th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

JeanUrsula/iStock(BEIRUT) — In June 2018, the future seemed a little brighter for Saudi Arabian women. Home to one of the most repressive societies on earth, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was finally taking steps to lift the ban that had prevented women from driving. At last, women would be free from the need to rely on males for their basic ability to move around.

A staunchly conservative and religiously orthodox country, Saudi Arabia embraces and enforces a strict, all-encompassing version of Islam called Wahhabism. The laws of the religion are one and the same as the laws of the state. Gender segregation rules are strictly observed and the idea of a woman behind the wheel, driving herself wherever she chooses with no man accompanying her, was seen by many as scandalous, even sacrilegious.

Eliminating gender-based driving restrictions was an earth-shattering change that gave hope to millions of Saudi women.

The lifting of the driving ban was presented in 2017 by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (commonly referred to by his nickname, MBS) as part of a sweeping initiative to modernize and diversify the economy away from a heavy reliance on oil. In order to attract foreign investment, the idea was to align some part of Saudi society with the rest of the world. It was hailed by Saudi rulers and much of the rest of the world as a great feminist leap forward.

In just the first seven months after the ban was lifted, as many as 40,000 women were issued driving licenses, according to Saudi Arabia’s traffic department.

But apart from driving, what else has changed for Saudi women?

“There are two stories here, two narratives,” Madawi Al-Rasheed told ABC News. She is a Saudi Arabian scholar and a visiting professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

“The first one is that MBS is the greatest thing that has ever happened to Saudi Arabia, especially to women,” she said.

Some of the laws governing segregation have been loosened, so now it is possible to see women and men attending sporting events and concerts together. Women are also allowed a voice in public discussion and can be found speaking at press conferences and addressing symposiums.

“Yet, there is another story,” Al-Rasheed said. “It is one that says his reforms are being planned by the privileged classes only to serve the privileged classes. There is a greater opening of the public sphere for women but the changes don’t come with legitimate rights.”

Saudi Arabia’s restrictive guardianship system ensures that men still have ultimate control over most aspects of women’s lives. Part legal requirement, part custom, Saudi women are dependent upon their male guardians, whether they are fathers, husbands, brothers or even sons. These men have the power to make a range of critical decisions on her behalf for her entire life.

“Women still need permission from their male guardians in two main areas,” Al-Rasheed said. “When they want to marry or when they want to get a passport to leave the country.”

A few countries in the Middle East still retain some elements of the male guardianship system, although nowhere is as far reaching and restrictive in terms of laws and regulations as Saudi Arabia’s.

“The Saudi state essentially treats women as permanent legal minors. Saudi Arabia has done very little to end the system, which remains the most significant impediment to women’s rights in the country,” as detailed in a report by Human Rights Watch.

According to Dana Ahmed, a Middle East and Gulf researcher for Amnesty International, the inherent control of male family members over almost all aspects of women’s lives makes it incredibly difficult for females to seek protection or obtain legal redress if they become victims in their own homes.

“Women in Saudi Arabia remain inadequately protected against domestic violence and abuse and more generally are discriminated against in large part as a result of the male guardianship system,” Ahmed told ABC News. “Women who attempt to flee an abusive spouse or family can be arrested and returned to their families.”

The situation for Saudi Arabia’s civil society and human rights community, including women’s rights activists, has deteriorated markedly this past year, including “the torture and sexual abuse of human rights defenders” who have been detained by authorities, she said.

“Today, several women activists are being tried for their human rights work on bogus charges and risk lengthy prison sentences,” she noted.

While state reforms have been welcomed by most Saudis, two-thirds of whom are under the age of 30, human rights activists are concerned that even these small nods to a liberal lifestyle could be easily curtailed again at a moment’s notice.

“There is no political change happening in Saudi Arabia that will benefit all members of society,” Al-Rahseed said. “Execution, even crucifixion, takes place all the time and can be decided at the whim of a judge. There is no independent judiciary, no separation of powers. The judges are appointed by the king.”

Indeed, just weeks before lifting the law, the Saudi government initiated a crackdown against women’s rights campaigners and arrested more than a dozen activists, including some of the very women who led the petition for the right to drive.

“Authorities started locking up some of Saudi Arabia’s bravest women activists, instead of including them in the country’s reforms agenda,” Ahmed told ABC News. “By targeting them, they are signaling to their entire people that there will be zero tolerance of any form of criticism, let alone questioning, of the state’s authoritarian practices.”

As recently as March 11, prominent female activists, including Loujain al-Hathloul, Iman al-Nafjan, and Aziza al-Yousef were brought to trial before the Criminal Court in Riyadh. Ahmed said the court session was closed and diplomats and journalists were banned from attending. Several women activists have been charged with the crimes of contacting foreign media and reaching out to other activists and international organizations including Amnesty International.

Following the court session, Ahmed said, several of the jailed women were temporarily and provisionally released. However, they continue to face trial and remain at risk of being sentenced to prison terms.

“Releasing these women from detention is not enough,” Ahmed said. “Saudi authorities must drop all charges against them.”

This past spring, a planned “public decency” law seeking to uphold “values and principles” was approved by the Saudi cabinet, although it has not yet been announced when it will go into effect. Aspects of the new measures are intended to curb behaviors such as dressing disrespectfully, including men wearing shorts, avoiding taking photos or using phrases that might offend.

“The main problem in Saudi Arabia is that both men and women are not represented in government, they are denied basic human rights,” Al-Rasheed said. “They can be detained and thrown in prison for no reason at all. Emancipation in a dictatorship is impossible.”

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Government moves migrant kids after AP exposes bad treatment

Posted on: June 24th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

A Texas congresswoman says the federal government has removed most of the children from a remote Border Patrol station near El Paso following reports that more than 300 children were detained in squalid conditions

Trump announces new sanctions on Iran, including on supreme leader

Posted on: June 24th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump on Monday announced new “hard-hitting” sanctions on Iran, including on the country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Trump signed an executive order imposing additional sanctions on Iran late Monday morning, as he promised to do on Friday after pulling back on a military strike against Iran for the shooting down of a U.S. military drone.

The president said the order, which also targets other senior leaders of Iran’s regime, was prompted by a series of “aggressive behaviors” by the regime in recent weeks, including the drone shootdown.

 The president said the U.S. “does not seek conflict with Iran,” but added that the sanctions “will deny the supreme leader and the supreme leader’s office and those closely affiliated with him and the office access to key resources and support.”

“They’ve done many other things aside from the individual drone. You saw the tankers and we know of other things that were done also which were not good and not appropriate,” Trump said. “The supreme leader of Iran is one who ultimately is responsible for the hostile conduct of the regime. He is respected within his country. His office oversees the regime’s most brutal instruments.”

Last July, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Khamenei has “his own personal, off-the-books hedge fund called the Setad, worth $95 billion, with a B.”

“That wealth is untaxed, it is ill-gotten, and it is used as a slush fund for the IRGC,” Pompeo said last summer. “The ayatollah fills his coffers by devouring whatever he wants.”

“The assets of Ayatollah (Khamenei) and his office will not be spared by the sanctions,” Trump said Monday. “We will continue to increase pressure on Tehran until the regime abandons its dangerous pursuits, including nuclear weapons, enrichment of uranium, engagement in and support for terrorism, fueling of foreign conflicts, and belligerent acts against the United States and its allies.”

 Trump once again called the Iran nuclear agreement “a disaster,” complaining that it was “so short term” that within years Iran would be able to make nuclear weapons.

“That’s unacceptable. Never can Iran have a nuclear weapon,” he said.

The sanctions also target eight senior commanders of Navy, Aerospace, and Ground Forces of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, known as the IRGC, which is suspected of carrying out multiple attacks in the Strait of Hormuz this month.

“I look forward to the day when sanctions can be finally lifted and Iran can become a peaceful, prosperous and productive nation,” Trump said. “I can only tell you we cannot ever let Iran have a nuclear weapon.”

Trump signed the order in the Oval Office flanked by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Vice President Mike Pence.

“I think a lot of restraint has been shown by us but that doesn’t mean we’re going to show it in the future,” Trump said.

After signing the executive order, Trump said he would “love” to negotiate a deal with Iran “if they want to” but said if Iran does not want to, “that’s fine, too.”

Asked whether the sanctions are in direct response to Iran shooting down the U.S. drone last week, Trump said “probably,” adding, “this is basically something that was going to happen anyway.”

“My only message is that he has the potential to have a great country and quickly, very quickly. And I think they should do that rather than going along this very destructive path,” Trump said. “We can’t let them have a nuclear weapon. He said he doesn’t want nuclear weapons. A great thing to say but a lot of things have been said over the years and turns out not to be so.”

After Trump spoke, Mnuchin appeared in the White House briefing room and said the sanctions would also hit the commander of Iran’s air force, who he said is responsible for the shooting down of the unmanned, U.S. surveillance aircraft last week. He said the sanctions would affect multiple other top officials in Iran’s “chain of command” and would lock up billions more in Iranian assets.

He defended sanctions against Iran as “highly effective” and said that while sanctions were already in the works, additional measures were added after recent attacks by Tehran. He signaled that Iran’s Foreign Minister Zarif would also face additional sanctions later this week.

Mnuchin was asked if the new sanctions indicate that the Iranian strike of a U.S. military drone was, in fact, intentional.

“I wouldn’t read anything into that,” Mnuchin replied. “The executive order that the president signed was in the works previously. These actions are people who have either made threats or specific things and again I don’t think you should interpret this anywhere otherwise other than we are designating people who we believe were responsible for the chain of command, whether they knew it or not.”

The secretary defended the sanctions against criticism that they are largely symbolic and do not have any real teeth, especially after Iran’s recent attacks on a U.S. drone and oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz.

“There is no question, these sanctions have been very effective in cutting off funds,” Mnuchin said. “When we do sanctions, we do intelligence. We follow the money and it’s highly effective.”

“We have sanctions against bad behavior and there is no question that locking this money up worked last time, and there is no question locking the money works now,” he said.

Trump tweeted earlier Monday that the United States is not being fairly compensated for protecting shipping lanes in the Strait of Hormuz and questioned the United States’ role in providing security in the important maritime region.

 The Strait of Hormuz is one of the most important waterways in the world, as it is responsible for being the shipping gateway for 21 percent of global oil and petroleum products. But it has also been a hot spot for tensions between the United States and Iran. Last month, the Trump administration blamed Iran for attacks on oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz and then last week, Iranians shot down an American drone outside the narrow passageway in the Gulf of Oman.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo landed in Saudi Arabia on Monday and tweeted following a meeting with the Saudi King that they discussed “heightened tensions in the region and the need to promote maritime security in the Strait of Hormuz.”

“The Supreme Leader’s Office has enriched itself at the expense of the Iranian people,” Pompeo wrote in a statement shortly after Trump signed the executive order imposing the sanctions. “It sits atop a vast network of tyranny and corruption that deprives the Iranian people of the freedom and opportunity they deserve. Today’s action denies Iran’s leadership the financial resources to spread terror and oppress the Iranian people.”

Pompeo noted that “the only path forward” is for Iran “to negotiate a comprehensive deal that addresses the full range of its destabilizing behaviors.”

“Until it does, our campaign of diplomatic isolation and maximum economic pressure will continue,” Pompeo pledged. “When the Iranian regime decides to forgo violence and meet our diplomacy with diplomacy, it knows how to reach us.”

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

American accused of Vietnam overthrow plot gets 12-year term

Posted on: June 24th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

A Vietnamese court has sentenced an American to 12 years in jail for what was described as an attempt to overthrow the Communist nation’s government

Cambodia charges 4 Chinese after building collapse killed 28

Posted on: June 24th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

A court in Cambodia has charged 4 Chinese people with crimes over the collapse of a building under construction that killed 28 workers

Probe advised of ex-defense secretary over Sri Lankan blasts

Posted on: June 24th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

Sri Lanka’s attorney general advises a criminal investigation of the ex-defense secretary over "major lapses" that led to a failure to stop Easter suicide bombings that killed more than 250 people

Former student guilty in slaying of visiting Chinese scholar

Posted on: June 24th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

Jurors have convicted a former University of Illinois doctoral student in the slaying of a visiting scholar from China who was abducted at a bus stop

Trump dismisses Khashoggi investigation, Pompeo doesn’t raise it in Saudi meeting

Posted on: June 24th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — The murder of Washington Post Jamal Khashoggi did not come up in Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s meeting with the Saudi king on Monday, according to a senior State Department official.

It’s the latest sign that the Trump administration has dropped the issue and tried to move past the brutal killing for the sake of what it says is a critical economic and security partnership.

President Donald Trump was dismissive on Friday of Khashoggi, the Saudi dissident who resided in Virginia, when he said that he did not raise a new United Nations report on the murder in his conversation with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Friday.

“I think it’s been heavily investigated. … By everybody,” Trump told NBC News in an interview.

U.N. special investigator Agnes Callamard released a report on Wednesday that found Khashoggi’s killing was perpetrated at the highest levels of the Saudi Arabian power structure and requires further investigation of Saudi leadership, including the crown prince.

Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, last October — an act that the Saudi government at first denied, then called a mistake and finally blamed on a rogue operation. The hit team has been on trial in Saudi Arabia, although Callamard’s report criticized that judicial process as lacking transparency.

Pompeo met both the crown prince and his father King Salman in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Monday. In a brief 15-minute meeting, Khashoggi’s killing and other human rights abuses in the country did not come up, according to the senior official, who said they did not know whether it was raised in Pompeo’s one-on-one meeting with the crown prince, who is sometimes referred to by his initials “MBS.” A readout of both meetings by the State Department spokesperson also made no mention of Khashoggi or broader human rights abuses.

Those abuses were well documented in two State Department reports released last week — one on human trafficking and child soldiers and the other on international religious freedom. Both reports labeled Saudi Arabia as among the worst offenders on these issues.

Pompeo, who has consistently defended the Saudi leadership and said that the U.S. has to continue to investigate Khashoggi’s killing, was traveling to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates Monday to bolster both partners against the threat from Iran.

Both he and Trump have made clear that the Saudis are critical strategic partners against Iranian activity in the region, including as a customer of U.S. arms.

“Saudi Arabia is a big buyer of America product. That means something to me. It’s a big producer of jobs,” Trump said.

He denied giving the Saudis a pass on “bad behavior,” but argued it was nothing out of the ordinary.

“This is a vicious, hostile place. If you’re going to look at Saudi Arabia, look at Iran, look at other countries,” he said.

The only difference, he suggested, was that they purchase U.S. weapons: “I only say they spend $400 to $450 billion over a period of time — all money, all jobs, buying equipment … Take their money.”

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

2 German fighter jets collide, pilots eject

Posted on: June 24th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

A German air force pilot was killed Monday after his fighter jet collided with another during a training mission in northeastern Germany, the country’s defense minister said

Government moves migrant kids after poor conditions exposed

Posted on: June 24th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

The U.S. government has removed most of the children from a West Texas Border Patrol station following reports that more than 300 kids locked up there were forced to care for each other with inadequate food, water and sanitation