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Sonic attack allegations are ‘political manipulation’: Cuba

October 29, 2017 rbksa 0
Sun, 2017-10-29 04:28

WASHINGTON: Cuba has hit out at allegations that mysterious sonic attacks made American diplomats ill in the country, dismissing them as “political manipulation” aimed at undermining relations.
At least 24 diplomats in Cuba suffered health problems from November 2016 to August 2017, in what US officials say may have been a result of attacks carried out with some kind of covert acoustic device.
Washington has not formally blamed Havana, but in mid-October Trump said that he holds Cuba responsible — and the White House has said it believes the country could bring the attacks to a halt.
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said early Saturday it was “unacceptable and immoral” that any political differences between the two countries would translate into measures affecting their nationals.
“The so-called sonic attacks … are totally false,” he said in a surprise appearance at a meeting of Cubans living in the United States, held in Washington.
He slammed the allegations as “political manipulation aimed at damaging bilateral relations.”
Ties with Havana were only fully restored in 2015 after a half-century Cold War breakdown, but have been strained since President Donald Trump took office in January.
Rodriguez said that given the allegations “there has been a serious deterioration in the relationship between both governments and both countries.”
Following the spate of illnesses, in late September the US withdrew more than half of its diplomatic staff in Cuba and expelled 15 Cuban diplomats from Washington.
Cuba insists it has shown good will by letting FBI investigators visit the island three times this year to investigate.

For a month now US officials have stopped issuing visas for Cubans to travel to the United States, a move Havana deems unjustified.
The State Department said that Cubans can process their immigrant visas at the US embassy in Colombia, and that other visas could be requested in other countries.
This procedure “will make the already discriminatory requirement” for obtaining visas “impossible,” Rodriguez said.
He decried having to travel abroad to “perform painful face-to-face interviews in the era of digital communications.”
Cuban state TV aired a documentary late Thursday rejecting any responsibility for the attacks and accusing the Americans of failing to cooperate.
A doctor on the investigative team, Manuel Villar, said Washington has refused to share the medical records of those affected or let US doctors talk to Cuban ones.
“There was zero cooperation and we have had only communications about these events that, in our opinion, were not expert-level,” said Villar.
Those who came down ill reported physical symptoms including hearing loss, headaches, nausea, cognitive issues, and difficulty sleeping.
The Cuban documentary said there is no evidence to confirm what may have caused these symptoms.
Cuba says its experts had considered the possibility of causes like toxins, electromagnetic waves or even insects.

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Official: Taliban kill 9 police in eastern Afghanistan

October 28, 2017 rbksa 0
Sat, 2017-10-28 03:00

KABUL: At least nine police officers were killed Saturday in separate attacks by Taliban insurgents on police checkpoints in eastern Ghazni province, a provincial official said, and the US military said a service member died from injuries sustained in a helicopter crash in the east.
Arif Noori, spokesman for the provincial governor, said two police checkpoints came under attack by Taliban fighters in the early hours leaving nine police dead and two police wounded. He said six insurgents were killed and nine others were wounded in the battle, which lasted almost an hour.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, according to their spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid. He said 14 police were killed, including both commanders of the checkpoints.
Afghan forces have struggled to combat a resurgent Taliban since US and NATO forces formally concluded their combat mission at the end of 2014, switching to a counterterrorism and support role.
In eastern Logar province, a US service member died from injuries sustained in a helicopter crash late Friday, a statement from the US military said. Six other US crew members were injured in the crash and were receiving medical treatment, it said.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of our comrade,” said US Gen. John Nicholson, commander of Resolute Support in Afghanistan. “On behalf of all of Resolute Support, our heartfelt sympathies go out to the families and friends of our fallen comrade and those injured in this unfortunate event.”
The statement said the crash was not the result of enemy action. “We have full accountability of all personnel and the crash site has been secured,” it said.
Earlier, Salim Saleh, spokesman for the provincial governor in Logar, told The Associated Press that a military helicopter made an emergency landing as it was taking off and hit a tree.
He said the helicopter was supporting an operation to eliminate insurgents from Karwar district.
Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, claimed their fighters shot down the helicopter in Karwar district.

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Bangladesh eyes sterilization to curb Rohingya population

October 28, 2017 rbksa 0
Sat, 2017-10-28 04:43

PALONGKHALI: Bangladesh is planning to introduce voluntary sterilization in its overcrowded Rohingya camps, where nearly a million refugees are fighting for space, after efforts to encourage birth control failed.
More than 600,000 Rohingya have arrived in Bangladesh since a military crackdown in neighboring Myanmar in August triggered an exodus, straining resources in the impoverished country.
The latest arrivals have joined hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who fled in earlier waves from Myanmar’s Rakhine state, where the stateless Muslim minority has endured decades of persecution.
Most live in desperate conditions with limited access to food, sanitation or health facilities and local officials fear a lack of family planning could stretch resources even further.
Pintu Kanti Bhattacharjee, who heads the family planning service in the district of Cox’s Bazar where the camps are based, said there was little awareness of birth control among the Rohingya.
“The whole community has been deliberately left behind,” he told AFP, citing a lack of education in Myanmar, where the Rohingya are viewed as illegal immigrants and denied access to many services.
Bhattacharjee said large families were the norm in the camps, where some parents had up to 19 children and many Rohingya men have more than one wife.
District family planning authorities have launched a drive to provide contraception, but say they have so far managed to distribute just 549 packets of condoms among the refugees, who are reluctant to use them.
They have asked the government to approve a plan to launch vasectomies for Rohingya men and tubectomies for women, Bhattacharjee told AFP.
But they are likely to face an uphill struggle.
Many of the refugees told AFP they believed a large family would help them survive in the camps, where access to food and water remains a daily battle and children are often sent out to fetch and carry supplies.
Others had been told contraception was against the tenets of Islam.
Farhana Sultana, a family planning volunteer who works with Rohingya refugees in the camps, said many of the women she spoke to believed birth control was a sin.
“In Rakhine they did not go to family planning clinics, fearing the Myanmar authorities would give medicine that harms them or their children,” Sultana said.
Volunteers said they struggled to sell the benefits of birth control to Rohingya women, most of whom came to them for advice on pregnancy complications or help with newborns.
Sabura, a mother of seven, said her husband believed the couple could support a large family.
“I spoke to my husband about birth control measures. But he is not convinced. He was given two condoms but he did not use them,” she told AFP.
“My husband said we need more children as we have land and property (in Rakhine). We don’t have to worry to feed them,” she said.
Bangladesh has for years run a successful domestic sterilization program, offering 2,300 taka ($28) and a traditional lungi garment to each man who agrees to undergo the procedure.
Every month 250 people undergo sterilization in the border town of Cox’s Bazar.
But performing the permanent procedure on non-Bangladeshi nationals requires final approval from a committee headed by the health minister.
The idea is particularly contentious given the sensitivity of the issue in Myanmar. The widespread perception that the Rohingya population is mushrooming is a key source of the tensions that have spiralled in recent months.
No official data is available on birth rates among the Rohingya, who are excluded from the census in Myanmar.
But many of the ethnic Rakhine Buddhists accused of taking part in attacks on Rohingya villages that have driven hundreds of thousands into Bangladesh say they fear being displaced by the Muslim minority.
The Rohingya face official restrictions on the number of children they can have in Myanmar, although this has not been widely enforced.
Rights activists working in the camps in Bangladesh said some believed pregnancy provided protection against rape or other attacks in Myanmar, where the military has been accused of sexual violence against Rohingya women and girls.
“Some of them told us that if a woman was pregnant, she had less chance of being targeted by the military or attackers.”
Bangladesh officials say some 20,000 Rohingya women are pregnant and 600 have given birth since arriving in Bangladesh, though this may be an underestimate as many births take place with no formal medical help.
“Sterilization of the males is the best way to control the population,” said Bhattacharjee.
“If a man is sterilized, he cannot father a child even if he marries four or five times.”

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Brooklyn man sentenced to 15 years prison over Daesh support

October 28, 2017 rbksa 0
Fri, 2017-10-27 22:49

NEW YORK: A Brooklyn man was sentenced on Friday to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiring to provide material support to Daesh.
Abdurasul Hasanovich Juraboev, 27, was sentenced by US District Judge William Kuntz in the federal court in Brooklyn.
The defendant, an Uzbekistan citizen who once chopped salad at a Brooklyn gyro shop, was one of six people charged in the same case with plotting to aid Daesh, a US-designated foreign terrorist organization.
Prosecutors sought a 15-year prison term, the maximum possible. Lawyers for Juraboev sought no more than five years, calling him an “unsophisticated, gullible, and lonely young man” who reached “wrong conclusions” about Islam and Daesh.
Michael Weil, a federal public defender representing Juraboev, declined to comment after the sentencing.
Authorities said Juraboev had in August 2014 posted an online threat to kill then-US President Barack Obama on behalf of Daesh, and spoke of planting a bomb on Coney Island if the group ordered it.
Juraboev was arrested in February 2015, after buying a plane ticket to fly the next month to Istanbul, Turkey, intending to then travel to Syria to join Daesh, authorities said.
Two co-defendants, Akhror Saidakhmetov and Abror Habibov, pleaded guilty this year, and charges are still pending against co-defendants Dilkhayot Kasimov, Azizjon Rakhmatov and Akmal Zakirov, court records show. Saidakhmetov faces a Dec. 13 sentencing.
Saidakhmetov was also arrested in February 2015, as he was boarding a plane to Istanbul, authorities said.
The arrests of Juraboev and Saidakhmetov followed roughly five months of interactions between the men and a paid informant posing as being ideologically sympathetic.
Other defendants were charged with conspiring to pay Juraboev’s and Saidakhmetov’s travel expenses.
Another Uzbekistan citizen, Dilshod Khusanov, was in August charged in a separate case with having discussed with Zakirov providing funds for Saidakhmetov’s trip, and helping others join Daesh or Al-Nusrah Front, another militant group.
More than 100 people have faced US charges in connection with Daesh since 2014.

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Catalan separatist leader urges ‘democratic opposition’ to Madrid takeover

October 28, 2017 rbksa 0
Sat, 2017-10-28 16:45

BARCELONA: Catalonia’s secessionist leader on Saturday defiantly called for “democratic opposition” to direct rule imposed by the central government on the semi-autonomous region after its parliament declared unilateral independence.
“The best way to defend what we have achieved to date is democratic opposition to the application of article 155,” Carles Puigdemont, who was officially deposed by Madrid on Friday, said in a carefully-worded televised statement that appeared to indicate he did not accept his dismissal.
Puigdemont was referring to the never-before-used constitutional article that gives Madrid the takeover powers, adding he and his team would keep working “to build a free country.”
In his first comments since being deposed as president of Catalonia, flanked by a Catalan and EU flag, he did not clarify whether he would carry on as leader of a new republic that is not recognized by Madrid or abroad.
In a copy of his speech sent to AFP, he signed off as “president of the Catalan government,” implying he considered himself to still officially be head of the semi-autonomous region.
He stopped short of signing off as president of the republic, though.
In a cryptic message, Puigdemont also asked Catalans to defend the republic proclaimed by the regional parliament.
“We need to keep defending the stage in which we have entered with a tireless sense of civic responsibility and peaceful commitment.”
He added that “in a democratic society, only parliaments can pick or dismiss presidents.”
The Catalan parliament, however, has been dissolved by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who also called snap regional elections on December 21 in a bid to restore “normality.”
Spain’s central government has also been granted sweeping powers by the Senate to dismiss Puigdemont and his executive, and take control of all regional ministries.

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Greek police arrest suspect behind parcel bomb attacks on EU officials

October 28, 2017 rbksa 0
Sat, 2017-10-28 14:16

ATHENS: Greek authorities have arrested a man believed to have been involved in parcel bombs mailed to European Union officials and former Greek prime minister Lucas Papademos earlier this year, police said on Saturday.
In March, police intercepted eight suspect packages at an Athens postal sorting center after the dispatch of booby-trapped parcels to the International Monetary Fund in Paris and the German Finance Ministry.
One parcel, mailed to former German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble was intercepted by the German Finance Ministry’s mail department. But a letter addressed to the International Monetary Fund in Paris exploded, slightly hurting an administrative assistant.
“The anti-terrorism service arrested a 29-year-old male following a warrant … related to parcel bomb dispatches,” police said in a statement.
In May, former Greek prime minister Lucas Papademos was injured when a booby-trapped package exploded in his car in central Athens, in the worst act of violence targeting politicians in the crisis-hit country for several years.
The suspect denies involvement in the attacks or in the militant group Conspiracy of Fire Cells, which claimed responsibility for the parcel sent to the German Finance Ministry, a police official told Reuters.
“Police had spotted him in videos bringing parcels to the post office on five different occasions and he was under surveillance for days,” the police official said, declining to be named. “His apartment is currently being searched.”

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Division grows in Pakistan’s ruling party

October 28, 2017 rbksa 0
Aamir Saeed
Sat, 2017-10-28 20:24

ISLAMABAD: The ouster of Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has created a deepening rift in his own Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party.
Sharif was sacked and disqualified for life by the Supreme Court in July following an investigation into corruption allegations against his family originating from the Panama Papers leak.
Sharif’s troubles deepened on Thursday when Pakistan’s accountability court issued a warrant for his arrest in two cases of alleged corruption after he failed to appear in court. The former prime minister is currently abroad. The hearing was adjourned until Nov. 3.
While the PML-N re-elected Sharif as party president on Oct. 3, having pushed through a change in the law — and although Sharif’s wife, Kalsum, won his vacated assembly seat in Lahore in September — dissenters within the party have emerged, demanding that Sharif’s younger brother Shahbaz, currently chief minister of Punjab, should replace Nawaz as party leader.
“Shahbaz Sharif should come forward and take charge of the party,” Riaz Hussain Pirzada, minister for inter-provincial coordination, told Arab News. “Nawaz Sharif is embroiled in corruption cases and won’t be able to lead the party in general elections.”
Pirzada is believed to have the backing of more than two dozen PML-N members of the National Assembly.
“We will announce our future course of action at an appropriate time,” he said, while hinting that he could formally announce a separate bloc in the party by the end of the year.
Arab News has learned that a group of more than 25 legislators who represent the PML-N in the Punjab Assembly are also demanding that Shahbaz be installed as party leader, and have held several secret meetings to discuss their future in the party.
Two disgruntled legislators confided in Arab News that they will announce a forward bloc in the party before March’s senate elections if Sharif fails to step aside.
The PML-N currently has 37 senators out of 104 in the Senate, and should be able to elect its own Senate chairman — one of the most important political positions in Pakistan — in the March elections, if the party can remain united.
But, for Raja Ashfaq Sarwar, minister for labor and human resource, that seems unlikely.
“At the moment, we are clueless and confused due to lack of a clear leadership in the party,” Sarwar, who is also an active member of the dissident group, told Arab News.
“This confusion will cost us heavily in the upcoming Senate and general elections,” he continued.
The government’s five-year term expires in June next year and general elections are scheduled to be held in August.
Sarwar also highlighted pending petitions in the Supreme Court asking that the law that allowed Sharif to be re-elected as president of the party be abolished as unconstitutional.
“We are ready to request Nawaz Sharif to relinquish the party leadership in a closed-door meeting, but only if he gives us time for it,” Sarwar concluded.
But those loyal to Sharif and his political heir-apparent — daughter Maryam, also indicted by the accountability court on Oct. 19 — will not countenance Shahbaz taking over as party leader.
Minister of State for Interior Muhammad Tallal Chaudry told Arab News: “There is only one leader in the PML-N and he is Nawaz Sharif.”
Some loyalists, Chaudry included, warn that the plan to install Shahbaz as party leader is an establishment plot to break up the PML-N.
“We know how to counter all these gimmicks,” Chaudry said. “And we are doing it effectively under the leadership of Nawaz Sharif.”

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Mattis says threat of nuclear attack by North Korea accelerating

October 28, 2017 rbksa 0
The Associated Press
Sat, 2017-10-28 03:00

SEOUL, South Korea: US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Saturday the threat of nuclear missile attack by North Korea is accelerating.
In remarks in Seoul with South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo at his side, Mattis accused the North of illegal and unnecessary missile and nuclear programs — and vowed to defeat any attack.
Mattis said the North engages in “over-the-top rhetoric” and behavior. And he said the US will never accept a nuclear North.
He added that regardless of what the North might try, it is overmatched by the firepower and cohesiveness of the decades-old US-South Korean alliance.
As he emphasized throughout his weeklong Asia trip, which included stops in Thailand and the Philippines, Mattis said diplomacy remains the preferred way to deal with the North.
“With that said,” he added, “make no mistake — any attack on the United States or our allies will be defeated, and any use of nuclear weapons by the North will be met with a massive military response that is effective and overwhelming.”
Mattis’s comments in Seoul did not go beyond his recent statements of concern about North Korea, although he appeared to inject a stronger note about the urgency of resolving the crisis.
While he accused the North of “outlaw” behavior, he did not mention that President Donald Trump has ratcheted up his own rhetoric. In August, Trump warned the North not to make any more threats against the United States, and said that if it did, it would be met with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

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Typhoon Saola brings heavy rain in southern Japan

October 28, 2017 rbksa 0
Sat, 2017-10-28 06:16

TOKYO: Typhoon Saola barrelled toward Japan’s southernmost Okinawa island chain on Saturday bringing heavy rain as authorities issued a warning for strong winds and landslides.
The storm came less than a week after Typhoon Lan left five dead, one missing and scores injured.
Saola was moving 60 kilometers (37 miles) southwest of Okinawa’s capital Naha at 11 am (0200 GMT), packing gusts of up to 162 kilometers per hour, Japan’s weather agency said.
The storm is set to pass through Okinawa and the small subtropical island chain of Amami, which lies between Okinawa and Kyushu, later this evening and then hit southern Kagoshima prefecture on Sunday morning.
Public broadcaster NHK said some rivers in Okinawa are at risk of flooding.
Large storms regularly strike Japan, with 22 people killed when Typhoon Lionrock pounded the country last September.
In August, Typhoon Noru killed two people and injured 51.

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