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Friday, July 15, 2016

Beijing scolded for its Tibetan policy

Oct. 12, 2011

WASHINGTON, Oct. 12 (UPI) -- The U.S State Department said it had human rights concerns about the growing trend of Tibetan protesters burning themselves to death.

Two former monks at the Kirti monastery, set themselves on fire in Sichuan province to protest China's occupation of Tibet. One of the former monks, a 19-year-old, was declared dead at the scene, Tibetan activist agency Free Tibet said.

The group said there have been seven self-immolations in the region since March.

Victoria Nuland, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department said Washington was "very concerned about this trend."

She said Washington has "repeatedly" called on Beijing to respect the rights of Tibetans to express themselves and to do more to address regional tensions.

Human Rights Watch called on Beijing to end "excessive restrictions" in the area and lift "heavy-handed security measures imposed on other lay communities and monasteries in the region."

The rights group said it had documented reports of violent security raids, arbitrary detentions of Tibetan monks and constant surveillance of religious activity in the region.

"Security measures designed to curtail the right to free expression, association, and religious belief in Tibetan monasteries are not legitimate," Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

Source: United Press International (UPI).
Link: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/Special/2011/10/12/Beijing-scolded-for-its-Tibetan-policy/UPI-81011318430463/.

IS militants retreat from Libya bastion as militias advance

June 09, 2016

BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) — Islamic State militants were retreating Thursday from their main bastion in Libya, as militiamen allied to a U.N.-brokered government pushed into the central city of Sirte, officials said.

Some militants reportedly shaved off their beards to escape while the pro-government fighters, mostly from the western Libyan city of Misrata, pushed into the city center in their tanks and pickup trucks mounted with machine guns. At a main roundabout, the militiamen dismantled the metal frame of what some Sirte residents had dubbed the "stage of horror" — a podium used by IS for public beheadings and extrajudicial killings during its reign of terror.

Videos circulated on social media show triumphant militiamen flashing victory signs and chanting "Allahu-Akbar" or "God is Great" as they drive around Sirte. The capture of Sirte capped a month-long offensive by the Libyan militiamen to take the IS stronghold — it was the only major IS-held city outside Syria and Iraq, and was seen as a possible fallback option for the capital of its self-styled caliphate. The IS extremists are currently struggling to fend off advances on a number of fronts, including in the Iraqi city of Fallujah and the northern Syrian provinces of Aleppo and Raqqa.

In Libya, militiamen from the western city of Misrata have been the main fighting force for the U.N.-brokered unity government that was installed in Tripoli earlier this year. For nearly four weeks, the militiamen have been advancing from the west and south against IS. The extremist group dispatched suicide bombers against the militiamen, who lost dozens of fighters last month.

On Wednesday, the militias pushed deeper into Sirte, which lies in the central part of Libya's Mediterranean coastline. On Thursday, they reached the city's key Zafarana roundabout, where they dismantled the stage where Human Rights Watch says IS killed at least 49 people.

Misrata-based media official Ahmed Hadiya said his forces found sinks full of shaved-off beards and long hair inside a Sirte school taken from IS, suggesting that the militants tried to get rid of their trademark looks before fleeing.

Left behind were also militant cell phones, IS paraphernalia and leaflets pledging allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, according to a Misrata fighter who shared photos he took of the items with The Associated Press. One of the photographs showed a graveyard that belonged to IS in Sirte, he said, declining to give his name because he wasn't authorized to talk to reporters.

A militia commander, Ali bin Gharbiya, claimed in an audio message posted on Facebook that the victory against IS militants in Sirte was quick. "Except for a little bit of anti-aircraft fire, they immediately withdrew," he says.

The pro-government forces' next goal was the Ouagadougou gigantic convention center, another city landmark, Hadiya said. The center was the late Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi's onetime favorite conference hall where he hosted lavish African and Arab summits. IS had turned it into its headquarters, raised its black banner over the center and held graduation ceremonies there for those who completed IS-organized religious sessions.

"The Daesh are cornered inside and around the center," Hadiya said, using the Arabic language acronym for the Islamic State group. "Our forces are preparing ... to seize the center." IS militants unexpectedly showed little resistance once the militiamen pushed into their bastion. This could signal either a tactical retreat or a reflection of the small size of IS fighters remaining inside the city — after Western officials have earlier estimated IS strength in Sirte to be over 5,000 men.

Ismail Bashir, a lawmaker from the town of Jufra, a nearly three-hour-drive south of Sirte, said the Sirte "offensive showed (Islamic State's) real size and capabilities; their collapse was really dramatic."

IS and other extremists have exploited the chaos that followed the 2011 overthrow of Gadhafi in a NATO-backed uprising, establishing strongholds just across the Mediterranean Sea from Europe. Libya meanwhile sunk deeper into turmoil, with the country's feuding factions splitting it into two parliaments and rival governments.

This year, Western nations have thrown their support behind the U.N.-backed government in hopes of ending the rivalry between authorities based in the capital, Tripoli, and in the country's far east. According to Ziad Hadia, who represents Sirte in the parliament based in eastern Libya, more than 2,000 IS fighters are thought to remain in the city. Foreign fighters, mostly from Tunisia and sub-Saharan Africa, account for more than 85 percent of the fighters, he added.

The Western-backed unity government, in the absence of an organized and unified army, has depended on the Misrata militias, among the country's most powerful. Meanwhile, another force that answers to army leader Khalifa Hifter, based in the country's east, has announced that it has deployed fighters south of Sirte. A third armed group, which has declared its loyalty to the U.N.-backed government, on Thursday took the town of Hawara, east of Sirte, from IS. The group has also taken other small towns located between Sirte and an oil-rich area in eastern Libya in recent weeks.

Hifter has also been battling Islamic militias in the eastern city of Benghazi and the former IS stronghold of Darna, where his forces have carried out airstrikes. On Thursday, four civilians were killed, including three children, when an airstrike hit a storehouse in a crowded area of Darna, according to the city's lawmaker Hamid Al-Bandag.

Hadiya said the assault on Sirte has cost the Misrata militiamen the lives of 130 fighters and that about 400 have been wounded. Among the fatalities were two former government ministers who took up arms to battle IS, Mohammed Sawalem and Abdel-Rahman al-Kissa.

Before he was killed in Sirte, al-Kissa said on his Facebook page that fighting IS was a "gift from God ... this is a sacred war."

Michael reported from Cairo.

Taiz stands alone: Protesters raise flag of independence from Yemen

Wednesday 25 May 2016

Taiz, YEMEN - The national tricolor of Yemen could not be seen in Taiz on this year's unity day, and its people did not celebrate. The government-in-exile cancelled Sunday's events in answer to those planned by their Houthi enemies in the capital, Sanaa.

Instead, new flags were flying for a growing movement - the Republic of Taiz - and traditional celebrations were replaced by local protests calling for independence.

Such is the mood in Taiz, scarred by a year of war, neglected by the government and its Saudi backers, shunned by southern separatists and under siege by the Houthis, that many feel their only answer is to go it alone.

The republican movement has taken root among residents and those fighting the Houthis - the local "Popular Resistance" and regular army troops who ostensibly back the government-in-exile of President Abd Rabbuh Hadi.

And their feelings have been made known. Their red, blue and yellow flag can now be seen fluttering from many military vehicles in the city of Taiz, and protests are regularly held by civilians.

Farouq al-Samei, an independence activist in Taiz, told Middle East Eye: "When I saw the Houthis killing the civilians of my city and no one helped, I decided to demand independence.

"All sides had disappointed Taiz - even those injured in the war have been denied help. We demand independence, and then we can develop our country."

Samei said resistance fighters and the military were at the forefront of the movement, which would push their plan after the Houthis were defeated.

"In 2011 we supported Hadi, and he did not help us. In 2015 we fought for Hadi, and again he did not help us. We will not fight for Hadi again, we are fighting for liberation, and then we will build our own country."

"We changed our loyalty, we are loyalists to the Republic of Taiz and not Yemen, and we do not care about the north or the south, we only care about Taiz."

Taiz faces isolation despite being caught in the nexus of Yemen's year-long civil war. It has been besieged by Houthi fighters for months, and reinforcements from the Saudi-led coalition have never arrived.

The secessionist Southern Movement, based in Aden, has refused aid to Taiz and continues to send undocumented "northerners" back to a war zone if they are found in its territory.

On Thursday, independence activists staged their first public demonstration in Jamal Street, in the center of Taiz city. Although the protest was small, military vehicles were decked with the new standard, suggesting tacit if not outright support from military leaders.

A soldier in Taiz city told MEE: "I have been fighting the Houthis for more than one year. The Yemeni government and the coalition forces did not send enough military reinforcements for us.

"Meanwhile, the southern authorities did not allow our injured friends to recover in Aden's hospitals. I will not fight for the sake of Hadi or his government any more, but I will fight for Taiz."

He could not give his name for fear his leadership would revoke his pay.

Activists say the new republic would encompass "al-Ganad" - Taiz province and surrounding areas such as Ibb, and some areas from al-Dhale and Lahj provinces.

Their plan mirrors agreements made in the national transition period after the fall of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2011, which envisaged the division of Yemen into six regions as a solution to growing calls for independence in the former South Yemen.

The Houthis cancelled the plan, agreed by the National Dialogue Conference, when they took over Sanaa and kicked out President Hadi, Saleh's replacement.

The Houthis and Hadi government are currently locked in UN-sponsored peace talks in Kuwait, which special envoy Ahmed Ould-Sheikh on Wednesday said was "closer" to an agreement to end more than a year of full-blown war.

"We are in a stage where the parties have to make hard choices and compromises," the diplomat said, adding that he was "very optimistic" that a deal could be reached.

However, a report released by the London-based Chatham House think tank warned on Wednesday that Yemen faces dissolving into a "chaos state" of small wars over local issues and grievances that would be unresolved by "elite-level" talks in Kuwait.

“In the event of an end to the ‘big war’, a replication of past patterns of behavior – focusing on the dynamics and ignoring localized issues – will most likely result in Yemen collapsing into a multitude of small wars,” the report said.

Taiz is one such localized issue.

Fadhl al-Rabei, a political analyst, said while independence for Taiz was not likely, the demand would nevertheless send a message to the world that Taiz was fighting alone.

Division was "the best solution" for war-torn Yemen, he added, noting Taiz was not the only area calling for independence.

The Tehama movement has grown in popularity in Hodeida province and its surrounding areas in recent years, with grievances similar to Taiz such as neglect by the government.

"The Southern Movement demands independence, the Tehama movement demands independence for Tehama, as does Taiz. These parts of Yemen can be divided into regions, and this will be the best solution," he added.

However, the movement in Taiz is still only grassroots. Many of the province's political parties support the Hadi government, meaning their hands are tied.

The leaders of the Popular Resistance, meanwhile, are publicly against the movement. Nael al-Adimi, a leader in Taiz city, called those involved "traitors" and a threat to the common defense of the province.

He stated that all Taiz residents must first expel the Houthis, before any other project can be discussed.

"We will not support such a ridiculous project," he said.

"There are some traitors in Taiz trying to divide the Popular Resistance with their new projects, which are not in the interests of Taiz, and the Republic of Taiz is one of them."

Source: Middle East Eye.
Link: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/republic-taiz-yemen-resistance-1769604821.

Yemeni government delegation pulls out of Kuwait consultations

May 18, 2016

The Yemeni government delegation on Tuesday has walked out of talks in Kuwait saying rebels insist on power sharing in violation of UN resolutions.

A source in the government delegation told Anadolu news agency that the delegation will issue a formal statement later in the day adding that the delegation intends to stay in Kuwait.

Yemen’s Saba News Agency (state owned) reported Foreign Minister, Abdulmalek Al-Mikhlafi who heads the government delegation as saying that he had asked UN envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed to oblige the rebels to respect the negotiations references as precondition to return.

Anadolu news agency reported sources close to the talks earlier as saying that the rebels had asked to transfer President Hadi powers to a transitional council which includes them before they withdraw from cities they control.

According to sources the rebels have also asked to respect the peace and partnership agreement signed in September, 21 2014.

President Hadi has described the agreement void after moving to Aden in February 2015, saying it was signed under force of arms.

Meanwhile, the UN envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed on Monday said the two sides were still discussing the best way to reach a peaceful solution in Yemen after nearly 4 weeks of fruitless talks.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20160518-yemeni-government-delegation-pulls-out-of-kuwait-consultations/.

Kadyrov to seek new term as Chechen president

July 02, 2016

MOSCOW (AP) — The Kremlin-backed strongman leader of Chechnya says he will seek another term in office. Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya's president since 2007, had said earlier this year that he considered his mission to be complete. His term was to expire in April, but Russian President Vladimir Putin appointed him interim leader until a September election.

Russian news agencies cited Kadyrov as saying Saturday he has filed to run in the election. Putin has relied on Kadyrov to stabilize Chechnya after two separatist wars, effectively allowing him to rule the region like a personal fiefdom. Critics allege human rights violations have been widespread under Kadyrov.

The suspected triggerman in the 2015 killing of prominent Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov was an officer in Kadyrov's security force.

Khartoum calls on UN to bring opposition to negotiating table

June 11, 2016

Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour has called on the UN to persuade armed opposition and political movements to accept a national agreement roadmap ahead of achieving comprehensive peace in the country, Quds Press reported on Friday.

“Secretary General Ban Ki-moon,” said the minister, “renewed the UN’s support to the African roadmap which was signed by the Sudanese government and the African mediation and praised Sudan’s role in achieving peace in South Sudan.”

Ghandour met with Ban in New York on Thursday, where he briefed the UN chief on the details of the national dialogue and the efforts being conducted to include the opposition. He thanked the UN for welcoming the acceptance by the Sudanese government of the African roadmap.

Meanwhile, Ban announced his support for the roadmap to achieve peace in South Kordofan and the Blue Nile, and expressed his hope that all parties will take part in the national dialogue. The secretary general also called on the Sudanese government to remove all obstacles which face the joint peacekeeping mission – UNAMID – operating in Darfur.

However, Ghandour called on the UN to withdraw UNAMID based on the exit strategy for the international force, the meetings of the team tasked to follow up this issue and the prevailing peace in the area.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20160611-khartoum-calls-on-un-to-bring-opposition-to-negotiating-table/.

Britain's new govt signals PM May is serious about Brexit

July 14, 2016

LONDON (AP) — Theresa May wanted Britain to stay in the European Union, but the government she unveiled Thursday leaves little doubt that Britain's new prime minister intends to fulfill voters' instructions and take it out of the 28-nation bloc.

May has appointed leading euroskeptics — including the unpredictable Boris Johnson and the formidable David Davis — to top international jobs in a Cabinet that sweeps away many members of predecessor David Cameron's administration.

When she was running for the Conservative leadership, May promised that "Brexit means Brexit," and her appointments of Johnson, Davis and arch-euroskeptic Trade Secretary Liam Fox signal to EU leaders that, no matter what her own feelings, she will not be watering down Britain's commitment to leaving the EU.

Johnson, Britain's new foreign secretary, said Thursday it was an opportunity to be seized — "reshaping Britain's global profile and identity as a great global player." On her first full day in office, May dismantled Cameron's affluent metropolitan clique, dubbed the "Notting Hill set" after the former prime minister's trendy West London neighborhood.

Gone were Cameron allies including ex-Treasury chief George Osborne, Cameron's friend and neighbor and like him the product of an elite private school. Gone, too, was Michael Gove, the justice secretary who many Tories believe betrayed former ally Johnson by running for Conservative leader himself — a job Johnson had long sought.

Gove's replacement, Justice Secretary Liz Truss, and the new Education Secretary Justine Greening both attended state schools — as did May. The shuffle signals that May values social mobility and self-made successes. It also reinforces a promise she made outside 10 Downing St. on Wednesday: "We will make Britain a country that works not for a privileged few, but for every one of us."

Some 52 percent of Britons who voted June 23 wanted to leave the EU — a position uncompromisingly reflected in the international face of the new government through the triumvirate of Johnson, Davis and Fox.

Johnson, London's popular former mayor, helped the "leave" campaign win last month's referendum. But his appointment as foreign secretary caused some consternation around the world. French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Johnson had lied to the British people during the EU referendum, and now had "his back against the wall to defend his country and to clarify his relationship with Europe."

Johnson's certainly not the obvious choice for Britain's top diplomat. He is internationally famous — but for rumpled eccentricity, Latin aphorisms and distinctly undiplomatic gaffes. In April, Johnson suggested that U.S. President Barack Obama had an "ancestral dislike" of Britain because he is part-Kenyan. Asked late Wednesday whom he would apologize to first, Johnson said "the United States of America will be at the front of the queue."

On his first day in the job Thursday, Johnson struck a sober tone. He shrugged off Ayrault's criticism, saying the French minister had sent him a "charming letter ... saying how much he looked forward to working together."

The U.S.-born, part-Turkish Johnson said Britain was quitting the EU but "that does not mean in any sense leaving Europe." "There is a massive difference between leaving the EU and our relations with Europe, which if anything I think are going to be intensified and built up at an intergovernmental level," he said.

Some said Johnson might surprise his many critics. His idol is Winston Churchill, another politician who was underestimated before rising to become Britain's World War II leader. May has given him the chance to live up to his potential — or to fail spectacularly.

"It is not without risks," said Christopher Meyer, a former British ambassador to the United States. "There may be some mishaps. "But if Boris Johnson can realize his potential ... he will send that shot of adrenaline through the Foreign Office, through our diplomacy, that is so necessary right now," Meyer told Sky News.

Lesser-known than Johnson but at least as important to Britain's future is 67-year-old David Davis, the new Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. Davis, who served under Conservative Prime Minister John Major in bruising 1990s dealings with the EU, is one of the staunchest euroskeptics in British politics. He will lead a new department charged with the complex work of divorcing Britain from the bloc yet forging a new relationship with it.

The libertarian Davis — a former special forces reservist who boasts that he has broken his nose five times — has sparred with May for years over the powers of Britain's spy agencies, which she oversaw as home secretary and he thinks are too intrusive.

Davis has previously said Britain should take a "brisk but measured" approach to exit talks with the EU, invoking Article 50 of the EU constitution — the formal trigger for two years of exit negotiations — by the start of 2017.

EU leaders, however, are pressuring Britain to open formal exit talks sooner — and warning that the U.K. cannot have access to the single European market of 500 million people without accepting the free movement of EU citizens, a sticking point for many pro-Brexit Britons.

The foreign policy spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel's party in Parliament said Thursday that many current British suggestions for future relations with the EU were "unworkable." "Free access to the common market means, among other things, accepting other fundamental freedoms such as the freedom of movement," said Juergen Hardt.

European Parliament President Martin Schulz said the EU would "work constructively" with the new British government. But he accused May of putting a desire to unite her deeply divided Conservative party ahead of concerns about Britain's future.

Newly appointed Treasury chief Philip Hammond, meanwhile, sought to reassure the markets and the public, saying there was no need for an emergency national budget, despite the question marks hanging over the British economy following the referendum.

Hammond acknowledged that the Brexit vote has had "a chilling effect" on investment, saying "the No. 1 challenge is to stabilize the economy, send signals of confidence about the future." "Britain is open for business," he said. "We are not turning our back on the world."

Danica Kirka in London, Thomas Adamson in Paris and David Rising in Berlin contributed to this story.

May filling more government posts; euroskeptics in key roles

July 14, 2016

LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Theresa May is filling more Cabinet posts Thursday as she assembles a government that includes prominent anti-EU figures in key international roles. She's also clearing out rivals, firing stalwarts of David Cameron's outgoing government including Culture Secretary John Whittingdale, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan and — most significantly — Justice Secretary Michael Gove, her onetime competitor for the job of Conservative leader.

Gove led the "leave" side in Britain's EU referendum battle alongside former London Mayor Boris Johnson, then betrayed him by making a bid for Conservative leadership — a job Johnson had long sought. May won the leadership battle and quickly sacked Gove, who is now seen as treacherous by many Conservatives. She rewarded Johnson with the plum job of foreign secretary.

He is a surprising choice to be Britain's top diplomat. The former mayor of London was a leader of the "leave" campaign, and is internationally famous — but for rumpled eccentricity and distinctly undiplomatic gaffes, rather than statesmanlike behavior.

In April, Johnson suggested that U.S. President Barack Obama had an "ancestral dislike" of Britain because he is part-Kenyan. Johnson said he was "very excited" to be part of the government. Asked whom he would apologize to first, he said "the United States of America will be at the front of the queue."

New Treasury chief Philip Hammond reassured a startled world that Johnson — whose responsibilities include oversight of the MI6 spy agency — would be a team player "The Cabinet works collectively and we have got a range of different characters and a range of different styles and a range of different talent," he told BBC radio. "The lead and the tone will be set by the prime minister."

Lesser-known than Johnson but at least as important to Britain's future is David Davis, the cumbersomely titled Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. Davis, a veteran lawmaker who has twice run for the Conservative leadership, is one of the staunchest euroskeptics in British politics.

He is also a formidable battler, as May knows. For years the libertarian Davis has sparred with May over the powers of Britain's spy agencies. He is currently suing the British government in the European courts against surveillance laws May introduced as home secretary.

Davis has previously said that Britain should take a "brisk but measured" approach to exit talks with the EU. He has said that Article 50 of the EU constitution — the formal trigger for two years of negotiations — should be invoked by the start of 2017.

Other EU leaders are already pressuring Britain to open formal talks — and warning that the U.K. cannot have access to the single European market without accepting free movement of EU citizens, a sticking point for many pro-Brexit Britons.

The foreign policy spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel's party in Parliament said Thursday that many British suggestions on the country's future relationship with the European Union are "unworkable."

Juergen Hardt said that "free access to the common market means, among other things, accepting other fundamental freedoms such as the freedom of movement." New British Treasury chief Hammond tried to sound a reassuring note Thursday, pledging that he would not introduce an emergency national budget — even though there are question marks hanging over the economy following the country's decision to leave the EU.

Hammond offered calming tones to the markets and the public in a series of interviews the morning after taking office. "The number one challenge is to stabilize the economy, send signals of confidence about the future, the plans we have for the future, to the markets, to businesses, to international investors," Hammond told Sky News. "Britain is open for business. We are not turning our back on the world."

Hammond will meet with the head of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, on Thursday to "assess where we are." The comments come ahead of a decision by the central bank's Monetary Policy Committee on whether to stimulate the economy. Carney has already indicated that some sort of stimulus will be offered as his pre-vote warnings about the impact on the economy had begun to crystallize.

One course would involve a reduction in the bank's benchmark interest rate from the current record low of 0.5 percent, where it has stood since the depths of the financial crisis in March 2009. Such a cut would boost lending and shore up household spending, helping to offset at least part of the Brexit shock.

The bank could also re-start the so-called quantitative easing program under which it effectively pumps money into the economy via the purchase of government bonds from financial institutions. Hammond acknowledged that investment in Britain had been shaken since the referendum result.

"There has been a chilling effect," he told the BBC. "We have seen an effect in markets, we have seen business investment decisions being paused because businesses now want to take stock, want to understand how we will take forward our renegotiation with the EU, what our aspirations are for the future trading relationship between Britain and the European Union."

El Salvador scraps amnesty law, opens door for prosecutions

July 15, 2016

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) — The striking down of El Salvador's amnesty law is giving hope to thousands that justice for human rights abuses committed during the Central American country's 12-year civil war could now be within reach.

Others, though, fear the Supreme Court's scrapping of the law that protected the military, paramilitary groups and guerrilla fighters — some of whom are in the current government — could tear open old wounds in the still polarized country.

Even President Salvador Sanchez Ceren, who was part of the command structure of the rebel Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front during the war, could theoretically face prosecutions, legal experts said Thursday.

On a 4-1 vote Wednesday, the Supreme Court overturned the amnesty law, which had been enacted in 1993 five days after a truth commission's report blamed the military for the vast majority of abuses during the war. The ruling made clear that amnesty was lifted for not only those accused of directly committing crimes, but also the command structures of the military and guerrilla forces who gave the orders.

"Today is an historic day for human rights in El Salvador," said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director for Amnesty International. "By turning its back on a law that has done nothing but let criminals get away with serious human rights violations for decades, the country is finally dealing with its tragic past,"

The Truth Commission that investigated the war's atrocities determined that more than 75,000 people were tortured, killed without justification or forcibly "disappeared." It estimated that government forces, paramilitary groups and death squads were responsible for 90 percent of the crimes and guerrilla fighters for just over 3 percent.

The amnesty law kept countless cases from being prosecuted. Among them was the 1980 assassination of Roman Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero. The Truth Commission said the mastermind was Maj. Roberto D'Abuisson, the now dead founder of the conservative Republican Nationalist Alliance, which governed El Salvador until 2009.

Another pivotal case was the 1989 slaying of six Jesuit priests — five Spaniards and one Salvadoran. In 1991, a Salvadoran court determined the amnesty law prevented punishment of nine members of an elite battalion for the crime.

The same army unit was allegedly responsible for the 1981 massacre of 1,000 inhabitants of the El Mozote area. In 2012, the Inter-American Human Rights Court condemned the incident and ordered El Salvador's government to pay reparations to the victims' families.

With the amnesty law ruled unconstitutional, "I think we're going to start to see many more cases," said Carolyn Patty Blum, senior legal adviser at the San Francisco-based Center for Justice and Accountability, a group that has been pursuing cases against Salvadoran war crime perpetrators in courts outside the country since 1998.

"My hope is that we will see a dramatic change and that these historic crimes will start to be investigated much more seriously and much more deeply, rigorously," she said. Blum, who is currently involved in a case against high-ranking Salvadoran officials in a Spanish court for the killing of the six priests, urged U.S. President Barack Obama to order a large declassification of U.S. documents related to El Salvador's war that could aid in prosecutions.

Others criticized Wednesday's ruling. Ulises del Dios Guzman, a former Supreme Court justice, said in a local television interview that the decision "opens a spectrum of possibilities that could be really serious for the country" and could even reach the president.

"This drags us to the past and an unharmonious situation that could cause real confrontation and recriminations," he said. The defense minister, Gen. David Munguia Payes, called the ruling "an error" that could lead to a "witch hunt" and turn the country upside down.

Miguel Montenegro, director of El Salvador's Human Rights Commission and himself a victim of torture by government forces during the war, stood on the other side, calling the ruling "a joy." It "is an appropriate medicine to heal the wounds that remain open, bleeding. It makes us happy; it's an opportunity to get justice, to end the impunity," Montenegro said.

Both opinions were present in the streets of the capital. "I don't understand this well, but I believe that it's fair to imprison all of the murderers," said Roberto Romero Castro, who was waiting to catch a bus.

Alfonso Castillo, selling ice pops in the street, was wary. "This is going to bring problems," he said. "They should leave it be because everyone is going to want to send to prison those who killed their relatives."

Associated Press writer Christopher Sherman in Mexico City contributed to this report.

Getting out of South Sudan can be a harrowing journey

July 14, 2016

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — As the fighting raged in our neighborhood in South Sudan's capital of Juba, we crammed under a bed. Bullets flew over our rooftop. A shell landed nearby, sending shrapnel flying and shaking the house.

I knew I had to get out. The gunfire had begun Friday evening between opposing army factions. By Sunday morning, some of the shooting was only a few hundred meters (yards) from my house in Juba's Tongping neighborhood, near the army headquarters.

I felt unsafe and, like many others, I feared a return to the civil war that had recently shattered South Sudan. I decided to leave for my home in neighboring Uganda. On Monday night, both President Salva Kiir and his former rebel rival, First Vice President Riek Machar, had ordered their supporters to stop the fighting. When I left Tuesday morning, it seemed that the cease-fire had taken hold. That was our chance to leave.

Hundreds of people had been killed in the fighting. On Monday evening, I saw a military truck carrying the bodies of dead soldiers. Others reported seeing bodies in the streets. Would the quiet hold? Some in the capital weren't waiting to find out. Tens of thousands of people fled their homes to U.N. bases and other sites, but others were leaving the country, scared that the fighting would once again spark ethnic violence.

We set off, a mix of 20 foreigners and South Sudanese in a three-vehicle convoy, along the Juba-Nimule road, the 200-kilometer (124-mile) artery which connects South Sudan to the Ugandan border. It normally takes three hours to drive to the border, but it took us more than six hours because of the many roadblocks along the way.

The signs of violence were everywhere. I saw six cars that had been shot at and abandoned by the road. Three vehicles were completely burned. Later, people I met at the border said the vehicles had been shot and burned the previous day.

And people had been killed along the way. Victor Ochieng, a young Ugandan man who had been working in South Sudan, told me how someone seated next to him died from his bullet wounds. "When the attackers started shooting from all sides of the bush, our driver continued to drive, even when one of the tires was hit and it became flat," he said. "By the time we reached the border, the man next to me had died from bleeding."

The roadblocks, manned by the military and other security forces, were a threat as well. The forces stole and extorted money from people trying to leave South Sudan. Soldiers searched all our bags and vehicles. They didn't say what they were searching for; they just took cell phones, money and jewelry.

I hid my mobile phones under the car seat, and I gave some of my money to a woman in our convoy who hid it under sanitary napkins she was wearing specifically for this purpose. Each one of us paid an equivalent of more than $150 to forces at these impromptu checkpoints.

At one roadblock, soldiers who saw my Ugandan passport said, "You foreigners have been making money in South Sudan. Now that there is war, you are trying to take away your loot to a safe place. Unless you give me 200 South Sudanese pounds ($32), you won't leave South Sudan today."

Another soldier told one of my colleagues, "We South Sudanese soldiers are not even paid. Do you think it is fair for you to have money and even take it out of this country when we soldiers are not even paid and our children are suffering?"

We managed to make it across the border, but security forces were barring South Sudanese from leaving the country. Three people traveling with us were sent back to Juba at different checkpoints. Two young women who had bribed their way right to the border were turned away and not allowed to leave South Sudan. They were sent back because the identity documents they presented were South Sudanese.

At the town of Nesitu, soldiers ordered a minibus carrying South Sudanese to return to Juba. "Where are they going? What are they leaving the country for?" a soldier said loudly. It appeared that some soldiers were acting on their own to bar South Sudanese from leaving in an effort to control the image of a county where, once again, things had gone bad.

But a police officer who spoke to me, insisting on anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, told me that security forces had received orders to stop South Sudanese, especially men, from leaving the country.

Now that I am home in Uganda, I feel relieved. I am happy to be back with my wife and children. But I am worried about colleagues, friends and relatives who are still stuck across the border. Despite the fragile cease-fire, the situation is so volatile and fluid that anything could happen, anytime.

Portugal rises to No. 6 in FIFA rankings, Argentina leads

July 14, 2016

ZURICH (AP) — European champion Portugal has risen two places to No. 6 in the FIFA rankings, and Copa America winner Chile stays fifth. Argentina is still No. 1 despite losing to Chile in the final for the second straight year.

Belgium remains second after losing to Wales in the European Championship quarterfinals. Wales climbed 15 places to 11th. Colombia at No. 3 and Germany at No. 4 are in an unchanged top five, while Euro 2016 runner-up France is seventh, up 10 places. Iceland is at best-ever 22nd, up 12.

Mexico leads CONCACAF nations at No. 14, and Copa America semifinalist United States has risen six to 25th. Algeria is Africa's best at No. 32; No. 39 Iran leads Asia; and Oceania champion New Zealand has risen 54 places to No. 93.

China's second space lab Tiangong-2 reaches launch center

Jiuquan (XNA)
Jul 14, 2016

China's second orbiting space lab Tiangong-2, which may enable two astronauts to live in space for up to 30 days, has been delivered to Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.

The lab was sent from Beijing Thursday by railway and reached the launch center Saturday, marking the start of the Tiangong-2 and Shenzhou-11 manned spacecraft missions, said a statement issued by China's manned space engineering office.

Assembly and tests will begin at the center ahead of the lab's launch scheduled for mid-September, the statement said.

According to the statement, Tiangong-2 will be capable of receiving manned and cargo spaceships, and will be a testing place for systems and processes for mid-term space stays and refueling in space.

It will also be involved in experiments on aerospace medicine, space sciences, on-orbit maintenance and space station technologies.

China's first space lab Tiangong-1, which was launched in September 2011 with a designed life of two years, ended its data service earlier this year. It had docked with Shenzhou-8, Shenzhou-9 and Shenzhou-10 spacecraft and undertook a series of experiments.

The manned space engineering office said in March this year that the orbit of Tiangong-1 would descend gradually in several months until the orbiter eventually burn up in the atmosphere.

With two capsules for conducting experiments and holding resources, Tiangong-2 features major improvements from its predecessor, including an improved propel sub-system.

The new space lab will also carry three experiments designed by the winners of a Hong Kong middle school design contest, the statement said.

Carrier rockets to launch Tiangong-2 and Shenzhou-11 will be transferred to Jiuquan next month.

Shenzhou-11, which will carry two astronauts to dock with Tiangong-2 in space, has passed initial tests, and its crew members are undergoing intensive training, the statement said.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Chinas_second_space_lab_Tiangong_2_reaches_launch_center_999.html.