DDMA Headline Animator

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Spain premier to open debate; new government remains elusive

August 30, 2016

MADRID (AP) — Spain's acting prime minister is opening a two-day parliamentary debate in hopes of forming a new government and ending an eight-month impasse, but expectations of a breakthrough are running low.

Mariano Rajoy is expected to argue Tuesday that Spain desperately needs a government, not a third election, following two inconclusive elections since December. To win a new leadership term, Rajoy needs an absolute majority of support from lawmakers in the 350-seat chamber in Wednesday's planned vote. He currently has 170 deputies backing him, six votes short.

Should he fail to garner the needed votes, Rajoy still could prevail in a second vote Friday — if the opposition Socialists abstain from the vote rather than reject him outright. Socialists remain publicly committed to blocking his return to power.

Amid threats of violence Venezuelan opposition tests resolve

September 01, 2016

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Opponents of President Nicolas Maduro promise to flood the streets of Caracas in a major test of their strength and the government's ability to tolerate growing dissent. The Thursday march called the "taking of Caracas" aims to pressure electoral authorities to allow a recall referendum against Maduro this year.

The buildup to the protest has been tense with Maduro's government jailing several prominent activists, deploying security forces across the city and warning of bloodshed. Maduro said Tuesday that his opponents hope violence during the march will pave the way for a coup such as the one that briefly toppled his late predecessor Hugo Chavez in 2002. He said authorities had arrested people possessing military fatigues and C4 explosives, and who had plans to fire upon the crowds dressed as national guard members. He didn't say who he believed was behind the alleged coup plan.

"If they're coming with coups, ambushes and political violence, the revolutionary will provide an uncommon and overwhelming response," Maduro told supporters. Rather than dampening Venezuelans' enthusiasm, the "war-like" rhetoric appears to be energizing the opposition, said Dimitris Pantoulas, a political analyst from Caracas.

Had the government minimized the protest's importance it would have likely failed to garner much support, he said. Better-off Venezuelans who are the opposition's political bedrock are on summer vacation and those less privileged are too busy standing in long lines for food and coping with the oil economy's collapse to engage in the heady ideological street battles of the kind that marked the early days of Chavez's rule 16 years ago.

"The government made a big mistake by throwing fuel onto the flames," said Pantoulas. Among those taking part in the march, which organizers are hoping will draw 1 million people, are some 100 members of the piaroa and jiwi indigenous tribes. They arrived in Caracas on Wednesday for the protest, after travelling more than 375 miles (600 kilometers) — by foot, canoe and bus — from the Amazon rainforest.

"We came to see if they'll free the political prisoners," said Miguelina Caballero through an interpreter. She was referring to someone from her piaroa tribe who had been jailed for alleged fraud during December's congressional elections, a case the government used to disqualify three indigenous leaders from taking seats in the opposition-controlled legislature.

But delivering on its big promises won't be easy for Maduro's opponents. The opposition has staged a half-dozen or so marches this year, some of which ended in clouds of tear gas as hard-core activists clashed with riot police, but posed no major risk to Maduro's grip on power. Even the anti-government protests in 2014 that were blamed for more than 40 deaths failed to rally the huge numbers now sought for Thursday's march by the hard-to-keep together Democratic Unity alliance.

The opposition hopes to force electoral authorities widely seen as pro-government to allow a recall vote this year. If Maduro loses, new elections would be held and polls indicate the opposition would win. But if a vote is delayed until after Jan. 10, and Maduro loses, his vice president would finish his term ending in 2019.

Electoral authorities have yet to set the date for the next stage of the complex process, in which the opposition must collect 4 million signatures over three days, with a referendum vote scheduled only once the signatures are validated.

The government plans a counter protest on Thursday, but Pantoulas said authorities will have a tougher time rallying supporters among the poor amid 700 percent inflation blamed for growing hunger and a collapse in wages.

"I don't know that the poor will join opposition march, but they're not going to partake in the counter-protest," said Pantoulas. "The fact that the poor barrios won't be supporting Chavismo is enough to damage the government."

Also invigorating the opposition is a government crackdown. Authorities over the weekend moved a prominent opposition leader, former San Cristobal Mayor Daniel Ceballos, from house arrest back to prison while he awaits trial on civil rebellion charges stemming from the 2014 protests. Authorities said he was plotting to flee and carry out violence during the protests.

Two other activists, Yon Goicoechea and Carlos Melo, were also detained this week, with a top socialist leader accusing Goicoechea of carrying explosives. There have been more subtle threats as well. Government workers say they've suffered retaliation for signing petitions seeking Maduro's removal and the opposition-leaning newspaper El Nacional said thugs threw excrement and Molotov cocktails at its building Tuesday.

The U.S. State Department accused Maduro of trying to bully Venezuelans from taking part in the march.

AP Writers Hannah Dreier and Fabiola Sanchez contributed to this report from Caracas. AP Writer Luis Alonso Lugo contributed from Washington.

Permanent cease-fire taking effect in Colombia under accord

August 29, 2016

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — A permanent cease-fire is taking effect in Colombia on Monday, the latest step in bringing an end to 52 years of bloody combat between the government and the country's biggest rebel group.

The commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia announced Sunday that his fighters would cease hostilities beginning at 12:01 a.m. as a result of the peace accord the two sides reached at midweek.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos made a similar announcement Friday, saying the military would halt attacks on the FARC beginning Monday. FARC leader Rodrigo Londono, also known as Timochenko, made his announcement in Havana, where rebel and government negotiators talked for four years to reach the deal on ending one of the world's longest-running conflicts.

"Never again will parents be burying their sons and daughters killed in the war," Londono said. "All rivalries and grudges will remain in the past." Colombia is expected to hold a national referendum Oct. 2 to give voters the chance to approve the accord, which would end political violence that has claimed more than 220,000 lives and driven more than 5 million people from their homes over five decades. Polls say most Colombians loathe the rebel group but will likely endorse the deal anyway.

Top FARC commanders are planning to gather one final time in mid-September to ratify the deal. Under the 297-page accord, FARC guerrillas are supposed to turn over their weapons within six months after the deal is formally signed. In return, the FARC's still unnamed future political movement will be given a minimum 10 congressional seats — five in the lower house, five in the Senate — for two legislative periods.

In addition, 16 lower house seats will be created for grassroots activists in rural areas traditionally neglected by the state and in which existing political parties will be banned from running candidates. Critics of the peace process contend that will further boost the rebels' post-conflict political power.

After 2026, both arrangements would end and the former rebels would have to demonstrate their political strength at the ballot box. Not all hostilities are ending under the deal with the FARC. The much-smaller National Liberation Army remains active in Colombia, although it is pursuing its own peace deal with the government.

Colombia, FARC reach deal to end war

25 August 2016 Thursday

The Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas signed a formal conclusion of the peace talks Wednesday after almost four years of negotiations in Havana.

“The Colombian government and the FARC have reached a final agreement, comprehensive and definitive,” said Rodolfo Benitez, spokesperson for the Cuban government, one of the guarantor nations for the talks, whilst opening the conference.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC Commander-in-Chief Rodrigo Londono Echeverri, alias Timochenko, will sign the official peace agreement in a symbolic ceremony in September in Colombia, as agreed in June, and in the presence of an estimated 15 presidents of various countries that may include U.S. President Barack Obama.

“The war is over,” said Humberto de la Calle, chief negotiator for the Colombian government. “The best way to win a war was to sit down together and talk of peace.”

In an address to the nation, Santos officially signaled the end of the talks. “We have the definitive text of the final agreement. This text cannot be modified," he said.

The United Nations late Wednesday welcomed the peace deal. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon "warmly" congratulated the leaders that struck the deal for their "hard work and patience in reaching this stage in the process.

"Now that the negotiations have concluded, an equally determined and exemplary effort will be required to implement the agreements," Ban said in a statement.

In a phone call with Santos, Obama congratulated the Colombian president on the milestone and "recognized this historic day as a critical juncture in what will be a long process to fully implement a just and lasting peace agreement.

"[Obama] noted that the U.S. was proud that it could stand with Colombia in supporting the pursuit of peace, and he pledged to continue the U.S. bipartisan tradition of support for strengthening Colombia's institutions and improving the lives of the Colombian people through the Peace Colombia framework," the White House said in a statement.

The talks, which began in October 2012, have addressed the topics of agrarian reform, political participation, illicit drugs, victims of the conflict and transitional justice, the terms of a bilateral cease-fire and how to end the conflict. No previous attempts at peace dialogues with the FARC have ever reached this stage. Three attempts since 1983 have failed.

“We have won the most wonderful battle: the battle for peace,” said FARC’s chief negotiator Ivan Marquez. “We have finished the war of weapons and started a debate fueled by ideas,” he continued.

After the accord is signed it will be sent to the Colombian Congress for approval. Once completed, there will be an Oct. 2 plebiscite referendum to allow Colombians to accept or reject the agreements tabled in the accords from Havana. Under the terms of the plebiscite vote, only a 13 percent threshold is needed for approval.

Five days after the accords are signed, FARC combatants, possibly as many as 7,000 fighters, will begin demobilizing and moving to 23 designated areas and eight concentration zones where they will begin a six-month period of disarmament and reintegration into Colombian society. Sixty days after peace is signed members of a United Nations delegation to Colombia will begin to store the weapons in containers.

"This is a unique and historic opportunity - it will be the most important vote of our lives! To leave this conflict behind us and dedicate our efforts to constructing a safer country, a calmer country, faire, better educated, for our children and for our grandchildren,” Santos told the nation. "The decision, Colombians, is in your hands."

The Colombian conflict has since 1964, according to Human Rights Watch, resulted in more than 5.7 million residents forcibly displaced from their homes, and upwards of 200,000 continue to flee their homes each year in addition to having caused the deaths of almost 300,000 victims.

Colombia’s second guerrilla group, the smaller National Liberation Army (ELN rebels) numbering approximately 2,500 combatants continue to wage war against the government. Exploratory talks have been underway but no agreement has been reached on a final agenda for peace dialogues.

Source: World Bulletin.
Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/europe/176583/colombia-farc-reach-deal-to-end-war.

Brazil's Michel Temer inherits presidency on shaky ground

September 01, 2016

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The permanent ouster of deeply unpopular President Dilma Rousseff by Brazil's Senate means that a man who is arguably just as unpopular is now faced with trying to ease the wounds of a divided nation mired in recession.

Long known as an uncharismatic backroom wheeler-dealer, Michel Temer inherits a shrinking economy, a Zika virus outbreak that has ravaged poor northeastern states and political instability fed by a sprawling corruption probe that has tarred much of the country's political and business elite — himself included.

So far he's struggled in the nearly four months he's served as interim president following Rousseff's May impeachment, which suspended her from office while a final trial was prepared. The Senate's 61-20 vote on Wednesday to permanently remove her means Temer, who had been her vice president, will now serve out her term, which ends in late 2018.

Just hours after Rousseff was removed, Temer assured the nation his administration was up to the task. "From today on, the expectations are much higher for the government. I hope that in these two years and four months, we do what we have declared — put Brazil back on track," he said.

Temer also denied that the proceedings were a coup against Rousseff, which she repeatedly claimed throughout the process. "Putschist is you," he said, referring to Rousseff. "It's you who is breaking the constitution."

Temer said he planned to attend the G20 meetings in China this weekend, mentioning bilateral meetings that leaders from Spain, Japan, Italy and Saudi Arabia have already requested. "We are traveling to show the world that we have political and legal stability," he said. "We have to show that there is hope in the country."

Whether Temer can convince Brazilians that he is worth a real shot is unclear. He appeared tone-deaf with his first move in May: appointing an entirely white, male Cabinet to oversee a nation of 200 million people where more than 50 percent identify as black or mixed-race.

Three of Temer's ministers had to quit within days of being named because of corruption allegations. And so far he has struggled to build consensus around key reforms, such as slimming the country's pension system.

Government ministers are promising progress now that "interim" is no longer part of Temer's title. "With the end of the interim period and a vote of more than 60 senators, the investors will start bringing jobs again," said Cabinet chief Eliseu Padilha.

So far that message hasn't resonated with most Brazilians, however. Just 14 percent said they approved of Temer's performance in a July poll by Datafolha. On the flip side, 62 percent said they wanted new elections to resolve the crisis. The poll interviewed 2,792 people July 14-15 and had a 2 percentage point margin of error.

New elections would first require that Temer resign, which he has no intention of doing. The son of Lebanese immigrants, the 75-year-old Temer quietly rose through Brazil's political ranks, building a reputation as a negotiator who could forge deals among political rivals. His reserved manner earned him the nickname the "Butler." The only thing flashy about him is his wife, 32-year-old Marcela Temer, an ex-beauty pageant contestant who tattooed Temer's name on her neck.

As a leader of the country's biggest party, the ideologically flexible Brazilian Democratic Party Movement, Temer won election as head of the lower house of Congress for nearly a decade. A political marriage of convenience led the leftist Rousseff to choose the Sao Paulo congressman as her vice presidential running mate in 2010. Their formal if frosty relationship endured as the country continued a decade and a half-long boom.

But by the time the pair was re-elected in 2014, the economy began to unravel and street protests erupted. Prosecutors and judges uncovered a web of billions of dollars of kickbacks at the state oil giant Petrobras. The two-year probe has ensnared dozens of businessmen and politicians across the political spectrum.

Although Rousseff has never been personally implicated, many blame her for the graft because much of it happened while her party was in power. Temer, on the other hand, has been directly implicated: In a plea bargain, former Sen. Sergio Machado said that Temer asked him to channel $400,000 in Petrobras kickbacks to 2012 Sao Paulo mayoral candidate in Temer's party. Temer denies wrongdoing and has not been charged.

Temer also is banned from running for office the next eight years because Sao Paulo's electoral court found him guilty of violating campaign spending laws in 2014. Those things add to vehement opposition from Rousseff and her backers, who brand him a "usurper" and say he was brought into office to help squelch the corruption probe and restore the authority the country's elite.

"They think that they beat us, but they are wrong," said Rousseff on Wednesday in her first remarks after being removed from office. Late Wednesday night, a group of unhappy Rousseff supporters smashed windows of bank branches, other businesses and a police SUV in the city of Sao Paulo. Anti-riot police tried to quell the demonstration with stun grenades and tear gas.

Rousseff supporters have promised to try to impeach Temer, though analysts say that's unlikely. "Temer's party is the biggest in the Chamber of Deputies and in the Senate. That alone makes an impeachment process unlikely," said Jose Luiz Niemeyer, a professor of international relations at Ibmec, a Rio-based university.

Official: Striking miners kill deputy minister in Bolivia

August 26, 2016

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) — Striking miners in Bolivia kidnapped and beat to death the country's deputy interior minister after he traveled to the area to mediate in the bitter conflict over mining laws, officials said.

Government Minister Carlos Romero called it a "cowardly and brutal killing" and asked that the body of deputy minister Rodolfo Illanes be turned over to authorities. Illanes, whose formal title is vice minister of the interior regime, was "savagely beaten" to death by the striking miners, Defense Minister Reymi Ferreira told Red Uno television, his voice breaking.

Earlier, Romero had said that Illanes had been kidnapped and possibly tortured, but wasn't able to confirm reports that he had been killed by the striking informal miners, who are demanding the right to associate with private companies, among other issues.

The fatal beating follows the killings of two protesters in clashes with police, deaths that likely escalated tensions in the strike. Illanes had gone to Panduro, 80 miles (130 kilometers) south of the La Paz, to open a dialogue with the striking miners, who have blockaded a highway there since Monday. Thousands of passengers and vehicles are stranded on roads blocked by the strikers.

Officials say he was taken hostage by the miners on Thursday morning. At midday, Illanes said on his Twitter account: "My health is fine, my family can be calm." There are reports that he had heart problems.

Bolivia's informal or artisan miners number about 100,000 and work in self-managed cooperatives. They want to be able to associate with private companies, which is prohibited. The government argues that if they associate with multinational companies they would cease to be cooperatives.

The National Federation of Mining Cooperatives of Bolivia, once strong allies of President Evo Morales, went on an indefinite protest after negotiations over the mining legislation failed.

Iraqi in Polish jail for paint trace on luggage, father says

August 19, 2016

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Ahead of a visit last month to Poland by the pope, with security extremely high, Polish police arrested an Iraqi man for possessing "trace amounts" of an explosive. A month later, the man is still in a Polish prison and his father is appealing for his release, insisting that his son is innocent and that the suspicious material was nothing more than a bit of paint on his suitcase.

"He is a good man, athletic, and artistic. He is not even religious. He is not seeking to harm anyone," Ahmed Al-Haboubi said of his son, Sinan Al-Haboubi, in an interview with The Associated Press in Cairo. "He is a peaceful guy."

Sinan Al-Haboubi, 48, was arrested on July 21 in the central Polish city of Lodz on charges of possessing explosives, a crime that carries a prison sentence ranging from six months to eight years. A spokeswoman for prosecutors, Ewa Bialik, told the AP this week that Al-Haboubi had "trace amounts of organic chemical compounds."

The country's Internal Security Agency, which handles matters of terrorism, is involved in the investigation and authorities have refused to give more details about the case, which they are treating as highly classified.

The father, once a government minister who fled Saddam Hussein's takeover of the country in the 1970s, said that chemical came from a bit of paint on his son's luggage. "His suitcase hit the wall, and it scratched some paint onto it. They analyzed it as if it had traces of something, I think something that is from the production of the paint," he told the AP. "This cannot be evidence."

The arrest came as Polish security officials were on high alert following a string of extremist attacks in Western Europe, and as the country imposed tight security at borders and across the country ahead of a visit by Pope Francis to Krakow from July 27-31.

Two others, a Tunisian and an Algerian, were also arrested in that period. Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro said they were all treated as "possible terrorist threats." The Tunisian and Algerian have since been released without charge.

Ahmed Al-Haboubi said that his son, an electronic engineer by training, had been living for the past 16 years in Switzerland, where he had received asylum, and was traveling around Poland to find a place to start a business. A diplomat in the family once posted to Poland was partial inspiration for his son's move, as was his appreciation for the country's beauty, he said.

"He was looking for a place to settle and start his own work; he wanted to open a business, something simple like a pizza shop," Ahmed Al-Haboubi said. He added that the timing proved unfortunate, and "it seems that Polish authorities have Islamophobia, a negative attitude toward Arabs and Muslims."

Poland's right-wing ruling party, Law and Justice, came to power last year on a strongly anti-migrant message. The government has refused to accept any migrants in a European Union plan to settle refugees across the continent. Many Poles strongly oppose accepting Muslims, seeing them as threats to security and the country's strong Catholic identity. In recent months there have also been xenophobic attacks against Arabs or people with dark skin.

Al-Haboubi has also sent a letter to Polish authorities telling them that his son comes from a Shiite family, stressing that he could not have connections to the Islamic State group or other extremist organizations, which are based on the Sunni branch of Islam.

"Sinan belongs to a prominent Shia family which has been known for its intellectual and cultural activities and has no connection to extremism," he wrote in a letter addressed to the Polish president, prime minister, foreign minister and interior minister, and which he shared with the AP. "In no way Sinan can have links or any kind of connections to radical or extremist groups."

Al-Haboubi's lawyer, Lukasz Banatkiewicz, said that he is seeking the release of Al-Haboubi, who is in a prison in the central Polish city of Piotrkow Trybulanski, not far from Lodz, where he was arrested. He is in a two-month preventative detention which ends Sept. 19. Authorities have not said if they will seek to extend the detention.

"He said he is not guilty and, as his attorney, I can say that the evidence to date is insufficient to accuse him and for sure it's not enough to put him in detention," Banatkiewicz told the AP.

Italy prepares for reconstruction, starts post-quake probe

August 31, 2016

ROME (AP) — Italy began looking to the future Wednesday a week after an earthquake flattened three towns, with Premier Matteo Renzi tapping a reconstruction czar to oversee the rebuilding and investigators acquiring the first documentation into the construction blamed for the high death toll.

Another body was extracted from the rubble of Amatrice's Hotel Roma and a 23-year-old student who was injured died at the hospital, bringing the death toll close to 300 given a handful of people are still missing, the ANSA news agency reported.

A 3.8-magnitude aftershock hit the quake zone on Wednesday, reportedly damaging a building in Norcia. It was one of more than 3,200 post-quake aftershocks that have rattled residents, some 4,000 of whom remain homeless.

Renzi announced he would formally nominate Vasco Errani to be reconstruction czar on Thursday. Errani had been president of the Emilio Romagna region in 2012 when two quakes — nine days apart — collapsed factories, homes and buildings in one of Italy's most productive regions.

Renzi said Emilio Romagna is now standing thanks to the reconstruction effort and that "we're choosing the same team" to rebuild quake-devastated Amatrice, Accumoli, Arquata and their surrounding hamlets.

He spoke at a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who announced that Germany would fund the construction of a school in the quake zone. Merkel also greeted rescue crews and shook the paw of Leo the black Labrador, who helped locate a 4-year-old survivor, Giorgia, in the rubble.

Merkel said the location of the German-donated school hadn't been decided, but Amatrice's elementary school crumbled in the Aug. 24 temblor despite having been restored with public funds designated for anti-seismic improvements.

On Wednesday, firefighters conducted a preliminary search of the ruins of the school and financial police began collecting documentation from municipal offices about contracts for renovations of quake-destroyed public buildings, the school included.

"The question is this: We have to understand if the contract was executed, how the contract for the anti-seismic improvements was executed, and the possible reasons for why these improvements might not have been done," Raffaele Cantone, Italy's anti-corruption czar, told state-run RAI.

Rieti chief prosecutor Giuseppe Saieva, who is heading up the investigation, said it was too early to speak about any possible suspects. On Wednesday, the construction firm that carried out the school renovations, Edil Quality, turned over to prosecutors a thick dossier of about 20 documents concerning the works, according to officials at the Rome office of attorney Massimo Biffa. The head of Edil Quality, Gianfranco Truffarelli, has told Italian media that the city of Amatrice never contracted it to bring the school up to anti-seismic standards, just to perform improvements.

Both Merkel and Renzi were asked if Italy would seek budget flexibility from the EU in providing public funds for anti-seismic prevention efforts. Merkel said it was up to Renzi to come up with a transparent proposal.

"I think in Europe we will find a solution," she said. But Renzi said the priority was to simply spend well the money that Italy already has, a veiled reference to Italy's long-standing failure to secure its buildings against earthquakes. Renzi has proposed a new long-term, national program to improve the safety of buildings in Italy, which has Western Europe's highest seismic risk.

"Given that we're great at emergency response, given that we're great at being generous, let us also become leaders in prevention," Renzi said. "It doesn't require infinite resources. It requires a change of mentality."

Italy buries quake dead, recalls sisters embracing in rubble

August 27, 2016

ASCOLI PICENO, Italy (AP) — A young man wept over a little girl's white coffin, while a woman nearby gently stroked another small casket, as Italians bid farewell Saturday to victims of the devastating earthquake that struck a mountainous region of central Italy this week.

As Italians observed a day of national mourning, President Sergio Mattarella and Premier Matteo Renzi joined grieving family members for a state funeral for 35 of the 290 people killed in Wednesday's quake.

Mourners, among them many injured, wept and held each other in a sweltering community gym in the town of Ascoli Piceno as the local bishop, Giovanni D'Ercole, urged them to rebuild their communities. "Don't be afraid to cry out your suffering — I have seen a lot of this — but please do not lose courage," D'Ercole told them. "Only together can we rebuild our houses and our churches. Together, above all, we will be able to restore life to our communities."

Before the mass funeral, people hugged and cried as they bid their final farewells to loved ones in the gym, which was transformed into a makeshift chapel for the ceremony. Among the victims were two girls, 18-month-old Marisol Piermarini and 9-year-old Giulia Rinaldo, whose younger sister survived against the odds beneath the rubble, still holding her dead sibling.

Hundreds of locals gathered outside to mourn and show support. "It is a great tragedy. There are no words to describe it," said town resident Gina Razzetti. "Each one of us has our pain inside. We are thinking about the families who lost relatives, who lost their homes, who lost everything."

The magnitude 6.2 quake struck at 3:36 a.m. Wednesday and was felt across a broad swath of central Italy, killing at least 290 people and injuring nearly 400. The death toll has steadily risen as rescue workers continue to find bodies buried in rubble. Nobody has been found alive in the ruins since Wednesday, and hopes have faded of finding any more survivors.

Before Saturday's mass funeral, the president visited Amatrice, the town that bore the brunt of destruction with 230 fatalities. Eleven others died in nearby Accumoli and 49 more in Arquata del Tronto, about 10 miles (16 kilometers) north of Amatrice.

Mattarella arrived by helicopter at the edge of Amatrice, a once-picturesque stone town. He was shown the extent of the damage by the mayor, Sergio Pirozzi. The president met and thanked rescue workers who have been working since early Wednesday.

Saturday's mass funeral involved most of the dead from Arquata del Tronto, 25 kilometers (16 miles) to the southwest of Ascoli Piceno. Other funerals took place Friday, with the majority still to come.

Giulia's sister, Giorgia, was pulled alive from the rubble Wednesday after being buried for many hours. She turned 4 on Saturday and was recovering in a hospital next door to the site of the funeral. The bishop told mourners that, when the firefighters recovered the two sisters, they were holding each other.

"The older one, Giulia, was spread out on the smaller one, Giorgia. Giulia, dead, Giorgia, alive. They were in an embrace," D'Ercole said. Many children and elderly people were killed. Some of the older residents had grandchildren visiting in the last days of summer.

"The melancholy grabs on to your heart. You feel a sense of weakness, of depression," said Fiore Ciotto, a resident of Ascoli Piceno who attended the funeral. "An event like this weakens you physically and mentally."

Overnight, residents of the area were rattled yet again by a series of aftershocks. The strongest, at 4:50 a.m., had a magnitude of 4.2, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, while the Italian geophysics institute measured it at 4.

The Italian institute and other authorities say the earthquake caused the ground below Accumoli to sink 20 centimeters (8 inches), according to satellite images. Many people left homeless have been spending their nights in tent cities where volunteers have been working to provide basic amenities.

Gera reported from Rome.

Italian president visits quake town, thanks rescue workers

August 27, 2016

ASCOLI PICENO, Italy (AP) — Italian President Sergio Mattarella has visited Amatrice, a town devastated in the earthquake that hit central Italy this week and the place with the highest death toll. Mattarella was guided by town mayor, Sergio Pirozzi, who showed him the extent of the damage. The president met and thanked rescue workers, who have been working against the clock since early Wednesday to save people trapped in rubble and recover the victims.

The president, who will later attend a state funeral for some of the victims, was taken only to the edge of the town, because it is too dangerous to enter the heart of the medieval town due to the extent of the destruction.

Italy toll rises to 247 as anguish mounts over quake past

August 25, 2016

AMATRICE, Italy (AP) — Rescue crews raced against time Thursday looking for survivors from the earthquake that leveled three towns in central Italy, but the death toll rose to 247 and Italy once again anguished over trying to secure its medieval communities built on seismic lands.

Dawn broke over the rolling hills of central Lazio and Le Marche regions after a night of uninterrupted search efforts. Aided by sniffer dogs and audio equipment, firefighters and rescue crews using their bare hands pulled chunks of cement, rock and metal apart from mounds of rubble where homes once stood searching for signs of life.

One area of focus was the Hotel Roma in Amatrice, famous for the Amatriciana bacon and tomato pasta sauce that brings food lovers to this medieval hilltop town each August for its food festival. Amatrice's mayor had initially said 70 guests were in the crumbled hotel ahead of this weekend's festival, but rescue workers later halved that estimate after the owner said most guests managed to escape.

Firefighters' spokesman Luca Cari said that one body had been pulled out of the hotel rubble just before dawn but that the search continued there and elsewhere, even as 460 aftershocks rattled the area after the magnitude 6 temblor struck at 3:36 a.m. on Wednesday.

"We're still in a phase that allows us to hope we'll find people alive," Cari said, noting that in the 2009 earthquake in nearby L'Aquila a survivor was pulled out after 72 hours. Worst affected by the quake were the tiny towns of Amatrice and Accumoli near Rieti, 100 kilometers (60 miles) northeast of Rome, and Pescara del Tronto, 25 kilometers (15 miles) further east.

Italy's civil protection agency reported the death toll had risen to 247 early Thursday with at least 264 others hospitalized. Most of the dead — 190 — were in Amatrice and Accumuli and their nearby hamlets.

"From here everyone survived," said Sister Mariana, one of three nuns and an elderly woman who survived the quake that pancaked half of her Amatrice convent. "They saved each other, they took their hands even while it was falling apart, and they ran, and they survived."

She said that others from another part of the convent apparently didn't make it: Three other nuns and four elderly women. The civil protection agency set up tent cities around the affected towns to accommodate the homeless, 1,200 of whom took advantage of the offer to spend the night, civil protection officials said Thursday. In Amatrice, some 50 elderly and children spent the night inside a local sports facility.

"It's not easy for them," said civil protection volunteer Tiziano De Carolis, helping to care for about 350 homeless in Amatrice. "They have lost everything, the work of an entire life, like those who have a business, a shop, a pharmacy, a grocery store and from one day to another they discovered everything they had was destroyed."

As the search effort continued, the soul-searching began once again as Italy confronted the effects of having the highest seismic hazard in Western Europe, some of its most picturesque medieval villages, and anti-seismic building codes that aren't applied to old buildings and often aren't respected when new ones are built.

"In a country where in the past 40 years there have been at least eight devastating earthquakes ... the only lesson we have learned is to save lives after the fact," columnist Sergio Rizzo wrote in Thursday's Corriere della Sera. "We are far behind in the other lessons."

Experts estimate that 70 percent of Italy's buildings aren't built to anti-seismic standards. After every major quake, proposals are made to improve, but they often languish in Italy's thick bureaucracy, funding shortages and the huge scope of trying to secure thousands of ancient towns and newer structures built before codes were passed or after the codes were in effect but in violation of them.

In recent quakes, some of these more modern buildings have been the deadliest: the university dormitory that collapsed in the 2009 L'Aquila quake, killing 11 students; the elementary school that crumbled in San Giuliano di Puglia in 2002, killing 26 children — the town's entire first-grade class. In some cases, the anti-seismic building standards have been part of the problem, including using reinforced cement for roofs that are then too heavy for weak walls when quakes strike.

Premier Matteo Renzi, visiting the quake-affected zone Wednesday, promised to rebuild "and guarantee a reconstruction that will allow residents to live in these communities, to relaunch these beautiful towns that have a wonderful past that will never end."

While the government is already looking ahead to reconstruction, rescue workers on the ground still had days and weeks of work ahead of them. In hard-hit Pescara del Tronto, firefighter Franco Mantovan said early Thursday that crews knew of three residents still under the rubble, but in a hard-to-reach area.

In the evening there, about 17 hours after the quake struck, firefighters pulled a 10-year-old girl alive from a crumbled home. "You can hear something under here. Quiet, quiet," one rescue worker said, before soon urging her on: "Come on, Giulia, come on, Giulia."

Cheers broke out when she was pulled out. But there were wails when bodies emerged. "Unfortunately, 90 percent we pull out are dead, but some make it, that's why we are here," said Christian Bianchetti, a volunteer from Rieti who was working in devastated Amatrice.

Nicole Winfield reported from Rome. Trisha Thomas in Pescara del Tronto contributed to this report.

Rescuers search for survivors in Italy quake that killed 159

August 24, 2016

AMATRICE, Italy (AP) — Rescue crews using bulldozers and their bare hands raced to dig out survivors Thursday from a strong earthquake that reduced three central Italian towns to rubble. The death toll stood at 159, but the number of dead and missing was uncertain given the thousands of vacationers in the area for summer's final days.

Residents wakened before dawn by the temblor emerged from their crumbled homes to find what they described as apocalyptic scenes "like Dante's Inferno," with entire blocks of buildings turned into piles of sand and rock, thick dust choking the air and a putrid smell of gas.

"The town isn't here anymore," said Sergio Pirozzi, the mayor of the hardest-hit town, Amatrice. "I believe the toll will rise." The magnitude 6.2 quake struck at 3:36 a.m. on Wednesday and was felt across a broad swath of central Italy, including Rome, where residents woke to a long swaying followed by aftershocks. The temblor shook the Lazio region and Umbria and Le Marche on the Adriatic coast, a highly seismic area that has witnessed major quakes in the past.

Dozens of people were pulled out alive by rescue teams and volunteers that poured in from around Italy. In the evening, about 17 hours after the quake struck, firefighters pulled a 10-year-old girl alive from the rubble in Pescara del Tronto.

"You can hear something under here. Quiet, quiet," one rescue worker said, before soon urging her on: "Come on, Giulia, come on, Giulia." Cheers broke out when she was pulled out. And there were wails when bodies emerged.

"Unfortunately, 90 percent we pull out are dead, but some make it, that's why we are here," said Christian Bianchetti, a volunteer from Rieti who was working in devastated Amatrice where flood lights were set up so the rescue could continue through the night.

Premier Matteo Renzi visited the zone Wednesday, greeted rescue teams and survivors, and pledged that "No family, no city, no hamlet will be left behind." Italy's civil protection agency reported the death toll had risen to 159 by late Wednesday; at least 368 others were injured.

Worst affected were the tiny towns of Amatrice and Accumoli near Rieti, 100 kilometers (60 miles) northeast of Rome, and Pescara del Tronto, 25 kilometers further east. Italy's civil protection agency set up tent cities around each hamlet to accommodate the thousands of homeless. In Amatrice, the elderly and children spent the night inside a local sports facility.

Italy's health minister, Beatrice Lorenzin, visiting the devastated area, said many of the victims were children: The quake zone is a popular spot for Romans with second homes, and the population swells in August when most Italians take their summer holiday before school resumes.

The medieval center of Amatrice was devastated, with rescue crews digging by hand to get to trapped residents. The birthplace of the famed spaghetti all' amatriciana bacon and tomato sauce, the city was full for this weekend's planned festival honoring its native dish. Guests filled its top Hotel Roma, famed for its amatriciana, where five bodies were pulled from the rubble before the operation was suspended when conditions became too dangerous late Wednesday. Among those killed was an 11-year-old boy who had initially shown signs of life.

Officials initially said about 70 guests were staying at the hotel, but later lowered the number to about 35, many of whom got out in time. Carlo Cardinali, a local fire official taking part in the search efforts at the hotel, told Sky TG24 that about 10 guests were still missing.

Amatrice is made up of 69 hamlets that teams from around Italy were working to reach with sniffer dogs, earth movers and other heavy equipment. In the city center, rocks and metal tumbled onto the streets and dazed residents huddled in piazzas as more than 200 aftershocks jolted the region throughout the day, some as strong as magnitude 5.1.

"The whole ceiling fell but did not hit me," marveled resident Maria Gianni. "I just managed to put a pillow on my head and I wasn't hit, luckily, just slightly injured my leg." Another woman, sitting in front of her destroyed home with a blanket over her shoulders, said she didn't know what had become of her loved ones.

"It was one of the most beautiful towns of Italy and now there's nothing left," she said, too distraught to give her name. "I don't know what we'll do." As the August sun turned into a nighttime chill, residents, civil protection workers and even priests dug with shovels, bulldozers and their bare hands to reach survivors. A steady column of dump trucks brought tons of twisted metal, rock and cement down the hill and onto the highway toward Rome, along with a handful of ambulances bringing the injured to Rome hospitals.

Italy's national blood drive association appealed for donations to Rieti's hospital. Despite a massive rescue and relief effort — with army, Alpine crews, carabineri, firefighters, Red Cross crews and volunteers, it wasn't enough: A few miles (kilometers) north of Amatrice, in Illica, residents complained that rescue workers were slow to arrive and that loved ones were trapped.

"We are waiting for the military," said resident Alessandra Cappellanti. "There is a base in Ascoli, one in Rieti, and in L'Aquila. And we have not seen a single soldier. We pay! It's disgusting!" Agostino Severo, a Rome resident visiting Illica, said workers eventually arrived after an hour or so. "We came out to the piazza, and it looked like Dante's Inferno," he said. "People crying for help, help."

The U.S. Geological Survey reported the quake's magnitude was 6.2, while the Italian geological service put it at 6 and the European Mediterranean Seismological Center at 6.1. The quake had a shallow depth of between four and 10 kilometers, the agencies said. Generally, shallow earthquakes pack a bigger punch and tend to be more damaging than deeper quakes.

"The Apennine mountains in central Italy have the highest seismic hazard in Western Europe and earthquakes of this magnitude are common," noted Richard Walters, a lecturer in Earth sciences at Durham University in Britain.

The devastation harked back to the 2009 quake that killed more than 300 people in and around L'Aquila, about 90 kilometers (55 miles) south of the latest quake. The town, which still hasn't fully recovered, sent emergency teams Wednesday to help with the rescue and set up tent camps for residents unwilling to stay indoors because of aftershocks.

"I don't know what to say. We are living this immense tragedy," said a tearful Rev. Savino D'Amelio, a parish priest in Amatrice. "We are only hoping there will be the least number of victims possible and that we all have the courage to move on."

Another hard-hit town was Pescara del Tronto, in the Le Marche region, where the main road was covered in debris. Residents were digging their neighbors out by hand before emergency crews arrived. Aerial photos taken by regional firefighters showed the town essentially flattened and under a thick gray coat of dust; Italy requested EU satellite images of the whole area to get the scope of the damage.

"There are broken liquor bottles all over the place," said Gino Petrucci, owner of a bar in nearby Arquata Del Tronto where he was beginning the long cleanup. One rescue was particularly delicate as a ranger in Capodacqua, in the Marche province of Ascoli Piceno, diplomatically tried to keep an 80-year-old woman calm as she begged to get to a toilet, even though she was trapped in the rubble.

"Listen, I know it's not nice to say but if you need to pee you just do it," he said. "Now I move away a little bit and you do pee, please." The mayor of Accumoli, Stefano Petrucci, said a family of four had died there, one of the few young families who had decided to stay in the area. He wept as he noted that the tiny hamlet of 700 swells to 2,000 in the summer months, and that he feared for the future of the town.

"I hope they don't forget us," he told Sky TG24. President Barack Obama, speaking by telephone to Italian President Sergio Mattarella, said the U.S. sent its thoughts and prayers to the quake victims and saluted the "quick action" by first responders, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

A 1997 quake killed a dozen people in central Italy and severely damaged one of the jewels of Umbria, the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, filled with Giotto frescoes. The Franciscan friars who are the custodians of the basilica reported no immediate damage from Wednesday's temblor.

Pope Francis skipped his traditional catechism for his Wednesday general audience and instead invited the thousands of pilgrims in St. Peter's Square to recite the rosary with him. He also sent a six-man squad from the Vatican's fire department to help with the rescue.

Winfield reported from Rome. Associated Press staffers Valentina Onori in Amatrice, Fulvio Paolucci in Illica and Trisha Thomas in Pescara del Tronto contributed to this report.

Italian town destroyed in quake was preparing food festival

August 24, 2016

AMATRICE, Italy (AP) — In three days, the rugged residents of the medieval Italian hill town of Amatrice had planned to hold one of their most joyful events of the year: the 50th edition of a food festival celebrating their beloved Amatriciana pasta dish, which is made from local ingredients.

Instead, they will now be mourning the dozens dead from a strong earthquake that trapped residents in their homes as they slept. Due to the upcoming food festival, known as a sagra, there was an influx of visitors to the town, so it was very hard to know how many people were sleeping Wednesday morning in Amatrice when the quake struck at 3:36 a.m.

The mayor said about 70 people had been staying in the Hotel Roma, a town landmark that has a restaurant which serves the famous pasta dish. Rescue workers pulled five bodies from the rubble of the hotel but had to halt rescue operations late Wednesday night because it was too dangerous working in the dark.

Roberto Renzi said he was sleeping "soundly and most tranquilly" when he was jostled awake by the 6.2-magnitude tremor. He said he instantly knew this quake was far, far worse than the "little movements" locals are used to in this quake-prone belt straddling Italy's rocky Apennines mountains.

His three-story house and the one next to it miraculously remained standing, but the door to his third-floor bedroom was jammed by the quake. He grabbed a fire stoker and pried the door open and ran with his wife to the safety of the street. Renzi said a woman who owns a bed and breakfast across the street escaped by knotting bed sheets and climbing down her building.

Some people never made it out of their beds at all. Dozens are dead in Amatrice amid an overall toll of at least 159 people killed and at least 368 injured in the region by the quake, according to Italy's prime minister.

And the death toll could rise as rescuers with sniffer dogs prepared to work through the night, checking house after house that had collapsed into mounds of dust and twisted metal. At a four-story apartment complex on the edge of town, two top floors appeared to be largely intact, but the second floor had lost its exterior walls, exposing a brass bed perched precariously in a child's room. In the dining room next to it, a hanging ceiling lamp and a wall mirror were unscathed by the earthquake.

Renzi left town carrying two shopping bags of possessions that firefighters allowed him to retrieve. Yet just behind him in a devastated convent, rescuers with dogs searched through the rubble for seven women — four elderly women who had been spending their summer holiday there and three nuns who had been caring for them.

A section of the convent reserved exclusively for males appeared completely unscathed. The convent abuts the Church of the Most Holy Crucifix, where a sign outside recounts how the church was heavily damaged in earthquakes in 1639 and in the early 20th century.

Waiting for news outside with infinite patience was Pina Agostini, the daughter of one of the missing guests. Tanned from her own holiday on the Adriatic coast, Agostini said she felt the quake there herself and instantly thought of her 85-year-old mother, Gilda Morante.

"I called but no one was answering," she said, surrounding by other family members of the elderly residents, all waiting for news. They had been sitting there since early morning. "No, eh?" she called out as two rescue workers appeared.

She said her mother, a native of Amatrice who now lives in Rome, had been spending a restful holiday since July and would have come home after this weekend's traditional festival. People come to Amatrice for the folklore, the traditions and the food, especially pasta Amatriciana, featuring chewy bits of pork jowl, pecorino cheese and tomato sauce.

Posters advertising this year's festival lined the dusty walls of the destroyed town, which had billed itself as among the most beautiful in Italy. One poster promised a procession of people wearing traditional costumes and showed a woman walking with a jug of water on her head.

In contrast to the violent destruction of the quake, the courtyard of the heavily damaged convent featured a bed of roses and a breathtaking view of a valley, where five horses placidly grazed.

Top French court rules burkini bans violate basic freedoms

August 26, 2016

PARIS (AP) — France's top administrative court on Friday overturned a ban on burkinis in a Mediterranean beach resort, effectively meaning that towns can no longer issue bans on the swimsuits that have divided the country and brought world attention to its fraught relationship with Muslims.

The ruling by the Council of State specifically concerns a ban on the Muslim garment in the Riviera town of Villeneuve-Loubet, but the binding decision is expected to impact all the 30 or so French resort municipalities that have issued similar decrees.

The bans grew increasingly controversial as images circulated online of some Muslim women being ordered to remove body-concealing garments on French Riviera beaches. Lawyers for a human rights group and a Muslim collective challenged the legality of the ban to the top court, saying the orders infringe on basic freedoms and that mayors have overstepped their powers by telling women what to wear on beaches.

Despite the court victory, the debate was unlikely to go away. Prime Minister Manual Valls, who supported the bans, called the debate "fundamental" for secular France, where religious displays are unwelcome in the public space.

Valls wrote on his Facebook page that denouncing the burkini "in no way puts into question individual freedom" and is really about denouncing "fatal, retrograde Islamism." The burkini, he wrote, "is the affirmation of political Islam in the public space."

Mayors had cited multiple reasons for the bans, including security after a string of Islamic extremist attacks, risk to public order, and France's strict rules on secularism in public life. The Council of State ruled that, "The emotion and concerns arising from the terrorist attacks, notably the one perpetrated in Nice on July 14, cannot suffice to justify in law the contested prohibition measure."

It ruled that the mayor of Villeneuve-Loubet overstepped his powers by enacting measures that are not justified by "proven risks of disruptions to public order nor, moreover, on reasons of hygiene or decency."

"The contested decree has thus brought a serious and manifestly illegal infringement on basic freedoms such as freedom to come and go, freedom of conscience and personal freedom," the ruling read. Lawyer Patrice Spinosi, representing the Human Rights League, said that women who have already received fines can protest them based on Friday's decision. He told The Associated Press the group plans to ask all French mayors who banned burkinis to withdraw their orders and, if they refuse to do so, he will systematically take each case to court.

"It is a decision that is meant to set legal precedent," Spinosi said to reporters earlier outside the court. "Today all the ordinances taken should conform to the decision of the Council of State. Logically the mayors should withdraw these ordinances. If not, legal actions could be taken" against those towns.

The head of the Collective Against Islamophobia in France, the other group that appealed to the top court, hailed the decision but lamented that the crackdown "will remain engraved in the history of our country."

"One cannot take back the harm which was caused, humiliations that were provoked," Marwan Muhammad told reporters outside the court. The bans have become a symbol of tensions around the place of Islam in secular France and the heated debate has brought about divisions even among cabinet ministers.

While Valls argued that burkinis oppress women, two ministers in his cabinet, Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem and Health Minister Marisol Touraine, have said banning burkinis is not a good option. Vallaud-Belkacem, a feminist with North African roots, argued that while she doesn't like the burkini swimsuit, banning the garment amounted to a politically driven act that encouraged racism.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, who is also in charge of faiths, said that "it is now up to everyone to seek calm." The conservative mayor of Villeneuve-Loubet, Lionnel Luca, said that "far from calming, this decision can only heighten passions and tensions, with the risk of trouble we wanted to avoid."

Luca, also a lawmaker, said that now only a law can stop troubles. He denounced a "rampant Islamization" in the country and said that, with Friday's ruling, "they've gained a small additional step." While addressing only one local ban, the Council of State sets general principles in its ruling that any mayors will now have to abide by when using their powers in the future.

Technically, other local bans are still in effect until mayors revoke them or groups contest them in courts. But de facto the town decrees are hollow because burkini fines can be contested. Nevertheless, the mayor of the Corsican town of Sisco said he wouldn't lift the ban he imposed after an Aug. 13 clash on a beach. "Here the tension is very, very, very high and I won't withdraw it," Ange-Pierre Vivoni said on BFM-TV.

Former President Nicolas Sarkozy, who announced this week he's seeking the conservative nomination for the 2017 race, said at a rally Thursday night in southern France that he wants a law banning the burkini "on the entire territory of the Republic."

Far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen said the battle is not over. She said in a statement that lawmakers must vote "as quickly as possible" to extend a 2004 law that bans Muslim headscarves and other ostentatious religious symbols in classrooms to include all public spaces.

"The burkini would obviously be part of it," said Le Pen, who is running for president in the 2017 race. President Francois Hollande has remained neutral on the issue, arguing that society "presumes that each person conforms to the rules, and that there is neither provocation nor stigmatization."

But critics said the bans had been feeding a racist political agenda. Amnesty International praised the court decision Friday, calling the local decrees "invasive and discriminatory" and saying their enforcement has led to "abuses and the degrading treatment of Muslim women and girls."

Elaine Ganley, Angela Charlton and Jeff Schaeffer contributed to this report.

Afghan air force gets more MD-530 helicopters

By Richard Tomkins
Aug. 26, 2016

KABUL, Afghanistan, Aug. 26 (UPI) -- The U.S. Air Force this week has delivered the final four of 27 MD-530 Cayuse Warrior helicopters to the Afghan air force in the capital city of Kabul.

The helicopters were flown to Afghanistan from Travis Air Force Base in California aboard a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft.

Like the previous shipment of five MD-530s in July, these newest helicopters have the capability to fire rockets or .50-caliber machine guns. They also have a new sighting system that wasn't on the initial 13 helicopters, according to Lt. Col. Bill Ashford, USAF 438th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron commander.

"The first 13 helicopters continue to be modified to support 2.75-inch rocket capabilities and add the improved sighting systems," he said.

The MD-530 is a light helicopter. It is operated by a one- or two-person crew, has a maximum speed of 175 miles per hour, and a range of 375 miles.

"The MD-530s are flying multiple missions a day across Afghanistan," said Ashford. "They are often engaged in providing aerial escort to convoys, providing over-watch to ANDSF operations and responding to 'troops in contact' situations."

Source: United Press International (UPI).
Link: http://www.upi.com/Business_News/Security-Industry/2016/08/26/Afghan-air-force-gets-more-MD-530-helicopters/2451472223844/.

Zimbabwe police arrest 67 over anti-government protest

August 27, 2016

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — President Robert Mugabe warned against an Arab Spring type of revolution, as Zimbabwe police said they arrested 67 people following a violent protest that rocked the capital, Harare.

"What happened in the Arab world should not be tried here. We don't want to be provoked. We are a peaceful people," the state-run Herald newspaper quoted Mugabe as saying at a send-off for students awarded scholarships to study in China.

Police recovered some property looted during the protests, police spokesman Paul Nyathi said Saturday. Police used batons, tear gas and water cannons in running battles with anti-government demonstrators on Friday, despite a court order that the protest could take place.

"Security has been intensified. Anyone who engages in any acts of violence such as destruction of property, attacking security agencies and innocent civilians will be dealt with," said Nyathi to reporters on Saturday.

Frustrations over Zimbabwe's rapidly deteriorating economy are boiling over in this once prosperous but now economically struggling southern African country. Police have often used tear gas, water cannons and open violence to crush anti-government protests, which have become a near-daily occurrence.

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, an NGO providing lawyers to demonstrators, said among those arrested are journalist and a pregnant woman.

Senegal clamps down on Quranic schools that exploit children

August 26, 2016

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Twelve-year-old Boubacar was picked up from the streets of Senegal's capital at night by police, along with dozens of other children, in the latest crackdown on begging. The boy was sent to this West African country by his family in neighboring Guinea to study the Quran at one of the capital's 1,600 Islamic schools, known as daaras. He is among thousands of students, or talibes, sent out by teachers to beg for money and food. Some schools have been accused of keeping the children in unsafe living conditions and abusing them.

"I want to return to my family," Boubacar said at a transit center for street children. More than 500 such children have been taken from Dakar's streets in the past two months. President Macky Sall announced the crackdown in June and said the government will prosecute, fine and jail parents or Quranic teachers, known as marabouts, who are found guilty of abuses.

"A child's place is not in the streets ... the children have rights to learn, and to be in good health," said Maimouna Balde, the director of Centre Ginddi, the main government transit center. On a hot summer day, dozens of children played games in a room and watched TV as authorities worked to find their families.

Senegal has staged these crackdowns before. Because of resistance from some marabouts and a lack of prosecutions, the abuses have continued and unfit schools remain open. At least five children living in daaras died in the first half of this year from beatings or traffic accidents while begging, according to Human Rights Watch. Dozens of children have been beaten, chained, attacked or sexually abused while begging in the past two years, the group said.

"While the government's recent actions are commendable, removing talibes from the streets will not lead to long-term change unless Quranic schools are regulated and offending teachers are held accountable," said Corinne Dufka, the rights group's West Africa director.

Talibes represent some 90 percent of the roughly 30,500 children on the streets, according to Senegal's director of rights for children and vulnerable groups, Niokhobaye Diouf. At the Centre Ginddi, the children are registered, cleaned up, given clothes and fed. If they come from a daara, they go into Quran classes. They are then reunited with their families, or with marabouts who come to find them. If there's no sign of abuse, they return to the daara.

Senegal's penal code outlawed begging years ago, and the country has ratified all major international conventions on children's rights. But previous efforts to enforce the measures on child beggars have fizzled.

In 2010, the children were taken off the streets after the U.S., among other countries, threatened to cut off aid if Senegal did not address human trafficking. In 2013, after nine children died in a fire in a Quranic school in Dakar, the president said the government would close all schools that didn't meet basic safety standards.

Months later, however, no teachers were in custody, and no daara had been shut down. Though arrests of marabouts accused of being abusive have increased slightly in recent years, rights groups say Senegal has prosecuted only a handful of extreme cases.

"The death of talibe children as a result of corporal punishment and abuse by some Quranic teachers must no longer remain unpunished," said Mamadou Wane, president of the Platform for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, a coalition of 40 Senegalese children's rights organizations.

Rights groups have said a failure to consistently enforce the laws regulating the school system has emboldened abusive teachers. Some teachers are pushing back against the latest crackdown. At a recent gathering of marabouts in Kaolack, one said the efforts to stop children from begging were anti-Islamic.

"The retrieval of children from the streets must immediately stop," Hady Diakhate told the televised meeting, saying the children shouldn't be taken to transit centers. "The parents would prefer they were taken to the daaras ... talibes are Muslims, so they must be left in daaras. That is their place."

Another marabout in a suburb of Dakar said he supports the government's efforts, but Quranic schools need more financial support to improve. "We welcome this decision, because it will bring order in Quranic schools. But the government must support Quranic schools by subsidizing and helping to recruit qualified teachers," said Imam Bousso.

Diouf, the children's rights official, said most daaras are not a problem. He said the government is in talks with marabouts to determine what is needed to keep them safe and conditions good. It will provide limited cash and food to daaras and families in need until the next stage of the program is determined, he said. The government also hopes to one day create a select group of daaras that will have internet access and teach skills and subjects in addition to the Quran.

"The state's concern is not to interrupt these practices," Diouf said of daaras. "It's to stop the mistreatment of children."

Communists in Philippines agree to lay down arms

By Amy R. Connolly
Aug. 26, 2016

OSLO, Norway, Aug. 26 (UPI) -- The Philippines government and communist rebels agreed to an indefinite cease-fire to end five decades of conflict in Asia's longest-running insurgency.

The unilateral cease-fire came after peace talks in Oslo between the government and the National Democratic Front and is being hailed as a breakthrough in the peace process.

"In the course of a few days, the parties in the Philippine peace process have reached agreement on issues that have blocked progress for many years," said Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende, whose country is overseeing the process.

Brende said a peace panel made up of representatives from the government and the party will meet in the coming months to shore up plans. He said the "intentions behind the declaration, combined with the constructive negotiation climate, will form the basis for further peace talks." The panel agreed to meet again in Oslo Oct. 8 through Oct. 12.

This is the first time both parties have come together to jointly agree on peace talks. Part of the agreement includes issuing amnesty for hundreds of NDF political prisoners.

Source: United Press International (UPI).
Link: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2016/08/26/Communists-in-Philippines-agree-to-lay-down-arms/5301472232719/.

Could Proxima Centauri b Really Be Habitable

Seattle WA (SPX)
Aug 31, 2016

The world's attention is now on Proxima Centauri b, a possibly Earth-like planet orbiting the closest star, 4.22 light-years away. The planet's orbit is just right to allow liquid water on its surface, needed for life. But could it in fact be habitable?

If life is possible there, the planet evolved very different than Earth, say researchers at the University of Washington-based Virtual Planetary Laboratory (VPL) where astronomers, geophysicists, climatologists, evolutionary biologists and others team to study how distant planets might host life.

Astronomers at Queen Mary University in London have announced discovery of Proxima Centauri b, a planet orbiting close to a star 4.22 light-years away. The find has been called "the biggest exoplanet discovery since the discovery of exoplanets."

Rory Barnes, UW research assistant professor of astronomy, published a discussion about the discovery at palereddot.org, a website dedicated to the search for life around Proxima Centauri. His essay describes research under way through the UW planetary lab - part of the NASA Astrobiology Institute - to answer the question, is life possible on this world?

"The short answer is, it's complicated," Barnes writes. "Our observations are few, and what we do know allows for a dizzying array of possibilities" - and almost as many questions.

The Virtual Planetary Laboratory is directed by Victoria Meadows, UW professor of astronomy. UW-affiliated researchers include Giada Arney, Edward Schwieterman and Rodrigo Luger. Using computer models, the researchers studied clues from the orbits of the planet, its system, its host star and apparent companion stars Alpha Centauri A and B - plus what is known of stellar evolution to begin evaluating Proxima b's chances.

Relatively little is known about Proxima:

* It's at least as massive as Earth and may be several times more massive, and its "year" - the time it takes to orbit its star - is only 11 days.

* Its star is only 12 percent as massive as our Sun and much dimmer (so its habitable zone, allowing liquid water on the surface, is much closer in) and the planet is 25 times closer in than Earth is to our Sun.

* The star may form a third part of the Alpha Centauri binary star system, separated by a distance of 15,000 "astronomical units," which could affect the planet's orbit and history.

* The new data hint at the existence of a second planet in the system with an orbital period near 200 days, but this has not been proven.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to life on the planet, Barnes writes, is the brightness of its host star. Proxima Centauri, a red dwarf star, is comparatively dim, but wasn't always so.

"Proxima's brightness evolution has been slow and complicated," Barnes writes. "Stellar evolution models all predict that for the first one billion years Proxima slowly dimmed to its current brightness, which implies that for about the first quarter of a billion years, planet b's surface would have been too hot for Earth-like conditions."

Barnes notes that he and UW graduate student Rodrigo Luger recently showed that had modern Earth been in such a situation, "it would have become a Venus-like world, in a runaway greenhouse state that can destroy all of the planet's primordial water," thus extinguishing any chance for life.

Next come a host of questions about the planet's makeup, location and history, and the team's work toward discerning answers.

* Is the planet "rocky" like Earth? Most orbits simulated by the planetary lab suggest it could be - and thus can host water in liquid form, a prerequisite for life.

* Where did it form, and was there water? Whether it formed in place or farther from its star, where ice is more likely, VPL researchers believe it is "entirely possible" Proxima b could be water-rich, though they are not certain.

* Did it start out as a hydrogen-enveloped Neptune-like planet and then lose its hydrogen to become Earth-like? VPL research shows this is indeed possible, and could be a viable pathway to habitability.

* Proxima Centauri flares more often than our Sun; might such flares have long-since burned away atmospheric ozone that might protect the surface and any life? This is possible, though a strong magnetic field, as Earth has, could protect the surface. Also, any life under even a few meters of liquid water would be protected from radiation.

Another concern is that the planet might be tidally locked, meaning one side permanently faces its star, as the Moon does Earth. Astronomers long thought this to mean a world could not support life, but now believe planetwide atmospheric winds would transport heat around the planet.

"These questions are central to unlocking Proxima's potential habitability and determining if our nearest galactic neighbor is an inhospitable wasteland, an inhabited planet, or a future home for humanity," Barnes writes.

Planetary laboratory researchers also are developing techniques to determine whether Proxima b's atmosphere is amenable to life.

"Nearly all the components of an atmosphere imprint their presence in a spectrum (of light)," Barnes writes. "So with our knowledge of the possible histories of this planet, we can begin to develop instruments and plan observations that pinpoint the critical differences."

At high enough pressures, he notes, oxygen molecules can momentarily bind to each other to produce an observable feature in the light spectrum.

"Crucially, the pressures required to be detectable are large enough to discriminate between a planet with too much oxygen, and one with just the right amount for life.

As we learn more about the planet and the system, we can build a library of possible spectra from which to quantitatively determine how likely it is that life exists on planet b."

Our own Sun is expected to burn out in about 4 billion years, but Proxima Centauri has a much better forecast, perhaps burning for 4 trillion years longer.

"If Proxima b is habitable, then it might be an ideal place to move. Perhaps we have just discovered a future home for humanity. But in order to know for sure, we must make more observations, run many more computer simulations and, hopefully, send probes to perform the first direct reconnaissance of an exoplanet," Barnes writes. "The challenges are huge, but Proxima b offers a bounty of possibilities that fills me with wonder."

Proxima Centauri b may be the first exoplanet to be directly characterized by powerful ground- and space-based telescopes planned for the future, and its atmosphere spectroscopically probed for active biology.

"Whether habitable or not," Barnes concludes, "Proxima Centauri b offers a new glimpse into how the planets and life fit into our universe."

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Could_Proxima_Centauri_b_Really_Be_Habitable_999.html.

SpaceX to launch satellite by reusing rocket

Washington (AFP)
Aug 31, 2016

SpaceX and satellite operator SES have agreed to launch a commercial satellite later this year by reusing a Falcon 9 rocket, the companies announced Tuesday.

The launch of SES-10, which will be the first satellite sent into space on a SpaceX flight-proven rocket, was scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2016.

Terms of the deal were not announced. Officials with California-based SpaceX, headed by Internet entrepreneur Elon Musk, had previously indicated that reusing rockets could cut launch costs by 30 percent.

The billionaire said in April that it costs around $300,000 to fuel a rocket, but $60 million to build one.

Musk wants to revolutionize the launch industry by making rocket components reusable, much the same way as commercial airplanes.

Currently, expensive rocket parts are jettisoned into the ocean after each launch.

"Re-launching a rocket that has already delivered spacecraft to orbit is an important milestone on the path to complete and rapid reusability," Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX, said in a statement.

The SES satellite will launch on a Falcon 9 first-stage booster that landed in April after sending a Dragon capsule laden with cargo to the International Space Station. It landed on a floating platform at sea.

Since then, SpaceX has landed six first-stage boosters, most recently on August 14.

"We believe reusable rockets will open up a new era of spaceflight, and make access to space more efficient in terms of cost and manifest management," said Martin Halliwell, chief technology officer of Luxembourg-based SES.

The company was the first commercial satellite operator to launch with SpaceX, in 2013.

The SES-10 satellite will provide broadcast and mobility services to Latin America and the Caribbean.

SpaceX's main competitors are US-based United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, and the French company Arianespace, which is the global leader in commercial satellite launches with 50 percent market share.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/SpaceX_to_launch_satellite_by_reusing_rocket_999.html.

Iran deploys S-300 air defense around nuclear site

August 29, 2016

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran has deployed a Russian-made S-300 air defense system around its underground Fordo nuclear facility, state TV reported. Video footage posted late Sunday on state TV's website showed trucks arriving at the site and missile launchers being aimed skyward. It did not say whether the system was fully operational.

Gen. Farzad Esmaili, Iran's head of air defense, declined to comment on the report in an interview with another website affiliated with state news. "Maybe if you go to Fordo now, the system is not there," he was quoted as saying Monday. He added that the S-300 is a mobile system that should be relocated often.

Russia began delivering the S-300 system to Iran earlier this year under a contract signed in 2007. The delivery had been held up by international sanctions over Iran's nuclear program, which were lifted this year under an agreement with world powers.

The Fordo site, built at a depth of 90 meters (300 feet) below a mountain some 100 kilometers (60 miles) south of the capital, Tehran, was revealed by Western nations in 2009. Critics of Iran's nuclear program pointed to Fordo as further proof of Tehran's intention to secretly develop nuclear weapons. Iran insists it has never sought nuclear arms, and says the security around the site is intended to protect it from U.S. or Israeli airstrikes.

Iran halted nuclear enrichment at Fordo under the nuclear agreement and says the facility is now being used for research and the production of medical isotopes. In separate comments on Sunday, Esmaili insisted there had been no change in how Iran defends its nuclear facilities, adding that "since they are national achievements of Iran, they must be vigorously protected."

"We carry out defense exercises in non-nuclear facilities once a month but we do them several times a month in our nuclear facilities," he added. On Monday Iran inaugurated a new radar system it says is capable of detecting radar-evading aircraft like the U.S.-made U-2, RQ-4 and MQ-1, state TV reported. It said the Nazir system is located in a remote area and is capable of detecting ballistic and cruise missiles, as well as drones flying at an altitude of over 3,000 meters (9,800 feet).