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Trump may allow release of JFK assassination files

Sun, 2017-10-22 20:40

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump said on Saturday he will allow long-blocked secret files on the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy to be opened to the public for the first time.
The Nov. 22, 1963 assassination — an epochal event in modern US history — has spawned multiple theories challenging the official version that Kennedy was killed by a lone gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald.
The release of all the secret documents has been eagerly anticipated by historians and conspiracy theorists alike.
Trump’s announcement followed reports that not all the files would be released, possibly to protect still relevant intelligence sources and methods.
But Trump appears to have decided otherwise. “Subject to the receipt of further information, I will be allowing, as president, the long blocked and classified JFK FILES to be opened,” he said in the tweet.
The files are due to be opened in their entirety on Thursday nearly 54 years after Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas — unless the US president decides otherwise.
Millions of classified Kennedy files have been released under a 1992 law passed in response to a surge in public demand for disclosure in the wake of Oliver Stone’s conspiracy heavy movie on the assassination.
But the law placed a 25-year hold on a small percentage of the files that expires Oct. 26. Some reports put the number withheld at 3,100 and say tens of thousands that had been released with portions blacked out are set to be fully declassified.

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‘Czech Trump’ clinches wide lead in election

Sun, 2017-10-22 20:54

PRAGUE: With voters upset over traditional parties and orders from Brussels, a billionaire populist dubbed the “Czech Trump” has taken a huge lead in the Czech Republic’s election followed by an anti-EU and anti-Islam party with links to France’s National Front.
State election officials citing results from nearly 73 percent of polling stations said Babis’ anti-corruption and anti-euro ANO (Yes) movement was ahead with 30.87 percent support with the far-right Freedom and Free Democracy (SPD) in second place on 11.19 percent.
The euroskeptic right-wing ODS party has clinched the third spot with 10.51 percent and the anti-establishment Pirates scored 10.04 percent.
Despite the country’s economic success, analysts say many Czechs who are heavily in debt or working long hours for low wages feel they have been left behind and are turning to populist parties to vent their ire.
Far-right and far-left anti-EU parties made gains in a fragmented vote that appeared to put eight parties into the 200-seat Czech Parliament with few natural coalition allies among them, something analysts warn could herald instability and even chaos.
The Social Democrats (CSSD) who head the outgoing coalition government took a bruising, coming in sixth with 7.67 percent of the vote.
Voting earlier on Saturday, outgoing Social Democrats (CSSD) Prime Minister Sobotka warned the election “will decide about our country’s focus, whether we stay part of the EU and NATO, or whether extremist forces trying to drive us out of these structures will post gains.”
The far-right SPD of Tokyo-born entrepreneur Tomio Okamura made the strongest gains clinching the second spot on strong anti-EU, anti-migrant and anti-Islam rhetoric, similar to surging far-right parties in neighboring Austria and Germany.
France’s far-right National Front Marine Le Pen sent Okamura a message of support.
“I see this as a threat to liberal democracy” in this EU member of 10.6 million people, Tomas Lebeda, a political analyst at Palacky University in the central city of Olomouc, told AFP.
“The SPD is a clearly an anti-system, populist party. It seems this type of party will score its best-ever result in Czech history,” he said, but added that the SPD was unlikely to enter the future government
Voting in a Prague suburb, pensioner Zdenek Kraml favored the left-wing Social Democrats, currently in a rocky center-left coalition with Babis’ ANO and the smaller centrist Christian Democrats.
“In the four years since the last election, pensions have gone up, just like wages and welfare benefits,” he told AFP.
With unemployment at 3.8 percent in September, the Czech economy, which is heavily reliant on car exports, is slated to grow by a healthy 3.6 percent this year.
But other voters did not conceal their disillusionment.
Young Prague voter Jiri Chaloupek said he chose the SPD as “this country needs a change, a rather radical change.”
Analyst Lebeda said: “We have a very strange atmosphere with a number of emotions that absolutely do not correspond to the social and economic reality.”
“I’m asking myself what the elections would look like if we weren’t in such good shape economically.”
A 63-year-old Slovak-born chemicals, food and media tycoon, Babis said he expected the Czech Republic to “enter a new stage” after voting on Friday, adding it needed “a government which will really tackle people’s problems.”
While the billionaire-politician has vowed to steer clear of the euro zone and echoes other eastern EU leaders who accuse Brussels of attempting to limit national sovereignty by imposing rules like migrant quotas, he favors a united Europe and balks at talk of a “Czexit.”
Babis’ main rival, Social Democrats leader and Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek has said he hoped that the future government would ensure that the Czech Republic does not drift to the EU’s periphery.
Partial results showed the anti-EU Communists took the fifth spot winning 8.51 percent support.

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15 Afghan army trainees killed in Kabul suicide attack: defense ministry

Sat, 2017-10-21 16:02

KABUL: A suicide bomber killed 15 Afghan army trainees as they were leaving their base in Kabul on Saturday, the defense ministry said, in the latest deadly attack in the capital.
“This afternoon when a minibus carrying army cadets was coming out of the military academy, a suicide bomber on foot targeted them, martyring 15 and wounding four,” defense ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri told AFP.
Kabul Crime Branch chief General Mohammad Salim Almas said police have launched an investigation into the attack which happened in the west of the city.
“The minibus was carrying army trainees to their homes from Marshal Fahim military academy,” Almas told AFP.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.
It was the second suicide bombing in the Afghan capital in 24 hours and the seventh major assault in Afghanistan since Tuesday, taking the total death toll to more than 200, with hundreds more wounded.
The spate of deadly attacks underscores deteriorating security across the war-torn country as the resurgent Taliban step up their attacks on police and military bases and Daesh continue to target Shiite mosques.
It was the fifth time since Tuesday that militants have launched a major attack against Afghanistan’s beleaguered security forces already badly demoralized by high casualties and desertions.
In the deadliest of the recent attacks, around 50 Afghan soldiers were killed in a Taliban-claimed assault on a military base in the southern province of Kandahar.
Insurgents blasted their way into the compound using two explosives-laden Humvees — a tactic used in three separate attacks this week — officials said.
The militants razed the base in the Chashmo area of Maiwand district to the ground, according to the defense ministry.
Afghan security forces have faced soaring casualties in their attempts to hold back the insurgents since NATO combat forces pulled out of the country at the end of 2014.
Casualties leapt by 35 percent in 2016, with 6,800 soldiers and police killed, according to US watchdog SIGAR.
The insurgents have carried out more complex attacks against security forces in 2017, with SIGAR describing troop casualties in the early part of the year as “shockingly high.”
The attacks included assaults on a military hospital in Kabul in March which may have killed up to 100 people, and on a base in Mazar-i-Sharif in April which left 144 people dead.

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FBI confirms death of Isnilon Hapilon in Marawi

Sat, 2017-10-21 18:58

MANILA: The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has confirmed the death of Isnilon Hapilon, Daesh’s designated emir in Southeast Asia, in a dawn military assault last Monday in Marawi City.
Hapilon, a US-designated terrorist, was a senior leader of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). The FBI “has confirmed that the DNA sample taken from a body recovered by our operating units in Marawi matches that of Isnilon Hapilon,” Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Saturday.
“This process of verification is also being conducted on the cadavers of the other terrorists that have been recovered so far.”
Lamont Siller, the FBI’s legal attaché at the US Embassy in Manila, confirmed the news. “Yes that’s correct,” he told Arab News.
Siller said the FBI is still working to confirm the death of Omar Maute, who along with his brother Abdullah formed the group that attacked and held parts of Marawi City since May 23.
The military earlier announced the killing of Hapilon and Omar as government forces made a final push to reclaim Marawi and end the nearly five-month siege of the country’s only Islamic city by the Daesh-backed Maute group.
Hapilon is said to have served in several senior positions in the ASG since at least 1997. The ASG has a reputation for brutality, including beheading its kidnap victims.
He gained international notoriety in 2001 for his involvement in the abduction of 20 tourists — including three Americans identified as Guillermo Sobero, and Martin and Gracia Burnham, a missionary couple — from the Dos Palmas resort in Palawan.
Sobero was beheaded as a “birthday present” for then-Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Martin died in the crossfire during a rescue attempt by Philippine troops in June 2002. Gracia was injured, but was rescued and repatriated to the US.
According to information from the US Department of Justice, Hapilon was indicted in the District of Columbia for his alleged involvement in terrorist acts against American and other foreign nationals in and around the Philippines. A $5-million bounty was placed on his head.
In 2014, Hapilon and his faction pledged allegiance to Daesh, but it was not until 2016 that he was acknowledged by the terrorist organization as its leader in Southeast Asia.
Daesh reportedly made direct contact with Hapilon in late 2016, instructing him to find an area to establish a caliphate in the southern Philippines.
On Wednesday, the military said Hapilon and Omar were trying to escape war-torn Marawi and abandon their own men when they were killed by government troops. Omar was killed by a sniper headshot, and Hapilon by three bullets to his chest.
They led the Marawi siege, which left more than 1,000 people dead, including 897 militants, 47 civilians and 164 government troops. More than 350,000 residents have been displaced.
One day after the deaths of Hapilon and Omar, President Rodrigo Duterte declared Marawi City free of terrorists. Despite this, operations continue to flush out terrorists in the city.
On Wednesday night, another high-value target, Malaysia’s most wanted terrorist Dr. Mahmud Ahmad, was killed by government forces.
Ahmad, whose body has yet to be recovered, had been touted as a possible successor to Hapilon as Daesh’s emir in Southeast Asia.
Experts say Daesh has suffered a major setback in East Asia with the deaths of Hapilon and Omar.
“It’s a huge blow to Daesh… and any dreams it has of establishing a caliphate here,” Steve Cutler, an international security analyst and former head of the FBI in Manila, told Arab News. “Their replacements won’t be the charismatic leaders of the caliber of these two.”
But political analyst Ramon Casiple told Arab News that their deaths are a “temporary setback for Daesh” that will not stop it from pursuing its agenda.
“Daesh is a regional organization,” Casiple said, adding that the loss of Hapilon and Omar does not mean it has no more supporters or sympathizers in the Philippines.

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Spain to dismiss Catalonia’s government, call elections

Sat, 2017-10-21 15:28

MADRID: Spain said Saturday that it will move to dismiss Catalonia’s separatist government and call fresh elections in the region in a bid to stop its leaders from declaring independence.
Speaking after an emergency cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said his government had no choice after the administration of Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont acted in a way that was “unilateral, contrary to the law and seeking confrontation” in holding a banned independence referendum in the northeastern region.
Taking Spain into uncharted legal waters by using Article 155 of the constitution, which allows Madrid to wrest back control of rebellious regions, Rajoy said he was asking the Senate to give him permission to dissolve the Catalan parliament and “call elections within a maximum of six months.”
He is also requesting that all of Puigdemont’s government be stripped of their functions, which “in principle will be carried out by (national) ministers for the duration of this exceptional situation.”
The national Senate will now have to agree to these unprecedented steps — a process that will take about a week.
Rajoy’s conservative Popular Party holds a majority in the Senate. As the measures enjoy the support of other major parties, they are highly likely to pass.
Catalonia sparked Spain’s worst political crisis in decades with the chaotic referendum on October 1, which Puigdemont said resulted in a 90 percent vote in favor of breaking away from Spain.
But turnout was given as 43 percent as many anti-independence Catalans stayed away from the vote, which had been ruled illegal by the Constitutional Court, while others were hindered from voting by a police crackdown.

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Gunmen kill 12 Niger gendarmes in attack near Mali border

Sat, 2017-10-21 14:12

NIAMEY: Gunmen mounted on pick-up trucks and motorcycles killed 12 gendarmes and wounded several in an attack on their base in western Niger, near the Mali border, on Saturday, two security sources said.
The village is a few dozen kilometers from where militants killed four US soldiers in an ambush on October 4 that has thrown a spotlight on the US counter-terrorism mission in Niger, which straddles a large expanse of the Sahara.
The gunmen crossed over the border from Mali and drove up to the village of Ayorou, about 40km inside, before springing their attack, the security sources said.
“They were heavily armed. They had rocket launchers and machine guns. They came in four vehicles each with about seven fighters,” said a security source on the scene.
One of the attackers was killed in an exchange of fire, he added. A spokesman for Niger’s military said he could not confirm any details of the attack.
Several militant groups and well-armed ethnic militia are known to operate in the area near the border with Mali, and there have been at least 46 attacks recorded there since early least year.
However, security officials suspect a relatively new militant group called Islamic State in the Greater Sahara to have been behind many of them, including the ambush on the joint US-Niger patrol.

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Suspect held in Munich knife assault

Sat, 2017-10-21 11:29

BERLIN: A man with a knife attacked eight people in Munich on Saturday and then fled, police said. The suspected assailant, a local German already known to police for theft and other offenses, was arrested a few hours later.
No one was seriously hurt in the attack that started at around 8.30 a.m. in the Haidhausen area, east of downtown Munich. Police said they believe it was not a terror attack, they suspect instead that the assailant had psychological problems.
The lone attacker apparently went after passers-by indiscriminately with a knife, police said. He attacked eight people in all, including a 12-year-old child, at different sites. They mainly had superficial stab wounds and in at least one case had been hit.
About three hours later, police arrested a man matching a description they had issued based on witness reports. They said he was heavy, unshaven with short blond hair and had a black bicycle and a backpack.
The 33-year-old suspect, who was carrying a knife when he was arrested, was already known to police for bodily harm, drug offenses and theft, city police chief Hubertus Andrae told reporters.
The suspect did not immediately give police any information on his motive. “There are absolutely no indications at present of a terrorist, political or religious background, though we can only rule things out when all the questioning is finished,” Andrae said. “Rather than that, we believe that the perpetrator had psychological problems.”
He said police have “no serious doubts” that the suspect was the assailant, and that there was no longer any danger to the public.

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Qantas flight to San Francisco turns back after ‘technical issue’

Sat, 2017-10-21 09:30

SYDNEY: A Qantas jumbo jet bound for San Francisco was forced to return to Australia on Saturday after a “technical issue” 90 minutes into its flight, the airline said.
Engineers were inspecting the Boeing 747 after it landed at Sydney’s Kingsford Smith airport, a Qantas spokeswoman said, declining to say how many people were aboard. No injuries were reported.
“We understand delays can be frustrating for our passengers but we’ll always put safety ahead of schedule and our teams are doing everything they can to get passengers back on their way,” she said.
Passengers were told that flight QF 73, which departed at 2.10 p.m. local time, had been turned back because the autopilot wasn’t working, a passenger told Australia’s ABC News.
“The flight got ridiculously bumpy, and the seatbelt sign never got switched off,” the passenger said.

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Fourteen feared dead in Malaysian landslide

Sat, 2017-10-21 08:41

TANJUNG BUNGAH, Malaysia: Two workers were found dead and 12 others were missing Saturday after a landslide at a construction site on the popular Malaysian tourist island of Penang, officials said.
Rescuers rushed to the Tanjung Bungah area on the north of Penang after the accident was reported just before 900am, the fire and rescue department said.
Pictures showed large piles of earth had slipped off a hillside onto the site, where houses were being built.
Two bodies were pulled from the mud and twelve others were still missing, said Anuar Omar, a local police official. He said the victims were believed to be migrant workers.
Many foreigners work in low-paying, physically-demanding industries such as construction in Malaysia.
Penang Island City Council mayor Maimunah Sharif said it was not clear what caused the accident but ruled out the possibility of wet weather as there had not been heavy rains for some days.
The rapid pace of construction on Penang has raised concerns about damage to the environment and that rules regarding safety are not always adhered to.
Tanjung Bungah, north of Penang’s capital George Town, is home to beaches and some hotels, and is popular with expatriate residents.
George Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a former British colonial trading outpost famed for its mix of architectural and religious influences and vast range of street food.

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Abe heads into Japan vote in pole position

Sat, 2017-10-21 07:42

TOKYO: Candidates in Japan made a last-ditch plea to voters Saturday on the last day of campaigning before an election expected to return Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to power with a comfortable majority.
Polls show Abe and his conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) are clear favorites to win Sunday’s election, handing him a fresh mandate for his hard-line stance on North Korea and “Abenomics” growth strategy.
Abe’s coalition is on track to win around 300 seats in the 465-seat lower house of parliament, according to a projection published by the Nikkei daily.
If the polls are correct, the 63-year-old Abe would be on course to be the longest-serving premier in post-war Japan, the world’s third-biggest economy and key US ally in Asia.
The two main opposition parties — the “Party of Hope” created by the media-savvy Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike and the new center-left Constitutional Democratic Party — are seen winning around 50 seats each.
Fragmentation and weakness in the opposition is seen as a core factor behind Abe’s rosy prospects as the premier enjoys only lukewarm public support.
“You must not stick to the status quo of flaccid politics which has failed to carry out drastic and necessary reforms,” Koike said in a speech Saturday.
“If we do not use this opportunity (to oust Abe from power), major reforms that are truly needed will be delayed,” she said.
Abe shocked Japan this month by calling the election more than a year earlier than expected, citing twin “national crises” of an aging population and hostility from North Korea.
The regime in Pyongyang has threatened to “sink” Japan into the sea and fired two missiles over its northern island of Hokkaido in the space of a month.
Abe has stuck to a hawkish stance on North Korea, stressing that maximum pressure should be exerted on the regime and backing the US line that “all options” are on the table.
Throughout the short 12-day campaign, the premier has railed against Pyongyang, telling a crowd recently: “At a time like this… we cannot waver. Everyone, we must not yield to the threat of North Korea!“

But many voters regarded the economy and reforming the costly social security system as their priority concerns, as Abe has not quite fully revived the once world-beating Japanese economy after five years in power.
Abe says his trademark “Abenomics” strategy of ultra-loose monetary policy and big fiscal spending is the best way to pep up the economy, which is weighed down by debt and struggling with deflation.
He has also pledged to use part of the proceeds from a planned sales tax hike to fund free childcare in a bid to get more women into the workplace.
Koike wants to scrap the tax hike, arguing it would throttle a recovery that has seen Japan’s longest stretch of growth in a decade.
But after a blaze of publicity when Koike created her new “Party of Hope,” the bubble appears to have burst for the popular 65-year-old former newscaster, partly because she declined to run herself for prime minister.
“Every party has to have, to be credible, a candidate for prime minister and she would have been it but then she walked away and it is a ship that suddenly has no captain,” Michael Cucek from Temple University said.
Another brand-new party, the center-left Constitutional Democrats, appears to have some momentum going into the poll and could do better than expected.
With little suspense over the overall outcome, the main tension is over whether Abe and his junior coalition partner Komeito will retain their two-thirds majority.
This is significant because it would enable Abe to propose changes to the US-imposed Constitution, which effectively limits the military to a self-defense role and forces Japan to “renounce war.”
One less predictable factor in the election is the weather as a typhoon barrels toward Japan, expected to dump heavy rains on most of the country on polling day.
This could weigh on turnout, with a lower participation rate seen as beneficial for Abe, whose supporters are more committed.

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