Model challenges Grace Mugabe’s immunity

Thu, 2017-08-24 13:11

JOHANNESBURG: A South African model who was allegedly attacked by Zimbabwe’s first lady has filed court papers challenging the government’s decision to grant Grace Mugabe diplomatic immunity, a lawyer said Thursday.
The wife of President Robert Mugabe allegedly attacked a 20-year-old model Gabriella Engels with an electrical extension cord at a hotel in Johannesburg where the couple’s two sons were staying.
The attack left Engels with cuts on her head and forehead. She has filed an assault charge against the 52-year-old Grace Mugabe.
South Africa’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said at the weekend that it had granted Mugabe immunity allowing her to leave the country.
Engels and AfriForum, a civil rights group which helps victims of crime, filed an injunction asking the court to annul the minister’s decision.
“The (foreign affairs) minister misinterpreted the law. She applied the wrong principles,” AfriForum lawyer Willie Spies told AFP.
They are seeking an order to set aside Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane’s decision “recognizing the immunities and privileges” of Grace Mugabe, according to court documents seen by AFP.
They are also asking the court to declare that the diplomatic immunity decision “does not confer immunity from prosecution.”
A hearing into the case will start on Sept. 19, said Spies.
Grace Mugabe was supposed to have reported to the police to make a statement about the allged incident, but did not.
Police Minister Fikile Mbalula then said “a red alert” had been sent out to border police, and “she is not somebody who has been running away.”
However, Mugabe flew out of South Africa on a pre-dawn flight on a presidential jet on Sunday. Hours later, the Foreign Ministry announced that it had granted her immunity.
On Wednesday, South African lawmakers heckled Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa as he answered a question in Parliament on the Grace Mugabe debacle.
He said the decision to grant her immunity was taken in line with “internationally-recognized immunity regulations” and admitted it was “the first time we have utilized this type of convention.”

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Grace Mugabe returns to Zimbabwe despite assault claim
Pretoria plans diplomatic immunity for Grace Mugabe
South Africa has granted Grace Mugabe diplomatic immunity — source

Angola’s ruling party claims victory: Report

Thu, 2017-08-24 03:00

JOHANNESBURG: Angola’s ruling party said Thursday it won a majority in the country’s election with 5 million votes counted so far, opening the way for the defense minister to succeed President Jose Eduardo dos Santos after his 38-year rule, the Portuguese news agency Lusa reported.
The MPLA party concluded it had won Wednesday’s election after reviewing data relayed by its delegates from polling stations nationwide, said Joao Martins, a senior official at the party’s headquarters in Luanda, the capital. Martins said Defense Minister Joao Lourenco would therefore succeed dos Santos, who took power in 1979, according to Lusa.
The report came as the main opposition UNITA party alleged that police fired shots and made arrests near some polling stations as people voted in Huambo city. Election officials, however, said the vote went smoothly despite minor problems and delays.
Angola’s Election Commission has not released any results of the vote. About 9.3 million Angolans were registered to vote for the 220-member National Assembly; the winning party then selects the president.
Lourenco, 63, is a former governor who fought in the war against Portuguese colonial rule as well as the long civil war that ended in 2002.
Lourenco has pledged to fight graft and is seen as a symbol of stability and even incremental change. Oil-rich Angola is beset by widespread poverty, corruption and human rights concerns, though some analysts believe new leadership could open the way to more accountability.
Critics, however, point to entrenched patronage networks benefiting an elite that includes Isabel dos Santos, the president’s daughter and head of the state oil company Sonangol, and Jose Filomeno dos Santos, a son in charge of the country’s sovereign wealth fund.
Jose Eduardo dos Santos, 74, is expected to remain ruling party leader, though there are concerns about his health since he received medical treatment in Spain this year.
Angolan rights activists have alleged that the ruling MPLA party unfairly used state machinery ahead of Wednesday’s election, noting that most media coverage focused on the MPLA campaign. Opposition parties have said there were irregularities ahead of the voting.
Election observers from other African countries monitored the vote, but the EU did not send a full-fledged observer mission because it said the Angolan government wanted to impose restrictions, including limited access to polling stations around the country.

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Angolan vote heralds new leader after president’s long rule
Angola agrees to small EU election team

Filipino troops recapture mosque, Duterte revisits Marawi

Thu, 2017-08-24 03:00

MANILA: President Rodrigo Duterte traveled Thursday to the main battle zone in southern Marawi after Philippine troops finally recaptured a main mosque where Daesh-linked militants had taken cover with their hostages in the three-month siege of the city, the military said.
Clad in a combat uniform, protective vest and helmet, Duterte congratulated the troops for regaining control of the Islamic Center, an indication they are nearing the final stage in ending the disastrous uprising. It was Duterte’s third known trip to the embattled city.
During his brief visit, Duterte inspected a devastated community near the frontline and talked to troops guarding a recaptured building. He also visited a military patrol base and “tried a sniper rifle and fired twice toward the direction of the terrorists,” a government statement said.
Army Col. Romeo Brawner said Duterte went to the main battle area, a cluster of dense, mosque-dotted communities which has been heavily damaged in the fighting, with military chief Gen. Eduardo Ano and top commanders.
More than 760 people, including 595 militants, have died in the Marawi fighting, which has sparked concerns that the Daesh group may have taken a foothold in Southeast Asia through local extremists as it suffers battle setbacks in Syria and Iraq.
About 600 gunmen launched the insurrection in Marawi’s commercial center on May 23 after a botched army raid to capture the group’s leader, Isnilon Hapilon, according to the military.
The United States and Australia have deployed surveillance aircraft to help Filipino troops locate the hundreds of militants who took positions in buildings, mosques and houses, some of them linked by underground tunnels. China provided heavy weaponry and Southeast Asian governments offered aid for troops and the hundreds of thousands of displaced residents.
It was not immediately clear if any militants or their hostages were in the mosque when troops entered the building Thursday after weeks of painstakingly slow advances because of sniper fire and an order from Duterte to avoid any massive attack that might harm an estimated several dozen hostages, including a Roman Catholic priest, used by the gunmen as human shields.
Brawner said the militants withdrew shortly before troops gained access to the mosque in fighting that wounded three soldiers. He said the gunmen had rigged the building with booby-traps and explosives which were being cleared by the troops.
“We recovered the mosque after some resistance but not through an assault with bombardment because we wanted to preserve the structure,” Brawner said.
The military says about 40 gunmen are still fighting in the main battle zone, now confined to a smaller cluster of communities after troops backed by airstrikes and artillery fire recaptured key bridges and crossed over a river toward the main militant position.
Some residents have started to return to neighborhoods declared safe by the military. Classes at the main Mindanao State University reopened Tuesday, although a clash between government forces and gunmen allied with the militants in nearby Marantao town, outside the city, underscored the remaining danger.
Duterte declared martial law in the largely Roman Catholic archipelago’s southern third until the end of the year to deal with the Marawi crisis and prevent other armed groups from reinforcing the militants or launching similar uprisings elsewhere in the volatile region.

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Fourth suspect in Spain attacks granted conditional release

Thu, 2017-08-24 16:02

MADRID: The fourth suspect in last week’s twin attacks in Spain was released Thursday pending further investigation and placed under surveillance, the country’s National Court said.
Salh El Karib, the manager of a store that lets people make calls abroad in Ripoll, a town in northern Catalonia where many of the alleged attackers came from, will have to show up at a local court every week and is banned from leaving Spain, the court said in a statement.
Salh El Karib, a 34-year-old Moroccan, is the second of four suspects to have been granted conditional release.
The two others — Mohamed Houli Chemlal, 21, and Driss Oukabir, 28 — were remanded in custody and charged with terror-related offenses after being quizzed by a judge at Madrid’s National Court, which deals with cases of extremism.
Authorities are still probing the vehicle attacks in Barcelona’s busy Las Ramblas boulevard last Thursday and in the resort town of Cambrils several hours later.
Fifteen people died and more than 120 were injured.
According to a court document, credit cards in the name of Salh El Karib were used to buy plane tickets for Oukabir and Abdelbaki Es Satty, the imam believed to be the mastermind of the terror cell. He is now dead.
But the investigation found that the shop he manages sells plane tickets as part of its regular business offering, which means he did not necessarily play a part in the terror cell.
“There is no indication that the detainee had any relationship with the people allegedly involved in the terrorist organization that is being investigated,” the court document said.

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Death toll from South Asia flooding tops 1,000

Thu, 2017-08-24 14:41

NEW DELHI: The death toll from floods sweeping South Asia has climbed above 1,000, officials said Thursday, as rescue teams try to reach millions stranded by the region’s worst monsoon disaster in recent years.
Thousands of soldiers and emergency personnel have been deployed across India, Bangladesh and Nepal, where authorities say a total of 1,013 bodies have been recovered since August 10 when intense rainfall started falling.
All three countries suffer frequent flooding during the monsoon rains, but the Red Cross has termed the latest disaster the worst in decades in some parts of South Asia.
It says entire communities have been cut off and many are short of food and clean water.
“It has been a difficult year,” said Anil Shekhawat, spokesman for India’s national disaster response force.
“In the last few months there have been floods in western, eastern and northern parts of the country,” Shekhawat told AFP.
Twenty-six bodies were found Wednesday in Bihar, a hard-hit state in India’s east, taking the death toll there to 367, said Anirudh Kumar, a top state disaster management official.
“We still have nearly 11 million people affected in 19 districts of the state,” he told AFP, adding nearly 450,000 flood evacuees had taken shelter in government refuges.
In neighboring Uttar Pradesh, floods have swamped nearly half the vast state of 220 million, India’s most populous.
Disaster management agency spokesman T.P. Gupta said 86 people had died and more than two million were affected by the disaster there.
The state borders Nepal, where 146 people have died and 80,000 homes destroyed in what the United Nations is calling the worst flooding in 15 years.
Nepal’s home ministry warned the death toll could rise as relief teams reach more remote parts of the impoverished country.
In India’s northwest, landslides caused by heavy rain have claimed 54 lives, the vast majority in one huge avalanche of mud that swept two buses off a mountainside.
The situation was slowly easing in West Bengal and Assam, two states in India’s east and northeast where 223 people have died.
Floods in Assam — the second wave to hit the state in less than four months — have wrought widespread destruction, killing 71 people and forcing animals in a local wildlife sanctuary to seek higher ground.
One Bengal tiger and 15 rare one-horned rhinos were found dead and conservationists feared there could be further loss of life as poachers sought to capitalize on the exodus.
In the low-lying state of West Bengal, where 152 people have died, hundreds of thousands have escaped submerged villages by boats and makeshift rafts to reach government aid stations.
Across the border in Bangladesh, water levels were slowly returning to normal in the main Brahmaputra and Ganges rivers.
The government’s disaster response body said Thursday the death toll stood at 137, with more than 7.5 million affected since flooding hit the riverine nation.
Every year hundreds die in landslides and floods during the monsoon season that hits India’s southern tip in early June and sweeps across the South Asia region for four months.
Last year nearly 1,500 people died and half a million homes were destroyed in floods across the country, according to India’s home ministry.

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Malaysian premier to meet Trump at White House on Sept. 12

Associated Press
Thu, 2017-08-24 03:00

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak will visit Washington on Sept. 12 at the invitation of President Donald Trump.
A White House statement says the two leaders will discuss ways to bolster ties and expand regional cooperation. The visit marks the 60th anniversary of bilateral ties.
Malaysia’s foreign ministry said Thursday that national security, the global fight against terrorism and trade and investment are on the agenda of talks between the leaders.
Malaysia is one of the US’s closest allies and trading partners in Southeast Asia. Relations with the US had warmed after Najib took office in 2009, but became strained following a massive corruption scandal two years ago that implicated Najib and a state investment fund he founded.
Billions of dollars are alleged to have been syphoned from the 1MDB fund through embezzlement and money laundering, and several countries are investigating. The US Justice Department acted last year to seize more than $1.5 billion in assets it said were purchased by Najib’s relatives and associates using stolen money from 1MDB, a fund intended to promote economic development projects. Najib has denied any wrongdoing.
The 1MDB case is the largest single action the Justice Department has taken under its Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative, which seeks to recover foreign bribery proceeds and embezzled funds. Several other countries including Singapore and Switzerland are conducting investigations.

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Thai lawyer drops defamation suit against BBC reporter

Thu, 2017-08-24 09:22

PHUKET, Thailand: A Thai lawyer has dropped a criminal defamation suit against a BBC journalist over his investigation into foreigners being scammed out of retirement homes in the country, the broadcaster said Thursday.
Jonathan Head, the BBC’s Southeast Asia correspondent, faced up to five years in jail after his report exposed how two foreign retirees had properties on Phuket island stolen from them by a network of criminals and corrupt officials.
Rights groups said the case highlighted how Thailand’s broad defamation and computer crime laws impede investigative journalism and make it difficult to uncover wrongdoing in an endemically corrupt country.
The lawyer who brought the suit — Pratuan Thanarak — decided to drop the charges against Head on the first day of the trial on Wednesday.
“The plaintiff has withdrawn his case against BBC journalist Jonathan Head,” the BBC said in a short statement.
Foreigners cannot own land in Thailand but they often get around the prohibition by putting assets in the name of Thais, or by setting up majority Thai-owned shell companies.
The 2015 BBC report detailed how a network of Phuket criminals, aided by corrupt officials, stole properties from foreigners by forging land title transfers or company ownership records.
One of the victims who featured in the report, British national Ian Rance, was named as a co-defendant in the defamation suit. Charges against him were dropped on Thursday.
Rance said he lost $1.2 million worth of properties after his then-wife and a gang of moneylenders forged property paperwork.
According to the report, Pratuan admitted on tape to certifying Rance’s signature without him being present, a move which helped the wife transfer his properties out of his name.
She was later convicted and jailed for the scam.
But Rance has been hit by several legal cases since going public, a common outcome for whistleblowers in Thailand which markets itself as a dream retirement destination for wealthy foreigners.
“I am sad to reflect that many others, both Thai and foreign investors and business people, may be defrauded in a similar manner,” Rance told AFP after his case was dropped.
He added that he had been left penniless by his unsuccessful attempts to recover his stolen properties through the Thai courts.
Unlike many countries where defamation is a matter for the civil courts, in Thailand it is a criminal offense.
Private citizens can also launch their own prosecutions and are not forced to pay costs if they lose.
Similar cases have been brought in recent years. Local news site Phuketwan closed down in 2015 after running out of money in its successful attempt to defeat a suit brought by Thailand’s navy.
Andrew Drummond, a British crime reporter, left the country the same year because of multiple cases brought by those he exposed, as did British labor rights activist Andy Hall in 2016.

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Study: Arsenic poisoning a risk for 50 million residents in Pakistan

Thu, 2017-08-24 03:00

ISLAMABAD: Some 50 million people are at risk of arsenic poisoning from contaminated groundwater in Pakistan’s Indus Valley — far more than previously thought, according to a new study.
Pakistan is aware of the growing problem, with arsenic levels rising in some areas as people increasingly and indiscriminately draw from the country’s underground aquifers, said Lubna Bukhari, who heads the government’s Council for Research in Water Resources.
“It’s a real concern,” she said. “Because of lack of rules and regulations, people have exploited the groundwater brutally, and it is driving up arsenic levels.”
The authors of the study developed a map highlighting areas of likely contamination based on water quality data from nearly 1,200 groundwater pumps tested from 2013 to 2015, and accounting for geological factors including surface slope and soil contents. They determined some 88 million people were living in high-risk areas.
Given that about 60-70 percent of the population relies on groundwater, they calculated that roughly 50 million — maybe even 60 million — were potentially affected. That’s equal to at least a third of the 150 million already estimated by the World Health Organization to be drinking, cooking and farming with arsenic-laced water worldwide.
“This is an alarmingly high number, which demonstrates the urgent need to test all drinking water wells in the Indus Plain,” with hotspots around the densely populated cities of Lahore and Hyderabad, said the study’s lead author, Joel Podgorski, of the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, known as Eawag.
The findings were published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.
The high-risk area mapped out in the study broadly covers the middle and lower reaches of the Indus River and its tributaries, before they empty into the Arabian Sea.
Scientists had expected this area might be affected. Similar geographical areas along the Ganges River in neighboring India and Brahmaputra in Bangladesh also contain pockets of arsenic contamination.
Normally, that arsenic would stay in the ground. But in the last few decades, South Asian countries concerned with pathogen-infused surface water have been pumping enormous volumes of groundwater, causing the water tables to drop drastically and tapping into new water pockets tainted by the colorless, odorless toxin.
The WHO considers arsenic concentrations above 10 micrograms per liter to be dangerous. Pakistan’s guideline is five times that, and many of its wells test much higher.
Arsenic is naturally occurring and kills human cells — causing skin lesions, organ damage, heart disease and cancer. There is no cure for arsenic poisoning.
“This study is important because it draws attention to an overlooked — yet solvable — problem of vast magnitude affecting the health of millions of villagers,” said geochemist Alexander van Geen of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, who was not involved in the study. He said the patterns it identifies are broadly consistent with data he and other researchers have collected from some 10,000 well tests in the region.
One of those researchers, Abida Farooqui, assistant professor of environmental sciences at Islamabad’s Qaid-e-Azam University, said the new study’s sample size may be too small to draw clear conclusions.
“The study revealed very important and an emerging problem of arsenic in the country,” Farooqui said. But “only 1,193 samples have been used to predict the situation in the whole Indus Valley, which is unrealistic.”
In any case, no map can tell villagers whether a specific well is contaminated. Arsenic concentration varies widely from pump to pump, and the only way to know for certain is to test each one.
Shallow wells are less likely to be tainted. Deeper ones, such as those run by the government’s Drinking Water Filtration sites, may be more at risk.
This makes the problem especially acute for thousands of city-dwellers who have no access to clean water and rely on what the government supplies. At one Islamabad neighborhood filtration site on Wednesday, resident Ali Hasan said the struggle was real.
“It’s the government’s job to provide us with clean drinking water, but everywhere we have to travel to find clean water,” Hasan said while filling a large plastic jug to take home to his neighborhood.
A survey submitted to Pakistan’s parliament last year suggested nearly 80 percent of water sources in 2,807 villages across 24 districts were contaminated with bacteria or other pollutants, to levels that were unsafe to drink.
Now, “the presence of arsenic in drinking water is becoming a widespread health problem,” said Luis Rodríguez-Lado, a chemist with the University of Santiago de Compostela in Spain who was not involved in the study. Yet “there is a general lack of information” about which areas in Asia are most at risk.
For Pakistan, Bukhari said, the problem is now urgent. Her department is already working with the UN Children’s Fund to provide cheap anti-arsenic water filters to poor villagers in the worst-affected areas.
“We should immediately discourage the indiscriminate ground water exploitation,” she said, noting that even city-dwellers with municipal water access were digging tube wells “to have a lavish supply of water.”
But the country also needs to test countless tube wells and identify which have tapped into arsenic, possibly determining which depths might be safer, she said.
If researchers can find a depth at which “there is no arsenic, we can dig wells that stop before the water is contaminated,” Bukhari said.

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Man mistakenly buried in California body mix-up is exhumed

Associated Press
Thu, 2017-08-24 03:00

ORANGE, USA: Authorities on Wednesday exhumed the body of a Southern California man who was mistakenly buried three months ago after a body mix-up.
The coffin of John Dickens, 54, was removed from Holy Sepulcher Cemetery by the Orange County coroner’s office.
At the family’s request, Dickens will be cremated and his ashes sent to his mother, 72-year-old Karen Bilyeu of Cherryvale, Kansas, the Orange County Register reported (
“It’s about time it was done,” Dickens’ sister, Diane Keaton, 52, of Parsons, Kansas told the newspaper. “It’s been quite a while since we were notified that his body had been identified. We want him home so bad. It’s finally going to happen.”
Dickens, a US Army veteran, was homeless and suffered from mental illness.
His family hadn’t heard from Dickens in decades when he died of an enlarged heart in May. His body was found outside a Verizon store in Fountain Valley.
However, the coroner’s division of the county Sheriff’s Department identified it as that of another homeless man, Frank M. Kerrigan, 57.
Kerrigan’s family members said they were wrongly told that the body had been identified through fingerprints. They buried remains they thought were Kerrigan’s on May 12.
Eleven days later, he showed up at a family friend’s house.
The coroner’s office finally confirmed Dickens’ identity through fingerprints and notified his family in late June.
“I am very grateful that this man can head back to his family,” said Carole Meikle, 56, of Silverado Canyon, who is Kerrigan’s sister. “I have mixed emotions. It has been challenging going through this and having him buried there all this time. It’s heart-wrenching.”
Matthew Eaton, an attorney for the Kerrigan and Dickens families, has filed complaints with the county seeking $3 million in damages. Such claims often precede lawsuits.
The complaints contend that authorities didn’t properly try to confirm the identity of the body because Dickens and Kerrigan were homeless.
The Sheriff’s Department is investigating the mix-up and has apologized for any grief it caused the families.

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