WELLINGTON, New Zealand: A powerful Pacific typhoon that intensified into the Northern Hemisphere’s strongest storm of the year but has since lost some of its punch could still threaten Japan by this weekend.
Typhoon Noru on Tuesday was packing maximum sustained winds of 204 kilometers (127 miles) per hour with gusts of up to 250 kilometers (155 miles) per hour, according to the US military’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center.
That makes it the equivalent of a high Category 3 or low Category 4 cyclone. The Weather Channel said Noru reached Category 5 at its peak Monday and was the Northern Hemisphere’s strongest storm of 2017.
The Weather Channel said Noru should move slowly northwestward and could make landfall in Japan by this weekend, although it was still too early to be certain that would occur.
The typhoon strengthened from a tropical storm with winds of 113 kilometers (70 miles) per hour to a super typhoon with winds of 257 kilometers (160 miles) per hour in a period of just 18 hours, according to The Weather Channel.
The warning center forecast the storm would continue to ease somewhat with winds dropping to 185 kilometers (115 miles) per hour over the next few days.
WELLINGTON, New Zealand: A powerful Pacific typhoon that intensified into the Northern Hemisphere’s strongest storm of the year but has since lost some of its punch could still threaten Japan by this weekend.
WELLINGTON: New Zealand’s main opposition gambled on a leadership change just weeks before a general election Tuesday after polling showed it was heading for disaster at the ballot box.
The center-left Labour Party selected 37-year-old Jacinda Ardern to take it into the September 23 election, making her the youngest leader in its 101-year history.
The move came after outgoing leader Andrew Little quit in response to a string of opinion polls that put Labour’s support at 20-year lows of 23-24 percent, giving it no chance of forming a government.
Ardern, who was Little’s deputy, becomes Labour’s fifth leader in four years as she seeks to prevent the center-right National Party-led coalition winning a fourth term.
“This team is about to run the campaign of our lives,” she said after winning the leadership unopposed.
Ardern was elected to parliament in 2008 after working as a political adviser and has long been seen as the face of a new generation coming through the Labour ranks.
With her new deputy Kelvin Davis standing alongside her, she promised “relentless positivity” and appealed to young, idealistic voters.
“We’ll be talking to a new generation of voters, but not just about their own personal circumstances,” she told reporters.
“As a country, we can do better than this,” she added.
Little, 52, admitted he had failed to get his message across during more than two years as leader.
“Recent poll results have been disappointing. As leader, I must take responsibility for these results,” he said.
“I do take responsibility and believe that Labour must have an opportunity to perform better under new leadership through to the election.”
Prime Minister Bill English said the change of leadership would not solve Labour’s problems.
“They’re in disarray, the basic problem isn’t really the leadership, it’s they just don’t have a positive view of what New Zealand can achieve,” he told reporters.
English took over as leader of the National Party after John Key’s shock resignation late last year.
While he does not have the personal popularity of his predecessor, the party’s vote share has held steady at around 47 percent under English’s leadership.
However, he warned the Nationals could not be complacent because New Zealand’s complicated proportional voting system usually results in minority governments reliant on smaller parties as coalition partners.
ALEXANDRIA, Virginia: A former US diplomat who worked at the US Embassy in Yemen was found liable for the second time Monday for enslaving and sexually trafficking a woman who worked as a housekeeper.
The Washington Post reported a jury in Alexandria, Virginia, agreed that Linda Howard and late husband Russell Howard forced an Ethiopian maid into sexual slavery in 2008. Linda Howard, who left the State Department in 2013, was ordered to pay $3 million in damages to the woman, who lives in Virginia. Howard’s husband died in 2012.
Linda Howard denied the allegations and argued the woman couldn’t sue for civil damages under a human trafficking law that didn’t pass until 2008. According to a court document, the woman began working for the Howards in 2007. She alleged she was raped twice daily by Russell Howard and that Linda Howard also joined in the sexual abuse.
Five years ago the couple was found liable in the same court for trafficking another Ethiopian housekeeper in 2008. They were ordered to pay her $3.3 million. However, the couple had already fled from Arlington, Virginia, to Australia. They contested the judgment there, settling in 2015.
Information from: The Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com
WASHINGTON: The United States on Monday branded Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro a “dictator” on a par with Syria’s Bashar Assad or North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, and imposed sanctions on him.
“Maduro is not just a bad leader, he is now a dictator,” President Donald Trump’s national security adviser HR McMaster told reporters.
“The United States stands with the people of Venezuela in the face of this oppression.”
Sunday’s vote in Venezuela to elect a Constituent Assembly that would supersede the country’s opposition-controlled National Assembly triggered international scorn — and a US response.
“Yesterday’s illegitimate elections confirm that Maduro is a dictator who disregards the will of the Venezuelan people,” US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.
“By sanctioning Maduro, the United States makes clear our opposition to the policies of his regime and our support for the people of Venezuela who seek to return their country to a full and prosperous democracy.”
Washington has long been a critic of Maduro — and of his late predecessor Hugo Chavez — but Monday’s statement marks the first time that senior officials have publicly branded him a dictator.
And the United States has already imposed sanctions on several Venezuelan individuals and organizations, but, in taking the rare step of targeting a sitting head of state by name, it signaled growing alarm at the crisis.
Mnuchin said Maduro was only the fourth foreign leader to be blacklisted in this way, and McMaster warned he had joined an “exclusive club” led by Assad, Kim and Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe.
The order does not, however, impose restrictions on Venezuela’s huge oil exports to the United States — a key lifeline for the country’s tottering economy but also its leftist anti-American government.
Mnuchin would not be drawn on whether oil sanctions are being considered, but noted that Trump had decided not to take measures that would hurt the “Venezuelan people” rather than Maduro’s allies.
The Treasury secretary urged those elected to the controversial Constituent Assembly not to take their seats, and warned that any who support the imposition of “an authoritarian regime” will also face sanctions.
“As a result of today’s actions, all assets of Nicolas Maduro subject to US jurisdiction are frozen, and US persons are prohibited from dealing with him,” he said.
Mnuchin would not comment on whether his investigators believe that Maduro has any assets on US soil or liable to pass through the US financial system.
“Under Maduro, the Venezuelan government has deliberately and repeatedly abused the rights of citizens through the use of violence, repression and criminalization of demonstrations,” he alleged.
“At his direction, the regime’s security forces have systematically repressed and criminalized opposition parties through arbitrary detention, military prosecution of civilians and the excessive use of force against demonstrators.
“Any member of the opposition or critic of the regime risks being detained, imprisoned, assaulted, tortured and assassinated.”
LONDON: Many Arabs are expected to view the British High Court ruling that Tony Blair should not face prosecution over the Iraq War as another example of Western leaders not being held to account, Middle East commentators said.
The judges’ decision blocks an attempt by Abdulwaheed Shannan Al-Rabbat, a former Iraqi general, to bring a private war crimes prosecution against the former British prime minister, The Associated Press reported.
The decision centered on there being no crime of aggression in English law under which Blair, who was prime minister from 1997 to 2007, could be tried.
Lina Khatib, head of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at the Chatham House think tank, said the ruling merely confirms what many in the Middle East have long believed: That no Western leader will be prosecuted for the Iraq War.
“The Arab world long gave up on any repercussions for any US and UK leader on Iraq,” Khatib told Arab News.
“There was no expectation in the Arab world for any Western leader facing prosecution.
“The latest ruling will not cause any waves in the Arab world; it will be viewed as merely business as usual and confirm the power dynamic between the West and the Arab world in which the West has the upper hand.”
That view was echoed by Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, who claimed the High Court ruling will simply confirm for many the long-held view in the Middle East that Western leaders are never held responsible for their actions.
“This reinforces the view that exists in the Middle East that Western leaders, be they from the UK or US, are never held to account,” Doyle told Arab News.
“If you look at leaders who end up at the ICC (International Criminal Court) they tend to be African. So there’s a running sore in the Middle East on the issue of accountability.
“You’ll never see someone like Putin have his day in court over crimes in Syria and the message that will be received is that once again leaders from certain countries simply aren’t held accountable.”
Of the issue of the Iraq War Doyle added, “In Iraq the war is still very much a live issue, it is a running sore for many, and what (Blair) and (the then US President) George Bush did is seen as key in devastating Iraq.
“There are some, though, who thank Blair and Bush for getting rid of Saddam Hussein. This issue is a highly polarizing one. There were Iraqis pushing for intervention. In the broader Arab world the mainstream public view is one of opposition to the war.”
In Britain the debate over whether Blair should be in the dock is equally polarizing, between those who want to see him put on trial in The Hague for war crimes and those who feel what he did was right. In July 2016 the Chilcot Report, which looked into into Britain’s role in the Iraq War, concluded the invasion was not the “last resort” presented to the public and undermined the UN.
But Khatib said that even that was seen as too little too late for most Iraqis.
“We are coming up to the first anniversary of the Chilcot Report and in the Arab world there was muted response to it,” she said.
“People feel the Iraq War has already caused too much long-term damage and the report had little effect on their lives. They have more pressing concerns and are still living through the consequences of the war.”
Of Blair, she added: “Tony Blair is viewed in the Arab World as one of two key leaders responsible for the Iraq War, and the failed Quartet envoy in the context of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
“He has two failures to his name and there is no chance he’ll be able to play a significant role in the Middle East again.”
Blair’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment when contacted by Arab News.
WASHINGTON: Anthony Scaramucci is out as White House communications director after just 11 days on the job.
A person close to Scaramucci confirmed his ouster just hours after President Donald Trump’s new chief of staff, John Kelly, was sworn into office.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the change before it was officially announced.
The New York Times, citing two unofficial sources, reported that Scaramucci was dumped on the request of new chief of staff John Kelly, who was sworn in Monday, and tapped by Trump to bring some stability to an at times chaotic White House.
Scaramucci has been in the spotlight since he was first announced as communications director earlier this month.
The New Yorker magazine published an interview Thursday in which Scaramucci went on a profanity-laden tirade against Reince Priebus, then chief of staff.
Kelly, a retired general and previous Homeland Security secretary, was sworn into his new job Monday morning.
MOGADISHU: The US military said Monday it carried out a drone strike in Somalia that killed a member of the Al-Shabab extremist group, while a Somali intelligence official said an Al-Shabab leader was targeted but it was not clear whether he had been killed.
A statement from the US Africa Command said the airstrike occurred on Saturday near Tortoroow, an Al-Shabab stronghold in Lower Shabelle region in southern Somalia. The statement said no civilians were killed.
US President Donald Trump earlier this year approved expanded military operations against the Al-Qaeda linked extremists, including more aggressive airstrikes and considering parts of southern Somalia areas of active hostilities.
The US statement said the airstrike was carried out in coordination with regional partners “as a direct response to Al-Shabab actions, including recent attacks on Somali forces.”
The Somali intelligence official identified the targeted Al-Shabab leader as Ali Mohamed Hussein, who has served as the extremist group’s shadow governor for Mogadishu and has been one of the group’s most outspoken officials.
The official said at least one missile struck a car in which the Al-Shabab leader was traveling near Tortoroow. One person was killed, said the official.
The US military in early July said it carried out an airstrike against Al-Shabab in Somalia and was assessing the results.
The airstrike followed one in June that the US said killed eight extremists at a rebel command and logistics camp in the south.
Al-Shabab earlier this month mocked Trump for the first time in a video that called him a “brainless billionaire.”
The extremist group also has vowed to step up attacks in Somalia after the president elected in February declared a new offensive against Al-Shabab, which continues to carry out deadly attacks in Mogadishu.
The extremist group also has carried out deadly attacks in neighboring countries, notably Kenya, calling it retribution for sending troops to Somalia to fight Al-Shabab.
Uganda’s military, meanwhile, said it had lost 12 soldiers in an attack claimed by Al-Shabab extremists in southern Somalia.
They ambushed Ugandan troops that are part of an African Union force as they patrolled a supply route in the hotly-contested Lower Shebelle region, the military said in a statement.
“From the battlefield, it is now confirmed that UPDF lost 12 gallant soldiers with seven sustaining injuries,” the statement from the Uganda Peoples’ Defense Forces said.
Witnesses told AFP the attack occurred in the village of Golweyn, some 120 km from Mogadishu.
The AU mission AMISOM said an improvised explosive device (IED) was used in an ambush of a convoy composed of its troops and Somali forces.
“A lot of damage was inflicted on the enemy while our troops took fatalities whose number is yet to be ascertained,” the mission said on Twitter.
An Al-Shabab spokesman on Sunday told a radio station linked to the group that the insurgents had killed 39 soldiers, a claim that could not be independently verified.
The AU has a 22,000-strong force in the country dedicated to fighting Al-Shabab and supporting the internationally backed government.
Al-Shabab has fought governments in Mogadishu for years and has also carried out attacks in Kenya and Uganda.
DAKAR: The ruling coalition of Senegal’s President Macky Sall won a widely expected landslide in a legislative election, his prime minister said on Monday, bolstering Sall’s prospects for re-election in 2019.
The Benno Bokk Yakaar (BBY) coalition swept all except three of the country’s 45 electoral departments, said Prime Minister Mahammed Boun Abdallah Dionne.
The ruling coalition “emerged victorious” following the vote on Sunday, Dionne said, while the turnout was 54 percent among Senegal’s 6.2 million registered voters.
Dionne said opposition coalition lists were likely to be ahead in the departments of Kedougou, Saraya and possibly Mbacke, but otherwise the BBY list of candidates “had been voted in by the Senegalese people.”
The official results are expected later this week. Some complained of being left off the electoral rolls on Sunday, and there were delays to voting in several places, partly due to bad weather.
Sall’s main threat to increasing his power in Parliament was posed by ex-leader Abdoulaye Wade, 91, who was aiming to drum up support for his own list of candidates and his son, Karim, who is not on the ballot but has ambitions for the presidency.
His other serious opponent, Dakar Mayor Khalifa Sall (no relation), is in jail awaiting trial for what supporters say are politically motivated embezzlement charges, and headed a list while campaigning from his jail cell.
The mayor had been seen as a key contender for 2019 and a potential threat to the president in parliament until he was charged in March with allegedly misappropriating 1.83 billion CFA francs ($2.85 million) in city funds.
There were 47 lists of candidates contesting the election, with 165 lawmakers due to take seats in Parliament.
NDJAMENA, Chad: French Defense Minister Florence Parly arrived in Chad on Sunday, at the start of a tour of three Sahel countries, assuring that French troops in the region will have the means to carry out their mission against militants.
“You can count on my determination that you will have the necessary means to carry out your mission,” she told the head of Operation Barkhane — a 4,000-man French mission to shore up fragile Sahel countries against militant bombings, shootings, and kidnappings.
“It is my fight, it is less risky than yours, of course,” she added.
Parly was beginning a two-day swing of the region, during which she will be joined by German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen in a joint show of support for the initiative.
Parly “will reaffirm France’s support for the emergence of a joint G-5 Sahel force (…) tasked with playing a key role in fighting terrorism and trafficking, which are contributing to instability in the region,” the French Defense Ministry said in a statement ahead of her arrival.
After meeting Chadian President Idriss Deby in Ndjamena, Parly will head for talks in Niger with head of state Mahamadou Issoufou and with President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in Mali.
The planned Group of Five (G-5) Sahel anti-terror force would gather Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger in a 5,000-man joint unit.
France is trying to muster international support for the estimated €423 million ($480 million) it will cost, as the participating countries rank among the poorest nations in the world.
French President Emmanuel Macron has won a commitment — yet to be detailed — from German Chancellor Angela Merkel to support the scheme.
Von der Leyen will join Parly in Niger and Mali where they will “seize the opportunity to show their support for providing equipment and training for the G-5 force, as well as their active efforts to mobilize European and international partners to support their action,” the French Defense Ministry said.
ISLAMABAD: A close ally of ousted Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Monday submitted papers in Parliament to become new premier, part of a two-part plan by the ruling party for a smooth transition that will see Sharif’s brother take the reins later.
Former Petroleum Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi is expected to be elected the new prime minister on Tuesday by Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party’s majority of lawmakers.
Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered Sharif disqualified from office last week over unreported income uncovered during a sweeping investigation of his finances.
The court also ordered a separate criminal investigation into Sharif and his family in its ruling, which Sharif’s allies have portrayed as political meddling but opposition leader Imran Khan has hailed as a victory for the rule of law.
Abbasi on Monday stressed he would continue Sharif’s policies. His tenure is expected to last only about two months until Sharif’s brother, Shahbaz, becomes eligible to be prime minister by winning a parliamentary by-election.
Sharif’s PML-N won elections in 2013 and holds a majority with 188 seats in the 342-member Parliament, so it should be able to swiftly install its choice of premier, barring any defections from its own ranks.
Sharif said over the weekend he was shocked by Friday’s Supreme Court ruling disqualifying him from office over unreported income from a company owned by his son in Dubai. Sharif said the monthly salary — equivalent to $2,722 — was nominal and he never actually received any of it.
The Supreme Court employed little-used Article 62 of the Constitution, which calls for the dismissal of any lawmaker deemed dishonest, to remove Sharif. His allies believe the verdict smacks of judicial overreach. Others say privately that elements of the military had a hand in the process.