Japan executes seven cult leaders behind Tokyo Sarin attacks

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

 

Japan executes seven cult leaders behind Tokyo Sarin attacks

Shoko AsaharaImage copyrightAFP
Image caption Shoko Asahara headed the Aum Shimrikyo cult

Seven members of the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult which carried out a deadly chemical attack on the Tokyo underground in 1995 have been executed, including cult leader Shoko Asahara.

The Sarin attack, Japan’s worst terror incident, killed 13 people and injured thousands more.

The executions took place at a Tokyo detention house on Friday morning.

Japan does not give prior notice of executions, but they were later confirmed by the justice ministry.

Shoko Asahara and his followers were also accused of several other murders and an earlier Sarin gas attack in 1994 which killed eight and left 600 injured.

Their execution, by hanging, had been postponed until all those convicted had completed their final appeals. That happened in January.

Another six members of the cult are still on death row.

What was the Tokyo attack?

On 20 March 1995, cult members released the Sarin on the subway in the Japanese capital. They left punctured bags filled with liquid nerve agent on train lines going through Tokyo’s political district.

Witnesses described noticing the leaking packages and soon afterwards feeling stinging fumes hitting their eyes.

The toxin struck victims down in a matter of seconds, leaving them choking and vomiting, some blinded and paralysed. Thirteen people died.

In the following months, members of the cult carried out several failed attempts at releasing hydrogen cyanide in various stations.

Media captionWitness: Tokyo attack

The attack shocked Japan, a country that prided itself on low crime rates and social cohesion.

Scores of Aum members have faced trial over the attack – 13 were sentenced to death, including Asahara.

Another six are serving life sentences.

What is the Aum Shinrikyo cult?

The cult, whose name means “supreme truth”, began in the 1980s as a spiritual group mixing Hindu and Buddhist beliefs, later working in elements of apocalyptic Christian prophesies.

The group’s founder, Shoko Asahara, also known as Chizuo Matsumoto, declared himself to be both Christ and the first “enlightened one” since Buddha.

Aum cultist in Japan - 1999 file picImage copyrightAFP
Image captionAum Shinrikyo is believed to still have thousands of followers

Aum Shinrikyo gained official status as a religious organisation in Japan in 1989 and picked up a sizeable global following. At its peak, Asahara had tens of thousands of followers worldwide.

The group gradually became a paranoid doomsday cult, convinced the world was about to end in a global war and that only they would survive.

The cult went underground after the 1995 attack, but did not disappear, eventually renaming itself Aleph or Hikari no Wa.

Aum Shinrikyo is designated a terrorist organisation in the US and many other countries, but Aleph and Hikari no Wa are both legal in Japan, although designated as “dangerous religions” subject to surveillance.

It still has followers both in Japan and also worldwide, in particular in some countries of the former Soviet Union.

In 2016, police in Russia conducted a number of raids on suspected cult members in Moscow and St Petersburg.

Why has the execution been so delayed?

In Japan, death sentences are not carried out until the verdict against all accused and accomplices are final, with no pending appeals left against any of the group.

The trials against the cult members only wrapped up in January this year after the Supreme Court upheld the verdict against one member sentenced to life in prison.

There has been strong public support for the Aum convicts to be put to death.

Since an effective moratorium ended in 2010, Japan has executed as many as eight people a year.

The death penalty is only used for serious cases of murder and is carried out by hanging.

Officials do not give advance public notification – condemned prisoners themselves are usually only told they are to die a few hours before the sentence is carried out.

Related Topics

More on this story

  • Aum Shinrikyo: The Japanese cult behind Tokyo gas attack
    4 hours ago

Asia

Thailand Cave Rescue: Boys Found Alive After Nine Days Trapped In Flooded Cave

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

 

Thailand cave rescue: Boys found alive after nine days

The boys being foundImage copyrightTHAI NAVY SEAL
Image caption Divers released images of the group being found

All 12 boys and their football coach have been found alive after nine days missing in caves in Thailand, in a drama that gripped the nation.

All of them are safe, an official confirmed, speaking after the mammoth search operation in the Tham Luang caves in Chiang Rai.

The challenge now will be to extract the party safely, with rising water and mud impeding access.

Families of the missing group were ecstatic at news of the rescue.

Media captionJonathan Head reports from the scene on the obstacles rescuers will need to overcome

Live updates

The missing group were discovered by naval special forces, Chiang Rai governor Narongsak Osottanakorn said.

Rescuers had hoped they would find safety on a ledge in an underground chamber nicknamed Pattaya Beach but they were found 400 metres (440 yards) away having moved to higher ground to avoid the rising water.

In video posted on Facebook by Thai Navy SEAL, one of the rescuers can be heard speaking in English to the group, as they sit on a ledge above water in a cavern, picked out by torchlight.

“How many of you?” the rescuer, who appears to be English, asks.

“Thirteen!”

“Thirteen? Brilliant!”

Family members celebrate while camping out near Than Luang cave following news all members of children's football team and their coach were alive in the cave at Khun Nam Nang, 2 JulyImage copyrightAFP
Image captionThere was jubilation among family members camping near the caves

The group’s plight has gripped the country and led to an outpouring of support.

The boys aged 11 to 16 and their coach went to explore the caves on 23 June.


An uplifting breakthrough

By Jonathan Head, BBC News, Tham Luang

There are scenes of jubilation here at the cave entrance – drowned out by the generators powering the water pumps and filling the air tanks for the dozens of divers whose persistence in the toughest of underground conditions has paid off.

Family members celebrate while camping out near Than Luang cave following news all members of children's football team and their coach were alive in the cave at Khun Nam Nang, 2 JulyImage copyrightAFP
Image captionFamily members celebrated near the cave

Now the authorities must figure out how to extract them. The first priority is to get them medical treatment and food where they are, to rebuild their strength.

The whole country has watched every stage of this operation, holding its breath for what seemed an increasingly unlikely happy ending.

They are not out yet but this is an uplifting breakthrough after the Thai government threw everything it could to try to save these boys’ lives.


Who are the group in the cave?

Group of teenage boys with coachImage copyrightFACEBOOK/EKATOL
Image captionA Facebook photo shows the coach with some of the missing children
  • The 12 boys are members of the Moo Pa – or Wild Boar – football team.
  • Their 25-year-old assistant coach, Ekkapol Janthawong, is known to have occasionally taken them out on day trips – including a trip to the same cave two years ago.
  • The youngest member, Chanin “Titan” Wibrunrungrueang, is 11 – he started playing football aged seven.
  • Duangpet “Dom” Promtep, 13, is the team captain and said to be the motivator of the group.
  • The club’s head coach Nopparat Kantawong who did not join the group on their excursion, says he believes the boys, who dream of becoming professional football players in the future, will stick together.
  • “I believe they won’t abandon each other,” he told media outlets. “They will take care of each other.”

“They are all safe but the mission is not completed,” the Chiang Rai governor told a press conference at the command centre at the cave entrance.

Media captionFootage from the Thai Navy shows rescuers at the Tham Luang caves in Chiang Rai

“Our mission is to search, rescue and return. So far we just found them. Next mission is to bring them out from the cave and send them home.”

BBC graphic

The governor said they would continue to drain water out of the cave while sending doctors and nurses to dive into the cave to check the health of the boys and their coach.

“If the doctors say their physical condition is strong enough to be moved, they will take them out from the cave,” he said.

“We will look after them until they can return to school.”

More than 1,000 people have been involved in the rescue operation, including teams from China, Myanmar, Laos, Australia and the US.

Asia

G7 summit: War of words erupts between US and key allies

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

 

G7 summit: War of words erupts between US and key allies

Photo from the G7 summit of the leaders, tweeted by the German government on 9 June 2018Image copyrightAFP
Image captionThe final communique had been intended as a face-saving agreement after a bad-tempered summit

A war of words has erupted between the US and its G7 allies, hours after the group had put on an apparent show of unity at the end of a tense summit.

US President Donald Trump and two of his advisers lashed out at Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, accusing him of engaging in “bad faith diplomacy”.

Germany’s Angela Merkel said Mr Trump’s decision to reject a joint communique was “sobering” and “depressing”.

That statement had sought to overcome deep disagreements, notably over trade.

In recent weeks, trading partners of the US have criticised new tariffs on steel and aluminium imports imposed by the Trump administration.

So how did the latest spat unfold?

In a news conference after the summit, the Canadian leader reasserted his opposition to the US tariffs, and vowed to press ahead with retaliatory moves on 1 July.

“Canadians are polite and reasonable but we will also not be pushed around,” he said.

Media captionTrudeau: “I don’t want to hurt American workers”

Mr Trump responded by tweeting en route to his next summit, in Singapore, that he had instructed US officials “not to endorse the communique as we look at tariffs on automobiles”.

He said the move was based on Mr Trudeau’s “false statements… and the fact that Canada is charging massive tariffs to our US farmers, workers and companies”.

His top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, and trade adviser, Peter Navarro, then took to the Sunday morning news shows to further attack Mr Trudeau.

“He really kind of stabbed us in the back,” Mr Kudlow said, while Mr Navarro said: “There is a special place in Hell for any leader that engages in bad faith diplomacy with President Donald J Trump and then tries to stab him in the back on the way out the door.”

Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland responded by saying Mr Trump’s argument for imposing tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminium was “absurd and frankly insulting to Canadians”.

Mr Trump has cited national security as his reason, telling a news conference on Saturday that “to have a great military you need a great balance sheet”.

Canada, she said, is “the closest and strongest ally the United States has had. We can’t pose a security threat to the United States and I know that Americans understand that”.

Other G7 partners also seemed stunned by Mr Trump’s reaction, and pledged to support the communique.

Media captionWho left their mark on President Trump at the G7 summit?

French President Emmanuel Macron said international co-operation could not be “dictated by fits of anger and throwaway remarks”.

“Let’s be serious and worthy of our people,” a statement from the French presidency said. “We make commitments and keep to them.”

What is in the joint communique?

In the communique after the summit in La Malbaie, Quebec province, the group of major industrial nations – Canada, the US, the UK, France, Italy, Japan and Germany – had agreed on the need for “free, fair, and mutually beneficial trade” and the importance of fighting protectionism.

Other agreements reached include:

Mr Trump’s twitter attack on Mr Trudeau came minutes after the communique had been published.

What are the tariffs?

On 1 June, the US imposed a 25% tariff for steel and 10% for aluminium on imports from the European Union (EU), Canada, and Mexico. Mr Trump said the move would protect domestic producers that were vital to US security.

The EU then announced retaliatory tariffs on US goods ranging from Harley-Davidson motorcycles to bourbon. Canada and Mexico are also taking action.

Media captionDairy wars: Why is Trump threatening Canada over milk?

What is the G7?

It is an annual summit bringing together seven major industrialised nations which represent more than 60% of global net worth between them.

Economics tops the agenda, although the meetings now always branch off to cover major global issues.

Russia was suspended from the group – then called the G8 – in 2014 because of its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

On Friday, Mr Trump made a surprise call for Moscow to be readmitted but German Chancellor Angela Merkel said other members were against the idea.

The best way to get news on the go
Download the BBC News App.

More on this story

  • What’s happening in this picture?
    7 hours ago
  • Video Trump at G7: We’re a piggy bank that everyone keeps robbing
    9 June 2018
  • G7 summit: $3bn pledge for girls’ education
    9 June 2018
  • May says G7 will act over Russia’s ‘malign activity’
    10 June 2018
  • An awkward G7 summit
    5 June 2018
  • The looming trade row
    8 June 2018
  • What is a trade war?
    23 March 2018

US & Canada

G7: Trump says Russia should be part of summit

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

 

G7: Trump says Russia should be part of summit

Media captionTrump to G7: ‘They should let Russia come back in

US President Donald Trump says he wants Russia to be part of the G7 group of key industrialised nations.

Russia was expelled in 2014 following its annexation of Crimea, but Mr Trump said he wanted the country readmitted.

The build-up to the meeting has seen major disagreements between the US president and other nations over his imposition of trade tariffs.

There are also likely to be disagreements with Mr Trump over Iran and climate change.

The G7 summit, which groups Canada, the US, the UK, France, Italy, Japan and Germany, is being held in the town of La Malbaie in Quebec, Canada.

The leaders of the nations, which represent more than 60% of global net worth, meet annually. Economics tops the agenda, although the meetings now always branch off to cover major global issues.

What did Mr Trump say about Russia?

Mr Trump said he regretted the meeting had shrunk in size, putting him at odds with most other G7 members on yet another issue.

“You know, whether you like it or – and it may not be politically correct – but we have a world to run and in the G7, which used to be the G8, they threw Russia out. They should let Russia come back in,” he said.

He found support in the shape of the newly installed Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who tweeted that it was “in the interests of everyone” for Russia to be readmitted.

Canada, France and the UK though immediately signalled they remain opposed to Russian re-entry. A Kremlin spokesperson said they were interested in “other formats”, apart from the G7.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is currently in Beijing, where he was presented with a friendship medal by Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.

Fellow members of what was then the G8 suspended Russia after it took control of Crimea, saying it would remain until Russia “changes course”.

Presentational grey line

Trump arrives with a bang

By the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent, James Robbins

Relations between Donald Trump and America’s leading allies were already at a new low over trade tariffs before the president casually dropped his Russia hand-grenade.

Most G7 leaders think the decision to expel Russia in 2014 was right then, and remains right today. Even Russia itself seems lukewarm about rejoining.

In many ways, this seems to be a deliberate Donald Trump tactic, to distract attention from his war of words with the rest of the G7 over trade and protectionism.

President Trump dislikes the whole idea of the G7: a club of nations which traditionally comes together around shared values rooted in a world order based on agreed rules. Last to arrive, he’ll also be first to leave.

Presentational grey line

What were the exchanges on the eve of the summit?

It was mainly France and Canada v Donald Trump, sparked by Mr Trump’s imposition of steel and aluminium tariffs.

Appearing alongside host leader Justin Trudeau, French President Emmanuel Macron said: “A trade war doesn’t spare anyone. It will start first of all to hurt US workers.”

For his part Mr Trudeau described Mr Trump’s citing of national security to defend his steel and aluminium tariffs as “laughable”.

Never one to back down, Mr Trump fired off a series of tweets, keeping up the tirade on Friday.

Speaking to reporters before the summit he again criticised other nations for their treatment of the US but predicted tensions would ease and “we’ll all be in love again”.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May appeared to take a more conciliatory approach, saying she wanted the EU to act with restraint and proportion in retaliating to the US tariffs.

Unlike Mr Macron and Mr Trudeau, she won’t be having a bilateral meeting with Mr Trump, but insisted on Friday it was not a snub.

The EU has called Mr Trump’s tariffs “protectionism, pure and simple” and are among others in announcing retaliatory measures.

Media captionDairy wars: Why is Trump threatening Canada over milk?

What else can we expect in Quebec?

Mr Trump is leaving early to head to Singapore for his landmark summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, meaning he will miss some of the topics advanced by Mr Trudeau.

The five themes for this year’s summit are:

  • Inclusive economic growth
  • Gender equality and women’s empowerment
  • World peace and security
  • Jobs of the future
  • Climate change and oceans

According to the leaders’ programme, Mr Trump will be around for the economic and security issues being discussed on Friday but will miss climate change, the environment and probably gender equality on Saturday.

The US president was very much the odd man out on climate change during the G7 in Italy last year, later announcing his intention to withdraw from the landmark Paris agreement.

Media captionG7 summit: Trapped in the world’s most secure house

Iran is also a big sticking point. Mr Trump recently ditched the 2015 agreement with Tehran that aimed to curb its nuclear programme. This angered the other signatories who have since sought to shore it up.

Previous G7 meetings have seen huge protests, and about 8,000 soldiers and police officers are expected to be on hand during the Quebec event.

Protester in QuebecImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionA protester with a flare at a protest march in Quebec City, ahead of the summit

More on this story

  • G7 ministers criticise US tariffs and warn of trade war
    3 June 2018
  • G7 demand action on extremist net content at summit
    26 May 2017
  • US tariffs: Allies retaliate with levies on jam, lamps and sleeping bags
    1 June 2018
  • China warns US sanctions will void trade talks
    3 June 2018

Guatemala volcano: Dozens die as Fuego volcano erupts

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

 

Guatemala volcano: Dozens die as Fuego volcano erupts

Fuego volcano, GuatemalaImage copyrightGUATEMALA GOVERNMENT
Image captionThis eruption of Fuego is the biggest since 1974, experts say

Twenty-five people have been killed and hundreds injured after Guatemala’s Fuego volcano erupted, officials say.

The volcano, about 40km (25 miles) south-west of the capital Guatemala City, has been spewing rock, black smoke and ash into the sky.

The National Disaster Management Agency (Conred) said a river of lava hit the village of El Rodeo, destroying houses and burning people inside.

In Guatemala City, La Aurora airport has been closed due to ash.

President Jimmy Morales said a national emergency response had been launched.

“We think that there could be a state of devastation in at least three areas,” President Morales said.

This eruption is the biggest since 1974, according to local experts.

The Conred head Sergio Cabañas told a local radio station that a river of lava had changed course towards El Rodeo.

“It’s a river of lava that overflowed its banks and affected the El Rodeo village. There are injured, burned and dead people.

“Unfortunately El Rodeo was buried and we haven’t been able to reach the La Libertad village because of the lava and maybe there are people that died there too.”

Police carry a wounded man in El Rodeo villageImage copyrightAFP/GETTY
Image captionHundreds have been wounded by the eruption

Mr Cabañas later said the dead included a member of his agency’s staff.

Several children are among those confirmed dead.

Videos published by local media show bodies lying on top of a lava flow and rescuers attending to people covered in ash.

woman rests at a temporary shelterImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionThousands have been evacuated

One woman told the Diario de Centroamerica that lava had poured through corn fields and she thought more people may have died.

“Not everyone escaped, I think they were buried,” Consuelo Hernandez said.

A total of about 1.7 million people have been affected by the eruption, the Guatemalan government says.

Officials have advised citizens to wear masks due to falling ash, which has been raining down in four of Guatemala’s administrative regions.

Bikes covered in ashImage copyrightAFP/GETTY
Image captionFalling ash has coated streets
man covers faceImage copyrightAFP/GETTY
Image captionOfficials have advised people to wear masks

A disaster authority spokesman said a change in wind direction was to blame for the volcanic ash falling on parts of the capital.

The Guatemalan military said it was providing assistance from rescue operations to setting up temporary shelters and clearing volcanic ash from La Aurora airport’s runway.

Latin America & Caribbean

Syria blames Israel for missile strike near Damascus

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

 

Syria blames Israel for missile strike near Damascus

Screenshot from Syrian state TV apparently the downing of Israeli missiles near DamascusImage copyrightAFP
Image captionSyrian state TV broadcast footage it said showed the downing of Israeli missiles near Damascus

Israel is reported to have carried out a missile strike on a military outpost south of the Syrian capital, Damascus.

Syria’s state news agency Sana said two missiles were shot down in the Kiswah area on Tuesday night, and that two civilians were killed in an explosion.

But a monitoring group said the missiles hit an Iranian weapons depot, killing 15 pro-government fighters.

Israel declined to comment. But the reports came after it noted “irregular activity” by Iranian forces in Syria.

The Israeli military placed its troops in the occupied Golan Heights on high alert and urged civilians to prepare bomb shelters.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meanwhile flew to Moscow to discuss Syria with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a key ally of the Syrian government.

Syrian state television broadcast video footage overnight which it said showed air defences intercepting two missiles fired towards Kiswah, about 10km (6 miles) south-west of Damascus.

Sana reported that a man and his wife were killed by an explosion resulting from the interceptions as they drove along the Damascus-Deraa motorway.

A commander in a regional military alliance supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told Reuters news agency that the missiles targeted a Syrian army base.

However, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, reported that the missiles struck weapons depots and missile launchers belonging to Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards force.

Eight members of the Revolutionary Guards and several other non-Syrian nationals were among at least 15 pro-government fighters who were killed, it said.

Presentational grey line

‘Deepening sense of crisis’

By Jonathan Marcus, defence correspondent, BBC News

Israel’s reported pre-emptive strike on an Iranian missile battery in Syria last night underscores the deepening sense of crisis in the region.

These are the opening skirmishes in what could develop into a brutal war that may sweep across Israel, Lebanon and Syria.

Both the US and Russia (which the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is visiting on Wednesday) have a crucial role in determining both the context and scope of any conflict; of determining whether it will be more or less likely. US President Donald Trump is likely to embolden Iran’s hardliners with his decision to pull out of the nuclear deal.

Russia’s support for the Assad regime in Syria and its relationship with Tehran present worrying possibilities for Israel. If it wanted, Moscow could significantly limit the Israeli Air Force’s freedom of action, either by supplying advanced air defences to Syria or by using its own assets already located in the country.

Mr Netanyahu and Mr Putin have a lot to talk about.

Presentational grey line

Last year, a Western intelligence source told the BBC that the Iranian military had established a compound near Kiswah. It was subsequently targeted in a missile strike attributed to Israel.

Iran is an ally of Mr Assad and has deployed hundreds of troops to Syria. Thousands of militiamen armed, trained and financed by Iran – mostly from Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, but also Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen – have also been fighting alongside the Syrian army.

Israel has not commented on the reports, but its government has vowed to stop what it considers Iran’s military “entrenchment” in Syria.

On 8 April, Israeli missiles are alleged to have hit an airbase in Homs province – reportedly serving as an Iranian drone command centre and containing an advanced Iranian air defence system – killing seven Iranian personnel.

And on 29 April, a suspected Israeli missile strike on an Iranian missile depot near the city of Hama reportedly killed a number of pro-government fighters.

High alert

Tensions in the region escalated on Tuesday when the Israeli military said it had detected “irregular Iranian activity” by Iranian forces in Syria and placed troops on “high alert for an attack”.

The military said it was “prepared for various scenarios” and warned Iran and its proxies that “any aggression against Israel will be met with a severe response”.

Local media said it was the first time there had been an order for local authorities in the Golan to prepare shelters in the occupied area since the Syrian civil war began.

Israeli outlets also reported that the military was calling up a number of reservists.

It came as President Donald Trump said the US would quit the Iran nuclear deal.

Going against advice from European allies, he said he would reimpose economic sanctions that were lifted when the deal was signed in 2015.

Israel’s prime minister said he fully supported Mr Trump’s decision, asserting that the deal had “dramatically increased” Iranian “aggression” across the Middle East.

Map of Golan Heights

Croatia Has To Close Border Withe Serbia: Too Many Refugees Crossing

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME NEWS AND THE BBC)

 

A baby cries as migrants board a bus in Tovarnik, Croatia, on Sept. 17, 2015
A baby cries as migrants board a bus in Tovarnik, Croatia, on Sept. 17, 2015
Antonio Bronic—Reuters
By HELEN REGAN

September 18, 2015

Croatia closed seven out of eight border crossings with Serbia Thursday after 10,000 refugees entered in two days.

Croatia’s Interior Minister Ranko Ostojic told reporters that the country was “absolutely full” and could no longer take any more refugees, reports the BBC.

“Don’t come here anymore,” he said. “Stay in refugee centers in Serbia and Macedonia and Greece. This is not the road to Europe. Buses can’t take you there. It’s a lie.”

According to the BBC, Croatia has been overwhelmed by the new arrivals. On Thursday, crowds of people tried to break through police lines at two towns on the border with Serbia, in the hope of getting to the Croatian capital, Zagreb. Scuffles broke out at Tovarnik and Batina, two of the crossings that are now closed.

Buses arrived to take the refugees to a registration center, but there was not enough transport to take everyone, and thousands of people reportedly spent Thursday night sleeping on the roadside or in fields.

Hungary sealed off its southern border with Serbia on Wednesday, forcing thousands of desperate people to turn to neighboring Croatia in order to attempt to make their way to northern Europe and their preferred destination: Germany.

In chaotic scenes at the Serbian border town of Horgos, riot police on the Hungarian side of the border used tear gas and water cannons to repel crowds of refugees back into Serbia. Hungary has defended its actions and has vowed to continue to forcefully defend its border, reports the Guardian.

The border closures in Croatia and Hungary mean the main land route from Greece to northern Europe has effectively been cut off, reports the BBC.

Meanwhile, Slovenia said it stopped a group of refugees on a train at the border and would return them to Zagreb. Slovenia, which lies to the north of Croatia and shares a border with Austria, is part of the E.U. border-free Schengen area. On Thursday, Slovenian officials told the European Commission that its border with Hungary would be closed for at least 10 days.

[BBC]

Stephen Hawking dies aged 76

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

 

Stephen Hawking dies aged 76

Media captionNick Higham looks back at Professor Stephen Hawking’s life

Stephen Hawking has died at the age of 76, his family has said.

The British physicist was known for his work with black holes and relativity, and wrote several popular science books including A Brief History of Time.

“We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today,” a family statement said.

At the age of 22 Stephen Hawking was given only a few years to live after being diagnosed with a rare form of motor neurone disease.

Stephen HawkingImage copyrightBBC/RICHARD ANSETT

The illness left him wheelchair-bound and largely unable to speak except through a voice synthesiser.

In the statement his children, Lucy, Robert and Tim said: “He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years.”

They praised his “courage and persistence” and said his “brilliance and humour” inspired people across the world.

“He once said, ‘It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.’ We will miss him forever.”


Factfile: Stephen Hawking

  • Born 8 January 1942 in Oxford, England
  • Earned place at Oxford University to read natural science in 1959, before studying for his PhD at Cambridge
  • By 1963, was diagnosed with motor neurone disease and given two years to live
  • Outlined his theory that black holes emit “Hawking radiation” in 1974
  • Published his book A Brief History of Time in 1988, which has sold more than 10 million copies
  • His life story was the subject of the 2014 film The Theory of Everything, starring Eddie Redmayne

Murder of Investigative Journalist Ján Kuciak Shakes Slovak Society

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘GLOBAL VOICES’)

 

Murder of Investigative Journalist Ján Kuciak Shakes Slovak Society

Killed Slovak journalist Ján Kuciak. Photo by Aktuality.sk, used with permission.

On February 25, Slovak journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiance Martina Kušnírová were found shot dead in their home about 65 km east of the capital Bratislava. The murders caused widespread shock and protests throughout the country.

Kuciak, 27, had worked for the news site Aktuality.sk. More than a week after the murder, there has been no headway in the official investigation.

According to BBC, between 10,000 and 20,000 people took to the streets across Slovakia on Friday in protest vigils in Kuciak’s memory, with some calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Robert Fico, the leader of the political party Direction – Social Democracy (SMER-SD).

Thousands of people are marching in Bratislava. This is huge reaction on murder of Slovak investigative journalist and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová. It’s probably biggest demonstration since independence of Slovakia.
(Photo credits: Tomáš Benedikovič, @dennikN)

Police and people close to Kuciak suspect his death was related to his work. His most recent investigation, which had yet to be published, looked at connections between Slovak government politicians and Italian mafia interests in eastern Slovakia, aimed at defrauding European Union (EU) subsidies for agriculture.

Several days after the murder, Slovak police arrested but then released Italian citizens Antonino Vadala, Bruno Vadala, and Pietro Catroppa who all are allegedly connected to the large-scale Italian organized crime group ‘Ndrangheta, which Kuciak was investigating prior to his death.

Various independent voices online since have pointed to connections between the ruling party and the Italian mafia.

Some comments have focused on Antonino Vadala, who once referred to Slovakia’s ruling SMER party as “our party”. Shortly thereafter, multiple politicians released statements saying they had no connection to Vadala.

Blogger Jiří Ščobák observed while lead parliamentarian Andrej Danko had posted an image of a candle on his Facebook page, to honor Kuciak, he had in fact previously been friends with Vadala. Ščobák juxtaposed a screenshot of the recent post, alongside a screenshot showing that they had been Facebook friends.

Connections with the Italian mafia is a taboo topic for Slovak media. Kuciak continued investigating them after journalist Ivan Mego from Plus 7 Dní weekly got orders from his superiors to stop his inquires on this topic, and was sacked in February.

Ján Kuciak’s colleagues from Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and his outlet, Aktuality.sk, defied this norm and decided to posthumously publish the last story he was working on.

A former topless model who was hired unexpectedly by Slovakia’s Prime Minister turned out to be the former business partner of a man with ties to the ‘Ndrangheta. /3

You can kill a journalist, but you will never kill the story. We are proud to publish Jan’s last, unfinished investigation. https://www.occrp.org/en/amurderedjournalistslastinvestigation/ 

A Murdered Journalist’s Last Investigation – OCCRP

The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) is a global network of investigative journalists.

occrp.org

Kuciak was not the kind of investigative journalist who worked with many secret sources. His style was rooted primarily in collecting and connecting information from public archives.

Last September, he filed a criminal complaint because of verbal threats from a known Slovak entrepreneur.

The tax office about which assassinated journalist Jan Kuciak was investigating is up in flames today. Below, evidence burning: https://twitter.com/karelpeka/status/968442142472462336 

Slovak left-wing populist Prime Minister Róbert Fico is known for his verbal attacks on journalists, calling them “hyenas”, “dirty anti-Slovak prostitutes” and even “toilet spiders”.

Nevertheless, just two days after Kuciak’s killing, he put up a reward of one million euros from the state budget for information about the murder.

How is it even possible for PM to take 1 million € from the state treasury in CASH and put it on the table during a press conference? What law allowed him to do this with taxpayers’ money?

Two people with close ties to Fico figured prominently in Kuciak’s stories — Mária Trošková, a former girlfriend of Antonino Vadala, and Viliam Jasaň, who served as the chief of crisis management and state security, and had ties with a Vadala’s company.

Trošková and Jasaň have voluntarily left their posts in the government, pending the conclusion of the investigation of the journalist’s murder. When asked to explain their departure, which they say is temporary, both cited pressure from the media, arguing that “their names are abused in political struggle against Fico”.

Blogger Milan Ftorek pointed to contradictions in the PM’s public behavior:

Has the Slovak Prime Minister gone mad? …during one press conference he managed to both play the part of a person who wants to expose Kuciak’s killers, but at the same time he defended those who were the subject of Kuciak’s investigations?

Newspapers, political opposition voices and many members of the general public reacted with outrage, organizing memorials, marches and protests in Slovakiaand abroad, honoring Kuciak and Kušnírová.

#AllForJan webpage set up by Aktuality.sk commemorating Jan Kuciak (27), and Martina Kušnírová (27)

Kuciak’s media outlet Aktuality.sk is using the hashtag #AllForJan, while many have simply been using a hashtag with the journalist’s name .

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Has Arrived In London

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

 

 0:45
Mohammed bin Salman arrives at Downing Street to meet Theresa May

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrived in London March 7 for a three-day visit to the United Kingdom as part of his first official overseas tour. 

Mohammed bin Salman, the divisive crown prince of Saudi Arabia, arrived in London on Wednesday for a three-day state visit. The 32-year-old was greeted at the airport by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and had lunch with Queen Elizabeth II, a rare honor for a man not yet head of state.

Later, he will dine with Prince Charles and Prince William — two British royals who are, like him, next in line to the throne, although they hold a small fraction of his political power.

But the pomp and the red carpet notwithstanding, Mohammed’s visit already has turned into a bitter PR battle between those who support the moves he is making for Saudi Arabia and those who call him a “war criminal.”

In some cases, the battle veered into absurd territory, such as when pro-Saudi advertisements were placed next to online articles criticizing the crown prince.

Although Mohammed has pushed through some liberal policies at home — including his dramatic decision to allow women to drive — and he is viewed as a key economic ally for a post-Brexit Britain, his foreign policy is controversial in London.

Notably, the crown prince is the architect of a Saudi-led intervention against Iran-allied rebels in Yemen. Critics say Saudi Arabia’s indiscriminate use of force in that conflict has had disastrous consequences for Yemeni civilians, exacerbating what may be the worst humanitarian disaster on earth.


Vans bearing messages of welcome for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman are parked in Whitehall in central London on March 7. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/getty Images)

According to U.N. estimates from last year, more than 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen since 2015. More than 3 million people have been displaced, the United Nations estimated, and 80 percent of the population is in need of humanitarian aid.

Awkwardly for Johnson and Prime Minister Theresa May, Britain is a key military supplier of Saudi Arabia. According to one estimate, sales of British weapons to Saudi Arabiaincreased almost 500 percent, to 4.6 billion pounds ($6.4 billion), after 2015, when the Saudi intervention in Yemen began. Saudi Arabia is now the top destination for British-manufactured weapons.

A poll commissioned by the Campaign Against Arms Trade and carried out by Populus found that 6 percent of the British public supported arms sales to Saudi Arabia; 37 percent opposed Mohammed’s visit to Britain.

Amid this public mistrust, advertisements praising Mohammed’s reforms have been blanketing London — in an apparent bid to woo Britons. The advertisements have appeared on billboards, on taxis, on trucks and in newspapers.

View image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on Twitter

Feels like arriving in – when entering London from the M4 & M40 one is greeted by the “beloved leader” @AEISaudi & the lobby try to turn around the kingdom’s image in a not so subtle way @alekhbariyatv

I count one full-page and three half-page “yay for Saudi Arabia” ads in today’s @FT

AEI Saudi, the firm behind the advertisements, is a consulting business that was registered in Riyadh in 2002. In a blog post, the firm’s founder highlighted the significant changes he has seen in recent years in Saudi Arabia, such as a new inclusion of Saudi women in public life.

“If there is one individual who has been the driving force behind these changes it is ‘MbS’, as he is often known,” wrote Adam Hosier, the British-born founder of the firm. “He has faced resistance of course, both internally and from powers outside the Kingdom, yet he has not faltered.”

But these were not the only advertisements greeting the crown prince. In central London, buses were emblazoned with messages accusing Mohammed of being a “war criminal,” while social media users used hashtags to let the Saudi royal know that he was “not welcome.”

Activists from Avaaz, a global activism group, parked a van outside Parliament and had two figures dressed as Mohammed and May drop off child-size body bags. A sign on the van said May should tell the crown prince: “Stop the slaughter, start peace talks!”


Activists from Avaaz stage a protest outside Parliament timed to coincide with the visit by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in London on March 7. (Henry Nicholls/Reuters)

Save the Children, a London-based charity, also highlighted the plight of children in Yemen by placing outside Parliament a small statue of a child standing in rubble and staring at the sky.

Meanwhile, the Arab Organization for Human Rights in UK has scheduled a protest outside Downing Street, due to start at 5 p.m. local time.

Join us outside Downing Street from 5pm this evening to oppose the Crown Prince and all UK arms sales to his regime. http://aje.io/24aln 

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman begins official UK visit

As ruling party welcomes Gulf royal, protesters and opposition politicians call on prime minister to challenge kingdom.

aljazeera.com

It is unclear who is winning the PR battle — other than advertising agencies, of course. The pro-Saudi messages were certainly mocked: Some noted that the advertisements looked better suited to a “sleazy gentlemen’s club” and pointed out that online ads praising Mohammed had appeared next to articles about Saudi corruption.

These adverts for the Saudi Crown Prince are everywhere! Even on articles about Saudi corruption in the Guardian. Cc @claytonswisher.

Many of the billboards welcoming the crown prince appeared along the motorways that connect Heathrow Airport to central London — suggesting that Mohammed may have been the intended audience.

Ads praising MBS all along the M4 this morning. Are they targeted at Brits, or at the Crown Prince’s motorcade?

However, the protests outside Parliament seem to have resonated inside Westminster. During the weekly Prime Minister’s Question Time on Wednesday afternoon, opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn criticized Saudi Arabia’s record on human rights and accused May of “colluding” in suspected war crimes in Yemen.

“The link that we have with Saudi Arabia is historic, it is an important one, and it has saved the lives of potentially hundreds of people in this country,” May responded, as opposition lawmakers shouted “shame.”

Jeremy Corbyn was accused of “mansplaining” by the Prime Minister as he raised concerns of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia

May later said that she would raise the issue of human rights with the crown prince when she met him and that she had spoken with him about humanitarian concerns in Yemen during a visit to Riyadh in December.

The controversy over Saudi Arabia puts May in a tight spot politically. Britain is looking for bigger trading partners as it leaves the European Union, and broadening its economic relationship with Saudi Arabia would help it do that. The two nations are planning to create a joint Strategic Partnership Council that could lead to Saudi investment of up to 100 billion pounds ($139 billion) in the next 10 years, according to the BBC.

However, the visit is also important for the Saudi crown prince, who is seeking foreign investment as part of Vision 2030, his ambitious plan to reform his country. There are also hopes that the long-awaited public listing of the state oil firm Saudi Aramco might take place on the London Stock Exchange.

 1:34
Saudi Arabia loosens rules around women driving, gender segregation

As Saudi Arabia tries to shake a conservative image, it’s increasing entertainment events and backing off on gender-based rules in 2018.

Mohammed also is planning to visit the United States, home to the New York Stock Exchange, for an investment-focused visit set to start March 19.