Lebanese Prime Minister Resigns While In Saudi Arabia

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME.COM)

 

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Yarzeh near Beirut, Lebanon in September.
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Yarzeh near Beirut, Lebanon in September.
Hassan Ammar—AP

By Zeina Karam / AP

6:07 AM EDT

(BEIRUT) — Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri resigned from his post Saturday during a trip to Saudi Arabia in a surprise move that plunged the country into uncertainty amid heightened regional tensions.

In a televised address from Riyadh, Hariri fired a vicious tirade against Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah group for what he said was their meddling in Arab affairs and said “Iran’s arms in the region will be cut off.”

“The evil that Iran spreads in the region will backfire on it,” Hariri said, accusing Tehran of spreading chaos, strife and destruction throughout the region.

Hariri was appointed prime minister in late 2016 and headed a 30-member national unity cabinet that included the Shiite militant Hezbollah. The government has largely succeeded in protecting the country from the effects of the civil war in neighboring Syria.

The country is sharply divided along a camp loyal to Saudi Arabia, headed by the Sunni Muslim Hariri, and a camp loyal to Iran represented by Hezbollah. President Michel Aoun, who was elected in October 2016 after more than two years of presidential vacuum, is a close ally of Hezbollah.

His election was made possible after Hariri endorsed him for president, based on an understanding that Aoun would then appoint him as prime minister.

In a statement, the presidential office said Aoun was informed by Hariri in a phone call of his resignation, adding that the president now awaits Hariri’s return to the country to clarify the circumstances of his resignation and proceed accordingly.

Hariri’s bombshell resignation Saturday was expected to raise tensions in the country and ushers in a stage of deep uncertainty and potential instability. It comes amid a sharp escalation in Saudi rhetoric against its regional archrival Iran.

In his speech, he suggested he feared for his life and said the climate in the country is similar to the one that existed before his father, the late prime minister Rafik Hariri, was assassinated in 2005.

Several Hezbollah members are being tried in absentia for the killing by a U.N.-backed tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands. Hezbollah denies any involvement.

Hezbollah has sent thousands of its fighters to Syria to shore up President Bashar Assad’s government. The group’s intervention in Syria is highly controversial in Lebanon.

Hariri said Hezbollah’s policies have put Lebanon “in the eye of the storm.” His attacks on Hezbollah come on the heels of new U.S. sanctions on the group that many fear will impact negatively on the Lebanese economy.

“Hezbollah was able in past decades to impose a reality in Lebanon by force of arms directed at the chests of Syrians and Lebanese,” he said.

“I declare my resignation from the premiership of the Lebanese government, with the certainty that the will of the Lebanese is strong,” Hariri said.

“When I took office, I promised you that I would seek to unite the Lebanese, end political division and establish the principle of self-sufficiency, but I have been unable to do so. Despite my efforts, Iran continues to abuse Lebanon,” he said.

Earlier this week, Saudi State Minister for Gulf Affairs Thamer al-Sabhan sharply criticized Hezbollah, calling for its “toppling” and promising “astonishing developments” in the coming days during an interview with the Lebanese TV station MTV.

Al-Sabhan met with Hariri in Saudi Arabia when the now resigned prime minister was visiting earlier this week. Hariri abruptly returned to the kingdom later Friday before his bombshell announcement Saturday.

In tweets after meeting Hariri, al-Sabhan described it as “long and fruitful meeting” that resulted in agreements over many issues that concern the Lebanese. “What’s coming is better, God willing,” al-Sabhan tweeted on Tuesday. In a series of tweets, al-Sabhan criticized the Lebanese government for tolerating Hezbollah’s criticism of the kingdom.

He earlier said that those who cooperate with Hezbollah must be “punished.”

Scientists Just Found a Hidden Chamber in the Great Pyramid of Giza

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME.COM, SCIENCE AND ARCHAEOLOGY)

 

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By Brian Rohan / AP

6:12 AM EDT

(CAIRO) — Scientists have found a hidden chamber in Egypt’s Great Pyramid of Giza, the first such discovery in the structure since the 19th century and one likely to spark a new surge of interest in the pharaohs.

In an article published in the journal Nature on Thursday, an international team said the 30-meter (yard) void deep within the pyramid is situated above the structure’s Grand Gallery, and has a similar cross-section. The purpose of the chamber is unclear, and it’s not yet known whether it was built with a function in mind.

The scientists made the discovery using cosmic-ray imaging, recording the behavior of subatomic particles called muons that penetrate the rock similar to X-rays, only much deeper. Their paper was peer-reviewed before appearing in Nature, an international, interdisciplinary journal of science.

The pyramid is also known as Khufu’s Pyramid for its builder, a 4th Dynasty pharaoh who reigned from 2509 to 2483 B.C. Visitors to the pyramid, on the outskirts of Cairo, can walk, hunched over, up a long tunnel to reach the Grand Gallery. The newly discovered chamber does not appear to be connected to any known internal passages.

Scientists involved in the scanning called the find a “breakthrough” that highlighted the usefulness of modern particle physics in archaeology.

“This is a premier,” said Mehdi Tayoubi, a co-founder of the ScanPyramids project and president of the Heritage Innovation Preservation Institute. “It could be composed of one or several structures… maybe it could be another Grand Gallery. It could be a chamber, it could be a lot of things.”

“It was hidden, I think, since the construction of the pyramid,” he added.

The pyramids at Giza, the last surviving wonder of the ancient world, have captivated visitors since they were built as royal burial chambers 2,500 years ago. Experts are still divided over how they were constructed, so even relatively minor discoveries generate great interest.

Late last year, for example, thermal scanning identified a major anomaly in the Great Pyramid — three adjacent stones at its base which registered higher temperatures than others, stoking imaginations worldwide.

Speculation that King Tutankhamun’s tomb contains additional also antechambers stoked interest in recent years, before scans by ground-penetrating radar and other tools came up empty, raising doubts about the claim.

The muon scan is accomplished by planting special plates inside and around the pyramid to collect data on the particles, which rain down from the earth’s atmosphere. They pass through empty spaces but can be absorbed or deflected by harder surfaces, allowing scientists to study their trajectories and discern what is stone and what is not. Several plates were used to triangulate the void discovered in the Great Pyramid.

Tayoubi said the team plans to work with others to come up with hypotheses about the area.

“The good news is that the void is there, and it’s very big,” he said.

Japan: Serial Killer; Police Find Body Parts Of 9 People, Suspect Arrested

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME.COM)

 

(TOKYO) — Japanese police found nine dismembered bodies hidden in coolers in an apartment southwest of Tokyo, an apparent serial killing case that is transfixing and horrifying the nation.

Police were working Tuesday to identify the victims after the man who lived there, 27-year-old Takahiro Shiraishi, confessed to cutting them up and hiding them in cold-storage cases, some covered with cat litter, a police spokesman said.

The bodies, in varying stages of decomposition, were found Monday while police were investigating the disappearance of a 23-year-old woman, the spokesman said. He did not give his name, in line with police policy. The woman’s brother reported her missing last week, he said.

The gruesome case captured attention in a country known for public safety, topping news with reports that showed the building where the suspect lived in a small studio apartment. It was cordoned off by yellow police tape, its balcony draped with blue plastic sheets to block the view as investigators went in and out.

The missing woman is thought to be one of the eight women and one man who were dismembered and hidden in the apartment from late August to late October.

A toolbox and saw found in Shiraishi’s apartment may have been used to dismember the bodies, the police official said.

Police were still investigating the suspect’s motives, said the spokesman. He refused to give further details.

It was unclear who the other eight victims might be, or why it is that neighbors who said they had noticed foul smells coming from the apartment had not raised any alarms.

Local media reported that police first found the severed heads of two victims in coolers in the apartment’s entryway, then found the bodies of the other seven while searching the apartment.

Shiraishi told police that he dismembered the bodies in his bathroom, which according to online descriptions of the apartment building where he lived was a plastic-sealed “unit bath.” He put out some of the body parts as garbage, Kyodo News agency reported.

Reports said the missing woman got in contact with Shiraishi via Twitter, seeking a partner for a suicide pact and saying she was afraid to die alone.

The two were recorded by security cameras walking together outside of train stations near her apartment and the suspect’s apartment, the reports said.

Local media ran junior high school photos of the suspect, beaming, his hair fluffy, braces on his teeth suggesting a relatively well-off family background.

But there was little other information about his education or where he comes from. Japan’s national broadcaster NHK said he was working as a “scout” in the sex industry, recruiting women in entertainment districts in Tokyo.

Although Japan has one of the lowest crime rates in the world, it has seen some high-profile killings recently.

In July last year, a 27-year-old former employee at a care home for the disabled killed 19 and injured more than 20 in a knife attack in what is believed to be the deadliest mass killing in postwar Japan. The man’s murder trial has not started yet.

Earlier this month, a man was arrested for killing his wife and five children after setting fire to their house. In 2015, a man killed five people, including relatives and neighbors, in a knifing spree in western Japan, and was later sentenced to death.

Energy Company In Hot Water After Trump-Like Twitter Spat With a Puerto Rico Mayor

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME.COM)

 

This Energy Company Is In Hot Water After a Trump-Like Twitter Spat With a Puerto Rico Mayor

12:01 PM ET

Looking at President Trump, you might think the rules of politics have changed. After Hurricane Maria, he attacked the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, saying she had shown “poor leadership” and was only criticizing federal aid efforts because she’d been told to by Democrats.

…Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help. They….

The tweet did not go over well — by one measure, it was the third least-popular tweet of his presidency. But Trump never backed down, continuing his attacks on the mayor and other “politically motivated ingrates” until the news cycle had moved on.

One energy company has learned that the old rules still apply, however.

After San Juan Mayor Cermen Yulín Cruz asked for more transparency on Whitefish Energy, a small company based in Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s hometown that received a $300 million contract to restore power to the island, it fought back — on Twitter.

First, the company said that it shared her frustrations with the slow pace of progress but felt her comments were “misplaced.” Yulín Cruz then responded, tweetingthat she is not the only person who has raised questions.

“What is it about women having an opinion that irritates some?” she wrote.

The company fired back: “We’ve got 44 linemen rebuilding power lines in your city & 40 more men just arrived. Do you want us to send them back or keep working?”

This exchange was so Trumpy the President himself could have drafted it. Facing criticism, the company doubled down, a common strategy for the commander in chief. When a question was raised about sexism, it responded by using variants on the word “men” twice.

And that’s where the comparison with Trump ends. After the company faced a barrage of criticism, the governor of Puerto Rico asked an inspector general to look into how it got the contract and said there would be “hell to pay.” Congressional Democrats sent their own letter.

“Whitefish is primarily financed by a private equity firm that is run by a contributor to the presidential campaign of Donald Trump. We’re concerned that Whitefish might have overstated its connections with the Trump administration to obtain the contract,” eight Democratic lawmakers wrote in another letter to the Interior Department’s inspector general.

A copy of the company’s contract leaked which appeared to show that the government cannot audit the company’s labor costs or profits.

$332.41 per person for accommodations *each day*

$79.82 per person for food *each day* pic.twitter.com/jX51fRDZWf

Whitefish contract states, “In no event shall [government bodies] have the right to audit or review the cost and profit elements.” Wow. pic.twitter.com/dIyQXb6AK0

View image on Twitter

The Federal Emergency Management Administration even weighed in, saying after an initial review it “has not confirmed whether the contract prices are reasonable.”

In short, following Trump’s playbook has already landed Whitefish in a lot of hot water, and things are just getting started, which is why the company has already done the least Trumpy thing possible: It apologized.

Trump may get away with attacking, tweeting, doubling down and never apologizing. But he’s the President, and barring any unlikely scenarios, he’s in office through January of 2021 at least. Everyone else in politics — especially companies with contracts at stake — is still bound by the old rules.

Why Did Catalonia Just Vote for Independence From Spain?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME.COM)

 

Why Did Catalonia Just Vote for Independence From Spain? Here’s What to Know

1:35 PM ET

The ongoing standoff between the Spanish region of Catalonia and Spain’s central government in Madrid escalated Friday when the Catalonian parliament voted to declare the region an independent republic.

“We constitute the Catalan Republic, as an independent and sovereign country, under the rule of law,” read a motion that passed 70-10, fueling the biggest political crisis to hit Spain since the 1970s.

Catalonia’s move defies Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who’s been working to quash the succession effort and keep Spain intact. Just minutes after Catalonian lawmakers voted on Friday’s resolution, Spain’s senate granted the central government powers to impose direct rule on the region, setting up what is likely to be a raucous few days in Barcelona and elsewhere.

Friday’s vote was greeted with cheers by supporters of the independence movement, many of whom view have economic grievances about Madrid’s tax policies and view their region as culturally distinct from the rest of Spain. But some anti-independence lawmakers boycotted the vote — one warned his colleagues that “you will go down in history for having fractured Catalonia and for sinking the institutions of Catalonia” The New York Times reports.

Here’s what to know about Catalonia’s independence vote.

Where is Catalonia, Spain on the map?

Why is Catalonia seeking independence?

Catalonia, which is Spain’s richest region, has a distinct cultural heritage and language. The push for independence crystallized during the fallout of the global financial crisis in 2008. Some Catalans believe the country’s rising unemployment levels and languishing economy was pulling the region down, and they began to seek greater autonomy from Madrid.

What led up to Catalonia’s independence vote?

Friday’s vote came after weeks of brinksmanship between Catalonia President Carles Puigdemont and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. The situation first escalated on Oct. 1, when nearly 90% of Catalonian voters backed independence from Spain in a controversial and disputed referendum. Catalonia officials say turnout was about 43%, despite the vote being suspended by Spain’s highest court and deemed illegal by the federal government in Madrid.

The Catalonia independence referendum led to weeks of political maneuvering and mixed messages on all sides. During an Oct. 10 speech, Puigdemont stopped just short of declaring independence, opting instead to pursue a dialogue with Madrid. But Rajoy has maintained a hard line throughout, announcing Oct. 21 that he was invoking a constitutional rule allowing him to “restore the rule of law, coexistence and the economic recovery and to ensure that elections could be held in normal circumstances.”

Puigdemont appeared to take a step towards détente on Thursday, when he held off from declaring independence and suggested early elections instead. But the attempt fell apart in the face of his own hardcore supporters and opposition from Madrid, the Financial Times reports. Puigdemont then turned the matter to Catalonian parliament, which on Friday voted to declare independence.

Will Catalonia become independent of Spain?

What happens next is unclear. But Catalonia will face significant challenges attempting to assert its independence in the face of Spain’s decision to impose direct rule on the region. It will get little help from abroad, as other European nations, many of which are facing separatist movements of their own, have shown little indication that they will acknowledge Catalonian independence. Even Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgoen, who has been seeking a new vote for independence from the U.K., has refused to recognize Catalonia’s declaration.

The European Union, meanwhile, has distanced itself from the crisis, deeming it an internal Spanish issue. “For E.U. nothing changes. Spain remains our only interlocutor. I hope the Spanish government favors force of argument, not argument of force,” European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted on Friday.

“Totally Mentally Unhinged” Is A Very Good Description Of Donald Trump!

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME.COM)

 

‘Totally Unhinged.’ Trump Fires Back at California Billionaire Campaigning for His Impeachment

8:01 AM ET

(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump is responding to a California billionaire who has vowed to spend at least $10 million in advertising calling for the president’s impeachment.

Trump is using Twitter to call Tom Steyer “wacky & totally unhinged.” He says Steyer “has been fighting me and my Make America Great Again agenda from the beginning,” adding the billionaire environmentalist “never wins elections!”

Steyer recently launched the advertising, which has been running on Fox News and other national outlets, arguing that Trump should be ousted from office. Steyer contends Trump is pushing the U.S. toward a nuclear war, is obstructing justice at the FBI and threatening to shut down news organizations he doesn’t like.

Wacky & totally unhinged Tom Steyer, who has been fighting me and my Make America Great Again agenda from beginning, never wins elections!

Steyer wants viewers to call their members of Congress and tell them to bring articles of impeachment.

2 Women Lost at Sea for 5 Months Survived Shark Attacks and Storms

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME.COM)

 

‘Horrific.’ 2 Women Lost at Sea for 5 Months Survived Shark Attacks and Storms

7:41 AM ET

Two American women and their dogs were rescued this week by the United States Navy, after being adrift in the Pacific Ocean for five months.

Their engine had failed while attempting to sail from Hawaii to Tahiti. The women endured two separate shark attacks, with their boat surrounded at one point by seven sharks slapping their tails against the hull, they told reporters Thursday night on a conference call, in remarks reported by ABC NewsThe Guardian and other news outlets.

“We thought it was lights out, and they were horrific,” one of the mariners, Jennifer Appel, said of the shark attacks after being rescued Wednesday.

They also said they survived two major storms, the first of which lasted for two days, with 25-foot waves and hurricane force winds flooding the boat’s engine leaving the two of them to rely on the boat’s sail alone for the next five months. They had packed enough dried food for a year, but had another close call when Appel fixed their broken water purifier with only a gallon of clean water left on the boat.

Appel, an experienced sailor, was accompanied on the trip by her friend Natasha Fuiava, a sailing novice, and their dogs, Valentine and Zeus. The women, both from Honolulu, Hawaii, were spotted 900 miles south-east of Japan by a Taiwanese fishing vessel, which alerted Guam’s coastguard.

They were rescued by the USS Ashland the following day. “They saved our lives,” Appel said. “The pride and smiles we had when we saw [them] on the horizon was pure relief.”

The Navy said the women had received medical attention and would remain on the USS Ashland until its next port of call.

“The U.S. Navy is postured to assist any distressed mariner of any nationality during any type of situation,” Commander Steven Wasson, the Ashland’s commanding officer, said in a statement.