New Ukraine Peace Talks to Take Place Friday

New Ukraine Peace Talks to Take Place Friday

29/Jan/2015  //  351 Viewers

Minsk:  Belarus said that a new round of Ukrainian peace negotiations involving the warring sides and overseen by European and Russian envoys would be held on Friday in Minsk.

"The Contact Group on Ukraine has informed the Belarussian side of its intention to hold its next meeting in Minsk on January 30," the Belarussian foreign ministry said in a statement.

The announcement came moments after Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called for urgent truce talks with pro-Russian rebels to end a bloody surge in fighting in the separatist east.

Poroshenko said a new Minsk meeting should lead to "an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the line of contact" established in a repeatedly broken September truce.

Two earlier sets of Minsk agreements called for the creation of a 30-kilometre (18-mile) buffer zone between the warring sides' armies and allowed international monitors to oversee the deal's implementation.

The talks were overseen by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and also involved Moscow's ambassador to Kiev -- the same group due to meet on Friday in Minsk.

Separatist leaders last week had formally pulled out of peace negotiations and announced the launch of a new offensive aimed at expanding their area of control.

The last Minsk meeting on December 24 failed to achieve any progress and was soon followed by new fighting.

Kiev was irritated on that occasion by the decision of the self-declared leaders of the Donetsk and Lugansk rebel regions to send lower-level officials to the talks.

Donetsk co-leader Andrei Purgin told AFP that his separatist region would be sending a lower-level negotiator named Denis Pushilin to Friday's talks as well.

"If tomorrow's meeting in Minsk does go ahead, then of course we will take part. But I would not bet on it because such meetings failed to materialise in the past," Purgin said by telephone.

Poroshenko said the negotiations should also establish a reinforced OSCE presence along the Russian-Ukrainian border to make sure no weapons or reinforcements reach the rebels from the east.

Russia denies backing the nine-month revolt.

But eastern European nations accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of trying to stamp his countrol over countries that answered to Moscow in the Soviet era or were part of the tsarist empire.

Poland's defence minister said he believed the chances of a breakthrough in Minsk were slim because the Kremlin main goal was to undermine the talks.

"Russia's obvious goal is to block Ukraine's path toward Europe," Tomasz Siemoniak told reporters in Warsaw.

Official probes shootings into moving cars by Denver police

Official probes shootings into moving cars by Denver police

29/Jan/2015  //  262 Viewers

An independent city official who monitors the Denver Police Department said he had been investigating its policies and practices regarding shooting at moving vehicles before a 17-year-old girl was shot and killed.

Nicholas Mitchell made the investigation public on Tuesday saying such shootings pose unique safety risks to officers and the community.

The shooting of Jessica Hernandez on Monday was the fourth time in seven months that a Denver officer fired at a vehicle after perceiving it as a threat.

Police have said two officers fired after Hernandez drove a stolen car into one of them. A passenger in the car has disputed the official account, saying police opened fire before the vehicle struck the officer.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that officers may not use deadly force to stop a fleeing suspect unless the person is believed to pose significant physical harm.

Still, policies vary among agencies, and some departments have banned or discouraged the practice.

The Albuquerque Police Department, for example, ordered officers in June to stop shooting at moving vehicles after a Justice Department report found a pattern of excessive force.

The Cleveland Police Department changed its policy before federal investigators concluded its officers too often used unnecessary force.

In Denver, Mitchell’s analysis is looking at how national standards compare to the policy in Denver that allows officers to fire at moving cars if they have no other reasonable way to prevent death or serious injury.

The policy urges officers to try to move out of the way rather than fire. “An officer threatened by an oncoming vehicle shall, if feasible, move out of the way rather than discharging a firearm,” it says.

Mitchell is reviewing several cases in which Denver officers fired at cars they considered to be deadly weapons. Those cases include the fatal shooting of Ryan Ronquillo, 21, who officers said tried to hit them with his car outside a funeral home in July.

Prosecutors have declined to file charges in that case.

Experts say shooting and disabling a driver can send a car out of control.

“If you were to shoot at the driver you would have an unguided missile, basically,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, which suggests departments forbid officers from shooting at moving vehicles unless there’s another deadly threat involved, such as a weapon.

The Denver Police Department welcomes Mitchell’s inquiry and identified the officers in the shooting of Hernandez as Daniel Greene, a 16-year-veteran, and Gabriel Jordan, a 9-year-veteran.

One of the officers suffered a leg injury.

Department spokesman Sonny Jackson declined to comment further on the case.

“The facts of the case will bear themselves out,” he said.

The passenger, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of safety concerns, said Hernandez, her friend, lost control of the vehicle because she was unconscious after being shot.

Prosecutors promised a thorough probe of the shooting as a small group of angry protesters demanded swift answers and called for a special prosecutor to investigate the death.

The shooting occurred amid a national debate about police use of force fueled by racially charged episodes in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City.

Investigators in the Denver case will be relying on witnesses and police accounts because the department has only just started to buy body cameras for its officers, and those involved were not yet outfitted. Denver doesn’t use in-car dashboard cameras, either, which experts consider a best practice for accountability but can be costly for larger departments.

The shooting happened after police determined a suspicious vehicle in an alley had been stolen, Chief Robert White said. The two officers opened fire after Hernandez drove into one of them as they approached the car on foot, police said.

The passenger said officers came up to the car from behind and fired four times into the driver’s side window as they stood on the side of the car, narrowly missing others inside.

Officers with their guns drawn then pulled people out of the car, including Hernandez, who they handcuffed and searched.

Both officers involved in the shooting have been placed on routine administrative leave pending the investigation.


Fugitive treasure hunter captured after two years on the run

Fugitive treasure hunter captured after two years on the run

29/Jan/2015  //  250 Viewers

COLUMBUS, Ohio – A treasure hunter accused of cheating his investors out of their share of one of the richest hauls in U.S. history – $50 million in gold bars and coins from a 19th-century shipwreck – was captured at an upscale Florida hotel after more than two years on the lam.

Federal marshals tracked Tommy Thompson to a hotel in West Boca Raton and arrested him Tuesday. A warrant had been issued for him in 2012 in Columbus after he failed to show up for a hearing on a lawsuit brought by some of his backers.

The U.S. Marshals Service called him “one of the most intelligent fugitives ever sought” by the agency and said he relied on cash and employed other means to stay under the radar. Authorities gave no details on how they found him.

Thompson, 62, made history in 1988 when he discovered the sunken SS Central America, also known as the Ship of Gold.

The sidewheel steamer went down in a hurricane about 200 miles (321 kilometres) off South Carolina in 1857; 425 people drowned and tons of gold from the California Gold Rush was lost, contributing to an economic panic.

In a modern-day technological feat, Thompson and his crew brought up thousands of bars and coins, much of them later sold to a gold marketing group in 2000 for about $50 million.

The 161 investors who paid Thompson $12.7 million to find the ship never saw the proceeds. Two sued – a now-deceased investment firm president and the company that publishes The Columbus Dispatch newspaper and had invested about $1 million.

The dispute is a civil action. No criminal charges have been filed against Thompson over the gold.

Columbus attorney Rick Robol, who at one time defended Thompson’s company, has said there is no proof Thompson stole anything. He said Wednesday that he has been concerned about Thompson’s health, calling the arrest “the best thing that can happen for everybody.”

Thompson was arrested along with his longtime companion, Alison Antekeier. The pair had been paying cash for the hotel room, rented under a fake name used by Antekeier, marshals said. The hotel is in an upscale suburban area surrounded by golf courses, country clubs and gated communities.

Federal marshals said that the pair had no vehicles registered in their names and that Antekeier used buses and taxis to get around.

After the arrest warrant was issued, Thompson vanished from his Vero Beach, Florida, mansion, where a search found prepaid disposable cellphones and bank wraps for $10,000 in cash, along with a book titled “How to Live Your Life Invisible,” according to court records. One marked page was titled: “Live your life on a cash-only basis.”

The couple made initial court appearances Wednesday in West Palm Beach. Authorities will seek to return Thompson to Ohio.

Gil Kirk, former director of one of Thompson’s companies, told The Associated Press last year that Thompson never cheated anyone. Kirk said proceeds from the sale of the gold all went to legal fees and bank loans.


US nuclear scientist jailed for trying to sell secrets

US nuclear scientist jailed for trying to sell secrets

29/Jan/2015  //  260 Viewers

A former scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the US has been sentenced to five years in jail for attempting to pass nuclear bomb-making secrets to Venezuela.

Pedro Leonardo Mascheroni pleaded guilty in 2013 to delivering secrets to an undercover FBI agent, who he thought was a Venezuelan official.

Pedro Mascheroni, who is 79, is originally from Argentina.

His wife was also sentenced to one year in prison.

Mascheroni was under investigation for about a year before he was charged.

The US intelligence agency, the FBI, seized computers, letters, photographs and book from his home.

Undercover agent

According to court documents, Mr Mascheroni told the undercover FBI agent that he could help Venezuela develop a nuclear bomb within 10 years.

He said the country would be able to set up a secret underground nuclear reactor to produce and enrich plutonium.

Venezuela would also be able to build a plant to produce nuclear energy, he said.

Mr Mascheroni worked for around a decade in a nuclear weapons design division at the Los Alamos laboratory where the the first atomic bomb was developed.

He was laid off in 1988. His wife was a technical writer there.

In an interview with Associated Press, he said he had approached other countries after his ideas on cleaner nuclear power were rejected by the laboratory and later by congressional officials.

Mascheroni said he approached Venezuela after the United Sates rejected his theories that a hydrogen-fluoride laser could produce nuclear energy.

The American government has said it does not believe Venezuela was trying to access US nuclear secrets.


Tug-of-War Among Islamists Behind Libya Hotel Attack: Experts

Tug-of-War Among Islamists Behind Libya Hotel Attack: Experts

29/Jan/2015  //  257 Viewers

Cairo:  A bitter tug-of-war between Islamists vying for power and influence was behind this week's deadly assault on a top Libyan hotel that was claimed by the Islamic State group, experts say.

Gunmen on Tuesday stormed the luxurious Corinthia Hotel -- popular with world leaders and diplomats -- killing nine people including an American, a French citizen, a South Korean and two Filipinas before blowing themselves up.

The attack on such a high-profile target in the heart of Tripoli underscored the fragile security situation in the capital, which is controlled by a patchwork of militias allied with one of the two governments claiming to rule Libya.

Fajr Libya (Libya Dawn), a coalition of Islamist-led militias that installed a self-proclaimed government in Tripoli, even boasted to journalists recently that "the Islamic State has no presence" in the city.

But the attack was immediately claimed by the Tripoli branch of IS, a jihadist group that has captured large chunks of Iraq and Syria and called for the killing of citizens from US-led countries which are fighting it.

"Who carried out the attack remains an open question. I would assume the incident was a domestically driven one," James Dorsey, a senior fellow at Singapore-based S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, told AFP.

"This was a local decision rather than taken in Raqa (in Syria) or in Iraq... You have to look at the dynamics of what is happening in Libyan politics," he said, referring to IS strongholds.

Fajr Libya took control of Tripoli in mid-2014 and is jostling for power with the internationally backed government of Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani, which was forced to flee to the remote east.

"I think it was a local initiative... the presence of jihadists in Libya is still fragmented," said Frederic Wehrey, a Beirut-based expert on Libya at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

"There is real competition, and Corinthia Hotel is an iconic symbol" representing the West, he said.

But for Mathieu Guidere, a specialist on jihadist groups, IS and its faction in Libya were merely taking advantage of the chaos in the North African country to expand.

"IS is looking everywhere to impose its strategy by taking advantage of chaos in failed states," said Guidere, professor of geopolitics at the University of Toulouse in southwestern France.

"It has already implemented it in Syria and Iraq, and now Libya seems to be an easy target for expanding its military and media strategy."

- 'Different visions for Libya' -

Experts say rival Islamist factions inside Libya as well as global jihadist groups have been locked in a battle for control of the oil-rich country since the toppling of former dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.

"It is clear that there is internal competition among the Libyan Islamists, with Fajr Libya pitched against other militias, but also among (global) jihadists, with Al-Qaeda partisans up against those of IS," said Guidere.

"It is a leadership race that is leading to an escalation of violence in Libya."

Dorsey said the attack on the Corinthia Hotel was not just to grab headlines.

"There is a multi-layered battle in Libya, a battle between different visions of what Libya should be, a battle for power... so we don't know what really happened here," he said.

What such attacks show, however, is that "those who are in control of Tripoli are not capable of ensuring security or some level of security," Dorsey added.

The government in Tripoli said Tuesday's attack was an attempt to assassinate its chief, Omar al-Hassi, who was inside the hotel at the time of the assault.

It blamed the attack on "enemies of the revolution and the war criminal Khalifa Haftar", a former general who last year spearheaded an operation against Islamist militias in Libya's second city Benghazi.

"Hassi is just a pretext for both the sides. The government in Tripoli projects him as a victim, while those in Derna (controlled by IS) point to the chaos in Tripoli," said Guidere.

"It is a political game that benefits IS to push its pawns in Libya, as in other places."

US Would Welcome Move by Japan to Extend Air Patrols in South China Sea: Officer

US Would Welcome Move by Japan to Extend Air Patrols in South China Sea: Officer

29/Jan/2015  //  270 Viewers

Tokyo:  The United States would welcome a move by Japan to extend air patrols into the South China Sea as a counterweight to a growing fleet of Chinese vessels pushing Beijing's territorial claims in the region, a senior U.S. Navy officer told Reuters.

Currently, regular patrols by Japanese aircraft only reach into the East China Sea, where Tokyo is at loggerheads with Beijing over disputed islands.

Extending surveillance flights into the South China Sea will almost certainly increase tensions between the world's second- and third-largest economies.

"I think allies, partners and friends in the region will look to the Japanese more and more as a stabilizing function," Admiral Robert Thomas, commander of the Seventh Fleet and the top U.S. navy officer in Asia, said in an interview.

"In the South China Sea, frankly, the Chinese fishing fleet, the Chinese coast guard and the (navy) overmatch their neighbours," Thomas said.

China's foreign ministry said it had no immediate comment on the interview.

Thomas's comments show Pentagon support for a key element of Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's push for a more active military role in the region.

That is crucial because U.S and Japanese officials are now negotiating new bilateral security guidelines expected to give Japan a bigger role in the alliance, 70 years after the end of World War Two.

"I think that JSDF (Japan Maritime Self Defense Forces) operations in the South China Sea makes sense in the future," Thomas said.

Japan is not party to the dispute in the South China Sea where China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei have competing claims.

But the waterway provides 10 per cent of the global fisheries catch and carries $5 trillion in ship-borne trade, a large portion of which is to and from Japan.


Abe is pushing for legislation later this year that would allow Japan's military to operate more freely overseas as part of a broader interpretation of the self-defense allowed by its pacifist constitution.

Those changes coincide with the deployment of a new Japanese maritime patrol plane, the P-1, with a range of 8,000 km (5,000 miles). That is double the range of current aircraft and could allow Japan to push surveillance deep into the South China Sea.

"This is a logical outgrowth of Abe's push for a more robust and proactive military.  It is also a substantial departure from JSDF's customary operations," said Grant Newsham, a research fellow at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies and a former U.S. Marine liaison officer to Japan's military.

Newsham said sending surveillance aircraft to the South China Sea would allow Japan to deepen its military ties with nations like the Philippines, one of Abe's goals to counter China's growing naval power.

Beijing has outlines the scope of its claims with reference to a so-called nine-dash line that takes in about 90 percent of the South China Sea on Chinese maps.

"The alleged nine dash line, which doesn't comport with international rules and norms, standards, laws, creates a situation down there, which is unnecessary friction," said Thomas, the U.S. navy commander.

The Scarborough Shoal near the Philippines is one flashpoint in the South China Sea. Manila has complained that China has kept its fishermen from fishing in the waters around the shoal. Thomas said Japan could aid the Philippines with equipment and training.

"For the Philippines, the issue is one of capacity. For the Japanese that is a perfect niche for them to help, not just in equipment, but in training and operations," the U.S. Seventh Fleet commander said.

Centered around the USS George Washington carrier battle group with its home port in Japan, the U.S. Seventh Fleet includes some 80 vessels, 140 aircraft and 40,000 sailors making it the most powerful naval force in the western Pacific.

Over 60 Human Skeletons Found in Police Campus in Unnao, UP

Over 60 Human Skeletons Found in Police Campus in Unnao, UP

29/Jan/2015  //  249 Viewers

Unnao:  Some 60 skeletons have been found in a locked room at a police campus in Unnao in Uttar Pradesh.

The police say the skeletons are body parts that were used for crime investigation and left in that room, which was once the store of a police hospital but has been unused and locked up for years.

A gruesome pile of bones and skulls has gathered over decades. The remains were never cremated after post mortems and kept lying there, admitted a police officer.

The police say the skeletons are very old. Why they were left in the room and not disposed of properly, will now be investigated.

Days ago, more than 100 decaying bodies surfaced in the river Ganga between Kanpur and Unnao and made for shocking visuals on the media.

The state administration said the bodies were immersed in the river by relatives as part of last rites and surfaced because of receding waters in the winter.

The Center ordered an investigation into the floating bodies.

Flooding leaves mess in oceanfront Massachusetts after storm

Flooding leaves mess in oceanfront Massachusetts after storm

29/Jan/2015  //  243 Viewers

(Reuters) - Ocean Street in the waterfront Massachusetts town of Marshfield was littered with lobster traps, downed wires and chunks of houses on Wednesday, after a massive blizzard hammered New England.

Notably absent was much of the 2 feet (30 cm) of snow that blanketed much of the Boston area, since for much of the storm, Ocean Street was under water because of flooding from a breached sea wall. About a dozen homes were badly damaged.

"This area sees flooding regularly, but we haven't seen damage like this since the blizzard of '78," town planner Greg Guimond said as he surveyed the wreckage. "The problem was the sustained wave action; the houses can't handle it."

Millions across Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New York were digging out on Wednesday from the storm, which dumped up to 3 feet (90 cm) of snow in places, though it largely bypassed New York City.

Schools remained closed in Boston and most of its suburbs for a second straight day but life was otherwise returning to normal with the city's transit system and airport resuming service and a travel ban lifted.

But the recovery in the ocean-facing section of Marshfield was far from seamless on Wednesday, with many homes without power and coated in ice. Residents who rode out the storm said they had relied on fireplaces to keep warm.

Further up the coast, Governor Charlie Baker met with officials in Scituate, which also reported flood damage and where roads were blocked by a mix of snow and water-borne debris that had blocked access to some homes without power.

Baker said he would order additional state heavy equipment into the region to help with cleanup.

"There is so much snow and other activity associated down here with that storm that their resources and their assets are pretty much flat out," Baker told reporters in Scituate.

Tim Mannix, whose Marshfield house was pounded by waves after the seawall failed, watched a front-end loader clear debris away from the front of the building. His face was badly bruised and marked by a long line of stitches above his nose after waves knocked a sliding glass door on him.

"Thankfully it was a fast-moving storm, just one tide," the 58-year-old fisherman said. "Imagine what it would have been like had it stayed around."


As he surveyed the damage in Marshfield while walking his dog, 67-year-old Donny Boormeester said the storm was the worst he had experienced since moving to the town in 1969.

"Every year, the storms get worse and worse," the retired produce buyer said. "The water gets closer to the houses."

He said the streets near his home flooded twice a year in recent years, an estimate his neighbors agreed with.

"It used to be a novelty," Boormeester said.

Increased flooding is a problem up and down the New England coastline that has been exacerbated by rising sea levels, said Cameron Wake, director of the University of New Hampshire Climate Change Research Center.

"Places that used to not flood are getting flooded now and the reason is not because we didn’t have hurricanes or Noreasters in the past," Wake said. "The reason is because sea level has risen and so for any given storm surge we’ve added an extra foot of sea on top of that. It doesn’t make a big difference until we see a big storm and we see systems fail that haven’t failed in the past."

Marshfield is looking for other ways to protect homes from flooding, including seeking Federal Emergency Management Agency funding to help raise other houses above potential floodwaters.

"We just had a meeting with FEMA on Thursday about elevation grants," Guimond said of the talks held last week.

The severe weather claimed the lives of at least two people, an 80-year-old man who collapsed and died while shoveling snow in Trumbull, Connecticut, on Tuesday and a teenager who died while snow-tubing outside New York City on Monday.


Gov. Sandoval and Nevada attorney general at odds over immigration lawsuit

Gov. Sandoval and Nevada attorney general at odds over immigration lawsuit

29/Jan/2015  //  286 Viewers

Gov. Brian Sandoval said Wednesday that he doesn’t think he legally can override the state’s challenge to an order that would spare more people from deportation, but he plans to talk with Attorney General Adam Laxalt about it in the next few days.

Sandoval made the comment Wednesday at an unrelated event in Carson City that took place just before a coalition of liberal groups launched a protest at Laxalt’s Las Vegas office. While Sandoval didn’t give prior consent to Nevada joining the suit, which includes 25 other states as plaintiffs, it’s not uncommon for attorneys general to pursue lawsuits on their own.

Critics said Sandoval should have done more to rein in Laxalt, a fellow Republican whom he endorsed in the past election, especially on such a heated issue.

“He’s the governor. He can’t act like he has no control over anything,” said spokeswoman Laura Martin of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, one of the groups involved in the protest. “Stop being aloof and be a governor.”

Laxalt announced Monday that Nevada would challenge President Barack Obama’s order to shield millions from deportation and allow them to apply for work permits. Obama promoted the move at a Las Vegas high school in November.

The attorney general acknowledged that the immigration system is broken and needs to be fixed but argued that the president was going about it illegally.

“The president cannot bypass the peoples’ elected representatives in Congress just because they do not pass the laws he wants, nor can he simply rewrite current law under the guise of ‘prosecutorial discretion,’” Laxalt said.

Obama has defended himself by pointing to his Democratic and Republican predecessors and saying presidents exercise “prosecutorial discretion all the time.”

Laxalt’s move to join the lawsuit drew sharp criticism from Democrats, including Nevada Sen. Harry Reid.

“This is embarrassing,” Reid said in a statement. “No other state in the country will benefit more from President Obama’s executive actions than Nevada. The irresponsible decision to join a lawsuit that will cause family separation is harmful to our communities.”

An estimated 7.6 percent of Nevada residents are living in the country illegally – the largest share of any state, according to the Pew Research Center. Politicians are typically sensitive to how their immigration moves will appear to Nevada’s sizeable bloc of Hispanic voters, and Sandoval takes a more moderate tone on the matter than some Republican governors.

“Gov. Sandoval continues to encourage Congressional leadership and President Obama to work toward passing a bipartisan solution,” his spokeswoman, Mari St. Martin, said Monday. “He continues to believe that the best course of action is a legislative solution rather than legal action.”

While attorneys general at the federal level are typically in lockstep with the presidents who appoint them, the offices are elected separately in Nevada and an attorney general is independent of the governor.

What is more intriguing in this case is that while both men are Republicans and Sandoval supported Laxalt’s heated race for attorney general, their positions on immigration diverge.

“It’s politically a more interesting question than legally,” said Michael Kagan, an associate professor at Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “It shows two different visions in the Republican Party.”