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Defiant Boris Johnson says he will not negotiate Brexit delay after Commons loss


A defiant Boris Johnson has said he will not negotiate a fresh Brexit delay with the EU despite losing a key Commons vote.

At a special Saturday sitting, MPs voted by 322 to 306 in favour an amendment withholding approval of his Brexit deal until legislation to implement it is in place.

The amendment tabled by former Cabinet minister Sir Oliver Letwin was intended to force him to comply with the so-called Benn Act requiring him to seek a Brexit extension.

But amid noisy Commons scenes, Mr Johnson insisted that he was not "daunted or dismayed" by the result and remained committed to taking Britain out by October 31.

"I will not negotiate a delay with the EU, neither does the law compel me to do so," he said.

Downing Street refused to offer any explanation as to why the Prime Minister did not consider he was obliged to negotiate a fresh amendment.

Asked if previous statements from ministers that the Government would comply with the law still stood, the Prime Minister's official spokesman told a Westminster briefing: "Governments comply with the law."

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn warned Mr Johnson that he could not ignore the provisions of the Benn Act.

"It's an emphatic decision by this House that has declined to back the Prime Minister's deal today and clearly voted to stop a no-deal crash-out from the European Union," he said.

"The Prime Minister must now comply with the law. He can no longer use the threat of a no-deal crash-out to blackmail members to support his sell-out deal."

The SNP leader at Westminster Ian Blackford said that if Mr Johnson acted as if we was "above the law", he would find himself in court.

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson said: "The most urgent thing right now is the Prime Minister complies with the law."

The European Commissions' chief spokeswoman Mina Andreeva urged the Government "to inform us about the next steps as soon as possible".


Modern-day ‘farm slave’ rescue, highlights pervasive human trafficking in Ukraine

GENEVA - The UN migration agency, IOM, is warning of the dangers posed by human traffickers in Ukraine, who prey on jobless people in order to turn them into modern-day slaves.

Marking EU Anti-Trafficking Day on 18 October, IOM highlighted a particularly shocking case, involving more than 80 people who were lured to work at a farm, with the promise of free accommodation and food.

This week the agency provided assistance to 22 of the victims, from Dnipropetrovsk Region, some of the more than 600 people it has helped this year.

IOM says that nearly all the people it helps in Ukraine are victims of forced labour linked to criminal gangs.



Brussels court to hear Puigdemont arrest warrant case on October 29

BRUSSELS - A Brussels court, which will rule on whether to accept an arrest warrant issued by Spain for former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, will convene on October 29, the Brussels prosecutor said.

Puigdemont presented himself to Belgian police on Friday, prompting his arrest. A judge ruled that he could be released, but on condition that he not leave Belgium and remain reachable.

Thousands converge on Barcelona for fifth day of Catalan protests

By Jon Nazca and Jordi Rubio

BARCELONA - Tens of thousands of demonstrators waving Catalan flags and chanting “Independence!” and “Freedom for political prisoners!” poured into Barcelona on Friday, the fifth day of protests against the jailing of separatist leaders.

Many of the marchers began their journeys to the city on Wednesday from municipalities across the northeastern Spanish region, after the Supreme Court sentenced nine separatists to up to 13 years in jail over a failed bid to break away from Spain in 2017.

The sentences set off the worst sustained street violence Spain has seen in decades, and Friday’s protests, that also include workers on strike, will be closely watched by authorities in Madrid.

“Throughout this week, as you well know, there have been violent incidents in Catalonia. They have been organized ... by groups who are a minority but are very organized,” Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska told a news conference. “Their actions, as we have already said, will also not go unpunished.”

Friday’s marches have so far been peaceful, ranging from families pushing prams to cyclists wheeling their bicycles and people draped in the Catalan independence flag, who took over a highway lane and other major roads as they walked towards the Catalan capital. Some in Barcelona stood by the side of the roads, applauding as the walkers arrived.

Protesters walking on a highway towards Barcelona carried a giant banner reading, in English: “Free Catalan Prisoners Now.”

Several main streets in Barcelona were closed to traffic in anticipation of the marches. Regional trains and the city’s metro were running on a reduced timetable after pro-independence unions called a strike.

Barcelona’s main landmark, the multi-spired Sagrada Familia cathedral designed by Antoni Gaudi, was shut down due to the protests, an official told Reuters.

The Spanish soccer federation (RFEF) said in a statement on that Barcelona’s Oct. 26 home match against Real Madrid, one of the biggest rivalries in the sport, had been postponed due to security concerns.


Barcelona’s El Prat airport canceled 57 flights on Friday, airport operator Aena said.

Barcelona town hall said 700 garbage containers were set ablaze since protests began on Monday and estimated that the city had suffered damage totaling more than 1.5 million euros ($1.67 million).

Thursday began with largely peaceful protests as young people draped in Catalan flags tossed balls and skipped rope. The mood shifted later in the night, with protesters setting fire to cafe chairs lining the fashionable Rambla de Catalunya street in the heart of Barcelona’s tourist district.

An official from Barcelona town hall said around 10 trees were set on fire on Thursday.

Regional police said 16 people were arrested across Catalonia on Thursday, while health officials said medical aid was provided to 42 people.

Carmaker Seat, a unit of Volkswagen AG (VOWG_p.DE), halted production at its plant in Martorell, near Barcelona, from Thursday afternoon until Saturday, over concerns that the marches would disrupt traffic, a company spokeswoman said.

Barcelona’s wholesale market, MercaBarna, said visits to its fish sellers were down 85% on Friday, while flower sellers at the market saw 90% fewer customers.

Pro-independence leaders went ahead with a 2017 referendum on independence, despite it being deemed illegal by Spanish courts, followed by a declaration that the region was breaking away from Spain. Madrid responded by seizing control of the Catalan administration and putting the ringleaders on trial.

Catalonia’s former leader Carles Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium after the failed independence bid, on Friday told reporters that Belgian authorities had allowed him to remain free without bail after Spain’s Supreme Court targeted him with a European arrest warrant.


Gambia to file case on genocide against Myanmar at the ICJ

LONDON - Gambia will be taking Myanmar to the International Court of Justice to face charges of genocide against its Rohingya minority, Gambia’s Attorney General and Minister for Justice Abubacarr Marie Tambadou announced at a conclave on Justice and Accountability for the Rohingya at the Hague.

The charges, which will be filed by the Gambian Ministry of Justice’s legal team, will the first time the Myanmar authorities will be accused of the crime of genocide at the International Court of Justice.

“I can confirm that on October 4th, I have instructed our lawyers to file the case at the International Court of Justice to file the case at the International Court of Justice,” said Abubacarr M. Tambadou.

“I could smell the stench of genocide from miles away when I visited the Rohingya refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar. It was all too familiar for me, after a decade of interacting with the victims of the Rwandan mass rapes, killings and genocide.”

Abubacarr M. Tambadou previously served as a special assistant to the Prosecutor at the Intenratonal Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
The crimes committed against the Rohingya people, he added, illustrate the failure of the international community to prevent genocide, 75 years after it committed itself to the promise of “never again” at the Nuremberg Trials.

The Conclave on Justice and Accountability for the Rohingya on 18 October 2019 was co-convened by the Asia Justice Coalition and the Centre of Peace and Justice at BRAC University in Dhaka. The Conclave was hosted at the Hague by the International Institute of Social Studies at Erasmus University.

Speakers at the Conclave included Bob Rae, Canada’s Special Envoy to Myanmar, who affirmed the need to hold Myanmar accountable for crimes against the Rohingya.
More than 100 participants took part in the Conclave, including senior government officials, leading international human rights lawyers, human rights activists, and leaders of the Rohingya community, to discuss issues of justice and accountability for the crimes against humanity committed against the Rohingya.

The Asia Justice Coalition, a co-convener of the Conclave, is a network of organisations promoting justice and accountability for gross violations of international human rights law in Asia. Member organisations of the Asia Cooalition include Burmese Rohingya Organisation, Centre for Peace and Justice, Asia Justice and Rights, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists.


Record-high number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan: UN Report

GENEVA - Afghanistan has seen record-high levels of civilian casualties in the third quarter of 2019, stemming mainly from the violence between rival political party supporters, the UN Assistance Mission in the country (UNAMA) revealed in a report published Thursday, which concluded that more must be done to protect the country’s people.

In just the first nine months of 2019 overall, UNAMA counted more than 8,200 civilian casualties - 2,563 killed and 5,676 injured - similar to figures in the corresponding nine-month periods from 2014 onwards. But the last three months, has seen an “unprecedented number of civilian casualties”, UNAMA said.

In July, the Mission documented the country’s bloodiest month on record, with the highest number of civilian casualties in a single month since the UN began systematic documentation in the country, in 2009.

“Civilian casualties at record-high levels clearly show the need for all parties concerned to pay much more attention to protecting the civilian population, including through a review of conduct during combat operations,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan.

The harm done signals the importance of peace talks for a ceasefire, Mr. Yamamoto added, calling for a political settlement to the conflict. “There is no other way forward”, he said.

This year the country saw an overall decline in civilian casualties during the first six months, largely due to a decrease in the number of casualties caused by political opponents of the Government, but brutal clashes reignited around the time civilians headed to the ballot box in late September, with election-related violence claiming at least 85 lives, and injuring hundreds more, UNAMA revealed in special investigation published on Tuesday.

The Thursday quarterly report documented that from the New Year through 30 September, anti-Government elements were responsible for more than 5,000 civilian casualties, comprising 62 per cent of total civilian casualties for the time period.

As for technical causes, suicide and non-suicide improvised explosive devices (IEDs) claimed 42 per cent of all casualties, while ground engagements were the second leading cause of harm to civilians, at 29 per cent, followed by aerial attacks which caused the majority of civilian deaths, and made up 11 per cent of total casualties.

In addition to detailing casualties and their causes, UNAMA’s figures indicate that 41 per cent of all civilian casualties in Afghanistan were women and children.

Fiona Frazer, Human Rights Chief at UNAMA called the impact of the conflict on Afghan people “appalling” and said the UN will continue its advocacy work until the country sees the number of civilians injured or killed, at zero.


UN Chief condemns Afghanistan killings

NEW YORK - The attack on a mosque in Nangarhar province, eastern Afghanistan, which resulted in scores of civilians being killed, and dozens more injured, has been strongly condemned by UN chief António Guterres.

In a statement released on Friday, Mr. Guterres declared that those responsible for the attack must be held accountable. He extended his deepest sympathy and condolences to the families of the victims, and wished a speedy recovery to those injured.

The Secretary-General reiterated the solidarity of the United Nations with the people and Government of Afghanistan.

The attack comes a day after the UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan, UNAMA, released a report showing record numbers of civilian casualties in the third quarter of 2019, mainly as a result of violence between rival political party supporters.



Bomb kills at least 29 and wounds more than 100 inside mosque in eastern Afghanistan

KABUL - A bomb exploded in a mosque in eastern Afghanistan during Friday prayers, officials said, killing at least 29 men who had gathered for worship.

Sohrab Qaderi, a member of the provincial council in Nangarhar, said at least 29 people had been killed and more than 100 others wounded.

“The number of casualties may rise as the rescue team and people are working to bring out the bodies from the rubble,” Qaderi added.

Attaullah Khogyani, the spokesman for Nangarhar’s provincial governor, said the roof of the mosque had fallen in due to the blast and so far more than 20 were reported dead.

No militant group has claimed responsibility so far.


Sudan Peace Talks With Rebels Begin in Juba

By Waakhe Simon Wudu

JUBA - Talks among the Sudanese government, the rebel SPLM-North faction and two smaller Sudanese rebel groups began Friday in Juba.

After a three-hour meeting, mediators, Khartoum officials and the SPLM-North faction announced an agenda for the talks. Sudan government spokesman Mohammed Hassan Alteishi said the parties agreed to discuss several issues.

"The parties have agreed on categorizing and sequencing the negotiation issues as follows: one, political issues; two, humanitarian issues; three, security arrangements. Second, the parties have agreed on the necessity to agree on declaration of principles," Alteishi told reporters at Juba's Pyramid Hotel.

SPLM-North spokesperson Ajak Mahmoud called the agenda for the talks "a great achievement."

"The two parties embarked in direct engagement this morning since 9 o'clock and recently we made a very important breakthrough," Mahmoud said.

The SPLM-North has been fighting Sudanese government forces in the Nuba Mountains for several years.

Tutkew Gatluak, the security adviser to South Sudanese President Salva Kiir, is leading the talks. He said the agenda gives the parties a clear direction to follow during the negotiations.

"We thank God. We had a meeting with our brothers in SPLM-North and we have reached an agreement, and the first agreement we agreed on is on the humanitarian issue, security and political issue and all the issues that will make us reach a final peace deal," Gatluak said.

The optimism was a marked turnaround from Tuesday, when the SPLM-North faction said it was suspending the talks, accusing government forces of bombing villages in the Nuba Mountains and killing one person.

The government delegation denied playing a role in any attacks in the area and said the incident involved traders and cattle herders.

Separate talks, different rebels

On Thursday night, the government delegation held separate talks with Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) negotiators. Alteishi said the SRF and the government were expected to agree on an agenda soon.

"We walked through those issues. We haven't agreed yet for a whole agenda but we are nearly to reach that agreement," Alteishi told VOA's South Sudan in Focus.

The South Sudan-sponsored talks in Juba are expected to last two months. Similar talks mediated by the African Union over the past 10 years failed to resolve the conflict between the rebels and the previous Sudanese government led by former President Omar al-Bashir, who was ousted by military leaders this year after months of protests.


Unprecedented flooding affects thousands in South Sudan

JUBA - Flooding not seen in 40 years in South Sudan’s Upper Nile state has affected nearly 200,000 people who urgently need support, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Friday.

The inundated area, near Maban’s capital town of Bunj, is prone to flooding at this time of year because of heavy seasonal rains, but the situation has been getting worse because rainfall in neighbouring Ethiopia is becoming more intense and irregular, the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR’s Andrej Mahecic told journalists in Geneva.

Mr. Mahecic said that with the help of local partners and the authorities, UNHCR plans to reach the area, which shelters more than 150,000 refugees from Sudan.

UNHCR has pre-positioned emergency shelter kits and material assistance to help more than 5,000 affected families rebuild and repair damaged shelters, but says that more support is needed.

South Sudan hosts almost 300,000 refugees - mainly from Sudan’s Blue Nile and South Kordofan. An additional nearly 1.5 million are displaced inside the country.



Tuberculosis infections declining, but not fast enough among poor, WHO

GENEVA - A staggering 1.5 million people died from tuberculosis (TB) last year, the UN health agency said on Thursday, in an appeal for far greater funding and political support to eradicate the curable and preventable disease.

Caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis, TB commonly causes persistent coughing, fatigue and weight loss. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and its latest Global TB Report, around 10 million people developed TB in 2018 and three million sufferers “are not getting the care they need”.

Countries where people suffer most are China, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, and South Africa.

Highlighting some good news, WHO also pointed out that Brazil, China, the Russian Federation and Zimbabwe - all of which have high TB burdens - achieved treatment coverage levels of more than 80 per cent, in 2018.

Nonetheless, although the 2018 TB toll was marginally better than in 2017, the burden remains stubbornly high among poor and marginalized populations, particularly those with HIV.

One of the reasons for this is the cost of TB care, with data showing that up to four-fifths of TB patients in so-called “high-burden” countries spend more than 20 per cent of their household income on treatment.

Drug resistance remains another obstacle, WHO maintained, with 2018 seeing an estimated half a million new cases of drug-resistant TB. Only one in three of these people was enrolled in treatment, it added, while also recommending that multidrug resistant TB should now be tackled with fully oral regimens “that are safer and more effective”.

Stronger systems and better access to care are key: Tedros

Insisting that the world must accelerate progress if it is to reach the Sustainable Development Goal of ending TB by 2030, WHO Director-General

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that in practice, this required “strong health systems and better access to services. That means a renewed investment in primary health care and a commitment to universal health coverage.”

Following last month’s commitment by Heads of State at the UN in New York to make healthcare available to all and address communicable diseases like TB, HIV and malaria, WHO highlighted the value of “comprehensive” national campaigns that could diagnose and treat several ailments at a time.

The UN agency cited “better integrated” HIV and TB programmes that have led to two-thirds of people diagnosed with TB now knowing their HIV status, for which they are now taking treatment.

WHO also welcomed the fact that seven million people were diagnosed and treated for TB last year – up from 6.4 million in 2017.

This was “proof that we can reach global targets if we join forces together, as we have done through the ‘Find.Treat.All.EndTB’ joint initiative of WHO, Stop TB Partnership and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria”, the WHO Director-General said.

'Breaking the trajectory' of TB epidemic

Echoing that message, Dr Tereza Kasaeva, Director of WHO’s Global TB Programme confirmed that WHO is working closely with countries, partners and civil society on innovations “to break the trajectory of the TB epidemic”.

According to WHO, there is massive and chronic underfunding for TB research estimated at $1.2 billion a year. On top of this, the shortfall for TB prevention and care is estimated at $3.3 billion in 2019.

This is despite the fact that about one-quarter of the world's population has latent TB, meaning that people have been infected by TB bacteria but are not yet ill with the disease, so they cannot transmit it.

Priority needs include a new vaccine or effective preventive drug treatment, rapid diagnostic tests and safer, simpler, shorter drug regimens. The World Health Assembly-approved Global TB Strategy aims for a 90 per cent reduction in TB deaths and an 80 per cent reduction in the TB incidence rate by 2030 compared with 2015 levels.

The strategy established milestones for 2020 of a 35 per cent reduction in TB deaths and a 20 per cent reduction in the TB incidence rate compared with 2015.



How African leaders cling to power for decades

LONDON - Guinea erupted in protest this week over proposals to draft a new constitution that could allow President Alpha Conde to extend his legal mandate and run for a third term in 2020.

If Conde tries to stay, he would be copying from an established playbook in Africa, where incumbent presidents have sought, often successfully, to remain in power by massaging, bending or outright breaking laws often meant to ensure democratic handovers of power.

Below are details on how some of Africa’s longest-serving leaders have managed to stay in power, or are trying to do so, denting hopes of a dawn of democracy across the region.

* BURUNDI - President Pierre Nkurunziza

Nkurunziza, in power since 2005, announced in 2015 he would run for a third term in what his opponents saw as a breach of the constitution which only allowed leaders to rule for two terms. Since his re-election, hundreds of Burundians have been killed in clashes with security forces and half a million have fled abroad.

A referendum in May 2018 overwhelmingly approved changes that extended the length of presidential terms to seven years. Under the new constitution, Nkurunziza is now able serve a further two terms, potentially extending his rule until 2034. The opposition rejected the results and the United States said the process had been marred by voter intimidation.

* CAMEROON - President Paul Biya

Biya, 86 and sub-Saharan Africa’s oldest leader, took over the presidency in 1982. The national assembly adopted a constitutional bill in April 2008, removing a two-term presidential limit to allow him to extend his rule past 2011. He has won two elections since then that opposition candidates have said were fraudulent.

* CHAD - President Idriss Deby

Deby has ruled Chad since coming to power after a 1990 coup. A 2005 referendum removed a two-term limit from the constitution. Parliament approved a new constitution in 2018 reimposing the two-term limit, but it will not be applied retroactively, meaning Deby could serve two terms after the next election in 2021, potentially ruling until 2033.

* COMOROS - President Azali Assoumani

The president, a former military officer who first seized power in a coup in 1999, won a referendum in 2018 to extend term limits and end a system of rotating power among the archipelago’s three main islands off Africa’s east coast. The vote allowed him to run for two more five year-terms. The opposition dismissed the referendum as illegal.

* CONGO REPUBLIC - Denis Sassou Nguesso

The constitution in Congo Republic was changed by referendum in 2015, lifting term and age limits that would have excluded Nguesso from running again. He won a new five-year term in a 2016 election, although the opposition rejected the outcome, alleging fraud. He has ruled for all but five years since 1979.

* DJIBOUTI - President Ismail Omar Guelleh

Lawmakers in Djibouti approved a constitutional amendment in 2010 that paved the way for Guelleh, in power since 1999, to run for a third term. He has won two subsequent elections.

* GUINEA - President Alpha Conde

Conde’s second and final five-year term expires in 2020, but the 81-year-old leader has refused to rule out running again. In September, he asked his government to look into drafting a new constitution, raising concerns he might use it as a reset button on his presidency and run again. Conde was first elected in 2010.

* IVORY COAST - President Alassane Ouattara

Ouattara, in power since 2010, has claimed the adoption of a new constitution in 2016 would allow him to run for a third term in the 2020 presidential race because a new constitution would mean the first two terms did not count. He has not yet said if he will stand for re-election.

* RWANDA - President Paul Kagame

In 2015, Rwandans voted to extend the constitution’s two-term limit. Under the changes, Kagame could seek another seven-year term and two five-year terms after that, potentially remaining in power until 2034.

Kagame, who won a third term in 2017, has faced mounting criticism for what human rights groups say are widespread abuses, a muzzling of independent media, and suppression of political opposition. He denies wrongdoing. He first came to power in 2000.

* TOGO - President Faure Gnassingbe

Togo changed its constitution in 2019 to cap the presidential mandate at two five-year terms ostensibly in response to opposition calls for an end to a political dynasty that started when Gnassingbe’s father seized power in a 1967 coup.

However it does not take into account the three terms Gnassingbe has already served since coming to power in 2005, the latest of which ends in 2020. Gnassingbe could therefore remain in power until 2030.

* UGANDA - President Yoweri Museveni

Museveni has ruled Uganda since 1986. A term-limiting clause that would have prevented him from seeking re-election was deleted from the constitution in 2005.

In 2017, lawmakers voted to remove a constitutional limit on the age of presidential candidates, paving the way for 75-year-old Museveni to stand again in the 2021 election.


Sierra Leone: Government reinforces discriminatory policy of excluding pregnant girls from school

LONDON - Responding to the news that authorities in Sierra Leone are reinforcing their position that pregnant girls cannot attend school prior to giving birth, Marta Colomer, Amnesty International Senior West Africa Campaigner said:

“Sierra Leone is a country with a high rate of teenage pregnancy. Yet instead of providing clear sex education in schools and effectively eradicating violence against women and girls, authorities in Sierra Leone are punishing hundreds of pregnant girls by denying them an education.

“The government’s repeated refusal to allow pregnant girls to attend school is entrenching gender inequality and discrimination. Instead of empowering these girls, government policy risks shaming and blaming them.

“The authorities must immediately lift this ban in line with Sierra Leone’s human rights obligations and allow pregnant school girls to fully enjoy their right to education.”


Yesterday, the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education issued a statement clarifying school attendance by pregnant girls. According to the statement, pregnant girls can now sit exams but still cannot attend school. In maintaining its regressive stance the Government used highly pejorative and stereotypical language,stating that pregnant girls should “stay away from schooling during pregnancy because of their inability for effective learning…” and that “it was widely perceived that pregnant girls have the potential to negatively influence their peers to be sexually active and become pregnant.” In so doing the Government offered no concrete evidence to support these misleading and harmful allegations.

In June 2019, Amnesty International joined a legal case brought by two non-governmental organizations, Equality Now and WAVES, to challenge the Sierra Leonean government’s ban on pregnant girls attending mainstream schools and sitting exams.  The case is pending before the ECOWAS Court of Justice.



Cartel gunmen terrorize Mexican city, free El Chapo's son

By Dave Graham and Lizbeth Diaz

MEXICO CITY - Heavily armed fighters surrounded security forces in a Mexican city on Thursday and made them free one of drug lord Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman’s sons, after his capture triggered gunbattles and a prison break that sent civilians scurrying for cover.

Security Minister Alfonso Durazo said a patrol by National Guard militarized police first came under attack from within a house in the city of Culiacan, 1,235 km (770 miles) northwest of Mexico City.

After entering the house, they found four men, including Ovidio Guzman, who is accused of drug trafficking in the United States.

The patrol was quickly outmatched by cartel gunmen, however, and it was withdrawn to prevent lives being lost, the government said. Simultaneously, fighters swarmed through the city, battling police and soldiers in broad daylight. They torched vehicles and left at least one gas station ablaze.

“The decision was taken to retreat from the house, without Guzman, to try to avoid more violence in the area and preserve the lives of our personnel and recover calm in the city,” Durazo told Reuters.

The reaction to Guzman’s capture was on a scale rarely seen during Mexico’s long drug war, even after his more famous father’s arrests. The chaos was continuing as night fell.

A large group of inmates escaped from the city prison. Residents cowered in shopping centers and supermarkets as gunfire roared. Black plumes of smoke rose across the skyline.

Families with young children left their cars and lay flat in the road. Bullets cracked up ahead. “Dad, can we get up now?” a small boy said to his father in a video posted on Twitter.

“No, stay there on the floor,” the man replied, his voice trembling.

Cristobal Castaneda, head of security in Sinaloa, told the Televisa network that two people had been killed and 21 injured, according to preliminary information. He said police had come under attack when they approached roadblocks manned by gunmen. He advised residents not to leave their homes.

It was not immediately clear if members of the patrol were harmed in the standoff. Reuters TV showed scenes of at least three bodies lying next to cars on the street.


The chaos in Culiacan, long a stronghold for the Guzmans’ Sinaloa cartel, will increase pressure on President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who took office in December promising to pacify a country weary after more than a decade of drug-war fighting. Murders this year are set to be at a record high.

Thursday’s events follow the massacre of more than a dozen police in western Mexico earlier this week, and the killing of 14 suspected gangsters by the army a day later.

Falko Ernst, senior analyst for the International Crisis Group in Mexico, said the release of Ovidio Guzman set “a dangerous precedent” and sent a message that the state itself, including the army, could be blackmailed and was not in control.

Presumed cartel members apparently intercepted a radio frequency used by security forces, one video showed, warning of reprisals against soldiers if Guzman was not freed.

A state police spokesman confirmed to Reuters that several prisoners escaped from a prison during the chaos. Video footage showed a group of at least 20 prisoners running in the streets. It was not immediately clear how many had escaped.

“They are freeing them,” a panicked woman said in the video apparently filmed from an tall building. “No we can’t go outside!” she said as other voices debated making a dash for their car.

In another video, a man driving repeatedly shouted: “There is a big gunfight,” before taking a sharp turn and leaving his car at a gas station to take cover. His voice then became inaudible because of the rattling roar of automatic gunfire.

‘El Chapo’ Guzman led the Sinaloa cartel for decades, escaping from prison twice before being arrested and extradited to the United States. He was found guilty in a U.S. court in February of smuggling tons of drugs and sentenced to life in prison.

He is believed to have about 12 children including Ovidio. The U.S. Department of Justice unveiled an indictment against Ovidio and another of the brothers in February, charging them with conspiracy to distribute cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana in the United States.

The indictment gave Ovidio’s age as 28, and said he had been involved in trafficking conspiracies since he was a teenager.

Jose Luis Gonzalez Meza, a lawyer for the Guzmans, told news network Milenio that Ovidio had been in touch with the family and said he was free.

US delegation heading to Turkey to push for Syria cease-fire

By Steve Herman

WASHINGTON - U.S. Vice President Mike Pence will head a high-level delegation to Turkey to press that country's president to halt his invasion of northeast Syria, President Donald Trump announced Tuesday.

"Mike is heading it up with Secretary [of State Mike] Pompeo. They'll be leaving tomorrow," Trump said at an event in the White House Rose Garden. "We're asking for a cease-fire. We've put the strongest sanctions that you can imagine. We have a lot in store if they don't have an impact, including massive tariffs on steel."

Also joining the delegation to Ankara, which on Thursday is to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, will be national security adviser Robert O'Brien and Ambassador James Jeffrey, who is the special envoy for Syria engagement and the global coalition to defeat the Islamic State group.

Pence will voice the U.S. commitment "to reach an immediate cease-fire and the conditions for a negotiated settlement," according to a White House statement.

During the meeting, the vice president also will reiterate Trump's "commitment to maintain punishing economic sanctions on Turkey until a resolution is reached," the statement said.

"Goal number one is to carry out diplomacy to try to find a cease-fire. Get the situation under control. It's very, very confusing. It's dangerous for our troops. It's placing the fight against ISIS [Islamic State] at risk. It's placing at risk the safe imprisonment of almost 10,000 detainees," a State Department official said earlier Tuesday.

The official noted there had not been "any major successful breakout so far of detainees," referring to imprisoned IS fighters and their families. Syrian Kurdish officials have said hundreds of suspected IS prisoners have escaped.

Officials in Washington said American military aircraft had conducted a "show of force" in Syria after Turkish-backed fighters came too close to American forces during the Turkish offensive into northeastern Syria.

As Turkish-backed militias advanced toward the Lafarge Cement Factory, the SDF set fire to and then vacated its facilities and equipment, a U.S. official said.

"No U.S. forces or equipment were ever in jeopardy and remain within separate, secure facilities. Our priority is protecting the remaining coalition forces at the LCF as multiple forces converge in northeast Syria," said U.S. Army Colonel Myles B. Caggins, a spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve.

Nuclear weapons

Democratic Senator Edward Markey asked Trump to "immediately" remove U.S. nuclear weapons stored in Turkey.

Markey said about 50 weapons were at the Incirlik Air Base, about 400 kilometers from the Syrian border.

"While Russia's nuclear threat continues, our nuclear weapons deployment must reflect today's evolving security environment," Markey said in a statement.

Erdogan cut power to Incirlik and prevented U.S. aircraft from flying in or out of the base during the failed 2016 uprising against the Turkish government.

Trump has faced harsh criticism in the week since the White House announced Turkey was going forward with its long-held plans to try to carve out a buffer zone along its border with Syria free from the U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters it accuses of being terrorists linked to separatist Kurds in Turkey. The U.S. military has long said its Kurdish allies have been instrumental in the fight against IS, and the elimination of IS's caliphate.

"We're very concerned about their [Turkey's] actions and the threat that they presented to peace, security, stability and territorial integrity of Syria, of our overall political plans, and the risk of humanitarian disaster, and human rights violations, some of which we've seen not by Turkish troops but by what we call the TSO – Turkish-supported Syrian opposition elements, armed opposition elements, who are responsible for those horrible pictures you saw," the U.S. official said.

Turkey's incursion pushed the U.S.-allied Syrian Democratic Forces to reach an agreement with the Syrian government that has brought Syrian troops back into the northeastern part of the country for the first time in years, including on Monday when they reached Manbij.

A U.S. military spokesman said Tuesday that American troops had left Manbij as part of their withdrawal from the area.

Syrian Kurdish Refugee in Turkey Killed in Shelling From Syria

In addition to the call to halt the military operation, the United States raised steel tariffs and halted negotiations on a $100 billion trade deal with Turkey.

U.S. Democrats and Republicans have faulted the Trump administration for what is unfolding, saying the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the area cleared the way for U.S. ally SDF to be put in danger and increased the potential for Islamic State militants under SDF detention to break free and stage a resurgence.

Congress' leading Democrats – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer – announced Tuesday a joint bipartisan resolution opposing Trump's decision to withdraw from Syria, calling it a "reckless action, which threatens countless lives."

"With one voice, we call on President Trump to support Kurdish communities, to work to ensure that the Turkish military acts with restraint, and to present a clear strategy to defeat ISIS," Pelosi and Schumer said in a joint statement.

Trump spoke Monday with both Erdogan and General Mazloum Kobani, the head of the mostly Kurdish SDF that the United States has relied on to battle IS in Syria.

Erdogan on Tuesday said he told Trump the previous day that Turkey would never declare a cease-fire in northern Syria.

US House of Representatives pass Hong Kong human rights and democracy act

By Joshua Lipes

WASHINGTON - The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which will require Washington to review Hong Kong's human rights situation annually and to take sanctions against officials linked to rights abuses in the city, if approved by the Senate.

The act was one of four measures related to the situation in Hong Kong that was passed by House lawmakers in unanimous votes.

The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, a bill introduced in June by Marco Rubio and Chris Smith, co-chairmen of Congressional Executive Commission on China, would revise current U.S. policy since Britain handed the city to China in 1997, which treats Hong Kong separately from the rest of China in trade, investment, commerce, and immigration–based on Beijing's pledge to give the territory a high degree of autonomy under the "one country, two systems" model.

If passed by the Senate, the bill would require the U.S. State Department to report annually to Congress whether Hong Kong is "sufficiently autonomous from China" to justify unique treatment, and whether China has "eroded Hong Kong's civil liberties and rule of law," as protected by the city's Basic Law.

Other measures in the bill include the requirement that the President provide Congress with an assessment as to whether to withdraw from the U.S.-Hong Kong extradition treaty, and what actions are needed to protect U.S. citizens and national security interests if Hong Kong amends its laws to allow the rendition of individuals to countries that lack defendants' rights protections, such as China, or passes a national security law.

The bill, if enacted, will also enable the U.S. to freeze the assets of, and refuse visas to, officials deemed responsible for human rights violations in the city.

It was not immediately clear when the bill will go to the Senate for a vote.

Also passed by the House on Tuesday was Resolution 543, reaffirming the relationship between the U.S. and Hong Kong, voicing support for the protesters, and condemning Chinese interference in the city, as well as the Protect Hong Kong Act, which would end exports to Hong Kong of crowd control devices.

Additionally, lawmakers approved House Resolution 521, which commends Canada for launching extradition proceedings in the U.S. case against Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.

Support for bill

While Rubio has said the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act aims to "hold China to its promise" to respect the freedoms afforded residents of Hong Kong through the "one country, two systems" model, Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam has called it an attempt to interfere in the city's internal affairs.

Democracy activists Joshua Wong and Denise Ho have pushed for the bill's passage, saying it will protect democracy in Hong Kong, and more than 100,000 protesters joined a rally on Monday night in which they sang the U.S. national anthem, waved American flags, and urged Congress to approve the act.

Wong on Monday called on the U.S. to pass the law, then use it to pursue police officers accused of human rights abuses and torture of detainees during the protests, amid multiple allegations of the torture and sexual abuse of detained protesters.

Protests that erupted in June in Hong Kong against plans by the city's government to allow extradition to mainland China have grown into a broader movement, even after Carrie Lam pledged to scrap the plan.

The protesters five key demands are: the formal withdrawal of planned amendments to extradition laws; an amnesty for arrested protesters; an end to the description of protesters as rioters; an independent inquiry into police abuse of power; and fully democratic elections.

In recent days, protesters have also begun calling for the current Hong Kong police force to be disbanded, particularly after widespread reports of the sexual abuse and torture of detainees at the hands of police have been publicly dismissed by senior officers.

Over the weekend, U.S. Senator Josh Hawley of the state of Missouri traveled to Hong Kong and met with protesters, urging them to refrain from violence, but slamming Hong Kong police for ramping up their use of force.

Hawley–the third U.S. Republican Senator to visit the city since the protests began, following Ted Cruz and Rick Scott–warned that Hong Kong is in danger of becoming "a police state," and later urged Carrie Lam to resign, prompting the Chief Executive to fire back that his comments were "totally irresponsible and unfounded."

In likely tight Canadian vote, deciding who governs could take weeks

By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA - Opinion polls suggest no party will gain a majority of seats in the Canadian election on Oct. 21. That leaves the two frontrunners - Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Conservative opposition leader Andrew Scheer - trying to govern with a minority. Six parties are contesting the election.

Here’s how events could play out after the vote:


If Trudeau wins a majority of the 338 seats in the House of Commons, he will stay on. A party needs at least 170 seats for a majority. The Liberals currently have 177 seats.

If Scheer wins a majority, he would take over as prime minister after a two-week transition period.


To govern Canada, a prime minister must show that he or she has the confidence of the House of Commons, the elected lower chamber of Parliament.

If the result is a minority, the incumbent prime minister has the opportunity to test their standing with a vote of confidence. This would be the case even if Trudeau wins fewer seats than Scheer.

“He is the prime minister until he resigns or is defeated in the House,” said Gerald Baier, a political science professor at the University of British Columbia.

If the Liberals win more seats than the Conservatives but fall short of a majority, Trudeau has several options.

With 160 seats or more, Liberal insiders say Trudeau will most likely govern as though he has a majority, effectively daring the opposition to bring him down in a confidence vote.

If the Liberals get fewer than 160 seats, he will seek an arrangement with the minority opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) or the Greens, who are also both left-leaning.

There is almost no chance of a formal coalition, where New Democrats would serve in a Trudeau cabinet. Canada has only ever had one coalition and that was in 1917, during World War I.

More likely is a deal whereby the NDP backs the Liberals in exchange for Trudeau committing to some of their priorities. The NDP helped keep Liberal minority governments in power from 1972-1974 and in 2005.


If Trudeau decides to test the confidence of the House, he could first swear in a cabinet during a ceremony presided over by Governor General Julie Payette, the Canada-based representative of the head of state, Queen Elizabeth.

This does not have to happen immediately, especially if there are automatic recounts in some seats where the results are particularly tight.

Presenting a new cabinet “would be a way of signaling that he intends to keep governing,” said Professor Philippe Lagasse of Ottawa’s Carleton University. It is an optional step.

“All ministers currently retain their portfolios and it would not be necessary for him to swear a new cabinet prior to testing confidence,” added Lagasse.

Assuming Trudeau tries to govern either alone or with another party, he would then convene Parliament. This does not have to happen immediately, since the rules dictate Parliament only has to meet once a year.

That said, Trudeau will not wait forever. In 1979, the Conservatives won a minority of seats in June and did not bring Parliament back till October, the longest such gap in Canadian history.


If Trudeau were to lose his first confidence vote, he could request another election but in all likelihood, the Governor General would then ask Scheer whether he could create a government, citing the need to avoid two elections in quick succession.

Scheer would, on paper, have more challenges, since the NDP says it will not work with him under any circumstances.

This leaves the separatist Bloc Quebecois, which seeks independence for the predominantly French-speaking province of Quebec. The idea of federal parties cooperating with the Bloc is especially sensitive and Scheer has said he would not strike a deal with them.

This would leave Scheer running a minority government by himself. Former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper did just that for more than five years between 2006 and 2011, when he had two successive minorities, alternately cajoling and threatening other parties to make sure they did not bring him down. He won a majority in 2011.


The best example of how long the process could take comes from the 2017 electihere in the Canadian province of British Columbia, where the gap between election day and the creation of a new government stretched out to 52 days. That election used the same rule book as the federal vote.

US carried out secret cyber strike on Iran in wake of Saudi oil attack: officials

WASHINGTON - The United States carried out a secret cyber operation against Iran in the wake of the Sept. 14 attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities, which Washington and Riyadh blame on Tehran, two U.S. officials have told Reuters.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the operation took place in late September and took aim at Tehran’s ability to spread “propaganda.”

One of the officials said the strike affected physical hardware, but did not provide further details.

The attack highlights how President Donald Trump’s administration has been trying to counter what it sees as Iranian aggression without spiraling into a broader conflict.

Asked about Reuters reporting on Wednesday, Iran’s Minister of Communications and Information Technology Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi said: “They must have dreamt it,” Fars news agency reported.

The U.S. strike appears more limited than other such operations against Iran this year after the downing of an American drone in June and an alleged attack by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards on oil tankers in the Gulf in May.

The United States, Saudi Arabia, Britain, France and Germany have publicly blamed the Sept. 14 attack on Iran, which denied involvement in the strike. The Iran-aligned Houthi militant group in Yemen claimed responsibility.

Publicly, the Pentagon has responded by sending thousands of additional troops and equipment to bolster Saudi defenses - the latest U.S. deployment to the region this year.

The Pentagon declined to comment about the cyber strike.

“As a matter of policy and for operational security, we do not discuss cyberspace operations, intelligence, or planning,” said Pentagon spokeswoman Elissa Smith.


The impact of the attack, if any, could take months to determine, but cyber strikes are seen as a less-provocative option below the threshold of war.

“You can do damage without killing people or blowing things up; it adds an option to the toolkit that we didn’t have before and our willingness to use it is important,” said James Lewis, a cyber expert with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Lewis added that it may not be possible to deter Iranian behavior with even conventional military strikes.

Tensions in the Gulf have escalated sharply since May 2018, when Trump withdrew from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Tehran that put limits on its nuclear program in exchange for the easing of sanctions.

It was unclear whether there have been other U.S. cyber attacks since the one in late September.

Iran has used such tactics against the United States. This month, a hacking group that appears linked to the Iranian government tried to infiltrate email accounts related Trump’s re-election campaign.

Over 30 days in August and September, the group, which Microsoft dubbed “Phosphorous,” made more than 2,700 attempts to identify consumer accounts, then attacked 241 of them.

Tehran is also thought to be a major player in spreading disinformation.

Last year a Reuters investigation found more than 70 websites that push Iranian propaganda to 15 countries, in an operation that cybersecurity experts, social media firms and journalists are only starting to uncover.

Tensions with Iran have been high since the Sept. 14 attack. Tehran has said an Iranian tanker was hit by rockets in the Red Sea last week and warned that there would be consequences.

On Monday, President Hassan Rouhani reiterated his country’s policy toward the Trump administration, ruling out bilateral talks unless Washington returns to the landmark nuclear deal and lifts crippling U.S. economic sanctions.

Australia & Pacific

Man jailed for 19 years wins payout

CANBERRA - A man who was wrongfully jailed for 19 years over the murder of a senior Australian policeman has received A$7m (£3.7m; $4.8m) in compensation.

David Eastman received a life term in 1995 for the killing six years earlier of Colin Winchester, an Australian Federal Police assistant commissioner.

He was later freed after a court ruled he had had an unfair trial. He was acquitted in a second trial last year.

Mr Winchester's murder remains unsolved.

His killing rocked the legal and political establishment and sparked one of the nation's largest-ever criminal investigations.

Mr Eastman, 74, had earlier rejected A$3.8m compensation offer from the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) government.

In earlier hearings, the ACT Supreme Court heard that Mr Eastman had lost the opportunity to have a family and a career because of his imprisonment. His mother and two younger siblings had also died during that time.

"He has lost a significant chunk of his life," his lawyer, Sam Tierney, said outside the ACT Supreme Court on Monday.

Mr Winchester was shot twice in the head outside his family home in Canberra, the nation's capital. He remains the most senior police officer to have been murdered in Australia.

Mr Eastman, then a public servant, was identified early on as a suspect because he had allegedly sent threats to police over the handling of an earlier criminal matter.

After being imprisoned, Mr Eastman spent 19 years fighting his conviction - launching appeals in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2005 and 2008, all of which failed.

But he successfully argued to be released in 2014 after a judicial inquiry ruled that he had suffered a "substantial miscarriage of justice" due to flaws in police evidence that was used at his trial.(FA)

Overloaded ferry which killed 95 had drunk crew

TARAWA - A ferry that sank off the Pacific nation of Kiribati - killing 95 people - was overloaded, had a drunken crew, and was not allowed to carry passengers at sea, an inquiry has found.

Of the 102 people aboard the MV Butiraoi last year, only five passengers and two crew survived.

After the boat sank, it was eight days before the alarm was raised, and most victims died at sea from hunger, dehydration and hypothermia.

One woman died while giving birth.

The 17m (57ft) catamaran departed Nonouti island on 18 January last year for a routine two-day trip to the capital, Tarawa. It was due to cover 260km (160 miles) of Pacific waters in the archipelago country.

But it set off without notifying authorities, and did not issue a distress signal when it began to fall apart hours after leaving shore.

It did not have a working or activated radio beacon - meaning it was days before anyone realised the ferry was missing.

When the alarm was finally raised, an international search effort got under way, with aircraft from New Zealand, Australia and the US scanning the ocean.

On 27 January, a New Zealand military plane found one of the ferry's aluminium boats carrying seven survivors, among them a 14-year old girl.

The inquiry was ordered by the Kiribati government. It found:

The ferry - which was also carry 30 tonnes of copra (dried coconut) - was not licensed to carry passengers at sea
The master, who died in the accident, "took no notice" of weather warnings
The boat broke apart because of "recent groundings" and poor maintenance
Of the two life rafts, one got a puncture, and the other suffered a "failed" floor
There were not enough lifejackets for all passengers
There was widespread use of alcohol by the master and crew during working hours
The use of alcohol "gave every drunken crew [member] the feeling of grandeur and power to make decisions alone".
The inquiry made a number of recommendations, including a national standard on boat building; a ban on alcohol for crew during working hours; and a strengthened code of ethics.(FA)



'We are rising': students strike for global climate action

By Hans Lee and Patpicha Tanakasempipat

SYDNEY/BANGKOK - Thousands of students took to the streets of Australia and other Asia-Pacific countries on Friday to kick off a global strike demanding world leaders gathering for a U.N. climate summit adopt urgent measures to stop an environmental catastrophe.

“We didn’t light it, but we’re trying to fight it,” read one sign carried by a student in Sydney, as social media posts showed huge demonstrations around the country, including outback towns like Alice Springs.

“The oceans are rising and so are we,” read another sign held by a protester wearing school uniform in Melbourne.

Protests inspired by the 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg are planned in about 150 countries on Friday as people rally to demand governments take immediate action to limit the harmful effects of manmade climate change.

The strike will culminate in New York when Thunberg, who has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for her climate activism, will spearhead a rally at the United Nations headquarters.

Thunberg noted the “huge crowd” in Sydney in a tweet, which she said would set the standard as the strikes moved across Asia, Europe and Africa.

By early afternoon, the Sydney protesters were overflowing out of a 34-hectare (84-acre) open space in the city. Similar crowds were reported in Brisbane and other state capitals.

Danielle Porepilliasana, a Sydney high school student, had a blunt message for politicians like Australian Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, who told parliament on Thursday that students should stay in class.

“World leaders from everywhere are telling us that students need to be at school doing work,” she said, wearing anti-coal earrings. “I’d like to see them at their parliaments doing their jobs for once.”


The U.N. summit brings together world leaders to discuss climate change mitigation strategies, such as transitioning to renewable energy sources from fossil fuels.

The issue is vital to low-lying Pacific islands, which have repeatedly asked wealthier nations to do more to prevent rising sea levels.

Children in the Solomon Islands rallied on the shoreline wearing traditional grass skirts and carrying wooden shields in solidarity with the global movement.

In Thailand, more than 200 young people stormed into the Environment Ministry and dropped to the ground feigning death as they demanded government action on climate change.

“This is what will happen if we don’t stop climate change now,” said 21-year-old strike organizer Nanticha Ocharoenchai.

The Thai Environment Ministry’s deputy permanent secretary, Adisorn Noochdumrong, supported the students.

“This is how the young people express their concerns, which we deem as a good sign and not at all a nuisance,” he said.

In Palangka Raya, in Indonesia’s Central Kalimantan province, youths carrying placards marched through heavy smog caused by forest fires.

In the eastern Indian city of Kolkata around 25 school children handed out flyers at busy bus terminals and held placards that read “Save Our Planet. Save Our World”.

“This is the only planet we have. We wanted to stand for it before we went to school for the day,” one of the children said.

No protests were authorized in China, the world’s biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions, but Zheng Xiaowen of the China Youth Climate Action Network said Chinese youth would take action one way or another.

“Chinese youth have their own methods,” she said. “We also pay attention to the climate and we are also thinking deeply, interacting, taking action, and so many people are very conscientious on this issue.”

Global warming caused by heat-trapping greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels has already led to droughts and heatwaves, melting glaciers, rising sea levels and floods, scientists say.

Carbon emissions climbed to a record high last year, despite a warning from the U.N.-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in October that output of the gases must be slashed over the next 12 years to stabilize the climate.

Organizers said demonstrations would take different forms around the world, but all aim to promote awareness of climate change and demand political action to curb contributing factors.



Iranian refugee in Australia facing jail for cocaine

CAMBERWELL, Australia - Iranian refugee and entrepreneur Emad Zarghami's world appeared to revolve around fancy dinners, expensive watches and stacks of casino chips won at poker.

Zarghami, 24, who came to Australia by boat as a young child, was a talented student who won a scholarship to the University of Melbourne and ran Instagram-ready burger shop Phat Stacks in Camberwell.

The menu featured a burger with a 24-carat gold bun, at the price of $88.80.

Burger shop owner Emad Zarghami was found with 260g of cocaine and more than $100,000 in cash.

That burger shop is now up for sale, as Zarghami faces a significant jail term for trafficking more than 260 grams of cocaine.

Defence lawyer Nick Papas, QC, on Monday in Melbourne's County Court described Zarghami as "young and stupid, surrounded by money and living a fools' paradise".

On Boxing Day 2017, police pulled over Zarghami's white Audi coupe for a routine intercept after he was seen leaving the Crown casino car park.

Zarghami told the officers he'd been playing poker and had won about $2000, but when he pulled his licence from his wallet they saw a wad of $50 and $100 notes and decided to search the car.

In a zipped pocket on Zarghami's right side, they found more $100 bills. Another poker windfall, he claimed.

But in the boot, police discovered a Rip Curl backpack full of cash in rubber bands and ziplock bags of white powder.

It was later revealed to be $108,296.15 and forensic tests showed the powder was cocaine.

According to a prosecution summary, Zarghami told police he had been given the cash and drugs.

"Come on, seriously, I owe people money as if that would be mine," he told police.

On Zarghami's key ring was a USB stick that contained a PDF copy of a book titled The Secrets of Methamphetamine Production by Uncle Fester.

At the time, Zarghami was on bail for possession of cannabis, cocaine, amphetamine and ecstasy. He has pleaded guilty to committing an indictable offence while on bail.

On Monday the luxury hotel robes Zarghami wore in photos posted on social media were replaced by a grey prison tracksuit.

At times he muttered aloud and gestured to the judge as his offending was discussed. When asked for his occupation, Zarghami replied: "Professional gambler."

His parents were in the court for their son's plea hearing after a jury earlier found him guilty of trafficking in a drug of dependence.

He was acquitted on dealing with proceeds of crime. In addition to gambling, Zarghami claimed he was making money from cryptocurrency trading.

Judge Michael Tinney said that it was clear Zarghami was motivated by money.

"He's no fool, he's taken a calculated risk," he said.

The court heard that the family had fled Iran and made it to Australia in 2001 by boat on the second attempt.

Time spent in the Woomera detention centre had left Zarghami with ongoing trauma, according to a psychologist report tendered by the defence.

Mr Papas said his client had thrown away the opportunities he had in life, including a university education and high VCE score, to lead a "high-roller lifestyle".

"All of those things should have augured for a decent person of society," he said.

Before his offending, Judge Tinney said, Zarghami would have been viewed as a "success story".

"He's frittered it away ... he's living in a totally warped existence."

Before his arrest, Zarghami decorated his burger shop with artwork from Breaking Bad, a TV series about a chemistry teacher turned drug kingpin.

It featured the words: "All bad things must come to an end."

Zarghami will be sentenced on Wednesday.(FA)


Lebanon: Authorities must end use of excessive force against peaceful protesters


Lebanon security forces used excessive force to disperse an overwhelmingly peaceful protest in downtown Beirut, including by firing huge amounts of tear gas into crowds, chasing protesters down streets and alleys at gunpoint and beating them, Amnesty International said today.

Protesters started assembling in multiple towns and cities across Lebanon on the evening of 17 October, following a cabinet announcement of new tax measures. Throughout the day on 18 October thousands of protesters gathered in downtown Beirut, in Tripoli, Zouk Mikhael, Tyre, and other areas accusing the political leadership of corruption and calling for social and economic reforms.

On 18 October in downtown Beirut, at 8pm, shortly after the speech of Prime Minister Hariri, security forces used excessive force to disperse the overwhelmingly peaceful protests and by 11.30pm, they had cleared the square of all protesters.

“We call on the Lebanese authorities to respect the right of protesters to freedom of peaceful assembly and investigate the excessive use of tear gas as well as the beatings and harassment at gunpoint of protesters that took place last night. Promises by government officials to address protesters’ grievances ring terribly hollow and deceitful when security forces are given free rein to prevent the Lebanese people from voicing their anger in what was until then a largely peaceful manner,” said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director.

“Isolated incidents of property damage do not warrant such excessive use of tear gas against an overwhelmingly peaceful protest; and nothing can justify beating protesters. The intention was clearly to prevent protesters gathering – in a clear violation of the right to peaceful assembly.”

Amnesty International staff were present to monitor the protests in downtown Beirut and observed the protests going on in other parts of the country. The organization interviewed 21 witnesses and a human rights lawyer, as well as reviewed video footage of the dispersal.

At around 8pm in downtown Beirut, riot police fired excessive amounts of tear gas in the middle of overwhelmingly peaceful crowds who had gathered over the day.

Researchers spoke to six protesters who said that they had seen security forces start to advance on protesters leading to a scuffle near the security barrier. In response, riot police fired into the air and subsequently shot tear gas into the crowds. Amnesty International staff observed how the security forces continued to fire significant amounts of tear gas over the following hours, leading to an extremely high density of tear gas across areas of downtown Beirut.

One protester, Maryam Majdoline Lahham who was resting with a group of friends in a protest tent at around 10pm, told Amnesty that they suddenly saw crowds of protesters running towards them, followed by security forces: “When they got to us, they hit us with stones and fired more tear gas bombs into the tents. Everybody started shouting, coughing, trying to run in all directions but there was nowhere to go… People started fainting, I saw a man carrying a 60-year-old woman who had passed out from the gas.”

Hospital officials announced that at least 64 patients had been admitted that evening due to tear gas inhalation.

Another protester told Amnesty: “Around 10pm, teargas clouded the whole area, we couldn’t breathe anymore, and people started fainting. Around 10.30pm, army vehicles advanced into Riad El Solh to evacuate the area. Some of us retreated into Mar Mkhayel and others toward Annahar building. Army forces followed us and they started hitting and arresting whoever they laid hands on. We were all peaceful protesters. They were hitting people on their heads and bodies with their hands, rifles and batons.”

Security officers chased peaceful protesters who had fled the scene into the side streets, beating them with batons and arresting some. Daily Star reporter Timour Azhari captured on video military officers beating and kicking a man who was lying helpless on the ground. The man had been riding his motorcycle on the Ring road when the military officers had stopped him.

Another protester told Amnesty International that she had gathered with a group of protesters around 10pm to rest in Saifi Village after the protest had been dispersed with tear gas. She told Amnesty International:

“As we were sitting there peacefully, army forces attacked us. They terrorized us by pointing their rifles in our faces and asking us to leave the area immediately. I felt they were about to shoot us and we heard live shots in the background as we were running. They violently attacked at least two people and one of them was hit on his head and was bleeding. I took a video of what happened, and one soldier saw me and threatened to hurt me.”

The Internal Security Forces said on their Facebook page that they had arrested at least 70 people for “acts of vandalism and looting in downtown Beirut.” While Amnesty International observers witnessed some phonebooths with broken glass and broken parking meters, they could also confirm that the protests were overwhelmingly peaceful from start to finish [or until the security forces intervened].

Amnesty International spoke to Ghida Frangie, a human rights lawyer who confirmed that a number of detainees had been ill-treated and beaten by security forces at the point of their arrest and while they were being taken to the police station.

Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Lebanon is a party, the authorities are obligated to respect freedom of assembly. International standards dictate that security forces can only use force when strictly necessary for a legitimate purpose and must ensure such force is proportionate..

“With so many people demonstrating in the streets across the country, and more protests expected in the coming days, the priority of the authorities must be to reduce tensions and allow all who wish to peacefully express to do so safely and without fear of reprisal,” said Lynn Maalouf.

“The authorities must also signal their commitment to respecting peaceful protest by immediately and effectively investigating all report arbitrary and abusive force against protesters and allegations of ill-treatment of those arrested.”

UN human rights office urges Egypt to immediately release detained protestors

CAIRO - Authorities in Egypt are being urged by the UN human rights office, OHCHR, to immediately release scores of citizens who have been arrested in connection with recent anti-government demonstrations in several cities.

Civil society groups report more than 2,000 people were detained before, during and after the protests on 20 September, which prompted the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, to express concern about reports of lack of due process.

On Friday her office reported that the arrests are continuing, with a number of well-known and respected civil society figures affected, some of whom have been accused of terrorism.

“Once again, we remind the Egyptian Government that under international law people have a right to protest peacefully, and a right to express their opinions, including on social media. They should never be arrested, detained – let alone charged with serious offences such as terrorism – simply for exercising those rights”, spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani told journalists in Geneva.

Prominent members of civil society detained

Ms. Shamdasani provided information about some of the detainees, who include Esraa Abdelfattah, a journalist and human rights defender based in the capital, Cairo, who was arrested on 12 October.

Plainclothes security officers took her to an undisclosed location where she reportedly was beaten for refusing to unlock her mobile phone. She was also allegedly forced to stand facing a wall for seven hours after her phone was unlocked through enforced use of her fingers or thumb, thus allowing it to be searched.

Ms. Abdelfattah appeared before a prosecutor the following day and was given 15 days’ detention pending investigation on charges that include collaborating with a terrorist organization and "defamation and the spread of false news".

“We call on the Egyptian authorities to promptly and effectively investigate any allegations of torture or ill-treatment in detention and to take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent such acts”, Ms. Shamdasani said.

Prominent blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah as well as his lawyer, Mohammed El-Baqer are currently being held at the Tora Maximum Security Prison, south of Cairo.

Both have been accused of belonging to a terrorist group, funding terrorism, spreading false news that undermines national security and “using social media to commit publishing offices”, the UN human rights office said.

Mr. Abdel Fattah has been arrested and jailed previously. He was released from prison in March 2019 after serving a five-year sentence for organizing a protest without permission and is required to spend each night in a prison cell.

Security forces arrested Mr. Abdel Fattah on 29 September when he reported to a Cairo police station to fulfill his probation conditions. He allegedly was blindfolded, forced to strip down to his underwear and walk down a prison corridor while being beaten on his back and neck.

Mr. El-Bager was arrested that same day while attending his client’s interrogation at the State Security Prosecution. Since that time, he allegedly has been subjected to physical and verbal abuse, in addition to being denied access to drinking water, sanitation and medical assistance.

“All those arrested and detained solely for exercising their rights, or lending legal assistance to others who have been arrested, should be released immediately,” Ms. Shamdasani stated.

OHCHR also called on the authorities to “promptly and effectively” investigate any allegations of torture or ill-treatment.


Yemen conflict: 'Fragile’ hopes rise

THE UNITED NATIONS - There are “small signs” of hope for Yemeni civilians caught up in fighting, following a reduction in violence, coupled with a 20 per cent increase in funding for the UN’s humanitarian response, the Security Council heard on Thursday.

The UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, together with relief chief Mark Lowcock, told members there was “cause for optimism” but still a long way to go, to decisively end more than four years of fighting between the Saudi-led coalition supporting the southern-based, internationally-recognized Government, and Houthi rebels who control the capital, Sana’a, and other key areas.

Mr. Griffiths said the signs are “fragile, and in need of our diligent care and attention”. He highlighted the initiative from the Houthis, formally known as Ansar Allah, “to suspend all drones and ballistic missile attacks on Saudi Arabia, and the reduction of violence that followed the announcement.”

Airstrikes had “reduced considerably across Yemen”, he said, since the beginning of this month. “This is a very recent and inevitably fragile gain, but it’s a step in the right direction.”

He also noted the “tenuous calm” in the seat of Government in Aden, in the south, where fighting has calmed down between formerly allied Government forces and separatists. He called on a full agreement to be signed soon so law and order – and services – can be restored to the region.

Noting also the breakthrough in detainee releases and the renewed access to fuel ships entering the key port city of Hudaydah, he said they were “positive indications” adding: “By the time we meet again, I hope Mr. (Security Council) President, that we shall have more clarity, more certainty and more reason to hope.”

‘Deadliest month’ for civilians, but millions more in aid pledged

The UN Emergency Relief Coordinator and OCHA chief, Mark Lowcock, told members September had been “the deadliest month for civilians so far this year” with an average of 13 killed every day.

But when it comes to lifesaving aid, the Government has made “substantial progress” clearing backlogs in humanitarian delivery caused by the in-fighting across the south, he added, noting that funding gaps in recent months had forced “key programmes” to simply close.

Turning to the key issue of funding the UN response plan, he welcomed the generous contributions last month of $500 million from the Saudis, and $200 million from the United Arab Emirates, together with a recent $88 million pledge from Kuwait.

“With hundreds of millions in new funding over the last six weeks, the response plan has gone from 45 per cent funded in early September, to 65 per cent funded today”, said Mr. Lowcock, adding that although “substantial gaps remain, UN agencies have re-opened many programmes that had been suspended, including support for health facilities, malnutrition treatment centres and vaccination campaigns.”

There are signs, he added, that the battered Yemeni economy was also beginning to push the country towards the brink of widespread famine once again, coupled with a worrying Government policy, blocking commercial fuel imports, that has caused severe fuel shortages – although some vessels have been allowed to enter Hudaydah in recent days.

“Rising fuel prices also mean families are less likely to get help when they need it, because transport becomes too unaffordable or unavailable. In some areas, the number of people reporting to health facilities over the last several weeks dropped by 50 per cent because people could not reach them. At the same time, mobile health teams struggle to reach patients where they are, as the teams don’t have enough fuel.”

In conclusion, the relief chief noted that the surge in funding for the UN response plan “will allow humanitarian agencies to continue keeping millions of people alive. This is cause for optimism. But there is much more to do if our aim is not just to reduce people’s suffering, but to end it altogether.

The only way to achieve that, is to stop the war.”



Syrian civilians flee violence, as fighting continues

THE UNITED NATIONS - Civilians are still fleeing shelling and clashes in northern Syria on the border with Turkey, despite a ceasefire deal between Turkish forces and Syrian-backed Kurdish military, the UN said on Friday.

The agreement comes nine days into a military campaign launched by Turkey against Kurdish-held territory on its southern border, east of the Euphrates river. To date, more than 166,000 people have been displaced.

The World Health Organization reported that Tal Tamr hospital is now the main reception point for people wounded by the conflict in Ras al Ain, but that it is struggling to cope with the influx of patients. The World Food Programme (WFP), meanwhile, announced that it plans reach 580,000 people in affected areas this month.