Monday, March 6, 2017

UK backpacker 'raped repeatedly' over two months in Australia

The 22-year-old woman was subjected to repeated attacks in locations across Queensland, police say.
The ordeal ended on Sunday when police made a routine stop of a vehicle being driven by the woman, and noticed she had serious facial injuries.
An Australian man who appeared to be "hiding from police" was arrested in the back of the vehicle, police said.

What do police allege happened?

Authorities allege the pair met three months ago in northern Queensland before agreeing to go on a road trip.
Police say the woman was then held against her will and repeatedly attacked between 2 January and 5 March.
She appeared distressed when the vehicle was pulled over on the Warrego Highway at Mitchell, 560km (350 miles) north-west of Brisbane, police said.
The 22-year-old man, from Cairns, is facing charges including four counts of rape, eight counts of assault occasioning bodily harm, four counts of strangulation and two counts of deprivation of liberty.
"During the course of their travels throughout the state then a number of very serious offences have occurred," Detective Inspector Paul Hart told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
Police said the accused man was found in a storage alcove.
"We will allege that the male person was secreted in the back section of the vehicle which made it quite difficult to find him," Insp Hart said.

What support is the woman receiving?

Police said the victim was treated for injuries including facial fractures, bruising and cuts to her body.
Insp Hart said the "very prolonged" ordeal had also left her with psychological injuries. She appeared "terrified" when found, he said.
"We would certainly say that what's happened to this lady is quite catastrophic so there are numerous supports that are being put in place to help her out during through this period," Insp Hart said.
He said the woman was considering returning to the UK.

What is the legal process?

The man is also facing charges of causing wilful damage, possessing drugs and drug equipment, and obstructing police.
He faced the Roma Magistrates Court, about 80km from Mitchell, on Monday.
The man was refused bail to face court again on 23 May, according to Brisbane's Courier Mail.
Police have urged anyone with information to come forward.
BBC, March 07 2017

Deadly Clashes Hit Kokang Region in Myanmar's Northern Shan State

At least 30 people died during fighting in Laukkai Monday between Myanmar army forces and armed fighters from ethnic groups.

Tension between the central government and ethnic militias in the northern region near China's Yunnan province erupted early Monday morning. Witnesses told VOA of hearing artillery and small arms fire in Laukkai, capital of the Kokang special region and an important trading town on the Salween River, which forms Myanmar's border with China.

Officials said the attack targeted three Laukkai locations including police and military posts. At least five traffic control police and five civilians were killed. Authorities also reported finding 20 burning bodies which could not be identified. Myanmar says there were no casualties among the security forces.

Worst violence since 2015

The latest attack comes amid efforts by Myanmar's de facto leader, Noble Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, to bring all ethnic armed groups into the government-sponsored peace process through the signing of a nationwide cease-fire agreement. Monday's violence is among the worst to hit the Kokang region, in the northern part of Shan state, since 2015.

Aung San Suu Kyi's office blamed the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) for the attack, saying in a statement, “According to initial information, many innocent civilians including a primary school teacher … were killed because of attacks by the MNDAA armed group.”

The statement added that four police officers were taken hostage and said there was a suspicion that groups other than the MNDAA were involved.

Ta Bone Kyaw, secretary general of the Palaung State Liberation Front (PSLF) and a senior commander of its armed unit, the Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) told VOA the attack was carried out primarily by the MNDAA after a decision by the Northern Alliance. The group includes the MNDAA, TNLA, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), and the Arakan Army (AA). Aside from the KIA, “we were all in there,” he said.

“The fighting is along the border," he said, adding the fighting began around 1 a.m. Monday. "There was heavy fighting in two or three places."

Retaliation behind attack

An officer from the MNDAA's Division 211 told VOA the Laukkai attack was in retaliation for a recent government attack on the Moi Taik region.

Social media videos appeared to show areas of Laukkai on fire on Monday afternoon. An army source told the AFP news agency that the fighting was ongoing as darkness fell.

A Laukkai woman told VOA that artillery shelling and gunshots began around 1 a.m. The shooting continued until about 8 a.m., and the shelling until 11 a.m. or noon.

“I didn't dare move around,” she said. “I could not escape to China, because the border is closed,” she said, adding that fleeing to another location in Myanmar was just as impossible.

The Northern Alliance and government forces have clashed repeatedly in other northern areas of Shan State. Government authorities have blocked roads leaving Laukkai.

The Northern Alliance is led by the KIA, which includes the MNDAA. Members of the alliance have yet to join Myanmar's National Ceasefire Agreement (NCA). Complicating matters, Myanmar's military officials refuse to speak with representatives of the MNDAA for reasons that are unclear.

Some groups missing from talks

Talks called by Aung San Suu Kyi at the end of August were attended by representatives of 17 of the 20 major ethnic groups, including the Karen, Kachin, Shan and Wa, who together make up 40 percent of the country's population. But groups involved in Monday's fighting — the Ta'ang, also known as the Palaung, the Kokang minority's MNDAA, and the AA — did not take part in those talks.

The ethnic Kokang group controlled Laukkai and the surrounding area until 2009, when the government ousted the group's leader, Phon Kyar Shin, who is also known by his Chinese name, Peng Jiasheng. In February 2015, he orchestrated attacks on Laukkai, which triggered several months of deadly clashes between government and rebel forces in the border area.

VoA, March 06 2017

U.S. Moves Parts of its Controversial Missile Defense System to South Korea

(SEOUL) — U.S. missile launchers and other equipment needed to set up a controversial missile defense system have arrived in South Korea, the U.S. and South Korean militaries said Tuesday, a day after North Korea test-launched four ballistic missiles into the ocean near Japan.
The plans to deploy the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD, by the end of this year have angered not only North Korea, but also China and Russia, which see the system's powerful radars as a security threat.
Washington and Seoul say the system is defensive and not meant to be a threat to Beijing or Moscow.
The U.S. military said in a statement that THAAD is meant to intercept and destroy short and medium range ballistic missiles during the last part of their flights.
"Continued provocative actions by North Korea, to include yesterday's launch of multiple missiles, only confirm the prudence of our alliance decision last year to deploy THAAD to South Korea," Adm. Harry Harris, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, said in the statement.
Some South Korean liberal presidential candidates have said that the security benefits of having THAAD would be curtailed by worsened relations with neighbors China and Russia.
China's condemnation of South Korean plans to deploy THAAD has triggered protests against South Korean retail giant, Lotte, which agreed to provide one of its golf courses in southern South Korea as the site of THAAD. The South Korean government also raised worries about a reported ban on Chinese tour groups visiting the country.
An official from South Korea's Defense Ministry, who didn't want to be named, citing office rules, said that the equipment that arrived in South Korea included launchers, but didn't confirm how many.
On Monday, North Korea fired four ballistic missiles in an apparent protest against ongoing U.S.-South Korean military drills that it views as an invasion rehearsal. The missiles flew about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) on average, three of them landing in waters that Japan claims as its exclusive economic zone, according to South Korean and Japanese officials.
The North's state media on Tuesday said leader Kim Jong Un supervised a ballistic rocket launching drill, a likely reference to the four launches reported by Seoul and Tokyo. Involved in the drills were artillery units tasked with striking "U.S. imperialist aggressor forces in Japan," according to the Korean Central News Agency.Kim "ordered the KPA (Korean People's Army) Strategic Force to keep highly alert as required by the grim situation in which an actual war may break out anytime," a KCNA dispatch said.

Time, March 07 2017

President Donald Trump signs new travel ban, exempts Iraq

Washington (CNN)President Donald Trump signed a new executive order Monday that bans immigration from six Muslim-majority countries, dropping Iraq from January's previous order, and reinstates a temporary blanket ban on all refugees.

The new travel ban comes six weeks after Trump's original executive order caused chaos at airports nationwide before it was blocked by federal courts. It removes out language in the original order that indefinitely banned Syrian refugees and called for prioritizing the admission of refugees who are religious minorities in their home countries. That provision drew criticism of a religious test for entry and would have prioritized Christians over Muslims fleeing war-torn countries in the Middle East.
The new ban, which takes effect March 16, also explicitly exempts citizens of the six banned countries who are legal US permanent residents or have valid visas to enter the US -- including those whose visas were revoked during the original implementation of the ban, senior administration officials said.
"We cannot compromise our nation's security by allowing visitors entry when their own governments are unable or unwilling to provide the information we need to vet them responsibly, or when those governments actively support terrorism," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Monday.
The new measures will block citizens of Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from obtaining visas for at least 90 days. The order also suspends admission of refugees into the US for 120 days, directing US officials to improve vetting measures for a program that is already widely regarded as extremely stringent.
Trump signed the executive order earlier Monday in the Oval Office outside the view of reporters and news cameras, after more than three weeks of repeated delays, the latest of which came after White House officials decided last week to delay the signing to avoid cutting into positive coverage of Trump's joint address to Congress.
The delays also came amid an intense lobbying effort from Iraqi government officials, including from the country's prime minister, to remove Iraq from the original seven-state list of banned countries.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Iraq's removal from the list came after an intense review from the State Department to improve vetting of Iraqi citizens in collaboration with the Iraqi government, though he did not specify how vetting had been improved.
"The United States welcomes this kind of close cooperation," he said. "This revised order will bolster the security of the United States and our allies."
The rollout of the revised travel ban marks an important moment for the administration, which has little room for error after the chaotic debut of the original plan. That failure raised questions about the new White House's capacity to govern and to master the political intricacies needed to manage complicated political endeavors in Washington. It also brought Trump into conflict with the judiciary in the first sign of how constitutional checks and balances could challenge his vision of a powerful presidency built on expansive executive authority.
Trump's travel ban: Read the full executive order
The original order came under intense criticism as an attempt to bar Muslims from entering the country, and Trump's call during the campaign for a "Muslim Ban" was cited in court cases attacking the ban.
The new order does not prioritize religious minorities when considering refugee admissions cases.
Administration officials Monday stressed they do not see the ban as targeting a specific religion.
"(The order is) not any way targeted as a Muslim ban ... we want to make sure everyone understands that," an official told reporters.
"The Department of Justice believes that this executive order just as the first executive order is a lawful and proper exercise of presidential authority," Sessions said.
Democrats responded by calling Trump's order a repeat version of the first attempt.
"Here we go again...Muslim Ban 2.0 #NoBanNoWall" tweeted Rep. Andre Carson of Indiana, one of two Muslims serving in the House of Representatives.
Working to contain fallout
The newly crafted order also revealed that the administration wasn't just paying attention to the legal criticism in the courts, but also recalibrating in light of the heavy political fire they faced after the first order's messy rollout.
While administration lawyers argued the original travel ban went into effect immediately to prevent terrorists from rushing into the country, the revised ban will phase in after 10 days. The previous order will be rescinded on that date.
Trump had previously said he opposed giving any advance notice of the ban.
"If the ban were announced with a one week notice, the "bad" would rush into our country during that week. A lot of bad "dudes" out there!" he tweeted on January 30.
The White House also abandoned the sense of urgency with which it implemented the first travel ban, delaying the signing of a new executive order multiple times over the last three weeks. Politics also came into play as White House officials delayed the signing from last Wednesday in part to allow positive coverage of the President's joint address to Congress to continue uninterrupted.
"We want the (executive order) to have its own 'moment,'" a senior administration official told CNN last week.
The President signed the action Monday morning without the fanfare he has given to other executive orders. No media was present during the signing at the White House, an administration official confirmed. White House spokesman Sean Spicer tweeted a picture of Trump signing the order.
White House officials collaborated for several weeks with officials at the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department and kept congressional leaders apprised of their progress this time around after the White House drew a backlash for keeping Congress and relevant federal agencies almost entirely in the dark during the first rollout.
To bolster its national security claims, the new executive order also states FBI has reported that approximately 300 people who entered the United States as refugees are "currently the subjects of counter-terrorism investigations."
"The fact remains that we are not immune to terrorist threats and that our enemies often use our own freedoms and generosity against us," Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said. "We cannot risk the prospect of malevolent actors using our immigration system to take American lives."
Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence committee, said the ban "has the same fundamental flaws" as the first order.
"We know that country of origin is a poor predictor of a propensity to commit acts of terror. If it were, Pakistan has been a far more problematic source of attack planning and would be at the top of the President's list, but that country merits not even a mention in the order," Schiff said in a statement.
Why Iraq was removed
But the new order was also delayed in part because of a debate within the administration over how to handle Iraq.
Tillerson, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and national security adviser Gen. H.R. McMaster had all advocated for Iraq to be removed from the Trump administration's list of banned countries in the new executive order for diplomatic reasons, including Iraq's role in fighting ISIS, sources told CNN's Elise Labott and Evan Perez. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly also supported the move.
Iraq was removed from the revised travel ban executive order after intensive lobbying from the Iraqi government at the highest levels, according to a senior US official.
That included a phone call between Trump and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on February 10 and an in-person conversation between Abadi and Vice President Mike Pence in Munich on February 18.
Those conversations were followed by discussions between Tillerson and members of the Iraqi government about vetting measures in place that would prevent suspected terrorists from leaving Iraq and coming to the United States. Iraq did not implement new measures; rather, the country provided more detail to US officials about how it screens travelers.
In Trump's call with Abadi, the President vowed to seek a resolution to his counterpart's concerns about his citizens' being unable to enter the United States, according to a readout of the phone call from Baghdad. The US official said Trump asked Tillerson to get greater clarity on vetting measures in Iraq.
Trump also faced pressure to remove Iraq from the order from some American national security officials, who argued the restriction burdened a key anti-ISIS partner. Some of those voices were holdovers from the Obama administration.
Iraq's Foreign Ministry welcomed reports of its removal from the list of countries affected by the travel ban.
"(The) Iraqi Foreign Ministry expresses deep relief regarding the executive order that was issued by the American president Donald Trump, which excludes the Iraqis from the travel ban to the United States," said Iraqi Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Ahmad Jamal. "This is considered an important step in the right direction that strengthen and reinforces the strategic alliance between Baghdad and Washington in many fields, in particular the fight against terrorism."
This story is breaking and will be updated.

CNN, March 06 2017\

FBI asked Justice Department to refute Trump's wiretapping claim

The FBI asked the Justice Department on Saturday to refute President Donald Trump's assertion that President Barack Obama ordered the wiretapping of Trump's phones last year, two sources with knowledge of the situation told CNN.
The FBI made the request because such wiretapping would be illegal, since the President cannot just order the eavesdropping of a U.S. citizen's phones, the sources said. A court would have to approve any request to wiretap. The sources would not say who was involved in the conversations between the FBI and DOJ or what role FBI Director James Comey might have played.
    One of the sources said instead of the FBI saying something publicly about the allegations, it was felt it would be more appropriate to ask the Justice Department since the bureau as a policy does not confirm or deny investigations.
    The source said it was also felt it would be more appropriate politically to handle this through the Justice Department since Justice officials are freer to talk about such matters with the White House. Before any possible rebuke, it would be expected some conversations with the White House would need to take place.
    So far, the Justice Department has not said anything in reaction to Trump's tweets on Saturday, in which he made the wiretapping allegations.
    Asked about the FBI request, a Justice Department spokesman said he had no comment. The FBI refused comment as well.
    The New York Times first reported that the FBI asked the Justice Department to refute Trump's wiretapping claim.
    Trump's aides asked Congress on Sunday to look into whether the Obama administration abused its investigative powers during the 2016 election. The move comes a day after Trump posted a series of tweets alleging, without presenting any evidence, that Obama wiretapped his phones in Trump Tower in the weeks leading up to the November election.
    "Reports concerning potentially politically motivated investigations immediately ahead of the 2016 election are very troubling," White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in the statement Sunday morning, which he also posted on Twitter. "President Donald J. Trump is requesting that as part of their investigation into Russian activity, the congressional intelligence committees exercise their oversight authority to determine whether executive branch investigative powers were abused in 2016.
    "Neither the White House nor the President will comment further until such oversight is conducted," Spicer added. He did not provide any further details on the President's request to Congress.
    While Spicer said "reports" prompted the call for a congressional investigation, the White House still has not provided any evidence to back up the President's accusations. There are no publicly known credible reports to back up Trump's claim that Obama ordered Trump's phones be monitored.
    Frustrated that the Russia stories have overshadowed a widely praised performance in his joint address to Congress on Tuesday, Trump angrily raised the wiretapping issue unprompted in conversations with friends and acquaintances at Mar-a-Lago over the weekend, two people who have spoken with him at his Palm Beach resort said on Sunday. The President didn't specify what information he was basing his accusations upon, but told them he expected an investigation to prove him right.
    Multiple former senior US officials have dismissed Trump's allegations, however, calling them "nonsense" and "false." Obama, through a spokesman, also rejected the claim that he ordered Trump's phones tapped.
    Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, a career intelligence official who had oversight of the US intelligence community in that role, said Sunday that Trump was not wiretapped by intelligence agencies nor did the FBI obtain a court order through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to monitor Trump's phones.
    "For the part of the national security apparatus that I oversaw as DNI, there was no wiretap activity mounted against the President-elect at the time, or as a candidate, or against his campaign," Clapper said Sunday morning on NBC's "Meet the Press."
    CNN, March 06 2017