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Wednesday
Sep172014

Ukraine Approves European Union Deal, Grant Autonomy for Breakaway Regions

sigurcamp/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(KIEV, Ukraine) -- Ukrainian lawmakers on Tuesday voted to grant greater autonomy for breakaway regions in the east and immunity for those who've taken up arms, while also integrating further with Europe.

The decision to grant autonomy is part of an effort to bring the fighting in eastern Ukraine to an end. While Tuesday's actions create further opportunity for division at the hands of Russia, the Ukrainian government also ratified a deal to further integrate itself with the European Union. That deal was opposed by the Kremlin, and was the same deal that was dismissed by the former Ukrainian president last year, prompting street protests.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Marie Harf offered congratulations to the people of Ukraine for "making history" on Tuesday. She added that the new laws approved on Tuesday, "highlight the Ukrainian government's continuing commitment to resolve the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine peacefully."

The U.S. continues to call on Russia to reciprocate and pull its military forces and equipment from inside the Ukrainian borders and end support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Sep162014

Bill Clinton Offers Take on Scottish Independence Referendum

ABC/Randy Holmes(NEW YORK) -- Former U.S. President Bill Clinton offered support for a unified United Kingdom on Tuesday, offering his stance on the Scottish independence referendum.

The Scottish people will vote on Sept. 18 whether they want to separate from the United Kingdom, or remain part of a unified nation. "With so much turmoil and division across the globe," Clinton said, "I hope the Scots will inspire the world with a high turnout and a powerful message of identity and inclusion.

With the vote upcoming, there are questions over what will happen next if the Scottish people vote for independence. The Royal Bank of Scotland has said that it would move its headquarters to London, while maintaining its Scottish employee base. Questions have been raised, however, over whether the flag of Great Britain would be forced to change, as it contains the St. Andrew Cross representing Scotland.

"Unity with maximum self-determination sends a powerful message to a world torn by identity conflicts," Clinton said. "This is the great challenge of our time. The Scots can show us how to meet it."


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Sep162014

Top Syrian Warns Congress 'Moderate' Rebels May Sell Weapons

iStock/Thinkstock(BEIRUT, Lebanon) -- In letters addressed to the Democratic and Republican leaders in the House of Representatives, the Syrian speaker of parliament calls on the United States to refrain from arming and training so-called moderate Syrian rebels and from entering into a coalition with countries whose religious ideologies, the speaker says, has fueled the growth of ISIS.

Speaker Jihad al-Lahham also writes that one of the two American journalists beheaded by ISIS was sold to the militant group by the moderate forces.

"What is called moderate opposition sold to ISIL the innocent, beheaded U.S. journalist," Lahham writes to House Speaker John Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, using an alternative acronym for ISIS. "There is nothing to prevent those groups from selling the U.S. weapons to ISIL as it is their proven common practice."

Lahham doesn't name the journalist, but it's the same accusation made by a spokesman for the family of Steven Sotloff, whose execution video was posted online by ISIS earlier this month.

In his letters to the U.S. Congress,  Lahham argues that there is no such thing as moderate rebels and arming and training those selected groups "is a nonreversible action that will trigger a global negative chain reaction."

Lahham also singles out Saudi Arabia, one of the United States' closest allies in the anti-ISIS coalition the administration is building. He says the "core engine generating jihadi terrorist[s]" stems from the puritanical interpretation of Islam practiced and enforced in Saudi Arabia. He points out that the beheadings that ISIS has become infamous for "is a government legal practice in Saudi Arabia."

The White House is lobbying Congress to authorize $500 million to arm and train "vetted" moderate Syrian rebel groups to fight ISIS. The CIA has already been covertly training certain rebel groups fighting the Assad regime in countries bordering Syria, but this would be an expanded program. Saudi Arabia has already agreed to allow rebels to train in the country, according to U.S. officials.

The Obama administration has long resisted arming the moderates on a large scale with small and heavy weapons out of fear that arms given to the relatively weak and very fractured forces would fall into the hands of extremists. Moderate Syrian forces say the West's reluctance to arm them over the past three years of Syria's civil war has given rise to the radical Islamist elements in Syria whose wealthy patrons from the Gulf have funded more sophisticated weaponry.

The U.S. has carried out over 160 airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq and has warned that it will begin to target the group inside Syria where it has its base in the northern city of Raqqa. The Obama administration has said it is not coordinating with either the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, nor Iran, Syria's main backer.

Syria has warned that an American assault against ISIS inside Syria without coordination would violate their sovereignty.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Sep162014

US Military Airstrikes Hit Multiple ISIS Targets in Iraq

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. military conducted five more airstrikes against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) targets in Iraq, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said Tuesday.

Two of the strikes were northwest of Irbil. Those "destroyed an ISIL armed truck and an ISIL fighting position," CENTCOM said in a statement, using one of several acronyms for the militant Islamic group.

The remaining strikes were southwest of Baghdad and "damaged an ISIL truck and destroyed an ISIL anti-aircraft artillery piece, a small ISIL ground unit and two small boats on the Euphrates River that were re-supplying ISIL forces in the area," according to CENTCOM.

The fighter aircraft used in the strikes all managed to exit the area safely.

Since Aug. 8, CENTCOM says it has conducted 167 airstrikes across Iraq.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Sep162014

How US Military Will Combat Ebola in Africa

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Pentagon is sending 3,000 people to West Africa -- more than twice the number currently stationed in Iraq -- to help expand U.S. efforts to help fight the deadly Ebola virus, President Obama plans to announce Tuesday.

Military personnel will not directly provide health care to the thousands of patients, but they will help coordinate efforts of the U.S. government and various international relief organizations to contain the epidemic, according to a statement from the White House.

“It is so important that the U.S. is taking a leadership role in responding in West Africa,” said Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News' chief health and medical editor.

Besser said that with so few healthcare workers in the region, it’s unclear who is going to care for the sick if the U.S. doesn’t help. The president's plan only outlines care for ill health care workers, so there will be a big gap left unfilled, he said.

The U.S. military personnel will also help build additional Ebola treatment units in affected areas and recruit and organize medical personnel to staff them. Some of the facilities they help build will be used to train up to 500 healthcare providers a week who will directly deliver care to infected patients.

The United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps will also deploy 65 officers to Liberia -- including administrators, clinicians and support staff -- to manage and staff a previously announced Department of Defense hospital to care for stricken health care workers, the statement said.

The president has called the Ebola outbreak a national security priority. He will outline the new steps to address the crisis during a visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET.

As of Tuesday, there were 4,985 probable, confirmed and suspected cases in the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, with 2,461 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. The countries affected are Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone. It has been called the worst Ebola outbreak in history.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Sep162014

WATCH: Mob Turn Ukrainian Lawmaker into Piece of Trash

iStock/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) -- An angry mob tossed a Ukrainian lawmaker into a dumpster outside the parliament building in Kiev Tuesday, taunting him and shouting obscenities.

As police looked on, the protesters flipped pro-Russian Vitaly Zhuravsky into the trash bin, then held him down and threw a car tire and water onto him before he was finally able to escape.

Zhuravsky is a prominent former member of ousted President Viktor Yanukovich’s Party of the Regions.

The incident took place before a set of controversial votes Tuesday. The first granted greater autonomy to two breakaway regions in east Ukraine that have been home to intense fighting by Russian-backed rebels.

Fighters who have not committed war crimes were also granted amnesty. The move was a concession to Russia, but also intended to reinforce a fragile cease-fire.

Another vote ratified a trade association agreement with the European Union. That deal had been shelved by Yanukovich last year after pressure from the Kremlin.

The move backfired, however, leading to street protests that ultimately forced Yanukovich to flee the country in February.

 


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Sep162014

Eight Scottish Things Britain May Be Sad to Lose

iStock/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- Scotland might soon be an independent country.

Scots are voting Thursday on whether to secede from the United Kingdom, a decision that would grant Scotland independence but separate it from the rest of Great Britain, which also includes England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

If that happens, Britain will no longer be able to claim great Scottish actors, foods and landmarks as its own.

Here's what the British may miss the most if it loses Scotland:

1. Scotch

Scotch, by definition, only comes from one place: Scotland.

2. Sean Connery

Perhaps Scotland's most well-known Hollywood star, Sean Connery is also the original James Bond. He played Agent 007 in the first five Bond films and also in two later movies. Connery has also made it clear he's pro-Scottish independence and supports "the core democratic value that the people of Scotland are the best guardians of their own future."

However, the U.K. does have its own James Bond connection -- Roger Moore and Daniel Craig are both from England.

3. Susan Boyle

The Scottish singing sensation doesn't want to part ways with the U.K., telling the Scottish Sun newspaper that "we have still been able to retain our proud identity whilst being a part of Britain."

No word on whether they'll revoke her title as Britain's Got Talent winner if Scotland secedes.

4. Edinburgh Castle

Brits will no longer be able to point out the Edinburgh Castle as one of its most impressive sights if Scotland becomes independent. The historic castle is a famous tourist attraction in Edinburgh.

5. Haggis

Haggis is a traditional Scottish meal made of minced sheep's liver, lungs and heart mixed with oatmeal and encased in the animal's stomach lining.

6. Gerard Butler

Another famous Scottish actor, Gerard Butler isn't so sure about Scottish independence.

"I used to be totally pro-independence, I was massively in favor of it, but no my feeling is that we should be about coming together rather than separating ourselves," Butler told a Scottish publication in May.

7. Braveheart

This isn't the first time Scotland has fought for independence, as anyone who has seen Mel Gibson's 1995 blockbuster knows.

8. Loch Ness Monster

The mysterious lake creature comes from the Scottish Highlands, and some people are even questioning whether the monster has been making an appearance to voice its opinion on the independence vote.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Sep162014

Pope Rejects Extra Security on Trip Despite Potential ISIS Threat

iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(VATICAN CITY) -- Pope Francis will have no additional security when he travels to the predominantly Muslim country of Albania this week, despite reports that the pontiff is a target for ISIS terrorists.

The pope will use the same open-topped Jeep he uses at the Vatican during his single-day trip Sunday, a spokesman confirmed Monday.

“There is no reason to change the pope’s itinerary,” the Rev. Frederico Lombardi said in a briefing Monday, explaining that there were no specific threats or concerns. “We are obviously paying attention but there is no need for concern or a change to his program in Albania.”

The pope, 77, will use the open-topped vehicle because he prefers to be unhindered, Lombardi said.

Recent unsourced Italian media reports claim the pope is a target for ISIS terrorists.

Iraq’s ambassador to the Holy See has also publicly expressed concerns.

"The Pope is indeed a target,” Habeeb Al Sadr told Italian newspaper Il Messaggero late last week. "We know very well how these terrorists think…I would not exclude that ISIS would arrive to strike him.”

Pope Francis told reporters last month the world would be justified in using force to stop ISIS aggression.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Sep162014

Scotland Independence Vote Raises Specter of Ununited Kingdom

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Of all the many crises this summer -- from ISIS, to Ukraine, Ebola to Libya -- who'd have thought jolly old England would be on that list?

Technically, it’s the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. But for how much longer? On Thursday, after 307 years, Scotland may vote for independence and with it, potentially change the world order that has lasted since the end of the Second World War. Decisions taken across the highlands and lowlands of Scotland will echo far beyond the shores of a disunited kingdom.

Fifty years ago, U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson declared that Britain had "lost an empire but not yet found a role." He may have been premature. During two decades of war -- in Iraq (twice), Afghanistan and elsewhere, Britain chose the role as America's "ally-in-chief." British and U.S. troops fought and died together, from Basra to Helmand and beyond. Half a century after he dismissed “Great” Britain, on Sept. 18, the Britain Acheson spoke of, may cease to exist.

A Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland would continue. But Britain would be partitioned -- not for the first time. In 122 AD, the Roman Emperor Hadrian built a wall, stretching 75 miles to keep “barbarians” of Scotland out of England. Two millennia on, a vote for independence would consign Great Britain to the same history books as Hadrian. The implications would be profound -- not just for the rump of the United Kingdom, but for the United States and the Western Alliance.

While Scotland makes up just 8 percent of the U.K. population -- its GDP of $235 million puts it just behind Connecticut ($240 million) -- it is also home to the 58 Trident nuclear missiles leased by Britain from the United States and the four nuclear submarines that carry them.

Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond -- the man who has led the march to independence -- has promised to remove the missiles and the submarines from their current base on the west coast of Scotland during the first term of parliament following independence. The consequences for Britain and NATO would be grave. No other port in the U.K. is equipped to house the missiles, raising the potential prospect of Britain’s “independent” nuclear deterrent being based in France, or at the U.S. naval base at King’s Bay in Georgia, home to America’s own Trident submarines.

And then there’s the flag. The Union Jack is made up of the flags of the U.K.’s constituent parts -- the red St. George’s Cross for England, the red diagonal Irish cross of St Patrick, and Scotland’s blue white and blue Saltire. Officially, it’s even called the Union Flag -- so without a Union, what to do? It’s not just the UK that will need a rethink. Four other countries also have the Union Jack in their flag (Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Tuvalu) as well as Britain’s overseas territories like Bermuda and the Cayman Islands. Even the state of Hawaii has the Union Jack in its design, as do the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Manitoba and Ontario.

Next year the United Nations marks its 70th birthday. Across seven decades -- for all of Acheson’s doubts -- the U.K. has been one of just five “great powers” to be permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, alongside the United States, Russia, China and France. But there are many who covet Britain’s UN chair. India and Brazil have been pushing for Security Council reform. This week, even the former British Prime Minister, Sir John Major, warned that should Scotland vote for independence, the U.K.’s place as a member of the permanent five of the United Nations “would no longer be viable.” Others warn that it could lose its place in the G7 group of Nations. The IMF ranks the U.K. as the world’s sixth biggest economy. Without Scotland, the U.K. would be overtaken by Brazil.

Many of Britain’s nearest neighbors are also watching closely. The European Union says an independent Scotland would leave the E.U. and need to reapply for membership. Each of the E.U.’s 28 member nations has a veto on new members. Many have their own separatist movements. Spain would be unlikely to encourage Scottish independence for fear that Catalonia might be next.

While warning of the risks to the U.K.’s place in the UN, former Prime Minister Major also warns independence would enhance the risk of Britain’s exit from the E.U. As if one in/out referendum isn’t enough, David Cameron has promised another -- in 2017 -- on whether the U.K. should leave the European Union. But that would follow Scotland’s exit. And with more voters in Scotland pro-E.U. than in the rest of the U.K., those fighting to keep Britain in Europe fear it could tip the balance towards the rump of the U.K. leaving the E.U. -- the United States’ largest trading partner.

Five million Americans can claim Scottish ancestry, almost as many people as live in Scotland today. This time next year -- on Sept. 11, 2015 -- Queen Elizabeth will become Britain’s longest reigning monarch, passing Victoria’s record of 63 years and 216 days, an anniversary she will spend at Balmoral, the Scottish Castle where she is said to feel most at home. Through her mother, the Queen is a direct descendant of the legendary Scottish warrior Robert the Bruce. It would be a bitter irony if it was Britain’s most Scottish monarch ever who presided over the break-up of her United Kingdom.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Sep162014

Three Foreign Troops Killed in Suicide Attack in Afghanistan

File photo. Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images(Kabul, Afghanistan) -- Three foreign troops were killed Tuesday in a suicide attack near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, authorities said, with the Taliban claiming responsibility for the attack.

The Afghan interior ministry said 16 civilians were also injured in the morning rush-hour attack.

The attacker targeted a foreign forces convoy.

The blast shook Kabul's busy airport road, bringing chaos to a beautiful morning and leaving the roadway covered in leaves, shrapnel and debris. Thick smoke rose from the site of the attack.

International Security Assistance Force members were among the victims, the ISAF confirmed. The identities of the victims have not been released, though a U.S. official confirms that two of the three were Americans and the third was Polish.

American forces stood guard following the attack, cordoning off the area and inspecting the damage.

Afghan and ISAF officials are reviewing the incident.

Three ISAF personnel were killed in a bomb attack in Kabul today.  A US official confirms that two of the three were Americans and that the third was Polish.  They died in a suicide bomber attack near a passing coalition convoy.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio