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Tuesday
Sep272016

Former Israeli PM and President Shimon Peres Dead at 93, Reports Say

Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images(JERUSALEM) -- There are reports from Israel that former Israeli president and prime minister Shimon Peres has died in Tel Aviv two weeks after suffering from a major stroke.

He was Israel's longest-serving politician, holding all top posts in government, including twice as prime minister. In 2007, he was elected as the ninth president.

Peres was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize along with Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin for the Oslo Peace Accords signed in 1993 after the first negotiations with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Peres was 93.

In a statement Tuesday night, President Obama called Shimon the "essence of Israel itself."

"I will always be grateful that I was able to call Shimon my friend," the president said. "I first visited him in Jerusalem when I was a senator, and when I asked for his advice, he told me that while people often say that the future belongs to the young, it’s the present that really belongs to the young. 'Leave the future to me,' he said, 'I have time.'  And he was right.  Whether it was during our conversations in the Oval Office, walking together through Yad Vashem, or when I presented him with America’s highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom, Shimon always looked to the future." 

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Sep272016

President Obama Nominates First Cuban Ambassador in More Than 50 Years

NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama has taken another step forward in the normalizing of relations between the U.S. and Cuba by nominating the first U.S. ambassador to the island nation in over half a century.

The president announced the nomination of Jeffrey DeLaurentis on Tuesday and praised the top U.S. diplomat, who has worked in Havana since 2014, for his leadership.

"Jeff’s leadership has been vital throughout the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba, and the appointment of an ambassador is a common sense step forward toward a more normal and productive relationship between our two countries," President Obama said in a statement.

DeLaurentis' nomination faces a fight with Congress, however, as Republican opponents of President Obama, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), have criticized renewing relations with Cuba.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), who supports the president's push for relations with Cuba, said Tuesday he was in favor of the nomination.

"Americans traveling & doing business in #Cuba will be well-served by the prompt confirmation of Jeff DeLaurentis to serve as US ambassador," he said in a tweet Tuesday.

 

 

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Tuesday
Sep272016

US Providing $364 Million in Additional Humanitarian Aid to Syria

KARAM AL-MASRI/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. State Department announced Tuesday the U.S. would provide more aid to Syrian citizens affected by the country's bloody civil war.

The U.S. will give an additional $364 million in humanitarian assistance to Syria, bringing the total amount of aid provided since the conflict began in the past few years to $5.9 billion.

Anne Richard-- the assistant secretary of state for Population, Refugees, and Migration-- said Tuesday the aid was "lifesaving."

"Faced with the unprecedented scale of tragedy and human suffering that Syrians have endured for more than five years and continue to endure today, this announcement reflects the immense generosity of the American people," she said. "It will support desperately needed food, shelter, safe drinking water, medical care and other urgent help to millions of Syrians and refugee hosting communities.”

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Sep272016

Over 90% of People in the World Live with Air Pollution Above WHO Limit

MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Over 90 percent of the world's population lives in areas with levels of air pollution that exceed the World Health Organization's limits, the group said Tuesday in what the WHO described as its most detailed report on global outdoor air pollution ever published.

While the WHO’s standards for air quality are not legally binding, they are generally accepted by many in the international community.

About 3 million deaths are linked to outdoor air pollution exposure each year, according to the report, and of those deaths, nearly 90 percent occur in low- and middle-income countries.

The U.S. has a relatively low number of deaths attributable to ambient (outdoor) air pollution, with 7 deaths per 100,000 people every year, according to the report. But in China, that number is 70 deaths per 100,000, and Turkmenistan has the highest rate with 108 deaths per 100,000.

Exposure to outdoor air pollution has been linked to cardiovascular disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer, as well as an increase in the risk for acute respiratory infections, according to the WHO.

"Air pollution continues take a toll on the health of the most vulnerable populations -- women, children and the older adults," WHO Assistant Director General Dr. Flavia Bustreo said in a statement. "For people to be healthy, they must breathe clean air from their first breath to their last."

Inefficient modes of transport, household fuel and waste burning, coal-fired power plants and industrial activities are the major sources of air pollution, according to the WHO. Air pollution, however, can also be influenced by natural causes, such as dust storms, the WHO noted.

Dr. Patrick Kinney, a professor of Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia University, told ABC News Tuesday that fine air pollution particles affect chronic health conditions, "similar to the way cigarette smoking affects people."

Kinney added that there are a lot of adverse health conditions that air pollution is associated with in addition to those outlined in the WHO report.

"You can think of this as kind of an underestimate of the health outcomes of air pollution," Kinney said.

"Air pollution is kind of a risk-multiplier," Kinney said, "For example, if there is a high percentage of heart disease in a population, air pollution will make this worse."

While "everybody is at risk" for the health impacts of excess air pollution, Kinney said some groups, including the elderly, young children, people who work outside, and people living in a lower economic status, tend to be at a slightly greater risk.

People living in areas with particularly dangerous levels of air pollution can use air purifiers, which tend to be effective for cleaning indoor air, Kinney said.

However, the best way to combat dangerous air pollution levels is "just to control the sources and reduce the emissions that are causing this air pollution, which we have done very successfully in the U.S. over the last 40 years," Kinney said.

"The Clean Air Act has been quite successful. It sets goals based on air quality standards and then states have to meet those goals, and it has gradually been achieved over the past 40 years," Kinney said, explaining why the U.S. has a much lower level of air pollution in comparison to other countries.

Tony Wexler, director of the UC Davis Air Quality Research Group, added that a major factor in producing dirty air is "development."

"When the U.S. was developing and going from now what we would say a 'developing country' to a 'developed country' in the fifties, we had incredibly bad air pollution," Wexler said.

Wexler added that he hopes other parts of the globe that are just starting to develop will skip using energy that contributes to dirty air, such as fossil fuels, and "go straight to solar and wind" to power their industries.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Sep272016

Texas, California Separatists Attend Pro-Kremlin Conference

iStock/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) -- Nate Smith, executive director of the Texas Nationalist Movement, looked uncertain as a man identifying himself as an east Ukrainian resistance fighter pledged solidarity to Smith’s struggle for an independent Texas. Standing in a conference room in the Ritz Hotel in central Moscow on Sunday, Smith nodded noncommittally and handed over his business card.

It wasn’t the only incongruous encounter taking place at the Ritz at what has been dubbed Moscow’s international conference of separatists, an eclectic gathering of organizations and sometimes wacky individuals pressing for self-rule for often little-known territories.

Amidst the heavy glitz of the hotel, Catalonian separatists and dissident Irish republicans listened politely to presentations from east Ukrainian rebels, Azerbaijani minorities and the thoughts of the self-proclaimed "King of Hawaii," who called in via video link.

And among the few dozen activists comparing ideas for how to achieve self-determination, were two Americans campaigning for Texan and Californian secession from the United States.

The conference, now in its second year, is funded largely by the Kremlin and organized by the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia. The movement says it is unconnected to the Kremlin, but the hotel conference was almost entirely paid for by a charitable fund founded by President Vladimir Putin, which provided close to $546,000 for the project, according to public records. The attendees, including the Texan delegate, had been offered free flights and accommodation.

The conference’s organizers present it as a platform for marginalized groups, but its agenda overlaps with Kremlin efforts to promote Russia as an alternative guardian for global order, at the head of democratic movement opposed to alleged American imperialism.

“Our main goal is to create a multi-polar world,” the conference’s creator, Aleksander V. Ionov, told its participants. “Our president, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, is probably the main anti-globalist in the world.”

Ionov himself, a relatively little-known businessman, has repeatedly met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Russia is backing militarily, saying the two discussed humanitarian aid and media activities two weeks ago.

Ionov’s conference plays into Moscow’s own long-time policy of backing separatists in its former Soviet neighbors. While jailing and harassing separatist groups at home, Moscow has leveraged them abroad a pretext for military intervention, most recently fomenting the violent secessionist conflict in eastern Ukraine. A sizable presence of pro-Russian rebel supporters was visible on Sunday, while not a single Russian separatist group took part.

All that and the anti-American flavor sometimes made uncomfortable listening for the groups less used to the atmosphere in the Kremlin’s orbit.

“It’s kind of awkward I guess,” Smith said after one 30-minute denunciation of American inequity.

Smith’s group, the Texas Nationalist Movement, is campaigning for a referendum on whether Texas should exit the United States. Founded over 10 years ago, the group attracted some attention recently when it came within two votes of forcing the Texas state GOP to bring a debate on a secession referendum to the floor of the Republican convention. Smith said he was grateful for the chance to promote his campaign and was eager to clarify his attendance did not mean he was aligning with the Kremlin.

“We’re here to have a dialogue. We’re not in agreement with all the groups that are here,” Smith said. “We’re here for very specific reasons. We came here to make a statement on behalf of the people of Texas.”

It was a sentiment echoed by Louis J. Marinelli from the YES California Independence Campaign, there to get his message out about his plan to make the Golden State a nation.

“We want to draw attention to our campaign,” Marinelli said. “We’re not signing an alliance with Russia or anything like that."

The two secessionists’ urge for independence stems largely from a distaste with American foreign policy and a sense the U.S. has become dysfunctional. A gentle-mannered IT consultant married to a Russian, Marinelli is aiming for a secession referendum by 2019.

“The U.S. government is so dysfunctional it can’t be repaired from within anymore, and if we were a separate nation running our own affairs, we could improve the quality of life for Californians,” Marinelli said.

Both men were hoping for a Donald Trump victory in the U.S. presidential elections, banking on a surge in people looking to detach themselves from an America. The U.K.'s recent "Brexit" vote to leave the European Union had also heartened many attendees.

But why exactly the Kremlin had decided to pay to gather them in Moscow, few among the foreign attendees could say. Nor did they appear particularly interested.

“I’m not here to make presumptions about potential reasons for this conference,” Smith said.

However, the conference -- and its location in one of Moscow’s expensive hotels, within shouting distance of the Kremlin walls -- slots into a recognizable recent Russian strategy. Russia has been backing far right political parties in the West, in particular, reportedly funding France’s anti-European Union party, the Front National, with a $10 million loan. The practice echoes that of the Soviet Union, which secretly supported radical fringe groups around the world, but now coupled with elaborate disinformation campaigns from state media outlets.

“It’s a school-book case,” said Peter Kreko, a Fulbright visiting professor at Indiana University who has studied Russia’s use of the far right. “The simple reason is that Russia is interested in dividing the Western world. The strategy is not to create new divisions but to take the most from divisions already there.”

Kreko said the idea was to back groups hindering European integration and to undermine faith in Western-style liberal democracy.

“The tool-kit is pretty much the same as in the Soviet Union. Any kind of movements that can cause chaos,” Kreko said, adding he thought the conference was also a prop for domestic propaganda that state media would use to paint Russia as a champion of democracy.

Few of the conference attendees were concerned they might become Kremlin pawns, seeing it simply as a way to get their message out.

“Everybody’s using everybody,” Marinelli said. “We’re using this conference for our own purposes. We want the attention so that we can get the word out, they want ..." he trailed off before finishing. “Everybody’s got their own agenda, right? So, that’s just the way it is.”

For most of the attendees, the main pull appeared to be the guaranteed presence of the media, attracted by the conference’s oddity.

“I’ve talked to seven media [organizations] today. I've got to get my story out,” said Diarmuid Mac Dubhglais, international secretary for Republican Sinn Féin, a tiny Irish republican splinter group that supports the violent removal of British control over Northern Ireland.

In any case, Mac Dubhglais said, he wouldn’t let “Vladimir himself” impose ideas on him.

“I’m not going to start passing out propaganda when I go home and start marching Soviet-style," he said.

Besides, he said, perhaps the Russian motive was altruistic. “Maybe in fairness, they might think the cause is just,” he said then paused, before adding: “I’m hoping that’s what they think."

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Sep272016

Number of Wounded Rises in Aleppo as Airstrikes Continue

iStock/Thinkstock(LONDON) — Airstrikes continued to hit eastern Aleppo Tuesday, although the attacks were not as intense as in previous days, according to activists and locals.

“A few minutes ago, two raids happened in the neighborhood. There are gases in the air from the attack,” Abu Rajab, a nurse in eastern Aleppo’s al-Sakhur neighborhood, told ABC News on a video call, while wearing a face mask. “I can see and smell the gases. You never know when it will happen, there’s no schedule. This is normal for us now. We see it every day.”

On Sunday, the hospital’s intensive care unit was so crowded that one surgeon had to conduct an operation on the floor, he said.

Hamza Khatib, a doctor at another hospital in the city, said a number of wounded were brought in for treatment after Tuesday's attacks, and three have died from the violence.

“Today and yesterday, the airstrikes were lighter than in the previous days,” Khatib told ABC News. “Yesterday, we received 36 dead.”

Airstrikes on Aleppo intensified after the Syrian military declared an offensive against eastern Aleppo on Sept. 22 – a few days after announcing that a U.S.-Russia-brokered ceasefire had ended. Locals described attacks over the weekend as “unprecedented” in strength and quantity. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that at least 27 were killed by airstrikes Sunday in east Aleppo. Today, the observatory reported that barrel bombs hit several neighborhoods in the besieged area, leaving a number of civilians wounded. In the countryside, one man died following bombardments from the air.

From April 22 through Sept. 26, at least 25,472 people have been killed in Syria, according to the observatory. Among the killed were 6,920 civilians, including at least 1,341 children and 1,136 women. April 22 marked the day when another U.S-Russia truce ended in Syria.

At an emergency meeting Sunday, Western UN diplomats condemned the recent escalating violence in Aleppo and blamed Russia and the Syrian government. Samantha Powers, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., accused Russia of committing barbarism under the guise of counter-terrorism.

“Instead of pursuing peace, Russia and [Syrian President Bashar al-]Assad make war. Instead of helping get lifesaving aid to civilians, Russia and Assad are bombing humanitarian convoys, hospitals and first responders who are trying desperately to keep people alive,” Powers told members of the Security Council Sunday.

She continued, “It seems the only items that make it into eastern Aleppo these days are barrel bombs and incendiaries that witnesses report seen dropped by Assad's forces and Russian forces. Russia, of course, has long had the power to stop this suffering. Even now, we will continue to look for any way possible to restore the cessation of hostilities.”

Powers, along with the French and U.K. ambassadors to the UN, walked out of the emergency session in protest when Syria’s ambassador was called to speak.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Sep272016

Princess Kate Dazzles in Red on Royal Tour of Canada

Chris Jackson/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Princess Kate dazzled in red Monday night at a reception held at British Columbia’s Government House.

Kate, 34, wore a bright red dress by British designer Preen to the diplomatic reception. She paired the dress with a glam chignon, red heels, a red clutch and Queen Elizabeth II’s diamond maple leaf brooch.

Kate’s $1,300 red dress was the most formal outfit to date on the eight-day royal tour of Canada she is undertaking along with Prince William and their two children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte.

Kate has paid homage on the trip to the host country by wearing the red of Canada's flag, including the bespoke dress from the Alexander McQueen Resort 2017 collection she wore Sunday as she and William traveled to Vancouver.

Earlier in the day Monday, Kate was dressed in Zara jeans, a Holland & Holland coat and her trusty Penelope Chilvers boots as she and William toured Bella Bella, British Columbia. The couple overcame driving rain and wind to receive a traditional welcome by the Heiltsuk First Nations community but had to scrap a planned aerial float plane tour of the Great Bear rain forest because of torrential rain.

On Tuesday, William and Kate fly to Kelowna, a city in the beautiful Okanagan Valley, to meet with University of British Columbia students.

They will then take part in the "Taste of British Columbia" festival at Mission Hill Winery, sampling some of British Columbia's best wine, cheese and gourmet offerings.

The next stop for the royals will be Whitehorse, Yukon, where they will meet members of the Canadian Rangers, the military branch that provides a presence in the north of the country.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Sep272016

Dolphin Collides with Teen Surfer Riding a Wave in Australia

Courtesy O’Neill(NEW YORK) — A teen surfer off of the coast of Western Australia was surprised when a dolphin jumped straight into the wave he was riding. The porpoise collided with his surfboard, apparently nose-first.

"I was in a bit of pain when the dolphin landed on me, I think I pulled my back out a bit. But I was mainly in shock because my leg wrap got caught around the dolphin," Jed Gradisen, 13, said in a video for Team O'Neill, the brand and surf team that sponsors the young wave rider.

Gradisen said the dolphin seemed to be "really shocked, almost as shocked as I was."

"Its nose went straight through the board," he added. "That must have hurt a bit."

Gradisen's surfboard still has a hole from where the dolphin dove straight into it, but Gradisen said he isn't upset.

"This experience hasn't changed the way I see dolphins," the teen said, "I like dolphins still as much."

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Sep262016

Colombia and FARC Rebels Sign Historic Peace Accord

LUIS ACOSTA/AFP/Getty Images(BOGOTA, Colombia) -- The Colombian government and the country's largest rebel movement signed an historic peace agreement Monday putting an end to a half-century of civil war.

Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia leader Timoleon Jimenez, also known as Timochenko, signed the 297-page agreement both dressed in white to symbolize peace.

"We will achieve any goal, overcome any hurdle and turn our nation into a country we've always dreamed of - a country in peace," Santos said according to BBC.

Timochenko added, according to BBC: "I would like to ask for forgiveness for all the pain that we have caused during this war."

The Colombian people are set to vote in a referendum on the deal scheduled for Oct. 2 before it can pass into a law.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Sep262016

William and Kate Take Canada by Storm 

JONATHAN HAYWARD/AFP/Getty Images(BELLA BELLA, British Columbia) Driving rain and wind couldn't dampen William and Kate's enthusiasm while touring Bella Bella, British Columbia, Monday. The royal couple had to modify their plans and scrap an aerial float plane tour of the Great Bear rain forest because of torrential rains but received a traditional welcome by the Heiltsuk First Nations community.

Prince William was greeted by the elder chiefs, telling them "it wouldn't be the rain forest without the rain. It’s very authentic. We're very excited to be here."

William and Kate were named hereditary chiefs Monday at a ceremony by elders welcoming them by the Heiltsuk First Nations community.

William and Kate are on a mission. This is their second royal tour to Canada. Their first tour was shortly after their wedding in 2011. They hope to get to know Canadians who they will one day rule as their king and queen. More importantly, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge want to highlight issues important to them: conservation, which is a primary focus of Prince William's work; mental health; addiction and young people.

The world's largest temperate rain forest is home to the Kermode bear, whales, otters and dolphins.

William and Kate will also observe a youth performance before traveling to McLoughlin Bay to see a walking trail.

They were also shown one of the most precious items owned by the First Nations community, a royal staff with a silver crown head given to the present chief's great-grandfather by Queen Victoria.

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