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Thursday
Apr242014

American Father, Son Among Victims in Kabul Hospital Shooting

SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images(KABUL, Afghanistan) -- An Afghan security guard opened fire on a group of doctors at a Kabul hospital on Thursday, killing three American doctors and leaving two other people wounded, officials said. A father and son were among the victims, ABC News has learned.

According to Kabul police, a female American nurse was also wounded in the attack.

The victims’ identities are not yet known, but the U.S. Embassy in Kabul confirmed that they are Americans.

 

 

The shooting at Cure International Hospital in western Kabul was the latest attack on foreign civilians in Afghanistan's capital this year.

The attacker was a member of the Afghan Police Protection Force assigned to guard the hospital, according to District Police Chief Hafiz Khan. He said the man's motive was not yet clear.

The attacker was wounded and is in custody. He was in surgery at midday in the same medical facility under heavy police guard, according to Kanishka Bektash Torkystani, a Ministry of Health spokesman.

"Five doctors had entered the compound of the hospital and were walking toward the building when the guard opened fire on them," Torkystani said. "Three foreign doctors were killed and two other doctors were wounded."

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Apr242014

Obama Warns Russia Tougher Sanctions Are ‘Teed Up and Ready to Go’

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(TOKYO) --  President Obama warned more U.S. sanctions on Russia are “teed up and ready to go,” signaling that if Russia does not reverse course in eastern Ukraine it will face additional consequences “in days not weeks.”

But even as he threatened further sanctions, Obama acknowledged it is “entirely possible” that new economic penalties will not work to change Russian President Vladimir Putin’s calculus on Ukraine.

“So far the evidence doesn’t make me hopeful,” Obama said.  “Assuming they don’t follow through, then we’ll follow through on what we said… which is tighter consequences on the Russians.”

Further sanctions, he said, are ready go.

“We have been preparing for the prospect that we have to engage in further sanctions. Those are teed up,” he said, adding that they require “technical work” and coordination with other countries.

“The fact I haven’t announced them yet, doesn’t mean they aren’t teed up and ready to go,” the president said.

Obama also had tough words for China, a country whose “peaceful rise” he has celebrated but will not visit on this trip.

Obama made it clear that the U.S. security commitment to Japan extends to the Senakaku Islands, claimed by both China and Japan but currently administered by Japan.  The Japanese fear China could move to militarily take over the islands.

“Let me reiterate that our commitment to Japan’s security is absolute,” he said, “and covers all areas, including the Senkaku Islands.”

A few minutes later, President Obama bristled at the suggestion that he was drawing yet another red line as he had done with Syria on chemical weapons and Russia on Crimea.

“The treaty between the U.S. and Japan preceded my birth. So obviously this isn’t a red line I’m drawing,” Obama said.  “This is an interpretation that has stretched multiple administrations about alliance. No shift in position, no red line that’s been drawn. Simply applying the treaty.”

As for Syria, the president sought to portray his red line policy as a success, saying that 87 percent of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles have been removed.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Apr242014

New Agreement Jeopardizes Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks

MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A reconciliation deal reached Wednesday between Hamas and the Palestinian Liberation Organization could spell the end to any potential peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians.

The two Palestinian factions have been divided for the past seven years as the more moderate Fatah, the faction that dominates the P.L.O., has tried to mend fences with Israeli leaders while the militant Hamas seeks only the destruction of Israel.

However, the reconciliation pact means that both Hamas and P.L.O. will have to abide by past agreements, leading to an interim unity government by the beginning of June and general elections toward the end of 2014.

In any event, this renewed alliance may have put the final nail in the coffin of already failing talks with the Israelis to form a Palestinian state while guaranteeing Israel's security.

In Washington, Secretary of State spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters, "It is hard to see how Israel will negotiate with a government that does not recognize its right to exist."

Before pronouncing peace talks dead and buried, Psaki said the White House would seek clarification from the Palestinians on just what the deal means to Israel.

After cancelling a negotiation session with the Palestinians scheduled for Wednesday night, a meeting of the Israel security cabinet is planned for Thursday to further discuss the reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah.

Meanwhile, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas insisted that the new deal with Hamas is independent of Fatah's talks with Israel and that he still seeks a peaceful arrangement with the Israelis.

However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu maintained that Abbas would have to choose between peace with Israel and peace with Hamas.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Apr242014

Obama Says US Will Defend Japan's Right to Disputed Islands

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(TOKYO) -- President Obama's week-long swing through Asia kicked off Wednesday with reassurances to Japanese leaders that the U.S. supports its rights to a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea that Beijing has also staked a claim to.

The president's words will be analyzed very closely in Japan and elsewhere as doubts have been raised over America's commitment to the region due to the ongoing dispute between Russia and Ukraine that threatens to spin out of control.

Some of those fears may have been lessened after the Pentagon said it was sending 600 paratroopers to Poland and the Baltics as a message that the U.S. won't be intimidated by Russian aggression.

Meanwhile, Obama told a Japanese newspaper that the island dispute with China falls "within the scope" of a treaty Washington has with Tokyo, adding, "We oppose any unilateral attempts to undermine Japan's administration of these islands."

Without saying so directly, the president may be signaling to Japan that the U.S. would come to its aid militarily if needed should China seize the territory known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

On Thursday, Obama, the first president to visit Japan since Bill Clinton in 1996, met separately with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the Japanese royal family ahead of a formal state dinner.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Apr242014

Obama Greets Japan's Emperor, Bows Slightly 

Shizuo Kambayashi/AFP/Getty Images(TOKYO) --  As President Obama’s motorcade rumbled onto the Imperial Palace grounds Wednesday for a state visit, the U.S.-Japan bond was evident on the bumper of his American-made limousine.

The black Cadillac, shipped in from the U.S. by Secret Service, donned blue plates with a Japanese insignia.  American and Japanese flags flew on the hood.

Obama greeted Emperor Akihito and his wife, bowing ever so slightly to shake hands with both royal highnesses, though it was a far cry from his full bow at the waist in 2009 that sparked much controversy.

The full state visit honors for Obama is the first in nearly two decades for an American president.  His arrival was filled with pomp and pageantry, kicking off a week-long Asian tour with an affirmation of ties with the closest U.S. ally in the region.

Obama and Akihito reviewed lines of Japanese troops in white uniforms, then they greeted dignitaries as the band played ceremonial tunes. Crowds of Japanese schoolchildren looking on waved paper flags from both countries. 

After the official greeting, Obama turned quickly to official business during a bilateral meeting at the Akasaka Palace with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

“The US-Japan alliance is the foundation for not only our security in the Asia Pacific region but for the region as a whole,” Obama said in an opening statement seated across from Abe.

“We are looking at a whole range of issues that are challenging at this time, including the threats posed by North Korea and the nuclearaization that’s taken place in that country. But because of the strong ties of our countries confident that we will make progress in the future.”

Abe called the US-Japan alliance "indispensable and irreplaceable" as a foundation for peace across the Asia Pacific region.

President Obama’s visit "greatly contributes to regional peace and prosperity,” he said, “and Japan strongly supports and also certainly welcomes this."

Both leaders were to hold a press conference following their meeting. Then they will visit Tokyo’s cultural sites, including the Meiji Jingu shrine. 

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Apr232014

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov: US Has 'Excessive Influence' in Ukraine

iStock / 360 / Thinkstock(MOSCOW) -- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov claimed the United States has "an excessive influence" on the actions of Kiev authorities, describing America's impact on the ongoing crisis during an interview with television network RT.

“When you receive daily calls from John Kerry, who is saying what you should do, and when you realize how far the U.S. is from Ukraine and how much they are agitated, it appears that indeed they direct this process to a large extent,” he said.

He went on to say that anti-terrorist operations were tied to visits from high-level American officials.

The U.S. has an impact "not on the country but on the regime, which took power in Kiev," Lavrov added, and "they act much more openly and without any remorse, if one compares them with Europeans, who act more covertly."

On Wednesday, the Obama administration denied accusations from the foreign minister that claimed the U.S. is funding or running military operations in Ukraine.

"I think many of the claims he made in his interview are ludicrous and they're not based in facts of what is happening on the ground," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

Lavrov warned that Russia would not back down and said the country could retaliate against Ukraine if it continued operations against pro-Russian militants. Any attacks on Russians in the country would be considered an attack on Russia itself, he said.

Psaki called his statements "counterproductive and inflammatory," explaining that the foreign minister's comments don't reflect a plan on the Geneva agreement recently signed by Ukraine, the European Union, the United States, and Russia.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Apr232014

US Expresses 'Deep Concern' Over American Journalist Kidnapped in Ukraine 

State Dept photo(WASHINGTON) -- The United States called for the immediate release of an American journalist Wednesday, following the detention of Vice News reporter Simon Ostrovsky in eastern Ukraine.

While she did not name Ostrovsky directly, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the U.S. raised concerns with Ukrainian officials to "de-escalate the security situation," and asked Russia to ensure the freedom of any hostages.

"I can express a deep concern about the kidnapping of a U.S. citizen, journalist in Slovyansk, Ukraine, reportedly at the hands of pro-Russian separatists," Psaki said.

The self-proclaimed "People's Mayor" of Sloviansk told ABC News that the reporter was spreading false, one-sided information and needed to be taught otherwise.

Vyacheslav Ponomaryov said Ostrovsky, who has been detained for two days, is being treated well, fed well, and that "he's getting material for his next book."




Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Apr232014

Yemen to Pay Families of Civilians Killed in Drone Strikes

MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Yemeni government plans to make a cash payment to the families of the three civilians killed in a string of airstrikes over the weekend, a spokesperson for the Yemeni Embassy in Washington, D.C. said Wednesday.

Dozens of alleged militants with the al Qaeda affiliate al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) were killed in multiple airstrikes -- suspected to have been launched from American drones -- and in an on-the-ground raid over the weekend and into Monday, according to the Yemeni government.

However, three civilians were caught in the midst of the carnage when “their pickup truck unexpectedly appeared next to [a] targeted vehicle,” a statement from the Yemeni government on Monday said.

“Yes, [the] Yemeni government did and will compensate the families of civilian casualties as a result of [counter-terrorist] operations,” Yemeni Embassy spokesperson Mohammed Albasha said on Twitter Wednesday.

A local Yemeni news outlet reported Tuesday that the government planned to give up approximately $55,000 and firearms to the victims’ families, but a Yemeni official who spoke to ABC News could not confirm those details. So-called “solatia” payments are often expected by local customs around the world in cases of wrongful deaths -- a practice in which the U.S. Defense Department has historically taken part to the tune of millions of dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The airstrikes, conducted Saturday and Sunday, targeted militants traveling in vehicles as well as a suspected al Qaeda training camp that the Yemeni government said was “completely destroyed.”

Following the strike, Yemen launched a “successful” on-the-ground counter-terrorism raid, the government said. A source briefed on the operation confirmed to ABC News that American pilots had flown Yemeni special operations troops in on Russian helicopters, as first reported by CNN.

On Monday, neither the CIA, Pentagon, White House National Security Council or State Department would comment directly on any U.S. involvement in the operations, except to say, as spokespersons for State and the Pentagon did, that the U.S. has a “strong, collaborative relationship with the Yemeni government.”

Both the CIA and Pentagon have conducted unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operations in Yemen in the past, to much controversy. In 2009, a CIA drone strike there killed high-profile al Qaeda recruiter and American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki. Weeks later, a similar strike killed his 16-year-old son, who U.S. officials said was collateral damage in a strike targeting another al Qaeda figure. In December 2013, a suspected drone-fired missile hit a wedding procession, killing 11.

When asked about the solatia payments, a Pentagon spokesperson declined to comment to ABC News and referred any questions related to the strikes to the Yemeni government, “which publicly acknowledged the airstrikes.”

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Apr232014

Prince Charles' Brother-In-Law Dies Following Head Injury

Arthur Edwards - WPA Pool/Getty Images(LONDON) -- Prince Charles' brother-in-law Mark Shand has died following a head injury. He was 62.

"It is with deep sadness that we have to confirm that The Duchess of Cornwall's brother, Mark Shand, has today passed away in New York. Mr. Shand died in hospital as a result of a serious head injury which he sustained during a fall last night," Clarence House said in a statement Wednesday.

"The Duchess, The Prince of Wales and all her family members are utterly devastated by this sudden and tragic loss. Mark Shand was a man of extraordinary vitality, a tireless campaigner and conservationist whose incredible work through the Elephant Family and beyond remained his focus right up until his death," the statement continued.

Shand, a one-time playboy and thrill-seeker, became a conservationist whose mission was to save the Asian elephant from extinction. After riding his elephant, Tara, across India, he set up a charity, Elephant Family. He had been at a fundraising event for the charity before he fell and was taken to hospital.

Prince Charles married the Duchess of Cornwall on April 9, 2005 in a small civil ceremony before saying "I do," at Windsor Castle. Shand was her younger brother.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Apr232014

Ferry Diver's Search for Bodies 'Extremely Difficult' in Muddy Water

JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images(JINDO, South Korea) -- Divers trying to retrieve bodies from the sunken South Korean ferry are finding the job "extremely difficult," feeling their way through the ink-black water with their hands as they work their way through rooms in the capsized ship.

“Divers can’t see anything,” Park Kyung Hoon told ABC News.

“Basically, they are blindly feeling their way around the ship. It is like a maze, so divers have to use their hands to feel around different rooms and under chairs and so on,” said Park.

Park, a diving team captain for the Blue Dragon Training Corp., volunteered along with other divers when he heard about the April 16 tragedy, when a ferry sank off South Korea’s southern coast with hundreds of high school students still trapped inside.

“By the time I went out to the site, the ferry had sunken completely underwater, and there were barge lines and cranes over it,” he said.

His team has been collaborating with the Coast Guard, but search efforts have been hindered by surging currents that stir up the silty bottom into a muddy soup.

“When I first went into the water, I couldn’t see anything,” Park said. “The water was extremely clouded and currents were strong. So the time we could spend underwater and rescue searching was very short. Divers had to come out of the water within a short period of time.”

As of Wednesday, at least 156 people have been confirmed dead with 146 others still missing. There are 174 known survivors, including all 12 of the ferry's crew.

The search has become more difficult. Divers initially brought out bodies that were in the ship's lounge, but divers are now having to break through cabin walls to retrieve more bodies.

"The lounge is one big open space, so once in it we got our search done straight away. But in the case of the cabins, we will have to break down the walls in between because they are all compartments," said Koh Myung-seok, a spokesman for the task force surrounding the sunken ferry.

The water conditions are also becoming more challenging.

“In my opinion, today and tomorrow will be the last days where water conditions will be good enough to dive in,” Park said. “Starting from tomorrow, currents become strong again. It will become difficult for scuba divers to go into the water. The water will be clouded as well.”

Park had harsh words for the ship’s captain, who’s accused of abandoning his passengers to save his own life.

“A captain’s role and his utmost priority is to ensure the safety of the passengers onboard and lead the crew effectively,” he said. “But it is unacceptable that a captain would abandon the helpless people onboard and escape to save his own life.”

 


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio