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Sunday
Sep212014

Once-Jailed Oligarch 'Ready' to Challenge Putin for Presidency

Sean Gallup/Getty Images(MOSCOW) -- The last Russian oligarch to challenge President Vladimir Putin politically -- and pay dearly for it -- says he's ready to try again.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky was once Russia's richest man and the head of Russian energy giant Yukos. But after he made political moves against Putin, he was quickly tried and convicted on fraud charges in 2003. His company was dismantled and he would spend nearly the next decade in prison.

Khodorkovsky's takedown sent a strong signal to the rest of Russia's powerful tycoons not to meddle in politics, lest they suffer a similar fate. It seems the message got through. In the decade since then, none have tried.

But now Khodorkovsky is back. Putin pardoned him and released him from prison in December, a move that was widely seen as an effort to tamp down on international criticism of Russia before hosting the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

At the time, Khodorkovsky insisted he had no interest in challenging Putin.

"The struggle for power is not for me," he said.

It appears that is no longer the case. In interviews with European publications this weekend, Khodorkovsky said he was "ready" to become Russia's president and pledged to enact political reforms.

"I would not be interested in the idea of becoming president of Russia at a time when the country would be developing normally," he told France's Le Monde newspaper, according to AFP.

"But if it appeared necessary to overcome the crisis and to carry out constitutional reform, the essence of which would be to redistribute presidential powers in favor of the judiciary, parliament and civil society, then I would be ready to take on this part of the task," he added.

In a separate interview with Germany's Der Spiegel magazine, Khodorkovsky warned that the longer Putin remains in power, the more likely Russia is headed towards a bloody disintegration.

Khodorkovsky's comments come as he is set to help launch a group called Open Russia, which will seek to organize the opposition against Putin's rule.

Yet if Khodorkovsky dreams of personally wresting the Kremlin from Putin's grasp, he has a tough road ahead.

Putin remains firmly in power, having engineered a political system that has marginalized any meaningful opposition. He also controls most media, especially the powerful television stations.

Khodorkovsky, meanwhile, has limited leverage, living in self-imposed exile in Switzerland. Given what happened last time he got involved in politics, and also that shortly before his release last December prosecutors hinted at new charges against him, it's unclear what might happen to Khodorkovsky if he returns to Russia.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Sunday
Sep212014

Cairo Explosion Kills At Least Two, Injures Four 

iStock/Thinkstock(CAIRO, Egypt) -- At least two people were killed in a bombing outside Egypt's foreign ministry in Cairo on Sunday.

The incident comes on the heels of numerous attempts over past months to evacuate street vendors who live and work in the building's area in the Boulaq neighborhood, as workers have not had the best relationships with government authorities.

The bomb was located behind a tree near the Sultan Abu Eala mosque by the foreign ministry in downtown Cairo. The incident prompted the evacuation of five schools, and all major roads leading to the site were closed.

While authorities did not disclose any suspects, they are calling the explosion an act of terrorism as an investigation continues.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Sunday
Sep212014

Couple Confesses in Socialite's Murder, Bali Police Say

iStock/Thinkstock(DENPASAR, Bali) -- Indonesian authorities say Chicago native Tommy Schaefer admitted that he killed his girlfriend's mother while the family vacationed last month at the upscale St. Regis resort in Bali.

Schaefer's girlfriend, Heather Mack, who is three months pregnant, has also confessed to witnessing her mother's murder and helping to dispose of her body, police in Bali said.

"Both of them have confessed," Bali Regional Police Chief Colonel Djoko Heru Utomo said. "Tommy was the one who carried out the killing."

"Heather thought that Tommy did not mean to kill her mother," Utomo said.

Mack, 19, and Schaefer, 21, have been behind bars since the gruesome discovery of 62-year old Sheila von Wiese-Mack's body, found stuffed inside a silver suitcase left in the trunk of a taxi last month.

Mack previously claimed her mother died during an armed gang attack that she and Schaefer escaped. But Indonesian investigators say surveillance video shows Mack's mother and Shaeffer arguing in the hours before the murder.

Mack's attorney declined a request for comment from ABC News.

According to Bali authorities, Schaefer allegedly killed von Wiese-Mack because he was "hurt and offended" following an argument.

"In Indonesia, you get credit for admitting and cooperating. So he might think this will save him some time if he is ever sentenced," said defense attorney Janet Johnson, who is not involved in the case.

Despite these reported new confessions, the couple has yet to be formally charged.



Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Sunday
Sep212014

Syrian Opposition Leader: ‘We Need Your Assistance’

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- The leader of what is referred to as the moderate Syrian opposition has a message for the world: give us the proper support and we can end the two-pronged war in Syria against dictator Bashar al-Assad as well as ISIS in “three years max.”

Syrian Opposition Coalition president Hadi al-Bahra will address the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Wednesday to plead for American and western aid to defeat Assad and ISIS militants in Syria.

“Currently I am sitting with you and fighting on two fronts. We are fighting in Damascus against the regime, we are fighting in Aleppo against ISIL,” Bahra said. “We are in the fight and will continue to fight. But we need your assistance. This danger now is not a Syrian issue. It is proved now that it is not a regional issue. It is also expanding now to be threat in Europe and even to the U.S.”

Bahra was elected president of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces in July after serving as a representative for the coalition of rebel groups fighting Assad during peace negotiations in Geneva last spring. During an interview with ABC News’ Bob Woodruff, Bahra said he was proud of his Syrian countrymen who took up arms to fight for their country.

“Actually, we aspire and look back to the American Revolution and we see now this story repeating itself. We are the normal Syrians fighting for our freedom and to transfer our political system to democracy,” he said.

This week, Congress gave President Obama authority to provide funding and military training to Syrian opposition forces led by Bahra. Critics are skeptical that arms provided by the West could fall into the wrong hands and that the vetting and training process will take too long to effectively combat ISIS.

“I assure you all the aid will go to moderate national Syrian army, the Free Syrian Army, and we will be very careful with it,” Bahra said.

Bahra says he is confident in the opposition’s ability to win the fight in Syria without U.S. boots on the ground.

“We would like to win our own freedom,” he said. “By our own people, and we are ready to sacrifice everything to win back our freedom and our constitutional rights.”


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Sunday
Sep212014

Afghanistan Names New President, Candidates Agree on Power-Sharing Deal 

U.S. Department of State(KABUL, Afghanistan) -- Afghanistan declared the country's next president on Sunday, naming Ashraf Ghani as the new leader with 55 percent of the popular vote, according to Afghan sources.

The announcement comes as Ghani and runner-up Abdullah Abdullah agreed upon a national unity government deal during a ceremony attended by current President Hamid Karzai and other senior officials.

The decision ends a months-long dispute that could have forced the full withdrawal of U.S. and foreign troops from the war-torn country. The transition, deemed "peaceful," is a first for Afghanistan since 1901, according to the BBC.

In a statement Sunday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the political agreement "helps bring closure to Afghanistan's political crisis, and restores confidence in the way forward."

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called the formation "a moment of extraordinary statesmanship," stating that the country "has an enormous opportunity to grow stronger from this recent moment of testing."

The recent Afghan presidential election faced much scrutiny with allegations of fraud. The accusations led to a full audit of all ballots, aided by the U.S.

"Nonetheless, the final outcome of the election process is legitimate and the results will be transparent," U.S. Department of State spokesperson Jen Psaki said.

"Although the candidates had disputes and serious reservations with the process that could not be resolved, they agreed for the good of the country to resolve the harmful political uncertainty and abide by the outcome of the election.  For this reason, the new administration has made electoral reform one of its chief priorities – a goal we support."


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Saturday
Sep202014

Ukraine, Russian-Backed Rebels Agree on Buffer Zone in Peace Talks

iStock/Thinkstock(KIEV, Ukraine) -- While efforts are progressing to end the conflict in Ukraine, tensions were renewed Saturday with fresh provocations from both sides.

Ukrainian officials and Russian-backed rebels moved to strengthen a ceasefire, agreeing to an 18-mile buffer zone that would prohibit overflights and be free of heavy weapons.

In addition to the decision, both groups reportedly agreed to swap prisoners.

Still, ideas of peace did not linger for long as an arms factory was targeted near rebel-held Donetsk, and Russia again sent an unauthorized humanitarian aid convey to rebel-held cities hit hard by fighting.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Saturday
Sep202014

US Targets ISIS with Five More Airstrikes in Iraq

iStock/Thinkstock(BAGHDAD) -- U.S. military forces continued their attacks on ISIS this weekend, hitting the militant group with five new airstrikes.

Military crews targeted the areas near Haditha and south of Baghdad on Friday and Saturday, according to U.S. Central Command.

One strike destroyed an ISIS boat ferrying supplies across the Euphrates River, while the other four eliminated two armed vehicles, three of the group's checkpoints, and two guard outposts.

"The strikes were conducted as part of the President's comprehensive strategy to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL [ISIS]," officials said in a statement.

U.S. Central Command has conducted a total of 183 airstrikes across Iraq since Aug. 8.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Saturday
Sep202014

5 Things To Know About the Pope's Trip to Albania

Buda Mendes/Getty Images(TIRANA, Albania) -- On Sunday, Pope Francis will make a one-day trip to Albania's capital Tirana, his first visit to a European country outside of Italy.

After a quick flight over the Adriatic Sea, Francis will spend 11 hours in the predominantly Muslim country. He'll meet the nation’s leaders and bishops, representatives of other religions and Christian denominations, disadvantaged children and others assisted by Catholic charitable organizations. He will also celebrate mass in a central square of the capital and lead a vespers ceremony.

But before he goes, here are five things to keep in mind:

1. No Extra Security

Despite security concerns in the media, he’s taking no extra security.

Last week, Iraq’s ambassador to the Holy See, Habeeb Al Sadr, told an Italian newspaper that “the Pope is indeed a target” of the militant group ISIS. Italian news outlets also reported that Albanian authorities were concerned about Muslim extremists who trained in Iraq and Syria and that they may have returned to that country to carry out attacks.

The Italian state security was doubled around St. Peter’s Square this week as a precaution, but the Vatican said they had not increased the Pope’s security on the trip because there have been no specific threats. Vatican spokesman Rev. Frederico Lombardi told reporters Monday, “We are obviously paying attention but there is no need for concern or a change to his program in Albania.”

Francis will even travel in his open-topped Pope Mobile to Mass as is his custom on oversees trips.

2. A Message of 'Coexistence'

For his fourth international trip, Francis chose a country whose population is not predominantly Catholic, like some other European states, but predominantly Muslim. Some 60 percent of Albanians are Muslim, while only 15 percent are believed to be Catholic. The Vatican hopes the trip will offer a message of coexistence and dialogue between different religions.

Francis is expected to make a trip to Turkey at the end of November.

3. 'Rekindle the Faith'

For most of the 20th century, Albania was under an atheist Communist dictatorship where many clergy and believers were tortured and executed for their beliefs. More than 1,000 churches totally razed.

A cause is underway for the sainthood of 40 Albanian martyrs from this period in the country's history.

After the Cold War ended, Saint Pope John Paul II was the first pope to ever visit Albania, doing so in 1993. During his trip, he “practically re-established the [Catholic] hierarchy” after the communist dictatorship by ordaining four bishops to lead the church there, according to Lombardi.

Francis is expected to honor those who were "martyrs for the faith who lived in Albania, the victims of atheistic Communism,” said Lombardi. The trip is meant to encourage those who have rekindled the faith and kept it alive through persecution by commemorating those who were persecuted under communism.

4. Francis to Honor Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa, who was eventually beatified by Saint Pope John Paul II, was present with him during that visit to her home country. "In Albania, Mother Teresa is a national heroine, as well as a figure of extraordinary Christian holiness,” Father Lombardi said.

Francis will hold his one and only mass on the trip in a square named in her honor.

The day’s events will conclude with a journey to visit children at the Betania Centre, along with various people from other charitable centers in Albania.

5. Will Francis Visit the US?

At an audience with the Pope on Thursday morning, the Archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles J. Chaput, formally invited Francis to the World Meeting of Families there next September. Francis didn’t immediately accept the invitation, but he didn’t say no. The last papal visit to the U.S. was by Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI in 2008. Congress and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio have also extended invitations.

Friday
Sep192014

NORAD Confirms Two Incidents Involving Russian Planes Approaching American Airspace

Darko Dozet/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Authorities have confirmed two separate incidents this week in which Russian fighter planes approached the North American coastline.

Each time, a North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) spokesman said, fighter jets accompanied the Russian planes. They never entered American airspace, which begins 12 nautical miles from the coast.

The first incident occurred on Wednesday, when two Alaskan-based F-22 jets identified and intercepted a pair of Russian refueling tanker aircraft, two MIG-31 fighter jets and two Russian long-range bombers.

The following morning, two more long-range bombers were identified and intercepted by Canadian fighter jets.

The NORAD spokesman told ABC News that the incidents are believed to be "standard training activities," and that "other air forces conduct regular training, but we will continue to monitor all air activity approaching American airspace.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Friday
Sep192014

UK Leaders Say Referendum Outcome Offers Promise for Future

Photo by Samir Hussein/WireImage(LONDON) -- Queen Elizabeth offered praise for the voters of Scotland who declined to vote for Scottish independence on Thursday, calling on all residents of the United Kingdom to "remember...we have in common an enduring love of Scotland."

After months of debate, Scottish voters opted not to approve a referendum for independence on Thursday. The Queen had previously chosen not to get involved in the referendum, calling it "a matter for the people of Scotland."

A statement from earlier this month noted that "constitutional impartiality is an established principle of our democracy, and one which the Queen has demonstrated throughout her reign." The Queen, the statement said, "is above politics."

"Knowing the people of Scotland as I do," the Queen said in a new statement on Friday, "I have no doubt that Scots, like others throughout the United Kingdom, are able to express strongly-held opinions before coming together again in a spirit of mutual respect and support, to work constructively for the future of Scotland and indeed all parts of this country."

United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron called the outcome of the referendum "clear," expressing hope that the issue had been settled for a generation or longer. He also said that the opportunity now exists to change the way British people are governed, calling on all political parties to work together to do just that.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio