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Tuesday
Feb152011

Italian Prime Minister Ordered to Stand Trial for Sex Allegations

Photo Courtesy - Governo [dot] it(MILAN) -- Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was ordered by a judge Tuesday to stand trial in connection to accusations he paid for sex with a minor and then used his office to cover it up.

Judge Cristina Di Censo handed down the the indictment and set a trial date for April 6 in Milan.

Prosecuters allege the 74-year-old prime minister paid for sex with a then 17-year-old Moroccan girl known as "Ruby" and that he used the power of his office to try to cover it up.  Both Berlusconi and the girl deny they had sex.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Feb152011

International Sting Nabs Americans in Taliban Arms Sale Deal

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(BUCHAREST, Romania) -- Two U.S. citizens have been arrested in an international sting operation for allegedly agreeing to provide arms -- everything from AK-47s to surface-to-air missiles -- to the Taliban, according to court documents unsealed Monday.

The Americans were arrested in Bucharest, Romania on Feb. 10 as part of a months-long operation that also nabbed five foreign nationals who allegedly told undercover federal informants they would smuggle "ton-quantities" of heroin and cocaine through West Africa to Europe and the U.S. for the terrorist organization.  The missiles the Americans purportedly offered to sell the Taliban were to be used to protect heroin laboratories, the documents said.

"This alleged effort to harm and enrich the Taliban is the latest example of the dangers of an interconnected world in which terrorists and drug runners can link up across continents to harm Americans," Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement.

The two Americans, Alwar Pouryan and Oded Orbach, were not involved directly in the narcotics portion of the operation, according to documents, but were connected through foreign national Maroun Saade.  Saade, a "narcotics trafficker operating in West Africa" and the only man charged in both the weapons sales and the narcotics deal, introduced the Drug Enforcement Administration's confidential sources to Pouryan, who is described as an arms trafficker, the documents allege.

The DEA said Orbach helped arrange the particulars of the weapons deal, including the prices of each item -- from night vision gun scopes to Stinger anti-aircraft weapons.  Orbach also allegedly offered to send someone to train the Taliban in the use of the weapons.

Evidence against the Americans includes emails, taped phone conversations and recorded in-person meetings that took place in Ghana, Ukraine and Romania, the DEA said. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Feb142011

Sen. John Kerry Heads to Pakistan to Calm Diplomatic Tensions 

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Sen. John Kerry left for a trip to Pakistan on Monday, according to his spokesperson on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Spokesman Frederick Jones said the trip comes at a time when the relationship is strained by the detention of a U.S. government official, Raymond Davis, who's suspected of killing two Pakistani men in self-defense during an alleged robbery attempt late last month in Lahore.

The U.S. was scheduled to host a trilateral meeting in Washington with Afghanistan and Pakistan at the end of February, but the meeting was cancelled after Pakistan resisted U.S. demands to release Davis immediately.

“Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry left Monday night for Pakistan where he will meet with senior Pakistan government officials to reaffirm support for the strategic relationship between the two countries,” spokesman, Frederick Jones said.

Details of when he will arrive were not given, due to security reasons.

Chairman Kerry has traveled to Pakistan four times since assuming chairmanship of the committee in 2009. He was the first high-ranking U.S. official to travel to Pakistan following the devastating floods in that country last September.

In 2009 Sen. Kerry co-authored the enhanced partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009, also known as the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act, which triples non-military foreign assistance to Pakistan to $1.5 billion per year over the next five years.

“Kerry-Lugar-Berman was designed to signal our long-term state engagement with the people of Pakistan,” Jones said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Feb142011

Clinton Praises Iran Protests, Raises Alarm Over Budget Cuts

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton applauded news from Iran that thousands of protesters demonstrated there Monday, demanding change, and compared the situation to Egypt, where Hosni Mubarak was thrown out of power last week after more than 30 years.

"We support the universal human rights of the Iranian people," Clinton said. "They deserve to have the same rights that they saw being played out in Egypt and that are part of their own birthright, and…we think that there needs to be a commitment to open up the political system in Iran, to hear the voices of the opposition in civil society." Clinton said she wanted to "very clearly and directly support the aspirations of the people who are in the streets." She maintained that the U.S. is against violence and that the demonstrations there are a testament to the courage of the Iranian people and an indictment on the Iranian regime.

As for Egypt itself, where protesters last week forced President Hosni Mubarak out of office, resulting in the military taking control of the country, Clinton said the U.S. will help the military in any way it can.

She said that the steps that the Egyptian military has taken since taking control are "reassuring" and that the U.S. is ready to assist them.

"The ongoing dialogue between our defense and military leadership with theirs has been very fruitful and I expect it to continue," Clinton said.

Clinton spoke with reporters after meeting with House Speaker John Boehner about funding for the State Department. The secretary said she told Boehner about her "deep concerns" over the budget cuts her department will face, in the near-term in the House GOP's proposal to fund the government through September, and it's call for further cuts in the next full fiscal year. She called the scope of the cuts "massive" and "detrimental to America's national security."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Feb142011

Pakistan Starts to Pave Way for Detained American's Release

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(LAHORE, Pakistan) –- The spokesperson for Pakistan's ruling party invoked the Geneva Convention and diplomatic immunity for the first time Monday as a possible avenue for the U.S. to secure the release of Raymond Davis, the American diplomat who allegedly gunned down two Pakistani men last month.

Fauzia Wahab, a spokesperson for the Pakistan People Party, said that no diplomat can be kept in captivity and that Davis has an official diplomatic visa. The U.S. State Department has been demanding Davis' release based on the same points since the Jan. 25 shooting incident, but Monday marks the first time a prominent Pakistani official publicly backed the international agreement in Davis' case.

Davis, 36, was arrested after allegedly shooting and killing two men on the streets of Lahore, Pakistan, who the U.S. State Department said were trying to rob him. A third Pakistani man was struck and killed by a vehicle that was reportedly racing to Davis' aid.

U.S. officials have repeatedly declined to answer questions about Davis' precise job in Pakistan, saying only he was a "member of the administrative and technical staff" of the Islamabad embassy and traveled on a diplomatic passport. Public records show Davis has experience with the U.S. Special Forces and runs a small security company.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Feb142011

Tunisian Refugees Wash Ashore In Italy

Photo Courtesy - ROBERTO SALOMONE/AFP/Getty Images(ROME) -- Italy has declared a humanitarian crisis as boatloads of Tunisians arrive on the shores of its southern island of Lampedusa. The migrants, mainly men, are making the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean in fishing boats and rubber dingies. They're hoping to escape the poverty and political upheaval since protests brought down the Tunisian government last month.

Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni has called the boatloads a "Biblical exodus." Three-thousand people arrived in the last three days alone. A refugee center and a nearby soccer stadium are temporarily housing the arrivals on the island; both are full beyond capacity.

Italy has appealed to Europe for assistance. It also suggested sending police to Tunisia to try to block would-be migrants from trying to reach Italy. The North African country nixed that idea, accusing Italy of infringing on its sovereignty.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Feb142011

With Mubarak Gone, Egyptian Army Moves to End Cairo Protests

Photo Courtesy - ABC News (CAIRO) -- The Egyptian government warned protesters Monday to finally leave the streets of Cairo and hauled away truckloads of tents and blankets, but knots of defiant protesters remained in the square demanding even more political changes while labor unions demonstrated for pay raises.

The protests have dwindled since Mubarak left office on Friday, but some demonstrators still remain. As Mubarak's portrait was removed from state buildings, rumors spread that he had fallen ill and was in a coma.

Mubarak is reportedly at his residence in the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh on the Red Sea, 250 miles away from Cairo.

A little more than 48 hours after Egyptians toppled the government of Hosni Mubarak, the military has taken over the country's leadership and called for an end to the strikes. The military forced protesters and journalists off Tahrir, or Liberation, Square in Cairo, telling foreign reporters that only locals were allowed in the area.

A spokesman for the Armed Forces Supreme Council read a statement on television, its fifth so far, giving a not-so-gentle nudge to the people to get off the streets. He said the sit-ins and protests disrupt and stop the "wheels of production" and have negative repercussions on the national economy.

Protesters were divided over whether to continue demonstrating. Some are calling for a return to normal life while others, more skeptical, say they won't leave until they see real change. Most people want to see an immediate end to the controversial emergency law that has been in place almost continuously since 1967 and gives the government far-reaching powers at the expense of judicial review and civil liberties.

The military has promised swift presidential elections, but only a handful of viable opposition leaders have emerged and a concrete date has yet to be set. Among the contenders is Ayman Nour, a politician who was jailed when he challenged Mubarak in 2005 and became the first to announce his intention of running for the presidency.

Egypt itself is growing calmer and business is slowly returning to normal, though tourism has yet to return as international travelers remain jittery about the security situation in the region.

Tourism is the backbone of Egypt's economy, but the foreigners fled the country when the protests began in late January.

"Just to tell everyone that Egypt is safe and come back, we are ready to host a lot people, maybe millions and millions like we used to have. So we are ready. Please come to Egypt," said tour guide Shahindar Adel, one of many in the tourism industry that paraded outside the Pyramids Monday.

Holding signs like "Peace, freedom and love" and "Come to Egypt, you are safe here," the demonstrators pleaded for tourists to return.

Looting at Egypt's national museum was far worse than known, with more than a dozen priceless treasures stolen, including a small statue of a goddess holding King Tut.

Meanwhile, among Egypt's allies, there is anxiety over what the future entails for the entire region. Egypt is one of the United States' closest allies in the region and only one of two Arab countries that recognizes Israel.

Egypt's high military council is headed by Defense Minister Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, known to be relatively friendly to western governments. He was made deputy prime minister just two weeks ago in an effort to appease protesters.

Shoukry said the United States can count on the same kind of support from Egypt that it had before.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 

Monday
Feb142011

Iran: Anti-Gov't Protests Proceed Despite Government Crackdown

Photo Courtesy - AFP/Getty Images(TEHRAN, Iran) -- As the world continues to watch demonstrations in various cities around the Middle East, the mood was set Monday for the expected anti-government demonstrations in Iran.

As the hour for the gathering drew closer, witnesses described security forces lining the streets around Azadi Square in Tehran and groups of protesters gathering for the opposition march. The heavy presence of riot police wearing black masks and holding batons deterred large crowds from forming, according to eyewitness accounts.

Demonstrators described streets and metros closed, tear gas being fired and sounds of gun shots. As they marched closer to the Azadi Square area, with riot police speeding by on motorcycles, they yelled "Death to the dictator."

Opposition leaders Mir Houssein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi were reportedly under house arrest and not allowed to join the protests.

Authorities have forbidden journalists from covering the protests. Demonstrators from cities around Iran called into BBC Persia with reports of plainclothes police attacking people and scaring off crowds.

Witnesses described hundreds of people gathering in the towns of Isfahan, Shiraz and Mashad as well. Although the crowds were not as large as what viewers have seen in Egypt or the demonstrations after the 2009 elections, the turnout was significant for Iranians who have been warned by the commander of the police corps that if they showed up they would be "corpses."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Feb142011

In Africa, a Vaccine Against the 'Silent Killer'

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NAIROBI, Kenya) -- When people in the United States hear the word pneumonia, they tend to think of the elderly and hospital infections. But this "silent killer" is actually the number one cause of death for kids in the developing world, killing more children than AIDS, malaria and measles combined.

A new vaccine could dramatically decrease the number of pneumonia deaths by immunizing against pneumococcal disease, the most common cause of pneumonia. Pneumococcal disease currently takes the lives of more than a million people every year -- including more than half a million children before their fifth birthday -- according to the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization.

Today, Kenya is the first African country to roll-out this pneumococcal vaccine, which is specially tailored to meet the needs of children in developing countries. Nicaragua, Guyana, Yemen and Sierra Leone will also be using the vaccine.

The speed at which it was released sets the pneumococcal vaccine apart from the crowd.

Normally, it takes 10 to 15 years for a vaccine to reach poor nations. The new pneumococcal vaccine, however, was used in Nicaragua in 2010, the same year as the United States. Considering that 90 percent of the two million child pneumonia deaths each year occur in the developing world, this is a major accomplishment with potential to save thousands of lives, according to experts.

The vaccine launch was engineered by GAVI, a public-private body that brings together United Nations agencies, the World Bank, philanthropists, the vaccine industry and research agencies to improve children's health through immunization.

Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki joined parents, health workers, ambassadors and donors in Nairobi to witness hundreds of children being immunized as part of the government of Kenya's formal introduction of the pneumococcal vaccine to its routine immunization program.

Plans to bring the vaccine to an additional 40 countries by 2015 are still uncertain. GAVI needs an additional $3.7 billion over the next five years to continue supporting immunization programs in the world's poorest countries.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Feb142011

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Dissolves Cabinet

Photo Courtesy - Pierre Verdy/AFP/ Getty Images(JERUSALEM) -- In what some might call another "aftershock" from the earthquake of Egypt's political transition, the Palestinian Authority announced political changes Monday that call for the dissolution of its cabinet.

Prime Minister Salam Fayyad dissolved the Palestinian Authority's 16-member cabinet which many in the region saw as ineffective.  The step is widely being seen as a way to show better governance and appease the Palestinian public so they don't take to the streets in mass demonstrations.

Fayyad had been pushing for a cabinet change and events in Egypt helped him make it happen.  He has six weeks to form a new cabinet, and says he'll choose technocrats who can help build Palestinian institutions.

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