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Friday
Jul132018

'Trump baby' blimp hovers over London's parliament amid protests of his visit

Chris J. Ratcliffe/Getty Images(LONDON) -- With its straw-blond hair, questionable face tan and unmistakably out-of-proportion hands, a blimp intended to depict President Donald Trump as a screaming baby drifted outside the Parliament building in London on Friday.

Protesters accompanied the "Trump baby" balloon, with signs railing against Trump’s policies on topics such as immigration, race relations, women and climate change.

The blimp is part of a series of protests across the U.K. organized by the Stop Trump Coalition, which describes itself as a “coalition of organizations and individuals joined forces to protest against Donald Trump’s planned visit to the U.K.”

A statement on its website reads, “We will make it clear to the British government that it’s not OK to normalize Trump’s agenda and the hate and fear it has sparked.”

Friday's protests come just one day after an interview with President Trump was published in the British tabloid publication The Sun in which he referenced the larger-than-life balloon.

“I guess when they put out blimps to make me feel unwelcome, no reason for me to go to London," Trump said. "I used to love London as a city. I haven’t been there in a long time. But when they make you feel unwelcome, why would I stay there?"

Trump even took a shot at London Mayor Sadiq Khan for not taking a harder line on immigration, and painted the city as a hub for terrorism.

"Take a look at the terrorism that is taking place," Trump said. "Look at what is going on in London. I think he has done a very bad job on terrorism."

During the launch of the blimp, Sky News interviewed Mayor Khan, questioning whether the blimp was an appropriate form of protest.

“The fact that it may cause offense to somebody isn’t a good reason to deter the hard-fought rights of freedom of speech and freedom of expression," the mayor said.

Trump also set a hard line on the country's ongoing "Brexit" negotiations, telling the tabloid that he advised Prime Minister Theresa May against the "soft" blueprint she recently presented to alleviate economic fallout as the country separates from the European Union.

“I would have done it much differently," Trump said. "I actually told Theresa May how to do it, but she didn’t agree. She didn’t listen to me."

Trump went as far as to suggest that a "soft" Brexit could endanger any unilateral trade deal reached between the United States and the U.K.

In the wake of the interview, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders issued a statement that appeared aimed to smooth things over.

“The president likes and respects Prime Minister May very much," she said. "As he said in his interview with The Sun, she 'is a very good person' and he 'never said anything bad about her.' He thought she was great on NATO today and is a really terrific person. He is thankful for the wonderful welcome from the prime minister here in the U.K."

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Jul122018

Water rushed back into Thailand cave soon after boys soccer team was rescued: Official

ABC News(CHIANG RAI, Thailand) -- Just hours after a boys soccer team was rescued from a partly flooded cave in northern Thailand, water rushed back into the mouth of the vast underground cave network, Thai officials said.

Chiang Rai provincial acting Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn, the local official in charge of the extensive search-and-rescue operation, said crews had to quickly evacuate the Tham Luang Nang Non cave as the first chamber refilled with water, soon after the last members of the soccer team and their coach were taken out Tuesday.

"You had to evacuate everything?" ABC News' Matt Gutman asked Narongsak during an interview Wednesday.

"Everything," Narongsak said.

Thai military officials directly involved in the operation told ABC News the main pump that was being used to decrease water levels inside the cave suddenly failed, and the cave began filling up with water from the heavy rain that day in northern Chiang Rai province.

Royal Thai Navy members and support teams barely made it out in time and were forced to leave behind about 300 air tanks in the cave, the officials told ABC News.

Had the boys been led out by rescuers a couple hours later, they would have had to swim more than twice the distance – about a mile instead of a half-- which Narongsak said he believes might have been impossible because some of the boys were too weak to really swim or walk. He called it a miracle that all 12 boys survived the ordeal.

The boys, ages 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old soccer coach became trapped inside Tham Luang Nang Non, Thailand’s longest cave, during a hike June 23. The cave's 6-mile-long labyrinth of chambers and passageways stretch all the way into neighboring Myanmar.

It’s believed the coach often took the teammates of the Wild Boar youth soccer team into the cave's main entrance in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park for fun excursions after practice.

But as the group ventured deeper into the cave that Saturday afternoon, the sky opened up and it began to rain. The downpour sent floodwater rushing into the mouth of the cave and cut off their exit route. The group forged ahead until finding a dry, raised slope where they remained stranded in total darkness for days.

After they didn’t return from their hike, Thai officials launched an extensive search-and-rescue operation involving well over 1,000 people, including specialists drafted from various nations such as Australia, China, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Persistent rain initially impeded efforts to locate the group. But two British divers found all 13 alive July 2 in an area a couple miles from the cave’s main entrance.

A team of Royal Thai Navy members, a doctor and a nurse stayed with the group, giving them high-powered protein drinks and medical assessments, while rescuers worked on a plan to get them out as safely and quickly as possible. They had to fight against mother nature to pump out floodwater and divert water flows amid Thailand's wet monsoon season.

The death of a former member of the Royal Thai Navy volunteering for the rescue effort also hindered progress and shook rescuers last week. Saman Gunan lost consciousness underwater during an overnight operation delivering extra air tanks along a treacherous route divers take to get to the trapped soccer team.

He could not be revived and was confirmed dead in the early morning hours of July 6.

Gunan, 38, formerly served in the Royal Thai Navy’s Underwater Demolition Assault Unit, colloquially known as the Thai Navy SEALs. His death was the first and only fatality in the operation to rescue the group and underscored the dangers of navigating through the cave underwater, even for those who have experience.

"We were very sad, and we felt like the whole world crashed," Gov. Narongsak told ABC News during Wednesday's interview. "But after we talked together, we said that we have to do everything, we have to go the point where we can bring out the kids."

International dive teams evacuated the boys four at a time over a period of three days this week, racing against time and an impending monsoon rainstorm that threatened to inundate the cave again. The coach was the last to be evacuated.

Nineteen divers entered the cave complex during every rescue mission, with one to two divers guiding each of the boys out with tethers through a winding, partially submerged series of caverns and corridors. The first leg of the days-long mission took 11 hours to complete on Sunday, while the second on Monday and third on Tuesday each took about nine hours, according to Narongsak.

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the country’s military ruler, told reporters that the boys were given anti-anxiety medication before they were evacuated to help with the rescue mission.

Maj. Charles Hodges, the mission commander in charge of U.S. operations supporting the Thai-led search-and-rescue operation, told ABC News they questioned whether all of the boys would make it out of the cave alive.

"We knew this was extremely risky with a low probability of success," Hodges told ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos in an interview Wednesday on "Good Morning America."

"I’m incredibly impressed with the way that it worked out but at the same time, candidly, I was thinking that it would be much worse results."

Upon emerging from the cave on stretchers, the boys and their coach were whisked away in ambulances to Chiangrai Prachanukroh Hospital in Chiang Rai province, where they remain quarantined as they recover from a variety of minor ailments, Thai officials said.

Parents and family members are allowed to visit but must stay more than 6 feet away. The boys and their coach will be physically reunified with loved after they are no longer quarantined in about a week or so, according to Narongsak.

The boys will serve as monks for a short time after they are released from the hospital, Narongsak told ABC News.

As a whole, "everybody is doing well," according to Thongchai Lertwilairatanapong, a public health inspector.

"No one has any serious infections," Thongchai said at a news conference Wednesday. "Everybody can now rest and do daily activities."

Gov. Narongsak said most of the boys were hungry and couldn't wait to be able to eat their favorite foods.

But the thing they all wanted most? To watch the World Cup.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Jul122018

Nelson Mandela's prison letters reveal his heartache behind bars

Jacques M. Chenet/Getty Images(PRETORIA, South Africa) -- As South Africa – and the world – marks the centennial birth of anti-apartheid icon, Nelson Mandela, a book containing his prison letters was officially launched in Johannesburg this evening. The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela is the only authorized and authenticated collection of correspondence spanning the 27 years Mandela was held as a political prisoner.

The letters – many never before seen by the public – have been assembled from the collections held by the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the South African National Archives, among others.

Mandela was arrested in 1962 for conspiring to overthrow the apartheid government and sentenced to life imprisonment. During his incarceration, he penned a multitude of letters – to his wife Winnie Mandela, as well as his loved ones, compatriots, prison authorities and government officials.

At first, he was only allowed to write and receive one letter of five hundred words every six months. Even when restrictions were finally loosened regarding the length and regularity of his correspondence, prison officials continued censoring his letters for political overtones – even innocuous references.

The first democratic president of South Africa was released from prison in 1990 and lead his party – the African National Congress – to victory in 1994. He stepped down after serving only one term in office.

Illustrated with facsimiles and generously annotated, the book sheds light on every aspect of life behind bars for the future South African leader, providing new insight into how Mandela maintained his inner spirits while living in almost complete isolation and how he engaged with an outside world that became increasingly outraged by his plight, as his imprisonment dragged into its fourth decade.

Mandela died on Dec. 5, 2013. He would have turned 100 on July 18 this year.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Jul122018

Once an assassination survivor, now a Nobel winner, Malala Yousafzai turns 21

William Volcov/Brazil Photo Press/LatinContent/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- She was an ordinary teenage girl and lived a normal life, not known to many outside her family and school. She woke up in the morning, went to school and then back home to play and lend a helping hand to her mother. She wanted to become a doctor.

Then Malala Yousafzai's life changed abruptly, and soon the world came to know her as "Gul Makai."

As she turns 21 years old on Thursday, the girl who became so famous as a schoolchild is looking to make a step into the adult world of politics.

Malala will celebrate her birthday in Brazil, away from her mother and brothers, joined only by her father. In Brazil, she’s on a mission to spread and stress awareness about education for young girls, according to Ahmad Shah, a family friend who has seen her grow up from being a child to the world stage.

"It’s not only a matter of pride for [me] but should be for our whole society," Shah told ABC News. "She’s the real face of our society."

Malala had wanted to become a doctor, then prime minister of Pakistan, but now in her 20s, Shah said, Malala's main goal is to "press governments to do more for girls' education.”

She wants developing countries' governments to appropriate more funds for the education of young girls than they do for their militaries, which she thinks will bring peace to the world, according to Shah.

Malala's story starts in 2009 when the Taliban had taken complete control of her home region in Pakistan's Swat Valley and banned education for girls. There was no voice of resistance until a defiant 11-year-old, known only as her pseudonym Gul Makai, showed opposition in a secret diary for the BBC. The name was adopted by Malala from a Pushto folklore to avoid Taliban attention.

The blog was Malala’s first window to the outside world and brought her to the public's attention.

After a few years of running a ruthless regime of oppression, the Taliban was finally defeated by a successful military operation in the latter half of 2009. Slowly life in Swat Valley came back to normal -- but not for Malala.

On the ill-fated afternoon of Oct. 12, 2012, on her way home from school, a Taliban terrorist stopped her school van, identified Malala and shot her in the head.

She was flown to a local hospital and later to a military hospital in Peshawar where she underwent surgery.

"I didn't think she would survive," her father Ziauddin told ABC News in 2013. "We were lucky that she did."

She was subsequently flown to another military hospital in the garrison town of Rawalpindi and then flown in an air ambulance provided by the United Arab Emirates to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, U.K., which specializes in head injuries.

Back in Pakistan, everyone prayed for her recovery. Civil society and human rights activists held special vigils, while children in school held prayer sessions for Malala’s recovery. But, at the same time, there were critics that portrayed her as a Western stooge and claimed that her shooting was staged.

But nature had carved out a bright future for her.

One step at a time, with her father lending his shoulder all the way, she would walk again. She attributed her new life to the “prayers of men, women, and children” in a first-ever video message recorded by ABC News and BBC News. She received hundreds of wishes for recovery from children all over the world during her recovery.

It wasn’t long after her recovery that she finally made it to Birmingham's Edgbaston High School, something she wanted all along -- to go back to school.

When she wasn't getting stellar grades, she had the honor of becoming the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2014.

Her achievements didn’t stop there, Malala earned a place at the prestigious University of Oxford where she’s studying Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. She has followed in the footsteps of her idol, former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who studied the same subjects at Oxford.

She returned to Pakistan in March for the first time since she was shot. Fighting back her tears, she said it was the happiest day of her life to set foot on her own soil again.

During her short, four-day trip, she made a quick visit to her hometown in Swat Valley and visited the home where she spent her childhood.

"I left Swat with my eyes closed and, now, I am back with my eyes open," she told Agence France-Presse during her trip.

The one thing that has remained steady about her over the years, said Shah, has been her “loving and compassionate personality."

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Jul122018

After Pompeo visit, Vietnam to put American beaten and held on trial

Victoria Nguyen(WASHINGTON) -- Vietnam has ordered that an American man beaten by police and now detained for a month to stand trial, even after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo brought up his case during a visit there this week.

To the family of William Nguyen, the 32-year old man charged with disrupting public space, it's a sign that the U.S. government has not done enough to get Nguyen out and that he could be in for a long road ahead.

"They're not really pushing the case. They're almost avoiding talking about it and being dismissive of my concerns or issues I've raised," Victoria Nguyen, Will's sister, said of the State Department in an interview with ABC News. "That's been really frustrating."

The State Department did not respond to requests for comment on Will's case going to trial or his family's frustrations on Wednesday. But spokesperson Heather Nauert said in a statement Monday that Pompeo "raised the case of William Nguyen and encouraged a speedy resolution to his case."

Born in Houston, Texas, Will graduated from Yale University and had been studying for his master's degree at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore on a full scholarship. Last month, during a break before graduation, he visited Vietnam as he and his family have almost annually for years.

While there, protests erupted on June 10 in major cities across the country against a newly proposed economic policy that would grant special land leases or economic zones to foreign companies, in particular, the Chinese. Will joined the protests in Ho Chi Minh City, according to his sister, because he is proudly Vietnamese-American and considered it "a civic duty... to support the Vietnamese people and their freedom of assembly."

"He's not a violent person," she added, saying he was trying to hold others back from violence during the protests.

Around 150 people were arrested during the protests, with reports of detainees tortured or beaten with sticks while in government custody, according to human rights groups.

In one video of the incident, Will is first seen on the ground being punched and then dragged through the streets while squirming. He is visibly wounded, blood covering the left side of his head and some of his face, and someone tries to put an orange bag over his head.

He's seen moments later in another video standing in the back of a police pick-up truck, appearing disoriented and waving to someone in the distance, gashes now visible on the left side of his head. Then, the truck drives off and out of the camera's eye as an officer is seen grappling with Will in the back.

Since then, Nguyen's family hasn't been able to contact Will, and he has not been allowed to see a lawyer despite being detained for more than a month. A State Department spokesperson told ABC News in June, "We were deeply concerned by videos showing injuries to and the initial treatment of William... at the time he was taken into custody, and we have made those concerns known to Vietnamese authorities."

Consular officials from the U.S. embassy have been able to visit him twice, on June 15 and June 29, the spokesperson added, saying he "appeared in good health and stated he did not require medical treatment" during the first visit, five days after his arrest. Experts say allowing consular visits is a positive sign Vietnam is willing to work with U.S. officials.

Will has been seen once since his arrest, in a confession video released by Vietnamese authorities where he apologizes for holding up traffic and causing trouble for his family and promises not to participate in any anti-government protests.

The Vietnamese embassy in Washington did not return calls or emails requesting comment.

It's the kind of coerced, taped confession that's common in Vietnam, a communist country with one-party rule although it has modernized and reformed over the past couple decades to allow for some more economic freedoms and human rights. Still, protests are often met with violent crackdowns and prolonged detentions, and the media is tightly controlled, with great restrictions on political speech in particular.

The State Department warns on its travel site that "U.S. citizens have been detained for political activities (including criticizing the government or its domestic/foreign policies or advocating alternatives to Communist Party rule), possession of political material, and non-sanctioned religious activities (including proselytizing). Authorities have also detained U.S. citizens for posting messages on blogs or online chatrooms that are political or critical of the government."

But Nguyen's family maintains that even if his participation in a protest was prohibited, his brutal treatment by Vietnamese authorities is outrageous and the U.S. should demand his immediate release.

The State Department's efforts have not been enough for Nguyen's family, who are afraid that Pompeo was too "diplomatic" about it, urged a "speedy resolution" instead of an "immediate release," and hasn't done enough to hold Vietnamese authorities accountable.

"The issue was Secretary Pompeo didn't push for his immediate release, but said let's be diplomatic about this and get him released as soon as possible," Victoria Nguyen told ABC News. "State didn't work hard enough to call for his immediate release. He was beaten and dragged... There hasn't been any accountability."

A State Department spokesperson pushed back on the idea that the U.S. wasn't doing enough in June, telling ABC News that officials "engaged with the Vietnamese government as soon as they learned of Mr. Nguyen’s arrest. The Ambassador and Consul General have raised his case on numerous occasions with their counterparts and will continue to do so... Mr. Nguyen’s safety and the safety of all U.S. citizens is of the United States’ utmost concern."

Despite prevailing anti-Chinese sentiment in many parts of the country, Vietnam has growing economic ties to the major power to its north -- something the U.S. has been competing with. Some analysts fear that could mean that the U.S. turns more of a blind eye to Vietnam's human rights abuses, in favor of its own economic and security ties.

"It's very clear that human rights have been put on a back burner," said Francisco Bencosme, the Asia Pacific Advocacy Manager at Amnesty International. "The State Department says it's raising these issues, but they're not prioritized -- and they're not taken seriously because the situation only gets worse."

The State Department hosted Vietnamese officials for their annual human rights dialogue on May 17 in Washington, less than a month before the crackdown on the June 10 protests.

Still, experts knowledgeable of the legal situation in Vietnam told ABC News that if only to save itself a headache from American officials, Vietnam would likely not detain Will long-term -- a fate many Vietnamese citizens unfortunately do not share.

With Will's case moving forward to trial, the family is now searching for a Vietnamese lawyer to represent him, but they're concerned a lawyer will be forced to fight for a lenient sentencing, not exoneration, given the restrictions in the Vietnamese legal system and the threat of retaliation against the lawyer themselves.

It's a situation the family was hoping to avoid altogether: "We were trying to prevent it from getting this far," Victoria Nguyen said.

The family has the support of several members of Congress, including Rep. Jimmy Gomez, D-Calif., who represents Los Angeles, where Will was living before graduate school. Gomez and two other Californian Congressmen called U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Dan Kritenbrink to demand Will's immediate release and urge the government to "do whatever it can – at the highest levels – to obtain this release," the three said in a joint statement on June 15.

Gomez's office did not respond to request for comment about Will's case going to trial.

In the meantime, much of Will's family is now in Singapore – where he was supposed to graduate over the weekend.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Jul112018

Trump: NATO allies should double their defense spending goals

Kayhan Ozer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump again blasted NATO allies on Wednesday for not spending enough on defense and asked them to increase their spending from two to four percent of their gross domestic product, or GDP.

Trump doubled down on his demands during a closed-door meeting with leaders at the North Atlantic Council.

“During the President’s remarks today at the NATO summit he suggested that countries not only meet their commitment of 2% of their GDP on defense spending, but that they increase it to 4%," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement.

"The President raised this same issue when he was at NATO last year. President Trump wants to see our allies share more of the burden and at a very minimum meet their already stated obligations.”

The U.S. does not even spend 4 percent of GDP on defense.

According to NATO, American defense spending is down to 3.5 percent this year from an estimated 3.57 percent last year.

From the start of the NATO summit, Trump focused on increasing allied defense spending. Trump made it clear he’s tired of America shelling out more money on defense than its allies.

In 2014, NATO countries committed to spending 2 percent of their annual gross domestic product on defense, with the goal of reaching that number by 2024.

The U.S., which spent $685.9 billion on defense in 2017, currently makes up 51.1 percent of NATO’s combined GDP. This year, only eight NATO countries are on track to spend more than two percent.

Allies were aware of Trump’s grievances ahead of the summit, but he specifically rattled Germany ahead of his full day of meetings in Brussels when he called them out over the controversial $12 billion proposed Nord Stream 2 pipeline between Russia and Germany and suggested it puts the entire historic alliance in question.

“Germany is totally controlled by Russia,” Trump said in a searing critique over breakfast with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel quickly pushed back.

"I myself lived through a part of Germany being controlled by the Soviet Union. And I am very happy that today we are united in freedom," Merkel said.

Throughout the day, leaders were peppered with questions about Trump’s behavior and whether or not they agreed with his position on Germany.

President of France Emmanuel Macron, who appeared to have a friendly meeting with Trump, told reporters that “no,” he doesn’t believe Germany is beholden to Trump.

Trump admitted that the issue came up during his meeting with Merkel. But after a day of Trump throwing political hand grenades at Germany, he and Merkel gave a cool and cordial read out of their private meeting.

"We are having a great meeting, discussing military expenditure. We are talking about trade, we have a very, very good relationship with the chancellor, we have a tremendous relationship with Germany," Trump said with Merkel sitting at his side.

"They made tremendous success and I believe our trade will increase and lots of other things but we will see what happens over the next few months."

Merkel responded with equally sedate remarks.

"I'm very pleased to have this opportunity for this exchange about the economic future and migration and the future of trade relations," Merkel said.

After Trump’s cordial reception of Merkel in the afternoon, it seemed Trump avoided the kind of diplomatic disaster he set in motion at the G7 in June. This time, allies could breathe a sigh of relief as Trump signed the NATO summit’s Brussels Declaration on Transatlantic Security and Solidarity, reaffirming the shared goals of the organization Trump once called “obsolete.”

But no sooner after he got in his presidential motorcade to ride to a formal dinner at a historic setting in Brussels, Trump tweeted a few last critiques.

“What good is NATO if Germany is paying Russia billions of dollars for gas and energy? Why are their only 5 out of 29 countries that have met their commitment? The U.S. is paying for Europe’s protection, then loses billions on Trade. Must pay 2% of GDP IMMEDIATELY, not by 2025.”

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Jul112018

Thai journalist says the cave rescue mission 'united' the country

Royal Thai Navy(CHIANG RAI, Thailand) -- For Thai journalist Nattha Komolvadhin, the heart-pounding, 18-day rescue mission of 12 boys and their coach from the depths of a flooded cave in Thailand not only brought the country together but captured the attention of the entire world.

“People are united together,” Komolvadhin, a Thai Public Broadcasting Service (ThaiPBS) anchor, told “20/20.” “This is the very first time in Thailand for many years that people feel the same mission. People [have] joined [in] spirit to really accomplish this mission and it's, in a way, wonderful for Thailand, [that] at this very moment to have the story that people feel that we have to move together, we have to fight together, and we have to send our support to help these 12 boys and the coach.”

Komolvadhin was one of the hundreds of journalists reporting on the dangerous rescue mission to extract the 12 members of the Wild Boars soccer team and their assistant coach trapped inside the five-mile-long Tham Luang Cave in Thailand’s Chiang Rai province along the Thailand-Myanmar border.

The mission became a global effort with experts and rescuers flying in from Britain, Denmark, Finland, Canada, and Australia to assist the more than 1,000 Thai officials.

As the days ticked by, Komolvadhin described an intense scene at the mouth of the cave where everyone was “anxiously waiting” for updates. She said officials were in one room planning out the rescue, the parents of the trapped boys were in another room and reporters were standing by in another area outside, while the rescue teams worked “around the clock” to pump water out of the cave.

Extracting the boys who couldn’t swim was one of the biggest concerns of the rescue operators who were closely tracking the weather forecast in Thailand’s monsoon season, Komolvadhin said, adding that the heavy rains during the first few days of the mission interfered with the attempts to pump out the water from the cave.

“The cave [has] zero visibility,” she said. “It's very muddy, very dark and the path is very narrow. It’s hilly at the same time -- that's why the diver couldn't go too far inside the cave.”

Two British divers finally discovered the group on July 2, after they had been trapped for nine days. Miraculously, they were all alive.

“Before that... we didn't know what the situation was like for them,” Komolvadhin said. “But finally from that moment, the whole world saw their face, saw their emotion -- their high spirit. That's where the bond between [the] audience, [the] people who didn't know them in person, [developed a] stronger bond with those boys.”

After learning that all of them were alive, the rescue teams started weighing their options. They considered sending in military personnel and geologists to try and divert the water and even thought of drilling from the top of the mountain to extract the boys and their coach. At one point, they mulled over the possibility of sending months of food supplies inside the cave.

But once they started sending in rescuers, tragedy struck three days later. Saman Gunan, a 38-year-old former Thai Navy SEAL who had come out of retirement to help, died on July 5 from lack of oxygen while trying to place 300 oxygen tanks along the rescue route. That was the moment that seemed to unite the politically fractured Thailand, Komolvadhin said.

“In a way, it boost[ed] the spirit of [Thai] Navy SEALs and people around the country also [felt] that this mission really [had] to be accomplished because we [didn’t] want to see the death of the ex-Navy SEAL Saman Gunan [go to] waste,” she said.

“We [saw] the death of the ex-Navy SEAL and it [triggered] the point that it means the oxygen level inside the cave was very, very low,” she continued. “That's [why] they really [had] to speed up the rescue operation and that's how we got more international experts coming and [joining] hands in this operation.”

The boys and their coach were extracted from the cave in three groups until, finally, all were out on Tuesday. They were immediately rushed to the hospital and put in quarantine to be tested for infections.

“A doctor told us that their spirit -- their mental health are quite good. They even asked for bread with chocolate,” Komolvadhin said. “That's very good sign that they are craving for food.”

The parents, who according to Komolvadhin, don’t blame the coach who took the team to the cave and had been communicating with the boys through messages delivered by the SEALs.

“That shows [the] spirit of [the] parents of the boys that they are also concerned with the health or the well-being of the coach,” she said. “It shows a human touch, it shows human connection and [the] love and affection between parents and the boys.”

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Jul112018

Group smuggles pride 'flag' into Russia for the World Cup

Hidden Flag(MOSCOW) -- Six people have come up with a creative way of smuggling the pride flag into Russia during the World Cup as a demonstration against the country's restrictive laws on promoting LGBTQ rights.

Since 2012, Russia has enforced an "anti-gay propaganda" law, forbidding the so-called promotion of the LGBTQ lifestyle to people under the age of 18. In practice, this has meant that public demonstrations in support of LGBTQ rights are often treated as illegal. Officials also now require that public demonstrations, even involving just one person, have authorization to go forward.

The result is that carrying the rainbow pride flag, which celebrates lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities, could get you arrested in Russia.

To get around the law, the group decided to enact a subtle protest by wearing the shirts of Spain, the Netherlands (who weren't in the World Cup), Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Colombia. Taken together, when stood up in a line, the shirts match the the colors of the stripes of the pride flag: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet.

The group has been posting pictures of themselves representing the flag in well-known locations around Moscow under the title, 'The Hidden Flag,' including in Red Square close to the Kremlin, as well as near one of the city's main cathedrals, Church of Christ the Savior.

According to the BBC, the activists come from each of the country's represented: Marta Márquez from Spain, Eric Houter from the Netherlands, Eloi Pierozan Junior from Brazil, Guillermo León from Mexico, Vanesa Paola Ferrario from Colombia and Mateo Fernández Gómez from Argentina.

Márquez told the BBC that when they arrived in Russia the group had been worried how they would be received but that they had not encountered any trouble.

"Once we landed in Russia our first steps felt very scary, but little by little we realised that nobody knew what we were doing, so I started to relax, although I stayed alert," she told BBC Newsbeat.

"Over our five day visit there was no sense of real danger, nobody threatened us."

"Most people were very kind to us, especially the tourists who saw us as equals. However, if they had known what we were doing it probably would have been different," Márquez told the BBC.

Homophobic attitudes remain very prevalent in Russia and have been worsening in recent years amid a campaign directed by the government promoting conservative religious values, which has included the passing of the "gay propaganda law". A 2015 survey by the state polling agency VTsIOM found that 80 percent of Russians opposed same-sex marriages, compared to 59 percent in 2005; the same poll found that 20 percent of Russians considered gay people dangerous and should be isolated from society, up from 12 percent in 2005.

Public displays of affection by gay people in Russia, particularly between men, can frequently attract hostile attention. The point was underlined in 2015, when two men filmed themselves being harassed as they walked around the center of Moscow simply holding hands.

The World Cup has seen the Russian police take a considerably more relaxed approach on Moscow's streets during the tournament, permitting street-drinking and rowdy crowds with flags to flood the area around the Kremlin and generally treating public demonstrations with a lighter touch. There have been few homophobic incidents reported amid the revelry, but FIFA fined Argentina's soccer association $105,000 as punishment for violent behavior and making homophobic chants at their game with Croatia earlier in the tournament.

Additionally, British veteran gay activist Peter Tatchell was detained close to the Kremlin early on in the tournament for holding a sign criticizing president Vladimir Putin for failing to hold authorities in the southern Russian republic of Chechnya accountable after they kidnapped and tortured dozens of gay men last year. Tatchell was released without being charged. Two prominent Russian human rights activists were also detained this week after holding signs in Red Square protesting against the detention of Oyub Titiev, the Chechen director of the well-known rights organization, Memorial.

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Wednesday
Jul112018

John Kerry blasts President Trump's NATO remarks

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Former Secretary of State John Kerry condemned President Donald Trump's remarks at the NATO Summit Wednesday morning after the president bashed Germany saying the country is being “controlled” by Russia.

“Germany is totally controlled by Russia,” Trump said during a breakfast with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. Trump's critique referred to the controversial $12 billion proposed Nord Stream 2 pipeline between Russia and Germany.

Kerry quickly blasted the president on social media, calling Trump’s comments “strange” and “counterproductive” — and declaring “the president set America back.”

“President Trump makes public adversaries out of our friends, and turns our adversary, who has been attacking America’s democracy, into his fawned-over ally,” Kerry said.

“Why? Why would an American president whose first NATO meeting last year was a disaster, show up in Belgium this year just to prove he doesn’t understand how vital alliances have made a huge difference for the security of the United States and the lives of Europeans?” Kerry added.

Trump has not responded to Kerry.

Kerry praised President Barack Obama saying: "He displays a woeful ignorance of the work his predecessor’s administration did to increase European defense spending."

“President Obama raised the issue in a constructive and collegial way that succeeded in securing a pledge from NATO members to increase their defense spending, without undermining the cohesion of the alliance in the process,” said Kerry who served as the top diplomat during the Obama administration.

Kerry also added he and President Obama used different tactics to resolve the issue on foreign contributions and placing sanctions against Russia.

“President Obama and I worked hard using effective diplomacy — not bombast and demagoguery — to secure those sanctions in the first place.”

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Wednesday
Jul112018

Focus switches from Thai rescue effort to treatment for 12 boys

ABCNews.com(CHAING RAI, Thailand) -- The rescue effort for the 12 boys who survived over two weeks underground in Thailand has switched to a treatment process.

Authorities held a press conference early Wednesday in Chiang Rai to discuss the boys' continued recovery from a variety of minor ailments. All 12 boys, as well as their soccer coach, remain quarantined at Chiangrai Prachanukroh Hospital.

But on the whole, all of the boys are doing well. Former Provincial Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn told ABC News the boys were not weak, and some were actually able to walk out of the cave themselves. The trips to the hospital were mostly due to infection fears.

"Everybody is doing well," Thongchai Lertwilairatanapong, public health inspector, said. "No one has any serious infections.

"Everybody can now rest and do daily activities."

None of the first group of four boys to emerge has a fever, and the two boys that had lung infections are improving. Officials also said they are taking less medication, and can eat anything they want -- good news for the boys who were looking forward to fried rice with basil.

As with the day before, parents are still being held tantalizingly far away from their children. They were allowed to again visit, but had to stay away 2 meters.

"They talked to the boys far away from them, about 2 meters," Thongchai said. "The second group will do the same today."

The second group will be moved Wednesday evening local time from soft food to regular.

The third and final group, including the soccer team's 25-year-old coach, which emerged Tuesday, are taking antibiotics and at least some had lung infections.

The boys lost about two kilograms each the doctors said, or about 4.4 pounds.

Each of the boys has been given a health card, which they will continue to carry for two weeks after they leave the hospital, in order to jot down any issues.

"Anyone can bring this card to show it to the doctors, so the doctor can be alerted to any kinds of diseases and take care of them, such as colds," Thongchai said.

Thongchai said no one is blaming the coach, the last one to come out of the cave, for his decision to take the boys inside on June 23. The cave flooded unexpectedly and cut off the team for 10 days before even being discovered.

"You can't blame the coach and you can't blame the kids," Thongchai said. "They have to help each other. We have to admire the coach that he managed well in this situation."

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