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Monday
Mar272017

Hundreds of anti-corruption protesters arrested in Russia after mass demonstrations: state media

iStock/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) — Hundreds of people have been arrested in a crackdown in Russia after thousands gathered for massive anti-corruption protests Sunday in the nation's capital, and other demonstrations were held in dozens of cities across the country.

Between 7,000 and 30,000 people demonstrated in Moscow, and up to 10,000 in Saint Petersburg in Russia's largest anti-government gatherings since at least 2012.

Huge crowds gathered in Moscow's Pushkin Square for a protest against the Russian government, and about 500 people were arrested in the wake of the protests, according to Interfax, a privately-held, independent Russian news agency. Russian human rights group OVD-info reported that more than 700 people were detained in Moscow, 34 in St. Petersburg, and between 80 and 100 in other cities.

Independent radio station Ekho Moskvy estimated that unsanctioned rallies in 82 cities and towns assembled 60,000 opposition supporters, in what may be the biggest anti-Kremlin protest since 2008.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who has challenged President Vladimir Putin's rule on an anti-corruption platform, appeared in a Moscow court Monday as the Kremlin spoke out for the first time on the mass anti-government protests Sunday that rocked the country, saying the demonstrations were based on "provocations and lies."

Navalny was fined 20,000 rubles (roughly $350) and given a 15-day jail sentence for violating public meeting rules and disobeying police.

Navalny was one of hundreds of people arrested in a crackdown after thousands protested in the nation's capital and in other cities across Russia.

The deputy director of Navalny's organization, the Fund for Combatting Corruption (FBK), which had called for the protests, said the organization's offices had also been raided by police.

The FBK conducts investigations into senior Russian officials and releases its findings in slick, irreverent videos. The protest Sunday was organized to demand that Russian authorities look into the fund's latest investigation, released this month, which alleged that Russian prime minister and ex-president Dmitry Medvdev had amassed a massive property empire using a corrupt scheme based on a network of charities.

The investigation alleged Medvedev had built himself vast mansions, bought vineyards and yachts worth as much as a $1 billion. The video laying out the investigation has been watched by at least 9 million people. Authorities have ignored the claims and refused to investigate.

The allegations around Medvedev appear to have struck a chord in Russia, as pressure on freedom of expression has reached a peak at the same time people's living standards have fallen.

The State Department criticized the arrests, and called on Russia to immediately release all the demonstrators who had been detained.

"The United States strongly condemns the detention of hundreds of peaceful protesters throughout Russia on Sunday," acting spokesman Mark Toner said. "Detaining peaceful protesters, human rights observers, and journalists is an affront to core democratic values. We were troubled to hear of the arrest of opposition figure Alexei Navalny upon arrival at the demonstration, as well as the police raids on the anti-corruption organization he heads."

The European Union has called on Russia to “release without delay” what it called peaceful protesters.

The demonstrations in Russia followed protests in neighboring Belarus on Saturday against that country's president, Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled the small, landlocked country since 1994.


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Monday
Mar272017

Archdiocese of Mexico calls firms expressing interest in Trump's wall 'traitors'

iStock/Thinkstock(MEXICO CITY) — In a withering editorial published on Sunday, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Mexico said that Mexican firms interested in helping build President Donald Trump's proposed border wall are "traitors to the homeland."

"It is not two or three, but more than 500 companies," from Mexico expressing interest in Trump's proposed border wall, the editorial says. "For them, the end justifies the means."

Building a wall along the nearly 2,000-mile U.S. border with Mexico was estimated by congressional Republicans to cost $12 billion to $15 billion.

After repeatedly claiming that Mexico would pay for the wall, President Trump requested $2.6 billion to start the initial planning and construction in his 2018 budget request. Congress is expected to take up the proposed budget before the end of the fiscal year in September.

The editorial, published in the Archdiocese's weekly publication Desde la fe, lambasted the wall as "an open threat that violates relations and peace."

Trump made building a wall on the southwestern border a centerpiece of his 2016 campaign, saying he wants a concrete barrier as high as 55 feet tall that he has described as "impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful."

The wall has sparked backlash in Mexico, where leaders have spoken out against it publicly. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has said his country will not pay for "any" wall on the U.S. border and said he rejects Trump's decision to go ahead with the plan.

"Joining a project that is a serious affront to dignity, is to shoot yourself in the foot," the Archdiocese editorial reads. "The wall is a monument of intimidation and silence, of xenophobic hatred."

"Any company with the intention to invest in the wall of the fanatic Trump would be immoral, but above all, its shareholders and owners should be considered traitors to the homeland," the editorial concludes.

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Sunday
Mar262017

Strong exit polls in German state mark positive development for Angela Merkel as bid for fourth term as chancellor continues

iStock/Thinkstock(BERLIN) -- Exit polls in the German state of Saarland suggest German Chancellor Angela Merkel has won that state's election with September's national vote approaching. Merkel is running for a fourth term as chancellor.

The incumbent Christian Democrats (CDU) are projected to win 41 percent of the votes, ahead of Social Democrats (SPD), who currently sit at 29.5 percent. That marks a nearly six percent improvement from the 2012 elections in that state for Merkel's party, according to BBC News.

The Social Democrats are led by nominee Martin Schulz.

The right-wing populist party running against Merkel and Schulz, Alternative for Germany (AfD), is expected to secure 6 percent of the vote in Saarland.

Saarland is located in the south western part of Germany. The polls closed in the small German state at 4 p.m. ET (16:00 GMT).

More state elections will take place before the country's federal election on September 24.

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Sunday
Mar262017

Iraqi officials: civilian deaths were not a result of US air strikes

iStock/Thinkstock(MOSUL, Iraq) -- Iraqi military officials are shooting down speculation that US air strikes killed hundreds of civilians according to a BBC News report. Instead, they say so-called Islamic State (IS) is responsible for the deaths of those civilians.

The US government announced Saturday it was investigating a March 17 air strike that targeted Mosul in response to allegations of civilian casualties. Iraq's military believes explosive booby traps set off by IS are what caused the deaths.

Those who died were in west Mosul, where the offensive to retake from IS what was once Iraq's second-largest city continues.

The US Central Command claimed it was looking into the allegations of civilian casualties after they determined an air strike was carried out on March 17 "at the location corresponding to allegations of civilian casualties".

BBC reports that some media outlets indicated more than 200 bodies were pulled out of a collapsed building. However, the details of the allegations are somewhat inconsistent.

The Iraqi military released a statement on its Facebook page that denies the air strikes caused the civilian casualties in the neighborhood of al-Resala. It was reported that the air strike occurred in the neighborhood of Jadideh.

The statement continues that the military checked a house "reportedly targeted by an air strike and they found out that the house was completely destroyed and there was no sign that it was destroyed by a strike".

A detonated booby-trapped vehicle was located by the house, according to BBC News, and the military says eyewitnesses claim IS used houses to fire at security forces.

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Sunday
Mar262017

London attacker was in Saudi Arabia 3 times, but not on security officials' radar, says embassy

thitivong/iStock/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- London terror attack suspect Khalid Masood visited Saudi Arabia three times -- including two stints teaching English -- but he was not on any security watchlist, the kingdom's London embassy said late Friday.

"The Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia wishes to clarify that Khalid Masood was in Saudi Arabia from November 2005 to November 2006 and April 2008 to April 2009, when he worked as an English teacher having first obtained a work visa," the embassy said in a statement. "In 2015, he obtained an Umra visa through an approved travel agent and was in the Kingdom from the 3rd-8th March."

Masood was also not on the radar of security officials.

"During his time in Saudi Arabia, Khalid Masood did not appear on the security services' radar and does not have a criminal record in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia," the statement read.

The embassy expressed its condolences to Britain, writing, "Saudi Arabia continues to stand with the United Kingdom during this difficult time and reaffirms its commitment to continue its work with the United Kingdom in any way to assist in the ongoing investigation."

The embassy also took the opportunity to stress its commitment to defeating terrorism.

"The attack in London this week has again demonstrated the importance of international efforts to confront and eradicate terrorism," the embassy said. "At such a time, our ongoing security cooperation is most crucial to the defeat of terrorism and the saving of innocent lives."

Masood's reign of terror began Wednesday after a car he was driving struck pedestrians and three police officers on Westminster Bridge.

The car then crashed into the fence around the Houses of Parliament, and armed with a knife, he attacked an officer who was standing guard.

Masood was shot and killed by police.

Four people -- including police officer Keith Palmer -- were killed, and at least 28 were injured.

On Saturday, Palmer's family released a statement thanking the public and the London Metropolitan Police for the support and well wishes.

"We want to thank everyone who has reached out to us over the past few days for their kindness and generosity," the statement read. "The police have been a constant, unwavering support at this very difficult time. It has made us realize what a caring, strong and supportive family Keith was part of during his career with the police. We can't thank them enough."

The statement added, "We would also like to express our gratitude to the people who were with Keith in his last moments and who were working that day. There was nothing more you could have done."

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Saturday
Mar252017

US reviewing airstrike that corresponds to site where 200 Iraqi civilians allegedly died

Main_sail/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. military admitted that an airstrike in Iraq on March 17 corresponds to a site where 200 civilians allegedly died, but said it is still assessing the particulars of the strike and the validity of allegations of civilian casualties.

"An initial review of strike data from March 16-23 indicates that, at the request of the Iraqi Security Forces, the coalition struck ISIS fighters and equipment, March 17, in West Mosul at the location corresponding to allegations of civilian casualties," stated a media release from the task force Saturday. A formal review of the March 17 operation "is underway to determine the facts surrounding this strike and the validity of the allegation of civilian casualties," the release said.

The military’s release came after it earlier announced a review of whether any of three airstrikes in Syria and Iraq over the past week were linked to reported deaths of hundreds of civilians.

In addition to the March 17 airstrike in western Mosul that reportedly killed 200 civilians, Central Command also said this week it is reviewing a March 16 airstrike near a mosque in al-Jinnah, Syria, that is said to have killed dozens, and an airstrike Monday, March 20, on a school building outside of Raqqa, Syria, that may have also killed dozens of civilians fleeing local fighting.

The March 17 strike targeted three adjoining houses. Local news reports indicate ISIS may have used civilians in the area as human shields in an effort to guard against airstrikes on the buildings. The Iraqi military's media operations center has claimed that ISIS was responsible for the civilian deaths.

Col. Joseph Scrocca, a spokesman for the operation against ISIS in Iraq, Syria and beyond, noted on Friday that ISIS has previously demonstrated disregard for civilians and civilian facilities by “using human shields, and fighting from protected sites such as schools, hospitals and religious sites."

Scrocca added there have been instances where ISIS forced families from their homes to booby-trap them with explosives to delay Iraqi forces.

The Central Command's release on Saturday asserted that the coalition fighting ISIS "respects human life, which is why we are assisting our Iraqi partner forces in their effort to liberate their lands from ISIS brutality. Our goal has always been for zero civilian casualties, but the coalition will not abandon our commitment to our Iraqi partners because of ISIS’s inhuman tactics terrorizing civilians."

"Coalition forces comply with the Law of Armed Conflict and take all reasonable precautions during the planning and execution of airstrikes to reduce the risk of harm to civilians," the statement said.

The U.S.-led coalition has conducted more than 19,000 airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria since the summer of 2014.

U.S. Central Command has also opened a credibility assessment into an airstrike Monday night, March 20, that targeted a school building near Raqqa, ISIS's de facto capital inside Syria.

The activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights alleges that an airstrike on the school killed 33 civilians who had been seeking shelter from local fighting.

And, U.S. Central Command is conducting a full investigation and credibility assessment of an airstrike on March 16 in the village of al-Jinnah in northwestern Syria.

U.S. officials said that airstrike killed dozens of al-Qaeda militants who had gathered for a meeting in a building near a mosque across the street. They emphasized that the mosque was not struck and that the building was not affiliated with the mosque. However, locals said that dozens of worshipers were killed in the airstrike and that the targeted building was, in fact, a mosque.

A military spokesman confirmed that earlier this week Gen. Joseph Votel, the commander of U.S. Central Command, ordered a full investigation into the circumstances of the mission.

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Saturday
Mar252017

US airstrike kills senior al Qaeda leader, Pentagon says

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- An American counter-terrorism airstrike conducted last weekend in eastern Afghanistan killed a senior al Qaeda leader named Qari Yasin, the Pentagon announced Saturday.

Yasin is responsible for plotting a number of high-profile al Qaeda terror attacks, including the 2008 bombing of a Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan, and a 2009 bombing that targeted a bus carrying the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore, Pakistan.

In addition to the dozens of innocent victims killed in these attacks, the 2008 bombing in Islamabad killed two U.S. military personnel: Air Force Maj. Rodolfo I. Rodriguez and Navy Cryptologic Technician Third Class Petty Officer Matthew J. O’Bryan.

"The death of Qari Yasin is evidence that terrorists who defame Islam and deliberately target innocent people will not escape justice," Defense Secretary James Mattis said in a statement.

Yasin, from Balochistan, Pakistan, had ties to the Pakistan-based terror organization Tehrik-e Taliban.

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Saturday
Mar252017

UKIP's only MP resigns to become an independent

iStock/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- The United Kingdom Independence Party's (UKIP) only member of parliament has quit the party to become an independent.

Douglas Carswell, who was with the Conservatives until switching to the Brexit-supporting UKIP in 2014, announced the news on his website on Saturday. The 45-year-old said he joined UKIP "because I desperately wanted [Britain] to leave the [European Union. Now we can be certain that that is going to happen, I have decided that I will be leaving UKIP."

"UKIP might not have managed to win many seats in Parliament, but in a way we are the most successful political party in Britain ever," Carswell said. "We have achieved what we were established to do – and in doing so we have changed the course of our country's history for the better."

Carswell's news comes ahead of British Prime Minister Theresa May's plan to trigger Article 50 on Wednesday, which will begin formal negotiations of the U.K.'s exit from the EU.

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Friday
Mar242017

US reviewing airstrikes in Iraq and Syria that may have killed 100s of civilians

iStock/Thinkstock(MOSUL, Iraq) -- The U.S. military is reviewing whether three airstrikes in Syria and Iraq over the past week were responsible for the reported deaths of more than 200 civilians.

U.S. Central Command confirms it has begun "credibility assessments” into allegations of civilian casualties in a possible airstrike in Mosul, Iraq, this week that reportedly killed 200 civilians, a March 16 airstrike near a mosque in al-Jinnah, Syria, that is said to have killed dozens, and an airstrike Monday on a school building outside of Raqqa, Syria, that may have also killed dozens of civilians fleeing local fighting.

Credibility assessments are initial reviews that seek to determine whether claims of civilian deaths from airstrikes are credible.

The U.S.-led coalition has conducted more than 19,000 airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria since the summer of 2014. U.S. Central Command's review of allegations of civilian casualties has determined that at least 220 civilians have been unintentionally killed by coalition airstrikes since the start of Operation Inherent Resolve.

The latest allegations of civilian deaths from a coalition airstrike involve reports that as many as 200 civilians were killed in an airstrike in western Mosul targeting three adjoining houses. Local news reports indicate ISIS may have used the civilians as human shields to prevent airstrikes on the buildings, and the Iraqi military's media operations center claims ISIS was responsible for the civilian deaths.

"The coalition has opened a formal civilian casualty credibility assessment on this allegation and we are currently analyzing conflicting allegations and all possible strikes in that area," said Col. Joseph Scrocca, a spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve. "This process takes time though, especially when the date of the alleged strike is in question. Right now we are working with multiple allegations placing a strike in the area sometime between March 17 and 23.

"We will continue to assess the allegations and determine what if any role a coalition strike may have had in that area," said Scrocca.

The spokesman noted ISIS's previous disregard for civilians and civilian facilities by “using human shields, and fighting from protected sites such as schools, hospitals and religious sites." He added there have been instances where ISIS forced families from their homes to booby-trap them with explosives to delay Iraqi forces.

U.S. Central Command has also opened a credibility assessment into an airstrike Monday night that targeted a school building near Raqqa, ISIS's de facto capital inside Syria.

The activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights alleges that an airstrike on the school killed 33 civilians who had been seeking shelter from local fighting.

U.S. Central Command is also conducting a full investigation and credibility assessment into an airstrike on March 16 in the village of al-Jinnah in northwestern Syria.

U.S. officials said that airstrike killed dozens of al-Qaeda militants who had gathered for a meeting in a building near a mosque across the street. They emphasized that the mosque was not struck and that the building was not affiliated with the mosque. However, locals said that dozens of worshipers were killed in the airstrike and that the targeted building was, in fact, a mosque.

A U.S. Central Command spokesman confirms that earlier this week Gen. Joseph Votel, the commander of U.S. Central Command, ordered a full investigation into the circumstances of the mission.

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Friday
Mar242017

Police release photo of London terror attack suspect

Metropolitan Police(LONDON) — Police Friday released a photograph of the British national believed to be behind this week's deadly terror attack in London.

The suspect, Khalid Masood, was shot and killed by police after his Wednesday afternoon attack that killed four people, including a police officer, and injured at least 28 others.

The Metropolitan Police said Masood "has previously gone by the names of Adrian Elms and Adrian Russell Ajao. He may also be known by a number of other names."

The investigation focuses on determinding Masood's motivation, preparation and associates, Metropolitan Police Acting Deputy Commissioner Mark Rowley said Friday. Police are working to find out if Masood "acted totally alone inspired by terrorist propaganda" or "if others have encouraged, supported or directed him," Rowley said.

There is no evidence of further threats connected to the attack, Rowley said, adding that anyone with information about Masood is asked to come forward, Rowley said.

Six of the people who were arrested as part of the investigation were released from police custody on Friday, Metropolitan Police said in a press release. Four people remain in custody after they were arrested on suspicion of preparation of terrorist acts, police said.

Wednesday's attack began when a car struck pedestrians and three police officers on Westminster Bridge.

The car then crashed into the fence around the Houses of Parliament, and a man armed with a knife attacked an officer who was standing guard.

London police said that among those injured, two remain in critical condition in hospitals, one of them with life-threatening injuries.

In addition, two police officers injured in the attack remain in the hospital with serious injuries.

On Thursday night, London Mayor Sadiq Khan led a candlelight vigil in Trafalgar Square for the victims.

"We come together as Londoners tonight to remember those who have lost their lives and all those affected by the horrific attack yesterday," Khan said in a speech at the vigil. "When Londoners face adversity we always pull together ... Our response to this attack on our city, to this attack on our way of life, to this attack on our shared values, shows the world what it means to be a Londoner."

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