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Monday
Nov122018

Thousands raised for homeless man who intervened in Melbourne terror attack

Instagram/@nohsoohyun86(MELBOURNE, Australia) -- Tens of thousands of dollars have been raised for a homeless man in Melbourne, Australia, after a video showed his attempt to help police officers during a violent attack last week by running towards a knife-wielding man with a shopping cart.

The man, who has been identified as Melbourne resident Michael Rogers, 46, was widely praised in the media, earning the nickname "Trolley Man" in the Australian press.

On Nov. 9, Shire Ali, 30, allegedly set a car on fire on Bourke Street in Melbourne, and stabbed three people, one fatally.

Rogers intervened by pushing a shopping cart towards the suspect, who was then shot by police. Ali later died in hospital.

Authorities described the attack as an “act of terrorism.”

On Nov. 10, Donna Stolzenberg, the founder and managing director for the Melbourne Homeless Collective charity, set up a GoFundMe page for Rogers with the aim of raising $45,000 Australian dollars ($32,406 in U.S. dollars), but a flurry of donations has nearly tripled that goal. Over $120,000 Australian dollars ($86,500 U.S. dollars) has been raised as of Monday, and payments are still flooding in.

Stolzenberg wrote on the page, subtitled “Thank you Trolleyman,” that Rogers’ efforts “deserve a reward” and all donated funds from GoFundMe would go directly to Rogers to help “get him back on his feet.”

“He risked his own life that day for nothing in return and you can’t put a price on that,” she added.

Footage of the attack shared on social media by an Instagram user shows Rogers charging towards the knife-wielding man using a supermarket trolley.

In an interview with the Australian newspaper The Age, Rogers revealed that he was homeless for a number of reasons, including a history of drug abuse and having spent time in prison.

“I just wanted to help and do something right for the first time in me life,” he said. “It was a spur of the moment.”

Rogers had been rolling a cigarette nearby when the attack began. “The car stopped and I heard a lot of yelling and screaming,” he told The Age newspaper.

“Initially I thought it was the driver and the occupants fighting. But when I saw people running and screaming I realized it was something a bit more than an argument.”

Stolzenberg updated the crowdfunding page on Monday to say that the charity would meet with Rogers later this week to give him the donated money.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Sunday
Nov112018

Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron show liberal unity on Armistice Day

Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images(PARIS) -- As Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron stood hand in hand at Compiegne just outside Paris, it was the first time German and French leaders had publicly gathered at the spot where the Armistice was agreed upon a century ago.

“United,” the single word in a tweet by President Macron to describe the relationship.

It was a moment intended for the solemn remembrance of the end of World War I, but as Europe’s two centrist leaders stood alone in the rain, it was a stark reminder that Macron and Merkel are not just representatives of the France-German alliance -- the bedrock of European stability -- but are personal allies in their struggles to defend liberalism against the rising political threats they face at home.

Last month, Merkel announced she would not seek another term as chancellor after heavy losses to populists in regional elections nearly brought her government to its knees.

Macron’s popularity has slumped dramatically, with Marine Le Pen’s remodeled National Front this month pulling ahead of his party in polls for the first time, according to reports.

In 2015, liberal Europe and its defining policy of open borders was put to the test at the height of the migrant crisis.

Merkel’s act of opening Germany’s borders to 1 million refugees sparked a strong reaction that helped propel the far-right Alternative for Germany into government in 2017.

The makeup of Europe’s political establishment is also undergoing a visible change.

Hungarian leader Viktor Orban espouses a doctrine of ethno-nationalism, arguing for securing borders to “keep Europe Christian.”

Italy’s populist deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini, who called for a census on ethnicity, is the country’s most popular politician. He has a close relationship with Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist in President Trump's administration, and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In Poland, the right-wing ruling Law and Justice party is led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who said migrants carry “all sorts of parasites and protozoa.”

The vice chancellor of Austria is Heinz-Christian Strache, who was detained in his youth during a torch-lit neo-Nazi rally -- a moment of “stupidity” in his own words. Yet his Freedom Party, established in the 1950s, is accused of having Nazi roots.

The list of anti-liberal elected officials in Europe's parliaments is growing. And, on the streets across the continent, there are signs of a resurgence in the far-right.

The act of performing a Nazi salute is illegal in Germany, but protesters in Chemintz and Kothen were photographed openly making the sign and chanting the old Nazi slogan “Lugenpresse” -- lying press -- at riots sparked by the fatal stabbing of a German man, allegedly by immigrants from the Middle East.

Several hundred neo-Nazis held a rock festival in Saxony on Hitler’s birthday in April. And supporters of the extreme-right Golden Dawn party in Athens staged demonstrations against the building of a state-funded mosque.

Against the backdrop of movements previously on the fringe creeping toward the mainstream was the image of a united Merkel and Macron, seeming to symbolize the last vestiges of a liberal Europe identity.

Still, the lessons of the past were prominently on display in Paris this weekend -- namely the importance of international cooperation and the alliances underpinning the post-war order that, so far, have successfully overseen peace on the continent.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Sunday
Nov112018

10,000-torch display in London marks 100th anniversary of WWI's conclusion

iStock/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- An installation commemorating the 100-year anniversary of the end of World War I has opened in London.

Called "Beyond the Deepening Shadow: The Tower Remembers" and featuring approximately 10,000 torches, each illuminated every evening by more than 250 volunteers, is an act of remembrance for the lives lost during the war.

“The flame is an act of commemoration, but also it’s hope for a peaceful world,” Tom Piper, the designer of the installation, told ABC News.

“[It shows] how fragile that peace is, and we know in the moment, in the world, and so many places, that peace is threatened and a sense of people coming together and sharing and [showing we] actually that we share more than divides us.”

Tom Piper told ABC News that he wanted to bring light to counteract the period of great darkness during World War I.

"It is important for us to ensure that those who lived, served, fought and died during this time continue to be remembered, and that the lessons from these conflicts continue to be shared," Lord Houghton, constable of the Tower of London, said in a statement.

"Beyond the Deepening Shadow" also features a sound installation, inspired by war poet Mary Borden's work, "Sonnets to a Soldier," which includes a choir.

The idea behind the complete installation is to create a space for reflection, said Eva Koch-Schulte, creative producer at the Historic Royal Palaces, the charity that commissioned the installation.

"There's a need out there for shared spaces to enable shared remembrance -- for creating a space where grief is OK," Koch-Schulte told ABC News. "That's what we hope this will be, something that touches people through beauty, that allows people to have a shared experience.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Saturday
Nov102018

Couple weds in a maximum-security prison to draw attention to repression in Honduras

Courtesy Karen Spring(NEW YORK) -- The bride wore red, the color of the resistance movement. The groom wore the gray pants and white T-shirt required of inmates at La Tolva, the maximum-security prison where he has been held since January for protesting against repression in Honduras, the country from which the majority of the migrants in the so-called caravan making its way to the U.S. border have fled.

Karen Spring, 34, and Edwin Espinal, 42, had never dreamed of a wedding day like this.

But on Oct. 18, they tied the knot in front of a few witnesses, including another political prisoner, and armed guards wearing balaclavas over their faces. Instead of being filled with hotel and rehearsal dinner information, the couple's wedding website shows the prison's stark gray buildings.

"We weren't allowed to have a camera. I wasn't allowed to wear any jewelry," Spring told ABC News. "Behind us, there were masked police officers and military. We got married in a hostile environment, but we tried to make the best of it."

In the months before their wedding, Spring and Espinal's visits had been sporadic. The phone service in the prison went down in April after a prison uprising, she said, and Espinal isn't allowed paper, so the couple communicates through notes he is able to scrawl on toilet paper with a contraband pen.

Sometimes, their approved visits last just two hours, sometimes as long as four. Spring said she brings Espinal four meals at a time and he eats them as quickly as he can. He has already lost 40 pounds in prison, she said, and is only allowed two hours of sunlight per month.

The couple's plans for starting a family have been put on hold as Espinal languishes in pre-trial detention in a facility usually reserved for violent criminals.

"Edwin's conviction is really strong. If you talk to him, he says, 'I know why I'm here. I'm a political prisoner amongst really dangerous people in this jail. We were fighting for change in this country and going to jail was part of that process,'" Spring said. "He's really clear about it, and that gives me a lot of strength. It makes it easier, almost, because I know he has that strength."

In January, the Public Prosecutor's Office filed charges of arson and other damage to property, aggravated damage and using explosives and homemade incendiary devices against Espinal and fellow human rights defender Raul Ordonez, according to Amnesty International, and the two men appeared at an initial hearing on January 20 and 22 at a court that's usually reserved for organized crime cases.

A spokesperson for the Public Prosecutor's Office declined to comment on Espinal's case at this time.

Most of the migrants trying to reach the U.S. border are from Honduras, the country with one of the highest homicide rates in the world outside of a war zone. Nearly two thirds of people live in poverty, according to the World Bank.

In 2016, U.N. experts called it "one of the most hostile and dangerous countries for human rights defenders." Human rights defenders routinely "suffer threats, attacks, and killings," a 2018 Human Rights Watch report found.

In November 2017, the country held a presidential election with widespread fraud and violence.

Thousands took to the streets to protest the re-election of Juan Orlando Hernandez, who changed the constitution to allow himself to run again. Espinal, who had previously been targeted for his activism and was granted precautionary measures in 2010 from the Organization of American States, was among them.

The government's "response to the post-electoral protests led to serious human rights violations," according to the U.N.. Dozens were killed and more than a thousand were arrested, according to the U.N., including Espinal and Ordonez.

After being arrested on charges of arson and other damage to property, Espinal and Ordonez appeared at an initial hearing before a court that's usually reserved for organized crime cases, according to Amnesty International. Since then, there has been a lack of transparency about the status of their cases and their lawyers have not been able to review important materials or meet with them regularly, Amnesty International found.

Spring, a human rights defender from Canada who has lived in Honduras for years, said her husband's plight highlights the stark reality at home that has led many Hondurans to turn to their last resort -- fleeing north -- after trying to change their country through the ballot box.

"People are fleeing in the caravan because they know there is a significant cost here internally to protesting, so that's why they're fleeing to the U.S. border as an alternative to protest," Spring said. "If they stay in Honduras and protest, they face the same conditions that Edwin and the 13 other political prisoners face, which is harsh conditions and basically no due process."

Spring spoke with ABC News from the couple's home in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, about her hopes for their future and why she understands the migrants' journey.

What made you decide to get married now?

Spring: Edwin and I have been together for almost nine years and we had never gotten married because it was never something that was important to me. Not the level of commitment to him but the actual act of signing a paper. Mostly, it was a demonstration of my commitment to him and getting him out and to keep fighting for his freedom and that of Raul Alvarez and the other political prisoners in the country.

For me, it was a commitment to continue fighting for him and to take care of things that he can't do for himself because he is in prison, and the accompaniment of the other families of political prisoners. So it was a commitment to him as my partner and a commitment to the bonds of how we met, the way that our relationship has grown and developed over time largely because of our compañerismo in the struggle in Honduras.

How has your relationship mirrored or coincided with some of the big human rights struggles in the country since the 2009 coup?

Spring: I hope I don't cry. I met Edwin shortly after his partner, Wendy Avila, was killed during a big eviction and repression outside of the Brazilian embassy when overthrown President Manuel Zelaya snuck back into the country shortly after the coup and had to seek refuge inside the embassy. So I met Edwin a couple of months after he buried Wendy. She died of respiratory problems after the gassing and repression outside of the embassy.

Then through the almost nine years that we have been together, we have worked together in the movement. He did a lot of work in an urban neighborhood where he grew up, which is considered one of the most dangerous and gang-controlled neighborhoods in Tegucigalpa. I accompanied him in a lot of his struggles to stop privatization of public spaces for youth in his neighborhood, especially recreational spaces where kids went and played basketball and soccer.

Edwin was a very close friend of [murdered environmental activist] Berta Caceres. We both rushed to La Esperanza as a response to her assassination. Edwin was constantly by her side, especially when she was concerned for her security.

The ups and downs of our relationship and his personal life have really been entwined with the major moments of the struggles of the social movements in Honduras. Him being arrested almost two months after the 2017 elections where there was widespread fraud is just another way that our relationship has become more strengthened through his struggles and our struggles. But it also shows how much political persecution he faces as a result of his longtime activism in Honduras and demand for change here.

What were the circumstances surrounding his arrest?

Spring: Edwin has faced nine years of persecution, so he was one of the targets of the government and has been for a really long time. When there were widespread reports of fraud after the elections in November 2017, they were met with widespread protests all around the country, maybe even more than after the 2009 coup. The country was literally shut down and it was the way the people were expressing their deep discontent with the policies of the current government of Juan Orlando Hernandez, but also the policies he implemented, which dramatically changed the practical, everyday lives of Hondurans. Privatization meant higher prices of electricity, there was no medication in hospitals, people associated with the government robbed a lot of money in the healthcare system.

So thousands and thousands took to the streets and Edwin was one of them to protest allegations of fraud. There was a belief that the votes of Honduran people were not being respected. There was a military curfew imposed, hundreds of people arrested and then released. Edwin was arrested on allegations of being part of a protest on January 12 that was called by the opposition, who were demanding respect for their votes, and that Juan Orlando Hernandez step down because his re-election was illegal.

They planned a big protest in Tegucigalpa. During that protest, there were several incidences of property damage. So Edwin was one of two people who were arrested and thrown in a maximum security prison on charges of property damage. It was very clear how much the government had targeted him throughout the whole process of the elections to arrest him and put him in jail. The disproportionate use of force against protesters and the harsh punishment used on people arrested for protesting was very clear when you look at the fact that there were only 30 people killed in those protests and only one police officer charged with killing.

The caravan has brought some of these longstanding issues in Honduras to the forefront. Why are people fleeing now?

Spring: Hondurans saw protesting during the 2017 electoral crisis as a way to address poverty, corruption, drug trafficking, the mafia state, impunity, and the murders of environmentalists, lawyers and journalists. When the U.S. government and Canada and came out shortly before Christmas recognizing the election and ignoring the protests, ignoring the murders in the street, ignoring the severe crackdown on Hondurans who were demanding real democracy and respect for their votes, Hondurans have basically used the caravan as their potentially last option to raise serious concerns that they cannot live in Honduras anymore.

There are about 300 people who leave the country quietly per day in Honduras, and it's not something that hits the media, but it's something that's been going on a long time. But they see the caravan as a way of saying, 'Well, if the U.S. wants to keep propping up a government that doesn't work for us, that we don't want, then our only option is to flee to the border, and we'll do it in mass numbers.' So that's what the caravan is doing ... It's another strategy, planned or not, to raise the issue that they can't live in their own country anymore.

Do you hope to have another wedding ceremony when Edwin is released?

Spring: Definitely. That was one of the things we decided: we were going to really wait to celebrate our marriage until he is free and he's out and we want to celebrate it on our own terms, not on the terms imposed on us by the Honduran government and the maximum security prison. We will definitely have a celebration. It's difficult for us to talk about it because we have very little communication -- there are no phones in the prison -- but we want to celebrate with people in the movement and the people who have kept the issue of political prisoners as a relevant national theme. The people who have been next to us since the 2009 coup. We will definitely celebrate. We are hoping that all of the political prisoners will be freed.

What will you do when he is released?

Spring: This has been one of the hardest and most difficult experiences of my life. As I have been fighting for his freedom, I have faced persecution from the government as well. They have tried very hard to silence me and the campaign. And it's so hard to imagine what it will be like to have him free. But one of the things we want to do is just spend time together. To have an opportunity to talk and spend time together in a warm environment that isn't cement walls and handcuffs and locked doors. So I think I just look forward to him being able to be outside, for us to spend time together, have him at home, the everyday stuff. Just to have him around, that's what I want.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Saturday
Nov102018

80 years after Kristallnacht, a somber tour in Berlin to commemorate the tragedy

Sarah Hucal/ABC News(BERLIN) -- More than 100 people came to Charlottenburg on Saturday for a free, historical walking tour.

Under overcast skies, they gathered in the central Berlin neighborhood for a unique visit: to mark the 80th anniversary of anti-Jewish Kristallnacht, or the “Night of Broken Glass,” pogrom -- the first coordinated, nation-wide attack on Jewish citizens under the Nazi regime.

The damage done on that November night in 1938 went far beyond broken windows. Around the country, thousands of Jewish citizens were attacked, hundreds were murdered, and 7,500 Jewish shops and businesses were looted or destroyed. Also, 1,400 synagogues were burned.

The state-driven anti-Semitism, which occurred five years after Adolf Hitler took power, set the stage for the Holocaust and marked a gruesome turning point in German history.

“This was a game-changer, because up until 1938 you could be a German Jew, seeing that things were becoming worse and worse, but you still held the belief that maybe the Nazi craziness would go away," the event’s organizer, Ben Fisher, told the group. "Or even if the Nazis would eventually deport you, they would do it in a legal fashion because this was Germany, after all."

“On this tour, we are basically following the story of the persecution, the program itself, the damage to stores and the synagogue and the forced immigration that came in the next weeks and months,” he added.

The tour wound its way through Charlottenburg, where in 1938 10 percent of the population was Jewish and much of the violence in Berlin took place. At the end of the tour, a small informal ceremony was held to commemorate victims of the Holocaust.

Fisher is a charismatic Israeli history buff who moved to Berlin three years ago and now runs a private tour agency, “Ben in Berlin.” Feeling a personal need to commemorate the anniversary, he advertised the free event on Facebook, with the intention of guiding just a handful of friends and colleagues.

He got more than he bargained for when dozens of people attended.

“It’s obvious there is some demand for this -- and maybe it’s a good way to approach younger people to talk about Jewish history of Berlin,” he told ABC News.

With the far-right xenophobic riots that broke out in the eastern German town of Chemnitz in September still looming large in Germany’s societal conscience, it seems an apt time to remember Kristallnacht and “the events which led citizens to play out their long-standing resentments,” as Chancellor Angela Merkel said Friday in a ceremony at a Berlin synagogue.

The chancellor urged citizens to take initiative and set themselves “strongly against attacks on our open and plural society."

"We are commemorating in the knowledge that watching as lines are crossed and crimes are committed ultimately means going along with them," she reminded the public.

One of the most interesting stops on the tour was the Jewish community center, which stands in the place of the former Fasanenstrasse Synagogue. When it opened its doors in 1912, it was the largest synagogue in Berlin and a symbol of Jewish integration in German. It was so significant that Kaiser Wilhelm II, the former German emperor, made a visit.

As such, it was a primary target of the November 1938 pogrom, with Joseph Goebbels sending a specific directive to Berlin to ensure that the synagogue be burned, Fisher told the group.

Fisher showed a photo depicting firefighters standing next to the burning synagogue, not making any attempt to quell the flames.

“They had an order coming from above that they should only intervene if the fires went to German, Aryan areas,” he told the group.

The Nazis had closed the synagogue in 1936; it was destroyed by an allied bomb in the 1940s and then re-opened in the late 1950s as a Jewish community center, which it remains today. Pieces of the original synagogue were incorporated into its facade.

Fisher considers himself well-informed on the history of Nazi Germany, but described the scope of the pogrom, which he discovered while pouring over archival materials in the library, as “mind-blowing."

Walking down the busy shopping street Kurfuerstendamm, Fisher pointed out the striking juxtaposition of past and present.

“You can go now to Kurfuerstendamm and show a picture and say, 'Listen, there was a store here. It was plundered. You can see the merchandise on the sidewalk and people are taking what they want,” Fisher said.

“It’s a strong dissonance when you see today. It’s a UNIQLO," he added. "But this is part of Berlin’s history –- it suffered so much and keeps rebuilding itself."



Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Saturday
Nov102018

NASA astronaut Anne McClain feels 'confident' flying aboard Russian Soyuz

NASA(NEW YORK) -- Just weeks after a Soyuz booster failed and a crew was rocketed to safety the Russians are ready to return to manned flight, and Army Lt. Col. Anne McClain will be the first to sit atop that rocket since the accident.

Officials that investigated the failed October 11th launch from Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan, said they identified part of the reason for the accident that occurred two minutes into the flight, part of the first stage of the rocket had struck the second stage after separating, damaging the booster causing the first Soyuz failure in decades.

The launch piloted by a two-man crew, Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin and NASA astronaut, Nick Hague, was aborted and the capsule blasted away from the rocket and hurtled back to Earth.

Is McClain confident?

"The bottom line is that I would have got on the Soyuz rocket the next day," she tells ABC News. "I know that a lot of people see that as a failure, it's been called that. But inside this community where we mitigate risk professionally every single day: that was a success story."

McClain, a senior Army aviator who has logged more than 2,000 flight hours in both rotary and fixed-wing aircraft, joined the astronaut corps five years ago and is now ready to make a life-long dream come true.

She first told her parents, as she headed off to pre-school when she was 3 years old, "I'm going off to school to learn to be an astronaut."

McClain says she cannot define what struck her at that age "but I do know that it has been something so magical, that has given me such a purpose my whole life, and I'm really looking forward to achieving it."

McClain acknowledges that for as long as mankind existed there's been the propensity to explore. "We go across lands, we go across water. And then the next logical step was to start flying just over a hundred years ago and of course, now we're going to look up at the stars and say what's next, what's out there?"

McClain is currently at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia preparing for her six-month mission to the International Space Station.

She will be joined by crew-mates David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency and Oleg Kononenko of the Russian space agency Roscosmos when she launches from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, on Dec. 3.

“I’m looking forward to riding the rocket. I'm looking forward to getting to space, looking back to earth out the copula window. I think all of it is going to be a completely new experience that I can't quite predict.”

During her mission, McClain will facilitate research investigations and technology demonstrations not possible on Earth to advance scientific knowledge of Earth, space, physical and biological sciences.

McClain will be scheduled to return in June.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Saturday
Nov102018

US to halt midair refuels for Saudi coalition in Yemen with peace push on track for November meeting

Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The U.S. military will no longer provide midair refueling for the Saudi-led coalition's warplanes fighting in Yemen, Saudi state media and the Pentagon confirmed Friday.

The change came after growing pressure from Congress to end U.S. support for Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen's government in their battle with rebels, known as the Houthis, that has stretched for nearly four years, killing at least 16,200 civilians and bringing 14 million people to the brink of famine.

While the U.S. is still aligned with the Saudis and Emiratis and providing support in other ways, the end of midair refueling removes a controversial and tangible measure of support for the coalition, especially in light of international criticism of its targeting civilians.

It also comes as the U.S. has joined a push for a cessation of hostilities in Yemen and diplomatic efforts by the United Nations Special Envoy Martin Griffiths to bring the warring parties to the table for talks by the month's end.

The decision was made because the coalition "has increased its capability to independently conduct inflight refueling," according to the state-run Saudi Press Agency, which said the U.S. was consulted first.

Defense Secretary James Mattis welcomed the decision in a statement Friday, adding that the U.S. will turn to working with the coalition "on building up legitimate Yemeni forces to defend the Yemeni people, secure their country's borders, and contribute to counter Al Qaeda and ISIS efforts in Yemen and the region."

The U.S. has been conducting a counter-terror campaign against both terror groups, one of the reasons it has long supported the Saudi and Emirati-led coalition. The other primary factor is that the Houthis are aligned with Iran, which the Trump administration has targeted as the source of unrest in the region.

"It's the Iranian leadership that continues to fuel the Houthis in a way that has engendered this civil war that has wreaked so much death and destruction inside of Yemen," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told BBC Persian Wednesday.

The administration will still provide intelligence and reconnaissance to assist the Saudis and Emiratis, in addition to several arms deals with both countries.

But the decision to end midair refueling was widely welcomed by Congress, which has long called for this move.

Republican Sen. Todd Young of Indiana and Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire released a statement earlier on Friday calling on the administration to do just that, threatening further congressional action if the administration had not done so on its own.

To some members, the decision was belated and inadequate. Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., called for Congress to pass legislation he has introduced to codify an end to U.S. involvement in the conflict, which he sees as unlawful because it was never authorized by Congress.

"By finally ending refueling missions for Saudi bombers, the Trump administration is admitting our joint operation in Yemen has been a disaster. ... Now that it's no longer a secret that the war in Yemen is a national security and humanitarian nightmare, we need to get all the way out," said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., in a similar statement.

The question is whether the U.S. ending support will be joined by increased diplomatic pressure on the Saudis and Emiratis to end the conflict.

There was growing doubt this week that will be the case after fighting throughout Yemen intensified just days after Mattis and Pompeo issued joint statements to support a new push for a ceasefire and negotiations. While the U.S. backs the coalition, it seemed to ignore the U.S. calls for peace, beginning an offensive to retake the key port of Hodeida, through which around 80 percent of Yemen's food and humanitarian goods enter the country.

This week, Yemeni government-aligned forces, backed by Saudi and Emirati air power, moved in on the city, even as Houthi rebels seized a hospital as a military outpost to fire on coalition forces -- a sign of how both sides have behaved in this brutal war, conducted what the U.N. says amount to war crimes and put civilians in their crosshairs.

Despite the violence, the U.N. is still pushing to bring all sides around a negotiating table by the end of November. That goalpost seemed to fade out of sight, with the U.N. Secretary-General's deputy spokesperson saying Griffiths hoped to do so by year's end.

But a source told ABC News that things are still on track for an end-of-November meeting, with Griffiths and his team making progress to that end.

Griffiths's team denied any delays, telling ABC News in a statement, "There hasn't been a 'postponement.' Our work to re-launch the political process is proceeding as planned. ... We are committed to convening the talks as soon as [logistical] arrangements are finalized."

A U.S. official declined to comment on any timeline, but told ABC News, "Our principal objective remains a resolution to the conflict, and we are focusing our energies in support of the U.N. Envoy's efforts to that end. We reiterate our calls for a cessation of hostilities and for all parties to come to the table to find a peaceful solution to the conflict."

One potential snag , aid groups warned, were reports that the U.S. is considering designating the Houthi rebels as a terrorist organization. The Washington Post reported Friday that the idea was under consideration by the Trump administration.

While the idea has been under discussion multiple times within the U.S. government since the Obama administration, a separate source told ABC News this is not expected to happen now. It's unclear how far along in that lengthy process, if at all, the idea currently is.

Experts warn that doing so would alienate the Houthis and sabotage the peace process -- which the administration says it does not want to do. It could also complicate or endanger the work of aid groups who have to negotiate and work with the Houthis to administer services in territory that they control.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Nov092018

US, aid groups warn against forced return of Rohingya refugees

Christian Ender/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The United Nations, the United States, and 42 humanitarian and civil society groups are warning about a plan to begin repatriating Rohingya refugees that may be without their consent and send them back into dangerous conditions.

Myanmar and Bangladesh signed a deal last week to start returning some of the more than 723,000 Rohingya who fled state-sponsored violence against their communities in August 2017. That campaign, which the U.N. has said should be investigated as a genocide, targeted the Muslim-majority ethnic group in Myanmar's northern Rakhine state, as well as other ethnic minorities in the area, killing thousands and sending hundreds of thousands fleeing into neighboring Bangladesh.

The U.S. has stopped short of declaring the violence a genocide, instead using the non-legal term "ethnic cleansing."

When ABC News first asked about the joint repatriation plan on November 1, the State Department said it "would look closely at any plans to ensure that it is, in fact, voluntary," but had no comment on the plan itself.

Now, it is joining the U.N. and others in condemning it and urging both Myanmar and Bangladesh to allow "for the voluntary, safe, dignified, and sustainable return of refugees from Bangladesh," according to a spokesperson. The U.S. statement follows a joint letter Thursday by 42 humanitarian and civil society organizations that work in Myanmar and Bangladesh, warning of the dangers of premature return.

"They are terrified about what will happen to them if they are returned to Myanmar now and distressed by the lack of information they have received," the groups, including the International Rescue Committee, Oxfam, and Save the Children, wrote in their letter. While many Rohingya want to return home, they said, they fear doing so without protections like citizenship and those responsible for the slaughter being held accountable.

To help address the situation, the U.S. has engaged both governments "at the highest levels," the spokesperson said. A source told ABC News that Secretary Pompeo has not made any calls on this, but the U.S. embassies in both countries have been the lead so far.

Myanmar has refused access to Rakhine to aid groups and the U.N.'s refugee agency, who want to ensure that conditions are safe for the Rohingya's return. Instead, the government has denied any wrongdoing at all, saying they conducted a legitimate counter-terrorism operation against Rohingya militants.

Those that have been able to access Rakhine have reported detention facilities where Rohingyas' freedom of movement is limited or their access to services and jobs is cut off. In central Rakhine state, 128,000 Rohingya and other Muslims have been confined to camps with no freedom of movement for six years, according to the NGOs' letter.

"I have not seen any evidence of the government of Myanmar taking concrete and visible measures to create an environment where the Rohingya can return to their place of origin and live there safely with their fundamental rights guaranteed," Yanghee Lee, the U.N.'s Special Rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar, said in Geneva this week.

Lee warned that any returns under current conditions "may violate obligations under customary international law to uphold the principle of non-refoulement," an understood practice of not forcing asylum seekers and refugees who have been persecuted to return the countries where the abuse took place.

But it's unclear what the U.N. or even the U.S. can or will do about it. Over 2,000 Rohingya are expected to be repatriated on November 15, and neither government seems to be backing down from the plan.

The Trump administration should issue a high-level statement with Vice President Mike Pence's upcoming trip to Asia next week and work with allies in the region like Indonesia and Malaysia to issue joint condemnations, Amnesty International's Francisco Bencosme told ABC News: "Now that the midterms are behind us, hopefully everyone can focus on one of the largest humanitarian crisis in the world where the governments might be complicit in sending refugees back to their deaths."

In the meantime, many of the refugees fear for their lives: "We really want to go back, but not without citizenship. They must give us citizenship and a normal life, like the other people are living in Myanmar. They need to keep us in peace and not hurt us," said one unnamed refugee woman, according to the aid groups' letter.

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Friday
Nov092018

Japanese TV show abruptly cancels appearance by K-pop group BTS over singer's T-shirt

Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- A Japanese television show called off an upcoming appearance by BTS, a popular K-pop group, over one band member's T-shirt.

TV Asahi had invited BTS to perform on its live music show on Friday. But TV Asahi revoked the invite after it had received complaints about BTS member Jimin.

Viewers had complained over a T-shirt Jimin was spotted wearing in Los Angeles in March of 2017. The T-shirt showed an atomic bombing cloud with an image of Korean people celebrating liberation after World War II. The words “Korea” and “patriotism” were written on it.

According to TV Asahi, the network had discussed the issue with BTS’ management company. Later that day BTS’ management company informed its official fan page in Japan that BTS would not be on the show.

ABC News' request for comment to BTS' management team was not immediately returned.

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Friday
Nov092018

Taliban, Afghan leaders meet for talks in Moscow

Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(MOSCOW) -- A Taliban delegation and envoys backed by the Afghan government attended multinational peace talks in Moscow on Friday, the first time such a meeting has taken place publicly.

The Moscow talks also abruptly highlighted Russia’s increased role in Afghanistan, 30 years after Soviet troops left the country following a disastrous war there.

Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov opened the meeting in a gilded conference room at Moscow’s President-Hotel, where the two delegations sat around a circular table along with deputy foreign ministers from other regional countries, including China, Iran, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

The meeting was billed by Russia as an attempt to bring the Taliban and the U.S.-backed Afghan government closer to direct peace talks, though little was expected to come out of the event, which both sides have emphasized is not a formal negotiation.

Emerging following two hours of talks, Taliban spokesman Muhammad Sohail Shaheen reiterated the group’s position that no direct negotiations are possible until U.S. troops leave Afghanistan. Shaheen said the Taliban delegation had not spoken directly with the government-backed envoys from the Afghan High Peace Council.

"It’s not a negotiation," Shaheen told reporters. "They came here to express their views, and we came here to express our views. That’s it."

The United States and the Afghan government turned down invitations to formally participate in the meeting on grounds that they support only direct talks between the government and the Taliban. Instead, the Afghan government sent members of the High Peace Council, a body set up to try to get peace negotiations started. The U.S. embassy in Moscow sent its first political secretary, Jacob Choi, to observe the event.

Though it was expected to produce little, Friday's meeting nonetheless marked a significant diplomatic victory for Moscow, which has been seeking a more prominent role in Afghanistan.

Beyond the political outreach, U.S. military officials have recently accused Russia of supplying the Taliban with weapons. Russia denies that claim, but experts believe such deliveries could be about building a relationship with the group and helping them fight Islamic State militants who have been seeking a foothold in Afghanistan.

The Russian effort comes as the Trump administration is seeing its own renewed push for peace talks, even as the war in Afghanistan has intensified. This week, the White House’s special representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, is touring the region, tasked with pressing the Taliban and the government to form negotiating teams. The U.S. backs a call by Afghanistan's president Ashraf Ghani for the government to hold talks with the Taliban without pre-conditions.

The Taliban have so far rejected Ghani’s offer, insisting on direct talks with the U.S.

A member of the High Peace Council delegation is the country's former minister for women’s rights, Habiba Sarabi.

Sarabi said they had come to Moscow “to talk with all members of the meeting” and that they wanted it to lead to direct negotiations.

But how far the two sides have to go was underscored on Friday. Even as the talks began, officials in Afghanistan said a Taliban attack had killed 10 soldiers. The attack on an army outpost in Takhar province happened as the U.S. envoy, Khalilzad arrived in Afghanistan to kick off his peace tour.

Russia’s re-emergence in Afghan affairs in part reflects a broader strategy to bolster its appearance as a power-broker on the world stage.

In addition to its intervention in Syria, the Kremlin has become more involved in Libya recently and has even proposed itself, so far unsuccessfully, as a possible new venue for Israel-Palestine talks.

But Russia is also concerned a U.S. failure in Afghanistan will see it become a renewed source of terrorism, and is already seeking to block the flow of narcotics from the country. Opening the talks, Lavrov warned the Islamic State wants to make Afghanistan a “bridgehead” to expand into Central Asia.

The Taliban spokesman, Shaheen, called Russia’s role "positive." He also denied it had supplied any weapons to the group.

The Moscow event brought up some difficult history. The Soviet Union’s nine-year war in Afghanistan devastated the country and killed at least 14,500 Soviet troops and 90,000 of the Mujahedeen fighters who fought them.

That history was on display in person in the Moscow hotel, where the High Peace Council delegation was led by Haji Deen Mohammad, a former Mujahedeen commander, now sitting in traditional dress amid the lobby’s heavy Soviet décor.

"He’s happy to be here. They are all happy to be here," said Afghanistan’s ambassador to Russia, Dr. Abdul Qayyum Kochai.

However, Kochai expressed reservations about how substantial Russia’s peace effort could be. He said Afghanistan would be grateful if Russia was “honestly” trying to bring peace, but acknowledged he wasn't sure

“That I don’t know. I wish. I wish,” Kochai said.

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