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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Election monitors accuse Sri Lanka army n AFP, Colombo Sri Lanka’s military harassed and intimidated ethnic minority Tamils and attacked supporters of a Tamil candidate during a key election in the former war zone, foreign observers said Tuesday. The main opposition Tamil party won a landslide victory in weekend elections for a regional council in the battle-scarred north, a poll hailed internationally as a step towards ethnic reconciliation after decades of ethnic war. An election monitor said he had evidence of the military’s involvement in an incident in which a Tamil candidate was forced to flee after a dozen armed men surrounded her home on the eve of the poll on Saturday. Some of her supporters were hospitalised after being beaten up during the incident in Jaffna, 400km north of Colombo, in the heart of the former war zone, according to party officials. “I am 101% sure the army was involved in that attack,” N. Gopalaswami, a former chief election commissioner of India and head of a South Asian monitoring team, told AFP in Colombo. Gopalaswami also said the military was directly involved in campaigning for candidates of the national ruling party, including distributing leaflets and discouraging Tamil voters in key areas from heading to polling booths. The election, the first in the north since semi-autonomous councils were formed in 1987, was held amid international pressure for President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government to share power with Tamils four years after the end of the bloody separatist conflict. The Tamil National Alliance won 30 out of the 38 seats to the council, raising hopes of some degree of self-rule for the ethnic minority after decades of war in the Sinhalese-majority country. A separate four-member monitoring

n AFP, Miranshah

Sri Lankan election officials carry ballot boxes to be transferred to a main counting centre in Jaffna team from the Commonwealth said turnout was high for the election at 68% despite the military’s efforts at intimidation during campaigning and on polling day. “The role of the military in the electoral campaign was consistently described to the mission as a significant obstacle to a credible electoral process,” the Common-

Party for Nicaraguan cancer teens n

AP, Managua, Nicaragua

For many a teenage girl in Latin America, a “quinceanera” party is a cherished rite of passage, a traditional coming-out celebration for 15-year-olds. Not all families can afford the colorful gowns and other niceties for such parties, though. So for each of the past five years, Nicaragua’s Association of Mothers and Fathers of Children with Cancer and Leukemia has put on a quinceanera for girls from poor, rural families — teens who have the added burden of dealing with cancer. This year’s party feted 37 girls between ages 14 and 16 on Saturday night at a hotel

Afghan mortars kill two in Pakistan: officials

in Nicaragua’s capital, Managua. Donors, taking the role of “padrinos,” or godparents, paid for the girls’ dresses and shoes, the floral arrangements, cakes and other refreshments. Each padrino also paid for medicine for three or four of the girls. Nicaragua’s Military Academy sent cadets to be the girls’ escorts and dance partners. Yamileth Barrera, a 16-year-old from San Jose de Bocay, 240km north of Managua, said she really enjoyed being with the other girls and wasn’t kept from dancing by the wheelchair she uses because of bone cancer. “I am happy because only once in a life do you celebrate your 15th year,” she said. l

wealth secretariat said in a statement. “We learned that opposition candidates and their supporters, as well as voters at large, faced instances of intimidation and harassment, and that the freedom to hold campaign meetings and openly interact with the electorate was restricted,” it said in a statement. The statement comes as dozens

of world leaders are set to attend a Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Colombo in November, but with a boycott from Canada over human rights concerns. Military spokesman Ruwan Wanigasooriya denied the observers’ claims, pointing to the high turnout. “If the military were an obstacle, the


people could not and would not have come in such large numbers and voted,” Brigadier Wanigasooriya said. The group of South Asian monitors, who were invited by Sri Lanka’s election commission for the poll, said the commission should be given wider powers to prevent such abuses in future. l

Mortar shells fired from Afghanistan hit a border village in northwest Pakistan on Tuesday, killing two civilians, security officials said. Two officials in the country’s northwest told AFP that six mortar shells fired from the eastern Afghan province of Khost landed in Bange Dar village in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal district. Firing incidents across the border are not uncommon and have added to long-running tensions between Kabul and Pakistan, which last week released a senior Taliban commander as part of attempts to restart Afghan peace efforts. A senior security official in Peshawar, the region’s main town, said the mortars hit a house around 3km from the border. “All the victims were from same family,” he told AFP on condition of anonymity. An intelligence official in Miranshah, the main town of North Waziristan confirmed that mortars were fired from Afghan province of Khost. Both Taliban and NATO forces use mortars as part of combat operations and the intelligence official in Miranshah said mortars were fired from the Tarkhobi check post in Khost. Pakistan and Afghanistan share a disputed, porous and unmarked 2,400km border, and have tricky diplomatic relations, accusing each other previously of cross-border violations and sending gunmen to create unrest. Pakistan has been a frontline in the US-led war on terror in Afghanistan to eliminate al-Qaeda and Taliban militants from the war-torn country. l

Islamists say still holding hostages in Kenya mall siege n AFP, Nairobi Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist militants said Tuesday they were still holding hostages as Kenyan troops battled for a fourth day to end the bloody siege at a Nairobi shopping centre, as of 8pm BDT when this report was filed. Sporadic gunfire and a series of explosions at the upmarket Westgate mall broke out again at dawn, hours after officials claimed Kenyan troops had wrested back “control” of the sprawling complex from Somalia’s Shabab insurgents, who are said to include Americans and a British woman. At least 65 shoppers, staff and soldiers have been killed and close to 200 wounded in the siege, but concerns are high that the toll may rise, with the Shabab boasting about “countless number of dead bodies still scattered inside the mall”.

The fate of 63 people listed as missing remains unclear. “The hostages who were being held by the mujahedeen inside Westgate are still alive, looking quite disconcerted but, nevertheless, alive,” the Shabab said in their latest Twitter message. However, Kenyan officials have said all the hostages are believed to have been freed, with the interior ministry saying Tuesday the assault was “very near the end”. Security sources said “one or two” militants were barricaded in or around a casino on one of the upper floors of the complex. Meanwhile, explosive experts were defusing devices set up by the militants, police said, adding another dangerous element to the siege, which has now dragged on for over 72-hours. Part of the mall’s rooftop parking also collapsed on Tuesday, security sources said, following a fierce fire the day before.

Shabab fighters stormed the crowded mall midday on Saturday, tossing grenades, firing automatic weapons and sending panicked shoppers fleeing. Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed said among the fighters were several American nationals and a British woman, which media reports have speculated could be a Muslim convert known as the “White Widow.” Kenyan army chief Julius Karangi said the attackers were from “different countries”. Many foreign fighters, including Somalis with dual nationalities, are members of the Shabab force.

‘White Widow’ in spotlight

In an interview with US public broadcaster PBS, Kenya’s foreign minister said Americans and a British woman were among the attackers. “The Americans, from the information we have, are young men, about between

maybe 18 and 19,” Mohamed said. Asked if the Briton was a woman, she replied: “Woman. And she has, I think, done this many times before.” Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku had said earlier that all the attackers were men but “some of them had dressed like women.” Britain’s Home Secretary Theresa May said she was aware of the reports, adding: “But until we can see the investigation is completed it is not possible to give further details or to confirm or deny that issue.” There is growing media speculation at the role of wanted British extremist Samantha Lewthwaite, daughter of a British soldier and widow of suicide bomber Germaine Lindsay, who blew himself up on a London Underground train on July 7, 2005, killing 26 people. Lewthwaite is wanted in Kenya, and is accused of links to the Shabab. l

Shabab threaten new attacks if Kenya does not leave Somalia n AFP, Nairobi

Nicaraguan girls suffering from cancer prepare for a “quinceanera” party in Managua, Nicaragua AP

Somalia’s Shabab insurgents warned Tuesday they would follow the ongoing siege in Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall with further attacks if Kenyan troops did not pull out of Somalia immediately. “If not, know that this is just a taste of what we will do... you should expect black days,” Shabab spokesman Ali Mohamud Rage said, speaking in Arabic in an audio broadcast released by the ex-

South Korea rejects Boeing, says F-15 not good enough n AP, Seoul South Korea on Tuesday rejected Boeing Co’s bid to supply 60 fighter jets in the country’s largest-ever weapons purchase even though it was the sole remaining bidder. Boeing had offered its F-15 Silent Eagle, but South Korean critics have said the warplane lacks state-of-theart stealth capabilities and cannot effectively cope with North Korea’s increasing nuclear threats. Defence Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said officials decided at a meeting Tuesday to delay naming a winning bidder for the 8.3 trillion won ($7.7bn) purchase, and would restart the bidding process at an early date. He said South Korea must have better air power in line with an international trend to develop “fifth generation” fighters, and said the rejection of Boeing’s bid was made in consideration of North Korea’s nuclear program

and other factors. Ministry officials said he was referring to a plane with cutting-edge radar-evading stealth functions which Boeing’s plane does not have. Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and EADS’ Eurofighter Typhoon earlier competed in the bidding process but were eliminated for exceeding Seoul’s budget cap. The F-35 jet, which has been plagued by schedule delays and cost overruns, is widely regarded as a much more advanced and capable aircraft than its predecessors. Japan announced in 2011 that it would buy 42 F-35 jets in a deal expected to cost more than $5bn. Japan hopes to receive its first F-35s in 2016, at a cost of about $120m per plane. Last year it threatened to cancel the multibillion-dollar deal if prices continue to rise or delays threaten the delivery date. South Korea has traditionally favoured importing fighter jets and other weapons from the US, which stations

28,500 troops in the country as deterrence against potential aggression from North Korea. This spring, tensions on the Korean peninsula rose sharply, with Pyongyang threatening nuclear wars to protest toughened UN sanctions after its third nuclear test in February. The US took the unusual step of sending its most powerful warplanes — B-2 stealth bombers, F-22 stealth fighters and B-52 bombers — to drills with South Korea in a show of force. B-2 and B-52 bombers are capable of delivering nuclear weapons. In recent days, South Korean media, retired generals and weapons experts had pressed the government not to pick the F-15 Silent Eagle, arguing better stealth capabilities were needed. “Only with stealth capabilities can (warplanes) covertly infiltrate North Korea and get rid of its nuclear threats,” a group of 15 former air force chiefs of staff said in a recent letter addressed to President Park Geun-hye. l

tremists. Kenyan troops invaded southern Somalia to attack Shabab bases two years ago, joining forces with a Somali militia warlord and wresting the key port of Kismayo from the extremists.

AU vows to press on with fight against Shabab

The African Union vowed Tuesday to press on with its fight against al-Qaeda-linked Shabab militants in Somalia following a deadly siege in Kenya that

is now in its fourth day. “Our resolve is to fight now more than ever before,” the deputy head of the AU’s executive branch, Erastus Mwencha, told AFP. Mwencha said the bloody siege underscores the difficulty of fighting Shabab rebels, whose threat extends beyond the borders of Somalia. “This is a moving target which we must constantly update ourselves (on) and continue to be vigilant in our fight,” he said, adding that the interna-

tional community must work together to exchange intelligence and expertise to stamp out the Shabab threat. The 17,000-strong African Union mission in Somalia, or AMISOM, has been battling Shabab extremists in Somalia since 2007. Mwencha said AMISOM troops – which have liberated large swathes of southern Somalia including the capital Mogadishu – are fighting Shabab rebels who have “melted into society,” making them harder to pin down. l

WORLD WATCH Obama says quit smoking because he was ‘scared of my wife’ US President Barack Obama says he quit smoking for a reason that many husbands can relate to: “I’m scared of my wife.” The president’s quip about first lady Michelle Obama was picked up on an open microphone on Monday as he spoke to a UN official at an event in New York. Obama said he had probably not had a cigarette in six years. He is known to chew Nicorette gum to reduce the craving for nicotine.

China police probe death of girls in washing machine An investigation into the mysterious death of two young sisters has been launched in eastern China after a family member claimed they died in a washing machine, police said Tuesday. Police in Jiangxi province said they received a call on Sunday enquiring about possible compensation payments for the family of two sisters aged two and three who died after climbing into a washing machine the day before. China’s Haier Group, the machine’s manufacturer, said that the machine would not operate under the

conditions that were described, the staterun newspaper reported. Haier had sent staff to help with the probe, the Global Times added.

Two policemen detained in Mexico mass grave case Two Mexican police officers were arrested for allegedly participating in the killing of 12 young people found in a mass grave after being kidnapped from a Mexico City bar, prosecutors said Monday. The broad daylight kidnapping happened just steps from the city’s main boulevard in a case that dented the capital’s reputation as a relative oasis from the nation’s drugrelated violence. Prosecutors say the mass kidnapping was ordered as revenge for the murder of a drug dealer in the trendy Condesa district amid a dispute between two city gangs.

Parisian cat cafe offers “purr therapy” to animal-lovers Customers braving the rush at Paris’s newest cafe to order their coffees and croissants, are now able to enjoy them in the company of a dozen resident cats.

The “Cafe des Chats” in the heart of the capital’s chic Marais district is home to a dozen felines who weave in between the tables or curl up on armchairs as diners tuck in. The establishment is aimed at Parisians unable to keep pets in cramped city-centre apartments and though the idea may seem eccentric, cafe manager Margaux Gandelon says the potential health benefits of “purr therapy” are real.

Anti-social Dallas Zoo gorilla being shown door There will be no rose ceremony for a 195kg bachelor gorilla that failed to form any meaningful relationships with fellow apes during an 18-year stay at the Dallas Zoo. Patrick, the 23-year-old Western lowland gorilla known for being gregarious with zoo staff and the public, while being ambivalent toward his female counterparts, has been handed his walking papers. The silverback will be transferred to the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden in Columbia, SC where he will be allowed more solitude, according to a statement issued Monday by the Dallas Zoo.

September 25, 2013  
September 25, 2013