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Julian Assange charged in US: WikiLeaks

WASHINGTON (AFP): WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who was behind a massive dump of classified US documents in 2010, has been charged in the United States, WikiLeaks said Thursday.

Prosecutors revealed the existence of the sealed indictment inadvertently in a court filing in an unrelated case, WikiLeaks said.

The exact nature of the charges against Assange was not immediately known.

“SCOOP: US Department of Justice ‘accidentally’ reveals existence of sealed charges (or a draft for them) against WikiLeaks’ publisher Julian Assange in apparent cut-and-paste error in an unrelated case also at the Eastern District of Virginia,” Wikileaks wrote on Twitter.

The still unsealed charges against Assange were disclosed by Assistant US Attorney Kellen Dwyer as she made a filing in the unrelated case and urged a judge to keep that filing sealed.

Dwyer wrote, “due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged,” according to The Washington Post.

Later, Dwyer wrote the charges would “need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested.”

US media were alerted late Thursday to the inadvertent disclosure thanks to a tweet from Seamus Hughes, deputy director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University. He is known to follow court filings closely.

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11 killed as Cyclone Gaja ravages Indian coast

CHENNAI (AFP): At least 11 people were reported dead Friday as a powerful cyclone battered India’s eastern coast, authorities said.

Thousands of trees were felled by winds that destroyed homes and vehicles as hundreds of thousands fled to shelter homes.

Cyclone Gaja packed winds of up to 120 kilometres (75 miles) per hour as it barrelled into Tamil Nadu state after hitting the coast near Nagapattinam early Friday bringing heavy rains, India’s weather office said.

The ruling party in the prosperous state said on Twitter that 11 people were killed in the powerful storm that has flooded several low-lying areas along the coastline on the Bay of Bengal.

The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) party provided no further details about the victims.

The government has announced compensation of one million rupees ($14,000) to victims’ families as hundreds of emergency workers were trying to restore roads and electricity.

The storm was predicted to move westwards and gradually weaken before heading into the Arabian Sea, the India Meteorological Department said.

Torrential rain caused waterlogging and threatened landslides. There were widespread power outages in the region.

Authorities closed schools and colleges and thousands of emergency workers were on standby along with two naval ships with divers, helicopters and inflatable boats.

Authorities had warned fishermen since Sunday not to risk going out to sea.

Gaja is the second major storm to hit India’s east coast in recent weeks. Cyclone Titli battered Odisha state in October, killing at least two people.

Storms regularly hit southern India between April and December. Last year, Cyclone Ockhi left nearly 250 people dead in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

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Absentee funeral prayer held in Istanbul for Khashoggi

ANKARA (AA): A funeral prayer in absentia for slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was held in Istanbul’s Fatih Mosque on Friday.

The ceremony was widely attended by activists and political figures calling for unity and justice for the journalist.

Khashoggi, a frequent contributor to The Washington Post, was killed Oct. 2 inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

After weeks of denying any involvement in the crime, Saudi Arabia later admitted that Khashoggi had been killed inside the consulate but claimed the Saudi royal family had no prior knowledge of any plot to murder the journalist.

His body has yet to be returned to his family, which has been requesting its return, amid reports that it was chemically dissolved.

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Netanyahu battles to save weakened ruling coalition

JERUSALEM (AFP): Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was battling to keep his government afloat on Friday after Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman quit over a ceasefire deal for Gaza.

Left with a single seat majority in parliament after the walkout by Lieberman and his hawkish Yisrael Beitenu party, most media saw little way for Netanyahu to avoid calling a snap general election.

The veteran prime minister was expected to hold crunch talks later on Friday with his other main right-wing rival, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, whose religious nationalist Jewish Home party has threatened to quit unless he is given Lieberman’s job.

The Gaza ceasefire, which ended the worst flare-up between Israel and the territory’s rulers Hamas since a 2014 war, faced its first major test later on Friday as Palestinian demonstrators were expected to gather along the border for mass protests that have triggered deadly violence in previous weeks.

The deal has already drawn heavy criticism, however, in Israeli communities near the border that faced barrages of rockets earlier this week.

Hundreds joined a demonstration in Tel Aviv on Thursday despite a promise from Netanyahu of more public money for emergency services.

Pro-Netanyahu freesheet Yisrael Hayom daily predicted that the prime minister would do all he could to avoid a general election while his hard-won security credentials were at issue.

“Holding elections with the fiasco in Gaza in the background cracks the image of the ultimate leader that he has built over the course of years,” it said.

“The chances of stopping this speeding train appear impossible, but Netanyahu is still trying.”

The eight lawmakers of Bennett’s far-right Jewish Home party are not the only threat to Netaynahu’s razor-thin parliamentary majority.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, whose centre-right Kulanu party hold 10 seats, has reportedly told Netanyahu that a snap election is necessary to provide a stable government to keep the economy on track.

But Yisrael Hayom said Bennett was key to efforts to avoid an early election and could yet prove Netanyahu’s political salvation.
“Naftali Bennett as defence minister and Netanyahu as prime minister could together project stability and embark on a coordinated offensive against anyone who gets in the way,” it said.

In a speech on Thursday, Bennett did not reiterate the resignation threat but made his case for why he should get the defence post.
“The most dangerous thing for the state of Israel is that we begin to think that there is no solution to terrorism, to terrorists, to missiles,” he said.

“There is a solution. When Israel wants to win, we will win.”

There were no official details of when or where Bennett would meet Netanyahu on Friday or what public statements if any would be made.
Hundreds of people demonstrated in Tel Aviv on Thursday evening calling for tougher action against Hamas which has portrayed the ceasefire and Lieberman’s resignation as a victory.

Netanyahu — flanked by Kahlon, Interior Minister Arie Deri and army top brass — met with the leaders of Israeli border communities.

He briefed them on military efforts to quell Hamas attacks and also announced a 500 million shekel ($139 million, 119 million euro) two-year package to improve emergency medical and social services, a government statement said.

With a major domestic political battle on his hands, Netanyahu cancelled a planned two-day visit to Austria next week for a conference on anti-semitism and anti-Zionism.

There has long been speculation that Netanyahu would call a general election before its scheduled date of November 2019.

Police have recommended he be charged in two separate corruption cases and the attorney general is expected to announce in the coming months whether to put him on trial.

Analysts say the prime minister would be better positioned to fight any charges with a fresh mandate from the voters.

But he would not have chosen to go the polls with voters’ attention focused on the Gaza ceasefire and his rivals’ efforts to outbid his security credentials.

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Suspected gas cylinder blast kills 42 on Zimbabwe bus

HARARE (AFP): At least 42 passengers were killed, Zimbabwe police said on Friday, after a suspected gas cylinder exploded on a bus, with pictures showing the burnt-out wreckage of the vehicle.

“At the moment we know that more than 42 people died,” police spokesperson Charity Charamba told AFP after the accident late on Thursday, with state media reporting that a cooking gas cylinder belonging to a passenger was believed to have exploded igniting a fire.

“Our police officers are at the scene,” Charamba added.

The state-owned Herald newspaper said on its Twitter feed that “it is suspected a gas tank belonging to one of the passengers caused the inferno in the bus.”

“Dozens have been confirmed dead and several others injured through burns.”

The Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation published photographs showing the destroyed vehicle on a highway between the South African border and the second city Bulawayo. ZBC reported that injured survivors being treated at Gwanda town hospital alleged that a gas smell engulfed the bus after dark before the conductor switched on the lights and the bus caught fire.

It said about 30 people were injured, adding the vehicle was travelling from Zvishavane to the Beitbridge crossing via the town of Filabusi when the explosion happened.

Last week, 50 people were killed when two buses collided on a road between the capital Harare and the eastern town of Rusape.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa said road safety had to be improved after that crash.

Traffic accidents are common in Zimbabwe, where roads are riddled with potholes due to years of underfunding and neglect, and driving standards can be poor.

In June last year, 43 people were killed in a bus crash in the north, along the highway leading to neighbouring Zambia.

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US envoy for Iran warns EU banks, firms against non-dollar Iran trade

WASHINGTON (Reuters): European banks and firms who engage in a special European Union initiative to protect trade with Iran will be at risk from newly reimposed U.S. sanctions, the U.S. special envoy for Iran warned on Thursday.

It is “no surprise” that EU efforts to establish a so-called Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) were floundering over fear in EU capitals that hosting it would incur U.S. punishment, Special Represe-ntative Brian Hook said.

“European banks and European companies know that we will vigorously enforce sanctions against this brutal and violent regime,” he said in a telephone briefing with reporters.

“Any major European company will always choose the American market over the Iranian market.”

The SPV has been conceived as a clearing house that could be used to help match Iranian oil and gas exports against purchases of EU goods in an effective barter arrangement circumventing U.S. sanctions, based on global use of the dollar for oil sales.

Brussels had wanted to have the SPV legally in place by this month though not operational until next year, but no country has offered to host it, six diplomats told Reuters earlier this week.



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Aussie embassy’s transfer to Jerusalem of no use: Malaysia

SINGAPORE (AA): The transfer of the Australian Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would not be of any help in peace efforts, Malaysia’s prime minister said on Thursday.

Stressing that the move would likely trigger more terror instead, Mahathir Mohamad said during a bilateral meeting with his Australia counterpart Scott John Morrison on the sidelines of 33rd ASEAN Summit in Singapore.

He added: “In dealing with terrorism, we need know what the trigger is.”

Mahathir said Australia had not made any decision regarding plans to move its embassy from Tel Aviv, and the country claimed it was still working on the plan.

U.S. Donald Trump’s president sparked a world outcry last December after announcing plans to move Washington’s Israel embassy to Jerusalem and recognize the city as Israel’s capital (which he did earlier this year).

Since then, the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah has rejected any mediating role by the U.S. in the moribund Middle East peace process.

Jerusalem remains the heart of the Middle East conflict, with Palestinian hope that occupied East Jerusalem since 1967 – might eventually serve as the capital of an independent Palestinian state.





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Germany names Haldenwang as new intelligence chief

BERLIN (AA): Germany on Thursday named a new head for its domestic intelligence agency BfV, which has been embroiled in various scandals in recent years.

Thomas Haldenwang, currently vice president of the BfV, was appointed by the Cabinet to head the agency, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer told a news conference in Berlin.

Haldenwang’s predecessor Hans-Georg Maassen was fired last week after his controversial remarks on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government, and his alleged contacts with senior politicians from the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).

Maassen was sharply criticized by Social Democrats for not taking serious the growing threat posed by the right-wing extremist groups.

In recent years, multiple scandals at the BfV have sparked public criticism and opposition parties accused the agency for covering up the murders of the neo-Nazi group NSU. The shadowy NSU killed 10 people, including eight Turkish and one Greek immigrant as well as a police officer, between 2000 and 2007, but the murders long remained unresolved. While recent revelations have shown that the BfV had informants who had contacts with the NSU suspects, officials insisted that they had no prior information about the killings.



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Duterte tells US South China Sea is now in ‘Beijing’s hands’

SINGAPORE (Sputnik): China currently controls the vast majority of islands, reefs and shoals in the South China Sea, which are also claimed by a number of other nations in the region, including Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has warned Washington against bickering with Beijing over the South China Sea, which he conceded is already possessed by China.

“China is already in possession [of the South China Sea]. It’s now in their hands. So why do you have to create frictions […] that will prompt a response from China? That’s a reality, and America and everybody should realise that China is there,” Duterte told journalists on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Singapore.

He also suggested that the South China Sea-related conflicts could best be settled by means of direct talks between China and the ASEAN countries.

Such negotiations should be held without the US and its allies, which fuel tensions by conducting “freedom of navigation exercises,” according to Duterte.

“Everything’s been excellent between China and the rest of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), except for the fact that there’s friction between the Western nations and China,” he pointed out.

His remarks came after leaders of ASEAN countries adopted a binding code of conduct on the South China Sea, in a move that was earlier initiated by Washington.

Although the US has repeatedly voiced concern over Beijing increasing its clout in the South China Sea, it mostly limited its reaction to verbal reproach.

The war of words come as US Navy ships continue to carry out “freedom of navigation” operations in the South China Sea, with US Air Force bombers sometimes conducting “flyovers” over the area.

Apart from China, the Spratly Islands and Paracel Islands, which are among the more frequently disputed territories, are also claimed by Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines. China has exerted de facto control over the Paracels since 1974.



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Turkish FM: Saudi remarks on Khashoggi ‘unsatisfying’

Monitoring Desk

ANKARA: Turkey is “unsatisfied” by the statements made by Saudi Arabia’s chief prosecutor’s office on the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the country’s foreign minister said on Thursday.

“I want to say that I find some explanations [of the prosecutor’s office] unsatisfying,” Mevlut Cavusoglu said at a conference held in the Mediterranean resort town of Alanya in southern Antalya province.

“We find the steps taken positive but inadequate,” he added.

The foreign minister’s remarks come shortly after Saudi Arabia’s chief prosecutor’s office announced it had charged 11 out of 21 suspects in relation to the killing of Khashoggi.

Cavusoglu urged Saudi authorities to reveal the instructors behind the killing of Khashoggi in order to close the process of the Khashoggi case.

The foreign minister further asserted that the main question which remains unanswered is where the body of Khashoggi is, adding: “There is so far no answer on this matter”.

He added that Turkey will continue to closely follow the issue.

At a press conference held in capital Riyadh, the chief prosecutor announced his intention to call for the death penalty against anyone found guilty of ordering and carrying out the journalist’s murder.

The prosecutor’s office also said it was awaiting Turkey’s response to its request for evidence and sound recordings of the crime.

Khashoggi, a frequent contributor to The Washington Post, was killed on Oct. 2 inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

After weeks of denying any involvement in the crime, Saudi Arabia later admitted that Khashoggi had been killed inside the consulate but claimed the Saudi royal family had no prior knowledge of any plot to murder the journalist. (AA)