Leading media outlets urge US to end prosecution of Julian Assange

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange  stands on the balcony of the Ecuadorean Embassy  to addresses waiting supporters and media in London, Friday, Feb. 5, 2016. (AP)
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange stands on the balcony of the Ecuadorean Embassy to addresses waiting supporters and media in London, Friday, Feb. 5, 2016. (AP)
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Updated 29 November 2022

Leading media outlets urge US to end prosecution of Julian Assange

Leading media outlets urge US to end prosecution of Julian Assange
  • The material was leaked to WikiLeaks by the then American soldier Chelsea Manning and revealed the inner workings of US diplomacy around the globe

WASHINGTON: The United States should end its prosecution of Julian Assange, leading media outlets from the United States and Europe that had collaborated with the WikiLeaks founder said on Monday, citing press freedom concerns.
“This indictment sets a dangerous precedent, and threatens to undermine America’s First Amendment and the freedom of the press,” editors and publishers of the Guardian, the New York Times, Le Monde, Der Spiegel, and El País said in an open letter.
Assange is wanted by US authorities on 18 counts, including a spying charge, related to WikiLeaks’ release of confidential US military records and diplomatic cables. His supporters say he is an anti-establishment hero who has been victimized because he exposed US wrongdoing, including in conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Monday marked twelve years since those media outlets collaborated to release excerpts from over 250,000 documents obtained by Assange in the so-called “Cablegate” leak.
The material was leaked to WikiLeaks by the then American soldier Chelsea Manning and revealed the inner workings of US diplomacy around the globe. The documents exposed “corruption, diplomatic scandals and spy affairs on an international scale,” the letter said.
In August, a group of journalists and lawyers sued the CIA and its former director Mike Pompeo over allegations the intelligence agency spied on them when they visited Assange during his stay in Ecuador’s embassy in London.
Assange spent seven years in the embassy before being dragged out and jailed in 2019 for breaching bail conditions. He has remained in prison in London while his extradition case is decided. If extradited to the United States, he faces a sentence of up to 175 years in an American maximum security prison.
His legal team has appealed to the High Court in London to block his extradition in a legal battle that has dragged on for more than a decade.
“Publishing is not a crime,” the media outlets said in their letter on Monday.

 


Italian police arrest 3 Tunisians linked to slain Berlin terrorist

Italian police arrest 3 Tunisians linked to slain Berlin terrorist
Updated 12 sec ago

Italian police arrest 3 Tunisians linked to slain Berlin terrorist

Italian police arrest 3 Tunisians linked to slain Berlin terrorist
  • Anis Amri killed 12 people in German Christmas market during 2016 truck rampage

LONDON: Three Tunisians linked to a terrorist who killed a dozen people in Germany in 2016 have been arrested by Italian police for facilitating illegal immigration, Italian news agency ANSA reported.

The trio were arrested during nationwide raids in Italy on more than 40 premises linked to a transnational gang enabling illegal immigration.

Two of the men were subsequently placed in pre-trial detention, while the third was ordered into house arrest.

Police tied the three to Anis Amri, a Tunisian who plowed into Christmas market crowds in Berlin using a truck seven years ago, killing 12 people and injuring dozens.

After going on the run following the attack, Amri was killed in a shootout with Milan police four days later.

Authorities carried out raids on the illegal immigration gang in Ancona, Fermo, Ferrara, Catanzaro, Modena, Macerata, Siracusa and Verona.  


Ukrainian authorities search house of ex-interior minister — report

Ukrainian authorities search house of ex-interior minister — report
Updated 42 min 1 sec ago

Ukrainian authorities search house of ex-interior minister — report

Ukrainian authorities search house of ex-interior minister — report
  • The head of Ukraine’s ruling party confirm Avakov’s home had been searched

KYIV: Former Ukrainian interior minister Arsen Avakov said his home was searched by security officials on Wednesday as part of an investigation into a purchase of Airbus helicopters, the Ukrainska Pravda media outlet reported.
An Airbus helicopter crashed on Jan. 18, killing 14 people including Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskyi and other top ministry officials.
The State Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) did not immediately reply to a request for comment about the Ukrainska Pravda report.
A top governing party official confirmed on Wednesday that security officials had raided the homes of one of Ukraine’s richest men and a former interior minister, and said the country would change during the war with Russia.
Ukrainska Pravda quoted Avakov as saying the search was related to the helicopter crash.
“They looked at Airbus contracts from six years ago,” it quoted Avakov as saying.
Avakov, 59, resigned as Ukraine’s interior minister, in July 2021. Prior to his resignation he was one of the country’s most powerful officials, serving as the interior minister for over seven years.
David Arakhamia, head of the Servant of the People party’s parliamentary faction, said there were also searches at Ukraine’s Tax Office and that the management team of the Customs Service would be dismissed.
“The country will change during the war. If someone is not ready for change, then the state itself will come and help them change,” he wrote on the Telegram messaging in app.


Suspects arrested over Pakistan mosque blast, police focus on how bomber got in

Suspects arrested over Pakistan mosque blast, police focus on how bomber got in
Updated 01 February 2023

Suspects arrested over Pakistan mosque blast, police focus on how bomber got in

Suspects arrested over Pakistan mosque blast, police focus on how bomber got in
  • The bomber struck on Monday as hundreds of worshippers gathered for noon prayers in a mosque that was purpose built for the police and their families living in a highly fortified area

PESHAWAR: Police investigating a suicide bombing that killed more than 100 people at a Pakistan mosque said on Tuesday that several people had been arrested, and they could not rule out the possibility that the bomber had internal assistance evading security checks.
The bombing was the most deadly in a decade to hit Peshawar, a restive northwestern city near the Afghan border, and all but three of those killed were police, making it most suffered by Pakistan’s security forces in a single attack in recent history.
The bomber struck on Monday as hundreds of worshippers gathered for noon prayers in a mosque that was purpose built for the police and their families living in a highly fortified area.
“We have found some excellent clues, and based on these clues we have made some major arrests,” Peshawar Police Chief Ijaz Khan told Reuters.
“We can’t rule out internal assistance but since the investigation is still in progress, I will not be able to share more details.”
Investigators, who include counter-terrorism and intelligence officials, are focusing on how the attacker managed to breach the military and police checkpoints leading into the Police Lines district, a colonial-era, self-contained encampment in the city center that is home to middle- and lower-ranking police personnel and their families.
Defense Minister Khawaja Asif had said the bomber was in the first row in the prayer hall when he struck. Remains of the attacker had been recovered, provincial Police Chief Moazzam Jah Ansari told Reuters.
“We believe the attackers are not an organized group,” he added.
The most active militant group in the area, the Pakistani Taliban, also called Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), has denied responsibility for the attack, which no group has claimed so far. Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah had told parliament a breakaway faction of the TTP was to blame.
The blast demolished the upper story of the mosque. It was is the deadliest in Peshawar since twin suicide bombings at All Saints Church killed scores of worshippers in September 2013, in what remains the deadliest attack on the country’s Christian minority.
Peshawar sits on the edge of the Pashtun tribal lands, a region mired in violence for the past two decades.
The TTP is an umbrella group for Sunni and sectarian Islamist factions opposed to the government in Islamabad. The group has recently stepped up attacks against police.


US readies over $2 billion Ukraine aid package with longer-range weapons

US readies over $2 billion Ukraine aid package with longer-range weapons
Updated 01 February 2023

US readies over $2 billion Ukraine aid package with longer-range weapons

US readies over $2 billion Ukraine aid package with longer-range weapons
  • The aid is expected to be announced as soon as this week

WASHINGTON: The United States is readying more than $2 billion worth of military aid for Ukraine that is expected to include longer-range rockets for the first time as well as other munitions and weapons, two US officials briefed on the matter told Reuters on Tuesday.
The aid is expected to be announced as soon as this week, the officials said. It is also expected to include support equipment for Patriot air defense systems, precision-guided munitions and Javelin anti-tank weapons, they added.
One of the officials said a portion of the package, expected to be $1.725 billion, would come from a fund known as the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI), which allows President Joe Biden’s administration to get weapons from industry rather than from US weapons stocks.
The USAI funds would go toward the purchase of a new weapon, the Ground Launched Small Diameter Bomb (GLSDB) made by Boeing Co, which have a range of 94 miles (150 km). The United States has rebuffed Ukraine’s requests for the 185-mile (297-km) range ATACMS missile.
The longer range of the GLSDB glide bomb could allow Ukraine to hit targets that have been out of reach and help it continue pressing its counterattacks by disrupting Russia further behind its lines.
Reuters first reported on Boeing’s proposal to field GLSDB for Ukraine in November. At the time it was expected GLSDB could be in Ukraine by spring.
GLSDB is made jointly by SAAB AB and Boeing. It combines the GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) with the M26 rocket motor, both of which are common in US inventories.
GLSDB is GPS-guided, can defeat some electronic jamming, is usable in all weather conditions, and can be used against armored vehicles, according to SAAB’s website. The GBU-39 — which would function as the GLSDB’s warhead — has small, folding wings that allow it to glide more than 100km if dropped from an aircraft and hit targets as small as 3 feet (1 meter) in diameter.
The USAI funds would also be used to pay for more components of HAWK air defenses, counter drone systems, counter artillery and air surveillance radars, communications equipment, PUMA drones, and spare parts for major systems like Patriot and Bradley, one of the officials said.
There was also a significant amount of medical equipment — enough to equip three field hospitals being donated by another ally, the official added.
The White House declined to comment. The contents and size of aid packages can shift until they are signed by the president.
In addition to the USAI funds, more than $400 million worth of aid was expected to come from Presidential Drawdown Authority funds, which allows the president to take from current US stocks in an emergency.
That aid was expected to include mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles (MRAPs), guided multiple launch rocket systems (GMLRS) and ammunition.
The US has sent approximately $27.2 billion worth of security assistance to Ukraine since Russia’s February 2022 invasion. Russia calls the invasion a “special operation.”


US and allies mark anniversary of Myanmar coup with more sanctions

US and allies mark anniversary of Myanmar coup with more sanctions
Updated 01 February 2023

US and allies mark anniversary of Myanmar coup with more sanctions

US and allies mark anniversary of Myanmar coup with more sanctions
  • The United Kingdom designated two companies and two people for helping supply Myanmar’s air force with aviation fuel used to carry out bombing campaigns against its own citizens

WASHINGTON: The United States and its allies imposed further sanctions on Myanmar on Tuesday, marking the two-year anniversary of a military coup with curbs on energy officials and junta members, among others.
Washington imposed sanctions on the Union Election Commission, mining enterprises and energy officials, among others, according to a Treasury Department statement. Details of the decision were first reported by Reuters.
It marks the first time the United States has targeted Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) officials under the current Myanmar sanctions program, a Treasury spokesperson said.
Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom also announced sanctions.
Myanmar’s top generals led a coup in February 2021 after five years of tense power-sharing under a quasi-civilian political system that was created by the military, which led to a decade of unprecedented change.
Myanmar has been in chaos since the coup, with a resistance movement fighting the military on multiple fronts after a bloody crackdown on opponents that saw Western sanctions re-imposed.
Tuesday’s US sanctions target the managing director and deputy managing director of MOGE, which is the junta’s single largest revenue generating state-owned enterprise, according to Treasury.
Human rights advocates have called for sanctions on MOGE, but Washington has so far held back.
Also designated by Washington was the Union Minister of Energy, who Treasury said represents Myanmar’s government in international and domestic energy sector engagements and manages the state-owned entities involved in the production and export of oil and gas.
Mining Enterprise No 1 and Mining Enterprise No 2, both state-owned enterprises, as well as the Union Election Commission, were also hit with sanctions by Washington.
TOUGH ELECTION RULES
On Friday, the junta announced tough requirements for parties to contest an election planned for August, including a huge increase in their membership, a move that could sideline the military’s opponents and cement its grip on power.
The election would subvert the will of the people if opponents of the military continue to be met by violence, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
“Many key political stakeholders have announced their refusal to participate in these elections, which will be neither inclusive nor representative, and which almost certainly will fuel greater bloodshed,” he said.
The rules favor the Union Solidarity and Development Party, a military proxy stacked with former generals, which was trounced by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party in 2015 and 2020 elections.
Thousands of NLD members were arrested or jailed in the coup, including Suu Kyi, and many more are in hiding.
The NLD in November described this year’s election as “phoney” and said it would not acknowledge it. The election has also been dismissed as a sham by Western governments.
Washington also targeted former and current Myanmar military officials, the Treasury said, accusing the Air Force of continued air strikes using Russian-made aircraft against pro-democracy forces that have killed civilians.
Canada targeted six individuals and prohibited the export, sale, supply or shipment of aviation fuel in its action. Australia targeted members of the junta and a military-run company.
The United Kingdom designated two companies and two people for helping supply Myanmar’s air force with aviation fuel used to carry out bombing campaigns against its own citizens.
John Sifton, Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, said that even with Tuesday’s action, the United States has still not matched stronger sanctions imposed by the European Union, particularly when it comes to natural gas revenue and banks that process foreign payments for the extractive sector.
“As a result, the measures taken so far have not imposed enough economic pain on the junta to compel it to change its conduct,” Sifton said in a statement.