Former South African President Zuma taken back to prison and released again within 2 hours

Former South African President Zuma taken back to prison and released again within 2 hours
In this photo taken on April 17, 2023, former South African President Jacob Zuma, center, arrives at the Pietermaritzburg High Court in South Africa Zuma, and released to correctional supervision afterward. On August 11, he was taken back to prison and released again within two hours. (Kim Ludbrook/Pool via AP/File)
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Updated 12 August 2023
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Former South African President Zuma taken back to prison and released again within 2 hours

Former South African President Zuma taken back to prison and released again within 2 hours
  • The preferential treatment for Zuma to avoid serving out a 15-month sentence was authorized by President Cyril Ramaphosa
  • Opposition leaders slammed the move as a "cynical manipulation of the justice system”

JOHANNESBURG: Former South African President Jacob Zuma was taken back to prison on Friday after his parole was ruled invalid, only to be released again within two hours under a new program to reduce overcrowding in jails.
The move immediately raised more questions over whether the 81-year-old is receiving preferential treatment to avoid serving out a 15-month sentence for contempt of court for refusing to testify at an inquiry into corruption. It was called “an absolute joke” by South Africa’s main opposition party.
The remissions program was authorized by President Cyril Ramaphosa and made public for the first time Friday. While justice officials said it aims to release more than 9,400 inmates from jail and put them under correctional supervision at home, Zuma appeared to be the first to benefit from it.
Zuma reported to the Estcourt Correctional Center in the Kwa-Zulu Natal province at 6 a.m., ostensibly to serve the remaining 13 months of his sentence. But he was released some time after 7 a.m. when his remission was processed, said Makgothi Thobakgale, the acting national commissioner of the corrections department.
Zuma later arrived back at his rural Nkandla estate in a convoy of black SUVs, according to video broadcast by South African media.
“Surprise, surprise, he is the first beneficiary of a brand new policy,” said John Steenhuisen, the leader of South Africa’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance. “This is a cynical manipulation of the justice system.”
Justice Minister Ronald Lamola said President Ramaphosa had taken the decision to “remit the sentence” of his predecessor under the constitutional authority he has to remit the sentence of “any offender at any time.”
“The president’s decision is to remit sentences of offenders across the country. It is not a specific decision about former president Zuma. It’s about all the offenders across the country,” Lamola said.
Friday’s twist continued a two-year legal wrangle over Zuma’s sentence. He was sent to prison in July 2021 for defying a court order to testify at a corruption inquiry, but was released on medical parole having served just two months.
That medical parole — granted to Zuma by a former prisons boss seen as one of his political allies — was ruled invalid in court, forcing the Department of Corrections to make a new call on whether Zuma should go back to jail to serve the outstanding 13 months or whether his time on medical parole should count as him having served his sentence.
Instead, the corrections department went for neither. Including Zuma in the newly announced remissions program to ease prison congestion was viewed as a fudge by some to avoid the kind of violent unrest that erupted in South Africa the first time Zuma was sent to jail.
In 2021, more than 350 people died in some of the worst violence the country has seen since the final days of apartheid in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as rioting swept across Zuma’s home province of Kwa-Zulu Natal and the economic hub province of Gauteng.
South Africa had deployed the army to provide extra security in four provinces last month when the Constitutional Court ruled that Zuma’s early release on medical parole was improper, and security forces were on high alert again this week.
Zuma has recently returned from Russia where he received medical treatment for an undisclosed illness.
He is also on trial for corruption in a separate case, where he faces a 15-year jail sentence having been charged with corruption, fraud, racketeering and money laundering. Those charges were laid in early 2021 but the trial — which centers on a multibillion-dollar arms deal South Africa secured before Zuma was president — has been bogged down in hearings and no testimony has yet been heard.
Zuma was acquitted of rape in a trial in 2006 and revived his political career to be elected president of Africa’s most developed economy in 2009. He was forced to resign in 2018 in the face of corruption allegations and was later called to testify at a judicial inquiry into the alleged graft during his tenure.
At the inquiry, witnesses testified to massive graft during Zuma’s presidency, mostly involving huge contracts at state-owned businesses. Zuma refused to testify, leading to him being convicted of contempt of court.
Although the inquiry showed how South Africa lost billions of dollars of public money to rampant corruption under Zuma, no one has been convicted over that graft and no major figures have been brought to trial.
 


US House to vote on long-awaited $95 billion Ukraine, Israel aid package

US House to vote on long-awaited $95 billion Ukraine, Israel aid package
Updated 8 sec ago
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US House to vote on long-awaited $95 billion Ukraine, Israel aid package

US House to vote on long-awaited $95 billion Ukraine, Israel aid package
  • Some hard-line Republicans have voiced strong opposition to further Ukraine aid
WASHINGTON: The Republican-controlled US House of Representatives on Saturday is set to vote on, and expected to pass, a $95 billion legislative package providing security assistance to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, over bitter objections from party hard-liners.
More than two months have passed since the Democratic-majority Senate passed a similar measure and US leaders from Democratic President Joe Biden to top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell have been urging embattled House Speaker Mike Johnson to bring it up for a vote.
Johnson this week chose to ignore ouster threats by hard-line members of his fractious 218-213 majority and push forward the measure that includes some $60.84 billion for Ukraine as it struggles to fight off a two-year Russian invasion.
The unusual four-bill package also includes funds for Israel, security assistance for Taiwan and allies in the Indo-Pacific and a measure that includes sanctions, a threat to ban the Chinese-owned social media app TikTok and the potential transfer of seized Russian assets to Ukraine.
“The world is watching what the Congress does,” the White House said in a statement on Friday. “Passing this legislation would send a powerful message about the strength of American leadership at a pivotal moment. The Administration urges both chambers of the Congress to quickly send this supplemental funding package to the President’s desk.”
A bipartisan 316-94 House majority on Friday voted to advance the bill to a vote, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told senators to be ready to work over the weekend if it passes the House as expected.
“It’s not the perfect legislation, it’s not the legislation that we would write if Republicans were in charge of both the House, the Senate, and the White House,” Johnson told reporters on Friday. “This is the best possible product that we can get under these circumstances to take care of these really important obligations.”
Some hard-line Republicans have voiced strong opposition to further Ukraine aid, with some arguing the US can ill afford it given its rising $34 trillion national debt. They have repeatedly raised the threat of ousting Johnson, who became speaker in October after his predecessor, Kevin McCarthy, was ousted by party hard-liners.
Representative Bob Good, chair of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus, told reporters on Friday that the bills represent a “slide down into the abyss of greater fiscal crisis and America-last policies that reflect Biden and Schumer and (House Democratic leader Hakeem) Jeffries, and don’t reflect the American people.”
But Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who carries huge influence in the party, on April 12 voiced support for Johnson and in a Thursday social media post said Ukraine’s survival is important for the US
The bills provide $60.84 billion to address the conflict in Ukraine, including $23 billion to replenish US weapons, stocks and facilities; $26 billion for Israel, including $9.1 billion for humanitarian needs, and $8.12 billion for the Indo-Pacific.

AI’s relentless rise gives journalists tough choices

AI’s relentless rise gives journalists tough choices
Updated 20 April 2024
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AI’s relentless rise gives journalists tough choices

AI’s relentless rise gives journalists tough choices
  • AI tools imitating human intelligence are used to transcribe sound files, summarize texts and translate
  • Columbia University teacher says collaborating with AI “tempting” in the face of increasingly right media resources

PERUGIA, Italy: The rise of artificial intelligence has forced an increasing number of journalists to grapple with the ethical and editorial challenges posed by the rapidly expanding technology.

AI’s role in assisting newsrooms or transforming them completely was among the questions raised at the International Journalism Festival in the Italian city of Perugia that closes on Sunday.

AI tools imitating human intelligence are widely used in newsrooms around the world to transcribe sound files, summarize texts and translate.

In early 2023, Germany’s Axel Springer group announced it was cutting jobs at the Bild and Die Welt newspapers, saying AI could now “replace” some of its journalists.

Generative AI — capable of producing text and images following a simple request in everyday language — has been opening new frontiers as well as raising concerns for a year and a half.

One issue is that voices and faces can now be cloned to produce a podcast or present news on television. Last year, Filipino website Rappler created a brand aimed at young audiences by converting its long articles into comics, graphics and even videos.

Media professionals agree that their trade must now focus on tasks offering the greatest “added value.”

“You’re the one who is doing the real stuff” and “the tools that we produce will be an assistant to you,” Google News general manager Shailesh Prakash told the festival in Perugia.

The costs of generative AI have plummeted since ChatGPT burst onto the scene in late 2022, with the tool designed by US start-up OpenAI now accessible to smaller newsrooms.

Colombian investigative outlet Cuestion Publica has harnessed engineers to develop a tool that can delve into its archives and find relevant background information in the event of breaking news.

But many media organizations are not making their language models, which are at the core of AI interfaces, said University of Amsterdam professor Natali Helberger. They are needed for “safe and trustworthy technology,” he stressed.

According to one estimate last year by Everypixel Journal, AI has created as many images in one year as photography in 150 years.

That has raised serious questions about how news can be fished out of the tidal wave of content, including deepfakes.

Media and tech organizations are teaming up to tackle the threat, notably through the Coalition for Content Provenance and Authenticity, which seeks to set common standards.

“The core of our job is news gathering, on-the-ground reporting,” said Sophie Huet, recently appointed to become global news director for editorial innovation and artificial intelligence at Agence France-Presse.

“We’ll rely for a while on human reporters,” she added, although that might be with the help of artificial intelligence.

Media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders, which has expanded its media rights brief to defending trustworthy news, launched the Paris Charter on AI and journalism late last year.

“One of the things I really liked about the Paris Charter was the emphasis on transparency,” said Anya Schiffrin, a lecturer on global media, innovation and human rights at Columbia University in the United States.

“To what extent will publishers have to disclose when they are using generative IA?“

Olle Zachrison, head of AI and news strategy at public broadcaster Swedish Radio, said there was “a serious debate going on: should you mark out AI content or should people trust your brand?“

Regulation remains in its infancy in the face of a constantly evolving technology.

In March, the European Parliament adopted a framework law aiming to regulate AI models without holding back innovation, while guidelines and charters are increasingly common in newsrooms.

AI editorial guidelines are updated every three months at India’s Quintillion Media, said its boss Ritu Kapur.

None of the organization’s articles can be written by AI and the images it generates cannot represent real life.

AI models feed off data, but their thirst for the vital commodity has raised hackles among providers.
In December, the New York Times sued OpenAI and its main investor Microsoft for violation of copyright.

In contrast, other media organizations have struck deals with OpenAI: Axel Springer, US news agency AP, French daily Le Monde and Spanish group Prisa Media whose titles include El Pais and AS newspapers.

With resources tight in the media industry, collaborating with the new technology is tempting, explained Emily Bell, a professor at Columbia University’s journalism school.

She senses a growing external pressure to “Get on board, don’t miss the train.”


Fighting flares at Myanmar-Thai border as rebels target stranded junta troops

Fighting flares at Myanmar-Thai border as rebels target stranded junta troops
Updated 20 April 2024
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Fighting flares at Myanmar-Thai border as rebels target stranded junta troops

Fighting flares at Myanmar-Thai border as rebels target stranded junta troops
  • Resistance fighters and ethnic minority rebels seized the key trading town of Myawaddy on the Myanmar side of the frontier on April 11

Fighting raged at Myanmar’s eastern frontier with Thailand on Saturday, witnesses, media and Thailand’s government said, forcing about 200 civilians to flee as rebels pressed to flush out junta troops holed up for days at a bridge border crossing.
Resistance fighters and ethnic minority rebels seized the key trading town of Myawaddy on the Myanmar side of the frontier on April 11, dealing a big blow to a well-equipped military that is struggling to govern and is now facing a critical test of its battlefield credibility.
Three witnesses on the Thai and Myanmar sides of the border said they heard explosions and heavy machine gun fire near a strategic bridge from late on Friday that continued into early Saturday.
Several Thai media outlets said about 200 people had crossed the border to seek temporary refuge in Thailand.
Thai broadcaster NBT in a post on social media platform X said resistance forces used 40-milimeter machine guns and dropped 20 bombs from drones to target an estimated 200 junta soldiers who had retreated from a coordinated rebel assault on Myawaddy and army posts since April 5.
Reuters could not immediately verify the reports and a Myanmar junta spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment.
Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin said he was closely monitoring the unrest and his country was ready to provide humanitarian assistance if necessary.
“I do not desire to see any such clashes have any impact on the territorial integrity of Thailand and we are ready to protect our borders and the safety of our people,” he said on X. He made no mention of refugees.
BIG SETBACK
Myanmar’s military is facing its biggest challenge since first taking control of the former British colony in 1962, caught up in multiple, low-intensity conflicts and grappling to stabilize an economy that has crumbled since a 2021 coup against Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s government.
The country is locked in a civil war between the military on one side and, on the other, a loose alliance of established ethnic minority armies and a resistance movement born out of the junta’s bloody crackdown on anti-coup protests.
The capture of Myawaddy and surrounding army outposts is a significant setback for a junta that has been squeezed by Western sanctions, with the town a key tax revenue source and conduit for more than $1 billion of annual border trade.
The Khaosod newspaper in a post on X showed a video of Myanmar civilians, many of them women and children, being marshalled by Thai soldiers at an entry point to Thailand.
Thailand had on Friday said no refugees had entered the country and it was discussing with aid agencies about increasing humanitarian relief to civilians on the Myanmar side.


Taiwan’s defense ministry detects 21 Chinese military aircraft

Taiwan’s defense ministry detects 21 Chinese military aircraft
Updated 20 April 2024
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Taiwan’s defense ministry detects 21 Chinese military aircraft

Taiwan’s defense ministry detects 21 Chinese military aircraft
  • The median line bisects the Taiwan Strait, a narrow 180-kilometer waterway separating the island from mainland China

TAIPEI: Taipei’s defense ministry said it had detected 21 Chinese military aircraft around the self-ruled island since 8:15 am (0015 GMT) on Saturday, a month before Taiwan’s May 20 inauguration of incoming president Lai Ching-te.
“17 aircraft (of the 21) crossed the median line and its extension, entered our northern, central, and southwestern (air defense identification zone), and joined PLA vessels for joint combat patrol,” it said in a statement posted on X around 11:30 am.
Taiwan’s armed forces “are monitoring the activities with our joint surveillance systems, and have dispatched appropriate assets to respond accordingly.”
The median line bisects the Taiwan Strait, a narrow 180-kilometer waterway separating the island from mainland China.
Beijing does not recognize the line as it claims democratic Taiwan as part of its territory. It has also never renounced the use of force to bring the island under its control.
China sends warplanes and naval vessels around Taiwan on a near daily basis — a move experts say is a form of “grey-zone harassment,” stopping short of an outright act of war but enough to exhaust Taipei’s armed forces.
According to the defense ministry, the 21 aerial objects detected Saturday included J-16 fighter jets and Y-8 medium-range transport aircraft, as well as drones.
The highest number around Taiwan so far this year was in March, when the ministry said 36 Chinese aircraft were detected in a single 24-hour period.
Last year’s record was in September when Beijing’s military sent 103 aircraft — 40 of which crossed the median line — in a 24-hour period.
Saturday’s show of force comes a day after China activated two aviation routes that run close to Taiwan’s outlying islands of Kinmen and Matsu.
Taipei’s Civil Aviation Administration expressed “solemn protest against China’s unilateral measures without consultation” on Friday.
The new routes make the airspace separation between the two sides “very narrow,” it said, increasing flight safety risks during bad weather or abnormal flight operations.
China’s aviation authority also said Friday the airspace around Fuzhou Changle Airport — 30 kilometers from the closest outlying Taiwanese island — would be “further optimized and adjusted” on May 16, four days before the inauguration.
Under the administration of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, tensions between Beijing and Taipei have ramped up, as she and her government do not acknowledge China’s claim.
Her deputy, Vice President Lai, won elections in January despite warnings from Beijing that he would be the cause of “war and decline” for Taiwan.
China regards Lai — who used to be outspoken about Taiwan independence — as a “dangerous separatist,” though he has moderated his views in recent years.


Hundreds of people evacuated as volcano spews clouds of ash in Indonesia

Hundreds of people evacuated as volcano spews clouds of ash in Indonesia
Updated 20 April 2024
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Hundreds of people evacuated as volcano spews clouds of ash in Indonesia

Hundreds of people evacuated as volcano spews clouds of ash in Indonesia
  • Local authorities combed the villages surrounding the volcano and evacuated residents to safer areas by boat
  • Officials worry that part of the volcano could collapse into the sea and cause a tsunami, as happened in an eruption there in 1871

MANADO, Indonesia: More than 2,100 people living near an erupting volcano on Indonesia’s Sulawesi Island were evacuated Friday due to the dangers of spreading ash, falling rocks, hot volcanic clouds and the possibility of a tsunami.
Indonesia’s Center for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation recorded at least three eruptions since Friday afternoon, with the maximum height of the eruption column reaching 1,200 meters (3,900 feet).
An international airport in Manado city, less than 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the erupting Mount Ruang, is still temporarily closed as volcanic ash was spewed into the air.

This photo provided by the Indonesian National Search and Rescue Agency shows a part of a village on Tagulandang island covered by ash from eruptions of Mount Ruang on April 19, 2024. (National Search and Rescue Agency via AP)

Satellite imagery from the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency shows the ash has spread to the west, northwest, northeast and southeast, covering Manado and North Minahasa, according to a statement from Indonesia’s Transportation Ministry.
“We are still monitoring developments in the eruption of Mount Ruang and coordinating with relevant stakeholders … to anticipate the necessary actions to ensure flight safety, security and comfort,” said Ambar Suryoko, head of the regional airport authority.
More than 11,000 people were told to leave their homes that were located in the affected area. A joint team from the local authorities combed the villages surrounding the volcano and evacuated residents to safer areas by boat.
Officials worry that part of the volcano could collapse into the sea and cause a tsunami, as happened in an eruption there in 1871.
Houses, roads and other buildings were covered by gray volcanic ash, and many roofs were broken by debris spewed from the eruption.

Mount Ruang saw at least five large eruptions Wednesday, causing the Center for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation to issue its highest level of alert. People were ordered to stay at least 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) from the 725-meter (2,378-foot) mountain.
The observation from the agency on Friday said white smoke was rising from the main crater with medium to thick intensity.
East of the volcano, Tagulandang Island could be at risk if a collapse occurred. Its residents were among those being told to evacuate. Indonesia’s National Disaster Mitigation Agency said residents would be relocated to Manado, a journey of 6 hours by boat.
Indonesia, an archipelago of 270 million people, has 120 active volcanoes. It is prone to volcanic activity because it sits along the “Ring of Fire,” a horseshoe-shaped series of seismic fault lines around the Pacific Ocean.