WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange stops in Bangkok on his way to a US court and later freedom

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange stops in Bangkok on his way to a US court and later freedom
People walk past a mural of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange on George Street in the central business district of Sydney on June 25, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 25 June 2024
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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange stops in Bangkok on his way to a US court and later freedom

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange stops in Bangkok on his way to a US court and later freedom

BANGKOK: A plane believed to be carrying Julian Assange landed Tuesday in Bangkok, as the WikiLeak founder was on his way to enter a plea deal with the US government that will free him and resolve the legal case that spanned years and continents over the publication of a trove of classified documents.
Chartered flight VJT199 landed after noon at Don Mueang International Airport, north of the Thai capital. It was unclear if the plane was only refueling or how Assange will continue traveling to Saipan, the capital of the Northern Mariana Islands, a US commonwealth in the Western Pacific, where he will appear in court Wednesday morning local time.
He’s expected to plead guilty to an Espionage Act charge of conspiring to unlawfully obtain and disseminate classified national defense information, according to the US Justice Department in a letter filed in court.
Assange is expected to return to his home country of Australia after his plea and sentencing. The hearing is taking place in Saipan because of Assange’s opposition to traveling to the continental US and the court’s proximity to Australia, prosecutors said.
The guilty plea, which must be approved by a judge, brings an abrupt conclusion to a criminal case of international intrigue and to the US government’s years-long pursuit of a publisher whose hugely popular secret-sharing website made him a cause célèbre among many press freedom advocates who said he acted as a journalist to expose US military wrongdoing. Investigators, by contrast, have repeatedly asserted that his actions broke laws meant to protect sensitive information and put the country’s national security at risk.
Attorneys for Assange haven’t responded to requests for comment.
In a statement posted on X, WikiLeaks said Assange boarded a plane and departed Monday after leaving the British prison where he has spent the last five years. WikiLeaks applauded the announcement of the deal, saying it was grateful for “all who stood by us, fought for us, and remained utterly committed in the fight for his freedom.”
“WikiLeaks published groundbreaking stories of government corruption and human rights abuses, holding the powerful accountable for their actions. As editor-in-chief, Julian paid severely for these principles, and for the people’s right to know,” WikiLeaks said.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who has been lobbying for the United States to end its prosecution of Assange, told Parliament that an Australian envoy had flown with Assange from London.
“Regardless of the views that people have about Mr. Assange’s activities, the case has dragged on for too long. There’s nothing to be gained by his continued incarceration and we want him brought home to Australia,” Albanese added.
The deal ensures Assange will admit guilt while also sparing him from additional prison time. He had spent years hiding in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London after Swedish authorities sought his arrest on rape allegations before being locked up in the United Kingdom.
Assange is expected to be sentenced to the five years he has already spent in the British prison while fighting extradition to the US to face charges, a process that has played out in a series of hearings in London. Last month, he won the right to appeal an extradition order after his lawyers argued that the US government provided “blatantly inadequate” assurances that he would have the same free speech protections as an American citizen if extradited from Britain.
Assange has been heralded by many around the world as a hero who brought to light military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan. Among the files published by WikiLeaks was a video of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack by American forces in Baghdad that killed 11 people, including two Reuters journalists.
But his reputation was also tarnished by rape allegations, which he has denied.
The Justice Department’s indictment unsealed in 2019 accused Assange of encouraging and helping US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks published in 2010. Prosecutors had accused Assange of damaging national security by publishing documents that harmed the US and its allies and aided its adversaries.
Prosecutors said in a charging document filed in connection with the plea agreement that Assange conspired with Manning to receive and obtain documents, notes and other writings related to the national defense and to “willfully communicate” those records. The document takes care to note that Assange was “not a United States citizen, did not possess a US security clearance, and did not have authorization to possess, access, or control documents, writings, or notes relating to the national defense of the United States, including classified information.”
The case was lambasted by press advocates and Assange supporters. Federal prosecutors defended it as targeting conduct that went way beyond that of a journalist gathering information, amounting to an attempt to solicit, steal and indiscriminately publish classified government documents.
The plea agreement comes months after President Joe Biden said he was considering a request from Australia to drop the US push to prosecute Assange. The White House was not involved in the decision to resolve Assange’s case, according to a White House official who was not authorized to speak publicly about the case and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Assange made headlines in 2016 after his website published Democratic emails that prosecutors say were stolen by Russian intelligence operatives. He was never charged in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, but the inquiry laid bare in stark detail the role that the hacking operation played in interfering in that year’s election on behalf of then-Republican candidate Donald Trump.
During the Obama administration, Justice Department officials mulled charges for Assange but were unsure a case would hold up in court and were concerned it could be hard to justify prosecuting him for acts similar to those of a conventional journalist.
The posture changed in the Trump administration, however, with former Attorney General Jeff Sessions in 2017 calling Assange’s arrest a priority.
Assange’s family and supporters have said his physical and mental health have suffered during more than a decade of legal battles.
Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2012 and was granted political asylum after courts in England ruled he should be extradited to Sweden as part of a rape investigation in the Scandinavian country. He was arrested by British police after Ecuador’s government withdrew his asylum status in 2019 and then jailed for skipping bail when he first took shelter inside the embassy.
Although Sweden eventually dropped its sex crimes investigation because so much time had elapsed, Assange had remained in London’s high-security Belmarsh Prison during the extradition battle with the US


Halt Gaza war now, Trump tells Netanyahu

Halt Gaza war now, Trump tells Netanyahu
Updated 10 sec ago
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Halt Gaza war now, Trump tells Netanyahu

Halt Gaza war now, Trump tells Netanyahu

JEDDAH: Israeli forces killed at least 30 more Palestinians in Gaza on Thursday as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held talks in Washington with the US president and vice president.

In Florida on Friday Netanyahu will meet Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who used a TV interview on Thursday to urge the Israeli leader to halt the war. “You have to end this fast. It can’t continue to go on like this. It’s too long. It’s too much,” Trump said.

Netanyahu took part in separate meetings at the White House with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, the overwhelming favorite to be the Democratic nominee in November’s presidential election.

Biden has offered Netanyahu almost unlimited financial and military support in his war on Gaza, but the president has also been increasingly critical of Israel over the Palestinian death toll, and denounced restrictions on the amount of aid getting through to the enclave, much of which has been reduced to rubble.
In Gaza on Thursday at least 30 Palestinians were killed in airstrikes and shelling as Israeli forces pushed deeper into towns on the eastern side of Khan Younis and tanks advanced in central Rafah.

Fighting has centred on the eastern towns of Bani Suaila, Al-Zanna and Al-Karara. Strikes there killed 14 Palestinians, several were wounded by tank and aerial shelling, and an airstrike east of Khan Younis killed four people.
Israeli bombardment intensified in several areas in Rafah near the Egypt border as tanks operated north, west and in the town center. Deir Al-Balah, where tanks have not yet invaded, is currently crowded with hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced from other areas of the enclave.


Trump discusses US wiping Iran ‘off the face of the Earth’

Trump discusses US wiping Iran ‘off the face of the Earth’
Updated 16 min 3 sec ago
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Trump discusses US wiping Iran ‘off the face of the Earth’

Trump discusses US wiping Iran ‘off the face of the Earth’
  • US media reported last week that the US Secret Service had increased security for Trump weeks ago after authorities learned of an Iranian plot to kill him

WASHINGTON: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on Thursday invoked the annihilation of US adversary Iran in a social media post reminiscent of his most incendiary outbursts while in the White House.
“If they do ‘assassinate President Trump,’ which is always a possibility, I hope that America obliterates Iran, wipes it off the face of the Earth — If that does not happen, American Leaders will be considered ‘gutless’ cowards!” he wrote on his social media platform, Truth Social.
Trump made the remarks alongside a brief video of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu bringing up alleged Iranian plots against Trump in his address to the US Congress on Wednesday.
US media reported last week that the US Secret Service had increased security for Trump weeks ago after authorities learned of an Iranian plot to kill him, although it was not linked to the recent attempt on his life in which a 20-year-old American fired shots during a campaign rally.
CNN reported that US authorities received intelligence from a “human source” on a plan by Tehran targeting the former president, causing protection to be boosted for Trump. Other US outlets also reported the plot.
But it was not connected to the campaign shooting in Butler, Pennsylvania, in which gunman Thomas Matthew Crooks opened fire, lightly wounding Trump and killing a rally attendee, they said.
Relations between Washington and Iran have long been strained and reached a breaking point as Tehran sought revenge for the 2020 killing of Revolutionary Guards commander Qasem Soleimani, ordered by Trump when he was president.
The US National Security Council said it had been “tracking Iranian threats against former Trump administration officials for years.”
Trump’s post recalled a controversial episode in 2019 when, as president, he threatened the “obliteration” of Iran if the country carried out an attack on “anything American.”
That confrontation came after Iranian officials said the path to diplomacy between the two nations was permanently closed after Trump’s new round of sanctions Monday.
As president, he also threatened North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen,” although he later became friends with the isolated country’s dictator, Kim Jong Un, and often referred to their “love.”


Migrants and homeless people are cleared out of Paris during the Olympics

Migrants and homeless people are cleared out of Paris during the Olympics
Updated 24 min 17 sec ago
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Migrants and homeless people are cleared out of Paris during the Olympics

Migrants and homeless people are cleared out of Paris during the Olympics
  • Group of largely African migrants headed for the fringes of the city in buses paid for by the French government and into temporary lodging until at least the end of the Games
  • Activist groups and migrants have called the practice – long used in other Olympic host cities like Rio de Janeiro in 2016 – a form of ‘social cleansing’

PARIS: Carrying backpacks and small children, hundreds of people sleeping on the streets of Paris climbed aboard buses surrounded by armed police Thursday, the latest group of migrants and homeless people to be driven out of the city ahead of the opening ceremony of the 2024 Olympics.
The group of largely African migrants headed for the fringes of the city in buses paid for by the French government and into temporary lodging until at least the end of the Games. While some living on the streets were happy to have a roof over their head for the night, few knew what laid ahead once the world’s eyes were off Paris.
“It’s like poker. I don’t know where I will go, or how much time I will stay,” said Nikki, a 47-year-old homeless Parisian who asked that her last name not be used to protect her privacy.
French authorities have been clearing out migrant and homeless encampments for months leading up to the massive global sports event, which is an important moment for President Emmanuel Macron at a time of political turmoil. But the Games also have faced criticism as Parisians have complained about everything from elevated public transit fees to government spending on cleaning up the Seine River for swimming instead of investing in the social safety net.
Authorities also have been sharply criticized as they have bused camping migrants from the city center where the Olympics are taking place to the fringes of Paris or other areas. Activist groups and migrants have called the practice – long used in other Olympic host cities like Rio de Janeiro in 2016 – a form of “social cleansing.”
“They want to clean the city for the Olympic Games, for the tourists,” said Nathan Lequeux, an organizer for the activist group Utopia 56. “As treatment of migrants is becoming more horrible and infamous, people are being chased off the streets. ... Since the Olympics, this aggressiveness, this policy of hunting has become more pronounced.”
Christophe Noël Du Payrat, chief of staff of the regional government of Île-de-France that surrounds Paris, firmly denied those accusations and said the government has relocated migrants from the city for years.
“We are taking care of them,” he said. ”We don’t really understand the criticism because we are very much determined to offer places for these people.”
He spoke as dozens of police rounded up migrants, blocking them from walking on the streets and putting up caution tape. When asked why there were so many armed police officers for a group largely made up of families, Noël Du Payrat said it was to maintain “peace and calm.”
The buses Thursday came after three days of protest by hundreds of migrants and other homeless people like Nikki, who slept in front of a local government office as athletes and tourists flooded into Paris. They railed against authorities breaking up homeless encampments and demanded better access to temporary housing.
Among them was Natacha Louise Gbetie, a 36-year-old migrant from Burkina Faso, and her 1-year-old son she carried on her back. Gbetie, who once worked as an accountant in her country, migrated to the southern French city of Montpellier with family members five years ago.
Many of the families relocated by French authorities are like Gbetie — from African countries once colonized by the French, including Burkina Faso, Guinea, Ivory Coast and Senegal.
After an abusive situation, she moved to Paris. She was able to make ends meet working as a baby-sitter and sleeping in public housing. That ended during the lead up to the Olympics, when she said access to social housing was slashed and prices of lodging in hostels soared. She said most employers in France don’t want to hire her because she’s an immigrant without legal status and has felt rejected as an anti-immigrant far-right party has gained greater power in France.
“I think France is saturated. They’re tired of migrants, they want us to leave their country,” Gbetie said.
The protest group agreed that families would board buses to a province near Paris and families would remain together in shelters.
Despite the agreement, protest leaders expressed concern that the move would isolate migrants and said it was still unclear what would happen to the city’s homeless people.
Others like Gbetie worried for the future of her 1-year-old son, Richard. Despite being born in France, Gbetie said he was among those who had been forgotten.
“We have children who are French,” she said. “They will be the future engineers and executives of this country. Think of them first and, for now, forget about the Olympics.”


Humanity suffering from ‘extreme heat epidemic,’ UN chief warns

Humanity suffering from ‘extreme heat epidemic,’ UN chief warns
Updated 25 July 2024
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Humanity suffering from ‘extreme heat epidemic,’ UN chief warns

Humanity suffering from ‘extreme heat epidemic,’ UN chief warns
  • UN chief repeats call for humanity to fight “addiction” to fossil fuels amid global warming 
  • UN estimates economic losses from heat stress at work will reach $2.4 trillion by 2030

United Nations, United States: Humanity is suffering from an “extreme heat epidemic,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned Thursday, calling for action to limit the impacts of heat waves intensified by climate change.
“Billions of people are facing an extreme heat epidemic — wilting under increasingly deadly heat waves, with temperatures topping 50 degrees Celsius around the world,” he said. “That’s 122 degrees Fahrenheit. And halfway to boiling.”
According to the European Copernicus network, July 21, 22 and 23 were the three hottest days ever recorded worldwide, with July 22 holding the absolute record of 17.16 degrees Celsius (62.9 degrees Fahrenheit).
Guterres repeated his call for humanity to fight its “addiction” to fossil fuels.
“Today, our focus is on the impact of extreme heat. But let’s not forget that there are many other devastating symptoms of the climate crisis: ever-more fierce hurricanes. Floods. Droughts. Wildfires. Rising sea levels. And the list goes on,” he said.
“To tackle all these symptoms, we need to fight the disease. And the disease is the madness of incinerating our only home. The disease is the addiction to fossil fuels. The disease is climate inaction,” he stressed, calling in particular on G20 countries to take action.
While 2023 was the hottest year on record, and 2024 could set a new record, temperatures well above 40C (104F) are increasingly common.
In the space of a year, the 50C threshold has even been exceeded in at least 10 places, from Death Valley in the United States (53.9C on July 7) to Agadir in Morocco, and also in China and India.
The intense heat, often less visible than other devastating impacts of climate change such as storms or floods, is nonetheless more deadly.
This “silent killer” is responsible for around 489,000 deaths per year between 2000 and 2019, compared with 16,000 deaths per year from cyclones, according to the UN’s “Call to Action” document published on Thursday.
Extremely high temperatures also have an economic impact, with the UN estimating economic losses from heat stress at work will reach $2.4 trillion in 2030.
According to a report by the International Labor Organization published on Thursday, more than 70 percent of workers were exposed to excessive heat in 2020, 8.8 percent more than in 2000.
“The good news is that we can save lives and we can limit its impact,” Guterres said Thursday.
The UN has called for the world community to first act to protect “the most vulnerable” — including young children, the elderly and also humanity’s poorest.
In this context, early warning systems should include extreme heat, warning populations of the arrival of heat waves and informing them of the precautions to take, the document says.
The call to action also recommends an “increase (to) equitable access to and scale up (of) low-carbon cooling.”
This would involve investing in passive cooling systems — which include climate-sensitive urban design measures, reflective surfaces and natural cooling systems — and the phase-out of climate-warming gases that are used in many cooling systems.
 


UK Afghanistan war crimes probe lifts jail threat on former minister

UK Afghanistan war crimes probe lifts jail threat on former minister
Updated 25 July 2024
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UK Afghanistan war crimes probe lifts jail threat on former minister

UK Afghanistan war crimes probe lifts jail threat on former minister
  • Johnny Mercer said “multiple officers” told him about alleged murders and subsequent cover-up during Afghan conflict

LONDON: Britain’s former minister for veterans has “provided further information” to a public inquiry into claims of war crimes by special forces in Afghanistan, a spokeswoman said Thursday, after he was threatened with jail.
Johnny Mercer has said that “multiple officers” told him about alleged murders and a subsequent cover-up during the Afghan conflict, but he refused to divulge their identities.
The Independent Inquiry Relating to Afghanistan, which is examining the claims, gave him until 4:00 p.m. (1500 GMT) on Thursday to provide the names, insisting the information would be in confidence.
The judge-led inquiry had previously issued Mercer with an order under Britain’s Inquiries Act 2005 warning him he could be fined, imprisoned or both if he did not comply.
“Mr Mercer has provided further information in response to the Section 21 notice and agreed to assist the inquiry further,” an inquiry spokeswoman said.
“The inquiry team will be taking this forward. For the time being, the chair will not be taking further action in relation to the Section 21 notice or making further comment.”
Mercer, a former British Army officer who served three tours of Afghanistan, repeatedly refused to disclose the names when he gave evidence at the inquiry in February.
The inquiry is examining claims that between 2010 and 2013 a British special forces unit executed Afghan males of “fighting age” who posed no threat.
The former minister, who lost his seat at this month’s general election, said in response to the latest development: “My position remains unchanged from the beginning of the year.”
“I will always do all I can to assist this important inquiry. I will not betray those I served who have confided in me, whatever the cost,” he wrote on social media.