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


Ukraine makes humanitarian flour shipment to Palestinians

Ukraine makes humanitarian flour shipment to Palestinians
Updated 3 sec ago
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Ukraine makes humanitarian flour shipment to Palestinians

Ukraine makes humanitarian flour shipment to Palestinians
KYIV: Ukraine said Thursday that it had sent flour to the Palestinian territories as part of an initiative to ship free agricultural supplies to poor countries and regions.
“Palestine received 1,000 tons of wheat flour,” Ukraine’s foreign ministry posted on X.
“The shipment is the first of three deliveries intended for Palestine... It will support over 101,000 Palestinian families for a month,” it said.
Kyiv launched the “Grain for Ukraine” initiative in a bid to ensure Russia’s invasion did not threaten its position as one of the world’s largest agricultural exporters.
Ukraine did not say whether the flour was intended for Gaza, which is facing a humanitarian crisis and steep drops in the amount of aid that has reached the coastal strip during the war between Israel and Hamas.
Kyiv was a major grain exporter to the Palestinians before Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022.
Moscow has also shipped free grain to several countries in Africa, as the two countries compete for support in parts of the world that rely heavily on agricultural imports.
Global food prices shot up when Russia invaded Ukraine and the vital Black Sea waterway, from where Ukraine shipped grain around the world, was turned into a naval battleground.

Student protesters vow ‘complete shutdown’ in Bangladesh after days of violent protest

Student protesters vow ‘complete shutdown’ in Bangladesh after days of violent protest
Updated 18 July 2024
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Student protesters vow ‘complete shutdown’ in Bangladesh after days of violent protest

Student protesters vow ‘complete shutdown’ in Bangladesh after days of violent protest
  • Students have been demonstrating for weeks against a quota system for government jobs they say favors allies of the ruling party
  • Protests have escalated since violence broke out on the campus of Dhaka University on Monday

DHAKA: People stayed home and many malls closed their doors Thursday morning in Bangladesh’s capital as protesters attempted to impose a “complete shutdown” after days of student protesters violently clashing with police and ruling party-backed student activists.
Traffic was thin on Dhaka’s usually clogged streets. Offices and banks opened, but commuters complained that transport was limited.
Salma Rahman, an official at a financial institution in Dhaka, said that she left his car at home and caught a ride on a motorcycle. “Our office has alerted us to stay safe on streets, as there is fear that violence could happen during the shutdown.”
Students have been demonstrating for weeks against a quota system for government jobs they say favors allies of the ruling party, but the protests have escalated since violence broke out on the campus of Dhaka University on Monday. Six people were killed amid protests on Tuesday, leading the government to ask universities across the country to close and police to raid the main opposition party’s headquarters.
The violence continued late Wednesday in Dhaka. Traffic was halted on a major highway as police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters, who set fire to a toll booth, blocked streets and detonated explosives, Somoy TV reported.
Other news outlets said scores were injured in the hours of violence.
On Thursday morning, with classes suspended and dormitories closed, students near Dhaka’s BRAC University clashed with police, who fired tear gas.
Police set up checkpoints at the entrances to Dhaka University.
On Wednesday night, the protesters announced they would enforce “a complete shutdown” across the country on Thursday in response to security officials’ continued attacks on the campus demonstrators. The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party said that it would do what it could to make the shutdown a success.
Protesters are demanding an end to a quota system that reserves up to 30 percent of government jobs for family members of veterans who fought in Bangladesh’s war of independence in 1971. They argue that the system is discriminatory and benefits supporters of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, whose Awami League party led the independence movement, and they want it replaced with a merit-based system.
Hasina’s government halted the quotas after mass student protests in 2018. But last month, Bangladesh’s High Court nullified that decision and reinstated the quotas after relatives of the 1971 veterans filed petitions, triggering the latest demonstrations. The Supreme Court then suspended the High Court’s ruling and is expected to rule on Aug. 7. The government has also separately appealed the High Court decision in the wake of the protest, according to the attorney general’s office.
“I am requesting all to wait with patience until the verdict is delivered,” Hasina said in a televised address Wednesday evening. “I believe our students will get justice from the apex court. They will not be disappointed.”
While job opportunities have expanded in Bangladesh’s private sector, many people prefer government jobs because they are stable and well paid. Each year, some 400,000 graduates compete for 3,000 jobs in the civil service exam.
Hasina said there would be a judicial probe into Tuesday’s deaths and vowed that those responsible would be brought to justice.
“Some precious lives have been lost unnecessarily,” she said. “I condemn every killing.”
UN Human Rights chief Volker Turk said in a post on the social media platform X that all acts of violence and deadly use of force must be investigated and the perpetrators held accountable. Turk said freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are fundamental human rights.
Bangladesh’s ruling party blamed the BNP for the chaos, and Dhaka police raided the party’s headquarters late Tuesday. Detective Chief Harun-or-Rashid said police arrested seven members of the party’s student wing, and said detectives found 100 crude bombs, 500 wooden and bamboo sticks, and five to six bottles of gasoline in the raid.
Ruhul Kabir Rizvi, a senior BNP leader, said the raid was a government attempt to divert attention from the protests.


India plans to ease rice export curbs to retain market share against Pakistan

India plans to ease rice export curbs to retain market share against Pakistan
Updated 18 July 2024
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India plans to ease rice export curbs to retain market share against Pakistan

India plans to ease rice export curbs to retain market share against Pakistan
  • Authorities in India imposed rice export curbs in 2023 in an effort to keep local prices in check
  • Rice exporters say supplies have exceeded local demand, seek overseas sales to prevent spoilage

NEW DELHI: India is likely to cut the floor price for basmati rice exports and replace the 20 percent export tax on parboiled rice with a fixed duty on overseas shipments, government sources said, as rice inventories in the country jumped a record high.
The world’s biggest rice exporter imposed various curbs on exports in 2023 and continued them in 2024 in an effort to keep local prices in check ahead of the general elections held in April-May.
New Delhi is expected to lower the basmati rice’s minimum export price (MEP) to $800-$850 a metric ton, down from $950 a ton, to boost shipments, said the sources, who didn’t wish to be identified as they are not authorized to talk to media.
Lowering the MEP would help India retain its market share against Pakistan, which exported a record amount of rice this year due to New Delhi’s export curbs.
India and Pakistan are the leading exporters of basmati rice. New Delhi exports more than 4 million metric tons of basmati – the premium long-grain variety famed for its aroma – to countries such as Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.
New Delhi is also expected to drop the 20 percent export tax on parboiled rice and introduce a minimum export tax to stop under-invoicing of shipments, the sources said.
The government was examining possibilities of easing rice export curb, including resuming white rice exports, Reuters reported last month.
Worried over expectations of lower output due to the El Nino weather pattern, India banned overseas shipments of non-basmati white rice varieties in July 2023 and imposed curbs on other grades.
“With rice supplies significantly exceeding local demand, it’s crucial to reduce stockpiles to prevent spoilage. The most effective solution is to lift export restrictions,” said B.V. Krishna Rao, president of the Rice Exporters Association (REA).
The country’s rice stocks at state warehouses have jumped to 48.51 million metric tons as of July 1, the highest ever for the month and nearly 19 percent more than last year, according to the Food Corporation of India.
New Delhi would also review the export ban on non-basmati white rice after assessing the progress of rice planting, the sources said.
Farmers have so far planted 11.6 million hectares with rice paddy during the current planting, up 20.7 percent on the same period last year.


Death inevitable, says preacher at center of Indian stampede disaster

Death inevitable, says preacher at center of Indian stampede disaster
Updated 18 July 2024
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Death inevitable, says preacher at center of Indian stampede disaster

Death inevitable, says preacher at center of Indian stampede disaster
  • Bhole Baba: ‘I am very distressed by what happened, but who can possibly challenge fate?’
  • Police constable-turned-preacher spoke to local media at one of his monasteries in Kasganj

NEW DELHI: An Indian preacher whose latest sermon ended in a deadly stampede that killed more than 120 people insisted that fate could not be challenged and death was inevitable.
In his first appearance before the media since July 2, when 121 people were crushed to death following a sermon he delivered in the northern city of Hathras, Bhole Baba said he was upset by the tragedy.
“I am very distressed by what happened, but who can possibly challenge fate?” he said.
“Whoever comes to this earth has to go one day — it is only a matter of when.”
The police constable-turned-preacher spoke to local media Wednesday at one of his monasteries in Kasganj, around 60 kilometers from the stampede site.
Baba’s lawyer had earlier said “anti-social elements” in the crowd were responsible.
The prayer meeting was attended by 250,000 devotees, more than three times the authorized number. The vast majority of fatalities were women.
A police report issued after the stampede named several organizers of the prayer meeting sought for arrest, but Baba was not among them.
So far 11 volunteers working for him have been arrested.
Religious gatherings in India have a grim track record of deadly incidents caused by poor crowd management and safety lapses.
In 2008, 224 pilgrims were killed and more than 400 injured in a stampede at a hilltop temple in the northern city of Jodhpur.


Top Democrats increase pressure on Biden to step aside, US media reports

Top Democrats increase pressure on Biden to step aside, US media reports
Updated 18 July 2024
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Top Democrats increase pressure on Biden to step aside, US media reports

Top Democrats increase pressure on Biden to step aside, US media reports
  • US Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi among voices of dissent
  • Joe Biden has repeatedly rejected calls from Democrats to drop out of the presidential race

WASHINGTON: Top Democrats including US Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have increased pressure on President Joe Biden to withdraw from his reelection campaign over concerns he cannot defeat Republican challenger Donald Trump, US media reported on Wednesday.
Schumer told Biden in a meeting on Saturday it would be better for the country and the Democratic Party if he ended his reelection campaign, ABC News reported.
US House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries has expressed similar views directly to Biden, ABC News reported, citing a source familiar with the conversation.
CNN reported on Wednesday that Pelosi, too, has told Biden polling shows he cannot defeat Trump and that the president could destroy the Democrats’ chances of winning back control of the House of Representatives.
Pelosi spoke to Biden in a recent telephone call, CNN reported, citing four sources briefed on the call. None of the sources indicated Pelosi told Biden he should leave the race, CNN said.
Biden responded by telling Pelosi he has seen polling indicating he can win, according to one CNN source.
A Pelosi spokesperson told CNN that Pelosi has not spoken to Biden since Friday.
Earlier on Wednesday, Democratic US Representative Adam Schiff became the 20th congressional Democrat to publicly call for Biden to drop out of the race.
Schumer’s office responded to the report about his meeting with the president with a statement calling it “idle speculation” and said Schumer “conveyed the views of his caucus directly to President Biden on Saturday.”
Jeffries’ office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Reuters.
Biden has repeatedly rejected calls from Democrats to drop out of the race after his halting performance in a debate last month against Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
“The President told both leaders he is the nominee of the party, he plans to win, and looks forward to working with both of them to pass his 100 days agenda to help working families,” White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said in a statement.