EarthLink – News
Taiwan leader Tsai gets party nod to run for reelection
By RALPH JENNINGS | Thu, June 13, 2019 07:25 EDT
TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, a thorn in the side of China’s government because of her pro-independence views, sewed up the ruling party’s nomination Thursday to seek a second four-year term after a tense primary race.
She outperformed her opponent in three days of opinion polling, setting herself up to be named as the Democratic Progressive Party’s candidate in the January 2020 election.
Tsai’s tough stance against Chinese pressure to reunite with the mainland has driven up once-sagging approval ratings. Her nomination is all but sure to be ratified by the party next week.
She has sought public favor by strengthening the military and cultivating ties with the United States, said Huang Kwei-bo, vice dean of the international affairs college at National Chengchi University.
“Tsai Ing-wen is continuously saying ‘I’m going to protect Taiwan and stand up for autonomy and make the most of foreign relations,'” he said.
Her government has helped break ground on a submarine manufacturing site, accepted high-level visits from the United States and received American military support, including seven U.S. Navy ship passages over the past year through the strait dividing China from Taiwan.
China criticizes the high-level visits and the naval ship passages.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said in January that the two sides should be ruled like Hong Kong, which is grappling with mass street protests targeting Chinese control. Hong Kong is part of China under a “one country, two systems” framework that gives the territory some local autonomy.
More than 80% of Taiwanese said in a government survey in January that they prefer self-rule over merging with China.
“What Taiwanese feel most deeply about this is that ‘one-country, two systems’ is not viable and not acceptable for a democratic Taiwan,” Tsai told reporters Thursday afternoon after her secretary general met with Hong Kong students at the presidential office.
The Democratic Progressive Party, which embraces more autonomy for Taiwan instead of a tie-up with China, announced that Tsai had defeated her only challenger, former Premier William Lai, in three days of opinion polling.
Tsai received approval from 35.7% of the roughly 15,000 people polled against Lai’s 27.5%, party Chairman Cho Jung-tai said.
In response to her victory, Tsai called later Thursday for “uniting all our power that can be united” to “defend Taiwan.”
Tsai will go up against a candidate from the opposition Nationalist Party, which advocates closer relations with Beijing.
Possible Nationalist candidates include Terry Gou, chairman of the world’s largest consumer electronics assembler, Foxconn Technology, and Han Kuo-yu, the populist mayor of southern port city Kaohsiung.
Tsai fell below 30% in public opinion polls last year as Taiwanese worried about inaction toward China as well as domestic economic issues such as jobs and housing prices.
Tsai upsets Beijing because she rejects its dialogue condition that both sides belong to a single China, and seeks a closer relationship with the United States. China has reacted by picking off five nations that had diplomatic ties with Taiwan, scaling back Taiwan-bound group tourism and flying military aircraft near the island.
“Looking at the Taiwan election from China’s point of view, another term for Tsai would be a disaster,” said Denny Roy, senior fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu.
China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since the Chinese civil war, when Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists lost and rebased their government in Taiwan. The two sides have been ruled separately for seven decades.
EarthLink – News
AP Interview: Navy’s top admiral discusses war college probe
By JENNIFER McDERMOTT | Wed, June 12, 2019 03:44 EDT
NEWPORT, R.I. (AP) — The Navy’s top admiral said Wednesday that he felt he had enough information to warrant removing the president of the Naval War College from his post this week, days after The Associated Press reported on the investigation at the college and more than a year after the initial complaint was filed.
The AP reported last week that the college president, Rear Adm. Jeffrey Harley, was under investigation for allegedly spending excessively, abusing his hiring authority and otherwise behaving inappropriately, including keeping a margarita machine in his office. Harley was removed from his post Monday.
Adm. John Richardson, the chief of naval operations, told the AP in an interview that he received reports from investigators around the same time the article was published.
“Their investigation is not complete,” he said. “But there was just enough actionable information at that point that I made the decision that I did.”
A small group of longtime college employees filed an anonymous complaint about Harley in April 2018 with the Navy’s office of the inspector general. The group contacted the inspector general again in January with additional allegations of Harley flouting Navy rules and norms.
Inspector general investigations, across the Defense Department, routinely take months or more than a year.
Harley announced his departure to campus in an email. He wrote that he was stepping down due to “distractions caused by the unfounded AP article.”
Richardson called the AP report “responsible and balanced.” He was at the college in Newport to speak to students about leadership.
The college on Monday postponed a strategy forum that was due to start Tuesday and had been expected to draw high-ranking officials, including Richardson, along with hundreds of guests. Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer is still scheduled to speak Friday at the graduation ceremony for the elite school, which grooms future admirals and generals.
Postponing the forum was a big decision, Richardson said, but it was very disruptive for the college leadership to change in the way that it did. It would have been a lot to ask of the college to continue with the forum, he added.
Provost Lewis M. Duncan has temporarily assumed the president’s duties.
Emails obtained by the AP show the college has struggled to make payroll under Harley’s leadership and spent about $725,000 annually on raises while facing an annual shortfall of $5 million or more.
Harley told the AP the college was under fiscal strain because the Navy hasn’t fully funded new missions.
Richardson said Wednesday that as a rule, the Navy isn’t going to direct anyone to take on a mission without ensuring they have the resources to do it.
Harley declined last week to answer a series of questions about the allegations, including his use of a margarita machine. He downplayed the complaints in a campuswide email, saying that they were from “a few individuals” and that all his decisions were subject to legal review and within his authority.
Richardson said that he could not say exactly when the investigation would finish, but that he recognizes it has been going on for a while and it “would be good to bring this to closure.” He is aware, he said, of only one open investigation involving the war college.
The war college is doing an important mission and must remain “very sound,” Richardson said.
“We’ll come through this,” he said. “The college will continue to be a strong and vibrant institution of learning, focused on those things that the Navy needs to educate its leaders on. And in the end, we’ll be stronger than we are right now.”
Richardson hopes to pick a new president for the college before his own tour ends in six weeks.
Associated Press writer Michelle R. Smith contributed to this report from Providence, Rhode Island. McDermott can be reached at https://twitter.com/JenMcDermottAP . Smith can be reached at: https://twitter.com/MRSmithAP
EarthLink – News
3 life sentences without parole for man who killed 3 Muslims
By EMERY P. DALESIO 07:47 EDT
DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — Moments after a North Carolina man pleaded guilty to gunning down three Muslim university students, a prosecutor played a cellphone video of the slayings in court Wednesday as one of the victims’ relatives fainted, others wept and a man cursed the confessed killer openly.
Craig Stephen Hicks, 50, pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree murder more than four years after the February 2015 slayings and two months after incoming District Attorney Satana Deberry dropped plans to seek the death penalty in hopes of concluding a case she said had languished too long.
“I’ve wanted to plead guilty since day one,” Hicks told Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson. Hudson sentenced Hicks to three consecutive life sentences without parole, tacking on five more years for shooting into a building.
Hicks burst into a Chapel Hill condo owned by 23-year-old Deah Barakat and fatally shot Barakat, his wife, Yusor Abu-Salha, 21 and the woman’s 19-year-old sister Razan Abu-Salha.
At the time, Chapel Hill police said Hicks claimed he was provoked by competition over parking spaces at the complex where they lived. Relatives said the victims were targeted because they were Muslim, and asked federal authorities to pursue hate-crime charges.
Authorities later indicated they did not have sufficient evidence to successfully prosecute Hicks on hate crime charges, said Joe Cheshire, an attorney for the victims’ families. He said officials couldn’t overcome Hicks’ initial explanation that the violence was provoked by a parking space dispute.
Family members and prosecutors spent most of the two-hour hearing telling the judge that Hicks was motivated by bigotry against non-white people. Hicks showed off a handgun on his hip when he wanted to intimidate his Korean neighbor, a black remodeling worker and his eventual victims, said District Attorney Satana Deberry.
An aggressive atheist, Hicks also expressed disgust for Christians and Jews.
“You played into the hands of the worst of religious people — the fanatics, the radicals — who want to shred this world,” Mohammed Abu-Salha, the womens’ father, told Hicks in court. The killings were part of growing hatred toward Muslims, he said.
The court was shown a videotaped confession. In it, Hicks told police that after grabbing his gun and extra bullets and pounding on his neighbors’ door, he lost control when Barakat cursed him. “I did wrong. I overreacted,” Hicks told interrogators.
That account was contradicted by a cellphone video, shown in court, in which Barakat records his own death.
The video rolls as Barakat approaches the door to record the exchange with his often-seething neighbor. He hoped it could be evidence for a legal restraining order to keep him away, Cheshire said.
With the victims’ parents and siblings watching, the video showed Hicks complaining Barakat and the Abu-Salha sisters were using three parking spaces. Prosecutors said that wasn’t true. When Barakat responded they were using no more spaces than condo rules allow, Hicks responded, “You’re going to be disrespectful towards me, I’m going to be disrespectful …” Hicks pulled a gun from his waist and fired several times.
The phone dropped. The sounds of women screaming can be heard, followed by several more shots. Then silence.
Women wept openly in the courtroom and a young man cursed Hicks. Barakat’s older sister, Dr. Suzanne Barakat, fainted. She later appeared at a news conference with family members and an attorney said she was OK.
“In 36 seconds, Mr. Hicks executed three people,” Assistant District Attorney Kendra Montgomery-Blinn said.
Hicks said in his confession that after the women fell wounded, he shot both in the head at close range. Autopsy results confirmed his description.
Barakat, a dental student at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and Yusor Abu-Salha had been married less than two months, and she’d just been accepted to the dental school. Razan had just made the dean’s list at North Carolina State University. Barakat and the Abu-Salha sisters had cooked food for the homeless, worked to improve a poor Raleigh neighborhood and planned a trip to Turkey to help Syrian war refugees, Montgomery-Blinn said.
Prosecutors and family members contrasted the academic and humanitarian work of the slain with Hicks. An ex-wife told prosecutors Hicks was fixated on the 1993 Michael Douglas movie “Falling Down,” about a frustrated and unemployed white man who responds to personal and social dysfunction with increasing violence.
Hicks’ third marriage was disintegrating and he’d recently quit his job with an auto parts company in anger, Montgomery-Blinn said. Workers there described him as constantly playing computer sniper games, she said.
Hicks listened attentively throughout, his hands shackled.
Former U.S. Attorney Ripley Rand said Wednesday his office hadn’t decided whether to pursue hate crime charges against Hicks when he resigned ahead of the incoming Trump administration in 2017. The federal hate crime statute requires attorneys to consider the outcome of the state trial when pursuing such charges, he said. There was “no additional punishment he could have gotten that would have meant anything,” Rand said.
Justice Department spokeswoman Kelly Laco declined comment on the hate-crime inquiry.
Cheshire said the families were not happy with the lack of prosecution.
“It hurt a lot of feelings and it added to the false narrative,” he said. “Our government failed this family and our multicultural democracy.”
Follow Emery P. Dalesio on Twitter at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/emery%20dalesio.
Associated Press writer Martha Waggoner contributed to this report.
EarthLink – News
AP Photos: A pedestrian crossing that’s a top tourist draw
Thu, June 13, 2019 07:08 EDT
TOKYO (AP) — It’s not just a pedestrian crossing. Located just outside Tokyo’s Shibuya Station, it’s one of the top tourist attractions in Japan.
It’s so famous that there’s an observation deck on the rooftop of a building to watch the crowds of pedestrians flow across the broad boulevard from multiple directions, neatly avoiding each other as they meet in the middle. It’s said to be Japan’s busiest crossing, and one of the busiest in the world.
An estimated 1,000 to 2,500 people hurry to cross the intersection before the light changes during the busiest times of the day.
EarthLink – News
Prosecutors give up on more trials in Delaware prison riot
By RANDALL CHASE | Wed, June 12, 2019 04:32 EDT
DOVER, Del. (AP) — After a series of trial losses against inmates accused in deadly rioting at Delaware’s maximum-security prison in 2017, authorities said Wednesday that they will not pursue any more prosecutions.
The decision comes less than three weeks after former inmate Roman Shankaras, who was accused of leading the riot, was acquitted on charges of murder, assault, kidnapping, riot and conspiracy.
Shankaras’ acquittal came after two previous trials against seven other inmates yielded just one murder conviction — against a convicted killer who boasted in court of planning the uprising, knowing it could turn violent. Those trial failures prompted prosecutors in March to dismiss cases against six other inmates, opting to move forward only against Shankaras and two others.
On Wednesday, prosecutors said they would not try Lawrence Michaels or Alejandro Rodriguez-Ortiz. They also will not pursue a retrial of Obadiah Miller on riot and murder charges after jurors could not reach verdicts on those charges in his trial earlier this year.
“I’m happy for the guys, that justice is being done on behalf of them,” Shankaras said, adding that he remains concerned that the accused inmates will be mistreated by prison guards, despite not being found guilty in correctional officer Steven Floyd’s death.
“Normalcy will never exist for them … I’m going to advocate for their safety,” Shankaras said.
Shankaras, who had completed a seven-year sentence for unrelated riot and robbery charges, was released from custody hours after his acquittal last month. He criticized prosecutors for abusing their discretion, starting with the “wide net they cast” to obtain indictments against 18 inmates in October 2017.
“They acted stubborn,” he said, adding that prosecutors acted with a sense of entitlement because they are used to getting their way in the courtroom.
Democratic Attorney General Kathleen Jennings, through a spokesman, refused to speak with The Associated Press. In a statement, her office said prosecutors did “herculean work,” and that their adherence to ethical standards was “unwavering.” Officials said no inmate prosecution witnesses were offered favorable treatment in exchange for their testimony, and they rejected any implication that any witness was pressured to testify.
The only guilty verdicts prosecutors were able to obtain came against two inmates who represented themselves at trial. Self-proclaimed riot leader Dwayne Staats, who is already serving life for murder, was convicted of murder, riot, kidnapping, assault, and conspiracy. Jarreau Ayers was convicted of riot, kidnapping, assault, and conspiracy. A third defendant, Kelly Gibbs, killed himself in November, days after pleading guilty to rioting, kidnapping, and conspiracy.
“Nevertheless, three juries have since shown that proving beyond a reasonable doubt who was responsible for Lt. Floyd’s death is no longer possible,” Jennings’ office said.
Eighteen inmates were indicted after the February 2017 riot, 16 of whom were charged with murder in Floyd’s death. Two other guards were released by inmates after being beaten and tormented. A female counselor was held hostage for nearly 20 hours before tactical teams burst in and rescued her.
The defendants were all assigned private attorneys hired at taxpayer expense because of conflicts of interest involving public defenders. The cost to Delaware taxpayers had risen to about $1.3 million even before Shankaras went on trial.
“The defense attorneys worked long and hard to protect the rights of the accused,” said Brendan O’Neill, chief of the Office of Defense Services. “These were serious charges and the defendants are extremely fortunate.”
With little physical evidence, and no surveillance camera footage, prosecutors relied heavily on testimony from other inmates, whose credibility was successfully attacked by defense attorneys. With no definitive proof of which inmates attacked Floyd, they argued that anyone involved in the riot could be convicted under the “accomplice liability” doctrine. Under that rule, a person who agrees to commit a crime, such as a riot, can be found guilty of other crimes that could reasonably be foreseen as arising from that initial course of conduct.
The prosecution’s star witness in all the trials was former Baltimore gang leader Royal Downs. Downs, serving a life sentence for murder, claimed that he advocated for a peaceful protest by inmates to air grievances about their treatment. Once the riot broke out, however, he became a key player, taking a walkie-talkie from Staats and participating in hostage negotiations with law enforcement officials.
Despite his role in the riot, Downs was among several inmates allowed to leave the building during the siege. He signaled his willingness to cooperate with authorities even before the riot was over and subsequently pleaded guilty to a single count of riot, which carries no mandatory prison time.