EarthLink – News
A$AP Rocky trial underway in Sweden
By JARI TANNER | Tue, July 30, 2019 05:44 EDT
HELSINKI (AP) — American rapper A$AP Rocky and two other men believed to be members of his entourage went on trial Tuesday in Sweden in a high-profile legal case that has caught the attention of U.S. President Donald Trump and celebrities.
Swedish prosecutors allege that the Grammy-nominated rapper and the two other suspects “deliberately, together and in agreement” attacked 19-year-old Mustafa Jafari in a fight in central Stockholm on June 30.
Prosecutors alleged in more than 500 pages of court documents that the three suspects beat and kicked Jafari while he was on the ground and that he was hit by parts of or a whole bottle.
The trial of the recording artist, whose real name is Rakim Mayers, started in Stockholm District Court, which also has set aside Thursday and Friday for the case.
Mayers’ mother Renee Black was seen arriving at the court while his son was escorted in wearing a green shirt. She appeared “like she was about to burst into tears,” Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet reported.
Lawyers for both sides were to present their narrative of what happened on the night of June 30 at Tuesday’s court session. Testimonies are expected to take place on Thursday.
The trial was being held in a secure courtroom “because of strong interest from the media and the public,” the Stockholm court said, noting that no photographing or filming will take place during the proceedings.
The charges carry a maximum sentence of two years in prison. Mayers, who has been in custody since July 3, has said he acted in self-defense.
The rapper’s lawyer, Martin Persson, told Swedish public broadcaster SVT on Monday that he would present the court with new evidence, including showing that “no bottle has been used to hit or injure anyone” and that the violence used was “within the limits of the law.”
A lawyer for Jafari, Magnus Stromberg, told The Associated Press on Friday the beating started when one of A$AP Rocky’s guards “grabbed him (Jafari) by the neck and dragged him away” and that Jafari didn’t provoke the assault.
Prosecutors said that Mayers pushed Jafari to the ground and the court documents include numerous photos of Jafari’s cuts, bruises and blood-stained clothes.
Jafari, 19, is seeking 139,700 Swedish kronor ($14,700) in damages for his injuries, lost income and damages to his appearance.
Mayers’ arrest prompted Trump to intervene on behalf of the jailed rapper and sparked an unusual diplomatic spat when Swedish prosecutors charged the 30-year-old artist last week.
Trump urged Sweden to “Treat Americans fairly!” on Twitter, and criticized Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven “for being unable to act.”
“We do so much for Sweden but it doesn’t seem to work the other way around. Sweden should focus on its real crime problem! #FreeRocky,” he added.
The case has also drawn the attention of American celebrities like Kim Kardashian West and Mayers’ fellow recording artists, including Sean “Diddy” Combs and Justin Bieber, and created the movement #JusticeForRocky soon after the rapper’s arrest.
EarthLink – News
Easter Day attacks imperil Sri Lanka economic recovery
By BHARATHA MALLAWARACHI | Mon, July 29, 2019 11:41 EDT
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Shocks from deadly suicide bombings on Easter Day in Sri Lanka are reverberating throughout its economy in the worst crisis since the South Asian island nation’s civil war ended in 2009.
The blasts that killed more than 250 people were blamed on Islamic extremists. They have devastated Sri Lanka’s vital tourism industry, source of jobs for many, and are hindering foreign investment.
Sri Lanka’s economy already was in trouble, dogged by political crisis, its currency under pressure from a growing national deficit and rising debt. The attacks have added to those challenges.
Business is the worst it’s been in the 60 years that Ranepura Hewage Jayasena has been doing business in the capital Colombo, where he runs a shop that sells spectacular wooden carvings, wooden elephants and clothing designed for tourisms.
“Almost 100% of my business is gone. There are days without a single sale,” said Jayasena, 76, looking grief-stricken as he went through the previous days accounts.
“We had a war that raged for years, but we had good business. Bombs exploded in Colombo city itself, but that did not affect our business,” he said. “This is the worst period I have seen in my life.”
Seven suicide bombers struck two Catholic and one Protestant church and three luxury hotels on April 21. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attacks, which were carried out by a local radicalized Muslim group known as National Thowheed Jammath.
Among those killed were 45 foreigners, mainly from China, India, the U.S. and Britain.
For days after the attack, many businesses remained shuttered. Tourists fled: the number of arrivals dropped more than 70% from a year earlier in May and nearly 60% in June.
The economy is forecast to grow at about a 3% pace this year, according to Central Bank governor Indrajit Coomaraswamy, way below the 6% plus average of recent years and possibly the lowest level in nearly 20 years.
The worst hit have been people, many of them self-employed, living close to the brink of poverty, economists say.
“Sri Lanka is undergoing a severe economic crisis at present and it is manifested at both the individual and national level,” said W.A. Wijewardena, an economic analyst and a former deputy governor of central bank.
The blasts “surely caused a temporary setback to the economy, which was already a sick one,” Wijewardena said.
While a huge share of job losses were in the tourism sector, they’ve rippled through many other industries.
Sanjeewa Samarasinghe, a 51-year-old father of three, began working as a marketing manager at a publishing company in June, after a long stint without a job. He was let go after just one week due to weak sales after the attacks.
“It’s true sales had plunged, but look at the plight of workers. How can they live?” he said.
For K.S. Mahendran, a peddler of mobile phone accessories on a sidewalk in downtown Colombo, recovery seems as far off as the day the explosions ripped through the churches and hotels
In a matter of hours, Mahendran’s business collapsed, leaving him without a way to pay rent and other daily expenses.
“The attacks were a severe blow to us and almost ruined our lives,” he said. “We had to borrow money from money lenders and we are in a great difficulty at the moment. No one is helping us.”
Sri Lanka has made significant progress thanks to a tourism boom and expanding manufacturing after the military defeated separatist Tamil rebels in May 2009, which ended the 25-year civil war. The country was engulfed in a political crisis late last year, however, when President Maithripala Sirisena suspended Parliament, firing the prime minister and replacing him with former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa, who had ruled Sri Lanka as president for nine years from 2005.
Sirisena eventually backed down, reinstalling Ranil Wickremesinghe as prime minister. But divisions within the leadership are not helping the country overcome its myriad problems in the aftermath of the attacks.
Government debt is rising quickly as tax revenues fall far short of spending. Weakening growth also is adding to the burdens for repaying foreign debt totaling $33 billion as of March, as the country digs itself in deeper to meet repayments that will total nearly $6 billion in 2019.
With Sri Lanka’s foreign exchange reserves expected to drop to as low as $6.3 billion by the end of this year, in June the government raised $2 billion from U.S. dollar bond markets in its 14th bond offering since 2007.
“That’s not a wonderful level of reserves, but it is nowhere near a crisis either,” Coomaraswamy said in a recent speech. He noted the government could arrange foreign currency swaps and also seek panda or samurai bonds from China or Japan.
“If you take all these together, we feel fairly confident that we can manage the situation,” he said.
Apart from the direct impact from business disruptions and falling tourist arrivals, the attacks shattered a sense of stability that had helped draw in foreign investment.
Muslims living in this Buddhist-majority nation have suffered attacks and dozens of their shops and homes were burned, frightening both local and foreign investors.
“The government has not been able to eliminate the ‘economic fear’, that is, the fear that the economic assets owned by people could be destroyed by mobs with total impunity, from the minds of investors,” said Wijewardena.
“It is absolutely necessary for the government to build confidence among investors by bringing the trouble makers to justice,” he said.
So far, most efforts to cushion the impact of the attacks have focused on tourism. The government has slashed airline ground charges, aviation fuel prices and departure fees for at least six months. It set a one-year moratorium for repayment of loans for tourism-related businesses and cut interest rates on new loans.
Leaders also ordered officials to slash spending on electricity, water and telephone costs, banning use of public funds to print diaries and calendars for 2020.
Some businesses are seeing improvements.
Suresh Silva’s shoe shop was only selling one or two pairs of shoes a week just after the bombings. Sales are now back up to about 90% of normal, he said.
“I think the remaining 10% could be achieved this month.”
For many, though, the outlook remains uncertain.
“People have limited cash on hand, so they spend it on essential items such as food and medicine,” said Hameed Aslam, who runs a fabric shop.
“In my view it’s been like this for the past three years,” he said. “Living costs have been going up and the people are having great difficulties.”
EarthLink – News
California town pledges to remain strong in wake of shooting
By KATHLEEN RONAYNE and JULIE WATSON | Tue, July 30, 2019 05:39 EDT
GILROY, Calif. (AP) — Only a few days ago, Gilroy was known for one thing: garlic. The rural community near San Francisco lived and breathed the prized, pungent crop.
Now it’s the site of the latest American mass shooting.
On Sunday evening, a 19-year-old gunman with apparent white supremacist views slipped into the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival and unloaded an assault-style weapon before police shot him to death.
On Monday night, hundreds of residents held a candlelight vigil to mourn a 6-year-old boy, a 13-year-old girl and a New York college graduate who were slain . Twelve others were injured.
As they raised votive candles, long tapers or tea lights, they also raised their spirits in the defiant cry of “Gilroy Strong.”
A sign reading the same underneath an American flag covered in two garlic cloves hung from the front of the stage.
“We cannot let the bastard that did this tear us down,” Mayor Roland Velasco declared to cheers.
It was the cry heard so often after shootings at schools, parks, movies, nightclubs and festivals around the country.
From Washington, President Donald Trump condemned the “wicked murderer.”
The shooting brought out renewed demands for national gun control by politicians in California, which already has some of the strictest firearms laws in the nation. Gov. Gavin Newsom called for controls on high-powered, high-capacity guns he labeled “weapons of mass destruction.”
“Today, I met with a 12-year-old who was shot while in a bounce house. A grandmother mourning the loss of her 6-year-old grandson,” Newsom tweeted. “This is America today — the shootings continue. Loved ones are buried. Children are gunned down. And Congress does nothing.”
“It keeps happening, over and over and over again, on their damn watch,” Newsom told reporters. “I can’t put borders up in a neighboring state where you can buy this damn stuff legally.”
The shooter, Santino William Legan, legally purchased the semi-automatic assault rifle this month in Nevada, where his last address is listed. He would have been barred from buying it in California, which restricts firearms purchases to people over 21. In Nevada, the age limit is 18.
While authorities sought a motive for the killings, they noted that he had posted white supremacist views. He urged his Instagram followers to read a 19th century book popular with white supremacists on extremist websites. It appeared with a photo of Smokey the Bear in front of a “fire danger” sign. Legan also complained about overcrowding towns and paving open space to make room for “hordes” of Latinos and Silicon Valley whites.
In his last Instagram post Sunday, Legan sent a photo from the Gilroy Garlic Festival minutes before opening fire.
Under it, Quote: : “Ayyy garlic festival time” and “Come get wasted on overpriced” items. Legan’s since-deleted Instagram account says he is Italian and Iranian.
The postings are among the first details that have emerged about Legan since authorities say he appeared to fire at random, sending people running and diving under tables. Police patrolling the event responded within a minute and killed Legan as he turned the weapon on them.
Legan grew up less than a mile from the park where the city known as the “Garlic Capital of the World” has held its three-day festival for four decades, attracting more than 100,000 people with music, food booths and cooking classes.
Police searched Legan’s vehicle and the two-story Legan family home, leaving with paper bags. Authorities also searched an apartment they believed Legan used this month in remote northern Nevada. Officials didn’t say what they found.
Big Mikes Gun and Ammo, which appears to be a home-based internet gun shop in Fallon, Nevada, said on its Facebook page that Legan ordered the rifle off its website and “was acting happy and showed no reasons for concern” when the store owner met him. The post said it was “heartbroken this could ever happen.”
The shooting followed a series of mass killings in California, including an attack at a Thousand Oaks bar in November where 12 people died and a 2015 terrorist attack in San Bernardino where 14 were killed. The nation’s worst modern mass shooting remains a 2017 attack at a country music concert in Las Vegas where a gunman killed 58 and injured hundreds.
In California, police had training in how to respond to an active shooter. While they prepared for the worst, they never expected to use those skills in Gilroy, a city of about 50,000 roughly 80 miles (176 kilometers) southeast of San Francisco.
The city had security in place for one of the largest food fairs in the U.S. It required people to pass through metal detectors and have their bags searched. Police, paramedics and firefighters were stationed throughout the festival.
But Legan didn’t go through the front entrance. He cut through a fence bordering a parking lot next to a creek, Gilroy Police Chief Scot Smithee said. Some witnesses reported a second suspect, and authorities were trying to determine if he had any help.
The gunfire sent people in sunhats and flip-flops running away screaming. Some dove for cover under the decorated food booth tables. Others crawled under a concert stage, where a band had started playing its last song.
Candice Marquez, 51, a honey vendor at the festival, said she was just 10 feet (3 meters) from the shooter and saw him replace a clip of ammunition.
“He was super quiet, he was reloading, and we ran,” she told the San Francisco Chronicle.
The youngest victim, Stephen Romero, described by his grandmother as a kind, happy and playful kid, had just celebrated his 6th birthday in June at Legoland in Southern California.
“My son had his whole life to live and he was only 6,” his father, Alberto Romero, told San Francisco Bay Area news station KNTV after the shooting.
Also killed was 13-year-old Keyla Salazar from San Jose. The teen was eating ice cream with family members when they heard gunshots and began to flee, said her aunt, Katiuska Vargas.
The teen stayed back to keep pace with a relative who uses a cane and was shot with a bullet that otherwise might have hit that woman, Vargas said.
Vargas says Keyla’s stepfather was wounded as he went back for her.
Keyla loved animals and was planning on getting a puppy for one of her two younger sisters, Vargas said.
“She was such a caring person,” Vargas said. “She would give everything to other people … We lost a really beautiful life.”
The oldest victim killed was Trevor Irby, 25, a biology major who graduated in 2017 from Keuka College in upstate New York.
Troy Towner said his sister, Wendy Towner, was at the festival for her business, the Honey Ladies, when she saw a man with a gun climb over the fence. She yelled at him: “No, you can’t do that!”
The gunman shot her in the leg and her husband three times, while a young girl dragged their 3-year-old son under a table, Towner wrote on a fundraising page he set up for his sister.
Legan then approached the couple as they lay motionless on the ground and asked if they were all right. They didn’t move, fearing he would finish them off, Towner wrote.
Towner said his sister underwent surgery and was expected to have long-term nerve damage, while her husband faces many surgeries.
Candice Marquez, who works for Wendy Towner and her husband, Francisco, told The Associated Press that she had stepped away to go to the bathroom and saw the gunman heading to their tent. She said her 10-year-old niece helped the toddler to safety.
“She was brave,” Marquez said.
Jan Dickson, a neighbor who lives across the street from the Legan family, described them as “a nice, normal family.” She said Santino Legan had not lived there for at least a year.
“How do you cope with this? They have to deal with the fact that their son did this terrible thing and that he died,” Dickson said.
Watson reported from San Diego. Associated Press reporter Mike Balsamo in Washington, Natalie Rice in Los Angeles, Scott Sonner in Hawthorne, Nevada, Ken Ritter in Las Vegas, and Martha Mendoza in Gilroy contributed to this report.
EarthLink – News
Experts: Event organizers should improve emergency plans
By STEFANIE DAZIO 07:09 EDT
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Event organizers should review their emergency plans after the deadly shooting at a California food festival to see if they can make additional safety improvements as the peak of summer and fair season brings open-air environments that are notoriously difficult to secure, law enforcement experts said.
The weekend shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival left three dead — including two children — and a dozen wounded at the famous three-day event that attracts more than 100,000 people annually to the agricultural community in Northern California .
The festival included a perimeter fence, metal detectors, a bag search and police patrols. Despite those measures, 19-year-old Santino William Legan cut through the fence and, wielding a rifle, opened fire before three officers — in less than a minute — fatally shot him, preventing additional casualties.
“Anytime you put on a large event with a lot of people you’re always concerned, which is why we try to run a very tight, closed event where there’s, you know, controlled access,” Gilroy Police Chief Scot Smithee said at a news conference Monday. “Do we think about how we’re going to respond if something were to happen? I would say the answer is yes.”
Experts ticked off a list of ideal precautions: a perimeter fence — or even two — with roving police patrols, as well as drones, security cameras, social media monitoring, bag checks, metal detectors, limited points of entry and an “overwatch” police unit that monitors the event from a high perch.
Recommendations for an overwatch position and securing beyond the site of the event are similar to suggested improvements after another deadly festival shooting: In 2017, a gunman on the 32nd floor of a hotel fired into a crowd and killed 58 people in Las Vegas. It became the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. A review recommended securing high-rise buildings overlooking open-air venues, not just the festivals themselves.
“It’s not just OK to secure your perimeter and think you’re safe,” Michael Downing, a former Los Angeles Police Department deputy chief, said.
Still, officials said first responders and event coordinators need to balance safety concerns, costs and a welcoming atmosphere for visitors, noting that eventgoers likely do not want to be subjected to extensive screening with X-ray machines and metal detectors.
“You obviously can’t do an event that is set up like an international airport,” said Sheriff Tony Spurlock of Douglas County, Colorado, where the annual county fair is being held this week. “It’s not the kind of environment that we would set up magnetometers at every entrance.”
Brian Higgins, a former Bergen County, New Jersey, police chief, said controlling an event’s perimeter through technology and police is key to safety. Although a long line of people at a single point of entry can pose its own target, limited access means law enforcement can more easily see who is coming in and out — and with what.
“Just because it’s a family-friendly event doesn’t mean that something bad can’t happen,” Higgins said.
Although festivalgoers may notice increased security in the coming weeks, experts don’t foresee a major shift in safety protocols going forward.
“Events like this are occurring across the country every weekend and it’s up to those event coordinators to determine the extent to which they want to employ security features,” Craig Fair, deputy special agent in charge at the FBI’s San Francisco office, said at Monday’s news conference.
Experts praised the Gilroy Police Department’s precautionary efforts and quick response, noting that law enforcement there had taken many critical steps.
“If somebody’s that determined to do something that terrible, it’s going to be hard to stop them,” said Soraya Sutherlin, managing partner of Los Angeles-based Emergency Management Safety Partners.
Sutherlin said event planners should clearly label exits, with signs pointing people toward an evacuation route, and design a way for visitors to report suspicious activity either in person, over the phone or through an app.
Officials said there must be greater efforts to identify future shooters beforehand, through social media monitoring or other means.
“How do we figure out that he was an absolute ticking time bomb waiting to go off?” said Stephan Dembinsky, public safety director in Daytona Beach Shores, Florida. “Until we figure out how to identify them, we’re going to keep having these shootings.”
EarthLink – News
UN says Afghan forces, allies killed most civilians in 2019
By RAHIM FAIEZ 08:08 EDT
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — More civilians were killed by Afghan and international coalition forces in Afghanistan in the first half of this year than by the Taliban and other militants, the U.N. mission said in a report released Tuesday.
The report apparently refers to civilians killed during Afghan and U.S. military operations against insurgents, such as airstrikes and night raids on militant hideouts. Insurgents often hide among civilians.
The U.S. formally ended its combat mission in Afghanistan in 2014 but still provides extensive air and other support to Afghan forces battling militants.
The U.N. report said 403 civilians were killed by Afghan forces in the first six months of the year and another 314 by international forces, a total of 717. That’s compared to 531 killed by the Taliban, an Islamic State affiliate and other militants during the same period.
It said 300 of those killed by militants were directly targeted. The Taliban have been carrying out near-daily attacks, mainly targeting security forces.
There was no immediate comment from the Kabul government or the Afghan military on the report.
A NATO official stressed that the alliance is now in a non-combat mission in Afghanistan that trains, advises and assists the country’s security forces.
The alliance is “not complacent” and shares U.N. concerns over Afghan civilian casualties, the official said, adding that the “best way to end the suffering of civilians is to focus on the political settlement of the conflict and to continue all efforts to reduce violence.”
“We thoroughly investigate every allegation of civilian casualties, and we train the Afghan security forces to ensure that they take utmost caution in order not to harm civilians,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
The Taliban have rejected calls for a cease-fire as they hold talks with the U.S. aimed at ending the 18-year war. An Islamic State affiliate has meanwhile launched attacks targeting security forces as well as minority Shiites.
“Parties to the conflict may give differing explanations for recent trends, each designed to justify their own military tactics,” said Richard Bennett, the human rights chief of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, which released the report.
The situation for ordinary Afghans would be improved, he said, “not just by abiding by international humanitarian law but also by reducing the intensity of the fighting.”
The report said one in three casualties was caused by ground combat and a fifth were caused by roadside bombs. Aerial operations accounted for around 14% of the casualties.
The Taliban issued a statement saying the part of the U.N. report blaming them for 38% of Afghan civilian casualties was not true.
“Many people counted as civilians in this report were targeted by the Taliban because of their links to the intelligence service or because they cooperated with military operations,” the Taliban said.
Earlier in the day, the Taliban praised the killing of two U.S. service members Monday in southern Kandahar province. The Afghan soldier who turned his gun on the Americans was wounded and is in custody, according to U.S. officials.
The Taliban called the shooter a “hero” and said the Afghan soldier had opened fire at the Americans inside a military base in the Shah Wali Kot district in Kandahar. The U.S. military has so far not identified the slain Americans, pending notification of their families.
Even with the Taliban-U.S. talks underway, there appears to be no end in sight for the violence.
A suicide bomber on a motorcycle detonated his explosives at a market in southern Kandahar province on Tuesday morning, killing at least three children, said Jamal Naser Barekzai, spokesman for the provincial police chief.
A Taliban attack on a checkpoint left three police officers dead in northern Baghlan province, said Jawed Basharat, spokesman for the provincial police chief.
Late on Monday, insurgents targeted a checkpoint in the Kushk Kuhna district in western Herat province, killing at least 11 Afghan security forces, said Wakil Ahmad Karokhi, a provincial councilman.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the latest attacks.
Associated Press writers Amir Shah in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Maamoun Youssef in Cairo contributed to this report.