EarthLink – News
Thailand set to hinder Cambodian opposition’s return plans
By GRANT PECK and PREEYAPA T. KHUNSONG | 06:28 EST
BANGKOK (AP) — Plans by self-exiled leaders of Cambodia’s banned opposition party to return to their homeland hit a major roadblock Wednesday when Thailand’s prime minister said their top leader would not be allowed in to make his way through the country to the Cambodian border.
Leaders of the Cambodia National Rescue Party have vowed to return home on Saturday despite efforts by their government to thwart them. They are led by party co-founder Sam Rainsy, who has been in exile since 2015 to avoid serving a prison term on charges that he says are politically motivated.
The opposition politicians had said they hoped to return accompanied by a mass of followers, including from the huge community of Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand. They say they seek to spark a popular movement to oust long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen, an autocratic leader who has clamped down on his opponents and demolished democracy.
Sam Rainsy said that he was shocked and disappointed by Thailand’s position, but that he would still try to carry out the plan to return.
“I don’t give up. I will try to the last minute. I think no one should stand with Hun Sen, he is a dictator,” the 70-year-old politician, who maintains dual Cambodian and French citizenship, told The Associated Press by phone from Paris.
Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters that in keeping with the agreement of member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, not to interfere in each other’s domestic affairs, he has given an order that no resistance organization will be allowed to operate on Thai territory.
“So, he won’t be able to enter Thailand,” Prayuth said, referring to Sam Rainsy.
The Cambodia National Rescue Party was dissolved by court order in late 2017, allowing Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party to sweep a 2018 general election. Cambodian courts are widely considered to be under the influence of the government, which employs the law to harass its opponents.
Hun Sen’s government has barred the opposition politicians’ return, alerting airlines that they would be turned back, and also conveyed its position to neighboring countries. Cambodian security forces have been put on high alert and scores of opposition supporters detained.
Officials have repeatedly warned that if the returnees did make it into Cambodia, they would be immediately arrested. Most if not all have convictions or charges pending against them, including inciting armed rebellion despite their avowedly nonviolent intentions.
Cambodia’s ambassador to Indonesia on Wednesday had a face-to-face confrontation with a top opposition politician who was holding a news conference at a hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital, to explain the returnees’ plans.
Ambassador Hor Nambora barged into the news conference and spoke in front of the assembled journalists as Cambodia National Rescue Party vice president Mu Sochua sat waiting to speak. The envoy described the opposition politicians as fugitives and criminals, and accused Mu Sochua of trying to mislead Indonesian immigration authorities into thinking she was only a tourist by using her American passport. She holds dual Cambodian and U.S. citizenship.
Hor Nambora did not further disturb the proceedings, though he paced at the front of the conference room as Mu Sochua spoke. As he left, he apologized to journalists for any disruption, but reiterated that Cambodian courts had ruled against the opposition politicians.
“We are risking our lives, we will go to Cambodia empty-handed with bare hands,” Mu Sochua told the news conference, which was also attended by Indonesian activists. “Returning home for democracy in Cambodia, it’s not a revolution, it’s not a coup d’etat.”
“We have asked neighboring countries to permit us safe passage to Cambodia and to have free movement when we are in Cambodia,” she said. “We have been asking governments all around the world to witness our return to our nation, our homeland, with good intentions and totally transparent.”
After the news conference, the Cambodian Embassy in Jakarta issued a press release saying that Mu Sochua was a fugitive from the law because a Cambodian court on Oct. 2 had issued an arrest warrant against her for her allegedly seeking to overthrow a legally elected government.
“It is unfortunate that Indonesia, a fellow member state of ASEAN, allows Ms. Mu Sochua to enter in Indonesia despite of her arrest warrant and conduct anti Cambodian activities in Jakarta,” it said.
The statement said the embassy “requests Indonesian authorities to arrest Ms. Mu Sochua and deport her to Cambodia immediately in the true spirit of ASEAN.”
Associated Press writers Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia, and Sopheng Cheang in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, contributed to this report.
EarthLink – News
Pro-Beijing lawmaker in Hong Kong stabbed while campaigning
By EILEEN NG | 10:12 EST
HONG KONG (AP) — An anti-government assailant stabbed and wounded a pro-Beijing Hong Kong lawmaker who was election campaigning Wednesday, police said, in another escalation of violence surrounding the protests demanding political reforms in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.
Junius Ho has become a hated figure by the protesters over his alleged links to violence against them. After receiving initial medical treatment, Ho told reporters the knife had been blocked by his rib cage and that he was left with a minor 2-centimeter-deep (0.79-inch-deep) wound.
Police have arrested the assailant. Ho, two of his assistants and the attacker were all injured, hospital officials said.
At a news conference Wednesday in Beijing to wrap up her visit to mainland China, Hong Kong’s embattled leader, Carrie Lam, condemned the attack on Ho and said she was concerned over rising public proclivity for violence.
“How can protesters carrying out violent acts claim to be pursuing freedom and democracy? Their every move challenges the freedom and violates the rights of the majority of the Hong Kong people,” she said.
Lam, who earlier held talks with Vice Premier Han Zheng, said she was grateful for support from Chinese leadership during her trip and pledged to strictly enforce the law to restore order. She also met President Xi Jinping in Shanghai on Monday, seen as an endorsement of her government’s handling of the crisis.
“The violent activities carried out by radical separatist forces have gone far beyond the bottom line of law and ethic,” Han Zheng said. “The most important work for the Hong Kong society now is to stop violence and restore order.”
China’s foreign ministry recently dismissed a report that said Beijing planned to replace Lam next year. But the ruling Communist Party said in a statement Tuesday that it would “perfect” the system to appoint and dismiss Hong Kong’s leader and top officials, in an indication of firmer grip on the territory. No details were given.
A video circulating on social media showed a man giving flowers to Ho and asking permission to snap a picture with him. Instead, the man drew a knife from his bag and stabbed Ho in the chest but was quickly overpowered by Ho and several others.
The man kept hurling abusive comments at Ho, calling him “human scum.”
Ho has been targeted by anti-government protesters since July 21, when armed masked men in white T-shirts violently attacked demonstrators and passengers at a subway station in northern Yuen Long, injuring 45 people.
That attack marked a dark turn in the protests that began in early June, and demonstrators have accused police of being slow to respond or even colluding with the attackers. Police later said members of organized crime gangs were involved. Ho was seen shaking hands with some of the attackers that night.
Ho, whose constituency includes Yuen Long, denied colluding with gangs. He said that he bumped into the men after dinner and thanked them for “defending their homes,” but that he didn’t know about the violence until later.
Protesters have vandalized Ho’s office several times and desecrated his parents’ graves.
Ho was campaigning for Nov. 24 district elections to pick 452 councilors, a low-level poll held every four years but closely watched this year as a gauge of public sentiment at the time of prolonged protests that have hardened positions in both camps. The seats are currently dominated by the pro-establishment bloc.
The attack on Ho sparked concerns that the polls may be postponed. The city’s biggest pro-establishment party voiced renewed concerns over safety, saying there were 150 incidents of their candidates being harassed and their offices vandalized in the last month, local media reported.
Many have seen a now-shelved China extradition bill that triggered the unrest as a sign of Beijing infringing on Hong Kong’s judicial freedoms and other rights guaranteed when the former British colony was returned to China in 1997.
Apart from Ho, there have also been attacks on pro-democracy figures. On Sunday night, a knife-wielding man bit off part of the ear of district councilor Andrew Chiu and slashed two people. Jimmy Sham, a leader of one of the city’s largest pro-democracy groups, was attacked by hammer-wielding assailants last month.
On Wednesday, hundreds of students at two universities rallied in support of a 22-year-old man who is fighting for his life in a hospital after reportedly falling off the upper floor of a carpark building when police fired tear gas in clashes early Monday.
Police investigations are ongoing to determine what exactly happened in the case, which has further incensed students at forefront of the protests.
EarthLink – News
AP Analysis: Activity at Iran’s nuclear site raises risks
By JON GAMBRELL | 11:52 EST
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Ten years ago while flanked by the leaders of Britain and France, then-President Barack Obama revealed to the world that Iran had built a “covert uranium enrichment facility” amid tensions with the Islamic Republic over its nuclear program.
A decade later, Iran’s Fordo facility is back in the news as Iran prepared Wednesday to inject uranium gas into the more than 1,000 centrifuges there to pressure the world after President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from Tehran’s nuclear deal.
The resumption of nuclear activity at Fordo pushes the risk of a wider confrontation involving Iran even higher after months of attacks across the Middle East that the U.S. blames on Tehran. Israel, which has carried out pre-emptive airstrikes on its adversaries’ nuclear programs in the past, also is repeating a warning that it will not allow Iran to have atomic weapons.
Tehran, which maintains its program is peaceful, is gambling that its own maximum pressure campaign will be enough to push Europe to offer it a way to sell Iranian crude oil abroad despite U.S. sanctions
Activity at Fordo, just north of the Shiite holy city of Qom, remains a major concern for nuclear nonproliferation experts. Buried under a mountain and protected by anti-aircraft batteries, Fordo appears designed to withstand airstrikes. Its construction began at least in 2007, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, although Iran only informed the U.N. nuclear watchdog about the facility in 2009.
“As a result of the augmentation of the threats of military attacks against Iran, the Islamic Republic of Iran decided to establish contingency centers for various organizations and activities,” Iran wrote in a letter to the IAEA.
Satellite images, however, suggest construction at the Fordo site as early as between 2002 and 2004, the IAEA said. In August 2002, Western intelligence services and an Iranian opposition group had revealed another covert nuclear site at the central city of Natanz. Iran also “carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device” in a “structured program” through the end of 2003, the IAEA has said.
While Natanz is large enough for industrial-scale enrichment, Fordo is smaller and can hold only 3,000 centrifuges. That led analysts to suspect Fordo could be used as a facility to divert and rapidly enrich low-grade uranium, although the highest reported enrichment reached there went to 20%.
“The size and configuration of this facility is inconsistent with a peaceful program,” Obama said at a 2009 Group of 20 meeting held in Pittsburgh in announcing the facility to the world.
Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers saw the country agree to stop enrichment at Fordo and convert it to a research facility. However, President Hassan Rouhani’s announcement Tuesday that uranium gas would be injected into centrifuges there again makes it an active nuclear site.
The IAEA continues to monitor Iran’s nuclear program through surveillance cameras and site visits. Tehran also insists it will keep enriching up to 4.5%, which remains far below weapons-grade levels of 90%.
Resuming work at Fordo has worried Israel, Iran’s regional archenemy.
“We will never let Iran develop nuclear weapons,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a speech Tuesday night. “This is not only for our security and our future; it’s for the future of the Middle East and the world.”
Israel, which has its own undeclared nuclear weapons program, has struck first in the past to stop its enemies from obtaining atomic weapons. In 1981, Israeli warplanes bombed a nuclear reactor being built by Irai dictator Saddam Hussein. An Israeli airstrike similarly destroyed a secret Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007.
The Obama administration convinced Israel before the 2015 nuclear deal to hold off on conducting such a strike on Iran. It remains unclear how Trump would respond to such an Israeli plan, though he has roundly supported Netanyahu in the past.
Any potential strike also faces the challenge of actually reaching the facility. Fordo sits an estimated 80 meters (260 feet) under rock and soil. That would require a weapon like a U.S. “bunker-buster” bomb, a 30,000-pound explosive known as the Massive Ordnance Penetrator. Israel is not known to have a similarly powerful conventional weapon.
There’s also the possibility the U.S. and Israel could reach the facility another way. The Stuxnet computer virus, widely believed to be a joint U.S.-Israeli creation, caused thousands of Iranian centrifuges to destroy themselves in the late 2000s.
The one route that doesn’t seem likely at the moment to resolve the growing crisis over Fordo is diplomacy. Europe so far has been unable to offer Iran any way around U.S. sanctions, despite a planned trade mechanism and a floated French offer of a $15 billion line of credit. Meanwhile, the Trump administration continues its sanctions campaign against Tehran, which on Monday saw it add members of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s inner circle. Iran already says it will take further steps away from the deal in January.
“The decision to expand nuclear activities at Fordo is Iran’s most serious violation of the nuclear deal to date,” the Eurasia Group said. “”If it does not sense meaningful pushback from the international community, there is little reason to doubt it will continue to push the envelope further in January.”
Associated Press writer Josef Federman in Jerusalem contributed.
EDITOR’S NOTE — Jon Gambrell, the news director for the Gulf and Iran for The Associated Press, has reported from each of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, Iran and other locations across the world since joining the AP in 2006. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP .
Jon Gambrell, the news director for the Gulf and Iran for The Associated Press, has reported from each of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, Iran and other locations across the world since joining the AP in 2006.
EarthLink – News
Study: Alien grasses are making more frequent US wildfires
By SETH BORENSTEIN | Mon, November 4, 2019 03:06 EST
WASHINGTON (AP) — For much of the United States, invasive grass species are making wildfires more frequent, especially in fire-prone California, a new study finds.
Twelve non-native species act as “little arsonist grasses,” said study co-author Bethany Bradley, a University of Massachusetts professor of environmental conservation.
Wherever the common Mediterranean grass invades, including California’s southern desert, fires flare up three times more often. And cheatgrass , which covers about one-third of the Intermountain West, is a big-time fire promoter, Bradley said.
“I would not be surprised at all if invasive grasses are playing a role in the current fires but I don’t think we can attribute to them directly,” Bradley said.
University of Utah fire expert Phil Dennison, who wasn’t part of the study but says it makes sense, said, “In a lot of ways, California was ground zero for invasive grasses. Much of California’s native perennial grassland was replaced by Mediterranean annual grasses over a century ago. This study doesn’t look at invasive grasses in the areas that are burning in California, but invasive grasses are contributing to the fires there.”
Experts say the areas burning now in California are more shrubs and grasses than forests, despite what President Donald Trump tweeted over the weekend.
“This is a global problem,” said University of Alberta fire expert Mike Flannigan, who wasn’t part of the study but said it makes sense. “I think with climate change and human assistance we are moving to a grass world. One region they should have mentioned is Hawaii where wildfires are increasing in large part due to invasive grasses.”
Invasive species are spreading more because of climate change as warmer weather moves into new areas, said study lead author Emily Fusco, also of the University of Massachusetts. New England and the Mid-Atlantic are seeing new invasive and more flammable grasses, Bradley said.
The study in Monday’s journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences looks at the connections between a dozen species of invasive grasses and fires nationwide, finding fires occur more often in places with the non-native grasses. But the study did not find a link between invasive grasses and the size of the fires.
Four of these species, including cheatgrass and common Mediterranean grass, are in California. These grasses get dry and then watch out, Fusco said.
“When you start a fire normally you want kindling,” Fusco said. “The grasses are, more or less, like kindling”
If someone lights a match and throws in the middle of a forest, it is unlikely a fire will start, but throw it in a field of cheatgrass “and odds are that it’s going to catch,” Bradley said.
“We are the reason that invasive species are here. We are the reason that they get spread around,” Bradley said.
Flanagan noted that invasive plants that are not grasses also feed the wildfire problem.
While most outside experts said the study was important, wildfire expert LeRoy Westerling at the University of California, Merced said that with wildfires the size is key so this study is less valuable because it measures frequency.
While size matters in forest fires, study author Bradley said mid to small size fires are the ones “in everybody’s backyard” and affect people and their buildings more.
Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter at @borenbears .
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
EarthLink – News
Protests as Spanish king makes key visit to Catalonia
Mon, November 4, 2019 01:30 EST
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — About 2,000 protesters wielding Catalan pro-independence symbols and some Spanish republican flags are banging kitchen pots and blocking access to a Barcelona venue where the Spanish royal family is attending an award ceremony.
Some of the guests at the Princess of Girona Awards for young talent have been unable to enter on time the conference center in the Catalan regional capital, which had been guarded heavily by police.
The protesters are chanting “Go Away!” to King Felipe VI and his family, burning pictures of the Spanish monarch.
The heir, 14-year-old Princess Leonor, was expected to deliver a short speech at Monday’s ceremony.
Tensions over roughly half of Catalonia’s strong desire to secede from Spain have become the main political theme for voters in the country’s general election on Sunday.