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Whelan family(MOSCOW) -- Two Russian prisoner rights monitors who attempted to visit Paul Whelan, the American arrested as a spy in Russia, said they were only able to see him for a few seconds, but told ABC News that the former U.S. Marine appeared well and in good health.

On Tuesday, Eva Merkacheva and Yevgeny Yenikyeyev, members of the Public Oversight Committee which monitors prisoner treatment, visited Whelan in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison -- where the American has been held since he was arrested on espionage charges in late December.

Whelan has not been seen in public since his arrest and Russia has yet to provide any details on the charges against him, besides saying that he detained while carrying out “spying activity.”

The two monitors were prevented from meeting with Whelan by prison guards, on the grounds that they didn’t speak English and he doesn’t know Russian, they said. Instead they were permitted to visit Whelan’s cell and talk with his cellmate.

They saw Whelan for a few seconds as he was brought out of the cell as they entered. He was dressed in prison clothes and appeared well, they said.

“He is healthy, everything is fine with him,” Merkacheva said by telephone on Wednesday.

Whelan’s cell is standard and comfortable for a Russian prison, the pair said. Whelan and his Russian cellmate share a cell that measures about 26-29 square feet. The room has a refrigerator and a real toilet, not a hole in the floor common in many Russian pretrial detention centers. There is also a television, which broadcasts only Russian television, the monitors told ABC News.

Whelan was placed with his Russian cellmate because the man speaks basic English. Yenikyeyev described Whelan's cellmate as pleasant and “educated”, and said he told the monitors that he had been helping Whelan communicate with the guards. The cellmate, named Oleg, is charged with illegal weapons possession.

Merkacheva told Interfax on Wednesday that the cellmate was the former director of security for Togliattizot, a major Russian chemicals company. In December, the company’s security director, Oleg Antoshin was arrested on charges of illegal firearms possession.

Yenikyeyev said he believed they were being prevented from speaking with Whelan because the guards fear that the monitors could communicate something to him without them understanding. Whelan is due to appear in a Moscow court on January 22 for an appeal hearing to request his pretrial detention be converted to bail, according to his Russian lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov.

Lefortovo prison where Whelan is being held is a notorious former KGB jail, known as for holding high-profile prisoners, including political dissidents and suspected spies, as well as those charged in major criminal cases. Until 2005 it was controlled by the Federal Security Service or FSB, Russia's the KGB's main successor agency that arrested Whelan. It is now overseen by Russia’s Justice ministry but several lawyers in other cases have previously told ABC News they believe the FSB ultimately retains control.

The United States, as well as Canada, the United Kingdom and Ireland have all offered consular assistance to Whelan, who holds citizenship for all four countries.

Whelan’s family have said the Russian charges are impossible. Director of security for the American car-parts supplier BorgWarner, Whelan was in Moscow attending the wedding of an old friend from the Marines when he was detained in his hotel hours before the ceremony. His Russian lawyer has said Whelan intends to plead not guilty.

Irish diplomats visited Whelan on Wednesday and spent about an hour with him, the imprisoned American's family said.

“The Irish consular staff said the prison conditions were okay, that he had his glasses, and was working on learning some Russian words,” Whelan’s twin brother, David said in a statement. The Irish diplomats were able to give Whelan some toiletries, such as soap and a toothbrush, as well as taking messages from him to pass along to his family.

It was the first consular visit to Whelan since the U.S. ambassador to Moscow, Jon Huntsman visited Whelan on January 2, they said.

A dispute appeared to be brewing over Britain’s access to Whelan, after Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov on Wednesday asserted that the United Kingdom (UK) had yet to request a consular visit to Whelan. Britain’s embassy in Moscow released a statement contradicting that, asserting that embassy officials made a request for access on January 2 and that Russian officials had confirmed receipt of the request.

Lavrov linked the supposed delay to the UK’s unwillingness to grant Russian officials consular access in the case of Sergey and Yulia Skripal, the former Russian spy and his daughter poisoned with a nerve agent in Britain last March. Britain accuses Russia of trying to murder Skripal and has placed him and his daughter under protection, saying it fears Russia might try to harm them again.

Lavrov also denied suggestions that Russia had seized Whelan with the aim of exchanging him for Russians jailed abroad.

“We never do such things,” Lavrov said at a press conference in Moscow, asserting that Whelan had been detained while conducting “concrete illegal activities in a hotel.”

Russia's domestic security service, known as the FSB, arrested Whelan in his room at Moscow’s upscale Metropole hotel, near the Kremlin.

“He was detained red-handed,” Lavrov contended.

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omersukrugoksu/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Four Americans, including two service members, one Department of Defense civilian, and one contractor, were killed in a bomb blast in Syria, the U.S. military confirmed Wednesday, in the deadliest attack on the U.S. military since American troops went into Syria and the first claimed by ISIS since President Donald Trump ordered a U.S. withdrawal claiming ISIS had been defeated..

Three U.S. service members were also injured by the explosion while the group was conducting a local engagement, according to a statement from U.S. Central Command.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the blast, which occurred in the northern city of Manbij.

Since U.S. troops entered Manbij nearly two years ago, vehicle patrols have included "dismounted" patrols with American forces in the city on foot, which is what the U.S. service members who were killed were doing at the time of the explosion.

“The President has been fully briefed and we will continue to monitor the ongoing situation in Syria," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement. She later put out a separate White House statement saying, "Our deepest sympathies and love go out to the families of the brave American heroes who were killed today in Syria. We also pray for the soldiers who were wounded in the attack. Our service members and their families have all sacrificed so much for our country."

Wednesday's deadly incident comes about one month after President Donald Trump ordered 2,000 U.S. troops to leave Syria, as the White House declared victory over ISIS. But since then, there has been growing confusion over the withdrawal plans, as the administration shifted from a 30-day timeline to one that is now "conditions-based" to include the enduring defeat of ISIS, protection for the Syrian Kurds, and assurance that Iran can't increase its influence in the region.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a vocal critic of Trump's decision to withdraw American troops, interrupted an unrelated hearing Wednesday to make an unusual high-profile plea to the president, saying: "My concern by the statements made by President Trump is that you have set in motion enthusiasm by the enemy we are fighting."

Graham, who said he believed the Americans were killed at a restaurant he had visited during his visit to Manbij last July, said he hoped the president would reexamine U.S. policy in Syria.

"The only reason the Kurds and the Arabs and the Christians were in that restaurant is cause we gave them the space to be in that restaurant," Graham said. "Think what you want to about 'those people' over there -- they have had enough of killing. They would love to have the opportunity that we have to fix their problems without the force of violence. So I would hope the president would look long and hard of where he is headed in Syria."

Four other American service members have been killed in Syria since the U.S. entered the country under the Obama administration in October 2015. Those Americans were: Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Scott Cooper Dayton, Air Force Staff Sgt. Leo Austin Bieren, Army Spc. Etienne Jules Murphy, and Army Master Sgt. Jonathan Jay Dunbar.

Trump cited the hardship of speaking with families who had lost loved ones in a video produced on the White House lawn the day he announced the withdrawal, saying "I get very saddened when I have to write letters or call parents or wives or husbands of soldiers who have been killed fighting for our country. It’s a great honor. We cherish them but it’s heartbreaking."

The president's surprise announcement last month led to an outcry from U.S. partners and allies and a series of high-level resignations, namely that of former Defense Secretary James Mattis who felt the U.S. was abandoning its allies and partners in the region.

One of the chief concerns has been how to protect the Kurds, a group that's been a critical U.S. partner in the fight against ISIS but which Turkey views as terrorists.

In a series of tweets on Sunday, Trump suggested that a 20-mile "safe zone" could be created to decrease tension between the two groups. The president also discussed the idea by phone with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday, according to a Turkish readout of the call, but the White House has not provided details about how that zone would be enforced.

In the past week, the U.S. moved some equipment out of Syria, but no troops, two U.S. officials told ABC News. American service members will remain in Iraq, and Trump has suggested as recently as Sunday that they could "attack again from existing nearby base" if ISIS or another terrorist group emerged.

Despite Trump's declaration of victory over ISIS, State Department and Pentagon officials had cautioned as recently as the week before his announcement that the fight was not over -- with the U.S. recently estimating that about 2,000 ISIS fighters remain in Syria.

According to statistics released by U.S. Air Forces Central Command last week, the U.S. and coalition aircraft dropped the highest number of bombs over Syria in the month before the president made his withdrawal announcement: 1,424 weapons released in November, up from 876 in October and 758 in September.

In a statement on Friday, the U.S. military said that its partners had only "recently liberated" a town from the terror group, calling ISIS a "determined ... force who employed complex attacks, improvised-explosive devices and booby-trapped buildings."

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Dan Kitwood/Getty Images(LONDON) -- British Prime Minister Theresa May has narrowly survived a no-confidence vote just one day after suffering a historic defeat in Parliament over her Brexit deal.

The vote was scheduled by the leader of the opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, on Tuesday evening.

In the end, May’s government survived to fight another day, as members of Parliament (MPs) voted in her favor by a margin of 325 to 306.

This is the second no-confidence vote the prime minister has faced in a matter of weeks. On Dec. 12, May survived a vote of no-confidence, orchestrated by disgruntled MPs from within her own Conservative party, by the margin of 200-117.

This vote, however, had the potential for far more significant implications.

If May had lost the vote, she would have likely been forced to resign, with a general election to follow soon after, putting the ultimate fate of Brexit even more in doubt.

Although 118 MPs in May's own Conservative Party voted against her Brexit deal on Tuesday, the prime minister was expected to survive the no-confidence vote.

Conservative MPs rallied behind her Wednesday, despite opposing the Brexit deal on Tuesday. The vote of confidence suggests they feared the prospect of a general election more than the prospect of May remaining in charge of the Brexit process.

May has held onto power, but the future of Brexit is still up in the air. After her heavy defeat on the Brexit deal on Tuesday evening, May now has until Monday to propose another deal to Parliament.

So far there are no indications as to what changes May plans to make to her original failed Brexit deal. However, after Tuesday's defeat, the prime minister said she would listen to politicians' concerns and try to seek better terms with leaders of the European Union.

In the lead-up to Tuesday's crushing defeat, May's deal was criticized by politicians and pundits on all sides of the political spectrum. Some argued May's deal would mean that the U.K. would be too closely tied to the EU for the indefinite future, while others suggested the deal would damage the economy and lead to job losses.

With more than two-thirds of parliament voting against May’s original Brexit deal on Tuesday, the defeat was the biggest government loss in a parliamentary vote in more than 100 years, according to the Institute for Government, a U.K. think tank.

May has spent the better part of two years negotiating a Brexit deal with EU leaders.

Jean Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, the EU's main political body, expressed his "regret of the outcome of the vote" on Tuesday evening.

"The risk of a disorderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom has increased with this evening's vote," he said in a statement. "While we do not want this to happen, the European Commission will continue its contingency work to help ensure the EU is fully prepared. I urge the United Kingdom to clarify its intentions as soon as possible."

The deadline for the U.K. to leave the European Union is March 29. If Parliament cannot agree to a deal or the deadline isn't extended, the U.K. could leave the EU with "no deal," which most politicians and businesspersons agree would be disastrous.

"Time," Junker added, "is almost up."

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Jeff Spicer/Getty Images(LONDON) -- Meghan Markle, who is due to give birth in April, showed all the graciousness of a royal when she expertly responded to a comment about her growing body.

“I’ll take it,” Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, said Wednesday with a laugh after a woman, pointing to Meghan's bump, called her a “fat lady.”

The exchange, which was caught on camera, came as Meghan visited Mayhew, a U.K. animal charity of which she is now patron.

Markle, 37, gamely held some of the charity’s rescue dogs and petted others as she visited with staff and volunteers at Mayhew, which offers veterinary care and support for dogs and cats around the world.

Markle is a known dog lover who had her rescue dog, Guy, by her side on the morning of her wedding to Prince Harry last May. One photo even raised speculation that Guy rode in a car with Queen Elizabeth II ahead of Harry and Meghan's wedding at St. George's Chapel in Windsor.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex also became the new owners of a Labrador puppy in August, just a few months into their life as newlyweds.

The Duchess of Sussex paired a $35 H&M cream maternity dress with a cashmere coat by Armani for her visit to Mayhew. She also carried a bag made of vegan leather by Stella McCartney, who designed Meghan's evening wedding dress.

Mayhew is the second charity visited by Meghan since it was announced last week that she has taken on four patronages.

Pregnant Meghan Markle gives hint about due date in 1st appearance of 2019 with Prince Harry

In addition to Mayhew, the Duchess of Sussex is also the patron of Smart Works, a charity that helps women get back on their feet, the National Theatre and the Association of Commonwealth Universities.

Meghan is taking over the latter two patronages, the National Theatre and Association of Commonwealth Universities, from Queen Elizabeth II.

Meghan's four patronages "reflect the causes and issues with which she has long been associated including the arts, access to education, support for women and animal welfare," Kensington Palace said in a statement last week.

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LeighGregg/iStock(ROME) -- The elephant herds in Gorongosa National Park, in central Mozambique, are survivors.

Despite massive poaching operations that decimated more than 90 percent of the elephant population in the park during the Mozambique Civil War 30 years ago, a small number survived, and the population is growing again.

But a team of scientists monitoring the herd noticed a remarkable trait among the survivors: some 30 percent of the new females are born without tusks.

"The key explanation is that in Gorongosa National Park, the tuskless elephants were the ones which eluded poaching during the civil war and passed this trait on to many of their daughters," Dominique D'Emille Correia Gonçalves, a PhD student from the England’s University of Kent on a team researching the phenomenon, said in interviews with British media this week.

The scientists noted that many in the herd have no tusks or smaller than usual tusks, which makes the animals less attractive to poachers. The team also noted that the females in the Gorongosa herds are much more aggressive to humans than other African elephants.

"Many of the matriarchs and lead females of the family units were alive during the slaughter and saw their families and friends being hunted," Correia Gonçalves added. "They are survivors, and the trauma is still present, which would explain such intolerance to humans."

The 26-year-old ecologist, who also heads the Elephant Ecology Project, was part of a team that attached GPS tracking collars to 10 females and conducted genetic studies of the population to further test their assumptions.

Dr. Michael D. Kock, a wildlife veterinarian who studies African elephants, is doubtful that the increased number of tuskless elephants is due to natural selection.

In his research of the elephant population in North Luangwa, Zambia some 60 percent of the surviving elephants were tuskless, but as conservation efforts allowed the numbers to grow, the percentage of animals with tusks returned to normal.

"In my opinion, it is purely to do with the fact that poachers target tusked animals, and as they reduce the population of elephant, the survivors are the animals naturally without tusks. Therefore, the tuskless gene predominates because a tuskless animal is less likely to be killed," Kock said in an email to ABC News.

"The tusked gene predominates in the population under normal circumstances," Kock added. "Preventing the killing of tusked elephants and a growth rate of 8 percent or more will see the ratio revert closer to normal. This is not natural selection but poaching pressure selection!"

Correia Gonçalves said her team's research is not exactly linked to Darwin's theories, though.

"These tuskless elephants are growing from the survivors of poaching," she told the Daily Mail, "so while we are not talking about evolution yet, we could be talking about the removal of certain genes from the population."

Studies of the effects of poaching are not limited to Mozambique. Researchers following elephants in Addo Elephant National Park in South Africa found that 98 percent of the 174 female elephants in 2000 were also tuskless.

"The prevalence of tusklessness in Addo is truly remarkable and underscores the fact that high levels of poaching pressure can do more than just remove individuals from a population,” Ryan Long, a University of Idaho behavioral ecologist told National Geographic last fall.

Researchers add that elephants without tusks cannot dig for water or scrape bark for food, forcing them to travel greater distances to survive.

Kock highlighted one other peculiarity from his research on the effects of poaching on forest elephants.

"I have worked with forest elephants for 15 years and have never seen a tuskless forest elephant. This may be due to the difficulty in poaching these animals in dense forest, and the elephants learning and avoidance behavior," he said. "Poaching pressure in forest elephant has resulted in a complete change in behavior, with animals visiting forest clearings in the middle of the night, leaving well before dawn and heading for dense refuges where they spend the day."

Long told National Geographic that the lasting effect humans have had on the animals could have wide-ranging impacts.

"Any or all of these changes in behavior could result in changes to the distribution of elephants across the landscape, and it's those broad-scale changes that are most likely to have consequences for the rest of the ecosystem," he said.

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Valeria Vechterova/iStock(LONDON) -- DNA of a toddler who fell down a well outside the southern Spanish city of Malaga has been found, giving rescue teams hope they are now closer to finding him.

Two-year-old Julen Rosello fell down the borehole, which is more than 300 feet deep, on Sunday when he wandered away while visiting a cousin's boyfriend's property.

From just a few feet away, his family hopelessly watched the boy fall in and attempted to rescue him immediately, but they didn't realize how deep it actually went down.

After days of searching, on Wednesday, Spanish rescuers said they found hair of the boy in a deeper section of the well, confirming he had been inside.

"We are working with all means and institutional cooperation. We hope to soon be able to give good news," Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska said in a press conference on Tuesday.

"We understand the anguish, but we have the maximum confidence in resolving it in the best way," Ana Botella, Spain’s secretary of state security, said during the press conference.

In an interview with Spanish newspaper Sur, Julen Rosello's father, Jose, explained how the incident unfolded. Vicky, the boy’s mother and Rosello’s wife, had been with the boy as Rosello cooked lunch. She asked Rosello to keep an eye on the boy, who was only 16 feet away from him, while she made a call to work.

As Rosello grabbed additional wood for the fire, he said, the boy wandered off. Rosello’s cousin ran after the boy, worried he would stumble.

Before she could reach him, however, the toddler fell through a hole that had been weakly covered by rocks, Rosello said.

"I pushed the rocks aside and stuck my arm inside, all the way up to my shoulder, resting my head against the ground because I didn’t know how deep the well was and I thought he was closer," Rosello told Sur in Spanish.

"I heard him cry. All I could say to him was, 'Stay calm, Dad is here and your little brother will help us,'" Rosello said.

The family reportedly lost a son in 2017, a 3-year-old who died suddenly.

"We are not giving up," Jose Rosello told a group of reporters on Wednesday. "We have the hope that an angel is going to show up for my son to come out alive."

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Jack Taylor/Getty Images(LONDON) -- British Prime Minister Theresa May will face a no-confidence vote in her government Wednesday after suffering a historic defeat in Parliament over her flagship Brexit deal.

The vote was tabled by the leader of the opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, on Tuesday evening moments after Members of Parliament heavily voted down the government's Brexit deal, 432-202.

If a majority of MPs vote against the government, May will be forced to resign, which could trigger a general election. Parliament will debate the no-confidence motion for six hours beginning around 8 a.m. EST, with the vote scheduled immediately afterward.

Although 118 MPs in May's own Conservative Party voted against her Brexit deal, the prime minister is expected to survive the no-confidence vote.

Conservative MPs, despite opposing the Brexit deal, are believed to fear the prospect of a general election. If the government wins the vote, May will remain, not leave.

In the lead-up to Tuesday's crushing defeat, May's deal was criticized by politicians and pundits on all sides of the political spectrum. Some argued May's deal would mean that the United Kingdom would be too closely tied to the European Union for the indefinite future, while others suggested the deal would damage the economy and lead to job losses.

After Tuesday's defeat, the prime minister said she would listen to politicians' concerns and seek better terms with EU leaders.

However, the final majority for Tuesday's vote was 230 against, meaning the prime minister has the backing of less than a third of the House of Commons for her flagship deal. The defeat was the biggest government loss in a parliamentary vote in more than 100 years, according to the think tank Institute for Government.

May has spent the better part of two years negotiating with EU leaders.

Jean Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, the EU's main political body, expressed his "regret of the outcome of the vote" on Tuesday evening.

"The risk of a disorderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom has increased with this evening's vote," he said in a statement. "While we do not want this to happen, the European Commission will continue its contingency work to help ensure the EU is fully prepared. I urge the United Kingdom to clarify its intentions as soon as possible."

The deadline for the U.K. to leave the European Union is March 29. If Parliament cannot agree to a deal or the deadline isn't extended, the U.K. could leave the EU with "no deal," which most politicians and businesspersons agree would be disastrous.

"Time," Junker added, "is almost up."

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Martin Holverda/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- A newly released U.S. intelligence report on China's military power finds that Beijing's efforts to modernize its military during the past two decades have been driven by its long-running dispute with Taiwan, the island-nation it considers a breakaway province.

In releasing the report, a senior U.S. defense official expressed concerns that China’s defense leaders might one day grow confident enough in their military’s enhanced capabilities to recommend to their political leadership that China is capable of engaging in a regional conflict, specifically with Taiwan.

The report, entitled “China Military Power: Modernizing a Force to Fight and Win,” is the Defense Intelligence Agency's first-ever unclassified report focused solely on China's defense strategies, organization, and capabilities.

The United States does not have diplomatic relations with Taiwan, nor is it required to come to its defense under the Taiwan Relations Act that dictates U.S. interactions with Taiwan.

For the last two decades, China has engaged in a significant effort to modernize its military with more advanced weaponry and training to turn it into a regional power and beyond.

"Beijing's longstanding interest to eventually compel Taiwan's reunification with the mainland and deter any attempt by Taiwan to declare independence has served as the primary driver for China's military modernization," the report reads. "Beijing's anticipation that foreign forces would intervene in a Taiwan scenario led the [People's Liberation Army] to develop a range of systems to deter and deny foreign regional force projection."

The senior defense official, who briefed reporters about the report, said China’s leadership considers the Taiwan issue to be "the last unresolved aspect" of the 1949 war in which communists expelled China's old government and proclaimed the establishment of the People's Republic of China.

The official warned that Beijing's desire to increase its capabilities in preparation for a regional conflict -- "and particularly with Taiwan" -- is their "number one priority for their force development."

"The biggest concern is that as a lot of these technologies mature, as their reorganization of their military comes into effect, as they become more proficient with these capabilities ... they will decide that using military force for a regional conflict is something that is more imminent," the official said.

“Most concerning,” the official added, would be China’s ability to carry out an attack against Taiwan.

Still, the official said that China has a ways to go before they feel fully confident in their military capabilities as they continue to improve training and command structure. So, while a regional conflict remains the focus of Beijing's preparation, it isn't something the report puts a timeline on.

"... This is a military that hasn't fought a war in 40 years. This is a military that is -- it is very new at some of these concepts," the official said. "They've been talking about joint operations for a long time, but some of is it just now sort of being implemented. And it will take a while for them to be able to work these services together, to be able to work these joint theaters and to be able to deal with a large, complex operation."

In the meantime, the report highlights how China will continue to engage in ways so Beijing can expand its reach and power "below the threshold of alarming the international community" so as not to provoke a military conflict with the U.S. or others, as its done through the expansion and construction of islands in the South and East China Seas.

In late 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping unveiled substantial reforms to the People's Liberation Army, or PLA, "designed in part to make the PLA a leaner, more lethal force capable of conducting the types of joint operations that it believes it must master to compete with the U.S. military," according to the report.

Since then, additional reforms have focused on "shifting toward a more joint command structure" to "build a more integrated and professional force."

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fallbrook/iStock(FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.) -- A teenage boy died after falling from an eighth floor balcony of a Royal Caribbean cruise ship docked in Haiti last week.

The 16-year-old was trying to enter his room on Royal Caribbean's Harmony of the Seas cruise ship through a nearby balcony last Friday when he slipped and fell to his death, according to witnesses.

Royal Caribbean did not offer details about the death, but its corporate communications manager, Owen Torres, confirmed that there'd been a tragedy on board.

"We are saddened by the loss of one of our guests in a tragic accident," Torres said in a statement.

The Broward Medical Examiner's Office identified the victim as Laurent Mercer of the Wallis and Futuna Islands, a French island collectivity in the South Pacific.

Mercer was in the middle of a seven-day Caribbean trip with his family when the accident occurred, according to the Sun Sentinel.

"The ship's medical team responded to the pier and attempted CPR, but the [boy] had sustained major head trauma and he was pronounced dead," at 11:42 a.m., the Broward Medical Examiner's Office said, according to the Sun Sentinel.

The ship departed from Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and was docked in Labadee, Haiti, where Royal Caribbean owns a private resort.

The accident comes just weeks after a Harmony of the Seas crew member died after going overboard in the Atlantic Ocean while traveling from Fort Lauderdale to St. Maarten on Christmas Day.

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Satyam Shrivastav/Hindustan Times via Getty Images(LONDON) -- Elephants, horses and an expected crowd of more than 120 million people began to descend on Prayagraj, India, Tuesday, marking the beginning of Kumbh Mela, the world’s largest religious gathering.

The 49-day holy festival takes place in the northern city of Prayagraj at the confluence of the two rivers considered sacred to Hindus: the Ganges and the Yamuna, in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Devotees believe that a dip in the rivers can absolve them of their sins.

The Indian government has said that it expects millions of people from across India and abroad to visit the area, easily making it the largest gathering of people for a religious event anywhere in the world. By comparison, approximately 2.4 million people gathered in Mecca for the Hajj last year, according to the BBC.

“It is the biggest confluence of faith and culture,” Vijay Kiran Anand, a senior officer from the Indian Administrative Service who is in charge of the Kumbh Mela, told ABC News from Prayagraj. “It is a demonstration of India’s capability to deliver in terms of infrastructure, mass gathering events and governance. It is also India’s story and India’s heritage that we can project to the world.”

The total cost of this year’s festival for the Indian government is close to $563 million, according to officials -- almost four times the money spent on the last Kumbh Mela, held in 2016.

“We have spent that money on development and infrastructure in Prayagraj,” said Anand. “Most of it is permanent works, building of roads and bridges for [the] enhancement of the city.”

Roughly 150 new roads have been created in the area, as well as 500 miles of new water pipelines, 54 electricity substations, 40,000 LED lights, 100,000 toilets, 20,000 dustbins, 200 vehicles, 22 bridges, and parking areas to accommodate an estimated 500,000 vehicles.

The police aren’t taking any chances either.

KP Singh, the deputy inspector general of police in the state of Uttar Pradesh, told ABC News that a total of 20,000 police personnel have been deployed to maintain law and order during the festival. Previous Kumbh Melas have been marred by stampedes because of poor crowd control.

“This time, we are using CCTVs, have created an integrated crowd control station with 11,000 cameras keeping an eye on the crowds,” Singh told ABC News. “With all the inputs that come in, we are able to use traffic management techniques to direct crowds and keep the festival safe.”

He added that police were also working with apps like E-cop, which allows complaints to be registered online.

"Even a missing persons report can be filed via the app and we can trace and reunite lost family members," Singh said.

The government has also created medical facilities, and a 100-bed hospital.

“Just like any other district, there are emergency numbers and responders here," Shivshankar Mahadevan, a police official, told ABC News.

But apart from more earthly concerns like police and crowd control, devotees describe the festival as a spiritually uplifting life event.

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studiocasper/iStock(MOSCOW) -- Two dozen Ukrainian sailors taken prisoner by Russia when it seized three Ukrainian navy ships in November, have appeared in a Moscow court for the first time, as Ukraine said their trial violates the Geneva Conventions.

The 24 sailors were captured when Russian coast guard vessels fired on and then boarded their three small Ukrainian ships in the Black Sea close to Crimea in late November, setting off a major international crisis.

Russia impounded the Ukrainian ships and is now placing their crews on trial, charging them with border violations.

Ukraine and Western countries have accused Russia of violating international law and have demanded their release. President Donald Trump cited the sailors’ detention when he canceled a planned meeting with Russia’s president Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in December, saying he could not sit down with Putin until they were let go.

On Monday, the sailors were led into Moscow's Lefortovsky district court in groups by masked Russian officers wearing camouflage, some armed with assault rifles. The men have been held in the city's Lefortovo prison since they were transferred from Crimea in late November and Monday’s hearing was an effort by prosecutors to extend the sailors' pretrial detention.

Ukraine officials have said the sailors should be treated as prisoners of war and, on Monday, their lawyers said Russia was violating the Geneva Convention by trying them as civilians. The court rejected a motion by the men’s lawyers to move the trial to a military court.

In multiple hearings on Monday, the judges ordered the pretrial detention of at least 20 of the sailors be extended until April 26.

A group of the men’s relatives were brought in by Ukraine’s government to attend, and the families waited tearfully for hours outside the courtrooms where they were, for the most part, only permitted to enter the courtroom for the final ruling. Some of the men’s mothers and relatives applauded the men as they were brought in and out of the courtrooms.

In a sign of the case’s international significance, about a dozen diplomats from Western countries including a United States embassy official were present, whose attendance was intended to signal solidarity with Ukraine.

The incident in November was a serious escalation of the four-year conflict between Russia and Ukraine that began when Russia invaded Crimea in 2014. It sparked fears that the detentions could lead to the return of full-scale war and prompted Ukraine's government to temporarily impose martial law in some regions.

On Nov. 26, the three Ukrainian ships -- two small gunboats and a tug -- were blockaded by Russian vessels as they tried to pass through the Kerch Strait, a narrow stretch of water separating Crimea from mainland Russia. The Ukrainian boats had been headed for Mariupol, a Ukrainian-controlled port located in the Sea of Azov beyond the strait.

After a stand-off, the Russian ships rammed and eventually opened fire on the Ukrainian boats, before boarding them. Six Ukrainian servicemen were hurt in the assault.

Russia has claimed the Ukrainians' passage was a deliberate provocation and accused them of flouting standard procedure for passing through the strait by not accepting a Russian pilot ship. But Ukraine has accused Russia of mounting a deliberate attack on its ships and violating their right -- backed by international law -- to pass freely through the strait.

The dispute is a product of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. A 2003 treaty guarantees equal access to the Kerch Strait, but after it seized Crimea, Russia has sought to exert greater control over the waterway. The situation worsened after the Kremlin built an 11-mile bridge spanning the strait, with Ukraine accusing Russia of imposing a partial blockade.

The United States, the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have backed Ukraine. The U.S. embassy in Kiev on Monday called on Russia to immediately release the sailors and "not use them as political pawns."

For Lyubov Chuliba's son, Sergey Chuliba, this is the second time he has been caught up in the conflict over Crimea. In 2014, during Russia’s invasion, he was serving at a Ukrainian military base in Crimea when it was surrounded by unmarked Russian troops. Offered an ultimatum to defect, Chuliba refused, choosing to eventually evacuate with thousands of other Ukrainian personnel.

Alena Bezyazichniy’s son, Yuri, was aboard the Ukrainian gunboat that was fired on -- the Berdyansk. Her husband was killed while fighting Russian-backed separatists near the town of Avdeevka in eastern Ukraine, she said. Now her son is going on trial in Russia.

“We’re warriors for our country,” Bezyazichniy said.

Chuliba and Bezyaichniy waited for six hours at the door of the courtroom. When the group with their sons were finally brought to the court building by masked officers, the two women threw themselves onto them, smothering them with kisses before they were taken into the courtroom.

Chiluba’s father, Roman, said the men were worried about a young dog they had been raising on their captured boat. He discretely dabbed his eyes after his son was brought through.

“Everyone is doing politics and the people suffer,” said Roman, 62,

In court, the men refused to say anything other than their name and rank, citing Geneva Conventions guidelines that protect soldiers from having to divulge more.

One of the men’s lawyers, Ilya Novikov, said Russia was violating the Geneva Conventions by refusing to treat the men as POWs, noting they had been captured in a serious military incident. He said the Ukrainian position was backed by Article 2 of the Geneva Conventions -- which stipulates that countries are bound by the treaties even when one of them does not recognize they are engaged in a state of war.

Russia, though, now seems determined to treat the captured sailors’ case as a mundane criminal trial, he said.

“It is already decided on some very top level that these people will be regarded as common criminals,” Novikov told reporters. He said the court’s decisions were being dictated by senior Russian government officials.

Ukrainian officials have expressed hope the sailors might be traded in a prisoner exchange. Novikov said he was optimistic that international pressure and the threat of fresh sanctions could force Russia to eventually to make a deal over the men.

Putin suggested in his end-of-year press conference in December the possibility of a prisoner exchange for the men, but noted it was “too early” to discuss and said it could only be raised once the men had been tried.

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MarkRubens/iStock(NEW YORK) -- An American was among more than a dozen killed when gunfire and explosions erupted at a high-end hotel complex in Nairobi, Kenya, on Tuesday afternoon, according to the U.S. Department of State and those who knew him.

I-DEV International, a San Francisco-based strategy and investment advisory firm with an office in Kenya's capital, told ABC News on Wednesday that its founder and managing director Jason Spindler "was tragically among the fatalities."

A State Department official, who confirmed that an American was among the dead, condemned the "senseless act of violence" at the multi-use complex in Nairobi's affluent Westlands neighborhood, which includes the upscale DusitD2 hotel that's popular among foreigners. The American embassy in Nairobi is closely monitoring the incident and the State Department has offered assistance to local authorities, the official told ABC News.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said at least 14 people were killed in Tuesday's attack.

"As of this moment, we have confirmation that 14 innocent lives were lost through the hands of these murderous terrorists, with others injured," Keyatta said in a broadcast Wednesday morning. "We are grieving as a country this morning, and my heart and the heart of every Kenyan, goes out to the innocent men and women violated by senseless violence."

Kenyan authorities said early Wednesday that all buildings within the complex have been secured and the operation to neutralize the assailants was over. Local authorities are calling the incident a terror attack.

"The security teams have evacuated scores of Kenyans and other nationalities from the buildings. We are now in the final stages of mopping up the area and securing evidence and documenting the consequences of these unfortunate events," Kenyan Cabinet Secretary for Interior Fred Matiang'i said during a press conference Tuesday night. "I can also report that the country is now secure, that the nation remains calm, that Kenyans and all of our visitors are safe and should feel free to continue getting about their normal businesses.

"The situation is under control, and the country is safe," Matiang'i added. "Terrorism will never defeat us."

A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State told ABC News that "all mission personnel are safe and accounted for."

Kenya's Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinnet said in a press statement that the attack began around 3 p.m. local time when a "group of armed assailants" stormed the gated complex in Westlands. An explosion targeted three vehicles in the parking lot and a suicide bomber detonated inside the hotel foyer, where a number of guests suffered severe injuries, according to Boinnet.

Video from the scene showed the cars ablaze and wounded people being carried away.

Kenya's National Police Service deployed officers to the scene to engage the attackers who were holed up inside the luxury hotel for hours. Meanwhile, the area was cordoned off as residents were screened and evacuated, Boinnet said.

Kenyan forces went floor by floor and building by building to secure the complex, according to Boinnet.

"Specialist forces are now currently flushing them out. However, we regret to inform that there have been injuries in the attack," the police inspector general told reporters in a statement Tuesday night.

The number of people who have been injured is unknown at this time.

"We urge the public to remain calm and to cooperate with all security forces and to provide any information that they may deem as useful," Boinnet added.

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LanceB/iStock(LONDON) -- The political future of the United Kingdom has once again been thrown into uncertainty after Parliament voted against accepting Theresa May’s Brexit deal.

The lead-up to the vote saw the Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal criticized by politicians and pundits on all sides of the political spectrum. Some critics argued that May’s deal means that the United Kingdom (U.K.) will be too closely tied to the European Union (EU) for the indefinite future. Others suggest that the deal will damage the economy and lead to job losses.

And in the end Members of Parliament (MPs) voted down the deal, with the final tally 432 against while only 202 voted in favor of the deal. This means the deal was defeated with a majority of 230 against.

While the future relationship between the U.K. and EU remains unclear, the prime minister did say in a statement posted to Facebook on Sunday that if she lost the vote the U.K. could end up remaining in the EU, or end up crashing out without a deal.

“If Parliament does not come together and back this deal in our national interest, we risk leaving with no deal, with all the uncertainty for jobs and security that will bring,” she wrote. “Or, with MPs unwilling to face the uncertainty of no deal and with no other offer on the table, we will risk not leaving the European Union at all.”

The future now looks desperately uncertain, as the March 29 deadline for leaving the EU looms ever closer.

The U.K. voted in June 2016 to leave the EU by a slim margin of 52 to 48 percent. The outcome immediately sent shockwaves worldwide, as no country has ever decided to leave the bloc. During the 2016 referendum campaign a number of potential scenarios were advocated by “Leave” campaigners, though the exact terms of Brexit were not specified. May spent two years negotiating with EU leaders in Brussels, but faced heavy criticism when she finally brought her proposals back to Parliament last summer.

A vote on the deal was originally intended to take place in December, but as it became increasingly clear that MPs were opposed to the deal, May delayed it. After losing Tuesday’s vote, a parliamentary motion passed last week means the government will have to make a statement on the future of Brexit to MPs within three days. Now, no one knows for sure what will happen next.

The opposition Labour Party has now called a no-confidence motion in the government. If the government loses that no confidence vote, the prime minister will have to resign, which could trigger a general election.

Other campaigners and MPs, meanwhile, have called for a second referendum to break the political deadlock, which could result in Britain remaining in the European Union.

Equally, the U.K. could either try to delay Brexit while they renegotiate another deal with EU leaders, or even leave the EU on the March 29 deadline with a “no-deal” Brexit.

In December, ABC News spoke to senior government minister Amber Rudd, the secretary of state for work and pensions, who said that the government had been making preparations in recent months for the event of a “no-deal” Brexit.

"The government is stepping up its preparations for no-deal,” she said. “Our position is unequivocally that we’re seeking to make sure we do get a deal but that there is a precautionary contingency plan for no-deal.

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MicroStockHub/iStock(LONDON) -- After two years of protracted negotiations, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal to take Britain out of the European Union is set to go before Parliament for a vote on Tuesday.

The vote was originally intended to take place in December, but as it became increasingly clear that members of parliament were opposed to the deal, May delayed the vote.

After the initial delayed vote, May survived a vote of no confidence in her premiership when members within her own Conservative Party plotted to overthrow her.

The Brexit deal that May negotiated with EU leaders has proved unpopular with politicians from all sides of the debate, though she will be hoping to rally support and win enough votes to pass it as the hard March 29 deadline for the U.K. to leave the EU looms ever closer.

The U.K. voted in June 2016 to leave the EU by a margin of 52 to 48 percent. The outcome immediately sent shockwaves worldwide, as no country has ever decided to leave the bloc and the terms by which the U.K. would do so were unclear.

Some critics argue that May’s deal means that the U.K. will be too closely tied to the EU for the indefinite future. Others suggest that the deal will damage the economy and lead to job losses.

The prime minister said in a statement posted to Facebook on Sunday that the upcoming vote is the “biggest and most important decision that any MP of our generation will be asked to make.”

“If Parliament does not come together and back this deal in our national interest, we risk leaving with no deal, with all the uncertainty for jobs and security that will bring,” she wrote. “Or, with MPs unwilling to face the uncertainty of no deal and with no other offer on the table, we will risk not leaving the European Union at all.”

A parliamentary motion passed last week means that if May’s Brexit deal is voted down, the government will have to make a statement on the future of Brexit to MPs within three days.

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omersukrugoksu/iStock(NEW YORK) -- The second-largest, second-deadliest Ebola outbreak in history has reached 600 confirmed cases in five months, health officials said.

Since the outbreak was declared in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on Aug. 1, a total of 649 people have reported symptoms of hemorrhagic fever in the country's northeastern provinces of North Kivu and Ituri. Among those cases, 600 have tested positive for Ebola virus disease, which causes an often-fatal type of hemorrhagic fever, according to Monday night's bulletin from the country's health ministry.

The growing outbreak has a case fatality rate of around 61 percent. There have been 396 deaths thus far, including 347 people who died from confirmed cases of Ebola. The other deaths are from probable cases, the ministry said.

On average, about half of all Ebola patients succumb to the deadly virus, though case fatality rates have varied from 25 to 90 percent in past outbreaks, according to the World Health Organization, the global health arm of the United Nations.

The ongoing outbreak is one of the world's worst, second only to the 2014-2016 outbreak in multiple West African nations that infected 28,652 people and killed 11,325, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This is also the 10th outbreak of Ebola virus disease in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the most severe that the Central African nation has seen since 1976, when scientists first identified the virus near the eponymous Ebola River.

Ebola virus disease, which has a relatively long incubation period of approximately eight to 21 days, is transmitted through contact with blood or secretions from an infected person, either directly or through contaminated surfaces, needles or medical equipment.

The two provinces where cases in the latest outbreak are being reported share porous borders with South Sudan, Uganda and Rwanda, raising the risk of national and regional spread.

Health workers are facing a number of other challenges to contain the virus, including sporadic attacks from armed groups operating in the mineral-rich, volatile borderlands as well as resistance from the local population in an area that never before had been affected by an Ebola outbreak.

However, this is the first time that a vaccine for prevention and therapeutic treatments are available for use in an Ebola outbreak. The vaccine, which was developed by American pharmaceutical company Merck, has proved effective against the country's previous outbreak in the western province of Equateur.

Nearly 60,000 people have been vaccinated in the outbreak zone since Aug. 8, according to the country's health ministry, which has said that the number of Ebola cases would probably have already surpassed 10,000 if it weren't for the vaccination teams.

Still, the ministry has warned that the epidemic is expected to last for "several" more months and the risk of transmission will remain high.

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WJTN Bulletin for Wed., Jan 16, 2019

(Bulletin**)Fentanyl turns up in city drug bust Tuesday night... A Jamestown man has been arrested for allegedly being in possession of... and,trafficking Heroin and Fentanyl in the Jamestown-area....

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