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Former Taliban Hostage Freed In Pakistan Faces Assault Charges In Canada

FILE: Joshua Boyle speaks to the media in Toronto in October.

A Canadian man recently rescued in Pakistan with his American wife and children after five years of captivity by the Taliban has been arrested and faces assault charges in Canada, his lawyer says.

In a 15-count indictment, Ottawa police have charged Joshua Boyle, 34, with eight counts of assault, two counts of sexual assault, two counts of forcible confinement, and one count of uttering death threats.

A publication ban has been imposed, preventing the alleged victims from being identified.

A hearing on Boyle's case is scheduled for January 3 in Ottawa, the Canadian capital. His lawyer, Eric Granger, said on January 2 that Boyle was in custody, though he had never been in trouble with the law before and was innocent of the charges.

Boyle, his wife Caitlan Coleman, and their three children were rescued last year in Pakistan, five years after the couple was abducted by a Taliban-linked militant group while on a backpacking trip in neighboring Afghanistan. The children were born in captivity.

Pakistan said its troops rescued the family on October 11 from their captors, the Taliban-linked Haqqani group, after they had been moved across the border from Afghanistan.

Pakistan's Foreign Ministry said the operation was based on a tip from U.S. intelligence.

U.S. officials gave a different account of the family's captivity and rescue, saying the family spent almost all of their five-year confinement in Pakistan, not in Afghanistan.

The parents of Caitlan Coleman, who is from Stewartstown, Pennsylvania, said after the rescue that they were elated she had been freed, but they also expressed anger at their son-in law for taking their daughter to Afghanistan.

Based on reporting by AP and Reuters

Migrants Cluster Near Serbian Border Day After Police Break Up Protest

Migrants sit around a fire inside an abandoned warehouse near Serbian border with Croatia on December 23.

More than a hundred refugees and migrants were still wandering around the Serbian border town of Sid on December 27 one day after Serbian police broke up a protest there.

A few dozen people had protested at the border line between Serbia and Croatia on December 26 and were demanding to continue their trip toward Western Europe.

After police and officials of the Commissariat for Refugees broke up the protest, many migrants went to sleep in the nearby woods. They were provided with food and medical care by humanitarian organizations.

More than 4,000 refugees and migrants are settled in camps provided by the state throughout Serbia.

Humanitarian groups say there are about 500 people living under the open sky throughout the country, avoiding registration with the authorities out of fear that they will be deported to Macedonia and then sent back to their home countries -- mainly Afghanistan and Pakistan.

UN Votes 128-9 To Reject U.S. Recognition Of Jerusalem As Israel Capital

Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas called the vote a "victory for Palestine." (file photo)

The UN General Assembly has voted 128-9 in favor of a draft resolution rejecting Washington’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The December 21 vote during a rare emergency assembly session was seen as a strong rebuke against U.S. President Donald Trump, who had warned of potential cuts in foreign aid to nations that went along with the resolution.

Thirty-five countries abstained, including Australia, Canada, Mexico, and the Philippines.

Along with the United States and Israel, those voting against the resolution were: Guatemala, Honduras, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, and Togo.

Key U.S. allies, including Britain, France, Germany, and Japan, voted for the resolution.

Russia also voted in favor of the resolution.

The nonbinding UN resolution called for the assembly to declare U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital “null and void.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas called the vote a "victory for Palestine."

But Israel rejected it, and thanked Trump for his "unequivocal" stance.

"Israel rejects the U.N. decision and at the same time is satisfied with the high number of countries that did not vote in its favour," said a statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office.

"Israel thanks (U.S.) President Trump for his unequivocal position in favour of Jerusalem and thanks the countries that voted together with Israel, together with the truth," it said.

Ahead of the vote, Israel's envoy to the UN, Danny Danon, vowed that "no General Assembly resolution will ever drive us from Jerusalem."

Trump had said he would scrutinize the outcome and suggested that Washington could cut off financial aid to countries that supported the text.

"We're watching those votes," the president said on December 20. "Let them vote against us, we'll save a lot. We don't care."

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on December 21 called on countries not to be swayed by Trump's threat, and expressed hope that the world would "give a very good lesson" to the United States.

A similar draft resolution was vetoed by the United States at the UN Security Council on December 18, as all other 14 council members voted in favor.

Trump announced on December 6 to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv, triggering international condemnation and protests across the Muslim world.

Palestinians regard Jerusalem as the capital of their future state. Israel has annexed East Jerusalem and declared the city as its capital, a move never recognized by the international community.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and The Jerusalem Post

CPJ Says Number Of Jailed Journalists Hits Historic High

Journalists from The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) shout slogans during a demonstration in support of English daily newspaper Dawn in Islamabad in May.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says the number of journalists imprisoned worldwide has hit another new record, which it says reflects a "dismal failure by the international community to address a global crisis in freedom of the press."

In its annual survey of journalists in jail published on December 13, the New York-based media watchdog found 262 journalists behind bars around the world in relation to their work, a new record after a historical high of 259 last year.

The census accounts only for journalists in government custody on December 1, not those imprisoned and released throughout the year or those who have disappeared or are held captive by nonstate groups.

CPJ says that for the second consecutive year more than half of those jailed for their work are behind bars in Turkey, China, and Egypt, which are responsible for jailing 134 of the total.

It says the United States and other Western powers failed to pressure the three countries' leaderships into improving the "bleak climate" for press freedom.

"Far from isolating repressive countries for their authoritarian behavior, the United States, in particular, has cozied up to strongmen such as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Chinese President Xi Jinping," the group says.

CPJ says a crackdown on the Turkish press accelerated after a failed coup attempt in July 2016. As a result, the country is the world’s worst jailer of journalists for the second consecutive year with 73 of them behind bars.

The top jailers of journalists also include Azerbaijan, where 10 of them were found behind bars.

There were five journalists incarcerated in both Iran and Russia, four in Uzbekistan, and two in both Kazakhstan and Pakistan.

The CPJ census shows that Ukraine, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan each imprisoned one journalist.

Globally, nearly three-quarters of journalists are jailed on antistate charges, many under "broad and vague terror laws," the media watchdog says.

And 35 journalists worldwide were jailed without any publicly disclosed charge.

Uzbek Suspect In New York Truck Attack Faces New Charges, Possible Death Penalty

A photo of Sayfullo Saipov is displayed at a news conference at One Police Plaza on November 1.

A U.S. grand jury has leveled 22 new charges against an Uzbek immigrant accused of running down eight people in a truck attack in New York City last month, including murder and support for the extremist group Islamic State (IS).

In an expanded indictment handed down late on November 21, Sayfullo Saipov, 29, was charged with eight counts of murder and 12 counts of attempted murder. If convicted on the murder charges, Saipov could face the death penalty.

Saipov was arrested after he emerged from a rented truck on October 21 after using it in a rampage to run down pedestrians and cyclists on a bike path in lower Manhattan near where the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center once stood.

It was the most deadly attack in New York since the September 1, 2001 attacks.

Saipov was immediately charged with terrorism, but prosecutors took several weeks to collect evidence in bringing the murder and other new charges against him. Saipov's lawyer did not immediately comment on the expanded indictment.

Saipov's initial court appearance is scheduled for November 28. He is expected to enter a plea at that time.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions called the attack a "calculated act of terrorism in the heart of one of our great cities."

Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim said that "scores of videos and images on his cellphone" will be part of the evidence in the case against Saipov.

"Like many terrorists before him, Saipov will now face justice in an American court," Kim said. "And like New York City's response to his alleged attack, we expect that justice in this case will be swift, firm, and resolute."

William Sweeney, the head of New York's FBI office, said that despite Saipov's "intentions to inflict significant damage, death, and injury to innocent victims," the indictment shows "that the rule of law will always prevail."

Authorities said Saipov, who is being held without bail, made statements after his arrest about his allegiance to IS, which later took credit for the attack.

Authorities said in court papers that Saipov told investigators he was inspired to carry out the attack after watching a video of IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi questioning "what Muslims in the United States and elsewhere were doing to respond to the killing of Muslims in Iraq."

Evidence against Saipov includes what was found on two of his phones, according to court documents. Investigators said one phone contained 90 videos and other IS propaganda, including one of a beheading and another of a tank running over a prisoner. The other phone showed a search for truck-rental outlets.

Saipov was shot by a police officer after crashing the truck into a school bus at the end of his rampage. Authorities said his injury was minor enough that he was transferred to a prison facility in Manhattan two days later.

Saipov came to the United States legally in 2010 from Uzbekistan, where officials and his family said he had no history of radicalization or trouble with the law.

He first lived in Ohio, where he was a commercial truck driver, then in Florida. He most recently lived in New Jersey with his wife and children, and worked as an Uber driver.

His sister told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service earlier this month that Saipov was "brainwashed" after he came to the United States. She said his family became alarmed when he grew a full beard in the style of some religious extremists after his 2013 marriage.

"When we first saw his picture with a beard, we got scared," Umida Saipova, 27, told RFE/RL in a telephone interview. "We don’t know who has brainwashed him."

With reporting by AP, AFP, Reuters, and RFE/RL's Uzbek Service

Germany Expels 14 Afghans Amid Protests

A Czech aircraft taxis before takeoff at Leipzig's airport on October 24, believed to be carrying the rejected asylum seekers, 11 of whom had criminal records.

Germany has expelled 14 rejected asylum seekers from Afghanistan amid angry protests that the war-wracked country is unsafe for those who return.

A chartered Czech plane with the Afghans on board, all of them men, took off late October 24 from Leipzig in eastern Germany and arrived in Kabul on October 25.

Around 150 demonstrators gathered at the airport in Leipzig to protest against the expulsions.

Eleven of those expelled had criminal records for acts such as manslaughter, causing grievous bodily harm, sexual abuse of children, fraud, and theft, Interior Ministry spokeswoman Annegret Korff told reporters on October 25.

The other three Afghans had refused to cooperate on establishing their identity, she added.

Saxony state Interior Minister Markus Ulbig told public radio that Berlin was sending a "loud and clear message" that those not granted refugee status following an official review "no longer have a right to be in Germany."

Germany has granted asylum to most refugees from war-torn Syria. But the German government has argued it can safely repatriate asylum seekers to Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan.

In Berlin, leading Greens deputy Claudia Roth urged the authorities to stop the deportations, noting that about 250 people were killed in Taliban attacks in Afghanistan in the past week.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has been struggling to bring down the numbers of asylum seekers after the arrival of more than 1 million migrants and refugees -- mainly from Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan -- since 2015.

Based on reporting by AFP and dpa

U.S. To Admit Refugees Again, But With Restrictions On Iran, 10 Other Countries

U.S. President Donald Trump signing his temporary ban on refugees earlier this year

The U.S. government announced it will start admitting refugees from most countries again after a 120-day ban, but will impose new restrictions on refugees from Iran and 10 other countries where it sees security risks.

While the government allowed its temporary refugee ban to expire as scheduled on October 24, it was replaced with a restrictive new executive order that refugee agencies said would continue to make access difficult for about half of all refugees who recently have sought sanctuary in the United States.

"The security of the American people is our highest priority," said U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Associate Director Jennifer Higgins.

Besides Iran, refugee agencies said restrictions -- such as requiring a 90-day review of applicants by intelligence and security agencies -- will apply to refugees from Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Mali, North Korea, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

All of the countries singled out except North Korea are predominantly Muslim, and together they have accounted for the largest share of refugees seeking sanctuary in the United States.

In the fiscal year ending on September 30, for example, out of 53,716 refugees accepted into the United States, 22,150 came from Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Somalia.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court on October 24 dismissed a case challenging the legality of the refugee ban, citing its expiration.

Based on reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters

Medical Study Says Pollution Causes 9 Million Premature Deaths Annually

FILE: Smoke billows from two smoke stacks at the coal-based Badarpur Thermal Station in New Delhi, April 6, 2015

A major study published in a British medical journal, The Lancet, says pollution kills at least 9 million people a year and costs nearly $5 trillion annually.

The study, released on October 20, says one out of every six premature deaths in 2015 could be attributed to exposure to toxins in the air, water, or soil.

Although the estimate of 9 million deaths was described as "conservative," it is more than three times the number of people killed annually by AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined and more than 15 times the number of people killed by wars and other forms of violence.

The Lancet study is the first of its kind to assemble data on disease and deaths caused by air, water, and soil pollution.

"Pollution is a massive problem that people aren't seeing because they're looking at scattered bits of it," epidemiologist Phillip Landrigan, a lead author of the study, told AP.

India was the country with the most premature deaths caused by pollution, with an estimated 2.5 million in 2015.

China was second, with some 1.8 million deaths by pollution-related causes.

Pakistan, Bangladesh, North Korea, South Sudan, and Haiti were also featured in the report.

With reporting by AP, BBC, and The Guardian

UN: More Than 8,000 Children Killed Or Hurt In Conflicts Worldwide

FILE: A nurse consoles an injured Afghan girl.

A new United Nations report says more than 8,000 children were killed or injured in armed conflicts throughout the world last year, a number that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called "unacceptable."

The UN said in a statement that its annual Children and Armed Conflict report, presented to the UN Security Council on October 5, found that Afghanistan had the highest number of verified child casualties since the 192-nation body began documenting civilian casualties in 2009.

The report said that 3,512 children in Afghanistan were killed or maimed in 2016, up 24 percent from the previous year. In Syria the figure was 1,299, and in Yemen it was 1,340.

The report also found that hundreds of children were victims of sexual violence, targeted in attacks on schools, or recruited as soldiers.

The report included a blacklist of organizations deemed responsible for abuses against children, including groups based in Afghanistan, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Mali, Myanmar, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

The Saudi-led coalition backing Yemen's government in its conflict against Huthi rebels was also included in the list for the first time.

Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last year removed Saudi Arabia from the list following pressure from Riyadh. Human Rights Watch said Guterres did "the right thing" by adding the coalition to the list.

With reporting by AP and AFP

U.S. Says Three Men Charged With Plotting New York Terror Attacks For IS

FILE: The Times Square in New York.

U.S. authorities say three men have been arrested on charges of plotting attacks in New York City for the extremist Islamic State (IS) group.

Federal prosecutors in New York said on October 6 that the planned attacks, which were thwarted by law-enforcement authorities, included bombings in New York City's Times Square and subway system, as well as shooting people at concert venues.

The attacks were to be carried out during the Islamic holy month of Ramadhan in the summer of 2016, prosecutors said in a statement on the unsealing of the charges.

The suspects include a 19-year-old Canadian citizen accused of purchasing bomb-making materials and securing the use of a cabin to build explosive devices, and a 19-year-old U.S. citizen based in Pakistan who allegedly planned to travel to New York to help carry out the attacks.

The third suspect, a 37-year-old Philippine citizen, is accused of wiring money from the Philippines to the United States to help fund the planned attacks, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors added that all three men have been arrested, and that the Canadian man, Abulrahman El Bahnasawy, has pleaded guilty.

Saudi King Issues Order Allowing Women To Drive

Allowing women to drive comes two years after women gained the right to vote in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia's king has issued an order allowing women to drive cars for the first time.

The decree announced on September 26 on the state news agency SPA ordered the creation of a ministerial council to advise the royal palace within 30 days, and then put the order into place by next June.

"The royal decree will implement the provisions of traffic regulations, including the issuance of driving licenses for men and women alike," the Saudi Press Agency said.

The country was the only one in the world where women have been explicitly banned from driving.

Activists have been pushing for the right for women to drive since the 1990s, saying it was part of a wider struggle for women's rights in the kingdom.

The United States, one of the kingdom's closest allies, called the order "a great step in the right direction."

Based on reporting by AP, Reuters, SPA

Trump's New Travel Ban Includes North Korea, Venezuela

A member of the Al-Murisi family, Yemeni nationals who were denied entry into the United States because of a recent travel ban, shows the cancelled visa in their passport from their failed attempt to enter the country. (file photo)

President Donald Trump has issued new restrictions on people trying to enter the United States from eight nations -- adding North Korea and Venezuela to a list that also includes Iran -- to replace his expiring travel ban.

Trump signed a proclamation on September 24 implementing a range of limitations that will apply to citizens of Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, North Korea, and Venezuela.

Restrictions on citizens of Sudan were lifted while Iraqi citizens face enhanced scrutiny, or vetting, but will not be subject to travel prohibitions.

The new restrictions will go into effect on October 18, eight days after the court is due to hear oral arguments over the legality of Trump's previous ban.

"Making America Safe is my number one priority. We will not admit those into our country we cannot safely vet," Trump said in a tweet.

The measures restricting travel to the United States include an indefinite ban on visas for citizens of countries like Syria.

A suspension of nonimmigrant visas for citizens of Venezuela will apply only to certain government officials and their immediate families.

Venezuela and North Korea are the only two non-Muslim majority nations on the list.

The current ban, which sparked international outrage and legal challenges when enacted in March, expired on September 24.

The new policy may complicate the Supreme Court's review of the expired ban, which is scheduled for argument next month.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP

Participation Up 30 Percent As Annual Hajj Ends In Saudi Arabia

Muslim worshippers gather outside Namrah Mosque during the Hajj pilgrimage in Arafat, near Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on August 31.

Officials in Saudi Arabia declared a successful end to this year’s hajj pilgrimage, which drew 2.3 million Muslims from around the world without reports of major problems.

Prince Khalid al-Faisal, who led the government-run committee that oversaw the hajj, on September 3 said this year’s celebration attracted 30 percent more people than the event last year.

“More than 2 million pilgrims have come to this holy land in order to embody the correct humanitarian image of Muslims,” Faisal said.

He added that no significant problems were reported in the five-day event.

In recent years, the hajj has been hit by deadly riots, fires, and stampedes.

The 2015 hajj saw some 2,300 pilgrims, many of them from Iran, crushed to death in a ritual near Mecca -- a tragedy that led to rising tensions between the host Saudis and rival Iran.

Tehran ordered a boycott of the event in 2016, but they allowed participation again this year.

As host, Saudi Arabia has made great effort to make hajj rituals easier and safer for pilgrims, including widening roads and deploying more than 100,000 security personnel.

Muslims are expected to perform the hajj at least once in their lifetime if they are fit enough and have the financial means to make the pilgrimage

Based on reporting by dpa and AP

Muslims Celebrate Start Of Eid Al-Adha As Hajj Enters Final Days

People greet each other after offering Eid al-Adha prayers in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, on September 1.

Muslims around the world are celebrating the start of the Eid al-Adha holiday on September 1 as some 2 million Muslim pilgrims carry out the final rites of the annual hajj in Saudi Arabia.

After dawn, hundreds of thousands of people began a symbolic ritual of stoning the devil amid tight security in the desert valley of Mina, near the holy city of Mecca, two years after a stampede killed some 2,300 pilgrims at the event.

The pilgrims cast pebbles at three large columns, chanting "God is the greatest" each time.

Muslim worshippers gather outside Namrah Mosque during the Hajj pilgrimage in Arafat, near Mecca, Saudi Arabia on August 31
Muslim worshippers gather outside Namrah Mosque during the Hajj pilgrimage in Arafat, near Mecca, Saudi Arabia on August 31

The final days of hajj coincide with Eid al-Ahda, the multiday festival also known as the Feast of Sacrifice. Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, are the two most important festivals in the Islamic calendar.

It is traditional to slaughter livestock for Eid al-Adha and distribute the meat to the poor.

Most pilgrims will remain in Mina until September 4 before completing the hajj. They will then circle the cube-shaped Kaaba in Mecca, Islam's most sacred site, before departing.

Following the 2015 stampede in Mina, the Saudi government has widened some roads to try to improve the safety of the hajj. More than 100,000 security forces have been deployed there during the hajj to assist pilgrims.

Based on reporting by AP, dpa

U.S., Europe Among Regions Least Hit By Terror Attacks Last Year, Report Says

FILE: Workers remove debris from a damaged area a day after a suicide bomb attack near the foreign embassies in Kabul, Afghanistan on June 1.

Terrorist attacks have riveted attention in the United States and Europe, but those regions accounted for only a tiny percentage of fatalities from such attacks last year, a new report has found.

The report issued on August 23 from the University of Maryland and based on its Global Terrorism Database found that Western Europe and North America accounted for less than 1 percent of the 34,676 people killed in terror attacks in 2016, while they accounted for less than 2 percent of all attacks.

Countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen suffered the most frequent and deadly attacks, which were concentrated by region in the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa, the study found.

Attacks by the Islamic State extremist group and its affiliates, while much feared in the West, were heavily concentrated in Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria, and other Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African countries, the report found.

Iraq alone suffered nine of the 11 deadliest attacks in 2016, each carried out by IS, including the single deadliest attack, where a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-laden truck outside a Baghdad shopping center, killing at least 382 people.

South Asia accounted for 27 percent of all attacks and 22 percent of those killed in 2016.

With reporting by AFP

IMF: Global Economic Recovery On 'Firmer Footing'

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) says the global economic recovery is on "firmer footing" with improving growth in Europe and China even as it reduced predicted growth for the United States and Britain.

The IMF's World Economic Outlook released on July 24 said it expected the global economy will grow by 3.5 percent in 2017 and 3.6 percent in 2018.

IMF chief economist Maurice Obstfeld, who presented the quarterly update, said "there is now no question mark over the world economy's gain in momentum."

The IMF, however, warned that sluggish wage growth and growing antiglobal sentiment could leave economies worse off.

The IMF forecast improvement in the eurozone, where growth is projected at 1.9 percent this year and 1.7 percent in 2018.

The Russian economy is projected to "recover gradually" in 2017 and 2018, and inflation there has declined.

Growth in the Middle East, North Africa, Afghanistan, and Pakistan is projected to slow considerably in 2017 due to a decrease in activity in oil exporters, before recovering in 2018.

Malala Meets Chibok Girls, Urges Nigeria To Prioritize Education

Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai (L) speaks with Nigerian Acting President Yemi Osinbajo during her courtesy visit to the presidency in Abuja on July 17.

Nobel peace laureate Malala Yousafzai has called on Nigeria to focus on improving its education system, as she visited the country and met some of the Chibok schoolgirls whose cause she championed.

Yousafzai, 20, a Pakistani education activist who came to prominence when a Taliban militant shot her in the head in 2012, was named a UN Messenger of Peace in April to promote girls’ education around the world.

After a meeting with Nigeria’s acting president in Abuja, Yousafzai said the government should declare a “state of emergency on education in Nigeria,” where nearly half of primary-aged children are not enrolled in school.

According to UN figures, Nigeria has some 10.5 million children out of school -- the most in the world -- and 60 percent of them are girls.

Yousafzai has also taken part in global campaigns to maintain awareness of more than 200 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram Islamist militants from their school in Nigeria’s remote town of Chibok in 2014.

Some 100 of the schoolgirls still remain in captivity, while others were freed or escaped. Yousafzai met some of the freed girls in Abuja, Nigeria's capital.

Malala won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize along with Kailash Satyarthi of India.

Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters

UN Approves Treaty To Ban Nuclear Weapons Despite Boycott By Nuclear Powers

The first-ever treaty to ban nuclear weapons has been approved by 122 countries despite a boycott by all nuclear-armed states.

The vote was announced on July 7 by Elayne Whyte Gomez, president of the United Nations conference that negotiated the treaty, to loud applause.

"We have managed to sow the first seeds of a world free of nuclear weapons," she said. "The world has been waiting for this legal norm for 70 years," since atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, she said.

None of the nine countries that possess nuclear weapons -- the United States, Russia, Britain, China, France, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel -- supported the treaty.

In a joint statement, UN ambassadors from the United States, Britain, and France said the treaty "clearly disregards the realities of the international security environment."

It offers no solution to "the grave threat posed by North Korea's nuclear program, nor does it address other security challenges that make nuclear deterrence necessary," they said.

A ban that doesn't address these concerns "cannot result in the elimination of a single nuclear weapon and will not enhance any country's security," they said.

Western nuclear powers instead want to strengthen the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Based on reporting by AP and AFP

Protesters In Madrid Urge Spanish Government To Accept More Refugees

FILE: Refugees and migrants stand next to a border fence at the Greek-Macedonian border.

Several thousand protesters marched in the Spanish capital of Madrid to urge the country’s conservative government to fulfill its commitment to take in more than 17,000 refugees as part of a wider European relocation plan.

On June 17, the protesters, many chanting "No human being is illegal," marched behind a huge banner reading: "We Want To Welcome Them Now! Enough Excuses. No More Barriers."

In 2015, Spain pledged to take in more than 17,300 refugees but has so far only resettled just over 1,300, according to Amnesty International.

The country vowed to take in 15,888 from camps in Italy and Greece, which are on the front line of the refugee influx, and 1,449 from Turkey and Libya. Many originated in Syria, officials said.

A February march in Barcelona in support of refugees attracted some 160,000 protesters, officials and organizers said.

Based on reporting by AFP and AP

U.K. Police Name Two London Attack Suspects

A combo photo shows Khuram Shazad Butt (L) and Rachid Redouane from Barking, east London, believed by police to be two of the three attackers in the June 3 terror attack on London Bridge.

British police have named two of the three men suspected of carrying out the terror attack in London on June 3.

Khuram Butt, 27, was married with children and lived in Barking, east London, for a number of years.

London's Metropolitan Police said Butt was previously known to police and the U.K. spy agency, MI5, and was a British citizen born in Pakistan.

"However, there was no intelligence to suggest that this attack was being planned and the investigation had been prioritized accordingly," police said in a statement.

Butt was a British citizen born in Pakistan.

The other attacker was named as Rachid Redouane, 30, who also went by the identity Rachid Elkhdar and was not known to police.

Redouane claimed both Libyan and Moroccan nationality.

Police say investigations were continuing into the identity of the third attacker.

Assistant Commander Mark Rowley said "work is ongoing to understand more about them, their connections and whether they were assisted or supported by anyone else."

Police said six women and four men arrested after the attack were still being questioned.

The three suspects were shot dead by police officers within minutes after they drove a van into pedestrians on London Bridge and then attacked several people with knives in the nearby Borough Market nightlife neighborhood.

The extremist group Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the attack.

Authorities said 36 people remained in hospital, with 18 in a critical condition.

A vigil was held at Potters Field Park near London Bridge to remember the victims.

On June 5, London police said they carried out fresh raids and detained an undisclosed number of people in the investigation into the attack.

London police chief Cressida Dick told BBC television on June 5 that police had seized "a huge amount of forensic material" after going through the van the assailants used to plow into people on the bridge.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

Afghan Man Kills Russian Boy At German Home For Asylum-Seekers

FILE: Afghan refugees sits in front of Brandenburg Gate during a hunger strike in Berlin in 2012.

An Afghan man fatally stabbed a 5-year-old Russian boy at a home for asylum-seekers in Germany and was then himself shot dead by police, officers say.

The 41-year-old Afghan man on June 3 also seriously injured the child's mother in the town of Arnschwang near the Bavarian city of Regensburg before police arrived at the facility, officers said.

Further details of the incident were not immediately available, and there was no indication what led up to the fatal stabbing.

It was also not clear what part of Russia the victim was from.

Based on reporting by AP and dpa

Former French Prime Minister Investigated Over Alleged Kickbacks In 'Karachi Affair'

Former French Prime Minister Edouard Balladur

French authorities have opened a preliminary investigation into former French Prime Minister Edouard Balladur in connection with a funding scandal that arose from a 1990s arms deal with Pakistan.

The so-called "Karachi Affair" dates back to 1994, when Balladur, 88, was serving as prime minister.

France won a tender to supply three submarines to Pakistan and, as was customary at the time, paid hefty commissions to people involved in putting the deal together. At the time, such payments were legal in France.

What has caused concern is not the payment of commissions, but rather alleged kickbacks taken out of those commissions and given to French politicians.

Part of that money is believed by some to have gone toward the presidential campaign of Balladur, who was making a run for president against fellow party member Jacques Chirac.

The investigative committee will determine whether Balladur will have to answer to a court.

Balladur's office said he would contest the case.

"There is no evidence in the files seen by lawyers that he personally participated in his capacity as prime minister in setting up a system of kickbacks to finance his election campaign in 1995," it said.

Based on reporting by dpa and Reuters

German Authorities Arrest Afghan Suspected In Taliban Killing

FILE: An Afghan who was deported from Germany arrives with his belongings at the international airport in Kabul in January.

German authorities say they have arrested a 20-year-old Afghan suspect in the killing of a police officer in Afghanistan by Taliban militants.

In a May 23 statement, the Federal Prosecutor’s Office said that the suspect, identified as Omaid N., has been in custody since May 19.

He is suspected of taking part in the killing of the police officer alongside other Taliban militants in early 2013, a statement said.

When asked to carry out terrorist attacks on behalf of the group, the man fled Afghanistan via Iran, Turkey, Greece, and Austria with the help of smugglers before arriving in Germany in November 2013 as a refugee.

Prosecutors did not give details about where the arrest took place.

With reporting by dpa

More Than 31 Million People Became Internally Displaced In 2016

An internally displaced girl who fled Raqqa city sits inside a camp in Ain Issa, Raqqa Governorate, Syria, in May.

Conflicts, violence, and natural disasters forced more than 31 million people into internal displacement in 2016, a new report says.

The report, released on May 22 by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), differentiates between internally displaced persons (IDP) and refugees.

It said IDP is not a legal status because those affected remain under the jurisdiction of their own government and often do not receive additional rights over other citizens.

People who have crossed an international border in search of refuge have a right to legal refugee status, which affords them certain rights and international protection, it added.

“Internally displaced people now outnumber refugees by two to one. It is urgent to put internal displacement back on the global agenda," said Jan Egeland, the NRC secretary general.

The report said more aid was allocated in 2016 to refugee resettlement within donor countries than in the countries dealing with high numbers of IDPs.

“Despite internal displacement being the starting point of many onward journeys, it has been overshadowed by the current global focus on refugees and migrants,” said Alexandra Bilak, the director of IDMC.

“We need to acknowledge that, without the right kind of support and protection, a person internally displaced today may become a refugee, an asylum seeker or an international migrant tomorrow,” she added.

The report said 6.9 million new internal displacements were caused by conflicts. Some 2.6 million of them were in sub-Saharan Africa, while 824,000 were in Syria, 659,000 in Iraq, 653,000 in Afghanistan, and 478,000 in Yemen.

“As of the end of 2016, a total of 40.3 million people were displaced within their own country as a result of conflict and violence, some of whom having been displaced for decades,” the report said.

Disasters displaced some 24 million people last year, with most attributed to “sudden-onset” weather hazards, including floods, storms, and wildfires, it said.

Top NATO Commanders Recommend Joining Anti-IS Coalition

An Iraqi man tries to put out a car fire as Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Services advance toward Mosul's western Rifai neighborhood during their ongoing offensive against Islamic State (IS) fighters on May 16.

Top NATO commanders have recommended that the military alliance join the international coalition fighting the Islamic State extremist group.

The chairman of the NATO military committee, General Petr Pavel, said on May 17 in Brussels that "there is merit for NATO becoming a member of that coalition."

Pavel said the alliance's military leaders agreed "that NATO can and should do more" to increase the capacity of Iraq and other countries fighting IS to better defend themselves.

He said the final decision will rest with NATO heads of state and government when they meet in Brussels on May 25.

NATO's role could include training local forces and helping to build militaries and institutions.

NATO countries do not want the alliance engaged in active combat against Islamic State militants, even though all are individual members of the anti-IS coalition.

U.S. President Donald Trump has demanded that NATO do more to combat terrorism.

Trump is scheduled to meet NATO leaders in Brussels next week

With reporting by Rikard Jozwiak in Brussels and AP

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