Taliban exhibit two hostages
An American and an Australian have appeared in a Taliban hostage video, five months after they were kidnapped from Kabul. Gunmen wearing police uniforms abducted the two professors at the American University of Afghanistan in the heart of the capital on Aug. 7 last year. The 13-minute, 35-second video circulated by Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid on Wednesday offers the first apparent proof that they were still alive. Australia yesterday said it “has been working closely with other governments to secure the release” of the hostage, but would not elaborate, citing his family’s wishes and safety concerns. The video comes after US Special Operations Forces conducted a failed secret raid in August to rescue them.
Castaways cross Tasman
A New Zealand man and his six-year-old daughter who were missing at sea for more than a month have landed in the nation after sailing their small, damaged yacht across the treacherous 2,000km Tasman Sea. Alan Langdon, 46, and his daughter Que had planned a short journey from Kawhia to the Bay of Islands on New Zealand’s east coast, but after a storm damaged the yacht’s rudder they found themselves drifting out to sea. “Once we were in the position with no rudder, we didn’t have as many options,” Langdon told local media on Wednesday after docking his 6.4m yacht in Ulladulla, a fishing port 230km south of Sydney. “I waited for the fine weather, that didn’t come. At that stage we were getting pushed south and out,” Langdon said, adding he then decided it would be safer to head to Australia across the Tasman Sea.
Bird flu hits farm: ministry
The Ministry of Agriculture late on Wednesday said that a bird flu outbreak, the country’s fifth since October last year, hit a goose farm in Hunan Province, killing 1,054 birds. The outbreak in Yuanjiang, a city of more than 700,000 people, was confirmed as a case of influenza A virus subtype H5N6, the ministry said in a statement on its Web site. The local government culled a further 2,067 birds after the outbreak, which the ministry said had been brought under control. The case brings China’s total poultry cull since October to more than 175,000 birds, as South Korea and other neighboring countries battle their own major outbreaks. China has confirmed 106 cases of human H7N9 bird flu infections, and 20 deaths in total last month, the National Health and Family Planning Commission said on Wednesday.
Amazon.com pulls doormats
Amazon.com yesterday said it has withdrawn doormats featuring the national flag from sale after New Delhi called them “insulting” and threatened to expel the company’s foreign workers. Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj late on Wednesday said on Twitter that the mats, available only on Amazon’s Canadian Web site, were an “unacceptable” insult to the national flag and demanded an apology. The company yesterday said it had responded by removing them from sale. Swaraj, an avid Twitter user with nearly 7 million followers, issued her ultimatum after a user sent her a screenshot of the doormats on sale. “Amazon must tender unconditional apology. They must withdraw all products insulting our national flag immediately,” she said on Twitter. “If this is not done forthwith, we will not grant Indian Visa to any Amazon official. We will also rescind the Visas issued earlier.”
Judge accuses justice
Judge Carlos Ruano on Wednesday accused a Supreme Court Justice Blanca Stalling of intervening improperly in a corruption case involving her son. Ruano said that he had reported Stalling to the special prosecutor against impunity, Ivan Velasquez. “At no time was I going to compromise my work, which has always been transparent,” Ruano said. At a news conference, Attorney General Thelma Aldana and Velasquez said they had asked the Supreme Court to strip Stalling of her immunity. Stalling denied exerting any undue influence. Stalling’s son is among 20 businesspeople and public officials charged in a scheme that solicited bribes for government health contracts. Otto Molina Stalling is charged with taking bribes to award contracts for dialysis to a company. Prosecutors say 15 people died as a result of shoddy treatment. Ruano withdrew from the case.
Lincoln photo to be unveiled
A Maine college is to unveil a rare photograph of former president Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration in 1861. The Bowdoin College Museum of Art in Brunswick acquired the photo at auction in October and was to unveil it yesterday. It is the first inauguration to be captured by photographers and took place just six weeks before the start of the Civil War. The image shows a crowd gathered around the Capitol to see Lincoln being sworn in. It is believed to have been taken by Scottish-American photographer Alexander Gardner and is one of only three known copies. The others are in the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institution.
State plans tuition shake-up
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s proposal to cut tuition at the University of Wisconsin and use taxpayer funds to pay for it is shaking up normal political alliances, with some Democrats supporting it, while skeptical fellow Republicans worry it could put the state on a path toward Senator Bernie Sanders’ free college tuition plan. Republican governors across the nation have criticized universities over higher tuition and some, including Walker, have forced tuition freezes. However, Walker appears to be the first Republican governor to promise taxpayer money to reduce the cost of university. Wisconsin Republican Assembly speaker Robin Vos says it is a step toward the state paying for free tuition. Peter Barca, the Democratic Assembly leader and frequent Walker critic, says he supports the proposal as long as it is paid for.
Opposition member detained
Intelligence agents on Wednesday detained Gilber Caro, a substitute legislator for the Popular Will party, accusing him of planning violence. However, Caro said that arms were placed in his car to frame him as part of an ongoing wave of government repression. In a familiar pattern of recent months involving members of the opposition, Caro was arrested on Wednesday at a roadway toll in Miranda state, the government said. “It’s a matter of capturing and breaking up those who persist on the path of violence,” Vice President Tarek El Aissami said. He said Caro was carrying a gun, bullets and explosives, adding that the opposition politician has criminal record, including charges of murder and drug trafficking. Popular Will said Caro was returning from a family trip with his girlfriend when he was stopped and set up. “We demand his freedom,” the party said. “Our fight is for a Venezuela where every person can express himself freely without fear of persecution or jail.”
Japan said it opposed changes to the G7 nations as it pushed back against a reform plan by US President Donald Trump that would have rival South Korea this year join in an expanded meeting. Tokyo has told the US it stands against South Korea’s participation on the grounds of differences in policy on China and North Korea, Kyodo News reported this weekend, citing more than one source related to Japanese and US diplomacy. Japan also wants to maintain its status as the only Asian country in the group, the news agency added. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga yesterday told reporters that
The onset of summer has sparked a rise in incidents of “mask rage” in South Korea as more hot and bothered commuters either refuse to wear face coverings or leave parts of their faces exposed. In South Korea, Japan and other countries in East Asia, widespread mask wearing has been cited as one possible explanation for the region’s relative success in bringing the COVID-19 pandemic under control. South Korea, one of the first countries outside China to be affected by the virus, flattened the coronavirus curve in April, although it is now struggling with dozens of daily cases, mainly in and around
‘WOULD NOT COMPLY’: The company’s user data are kept in Singapore and it would not turn the data over to Beijing even if asked, TikTok chief executive Kevin Mayer said Social media app TikTok has distanced itself from Beijing after India banned 59 Chinese apps in the country, according to a correspondence seen by Reuters. In a letter to the Indian government dated on Sunday last week and seen by Reuters on Friday, TikTok chief executive Kevin Mayer said the Chinese government has never requested user data, nor would the company turn it over if asked. TikTok, which is not available in China, is owned by China’s ByteDance, but has sought to distance itself from its Chinese roots to appeal to a global audience. Along with 58 other Chinese apps, including Tencent
PLAYING THE VICTIM? A Chinese spokesman sent a statement to Australian media saying that Beijing had ‘irrefutable’ evidence of Canberra’s widescale espionage Australia yesterday unveiled the “largest-ever” boost in cybersecurity spending, days after Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison spoke out about a wave of state-sponsored attacks suspected to have been carried out by China. Morrison and government officials said the country would spend an additional A$1.35 billion (US$928 million) on cybersecurity, about a 10 percent hike, taking the budget for the next decade to A$15 billion. The largest chunk of the new money would help create 500 jobs within the Australian Signals Directorate, the government’s communications intelligence agency. Morrison on June 19 said that a “state-based actor” was targeting a host of