US first lady touts freedom
US first lady Michelle Obama told an audience of college students in Beijing yesterday that open access to information — especially online — is a universal right. However, she stopped short of calling on China to offer its citizens greater freedoms during a visit in which she is expected to steer clear of more complicated political issues, but rather try to build goodwill through soft diplomacy. “It is so important for information and ideas to flow freely over the Internet and through the media,” Obama said told an audience of about 200 US and Chinese students at Peking University. “My husband and I are on the receiving end of plenty of questioning and criticism from our media and our fellow citizens, and it’s not always easy, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world,” she said.
Five killed in aircraft crash
A light aircraft used for skydiving crashed in an airfield in the east of the country yesterday and burst into flames, killing all five people on board, police said. The plane veered left shortly after taking off from the Caboolture airstrip, 50km north of Brisbane, before plunging to the ground. “We have a pilot and there were four skydivers on board and they were the only five people that were on board,” Queensland police superintendent Michael Brady told Sky News. Brady said a male pilot, two skydiving instructors and two skydivers including a woman were on board, but could not confirm reports that their family members were watching as the plane plummeted to the ground.
Suspected extremists held
Police arrested three suspected lslamic extremists after intercepting a bomb shipment that authorities said was intended to attack brothels. Among those arrested last week was Ambo Intang, who was sought for his alleged involvement in the 2012 killings of two policemen in the Central Sulawesi District of Poso, national police spokesman Major General Ronny Sompie said. An antiterrorism squad had earlier detained two other suspects. One of them was identified as Bambang Aribowo, who was arrested upon arrival at Jakarta’s airport. Sompie said police intercepted a shipment containing two homemade bombs that was sent from the East Java town of Trenggalek to Makassar. Police said the group was led by the nation’s most wanted terrorist suspect, Abu Wardah Santoso. He is sought in connection with several attacks on Java Island and Poso in Central Sulawesi Province and faces charges of running a terrorist training camp.
Smuggling eyed in crash
A collision involving two trucks and two passenger buses on a coastal highway in Balochistan Province, near Gadani, yesterday killed 35 people and injured 20 passengers, police said. A bus bound for the port city of Karachi first collided head-on with a truck coming from the opposite direction, said Ahmed Nawaz, the area’s police chief. Nawaz said the second bus and truck then piled up onto the two vehicles and all caught fire, reportedly because the buses were also smuggling Iranian gasoline and diesel-filled canisters on board. He said 25 people were reported to have died at the scene, while 30 injured victims were taken out of the destroyed and burned buses. Most of the victims, including women and children, were severely burned and were transported to Karachi.
Rebel-army clashes kill 12
Twelve people were killed yesterday in clashes between government forces and Shiite rebels on the outskirts of Amran, a local official and tribal sources said. The rebels, known as Huthis or Ansarullah, had travelled to Amran to take part in a demonstration, but shooting erupted when they insisted on crossing a checkpoint to the northern entrance to the city with their weapons, an official said. Eight rebels were among the dead, as well as two soldiers and two civilians, the sources said. A security official in Sana’a said orders have been given to prevent Huthis from entering Amran, as the army sent reinforcements. The military also set up more checkpoints around the city as rebels tried to enter from the east and west, sources said. Last week, Huthis armed with rifles paraded through Amran alongside vehicles fitted with rocket launchers, demanding the sacking of the “corrupt government.”
Syriac Orthodox leader dies
Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I Iwas has died at the age of 80. State news agency SANA said the leader of one of world’s oldest Christian sects was admitted into a German hospital on Feb. 20 and passed away on Friday after a long illness. Iwas’ Syriac Orthodox Church was founded in 452 after a schism with the bulk of the world’s Christians and has more than 4 million members across Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, with significant communities in Germany, Sweden and in the US. Iwas was born in Mosul, Iraq, and enthroned as patriarch in 1980 at St George’s Patriarchal Cathedral in Damascus, where he conducted services in Syriac, a modern version of Aramaic. Church officials said his remains will be brought to Lebanon before being taken to Syria for burial.
Israel army raid turns deadly
Israeli troops yesterday killed three Palestinians in an early-morning raid at the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank that sparked clashes with protesters, Palestinian officials said. Medical and security sources said two of the fatalities were militants and the third a civilian. They said 14 Palestinians were wounded, with two reportedly in critical condition. The military confirmed the incident, but said four Palestinians died. It said the raid was aimed at arresting Hamza Abu el-Heija, a Hamas operative wanted for links to shootings and bombings against Israelis. Palestinians officials said the Israeli military ringed a house in the camp overnight and ordered el-Heija outside. When he refused, soldiers stormed the house and a shootout ensued, the officials said. “Other gunmen gathered around the house” to help el-Heija, including Mohammad Abu Zena, 19, an Islamic militant who was killed along with el-Heija, the medical and security sources said. The army said a “violent riot” then broke out, during which three Palestinians were killed.
Troops fight oil port rebels
Troops fought with rebels occupying oil ports yesterday after fighters attacked an army base where military reinforcements were preparing an offensive to break the blockade, residents said. Anti-aircraft gunfire and explosions were heard late at night and again after dawn in Ajdabiya, the hometown of rebel leader Ibrahim Jathran. The central government gave Jathran a two-week deadline on March 12 to end a blockade of three oil ports or face a military attack. Yesterday, troops loyal to Jathran attacked an army camp which was been reinforced after Tripoli issued its threat, local residents said.