Monday, July 06, 2015

The Anti-Pot Taboo Shrink In Presidential Politics

Organizers for a cannabis industry convention carry a large sign into a meeting room where Republican presidential hopeful Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., met with convention goers behind closed doors in the Colorado Convention Center in Denver. Presidential candidates are talking about marijuana in ways unimaginable not long ago. White House hopefuls in both parties are taking donations from people in the new marijuana industry, which is investing heavily in political activism as a route to expanded legalization. (AP)


DENVER (AP) — Presidential candidates are talking about marijuana in ways unimaginable not long ago.
White House hopefuls in both parties are taking donations from people in the new marijuana industry, which is investing heavily in political activism as a route to expanded legalization and landed its first major candidate, Rand Paul, at a trade show last month.
Several Republicans, like Democrats, are saying they won't interfere with states that are legalizing a drug still forbidden under federal law. And at conservative policy gatherings, Republicans are discussing whether drug sentences should be eased.
A quarter century after Bill Clinton confessed he tried marijuana but insisted "I didn't inhale," the taboo against marijuana is shrinking at the highest level of politics, just as it appears to be with the public.
"When I was growing up, it was political suicide for a candidate to talk about pot being legal," said Tim Cullen, owner of Colorado Harvest Co., a chain of medical and recreational marijuana dispensaries.
Cullen attended a Hillary Rodham Clinton fundraiser in New Mexico last month and talked to the Democratic candidate about her position on legalizing pot. "She's not outwardly hostile to the idea, which is a big step forward," Cullen said. "She's willing to openly talk about it at least."
A slim majority of Americans, 53 percent, said in a Pew Research Center survey in March that the drug should be legal. As recently as 2006, less than a third supported marijuana legalization in another measure of public opinion, the General Social Survey.
Politicians are shifting, but slowly. Republican candidates Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz and Rick Perry are among those who say states should decide marijuana laws, even as they brand legalization a bad idea. In June, Paul became the first major-party presidential candidate to hold a fundraiser with the new marijuana industry, courting about 40 donors in Denver.
But the Kentucky senator used a private back door, and aides erected a screen so photographers couldn't see the candidate standing by a green Cannabis Business Summit sign. Paul didn't talk about pot at a public meet-and-greet afterward.
A few days earlier in the same building, six other GOP presidential contenders talked to about 4,000 people at a gathering of Western conservatives. There, Perry defended the right of states to change marijuana laws, even if they "foul it up."
"Colorado comes to mind," the former Texas governor said, to laughs and applause. "I defend the right of Colorado to be wrong on that issue." Altogether, 23 states and the District of Columbia are flouting federal law by allowing marijuana use for medical or recreational purposes.
Not all candidates say leave it to the states. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum say they would fight to roll back marijuana legalization efforts in states such as Colorado.
Democrats are generally less critical of states legalizing pot, but they're treading carefully, too. Clinton said last year that more research needed to be done on marijuana's medical value, but "there should be availability under appropriate circumstances." She didn't elaborate what those circumstances should be.
As for her main Democratic rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders sounds lukewarm about legalization, despite his counterculture roots and liberal social views. He told Yahoo News that pot should be decriminalized but he was not ready to go beyond that. He said he smoked pot twice in the old days and "coughed a lot."
Bush and Cruz have also acknowledged using marijuana in their youth, as has President Barack Obama. Marijuana entrepreneurs say even tepid support for legalization is a step forward, and they're opening their wallets in hopes of seeing more change.
The largest marijuana lobbying group, Marijuana Policy Project, plans to donate tens of thousands to 2016 presidential candidates. Executive Director Rob Kampia was among those at the Denver pot fundraiser.
"We wouldn't have heard a presidential candidate talking that way four years ago," Kampia said. Attendees said Paul talked about changing federal drug-sentencing laws but stopped short of calling for nationwide legalization.
It's unclear how much money the marijuana industry will spend on the presidential race. Many pot-business owners don't list their businesses on campaign-finance disclosure forms, given the drug's federal illegality. And some marijuana activists are likely to spend not on the presidential contest but on campaigns in the six to 10 states likely to have some sort of marijuana policy on ballots next year.
Still, the presidential race appears certain to include more talk of marijuana policy than before. "There are a lot of loose bricks in the walls of resistance to changing drug laws in America," said William Martin, who studies drug policy at Rice University. "It's no longer a silly question, legalizing marijuana."
Kristen Wyatt can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/APkristenwyatt

Day Of Extremest Violence Across Nigeria Kills More Than 60

People gather at the site of suicide bomb attack at Redeem Christian church in Potiskum, Nigeria, Sunday, July 5, 2015. Witnesses say a woman suicide bomber blew up in the midst of a crowded evangelical Christian church service on Sunday and killed at least five people, the latest in a string of bombings and shooting attacks blamed on the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram that has killed some 200 people in the past week. (AP)



JOS, NIGERIA (AP) — A day of extremist violence against both Muslims and Christians in Nigeria killed more than 60 people, including worshippers in a mosque who came to hear a cleric known for preaching peaceful coexistence of all faiths.
Militants from Boko Haram were blamed for the bombings Sunday night at a crowded mosque and a posh Muslim restaurant in the central city of Jos; a suicide bombing earlier at an evangelical Christian church in the northeastern city of Potiskum, and attacks in several northeastern villages where dozens of churches and about 300 homes were torched.
President Muhammadu Buhari condemned the attacks and said the government will defend Nigerians' right to worship freely. It was the latest spasm of violence by Boko Haram extremists who have killed about 300 people in the past week — apparently after an order by the self-proclaimed Islamic State group for more mayhem during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Earlier this year, Boko Haram became an affiliate of the Islamic State group.
The deadliest attack came on Wednesday when more than 140 people were killed — mostly men and boys mowed down by gunfire as they prayed in mosques in the northeastern town of Kukawa. Burials were held Monday for 51 people killed by the two bombings a day earlier in Jos, said Muslim community lawyer Ahmed Garba.
Another 67 people were wounded, according to Abdussalam Mohammed, the National Emergency Management Agency coordinator. The explosion at the Yantaya Mosque came as cleric Sani Yahaya was addressing the worshippers, survivors said. Yahaya is the national chairman of the Jama'atu Izalatul Bidia organization, which preaches that all religions should peacefully coexist.
Garba said gunmen also opened fire on the mosque from three directions. Survivor Danladi Sani said he saw a man dressed in white take aim at Yahaya, and then blow himself up. Yahaya was unharmed, Sani added.
"He is a great Islamic scholar who has spoken out against Boko Haram, and that is why we believe he was the target," Sani told The Associated Press. Another bomb exploded at Shagalinku, a restaurant often patronized by state governors and other top politicians for its specialties popular with Muslims, witnesses said.
Sabi'u Bako was picking up a takeout meal when he heard a massive explosion as he walked away with friends. "The restaurant was destroyed, and we saw many people covered in blood," he said. "We can't believe that we escaped."
Jos is a hotspot for violent religious confrontations because it is located in the center of the country where Nigeria's majority Muslim north meets the mainly Christian south. The city has been targeted by bombs claimed by Boko Haram extremists that have killed hundreds.
Earlier Sunday, a female suicide bomber struck a crowded service of the Redeemed Christian Church of God in Potiskum, killing six people, witnesses said. Elsewhere in the northeast, extremists killed nine people and burned down 32 churches and about 300 homes in several villages, said Stephen Apagu, chairman of a self-defense group in Borno state's Askira-Uba local government area. He said the militia killed three militants.
The villages had been attacked three days earlier and 29 people killed. The United States condemned the recent attacks and said it continues to provide counterterrorism assistance to Nigeria to "combat the threat posed by Boko Haram," said a statement Monday from State Department spokesman John Kirby.
Boko Haram took over a large swath of northeastern Nigeria last year. A multinational force from Nigeria and its neighbors forced the militants out of many towns, but bombings and village attacks have increased in recent weeks.
Meanwhile, Nigeria's military freed 180 detainees who had been held for up to two years, accused of being Boko Haram members. Those freed Monday included women with babies and toddlers.
Faul reported from Lagos, Nigeria. Associated Press writer Haruna Umar in Maiduguri, Nigeria, contributed to this report.
This version has been corrected to show that only the mosque bombing in Jos was a suicide attack.

Hard-Hit Gaza Neighborhood Still Trying To Recover From War

An injured Palestinian man lays on the ground among other injured and dead people after an Israeli strike in the Shijaiyah neighborhood of Gaza City. The Israeli strike along the border with Israel, came at the height of the fighting and was one of the deadliest single incidents during the entire conflict. Because of the heavy casualty toll, Israel’s Military Advocate General launched an investigation into the Shijaiyah incident. The probe cleared the military personnel of any wrongdoing, finding no evidence of criminal misconduct. (AP)



SHIJAIYAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — After weeks of sharing cramped quarters with relatives during last year's war between Hamas and Israel, 39-year-old Mohammed al-Selek thought nothing of it when he heard the incoming roar of two mortar shells. But once a suffocating cloud of acrid smoke filled the stairwell, his heart sank — the family's home had been struck by Israeli fire.
Moments before, he had been enjoying a rare break, relaxing with a cup of tea and cookies as he marked the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The house was filled with his children, nieces and nephews, and al-Selek's father had taken the restless kids to play up on the rooftop, where the family kept rabbits and chickens.
After the explosion, al-Selek and his wife ran up the five flights of stairs to the roof and found a sight he still struggles to comprehend. "We found an unbelievable scene — my children along with my father lying on the ground," said al-Selek, recounting the horror to an Associated Press crew that revisited the neighborhood recently.
Caught in a living nightmare, he saw the bloodied, mangled bodies of all three of his children, his 71-year-old father, Abdul-Kareem, and six other relatives lying next to the chicken coup and rabbit cages. Feathers and fur from the animals the children had begged their grandfather to see shortly before were strewn everywhere.
Al-Selek's life changed forever that July 30. The Israeli strike on his home in Gaza's Shijaiyah neighborhood, just along the border with Israel, came at the height of the fighting and was one of the deadliest single incidents during the entire conflict. Two AP reporters arrived in Shijaiyah after the final barrage of mortar strikes subsided, leaving a scene of carnage and bloodshed.
During the 50 days of war, which started July 8, more than 2,200 Palestinians, including more than 1,400 civilians, were killed, according to U.N. figures. Seventy-three people, including six civilians, were killed on the Israeli side.
Because of the heavy casualty toll, Israel's Military Advocate General launched an investigation into the Shijaiyah incident. The report found that Israeli forces had come under mortar fire from Palestinian militants in the area. Without air surveillance available, they responded to the source of fire, launching a total of 15 mortar shells over an 18-minute period, according to the report. The probe cleared the military personnel of any wrongdoing, finding no evidence of criminal misconduct.
Amid the chaos on that Shijaiyah rooftop, al-Selek said he first found his 5-year-old son, Abdul-Haleem, still breathing among what he described as "piles of flesh with open skulls." He rushed Abdul-Haleem downstairs and outside to an ambulance, then he ran back to the roof and repeated the grim task, carrying the lifeless body of his youngest son, Abdul-Aziz. Grief overcame him when he saw the remains of his 8-year-old daughter, Omeneya, but he could not carry her down.
As he stepped out of the ambulance for a second time to get back to the roof, a white flash signaled a new barrage of shelling. He was knocked down and the explosion severed his right leg below the knee. He thought he would die and he professed his faith before he cried out for help.
By the time the shelling stopped, at least 30 people were dead, including 10 members of al-Selek's extended family — eight of them children. There is strong evidence Hamas had used residential areas like Shijaiyah for cover throughout the fighting, and AP reporters witnessed rockets flying out of populated neighborhoods at times. The Israeli army says six militants were among those killed in that airstrike, a claim denied by local residents.
"This is one of the most horrible crimes in Gaza," said Mohammed Al-Alami, a lawyer at the independent Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights. In a recent report on the war, the U.N. Human Rights Council accused both Israel and Hamas of possible war crimes, claiming attacks by both sides had endangered civilians.
Nearly a year later, the people of Shijaiyah, one of Gaza's most densely populated and impoverished neighborhoods, are still trying to pick up the pieces of their lives, especially in hard-hit areas near the Israeli border.
Families like the al-Seleks had thought they would be spared from the fighting — and even sheltered relatives from across Gaza because their block's narrow alleyways were far from the front lines. "Nobody ever thought this neighborhood would be hit and I just don't know how it happened," said Bilal Hmaid, who lost his 55-year-old father, Rajab, in the Shijaiyah shelling.
Bilal, 22, chokes up, remembering that day. Once his father heard the shells hit, he rushed out to help his neighbors, only to be wounded himself by another incoming shell, minutes later. Gasping for air, Rajab lay among other victims, waiting for help. An AP reporter tied a tourniquet around his leg as water from a rooftop tank pierced by shrapnel pooled around them.
The smell of rust filled the air as blood mixed with petrol and dirt. The wounded cried out for help. Medics with stretchers struggled to navigate the uneven pavement, carrying out triage, selecting those who still had a chance and leaving those who were beyond help.
Rajab was taken to a hospital where he survived for five more days before he died of his wounds. "People were coming to stay here, saying this is a safe neighborhood," Bilal said. "But for months after the strike, the spirit of the community was gone."
At the al-Selek home, the rabbit cages have since been replaced on the roof but the shrapnel marks on the walls have yet to be covered. A poster with the faces of the 10 al-Selek's family members who died welcomes visitors into the narrow street.
Al-Selek is still struggling to start a new life. For the first six months, he barely slept. He sold his other apartment in Gaza City and moved into his father's bedroom in the Shijaiyah family home. His once solid frame is now sapped, his muscles atrophied after months in hospital. The new prosthetic leg he was given is too heavy for him, he says, preferring to make his way to and from work in his brother's computer shop on his squeaky crutches.
He seems resigned to his fate. "It was the darkest day of our life," said al-Selek. "But life goes on. This is the fate of God. Life will not stop despite the loss of my leg and my children."
Associated Press writer Fares Akram in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, contributed to this report.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

After Year Of Washington Legal Pot Sales , Taxes Top $70M

Packaged marijuana is displayed for sale at retail shop Cannabis City in Seattle. Washington launched its second-in-the-nation legal marijuana market with just a handful of stores selling high-priced pot to long lines of customers. A year later, the state has about 160 shops open, tax revenues have soared past expectations and sales top $1.4 million per day. (AP)


SEATTLE (AP) — Washington launched its second-in-the-nation legal marijuana market with just a handful of stores selling high-priced pot to long lines of customers. A year later, the state has about 160 shops open, tax revenues have soared past expectations and sales top $1.4 million per day.
And who knows — the industry might even start making some money. Washington pot farmers, processors and retailers have complained all year that heavy state and federal tax burdens, along with competition from an unregulated medical marijuana market, have made it difficult for them to do business.
But at least some relief is here: This month, two new laws take effect, one to regulate and tax medical marijuana, and one to cut Washington's three-level excise tax on pot to a single, 37-percent tax.
Despite some industry gripes and those tweaks to Washington's legal pot law, which voters passed in 2012 to legalize marijuana for adults over 21, officials and legalization backers say the state's slow and deliberate effort to regulate marijuana has been a success.
A year after stores opened on July 8, 2014, here's a look at the state of legal weed here.

THE TAXES

Washington's racked up more than $250 million in marijuana sales in the past year — roughly $62 million of which constitute marijuana excise taxes. That's beyond the state's original forecast of $36 million. And when state and local sales and other taxes are included, the total payday for the state and local governments tops $70 million.
That's real money, if only a drop in Washington's $38 billion two-year budget. Colorado's recreational sales began Jan. 1, 2014, and brought in taxes of $44 million in the first year.
The tax revenue could continue to keep climbing.
And as other states watch Washington and Colorado, the only other state with legal marijuana sales, bring in more money, they're ever more seriously considering following suit, as Oregon and Alaska have already.
"Nobody's counting on the revenue from cannabis sales to save us, but it has an impact," David Zuckerman, a Vermont state senator and legalization advocate, said during a recent visit to Seattle. "The more important thing is that the sky didn't fall in Colorado. The tidal wave hasn't hit Seattle. They're showing us that this can be done."

... AND THE TAXES

The flip side has been the burden of the taxes on pot businesses, with marijuana taxed 25 percent each time it moves from the growers to the processers to the retailers. That's been especially tough on retailers, who must pay federal income tax on the marijuana tax they turn over to the state.
James Lathrop, who owns Seattle's first legal marijuana shop, Cannabis City, says through the end of 2014, his estimated federal tax liability was $510,000, on top of the $778,000 he owed the state on $3.1 million in sales.
"I'm basically doing this for free," Lathrop says. "Nobody's gone out of business, but I'm not driving a new truck either."
It hasn't been much easier on the growers.
"Looking back now, it's amazing we could be so successful and unsuccessful at the same time," says Jeremy Moberg, a long-time black-market grower who went legal and now runs CannaSol Farms in north-central Washington. "We're the No. 9 grower in the state, and my bank account just seems to stagnate."
The new tax rate should help. The law makes clear that the 37 percent tax is the responsibility of the customer — not the retailer. That means stores won't have to claim that money as income on their federal filings.

ISN'T LEGAL WEED EXPENSIVE IN WASHINGTON?

With few growers harvesting by the time the first stores opened, the average price of a gram of legal marijuana spiked to nearly $30 last summer — about three times the cost in medical marijuana shops. But prices have been dropping as more weed gets harvested. In fact, Washington has harvested 13.5 tons of marijuana flower intended to be sold as bud, but stores have only sold about 10 tons.
Some of the excess can be turned into marijuana extracts, such as oil, but the harvest has helped drive down the prices to an average of about $11.50 per gram.
Nevertheless, Lathrop says that in addition to tourists eager to visit the city's historic first legal pot shop, his clientele primarily consists of customers in the 25-and-older range.
"It's a more of an adult demographic, but that's OK," he says. "They have jobs and they can afford to buy the product."

WHAT'S NEXT?

Rick Garza, director of Washington's Liquor Control Board — soon to be renamed the Liquor and Cannabis Board — says he's most proud of Washington's efforts at meeting the top priorities the Justice Department laid out when it announced it would allow Washington, Colorado and other states to regulate marijuana: keeping criminal organizations out of the industry, keeping the marijuana in-state and keeping pot away from kids.
The state adopted background checks and financial investigations of pot-license applicants, and capped the total amount of production to try to keep it in line with in-state demand.
While public health advocates say they wished the state had done more to stress the potential harms of pot to teens, the state required strict packaging and labeling requirements to keep children from getting into the weed. Products that appeal to kids also remain banned — no marijuana cotton candy or gummy bears.
Those will remain priorities as the state moves forward with the big task of merging the recreational and medical markets, Garza says.
Less of a concern, he says, is competition from the next state to offer legal marijuana sales: neighboring Oregon. So far, the stores in Vancouver, just across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon, have been some of the top-selling stores in the state. The flow of customers across the river will likely reverse as Oregon's medical marijuana stores are allowed to start selling for recreational use this fall.
"This isn't the first time people have gone to Oregon to buy something either because it's cheaper or because they don't apply sales tax," he said. "We saw it for liquor, we see it for tobacco."
Follow Johnson at https://twitter.com/GeneAPseattle

Africans Seeking Better Lives Pass Through Ethiopian Town

Women sell foodstuffs by the side of a street in Metema, in northwestern Ethiopia next to the border with Sudan. The town is a center for a booming trade in migrants from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan, with many hoping to make their way to Europe, but life here is now a cat-and-mouse game: The authorities are cracking down, yet the migrants just keep coming, often risking death. (AP)


METEMA, ETHIOPIA (AP) — The mood in the border town of Metema these days is quiet and watchful.
Dozens of houses on the hot, dusty main road that stretches from Ethiopia into Sudan look like they have been hastily closed. Guards grimly patrol the border, stopping anyone who looks like an illegal migrant. The nightclubs and bars are emptier than usual, although they still attract Sudanese who are not allowed to drink alcohol in their own country under Shariah law.
Metema, with about 100,000 people, is one of a handful of towns across the region that serve as feeders for a booming trade in migrants from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan, many hoping to make their way to Europe. Life here is now a cat-and-mouse game: The authorities are cracking down, yet the migrants just keep coming, often risking death.
Since 30 Ethiopian Christians who passed through Metema were killed by the Islamic State group in Libya a few months ago, the Ethiopian government has become far more vigilant. It claims it has detained 200 smugglers across the country, and police say about 28 of them are from Metema.
The effect of the crackdown is clear in this town. But while the flow of migrants is down from about 250 a day, it's still strong at 100 to 150, according to Teshome Agmas, the mayor. "It's just a pity that people choose to endanger their lives in an effort to move out of their country and work in inhumane conditions abroad," he said.
Getachew Merah, a rail-thin 30-year-old aspiring migrant from Ethiopia, agreed to talk to the Associated Press, but only outside Metema, because he was afraid police would arrest him. He has made three unsuccessful attempts to cross into Sudan, and is now trying again.
Merah said his father is dead and his mother lives in extreme poverty in a rural village in the Amhara region. He added that he has tried just about every job in Ethiopia, working as a butcher, a guard, an assistant in a heavy-duty truck, a laborer carrying oil back and forth from between Sudan and Ethiopia and more. But he simply can't get enough money to change his life or his family's.
He hopes to earn money in Libya to send back to his family, and eventually return to start his own business. Three times before, Sudanese police arrested him and sent him back to Ethiopia. Each time, he said, he didn't have enough money in his pocket to bribe the police. So this time, he is planning to enter Sudan as a daily laborer on a farm and earn about $150 — enough for bribes — and then disappear into the forest to reach the capital, Khartoum.
"I'm tired of working in Ethiopia," said Merah, who was clearly nervous. "I know the dangers of living now in Libya, especially with the ISIS news. But I want to risk it all and try my luck." Close to 80 percent of Metema's businesses are run by illegal smugglers and their affiliates, according to Sister Hamelmal Melaku of the Ethiopia Higher Clinic. They smuggle charcoal, oil, fruit and, of course, people. With the government sweep-out, migrants are no longer showing up at the clinic, and the temporary shelter built for migrants in the middle of the town sits idle.
"I think it won't be an exaggeration if I say that the town is totally out of the government's control," she said. With Metema under surveillance, the smugglers are now changing their tactics, according to Abraraw Abeje, police assistant inspector. He said they are now "dumping" the migrants in forests and mountainous areas, and then forcing them to resume their journey into Sudan on foot or in packed vehicles.
Like the migrants, the suspected smugglers say they are poor. Adamo Anshebo is under detention in Metema as a suspected kingpin, which he denies. "I came here after selling all my property to receive and take back home to my sick child, who was working in Sudan," he said. There is no way to tell if it is the truth.
Poverty in Ethiopia fell significantly from 44 percent in 2000 to 30 percent more than a decade later, according to a World Bank report in January. However, the country remains one of the world's poorest and is ruled by an authoritarian government. More than 96 percent of people in the country's rural areas are still barely eking out a living, according to Oxford University's poverty index.
Ethiopia is also a pass-through point for most Eritreans traveling to Europe, according to the U.N. refugee agency. While exact numbers vary, Eritreans make up one of the largest groups of migrants crossing the Mediterranean, coming second in number only to Syrians. Somalis are third.
According to accounts from several migrants and officials, here is how the trade works. The smugglers operate in and from all parts of Ethiopia. While major smugglers stay in cities like Addis Ababa, the capital, affiliates known as "shaqabas" operate in and around small towns like Metema, Moyale to the south and Afar in the northeast.
The migrants say they are not asked for money in Metema, because they could easily be robbed or lose it. Instead, they are charged upon arrival in Khartoum or other Sudanese cities. The final payment is made once they reach the Libyan coast and, in many cases, depart for Europe. The trip to Europe can cost as much as $5,000. Often the migrants don't carry all their money for fear of being robbed, so payment is made through their families, via hand transfer to the smugglers or affiliates in their hometowns.
In a statement written to the Associated Press, Metema officials said they have repatriated more than 1,100 migrants arrested while trying to cross to Sudan illegally. The letter said they come from all parts of Ethiopia, especially the south, as well as Eritrea. Ethiopian immigration officials on the Sudan border confirm that some of the migrants are foreigners, and more now from South Sudan because of the ongoing conflict there.
Other migrants tell similar stories of poverty. Two women in their 20s travelling together, who refused to give their names for fear of their safety, said their only reason for migration is economic. They, too, said they wanted to work abroad, then return home to help their families and start their own business. Both have not worked in Ethiopia since completing high school.
Another young man, Abinet Yirga, 23, said his job in a billboard advertising company in Addis Ababa did not even leave him with enough money to buy clothes. He said two years ago, he was out of work for many months, which led to a feud with his father. He is now in Metema waiting to cross the border.
"I don't know when I will travel to Sudan and then to Libya to go to Europe, because I don't have any money now," he said. "But I've decided I have to change my life whatever the cost is, even if it means life or death."

UN Approves Japan Bid For Industrial Sites' Heritage Status

John Potter, a member of the San Antonio Living History Association, patrols the Alamo in San Antonio, during a pre-dawn memorial ceremony to remember the 1836 Battle of the Alamo and those who fell on both sides. The San Antonio Missions in Texas have been awarded world heritage status by the U.N.'s cultural body.UNESCO's World Heritage Committee approved the listing Sunday, July 5, 2015, of the five Spanish Roman Catholic sites built in the 18th century in and around what is now the city of San Antonio. (AP)


BONN, GERMANY (AP) — A fortress island near Nagasaki has been awarded world heritage status after Japan and South Korea resolved a spat over whether to acknowledge the site's history of wartime forced labor.
Japan had applied to list Gunkanjima, or Battleship Island, as a world heritage location along with almost two dozen other sites to illustrate the country's industrial revolution during the 19th century.
But until recently, Seoul had objected to the listing unless the role of Korean prisoners forced to work there during World War II was formally recognized. The decision Sunday by the U.N. cultural body UNESCO is likely to drive up tourism to the Nagasaki region. Similar listings for the Zollverein coal mine complex in Germany's Ruhr Valley have helped boost visitors to those sites in recent years.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Benghazi, Where Libya's Uprising Began, Now A Shattered City

A street is filled with debris and abandoned houses in the city of Benghazi, Libya. Destruction has permeated the North African country since the civil war ousted Moammar Gadhafi four years ago. For Benghazi, the past year was the worst. (AP)


BENGHAZI, LIBYA (AP) — The old courthouse in central Benghazi, Libya's second-largest city and the birthplace of the uprising against Moammar Gadhafi, is a shelled-out ruin — a testimony to the destruction and chaos that permeate this North African country four years after the civil war that ousted the longtime dictator.
The building is steeped in symbolism. It was here that the rallying cry first came against Gadhafi's 42-year rule. It was here that pro-democracy protesters and rebels first raised the tri-colored Libyan flag, replacing Gadhafi's green banner.
Now, the courthouse is ruin and rubble, like much of the rest of Benghazi. Today, Libya is bitterly divided between an elected parliament and government that are cornered in the country's east, with little power on the ground, and an Islamist militia-backed government in the west. Hundreds of militias are aligned with either side or on their own, battling for power and turf.
The U.N.-backed talks between rival factions have not yet managed to strike a power-sharing deal. Meanwhile, Libya's Islamic State affiliate is fighting on different fronts, losing ground in its eastern stronghold of Darna while expanding along the country's central northern coastline.
For Benghazi, the past year was the worst. Near-daily street fighting has pitted militias made up of a myriad of al-Qaida-linked militants, Islamic State extremists and former anti-Gadhafi rebels against soldiers loyal to the internationally recognized government and their militia allies.
Once known for its mix of architectural styles left behind by Arab, Ottoman and Italian rule, this city — shaped like a crescent moon, hugging the Mediterranean Sea on one side and sheltered by the Green Mountain on the other — has lost the flair of times past.
Many landmarks have been destroyed, including much of the Old City, with its Moorish arches and Italian facades. The Benghazi University, its archives and department buildings have been hollowed-out, occupied in turn by militiamen who put snipers on rooftops and turned the campus into a warzone.
The last destruction — albeit not on this scale — that city elders remember was during World War II, when Benghazi was captured by the British. But the city was quickly rebuilt after the war, in part thanks to the country's new-found oil wealth.
Now charred and wrecked cars, piles of twisted metal and debris act as front-line demarcations between warring factions. In many neighborhoods, Libyan soldiers have blown up entire buildings to clear snipers' nests or in search of underground tunnels used for smuggling weapons.
Schools have closed, few hospitals remain open, and wheat and fuel shortages force residents to line up for hours every day outside bakeries and gas stations. Many neighborhoods have been emptied out by fleeing residents, only to be looted and torched by marauding militias.
More than a fifth of Benghazi's 630,000-strong population has been forced out of their homes. Those with money fled abroad. The rest sought refuge in other Libyan towns and cities, or crowded into Benghazi's makeshift camps and schools turned into shelters.
The overall number of displaced within Libya has almost doubled from an estimated 230,000 last September to more than 434,000 amid escalating fighting this year, according to the latest U.N. report. Benghazi resident Hamid al-Idrissi says he and his family fled their war-torn Gawarsha neighborhood under heavy shelling. His extended family had a total of 45 houses there, built on a vast swath of land owned by his late grandfather, he said.
"Houses were first looted, then burned down. We lost everything," al-Idrissi told The Associated Press as he and his relatives huddled inside a school turned into a shelter. Civilians still in the city live against the backdrop of gunshots and ambulance sirens that fill the night. In May, more than 27 civilians were killed, including 12 members of one family who were preparing for a wedding party when a rocket hit their house. The groom and five children were among the dead.
The city's residents also fear abductions at the hands of militiamen from the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries, an umbrella group of hard-line militias that includes Ansar al-Shariah, which the U.S. blames for the September 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
Benghazi's descent into all-out war started in May 2014, when Libyan renegade Gen. Khalifa Hifter, once Gadhafi's army chief who later joined the opposition, launched an offensive against the militias blamed for a series of assassinations of the city's army officers, policemen, judges, and journalists. He soon formally joined ranks with Libya's elected government and since then, Hifter's forces have taken back parts of Benghazi.
The fighting has split many Benghazi families, with relatives, even brothers, often joining opposite camps. One of Saed Abdel-Hadi's sons joined Libya's Islamic State affiliate after returning from Syria and was killed in clashes. Another son joined the army, which is battling IS militants.
"When my other son joined the army, the extremists threatened to kill me," he said, adding that he fled with rest of the family and now lives in a friend's garage. Even those with only a distant connection to Islamic militias or the army are targeted in retaliatory attacks.
One of Muftah al-Shagaubi's cousins joined an extremist group a while ago. Months later, al-Shagaubi lost his home as did 20 of his relatives when Hifter's forces looted, burned and blew up the buildings so they could never come back, he said.
"I have lived all my life here and now we have to leave ... because nothing is left for me in Libya," he said, adding that he was preparing to head to Turkey in the coming weeks. Essam al-Hamali, a member of the Benghazi Crisis Committee, said there are 140,000 displaced individuals in the city alone.
"Most of these families left their homes in a hurry, taking whatever they could grab," he said. "Some only had the clothes they were wearing when the fighting began." Over the past five months, his committee received a one-time voucher of under $100 per person for 481 families living in one Benghazi school.
In March, it got about 7,000 food parcels from international donors through the Libyan Aid Agency — less than 1 percent of what is needed. It was promised $20 million to $40 million in aid but the government only delivered $5 million.
"We have declared Benghazi a disaster zone," al-Hamali said. "But it seems that no one cares."

Monday, June 29, 2015

Seattle Art Exhibit Puts Spotlight On Race, Identity

Masks are displayed as part of the the show “Disguise: Masks & Global African Art” at the Seattle Art Museum on Sunday, June 28, 2015, in Seattle. Race, identity and the masks people wear are the themes explored in the new exhibit of contemporary, multimedia art, which showcases masks from the museum’s collection alongside contemporary art, much of it created just for this show by African artists and those of African descent. The show will be traveling to Los Angeles and New York after Seattle. (AP)


SEATTLE (AP) — Race, identity and the masks people wear are the themes explored in a new exhibit of contemporary, multimedia art at the Seattle Art Museum.
The themes feel especially relevant with the recent opening of the show "Disguise: Masks & Global African Art" coming one day after the deadly shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, and a week after the leader of the NAACP in Spokane, Washington, was accused of lying about her race.
But curator Erika Dayla Massaquoi believes this is the kind of exhibit that would have had people talking about race and identity even without the news. The show isn't going to hit people over the head with the topics of race and identity, but Massaquoi believes, "People will intuitively get it." She worked with the museum's curator of African and Oceanic art, Pamela McClusky, to create the new exhibit.
It showcases masks from the museum's collection alongside contemporary art, much of it created just for this show by African artists and those of African descent. The show will be traveling to Los Angeles and New York after Seattle.
The exhibit has a heavy emphasis on digital, multimedia and video art. Visitors walk right through some of the installations, giving it an interactive feel. The space is so filled with sights and sounds that some may find it a little overwhelming, while others will enjoy the way the different forms of art interact.
The first big gallery is a mix of styles and genres: Digital screens show electronically modernized versions of the ancient masks from the museum's collection, flanked by a herd of fake deer wearing masks, which are in turn surrounded by videos, photographs and other three-dimensional art.
Massaquoi calls that the juxtaposition of genres a blurring and says it forces people to shift their focus back and forth and have their frames of reference challenged. Some of the most interesting work in the show involve performance pieces, either in person or recorded on video.
Music permeates the space. At the end, visitors are invited to create their own soundtrack for the show. Before they get on the elevator to exit the museum, they also can virtually "try on" some masks by taking pictures in mirrors with masks attached.
The show is not intended as a fun-filled children's museum experience, although there's plenty here to spark imaginations of all ages.
If You Go...
DISGUISE: MASKS & GLOBAL AFRICAN ART: Through Sept. 7 at Seattle Art Museum, 1300 First Ave., Seattle, http://www.seattleartmuseum.org/ or 206-654-3100. Open daily except Tuesdays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and until 9 p.m. on Thursdays. Adults, $19.50, teens and students, $12.50, children 12 and under, free. Exhibit is scheduled to be at the Fowler Museum at UCLA from Oct. 18, 2015 to March 13, 2016, and the Brooklyn Museum from April 29 to Sept. 18, 2016.

Burundians Vote In Parliamentary Elections Marred By Unrests

Burundian people line up to vote in parliamentary elections in Ngozi, Burundi, Monday, June 29, 2015. Burundians are voting in parliamentary elections marked by an opposition boycott and the threat of violence as police battle anti-government protesters in the capital. (AP)


BUJUMBURA, BURUNDI (AP) — Burundians voted Monday in parliamentary elections marked by an opposition boycott and the threat of violence in the capital.
The polls closed at 5 p.m. local time and "the elections went well," said Prospere Ntahorwamiye, a spokesman for the electoral commission. He said counting would start immediately and the results would probably be announced on Tuesday.
There was heavy security across the city. In the Musaga neighborhood, which has seen violent protests against President Pierre Nkurunziza's bid for a third term, few civilians were seen at the polls as mostly police and soldiers lined up to vote. No one was injured when a grenade exploded in the middle of the main road in Musaga, sending residents scampering for safety, said witness Pacifque Irabona.
About 3.8 million people had been expected to vote, according to the electoral commission, but it appears a boycott by 17 opposition groups kept the turnout low, especially in Bujumbura. The voting took place despite calls by the international community for a postponement until there is a peaceful environment for credible elections.
Despite international pressure, Nkurunziza's government insisted an indefinite postponement would create a dangerous political vacuum that might cause even more chaos. Bujumbura has suffered unrest since the ruling party announced on April 26 that Nkurunziza would be its candidate in presidential elections scheduled for July 15.
Nkurunziza's supporters say he is eligible for a third term because he was chosen by lawmakers — and not popularly elected — for his first term, and the constitutional court has ruled in the president's favor.
The street protests boiled over in mid-May, leading to an attempted military coup that was put down quickly.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Supreme Court Declares Nationwide Right To Same Sex Marriage

Graphic shows Supreme Court decision in gay marriage and other cases; 2c x 4 inches; 96.3 mm x 101 mm;


WASHINGTON (AP) — Same-sex couples won the right to marry nationwide Friday as a divided Supreme Court handed a crowning victory to the gay rights movement, setting off a jubilant cascade of long-delayed weddings in states where they had been forbidden.
"No longer may this liberty be denied," said Justice Anthony Kennedy. The vote was narrow — 5-4 — but Kennedy's majority opinion was clear and firm: "The court now holds that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry."
The ruling will put an end to same-sex marriage bans in the 14 states that still maintain them, and provide an exclamation point for breathtaking changes in the nation's social norms in recent years. As recently as last October, just over one-third of the states permitted gay marriages.
Kennedy's reading of the ruling elicited tears in the courtroom, euphoria outside and the immediate issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples in at least eight states. In Dallas, Kenneth Denson said he and Gabriel Mendez had been legally married in 2013 in California but "we're Texans; we want to get married in Texas."
In praise of the decision, President Barack Obama called it "justice that arrives like a thunderbolt." Four of the court's justices weren't cheering. The dissenters accused their colleagues of usurping power that belongs to the states and to voters, and short-circuiting a national debate about same-sex marriage.
"This court is not a legislature. Whether same-sex marriage is a good idea should be of no concern to us," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in dissent. Roberts read a summary of his dissent from the bench, the first time he has done so in nearly 10 years as chief justice.
"If you are among the many Americans — of whatever sexual orientation — who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today's decision," Roberts said. "But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it."
Justice Antonin Scalia said he was not concerned so much about same-sex marriage as "this court's threat to American democracy." He termed the decision a "judicial putsch." Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas also dissented.
Several religious organizations criticized the decision. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said it was "profoundly immoral and unjust for the government to declare that two people of the same sex can constitute a marriage."
Kennedy said nothing in the court's ruling would force religions to condone, much less perform, weddings to which they object. And he said the couples seeking the right to marry should not have to wait for the political branches of government to act.
The 14th Amendment to the Constitution requires states to allow same-sex couples to marry on the same basis as heterosexuals, he said "The dynamic of our constitutional system is that individuals need not await legislative action before asserting a fundamental right. The nation's courts are open to injured individuals who come to them to vindicate their own direct, personal stake in our basic charter," Kennedy wrote in his fourth major opinion in support of gay rights since 1996. It came on the anniversary of two of those earlier decisions.
"No union is more profound than marriage," Kennedy wrote, joined by the court's four more liberal justices. The stories of the people asking for the right to marry "reveal that they seek not to denigrate marriage but rather to live their lives, or honor their spouses' memory, joined by its bond," Kennedy said.
As he read his opinion, spectators in the courtroom wiped away tears when the import of the decision became clear. One of those in the audience was James Obergefell, the lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court fight.
Outside, Obergefell held up a photo of his late spouse, John Arthur, and said the ruling establishes that "our love is equal." He added, "This is for you, John." Obama placed a congratulatory phone call to Obergefell, which he took amid a throng of reporters outside the courthouse.
Speaking a few minutes later at the White House, Obama praised the decision as an affirmation of the principle that "all Americans are created equal." The crowd in front of the courthouse at the top of Capitol Hill grew in the minutes following the ruling. The Gay Men's Chorus of Washington, D.C., sang the "Star-Spangled Banner." Motorists honked their horns in support as they passed by the crowd, which included a smattering of same-sex marriage opponents.
The ruling will not take effect immediately because the court gives the losing side roughly three weeks to ask for reconsideration. But county clerks in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Ohio, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas began issuing licenses to same-sex couples within hours of the decision.
The cases before the court involved laws from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee that define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Those states have not allowed same-sex couples to marry within their borders, and they also have refused to recognize valid marriages from elsewhere.
Just two years ago, the Supreme Court struck down part of the federal anti-gay marriage law that denied a range of government benefits to legally married same-sex couples. Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor formed the majority with Kennedy on Friday, the same lineup as two years ago.
The earlier decision in United States v. Windsor did not address the validity of state marriage bans, but courts across the country, with few exceptions, said its logic compelled them to invalidate state laws that prohibited gay and lesbian couples from marrying.
There are an estimated 390,000 married same-sex couples in the United States, according to UCLA's Williams Institute, which tracks the demographics of gay and lesbian Americans. Another 70,000 couples living in states that do not currently permit them to wed would get married in the next three years, the institute says. Roughly 1 million same-sex couples, married and unmarried, live together in the United States, the institute says.
The Obama administration backed the right of same-sex couples to marry. The Justice Department's decision to stop defending the federal anti-marriage law in 2011 was an important moment for gay rights, and Obama declared his support for same-sex marriage in 2012.
The states affected by Friday's ruling are Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, most of Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas.
Associated Press writers Jessica Gresko, Sam Hananel and Glynn Hill contributed to this report.