Monday, March 31, 2014

Australian PM Vows Search For Jetliner Will Go On

A Chinese relative of passengers on board the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 is comforted by a monk as she breaks into tears following prayers at a Buddhist temple in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, Monday March 31, 2014. Relatives from China are in the country to seek answers of what happened to their loved one on board flight MH370.

PERTH, AUSTRALIA (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — The weekslong search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 is "an extraordinarily difficult exercise" but it will go on as long as possible, Australia's prime minister said Monday.

Tony Abbott told reporters in Perth, the base for the search, that although no debris has been found in the southern Indian Ocean that can be linked to the plane, searchers are "well, well short" of any point where they would scale the hunt back.

The Boeing 777 disappeared March 8 while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people aboard, and after experts sifted through radar and satellite data, they gradually moved the hunt from seas off of Vietnam, to areas west of Malaysia and Indonesia, and then to several areas west of Australia.\

"This is an extraordinarily difficult exercise .... we are searching a vast area of ocean and we are working on quite limited information," Abbott said, adding that the best brains in the world and all the technological mastery is being applied to the task.

"If this mystery is solvable, we will solve it," he said. He said the search that has been going on for more than three weeks is operating on guestimates "until we locate some actual wreckage from the aircraft and then do the regression analysis that might tell us where the aircraft went into the ocean."
Ten planes were either over the search zone or heading there by late Monday afternoon, and another 10 ships were scouring the area, about 1,850 kilometers (1,150 miles) west of Australia. More than 100 personnel in the air and 1,000 sailors at sea were involved in Monday's hunt, with some sections of the zone expected to experience low clouds and rain. It takes planes about 2 1/2 hours to get to the area, allowing a five-hour search before they must return to Perth.

The aircraft and ships are crisscrossing a search zone that was redefined based on radar and satellite data from the Boeing 777, although after several days no debris has been found that can be linked to the flight, officials say. Only fishing equipment and other flotsam have been spotted.

Former Australian defense chief Angus Houston on Monday began his job of heading the new Joint Agency Coordination Center, which will oversee communication with international agencies involved in the search. The Perth-based center will position Australia to shoulder more of Malaysia's coordination responsibilities as the search drags on indefinitely.

Houston will also play a prime coordination role when victims' families travel to Australia in the weeks ahead. Abbott said he was not putting a time limit on the search. "We owe it to everyone to do whatever we reasonably can and we can keep searching for quite some time to come ... and, as I said, the intensity of our search and the magnitude of operations is increasing, not decreasing."

The Ocean Shield, an Australian warship which is carrying a U.S. device that detects "pings" from the flight recorders, was expected to leave Perth on Monday for the search zone, a trip that will take three to four days. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is coordinating the search, said it would first conduct sea trials on Monday afternoon to test the search equipment on board.

The search area remains vast, so investigators are hoping to first find debris floating on the ocean surface that will help them calculate where the plane crashed into the water. Meanwhile, several dozen Chinese relatives of Flight 370 passengers visited a Buddhist temple near Kuala Lumpur on Monday to pray for their loved ones. They offered incense, bowed their heads in a moment of silence, knelt several times during the prayers and lowered their heads in kowtows. Buddhist nuns handed out prayer beads to them. "You are not alone," one nun said. "You have the whole world's love, including Malaysia's."

Several of the relatives were overcome with emotion, tears streaming down their faces. The family members later made a brief statement to journalists, expressing their appreciation to the Chinese government and the people of Malaysia and the volunteers who have been assisting them. They bowed as a show of gratitude, but also said they were still demanding answers.

"To those who are guilty of harming our loved ones, hiding the truth, and delaying the search and rescue, we will also definitely not forgive them," said a family representative, Jiang Hui. The relatives' comments Monday were seen as a small conciliatory move after they staged an angry protest in front of reporters on Sunday at a hotel near Kuala Lumpur. At the time, they chanted slogans, raised banners and called on the Malaysian government to apologize for what they dubbed missteps in the handling of the disaster.

Wong reported from Kuala Lumpur. Associated Press writers Scott McDonald and Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur; Malaysia; Kristen Gelineau in Sydney; and Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, contributed to this report.

6 Killed In Blasts In Somali Area Of Kenya

An injured Kenyan is wheeled into Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya, Monday March 31, 2014, after an explosion in Nairobi killed at least five people. The National Disaster Operation Center said on Twitter that explosions had occurred Monday evening in a neighborhood known for its large Somali population, and the agency said five people were killed and several injured without saying what caused the blasts.

NAIROBI, KENYA (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — Three blasts in central Nairobi killed at least six people and wounded two dozen Monday evening in a coordinated terrorist strike, officials said.
The explosions occurred in a neighborhood known for its large Somali population. Sometimes called Kenya's "Little Mogadishu," Eastleigh has seen several grenade attacks over the last year. Six people died and 25 were wounded in the blasts, said Benson Kibue, Nairobi's police chief. Two restaurants and the exterior of a mother-child health clinic were hit, he said.

An Associated Press reporter at the scene said two of the blasts were about 200 meters (yards) apart. One blast collapsed the first floor walls of a restaurant and appeared to be caused by a device larger than a grenade. Kibue said police suspect it was an improvised explosive device.

Peter Gakuye was bloodied and dusty from the blast's aftermath. He said he was at the front counter of a hotel called Sheraton — not related to the global chain — at around 7:30 p.m. when a blast went off outside. Dazed, he didn't share any other information.

Kibue said because of the large amount of debris at the hotel site the death toll could rise if more bodies are found. Kenya has suffered from a long string of grenade attacks presumed to be thrown by Somali militant sympathizers. Officials also recently discovered a large, undetonated car bomb in the coastal city of Mombasa.

The Somali militant group al-Shabab has long threatened attacks in Kenya unless the country withdraws its troops from southern Somalia. Al-Shabab claimed the attack on Nairobi's Westgate Mall in September. That attack killed at least 67 people.

Asiana: Jet Partly To Blame In California Crash

Aerial file photo, the wreckage of Asiana Flight 214 lies on the ground after it crashed at the San Francisco International Airport, in San Francisco. Asiana Airlines says the Boeing 777 that crashed at San Francisco International Airport had inadequate warning systems to alert the crew to problems with air speed. In a filing with the National Transportation Safety Board released on Monday March 31, 2014, the airline says there was no indication that the plane's autothrottle had stopped maintaining the set air speed.

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — Asiana Airlines acknowledged in documents released Monday that its pilots failed to correct their fatally slow approach to a landing at San Francisco International Airport but also blamed the maker of the jet, saying it did not automatically maintain a safe speed.

Asiana wrote in the filing made public by U.S. accident investigators that the Boeing 777 had major design flaws that led the pilots to believe it would keep flying at the proper speed and failed to warn the cockpit crew in time when it did not.

Boeing Co. countered in its own filing with the National Transportation Safety Board that the airplane performed as expected, and the pilots were to blame for the July 6 crash because they stuck with a clearly troubled landing.

The Asiana flight slammed into a seawall at the end of a runway during its final approach. The impact ripped off the back of the plane, tossed out three flight attendants and their seats, and scattered pieces of the jet as it spun and skidded to a stop.\

In all, 304 of the 307 people aboard survived. Coroner's officials concluded that one of three teens who died, Ye Meng Yuan, was run over and killed by a rescue vehicle as she lay on the tarmac. Asiana acknowledged in its NTSB filing that the crew failed to monitor air speed in the moments before the crash and should have aborted the landing for another go around.\

"The probable cause of this accident was the flight crew's failure to monitor and maintain a minimum safe airspeed during a final approach," Asiana conceded. However, Asiana argued that the pilots and co-pilot believed the automatic throttle would keep the plane going fast enough to reach the runway — when in fact the auto throttle was effectively disengaged after the pilot idled it to correct an unexplained climb earlier in the landing.

The airline said the plane should have been designed so the auto throttle would maintain the proper speed after the pilot put it in "hold mode." Instead, the auto throttle did not indicate that the plane had stopped maintaining the set air speed, and an alert sounded too late for the pilots to avoid the crash, Asiana said. The airline added that U.S. and European aviation officials have warned Boeing about the issue, but it has not been changed.
\
The NTSB previously said the pilots showed signs of confusion about the 777's elaborate computer systems. The agency has not determined an exact cause of the crash. Crew member Lee Kang Kuk was an experienced pilot with Asiana but was a trainee captain in the 777, with less than 45 hours in the jet. He has told transportation safety board investigators that he did not immediately move to perform an emergency "go around" because he felt only the instructor pilot had that authority.

Asiana wrote to the NTSB that under its company policy, "any pilot can and should call for a go-around — without penalty — whenever confronted with a potential safety issue." Boeing told the NTSB the airplane and all its systems were functioning as expected.

"Boeing believes that the evidence supports the following conclusion: This accident occurred due to the flight crew's failure to monitor and control airspeed, thrust level and glide path on short final approach," the airplane manufacturer said.

Pritchard reported from Los Angeles.

Contact Justin Pritchard at https://twitter.com/lalanewsman

Sunday, March 23, 2014

French Data Show Possible Debris From Jetliner

Japanese Commander Hidetsugu Iwamasa steps off his P3-C Orion of Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force after arriving to help with search operations for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 at Royal Australian Air Force Pearce Base in Perth, Australia, Sunday, March 23, 2014.

PERTH, AUSTRALIA (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — France provided new satellite data Sunday showing possible debris from the missing Malaysia Airlines jet, as searchers combing a remote part of the southern Indian Ocean tried without success to locate a wooden pallet that could yield clues to one of the world's most baffling aviation mysteries.

The new data consists of "radar echoes" in the same part of the ocean where satellite images previously released by Australia and China showed what might be debris from the plane, French authorities said.

Flight 370 vanished March 8 with 239 people aboard while en route from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing, setting off a multinational search that has turned up no confirmed pieces and nothing conclusive on what happened to the jet.

The latest satellite data came to light as Australian authorities coordinating the search, conducted about 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles) southwest of Perth, sent planes and a ship to try to "re-find" a wooden pallet that appeared to be surrounded by straps of different lengths and colors.

The pallet was spotted on Saturday from a search plane, but the spotters were unable to take photos of it, and a PC Orion military plane dispatched to locate it could not find it. "So, we've gone back to that area again today to try and re-find it," said Mike Barton, chief of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority's rescue coordination center. He added: "It's a possible lead."

Wooden pallets are often used by ships, Barton cautioned. But he said airlines also commonly use them in cargo holds. An official with Malaysia Airlines said Sunday night that the flight was, in fact, carrying wooden pallets. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with company policy.

AMSA said it has requested a cargo manifest from Malaysia Airlines. When Brazilian searchers in 2009 were looking for debris from Air France Flight 447 after it mysteriously plunged into the Atlantic Ocean, they found a wooden pallet. The military initially reported the pallet came from the Air France flight, but backtracked hours later and said the plane had not been carrying any wooden pallets.

Sunday's search was frustrating because "there was cloud down to the surface, and at times we were completely enclosed by cloud," Royal Australian Air Force flight Lt. Russell Adams told reporters. Nothing of interest was found, he said. But he added that the search was worth it because "we might do 10 sorties and find nothing, but on that 11th flight when you find something and you know that you're actually contributing to some answers for somebody."

In Paris, French Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said in an interview with The Associated Press that the satellite radar echoes "identified some debris that could be from the Malaysian Airlines plane."

The spokesman said that these echoes "are not images with a definition like a photograph, but they do allow us to identify the nature of an object and to localize it." "The French government has decided to increase its satellite monitoring of this zone and try to obtain precise images and locations," Nadal said.

Gathering satellite echo data involves sending a beam of energy to the Earth and then analyzing it when it bounces back, according to Joseph Bermudez Jr., chief analytics officer at AllSource Analysis, a commercial satellite intelligence firm.

Satellite radar echoes can be converted into an image that would look similar to a black-and-white photo, though not as clear, he said. "You'd have to know what you're looking at," Bermudez said. A Malaysian official involved in the search said the French data located objects about 930 kilometers (575 miles) north of the spots where the objects in the images released by Australia and China were located.

One of the objects located was estimated to be about the same size as an object captured Tuesday by the Chinese satellite that appeared to be 22 meters (72 feet) by 13 meters (43 feet), said the official, who declined to be identified because he wasn't authorized to speak to the media. It was not possible to determine precise dimensions from the French data, the official said.

The southern Indian Ocean is thought to be a potential area to find the jet because Malaysian authorities have said pings sent by the Boeing 777-200 for several hours after it disappeared indicated that the plane ended up in one of two huge arcs: a northern corridor stretching from Malaysia to Central Asia, or a southern corridor that stretches toward Antarctica.

Malaysian authorities have not ruled out any possible explanation for what happened to the jet, but have said the evidence so far suggests it was deliberately turned back across Malaysia to the Strait of Malacca, with its communications systems disabled. They are unsure what happened next.

Authorities are considering the possibilities of hijacking, sabotage, terrorism or issues related to the mental health of the pilots or someone else on board. In the U.S., Tony Blinken, President Barack Obama's deputy national security adviser, said on CNN: "There is no prevailing theory."

"Publicly or privately, we don't know" what happened to the plane, he said. "We're chasing down every theory."

McDonald reported from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Associated Press writers Todd Pitman and Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Kristen Gelineau in Sydney, Cassandra Vinograd in London, and Elaine Ganley and Oleg Cetinic in Paris contributed to this report.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

High schools in Nigeria’s Borno state closed fearing attacks by Islamic extremists

MAIDUGURI, NIGERIA --  Nigeria's Borno state government is closing all high schools indefinitely amid fears of massive attacks by Islamic extremists, officials and teachers said Tuesday, confirming a move that may be considered a victory for the Islamic extremist Boko Haram terrorist network, whose nickname means "Western education is forbidden."
They said some 85 schools will be closed, affecting nearly 120,000 students in an area that has the country's worst literacy rates.
                           
The closures come amid growing anger at the military's failure to suppress an Islamic uprising in northeast Nigeria, despite a massive deployment of troops and a 10-month-old state of emergency.
                           
The United Nations estimates that the Islamic uprising has forced some 300,000 people to leave their homes since 2010 in northeast Nigeria, most displaced within the country and some across borders in Chad, Cameroon and Niger.
The Associated Press

Candidates Vie For Afghan Women's Vote

Female supporters of Afghan vice presidential candidate, Habiba Sarabi and Afghan presidential candidate Zalmai Rassoul hold flags with his photo and two vice presidential candidate's during a campaign rally in Kabul, Afghanistan. The Afghan vice presidential candidate strode down the aisle separating hundreds of male and female supporters at a campaign rally in Kabul. She shook hands with the women filling the chairs to her right. To the men on the other side, she simply nodded. Writing on the flags reads, "vote for Zalmai Rassoul."

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN (AP) — The candidate strode down the aisle separating hundreds of male and female supporters at a campaign rally in Kabul. She shook hands with the women filling the chairs to her right. To the men on the other side, she simply nodded.
Habiba Sarabi is the most prominent woman running on a ticket in the April 5 election to choose a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Sarabi once served as Afghanistan's first female governor, and her current bid to become Afghanistan's first female vice president is part of an effort to get out the women's vote as candidates scramble for every ballot.

Women "can affect the transition, the political transition," she said in an interview after addressing the rally to support Sarabi and her running mate, presidential candidate Zalmai Rassoul. The event was held in a wedding hall in a Kabul district dominated by her ethnic minority Hazara community.
But Sarabi, a 57-year-old former governor of Bamiyan province, still must conform to cultural norms in this deeply conservative Islamic society. Her challenge highlights the difficulties facing Afghan women who worry about losing hard-won gains as international combat forces prepare to withdraw from the country by the end of this year.

Afghan women were granted the right to vote in the constitution adopted after the U.S.-led coalition toppled the Taliban regime in late 2001. Under the Taliban, women were also banned from school and forced to wear the all-encompassing burqa.

But security concerns have marred their participation in previous elections. In areas of the country still controlled by the Taliban, women have been threatened with violence if they vote. In 2009, many Afghan women registered but then gave their voting cards to male relatives, who ended up casting multiple ballots as polling officials and police conveniently looked away — one of many forms of fraud that tarnished Karzai's re-election.

Although voting cards are supposed to include a photo for identification, in some areas women refused to be photographed. Naheed Farid, a lawmaker from the western province of Herat, predicted fraud will be rampant this year as well.

"I am so optimistic that we will have more women to vote in this election, but who they vote for and what happens to their vote will be a problem," she said in a telephone interview. "There's lack of awareness that women can decide on their own, and families especially the fathers have an influence, and this is something we can't change now, not this time."

Still, she and others said, there are signs of progress. There are nine candidates in the crowded race, but only three are considered front-runners — Rassoul; Abdullah Abdullah, who was runner-up to Karzai in the disputed 2009 election; and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai.

Gul Makai Safi, the head of the women's council for Abdullah's campaign, said women are streaming into their offices to learn about the process. She expressed concern that women in areas where militants are active will be unable to vote.

"We are very hopeful and optimistic that this time the women's vote will decide the fate of the candidates in the election," she said. "Women will bring a change in the result of the election this time."

Ahmadzai's wife, Rula, has even stumped for votes at campaign events, something that is very rare in a country where the current first lady has almost never appeared in public. There are officially 12 million eligible voters in Afghanistan, according to the Independent Election Commission, but the number of people who go to the polls may be higher because many voter cards were issued in past elections and are unaccounted for. Since registration began last year for next month's election, the commission has document 3.6 million new voters, including 1.2 million women.

Volunteers have visited villages and districts around the country to inform women about the issues and how their participation could help improve their lives. But many obstacles remain. To help prevent suicide bombings and other attacks, police will search voters before they are allowed to enter the polling stations. The Interior Ministry said it is training 13,000 women to search female voters, but there is concern there will be too few of them — and that some women will be turned away from the polls as a result.

And even in Kabul, some women have no idea how to register. "No one guided us and we haven't got voting cards now. If we could get our voting cards, we could have fulfilled our part in making the government," said Gul Sara, a woman living in an internal refugee camp in the Afghan capital.
Activists also warned the situation has not changed in areas where the Taliban remain active and conservative mores are entrenched, including many parts of the east and in the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand.

Covered from head to toe in a black veil in downtown Kandahar city, Shaqiba Ahmadi acknowledged the difficulties facing women and chastised the government for not doing more on their behalf. "I think we have to try harder," the 20-year-old tailor said. "Afghan women are not very active. They should vote. I will vote."

The hall in Kabul where vice presidential candidate Sarabi gave her address was packed equally with men and women, though they sat on separate sides of the room. Sitting at the rally with a turquoise campaign scarf draped over her head, Gul Chaman said she plans to vote for the first time.

"I didn't care in the last election and I couldn't figure out how to get a voting card," said Chaman, who has nine grandchildren. "I hope the election will bring security, reconstruction and prosperity and stability to Afghanistan."

Associated Press writer Kathy Gannon in Kandahar contributed to this report.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Final Words From Jet Came After Systems Shutdown

Flowers and a card with messages for passengers aboard a missing Malaysia Airlines plane, are placed below a message board at a shopping mall in Petaling Jaya, near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Sunday, March 16, 2014. Malaysian authorities Sunday were investigating the pilots of the missing jetliner after it was established that whoever flew off with the Boeing 777 had intimate knowledge of the cockpit and knew how to avoid detection when navigating around Asia.

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA (AP) — When someone at the controls calmly said the last words heard from the missing Malaysian jetliner, one of the Boeing 777's communications systems had already been disabled, authorities said Sunday, adding to suspicions that one or both of the pilots were involved in disappearance of the flight.

Investigators also examined a flight simulator confiscated from the home of one of the pilots and dug through the background of all 239 people on board, as well as the ground crew that serviced the plane.

The Malaysia Airlines jet took off from Kuala Lumpur in the wee hours of March 8, headed to Beijing. On Saturday, the Malaysian government announced findings that strongly suggested the plane was deliberately diverted and may have flown as far north as Central Asia or south into the vast reaches of the Indian Ocean.

Authorities have said someone on board the plane first disabled one of its communications systems — the Aircraft and Communications Addressing and Reporting System, or ACARS — about 40 minutes after takeoff. The ACARS equipment sends information about the jet's engines and other data to the airline.

Around 14 minutes later, the transponder that identifies the plane to commercial radar systems was also shut down. The fact that both systems went dark separately offered strong evidence that the plane's disappearance was deliberate.

On Sunday, Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said at a news conference that that the final, reassuring words from the cockpit — "All right, good night" — were spoken to air traffic controllers after the ACARS system was shut off. Whoever spoke did not mention any trouble on board.

Air force Maj. Gen. Affendi Buang told reporters he did not know whether it was the pilot or co-pilot who spoke to air traffic controllers. Given the expanse of land and water that might need to be searched, finding the wreckage could take months or longer. Or it might never be located.

Establishing what happened with any degree of certainty will probably require evidence from cockpit voice recordings and the plane's flight-data recorders.

The search area now includes 11 countries the plane might have flown over, Hishammuddin said, adding that the number of countries involved in the operation had increased from 14 to 25. "The search was already a highly complex, multinational effort," he said. "It has now become even more difficult."

The search effort initially focused on the relatively shallow waters of the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca, where the plane was first thought to be. Hishammuddin said he had asked governments to hand over sensitive radar and satellite data to try to get a better idea of the plane's final movements.

With more information, he said, the search zone could be narrowed "to an area that is more feasible." Malaysia is leading the search for the plane and the investigation into its disappearance. In the United States, Dan Pfeiffer, senior adviser to President Barack Obama, told NBC's "Meet the Press" that the FBI was supporting the criminal probe.

Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security subcommittee on counterterrorism and intelligence, said on ABC's "This Week" that so far "there's nothing out there indicating it's terrorists."
Investigators are trying to answer these questions: If the two pilots were involved in the disappearance, were they working together or alone, or with one or more of the passengers or crew? Did they fly the plane under duress or of their own will? Did one or more of the passengers manage to break into the cockpit or use the threat of violence to gain entry and then seize the plane? And what possible motive could there be for diverting the jet?

Malaysia's police chief, Khalid Abu Bakar, said he asked countries with citizens on board the plane to investigate their backgrounds, no doubt looking for anyone with terrorism ties, aviation skills or prior contact with the pilots. He said that the intelligence agencies of some countries had already done so and found nothing suspicious, but he was waiting for others to respond.

Police searched the homes of both pilots Saturday, the first time they had done so since the plane vanished, the government said. Asked why it took them so long, Khalid said authorities "didn't see the necessity in the early stages."

Police confiscated the elaborate flight simulator that one of the pilots, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, had built in his home and reassembled it in their offices to study it for clues, Khalid said. Zaharie, 53, who has three grown children and one grandchild, had previously posted photos online of the simulator, which was made with three large computer monitors and other accessories. Earlier this week, the head of Malaysia Airlines said the simulator was not in itself cause for any suspicion.

Malaysian police were also investigating engineers and ground staff who may have had contact with the plane before it took off, Khalid said. Even though the ACARS system was disabled on Flight 370, it continued to emit faint hourly pulses that were recorded by a satellite. The last "ping" was sent out at 8:11 a.m. — 7 hours and 31 minutes after the plane took off. That placed the jet somewhere in a huge arc as far north as Kazakhstan in Central Asia or far into the southern Indian Ocean.

While many people believe the plane has crashed, there is a small possibility it may have landed somewhere and be relatively intact. Affendi, the air force general, and Hishammuddin, the defense minister, said it was possible for the plane to "ping" when it was on the ground if its electrical systems were undamaged.

Australia said it was sending one of its two AP-3C Orion aircraft involved in the search to remote islands in the Indian Ocean at Malaysia's request. The plane will search the north and west of the Cocos Islands, a remote Australian territory with an airstrip about 1,200 kilometers (745 miles) southwest of Indonesia, military chief Gen. David Hurley said.

Given that a northern route would have sent the plane over countries with busy airspace, most experts say the person in control of the aircraft would more likely have chosen to go south. The southern Indian Ocean is the world's third-deepest and one of the most remote stretches of water in the world, with little radar coverage.

Whoever disabled the plane's communication systems and then flew the jet must have had a high degree of technical knowledge and flying experience, putting one or both of the pilots high on the list of possible suspects, Malaysian officials and aviation experts said.

Zaharie, the captain, was a supporter of a Malaysian opposition political party that is locked in a bitter dispute with the government, according to postings on his Facebook page and a friend, Peter Chong, who is a party member.

Chong said that he last saw Zaharie a week before the pilot left on the flight for Beijing and that they had agreed to meet on his return to organize a shopping trip for poor children. "If I am on a flight, I would choose Captain Zaharie," he said. "He is dedicated to his job. He is a professional and he loves flying."

Associated Press writers Ian Mader and Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur and Kristen Gelineau in Sydney contributed to this report.

Missing Plane Throws Spotlight On Passport Theft

Italian Luigi Maraldi whose stolen passport was used by a passenger boarding a missing Malaysia Airlines plane, shows his passport as he speaks to a reporter at Phuket police station in Phuket province, southern Thailand. Maraldi lost his passport when he hired a motorbike on Phuket last year. When he returned to the shop to retrieve his passport, he was told it had been given away to someone who looked just like him. His passport, along with another stolen in Phuket two years earlier, was used to board the ill-fated flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing undetected, revealing startling shortcomings in the security of international travel. Interpol said it maintains a global database of 40 million lost or stolen travel documents. The organization said only a handful of countries actually check the database before allowing passengers to board international flights. Malaysia and Thailand are not among them.

PHUKET, THAILAND (AP) — When a German tourist refused to surrender his passport as collateral at a car rental stand along a popular beach in the Thai resort city of Phuket, the woman behind the counter pulled out a bag full of passport books to prove he could trust her.

But the tourist, Falko Tillwich, was insistent. "I said absolutely not ... no way," he recalled, and later handed over his driver's license instead. Tillwich's concern: losing vital travel documents, or worse — having them stolen by criminal syndicates that are exploiting lax law enforcement and corrupt police here to support a global network of human smugglers, fugitives and sometimes, terrorist

Those worries were heightened this week after investigations into Malaysian jetliner that went missing March 8 with 239 people aboard revealed two Iranian citizens had boarded the flight with passports stolen from tourists in Thailand.

Investigators say it was unlikely the two men had links to terrorism and appeared to be illegal migrants trying to get to Europe. However, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said Saturday authorities were re-examining the list of crew and passengers after deciding the plane had deliberately changed course after taking off from Kuala Lumpur on the way to Beijing.

Passport theft is "a very big and critical problem in Thailand," said police Maj. Gen. Apichart Suribunya, who serves as Thailand's Interpol director. "It is a problem that Interpol, the United Nations and the international community have been trying to solve for years."

So far, with limited success. Thailand's sapphire blue waters, wildlife parks, delicious cuisine and raunchy red light districts have attracted tourists for decades. Last year alone, 22 million foreign visitors made the trip. That means "there are more passports to steal in Thailand than other countries in the region," said Clive Williams, a counterterrorism expert at Australia's Macquarie University.
Phuket is one of Thailand's tourism honeypots. Tourists flock here in droves each year for its sun, sand and laid back ambience. And some, like Italian Luigi Maraldi, lose their passports along the way.

Maraldi hired a hired a motorbike on Phuket last year. When he returned to the shop to retrieve his passport, he was told it had been given away to someone who looked like him. His passport, along with another stolen in Phuket two years earlier, was used to board the ill-fated flight undetected, revealing startling shortcomings in the security of international travel.

Interpol says it maintains a global database of 40 million lost or stolen travel documents, but only a handful of countries actually check it before allowing passengers aboard flights. Malaysia and Thailand are not among them.

Apichart said accessing the database is not complicated, but Thai authorities use it only when travelers are deemed suspicious. It can also be time-consuming, he said, and the government has been keen to facilitate the lucrative tourism industry and ensure immigration lines aren't clogged.

"This is something we have to rethink," Apichart said. The global intelligence company Stratfor said that passport fraud is common among human traffickers, drug smugglers, arms merchants, money launderers, fugitives and pedophiles — many of whom end up in Thailand. "Only a very small percentage," of those involved in the underground trade have terror links, Stratfor said.

Nevertheless, the threat remains a concern. After the Sept. 11 attacks, Thailand — under pressure from Western governments — vowed to crack down. In 2004, police arrested a Bangladeshi who allegedly supplied forged passports to al-Qaida-linked terrorists, including the mastermind of the 2002 Bali attacks. In 2010, authorities nabbed Pakistani Muhammad Butt, who police believe provided false passports to suspects in the Madrid train bombings.

Two years later, Thai officers arrested Parknejed Seyed Ramin for alleged involvement in a passport racket that was thought to have aided suspects in a bomb plot discovered in Bangkok on Valentine's Day the same year. Police said Ramin's gang had been running a lucrative, 5-year-old forgery business worth millions of dollars.

Governments like the United States have fought back by embedding digital chips inside passports that contain a photo of the passport holder and information about the owner. Stratfor said that has made it tougher to alter photos, but chips can still be hacked.

In Thailand, passport forgers now use advanced technology, and their clients can evade capture by selling them to lookalikes who resemble the owners. A senior Thai intelligence official, who has spent years hunting down passport theft rings, said investigators are currently tracking about 10 major syndicates in Thailand.

Most were run by nationals from Pakistan, India, Iran or Central Asia he said, for clients that are mostly illegal migrants. The fact that travel documents are often stolen or forged in one country and used in another, though, "makes it hard for the governments to follow and arrest them," he said.
In Phuket this week, police called meetings with dozens of owners of motorbike rental shops and told them to take copies of passports instead of the originals. It was unclear, though, how or whether they would enforce it.\

Associated Press writer Todd Pitman contributed to this report from Bangkok.

Nigeria Navy Destroys 260 Illegal Oil Refineries

An abandoned illegal refinery is seen after it was raided by Nigeria Navy at the creeks of Bayelsa, Nigeria. The Nigerian Navy says it destroyed 260 illegal oil refineries and burned 100,000 tons of contraband fuel to try to halt oil thefts bedeviling the economy of Africa's biggest petroleum producer. Commanding officer Capt. Musa Gemu said Saturday night sailors of the NNS Delta destroyed the refineries in the Warri South-West area of southern Delta region Friday night and arrested five suspects.

WARRI, NIGERIA (AP) — The Nigerian Navy said it has destroyed 260 illegal oil refineries and burned 100,000 tons of contraband fuel, but critics say this targeting of small-time criminals fails to confront the biggest culprits in oil thefts — the politically-connected criminal cartels who sell on the international market.

Similar missions in the past have failed to slow thefts valued at more than $20 million a day on the world market. Shell Nigeria, the biggest operator in the West African nation, said it lost $1 billion to oil thefts in 2013.

On Sunday, Shell confirmed that an under-sea pipeline leak has forced the closure of its Forcados export terminal, a major installation with capacity to handle 400,000 barrels of crude a day. Spokesman Precious Okolobo said the terminal was closed March 4 and the cause of the leak still is being investigated.

On Friday night, the commanding officer of the NNS Delta, Capt. Musa Gemu, said sailors destroyed about 260 refineries in the Warri area of the southern Niger Delta. He said they also arrested five suspects.

A former militant in the area, Cross Ebikpade, said such attacks have little effect as the primitive operations use materials like oil drums that are easily available locally. "You can burn the site today but by next week the operators are back in business," he said.

Niger Delta residents have told The Associated Press that they feel entitled to steal oil because they have received little reparation for decades of oil spills and gas flaring that have corrupted their environment, killing fishing and agricultural fields.

Director Patrick Dele Cole of Stop The Theft, an advocacy group, estimates thefts at 250,000 barrels a day — more than a tenth of the country's daily production of 2.2 million barrels. He has told the AP that the thefts will not end until authorities address the fact that profits benefit the same generals and politicians who are ordering the raids on small illegal refineries.

Another non-government group, the Stakeholders Democracy Network, published a report in October alleging a small group of senior military officials charged with halting the thefts actually have shares in syndicates that are stealing crude. Lower-ranking officers demand large bribes to allow boats carrying stolen crude to leave the country, the network said.

Dele Cole said, "The whole idea of selling oil illegally was sponsored and maintained by our political leaders" to fund election campaigns. With Nigeria gearing up for hotly contested elections in February 2015, it's unlikely there will be any political will to halt the thefts soon.

Corruption at the highest levels is endemic in Nigeria. The oil thefts are unrelated to some 20 billion petrodollars allegedly missing from the country's treasury, from oil sold between January 2012 and July 2013. President Goodluck Jonathan has announced an international forensic audit to unravel the accounts.

Faul contributed to this report from Lagos, Nigeria

16 Killed In Stampedes For Jobs In Nigeria

A man gestures, inside the National stadium as hundreds of applicants attends an aptitude test, in Abuja, Nigeria. At least 16 people were killed in desperate stampedes for government jobs in Nigeria when hundreds of thousands were invited to apply for fewer than 5,000 positions, officials and activists said Sunday.

ABUJA, NIGERIA (AP) — At least 16 people were killed in stampedes for government jobs in Nigeria when hundreds of thousands were invited to apply for fewer than 5,000 positions, officials and activists said Sunday.

Interior Minister Abba Moro held the applicants responsible, saying they "lost their lives through their impatience." Activists blamed his ministry and called for him to be fired. Emergency officials said the death toll could rise.

Nigerians are desperate for work, with official statistics putting the number of unemployed at nearly 41 million of the 170 million population. Unemployment among young people aged under-24 is even higher — 38 percent according to official statistics and nearer 80 percent, according to the World Bank.

Moro was quoted as saying by the official News Agency of Nigeria that many of the applicants "jumped through the fences of affected centers and did not conduct themselves in an orderly manner ... This caused stampedes and made the environment unsecured."

The Education Rights Campaign blamed his ministry for inviting more applicants than centers could accommodate and not providing enough security. The campaign, which called for Moro to be fired, gave the example of Abuja National Stadium, which has a capacity for 60,000. It said 65,000 applicants were invited and seven people died. The other deaths took place in Minna, Port Harcourt, Dutse and Benin City, Moro said.

The campaign said scores of people were killed. The Nigerian Red Cross and some hospital officials said many seriously injured patients were admitted, and some could die, raising the toll. About 500,000 applicants were invited to apply for 4,556 vacancies at the Nigeria Immigration Service, according to Education Rights.

Applicants said they each paid 1,000 naira (about $6) — apparently for the right to write tests on Saturday at the application centers. The Education Rights Campaign said it was scandalous that the government had collected about $3 million from applicants and demanded the money be returned.
It said it was unconscionable that the government was "preying on the misery of hapless Nigerian youths, especially graduates who suffer years without gainful employment." Nigeria is Africa's biggest oil producer and has one of the world's fastest-growing economies — 7 percent projected for this year — but corruption and mismanagement have failed to translate that growth into much-needed jobs.

Associated Press writer Michelle Faul contributed to this report from Lagos, Nigeria.

US Rejects Crimea Vote, Cites Russian Intimidation

Ukrainian soldiers man a check point in the village of Strilkove, Ukraine, Sunday, March 16, 2014. Russia raised the stakes Saturday when its forces, backed by helicopter gunships and armored vehicles, took control of the Ukrainian village of Strilkove and a key natural gas distribution plant nearby— the first Russian military move into Ukraine beyond the Crimean peninsula of 2 million people. The Russian forces later returned the village but kept control of the gas plant.

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday that Crimea's vote to secede from Ukraine and join Russia would never be recognized by the United States.

The two leaders spoke after residents in Crimea voted overwhelmingly in favor of the split. The White House said Obama told Putin the Crimean vote violates the Ukrainian constitution and occurred under duress of Russian military intervention.

He also said the U.S. was prepared to impose retaliatory penalties on Russia. Obama urged Putin to work with Ukraine as well as Western nations to resolve the crisis diplomatically. Obama also asked Putin to support the deployment of international monitors to help prevent violence in Ukraine as that country prepares for spring elections.

Even before official results were announced, the White House denounced the vote, saying "no decisions should be made about the future of Ukraine without the Ukrainian government" and noting that Russia had rejected the deployment of international monitors in Crimea to ensure the rights of ethnic Russians there were protected.

"Russia has spurned those calls as well as outreach from the Ukrainian government and instead has escalated its military intervention into Crimea and initiated threatening military exercises on Ukraine's eastern border," the White House said.

"Russia's actions are dangerous and destabilizing," the White House said. U.S. officials reaffirmed that the Obama administration will, along with the European Union, impose penalties on Russia if it annexes the strategic region. They also warned that any Russia moves on east and south Ukraine would be a grave escalation requiring additional responses.

Secretary of State John Kerry called on Moscow to return its troops in Crimea to their bases, pull back forces from the Ukraine border, halt incitement in eastern Ukraine and support the political reforms in Ukraine that would protect ethnic Russians, Russian speakers and others in the former Soviet republic that Russia says it is concerned about.

In a call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Kerry urged Russia "to support efforts by Ukrainians across the spectrum to address power sharing and decentralization through a constitutional reform process that is broadly inclusive and protects the rights of minorities," the State Department said.

It was their second call since unsuccessful talks Friday in London. Kerry expressed "strong concerns" about Russian military activities in the southern Ukrainian region of Kherson, just north of Crimea where Russian troops appeared Saturday, and about "continuing provocations" in cities in east Ukraine, the department said.

Kerry "made clear that this crisis can only be resolved politically and that as Ukrainians take the necessary political measures going forward, Russia must reciprocate by pulling forces back to base and addressing the tensions and concerns about military engagement," the department said.

A senior State Department official said Lavrov's willingness to discuss Ukraine political reforms was positive. But the official stressed that the Russian military escalation was of "greatest concern" and must be reversed. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private conversation.
White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said that Russia faces penalties that would hurt its economy and diminish its influence in the world if President Vladimir Putin didn't back down. Pfeiffer said the administration was committed to supporting the new Ukrainian government in Kiev "in every way possible."

"President Putin has a choice about what he's going to do here. Is he going to continue to further isolate himself, further hurt his economy, further diminish Russian influence in the world, or is he going to do the right thing?" Pfeiffer said.

U.S. and European officials have said they plan to announce sanctions against Russia, including visa bans and potential asset freezes, on Monday if Putin does not shift course. But Putin and other Russians have shown no sign they are willing to back down. They insist they will respect the results of the Crimean referendum in which voters in the largely pro-Moscow peninsula are expected to choose joining Russia by a wide margin.

Members of Congress said they were prepared to enact tough sanctions on various Russian leaders, but $1 billion in loan guarantees to help the Ukrainian economy is on hold while Congress is on a break.

"President Putin has started a game of Russian roulette, and I think the United States and the West have to be very clear in their response because he will calculate about how far he can go," said Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The top Republican on the committee, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, said the U.S. and Europe were entering a "defining moment" in their relationship with Russia. "Putin will continue to do this. He did it in Georgia a few years ago. He's moved into Crimea, and he will move into other places unless we show that long-term resolve."

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, just back from meetings in Ukraine, said Ukrainians he talked to said war could occur if Russia attempts to annex more territory. They indicated that "if Russia really does decide to move beyond Crimea, it's going to be bloody and the fight may be long," Murphy said.

Pfeiffer spoke on NBC's "Meet the Press." Menendez and Corker appeared on "Fox News Sunday." Murphy was on ABC's "This Week."

Crimeans Vote Overwhelmingly To Leave Russia

Cossacks guard the regional parliament building during the Crimean referendum in Simferopol, Ukraine, Sunday, March 16, 2014. Residents of Ukraine's Crimea region are voting in a contentious referendum on whether to split off and seek annexation by Russia.

SIMFEROPOL, UKRAINE (AP) — Just two weeks after Russian troops seized their peninsula, Crimeans voted Sunday to leave Ukraine and join Russia, overwhelmingly approving a referendum that sought to unite the strategically important Black Sea region with the country it was part of for more than two centuries.

The vote was widely condemned by Western leaders, who planned to move swiftly to punish Russia with economic sanctions. As the votes were counted, a jubilant crowd gathered around a statue of Vladimir Lenin in the center of Simferopol to celebrate with song and dance. Many held Russian flags, and some unfurled a handwritten banner reading "We're Russian and proud of it." Fireworks exploded in the skies above.

"We want to go back home, and today we are going back home," said Viktoria Chernyshova, a 38-year-old businesswoman. "We needed to save ourselves from those unprincipled clowns who have taken power in Kiev."

Ukraine's new government in Kiev called the referendum a "circus" directed at gunpoint by Moscow, referring to the thousands of troops that now occupy the peninsula, which has traded hands repeatedly since ancient times.

The referendum offered voters the choice of seeking annexation by Russia or remaining in Ukraine with greater autonomy. After 50 percent of the ballots were counted, more than 95 percent of voters had approved splitting off and joining Russia, according to Mikhail Malishev, head of the referendum committee.

Final results were not expected until Monday. Opponents of secession appeared to have stayed away Sunday, denouncing the vote as a cynical power play and land grab by Russia. Putin insisted the referendum was conducted in "full accordance with international law and the U.N. charter."

Russia was expected to face strong sanctions Monday from the U.S. and Europe for going forward with the vote, which could also encourage rising pro-Russian sentiment in Ukraine's east and lead to further divisions in this nation of 46 million. Residents in western Ukraine and the capital, Kiev, are strongly pro-West and Ukrainian nationalist.

Andrew Weiss, vice president for Russian and East European studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, suggested the confrontation could intensify. Russia "is really turning its back on the outside world and is basically going to say to the West, 'Now, go ahead. Show us how tough you are.' And the West, I think, is struggling to come with an adequate response."

The Crimean parliament planned to meet Monday to formally ask Moscow to be annexed, and Crimean lawmakers were to fly to Moscow later in the day for talks, Crimea's pro-Russia prime minister said on Twitter.

Russian lawmaker Vladimir Zhirinovsky said the annexation could take "from three days to three months," according to the Interfax news agency. Some residents in Crimea said they feared the new Ukrainian government that took over when President Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia last month would oppress them.

"It's like they're crazy Texans in western Ukraine. Imagine if the Texans suddenly took over power (in Washington) and told everyone they should speak Texan," said Ilya Khlebanov, a voter in Simferopol.

Ukraine's new prime minister insisted that neither Ukraine nor the West would recognize the vote. "Under the stage direction of the Russian Federation, a circus performance is underway: the so-called referendum," Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said Sunday. "Also taking part in the performance are 21,000 Russian troops, who with their guns are trying to prove the legality of the referendum."
As soon as the polls closed, the White House again denounced the vote. "The international community will not recognize the results of a poll administered under threats of violence," it said in a statement. "Russia's actions are dangerous and destabilizing."

Russia raised the stakes Saturday when its forces, backed by helicopter gunships and armored vehicles, took control of the Ukrainian village of Strilkove and a key natural gas distribution plant nearby — the first Russian military move into Ukraine beyond the Crimean peninsula of 2 million people.

The Russian forces later returned the village but kept control of the gas plant. On Sunday, Ukrainian soldiers were digging trenches and erecting barricades between the village and the gas plant. "We will not let them advance further into Ukrainian territory," said Serhiy Kuz, commander of a Ukrainian paratrooper battalion.

Despite the threat of sanctions, Putin has vigorously resisted calls to pull back in Crimea. At the United Nations on Saturday, Russia vetoed a Security Council resolution declaring the referendum illegal. China, its ally, abstained and 13 of the 15 other nations on the council voted in favor.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke to Putin by phone Sunday, proposing that an international observer mission in Ukraine be expanded quickly as tensions rise in the east. Her spokesman said she also condemned the Russian seizure of the gas plant.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also spoke and agreed to support constitutional reforms in Ukraine that could ease the tensions, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

Ukraine's Regional Policy Minister Volodymyr Groisman told The Associated Press the new government was already working on giving towns and regions more autonomy but said there were no plans to turn Ukraine into a federation.

In Donetsk, one of the main cities in eastern Ukraine, pro-Russia demonstrators called Sunday for a referendum similar to the one in Crimea. In Sevastopol, the Crimean port where Russia now leases a major naval base from Ukraine for $98 million a year, speakers blared the city anthem up and down the streets, but the military threat was not far away — a Russian naval warship still blocked the port's outlet to the Black Sea, trapping Ukrainian boats.

At a polling station inside a historic school, tears came to Vladimir Lozovoy, a 75-year-old retired Soviet naval officer, as he talked about his vote. "I want to cry. I have finally returned to my motherland. It is an incredible feeling. This is the thing I have been waiting for for 23 years," he said.
But Crimea's large Muslim Tatar minority — whose families had been forcibly removed from their homeland and sent to Central Asia during Soviet times — remained defiant. The Crimea referendum "is a clown show, a circus," Tatar activist Refat Chubarov said on Crimea's Tatar television station. "This is a tragedy, an illegitimate government with armed forces from another country."

The fate of Ukrainian soldiers trapped in their Crimean bases by pro-Russian forces was still uncertain. But Ukraine's acting defense minister, Igor Tenyuk, was quoted as saying Sunday that an agreement had been reached with Russia not to block Ukrainian soldiers in Crimea through Friday. It was not clear exactly what that meant.

Ethnic Ukrainians interviewed outside the Ukrainian Orthodox cathedral of Vladimir and Olga said they refused to take part in the referendum, calling it an illegal charade stage-managed by Moscow. Some said they were scared of the potential for widespread harassment.

Vasyl Ovcharuk, a retired gas pipe layer, predicted dark days ahead for Crimea. "This will end up in military action, in which peaceful people will suffer. And that means everybody," he said. "Shells and bullets are blind."

Associated Press writers Dalton Bennett in Sevastopol, Yuras Karmanau in Strilkove, Jim Heintz and Maria Danilova in Kiev and David Melendy in Washington contributed to this report.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Owuor's Reflections on Kenya's Troubled and Painful Past

By Ambrose Ehirim

DUST
By Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor
Alfred A. Knopf. 384 Pages. $25.95


Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor/Courtesy Pinintrest

In my review of Ode Mkpishi, novelist Chinua Achebe's "Education of a British Protected Child: Essays," his outing in twenty years, which was a narrated pile of social problems about an unbecoming country run over by military juntas, accompanied by the widespread scandals of bribery and corruption and, the pains associated with it, Achebe did not waste time to express his feelings and anger toward a nation that neglected normal procedure, as far as civil liberties and code of conduct were concerned.

And, Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, felt the same way when he authored "The Open Sore of a Continent: A Personal Narrative of the Nigerian Crisis," in which he did not stop lamenting. Soyinka's book was based on lectures he had delivered on a piecemeal at Harvard University in 1996 when Sani Abacha had wrestled power and had become a despot dealing summarily with his subjects, his subjects who had denounced his iron rule. At the time the lectures were made, Soyinka was not at his best; he had been overwhelmed and weakened by Abacha's wrath. He had been nervous, full of anguish, and had fled his native land, bearing in mind what the Abacha-led military juntas had done to his country and reflecting on the nation's entire history since colonial conquest, and, reminding his readers repetitively that it had been so -- that the country was heading to hell and, was not going anywhere by way of progress.

Yvonne Adhiagbo Owuor, unquestionably, has taken the footsteps of the above-mentioned authors in her narrative, recalling Kenya's troubled past which was begun from the days of the colonial administrators, way back from the Mau Mau Rebellion in the 1950s, gearing toward independence in the early 1960s to 2007, when Kenya was thrown into internal strife and political turmoil, ethnic clashes and wanton killings from an election that had been marred by irregularities. It's in the same pattern Achebe had written his earlier novels depicting social ills and a state of empire and anarchy that is found in Owuor's first major entry in literature.

Owuor begins her plot with the brutal murder of an 18 year engineering student named Moses Ebewesit Odidi Oganda, who had been gunned down while fleeing the streets of Nairobi. This was set in 2007 when incumbent Mwaki Kibaki was seeking reelection as president of Kenya, which erupted violence turning Kenya into an ungovernable state and, into an ethnic warfare. Murder, rapes, forced circumcisions and as the list goes on, had been the order. Displacements and thousands of Kibaki's opponents had been murdered and, what would happen was that the Kikuyis had been blamed for the attacks and the restlessness in the country had become burdensome.

After the presidential election in December of 2007, in Kenya, of which a Kikuyi, Kibaki had won and exact revenge on other tribes, which Uhuru Kenyatta would be accused of masterminding said mayhem on other tribes, especially the Luos, his political foes and rivalry, Raila Odinga, who, along other oppositions had mounted series of complaints and allegations pressuring the international community  and the International Criminal Court, the ICC, in The Hague, Netherlands, to step up and level charges against Kenyatta.

Owuor's angst from the set up of the novel can be traced practically from how three presidents of Kenya -- Jomo Kenyatta; Daniel Arap Moi, who had destroyed the nation's political landscape for twenty years; and, an incumbent, Kibaki -- have combined to sow seeds of discord among other tribes to intentionally keep dividing them.

As it had happened, after the December 2007 elections, violence broke out -- the Kikuyi's were attacked to have robbed the nation of due process and credible election by the Luos. The Luos are President Barack Obama's father's tribe. Also, what had happened in Kenya's Rift Valley, where mobs of the Luos tribe had attacked the Kikuyis (Kenyatta and Kibaki's clan) before an all out revenge, portrays Owuor's initiation with the novel's prologue.

Owuor's major character, Oganda, had a sister, Arabel Ajany Oganda, an artist, who lived in Brazil and had visited Nairobi to bury her brother which would take the story back and forth with a tone of disappointment, emotional constipations as a result, and the ominous consequences that would follow after the violent encounters at the Rift Valley, when the Luos and other ethnic groups had been savagely axed and hacked to death, and destroyed in its entirety, in revenge.

And despite what had unfolded at the Rift Valley -- mass rape, men and women hacked to death -- and kibaki hurriedly sworn in without considering the effects and how violence has dealt a nation a big blow. Owuor was very clear when in her thoughts for her readers, reminded herself of a "stillborn ballot revolution" which had almost destroyed Kenya's democracy -- a people setting their nation on fire; thus, "On the ground that night, in a furtive ceremony, beneath a half moon, a chubby man will mutter an oath that will render him the president of a burning, dying country. The deed will add fuel to an already out of control national grieving."

It was with all obviousness Owuor brought the Rift Valley and elsewhere massacres to the fore and acknowledged it had destroyed Kenya's nationhood and, adding insult to dishonor, one Isaiah William Bolton, an Englishman surfaces looking for his missing father, which also would send another chilling effect to the Oganda family, Ajany and her father Nyipir Oganda, an ex-soldier who had no more desire to be reminded of the colonists on the grounds of his previous encounters with them, especially Bolton's father, Hugh, that deceitful British officer.

Owuor was born in Nairobi in 1968. She attended Jomo Kenyatta University where she studied English, obtaining a BA. She also took an MA in TV/Video Development at University of Reading. In 2003, she won the Caine Prize for African Writing. In 2004, she was named "Woman of the Year" by Eve Magazine in Kenya for her contribution to Kenya's literature and the arts. In 2005, her short story "The Knife Grinder's Tale" was made into a short film.

Owuor's brilliant novel applauded from the literary circles including praises from her very own Binyavanga Wainaina who said "Dust covers over sixty years of betrayals, love, colonial brutalities, epic lore and political betrayals" and "Ghana Must Go" author Taiye Selasi, whose review was published at the New York Times, Sunday, March 2, 2014, said "Dust is not just for Afrophiles. It is for bibliophiles..."  "Dust" is a thoroughly done work; in-depth and touches every fortified place of the Kenyan landscape from the colonial era to what had splintered during the struggle; Mau Mau Rebellion and a republic, to what had almost crashed the union during the Rift Valley conflicts.

And despite the repetitive frequency, the style which Owuor made unpredictable for her readers to time the novel's climax which she had begun through lyrical and poetic preliminary discourse and, the assassination of Oganda, and a beloved sister, Ajany, who had arrived from Brazil for the burial, and confronted by problems grand and small, and yet, compassionate and determined that love, healing and the desire to build a profound nation-state would eventually be found, even considering a nation had been sewn with secrets as every character in the novel describes a nation, its past and what had gone wrong.

What actually had gone wrong when bad things keep happening and no one dares talk? The idea behind keeping secrets though not logically laid out becomes part of what had been ingrained and must be respected or else, it could be seen as bad omen based on a peoples belief and thoughtfully so, not say a word about those practically and directly involved in what had been known as factors to the demise of the state which Nyipir did not hesitate saying to her daughter, Ajany; that: "For the good of the country, we know, Nyara, that to name the unnamable is a curse."

That Kenyans kept secrets according to Owuor's "Dust" is typical. The tribal warfare over the years upon the nations independence becomes an indicating factor why the conflicts raged on.

Owuor is brutal in expressing the emotion of her characters and honestly taking in no prisoners in telling stories about Kenya's past, presumably with hope the Kenya state and its multitude of languages and ethnic groups would come to terms with reality, seek meaningful resolve and heal its wounds and move on. And, of course, there is hope.

In reality, moving on while the ICC stands on the way is another issue. The ICC which was founded in 2002 to address cases of Owuor's classic novel of brutality of nations, has Uhuru Kenyatta as its most powerful suspect, accused of masterminding the Rift Valley violence where thousands of people were noted to have been killed with about 650,000 forced to flee their homes.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Judge: Sharper To Remain In California Jail

Former NFL safety Darren Sharper leaves a courthouse in Los Angeles.


LOS ANGELES (AP) — Former NFL All-Pro safety Darren Sharper must remain in a Los Angeles jail without bail after he was indicted in Arizona on charges of drugging and sexually assaulting two women, a California judge ruled Thursday.

While making her decision, Superior Court Judge Renee Korn rejected a motion by Sharper's lawyers to release him on house arrest and said Arizona authorities want to extradite the Super Bowl champion to face trial in that state after he is tried on similar charges in California.

In Los Angeles, the 38-year-old Sharper has pleaded not guilty to charges involving the rape and drugging of two women he met in a West Hollywood bar. He was previously released on $1 million bail in the California case but turned himself in on Feb. 27 after an arrest warrant was issued in New Orleans. He has not been charged in that state.

Sharper is also under investigation in Florida and Nevada. Sharper was indicted on Tuesday in Tempe, Ariz., on charges of drugging and raping two women in November. Sharper's attorneys want a hearing to set bail in Arizona, but their client would have to be present.

"We know that Darren will vigorously deny the allegations," Sharper's Arizona attorney Skip Donau said Wednesday. "We are hopeful of vindication." In a bail motion filed last month, a Los Angeles County investigator described a pattern in which the former football star met women at clubs or parties and lured them to a hotel room, where they were allegedly drugged and raped.

The New Orleans warrant says police learned from witnesses that Sharper and an associate had acknowledged having nonconsensual sex with two women. Sharper's attorneys say he never made such statements.

The warrant does not elaborate on how the information was obtained or disclose the names of the witnesses. Korn set another court appearance for Sharper for March 24. Sharper was selected All-Pro six times and chosen for the Pro Bowl five times. He played in two Super Bowls, one with the Green Bay Packers as a rookie and was part of a successful championship run while with the New Orleans Saints.

He retired after the 2010 season and was working as an analyst for the NFL Network before being fired recently.

Monday, March 10, 2014

'Burger King Baby' Now Seeks Birth Mom On Facebook

Provided by Katheryn Deprill that she posted on Facebook, shows her holding a sign that says she is seeking her birth mother. Deprill was abandoned in the bathroom of a Burger King restaurant in Allentown, Pa., when she was a few hours old.

(ASSOCIATED PRESS) In 1986, a newborn wrapped in a red sweater was found abandoned in the bathroom of a fast-food restaurant. Nearly three decades later, the baby is all grown up and looking for her biological mother, and tens of thousands of people are trying to help.

Katheryn Deprill began her quest on March 2 by posting a photo on her Facebook page in which she held up a sign that said, "Looking for my birth mother. ... She abandoned me in the Burger King bathroom only hours old, Allentown PA. Please help me find her by sharing my post."

Deprill, a 27-year-old married mother of three, figured the photo would be reposted by friends, maybe friends of friends. A week later, it's been shared nearly 27,000 times by Facebook users around the world. Deprill's story is rocketing around the media world, too.

But there's still no sign of the mystery woman who left her in a restaurant bathroom. Deprill, an EMT who lives outside Allentown in South Whitehall Township, said there's so much she wants to tell her birth mom.

"Number one is, I would really like to say, 'Thank you for not throwing me away, thank you for giving me the gift of life, and look what I've become,'" Deprill said Monday. She'd like to know her family medical history, as well. And she has so many questions about the circumstances of her birth and abandonment.

"What made her do it? Why did she feel that she shouldn't leave me at a hospital? Was she going through a horrible time?" Deprill learned about her abandonment as a 12-year-old, when her sixth-grade teacher assigned the class to a project focusing on the students' family backgrounds. Deprill came home and demanded answers from her adoptive parents, Brenda and Carl Hollis. They slid a scrapbook in front of her that held newspaper clippings from 1986.

The articles explained how a Burger King patron had heard a baby's cries and discovered Katheryn on the bathroom floor. How a restaurant worker then called police. How police were trying to track down the mother.

"I comprehended it, but it still didn't sink in that it was me, that a mother could just lay her baby down and walk away. That is just mind-blowing to me," Deprill said. She launched her search with the blessing of her parents. In fact, it was her mother who suggested holding up a sign and posting it on social media.

Deprill said she is "definitely not looking to replace my brothers and sister nor my adoptive parents, because I've had the best life. It was the best childhood ever." At the same time, "I would really like to see somebody who looks like me, and maybe I have (biological) brothers and sisters. ... I'm really frustrated. I just wish I knew more about her."

Some people have told Deprill that her birth mother is unlikely to come forward for fear of being prosecuted. But Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin said there's a two-year statute of limitations on child abandonment.

"Even if that were not the case," he said via email, "I believe most DAs would exercise sound discretion and not prosecute someone under these circumstances."

Thursday, March 06, 2014

"Women Of Soul: Wow The White House, First Lady

First lady Michelle Obama speaks in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, March 6, 2014, with singers, from second from left, Melissa Etheridge, Janelle MonĂ¡e, and Patti LaBelle, during a workshop for students as part of the “In Performance at the White House” series, celebrating female artists as the "foremothers” of American music.

WASHINGTON (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — Soul-singers spanning generations wowed the White House on Thursday as Melissa Etheridge, Patti LaBelle and Janelle Monae warmed up the place for a "women of soul" concert showcasing musical legends and up-and-coming female artists.

At a morning workshop for high school and college students, first lady Michelle Obama called soul "the kind of music that makes you move, no matter who you are or where you come from." "Sometimes it makes your hips move," she said. "Sometimes it makes you rock your head. Sometimes it helps you just kick back and relax and soak it in. But no matter what form it comes in, you know this music always comes straight from the heart."

The three singers had plenty of stories and advice to share with the students, then got them whooping, hooting and swaying with a trio of songs in the intimate venue of the State Dining Room. LaBelle, 69, did an impromptu a cappella version of the "The Lord's Prayer." Etheridge, 52, seated herself at a piano to accompany herself on "Stormy Weather." And Monae, 28, performed "Victory," a song she wrote and that she said she'd imagined being sung in church.

The three were to be joined by Aretha Franklin, Jill Scott, Ariana Grande and Tessanne Chin later for an "In Performance at the White House" concert to be livestreamed at WhiteHouse.gov/live and broadcast April 7 on PBS.

Mrs. Obama quoted LaBelle as once saying that she had succeeded because she "took chances and sang my butt off." The first lady tried her own riff on that advice — then admitted she may have taken it a little too far.

"Find your own voice and be proud of it," she said. "And then, sing your butt off. Or work your butt off. Or whatever you do, do it until your butt comes off. " Then she added: "OK, that quote is going to be kind of funny in the papers. I already know it. My communications people are like, 'What?' But you guys all know what I meant — be good at what you do. "

The concert was scheduled as part of Women's History Month.

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A Gadhafi Son Is Extradited To Libya

Jordan's King Abdullah II, right, honors al-Saadi Gadhafi, the son of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, with the rank of colonel in the Jordanian army at Amman's hilltop Raghadan Palace. Libya says Niger has extradited Moammar Gadhafi's son al-Saadi, who fled as his father's regime crumbled in 2011 and who was under house arrest in the desert West African nation ever since. A Libyan official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, says al-Saadi arrived early on Thursday March 6, 2014 at the Tripoli airport and was transferred to a prison in the capital.

TRIPOLI, LIBYA (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — One of Moammar Gadhafi's sons, al-Saadi, was extradited on Thursday to Libya from Niger, where he had taken refuge as his father's regime crumbled in 2011, bringing cheers from Libyans as the government prepares to prosecute him for his alleged role in trying to suppress the uprising against Gadhafi's rule.

Al-Saadi becomes the second son of the ousted and slain leader to be held in custody in Libya. His brother Seif al-Islam was captured in 2011 and has been held in a western mountain prison by a militia that is putting him on trial, refusing to hand him over to the central government for trial.

At the time of the revolt that brought down his father, al-Saadi headed a brigade of special forces that was involved in the crackdown against protesters and rebels. But he is perhaps even more notorious among Libyans for his dark career in soccer, the country's most popular sport.

A playboy with a lavish lifestyle, al-Saadi treated the country's soccer league as his personal fiefdom. He played for several Libyan teams — and for an Italian team until he failed a drug test. At various times, he headed Libya's soccer federation and its national team.

In one case, security forces opened fire on fans in a 1996 match attended by al-Saadi, killing a number of people in murky circumstances. He is also suspected in the 2005 killing of Bashir al-Riyani, a popular Libyan soccer player who was a vocal critic of Gadhafi's regime. Libyans say that rules were set that the only player's name that could be announced was al-Saadi's — while others were identified only by numbers.

Cars honked horns in celebration in the streets of the capital, Tripoli, when his extradition was announced early hours in the morning. In the evening, fireworks went off as people cheered and waved flags in the street, according to footage on Libya's Al-Ahrar TV. A group of soccer players held public memorial for al-Riyani.\

"This is a joy for all Libyans," one Tripoli resident, al-Sharif Gheith told The Associated Press, saying Gadhafi's family and his regime officials are to blame for the country's woes. "But now, thank God, they are captured and all of the country will be calm," he said.

That seems far from likely, however, as Libya's chaos has spiraled out of control in the three years since Gadhafi's fall. There was skepticism as well, however, with some saying the government was playing up the extradition to divert attention to its inability to bring stability.

Armed militias run rampant, the central state has little authority, and the parliament and prime minister are locked in a power struggle that has burst repeatedly into violence. Last week, armed rioters stormed parliament, killing a guard and wounding six lawmakers and forcing the legislature to move its sessions into a hotel.

"I think the government is ... trying to cover up its failure," said Sulieman al-Azabi, a lawyer and political analyst. "The role of al-Saadi and other ex-regime officials in the events now is very minor."
In the neighboring nation of Niger, government spokesman Marou Amadou confirmed that al-Saadi had been extradited to Libya. He said that the son of the ex-Libyan leader, as well as his colleagues who accompanied him, "had failed to respect the conditions of his stay in Niger." He said during a Thursday press conference that one of al-Saadi's friends, Abdallah Mansour, had run away, and travelled back to southern Libya where he tried to destabilize the country's government.

"This puts us in a difficult position because Niger is Libya's neighbor, and we have told the authorities in Libya that we will not become a source of preoccupation for them," said Amadou, who is also the country's minister of justice.

He also said that Niger had sought to find a host country for al-Saadi, but there were no takers. "We took this decision in the interest of our country and in the interest of our people, both for today and for tomorrow," he said. He added that earlier, Niger had worried that al-Saadi might be killed if he was handed over to Libya, but no longer feared for his safety and felt that he would be treated humanely in his homeland.
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Al-Saadi was smuggled across the desert which separates Libya from Niger in 2011, just as his father's regime was crumbling. He arrived in a convoy of Libyan vehicles, accompanied by several high ranking officials in his father's military. He and his companions were placed under surveillance in a guarded villa. Libya has long argued that he should be returned to face justice.

A Libyan official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said the 40-year-old al-Saadi arrived from Niger in the early hours on Thursday at the Tripoli airport and was transferred to Tripoli's al-Hadaba prison, where most jailed ex-regime officials are being held pending trial, mostly in connection to the crackdown on the eight-month uprising that toppled Gadhafi's rule.

Photos showed al-Saadi kneeling in a blue prison uniform as Libyan guards shaved his head and beard. The photos were posted on the official Facebook page of the Libya Revolution Operation Room, the militia grouping that is in charge of security in the capital.

Al-Sadik al-Sour, the head investigator for Libya's prosecutor general office, told AP that the extradition was carried out in accordance to a "judicial cooperation treaty" with Niger. "Al-Saadi is wanted and he will be tried in accordance to the human rights standards," he said, though he could not specify when a trial might begin.

Prosecutor-general Abdel-Qadir Radwan said al-Saadi faces charges in connection to abductions and rapes during the 2011 uprising, misuse of his post and the killing of al-Riyani, according to the state news agency LANA. He said that during the revolt, al-Saadi commanded a security unit that carried out random killings as well as helped bring in mercenaries and funded other armed groups to fight rebels.
Speaking to Al-Arabiya television, Culture Minister al-Habib al-Ameen denied reports that Libya paid billions of dollars to Niger to hand over al-Saadi. Al-Saadi fled to the West African nation as his father's rule fell, and was put under house arrest there, though Niger had until now refused to extradite him, saying he could be killed in his home country.

"Libya didn't pay billions," al-Ameen said, underlining there was "no deal" with Niger. "These reports are spread by those who want to seed sedition and spoil the joy of the Libyan people." The elder Gadhafi ruled Libya with an eccentric brutality for nearly 42 years before he was ousted by an uprising in August 2011, then captured and killed two months later. He had eight children, most of whom played significant roles in his regime. His son Muatassim was killed along with him when they were captured, and two other sons, Seif al-Arab and Khamis, were killed earlier in the civil war.
The rest of the children still at large sought asylum in neighboring Algeria, along with Gadhafi's wife and al-Saadi's mother, Safiya. The mother, a sister and two brothers, were granted asylum in Oman in 2012 and moved there from Algeria.

Seif al-Islam, who was being groomed by his father to succeed him in power, was captured during the regime's fall. He is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of murder and persecution of civilians during the early days of the Libyan uprising. Its judges have said Libya — where the court system is still in turmoil — cannot give him a fair trial, asking Libyan authorities to hand him over.

The government refused — but it also cannot get a hold of Seif al-Islam to put him on trial. The powerful militia of the western mountain region Zintan refused to give him to the central government, insisting on conducting its own tribunal against him — yet another sign of the power of militias in the country.

Associated Press writer Dalatou Mamane contributed to this report from Niamey, Niger.