Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Indonesia Confirms It Executed 8 For Drug Smuggling

An ambulance arrives from the prison island of Nusakambangan where the executions were carried out, in Cilacap, Central Java, Indonesia, Wednesday, April 29, 2015. Indonesia brushed aside last-minute appeals and executed eight people convicted of drug smuggling, according to foreign governments and local media reports Wednesday, although a Philippine woman was granted a stay of execution


CILACAP, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesia brushed aside last-minute appeals and executed eight people convicted of drug smuggling on Wednesday, although a Philippine woman was granted a stay of execution.
Attorney General Muhammad Prasetyo confirmed at a news conference hours after the deaths had been widely reported that each of the eight had been executed simultaneously at 12:35 a.m. (1735 GMT) by a 13-member firing squad. Medical teams confirmed their deaths three minutes later, he said.
"The executions have been successfully implemented, perfectly," Prasetyo said. "All worked, no misses," he said of the deaths of two Australians, four Nigerians, a Brazilian and an Indonesian man. Prasetyo early announced that Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso had been granted a stay of execution while the Philippines investigates her case.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced that Australia will withdraw its ambassador from Jakarta in response to the executions of two Australians, Myuran Sukumaran, 33, and Andrew Chan, 31. "These executions are both cruel and unnecessary," Abbott told reporters.
He said it was cruel because Chan and Sukumaran had spent a decade in jail before being executed and "unnecessary because both of these young Australians were fully rehabilitated while in prison." Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff said in a statement the execution of a second Brazilian citizen in Indonesia this year "marks a serious event in the relations between the two countries."
Brazil had asked for a stay of execution for Rodrigo Gularte, 42, on humanitarian grounds because he was schizophrenic. Prasetyo dismissed concerns that Indonesia had done long-term damage to bilateral relations through the executions.
"It's just a momentary reaction," he said. "What we're doing is carrying out court decisions." He said that the message was "do not try to smuggle drugs in Indonesia, because we will be harsh and firm against drug-related crimes."
Michael Chan, brother of Andrew Chan, who became a Christian pastor during his decade in prison and married an Indonesian woman on Monday, reacted with anger. "I have just lost a courageous brother to a flawed Indonesian legal system. I miss you already RIP my Little Brother," he tweeted.
In a statement, the Sukumaran and Chan families, said: "In the 10 years since they were arrested, they did all they could to make amends, helping many others. They asked for mercy, but there was none."
Mary Jane Veloso's mother, Celia, said that the stay of execution for her daughter was nothing short of a miracle. Presidential spokesman Herminio Coloma thanked Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo for giving due consideration to the appeal of his Philippine counterpart, Benigno Aquino III. He said the reprieve provides an opportunity for her testimony to expose how a criminal syndicate duped her into being an unwitting accomplice and courier in drug trafficking.
There were cheers from the more than 250 Veloso supporters who held a candlelight vigil outside the Indonesian Embassy in Manila. Veloso, 30, was arrested in 2010 at the airport in the central Indonesian city of Yogyakarta, where officials discovered about 2.5 kilograms (5.5 pounds) of heroin hidden in her luggage.
Prasetyo said Veloso was granted a stay of execution because her alleged boss has been arrested in the Philippines, and the authorities there requested Indonesian assistance in pursuing the case. "This delay did not cancel the execution. We just want to give a chance in relation with the legal process in the Philippines," he said.
The woman who allegedly recruited Veloso to work in Kuala Lumpur, Maria Kristina Sergio, surrendered to police in the Philippines on Monday, Deputy Police Director-General Leonardo A. Espina said. Sukumaran and Chan requested that their bodies be flown back to Australia. Nigerian Martin Anderson chose to be buried in the West Java town of Bekasi, and fellow Nigerian Raheem Agbaje, wanted to be buried in the East Java town of Madiun where he had been a prisoner. Indonesian Zainal Abidin is to be buried in Cilacap.
The wishes of two other Nigerians — Sylvester Obiekwe Nwolise and Okwudili Oyatanze — as well as those of Gularte, the Brazilian, have yet to be made public. Originally, 10 inmates were to be executed, but Frenchman Serge Atlaoui was excluded because he still had an outstanding court appeal against Jokowi's rejection of his clemency application.
The government says Atlaoui will face a firing squad alone if his appeal is rejected by the Administrative Court. Jokowi's predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, canceled a trip to Australia this week because of growing anger over the executions. He was to give a speech at the University of Western Australian in the city of Perth on Friday on Australia's diplomatic and economic relationships with its Asia-Pacific neighbors, including Indonesia.
Associated Press writers Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, Kristen Gelineau in Sydney, Niniek Karmini and Ali Kotarumalos in Jakarta, Indonesia, Jim Gomez, Teresa Cerojano, video journalist Joeal Calupitan and photographer Alberto Marquez in Manila, Philippines, Angela Charlton in Paris and Adriana Gomez-Licon in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, contributed to this report.

AP Explains: Japan's Long Wait To Address US Congress

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a luncheon with Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden at the State Department in Washington. Washington honors America's closest friends by inviting their leaders to address a joint meeting of Congress, but Wednesday's speech on April 29, 2015, by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will be the first by a Japanese leader.


WASHINGTON (AP) — Washington honors America's closest friends by inviting their leaders to address a joint meeting of Congress, but Wednesday's speech by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will be the first by a Japanese leader. That's striking considering the tight U.S.-Japan alliance in the 70 years since World War II ended. British, South Korean and German leaders have been invited multiple times. So have two Liberian presidents and a Latvian one - more than 100 invitations overall since the war. So why not Japan? The answers have to do with underlying friction that has been a part of U.S.-Japanese relations and, more recently, frequent changes of Japanese leaders.
IN HIS GRANDFATHER'S FOOTSTEPS The modern practice of a foreign leader speaking to both houses of Congress began with Winston Churchill in December 1941, just after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. After the war, Japanese leaders were not entirely shunned. Abe's grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, in 1957 addressed Congress, but it was to just one chamber, which was still common for visiting foreign leaders until the 1960s. Kishi had been detained as a war crimes suspect but was never indicted for his role as a wartime Cabinet minister. However, he became a strong advocate of closer relations with Washington, like his grandson, pushing through a 1960 security treaty that shaped the alliance, committing the U.S. to assist Japan if it comes under attack. Kishi's successor, Hayato Ikeda, made a very short address to the House in 1961. No Japanese premier has since.
IF NOT CONGRESS, THEN GRACELAND Since 1951, Japanese prime ministers have made 37 working or official visits to the United States, according to a State Department tally. While defense and diplomatic relations have been very close, from the 1970s through to the 1990s there was trade friction and American anxiety that its economy could be eclipsed. Some lawmakers have also expressed concerns over Japan's attitude to its wartime past. When Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited in 2006, there was expectation he would be invited to address Congress, an honor given to other U.S. allies in the Iraq War. But Rep. Henry Hyde, chair of the House International Relations Committee, objected in a letter to the House speaker, saying Koizumi should forgo future visits to the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo where war criminals are among those memorialized. Japan denied it ever requested that the prime minister to speak to Congress. Koizumi still made an impression in America — by impersonating Elvis Presley on a trip to Graceland.
WHY ABE? Abe also has hawkish views, and a December 2013 visit to Yasukuni angered neighboring China and South Korea, raising tensions and complicating U.S. diplomacy. But Abe is the first prime minister since Koizumi to stay in office more than 16 months, and he has invested considerable political capital to forge stronger ties with the U.S. Despite domestic opposition, he propelled Japan into negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact, and plans to loosen the binds on the nation's military under its pacifist constitution. New defense guidelines agreed Monday could enable Japan for the first time to come to the defense of U.S. forces. Some U.S. lawmakers still have been urging that Abe should address the war's legacy during his high-profile visit. Another close U.S. ally, South Korea, wants Abe to apologize for the use of sex slaves by Japan's Imperial Army during the war.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Japan's Prime Minister Focuses On Economy And Women's Issues

U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy, left, introduces Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, at the John F. Kennedy School of Government forum in Cambridge, Mass., Monday, April 27, 2015.


CAMBRIDGE, MASS. (AP) — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Monday his administration is trying to improve the status of women in his country as it also seeks to protect women's rights on the international stage.
Speaking during a brief appearance at Harvard University on Monday morning, he also extended condolences to Nepal after a weekend earthquake killed thousands, saying that Japan has already deployed emergency relief units and the island nation will "spare no effort" to support Nepal's recovery.
Abe, who is set to meet with President Obama and address Congress as part of a weeklong to the U.S. that kicked off in Boston, focused much of his prepared remarks on his efforts to pull Japan out of prolonged deflation.
"I will be fearless going forward because there is in Japan among its people a strong and growing desire to pursue reforms," Abe said through a translator. "My role is to lead the nation to think of itself again as the Little Engine That Could."
Abe stressed that a "stronger and more reliable" Japan is important to U.S. interests as he touched on economic and government reforms such as encouraging more foreign investment and greater participation of women in the workforce and politics in Japan.
But one of the more pointed moments came during the question-and-answer session, when a Harvard student asked why the prime minister continues to "deny" Japan's role in creating a system of sexual slavery during World War II.
Abe, through a translator, said Japan is making "various efforts" to provide "realistic relief" to the victims, without elaborating. He also said the nation is taking a leading role in international women's human rights, giving millions of dollars to the United Nation's efforts in that arena.
"My heart aches when I think about the people that were victimized by human trafficking and who were subjected to immeasurable pain and suffering beyond description," he said through the translator. "We have very resolutely determined that, in the 21st century, women's human rights should not be violated."
Dozens of protesters holding signs and banners outside were unimpressed, saying afterward that the remarks parroted similar statements Abe has made. Phyllis Kim, executive director of the Korean American Forum of California, said Abe still has not addressed any of the specific requests victims and advocates seek, including a formal government apology, legal reparations and punishment of those responsible.
"He basically repeated the denial and the evasion of responsibility that he has been saying all along," she said. "He only said he has 'heartache.' That stops short of apology." Abe started his day Monday at the Boston Marathon finish line with his wife and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh to lay a wreath as a gesture of respect to victims of the 2013 bombings, which killed three people and injured over 260 more.
After Harvard, Abe was slated to visit MIT's Media Lab before heading to Washington D.C. to meet with President Barack Obama and, later, to become the first Japanese leader to address a joint meeting of Congress.
Abe's U.S. trip began in Boston on Sunday with a visit to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and a dinner hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry at his Boston home. The Japanese prime minister will also visit Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The Latest On Nepal Quake: reconstruction Cost $5 Billion

(AP) Indian tourists wait in a queue to be evacuated by special Indian Air Force plane at the Nepal International airport in Kathmandu, Nepal, Monday, April 27, 2015. A strong magnitude earthquake shook Nepal’s capital and the densely populated Kathmandu valley on Saturday devastating the region and leaving tens of thousands shell-shocked and sleeping in streets


3.15 p.m. (0930 GMT)
Aid group World Vision says its staff members were able to reach Gorkha district, where Saturday's magnitude 7.8 quake was centered, but gathering information from the villages remains a challenge. The group says that some of the remote areas can be three days' walk from the main disaster center in Gorkha even when the roads are clear.
"These remote areas don't have any search or rescue operations assistance as of this time. In some of the remote areas staff heading out for assessments are finding both the road and the trails blocked by landslides, making access extremely difficult," World Vision said in an email to The Associated Press.
"In those villages that have been reached, the immediate needs are great including the need for search and rescue, food items, blankets and tarps, and medical treatment."
2.30 p.m. (0845 GMT)
A respected consultancy says the long-term cost of reconstruction in Nepal after Saturday's earthquake could be more than $5 billion, or about 20 percent of Nepal's GDP. Rajiv Biswas, Asia-Pacific Chief Economist for the Colorado-based consultancy services IHS, says Nepal has extremely limited capacity to finance relief efforts and reconstruction from its own resources.
"The total long-term cost of reconstruction in Nepal using appropriate building standards for regions vulnerable to severe earthquakes could exceed $5 billion, which is around 20 percent of Nepal's GDP," he says.
Nepal's annual per capita GDP is only $1,000, and the average family lives in poverty. "Massive international disaster relief and rescue efforts will be needed urgently, as well as large-scale international financial and technical assistance for long-term reconstruction of the economy," says Biswas.
— Muneeza Naqvi, New Delhi
1.45 p.m. (0800 GMT)
Nepal's police say at least 3,617 people have been confirmed killed in Saturday's earthquake, including 1,302 in the Kathmandu Valley alone. In addition, 6,515 people were injured nationwide, the police department said in a Tweet.
So far 18 people have also been confirmed dead in an avalanche that swept through the Mount Everest base camp in the wake of the earthquake. Another 61 people were killed in neighboring India.
1.15 p.m. (0730 GMT)
Foreign tourists in Nepal are getting anxious as food, water and power remain scarce. Hotel rooms are in short supply too so Pierre-Anne Dube, a 31-year-old from Quebec, has been sleeping on the sidewalk outside a hotel. Friends had been staying there for the first two days so she could use the bathroom and shower there. But they have checked out.
Like many others she's scared and wants to get out on the first flight she can get. "We can't reach the embassy. We want to leave. We are scared. There is no food. We haven't eaten a meal since the earthquake and we don't have any news about what's going on."
She had just returned from a trek to Everest base camp, which had been the "best experience of her life," but living the experience of the massive earthquake was definitely the "worst." — Katy Daigle, Kathmandu, Nepal.
__ 1.15 p.m. (0730 GMT) The Israeli military said it is sending a search and rescue crew to Nepal on Monday to help locate survivors in the rubble, set up a medical field hospital for locals, and bring Israeli travelers home. A total of 260 Israeli military personnel are traveling to Nepal for the mission.
The military says about 150 Israeli travelers have yet to establish contact after the earthquake and are believed to be missing. "The idea is to arrive and to try to establish communication with them," said Col. Yoram Laredo, head of the Israeli military mission.
In addition, Israel's emergency response service, Magen David Adom, is flying home a group of 18 Israelis who travelled to Nepal to receive babies born to Nepalese surrogate mothers, spokesman Zaki Heller said.
— Daniel Estrin, Jerusalem __   1.00 p.m. (0645 GMT) International aid agency Oxfam says it is is gearing up to deliver clean water and sanitation supplies to thousands of Nepalis now left homeless. They estimate that some 30,000 people are currently living in makeshift shelters in 16 government camps, too scared to return to their homes for fear of aftershocks.
"We are managing to reach out to people in Kathmandu, but it is extremely difficult to provide support on a larger scale to the most affected areas — a lot of the main roads have been damaged," said Cecilia Keizer, Oxfam country director in Nepal.
"Our staff is still checking on their families and the partners we work with. At the moment, all the death count reports are coming from Kathmandu Valley. Sadly, I fear that this is only the beginning," she said.
__ 11.45 a.m. (0600 GMT) There's a lot that the world still doesn't really know about the Nepal quake. The key thing is this: How significant is the destruction in Gorkha district, 80 kilometers (50 miles) from the capital and the location of the quake's epicenter? Roads to the area, difficult on good days, are damaged. Learning about the level of destruction and human toll in the vulnerable mountain villages there could change the whole picture.
Here's an assessment by Matt Darvas, a member of the aid group World Vision: "Villages like this are routinely affected by landslides," he says, "and it's not uncommon for entire villages of 200, 300, up to 1,000 people to be completely buried by rock falls."
__ 11.20 a.m. (0540 GMT) Jagdish Pokhrel, the clearly exhausted army spokesman, says nearly the entire 100,000-soldier army is involved in rescue operations. "90 percent of the army's out there working on search and rescue," he said. "We are focusing our efforts on that, on saving lives."
— Katy Daigle, Kathmandu, Nepal
11.15 a.m. (0530 GMT)
Fears are growing that thousands of people may remain cut off in isolated, devastated mountain villages. Udav Prashad Timalsina, the top official for the Gorkha district where Saturday's quake was centered, says he is in desperate need of help.
"Things are really bad in the district, especially in remote mountain villages. There are people who are not getting food and shelter. I have had reports of villages where 70 percent of the houses have been destroyed," he said when contacted by telephone. "We have been calling for help, but we haven't received enough from the central government."
He says 223 people had been confirmed dead in the district but he presumed "the number would go up because there are thousands who are injured." — Katy Daigle, Kathmandu, Nepal
11.00 a.m. (0515 GMT)
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says Australia has dispatched a 9-person crisis response team that is scheduled to arrive in Kathmandu later Monday and "will assist in establishing the safety and welfare of Australians currently unaccounted for" after Saturday's earthquake. She says the team will also assist with humanitarian assessments to support Nepal's government and the international relief efforts.
__ 11.00 a.m. (0515 GMT) New Zealand is sending 37 urban search and rescue experts to Kathmandu. They are scheduled to leave Monday evening. Included are experts in rubble-pile rescues and technical rescues, as well as a structural engineer, a doctor, and paramedics.
New Zealand is also contributing 1 million New Zealand dollars ($761,000) to the relief effort. Officials have made contact with over 200 New Zealanders in Nepal and are seeking contact with others. They say they have no reason to believe at this point that any New Zealanders died in the earthquake.

— Nick Perry, Wellington, New Zealand __

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Shocks Terrify Survivors Of Nepal Quake That Killed 2,500

Rescue workers remove debris as they search for victims of earthquake in Bhaktapur near Kathmandu, Nepal, Sunday, April 26, 2015. A strong magnitude earthquake shook Nepal's capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley before noon Saturday, causing extensive damage with toppled walls and collapsed buildings, officials said.


KATHMANDU, NEPAL (AP) — Shell-shocked and sleeping in the streets, tens of thousands of Nepalis braced against terrifying aftershocks Sunday while digging for survivors of the massive earthquake that ripped across this Himalayan nation a day earlier, killing more than 2,500 people.
Acrid, white smoke rose above Nepal's most revered Hindu temple, where dozens of bodies were being cremated at any given time. Aid groups received the first word from remote mountain villages — reports that suggested many communities perched on mountainsides were devastated or struggling to cope
Landslides hindered rescue teams that tried to use mountain trails to reach those in need, said Prakash Subedi, chief district official in the Gorkha region, where the quake was centered. "Villages like this are routinely affected by landslides, and it's not uncommon for entire villages of 200, 300, up to 1,000 people to be completely buried by rock falls," said Matt Darvas, a member of the aid group World Vision. "It will likely be helicopter access only."
Saturday's magnitude 7.8 earthquake spread horror from Kathmandu to small villages and to the slopes of Mount Everest, triggering an avalanche that buried part of the base camp packed with foreign climbers preparing to make their summit attempts. At least 18 people died there and 61 were injured.
With people fearing more quakes, tens of thousands spent the day crowding in the streets and the night sleeping in parks or on a golf course. Others camped in open squares lined by cracked buildings and piles of rubble. Helicopter blades thudded periodically overhead.
Crows screeched as the ground shook with the worst of the aftershocks — magnitude 6.7. Panicked residents raced outdoors. "We don't feel safe at all. There have been so many aftershocks. It doesn't stop," said Rajendra Dhungana, 34, who spent the day with his niece's family for her cremation at the Pashuputi Nath Temple in Katmandu. "I've watched hundreds of bodies burn. I never thought I'd see so many ... Nepal should learn a lesson from this. They should realize proper buildings should be built. There should be open spaces people can run to."
By late Sunday, the aftershocks appeared to be weakening. A magnitude 5.3 quake shook an area east of Kathmandu. Nepal authorities said Sunday that at least 2,430 people died in that country alone, not including the 18 dead in the avalanche. Another 61 people died from the quake in India and a few in other neighboring countries.
At least 1,152 people died in Kathmandu, and the number of injured nationwide was upward of 5,900. With search-and-rescue efforts far from over, it was unclear how much the death toll would rise. Three policemen died during a rescue effort in Kathmandu, police spokesman Komal Singh Bam said.
The capital city is largely a collection of small, poorly constructed brick apartment buildings. But outside of the oldest neighborhoods, many in Kathmandu were surprised by how few modern structures collapsed in the quake.
While aid workers cautioned that many buildings could have sustained serious structural damage, it was also clear that the death toll would have been far higher had more buildings caved in. Aid workers also warned that the situation could be far worse near the epicenter. The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake was centered near Lamjung, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) northwest of Kathmandu.
In the aftermath, United Nations officials were concerned about thunderstorms that could threaten the many people staying outdoors and about a shortage of vaccines that could invite disease. As planeloads of supplies, doctors and relief workers arrived from neighboring countries, journalists reported on social media that aftershocks forced some aircraft to circle the Kathmandu airport while waiting to land.
Thousands of Indians lined up in hopes of gaining a seat on a plane returning to New Delhi. One of those fleeing, 32-year-old tailor Assad Alam, said he and his wife and daughter were leaving with heavy hearts.
"It was a very difficult decision. I have called this home for seven years. But you have to think about the family, about your child." The earthquake was the worst to hit the South Asian nation in more than 80 years. It destroyed swaths of the oldest neighborhoods of Kathmandu and was strong enough to be felt all across parts of India, Bangladesh, China's region of Tibet and Pakistan.
Nepal's worst recorded earthquake in 1934 measured 8.0 and all but destroyed the cities of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan. Rescuers aided by international teams spent Sunday digging through rubble of buildings — concrete slabs, bricks, iron beams, wood — to look for survivors. Because the air was filled with chalky concrete dust, many people wore breathing masks or held shawls over their faces.
Hundreds of people in Kathmandu's western Kalanki neighborhood nervously watched the slow progress of a single backhoe digging into the rubble of the collapsed Lumbini Guest House, once a three-story budget hotel.
Police officer RP Dhamala, who was coordinating the rescue efforts, said they had already pulled out 12 people alive and six dead. He said rescuers were still searching for about 20 people believed to be trapped but had heard no cries, taps or noises for a while.
Most areas were without power and water. The United Nations said hospitals in the Kathmandu Valley were overcrowded and running out of emergency supplies and space to store corpses. Most shops in Kathmandu were closed after the government declared a weeklong period of recovery. Only fruit vendors and pharmacies seemed to be doing business.
"More people are coming now," fruit seller Shyam Jaiswal said. "They cannot cook so they need to buy something they can eat raw." Jaiswal said stocks were running out, and more shipments were not expected for at least a week, but added, "We are not raising prices. That would be illegal, immoral profit."
The quake will probably put a huge strain on the resources of this impoverished country best known for Everest, the highest mountain in the world. The economy of Nepal, a nation of 27.8 million people, relies heavily on tourism, principally trekking and Himalayan mountain climbing.
The first nations to respond were Nepal's neighbors — India, China and Pakistan, all of which have been jockeying for influence over the landlocked nation. Nepal remains closest to India, with which it shares deep political, cultural and religious ties.
India suffered its own losses from the quake, with at least 61 people killed there and dozens injured. Sunday's aftershock was also widely felt in the country, and local news reports said metro trains in New Delhi and Kolkata were briefly shut down when the shaking started.
Other countries sending support Sunday included the United States, Canada, the United Arab Emirates, Britain, Germany, France, Poland, Italy, Israel and Singapore. An American military plane left Delaware's Dover Air Force Base for Nepal, carrying 70 people, including a disaster-assistance response team and an urban search-and-rescue team, and 45 tons of cargo, the Pentagon said.
Associated Press writers Muneeza Naqvi and Tim Sullivan in New Delhi contributed to this report.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Nepal Quake: Hundreds History Crumbles, Everest Shaken

Volunteers help with rescue work at the site of a building that collapsed after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal, Saturday, April 25, 2015. A strong magnitude-7.9 earthquake shook Nepal's capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley before noon Saturday, causing extensive damage with toppled walls and collapsed buildings, officials said.


KATHMANDU, NEPAL (AP) — A powerful earthquake struck Nepal Saturday, killing at least 926 people across a swath of four countries as the violently shaking earth collapsed houses, leveled centuries-old temples and triggered avalanches on Mt. Everest. It was the worst tremor to hit the poor South Asian nation in over 80 years.
At least 876 people were confirmed dead in Nepal, according to the police. Another 34 were killed in India, 12 in Tibet and two in Bangladesh. Two Chinese citizens died in the Nepal-China border. The death toll is almost certain to rise, said deputy Inspector General of Police Komal Singh Bam.
It was a few minutes before noon when the quake, with a preliminary magnitude of 7.8, began to rumble across the densely populated Kathmandu Valley, rippling through the capital Kathmandu and spreading in all directions -- north toward the Himalayas and Tibet, south to the Indo-Gangetic plains, east toward the Brahmaputra delta of Bangladesh and west toward the historical city of Lahore in Pakistan.
Shrish Vaidya, a businessman, was with his family in his two-story house on the outskirts of Kathmandu, when the quake struck. "It is hard to describe. The house was shaking like crazy. We ran out and it seemed like the road was heaving up and down," he told The Associated Press. "I don't remember anything like this before. Even my parents can't remember anything this bad."
A magnitude-6.6 aftershock hit about an hour later, and smaller aftershocks continued to jolt the region for hours. Residents ran out of homes and buildings in panic. Walls tumbled, trees swayed, power lines came crashing down and large cracks opened up on streets and walls. And clouds of dust began to swirl all around.
"Our village has been almost wiped out. Most of the houses are either buried by landslide or damaged by shaking," said Vim Tamang, a resident of Manglung village near the epicenter. He said half of the village folks are either missing or dead. "All the villagers have gathered in the open area. We don't know what to do. We are feeling helpless," he said when contacted by telephone.
Within hours of the quake, hospitals began to fill up with dozens of injured people. With organized relief largely absent, many of the injured were brought to hospitals by friends and relatives in motorized rickshaws, flatbed trucks and cars.
In Kathmandu, dozens of people gathered in the parking lot of Norvic International Hospital, where thin mattresses were spread on the ground for patients rushed outside, some wearing hospital pajamas. A woman with a bandage on her head sat in a set of chairs pulled from the hospital waiting room.
Doctors and nurses hooked up some patients to intravenous drips in the parking lot, or gave people oxygen. As night fell, thousands of scared residents continued to camp out in parks and compounds, too scared to return to their homes. Meteorologists forecast rain and thunderstorms for Saturday night and Sunday.
Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, who was attending a summit in Jakarta, tried to rush back home but made it as far as Bangkok where his connecting flight to Kathmandu was canceled because the capital's international airport was shut down.
While the extent of the damage and the scale of the disaster are yet to be ascertained, the quake will likely put a huge strain on the resources of this poor country best known for Everest, the highest mountain in the world, and its rich Hindu culture. The economy of Nepal, a nation of 27.8 million people, is heavily reliant on tourism, principally trekking and Himalayan mountain climbing.
A mountaineering guide, Ang Tshering, said an avalanche swept the face of Mt. Everest after the earthquake, and government officials said at least 8 climbers were killed and 30 injured. Their nationalities were not immediately known.
Carsten Lillelund Pedersen, a Dane who is climbing the Everest with a Belgian, Jelle Veyt, said on his Facebook page that they were at Khumbu Icefall , a rugged area of collapsed ice and snow close to base camp at altitude 5,000 meters (16,500 feet), when the earthquake hit.
He wrote on his Facebook that they have started to receive the injured, including one person with the most severe injuries who sustained many fractures. "He was blown away by the avalanche and broke both legs. For the camps closer to where the avalanche hit, our Sherpas believe that a lot of people may have been buried in their tents," he wrote in English. "There is now a steady flow of people fleeing basecamp in hope of more security further down the mountain"
The U.S. Geological Survey put the magnitude of the quake at 7.8. It said the quake hit at 11:56 a.m. local time (0611 GMT) at Lamjung, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) northwest of Kathmandu. Its depth was only 11 kilometers (7 miles), the largest shallow quake since the 8.2 temblor off the coast of Chile on April 1, 2014.
The shallower the quake the more destructive power it carries. A magnitude 7 quake is capable of widespread and heavy damage while an 8 magnitude quake can cause tremendous damage. This means Saturday's quake — with the same magnitude as the one that hit San Francisco in 1906 — was about 16 times more powerful than the 7.0 quake that devastated Haiti in 2010.
"The shallowness of the source made the ground-shaking at the surface worse than it would have been for a deeper earthquake," said David A. Rothery, professor of planetary geosciences at the Open University in Milton Keynes, north of London.
A major factor in the damage was that many of the buildings were not built to be quake-proof. An earthquake this size in Tokyo or Los Angeles, which have building codes for quake resistance, would not be nearly as devastating.
The power of the tremors brought down several buildings in the center of the capital, the ancient Old Kathmandu, including centuries-old temples and towers. Among them was the nine-story Dharahara Tower, one of Kathmandu's landmarks built by Nepal's royal rulers as a watchtower in the 1800s and a UNESCO-recognized historical monument. It was reduced to rubble and there were reports of people trapped underneath.
Hundreds of people buy tickets on weekends to go up to the viewing platform on the eighth story, but it was not clear how many were up there when the tower collapsed. Video footage showed people digging through the rubble of the tower, looking for survivors.
The Kathmandu Valley is densely populated with nearly 2.5 million people, and the quality of buildings is often poor. A Swedish woman, Jenny Adhikari, who lives in Nepal, told the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet that she was riding a bus in the town of Melamchi when the earth began to move.
"A huge stone crashed only about 20 meters (yards) from the bus," she was quoted as saying. "All the houses around me have tumbled down. I think there are lot of people who have died," she told the newspaper by telephone. Melamchi is about 45 kilometers (30 miles) northeast of Kathmandu.
Nepal suffered its worst recorded earthquake in 1934, which measured 8.0 and all but destroyed the cities of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan. The sustained quake also was felt in India's capital of New Delhi and several other Indian cities.
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi called a meeting of top government officials to review the damage and disaster preparedness in parts of India that felt strong tremors. The Indian states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Sikkim, which share a border with Nepal, have reported building damage. There have also been reports of damage in the northeastern state of Assam.
Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif offered "all possible help" that Nepal may need.
Naqvi reported from New Delhi. Associated Press writer Munir Ahmed in Islamabad, Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen and Seth Borenstein in Washington DC contributed to this report.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Honda Shows New Business Jet In Japan

The HondaJet arrives at Tokyo's Haneda airport Thursday, April 23, 2015. Honda, known for making motorcycles and cars, is showing its new sleek business jet in Japan for the first time, billing it as quiet, quick and green.


TOKYO (AP) — Honda, known for making motorcycles and cars, is showing its new sleek business jet in Japan for the first time, billing it as quiet, quick and green.
The jet, on show at Tokyo's Haneda airport on Thursday, is the culmination of founder Soichiro Honda's longtime dream to have a plane in Honda Motor Co.'s lineup. Honda Aircraft Chief Michimasa Fujino told reporters he hopes it will become available within a few years in Japan, where regulation means the private jet market is almost nonexistent.
Currently, the jet is on sale in the United States and Europe. The jet, which seats six or seven, starts at $4.5 million. Honda has received 100 orders, and deliveries are likely to begin later this year.
"I know people are working hard for deregulation," Fujino told reporters. "It won't happen immediately but there is a chance in the long run." He said Japanese government officials and others for whom saving time is critical should use such jets and fight the "fat cat image" of flying on executive jets.
Potential is also great for China and the rest of Asia, where demand is likely to overtake South America's by 2020, Fujino said. Development of a jet began in 1986 at Honda, several years before the death of its founder in 1991.
The HondaJet, as it is called, whose design was based on a Salvatore Ferragamo high-heel shoe, rolled into a hangar at Haneda. The aircraft, built in North Carolina, is set to fly into other airports in Japan, including Sendai and Kobe, before heading to an aviation show in Geneva Switzerland.
Fujino said the HondaJet adheres to top safety standards and outperforms the equivalent offerings from Cessna of the U.S. and Embraer of Brazil in fuel efficiency and altitude that it can reach. Honda is out to change the aviation industry in the same way it changed American auto culture, Fujino said.
Honda was instrumental in influencing U.S. auto tastes with its Accord and other popular nifty models offering excellent mileage. Honda already makes cars, boats, lawn mowers, scooters and the Asimo robot. The HondaJet marks its foray into aviation.
"To offer personal mobility in the skies was the dream of Soichiro Honda and the dream of us Honda men," said Honda President Takanobu Ito. "Today is a symbolic day."
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Former SS Guard: 'Couldn't Imagine' Jews Surviving Auschwitz

Former SS guard Oskar Groening sits in ths sun during the noon break of the trial against him in Lueneburg, northern Germany, Tuesday, April 21, 2015. 93-years-old Groening faces 300,000 counts of accessory to murder at the trial, which will test the argument that anyone who served as a guard at a Nazi death camp was complicit in what happened there. Groening said he bears a share of the moral guilt for atrocities at the camp, but told judges it is up to them to decide whether he deserves to be convicted as an accessory to murder.


BERLIN (AP) — A former Auschwitz guard being tried on 300,000 counts of accessory to murder has testified that it was clear to him Jews were not expected to leave the camp in Nazi-occupied Poland alive.
"I couldn't imagine that" happening, former SS Sgt. Oskar Groening told the Lueneburg state court on Thursday during the third day of his trial, the dpa news agency reported. The 93-year-old's answer came in response to a question from attorneys representing Auschwitz survivors who have joined the trial as co-plaintiffs, as allowed under German law.
Pleas are not entered in the German system. On the first day of his trial Tuesday, Groening acknowledged sharing in "moral guilt" but said the court will have to determine if he is legally guilty.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Judge OKs 65-Year Deal Over NFL Concussions; Could Cost $1B

New England Patriots linebacker Junior Seau, center, talks to teammates on the sidelined during an NFL football game against the New York Jets in Foxborough, Mass. A federal judge has approved Wednesday, April 22, 2015, a plan to resolve thousands of NFL concussion lawsuits that could cost the league $1 billion over 65 years. Critics contend the NFL is getting off lightly given annual revenues of about $10 billion About 200 NFL retirees or their families, including Seau's, have rejected the settlement and plan to sue the league individually.


PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A federal judge has approved a settlement agreement that is expected to cost the NFL $1 billion over 65 years to resolve thousands of concussion lawsuits.
NFL actuaries project about 6,000 of the league's nearly 20,000 retired players could someday develop Alzheimer's disease or moderate dementia over the life of the deal approved Wednesday by a federal judge in Philadelphia. The average individual award would be about $190,000
Awards could reach $1 million to $5 million for those diagnosed in their 30s and 40s with Parkinson's disease or Lou Gehrig's disease, or for deaths involving chronic brain trauma. The benefits process could start this summer, but any appeal would delay all payments indefinitely.
"What matters now is time, and many retired players do not have much left," said plaintiff Kevin Turner, a former New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles running back who has Lou Gehrig's disease.
The league has been dogged for years by complaints that it long hid the risks of repeated concussions to return players to the field. Senior U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody approved the settlement after twice sending it back to lawyers over concerns the fund might run out. The negotiators did not increase the original $765 million plan, but agreed to remove that number as the cap.
The settlement approval, a week before the NFL draft, ends a nearly four-year legal fight. Critics contend the NFL is getting off lightly given annual revenues of about $10 billion. But a trial could have delayed the financial awards and medical testing for years, plaintiff's lawyers Christopher Seeger and Sol Weiss said.
"With over 99 percent participation, it is clear the retired player community overwhelmingly supports this agreement," the lawyers said in a conference call. The deal means the NFL may never have to disclose what it knew when about the risks and treatment of concussions. However, the NFL has acknowledged the concussion epidemic publicly, changing protocols for evaluating injured players during games and launching an advertising and social media campaign to promote safe play at all levels of football.
NFL general counsel Jeff Pash said that Brody's approval "powerfully underscores the fairness and propriety" of the settlement. In her 132-page opinion, Brody agreed with the lead negotiators that the settlement could exclude future claims involving chronic traumatic encephalopathy, even as critics like neurologist Robert Stern of Boston University call CTE "the industrial disease of football." Brody said neither the disease nor any definitive symptoms can yet be diagnosed in the living.
"The settlement does compensate the cognitive symptoms allegedly associated with CTE," Brody wrote, and "requires the parties to confer in good faith about possible revisions ... based on scientific developments."
The total NFL payouts over 65 years, including interest and $112 million sought for lawyer fees, is expected to exceed $1 billion. "From a business point of view, (the NFL has) ... avoided what may have been the biggest risk to their continued prosperity," said Andrew Brandt, director of the sports law program at Villanova University law school. "Removing this as a threat is extraordinary."
The NFL lawsuits, and similar suits filed later against the NHL, the NCAA and others, have fostered debate, discussion and safety reforms about sports concussions. Yet the NFL games seem to be as wildly popular as ever.
Participation statistics also show only a slight decline in the overall number of high school students playing football, and only 5 percent of parents polled last summer by Associated Press-GfK said they have discouraged their child from playing in the last two years as concern over head injuries has increased.
"I know people talk about, it's dangerous, and mothers won't let their sons play football. But I don't see that. I don't see that at all," Brandt said. More than 5,000 former players were plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
About 200 NFL retirees or their families have rejected the settlement and plan to sue the league individually. They include the family of Junior Seau, the popular Hall of Famer who killed himself at his San Diego-area home in 2012 after several years of increasingly erratic behavior. An autopsy showed he suffered from CTE.
Brody has persuaded the parties to make several tweaks, to the ex-players' benefit, since negotiators first announced a deal in August 2013. Most notably, the NFL agreed to remove the initial $765 million cap.
She mostly rejected complaints raised at a November fairness hearing, including those who challenged award reductions for older men and those who played fewer than five years in the league. "Retirees and their families will be eligible for prompt and substantial benefits and will avoid years of costly litigation that — as Judge Brody's comprehensive opinion makes clear — would have an uncertain prospect of success," Pash said in a statement.
Associated Press writer Michael R. Sisak contributed to this report.

South Africa's Image Suffers After Anti-Immigrant Attacks

A man holds a scarf, prior to a march against immigrant attacks in South Africa in recent weeks in Cape Town, South Africa, Wednesday, April 22, 2015. Police and soldiers officers raided a hostel considered a hotspot for anti-immigrant attacks in downtown Johannesburg as South Africa continued a crackdown in xenophobic violence.


JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Only a few kilometers (miles) separate Alexandra, a gritty Johannesburg township where South Africans attacked immigrants last week, from Sandton, a district jammed with high-end stores, restaurants and gleaming office towers symbolizing the upper reaches of the prosperity that attracted so many job-seekers to South Africa.
Adding to South Africa's allure was its image as a "rainbow nation" of diversity and inclusion after white racist rule ended in 1994. Now a nation that seeks to lead in Africa is struggling with perceptions that some of its communities breed intolerance toward foreigners, many from elsewhere in Africa
The violence against immigrants and the looting of their shops that erupted this month in parts of Johannesburg and the coastal city of Durban appear to have abated after the deaths of three South Africans and four foreigners. On Tuesday, Alexandra was bustling as uniformed students walked home after school and a few police cars patrolled streets lined with shacks made of sheet metal.
The unrest, however, has been a public relations disaster for South Africa, a country that a visiting Zambian said had been perceived as a "heaven of Africa" because of its relative wealth, stability and freedom.
The Zambian, Dennis Nyati, was attending a Johannesburg conference hosted this week by African Monitor, a South Africa-based group that promotes development. Another delegate, Yoadan Workneh Shiferaw of Ethiopia, speculated that South Africans involved in the attacks had forgotten "how cruel it was during apartheid," when the country's white minority rulers harshly suppressed dissent.
She said: "Now they're doing it to someone else." The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, on Wednesday condemned "the wave of xenophobic violence in South Africa" and expressed his condolences to the families of the victims.
In a statement, he said he welcomes the public expressions of the many South Africans who have been calling for peaceful coexistence and harmony with foreign nationals. He also urged that all efforts are made to avert future attacks.
More than 2,000 Mozambicans have returned home from South Africa because of the violence, Mouzinho Saide, Mozambique's deputy health minister, said Wednesday. Hundreds of immigrants have also taken buses back to Malawi and Zimbabwe. As many as 7,000 immigrants are living in South African refugee camps after fleeing their homes, according to Doctors Without Borders.
In Nigeria, South Africa's diplomatic mission in Lagos decided to close for two days because of demonstrations against the anti-foreigner violence. More than 300 suspects in the unrest have been arrested, the South African government said, including several people accused of attacking a Mozambican man in Alexandra while a local photojournalist took pictures of the fatal assault.
Namibia's chamber of commerce and industry canceled a trip to South Africa that was scheduled for May because of the anti-immigrant attacks, the Namibia Press Agency reported. No official business delegation from Namibia will visit until "we are assured that the South African government is in full control of its unruly citizens," the agency quoted chamber head Tarah Shaanika as saying.
Many South Africans have organized marches, concerts and social media campaigns to condemn the violence. It is a bitter time for a country that was the focus of international attention in December 2013 when foreign leaders traveled to Johannesburg to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid leader who became South Africa's first black president, after he died at the age of 95.
"Our rainbow nation that so filled the world with hope is being reduced to a grubby shadow of itself more likely to make the news for gross displays of callousness than for the glory that defined our transition to democracy under Nelson Mandela," said a statement from a foundation named after retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his wife Leah. Tutu and Mandela were both awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to end apartheid.
South Africa's national parks service, a key driver in the tourism industry, said some bookings from neighboring countries had been canceled because of the anti-immigrant attacks. "A large proportion of guests to our national parks are international visitors and we appear to be sending a message that foreigners are not welcome in our country," the parks agency said in a statement.
Tensions with immigrants, accused by some South Africans in poor areas of seizing economic opportunities at their expense, set off attacks that killed about 60 people in 2008. Several people died in similar attacks in Johannesburg's Soweto area in January.
High unemployment, a deep gulf between rich and poor and one of the highest rates of violent crime in the world cause social tensions in South Africa, even though it has one of the biggest economies on the continent. The recent attacks mostly targeted low-income areas where immigrants are embedded in the communities, and wealthy areas such as Sandton were untouched.
Some South Africans wondered what happened to the early promise of post-apartheid South Africa, recalling a comment by Mandela during his inauguration in 1994. Mandela said at the time: "Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world."