John Pilger, Journalist, Filmmaker, Who Covered Cambodia, Dies at 84

London — John Pilger, an Australia-born journalist and documentary filmmaker known for his coverage of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, has died, his family said Sunday. He was 84.

A statement from his family, posted on X, formerly Twitter, said Pilger died Saturday in London.

“His journalism and documentaries were celebrated around the world, but to his family he was simply the most amazing and loved dad, grandad and partner,” the statement said.

Pilger, who had been based in Britain since 1962, worked for Britain’s left-leaning Daily Mirror newspaper, broadcaster ITV’s investigative program “World In Action” and for the Reuters news agency.

He won an International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences award for his 1979 film “Year Zero: The Silent Death Of Cambodia,” which revealed the extent of the Khmer Rouge’s atrocities. He followed that with a 1990 documentary titled “Cambodia: The Betrayal,” which examined international complicity in the Khmer Rouge remaining a threat.

He also won acclaim for a 1974 documentary looking into the campaign for compensation for children after concerns were raised about birth defects when expectant mothers took the drug Thalidomide.

Pilger was known for his opposition to American and British foreign policy, and he was also highly critical of Australia’s treatment of its Indigenous population.

In more recent years, he campaigned for the release of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has fought a lengthy battle against extradition to the United States.

Kevin Lygo, managing director of media and entertainment at ITV, described Pilger as “a giant of campaigning journalism” who offered viewers a level of analysis and opinion that was rare in mainstream television.

“He had a clear, distinctive editorial voice which he used to great effect throughout his distinguished filmmaking career. His documentaries were engaging, challenging and always very watchable,” Lygo said.

“He eschewed comfortable consensus and instead offered a radical, alternative approach on current affairs and a platform for dissenting voices over 50 years,” he added.

your ad here

UN Mission Ends Decade of Deployment in Mali

Bamako, Mali — The U.N. mission in Mali ended a decade of deployment in the crisis-wracked country on Sunday, meeting a December 31 deadline agreed after Mali’s military leaders ordered it to leave. 

The U.N. stabilization mission (MINUSMA) had been in place since 2013, and its withdrawal is igniting fears that fighting will intensify between troops and armed factions. 

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement published Sunday that MINUSMA had completed its agreed withdrawal by December 31, 2023.  

The U.N. chief praised the missions’ “key role” in protecting civilians and supporting the peace process in Mali, which is in the grip of jihadist violence and other crises. 

He also recognized the work of MINUSMA in “ensuring respect for the cease-fire in the context of the 2015 peace and reconciliation agreement” between Bamako and northern rebel groups), as well as its efforts toward restoring state authority.  

Mali’s ruling junta, which seized power in 2020, in June demanded the departure of the mission, which for the past decade has maintained around 15,000 soldiers and police in the country. 

Hundreds of MINUSMA members have been killed in hostile circumstances, mostly blamed on armed groups linked to al-Qaida or the Islamic state group.  

Guterres paid tribute to the “311 MINUSMA personnel who lost their lives and the more than 700 who were injured in the cause of peace.” 

A “liquidation phase” will begin from January 1, involving activities such as handing over equipment to the authorities with smaller teams at sites in Gao and Bamako. 

Violence has swept the fragile and poor country, spilling over into neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger and inflaming ethnic tensions along the way.  

Thousands of civilians and fighters have died and millions have been displaced.

your ad here

‘Dozens’ Killed in Week of Burkina Faso Attacks: Security Sources

Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso — At least four suspected jihadi attacks in Burkina Faso have killed dozens of soldiers and civilians in a week, security and local sources told AFP on Sunday.

They said the attacks have targeted military contingents since last Sunday, leaving “dozens dead” mostly in the restive north of the country.

One local source said, “a large group of heavily armed terrorists attacked the military base at Nouna” in the northwest Saturday, with the clash leaving “several victims,” both military and civilian.  

A security source contacted by AFP confirmed an attack that was repelled and added that “another almost simultaneous attack targeted another northern detachment” but had likewise been beaten back.

The sources said two other attacks on military bases took place on December 24.  

“A large-scale attack targeted the Solle detachment. Several casualties were recorded… but the bravery and response (of troops) made it possible to repel the attackers,” a security source told AFP, adding the jihadis had been targeted by airstrikes as they retreated.  

That attack has been claimed by the GSIM jihadi alliance linked to al-Qaida. The group claimed it killed around 60 soldiers.  

Also on December 24, according to a security source, a gendarmerie base was hit at Gorgadji in the northern Sahel region by a sizeable group of fighters who arrived on motorcycles.

The military government that took power in Burkina Faso following a September 2022 coup rarely comments on tolls from suspected jihadi attacks.

However, state television reported that “more than 30 terrorists were killed,” adding that the army had destroyed three jihadi bases discovered in the northwest.

In a televised New Year’s address Sunday, Captain Ibrahim Traore, head of Burkina’s military rulers, said that in 2024 “we are going to continue our efforts to take back control of [the] territory and step up the fight” against the insurgents.

Burkina has been caught for several years in a spiral of jihadi violence perpetrated by groups affiliated with the Islamic State group and al-Qaida, which were already hitting neighboring Mali and Niger.

Traore also announced the creation of a new “rapid interaction brigade” in the fight against the jihadis, which since 2015 has seen more than 17,000 soldiers and civilians killed.

On Saturday, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said it was concerned about “a deterioration of the security situation in Burkina Faso,” while also urging the “immediate release” of political and civil society leaders detained in recent weeks.

your ad here

‘Wonka’ Back Atop North America Box Office in Weak Film Year

Los Angeles — Fantasy musical “Wonka” bounced back to the top of the North American box office this New Year’s weekend as an otherwise pallid film year came to an end, industry watcher Exhibitor Relations reported Sunday.

The Warner Bros. film took in an estimated $24 million for the three-day weekend in the U.S. and Canada, and $31.8 million when New Year’s Day is included. It has passed the $140 million mark domestically and taken in $244 million globally.

That strong showing came at the end of an off year for Hollywood, with numbers roughly 20 percent below the three-year pre-pandemic average, said analyst David A. Gross. Audience tastes are starting to change, he said, from universe-saving action films to stories closer to home.

Close to home — at least if you live near a chocolate factory — was family-friendly “Wonka,” with Timothee Chalamet as a younger version of Roald Dahl’s famous chocolatier. Hugh Grant has an unforgettable turn as a grouchy, green-haired, gnome-like Oompa Loompa.

Last weekend’s leader, Warner Bros.’ “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” took on a bit of water, slipping to second at $19.5 million for three days ($26.3 million for four). Jason Momoa again plays the sea-dwelling superhero, this time joining with his half-brother and former foe to fight turmoil and climate change.

In third was Illumination and Universal’s animated comedy “Migration” about the adventures of a family of mallard ducks as they fly from New England to Jamaica. It earned $17.2 million for three days ($23 million for four).

Completing a strong weekend for Warner Bros. was the new musical version of “The Color Purple,” in fourth spot at $13 million ($17.7 million). Based on the Alice Walker novel that became a beloved movie, “Purple” follows the struggles and triumphs of Celie, a young Black woman in rural Georgia in the early 20th century.

One-time “American Idol” winner Fantasia Barrino-Taylor plays Celie — a role played by Whoopi Goldberg in the 1985 film — with backing from Danielle Brooks, H.E.R. and Colman Domingo.

And in fifth was Sony rom-com “Anyone But You,” at $9 million ($11.5 million). Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell star in the tale, oh-so-loosely based on Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” that takes the two from instant connection to crossed signals to the scheming of friends to a lot of splashing in Sydney Harbour before ultimately … but nay, the rest is silence.

Rounding out the top 10 were:

  1. “Wonka,” $24 million.

  2. “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” $19.5 million.

  3. “Migration,” $17.2 million.

  4. “The Color Purple,” $13 million.

  5. “Anyone But You,” $9 million.

  6. “The Boys in the Boat,” $8.3 million.

  7. “The Iron Claw,” $5 million.

  8. “Ferrari,” $4.1 million.

  9. “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes,” $2.9 million.

  10. “The Boy and the Heron,” $2.5 million.

your ad here

California Law Banning Most Firearms in Public Taking Effect as Legal Fight Over It Continues

Los Angeles — A California law that bans people from carrying firearms in most public places will take effect on New Year’s Day, even as a court case continues to challenge the law.

A U.S. district judge issued a ruling Dec. 20 to block the law from taking effect, saying it violates the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and deprives people of their ability to defend themselves and their loved ones.

But on Saturday, a federal appeals court put a temporary hold on the district judge’s ruling. The appeals court decision allows the law to go into effect as the legal fight continues. Attorneys are scheduled to file arguments to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in January and in February.

The law, signed by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, prohibits people from carrying concealed guns in 26 places including public parks and playgrounds, churches, banks and zoos.

The ban applies regardless of whether the person has a permit to carry a concealed weapon. One exception is for privately owned businesses that put up signs saying people are allowed to bring guns on their premises.

“This ruling will allow our common-sense gun laws to remain in place while we appeal the district court’s dangerous ruling,” Newsom posted to X, formerly Twitter, after the appeals court acted Saturday. “Californians overwhelmingly support efforts to ensure that places like hospitals, libraries and children’s playgrounds remain safe and free from guns.”

The California Rifle and Pistol Association sued to block the law. When U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney granted a preliminary injunction blocking the law, he wrote that the law was “sweeping, repugnant to the Second Amendment, and openly defiant of the Supreme Court.”

Carney wrote that gun rights groups are likely to succeed in proving it unconstitutional, meaning it would be permanently overturned.

The law overhauls California’s rules for concealed carry permits in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen, which set several states scrambling to react with their own laws. That decision said the constitutionality of gun laws must be assessed by whether they are “consistent with the nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.”

Newsom has said he will keep pushing for stricter gun measures.

Newsom has positioned himself as a national leader on gun control while he is being increasingly eyed as a potential presidential candidate. He has called for and signed a variety of bills, including measures targeting untraceable “ghost guns,” the marketing of firearms to children and allowing people to bring lawsuits over gun violence. That legislation was patterned on a Texas anti-abortion law.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta appealed Carney’s decision. Bonta, a Democrat, said that if the district judge’s ruling to block the law were allowed to stand, it “would endanger communities by allowing guns in places where families and children gather.”

The California Pistol and Rifle Association’s president, Chuck Michel, said in a statement that under the law, gun permit holders “wouldn’t be able to drive across town without passing through a prohibited area and breaking the law.” Michel said criminals are deterred when law-abiding citizens can defend themselves.

your ad here

Pope Recalls Benedict XVI’s Love, Wisdom on Anniversary of Death

Vatican City — Tributes were paid Sunday on the first anniversary of the death of Pope Benedict XVI, with Pope Francis praising his love and wisdom and Benedict’s private secretary expressing hope he might one day be declared a saint. 

Benedict, the first pope to retire in six centuries, died last Dec. 31 at the age of 95 in the Vatican monastery where he spent 10 years as a pope emeritus. He is buried in the grottoes underneath St. Peter’s Basilica. 

Speaking at the end of his weekly noon blessing, Francis said the faithful feel “so much love, so much gratitude, so much admiration” for Benedict. He praised the “love and wisdom” with which Benedict guided the church and asked for a round of applause from the pilgrims and tourists gathered in St. Peter’s Square. 

Earlier in the day, Benedict’s longtime secretary, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, celebrated a special Mass in the basilica and then participated in an anniversary event to reflect on Benedict’s legacy. 

Speaking on the sidelines, Gaenswein acknowledged some of the polemics that surrounded Benedict’s decade-long retirement alongside Francis in the Vatican but said they would be forgotten in favor of the substance of his ministry and his final words: “Lord, I love you.” 

History, Gaenswein said, would judge Benedict as a “great theologian, a very simple person and a man of deep faith.” 

Francis frequently praised Benedict’s decision to retire as courageous and said he, too, might follow in his footsteps. But now that Benedict has died, Francis has reaffirmed the papacy is generally a job for life, and a consensus has emerged that the unprecedented reality of having two popes living side by side in the Vatican created problems that must be addressed before any future pope decides to step down. 

Benedict, a noted conservative theologian who spent a quarter-century as the Vatican’s doctrine chief, remained a point of reference for conservatives and traditionalists, who have only increased their criticism of Francis in the year since he died. Francis, for his part, has appeared now to feel freer to impose his progressive vision of a reformed church now he is no longer under Benedict’s shadow. 

Gaenswein, whom Francis exiled to his native Germany soon after the death, recalled that Benedict had only expected to live a few months, maybe a year, after his 2013 resignation. Despite his longer-than-expected retirement, Benedict stayed true to his pledge to pray for the church and for his successor, he said. 

“I pray that he will be a saint,” Gaenswein said. “I wish he would be a saint, and I’m convinced he will be a saint.” 

Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni also praised Benedict as “a great man of history and a giant of reason, faith and the positive synthesis between the two.” In a statement, she said his spiritual and intellectual legacy would live on even among nonbelievers because of its “profound civic value” and ability to speak to people’s minds and hearts. 

your ad here

Sudan’s RSF Chief in Djibouti Amid Cease-Fire Efforts 

Nairobi — The leader of Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) on Sunday visited Djibouti, which is leading regional efforts to broker a cease-fire after more than eight months of war.   

The Horn of Africa nation is the latest stop on Mohamed Hamdan Daglo’s first trip abroad since fighting erupted between the RSF and the Sudanese army in mid-April.   

His regional tour — which has also taken him to Ethiopia and Uganda — comes as diplomats scramble to broker a meeting between Daglo and his rival, Sudanese army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.   

The warring generals have not met face-to-face since the outbreak of the conflict that has killed more than 12,000 people by some conservative estimates, and forced millions to flee.   

Daglo said on X, formerly Twitter, that he discussed with Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh the latest developments in the war.   

“I outlined our unwavering commitment to ending the conflict and working toward a substantive solution that finally halts the historic suffering of our resilient Sudanese people.   

“I emphasized our readiness to participate in negotiations aimed at achieving a swift, just, and comprehensive peace in Sudan.”   

In another post on X, Djibouti Foreign Minister Mahmoud Ali Youssouf said the visit was part of his country’s efforts, as head of regional grouping IGAD, to try to forge a ceasefire in Sudan.   

“Next week, as chair of IGAD, Djibouti will also prepare the ground for Sudanese dialogue and will host a critical meeting,” Youssouf had said on X on Saturday, without giving further details.   

Daglo on Thursday met in Addis Ababa with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, after holding talks with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni the day before.   

IGAD, a bloc representing eight countries in the East Africa region, has been trying to bring Burhan and Daglo together since the war erupted.   

On Wednesday, Djibouti’s foreign ministry said a meeting between the rivals planned for December 28 had been “postponed to early January for technical reasons.”  

The UN Security Council earlier this month voiced alarm at the growing violence in Sudan and the spread of fighting to areas previously considered a haven for those displaced by the conflict.  

By the end of November, at least 12,190 people had been killed, according to a conservative estimate from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data project.   

The United Nations says more than seven million people have been internally displaced by the war, while another 1.5 million have fled into neighboring countries.   

Both sides have been accused of war crimes. 

your ad here

New Zealand’s Auckland Is First Major City to Ring in 2024 as War Shadows Celebrations Elsewhere 

your ad here

Ministry: Eleven Villagers Die in Niger Attack

Niamey — Eleven people were killed in weekend attacks by suspected jihadists on two villages near Niger’s border with Burkina Faso, Niger’s defense ministry said on Sunday.

“The terrorists on several motorcycles broke into the villages of Amara and Loudji,” some 30 kilometers [19 miles] southeast of Bankilare, “where they attacked peaceful citizens, killing 11,” a ministry statement said.

The killings came as Nigerien defense and security forces on Friday carried out “multiple air-land offensives,” which the ministry said had “reduced to nothing” the militants’ communication channels.

It added that one soldier was killed and five wounded Friday when their patrol vehicle drove over a mine at Ouro Gueladjo, 70 kilometers outside the capital Niamey.

Niger has since July been governed by a military regime following a coup.

On December 17, coup leader military ruler General Abdourahamane Tiani said the country was “progressively normalizing” the security situation, crediting “multiple successes” by the army in quelling unrest.

Military and local sources say the past few weeks have seen relative calm in the region bordering Burkina Faso and Mali — likewise ruled by military leaders — which had previously been prone to repeated jihadist attack.

Six soldiers were killed in the zone in an October clash with jihadists near the border with Burkina Faso.

The same month saw 29 soldiers killed in an attack in western Niger in what was the deadliest attack since the coup.

your ad here

Eurostar Services Resume as Cause of Flooded Tunnel Probed 

London — Eurostar warned customers travelling from London on Sunday of potential delays after flooding forced the cancelation all Saturday trains.

The first Eurostar train left London St Pancras International shortly after 8:00 am (0800 GMT).

Engineers had brought water in two tunnels in Kent in southern England under control meaning that at least one tunnel was useable, it said.

But Eurostar cautioned that “there will be some speed restrictions in place in the morning which may lead to delays and stations are expected to be very busy.” 

The company operates services from London to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam.

It announced late Saturday that all scheduled trains would run on Sunday after an estimated over 30,000 people were impacted by the last-minute cancellations.

Travelers were left stranded on mainland Europe while those at St Pancras scrambled to find hotel rooms or make alternative travel arrangements.

Some tourists said their New Year holiday plans had been “ruined.”

A spokesman for HS1, which runs the route between London and the Channel Tunnel, said flooding was being resolved and “the HS1 line will be operational in the morning.”

“We understand how frustrating this has been for passengers and apologize for the inconvenience caused at such an important time of the year.”

The company has not revealed what initially caused the flooding which began Friday night when water filled tunnels near Ebbsfleet International in Kent, blocking the high-speed rail line.

The spokesman said the cause of the flooding will be investigated, but added that there was no evidence to suggest it was caused by a burst pipe feeding the tunnel’s fire safety system as had previously been suggested by a water company. 

Footage shot in the tunnel had shown water gushing from a pipe and submerging the tracks. 

your ad here

Congo Opposition Candidates Call for Street Protests and Election Rerun

Kinshasa — A group of opposition presidential candidates in the Democratic Republic of Congo asked supporters on Sunday to take to the streets to protest after provisional results of the disputed election are released.

Congo’s election commission is due on Sunday to release full provisional results from the Dec. 20 presidential election. The opposition has alleged widespread irregularities, which they say have enabled fraud.

“We categorically reject the sham elections… and its results,” the main opposition candidates said in a joint declaration. They demanded fresh elections be held with a new electoral body on a date to be agreed by all.

“We call on our people to take to the streets en masse after the proclamation of the electoral fraud,” it said.

The government of Congo had previously rejected calls for a rerun of the elections.

Logistical setbacks, an election day over-run, and an opaque vote-count have fueled a dispute that threatens to further destabilize a country roughly the size of Western Europe and the world’s top producer of cobalt and other prized industrial commodities.

A tally of votes released by the national election commission, known as the CENI, in the past week shows President Felix Tshisekedi with a commanding lead over his 18 challengers, with more than 72% of around 17.8 million votes counted so far out of an as yet unspecified total.

The full provisional results from the presidential vote are scheduled to be announced by the CENI from 1300 GMT.

Since election day, some of Tshisekedi’s main challengers, including former oil executive Martin Fayulu, have been calling for a re-run of the presidential and legislative elections, accusing the CENI of allowing the vote to be tipped in the president’s favor.

The CENI and the government have dismissed these allegations and also warnings from independent observer groups that the unscheduled extension of voting and other incidents on election day and during the tabulation of votes may have compromised the credibility and legal footing of the poll.

On Thursday, the joint vote-monitoring mission of Congo’s powerful Catholic Church and its Protestant Church urged the CENI only to publish results based on correctly consolidated tallies from local polling centers.

The law requires the CENI to publish the results polling station by polling station – a bid to improve transparency and allow results to be easily double-checked to avoid the disputes that have bedeviled previous elections.

Opposition frontrunner Moise Katumbi has already ruled out mounting a legal challenge to the CENI’s results, citing the alleged lack of independence of state institutions. He has vowed to hold more protests against the election, after police forcibly broke up a banned march on Wednesday. 

your ad here

Will These New Year’s Foods Bring Good Luck in 2024?

Beans, rice, greens and round things are on the menu

your ad here

US Destroyer Shoots Down Anti-Ship Missiles Fired From Yemen

washington — A U.S. destroyer shot down two anti-ship ballistic missiles fired from Yemen on Saturday as it responded to a call for help from a container ship that was hit in a separate strike, the U.S. military said. 

The missiles were launched from territory controlled by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, the U.S. Central Command said in a social media post, describing it as the 23rd illegal attack by the Houthis on international shipping since November 19. 

The Houthis have repeatedly targeted vessels in the vital Red Sea shipping lane with strikes they say are in support of Palestinians in Gaza, where Israel is battling militant group Hamas. 

CENTCOM said the USS Gravely and USS Laboon, both destroyers, responded to a request for assistance from the Maersk Hangzhou, a Singapore-flagged, Denmark-owned and operated container ship that reported being struck by a missile while transiting the Red Sea. 

While responding, the Gravely shot down the missiles, which were fired “toward the ships,” it said. 

The attacks by the Yemeni rebels are endangering a transit route that carries up to 12% of global trade, prompting the United States to set up a multinational naval task force earlier this month to protect Red Sea shipping. 

The latest round of the Israel-Hamas conflict began when the Palestinian militant group carried out a cross-border attack from Gaza on October 7. 

Israel said about 1,200 people were killed and some 240 captives taken in the terror attack, about 129 remain in Gaza. The Israeli military says 170 of its military personnel have been killed so far in the fighting.

Following the attack, the United States rushed military aid to Israel, which has carried out a relentless campaign in Gaza that has killed more than 21,600 people, also mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry. 

Those deaths have sparked widespread anger in the Middle East and provided an impetus for attacks by armed groups across the region that are opposed to Israel. 

U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria have repeatedly come under fire from drone and rocket attacks that Washington says are being carried out by Iran-backed armed groups. 

Some material for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.

your ad here

Mexico, Venezuela Restart Repatriation Flights to Help Curb Migration to US

MEXICO CITY — Mexico and Venezuela announced Saturday that they have restarted repatriation flights of Venezuelans migrants in Mexico, the latest move by countries in the region to take on a flood of people traveling north to the United States.

The move comes as authorities say at least 10,000 migrants a day have been arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, many of them asylum-seekers. It also comes as a migrant caravan of thousands of people from across the region — largely Venezuelans — has trekked through southern Mexico this week.

The repatriation flights are part of an agreement made between regional leaders during a summit in Mexico in October that aimed to seek solutions for migration levels that show few signs of slowing down.

Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Relations said the two countries began repatriations with a flight on Friday and a second on Saturday in an effort to “strengthen their cooperation on migration issues.” The statement also said the two countries plan to implement social and work programs for those repatriated to Venezuela.

“Mexico and Venezuela reiterate their commitment to address the structural causes that fuel irregular migration in the region, and to achieve a humanitarian management of such flows,” the statement read.

Mexico’s government said it previously carried out a similar repatriation flight January 20 with 110 people.

As migration has soared in recent years, the U.S. government has pressured Latin American nations to control the movement of migrants north, but many transit countries have struggled to deal with the quantities of people.

This week, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other Biden administration officials were in Mexico City to meet with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador about the high levels of migrants landing on the U.S.-Mexico border.

López Obrador said he also spoke about the issue in a phone call with President Joe Biden on December 20.

“He asked — Joe Biden asked to speak with me — he was worried about the situation on the border because of the unprecedented number of migrants arriving at the border,” Mexico’s leader said. “He called me, saying we had to look for a solution together.”

López Obrador has said he is willing to help, but in exchange he wants the U.S. to send more development aid to migrants’ home countries and to reduce or eliminate sanctions against Cuba and Venezuela.

Mexico’s president and other critics of American foreign policy have cited the sanctions on Cuba and Venezuela as one of the root causes of high migration.

your ad here

Oscar-Nominated Actor Tom Wilkinson Dies at 75

london — Two-time Oscar-nominated actor Tom Wilkinson, who starred in “The Full Monty” — a movie about a group of unemployed steel workers who launched new careers as strippers — died suddenly on Saturday. 

The British actor’s death was confirmed in a statement released by his agent on behalf of his family. He was 75. 

“It is with great sadness that the family of Tom Wilkinson announce that he died suddenly at home on December 30. His wife and family were with him.” 

Wilkinson was nominated for Academy Awards for actor in a leading role for “In The Bedroom” in 2001, and for a supporting role in “Michael Clayton” in 2007. 

He most recently reunited with his “Full Monty” co-stars, Robert Carlyle and Mark Addy, in a Disney+ series of the same name. 

The original 1997 smash hit about an unlikely group of men stripping won an Oscar for best original musical or comedy score and was nominated for three others, including best picture and best director. 

Wilkinson played ex-foreman Gerald Cooper who was recruited to help the unemployed men dance. 

The actor also took home the best supporting actor Bafta for the role. 

Wilkinson won a 2009 Golden Globe and 2008 Emmy for his role as American political figure Benjamin Franklin in the HBO series “John Adams,” opposite Paul Giamatti. 

He was also known for his roles in a BBC adaptation of Charles Dickens novel “Martin Chuzzlewit,” the 1995 adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility,” the 2014 Wes Anderson comedy drama “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and 2011 ensemble comedy “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” 

your ad here

Venezuela Says Troops Will Stay Deployed Until British Military Vessel Leaves Area

MEXICO CITY — Venezuela said Saturday it will keep nearly 6,000 troops deployed until a British military vessel sent to neighboring Guyana leaves the waters off the coast of the two South American nations.

In a video posted to X, Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino appeared surrounded by military officers in front of a map of Venezuela and Guyana, a former British colony.

Padrino said the forces are “safeguarding our national sovereignty.”

“Armed forces have been deployed not just in the east of the country, but across the entire territory,” he said. “They will be there until this British imperialist boat leaves the disputed waters between Venezuela and Guyana.”

The Defense Ministry confirmed to The Associated Press that the video was made at a military base in Venezuela’s capital, Caracas.

The video comes after weeks of tensions between the two countries over Venezuela’s renewed claim to a region in Guyana known as Essequibo, a sparsely populated stretch of land roughly the size of Florida that is rich in oil and minerals. Operations generate some $1 billion a year for the impoverished country of nearly 800,000 people that saw its economy expand by nearly 60% in the first half of this year.

Venezuela has long argued it was cheated out of the territory when Europeans and the U.S. set the border. Guayana, which has controlled the zone for decades, says the original agreement was legally binding and the dispute should be decided by the International Court of Justice in the Netherlands.

The century-old dispute was recently reignited with the discovery of oil in Guyana and has escalated since Venezuela reported that its citizens voted in a December 3 referendum to claim Essequibo, which makes up two-thirds of its smaller neighbor.

Critics of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro say the socialist leader is using the tensions to distract from internal turmoil and stoke nationalism before presidential elections next year.

In recent weeks, the leaders of Guyana and Venezuela promised in a tense meeting that neither side would use threats or force against the other. But they failed to reach agreement on how to address the bitter dispute.

Tensions increased with Friday’s arrival in Guyana of the Royal Navy patrol ship HMS Trent, which officials said had been taking part in an operation combatting drug smuggling in the Caribbean near the coast of Guyana. Most recently used to intercept pirates and drug smugglers off Africa, the ship is equipped with cannons and a landing pad for helicopters and drones and can carry about 50 marines.

Maduro said the ship’s deployment violates the shaky agreement between Venezuela and Guyana, calling its presence a threat to his country. In response, Maduro ordered Venezuela’s military — including air and naval forces — to conduct exercises near the disputed area.

“We believe in diplomacy, in dialogue and in peace, but no one is going to threaten Venezuela,” Maduro said. “This is an unacceptable threat to any sovereign country in Latin America.”

Guyana’s government rejected Maduro’s claims, with officials saying that the visit was a planned activity aimed at improving the nation’s defense capabilities and that the ship’s visit would continue as scheduled.

During talks earlier in December, Guyanese President Irfaan Ali said his nation reserved its right to work with partners to ensure the defense of his country. Guyana has a military of 3,000 soldiers, 200 sailors and four small patrol boats known as Barracudas, while Venezuela has about 235,000 active military personnel in its army, air force, navy and national guard. 

your ad here

At UN, Russia Accuses Kyiv of ‘Terrorist Attack’ on Belgorod Civilians

United Nations — Russia accused Ukraine of conducting a “terrorist attack” on civilians in Belgorod during an emergency meeting on Saturday of the U.N. Security Council requested by Moscow.  

Russia said Ukraine attacked the city of Belgorod with missiles and rockets, killing at least 21 people and wounding dozens more, including 17 children, according to local authorities. 

It was “a terrorist attack by the Kyiv regime against a civilian city,” Russia’s ambassador to the U.N. Vasily Nebenzya said. 

“In order to increase the number of casualties of the terrorist attack they used cluster munitions,” he continued, claiming that Kyiv targeted a sports center, an ice rink and a university. 

“(It was a) deliberate, indiscriminate attack against a civilian target,” he said.  

Ukrainian allies quickly retorted, saying Russia had started the war. 

Serhii Dvornyk, counsellor of Ukrainian Mission to U.N. said that “as long as this war, unleashed by the Kremlin dictator endures, the toll of death and suffering will continue to grow.” 

The U.S. Representative John Kelley also put the blame squarely on Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

“This is (Putin’s) war, it is his choice,” he said. “Russia could end this war today. … We call for the protection of all civilians on all sides of every conflict.” 

The British envoy Thomas Phipps said London deeply regrets any civilian losses but called out Moscow for starting the war with an invasion two years ago.  

“There are hundreds of thousands of Russian soldiers in Ukraine. There is not a single Ukrainian soldier in Russia,” he said. 

“If Russia wants someone to blame for the deaths of Russians in this war, it should start with President Putin,” he said. 

Phipps likewise said that Russia was to blame for targeting civilians. 

The French envoy Nicolas de Riviere said Ukraine was simply defending itself under U.N. laws, while Moscow was “trampling” the U.N. Charter. 

Ukraine, which has been resisting a Russian invasion for nearly two years and earlier this week came under a huge Russian missile and drone assault, has not officially commented on the strike against Belgorod. 

Belgorod lies about 30 kilometers from the border with Ukraine and has been repeatedly struck by what Moscow says is indiscriminate shelling by Kyiv’s forces. 

AFP was not able to independently verify the circumstances of the strike, one of the deadliest on Russian soil since Moscow launched hostilities against Ukraine in February 2022. 

your ad here

Activists File Lawsuit Alleging Killings, Assaults at Del Monte Farm in Kenya

Nairobi, Kenya — A rights group and community activists filed a lawsuit Saturday against U.S. multinational food giant Del Monte over accusations of killings and assaults at its vast pineapple plantation near Nairobi. 

The case, lodged at the High Court of Kenya, is also on behalf of people who say they had been attacked by Del Monte security guards, and relatives of alleged victims. 

The company, which employs 6,000 people in Kenya and has faced accusations of abuse and violence in the past, could not be immediately contacted for comment. 

In the most recent incident, Kenyan police are investigating the suspicious deaths this month of four men accused of trying to steal pineapples from the Del Monte farm near Thika, northeast of the capital Nairobi. 

Saturday’s lawsuit, a copy of which was seen by AFP, said Del Monte has been locked in a land ownership row with the local community, which claims the company’s land as its ancestral home. 

It said locals had been long been crossing the 10,000-acre (4,000-hectare) plantation “leading to conflicts with the security personnel deployed by Del Monte, who assault, beat, torture, maim, rape and/or kill the trespassers. 

“Multiple killings have occurred at Del Monte’s pineapple farm in Kenya, where security guards allegedly murdered trespassers and showed general violence against locals,” it added. 

Alleged thieves have been beaten to death by the guards, drowned in dams or dumped in the nearby river, it charged. 

Accusations of pesticides in water 

In addition, it said wastewater from Del Monte operations was laced with “toxic pesticides” deemed hazardous by the World Health Organization. 

Several petitioners claimed they had suffered various injuries at the hands of guards in separate incidents over the past few years. 

One said he had been run over, while another claimed he had been sexually harassed then attacked with stones as he ran away. 

The lawsuit lists Del Monte’s Kenya operation as well as top police and legal officials as respondents. 

It is seeking compensation and punitive damages and has also called on the High Court to rule that the actions of the respondents were violations of human rights, environment and constitutional laws. 

Earlier this week, Kenyan police launched an investigation after the bodies of four men were discovered on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in a river near the plantation. 

Results of a post-mortem released Friday found that at least three of the four had drowned and bore signs of injury, according to Kenyan media reports. 

Company says it is cooperating

Kenyan National Commission for Human Rights official Kamanda Mucheke was quoted by the leading Daily Nation newspaper as saying the men were beaten by Del Monte security guards. 

“Our preliminary investigations reveal beyond reasonable doubt that the four men were attacked before they were forcibly drowned,” he said. 

The multinational company said CCTV footage showed the four had attempted to steal pineapples from its farm and showed “no foul play on Del Monte’s part.” 

“Del Monte Kenya is cooperating with Kenyan authorities as they continue to investigate the circumstances surrounding the four bodies,” it said in a statement to AFP earlier this week. 

“Organized crime, particularly around pineapple theft, is becoming increasingly rampant in the area,” it added.

your ad here

No Sign Houthis Will Halt Red Sea Attacks, Says US

CHRISTIANSTED, U.S. Virgin Islands — Yemen’s Houthi rebels show no signs of ending their attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea, the top commander of U.S. naval forces in the Middle East said Saturday. 

Since the U.S. announced Operation Prosperity Guardian about 10 days ago, 1,200 merchant ships have traveled through the Red Sea region, and none has been hit by drone or missile strikes, Vice Admiral Brad Cooper said in an Associated Press interview.  

He said additional countries are expected to sign on. Denmark was the latest, announcing Friday it plans to send a frigate to join the multinational security initiative that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced on December 18 during a visit to Bahrain, where the Navy’s 5th Fleet is based, saying that “this is an international challenge that demands collective action.” 

The narrow Bab el-Mandeb Strait connects the Gulf of Aden to the Red Sea and then the Suez Canal. The crucial trade route links markets in Asia and Europe. The seriousness of the attacks, several of which have damaged vessels, led multiple shipping companies to order their vessels to hold in place and not enter the strait until the security situation improved. Some major shippers were sending their ships around Africa and the Cape of Good Hope, adding time and costs to the journeys. 

There are five warships from the United States, France, and the United Kingdom patrolling the waters of the southern Red Sea and the western Gulf of Aden, said Cooper, who heads the 5th Fleet. Since the operation started, the ships have shot down a total of 17 drones and four anti-ship ballistic missiles, he said. 

Two days ago, the USS Mason, a Navy destroyer, shot down a drone and an anti-ship ballistic missile that were fired by the Iranian-backed Houthis, according to U.S. Central Command. The U.S. said the 22nd attack on international shipping by the Houthis since October 19 caused no damage to any of the 18 ships in the area or any reported injuries. 

“I expect in the coming weeks we’re going to get additional countries,” Cooper said, noting Denmark’s recent announcement. 

The U.S. has said that more than 20 nations are participating, but a number of those nations have not acknowledged it publicly. 

Cooper said the coalition is in direct communication with commercial ships to provide guidance on “maneuvering and the best practices to avoid being attacked,” and working closely with the shipping industry to coordinate security. 

An international task force was set up in April 2022 to improve maritime security in the region. But Cooper said Operation Prosperity Guardian has more ships and a persistent presence to assist vessels. 

Since the operation started, the Houthis have stepped up their use of anti-ship ballistic missiles, Cooper said. 

“We are clear-eyed that the Houthi reckless attacks will likely continue,” he said. 

The Houthi rebels seized Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, in 2014, launching a grinding war against a Saudi-led coalition that sought to restore the government. The militants have sporadically targeted ships in the region, but the attacks increased since the start of the Israel-Hamas war. 

The Houthis threatened to attack any vessel they believe is either going to or coming from Israel. That has escalated, with container ships and oil tankers flagged to countries such as Norway and Liberia being attacked or drawing missile fire. 

The shipping company Maersk had announced earlier that it had decided to re-route its ships that have been paused for days outside the strait and Red Sea and send them around Africa instead. But on December 25, Maersk announced that it was going to resume sending ships through the strait, citing the operation. Cooper said another shipping company had also resumed using the route. 

“Commerce is definitely flowing,” Cooper said. 

your ad here

Albania’s Ex-PM Berisha Under House Arrest During Corruption Probe

TIRANA, ALBANIA — An Albanian court Saturday ordered house arrest for former Prime Minister Sali Berisha, who leads the opposition Democratic Party and is being investigated for possible corruption.

Judge Irena Gjoka of the First Instance Special Court on Corruption and Organized Crime, which covers cases involving senior officials and politicians, accepted prosecutors’ request to put Berisha, 79, under house arrest after he violated the previous restrictive measures of reporting every two weeks. He was also barred from traveling abroad.

His lawyer, Genc Gjokutaj, said the court also barred Berisha from communicating with people other than members of his family who live with him. Gjokutaj said he would appeal the court order.

“No criminal charge or new evidence supported this new request,” Gjokutaj said. “None of the legal criteria required for imposing or escalating such restrictions are met in this case.”

Albanian media outlets reported the arrival of police officers at Berisha’s apartment building in downtown Tirana. It is not clear how officers planned to monitor him.

Last week, parliament voted to strip Berisha of his legal immunity. Lawmakers loyal to Berisha tried to disrupt the session and boycotted the vote.

Berisha has criticized the investigation of him and called his arrest political repression ordered by Prime Minister Edi Rama. Depriving Berisha of communication may become a wider political issue because he’s the leader of the main opposition party.

He has warned of “powerful protests.”

“The Democratic Party calls on all Albanians and its supporters to continue our ‘today or never’ battle for the restoration of the political pluralism and [Prime Minister] Edi Rama’s deserved punishment,” Luciano Boci, a senior party leader, said at a news conference after the judge issued the order.

In October, prosecutors publicly put Berisha under investigation for allegedly abusing his post to help his son-in-law, Jamarber Malltezi, privatize public land to build 17 apartment buildings. Prosecutors have yet to file formal charges in court and Berisha is still technically under investigation.

“Rama’s New Year postcard is the arrest and isolation of the opposition leader!” Berisha’s son Shkelzen posted on Facebook.

Rama declined to comment on the court order authorizing Berisha’s house arrest.

“The arrest of anyone of whichever political party is never the victory of any party,” he said. “The parties win elections to take the country ahead, and the parties are not military organizations which operate to eliminate the opponents.”

Berisha served as Albania’s prime minister from 2005-13, and as president from 1992-97. He was reelected as a lawmaker for the Democratic Party in the 2021 parliamentary elections.

The United States government in May 2021 and the United Kingdom in July 2022 barred Berisha and close family members from entering their countries because of alleged involvement in corruption.

Opposition lawmakers have regularly disrupted sessions of parliament to protest the ruling Socialists’ refusal to create commissions to investigate alleged cases of corruption involving Rama and other top government officials.

The Socialists say the plans are not in line with constitutional requirements.

The disruptions are an obstacle to much-needed reforms at a time when the European Union has agreed to start the process of harmonizing Albanian laws with those of the EU as part of the Balkan country’s path toward full membership in the bloc.

your ad here

Thousands Accuse Serbia’s Ruling Populists of Election Fraud at Rally

BELGRADE, SERBIA — Thousands of people rallied in Serbia’s capital Saturday, chanting “Thieves!” and accusing the populist authorities of President Aleksandar Vucic of orchestrating a fraud during a recent general election.

The rally in central Belgrade capped nearly two weeks of street protests over reported widespread irregularities during the December 17 parliamentary and local ballot — irregularities that were also noted by international election observers.

The ruling Serbian Progressive Party was declared the election winner, but the main opposition alliance, Serbia Against Violence, has claimed the election was stolen, particularly in the vote for the Belgrade city authorities.

Serbia Against Violence has led daily protests since December 17 demanding that the vote be annulled and rerun. Tensions have soared following violent incidents and arrests of opposition supporters at a protest last weekend.

The crowd at the rally Saturday roared in approval at the appearance of Marinika Tepic, a leading opposition politician who has been on a hunger strike since the ballot. Tepic’s health reportedly has been jeopardized, and she was expected to be hospitalized after appearing at the rally.

“These elections must be rerun,” a frail-looking Tepic told the crowd, waving feebly from the stage and saying she doesn’t have the strength to make a longer speech.

Another opposition politician, Radomir Lazovic, urged the international community “not to stay silent” and set up a commission to investigate the irregularities and pressure authorities to hold a new election that’s free and fair.

After the speeches, participants marched by the headquarters of the state electoral commission toward Serbia’s Constitutional Court, which will ultimately rule on electoral complaints.

A protester from Belgrade, Rajko Dimitrijevic, said he came to the rally because he felt “humiliation” and the “doctoring of the people’s will.”

Ivana Grobic, also from Belgrade, said she had always joined protests “because I want a better life, I want the institutions of this country to do their job.”

It was not immediately clear if or when opposition protests would resume. The rally Saturday was organized by an independent civic initiative, ProGlas, or pro-vote, that had campaigned for high turnout ahead of the ballot.

Ruling party leader Milos Vucevic said the “small number of demonstrators” at the rally Saturday showed that “people don’t want them [the opposition].”

The opposition has urged an international probe of the vote after representatives of several global watchdogs reported multiple irregularities, including cases of vote-buying and ballot box stuffing.

Local election monitors also alleged that voters from across Serbia and neighboring countries were registered and bused in to cast ballots in Belgrade.

Vucic and his party have rejected the reports as “fabricated.”

Saturday’s gathering symbolically was organized at a central area in Belgrade that in the early 1990s was the scene of demonstrations against strongman Slobodan Milosevic’s warmongering and undemocratic policies.

Critics nowadays say that Vucic, who was an ultranationalist ally of Milosevic in the 1990s, has reinstated that autocracy in Serbia since coming to power in 2012, by taking full control over the media and all state institutions.

Vucic has said the elections were fair. He accused the opposition of inciting violence at protests with the aim of overthrowing the government under instructions from abroad, which opposition leaders have denied.

On Sunday evening, protesters tried to enter Belgrade city hall, breaking windows, before riot police pushed them back using tear gas, pepper spray and batons. Police detained at least 38 people.

Serbia is formally seeking membership in the European Union, but the Balkan nation has maintained close ties with Moscow and has refused to join Western sanctions imposed on Russia over the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Russian officials have extended full support to Vucic in the crackdown against the protesters and backed his claims that the vote was free and fair.

your ad here