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Saturday, April 29, 2017

Saudi palace coup: The sequel

#SaudiStruggle David Hearst Wednesday 26 April 2017 08:26 UTC  2520  1544 googleplus6  4214 Topics: SaudiStruggle Tags: King Salman, Mohammed bin Zayed, Bin Nayef, Mohammed bin Salman Show comments The machinations to install a 31-year-old prince to the Saudi throne is a Verdi Opera in four acts A Saudi prince needs three sources of power to become king. In order of importance, they are the United States, the royal family, and the Saudi people, although the latter come a distant third in any calculation. This has been the case for every Saudi king since 14 February 1945 when Franklin D Roosevelt met the kingdom’s founder, King Abdul Aziz on a US destroyer in the waters of Egypt’s Great Bitter Lake. Franklin D Roosevelt and King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia at Great Bitter Lake in Egypt in February 1945 (Wikicommons) When King Abdullah died on 23 January 2015 and his half-brother Salman came to the throne, his son, Mohammed bin Salman had nothing in place. He was a minister of state and advisor to his father, but he was unknown in Washington and he was only 29 years old. A callow youth.  The first in a four act opera to install Mohammed on the Saudi throne began then. Act One: Royal flush King Salman flushed out the remnants of Abdullah’s court, starting with the dead king’s Cardinal Richelieu, Khaled Tuwaijri, the general secretary and gatekeeper to the Royal Court. Tuwaijri was replaced by the young Mohammed who at the same time became the youngest defence minister in the world. Salman installed his brother, Prince Muqrin, as crown prince and put his nephew, Mohammed bin Nayef, as deputy crown prince.  Deputy Crown Prince and Defence Minister Mohammed bin Salman (AFP) Tuwaijri’s downfall was bad news for the Emirati strongman Mohammed bin Zayed. The two had funded and organised the military coup which brought Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to power in Egypt, and all three were united in their common belief that the Muslim Brotherhood, not Iran, represented the existential threat. The pact between the two states was further damaged by what happened a few months later in April 2015, which could be considered Act Two.  Act Two: Son rise King Salman kicked his brother Prince Muqrin out of his role of crown prince, put his nephew, Bin Nayef, into the post and made his favoured son, Mohammed, deputy crown prince. Mohammed was pictured kissing the hand of his older cousin, Bin Nayef. But it was only a matter of time before he learned to bite it.  The ground has already shifted under the crown prince’s feet, because the king abolished the crown prince’s royal court. Until then, both the king and the crown prince had separate royal retinues. The abolition of his own court left Bin Nayef with the interior ministry as his sole power base. Mohammed was pictured kissing the hand of his older cousin, Bin Nayef. But it was only a matter of time before he learned to bite it Bin Nayef nursed a personal grudge against Bin Zayed, who had likened his father to a monkey. Furthermore, Bin Nayef’s stock with the Pentagon and Washington was high. He was Washington’s man. Very soon things started looking up for regional powers that challenged the Emiratis, the Muslim Brotherhood supporting regimes of Turkey and Qatar. Bin Zayed licked his wounds and bided his time. Bin Zayed figured he had a way of getting back into favour with the royal court, through another door, one opened by Mohammed. Bin Zayed calculated that he and Mohammed had an enemy in common. With bin Nayef in pole position as crown prince, an obstacle lay in the path of his cousin, Mohammed.  Mohammed’s first moves as defence minister did not go down too well in Washington. He launched a major intervention against the Houthis in Yemen, when Prince Meteb, the minister of the National Guard, was out of the country. The young defence minister earned a reputation for being cavalier. He disappeared on holiday to the Maldives and Barack Obama's defence secretary Ash Carter took days trying to reach him. Saudi Crown Prince and Interior Minister, Mohammed bin Nayef arrives to attend the 27th ordinary meeting of interior ministers from the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in April 2016 in Riyadh (AFP) By December that year, the German intelligence agency the BND issued an unusually candid one-and-a-half-page memo portraying the 29-year-old Mohammed as a reckless gambler with too much power. Bin Zayed moved swiftly. He arranged for a powerful Saudi media mogul to act as interlocutor, into whose accounts he poured millions of dollars. From his own experience, Bin Zayed advised Mohammed to act quickly. As the Middle East Eye reported at the time, Bin Zayed told Mohammed he had to end the rule of Wahabbism in the kingdom and to cosy up to Israel.  Glowing reviews ensued after his first interview with the Economist. The New York Times’ gullible Thomas Friedman swallowed the bait, hook, line and sinker Bin Zayed promised to open up the channel of communication with Washington personally, but first Mohammed had to become known as a player in his own right.  He launched the biggest programme of privatisation his country had yet seen. A PR campaign was organised to sell the young prince to a Western audience and in language the West could understand. Mohammed was duly portrayed as a young Turk, an impatient reformer. Glowing reviews ensued after his first interview with the Economist. The New York Times’ gullible Thomas Friedman swallowed the bait, hook, line and sinker. “I spent an evening with Mohammed bin Salman at his office, and he wore me out. With staccato energy bursts, he laid out in detail his plans. His main projects are an online government dashboard that will transparently display the goals of each ministry, with monthly KPIs - key performance indicators - for which each minister will be held accountable. His idea is to get the whole country engaged in government performance. Ministers tell you: Since Mohammed arrived, big decisions that took two years to make now happen in two weeks,” Friedman wrote in his hagiography. Mohammed walked the walk of a moderniser. However, he was also a risk taker. The biggest risk he took when he launched Vision 2030 was not his promise to privatise five percent of the state oil company, Aramco, or even to push back the religious police.  It was to scrap national benefits which account for between 20 to 30 percent of the salaries of public sector workers. As this group makes up two thirds of the workforce, the murmuring of discontent was widespread. Nor was it particularly sotto voce. Bin Zayed was hard at work establishing a hotline to Washington. Many business links had already been established between the UAE and Trump Meanwhile, Bin Zayed was hard at work establishing a hotline to Washington. Many business links had already been established between the UAE and Trump. One of them came in the form a billionaire real estate developer, Hussain Sajwani, who had partnered with Trump on a golf course called Akoya near Dubai. "We made a deal with Trump as an organisation; they know how to run golf courses," Sajwani told Forbes. "We stay away from politics.” Sajwani thought it was business as usual when his US partner became president. This January, Trump revealed that he turned down a $2bn deal from his Dubai friend: "I didn't have to turn it down, because as you know, I have a no-conflict situation because I'm president," Trump said. "It's a nice thing to have, but I don't want to take advantage of something.” ►READ: The Gulf's 'Little Sparta' has big military ambitions A month before Trump was inaugurated, Bin Zayed flew secretly to New York. He broke protocol by not informing the incumbent US President Barack Obama, whose staff only found out when Bin Zayed’s name was discovered on a flight manifest. According to the Washington Post, Bin Zayed met Trump’s inner circle of advisers Michael Flynn, Jared Kushner and Stephen Bannon. Bin Zayed’s primary purpose was to offer his services to the Trump family. Bin Zayed’s brother, the UAE’s national security adviser, set up a meeting in the Seychelles between the founder of Blackwater, Erik Prince, and a Russian close to Vladi­mir Putin. The idea was to establish a backchannel line of communication between Moscow and the then president-elect Donald Trump, the Washington Post claimed. But the meeting also established Bin Zayed as a fixer for Trump in the Gulf. When Trump finally met Mohammed bin Salman in the White House in March, the meeting was described as a “turning point”. Trump took the opportunity to point out that he was reestablishing links with the kingdom which Obama had squandered by pursuing peace with Iran. But the assumption in meeting Mohammed was more telling than the talks themselves: Trump was talking to the future king.   When James Mattis, the US defence secretary, paid a return visit to Riyadh last weekend, he saw King Salman and Mohammed. Bin Nayef, Washington’s former go-to man in the kingdom, was out of the picture. Act Three: Decrees of Separation Now comes Act Three. On Saturday, King Salman issued 40 decrees. The most important one was to restore Mohammed’s popularity by reestablishing the financial allowances for civil servants and military personnel that Vision 2030 had slashed. Mohammed was bizarrely given credit for this, although it was his decision to cut the allowances in the first place. This was further to diminish the role of his cousin Bin Nayef in all this. In other decrees, Mohammed's youngest brother, Khaled, was made US ambassador. Khaled’s only experience of international diplomacy is at the controls of an F16 as a fighter pilot. Curiously, in the same batch of decrees, a minister was sacked for employing his son. That rule however does not apply to the House of Saud. Another brother of Mohammed, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, was made minister of state for energy affairs. Yet another family member close to Mohammed, his nephew Prince Ahmed bin Fahd bin Salman, was made deputy governor of the oil-rich Eastern Province. The governor of that province is Saud bin Nayef, who is Mohammed bin Nayef’s brother, thus the arrival of the prince as deputy governor represented another way to tighten the noose around the crown prince’s neck.  Dozens of other members of the royal family got important posts, compounding Mohammed’s grip over it.  So that’s Washington squared, the family bought off, and the people pleased. However, Bin Nayef still stands in Mohammed’s way.  Next came decrees about the army and internal security. The head of the army, a career professional, Lieutenant General Eid al-Shalwi, was removed, to be replaced by his deputy, Prince Fahad Bin Turki, who coincidentally had just been in Abu Dhabi to brief Bin Zayed on the war in Yemen. ►READ: Why 2017 is a Saudi existential crisis The key decree which gave the coup de grace to Bin Nayef had nothing to do with Yemen. It was to create a National Security Centre under the guidance of the Royal Court. This organisation is a direct rival to the interior ministry under his cousin Bin Nayef. The fact that the new body reports directly to the Royal Court is significant, because Mohammed controls that too. When he gave up his job as general secretary to the court to become deputy crown prince, Mohammed ensured that he left an ally inside it to control it for him. That man was Saud Al-Qahtani, who established the reputation of being Tuwaijri 2.0. Saudi writer Turki al-Ruqi, the founder of Al-Wi’am newspaper, accused al-Qahtani of acting like an internet troll, launching social media campaigns against selected targets to terrify dissenters. Al-Ruqi claimed al-Qahtani had access to an army of hackers to target sites and defame and damage the reputation of many.  Al-Ruqi alleged: “The man has transgressed a lot. Many of the country’s young men have been his victims. He has provoked tension in the relations between decision makers and the country’s citizens. He has undermined the immunity that is supposed to be enjoyed by ministers and statesmen.” It is certainly true that a number of prominent Saudi voices have been silenced, like that of Jamal Khashoggi, one of the country’s foremost analysts from within the establishment.  Act Four: Bringing the house down Act Four? We have yet to know the fate that awaits the Crown Prince bin Nayef. The Trump administration ignores him. He is cut out of important meetings, and his cousin now has all the power.  Is it game, set and match? It looks like it. The old counter-revolutionary axis has been restored, with the addition of one new face, that of Mohammed. With him are two old faces, Bin Zayed, and the Egyptian president Sisi, who also appeared in Riyadh last weekend to kiss and make up after a brief spat. Trump’s fledging administration is four-square behind each of them, with Israel’s blessing. Everything is back to where it was under King Abdullah. When King Salman talked to Trump, he was careful to point out that Bin Laden had been a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Saudi singer Mohammed Abdu - known as Saudi's 'Paul McCartney - performs in Riyadh in March 2017 with Mohammed bin Salman, King Salman and Mohammed bin Nayef projected in the background (AFP) There is, however, one small difference. The Arab people from the Atlantic to the Gulf have changed. They have shed blood, lost homes, families, jobs, and their liberty. Thousands are in jail. Thousands more have drowned in the Mediterranean. Millions have been displaced. They are no longer awe struck by their absolute rulers with their absolute privilege and absolute wealth. And they are prepared to fight for basic human rights.  The House of Saud with all its court intrigues, with Abdullah merging into Salman and then Mohammed, has not changed. Access to power depends on the family tree. It makes a difference whether you are a brother or half-brother. Ministerial portfolios are still handed down from father to son like goods and chattel. Professionals are still replaced with placemen. The family puts enormous power in the hands of one man. It makes gigantic mistakes in Yemen and Syria. And it is still, with its unimaginable wealth, a house of cards.  - David Hearst is editor-in-chief of Middle East Eye. He was chief foreign leader writer of The Guardian, former Associate Foreign Editor, European Editor, Moscow Bureau Chief, European Correspondent, and Ireland Correspondent. He joined The Guardian from The Scotsman, where he was education correspondent. The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye. Photo: Saudi Deputy Crown Prince, Defence Minister and Chairman of the Council for Economic and Development Affairs Mohammed bin Salman (R) addresses the first meeting of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Economic and Development Affairs Authority in Riyadh on 10 November 2016 (AFP)

Friday, April 28, 2017

Byron Shire Council rejects Westpac on Adani mine

April 23 2017 Save Print License article Byron Shire Council rejects Westpac on Adani mine Carolyn Cummins Byron Shire Council has upped the pressure on Westpac over any potential funding of the Adani mine by voting to withdraw the $1 million it has with the bank. Furthermore, the council, at last Thursday's meeting, said it will exclude Westpac from getting any of the $70 million-plus term deposits held by the council, that mature this year. "We will also divest $1 million currently invested with Westpac at the earliest opportunity that will not lead to financial harm for rate payers," the motion said. Bob Brown returned to Parliament House in Canberra with Geoff Cousins and environmental groups to protest against the Adani coal mine. Photo: Andrew Meares In response, the head of media communications at Westpac, David Lording, said the bank has "not been approached for funding by Adani". "But if we are approached we would look at it in the same way we look at all such funding proposals, in regard to any economic, governance and social impact," Mr Lording said. Protesting against the Adani coal mine at Westpac's 200th birthday party. Photo: Stop Adani Facebook Group "Westpac is also currently undertaking a review of our climate change action plan." On April 10, Westpac's 200th birthday party was targeted by climate change and anti-coal protesters seeking to pressure the bank into guaranteeing it will not fund the proposed Adani coal mine in Queensland. Despite Westpac having no plans to fund the project, organisers from Stop Adani Sydney gathered protesters outside the driveway to Carriageworks, Eveleigh, to chant "Stop Adani" at cars dropping off guests to the invite-only event.  Those opposed to the mine say money is one of the final hurdles Adani needs to clear before it can start building Australia's largest thermal coal mine in the Galilee Basin in central Queensland. The $16.5 billion mine already has state government and environmental approval. The coal will be sent via Abbot Point to India to be burned for electricity. Byron councillor Michael Lyon said it is time to "get serious" on climate change. He said the motion was passed to put pressure on Westpac to make a statement about any funding of Adani. The other three main trading banks have said they are not funding the mine. "Investment in renewables is the only sensible path forward and Adani's mine proposal is a step backwards. Any financial institution stuck in the past needs to understand that they will face a mass exodus of customers until they do what is required for a sustainable future," Mr Lyon said. He said Byron has an alliance with six other councils who are also opposed to the mine. "We passed this motion in support of Darebin Council, who advanced a similar initiative earlier this month, and other councils that have taken a similarly strong stance," Mr Lyon said. Byron Shire mayor Simon Richardson added "the Adani mine will be a stranded asset before it is built and be a legacy to economic stupidity and inflexible ideology". "Hopefully Westpac will join the community of Byron Shire and embrace the opportunities for a renewable and fossil free future," Mayor Richardson said at the meeting. =============== Westpac's anti-coal stance exposes a Coalition out of sync with business and public on climate Mark Kenny Follow on Twitter 34 reading now Obviously Westpac's public 'un-friending' of new coal - for which you can read Adani's Carmichael coal mine in the Galiliee Basin - is a body blow for a project whose backers are thinning by the day. Westpac is the last of the big four Australian banks to bin Adani's publicly toxic prospectus. Government 'should get smashed': Jones The government using taxpayers' dollars to support the Adani coal mine is the kind of policy that will see it "smashed in an election", says 2GB's Alan Jones. All are unmoved by the lure of ongoing coal profits, especially if it comes with ties to a venture that has become a byword for climate change denial.  Adani will continue to seek other financiers - including extraordinarily, the Australian taxpayer from whom it is telling Indian backers, it remains eligible for a $1 billion loan. This is despite the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund rules, which appear to render it ineligible. t Westpac branded as 'wimps' over coal pledge With or without that welfare, the business case for new coal generally and the Adani mine in particular, looks to be ebbing. Fast.  Westpac's decision is an environmental declaration of intent. But it is a coldly commercial one also that recognises what the Australian government defiantly rejects: coal's day has passed. Resources and Northern Australia Minister Matt Canavan hit out strongly at the bank, suggesting it had succumbed to the inner-city politics of Sydney rather than the employment needs of the sunshine state. Remarkably, Canavan - cabinet minister - even advocated a boycott, counselling potential customers to back a bank that backs Queensland's interests. Doubtless there would be many Queenslanders upset by the Adani venture, not least the thousands already employed around the Great Barrier Reef. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull meets with India's Adani Group founder and chairman Gautam Adani in New Delhi earlier this month. Photo: Mick Tsikas Besides, Westpac is hardly going out on a limb. Try going to the AGL website. One of the nation's biggest energy companies has announced a new campaign to end its association with coal entirely: "The reasons for getting out of coal are all around us" its homepage proclaims. Privately, Malcolm Turnbull must surely be hoping the Adani thing just goes away.  Resources Minister Matthew Canavan has suggested Queenslanders avoid banking with Westpac after the bank ruled out lending to Adani. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen The PM may be a progressive rationalist at heart but in his head there are other realities to balance. Party room realities like Tony Abbott, Peter Dutton, and the Nationals, whose head-in-the-sand record on climate change has left farmers so exposed that even the National Farmers Federation now proposes a carbon price. Paul Keating once described Turnbull as a cherry on a compost heap. The trouble with compost heaps is they tend to be stationary. This issue is anything but, and if you want proof, just follow the money. ============ Westpac rules out funding projects in the Galilee Basin coalfields TONY RAGGATT, Townsville Bulletin April 28, 2017 7:41pm CUSTOMERS have been urged to boycott Westpac after the bank ruled out any finance for the massive Adani coal mine in central Queensland Northern Australia Minister and Queensland Senator Matt Canavan yesterday branded the bank “wimps’’ and unAustralian over the move which follows vigorous campaigning by environmental groups opposed to the multi-billion dollar project. “I can only conclude from this decision by Westpac that they are seeking to revert to their original name as the Bank of New South Wales because they are turning their back on Queensland,’’ he said. “May I suggest those Queenslanders who are seeking a home loan or a long-term bank deposit or some such in the next few months might want to back a bank that is backing the interests of Queenslanders.” Westpac has announced a revised climate change action plan, which includes a ban on financing thermal coal projects in undeveloped coal ­basins such as the Galilee. Green groups claimed it meant approving government loans to a Galilee rail line would be “near impossible” while the Queensland Resources Council said it was extraordinary a bank would be “judge, jury and executioner” on the viability of opening the Galilee coal province. Westpac said financing for new thermal coal projects would be limited to existing coal producing basins and where the calorific value of coal ranked in the top 15 per cent globally. Adani’s Carmichael mine, 160km northeast of Clermont, is among half a dozen new coal projects in the untapped Galilee province. In a statement, Adani Australia said it remained fervently committed to developing Australia’s next generation high quality thermal coal resource in the Galilee Basin. “The Carmichael mine will produce thermal coal that easily meets the emissions standards announced by Westpac Bank,” it said. QRC chief executive Ian Macfarlane said Westpac’s statement was ridiculous when it came to such an integral part of the economy. “I think it’s extraordinary that a bank like Westpac who, along with the other three majors, recently pleaded with the Federal Government not to have a royal commission into their operations, would now be judge, jury and executioner on whether something is economically viable and sustainable in a new basin such as the Galilee,” Mr Macfarlane said. Environmental Justice Australia’s David Barnden said Westpac’s move would likely make it impossible for the Government’s Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility to provide a $900 million loan for the project’s rail line. ============== The first mega-mine of the largest coal-mining complex in the world is close to being ‘developed’ in Central Queensland, Australia. These huge coal mining projects are planned in a region known as the Galilee Basin. Only the tar sands in Canada and oil drilling in the Arctic compare in the scale of ecological disaster. Local and international companies are waiting to get their greedy hands dirty in the Galilee. Against the wishes of the Traditional Owners, they threaten irreparable harm to the Great Barrier Reef, the Great Artesian Basin and endangered woodlands. They know projects of such magnitude threaten runaway climate change. But, they continue anyway for profit. They are eco-terrorists, threatening ecocide. map 1FIRST PROJECT: Carmichael Mine Carmichael Mine is the biggest proposed coal mine in the Galilee Basin. At forty kilometres long, it would include six open cut pits and five underground mines. Measuring a whopping 28,000 hectares, the mine would be seven times the area of Sydney Harbour. Read more on the astronomical impacts of this mine alone here. Please click on map for a larger image. FIRST TARGETS: Adani and their friends Against the wishes of the Traditional Owners, conservative and ‘progressive’ governments in Australia have controversially approved Adani’s Carmichael Mine. It is also the mining project closest to financial closure. All those involved in this coal mine are priority targets of the Galilee Blockade campaign. Together we will win!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Construction for US base relocation in Okinawa continues amid protests (VIDEOS)

Published time: 25 Apr, 2017 17:12 Get short URL A crane barge works in the Henoko coastal area in Nago, Okinawa © AFP Construction for a new US military base on the Japanese island of Okinawa has taken another step forward, despite ongoing protests against the heavy American military presence and crimes committed by servicemen. Cranes could be seen lifting nets containing crushed rock and dropping them along the shore north of nearby Camp Schwab on Tuesday, according to videos posted by Japanese media. The rocks will likely serve as the foundation of a seawall built along the outer perimeter of the planned runway site, according to The Asahi Shimbun.  The move represents a step forward in the controversial relocation of the US Marine Corps Futenma Air Station from Ginowan to the less-populated area of Henoko, in Nago. Full-fledged landfill work inside the sea walls is set to take place in the first half of next year. It comes despite protests against the relocation from Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga and disgruntled residents, all of whom want Okinawa freed of the base and the heavy US military presence on the island. Katsuhiro Yoshida, a senior Okinawa prefectural official tasked with dealing with issues concerning US bases in the prefecture, said the move “ignored the local will” and is “authoritarian,” adding that local citizens simply cannot accept it. Read more Japan's Okinawa governor hits out at US bases during Washington visit Onaga is considering blocking the construction through legal action, claiming the central government is required to obtain his permission for the construction work, and that the last such permit expired at the end of March. The governor has also threatened to retract approval for the landfill work, according to Kyodo news agency. Onaga’s previous efforts against the base relocation were thwarted, with Japan’s Supreme Court ruling in December that it is illegal for the governor to revoke the approval for land reclamation, which was granted by his predecessor,

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Sun will be right at top of HOLY Kaaba in Makkah on 27th/28th May 2017.

The Sun will be right at top of HOLY Kaaba in Makkah on 27th/28th May 2017. That means we can have the opportunity it to mark direction of Qibla, but there won't be sun [post sunrise day time] in our city. In Adelaide it will be 1st/2nd Ramadaan, 1439 A.H, :18:48 P.M so although there won't be sun rising, but as Astronomical Twilight will be ending [Appx. Isha Adhaan/Prayer] starts at 18:43 P.M on that day so those who are living on top of mountains or beach side properties with a view to WEST [283 Degree WNW], might be able to see Sun's last beams on the horizon[ if sky is clear], it may still give us some rough idea of Qibla. There are many other cities where sun will be rising so one can accurately mark direction of Qibla. In a city of millions, Karachi, it will be around 14:18 p.m, much higher on sky at 65 degree altitude. I wish you all a HAPPY RAMADAAN and I want to send a message of Ramazan's blessings, peace and tranquility with the start of Ramazan. Enquiries for other cities: +61431138537 https://www.facebook.com/RealEstateSA5000/posts/1274006795981230:0

Saturday, April 22, 2017

More than 150 feared dead in Taliban attack on Afghan forces base – US military

Published time: 21 Apr, 2017 16:48 Edited time: 21 Apr, 2017 17:27 Dozens have been killed in an ongoing attack on an Afghan military base, a US military official said, adding that the death toll may be over 150, Reuters reports. "We're talking probably more than 50 casualties," said Colonel John Thomas, a spokesman for the U.S. military's Central Command, as quoted by Reuters. "There is a mosque and a dining facility on the base that seemed to, at this point from our reports, be the subject of significant attack from enemy forces." Militants wearing army uniforms stormed a military compound in Afghanistan’s northern Balkh province during Friday prayers, Daulat Waziri, a spokesman for the Afghanistan Ministry of Defense, said, as reported by AP. The militants entered the building with a military vehicle and began shooting at the soldiers as they prayed in the compound’s mosque, he added. The US Central Command (CENTCOM) has condemned the attack in a statement. The spokesman also said that five assailants were killed on the spot, including one wearing a suicide vest, while one of the attackers was captured alive. The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement. General Mohmand Katawazi, the commander of the Afghan Army’s 209 Corps, said that the military managed to “eliminate” all attackers, adding that the operation is over. Shaheen camp - the area attacked - was manned by soldiers of the 209 Corps. The death toll has reportedly risen to 66, the Afghan Pajhwok news agency said, citing its sources, and adding that 73 soldiers have been injured.  US-led forces entered Afghanistan to remove Taliban control more than 15 years ago, following the attacks of September 11, 2001. The US has more than 8,000 soldiers in the country, training local forces and conducting counterterrorism operations. Some 6,400 NATO soldiers remain in Afghanistan, following the large-scale NATO troop reduction there in 2014. US Army General John Nicholson recently described the situation in Afghanistan as a “stalemate” as he spoke to the US Senate Armed Services Committee. Lately, the US has concentrated on fighting Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorists in eastern Afghanistan, while also supporting Afghan National Security Forces against the Taliban. Last week, the US dropped an 11-ton “mother of all bombs” in the eastern Nangarhar province of Afghanistan, killing 94 IS terrorists, according to the latest estimates. A figure of 36 was earlier reported. Taliban fighters overran the Sangin district of Helmand province in late March. They also killed and injured at least 15 people in coordinated attacks on a police station and an intelligence service office in Kabul earlier the same month.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Child killed in Berwick medical centre carpark crash

Andrea Hamblin and Wes Hosking, Herald Sun 16 minutes ago A CHILD has died after an out-of-control 4WD smashed into multiple vehicles at a medical centre car park in Berwick. The incident occurred just before midday in the car park of the Epworth Specialist Centre, 45km southeast of Melbourne’s CBD. The driver of a light green 100 series Toyota LandCruiser had left the nearby hospital and was driving west down Kangan Drive when he lost control. The Toyota 4WD that smashed into a carpark and killed a child. Picture: Steve Tanner The out-of-control 4WD also damaged a number of parked cars before it ended up on its side. Picture: Steve Tanner A aerial view of the crash aftermath in Berwick. Picture: Channel 7 News Cameron and Sarah Smith witnessed the incident and were overcome with emotion at news of the child’s death. Picture: Steve Tanner The car travelled over the median strip and ploughed into cars, then travelled through a garden and a further 50m before hitting the boy near the front of the medical clinic and landing on its side. Two adults were injured, with a man believed to be in his 50s taken to Dandenong Hospital in a stable condition. Major Collision Investigation Unit detectives are investigating the incident. Sarah Smith breaks down at the scene of the tragic crash. Picture: Steve Tanner Cameron Smith rendered assistance at the scene. “It is believed that just before noon a light green 100 series Toyota LandCruiser was driving on Kangan Drive,” Sgt Cameron Scott said. “The four wheel drive has driven through a car park and struck and killed a 4-year-old boy. “Two adults were also hit and their injuries are not believed to be life threatening. “The adults aren’t connected with the boy. “The driver of the car stopped at the scene and is speaking with police. Kangan Drive has been closed between Clyde Rd and Casey Hospital after the horror crash. Picture: Steve Tanner The 4WD on its side. Picture: Channel 9 “The cause of the collision is still being investigated.” A woman aged in her 60s was taken to Casey Hospital with minor injuries. Aerial photographs taken by a Seven News helicopter show a number of cars appearing to have been pushed across car park spaces on the property in Kangan Drive. Paramedics and firefighters are at the scene. Kangan Drive remains closed between Clyde Rd and Casey Hospital, which can be accessed via Soldiers Rd instead. Anyone with information is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

Across Los Angeles, toxic lead harms children in neighborhoods rich and poor

Lead's Hidden Toll RED FLAG: In San Marino, California, a homeowner uses a home lead test – turning red when it detects the presence of the metal on the porch door of her 1920s Spanish-style house. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok Part 1: Lead poisoning afflicts hundreds of areas across Los Angeles County, from affluent hubs to low income or gentrifying areas, Reuters finds. The results surprised some local leaders, showing how lead hazards persist even in a health-conscious region. By JOSHUA SCHNEYER Filed April 20, 2017, noon GMT LOS ANGELES – With its century-old Spanish-style homes tucked behind immaculately trimmed hedges, San Marino, California, is among the most coveted spots to live in the Los Angeles area. Its public schools rank top in the state, attracting families affiliated with CalTech, the elite university blocks away. The city’s zoning rules promote a healthy lifestyle, barring fast food chains. Home values in L.A. County census tract 4641, in the heart of San Marino and 20 minutes from downtown Los Angeles, can rival those in Beverly Hills. The current average listing price: $2.9 million. But the area has another, unsettling distinction, unknown to residents and city leaders until now: More than 17 percent of small children tested here have shown elevated levels of lead in their blood, according to previously undisclosed L.A. County health data. That far exceeds the 5 percent rate of children who tested high for lead in Flint, Michigan, during the peak of that city’s water contamination crisis. The local blood test data, obtained through a records request from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, shows two neighboring San Marino census tracts are among the hotspots for childhood lead exposure in the L.A. area. Related content Interactive: Looking for lead How Reuters analyzed L.A. blood testing data Unsafe at Any Level: Read the series Backstory: Read how Reuters gathered the data on lead levels in Californian neighborhoods San Marino is hardly alone. Across sprawling L.A. County, more than 15,000 children under age 6 tested high for lead between 2011 and 2015. In all, Reuters identified 323 neighborhood areas where the rate of elevated tests was at least as high as in Flint. In 26 of them – including the two in San Marino, and some in economically stressed areas – the rate was at least twice Flint’s. The data stunned San Marino Mayor Richard Sun, who said he wasn’t aware of any poisoning cases in the community. “This is a very serious matter, and as the mayor, I really want to further explore it,” Sun said upon reviewing the numbers presented by Reuters. During an interview at City Hall, he directed city officials to investigate potential sources of exposure. THOUSANDS OF U.S. LEAD HOTSPOTS The L.A.-area findings are part of an ongoing Reuters examination of hidden lead hazards nationwide. Since last year, the news agency has identified more than 3,300 U.S. neighborhood areas with documented childhood lead poisoning rates double those found in Flint. Studies based on previously available data, surveying broad child populations across entire states or counties, usually couldn’t pinpoint these communities. Despite decades of U.S. progress in curbing lead poisoning, millions of children remain at risk. Flint’s disaster is just one example of a preventable public health crisis that continues in hotspots coast to coast, Reuters has found. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s threshold for elevated lead is 5 micrograms per deciliter of blood. Children who test at or above that threshold warrant a public health response, the agency says. Even a slight elevation can reduce IQ and stunt childhood development. There’s no safe level of lead in children’s bodies. HOPE STREET EXPOSURE: A child was poisoned by lead in this home in South Pasadena, California, in 2012, affecting his development and requiring therapy. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok “This is a very serious matter.” San Marino Mayor Richard Sun, after reviewing data showing high lead exposure rates in the affluent area In San Marino, old lead-based paint is likely the main source of exposure, county health officials said, but they added that imported food, medicine or pottery from China could also be a factor. About 80 percent of San Marino homes were built before 1960, and the community has a large Asian population, U.S. Census data show. Exposure from old paint, drinking water and soil are widely researched. Other risks – including some candies, ceramics, spices or remedies containing lead from China, Mexico, India and other countries – are less known. The L.A. blood data covers nearly 1,550 census tracts, or county subdivisions, each with an average population around 4,000. It shows the number of small children tested in each tract, and how many tested high. In California, the exposure risks children face can vary wildly by neighborhood. Many L.A. areas have little or no documented lead poisoning. Countywide, 2 percent of children tested high. But in hundreds of areas, the rate is far higher. Reuters crunched the data, and neighborhood-level results can be explored on an interactive map. (See Map, Below) In the trouble areas, old housing is commonplace. Nearly half of L.A. County’s homes were built before 1960. Lead was banned from household paint in 1978, but old paint can peel, chip, or pulverize into toxic dust. Children are often exposed in decrepit housing. But in some U.S. areas, nearly a third of lead poisoning cases can be linked to home renovation projects, said Mary Jean Brown, a public health specialist at Harvard University and former director of the CDC’s lead prevention program. San Marino residents take pride in preserving their historic homes. Among the measures Mayor Sun wants to consider: An ordinance to ensure safe practices any time home repairs or renovations could disturb lead paint. Poverty is another predictor of lead poisoning, and many of L.A.’s danger zones are concentrated in low-income or gentrifying areas near downtown and on the city’s densely populated South Side. In one low-income area of South L.A., Reuters met with the family of Kendra Nicole Rojas, a three-year-old recently diagnosed with lead poisoning, only to find that 63 other small children living within a six block radius have also tested high. “A lot of people don’t even think of the West Coast as a place where kids get poisoned,” said Linda Kite, executive director at L.A.-based Healthy Homes Collaborative. “The biggest problem we have is medical apathy. Many doctors don’t test children for lead.” The findings highlight a need for greater medical surveillance, abatement and awareness in the health-conscious county of 10 million, public health specialists said. The county and city of Los Angeles have dedicated lead prevention programs that work with at-risk families. When a child’s blood levels persist above 10 micrograms per deciliter – double the CDC threshold – the family receives a home inspection, nurse visits and follow-up. The effects of lead poisoning are irreversible, and the programs’ broader goal is to prevent any exposure. But success hinges on many actors, and assistance from agencies such as the CDC, the department of Housing and Urban Development and the Environmental Protection Agency. Like other regions, L.A. faces a looming hurdle in attacking hazards: President Donald Trump’s federal budget proposals would sharply cut funds for many lead-related programs. “We’re aware of lots of areas where homes or soil contain significant levels of lead, and those can represent an urgent need to act,” said Maurice Pantoja, chief environmental health specialist for the county program. “Any fewer resources toward poisoning prevention would be a tragedy.” A POISONED HOME Just a few miles west of San Marino, in South Pasadena, one boy’s poisoning serves as a cautionary tale. HAZARDOUS LEGACY: Floors and window areas from the interior of a home in South Pasadena, CA, in 2012, where an infant named Connor was poisoned by lead paint and dust. REUTERS/Handout via Philip Shakhnis In an old, pastel-colored home on Hope Street, an infant named Connor was exposed to lead paint and dust in 2012. The property is owned by California’s Department of Transportation, Caltrans, which had plans to expand a freeway in the area. Its floors were coated in chipping lead paint. During a bathroom repair, a crew showed up in “hazmat suits,” said tenant Cynthia Wright, Connor’s grandmother. But as the crew worked, stripping toxic paint from walls and fixtures and unleashing plumes of dust, they told the family there was no need to leave the home, Wright said. That was an unfortunate lapse, the state agency acknowledged. “There were errors in handling communications regarding this property and Caltrans has revised its business practices,” spokeswoman Lauren Wonder said, leading to “greater vigilance.” Connor continued crawling around the floors. At age one, he began missing developmental milestones. Suddenly, he lost the ability to use the few words he could say. When his mother, Heather Nolan, had him tested for lead, the result was almost five-fold the CDC threshold. Lead levels often peak among children ages one to two, when they are increasingly mobile and have hand-to-mouth behaviors. Now six, Connor needs speech and occupational therapy up to five times a week. He hasn’t been able to integrate in a mainstream classroom. “It’s not an easy road,” his grandmother said. “I would tell anyone in an old home, you really need to be aware of the risks.” In 2015, the family settled a landmark lawsuit against Caltrans for $10 million. Wright still lives in the home, which has been remediated. POOR PROSPECTS Amid an affordable housing crisis in Los Angeles, many renters don’t confront landlords to fix lead paint hazards, fearing eviction if they raise the alarm, said Kite, the healthy homes advocate. That helps explain why so many children in south and central L.A. test high. Karla Rojas, 26, was living with her extended family on 30th Street in a low-income area of South L.A. last year when her toddler, Kendra, started getting chronic bouts of illness. TOXIC WORRIES: Karla Rojas, 26, discusses her concern after her daughter Kendra Nicole Rojas, 3, was exposed to lead in South L.A. Rojas moved to a new home. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok “When you read about what lead can do, it makes me fear for her future.” Karla Rojas, whose daughter tested high for lead Mother and daughter slept on the floor, near a bookshelf where an inspector later found flaking lead paint. Tested at the local St. John’s Well Child & Family Center, Kendra’s result came back at several times the CDC threshold. Once county officials got involved, the landlord repainted the shelf and other areas where lead was found. Still, terrified her daughter’s exposure would continue, Rojas moved out. “When you read about what lead can do, it makes me fear for her future,” said Rojas, watching three-year-old Kendra play with two new pet rabbits. Exposure is common in the area, said Jeff Sanchez, a consultant at public health research firm Impact Assessment, which works with L.A.’s prevention program. Around the neighborhood, code inspectors have cited at least 35 percent of residential properties for chipping or peeling paint violations over a four-year period. Paint isn’t the only peril. A mile and a half east, in Vernon, the now shuttered Exide Technologies battery-recycling plant spewed noxious emissions for decades, polluting soil in thousands of properties with lead residue. A planned $175 million cleanup will rely in part on children’s blood tests to determine which properties should be sanitized first. Past testing has shown that children living close to the plant are at heightened risk. Yet California, like Michigan, doesn’t require lead screening for all children, leaving many untested. Prompted in part by Reuters’ previous coverage, California cities and lawmakers are pushing new initiatives to protect children. EXPOSURE SOURCE: A building from the now closed Exide factory, a former battery recycling facility in Vernon that contaminated the area with lead in its soil. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok Bill Quirk, chair of the state legislature’s Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials, recently introduced a bill to require screening for all small children. “I strongly support blood lead testing,” said U.S. Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard, who represents part of L.A. County. “It’s important that residents have information about the threats they may face in their communities.” ‘DON’T WORRY, HE’S NOT AT RISK’ California’s current policy is to test children with known risk factors, including those enrolled in government assistance programs for the poor like Medicaid. The protocol, applied unevenly by healthcare providers, can miss poisoned kids. In 2013, when apparel designer Amanda Gries and her husband, a Hollywood film editor, rented a home in L.A.’s West Adams neighborhood, she was pregnant with son Wyatt, now 3. The century-old mansion was in a rapidly gentrifying area south of downtown, near landmarks such as the Staples Center and the University of Southern California. Gries, concerned about peeling paint and dust in the home, urged a pediatrician to screen Wyatt before his first birthday. “The doctor didn’t want to test,” Gries said. “The message was, ‘Don’t worry, he’s not at risk.’ It was like he didn’t fit the profile.” Gries insisted, and her fears were confirmed when Wyatt tested at nearly double the CDC’s elevated threshold. An inspection found lead in dust on the floor of Wyatt’s bedroom at 30 times the federal hazard level. The family moved out quickly and searched citywide before settling into a home on L.A.’s west side, chosen because no lead was detected inside. Wyatt is bright and energetic, Gries said, but has impulsive behaviors. He needs occupational therapy for sensory issues, at nearly $200 per session. Keeping Wyatt away from lead hazards and feeding him a special diet are part of the Gries’ daily routine. Poor nutrition can worsen lead poisoning, allowing children’s bodies to absorb more of the heavy metal. “All we can do is hope he’s okay,” said Gries. Additional reporting by M.B. Pell PRESSED FOR ANSWERS: When a doctor told Amanda Gries her son Wyatt didn’t need to be tested for lead, she insisted. The results showed a dangerous level of exposure, prompting the family to move to a new home. Here, Gries holds son Eli while Wyatt plays at a table in their L.A. home. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok ALARMING NUMBERS: Amanda Gries points to high lead level test results from her son Wyatt's bedroom in the family’s previous home in Los Angeles. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok How Reuters analyzed L.A. blood testing data By JOSHUA SCHNEYER The Los Angeles data examined by Reuters offers a granular look at where children have been exposed to dangerous levels of lead in the United States’ most populous county. The data tracks blood lead level testing results for children from birth to six years old from 2011-2015, aggregated by census tract. L.A. County shared results for each census tract with at least 100 unique children tested over this period. Most neighborhoods throughout the county are included. The results show children tested, and those with one or more elevated tests. The data reflects the census tract where children were living when they were screened. An elevated result is equal to or greater than the CDC’s reference value of 5 micrograms per deciliter. Any result above 4.5 is rounded up to 5 and considered elevated, in keeping with a standard convention for reporting of lead test results. The CDC used the same convention when it found that 5 percent of children tested in Flint had elevated lead levels during the peak of the city’s water contamination crisis. The CDC lowered its elevated threshold most recently in 2012, in part to reflect the medical consensus that even low levels of lead exposure cause permanent harm to children. reuters investigates More Reuters investigations and long-form narratives The agency is considering lowering it again , a move that could lead to more children testing high and expand efforts to remove lead from the environment. The L.A. County results include both capillary (finger-prick) and venous blood tests. Both have margins of error, although venous tests are considered more accurate and “confirmatory.” The data has limits. Many children don’t get tested, and results from some cities are excluded. Data from Vernon, Long Beach and Pasadena – each with independent health departments – wasn’t available from the county. California requires testing for children enrolled in Medicaid at ages one and two, and advises physicians to test some other children, including those living in older housing. A similar “targeted testing” policy is used in most states, including Michigan, although some states require testing for all children. Elevated blood lead levels are likely more common among children who get screened for the toxin, California officials say. However, Reuters found that even children with risk factors often aren’t tested, including those living in old housing. And Medicaid paid for screening covering only about one in three enrollees for whom tests were indicated in the state, 2015 billing data showed. California’s Department of Public Health says comparisons with other areas aren’t warranted. Sources of lead exposure, and tracking of blood tests, can differ between areas. “Testing results need to be considered in the context of the unique population being tested,” the department said in a statement. The L.A. data builds upon previous Reuters reporting in California. A report last month documented areas, including parts of Fresno, Oakland and Los Angeles, with worrisome childhood exposure rates. That report was based on testing data from about a fourth of zip codes statewide in 2012, shared earlier by the state’s Department of Public Health. Today’s article is based on a far more comprehensive trove of data for L.A. County, recently obtained by Reuters. Lead’s Hidden Toll By Joshua Schneyer Data: Joshua Schneyer and M.B. Pell Graphics: Christine Chan and Charles Szymanski Photo Editing: Steve McKinley Design: Troy Dunkley Edited by Ronnie Greene