Sunday, June 22, 2014

Fingers crossed! Six-fingered family hopes luck will bring Brazil 6th World Cup


Brazil’s Da Silva family of 14 are keeping all their fingers crossed for the victory of their national team at the World Cup. And they definitely have luck on their side, as they can cross 168 fingers. All 14 members of the Da Silva family, who live in the town of Aguas Claras, near the country’s capital, Brasilia, were born with six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot. This rare genetic condition is called polydactyly. The family’s
four generations are all proud of their unusual number of digits and believe that their sixth fingers will help Brazil win the sixth World Cup in their history.
Ana Carolina Santos da Silva says Da the Silvas will give lots of energy to Brazil to win the Cup. “I believe this energy will flow onto the pitch and they will play really well and win their sixth World Cup,” Ana Carolina said. Meanwhile, the extra digit doesn’t hinder the activities or hobbies of the Da Silva family, though female members of the family have removed their sixth toes as they wanted to fit into their shoes. The men of the family have kept all six toes, however. Joao de Assis, a member of the da Silva family with six relatives who all have six fingers on their hands, poses for a photo with a soccer ball at their home in Brasilia, June 20, 2014 (Reuters / Joedson Alves)Joao de Assis, a member of the da Silva family with six relatives who all have six fingers on their hands, poses for a photo with a soccer ball at their home in Brasilia, June 20, 2014 (Reuters / Joedson Alves) Joao de Assis da Silva, 14, uses his extra fingers to play the guitar and his eight-year-old cousin, Maria Morena da Silva believes that it might be easier playing the piano with six fingers, too. "Having six fingers has helped me a lot playing football. I can hold the ball more easily, my hands are bigger than other people's – so it's easier to reach up to get balls that go over my head," says Joao. "Everyone in Brazil loves football and wants to be a footballer as well when they grow up." The Da Silvas are impatiently waiting Brazil’s final Group A game on June 23, against Cameroon. They say they are keeping all of their 168 fingers crossed for a home win.

Duckling-loving motorist faces life in jail over 2 road deaths


A Canadian woman was found guilty of criminal negligence over two road deaths caused by her stopping her car at a highway to help ducklings. The charge carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
The jury on Friday delivered guilty verdicts on all four charges faced by Emma Czornobaj, 25. Sentencing is expected in early August. Czornobaj was prosecuted over a June 2010 incident in which two people died. Stopping her car on a highway in Candiac, Quebec, Czornobaj, a professed animal lover, saw some ducklings on the roadside without their mother and thought she should pick them up and bring them home, she told the court. Moments later André Roy, 50, riding a motorcycle, slammed into her car. Both he and his daughter Jessie, 16, who was riding pillion, died in the collision. “I saw a body go over the car. It looked like a rag doll,” witness Martine Tessier testified, as cited by the National Post newspaper. “I shouted to my daughter to call 911.” She said Czornobaj’s car was stopped at the leftmost lane of the highway and that its hazard lights were not on. A provincial police officer told the court that Roy was driving at an estimated speed of 113 km/h to 129 km/h when he applied his brakes. The prescribed speed limit on the road is 90 km/h. Emma Czornobaj's car (Image from suretequebec.gouv.qc.ca)Emma Czornobaj's car (Image from suretequebec.gouv.qc.ca) Roy’s widow, Pauline Volikakis, was at the trial to hear the verdict. On the night of the incident she was also riding her own motorbike on the road, behind her husband, but at a slower speed. She managed to avoid injury. During the trial, Volikakis stressed that she was not the one pressing charges against Czornobaj. “It’s not me that’s bringing her to court,” she said. “I have no expectations concerning this trial.” Czornobaj wiped away tears as the verdict was delivered to a packed courtroom in Montreal. Quebec Superior Court Justice Eliane Perreault said the 12-member jury voted unanimously. She was willing in April to plead guilty in the trial, her lawyer Marc Labelle said, but the prosecution refused to offer her a plea bargain that would enable her to avoid jail time. Labelle may file an appeal, considering that usually criminal negligence convictions involve elements of criminal intent on the part of the convict, he told reporters after the verdict was delivered.
“This was not a race. This was not a person who took a chance and drove drunk. This is not about someone who was speeding and took a risky maneuver,” Labelle told reporters. He added that his client might only merit a sentence that can be served in the community and that he may request a pre-sentence investigation report when the case comes back to court on August 8 for sentencing. It would give the judge more information on Czornobaj, including her lack of criminal record and her attitude to the road deaths she was involved in. Prosecutor Annie-Claude Chasse said the trial sent a clear message for motorists. "What we hope is that a clear message is sent to society that we do not stop on the highway for animals. It's not worth it."

Nazi-themed café in Indonesia reopens a year after intl outrage forced its closure


A controversial Nazi-theme café in Indonesia – replete with swastikas, a portrait of Adolf Hitler, people dressed in Nazi uniforms and a mock interrogation room – has reopened less than a year after international outrage led to its closure. ‘No Fan of Hitler’: Nazi-themed café in Indonesia causes worldwide outrage SoldatenKaffee (The Soldiers’ Café), named after a popular WWII hangout for German soldiers in Paris, opened in 2011. It is located in the city of Bandung, the capital of West Java province and the third-largest city in Indonesia. The café was shut down in July 2013 by its owner, Henry Mulyana, after media outlets, including the local Jakarta Globe, published articles on the café that sparked a global backlash. Mulyana promised to reopen his notorious café soon with a broader World War II theme and to remove all the swastikas, his lawyer told AFP following the closure. Soldatenkaffe "The Soldiers' Cafe" in Bandung, Indonesia (AFP Photo / Adek Berry)Soldatenkaffe "The Soldiers' Cafe" in Bandung, Indonesia (AFP Photo / Adek Berry) However, on Saturday, at the SoldatenKaffee reopening, all the Nazi symbols remained: the swastikas and propaganda posters with the Nazi symbols could be clearly seen in the café. Mulyana did “broaden” the café’s theme, as the décor now includes some British, French, the US, Japanese and Dutch military items. He also posted the images of prominent leaders in WWII, such as British PM Winston Churchill and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Hitler’s portrait now hangs on the walls alongside theirs. Soldatenkaffe "The Soldiers' Cafe" in Bandung, Indonesia (AFP Photo / Adek Berry)Soldatenkaffe "The Soldiers' Cafe" in Bandung, Indonesia (AFP Photo / Adek Berry) "From the beginning I have said that the SoldatenKaffee is not a Nazi cafe. This cafe's theme is World War II," Mulyana told AFP. The spot was visited by several young people who were dressed in Nazi uniforms. One man was wearing a swastika on his arm, while others posed for photos in a mock interrogation room as prisoners. Mulyana insisted, however, that "all aspects of the SoldatenKaffee are legal.” Soldatenkaffe "The Soldiers' Cafe" in Bandung, Indonesia (AFP Photo / Adek Berry)Soldatenkaffe "The Soldiers' Cafe" in Bandung, Indonesia (AFP Photo / Adek Berry) He added: “We have a lot of customers from Europe and they don't have a problem with the World War II theme, because it is seen here from a historical perspective." Indonesians are largely unaware of Nazism and not many Jews live in the country. Holocaust challenging school assignment ‘horribly inappropriate’ – school board
Promoting Nazi ideology, including symbols associated with Nazism, and denial of the Jewish Holocaust, are criminalized in many countries.

Aussie govt. under fire for offering up to $10k to asylum seekers to go home

Australian opposition and human rights groups have blasted the country’s government after it reportedly increased by several times the payoffs to asylum seekers who voluntary go home, while imposing tough restrictions on their stay.
Australia is facing an influx of people from poorer countries and has been increasingly tough over the past few years on refugees coming on unsanctioned boats. Currently the refugees are held in detention camps in Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island and the tiny Pacific state of Nauru, and are expected to be resettled in those countries if their claims are deemed valid.
The asylum seekers are offered money if they choose to go back to where they came from. But many Australians were surprised to learn how much exactly. According to a Sydney Morning Herald report on Saturday, up to A$10,000 (US$9,400).
The “return packages” offered to refugees vary, depending on where a person would be flown back to, with the biggest sum offered to Lebanese refugees. Iranians and Sudanese are offered $7,000, Afghans $4,000 and those from Pakistan, Nepal and Myanmar $3,300, the report said.
The interior of a tent at Australia's regional processing centre on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea (AFP Photo)
The interior of a tent at Australia's regional processing centre on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea (AFP Photo)

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison would not confirm the figures, saying each payoff was tailored individually.
"It has been the standard practice for more than a decade for settlement packages to be offered to those who voluntarily return home," he told reporters.
His office said 283 people had taken the money packages since shortly after the government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott won power in September.
The apparent generosity of the current conservative coalition government drew fire from the opposition Labor Party, which, according to the report, offered payments from between $1,500 and $2,000 to those willing to drop asylum requests.
"We don't need blank cheques, we need people being processed. But I would remind you that when Scott Morrison was in opposition he opposed Labor's own re-integration packages and now he is offering sums that are triple the amount," said Richard Marles, the party’s immigration spokesman, the Special Broadcasting Service reported.
"In opposition, Scott Morrison opposed the PNG arrangement, now it forms the heart of his own strategy. There is no bridge of hypocrisy that Scott Morrison will not cross," Marles said.
Reuters / Junaidi Hanafiah
Reuters / Junaidi Hanafiah

Australian Green Party leader Christine Milne made similar accusations.
“The idea that you would put people in a hell-hole like Manus Island, treat them abysmally and then try to bribe them to go back to the appalling circumstances they left shows just how morally bankrupt this government is,” she said.
The Greens have called on the Australian Senate to put a moratorium on sending asylum seekers back to Iraq, which is currently facing a full-blown Islamist uprising. It was revealed on Friday that an Iraqi man on a bridging visa was forced out of Australia back to Iraq’s Basra just two days before the violence ratcheted up in the country.
The refugee issue came into spotlight in Australia after its High Court on Friday ruled as unlawful Morrison’s move to limit the number of refugee protection visas he can issue. In March, the immigration minister signed a legal instrument saying that a maximum of 2,773 protection visas could be granted in the year to June 30. The limit was reached in late March and those falling outside the quota have being held in legal limbo since.
Australia's Minister of Immigration and Border Protection Scott Morrison (Reuters / Samsul Said)

ISIS militants seize 3 new Iraqi cities in Anbar province - reports

The militants of the Al-Qaeda splinter group ISIS, also known as ISIL, have managed to capture three new towns in Iraq’s western province of Anbar on Sunday, Reuters reported, citing eyewitnesses and security sources.
"Army troops withdrew from Rawah, Anah and Rutba this morning and ISIS moved quickly to completely control these towns," an unnamed military intelligence official told Reuters.
Iraqi troops have ceded control of four towns in the last two days.
On Saturday, the town of Qaim was captured by insurgents.

Staff in Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s office are preparing to hold a press conference later Sunday to comment on the confused retreat of the country’s army.
One of the captured towns, Rutba, with a population of about 55,000, is situated in a strategic location about 150 kilometers east of the Jordanian border, with the Amman-Baghdad road and the Mosul–Haifa oil pipeline passing nearby.

Anonymous sources told AP that the army intends to fight back to recapture Rutba and threatened to start shelling. This prompted the town’s residents, among whom there could be up to 20,000 refugees from Fallujah and Ramadi, to negotiate with the invading militants to leave the city peacefully.
Two other captured cities, Rawah and Anah, stand on the banks of the Euphrates River. The militants appear likely to head for the city of Haditha, where an important dam is positioned. The Iraqi military has reportedly dispatched 2,000 additional troops to protect this dam, but whether the army will be capable of fulfilling the task remains to be seen.

The Sunni militants control vast areas not only of Iraq but of Syria as well. Control over border crossings, such as the city of Qaim, allows the insurgents to easily transport ammunition and supplies between the two countries.
In the meantime, thousands of pro-government Shiite militiamen marched through Baghdad, Kirkuk and other Iraqi cities in a show of force.

The march demonstrated that the Shiite militia is armed not only with handguns, but with heavy weaponry as well, such as multiple rocket launchers, artillery and heavy machine-guns.
The Sunni insurgents, many of whom have been fighting against the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad for the last three years, are also very well armed. In the current conditions of sectarian conflict between Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq, a civil war in the country could be particularly bloody and ruthless.

​RT office in Ramallah raided by IDF searching for missing teens

Israeli forces have raided a building in Ramallah where the offices of several media outlets, including RT’s Arabic channel, are located.
The IDF raided the Palmedia company building in the West Bank city overnight on Friday. The troops broke down the doors of several offices, destroyed some of the equipment and confiscated records, RT’s correspondent Yafa Staiti reported.

“Due to the actions of the military there is no Internet connection in the office. We’ve lost the archive of video footage and other materials. Office furniture and computers have been damaged,” she said.

The raid was part of a larger effort in the West Bank as the IDF is rounding up Palestinians in a searchfor three teenagers presumed kidnapped last week.
The search for Naftali Frankel (16), Gilad Shaer (16), and Eyal Yifrah (19), dubbed Operation Brothers’ Keeper, intensified on Sunday morning. According to IDF officials, the military has searched 1,400 different sites since last week in hopes of recovering the teens, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced had been kidnapped by Hamas.
Palestinians set fire on tires during clashes with Israeli security forces taking part in the search for three missing teenagers early on June 22, 2014 in the West Bank city of Ramallah (AFP Photo / Abbas Momani)
Palestinians set fire on tires during clashes with Israeli security forces taking part in the search for three missing teenagers early on June 22, 2014 in the West Bank city of Ramallah (AFP Photo / Abbas Momani)

The IDF says over 350 Palestinian Arabs – many of whom are active in the Islamic resistance movement Hamas – have been arrested since the operation began last Friday. The Israeli military has closed most of the Hebron region and sealed off crossings into Gaza as the search for the missing teens goes on. Also, they have banned West Bank men under 50 from traveling to Jordan through Allenby Bridge.
On Saturday night, nine more suspects were detained after Israel operations kicked off in the Ramallah district of the West Bank. Two Palestinians were shot and killed during clashes in Ramallah and Nablus overnight Sunday, while 25 more were reportedly injured.

In Nablus, 36-year-old Ahmad Said Suod Khalid was reportedly shot dead in al-Ein refugee camp while reportedly going to mosque for dawn prayer.
The suspect began to approach a base "in a threatening manner," an IDF spokesman told AFP Sunday morning. The IDF said he failed to respond to warning shots fired in the air, and they therefore fired at him.
"Initial inquiry suggests that the suspect was mentally unstable," a military statement said.
Palestinians run for cover during clashes with Israeli security forces taking part in the search for three missing teenagers early on June 22, 2014 in the West Bank city of Ramallah (AFP Photo / Abbas Momani)
Palestinians run for cover during clashes with Israeli security forces taking part in the search for three missing teenagers early on June 22, 2014 in the West Bank city of Ramallah (AFP Photo / Abbas Momani)

Eyewitnesses, however, told Ma'an news agency the soldiers had asked Khalid to go back home. Khalid reportedly refused the order and continued walking to the mosque, at which point a soldier reportedly pointed his rifle at him and shot him several times from point-blank range.
The other victim, identified as Mahmoud Ismail Atallah, was reportedly killed during the Ramallah clashes.

Hamas has vowed to “open the gates of hell” by launching a third Intifada or uprising if Netanyahu carries through with his threat to expel Hamas’s leaders from the West Bank to Gaza. The second Intifada, which raged from late September 2000 to February 2005, resulted in the deaths of an estimated 3,000 Palestinian, 1,000 Israelis, and 64 foreigners.
Meanwhile, The IDF's raid on the Palmedia building is not the first time it has targeted media professionals. Two years ago, during Operation Pillar of Defense, it conducted an air strike against a media compound in Gaza City, damaging the offices of several outlets, including RT Arabic. Israel justified the attack at the time by claiming that one of the two damaged buildings was a communications center for Hamas.

​Poroshenko warns of ‘detailed Plan B’ if Ukraine ceasefire fails


If his current proposal for a truce, which came into force on Friday, fails to bring results, Ukraine’s newly elected president Petro Poroshenko warns he has an alternative “detailed plan” of regaining control over south-eastern Ukraine.
“Peaceful scenario – it is our plan A,” Poroshenko said in a statement on his website. “But those who expect to use the peace talks only to gain time to regroup, should know that we have a detailed plan B. I am not going to talk about it now, because I believe that our peace plan will work.” The ceasefire in eastern Ukraine took effect on June 20 and will last until June 27, the day Kiev plans to sign the EU Association agreement. However, “the military will be given the right to return fire if Ukrainian army units or peaceful civilians are attacked,” Poroshenko said in his decree. Since then, the tensions have slightly eased in some areas, but the Ukrainian army is still using artillery and the air force in sporadic clashes with anti-Kiev militias. Poroshenko claims the ceasefire is designed to enable local self-defence militias to lay down their arms and flee the country, or be destroyed. He also, while drafting the plan with Kiev-appointed governors of the defiant regions, rejected any possibility of negotiations with representatives of anti-Kiev forces. While welcoming Kiev’s ceasefire efforts, the Russian president said the current peace plan on the table “should not take the form of an ultimatum to militia groups,” according to the Kremlin statement. It’s not enough to just put hostilities on pause, but vital to immediately start “constructive negotiations” to reach a viable compromise between the parties to the conflict.
“Russia notes that the proposed plan will not be viable or realistic if no practical steps are taken to commence the negotiation process,” the statement reads, shedding doubt that it would work as “the confrontation continues and shells from the Ukrainian side land and explode on the Russian territory.” READ MORE: Russian checkpoint on Ukraine border comes under fire Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said that most clauses of President Poroshenko's peace plan look more like an ultimatum to the militias in Donetsk and Lugansk regions rather than an invitation to dialogue. “The plan lacks the key thing – a proposal to start dialogue. This is a drastic departure from the Geneva statement of April 17 which is still supported by all of our Western partners, the United States, the European Union and the Ukrainian authorities or at least they say so,” Lavrov said, reports Itar-Tass. OPINION: Ukraine peace plan is ‘Poroshenko’s PR move in a form of ultimatum’ Lavrov once again highlighted that Moscow is alarmed that Kiev continues the shelling, which now impact Russian border crossings with Ukraine. “We are very much alarmed and worried by the fact that simultaneously with the announcement of the peace plan, a military operation was stepped up, which resulted in people wounded on the Russian side,” he said.

Pope Francis ‘excommunicates’ Italian mafia

​Calling the practices of Italian 'Ndrangheta crime group the “adoration of evil,” Pope Francis said the Mafiosi “are excommunicated” from God and the Catholic Church, in his address to tens of thousands of people in Calabria, southern Italy.
Pope Francis waves to the crowd from the popemobile on June 21, 2014 as he arrives in Cassano allo Ionio in the southern Italian region of Calabria for a one day visit. (AFP Photo / Vincenzo Pinto)

“Those who in their lives follow this path of evil, as Mafiosi do, are not in communion with God. They are excommunicated,” Pope Francis said as cited by Reuters.
“This evil must be fought against, it must be pushed aside. We must say no to it,” Francis said, promising that the Vatican would apply all efforts to combat such activity.
Francis condemned 'Ndrangheta as the “adoration of evil and contempt of the common good.”
“Repent! There is no time to avoid ending up in hell, which is what awaits you if you do not change course,” the Pope stated after holding a vigil as he visited Castrovillari prison in Calabria, a region infested by organized crime, Il Sole 24 Ore reports.

‛Ndrangheta activity is centered in Calabria. The group became the most powerful syndicate of Italy in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Although tied to the Sicilian Mafia, 'Ndrangheta operates independently from the Sicilians. It is believed that drug trafficking, extortion and money-laundering activities of the organization equate to least 3 percent of Italy's GDP, with a revenue of 53 billion Euros annually.
“If it were not part of Italy, Calabria would be a failed state. The 'Ndrangheta organized crime syndicate controls vast portions of its territory and economy, and accounts for at least three percent of Italy's GDP (probably much more) through drug trafficking, extortion and usury,” Patrick Truhn, US Consul General in Naples said previously in a confidential report, revealed by WikiLeaks.
International links of the organization particularly with Latin American countries helped the 'Ndrangheta dominate global cocaine trade.
Nicola Gratteri, a prosecutor tracing the organization's international reach, told the Guardian that some 80 percent of cocaine in Europe is smuggled by Calabrian mobsters. “Altogether in the world, I would say it has maybe 10,000 members,” he added.
“The 'Ndrangheta,” Enzo Macri from National Antimafia Directorate says, represents the “globalisation”of Italian organised crime. “The Colombians prefer to deal with the Calabrians,” says Macri. “They are much more reliable. They don't talk. And they pay on time.”

This attack on one of Italy’s most dangerous crime syndicates is Pope Francis' latest effort in his crusade to fight corruption. The pontiff is also trying to reform the Vatican Bank after two years ago reports emerged implicating the secret banking institution of laundering Sicilian mafia bosses’ riches.
Following the disclosure, Pope Francis' predecessor Benedict appointed a five-person papal commission to investigate the activities of the bank, just before his resignation. Last year, the Vatican Bank, known as the Institute for Religious Works, for the first time released its annual financial report to the public with an aim to create more financial transparency. Francis later reshuffled the commissionwhile the ongoing probe resulted in closure of several hundreds of accounts and vetting thousands more.
The roots of Italian organized crime date back to the 1500s. Presently, there are five main known mafia-style organizations in Italy – the Cosa Nostra of Sicily, 'Ndrangheta of Calabria, Camorra of Naples, as well as relatively new Stidda and Sacra Corona Unita of Puglia.

Snowden gets German Fritz Bauer award for exposing US intelligence


​Former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden has been awarded the Fritz Bauer Prize of the German Humanist Union, a prominent civil rights organization, for exposing the controversial surveillance practices of the NSA and its accomplices.
“Edward Snowden showed exceptional moral courage in exposing illegal surveillance practices,” the national chairman Werner Koep-Kerstin said on Saturday in Rastatt. With his leaks about NSA activities, Koep-Kerstin claims, Snowden had “initiated a long overdue debate on the limits of the security mania, democratic demands on the control of intelligence as well as international rules of surveillance,” Märkische online Zeitungmeans quotes. The Fritz Bauer Prize was established in 1968 in memory of its founder, Fritz Bauer, the longtime Attorney General of Hesse, who pioneered a legal fight against Nazi injustice. The Humanist Union presents the award to those who have excelled in contributions to the humanization, liberalization and democratization of the judiciary.
Last summer, Snowden had already secured the recognition of the German advocates, receiving the 2013 Whistleblower Award. And in October, a group of US whistleblowers presented Snowden with the Sam Adams Award for ‘Integrity in Intelligence’ during a secret meetingin Moscow. READ MORE: ‘Courage is contagious’: Whistleblowing Fantastic Four talk ‘Snowden effect’ on RT The 31-year-old, who has been living in Russia for almost a year after being granted asylum from US prosecution, is a key figure in the ongoing German probe into NSA spy scandal that monitored millions of Germans and its Chancellor Angela Merkel. Members of the German legislative committee, appointed to investigate the NSA’s snooping of Chancellor Merkel's phone, were planning to visit Moscow to meet the whistleblower. Snowden earlier claimed that he is ready to testify about American wrongdoings and has even sent a letter to the German authorities, requesting a meeting. However, he has reportedly turned down the offer to meet German MPs in Russia. His lawyer Wolfgang Kaleck said Snowden believes at this point there is “no room or need for an oral, 'informal' meeting in Moscow” and that substantial testimony would only be possible in Germany. Recent reports suggest that Germany has become one of the National Security Agency’s most important centers for data collection and surveillance operations in Europe. The rejection may come as a temporary relief to the German government, which warned the committee that Snowden’s testimony might cause “negative consequences” on Germany's relations and cooperation with the US.

Britain to outlaw ‘spy cars’ secretly handing out parking fines

UK Communities Secretary has announced that CCTV cameras that automatically issue parking fines will be made illegal in what is being hailed as a victory for privacy campaigners and motorists.
Image from cctv.co.uk

Static and car mounted cameras have been used by 75 councils to collect ten million fines totaling more than £300 million ($510,000,000) in the past five years, British media report.
The cameras were introduced under Labour’s 2004 Traffic Management Act and in areas where they are used a third of fines are issued through them rather than traditional parking wardens.
Local councils say that cameras help keep roads safe especially near schools. Their detractors argue that they are used by authorities in an overzealous way to earn money.
Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, and Patrick McLoughlin, the Transport Secretary, announced Friday night a raft of other pro-motorist measures including the right for local residents to review parking laws in their areas including a lowering of penalties and the use of yellow lines where parking is forbidden.
“CCTV spy cars can be seen lurking on every street raking in cash for greedy councils and breaking the rules that clearly state that fines should not be used to generate profit for town halls,” said Pickles.
Pickles vowed to outlaw the devices, which he described as a “clear abuse of CCTV”. He also noted that strict parking rules actually deter people from shopping and therefore have a negative effect on business.
Reuters / Max Rossi
Reuters / Max Rossi

“Over-zealous parking enforcement and unreasonable stealth fines undermine the high street, push up the cost of living and cost local authorities more in the long term,” he added.
The prospective ban follows a three-month consultation with local authorities, who insist the cameras help keep roads safe by stopping drivers parking illegally.
“Inconsiderate parking can be hazardous. CCTV devises can be useful tools for both monitoring and enforcement. This hasty proposal is contrary to any strategy to encourage families to walk or cycle and once again places the priority on motor traffic above the safety and ease of pedestrians,” Dr. Kevin Golding Williams from the charity Living Streets told The Daily Mail.
But Emma Carr director of the anti-surveillance group Big Brother Watch said the decision by the government is a step in the right direction.
“Making the use of CCTV cars illegal is a clear step towards brining proportionality and rational decision making back to the traffic enforcement process,” she said.

Welcome to Hell! Turkmenistan eyes turning infernal gas pit into tourist attraction

An ominous gas crater that has been burning in a Turkmen desert for more than 40 years is a perfect site for boosting tourism in the country, local officials and academics say. The man-made pit, known as “the Door to Hell,” earlier faced backfill.
Tourism may not be the strongest side of the Central Asian republic’s economy, as only around 10,000 visitors come to Turkmenistan yearly, according to official stats – most of them from Iran, Germany and the US. However, local tourism officials say they found a promising tourist attraction – and it is really hot.

Amid the arid Karakum desert, covering most of the country and known for its extreme temperature changes, one can find a huge sinister-looking pit known as Derweze or Darvaza – commonly referred to by the locals as “the Door to Hell.”
The pit is filled by what seems to be a hellish fire, but is in fact an enormous blaze of natural gas coming from under the ground. No one is really sure, when the fire in the 60-meter wide, 20-meter deep crater may go out, but it is known for certain that it was started after a drilling accident in 1971.

The ground at the site collapsed when Soviet geologists were exploring a natural gas field – one of the many reserves in the gas-rich country, which used to be a Soviet republic. Fortunately, no one was injured in the incident, but fearing that poisonous gas fumes may pose a danger for the local population and animals, the geologists decided to set them on fire, thinking they will soon burn out.

The guys apparently miscalculated – and the gas is still burning, creating a surreal otherworldly scene.
AFP Photo/Igor Sasin
AFP Photo/Igor Sasin

In 2004, the Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov decided that Derweze has burned enough, ordering the crater to be filled up or somehow isolated.

Ten years later, however, Turkmen officials have seemingly found a better use for the infernal pit.

“The burning crater... is attracting more and more interest every year, especially among foreign tourists,” an official on Turkmenistan’s state committee on tourism was quoted as saying by AFP.

Moreover, it is a nice attraction for eco-tourists and researchers visiting the newly-formed 90,000-hectar nature reserve in the Karakum desert, Turkmen academics believe.

“Landmarks such as the burning crater are hugely interesting both to people who love to travel and to researchers in various areas,” Ovez Kurbanov of the National Institute of Deserts, Flora and Fauna, told the agency.

“Our main task is to create an attractive image of Turkmenistan as a tourism destination,” he added.
Those visiting Derweze, however, experience mixed feelings about the site.

“Foreign tourists who visit the burning crater feel mixed emotions – awe at the sight but also at the profligacy of the Turkmen people, who have simply let the gas burn for so many years,” a Turkmen travel agency employee Begli Atayev told AFP.

Others, like a 34-year-old local Gozel Yazkulieva say that the site “takes your breath away.”

“You immediately think of your sins and feel like praying,” Yazkulieva said.

Thus far, getting to the crater located some 270 kilometers from the capital Ashgabat has been no easy task, but those seeking extreme thrills can hire a guide to get right to the spot. YouTube is filling up with videos of the site, which many observers film from the brink of the pit, ignoring the possibility it might collapse. Meanwhile, bloggers’ reviews of Derweze claim that “nothing that falls in [the crater] makes it out alive.”
Being still relatively unknown, the site even caused some embarrassment for Russia’s Channel One, which last February aired it in the aftermath of Chelyabinsk meteorite’s fall, tricked by some YouTube user.

Pakistani woman gang-raped and hanged from tree (GRAPHIC PHOTO)

Parents looking for 20-year old Mazummil Bibi found her hanged from a tree in eastern Pakistan. Police discovered the girl was gang raped before being killed; three men were arrested over the crime, her former boyfriend among them.
Pakistani NGOs workers carry placards as they shout slogans during a protest against the rape (AFP Photo / Arif Ali)

“This is the first time in my 22 years of service with the police that I have seen such a case,” said Sadaqat Ali Chohan, a senior police officer in the poor Layyah district of Punjab province.
Mazummil went missing in Thursday night. Her parents looked for her all night, police said, only to find the body in a field.
Police found the girl was attacked by several men and put up a fight, after which they strangled her.
“We have heard of such cases in India but never in Pakistan. The girl’s clothes were torn. We took her down and moved her to hospital. Her body had signs of resistance. We have arrested three individuals who have confessed to the crime,” the police officer told Reuters.
One of them was the woman’s boyfriend whom she had been dating for six months. He admitted to trying to force the woman to have sex with his two friends and then killing her.
Bibi was the eldest daughter of two blind parents and had made a living from farming a small piece of land.
The incident bears a chilling resemblance to a crime that took place in May, where two teenage cousins were found hanging from a tree after being raped in the north of India. Political leaders in Uttar Pradesh faced criticism for not even going to visit the scene of the horrific crime.
A policeman stands near the body of Muzammil Bibi, 20, after policemen lowered her after she was found hanging from a tree in the town of Nawan Kot, located in Pakistan's Punjab province June 20, 2014. (Reuters / Irshad Hussain)



Hundreds of E.Ukrainian refugees in firing line on Russian border

As mortar shells spilled into Russian territory Friday, hundreds of Eastern Ukrainians at Russia’s refugee camp near border had to be taken to centers further away. Currently the two shelled checkpoints are only working for refugees.
Two Russian checkpoints on the border with Ukraine in Rostov region – Novoshakhtinsk and Donetsk – were closed on Saturday following mortar shelling and shooting the day before.

The checkpoints are being inspected for undetonated explosives while Russian prosecutors are trying to find out the circumstances of the incidents.

Donetsk and Novoshakhtinsk are admitting nobody into Russia except Ukrainian refugees,” spokesman of the Border Service in the Rostov Region, Vasily Malayev, said.

Russia set up a refugee camp in Novoshakhtinsk near the border with Ukraine to house the increasing number of Eastern Ukrainians fleeing from Kiev’s shelling their homes.
A family from southeastern Ukraine at a checkpoint in Donetsk, Rostov Region, June 20, 2014. (RIA Novosti / Sergey Pivovarov)
A family from southeastern Ukraine at a checkpoint in Donetsk, Rostov Region, June 20, 2014. (RIA Novosti / Sergey Pivovarov)


On Friday, Russian Border Guards had to take urgent measures to protect several hundred eastern Ukrainians staying in the refugee camp as mortar shells starting flying in from Ukraine, Malayev said.

“Taking into account the threat to the people’s lives due to shelling from the Ukrainian side, border guards decided to apply simplified admittance rules and led people to temporary refugee centers located at a safe distance,” he told RIA Novosti.

The first round of shelling, when Novoshakhtinsk checkpoint was hit by mortars, occurred as Lugansk self-defense forces clashed with Ukrainian military joined by the National Guard at Ukrainian checkpoint Dolzhansky.

The Ukrainian army launched mortars at Dolzhansky, controlled by self-defense, and several shells hit Russia’s territory, said Russian officials and local residents. The Russian checkpoint was severely damaged and a Customs Service employee was severely injured.

“They started shooting from the Ukrainian checkpoint, it was scary,” a witness from the refugee camp told Russia's Channel 1.
Two more checkpoints on the Ukrainian side of the border – Izvarino and Uspenka – were reportedly fired at overnight.
A group of Ukrainian border guards had to seek shelter on Russian territory at Donetsk border checkpoint fleeing “unidentified armed attackers,” Malayev said. Some of them were wounded and transported to the nearest medical facility.
On Saturday, the six wounded border guards were handed over to the Ukrainian side, the assistant of the head of the Ukrainian State Border Service, Sergey Astahov, told RIA.
In response to the incidents, the Russian Foreign Ministry filed a protest note to Kiev demanding an immediate explanation and investigation, calling the shelling a “direct provocation”. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense however refuted the claims that the Ukrainian army was responsible for shelling Russian territory with mortars on Friday.
Ukrainian refugees in Rostov region asked the representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Russia to help organize a “humanitarian corridor for Lugansk self-defense and to evacuate the children”, RIA Novosti reported them as saying.
"It is necessary for your observers to stand there, with them standing there they will not dare to bomb us,"said one of the refugees.
“The National Guard is committing horrible crimes – [the people] are killed, slaughtered, the men are executed by shooting,” one of the refugees told Russia's Channel 1.
Women from southeastern Ukraine at a refugee camp in Donetsk, Rostov Region, June 20, 2014. (RIA Novosti / Sergey Pivovarov)

‘Don’t take photos’: HRW slams Bahrain for targeting photogs over protests coverage

​The Human Rights Watch has slammed Bahrain authorities for targeting photographers who cover anti-government protests. At least 25 cameramen have been held up in the country since 2011, with 4 award-winning correspondents still charged or in jail.
On Sunday, Hussain Hubail, who won a 2013 award, is to appeal a five-year sentence for taking part in an “illegal gathering” and inciting hatred of the government.
Then, on Wednesday, Ahmed Humaidan, who also took award-winning photos of protests and recently won the 2014 John Aubochon Press Freedom Award, will launch an appeal against his 10-year sentence for allegations that he attacked a police station.
Both have been mistreated while in pre-trial detention, their family members told Human Rights Watch.
“The images that Ahmed Humaidan and Hussain Hubail captured portray a reality that the Bahraini government would prefer that the world – and other Bahrainis – not see,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director for Human Rights Watch.
“Throwing photographers in jail isn’t going to keep either the protests or the accounts of what happens in Bahrain out of the world’s sight,” he added.
Last year, two other photographers were targeted. They told HRW that security forces arrested them due to their occupation and later subjected them to tortures in custody.
Ahmed Humaidan in Manama in November 2012. © 2012 Hussain Al Bahrani
Ahmed Humaidan in Manama in November 2012. © 2012 Hussain Al Bahrani

Ahmed Fardan, a photojournalist whose photograph of protests in Bahrain won first prize in Freedom House’s “Images of Repression and Freedom” contest last April, faces charges of participating in an “illegal gathering” on December 16, 2013, at which 60 people allegedly attacked police vehicles.
He was detained December 26.
“The first question they asked me was, ‘Where is your camera?’” he said.
Then, the police confiscated the two cameras, hard drives, and flash drives from the room he was staying in. The man was taken to Criminal Investigation Directorate (CID) headquarters, where police blindfolded and handcuffed him in a cell known as “the freezer,” as it was kept very cold, he said.
The first trial in Fardan’s case is set to take place on September 14, 2014.
Plainclothes officers also arrested Sayed Ahmed Mousawi, another award-winning photographer, and his brother Mohamed at 5am on February 10 – without presenting a warrant.
The photographer’s father told the HRW that the security forces beat and humiliated his son. Eventually, he reportedly signed a confession to curb further punishment – both physical and psychological.
A few weeks ago, though, a judge authorized his detention for a further 45 days, although he has yet to be formally charged.
HRW recounts several other cases of photo and video correspondents arrested in Bahrain. According to their sources, at least 25 photographers or cameramen have been detained in the Gulf Kingdom since 2011.
The main cause for the widespread arrests of photographers is that they “have played a leading role in challenging the authorities’ version of events,” said the former head of the photography department of Al Watan newspaper, Abdullah Hassan.
Abdullah Hassan was himself fired by government media three years ago, along with three other journalists. He says he was arrested and beaten.
“Why do you take pictures? Where do you publish them?” an officer who identified himself as “high-ranking” asked Hassan, then told him, “you will never find another job.”
Last year, Hassan was hired by Al Ayam newspaper, but fired four days later due to “orders from above.”

Anti-government protesters take cover from tear-gas fired by the police as they clash during a funeral procession for fellow protester Sayed Mohsen, in the village of Sitra south of Manama, May 27, 2014. (Reuters/Hamad I Mohammed)
Anti-government protesters take cover from tear-gas fired by the police as they clash during a funeral procession for fellow protester Sayed Mohsen, in the village of Sitra south of Manama, May 27, 2014. (Reuters/Hamad I Mohammed)

All the government’s alleged actions are against the current country’s legislation, HRW said. In particular, article 32 of the Arab Charter on Human Rights protects the right to freedom of expression – and so does article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Bahrain has ratified.
“Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice,” HRW said.
In May, the rights group issued a damning report on Bahrain’s justice system detailing its selective application, broken promises and a further descent into savage violence by the security state in the three years since the country’s own Arab Spring.
Since 2011 the country has been beset by massive street demonstrations with the opposition demanding the establishment of a constitutional government in the Shia-majority state, ruled by a Sunni monarchy. On the eve of the three-year anniversary of the Arab Spring-inspired protests this past February, lese-majeste became a crime punishable by up to 7 years in prison.
The US government has been reluctant to criticize the small island country, which hosts its strategically vital Fifth US Fleet.

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