RAMALLAH, Jan 27 — Palestinian leaders threatened yesterday to withdraw from key provisions of the Oslo Accords, which define arrangements with Israel, if US President Donald Trump announces his Middle East peace plan next week.
Trump was scheduled to unveil the plan ahead of his meeting in Washington this week with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu, who has called Trump “the greatest friend that Israel has ever had”, said he hoped to “make history” in Washington this week.
But the Palestinian leadership was not invited to the talks and has rejected Trump’s initiative amid tensions with the US president over his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital.
World powers have long agreed that Jerusalem’s fate should be settled through negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told AFP that the Palestine Liberation Organisation reserved the right “to withdraw from the interim agreement” of the Oslo pact if Trump unveils his plan.
The Trump initiative will turn Israel’s “temporary occupation (of Palestinian territory) into a permanent occupation”, Erekat said.
The Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement, signed in Washington in 1995, sought to put into practice the first Oslo peace deal agreed two years earlier.
Sometimes called Oslo II, the interim agreement set out the scope of Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza.
The interim pact was only supposed to last five years while a permanent agreement was finalised but it has tacitly been rolled over for more than two decades.
‘Bound to fail’
Hamas leader Ismail Haniya warned yesterday Trump’s plan “will not pass” and could lead to renewed Palestinian resistance.
This “new plot aimed against Palestine is bound to fail” and could lead the Palestinians to a “new phase in their struggle” against Israel, the leader of the Gaza Strip’s Islamist movement said in a statement.
Haniya also called for talks in Cairo with other Palestinian factions, including Fatah — led by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas — in order to form a common response to Trump’s plan.
Shortly after the release of Haniya’s statement, a rocket was fired from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip towards Israel, the Israeli army said.
Israel has occupied east Jerusalem and the West Bank since the 1967 Six-Day War.
More than 600,000 Israelis now live there in settlements considered illegal under international law.
The Trump administration last year announced that it no longer considered Israel’s settlement of civilians in the West Bank as “inconsistent with international law”, further outraging the Palestinians.
Trump’s peace initiative has been in the works since 2017, and its economic component was unveiled in June, calling for US$50 billion in international investment in the Palestinian territories and neighbouring Arab countries over 10 years.
Despite this apparent economic incentive, Palestinian leaders have made clear that they no longer recognise Washington’s historic role as mediator in the conflict, given Trump’s repeated backing of Israeli demands.
“The US administration will not find a single Palestinian who supports this project,” the Palestinian foreign ministry said in a statement yesterday.
“Trump’s plan is the plot of the century to liquidate the Palestinian cause.”
Netanyahu’s political rival Benny Gantz has also received an invitation to attend the White House talks.
Gantz also showered Trump with praise during a news conference.
“I wish to thank President Trump for his dedication and determination in defending the security interests that both Israel and the US share,” Gantz said.
Trump’s planned separate meetings with Netanyahu and Gantz come a little more than a month before new Israeli elections, with polls showing Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud and Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party running neck-and-neck.
Israeli media speculated that Trump had chosen to unveil his plan in support of Netanyahu’s election bid — the third in a year, but the first since Netanyahu was charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three separate corruption cases.
Netanyahu is seeking immunity from Israeli lawmakers through hearings due to start this week.
“Immediately after news of the [peace] plan was reported, it became plainly evident based on the reactions that this wasn’t a Trump plan, but a Bibi-Trump plot,” analyst Ben-Dror Yemini wrote in Sunday’s Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.
“Yet another election ploy that was designed to extricate Netanyahu from the clutches of his immunity hearings.” — AFP
LOS ANGELES, Jan 27 — A patient in California’s Orange County was Saturday confirmed as the third person on US soil infected with the new deadly virus that originated in China, health officials said.
The infected person was a traveler from Wuhan, the Chinese city at the epicentre of the outbreak, the Orange County Health Care Agency said.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed the patient had tested positive for the Novel Coronavirus, it said.
The individual was in isolation in a local hospital and was in good condition.
“There is no evidence that person-to-person transmission has occurred in Orange County. The current risk of local transmission remains low,” the health care agency said.
There were no details given on how the person arrived in the United States or their identity.
The two other US cases involve a woman in Chicago who had travelled to Wuhan in late December before returning to the US on January 13, and a man in his thirties from Washington state who had also travelled to the Chinese city recently, the CDC said.
The previously unknown virus has caused alarm because of its similarity to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed hundreds across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003. — AFP
TOKYO, Jan 27 ― The yen rose and the yuan fell in offshore trade today as worries that China is struggling to contain the spread of a pneumonia-like virus sparked a bout of risk aversion.
Japan's currency, often sought as a safe-haven in times of uncertainty, rose to the highest in almost three weeks versus the dollar, while the yuan fell to its lowest since January 8.
China's Cabinet announced it will extend the Lunar New Year holidays to February 2, to strengthen the prevention and control of the new coronavirus, state broadcaster CCTV reported early today. The holidays had been due to end on January 30.
Hong Kong has also banned the entry of visitors from China's Hubei province, where the new coronavirus outbreak was first reported, highlighting the difficulty officials face during a peak travel season.
Health authorities around the world are racing to prevent a pandemic of the virus, which has infected more than 2,000 people in China and killed 76.
There are concerns that tourism and consumer spending could take a hit if the virus spreads further, which would discourage investors from taking on excessive risk.
“There is a lot of uncertainty about how much further the virus will spread, and this is behind the moves in currencies,” said Yukio Ishizuki, foreign exchange strategist at Daiwa Securities in Tokyo.
“I thought dollar/yen would be supported at 109, but it broke through that, so now the next target is 108.50. This risk-off mood is likely to continue for a while.”
The yen rose 0.3 per cent to 108.91 per dollar today, reaching its strongest level since January 8.
Japan's currency also jumped around 0.5 per cent versus the Australian and New Zealand dollars as worries about the virus drew traders toward safe-haven currencies and away from currencies that are more sensitive to risk.
In the offshore market, the yuan fell more than 0.3 per cent to 6.9625 against the dollar, its weakest since January 8.
The dollar index against a basket of six major currencies was little changed at 97.884.
Traders said market moves could be exaggerated due to low liquidity, because financial markets in China, Hong Kong, and Australia are closed for holidays.
The virus, which emerged late last year from illegally traded wildlife at an animal market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, has spread to other countries, including Singapore, South Korea, Canada, Japan, and the United States.
China's Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, said today that 76 people have died and 1,423 new cases of the coronavirus outbreak have been identified as of end of yesterday.
The outbreak has evoked memories of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2002-2003, another coronavirus which broke out in China and killed nearly 800 people in a global pandemic. ― Reuters
BEIJING, Jan 27 — A virus similar to the SARS pathogen has claimed 56 lives since emerging in a market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, and spread around the world.
Here are the places that have confirmed cases of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus:
As of Sunday, almost 2,000 people have been infected across China, the bulk of them in and around Wuhan.
Nearly all of the 56 who have died were in the Wuhan region, but officials have confirmed at least four deaths elsewhere.
The city of Macau, a gambling hub hugely popular with mainland tourists, has confirmed five cases as of Sunday.
In Hong Kong, six people are known to have the disease. Of those, five arrived via a newly built high-speed train terminal which connects with the mainland.
There are three known cases of the coronavirus in France, the first European country to be affected by the outbreak.
One person is sick in Bordeaux and another is ill in Paris. A third person, who is a close relative of one of the other two, has also been confirmed to have the virus.
All three had recently travelled to China and have now been placed in isolation.
Japan’s health authorities confirmed the country’s fourth case on Saturday: A man in his 40s, visiting Japan from Wuhan, who is currently in hospital in a stable condition.
Another man was hospitalised on January 10, four days after his return from a visit to Wuhan.
And a further two people from the Chinese city — a man in his 40s and a woman in her 30s — have also been treated in hospital for fever.
Australia confirmed its first four cases of the virus on Saturday.
One man in Melbourne and three men in Sydney tested positive and are being treated in hospital isolation units after arriving in the country from Wuhan.
The US has confirmed five cases of the virus in patients who had recently entered the country from Wuhan.
A man aged in his 30s reported himself to authorities on January 19 after returning to his home near Seattle.
On Friday, public health authorities said the virus had been detected in a Chicago woman in her 60s, and on Saturday a traveller from Wuhan in California was confirmed as the third infected person on US soil.
A second case was confirmed in California on Sunday, along with one in Arizona.
Canada said Saturday it had identified its first “presumptive” case of the virus in a man who returned to Toronto from Wuhan.
The patient is aged in his 50s and has been placed in isolation.
Malaysia confirmed its fourth case on Sunday. All are Chinese nationals on holiday from Wuhan who arrived in the country from Singapore.
A 66-year-old woman and two boys, aged two and 11, are in stable condition, Malaysia’s health minister said Saturday.
The latest confirmed case is a 40-year-old man who entered the country on a bus with a Chinese tour group.
Nepal said a 32-year-old man arriving from Wuhan had the disease.
The patient, who was initially quarantined, recovered and was discharged.
Singapore announced its fourth case of the coronavirus on Sunday. All four patients had arrived in the city-state from Wuhan over the last week.
South Korean media reported the country’s third case on Sunday.
The patients include two South Korean men, both aged in their 50s and working in Wuhan, who returned to South Korea earlier this week.
The country reported its first case on January 20 — a 35-year-old woman who flew in from Wuhan.
Taiwan has uncovered four cases so far — the latest a woman in her fifties who was in Wuhan for a sight-seeing tour and returned home voluntarily on January 25.
Thailand has detected eight cases so far — three of whom are receiving treatment in hospital and five of whom have been discharged, according to a statement from Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul.
All the infected persons are Chinese nationals, except for a 73-year-old Thai woman who came back from Wuhan this month.
Vietnam confirmed two cases of the virus on Thursday. An infected man from Wuhan travelled to Ho Chi Minh City earlier this month and passed the virus on to his son. — AFP
LOS ANGELES, Jan 27 — Kobe Bryant, widely considered one of the greatest players in basketball, was killed in a helicopter crash in Southern California yesterday. He was 41.
A transcendent star who went straight from high school to the game’s biggest stage, Bryant won five NBA championship rings with the Los Angeles Lakers and was the face of the franchise during his 20-year career.
Bryant, a small forward and shooting guard, averaged 25 points during his career and twice led the NBA in scoring.
He was an 18-times NBA All-Star who wore the jersey numbers 24 and 8 — both of which were retired by the Lakers — and continued the ‘Showtime’ tradition of the storied franchise that has been home to the likes of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal.
The fourth-highest scorer in NBA history with 33,643 points, Bryant only gave up the third spot on the list on Saturday night to LeBron James.
On Saturday, Bryant used Twitter to extend his congratulations to James: “Much respect my brother,” he tweeted.
A few hours later, Bryant perished in the crash. He is survived by wife Vanessa, with whom he had four daughters.
Born in Philadelphia, Bryant was only 17 when he was taken as the 13th overall draft pick by the Charlotte Hornets in the 1996 NBA draft.
But he never played for the Hornets and immediately traded to the Lakers, where he played his entire career before retiring in 2016.
In 2008, he was named the NBA Most Valuable Player.
Internationally, he won two Olympic gold medals, part of the United States team in 2008 and 2012. — Reuters
WUHAN, Jan 27 — China expanded drastic travel restrictions today and prolonged a public holiday to contain an epidemic that has killed 56 people and infected nearly 2,000, as several countries prepared to evacuate their citizens from a quarantined city at the outbreak’s epicentre.
China has locked down the hard-hit province of Hubei in the country’s centre, an unprecedented operation affecting tens of millions of people and intended to slow transmission of the respiratory virus.
Its ability to spread appears to be “getting stronger” though it is “not as powerful as SARS”, top Chinese health officials said at a press conference.
A working group chaired by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to tackle the epidemic decided to extend the Spring Festival holiday originally scheduled to end on January 30 “to reduce population flows,” alongside unspecified changes to the starting dates of schools, state news agency Xinhua reported.
The previously unknown virus has caused global concern because of its similarity to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) pathogen, which killed hundreds across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.
Outside the epicentre, Shandong province and four cities — Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’an and Tianjin — announced bans on long-distance buses entering or leaving, a move that will affect millions of people travelling over the Lunar New Year holiday.
The populous southern province of Guangdong, Jiangxi in the centre, and three cities made it mandatory for residents to wear face masks in public.
Originating in Hubei’s capital of Wuhan, the virus has spread throughout China and across the world — with cases confirmed in around a dozen countries including as far away as the United States.
The US State Department said Sunday it was arranging a flight from Wuhan to San Francisco for consulate staff and other Americans in the city.
France’s government and the French carmaker PSA also said they planned to evacuate staff and families, who will be quarantined in a city in a neighbouring province.
Japan is coordinating with Beijing to swiftly evacuate its citizens, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said.
Saudi Arabia asked its nationals present around Wuhan to contact its embassy for evacuation, while Jordan said it had obtained permission from Beijing to move its citizens from the city out of the country.
Fear in Wuhan
Instead of New Year revelry, Wuhan has been seized by an eerie calm that deepened yesterday as new restrictions banned most road traffic in the metropolis of 11 million.
Loudspeakers broke the silence by offering tips slathered with bravado.
“Do not believe in rumours. Do not spread rumours. If you feel unwell, go to the hospital in time,” the message said.
“Wuhan is a city that dares to face difficulties and keeps overcoming them,” the female voice added, mentioning the deadly 2002-03 SARS epidemic and 1998 Yangtze River flooding.
The health emergency has overwhelmed Wuhan’s hospitals with patients, prompting authorities to send hundreds of medical reinforcements, including military doctors, and start construction on two field hospitals.
The number of confirmed cases in the city could rise by 1,000, Wuhan’s mayor Zhou Xianwang predicted yesterday, based on the number currently undergoing observation in hospital.
He also said around five million people had left the city during the new year travel rush.
Speaking at a press conference and wearing a face mask, Zhou said the city’s medical staff were “very strained and tired”.
With non-essential vehicles banned from the road, volunteers stepped up to drive sick fellow citizens to hospitals.
“There has to be someone who does this,” Zhang Lin, 48, told AFP journalists as he waited for a patient to emerge from a clinic for the drive back home in nearly deserted streets.
Some foreigners in Wuhan expressed deep concern, saying they feared going outside.
“We want to be evacuated as soon as possible, because either the virus, the hunger or the fear will kill us,” Mashal Jamalzai, a political science student from Afghanistan at Central China Normal University, told AFP.
The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has determined that a Wuhan market where animals including rats, snakes and hedgehogs were reportedly sold is “highly relevant” to the outbreak, state news agency Xinhua reported today.
Yesterday, the government said it was banning all trade in wildlife until the emergency is over, but conservationists complain that Beijing has previously failed to deliver on such pledges.
Animal rights groups called for the ban to be made permanent, saying it could end the possibility of future outbreaks.
Hong Kong bars entry
Health officials said the virus has since become transmissible between humans.
At a press briefing in Beijing, CDC head Gao Fu said the disease “is indeed... not as powerful as SARS.”
However, it also appears that the “spreading ability of the virus is getting stronger,” said Ma Xiaowei, head of China’s national health commission.
The government says most deaths involved the elderly or people with existing ailments.
Fearing a repeat of SARS, China has dramatically scaled back celebrations associated with the New Year holiday, which began Friday, while tourist sites like Beijing’s Forbidden City and a section of the Great Wall have closed.
In Hong Kong, Disneyland announced yesterday it had closed as a precaution after the city authorities declared an emergency and banned entry of anyone from Hubei. Shanghai’s Disneyland park had already closed Saturday. — AFP
DUBAI, Jan 27 ― With its ultra-modern infrastructure and hyper-connected services, the United Arab Emirates is an emerging technology power, but a scandal surrounding a popular messaging application has highlighted tight controls on the internet.
The oil-rich country has invested billions in new technologies and artificial intelligence “to become a forerunner in the provision of smart services” as part of its Vision 2021 development plan.
But although more than nine million expatriates make up 90 per cent of the population, making a WhatsApp or Skype call to get in touch with loved ones back home is no easy task.
While free voice over internet protocol (VoIP) telephony is commonly used across the globe, it is inaccessible through normal internet services in the UAE ― except for on the Abu Dhabi-developed mobile application ToTok.
“To speak with my family via WhatsApp, I buy a card every month,” one Pakistani worker told AFP, holding up a small ticket with a code to access a virtual private network (VPN), which allows users to bypass internet restrictions.
While many opt to use VPNs ― the legality of which is hazy ― others have resorted to ToTok, which became popular in the Emirates and the Middle East after its 2019 launch.
“I used ToTok because it is the only platform where video calls work properly,” said an Egyptian expat, who regularly uses the app to call his wife and daughter back home.
However, a report by The New York Times in December accused the UAE of using ToTok to spy on users, prompting both Google and Apple to remove the app from their online marketplaces.
The report said ToTok allowed the Emirati government to track conversations, movements and other details of people who installed it on their phone.
Google Play made the app available again in January, listing a series of “updates”, but it is still unavailable on the Apple Store.
It remains unclear why Apple has yet to restore the app, or if it ever will, but according to researcher Bill Marczak, the tech giant “is viewed as perhaps being a bit more privacy friendly”.
He said the case of ToTok, which also won quick popularity in the United States, was unique in targeting such a large audience.
“As far as I know this pretty much is the only case of a messaging platform created by an intelligence group,” Marczak, a senior research fellow with the Canada-based cyber security research group Citizen Lab, told AFP.
“It's a very unique case in that sense because they were trying to develop this app that was designed to be used by millions of people in the world.”
He said that the UAE may be moving towards a “China model” of digital authoritarianism, aiming to be a powerhouse in technology, but also to use that status as a tool for control and surveillance.
“It will be interesting how this public fiasco will affect the UAE development as a tech powerhouse in the future,” he said. People will “probably have hard time trusting any sort of technology platform that comes out of the UAE”.
The country's Telecommunications Regulatory Authority told AFP “it recently became aware of a number of concerns related to... ToTok”.
“The UAE telecommunications regulations prohibit unlawful interception and mass surveillance of any form and adopts the highest standards for consumer privacy,” it added.
In a region regularly hit by political turmoil, the UAE puts a high value on “stability” and stamping out extremism.
However, rights groups accuse it of holding opponents without legal basis, including award-winning rights activist Ahmed Mansoor, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2018 over accusations of spreading false information.
National law stipulates that a person can be imprisoned and fined for using any means of technology to call for demonstrations, incite ideas against Islam or promote “destructive principles” such as homosexuality.
Harsh cybercrime laws also carry jail sentences or fines for defamatory statements on social media.
“They are practising a high level of online restrictions and surveillance,” said Amy Slipowitz from civil society group Freedom House, which marks the UAE as “not free” on its annual global internet rankings.
“They should have more transparency in their content restriction and stop targeting critics of the government,” she told AFP. ― AFP
LOS ANGELES, Jan 27 — The Grammy awards got underway Sunday with superstars Lizzo, Billie Eilish and Lil Nas X primed for glory — as grief over the death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant cast a pall on music’s marquee night in Los Angeles.
Sorrow cast a shadow over the show held at the Staples Center — the same venue where the basketball icon led the city’s Lakers to multiple championships.
Dozens of people, many of them in tears, gathered near the arena to mourn the 41-year-old Bryant, who died yesterday in a helicopter crash in the hills west of the California metropolis. Flags were flying at half-mast.
The evening nevertheless still promises rollicking performances from the trio of Grammy frontrunners, as well as tributes to the veteran rockers Aerosmith and the late rapper Nipsey Hussle.
Early prizes handed out at the pre-gala event went to Lady Gaga, who won two for her soundtrack for the hit film A Star Is Born, and Beyonce, who nabbed the prize for best music film for Homecoming.
“Rest in peace Kobe, we love you,” Steve Pamon, a Homecoming director, said in accepting the trophy.
Overnight country-rap sensation Lil Nas X, up for six awards, snagged his first Grammy for the music video of his smash earworm Old Town Road.
“Um, thank you!” the bubbly 20-year-old told the audience with a wide smile glimmering below his white 10-gallon hat.
Eilish’s debut studio album won its first award of the night in the engineering categories.
Pop’s new guard is poised to usher in a new era — but scandal backstage has threatened to tarnish the glitz.
Just days before the gala, the Recording Academy’s suspended CEO Deborah Dugan — the first woman to lead the embattled institution behind the Grammys — filed an explosive discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
She says she was suspended after raising concerns over sexual harassment, voting irregularities and other misconduct within the Academy — one of music’s most influential organizations, but one long accused of favoritism and a lack of diversity.
Dugan also alleged that her predecessor, Neil Portnow, had raped a foreign female musician — an allegation he has rejected as “ludicrous and untrue.”
‘We need transparency’
The backstage storm has threatened to cloud the Grammy celebration, despite a diverse slate of nominees that celebrates a mix of established and budding stars.
On Saturday night at the annual pre-Grammy gala hosted by industry legend Clive Davis, hip-hop mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs railed at the Academy.
“Black music has never been respected by the Grammys to the point that it should be,” Combs told a star-studded audience as he was honoured as an industry icon, according to Variety.
“We need transparency, we need diversity.”
The magnetic Lizzo, 31, is poised to be this year’s queen bee, leading the Grammy pack with eight nominations, including in all the top four categories (album, record and song of the year plus best new artist).
Lil Nas X, the 18-year-old goth-leaning pop iconoclast Eilish and the enigmatic 22-year-old R&B prodigy H.E.R. are also formidable contenders.
The establishment’s newcomers will square off against veteran powerhouses including Ariana Grande and Beyonce, as well as alt-leaning acts Lana Del Rey, Bon Iver and Vampire Weekend.
Often remembered as much for its performances as its winners, the Grammys will feature Lizzo, Eilish and Grande, along with a genre-blending rendition of Old Town Road that will feature K-pop sensation BTS, country star Billy Ray Cyrus and the eclectic DJ Diplo, among others.
Artists including John Legend, Meek Mill and DJ Khaled — all up for Grammys this year — will perform a tribute to Hussle, who was shot dead last year and is up for three posthumous awards.
The British country-soul revivalist Yola, up for four Grammys including the prestigious best new artist prize, said she’s still soaking in all the glamour.
Upon learning of her nominations, the bluesy singer with a big voice told AFP on Friday that she “cried for days.”
“It was hilarious and emotional and I’m just so thrilled to be here,” she said. — AFP
TOKYO, Jan 27 ― US S&P500 e-mini futures fell more than 1 per cent in Asian trade today on mounting worries the new coronavirus outbreak could severely disrupt the Chinese economy, an engine of global growth.
China's Cabinet said it would extend the week-long Lunar New Year holiday by three days to February 2 and Hong Kong banned residents of China's Hubei province, where the new coronavirus outbreak was first reported, from entering the city. ― Reuters
BAGHDAD, Jan 27 — Three rockets slammed into the US embassy in Iraq’s capital yesterday in the first direct hit reported after months of close calls, as thousands kept up anti-government sit-ins across the country.
The attack marked a dangerous escalation in the spree of rocket attacks in recent months that have targeted the embassy or Iraqi military bases where American troops are deployed.
None of the attacks has been claimed but Washington has repeatedly blamed Iran-backed military factions in Iraq.
Yesterday, one rocket hit an embassy cafeteria at dinner time while two others landed nearby, a security source told AFP.
The US embassy did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but a statement by Iraqi security forces earlier in the evening said there were no casualties.
The attack took place earlier in the day than usual, with AFP reporters hearing the booms on the western bank of the river Tigris at precisely 7:30pm (1630 GMT).
Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi and Speaker of Parliament Mohammed Halbusi both condemned the incident, saying it risked dragging their homeland into war.
Iraq has already been dragged into a worrying tit-for-tat between the United States and Iran over the last month.
A similar attack on a northern Iraqi base killed an American contractor, and the US retaliated with a strike on an Iran-backed faction known as Kataeb Hezbollah.
Less than a week later, a US drone strike killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi military figure Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis outside the Baghdad airport — prompting Iran to fire ballistic missiles at an Iraqi base where US troops are stationed.
‘Only for you, Iraq!’
Some 5,200 Americans are stationed in Iraq to lead the global coalition fighting the Islamic State group, but the US strike on Baghdad has rallied top Iraqi figures around a joint call to order them out.
Vehemently anti-American cleric Moqtada Sadr organised a mass rally in Baghdad on Friday, where thousands of his supporters called for American troops to leave.
Sadr had previously backed separate anti-regime protests sweeping Iraq’s capital and south, even though he controls the largest bloc in parliament and top ministerial posts.
Bolstered by his own protest on Friday, Sadr announced he was dropping support for the youth-dominated reform campaign rocking the country since October.
His followers, widely regarded as the best-organised and well-stocked of the anti-government demonstrators, immediately began dismantling their tents and heading home.
Activists feared that without his political cover, authorities would move to crush their movement — and indeed, within hours, riot police tried to storm protest camps across the capital and south.
Those efforts continued into Sunday, with security forces using live rounds and tear gas to try to flush protesters out of squares and streets they had occupied for months.
One protester was shot dead in Baghdad and another in the flashpoint southern city of Nasiriyah, medical sources said, and dozens more were wounded across the country.
Despite the renewed violence, thousands of students flooded the streets in the capital and across the south in a bid to keep national attention focused on their demands.
“Only for you, Iraq!” read a sign held by a young protester in the shrine city of Karbala, hinting at the movement’s insistence on not being affiliated with any political party or outside backer.
UN hails ‘Iraqi hopes’
In Basra, hundreds of students gathered to condemn the riot police’s dismantling of their main protest camp the previous day, according to an AFP correspondent.
In Baghdad, university students marched from a campus in the city centre to the main rally area of Tahrir Square.
Riot police fired live rounds and tear gas at clusters of young protesters in the nearby Khallani and Wathba squares, but protesters threw rocks and Molotov cocktails to keep them back.
Security forces have stopped short of entering Tahrir Square, where some protesters stood their ground even after many tents were dismantled.
In Nasiriyah, security forces fired live rounds to disperse demonstrators angered by authorities pushing them out of roads around their main protest camp in Habbubi Square.
The youth-led protests erupted on October 1 in outrage over lack of jobs, poor services and rampant corruption before spiralling into calls for a government overhaul after they were met with violence.
More than 470 people have died, a vast majority of them demonstrators, since the rallies erupted.
Protesters are now demanding snap elections, the appointment of an independent premier and the prosecution of anyone implicated in corruption or recent bloodshed.
Their voices have been heard by top UN envoy in Iraq Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert who has said: “Unaccountability and indecisiveness are unworthy of Iraqi hopes, courageously expressed for four months now.”
“While death and injury tolls continue to rise, steps taken so far will remain hollow if not completed,” she said Saturday. — AFP
LOS ANGELES, Jan 27 — Kobe Bryant, who won five NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, died aged 41 on Sunday in a helicopter crash in California. His 13-year-old daughter Gianna was also among the victims.
Following are reactions to his death:
Adam Silver, NBA commissioner
“The NBA family is devastated by the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna.
“For 20 seasons, Kobe showed us what is possible when remarkable talent blends with an absolute devotion to winning. He was one of the most extraordinary players in the history of our game with accomplishments that are legendary: five NBA championships, an NBA MVP award, 18 NBA All-Star selections, and two Olympic gold medals.
“But he will be remembered most for inspiring people around the world to pick up a basketball and compete to the very best of their ability. He was generous with the wisdom he acquired and saw it as his mission to share it with future generations of players, taking special delight in passing down his love of the game to Gianna.”
Barack Obama, former US president, on Twitter
“Kobe was a legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act.
To lose Gianna is even more heartbreaking to us as parents. Michelle and I send love and prayers to Vanessa and the entire Bryant family on an unthinkable day.”
Shaquille O’neal, former Bryant teammate, on Twitter
“There’s no words to express the pain Im going through with this tragedy of loosing my neice Gigi & my brother @kobebryant I love u and u will be missed. My condolences goes out to the Bryant family and the families of the other passengers on board. IM SICK RIGHT NOW.”
Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, former Lakers great, on Twitter
“Most people will remember Kobe as the magnificent athlete who inspired a whole generation of basketball players. But I will always remember him as a man who was much more than an athlete.”
Earvin Margic Johnson, former Lakers great, on Twitter
“As I try to write this post, my mind is racing. I’m in disbelief and have been crying all morning over this devastating news that Kobe and his young daughter, Gigi have passed away in a helicopter crash. Cookie and I are heartbroken.”
US President Donald Trump, on Twitter
“Reports are that basketball great Kobe Bryant and three others have been killed in a helicopter crash in California. That is terrible news!”
Reverend Jesse Jackson, on Twitter
“As I tweet through my tears, I am so hurt. I cannot stop crying. Kobe was instrumental to so many people. There is a hole in the basketball world and will be for a long time. Rest in heavenly peace. #KobeBryant”
Pau Gasol, former Bryant teammate, on Twitter
“Beyond devastated... my big brother... I can’t, I just can’t believe it.”
Ted Leonsis, owner of NBA’s Washington Wizards, on LinkedIn
“We have not only lost one of the greatest all-time basketball players in NBA history, we’ve also lost a tremendous human being ... His legacy will continue to live on through the many people he touched and influenced throughout his life of basketball and beyond. May he rest in peace.”
Dwyane Wade, three-times NBA champion, on Twitter
“Nooooooooooo God please No!
National Basketball Players Association
“We are stunned and devastated by the news of the sudden passing of Kobe Bryant. Words cannot express his impact on our Players, the NBA and the game of basketball. This is a monumental loss for the entire basketball community and our hearts are quite simply broken. We send love and prayers out to his wife Vanessa and the entire family.”
Wayne Gretzky, National Hockey League great, 0n Twitter
“Janet and I have no words to describe our shock and sadness on the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant today. Praying for him and his family.” — Reuters
LOS ANGELES, Jan 27 — Kobe Bryant, who won five NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, died at age 41 yesterday in a helicopter crash in California. Here is biographical information on him and highlights from his career.
— Born in Philadelphia in 1978, son of former NBA player Joe ‘Jellybean’ Bryant
— Lived for eight years in Italy, where his father played professionally after his National Basketball Association career ended
— On returning to the United States, Kobe Bryant attended Lower Merion High School outside Philadelphia and gained a reputation as one of the best high school players in the country
— Chosen as the 13th overall pick by the Charlotte Hornets in the 1996 draft and immediately traded to the Los Angeles Lakers A forward and shooting guard, he made his NBA debut in November 1996 at the age of 18 and played 20 consecutive seasons in the league.
— Nicknamed the ‘Black Mamba,’ he won NBA championships with the Lakers in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2009 and 2010 Won the NBA Most Valuable Player award in 2008, and was named to the NBA All-Star team 18 times
— Won Olympic gold medals with the United States in 2008 and 2012
— Retired in 2016 after playing 1,346 regular season games and averaging 25 points a game, twice leading the league in scoring
— He earned more than US$300 million on the court during his career.
— His career points total of 33,643 is fourth on the all-time NBA list Off the court, he married Vanessa Laine in 2001 In 2005, he reached a civil settlement with a woman who said he raped her in a Colorado hotel
— Died on January 26, 2020, when a helicopter in which he was a passenger crashed into a hillside in Calabasas, California.—Reuters
WASHINGTON, Jan 27 ― The US Justice Department and state attorneys general are meeting this week for talks on their concurrent investigations into possible anti-competitive practices by Google, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday.
The Journal said the talks could eventually lead to the two groups joining forces as their investigations progress.
The Justice Department and the state attorneys general have not so far shared investigative materials from their respective probes, but officials said that could change.
At least seven state attorneys general have been invited to the meeting, according to the Journal, which cited people familiar with the matter.
A focus of the probes is Google's dominant position in the online advertising market, the report said.
Another subject of scrutiny, it said, is possible anti-competitive behaviour by Google in its Android operating system.
The meeting is likely to include discussions of those issues as well as the scope of the investigations and how the work might be divided among them, the Journal said.
Neither the Justice Department nor the state attorneys general commented on the report, nor did Google.
Google dominates the US market for online advertising with a 36 per cent share, compared to 19 per cent for Facebook.
Facebook is under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission's consumer protection bureau, which is looking into the impact on competition of the company's acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp.
The House Judiciary, meanwhile, is examining the practices of Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon. ― AFP
BELO HORIZONTE, Jan 27 — The death toll from days of intense storms and flooding in southeastern Brazil has risen to 44, authorities said yesterday.
In addition to the dead, the number of injured stands at 12 and that of the missing was lowered from 25 to 19, local Civil Defence officials said.
The dead have yet to be identified. Many were buried by landslides or in the debris of collapsed houses, which in many poorer parts of Brazil are shoddily built.
Officials said some 17,000 people have been forced to leave their homes in 58 towns and cities across Minas Gerais state, including in the capital Belo Horizonte, as well as in nearby areas. More than 10,000 others had to flee in two neighboring states.
Images taken from the ground and the air, some posted on social media, showed the vast sweep of the disaster, with damaged houses, fallen trees and downed utility poles, overflowing rivers, collapsed bridges and flooded neighborhoods.
The torrential rains — the worst since records were first kept 110 years ago — eased off yesterday, but authorities said the risk of new landslides would continue through Friday in towns in the Belo Horizonte area.
From India, where he is on an official trip, President Jair Bolsonaro said the government was doing “everything possible,” while adding that in such a large area “it is difficult to serve everyone.”
Regional Development Minister Gustavo Canuto and Governor Romeu Zema of Minas Gerais state flew over the affected area and promised afterward in a news conference to prioritize humanitarian aid for the homeless. They announced immediate aid of 90 million reais (about US$22 million).
Zema warned that without consistent, long-term public policies to reduce areas at risk, “we will see things like this many times over.”
But in Vila Bernadete, a neighbourhood on the edge of Belo Horizonte where six people died in a landslide that toppled seven hillside homes, a resident, Audemar Carneiro, said the area had never seemed at risk.
“Nothing like this has ever happened here,” the 51-year-old told AFP. “It was a fairly safe place... It was an unannounced tragedy.” — AFP
GENEVA, Jan 27 — The head of the World Health Organisation headed to China yesterday to discuss how to contain a virus outbreak that has killed 56 people and infected over 2,000 worldwide.
“I am on my way to Beijing, to meet with the government and health experts supporting the #coronavirus response,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Twitter.
“My WHO colleagues and I would like to understand the latest developments and strengthen our partnership with China in providing further protection against the outbreak.”
The WHO also released its latest data showing a total of 2,014 cases — almost all of them in China.
The 29 confirmed cases outside China were in 10 countries.
On the advice of an emergency committee of international experts, Tedros last week stopped short of declaring the coronavirus outbreak an international public health emergency.
The designation by the UN health agency would prompt more concerted international action as there has been with other outbreaks such as Ebola and the swine flu pandemic, including possible trade and travel restrictions.
China has locked down the hard-hit province of Hubei in the country’s centre in an operation affecting tens of millions of people in a bid to slow the spread of the virus.
Tedros last week urged China to ensure lockdown measures are kept “short in duration” but has emphasised the openness shown by Chinese authorities since the first cluster of the outbreak was identified on December 31.
“If we are going to keep the world safe, transparency is number one,” he told reporters then.
The previously unknown virus has caused global concern because of its similarity to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) pathogen, which killed hundreds across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003. — AFP
LOS ANGELES, Jan 27 — Kobe Bryant, who won five NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers and was considered one of basketball’s all-time greats, was killed in a helicopter crash in California yesterday, officials said. He was 41.
Four other people died in the crash in a remote field around 10am (1800 GMT) about 40 miles (65 km) northwest of central Los Angeles, the city of Calabasas said on Twitter.
There were no survivors. Several major US media outlets reported that Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, was also on the helicopter. A teammate from Bryant’s daughter’s basketball team, a parent of the teammate, and the pilot were also killed, NBC News reported.
“This is a moment that leaves us struggling to find words that express the magnitude of shock and sorrow we are all feeling right now, and I am keeping Kobe’s entire family in my prayers at this time of unimaginable grief,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement.
Shocked fans gathered outside the Staples Centre arena in Los Angeles around a wreath with a message: “Kobe we love you RIP.” Some in the crowd dabbed tears as others laid flowers and basketball sneakers at the wreath.
First responders put out the flames at the crash site, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s department said, posting a picture of a fire truck and smoke emerging from the brush in a ravine.
Bryant had been known to use a helicopter for travel since his days as a player for the Los Angeles Lakers, when he commuted to games in a Sikorsky S-76 chopper, the celebrity news website TMZ said.
The Federal Aviation Administration identified the crashed helicopter as a Sikorsky S-76, saying in a statement that the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board would investigate.
Bryant played all 20 of his National Basketball Association seasons with the Lakers, winning five championships and being named an all-star 18 times.
He was the third-leading scorer in league history with 33,643 points, until LeBron James passed him on Saturday.
Nicknamed the Black Mamba, he became eligible to enter the Hall of Fame this year and is certain to be selected when the 2020 class is enshrined.
Bryant and his wife, Vanessa, had four daughters: Gianna, Natalia, Bianca and Capri, who was born in June 2019.
Bryant’s star power translated into the entertainment world as he mingled with show-business stars in Los Angeles.
In 2018, he won an Oscar for his animated short film “Dear Basketball.”
But he was also accused of sexual assault in 2003 by an employee at a Colorado hotel, tarnishing his reputation and leading to a media storm to cover his trial.
Bryant denied the allegations and charges eventually were dropped after the woman refused to testify.
Bryant and his wife filed for divorce in 2011 after 10 years of marriage, but the couple said in 2013 they had reconciled.
Bryant’s father, Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, also played in the NBA, and Kobe demonstrated from an early age he would surpass his father’s accomplishments.
The Philadelphia native went straight from high school to the NBA, skipping the college ranks. Since he was still only 17 years old, his parents needed to co-sign his first contract with the Lakers and he played his first game with the team shortly after turning 18 in 1996.
He also won two Olympic gold medals, part of the US team in 2008 and 2012.
He retired after the 2015-2016 NBA season because of mounting injuries. In recent years, he had focused his attention on philanthropy and business ventures. — Reuters