- U.S. rebalance to Asia-Pacific gaining steam, Pentagon chief says
- Tornadoes hit near Oklahoma City, two dead
- German tourist shot and seriously wounded in Rio slum
Posted: 31 May 2013 09:03 PM PDT
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - The U.S. military will devote more air power, ground troops and high-tech weaponry to the Asia-Pacific region as it moves ahead with a strategic rebalance, the U.S. defence chief said on Saturday in a speech that accused China of cyber incursions.
In remarks laying out his vision for regional security, Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel assured allies and partners at the annual Shangri-La Security Dialogue in Singapore that the United States was fully able to continue its strategic pivot to the region despite budget constraints at home.
"It would be unwise and short-sighted to conclude ... that our commitment to the rebalance cannot be sustained," he said in prepared remarks, noting the United States represented 40 percent of global defence spending even under the "most extreme budget scenarios."
Hagel sketched out some of the region's thorniest security issues, including North Korea's effort to develop nuclear weapons and missiles, competing territorial claims in the seas around China and disruptive activity in space and cyberspace.
While noting U.S. concerns about cyber intrusions linked to the Chinese government and military, Hagel underscored his belief that resolving many regional security issues would require closer cooperation between Washington and Beijing.
"Building a positive and constructive relationship with China is ... an essential part of America's rebalance to Asia," he said. "While the U.S. and China will have our differences ... the key is for those differences to be addressed on the basis of a continuous and respectful dialogue."
On Friday, Hagel said cyber threats posed a "quiet, stealthy, insidious" danger to the United States and other nations, and called for "rules of the road" to guide behaviour and avoid conflict on global computer networks.
CHINA QUESTIONS U.S. MILITARY FOCUS
In questions and answers after Hagel's speech, Chinese Major General Yao Yunzhu, an expert on U.S.-China defence relations, asked the Pentagon chief what the United States could do to reassure China it really wants a positive relationship when it is focusing so many military resources on the region.
"That's really the whole point behind closer military-to-military relationships," Hagel said. "We don't want miscalculations and misunderstandings and misinterpretations. And the only way you do that is you talk to each other, you have to be direct with each other ... And I think we're on track with that."
Hagel outlined numerous military contacts between the two countries over the past year and said the United States encouraged the responsible rise of China and other powers because they would have a vested stake in regional stability.
The speech to the Asian security summit was Hagel's first as defence secretary. But as a U.S. senator he was an early supporter of the event, led the U.S. congressional delegation to the inaugural session and has addressed the group several times.
Hagel emphasized U.S. efforts to deepen ties with allies and partners in the region through both bilateral and multilateral engagement. He announced he was inviting defence ministers from the ASEAN grouping of nations to a first-ever U.S.-hosted meeting in Hawaii next year.
"Relationships, trust and confidence are what matter most ... in the region," Hagel said.
The U.S. defence chief used the speech to underscore his long experience with Asia - from his military service in Vietnam, to business travels in China as a cell phone executive to later visits to the region as a U.S. senator.
"What I took away from all these experiences was a firm belief that the arc of the 21st century would be shaped by events here in Asia," Hagel said, adding that was clear the United States would need to rebalance its resources toward the region once it ended its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Hagel's predecessor, Leon Panetta, told the Shangri-La gathering last year that the United States would commit 60 percent of its naval forces to the Asia-Pacific by 2020, a shift of about eight ships from the current deployment.
Building on that, Hagel told the conference the U.S. Air Force would commit 60 percent of its overseas-based aircraft and airmen to the region - about the same level as now - while U.S. Army troops and Marines would resume their Asia-Pacific roles as they draw down following the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Hagel said in the future the Pentagon would "prioritize deployments" of its most advanced weapons systems to the Pacific, including the radar-evading F-22 Raptor jet fighter, the stealth F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the Virginia-class fast attack submarine.
He indicated the region could soon see other advanced systems as well, noting the Navy planned to deploy a directed energy laser weapon on the USS Ponce next year and last month successfully launched an experimental jet drone from an aircraft carrier for the first time.
"Combined with new concepts, doctrine and plans that integrate these new technologies and other game-changing capabilities, we will ensure freedom of action throughout the region well into the future," Hagel said.
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 31 May 2013 08:36 PM PDT
OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - Violent thunderstorms spawned tornadoes that menaced Oklahoma City and its already hard-hit suburb of Moore on Friday, killing a mother and her baby, and officials worried that drivers stuck on freeways could be trapped in the path of dangerous twisters.
The mother and baby were killed while travelling on Interstate 40, just west of Oklahoma City, when their vehicle was picked up by the storm, said Betsy Randolph, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. The interstate was shut down due to the storm, with multiple crashes and injuries.
At least 40 to 50 people were being treated for injuries suffered in the storms, including five patients in critical condition, among them a child, according to the Integris Health hospital system.
National Weather Service meteorologists at one point declared a tornado emergency for parts of the Oklahoma City metropolitan area, including Moore, and storm spotters were tracking a tornado in the western suburb of Yukon.
One twister touched down on Interstate 40 and was reported headed toward Oklahoma City. Television images showed downed power lines and tossed cars as menacing gray funnels churned across the darkening prairie.
A tornado also touched down in Moore, which was hit by a massive EF-5 twister last week that killed 24 people.
"The Interstate is at a standstill," Randolph said. "We are begging people to get off the Interstate and seek immediate shelter ... We are in a dire situation."
Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin told CNN that motorists stuck on any freeway in the path of a twister should try to go in the opposite direction to where the twister was coming from.
"What we saw from the tornadoes that came through Moore and the other ones last week was that people who were in cars on the Interstate were killed," Fallin told CNN.
Moore Mayor Glenn Lewis told CNN it was "unbelievable" that Moore had been hit again.
Tim Oram, meteorologist for the National Weather Service, said it was difficult to know exactly how many tornadoes had touched down, but three major storms were potentially producing tornadoes throughout the center of the state.
The service later lifted a tornado warning for Oklahoma City and surrounding areas, but cautioned that storms would bring flooding, large hail and damaging winds to an area south and east of the sprawling metropolitan area, which is home to more than 1.3 million people.
At a little after 8 p.m. CDT, two of the storms were passing through Oklahoma City's southeastern suburbs, including Moore, he said. Those two storms were headed toward Norman, with the other storm southwest of the Oklahoma City.
Will Rogers Airport in Oklahoma City was shut down as it sheltered 1,200 people, local station KWTV reported.
Oklahoma Gas and Electric Company said that 68,000 customers in the Oklahoma City area were without power.
Storms in Oklahoma and Arkansas on Thursday killed at least three people, including a sheriff.
The body of Scott County Sheriff Cody Carpenter was recovered early on Friday, said Keith Stephens, a spokesman for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. Authorities continued to search for a missing game warden on the Fourche La Fave River.
A man also died in Tull, Arkansas, when a tree fell on his car and a woman's body was found flood waters in Scott County on Friday.
Large, long-lasting thunderstorms known as supercells are responsible for producing the strongest tornadoes, along with large hail and other dangerous winds.
Tulsa, as well as Springfield, Missouri, may all be buffeted by Friday's severe weather and possible tornado touchdowns, said Rich Thompson, a lead forecaster at the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.
The danger zone included Joplin, Missouri, he added. Joplin was hit by a monster tornado, one of the most catastrophic in U.S. history, that killed 161 people and destroyed about 7,500 homes two years ago.
(Additional reporting by Suzi Parker in Little Rock, Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee Tom Brown in Miami, Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem, Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Tim Gaynor; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn, Barbara Goldberg, Cynthia Johnston and David Brunnstrom)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 31 May 2013 05:26 PM PDT
BRASILIA (Reuters) - A German tourist was shot and seriously wounded in the stomach on Friday in one of Brazil's largest slums, where drug traffickers still control areas despite a crackdown in 2011.
Frank Daniel Benjamin, 25, was shot in an alley of the poorest section of the Rocinha slum on Rio de Janeiro's south side, a police statement said. A local resident picked him off the ground and carried him to a police unit from where he was rushed to hospital with a serious wound to the liver.
The shooting added to a recent wave of violence that has hit visitors to Rio, including the brutal kidnapping and rape of an American tourist that shocked the tourist trade.
The violence just weeks before Rio hosts football games in a warm-up for the 2014 World Cup has raised alarm over the city's ability to control crime and ensure the safety of visitors in a city that will also hold the Olympic games in 2016.
In July, hundreds of thousands of Catholics are expected to descend on Rio to see Pope Francis on his first trip abroad as pontiff.
The recent violence has raised questions about the effectiveness of efforts to "pacify" Rio's large slums by sending in troops and police to dismantle drug-trafficking rings.
The Rocinha slum, part of a shanty town perched on steep hillsides, was "pacified" in November 2011 and now attracts visits by foreign tourists on guided tours.
The German tourist, however, was shot in the poorest part of the slum known as "Dirty Clothes," where drug traffickers still rule a maze of back alleys that are hard to patrol and tourists normally do not visit, a police source told Reuters.
A friend who was with the wounded man told police they were surprised in an alley by an armed man who shot at them when they ran off.
(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by David Brunnstrom)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
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