Selasa, 12 November 2013

The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

Al Qaeda in Yemen vows revenge for Shi'ite rebel attack on Salafis


RIYADH (Reuters) - Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has pledged revenge against Shi'ite Houthi rebels in northern Yemen for their assault on a Salafi school in Dammaj, Site Monitoring Service reported late on Tuesday, citing a statement from the group.

Fighting between Houthis and Salafis in the traditional Dammaj school, in the heart of Shi'ite territory, caused more than 100 deaths over the past two weeks and threatens to cause more sectarian tensions in Yemen.

The impoverished Arabian Peninsula state faces a host of political troubles, including the Houthi rebellion, an al Qaeda uprising, splits in the military and a southern separatist movement.

Western countries fear further turmoil could create more space to operate for AQAP, already seen as one of the most dangerous al Qaeda branches after it plotted attacks on international airliners, in a country that sits alongside big oil shipping routes.

AQAP's warning it would seek revenge was contained in the transcript of a video recording by Harith bin Ghazi al-Nadhari, a religious official in the militant group, and posted by Yemeni journalist Abdul Razza al-Jamal on his Facebook page, Site reported.

"We declare our total solidarity with our Sunni brothers in the centre in Dammaj, and in other Sunni areas that the Houthi group had attacked," said Harithi's statement.

"Your crimes against the Sunni people will not pass without punishment or disciplinary action," it added.

The statement also attempted to place the fighting in northern Yemen in the context of a wider Middle East sectarian struggle, comparing it to the war in Syria where Sunni rebels are fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad, who belongs to the Alawi sect, a Shi'ite offshoot.

"It is a siege no different than that imposed upon Gaza or Homs or the Damascus countryside," Harithi said.

Salafis in Dar al-Hadith, the Dammaj school, have previously distanced themselves from al Qaeda and criticised Osama bin Laden, but the seminary has also educated Muslims who later became prominent militants.

The Houthi rebel movement emerged in the early 2000s, claiming it would fight against what it saw as the marginalisation of Shi'ites of the Zaydi sect, which prevails in the Yemeni highlands. One of its grievances was the incroachment of Salafi doctrine in Zaydi areas.

(Reporting By Angus McDowall)

Philippine president says typhoon death toll overstated


TACLOBAN, Philippines (Reuters) - Philippine President Benigno Aquino said local officials had overstated the death toll from Typhoon Haiyan, saying it was closer to 2,000 or 2,500 than the 10,000 previously estimated, comments that drew scepticism from some aid workers.

The government has been overwhelmed by the typhoon, which flattened Tacloban, coastal capital of Leyte province where several local officials have said they feared 10,000 people died, many drowning in a tsunami-like surge of seawater.

Rescue workers have yet to reach scores of other towns and villages in the path of one of the strongest storms on record, five days after it smashed into the central Philippines.

Aquino, who has been on the defensive over his handling of the disaster, said the government was still gathering information from various storm-struck areas and the death toll may rise. "Ten thousand, I think, is too much," Aquino told CNN in an interview. "There was emotional drama involved with that particular estimate.

"We're hoping to be able to contact something like 29 municipalities left wherein we still have to establish their numbers, especially for the missing, but so far 2,000, about 2,500, is the number we are working on as far as deaths are concerned," he said.

A presidential spokesman said Aquino referred to estimated deaths. Official confirmed deaths stood at 1,774 on Tuesday, with only 84 missing, a figure aid workers consider widely inaccurate.

Some aid workers also expressed scepticism at Aquino's dramatically lower death toll.

"Probably it will be higher because numbers are just coming in. Many of the areas we cannot access," Gwendolyn Pang, secretary general of the Philippine Red Cross, told Reuters.

The preliminary number of missing, according to the Red Cross, is 22,000. Pang cautioned that figure could include people who have since been located. "They report their relatives missing but they don't alert us when they are found," she said.


More the 670,000 people have been displaced by the storm and many have no access to food, water or medicine, the United Nations said.

With international aid efforts picking up, relief supplies have begun pouring into Tacloban along roads flanked with corpses and canyons of debris.

Natasha Reyes, emergency coordinator in the Philippines at Médecins Sans Frontières, described the devastation as unprecedented for the disaster-prone archipelago.

"There are hundreds of other towns and villages stretched over thousands of kilometres that were in the path of the typhoon and with which all communication has been cut," Reyes said.

U.N. aid chief Valerie Amos, who is in the Philippines, called the scale of destruction "shocking".

Aquino has declared a state of national calamity and deployed hundreds of soldiers to control looting in Tacloban, a once-vibrant port city of 220,000 that is now a wasteland.

The local government was wiped out by the storm, said Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas. Officials were dead, missing or too overcome with grief to work. Of the city's 293 police officers, only 20 had shown up for duty, he said.

Medical workers are treating the injured at evacuation centres for lacerations and other wounds. But many complain of a lack of food and poor hygiene.

One woman sat on a bench in a hospital in the city, her decomposing 5-month-old baby in her arms, wrapped in a black jacket. The infant was sick before the typhoon. After the storm, she sought medicine in the hospital. There was none. Her baby, she said, convulsed and died.

"It feels like I'm going crazy since I keep thinking how we can solve our problems. We want to go back home, but we can't even if my baby's starting to smell. We just want to go back," she said on ABS-CBN television.


U.N. officials said getting food, medicine and clean water to the disaster zone were the priorities, along with sanitation and shelter.

The World Health Organisation said teams from Belgium, Japan, Israel and Norway had arrived in the Philippines to set up field hospitals. It said other countries were expected to provide medical teams.

More than 250 U.S. forces were on the ground too, and a senior Marine official told Pentagon reporters he expected that number to grow every day.

"Our priority for supplying aid is potable water, food, shelter, hygiene products, and medical supplies," said Pentagon spokesman George Little.

The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington will arrive later this week, carrying about 5,000 sailors and more than 80 aircraft. It has been joined by four other U.S. Navy ships.

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said the development lender was considering boosting its conditional cash transfer program for the Philippines.

Rescuers have reached some remote parts of the coast that were previously cut off, such as Guiuan, a city of 40,000 people that suffered massive destruction from high winds but was spared the storm surge that washed over Tacloban. Local officials say 85 people were killed in Guiuan, with 24 missing.

The typhoon also levelled Basey, a seaside town in Samar province about 10 km (6 miles) across a bay from Tacloban. Local officials say 80 people were killed in Basey.

Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima said the economic damage in the coconut- and rice-growing region would likely shave 1 percentage point off of economic growth in 2014.

The overall financial cost of the destruction was harder to assess. Initial estimates varied widely, with a report from German-based CEDIM Forensic Disaster Analysis putting the total at $8 billion to $19 billion.

(Additional reporting by Rosemarie Francisco in Manila, and Phil Stewart and Susan Heavey in Washington. Writing by Dean Yates. Editing by Jason Szep)

Hawaii legislature gives final nod to legalizing gay marriage


HONOLULU (Reuters) - The Hawaii Senate gave final legislative approval on Tuesday to a bill extending marriage rights to same-sex couples in a state popular as a wedding and honeymoon destination and regarded as a pioneer in advancing the cause of gay matrimony.

The measure cleared the Democratic-controlled state Senate on a 19-4 vote to cheers and applause from hundreds of supporters in flowered garland leis who filled the visitor galleries and the Capitol rotunda.

Hundreds more danced for joy on the sidewalks in front of the Capitol building.

Governor Neil Abercrombie, a Democrat who called a special session to consider the bill, is expected to sign it into law on Wednesday, an aide to the governor said. That would make Hawaii the 15th U.S. state to legalize gay marriage.

The measure, set to take effect on December 2, rolls back a 1994 statute defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

President Barack Obama, who was born in Hawaii, hailed passage of the bill in a statement.

"Whenever freedom and equality are affirmed, our country becomes stronger," said Obama, the first U.S. president to support gay marriage. "By giving loving gay and lesbian couples the right to marry if they choose, Hawaii exemplifies the values we hold dear as a nation."

Amended in the state House of Representatives last week to strengthen exemptions for clergy and religious groups, the measure easily cleared the Senate with the body's lone Republican joining three Democrats in opposing it. Two other Democrats were absent.

The path to legal gay marriage in Hawaii has been long and bumpy. The state's Supreme Court ruled two decades ago that barring same-sex nuptials was discriminatory in a landmark opinion that propelled the gay rights movement nationwide.

That ruling also sparked a backlash that has until now kept marriage limited to heterosexual couples in Hawaii.

The reversal by Hawaii lawmakers comes at a time of increasing momentum for gay marriage in the courts, at the ballot box and in statehouses across the United States.

The trend has gained steam since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that married same-sex couples are eligible for federal benefits, striking down a key part of the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act. In a separate ruling the same day, the high court paved the way for lifting a ban on gay marriage in California.

The justices stopped short in both 5-4 decisions of declaring a nationwide right to same-sex marriage. Proponents and opponents of gay marriage have vowed to continue their battle state by state.


A state court judge last week refused a request from opponents for a temporary restraining order to block action on the legislation but said he would examine the constitutionality of the bill once it was enacted.

Allowing gays to marry has been vehemently opposed in Hawaii by religious conservatives, as elsewhere in the country.

"You can try to force people to do something they don't believe in, but you can't make it so," Republican state Senator Sam Slom said before the vote.

Supporters say the Hawaii bill was crafted to address concerns that legalizing same-sex marriage would infringe on religious freedoms. The bill explicitly exempts clergy from having to perform gay weddings if doing so would conflict with their religious beliefs.

It also grants immunity from administrative, civil and legal liability to religious organizations and officials for refusing to provide goods and services, or their facilities or grounds, for same-sex weddings and related events.

"This is about government recognizing two individuals - government, not churches," said Democratic state Senator Will Espero during the debate.

In 2003, Massachusetts became the first U.S. state to permit gay marriage. A year ago, only six states and the District of Columbia recognized gay marriage. That number has since more than doubled, due in most cases to litigation over the issue.

Three states - Maine, Maryland and Washington - became the first to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples by popular vote with passage of ballot initiatives last November.

Last month, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie dropped his legal opposition to gay marriage, making his state the 14th to legalize same-sex weddings.

Illinois lawmakers gave final approval to a same-sex marriage bill on November 5, and Governor Pat Quinn is expected to sign that measure into law this month.

The debate has long divided Hawaii. In 1993, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled it was discriminatory to deny marriage rights to same-sex couples.

But the legislature voted the following year to restrict marriage to heterosexual couples, passing a law at odds with the courts. And in 1998, Hawaii voters took the courts out of the equation by approving a constitutional amendment giving the legislature power to limit marriage to opposite-sex couples.

Abercrombie, who served more than two decades in the U.S. Congress before running for governor in 2010, signed a same-sex civil unions bill into law two years ago. His predecessor, Republican Linda Lingle, vetoed a civil unions bill in 2010.

(Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Christopher Wilson)


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