- U.S. drone kills Pakistan Taliban No. 2 - security officials
- Barbara hits southern Mexico, killing at least two
- Venezuela furious at Colombia's meeting with opposition leader
Posted: 29 May 2013 07:19 PM PDT
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - A U.S. drone strike killed the No. 2 of the Pakistani Taliban in the North Waziristan region on Wednesday, three security officials said, in what would be a major blow to the militancy.
The drone strike killed seven people, Pakistani security officials said, including Taliban deputy commander Wali-ur-Rehman, in the first such attack since a May 11 general election in which the use of the unmanned aircraft was a major issue.
It was also the first reported U.S. drone strike since President Barack Obama announced last week that the United States was scaling back the drone program.
Wali-ur-Rehman had been poised to succeed Hakimullah Mehsud as leader of the Pakistani Taliban, a senior army official based in the South Waziristan region, had said in December.
"This is a huge blow to militants and a win in the fight against insurgents," one security official told Reuters.
The Pakistani Taliban are a separate entity allied to the Afghan Taliban. Known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, they have launched devastating attacks against the Pakistani military and civilians.
The White House said Wali-ur-Rehman was wanted in the killing of seven CIA employees and a Jordanian intelligence officer in a 2009 suicide bombing by an al Qaeda triple agent at Forward Operating Base Chapman, Afghanistan. The attack was featured in the film "Zero Dark Thirty" about the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
The Pakistani Taliban leader "has participated in cross-border attacks in Afghanistan against U.S. and NATO personnel and horrific attacks against Pakistani civilians and soldiers," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
In line with White House practice not to discuss drone strikes, Carney said he could not confirm the killing. But even his discussion of drone policy at a news briefing was an unusual level of openness for the White House.
Obama said in a major speech last week that the United States would only use those drone strikes when a threat was "continuing and imminent," a nuanced change from the previous policy of launching strikes against a significant threat.
Under the new presidential guidance, the Defense Department rather than the CIA will take the lead in launching lethal drones, but the CIA is expected to continue running drone operations in Pakistan for now.
Obama's announcement of scaling back drone strikes was widely welcomed by the people of North Waziristan, where drones armed with missiles have carried out the most strikes against militants over the past seven years, sometimes with heavy civilian casualties.
Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan told Reuters the group did not have "confirmed reports" that Wali-ur-Rehman had been killed. He declined further comment.
Drone casualties are difficult to verify. Foreign journalists must have permission from the military to visit the Pashtun tribal areas along the Afghan border.
Taliban fighters also often seal off the sites of drone strikes immediately so Pakistani journalists cannot see the victims.
"That the Taliban are remaining silent and neither denying or confirming the news is itself peculiar," said Saleem Safi, a Pakistani expert on the Taliban. "But if this news is true, then the Pakistan army has the U.S. to thank."
The security officials and Pashtun tribesmen in the northwestern region said the drone fired two missiles that struck a mud-built house at Chashma village, 3 km (2 miles) east of Miranshah, the region's administrative town.
They said seven people were killed and four wounded.
"Tribesmen started rescue work an hour after the attack and recovered seven bodies," said resident Bashir Dawar. "The bodies were badly damaged and beyond recognition."
The Pakistan government has not confirmed Wali-ur-Rehman's death.
A U.S. drone killed Pakistani Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud in 2009. There had been several reports that his successor, Hakimullah Mehsud, was killed the same way but they turned out to be untrue.
But Pakistan's Foreign Ministry again denounced drones in general on Wednesday.
"The government has consistently maintained that the drone strikes are counter-productive, entail loss of innocent civilian lives, have human rights and humanitarian implications and violate the principles of national sovereignty, territorial integrity and international law," it said.
North Waziristan is on the Afghan border and has long been a stronghold of militants including Afghan Taliban and their al Qaeda and Pakistani Taliban allies.
Prime Minister-elect Nawaz Sharif said this month that drone strikes were a challenge to Pakistan's sovereignty.
"We will sit with our American friends and talk to them about this issue," he said.
The strike also coincided with the first session of the newly elected provincial assembly of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the former Northwest Frontier Province.
Former cricketer Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf party won most seats in the assembly and denounced the strike, saying Obama had gone back on his word.
(Additional reporting by Mehreen Zahra-Malik and Syed Raza Hassan in Islamabad, Saud Mehsud in Dera Ismail Khan and Alistair Bell in Washington; Editing by Robert Birsel and Doina Chiacu)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 29 May 2013 06:54 PM PDT
SAN PEDRO TAPANATEPEC, Mexico (Reuters) - Hurricane Barbara hit Mexico's southern Pacific coast on Wednesday, flooding roads, toppling trees and killing two men before weakening to a tropical storm as it moved inland.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Barbara, which had earlier moved close to the country's biggest oil refinery, was 50 miles (80 km) west of the city of Tuxtla Gutierrez in Chiapas state. Winds were blowing at up to 60 miles per hour (95 kph).
The hurricane was churning north-northeast at about 9 mph (15 kph) and should weaken rapidly overnight, the NHC said.
According to media reports, 14 fishermen disappeared in the state of Oaxaca during the storm. Local emergency services said they could not confirm that information.
Manuel Maza, director of emergency services in Oaxaca state, said that very strong winds and intense rainfall had hit the region and that power outages were reported.
Mexican state oil monopoly Pemex said earlier on Wednesday that operations were normal at its biggest refinery, located in the port of Salina Cruz. The plant has the capacity to process 330,000 barrels of crude per day.
Local emergency services said a 61-year-old U.S. man surfing off the beach at Salina Cruz drowned during the storm. A 26-year-old Mexican man was killed as he tried to cross a river.
Ports for small vessels in the area have been closed and emergency services in Oaxaca said they evacuated residents from some areas as a precaution, including the immediate vicinity of the refinery.
A tropical storm warning is in effect from Salina Cruz in Oaxaca to Pijijiapan in Chiapas state.
Between 6 and 10 inches (10 to 20 cm) of rain is expected over eastern Oaxaca through western Chiapas, along with a storm surge of 3 to 5 feet (1 to 1.5 meters) above normal tide levels, the NHC said.
(Additional reporting by David Alire Garcia and Liz Diaz; Editing by Simon Gardner, Marguerita Choy, Bill Trott and Stacey Joyce)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 29 May 2013 06:15 PM PDT
CARACAS/BOGOTA (Reuters) - Venezuela reacted with fury to Wednesday's talks between Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles, saying it was a "bomb" in ties and recalling an envoy to Colombia's peace process.
Capriles met Santos in Bogota at the start of a tour around Latin America to press his case that last month's presidential poll in Venezuela was fraudulent and President Nicolas Maduro's government is therefore illegitimate.
Capriles, a 40-year-old business-friendly state governor, lost to Maduro, the successor to late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, by just 1.5 percentage points, according to official results.
The Maduro government has vilified Capriles as a "fascist" trying to stir a coup in Venezuela, and powerful Congress head Diosdado Cabello, who is also the No. 2 in the ruling Socialist Party, was the first to complain about the meeting in Bogota.
"Colombia must clarify if the government is with Capriles' coup intentions, or with the people of Venezuela and with the legitimate, sovereign and constitutional government of comrade Nicolas Maduro," Cabello told state media.
"President Santos is putting a bomb in the good relations that President Chavez urged so much ... He is receiving a murderer, a fascist right there in his palace."
Colombia is a major U.S. ally and the government before Santos had dire relations with Chavez's administration.
But despite ideological differences, Santos patched things up with Chavez in the name of pragmatism and regional solidarity after taking power in 2010. That helped trade to flow and enabled both sides to chase criminal gangs on the border.
Colombian Finance Minister Mauricio Cardenas on Wednesday offered to provide Venezuela with food and manufactured goods to ease shortages in the OPEC-member country.
Cardenas offered to meet with Venezuelan officials to discuss the issue in the coming days and find a form of payment that might involve an exchange of Colombian goods for crude oil.
'FIGHT FOR DEMOCRACY'
Capriles, whose politics are closer to Santos' than Maduro's are, also met with Colombia's parliament leaders during Wednesday's visit. He said he was taking his demand for justice abroad given that it was being stymied at home.
"We are taking the voice of millions of Venezuelans beyond our borders," he told reporters, repeating his argument that the April 14 presidential vote was stolen from him.
"The fight for democracy has to be everyone's fight."
Capriles said he and Santos spoke about the economy, security, Venezuela's internal situation, and peace talks Colombia's government is holding with Marxist guerrillas.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua echoed Cabello's criticisms and said the country's envoy to Colombia's peace talks in Cuba, Roy Chaderton, would be recalled in protest.
"I deeply regret that President Santos has taken a step that is going to lead, in a painful way, to the derailing of the good relations that we had," he told reporters.
Maduro has not specifically referred to Capriles' visit, though on Tuesday he said that "right-wing" Venezuelans were travelling around the region planning economic sabotage and assassinations against his government.
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
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