Selasa, 4 Februari 2014

The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

Snow storm slams U.S. Plains, heads for Northeast

Posted: 04 Feb 2014 08:20 PM PST

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) - An unusually heavy winter storm slammed into the nation's mid-section Tuesday, heading east and threatening roughly two-thirds of the country with what forecasters said could be up to a foot (30 cm) of snow.

The storm system forced the closing of many state offices and schools in hardest-hit Kansas, where Governor Sam Brownback declared a state of "disaster emergency."

Authorities in Kansas and neighbouring Missouri advised residents to stay in their homes and the National Weather Service (NWS) warned of extremely difficult travel conditions.

At least two people died in a car accident in Crawford County in southeast Kansas due to the treacherous conditions, state officials said. The Kansas National Guard was deploying soldiers and Humvees to transport emergency and medical workers and assist stranded motorists.

"We still have some of the most difficult conditions ahead of us as the snowfall is followed by heavy winds and bitterly cold temperatures," Brownback said. "Travel will remain treacherous and temperatures will be dangerously cold."

The conditions were so poor that part of Interstate 70, a key road artery connecting Kansas City and St. Louis, Missouri, was closed in both directions Tuesday morning near Columbia, Missouri, after several tractor-trailers collided, according to the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

"Kansas City and eastern Kansas is going to get a lot of snow," said Greg Carbin, meteorologist for the NWS Storm Prediction Center. "It's remarkable weather. Winter is entrenched. It doesn't appear to be wanting to go anywhere."

Numerous additional accidents were reported in Missouri as cars skidded off slick highways, the state patrol said.

More than 7 inches (18 cm) of snow had fallen in the Kansas City area by early evening, with more expected before the system moves northeast early Wednesday, according to the NWS.

The heavy snow and ice tracking through the central United States was headed northeast into Pennsylvania, New York and New England, forecasters said.

Areas from the lower Great Lakes eastward through central New England should see a foot or more of snow before the system moves out to sea by Wednesday night, according to the NWS, and heavy rains could result in flooding across the Tennessee Valley and Ohio Valley.


More than 9,500 flights were delayed across the country on Tuesday and nearly 1,800 were cancelled, according to, a website that tracks air traffic.

The storm set up Monday night over southwestern Kansas and was peaking over Kansas City on Tuesday.

This event is uncommon, said NWS meteorologist Dan Hawblitzel, as only about 3 percent of the winter storms that hit Kansas City total more than 6 inches (15 cm) of snow.

Eying the approaching storm, other states were taking precautions. Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy postponed his state of the state address by a day and said the impending storm was also causing state legislative leaders to push back by a day the start of the joint legislative session.

"While I hope the storm is not as bad as predictions suggest, I also don't want to put anyone in harm's way," Malloy said in a statement announcing the delay.

Schools in Providence, Rhode Island, were ordered closed Wednesday due to the approaching storm.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie declared a state of emergency and ordered state offices closed on Wednesday for all non-essential workers.

"I encourage all New Jerseyans to drive carefully and remain off the roads if possible so that our first responders and public safety officials can safely respond to any emergency situations," Christie said in a written statement.

New York issued a hazardous travel advisory for Wednesday and Mayor Bill de Blasio told residents to prepare for a difficult commute.

"If you do not need to use your car, don't use your car. If you can use mass transit, please use mass transit," de Blasio said.

The snow storm comes after a fast-moving winter storm hit the U.S. Northeast on Monday, forcing flight cancellations throughout the region and tying up road traffic the day after the NFL's Super Bowl championship game in New Jersey.

On Sunday, the famed groundhog "Punxsutawney Phil" emerged from his burrow in the small Pennsylvania town, saw his shadow and - as the legend goes - predicted six more weeks of winter.

(Additional reporting by Steve Barnes in Little Rock, Arkansas; Scott Malone in Boston and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by G Crosse, Gunna Dickson, Cynthia Osterman and Lisa Shumaker)

U.S. discusses Afghan troop levels; Kabul holds talks with Taliban

Posted: 04 Feb 2014 07:45 PM PST

WASHINGTON/KABUL (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama met his senior military commanders to discuss the American presence in Afghanistan as officials in Kabul confirmed President Hamid Karzai's government has been holding secret talks with Taliban insurgents.

The United States said it welcomed any talks that would bring peace to Afghanistan.

"It's important to note here that we've long strongly supported an Afghan-led reconciliation, which would, of course, be Afghans talking to Afghans," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. "So the notion that we wouldn't support that dialogue is inaccurate."

She added that the United States was not in discussions with the Taliban.

In Kabul, Karzai's spokesman confirmed a New York Times report that the government was holding talks with the Taliban in the hope of persuading them to make peace.

"I can confirm that ... Taliban are willing more than ever to join the peace process," Aimal Faizi said. "Contacts have been made and we are also in touch with them."

A member of Afghanistan's High Peace Council also confirmed that talks had taken place, but was measured in his assessment of their success.

"Talks took place in Dubai three weeks ago between government officials and Taliban who flew from Doha, but we are still waiting to see the result," he told Reuters.

Western and Afghan officials speaking to the Times also said the talks had borne little fruit so far. The contacts had not even progressed as far as opening negotiations for a tangible peace agreement, the paper said.

Obama's talks with U.S. military commanders focused on whether U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan after this year, as they end their 13-year mission in the country that began shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks. U.S. troops helped oust the Taliban regime from power after the Islamic militants refused to hand over al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and have since been helping the Kabul government fight the group.

No decisions on troop levels were made at the meeting.


The United States would like to leave more than 10,000 troops in Afghanistan for counter-terrorism and training of Afghan forces. But Karzai has refused thus far to sign a bilateral security agreement (BSA) that Washington insists must be approved before it will agree to leave the troops behind.

A White House spokeswoman, Laura Lucas Magnuson, said Obama had a useful, constructive meeting with the military officials, who included General Joseph Dunford, commander of international forces in Afghanistan; Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel; General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and other defence and White House officials.

"The president continues to weigh inputs from military officials, as well as the intelligence community, our diplomats, and development experts and has not yet made decisions regarding the post-2014 U.S. presence," Magnuson said.

Karzai's relationship with Washington has come under increasing pressure since November, when he announced his intention to avoid signing the BSA until after a presidential election on April 5.

His decision to drop a deal that had taken about a year to hammer out shocked Western diplomats. The uncertainty about Afghanistan's fate after U.S. troops pull out has also weighed on the economy.

Karzai's refusal to sign is sapping already scant support for the war in Washington, which has halved aid for civilian assistance in the fiscal year 2014.

Washington has signalled it could pull all troops out after 2014 unless a deal is signed soon. This would leave Afghanistan's fledgling security forces to fight the Taliban insurgency alone, without U.S. financial and military support.

The Taliban have vowed to derail the election, and have stepped up attacks in Kabul despite the peace talks.

January's tally of attacks was the highest since 2008, according to security officials, and the trend has continued into February, with two bombs going off in Kabul on Monday.

(Additional reporting by Jessica Donati in KABUL, and Steve Holland, Jeff Mason and David Alexander in WASHINGTON; Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan Editing by Alex Richardson)

U.S. sharply curtails drone strikes in Pakistan: report

Posted: 04 Feb 2014 07:15 PM PST

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States has cut back sharply on drone strikes in Pakistan after the Islamabad government asked for restraint while it seeks peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday.

The Post quoted a U.S. official as saying, "That's what they asked for, and we didn't tell them no." The newspaper said there had been a lull in such attacks since December, the longest break since 2011.

The newspaper said the Obama administration indicated it would continue carrying out strikes on senior al Qaeda officials if they were to become available or to thwart any immediate threat to Americans.

Reuters was not immediately able to confirm the report.

The Post quoted a senior Obama administration official as denying an informal agreement had been reached, saying, "The issue of whether to negotiate with the Pakistani Taliban is entirely an internal matter for Pakistan."

While some Pakistanis welcome the strikes, saying they kill fewer civilians and are more effective against Taliban militants than traditional military operations, others argue the strikes still cause civilian casualties, terrify residents and violate Pakistani sovereignty.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has said he wants the drone strikes to end.

The Post said the current U.S. pause came after a November strike that killed Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud.

That attack took place a day after Pakistan's foreign policy chief Sartaj Aziz was quoted as saying the United States had promised not to conduct drone strikes while the government tries to engage the Taliban in peace talks.

An annual study by a British-based organization found that CIA drone strikes against militants in Pakistan killed no more than four civilians last year, the lowest number of reported civilian deaths since the drone program began in 2004.

(Reporting by Peter Cooney; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)


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