- Australian drug convict to learn Indonesia parole decision
- Hong Kong police dismantle 'biggest' WWII bomb
- Pakistan holds landmark talks with Taliban
Posted: 06 Feb 2014 08:07 PM PST
KEROBOKAN, Indonesia, Feb 07, 2014 (AFP) - Australian drug trafficker Schapelle Corby is expected to learn Friday whether Indonesian authorities have agreed to grant her parole from a Bali prison.
Corby, whose case attracted huge public sympathy in Australia, will find out whether she is to walk free after nine years behind bars when Indonesian Justice Minister Amir Syamsuddin announces his decision in the afternoon.
She was sentenced to 20 years in jail in 2005 after being caught trying to smuggle 4.1 kilograms (nine pounds) of marijuana into the resort island of Bali hidden in her surfing gear the previous year.
Syamsuddin has said in the past he does not oppose parole for the 36-year-old although he insisted this week she will not get "special treatment".
As anticipation built in recent days that her release was imminent, hordes of Australian media have flocked to Bali and set up camp outside the infamous Kerobokan jail where she is held.
A crowd of some 60 reporters, cameramen and photographers were outside the prison Friday, an AFP reporter at the scene said.
Channel Seven has reportedly sent the biggest crew to Bali, with 17 staff dispatched from Australia and another seven locals on board.
Her sister Mercedes, with whom Corby will live on Bali if she is granted parole, arrived in the morning on a motorbike and had to fight her way through the scrum.
A media bidding war is reportedly in full swing in Australia that could see Corby earn millions of dollars for her tell-all story if she is released.
Syamsuddin has said he will strictly follow the law when deciding whether to grant Corby parole. He will base his decision on a recent assessment by a justice ministry parole board, whose views have not been made public.
"As long as she fulfils all the requirements and has the recommendation from the parole board... she will get her rights," he said.
If granted parole, Corby is expected to walk out of Kerobokan, in south Bali, within a short space of time, possibly by the weekend, after completing necessary paperwork.
But she will not be able to return to Australia until 2017. She needs to first complete her sentence and then remain in Indonesia for an additional year to fulfil the conditions of her parole.
The former beauty school student will instead live on Bali with Mercedes, who has a Balinese husband.
Corby, who has always steadfastly maintained her innocence, had her original sentence cut substantially. She received several remissions for good behaviour and a five-year reduction from the Indonesian president after an appeal for clemency.
Her parole bid was a complex, months-long process and speculation began mounting last year that she was on the verge of release, only for it to again run into problems. It sped up in the past week after the parole board finally heard her application.
The process has been complicated by the fact it is rare for Indonesia to release foreigners on parole. However Corby's bid received a boost last month when a French drug smuggler was given an early release.
While many in Australia support her early release, some in Indonesia have been against it, saying it amounts to special treatment.
Eight lawmakers on Thursday handed a letter of protest to Syamsuddin voicing opposition to Corby getting parole.
They said a decision to grant her early release would run counter to Jakarta's tough anti-drugs laws and would be inappropriate at a time when Australia-Indonesia ties were at a low after a row over spying. - AFP
Posted: 06 Feb 2014 07:54 PM PST
HONG KONG, Feb 07, 2014 (AFP) - Hong Kong police on Friday successfully dismantled the largest World War II bomb yet found in the city after its discovery on a construction site prompted the evacuation of 2,260 people.
The nearly one-tonne US Navy ANM66 bomb was discovered by building workers late Thursday in the Happy Valley district, near the city's famous downtown racing track.
"It was the biggest bomb ever found in Hong Kong," a police spokeswoman told AFP.
Bomb disposal experts took 15 hours to remove the live explosives from the bomb, which was unearthed close to a Sikh temple, hotels and residential housing.
"It has taken a longer time because of... technical problems when drilling holes into the bomb and because of the large amount of explosives inside it," senior bomb disposal officer Yuen Hon-wing told reporters.
Nearby buildings would have collapsed if the bomb had gone off, police said.
"Because the explosive inside was very sensitive, we had to cut the shell in a low-temperature environment, so the process took longer than expected," Yeun said.
The bomb weighed 2,000 pounds - more than 900 kilograms - and was more than five feet (1.7 metres) long, with a diameter of two feet (600 centimetres), police said.
News footage showed two large holes drilled into the side of the bomb casing.
"What is left now is a metallic bomb shell," Yeun said.
Buildings around the site including two hotels were evacuated Thursday but resumed operations on Friday morning.
The bomb was believed to have been dropped by US forces in 1945. The former British colony was the scene of fierce fighting in December 1941 against the invading Japanese, who occupied Hong Kong until 1945.
Unexploded wartime ordnance is routinely found in the southern Chinese city. In November a British shell was detonated in a controlled explosion at the Peak, home to some of Hong Kong's most expensive real estate. - AFP
Posted: 06 Feb 2014 04:34 PM PST
Islamabad (AFP) - Negotiators for Pakistan's government and the Taliban called for a ceasefire after meeting Thursday in the first round of talks aimed at ending the militants' bloody seven-year insurgency.
The two sides gathered in Islamabad for a preliminary meeting that lasted more than three hours to chart a "roadmap" for future discussions, amid deep scepticism over whether dialogue can yield a lasting peace deal.
Reading from a joint statement following the talks, Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, the Taliban's chief negotiator, said his side agreed with a government demand that "there should be no activity by either side which can potentially harm the peace efforts".
Irfan Siddiqui, his government counterpart, hailed the meeting -- the first ever formal dialogue between the two sides -- saying that the Taliban committee had "responded to us beyond our expectations".
The breakthrough came after an abortive start to the talks Tuesday, which were called off when the government cited doubts over the Taliban negotiating team.
"We are really happy that the Taliban committee has responded to us beyond our expectations and they have heard our reservations and told us their reservations with an open heart," Siddiqui told reporters on Thursday evening.
"We share the common goal of making this country peaceful in accordance with Islamic teaching. And I thank the Taliban committee for meeting us," Siddiqui added.
Haq said his team would hold discussions with the Taliban leadership and a second round of talks would be held after they had responded.
Underlining the fragile security situation, a suicide bomber on Tuesday killed eight people in a sectarian attack against minority Shiite Muslims in the northwestern city of Peshawar, just hours after the abortive start to the talks.
The main TTP spokesman denied they were behind the blast but a commander for the group in Peshawar told AFP his men were responsible, saying no ceasefire had been announced.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has killed thousands of people in gun and bomb attacks across the nuclear-armed state since it launched its campaign in 2007.
The start of the year has seen a surge in militant violence with more than 110 people killed, and an air force bombardment of TTP hideouts in North Waziristan fuelled speculation that a major military offensive was imminent.
There is talk of splits within the TTP, a fractious coalition of militant groups, with some rumoured to oppose the whole idea of negotiations.
Saifullah Khan Mehsud, director of the FATA Research Centre, said this made it difficult to achieve even a ceasefire as a first step.
"I don't know if the Taliban are on the same page and which groups that these negotiators are representing, so I don't know if they can guarantee a ceasefire at all," he told AFP.
Stability in nuclear-armed Pakistan is seen as important to neighbouring Afghanistan, where US-led NATO troops are pulling out after more than a decade of war.
Washington has said it is watching the talks closely. It has long been pushing Pakistan to take action against militants using Pakistan's tribal areas as a base to attack NATO forces across the border.
Observers have held out scant hope for the talks, saying there appears to be little common ground and warning of what the government might be forced to concede.
One of the TTP's negotiating team, Maulana Abdul Aziz, told AFP on Wednesday there was no chance of peace unless the government agreed to the imposition of Islamic sharia law throughout Pakistan.
The Taliban also want US troops to withdraw from Afghanistan.
The government has insisted that Pakistan's constitution must remain paramount, but security analyst Ayesha Siddiqa warned they may find themselves forced to give ground.
"I look at history and see that every time the non-religious leadership has tried to do some appeasement Pakistan has slipped deeper into theocracy and this is one such moment," she told AFP.
"We are already a hybrid theocracy and we are heading towards more theocracy."
Local peace deals with the militants in the past have quickly fallen apart.
A famous 2008 peace deal in the Swat Valley resulted in the Taliban taking control of the region.
Government efforts to start peace talks last year came to an abrupt halt in November with the killing of TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud in a US drone strike.
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