Tomas Ojea Quintana, a UN human rights expert, said the he witnessed “widespread suffering” during his weeklong visit of Myanmar’s western Rakhine state, where sectarian violence erupted in June. He also said he recorded allegations of “serious" human rights violations by police and security forces, including torture, killings, arbitrary arrest and excessive use of force. Quintana, who was charged by the UN with assessing the overall human rights situation in the country, also expressed concern for the treatment of the six UN workers who were detained in Rakhine, and called on the country’s leadership to release all political prisoners. Clashes between the Rakhine state’s Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya left at least 78 dead and thousands homeless.
At least 18 people have been killed and over 20 wounded as a suicide bomber attacked a funeral service in the city of Jaar in southern Yemen. A Yemeni military official anonymously reported that al-Qaeda is believed to be behind the attack. The man whose funeral was attacked had been close to civilian militias that helped the army in its campaign against al-Qaeda.
The annual Lollapalooza music festival in Chicago has been suspended due to a severe thunderstorm warning, police say. Music fans were relocated to nearby underground evacuation and shelter sites. It is unclear whether the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who were scheduled to perform last on Saturday, would be able to go on stage. Last year, powerful winds caused stage rigging to collapse at the Indiana State Fair, killing seven and injuring dozens.
Damascus is now under the control of Syria’s military forces, Press TV reports, quoting a military commander. Troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have allegedly cleared every neighborhood of the country’s capital of rebel forces. Earlier on Saturday, Syria’s military reportedly discovered a mass grave in the suburbs of Damascus, loaded with the bodies of civilians and Syrian Army soldiers.
The terror attack on a tourist bus that claimed the lives of seven people, most of them Israelis, in the Bulgarian city of Burgas on July 18 was planned from abroad, a Bulgarian Interior Ministry representative told a local newspaper. The bomb was “assembled somewhere close, as no one would risk carrying an activated improvised explosive device,” the ministry believes. Straight after the attack, Israel blamed it on Iran.
Egypt has invited officials from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to resume negotiations over a $3.2 billion loan, the country’s finance minister said on Saturday. An IMF deal would help Cairo avoid a budgetary and balance of payments crisis, hopefully restoring investors’ confidence in the nation’s economy. Last year's overthrow of Hosni Mubarak drove investors away, caused Egypt’s borrowing costs to soar, and left local banks to take on the burden of lending to the state.
The new Egyptian government fails to fairly represent the country’s Christians, the interim head of the country’s Coptic Church said. Bishop Pachomius told the Al-Shorouk newspaper that Christians represent 14 percent of Egypt’s population, and should therefore occupy four seats in the cabinet. Pachomius also criticized security forces for inaction during Muslim attacks on a church and several Christian homes on Wednesday. The attacks led to clashes that resulted in one death and 16 injuries.
A group of armed men stormed an oil ship off Nigeria’s coast, abducting four unidentified foreign workers and leaving two sailors dead and two others wounded. The Nigerian Navy is searching for the gunmen. The Niger Delta is the country’s principal oil-producing region. The Delta has been relatively calm following a 2009 government-backed deal granting amnesty to militants in the country.
The Palestinian Authority has announced that it will file a new application to the UN General Assembly in September in its bid to be accepted as a non-member state. The PA’s leadership hopes that a vote in favor of statehood will ensure the success of their quest for full recognition of the Palestinian state. A similar bid by PA President Mahmoud Abbas at the UN Security Council last September failed.
British diplomats will be allowed to attend the trial of Gu Kailua, wife of disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai, the UK Foreign Office announced on Saturday. Kailua and an aide are accused of poisoning British entrepreneur Neil Heywood last November, after he was found dead in a hotel room in the Chinese city of Chongqing. Kailua faces execution if found guilty of murder. Xilai was stripped of his position in China’s Communist Party last month, after a Chongqing police chief fled to the US Consulate to seek asylum and express suspicion about Xilai and his family.
At least seven people were killed by flash flooding and landslides in northern India; 19 others went missing after torrential rain pounded the region for three days. Dozens of homes were washed away in the flooding. The Himalayan hills are prone to landslides and heavy rains during monsoon season, which lasts from June to September.
Forty-eight Iranian pilgrims visiting a holy Shiite mosque have been abducted by gunmen in a suburb of the Syrian capital, Iranian state television reports. The pilgrims were on a bus heading to the mosque when they were seized by a group of armed men, Al-Alam TV said, quoting an official at the Iranian embassy in Damascus. Iran's English-language Press TV alleged that “terrorists” were behind the kidnapping.
Afghanistan's parliament has voted in favor of removing both the Interior and Defense Ministers (Bismullah Mohammadi and Abdul Rahim Wardak, respectively) over the government’s failure to stop cross-border shelling, which Afghan officials blame on the Pakistani military. The decision was taken despite promises by both legislators to reinforce border security. Legislators asked President Hamid Karzai to “introduce new ministers as soon as possible.”
A Turkish military council has announced the retirement of 55 generals and admirals, 40 of them currently in jail. The decision was approved Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan after the council’s meeting on Friday. The military officials are suspected of plotting a coup and related terrorist acts. They face charges connected to the Ergenekon militant network, the alleged 2003 Baloyz planned secularist coup and an internet campaign to discredit Turkey’s ruling party.
This Saturday, Sweden will celebrate the centenary of the birth of Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat widely known for his efforts in rescuing tens of thousands of Jews from the Holocaust in Nazi-occupied Hungary. Canada, Israel and the United States have also saluted Wallenberg’s heroics, and awarded him honorary citizenship. Wallenberg is believed to have disappeared during the Soviet siege of Budapest, and was reported dead in July 1947.
Recent flooding in North Korea has killed 169 people, with another 400 missing, the state Korean Central News Agency announced on Saturday. The figures are a sharp increase from earlier casualty figures. Flooding also displaced roughly 212,200 people, and destroyed more than 65,000 hectares of farmland between late June and the end of July, the agency reported. The World Food Program announced it is sending emergency food aid to the flood-ravaged country.
Filipino Roman Catholic clerics led a rally against a proposed law that would provide government funding for birth control and introduce reproductive health and sexuality classes in schools. “Contraceptives corrupt moral values and promote the view that babies are a nuisance,” the Church said in a statement. The president of the Philippines, which is Asia’s fastest-growing country, has come out in support of contraception rights. The Philippines House of Representatives is set to vote on the bill next week.
Beijing reiterated its support for a peaceful political solution to the ongoing Syrian crisis Saturday, and blamed the West for obstructing diplomatic and political efforts to restore order in the country. The comments came from a deputy head of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s North African and West Asian department, in the wake of the UN General Assembly’s passage of a non-binding resolution on Syria. China was one of 12 countries that voted against the resolution. Russia and China have vetoed three separate Security Council resolutions on Syria. In each case, both countries claimed the bills were one-sided in favor of the Syrian opposition.
Pyongyang intends to harden its opposition to international pressure on its nuclear program, Washington-funded broadcaster Voice of America quotes a senior North Korean official as saying. The message follows three days of informal talks between North Korean diplomats and an unofficial US delegation in Singapore. The reason for the warning was “the US hostile policies” toward Pyongyang, North Korean diplomat Choi Sun-hee wrote. The US State Department responded by with a statement that Washington is “committed to the maintenance of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and has no hostile intent toward North Korea.” The State Department did not participate in the talks in Singapore.
One Saudi soldier was shot dead and another was wounded late Friday while patrolling an area in the city of Qatif populated by minority Shiite Muslims. One gunman was killed in the ensuing shootout. “A security patrol was exposed to heavy fire from four armed rioters on motorbikes when pausing at a street intersection in Qatif," the Saudi Interior Ministry said. Three gunmen were arrested in connection to the shootings. Another man suffering a bullet injury from the battle was arrested at a hospital.
The UN’s World Food Program (WFP) plans to send the first batch of emergency food aid to North Korea, to aid victims of last month’s 14-day flooding. Pyongyang requested international aid following storms and flooding that killed nearly 120 people and left more than 84,000 homeless. The disaster also destroyed more than 45,000 hectares of farmland in the impoverished country. A UN fact-finding mission has traveled to North Korea, and is set to report on the country’s food and agriculture in September.
Iran has test-fired an upgraded version of its ‘Fateh-110’ short-range ballistic missile, Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi announced. The solid-fuel missile possesses an operational range of 185 miles (300 km), and can pinpoint targets at sea, Vahidi said. The Fateh-110 was developed by Iran's Aerospace Industries Organization, and is said to be the most accurate weapon in the Islamic Republic’s arsenal.
A Tunisian national was slightly injured by a car bomb blast near the Libyan military police offices in Tripoli on Saturday. The bombing is the first such attack in the capital since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi last year. Authorities have yet to announce a suspect in the attacks.
Sudan and South Sudan have come to an agreement on how to split the two nations’ oil reserves in the wake of the South’s secession, African Union mediator Thabo Mbeki announced. He provided no further details on the deal, but said production and shipment of crude oil will resume. South Sudan it took control of most of the region’s oil fields after winning independence in July 2011, but the pipelines and shipping ports needed to transport the oil remained under Sudan’s control. The two countries have been at odds over an oil revenue-sharing deal, sparking the renewal of a decades-old military conflict in January.
At least six miners were killed after an accident at the Altos Hornos de Mexico underground coal mine in the northern Mexican state of Coahuila. "Seven were trapped, one of them was rescued alive but unfortunately six were buried under the coal," company spokesperson Francisco Orduna said. The accident is believed to have been caused by a gas blast, which caused a cave-in. Some 200 miners were reportedly working in the mine at the time of the incident; most were successfully evacuated.
The European Central Bank has increased the upper limit for the amount of short-term loans the Bank of Greece can accept in exchange for emergency loans, German newspaper Die Welt reported on Saturday. Up until now, the amount of treasury bills the Bank of Greece could accept was limited to 3 billion euro. Greece has applied to have this limit increased to 7 billion euro, ECB sources told the newspaper. The move could save Greece from default until the European Union, the ECB and the International Monetary Fund decide on releasing the country's next bailout tranche.
Mario Ernesto Villanueva Madrid, the former Governor of the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, has pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to money laundering at his arraignment in a US federal court, Manhattan US attorney Preet Bharara said. Authorities accuse Villanueva Madrid of laundering millions of dollars of cocaine bribe payments from the Juarez Cartel through bank accounts in the US and other countries. Villanueva Madrid, who was extradited from Mexico in 2010 and initially pleaded not guilty, now faces up to 20 years in prison. His sentencing is scheduled for October.
New Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has pledged to guarantee security for tourists to the country, and to make “every effort to prevent anything that could damage tourism again.” The Islamist leader made his remarks during a visit to the city of Luxor in southern Egypt, which is rich in historic sites but has been hard-hit by tourists staying away. "After the revolution, Egyptians are intent on assuring security for all visitors," he said, promising that Luxor would remain the capital of tourism and antiquities. Egypt’s tourism sector was badly hit the uprising that ousted president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. The number of tourists who visited Egypt in the first quarter of 2012 is 27.8 per cent lower than in the same period of 2010.
A fire has killed one person and injured 16 others at Iran’s biggest petrochemical complex, the Imam Khomeini in the southwestern city of Mahshahr. Four of those injured remain in critical condition, said governor Manoochehr Hayati. According to Hayati, the fire was caused by a gas leak. It caused no disruption of the facility’s operations, as it was soon extinguished, Fars news agency reported.