Nation & World News

Controversy Follows As Activists Cross North-South Korean Border

By Elise Hu on May 24th, 2015 | Last updated: May 25, 2015 at 12:04 am

The much-publicized peace walk across the inter-Korean border was really a bus ride. South Korean immigration officials insisted that a group of 30 international women, including American feminist pioneer Gloria Steinem and two Nobel Prize laureates, take a ride across the border for their own safety.

Still, Steinem said, just getting agreement to cross at all — from two nations still technically at war — counts as a win.

“It was an enormous, enormous triumph,” Steinem said, after crossing into the South Korean side of the demilitarized zone.

The walk was aimed at promoting reconciliation between North and South Korea. The two nations find themselves stuck in an uneasy truce, since they never signed a formal peace treaty to end the Korean War. But the group’s reluctance to call out North Korea’s human rights abuses led to protests in the South and criticism from a few worldwide human rights groups.

“You can get to human rights when you have a normal situation and not a country at war,” says Irish Nobel Prize Laureate Mairead Maguire of the charges the group has been hesitant to openly criticize North Korea.

Normalizing relations with nonviolence certainly sounds good. But that’s far from the reality of dealing with the world’s most cut-off country, says Alex Gladstein of the Human Rights Foundation.

“This group in no way shape or form has ever criticized the North Korean government,” Gladstein says. “In fact, it has actually covered for it and made excuses for it. This isn’t some wishy-washy government that might be doing something good. This is the world’s most repressive government.”

Gladstein argues that North Korea supported the walk, which started in Pyongyang, only because it benefited the Kim regime.

“I would describe it as a marketing stunt for the North Korean government. The North Korean government is being showered in praise and media attention right now,” he says.

In a somewhat tense press conference at the inter-Korean transit station, the women denied North Korean state media reports that they praised the DPRK’s first communist dictator, Kim Il Sung, during the visit to Pyongyang.

“So just cut it out, OK?” Steinem said. “Nothing we do can change the image of North Korea, or can change the image of any country, right? We are trying to make person-by-person connections.”

The peace walk is done, but peace will take much longer. North Korea’s recent moves to test a submarine missile, rescind an approval for the secretary general to visit and publicly execute its top officials have left the country where it’s been — out in the cold, in international politics.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript :

ARUN RATH, HOST:

Women’s right pioneer Gloria Steinem and dozens of international activists crossed the fortified border between North and South Korea today. The crossing was aimed at reunifying two nations still technically at war. But as NPR’s Elise Hu reports, it ended up exposing a distrust that has persisted for decades.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: In the end, the much-publicized peace walk across the inter-Korean border was really a bus ride. South Korean immigration officials insisted the women ride across the border for their own safety. Still, 81-year-old women’s rights leader Gloria Steinem said just getting agreement to cross at all counts as a win.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GLORIA STEINEM: It was an enormous – an enormous triumph.

HU: The women called for a peace treaty between North and South Korea – something never signed after the end of fighting in the Korean War. Normalizing relations sounds good, but in their calls for peace, the group’s drawn criticisms from human rights groups. Alex Gladstein of the Human Rights Foundation is one of them.

ALEX GLADSTEIN: This group, in no way, shape or form, has ever criticized the North Korean government and, in fact, has actually covered for it and made excuses for it. This isn’t some wishy-washy government that might be doing something good. This is the world’s most repressive government.

HU: Gladstein says North Korea knew what it was doing in approving the walk.

GLADSTEIN: I would describe it as a marketing stunt for the North Korean government.

HU: Some South Koreans agree. They showed up to protest the women with signs saying go back to North Korea. In a somewhat tense press conference, Steinem rejected claims the group was exploited.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

STEINEM: So just cut it out, OK? (Laughter). Nothing we do can change the image of North Korea or can change the image of any country, right? We are trying to make person-by-person connections.

HU: The peace walk is done, but peace will take much longer. North Korea’s recent moves to test a submarine-launched missile, uninvite the U.N. secretary general to visit and to publicly execute its top officials have left the country where it’s been – out in the cold in international politics. Elise Hu, NPR News, Seoul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Huge Crowd In El Salvador For Beatifcation Of Slain Archbishop

By Scott Neuman on May 23rd, 2015 | Last updated: May 23, 2015 at 5:04 pm

Oscar Romero, the Catholic archbishop who was murdered in El Salvador in 1980 by a member of a right-wing death squad, has been beatified in a ceremony in the country’s capital today that drew at least a quarter of a million people.

The beatification is the last step before canonization, when the Vatican would declare Romero a saint. In January, the Holy See declared him a martyr.

Romero was archbishop of San Salvador at the start of El Salvador’s 1979-1992 civil war. He was gunned down while celebrating Mass in March 1980 after denouncing a crackdown on leftist opponents of the country’s military government.

As NPR’s Carrie Kahn reported on Friday from San Salvador, today’s beatification ceremony “ends a long-fought battle for recognition of Romero’s life and work. But many say it does little to curb the current gang violence terrorizing the country today.”

According to Carrie, “Romero’s beatification has brought visitors and his supporters from around the world to this small Central American nation. They stream through Romero’s spartan home in San Salvador, the capital, now preserved as a tiny museum, where Romero lived up until his death.”

In a letter to the current Archbishop of San Salvador, Pope Francis said the Romero’s beatification created “a favorable moment for true and proper reconciliation.

“In this day of joy for El Salvador and also for other Latin American countries, we thank God for giving the martyr archbishop the ability to see and feel the suffering of his people,” the pope wrote, according to the BBC.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
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Huge Crowd In El Salvador For Beatifcation Of Slain Archbishop

By Scott Neuman on May 23rd, 2015 | Last updated: May 23, 2015 at 5:04 pm

Oscar Romero, the Catholic archbishop who was murdered in El Salvador in 1980 by a member of a right-wing death squad, has been beatified in a ceremony in the country’s capital today that drew at least a quarter of a million people.

The beatification is the last step before canonization, when the Vatican would declare Romero a saint. In January, the Holy See declared him a martyr.

Romero was archbishop of San Salvador at the start of El Salvador’s 1979-1992 civil war. He was gunned down while celebrating Mass in March 1980 after denouncing a crackdown on leftist opponents of the country’s military government.

As NPR’s Carrie Kahn reported on Friday from San Salvador, today’s beatification ceremony “ends a long-fought battle for recognition of Romero’s life and work. But many say it does little to curb the current gang violence terrorizing the country today.”

According to Carrie, “Romero’s beatification has brought visitors and his supporters from around the world to this small Central American nation. They stream through Romero’s spartan home in San Salvador, the capital, now preserved as a tiny museum, where Romero lived up until his death.”

In a letter to the current Archbishop of San Salvador, Pope Francis said the Romero’s beatification created “a favorable moment for true and proper reconciliation.

“In this day of joy for El Salvador and also for other Latin American countries, we thank God for giving the martyr archbishop the ability to see and feel the suffering of his people,” the pope wrote, according to the BBC.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
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Email Slip Reportedly Reveals United Kingdom Plan For Possible EU Exit

By Scott Neuman on May 23rd, 2015 | Last updated: May 24, 2015 at 9:03 pm

In what is being described as an embarrassing release of a confidential email, the Bank of England may have inadvertently revealed that it is making financial plans for the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, should that ever come to pass.

Earlier this month, the newly reelected British Prime Minister David Cameron reiterated his party’s commitment to hold a referendum by the end of 2017 on continued membership in the EU.

According to The Guardian, on Friday the Bank of England — the British equivalent of the Federal Reserve — “accidentally emailed details” to the newspaper of a contingency plan in the works on how to extricate the U.K. from the EU, “including how the bank intended to fend off any inquiries about its work.”

The plan has been dubbed “Operation Bookend,” according to the newspaper.

The Guardian reports that “the email, from [Deputy Governor for Financial Stability Sir Jon] Cunliffe’s private secretary to four senior executives, was written on 21 May and forwarded by mistake to a Guardian editor by the Bank’s head of press, Jeremy Harrison.

“It says: ‘Jon’s proposal, which he has asked me to highlight to you, is that no email is sent to [the team of James Talbot, the head of the monetary assessment and strategy division] … or more broadly around the Bank about the project.’

“It continues: ‘James can tell his team that he is working on a short-term project on European economics in International [division] which will last a couple of months. This will be in-depth work on a broad range of European economic issues. Ideally he would then say no more.'”

While the United Kingdom is one of 28 EU member states, it maintains its own currency and is not part of the Eurozone.

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Cleveland Officer Acquitted In 2012 Fatal Shooting Of Unarmed Suspects

By Scott Neuman on May 23rd, 2015 | Last updated: May 24, 2015 at 3:04 am

Updated at 1:15 p.m. ET

A judge handed down a verdict of not guilty on two counts of voluntary manslaughter against a Cleveland officer charged in the 2012 deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams — unarmed suspects who were caught in a 137-shot hail of police gunfire following a high-speed chase.

Small protests quickly erupted in Cleveland, but they appeared to be peaceful.

“In summary, I find that the state did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant Michael Brelo caused the deaths Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams because the essential element of causation was not proved for both counts,” said Judge John P. O’Donnell.

In a nearly hour-long verdict, O’Donnell cited testimony from a doctors for the prosecution and defense, saying he believed that while Brelo had delivered at least one fatal shot to both Russell and Williams, it was impossible to determine beyond a reasonable doubt that Brelo’s shots — and not those of a dozen other officers — were the ones that killed.

O’Donnell, who began hearing testimony on April 6, also determined that Brelo’s use of force was constitutionally reasonable.

The judge said that Brelo and fellow officers involved in the shooting perceived that Russell and Williams posed a threat. Among other things, when officers responded to the call on November 29, 2012, they were doing so based on an incorrect report that the suspects had fired from their 1979 Chevy Malibu.

“It is Brelo’s perception of a threat that matters,” O’Donnell said declining to find the defendant guilty on the lesser count of felonious assault.

The defendant listened to the lengthy decision mostly without visible emotion, but wept when the final verdict was delivered. If convicted, Brelo, an Iraq war veteran, would have faced three to 11 years in prison for each count.

Before announcing the verdict, O’Donnell said that anger with the police “will not be expiated by a verdict in a single criminal case.” He also assured the court that “Brelo’s badge” would not bear on the decision but that he would also not “sacrifice” the officer if the evidence was inconclusive.

“Guilty or not guilty, the verdict should be no cause for a civilized society to celebrate or riot,” he said.

Although 13 officers discharged their weapons during the incident, only Brelo, 31 was charged with voluntary manslaughter because “prosecutors said he waited until the car had stopped and the occupants were no longer a threat to fire 15 rounds down into the windshield while standing on its hood.”

In total, Brelo fired 49 of the 137 shots, prosecutors said. Russell was hit 23 times; Williams was shot 24 times.

Cuyahoga Country Prosecutor Timothy McGinty said the case showed that the police need an “exhaustive” new training program.

“The end result should be better trained police forces” that can deescalate dangerous situations,” McGinty said following the verdict.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, speaking at an afternoon news conference said he wanted the community to know that “we support peaceful protests.”

But, he said, “I want to make sure that those who have a different agenda … understand that it cannot be tolerated.”

Jackson said that it was a defining moment for Cleveland and that “Whatever injustices there might have been will not be repeated.”

He said that he knew the way the charges were framed that it would be “difficult” to get a conviction. He also said the other officers involved in the incident would still face discipline.

Jackson said he had spoken with Gov. John Kasich about the case.

Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams echoed the call for peaceful demonstrations.

In December, the U.S. Department of Justice concluded that the Brelo and the other officers had “found a pattern of excessive force by Cleveland police. The 18-month federal civil rights investigation also found police supervisors failed to document and investigate claims of brutality,” according to NPR’s Carrie Johnson.

The Associated Press notes that during the trial Brelo’s attorneys “argued and testimony showed that other officers fired during the final barrage and that prosecutors couldn’t prove in what order the fatal shots were fired.”

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Dozens Dead In Mexican Shootout Between Gangs, Police

By Scott Neuman on May 23rd, 2015 | Last updated: May 23, 2015 at 10:03 am

Forty-two suspected gang members and one Federal Police officer were killed in a shootout at a ranch in western Mexico that is being described as the deadliest such encounter in recent memory.

The firefight unfolded Friday evening in the town of Tanhuato, near the border between Michoacan and Jalisco, roughly 210 miles northwest of Mexico City. The Washington Post says two drug cartels “have waged a long-running battle and … attacks against Mexican authorities have recently spiked” in the region.

The Associated Press reports: “The battle … followed two other recent unprecedented attacks by the cartel, one that killed 15 state police officers and another that shot down an army helicopter with a rocket launcher for the first time in Mexico’s history. The death toll from all three is at least 76 people at a time when the Mexican government claims crime is falling dramatically and the interior minister recently insisted the country ‘is not in flames.'”

“Black smoke billowing upward from vehicles set on fire during the fighting and photographs from the scene showed bodies, some with semi-automatic rifles and others without weapons, lying in fields, next to farm equipment and on a blood-stained patio strewn with clothes, mattresses and sleeping bags,” according to the AP.

The Post says: “Mexican authorities offered few details Friday afternoon about the killings, which involved the New Generation cartel of Jalisco and a convoy of federal police and soldiers. The governor of Michoacan, Salvador Jara, said on a radio address that at least one policeman died, as well as 42 gunmen, although those numbers were not confirmed.”

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Ireland Votes Overwhelmingly To Approve Same-Sex Marriage

By L. Carol Ritchie on May 23rd, 2015 | Last updated: May 23, 2015 at 3:04 pm

Updated at 2:25 p.m. ET

Ireland has become the first-ever country to approve same-sex marriage by referendum, voting overwhelmingly to approve it despite opposition from clergy in the heavily Catholic nation, according to official results announced today.

Reuters says in Friday’s vote “more than 60 percent of eligible voters cast their ballot, the highest turnout at a referendum there in over two decades.”

Earlier, both sides in the debate acknowledged that the “yes” vote had succeeded.

Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s health minister who came out as gay in January just as the campaign was getting underway, said Dublin appeared to have voted 70 percent in favor of the measure.

“We’re the first country in the world to enshrine marriage equality in our constitution and do so by popular mandate,” Varadkar said. “That makes us a beacon, a light to the rest of the world of liberty and equality. It’s a very proud day to be Irish.”

NPR’s Ari Shapiro, speaking with Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon, says that although Ireland is a predominately Catholic country and many clergy urged a no vote, “the Church has had a lot of scandals” in recent years. Without a doubt, he says, the Church is “one of the losers in this vote.”

The head of the Iona Institute, which ran the No campaign in Ireland’s vote to legalize same-sex marriage, has tweeted his congratulations to the yes campaign.

Here’s the tweet from Iona Director David Quinn:

Ari says that conservative areas that voted against legalizing divorce in the 1990s have come in with a Yes vote for same-sex marriage.

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Fast-Track Trade Authority, A Step Toward Asia Deal, Passes Full Senate

By Christopher Dean Hopkins on May 22nd, 2015 | Last updated: May 23, 2015 at 12:03 am

The Senate voted 62-37 late Friday to grant President Obama additional trade powers, which the president plans to use in pushing through an extensive new agreement with a group of Asian countries.

The administration’s Trans-Pacific Partnership has been opposed by labor groups and some Senate Democrats because of concerns that the deal could cost some U.S. workers their jobs.

The trade authorities had cleared a hurdle on Wednesday in another vote of the full Senate that closed debate on the bill, preventing filibusters and allowing it to pass Friday night by a simple majority vote.

The bill now moves to the Republican-dominated House of Representatives, where the climate appeared favorable, NPR’s Scott Horsley reported late last month.

“Republican lawmakers are generally more supportive of trade deals, and House Speaker John Boehner promised “strong Republican support” for the fast-track bill. Some Tea Party members are wary, however, of giving the president any additional negotiating authority. The more House Republicans that withhold support, the bigger boost Obama will need from his own party.”

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TLC Pulls ’19 Kids And Counting’ Amid Reports Of Star’s Sexual Misconduct As Minor

By Krishnadev Calamur on May 22nd, 2015 | Last updated: May 22, 2015 at 8:03 pm

TLC has pulled 19 Kids and Counting, the reality show featuring Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar’s family, from its schedule amid reports of sexual misconduct against John Duggar, their oldest son, when he was 15.

Here’s TLC’s statement:

“Effective immediately, TLC has pulled all episodes of 19 Kids and Counting currently from the air. We are deeply saddened and troubled by this heartbreaking situation, and our thoughts and prayers are with the family and victims at this difficult time.”

Duggar, now 27, is accused of molesting five underage girls in 2002 and 2003. In a Facebook statement, he wrote:

“Twelve years ago, as a young teenager I acted inexcusably for which I am extremely sorry and deeply regret. I hurt others, including my family and close friends. I confessed this to my parents who took several steps to help me address the situation. We spoke with the authorities where I confessed my wrongdoing and my parents arranged for me and those affected by my actions to receive counseling. I understood that if I continued down this wrong road that I would end up ruining my life. I sought forgiveness from those I had wronged and asked Christ to forgive me and come into my life. I would do anything to go back to those teen years and take different actions. In my life today, I am so very thankful for God’s grace, mercy and redemption.”

His wife, Anna, also posted on Facebook, saying her husband had told her of his actions two years before he asked her to to marry him. Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar called the period of the reported events “one of the most difficult times of our lives.”

Amid the allegations against him, Josh Duggar resigned Thursday as executive director of FRC Action, the tax-exempt arm of the Family Research Council. The Associated Press adds that Arkansas police said today “they had destroyed a record outlining a nearly decade-old investigation into Duggar.”

The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which obtained the record, said this week no charges were ever filed against Duggar because “investigators concluded the statute of limitations had expired.”

Here’s more from the AP about how the report became public:

“Springdale Police began investigating Duggar in 2006 when officers were alerted to a letter containing the allegations that was found in a book lent by a family friend to someone else.

“The report, originally published by tabloid In Touch Weekly [May 19], states that a member of Harpo Studios, the producer of Oprah Winfrey’s then show, received an email containing the allegations before the family was set to appear in 2006. The tipster warned producers against allowing the Duggars on the show and studio staff members faxed a copy of the email to Arkansas State Police.”

Josh’s father, Jim Bob Duggar, served in the Arkansas House of Representatives from 1999 to 2002. He ran for the U.S. Senate twice, but lost both times in the GOP primary. Arkansas lawmakers rallied around the family today amid the report.

GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee wrote on Facebook that he and his wife “affirm our support for the Duggar family.

“Josh’s actions when he was an underage teen are as he described them himself, ‘inexcusable,’ but that doesn’t mean ‘unforgivable,’ ” Huckabee said. “He and his family dealt with it and were honest and open about it with the victims and the authorities. No purpose whatsoever is served by those who are now trying to discredit Josh or his family by sensationalizing the story.”

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Man Convicted Of Killing D.C. Intern Chandra Levy To Get New Trial

By Krishnadev Calamur on May 22nd, 2015 | Last updated: May 22, 2015 at 7:03 pm

Updated at 6:09 p.m. ET

The man convicted of killing Washington intern Chandra Levy in 2001 will get another day in court after prosecutors agreed not to oppose a new trial for Ingmar Guandique.

Vincent Cohen, the acting U.S. attorney, and Leslie Ann Gerardo, the assistant U.S. attorney, asked the Superior Court of the D.C. Criminal Division for a status hearing to be scheduled in two weeks, “by which time the government will have completed an assessment of the time needed to prepare for a retrial in this case.”

They asked that Guandique be detained pending the status hearing.

Guandique’s attorneys had said his one-time cellmate, Armando Morales, had given misleading testimony in the 2010 trial.

In a statement, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said: “We remain firm in our conviction that the jury’s verdict was correct and are preparing for a new trial to ensure that Guandique is held accountable.”

Guandique was found guilty in November 2010 of Levy’s 2001 murder and sentenced to 60 years in prison. The illegal immigrant from El Salvador had been serving time for other attacks on women in Washington’s Rock Creek Park. He was charged with Levy’s murder in 2009.

The case drew headlines across the nation because of 23-year-old Levy’s affair with then-Congressman Gary Condit, a California Democrat. Police questioned Condit multiple times in connection with her disappearance. Levy’s body was found in Rock Creek Park in 2002.

Condit subsequently lost the Democratic primary and left Congress in 2003.

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