Monthly Archives: September 2018

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Tunisia’s ex-president goes on trial on embezzlement, money laundering and drug trafficking

TUNIS, Tunisia – Tunisia’s former autocratic ruler, whose ouster triggered a series of Arab world uprisings, went on trial in absentia Monday in the first of what will likely be a long series of court proceedings five months after he went into exile.

The Tunis Criminal Court is hearing two embezzlement, money laundering and drug trafficking cases against Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. It follows the discovery of around $27 million in jewels and cash plus drugs and weapons at two palaces outside Tunis after he flew to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 14.

Ben Ali, 74, vigorously denied the charges in a statement through his French lawyer, calling the proceedings a “shameful masquerade of the justice of the victorious.”

Five public defenders have been assigned to Ben Ali and his wife, Leila Trabelsi, who is accused in one of the two cases in Monday’s trial. Tunisian law prohibits a foreign lawyer from defending a client in absentia, judicial officials said, meaning French lawyer Jean-Yves Le Borgne cannot take part in proceedings.

Saudi Arabia did not respond to an extradition request, and some Tunisians expressed frustration that he would not be present for his judgment. A verdict could come later Monday.

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Ben Ali and his wife are charged in the discovery of a trove of valuable jewels and cash in Tunisian and foreign currency at a palace in a village north of Tunis. Images of the cache shown on TV after the discovery shocked Tunisians.

The second case surrounds the seizure of arms and drugs at the official presidential palace in Carthage during a search by a commission investigating abuse of authority formed after Ben Ali’s departure. He faces charges of possessing and trafficking drugs, detention of arms and munitions and failing to declare archaeological works also found at the palace.

If convicted, Ben Ali faces five to 20 years in prison for each offence.

More serious charges, including plotting against the security of the state and murder, will be dealt with at future trials. Judicial authorities say that Ben Ali and his entourage are implicated in 93 civil cases and 182 others that fall under military jurisdiction.

In the statement released by Le Borgne, Ben Ali “vigorously denies” accusations against him, saying he never had huge sums of money and claiming most of the weapons found were gifts from visiting heads of state.

“As for the drugs allegedly found, that is a lie and an ignominy … It is absurd and defamatory,” the statement from the lawyer said. The trial has “no goal but to accuse yesterday’s president.”

“I devoted my life to my country and aspire, at the twilight of my existence, to conserve my honour,” Ben Ali said in the statement.

Backed by his powerful party that controlled all sectors, Ben Ali governed with an iron fist, suppressing dissent and quashing all freedom of expression. An official for the Ministry of State Domains, Mohamed Adel Ben Ismail, evaluates the fortune amassed by Ben Ali and the powerful Trabelsi clan of his widely detested wife at a quarter of the value of the Tunisian economy.

In power for 23 years, Ben Ali’s regime unraveled with a monthlong uprising around the country triggered by the fatal self-immolation of an unemployed man in the rural heartland. That sparked protests that moved through the countryside to Tunis, the capital, and failed to die down despite concessions from the president. In a surprise move, he left for exile.

Ben Ali denied that he fled Tunisia, saying he left to avoid “fratricidal and deadly confrontations” among Tunisians. The statement said he would clarify the circumstances of his departure at an appropriate time.

2 workers at public pool in Kentucky disciplined after disabled gay men forced to leave

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – An employee at a public swimming pool in eastern Kentucky was suspended for a week without pay after telling two disabled gay men to leave, city of Hazard officials said Saturday.

The suspended city employee Kim Haynes told investigators that the two men were engaged in an excessive display of affection June 10, and that he would have told any other couple to leave had he seen similar behaviour. Haynes, however, also acknowledged he said, “We don’t tolerate that kind of activity around here” and cited the Bible in an argument with Laura Quillen, a member of the social service group Mending Hearts, which was overseeing the group.

Quillen told investigators the men did nothing inappropriate.

According to a report released by city attorney Paul R. Collins, summing up the conflicting accounts, at least one witness saw the men “standing ‘man to man’ or ‘belly to belly’ in the pool . splashing each other with water and pushing each other under the water.” The witness “also said he observed them hug each other on at least one occasion” and give each other a kiss, the report said.

Pearlman and Haynes were not at work on Saturday and could not be reached by the newspaper for comment by telephone.

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Meanwhile, dozens of people rallied at the pool Saturday in support of the gay men.

“It’s time that people stood up for people. It’s just the right thing to do,” Marsha Morgan from Leslie County told WYMT-TV.

Jordan Palmer, president of the Kentucky Equality Federation, said the men were discriminated against.

“There was not kissing, and there was nothing of that sort. One of them sat on the other’s knee and that was it,” said Palmer.

The manager of the Hazard Pavilion also was reprimanded for unbecoming conduct, The Courier-Journal reported. Charlotte Pearlman used inappropriate and obscene language when declining comment to a television news crew, the city said.

The city also said new anti-discrimination signs will be posted at the pool, as well as signs warning against excessive public displays of affection.

Van Doos pull out of Taliban redoubt; ready to wrap up combat mission

ZANGABAD, Afghanistan – The road to Zangabad is lined with graves and for many years was littered with mines, but for Canadian troops it is now memory lane.

The place they fought hard for over so many years, a place they occupied for the first time last fall, was quietly handed over to the Americans on Sunday as the withdrawal of the Canadian army from Kandahar hit full stride.

Alpha Company 1st Battalion Royal 22e Regiment, which rolled into the notorious Taliban redoubt as part of NATO’s major offensive last year, pulled back to Kandahar Airfield as a first step on the long journey home.

“Au revoir, Zangabad,” the radio crackled on Sunday morning as the last Canadian light armoured vehicles rolled out the gate of the region’s main forward operating base.

The stubborn little knot of tightly-woven villages has gone by a few nicknames over the years, including “Zangaboom” because of all of the improvised explosives. At one point in 2008, troops could not drive into the area because it was so heavily mined.

It’s also been called “Zanga-not-so-bad” when compared with even wilder communities, such as Mushan to the west.

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“There is real a sense of accomplishment,” said Maj. Pierre Leroux, the company commander, shortly after the Canadian flag was hauled down at the spartan, sun-drenched forward base that he carved out of an empty field.

The road coming into this hard, angry little corner of Kandahar is in some ways the story of the Canadian mission here.

At the northern edges, near the village of Sperwan, are the cemeteries where the Taliban buried their dead in 2006 following the milestone battle Operation Medusa. It was the main route the insurgents used to escape the grinding NATO offensive.

It was fertile poppy country, where the insurgency draws its financial strength.

Scorched and depopulated by the Soviets in the 1980s, the Taliban found sanctuary among ruined compounds and abandoned farms, turning them into bomb-making factories ready to unleash with deadly precision against Canadian troops.

It was only with the American surge that Canada gained enough strength to be able to overrun the region and stay to build an extension to the road, which the army counts among its legacies.

The commander of the American unit replacing them said the Van Doos kept up the tempo of patrols right to the end _ a time when most other soldier might have coasted to the finish line.

“They wanted to go out with a sense of professionalism that was truly inspiring,” said Lt.-Col Steve Miller, the soft-spoken leader of 3rd Battalion 21st U.S. Infantry Regiment.

He said he and his men could sense the weight of expectation placed on the Van Doos company, which is among the last Canadian combat units in the field.

The U.S. Stryker unit knows its taking over a tough neighbourhood, one that has been unusually quiet despite being well into the Taliban’s spring-summer fighting season.

Miller’s troops have only faced few if any heavy weapons, such as mortars and roadside bombs, in the increasing number of ambushes being laid to the west and southwest of here, near the border with the Registan desert.

He attributed it to operations conducted by the Canadians last winter, where they uncovered more improvised explosives than at the height of violence last year. The Van Doos also captured a number of prisoners last spring, who were presumably Taliban returning from the winter hiatus in Pakistan.

“I’m surprised it’s not been more kinetic,” Miller said reflecting on the number of firefights his men have faced. “Knowing the history of the place, I’m surprised, but who knows what will happen in three weeks.”

Canadian commanders say they’ve only received harassing firing from the Taliban, but Miller said there are signs a more determined band of foreign fighters is operating in the area, a group that not only shoots but moves with the skill of trained insurgents.

As the column of Canadian armoured vehicles snaked its way out of the area, NATO attack helicopters unleashed a barrage on a distant field.

A huge column of white smoke rose into the blinding noon day sun, a poignant reminder to the soldiers of the war they’ve left behind.

Never a doubt: McIlroy shatters record to win his first major at US Open

BETHESDA, Md. – Rory McIlroy buried the memory of his Masters meltdown the same way he buried the competition at the U.S. Open, with a breathtaking performance filled with the promise of more majors to come.

Four days of flawless golf at Congressional ended Sunday afternoon when McIlroy polished off a 2-under 69 to shatter U.S. Open records that simply defy logic at the major known as the toughest test in golf.

He finished at 16-under par.

The last 10 U.S. Open champions combined were 14 under.

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The 22-year-old from Northern Ireland walked off the 18th green and into the arms of his father, Gerry, who worked three jobs so his only son could pursue his passion. Not even he could have imagined a day like this.

“Happy Father’s Day,” McIlroy told him.

Dad had a Northern Ireland flag draped over his green shirt.

“Unbelievable,” he said. “With what’s happened over the last couple of months, and to come back and do this, it’s fantastic. After the Masters, he worked so hard. I really can’t put it into words. And on Father’s Day, it’s fantastic. You couldn’t beat it.”

It was the second straight U.S. Open title for the tiny country of Northern Ireland, and defending champion Graeme McDowell walked back across the bridge to the 18th green to embrace the new winner.

“You’re a legend,” McDowell told him.

Not many would dispute that now, not after a week like this.

McIlroy finished at 268 to break the U.S. Open record by four shots. That record 12-under par by Tiger Woods at Pebble Beach? McIlroy matched it in the second round and kept right on rolling.

“I couldn’t ask for much more, and I’m just so happy to be holding this trophy,” McIlroy said. “I know how good Tiger was in 2000 to win by 15 in Pebble. I was trying to go out there and emulate him in some way. I played great for four days, and I couldn’t be happier.”

When he arrived for his press conference, he took a picture of the silver U.S. Open trophy on the table and posted it on Twitter with two references that said it all: Winning. Bounceback.

“Going back to Augusta this year, I felt like that was a great opportunity to get my first major. It didn’t quite work out,” McIlroy said. “But to come back straightaway at the U.S. Open and win that is nice. You can always call yourself a major champion, and hopefully after this, I can call myself a multiple major champion.”

Since the Masters began in 1934, McIlroy is the second youngest major champion next to Woods.

His freckled-face bursting with joy when he tapped in for par, McIlroy won by eight shots over Jason Day, who closed with a 68 and moved to No. 9 in the world. It was the second straight runner-up in a major for Day, only this time he didn’t have a chance.

No one did this week.

McIlroy opened with a three-shot lead, stretched it to six shots after 36 holes and eight shots going into the final round. No one got any closer over the final 18 holes.

Tributes poured in throughout the steamy afternoon outside the nation’s capital – first from the players he beat, then from Jack Nicklaus and ultimately from Woods.

“What a performance from start to finish,” Woods said in a statement. “Enjoy the win. Well done.”

Nicklaus invited McIlroy to lunch last year in Florida and talked to him about how to close out tournaments. He apparently wasn’t listening when he took a four-shot lead into the final round of the Masters, only to implode on the back nine and shoot 80.

“I didn’t think it was going to happen again, and it hasn’t,” Nicklaus said by telephone to NBC Sports. “I think this kid’s going to have a great career. I don’t think there’s any question about it. He’s got all the components. He’s got a lot of people rooting for him. He’s a nice kid. He’s got a pleasant personality.

“He’s humble when he needs to be humble, and he’s confident when he needs to be confident.”

And to think that only four days ago, this was being called the U.S. Wide Open with no clear favourite in the game. Woods has gone 18 months without winning and isn’t even playing now because of injuries to his left leg. The top two players in the world have yet to win a major. There appeared to be no one who stood out in the game.

McIlroy, who goes to No. 4 in the world, now stands above everyone going into the final two majors of the year.

Just think: If he had avoided the collapse at Augusta National, he could be headed to Royal St. George’s for the British Open with the first two legs of the Grand Slam.

“Nothing this kid does ever surprises me,” McDowell said. “He’s the best player I’ve ever seen. I didn’t have a chance to play with Tiger when he was in his real pomp, and this guy is the best I’ve ever seen. Simple as that. He’s great for golf. He’s a breath of fresh air for the game, and perhaps we’re ready for golf’s next superstar.

“And maybe,” he said, “Rory is it.”

Among the records he set in a U.S. Open unlike any other:

– The 72-hole record at 268.

– The 54-hole record at 199.

– The 36-hole record at 131.

– Most under par at any point at 17 under.

– Quickest to reach double digits under par – 26 holes when he got to 10 under in the second round.

McIlroy also tied Woods’ record for a six-shot lead at the halfway point, and he joined Lee Janzen in 1993 and Lee Trevino in 1968 as the only players to post all four rounds in the 60s.

Some of that had to do with Congressional, which was softened by rain and cloud cover. The USGA did nothing to try to protect par, moving tees forward to tempt players to take on some risk. The result was a whopping 32 rounds under par on Sunday. The previous record of 18 final rounds under par was at Baltusrol in 1993.

But there is no denying that one guy played far better than anyone else – eight shots better. McIlroy became the first player since Woods in 2002 at Bethpage Black to go wire-to-wire in the U.S. Open without ties, and his best might still be ahead of him.

“I think he’s still growing, and it’s just scary to think about it,” said Y.E. Yang, who played in the final group the last two days.

Adam Hadwin (68) of Abbostford, B.C., finished the tournament at 3-over par. Calgary’s Wes Heffernan (78) struggled in the final round, finishing at 19 over.

Amid the celebration of McIlroy came growing concern about the state of American golf. For the first time since the Masters began in 1934, Americans have gone five majors without winning. They were on the verge of being shut out of the top three for the fourth time in the last five majors until Yang made bogey on the last hole for a 71.

That put the South Korean into a tie for third with PGA Tour rookie Kevin Chappell (66), Robert Garrigus (70) and Lee Westwood (70).

“It says, I think, that the Americans struggle a little bit,” PGA champion Martin Kaymer said. “Since Tiger has been on a – how you do say? – little down, nothing has really happened. We’ve just become so much stronger.”

The game also is getting much younger.

McIlroy became the fourth straight player in his 20s to win a major, the longest such streak since 1897.

The drama Sunday was not who would win, but by how many.

There was simply no catching McIlroy, not when he was staked to an eight-shot lead while playing flawless golf, not on a soft course that allowed him to hit wedge into six greens on the front nine.

With chants of “Let’s go, Ror-eee” coming from the massive gallery, and teenagers climbing pine trees to see golf’s bright new star, McIlroy came out firing with a wedge that settled 8 feet from the pin for an opening birdie.

Twice when he faced putts from across the green, he holed seven-footers for par. He stretched his lead to 10 shots, and when he made the turn, his tee shot on the par-3 10th rolled down the slope and stopped inches away from an ace.

The way his week had been going, it was shocking not to see it fall.

He didn’t make a bogey until the 12th hole, when he failed to get up-and-down from short of the green, and he had his only three-putt of the championship on the 17th hole. McIlroy made worse than par on only four of 72 holes.

In wake of bin Laden raid, Pakistani chief works on military pride, shoring up own position

ISLAMABAD – Pakistan’s military chief is working to repair his army’s wounded pride in the bitter aftermath of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, a humiliation that has strained U.S.-Pakistani relations and raised questions about the top general’s own standing.

Retired and serving officers interviewed by The Associated Press spoke of seething anger within army ranks over the secret strike the Americans carried out on May 2, undetected by Pakistan’s military.

The U.S. helicopter-borne operation set off a nationalist backlash: The usually untouchable army was sharply criticized in the press and on television talk shows, people demonstrated here in the capital demanding accountability, and open calls were made for the resignation of Gen. Asfaq Parvez Kayani, the military chief.

The army is Pakistan’s strongest institution, and Kayani the nation’s most powerful leader, but he “has to be very careful,” said retired Lt. Gen. Talat Masood.

Like others interviewed, he doubted Kayani’s underlings would try to unseat him in an intra-army coup, but he noted occasions in the past when disgruntled officers were found to be plotting against their chief.

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These rumblings generally occurred after the army suffered an embarrassing defeat, most notably Pakistan’s 1971 loss of East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, when India took 90,000 Pakistani prisoners of war who weren’t released for a year. Last month’s raid on the al-Qaida leader’s Abbottabad compound resurrected public comparisons to that Bangladesh debacle.

In one sign of dented military prestige, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered the withdrawal of a two-star general after his men were caught on video killing an unarmed youth. The court took the unusual action “in light of the hostile environment in the society toward the military,” said defence analyst Hasan Askar Rizvi.

The public disquiet weighs heavily on the officer corps and down through lower ranks, Masood said.

“It could all result in loose talk,” he said, but he thought it wouldn’t go beyond that. He noted that within days of the bin Laden raid, Kayani met with key corps commanders in an effort to assure his ranking officers they had not been humiliated.

There’s “quite a lot of anger” within the military, retired Gen. Jehangir Karamat, a former chief of staff himself, said in a telephone interview from the eastern city of Lahore.

“Maybe there is talk,” he told the AP. “Maybe anti-U.S. feeling has gone up in the army. But actually there is in the country a whole lot of anger over the way it happened and the humiliation suffered, and it is inevitably reflected in the army.”

But, he added, “all this talk of him fighting for his job, his survival, I don’t see any signs of that.”

Kayani is consistently described as a “professional soldier” by his own men and knowledgable foreigners. But the general, who as a younger officer did some training in the U.S., may face criticism because of the Pakistani army’s close past co-operation with the U.S. military and dependence on U.S. aid.

At the same time, the Pakistanis have come under sharp criticism in Washington for having apparently missed bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad.

Knowledgable observers here said the fracture with Washington could set back military-to-military relations between the two countries by years, as the Americans seek to step up the joint fight against al-Qaida and other militant groups in the Afghan border area.

“There is a very strong resentment, a very strong sense of betrayal of being discredited in the eyes of our own public. What our enemies have not been able to do they (the U.S.) have done to us,” said a senior military official, who asked that his name not be used to speak candidly.

Pakistan has already sent home nearly 100 U.S. military personnel, most of whom were training the Frontier Corps, the tribal force that patrols Pakistan’s long and porous border with Afghanistan. Pakistan is holding up visas for CIA officials waiting to come here, and Pakistan’s intelligence agency has arrested alleged CIA informants said to have helped lead the Americans to bin Laden.

In Washington last week, Adm. Mike Mullen, the Joint Chiefs of State chairman who has been to Pakistan to try to patch up differences, said letting the relationship with this nuclear-armed nation deteriorate isn’t an option.

If the relationship crumbles or “were we to walk away, I think it’s a matter of time before the region is that much more dangerous and there would be a huge pull for us to have to return to protect our national interests,” Mullen added.


Kathy Gannon is AP special regional correspondent for Pakistan and Afghanistan. She can be reached at 杭州桑拿按摩论坛twitter杭州龙凤/kathygannon.