Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Nigeria: 'Good news' soon on kidnapped girls

boko haram: Some of the escaped kidnapped girls of the government secondary school Chibok, attend a meeting with Borno state governor, Kashim Shettima, in  Maiduguri, Nigeria, June 2, 2014.: Some of the escaped kidnapped girls of the government secondary school Chibok, attend a meeting with Borno state governor, Kashim Shettima, in  Maiduguri, Nigeria, June 2, 2014. AP Photo: Jossy Ola

Some of the escaped kidnapped girls of the government secondary school Chibok, attend a meeting with Borno state governor, Kashim Shettima, in  Maiduguri, Nigeria, June 2, 2014.


ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — Nigeria's National Council of State is promising to deliver "some good news" very soon about more than 200 schoolgirls held captive by Islamic extremists for nearly three months.
The council, made up of past presidents, state governors and leaders of parliament, is "satisfied the security agents know very well where the girls are located," Gov. Godwill Akpabio told reporters at a briefing.
The rescue of the girls was top of the agenda at the meeting Tuesday, he said, and "military authorities also confirmed that efforts were being made and that very soon we will have good news."
The governor added the question is not whether the girls can be rescued but how to do it without endangering their lives.
He said the council, which was addressed by President Goodluck Jonathan and his national security advisers, was left confident that the president and the military are "on top of the situation."
Tuesday's council commended Nigeria's military and security agents, who have been roundly criticized at home and abroad for their failure to swiftly rescue the girls and to curb an escalating Islamic uprising by Boko Haram that has killed thousands. Some 276 schoolgirls were abducted April 15 from a school in northeast Chibok town. Dozens escaped and 219 still are missing.
Last week the Defense Ministry reported the detention of a businessman heading a "terrorists' intelligence cell" who it said "participated actively" in the Chibok abductions.
Negotiations to free the girls without a fight appear to have stalled, with Boko Haram demanding the release of detained extremists in exchange for the girls. Jonathan has rejected those demands.
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau has threatened in a video to sell the girls into slavery and as child brides if his demands are not met. In the video, some of the girls say they have converted from Christianity to Islam.
The extremists are believed to have divided the girls into smaller groups being held at different camps and possibly across borders in Cameroon and Chad, where sightings have been reported. There also have been reports that some of them have been forced to marry their captors.
Boko Haram has been kidnapping people for more than a year but received international condemnation for the mass abductions of the Chibok girls, which has led to a worldwide movement called #BringBackOurGirls.
Boko Haram — which means "Western education is sinful" — had attacked many schools and killed hundreds of students, some burned alive in dormitories.
This year the extremists have launched a two-pronged strategy of bombings in cities and towns and a scorched-earth policy in villages where they kill residents, set huts and shops aflame and steal livestock and food supplies. Hundreds of thousands of people have been made homeless.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Actor Tracy Morgan in ICU After Crash; Driver Charged

Actor and comedian Tracy Morgan is in intensive care following a six-vehicle crash along the New Jersey Turnpike that left one person dead and at least two others seriously hurt, state police say.

The 45-year-old former "Saturday Night Live" star, stand-up comedians Ardie Fuqua Jr. and Harris Stanton, and several other passengers were traveling north along the highway in a limo bus around 1 a.m. Saturday when a Walmart tractor trailer struck the limo bus, causing it to overturn, New Jersey State Police confirm.
The tractor-trailer driver, Kevin Roper, 35, of Jonesboro, Ga., was charged with one count of death by auto and four counts of assault by auto, Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office said in a news release.
Roper surrendered to authorities late Saturday afternoon and was transported to the Middlesex County jail, where he is being held on $50,000 bail, according to New Jersey State Police.
Tracy Morgan Evan Agostini / AP file
Actor Tracy Morgan in 2008
The crash, which happened about 15 miles north of Trenton near Exit 8A of the Turnpike in Cranbury, N.J., killed 62-year-old James McNair of Peekskill, New York and put Morgan and two others in critical condition.
Some early reports indicated the tractor trailer driver was sleeping at the wheel, but New Jersey State Police say there is nothing to suggest he dozed off.

"There is nothing that indicates that," said New Jersey State Police Sgt. First Class Gregory Williams. "There is no documentation that agrees with that."
Walmart U.S. President and CEO Bill Simon expressed his condolences for the crash victims and their families in a statement to the press.
"This is a tragedy and we are profoundly sorry that one of our trucks was involved," Simon said. "We are working quickly to understand what happened and are cooperating fully with law enforcement to aid their investigation.""The facts are continuing to unfold," he continued. "If it's determined that our truck caused the accident, Walmart will take full responsibility."
A preliminary state police investigation found that the tractor trailer came upon slow moving traffic and slammed into the limo.
"The driver of the tractor trailer ...failed to observe the slow moving traffic ahead of him," Williams said. "The driver did observe the traffic, but it was too late. It was just prior to impact, he swerved to the left in an attempt to avoid the collision. But he was unable to."
The black Mercedes limo bus rotated clockwise, overturned on its left side and crashed into several other vehicles, he said. Six vehicles in all -- two tractor trailers, the limo bus, an SUV and two cars -- were involved.

The crash was so severe, part of the limo's rear driver side was ripped away.
The "30 Rock" actor was flown from the scene to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, N.J. He is in intensive care.
Morgan's representative, Lewis Kay, tells NBC News the actor is expected to remain in critical condition for the time being.
"His family is now with him and he is receiving excellent care. We don't anticipate much of a change in his condition today but will provide a further update once more information becomes available," Kay said.
James McNair, a 62-year-old of Peekskill, New York, was killed in the crash, according to state police. The Associated Press is reporting that 37-year-old Jeffrey Millea of Shelton, Conn. was also flown from the crash to Robert Wood Johson Hospital, where he is in critical condition. A hospital spokesman told the AP that Fuqua is also in critical condition, while Stanton has been treated and released.
All of the injured were on the limo bus.
One of the two drivers in the limo bus, 44-year-old Tyrone Gail of Rehobeth, Del., was visibly shaken while exiting Beebe Healthcare in Lewes, Del.

 Gail expressed his condolences for everyone involved in the accident before becoming overwhelmed by emotion and ending the interview.
Christopher Thompson, co-owner of limo operator Atlantic Transportation Services, said the eight passenger limo bus had another driver besides Gail on board. One was behind the wheel and another in the front passenger seat.
The second driver also suffered non-life-threatening injuries and was shaken up by the crash, Thompson said.
"Atlantic Transportation Services extends our heartfelt thoughts and prayers to those injured in last night's accident. We also give our sincerest condolences to the family and loved ones of the one individual that passed," he said in a written statement. "This is a very difficult time and we appreciate all of the support and well wishes we have received thus far, and we ask that everyone pray for the recovery of those injured. Godspeed to all involved."
Morgan had a scheduled performance at Dover Downs Casino in Dover, Delaware, on Friday night. That's about 120 miles south of the crash point. The bus was chartered by the casino, according to Thompson.
Fuqua posted a photo to Instagram around midnight showing Morgan in front of a crowd. His Facebook page said he was opening for Morgan.
"This is what it looks like from the stage to see a standing ovation from 1,500 people," the photo's caption read. "Then we traveled back to NYC in style in a luxury Mercedes Sprinter. Road life is a good life!"

A New York City native, Morgan started as a cast member on "SNL" in 1996 and spent seven years on the show. He later had his own show, "The Tracy Morgan Show," which lasted for just a season. In 2006, he portrayed the role of Tracy Jordan in the hit NBC comedy "30 Rock," created by "SNL" co-star Tina Fey.
Morgan grew up fatherless, one of five siblings, in a blighted section of Brooklyn, where he helped raise and support the family.
He once called his gift for being funny "a defense mechanism" for his miserable circumstances. As a teen, he started doing comedy on the streets to supplement the family's welfare income.
In recent years, he has struggled with alcoholism and has been arrested on drunken driving charges. He had a successful kidney transplant in late 2010.
The Turnpike was closed for more than five hours as officials investigated the crash. The highway was reopened around 6:30 a.m.
The Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office will lead the investigation into the crash and the New Jersey State Police and National Transportation Safety Board are assisting. An NTSB spokesperson said the agency planned to send investigators to the crash scene Saturday evening or Sunday to focus on safety issues related to the trucks and limo.Actor Tracy Morgan in ICU After Crash; Driver Charged.   

    First published June 7th 2014, 5:39 am  

Friday, June 6, 2014

North Korea says detains U.S. tourist, three now in custody

North Korean soldiers chat as they walk on the banks of the Yalu River, near the North Korean town of Sinuiju, June 1, 2014. REUTERS: Jacky Chen                

North Korean soldiers chat as they walk on the banks of the Yalu River, near the North Korean town of Sinuiju, June 1, 2014.
 
 
SEOUL - North Korea said on Friday it had detained an American tourist for violating its laws after entering the secretive state in April, bringing the number of U.S. citizens held by Pyongyang to three.
Pyongyang has detained a number of U.S. citizens in recent years, using them as a tool to extract visits by high-profile figures, including former President Bill Clinton, for propaganda means.
North Korea periodically accuses the United States of military hostility and conspiracy to overthrow its leadership. The two states have been locked in a tense diplomatic conflict over Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programmes.
The latest American to be held was being questioned by authorities for conduct inappropriate for the purpose of his visit as a tourist, state media reported on Friday.
The North's KCNA news agency named him as Jeffrey Edward Fowle and said he entered the country on April 29. It gave no further details.
A State Department official said Washington was aware of reports that a third U.S. citizen had been detained in North Korea. "There is no greater priority for us than the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad," the official said, adding no further information was available.
Earlier on Friday, Japan's Kyodo news agency said the North had detained a U.S. citizen in mid-May.
Kyodo cited unidentified diplomatic sources as saying the American was detained just before he was to leave North Korea, for having left a Bible in his hotel.
Two other Americans are currently being held by the North, arrested after arriving on tourist visas and accused of crimes against the state. Korean American missionary Kenneth Bae has been in custody for 18 months and a second man has been held since April.

In May, the U.S. State Department issued an advisory urging Americans not to travel to North Korea because of the "risk of arbitrary arrest and detention" even while holding valid visas.
"Foreign visitors to North Korea may be arrested, detained, or expelled for activities that would not be considered criminal outside North Korea," it said.

WAR VETERAN RELEASED

North Korea has detained and then released other Americans in the past year, including Korean War veteran Merrill E. Newman, whom it expelled after holding him for more than a month accusing him of war crimes.

In April, the North said it was holding an American named Matthew Todd Miller who had made "a gross violation of its legal order" after entering the country on a tourist visa.
He tore up his visa and demanded asylum, KCNA said in April.
Bae was arrested in 2012 and has been sentenced to 15 years' hard labour on charges of state subversion. His family says he suffers from a variety of health issues, including diabetes, an enlarged heart, kidney stones and severe back pain.

North Korea has twice cancelled visits by Robert King, the U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, to discuss Bae's case.
The United States has no diplomatic ties with North Korea and the interests of its citizens in the country are represented by Sweden, which has an embassy in Pyongyang.

(Additional reporting by Elaine Lies in Tokyo; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)