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Malaysia drops murder charge against Indonesian woman in Kim Jong Nam case

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KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – An Indonesian woman accused in the 2017 killing of the North Korean leader’s half-brother was released from custody on Monday after a Malaysian court dropped a murder charge against her.

Indonesian Siti Aisyah, who is on trial for the killing of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korea’s leader, arrives at the Shah Alam High Court on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin

After the court decision to release her, 26-year-old Siti Aisyah hugged her co-accused Doan Thi Huong, a 30-year-old Vietnamese woman, and cried.

The two women had been accused of poisoning Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, with liquid VX, a banned chemical weapon, at Kuala Lumpur airport in February 2017.

From the outset of the case, there were suspicions that Kim Jong Nam was the victim of plot arranged by North Korean agents who left Malaysia in the hours after the killing, and the two women had been merely pawns in a political assassination.

Siti Aisyah had been working as a masseuse in Kuala Lumpur, while Doan described herself as an entertainer.

“We still believe that she was merely a scapegoat,” Siti Aisyah’s lawyer, Gooi Soon Seng, told reporters.

“I still believe that North Korea had something to do with it.”

The trial of Siti Aisyah, 26, was suspended in December as her lawyers argued with prosecutors over access to statements made by seven witnesses.

Prosecutors told the court on Monday that they had been instructed to withdraw the charge against Siti Aisyah. No reason was given for the application.

Once the court released Siti Aisyah, she was immediately rushed to an elevator and was seen being escorted to an Indonesian embassy car waiting outside the courthouse.

While the court discharged Siti Aisyah from the case, it rejected her lawyer’s request for her to be fully acquitted, as it said that the trial had already established a prima facie case and she could be recalled it fresh evidence emerges.

Reporting by Rozanna Latiff, writing by Joseph Sipalan; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

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Pence arrives in Nebraska as U.S. Midwest reels from historic floods

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BROWNVILLE, Neb. (Reuters) – Vice President Mike Pence arrived in Nebraska on Tuesday to take stock of the devastation unleashed across the U.S. Midwest by floods that have killed four people, left one missing and caused more than a billion dollars in damage to crops, livestock and roads.

The floodwaters have inundated a large swath of farm states Iowa and Nebraska along the Missouri River, North America’s longest river, prompting half of Iowa’s 99 counties to declare states of emergency.”Touched down in Omaha, Nebraska to survey flood damage & thank volunteers & emergency personnel,” Pence said on Twitter, in a post that included photos of him meeting with the governors of both states and lawmakers.

“The hearts of the American people are with those who have been impacted across the Midwest!” Pence said in the tweet.

Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin have all declared states of emergency in the floods, which stem from a powerful winter hurricane known as a “bomb cyclone” that slammed into the U.S. Farm Belt last week, killing untold numbers of livestock, destroying grains and soybeans in storage, and cutting off access to farms because of road and rail damage.

The latest confirmed death was identified by the sheriff in Fremont County, Iowa, as 55-year-old Aleido Rojas Galan, who was pulled from floodwaters along with another man on Friday and later succumbed to injuries.

A Nebraska man who has been missing since the collapse of the Spencer Dam last week on the Niobrara River was identified by the Omaha World-Herald newspaper as Kenny Angel.

Authorities said they had rescued nearly 300 people in Nebraska alone, with some rivers continuing to rise.

Rescuers could be seen in boats pulling pets from flooded homes. Some roadways crumbled to rubble, while sections of others were submerged. In Hamburg, Iowa, floodwaters covered buildings.

In Brownville, Nebraska, floodwaters lapped at the edge of the small town of 132 people, closing the main bridge across the Missouri River.

$1 BILLION IN DAMAGE

“It’s a lot worse than I’ve ever seen it,” said Malina Wheeldon, who went ahead with the scheduled opening of her new Euphoric Soul Salon & Boutique business despite the floods. Her husband, Justin, who grew up in Brownville, agreed, saying he had lived through the floods of 1993, 2010 and 2011.

“About every five years now, we have a 100-year flood,” he said.

The Missouri was expected to crest at 47.5 feet (14.5 m) on Tuesday, breaking its 2011 record by more than a foot (31 cm), the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency said. The flooding was expected to continue through Thursday.

Nebraska officials estimated more than $1 billion in flood damage for the state’s agricultural sector so far, according to Craig Head, vice president of issue management at the Nebraska Farm Bureau. Head said the number was expected to grow as floodwaters recede.

A flooded parcel of land along the Platte River is pictured in this aerial photograph at La Platte, south of Omaha, Nebraska, U.S. March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Drone Base

“It’s really too early to know for sure how bad this is going to get. But one thing we do know: It’s catastrophic for farmers,” said Matt Perdue, government relations director for the National Farmers Union trade group. “We’re hoping it’s only $1 billion, but that’s only a hope.”

Nebraska officials estimate the floods have caused $553 million in damage to public infrastructure and other assets, as well as $89 million in privately owned assets, according to the state’s Emergency Management Agency on Tuesday.

The water also covered about a third of Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Nebraska, home to the U.S. Strategic Command, whose responsibilities include defending against and responding to nuclear attacks.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is distributing 400,000 sandbags to operators of 12 levees along the Missouri River in Missouri and Kansas that were in danger of being breached by floodwaters, the Army Corps said in a news release on Tuesday.

In Niobrara, Nebraska, south of the Missouri River near the border with South Dakota, Mayor Jody Stark said flooding that began on Thursday had devastated his community of 350 people, with businesses being the hardest hit.

“Our road system is shot pretty much in every direction coming into town,” Stark said.

“It’s one day at a time. We will do what we can to get back on our feet,” Stark said. “It’s just so heartbreaking. It’s going to be tough, but hopefully we can all get through it.”

The floodwaters were the result of snowmelt following heavy rains last week and warm weather, said Bob Oravec, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center.

Slideshow (16 Images)

Roads leading to the Nebraska Public Power District’s Cooper nuclear plant near Brownville were engulfed by floodwaters from the Missouri, but the facility was still operating safely at full power on Tuesday.

The plant operator was flying staff members and supplies to the plant with helicopters, said power district spokesman Mark Becker.

Reporting by Karen Dillon; Additional reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York, Rich McKay in Atlanta, Jarrett Renshaw in Philadelphia, P.J. Huffstutter and Mark Weinraub in Chicago and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Bill Tarrant, Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney

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Second U.S. jury finds Bayer’s Roundup caused cancer

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(Reuters) – A U.S. jury on Tuesday found Bayer AG’s glyphosate-based Roundup weed killer caused cancer, a blow to the company eight months after another jury issued a $289 million verdict over similar claims in a different case.

FILE PHOTO: Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller atomizers are displayed for sale at a garden shop near Brussels, Belgium November 27, 2017. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo

Tuesday’s unanimous jury decision in San Francisco federal court, which came after five days of deliberation, was not a finding of Bayer’s liability for the cancer of plaintiff Edwin Hardeman. Liability and damages will be decided by the same jury in a second trial phase beginning on Wednesday.

Bayer, which denies allegations that glyphosate or Roundup cause cancer, in a statement on Tuesday said it was disappointed with the jury’s initial decision. Bayer acquired Monsanto, the longtime maker of Roundup, for $63 billion last year.

“We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto’s conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman’s cancer,” the company said.

Glyphosate is the world’s most widely used weed killer. Monsanto’s Roundup was the first glyphosate-based weed killer but is no longer patent-protected and many other versions are now available. Bayer does not provide sales figures for the product.

The case was only the second of some 11,200 Roundup lawsuits to go to trial in the United States. Another California man was awarded $289 million in August after a state court jury found Roundup caused his cancer, sending Bayer shares plunging at the time. That award was later reduced to $78 million and is on appeal.

Bayer had claimed that jury was overly influenced by plaintiffs’ lawyers allegations of corporate misconduct and did not focus on the science.

U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria called such evidence “a distraction” from the scientific question of whether glyphosate causes cancer. He split the Hardeman case into two phases: one to decide causation, the other to determine Bayer’s potential liability and damages.

Under Chhabria’s order, the second phase would only take place if the jury found Roundup to be a substantial factor in causing Hardeman’s non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The jury found that it was on Tuesday.

NOT AN ABERRATION

Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, said Tuesday’s decision showed that the August jury verdict was not an aberration and that the Hardeman case could be an indication of what may happen in future similar cases.

Some legal experts had said Chhabria’s decision was beneficial to Bayer, which says decades of studies and regulatory evaluations have shown the weed killer to be safe for human use.

“We will only really know whether it works for Bayer to isolate scientific issues once we see more trials,” said Adam Zimmerman, a law professor focusing on mass torts at Los Angeles-based Loyola Law School.

Chhabria has scheduled another bellwether trial for May and a third trial is likely to take place this year. All three bellwether cases will be split into causation and liability phases.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the European Chemicals Agency and other regulators have found that glyphosate is not likely carcinogenic to humans. But the World Health Organization’s cancer arm in 2015 reached a different conclusion, classifying glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

In the trial’s second phase, Hardeman’s lawyers will be allowed to present evidence allegedly showing the company’s efforts to improperly influence scientists, regulators and the public about the safety of Roundup.

Hardeman’s lawyers, Aimee Wagstaff and Jennifer Moore, said they look forward to presenting that evidence to the jury to hold Monsanto accountable.

FILE PHOTO: Logo of Bayer AG is pictured at the annual results news conference of the German drugmaker in Leverkusen, Germany February 27, 2019. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

“Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup,” they said in a statement.

Chhabria is overseeing more than 760 Roundup cases for which Hardeman’s was a so-called bellwether trial intended to help determine the range of damages and define settlement options for the others.

Another Roundup trial is scheduled to begin in California state court in Oakland on March 28, involving a couple who claim Roundup caused their non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Reporting by Jim Christie in San Francisco; Additional reporting and writing by Tina Bellon in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot

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U.S.-backed SDF says captures Islamic State camp but fight not over

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A fighter of Syrian Democratic Forces gestures in the village of Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, Syria, March 18, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer

DEIR AL-ZOR PROVINCE, Syria (Reuters) – U.S.-backed fighters said they took a big step towards eradicating Islamic State’s last territorial possession in eastern Syria on Monday, seizing the jihadist camp at Baghouz and cornering remaining fighters against the Euphrates river.

“This is not a victory announcement, but a significant progress in the fight against Daesh,” said Mustafa Bali, an SDF media official on Twitter.

“The camp is under full SDF control. Not the end of operation yet,” another official with the militia said.

Some Islamic State militants were still confined to a tiny area on the bank of the Euphrates River and had yet to surrender, the official said in a note circulated to journalists.

“Clashes are going on in Baghouz right now. They hold some families as human shields,” the official added.

The camp was the biggest remaining area held by Islamic State in Baghouz, itself the last populated area the jihadist group held from the third of Syria and Iraq it suddenly seized in 2014.

Over the past two months, more than 60,000 people have poured out of the group’s dwindling enclave, nearly half of whom were surrendering supporters of Islamic State, including some 5,000 fighters.

However, while the capture of Baghouz will mark a milestone in the battle against Islamic State, regional and Western officials say the group will remain a threat.

(GRAPHIC – How Islamic State lost Syria: tmsnrt.rs/2O7l4mN)

Reporting by Angus McDowall, Tom Perry and a Reuters reporter in Deir al-Zor province; Editing by Alison Williams

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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