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Rakhine rebels kill nine in fresh strike on Myanmar police: official

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YANGON (Reuters) – Arakan Army insurgents killed nine Myanmar police in the latest attack in the country’s western Rakhine State, a local official said on Sunday, as clashes threaten to engulf a large part of the troubled region.

Villagers heard gunfire as fighters from the armed group, which recruits from the mainly Buddhist Rakhine ethnic group, raided a police post in the village of Yoe Ta Yoke late on Saturday night.

The village’s administrator San Aung Thein confirmed nine police were killed by the Arakan Army there, but said he did not have additional details about the attack.

Reuters was unable to reach police officials for comment.

The insurgent Arakan Army killed 13 police in a similar attack further north in January and has frequently clashed with Myanmar security forces since December. [L3N1Z43FP]

Myanmar’s leaders vowed to crush the rebels, who are fighting for autonomy for Rakhine, but clashes have spread to new areas, displacing more than 5,000 people in all. Authorities have declared large parts of the north of the state off-limits to most aid agencies. [L3N1ZO2M6]

In 2017, attacks on security posts by insurgents from the Muslim Rohingya minority provoked a military crackdown in the north of the state. U.N. agencies say more than 730,000 people fled into camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district.

Saturday night’s attack took place about 50 km (31 miles) north of the Rakhine state capital Sittwe, along the main road connecting the city with the rest of Myanmar.

A villager in his fifties told Reuters that two policemen stationed at the post survived the attack, which took place shortly after 11 p.m.

“The battle went on for about 20 minutes,” said the villager, who asked not to be named. “I was in village at that time and I heard gun shots, but the villagers didn’t run away.”

Reporting by Yangon bureau; Editing by Michael Perry

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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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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U.S.-backed SDF says it captured 157 militants, mostly foreigners

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DEIR AL-ZOR PROVINCE, Syria (Reuters) – U.S.-backed fighters besieging the last shred of Islamic State territory in eastern Syria said on Tuesday they had captured 157 mostly foreign fighters as they tracked efforts by jihadists to escape the enclave.

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

“Our units monitored a group of terrorists, trailed them and captured 157 fully militarily equipped terrorists,” a statement by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia said.

Islamic State’s Baghouz pocket is tiny, wedged between the Euphrates river and a row of hills at the Iraqi border. It is crammed with vehicles and makeshift shelters and pummeled at night by artillery and air strikes.

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

It is the last populated area remaining to Islamic State from the third of Syria and Iraq it suddenly seized in 2014 before its cruelties and attacks brought together local and foreign countries to push it back.

The captured jihadists were “mostly foreign nationals” said Mustafa Bali, head of the SDF’s media office, on Twitter. Neither he nor the SDF statement said when the capture took place.

Both the SDF and the U.S.-led coalition that backs it have said the remaining Islamic State militants inside the Baghouz pocket are among its most hardened foreign operatives.

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.

Some of its fighters hold out in the central Syrian desert and others have gone underground in Iraq to stage a series of shootings and kidnappings.

Nobody knows how many remain inside the last scrap of ground. Reuters footage of the encampment on Monday showed large explosions there and smoke billowing overhead with the sound of gunshots.

On Monday night Islamic State released an audio recording of its spokesman, Abi al-Hassan al-Muhajer, saying the group would stay strong.

“Do you think the displacement of the weak and poor out of Baghouz will weaken the Islamic State? No,” he said.

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

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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