Strong earthquake jolts northeast Japan, no damage

TOKYO (BNO NEWS) — A strong earthquake struck off the northeastern coast of Japan on early Monday morning, seismologists said, but there were no immediate reports of damage or casualties.

The 6.2-magnitude earthquake at 3.51 a.m. local time (1851 GMT) was centered about 79 kilometers (49 miles) southeast of Sendai, the capital city of Miyagi Prefecture. It struck about 40 kilometers (24 miles) deep, making it a shallow earthquake, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA).

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) estimated that some 2.3 million people in the region may have felt moderate shaking, which would unlikely result in damage. Another 4.2 million people may have felt light shaking. No tsunami alert was issued by neither JMA nor the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company said the earthquake had no effect on operations at the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Other nuclear power plants did also not report any problems.

Japan, which is on the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, is still recovering from an enormous 9.0-magnitude earthquake which struck off the coast of northeastern Japan on March 11, generating a large tsunami. The earthquake and resulting tsunami left at least 15,597 people killed while 4,980 others remain missing and feared dead.

On early Saturday afternoon, a strong 6.4-magnitude earthquake struck about 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) southeast of Ofunato, a coastal city located in Iwate Prefecture. There were no reports of damage or casualties from Saturday’s earthquake.

Hundreds marry as New York legalizes same-sex marriages

NEW YORK (BNO NEWS) — Hundreds of same-sex couples married throughout New York on Sunday as the Marriage Equality Act became law, making New York the nation’s third-most populous state to legalize same-sex marriage.

The Marriage Equality Act, which was passed by the New York Senate in late June, amends New York’s Domestic Relations Law to state that a marriage that is otherwise valid shall be valid regardless of whether the parties to the marriage are of the same or different sex. It also ensures that rights, benefits, and protections relating to marriage shall not be different based on the parties to the marriage being the same sex or a different sex.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the bill on June 24, just before midnight, and a 30-day waiting period was required before it became law. As such, the first same-sex couple was declared legally wed just seconds after midnight during a ceremony in Niagara Falls.

A number of marriages took place during the night, but hundreds of other couples from New York and from across the country said ‘I do’ throughout the rest of the day. Hundreds of other same-sex couples are expected to marry during the next few weeks.

In New York City, 659 same-sex couples were married. “Today was a historic day in our City, and we couldn’t be prouder that on the first day that everyone in New York City could have their love affirmed in the eyes of the law, we were able to serve everyone,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “I want to thank all of the city workers and volunteers who made this success possible.”

One of the first same-sex couples to get married at the West Chapel in Manhattan was Daniel Hernandez, 53, and Nevin Cohen, 48. They met in 1998 and committed to each other in 2001.

The couple, who live in Manhattan, sued the State in 2004 to demand they be wed. They lost the lawsuit in an Appeals Court in 2006 when the court ruled that it was a matter for the state’s Assembly to resolve by changing the law.

Both men wore matching navy blue sport jackets with yellow orchids pinned to the lapels on their wedding day, which took place in a simply appointed room with a couch, a lectern, and a large painting of multicolored vertical stripes. Several old, huge, leather-bound tomes – wedding registers – were displayed on shelves behind glass.

Deputy Clerk Alisa Fuentes entered and took her place behind the lectern.

“Long time waiting, right?” she said, smiling. The two men smiled and nodded.

Fuentes then told the couple to lay their silver-colored rings on the lectern and then began to read a prepared statement about the importance of marriage. “As you now pledge your vows to each other, as many before you have done to the earliest days, if anyone has any reason to object to this marriage, speak now or forever hold your peace,” Fuentes said.

The two men laughed at that, and no one spoke up against their marriage.

“Will you have Nevin to be your spouse and live together with him in the institution of marriage?” Fuentes asked. “I do,” Hernandez said. The two men looked at each other and smiled. She reapted the question to Cohen, who also said I do.

“By the authority vested in me by the laws of the state of New York, I now pronounce you –” Fuentes paused, “– married.” The two men kissed as a group of four friends clapped and news photographers’ cameras snapped.

After the ceremony, Fuentes explained why she briefly paused. “I was going to say ‘husband and husband,’ but we decided to just say married,” she said.

But even though the nation’s third-most populous state now allows same-sex marriages, it remains a highly controversial subject. “From this sad moment in our state’s history, let it be our prayer that we witness a new appreciation for authentic marriage as understood by our Catholic faith and revealed to us by God through nature,” a message from the Bishops of New York State said. “We have seen so many threats to marriage in recent years, from widespread cohabitation, to infidelity, to exploding out-of-wedlock birth rates, to pornography and other addictions that undermine family and married life. Sadly, we have even seen rates of Catholic marriages plunge over the last four decades by nearly 60 percent. And now we see the state presume to alter what God already has defined and common sense can recognize as right and true.”

With same-sex marriage legal in New York, the state joins Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Washington, D.C. and the Coquille Indian Tribe in Oregon which is not bound by the Oregon Constitution as they are a federally recognized sovereign nation. Several states also recognize, but not perform, same-sex marriage.

Earlier this year, on April 1st, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community marked the 10th anniversary of the first ever same-sex marriage in the world. The Netherlands was the first country in the world to officially recognize and allow same-sex marriages after Queen Beatrix signed the marriage bill into law on December 21, 2000. It went into law on April 1, 2001.

In addition to the Netherlands and parts of the United States, same-sex marriage is currently performed in Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Iceland, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, and Sweden. In Mexico, same-sex marriage is only performed in Mexico City.

Afghan President Karzai condemns the hanging of an 8-year-old boy

Afghan President Karzai condemns the hanging of an 8-year-old boy

KABUL (BNO NEWS) — Afghan President Hamid Karzai on late Sunday strongly condemned the hanging of an 8-year-old boy in southern Afghanistan on Friday, his office said.

The eight-year-old boy, whose name was not released, was kidnapped by suspected Taliban militants in the Greshk district of Helmand province on Tuesday. He was later hung after his father, a local police commander, did not surrender as the Taliban had demanded.

According to the office of Karzai, the Taliban militants had demanded the boy’s father to meet at a certain place where his son would be released while the father would surrender himself to the Taliban. “After he rejected their request, terrorists hanged his son,” a spokesperson for Karzai said.

“President Hamid Karzai called it a cruel and cowardly act and said such crimes are unacceptable in any religion and culture,” the spokesperson said, adding that Karzai would trust local authorities in Helmand to bring those responsible for the ‘heinous, non-Islamic and seriously inhumane act’ to justice.

Sediq Sediqqi, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Interior, also condemned the murder in postings on his Twitter account. “[The] Taliban showed once again their brutality by killing innocent children. He was too young to die!”

While child executions by the Taliban are not common, children often fall victim to Taliban militants when they carry out attacks. But children have also been used by the Taliban as suicide bombers.

On May 1, four civilians were killed and 12 others were injured when a 12-year-old suicide bomber blew himself up at a crowded market in eastern Afghanistan. The Taliban however have denied that they use children to carry out their attacks.

Kurdish militants kill 3 soldiers in southeastern Turkey

ANKARA (BNO NEWS) — Three Turkish soldiers were killed in an ambush laid by militants of the outlawed group of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in southeastern Turkey.

The ambush took place in the southeastern Mardin province late on Saturday, the semi-official Anatolia news agency reported. Two non-commissioned officers and one specialist sergeant were killed when the militants opened fire on them while they were returning to the police station in Omerli district.

Mardin Governor Turhan Ayvaz said operations were initiated in the region to find the attackers.

The incident comes after 13 Turkish soldiers were killed on July 14 in clashes between security forces and members of the PKK in the southern province of Diyarbakir. The clash left seven others wounded, while five PKK militants were also killed.

The Kurdish militant organization took up arms in 1984 to fight for an independent homeland in southern Turkey. It is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, Turkey, the European Union and the United Nations.

Iran blames U.S., Israel for assassination of Iranian scientist Daryoush Rezaie

Daryoush Rezaie

TEHRAN (BNO NEWS) — Iranian officials on Sunday blamed the United States and Israel for the assassination of a prominent Iranian nuclear scientist who was killed yesterday.

Iran’s parliament speaker Ali Larijani condemned the assassination of the Iranian university professor Daryoush Rezaie and called it a “U.S.- Zionist terrorist act”, according to Press TV.

“Yesterday’s U.S.-Zionist terrorist act that targeted one of the elites of Iran is another instance demonstrating the U.S.’s hostility (toward Iran),” Larijani said. “Thus, the United States regards as allowable such (terrorist) acts in its sham global management.”

Members of the Iranian parliament also condemned the killing of Rezaie and criticized the U.S. and Israel’s support for anti-Iran terrorists, Fars news agency reported. A statement signed by 200 members said that the recent criminal acts once again showed that “the U.S. and the Zionist regime are disappointed at all the various methods they have used for striking the Islamic Republic of Iran”, and are desperately resorting to unfair acts.

“Yet”, the Iranian lawmakers said, “the Iranian nation will not leave the scene” in the face of such desperate actions.

Rezaie, 35, was killed in front of his house in eastern Tehran on Saturday afternoon by two unknown assailants who were riding a motorcycle. His wife was also injured during the attack and was immediately transferred to hospital.

They were on their way to their child’s kindergarten when they were approached by the two men. The gunmen called him by name and shot the scientist in the neck when he turned around.

No group or individual has claimed responsibility for the attack.

On November 29, 2010, two other Iranian academics became the target of terrorist attacks. Unidentified terrorists detonated bombs in the vehicles of Dr. Majid Shahriari and Professor Fereydoun Abbasi in separate locations in Tehran. Shahriari was killed immediately, but Abbasi and his wife sustained injuries.

Iran blamed the national intelligence agencies of Israel, United Kingdom and the United States for those attacks.

Tens of thousands protest housing crisis in Israel

Tens of thousands protest housing crisis in Israel

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL (BNO NEWS) — Tens of thousands of demonstrators on Saturday night marched in central Tel Aviv against surging real-estate prices and the housing shortage in Israel, Haaretz newspaper reported.

The protest was an extension of the “tent cities” that have been set up throughout Israel to protest the high rent prices. Demonstrators marched from the tent city on Rothschild Boulevard toward the Tel Aviv Museum, where various protest leaders urged the government to find a sustainable solution to the housing crisis.

Protesters chanted slogans such as “proper housing, legitimate prices” and “this generation demands housing”, while others demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Several legislators were seen among the demonstrators.

“You, Mr. Netanyahu, caused us – the Facebook generation – to head to the streets and protest,” Daphni Leef, who initiated the protest, said in her speech.

Following the demonstration, police tried to forcibly clear hundreds of protesters from blocking an intersection, but were unsuccessful. Protesters retaliated by throwing objects and rubbish at the police. At least 42 protesters were arrested.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Netanyahu on Sunday slammed ministers of his party for not trying to solve the housing crisis that gave rise to the mass nationwide protests. “Give me ideas for a solution,” he told the ministers, adding that they must share the weight in handling the crisis.

Netanyahu’s remarks came after a heated exchange between Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz and Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan that revolved another looming socio-economic crisis – the rising price of electricity.

Photo By David Buimovitch

Ex-rebel Tamil party sweeps local polls in Sri Lanka’s north

Sri Lanka

COLOMBO (BNO NEWS) — People in Sri Lanka’s war-ravaged north casted an overwhelming majority of their votes to the candidates of the major Tamil party at the local government elections held on Saturday, the Colombo Page reported on Sunday.

Despite the massive campaign launched by the ruling party United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) in the Northern districts where elections were held for the first time after 29 years, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), formerly controlled by the Tamil Tiger rebels, won 18 out of 26 councils. An estimated 60 percent of the 2.5 million eligible voters turned out to cast their ballots throughout the island.

The ruling party led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa carried out a massive campaign in the Tamil-dominated Northern Province, with the president himself campaigning in the former rebel strongholds for three days.

A victory for the ruling party in the Tamil-dominated districts of Jaffna, Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu meant an endorsement for the government’s reconciliation process which has come under criticism from the international community. A victory for the Tamil party, however, will strengthen the demands for self-rule in the Tamil-dominated area.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam was militarily wiped out in May 2009, ending the 26-year-old civil war. The bloody civil war between the government and the Tamil Tigers left as many as 100,000 people dead. Both sides have been accused of war crimes and other human rights violations.

The United Nations said tens of thousands lost their lives from January to May 2009 during the final phase of the military operations in the northern part of the country.

On Saturday, one person died and two others were injured as voting to elect members to 65 councils ended. The death was the result of a clash between two groups of supporters for two candidates of the ruling UPFA in Anuradhapura district.

Several cases of irregularity were also reported, despite the presence of the 20,000 police officers that were deployed to ensure a free and fair election.

The election monitoring group People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) confirmed allegations of election law violations in the north. The group said it received reports of people distributing food to the voters in Kilinochchi in return for the polling cards.

Election watch dog Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE) said that a group of unidentified armed men went to more than 20 villages trying to forcibly grab polling cards from voters. The TNA also complained of people dressed in military uniforms grabbing polling cards and intimidating voters.

No autopsy on Amy Winehouse before Monday morning

Amy Winehouse Autopsy

LONDON (BNO NEWS) — An autopsy to determine what killed singer Amy Winehouse will not be scheduled before Monday morning, Scotland Yard said on Sunday. The circumstances around her death remain unclear.

A police spokesperson confirmed on Sunday that it was called to Winehouse’s home in London at around 4.05 p.m. local time on Saturday following reports that a woman was found deceased. “On arrival, officers found the body of Amy Winehouse, 27,” police said.

Police said Winehouse’s death is being treated as unexplained at this early stage, and noted that no arrests have been made as of Sunday. “A date and time for the post-mortem (autopsy) will not be scheduled before Monday morning,” police said.

Also on Sunday, the family of Winehouse released a brief statement about the sudden death. “Our family has been left bereft by the loss of Amy, a wonderful daughter, sister, niece. She leaves a gaping hole in our lives. We are coming together to remember her and would appreciate some privacy and space at this terrible time,” the statement said.

Winehouse’s final show was in Belgrade in June where she was booed by fans after a disastrous performance. The Grammy-winning singer also appeared briefly on stage with her goddaughter Dionne Bromfield at the iTunes festival on Wednesday night.

Last month, after the Belgrade incident, Winehouse cancelled all scheduled performances after a series of erratic public appearances. The ‘Rehab’ singer had a long history of substance abuse throughout her career.

Russian children rights commissioner calls for legislation to protect children from pedophiles

Pavel Astakhov

MOSCOW (BNO NEWS) — Pavel Astakhov, Russia’s Children Rights Commissioner to President Dmitri Medvedev, has called for urgent measures to protect children from pedophiles, according to a report on Sunday.

The comments came amid anger over the brutal rape of a seven-year-old girl in Blagoveshchensk, a city in Amur Oblast. The girl was allegedly raped on Tuesday before her attacker attempted to strangle her. A group of more than 200 people later surrounded the suspect’s house, demanding ‘fair justice.’

In response, Astakhov said it is important to speed up the adoption of a law that increases the punishment for sex crimes against children. “Until Russia creates adequate legislation to protect children from pedophilia and pornography and bans the advertisement of those obnoxious things on the Internet which stimulate sexual encroachments against children, such cases will continue,” the commissioner said, as cited by ITAR-TASS.

Astakhov urged politicians to speed up the approval of such legislation, saying children are being raped by pedophiles while the debate continues. “Dragging feet in this case costs children’s lives,” he stressed.

The commissioner also reaffirmed his support for the castration of convicted pedophiles in light of an attack on Friday in Krasnoyarsk of Krasnoyarsk Krai. During that attack, a convicted child rapist armed with a knife broke into a children’s camp and raped several girls.

More than 9,500 sex crimes against children were reported in Russia in 2009, including over 960 rapes. Despite the authorities’ declared fight against sexual abuse of minors, police are often slow to respond to allegations of child abuse, according to activists.

Astakhov has previously suggested the existence of a “pedophile lobby” in the country’s lower house of parliament, which he believes is responsible for blocking legislation against child sexual abuse.

However, a new bill – yet to be passed – introduces life sentence as a possible punishment for pedophiles who are repeat offenders. It also stipulates voluntary medical treatment, including chemical castration, for other rapists.

Laws regarding the possession of child pornography have also been under discussion for years. Russia is only one of two major countries in the world where the simple possession of child pornography is legal, although the production of it is illegal. The second country is Japan where it is legal to possess child pornography as long as there is no intend to sell or distribute the material.

Photo Credi: RIA Novosti

Ambush injures two UNAMID peacekeepers in Sudan’s West Darfur

West Darfur

DARFUR, SUDAN (BNO NEWS) — Two peacekeepers were injured on Friday when gunmen opened fire at their vehicle in Sudan’s West Darfur, the African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) said on Sunday.

A daily media briefing from the organization said the ambush by unknown persons happened on Friday between Ardamata and Dorti internally displaced persons (IDP) Camps, near El Geneina in West Darfur. The attack happened while the peacekeepers were escorting two fuel tankers.

“One soldier sustained a gunshot injury to the shoulder and has been evacuated to Khartoum. His condition is serious,” a UNAMID spokesperson said. “The other soldier, who was wounded on one of his hands, was taken to the Mission hospital in El Geneina and is in a stable condition.”

The spokesperson said UNAMID is investigating the attack, which comes just several weeks after unidentified gunmen opened fire on a United Nations minivan in El Geneina. The attack left an Ethiopian peacekeeper killed and another injured.

More than 23,000 troops, military observers and police officers and nearly 4,500 civilians serve with UNAMID, which took over peacekeeping duties from an earlier African Union mission at the start of 2008. A total of 29 UNAMID blue helmets have been killed in the line of duty while serving in Darfur.

The force is tasked with protecting civilians, promoting an inclusive peace process and help ensuring the safe delivery of humanitarian assistance across Darfur, an arid region on Sudan’s western flank.

Fighting and large-scale displacement has convulsed the region since 2003, when rebels took up arms against the Government, whose military forces responded with the support of allied militiamen.