Ugandan police fire tear gas to disperse opposition supporters

KAMPALA (BNO NEWS) — Ugandan police fired tear gas and water cannons on Wednesday to disperse opposition supporters who had gathered near the capital to mourn people killed during demonstrations earlier this year, local media reported.

Several hundred people staged a rally in the town of Kireka outside of Kamapala in memory of the people who were killed during protests against escalating food and fuel costs in April, according to the New Vision newspaper. The opposition accuses security forces of killing at least nine people during the demonstrations.

“We didn’t allow the crowd to grow big because we wanted to prevent the worst from happening … we were not opposed to the rally but they refused to listen to us on the venue where they should stage it,” Ibn Senkumbi, a police spokesman at the scene, said.

Deputy Foreign Secretary Anne Mugisha of the main opposition Forum for Democratic Change party criticized the heavy deployment of police and accused them of “criminalizing” the event. “The issue wasn’t really a disagreement about the venue. Police deployed early and turned Kireka town into a battlefield. They were determined to fight and as usual they found an excuse to brutalize peaceful activists but we’re not deterred a bit,” she said, as cited by the newspaper.

Strikes by teachers, traders and taxi drivers have increased in recent weeks and the opposition has vowed to continue protesting against President Yoweri Museveni’s government.

According to police, more than 100 people were injured and over 600 were arrested countrywide during the April unrest, in addition to the nine fatalities. Opposition leader Kizza Besigye was also arrested and allegedly beaten by police.

U.S. Vice President Biden begins trip to China, Mongolia and Japan

WASHINGTON, D.C. (BNO NEWS) — U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday departed for Beijing to start a nine-day trip to China, Mongolia, and Japan, the White House said.

In each country, Biden will meet with key leaders to discuss the full range of bilateral, regional and international issues as part of the Obama administration’s efforts to renew and intensify the country’s role in Asia.

Biden’s trip to China originated when Chinese President Hu Jintao formally invited him to China during his state visit to Washington, D.C. earlier this year.

While in Beijing, the Vice President will meet with Vice President Xi Jinping and other Chinese leaders, including President Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao, to discuss a range of security and economic issues.

The trip to China provides an opportunity for Biden to strengthen U.S. economic ties with China. Both countries have a tremendous mutual interest in a global economic recovery and in that matter, China has a very important role to play since it has to reorient its economy from an export-led growth to a domestic demand-led growth strategy, the White House said.

This is Biden’s first trip to East Asia as Vice President. But he traveled to the region many times as a senator, including his trip to China in 1979 as part of the first U.S. Senate delegation to the eastern country after it normalized its relations with the United States.

After visiting China, Biden will also travel to Mongolia and Japan. In Mongolia, he will underscore U.S. support for Mongolia’s two decades of democratic development and their growing economic ties. The last time a U.S. Vice President visited Mongolia was in 1944 when Henry Wallace toured Asia and included a stop in Mongolia.

While in Japan, Biden will express U.S. support in the wake of the recent nuclear emergency that began in March after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and a subsequent tsunami devastated the country, killing at least 15,698 people and leaving more than 4,600 people missing and feared dead.

The Vice President will also thank U.S. civilian and military personnel for their assistance in responding to the disasters, as well as to highlight Japan’s resilience during the recovery and rebuilding process.

UN urges Azerbaijan to ensure human rights workers’ safety

UNITED NATIONS (BNO NEWS) — The United Nations (UN) on Tuesday voiced concern and called on the government of Azerbaijan to ensure safe conditions for human rights defenders as several of them have suffered the destruction of property.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), property housing of several important non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in Azerbaijan have been destroyed recently.

Among those destroyed last week were buildings in Baku housing the Institute of Peace and Democracy as well as the Azerbaijan Campaign to Ban Landmines and the Women’s Crisis Center, which is the only women’s shelter in the capital.

Despite a May ruling by a Baku court prohibiting the destruction of the building, bulldozers destroyed the Women’s Crisis Center. Furthermore, city officials allegedly refused to allow the occupants to remove their belongings from the building, including valuable office equipment and files, before bulldozers carried out the demolition.

“Given the worrying reports of forced evictions and destruction of property in Baku, as well as of harassment of human rights defenders, we call on the authorities of Azerbaijan to thoroughly investigate this case and, if necessary, provide adequate compensation and restitution,” said Rupert Colville, OHCHR’s spokesperson in Geneva.

In addition, Colville also called on the Government of Azerbaijan to guarantee safe working conditions for the Institute for Peace and Democracy, as well as for other human rights defenders in Azerbaijan.

“The Government of Azerbaijan is obliged, by the international and regional treaties which it has ratified, to ensure respect for the right to adequate housing, for the prohibition of forced evictions and property rights, as well as for the rights and freedoms of human rights defenders,” Colville stressed.

Thousands protest against carbon tax in Australia

CANBERRA (BNO NEWS) — Thousands of Australians protested in front of Parliament House in Canberra on Tuesday to protest against the Prime Minister’s plan to introduce a carbon tax, local media reported.

An estimated 4,000 protesters called on Prime Minister Julia Gilliard to abandon her carbon tax plan and allow an immediate election after she had ruled out a carbon tax during her re-election campaign.

“I don’t rule out the possibility of legislating a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, a market-based mechanism [during the next parliament]. I rule out a carbon tax,” Gilliard told The Australian newspaper during last year’s re-election campaign, after which she won a second term as prime minister.

However, in February, Gilliard announced a plan to implement a fixed price to be imposed on carbon pollution from July 2012. The carbon tax would be placed for three to five years before a complete trading scheme on carbon emissions is implemented and some key issues are further discussed and negotiated.

Tuesday’s rally was organized by the Consumers and Taxpayers Association to mark the first anniversary of Gilliard’s pledge that she would not introduce a carbon tax. The government has meanwhile blamed Tony Abbot, the leader of the Opposition in the Australian House of Representatives, for calling for a “people’s revolt” against the carbon tax.

Abbot was very careful to tell the protesters that, while he supported their opposition to the carbon tax and their call for a fresh election, he did not agree with every sign he saw or all of their opinions. This comes after some signs were considered disrespectful for insulting PM Gilliard in a similar demonstration earlier this year.

Other Members of Parliament also attended the rally and encouraged the protesters to keep up the fight, local media reported. But despite Tuesday’s protest, the carbon tax looks set to pass Parliament in September with the support of the Australian Greens and the three lower house independents.

Next week, truck drivers from all over the country will converge on the capital in an attempt to close down roads around Parliament, in protest against the controversial carbon tax.

San Francisco Subway Shuts Cell Service to Foil Protest; Legal Debate Ignites (David Kravets/Threat Level)

David Kravets / Threat Level:

San Francisco Subway Shuts Cell Service to Foil Protest; Legal Debate Ignites  —  BART workers remove a man atop a train during a protest at the Civic Center station in San Francisco last month.  Authorities closed the station where demonstrators condemned the fatal shooting of a man by transit police the week before.

Thai authorities link toxic chemicals to foreigners’ deaths

BANGKOK, THAILAND (BNO NEWS) — The mysterious deaths of four foreigners and a tour guide in northern Thailand has been attributed to poisoning from an unknown toxic chemical or pesticide, local authorities said on Tuesday.

Thailand’s Department of Disease Control on Tuesday released a report explaining that three women – from New Zealand, the United States, and Thailand – had likely died due to exposure to pesticides, the Bangkok Post reported.

However, authorities said they were unable to determine the exact chemical involved in the deaths, but it listed rodenticide, which is used for pest control, as one of them.

The first recorded incident occurred in January. An American woman, aged 33, died on January 11 while her 29-year-old friend from Canada fell ill but recovered. They were staying at an unnamed hotel in northern Thailand.

Later, on February 6, a 23-year-old woman from New Zealand, identified as Sarah Carter, died at the Downtown Inn, which is located in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand. The incident gathered international media attention as her two friends, Emma Langlands and Amanda Eliason, also fell ill but were able to recover.

Only three days earlier, a 47-year-old Thai woman also died at the same hotel. And on February 19, an elderly couple from England, aged 78 and 74, were found dead at the same hotel.

After several months of investigations, Thai authorities said the precise causes for the deaths and illnesses could not be identified, but New Zealand’s Foreign Ministry said the development was “significant.” Officials said a complete laboratory analysis was not carried out because they lacked adequate samples, which were not taken at the time of the victims’ deaths.

Meanwhile, Thai authorities have announced that measures would be taken to reduce the risk of toxic chemical exposure to future visitors.

UN: Somali death rates at Ethiopian refugee camp ‘alarming’

UNITED NATIONS (BNO NEWS) — Death rates of Somalia refugees have reached “alarming levels” at a camp in Ethiopia where an average of 10 children under the age of five die every day, the United Nations reported on Tuesday.

The United Nations refugee agency said that while malnutrition is the greatest concern, a suspected outbreak of measles is responsible for many deaths. Adrian Edwards, spokesman of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters in Geneva that a measles vaccination campaign in the Kobe camp, which hosts 250,000 refugees, was completed on Monday.

“An assessment of the mortality rate in one of four refugee camps at the Dollo Ado complex in southern Ethiopia found that since the Kobe camp opened in June, an average of 10 children under the age of five have died every day,” the UNHCR said.

Elsewhere in Ethiopia, some 17,500 refugees from Somalia have crossed into the Gode and Afder areas over the past six weeks. The new arrivals are mainly women and children who are “in very poor nutritional and health states,” according to the UN.

The United Nations recently declared famine in five areas of Somalia where acute malnutrition and starvation has already claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people. Before the current crisis, the Somali capital hosted some 370,000 internally displaced persons, who have now been joined by an additional 100,000 who flocked into the capital in June and July from the famine-hit southern areas in search of food, water, shelter and medical assistance.

The hunger crisis in the Horn of Africa has also affected large areas of Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti and has left an estimated 12.4 million people in need of assistance. According to the UN, the drought is expected to continue until early 2012, and the number of people in acute livelihood crisis is expected to increase from 8.8 million in the coming months.

Five killed, dozens injured as stage collapses at the Indiana State Fair

INDIANAPOLIS (BNO NEWS) — Five people were killed on Saturday and dozens more were injured when strong winds caused a stage to collapse at the Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis, officials said.

The incident occurred at around 8.49 p.m. local time when a massive gust of wind brought down an outdoor stage that was set up for a concert by the country music band Sugarland at the state fairgrounds. Dozens of concert-goers rushed to lift the wreckage and help those trapped underneath.

“The winds came, the big dust storm moved from the west and, no sooner than that, hit. The winds hit and the canopy over the stage was just like a big sail. It just picked it up, twisted it and right on top of everybody standing in front of the stage,” one witness told WTHR 13.

Indiana State Police First Sergeant Dave Bursten said five people were killed while 45 others were transported to hospitals with injuries ranging from cuts and bruises to fractures and severe head trauma. The youngest victim to be injured was a seven-year-old child.

The Marion County Coroner’s Office identified the youngest fatality as 23-year-old Alina Bigjohny from Wayne, Indiana. The other fatalities were identified as 42-year-old Tammy Vandam of Wanatah, Indiana, 49-year-old Glenn Goodrich of Indianapolis, 29-year-old Christina Santiago of Chicago, and 51-year-old Nathan Byrd of Indianapolis.

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels expressed condolences to the families of the victims of the tragedy. “Indiana and the nation’s finest state fair suffered an unthinkable tragedy last night. Our first and final thoughts today will be with those we’ve lost and the families and friends of those we’ve lost in this terrible accident,” he said.

Sugarland posted a brief message on their Twitter account after the accident, saying: “We are all right. We are praying for our fans, and the people of Indianapolis. We hope you’ll join us. They need your strength.”

According to the National Weather Service, which had issued a severe thunderstorm warning 10 minutes before the accident happened, winds are estimated to having been between 60 to 70 miles (96 to 112 kilometers) per hour at the time of the accident, which is near hurricane strength. Preparations were being made to evacuate the area when the stage collapsed.

“The coordinating investigative agency is the Indiana State Police,” said Bursten. “Other investigative agencies are the Indiana Attorney General’s Office, the Marion County Coroner’s Office, the Indiana State Fire Marshal’s Office and the Indiana Occupational Health and Safety Administration. Each agency will be investigating within the scope of their area of expertise.”

The Indiana State Fair is closed on Sunday but will resume at 8 a.m. local time on Monday with a Remembrance Ceremony at the Free Stage in the northwest corner of the fairgrounds.

Euro, EU areas post 0.2 percent GDP increase in Q2

BRUSSELS (BNO NEWS) — The European Union (EU) on Tuesday announced that both the euro area and the wider 27-nation EU region had a gross domestic product (GDP) increase of 0.2 percent during the year’s second quarter, compared to the previous quarter, which had previously posted growth rates of 0.8 percent.

The report was released by the EU’s statistical office, Eurostat, which its flash estimates also showed that the second quarter’s seasonally adjusted GDP had an increase of 1.7 percent in both zones, compared with the same quarter of the previous year. On a year-to-year basis, both zones also had positive marks during the first quarter, recording a 2.5 percent increase.

Comparatively, the U.S. had a GDP increase of 0.3 percent during the second quarter of the year, compared to the first quarter, which had marked a 0.1 percent increase as well. On a year-to-year basis, the GDP rose by 1.6 percent during the second quarter, following the first quarter’s increase of 2.2 percent.

Meanwhile, Japan, which has been facing its ongoing nuclear and post-earthquake crisis for the past months, recorded a GDP decrease by 0.3 percent in the second quarter, following a decrease of 0.9 percent in the first.

In a separate report, Eurostat revealed that the euro area’s global external trade surplus totaled to 900 million euros ($ 1.3 billion) in June, compared to the 700 million euros ($ 1 billion) in June 2010. In May, the euro area’s balance was 200 million euros ($ 287.5 million), compared with -4.9 billion (-$ 7 billion) in May 2010. On a month-to-month basis, June’s seasonally adjusted exports fell by 4.7 percent and imports by 4.1 percent.

The first estimate for the June extra-EU27 trade balance was a 12.2 billion euro ($ 17.5 billion) deficit, compared with -11.1 billion (-$ 15.9 billion) in June 2010. In May, the balance was -12.3 billion (-$ 17.7 billion) compared with -16 billion (-$ 23 billion) in May 2010. Also, its seasonally adjusted exports in June fell by 4.8 percent and imports by 3.8 percent, compared to the previous month.

Nepal’s Prime Minister postpones resignation

KATHMANDU (BNO NEWS) — Nepal’s Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal on Saturday put on hold his resignation despite his pledge that he would resign if any notable progress was not made in the peace process by August 13.

Prime Minister Khanal decided to not resign after a meeting with the ruling parties and the parties supporting the present government. He would instead be making an address to the Legislature-Parliament about the issue of resignation and a political way out on August 15, according to the Himalayan Times.

A statement released by Prime Minister’s Press Advisor, Surya Thapa, said Khanal will discuss at the meeting the issue of reaching a political consensus to form a unity government.

Earlier on Saturday, Prime Minister Khanal made some serious proposals before the meeting of the top leaders of the three major parties for the formation of a government of consensus. However, no agreement was reached.

Khanal announced on August 1 that he would step down if the government failed to conclude major tasks of the peace process and forge consensus by August 13. The prime minister conceded that the parties had failed to implement a number of agreements signed in the last four years and urged his coalition partner, the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist, and the main opposition, the Nepali Congress, to take his appeal seriously.

Khanal was elected in February after months of political stalemate and was tasked with speeding up the drafting of the new constitution. The parliament met 17 times before choosing the new leader.

A new constitution was a condition of a 2006 peace agreement that the Maoists signed with the government, ending a decade-long civil war.