U.S. Diplomat Suffers Brain Injury After ‘Sound’ Incident In China

  The US embassy in China issued a health alert Wednesday after a US government employee experienced an “abnormal” sound

 

The US embassy in China issued a health alert Wednesday after a US government employee experienced an “abnormal” sound and suffered a mild brain injury — in an incident reminiscent of a mysterious illness that hit diplomats in Cuba.

US and Chinese authorities are investigating the matter after the employee, who was assigned to the southern city of Guangzhou, was diagnosed with mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI), said embassy spokeswoman Jinnie Lee.

In an alert emailed to US citizens in China, the embassy said it does not know what caused the symptoms or of any similar situations in the country.

In Cuba last year, the US disclosed that 24 diplomats and their family members had fallen victim to an unsolved mysterious attack that left them with injuries resembling brain trauma. Ten Canadian diplomats and their relatives also suffered a strange illness.

“We cannot at this time connect it with what happened in Havana but we are investigating all possibilities,” a US embassy official in Beijing told AFP on the condition of anonymity.

The embassy’s health alert says the government employee “recently reported subtle and vague, but abnormal, sensations of sound and pressure”.

“The US government is taking these reports seriously and has informed its official staff in China of this event,” the message says.

“While in China, if you experience any unusual acute auditory or sensory phenomena accompanied by unusual sounds or piercing noises, do not attempt to locate their source. Instead, move to a location where the sounds are not present,” it says, urging people with medical problems to consult a doctor.

Lee said the employee experienced “a variety of physical symptoms” between late 2017 through April 2018. The person was sent to the United States and diagnosed with MTBI on May 18.

“The (State) Department is taking this incident very seriously and is working to determine the cause and impact of the incident,” Lee said.

“The Chinese government has assured us they are also investigating and taking appropriate measures.”

The Chinese foreign ministry could not be immediately reached for comment.

 Cuban case 

In Cuba, the American victims had associated the onset of their symptoms with “unusual sounds or auditory sensations”, a State Department physician told the US Senate in January.

Charles Rosenfarb, a doctor and director of the State Department bureau of medical services, said the symptoms were mixed but consistent with brain trauma.

The victims suffered headaches, hearing loss, disorientation and some loss of cognitive ability.

Initially officials suspected the Americans had been targeted by some sort of acoustic weapon, although in public senior officials were more cautious, speaking of “health attacks”. Media reports have suggested that the FBI has not been able to verify any evidence to support the sonic weapon theory.

The US government has held Cuba responsible, arguing that Raul Castro’s authoritarian state must have either carried out the assaults or at least known who was behind them.

The incident prompted the United States last year to withdraw more than half of its personnel at the embassy in Havana, which reopened in 2015 as the two nations re-established diplomatic relations that had ruptured in 1961.

Canada announced last month that it was bringing home the families of its diplomats in Cuba after a year-long investigation into the illness failed to reveal a cause.

“The cause (of their symptoms) remains unknown but could be human-made,” the Canadian government concluded.

Canadian and US authorities had initially suspected a “sonic attack” or a “mass psychosomatic incident”, but those are “now considered unlikely”, a senior Canadian official said.

The symptoms included dizziness, headaches and a lack of ability to concentrate.

Unlike their American counterparts, however, no Canadian envoy reported hearing any suspicious sound prior to falling ill.

AFP

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U.S. To Impose ‘Strongest Sanctions In History’ On Iran

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during press conference in Amman.  STRINGER / AFP   US Secretary of State

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during press conference in Amman.  STRINGER / AFP

 

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday warned Iran would be hit with the “strongest sanctions in history” and cautioned European firms against continuing to do business in Tehran, toughening up Washington’s policy line after its withdrawal from the nuclear pact.

In his first major foreign policy address since moving to the State Department from the CIA, the longtime Iran hawk and ardent opponent of the 2015 nuclear pact outlined an aggressive series of moves designed to counter Tehran, which he called the world’s top sponsor of terror.

“We will apply unprecedented financial pressure on the Iranian regime. The leaders in Tehran will have no doubt about our seriousness,” Pompeo said in a speech at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank.

“This string of sanctions will be painful if the regime does not change its course from the unacceptable and unproductive path it has chosen to one that rejoins the league of nations.”

Pompeo said if Iran were to abide by the stricter terms, including ending its ballistic missile program and its interventions in regional conflicts from Yemen to Syria, the United States would lift its new sanctions.

“Iran will be forced to make a choice: either fight to keep its economy off life support at home or keep squandering precious wealth on fights abroad. It will not have the resources to do both,” he said.

President Donald Trump has long said the original 2015 deal with Iran — also signed by Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — did not go far enough, and now wants the Europeans and others to support his hardline strategy.

The deal was designed to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. The international community, including top US officials, have said Tehran had been in compliance.

But Trump despised the deal, pointing to other aspects of Iranian behavior not covered in the pact, and on May 8 he pulled America out despite intense diplomatic efforts by European allies who had beseeched him to stick with it by adding tougher new elements.

“Iran’s leaders saw the deal as a starting gun for the march across the Middle East,” Pompeo said.

Pompeo said the bet the deal would increase Middle East stability had been a bad one for America, Europe, the Middle East “and indeed for the entire world.”

‘Carte blanche’ 

Instead of suggesting a re-negotiation of the Iran deal, Pompeo outlined 12 tough conditions from Washington for any “new deal” with Tehran to make sure it “will never again have carte blanche to dominate the Middle East.”

These essentially address every aspect of Iran’s missile program and what the US calls its “malign influence” across the region, including support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Hezbollah and Huthi rebels in Yemen.

“It must cease its threatening behavior against its neighbors,” Pompeo said.

“This certainly includes its threats to destroy Israel, and its firing of missiles into Saudi Arabia” and the United Arab Emirates, he added.

European allies heard how he expects their support for the new US plan — but he offered nothing in return, and threatened economic fallout for anyone still dealing with the Islamic Republic.

“We understand that our re-imposition of sanctions and the coming pressure campaign on the Iranian regime will pose financial and economic difficulties for a number of our friends,” he said.

“We want to hear their concerns. But you know, we will hold those doing prohibited business in Iran to account.”

The re-establishment of the US sanctions will force European companies to choose between investing in Iran or trading with the United States.

In reality, there is no choice — European companies cannot afford to forsake the US market.

For now, the European Union is trying to persuade Iran to stay in the 2015 agreement, even without Washington’s participation.

Critics rounded on Pompeo’s speech, saying his demands could have been made without pulling America from the nuclear deal.

“Pompeo has not outlined a strategy, but rather a grab bag of wishful thinking that can only be interpreted as a call for regime change in Iran,” Suzanne Maloney of the Brookings’ Center for Middle East Policy wrote on Twitter.

AFP

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Over 29 Million Watched Royal Wedding In U.S.

AFP   More than 29 million people watched on television in the United States as Britain’s Prince Harry married American

AFP

 

More than 29 million people watched on television in the United States as Britain’s Prince Harry married American actress Megan Markle, according to Nielsen ratings released Sunday.

The estimated 29.2 million viewers for Saturday’s ceremony exceed the number for the 2011 wedding of Harry’s brother Prince William to Kate Middleton, which was watched by 22.8 million people.

Harry and Meghan tied the knot in a ceremony at Windsor Castle, where they were greeted by around 100,000 people lining the streets.

The couple will not be taking a honeymoon immediately, as they are due to attend a charity garden party for Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday.

AFP

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Latest Shooting Renews Calls For US Arms Control

Hundreds of high school and middle school students from the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia staged walkouts and gather

Hundreds of high school and middle school students from the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia staged walkouts and gather in front of the White House in support of gun control in the wake of the Florida shooting in Washington, DC. Mandel NGAN / AFP

 

The shooting at a Texas high school has revived the perennial hot-button issue of arms control in the United States, and the ease with which weapons can be purchased.

In order to shoot 10 people dead and wounded 10 others, teenager Dimitrios Pagourtzis opened fire Friday as the school day began in the town of Santa Fe with a shotgun and revolver legally purchased by his father.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, focused on the need to better address mental health issues and to arm school personnel, rather than calling for limits on the proliferation of legal weapons.

This vast and conservative southern state has among the most permissive firearm laws in the United States, a country where a third of children live in a household with at least one firearm.

Any buyer as young as 18 can buy a firearm in Texas without a special permit, including for semi-automatic, rapid-fire weapons with large-capacity magazines.

Pulling the trigger 

Paradoxically, buyers must be 21 in order to purchase a handgun. A permit is required to carry this type of weapon, and more than a million Texans have the document.

Federally accredited weapons dealers rely on a cursory search for any red flags in a potential buyer’s documented mental medical history or potential criminal record. The process itself can easily be avoided through online purchases or at travelling fairs.

It’s also legal to openly carry a shotgun or rifle, except where it is expressly forbidden.

Texas played host to the National Rifle Association’s annual convention earlier this month.

At the event, President Donald Trump proclaimed his support for the powerful gun-rights lobby that provided major financial support to his 2016 presidential campaign.

During primaries in March, arms control legislation was not a major topic in either the Democratic or the Republican camp.

Some Republican candidates make their support for gun rights a major plank of their campaign. In a 2015 video, Texan Senator Ted Cruz cooked bacon wrapped around the barrel of his assault rifle by firing the weapon.

Children as ‘collateral damage’  

But the state’s gun culture has a price. Since January 2009, Texas has seen at least 20 shootings with four or more people killed — gunman not included — according to the group Everytown for Gun Safety. That’s a national record.

Six months ago, a man opened fire at a church near San Antonio, killed 25 people, including a pregnant woman.

“Our children have become collateral damage in a nation that allows its gun laws to be written by gun lobbyists,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

Studies show that two-thirds of children know exactly where their parents hide their weapons, even when adults are convinced otherwise.

In more than 40 percent of households with weapons and children, at least one weapon has no engaged safety mechanism or is located in an unlocked space, according to a 2000 study by the American Journal of Public Health.

Some 1.69 million children under the age of 18 live in a hone with at least one loaded and freely accessible weapon, the American Academy of Pediatrics found in a 2005 study.

AFP

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Texas School Shooting: What We Know

Texas Governor Greg Abbott holds hands with family and friends at a vigil held at the First Bank in Santa

Texas Governor Greg Abbott holds hands with family and friends at a vigil held at the First Bank in Santa Fe for the victims of a shooting incident at Santa Fe High School where a shooter killed at least 10 students on May 18, 2018, in Santa Fe, Texas.  Bob Levey/Getty Images/AFP

 

The latest mass shooting at a US school unfolded Friday in the Texas town of Santa Fe, where at least 10 people were killed by a heavily armed student.

The tragedy occurred just three months after the massacre in Parkland, Florida, where a former student entered a high school and killed 17 people.

 What happened 

Police said a 17-year-old student, Dimitrios Pagourtzis, burst into a classroom and opened fire at Santa Fe High School, about 30 miles (50 kilometres) southeast of Houston, as the school day was beginning around 8:00 am.

Authorities said 10 people were killed and another 10 injured, as students fled in panic, seeking shelter in nearby homes or shops for safety, or lining up on school fields as the injured were taken away in ambulances.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said the “majority” of the 10 dead were students. Abbott said two of the 10 wounded were in critical condition. One of them was a police officer.

Six students and a teacher’s aide were identified late Friday as being among the fatalities, local media reported.

Among the dead was Sabika Sheikh, an exchange student from Pakistan in Texas as part of the Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Program, Pakistan’s embassy in Washington said in a statement.

Also killed was substitute teacher Ann Perkins, known to many as “Grandma Perkins,” the Houston area CBS affiliate reported.

The Houston Chronicle said Pagourtzis was armed with pipe bombs in addition to firearms.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said searches were being conducted at two residences and “various explosive devices” were found including a “CO2 device” and a Molotov cocktail.

The shooter 

Pagourtzis, a junior at the school, was taken into custody on murder charges.

Police said he was carrying a shotgun and revolver legally owned by his father under a long coat when he opened fire on fellow students.

Abbott said journal entries by the suspect suggested he wanted to commit suicide but that “he gave himself up.”

Abbott also said there were no “warning signs” about the suspect ahead of time although he did post a picture on his Facebook page of a T-shirt with the words “Born to Kill” on it.

Law enforcement authorities were questioning two “people of interest,” the governor said. One may have “certain information,” he said, and the other had some “suspicious reactions.”

 Political reaction 

US President Donald Trump expressed “sadness and heartbreak” over what he called an “absolutely horrific” incident — the second mass shooting in Texas in six months — and ordering flags to fly at half-staff on all public buildings.

Trump, who has previously favoured arming teachers, acknowledged that “this has been going on too long in our country.”

“My administration is determined to do everything in our power to protect our students, secure our schools, and to keep weapons out of the hands of those who pose a threat to themselves, and to others,” he said.

Survivors of February’s high school shooting in Parkland, Florida voiced solidarity and vowed to press on with their campaign for tighter gun laws.

AFP

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President Buhari Lauds Nigeria – U.S. Relations

File photo   President Muhammadu Buhari has commended the current level of relationship between Nigeria and the United States. The

President Buhari Lauds Nigeria – U.S. Relations
File photo

 

President Muhammadu Buhari has commended the current level of relationship between Nigeria and the United States.

The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr Garba Shehu, revealed this in a statement on Friday in Abuja.

According to him, President Buhari gave the commendation when he received a telephone call from the U.S. Secretary of State, Michael Pompeo, on Thursday in.

The President, who used the opportunity to congratulate the new Secretary of State on his appointment, recalled his previous meeting with Mr Pompeo when he was the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

He thanked the Secretary of State for the enormous support the U.S. has extended to Nigeria, especially in the areas of security and intelligence gathering.

President Buhari also requested Pompeo to extend his appreciation to U.S. President Donald Trump for the warm reception received in the course of his recent visit to the White House.

The Secretary of State, on his part, assured the President that with him in the Department of State, the relations between both countries would get even better.

He also reiterated the desire of the U.S. to continue to pursue, side by side with Nigeria, matters of common interest on the African continent, including the fight against terrorism and corruption, as well as trade and development.

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US Diplomat Involved In Fatal Traffic Accident Leaves Pakistan

  Pakistan has allowed a US diplomat involved in a fatal traffic accident to leave the country, an official said

 

Pakistan has allowed a US diplomat involved in a fatal traffic accident to leave the country, an official said Tuesday, following a weeks-long standoff and street protests over the incident.

The diplomat — described as the defence attache in an earlier report — departed Islamabad late Monday, a senior Pakistani government official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“The US diplomat has been allowed to return to the US in light of the High Court’s decision that he had diplomatic immunity,” the official said.

A US embassy spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.

A sports utility vehicle in which the diplomat was travelling hit a motorcyclist and his passenger at an intersection in Islamabad last month.

Atiq Baig, 22, died of head injuries while his cousin, who was the passenger, was injured.

Weeks later, a second accident involving a US diplomat colliding with a motorcyclist also made headlines in the country but only resulted in minor injuries.

Tensions are simmering between Islamabad and Washington as the US pushes Pakistan to crack down on safe havens it allegedly provides for militants.

In January the White House suspended nearly two billion dollars in funding in an attempt to force Pakistan to halt its alleged support for the Afghan Taliban and other Islamist groups.

Pakistan has long denied the accusation.

In the wake of the fatal collision, the Pakistani media drew repeated comparisons with the fatal shooting of two men by CIA contractor Raymond Davis in the eastern city of Lahore in January 2011.

After months of negotiations, a Pakistani court eventually freed Davis following the payment of $2 million to the families of the dead men.

AFP

 

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Jerusalem: U.S. Is Committed To Reaching Lasting Peace – Trump

US President Donald Trump addresses the nation                           

Trump Says High Oil Prices 'Will Not Be Accepted'
US President Donald Trump addresses the nation                                              Mandel NGAN / AFP

 

The United States President, Donald Trump has reiterated his administration’s commitment to ensuring a lasting peace.

Trump gave the assurance on Monday during a video addressing to officially declare open his country’s new embassy in Jerusalem.

Details later…

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BREAKING: U.S. Opens New Embassy In Jerusalem Amid Protests

US consulate in Jerusalem, which will host the new US embassy, as posters praising the US president hang in the

US consulate in Jerusalem, which will host the new US embassy, as posters praising the US president hang in the street.  THOMAS COEX / AFP

 

The United States has formally opened a new consulate in Jerusalem amid global protests.

The ceremony of moving the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem began on Monday with the US national anthem.

US ambassador to Israel David Friedman then spoke and President Donald Trump was given a standing ovation when he mentioned him.

Friedman referred to the embassy’s location as “Jerusalem, Israel” drawing wild applause.

Earlier in the day, violent clashes erupted along the Gaza Strip’s border, leaving 37 Palestinians dead from Israeli fire and hundreds wounded in the conflict’s bloodiest day in years.

Tens of thousands had gathered near the border in protest while smaller numbers of stone-throwing Palestinians approached the fence and sought to break through, with Israeli snipers positioned on the other side.

US Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan led the Washington delegation at the inauguration that also included Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner, both White House aides, as well as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Some 800 guests were attending the ceremony.

Jerusalem’s status is perhaps the thorniest issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel considers the entire city its capital, while the Palestinians see east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

AFP

 

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Iran Calls Trump ‘Feeble-Minded’ For Jerusalem Embassy Move

Iran’s President, Hassan Rouhani                                 

Iran’s President, Hassan Rouhani                                                                                 ATTA KENARE / AFP

 

Iran denounced President Donald Trump as “feeble-minded” over Monday’s controversial move of the US embassy to Jerusalem, calling for resistance from the Palestinians and the international community.

“America has entered a crisis of strategic decision-making that looks at the international arena immaturely and adventurously,” said parliament speaker Ali Larijani, a key establishment figure, at a conference on the Palestinian situation in Tehran.

“I believe the current US president is not capable of identifying and judging the long-term consequences of his actions,” he added.

The United States was due to open its new embassy in Jerusalem — known as Al-Quds in Iran — later on Monday amid widespread Palestinian anger and praise from Israelis.

“Spur-of-the-moment and uncalculated actions cannot continue in today’s world. Feeblemindedness is costly for statesmen and they will eventually have to pay the price,” Larijani said.

Iran is a key backer of Palestinian militant groups, including Hamas, and opposition to Israel has been a central tenet of its regime since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Larijani called for an “immediate reaction” from Palestinians, Islamic countries and the international community — including boycotts and official complaints to the United Nations.

The US “must not think that such actions… can remain without a response,” he said.

AFP

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