Merkel Urges Defense of Freedom on 30th Anniversary of Berlin Wall’s Fall

Chancellor Angela Merkel led a series of commemorations in the German capital over weekend to mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which divided the city during the Cold War until 1989. The wall was built by Communist East Germany to prevent its citizens fleeing to the capitalist west. As Henry Ridgwell reports, the hope and optimism in the years following the wall’s destruction have been replaced with fears over the resurgent tensions between Russia and the West

Australians Warned of ‘catastrophic’ Bushfires

Australian officials are warning of “catastrophic fire danger” as dozens of bushfires blazed in the state of New South Wales.

As of early Monday, 64 fires were burning the New South Wales Rural Fire Service said in a tweet. Of those, more than 40 were out of control. 

At 6am there’s 64 bush and grass fires across NSW, 40 not yet contained. Many of these fires won’t be contained ahead of tomorrow’s dangerous fire weather. Catastrophic fire danger has been declared for Tuesday in Sydney and Hunter areas. Use today to get ready. #nswrfspic.twitter.com/Qto5IF8PUH

— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) November 10, 2019

It warned residents in the area to expect conditions to get worse as high temperatures and gusting winds are forecast for Tuesday.

“Don’t wait for the last minute and ring for a firetruck because it may not get there,” said Jeremy Fewtrell, deputy commissioner of New South Wales Fire and Rescue. “We just don’t want to lose more people.”

Three people have been confirmed dead and more than 150 homes have been destroyed.

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian declared a state of emergency Monday. It will stay in place for at least a week.  

 

Hundreds of Thousands Evacuated as Cyclone Hits Bangladesh

A strong cyclone made landfall early Sunday in Bangladesh, where hundreds of thousands of people have moved to shelters across the low-lying delta nation’s vast coastal region.

Packing winds of up to 120 kilometers (75 miles) per hour and gusts of up to 130 kph (80 mph), Cyclone Bulbul weakened when it started crossing Bangladesh’s southwestern coastal region, dumping incessant rains across the country. No casualties were reported immediately.

The weather office said the cyclone slammed ashore at Sagar Island in the southern part of India’s West Bengal state. Its path included the southwestern Khulna region, which has the world’s largest mangrove forest, the Sundarbans, which straddles the Bangladesh-India border.

Up to 1.8 million people were expected to be evacuated by Saturday evening, said Enamur Rahman, Bangladesh’s junior disaster management minister. More than 5,000 shelters had been prepared.

The weather office said coastal districts were likely to be inundated by storm surges of 1{-2 meters (5-7 feet) above normal tide because of the impact of the cyclone.

Several ships from Bangladesh’s navy and coast guard were kept ready in parts of the region for an emergency response, the TV station Independent reported.

The storm is also expected to impact parts of northeastern India, where precautions were being taken.

Rahman said the government suspended weekend leave for government officials in 13 coastal districts.

On Saturday, volunteers used loudspeakers to ask people to move to shelters in Chittagong and other regions, according to the Disaster Management Ministry. In the Cox’s Bazar coastal district, tourists were alerted to stay in their hotels, while a few hundred visitors were stuck on Saint Martins Island.

Authorities suspended all activities in the country’s main seaports, including in Chittagong, which handles almost 80% of Bangladesh’s exports and imports. All vessels and fishing boats were told to stop operating.

Local authorities ordered school buildings and mosques to be used as shelters in addition to dedicated cyclone shelters — raised concrete buildings that have been built over the past decades.

Bangladesh, a nation of 160 million people, has a history of violent cyclones. But disaster preparedness programs in recent decades have upgraded the country’s capacity to deal with natural disasters, resulting in fewer casualties.

Protests Expected at Hong Kong Shopping Malls One Week After Violent Clash

Hong Kong protesters suggested they could hold rallies at a several major shopping malls on Sunday, a week after similar gatherings resulted in violent clashes with police.

Last weekend, anti-government protesters crowded into a shopping mall when a man slashed people with a knife and bit off part of the ear of a politician.

Several other gatherings are planned for elsewhere in the city, to protest against police behaviour and perceived meddling by Beijing in the politics of the Asian financial hub.

China denies interfering in Hong Kong, but the protests have become the worst political crisis in the former British colony since it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

Thousands of people gathered on Saturday night at a vigil for “martyrs”, after a student died in hospital this week following a high fall.
Though the vigil ended peacefully, many attendees called for revenge after the student’s death from injuries sustained during a protest.
Protesters have also called for a general strike on Monday and for people to block public transport, although when such calls have been made in the past they have come to nothing.

As they departed Saturday’s vigil, a number of people shouted “strike on Monday” and “see you on Monday.”

Scattered vigils on Friday night descended into chaos as some protesters vandalised metro stations and blocked streets.

Riot police responded with tear gas, pepper spray, and at least one round of live ammunition fired as a warning shot to protesters who had barricaded a street. 

Tribe Members: Ancient Bison Kill Site Desecrated by Mining

When a coal company contractor working under federal oversight used a backhoe to dig up one of the largest known Native American bison killing grounds and make way for mining, investigators concluded the damage on the Crow Indian Reservation broke federal law and would cost $10 million to repair, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

Eight years later, Colorado-based Westmoreland Coal has not made the repairs and is still mining in the area, under an agreement with former Crow leaders that some tribal members said has caused more damage to a site considered hallowed ground.

The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs issued a civil violation notice in the case last year, according to agency spokeswoman Genevieve Giaccardo. A Westmoreland executive said no penalty was involved. No charges were filed by federal prosecutors who investigated potential criminal violations.

Burton Pretty On Top, a 73-year-old tribal adviser and spiritual leader, and other Crow members said they were frustrated no one had been held accountable for “desecrating” the 2,000-year-old southeastern Montana site. It held countless bison bones and more than 3,300 stone tools and projectile points in an area known as Sarpy Creek.

“It was a shrine or temple to us,” Pretty On Top said. “We wanted to preserve the whole area … No amount of money in the world is enough to replace what has been lost here. The spirituality of our people has been broken.”

This undated aerial photo from the Montana State Library shows an area of a Westmoreland Energy coal mine near Sarpy Creek in eastern Montana. The graphics show the general area of excavation, framed in red, and a bison bone pile, framed in yellow.

The mining company plans to repair the damage but has not reached agreement with the tribe and government on how that should be done, said Westmoreland executive Joe Micheletti.

Crow Chairman Alvin “A.J.” Not Afraid said the tribe, too, bears responsibility, for signing off when Westmoreland first proposed excavating the site a decade ago. The mine generates about $13 million to $15 million annually in revenue for the Crow, which makes up the bulk of the tribe’s budget, Not Afraid said.

“How can we hold them accountable when we approved them to do something?” he asked.

The large number of artifacts found suggest various tribes killed bison there for centuries before the Crow arrived — butchering animals for meat and turning the hides into clothing, according to experts who examined the site. The number of bison bones found makes it the largest kill site of its time ever discovered, said Lawrence Todd, an archaeologist from Colorado State University who participated in the investigation.

“The magnitude of the destruction done there, from the perspective of the archaeology of the northwest Plains, is probably unprecedented,” Todd said.

Since the investigation, Westmoreland has mined around the killing ground while avoiding the massive “bonebed” of more than 2,000 bison.

Tribal officials and archaeologists said the company compounded the original damage by destroying nearby artifacts including teepee rings and the remnants of a sweat lodge. Pretty On Top said some of the bones excavated in 2011 were piled in a heap, with grass growing over it, when he recently visited.

The excavation was part of a cultural resources survey required under federal law before the mine could expand onto the reservation. The use of a backhoe instead of hand shovels saved the company money but largely destroyed the site, documents and interviews show.

A Crow cultural official later convicted in a corruption case oversaw the work. At least two Interior Department officials, took part in the decision to use the backhoe, according to the documents obtained by AP and interviews with investigators.

The agency, which must protect the tribe’s interests under federal law, declined to answer questions about its involvement.
Giaccardo said the matter was under litigation but would not provide details. Micheletti and tribal officials said they were unaware of any litigation.

Neither the company nor government would release the violation notice or the company’s repair plan.

“I’m not going to look in the rear-view mirror. We’re trying to go forward,” Micheletti said. “From our point of view, it’s pretty much all said and done and agreed to on what needs to happen there. The ruling basically concluded that there was no penalty…We did nothing wrong.”

Many bones and other artifacts that were excavated were put into off-site storage until a decision is made about what to do with them, he added. There are no plans to pay the tribe compensation.

Former Crow Chairman Darrin Old Coyote said the company originally planned to mine the entire area and warned the tribe that it would lose revenue if it avoided the killing ground. Old Coyote said that after the 2011 excavation work, his administration insisted on a buffer zone to protect the site from further damage.

Archaeological investigators brought in by federal prosecutors said the bison kill site’s potential scientific value was obvious long before the backhoe was used.

A preliminary survey in 2004 and 2005 revealed artifacts at the site and suggested more might lie beneath the ground. It was enough for it to be considered eligible for a historic designation and meant further damage had to be avoided, minimized or mitigated.

“The real culprits in this in my mind are the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Office of Surface mining. They should have said, `This site has to be avoided, period,”‘ said Martin McAllister with Archaeological Damage Investigation and Assessment, an archaeology firm that led the investigation.

In June 2010, after Westmoreland obtained approval from state and federal regulators to mine in the area, representatives of the company, tribe, BIA and Interior’s Office of Surface Mining gathered at the bison killing ground to decide what to do about the site.
To save on the high cost of excavating by hand — the accepted practice among archaeologists when working on high-value finds — they agreed to use “mass excavation with mechanical equipment,” according to records of the meeting.

The Crow tribal official at that meeting was Dale Old Horn, at the time director of the tribe’s Historic Preservation Office. He was later convicted in a corruption scheme in which preservation office staff who were supposed to be monitoring sites — including the bison killing grounds — took money from both the tribe and the companies they oversaw.

By the time the backhoe work was finished, enough soil, bones, artifacts and other material had been removed to fill more than 300 dump trucks, investigators determined.

Although the preliminary survey work was done under a permit, that permit expired in 2010 and was not renewed. That meant the backhoe excavation violated the federal Archaeological Resource Protection Act, investigators concluded.

In their 2013 damage assessment, they called the loss of archaeological information “incalculable” and said repairing it would cost $10.4 million.

“The damage that was present when we did the assessment has been amplified by having it just sit there since then — uncovered, unprotected and unanalyzed,” said Todd, the bison bonebed expert.

Hundreds of Thousands Evacuated Ahead of Bangladesh Cyclone

With a strong cyclone approaching Bangladesh on Saturday, authorities used more than 50,000 volunteers and officials to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people to shelters across the low-lying delta nation’s vast coastal region.

More than 300,000 people had already moved to safer places and up to 1.8 million were expected to be evacuated by the evening, said Enamur Rahman, Bangladesh’s junior disaster management minister.

Cyclone Bulbul was expected to hit the country’s southwestern and southern coasts on Saturday evening. More than 5,000 shelters had been prepared by the morning.

The weather office in Dhaka, the capital, issued the most severe storm signal for Bulbul, which was packing maximum sustained winds of 74 kilometers (46 miles) per hour and gusts of up to 150 kph (93 mph).

It said the southwestern Khulna region could be the worst hit. The region has the world’s largest mangrove forest, the Sundarbans.

The weather office said coastal districts were likely to be inundated by storm surges of 1{-2 meters (5-7 feet) above normal tide because of the impact of the approaching cyclone.

Several ships from Bangladesh’s navy and coast guard were kept ready in parts of the region for any emergency response, said the domestic TV station Independent.

According to U.S.-based AccuWeather Inc., Bulbul strengthened from a deep depression into a tropical cyclone on Thursday morning, and by Friday afternoon had strengthened into a severe cyclone.

With winds around 130-140 kph (80-87 mph), Bulbul is currently the equivalent of a Category 1 or 2 hurricane in the Atlantic, it said.

Rahman said government offices suspended work in 13 coastal districts on Saturday.

As the day progressed, the volunteers used loudspeakers to ask people to move to shelters in Chittagong and other regions, according to the ministry. In the Cox’s Bazar coastal district, tourists were alerted to stay in their hotels while a few hundred visitors were stuck on Saint Martins Island.

Authorities suspended all activities in the country’s main seaports, including in Chittagong, which handles almost 80% of Bangladesh’s exports and imports. All vessels and fishing boats were told to stop operating.

Local authorities ordered school buildings and mosques to be used as shelters in addition to dedicated cyclone shelters — raised concrete buildings that have been built over the past decades.

Bangladesh, a nation of 160 million people, has a history of violent cyclones. But disaster preparedness programs in recent decades have upgraded the country’s capacity to deal with natural disasters, resulting in fewer casualties.

 

Iran Defends Its Decision to Block UN Atomic Inspector

Iran defended on Saturday its decision to block an U.N. inspector from a nuclear site last week.

A spokesman for Iran’s atomic agency, Behrouz Kamalvandi, said that the Iranian government “legally speaking” had done nothing wrong in stopping the female inspector from touring its Natanz nuclear facility on Oct. 28.

Iran alleges the inspector tested positive for suspected traces of explosive nitrates. The U.N.’s nuclear watchdog has disputed the claim.

“The reason that this lady was denied entrance was that she was suspected of carrying some material,” said Kamlavandi, referring to the allegations.

He added that Iran was exercising its “rights” under its agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency when it revoked “her entrance and accreditation.”

It marked the first known instance of Iran blocking an inspector amid tensions over its collapsing nuclear deal with world powers. The U.S. unilaterally withdrew from the deal over a year ago.

Kamalvandi said Iran hasn’t imposed any restriction on inspections.

“We welcome the inspections,” he said, while warning against using them for “sabotage and leaking information.”

State TV carried Kamalvandi’s remarks from the Fordo nuclear site where Iran Thursday injected uranium gas into centrifuges aimed at producing low-enriched uranium as fuel for nuclear power plants.

Under the 2015 deal, Iran was not supposed to enrich uranium at the site until 2030.

 

Germany, Allies Mark 30 Years Since Berlin Wall Fell

Germany marked the 30th anniversary Saturday of the opening of the Berlin Wall, a pivotal moment in the events that brought down Communism in eastern Europe.

Leaders from Germany, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic attended a ceremony at Bernauer Strasse — where one of the last parts of the Berlin Wall remains — before placing roses in gaps in the once-fearsome barrier that divided the city for 28 years.

Axel Klausmeier, head of the Berlin Wall memorial site, recalled the images of delirious Berliners from East and West crying tears of joy as they hugged each other on the evening of Nov. 9, 1989.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives with a rose at a ceremony marking the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, in Berlin, Germany, Nov. 9, 2019.

Klausmeier paid tribute to the peaceful protesters in East Germany and neighboring Warsaw Pact countries who took to the streets demanding freedom and democracy, and to then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy of reforms.

The protests and a stream of people fleeing East Germany piled pressure on the country’s Communist government to open its borders to the West and ultimately end the nation’s post-war division.

Thirty years on, Germany has become the most powerful economic and political force on the continent, but there remain deep misgivings among some in the country about how the transition from socialism to capitalism was managed.

From right, the presidents of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Hungary Janos Ader, Poland Andrzej Duda, Slovakia Zuzana Caputova and of the Czech Republic Milos Zeman, are seen at Berlin Wall ceremony, in Berlin, Germany, Nov. 9, 2019.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel acknowledged this in a recent interview with daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung, saying that “with some things, where one might have thought that East and West would have aligned, one can see today that it might rather take half a century or more.”

Speaking at a memorial service in a small chapel near where the Wall once stood, Merkel commemorated those who were killed or imprisoned for trying to flee from East to West Germany and insisted that the fight for freedom worldwide isn’t over.

“The Berlin Wall, ladies and gentlemen, is history and it teaches us: No wall that keeps people out and restricts freedom is so high or so wide that it can’t be broken down,” she said.

Merkel also recalled that Nov. 9 remains a fraught date in German history, as it also marks the anniversary of the so-called Night of Broken Glass, an anti-Jewish pogrom in 1938 that foreshadowed the Nazi’s Holocaust.

Light installations, concerts and public debates were planned throughout the city and other parts of Germany to mark the fall of the Wall, including a concert at Berlin’s iconic Brandenburg Gate.
 

UN Court Says It Has Jurisdiction in Ukraine-Russia Case 

The United Nations’ highest court ruled Friday that it has jurisdiction in a case brought by Ukraine that alleges Russia breached treaties on terrorist financing and racial discrimination following its annexation of Crimea by arming rebels in eastern Ukraine and reining in the rights of ethnic Tartars and other minorities. 
 
The decision by the International Court of Justice means the case, which opened a new legal front in the strained relationship between Russia and Ukraine, will go ahead. 
  
It most likely will take many months or years to settle. 
 
The court’s president, Abdulqawi Yusuf, said the ruling was limited to jurisdiction and did not address the merits of Ukraine’s complaints in the case.  

FILE - A member of the Ukrainian State Border Guard Service signals for people to stop as they approach a checkpoint at the contact line between Russia-backed rebels and Ukrainian troops, in Mayorsk, eastern Ukraine, July 3, 2019.
FILE – A member of the Ukrainian State Border Guard Service signals for people to stop as they approach a checkpoint at the contact line between Russia-backed rebels and Ukrainian troops, in Mayorsk, eastern Ukraine, July 3, 2019.

Kyiv filed the case in January 2017, asking the court to order Moscow to stop financing rebels in eastern Ukraine and to pay compensation for attacks, including the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was shot out of the sky over eastern Ukraine on July 19, 2014, killing all 298 people on board. 

3 Russians, Ukrainian charged

Russia has always denied involvement in the downing of the passenger jet, but an international investigation has charged three Russians and a Ukrainian with murder over their alleged role in the deadly missile strike. 
 
Ukraine also asked the court to order Russia to stop discriminating against ethnic Tartars on the Crimean Peninsula. 
 
At hearings in June, Russia argued that Ukraine was using the two treaties as a way of bringing broader arguments about the annexation of Crimea and the conflict in eastern Ukraine before the world court. 
 
Lawyers for Moscow insisted that the court had no jurisdiction and should throw out the case. 
 
In a preliminary ruling in 2017, the court ordered Russia to stop limiting “the ability of the Crimean Tatar community to conserve its representative institutions.” 

Rejected request

However, in the same ruling, judges rejected Ukraine’s request for measures aimed at blocking Russian support for rebels in eastern Ukraine, saying Kyiv did not provide enough evidence to back up its claim that Moscow sponsored terrorism by funding and arming the rebels. 
 
The case is going ahead as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is attempting to end the conflict in the east of his country that has killed more than 13,000 people and displaced more than a million people. 
 
Rulings by the court, the United Nations’ principal judicial organ, are binding on states. 

Trump to Pursue Higher Sales Age for E-Cigarettes

President Donald Trump said Friday his administration will pursue raising the age to purchase electronic cigarettes from 18 to 21 in its upcoming plans to combat youth vaping. 

Trump told reporters his administration will release its final plans for restricting e-cigarettes next week but provided few other details. 
 
“We have to take care of our kids, most importantly, so we’re going to have an age limit of 21 or so,” said Trump, speaking outside the White House.

President Donald Trump speaks to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Nov. 8, 2019.

Currently the minimum age to purchase any tobacco or vaping product is 18, under federal law. But more than one-third of U.S. states have already raised their sales age to 21. 
 
A federal law raising the purchase age would require congressional action.

Administration officials were widely expected to release plans this week for removing virtually all flavored e-cigarettes from the market. Those products are blamed for soaring rates of underage use by U.S. teenagers. 
 
However, no details have yet appeared, leading vaping critics to worry that the administration is backing away from its original plan.

Trump resisted any specifics on the scope of the restrictions.

“We’re talking about the age, we’re talking about flavors, we’re also talking about keeping people working — there are some pretty good aspects,” Trump said.

Mint flavor

Underage vaping has reached what health officials call epidemic levels. In the latest government survey, 1 in 4 high school students reported using e-cigarettes in the previous month.

FILE – A woman buys refills for her Juul at a smoke shop in New York, Dec. 20, 2018.

Fruit, candy, dessert and other sweet vaping flavors have been targeted because of their appeal to underage users. 
 
On Thursday, Juul Labs, the nation’s largest e-cigarette maker, announced it would voluntarily pull its mint-flavored e-cigarettes from the market. That decision followed new research that Juul’s mint is the top choice for many high school students who vape.

With the removal of mint, Juul only sells two flavors: tobacco and menthol. 
 
Vaping critics say menthol must be a part of the flavor ban to prevent teens who currently use mint from switching over.

‘Tobacco 21’ law

Juul and other tobacco companies have lobbied in support of a federal “Tobacco 21” law to reverse teen use of both e-cigarettes and traditional tobacco products. The effort also has broad bipartisan support in Congress, including a bill introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The logic for hiking the purchase age for cigarettes and other products is clear: Most underage teens who use e-cigarettes or tobacco get it from older friends. Raising the minimum age to 21 is expected to limit the supply of those products in U.S. schools.

Delaying access to cigarettes is also expected to produce major downstream health benefits, with one government-funded report estimating nearly 250,000 fewer deaths due to tobacco over several decades. 
 
Still, anti-tobacco groups have insisted that any “Tobacco 21” law must be accompanied by a ban on flavors, which they say are the primary reason young people use e-cigarettes.