TIME Tunisia

Veteran Tunisian Statesman Claims Win After Presidential Run-off

Tunisia Elections
A man holds up a picture of Tunisian presidential candidate Moncef Marzouki, as supporters gather to hear his speech after the second round of the country's presidential election, in Tunis, Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014. Ilyess Osmane—AP

Of all the countries whose leaders were felled by the Arab Spring, Tunisia is alone in that it is hailed as a model for democratic reform

Veteran Tunisian politician Beji Caid Essebsi, who served in ousted autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali’s regime, claimed victory after a presidential run-off vote on Sunday.

Essebsi’s rival, incumbent president Moncef Marzouki, did not concede defeat, though, and official results will not be released until Monday, Reuters reports.

Marzouki has argued that electing Essebsi, who served as speaker of Parliament in the government ousted in 2011, as well as in the government of Tunisia’s autocratic first president, would rewind Tunisia’s democratic progress.

Yet Essebsi, of the newly formed Secular Party, is thought to represent a turnaround from Marzouki’s Islamist-led coalition government, which has led the country since the Jasmine Revolution. The government has been criticized for not doing more to quell extremist Islamist movements in Tunisia.

[Reuters]

TIME Australia

Australian Woman Charged With Murder of 8 Children

(CAIRNS, Australia) — A judge on Monday rejected a plea by lawyers for an Australia woman charged with killing eight children to have the next hearing held in a mental health court.

Mersane Warria, charged under her full name of Raina Mersane Ina Thaiday, is facing eight counts of murder in the deaths of seven of her children and her niece, whose bodies were found inside her northern Australia home last week.

Police were called to the home in the Cairns suburb of Manoora on Friday morning after receiving a report of a woman with serious injuries. When they got to the house, they found the bodies, along with Warria, who was suffering from stab wounds to the chest.

Warria, 37, did not attend a brief hearing at Cairns Magistrates Court on Monday as she is recovering from her injuries in a hospital.

Magistrate Alan Comans rejected a request from Warria’s lawyer, Steve MacFarlane, to hold the case’s next hearing in a mental health court. Criminal cases are sometimes referred to such courts if the defendant is believed to be mentally ill or has an intellectual disability. The court then decides what the defendant’s mental state was when they committed the offense.

Outside court, MacFarlane said his client was expected to be examined by psychiatrists and that the case could still be heard in mental health court after that assessment was completed.

“I think she probably knows what happened but doesn’t realize it and it hasn’t sunk in,” he said. “I’ve spoken to her and she’s coping the best that she can at the moment.”

The case has been adjourned until Jan. 30.

Police haven’t said how the children died, but Queensland Police Detective Inspector Bruno Asnicar said that they’re examining several knives in the home that may have been the weapon used to kill them. Suffocation was also a possible cause of death, he said.

“We are considering that and that’s why it’s taking a bit of time,” he said on Sunday. “It could be a range of things, from suffocation to a thousand other things.”

Officials were still trying to determine exactly what happened inside the house, and had collected more than 100 witness statements, he said. A coroner was conducting autopsies, but police would not be releasing the results as the case was now a matter for the courts, he said.

The children, four girls and four boys, ranged in age from 2 to 14. Warria is the mother of seven of them; the eighth is her niece.

Police were not looking for any other suspects, Asnicar said.

“This is very raw and it is a very emotive time for everybody,” he said. “The family is deeply upset but the community is pulling together.”

Asked how the children’s five fathers were coping with the tragedy, Ascinar replied: “I don’t think we need much imagination to understand how they are feeling.”

Dozens of weeping mourners visited a makeshift memorial of flowers, stuffed animals and candles set up in a park next to the family’s home. “My babies, my babies,” one man wailed.

The tragedy comes as Australia is still reeling from the shock of a deadly siege in a Sydney cafe. Last week, a gunman burst into the cafe in the heart of the city and took 18 hostages, two of whom were killed along with the gunman after police stormed in 16 hours later to end the standoff. Police had earlier said there were 17 hostages in the cafe, but revised the number after a new count.

TIME France

Driver Shouting ‘Allahu Akbar!’ Runs Down 11 French Pedestrians

The driver hit pedestrians in five parts of the city of Dijon before being arrested

A driver screaming “Allahu Akbar!” (Arabic for “God is great”) appeared to deliberately mow down about a dozen pedestrians in the French city of Dijon before being arrested on Sunday, officials said.

The driver, who was in his forties, hit groups of pedestrians in five parts of the eastern city before being arrested, a spokesman for the Ministry of the Interior said on French television.

Eleven people in all were injured, two of them seriously, officials said.

According to testimonies on the scene, the driver also invoked “the children of Palestine”‘ to explain his actions, the ministry’s spokesman said…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Jordan

Jordan Hangs 11 Men After 8-Year Execution Ban Ends

Since the 2006 ban, 122 people have been sentenced to death

Eleven men were hanged in Jordan on Sunday, bringing the country’s eight-year moratorium on executions to an end.

The 11 criminals, all Jordanian, had been charged in different murder cases in 2005 and 2006, Al Jazeera reported. The country’s last executions had taken place in June 2006, and since then 122 people have been sentenced to death, though none of the sentences had been carried out until Sunday.

Interior Minister Hussein Majali had stated recently that the execution ban might end, citing a “major debate” in the country on whether to reinstitute the death penalty. According to Majali, the public believed that Jordan’s rising crime was a result of the death penalty’s absence.

Several countries in the Middle East, like Saudi Arabia, allow the death penalty. China had executed thousands of people last year, more than any country, according to an estimate by Amnesty International. And capital punishment remains legal in many states in the U.S.

[Al Jazeera]

TIME Crime

Witness the Aftermath of Police Shooting in Brooklyn

Two New York Police Department officers were shot and killed Saturday afternoon, unprovoked, by a gunman who later killed himself. 

TIME Infectious Disease

WHO: Recorded Ebola Deaths Top 7,000

Grave digger walks past fresh graves at a cemetery in Freetown, Sierra Leone
A grave digger walks past fresh graves at a cemetery in Freetown, Sierra Leone, Dec. 20, 2014. Baz Ratner—Reuters

(CONAKRY, Guinea) — The worst Ebola outbreak on record has now killed more than 7,000 people, with many of the latest deaths reported in Sierra Leone, the World Health Organization said as United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon continued his tour of Ebola-affected countries in West Africa on Saturday.

The three countries hit hardest by Ebola have now recorded 7,373 deaths, up from 6,900 on Wednesday, according to WHO figures posted online late Friday. A total of 392 of the new deaths were in Sierra Leone, where Ebola is spreading the fastest.

The new totals include confirmed, probable and suspected Ebola deaths. The WHO says there have also been six Ebola deaths in Mali, eight in Nigeria and one in the United States.

The total number of cases in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia now stands at 19,031, up from 18,569.

Ban arrived in Guinea, where the outbreak’s first cases were confirmed back in March, on Saturday after touring Liberia and Sierra Leone on Friday. After meeting with President Alpha Conde, he expressed concern about the situation in the country’s southeast forest region, where he said the number of infected people “seems to continue to grow.” The region borders Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast, and Ban called for cross-border collaboration to bring the disease under control.

He urged all Guineans to commit themselves to eradicating Ebola, saying that the U.N. and its partners “are there to help you.”

“It has never been so important to work together,” he said.

Guinea has recorded 2,453 Ebola deaths and 1,550 cases, according to the WHO. This past week, officials in Conakry, the capital, announced a ban on New Year’s Eve celebrations such as fireworks displays and beach gatherings in a bid to curtail transmission.

Ban was expected to travel to Mali Saturday evening.

TIME Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone Peacekeepers to Leave Somalia Mission

Sierra Leone African Union Peacekeeper Somalia
Officers from the Sierra Leonean Contingent serving with the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) Individual Police Officers (IPO) walking during a medal parade at the AU Mission's headquarters in the Somali capital Mogadishu, March 15, 2013. Sierra Leone is withdrawing from the African peacekeeping force in Somalia. AFP/Getty Images

(FREETOWN, Sierra Leone) — A Sierra Leone military official says the country is withdrawing from the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia after being blocked from rotating its soldiers over concerns about the spread of Ebola.

Maj. Gen. Samuel Omar Williams, the chief of defense staff, said Saturday the troops currently in Somalia will be sent back to Freetown in January “and will not be replaced.”

In a statement Saturday, the African Union mission said 850 Sierra Leone troops deployed for 12 months starting in 2013, but the AU halted their rotation in response to Ebola, which the World Health Organization says has killed more than 2,400 people in Sierra Leone.

The mission said Sierra Leone’s soldiers will be replaced by soldiers from other countries “until the virus has been fully contained.”

TIME Cuba

Castro Hails Thaw in US Relations, But Reasserts Communist Rule

Raul Castro
Cuba's President Raul Castro points to the press during the closing of the twice-annual legislative session at the National Assembly in Havana, Cuba, Dec. 20, 2014. Ramon Espinosa—AP

“Every country has the inalienable right to choose its own political systems"

Cuban president Raul Castro hailed “a new chapter” in U.S.-Cuban relations on Saturday, but insisted the diplomatic thaw will not break Cuba from its Communist past.

“In the same way that we have never demanded that the United States change its political system, we will demand respect for ours,” Castro said in a Saturday speech before Cuba’s National Assembly, Reuters reports.

The speech comes as U.S. officials prepare for a historic visit to Havana in January, where they are expected to push their Cuban counterparts to allow a greater measure of political freedom in exchange for an easing of the U.S. embargo.

“The only way to advance is with mutual respect,” Castro said.

TIME Afghanistan

U.S. Transfers 4 Guantanamo Prisoners to Afghanistan

Guantanamo Bay
A U.S. military guard on the grounds of the now closed Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Aug. 22 2013. Johannes Schmitt-Tegge—EPA

The transfer marks the first repatriation of prisoners to Afghanistan since 2009

Four Guantanamo prisoners were transferred to Afghan authorities, the Pentagon said Saturday, as part of a continuing push by the Obama administration to close the contentious prison.

The detainees boarded a U.S. military plane and were flown to Kabul overnight, ending a decade of detention at the prison for suspected involvement in Taliban-affiliated militias, Reuters reports.

“Most if not all of these accusations have been discarded and each of these individuals at worst could be described as low-level, if even that,” an unnamed senior official told Reuters.

The transfer marks the first repatriation of prisoners to Afghanistan since 2009. 132 detainees are still being held at the Guantanamo complex, which President Barack Obama vowed to shut down early in his presidency–a promise he has struggled to carry through amid legal obstacles and stiff resistance from Congress.

Read more at Reuters.

TIME North Korea

N. Korea Proposes Joint Probe Over Sony Hacking

(SEOUL, South Korea) — North Korea on Saturday proposed a joint investigation with the U.S. into the hacking attack against Sony Pictures Entertainment, warning of “serious” consequences if Washington rejects a probe that it believes would prove Pyongyang had nothing to do with the cyberattack.

The proposal was seen by analysts as a typical ploy by the North to try to show that it is sincere, even though it knows the U.S. would never accept its offer for a joint investigation.

U.S. officials blame North Korea for the hacking, citing the tools used in the Sony attack and previous hacks linked to the North, and have vowed to respond. The break-in resulted in the disclosure of tens of thousands of confidential Sony emails and business files, and escalated to threats of terror attacks against U.S. movie theaters that caused Sony to cancel the Christmas Day release of “The Interview,” a comedy about a plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

On Saturday, an unidentified North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman in Pyongyang proposed the joint investigation with the U.S., saying the North knows how to prove it’s not responsible for the hacking. He also said Washington was slandering Pyongyang by spreading unfounded rumors.

“The U.S. should bear in mind that it will face serious consequences in case it rejects our proposal for joint investigation and presses for what it called countermeasures while finding fault with” North Korea, the spokesman said in a statement carried by Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency, or KCNA.

“We have a way to prove that we have nothing to do with the case without resorting to torture, as the CIA does,” he said, adding that the U.S. lacks any specific evidence tying North Korea to the hacking.

Koh Yu-hwan, a professor at Seoul’s Dongguk University, called the North’s proposal a “typical” tactic the country has taken in similar disputes with rival countries. In 2010, North Korea proposed a joint investigation after a South Korean-led international team concluded that the North was behind a torpedo attack that killed 46 South Korean sailors, though Pyongyang denied its involvement. South Korea rejected the North’s offer for the joint probe.

“They are now talking about a joint investigation because they think there is no conclusive evidence,” Koh said. “But the U.S. won’t accede to a joint investigation for the crime.”

On Friday, President Barack Obama declared that Sony “made a mistake” in shelving the satirical film about a plot to assassinate the North Korean leader, and pledged that the U.S. would respond “in a place and manner and time that we choose” to the hacking attack on Sony that led to the movie’s withdrawal.

“I wish they had spoken to me first. … We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship,” Obama said at a year-end news conference, speaking of executives at Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Sony said it had had no choice but to cancel distribution of the movie because theaters were refusing to show it.

U.S. options for acting against North Korea are limited. The U.S. already has severe trade sanctions in place, and there is no appetite for military action. Even if investigators could identify and prosecute the individual hackers believed responsible, there’s no guarantee that any located are overseas would ever see a U.S. courtroom. Hacking back at North Korean targets by U.S. government experts could encourage further attacks against American targets.

North Korea and the U.S. remain in a technical state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. The rivals also are locked in an international standoff over the North’s nuclear and missile programs and its alleged human rights abuses.

Earlier Saturday, North Korea angrily denounced a move by the United Nations to bring its human rights record before the Security Council and renewed its threat to further bolster its nuclear deterrent against what it called a hostile policy by the U.S. to topple its ruling regime.

Pyongyang “vehemently and categorically rejects” the resolution passed by the U.N. General Assembly that could open the door for its leaders, including Kim Jong Un, to be hauled before the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, according to a Foreign Ministry statement carried by KCNA.

The Security Council is due to meet Monday to discuss Pyongyang’s human rights situation for the first time.

The meeting caps almost a year of international pressure, and even though ally China could use its veto power to block any action against the North, the nonbinding resolution has broad support in the General Assembly and has drawn unusually strong and vitriolic protests from Pyongyang.

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