Maldives police say blast that hurt Nasheed act of terrorism
MALE, Maldives — Police in the Maldives said Friday an explosion that wounded former President Mohamed Nasheed and four others including a British national was an act of terrorism and they are attempting to identify four possible suspects. Australian police said they are ready to assist the investigation.
Nasheed, 53, was wounded in the blast outside his home Thursday night as he was about to get into his car, police said. He was in critical condition in an intensive care unit after life-saving surgeries to his head, chest, abdomen and limbs, ADK Hospital said in a statement Friday evening.
Nasheed has been an outspoken critic of religious extremism in the predominantly Sunni Muslim nation, where preaching and practicing other faiths are banned by law.
Police Commissioner Mohamed Hameed said police are treating the blast as an act of terrorism against the former president. Two of Nasheed’s bodyguards and two apparent bystanders, including a British citizen, were also wounded, he said.
Police have not detected any military-grade components in the explosives used, Hameed said. They are trying to identify four possible suspects but no arrests have been made, he said.
No one has claimed responsibility for the blast. Photos circulated on social media showed a ripped-up motorcycle at the scene.
Nasheed is the current Parliament speaker and was the first democratically elected president of the Indian Ocean archipelago, serving from 2008 to 2012.
Current President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih said in a televised speech that Australian Federal Police investigators will arrive on Saturday. The Australian police force said it will assess what assistance they can provide the investigation.
The Maldives is known for its luxury resorts but has experienced occasional violent attacks. In 2007, a blast in a park in the capital wounded 12 foreign tourists.
Violence has been blamed on a rise in religious extremism. The Maldives has one of the highest per capita numbers of militants who fought in Syria and Iraq alongside the Islamic State group.
Maldives authorities announced in January that eight people arrested in November were found to have been planning to attack a school and were in the process of building bombs in a boat at sea. Police said they also conducted military training on uninhabited islands and recruited children.
Hameed said it was not known whether the attack on Nasheed was linked to that group.
Nasheed’s presidency ended 30 years of autocratic rule, but his own term was cut short when he resigned amid protests. He was defeated in the subsequent presidential election and was convicted of terrorism under his predecessor for having arrested a top judge while president, and was sentenced to 13 years in prison.
He was allowed to go to Britain for medical treatment and received asylum there in 2016. His party colleague, Solih, won the 2018 presidential election and Nasheed was able to return home.
Nasheed has remained an influential figure and was elected Parliament speaker in 2019. He has championed global efforts to fight climate change, particularly rising seas threatening the low-lying islands of his archipelago nation.
Neighboring India’s external affairs minister, S. Jaishankar, in a tweet described the blast as an attack on Nasheed.
“Wish him a speedy recovery. Know that he will never be intimidated,” Jaishankar said.
Associated Press writer Krishan Francis in Colombo, Sri Lanka, contributed to this report.
Talks ‘intensify’ on bringing U.S. back to Iran nuclear deal
VIENNA — World powers held a fourth round of high-level talks Friday in Austria aimed at bringing the United States back into the nuclear deal with Iran, with both sides signaling a willingness to work out the major stumbling blocks.
The talks began in early April and Russian delegate Mikhail Ulyanov tweeted following Friday’s meeting that “the participants agreed on the need to intensify the process.”
“The delegations seem to be ready to stay in Vienna as long as necessary to achieve the goal,” he wrote.
The U.S. pulled out of the landmark 2015 deal in 2018 after then-President Donald Trump said the pact needed to be renegotiated. The deal had promised Iran economic incentives in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program, and the Trump administration reimposed heavy sanctions on the Islamic republic in an unsuccessful attempt to bring Tehran into new talks.
Iran reacted by steadily increasing its violations of the deal, which is intended to prevent the country from obtaining nuclear weapons. Iran began enriching uranium to a greater purity, stockpiling more than allowed and beginning to use more advanced centrifuges, among other things, in an attempt to pressure the world powers remaining in the deal — Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China — for economic relief.
U.S. President Joe Biden says he wants to rejoin the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, but that Iran needs to return to compliance.
Iran, which insists it does not want to produce a nuclear bomb, has said it is prepared to reverse all of its violations but that Washington must remove all sanctions imposed under Trump.
On the other side is the question of what Iran’s return to compliance would look like. Delegates to the Vienna talks concede, for example, that Iranian nuclear scientists cannot unlearn the knowledge they acquired in the last three years, but it is not clear whether Iran’s new centrifuges would need to be destroyed, mothballed and locked away, or simply taken offline.
Because the U.S. is currently out of the deal, there was no American representation at the talks. Diplomats involved are shuttling between the Iranian side and a delegation from Washington elsewhere in Vienna.
Between the high-level meetings, expert groups have been meeting to try and come up with solutions to the outstanding issues.
Alain Matton, a spokesperson for the EU delegation in Vienna, which is chairing the meetings, said the expert discussions will continue in the days ahead.
“And the EU as a coordinator and facilitator of the JCPOA talks will continue with separate talks with all participants and with the U.S.,” Matton told reporters. “The participants are continuing with discussions, which are held on various levels and which have as their objective the full and effective implementation of the deal by all sides and the U.S. return to the JCPOA.”
Ahead of the talks, a senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the U.S. position, said Washington has laid out the concessions it’s prepared to make and that success or failure now depends on Iran making the political decision to accept those concessions and to return to compliance with the accord.
The official said it remains possible to reach an agreement before Iran’s June presidential election, which some believe are a complicating factor in the discussions.
Iran’s delegate to the talks, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, told his country’s state-run IRNA news agency late Thursday that his team was trying to reach an agreement as soon as possible but would not act in haste and would act in Iran’s national interests.
“We are on a specified path about which there are, fortunately, agreements, but there are serious obstacles in the way as well,” Araghchi said.
Heading into the talks, Ulyanov tweeted that he saw positive signs from the Iranian minister’s statements.
“The head of the Iranian delegation is cautious in his assessment of the current state of affairs at the Vienna talks (very similar to assessments of the US colleagues),” he tweeted. “But both #Iran and #US refrain from pessimistic conclusions. This seems to be not a bad sign.”
Matthew Lee in Washington and Amir Vahdat in Tehran contributed to this story. Rising reported from Berlin.
Texas GOP’s voting restriction bill passes key House vote
AUSTIN, Texas — Texas has become the latest Republican-dominated state to advance sweeping new limits on voting, despite no evidence of any problems with last year’s vote and a coalition of state and federal officials calling the 2020 presidential election the most secure in history.
The key vote at 3 a.m. Friday in the Texas House followed hours of debate that started the day before, with lawmakers now negotiating the final version of the legislation that will need approval before heading to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who has broadly defended the measures.
From Florida to Georgia, Iowa and now Texas, Republican lawmakers have used unsubstantiated claims by former President Donald Trump and his allies to justify new voting restrictions. They argue the new limits, which largely target mail voting, are needed to boost public confidence and improve security. In some cases, the rules also create onerous requirements and penalties for local election officials.
“It is old Jim Crow dressed up in what our colleagues are calling election integrity,” said Democratic state Rep. Jessica Gonzalez.
Friday’s early morning vote was less than 24 hours after Florida Gov. Rick DeSantis signed a wide-ranging list of new voting restrictions into law. New voting limits have also been signed into law in Georgia and Iowa. Elsewhere, Republicans in Ohio and Michigan are also pressing ahead with overhauls of various election procedures.
“We are seeing the strong effect of President Trump’s big lie. We are seeing the Republican Party go all-in on supporting him and his lies,” said Sylvia Albert, voting and elections director for Common Cause, which advocates for expanded voter access. “We are seeing them use this opportunity to create deliberate barriers to voting for Black and brown voters. It’s un-American.
In Texas, Democrats had no path to stop the bill in the GOP-controlled state Capitol, but they deployed various technical challenges and used hours of questioning that the bill’s author, Republican state Rep. Briscoe Cain, appeared unprepared at times to answer.
Finally, an agreement was reached between Republicans and Democrats leaving the bill with 20 amendments that significantly watered down some of what advocates called the most problematic aspects of the bill as it passed the key vote 81-64. The session ends May 31.
The amendments lowered initially proposed enhanced criminal penalties, allowed poll watchers to be removed if they breach the peace and clarified that election judges and volunteers wouldn’t be held liable for honest mistakes. Additionally, they instructed the state to send voter registration applications to high schools and instructed the state to develop an online format for tracking early ballots.
Abbott, who has not wavered in his backing of his party’s restrictions and has lashed out at businesses that have spoken out, reiterated his support Thursday, tweeting: “I made election integrity an emergency item this session to help ensure every eligible voter gets to vote & only eligible ballots are counted.”
Cain, who chairs the House Elections Committee and who authored the House version of the voting bill, echoed those sentiments in urging his colleagues to back the proposals.
“We don’t need to wait for bad things to happen to protect the security of the election,” Cain said. “I don’t believe that this is voter suppression, I believe it is voter enhancement.”
Other restrictions in Cain’s bill would outlaw Texas county officials from sending mail-ballot request forms to all registered voters, efforts voting officials in Harris County — where Cain is from — put in place last year to expand ballot access when in-person gatherings were more hazardous because of the coronavirus pandemic. Harris County, which includes Houston, is also a Democratic stronghold where 44% of the nearly 5 million residents are Latino and 20% are Black.
Voting rights groups say poor and minority voters will bear the brunt of GOP restrictions, and that Republicans are counting on the privilege of their voters to overcome hurdles. Some Republicans across the country have expressed concern the new rules could end up hurting GOP voters as well. Republican voters, particularly seniors, have long embraced mail voting.
“What’s even more perplexing is the proposed legislation attacks voting practices that Republicans have relied on for decades to turn out voters,” Texas state Rep. Lyle Larson, a Republican, wrote in an opinion column earlier this week.
On Tuesday, more than 50 companies and business organizations, including some in Texas, released an open letter expressing opposition to “any changes” that would make it harder to vote in that state.
Republicans in Texas have angrily rejected those accusations. They say the measures would only rein in powers that county leaders never had in the first place.
Packed trains, drinking: Japanese impatient over virus steps
TOKYO — Trains packed with commuters returning to work after a weeklong national holiday. Frustrated young people drinking in the streets because bars are closed. Protests planned over a possible visit by the Olympics chief.
As the coronavirus spreads in Japan ahead of the Tokyo Olympics starting in 11 weeks, one of the world’s least vaccinated nations is showing signs of strain, both societal and political.
The government — desperate to show a worried public it is in control of virus efforts even as it pushes a massive sporting event that a growing number of Japanese oppose hosting in a pandemic — on Friday announced a decision to expand and extend a state of emergency in Tokyo and other areas through May 31.
For Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, the emergency declaration is both a health measure and a political tightrope walk as domestic criticism rises of Japan’s seeming determination to hold the Olympics at any cost.
“I understand there are concerns about hosting the Olympics,” Suga said. He said foreign athletes and other participants will be strictly separated from the Japanese public and that “it is possible to hold a safe and secure Olympics while protecting the people’s lives and health.”
Suga said a donation of vaccines by Pfizer Inc. to the International Olympic Committee for athletes will be “a big contribution” to a safe games.
A speculated mid-May visit by International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach has become “extremely difficult” because of the extension of the emergency, Japanese organizing chief Seiko Hashimoto said at a news conference Friday.
The government has also been criticized over its snail-paced vaccination rollout, which has fully covered less than 1% of the population since inoculations began in mid-February.
Suga pledged on Friday to speed up inoculations so all 36 million elderly Japanese can be fully vaccinated by the end of July. He set a daily target of 1 million shots, more than 20 times the current daily average, but did not explain how that would be possible amid a dire shortage of medical workers who can give vaccinations.
Japan has avoided implementing a hard lockdown to curb infections, and past states of emergency have had little teeth, with people and businesses free to ignore the provisions. These measures have since been toughened, but they come as citizens show increased impatience and less desire to cooperate, making it possible that the emergency declaration will be less effective.
The current state of emergency in Tokyo and Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo prefectures in the west was scheduled to end Tuesday. Suga said his government has decided to extend it in those areas and expand it to Aichi in central Japan and Fukuoka in the south.
On Friday, two days after “Golden Week” holiday makers returned to their daily routine, Tokyo logged 907 new cases of coronavirus infections, up sharply from 635 when the state of emergency began in the capital last month, but far above the target of 100 that some experts recommend.
Officials and experts say significantly fewer people may have been tested for the virus during the holiday, when many testing centers and hospitals were closed, and caution the numbers during and right after the holiday period may not reflect reality.
During the holidays, significantly more people than last year were seen at tourist spots in Kyoto and Nara despite stay-at-home requests. With drinking places closed, younger people carrying canned beer and snacks gathered in parks and streets in downtown Tokyo. When the holiday ended, many defied requests for remote work and returned to their offices on packed trains.
The extension deepens uncertainties over a speculated May 17 visit by International Olympics Committee President Thomas Bach, and whether Japan can safely host the Olympics postponed from last year and currently scheduled for July 23-Aug. 8.
Despite criticism for being slow to take virus measures, Suga has been reluctant to hurt the already pandemic-damaged economy and pledged to keep the state of emergency “short and intensive,” though experts said just over two weeks would be too short to effectively slow the infections and even the extension may be insufficient.
Dr. Shigeru Omi, head of a government taskforce, cautioned officials Friday that a hasty lifting of the emergency would only invite an immediate resurgence.
The ongoing emergency is Japan’s third and came only a month after an earlier measure ended in the Tokyo area.
Less stringent, quasi-emergency measures will be expanded to eight prefectures from the current six, where bars and restaurants are required to close early.
Japan has had about 621,000 cases including about 10,600 deaths since the pandemic began.
Medical systems in hardest-hit Osaka have been under severe pressure from a COVID-19 outbreak there that is hampering ordinary health care, experts say. A number of patients died at home recently after their conditions worsened while waiting for vacancies at hospitals.
Past emergency measures authorized only non-mandatory requests. The government in February toughened a law on anti-virus measures to allow authorities to issue binding orders for nonessential businesses to shorten their hours or close, in exchange for compensation for those who comply and penalties for violators.
Shutdown requirements will be eased somewhat. Bars, karaoke studios and most other entertainment facilities will be required to remain closed until the end of May, but department stores will be able to operate for shorter hours and stadiums and concert halls will be allowed to have up to 5,000 people or half their capacity.
Wearing masks, staying home and other measures for the general public remain non-mandatory requests.
Police in Portland suburb expanding body camera program
TIGARD, Ore. — Police in the Portland suburb of Tigard have announced the expansion of their body-worn camera program.
The Tigard Police Department says all its officers will have the cameras in the next month, KPTV reported.
Police said city council recently gave approval to the body camera expansion and that the department has been researching the issue for the last couple years.
Tigard police said the department had dash cameras and limited body cameras for police dog handlers, traffic officers, community service officers and school resource officers for more than 10 years, but those systems are outdated, failing and need to be replaced.
The upgrade also includes new in-car video systems, Tasers, interview room technology and digital storage.
The 5-year contract for all of the equipment will cost an estimated $1.46 million, KATU reported. According to police, it will be paid for with existing funds from the police budget as well as with reserves from the city’s general fund.
The expansion proposal received unanimous support from both city council and the public safety advisory board, police said.
The body cameras will be the first technology to be implemented in the upgrade, police said.
Video shows Bellingham thieves rolling away with totem pole
Bellingham Police have arrested one of the thieves who stole a hand-carved Lummi totem pole that was intended for display outside the offices of the tribe’s cable provider.
But the Indigenous artwork itself remains missing.
Ray Poorman of San Juan Cable told The Bellingham Herald that surveillance videos show two men breaking into a locked area behind the company’s office on C Street, where the totem pole was stored and awaiting installation.
It happened in the early morning hours of Friday, April 30, said Poorman and Bellingham Police Lt. Claudia Murphy.
“It’s beautiful tribal art,” Poorman said. “We supply internet to the tribe. Whenever our customers would come in they would see their history.”
Called “Communication,” the 11-foot 300-pound totem pole was carved by Felix Solomon of the Lummi Nation, Poorman said.
It shows a tribal member holding a salmon in outstretched hands, as an eagle dives with extended talons to accept the offering. Glass discs on each wing represent a red sun and a blue moon.
Video shows the thieves loading the totem pole on a cart or dolly and rolling it away.
Murphy told The Herald that one of the men in the video was arrested several later in the morning of April 30.
Joseph W. Barr, 31, of Bellingham, was arrested on suspicion of first-degree theft and second-degree burglary, Murphy said.
Murphy said investigators are still looking for the other suspect and the totem pole.
Ex-prosecutor settles for $87K in discrimination lawsuit
BEND, Ore. — A former Deschutes County deputy district attorney who sued the county, alleging race and sexual discrimination has reached an $87,500 settlement with the county, District Attorney John Hummel announced Thursday.
A Portland attorney representing Jasmyn Troncoso, who was hired in 2019, filed the tort claim notice a year ago, alleging the discrimination began in the summer of 2019. She resigned in 2020 before the notice of intent to sue was filed.
Troncoso alleged her co-workers bullied her, told her she was unqualified and a drama queen, accused her of having affairs and ridiculed her for speaking Spanish.
The office hired an investigator who found one allegation was substantiated. The substantiated claim was that a mug with offensive language on it was on the desk of an employee. That employee was suspended for five days without pay as a result, according to a news release from Hummel’s office.
“Because the mug was offensive, because Ms. Troncoso saw it when she worked in the office and was rightfully bothered by it, and because she experienced stress and discomfort as a result of observing the mug, the County chose to compensate her and take steps to ensure something like this never happens again,” the news release says.
After the investigator’s report was released, Troncoso expressed disappointment but not surprise at the findings and her lawyer, Matthew Ellis, disputed the independent nature of the investigation, calling it “hugely biased.”
U.S. and Russia are on a collision course in the Black Sea
Putin isn't one to stay on the retreat. So, where should we expect his next provocation? Very likely, the waters of the Black Sea.
Oversight Board doesn’t let Facebook off the hook
When the biggest hot potato of recent years — the insurrection of Jan. 6 and Trump's role in instigating it — landed in Facebook's lap, company executives quickly tossed it to the new board. And the board threw it right back to Facebook.