- Created on 22 March 2013
JERUSALEM — Wrapping up a three day visit to Israel, President Barack Obama paid respects to its heroes and to victims of the Holocaust, solemnly reaffirming the Jewish state's right to exist.
Accompanied by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres, Obama laid wreaths at the graves of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism who died in 1904 before realizing his dream of a Jewish homeland, and former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated in 1995.
He also toured the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, declaring after that the memorial illustrates the depravity to which man can sink but also serves as a reminder of the "righteous among nations who refused to be bystanders."
Friday's stop at Herzl's grave, together with Thursday's visit to see the Dead Sea Scrolls, the ancient Hebrew texts, were symbolic stops for Obama that acknowledged that the rationale for Israel's existence rests with its historical ties to the region and with a vision that predated the Holocaust. Obama was criticized in Israel for his 2009 Cairo speech in which he gave only the example of the Holocaust as reason for justifying Israel's existence.
"Here on your ancient land, let it be said for all the world to hear," Obama said at Yad Vashem Friday, in a clear response to that criticism. "The state of Israel does not exist because of the Holocaust, but with the survival of a strong Jewish state of Israel, such a holocaust will never happen again."
Later in the day, Obama was traveling to Jordan where he planned to meet with King Abdullah II. Among the topics is Jordan's struggle with the influx of a half-million refugees from the Syrian civil war. Abdullah has voiced fears that extremists and terrorists could create a regional base in Jordan.
Before leaving for Jordan, Obama was to have lunch with Netanyahu and then tour the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
Obama and his hosts arrived at the somber Herzl grave site under cloudless skies. Obama approached Herzl's resting place alone and bowed his head in silence. He turned briefly to ask Netanyahu where to place a small stone in the Jewish custom, then laid the stone atop the grave.
"It is humbling and inspiring to visit and remember the visionary who began the remarkable establishment of the State of Israel," Obama wrote in the Mt. Herzl guestbook. "May our two countries possess the same vision and will to secure peace and prosperity for future generations."
At Rabin's grave a short walk away, Obama was greeted by members of Rabin's family. He initially placed a stone on Rabin's wife's side of the grave, then returned to place one atop Rabin's side. In a gesture linking the U.S. and Israel, the stone placed on Rabin's grave was from the grounds of the Martin Luther King memorial in Washington, the White House said.
Rabin, Obama told family members, was "a great man."
Chatting with the family, Obama joked that "Bibi arranged for perfect weather," using Netanyahu's familiar name. He then added that "Shimon plied me with wine" at the official state dinner Thursday evening. At one point the talk turned to the singer who performed at the dinner, and Obama pointed out that he was known to sing, too. "They had me on YouTube," he said with a laugh. "Check it out -- Obama singing Al Green."
At Yad Vashem, Obama donned a skull cap and was accompanied by Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, a survivor of the Buchenwald Concentration camp who lost both parents in the Holocaust. Among his stops was Yad Vashem's Hall of Names, a circular chamber that contains original testimony documenting every Holocaust victim ever identified.
"Nothing could be more powerful," Obama said.
- Created on 19 March 2013
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — A defense lawyer for President-elect Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya told judges at the International Criminal Court on Monday that prosecutors should drop their case charging him with orchestrating post-election violence in Kenya in 2007 and 2008 for lack of evidence.
The legal battle in The Hague came as Kenya's Supreme Court also is considering an appeal by Prime Minister Raila Odinga against the legitimacy of Kenyatta's victory in March 4 elections in which he won his country's presidency.
International Criminal Court prosecutors have charged Kenyatta with crimes against humanity, including murder, rape and deportation, for allegedly organizing attacks on supporters of his political rivals in the 2007 election. He denies all charges.
Weeks of violence after the late 2007 vote left more than 1,000 people dead and thousands more were forced from their homes.
Kenyatta was not in court in The Hague on Monday, but his lawyer Steven Kay told judges that the charges should be dropped after prosecutors scrapped charges against Francis Muthaura, who had been charged as a co-conspirator along with Kenyatta.
Judges formally dropped the case against Muthaura in a written decision Monday. Prosecutors withdrew the charges after a key witness, identified only as OTP 4, was discredited as a liar.
"What was withdrawn against Muthaura should have been withdrawn against Kenyatta," Kay said.
Kay said that the evidence of OTP 4 was also a critical part of the case against Kenyatta and that without it the prosecution case was underpinned mainly by hearsay evidence from just two witnesses.
"I am saying that because the key evidence against Muthaura which caused the withdrawal of his case is exactly the same for Kenyatta," Kay told judges.
He said he would further explain his arguments in written filings.
Prosecutors argue they have enough evidence for the case against Kenyatta to continue. They also say it can continue, even though Kenyatta and Muthaura were charged as "indirect co-perpetrators" in the post-election violence.
Kenyatta's trial is scheduled to start in July, but Kay has urged judges to send the case back to a preliminary assessment of the strength of prosecution evidence in light of the decision to drop the case against Muthaura.
Odinga on Saturday asked Kenya's Supreme Court to void the March 4 presidential election, saying it was neither free nor fair.
Kenyatta — the son of Kenya's founding father — was declared winner by the narrowest of margins, 50.07 percent of the vote, breaking the 50 percent mark by about 8,000 votes out of 12.3 million cast.
The latest election and its aftermath have been largely peaceful, unlike the disputed 2007 vote.
But downtown Nairobi carried the scent of tear gas Saturday after police threw canisters at Odinga supporters who gathered despite warnings from police.
- Created on 11 March 2013
JOHANNESBURG — Nelson Mandela, the former South African president and anti-apartheid leader, was admitted to a hospital on Saturday for a scheduled medical check-up and doctors say there is no cause for "alarm," the president's office said.
Officials have used similarly soothing language to explain previous hospital stays for 94-year-old Mandela, but in those cases he later turned out to have more serious conditions. The intense privacy surrounding the health of Mandela reflects in part the official reverence for a man who is seen as one of the great, unifying figures of the 20th century for helping to avert race-driven chaos in South Africa's tense transition from apartheid to democracy.
Mandela's latest hospitalization comes at a time when South Africa is enduring a series of setbacks that serve as a reminder of how it has fallen short of the kind of harmonious society that he envisioned, but could not realize during his five years as the country's first black president.
The nation of 50 million has long struggled with poverty and inequality since it emerged from white minority rule. But crisis hit in August, when police shot and killed 34 striking miners at the Marikana platinum mine in a spasm of violence that drew comparisons among some South Africans with Sharpeville in 1960, Soweto in 1976 and other mass killings by agents of the apartheid state.
Then came February, when the gang-rape and killing of 17-year-old Anene Booysen highlighted the scourge of violence against women in South Africa; the arrest of Oscar Pistorius, South Africa's double-amputee athlete who inspired millions at the London Olympics, on charges of murdering his girlfriend; and the killing of Mado Macia, a Mozambican taxi driver who was found dead in a South African police cell after he was dragged from a police vehicle in view of onlookers who filmed the shocking incident.
Just a few days ago, Graca Machel, the Mozambican wife of Mandela, appeared at a memorial service for Macia east of Johannesburg and issued a rare denunciation of conditions in South Africa, warning of "big trouble" because of the alleged role in his death of police officers who are supposed to protect the public.
"We have all been correctly angered by the rogue elements and criminals who molest women and children and commit other extreme forms of violence," President Jacob Zuma said in a recent speech to traditional leaders.
"The outrage expressed by our people at such recent violent incidents in particular is most welcome as it indicates that South Africans have not lost their sense of right and wrong," he said. Zuma asserted that "general crime" had decreased over the years, but acknowledged that violence against women and children remains high and he encouraged efforts to rebuild the "moral fiber" of South African society.
Presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said Mandela went on Saturday afternoon for tests "to manage existing conditions in line with his age" at a hospital in Pretoria, the capital.
"Doctors are conducting tests and have thus far indicated that there is no reason for any alarm," Maharaj said in a statement. He appealed for the public to respect the privacy of Mandela and his family.
Mandela was hospitalized for nearly three weeks in December before going home on Dec. 26. At that time, he was treated for a lung infection and had a surgical procedure to remove gallstones.
The former president has become increasingly frail over the years. In January 2011, Mandela was admitted to a Johannesburg hospital for what officials initially described as tests but what turned out to be an acute respiratory infection. He was discharged days later. He also had surgery for an enlarged prostate gland in 1985.
Under South Africa's white-minority apartheid regime, Mandela spent 27 years in prison, where he contracted tuberculosis, before being released in 1990. He later became the nation's first democratically elected president in 1994 under the banner of the African National Congress. He served one five-year term before retiring.
The Nobel laureate last made a public appearance on a major stage when South Africa hosted the 2010 World Cup soccer tournament.
- Created on 15 March 2013
JOHANNESBURG — Forensic scientists on Tuesday, March 12 exhumed two bodies believed to belong to young activists last seen 24 years ago at the home of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela as police said they have opened a new murder investigation.
The case reopens a dark chapter in the life of the then-wife of Nelson Mandela. Many South Africans still revere the 76-year-old as "the mother of the nation," but others have feared as a vengeful and heartless operator. She had "the blood of African children on her hands," her former friend Xoliswa Falati told South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
In the late 1990s, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission found that Madikizela-Mandela was responsible for the disappearances in November 1988 of 21-year-old Lolo Sono and his friend Sibuniso Tshabalala, 19. But nothing was done to pursue allegations she was directly involved in their killings, even though her chief bodyguard Jerry Richardson told the commission he and a colleague stabbed the young men to death on Madikizela-Mandela's orders.
Mortuary records indicate the two bodies that were unearthed on Tuesday had multiple stab wounds
In front of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Madikizela-Mandela denied all knowledge of the two and said allegations she was involved in six other killings were rubbish. Madikizela-Mandela could not be reached for comment.
Richardson was head of the Mandela United Football Club, a crowd of young men who acted as Madikizela-Mandela's bodyguards and also as vigilantes who, some charge, she used to get rid of enemies.
On Tuesday, the African National Congress party — which Madikizela-Mandela serves as a recently re-elected member of the National Executive Council — orchestrated the ceremony that brought more than 100 family members to watch the uncovering of the skeletal remains believed to belong to Sono and Tshabalala.
Most attendees responded only lukewarmly to traditional ANC slogans, causing one official to urge them to respond with more vigor. Another told them to "make sure everyone knows you are ANC families."
ANC officials tried to prevent family members, some of whom have accused Madikizela-Mandela of killing their sons, from talking to reporters.
John Sono, uncle of one of the missing men, insisted on speaking, saying "We are getting some relief because we know that we are closing the chapter of 'we don't know' and we are opening the chapter of 'here lies our son.'"
When a journalist asked if he wanted justice, Sono said, "That one is still very far, we still need to talk about it," before an ANC official shoved his hand in front of TV microphones saying "No, no he can't answer that one."
Piers Pigou, the senior investigator for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission who cross-examined Madikizela-Mandela during its hearings, told The Associated Press that "I think the standard of proof used by the Truth Commission basically established prima facie (enough evidence to prosecute) cases against Mrs. Mandela and members of the Mandela United Football Club, including in the disappearances of Sono and Tshabalala."
Pigou said he found it particularly distressing to know that the men's bodies were taken to the mortuary the day after they disappeared, and that police were unable to link them to the two missing men who were being desperately sought by their families.
The commission lambasted police investigations into the disappearances, causing some to wonder whether the incompetence was purposeful. Pigou said there was "a pattern of incredibly incompetent investigations" with an "enormous number of missing dockets."
"Does it add up to a conspiracy or not that investigations were not being pursued when they could be pursued?" he asked.
This time, the two new murder dockets have been opened by the Hawks, the police priority investigative unit, Capt. Paul Ramaloko told The Associated Press.
He said there had been no investigation since the original case was opened and 1988 and closed soon after. "It's too early to be saying if we have suspects or not," Ramaloko, the Hawks spokesman, said, but added they were asking anyone with information about what happened 24 years ago to come forward.
- Created on 07 March 2013
NASSAU, Bahamas — A prominent resident of the Bahamas wanted on criminal charges in Canada said Thursday that he has late, stage-four cancer and is too ill to travel to face investigators over allegations of fraud in one of that country's priciest infrastructure projects.
Dr. Arthur Porter told The Associated Press during an interview in his home in an upscale, gated community that Canadian authorities should come to the Bahamas if they want to question him.
"I don't want them to think I would chicken out on anything," he said. "So if they want to come here, absolutely no problem."
Canada's anti-corruption police this week issued an arrest warrant for Porter, a physician and cancer specialist who faces six fraud-related charges stemming from the construction of the $1.3 billion McGill University Health Center in Montreal. Porter was director of the hospital when the alleged fraud occurred between 2008 and 2011. He left the job in 2011 amid allegations of mismanagement.
Porter is also the former head watchdog of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the country's spy agency. He was appointed to that post in 2008 by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, eventually becoming chairman of the Security Intelligence Review Committee in 2010.
Anne Frederick Laurence, a spokeswoman for the Canadian police branch, said Wednesday that procedures to seek Porter's extradition were under way. "Canada and the Bahamas are talking," she said.
Appearing sickly and thinner than he once did, Porter said he is undergoing a second round of chemotherapy for lung cancer that has spread to his liver. During the interview, he coughed repeatedly and breathed with assistance from an oxygen tank beside his leather chair.
He said he would discuss with his lawyer whether to fight extradition to Canada once he has been formally served. Porter denies any wrongdoing.
In Canada, Harper's government is facing questions over its decision to appoint Porter to a committee that reviews some of Canada's most sensitive documents.
Interim Liberal Party leader Bob Rae said Porter would have been privy to highly sensitive information during his time on the committee, known as SIRC.
"All the members of SIRC have top security clearance," said Rae, once a member of SIRC himself. "They would routinely receive any and all information from CSIS (the spy agency) that is asked for."
Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said the allegations that Porter is facing "do not have anything to do with his former responsibilities."
In the Bahamas, Porter is managing director of a private cancer treatment center in the islands' capital of Nassau. He has made the wealthy community of Old Fort Bay his permanent residence since moving to the archipelago off the eastern coast of Florida in 2011. Three Mercedes stood in his driveway Thursday.
Bahamian Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell has declined to comment on the case.
Porter is one of five men suspected in connection with the alleged hospital construction fraud in Montreal.
Another suspect, Jeremy Morris, is the administrator of a Bahamas-based investment company linked to the fraud allegation. Porter said he has never heard of Morris.
Another suspect, former McGill University Hospital Center executive Yanai Elbaz, was arrested Wednesday in Canada, formally charged with fraud and freed on $100,000 bail.
The circumstances under which Porter resigned from his position as former head watchdog of Canada's spy agency are unclear.
A Canadian newspaper, the National Post, says Porter had to resign after it reported that he had a "secret contract" with an international businessman to solicit $120 million in Russian government financing for the West African nation of Sierra Leone.
On Thursday, Porter said he is a citizen of that country and travels with a Sierra Leone passport. A Sierra Leone flag hung from a landing in his home. He made references to "other roles in other governments," including work with Sierra Leone.
In recent years, Porter had also been working with the government of Antigua and Barbuda to build a cancer treatment center in that eastern Caribbean nation.
Associated Press contributor Jeff Todd reported this story in Nassau and AP writer David McFadden reported from Kingston, Jamaica.