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UN envoy quits as Yemen crisis rages

Written By doni icha on Kamis, 16 April 2015 | 19.15

Jamal Benomar (30 September 2011)
Jamal Benomar brokered a Gulf Co-operation Council-backed political transition plan in 2011

The UN's special envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar, has stepped down from his post amid criticism of his failure to broker an end to the conflict in the country.

The UN said it would name a successor "in due course" and "spare no efforts to relaunch the peace process".

The Moroccan diplomat is believed to have come under pressure to resign from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.

A Saudi-led coalition is conducting air strikes against Houthi rebels who forced the president to flee abroad.

The UN says more than 70 people have been killed in escalating violence since 26 March, but officials believe the actual death toll may be far higher.

In 2011, Mr Benomar brokered a Gulf Co-operation Council-backed political transition plan after a popular uprising forced long-time President Ali Abdullah Saleh to hand over power.

A Houthi rebel walks among the ruins of a stadium allegedly destroyed by a Saudi air strike in Sanaa, Yemen (12 April 2015)
The United Nations says almost half of those killed in recent weeks were civilians

However, the transition gradually unravelled, and a dispute between Mr Saleh's successor, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, and the Houthis turned into a war.

After the Houthis swept into the capital Sanaa last September, toppling the widely unpopular transitional government, Mr Benomar negotiated a peace accord between the rebels and President Hadi that analysts say neither honoured.

In January, arguments over a draft constitution led to the Houthis taking full control of Sanaa and placing Mr Hadi and the prime minister under house arrest.

The president subsequently took refuge in Aden, but the rebels and allied army units loyal to Mr Saleh reached the southern port city at the end of March, prompting him to flee the country.

Yemeni members of the separatist Southern Movement stand beside a tank in Aden (15 April 2015)
Southern militiamen backed by Saudi air strikes have failed to halt the Houthi advance

Western diplomats said Mr Benomar had faced mounting criticism from Saudi Arabia and other members of the GCC for his failure to persuade the warring parties to attend peace talks.

Both the Houthis and President Hadi had also grown impatient with him, Yemeni political sources told the Reuters news agency.

On Wednesday evening, a UN spokesman revealed that Mr Benomar had told Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that he was interested in "moving to another assignment".

"A successor shall be named in due course. Until that time and beyond, the United Nations will continue to spare no efforts to relaunch the peace process in order to get the political transition back on track," Stephane Dujarric said.


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MH370 search area could be extended

Catherine Gang, whose husband Li Zhi was on board the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, holds a sign during a gathering of family members of the missing passengers outside the Malaysian embassy in Beijing, China, 8 March 2015
Relatives of those who died want answers from investigators on what happened

The search area for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 will be doubled if nothing is found in the current search zone, officials say.

The announcement came from Australian, Malaysian and Chinese ministers meeting to discuss progress.

The plane, flying from the Malaysian capital to Beijing, disappeared on 8 March 2014 with 239 people on board.

It is believed to have crashed off Western Australia, but so far no trace has been found.

At the moment teams using sophisticated sonar equipment are scouring a 60,000 sq km (23,000 sq mile) area of seabed far west of the Australian city of Perth. About 40% of this remains to be searched.

If nothing is found, the search will be extended by another 60,000 sq km to "cover the entire highest probability area identified by expert analysis", a joint statement from the ministers said.

The additional search area could take up to a year to complete given adverse weather conditions in the upcoming winter months, the statement said.

Investigators still do not know what happened to the plane.

The search zone has been defined based on analysis of hourly "handshakes" between the plane and a communications satellite.

There is still no explanation as to why it flew so far off course - making finding the plane and its "black box" voice recorders key to understanding its fate.

"We are confident we are searching in the right area,'' Australian Transport Minister Warren Truss told journalists after the meeting.

"We are confident we have the best search equipment... if the plane is in the area we will find it.''

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map showing search area
  • Search vessels are focused on a 60,000 sq km (23,166 sq m) priority zone; more than 60% of the area has been scoured to date
  • Cost of A$120m (£61m; US$93m) has been jointly funded by Australia and Malaysia

How the search is conducted

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S Korea leader vows to raise Sewol

South Korea's president has promised to raise the Sewol ferry, as the nation marks a year since the disaster.

A total of 304 people, mostly school students, were killed when the ship - which was overloaded and illegally redesigned - sank off Jindo island.

The government has faced a day of anger with relatives cancelling at least one memorial service in protest.

Divers have recovered all but nine of the bodies. Relatives say the ship must be raised and their remains found.

The government says salvaging the ship will cost $110m (£74m) and has previously refused to commit to doing so.

But President Park Guen-hye, speaking at a port in Jindo, said she would take "the necessary steps to salvage the ship at the earliest possible date".

People pay a tribute at a group memorial altar for the victims of the sunken South Korean ferry Sewol at a remembrance hall in Ansan on 16 April 2015
The Sewol ferry disaster left 304 people - mostly teenage students - dead or missing

South Korea's National Assembly adopted a resolution saying a speedy recovery of the ferry would help heal "the minds of the victims, survivors and bereaved families... as well as those of all the citizens".

But relatives of the missing students had said there were not convinced that the Sewol would definitely be raised, the BBC's Stephen Evans in Seoul reports.

They remain wary of the plan, and called Ms Park's announcement vague and politically motivated.

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In a photo taken on 11 April 2015 Lee Keum-Hui looks at photos in the bedroom of her daughter Cho Eun-Hwa, a victim of the Sewol ferry disaster who remains unaccounted for, in Ansan
Lee Keum-hui's daughter Eun-hwa died trapped in the ferry. Her body has not been found.

Steve Evans, BBC News, Seoul:

Even as President Park gave the bereaved families what they had been asking for, she must have felt their wrath and their grief.

Dressed in the black of mourning, she stood on a windy breakwater near where the Sewol sank and announced that the vessel would be raised - just as the families had demanded.

"I have a heavy heart and my heart aches to think how painful it is," she says.

But bereaved families had left the port before she arrived, a gesture the South Korean media interpreted as a protest against what the families allege is her previous inaction over both the raising of the Sewol and fulfilling the promise of an independent enquiry.

Demands for answers go on

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In this image taken from video released by News Y via Yonhap, passengers from a ferry sinking off South Korea's southern coast, are rescued by a South Korean Coast Guard helicopter in the water off the southern coast near Jindo, south of Seoul, Wednesday, 16 April 2014
The ship listed and sank on 16 April 2014, capsizing over a three-hour period
South Korean Prime Minister Lee Wan-Koo (L) bows as he is blocked by family members of the victims of the sunken South Korean ferry Sewol outside a remembrance hall in Ansan on 16 April 2015
Relatives blocked PM Lee Wan-koo from a memorial hall, amid ongoing anger at the government

Memorial ceremonies are being held across the country on Thursday.

But relatives cancelled a planned service in the city of Ansan in protest against Ms Park's absence from the event.

In the morning, Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo was prevented from entering the venue by relatives of those who died.

A relative of victims of the Sewol ferry disaster weeps as she and others stand on the deck of a boat during a visit to the site of the sunken ferry off the coast of South Korea's southern island of Jindo on 15 April 2015
On Wednesday relatives of those who died paid their respects at the site of the disaster
In this 12 April 2015, photo, survivor Yang Jeong-won, a student who was rescued from the sunken Sewol ferry, puts her head on her desk inside a classroom at Danwon High School in Ansan, South Korea, which has become a memorial for her classmates who were killed
This classroom at Danwon High School has been left as a memorial to the children who died

Investigators say the ferry sank after an inexperienced crew member made too fast a turn. The combination of an illegal redesign and overload meant the ship was unstable.

But some relatives say they want an independent and more thorough inquiry into the disaster, which sparked countrywide debate about regulatory failings and official incompetence.

Most of the crew of the Sewol survived.

The captain and three senior crew members have since been given long jail terms for failing to protect passengers.

Eleven other crew members were imprisoned, as was the captain of the a coast guard vessel involved in the botched rescue effort.

Separate trials were held for employees of the ferry operator, Chonghaejin Marine Co. Its owner, Yoo Byung-eun, disappeared after the disaster and was eventually found dead.

  • 325 students aged between 16 and 17 from Danwon High School, south of Seoul, were on a school trip to the holiday island of Jeju when the ferry sank
  • Only about 70 survived - many had obeyed orders to stay put as the ferry listed
  • Several texted their family members goodbye and to tell them "I love you". One also filmed what turned out to be his last moments on his mobile phone inside the ship. The texts and footage were retrieved by parents and later broadcast on national television
  • Some of the survivors later testified that they had to float out of cabins and most of the crew members did not attempt to help them
  • At least three crew members died trying to evacuate passengers. They included an engaged couple, Jung Hyun-seon and Kim Ki-Woong, and the youngest crew member Park Ji-young, who gave her lifejacket to a passenger. All three have been named "martyrs" by the government

Bedrooms of the remembered


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SA march in solidarity with foreigners

Demonstrators take part in an anti-xenophobic march outside the City Hall of Durban on April 8, 2015
Previous anti-xenophobia marches have not ended the violence

South Africa is holding a huge protest march against xenophobia in the coastal city of Durban following a wave of attacks on foreigners.

Organisers said about 10,000 people were expected. At least five people have been killed and foreign-owned shops looted in recent weeks.

The Zulu king has been accused of fuelling the violence. He denies this.

Many jobless South Africans accuse foreigners of taking jobs in a country where the unemployment rate is 24%.

President Jacob Zuma has condemned the violence and is expected to address parliament about the issue later on.

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For the latest news, views and analysis see the BBC Africa Live page.

BBC Africa Live page screen grab
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On Wednesday, Malawi said it would evacuate its nationals from South Africa while Mozambique has set up transit camps near its border with South Africa to cope with the exodus of its citizens.

Tens of thousands of foreigners, mostly from other African states and Asia, have moved to South Africa since white-minority rule ended in 1994.

At least 62 people died in xenophobic attacks that swept South Africa in 2008.

Police spokesman Thulani Zwane has vowed to provide strong security for the march, and anyone trying to disrupt it would be "dealt with".

The government-backed South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has told the BBC that it is investigating two complaints of hate speech made against Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini.

He was widely quoted as saying last month that foreigners should "go back to their countries". However, he said that his comments had been distorted.

"The king is saddened by what is happening. He never thought something of this nature could happen," his spokesman Prince Thulani Zulu told AFP news agency.

The SAHRC has the power to censure the monarch, if it finds him guilty.

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IS steps up assault on Iraq's Ramadi

Iraqi security forces personnel on the streets of Ramadi (15 April 2015)
Iraq's military has sent reinforcements to Ramadi, but they have been unable to halt IS attacks

Islamic State (IS) has stepped up its assault on the western Iraqi city of Ramadi, launching a series of suicide bomb attacks on a government compound.

Anbar provincial council member Athal al-Fahdawi told the BBC the compound was within range of IS weapons and that it and the city were "in great danger".

Military reinforcements sent to Ramadi were not sufficient to repel the jihadist militants' attacks, he warned.

On Wednesday, IS captured three villages on the outskirts of the city.

Nine people were also reportedly killed by militants in Albu Ghanim, to the north-east, from where hundreds of civilians fled after security forces withdrew.

The Kurdish website Rudaw said four of the victims were police officers.

IS launched an offensive on Ramadi last week after the government announced it had started a large-scale operation to drive out the group from Anbar province.

Map of Iraq and Syria

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Pro-Russian journalist killed in Kiev

Breaking news

Leading pro-Russian journalist Oles Buzyna shot dead in Ukrainian capital Kiev

This breaking news story is being updated and more details will be published shortly. Please refresh the page for the fullest version.

If you want to receive Breaking News alerts via email, or on a smartphone or tablet via the BBC News App then details on how to do so are available on this help page. You can also follow @BBCBreaking on Twitter to get the latest alerts.


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Putin condemns Kiev over 'blockade'

Russian President Vladimir Putin at phone-in, 16 Apr 15
It was a rare occasion for Mr Putin to speak to a huge audience of Russians directly

Russian President Vladimir Putin says Ukraine's government is "cutting off" defiant rebel-held areas of eastern Ukraine through an economic blockade.

He was addressing a huge Russian audience in a live televised phone-in.

He also insisted "there are no Russian troops in Ukraine". Moscow denies Western charges that it is directly arming and reinforcing the rebels.

Later he said those who had ordered the murder of Boris Nemtsov - one of his leading critics - might never be found.

Mr Nemtsov, a prominent opposition politician, was shot dead on 27 February near the Kremlin.

Five suspects, all of them Chechens, are in custody. Mr Putin condemned the murder as "disgraceful".

Ukraine 'blockade'

It is Mr Putin's 13th such annual phone-in with the Russian public - and usually they last about four hours.

Mr Putin denied reports that Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko had offered to let Russia have the rebel-held areas in the Donbas region.

The rebels reject Kiev's rule and are getting humanitarian aid from Russia, which annexed Ukraine's Crimea region last year.

"There are many problems there and we do not see the current Kiev authorities wanting to restore the social sphere, or the economy of Donbas," Mr Putin said.

"We see a total blockade of Donbas. One can say that the current Ukrainian authorities are cutting off Donbas by their own hand. That is the problem and tragedy."

Russian President Vladimir Putin at phone-in, 16 Apr 15
Russian journalists also explored some key issues with Mr Putin

Tough economic times

Mr Putin said he had told business leaders that he did not expect EU-US sanctions - imposed over Russia's actions in Ukraine - to be lifted soon.

"We need to use the situation to reach a new level of development," he said.

The BBC's Sarah Rainsford in Moscow says the event is highly choreographed but does reveal Russians' concerns. Russians' real incomes have fallen this year for the first time since Mr Putin came to power.

Mr Putin said the Russian economy would take about two years to bounce back from recession, or less as the rouble's value was rising again.

He said there were encouraging signs that Russian agriculture was growing and replacing imports of Western food.

However, a dairy farmer introduced as "John - a Russian citizen" grilled Mr Putin over the hardship faced by farmers.

"You say everything is going well - sorry, that's not true," the farmer said. "I have five children... I need some assurance about their future in Russia. Do you believe the statistics or are they lying?" he asked in English-accented Russian.

The farmer is reportedly John Kopiski, originally from the UK, who has lived in Vladimir region for about 15 years.

Mr Putin admitted that farmers faced difficulties over low dairy retail prices and that cheap imports of powdered milk from Belarus were part of the problem.

"I don't have reason to disbelieve the statistics," he said, adding that the government would have to increase subsidies for farmers.

Twitter grab
Twitter grab

Missiles for Iran

Later in the phone-in Mr Putin was asked about Russia's controversial plan to export S-300 air defence missiles to Iran.

He insisted that the missiles were not on the UN list of banned exports under the UN sanctions linked to Iran's nuclear programme.

He said he made the move because Iran had shown "a desire to reach compromise". The S-300 "doesn't threaten Israel at all, it's exclusively a defensive weapon", he added.

Our correspondent says the questions for Mr Putin were clearly vetted, with nothing too critical or too personal. About two million questions came in before the broadcast.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said about 23% of the questions submitted concerned social welfare issues, and the second biggest area of concern was housing and local services.


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Italy seeks EU help on boat migrants

Italian Guardia Costiera takes part in a rescue operation of migrants off the coast of Sicily on 13 April 2015.
Almost 10,000 people have been rescued trying to reach the Italian coast in recent days

Italy has called for more help from the European Union in handling the surge in migrants risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean.

Almost 10,000 people have been rescued trying to reach the Italian coast in recent days. Hundreds have died since the start of the year.

Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said: "We have not had an adequate response from the EU."

An EU spokeswoman said there was no "silver bullet" for the situation.

'Falling on shoulders'

Last year a record 170,000 people fleeing poverty and conflict in Africa and the Middle East have made the perilous crossing to Italy.

More than 500 people have died in the first three month of 2015 - 30 times more than in the same period last year.

Another 400 are feared to have died when a migrant boat capsized off Libya on Monday.

Numbers have increased in recent days with improving weather bringing conditions more conducive to making the crossing of at least 500km (310 miles).

But vessels provided by people smugglers are often underpowered and overcrowded.

Speaking to Corriere della Sera newspaper Mr Gentiloni said: "Ninety percent of the cost of the patrol and sea rescue operations are falling on our shoulders, and we have not had an adequate response from the EU."

"And then there is the difficult issue of knowing where to send those rescued at sea. To the nearest port? To the country where their boat came from? The EU has to respond clearly to these questions," Mr Gentiloni added.

"The double risk of an advance of the Islamic State group in Libya and the waves of migrants means we are in a race against the clock," he warned.

'Cannot alone'

He said that the EU was only spending €3m (£2m) a month on its Operation Triton sea patrols.

Italy's Mare Nostrum rescue operation with a budget of two-thirds more began in 2013 as a short-term measure and was scrapped at the end of last year. There were concerns it was encouraging migrant crossings.

The European Commission's migration spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud told the BBC: "The EU cannot alone do it all.

"We don't have a silver bullet that will make it [the situation] go away and no amount of finger pointing will change that."

Earlier, a spokeswoman for the European Commission said the EU's patrol operation could not "act as a substitute for Italy's border management responsibilities and nor was that ever the intention".

She added that Italy had been allocated €13.7m in emergency funding.

On Wednesday, a spokesman for the UN refugee agency also called on the EU "to step up a strong search and rescue mechanism".

Since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has been without a stable government allowing trafficking networks to thrive.

map showing migration routes

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US Congress to have say on Iran deal

Written By doni icha on Rabu, 15 April 2015 | 19.15

Bob Corker
The bill was authored by Republican Senator Bob Corker

The US Congress will have a say on a nuclear deal with Iran, under a new agreement reached with the White House.

President Barack Obama withdrew his opposition to a bipartisan bill that was unanimously passed through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

However, a Congressional No vote would not be binding and could be vetoed by Mr Obama.

An outline agreement on the future shape of Iran's nuclear programme was reached after marathon talks in April.

The US, Iran, and five other nations have set a deadline of 30 June to finalise a deal which would ease western sanctions in exchange for restrictions on Iran's nuclear programme.

Mr Obama agreed to sign the bill giving Congress the right to reject any forthcoming agreement with Iran.

Some Republicans have argued against the deal, saying Iran has received too many concessions.

They have always insisted they must have a say if any agreement means economic sanctions levied by Congress against Iran will be lifted.

The Israeli government, which has been fiercely critical of the deal with Iran, welcomed the agreement between Mr Obama and Congress.

Celebrations in Tehran
The interim deal was celebrated wildly in Tehran

White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Mr Obama was not "particularly thrilled" with the outcome, but US media have pointed out that in the event of Congress rejecting a deal with Iran, Mr Obama would be able to use his presidential veto.

A two-thirds majority would then be needed for Congress to override the veto, which is viewed as unlikely.

The bill is now likely to clear both houses in the Republican-controlled Congress.

An earlier version of the bill had placed a 60-day halt to any plan by Mr Obama to lift sanctions on Iran.

But that review period has been reduced to 30 days.

Mr Obama will still be able to lift sanctions he himself imposed through executive action but he would be unable to ease those imposed by Congress.


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Indonesia protest at Saudi beheading

Poster demanding justice for Indonesian domestic worker Siti Zainab
Campaigners had demanded justice for Siti Zainab before her execution

Indonesia's government has summoned Saudi Arabia's ambassador in Jakarta to protest against the execution of an Indonesian domestic worker.

Siti Zainab was beheaded on Tuesday in Medina after being convicted of stabbing and beating to death her employer, Noura al-Morobei, in 1999.

Neither Indonesian consular officials nor her family were given prior notice, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said.

President Joko Widodo and three of his predecessors had appealed for clemency.

Human rights groups had also criticised the sentence, asserting that Ms Zainab had been acting in self-defence and might also have been mentally ill.

On Tuesday, Ms Marsudi was quoted by the Antara news agency as saying she had asked the Saudi government to explain why it "did not give any warning" about the execution.

"We had taken all efforts [to prevent the beheading] including through diplomatic channels, legal avenues and approaching the family of the victim, as well as sending a presidential letter and during my meeting with the Saudi deputy foreign minister in March," she added.

The Saudi ambassador to Indonesia, Mustafa Ibrahim al-Mubarak, said he had been "surprised" to be summoned, but would "check what went wrong".

The Saudi interior ministry said the execution had been delayed for more than 15 years until the youngest of the victim's children was old enough to decide whether or not the family would want to pardon Ms Zainab or demand her execution.

Migrant Care, an NGO that campaigns on behalf of Indonesian expatriate workers, alleged that Ms Zainab had been acting in self-defence against an employer who had abused her. Before her arrest, she had sent two letters in which she said that Ms Morobei and her son had been cruel to her.

Amnesty International said she had made a "confession" during police interrogation but she had had no legal representation or access to a consular representative.

According to reports, the police suspected that she suffered from mental illness at the time of the interrogation, the US-based human rights group added.

Indonesia itself resumed executions in 2013 after a four-year moratorium. There were none during 2014, but six people, including five foreigners, were put to death in January.

Despite this, the Indonesian foreign ministry recently said it was seeking to prevent the execution of at least 229 Indonesian citizens sentenced to death overseas.

In April 2014, the government paid $1.8m (£1m) to secure the commutation of a death sentence against another Indonesian domestic worker in Saudi Arabia, who had been convicted of the murder of her employer. As in Ms Zainab's case, the woman was said to have acted in self-defence.


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