I will defend legacy of Castro revolution – Cuba new president

Cuba’s new president, Miguel Diaz-Canel, began his term with a promise to defend the socialist revolution led by the Castro brothers since 1959, giving a sober speech that also emphasized the need to modernize the island’s economy on Thursday.

Diaz-Canel, a member of the ruling Communist Party, was sworn in to replace Raul Castro by the National Assembly in a carefully managed new chapter for the Caribbean island, aimed at preserving the political system.

“The mandate given by the people to this house is to give continuity to the Cuban revolution in a crucial historic moment,” Diaz-Canel, 57, told the assembly in his first speech as president.

He delivered a warm homage to 86-year-old Raul Castro, who took office a decade ago as his brother Fidel Castro’s health deteriorated. Fidel Castro died in 2016.

Castro will retain considerable clout as the head of the Communist Party until a congress in 2021. Diaz-Canel, praising the reforms he ushered in as president, said Castro would remain the leader of the revolution and would be involved in major decisions.

Stepping to the podium for a 90-minute-long parting speech, a relaxed-looking Castro gave the impression he would not quickly fade from sight. He sharply criticized U.S. foreign, trade and immigration policy under President Donald Trump.

“Since the current president arrived in office, there has been a deliberate reversal in the relations between Cuba and the United States, and an aggressive and threatening tone prevails,” Castro said.

Thursday’s session was held on the 57th anniversary of Cuba’s 1961 defeat of a CIA-backed Cuban exile invasion at the Bay of Pigs, a victory that Havana celebrates as a symbol of its resistance to “imperialist” pressure for change from Washington.

In 2014, Castro and former U.S. President Barack Obama reached a landmark agreement to renew diplomatic ties and improve relations between the Cold War foes, a detente that led to a rapid increase in U.S. visits and investment on the island.

There has been a renewed chill under Trump, who put a stop to doing business with some Cuban state-run companies and tightened rules for U.S. visitors. A spate of mystery illnesses among U.S. diplomats in Havana has also undermined trust.

Despite that, Diaz-Canel praised Castro’s move to renew relations with the United States. He said there would be no compromise in Cuba’s foreign policy but in a repetition of a long-held stance by Havana, he said he would hold dialogue with anybody who treated Cuba as an equal.

“I take that as a signal that the Cuban leadership still sees value in improving relations, even if they have to wait for the next U.S. president,” said William LeoGrande, co-author of a book on the secret U.S.-Cuba talks that led to detente.

In Washington, a White House official said the Trump administration had no expectations Cuban people would have any greater freedoms under the new “hand-picked” leader, and had no intention of softening its policy toward the island’s government.

Castro spoke highly of Diaz-Canel and gave his blessing to the younger man to take over from him as the powerful head of the Communist Party in three years. He also said the new president could serve two five-year terms, underscoring restrictions Castro imposed on himself after his brother’s decades in power.

Italian priest negotiates against 2yrs jail term over parish’s $620,000 embezzlement

By NewsDesk, with Agency report,

An Italian Priest, Father Flavio Gobbo, 48, has negotiated a plea bargain for a suspended two-year jail term for gambled away more than 620,000 dollars of his parish money.

The country media reported on on Thursday that part of the deal, was that the priest would gradually return the money and signed up for therapy against gambling addiction, with the support of his church superiors.

“In this long and streneous journey, Father Flavio has mainly found support in prayers, but also in the will to return soon’’ to active ministry, the Diocese of Treviso said in a statement.

Father Gobbo left his post as parish priest in Spinea, near Venice, in October 2016 and at the time, the local church said he was suffering from exhaustion.

Gunmen open fire against UN’s team in Syria

By NewsDesk, with Agency report,

A set of unknown gunmen were reported to have attacked a United Nation team that came under fire in Syria while doing reconnaissance for inspectors to visit sites of a suspected chemical weapons attack, and officials said it was no longer clear when the inspectors would be able to go in.

As gathered, the inspectors from Organisation of Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, was said to had arrived Syria to investigate recent incident in which Western countries and rescue workers alleged scores of civilians were gassed to death by government forces.

The Director-General, OPCW , Ahmet Üzümcü, said that the United Nations Department of Safety and Security (UNDSS) had decided to carry out reconnaissance at two sites in the town of Douma before the inspectors would visit them.

“On arrival at site one, a large crowd gathered and the advice provided by the UNDSS was that the reconnaissance team should withdraw,” he told a meeting at the watchdog’s headquarters in remarks it later released.

“At site two, the team came under small arms fire and an explosive was detonated. The reconnaissance team returned to Damascus.”

The United States, Britain and France fired missiles at Syrian targets on Saturday in retaliation for the suspected chemical use. They say the arrival of the inspectors is being held up by Syrian authorities who now control the area, and that evidence of the chemical attack may be being destroyed.

Damascus and its ally Moscow deny that any gas attack took place, that they are holding up the inspections or that they have tampered with evidence at the site. Britain’s ambassador to the OPCW Peter Wilson said it was now unclear when the inspectors would be able to reach it.

The rebel group based in Douma announced its surrender hours after the suspected chemical attack, and the last rebels left a week later, hours after the Western retaliation strikes.

The U.S.-led intervention has threatened to escalate confrontation between the West and Assad’s backer Russia, although it has had no impact on the fighting on the ground, in which pro-government forces have pressed on with a campaign to crush the rebellion.

Assad is now in his strongest position since the early months of a seven-year-old civil war that has killed more than 500,000 people and driven more than half of Syrians from their homes.

The OPCW team will seek evidence from soil samples, interviews with witnesses, blood, urine or tissue samples from victims and weapon parts. But, more than a week after the suspected attack, hard evidence might be hard to trace.

An official close to the Syrian government said the U.N. security team had been met by protesters demonstrating against the U.S.-led strikes.

“It was a message from the people,” said the official. The mission “will continue its work”, the official said.

Douma was the last town to hold out in the besieged eastern Ghouta enclave, the last big rebel bastion near the capital Damascus. Eastern Ghouta was captured by a government advance over the past two months.

Syria’s U.N. ambassador said on Tuesday the fact-finding mission would begin its work in Douma on Wednesday if the U.N. security team deemed the situation there safe.

The Syrian “White Helmets” rescue organisation, which operates in rebel-held areas, has pinpointed for the OPCW team the places where victims of the suspected attack are buried, its head Raed Saleh said on Wednesday.

Douma hospital workers who stayed in the town after the army recaptured it have said that none of the people injured on the night of the attack were exposed to chemical weapons.

Medical charities operating in opposition-held parts of Syria have dismissed those statements as propaganda, given under duress now that government forces control the town.

Seven die, 17 injure in South Carolina prison riot

Seven prison inmates were killed and 17 injured in an hours-long series of events as inmates at South Carolina prison, the state Corrections Department disclosed the incident on Twitter.

The Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville, South Carolina, about 40 miles (64 km) northeast of the state capital Columbia, was secured at 2:55 a.m. ET, hours after the incident which had earlier began around 7:15 p.m. ET (2315 GMT) on Sunday night, the department said. It said that the incident played out over three housing units.

All prison staff and law enforcement were safe and accounted for the, Corrections Department said on Twitter.

Churches condemn gas missile in Syria

By NewsDesk, with Agency report,

Syrian Catholic and Orthodox Church in the country have condemned Saturday’s air strikes that had scores of lives claimed in Syria.

Through a statement issued by the Patriarchates of Antioch and all the East for the Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, and Greek-Melkite Catholic Damascus, on Sunday,  the faith leaders, who questioned the legality behind the move, raised concerned that such  brutal aggression was a clear violation of the international laws and the UN Charter.

They said that the action was an unjustified assault on a sovereign country that was a member of the United Nations.

“It causes us great pain that this assault comes from powerful countries to which Syria did not cause any harm in any way,” the church leaders added.

“The allegations of the USA and other countries that the Syrian army is using chemical weapons and that Syria is a country that owns and uses this kind of weapon, is a claim that is unjustified and unsupported by sufficient and clear evidence.

“This brutal aggression destroys the chances for a peaceful political solution and leads to escalation and more complications.

US withdraws 200M eggs after contamination reports

By NewsDesk,

The United States Government has withdrawn no fewer than 200 million eggs so as to curb chances for possible outbreak of salmonella, a bacterium that can cause food poisoning and typhoid fever.

It was reported that Rose Acre Farms of Seymour, Ind.,  has began voluntarily recalling the eggs due to possible contamination with the bacteria.

Food and Drug Administration reported 22 illnesses and that eggs were distributed from the farm in Hyde County, North Carolina, and reached consumers in Colorado, Florida, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia through retail stores and restaurants.

It said that through a statement issued on Sunday that the eggs were sold under the brand names Country Daybreak; Crystal Farms; Coburn Farms; Sunshine Farms; Glenview; Great Value; as well as at Walmart and Food Lion stores

The egg recall were the largest in the United States since 2010, according to Food Safety News.

The recall involves eggs with the plant number P-105, with the Julian date range of 011 through 012 printed on either side of the carton or package.

Salmonella can cause serious and even deadly infections in children or elderly adults. Symptoms include fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.

Consumers who have purchased the eggs are urged to immediately discontinue use of the recalled eggs and to return them to the place of purchase for a full refund.

Pope casts Syrian crisis blame on international community

By NewsDesk,

Pope Francis expressed displeasure over international community’s failure to come up with a common response to crises in Syria and other parts of the world.

However, the pontiff said,  after his traditional Sunday blessing,  that despite tools available to the international community, it was difficult to agree on a common action toward peace in Syria or other regions of the world.

Francis urged people of goodwill to join him in praying for peace, and appealed to political leaders to help “justice prevail.”

The pope spoke after airstrikes by the United States, France and Britain aimed at taking out Syria’s chemical weapons capacity, following a suspected poison gas attack on a Damascus suburb that killed dozens, including children.

US drops Syrian gas missile footage

By NewsDesk,

While world condemnation has not seized on brains behind recent horrible attack in Syrian that claimed innocent lives including that of children and women, the US dropped a footage of the country’s allied missile strikes in Syria which successfully destroyed three targets and significantly crippled Syrian President, Bashar Assad, ability to make more chemical weapons.

The Director of Joint Chiefs of Staff, Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, said at the Pentagon after the overnight bombing that the targets were the Barzah Research and Development, the Him Shinshar Chemical Weapons Storage Site and the Him Shinshar Bunker Facility.

McKenzie also said that  a total 105 missiles were launched by air and sea, all hitting their targets within minutes.

ISI Image Sat International shared satellite images with Fox News, showing the Barzah Research and Development Center before and after the airstrikes.

The “before” photo on the left is from August 2013, while the “after” photo on the right was taken on Saturday April 14. The images reveal crushing damage to structures at the target site.

“I think we dealt them a severe blow. We’ve attacked the heart of the Syrians’ chemical weapons program,” McKenzie said.

The strikes, in Douma, near Damascus, were launched in response to evidence that the Assad regime killed civilians in an April 7 chemical attack, the latest in country’s years-long civil war.

President Trump on Saturday hailed the strikes and thanked U.S. allies for joining in the campaign.

“A perfectly executed strike last night,” he tweeted. “Thank you to France and the United Kingdom for their wisdom and the power of their fine Military. Could not have had a better result. Mission Accomplished!”

McKenzie, a Marine Corps general, said he has no reports of civilian casualties following the U.S.-led strikes and that the attacks overnight Friday were launched from U.S., France and United Kingdom aircraft and ships, including those in the Persian Gulf, Red Sea and eastern Mediterranean Sea.

And he suggested that Syria still likely has some capability to make chemical weapons, despite the success of the attack.

“I would say there’s still a residual element,” he said. “I’m not going to say they’ll be unable to conduct a chemical attack in the future. I suspect, however, they’ll think long and hard about it based on the activities of last night.”

Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said: “It’s intolerable for a civilized nation to use chemical weapons; this is a regime that murders its people daily.”

White also said the United States is “very confident” that the Assad regime was behind the chemical weapons attack on civilians.

Pentagon officials said the allied forces’ attack was met with no resistance.

“I think the mission was a few things,” Heather Nauert, acting under secretary of state for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, on Saturday told Fox News.

“One, to show the world that the use of chemical weapons and the killing of innocent civilians will not be tolerated.

“The United States has taken all of diplomatic efforts, for many months now, for many years as a matter of fact.

“President Trump has lead the way on that. We have tried at the United Nations. We have tried at the European Union. We have had many conversations with our allies and partners around the world to bring this horrendous plight to the attention of the world.”

The guided-missile cruisier USS Monterey fired 30 Tomahawk cruise missiles from the Red Sea. Nearby, the guided-missile destroyer Laboon fired another seven.

In the Persian Gulf, another destroyer, USS Higgins, fired 23.

In the Mediterranean, U.S. Navy submarine the John Warner launched six missiles.

Last year the United States alone launched a missile attack on the regime over its use of chemical weapons. This time the allied effort included a French frigate launching missiles and French and British fighter jets.

A pair of U.S. Air Force B-1 bombers flying from Qatar under fighter escort launched 19 stand-off missiles.

The Russians and Syrians claimed they shot down dozens of these missiles, but the Pentagon says the Russian guns remained silent during the attack.

Syria fired roughly 40 missiles wildly into the air, after the U.S. and allied missiles had already landed, McKenzie said.

“The Syrian response was remarkably ineffective in all domains,” the general also said. “That’s probably the best answer I can give you. So they had no material impact on the strike.”

The Russian disinformation campaign continues. White said there has been a 2,000 increase in Russian trolls on the internet, telling a different story than what reporters just heard at the Pentagon.

Qatar absents from Saudi summit over unresolved crisis

By NewsDesk,

Qatar has been reported to had boycotted Arab summit taking place in Saudi Arabia, with the Qatari Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani and other senior official who were representatives, been absented.

The Al-Thani non appearance at the summit was said to have been an indication that a nearly year-old dispute between Gulf Arab neighbors was still a long way from being resolved.

However, while Qatar absent was noted,  22 other countries were represented by heads of state or government.

It would be reaclled Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic and transport ties with Qatar in June 2017, accusing it of supporting terrorism. Doha denies the charges and says the boycott is an attempt to impinge on its sovereignty.

Saif bin Muqaddam al-Buainain, said that the Qatari delegation would  be headed by Doha’s permanent representative to the Arab League

Sheikh Tamim returned to Doha on Saturday from a U.S. trip where he met the country’s President, Donald Trump, who had publicly sided with the Saudis and Emiratis early in the crisis, but suspected to have been pushing for a resolution to restore Gulf Arab unity and maintain a united front against Iran.

Saudi Foreign Minister, Adel al-Jubeir, said on Thursday that Qatar’s crisis would not be on the table at the Arab League summit.

Ahead of the summit, the four boycotting nations reaffirmed that their demands on Qatar,  including closing Al Jazeera television station and reducing ties with Iran, were a necessary basis for a resolution to the crisis.

democrats attack Trump after hitting Syria

By NewsDesk,

U.S. Congressional Democrats have attacked the country’s President, Donald Trump, for not seeking Congress authorisation before striking Syria yesterday.

While the Democrats call the strikes “unconstitutional” and questioning the strategy, many Republicans, applauded the president’s move.

Sen. Tim Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia, who has pushed Congress to pass a new authorisation for the use of military force, deemed the president’s action “illegal” because he proceeded without approval from lawmakers.

“President Trump’s decision to launch airstrikes against the Syrian government without Congress’s approval is illegal and — absent a broader strategy — it’s reckless,” Kaine, the 2016 Democratic vice presidential nominee, said in a statement.

“Today, it’s a strike on Syria — what’s going to stop him from bombing Iran or North Korea next? The last thing Congress should be doing is giving this president a blank check to wage war against anyone, anywhere.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat representing San Francisco, California, said in a statement that the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons attack was a “brutally inhumane war crime that demands a strong, smart and calculated response.” However, she said Trump must present a more comprehensive strategy on Syria to Congress and seek lawmakers’ approval.

Rep. Eric Swalwell, also representing part of California, tweeted that it was the same as when Trump struck Syria last year without congressional approval.

“What changed? Zero,” Swalwell tweeted. “They’re still using chemical weapons. This is the result of a failure to have a strategy and engage Middle East countries to solve this problem.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, from New York, said “A pinpointed, limited action to punish and hopefully deter Assad from doing this again is appropriate, but the administration has to be careful about not getting us into a greater and more involved war in Syria.”

The president announced in an address to the nation from the White House that U.S. airstrikes, in tandem with the United Kingdom and France, were underway in Syria, in response to an alleged chemical attack near Damascus last weekend.

At a later Pentagon briefing, Defense Secretary James Mattis said that the president had the authority to launch the strikes under Article II of the Constitution because Mattis said Trump was defending U.S. interests.

Key Republicans on Capitol Hill said Friday night that they supported Trump’s decision.

“The United States has taken decisive action in coordination with our allies,” said Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican representing Wisconsin.

Ryan had said at his weekly news conference Thursday that he believed that Trump had authority to act against Syria with any new congressional approval.

“We are united in our resolve that Assad’s barbaric use of chemical weapons cannot go unanswered. His regime’s unconscionable brutality against innocent civilians cannot be tolerated.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican Senator from Kentucky, said he supports “both the action and the objective.”

Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican Senator who is also the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said “I applaud the president for taking military action against the Assad regime for its latest use of chemical weapons, and for signaling his resolve to do so again if these heinous attacks continue.”

Of note was Florida Democrat Senator Bill Nelson, who faces a tough re-election fight against Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott, and who backed Trump’s response to Syria, tweeting, “I support the attack because Assad must be held accountable for the use of chemical weapons.”