Sydney, Nov 16 (AP/UNB) — A top Australian official seized Friday on past comments from Malaysia's prime minister seen as anti-Semitic, amid a diplomatic war of words over the possibility of Canberra moving its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad raised the potential embassy switch in a meeting with Australian counterpart Scott Morrison in Singapore on Thursday, later telling reporters such a move could increase the threat of terrorism.
"I pointed out that in dealing with terrorism, one has to know the causes," Mahathir said. "Adding to the cause for terrorism is not going to be helpful."
Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg responded Friday, saying Canberra would make its own decisions. Frydenberg, the son of a Holocaust survivor, also pointed out past comments that the leader of Muslim-majority Malaysia has made about Jewish people.
"He has called Jews 'hooked-nosed people.' He has questioned the number of people that have been killed in the Holocaust. He banned 'Schindler's List' as a movie being shown," Frydenberg told reporters in Melbourne.
In an interview with the BBC last month, Mahathir said "the problem in the Middle East began with the creation of Israel," and he defended his description of Jews as "hook-nosed" in his book, "The Malay Dilemma."
"They are hook-nosed. Many people called the Malays fat-nosed. We didn't object," he told the BBC.
Mahathir also challenged historical accounts that 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, saying the figure was 4 million.
In 1994, "Schindler's List" became one of many films banned in Malaysia during Mahathir's previous time as prime minister, with the country's film board rejecting it as Zionist propaganda.
When asked by The Associated Press in an August interview about his past comments about Jewish people, Mahathir said "we should be able to criticize everybody."
"Anti-Semitic is a term that is invented to prevent people from criticizing the Jews for doing wrong things," he said.
Australia's indication that it may follow the United States' contentious move of relocating its embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv was seen by many Australians as a political stunt. Critics called it a cynical attempt to win votes in a by-election last month for a Sydney seat with a high Jewish population.
But on Friday, Frydenberg insisted shifting the embassy made sense, although it has also inflamed tensions with Australia's closest neighbor, Muslim-majority Indonesia.
"Australia already recognizes Israel's sovereignty over West Jerusalem. It's where the Israeli Parliament is. It's where the Australian ambassador presents his or her credentials. It will be the capital of Israel under any two-state solution," Frydenberg said.
Morrison said Friday that a decision on the embassy would be made by Christmas, but rejected fears the plan had caused collateral damage by placing in jeopardy a proposed free trade agreement with Indonesia.
"I do not conflate the issues," Morrison told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.
"What we need to understand is that Australia has to set its own foreign policy and all I have said is that we would consider this question if we believed that it would advance the issues of the two-state solution."
Indonesian opposition politician Dian Islamiati Fatwa also warned this week that Australia moving its embassy may provoke Islamic radicals in his country.
Sydney, Nov 16 (AP/UNB) — Australia is referring India to the World Trade Organization over subsidies it pays its sugar cane farmers, which Australia says creates a surplus that's affecting its own farmers.
Trade Minister Simon Birmingham says Australia made the WTO referral after previously raising concerns with India over what Canberra says are more than $725 million ($1 billion AUD) in subsidies paid to Indian farmers.
Birmingham says while the case may take a long time to be resolved, he hopes it will prompt India to changes its mind on the subsidies.
Initial discussions on Australia's case would take place at the WTO's Committee on Agriculture meeting later this month.
Cambodia, Nov 16 (AP/UNB) — The last surviving leaders of the communist Khmer Rouge regime that brutally ruled Cambodia in the 1970s were convicted of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes Friday by an international tribunal.
Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan were sentenced to life in prison, the same punishment they are already serving after earlier convictions at a previous trial for crimes against humanity connected with forced transfers and mass disappearances. Cambodia has no death penalty.
Both men have suggested they were targets of political persecution. Nuon Chea was considered the main ideologist of the Khmer Rouge and the right-hand man of the group's late leader, Pol Pot, while Khieu Samphan served as the head of state, presenting a moderate veneer as the public face for the highly secretive group.
The verdict read aloud in the courtroom by Judge Nil Nonn established that the Khmer Rouge committed genocide against the Vietnamese and Cham minorities. Scholars had debated whether suppression of the Chams, a Muslim ethnic minority whose members had put up a small but futile resistance against the Khmer Rouge, amounted to genocide.
Members of the Cham community were among the large crowd of spectators who attended Friday's session.
The court found Khieu Samphan not guilty of genocide against the Cham, for insuffient evidence, though he was convicted of genocide against the Vietnamese under the principle of joint criminal enterprise, which holds individuals responsible for actions attributed to a group to which they belong.
The Khmer Rouge sought to achieve an agrarian utopia by emptying the cities to establish vast rural communes. Instead their radical policies led to what has been termed "auto-genocide" through starvation, overwork and execution.
The crimes against humanity convictions covered activities at work camps and cooperatives established by the Khmer Rouge. These offenses comprised murder, extermination, deportation, enslavement, imprisonment, torture, persecution on political, religious and racial grounds, attacks on human dignity, enforced disappearances, forced transfers, forced marriages and rape.
The breaches of the Geneva Convention governing war crimes included willful killing, torture or inhumane treatment.
One of the spectators at Friday's hearing was 65-year-old Sum Rithy, who said he had been jailed for nearly two years under the Khmer Rouge, who accused him of being a spy for the CIA. His life was spared only because he was a skilled mechanic who could maintain engines and generators for his captors.
Rithy said three of his siblings were killed by the Khmer Rouge, also accused of being CIA spies, while his father died of starvation.
"Today, I am very happy that the both Khmer Rouge leaders were sentenced to life in prison. The verdict was fair enough for me and other Cambodian victims," he said. "Last night, I could not sleep because I was afraid that Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan could die before this verdict was announced."
Nuon Chea, 92, was brought by ambulance and Khieu Samphan by van to the courthouse from the nearby prison where they are held. The prison and the courthouse were custom built for the use of the tribunal, which is officially called the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, or ECCC.
Nuon Chea, who suffers heart problems, was allowed to move from the hearing room to a separate holding room. Khieu Samphan, 87, was present for the entire hearing and with the help of two security guards stood as his sentence was read, showing no obvious emotion.
Lawyers for Nuon Chea said they would appeal, and Khieu Samphan was expected to do the same.
In addition to the two, the tribunal in 2010 convicted Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, who as head of the Khmer Rouge prison system ran the infamous Tuol Sleng torture center in Phnom Penh.
There are fears that politics will thwart the tribunal from undertaking any further prosecutions.
Cambodia's long-serving, autocratic Prime Minister Hun Sen has declared he will allow no further case to go forward, claiming they would cause instability. Hun Sen was a Khmer Rouge commander who defected when the group was in power and was installed in government after the Khmer Rouge were ousted by a Vietnamese invasion.
Initial work had been done on two more cases involving four middle-ranking members of the Khmer Rouge, but they have been scuttled or bottled up by the tribunal, which is a hybrid court in which Cambodian prosecutors and judges are paired with international counterparts.
The failure to have more extensive proceeding has discomfited some observers, but others point to the tribunal's accomplishments.
"International tribunals are better than the alternative, impunity. They will always be political and fall short of expectations," Alexander Hinton, an anthropology professor at Rutgers University and author of two books about the tribunal, said ahead of Friday's verdicts. "But justice is usually delivered, even if at times, as has been the case with the ECCC, it staggers across the finish line."
South Korea, Nov 16 (AP/UNB) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un observed the successful test of an unspecified "newly developed ultramodern tactical weapon," state media reported Friday, in an apparent bid to apply pressures on the United States and South Korea amid a stalemated nuclear diplomacy.
It didn't appear to be a nuclear device or a long-range missiles targeting the mainland U.S., a string of which last year had many fearing war before the North turned to engagement and diplomacy early this year. Still, any mention of weapons testing could influence the direction of currently stalled diplomacy between Washington and Pyongyang that's meant to rid the North of its nuclear weapons.
The North hasn't publicly tested any weapons since November of last year, but in recent days Pyongyang reportedly expressed anger at U.S.-led international sanctions and ongoing small-scale military drills between South Korea and the United States. Earlier this month, North Korea's Foreign Ministry warned it could bring back its policy of bolstering its nuclear arsenal if it doesn't receive sanctions relief.
"It's a North Korea-style coercive diplomacy. North Korea is saying 'if you don't listen to us, you will face political burdens," said analyst Shin Beomchul of Seoul's Asan Institute for Policy Studies.
Shin said the weapon North Korea tested could be a missile, artillery, an anti-air gun, a drone or other high-tech conventional weapons systems. Yang Wook, a Seoul-based military expert, said a "tactical weapon" in North Korea refers to "a weapon aimed at striking South Korea including U.S. military bases" in the South so that the North may have tested a short-range missile or a multiple rocket launch system.
Even if the test was a message for Washington and Seoul, Friday's report from the North was noticeably less belligerent than past announcements of weapons tests, and didn't focus on North Korean claims of U.S. and South Korean hostility. Yang said the latest North Korean test won't completely break down nuclear diplomacy though more questions would be raised about how sincere the North is about its commitment to denuclearization.
Asked over the test, the State Department said that U.S. and North Korean officials are talking about implementing the commitments that President Donald Trump and Kim made during their summit in Singapore in June. The summit resulted in North Korea repeating its vague promise to achieve "complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."
Eugene Lee, spokeswoman of South Korea's Unification Ministry, said more analysis is necessary to find what weapon North Korea tested. She declined to comment on Kim's inspection of the weapons test.
It's the first publicly known field inspection of a weapons test by Kim Jong Un since he observed the testing of the Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile in November of last year, according to the Unification Ministry.
The North said the test took place at the Academy of National Defense Science and that Kim couldn't suppress his "passionate joy" at the success of the test. He was described as "so excited to say that another great work was done by the defense scientists and munitions industrial workers to increase the defense capability of the country."
The North said this new, unspecified weapon has been under development for a long time and will help strengthen the combat power of its army.
Last year's string of increasingly powerful weapons tests, many experts believe, put the North on the brink of a viable arsenal of nuclear-tipped missiles that can target anywhere in the mainland United States.
Diplomacy has stalled since the U.S.-North Korea summit, with Washington pushing for more action on nuclear disarmament and the North insisting that the U.S. first approve a peace declaration formally ending the Korean War and lift sanctions. Trump and Kim are both interested in another summit, but it's unclear when it might happen.
Magalia, Nov 16 (AP/UNB) — Ten years ago, as two wildfires advanced on Paradise, residents jumped into their vehicles to flee and got stuck in gridlock. That led authorities to devise a staggered evacuation plan — one that they used when fire came again last week.
But Paradise's carefully laid plans quickly devolved into a panicked exodus on Nov. 8. Some survivors said that by the time they got warnings, the flames were already extremely close, and they barely escaped with their lives. Others said they received no warnings at all.
Now, with at least 56 people dead and perhaps 300 unaccounted for in the nation's deadliest wildfire in a century, authorities are facing questions of whether they took the right approach.
It's also a lesson for other communities across the West that could be threatened as climate change and overgrown forests contribute to longer, more destructive fire seasons .
Reeny Victoria Breevaart, who lives in Magalia, a forested community of 11,000 people north of Paradise, said she couldn't receive warnings because cellphones weren't working. She also lost electrical power.
Just over an hour after the first evacuation order was issued at 8 a.m., she said, neighbors came to her door to say: "You have to get out of here."
Shari Bernacett, who with her husband managed a mobile home park in Paradise where they also lived, received a text ordering an evacuation. "Within minutes the flames were on top of us," she said.
Bernacett packed two duffel bags while her husband and another neighbor knocked on doors, yelling for people to get out. The couple grabbed their dog and drove through 12-foot (4-meter) flames to escape.
In the aftermath of the disaster, survivors said authorities need to devise a plan to reach residents who can't get a cellphone signal in the hilly terrain or don't have cellphones at all.
In his defense, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said evacuation orders were issued through 5,227 emails, 25,643 phone calls and 5,445 texts, in addition to social media and the use of loudspeakers. As cellphone service went down, authorities went into neighborhoods with bullhorns to tell people to leave, and that saved some lives.
Honea said he was too busy with the emergency and the recovery of human remains to analyze how the evacuation went. But he said it was a big, chaotic, fast-moving situation, and there weren't enough law enforcement officers to go out and warn everyone.
"The fact that we have thousands and thousands of people in shelters would clearly indicate that we were able to notify a significant number of people," the sheriff said.
Some evacuees were staying in tents and cars at a Walmart parking lot and in a nearby field in Chico, though volunteers planning to close the makeshift shelter by Sunday were working to transition people to other locations.
A Sunday closure "gives us enough time to maybe figure something out," said Mike Robertson, an evacuee who arrived there on Monday with his wife and two daughters.
On Thursday, firefighters reported progress in battling the nearly 220-square-mile (570-square-kilometer) blaze. It was 40 percent contained, fire officials said. Crews slowed the flames' advance on populated areas.
California Army National Guard members, wearing white jump suits, looked for human remains in the burned rubble, among more than 450 rescue workers assigned to the task.
President Donald Trump plans to travel to California on Saturday to visit victims of the wildfires burning at both ends of the state. Trump is unpopular in much of Democratic-leaning California but not in Butte County, which he carried by 4 percentage points over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.
The Paradise fire once again underscored shortcomings in warning systems.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill in September requiring the development of statewide guidelines for Amber Alert-like warnings. A few Northern California communities are moving to install sirens after some wine country residents complained they didn't receive warnings to evacuate ahead of a deadly wildfire in October 2017 that destroyed 5,300 homes.
In 2008, the pair of wildfires that menaced Paradise destroyed 130 homes. No one was seriously hurt, but the chaos highlighted the need for a plan.
Paradise sits on a ridge between two higher hills, with only one main exit out of town. The best solution seemed to be to order evacuations in phases, so people didn't get trapped.
"Gridlock is always the biggest concern," said William Stewart, a forestry professor at the University of California, Berkeley.
Authorities developed an evacuation plan that split the town of 27,000 into zones and called for a staggered exodus. Paradise even conducted a mock evacuation during a morning commute, turning the main thoroughfare into a one-way street out of town.
Last week, when a wind-whipped fire bore down on the town, the sheriff's department attempted an orderly, phased evacuation, instead of blasting a cellphone alert over an entire area.
Phil John, chairman of the Paradise Ridge Fire Safe Council, defended the evacuation plan he helped develop. John said that the wildfire this time was exceptionally fast-moving and hot, and that no plan was going to work perfectly.
When the fire reached the eastern edge of Paradise, six zones were ordered to clear out about 8 a.m. But almost simultaneously, the gusting winds were carrying embers the size of dinner plates across town, and structures were catching fire throughout the city. Less than an hour later, the entire town was ordered evacuated.
"It didn't work perfectly," John said Thursday. "But no one could plan for a fire like that."
Likewise, Stewart, the forestry professor, said the wildfire that hit Paradise disrupted the orderly evacuation plan because it "was moving too fast. All hell broke loose."
Satellite images show half the town on fire less than two hours after the first evacuation order.
Stewart said experts continue to debate how best to issue evacuation orders and no ideal solution has been found.
At the other end of the state, meanwhile, crews continued to gain ground against a blaze of more than 153 square miles (396 square kilometers) that destroyed over 500 structures in Malibu and other Southern California communities. At least three deaths were reported.