Wellington, Apr 10 (AP/UNB) — New Zealand's Parliament on Wednesday passed sweeping gun laws that outlaw military style weapons, less than a month after mass shootings at two mosques in the city of Christchurch left 50 people dead and dozens wounded.
A bill outlawing most automatic and semi-automatic weapons and banning components that modify existing weapons was passed by a vote of 119 to 1 in the House of Representatives after an accelerated process of debate and public submission.
The bill needs only the approval of New Zealand's governor general, a formality, before becoming law on Friday.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern spoke emotionally during the bill's final reading of the traumatic injuries suffered by victims of the March 15 attacks, whom she visited in Christchurch Hospital after the shootings.
"I struggle to recall any single gunshot wounds," Ardern said. "In every case they spoke of multiple injuries, multiple debilitating injuries that deemed it impossible for them to recover in days, let alone weeks. They will carry disabilities for a lifetime, and that's before you consider the psychological impact. We are here for them."
"I could not fathom how weapons that could cause such destruction and large-scale death could be obtained legally in this country," she said.
A 28-year-old Australian man, Brenton Tarrant, has been charged in the attacks.
Ardern, who has won international praise for her compassion and leadership since the shootings, was able to win rare bi-partisan support for a bill that makes it illegal to own a military-style semi-automatic rifle. The only dissenting voice was from the libertarian ACT Party, which has one lawmaker in Parliament.
The law includes a buy-back scheme under which owners of outlawed weapons can surrender them to police in return for compensation based on the weapon's age and condition.
Anyone who retains such a weapon after the law formally passes on Friday faces a penalty of up to five years in prison. Some exemptions have been allowed for heirloom weapons held by collectors or for professional pest control.
Ardern said lawmakers had a responsibility to act on behalf of victims of the shootings.
"We are ultimately here because 50 people died and they do not have a voice," she said. "We in this house are their voice. Today we can use that voice wisely."
"We are here just 26 days after the most devastating terrorist attacks created the darkest of days in New Zealand's history," she said. "We are here as an almost entirely united Parliament. There have been very few occasions when I have seen Parliament come together in this way and I cannot imagine circumstances where that is more necessary than it is now."
Ardern said that there was some opposition from firearms owners, but that the response to the proposed legislation was overwhelmingly positive.
"My question here is simple," she said. "You either believe that here in New Zealand these weapons have a place or you do not. If you believe, like us, that they do not, you should be able to believe we can move swiftly. "An argument about process is an argument to do nothing."
Kuala Lumpur, Apr 10 (AP/UNB) — The wife of Malaysia's former Prime Minister Najib Razak was hit Wednesday with a new corruption charge over a solar energy contract.
Rosmah Mansor pleaded not guilty to accepting a 5 million ringgit ($1.22 million) bribe through her aide from a manager at Jepak Holdings as a kickback for helping secure a contract from the Education Ministry. She has also been charged with laundering illegal proceeds and tax evasion in a massive graft scandal that led to Najib's electoral loss last May.
The Education Ministry awarded the 1.25 billion ringgit contract to supply and install solar energy panels in 369 schools in eastern Sarawak state on Borneo to Jepak without open tender.
Najib, his former deputy and several high-ranking former officials have already been charged with corruption after the election ushered in the first change of power since Malaysia's independence from Britain in 1957.
Najib, whose first trial began last week after months of delay, has accused the new government of seeking political vengeance. But Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has said the court cases were based on the rule of law and that those accused will be given fair trials.
Kabul, Apr 10 (AP/UNB) — U.S. forces in Afghanistan revised on Tuesday the death toll from a Taliban attack the previous day near the main American base in the country, saying three service members were killed but not a contractor who was initially reported among the fatalities.
The U.S. and NATO Resolute Support mission issued a statement "to clarify initial reporting" about Monday's roadside bombing of an American convoy near the main U.S. base. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
The Pentagon said later that all three service members killed were Marines.
The mission said a roadside bomb hit the convoy near the Bagram Airfield, killing three American service members, and said "the contractor who was reported as killed, is alive."
The statement said "the contractor, an Afghan citizen, was initially treated along with other injured civilians, later identified as a contractor and treated at Bagram Airfield."
Three other U.S. service members were also wounded in the attack. The base in Bagram district is located in northern Parwan province and serves as the main U.S. air facility in the country.
The wounded were evacuated and are receiving medical care, the statement said.
Christopher Slutman, a 15-year New York City fire department member, was among the three Marines killed. He leaves behind his wife, Shannon, and three daughters.
"Firefighter Slutman bravely wore two uniforms and committed his life to public service both as a New York City firefighter and as a member of the United States Marine Corps," Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said in a written statement.
The Pentagon identified the two other Marines killed as Cpl. Robert A. Hendriks, 25, of Locust Valley, New York, and Sgt. Benjamin S. Hines, 31, of York, Pennsylvania.
In their claim of responsibility, the Taliban said they launched the attack and that one of their suicide bombers detonated his explosives-laden vehicle near the NATO base. The conflicting accounts could not be immediately reconciled.
On Tuesday, local Afghan officials said at least five Afghan civilians were wounded in the commotion after the attack on the American convoy.
Four were passersby and the fifth was a driver of a car going down the road, said Abdul Raqib Kohistani, the Bagram district police chief. Abdul Shakor Qudosi, the district administrative chief in Bagram, said American soldiers opened fire immediately after their convoy was bombed.
Monday's U.S. fatalities bring to seven the number of U.S. soldiers killed so far this year in Afghanistan, underscoring the difficulties in bringing peace to the war-wrecked country even as Washington has stepped up efforts to find a way to end the 17-year war, America's longest.
There are about 14,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan, supporting embattled Afghan forces as they struggle on two fronts — facing a resurgent Taliban who now hold sway over almost half the country and also the Islamic State affiliate, which has sought to expand its footprint in Afghanistan even as its self-proclaimed "caliphate" has crumbled in Syria and Iraq.
Last year, 13 U.S. service members were killed in Afghanistan.
The Taliban have continued to carry out daily attacks on Afghan security forces despite holding several rounds of peace talks with the United States in recent months. The Taliban have refused to meet with the Afghan government, which they view as a U.S. puppet.
Meanwhile, the Taliban have agreed to take part in an all-Afghan gathering later this month in Qatar, where the insurgents maintain a political office. But the Taliban say they will not recognize any government official attending the gathering as a representative of the Kabul government, only as an individual Afghan participant.
Brussels, Apr 10 (AP/UNB) — European Council President Donald Tusk is meeting leaders including British Prime Minister Theresa May ahead of an emergency summit to decide whether to grant the United Kingdom a further delay in its departure from the European Union.
Donald Tusk meets the leaders of Lithuania, Latvia, The Netherlands and finally May shortly before Wednesday evening's summit begins.
It's likely to be a rough day for the embattled British leader as she pleads for a second extension until June 30, to prevent Britain's departure now scheduled for Friday.
Tusk has suggested an even longer delay of up to a year with conditions attached to ensure Britain does not stymie EU decision making if it remains a member.
EU countries have become increasingly exasperated with the political division and uncertainty in Britain.
New Delhi, Apr 10 (AP/UNB) — Indian authorities charged a Roman Catholic bishop on Tuesday with repeatedly raping a nun in her rural convent, a case that helped make the sexual abuse of nuns a major issue in the church.
Bishop Franco Mulakkal was charged with rape, illegal confinement and intimidation, said Hari Sankar, a district police chief in the southern state of Kerala, India's Catholic heartland.
The nun who made the accusations, who has not been publicly identified, said she went to police last year only after complaining repeatedly to church authorities. Eventually, a group of fellow nuns launched unprecedented public protests to demand Mulakkal's arrest. He was arrested but released after a few weeks.
Mulakkal was the official patron of the nun's community, the Missionaries of Jesus, and wielded immense influence over its budgets and job assignments. The nun said the rapes occurred between 2014 and 2016.
Mulakkal has denied the accusations, calling them "baseless and concocted" and saying the accusing nun was trying to pressure him to get a better job.
In February, Pope Francis for the first time publicly acknowledged the sexual abuse of nuns by priests and bishops.
Speaking to reporters aboard the papal plane, Francis vowed to confront the problem. "Should we do something more? Yes. Is there the will? Yes. But it's a path that we have already begun," he said.
The Mulakkal case has split India's Catholic community, with many people defending the bishop.
In March, the founder of the Vatican's women's magazine, along with the magazine's all-female editorial board, quit their positions, saying a Vatican campaign to discredit them had increased since they denounced the sexual abuse of nuns by priests and bishops.