Jerusalem, Jan 9 (AP/UNB) — A former Israeli government minister charged with spying for archenemy Iran will serve 11 years in prison as part of a plea bargain with authorities, Israel's justice ministry said Wednesday.
The ministry said Gonen Segev agreed to the deal after confessing to severe espionage and passing information to an enemy. The plea bargain will be brought to a judge next month and no further information was provided.
The announcement capped another stunning turn of events for Segev, who served as energy minister under Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in the mid-1990s and was later imprisoned for trying to smuggle drugs into the country.
Segev was extradited from Equatorial Guinea and arrested upon arrival in Israel last May on suspicion of acting as an agent for Iranian intelligence and relayed information about the "energy market and security sites in Israel."
Israel's Shin Bet security service initially said Segev met with his operators twice in Iran, and also met with Iranian agents in hotels and apartments around the world. A gag order was placed on most of the details.
The allegations were particularly grave since Israel and Iran are bitter enemies. Israel considers Iran to be its biggest threat, citing Iranian calls for Israel's destruction, Iran's support for hostile militant groups like Hezbollah and its development of long-range missiles. Israel has been an outspoken critic of the international nuclear deal with Iran and welcomed the U.S. decision to withdraw from the deal. More recently, Israeli forces have carried out a number of airstrikes on Iranian forces in neighboring Syria.
In August, Iran's intelligence minister boasted on state television about his country's successful recruitment of a former Cabinet-level official from a "hostile" country, though he did not mention Israel or Segev by name.
Segev's lawyers, Eli Zohar and Moshe Mazor, said they were still prohibited from discussing the full details of the case but that the plea bargain removed the initial charge of treason and brought the affair back to its proper proportions.
"Indeed, Mr. Segev did have contact with the Iranians but his motive was not to 'aid an enemy during war,'" they said in a statement Wednesday.
Segev was previously arrested in 2004 for attempting to smuggle 32,000 illegal Ecstasy tablets from the Netherlands to Israel using an expired diplomatic passport, and served prison time for that. A former doctor whose medical license was revoked, Segev was released from prison in Israel in 2007 and had been living in Africa in recent years.
Cairo, Jan 9 (AP/UNB) — Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir on Wednesday rejected calls for him to step down as hundreds took to streets in Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman in a march to the national legislature to deliver a note demanding that he quit office.
The developments were the latest in three weeks of anti-government demonstrations that have engulfed Sudan.
Al-Bashir told a gathering of several thousands of supporters in the capital that he is ready to step down only "through election."
There "are those who conspire against Sudan and seek to attack it. There are no other options but national dialogue and elections," he said in televised comments as supporters chanted "there is no alternative to al-Bashir."
"The decision is the decision of the Sudanese people through the ballot box," added al-Bashir, who then briefly danced on the stage.
Also at the rally, al-Bashir, in power since he led an Islamist-backed military coup in 1989, advised opposition parties to prepare for the elections in 2020. His supporters arrived in packed buses for what was the largest rally in Khartoum in support of the president since the protests erupted.
On Tuesday during a visit to a military base in the railway city of Atbara, al-Bashir blamed violence during anti-government protests on conspirators, the state SUNA news agency quoted him as saying — conspirators who "planted traitors among us."
Atbara is a traditional bastion of dissent and one of several cities where anti-government demonstrations began Dec. 19, initially over rising prices and shortages but which quickly shifted to calls for al-Bashir to step down.
As al-Bashir spoke at the Khartoum rally, hundreds of protesters in Omdurman chanted, "revolution is the people's choice" and "freedom, dignity and justice."
Police used tear gas and fired in the air to disperse them before they could deliver their note to the legislature. There were no reports of casualties.
Sudan's Parliament is packed with al-Bashir's loyalists, who are campaigning to amend the constitution to allow the general-turned-president, already one of the longest serving leaders in the region, to run for a new term in 2020 elections.
SUNA reported in August that the country's ruling party has nominated al-Bashir for re-election in 2020.
Sudan's economy has stagnated for most of al-Bashir's rule. He has also failed to unite or keep the peace in the religiously and ethnically diverse nation, losing three quarters of Sudan's oil wealth when the mainly animist and Christian south seceded in 2011 following a referendum.
Critics say rampant corruption is eating up a significant part of government funds and engineering shortages of basic items to manipulate prices. The protesters have been chanting against the "government of thieves."
Authorities have said that 19 people died in the three weeks of protests, while Human Rights Watch said Tuesday at least 40 people have been killed since the protests erupted. Sudan's Interior Minister Ahmed Bilal Othman told lawmakers on Tuesday that police have arrested 816 people.
Bangkok, Jan 9(AP/UNB) — Australia says it is considering granting a Saudi woman who fled from her family refugee resettlement based on referral by the U.N.
The Department of Home Affairs confirmed in a statement on Wednesday that the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees had referred Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun to Australia for consideration for refugee settlement.
Alqunun arrived in Bangkok on a flight from Kuwait on Saturday. After first being detained by Thai authorities, she refused to board a flight back to Kuwait, barricading herself in a hotel room. She publicized her case via social media, saying she feared for her safety if made to return home to her family.
She was later placed in the care of UNHCR workers while her bid for refugee status was considered.
Thai police say a Saudi woman who fled her family to seek asylum abroad has refused to meet with her father in Thailand.
Thailand's immigration police chief says Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun's father and brother arrived together in Bangkok on Tuesday but Alqunun has refused to meet them.
Alqunun arrived in Bangkok from Kuwait late Saturday but was denied entry by Thai officials. Following urgent pleas for help she made over Twitter, she has since been allowed to temporarily stay in Thailand under the care of the U.N.'s refugee agency that will determine her protection claim.
Immigration police chief Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn says U.N. officials expect that the case will be concluded in a few days.
Sydney, Jan 9 (AP/UNB) — Several foreign consulates in Melbourne were evacuated Wednesday as Australian officials noted they were responding to multiple "hazardous material" events in the city.
The Australian Federal Police said that police and emergency services were examining suspicious packages delivered to the foreign consulates.
"The circumstances surrounding these incidents are being investigated," the police said in a statement.
The government Vic Emergency website noted at least 10 "hazardous material" incidents.
Police, fire crews and ambulances were seen at a number of diplomatic offices, including those of India, Italy, Spain and Germany.
The incidents come after a suspicious package was intercepted at the Argentine consulate in Sydney on Monday. Police there took away a sample of a substance for testing, the results of which have yet to be revealed.
Beijing, Jan 9 (AP/UNB) — U.S. and Chinese envoys have extended trade talks into a third day Wednesday after President Donald Trump said negotiations over their tariff war were "going very well!"
The two governments have announced no details, but Asian stock markets rose on news the negotiations that originally were planned for two days were extended.
The two sides are meeting face-to-face for the first time since Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed on Dec. 1 to suspend further punitive action against each other's imports for 90 days pending negotiations over the fight sparked by American complaints Beijing steals or pressures companies to hand over technology.
Trump said late Tuesday on Twitter that "Talks with China are going very well!" Earlier, an official Chinese newspaper warned Washington not to demand too much.