Damascus, Sep 2 (AP/UNB) — A string of powerful blasts from the direction of a military airport in Damascus lit up the skies and shook the capital city in the early morning hours on Sunday, residents and state TV reported.
The explosions were seen and heard coming from the direction of the Mezzeh airport, southwest of the capital. The airport has been targeted in a number of airstrikes in recent years that the government has blamed on Israel.
The state-run Al-Ikhbariya TV station showed what appeared to be hand-held footage shot by residents of the capital capturing a string of bright explosions lighting up the night sky.
The TV station reported, citing an unnamed military source, that the explosions did not come from inside the airport but from a nearby munitions depot. The station said an electrical short circuit was to blame, and reported that emergency services were at the scene.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said the explosions came from inside the Mezzeh air base and said they were likely caused by an Israeli missile strike.
Israel rarely acknowledges strikes inside Syria but has said it would use military action to prevent weapons transfers to its enemies. Israel is alarmed by the the expansion of operations by Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah to support President Bashar Assad in Syria's seven-year-long civil war.
The blasts come at a tense moment, as Syrian government forces prepare to attack the last refuge of the opposition in the northwest of the country. The U.S. is warning Damascus against using chemical weapons in the battle, while Damascus alleges that the U.S. is preparing to falsify a chemical attack to justify military operations on Syria.
The U.S., France, and the U.K. struck military installations around Damascus in April this year after a chlorine gas attack against rebels under siege outside the capital.
Sao Paulo, Sep 2 (AP/UNB) — Brazil's main leftist party said Saturday it's sticking with former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as its presidential candidate even though the electoral court has thrown him off the ballot for an election just five weeks away.
Da Silva's vice presidential running mate, former Sao Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad told reporters the Workers Party will continue pushing to somehow get da Silva, 72, who easily leads in the polls, back on the ballot.
"The people are sovereign regarding the party's candidate. And that candidate is Lula," Haddad said.
That strategy would keep da Silva in the spotlight until the absolute last minute, perhaps rallying support from backers that could then be transferred to a stand-in, likely Haddad, who is much less popular or charismatic.
The electoral court voted 6-1 early Saturday to reject da Silva's candidacy because of a corruption conviction that has been upheld on appeal. Da Silva and the party are appealing both the conviction and the electoral court ruling.
The ruling had been widely expected and there were no immediate street protests of the sort that occurred when the former president was initially arrested.
Da Silva, who was wildly popular when he left office on Jan. 1, 2011, is now a sharply polarizing figure. Many Brazilians still revere him for pulling millions from poverty during his eight years in power.
But he and the Workers' Party have lost much of that appeal over the last several years due to a stumbling economy under his hand-picked successor Dilma Rousseff and a sprawling corruption probe that has ensnared many top businessmen and politicians, including da Silva.
That division was clear in the reaction to the electoral court ruling.
"We have a big debt with Lula," said Thiago Renato, a 39-year-old IT specialist in the northeastern city of Recife.
"We trust him here. I will vote for whoever he endorses because then I will know who will have the biggest impact for the poor," he added. "I know Haddad, but I don't know him well. If he is the candidate, he will have my vote."
At a Sao Paulo coffee shop, Alexandre Fonseca- 21 year old medical student, called the court decision an "unfortunate and fully expected ruling," one unlikely to be overturned on appeal.
"The party must unite behind Haddad or whoever will replace Lula, to win the elections and give continuity to his legacy," he said.
But Virginia Toledo, a 37-year-old housewife in Sao Paulo, said da Silva's ouster means "we have another reason to celebrate."
"First he was jailed and now his chances of returning to power have been eliminated," she said, while buying ice cream for her 10-year-old daughter
"We have to pray that Haddad or whoever the Workers' Party chooses as its candidate for president does not win the election," she added
The former president is serving a 12-year-sentence for corruption and money laundering after being convicted of trading favors with construction company Grupo OAS in exchange for the promise of a beach house apartment.
As part of the ruling, Justice Luis Roberto Barroso said the Workers' Party should replace da Silva within 10 days, and that he should not appear as a presidential candidate in free airtime that is given to political parties on nationwide TV and radio.
However the party used the first day of free campaign TV airtime on Saturday to denounce the electoral court ruling in a spot that featured filed footage of da Silva.
Left-leaning candidate Ciro Gomes of the Democratic Labor Party said the electoral court's ruling was "not a good thing for Brazil."
"No matter how much Lula is detested in some sectors and no matter how he is idolized in others, to prohibit the country's biggest popular leader from taking part in the electoral process is traumatic."
Jakarta, Sep 2 (AP/UNB) — Indonesia's hosting of the Asian Games and a record haul of gold medals has swelled national pride, providing a boost to the re-election campaign of President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo.
The 2-week-long games ended Saturday with Indonesia fourth on the medal table behind China, Japan and South Korea. A good chunk of its 30 gold medals were in obscure sports held only at the Asian Games, and none was from swimming or athletics.
But for Indonesia, which has won only seven Olympic gold medals — all in badminton — it was a landmark haul that outdid its modest ambition of sneaking into the top 10.
A well-received opening ceremony, an absence of major organizational problems, and Jokowi's surprise announcement Saturday that Indonesia would bid for the 2032 Olympics have fueled feel-good nationalism that analysts say is likely to give Jokowi a lift in the polls heading to an April election.
That would widen his already substantial lead over former general and ultranationalist politician Prabowo Subianto, Jokowi's challenger for a second time.
The games will "certainly have a positive impact on Jokowi's electability," said Syamsuddin Haris, a political analyst from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences. "The spectacular opening ceremony became a successful campaign for the incumbent, especially to attract swing voters and millennials whose numbers are very significant."
Jokowi was compared to Barack Obama when first elected in 2014, and he and his advisers have cultivated a "cool cred" around his presidency.
That was evident two weeks ago in his cameo at the opening ceremony before a crowd of 40,000 and a national television audience.
A slickly choreographed video showed Jokowi stuck in traffic — a humorous nod to one of Jakarta's major challenges in hosting the games. He donned a black helmet and raced through the city's backstreets on a motorbike to reach the stadium on time.
Then the motorbike shown in the video sped into the stadium and its helmeted driver disappeared into a tunnel moments before the real Jokowi appeared in the VIP area to thunderous applause.
It resembled part of the opening of the 2012 London Olympics, where Queen Elizabeth II and James Bond appeared to skydive into the stadium.
In another moment that riveted Indonesians, Jokowi was shown enthusiastically grooving to music blasting across the stadium, a stark contrast to the morbid formality of most Southeast Asian leaders.
Haris said the games also positively highlighted ethnic and religious differences in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation with more than 260 million people, making it harder to exploit those divisions during the election campaign, he said.
"The Indonesian people saw how the athletes are fighting for victory, for gold medals, and the winners are not only Muslim, but also of Chinese descent, Christian, Hindu and Buddhist," Haris said. "This will certainly dampen the sectarian and ethnic issues used in the 2014 presidential elections."
Despite Jokowi's prominence, Subianto wasn't totally deprived of oxygen.
As chairman of the Pencak Silat association— a local martial art included in these games — he was shown on national television presenting some of the 14 gold medals that Indonesia won in the discipline, and in a group hug with Jokowi and one of the winners.
But he was also mocked online with a mercilessly effective meme that juxtaposed a recent image of a shirtless and flabby Subianto against the washboard abs of an Indonesian heartthrob who jubilantly tore off his shirt after winning gold in the men's badminton singles.
Young Indonesians make up 35-40 percent of voters and will play a "decisive" role in the 2019 presidential race, said Hugo Brennan, Asia analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, a business and political risk consultancy.
"Jokowi's motorcycle stunt during the opening ceremony was widely shared on social media and will have burnished his 'cool credentials' among this important constituency," he said.
The PR win comes less than a month after Jokowi unexpectedly chose a conservative cleric, Ma'ruf Amin, as his running mate, dismaying moderate and liberal supporters but likely neutralizing damaging criticism that he isn't sufficiently Islamic.
Most of his five-year term has been spent balancing the demands of his moderate base, powerful Islamic conservatives, a complicated parliamentary coalition and the military, which has never completely accepted its diminished role following the end of the Suharto dictatorship two decades ago.
Improving Indonesia's creaking infrastructure has been Jokowi's signature policy — the Asian Games indirectly highlighted some of the progress — and he enters the campaign the clear but not unbeatable front-runner.
If it's any consolation for Prabowo, who was narrowly defeated by Jokowi in 2014, the games afterglow will fade and is unlikely to be a decisive factor when the world's third largest democracy votes in April, analysts said.
"I think Jokowi's and Indonesia's performance in the Asian Games will give the president a bit of a bump in the polls but I'm not sure it significantly changes his odds of re-election," said Eurasia Group analyst Peter Mumford.
"Any benefit from the Asian Games may have dissipated by then. But certainly doesn't do him any harm," he said.
Jokowi, however, appears intent on extending its shelf life, announcing alongside the president of the International Olympic Committee on Saturday that because of the success of the Asian Games, Indonesia will bid for the 2032 Olympics.
Chicago, Sep 2 (AP/UNB) — Six white caskets were arranged in a semi-circle during the funeral for six of the 10 children who died in Chicago's worst fire in over a decade.
The funeral held Saturday at Our Lady of Tepeyac Catholic Church honored five siblings and a cousin killed in the Aug. 28 apartment fire .
They were 14-year-old Cesar Contreras, 13-year-old Nathan Contreras, 11-year-old Xavier Contreras, 5-year-old Ariel Garcia, 3-month-old Amayah Almaraz and their cousin, 14-year-old Adrian Hernandez.
The Chicago Sun-Times reports family members wore white T-shirts with the airbrushed names of the children during the funeral. Arrangements are pending for the four other children killed in the fire.
Investigators say the fire started in the rear of the apartment building during a sleepover. The cause is under investigation.
City officials issued more than 40 code violations Friday against the building's owner.
Kampala, Sep 2 (AP/UNB) — A Ugandan pop star-turned-opposition lawmaker said Saturday he has arrived in the United States for medical care after allegedly being tortured while in detention.
Bobi Wine, whose real name is Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, said on Twitter Saturday that he suffered "brutal torture" by soldiers with the presidential guard, allegations the government has denied.
He posted a photo of himself in an airport corridor, sitting in a wheelchair and holding crutches, though it wasn't clear which city he was in.
Ssentamu left Uganda late Friday after an attempt to leave the previous day was blocked by officials who said he needed first to get clearance from the government because of his allegations of torture.
The holding of Ssentamu caused sporadic protests in some parts of the capital, Kampala.
Ssentamu and several other lawmakers are charged with treason over an incident on Aug. 13 in which the president's motorcade was pelted with stones. Ssentamu was freed on bail Monday.
Video posted by human rights attorney Nicholas Opiyo showed the 36-year-old singer in his trademark red beret and carrying crutches as he was wheeled to the departure gate late Friday, saluting and thanking supporters along the way.
Another lawmaker who was blocked on Thursday from flying to India for treatment, Francis Zaake, was still being held in a hospital Friday night.
Ssentamu has emerged as a powerful opposition voice among youth frustrated by President Yoweri Museveni, 74, who has been in power for 32 years and oversaw a constitutional change last year to remove an age limit on the presidency.
The singer won a parliament seat last year without the backing of a political party.
Dozens of global musicians including Chris Martin, Angelique Kidjo and Brian Eno last week issued an open letter condemning the treatment of Ssentamu, who in his first public appearance after his arrest had to walk with support and appeared to cry.
The treason charges have heightened concerns about a crackdown on the opposition in this East African nation.
Museveni, a close U.S. security ally, has spoken in recent days about "unprincipled politicians taking advantage of our unemployed youth to lure them into riots and demonstrations."