Presevo, Sep 7 (AP/UNB) — The European Union's top diplomat says she's concluded separate talks with the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo but that there has been no breakthrough in normalizing their strained relations.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Friday after meetings with Serbian President Aleksander Vucic and Kosovo President Hashim Thaci that she held several rounds of talks but that "difficulties remain."
She says she hopes both leaders will continue discussions and "reach in the coming months a legally binding agreement on comprehensive normalization of relations, in line with international law."
Mogherini said she would chair further high-level talks in Brussels between the sides later this month.
Beijing, Sep 7 (AP/UNB) — Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin next week in a sign of strengthening ties between the two Asian giants.
The summit will take place during Xi's working visit to Russia's far-eastern port city of Vladivostok on Tuesday and Wednesday, the Chinese foreign ministry said Friday. It will be the first time a Chinese head of state has attended the Russian-hosted Eastern Economic Forum, a gathering Moscow hopes will encourage investment in its thinly populated far-east.
Xi's visit is a sign of healthy ties between China and Russia that have been cemented by joint military exercises and coordination on foreign policy issues from Syria to North Korea. China this month is sending 3,200 troops and about 900 weapons units to take part in the biggest Russian military exercises since the Cold War.
The visit also comes as China is reaching out to trade partners amid a tariff war with the United States. Russia has in recent years surpassed Saudi Arabia as China's largest source of crude oil and Beijing also imports Russian gas and military equipment.
Russia and China have responded to the U.S. national security strategy describing them as America's top adversaries by vowing to further expand their economic, political and military cooperation. They have also sought to strengthen the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a regional grouping they created and which holds occasional defense exercises.
The relationship is driven in part by the warm ties between Putin and Xi, seen as the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong. The two have met 25 times — five times last year alone, according to Putin's foreign affairs adviser, Yuri Ushakov. Putin's visit begins on Friday.
Redwood City, Sep 7 (AP/UNB) — A career criminal who authorities believe is the Gypsy Hill Killer faces trial Friday in Northern California for the murders of two young women four decades ago.
Law enforcement officials believe Rodney Halbower, 69, is the man who raped and killed six young women during a five-month period in 1976.
The serial killer was given his nickname when one of the bodies was found in the Gypsy Hills section of Pacifica, about 10 miles (16 kilometers) south of San Francisco.
Opening statements start Friday in Redwood City, which is about 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of San Francisco.
The killings of six young women in Northern California and Reno, Nevada, remained a mystery until 2014.
That's when DNA taken from cigarette butts saved from the scene of one of the killings in Reno led investigators to Halbower's prison cell in Oregon.
The San Mateo County district attorney's office charged Halbower with two of the six murders that occurred there, citing the cases' DNA evidence.
San Mateo District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe called Halbower "a sociopathic serial killer" and said he is seeking to have Halbower sentenced to life in prison if convicted.
Halbower's DNA was taken when he entered the Oregon prison in 1989 where he was serving 90 years for rape and attempted murder. Halbower's DNA was stored in a national database and matched the sample Reno cold case detectives scraped from the cigarette butt when they took another look at the Reno murder case in 2014.
A woman who confessed to murder spent 30 years in prison for the crime, but evidence mounted that she was mentally unfit and probably innocent.
It's likely Halbower would never have been linked to the five California murders and the killing of a University of Nevada nursing student in Reno had he not escaped from a Nevada prison in December 1986. He stole a car and made his way to Oregon, where — within days of his escape — he was arrested for rape and attempted murder.
An Oregon jury convicted Halbower and sentenced him to 15 years in prison in that state. First, he was returned to Nevada to finish that state's prison term.
When Nevada paroled him in 2013, he was sent back to Oregon, where prison officials took a DNA sample and submitted it to the national database investigators use to revive stalled investigations, which linked him to the Gypsy Hill murders.
Halbower was first transferred to the San Mateo County Jail in 2014 and his trial has been delayed several times. He has fired several of his public defenders and demanded to represent himself. The case was also delayed until a jury last year determined he was competent to stand trial. Judges have refused to let him serve as his own attorney. His current public defender, John Halley, didn't return a call from The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Court records show Halbower has spent the last 53 years in prison or on the lam after escaping.
A 1987 psychiatric report for an Oregon court concluded that Halbower was an intelligent man who suffered from "a severe personality disorder, with a propensity toward criminal behavior."
Halbower earned a high school diploma in prison, but he has had no other education, court records show. He does not appear to possess job skills, although he took drafting classes and dabbled with art behind bars in Michigan, Nevada and Oregon.
Still, that psychiatric report said Halbower "feels that he is pretty accomplished, that he should be able to teach, that he has a great many qualifications" and yearned to be a famous artist or a rock-and-roll star. The report concluded that Halbower's "life is replete with poor impulse control, narcissism and a certain grandiosity."
Dhaka, Sept 6 (UNB) - The Malaysian Cabinet thinks the caning of the two women convicted of lesbian sex in Terengganu gives a bad impression of Islam, says Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
He said the Cabinet had discussed the issue in a meeting on Wednesday (Sept 5) and were of the opinion that the caning of the two women did not reflect the quality of justice and sympathy in Islam, reports The Star Online from Petaling Jaya.
Dr Mahathir said they further took into account the fact that it was the women's first offence, and therefore it would have been more appropriate that they first be given advice.
He added that the women should not have been punished by whipping, which resulted in the whole country learning of the incident.
"That is why we feel that even if there are cases such as this, consideration should be given under certain circumstances, where in Islam we can mete out a lighter sentence while also giving advice and more," he said in a video on his Facebook page on Thursday (Sept 6).
Dr Mahathir said it was important to demonstrate that Islam was not a cruel religion or one that loved to mete out heavy punishments that humiliate others.
He added that this was not the way of Islam.
"This is the Cabinet's opinion, and we hope that we can be more careful not to show that Islam is a religion that does not know how to compromise or to be considerate.
"In fact, when we start something, we start it with 'Bismillahirrahmanirrahim', in the name of Allah, the most Gracious and Merciful, but then we act as if in Islam there is no generosity at all," he said.
The Cabinet's response came in the wake of two women pleading guilty to attempting to have same-sex relations and being caned six times on Monday (Sept 3) at the Syariah High Court.
It resulted in criticism from both sides of the political divide and from civil society groups.
Phnom Penh, Sep 6 (AP/UNB) — Cambodia's one-party legislature on Thursday confirmed Prime Minister Hun Sen for another five-year term, cementing his status as one of the world's longest-serving leaders.
The National Assembly approved the appointment with all 125 members voting in favor without any debate. Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party won a July 29 general election by a landslide, but critics consider the polls unfree and unfair because the only credible opposition grouping, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, was dissolved by court order last year in an action seen as politically motivated.
The 66-year-old Hun Sen has been in power for 33 years, combining guile and strong-arming to dominate his country's politics. He declared before the election that he intended to serve two more terms at the helm.
A crackdown on critics and opponents was launched after the 2013 general election and local elections last year showed a softening of support for Hun Sen's ruling party. The founding leader of the now-defunct Cambodia National Rescue Party is in self-imposed exile and his successor in prison awaiting trial on what is widely seen as a trumped-up charge of treason.
In a speech at the assembly's opening session on Wednesday, King Norodom Sihamoni conveyed his warmest congratulations to the new lawmakers and urged them to fulfill their duties under the law and to work for the benefit of the entire country. However, in a sign of continuing international rejection of the election process, no representatives from the U.S., British and Australian embassies attended the event. Many other diplomats also appeared to be absent.
The United States in December imposed visa restrictions on top Cambodian officials because of the anti-democratic actions taken in the lead-up to the vote , and said it was disappointed by the "flawed elections."
Hun Sen has aligned his country firmly with China in recent years, both politically and economically, allowing him to largely ignore criticism from the West, upon whom he used to depend for development assistance.
Hun Sen was a member of the radical communist Khmer Rouge during its successful five-year war to topple a pro-American government, then defected to Vietnam during Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot's 1975-79 genocidal regime that left nearly 2 million Cambodians dead.
He became prime minister in 1985 in a Vietnamese-backed single-party communist government and led Cambodia through a civil war against the Khmer Rouge, which eased off with the 1991 Paris Peace Accords that also installed a democratic political framework.