Pompeo to Iraq PM: U.S. will take action in self-defense if attacked

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Iraq’s prime minister that the United States would take measures in self-defense if attacked, according to a statement on Monday after a rocket attack on an Iraqi base that houses U.S. troops helping fight Islamic State.

Pompeo spoke to Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi on Sunday, a day after three American troops and several Iraqi forces were wounded in the second major rocket attack in the past week on an Iraqi base north of Baghdad, U.S. and Iraqi officials said, raising the stakes in an escalating cycle of attacks and reprisals.

He said Iraq’s government should defend the U.S.-led coalition helping it fight Islamic State, according to the statement from State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus.

“Secretary Pompeo underscored that the groups responsible for these attacks must be held accountable. Secretary Pompeo noted that America will not tolerate attacks and threats to American lives and will take additional action as necessary in self-defense,” it said.

Iraq’s Joint Operations Command said 33 Katyusha rockets were launched near a section of the Taji base which houses U.S.-led coalition troops. It said the military found seven rocket launchers and 24 unused rockets in the nearby Abu Izam area.

The Iraqi military said several Iraqi air defense servicemen were critically wounded. Two of the three wounded U.S. troops are seriously injured and are being treated at a military hospital in Baghdad, the Pentagon said.

Longstanding antagonism between the United States and Iran has mostly played out on Iraqi soil in recent months.

Iranian-backed paramilitary groups have regularly rocketed and shelled bases in Iraq which host U.S. forces and the area around the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

The United States has in turn conducted several strikes inside Iraq, killing top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and Kataib Hezbollah founder Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in January.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Alex Richardson and Andrea Ricci)

Top court spurns National Rifle Association challenge to Maryland assault weapons ban

U.S. Supreme Court is seen in Washington, U.S., November 27, 2017. The Court, which has avoided major gun cases for seven years, on Monday declined to hear a challenge backed by the National Rifle Association to Maryland's 2013 state ban on assault weapons enacted after a Connecticut school massacre.

By Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court, which has avoided major gun cases for seven years, on Monday declined to hear a challenge backed by the National Rifle Association to Maryland’s 2013 state ban on assault weapons enacted after a Connecticut school massacre.

The court turned away an appeal by several Maryland residents, firearms dealers and the state NRA association, who argued that the ban violated their right to keep and bear arms under the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment.

The justices sidestepped the roiling national debate over the availability of military-style guns to the public.

The case focused on weapons that have become a recurring feature in U.S. mass shootings including the Nov. 5 attack at a Texas church that killed 26 people, the Oct. 1 attack at a Las Vegas concert that killed 58 people, and the 2012 massacre of 20 schoolchildren and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, which prompted Maryland’s law.

Assault weapons are popular among gun enthusiasts.

The challengers, who had sued Maryland’s governor and other officials in 2013, appealed a February ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia that upheld the state’s law. The 4th Circuit, ruling 10-4, said it had no power to extend constitutional protections to “weapons of war.”

Maryland’s ban outlaws “assault long guns,” mostly semi-automatic rifles such as the AR-15 and AK-47, as well as large-capacity magazines, which prevent the need for frequent reloading.

Backed by the influential NRA gun lobby, the plaintiffs said in a court filing that semi-automatic rifles are in common use and that law-abiding citizens should not be deprived of them.

“The sands are always shifting with the Supreme Court,” Democratic Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh said. “I hope that this means they have reached a conclusion that they are not going to fiddle with assault weapons bans across the country.”

The Supreme Court last year left in place assault weapon bans in New York and Connecticut.

“It’s inexplicable to me that people would allow the use of assault weapons when they see the carnage that has been inflicted on innocent victims around the country,” Frosh added.

The NRA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

 

FLORIDA CASE

The Supreme Court on Monday also declined to hear a second gun-related case in which a Florida man convicted of openly carrying a firearm on the street sought to challenge that state’s ban on such activity.

Defendant Dale Lee Norman, who had a permit to carry a concealed weapon, was convicted of openly carrying a handgun in 2012 near his home in Fort Pierce, Florida. In March of this year, the Florida Supreme Court rejected Norman’s challenge to the so-called open-carry ban, saying it did not violate his right to bear arms.

The U.S. Supreme Court issued important rulings in gun cases in 2008 and 2010 but has not taken up a major firearms case since. It has repeatedly refused to second guess lower court decisions upholding state and local restrictions on assault weapons, which filled a void after a federal ban on these firearms expired in 2004.

In a landmark 2008 ruling, the Supreme Court for the first time found that the Second Amendment protected an individual’s right to gun ownership under federal law, specifically to keep a handgun at home for self-defense. In 2010, the court found that right extended to state and local laws as well.

Since then, gun rights advocates have been probing how far those rights extend, including the types of guns and where they can be carried.

The 4th Circuit, in upholding Maryland’s law, noted the disproportionate use of semi-automatic assault rifles in mass shootings and said these weapons are like the military’s M-16 machine guns, which the Supreme Court in its 2008 ruling agreed may be banned. There was also little evidence that such guns are well-suited for self-defense, the 4th Circuit added.

The National Rifle Association criticized the 4th Circuit for finding that “the Second Amendment provides absolutely zero protection to the most popular long guns in the country and standard-capacity ammunition magazines that number in the tens of millions.”

 

 

(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Additional reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

 

Philippines’ Duterte says police can kill ‘idiots’ who resist arrest

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte greets Lorenza de los Santos and husband Saldy, parents of 17-year-old high school student Kian Delos Santos, who was killed recently in police raid in line with the war on drug, during their visit at Malacanang presidential complex in metro Manila, Philippines August 28, 2017

MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte told police on Monday they could kill “idiots” who violently resist arrest, two days after hundreds of people turned the funeral of a slain teenager into a protest against his deadly war on drugs.

Duterte met the parents of the schoolboy, 17-year-old Kian Loyd delos Santos, at the presidential palace in Manila on Monday, to assure them their son’s case would be handled fairly.

Delos Santos’ mother, Lorenza, said she was confident the president would help quickly resolve the case, while the father, Saldy, said he no longer feared for their lives and felt reassured by the meeting.

“He promised he would not allow those who have committed wrong to go unpunished,” the mother said in an interview posted online by Duterte’s communications office on a Facebook page after the meeting.

Duterte unleashed the anti-drugs war after taking office in June last year following an election campaign in which he vowed to use deadly force to wipe out crime and drugs.

Thousands of people have been killed and the violence has been criticized by much of the international community.

Domestic opposition has been largely muted but the killing of delos Santos by anti-drugs officers on Aug. 16 has sparked rare public outrage.

Residents stay at a wake of a victim of a shooting by masked motorcycle-riding men during a local community protest march against extrajudicial killings in Sampaloc, metro Manila, Philippines August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Dondi

Residents stay at a wake of a victim of a shooting by masked motorcycle-riding men during a local community protest march against extrajudicial killings in Sampaloc, metro Manila, Philippines August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Dondi Tawatao

More than 1,000 people, including nuns, priests and hundreds of children, joined his funeral procession on Saturday, turning the march into one of the biggest protests yet against Duterte’s anti-drugs campaign.

Earlier, Duterte broke off midway through a prepared speech at the Hero’s Cemetery on the outskirts of Manila and addressed impromptu comments to Jovie Espenido, the police chief of a town in the south where the mayor was killed in an anti-drugs raid.

“Your duty requires you to overcome the resistance of the person you are arresting … (if) he resists, and it is a violent one … you are free to kill the idiots, that is my order to you,” Duterte told the police officer.

Duterte added that “murder and homicide and unlawful killings” were not allowed and that police had to uphold the rule of law while carrying out their duties.

Delos Santos was dragged by plain-clothes policemen to a dark, trash-filled alley in Manila before he was shot in the head and left next to a pigsty, according to witnesses whose accounts appeared to be backed up by CCTV footage.

Police say they acted in self defense after delos Santos opened fire on them, and Duterte’s spokesman and the justice minister have described the killing of the teenager as an “isolated” case.

U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, Agnes Callamard, described the killing of delos Santos as “murder” in a tweet on Aug. 25, earning the ire of Duterte who in a separate speech on Monday called her “son of a bitch” and “stupid”.

“She should not threaten me,” Duterte said as he challenged Callamard to visit and see the situation in the Philippines.

A planned visit by Callamard in December was canceled because she refused to accept Duterte’s conditions that she must hold a debate with him. She turned up in unofficial capacity in May to address an academic conference on human rights.

 

 

(Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Robert Birsel)

 

Florida ‘Stand Your Ground’ law revisions unconstitutional, judge rules

By Letitia Stein

TAMPA, Fla. (Reuters) – A Florida state court judge ruled on Monday that recent changes to the state’s “stand your ground” law are unconstitutional, finding that legislators overstepped when making it easier for defendants to argue self-defense to obtain immunity for violent acts.

Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Milton Hirsch said courts, not lawmakers, should set the process by which defendants can claim they were protecting themselves with an act of violence, according to the ruling posted online by the Miami Herald.

The revision shifted the burden of proof during pretrial hearings to prosecutors, rather than defendants, to show whether force was used lawfully. Supporters saw the changes backed by the National Rifle Association, the powerful U.S. gun lobby, as bolstering civilians’ rights to protect themselves.

Advocates predicted the ruling would be reversed on appeal.

“It is the role of the legislature to write the laws that govern how Floridians may exercise their statutory and constitutional rights,” Richard Corcoran, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, said in a statement. “The Florida House will continue to stand with ordinary citizens who exercise their right to self-defense.”

Florida’s “stand your ground” law, passed in 2005, received wide scrutiny and inspired similar laws in other states. It removed the legal responsibility to retreat from a dangerous situation and allowed the use of deadly force when a person felt greatly threatened.

This spring’s changes were adopted over outcry that gun owners could be emboldened to shoot first.

Critics cited the 2012 death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in the Orlando area, which spurred national protests and the Black Lives Matter movement. The neighborhood watchman who killed him, George Zimmerman, was acquitted of murder after the law was included in jury instructions.

Monday’s ruling in Miami circuit court is not binding on other state trial courts, the Miami Herald reported.

(Reporting by Letitia Stein; Editing by David Gregorio)

White House says it retains right to self-defense in Syria; Moscow warns Washington

A U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet launches from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) in the Mediterranean Sea June 28, 2016. U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ryan U. Kledzik/Handout via Reuters

By Steve Holland, Phil Stewart and Andrew Osborn

WASHINGTON/MOSCOW (Reuters) – The White House said on Monday that coalition forces fighting Islamic State militants in Syria retained the right to self-defense as Russia warned it viewed any planes flying in its area of operations as potential targets.

Tensions escalated on Sunday as the U.S. military brought down a Syrian military jet near Raqqa for bombing near U.S.-allied forces on the ground, the first time Washington had carried out such an action in the multi-pronged civil war.

It was also the first time the U.S. Air Force had shot down a manned aircraft since May 1999.

In a move that will fan tensions between Washington and Moscow, Russia made clear it was changing its military posture in response to the U.S. downing of the jet.

Russia, a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said it would treat U.S.-led coalition aircraft flying west of the Euphrates River in Syria as potential targets and track them with missile systems and military aircraft. It stopped short of saying it would shoot them down.

The Russian Defence Ministry said it was also immediately scrapping a Syrian air safety agreement with Washington designed to avoid collisions and dangerous incidents.

Moscow accused Washington of failing to honor the pact by not informing it of the decision to shoot down the Syrian plane despite Russian aircraft being airborne at the same time.

Washington hit back, saying it would “do what we can to protect our interests.”

“The escalation of hostilities among the many factions that are operating in this region doesn’t help anybody. And the Syrian regime and others in the regime need to understand that we will retain the right of self-defense, of coalition forces aligned against ISIS,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said.

The U.S. military said it was repositioning its aircraft over Syria to ensure the safety of American air crews targeting Islamic State.

The White House also said it would work to keep lines of communication open with Russia amid the new tensions. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said the United States was working to restore a “deconfliction” communications line with Russia meant to avoid an accidental clash over Syria.

Marine General Joseph Dunford said there were still communications between a U.S. air operations center in Qatar and Russian forces on the ground in Syria, adding: “We’ll work diplomatically and military in the coming hours to re-establish deconfliction.”

The U.S. Central Command had issued a statement saying the downed Syrian military jet had been dropping bombs near U.S.-backed SDF forces, which are seeking to oust Islamic State from the city of Raqqa.

It said the shooting down of the plane was “collective self-defense” and the coalition had contacted Russian counterparts by telephone via an established “de-confliction line to de-escalate the situation and stop the firing.

Russia is supporting Assad militarily with air power, advisers and special forces as he tries to roll back Islamic State and other militant groups. Unlike the United States, it says its presence is sanctioned by the Syrian government.

Adding to the tension, Iran launched missiles at Islamic State targets in eastern Syria on Sunday, a strike seen as a projection of military power into part of Syria identified as a top priority by Damascus and its allies.

(Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Florida governor signs bolstered ‘stand your ground’ law

FILE PHOTO - Florida Gov. Rick Scott speaks at a press conference about the Zika virus in Doral, Florida, U.S. August 4, 2016. REUTERS/Joe Skipper/File Photo

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (Reuters) – Florida Governor Rick Scott signed amended “stand your ground” legislation on Friday, making it easier for defendants in the state to successfully claim they were protecting themselves when they commit violence.

Previously, the law required defendants to prove that they were using force in self-defense. The new law shifts the burden of proof in pretrial hearings to prosecutors, rather than defendants, to prove whether force was used lawfully.

Supporters of stand your ground laws, including the National Rifle Association, the powerful U.S. gun lobby, see the legislation as bolstering civilians’ right to protect themselves.

Florida’s self-defense law was initially passed in 2005, and inspired similar laws in other states. It removes the legal responsibility to retreat from a dangerous situation and allows the use of deadly force when a person feels greatly threatened.

Opponents have said the amended law will embolden gun owners to shoot first, citing the 2012 death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in the Orlando area, which spurred national protests and the Black Lives Matter movement.

The neighborhood watchman who killed him, George Zimmerman, was acquitted of murder after the state’s stand your ground law was included in jury instructions.

Scott, a Republican, signed the amended legislation into law along with a spate of other measures passed this week in a special session of the state’s legislature. The measure was largely passed by party-line vote in the legislature.

(Reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Editing by Patrick Enright and Lisa Shumaker)

Iowa poised for major overhaul to gun regulations

By Timothy Mclaughlin

(Reuters) – Iowa lawmakers approved on Thursday amended legislation that would enact sweeping changes to the state’s gun regulations, including a “stand your ground” provision, and sent it to the governor for final approval.

The bill, backed by the National Rifle Association, says a law-abiding person does not have to retreat before using deadly force.

A similar measure in Florida was thrust into the national spotlight in 2012 after the shooting death of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watch member George Zimmerman, who was acquitted of murder after the law was included in jury instructions.

At least 24 other states have similar measures, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The Iowa bill allows for children under the age of 14 to use handguns while under the supervision of an adult who is 21 or older. It also says gun owners with permits can bring concealed handguns into capitol buildings.

Republican state Representative Matt Windschitl said on the House floor on Thursday the bill was, “the most monumental piece of Second Amendment legislation this state has ever seen.”

The bill also would make gun permits valid for five years, with a background check required when the permit is issued. Under the current law, permits are valid for one year with an annual background check.

The bill passed the state Senate on Tuesday and the House last month. The House voted on it again on Thursday to approve changes made in the Senate before advancing it to the desk of Republican Governor Terry Branstad.

A spokesman for Branstad said in an email that the governor will review the bill.

The bill has been criticized by gun control advocates, who say it could increase gun violence.

“We have had very good gun laws,” the Reverend Cheryl Thomas of Iowans for Gun Safety said by telephone. “With the passage of this law, we are going to lose that status.”

Iowans for Gun Safety wants Branstad to veto the measure.

Previous attempts to change the state’s gun regulations have been blocked by Democrats, who held a majority in the Senate until November.

Following the election, Republican lawmakers control the Senate, House and governor’s office for the first time in nearly two decades.

Republicans have used their majority to push through a number of bills during this legislative session, including drastic changes to the state’s collective bargaining laws.

(Reporting by Timothy Mclaughlin in Chicago; Editing by Bill Trott and Muralikumar Anantharaman)

Florida legislature poised to bolster ‘Stand Your Ground’ law

FILE PHOTO: A truck with a sticker indicating the number of weapons and hand guns is pictured in Port Saint Lucie, Florida, U.S. June 14, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

By Letitia Stein and Bernie Woodall

(Reuters) – Florida lawmakers advanced a measure on Wednesday that could make it easier to avoid prosecution in deadly shootings and other use-of-force cases by seeking immunity on self-defense grounds under the state’s pioneering “stand your ground” law.

In a 74-39 vote, the state’s House of Representatives passed legislation that shifts the burden of proof from defendants to prosecutors when the law is invoked to avoid trial.

The measure now returns to the state Senate, which last month approved its own version of the bill. Both chambers are controlled by Republicans.

Florida’s “stand your ground” law, passed in 2005, received wide scrutiny and inspired similar laws in other states. It removed the legal responsibility to retreat from a dangerous situation and allowed use deadly force when a person felt greatly threatened.

Opponents say the measures will embolden gun owners to shoot first, citing the 2012 death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida, which spurred national protests and the Black Lives Matter movement. The neighborhood watchman who killed him, George Zimmerman, was acquitted of murder after the law was included in jury instructions.

Wednesday’s House vote on changing the law followed party lines.

Supporters, including the National Rifle Association, the powerful U.S. gun lobby, see the legislation as bolstering a civilian’s right to quell an apparent threat.

“This bill is trying to put the burden of proof where it belongs, on the state, because all people are innocent before being proven guilty,” said the Republican sponsor of the bill, Representative Bobby Payne.

Florida’s law did not specify the process for applying “stand your ground” immunity. State courts established the current protocol, which calls for a pre-trial hearing before a judge and puts the burden of proof on the defendant.

Most of those speaking in the House debate were Democrats who said the bill would lead to more violence.

“Who will speak for the voiceless victims, silenced by an aggressor who claims he wasn’t an aggressor but is protected by a flawed law?” said Democrat Representative Bobby Dubose.

While public defenders support the changes to the law, the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association and gun control advocates oppose them.

“Every battery case, every domestic violence case, every use of force case, as a matter of routine, defense attorneys will now request hearings,” said Phil Archer, a state attorney.

Archer, a lifetime NRA member who teachers gun owners about “stand your ground,” said of the changes: “This is just going too far.”

(Reporting by Letitia Stein in Tampa, Florida, and Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Bill Trott)

North Korea says missile launch ‘self-defense’, U.S. demands action

A test-fire of strategic submarine-launched ballistic missile is seen in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – North Korea said on Tuesday its missile launches were “self-defense measures”, rejecting U.N. Security Council criticism of its weekend test, but the United States demanded international action against Pyongyang’s weapons programs.

North Korea’s ballistic missile firing on Sunday was its first direct challenge to the international community since U.S. President Donald Trump took office on Jan. 20.

The missile had a range of more than 2,000 kms (1,240 miles), according to South Korea’s intelligence agency. It reached an altitude of about 550 km and flew about 500 km towards Japan before splashing into the sea east of the Korean peninsula.

The U.N. Security Council on Monday denounced the launch, urging members to “redouble efforts” to enforce sanctions against the reclusive state, but gave no indications of any action it might take.

Han Tae Song, the new Ambassador of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) to the United Nations in Geneva, addressed the U.N.-backed Conference on Disarmament a day after taking up his post.

“The various test fires conducted by DPRK for building up self-defense capabilities are, with no exception, self-defense measures to protect national sovereignty and the safety of the people against direct threats by hostile forces,” Han told the 61-member-state forum.

“My delegation strongly rejects the latest statement of the U.N. Security Council and all U.N. resolutions against my country.”

U.S. Ambassador Robert Wood said: “All efforts to advance North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile capabilities must cease,” adding: “If ever there were a situation that called for international collective action to ensure our mutual security, it is this.”

RESTRAINT

China, North Korea’s main ally, said the missile launch violated Security Council resolutions but called on all parties to “exercise restraint”. The way to defuse the situation was through dialogue, China said, calling for a return to talks.

U.S., Japanese and South Korean military officials held a teleconference on Monday in which they condemned the launch as “a clear violation” of multiple Security Council resolutions. The United States “reaffirmed its iron-clad security commitments” to South Korea and Japan, the Pentagon said.

Han said the divided Korean peninsula “remains the world’s biggest hotspot with a constant danger of war”. He condemned joint military exercises carried out annually by South Korea and the United States, as well as what he called “nuclear threats” and blackmail towards his country.

“It is the legitimate self-defense right of the sovereign state to possess strong deterrence to cope with such threat by hostile forces aimed at overthrowing the state and the socialist system,” he said.

South Korea’s Ambassador Choi Kyong-lim said the test showed “the unreasonable nature of the DPRK and their fanatical obsession with the pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles”. Japan’s disarmament Ambassador Nobushige Takamizawa urged Pyongyang not to take further “provocative actions” that undermine peace and security in the region.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Offenses Shall Come (Pt. 1)

Matthew 24:10 (NKJ)
And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another.

Many things have been written about bitterness and unforgiveness which are good and true. But this writing focuses on the times we live in and the need for complete humility of heart, unconditional surrender to the purifying fires of God, and uncompromised obedience to the Lord who taught forgiveness in the most profound way possible – as He was dying upon the Cross. Continue reading