Muifa Inflicts Heavy Economic Losses

BEIJING, Aug. 9 (UPI) — Muifa, a typhoon-strength storm spawned in the west Pacific, weakened into a depression Tuesday, but not before inflicting heavy economic losses on China.

The State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters said Tuesday direct economic losses from the storm were estimated at 3 billion yuan, or $466 million, Xinhua reported.

The storm landed in North Korea and weakened into a depression over northeast China’s Liaoning Province, forecasters said.

Torrential rains triggered by the storm earlier lashed China’s financial capital of Shanghai and the heavily populated provinces of Liaoning, Zhejiang and Jiangsu, affecting 1.74 million people.

The storm destroyed more than 600 homes, damaged 4,800 homes others and affected 250,000 acres of farmland.

The government evacuated 1.3 million residents ahead of the storm, the report said.

Canada Orders All Libyan Diplomats Out

OTTAWA, Aug. 9 (UPI) — The Canadian government has ordered all Libyan diplomats out of the country within five days and frozen their bank accounts, the foreign affairs minister said.

Minister John Baird issued the order in Ottawa Monday night.

“Canada declares all remaining diplomats at the Libyan embassy in Ottawa ‘personae non grata,’ [unwanted] effective immediately,” the statement said. “These people now have five business days to vacate the embassy and leave the country.”

While the number of employees at the embassy was unknown, Baird said access to embassy bank accounts for all of them had been frozen as well, the Globe and Mail reported.

The move was meant to apply further international pressure to Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi to step down after 42 years and heed calls by rebels to allow for democratic reform. Gadhafi ordered his military to open fire on demonstrators and the rebellion became a military fight. In late March, the United Nations authorized NATO to attack Libyan military positions to prevent them from attacking civilians.

Meanwhile, there was no immediate indication if Canada was going to allow representatives of the rebels’ National Transitional Council to occupy the Ottawa embassy, the report said.

Gunfire, Random Arrests Reported In Syria

DAMASCUS, Syria, Aug. 9 (UPI) — Heavy gunfire was heard across Syria Tuesday as witnesses and activists say Syrian forces were making arbitrary arrests in two parts of the embattled country.

Activists said heavy shooting broke out in the eastern town of Dier Ezzor, were arbitrary arrests were made and at least two people were killed, and Syrian forces attacked the northeastern town of Sirmeen on several fronts, CNN reported.

The latest reports of violence came amid growing calls from the international community for President Bashar Assad’s regime to end its brutal crackdown against pro-democracy protesters.

At least 2,379 people have died since Syria’s uprising began in mid-March, the Local Coordination Committees of Syria said Tuesday. Of them, 1,991 were civilians and 388 were security personnel, it said. The organization said its death toll was based on numbers it could confirm; however, the Syrian government has restricted international journalists’ access to the country, and independent confirmation was unavailable.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu arrived in Damascus Tuesday to meet with Syrian officials, his office said.

Mark Toner, a U.S. State Department spokesman, said Monday Davutoglu’s visit offers another opportunity to send “yet another strong message” demanding that Assad end the violence.

The Syrian government warned about what would happen if Davutoglu makes a firm statement.

“If the Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is to deliver a firm message to Syria, he will hear a firmer reply regarding the Turkish stance which didn’t condemn the brutal killing and crimes committed by the armed terrorist groups against the civilians, military and police members till now,” the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency quoted Syrian presidential adviser Bouthina Shaaban as saying. “Syria has always welcomed consultation among friends, but it categorically rejected all regional or international attempts at interference in its internal affairs.”

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain recalled their ambassadors from Syria to discuss the situation Monday, CNN said.

“There is no justification for the bloodshed in Syria, and what is happening has nothing to do with religion or ethics,” Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah said in remarks on state television Monday. “The Syrian leadership could activate comprehensive reforms quickly.”

Obama’s Schedule For Tuesday, Aug. 9

WASHINGTON, Aug. 9 (UPI) — President Obama announces first-of-their-kind fuel efficiency standards for heavy-duty vehicles Tuesday in Springfield, Va., the White House said.

The daily schedule indicates Obama will:

— Receive the daily briefing.

— Announce new fuel efficiency standards for work trucks, buses and other heavy-duty vehicles during a visit to Moving Services in Springfield, Va.

— Meet with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

Court Halts Australia’s Asylum Swap Deal

CANBERRA, Australia, Aug. 9 (UPI) — Australia’s High Court dealt a blow the country’s controversial plan to send asylum seekers who arrived by boat to Malaysia for processing.

The court put a temporary stop on the first group, which the government was getting ready to send overseas last weekend.

Lawyers for the group of 16 refugees argued the plan is illegal and judges ruled there was a “sufficiently serious question” over the legality. The court ordered a stop to the plan until a hearing this month to further consider the case.

Justice Kenneth Hayne was visibly irritated when Solicitor General Stephen Gageler appeared ill-prepared with his paperwork, a report in The Age newspaper said.

”It’s unsatisfactory that this matter proceed in this half-baked manner,” the judge said.

Australia is ready to start sending as many as 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia over the next four years under the controversial swap deal announced in May and signed in Kuala Lumpur last month.

In return, Australia will take 4,000 bona fide mostly Myanmar refugees from Malaysia.

The Australian government of Julia Gillard, as previous governments, is wrestling with an annual influx of thousands of boat people. Australia’s Department of Immigration said 134 boats carrying 6,535 people arrived in 2010.

The vast majority of the asylum seekers in Australia arrive in unseaworthy boats after a journey of thousands of miles and after paying human traffickers for the passage. Gillard said she hopes that the deal with Malaysia will send a message to would-be asylum seekers that their voyage would be fruitless.

But even before the court ruling, Gillard was facing heavy political fallout from opposition parties over the agreement’s details and the estimated cost of financing the deportations.

Human rights activists and political critics say refugees are often mistreated in Malaysia, which hasn’t signed the U.N. Refugee Convention, even though the Malaysian government promised at the signing of the deal that it would abide by international standards for the care of the refugees, including allowing them to work in certain cases.

At the signing in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysian Home Affairs Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said Malaysia is committed to treating the new arrivals with dignity. People smuggling is a “vile trade” and “the UNHCR will be there to monitor and safeguard the standards that we have set,” he said.

Despite the setback, Australia’s Immigration Minister Chris Bowen was adamant the government had a strong legal case.

”Nobody should doubt our resolve” to deliver on an agreement to send asylum seekers to Malaysia, Bowen told national media. “I’m confident that when the full bench considers the case the injunction will be lifted, the transfer will occur and the arrangement will be implemented.”

David Manne of the Refugee and Immigration Legal Center in Melbourne is acting for the first group of asylum seekers, 42 in all, including six unaccompanied children.

Manne said he is challenging the transfer on human rights grounds. The immigration ministry can’t guarantee Malaysia will provide adequate assessment procedures, protections and human rights for the asylum seekers.

Manne also said Australia’s immigration minister is failing in his obligations as guardian of asylum-seeking children, a divisive issue even among pro-deportation people.

Australia has backtracked partially on its hard-line policy of sending young asylum seekers to Malaysia.

The government previously said there would be no exemption for unaccompanied minors arriving illegally in Australian by boat. As with adult asylum seekers, the children will be sent to Malaysia to be kept in detention centers until their refugee claim is assessed.

Bowen said otherwise it would encourage people smugglers in Asia to put children on unseaworthy boats beside often dozens of desperate people who have paid thousands of dollars for the journey.

“I don’t want unaccompanied minors, I don’t want children getting on boats to come to Australia thinking or knowing that there is some sort of exemption in place,” Bowen told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. in June.

But a week later and under mounting pressure from human rights groups and biting criticism from members of Parliament, including from his own party, he said the government would look at the case for sending unaccompanied children to Malaysia on a “case-by-case basis.”

“I said I didn’t agree with a blanket exemption for children,” he said. “Of course, what we would do is make sure that each case is considered. For example, you might deal with a 14-year-old girl differently to a male who claims to be a minor.”

Iran: West Trapped In Libya Impasse

TEHRAN, Aug. 9 (UPI) — The West has reached an impasse with its military intervention in Libya, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi says.

Salehi, speaking during a news conference Saturday with Beninese Minister of Foreign Affairs Nassirou Arifari Bako, said NATO countries seeking the ouster of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi have become bogged down in the face of his regime’s continuing strong resistance.

“The West has reached an impasse in Libya and has completely destroyed the country and acted against the U.N. Security Council,” Salehi said in a report by the official Mehr news agency.

He added that the loss of life in Libya from NATO airstrikes has been significant — including the deaths of women and children.

“Now they (the Westerners) have come to the conclusion that they have been following a wrong path regarding Libya,” Salehi added.

He said that while Iran supports “the realization of the legitimate demands of popular movements — demands that can be made in Syria, Bahrain, Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen or anywhere else,” it draws the line at military intervention.

“If in some place, foreigners should want to intervene in a country and exploit the situation that has arisen, we are completely opposed to this,” he said. “This meddling can be in any country including Syria or Libya where (foreigners) may want to use it toward their evil desires or purposes.”

Libyan rebels over the weekend launched a new assault in which they are aiming to push toward Tripoli with an attack on the major coastal town of Al Khums, east of the capital, the Financial Times reported.

They have been unable to break a deadlock with Gadhafi’s security forces despite the aid of British and French military helicopters. At the same time, the rebels are being hamstrung by deepening rifts in their de facto capital of Benghazi, the newspaper said.

Salehi in July proposed a Libya resolution, agreed to by Algeria and others, in which “a new political structure” would be put in place that would include “existing elements” of the current Libyan regime, the Fars News Agency reported.

The opposition National Transitional Council, meanwhile, was recognized by the United States last month as the legitimate authority of the country, even as Gadhafi has vowed to battle to the end.

“They are asking me to leave. That’s a laugh. I will never leave the land of my ancestors or the people who have sacrificed themselves for me,” Gadhafi said in an audio address to his supporters last month.

The Iranian foreign minister’s comments came only a day after Russian Ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin said the West is planning a military campaign against Syria with the aim of preparing a beachhead for an attack on Iran.

Rogozin told the Izvestia newspaper Friday after the Security Council condemned the ongoing violence in Syria that NATO has an overarching goal of eliminating regimes “whose views do not coincide with those of the West” with an ultimate aim of encircling Iran.

“(The U.N. condemnation) means that the planning (of a military campaign to overthrow President Bashar Assad) is well underway,” Rogozin said, calling to the “logical conclusion” to military actions in North Africa.

“The noose around Iran is tightening,” he added. “Military planning against Iran is underway. And we are certainly concerned about an escalation of a large-scale war in this huge region.”

Rogozin said Russia has learned lessons about the West’s intentions from Libya and thus will “continue to oppose a forcible resolution of the situation in Syria.”

Suspect Flees In A Police Cruiser

DOLLARD-DES-ORMEAUX, Quebec, Aug. 9 (UPI) — Police in Canada said a man arrested for a driving infraction escaped by stealing a police vehicle.

Officers in Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Quebec, said the 33-year-old man, whose name was not released, was arrested at 4 p.m. Saturday at the corner of Sources and Roger Pilon boulevards and somehow managed to drive off in the patrol car, The (Montreal) Gazette reported Monday.

An officer attempted to follow the vehicle in a taxi cab, but the suspect fled at a high speed, police said.

Police used a GPS tracker installed in the vehicle and discovered it had been abandoned about 10 minutes after the theft.

Police said they were searching for the suspect and investigating how he was able to get control of the patrol car.

High Wire Artist Loses Footing At 330 Feet

SHAOYANG, China, Aug. 9 (UPI) — A Chinese high-wire walker completed a 50-foot stroll between two hot air balloons at 100 feet, but lost his balance trying to repeat the stroll at 330 feet.

Saimaiti Aishan, a seventh-generation high wire artist, completed the walk between the balloons at an altitude of 100 feet Sunday in Shaoyang, China, but he misstepped while trying to duplicate his success at an altitude of about 330 feet, China Daily reported Monday.

Saimaiti, who was working without a safety net, managed to grab onto the steel wire and held on until he was returned to safety, Sky News reported.

U.S. Troops’ Remains To Land At Dover AFB

DOVER, Del., Aug. 9 (UPI) — The United States will succeed in Afghanistan despite 30 U.S. troop deaths in a helicopter shot down by Islamist Taliban militia, President Barack Obama said.

“We will press on, and we will succeed,” Obama said Monday as the troops’ remains were being prepared to be flown to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware Tuesday.

“Our responsibility is to ensure that their legacy is an America that reflects their courage, commitment and sense of common purpose,” Obama said.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Monday the deaths were a sobering affirmation of the U.S. “resolve and commitment to complete the mission still at hand.”

No news coverage will be allowed of the remains’ arrival and solemn transfer ceremony at Dover because the individual bodies are officially unidentified, Pentagon officials said, although they acknowledged they knew exactly who was killed in the Saturday crash — the single deadliest day for U.S. troops in the decade-long Afghanistan war — and already invited next-of-kin to Dover for the ceremonial rite.

Officials, who also did not say when the service members’ remains would arrive at Dover, insisted they were not trying to limit images of the aftermath of one of the most catastrophic incidents of the Afghan war.

They were simply upholding a policy to preserve the dignity of the remains transfer, they said.

Pentagon Press Association President Nancy Youssef said the association was “seeking a way for the public to have a record of this poignant, important ceremony.”

In February 2009 the Obama administration relaxed an 18-year Pentagon ban on media coverage of returning U.S. war dead, leaving the decision to the families of the dead.

Dover is the home for the largest U.S. military mortuary and has been used to receive service members killed in war and peacetime.

The 30 service members killed Saturday were among 38 people in a Boeing CH-47 Chinook twin-engine, tandem-rotor, heavy-lift helicopter that was shot down and crashed while on a mission to reinforce troops trying to capture a Taliban leader in the Saidabad district of Afghanistan’s central-eastern Wardak province, a longtime Taliban stronghold, the U.S.-led command in Afghanistan said.

The Taliban said they shot down the helicopter with a rocket-propelled grenade.

Twenty-two of those killed were Navy SEALs from the Virginia Beach, Va., Naval Special Warfare Development Group, commonly known as SEAL Team Six — the same unit that carried out the March 2 raid that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

Three Air Force controllers and five crewmembers also died in the shootdown. Eight Afghans were also killed in the crash — seven commandos and a civilian interpreter.

The Chinook is one of the few Vietnam War-era aircraft still in production and in front-line service. Its primary roles include troop movement, artillery fortification and battlefield resupply.

There were at least two other fatal shootdowns by rocket-propelled grenades of Chinooks carrying special operations troops, in 2002 and 2005, Politico reported.

Obama said June 22 10,000 U.S. troops would be withdrawn by the end the year and 23,000 more troops by next summer. That would leave about 70,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan until 2014, the scheduled date for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from the country.

Euro, Asian Markets Continue Selloff

NEW YORK, Aug. 9 (UPI) — European and Asian stocks plunged Tuesday ahead of Wall Street’s opening bell in a rampant global selloff on Europe’s debt crisis and the U.S. credit downgrade.

British, German and French stock indexes fell more than 2 percent in early-morning trading following daylong gyrations in Asian markets.

In late-afternoon trading Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 index was down nearly 3 percent, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index was down more than 4 percent and Australia’s Standard & Poor’s/ASX 200 index down more than 3 percent.

Taiwan’s TAIEX traded nearly unchanged, recovering from a 5 percent loss earlier in the day.

Futures on the U.S. S&P 500 index were about 2 percent lower early Tuesday EDT.

The U.S. dollar fell against the Japanese yen and the euro.

The price of gold — considered a safe haven at times of uncertainty — jumped to another record high of about $1,758 a troy ounce.

Oil dropped about $3 to about $78 a barrel.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 634 points, or 5.6 percent, Monday and the S&P 500-stock index dropped 6.7 percent, the biggest retreats since December 2008 in the midst of the financial crisis.

About $7.8 trillion has been wiped away in global stock markets in the past 10 trading days.