IED Kills 18 Afghan Bus Passengers

KABUL, Afghanistan, July 29 (UPI) — A passenger bus struck an improvised explosive device Friday in south Afghanistan’s Helmand province, leaving at least 18 people dead, an official said.

The bus was traveling from Nahr-e-Saraj to the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah when the bomb went off, CNN reported, quoting Dawood Ahmadi, a spokesman for the provincial governor.

The explosion wounded several people, the report said.

The attack came a day after insurgents killed at least 22 people in the southern province of Uruzgan before being repelled by Afghan forces. The Taliban took responsibility for that attack carried out by eight people, three of them suicide bombers.

Those killed in Thursday’s attack included Ahmed Omed Khpulwak, a reporter for the Pajhwok news agency and the BBC Pashto service.

Laskhar Gah was one seven places where security responsibility was transferred to Afghan security forces by the United States and NATO recently, a process scheduled to be completed by the end of 2014 as foreign forces withdraw from Afghanistan.

South Korean, Japanese Island Dispute Heats Up

SEOUL, July 29 (UPI) — South Korea’s government told Japan’s ambassador Friday it will ban a visit by Japanese lawmakers to an island near the East Sea islets claimed by Seoul.

South Korea’s Yonhap News agency reported the action was in response to plans by four lawmakers from Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party for a visit next week at Ulleung Island near the Dokdo islets, which South Korean officials say is an attempt to reassert Japan’s claims to the islets.

South Korea calls the islets Dokdo and Japan calls them Takeshima. The islets are administered by South Korea.

Yonhap said a Japanese daily reported the LDP leadership will permit the visit because it would be personal, unconnected with the party.

South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Jae-shin presented a formal note to Japanese Ambassador Masatoshi Muto, protesting the visit, Yonhap reported.

“We also conveyed our stance that their safety cannot be guaranteed and their visit will be of no help to the development of bilateral relations,” a South Korean Foreign Ministry official was quoted as saying.

The report said the planned visit has stirred public anger in South Korea.

The report, quoting a diplomatic source, said the Japanese lawmakers plan to first arrive in Seoul before proceeding to the Ulleung Island. South Korean officials said their entry into South Korea would be denied.

Many South Koreans hold bitter memories of Japan’s colonial rule of Korea from 1910-45 and consider the Dokdo issue part of that history.

Jakarta: Light Sentences Criticized

JAKARTA, July 29 (UPI) — Civil rights groups in Indonesia heavily criticized the jail sentences given to 12 men accused of involvement in the deaths of minority Muslim sect members.

A court in Serang, the capital of Banten province on the western tip of Java island, handed down the sentences for the brutal killing by a mob of three Ahmadiyya sect members in the town of Cikeusik.

Five people also were seriously injured in the attack in early February.

Mainstream conservative Muslims say Ahmadiyya Muslims are heretics because they don’t believe Mohammed was the last prophet.

Among those sentenced was Dani bin Misra, 17, who smashed a person’s skull with a stone. He received a 3-month prison sentence for manslaughter. Another of the 12 men, Idris bin Mahdani, who allegedly led the mob, received a 5-month sentence in jail for possession of a machete, a report by Indonesia’s Antara news agency said.

Public interest in the attack has been high. A secretly filmed video of the riot in which the three Ahmadiyya members were bludgeoned to death was put on the Internet.

However, none of the defendants faced a murder charge.

Of the 12 men sentenced, three local Muslim clerics, said to have masterminded the riot of 1,000-1,500 hard-line Muslims, each received sentences of six months in jail.

One of the defendants “has been convincingly proven to have incited the people and thus encouraging them to commit a crime,” presiding judge Rusmanto said.

But the defendants’ lawyer told judges “our clients had been lured to the brawl because they were provoked by the Ahmadiyya followers.”

Human Rights Watch Asia said the sentences were a travesty of justice, all the more so because police and prosecutors used the 28-minute video in their investigation. The 12 defendants were identified from the video footage and can be seen beating Ahmadiyya members.

“The Cikeusik trial sends the chilling message that attacks on minorities like the Ahmadiyya will be treated lightly by the legal system. This is a sad day for justice in Indonesia,” Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch said.

“Indonesian authorities should be making all-out efforts to bring to justice those who kill people because of their religious beliefs. The Cikeusik trial sends the chilling message that attacks on minorities like the Ahmadiyya will be treated lightly by the legal system.”

Among those criticizing the sentencing was the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta.

“The United States encourages Indonesia to defend its tradition of tolerance for all religions, a tradition praised by President (Barack) Obama in his November 2010 visit to Jakarta,” the embassy said in a statement.

The trial and sentences highlighted the religious tensions within Indonesia.

Less than a week after the Cikeusik killings, police arrested one man after around 1,000 protesters damaged a courthouse, two police stations and two churches following a religiously sensitive legal case.

Around 400 policemen clashed with protesters outside a courthouse in the small town of Temanggung, central Java island, when people heard of the sentence handed down by the judge in a contempt of Islam case.

Judges sentenced a Christian, Antonius Richmord Bawengan, 58, to five years in jail. But the crowd protested that the punishment was too lenient and became restive, police said.

Bawengan was convicted of distributing a book whose title translated as “Oh My God, I Was Fooled” and other leaflets allegedly containing blasphemous writings.

Dozens Killed In South Korea Floods, Landslides

SEOUL, July 29 (UPI) — Record-breaking rains in South Korea set off landslides and floods that killed at least 59 people and left another 10 missing, officials said Friday.

Rescue workers were joined by volunteers from across the country in massive humanitarian and cleanup efforts in Seoul and neighboring areas in the aftermath of record rains totaling nearly 2 feet this week.

The Yonhap News Agency said rains were the heaviest in a century and left about 10,000 people from 4,800 households in Seoul and Gyeonggi Province homeless. About 2,000 people in nearby Paju and other areas were evacuated from their homes because of fears of flooding, authorities said.

Landslides swept through homes, apartment buildings and roads.

About 1,000 people worked to help clean up mud and debris in residential areas and roads in the southern part of Seoul, assisting homeowners and bringing in relief supplies, the Yonhap News Agency reported, quoting officials of the Seoul Volunteer Center.

Explosives in a munitions depot were swept away after a landslide brought down the structure and the military worked to retrieve them, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Those killed in the landslides included at least 18 people in Seoul and another 13 in Chuncheon, 53 miles to the east.

Other areas hit by flooding and landslides included the towns of Gwacheon and Yongin, the emergency center said.

Mystery Cloaks Libyan Rebel Leader Killing

BENGHAZI, Libya, July 29 (UPI) — Libya’s rebel army head was killed by attackers loyal to Moammar Gadhafi or by his own troops on suspicion of being a double agent, differing accounts said.

Gen. Abdul Fattah Younis — a longtime Gadhafi confidant who had been Libya’s interior minister and a senior military officer before announcing Feb. 22 he defected to the rebels’ side — was killed along with two other senior opposition commanders by an armed gang, rebel government leader Mustapha Abdul Jalil said in a late-night news conference Thursday.

At least one gang member was captured, Jalil said without naming the member or saying whether he was allied with Gadhafi, rebels who did not trust Younis or some other tribal group or faction.

Jalil said “pro-Gadhafi” gunmen had infiltrated rebel-held areas.

The general — who had an archrival for the army command, Khalifa Hifter, often creating confusion in the ranks — usually traveled inside an armored car in a multivehicle convoy with 30 armed guards, posing problems for a potential assassination team, Britain’s The Guardian reported.

The Times of London reported Younis was killed on the front line by his own troops after being arrested on suspicion of being on Gadhafi’s payroll.

A Gadhafi spokesman said Younis, who Libyan state TV often reported had returned to his old job, was assassinated because the rebels believed he was working as a double agent.

Members of Younis’ tribe — the Obeidi, one of the largest and most powerful in eastern Libya — blamed the rebel leadership for some role in the general’s death, The New York Times reported.

Jalil confirmed Younis had been summoned for questioning by four judges working for the rebel council to “discuss military matters.” Security officials earlier told al-Jazeera Younis was to be questioned about allegations his family still had ties to Gadhafi’s government.

Jalil said Younis was later “released on his own recognizance,” without saying whether Younis had been accused or exonerated of anything.

Younis’ badly burned body and those of the two other officers, a colonel and a major, were recovered before Jalil made his announcement, a security officer said.

The killing and possible eruption of tribal animosities within Benghazi could damage the rebels’ self-image as a movement bringing Libyans together under the banner of freedom and democracy, the Times said.

It could also shake international support for the opposition and rattle the divided rebel coalition, which this month gained U.S. recognition as Libya’s sole governing authority, The Washington Post reported.

A senior Obama administration official in Washington said the White House was gathering details on Younis’ death.

The administration had already begun reviewing a rebel request to open an embassy in Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.

There are fears among Western supporters of the rebels’ National Transitional Council that its democratic goals could give way to a tribal civil war, the Times said.

China Justifies Aircraft Carriers

BEIJING, July 29 (UPI) — China needs aircraft carriers as it is surrounded by foreign warships, its military experts said after Beijing confirmed refitting a Soviet-era carrier.

The experts said China must have its own carriers to safeguard national security and development, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

The experts said China is the only one among the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council that does not have an active-service aircraft carrier. Other Security Council members are the United States, Russia, Britain and France.

It is not clear how many aircraft carriers China plans to have eventually.

China having aircraft carriers, however, is expected to further raise concerns of neighboring countries. Japan’s ties with China are already strained over the Senkaku Islands, while Vietnam and the Philippines have seen their disputes with China in the South China Sea escalate.

“The United States operates 11 carrier battle groups and has deployed six of them to the Pacific region,” Real Adm. Yin Zhuo, director of the Expert Consultation Committee of China’s People’s Liberation Army, told Xinhua.

He said China’s neighbors, including India and Russia, also have carriers, while Japan and South Korea have acquired large-tonnage warships which could be used as aircraft carriers using vertical landing jets.

“Other countries should not be surprised by China’s refitting of a carrier for training purposes,” said Li Jie, a researcher with the PLA Navy’s Academic Research Institute.

“China’s pursuit of an aircraft carrier will not pose a threat to other countries, and the Western nations should accept and be used to the reality that we are developing the carrier,” Yin said.

The Xinhua report said the carrier being refitted currently is an empty one purchased from Ukraine, which disarmed it and removed its engines before selling it to China reportedly for $20 million in 1998. The ship was originally built by the former Soviet Union.

Delaware Holds First Execution Since 2005

DOVER, Del., July 29 (UPI) — Delaware held its first execution in more than five years early Friday, putting Robert Jackson III to death for a 1992 murder during a burglary.

The execution went forward after Gov. Jack Markell refused a reprieve late Thursday, The Wilmington News-Journal reported.

Earlier, a federal appeals court refused a stay requested by Jackson’s lawyers over concerns about the drug cocktail to be used for the lethal injection. At 10 p.m., Justice Samuel Alito of the U.S. Supreme Court also refused a stay.

Markell released a statement after the execution: “The state of Delaware this morning carried out the penalty for Robert W. Jackson III for the brutal murder of Elizabeth Girardi. Mr. Jackson’s death sentence was recommended by a jury, imposed by a judge, and reviewed by state and federal appellate courts at all levels. It is my prayer that his victim rests in peace and her family finds some closure. May God have mercy on Mr. Jackson.”

About 15 protesters gathered outside the prison.

Girardi, a Hockessin resident, was killed with an ax when she interrupted a burglary at her home.

Princess Anne’s Daughter To Wed Saturday

EDINBURGH, Scotland, July 29 (UPI) — The Scottish capital is bracing for its own royal wedding between Zara Phillips, daughter of Princess Anne, and Mike Tindall, a rugby player.

While the wedding Saturday is to be more modest than Prince William’s lavish affair at Westminster Abbey, the guest list includes Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip and a host of other royals. That means taxpayers could be footing a bill for security of 500,000 pounds (about $800,000), The Scotsman reports.

The wedding at Canongate Kirk, with a reception to follow at Holyroodhouse, the queen’s Edinburgh palace, is a private one, not a state occasion, and the actual time of the service has not been announced.

“No one is begrudging them a lovely wedding, but they should be sensitive to the fact that it’s costing a lot of public resources and, at a time when resources are stretched, I think they could have offered to pay a bit,” said Margo MacDonald, an independent member of the Scottish Parliament. “If it had been a State wedding we would have had to accept some share of the burden, along with other cities, but they have been at pains to say it is not a royal occasion.”

Phillips, 30, is 13th in line to the throne but has no titles. She is an accomplished horsewoman and a trained equestrian physical therapist. Tindall, 32, plays for Gloucester and the English national team.

The last British royal to marry in Scotland was Princess Anne. Her second wedding was held at Crathie Kirk near Balmoral because she would have been unable to marry in an Anglican church.

FM: Talks With India Important

LAHORE, Pakistan, July 29 (UPI) — India and Pakistan need uninterrupted, constructive dialogue to resolve their issues and normalize ties, Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said.

Khar, who at 33 recently became Pakistan’s first female and youngest foreign minister, spoke to reporters in Lahore after her meeting in New Delhi with India’s External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna.

Bilateral relations between the traditional rivals have plunged since the November 2008 terror siege and carnage in India’s financial capital of Mumbai, in which 166 people died. India has said the attacks were planned by terror groups based in Pakistan and relations cannot improve unless those responsible are punished.

Khar’s visit to India did not result in any major breakthroughs but both sides promised several confidence building measures. Her visit was welcomed by the Indian media.

Khar said the two countries are well aware of the challenges they face and result oriented dialogue could lead to peace and prosperity in the region, the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan reported. She said top Indian leaders and those in the opposition all look forward to better ties with Pakistan which was very encouraging sign.

Khar said her delegation saw reciprocity by the Indian government to normalize and improve relations with Pakistan and to take them to a different level, while noting much groundwork needs to be done to bring the talks back on track, Pakistan’s Express Tribune reported.

“As of now it is important for Pakistan to normalize relations with India, since it’s a prerequisite for us in order to resolve the issues mentioned in the question,” she was quoted as saying.

In India, Krishna said the two sides reaffirmed their commitment to eliminate terrorism from the region.

U.S. Cases Of HIV-2 Remain Rare

ATLANTA, July 29 (UPI) — Human immunodeficiency virus type-2, is related to but distinct from the well-characterized AIDS retrovirus, HIV type 1, U.S. officials say.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report says HIV-2 surveillance shows reported cases of HIV-2 remain rare in the United States — an average of only 12 diagnoses per year from 2000 to 2009 — and are largely confined to people from West Africa. Eighty-one percent of those with HIV type-2 are from West Africa.

Sixty-six percent of the cases were reported from the Northeast and 46 percent in New York City. However, some HIV-2 cases may not have been recognized because, among reported cases, nearly 60 percent were initially misclassified as HIV-1 by the Western blot — the test most commonly used to confirm HIV infection, the report says.

“Correct identification of HIV-2 is important because many drugs used to treat HIV-1 are not effective against HIV-2 and healthcare providers and laboratories should consider specific testing for HIV-2 if tests for HIV-1 are inconsistent or inconclusive, or imply the absence of HIV infection despite clinical evidence suggesting its presence, particularly if the patient is from West Africa,” the report says. “Suspected HIV-2 cases should be reported to the state or local health department, which can conduct supplemental diagnostic tests for HIV-2 or arrange for them to be done at the CDC laboratory.”