Argentina ends missing sub rescue mission

Argentina ends missing sub rescue mission

The Argentine navy says it has abandoned attempts to rescue 44 crew members on board a submarine that disappeared two weeks ago.

“Despite the magnitude of the efforts made, it has not been possible to locate the submarine,” navy spokesman Enrique Balbi said on Thursday.

The sub, the ARA San Juan, last made contact on Wednesday 15 November.

Hopes of finding survivors faded after a suspected explosion was heard near its last-known location.

Why has the navy made this decision?

Capt Balbi said the search for the submarine had been “extended to more than double the number of days that determine the possibilities of rescuing the crew”.

His comment refers to the estimated period that it is thought the crew could have survived in the submerged vessel.

Capt Balbi said that the navy was not able to confirm the fate of the crew, and no evidence of a shipwreck was found in the search area.

He said that the search operation, involving numerous vessels and other submarines, was now a hunt for a wreck on the seabed in the area where the ARA San Juan is believed to have vanished.

How have the crew’s relatives reacted?

At the Mar Del Plata naval base, both relatives and naval colleagues of those missing broke down upon hearing the news, reported La Nación newspaper, with doctors rushing to the aid of the most distraught.

Many relatives urged authorities to continue searching vigorously.

“We want them to keep looking, to find the bodies, we need this to begin grieving,” said Yolanda Mendiola, mother of Petty Officer Leandro Cisneros.

Some angrily accused authorities of allowing them to learn the news from the television, and of wanting to “leave the kids lying in the middle of the sea”. Others held prayer groups and expressed hope that the crew might still be found alive.

Some voiced suspicion. “I want to know what happened and I do not believe in any of the official hypotheses,” Luis Tagliapietra, whose son was on board, told the TN news channel. “I have no words for it,” she said.

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What happened to the sub?

The ARA San Juan was returning from a routine mission to Ushuaia, near the southernmost tip of South America, when it reported an “electrical breakdown”.

According to naval commander Gabriel Galeazzi, the submarine surfaced and reported what was described as a “short circuit” in the vessel’s batteries.

The sub was ordered to cut its mission short and return to the naval base in Mar del Plata immediately.

The Argentine navy’s last contact with the vessel was at approximately 07:30 (10:30 GMT) on 15 November, at which point its captain reportedly confirmed that the crew were well.

Eight days after the sub vanished, the Vienna-based Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty Organisation said that it had detected a noise a few hours after the sub’s last contact.

The body, which operates a network of listening posts to monitor nuclear explosions, said that there had been a “hydro-acoustic anomaly” about 30 nautical miles (60km) north of the sub’s last-known position at 10:31 (13:31 GMT).

The Argentine navy said it could have been the sound of the submarine imploding.

On Tuesday, Capt Balbi told reporters that water had entered the submarine’s snorkel, which can be used to take in air from above the surface when the submarine is submerged.

The saltwater dripped onto a battery tray in the prow, causing the battery to short circuit and to smoulder, he said. The sub had reported the fault and had been ordered back to base but then disappeared.

Who was on board?

The submarine, with its 44 crew, set off under the command of Pedro Martín Fernández.

Forty-three of the crew were men but there was also one woman, Eliana María Krawczyk. The 35-year-old was the first female officer in Argentina to serve on a submarine.

The rest of the crew were submariners of varying ages and experience.

Who are the crew of missing Argentine submarine?

The sub’s engineer, Hernán Rodríguez, had been working with the ARA San Juan for 11 years.

An international search mission has seen the deployment of 4,000 personnel from more than a dozen countries.

Argentine President Mauricio Macri has ordered a probe into the sub’s disappearance.

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Clashes ahead of Honduras election result

Clashes ahead of Honduras election result

Riot police in Honduras have clashed with supporters of the main opposition contender in the presidential election, Salvador Nasralla, after he accused the electoral court of fraud.

Police fired tear gas at protesters on the streets near the centre where the result is due to be announced.

Incumbent Juan Orlando Hernández, who is seeking a second term, is thought to be ahead by about 40,000 votes.

Both Mr Hernández and Mr Nasralla had earlier claimed victory.

In addition to the clashes in the capital Tegucigalpa, there are reports of demonstrators marching on some of the country’s main roads.

The election in the Central American country of nine million people has been widely criticised, and vote counting has dragged on for four days.

With more than 90% of the ballots reportedly counted, the incumbent president has moved ahead of his opposition rival.

At the beginning of the week Mr Nasralla, whose supporters are deeply suspicious of the electoral tribunal that counts the ballots, had established a lead of five percentage points.

However, as his lead diminished in the days that followed, Mr Nasralla accused the authorities of manipulating the results.

Tension was lowered temporarily on Wednesday when both Mr Nasralla and Mr Hernández signed a document vowing to respect the final result after every disputed vote had been scrutinised.

But another pause in counting attributed by the electoral tribunal to a computer glitch led to Mr Nasralla saying a few hours later that the document “had no validity”.

“They take us for idiots and want to steal our victory,” he said and again rallied his supporters to protest.

The distrust over the poll count is partly due to the fact that the tribunal is appointed by Congress, which is controlled by Mr Hernández’s National Party, and partly due to the sudden reversal of Mr Nasralla’s initial lead.

There has also been criticism of the slow pace of the count, which came to a 36-hour halt after the first partial results were released on Monday.

Salvador Nasralla

  • 64-year-old former TV presenter and sports journalist
  • Heads the Opposition Alliance Against the Dictatorship, a coalition of parties from the left and the right
  • His parents are of Lebanese descent
  • Ran for the presidency in 2013 but lost to Juan Orlando Hernández
  • Has campaigned on a promise to battle corruption

Juan Orlando Hernández

  • 49-year-old lawyer
  • Heads the right-wing National Alliance
  • Is the 15th of 17 children, two of his siblings are also in politics
  • Is the first Honduran president to run for a second term after the supreme court lifted a ban on re-election
  • Says that if elected, he will continue fighting Honduras’s influential criminal gangs

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Venezuela arrests former oil officials

Venezuela arrests former oil officials

Two powerful Venezuelan former oil officials have been arrested as part of a sweeping anti-corruption operation.

The arrests came just days after the two, oil minister Eulogio del Pino and head of state oil company PDVSA, Nelson Martínez, were replaced in their posts with members of the military.

A number of senior officials at Citgo, Venezuela’s US-based refining company were detained last week.

Critics of President Nicolás Maduro say this is part of a political purge.

They say Mr Maduro, who is expected to stand for re-election in presidential elections due to be held next year, is sidelining influential and capable figures within his party who he thinks could become rivals for the presidency.

Key industry

Venezuela’s oil industry is key for the government as it accounts for about 95% of the country’s export earnings.

But falling oil prices have seen earnings fall steeply and international credit ratings agencies declared PDVSA in default earlier this month.

Critics of the Maduro government say the crisis in the country’s oil industry is largely down to mismanagement and lack of investment.

But the government has long maintained that it is the victim of an “economic war” waged against it by “imperialist forces”.

More recently, however, government officials have shifted the blame on to “corrupt officials”.

Chief prosecutor Tarek William Saab said in a news conference that Mr Del Pino was suspected of playing a part in a $500m (£370m) corruption scheme at Petrozamora, a joint venture between PDVSA and Gazprom.

He also said that Mr Martínez had been detained for allegedly allowing a Citgo refinancing deal to proceed without the approval of the Venezuelan government.

The chief prosecutor said the operation had been led by Venezuela’s military counterintelligence unit.

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Inside a Sao Paulo squat

Inside a Sao Paulo squat

Amid Brazil’s worst economic crisis in decades, inequality in Brazil has remained stubbornly high.

The divide between rich and poor is driving more people to squat on disused land.

The BBC’s Katy Watson met people living in a field outside Sao Paulo.

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Argentina ‘angel of death’ gets life term

Argentina ‘angel of death’ gets life term

Two former navy officers in Argentina have been sentenced to life for crimes against humanity committed between 1976 and 1983 under military rule.

Captains Alfredo Astiz and Jorge Eduardo Acosta were found guilty of involvement in the torture and murder of hundreds of political opponents.

They are among 54 people who faced trial for crimes committed at the Naval Mechanical School, or Esma.

Astiz, known as the “angel of death”, has refused to apologise.

“The human rights organisations are groups of vengeance and persecution,” he said during the trial. “I will never ask for forgiveness.”

Both Astiz and Acosta, known as “the tiger”, were already sentenced to life in prison in 2011 for other counts of torture, murder and forced disappearance.

Campaign of terror

Out of the 54 people indicted, 29 were sentenced on Wednesday to life in prison; 19 were given sentences ranging from eight to 25 years in jail; and six were acquitted.

“This is much more than we expected,” said Miriam Lewin, who survived Esma, a well-known Buenos Aires navy school that was used as a clandestine torture centre.

She followed the sentencing with hundreds of activists and relatives of the victims outside the court building.

An estimated 30,000 people were killed after a military junta led by General Jorge Rafael Videla seized power in 1976 vowing to rid the country of the threat of communism.

During the seven-year campaign of terror, left-wing activists as well as ordinary citizens were illegally detained and killed.

They were taken to secret torture and killing centres set up by the military during what became known as the “Dirty War”.

‘Death flights’

Esma was Argentina’s biggest secret torture centre. It became a human rights museum in 2004.

About 5,000 prisoners are estimated to have been taken there and 90% did not come out alive.

Some were killed by firing squad while others were thrown from planes – drugged but still alive – into the Atlantic Ocean.

The current trial opened in 2012, focusing on crimes committed at Esma against 789 victims.

More than 60 people were indicted, but that number was reduced to 54 after some of the accused died or were judged too ill to face trial.

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Turkey seeks arrest of ex-CIA officer

Turkey seeks arrest of ex-CIA officer

Turkey’s chief prosecutor has issued an arrest warrant for former CIA officer Graham Fuller.

The prosecutor accuses Mr Fuller, former vice-chair of the US National Intelligence Council, of having links to Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Mr Gulen, who lives in the US, is blamed by Turkey for last year’s failed coup attempt. He denies the claim.

The warrant also accuses Mr Fuller of “attempting to overthrow” Turkey’s government, the Hurriyet daily reports.

More than 50,000 people have been arrested in Turkey pending trial over links to Mr Gulen.

Another 150,000 people have been sacked or suspended from jobs in the public and private sectors since the coup attempt on 15 July 2016.

Turkish-US relations have been strained in recent months.

Earlier this week, a Turkish-Iranian gold trader told a US court that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had personally approved his sanction-breaking deals with Iran.

Reza Zarrab is a key witness in the criminal trial of a Turkish banker whom he allegedly worked with to help Iran launder money.

President Erdogan has denied that Turkey breached US sanctions on Iran.

Just days before that row, Turkey denied reports that former White House aide Michael Flynn was part of a plot to help forcibly remove Mr Gulen to Turkey in exchange for millions of dollars as “ludicrous”.

In October, Washington and Ankara were involved in a consular row, mutually scaling back visa services.

Legal tit-for-tat?

By Mark Lowen, BBC News, Istanbul

To many Turkey-watchers, it smacks of outlandish conspiracy theories. But polls show a majority of Turks firmly believe that the CIA was involved in the failed coup.

And Graham Fuller is the latest in a string of foreigners that the Turkish authorities have linked to the alleged plot.

They claim Mr Fuller helped plan the attempted overthrow while in Istanbul, along with another American academic, Henri Barkey – allegations supported by an infamous pro-Kremlin Russian philosopher.

Needless to say, Mr Fuller and Mr Barkey have called the claims ludicrous.

But another factor is almost certainly at play: the trial in the US of a Turkish banker and a gold-trader on charges of sanctions-busting with Iran.

Both men are extremely close to President Erdogan, who has slammed the case as a plot against Turkey.

Amidst a frenzy of claim and counter-claim, the Turkish government could well be playing legal tit-for-tat, its supporters buying the argument that a giant Western-led conspiracy against Turkey is slowly being unearthed.

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Wanted IS jihadist killed in Georgia

Wanted IS jihadist killed in Georgia

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Georgia says a Chechen jihadist killed in a clash with special forces in the Georgian capital Tbilisi was the suspected organiser of a terror attack on Istanbul airport last year.

Akhmed Chatayev, a member of so-called Islamic State (IS), was among three militants killed during a 20-hour siege in Tbilisi a week ago.

Georgian state security said DNA tests had confirmed that Chatayev blew himself up in the besieged apartment.

The Istanbul attack killed 45 people.

Turkish authorities named Chatayev as the suspected organiser. The airport was rocked by several suicide bomb blasts, and three attackers also died in the mayhem. Turkey blamed it on IS.

Carnage after Istanbul airport attack

The deputy head of administration at Georgia’s state security service, Nino Giorgobiani, said US counter-terrorism experts had helped to investigate the Tbilisi militant group.

Chatayev and two unidentified accomplices were cornered by Georgian forces in a densely populated suburb of Tbilisi. Neighbours were evacuated before special forces exchanged fierce volleys of gunfire with the group, who had refused to negotiate.

One of the Georgian officers was killed and four were wounded in the clash.

Chatayev had been detained by Georgian police in 2012 for possession of explosives, but had left Georgia after being released on bail.

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World Cup draw: England play Belgium, Panama and Tunisia in Group G

World Cup draw: England play Belgium, Panama and Tunisia in Group G

Breaking news

England have been drawn with Belgium, Panama and Tunisia in Group G at the Fifa World Cup 2018 in Russia.

Gareth Southgate’s men will begin their tournament against Tunisia on Monday, 18 June (19:00 BST) in Volgograd.

They will then face Panama in Nizhny Novgorod on 24 June (13:00 BST) before playing top seeds Belgium four days later in Kaliningrad (19:00 BST).

Hosts Russia play Saudi Arabia in the World Cup’s opening game in Moscow on 14 June (16:00 BST).

The 2018 tournament takes place across Russia between 14 June and 15 July.

World Cup groups in full

  • Group A: Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay
  • Group B: Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran
  • Group C: France, Australia, Peru, Denmark
  • Group D: Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria
  • Group E: Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia
  • Group F: Germany, Sweden, Mexico, South Korea
  • Group G: Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England
  • Group H: Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan

More to follow.

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Turkey leader ‘knew of sanctions busting’

Turkey leader ‘knew of sanctions busting’

A controversial Turkish-Iranian gold trader has told a US court that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan personally approved his sanction-breaking deals with Iran.

Reza Zarrab, 34, is a key witness in the criminal trial of a Turkish banker whom he allegedly worked with to help Iran launder money.

Mr Erdogan has denied that Turkey breached US sanctions on Iran.

The case has strained relations between Ankara and Washington.

In his testimony, Mr Zarrab implicated Mr Erdogan in an international money laundering scheme that he and the banker, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, ran between 2010 and 2015 that allegedly allowed Iran to access international markets despite US sanctions.

He said that he was told in 2012 by the then economy minister that Mr Erdogan, who was prime minister at the time, had instructed Turkish banks to participate in the multi-million dollar scheme.

Mr Erdogan said earlier on Thursday that Turkey did not breach US sanctions on Iran, Turkish media report. His government has described the case as “a plot against Turkey”.

The Turkish president is yet to respond to the new allegations about him made in court.

Mr Atilla has pleaded not guilty. Nine people have been charged in total.

Mr Zarrab was arrested by US officials in 2016 and accused of engaging in hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of transactions on behalf of the Iranian government, money laundering and bank fraud.

But he decided to cooperate with prosecutors and is now their star witness in the New York trial.

On Wednesday, he told the court he paid Zafer Caglayan, then Turkey’s economy minister, bribes amounting to more than 50m euros ($59m; £44m) to facilitate deals with Iran.

Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister, Bekir Bozdag, responded to the allegations, saying that Mr Zarrab had been “pressured into committing slander”.

Speaking to state-run news agency Anadolu, Mr Bozdag called the trial a “theatre”.

The Turkish government had previously said that Mr Caglayan acted within Turkish and international law.

The case is being closely followed in Turkey but the country’s mainstream media have treated it with caution, BBC Turkish service’s Enis Senerdem says.

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Bail hearing for Catalan separatists

Bail hearing for Catalan separatists

A Spanish judge will decide on Monday whether to grant bail to eight former ministers of Catalonia’s regional government, judicial sources say.

The eight were remanded in custody last month over fears they could attempt to abscond, after former President Carles Puigdemont fled to Belgium.

They were brought from prison for a hearing at the Supreme Court on Friday.

All eight are accused of rebellion and sedition over the region’s illegal declaration of independence.

Supreme Court Judge Pablo Llarena will also pronounce on bail applications from two leading independence activists, the judicial sources told news agencies.

After an attempt by Catalan separatists to declare independence in October, Spain imposed direct rule on the region and called early regional elections for 21 December.

Lawyers for the ministers say they are asking to be released on bail, on condition that they accept the rule of law from Madrid and will pledge not to flee.

Privately, senior sources in the Spanish government say they would like to see the ministers released and allow them to campaign in the elections, the BBC’s Gavin Lee reports from Madrid.

They fear a martyr effect from their continued imprisonment, that could serve to galvanise support for pro-independence parties.

‘Nothing to fear’

The ministers have been in prison since 2 November. They are:

  • Former Deputy Vice President Oriol Junqueras
  • Former Interior Minister Joaquim Forn
  • Former foreign policy chief Raül Romeva
  • Former Justice Minister Carles Mundó
  • Former Labour Minister Dolors Bassa
  • Former Government Presidency Councillor Jordi Turull
  • Former Sustainable Development Minister Josep Rull
  • Former Culture Minister Meritxell Borras

Lawyers have spoken of their difficulty adjusting to prison life, with one reportedly witnessing the stabbing of an inmate in front of him.

Rebellion is considered one of the most serious crimes in Spain, carrying a jail term of up to 30 years.

Antonio López-Istúriz White, a member of the European Parliament from Spain’s ruling People’s Party, told the BBC there should be no problem in securing the ministers’ release if they promise not to flee.

“If there is a clear statement by them that they want to go by the law and they want to run in the next elections on 21 December – legal elections, which have been called in all of Catalonia – then there’s nothing to fear,” he said.

Mr Puigdemont remains in Belgium with four other former ministers, opposing a Spanish extradition request to face the same charges.

Independence activists Jordi Sánchez and Jordi Cuixart were remanded in custody on 16 October on suspicion of sedition.

They are being investigated over a protest on 20 September in which a crowd blocked police officers inside a building in Barcelona, Catalonia’s regional capital.

Catalonia’s parliament declared independence on 27 October, based on the outcome of an illegal referendum on 1 October.

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