Home' Greymouth Star : May 22nd 2015 Contents Greymouth Star
8 - Friday, May 22, 2015
Islamic State fighters tightened their grip on
the historic Syrian city of Palmyra overnight
and overran Iraqi government defences east of
Ramadi, the provincial capital that they seized
five days earlier.
The twin successes not only pile pressure
on Damascus and Baghdad but throw doubt
on a United States strategy of relying almost
exclusively on air strikes to support the fight
against Islamic State.
US and coalition forces had conducted 18 air
strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and
Iraq since yesterday, the US military said.
The British-based Syrian Obser vatory for
Human Rights said the al Qaeda offshoot now
controlled more than half of all Syrian territory
after more than four years of conflict that grew
out of an uprising against President Bashar al-
The monitoring group added that Islamic State
had seized the last border crossing between
Syria and Iraq controlled by the Damascus
government. The crossing is in Syria’s Homs
province, where Palmyra is located.
Fighters loyal to the Sunni Muslim group have
also consolidated their grip on the Libyan city
of Sirte, home town of former leader Muammar
The White House said the seizure of Palmyra
was a setback for US-led coalition forces in
their fight against Islamic State. But spokesman
Josh Earnest said President Barack Obama
disagreed with Republicans demanding he send
ground troops to fight the Islamist militants.
Islamic State said in a statement posted by
followers on Twitter it was in full charge of
Palmyra, including its military bases, marking
the first time it had taken a city directly from
the Syrian military and allied forces.
The United Nations human rights office
in Geneva said a third of Palmyra’s 200,000
residents may have fled the fighting in the past
UN human rights spokeswoman Ravina
Shamdasani also said there were reports of
government forces preventing civilians leaving,
although state media said pro-government
National Defence Forces had evacuated civilians
“Isil (Islamic State) has reportedly been
carrying out door-to-door searches in the
city, looking for people affiliated with the
government,” Shamdasani said. “At least 14
civilians are reported to have been executed by
Isil in Palmyra this week.”
The ultra-hardline group has destroyed
antiquities in Iraq and there are fears it might
now devastate Palmyra, home to renowned
Roman-era ruins including well-preser ved
temples, colonnades and a theatre.
The UN cultural agency, UNESCO, describes
the site as a historical crossroads between the
Roman Empire, India, China and ancient Persia
and a testament to the world’s diverse heritage.
“ We may have different beliefs . . . different
views, but we have to protect such incredible
vestiges of human history,” UNESCO director-
general Irina Bokova said.
Abdulkarim, said: “ This is the fall of a
civilisation. Human, civilised society has lost
the battle against barbarism.”
Al-Azhar, the centre of Islamic learning in
Egypt, urged the world to protect Palmyra,
saying the destruction of cultural heritage was
forbidden by Islam.
Rami Abdulrahman, founder of the Syrian
Obser vatory for Human Rights, said Islamic
State fighters had entered the ancient sites last
evening, but there were no immediate reports of
Abdulrahman, who bases his information on a
network of sources on the ground, said at least
100 pro-government fighters had been killed in
the area since yesterday.
The assault is part of a westward advance by
Islamic State that is adding to pressures on
Syria’s overstretched army and militias, which
have also lost ground in the north-west and
Taking Palmyra gives Islamic State access
to modern army installations and control of
a desert highway linking government-held
Damascus and Homs with Syria’s mainly rebel-
Although Islamic State has seized large
chunks of Syria, the areas it holds are mostly
sparsely inhabited. Syria’s main cities, including
the capital Damascus, are located on its western
flank, along the border with Lebanon and on
Just five days before Palmyra fell, Islamic State
seized Ramadi, capital of Iraq’s largest province,
Anbar, where the Sunni Muslim Islamic State
has tapped into resentment among local Sunnis
who say they have been marginalised by Shi’ite-
led governments in Baghdad.
Iraq’s government has ordered Shi’ite militias,
some of which have close ties to Iran, to join the
battle to retake Ramadi, raising fears of renewed
sectarian strife. — Reuters
Eight British men appeared in court
overnight accused of carrying out
a daring raid in London’s jewellery
business district that involved abseiling
down an elevator shaft and drilling
through a 2m thick wall.
The eight, who range in age from 48
to 76, appeared in the Westminster
Magistrate’s Court charged with
conspiracy to burgle the Hatton Garden
Safety Deposit Ltd building over the
course of two nights during the long
Easter weekend last month.
British media have estimated that the
raid on a vault full of boxes in which
many of the area’s gold, diamond and
jewellery businesses kept some of their
goods may have been the country’s
biggest heist in history by value.
Police have not confirmed that and
the court heard only that the full value
of what was taken was over £10 million
“This case is a notorious one,”
prosecutor Edmund Hall told the court,
before giving details of how the men
broke their way into the vault and made
off with the contents of 73 safety deposit
The eight suspects were brought to
court in a convoy accompanied by
armed police. Grey-haired or balding,
some rather portly, they appeared in the
dock surrounded by security guards. The
oldest, Brian Reader, shuffled in as family
members in the public gallery waved.
Hatton Garden, in the heart of London,
has been home to the gem trade for
centuries and boasts almost 300 dealers
and more than 50 jewellery shops.
After initial embarrassment for the
police, who failed to send any officers
when a burglar alarm sounded in the
safety deposit building at the start of
the raid, detectives arrested nine men in
London and nearby Kent on Tuesday.
Police said they had recovered
“significant amounts of high value
property” which they were confident had
been taken from the vault.
Eight men were charged while the
ninth has been bailed pending further
investigations. Police said overnight that
a 10th man had been arrested.
Four of the eight suspects who appeared
in court are in their 50s, one in his 60s
and the oldest are 74 and 76.
Brian Reader, 76, and Paul Reader, 50,
have been described by British media as
a father and son. Police gave the same
address for both men but did not confirm
The eight men were remanded in
custody until the next hearing, at
Southwark Crown Court on June 4.
Ireland votes tonight on
whether to allow gay marriage
in a referendum that could
make the once deeply-Catholic
country the first in the world
to adopt the policy by popular
The reform is backed by all
political parties, championed
by big employers and endorsed
by celebrities, all hoping it will
mark a transformation in the last
country in western Europe to
decriminalise homosexuality just
over two decades ago.
leaders, have raised concerns
over parenthood and surrogacy
rights for gay couples. But polls
indicate that the referendum will
be passed by a margin of as much
“My message to people is that
if you believe in equality, do not
be complacent, do not leave it to
others,” Prime Minister Enda
Kenny, a practising Catholic
who has spoken of his personal
journey to become a leading
advocate for gay marriage, said.
“Say yes, yes to inclusion, yes to
rights, yes to love, yes to equality.
Take away those burdens for
people and let them be who they
A number of American States
recognise gay unions as do Brazil,
France, New Zealand, Britain
and other countries, but none
have extended civil marriage
to same-sex couples by way of
a national referendum. Recent
votes in Slovenia and Croatia
Pollsters say a ratification may
hinge on whether younger voters,
tens of thousands of whom have
registered to vote in recent
months, actually turn up to cast
Results, which will be declared
on Saturday night, will also be
closely watched for an urban/
rural split. When voters legalised
divorce by a razor thin majority
in 1995, only five of the 30
constituencies outside Dublin
backed the proposal.
Shorn of much of its influence
after a series of sex abuse scandals,
the Catholic Church has mainly
limited its campaigning to
sermons to its remaining flock
but nevertheless made a last-
minute appeal to voters.
“I think the days when
bishops tell people how to vote
is long since gone but we have
constantly said this is not a
simple thing,” Archbishop of
Dublin Diarmuid Martin told
national broadcaster RTE in a
rare inter view.
“Marriage isn’t just about two
people falling in love, marriage
and family and children are all
linked together and you can’t tear
them apart.” — Reuters
Ireland poised to back gay marriage
Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak said
overnight he had ordered the navy to rescue
thousands of migrants adrift at sea, as a Thai
official said Myanmar had agreed to attend an
emergency conference on the crisis.
Diplomats say Myanmar has up to now
resisted calls for it to take part in meetings
on the stranded “boat people”, many of them
Rohingya Muslims who have long complained
of discrimination in Myanmar.
The apparent shift in its position came after
Malaysia and Indonesia’s foreign ministers
held talks with senior officials in Myanmar
overnight. Western powers and aid groups have
also urged Myanmar to increase its involvement,
and called on regional powers to do more.
The crisis has seen thousands of migrants,
also including Bangladeshis fleeing persecution
and poverty at home, pushed back out to sea by
Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Many now face sickness, and possible
star vation, say aid groups.
“I have further ordered the navy and APMM
(Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency) to
conduct search and rescue efforts on Rohingya
boats,” Najib said on his Twitter account.
“ We have to prevent loss of life,” he said,
adding that humanitarian aid would be
delivered by land and sea.
Malaysia and Indonesia yesterday said they
would let as many as 7000 migrants on the seas
now to come ashore temporarily, but no more.
A Thai official said Myanmar had agreed
to attend a regional summit on the issue in
Bangkok next week, without going into further
details. Officials in Myanmar did not respond to
requests for comment.
“ We will continue to encourage Myanmar in
their process of reform and democratisation.
Because in the end we believe it will create
an environment conducive for the Rohingya,”
a spokesman for Indonesia’s foreign ministry,
Armanatha Nasir, said.
Rohingya Muslims have complained of
State-sanctioned discrimination in majority-
Buddhist Myanmar and are denied citizenship.
Myanmar denies discriminating against the
group and has said it is not the source of the
Indonesia and Malaysia have said that
temporary shelters would be set up to house
the migrants but Thailand, a traditional transit
point for migrants trying to reach Malaysia
illegally to find work, said it would not follow
“There will definitely be no migrant shelters,”
Thai Prime Minister and coup leader Prayuth
Chan-ocha told parliament in Bangkok
yesterday, adding that existing detention centres
would be used to hold those found to have
entered Thailand illegally.
Thailand has said it would stop towing boats
back to sea, something Malaysia and Indonesia
had been doing in recent days, and will allow
the sick to come to shore for attention, but has
stopped short of saying whether it would allow
other migrants to disembark. — Reuters
Malaysian navy told
to rescue ‘boat people’
town may set up
A Japanese town notorious for killing
dolphins may set up a dolphin breeding
farm after zoos and aquariums decided
to stop buying their animals caught in
the wild, but it has no plans to halt the
controversial hunt, its mayor says.
The western port town of Taiji, the
location of an annual hunt featured in
the Oscar-winning 2009 documentary
The Cove, may suffer a loss of income
because of yesterday ’s decision, which
Japanese officials said came in response
to foreign pressure.
The decision by Japan’s zoos and
aquariums came after the World
Association of Zoos and Aquariums
threatened Japan with expulsion unless
it stopped buying dolphins from Taiji.
That would have meant Japan might lose
access to zoo animals such as elephants
and giraffes from overseas.
In 2013, 1239 dolphins were caught in
the Taiji hunt, according to the Fisheries
Agency. Most of them were killed for
their meat but 172 were sold alive, mainly
overseas, at a price of at least $US8200
Mayor Kazutaka Sangen told reporters
that the town was considering setting up
a dolphin breeding centre by penning
off a section of a cove, apparently with
the aim of winning back customers who
want to buy live animals.
“ We plan to protect our fishermen,
who have authority from both the nation
and the local government,” Sangen said,
emphasising the tradition of the hunt.
US strategy questioned
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