LONDON (AP) — Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has delivered the toughest condemnation yet from a Trump administration official of the persecution of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims, likening the violence against them to ethnic cleansing and demanding it stop.
On Thursday, Tillerson directed the blame toward Myanmar’s powerful military, which is responsible for security operations that have seen nearly 400,000 people flee to neighboring Bangladesh in the past three weeks after Rohingya insurgents launched coordinated attacks on government forces. He reiterated support for civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi who is facing growing pressure to speak out over the military’s conduct.
Tillerson said the U.S. appreciated the “difficult and complex situation” Suu Kyi finds herself in, sharing political power with the military, but he also described the “horrors” occurring in the Southeast Asian nation as a “defining moment” for its new democracy.
“This violence must stop, this persecution must stop. It has been characterized by many as ethnic cleansing. That must stop,” Tillerson told a news conference in London after talks with Britain and France. “We need to support Aung San Suu Kyi and her leadership but also be very clear to the military that are power-sharing in that government that this is unacceptable.”
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was more strident in criticizing Suu Kyi. He said the suffering of the Rohingya people was an “abomination,” and that Suu Kyi must use her authority to halt the violence against them.
Johnson said he admired Suu Kyi’s fight against Myanmar’s former military junta — she spent about 15 years under house arrest — but “it is now vital for her to use that moral capital, that moral authority to make the point about the suffering” of the Rohingya. He said the Nobel laureate needs to “make clear that this is an abomination and that those people will be allowed back” to their homes.
Britain was the former colonial ruler of the country also known as Burma. It came under military rule little more than a decade after independence in 1948. The United States under President Barack Obama was instrumental in coaxing the generals give up direct rule five decades later and allow a civilian government. Following 2015 elections won by her party, Suu Kyi became its de facto leader.
But the transition has been blighted by the tensions between majority Buddhists and the Rohingya, who are widely loathed in Myanmar and regarded as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, although many have lived in Myanmar for generations.
In the past few years there have been periodic explosions of violence, culminating in the current crackdown by security forces that began Aug. 25 and which top U.N. officials have also described as ethnic cleansing.
On Thursday, Amnesty International said it had turned up evidence of an “orchestrated campaign of systematic burnings” by Myanmar security forces. Based on its analysis of video, satellite photos, witness accounts and other data, the human rights group said more than 80 inhabited sites, each at least 375 meters (1,230 feet) in length, have been torched in strife-hit Rakhine State.
“The evidence is irrefutable — the Myanmar security forces are setting northern Rakhine State ablaze in a targeted campaign to push the Rohingya people out of Myanmar,” said Tirana Hassan, Amnesty’s crisis response director said in a statement.
“Security forces surround a village, shoot people fleeing in panic and then torch houses to the ground,” she said. “In legal terms, these are crimes against humanity.”
While the Trump administration has been less active on Myanmar than the Obama administration, the current wave of global condemnation has begun to galvanize a response in Washington, where Suu Kyi has long been idolized for her peaceful struggle for democracy.
Senior Republican Sen. John McCain this week canned legislative plans to authorize deeper military ties between the U.S. and Myanmar. He noted that the international community has called upon Suu Kyi to stop the violence and hold human rights abusers accountable, “but there has been no action to-date.”
On Thursday, the Senate’s top Republican, Mitch McConnell, who has long been at the forefront of U.S. policy toward Myanmar, came to Suu Kyi’s defense. McConnell said he spoke with Suu Kyi by phone on Wednesday and she repeated her call for “peace and reconciliation” in strife-torn Rakhine state. She told him she was working toward securing immediate and improved humanitarian access to the region.
The Kentucky lawmaker said her civilian government has little control over Myanmar’s military and the nation’s path to a more democratic government will take time.
“Publicly condemning Aung San Suu Kyi — the best hope for democratic reform in Burma — is not constructive,” McConnell told the Senate. “Attacking the single political leader who has worked to further democracy within Burma is likely to hinder that objective in the long run.”
Lardner reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Jill Lawless in London and Jamey Keaten in Geneva contributed to this report.
VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are watching with concern the latest round of Russian military drills that some analysts think might be the largest of their kind since the Cold War.
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, who often criticizes Russian leaders, said the war games getting underway in Belarus on Thursday are a sign the Kremlin is preparing for conflict with NATO.
“We are anxious about this drill … it is an open preparation for war with the West,” Grybauskaite told reporters.
Soldiers, tanks and weapons have arrived in Belarus, according to Lithuania’s military. Leaders and defense analysts in the Baltic states fear some of the equipment could remain in Belarus once the drills are done.
“Leaving weapons in Belarus means the Russian army could prepare bases for a sudden broad attack (…) right at the NATO border,” Lithuanian officer Darius Antanaitis said.
Russia and Belarus say the exercises scheduled to run until Sept. 20 involve 5,500 Russian and 7,200 Belarusian troops. Estonian Defense Minister Juri Liuk has said Moscow could deploy up to 100,000 troops.
While Liuk doesn’t believe the drills represent a “preparatory move” against NATO, he said “there is reason for concern, because Russian intents are often unclear.”
The 29-member alliance, of which the Baltic states are members, has boosted its own military presence in eastern Europe. The United States last month sent additional F-15 fighter jets to patrol the Baltic Sea region.
“Russia has already used similar exercises to launch military interventions to other countries like Georgia or Ukraine,” Nerijus Maliukevicius, a political analyst at Vilnius University’s Institute of International Relations and Political Science, said.
These viewed are echoed on the streets of Tallinn, the medieval capital of Estonia.
“I do not feel very good having these military exercises very close to Estonia, but again we are part of NATO,” resident Piret Veigel said. “That gives me some comfort.”
Others think fears of Russian aggression are out of proportion to the potential threat posed by the war games.
“Worries over Zapad are overkill. Russians will not seek confrontation, because they know that NATO will be watching this event closely and is certainly ready to react,” Kestutis Girnius, another Vilnius University political analyst, said.
Video Journalist Vitnija Saldava contributed to this report from Tallinn, Estonia.
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — An investigation into the rough arrest of a Utah nurse who refused to allow a blood draw on an unconscious patient found evidence that police officers violated department policies, the mayor of Salt Lake City said Wednesday.
Mayor Jackie Biskupski discussed the findings in an unusual step aimed at repairing public trust after a video surfaced of the nurse being dragged from the hospital in handcuffs on July 26.
“The rift this has caused in our city must be healed,” the mayor said, citing threats made to 911 dispatchers and to her staff following the arrest.
The internal affairs investigation found evidence that Detective Jeff Payne and Lt. James Tracy broke guidelines on arrests, ethics and officer conduct, among others.
Greg Skordas, a lawyer for Payne, said he disputes some of the conclusions in the report and plans to prepare a response for the police chief. Attorney Ed Brass, who represents Tracy, didn’t return messages seeking comment.
Salt Lake City police chief Mike Brown will use the results of the investigation, as well as a civilian review board conclusion that policies were broken, when he decides what consequences the officers will face, the mayor said. There is no deadline for the decision.
Prosecutors have also opened a criminal investigation into the conduct.
An attorney for nurse Alex Wubbels said she was relieved about the findings involving the officers.
“These were two seasoned officers who apparently believed they had carte blanche to do exactly what they were doing,” lawyer Karra Porter said.
The detective who cuffed Wubbels has come under the most scrutiny. However, Porter said she’s also concerned about the behavior of Tracy, the supervisor who recommended the arrest and did not release Wubbels after he arrived at the scene to find her in handcuffs.
Brass has said his client has been the target of threats since the video was released. Brass has called for people to withhold judgment until the investigations are complete.
Skordas has said his client would walk away rather than put Wubbels in handcuffs, if he had it to do over again.
Both officers were put on paid administrative leave after Porter and Wubbels released the video on Aug. 31.
The mayor and police chief have apologized, and the department has updated its policy to match the hospital guidance that Wubbels followed when she refused to allow Payne to draw blood without formal consent or a warrant.
CLEVELAND (AP) — LeBron James has bounced some love toward the Cleveland Indians for their winning streak.
Shortly after the Indians set the AL record with their 21st straight win on Wednesday, the NBA star posted a video to congratulate the team.
“There’s no way I can let another day go by without shouting out the home team Cleveland Indians, 21-game winning streak,” James said. “What ya’ll are doing right now, keep it going.”
James joked that he’ll do another video when the Indians win 40 games in a row, and later asked Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor to get him a jersey, “ASAP.”
The Akron native has backed the Indians in the past, attending some of their playoff and World Series games last year along with his Cavs teammates. He even addressed the crowd at Progressive Field before Game 2 of last year’s division series, reminding fans “it’s Cleveland against the world.”
James promised to be at the ballpark soon.
MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (AP) — Lucia Topolansky, the wife of former President Jose Mujica, became Uruguay’s vice president on Wednesday after lawmakers accepted Raul Sendic’s resignation amid corruption accusations.
Topolansky, 72, is a former guerrilla who was imprisoned and later rose through the political ranks to become a lawmaker. She will also head the Senate and the congress’ general assembly.
Sendic, 54, announced his departure over the weekend amid allegations of corruption stemming from purported credit-card misuse during his tenure as head of state oil company ANCAP. It is the first time a vice president has stepped down in the South American nation.
The corruption allegations surfaced in June, when the weekly publication Busqueda reported that between 2010 and 2013, Sendic used corporate credit cards to make purchases at jewelry, electronics, furniture and other stores apparently unrelated to his official business.
A tribunal of his political party determined he may have engaged in “unacceptable use of public funds” and accused him of lying in his defense. Sendic appeared before the tribunal but was unable to explain the purchases other than to say they seemed “strange.”
Under the constitution, Sendic should be replaced by the senator at the top of the party list that received the most votes in the last elections. That person is Mujica. But the former president is ineligible due to a prohibition on presidential re-election. The senator next in line is his wife.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Former President Barack Obama announced Wednesday that he plans to invite civic leaders to Chicago next month to exchange ideas and plan ways to solve some of the world’s common problems.
The inaugural Obama Foundation leadership summit “will be a place to gather and learn from one another, and then go back to your communities to lead others in the hard work of change,” Obama said in a video and email released to supporters.
The former president said he expects the summit, which will be Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, to bring hundreds of leaders from around the world.
The summit will be the beginning of several activities the foundation is planning, Obama said. “In the weeks and months ahead, we’ll be kicking off more initiatives and opportunities for people like you to get involved with the Obama Foundation’s mission,” he said. “That mission is simple: We want to inspire and empower people to change the world.”
One of the new projects is an Obama Foundation fellowship “to support and elevate outstanding civic innovators – individuals from around the world who are working with their fellow citizens to tackle big challenges,” Obama said in the email. Another project will be “training days,” which he said will “teach young people how to put civics into action where they live.”
Other projects are in the works, including the merging of Obama’s signature My Brother’s Keeper Alliance program fully into the Obama Foundation.
“This is only the beginning. Our programs will grow as we continue to listen and learn,” said David Simas, the foundation’s CEO.
While staying out of the public’s eye for much of his post-presidency, Obama has re-emerged in the last few days. He surprised students at a Washington, D.C. high school on Friday, and will attend a fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee on Sept. 27, only the second time he’s publicly raised money for his party since leaving the White House.