At Least 25 Killed in S. Sudan Plane Crash

At Least 25 Killed in S. Sudan Plane Crash

Responders pick through the wreckage of a cargo plane that crashed in the capital, Juba, South Sudan, Nov. 4, 2015.

A plane crashed in South Sudan shortly after taking off from the busy Juba airport, killing at least 25 people.

Reports said the Antonov cargo plane crashed just 800 meters from the runway Wednesday, landing in thick woodland along the shore of the Nile River.

Initial reports - from witnesses, news reporters and a government official - said at least 25 people are believed to have died, a number of children among them.

U.N.-backed broadcaster Radio Miraya quoted witnesses as saying they counted as many as 40 bodies among the wreckage.

News reports said the plane had been headed for the Paloch oil fields in Upper Nile State.

Reports from the wreckage site said the plane appeared to have been carrying a cargo of food supplies as well as passengers.

It was not clear if all of the victims had been aboard the plane or if some were on the ground at the time of the crash.

China, Taiwan to Hold Historic Talks

Opposition protesters shout slogans with placards opposing the planned meeting of Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou with his China counterpart Xi Jinping in Taipei, Taiwan, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015.

Just weeks before Taiwan holds general and presidential elections, Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou announced he will hold face-to-face talks with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Singapore.

The meeting Saturday will be the first between Taiwanese and Chinese leaders since 1949 and authorities in China are predicting it will be a “major historic milestone” in the development of cross-strait relations.

In Taiwan, opposition politicians immediately voiced their concern about the talks and dozens began to rally in the capital, Taipei. Some called for the impeachment of Ma, noting that before he was re-elected to a second term in office, the president pledged to not meet with China’s leaders or discuss unification.

China claims democratically ruled Taiwan is part of its own territory and wants the two to reunify. However, support for unification with China in Taiwan is extremely low.

Surprised by meeting

Democratic Progressive Party Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen, who is also the party’s candidate in the upcoming presidential race, said she, like many others, was surprised by the announcement.

"A meeting of the leaders of the two sides across the strait is a great event, involving the dignity and national interests of Taiwan,” Tsai said. “But to let the people know in such a hasty and chaotic manner is damaging to Taiwan's democracy."

A spokesman for Ma said no private agreements will be signed during the talks and stressed that the talks aim to solidify relations between the two sides and “keep the status quo across the Taiwan Strait."

This combination of file photos shows Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The governments of Taiwan and China do not recognize each other and working out some agreement about how the two should address one another has long been a stumbling block to such high-level talks.

President Ma tried last year, albeit unsuccessfully, to attend the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ summit in Beijing. According to Chinese state media, the “cross-strait leaders” will not address one another as president during the meeting, but instead call one another “Mister.”

After holding brief talks in the afternoon, the two will hold separate press conferences and dine together in the evening.

Beijing’s grip

Relations between Taiwan and China have bloomed during Ma’s tenure, but so has public concern -- especially among younger voters -- about the island’s over-reliance on China.

Since coming to office, Ma has worked to sign 23 cross-strait trade agreements.

But even as its trade and tourism ties have grown during Ma's time in office, Taiwan’s economy has continued to struggle and there have been growing questions about just how much the island is benefiting from closer engagement with China.

An effort to push a Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement through the legislature without a clause-by-clause review was met with strong opposition last year, when young protesters occupied Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan.

In response to the announcement about the trip, protesters began to gather outside Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan and the nearby Presidential Office shortly after news of the meeting began to circulate.

Some urged Ma to call off the meeting. Protests are expected to continue and gain steam as the date for Ma’s departure approaches.

According to public opinion polls, the DPP has a strong lead over Ma’s Nationalist Party and is poised to not only win the presidential elections, but also take control over Taiwan’s legislature for the first time in the island’s history. The elections are scheduled for January 16.

Election impact

How the meeting could impact the elections was not immediately clear. Bruce Jacobs, an emeritus professor at Monash University in Australia, said the meeting is unlikely to have too much of an impact.

“If anything, it could work to Tsai’s advantage,” he said, referring to the opposition DPP’s presidential candidate, Tsai Ing-wen.

Another, and perhaps more interesting question, Jacobs added, is why is President Xi meeting with Ma now?

“I think that Xi feels that his policy with respect to Taiwan is beginning to fail,” he said. “People in Taiwan are not interested and no matter what he does it is going to fail.”

FILE - Taiwan's main opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen gives a speech at a party congress in Taoyuan, northern Taiwan, Sept. 19, 2015.
‘Historic Talks’

Chinese state media underscored news of the talks throughout the day, highlighting that Singapore was the same location where representatives of the Nationalist and Communist Party held their first talks in 1992.

Reports also emphasized how relations between Taiwan and China have improved since Ma stepped into office, but little mention was made of the challenges and Ma's lagging popularity.

Eric Chu, the Nationalist Party’s presidential candidate, echoed China’s position about the meeting, saying the talks would be an important milestone for cross-strait relations.

In the United States, White House spokesman John Earnest welcomed the news.

"The fundamental interest of the United States is in a stable and peaceful cross-strait relationship," Earnest said during a regular briefing. "But, you know, we'll have to see what actually comes out of the meeting."

Ma’s Nationalist Party fled China to Taiwan after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong's communists in 1949.

In Taiwan, the party ruled the island with an iron fist for decades, silencing dissidents, much like the Communist Party does in China. But unlike China, Taiwan gradually opened up, allowing for opposition parties. The island held its first democratic elections in 1996.


Lavrov: Need to Define Who Is Syrian Opposition, Terrorists

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday highlighted the need to decide which of the various opposition groups fighting in Syria should be a part of future peace talks and which should be considered terrorists.

Lavrov spoke at a press conference after meeting in Moscow with U.N. envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura to discuss the process of finding a political solution to the conflict that has left more than 240,000 people dead since March 2011.

Earlier Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin's office said the leader discussed the situation in Syria in a telephone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and that both men were ready to continue political dialogue.

International talks

De Mistura and Lavrov were part of international talks last week in Vienna that called for the U.N. to bring together the warring Syrian sides and help them move toward "credible, inclusive, non-sectarian governance" and a new constitution.

The participants, which included the United States, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, also said new elections should take place under U.N. supervision.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, right, listens as U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura speaks during a news conference following their talks in Moscow, Russia, Nov. 4, 2015.
Russia's Foreign Ministry said Tuesday the fate of President Bashar al-Assad should be decided by the Syrian people and that keeping him in power is not crucial to Russia's objectives.

In power

Russia's Foreign Ministry said Tuesday the fate of President Bashar al-Assad should be decided by the Syrian people and that keeping him in power is not crucial to Russia's objectives.

"We have never said Assad's staying in power is a principled aspect" of Russian policy on Syria, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told Ekho Moskvy radio. Instead, she stressed that the preservation of a functioning government in the Syrian state is central to ending more than four years of civil war.

She also warned that regime change in Syria, currently sought by a host of Western nations, could become a "regional catastrophe," making worse the effects of a war that has forced millions of people to flee the country since 2011.

Later Tuesday at the White House, spokesman Josh Earnest discounted the Russian comments, saying, "I have doubts that [they] reflect any sort of change" in what he described as Moscow's "flawed strategy" in Syria.

Russia has stepped up its military support for the embattled president in the past two months, deploying warplanes to Syria and carrying out airstrikes.

In this photo taken on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015, Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Syria President Bashar al-Assad arrive for their meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia.
Russian diplomats and military officials contend the air attacks are aimed at Islamic State extremists, but that claim is widely disputed by the U.S. and others, who say the Russians have too often bombed Syrian opposition fighters who have no connection with, or allegiance to, the Islamic State militants.

US forces

A U.S.-led coalition is also carrying out airstrikes against Islamic State extremist targets in Syria, and last week U.S. President Barack Obama announced the deployment of about 50 U.S. special-forces troops to support and advise local fighters battling Islamic State militants.

The White House said American troops in Syria will not directly engage in raids or combat.

The efficacy of the local coalition, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, remains far from clear.

Last month, the Pentagon scrapped a program aimed at training and arming Syrian rebels, after reports surfaced that the force was too small and ineffective to confront the militants.

Romanian Government Resigns Over Nightclub Tragedy

Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta leaves the government headquarters after announcing his resignation in Bucharest, Romania November 4, 2015.

Romania's Prime Minister Victor Ponta says his government is resigning in response to protests demanding he and other top officials step down after a nightclub fire resulted in 32 deaths last week.

The prime minister released his statement early Wednesday, saying he hopes his response will satisfy the thousands of protesters who marched through central Bucharest Tuesday. 

The protesters allege several senior officials allowed themselves to be bribed in exchange for permits to put on shows in crowded and unsafe clubs.

Thirty-two young concert-goers died Friday night and 200 others were badly injured, after fireworks set off during a show at the Colectiv nightclub ignited the ceiling and caused a stampede of some 400 people toward the only exit.

Waving banners reading "Corruption Kills," the protesters demanded the resignations of Prime Minister Ponta, deputy Gabriel Oprea, and the mayor of the Bucharest district, where the club was located.

Romanians fill the Calea Victoriei, a main avenue of the Romanian capital, during a large protest in Bucharest, Romania, Nov. 3, 2015.
Romanian prosecutors have ordered the three nightclub owners held for questioning.

Dozens of doctors are treating the injured, saying they are heartbroken to see so many young people whose lives have been changed forever.

While thousands marched in Bucharest Tuesday, the country honored two men that friends say were the heroes of Friday's tragedy.

President Klaus Iohannis posthumously decorated photographer Claudiu Petre and drummer Adrian Rugina. Both died while running into the burning nightclub to save others.

Iohannis said both will be remembered for "their courage and altruism and for saving lives at the cost of supreme sacrifice."

At Least 25 Killed in S. Sudan Plane Crash At Least 25 Killed in S. Sudan Plane Crash Reviewed by Ajit Kumar on 8:40 PM Rating: 5

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