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NSA backdoor surveillance handed a defeat by US Congress


The US House of Representatives has approved a measure to cut off funding for programs by the National Security Agency tasked with introducing security vulnerabilities within American tech products, otherwise known as backdoors. By an overwhelming vote of 293-123, the amendment to the Department of Defense Appropriations Act 2015–introduced by Republican Thomas Massie and Democrat Zoe Lofgren–also prohibits surveillance of Americans’ internet communications without a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. “We took a big step tonight to ‪#‎ShutTheBackDoor on unwarranted government surveillance by passing the Massie-Lofgren amendment,” Lofgren wrote on her Facebook account Thursday evening. “The House stood up for the American people and the Constitution, and that is something we can all celebrate.”





US House votes to halt Guantanamo transfers


In a late vote on Thursday evening the US House of Representatives voted to prohibit federal funds from being used for transfers of Guantanamo Bay detainees, reports The Hill. The move was prompted by the controversy ignited by the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl by the Taliban, which was secured through the transfer of five Taliban prisoners from the detention center in Guantanamo. The House amendment to the 2015 Defense appropriations bill, which was passed by a vote of 230-184, was introduced by Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark). “It simply shows the judgment of this Congress, the people’s representatives, that these remaining 149 detainees are too dangerous to be cavalierly released to a country without adequate constraints or notification to Congress,” Cotton said. The 2015 Defense appropriations bill is expected to pass on Friday.




​Cosmonauts install Satellite Data Relay Network module outside ISS


Russian cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev floated outside the International Space Station to install a communications antenna, Interfax reports citing command control. Cosmonauts successfully removed a shell of the space station’s Zvezda service module and installed an advanced communications antenna designed to beam telemetry between space and earth through the Luch. Satellite Data Relay Network or Luch is Russia’s equvallent to NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellites.

US slaps sanction on Uganda over gay rights


Washington has introduced new sanctions against Uganda that includes visa bans, selective aid freeze and canceling a military air exercise after the African country’s leaders introduced tough anti-gay laws. The law which was introduced in February, “runs counter to universal human rights and complicates our bilateral relationship,” the White House said, blaming Uganda for “human rights abuses”. The law allows gays to be jailed for life and obligates people to denounce homosexuality to the authorities.



Turkish court orders release of 230 army officers convicted of coup plot


A Turkish criminal court ordered the release on Thursday of 230 military officers convicted of plotting to topple Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Reuters said. The previous day, the constitutional court ruled that the officers’ rights had been violated in the handling of digital evidence and the refusal to hear testimony from two former top military commanders. During the 2010-12 “Sledgehammer” trial, critics accused Erdogan of using the courts to pursue a “witch hunt” against the generals.



Israel bans UK-based Muslim charity as ‘source of funding’ for Hamas


Israel on Thursday banned a British-based charity, Islamic Relief Worldwide, from operating in the occupied West Bank. IRW was accused of being a source of funding for the Palestinian Hamas Islamist movement, Reuters reported. Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon signed an order declaring the IRW an “unauthorized association.” The ruling empowers Israeli authorities to seize any funds the group might send to Palestinians in the West Bank. The IRW has not immediately commented on the ban. The organization says it has been working in the Palestinian territories since 1994, tending to underprivileged children as well as creating jobs and encouraging entrepreneurship with interest-free loans.



Denmark opens first ‘real’ mosque bankrolled by Qatar


Denmark’s largest purpose-built mosque, including the country’s first minaret, opens in Copenhagen’s gritty northwest district. The project had received a 150 million kroner ($27.2 million) endowment from Qatar, AFP said. Copenhagen’s Muslim community will have a 6,700-square meter complex with a mosque after years of political wrangling. Relations between Denmark’s largest religious minority and the majority population have been strained in recent years.



US veterinarians warn of surge in deadly pig virus cases after summer


US veterinarians have warned that outbreaks of a deadly pig virus will climb this autumn after a summertime hiatus, likely killing another 2.5 million pigs over the next 12 months, Reuters said. However, US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Wednesday said that the nation is likely “on the other side” of the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv) due to approval of the first vaccine directly available to farmers. The spread of PEDv, which thrives in cold and damp conditions, has slowed due to warmer temperatures after peaking in February. PEDv does not reportedly threaten humans or food safety.



Israel politicians warn Iraq crisis may spark US concessions to Iran


Israel fears that a jihadist offensive in Iraq may prompt concessions to Tehran from its longtime ally the US, AFP reported. If Washington needs Iran’s help to solve the Iraq crisis, the US “will need to be more flexible in negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program,” Israeli public radio cited Tourism Minister Uzi Landau as saying. “We’re in a situation where, to confront the threat from the global jihad, we rely on Iran and its allies.” A top Iranian official said Wednesday that Tehran could consider working with the US over the Iraq crisis if nuclear talks are successful.



Anti-corruption activists jailed after high-profile China trial


Three Chinese activists who campaigned for government officials to disclose their wealth were jailed on Thursday. They were among more than a dozen detained in recent months for their anti-corruption activism. Two of the activists, Liu Ping and Wei Zhongping, were sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison for using a cult to damage law enforcement, gathering a mob to disturb order in public places, and picking quarrels and provoking disputes, Reuters said.



1 killed as bomb explodes in car in Tel Aviv, criminal incident suspected


Two cars reportedly caught fire Thursday afternoon after a bomb exploded in one of the vehicles in Jaffa, Tel Aviv. One person was killed and a second wounded in what appears to have been a criminally motivated attack, the Haaretz daily said.



Explorer trapped in German cave rescued after 12 days


An injured explorer trapped in Germany’s deepest cave system for 12 days was finally brought to the surface Thursday, Reuters reported. Speleologist Johann Westhauser, 52, injured his head in a rock fall on June 8 and was unable to climb back to the surface on his own, Bavaria’s mountain rescue service said. The complex rescue operation took so long to complete because the injured man could not stand and the ascent involved steep and narrow horizontal and vertical shafts. Some 70 rescue workers were in the cave, helping to bring Westhauser out.



New Spanish king Felipe VI calls for unity with regional differences


Spain’s new king, Felipe VI, was sworn in on Thursday in a modest ceremony, Reuters reported. He called for Spain to stay united but respect the cultural differences among its regions. The new king ended a speech by saying “thank you” in Castilian Spanish, Basque, Catalan and Galician. Monarchists hope for a new era of popularity for the troubled royal family, which has been the subject of a series of corruption scandals as a recession pushes millions of Spaniards deeper into poverty.



6.4-magnitude quake strikes off Vanuatu in southern Pacific


An earthquake of magnitude 6.4 struck off the coast of the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu on Thursday, the US Geological Survey said. The quake at a depth of 69.6 miles (112 km), hit at 1027 GMT, Reuters reported. There were no reports of any casualties or damage on Vanuatu, 1,750 kilometers east of Australia, or any alert from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.



China oil firms prepare Iraq evacuation plans


China’s biggest oil firms have prepared evacuation plans in case violence spreads in Iraq, state media reported Thursday. China has more than 10,000 workers on a wide range of projects in the Middle Eastern country, AFP reported. “If insurgents begin to attack Baghdad, we will pull out of the country immediately,” the Global Times quoted an employee of Chinese state-owned energy giant China National Offshore Oil Corp. as saying.



Argentina warns of default as next bond payment ‘impossible’


Argentina threatened to default on its debt on Wednesday when the government said it was “impossible” to pay a bond payment due June 30, Reuters reported. On Monday, the US Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal by Argentina in its battle against hedge funds that refused to take part in debt restructuring offered in 2005 and 2010. The long, drawn-out debt battle in US courts has prevented Argentina from accessing international capital markets.



Bodies of Russian journalists killed in Ukraine returned to Moscow


The bodies of two Russian TV journalists who were killed near Lugansk in eastern Ukraine have been returned to Russia, their employer VGTRK said Thursday. Funerals for special correspondent Igor Kornelyuk and sound engineer Anton Voloshin are expected to take place Friday, Itar-Tass said. A three-member VGTRK camera crew came under mortar fire near the village of Metallist on the outskirts of Lugansk on June 17. The journalists were making a report about members of the local self-defense forces who were helping local residents to leave an area where fighting was going on.



6 soldiers, marine killed in clashes with Philippines militants


Six soldiers and a marine have been killed in clashes with Abu Sayyaf militants in southern islands of The Philippines, military officials said. Government forces assaulted an Abu Sayyaf camp, sparking fierce fighting in which a marine was killed after dawn Thursday in Patikul town in Sulu, a predominantly Muslim province in the south, AP reported. Army reinforcements were hit by mortar fire 10 minutes later, killing six soldiers, military spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said.



Number of Syrian refugees in Turkey exceeds 1mn – deputy PM


The number of Syrians housed in refugee camps and cities in neighboring Turkey has reached 1.05 million, Reuters quoted Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay as saying Thursday. Turkey has maintained an “open border” policy to refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria.



Suspected Iraqi Al-Qaeda commander faces charges after 7 years at Guantanamo


A Guantanamo prisoner accused of being an Al-Qaeda commander was in court Wednesday for the first time more than seven years after he was taken to the US base. Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi was arraigned before a military judge on five war crimes charges for a series of deadly attacks in Afghanistan that included using suicide bombers and improvised explosive devices to kill US and allied forces. The 53-year-old Iraqi prisoner faces up to life in prison, AP said.



Australia slaps sanctions on 50 Russians, 11 companies


Australia has imposed sanctions against 50 Russian officials and 11 companies over the events in Ukraine, the Australian Foreign Ministry said in a statement Thursday. Among those on the list are Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko and State Duma Speaker Sergey Naryshkin, Itar-Tass reported. Australia imposed similar penalties on 12 Russian and Ukrainian citizens on March 19. On May 21, Australia announced it was extending the sanctions to 38 individuals and 11 legal entities from Russia and Ukraine.



UN peacekeeping force in Mali to get unmanned drones


The UN peacekeeping force in Mali will be getting unmanned drones to help protect civilians and UN troops in the volatile north of the country, AP reported. The peacekeeping forces’ chief, Herve Ladsous, told the UN Security Council that the unmanned aerial vehicles will provide critical information for peacekeepers. The UN is already using unmanned drones in its peacekeeping operation in Congo. Ladsous said last month that he would like to deploy drones in Mali, the Central African Republic and South Sudan.



Florida execution marks third in the US in less than 24 hours


The state of Florida put to death John Ruthell Henry, a 63-year-old man who fatally stabbed his wife and her young son in 1985, Wednesday evening — making that execution the third to take place in less than 24 hours, reports the AP. The spate of executions are the first since a botched April lethal injection in Oklahoma. The US Supreme Court had turned down an appeal made by Henry’s attorneys that he was mentally incapable of understanding his death sentence. Psychiatrists who took part in his trial testified that Henry possessed a low IQ and suffered from chronic paranoia. Florida was the first US state to implement the drug midazolam hydrochloride in lethal injection, a controversial three-drug protocol first used last year during the execution of William Happ, also used in Henry’s Wednesday execution.


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