South Africa probes death of man ‘dragged by police van’

South Africa has opened a murder investigation into the death of a Mozambican taxi driver who was filmed being dragged by a police van through the streets, in a case that has sparked widespread outrage.

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Video footage taken by a bystander shows 27-year-old Mido Macia tussling with half a dozen police officers before being handcuffed to the back of a police van and dragged to a local police station in Daveyton, east of Johannesburg, on Tuesday.

A large crowd of horrified bystanders looked on, some warning the uniformed officers they were being filmed. “Hey! Hey! Why are you hitting him?” one person in the crowd can be heard shouting in Zulu.

Kicking and struggling to avoid the tarmac, Macia was taken into custody at Daveyton police station and was found dead less than two hours and 25 minutes later, according to investigators.

A post mortem found the cause of death was head injuries with internal bleeding.

South African President Jacob Zuma condemned the killing as “horrific, disturbing and unacceptable”.

“No human being should be treated in that manner,” he said in a statement.

The Independent Police Investigative Directorate said it had opened a murder investigation.

“We are investigating an incident involving the death of man, allegedly at the hands of the police. We are shocked by the footage which has been released,” said Independent Police Investigative Directorate spokesman Moses Dlamini.

“The circumstances surrounding his death are still allegations… let’s find out what really happened,” he said.

The police watchdog and witnesses said two officers initially confronted Macia for parking his Toyota Avanza taxi illegally.

Eyewitnesses said Macia had been trying to get his driving license back from the police when an altercation occurred. But witnesses denied police suggestions the victim had tried to disarm one of the officers.

“He was just pushing them, not trying to take the gun,” said George Nxumalo, a 57-year-old Daveyton resident.

Around half a dozen officers were at the scene soon after, some clad in stab vests and at least one brandishing a pistol.

The taxi driver was found dead in his cell at around 21:15 (1915 GMT).

Footage of the incident spread quickly online, sending shockwaves through the country.

Daveyton residents marched on the police station on Thursday after claiming they were dispersed with pepper spray the day before.

“They are criminals in uniform, we don’t want them, we want the law to take its course, otherwise we will take the law into our own hands,” said Bongani Hlela, a street trader based at the taxi rank were the incident occurred.

“Just because he was Mozambican does not mean that he should be treated badly. We are all African, we have rights,” he added.

The Mozambique government said it was “outraged by what happened”.

“It is very sad that a life was lost so stupidly,” Foreign Affairs Minister Oldemiro Baloi told reporters in the capital Maputo.

“I think that whatever perspective you want to attach to it — either human or the relations between the two countries — it is absolutely unacceptable.”

South African police commissioner Riah Phiyega expressed “deep concern” about the incident, saying it was being viewed “in a very serious light”.

The police department said no officers had been suspended yet in the case.

Macia’s death is the latest in a series of crises to hit the country’s beleaguered police service, which was pilloried for the shooting deaths of 34 miners last August and for its handling of the Oscar Pistorius case.

“This appalling incident involving excessive force is the latest in an increasingly disturbing pattern of brutal police conduct,” said Noel Kututwa, Amnesty International’s southern Africa director.

The Independent Police Investigative Directorate received 720 new cases for investigation of suspicious deaths in custody or in other policing contexts from April 2011 to March 2012, according to Amnesty.

The opposition Democratic Alliance party called for a full investigation by South Africa’s human rights commission and for the officers involved to be suspended.

“Macia paid for parking on the wrong side of the road with his life. Instead of issuing him with a ticket, the police killed him,” said shadow police minister Dianne Kohler Barnard.

“How much longer must South Africans live in fear of the very people who are supposed to protect them?”


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NKorea on strike standby after US drill

The order came as US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, with tensions soaring on the Korean peninsula, said Washington would not be cowed by Pyongyang’s bellicose threats and stood ready to respond to “any eventuality”.

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Kim directed his rocket units on standby at an overnight emergency meeting with top army commanders, hours after nuclear-capable US B-2 stealth bombers were deployed in ongoing US joint military drills with South Korea.

In the event of any “reckless” US provocation, North Korean forces should “mercilessly strike the US mainland… military bases in the Pacific, including Hawaii and Guam, and those in South Korea”, he was quoted as saying by the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

While North Korea has no proven ability to conduct such strikes, Kim said: “The time has come to settle accounts with the US imperialists.”

The youthful leader argued that the stealth bomber flights went beyond a simple demonstration of force and amounted to a US “ultimatum that they will ignite a nuclear war at any cost”.

An unidentified South Korean military official quoted by Yonhap news agency said a “sharp increase” in personnel and vehicle movement had been detected at the North’s mid- and long-range missile sites.

The United States rarely acknowledges B-2 flights to the Korean peninsula, which remains technically at war. The aircraft, which dodge anti-aircraft defences, bombed targets in conflicts in Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.

The flights came as part of annual drills between the United States and South Korea, which North Korea each year denounces as rehearsals for war.

Pyongyang has been particularly vocal this time, angered by UN sanctions imposed after its long-range rocket launch in December and the third nuclear test it carried out last month.

Kim’s order formalised steps already taken by the Korean People’s Army (KPA), which put its strategic rocket units at combat-ready status on Tuesday. The following day it cut the last remaining military hotline with South Korea.

The bulk of the threats emanating from Pyongyang have been dismissed as bluster, and North Korea has no confirmed missile capability to reach the US mainland — or indeed Guam or Hawaii in the Pacific.

But Washington has opted to match the threats with its own muscle-flexing.

“We will be prepared — we have to be prepared — to deal with any eventuality,” Hagel told reporters at the Pentagon.

“We must make clear that these provocations by the North are taken by us very seriously and we’ll respond to that,” Hagel said, defending the B-2 deployment.

US military intelligence has noted that the North’s warlike rhetoric has not, so far, been matched by any overtly provocative troop build-up.

Pyongyang has also been careful not to allow tensions to affect the Kaesong industrial complex, a joint South-North venture that provides the regime with crucial hard currency.

Present at the emergency meeting convened by Kim in Pyongyang were the KPA chief of general staff, director of operations and commander of strategic rocket operations.

KCNA provided an unusually precise timing for the meeting of 00:30 am (1530 GMT Thursday) in an apparent effort to underline the urgency and import of Kim’s order.

But analysts warned against reading too much into what is the latest in a long series of incremental rhetorical upgrades.

“It shouldn’t be taken to mean war is imminent,” said Kim Yong-Hyun, a North Korea expert at Dongguk University.

“It’s an inevitable and calibrated reaction to the B-2 deployment, and this who-blinks-first game with the United States will continue for a while yet,” he said.

On the assumption that the North would never invite a full-scale conflict it would surely lose, experts believe it may opt for a limited provocation, similar to its 2010 shelling of a South Korean island that killed four people.


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Three Afghans killed in attack on US base

A Taliban suicide car bombing has hit a US-run base in eastern Afghanistan, killing at least three Afghans and wounding seven others.

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Afghan interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said the attack on Wednesday was a suicide car bombing and happened near the entrance of Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost, a Taliban flashpoint that borders Pakistan.

“Three Afghan nationals are killed and seven Afghan nationals are wounded. We have no report of coalition casualties right now,” said Major Martin O’Donnell, a spokesman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

The blast was so powerful that it rattled the windows of buildings in the city, some four kilometres away, an AFP journalist said.

In December 2009 an al-Qaeda triple agent blew himself up at FOB Chapman, killing seven CIA agents and his Jordanian handler, the deadliest attack on the US intelligence agency since 1983.

The Taliban, which has waged a bloody insurgency against foreign and Afghan government forces for the past 11 years since being ousted from power in an invasion led by the US, claimed Wednesday’s attack.

“The attack was carried out by a mujahid named Omar from Khost who knew the area very well,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed told AFP by email.

He said the attacker “detonated a car bomb while American invading forces were searching visitors going to the base”. In August 2010, 24 Taliban militants, some wearing US uniforms, were killed when they tried to storm Camp Chapman and another nearby US base, Camp Salerno, which was also the target of a suicide truck bombing in June this year.

Khost is one of the most volatile parts of Afghanistan, sharing a porous border with Pakistan’s tribal belt, which lies outside government control, and where US officials say the Taliban and al-Qaeda have carved out rear bases for operations in Afghanistan.


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Melbourne boy rallies funds for Yemen shooting victim

Saleem al-Harazi was on a mission to buy eggs and milk for his family in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, when his life was changed forever.

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As he walked through Change Square, the 11-year-old was shot in the face by a sniper during the bloodiest day in Yemen’s recent history.

VISIT Saleem’s fundraiser page, set up by Jylon and Iona

It was March 18 2011 and the Arab Spring had just begun to ripple through the region.

Saleem al-Harazi recovers in hospital after after being shot in the face in Yemen’s Change Square during a day of protest. (Image: Iona Craig)

More than a year later, and after losing both his eyes, Saleem’s life is starting to return to normal, but his story has become one of the tragic symbols of the human impact of Yemen’s Revolution.

It was through a haunting image in National Geographic magazine that Jylon Grandy, a 10-year-old schoolboy from suburban Melbourne, first stumbled across Saleem’s story.

“I came across this page and Saleem al-Harazi was sitting on a couch with his mum. I looked at his eyes and thought ‘where did they go?’” he explains.

Jylon’s mother Sharon says reading about Saleem’s shooting “deeply upset” her son. “We couldn’t console him. It was a very emotional evening.”

Unable to shake the idea that a child on the other side of the world had experienced such a horrific incident, Jylon — largely unprompted by his parents — came up with a plan to raise money to help the young Yemeni boy.

“I was brainstorming what I could do for him, and I came up with the best idea: a walk-a-thon.”

Supported by his parents and his school, Jylon’s plan started ticking into action.

The family contacted Iona Craig, a freelance journalist currently based in Yemen, who was in Change Square with tens of thousands of others the day Saleem was shot.

LISTEN: Iona Craig talks about the shootings in Change Square on March 18


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Scientists track whales by following their songs

An Australian-led group of scientists has for the first time tracked down and tagged Antarctic blue whales by using acoustic technology to follow their songs, the government said today.

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The blue whale, the largest animal on the planet, is rarely spotted in the Southern Ocean but a group of intrepid researchers were able to locate and tag some of the mammals after picking up on their deep and complex vocals.

Environment Minister Tony Burke said the researchers, who spent seven weeks working from small boats in freezing Antarctic conditions, were captivated by the remarkable behaviour of the whales they saw.

“The Antarctic blue whale can grow to over 30 metres in length and weigh up to 180 tonnes, its tongue alone is heavier than an elephant and its heart is as big as a small car,” Burke said.

“Even the largest dinosaur was smaller than the blue whale.”

The scientists collected 23 biopsy samples and attached satellite tags to two of the whales.

“The tags transmitted never-before obtained data on rapid longitudinal movements during their summer feeding season and their foraging behaviour in relation to the edge of the Antarctic ice,” tagger Virginia Andrews-Goff said.

“This method of studying Antarctic blue whales has been so successful it will now become the blueprint for other whale researchers across the world.”

The inaugural Southern Ocean trip of the Antarctic Blue Whale Project involved deploying acoustic buoys west of the Ross Sea to pick up blue whale songs, which can be detected from hundreds of kilometres (miles) away.

They recorded 626 hours of songs, with 26,545 calls of Antarctic blue whale analysed in real time, said lead acoustician Brian Miller.

“The researchers were then able to triangulate the position of the whales from their vocalisations and direct the ship to the target area,” he said.

Burke said the study proved it was not necessary to kill whales to conduct scientific research, a reference to Japan’s annual whale hunt in the Antarctic, which is conducted in the name of scientific research.

“The Antarctic blue whale barely escaped extinction during the industrial whaling era in the 1900’s when around 340,000 whales were slaughtered,” Burke said in a statement.

“This research reinforces Australia’s commitment to non-lethal research of whales.”


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