UPDATE 1-AIRSHOW-Philippine Air nears deal to acquire Airbus A350s -sources

2016-02-14 07:31:06

(Adds background)By Neil Jerome Morales and Anshuman DagaMANILA/SINGAPORE Feb 14 Philippine Airlines Inc (PAL) is close to announcing a deal to secure about half a dozen wide-body Airbus jets to serve U.S. and Europe long-haul flights, several people familiar with the matter said.The deal for Airbus A350-900 jets, likely to be announced at this week's Singapore Airshow, would be valued around $1.8 billion at list prices based on an outright purchase, though other deal structures may be considered, said the people who were not authorised to speak to the media.One source said this could involve PAL leasing the planes.PAL and Europe's Airbus declined to comment. "We do not comment on discussions we may or may not be having with our customers," an Airbus spokesman said."PAL will announce in due time its fleet orders which will add to its existing roster of aircraft," the airline said in an emailed statement responding to a query from Reuters. "These will be utilised for international routes. It is a choice between an A350 and (Boeing) 787, as stated by PAL President Jaime Bautista last year."PAL's order comes at a time when rival Cebu Pacific is also expanding its local routes.PAL, the country's No. 2 airline, is taking in more aircraft as it grows its lucrative international network to cater to increased demand from millions of Filipinos working overseas. PAL's expected fleet acquisition underscores the buoyant outlook for Southeast Asia's fifth-largest economy as it bucks a global slowdown. It is forecast to expand by 6 percent this year - one of the fastest growth rates in Asia.However, there are concerns among manufacturers gathering in Singapore that overall demand for new jetliners is slowing after a record wave of orders.The Philippines' fourth richest man, Lucio Tan, began a review of PAL's operations after taking over the airline's management in 2014.PAL and its budget unit operate about 60 Airbus jets, six Boeing aircraft and around nine Bombardier airplanes. (Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales, Anshuman Daga, Siva Govindasamy and Tim Hepher, Editing by Eric Meijer)

Oregon refuge searched for evidence, explosives after occupiers leave

2016-02-13 07:01:05

BURNS, Ore. Police and federal agents searched a U.S. wildlife refuge in Oregon for explosives and evidence on Friday, a day after the last holdouts in a protest over federal control of Western land surrendered to end a six-week armed standoff.Federal authorities said the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon would remain closed for several weeks as agents secured what is now considered a crime scene.After their surrender on Thursday, protesters told authorities they had left behind booby traps but did not say whether the trip wires and other devices would trigger explosions, a law enforcement official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters.Materials to create explosives could be found on the refuge, the official said, because workers there previously performed controlled burns.The final four protesters had enough food on hand to last them for many months, the official said. The nearby town of Burns, which has been caught in the middle as the occupiers protested federal government control of expanses of Western land, was quiet on Friday as residents sought to resume normal life after the 41-day standoff.The final four protesters surrendered on Thursday with David Fry, 27, repeatedly threatening suicide in a dramatic final phone call with mediators before he gave up. All 12 people arrested in connection with the standoff will face charges of conspiracy to impede federal officers, according to the FBI.The takeover, which began on Jan. 2, was sparked by the return to prison of two Oregon ranchers convicted of setting fires that spread to federal property near the refuge. It was led by brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy, who were arrested in January along with nine other protesters on a snow-covered roadside while on their way to speak at a community meeting in John Day, Oregon. A spokesman for the group, Robert "LaVoy" Finicum, was shot dead in the stop.The Bundys' father, Cliven, was arrested on Wednesday night in Portland and charged with conspiracy and assault on a federal officer in connection with a 2014 standoff on federal land near his Nevada ranch. The official who spoke to Reuters on the condition of anonymity said that the Bundy brothers and others began confronting the local sheriff in November but federal authorities did not get involved until the protesters began occupying the refuge.That low profile was intentional because "a federal face is often a trigger for these militia" groups, the official said.The official told Reuters that authorities made the decision to arrest the Bundy brothers and their fellow protesters out of concern that the standoff movement could spread as the group took their message to other communities. (Additional reporting by Julia Edwards in Washington, D.C. Jonathan Allen in New York, and Victoria Cavaliere in Los Angeles; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Sara Catania, Phil Berlowitz and Bill Trott)

N.Y. policeman guilty of manslaughter in shooting of unarmed black man

2016-02-12 07:30:14

NEW YORK A New York City police officer was convicted of manslaughter on Thursday for fatally shooting an unarmed black man in a darkened public housing stairwell.A jury in Brooklyn found Peter Liang guilty in connection with the death of Akai Gurley, 28, who was killed by a bullet fired from Liang's gun on Nov. 20, 2014, that ricocheted off a wall.A stunned Liang buried his head in his hands after the verdict was read in court.He faces up to 15 years in prison when he is sentenced in April. The mostly white jury deliberated for more than two days.The shooting added to nationwide protests in cities like Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, over the use of police force against minorities, though Liang, a Chinese-American, was not accused of deliberately killing Gurley.The rookie officer was on patrol inside a Brooklyn public housing project with his partner and drew his gun upon entering a pitch-black stairwell.He fired a single bullet that glanced off a wall and into the chest of Gurley, who was walking one floor below.At trial, Liang, 28, testified that a sudden noise startled him, causing his finger to slip onto the trigger and fire. It was only after descending the stairs, Liang said, that he realized the errant bullet had hit Gurley."Oh my God, someone's hit," a tearful Liang recalled saying upon finding a bleeding Gurley lying on a landing, as his girlfriend frantically tried to revive him. But prosecutors argued Liang fired toward the sound deliberately and that he must have known only another person could have caused the noise that surprised him."It was a tragedy, but justice was done," Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson told the television station NY1. He added that the verdict showed Akai Gurley's life mattered, echoing the "Black Lives Matter" movement.A defense lawyer for Liang, Robert Brown, said he would appeal and warned that the verdict would put officers in danger."It says to the NYPD, you have to be very cautious about taking your gun out, to the point of risking your own life," he said.Gurley's family and friends expressed gratitude after the conviction. "I'm just glad we got a guilty verdict," said Kimberly Ballinger, his domestic partner and the mother of his young daughter.Activists cheered the outcome on social media, with many saying it was an important step in holding officers accountable. Organizers had already called for a demonstration on Friday at police headquarters regardless of the jury's decision.Liang's indictment last year came weeks after a grand jury declined to charge a white New York officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man, sparking citywide protests.Thompson said the Liang case had no connection to the ongoing debate over police tactics."This officer was indicted not because of what is happening elsewhere in the country but because of what happened in that stairwell," he said. "This conviction is not a conviction of the entire NYPD." But Patrick Lynch, the president of the city's largest police union, said the verdict "will have a chilling effect on police officers across the city because it criminalizes a tragic accident."Liang was also convicted of official misconduct for failing to offer Gurley aid. His lawyers argued he was in shock and felt unqualified to perform CPR due to inadequate training.As the trial concluded on Tuesday, prosecutors offered jurors a new and more damning account, claiming for the first time that Liang aimed a shot on purpose toward the sound he heard."I think it's clear to you that he knew someone was there," Assistant District Attorney Joseph Alexis said in his closing argument, adding that the shooting was "no accident."Brown, the defense lawyer, said the jury may have been swayed when the prosecution "changed their entire argument."Liang's lawyers had portrayed the shooting as a "million-to-one" occurrence. They also emphasized the dangers of so-called "vertical patrols," a point that was underscored when two officers were shot this month when conducting a similar patrol in a Bronx public housing building.In a statement, Mayor Bill de Blasio said he hoped the verdict would bring some closure to Gurley's family. (Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Sandra Maler, Cynthia Osterman and Bernard Orr)

Angola says 37 dead in yellow fever outbreak

2016-02-11 09:31:04

LUANDA A yellow fever outbreak in Angola has killed 37 people since December with eight new cases reported in the last 24 hours, the country's national director of health Adelaide de Carvalho said late on Wednesday.The outbreak of yellow fever, which is transmitted by mosquito bites, began in the Luanda suburb of Viana but has spread to other areas of the southern African country with 191 people infected so far.De Carvalho said health officials were monitoring suburbs around the capital of Luanda where infections have been worsened by unsanitary conditions caused by a garbage collection backlog. "Actions should be developed for the improvement of public sanitary and garbage collection," de Carvalho said. Symptoms of yellow fever include sudden fever, severe headache, nausea, vomiting and fatigue, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (Reporting by Herculano Coroado; Writing by Mfuneko Toyana)

Russia, pressed to end Syria bombing, proposes March truce

2016-02-10 23:31:06

UNITED NATIONS/DAMASCUS/ONCUPINAR, Turkey World powers pressed Russia on Wednesday to stop bombing around Aleppo in support of a Syrian government offensive to recapture the city and a Western official said Moscow had presented a proposal envisaging a truce in three weeks' time.Secretary of State John Kerry is pushing for a ceasefire and more aid access to Aleppo, where rebel-held areas are being cut off and the United Nations has warned a new humanitarian disaster could be on the way.Aid workers said on Wednesday the water supply to Aleppo, still home to two million people, was no longer functioning.Kerry is hoping for agreement at a meeting in Munich on Thursday between Russia, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Iran and other powers, aimed at trying to revive peace negotiations that foundered earlier this month.Syrian officials have indicated no plans to ease up the war effort. A Syrian military source said on Wednesday the battle for Aleppo, a major prize in a war which has killed a quarter of a million people, would continue in "all directions".Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi said the government expected a tough but relatively short battle to return the city to state control. "I do not expect the battle of Aleppo to go on long," he told Reuters in Damascus.A Western official said Russia had made a proposal to begin a ceasefire in Syria on March 1, but that Washington has concerns about parts of it and no agreement had been reached.In Washington, a state department envoy told Congress the United States needs to consider options in case the diplomatic push does not succeed. Asked how soon a ceasefire could be put in place, a Russian diplomat who declined to be identified said: "Maybe March, I think so." At a closed-door meeting of the 15-member U.N. Security Council on Wednesday, several members pressed Russia to end the Aleppo bombing sooner."The (Syrian) regime and its allies cannot pretend they are extending a hand to the opposition while with their other hand they are trying to destroy them," French U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre told reporters."CROSSED THE LINE"Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Russian air strikes were being undertaken in a "transparent manner" and some Security Council members had "crossed the line" by politically exploiting humanitarian issues."They rather crudely use humanitarian matters in order to play, we believe, a destructive role as far as the political process is concerned," said Churkin, adding that given the heightened interest in humanitarian issues, the council should also start regularly discussing Yemen and Libya.One U.N. diplomatic source said Russia was "stringing Kerry along" in order to provide diplomatic cover for Moscow's real goal - to help President Bashar al-Assad win on the battlefield instead of compromising at the negotiating table.     "It's clear to everyone now that Russia really doesn't want a negotiated solution but for Assad to win," said the diplomatic source, speaking on condition of anonymity.The Kremlin rejects claims that it has abandoned diplomacy in pursuit of a military solution, saying it would continue to providing military aid to Assad to fight "terrorist groups" and accusing Syria's opposition of walking away from the talks.FOOD, WATER SHORTAGESDoctors working on both sides of the Syria-Turkey border say they have been overwhelmed by injuries caused by the air strikes, which Moscow says have only targeted Islamist militants but which Western countries say have caused widespread civilian casualties."We are increasingly seeing what we call multiple-trauma injuries because of the bombs and the heavy weapons they are using. There are large burn cases, lots of amputations, and internal traumas," Mahmoud Mustafa, director of the Independent Doctors Association, told Reuters in Gaziantep, Turkey.French charity Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF), which runs six hospitals in Syria and provides support for another 153 health facilities across the country, said medical workers in the area north of Aleppo had been forced to flee for their lives."Yet again we are seeing healthcare under siege," said Muskilda Zancada, MSF head of mission, Syria. The International Committee of the Red Cross said it was delivering water to Aleppo because the city's system was no longer working but that some supply routes for aid had been cut."The temperatures are extremely low and, without an adequate supply of food, water and shelter, displaced people are trying to survive in very precarious conditions," the head of the ICRC in Syria, Marianne Gasser, said in a statement from Aleppo.The latest fighting around Aleppo has killed about 500 people on all sides, a monitoring group said.Medecins Sans Frontiers spokesman Sam Taylor said that while its own hospitals in Syria had not been hit, many others had."From the reports we get from MSF-supported facilities, the majority of hospitals are damaged or destroyed by aerial attacks," he said. "In last two to three weeks we have definitely seen a trend of facilities being hit in the south and in the north."FABIUS QUESTIONS U.S. COMMITMENTSaudi Arabia's King Salman plans to visit Moscow in mid-March, Russia's RIA news agency said, a meeting that would bring together the main sponsors of the opposing sides. Saudi-backed rebels said they would go to Thursday's meeting in Munich but would only go to U.N. peace talks in Geneva later this month if Russia stopped bombarding their positions and humanitarian aid reached civilians in the areas they control.Opposition coordinator Riad Hijab said the Russian and Iranian intervention in Syria was bolstering the extremist threat in the Middle East, but the rebels would not give up.On the ground, rebels say they are fighting for survival.A commander of a Turkmen contingent within the Levant Front rebel group, Zekeria Karsli, said his men faced attacks on three fronts: Islamic State to the east, Syrian government forces to the south and Kurds to the west."Unfortunately the military situation on the battlefield is pretty bad. Russian planes are hitting us from the air and the Iranian/Assad block is hitting us from the ground," he told Reuters near the Oncupinar border post.    He said Russian warplanes were carrying out hundreds of sorties every day and that the north of Aleppo city was encircled. But he said routes in to rebel-held parts of the city from Idlib province to the west were still open.Opposition spokesman Salim al-Muslat said U.S. President Barack Obama could stop the Russian attacks. "If he is willing to save our children it is really the time now to say 'no' to these strikes in Syria."The rebels want anti-aircraft weapons so they can bring down the Russian planes that have been bombing intensely over the past four months.But their Western and Arab backers have refused, fearing Islamic State militants could seize and use them against their own planes conducting air strikes against the jihadists, who have exploited the war to seize large parts of Syria and Iraq.United Nations Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura has set a target date of Feb. 25 to reconvene talks between the Syrian government and opposition in Geneva. But the offensive by Syrian forces, Hezbollah and Shiite militias directed by Iran - all backed by Russian bombing raids - have reversed opposition gains on the ground and encircled rebels inside Aleppo, a strategic prize now divided between government and opposition control."It'll be easy to get a ceasefire soon because the opposition will all be dead," a Western diplomat told Reuters. "That's a very effective ceasefire." (Additional reporting by Warren Strobel in Munich, John Irish in Paris, Louis Charbonneau in New York, Parisa Hafezi in Ankara, Tom Miles and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Jonathan Landay in Washington and Michelle Nichols in New York; writing by Philippa Fletcher; editing by Dominic Evans)

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