International: At Least 11 Killed in Saint Petersburg Explosion

At least 11 people were killed in an explosion in Saint Petersburg metro on Monday, with dozens injured.

The blast tore apart a train carriage which was travelling between two stations around 2.40 pm.

A second explosive device was found at a nearby station and defused by authorities. No groups have claimed responsibility for the explosion.

President Vladimir Putin said the cause of the explosion was not clear yet. “We will look at all possible causes, terrorism as well as common crime,” Putin said.

Russia’s Investigative Committee said while the investigation into the event was based on an assumption of terrorism, it was also considering other possibilities.

According to state media, the bomb contained a kilogram of TNT and was hidden in a fire extinguisher. Law enforcement agencies also confirmed that the bomb was filled with shrapnel.

All St Petersburg metro stations have been closed.

International: Donald Trump Signs a Revised Travel Ban Order

US President Donald Trump has signed a newly revised travel ban order, exempting Iraqi nationals and US permanent residents from the prohibition to enter the country.

The new order, which takes effect starting March 16, will apply a 90-day visa halt on citizens of six Muslim-majority countries: Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. It also explicitly exempts US permanent residents and valid visa holders.

The new order comes after the controversies surrounding the original order, which was issued on January 27 and blocked by federal courts following protests and .

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the order was required to provide “a needed pause” for US to review its relationship with travellers from “countries of concern”.

“We cannot compromise our nation’s security by allowing visitors entry when their own governments are unable or unwilling to provide the information we need to vet them responsibly, or when those governments actively support terrorism,” said Sessions.

The American Civil Liberties Union said it would try to block the new order in court, saying the latest revision still amounts to religious discrimination.

“President Trump has recommitted himself to religious discrimination, and he can expect continued disapproval from both the courts and the people,” said Omar Jadwat, ACLU’s Immigrant Rights Project director.

Democrats senator Bernie Sanders said the ban would instead jeopardise the safety of American citizens.

“This ban is a racist and anti-Islamic attempt to divide us up,” Sanders wrote in a statement. “This isn’t about keeping America safe. A president responsible for keeping our citizens safe would not hand over ideological ammunition to terrorists seeking new recruits to kill Americans.”

“A watered-down ban is still a ban,” said senator Chuck Schumer in a statement. “Despite the administration’s changes, this dangerous executive order makes us less safe, not more, it is mean-spirited, and un-American. It must be repealed.”

International: Photo of Turkish Assassin Wins World Press Photo of the Year

Associated Press photographer Burhan Ozbilici has won Photo of the Year at the 2017 World Press Photo awards for his image of an off-duty Turkish policeman standing over a Russian ambassador whom he just shot.

The picture of gunman Mevlut Mert Altintas and ambassador Andrei Karlov, which was taken in December, was controversial among jury members. The awards’ jury chair, Stuart Franklin voted against the photo, saying it was “morally as problematic to publish as a terrorist beheading”.

“It was a very very difficult decision, but in the end we felt that the picture of the year was an explosive image that really spoke to the hatred of our times,” member of the jury Mary F Calvert said.

“Every time it came on the screen you almost had to move back because it’s such an explosive image and we really felt that it epitomises the definition of what the World Press Photo of the Year is and means.”

Ozbilici’s picture was chosen among 80,408 photos submitted to the competition by 5,034 photographers from 125 countries.

Ozbilici said upon receiving his award, “I immediately decided to do my job because I could be wounded, maybe die, but at least I have to represent good journalism.”

The jury awarded prizes in eight categories to 45 photographers from 25 countries, including USA’s Brent Stirton for his rhino poaching picture, France’s Laurent van der Stockt for his Mosul photo, and Russia’s Valery Melnikov for her long-term project Black Days of Ukraine.

International: Israel Passes Bill to Legalise Settlement on Private Palestinian Lands

Israel’s parliament has passed a controversial bill that legalises the state’s settlement on lands owned privately by Palestinians in the West Bank.

The Regulation Bill, which was passed with a vote of 60 to 52, is set to protect Israeli settlement built “in good faith or at the state’s instruction” from court-ordered eviction and demolition.

The Palestine Liberation Organisation said the law proved that “the Israeli government’s will to destroy any chances for a political solution”, and that the “Israeli settlement enterprise negates peace and the possibility of the two-state solution.”

Anti-occupation organisation Peace Now has condemned the bill, saying it would “practically allow the government and private individuals to steal lands of Palestinians without any legal implications”.

Experts have warned that this law would violate property and human rights. Opposition lawmaker Tzipi Livni said the bill would lead the Israel Defense Forces to the International Criminal Court, while former justice minister Dan Meridor said the law would set an “evil and dangerous” precedent of Israeli government applying its sovereignty to the West Bank.

The state’s Attorney General, Avichai Mandelbilt also said the bill was unconstitutional and would lead to violation of international laws.

Days before the vote, the state’s defense minister Avigdor Lieberman said, “You don’t have to be a genius to understand that when the attorney general is opposed to the bill, this means that he is not willing to defend it in the High Court of Justice and that it is an unconstitutional bill, and its chances of being disqualified are 100 percent.”

International: Trump’s Son-in-Law Named as White House Advisor

President-elect Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner has been appointed as senior White House advisor to work on trade deals and foreign policy.

Kushner, husband to Trump’s daughter Ivanka, accepted the position after receiving legal advice that he would not be violating the 1967 anti-nepotism law. Kushner’s lawyer, Jamie Gorelick argues on Monday that the law does not apply to the White House.

“Even without that law, two DC Circuit decisions strongly suggest that the White House Office is not an ‘agency’ under the anti-nepotism statute, a position supported by the views of the Justice Department under presidents Bill Clinton and George W Bush,” said Gorelick.

In a statement, Trump said Kushner would be “an invaluable member of my team as I set and execute an ambitious agenda, putting the American people first.” The statement also said that Kushner would waive his salary while employed in the administration.

“It is an honour to serve our country,” said Kushner in the same statement. “I am energised by the shared passion of the President-elect and the American people and I am humbled by the opportunity to join this very talented team.”

Kushner was one of Trump’s campaign advisors during the elections, working in the campaign’s digital aspects. Kushner has also been assisting Trump during the transition period, coordinating communication between the president-elect’s team and foreign leaders and officials.

Kushner will be stepping down from his position as CEO of real estate company Kushner Companies in an effort to diminish conflict-of-interest concerns. In a statement, Gorelick said Kushner “is committed to complying with federal ethics laws.”

Technology: iPhone Turns 10

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the original iPhone, which was first introduced by late Apple founder Steve Jobs in an Apple conference.

On January 9, 2007, Jobs said: “Every once in a while a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything. One’s very fortunate if you get to work on just one of these in your career. Apple has been very fortunate that it’s been able to introduce a few of these into the world. In 1984, we introduced the Macintosh. It didn’t just change Apple, it changed the whole computer industry. In 2001 we introduced the first iPod, and it didn’t just change the way we all listened to music, it changed the entire music industry. Well, today we’re introducing three revolutionary products…”

These three revolutionary products – an iPod, a phone, and an “internet mobile communicator” –  were later revealed to be “not three separate devices, and we are calling it iPhone. Today Apple is going to reinvent the phone. And here it is.”

Jobs unveiled a smartphone with a 3.5 inch touchscreen and features like web browser, music player, weather and map apps, which would turn out revolutionary for mobile and communication technology.

The touchscreen technology was the main driver in making the device a dominant force in the market, Foad Fadaghi, managing director at technology analyst firm Telsyte said. “With the arrival of the third party app store and 3G connectivity the iPhone really started to help the device take off,” Fadaghi said.

iPhone also helped drive the smartphone market to condense multiple features, such as camera and music player, into one device, said Dr Christine Satchell, mobile device expert at Queensland University of Technology. “The smartphone both democratised internet access and improved it for many millions of people,” Fadaghi said.

Although iPhone was one of Apple’s biggest moneymaker, the sales of the latest iPhone 7 have been sluggish. The company’s operating profit declined 16 percent to $60 billion due to a decline in the sales of the device for the first time since it came out a decade ago.

However, Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook said the anniversary only marks the beginning. “iPhone is an essential part of our customers’ lives, and today more than ever it is redefining the way we communicate, entertain, work and live,” Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook said in a statement. “iPhone set the standard for mobile computing in its first decade and we are just getting started. The best is yet to come.”

International: Lawyers for President Park Geun-hye Say Impeachment Should Be Reversed

Lawyers for South Korean president Park Geun-hye said her impeachment should be reversed as there is not enough evidence to justify ejecting her from office.

Lawmakers voted on December 9 to impeach Park by a 234-56 margin, suspending her power until the Constitutional Court decides whether to uphold the legislature’s impeachment.

The resolution submitted by lawmakers cited 13 charges, including constitutional violations and legal offenses. However, Park’s legal team said that these charges lack any basis.

“We see no grounds for impeachment and it should be struck down,” said Lee Joong-hwan, one of the three attorneys representing Park on Friday.

Park has been accused of colluding with friend Choi Soon-sil, who has been indicted, to extort money and favours from businesses. Choi also allegedly meddled in state affairs by influencing the president on a number of state projects as well as through her possession of classified documents.

Public protests have broken out since October, with two million people hitting the streets on the November 26 demonstration.

Park has denied charges of power abuse. “Not for a single moment have I pursued my personal interests,” Park said in her third and final address to the nation on November 29. “I have carried forward these state projects for I believed them to be public business for the nation.”

Parliamentary investigators from the independent counsel team have been denied access to Park’s residence in the Blue House due to concerns of national security.

“Several warrants have been issued for the search, but their execution has been thwarted,” said Lee Kyu-chul, the team’s spokesperson.

“We are currently reviewing related laws to see if we may (raid the office).”

National: Trump’s Presidency Might Disrupt Australia-US Refugee Resettlement Deal

The election of Donald Trump into US presidency could overturn the Australia-US refugee resettlement deal, experts say.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced that refugees on Nauru and Manus Island would be relocated to the US through a one-off deal.

Under the deal, refugees who do not accept resettlement to the US would be sent to Nauru and provided a 20-year visa to stay or return to their origin country.

However, concerns arise that Trump might not keep the agreement when he takes office in January.

“In all likelihood, the only way it’s going to happen is if the refugees are transferred to the US before inauguration day [January 20],” Niels Frenzen, immigration clinic director at the University of Southern California school of law told Radio National.

“If the US has not already begun its own vetting or so-called background checks until now, if you look at the time the US has taken to vet Syrian refugees … it’s unlikely that that could be accomplished in a few months.”

Mark Krikorian, the executive director at the Centre for Immigration Studies said Trump, whose policies contradicts the agreement, might not keep the deal.

“We [America] have a good relationship with Australia — one of our closest allies in the world,” Krikorian said.

“If this were a unique situation that there was no way for Australia to deal with, I could see extending them a helping hand, but this is just a matter of shipping these illegal immigrants to the United States.”

Both Krikorian and Frenzen suggest that the resettlement could be finished before January 20 under several conditions.

Frenzen said refugees could be settled before Trump’s inauguration if vetting had been “ongoing” and the US had been negotiating with Australia since January.

Krikorian also suggested that President Barack Obama might accelerate the processing period, as he had previously sped up the assessment of Syrian refugees from 18-24 months to only three months.

“It’s entirely possible the administration will rush the admission of the illegal immigrants you all have offshore in order to get them in under the wire before January 20 when Trump becomes president,” said Krikorian.

International: Trump’s Appointment of Stephen Bannon Stirs Controversy

US President-elect Donald Trump has stirred controversy over his appointment of Stephen Bannon as the White House chief strategist.

Bannon was Trump’s campaign leader and the chief executive of conservative website Breitbart News, which he declared in July as “the platform for the alt-right”. The website has accused President Barack Obama of importing “more hating Muslims”, relating influx of refugees to disease spread, and telling female victims of cyberbullying to “just log off” and stop “screwing up the internet for men”.

Bannon has been accused of changing the Breitbart site to attract far-right, extremist followers, with anti-“globalist” views. Southern Poverty Law Centre tweeted, “Stephen Bannon was the main driver behind Breitbart becoming a white, ethno-nationalist propaganda mill.” The Council on American-Islamic Relations also criticised the website for publishing “misogynistic and racist stories targeting women, people of colour and immigrants.”

“[Bannon] is a vindictive, nasty figure, infamous for verbally abusing supposed friends and threatening enemies,” Ben Shapiro, former Breitbart editor said earlier this year.

In 1996, Bannon’s ex-wife, Mary Louise Piccard accused him of domestic violence. In 2007, Bannon allegedly objected sending his daughters to a California school because he “didn’t want the girls going to school with Jews”.

Bannon also said that women leaders in the US “wouldn’t be a bunch of dykes that came from the 7 Sisters schools”, but they would instead be “pro-family” and “have husbands”.

Bannon has expressed dislike of cultural and political elites. In 2010, Bannon told Political Vindication Radio, “What we need to do is bitch-slap the Republican Party.” Last year, he accused House speaker Paul Ryan of being “a total and complete sellout of the American people.”

“What drives Steve is the way the political establishment is holding back American politics,” said Joel Pollak, editor at large at Breitbart.

“It is a sad day when a man who presided over the premier website of the ‘alt-right’ – a loose-knit group of white nationalists and unabashed antisemites and racists – is slated to be a senior staff member in the people’s house,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive at the Anti-Defamation League.

 

International: 1960s Activist and Politician Tom Hayden Dies

American social activist and politician Tom Hayden has died at the age of 76 in California following stroke-related complications.

Hayden was a key figure for the anti-war and civil rights movements in the 1960s. He was the founding member of Students for a Democratic Society and the main author of the group’s 1962 manifesto Port Huron Statement.

Hayden was one of the organizers of the 1968 anti-war protests at the Democratic National Convention, for which he was convicted on incitement and conspiracy charges. He was also involved in Martin Luther King’s civil disobedience campaign against racial segregation.

Hayden won the 1982 election to California state Assembly after a number of losses and went on to win a state Senate seat in 1992. In total, Hayden served for 18 years.

Hayden has written and edited 20 books on politics and inequality and has taught at UCLA, Scripps College, Pitzer College, Occidental College, and the Harvard Institute of Politics.