Ecuador court approves same-sex marriage

ECUADOR’s highest court has authorised same-sex marriage in a landmark case seeking to expand LGBT rights in the small South American nation.

The decision by the Constitutional Court on Wednesday came after a lengthy legal battle waged by several couples and gay rights advocates.

With the 5-to-4 ruling, Ecuador joins a handful of Latin American nations – Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Colombia and Uruguay – that have legalised same-sex marriage either through judicial rulings, or less frequently, legislative action.

Plaintiff Efrain Soria told The Associated Press that he would immediately begin planning a wedding with his partner, Xavier Benalcazar, whom he met years ago and has been in a civil union since 2012.

Same-sex unions have been legal in Ecuador for a decade but civil partners enjoy fewer rights than married couples when it comes to inheritance and estate laws.

In the ruling, the justices instructed congress to pass legislation ensuring equal treatment for all under the country’s marriage law.

The ruling is “a joy for our entire community and Ecuador,” said Soria, who is also president of the Ecuadorian Equality Foundation, an LGBT rights group.

A decision by the Inter-American Court on Human Rights affirming that countries should allow same-sex couples the right to marry paved the way for the case.

© AP 2019

Trump seeks Iran talks after tanker blasts

UPDATE at 3:20 PM | US President Donald Trump has blamed Iran for attacks on oil tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, but he also held out hope that implicit US threats to use force will yield talks with the Islamic Republic as the Pentagon considers beefing up defences in the Persian Gulf area.

A day after explosions blew holes in two oil tankers just outside Iran’s territorial waters, rattling international oil markets, the administration seemed caught between pressure to punish Iran and reassure Washington’s Gulf Arab allies without drawing the US closer to war.

“Iran did it,” Trump said Friday on Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends.” He didn’t offer evidence, but the US military released video it said showed Iran’s Revolutionary Guard removing an unexploded mine from one of the oil tankers targeted near the Strait of Hormuz, suggesting Tehran wanted to cover its tracks.

By pointing the finger at Iran, Trump was keeping a public spotlight on an adversary he accuses of terrorism but also has invited to negotiate.

The approach is similar to his diplomacy with North Korea, which has quieted talk of war but not yet achieved his goal of nuclear disarmament.

Iran has shown little sign of backing down, creating uncertainty about how far the Trump administration can go with its campaign of increasing pressure through sanctions.

Iran denied any involvement in the attacks and accused Washington of waging an “Iranophobic campaign” of economic warfare.

A US Navy team on Friday was aboard one of the tankers, the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous, collecting forensic evidence, according to a US official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive operation.

Apparently alluding to the US video, Trump said Iran’s culpability had been “exposed.” He did not say what he intended to do about it but suggested “very tough” US sanctions, including efforts to strangle Iranian oil revenues, would have the desired effect.

“They’ve been told in very strong terms we want to get them back to the table,” Trump said. Just a day earlier, the president took the opposite view, tweeting that it was “too soon to even think about making a deal” with Iran’s leaders. “They are not ready, and neither are we!”

Officials said that Pentagon deliberations about possibly sending more military resources to the region, including more Patriot missile batteries, could be accelerated by Thursday’s dramatic attack on the oil tankers.

Other administration officials said the US is re-evaluating its presence in the region and will discuss the matter with allies before making decisions.

The officials, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, said Thursday the US is looking at all options to ensure that maritime traffic in the region is safe and that international commerce, particularly through the Strait of Hormuz, is not disrupted.

One option, they said, is for US and allied ships to accompany vessels through the strait, noting that this tactic has been used in the past. They said there is no timeline for any decisions.

© RAW 2019

Trump blames Iran for Gulf tanker attacks

EARLIER at 11:50 AM | US President Donald Trump has blamed Iran for attacks on two oil tankers at the entrance to the Gulf despite Tehran’s denials, raising fears of a confrontation in the vital oil shipping route.

Iran has dismissed earlier US charges that it was behind Thursday’s attacks that crippled two tankers. It has previously suggested it could block the Strait of Hormuz, the main route out for Middle Eastern oil, if its own exports were halted.

The blasts followed similar attacks a month earlier on four tankers, which Washington also blamed on Tehran.

“Iran did do it and you know they did it because you saw the boat,” Trump told Fox News.

He was referring to a video released on Thursday by the US military which said it showed Iran’s Revolutionary Guards were behind the blasts that struck the Norwegian-owned Front Altair and the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous in the Gulf of Oman, at the mouth of the Gulf.

In a notable signal that close US allies are wary of Washington’s position, Germany said the video was not enough to apportion blame for Thursday’s attack.

“These accusations are alarming,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said.

Iran has accused the United States and its regional allies such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates of “warmongering” by making accusations against it.

Asked how he planned to address Tehran and prevent any further incidents, Trump told Fox News: “We’re going to see.” He also said any move to close the Strait of Hormuz would not last long.

Nevertheless, Trump, who last year pulled the United States out of an agreement between world powers and Tehran to curb Iran’s nuclear programme in return for the lifting of sanctions, said that he was open to negotiations with Iran.

Iran has repeatedly said it will not re-enter talks with the United States unless it reverses Trump’s decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal.

Tehran and Washington have both said they have no interest in starting a war. But this has done little to assuage concerns that the two arch foes could stumble into a conflict.

China, the European Union and others have called for restraint from all sides.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on Friday for an independent investigation of the attacks.

The tanker attacks took place while Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan – a big buyer of Iranian oil until it was forced by the new US sanctions to stop – was visiting Tehran on a peacemaking mission, bringing a message from Trump.

The US military said black-and-white footage it filmed from a US aircraft showed Iran’s Guards on a patrol boat drawing up to the Kokuka Courageous and removing an unexploded limpet mine from its hull.

The Japanese-owned tanker, abandoned by its crew, was being towed to a port in the United Arab Emirates on Friday, after a Dutch firm said it had been appointed to salvage the ships.

The second tanker, the Front Altair, which was set ablaze by a blast, was still languishing at sea, although the fire that had charred the hull had been put out.

Iranian military fast-boats in the Gulf of Oman were preventing two privately owned tug boats from towing away the Front Altair, a US official claimed on Friday.

© RAW 2019

Accused Christchurch massacre gunman pleads ‘not guilty’

The Australian man accused of shooting dead 51 worshippers at two New Zealand mosques in March has pleaded not guilty to his 92 charges.

Brenton Tarrant appeared in the High Court of Christchurch via video link from prison on Friday morning.

The 28-year-old reportedly smiled as his lawyer entered the pleas, denying 51 charges of murder, 40 of attempted murder and one terrorism offence over the March 15 attacks in Christchurch.

A trial has been scheduled to begin on May 4, with prosecutors estimating it may run six weeks.

There are reports Tarrant will represent himself, leading to concerns the trial could be used to espouse far-right extremist views.

As a result, New Zealand’s major media organisations have agreed to self-imposed restrictions on reporting.

Dozens of relatives of victims and survivors of the massacre that rocked New Zealand packed the courtroom.

Some shed tears as the pleas were entered.

Aust flags ‘concerns’ about HK law change

FOREIGN Minister Marise Payne has urged protesters and Hong Kong authorities to avoid further violence amid concerns over new extradition laws that have sparked a civilian uprising.

At least 72 people have been taken to hospitals in Hong Kong after massive protests over the law, which would allow suspected criminals to be sent to the Chinese mainland, escalated.

The federal government has a “substantial interest” in Hong Kong, which is home to one of Australia’s biggest expatriate communities and Australian-backed businesses.

“Australia supports the right of people to protest peacefully and to exercise their freedom of speech, and we urge all sides to show restraint and avoid violence,” she said.

However, Australia’s Consul-General in Hong Kong has raised concerns about the proposed laws at “senior levels” within the Beijing-backed government.

“The Australian government believes it is important that any changes to Hong Kong’s extradition arrangements are … resolved in a way that fully respects Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and upholds the rights and freedoms enshrined in Hong Kong’s Basic Law under the ‘one country, two systems’ framework,” Senator Payne said in a statement.

The legal changes would allow the extradition of people, including Australians living or travelling through Hong Kong, to mainland China for suspected criminal acts.

Hong Kong Police used rubber bullets and tear gas on protesters, who have vowed to continue fighting the proposed bill.

Australia has updated its travel advice for Hong Kong, telling its citizens to avoid large public gatherings.

Control of the former British territory was handed to China in 1997.

© AAP 2019

NYPD

One dead after helicopter crashed into New York building

At least one person has been killed after a helicopter crashed into a sky scraper in New York.

The aircraft reportedly crashed on the roof of a building at 787 Seventh Avenue on 51st street, and burst into flames.

It’s believed the pilot was trying to make an emergency landing after losing control.

Sadly, the pilot was pronounced dead at the, a city official confirmed.

More than 100 fire fighters and emergency workers were deployed to the site, and the flames were quickly extinguished.

A witness, who was inside the building at the time, told reporters the building shook when the crash occurred.

The building then had to be evacuated, with everyone taking the stairs, not the elevators.

It’s understood multiple buildings nearby were also evacuated.

The incident isn’t believed to be an act of terrorism, though emergency services sprung into action, quick to reassure everyone.

The New York governor Andrew Cuomo said New Yorkers still have a high level of P.T.S.D. following the 9/11 tragedy.

He told reporters his mind “goes where every New Yorker’s mind goes” when he hears news of a plane or helicopter hitting a building.

No other injuries were reported in the incident.