Costa Rican Plane Crash Kills 10 US Citizens

Costa Rican officials are investigating the cause of a charter airplane crash Sunday in a mountainous, wooded area west of the city of San Jose that killed 10 U.S. citizens and two local pilots.

Officials say the plane, operated by the local airline Nature Air, burst into flames upon impact. There were no survivors.

 

A family in the suburbs of New York City said five of the dead Americans were a family on vacation. A relative identified them as Bruce and Irene Steinberg and their sons Matthew, William and Zachary, all of Scarsdale.

 

”We are in utter shock and disbelief right now,” Bruce Steinberg’s sister, Tamara Steinberg Jacobson, wrote on Facebook ((https://www.facebook.com/steinbergjacobson)) and posted pictures of the family.

Speaking at a news conference, Costa Rica Civil Aviation Director Enio Cubillo said the Nature Air charter flight took off just after noon Sunday from Punta Islita and was headed for the capital of San Jose when it crashed.

 

Cubillo identified the pilot as Juan Manuel Retana and described him as very experienced. He said the cause of the crash was under investigation.

Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis said his government “profoundly regrets” the deaths.

Punta Islita, in the Pacific Coast region of Guanacaste province, is an extremely popular tourist destination.

10 Killed in Fiery Crash Along Mexico’s Pacific Coast

Mexican authorities say five people visiting from the United States were among 10 people killed in a fiery car crash on a coastal highway in southern Mexico.

Guerrero state security spokesman Roberto Alvarez Heredia said Sunday that the crash late Friday also left two U.S. residents hospitalized.

A van carrying the family from Washington state collided with a motorcycle and another car. All of the vehicles caught fire. Two people riding the motorcycle died as well as the driver of the other car.

Seven people inside the van were killed. The U.S. Embassy in Mexico City confirmed that “several” U.S. citizens were killed in the accident.

The van was rented and carrying the family to Acapulco when the crash occurred in the municipality of Tecpan de Galeana.

Turkey Rages After Coup ‘Plotter’ Is Granted Asylum in Greece

The Turkish Foreign Ministry on Saturday slammed a decision in Greece to grant asylum to a Turkish helicopter co-pilot, who fled the country after last year’s failed coup, as “politically motivated” and warned of a negative impact on bilateral relations.

The co-pilot — who flew seven other Turkish military officers to Greece — was granted asylum after Greek authorities ruled that his human rights would be at risk, despite repeated requests for his extradition by Ankara.

The decision “again reveals that Greece is a country that protects and embraces plotters,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement, adding that the ruling was “politically motivated.”

“Greece has not shown the support and cooperation we expect from an ally in the fight against terrorism,” the statement added.

The ruling is an embarrassment to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who asked for the officers to be extradited during a meeting with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in December, as part of the first official visit to Athens by a Turkish president in 65 years.

Late Saturday evening, Tsipras tried to contain any fallout from the asylum ruling by calling for the decision to be annulled.

“The Greek government filed on Saturday a request for annulment of the asylum decision taken the day before by the asylum authority,” the office of the Greek prime minister said.

Co-pilot’s denial

The co-pilot, who landed in the Greek city of Alexandroupoli hours after the putsch was defeated on July 15, 2016, had denied being part of the coup attempt.

Despite Turkey’s assertions, the asylum judges said there was no evidence to suggest the co-pilot had participated in a plot to unseat Erdogan.

According a judicial source, the ruling took into account reports from human rights groups and the Council of Europe that warned Turkey has regularly committed human rights abuses against coup suspects.

A ruling on the seven other military officers is expected to be made in the coming weeks.

In January, the Greek Supreme Court blocked the extradition of the officers, saying that they would not have a fair trial in Turkey.

More than 140,000 people, including judges, lawyers, journalists and academics, have been sacked or suspended in Turkey since the failed coup, while 55,000 people have been arrested over suspected links to U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Turkey claims Gulen ordered the attempted coup, something he denies.

World Cities on Alert Ahead of New Year’s Eve Festivities

Hundreds of thousands of law enforcement, military and security officials will be deployed in cities around the world to keep New Year’s Eve revelers safe as they gather to welcome 2018.

In the United States, New York City officials announced they would use two-step screening, snipers, street closures and specially trained dogs to secure Times Square, where an estimated 2 million people will gather to watch the annual ball drop at midnight.

In Las Vegas, 300 National Guard troops will join more than 1,500 police officers to keep safe the city’s famed Strip, home to a number of casinos, resorts and hotels. The security precautions to protect the expected crowd of more than 300,000 will include snipers positioned on rooftops and double the number of emergency response teams from previous years.

In South America, Rio de Janeiro police plan a security force of 12,000, nearly 20 percent more officers than last year, for New Year’s events. Military police say they are suspending vacations for security personnel to ensure there are enough police officers on duty.

​Patrols in London

In London, a record number of armed officers and canine units will patrol celebrations and the city’s Underground subway system, although Metropolitan Police said they had received no specific threat. Steel and concrete barricades will ring main events that will be attended by an estimated 500,000 people, police said.

In Germany, all major cities, including Berlin, Munich, Hamburg and Cologne, announced there would be enhanced police presence at all celebrations. They declined to reveal details.

In Africa, after at least nine people were killed Friday outside a church in suburban Cairo by a gunman on a motorcycle, Egyptian authorities have beefed up security for New Year’s Eve and Orthodox Christmas.

In an attempt to prevent further terrorist attacks, the Interior Ministry has raised the security alert to the maximum level throughout the country. The ministry has ordered heightened security near vital institutions such as churches and embassies.

More security patrols will be deployed to streets, squares and other areas where celebrations will be held.

In Istanbul, police have arrested 120 people with suspected links to Islamic State militants ahead of the New Year’s celebrations. The city also plans to more than double the number of police officers on the streets to prevent a repeat of last year, when a man armed with an assault rifle killed 39 Turks and foreigners at a nightclub. Police have also canceled some public celebrations in key districts of Turkey’s largest city.

​Preparations in India

In India, more than 30,000 security personnel will guard the popular gathering sites across Mumbai. In the southern tech hub of Bengaluru, officials plan to deploy more than 15,000 officers, as well as use drones, security cameras and canine units. A 500-member, all-female police squad will also be deployed to ensure there is no repeat of last year, when several women were harassed and molested in the streets by male revelers.

In Australia, one of the first places to ring in the new year, security officials are guarding against any kind of terror attack on New Year’s Eve. Officials said police officers would be out in force on the ground, in the air and on the sea as part of the largest security operation in the country.

More than 1 million people are expected to gather in the center of Sydney and at least half that number in Melbourne to watch fireworks displays. Police said Melbourne’s city center would be on lockdown and remain closed until 6 a.m. New Year’s Day to protect the crowd.

Police in Melbourne last month arrested a man for allegedly planning to shoot revelers on New Year’s Eve.

Media Group: 81 Reporters Died, Threats Soared in 2017

At least 81 reporters were killed doing their jobs this year, while violence and harassment against media staff has skyrocketed, the world’s biggest journalists’ organization says.

 

In its annual “Kill Report,” seen by The Associated Press, the International Federation of Journalists said the reporters lost their lives in targeted killings, car bomb attacks and crossfire incidents around the world.

 

More than 250 journalists were in prison in 2017.

 

The number of deaths as of December 29 was the lowest in a decade, down from 93 in 2016. The largest number were killed in Mexico, but many also died in conflict zones in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

 

The IFJ suspected but could not officially confirm that at least one other journalist was killed Thursday in an attack by an Islamic State suicide bomber on a Shiite cultural center in Kabul, in which at least 41 people died.

 

IFJ President Philippe Leruth said that while the drop in deaths “represents a downward trend, the levels of violence in journalism remain unacceptably high.”

He said the IFJ finds it “most disturbing that this decrease cannot be linked to any measure by governments to tackle the impunity for these crimes.”

 

Eight women journalists were killed, two in European democracies – Kim Wall in Denmark, who died on the submarine of an inventor she was writing about, and Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia who was blown up by a bomb placed in her car.

 

Beyond the deaths, the IFJ warned that “unprecedented numbers of journalists were jailed, forced to flee, that self-censorship was widespread and that impunity for the killings, harassment, attacks and threats against independent journalism was running at epidemic levels.”

 

Turkey, where official pressure on the media has been ramped up since a failed coup attempt in July 2016, is becoming notorious for putting reporters behind bars. Some 160 journalists are jailed in Turkey –  two-thirds of the global total – the report said.

The organization also expressed concern about India, the world’s largest democracy, where it said that attacks on journalists are being motivated by violent populism.

 

Countries with the highest numbers of media killings:

 

Mexico: 13

 

Afghanistan: 11

 

Iraq: 11

 

Syria: 10

 

India: 6

 

Philippines: 4

 

Pakistan: 4

 

Nigeria: 3

 

Somalia: 3

 

Honduras: 3

 

The Biggest Consumer Electronics Show Opens in Two Weeks

January is almost here, and the world is bracing for the unofficial opening of this year’s race for the hearts, minds and pockets of tech enthusiasts. The international Consumer Electronics Show, CES for short, is the venue where technology manufacturers, from giants to startups, show their products, hoping they will become among the next must-haves worldwide. VOA’s George Putic looks at what may be expected.

U.S. Urging Kosovo Leaders Not to Abolish War Crimes Court

The U.S. is urging Kosovo leaders to leave unchanged a war crimes court established to hear serious cases arising from the country’s war for independence.

“The United States is deeply concerned by recent attempts of Kosovo lawmakers to abrogate the law on the Specialist Chambers,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement Friday. “We call on political leaders in the Republic of Kosovo to maintain their commitment to the work of the Chambers and to leave the authorities and jurisdiction of the court unchanged.”

The U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on December 21 that “the pursuit of justice in the Balkans is not over,” and the U.S. “remains committed to supporting justice for the victims,” the statement said.

The Kosovo political leaders enacted the law and constitutional amendment in 2015 to establish the Specialist Chambers, a court that would hear cases of alleged crimes against humanity, war crimes, and other serious crimes committed during the 1998-2000 conflict in the former Yugoslavia.

Last week, however, lawmakers from the governing coalition, who hold a majority, pressed for a vote to abolish the court, but they failed twice because of opposition from other parties.

The U.S. and other Western countries swiftly condemned the move, warning that if successful, it would hamper efforts for Euro-Atlantic integration.

The U.S. has been a key ally and financial backer of Kosovo since it broke away from Serbia and declared independence in 2008.