S. Korea Alert System Warns ‘Smartphone Zombies’ of Traffic

A city in South Korea, which has the world’s highest smartphone penetration rate, has installed flickering lights and laser beams at a road crossing to warn “smartphone zombies” to look up and drivers to slow down, in the hope of preventing accidents.

The designers of the system were prompted by growing worry that more pedestrians glued to their phones will become casualties in a country that already has some of the highest road fatality and injury rates among developed countries.

State-run Korea Institute of Civil Engineering and Building Technology (KICT) believes its system of flickering lights at zebra crossings can warn both pedestrians and drivers.

In addition to red, yellow and blue LED lights on the pavement, “smombies” – smartphone zombies – will be warned by laser beam projected from power poles and an alert sent to the phones by an app that they are about to step into traffic.

“Increasing number of smombie accidents have occurred in pedestrian crossings, so these zombie lights are essential to prevent these pedestrian accidents,” said KICT senior researcher Kim Jong-hoon.

The multi-dimensional warning system is operated by radar sensors and thermal cameras and comes with a price tag of 15 million won ($13,250) per crossing.

Drivers are alerted by the flashing lights, which have shown to be effective 83.4 percent of the time in the institute’s tests involving about 1,000 vehicles.

In 2017, more than 1,600 pedestrians were killed in auto related accidents, which is about 40 percent of total traffic fatalities, according to data from the Traffic Accident Analysis System.

South Korea has the world’s highest smartphone penetration rate, according to Pew Research Center, with about 94 percent of adults owning the devices in 2017, compared with 77 percent in the United States and 59 percent in Japan.

For now, the smombie warning system is installed only in Ilsan, a suburban city about 30 km northwest of the capital, Seoul, but is expected to go nationwide, according to the institute.

Kim Dan-hee, a 23-year-old resident of Ilsan, welcomed the system, saying she was often too engrossed in her phone to remember to look at traffic.

“This flickering light makes me feel safe as it makes me look around again, and I hope that we can have more of these in town,” she said.

Nicaragua Talks on Hold as Both Sides Trade Accusations

Nicaragua’s government and opposition accused each other of undermining the latest round of political dialogue Monday, after police arrested more than 100 at a weekend protest.

 

The opposition Civic Alliance condemned the government’s “violent repression” of Saturday’s march, in which it said some 164 people were arrested. The group said in a statement that it was frustrated that the talks had not produced results, including the release of hundreds of people it considers political prisoners.

 

The government complained that opposition representatives participating in the negotiations were part of the march, which it labeled a “provocation.” Protests against President Daniel Ortega’s government have been effectively banned since September.

 

The government said opposition negotiators’ participating in Saturday’s protest was “inconceivable, contradictory and unbelievable.” It said there were 107 arrests and the detainees were released hours later.

 

The sides had met Friday, and before Saturday’s protest were expected to resume talks Monday.

 

Mario Arana, an economist participating in the dialogue as a representative of the private sector, said the talks were suspended for the time being. “The mediators have work to do,” he said.

 

The Vatican’s ambassador to Nicaragua, Waldemar Sommertag, who has mediated the talks, asked for patience Monday. Responding to criticism that he seemed to be siding with the government, Sommertag said he had no personal interest and was giving his all to brokering the talks.

 

Luis Rosadilla, representative of the Organization of American States, called on those involved to build a good atmosphere for dialogue. “The government must show the political will to overcome the crisis,” he said.

 

According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, at least 325 people have died in protests or related violence since April 2018. Some 700 are believed to be in government custody.

 

Also Monday, Robert Palladino, a U.S. State Department spokesman, condemned the repression of Saturday’s march and the arrests. In a statement, he called for the government to immediately release those who were “arbitrarily” detained, guarantee freedom of expression and assembly, and commit to holding early elections.

NATO to Receive First Northrop Surveillance Drone, Years Late

NATO is to receive the first of five Northrop Grumman high-altitude drones in the third quarter after years of delays, giving the alliance its own spy drones for the first time, the German government told lawmakers.

Thomas Silberhorn, state secretary in the German Defense Ministry, said the NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) drone would be delivered to an air base in Sigonella, Italy, followed by four additional systems, including drones and ground stations built by Airbus, later in the year.

NATO plans to use the aircraft, a derivative of Northrop’s Global Hawk drone, to carry out missions ranging from protection of ground troops to border control and counter-terrorism. The drones will be able to fly for up to 30 hours at a time in all weather, providing near real-time surveillance data.

Northrop first won the contract for the AGS system from NATO in May, 2012, with delivery of the first aircraft slated for 52 months later. However, technical issues and flight test delays have delayed the program, Silberhorn said.

Andrej Hunko, a member of the radical Left opposition party, called for Germany to scrap its participation in the program, warning of spiraling costs and the risk that it could escalate the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

“The drones are closely linked to a new form of warfare,” he said. “They stand for an arms race that will see existing surveillance and spy systems replaced with new platforms.”

Silberhorn, in a previously unreported response to a parliamentary query from Hunko, said NATO had capped the cost of the program at 1.3 billion euros ($1.47 billion) in 2007.

Germany, which is funding about a third of system, scrapped plans to buy its own Global Hawk drones amid spiraling costs and certification problems, and is now negotiating with Northrop to buy several of its newer model Triton surveillance drones.

Fifteen NATO countries, led by the United States, will pay for the AGS system, but all 29 alliance nations are due to participate in its long-term support.

Germany has sent 76 soldiers to Sigonella to operate the surveillance system and analyze its findings, Silberhorn said.

He said a total of 132 German soldiers would eventually be assigned to AGS, of whom 122 would be stationed in Sigonella.

NATO officials had no immediate comment on the program’s status or whether Northrop faced penalties for the delayed delivery.

No comment was available from Northrop.

Cubans Frustrated Over US Move to End 5-year Visitor Visas

The Trump administration’s move to end five-year visitor visas for Cubans has left residents of the island angry and frustrated that it will be even harder to see their relatives, shop, or undertake cultural and academic exchanges in the United States.

The State Department on Friday said the measure, which became effective on Monday, was taken for reasons of reciprocity because Cuba currently issues only one-time temporary visas to visitors.

Tens of thousands of Cubans had used the five-year visitor visa to travel, often repeatedly, to the United States. They now can only get a visa that is valid for one trip during a three-month period.

Carlos Saladrigas, a Cuban-American businessman and head of the Cuban Study Group, which advocates engagement with Cuba, said ending the visa program was mean and counterproductive.

“It will cause great harm to Cuban civil society, the very sector driving changes to the island’s political and economic structures,” he said.

U.S. President Donald Trump has pledged to end the detente and engagement policy that was begun by the Obama administration in 2016 as part of its effort to end more than five decades of hostility between Washington and communist-run Cuba.

The U.S. embassy in Havana is operating with a skeleton crew because of an outbreak of mysterious health problems among its diplomats, and last year it shut down most councilor services, forcing Cubans to seek visas in third countries such as Mexico.

The Trump administration says the U.S. diplomats were the targets of “attacks.” Cuba has denied any involvement or knowledge of what caused the illnesses, whose symptoms included tinnitus, hearing loss, vertigo, headaches and fatigue.

Cuba on Saturday blasted the reasoning behind the U.S. visa change, saying it issued visitor visas immediately in the United States, while Cubans had to spend large amounts of money and time to travel to third countries, and then often were rejected.

“My five-year visa runs out next year and I cannot afford to travel to Mexico every year just to try to get a one-time visa,” said Marlen Calabaza, a retired telephone operator who visits Pennsylvania to help her daughter and five grandchildren.

“I feel worse for her than for me,” she said.

Yosmany Moudeja, who runs a small business helping Cubans fill out forms near the U.S. embassy, said his only customers now were people seeking permanent residence in the United States.

“If before it was difficult, now it’s impossible. If before people came to get visas to visit, now there is no one,” he said.

 

Venezuela Opposition Takes Control of Diplomatic Properties in US

Representatives of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido have taken control of three of the country’s diplomatic properties in the United States, Guaido’s U.S. envoy said on Monday, as the opposition presses its bid to oust socialist President Nicolas Maduro.

The envoy, Carlos Vecchio, said the opposition had gained control of two buildings belonging to Venezuela’s defense ministry in Washington and one consular building in New York. He added that the group expected to take control of Venezuela’s embassy in Washington “in the days to come.”

Guaido, president of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency in January, arguing that Maduro’s May 2018 re-election was illegitimate. He has been recognized as Venezuela’s rightful leader by most Western countries, including the United States.

“We are taking these steps in order to preserve the assets of the Venezuelans here in this country,” Vecchio said from one of the buildings, the office of Venezuela’s military attache to Washington, after removing a portrait of Maduro from the wall and replacing it with one of Guaido.

U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Palladino told reporters the United States was “pleased to support these requests.”

In a statement, Venezuela’s foreign ministry called on U.S. authorities to “take the necessary measures to immediately reverse this forcible occupation” of its diplomatic offices. It said the transfer of possession violated international law on the protection of diplomatic properties.

Maduro, who has branded Guaido a U.S. puppet seeking to oust him in a coup, broke off relations with Washington after it recognized Guaido, calling diplomatic and consular staff back to Caracas.

Of 55 staff members, 12 decided to remain in the United States and support Guaido, Vecchio said on Monday. He added that his staff would work out of the attache building, which is in the upscale Kalorama neighborhood and has an assessed value of $2.2 million, according to Washington property records.

Vecchio spoke alongside Colonel Jose Luis Silva, Venezuela’s military attache to Washington who recognized Guaido on Jan. 27.

Few other high-ranking members of the military have heeded Guaido’s call to break with Maduro, who retains the support of the armed forces and control of state functions.

On Monday, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters an army general had defected and fled to Colombia. Vecchio said he was confident that Venezuela, which is undergoing an economic and humanitarian crisis, was in “an irreversible process of change” but that “it won’t come easily.”

The United States withdrew all its remaining diplomatic personnel in Venezuela last week.

Spain Reopens Investigation of 2004 Train Bombings 

Spain this month marked the 15th anniversary of the 2004 train bombings that killed 193 people with calls to reopen investigations into the deadliest terrorist attack in the kingdom’s history, amid allegations the government covered up links between jihadist bombers and the Basque separatist group, ETA.

Spain’s highest jurisdictional court, the Audencia Nacional, announced last week it is instructing the attorney general to review classified information on the bombings and consider new evidence. Officials with the attorney general’s office have said they are forming a task force with about 200 law enforcement officers to handle the extensive analysis and security work that may be required if the the politically-charged case is reopened.

At remembrance services in Madrid, conservative opposition leader Pablo Casado called on the government to “declassifiy any information that helps get to the truth, which,” he warned,  “someone may try to conceal or use in some way.”

Jose Luis Avalos, a spokesman for the Socialist government, accused Casado of playing politics with the suffering of victims and said the conservative Popular Party had “built a great lie” around  the terrorist attacks that took place when it was in power.

At the time of the bombings, Popular Party prime minister Jose Maria Aznar initially blamed ETA.  Evidence later surfaced pointing to Islamic terrorists as the ones who put a total of ten explosive devices on commuter trains and at rail stations in various parts of Madrid, all going off within minutes of each other.  

Bombings just before elections

The attacks took place just three days before scheduled general elections which the socialists won handily by campaigning on the Aznar government’s  failure to identify the perpetrators of one of the worst terror attacks to ever hit Europe.

Al-Qaida claimed the coordinated bombings were punishment for Spain’s alliance with the United States and Britain for the invasion of Iraq in the second Gulf War. Immediately upon replacing Aznar, Socialist prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero withdrew the 5,000 troops that Spain had contributed to the U.S.-led multi-national force in Iraq. 

An investigation conducted under the socialist government assigned full blame for the bombings to a group of about 20 mostly Moroccan-born suspects who had records as petty criminals and drug dealers and who authorities said had been recruited by al-Qaida in Spain.

Some analysts have since cast doubts on the investigation, which critics say fell short of explaining how the attacks were organized and ignored evidence pointing to possible involvement by the Basque separatist group. 

“Zapatero did not allow the security services and the attorney general to weave the threads leading  to ETA  because it wouldn’t fit his needle hole,”  charged investigative journalist Luis del Pino, who has written a book and made a documentary on the bombings.

Link to ETA

The head of the Islamic cell charged with conducting the train bombings, Jamal Ahmidan, operated for years as an underworld drug dealer and gunman in the Basque city San Sebastian, an ETA stronghold.

Suarez Trashorras, the supplier of stolen dynamite used in the attacks, told police that Ahmidan had said he knew two members of ETA who had been arrested while moving tons of explosives days before he picked up the dynamite, according to the newspaper El Mundo.  

Ahmidan died along with the six other suspected train bombers when an explosion demolished their hideout during a siege by police. 

But a forensic analysis that raised suspicions of possible ETA links was omitted from an official report on the bombings submitted to a Spanish judge  leading the investigations in 2005 according to police officials. The same sources have told  journalists that traces of boric acid found at an apartment rented by one of the bombers had been only been detected previously at an ETA safe house.

Missing information

The analysts said that it was a rare method used to preserve or conceal explosives from detection. 

“This brings us  to the possibility that the author (or) authors of these acts are related among each other and/or may have had the same type of formation  and/or could be the same authors,” according to the forensic report prepared by the police scientific unit that later turned up among documents requested by former interior minister Alfredo Rubalcaba.

Former National Police Director General Agustin Diaz de Mera has said that police officials who elaborated the official report left out the information due to “political pressures.”

Ex-Peru President Arrested in California Drunkenness Case

Former Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo, wanted in his home country in connection with Latin America’s biggest graft scandal, was arrested in California on suspicion of public intoxication and spent the night in jail before he was released Monday morning, authorities said.

Alejandro Toledo, 72, was arrested Sunday night at a restaurant near the San Francisco Bay Area city of Menlo Park, said San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Rosemerry Blankswade.

Toledo was released without charges Monday morning, which Blankswade said is routine for most public drunkenness arrests. Toledo was Peru’s president from 2001 to 2006 and moved to Northern California shortly after leaving office to work and study at Stanford University in Palo Alto, according to a 2007 San Francisco Chronicle report.  

Toledo earned a doctoral degree in education and two master’s degrees from Stanford, where he delivered the commencement speech to the school’s graduating class of 2003 while still in office. He has held a variety of fellowships and visiting scholar positions at Stanford until 2017, according to university announcements. In 2017, the same year Peruvian officials announced they were seeking to arrest Toledo, Stanford spokeswoman Brooke Donald told a Latin American media outlet that the college was severing its ties with Toledo, who she said was an unpaid “volunteer” who didn’t teach.

Stanford officials didn’t respond to email and phone inquiries Monday.

Toledo is wanted in Peru where authorities have offered a $30,000 reward for his capture. Peruvian prosecutors accuse him with of taking $20 million in bribes from Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht while he served as president. He has denied wrongdoing.

Peru is seeking Toledo’s extradition from the U.S. In February 2017, then-President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski asked President Donald Trump to deport the ex-Peruvian president.

Blankswade said the international police organization Interpol had issued a “warning” to law enforcement agencies around the world to notify it if and when Toledo was arrested. But Interpol officials told officials in the sheriff’s office they had no immediate plans to extradite Toledo and he was released, she said.

“After reaching out to Peruvian officials and Interpol, we learned that the existence of charges in Peru alone does not authorize the subject’s arrest in the United States,” Blankswade said.

She did not disclose details about what led to officers being sent to the restaurant where Toledo was arrested, and did not name the restaurant.

Toledo brushed off questions about his arrest on suspicion of public drunkenness during a brief radio interview with Peru’s RPP radio Monday afternoon.

“I’m at my home, writing my book,” he said when a reporter reached him on the phone.

Asked if he could clarify whether he had been detained, he said, “I’m not falling into that trap.”

It’s not the first time Toledo’s apparent love for booze has caught the public’s attention.

During his mandate, Toledo’s presidential aircraft became known as the “party plane” after a government official was caught on camera drunkenly singing a popular tune called “Pass me the Bottle” while aboard a flight to Europe.

After leaving power, incoming President Alan Garcia published a tally of Toledo’s liquor purchases during his time in the presidential palace: a total of $164,000 in spirits, whisky, wine, beer and other alcoholic beverages.

Interpol officials did not immediately return phone messages left with the organization’s U.S. office in Washington D.C. seeking comment

In a statement, Peru’s foreign ministry said Toledo’s detention “has no relation with the extradition process underway, which is being handled with the utmost zeal and in coordination with various institutions.”

Odebrecht in 2016 admitted in a plea agreement with the U.S. Justice Department to paying some $800 million in bribes to politicians throughout Latin America including $29 million.

The scandal has hit a particularly rough note in Peru, where nearly every living president is suspected or under investigation for ties to Odebrecht.

Former President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski resigned last year after opposition lawmakers revealed that his private consulting firm had previously undisclosed ties to the construction giant.

Prosecutors are also investigating ex-President Alan Garcia after revelations that bribes were made during the construction of Lima’s subway under his tenure. Former President Ollanta Humala was also briefly jailed in connection with the case.

All of Peru’s former presidents have denied wrongdoing.

The public drunkenness arrest marks the latest chapter in what has been a stunning fall from grace for a man who rose out of poverty to become Peru’s first president with indigenous roots.

Toledo grew up shining shoes and selling lottery tickets in northern Peru, one of 16 children, at least seven of which did not survive to adulthood. A happenstance meeting with a U.S. humanitarian worker couple set his life on an unexpected trajectory: With their help, he applied and won a scholarship to the University of San Francisco.

His jovial nature, ease with the masses and opposition to strongman Alberto Fujimori helped him clinch the presidency in 2001. He proudly called himself “El Cholo” — a term referring to his indigenous ancestry, which is sometimes considered derisive — and championed policies emphasizing the free market and attracting foreign investment.

The nation’s economy boomed under his leadership, with gross domestic product rising from 0.2 percent to 6.8 percent.

But his reputation as a hard-partying president trailed him: One Lima newspaper said it obtained receipts showing Toledo’s administration bought 1,753 bottles of Johnny Walker Black Label Scotch whisky during his tenure.

He dismissed the report when he unsuccessfully ran for president again in 2011.

“This is part of the dirty games of the election. I don’t even drink whisky,” he said in a TV interview, calling the receipts “manipulated.”

Spanish Far-right Vox Enlists Ex-generals to Run for Parliament 

Spanish far-right party Vox has signed up three former generals to run for parliament in next month’s general election, two of whom expressed support for the legacy of former right-wing dictator Francisco Franco by signing a petition last year. 

 

The inclusion of openly pro-Franco candidates with senior military backgrounds underscores the ground that Vox has broken in a country that had largely shied away from far-right, militaristic politics since Franco’s rule ended with his death in 1975. 

 

Former Gens. Agustin Rosety and Alberto Asarta will run as parliamentary candidates for the provinces of Cadiz and Castellon, Vox said. Another former general, Manuel Mestre, is running in Alicante, according to the party. Vox had already enlisted another general to run for mayor in Palma de Mallorca. 

 

Rosety and Asarta signed a manifesto last year in support of Franco’s legacy, including the military uprising that ignited the 1936-39 Spanish civil war and resulted in his rule until 1975. 

 

Asarta signed the manifesto last year, according to a copy of it, while Rosety has signed it subsequently, said local media.  

The manifesto, which was has been signed by about 600 former members of the armed forces, was issued as a response to the Socialist government’s plans to remove Franco’s remains from a state mausoleum outside Madrid, according to the promoters. The mausoleum has long been seen by critics as a monument to fascism. 

 

Latest opinion polls show support for Vox, which opposes gender equality laws and immigration and has a strong stance against independence for Spain’s regions, as high as 12.1 percent. That could translate into 38 seats in the national parliament at the April 28 election. 

 

Vox grabbed attention last year when it became the first far-right party in Spain in more than four decades to score an electoral victory, winning seats in a local election in Andalusia. 

 

The Franco mausoleum at the Valley of the Fallen has long been a source of controversy. The Socialist government said last Friday that the dictator’s body would be removed on June 10 and reburied in the family tomb at a state cemetery outside Madrid.

Canada to Extend Military Training Missions in Ukraine, Iraq

Canada will keep a 200-strong military training mission in Ukraine for another three years to help domestic security forces handle continuing tensions with Russia, Ottawa said on Monday.

The Canadian troops, who first went to Ukraine in September 2015, had been due out at the end of March but will now stay until March 2022. News of the extension was first reported by Reuters on Sunday.

“Ongoing insecurity in the region underscores the importance and relevance of Canada’s military mission,” the government said in a statement.

The Canadian training “directly helps Ukraine’s defense and security forces to uphold domestic security and territorial integrity”, it added.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland is a vocal critic of Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. The peninsula had previously been part of Ukraine.

The Canadians are in western Ukraine, far removed from clashes between Ukrainian soldiers and Russian-backed separatists in the east of the country.

They have trained more than 10,800 members of the Ukrainian security forces, the statement said. The troops are part of a larger mission that involves the United States, Britain, Lithuania, Poland and Sweden.

Ottawa also said it would extend a lower-profile training mission in Iraq, where Canada has around 250 personnel. They will now remain in place until March 2021.

“The Canadian Armed Forces will continue to provide training, advice, and assistance to the Iraqi security forces,” the statement said.

Last November Canada assumed command of NATO Mission Iraq, a new non-combat training and capacity building endeavor.

In late 2016 Canadian officials said the trainers – who at that point were operating with Kurdish forces in northern Iraq – had clashed several dozen times with Islamic State militants over the course of a month.

Since then several major offensives in Iraq and Syria pushed Islamic State back and it now occupies a tiny plot of territory in Syria.

US Government, Intel Aim for Nation’s Fastest Computer 

A U.S. government-led group is working with chipmaker Intel and Cray to develop and build the nation’s fastest computer by 2021 for conducting nuclear weapons and other research, officials said Monday.

The Department of Energy and the Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago said they were working on a supercomputer dubbed Aurora with Intel, the world’s biggest supplier of data center chips, and Cray, which specializes in the ultra-fast machines. 

The $500 million contract for the project calls on the companies to deliver a computer with so-called exaflop performance — that is, being able to perform 1 quintillion (1,000,000,000,000,000,000) calculations per second.

If the project succeeds, Aurora would represent nearly an order of magnitude leap over existing machines that feature so-called petaflop performance, capable of doing 1 quadrillion (1,000,000,000,000,000) calculations a second. 

It also heightens the stakes in a race in which the United States, China, the European Union and Japan have all announced plans to build exaflop-capable supercomputers. 

One of Aurora’s primary functions would be simulating nuclear blasts, a pillar of weapons development since the ban of live detonation testings.

Aurora will be built with artificial intelligence capabilities for projects such as developing better battery materials and helping the Department of Veterans Affairs prevent suicides, Rick Stevens, an associate lab director with Argonne overseeing the exascale computing project, said during a news 

briefing.

The project is a win for Intel, which will supply its Xeon CPU chips and Optane memory chips for Aurora. 

Intel has been fending off rival U.S. chipmaker Nvidia Corp.’s rise in the chip content of supercomputers as the machines take on more artificial intelligence work. Nvidia’s chips are found in five of the world’s current top 10 supercomputers, though the Nvidia chips are found alongside chips from its rivals, according to TOP500, which ranks the machines.

The world’s current most powerful machine, the Summit supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, contains chips from International Business Machines Corp. and Nvidia.

The source of chips for supercomputers has become a factor in trade tensions between the United States and China. The world’s third-fastest supercomputer — the Sunway TaihuLight in China — has chips developed domestically in China. 

Chirag Dekate, an analyst with Gartner who studies the supercomputing market, said that despite the small contract size relative to Intel’s overall revenue, the work done on Aurora will eventually filter down to the company’s commercial customers. 

“It’s not just a jingoistic race between the U.S. and China,” Dekate said. “The innovations that Intel is developing here will percolate down to other parts of its business.”