Egypt Independent: World-Main news en US troop reinforcements head for embattled southern Afghan province <img src="" alt="" title="" class="imagecache imagecache-media_thumbnail" width="152" height="114" /><div>Hundreds more US troops are headed for Afghanistan&rsquo;s strife-torn Helmand province to shore up security forces who have struggled in the face of sustained Taliban attacks, officials said.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The core of the new force will provide more security and act as advisers to the Afghan army&#39;s 215th Corps, US Army spokesman Col. Michael Lawhorn said in a statement.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Security forces in the southern province have been plagued by high desertion and casualty rates, corruption, and leadership problems, and the army corps recently saw more than 90 general officers replaced in a major shakeup.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;This was a planned deployment of additional personnel to both bolster force protection for the current staff of advisers and to provide additional advisers to help with ongoing efforts to re-man, re-equip, and re-train the 215th Corps,&quot; he said.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Officials have previously said the new troops would number roughly 200, but Lawhorn declined to publicize exact numbers, saying the reinforcements would be &quot;significant&quot;.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan declared its combat mission over at the end of 2014, and Lawhorn said the new troops in Helmand would be there &quot;to train, advise, and assist our Afghan counterparts, and not to participate in combat operations&quot;.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Regular military advising is largely limited to the corps level and above, but coalition special operation advisers are still embedding at the tactical level with Afghan commandos, sometimes blurring the lines between advising and fighting.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>American Special Forces advisers on the ground in Helmand have found themselves increasingly drawn into combat, with one Green Beret killed in January during a heavy firefight with Taliban insurgents. US warplanes conducted 12 air strikes during that fight.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Roughly 9,800 US troops remain in Afghanistan, but President Barack Obama&#39;s initial plan to withdraw forces by 2017 has already been scrapped, and top commanders are calling for an increased presence for at least five more years.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Helmand was one of the deadliest provinces for thousands of mostly British and American troops who fought there for more than a decade after a US-led military intervention toppled the Taliban in 2001.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>After the coalition reduced its troop strength and transitioned to the focus on advising last year, it adopted a policy of &quot;expeditionary advising&quot; in Helmand, in which most foreign soldiers were not based permanently in the province, but flew in as needed.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>That decision to withdraw permanent forces from Helmand was driven by the closure of bases and the reduction in the total number of foreign troops, US military spokesman Brig. Gen. Wilson Shoffner said in an interview last week.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;Expeditionary advising ... allows you to tailor what you send down there, but one of the challenging aspects of it is that we don&#39;t have the infrastructure and the permanent basing,&quot; he said.</div> Tue, 09 Feb 2016 08:39:00 +0000 Reuters 2466367 at sites/default/files/photo/2016/02/09/503194/screenshot_2016-02-09_10.39.53.png Hong Kong riot police fire warning shots in bloody street clashes <img src="" alt="" title="" class="imagecache imagecache-media_thumbnail" width="152" height="114" /><div>Hong Kong riot police fired warning shots on Tuesday during angry clashes that erupted when authorities tried to remove illegal street stalls set up for Lunar New Year celebrations, the worst street violence since pro-democracy protests in 2014.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Protesters prised bricks from the sidewalk to hurl at police, while others toppled street signs and set fire to rubbish bins in Mong Kok, a gritty neighborhood just across the harbor from the heart of the Asian financial center.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>As many as 48 police were injured in the clashes, a police spokeswoman said. Hong Kong television showed police officers being beaten with poles and sticks as they lay on the ground.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Many protesters and police were also shown with blood streaming down their faces. The police spokeswoman also said 24 protesters were arrested.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Police said two warning shots were fired into the air, with pepper spray and batons also used to disperse the crowd. Television footage showed the shots were fired as protesters surrounded several traffic police, pelting them with rubbish, bricks and bottles and wrestling one of them to the ground.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The remains of burned bins and flower pots, chunks of brick and broken bottles lay scattered along the world-famous Nathan Road shopping strip later on Tuesday morning. A taxi with shattered windows was parked nearby.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The clashes broke out after police moved in to clear &quot;hawkers&quot;, or illegal vendors who sell local delicacies, trinkets and household goods from makeshift streetside stalls.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The hawkers, a common sight on Hong Kong&#39;s bustling streets, quickly attracted a strong social media following under the hashtag #FishballRevolution.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying told reporters at a hastily called news conference that the city&#39;s government strongly condemned the violence.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok said police were investigating &quot;indications&quot; that the clashes had been organized. When asked about the warning shots, Lai said police had taken all necessary actions.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><strong>&quot;Not the first time&quot;</strong></div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The protesters had dispersed by 8 a.m. local time (7 00 p.m. ET) but more than 100 had confronted police in a tense, pre-dawn stand-off during the Lunar New Year holiday, when most of the city is shut down.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Police told Reuters they were awaiting orders about security plans for Tuesday night.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Paul Lee, a 65-year-old security guard, said: &quot;This is not the first time there has been violence in Mong Kok.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;I am deeply disappointed in the government,&quot; he said.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The underground train station for Mong Kok, a bustling shopping district packed with street markets, shops and high-rise residential buildings, was closed temporarily.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The narrow streets in and around Mong Kok were the scene of some of the most violent clashes during protests in late 2014 to demand greater democracy in the former British colony that returned to Beijing rule in 1997.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Tuesday&#39;s clashes, however, appeared more violent.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Hong Kong Indigenous, a &quot;localist&quot; group that is fielding a candidate in a Legislative Council by-election in a few weeks, was involved in the protest, the South China Morning Post newspaper reported.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The group said on its official Facebook page that its candidate, Edward Leung Tin-kei, had been arrested. They could not be reached immediately by telephone to confirm his arrest.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Hong Kong police declined to comment on who had been involved in the protests or to confirm who had been arrested.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Many so-called localists remain deeply embittered by the lack of any concessions from Beijing or Hong Kong authorities during the pro-democracy protests. Television footage showed protesters on Tuesday shouting: &quot;Establish a Hong Kong country!&quot; during running battles with the police.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Radical protesters and &quot;localists&quot; demanding greater Hong Kong autonomy have vowed to keep fighting even as China shows signs of tightening its grip.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The clashes in December 2014 came when authorities cleared the last of pro-democracy demonstrators from the streets after more than two months of protests that had posed one of the Beijing&#39;s greatest political challenges in decades.</div> Tue, 09 Feb 2016 08:26:00 +0000 Reuters 2466363 at sites/default/files/photo/2016/02/09/503194/screenshot_2016-02-09_10.26.47.png Haiti's mood grim as president leaves with no replacement, Carnival delayed <img src="" alt="" title="" class="imagecache imagecache-media_thumbnail" width="152" height="114" /><div>Michel Martelly stepped down as Haitian president on Sunday, leaving a deeply divided country in the hands of a disputed interim government, while the first day of Carnival celebrations was canceled as violent protests erupted.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The mood was grim on what should have been a festive day that would have marked a newly elected president, as well as the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship and the start of the Caribbean country&#39;s Carnival.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Riot police clashed with protesters and Martelly handed back the presidential sash without anyone to succeed him.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Weeks of unrest set off by a first-round election that critics say was fraudulent meant the impoverished nation was unable to hold a runoff to chose a new president before Martelly&#39;s term ended.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Under a last-minute agreement welcomed by Washington and other foreign powers, parliament is due to choose a temporary president in the next few days. Elections are set for April 24 and the winner would take office in May.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>But there is a major catch. A group of eight losing candidates from the first round rejected the notion of parliament choosing the interim president, and called instead for a Supreme Court judge to lead the process.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The group, which includes the opposition candidate for the runoff, Jude Celestin, believes the parliamentarians, who were elected in the same flawed October first round, do not have the legitimacy to oversee the interim government or a new vote.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;This alleged agreement attempts to validate the 2015 elections as if they were regular, regardless of popular protests that resulted in numerous casualties,&quot; spokesman Samuel Madistin said in a statement.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Madistin said the agreement reflected the position of part of the international community and Haiti&#39;s ruling class.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Opposition protesters and police clashed again in downtown Port-au-Prince on Sunday in the area that hosts the capital&#39;s heavily attended and raucous annual Mardi Gras celebrations, with some groups trying to attack Carnival stages.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The Carnival organizing committee called off the first day of the festival, citing the unrest. Two top musical groups had already pulled out, with bandleader Roberto Martino saying his group, T-Vice, might not take part at all.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Martelly formally left office during a ceremony at the national assembly, guarded outside by U.N. troops and riot police. Assembly President Jocelerme Privert called for a &quot;truce&quot; to allow enough stability to organize the elections, already postponed three times, most recently in January.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Any interim government will have to overcome strong disagreements about which candidates can participate, since many are convinced the first round unfairly favored ruling party candidate Jovenel Moise.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Martelly&#39;s government denied any wrongdoing.</div> Mon, 08 Feb 2016 15:15:00 +0000 Reuters 2466357 at sites/default/files/photo/2016/02/08/503194/screenshot_2016-02-08_17.18.33.png Young girl rescued two days after Taiwan quake; toll could exceed 100 <img src="" alt="" title="" class="imagecache imagecache-media_thumbnail" width="152" height="114" /><div>Rescuers pulled out an eight-year-old girl alive from the rubble of a Taiwan apartment block on Monday more than 60 hours after it was toppled by an earthquake, as the mayor of the southern city of Tainan warned the death toll could exceed 100.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The official death toll from the quake rose to 38, with more than 100 people missing.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The girl, named as Lin Su-Chin, was conscious and had been taken to hospital, Taiwan television stations said, adding there were possibly two other people still alive in the wrecked building.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The quake struck at about 4 a.m. on Saturday (2000 GMT Friday) at the beginning of the Lunar New Year holiday, with almost all the dead found in Tainan&#39;s toppled Wei-guan Golden Dragon Building.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Rescue efforts are focused on the wreckage of the 17-story building, where more than 100 people are listed as missing and are suspected to be buried deep under the rubble.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Earlier, Wang Ting-yu, a legislator who represents the area, told reporters that a woman, identified as Tsao Wei-ling, was found alive lying under her dead husband. Their two-year-old son, who was also killed, was found lying nearby.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Another survivor, a man named Li Tsung-tian, was pulled out later, with Taiwan television stations showing live images of the rescues. Several hours later, Li&#39;s girlfriend was found dead in the rubble.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Tsao and Li were both being treated in hospital.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Tainan Mayor William Lai said during a visit to a funeral home that rescue efforts had entered what he called the &quot;third stage&quot;.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;There are more fatalities than those pulled out (alive), and the number of fatalities will probably exceed 100,&quot; Lai told reporters.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Rescuers continued to scramble over the twisted wreckage of the building as numbed family members stood around, waiting for news of missing relatives.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Taiwan&#39;s government said in a statement 36 of the 38 dead were from the Wei-guan building, which was built in 1994.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>President-elect Tsai Ing-wen, who won election last month, said there needed to be a &quot;general sorting out&quot; of old buildings to make sure they were able to cope with disasters like earthquakes.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;There needs to be a continued strengthening of their ability to deal with disasters,&quot; she said.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Outgoing President Ma Ying-jeou, speaking to reporters at a Tainan hospital, said the government needed to be a better job in ensuring building quality.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;In the near future, regarding building management, we will have some further improvements. We will definitely do this work well,&quot; Ma said.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Reuters witnesses at the scene of the collapse saw large rectangular, commercial cans of cooking-oil packed inside wall cavities exposed by the damage, apparently having been used as building material.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Chinese President Xi Jinping also conveyed condolences to the victims, state news agency Xinhua reported late on Sunday, and repeated Beijing&#39;s offer to provide help.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>China views self-ruled Taiwan as a wayward province, to be bought under its control by force if necessary.</div> Mon, 08 Feb 2016 11:47:00 +0000 Reuters 2466342 at sites/default/files/photo/2016/02/08/503194/screenshot_2016-02-08_13.50.17.png