Archive for North America
Canada formally opened its embassy in Yangon on Friday, aiming to further promote cooperation between Canada and Myanmar, and between Canada and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Visiting Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird said the opening of the embassy is to establish long-term relations between the two countries and between Canada and the ASEAN with which Canada is one of the dialogue partners. Canada and Myanmar established diplomatic relations in 1958, but the Canadian embassy with Myanmar were stationed in Bangkok, Thailand ever since. Canada downgraded its relations with Myanmar in late 1988 and imposed economic sanctions, barring trade with Myanmar and banning visas for then Myanmar’s high ranking military officials. The two countries later normalized their relations. In April 2012, Canada suspended most of its prohibitions on trade with and investment in Myanmar in recognition of the Myanmar’s reform progress.
The U.S. State Department ordered the departure of all family members at its embassy in Liberia, one of the four West African nations hit hard by the Ebola virus. “The State Department today ordered the departure from Monrovia of all eligible family members not employed by post in the coming days,” department spokesperson Marie Harf said in a statement. She said the U.S. Embassy in Liberia suggested the step “out of an abundance of caution,” adding that “Washington was focusing its efforts on helping U.S. citizens in the country as well as the Liberian government, international health organizations and local non-governmental organizations to deal with the unprecedented Ebola outbreak.” Meanwhile, additional disease specialists, including 12 disease prevention specialists from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a 13-member Disaster Assistance Response Team, were sent to Liberia. The State Department also warned the U.S. nationals not to travel to Liberia. The Ebola outbreak in March has sickened 1,711 people and killed 932 so far in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The virus is spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of those infected. Liberia and Sierra Leone account for more than 60 percent of the deaths, according to the WHO.
To wish President Barack Obama a happy 52nd birthday, a group of Russian pranksters left him a gift on the US Embassy in Moscow: a laser projection of Obama in a birthday hat, repeatedly putting a banana in his mouth. “Happy birthday Obama,” the message continued, if it was unclear to viewers that the image was of Obama. A group called the Moscow Student Initiative took credit for the prank on Russian social media. Russia has a long history of equating the Obamas to monkeys and photoshopping bananas in their presence.
The Conservative government is being harshly criticized by the union representing Canada’s diplomats for reaching outside the ranks of career foreign service officers to appoint a prominent member of the Knights of Columbus as this country’s next ambassador to the Vatican-based Holy See. The appointment last week of Dennis Savoie, an active Roman Catholic who has spoken at pro-life rallies on Parliament Hill, immediately drew criticism from the Official Opposition for how he once reportedly compared abortion to the deaths in the 9/11 terrorism attacks. Now, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s governing Conservatives are under fire from the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO), which represents more than 1,500 current and retired diplomats. In a strongly worded statement, the group said it “deplores the government’s decision to, once again, nominate a non-diplomat to one of Canada’s ambassadorial positions.” The group said Savoie’s appointment is the third non-diplomatic posting this year. Others include Vivian Bercovici, a lawyer and newspaper columnist who was sent to Israel as Canadian ambassador, and James Villeneuve, a beer company executive who was appointed Canada’s consul general in Los Angeles. The group said the appointments represent one-third of all new diplomatic appointments since January. “From PAFSO’s perspective this is a worrisome trend.” A spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird indicated Wednesday that the government stands by its appointment.
The U.S. State Department is increasing security at some American embassies in anticipation of the public release of a long-awaited Senate report detailing the CIA’s use of harsh interrogation techniques, U.S. officials said. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the additional security measures reflected concerns that the report could prompt protests in countries where the CIA operated secret prisons that were used to conduct interrogations. Human rights activists and some U.S. politicians have labeled as “torture” some of the physically stressful interrogation techniques, such as simulated drowning, that were authorized under former-President George W. Bush. For security reasons, State Department officials declined to specify how or where U.S. embassies were being fortified in anticipation of the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee report. One official said the Obama administration was concerned that the report’s publication could ignite a “tinder box” in Middle Eastern countries and also frighten some foreign security agencies into scaling back cooperation with their U.S. counterparts. According to unclassified documents and extensive news reports, sites where the spy agency secretly imprisoned detainees as part of its now-defunct “Rendition/Detention/Interrogation” program included Poland, Romania, Thailand and Afghanistan, as well as the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. While countries involved in the program were identified in news reports several years ago, publication of the committee’s report could rekindle anger, particularly in the Muslim world, over U.S. practices that were pursued during Bush’s “war on terror.”
The US ambassador to the OSCE in Austria married his long-time partner in a ceremony at his residence in Vienna on the weekend. According to a report on the website Advocate.com, the US Ambassador to the OSCE in Austria, Dr. Daniel Baer married his long-time partner Brian Walsh in a simple ceremony on Saturday morning, surrounded by family and friends. Also present was Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin. Dr Baer was sworn in as ambassador on September 10, 2013. Previously, he served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour. Baer and Walsh obtained the license for their marriage in the US, but held the ceremony at their home in Vienna. While this type of marriage is not generally countenanced under Austrian law, technically the ambassador’s residence is US territory, therefore no Austrian regulations were likely to be breached – and in any case, the marriage license was not issued by the Austrian government. Registered same-sex partnerships have been legal in Austria since January 2010, however significant differences remain between such partnerships and full marriage. The latter institution enjoys privileges denied to same-sex couples, including rights of adoption and lack of access to reproductive services (IVF). Baer is the seventh openly LGBT person appointed by President Barack Obama and the first to a multilateral institution.
Pictures placed on Twitter by US ambassador to Kiev Geoffrey Pyatt, claiming to show weapons being fired on Ukrainian troops from Russian territory, are fake, a Russian official told ITAR-TASS. Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said it was not accidental that the materials appeared on Twitter since it was impossible to establish whether they were authentic. Low-resolution pictures made it unclear what was being shown and they could not be used as photographic evidence, the official said. It was no secret that such fakes were being prepared by a group of American advisers working in the Ukrainian Security Service building in Kiev under the supervision of General Randy Kee, he added. Earlier, Kiev officials repeatedly presented such pictures to justify the use of artillery and other heavy weapons by Ukrainian troops against civilians.
Canadian diplomatic staff in Tripoli have taken the precaution of working out of an undisclosed location, as Libya faces increasingly intense intermilitia violence that this weekend cost dozens of civilian lives and prompted the U.S. to temporarily shutter its embassy. A government official said while the Canadian embassy in Tripoli remains operational and is delivering limited services, the “handful” of Canadian diplomats there sometimes work from a location other than the mission, depending on the day-to-day security conditions. The embassy’s visa application centre has been closed since July 21 until further notice. Countries such as France, Germany, Britain, the U.S. and the Netherlands asked their citizens to leave Libya during the weekend. A British embassy convoy was hit by gunfire amid an attempted hijacking outside Tripoli on Sunday. No one was injured and the British embassy will remain open but with reduced staff.
A Venezuelan former intelligence chief who had been arrested in Aruba on US drugs charges has been freed. Hugo Carvajal was declared ‘persona non grata’ by the Dutch foreign minister. Carvajal was freed late Sunday after being arrested last week in Aruba, which is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, as he arrived to serve as Venezuela’s consul general on the Caribbean island. He was detained at the request of US prosecutors, who want to try him over alleged drug crimes and helping Colombia’s Marxist FARC guerrillas. Carvajal served as military intelligence chief under the late Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, from 2004-2011. At the time of his arrest, Carvajal’s diplomatic status had led to confusion as to whether he was entitled to immunity from prosecution. Aruban authorities had argued that did not have immunity because he had yet to be accredited by the Netherlands. That was cleared up at a press conference in Oranjestad, Aruba’s capital, late on Sunday, when it was announced that Carvajal did indeed have immunity. However, it was also announced that the Dutch foreign minister, Frans Timmermans, had declared the retired general ‘persona non grata’ – a term used by governments to remove diplomats. “The fact is that Mr. Carvajal was granted diplomatic immunity, but is also considered persona non grata,” said Aruban Justice Minister Arthur Dowers. Dowers said Carvajal was arrested because he had arrived on a diplomatic passport but had not yet been accredited by the Dutch authorities to serve as a diplomat on the island. Officials decided to act on the US detention request because of an international treaty between Washington and the Netherlands. US officials were “very disappointed” with the decision to free Carvajal, Aruban Justice Minister Dowers said.
The US says it has temporarily evacuated its staff from the Libyan capital Tripoli over security concerns. Staff, including marine guards providing security to the embassy, have been transferred to Tunisia “due to the ongoing violence resulting from clashes between Libyan militias,” it adds. It comes amid fierce clashes between rival militias in the capital, with intense fighting at Tripoli airport. Secretary of State John Kerry says violence in Libya presents a “very real risk” to US embassy staff. Libya has been gripped by instability since the 2011 uprising, with swathes of the country controlled by militias. With no army, Libya’s central government has increasingly lost control over the country to rogue and powerful militias in the last two years.