April 11th, 2014
11:23 AM ET

Pistorius Accused of Hiding the Truth

Oscar Pistorius faced another day of relentless cross-examination Friday as the prosecution challenged his account of the killing of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel has accused the athlete of hiding the truth about the death of Steenkamp, whom he shot last year through a closed toilet door in his home in Pretoria, South Africa.

His questions again sought to undermine Pistorius' reliability and credibility and to portray the Olympic athlete as someone who was inventing his version of events and "tailoring" evidence to suit his story.

As Nel turned once again to the early hours of Valentine's Day 2013, he repeatedly challenged Pistorius over his actions in the moments leading up to Steenkamp's death.

The prosecution's argument is that Pistorius shot Steenkamp intentionally after a heated argument. Pistorius does not deny shooting her but insists that he mistook her for an intruder.

Pistorius said he thought he heard the toilet door opening before he fired.

"I didn't intend to shoot. My firearm was pointed at the door because that's where I believed that somebody was," he said. "When I heard a noise, I didn't have to think, and I fired - I fired my weapon. It was an accident."

Nel, known in South African legal circles for his bulldog-like approach to cross-examination, responded to Pistorius' testimony almost with scorn.

"Your version is so improbable that nobody would ever think that it was reasonably, possibly true," he said.

Nel then hammered Pistorius on whether he had known Steenkamp was in the toilet when he fired.

"You knew Reeva was behind the door, and you shot at her," Nel said more than once.

"That's not true," Pistorius replied in a low tone.

That dramatic moment was when Nel asked for the trial to be adjourned until Monday morning.

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April 8th, 2014
06:56 AM ET

Pistorius: 'I Sat Over Reeva and I Cried'

Oscar Pistorius wailed on the stand today as he described his panic upon realizing his gunshots had killed girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. 

"She wasn't breathing," the track star heaved as he described the February night more than a year ago. The judge adjourned the murder trial as Pistorius' emotions unraveled and later ended proceedings for the day.

The Olympic sprinter had been explaining how he came to shoot Steenkamp, and how it didn't dawn on him at first that she, and not an intruder, may have been behind the bathroom door at which he fired his pistol.

"I didn't want to believe that it could be Reeva inside the toilet," he testified.


April 4th, 2014
09:42 AM ET

2 AP Journalists Shot in Afghanistan

Two journalists working for The Associated Press have been shot in Afghanistan, one of them fatally, the news agency said Friday.

The Associated Press said the slain journalist was Anja Niedringhaus, 48, an internationally acclaimed German photographer. She was shot in the country's eastern Khost province.

The second journalist targeted by the gunman was Kathy Gannon, a Canadian reporter based in Islamabad, the AP said. She is said to be in a stable condition and is receiving medical care.

"Anja and Kathy together have spent years in Afghanistan covering the conflict and the people there," said AP executive editor Kathleen Carroll, speaking in New York. "Anja was a vibrant, dynamic journalist well-loved for her insightful photographs, her warm heart and joy for life. We are heartbroken at her loss."

In a letter to AP staff Friday morning, chief executive Gary Pruitt also praised her courage and skill, describing her as "spirited, intrepid and fearless, with a raucous laugh that we will always remember."

The two women were traveling in their own car in a convoy of election workers delivering ballots in Khost province, protected by the Afghan National Army and Afghan police, the news agency said.

A unit commander walked up to their car as it waited to move, yelled "Allahu akbar" - "God is great" - and opened fire on them in the back seat, the AP said. He then surrendered to the other police present.

The reason for the attack is unclear, but police have arrested the suspected shooter and the case is under investigation, Baryalay Rawan, a spokesman for the Khost provincial governor, told CNN.

The attack came amid heightened security on the eve of Afghanistan's presidential and provincial elections.

Taliban disruption

The third presidential vote since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, this year's elections mark the first democratic handover of power in the fragile country, with current President Hamid Karzai - who is term-limited by the constitution - handing over the reins.

The Taliban have vowed to disrupt the elections and punish anyone involved in them.

A series of attacks in the capital, Kabul, and elsewhere has marred the run-up to the elections.

On Wednesday, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the entrance gate to the Interior Ministry in Kabul, killing six Afghan police officers, Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

A day earlier, a provincial council candidate and nine of his supporters were killed by the Taliban in northern Sar-e-Pul province, said the province's deputy police chief, Sakhidad Haidari.

Other journalists killed

Last month, the names of two more journalists were added to the list of those killed in Afghanistan.

Sardar Ahmad, one of Afghanistan's most prominent journalists and a senior reporter for Agence France-Presse, was among nine people killed in an attack on the Serena Hotel in central Kabul.

That attack came less than two weeks after Swedish Radio correspondent Nils Horner was shot dead in broad daylight on a Kabul street.

In his letter to AP staff, Pruitt said: "As conflict spreads throughout regions of the world, journalism has become more dangerous. Where once reporters and photographers were seen as the impartial eyes and ears of crucial information, today they are often targets."

The Committee to Protect Journalists highlighted the risks faced by journalists, particularly women, in Afghanistan in a piece published in February.

Some fear those risks may increase as the planned withdrawal of NATO combat forces, including U.S. troops, looms at the end of the year.

Changed mission?

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force had just over 51,000 troops, from 48 different countries, in Afghanistan as of Tuesday. Of those, the vast majority - about 33,500 - are from the United States.

Karzai has refused to sign an agreement to keep foreign security troops in the country after 2014.

But Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO's supreme allied commander Europe, told CNN's Christiane Amanpour this week that he anticipates international forces will remain in Afghanistan after the currently scheduled withdrawal.

"I think you will see a very large ISAF combat mission changed to a smaller but continued resolute support, train, advise and assist mission at the end of the year," he said. "NATO's mission doesn't end (after 2014); NATO's combat mission ends, but our train, advise, assist mission begins, and this is very important to remember."

The three leading presidential candidates - Abdullah Abdullah, Zalmai Rassoul and Ashraf Ghani - have told CNN that they are in favor of signing a deal.

Abdullah, who was a vocal critic of the Taliban during their years in power, was a previous Karzai ally and served in his government as foreign minister. But in later years, he has been a thorn in the side of the outgoing President. He is seen as a relatively liberal candidate and advocate of women's engagement in public life.

Rassoul is seen as the establishment candidate. A Karzai ally, he received the backing of the current President's brother, Qayum, who withdrew his candidacy and endorsed the former foreign minister. Rassoul has a reputation for honesty, despite his years in an administration plagued with accusations of graft.

The third key contender, Ghani, is a former U.S. citizen and academic who gave up his passport to run for the Afghan presidency in 2009. He is seen as a moderate, with experience in development, but his past links to the United States may lessen his chances if voters see him as an outsider.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, speaking Wednesday in Belgium, said the latest briefings from NATO commanders show that despite the Taliban's threats, overall violence across Afghanistan "is lower now than at any time during the last two years."

Rasmussen praised the work of Afghan security forces, which have taken over many responsibilities from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, saying they had "demonstrated commitment, courage and professionalism" during preparations for the elections.

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April 1st, 2014
09:45 AM ET

NATO Chief Rasmussen Says No Russian Troop Withdrawal Seen

NATO sees no sign that Russia is pulling its forces back from the border with Ukraine, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Tuesday, despite Moscow's claim of a partial pullback.

"Unfortunately I cannot confirm that Russia is withdrawing its troops," Rasmussen said at the opening of a two-day meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels, Belgium.

"This is not what we're seeing. And this massive military buildup can in no way contribute to a de-escalation of the situation."

Concerns are high that Russia, which U.S. officials last week said had about 40,000 troops near the frontier, might seek to enter eastern Ukraine, after it annexed Ukraine's Crimea region last month.

Russian President Vladimir Putin told German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday that he'd ordered a withdrawal of some Russian troops from his country's border area with Ukraine, Merkel's office said.

The news prompted U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki to say Monday that if the reports were accurate, "it would be a welcome preliminary step."

But Rasmussen appeared to quash hopes that the situation might be easing with his remarks Tuesday.

He said the NATO foreign ministers would discuss options to boost their collective defense capability, including enhanced military exercises and updated defense plans, in addition to the stepped-up NATO air surveillance already in place above Eastern European nations.

"Defense starts with deterrence, so we will take the necessary steps to make it clear to the world that no threat against NATO allies will succeed," Rasmussen said.

He said that Russia's actions are unacceptable and that they will discuss what cooperation with Russia is still appropriate. "We cannot go on doing business as usual," he said.

But, Rasmussen stressed, the alliance still seeks a peaceful solution to the crisis.

"I don't think anybody honestly would like to see a military confrontation in Europe," he said, adding that "the right way forward is the diplomatic and political path."

He urged Russia to pull back its forces from the border area and engage in dialogue with the interim Ukrainian government.

Russian state media reported Monday that one Russian infantry battalion was being moved from the border area to its base deeper into Russia. A battalion would typically number several hundred troops.

Psaki also urged Russia on Monday to talk with the government in Kiev to de-escalate the situation. Moscow does not recognize Ukraine's new government, saying ousted President Viktor Yanukovych was removed in an unconstitutional coup.

Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean peninsula last month amid the political upheaval that followed the ouster of the pro-Moscow Yanukovych, sparking the most serious East-West crisis since the Cold War ended.

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