Huge rally in Barcelona against Catalan independence

Catalans calling themselves a “silent majority” opposed to leaving Spain broke their silence after a week of mounting anxiety over the country’s worst political crisis in a generation.

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The crowd waved both Spanish and Catalan flags and chanted “Viva Espana! Viva Catalonia!” as they made their way through the streets of Barcelona under a clear blue sky.

“We have perhaps been silent too long,” Alejandro Marcos, 44, told AFP.

“It seems that the one who yells the most wins the argument. So we have to raise our voices and say loud and clear that we do not want independence.”

Around 350,000 people attended the rally, municipal police said, while organisers put turnout at between 930,000 and 950,000.

Some protesters called for the region’s separatist president Carles Puigdemont to go to jail for holding a vote on independence in defiance of the Spanish government and courts.

“The unity of Spain cannot be voted on or negotiated — it must be defended,” read one sign in the crowd.

Others called for dialogue. The slogan for the demonstration — organised by the Societat Civil Catalana, the main anti-independence group in Catalonia — was: “Enough, let’s recover good sense!”

Police say 350,000 people joined in today’s march #barcelona @SBSNews pic南京夜生活,/Qt8o8UtrwG

— Brett Mason (@BrettMasonNews) October 8, 2017Rajoy’s stern warning 

Recent polls had indicated that Catalans are split on independence, though leaders said police violence during the referendum turned many against the state authorities.

City police said 700,000 people joined a pro-independence protest in Barcelona two days after the vote.

On the eve of the rally, Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy issued a stern warning to Catalan leaders who have said they could declare independence this week.

A snippet of today’s anti-independence march in #barcelona @SBSNews pic南京夜生活,/qWsxB7UYaa

— Brett Mason (@BrettMasonNews) October 8, 2017

He did not rule out moving to stop that by suspending Catalonia’s regional autonomy — a move that could risk sparking unrest.

“I rule out absolutely nothing that is allowed for under the law,” he said in an interview with El Pais newspaper.

“The ideal would be not to have to take drastic measures,” he said.

“I would like this threat of a declaration of independence to be withdrawn as quickly as possible.”

Protesters wave flags during a demonstration called by Societat Civil Catalana (Catalan Civil Society) (AAP)AAP

‘Still time’

Tensions soared after police cracked down on voters during the banned October 1 independence referendum, prompting separatist leaders to warn they would unilaterally declare independence.

Tentative signs emerged Friday that the two sides may be seeking to defuse the crisis after Madrid offered a first apology to Catalans injured by police during the vote. 

But uncertainty still stalks the country as Catalan leaders have not backed off from plans to declare the region independent.

Puigdemont is scheduled to address the regional parliament on Tuesday evening.

It remains unclear what he plans to say, although some separatist leaders hope he will use the opportunity to declare independence.

Rajoy assured Catalan leaders that there “is still time” to backtrack and avoid triggering a tough response from the central government in Madrid.

‘Traitors’ 

With its own language and cultural traditions, demands for independence in Catalonia date back centuries but have surged during recent years of economic hardship.

The latest crisis has raised fears of unrest in Catalonia, a northeastern region about the size of Belgium that is home to 7.5 million people and accounts for a fifth of Spain’s economy.

Spanish police caused international shock by beating voters in the October 1 referendum.

At Sunday’s rally, demonstrators cheered and applauded when a national police helicopter flew over and some people shook the hands of national police officers to thank them for their efforts to stop the referendum.

But protesters jeered members of Catalonia’s regional police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, which had largely ignored a court order to close polling stations and seize ballot boxes.

Dozens of protesters surrounded two Mossos vans and called the officers standing on guard in front of them “traitors”. 

Some of #Catalonia’s cultural and political identities leading today’s anti-independence march in #barcelona @SBSNews pic南京夜生活,/BBpfa4Qnbo

— Brett Mason (@BrettMasonNews) October 8, 2017Nobel warning 

Nobel literature prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa warned in an address to the crowd at the end of the rally that “passion can be destructive and ferocious when it is fueled by fanaticism and racism.”

“The worst of all, the one that has caused the most ravages in history, is nationalist passion,” he added.

The Catalan government on Friday published final results from the referendum indicating that 90 percent of voters backed the proposal to break away from Spain.

Turnout was 43 percent as Catalans who reject independence largely boycotted the polls.

The vote was not held according to official electoral standards as there were not regular voter lists, electoral commission or observers.

Protesters piled off the morning train from Madrid at Barcelona’s Sants station to join the protests on Sunday.

“I’m tired of being quiet,” said Susana Cerezal, 41, who came to the demonstration from the town of Figueras near the border with France.

“In Spain we trust” @SBSNews pic南京夜生活,/Gi7OfLXcxM

— Brett Mason (@BrettMasonNews) October 8, 2017

Las Vegas gunman’s house searched again

Federal investigators have returned to search the home of Las Vegas gunman Stephen Paddock, while the officers who raided his hotel room the night of the shooting gave a harrowing account of a barricaded door they had to bust through and the booby-traps they feared they’d find.

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The search of Paddock’s three-bedroom house on a cul-de-sac in a retirement community in Mesquite, Nevada, was for “re-documenting and rechecking,” said local police Chief Troy Tanner, who accompanied FBI agents as they served the search warrant.

The home was first searched on Monday by Las Vegas police, who said they found 19 guns and several pounds of potentially explosive materials at the house that Paddock bought in early 2015.

The latest search came exactly a week after Paddock opened fire on a country music crowd, killing 58 and injuring nearly 500.

Meanwhile, the makeshift SWAT team of police officers who made it to Paddock’s door at the Mandalay Bay hotel casino within 12 minutes of the first shots being fired have described the “gun store” they found inside.

One of them said he hurried from police headquarters to the Mandalay Bay in cowboy boots and ditched them before ascending to the 32nd floor in search of the gunman.

“I just threw them in the casino,” Detective Matthew Donaldson said. “That was slowing’ me down. I was faster barefoot, and I was gonna be more effective barefoot,” he told CBS television program “60 Minutes” on Sunday night

The officers said they heard reports of gunmen on both the 29th and 32nd floor, so “we’re thinking multiple shooters at this point”, Sgt. Joshua Bitsko said.

They zeroed in on the 32nd floor after Paddock unleashed about 200 rounds at a security guard outside his door.

When they got to the stairwell door on that floor near Paddock’s room, they found he had taken special measures to slow them down.

“He had screwed shut the door – with a piece of metal and some screws,” Bitsko said. “Cause he knew we’d be coming out that door to gain entry into his door. So he tried to barricade it as best he could.”

But another officer had a pry bar and was able to easily pop it open, Bitsko said.

Authorities would later reveal that Paddock had surveillance cameras rigged inside and outside his room. But the officers didn’t know that at the time.

“There’s a room service cart with wires going on it underneath the door,” Officer Dave Newton said. “There was something black on top of the cart. So initially I’m, you know, I’m thinking, ‘This is a booby-trap. It’s, it’s going to explode.’ “

It turned out Paddock had already shot and killed himself when they finally entered.

Inside, Newton said he found “so many guns. So many magazines. Stacks and stacks of magazines everywhere. Just in suitcases all neatly stacked against pillars, around the room, all stacked up, rifles placed all throughout. All kinds of monitors and electrical equipment he had in there. It just looked like almost a gun store.”

Also on Sunday, authorities began returning the baby strollers, shoes, phones, backpacks and purses that have been strewn for days across the huge crime scene that a week ago was home to 22,000 country music fans at the Route 91 Harvest festival.

“Whatever was dropped when people started running, those items we’re collecting and we’re going to provide back,” Paul Flood, unit chief in the FBI’s victim services division said.

The items have been catalogued with detailed descriptions, and some have been cleaned of things including blood.

Kim Jong-un promotes sister, reaffirms nuclear drive

Kim Yo-Jong becomes an alternate member of the party’s powerful politburo, the decision-making body presided over by her brother, the official KCNA news agency said.

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The promotion was announced along with those for dozens of other top officials at a party meeting led by the leader on Saturday.

It came as the regime faces growing global pressure to curb its weapons drive following recent nuclear and missile tests. 

Tensions soared as Kim traded verbal threats with US President Donald Trump, who tweeted on Saturday that “only one thing will work” to tame the isolated nuclear-armed state.  

The sister, in her late 20s, has   frequently been seen accompanying her brother on his “field guidance trips” and other events and is known to have been involved in the party’s propaganda operations. 

Both were born to the late former ruler Kim Jong-Il and his third partner, former dancer Ko Yong-Hui.

The family has ruled North Korea since its creation in 1948. The current ruler came to power after the death of his father in December 2011.

Since then he has overseen four of the country’s six nuclear tests — most recently in September — while cementing his grip on power through a series of purges, including those targeting his uncle and half-brother. 

The uncle, Jang Song-Thaek, was executed in 2013 for treason and the half-brother Kim Jong-Nam was killed by a toxic nerve agent in a Cold War-style assassination at a Kuala Lumpur airport in February. 

Both the North’s missile and nuclear weapons capabilities have made significant progress under the current Kim, despite a growing layer of UN sanctions.

During Saturday’s party meeting, Kim acknowledged the country faced with “ordeals” under a “stern” situation, but claimed that its economy had grown this year despite ever-tighter sanctions.

He described the North’s atomic weapons as a “treasured sword” to protect it from aggression.

“The nuclear weapons of the DPRK (North Korea) are a precious fruition borne by its people’s bloody struggle for defending the destiny and sovereignty of the country from the protracted nuclear threats of the US imperialists,” Kim was quoted as saying.

Life-saving leukaemia and lymphoma drug soon within reach

When his wife was eight months pregnant with their first child, Warren Lippiatt was told he had five years to live.

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The soon-to-be father was diagnosed with leukaemia.

“Thinking that you may not see your first child go and spend their first day at school was just, oh I can’t describe the feeling at the time,” he told reporters and the prime minister at Royal North Shore Hospital.

Later down the track, when his children were three and five, the disease had taken over his body and he had run out of options.

“Four-and-a half-years ago, I could barely walk,” he said.

But within weeks of participating in a clinical trial of Ibrutinib – also known as Imbruvica – he started to feel better.

“This drug has not only saved my life but it’s saved hundreds and it will save thousands of people’s lives in the future.”

Malcolm Turnbull toured the hospital on Monday to announce the drug will be listed on the pharmaceutical benefits scheme from December at a cost of $466 million.

“It is a reminder of how keenly focused we are in the fight against cancer,” he said.

Today @TurnbullMalcolm met with staff and patients at RNSH during his visit to announce the PBS listing of a new life-saving leukaemia drug pic南京夜生活,/W3FOsTia2w

— NSLHD (@NthSydHealth) October 9, 2017

The medicine, which normally costs $187,390 per course of treatment, will be reduced to $38.80 per script or $6.30 for concessional patients.

It will be available to eligible patients with relapsed or refractory chronic lymphocytic leukaemia or small lymphocytic lymphoma.

Normally Ibrutinib is used when patients have not responded to standard treatments.

Professor Stephen Mulligan, who was involved in the clinical trials, said previously there were very few other options.

“This new drug really has revolutionised the outlook for these patients with a very marked improvement in their overall survival and wellbeing,” he said.

It’s estimated the announcement will put the drug within reach of more than 920 Australians each year.

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Thousands of purses and phones belonging to Las Vegas shooting victims carted off in trucks

Investigators still lack a clear reason why Stephen Paddock, 64, unleashed a torrent of gunfire into a crowd of 22,000 at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival on October 1.

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The suspect shot himself dead before police stormed his 32nd-floor suite in the Mandalay Bay Casino and Resort, high above the concert venue.

“We’re past the response portion of this horrible incident,” Clark County Emergency Manager John Steinbeck said at a news conference. “We’re moving into the recovery now.”

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Fifty-eight people died and nearly 500 were injured.

To honour the victims on Sunday night, marquee lights along the Las Vegas Strip will dim for 11 minutes from 10.05pm until 10.16pm, the exact time and duration of the gunfire one week ago, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority said in a statement.

Marquees on Strip, #ClarkCounty & “Fabulous Welcome to Las Vegas” sign to go dark @ 10:05pm 2nite, exactly 1 week after #1October shooting. pic南京夜生活,/7HTPS5KvMr

— Clark County Nevada (@ClarkCountyNV) October 8, 2017

Unlike so many other perpetrators of deadly mass shootings before him, Paddock left behind no suicide note, no manifesto, no recordings and no messages on social media pointing to his intent, according to police.

Paddock used a device known as a bump stock to make 12 of his rifles operate more like automatic weapons, which are outlawed in the United States. On Sunday, the powerful U.S. gun lobby, the National Rifle Association, said it would oppose an outright ban on bump-stock devices.

On Sunday, teams of counsellors fanned out across the city, attending church services and gathering at a family assistance centre set up at the Las Vegas Convention Centre as the Red Cross set out to find those in need of comfort. Spiritual and legal advisers were also available.

0:00 Seven truckloads of possessions left behind after Las Vegas shooting Share Seven truckloads of possessions left behind after Las Vegas shooting

The Red Cross are stepping up efforts to reach those traumatized by the massacre.

“A week into this, a lot of people have been numb,” said Red Cross spokesman Bill Fortune, who flew in from Colorado to help with the recovery effort. “Some of those emotional crises are just showing up today, where people can’t get out of bed. People have called saying they can’t be in crowds.”

The process of returning items left behind by those who fled in the chaos could take weeks, authorities said.

So many phones, backpacks, lawn chairs and other items were left behind that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has divided the huge crime scene into four quadrants, releasing items from only one of them at a time, starting on Sunday, FBI Victims Services chief Paul Flood said.

Items from area A of the venue have been cleared for release. Available starting today at the Family Assistance Center, 3150 Paradise Rd. pic南京夜生活,/yzQcH4bdYU

— LVMPD (@LVMPD) October 8, 2017

Before release, the items had to be cleaned of blood and other substances, as well as categorised, Flood said. Property from just one quadrant of the scene filled seven delivery-sized trucks, he said, and required the attention of dozens of investigators.

Authorities began returning vehicles left at the concert grounds to their owners last week.

Fed govt warned not to ‘crab walk’ on GST

WA Treasurer Ben Wyatt has warned the federal government not to “crab walk” away from the Productivity Commission’s report into the GST revenue distribution, but the Commonwealth insists it is not the “enemy”.

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The commission says in its draft report that providing Commonwealth top-ups to WA or setting a GST floor are not long-term solutions, and has instead recommended resetting the system the government calls horizontal fiscal equalisation.

Mr Wyatt said the draft report was an important first step for WA, which had its revenue share reduced to less than 30 cents in the dollar at the end of the mining boom.

“It does importantly say that the current equalisation system does go too far and is too harsh on the strongest state, and for the longest time there the strongest state was WA,” he told 6PR radio on Monday.

Mr Wyatt warned against the federal government taking too long to implement changes after the final report is handed down in January.

“I don’t want to hear any form of crab walking away from this report because it’s something that they did, they created and they need to have the key role in any implementation,” he said.

Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison says the plan has always been to implement changes before the next federal election.

“Ben’s got to decide whether he wants to work with the Commonwealth government to get a solution or he just wants to play politics,” he said.

“I’m not trying to get a political quick fix on this. I’m tyring to get a fair dinkum solution.”

Mr Morrison said the Commonwealth was a partner in solving the problem, not the enemy, and he urged Mr Wyatt to convince other Labor states to get onboard.

Mr Wyatt later told reporters it was not up to WA to take on that leadership role.

“I can say to the other state treasurers that this GST distortion and the unfairness on WA isn’t a figment of the state’s imagination. It’s a real thing. It has now been confirmed,” he said.

Opposition Leader Mike Nahan says there will be a huge bun fight when the report is released.

WA Chamber of Commerce and Industry said the commission had backed its proposal for a “partial equalisation” model, which would have returned an additional $3.55 billion to WA last year alone.

“The current system effectively rewards economic laziness while punishing states like WA which drive development, grow their industries and create jobs,” chief economist Rick Newnham said.

Labor hits out at citizenship applications treated under unlegislated policy

The citizenship legislation, which includes a four-year waiting period under permanent residency for applicants and a tougher English language test, is before the Senate but is poised for defeat with opposition from the Nick Xenophon Team.

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But those who have applied for citizenship after the changes were announced on April 20 are facing those same rules, despite the legislation not having cleared parliament.

Labor’s citizenship spokesman Tony Burke says it is an unprecedented and unusual arrangement.

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“What it has meant is a whole lot of people who had the lawful entitlement under Australian statute right now to apply for citizenship are not having their claims processed,” he told the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia on Monday.

Mr Burke would not pre-empt the outcome of the bill’s future but called on the government to reverse course.

“But let me say this – if the Senate does reject the government’s legislation then the department must start processing every application and processing it immediately under the Australian law,” he said.

“The countries of the world where you expect that sort of behaviour are not known as democracies”: Tony Burke.AAP

Mr Burke said the arrangement – around applications being treated under unlegislated policies – was unexpected in Australia.

“The countries of the world where you expect that sort of behaviour are not known as democracies,” he said.

“In Australia we have every right to expect that citizenship applications will be assessed according to the law of the day and for it to have not passed the Parliament but be implemented anyway is something that has to end the day the Senate rejects this bill.”

Mr Burke also described the changes as “the most direct attack on modern multicultural Australia since the abolition of the white Australia policy”.

The Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils told SBS World News the conference in Darwin was being held at a crucial time.

“It is important because multiculturalism has come under attack, not only in Australia but also worldwide,” FECCA chairperson Joe Caputo said.

“What makes a good Australian is a commitment to this country, it’s not just passing an English test… but it’s what’s inside the heart.”

The Department of Immigration said citizenship applications that were already in the process of being assessed before April 20 would continue to be processed.

“The department does not anticipate any impact on the processing of applications lodged after 20 April,” it said in a statement to SBS World News.

“At 18 September 2017, 90 per cent of applications for Australian citizenship by conferral were processed within 14 months of the date of lodgement.”

The department said it would continue with delivery of the citizenship program while new arrangements were being settled.

“Applicants will receive communication on the implementation of these measures and any additional information and documentation that may be required to support their application,” the department said.

Bookshop denies dumping controversial author Helen Dale’s signing

A Brisbane bookshop denies claims by controversial author Helen Dale it cancelled plans to host a book signing event for her amid security concerns.

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Dale, using the pen name Helen Demidenko, sparked one of Australia’s biggest literary controversies with her debut novel the Hand That Signed the Paper, more than two decades ago.

She is touring book stores this week promoting her second book.

She says she was was stunned when she learned in last month that Dymocks’ Brisbane CBD store canned plans to host her promotional event.

“The reason that they gave was because they thought the book would be controversial and they were worried about security,” Dale told AAP on Monday.

“I can’t blame Dymocks. I think it’s important not to blame the bookshops here.

“The people who are at fault are people who think it’s super fun and great to turn up at someone else’s function and start punching people.”

An email trail, seen by AAP, sent in September between Dale and her literary agents suggests the owners of Dymocks Brisbane offered to host a book signing but then changed their mind.

Dale’s agent Keith Smith emailed her on September 25 saying he’d been told “the owners will be away when the event takes place & they are concerned about security as they feel there will be controversy surrounding the book, they were very apologetic”.

But the store’s events organiser Nicole Armanno insists security concerns weren’t the issue.

“We looked at it but we couldn’t fit it in,” Ms Armanno told AAP.

“When I saw it at my end we had a rostering issue. We are jam packed with events. We just don’t have the staff.”

Dale says she wasn’t surprised at Dymocks’ decision “considering the amount of crap I’ve had” since The Hand that Signed the Paper, which focused on Ukrainian peasants who blamed Jews for the deaths of their family under Stalinism and joined Nazi death squads to seek revenge.

The book was a bestseller and won the prestigious Miles Franklin Literary Award in 1994.

But Dale was accused of anti-Semitism and exposed as a literary hoaxer after it emerged her claims about how she based the book on her own family’s Ukrainian heritage were fake.

Her latest novel, Kingdom of the Wicked, is being promoted as an “alternative history” about how history may have played out if Jesus was put on trial by the Romans over an attack in the Jerusalem Temple – but with modern technology thrown in.

Dale says she’s prepared for more controversy over her latest novel, which was launched in Sydney on Monday night by her former boss and Liberal Democrats senator David Leyonhjelm.

Turkey urges US to reverse visa suspension

Turkey’s Justice Minister says he hopes the United States will review its suspension of visa services to Turkish citizens after the arrest of a US consulate employee last week, saying the case was a matter for Turkey’s judiciary.

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The United States has condemned the charges against its Turkish employee as baseless and said on Sunday it was halting all non-immigrant visa services in Turkey while it reassessed Turkey’s commitment to the security of its missions and staff.

Within hours Turkey announced it was taking the same measures against U.S. citizens.

The moves sent Turkish markets tumbling, with the lira falling 2.4 per cent and the main share index falling as much as 4.7 per cent.

“If this is an issue relating to security, then the necessary steps will be taken, but if it’s an issue regarding the arrest of the consulate employee, then this is a decision the Turkish judiciary has given,” Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul told A Haber television on Monday.

“Trying a Turkish citizen for a crime committed in Turkey is our right. I hope the US will revise its decision in this light.”

The state-run Anadolu news agency identified the consulate employee as a male Turkish citizen and said he was arrested late on Wednesday on charges of espionage and attempts to damage the constitutional order and Turkey’s government.

US-Turkish tensions have risen over US military support for Kurdish YPG fighters in Syria, considered by Ankara to be an extension of the banned PKK, which has waged an insurgency for three decades in southeast Turkey.

Turkey has also pressed, so far in vain, for the United States to extradite Fethullah Gulen over the July 2016 putsch, in which more than 240 people were killed. Gulen denies any involvement.

Srebrenica’s Bosnian Muslim defender Naser Oric cleared of war crimes

Bosnian Muslims, who largely see Oric as a hero, applauded as he and a fellow soldier left the courtroom free men.

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Families of Bosnian Serbs killed in the war, who see Oric and his troops as criminals, walked out in protest.

“This is horrific, this is a scandal. Everybody expected that he [would] be punished. Is this a justice? I am speechless,” Radojka Filipovic from Bratunac, near Srebrenica, told Reuters, saying Oric’s forces killed at least six of her relatives.

Bosnian Serbs and authorities in neighbouring Serbia had accused Oric and his fellow soldier Sabahudin Muhic of killing three Bosnian Serb prisoners of war in the villages near Srebrenica early in the war which claimed 100,000 lives.

Srebrenica eventually fell to Bosnian Serb forces in 1995 – the ensuing killing of more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys was seen as Europe’s worst atrocity since World War Two.

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“The accused Naser Oric and Sabahudin Muhic have been acquitted of charges of violating provisions of the Geneva Conventions,” judge Saban Maksumic told the war crimes court in the Bosnian capital Sarajevo.

Oric was acquitted of war crimes against Serbs by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in 2008, but was arrested again in June in Switzerland on a warrant from Serbia accusing him of killing the prisoners.

“The defence is satisfied – we have expected this verdict from the very beginning of the trial,” Oric’s lawyer, Lejla Covic, said.

Oric, surrounded by hundreds of cheering supporters, declined to comment after living the courtroom.

Dozens of Bosnian Serbs, including senior political and military leaders, have been sentenced by the ICTY and a Bosnian war crimes court over the Srebrenica massacre, which was declared genocide by two international courts.