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Belarus leader vows to defeat foreign-backed ‘rebellion’

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Belarus leader vows to defeat foreign-backed 'rebellion'

KYIV, Ukraine — The authoritarian leader of Belarus on Thursday slammed six months of demonstrations against him as a foreign-directed “rebellion,” and he announced plans for constitutional reforms, which the opposition has rejected as window dressing.

Speaking to 2,700 participants of the All-Belarus People’s Assembly in the capital of Minsk, President Alexander Lukashenko alleged that “very powerful forces” abroad were behind the protests.

Lukashenko didn’t elaborate, but in the past several months, he has repeatedly accused the West of fomenting the protests.

“We must stand up to them no matter what, and this year will be decisive,” he said at the opening of the two-day assembly made up of delegates nominated by labor collectives in sync with state-controlled unions loyal to Lukashenko.

He convened the group to discuss plans for the country’s development, but the opposition has denounced it as an attempt to shore up his rule and soothe public anger with vague promises of reform.

Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus for more than 26 years, vaguely promised Thursday to step down someday, saying that “the time will come and other people will come.” He said a set of constitutional changes would be drafted later this year and put to a nationwide vote in early 2022

The opposition has urged Belarusians to take to the streets to protest the assembly.

A tight police cordon surrounded the building where the gathering was held, but dozens of demonstrators formed “solidarity chains” in other parts of Minsk, waving the opposition’s red-and-white flags and chanting “Stop dictatorship!” and “Go away!” to demand Lukashenko’s resignation.

Police detained several people in Minsk and other cities, according to the Viasna human rights group.

Mass protests have gripped the ex-Soviet nation of 9.5 million people since official results from the Aug. 9 election gave Lukashenko a landslide victory. The main opposition candidate, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, and her supporters have dismissed the result as rigged, and some poll workers also have described voting manipulation.

Speaking at the assembly, Lukashenko defended the election’s validity, admitting that local officials could have tinkered with it to show him winning 80% of the vote but insisting he won a strong majority anyway.

“If some don’t like 80, let it be 76 or even 68!” he said. “But we won it anyway, we were backed by an overwhelming majority.”

Authorities have cracked down hard on the largely peaceful demonstrations, the biggest of which attracted up to 200,000 people. Police have used stun grenades, tear gas. water cannons and truncheons to disperse the rallies. According to human rights advocates, more than 30,000 people have been detained since the protests began, and thousands of them were brutally beaten.

During his tenure, Lukashenko has relentlessly stifled dissent and relied on cheap energy and other subsidies from his main ally, Russia.

On Thursday, he said the West had incited the protests in Belarus as a “bridgehead” against Russia.

“It’s deadly dangerous for Russia to lose Belarus,” Lukashenko said, adding that the two countries planned massive joint military drills later this year.

He thanked Moscow for its support in the face of protests but reaffirmed that the union agreement between the two countries shouldn’t limit Belarus’ independence.

The United States and the European Union have responded to the election and the crackdown by introducing sanctions against Belarusian officials.

The U.S. Embassy said in a statement that Thursday’s assembly is “neither genuine nor inclusive of Belarusian views and therefore does not address the country’s ongoing political crisis.”

While Lukashenko told the gathering that the West harbored aggressive intentions, he also urged the restoration of political ties and economic cooperation.

Observers described the assembly as part of Lukashenko’s maneuvering to secure his position without making any changes.

“Lukashenko has no intention to leave and doesn’t want to change the system. He’s ready to strengthen repressions,” said Alexander Klaskovsky, an independent Minsk-based political analyst. “Lukashenko didn’t offer a plan of modernizing the country or any clear compromise with the society, and that means that the conflict remains unresolved and protests will continue.”

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Should I quit college to become a cop?

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Should I quit college to become a cop?

I’m completing my second year of college and now want to apply to the NYPD to become a police officer. My parents are pleading with me to finish my degree first and join later. I think they are hoping I’ll change my mind. Should I follow my passion now?

Well, first of all, it takes a brave person to join law enforcement at any time but particularly so now given all of the social unrest. So, thank you for wanting to protect and serve. I don’t often side with what parents typically want for their kids when it comes to career choices, because often it is about what will make them proud and happy, not necessarily what will make their children happy. However, in this instance, I’m on Team Parents. You can always join the force in two years’ time after graduation. The demand for great police officers is not going away. With a college degree, you will give yourself more options if you change your mind or if becoming a police officer doesn’t work out for any reason. Plus, with two more years of life experience and education under your belt, you will be even better prepared for the role if you still choose to pursue it.

My colleague and I got caught doing the same stupid thing on a Zoom call. I got fired and he got a suspension. I’m older and he’s younger. Is that legal?

Hold on there. First of all, we’re all wondering what the heck you did, Butch and Sundance. Or maybe we don’t want to know. I hope it wasn’t something gross, but if it was, I bet your friend would have been fired too. Did you wave goodbye at the end of the meeting? I hate when people do that. It’s like the Von Trapp kids going to bed only not as cute. While the mind wanders, it’s perfectly legal to treat two people differently for the same infraction. It’s similar to different sentences for the same criminal offense. Is it your third infraction and his first? Does one have a track of great performance and the other a new hire? Is one in a more critical, hard-to-fill role? Is one a great performer and the other mediocre? As long as age, race, gender and so on were not factors, the employer has the right to apply different treatment. So, what did you do?

Gregory Giangrande has over 25 years of experience as a chief human resources executive and is dedicated to helping New Yorkers get back to work. E-mail your questions to [email protected] Follow Greg on Twitter: @greggiangrande and at GoToGreg.com

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Summer vacation stays are quickly selling out

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Summer vacation stays are quickly selling out

Book now or forever hold your peace.

People are so desperate to get out of the house after a year of quarantine that, according to a new report from Forbes, top hotels, rental homes and resorts are already booked up for summer through Labor Day weekend.

“The pent-up demand is real,” Betsy O’Rourke, CMO for Xanterra, the country’s largest national park concessions management company told the magazine. “We’ve all been sequestered for a year, and many of our guests have saved money, so the desire to travel along with the funds to pay for it are combining for a swift recovery for our cruise, tour and train brands.”

“Many of our top vacation destinations currently have double the reservations for June, July and August 2021 compared to what was booked at this time in 2019,” Natalia Sutin, the vice president of revenue management at Vacasa, a vacation rental platform, told Forbes.

Meanwhile, if you got a place you may want to book your rental car now.

“We’re telling customers to book six to eight weeks in advance,” Jonathan Weinberg, the CEO of the rental car booking site AutoSlash, said. “Even before they nail down their flight and hotel.”

And beware of massive crowds in Las Vegas, Miami, and Orlando — the top three destinations according to Hopper.

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The heroes of Flying Tiger Line Flight 739

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flying-tiger-flight-1

Six decades after their loved ones vanished into thin air, relatives of the victims of Flying Tiger Line Flight 739 — 93 soldiers aboard a secret-mission flight chartered by the US Army in the buildup to the Vietnam War — want answers.

They gathered together Saturday for a ceremony in Columbia Falls, Maine, organized by the non-profit Wreaths Across America at a memorial to honor the fallen.  

“The memorial ceremony offers some closure,” Marie Mull, 82, told The Post of her brother, Sgt. Clarence Ganance of Rensselaer, NY. “We’ve always wondered what happened . . . probably always will.”

Nobody knows exactly what happened on the morning of March 16, 1962, because no bodies nor debris — not even a single piece — have ever been recovered.

All that’s transparent about the mission is that the servicemen — along with three members of the Armed Forces of Vietnam and 11 crew members — were transported on Flying Tiger Line’s Flight 739, chartered from Travis Air Force Base in Northern California to Andersen Air Force Base in Guam. After refueling, the plane embarked on what was to be a 2,600-mile journey to its final destination in Saigon, South Vietnam. It was piloted by Capt. Gregory Thomas, a World War II veteran from New Jersey with nearly 20,000 flying hours under his belt.

Flying Tiger Line (similar to Don’s plane).
Flying Tiger Line (similar to Don’s plane).
Flying Tiger

Based on the observations of civilians on a nearby tanker, the plane was between Guam and the Philippines when there was a flash and a vapor trail, indicating a midair explosion.

The ensuing eight-day search and rescue operation across 200,000 square miles was the largest to ever take place in The Pacific.

Adding to the mystery: The same day that Flight 739 disappeared, another chartered Flying Tiger Line flight, carrying military cargo but no passengers, left Travis AFB and crashed in a fireball short of a runway on the Aleuthian Islands in Alaska. The incident left the pilot dead and injured six crew who are not known to have spoken publicly about the incident.

Some sources claim the elite team of Rangers aboard Flight 793, mostly communications specialists, had been hand-picked by President John F. Kennedy as part of a covert operation involving the CIA. It has since emerged that in early 1962 — three years before American ground troops “officially” entered the Vietnam conflict — the US had advisors training indigenous tribes in Laos and Cambodia. As the agency was trying to determine if America should join the ongoing war in Southeast Asia, the situation was politically sensitive.

Among the men who disappeared on Flight 739 were Albert F. Wil­liams (left) and Clarence Ganance.
Among the men who disappeared on Flight 739 were Albert F. Wil­liams (left) and Clarence Ganance.

But family members have never received real answers other than the Army saying the soldiers were “lost at sea.”

Donna Ellis, now 64, remembers military officials arriving at her family’s door to deliver the news that her father, Staff Sgt. Melvin Lewis Hatt, had likely perished.

“I heard what was said and thought, ‘That’s my Daddy!’ recalled Ellis, who was five at the time. Not long after, she and her younger sister were adopted by an aunt and uncle when their widowed mother suffered a catastrophic nervous breakdown. “Ever since that day, I’ve wanted to know what happened,” said Ellis, who lives in Haslett, Michigan.

Similarly, Maria McCawley often wonders about her father, Sgt. First Class Albert F Williams Jr., who was 32 when his plane crashed.

“We asked ourselves whether it was sabotage or the flight was hijacked and the men were taken as prisoners of war,” said McCawley, 59, of Branson, Missouri.

Others believe it was “black ops” — ordered by the CIA, but not officially sanctioned by the military. A number of the men had told their families it was unlikely they would make it out alive, so they knew it was going to be a dangerous deployment.

“It was secret and unauthorized,” said 77-year-old Mississippi resident Dianna Crumpler, whose 23-year-old brother, James H Taylor, Specialist, First Class, failed to come home.

Theories about the men’s disappearance range from mechanical failure and sabotage (the plane was left unattended during its 90-minute stop in Guam) to being shot down by a surface-to-air missile. It has even been proposed that the soldiers were kidnapped en masse or started new lives elsewhere after completing their mission in the Vietnamese jungle.

The men lost on the flight were honored Saturday at a Maine memorial.
The men lost on the flight were honored Saturday at a Maine memorial.
Rogier van Bakel/Eager Eye Photography

Repeat demands from legislators, including Maine Senator Susan Collins, led to Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests and the release of heavily redacted military documents — but that has only caused dissatisfaction among bereaved family members frustrated by the absence of clarity.

“It’s called the runaround,” concluded Crumpler. “Nobody [in the political system] has an answer so they just keep sending us elsewhere.”

Neither the government nor military has taken an official stance on the mission or what might have happened to the flight. A report by the Civil Aeronautic Board released after the crash merely stated that “the board is unable to determine the probable cause.”

The only known person alive today with possible insight into the mission is a veteran who was bumped from the doomed flight a few minutes before take-off. US Air Force Airman Anthony L. Wahl, now 83, of Shell Rock, Iowa, declined to be interviewed by The Post. But, in a narrative published on the Wreaths Across America website, he described being “excited and apprehensive” as he waited in line at Travis to enter the “sleek and shining Constellation.”

Then aged 19, he was ordered to travel instead on a Philippines-bound Boeing 707 to assist a military wife with three children.

“I have always believed that God intervened that day and saved me from death,” he wrote. “I also have the question: ‘Why me?’ There is the haunting question of who took my place?”

Sgt Clarence Ganance, 35, who enlisted in the U.S Army at the age of 17, told family his reward for joining the mission was set to be a slightly earlier retirement from the military.

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At the age of 36, Staff Sgt Melvin Lewis Hatt, 36, was one of the more senior members of the elite squad who perished on the 1962 mission.

flying-tiger-flight-11

Sgt John C. Wendell, 33, was a hands-on dad who taught his elder daughter, Monica, how to ride a bike. “He held the back of the seat and promised he’d tell me when he let go,” she recalls. “He kept his word.”

flying-tiger-flight-7

Specialist James Henry Taylor, 23, was deployed shortly before the birth of his second daughter, Jamie Ann. Tragically, the infant died from brain damage after living for just five days. Her epileptic mother, Deanna, then 23, suffered seizures triggered by the shock of her husband’s disappearance.

flying-tiger-flight-15

Specialist Donald A. Sargent, 19, aka “Ducky” due to his web feet, was one of the younger casualties. His distraught mother, Ethel, clung on to his status as MIA, despite him being presumed dead, convinced until her own passing that her son would eventually come home.

flying-tiger-flight-13

Sgt Albert F Williams Jnr, 32, was known for his good looks and quick sense of humor. Growing up without her father, his younger daughter, Maria McCawley, and her two older siblings would wave at passing aircraft to thank him for his service, calling out: “Hi Daddy!”

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Meanwhile the relatives of Specialist Donald A. Sargent in Portland, Maine, say the 19-year-old Army man’s behavior before the flight was odd. Jennifer Kirk recalled how her mother, Sargent’s sister told it: “She was the last member of the family to see Donald alive and he kept bounding up asking for ‘one more hug,’” said Kirk. “It was almost as if he knew he was never coming back.”

Her stricken grandmother, Ethel Sargent, was convinced he’d return one day.  She refused to allow anyone to touch her son’s trunk, dispatched after his disappearance.

“My dad opened it four years ago on the fifty-fifth anniversary of the incident and found Donald’s full uniform and a 1950s tuxedo inside,” said Kirk. “They were in mint condition.”

The uniform was donated to the Wreaths Across America museum near Acadia National Park, where the new memorial stands in a clearing amid a balsam fir forest owned by the organization’s founder, Merrill Worcester.

During the Sat., May 15, ceremony, the names of the service members and crew before more than 200 relatives and friends. Some also hung special dog tags printed with their loved ones’ names on the pine trees nearby.

“These dog tags chink together in the breeze, making a beautiful sound which reminds us of the lives lost,” Sean Sullivan, of Wreaths Across America, told The Post, explaining that tens of thousands of dog tags adorn the branches in memory of other deceased veterans.

Crumpler is one of the campaigners who want the victims’ names engraved on the wall of the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in Washington D.C.

Right now, she said, “It’s as if James and the other men never existed.”

The appeals have so far been thwarted by the Department of Defense which claims those aboard Flight 739 were not participating in an “official” combat mission.

She, along with the other grieving families, believes the unveiling of the Maine memorial is a step in the right direction.

“The Rangers’ creed says ‘Leave no comrade behind,’ but these men were left behind,” pointed out Monica Young, whose father, John C Wendell, Sergeant First Class, disappeared the day before her 15th birthday. “Thanks to this [Saturday’s] remembrance, they’ve no longer been left behind.”

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