Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Facebook losing teens to Instagram-Snapchat: forecast

 

Facebook use in the US will slow as teens and young adults opt for smartphone image-sharing services Instagram and Snapchat, according to an eMarketer forecast released on Tuesday.

The market tracker expected Facebook's online community to grow, saying it would be due mainly to increased adoption by older folks while use by those 24 years of age or younger sags.

"We see teens and tweens migrating to Snapchat and Instagram," said eMarketer senior forecasting analyst Oscar Orozco.

"Both platforms have found success with this demographic since they are more aligned with how they communicate -- that is, using visual content."

And while there are 'Facebook-nevers' -- children entering their teenage years without engaging on the leading social network -- the Silicon Valley company owns Instagram so is still making connections with the demographic, according to the analyst.

Meanwhile, eMarketer increased its projection for the number of people using Snapchat on a monthly basis in the US this year, forecasting it will grow 25.8 percent to 79.2  million. The biggest jump in Snapchat use was expected to be among young adults.

Instagram use will likely grow 23.8 percent this year to 85.5 million people monthly, according to eMarketer.

"Facebook is fortunate that it owns Instagram, which remains a strong platform for teens," said eMarketer principal analyst Debra Aho Williamson.

Although usage of the main Facebook app is declining among teens, marketers will still be able to reach them on Instagram."

The market tracker predicted that this year Snapchat will overtake Instagram and Facebook for the first time when it comes to the number of users ages 24 or younger.

Snapchat was first released five years ago and became popular among young smartphone users for its disappearing messages, often photos or video.

- Growth pressure -

Analysts say it needs to show strong growth to keep pace in the rapidly evolving social media sector dominated by Facebook.

Although Snapchat is best known for its smartphone messaging, it has also developed partnerships with numerous media outlets eager to reach its audience with news, video and other content.

 

Shares of Snapchat parent company Snap fell to new lows this month after the company reported that its revenue more than doubled but its loss soared in the quarter that ended June 30.

The average number of people using the vanishing message service daily rose 21 percent to 173 million when compared to the same period a year earlier, according to the earnings release.

Market watchers had expected the ranks of users to grow to 175 million, with Snap missing the mark.

Analysts have been concerned about the ability of Snap to effectively serve up ads given the ephemeral nature of the messaging service.

Snap was the largest IPO of 2017 and rose more than 40 percent from initial trades to give it a market value of some $34 billion, but the recent slide has cut its valuation by more than half.

Meanwhile, Instagram has unabashedly put its spins on popular Snapchat features and Facebook has been devoting engineering resources to enhance Instagram with artificial intelligence and advertising tools. (AFP)

 

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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Google and Walmart unveil e-commerce partnership

 

San Francisco, United States | AFP |.Google and Walmart on Tuesday announced a partnership that will make the retailer's products available on the internet giant's online shopping mall.

"Starting in late September, we'll be working with Google to offer hundreds of thousands of items for voice shopping via Google Assistant -- the largest number of items currently offered by a retailer through the platform," Marc Lore, Wal-Mart's head of e-commerce, said in a blog post.

Walmart will integrate Google Express, which already allows customers to purchase products of a large range of brands, such as Costco and the pharmacy Walgreen's, into its platform in a bid to take on online shopping giant Amazon.

Amazon has long made life difficult for Wal-Mart on the internet and is now also competing with it in the real world with its planned acquisition of supermarket chain, Whole Foods.

Wal-Mart's third-quarter results, released earlier this month, once again highlighted its  persistent lag behind Amazon, even if the numbers were better than expected.

Google is also looking to expand its activities in online shopping, grouped together under its Google Home brand.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Journalist murdered in Mexico, 10th of 2017

Coatzacoalcos, Mexico | AFP | A Mexican journalist under government protection was shot dead Tuesday in the violent state of Veracruz, officials said, the 10th journalist murdered in Mexico this year.

Candido Rios, a crime reporter for a regional newspaper, was gunned down outside a convenience store in the eastern town of Hueyapan de Ocampo along with two other people, including a former police inspector, police sources said.

Rios, 55, had been under a government program designed to protect journalists and rights activists from a wave of deadly violence, said Jorge Morales, head of the State Commission for the Protection of Journalists in Veracruz.

More than 100 journalists have been murdered since 2006 in Mexico, one of the deadliest countries in the world for the profession, according to the watchdog group Reporters Without Borders.

More than 90 percent of the killings remain unpunished.

Rios was well-known locally for his decade-long career at the newspaper Diario de Acayucan, where he reported on crime and government corruption and had publicly feuded with several former mayors.

The newspaper's editor, Cecilio Perez, said Rios had received death threats from one former mayor, Gaspar Gomez.

"That mayor used to order him arrested and beaten, and would send him death threats. The threats made him quit journalism for a while, but he came back," Perez told AFP.

- Born journalist -

Perez described Rios as a born journalist -- a country boy who grew up poor and only finished middle school but talked his way into a job as a local correspondent, with a dual role as newspaper vendor.

Despite his humble background, "Pabuche," as he was known, made a name for himself with hard-hitting, detail-packed reports on organized crime and the misdeeds of public officials.

Perez said Rios was on his way back from writing his daily stories at an internet cafe when he was killed.

The victims also included Victor Acrelio Alegria, an ex-police inspector in Hueyapan de Ocampo, and a third person who had not yet been identified.

The gunmen opened fire with high-powered weapons, killing Acrelio on the spot and badly wounding Rios, who died on the way to hospital, police sources said.

Veracruz, a state dogged by drug cartel wars and corrupt politics, is particularly deadly for journalists: some 20 have been murdered here since 2010.

"Veracruz remains the most dangerous state to practice journalism," said Ana Cristina Ruelas, head of the press rights group Article 19.

"As long as there is no justice in these cases... attacks on the press in Veracruz will continue unabated," she told AFP.

- Protection program under fire -

Officials did not immediately disclose what sort of protection Rios had received under the so-called Mechanism to Protect Human Rights Defenders and Journalists.

Perez said he had security cameras outside his home.

The federal protection program, launched in 2012, offers different forms of protection ranging from bodyguards to panic buttons for journalists and activists who have been the victims of threats or attacks for their work.

It has been widely criticized for failing to stop the violence, which has only increased since its creation.

Last year was the deadliest yet for journalists in Mexico, with 11 murders.

And 2017 could be on track to surpass it, with 10 killed so far: Cecilio Pineda, Ricardo Monlui, Miroslava Breach, Maximino Rodriguez, Javier Valdez, Salvador Adame, Jonathan Rodriguez, Edwin Rivera, Luciano Rivera and now Rios.

Most of them had been reporting on powerful crime gangs and government corruption.

In May, President Enrique Pena Nieto vowed to strengthen protections for journalists and bring those who attack them to justice.

The pledge was in response to the murder of Valdez, an award-winning crime reporter and AFP contributor, on May 15 in the northwestern state of Sinaloa.

The state has been the scene of a bloody turf war within the powerful Sinaloa Cartel since its boss, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, was extradited to the United States in January.

Violence has surged across Mexico since the government declared war on the country's powerful drug cartels in 2006. More than 380,000 people have been murdered and more than 30,000 have gone missing since then.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Linkin Park plans public memorial for late singer

 

New York. Rockers Linkin Park said Tuesday that they were planning a public memorial for frontman Chester Bennington, a month after he committed suicide.

The band in a Facebook post revealed only that the "special public event" would take place in Los Angeles, saying that more details would be announced later.

"Just wanted to say thank you to all our fans around the world for the tremendous outpouring of love, which has strengthened our spirit during this incredibly difficult time," the band wrote.

Bennington -- whose raw, angry metal voice dueled with guitarist Mike Shinoda's hip-hop asides to create the band's "nu metal" sound -- was found hanging at his Los Angeles home on July 20.

The 41-year-old had struggled throughout his life with drugs and alcohol and the trauma of child abuse.

Fans around the world have organized dozens of events to remember Bennington after his death, with his shocked bandmates voicing support but not taking part. (AFP)

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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

World's largest samosa record smashed in London

The samosa took 15 hours of work and was served

The samosa took 15 hours of work and was served to the local homeless 

London.  The world record for the largest samosa was smashed in London on Tuesday by a whopping version of the popular Asian snack weighing in at 153.1 (337.5 pounds) kilogrammes.

A dozen volunteers from the Muslim Aid UK charity built the giant samosa then deep-fried it in a custom-built vat at an East London Mosque.

Adjudicators from Guinness World Records were on hand to oversee the process and certify that the mega-samosa passed the required tests.

The previous record of 110.8 kg was set by Bradford College in northern England in June 2012.

The samosa was built on a giant wire mesh, then winched into a vat of cooking oil before being hauled out to be weighed.

"My heart was beating really fast," said Farid Islam, 26, the project organiser.

"It was very tense. It looked like it was going to slide off. A crack appeared and I feared the worst," he told AFP.

- Thumbs-up verdict -

Guinness World Records adjudicator Pravin Patel spelled out the rules.

"It's got to be triangular; contain flour, potatoes, onions and peas; be fried, and retain the shape when cooked," he told AFP.

"It's got to look and feel like a samosa; it's got to be edible by humans.

"The critical record is the net weight. Plus it all has to be eaten. No wastage!"

After the team carefully made the triangle-shaped super-snack, it was hauled up to the industrial winch by the biggest men available and slowly plunged into the vat.

Once it was winched out, and after the nervy weigh-in, the independent food safety officer, who had overseen proceedings, gave it the taste test. A simple thumbs-up triggered cheers around the hall.

It was then down to Patel to tie up all the certification and deliver the verdict: 153.1 kg.

"It's an absolutely great achievement," he declared.

Organiser Islam said it was a tough challenge.

"Initially I thought it would be a piece of cake: stuff it together, tie up the end and fry it," he said.

"When I realised there was not a single pot in the country that could hold that weight, we had to get something tailor made."

The samosa took around 15 hours of work and was dished up into hundreds of portions distributed to the local homeless via the Salvation Army. (AFP)

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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Cambodia orders US NGO to close, expels foreign staff

Hun Sen is seen as cracking down on critics

Hun Sen is seen as cracking down on critics before the next election.PHOTO\AFP 

Phnom Penh, Cambodia | AFP | Cambodia on Wednesday closed a prominent American NGO and ordered its foreign staff to leave the country, the latest salvo by Prime Minister Hun Sen against perceived critics before a general election next year.

The order comes a day after the strongman premier threatened the Cambodia Daily, one of the country's few remaining critical newspapers, with closure over an alleged unpaid tax bill of $6.3 million, calling them "thieves".

In a statement on Wednesday the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said foreign employees of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) have seven days to leave after the group allegedly failed to formally register or pay correct taxes.

"Authorities are geared up to take the same measures against any foreign association or non-government organisation that fails to abide" by Cambodia's laws, the statement added.

In recent weeks a string of foreign-funded organisations including the NDI have been named in Cambodia's pro-government press or by officials as facing tax or regulatory probes.

Analysts say the cascade of legal cases is straight from the political playbook of Hun Sen, who has cornered opponents throughout his three-decade rule, in the run-up to elections.

Cambodians are due to go to the polls in just under a year, in a poll many expect to be a close-run affair.

Apart from the Cambodia Daily, which is owned by an American, the US-funded Radio Free Asia and Voice of America have also been legally targeted.

All have denied wrongdoing and said they are being selected for their independent reporting.

In a statement the Overseas Press Club of Cambodia said the Cambodia Daily "has a history of running stories that have angered the government, leading many to believe the tax department is being used to target critics" before the poll.

The NDI, which says it works to strengthen democratic institutions worldwide, has been operating in Cambodia since 1992.

In recent weeks, pro-government media have accused the organisation of helping Cambodia's opposition party to try to topple the government.

The NDI, chaired by former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

But they have previously declared themselves as "strictly non-partisan", adding they also trained many members of Hun Sen's ruling party.

To supporters Hun Sen, one of the world's longest serving leaders, has brought growth and stability to an impoverished country ravaged by decades of war.

But critics say corruption, inequality and rights abuses have also flourished.

In recent years he has grown closer to China while criticising the US, one of Cambodia's largest donors.

In 2015 the government passed a broadly-worded law regulating NGOs. Critics warned the legislation would make it much easier to shutter organisations deemed critical of the government.

Impoverished Cambodia is home to some 5,000 NGOs.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Severe Typhoon Hato hits Hong Kong

 

Hong Kong. Typhoon Hato smashed into Hong Kong Wednesday with hurricane force winds and heavy rains in the worst storm the city has seen for five years, shutting down the stock market and forcing the cancellation of hundreds of flights.

The weather observatory raised the storm warning to the city's maximum Typhoon 10 signal for the first time in five years as Hato approached.

It was only the third time the Typhoon 10 warning has been issued since 1997, when the former British colony was handed over to China.

The storm passed as close as 60 kilometres (37 miles) to Hong Kong and made landfall at noon (0400 GMT) in the southern mainland Chinese city of Zhuhai.

Thousands of people were evacuated Tuesday in parts of south China in preparation for the typhoon's arrival, the official Xinhua news agency said.

In Hong Kong, the storm sent metres-high waves crashing into shorelines with flooding knee deep in some areas.

Gusts of up to 207 kilometres per hour brought flying debris, tearing down trees and scaffolding and breaking construction cranes. Shops and homes taped up their windows to protect them from shattering but a number of panes from office building skyscrapers were smashed.

Fallen trees cut off roads to parts of the territory, with the city's popular Victoria Park covered in a mass of strewn branches.

"I was on my balcony in the village of Yuen Long when a tree literally flew past my house," said Dave Coulson from the rural northwestern New Territories, who added he was having frequent power cuts.

Normally packed streets were eerily empty as the storm reached its height, aside from a few who tried to battle through the winds.

Some ventured out with cameras to snap and video the typhoon.

One Lohas Park resident had brought his young daughter down to experience the weather.

"I came down here to feel the winds," he told AFP.

The government said 34 people had gone to hospital seeking medical treatment related to the typhoon. Around 280 people were taking refuge in temporary shelters.

Hong Kong's flagship carrier Cathay Pacific said almost all its flights leaving before 5:00pm (0900 GMT) Wednesday would be cancelled, with Hong Kong Airlines following suit.

Authorities said 450 flights had already been cancelled by late morning.

Ferries were suspended as was the city's airport express train line, while the metro rail and buses operated on a limited service.

 

As the storm moved on, the observatory lowered the warning signal to a Typhoon 8 in the afternoon.

- Macau hit -

As the storm moved west, residents and local media reported severe flooding in the neighbouring gambling enclave of Macau, with Apple Daily showing images of people swimming in the streets.

The Venetian mega-casino was running on back-up power and without air conditioning, said one source with knowledge of the situation. 

Residents took to social media to complain about city-wide power and mobile phone network outages.

"The electricity was out, and the mobile network was down," resident Brian Chan, 31, told AFP.

The government confirmed power had gone down in Macau and outlying islands.

Water supply was also limited, authorities said, and 50 flights cancelled from its international airport.

Hong Kong is regularly besieged by typhoons between July and October, but direct hits are rare.

The city saw its strongest storm in 1962 when the eye of typhoon Wanda passed over and gusts of 284 kilometres per hour were recorded.

It killed 130 people and destroyed thousands of residential huts, leaving 72,000 people homeless.

Since then, Hong Kong has adapted to typhoons, including making sure its highest commercial skyscrapers can sway in the wind. The extensive lockdown procedures mean the storms rarely cause deaths.

The last time the Typhoon 10 signal was raised in Hong Kong was for Typhoon Vicente in 2012. (AFP)

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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Muslim-baiter Hanson wears burka in Australia's Senate

 

Sydney, Australia. Australian anti-immigration politician Pauline Hanson caused a furore Thursday when she entered the Senate wearing a full burqa, earning a blistering rebuke from the country's top lawyer for the "appalling" stunt.

Hanson wore the Islamic garment in the chamber to highlight what she said were the security issues it posed, linking it to terrorism as fellow senators heckled her.

"Will you work to ban the burqa in Australia in light of what is happening with national security?" she said after whipping off the garment to question  Attorney-General George Brandis.

She added: "Terrorism is a true threat to our country, many Australians are in fear of it."

Brandis said his conservative government had no such plans, warning Hanson she risked offending the Muslim community by wearing a burka when she was not a follower of Islam.

"To ridicule that community, to drive it into a corner, to mock its religious garments is an appalling thing to do, and I would ask you to reflect on what you have done," he said.

Brandis, his voice cracking with emotion, also said that being a strict adherent Muslim, such as those who wear the burka, was "absolutely consistent" with being a law-abiding citizen.

"We have about half a million Australians in this country of the Islamic faith and the vast majority of them are law-abiding, good Australians," he said.

Brandis' remarks prompted a standing ovation from his political opponents in the Labor and Greens parties.

Independent senator Derryn Hinch labelled Hanson's conduct "disgusting".

"Pauline Hanson mocked the religion of some Australians... she made a mockery of an honourable place (the Senate)," he told Sky News.

Labor senator Sam Dastyari accused Hanson of stoking extremism in a poorly timed bid for "a cheap headline".

"In the same week that we saw white nationalism rear its ugly head in the country of our closest ally -- in that week a stunt like this gets pulled in the Australian Senate," he said.

"It is hurtful, it is offensive, it is wrong,"

Hanson first gained prominence in the 1990s, when she warned Australia was in danger of being "swamped by Asians".

After a 12-year hiatus from politics she returned in 2014, this time targeting Muslims and was elected to the Senate two years later as leader of the right-wing One Nation party.

In her first speech after returning to parliament, she said Islam was "a culture and ideology that is incompatible with our own".

Hanson was unrepentant after her latest stunt, telling commercial radio: "Is it extreme? Yes. Is it getting my message across? I hope so."

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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Australia's Fairfax Media back in the black

 

Sydney, Australia | AFP | Australian publishing giant Fairfax Media on Wednesday posted a return to profit following a cost-cutting drive, although advertising revenue for its major newspapers weakened further.

Fairfax -- which owns The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Australian Financial Review -- reported an annual net profit of Aus$83.9 million (US$65.7 million) in the year to June 30.

The turnaround followed a Aus$772.6 million loss reported over a previous 12-month period.

Although advertising revenue for Fairfax's Australian newspapers declined 17 percent, its lucrative property advertising Domain Group recorded a 19 percent jump in annual digital revenue.

"Today's result shows Fairfax is in great shape," chief executive Greg Hywood said.

"The strategy we commenced five years ago has successfully maximised cash flows of our publishing assets and with that built growth businesses in Domain and Stan (video on demand service)."

Shares in Fairfax rose 1.19 percent to Aus$1.02 in mid-day trade in Sydney Wednesday.

Fairfax like other international media organisations has suffered from declining advertising revenue and circulation, and has slashed staff levels and costs.

The conglomerate detailed plans to list Domain as a separate entity while retaining up to 60 percent of its shares, with a shareholder vote to take place in early November.

"Domain has created a strong platform for revenue growth -- and is well-positioned for a standalone future," Hywood added.

The spin-off plans followed the end of a bidding war earlier this year between US private equity giant TPG Capital and US investment firm Hellman & Friedman to buy the entire firm.

Australian media's woes have spread beyond traditional print publishers, with some commercial television networks also struggling.

Seven West Media -- which owns broadcaster Channel Seven, magazines and The West Australian newspaper -- on Wednesday booked a Aus$744.3 million net loss for the year to June 24, compared to Aus$184.3 million net profit in the prior period.

The Ten Network, another of the nation's three commercial channels, was in June placed in voluntary administration after failing to secure a new finance package.

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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Trump defiant on Charlottesville unrest: 'Blame on both sides'

US President Donald Trump speaks to the press

US President Donald Trump speaks to the press about protests in Charlottesville at Trump Tower in New York .PHOTO|AFP 

New York, United States | AFP | US President Donald Trump sparked another political firestorm Tuesday when he doubled down on his initial response to the violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville that ended in bloodshed, saying there was "blame on both sides."

The Republican president -- who one day ago solemnly denounced racism and singled out the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis as "criminals and thugs" -- also hit out at what he called the "alt-left" over the weekend melee.

Trump has faced days of criticism from across the political spectrum over his reaction to Saturday's unrest in the Virginia college town, where a rally by neo-Nazis and white supremacists over the removal of a Confederate statue erupted in clashes with counter-demonstrators.

The violent fracas ended in bloodshed when a 20-year-old suspected Nazi sympathizer, James Fields, plowed his car into a crowd of anti-racism protesters, leaving one woman dead and 19 others injured.

In a rowdy exchange with journalists at Trump Tower in New York, Trump made clear on Tuesday that he was fed up with continued questioning about the issue.

"I think there is blame on both sides," Trump said.

As he spoke, his new White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, a former Marine general, appeared displeased during the president's long tirade, standing rigidly.

"You had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. And nobody wants to say that, but I'll say it right now," Trump continued.

"What about the alt-left that came charging... at the, as you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt? (...) There are two sides to a story."

"What about the fact they came charging with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs? Do they have any problem? I think they do. As far as I am concerned, that was a horrible, horrible day,” Trump said.

- 'No words' -

Trump's comments were immediately welcomed by David Duke, a former "grand wizard" of the Ku Klux Klan and a key figure at Saturday's rally.

"Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists," Duke tweeted.

But on the political left, the president's words were met with indignation.

"Charlottesville violence was fueled by one side: white supremacists spreading racism, intolerance & intimidation. Those are the facts," said Tim Kaine, a former Democratic vice presidential candidate and senator from Virginia.

The state's other Democratic senator, Mark Warner, tweeted: "No words."

Trump's fellow Republicans also didn't mince words.

"We must be clear. White supremacy is repulsive," Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan wrote on Twitter.

"This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for. There can be no moral ambiguity."

And the condemnations also spilled beyond the political realm.

NBA superstar LeBron James tweeted: "Hate has always existed in America. Yes we know that but Donald Trump just made it fashionable again!"

After the contentious press conference, the head of the main US labor union, the AFL-CIO, joined several high-powered executives in stepping down from Trump's manufacturing advisory panel.

Outside Trump Tower where the president spoke, hundreds of people protested to denounce racism. They were surrounded by police officers to prevent clashes with a handful of Trump supporters nearby.

Protesters chanted: "We are here to stay, we are here to fight!"

"I would not have come here if I had not seen him say that on TV 20 minutes ago," said actor Jason David, 23.

- 'George Washington next week?' -

When asked why he waited until Monday to explicitly condemn hate groups present in Charlottesville, Trump said he wanted to be careful not to make a "quick statement" on Saturday without all the facts.

"I wanted to make sure, unlike most politicians, that what I said was correct," Trump insisted.

Trump called Fields, who has been charged with second-degree murder, a "disgrace to himself, his family and this country."

But he also said that while there were troublemakers at the rally, there were also many people there "to innocently protest and very legally protest" the removal of a "very important statue" of Confederate general Robert E Lee.

"I wonder, is it George Washington next week?  And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after?" he said angrily, referring to the fact they owned slaves.

"Are we going to take down statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson? ... You're changing history. You're changing culture."

The president also defended his controversial far-right chief strategist Steve Bannon, insisting that "he is not a racist," but without ruling out his possible departure from the West Wing.

Pressed as to whether he might visit Charlottesville, Trump -- criticised by some for not telephoning victims of the violence -- said he owns "one of the largest wineries in the United States" in that area.

The president bought the winery in 2011 and has given it to his son, Eric Trump.

Lawmaker Gwen Moore, a Wisconsin Democrat, urged Republicans to help remove Trump from office.

"My Republican friends, I implore you to work with us within our capacity as elected officials to remove this man as our commander-in-chief and help us move forward from this dark period in our nation’s history," she said in a statement.

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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Lincoln Memorial in Washington vandalized with spray paint

The statue of Abraham Lincoln sits at the

The statue of Abraham Lincoln sits at the Lincoln Memorial ahead of celebrations commemorating the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth in Washington February 11, 2009. The 16th President of the United States was born February 12, 1809. Photo|Reuters) 

Washington, United States | AFP |Vandals have defaced the Lincoln Memorial in Washington with an obscene message scrawled in red spray paint, the National Park Service said Tuesday.

The writing on one of the huge columns at the monument dedicated to slain president Abraham Lincoln, who presided over the abolition of slavery in America, was detected in the early hours of Tuesday.

The message was difficult to decipher from the photo made available by the park service, but the government agency said it "appears to state '[expletive] law.'"

More indecipherable writing in silver spray paint was discovered on a Smithsonian museum map on Constitution Avenue, which runs along the Mall.

Crews are using a special, mild gel-type paint stripper to clean up the monument to the 16th US president, which towers over one end of the US capital's National Mall, the service said.

Several treatments will be needed to remove all of the graffiti.

The US Park Police is investigating the incident, which was not the first of its kind this year at Washington's many monuments.

In February, the Lincoln and World War II memorials, as well as the towering Washington Monument, were vandalized with odd messages that included the phrase "Jackie shot JFK," local media reported.

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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

William, Harry lead tributes to mother Diana, 20 years on

In the weeks leading up to the 20th anniversary

In the weeks leading up to the 20th anniversary of her death, Prince William and Prince Harry have opened up about the pain of losing their mother Diana, Princess of Wales.PHOTO\AFP 

London, United Kingdom | AFP |Two decades on from the death of princess Diana, her sons Princes William and Harry are working to keep her legacy alive with unusually emotional tributes after years of official silence.

As the 20th anniversary of her death on August 31 approaches, the brothers have opened up for the first time about their mother, her life, and her impact on them and on the causes she championed.

William was 15 and Harry 12 when Diana died in a car crash in Paris in 1997.

How deeply their loss affected them is something they have only recently begun to discuss.

"Twenty years on, Harry and I felt that it was an appropriate time to open up a bit more about our mother," William said.

"We won't speak as openly or publicly about her again."

The pair featured in a 90-minute programme entitled "Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy" broadcast by British channel ITV earlier this year.

"This is the first time that the two of us have ever spoken about her as a mother. Arguably, probably a little bit too raw up until this point. It's still raw," said Harry.

Harry recently revealed that he sought help in the last few years as he struggled to deal with his suppressed grief.

- Celebrating Diana's life -

In 2007, the princes staged a benefit concert at Wembley Stadium and a memorial service at which Harry gave a tribute.

But this year marks the first time that the brothers have spoken in such emotional depth.

In an interview with Newsweek magazine, Harry opened up about the trauma of having to walk behind his mother's coffin through London for her funeral.

"I don't think any child should be asked to do that, under any circumstances. I don't think it would happen today," he said.

In those tense days 20 years ago, many Britons voiced anger at a perceived lack of empathy from the royal establishment.

Some feel the royals have been happy to see Diana replaced in the limelight.

Patrick Jephson, Diana's former private secretary, said the princess had been airbrushed out.

"There had been a period since her death during which the royal establishment has been uncertain how to treat the memory of Diana," he told AFP.

"For much of the last two decades she has been the name that cannot be spoken in royal circles.

"Therefore it is with a note of slight defiance and determination that her children have said 'no, there's lots of good to remember, let's celebrate her life'."

- Kensington statue planned -

The brothers have commissioned a statue of Diana which will go in the public grounds of Kensington Palace, their home which was also their mother's base.

A garden has been created at the London palace in her honour.

The princes also attended a private service on July 1 to rededicate their mother's grave at her ancestral home on what would have been her 56th birthday.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the spiritual leader of the world's Anglicans, officiated at the grave, to which the public does not have access.

In their royal duties, William, 35, and Harry, 32, have also taken up the baton for their mother's causes.

Diana's visit to a minefield in Angola helped the movement towards the 1997 landmine ban treaty.

In the 1980s, during bedside visits to AIDS patients, she made a point making physical contact. It was a remarkable gesture at the time that helped break down the stigma attached to the disease.

Harry's push on landmine clearance and HIV testing are directly aimed at continuing his mother's campaigns, as is William's work with homeless shelters and on child bereavement.

Their joint work on mental health -- which saw Harry reveal his need for treatment to cope with the trauma of her death -- also touches a cause Diana championed.

Harry said the princes wondered what Diana would be doing now were she still alive.

"There's not a day that William and I don't wish that she was still around. We wonder what kind of a mother she would be now and what kind of a public role she would have and what a difference she would be making," he said.

Jephson said Diana's greatest legacy was her sons themselves.

He said: "We can see in them many of the attributes that she had -- principally her ability to combine royalty with the common touch."

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Monday, August 14, 2017

Commonwealth Bank boss to retire amid laundering claims

Ian Narev, the chief executive of Australia's

Ian Narev, the chief executive of Australia's biggest bank, the Commonwealth, will retire, the company said on August 14, 2017, amid pressure from regulators over alleged breaches of money laundering and terrorism financing laws 

Sydney, Australia | AFP | The chief executive of Australia's biggest bank, the Commonwealth, will retire, the company said Monday, amid pressure from regulators over alleged breaches of laws on money laundering and terrorism financing.

The bank's chairwoman Catherine Livingstone said in a statement to the stock exchange that Ian Narev "will retire by the end of the 2018 financial year".

Narev faced calls to step down last week after the financial intelligence agency AUSTRAC launched a civil action against the bank alleging "serious and systemic non-compliance" with the laws more than 53,000 times.

The 50-year-old initially insisted he would stay on but Livingstone said Monday that the bank wanted to end speculation over his future.

"Succession planning is an ongoing process at all levels of the bank. In discussions with (Narev) we have also agreed it is important for the business that we deal with the speculation and questions about his tenure," she said.

"Today's statement provides that clarity and will ensure he can continue to focus, as CEO, on successfully managing the business."

Shares in CBA, Australia's biggest company by market capitalisation, closed 1.01 percent higher to Aus$81.31 in Sydney.

"I'm not really that surprised that's happened," said TS Lim, a banking analyst at Bell Potter.

"The good thing is there's a lead time of a year or year-and-a-half, so there's continuity," he said. "I think it removes some of the volatility in the company."

New Zealand-born Narev took over the top job at the Commonwealth in late 2011.

He had previously been involved in its private banking arm and before that worked as a corporate lawyer.

His tenure has delivered bumper returns for shareholders, including a record Aus$9.93 billion (US$7.86 billion) annual net profit unveiled last week.

But it has also been marred by scandals over poor financial planning advice, insurance payouts and now allegations of money laundering.

In the latest case, the country's corporate regulator ASIC said Monday the bank was refunding some Aus$10 million in total to more than 65,000 customers after selling them "unsuitable consumer credit insurance".

- Suspicious transactions -

The Commonwealth Bank is accused by AUSTRAC of failing to deliver on time 53,506 reports for cash transactions of Aus$10,000 or more at its cash deposit machines between November 2012 and September 2015, with a total value of Aus$624.7 million.

It also failed to report suspicious transactions on time, or at all, that totalled Aus$77 million, and did not monitor customers or manage the risk even after becoming aware of suspected money laundering, AUSTRAC claimed.

According to AUSTRAC's 583-page statement of claim, some of the allegations included suspected members of a crime syndicate using fake names and IDs to make separate cash deposits to CBA accounts.

The money -- totalling millions of dollars -- was then transferred to bank accounts in Hong Kong, the statement of claim said.

Several people had been arrested over the case, including three in Hong Kong, AUSTRAC added.

Each breach of the laws could attract Aus$18 million in fines, potentially running into the billions of dollars.

ASIC on Friday added it would also investigate how the lender handled the alleged breaches.

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Monday, August 14, 2017

'Gift from God' Elvis is semi-divine, 40 years after death

A fan takes a photo of herself in the

A fan takes a photo of herself in the Meditation Garden where Elvis Presley is buried alongside his parents and grandmother at his Graceland mansion in Memphis 

Memphis, United States | AFP | Pilgrims come all day every day, filing past in silence, fighting back tears as they place mementos at Elvis Presley's gravesite, pausing to reflect, take pictures or say a prayer.

More than 600,000 fans visit each year, paying tribute to the icon of popular culture, the once rebellious sex symbol turned family entertainer of whom John Lennon said "before Elvis there was nothing."

Forty years after his tragic death aged 42, floral tributes from around the world still line the Meditation Garden, where the king of rock 'n' roll is buried at his Graceland home in Memphis.

On Tuesday thousands, if not tens of thousands, are expected to attend this year's candle-light vigil to mark the anniversary of Elvis' death.

Lisa Bseiso will be one of them. She had what she calls a "very spiritual, deep encounter" with Presley's spirit when she first visited Graceland with her husband in August 2014.

"He was sitting in a chair," remembers the 36-year-old daughter of a Palestinian father and Colombian mother, born and raised in Qatar.

"He had tears coming down his eyes and he said 'Don't forget me, spread my legacy in your part of the world,'" she recalls.

So she went home and set up The Official Elvis Presley Fan Club of Qatar, which she now plans to expand to Dubai, Bahrain and Kuwait.

- 'Quasi-messianic' -

"He's a gift from God to all of us," she tells AFP at Graceland, where she is  visiting with her Palestinian-Jordanian husband, Colombian mother and friends.

"God took him back home, but he's still here."

A life-long fan, listening to his music helped her recover from a car accident in 1999 that left her in a coma for two weeks, she says.

The idea that Presley's spirit lives on is central to his fans of all ages, from all countries, who find his music soothing in times of trouble and are moved by his rags-to-riches story and legendary generosity.

Presley is far more than just another  poster child for the American dream or even a man whose looks matched the Greek definition of classical beauty, says British author Ted Harrison.

"The Elvis known today is not the real Elvis, but a mythological figure millions can relate to in their own way," says the author of "The Death and Resurrection of Elvis Presley."

"For some fans he also now fills a spiritual and religious vacuum in modern secular society. He is given a semi-divine, quasi-messianic status and mystical stories are told about his life."

 

Thousands have shrines to Presley in their homes, consider visits to Graceland a pilgrimage, write prayers on the wall outside and some even go so far as to confuse him with Jesus, Harrison says.

- 'God stamped him' -

Bseiso does not elevate Presley to the status of prophet or Biblical figure, but has found in him a higher calling as she seeks to spread his music and challenge stereotypes about Arabs or the Middle East.

"I think when he was born God stamped him to be able to influence people and touch people," she said. "His music talks to you... it has a spiritual meaning in his words."

A 10-minute drive from Graceland, the guide at Sun Studio tells fans they are on "sacred and hallowed" ground in the basement studio where Presley recorded his first song "That's All Right" in 1954.

Ecstatic fans jostle to stand on the exact spot where he stood, and cradle and croon into the microphone he used, manically snapping photographs and tingling with delight.

"It's heaven!" sighs Daniela Soto-Cuadra, a 42-year-old lawyer and mother of two from Chile, getting married at Graceland on Monday to a man she's been dating only a month.

"I actually have goose bumps," says Tessa Bruns, 40, an anesthetist from Wisconsin bursting with happiness under her baseball cap.

"Being a somewhat religious person and a Catholic," she says, "I would say Elvis is a religion, the blues, the rhythm, his legacy."

So what would she have told Presley had she ever met him? "I would say I think I worship the ground you walk on."

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Monday, August 14, 2017

ICC to award damages for jihadist Timbuktu destruction

Founded between the fifth and 12th centuries by

Founded between the fifth and 12th centuries by Tuareg tribes, Timbuktu has been dubbed "the city of 333 saints" for the number of Muslim sages buried there 

The Hague, Netherlands | AFP |War crimes judges will Thursday hand down a landmark ruling on reparations for the razing of Timbuktu's fabled shrines, but the victims' fund which is to implement the order warned it will not be easy.

Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi was jailed for nine years in 2016 after he pleaded guilty to directing attacks on the UNESCO world heritage site during the jihadist takeover of northern Mali in 2012.

Judges ruled last September that Mahdi "supervised the destruction and gave instructions to the attackers" who used pickaxes and bulldozers to hack apart some of the city's most ancient landmarks.

Last month the judges announced they will hand down a decision on compensation for victims who suffered from the destruction of the ancient city's centuries-old shrines and mausoleums.

Mahdi's case was the first to focus on cultural destruction as a war crime before the Hague-based tribunal and the verdict was seen as a warning that destroying mankind's heritage will not go unpunished.

Whereas the judgement sent a strong message, an order for reparations "aims to alleviate the lasting imprints of these crimes," said Alina Balta, a researcher at Tilburg University's International Victimology Institute.

The International Criminal Court's order also "has the potential to bring hope to the victims of similar crimes committed in other parts of the world" including the destruction of Palmyra in Syria by the Islamic State group, Balta told AFP. 

- 'Challenging security' -

According to the court's founding Rome Statute, judges can decide that victims are entitled to reparations including "restitution, compensation and rehabilitation."

The court can also hand out an order directly against a convicted person, demanding similar reparations.

It was not clear however what type of compensation the judges will decide on at Thursday's hearing.

But the Trust Fund for Victims which will implement the judges' order has warned that doing so will be difficult and may still take a considerable amount of time.

In a recent court filing the TFV asked judges to set a deadline for a draft implementation plan "at a minimum of six months."

The security situation in northern Mali "poses serious challenges not only to the implementation of any awards, but also the amount of time that the Trust Fund may need to consult with all the relevant stakeholders," the fund said in a submission to the judges.

Furthermore, it was hampered by the fact that many of Timbuktu's victims had been displaced and were currently not living in the ancient city.

The TFV also warned that victims' hopes for compensation should be "carefully managed" in order to avoid expectations that are "raised to an unrealistic level, which can lead to confusion, anger and resentment when they were not met.

The fund also noted concerns that "if financial compensation is made a central component of these reparations, it risks creating -– in the face of poverty -- an incentive for people in other towns to attack cultural heritage sites".

- Landmark award -

The reparations will only be the second such award in the history of the court since it began work in 2002.

In March, the ICC awarded symbolic damages of $250 to each of the 297 victims of former Congolese warlord Germain Katanga, who is serving 12 years for a 2003 attack on a village in the troubled Ituri province.

The court estimated the damage caused in the attack at $3.7 million, and found Katanga liable for $1 million of that total, while recognising he was penniless.

Founded between the fifth and 12th centuries by Tuareg tribes, Timbuktu has been dubbed "the city of 333 saints" for the number of Muslim sages buried there.

Revered as a centre of Islamic learning during its golden age in the 15th and 16th centuries, it was however considered idolatrous by the jihadists who swept across Mali's remote north in early 2012.

September's landmark verdict by the ICC was also the first arising out of the conflict in Mali, and the first time a jihadist had sat in the dock.

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Monday, August 14, 2017

Los Angeles tests cooling pavement paint to beat heat

Summer temperatures in Los Angeles regularly

Summer temperatures in Los Angeles regularly surpass 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) 

Los Angeles, United States | AFP | Can a splash of gray pavement paint help combat global warming?

In Los Angeles, where summer temperatures regularly surpass 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius), workers are coating streets in special gray treatments in a bid to do just that.

The City of Angels, home to four million people, is the first major city to test the technology.

Normal black asphalt absorbs 80 to 95 percent of sunlight, while the gray "cool pavement" reflects it -- dramatically lowering ground temperature and reducing urban street heat, advocates of the method say.

During a demonstration of the technique, Jeff Luzar -- sales director at GuardTop, which markets the product -- showed how applying the paint could drop street temperatures by about 12 degrees Fahrenheit after just one coat.

Los Angeles is the first city in California to test the treatment on a public road, after initial trials on parking lots, according to Greg Spotts, assistant director of the city's Bureau of Street Services.

"We're hoping to inspire other cities to experiment with different ways to reduce the heat island effect," he said. "And we're hoping to get manufacturers to come up with some new products."

"Potentially there could be a huge market for cool pavement products, and in fact, it's part of a much larger economic trend where solutions for climate change could be the next great investments for the future," Spotts added.

The city will also monitor how Angelenos react to the newfangled asphalt -- and how quickly the notoriously thick LA traffic dirties the gray coating.

- 'Right approach' -

George Ban-Weiss, an assistant professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Southern California, said cool pavements show promise in reducing heat, but "may have some environmental penalties."

"Recent and current research is working out whether the environmental benefits of cool pavements outweigh those penalties," Ban-Weiss told AFP.

Still, "the city of Los Angeles is taking the right approach and installing and assessing several cool pavement test sections before committing to widespread adoption," he said.

Ban-Weiss noted that heat mitigation strategies like planting trees along streets and using cool roofing materials were more "no-brainer" remedies.

Alan Barreca, an environmental science professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, said the pavement cooling technology could be more equitable than current methods like air conditioning.

"Not everyone has the resources to use air conditioning, so there's concern that some low-income families will suffer," he said. "That bothers me on a moral dimension. The pavement would provide benefits to everyone."

"It can protect people who have to be outdoors," he added.

Plus, he added, "lower temperatures -- due to the pavement -- mean less reliance on air conditioning. So, that means less greenhouse gases."

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Monday, August 14, 2017

Japan economy posts longest expansion in over a decade

A fashion boutique at Ginza shopping district

A fashion boutique at Ginza shopping district in Tokyo. PHOTO|AP 

Tokyo, Japan | AFP | Japan has posted its longest economic expansion in over a decade on the back of a pickup in household and company spending, data showed Monday.

The country's Gross Domestic Product grew by 1.0 percent in the April-June period, marking the sixth straight winning quarter in the longest string of gains since 2006.

The world's number three economy has been picking up steam, mainly on the back of a surging exports including smartphones parts and memory chips, with investments linked to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics also giving growth a boost.

But the latest GDP figures -- which translate into a  whopping 4.0 percent annualised growth rate -- were driven by robust domestic demand and capital spending, which offset a quarterly decline in exports.

Private consumption picked up 0.9 percent in the second quarter. Individual spending accounts for more than a half of Japan's GDP.

The second quarter growth blew past market expectations for a 0.6 percent rise, according to figures from the Cabinet Office. It was well up from a 0.4 percent expansion in January-March GDP.

The labour market is tight and business confidence is high but efforts to lift inflation have fallen flat despite years of aggressive monetary easing by Japan's central bank.

The latest reading nonetheless means Japan's economy has had its best string of gains since the tenure of popular former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Monday's figures are good news for the current prime minister Shinzo Abe -- whose brief and underwhelming first term as Japan's premier came directly after Koizumi.

A string of short-term leaders followed Abe's first term before he swept back to power in late 2012 on a pledge to reignite Japan's once-booming economy with a plan dubbed Abenomics.

The scheme -- a mix of huge monetary easing, government spending and reforms to the economy -- stoked a stock market rally and fattened corporate profits.

- 'Tailwind for Abenomics' -

Some critics have cast doubt on the plan, as heavily indebted Japan grapples with low birthrates and a shrinking labour force.

Abe has seen his public support ratings plummet in the past few months over an array of political troubles, including allegations of favouritism to a friend in a business deal.

"This is a good result and tailwind for Abenomics," Shinke Yoshiki, chief economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute, said of Monday's data release.

"Consumption and corporate investment are particularly strong, a result of brisk corporate earnings and improved business confidence."

In a commentary, Barclays said: "The strength of private consumption reflects an improvement in employment and income conditions (eg, drop in unemployment, four consecutive years of increasing base pay), but likely also such factors as favourable weather during that period."

Still, wages have not been rising enough to kickstart tepid inflation, and few analysts expect the same kind of growth next quarter.

"Japan's structural problems have not changed: ageing population, decreasing working age population, deteriorating fiscal conditions," said Junko Nishioka, chief economist of Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp.

Japan has been struggling to defeat years of deflation and slow growth that followed the collapse of an equity and property market bubble in the early nineties.

The Bank of Japan, aiming to create two-percent inflation as a key part of Tokyo's growth bid, now expects to reach that goal by sometime in the year to March 2020 -- four years later than planned.

Falling prices can discourage spending by consumers, who will postpone purchases until prices drop more or look to save money instead.

That puts pressure on businesses, creating a cycle in which firms then cut back on expanding production, hiring new workers or boosting wages.

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Monday, August 7, 2017

US tells North Korea to end missile tests for talks

 

By Dave Clark

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Monday ruled out a quick return to dialogue with North Korea, as he said new UN sanctions showed the world had run out of patience with Pyongyang's nuclear weapons ambitions.

Speaking to reporters at a security forum in the Philippine capital, Tillerson said Washington would only consider talks if Pyongyang halted its ballistic missile programme -- something the North has insisted it has no intention of doing.

"The best signal that North Korea could send that they're prepared to talk would be to stop these missile launches," Tillerson said.

He nevertheless held out the prospect of US envoys at some point sitting down with Pyongyang's isolated regime and avoiding the escalating threat of war.

Tillerson's remarks followed a rare exchange on Sunday between the foreign ministers of the two Koreas on the sidelines of the Manila forum, during which the North's Ri Yong-Ho showed no signs his nation had been intimidated by the latest rounds of sanctions.

In an effort to halt North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un's drive to become a nuclear power, the UN Security Council on Saturday unanimously approved a US-drafted sanctions package against his nation that could cost it $1 billion a year.

The sanctions were in response to the North conducting two intercontinental ballistic missile tests last month that Kim boasted showed he could strike any part of the United States.

US President Donald Trump and his South Korean counterpart, Moon Jae-In, spoke on the phone on Sunday and agreed the North "poses a grave and growing direct threat" to most countries around the world, according to a White House statement.

Trump later took to social media to hail the vote, thanking Russia and China in a Twitter post for backing the sanctions that either could have halted with their UN veto.

Trump said he was "very happy and impressed with 15-0 United Nations vote on North Korea sanctions".

- 'World united' -

Tillerson, who held separate talks in Manila with foreign ministers Wang Yi of China and Sergei Lavrov of Russia on Sunday, also sought to emphasise a united stance against the North.

"It's quite clear in terms of there being no daylight between the international community as to the expectation that North Korea will take steps to achieve all of my objectives, which is a denuclearised Korean peninsula," he told reporters on Monday.

Tillerson met with Wang and Lavrov as part of an annual gathering of top envoys of 26 Asia-Pacific nations plus the European Union for talks on regional security known as the ASEAN Regional Forum.

However, signalling that differences remained between the world powers on how to handle the North, Wang on Sunday reiterated China's position that sanctions alone would not solve the problem and called again for the United States to talk to the North.

"Only dialogue and negotiation is the correct way out to address the Korean peninsula issue," Wang said.

Tillerson on Monday insisted Kim must first stop the missile tests, but he would not set a timeframe on when this might be possible or how long North Korea might have to refrain from testing more long-rang missiles.

"We'll know it when we see it," he told reporters.

"I'm not going to give someone a specific number of days or weeks. This is really about the spirit of these talks.

"And they can demonstrate that they are ready to sit in the spirit of finding their way forward in these talks by no longer conducting these missile tests."

Ri and South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-Wha shook hands in their brief encounter at a gala dinner on Sunday ahead of the ASEAN Regional Forum meetings.

Kang urged Ri to accept Seoul's offers of military talks to lower tensions on the divided peninsula, and for discussions on a new round of reunions for divided families, according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency.

But Yonhap reported that Ri retorted: "Given the current situation in which the South collaborates with the US to heap pressure on the North, such proposals lacked sincerity".

© Agence France-Presse

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Monday, August 7, 2017

ABC denies axing Tim Allen over Trump support

 

By Frankie TAGGART

US television network ABC denied Sunday that it had canceled comedian Tim Allen's popular sitcom "Last Man Standing" due to its conservative politics.

Fans of the show -- and Allen himself -- were angered when ABC announced in May that one of its most-watched scripted series, a solid ratings draw, was to end.

Allen's character, an outspoken conservative, echoed the political positions of the 64-year-old actor, a Republican who attended President Donald Trump's inauguration.

The announcement sparked a firestorm of criticism on social media, with Allen tweeting that he had been "stunned and blindsided" by Disney-owned ABC's decision.

Meanwhile a petition on Change.org that attracted more than 300,000 signatures claimed the comedy was canceled because it was the only entertainment program that was not constantly shoving "liberal ideals down the throats of the viewers."

"Politics had absolutely nothing to do with it," ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey told the Television Critics Association press tour in Los Angeles.

"We have actors on our shows who have all sorts of political views. Tim Allen is a valuable part of the Disney family and has been for a very long time."

She described "Last Man Standing" as a "high quality show" but added that the network had not been able to find room in the schedules for a seventh season.

Dungey was addressing journalists as she introduced ABC's segment at the TCA's annual summer press tour in Beverly Hills, where journalists hear from television producers and stars about their upcoming seasons.

- 'Roseanne' revival -

Dungey spoke briefly about the upcoming "Roseanne" reboot starring comedian Roseanne Barr -- another outspoken Trump supporter -- and announced it would ignore the death of Dan (John Goodman) in the last episode in 1997.

"I can confirm that Dan is still alive," she said, but would not comment on  whether other plot developments -- such as Roseanne's sister Jackie (Laurie Metcalf) revealing she was a lesbian -- would be revived.

Dungey also used her presentation to assuage early worries that the forthcoming "Marvel's Inhumans" won't be up to the standard of the comic book giant's other superhero movies and television shows.

The first two episodes of the series -- about a royal family of super-powered aliens from the moon who are exiled to Hawaii -- will premiere as a 75-minute movie in IMAX theaters on September 1, prior to ABC's September 29 television premiere.

Based on an early version of the first episode made available to reviewers, journalists voiced concerns over the show's look, saying it does not merit an IMAX release.

But Dungey described it as a "work in progress," saying the month before it is due to premiere will be enough time to get it right.

"I can tell you that... the show that you have seen is not the finished product," Marvel Television chief Jeph Loeb added later.

Based on characters from Marvel Comics, the series was filmed in Hawaii earlier this year and shares continuity with movies and other television series of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

More visually ostentatious than the grittier, more mature Marvel shows aired by Netflix, "Inhumans" -- starring Anson Mount and Iwan Rheon as two brothers -- features a giant computer-generated dog that teleports its masters wherever they need to go.

- Publicity stunt -

In a politically-flavored day, ABC also showcased its new comedy "The Mayor," from executive producers Jeremy Bronson ("Late Night with Jimmy Fallon") and Grammy and Tony Award-winning Daveed Diggs, who originated the role of Thomas Jefferson in stage musical "Hamilton."

The show, due to premiere on October 3, follows an aspiring rapper, played by Brandon Micheal Hall, who is struggling to get noticed.

He cooks up a publicity stunt -- running for mayor in his hometown in California's Bay Area to generate buzz for his music -- but unexpectedly wins the election.

Bronson, a producer for seven years with cable news network MSNBC, acknowledged the topicality of a show about an outsider unexpectedly winning an election -- but said his series was about grassroots empowerment

"Given the politics of the past year everybody is a lot more focused on what they can do, what we can all do, to improve the country, improve our situations," he said.

© Agence France-Presse

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Monday, August 7, 2017

Chris Pratt and Anna Faris announce separation

 

Los Angeles, United States . Action star Chris Pratt and comic actress Anna Faris announced their separation after eight years of marriage in a joint statement on Sunday.

The couple, whose son Jack turns five this month, said they were "disappointed" to be making the announcement after trying "for a long time" to save their relationship.

"Our son has two parents who love him very much and for his sake we want to keep this situation as private as possible moving forward," the statement said.

"We still have love for each other, will always cherish our time together and continue to have the deepest respect for one another."

Pratt, 38, found fame as loveable slacker Andy Dwyer on NBC comedy "Parks and Recreation" but has since become one of Hollywood's most sought-after leading men thanks to roles in "Jurassic World" and Marvel's "Guardians of the Galaxy."

He paid a lengthy tribute to Faris, 40, in April as he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, telling her: "Without you, none of this would mean anything."

"I know that if our circumstances were different, and we weren't as fortunate to be standing here and leading our Hollywood life, we would be happy in the woods together," Faris said of Pratt.

By the time the couple met on the set of comedy movie "Take Me Home Tonight" in 2007, Faris was preparing to divorce her first husband, the actor Ben Indra.

Pratt was a successful TV actor, but Faris was the bigger name, having appeared in a string of comedies including "Scary Movie" and three of its sequels.

That changed after they wed in Bali in 2009, as Pratt went to great lengths to sculpt an action hero's physique.

He was rewarded with his first major lead part in 2014's "Guardians of the Galaxy," which went on to gross more than $770 million worldwide.    

Pratt also starred in 2015 monster movie reboot "Jurassic World," the fourth-highest grossing film of all time, and is due to reprise the role of dinosaur trainer Owen Grady in the sequel, due out in 2018. 

© Agence France-Presse

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Friday, August 4, 2017

Senegalese singer arrested for criticising President Sall

 

Dakar. A popular Senegalese singer was arrested over "offensive" remarks widely shared online which attack President Macky Sall and the organisation of recent elections, police said Friday.

Amy Colle Dieng was arrested on Thursday for "offending the head of state and broadcasting fake news," a police source told AFP.

Audio of her lashing out at the president has been creating a social media storm in recent days.

In the recording, she calls Sall a "sai sai", or "scoundrel" in the local Wolof language, who "operates in the shadows" to achieve his aims.

She is also heard saying that the president, elected in 2012, has done "nothing" for the country and "stole" a victory in recent legislative elections.

Dieng is also heard declaring her support for ex-president Abdoulaye Wade, who stood as an opposition candidate in last Sunday's legislative elections, and she criticises administrative errors that marred the vote.

Prosecutors instructed police to arrest the artist after becoming aware of the recording, Le Soleil newspaper reported, describing her diatribe as "disrespectful" and "offensive".

She remained in detention on Friday, an administrative source told AFP. Another source added that Dieng shared the comments with a Whatsapp group and had not expected them to be made public.

Dieng's case comes after four people were charged in June with "offending public morals" for distributing a fake image of Sall naked, also via Whatsapp.

Results from Sunday's election are due on Friday, with a landslide victory for Sall's ruling coalition expected.

Senegal is known for its largely peaceful democratic traditions and freedom of the press, though rights advocates hit out at the government over the Whatsapp image case. (AFP)

 

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Friday, August 4, 2017

Who loses the most in US-Russia sanctions fight: Q&A

 

Washington. Outside the US Congress, which pushed the issue, there was little celebration of the latest escalation of sanctions between the US and Russia.

Those unhappy with the round of penalties enacted in Washington include not only Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian legislators but the European Union and even US President Donald Trump, who nonetheless signed the sanctions into law.

There are signs that the law will have a limited effect on its intended target but could cause collateral damage.

 

1. Wasn’t Russia already under US sanctions?

Yes, and the new law doesn’t dramatically expand the sanctions imposed under Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, starting in 2014 after Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea. The biggest change is that those sanctions are now codified into a law specifying that any move by Trump (or a future president) to loosen the penalties could be blocked by Congress, where suspicion of Russia runs high. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said this means the sanctions "will remain in effect for decades unless a miracle happens."

2. Who is the target?

It’s still primarily Russian officials and business figures who were sanctioned in the past with asset freezes and visa bans for their alleged roles in the Ukraine crisis and, later, the civil war in Syria. Also Russian state banks and companies, which are barred from getting financing through US banks and markets, as well as Russian oil and gas companies. The new law tightens some of those limits a bit -- for instance, US companies now can’t participate in any energy project in which Russian entities have a stake of 33 per cent or more -- and allows the president to widen the sweep of sanctions to other industries, which Trump isn’t likely to do. Gazprom PJSC, the Kremlin-backed energy giant, lost value after it became clear Trump would sign the latest sanctions measure.

3. What’s the impact on the Russian economy?

Less than dramatic, from all appearances. Restrictions on Russian access to Western financing and technology could put a cap on the country’s already lackluster growth prospects as it emerges from the longest recession this century. And Russian markets took a hit for several weeks as the sanctions bill made its way through the US Congress. But Russian bonds, stocks and the ruble all strengthened after Trump signed the sanctions legislation. That suggests the impact is “likely to be limited” and has already been discounted, while damage to sentiment should gradually dissipate, HSBC analysts led by John Lomax said in an emailed note.

4. How does this affect the EU?

It could suffer collateral damage. The sanctions ban improvements, including repair, of Russian-owned pipelines into Europe. That provision could curb investment in the European- and Russian-financed project Nord Stream 2, a pipeline that would let Gazprom divert fuel flowing to the EU via Ukraine into a less controversial route under the Baltic Sea, to Germany. The US has always been opposed to Nord Stream 2, which it views as Russia’s attempt to solidify its hold on Europe’s energy supply. At least four other European energy projects could be undermined by the sanctions, according to a list compiled by the European Commission and seen by Bloomberg News. They are Nord Stream 1; the Blue Stream gas pipeline from Russia to Turkey involving Eni SpA; the Caspian Pipeline Consortium to carry Kazakh oil to the Black Sea via Russia; and a prospective Baltic liquefied natural-gas plant.

5. Was disrupting Russian energy to Europe a goal of the US?

That’s what some in the EU are charging. They allege that the U.S. wants to displace Russia as a gas supplier to Europe. But that’s a stretch. Russia produces gas far cheaper, doesn’t have to convert it to liquid form to ship it and already has a network of working export pipelines, even without Nord Stream 2. Gazprom has also said it has other methods of financing infrastructure if interest from Europe dries up.

6. Where else is collateral damage being felt?

Consider the US diplomats who have been sent packing. Putin, on July 30, ordered the US to cut its embassy and consulate staff in Russia by 755 -- belated retaliation for the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats by former President Obama. The Russian leader didn’t explain how many of those 755 would be Russian workers. The Associated Press reported that about 400 American diplomats or other US officials are thought to be working in Russia, plus family members accompanying them on diplomatic passports.

7. Why is Trump not happy?

In signing the sanctions law (which also targets Iran and North Korea), he said it encroaches on presidential authority, may hurt the ability of the US to work with allies and could have unintended consequences for American companies. He’s also no doubt stung at a prime motivation of Congress -- to limit his ability to ease penalties on Russia while the Federal Bureau of Investigation is examining whether anyone close to him colluded with Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential campaign. US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia meddled to hurt Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and ultimately to help Trump win. (Bloomberg)

 

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Friday, August 4, 2017

Ambassador faces probe over sexual assaults

Seoul. South Korea's foreign ministry filed a complaint with prosecution authorities on Friday against its ambassador to Ethiopia for multiple sexual assaults, it said, just weeks after another diplomat at the mission was sacked for raping a female colleague.

Friday's move paved the way for a criminal investigation into allegations that ambassador Kim Moon-Hwan sexually assaulted several embassy employees in Addis Ababa.

"Sexual misdeeds by the head of the diplomatic mission against multiple victims have been confirmed through a thorough investigation," the ministry said in a press statement.

As well as a criminal inquiry, it said, it was seeking a "heavy punishment" from the central government disciplinary committee.

Ministry officials declined to give further details including the nationality of the victims, citing privacy concerns.

Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha called for strengthened oversight over diplomats working abroad, saying she was "appalled" at the scandal that undercuts the ministry's efforts to start anew with the new liberal president Moon Jae-In.

The incident is the second at the embassy in Addis Ababa.

The ministry dismissed a senior diplomat at the mission last month for raping a young female colleague after she passed out from consuming too much wine at an embassy dinner party.

That came after another South Korean diplomat stationed in Chile was found to have sexually harassed minors there in December last year. He was recalled and fired. (AFP)

 

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Friday, August 4, 2017

Blaze rips through Dubai skyscraper The Torch

 

Dubai. Panicked residents fled one of the tallest towers in the glitzy Gulf city state of Dubai early on Friday after a fire ripped through it, the second blaze to hit the skyscraper in as many years.

Authorities said no casualties were reported from the blaze which erupted in the middle to upper floors of The Torch, once the tallest residential development in the world.

The 337-metre (1,105-foot) tower was the scene of a 2015 inferno that caused extensive damage to its luxury flats and triggered an evacuation of nearby blocks in the seafront Marina neighbourhood.

Dubai authorities said firefighters arrived at the scene within four minutes of the blaze erupting at 12:45 am (2045 GMT Thursday).

They said residents were immediately evacuated and the fire put out by 2:58 am without any casualties.

Dubai's civil defence authority said it started on the 65th floor of the luxury tower block. 

In the morning, an AFP correspondent saw torched vehicles in the block's car park and extensive fire damage to the middle and upper storeys of the left side of the building.

"We thank God that there were no casualties, that because of the efforts of all teams on the ground... the residents were evacuated from this building to another one and there were no injuries," Dubai police commander Major General Abdullah Khalifa al-Marri said.

In January, Dubai announced tougher rules to minimise fire risks after a series of tower blazes in the emirate mostly due to flammable material used in cladding, a covering or coating used on the side of the buildings.

In November 2015, fire engulfed three residential blocks in central Dubai and led to services on a metro line being suspended, although no one was hurt.

On New Year's Eve that year, 16 people were injured when a fire broke out in a luxury hotel, hours before a massive fireworks display nearby.

Dubai has established a reputation for building dozens of futuristic skyscrapers, which have transformed its skyline.

The city state boasts the world's tallest building, Burj al-Khalifa, which stands 828 metres (2,700 feet) tall, as well as iconic palm tree-shaped, man-made luxury residential islands.

Saudi Arabia's Kingdom Holding is building a tower in Jeddah that is planned to surpass the Burj Khalifa, rising more than a kilometre.

Dubai first became a magnet for property investments when it opened the sector to foreigners in 2002, standing out in a region that largely confines freehold ownership to citizens.

The value of property surged at breakneck speed until the global financial crisis hit the debt-laden emirate in 2009, sending prices into free-fall.

A recovery led by tourism, trade and transportation pushed prices up again between 2012 and 2014. 

But Dubai's real estate sector again slowed down, with residential prices dropping around 12 percent in 2015 before slowly starting to climb in 2016. (AFP)

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Friday, August 4, 2017

Russia's diamond giant says mine flooded with 150 inside

 

Moscow. Russia's diamond giant Alrosa said Friday that one of its mines in eastern Siberia has suffered flooding with around 150 miners inside.

Alrosa, Russia's largest diamond producer, said in a statement on its website that water had broken through into the mine at around 4:30 pm (0730 GMT), while there were "more than 100 people" inside. 

The company later increased the figure to 148 in statements to Russian news wires.

It said a rescue operation was underway and Alrosa's chief executive Sergei Ivanov had flown to the scene.

The emergency situations ministry's branch in the Sakha region where the mine named Mir is located said in a statement that there were 151 people inside. It said groundwater had flooded one of the mine's pumping stations.

"At the moment the Sakha's mine rescue brigade is carrying out operations to evacuate the workers," the ministry said.

A spokesman for the local emergency situations ministry told AFP that "currently people are being evacuated from the mine. At the moment of the accident there were 150 people inside. There are no casualties." (AFP)

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Thursday, August 3, 2017

Sara Netanyahu grilled in fraud probe: media

 

Jerusalem, Undefined /AFP/ .Israeli police grilled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's wife for two hours on Wednesday on suspicion that she diverted public money for private housekeeping expenses, local media said.

The interrogation came as a new threat loomed over the premier in his own long-running battle with corruption suspicions, as his former chief of staff reportedly considered an offer to turn state's evidence.

Israeli public radio said Sara Netanyahu was interrogated at National Fraud Squad headquarters near Tel Aviv over allegations she used public money for personal housekeeping expenses at the couple's official and private residences.

As during previous rounds of questioning of both the premier and his wife, police issued no statement on Sara Netanyahu's questioning.

But it was her husband's tribulations that grabbed the front pages of all of Israel's major dailies -- including the pro-Netanyahu freesheet Israel Hayom on Wednesday.

They reported that justice officials were nearing a deal with his former chief of staff, Ari Harow, in which he would give evidence against his former boss in exchange for immunity from prosecution for his own acts.

Harow has been under investigation for more than two years on suspicion of bribery, breach of trust, conflict of interest and fraud, Israel's top-selling newspaper Yediot Aharonot reported.

Left-leaning daily Haaretz said Harow has been giving investigators information on two of the ongoing investigations into Netanyahu.

One is based on suspicions that the premier unlawfully received gifts from wealthy supporters, including Australian billionaire James Packer and Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.

Also being probed is a suspicion that Netanyahu sought a secret deal with the publisher of Yediot Aharonot.

The proposed deal, which is not believed to have been finalised, would have seen Netanyahu receive positive coverage in return for him helping scale down the operations of Israel Hayom, Yediot's main competitor.

The investigations have stirred Israeli politics and led to speculation over whether Netanyahu will eventually be forced to step down.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked told news site Ynet on Wednesday that Netanyahu is not legally obliged to quit if indicted.

"At the moment there is no charge against him and there is no recommendation to charge him," she said.

"The ones to take that decision are the attorney general and the state prosecutor," she added.

"For now, let the prime minister get on with his job."

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Thursday, August 3, 2017

Vin Diesel and NBC plan 'Miami Vice' reboot

 

Los Angeles, United States /AFP/. American television network NBC is working with action star Vin Diesel on a reboot of hit police drama "Miami Vice," sources told AFP on Wednesday.

The network has not announced the project officially but insiders say the 50-year-old actor's One Race Television production company is teaming up with Universal Television and Chris Morgan, who wrote six of the "Fast and Furious" movies starring Diesel.

It is not clear if Diesel will appear in the reboot and no executive producers are locked down yet.

But Peter Macmanus, who has written for Spike TV's "The Mist" and USA's "Satisfaction," will produce a script based on the original series, sources with knowledge of the project told AFP.

It will be the latest in a string of television reboots of favorite detective and other procedural properties from the big and small screen, including CBS's "MacGyver," and "Hawaii Five-O," as well as Fox's "Lethal Weapon."

"Miami Vice" depicted a dark, glamorous side of the once crime-ridden city that is credited with assisting a revival after years in which its main claim to fame was being the chief American entry point for illegal drugs.

Miami was at the center of a thriving and violent cocaine empire that spawned more than 1,500 homicides in 1981, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The federal Drug Enforcement Administration estimates that cocaine trafficking in 1979 netted $10 billion in wholesale trade alone.

Miami's bad reputation peaked in 1982 when Brian De Palma filmed in his crime drama "Scarface," in which Al Pacino embodied a ruthless thug who murdered his way to the top of the drug empire.

"Miami Vice," which ran from 1984 to 1989 on NBC, also showcased the city's violent side, but with an exotic twist that put the city back on the map as a destination for tourists seeking its beaches and nightlife.

Detectives Sonny Crockett and Rico Tubbs, played by Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas, wore expensive, pastel colored suits and drove around in Ferraris and speedboats, with Miami a constant backdrop.

A "Miami Vice" movie directed by Michael Mann and starring Jamie Foxx and Colin Farrell briefly topped the North American box office in the summer of 2006.

The TV series has been in the works for months, according to The Hollywood Reporter, which said Diesel came up with the idea to revive the show, making a personal appeal to NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke.

 

 

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Thursday, August 3, 2017

What we do and don't know about Venezuela's new assembly

 

Caracas, Venezuela /AFP/. Venezuela's Constituent Assembly -- whose legitimacy is disputed by the opposition and abroad -- starts work Friday, with wide-ranging powers and an indefinite mandate under President Nicolas Maduro.

What do we know -- and not know -- about the new body?

- What we know -

The Constituent Assembly will take over the chamber hitherto occupied by the opposition-controlled congress, the National Assembly.

One of its key members, ex-foreign minister Delcy Rodriguez, told AFP that both assemblies might operate in the same building. That remains to be seen, however.

The opposition has called a protest in Caracas on Thursday against the "fraudulent" Constituent Assembly.

The Constituent Assembly has powers to dissolve the National Assembly if it deems fit. Its principal task is to rewrite the constitution, which Maduro has said will resolve the country's economic and political crisis.

According to the electoral authority, more than 40 percent of the 20-million-strong electorate voted last Sunday in the election appointing the 545-member Constituent Assembly.

However, a British firm that supplied the voting technology, Smartmatic, said that official turnout figure was inflated -- "tampered with" -- by at least one million voters.

The National Electoral Council denies that, dismissing it as the firm's baseless "opinion."

The United States, European Union and a dozen Latin American countries have said they do not recognize the new assembly. Washington has directly sanctioned Maduro, calling him a "dictator."

Of the 545 member of the new assembly, two-thirds were selected by voting district, and the remainder to represent different social or industrial sectors.

All are Maduro loyalists -- among them his wife and son -- because the opposition boycotted the vote.

The opposition fears the new body will be a rubber-stamp entity for Maduro to rule autocratically.

The president has promised to submit the future draft constitution to a referendum. In the meantime, the Constituent Assembly has executive and legislative heft overriding any other institution.

- What we don't know -

It's unknown how long the Constituent Assembly will be in session. Its members will have to decide.

If it dissolves the National Assembly or gets rid of the attorney general's office, as has been threatened, Maduro wants parliamentary immunity to be lifted from opposition lawmakers, who he alleges have incited violence at protests.

He has called for a "truth commission" to prosecute the "crimes" of the conservative opposition, but it's not clear whether the new assembly will pursue that path.

The attorney general, Luisa Ortega, has been a thorn in Maduro's side for four months. She was loyal to his late predecessor, Hugo Chavez, but says Maduro is undermining the constitution and rule of law in Venezuela.

She says the new body has no legitimacy and represents the president's "dictatorial ambition."

If the overdue state elections are to be held, they would likely depend on the decisions of the Constituent Assembly.

The opposition has warned that the presidential election due in 2018 could also be thrown into limbo.

That could suit Maduro, whose support is around 20 percent according to surveys by the polling firm Datanalisis.

It is also unknown what measures the Constituent Assembly could bring in to lift Venezuela out of its crisis.

The political scene is deeply polarized, with little prospect so far of negotiations.

And the economy is in ruins, with inflation spiraling above 700 percent this year, monthly salaries counted in the equivalent of tens of dollars, hunger becoming prevalent as food becomes more scarce, medicine almost impossible to find and currency reserves fast running out.

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Thursday, August 3, 2017

Chile Congress lifts abortion ban

 

Santiago, Chile /AFP/. Chile's Congress on Wednesday eased a strict ban on abortion in effect since the final days of the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship nearly three decades ago.

The measure, which passed with a 22-13 vote in the Senate, allows abortion in cases of rape, if the mother's life is at risk or if the fetus presents a deadly birth defect.

It now awaits a ruling by the Constitutional Court at the request of the opposition.

Until now, the South American country has been part of a small group of socially conservative nations that barred abortion under all circumstances -- including the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Gabon, Haiti, Malta, Nicaragua, the Philippines and Senegal.

"We are satisfied. We have delivered alternatives, and safe health care options, to all women, regardless of the decisions they make," said Claudia Pascual, minister for women and gender equality.

In this deeply conservative country, the measure has been a priority for leftist President Michelle Bachelet, Chile's first woman president and a pediatrician by training.

Bachelet has worked since 2015 to overturn the strict ban on abortions put in place in 1989, in the final days of the Pinochet dictatorship.

Under current law, abortion is punishable by up to five years in Prison.

Until the Pinochet-era change, abortion already was legal in Chile for five decades -- in case of danger to the mother's life or an unviable fetus.

Under the new law, rules surrounding abortions in cases of rape emerged as controversial. In such cases, now the victim will be able to seek an abortion legally up to 12 weeks into the pregnancy. For girls under 14, abortion is available up to 14 weeks.

If a young girl is raped by her father, a judge or custodial person must give authorization for the abortion.  If she is 14-19, a family member has to be informed of her wish to have an abortion.

"We have reworked the rules around girls and young women. It's one of the toughest things to deal with. So often girls are raped in their own homes and by family members" who may be protected when the girls were not, said senator Carolina Goic, a presidential candidate with the Christian Democrats.

Bachelet, after serving a first term as president, became the first chief of UN Women -- the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.

She pledged to see the easing of the ban enacted before she leaves office in March 2018.

Conservative groups have historically had great influence in Chile, though they have lost ground in recent years. Chileans had to wait until 2004 to be able to divorce, and until just two years ago to enter into same-sex civil unions.

 

 

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Thursday, August 3, 2017

Trump names businesswoman Jamie McCourt ambassador to France

 

Washington, United States /AFP/ President Donald Trump has nominated California businesswoman Jamie McCourt to become the US ambassador to France, the White House said in a statement Wednesday.

Jamie McCourt, 63, is described on her company website as an entrepreneur, real estate developer and lover of food and wine.

Until her divorce in 2011, the Maryland native and attorney was co-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, with her former husband, Frank McCourt, who currently owns the Olympique de Marseille football club.

Based in Los Angeles, Jamie McCourt has degrees from Georgetown University, the University of Maryland and France's Sorbonne. She has lived and studied in the southern French city of Aix-en-Provence. An attorney who practiced for 15 years, she owns a Napa Valley vineyard.

During the campaign, McCourt showed early support for Donald Trump's economic policies and donated more than $400,000 to the "Trump Victory" fund, the Los Angeles Times reported.

McCourt was originally nominated to be the US ambassador to Belgium, but the White House withdrew the nomination and replaced it with France. Her appointment has to be approved by the Republican-led Senate.

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Thursday, August 3, 2017

Brazil's congress throws out corruption charge against president

 

Brasília, Brazil /AFP/ Brazilian lawmakers tossed out a corruption charge against scandal-plagued President Michel Temer on Wednesday, saving the center-right leader from becoming the country's second leader in 12 months to be forced from office.

Despite hugely embarrassing bribery allegations, Temer had been expected to survive. But the ease of his victory was a surprise at a time when Brazil is at the height of its biggest ever anti-graft investigation, dubbed Car Wash.

The lower house of Congress needed a two-thirds majority to authorize a trial in the Supreme Court, while Temer needed only one third, or 172 deputies, either to support him or to abstain and get the charge shelved.

In the end, he got 263 votes out of a possible 513 in a process where lawmakers voted one by one, making short, often emotional statements live on national television. That was more than half of the whole chamber.

Temer called it "a clear, indisputable" victory.

A deeply unpopular veteran of the ruling center-right PMDB party, Temer is accused of taking bribes from a meatpacking industry executive. He is the first sitting president to face a criminal charge.

If Congress had authorized the trial and the Supreme court accepted it, he would have been suspended for 180 days and the speaker of the lower house would have become interim president.

Leftist opponents were hoping the scandal would sink Temer and halt economic austerity reforms that have prompted violent protests, but which Temer says will rescue the economy after a two-year recession.

The left also wanted revenge for his rise to power a year ago, when his allies in Congress ejected leftist president Dilma Rousseff in an impeachment trial for breaking budget rules. Temer, her vice president in a shaky coalition, immediately took over.

Wednesday's debate was interrupted repeatedly by yelling and occasional scuffles, illustrating divisions across Brazil.

The escape does not mean the end of Temer's problems.

Expectations are that top prosecutor Rodrigo Janot could file at least one more criminal charge, including for obstruction of justice, in the coming weeks. Opponents have also vowed to stage new street protest against the economic reforms.

But Temer celebrated his reprieve, saying "we are pulling Brazil out of its worst economic crisis in our history," he said. "I want to complete the biggest transformation ever done in our country."

- Bag full of money –

In the current charge, Temer is alleged to have agreed to receive millions of dollars in bribes from the JBS meatpacking giant.

Car Wash prosecutors say the alleged arrangement was typical of systemic bribery and embezzlement at the top of Brazilian politics and big business. Scores of lawmakers, eight ministers and ex-president Lula have all fallen into the Car Wash crosshairs.

What was different this time was that Temer himself was targeted.

In the most damning evidence, a close aide was filmed by police running through Sao Paulo with a suitcase stuffed with the equivalent of $150,000 in Brazilian reais -- money that the prosecutor says was being delivered to Temer.

In a separate investigation, prosecutors cite a secretly recorded late-night meeting between Temer and one of JBS's owners, Joesley Batista. In the recording, Temer allegedly is heard authorizing hush money payments to a onetime senior politician convicted of corruption, Eduardo Cunha.

Batista gave prosecutors the recording as part of his cooperation in a plea deal, one of the many that Car Wash investigators have used to build graft cases.

Temer has denied bribe-taking and says the secret recording does not include anything incriminating.

He has proved a canny operator in Brazil's toxic political landscape, presenting himself as a success in leading market reforms aimed at jump starting the recession-crippled economy.

And unlike Rousseff, who was abandoned by many of her own allies, Temer shored up his coalition with political patronage and support from business interests.

Eurasia Group analysts said that with a big victory he would not only have a good chance of riding out further charges but will help him in negotiations with Congress on passing unpopular cuts to the generous pension system and other reforms.

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Thursday, August 3, 2017

Iran's Rouhani sworn in for second term

 

Tehran, Iran /AFP/ Iran's President Hassan Rouhani was officially sworn in for a second term on Thursday at a ceremony overseen by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei.

"I confirm the vote and appoint you as president of the republic," Khamenei said in front of a packed audience of Iranian officials.

Khamenei applauded the high turnout and "enthusiastic participation" in the May election as "signs of the success of the Islamic regime in reinforcing the republican and popular character of the revolutionary regime."

Among those in attendance at the ceremony was former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who fell out of favour with the establishment and was notably barred from standing as a candidate.

Khamenei called on Rouhani to emphasise the "resistance economy" focused on increased employment and national production at a time when the official jobless rate has reached 12.6 percent.

Rouhani, a 68-year-old moderate, won a convincing victory over his hardline opponent Ebrahim Raisi in May, vowing to continue his efforts to rebuild ties with the West and promote civil liberties at home.

However, he has already faced considerable pushback from conservative opponents and now faces mounting threats from the United States, which passed fresh sanctions against Iran on Wednesday.

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Thursday, August 3, 2017

Iran says nuclear deal violated by new US sanctions

 

Tehran, Iran /AFP/ Iran said on Thursday that new sanctions imposed by the United States had violated its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and that the country would respond.

"We believe that the nuclear deal has been violated and we will react appropriately," deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi said on state television, following news that US President Donald Trump had signed the new sanctions into law.

"We will certainly not fall into the trap of US policy and Trump, and our reaction will be very carefully considered."

Trump signed off the new sanctions -- which also target Russia and North Korea -- on Wednesday.

The sanctions target Iran's missile programme and human rights violations, which were not covered under the 2015 nuclear deal.

However, Iran says they go against the spirit of the agreement and said earlier this week that it would lodge a complaint with the commission that oversees its implementation.

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Thursday, August 3, 2017

Ex-New Zealand PM Clark wades into sexism row

 

Wellington, New Zealand /AFP/ Former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark has slammed "ridiculous" and "sexist" questioning over whether opposition leader Jacinda Ardern plans to have a baby.

Ardern, 37, took the reins of the centre-left Labour Party on Tuesday and was immediately grilled during television appearances about her desire to have children.

One interviewer suggested New Zealanders had a right to know her reproductive plans before they decided whether or not to vote for her in an upcoming general election.

"Ridiculous in 21stC that women in leadership positions are subjected to gender-based attacks," Clark tweeted late Wednesday.

"Are those who make them proud of themselves?"

Clark served as New Zealand prime minister from 1999 to 2008 and was in charge of the UN Development Programme from 2009 until earlier this year.

During her political career critics frequently attacked her decision not to have children, lampooned her low-pitched voice and even questioned her sexuality.

Asked what advice she would offer Ardern, Clark responded: "Ignore the sexist attack and get on with the job."

She also retweeted a comment from Canadian feminist academic Linda Trimble that everything Ardern was experiencing had happened to Clark, ex-Australian leader Julia Gillard, Canada's Kim Campbell and Jenny Shipley, New Zealand's first female prime minister.

An opponent once told Gillard she was unfit for leadership because she was "deliberately barren", while Shipley said her gender led to harsh characterisation.

"Look at the language, men are bold, women are vindictive... I'm not telling you that it's hurtful, I'm telling you that it's an observation," she said earlier this year.

Campbell served a short stint as Canada's prime minister in 1993.

She believes the political system is so skewed against women that every electorate should have two candidates, one male and one female, as a way to achieve equality.

Other women leaders, including Britain's Theresa May, have found their gender the focus of unwanted attention.

When May was contesting the Tory leadership last year, rival Andrea Leadsom suggested having children made her better suited to the job.

"I feel that being a mum means you have a very real stake in the future of our country, a tangible stake," Leadsom said, later apologising to May for the remark.

Ardern, meanwhile, has proved more than capable of standing up for herself, saying it is "totally unacceptable" to link a woman's employment prospects with her plans for a family.

"It is the woman's decision about when they choose to have children. It should not pre-determine whether or not they get the job," she told TV3 on Wednesday.

Ardern assumed the leadership from Andrew Little on Tuesday after polling showed Labour was heading for a disaster in next month's election.

She will attempt to prevent Prime Minister English winning a fourth term for the centre-right National party-led coalition.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Cardinal Pell denies abuse charges in Australian court

Cardinal George Pell denies allegations of

Cardinal George Pell denies allegations of sexual assault. PHOTO|EPA 

Melbourne, Australia | AFP |Vatican finance chief Cardinal George Pell, a top advisor to Pope Francis, denied all charges of historical sexual abuse Wednesday at his first appearance in an Australian court over the allegations.

The 76-year-old, the number-three figure in the Vatican, returned from Rome earlier this month to face the charges in Melbourne Magistrates Court.

Details of the charges have not been made public although police said they involved "multiple complainants". The former Sydney and Melbourne archbishop has always maintained his innocence.

Looking sombre and frail, he attended the hearing with his lawyer, top criminal barrister Robert Richter, who told the court his client was not guilty -- even though a formal plea was not required at this stage.

"For the avoidance of doubt and because of the interest, I might indicate that Cardinal Pell pleads not guilty to all charges and will maintain the presumed innocence that he has," Richter told the court, national broadcaster ABC reported.

Pell, dressed in black and wearing his clerical collar, remained silent throughout with magistrate Duncan Reynolds ruling that evidence needs to be handed to his legal team by September 8, with the next court date set for October 6.

The cleric made no comment as he was escorted by a group of police through a crush of cameras, reporters and photographers into the court, which hears hundreds of cases a week for alleged crimes ranging from theft to murder.

Several photographers were knocked over in the melee.

Similar scenes greeted his departure after the brief hearing as he was ushered around 100 metres (yards) down the road to his lawyer's offices surrounded by security, with a handful of supporters shouting "this is a show trial" and "innocent" as he walked past.

Protesters were also on hand, with one, Brian Cherrie, telling the Melbourne Herald Sun: "We need the truth."

- Rocked the church -

Pell was not required to attend the hearing, but Australia's most powerful Catholic opted to appear, having previously vowed to defend himself and clear his name after a two-year investigation led to him being charged on June 29.

"I am innocent of these charges, they are false. The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me," he said in Rome last month, claiming he had been the victim of a campaign of "relentless character assassination".

Australia's Catholic leaders have spoken out in support, describing Pell as a "thoroughly decent man".

The Archdiocese of Sydney is providing accommodation for him while he fights the charges, but it has said it will not foot his legal bills, which could run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Supporters have set up a fund to help him pay the costs, according to the Institute of Public Affairs, a high-profile conservative Australian think tank.

Despite being unofficially considered the third most powerful cleric in the Vatican, no special arrangements were in place at the court. Pell entered the building through the front door and was screened by security.

He has been granted a leave of absence by the Pope, who has made clear the cardinal would not be forced to resign his post as head of the Vatican's powerful economic ministry.

But the scandal has rocked the church. He is the most senior Catholic cleric to be charged with criminal offences linked to its long-running sexual abuse scandal.

The allegations against Pell coincide with the final stages of Australia's Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse, ordered in 2012 after a decade of pressure to investigate widespread allegations of institutional paedophilia.

The commission has spoken to thousands of survivors and heard claims of child abuse involving churches, orphanages, sporting clubs, youth groups and schools.

Pell appeared before the commission three times, once in person and twice via video-link from Rome.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

EU mulls sanctions against Poland over court reform

The PiS plans for judicial reforms triggered

The PiS plans for judicial reforms triggered mass protests across Poland.Photo| Reuters 

Brussels, Belgium | AFP |.The EU holds high-level talks on Wednesday on whether to act on its threat to sanction the Polish government over its bid to exert control over national courts.

The European Union last week warned the right-wing government in Warsaw against enacting new bills that would further undermine the judiciary's independence, which EU treaties guarantee.

Polish President Andrzej Duda surprised many Monday when he vetoed two of the controversial reforms but later signed into law a third bill despite opposition from Polish demonstrators.

With only one of the reforms adopted, it was not clear what steps, if any, EU First Vice President Frans Timmermans will announce on Wednesday.

The commission, the 28-nation EU executive, last week urged Poland to put the reforms on hold and warned it would "swiftly prepare infringement procedures for breach of EU law" against Warsaw.

Under these procedures to be debated on Wednesday, EU states can be hauled before the bloc's highest court and eventually given stiff fines for the breaches.

Duda on Tuesday signed into law one of the reforms while Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo insisted that her Law and Justice (PiS) party would press ahead with the others.

"These laws considerably increase the systemic threat to the rule of law in Poland," Timmermans warned last week, adding that together they would put the judiciary under full government control.

- 'Nuclear option' -

On top of possible infringement proceedings, Timmermans said the EU is also "very close to triggering Article 7," the bloc's never-before used "nuclear option" that can halt a country's right to vote in EU decision-making.

However, populist Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has vowed he would instantly veto any such move by the EU against a sovereign country.

Ultimately, officials admit that Brussels is not fully prepared for events like those in Poland.

When the EU brought in Article 7 it was less a response to fears about the rule of law in the wave of eastern states like Poland joining after 2004, but more as a backstop that had little chance of being used.

EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova meanwhile said the Polish crisis had caused a "very high level of nervosity" about whether it would "affect the whole EU system of mutual recognition of court decisions".

The new government headed by the PiS, which won the 2015 elections, triggered its first warning from Brussels last year after reforming the Constitutional Court.

This month it pushed through a bill that would have reinforced political control over the Supreme Court and another allowing parliament to choose members of a body designed to protect the independence of the courts.

But Duda vetoed those two while signing into law the third measure that allows the justice minister to unilaterally replace the chief justices of the common courts, which include appeal courts.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Denying husbands sex is abuse: Malaysian MP

Muslim women pose for a selfie against the

Muslim women pose for a selfie against the Kuala Lumpur skyline.PHOTO|AFP 

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia | AFP | A Malaysian lawmaker came under fire Wednesday for saying that women who deny their husbands sex were subjecting them to "psychological and emotional abuse".

Che Mohamad Zulkifly Jusoh, a Muslim MP from the ruling coalition, said during a parliamentary debate on domestic violence that husbands often suffer emotional attacks rather than physical abuse.

"Even though men are said to be physically stronger than women, there are cases where wives hurt or abuse their husbands in an extreme manner," said the lawmaker, a member of the United Malays National Organisation.

"Usually, it involves wives cursing their husbands -- this is emotional abuse. They insult their husbands and refuse his sexual needs.

"All these are types of psychological and emotional abuse."

Marina Mahathir, a prominent women's rights activist, said the lawmaker's view was "based on ignorance".

"Women have a right to say no to sex -- this is an old notion that when you marry a women you own her body," she told AFP. "It does not work that way. It is ridiculous to say men are abused if women say no to sex."

The 58-year-old lawmaker, from Terengganu state in Malaysia's Muslim heartland, also said that denying a Muslim man the chance to marry a second wife amounted to abuse.

It is legal for Muslim men in Malaysia to have many as four wives. But they must obtain permission from an Islamic, or shariah, court to marry more than one.

More than 60 percent of Malaysia's population of over 30 million are Muslim.

The MP made the comments Tuesday during a debate on amendments to domestic violence legislation.

It is not the first time a lawmaker has sparked controversy with comments about women -- a member of Malaysia's ruling coalition said in April that girls as young as nine were "physically and spiritually" ready for marriage.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Opposition leader appeals to military in Venezuela confrontation

Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez

Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez issues an appeal to the military as a confrontation loomsPHOTO|AFP 

Caracas, Venezuela | AFP |A prominent Venezuelan opposition leader, in a video made while under house arrest, called Wednesday on the military to withdraw its support for a government plan to rewrite the constitution.

Leopoldo Lopez, placed under house arrest earlier this month after nearly three and a half years in a military prison, made the appeal hours before the start of a 48-hour general strike against the leftist government of President Nicolas Maduro.

"I invite you to not be accomplices to the annihilation of the republic, to a constitutional fraud, to repression," Lopez said in a video made from his home and posted on Twitter.

Maduro has called elections for Sunday to choose a 545-member Constituent Assembly charged with rewriting the constitution.

The opposition, fearing a power grab by the embattled president, has fiercely resisted the plan and is pressing for early presidential elections as a way out of the crisis.

The military, along with the courts, has been a key pillar of support for Maduro through months of deadly street protests and amid an economic collapse that has led to widespread shortages.

Lopez called on Venezuelans to keep up their protests, insisting the government would not succeed "because of the determination, strength and conviction each of you have shown."

Accusing the government of seeking to eliminate the democratic state, he said Venezuelans had to stop it through "peaceful struggle and a deep commitment to conquer democracy, peace."

More than 100 people have died since April 1 in nearly daily clashes between protesters and security forces.

 

 

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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Russia says US sanctions vote hits chance of better ties

An overwhelming vote by the US House of

An overwhelming vote by the US House of Representatives to slap tough new sanctions on Moscow is a 'serious step' towards wrecking chances of improving ties, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov says.PHOTO| AFP 

Moscow, Russia | AFP | An overwhelming vote by the US House of Representatives to slap tough new sanctions on Moscow is a "serious step" towards wrecking chances of improving ties, Russia's deputy foreign minister said Wednesday.

"What has happened goes beyond the realms of common sense," Sergei Ryabkov told state-run TASS news agency.

"The authors and sponsors of this bill are taking a very serious step towards destroying the possibilities for normalising relations with Russia."

The sanctions package -- which also contains measures aimed at Iran and North Korea -- passed 419 to three on Tuesday after weeks of negotiations.

It now heads to the Senate before President Donald Trump will face the tricky choice of whether to veto the legislation, which has been opposed by the White House and considerably constrains his ability to lift the penalties.

If Trump does sign off on the bill then Russia looks likely to retaliate, with Ryabkov insisting Moscow has warned Washington "dozens of times" that any new sanctions would "not go unanswered."

But for now Moscow appears to be keeping its powder dry as it waits to see how Trump reacts. 

"We are not giving in to emotions," Ryabkov said.

"We will work to look for ways to move ahead, persistently and consistently searching for ways to compromise of issues important to Russia and the US."

Ties between Russia and the US plummeted to their lowest point since the Cold War after the Kremlin's seizure of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 saw Washington impose sanctions on Moscow.

Trump repeatedly pledged during his campaign to try to boost relations with Russia, but allegations that the Kremlin meddled in the vote to get him to the White House have made any signs of going soft on Moscow politically toxic.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

UK to ban sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2040: report

The announcement will be seen as a milestone in

The announcement will be seen as a milestone in the shift towards electric cars and the beginning of the end for the internal combustion engine.Photo| Bloomberg 

London, United Kingdom | AFP | Britain will outlaw the sale of new diesel and petrol cars and vans from 2040 in a bid to cut air pollution, the government was set to announce later Wednesday.

Enviroment minister Michael Gove is due to present the government's keenly-awaited £3 billion ($3.9 billion, 3.4 billion euro) air pollution plan, which is expected to demand that councils propose measures by March next year to reduce nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels, according to British media reports.

The ban on petrol and diesel cars as well as vans follows a similar proposal by the French government, and will also include hybrid vehicles that have an electric motor and a petrol or diesel engine.

Britain's High Court demanded that the government produce plans to tackle illegal NO2 pollution, largely caused by diesel emissions, and a draft report was published in May, but the full report was delayed by last month's snap general election.

The government will provide local councils with £255 million to bring NO2 levels to legal levels, with possible solutions including the removal of speed humps, reprogramming traffic lights and changing road layouts.

Campaigners want cities to impose entry fees on diesel drivers, but councils will only be allowed to do so if no other measures are available, with ministers wary of "punishing" drivers of cars who bought their vehicles in good faith, according to the reports.

"Diesel drivers are not to blame and, to help them switch to cleaner vehicles, the government will consult on a targeted scrappage scheme, one of a number of measures to support motorists affected by local plans," said a government spokesman.

ClientEarth, the campaign group that brought the case, arguing that a previous set of plans were insufficient to meet EU pollution limits, warned that health issues "caused by exposure to illegal air pollution are happening now, so we need urgent action."

Air pollution contributes to the death of more than 40,000 people per year in Britain, according to official figures, with nitrogen dioxide a particular problem.

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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Two biggest parties neck-and-neck in East Timor election

 

Dili, East Timor | AFP |The two largest parties in East Timor's parliamentary election were neck-and-neck, according to preliminary results Sunday, with neither expected to secure enough support to govern alone.

With 90 percent of votes from Saturday's election counted, the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) -- led by independence hero Xanana Gusmao -- had about 28 percent of votes, down from 36.7 percent in 2012.

Fretilin, led by President Francisco Guterres, had about 30 percent of votes.

The two parties are already coalition partners and are expected to remain so in the upcoming government.

The new Popular Liberation Party (PLP) led by former President Taur Matan Ruak and The Democratic Party both managed to secure 10 percent of votes.

Twenty-one parties took part in the poll, the first parliamentary election since the departure of United Nations peacekeepers in 2012.

The former Portuguese colony, invaded by Indonesia in 1975 and brutally occupied, gained independence in 2002.

The election will determine the choice of prime minister, the most influential political figure. The presidency is a largely ceremonial role but the occupant can help keep the peace between feuding politicians.

The new government of the tiny nation will face big challenges. Half of the population lives in poverty and the current government is struggling to improve the livelihoods of its 1.2 million people.

As well as diversifying the resource-rich economy away from a reliance on oil, the country's leaders must agree a new sea border with Australia after tearing up a contentious maritime treaty that cuts through energy fields.

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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Palestinians die in new clashes over Jerusalem holy site

Tear gas fumes billow during clashes between

Tear gas fumes billow during clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli forces at the main checkpoint outside the West Bank city of Bethlehem on Jul 21, 2017. Photo: AFP  

Jerusalem, Undefined | AFP |Two Palestinians died in clashes with Israeli forces Saturday as the army moved in to seal off an attacker's home after violence over security measures at an ultra-sensitive holy site.

The UN Security Council will hold closed-door talks Monday about the spiralling violence after Egypt, France and Sweden sought a meeting to "urgently discuss how calls for de-escalation in Jerusalem can be supported".

The deaths followed bloodshed on Friday, when a 19-year-old Palestinian killed three Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank and three Palestinians died in clashes with Israeli forces.

On Saturday, Palestinian youths hurled stones and petrol bombs as the army used a bulldozer to close off the 19-year-old attacker's West Bank village and prepare his house for probable demolition.

Israel frequently punishes the families of attackers by razing or sealing their homes as a deterrent, although rights groups say this amounts to collective punishment.

Clashes also flared in east Jerusalem and other Palestinian villages in the West Bank near Jerusalem, police said, adding that anti-riot measures were used against them.

At the Qalandiya crossing between the West Bank and Jerusalem, at least eight Palestinians were wounded, the Palestinian health ministry said.

A Palestinian died of wounds suffered in clashes east of Jerusalem, the ministry said.

It said 17-year-old Oday Nawajaa was hit by Israeli live fire at Al-Azariya.

Another Palestinian, 18, died nearby when a petrol bomb exploded prematurely.

Israel's Shin Bet internal security agency meanwhile said Sunday it had arrested 25 men active in the militant Hamas group that rules the Gaza Strip.

The arrests included "senior members," a Shin Bet statement read, and was part of the security forces' preventive measures in the wake of "the tensions around the Temple Mount".

Also Sunday, a rocket fired at Israel from Gaza exploded mid-air, the Israeli army said, causing no injuries.

No Palestinian group claimed responsibility for the projectile.

The violence was triggered by security measures including metal detectors at the entrance to the Haram al-Sharif compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, ahead of the main weekly Friday prayers.

Israel imposed the measures after a gun and knife attack killed two Israeli policemen on July 14.

The Palestinians reject the measures, viewing them as Israel asserting further control over the holy site.

 

The site in Jerusalem's Old City that includes the revered Al-Aqsa mosque and Dome of the Rock has been a focal point for Palestinians.

In 2000, then Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon's visit to the compound helped ignite the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, which lasted more than four years.

Israeli authorities say the July 14 attackers smuggled guns into the site and emerged from it to shoot the policemen.

- Abbas freezes contacts -

On Friday, clashes erupted around the Old City.

Three Palestinians aged between 17 and 20 were shot dead. The Red Crescent reported 450 people wounded in Jerusalem and the West Bank, including 170 from live or rubber bullets.

Later Friday, the 19-year-old Palestinian broke into a home in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank and stabbed four Israelis, killing three.

He was shot by a neighbour and taken to hospital.

The Israeli army said he had spoken in a Facebook post of the Jerusalem holy site and of dying as a martyr.

The Israelis killed in Neve Tsuf, north of Ramallah and also known as Halamish, were Yosef Salomon, 70, his daughter Haya Salomon, 46, and son Elad Salomon, 36, officials said. The grandmother was wounded.

Israeli soldiers raided the Palestinian's nearby village of Kobar overnight and arrested his brother, the army said.

Amid mounting pressure to respond to the dispute, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas announced late Friday he was freezing contacts with Israel.

There was no immediate public reaction from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denounced what he called the "excessive use of force" by the Israelis in Friday's clashes.

The United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations -- the so-called Middle East Quartet -- urged all sides to "demonstrate maximum restraint."

The quartet members "strongly condemn acts of terror, express their regret for all loss of innocent life caused by the violence."

- 'For all Muslims' -

"Violence is likely to worsen absent a major policy shift," said Ofer Zalzberg, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group.

 

"Netanyahu's mistake was installing the metal detectors without a Muslim interlocutor. It is the coercive character more than the security measure itself that made this unacceptable for Palestinians."

On Saturday, entrances to Jerusalem's walled Old City were open amid heavy security.

The metal detectors also remained at the entrance to the mosque compound.

"Al-Aqsa -- that's for the Muslims, not for the Jewish," said Mohammad Haroub, a 42-year-old shopkeeper.

Like hundreds of others, he prayed outside on Friday instead of passing through the metal detectors.

The Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount is central to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It is in east Jerusalem, seized by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed in a move never recognised by the international community.

It is considered the third holiest site in Islam and the most sacred for Jews.

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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Shoot drug traffickers if resist arrest: Indonesia President

The Indonesian Narcotics Agency recorded there

The Indonesian Narcotics Agency recorded there are 6 million drug users in the archipelago out of its 255 million people, a situation the president labelled drug emergency. (Photo: File) 

Jakarta, Indonesia | AFP |Indonesia's President Joko Widodo has ordered the police to shoot drug traffickers who resist arrest in the latest effort to eradicate drug use in the country.

In a speech to one of Indonesia's political parties late Friday, Widodo urged law enforcers to crackdown on drug dealers in Indonesia.

"Be firm. Especially to foreign drug dealers who enter the country. If they resist even the slightest, just shoot them," Widodo said.

The Indonesian Narcotics Agency recorded there are 6 million drug users in the archipelago out of its 255 million people, a situation the president labelled "drug emergency".

But Widodo's remarks prompted criticism from human rights activists.

Andreas Harsono, Indonesia's researcher from Human Rights Watch condemned the order.

"A president statement like that can seem like a green light to shoot without the correct procedure," Harsono told AFP Sunday, adding that law enforcers should be cautious and follow the law.

Indonesia imposes a tough punishment for drug trafficking, with smugglers who carry five or more grammes given the death penalty.  

In the last two years, it has executed about 18 drug traffickers, including foreigners such as Australian Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, which sparked diplomatic outrage and a call to abolish the death penalty.

Widodo's comments came just a week after Indonesian police shot dead a suspected Taiwanese drug dealer who was caught with one tonne of crystal methamphetamine, but tried to escape. 

 

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Sunday, July 23, 2017

New White House communications boss deletes tweets Trump would not love

WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS CHIEF. Anthony

WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS CHIEF. Anthony Scaramucci was a senior financial adviser to President Trump before being hired as the new communications chief of the White House. AFP| PHOTO 

Washington, United States | AFP |.Donald Trump's new communications chief has deleted tweets in which he shared views contrary to the US president's own, saying they were a distraction.

The day after he started his new job Friday, Anthony Scaramucci, a New York financier, cleared up his Twitter trail of remarks in which he differs from Trump on illegal immigration, climate change, Islam and even gun control.

"Full transparency: I'm deleting old tweets. Past views evolved & shouldn't be a distraction. I serve @POTUS agenda & that's all that matters," the new man on the White House job announced on Twitter.

A bit later, Scaramucci followed up with "The politics of 'gotcha' are over. I have thick skin and we're moving on to @POTUS agenda serving the American people."

In a 2012 comment he tweeted, he appeared to back many causes long championed by Democrats, describing himself as "for Gay Marriage, against the death penalty, and Pro Choice."

White House press secretary Sean Spicer abruptly resigned Friday in protest at Scaramucci's hiring.

In a written statement, Trump said he was "grateful" for Spicer's work and praised his "great television ratings" -- a reference to Spicer's keenly watched, combative and often-satirized news briefings.

Spicer's departure marked rising tensions in an administration that has seen its legislative agenda falter at the same time it has been buffeted by an investigation into alleged collusion with Russia.

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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Erdogan heads to Gulf in hope of easing Qatar crisis

The crisis with Qatar has put Turkey in a

The crisis with Qatar has put Turkey in a delicate position and Erdogan has repeatedly said he wants to see the end of the dispute as soon as possible. PHOTO|AFP 

Istanbul, Turkey | AFP |President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Sunday embarked on a key visit to the Gulf region aimed at defusing the standoff around Turkey's ally Qatar, saying no-one had an interest in prolonging the crisis.

Erdogan will first meet the Saudi leadership in Jeddah before moving on to Kuwait and then visiting Qatar on Monday for his first face-to-face talks with Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani since the crisis began.

"No-one has any interest in prolonging this crisis any more," said Erdogan at Istanbul airport before leaving on the two-day trip.

He accused "enemies" of seeking to "fire up tensions between brothers" in the region.

Erdogan praised Qatar's behaviour in the crisis, saying it had sought to find a solution through dialogue. "I hope our visit will be beneficial for the region," he said.

On June 5, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt cut ties with Qatar accusing it of backing extremism and fostering ties with their Shiite rival Iran. Doha denies the claim and has been strongly backed by Ankara throughout the standoff.

The crisis with Qatar has put Turkey in a delicate position and Erdogan has repeatedly said he wants to see the end of the dispute as soon as possible.

Over the last years, Qatar has emerged as Turkey's number one ally in the Middle East, with Ankara and Doha closely coordinating their positions on a number of issues including the Syria conflict where both are staunch foes of President Bashar al-Assad.

Crucially, Turkey is in the throes of setting up a military base in Qatar, its only such outpost in the region. It has sped up the process since the crisis began and reportedly now has 150 troops at the base.

"From the first moments of the Qatar crisis, we have been on the side of peace, stability, solidarity and dialogue," said Erdogan.

- 'Saudi has big role' -

But Turkey, which is also going through a turbulent time with the European Union and the United States, also does not want to wreck its own relations with regional kingpin Saudi Arabia.

As well as meeting King Salman, Erdogan is also due to meet his son Mohammed bin Salman for the first time since he was elevated to the role of crown prince and his father's heir in a dramatic June reshuffle of the royal house.

"As the elder statesman in the Gulf region, Saudi Arabia has a big role to play in solving the crisis," said Erdogan, taking care not to explicitly criticise the kingdom.

 

Erdogan said he supported the mediation efforts of Kuwait's Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, a possible indication Ankara sees Kuwait as the key to solving the crisis.

The Qatar emir said Friday he was ready for talks to resolve the crisis so long as the emirate's sovereignty is respected.

Erdogan is likely to get a warm welcome in Doha where Turkey has been loudly applauded for sending in food, including fruit, dairy and poultry products by ship and by plane to help Doha beat an embargo.

Turkey has also benefited, with its exports to Qatar doubling in the last month to over $50 million. According to the economy ministry, Ankara has sent some 200 cargo planes filled with aid since the crisis began.

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Friday, July 21, 2017

Linkin Park lead singer Bennington ‘took his own life’

 

New York. Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington, who overcame a troubled childhood to top the charts with an angry but melodic brand of metal, was found dead Thursday in an apparent suicide. He was 41.

"Shocked and heartbroken, but it's true," Linkin Park's guitarist and main songwriter Mike Shinoda wrote on Twitter.

The Los Angeles County coroner's office said it received a call just after 9 am (1600 GMT) that Bennington had been found hanging at his home in the luxurious Palos Verdes Estate area.

"It is being handled as a possible suicide," said Brian Elias, chief of operations at the coroner's office.

Just hours before his death, Linkin Park had released a video for its latest single, "Talking To Myself," whose lyrics took on a new meaning.

The song appears to take the vantage point of Bennington's wife, Talinda Ann Bentley, as she begs him to control his substance abuse.

Bennington -- who had six children from two marriages -- had wrestled with alcohol and drugs since he was a pre-teenager and he coped with his parents' divorce.

Born and raised in Arizona, Bennington said that a family friend abused him starting at the age of seven.

"I was getting beaten up and being forced to do things I didn't want to do. It destroyed my self-confidence," he told the British music site Team Rock in 2014.

"Like most people, I was too afraid to say anything. I didn't want people to think I was gay or that I was lying," he said.

He turned his rage into music with a growling metal voice. Linkin Park became one of the leading forces in the wave of so-called nu metal which incorporated pop structures and hip-hop, with Shinoda often rapping in between Bennington's vocals.

- Blockbuster debut -

Bennington's start with Linkin Park sounded like the lore of an earlier era. After unsuccessfully trying to make his mark musically in his native Phoenix, a talent scout heard his voice and arranged an audition in Los Angeles with Linkin Park.

The band quickly found a chemistry with Bennington despite his very different background from Shinoda, a trained classical pianist with a degree in graphic design.

The band, which had floundered before Bennington's hiring, sealed a record deal with leading label Warner and its debut, "Hybrid Theory," became the top-selling album in the United States in 2001.

The album -- which has sold more than 10 million copies in the United States -- produced hits such as the snarling "In The End" and "Crawling," in which Bennington reveals his helplessness in the face of addiction.

Linkin Park went on to release six more studio albums, all of them entering the top three on the US charts.

The latest album, "One More Light," came out in May and marked a stylistic departure for Linkin Park with more pop and electronic influence.

While the sound alienated some longtime fans, Bennington said he did not want to be stuck in the past and welcomed the growing blurring of genres in music.

Linkin Park has won two Grammys -- including in a rap category for the collaboration "Numb/Encore" with Jay-Z.

- Days before tour -

Bennington in 2013 briefly joined as the frontman of leading grunge act Stone Temple Pilots, filling in for Scott Weiland who died of an overdose shortly afterward.

Bennington had spoken of being moved by the death in May of another grunge great, Chris Cornell, the singer of Soundgarden.

But there had been little public sign of Bennington retreating from the world. 

Linkin Park was scheduled to start a tour next week which would include a performance at New York's Citi Field baseball stadium alongside other major acts from the band's generation including Blink-182 and the Wu-Tang Clan.

Rockers paid tribute to Bennington including Avril Lavigne, who recalled his kindness when they both played Germany's Rock Am Ring festival.

"I can't even deal. Horrible news. To lose one of the best," she wrote on Instagram.

 

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