Sunday, 25 February 2018

POLITICS

A gold-medal winning Olympian has confronted disgraced USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar at his sentencing to reveal he abused her, too.

Jordyn Wieber is the fourth member of the Fierce Five, the winning 2012 Summer Olympics squad, to accuse him.

She joins teammates Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas and McKayla Maroney, who all said Nassar, 54, molested them.

More than 100 victims have come forward. Nassar admitted 10 criminal counts and could face life in prison.

In emotional testimony, 22-year-old Ms Wieber delivered her statement in court near Lansing, Michigan, on Friday.

"I thought that training for the Olympics would be the hardest thing that I would ever have to do," she said.

"But, in fact, the hardest thing I ever had to do is process that I am a victim of Larry Nassar."

Published in News & Stories

Thousands of women gathered in cities across the United States and around the world on the anniversary of the inauguration of President Donald Trump to call for equal rights in pay and health care, to denounce sexual harassment and to encourage women to run for office.

Marchers also addressed such issues as racial equality, gun control, immigrant protections and conservatives' efforts to defund Planned Parenthood.

Members of the "Texas Handmaids" lead a women's march to the Texas State Capitol on the one-year anniversary of President Donald Trump's inauguration, Jan. 20, 2018, in Austin, Texas. The costumes are a nod to "The Handmaid's Tale," a novel and television series that tell the story of a dystopian future in which women's rights are suppressed and a class of women are used solely for reproductive purposes.
Members of the "Texas Handmaids" lead a women's march to the Texas State Capitol on the one-year anniversary of President Donald Trump's inauguration, Jan. 20, 2018, in Austin, Texas. The costumes are a nod to "The Handmaid's Tale," a novel and television series that tell the story of a dystopian future in which women's rights are suppressed and a class of women are used solely for reproductive purposes.

Crowd estimates for the march in Washington were down from last year's gathering. But marches also were taking place in New York; Philadelphia; Los Angeles; Chicago; Denver, Colorado; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Palm Beach, Florida, where the president has a vacation home.

Marchers gather in the Grant Park area of Chicago, Jan. 20, 2018. (K. Farabaugh/VOA)
Marchers gather in the Grant Park area of Chicago, Jan. 20, 2018. (K. Farabaugh/VOA)
Published in News & Stories
Jay-Z is going to be the first ever guest of the forthcoming “The Van Jones Show” set to premiere on January 27. Jay-Z will use the platform to discuss the 4:44 album.

According to Jones, the show will highlight how politics is changing the game in different facets including the lives of entertainers and “ordinary people”.

He told Variety Magazine,

“it used to be that politics were solely for us news nerds. That’s no longer the case… Everything and everybody is now involved in politics in some way. Sports figures, musicians, actors are 100% engaged… Politics has taken over everything and everything has taken over politics- and the show will reflect that”.

The show is billed to come up twice a month.

Published in Entertainment

South Africa’s ruling ANC party said Saturday it would “act decisively” to rebuild its reputation, as local media reported that President Jacob Zuma could soon be forced from office.

Zuma has been under growing pressure to resign since he was replaced as head of the African National Congress in December by his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa.

Signalling a clear shift in power, Ramaphosa on Saturday announced a new board for Eskom, the troubled state-owned power company that has been linked to graft allegations.

Zuma’s presidency has been engulfed by corruption scandals and a weakening economy, with the party losing public support ahead of next year’s general election.

Ramaphosa’s supporters are keen for him to take over as president immediately and try to revive the economy before the election, when the ANC could lose its dominance for the first time since the end of apartheid.

“The ANC must act decisively and with determination to rebuild the bond of trust between our people and the movement,” the party said after a two-day meeting of its senior members.

– Power rivals? –

The statement also addressed criticism that South Africa currently has two centres of power — Zuma still in office as president, while Ramaphosa heads the ruling ANC party.

“(Party) officials, led by President Ramaphosa, will continue their engagement with President Jacob Zuma to ensure effective coordination between the ANC and government,” it said.

The News 24 website said the party meeting on Thursday and Friday had decided that Zuma must leave office, but that no exact timeline had been agreed.

“We will have a new president in the coming weeks,” it quoted one unnamed party member at the meeting as predicting.

Eskom’s struggle to repay loans on its massive debts is seen as one of the biggest threats to South Africa’s economy.

Naming a new board was Ramaphosa’s first major public move to tackle the multiple fiscal challenges that face the country after nine years of Zuma’s rule.

“We are confident this intervention will restore the important contribution Eskom makes to our economy,” Ramaphosa said in a statement released on the presidential website.

“We are determined to address the damage that has been done to this institution.”

The statement added that the new board would sack at least two Eskom executives accused of serious corruption.

Zuma’s power ebbs 

Many graft allegations against Zuma have centred on the wealthy Gupta family that is accused of unfairly obtaining lucrative government contracts and even being able to chose ministerial appointments.

Zuma’s closest allies still hold senior positions in the party, and he could in theory remain president until the 2019 election that marks the end of his second and final term in office.

His hold over the ANC was shaken when his chosen successor — his former wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma — lost out to Ramaphosa in the closely-fought race to be party leader.

Zuma, 75, could leave office either by resigning, through losing a motion of no-confidence in parliament or impeachment proceedings.

He could also be recalled by the ANC, forcing him to step down.

Whoever is president on February 8 will deliver the annual state of the nation address to parliament — providing one deadline for political manoeuvering.

Ramaphosa, 65, is a former trade unionist who led talks to end white-minority rule in the early 1990s and then became a multi-millionaire businessman before returning to politics.

The ANC, which has ruled since 1994 when Nelson Mandela won the first multi-racial election, recorded its worst-ever results in 2016 local polls.

Published in Politics

Fifteen Syrian refugees - some of them children - have been found frozen to death while trying to cross the mountainous border into Lebanon.

Thirteen bodies were found on Friday and two more were discovered on Saturday after the area was hit by a fierce snowstorm.

Lebanese civil defence officials found the bodies after being told a group of refugees were in trouble near Masnaa.

Local reports say the group had been abandoned by smugglers.

Two smugglers have reportedly been arrested.

Several refugees were rescued, including a young boy who was found wandering by himself.

The group were taking the same route hundreds of thousands of Syrians have taken before them trying to flee the conflict at home.

Lebanon, with a population of four million, has taken in nearly one million Syrians since the war began in 2011.

The Lebanese authorities brought in new restrictions in 2015 to try to restrict the number of refugees arriving in the country.

Published in News & Stories

Facebook has announced it will prioritise news sources deemed to be more trustworthy on its News Feed.

The firm said the social network community will determine which outlets are reliable via the use of user surveys.

Founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said news content will soon make up around 4% of what appeared in people's News Feeds - down from 5% before.

The move is the latest attempt by the company to quell the spread of so-called fake news and propaganda on the network.

Mark Zuckerberg vows to 'fix' Facebook

As part of that continuing battle, Twitter also announced on Friday that it had notified 677,775 US-based users who had retweeted, liked or followed Russian bot accounts on the network in the run up to the 2016 US presidential election.

The change is an attempt to shift the key judgements over bias and accuracy away from Facebook's employees, and onto its user base.

"We could try to make that decision ourselves, but that's not something we're comfortable with," Mr Zuckerberg said.

"We considered asking outside experts, which would take the decision out of our hands but would likely not solve the objectivity problem. Or we could ask you - the community - and have your feedback determine the ranking."

Users will be asked, as they sometimes are about advertising, whether they recognise a news brand and if they trust it.

Facebook's theory - yet to be tested on a large scale - is that while there are many partisan outlets that have readers that trust them, there is a smaller subset of media companies that a majority people find "broadly trustworthy", whatever their particular leanings.

Social media representatives at a congressional hearingImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Representatives from Facebook, Twitter and Google were grilled on the issue of online disinformation at a US Senate hearing last October

"There's too much sensationalism, misinformation and polarisation in the world today," wrote Mr Zuckerberg, who recently announced that his challenge this year was to essentially "fix" Facebook.

"Social media enables people to spread information faster than ever before, and if we don't specifically tackle these problems, then we end up amplifying them."

Winners and losers

The news ranking system will first be tested on US-based users only, and the results of the survey will not be made public.

"This is one of many signals that go into News Feed ranking," a Facebook spokesman told the BBC.

"We do not plan to release individual publishers' trust scores because they represent an incomplete picture of how each story's position in each person's feed is determined."

As with any algorithm change, be it Facebook or any other major web service, there will be some that benefit and others that will struggle.

Facebook - the secret election weapon

Among the winners will likely be traditional media organisations with long histories or a strong broadcast presence, such as the New York Times or BBC.

However, emerging brands will suffer if recognition is not as strong, regardless of whether the content is trustworthy or not.

For instance, Buzzfeed's initial beginnings as a viral site would have almost certainly hindered its growth into a serious news organisation had it been subject to the ideas about to be put in place by Mr Zuckerberg's team.

Also, it is unclear how trustworthy, specialist news organisations with smaller readerships - such as science publications - will be treated under these rules, though Facebook's head of News Feed Adam Mosseri said local news would at least be protected.

"We're making it easier for people to see local news and information in a dedicated section.

"We'll continue to work on ways to show more local news that is relevant to where people live."

Published in News & Stories

Manchester United midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan has agreed to join Arsenal, with Alexis Sanchez set to move in the opposite direction in a straight swap.

Armenia international Mkhitaryan, 28, will have a medical on Sunday and Monday after the paperwork for his transfer was completed on Saturday.

The length of his contract at Arsenal, and his salary, is undisclosed.

Gunners boss Arsene Wenger had said striker Sanchez, 29, would only join United if Mkhitaryan moved to Arsenal.

Looking at Premier League data since each player arrived in England, Sanchez scores with more regularity while Mkhitaryan delivers assists at a quicker rate
Looking at Premier League data since Sanchez arrived in England in 2014 and Mkhitaryan joined United in 2016, Sanchez scores with more regularity while Mkhitaryan delivers assists at a quicker rate

Sanchez missed Arsenal's 4-1 win over Crystal Palace on Saturday because he was travelling to Manchester.

"He didn't play because you cannot drive up north and play football at the same time," said Wenger.

United boss Jose Mourinho, meanwhile, said a deal to sign Sanchez was "close" following his side's 1-0 win at Burnley on Saturday.

The Red Devils beat Arsenal to Mkhitaryan's signature when he signed for the Old Trafford club for £26.3m from Borussia Dortmund in July 2016.

He has made 63 appearances for United - 22 this season - scoring 13 goals.

Sanchez, meanwhile, has scored 80 goals in 166 appearances for Arsenal since joining them from Barcelona for £35m in July 2014.

The Chile international, whose contract Arsenal was due to expire in the summer, had looked set to join Manchester City last August.

It emerged this week that City had decided not to pursue their interest in signing Sanchez.

However that move fell through on transfer deadline day after Arsenal failed to sign a replacement.

Published in News & Stories

British tourists are being warned they should stay inside their resorts in Montego Bay, Jamaica.

The Jamaican government has declared a state of emergency in the St James parish, after a number of "shooting incidents".

The Foreign Office has told British tourists to stay in the confines of their hotels as a "major military operation" takes place.

About 200,000 British tourists visit Jamaica every year.

A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: "[Tourists] should follow local advice including restrictions in selected areas, and exercise particular care if travelling at night.

"[They] should stay in their resorts and limit travel beyond their respective security perimeters."

Jamaican prime minister, Andrew Holness
Image captionJamaica PM Andrew Holness says the government had been planning the operation "for some time"

On Thursday the country's prime minister, Andrew Holness, said the state of emergency was "necessary" in order to "restore public safety" in the St James area.

Chief of defence, Major General Rocky Meade, said forces were targeting gangs, with "particular focus on those that are responsible for murders, lotto scamming, trafficking of arms and guns, and extortion".

He added: "We ask that you co-operate with the troops."

He told Radio 5 live: "Last year there were an average of six killings a week - and since the start of the year it has got even worse."

Jamaican newspaper the Gleaner reported that there were 335 murders in the St James parish in 2017.

It also estimated there had been 38 killings across the country in the first six days of 2018, compared with 23 over the same period last year.

Montego BayImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Tourists are drawn to Montego Bay's white sandy beaches

As the UK Foreign Office has not warned against travel to Jamaica, Mr Calder said holiday firms have no obligation to offer customers alternative destinations.

He added: "I've never seen Foreign Office advice quite like this before. Normally the UK government says either 'it's OK' or 'don't go'."

A military checkpoint in Montego BayImage copyrightBECKS PALOU
Becks Palou says the military told her group it was fine to travel around the country

'Feels safe'

Bristol-based Becks Palou is part of a group of friends on holiday in Montego Bay.

They left their hotel early this morning to drive to Kingston, the capital, after staff said it was safe to travel.

Ms Palou, who is originally from Spain, said they were delayed by stops at military checkpoints but were able to reach their destination.

She said: "When we went out on the road, we arrived at the checks and we were let through. Soldiers felt it was fine to travel.

"It feels safe, more than usual because the roads are quieter."

Sean Tipton, from the Association of British Travel Agents, said that hotels in Montego Bay have "very strict security" which means tourists can feel safe.

He told the BBC: "If you look at the incidents that have occurred, they have been directed at local people.

"It's obviously terrible for them, but in terms of instances affecting tourists, I haven't actually come across one in Jamaica for quite some time."

He also stressed the importance of following the advice from tour operators and the Foreign Office and not leaving resorts unless on an organised excursion.


Published in News & Stories

Turkish war planes have launched air strikes on Kurdish fighters in northern Syria in a move likely to raise tensions with the US.

Turkey wants to oust the YPG militia, which it calls a terrorist group, from Afrin region on its southern border.

The US-backed YPG says at least nine people were killed in the air strikes.

Russia has moved its troops away from Afrin, saying it is concerned but will not interfere. Syria denounced Turkey's "aggression" and "brutal attack".

Turkey had been shelling the area for two days, ahead of its declaration of a military operation on Saturday.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says Turkey has notified all parties involved - including the Syrian government - about the offensive. Syria denied this was the case.

What is happening in Afrin?

 
Why is Turkey attacking Syria?

On Saturday, Turkey announced that an air and ground campaign, dubbed "Olive Branch", had been launched at 14:00 GMT, targeting the Kurdish YPG (Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units) and Islamic State (IS) group jihadists.

The operation would be carried out "with respect for Syria's territorial integrity", it added. A later statement said 108 targets belonging to Kurdish militants had been hit.

Pro-Turkey rebels, known as the Free Syrian Army, also began moving into the area, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency.

Map showing control of Syria (8 January 2018)

The YPG said the strikes had killed at least six civilians and three fighters, with another 13 civilians wounded. One of the fighters belonged to the YPG and the other two were from its all-female affiliate, spokesperson Birusk Hasaka said.

Ankara also said there were casualties, but they were all Kurdish militants.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told reporters that ground forces would join the operation on Sunday.

Turkey's military has been shelling the area since Thursday, a move which it said was in response to fire coming from the area.

On Saturday, a spokesperson for the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said it would have no choice but to defend itself if attacked.


Published in News & Stories

US Vice President Mike Pence held talks with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi Saturday at the start of a delayed Middle East tour overshadowed by Arab anger over Washington’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Controversy over President Donald Trump’s decision to move the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem had led to the cancellation of a number of planned meetings ahead of the trip originally scheduled for December.

The Palestinian leadership, already furious over the Jerusalem decision, has denounced the US administration and had already refused to meet Pence in December.

A coalition of Arab parties in the Israeli parliament said Saturday it would boycott a speech by Pence on Monday, calling him “dangerous and messianic”.

Pence held talks with former army chief Sisi in Cairo that were expected to focus on US aid and security, including a jihadist insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula.

Sisi’s office said the talks also covered Jerusalem, with the president stressing Egypt’s support for a two-state peace settlement and “the right of the Palestinian people to establish an independent state with east Jerusalem as capital”.

Pence, for his part, said relations between Cairo and Washington had “never been stronger” thanks to the leadership of Trump and Sisi.

Expressing sympathy for deadly jihadist attacks that have targeted both Muslim and Christian places of worship, he said: “We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you in Egypt in the fight against terrorism.”

The vice president later travelled on to Amman ahead of a one-on-one meeting with King Abdullah II on Sunday before heading to Israel for the final leg of the tour.

Pence went ahead with the trip — which had been pushed back in December as a crunch tax vote loomed on Capitol Hill — despite the federal government shutdown looming over Washington.

Key security partners

The leaders of both Egypt and Jordan, the only Arab states that have peace treaties with Israel, would be key players if US mediators ever manage to get a revived Israeli-Palestinian peace process off the ground, as Trump says he wants.

They are also key intelligence-sharing and security partners in America’s various covert and overt battles against Islamist extremism in the region, and Egypt is a major recipient of aid to help it buy advanced US military hardware.

Sisi, one of Trump’s closest allies in the region, had urged the US president before his Jerusalem declaration “not to complicate the situation in the region by taking measures that jeopardise the chances of peace in the Middle East”.

Egypt’s top Muslim cleric and the head of its Coptic Church had both cancelled meetings with Pence in December in protest at the Jerusalem decision.

After Jordan — the custodian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem — Pence will head to Israel for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday.

He will also deliver a speech to parliament and meet President Reuven Rivlin during the two-day visit.

Pence can expect a warm welcome after Trump’s decision on Jerusalem, which Israelis and Palestinians alike interpreted as Washington taking Israel’s side in the dispute over the city.

Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967 and later annexed east Jerusalem in a move never recognised by the international community.

Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its united capital, while the Palestinians see the eastern sector as the capital of their future state.

The international community considers east Jerusalem illegally occupied by Israel and currently all countries have their embassies in the commercial capital Tel Aviv.

‘Matter of years’
The State Department has begun to plan the sensitive move of the American embassy to Jerusalem, a process that US diplomats say may take years to complete.

This week reports surfaced that Washington may temporarily designate the US consulate general in Jerusalem as the embassy while the search for a secure and practical site for a long-term mission continues.

A senior State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has yet to make a decision on either a permanent or interim location for the mission.

“That is a process that takes, anywhere in the world, time. Time for appropriate design, time for execution. It is a matter of years and not weeks or months,” he said.

Pence — himself a devout Christian — will visit the Western Wall, one of the holiest sites of Judaism in Jerusalem’s Old City, and pay his respects at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.

Published in News & Stories
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