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London- The British government denied on Wednesday it was secretly plotting to force MPs into a last-minute choice on Brexit between a rejigged deal or a lengthy delay. ITV television reported that it had overheard Prime Minister Theresa May’s chief Brexit negotiator Olly Robbins in a Brussels bar saying the European Union would probably let Britain extend its March 29 departure date. Such a move would effectively mean removing the possibility of Britain leaving the EU without a deal. ITV reported that it eavesdropped on Robbins, one of the key figures in the Brexit negotiations, talking to colleagues in a hotel bar on Monday. He was said to have indicated that if lawmakers — who overwhelmingly rejected the deal struck between London and Brussels — did not vote for a rehashed withdrawal agreement, then the delay to Brexit would be “a long one”. “The issue is whether Brussels is clear on the terms of extension. In the end, they will probably just give us an extension,” he was quoted as saying. “Got to make them believe that the week beginning end of March... Extension is possible but if they don’t vote for the deal then the extension is a long one.” The government insists it is working towards leaving the EU on time, with a deal in place. A government spokesman said: “We would not comment on alleged remarks from a private conversation which is said to have been overheard in a hotel bar.” Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay denied the reported Robbins comments reflected official government policy. We are committed to leaving on March 29,” he told BBC radio. “It is not in anyone’s interest to have an extension without any clarity.” May on Tuesday asked MPs for more time to try and revive the Brexit deal in what the opposition said was a ploy to “run down the clock”. She said the talks were at a crucial stage and MPs needed to hold their nerve to get changes to the withdrawal agreement—notably the insurance provisions on keeping the border with Ireland free-flowing. Keir Starmer, the main opposition Labour Party’s Brexit spokesman, said Wednesday that May was stringing parliament along “pretending there’s progress”. Labour has tabled an amendment for debate in parliament on Thursday which would force the government to either put a deal to a vote by February 27 or allow parliament to take control of the Brexit process....
Feb 14 2019 | Posted in : International News | No Comment | read more...
Ottawa- A Canadian minister’s sudden resignation on Tuesday turned vague allegations of interference in the criminal prosecution of an engineering giant into a deepening political crisis for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals. Jody Wilson-Raybould’s resignation followed a chorus of demands for the government to come clean about whether Trudeau’s office had pressured her to intervene in the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin. The Montreal-based firm was charged in 2015 with corruption for allegedly bribing officials in Libya between 2001 and 2011 to secure government contracts during former strongman Moamer Kadhafi’s reign. Jody Wilson-Raybould, who was Canada’s first indigenous attorney general and justice minister prior to being shuffled to another post last month, announced on Twitter that “with a heavy heart” she was leaving the cabinet. Trudeau said he was “surprised and disappointed.” “Our government did its job properly and according to all the rules,” he said, while upbraiding his former attorney general, if she felt otherwise, for not bringing her concerns to him directly. SNC-Lavalin lobbied the government, including senior officials in Trudeau’s office, for an out-of-court settlement that would include paying a fine and agreeing to put in place compliance measures. A possible guilty verdict at trial, they argued, risked crippling its business and putting thousands out of work. But according to unnamed sources cited by the Globe and Mail, Wilson-Raybould refused to ask prosecutors to settle with the company, and the trial is set to proceed. Trudeau has denied the allegations, saying: “At no time did I or my office direct the current or previous attorney general to make any particular decision in this matter.” Opposition parties, however, pressed for clarity. And on Monday the independent ethics commissioner launched an investigation—the second into a prime minister first elected in 2015 on a promise to clean up corruption, and with only eight months before the next ballot. While the controversy snowballed, Wilson-Raybould declined to speak, citing solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidentiality. “I am aware that many Canadians wish for me (to) speak on matters that have been in the media over the last week,” she said in a statement. “I am in the process of obtaining advice on the topics that I am legally permitted to discuss in this matter,” she said, adding that she retained a retired Supreme Court justice as legal counsel. Conservative leader Andrew Scheer reacted to her resignation by saying Trudeau’s “ethical lapses and his disastrous handling of this latest scandal have thrown his government into chaos.” He also accused the prime minister of “trying to hide the truth with regards to the SNC-Lavalin affair.” The Canadian charges against SNC-Lavalin were just the latest blow to one of the world’s largest construction and engineering firms, after its former president and senior executives were accused of fraud, and the World Bank banned it from bidding on projects until 2023 due to “misconduct” in Bangladesh and Cambodia. The company, its international arm and another subsidiary are accused of having offered Can$47 million (US$36 million) in bribes to officials and of defrauding the Libyan government of Can$130 million (US$98 million). It oversaw billions of dollars in projects in Libya, including construction of a prison outside Tripoli and an airport in Benghazi. The charges relate to the world’s largest irrigation project—the Great Man Made River Project—to provide fresh water to the cities of Tripoli, Benghazi and Sirte. The firm employs 50,000 people worldwide, and if found guilty in...
Feb 14 2019 | Posted in : International News | No Comment | read more...
Washington- India and China are leading the global greening effort, which is quite contrary to the general perception worldwide, a latest NASA study said Monday, observing that the world is a greener place than it was 20 years ago. The NASA study based on data received and analysed from its satellite said that India and China are leading in greening on land. "China and India account for one-third of the greening but contain only 9 per cent of the planet's land area covered in vegetation," said lead author Chi Chen of Boston University. "That is a surprising finding, considering the general notion of land degradation in populous countries from over exploitation," he said. The study published on February 11, in the journal Nature Sustainability said that recent satellite data (2000–2017) reveal a greening pattern that is strikingly prominent in China and India and overlaps with croplands world-wide. China alone accounts for 25 per cent of the global net increase in leaf area with only 6.6 per cent of global vegetated area. The greening in China is from forests (42 per cent) and croplands (32 per cent), but in India it is mostly from croplands (82 percent) with minor contribution from forests (4.4 per cent), the NASA study said. China is engineering ambitious programmes to conserve and expand forests with the goal of mitigating land degradation, air pollution and climate change. Food production in China and India has increased by over 35 per cent since 2000 mostly owing to an increase in harvested area through multiple cropping facilitated by fertiliser use and surface- and/or groundwater irrigation.  “When the greening of the Earth was first observed, we thought it was due to a warmer, wetter climate and fertilization from the added carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” said Rama Nemani, a research scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center and a co-author of the study. This study was made possible thanks to a two-decade-long data record from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instruments on NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites. “Now with the MODIS data, we see that humans are also contributing,” she said. Observing that once people realise there is a problem, they tend to fix it, Nemani said in the 1970s and 80s in India and China, the situation around vegetation loss was not good. “In the 1990s, people realized it, and today things have improved. Humans are incredibly resilient. That's what we see in the satellite data,” she said. According to the paper, how the greening trend may change in the future depends on numerous factors. For example, increased food production in India is facilitated by groundwater irrigation. If the groundwater is depleted, this trend may change, it said. The researchers also pointed out that the gain in greenness around the world does not necessarily offset the loss of natural vegetation in tropical regions such as Brazil and Indonesia. There are consequences for sustainability and biodiversity in those ecosystems beyond the simple greenness of the landscape, the research study...
Feb 13 2019 | Posted in : International News | No Comment | read more...
New York- The world's most infamous cartel boss Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who rose from poverty in rural Mexico to run a global drug empire and amass billions of dollars, was found guilty in a US court on Tuesday of operating a criminal enterprise. Jurors in federal court in Brooklyn began delivering their verdict following an 11-week trial. Guzman, 61, now faces a possible sentence of life in prison. Guzman, one of the major figures in Mexican drug wars that have roiled the country since 2006, was extradited to the United States for trial in 2017 after he was arrested in Mexico the year before. Though other high-ranking cartel figures had been extradited previously, Guzman was the first to go to trial instead of pleading guilty. The trial, which featured testimony from more than 50 witnesses, offered the public an unprecedented look at the inner workings of the Sinaloa Cartel, named for the state in northwestern Mexico where Guzman was born in a poor mountain village. The legend of Guzman was burnished by two dramatic escapes he made from Mexican prisons and by a "Robin Hood" image he cultivated among Sinaloa's poor. US prosecutors said he trafficked tons of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine into the United States over more than two decades, consolidating his power in Mexico through murders and wars with rival cartels.
Feb 13 2019 | Posted in : International News | No Comment | read more...
Sydney- The head of Australia’s competition watchdog warned on Monday that tough new regulation of tech giants like Google and Facebook was needed to protect the future of independent journalism. Rod Sims, chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), said the market power wielded by Google and Facebook has had a devastating impact on Australian news media. While the number of journalists employed by Australian newspapers fell 20 percent from 2014 to 2017 as print advertising revenues dwindled, Sims said, Google and Facebook between them captured nearly 70 per cent of all online advertising spend. “This shift in advertising revenue online, and to digital platforms, has reduced the ability of media businesses to fund news and journalism,” Sims said in remarks prepared for delivery to Sydney’s International Institute of Communications. “We cannot simply leave the production of news and journalism to market forces,” added Sims, whose agency has been carrying out a lengthy probe of the impact of digital platforms on the news industry in Australia. While the platforms capture the vast majority of advertising revenue, they do not create any original news, Sims said. “Rather they select, curate, evaluate, rank and arrange news stories produced by third parties,” he said, noting that this market power increased the “risk of filter bubbles and unreliable news on digital platforms”. “Holding such critical positions in both the media and advertising markets results in special responsibilities,” he said. The ACCC launched its inquiry into the power of digital platforms a year ago, and is accepting final submissions from industry players until the end of this week, before issuing its final report in June. But Sims signalled on Monday that the final recommendations would include calls for broad new regulations on the digital behemoths and the opaque algorithms they use in disseminating news and advertising. “Virtually no media regulation applies to digital platforms and this contributes to regulatory disparity between media sectors that would appear to provide the digital platforms with an unfair advantage,” he said. A media regulator, he said, should have the power to compel platforms to reveal how news is ranked in search results, including whether advertiser-funded content is ranked higher than paid content, or if original news content is outranked by copycat stories and so-called clickbait. The ACCC could also recommend that platforms provide a “quality” badge alongside content produced by recognised news media as a counter to disinformation. Finally, Sims suggested a series of proposals to support local and independent journalism, including tax offsets for people who subscribe to news media which meet a set of quality standards....
Feb 12 2019 | Posted in : International News | No Comment | read more...
Dubai- Hundreds of thousands of Iranians marched and some burnt US flags on Monday to mark the 40th anniversary of the triumph of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Shi’ite cleric who toppled the Shah in an Islamic Revolution that rattles the West to this day. On Feb 11, 1979, Iran’s army declared its neutrality, paving the way for the fall of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the United States’ closest ally in the Middle East. State TV showed crowds defying cold rainy weather and carrying Iranian flags while shouting “Death to Israel, Death to America,” trademark chants of the revolution which ousted the United States’ most important ally in the Middle East. “Much to the dismay of America, the revolution has reached its 40th year,” read one banner. Soldiers, students, clerics and black-clad women holding small children thronged streets across Iran, many carrying portraits of Khomeini, who died in 1989, and Iran’s current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The large turnout in state-sponsored rallies came as Iranians face mounting economic hardships. Last year, Iran cracked down on protests over poor living standards in over 80 cities and towns that posed the most serious challenge to its clerical leadership since a 2009 revolt over disputed elections. Prices of bread, cooking oil and other staples have soared since President Donald Trump withdrew Washington from the 2015 nuclear deal last year and reimposed sanctions. In January, President Hassan Rouhani said Iran was facing its worst economic crisis since the Shah was toppled. But he remained defiant as Iranians recalled the end of a monarch who catered to the rich and unleashed secret police on dissenters. In a speech at Tehran’s Azadi (Freedom) square, Rouhani said US efforts to isolate Iran would fail. “We will not let America become victorious… Iranian people have and will have some economic difficulties but we will overcome the problems by helping each other,” he said. Marchers carried cardboard cut-outs of dogs. One had the face of Trump and the other the face of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Iran displayed its ballistic missile capabilities during a parade, including the Zolfaqar, a ground-to-ground missile with a 700 km (435 miles) range and the Qiam, with a range of 800 km, according to Tasnim news agency....
Feb 12 2019 | Posted in : International News | No Comment | read more...
Caracas- Opposition leader Juan Guaido, recognised by some 50 countries as Venezuela’s interim president, has warned the military that blocking humanitarian aid from entering the country is a “crime against humanity.”               The warning came on Sunday as international aid has taken center stage in a test of wills between Guaido and President Nicolas Maduro in which Venezuela’s armed forces are seen as the pivotal player. Medicine and food sent by the United States has been blocked for three days on the border in Cucuta, Colombia after Venezuelan soldiers closed a bridge linking the two countries. On the Venezuelan side of the border, dozens of doctors protested Sunday demanding the aid be allowed in—including surgeon Jose Luis Mateus de la Riva, who accused Maduro of sinking Venezuelan medicine back to the “medieval era.”                 “There are people responsible for this and the regime should know it,” Guaido said after attending Sunday mass with his wife and 20-month-old baby. “This a crime against humanity, men of the armed forces.” Accusing those blocking aid of being “almost genocidal,” he likewise warned that the military would be held responsible for the deaths of protesters—and reaffirmed his call for a mass march on Tuesday in memory of the estimated 40 people killed in disturbances since January 21. Guaido has offered amnesty for any members of the armed forces who disavows Maduro—but the military leadership still publicly backs the president. On Sunday, the Venezuelan military announced it had started conducting exercises, set to run until February 15 across the country, to “reinforce the country’s defensive capacity.”             Maduro has rejected humanitarian aid as a US ploy to intervene in Venezuela, calling the deployment of aid a “political show” and blaming US sanctions for the country’s widespread shortages of food and medicine. Guaido countered that the regime was refusing to acknowledge a “crisis that they themselves generated,” while Venezuelans were working to deal with the humanitarian emergency. Speaking to AFP Friday, Guaido vowed to do “whatever necessary” to “stop the usurpation” of power and “save lives”—without ruling out the possibility of authorizing foreign intervention. And on Sunday, he said hundreds of volunteers had signed up over the weekend to help bring aid into Venezuela—with further shipments set to arrive in neighboring Brazil and on a Caribbean island. Suffering the worst crisis of its modern history, Venezuelans have had to grapple with life-threatening scarcities amid eye-popping levels of hyperinflation that have rendered salaries and savings worthless. According to the United Nations, some 2.3 million Venezuelans have fled the country since 2015. But Guaido on Sunday reiterated that he would not negotiate with Maduro—as he believes Maduro would use such talks to buy himself time. “Democracy is closer than ever before, the future is ours,” he said. An international Contact Group, made up of European and Latin American countries, called for snap presidential elections following a meeting in Montevideo this week. But Maduro, who has asked Pope Francis to act as a mediator, rejected what he said was “bias” by the group. Last week Maduro also rejected a call by European Union countries to hold elections, prompting them to recognize Guaido. Guaido, the 35 year-old head of the opposition-controlled National Assembly,...
Feb 12 2019 | Posted in : International News | No Comment | read more...
New York- A lawyer has denied allegations by Jeff Bezos that the National Enquirer tabloid had tried to extort and blackmail him, insisting that embarrassing photographs were obtained from a “reliable” source. “It absolutely is not extortion and not blackmail,” Elkan Abramowitz, who represents National Enquirer parent company American Media Inc (AMI)’s chief executive David Pecker, told ABC television’s “This Week.” “What happened was the story was given to the National Enquirer by a reliable source that had been given information to the National Enquirer for seven years prior to the story. It was a source that was well known to both Mr Bezos and Miss (Lauren) Sanchez.” Last month, the supermarket tabloid reported that Bezos, 55, had an extramarital affair with a former news anchor, publishing a trove of private text messages. The report appeared days after Bezos and his wife MacKenzie announced their divorce. When asked if the Enquirer’s source was Sanchez’s brother Michael, as reported by some media outlets, Abramowitz declined to confirm. “It was a person that was known to both Bezos and Ms Sanchez,” he said. “I can tell you it’s not Saudi Arabia, it’s not President Trump, it’s not Roger Stone. But I cannot tell you who the source is.” The attorney was responding to Bezos’s stunning claims published on online platform Medium on Thursday. Bezos hinted he may have been targeted by pro-Trump forces in part because of coverage by The Washington Post, which he owns, of the murder of its contributor Jamal Khashoggi, strangled and dismembered by Saudi agents in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate in October. But Abramowitz insisted that the Enquirer’s exchanges with Bezos, which the billionaire released in his online post, were simply journalistic negotiating practices rather than extortion. “The story was already published... it was part of a legitimate negotiation,” the lawyer said. “I think both Bezos and AMI had interests in resolving their differences. Bezos didn’t want another story written about him or those pictures published, AMI did not want to have the libel against them that this was inspired by the White House, inspired by Saudi Arabia or inspired by The Washington Post.”...
Feb 11 2019 | Posted in : International News | No Comment | read more...