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Catalonia’s ex-leader urges unity as deadline for secessionist pact nears

November 7, 2017 rbksa 0
Tue, 2017-11-07 13:44

MADRID: Catalonia’s deposed leader Carles Puigdemont on Tuesday urged the region’s political forces to unite against Spain, as hours remained for him to agree terms for an electoral pact with other pro-independence parties.
Puigdemont went into self-imposed exile in Belgium last month after Spain’s central government fired his secessionist administration, dissolved the Catalan parliament and called an election in the region for Dec 21.
Madrid also issued an arrest warrant against him on charges including rebellion, but a Brussels court ruled on Monday he could remain at liberty in Belgium until it had decided whether he should be extradited.
The independence push has deeply divided the country, dragging it into its worst political crisis since its return to democracy four decades ago and fueling anti-Spanish feelings in Catalonia and nationalist tendencies elsewhere.
Pro-independence parties want the December vote to become a de facto independence referendum, and Puigdemont’s PDeCAT and the ERC party led by Oriol Junqueras said at the weekend they might contest it on a combined ticket.
But they must register any alliance by the end of Tuesday, and prospects of them bridging their differences in time looked slim.
ERC’s spokesman Sergi Sabria said on Monday his party did not rule out a coalition with PDeCAT, but would agree only if other parties joined them, including the anti-capitalist CUP which has yet to decide whether it will contest the December ballot.
Polls suggest secessionist parties would win enough votes combined to hold a slim majority in the Catalan parliament. Running together would increase their chance of success.
Puigdemont and other secessionist leaders face charges of rebellion, sedition, misuse of public funds, disobedience and breach of public trust for organizing an illegal independence referendum on Oct. 1 and later proclaiming a Catalan republic, something that goes against Spain’s constitution.
In an interview with Catalunya Radio on Tuesday, Puigdemont said all parties standing in the region should unite against Madrid’s actions.
He also called on the Spanish government to suspend article 155, which Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy enacted last month to rule Catalonia directly from Madrid, ahead of the December vote.
“The ideal would be a broad regional list of parties… PDeCAT, CUP, (left-wing) Podemos, ERC… that stand for democracy and freedom.” Puigdemont said.
“The Spanish state is committing a brutal repression … If we don’t battle repression together, the Spanish state may win this fight.”
Around 200 Catalan mayors who are in favor of independence traveled to Brussels on Tuesday to back Puigdemont and defend the Catalan cause in the European capital. They were due to hold a rally at 5 p.m. (1600 GMT).

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‘He needed to be stopped,’ says local hero who pursued Texas gunman

November 7, 2017 rbksa 0
Tue, 2017-11-07 06:19

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas: A Texas man who saw a local exchanging gunfire with the assailant who had just massacred 26 people at a small town church said he had no hesitation in pursuing the gunman because he needed to be stopped.
“That’s it. I mean that’s the bottom line, he needed to be stopped,” Johnnie Langendorff told Reuters TV. “He was stopped and he’s not going to hurt anyone else ever again.”
Langendorff was driving his pickup truck in Sutherland Springs on Sunday when he saw a local man, Stephen Willeford, trading rifle fire with a black-clad stranger who had just emerged from the First Baptist Church.
“He jumped in my truck and said ‘He just shot up the church, we got to get him’ and I said ‘OK, let’s go,’” Langendorff said of his rapid words with Willeford.
“And so from there we blew through this intersection and he started going about 90-95 (miles per hour) (145-153 km per hour) keeping up with this guy,” Langendorff said.
At the time, neither of them knew they were chasing Devin Kelley, 26, an Air Force veteran who police say put on tactical gear, a ballistic vest and skull-like mask to carry out the most deadly mass shooting in the modern history of Texas.
The pursuit lasted about 10-12 minutes, Langendorff said. Then Kelley lost control and crashed into a ditch. They stopped too and Willeford trained his rifle on the disabled vehicle, Langendorff added, but the gunman never emerged.
Willeford’s cousin Ken Leonard told CNN that Willeford shot Kelley where there was a gap in his vest.
“Stephen is the best shot that I know,” Leonard told CNN. “He without armor and barefooted ran into the fire and put his own life at risk, took return fire and fired accurately three times. That’s an amazing accomplishment, especially for a man who has, who was never in the military.”
Speaking to reporters on Monday, Freeman Martin, a regional director for the Texas Department of Public Safety, described Willeford as a good Samaritan and a “Texas hero.”
Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt also hailed Willeford for grabbing his gun and responding to the danger.
“He didn’t have to come out,” Tackitt told Reuters. “He could have stayed at his house.”

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Reports: Queen Elizabeth has investments in offshore tax havens

November 6, 2017 rbksa 0
Sun, 2017-11-05 03:00

LONDON: Newly leaked papers revealed Sunday that Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II has invested some of her private money in offshore tax havens.
According to documents obtained by the International Consortium of Journalists, the queen’s investment managers placed roughly £10 million ($13 million) in offshore portfolios in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda.
The investments were made in 2004 and 2005 by the Duchy of Lancaster, the queen’s private financial manager.
The Duchy of Lancaster, which holds assets for the British monarch to generate income for her, confirmed in a statement that some of its investments are in overseas accounts.
It said that all its investments were legitimate.
“We operate a number of investments and a few of these are with overseas funds. All of our investments are fully audited and legitimate,” it said.
The documents showed that the queen has roughly £3,200 invested in BrightHouse, a household goods and electronics retailer that has been accused of exploiting customers by charging high interest rates.
Her use of offshore tax havens is likely to generate criticism from activists seeking to abolish the monarchy in favor of a republic.
The queen pays taxes on the income generated by her holdings in the Duchy of Lancaster.
She has vast financial assets, including luxury real estate, valuable artwork and jewelry.
She is also the legal owner of many of the swans on the River Thames.
The documents about Elizabeth’s financial holdings are part of a tranche of some 13.4 million records of offshore accounts leaked to German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared with the International Consortium of Journalists and a network of more than 380 journalists in 67 countries.
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said the widespread use of offshore havens by wealthy individuals in dozens of countries proves “there’s one rule for the super-rich and another for the rest when it comes to paying tax.”

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Venezuela opposition leader seeks refuge in Chilean Embassy

November 5, 2017 rbksa 0
Mon, 2017-11-06 21:57

CARACAS: One of Venezuela’s most prominent opposition leaders has sought refuge in the Chilean ambassador’s residence after being targeted for arrest by the Supreme Court.
Chile’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it had welcomed congressman Freddy Guevara as a guest, in line with Chile’s humanitarian tradition. He entered the ambassador’s residence in Caracas late Saturday with his girlfriend, ending more than 24 hours of suspense in which he went into hiding and vehicles belonging to the Sebin intelligence police had surrounded his residence.
There were no sign of activity Sunday morning outside the ambassador’s residence, located in an exclusive country club neighborhood of walled-in estates, except for a few neighbors walking to the golf course.
On Friday, the government-stacked high court barred Guevara from leaving the country and requested the pro-government Constitutional Assembly strip his immunity from prosecution. The court said Guevara is suspected of instigating unrest and other crimes during months of anti-government protests.
By law, the opposition-controlled National Assembly is charged with determining whether a legislator’s constitutional immunity should be lifted. But the court has instead referred the case to the Constitutional Assembly, which has been given virtually unlimited powers.
Guevara, vice president of the Congress, was at the forefront of opposition protests that mobilized hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans frustrated with their nation’s spiral into political and economic crisis.
His Popular Will party called the accusations “inexistent crimes invented by the dictatorship.” On Saturday, 12 Western Hemisphere governments — including Mexico, Brazil and Canada — issued a joint statement saying the targeting of Guevara by the high court was a “new blow to the rule of law and separation of powers in Venezuela.”
There was no immediate reaction from the government.
But a similar diplomatic drama involving Chile unfolded earlier this year when five jurists appointed by the National Assembly to replace government loyalists on the Supreme Court sought asylum in Ambassador Pedro Ramirez’s residence after their arrest was ordered.
The government considered the jurists usurpers and never granted them safe conduct to take up exile in Chile. After a more than two-month standoff they left the residence on their own will last month and were secretly ferried across the border to Colombia and from there flew to Santiago.

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UK Parliament sleaze row ‘clearing out’ bad behavior

November 5, 2017 rbksa 0
Mon, 2017-11-06 21:08

LONDON: British Interior Minister Amber Rudd declared Sunday that a scandal over sexual harassment rocking the country’s political circles was a “watershed moment” that was “clearing out” inappropriate behavior.
She denied that Prime Minister Theresa May’s minority government was at risk after Michael Fallon quit as defense secretary earlier this week and as two other ministers remain under investigation for misconduct.
Rudd told BBC television that the end result of the claims was “clearing out Westminster of that sort of behavior.”
“And I think that Westminster afterward, including the government, will be better for it,” she said.
Fallon announced his resignation on Wednesday after apologizing for touching a journalist’s knee in 2002.
Another journalist alleged this weekend that Fallon had “lunged” at her after a lunch in 2003. She said she reported the incident to Downing Street this week, and he resigned hours later.
May’s de facto deputy Damian Green, meanwhile, is being investigated for his own alleged inappropriate behavior toward a journalist, which he strongly denies.
Rudd confirmed that the probe had been widened to include a newspaper report on Sunday that “extreme” pornographic material had been found on his parliamentary computer in 2008.
Green, an old university friend of May’s, has strongly denied the story in the Sunday Times and accused the police source behind it of trying to cause him political damage.
“I know that the Cabinet Office is going to be looking at this tomorrow along with the wider inquiry about Damian, and I do think that we shouldn’t rush to allege anything until that inquiry has taken place,” Rudd said.
The prime minister is also due to meet with other party leaders on Monday to discuss a new parliamentary complaints system in the wake of a wave of allegations, many involving MPs and junior staff or journalists.
On Friday, she announced a new code of conduct for her own Conservative party — under which three MPs were referred for investigation this weekend.
Another Conservative MP was suspended on Friday, while the opposition Labour party has also suspended one of its lawmakers.
A Scottish minister resigned on Saturday after admitting his behavior “might have made others uncomfortable,” while a Welsh minister was sacked Friday following allegations about his personal conduct.

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Italy eyes populist party’s performance in Sicily vote

November 5, 2017 rbksa 0
Mon, 2017-11-06 21:23

CATANIA, Italy: Sicilians cast their ballots on Sunday in a regional vote seen as a barometer for Italy’s general election next year, with the populist Five Star Movement (M5S) challenging a resurgent right as a divided left flounders.
“The vote is considered decisive not just by the party leaders pounding the streets of the main cities, and not just for the island’s future, but for the future of Italy and even Europe,” editorialist Marcello Sorgi wrote in La Stampa daily.
A victory in Sicily would give M5S its first region, a boost supporters say could propel it all the way to national leadership.
“The choice is simple: Us or them, the future or the past, hope or failure, citizens or traditional political parties,” comedian Beppe Grillo, the movement’s outspoken founder, wrote on his blog.
M5S candidate Giancarlo Cancelleri, 42, is expected to have just one real challenger for the victory podium: Nello Musumeci, 62, who was leading the race in recent opinion polls and could snap up the region for the right.
A bitterly feuding left is expected to fail to get anywhere near the top.
Analysts say the political dynamic on the Mediterranean island mirrors the situation nationally, and the vote is being closely watched in the euro zone’s third-largest economy for indications of how the general election, due before May, will go.
Votes will be counted on Monday. “The polling stations open under a dark cloud, amid controversy over the risk of vote-rigging,” La Repubblica daily said, referring to claims the decision to wait overnight before beginning the count increased the chances of fraud.
The Interior Ministry was tightening controls in response to the fears, it said.
All eyes were on turnout figures, with low participation known to have rewarded M5S in the past. Only 47 percent of Sicily’s eligible voters turned out for the last regional election in 2012, a record low.
A victory for Musumeci could be a boost for billionaire former premier Silvio Berlusconi, who recently shrugged off scandals to return to the political fray, portraying himself as a pro-European moderate and the only real defense against populism.
His center-right Forza Italia (Go Italy) party joined forces with its traditional rightist allies the Northern League and the Brothers of Italy for the Sicily vote — a powerful combination which pollsters say could steal the show at the national elections.
The anti-immigrant Northern League, meanwhile, sees Sicily as a testing ground for expanding its reach beyond Italy’s northern regions.
But the ruling Democratic Party (PD) is braced for an embarrassing defeat that could have serious implications not just for the left nationally but also for Matteo Renzi, the former prime minister who wants his old job back.
“Renzi is preparing for the probable Sicilian nosedive like a man whose enemies are at the door and the supplies are running out,” political commentator Tommaso Ciriaco said in La Repubblica daily.
The 42-year old has been accused of causing a debilitating rift in the left, and has largely abandoned the party’s candidate, Fabrizio Micari, 54, on the campaign trail.

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US extremists fail to build significant networks, act alone

November 5, 2017 rbksa 0
Sun, 2017-11-05 05:12

WASHINGTON: Sayfullo Saipov, the radicalized Uzbek who mowed down eight people on a New York bike path, apparently developed his plot in relative isolation, like most other extremist attackers in the United States.
But in Europe many have had community support, an underground network, or even a hard-line Islamist to guide them, as in the twin attacks in Spain in August.
What makes the difference?
Experts say that in part, a better rooted, more affluent US Muslim community shows no tolerance for anyone exhibiting sympathy for causes like the Daesh group or Al-Qaeda.
And tougher and expansive US laws and more aggressive law enforcement than Europe have also made a difference.
Together, they leave aspiring extremists in the United States isolated with their social media links and, at times, just a few friends in the know.
Saipov, who crashed a rented truck down a busy New York bike path Tuesday, is so far believed by investigators to have been “self-radicalized” online without any apparent support inside the United States.
Analysts say that’s because it is much harder to safely find support.
“We tend not to have large clusters in the US…. For the most part you are talking about ones and twos,” said Seamus Hughes, deputy director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University.
Hughes said one fundamental reason is distance: the country is much farther away from extremist networks and it is much harder to travel to the Middle East because of official no-fly lists.
European Muslims find it much easier to travel to areas where radical groups like Daesh operate.
As a consequence, he said, “We don’t have the kind of in-person recruitment done in Europe.”
Another factor is the expansive use of the charge of “material support of terrorism,” a catch-all that “allows the FBI to interject themselves at an earlier stage than our European partners,” Hughes said.
For critics, the FBI is too aggressive and stretches the law with undercover schemes that entrap people who are not really threats. But the net effect is to prevent them from establishing connections and frightening others thinking of trying to build networks.
According to Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank, heavier prison sentences in terror cases in the US makes a difference.
US sentences are 15-20 years, compared to four to seven years in Europe, which releases terror convicts back into the community much more quickly. That helps sustain dangerous cells, he said.
That is not to say the United States has not had its own cells or ringleaders, Gartenstein-Ross notes.
Anwar Al-Awlaki, one of the most influential extremist thinkers and propagandists, was born and raised in the United States before he joined Al-Qaeda in Yemen and was killed in a 2011 drone strike.
And in the late 2000s a cell that involved maybe 20 people developed around the Somali community in Minneapolis that became an effective body to recruit people to join Daesh.
“That was clearly a network,” like those in Europe, he said. “They have not been prevented, they still exist.”
The Somali cell more resembled those in Europe, rooted in a more recent, less wealthy, poorly educated immigrant community.
For the most part American Muslim communities are wealthier, and better educated on average than European communities.
That makes them less alienated and better-integrated, according to Corey Saylor, an expert on Islamophobia at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)
US Muslim groups will more readily chase out of the community and the mosque someone who espouses radical ideas.
“If somebody in the congregation is talking about it, they get pushed out fairly quickly. There is no hospitality” for it, he said.
While neither side talks about it much, US Muslim communities have been more willing to report possible threats to law enforcement than in Europe. That was helped by outreach programs under president Barack Obama, according to Gartenstein-Ross.
That may have ebbed under President Donald Trump, however, given his open mistrust of Muslims. “The lack of trust has impeded cooperation; suspicion has likely increased,” he said.

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Mugabe threatens to sack VP as wife booed at rally

November 4, 2017 rbksa 0
Sat, 2017-11-04 21:19

BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe: Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe openly pilloried his deputy and possible successor Saturday, saying he might sack him, in a combative speech at a rally where his wife Grace was booed by some in the crowd.
The 93-year-old leader’s remarks exposed tensions in the ruling ZANU-PF party over who stands to take power after him, an event only expected when Mugabe dies but a generational change likely to prompt bitter battles.
Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, nicknamed “the Crocodile,” is one of the top candidates.
But Grace Mugabe — 41 years younger than her husband — has become increasingly active in public life in what many say is a political grooming process to help her eventually take the top job.
Mnangagwa has been accused by Mugabe loyalists of undermining the president and of fanning factionalism in ZANU-PF, which has already named the incumbent as its candidate for next year’s presidential election.
Mnangagwa, 75, was appointed vice president in 2014 and has been widely touted as the obvious successor to Mugabe, who has led the country for 37 years.
But a visibly incensed Mugabe unleashed wrath at his vice president, sitting nearby, when speaking in Shona in the opposition stronghold city of Bulawayo.
“We are denigrated and insulted in the name of Mnangagwa. Did I make a mistake in appointing him as my deputy?” Mugabe asked.

“If I made a mistake by appointing Mnangagwa… tell me. I will drop him as early as tomorrow. We are not afraid of anyone. We can decide even here,” he said.
“If it has come to this, it is time we make a final decision,” he added, telling Mnangagwa and his supporters they were free to leave ZANU-PF.
“You can go ahead and form your party because we honestly cannot have this. We cannot be insulted on a daily basis.”
Some rallygoers heckled Grace Mugabe, chanting at her “you know nothing” and “you are too junior” as the first lady spoke before a section of the crowd that broke into a popular local song “oyenzayo siyaizonda” which translates to “we hate what you do.”
She shouted back at the hecklers: “If you have been paid to boo me, boo, go ahead…I don’t care, I am powerful.”
She then repeated her ambition to be appointed her husband’s deputy.
“Even if I become vice president, is there anything wrong with that?“
Mnangagwa was last month stripped of his role as justice minister, in a cabinet reshuffle widely considered part of a campaign to reduce his powers and quash opposition within the government.

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Italy says seizes opiates meant to finance Daesh

November 3, 2017 rbksa 0
Fri, 2017-11-03 13:21

ROME: Italy seized more than 24 million tablets of a synthetic opiate that Daesh militants planned to sell to finance attacks around the world, the head of a southern Italian court said on Friday.
The pills were seized by finance police and customs officials in the container port of Gioia Tauro, Italy’s biggest, according to a statement. The US Drug Enforcement Administration collaborated in the investigation.
A video shows police opening a container filled with boxes of Tramadol, a powerful painkiller normally available only on prescription.
With an average sale price of about 2 euros ($2.33) per tablet, the haul was worth 50 million euros, the statement said. Foreign investigators told the court in the city of Reggio Calabria that the drugs belonged to Daesh.
The drugs sales were “managed directly by Islamic State to finance the terrorist activities planned and carried out around the world,” Reggio Calabria’s chief prosecutor Federico Cafiero De Raho said using another acronym to describe Daesh.
“Part of the illegal profit from their sale would have been used to finance extremist groups in Libya, Syria and Iraq,” he said.
The seizure comes three days after an Uzbek immigrant, Sayfullo Saipov, drove a truck on a New York City bike path, killing eight, in the latest attack claimed by Daesh.
No details on how the illegal shipment was discovered or on its final destination were provided by the court. A similar shipment was discovered in Greece last year, and an even larger one was found in Italy’s Genoa port in May. ($1 = 0.8589 euros)

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Pakistan’s ex-PM Nawaz Sharif appears in court for corruption trial

November 3, 2017 rbksa 0
Fri, 2017-11-03 08:02

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s former prime minister Nawaz Sharif attended an anti-corruption trial on Friday ordered by the country’s Supreme Court when it removed him from office earlier this year.
Sharif, 67, arrived at the court with his daughter, Maryam, who is also on trial over the family’s wealth and financial dealings.
The family has called the case a political conspiracy but opposition leaders who pushed it before the courts have hailed it as accountability for the rich and powerful.
The charges in the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) court are linked to London properties the family owns that were revealed in the 2016 Panama Papers leaks involving offshore companies owned by prominent international figures.
Allies of Sharif, who has served as prime minister twice and was toppled in a military coup in 1999, have called the proceedings a political vendetta and hinted at intervention by elements of the powerful army.
The Supreme Court disqualified Sharif from office in July over unreported sources of annual income of about $10,000, a salary the former premier denies ever receiving.
The high court also ordered the NAB to investigate and conduct a trial into the Sharif family’s wider finances, including the London properties.
Sharif maintains control of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party, which elected close ally Shahid Khaqi Abbasi as prime minister after Sharif was disqualified.

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