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Thursday, October 22, 2020
CAIRO/DUBAI (REUTERS) - Saudi Arabia has presented a framework to expedite a stalled November deal in Yemen's south designed to end a standoff between nominal allies under a Saudi-led coalition, Saudi state news agency SPA said on Wednesday (July 29). Riyadh is seeking to unite separatist and government forces in Yemen's south to concentrate their common fight against the Iran-aligned Houthi forces, which control the north of the country. The Yemeni government, based in the southern port of Aden, and the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) are nominal allies in the Saudi-led coalition, which has been at war against the Houthis since 2014. But the STC declared self-rule in April, and the two sides have been fighting in Aden and other southern regions, complicating UN efforts for a permanent ceasefire to the overall conflict. Under the new Saudi resolution, the STC is required to rescind self-rule as both parties implement the November deal. That Saudi-brokered deal, known as the "Riyadh agreement", had been negotiated in response to an STC takeover of Aden city in August last year, but was never implemented. On Wednesday, STC spokesman Nizar Haitham said the group
WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, said on Wednesday (Oct 14) it was an "open question" whether Trump could pardon himself and added that the top US judicial body "can't control" whether a president obeys its decisions. She also sought to allay Democratic fears that she would be an automatic vote to strike down the Obamacare healthcare law in a case due to be argued Nov 10, promising an "open mind". Barrett wrapped up about eight hours of questioning on the third day of her four-day Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing. The committee will hear on Thursday (Oct 15) from witnesses both for and against her confirmation, but Barrett herself will not be present. Trump has said he has the "absolute power" to pardon himself, part of his executive clemency authority. Asked by Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy whether a president could pardon himself for a crime, Barrett said the "question has never been litigated". "That question may or may not arise but it's one that calls for legal analysis of what the scope of the pardon power is. So because it would be opining on an open question when
PARIS (REUTERS) - Samuel Paty, the teacher beheaded outside his school in a Paris suburb, was described by his pupils and their parents as caring and professional. But he was killed after becoming the target of an angry campaign on social media. Paty, 47, was killed on Friday by an 18-year-old man of Chechen origin. Prosecutors said the attacker, shot dead by police soon after, wanted to punish the teacher for showing his pupils cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad in a civics class on freedom of expression earlier this month. Parents said they were mystified how the civics class could have escalated into a motive for a gruesome murder. Prosecutors offered a clue on Saturday (Oct 17) when they said they detained two men, one the father of a pupil at the school and another on the radar of intelligence services, who they said had used social media to turn a dispute over the civics class into a campaign against the teacher. "I cannot imagine how we got to this point," said Cécile Ribet Retel, a member of the parent's association at the school, College du Bois d'Aulne. "This raises questions about the role of
JERUSALEM (AFP) - Israel started cautiously emerging from a second coronavirus lockdown Sunday (Oct 18) after a month of tight restrictions, re-opening preschools, kindergartens, beaches and national parks, with numbers of new infections falling. Public radio said about a million young children would return to kindergartens and other facilities Sunday. Businesses not involving face-to-face contact with the public were allowed back to work, and a contentious ban on individuals moving more than 1km from their homes was lifted. That rule sparked anger among some Israelis who claimed it was designed to stem a wave of protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. People will now also be able to visit friends or relatives, as long as gatherings are of no more than 10 people if inside, and 20 outside. The latest lockdown was the second since Israel recorded its first Covid-19 case in February. Tough restrictions introduced in March were lifted after about two months, but critics of the government have said the easing was premature. "This time we are moving cautiously," Mr Netanyahu said Saturday. Mr Ronni Gamzu, Israel's national coronavirus response coordinator, urged people to keep up their guard
WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - US First Lady Melania Trump said she has tested negative for Covid-19, in a statement posted on the website of the White House on Wednesday (Oct 14). She added that her 14-year-old son Barron Trump had tested positive but exhibited no symptoms. “Luckily he is a strong teenager and exhibited no symptoms,” Mrs Trump said, adding that Barron has since tested negative for the virus. This story is developing. Related Stories: 
ALMATY, KAZAKHSTAN (AFP) - Two cosmonauts and a Nasa astronaut blasted off on a high-speed journey to the International Space Station Wednesday (Oct 14), in the first such launch aboard a Russian capsule since SpaceX's game-changing debut manned flight from US soil.  Lieutenant-colonel Sergey Ryzhikov and Mr Sergey Kud-Sverchkov of Roscosmos and Nasa's Dr Kathleen Rubins launched from the Russian-operated Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 1.45pm Singapore time on Wednesday. A Nasa TV commentator said everything was normal, citing communications between Russian mission control and the crew, while Roscosmos said the capsule had successfully gone into orbit. Their journey will be the first manned flight to the ISS to last just over three hours before docking - a new fast-track profile that takes half the time of standard trips to the orbital lab. Only an unmanned Progress cargo space ship has previously used this profile, which requires just two orbits before docking. The launch is sandwiched between two SpaceX launches - the first manned spaceflights to the ISS under Nasa's aegis since 2011. Before May 30, when US astronauts Robert Behnken and Doug Hurley arrived at the ISS, Russia and
LOS ANGELES (REUTERS) - Thousands of households across Northern California braced for power blackouts on Wednesday (Oct 14) as dry weather threatened to touch off a new round of the wildfires that have ravaged the state. Pacific Gas and Electric Co (PG&E), which provides power to much of California, said it would cut power to about 53,000 customers across 24 counties as a preventative measure against potential fires because of severe weather conditions. The shutoffs were set to begin on Wednesday night. The company has acknowledged that its equipment started the 2018 Camp Fire, the deadliest in state history. The National Weather Service is predicting strong, dry "Diablo" winds in Northern California, and temperatures over 32 deg C in the southern part of the state. A combination of strong, gusty winds, low humidity and accumulated buildup of dried-out shrubs, trees and grasses was creating ideal conditions for fires, said Eric Kurth, meteorologist in the Sacramento office of the National Weather Service. The agency has issued a "red flag" warning for much of the state through Friday, warning residents that fires can spread and start easily under current conditions. "Fires which
NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - The instructions were clear: Write an article calling out Sara Gideon, a Democrat running for a hotly contested US Senate seat in Maine, as a hypocrite. Angela Underwood, a freelance reporter in upstate New York, took the US$22 (S$30) assignment over e-mail. She contacted the spokesperson for Senator Susan Collins, the Republican opponent, and wrote an article on his accusations that Gideon was two-faced for criticising shadowy political groups and then accepting their help. The short article was published on Maine Business Daily, a seemingly run-of-the-mill news website, under the headline "Sen. Collins Camp Says House Speaker Gideon's Actions Are Hypocritical." It extensively quoted Collins' spokesperson but had no comment from Gideon's campaign. Then Underwood received another e-mail: The "client" who had ordered up the article, her editor said, wanted it to add more detail. The client, according to e-mails and the editing history reviewed by The New York Times, was a Republican operative. Maine Business Daily is part of a fast-growing network of nearly 1,300 websites that aim to fill a void left by vanishing local newspapers across the country. Yet the network, now in
PARIS (REUTERS, AFP) - Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy is facing new legal charges over alleged illegal financing of his successful election campaign in 2007, the financial prosecutor's office said on Friday (Oct 16), confirming an earlier Mediapart press report. Sarkozy, who once again claimed his innocence on his Facebook page, has now been indicted for "conspiracy" in the inquiry over alleged Libyan financing of this campaign. In 2018, Sarkozy, who was president of France between 2007 and 2012, had been indicted for illegal financing and passive corruption. "After four days of questioning, during which I answered all the questions that I was asked... my innocence has again been disregarded by a decision that doesn't bring any evidence of any illicit financing", Sarkozy said on social media. Sarkozy, who claims he's victim of a "plot" in this case, is the second former French president to stand trial after the late Jacques Chirac. Prosecutors suspect that Sarkozy and his associates received millions of euros from the regime of former Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi to help finance his election bid.
NEW YORK (AFP) - Sean Eldridge says he's "preparing for the worst" in case President Donald Trump tries to undermine the results of next month's vote or refuses to accept a victory for the Democrats. The 34-year-old is one of the organisers of a coalition planning protests across the United States if Mr Trump loses to his election rival Joe Biden but refuses to concede. The White House incumbent has repeatedly refused to say whether he would cede power peacefully in the event of defeat in the presidential vote on Nov 3. He has suggested that massive voter fraud involving the tens of millions of ballots sent by mail this year and early voting due to the coronavirus pandemic could prevent him from winning. "This is pretty unprecedented in American politics to have to be worried about whether a sitting president will accept the election results and ensure a peaceful transition of power," said Mr Eldridge. He is a former Democratic candidate for Congress and one of the leaders of the successful movement to legalise gay marriage. Now he is also in charge of the New York-based anti-Trump organisation Stand Up America. "This is work
BRUSSELS (BLOOMBERG) - The European Union decided to remove Canada, Tunisia and Georgia from its list of countries whose residents should be allowed to visit the bloc amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to an EU official familiar with the matter. The EU also opted to reopen its borders to travellers from Singapore as a result of improved virus trends there, the official said on the condition of anonymity because the deliberations on Wednesday (Oct 21) in Brussels were confidential. The United States will remain blacklisted along with most other countries. The changes are the first in more than two months to the EU's recommended travel "white list", shrinking it from 11 foreign nations at present to nine. Besides Singapore, the other eight are Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, Rwanda, South Korea, Thailand and Uruguay. The update - endorsed by EU member-country envoys at a regular closed-door meeting - comes amid a resurgence in coronavirus cases in Europe itself and is due to be published in the bloc's Official Journal within days. The EU on July 1 recommended that member states allow foreign visitors from 15 countries as part of a
ROME (REUTERS) - Pope Francis wore a mask for the first time at a public function on Tuesday (Oct 20) when he and other religious leaders attended a prayer service for peace around the world. The pope wore a white mask during the service at the Rome Basilica of Santa Maria in Aracoeli. Previously he wore masks only in a car taking him to his weekly audiences in the Vatican. He had come under some criticism, particularly on social media, for not wearing a mask at his general audiences and sometimes coming in relatively close contact with visitors. Francis, 83, attended the service with other Christian leaders in the basilica, including the Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians. Simultaneously in other locations in Rome, Jews were praying in the city's synagogue and Buddhist, Sikh, Hindu and Muslim leaders also prayed for peace. The event took place as the number of people who have tested positive for the coronavirus has risen steadily in Italy in the past few weeks. There has also been a relatively small spike in the Vatican, where four members of the Swiss Guards, the elite and