Day: March 11, 2019

The Latest: May still hopes for changes to Brexit deal

LONDON — The Latest on talks about Britain’s departure from the European Union (all times local):

11:50 a.m.

British Prime Minister Theresa May still hopes to secure changes from the EU that can win U.K. lawmakers’ backing for her Brexit deal, despite a lack of progress in last-minute talks.

European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said Monday that “no further meetings at political level are scheduled.”

But May’s spokesman, James Slack, said “talks are ongoing” at a technical level, and there is “a shared determination by both sides to find a solution.”

British lawmakers are scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to approve May’s Brexit deal, which they resoundingly rejected in January. They look set to defeat it a second time, with the U.K. due to leave the bloc on March 29.

Pro-Brexit lawmakers have urged May to postpone Tuesday’s vote rather than risk another crushing defeat.

But Slack said the vote “will take place tomorrow.”

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9:15 a.m.

British Prime Minister Theresa May is fighting to save her European Union divorce deal with the negotiations deadlocked a day before Parliament is scheduled to vote on the plan.

May promised lawmakers two weeks ago they would get a second vote on the deal by March 12, but hard-line Brexit supporters are warning she should postpone the vote rather than risk another crushing defeat.

The House of Commons overwhelmingly rejected the deal in January, primarily because of concerns over arrangements for the Irish border. “Technical” talks aimed at securing concessions from the EU failed to secure a breakthrough over the weekend.

Former chief whip Andrew Mitchell told the Times of London that “anything that avoids what looks like a massive defeat on Tuesday is worth considering.”

The Associated Press

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AP News in Brief at 12:04 a.m. EDT

Ethiopian Airlines crash kills 157, spreads global grief

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — An Ethiopian Airlines jet faltered and crashed Sunday shortly after takeoff, carving a gash in the earth and spreading global grief to 35 countries that had someone among the 157 people who were killed.

There was no immediate indication why the plane went down in clear weather while on a flight to Nairobi, the capital of neighbouring Kenya. The crash was strikingly similar to that of a Lion Air jet in Indonesian seas last year, killing 189 people. Both accidents involved the Boeing 737 Max 8, and China ordered a temporarily grounding of those planes for Chinese airlines Monday.

The crash shattered more than two years of relative calm in African skies, where travel had long been chaotic. It also was a serious blow to state-owned Ethiopian Airlines, which has expanded to become the continent’s largest and best-managed carrier and turned Addis Ababa into the gateway to Africa.

“Ethiopian Airlines is one of the safest airlines in the world. At this stage we cannot rule out anything,” CEO Tewolde Gebremariam told reporters. He visited the crash site, standing in the gaping crater flecked with debris.

Black body bags were spread out nearby while Red Cross and other workers looked for remains. As the sun set, the airline’s chief operating officer said the plane’s flight data recorder had not yet been found.

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China grounds Boeing 737 Max 8 planes after Ethiopia crash

BEIJING (AP) — China’s civilian aviation authority ordered all Chinese airlines to temporarily ground their Boeing 737 Max 8 planes Monday after one of the aircraft crashed in Ethiopia.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China said the order was issued at 9:00 a.m. (0100 GMT) on Monday and would last nine hours.

It said the order was “taken in line with the management principle of zero tolerance for security risks,” because the crash was the second after another of the planes fell into the ocean off the coast of Indonesia in similar circumstances on Oct. 29, killing all aboard.

Further notice would be issued after consultation with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing, the administration said.

Eight Chinese nationals were among the 157 people aboard the Boeing 737 Max 8 operated by Ethiopian Airlines when it went down shortly after takeoff from the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa Sunday, leaving no survivors.

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Government officials, doctors among Ethiopian crash victims

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — Three Austrian physicians. The co-founder of an international aid organization. A career ambassador. The wife and children of a Slovak legislator. A Nigerian-born Canadian college professor, author and satirist. They were all among the 157 people from 35 countries who died Sunday morning when an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 jetliner crashed shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa en route to Nairobi, Kenya. Here are some of their stories.

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Kenya: 32 victims

— Hussein Swaleh, the former secretary general of the Football Kenya Federation, was named as being among the dead by Sofapaka Football Club.

He was due to return home on the flight after working as the match commissioner in an African Champions League game in Egypt on Friday.

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Indonesian woman freed 2 years after Kim Jong Nam’s VX death

SHAH ALAM, Malaysia (AP) — An Indonesian woman held two years on suspicion of killing the North Korean leader’s half brother was freed from custody Monday after prosecutors unexpectedly dropped the murder charge against her.

Siti Aisyah cried and hugged her co-defendant, Doan Thi Huong from Vietnam, before leaving the courtroom. She told reporters she had only learned that morning that she would be freed. “I am surprised and very happy. I didn’t expect it.”

The two young women were accused of smearing VX nerve agent on Kim Jong Nam’s face in an airport terminal in Kuala Lumpur on Feb. 13, 2017. They have said they thought they were taking part in a prank for a TV show. They had been the only suspects in custody after four North Korean suspects fled the country the same morning Kim was killed.

The High Court judge discharged Aisyah without an acquittal after prosecutors said they wanted to withdraw the murder charge against her. They did not give a reason.

Prosecutor Iskandar Ahmad said the discharge not amounting to acquittal means Aisyah can be recharged but there are no such plans for now.

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Misery grows for Venezuelans hit by power cuts

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelans reached new levels of desperation Sunday as the country’s worst blackouts took their toll, gathering in larger numbers than usual at springs in the mountains of Caracas to collect water and scrounging for scarce cash to pay for food in the few shops that were open.

Engineers restored power in some places after electricity and communications shut down nationwide Thursday evening, but outages persisted in many areas where people are already beset by hyperinflation as well as shortages of food and medicine.

Witnesses reported overnight protests and confrontations with police in a few Caracas neighbourhoods and the remains of makeshift barricades and burned debris were seen at some intersections.

“If I could, I would take the little that I have and leave the country,” said Renee Martinez, a 31-year-old Caracas resident. “This is unbearable. Here, everything is scarce and now power is as well.”

People are often seen at mountain springs because they don’t have running water at home and bottled water is too expensive, but hundreds crowded collection points Sunday. Some were there for the first time because water pumps weren’t working without power.

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Canada’s no-sex, no-money scandal could topple Trudeau

TORONTO (AP) — There’s no money, no sex and nothing illegal happened. This is what passes for a scandal in Canada.

U.S. President Donald Trump has been engulfed in allegations involving possible collusion with Russia and secret payments to buy the silence of a porn star. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is facing a controversy that seems trivial by comparison, but it could topple him in elections later this year.

Two high-profile women ministers in Trudeau’s Cabinet, including Canada’s first indigenous justice minister, resigned in protest, and his top aide and best friend quit too.

The former justice minister and attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, says Trudeau and senior members of his government pressured her in a case involving a major Canadian engineering company accused of corruption related to its business dealings in Libya. Trudeau reportedly leaned on the attorney general to instruct prosecutors to reach the equivalent of plea deal, which would avoid a criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, because he felt that jobs were at stake.

“People south of the border would be astonished to think that this is the type of scandal that they have in Canada,” said Eddie Goldenberg, a former adviser to former Prime Minister Jean Chretien.

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Powell says Trump’s attacks played no role in rate pause

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell says political attacks by President Donald Trump played no role in the Fed’s decision in January to signal that it planned to take a pause in hiking interest rates. He also said in an interview broadcast Sunday that he can’t be fired by the president and that he intends to serve out his full four-year term.

In a wide-ranging interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes,” Powell said that the Fed decided to pause its rate hikes in January, after increasing rates four times in 2018, because the global economy was slowing and other risks to the U.S. economy were rising. The Fed said it planned to be “patient” in deciding when to change rates again.

Asked to define patient, Powell said, “Patient means that we don’t feel in any hurry to change our interest rate policy.”

At another point, Powell said the Fed felt its interest rate policy “is in a very good place right now” with the benchmark rate in a range of 2.25 per cent to 2.5 per cent, which Powell said was “roughly neutral,” meaning the Fed’s policy rate was not stimulating growth or holding it back.

“We think that’s an appropriate place for an economy that has the lowest unemployment in 50 years, that has inflation right about at our 2 per cent objective, that has returned significantly to good health,” Powell said.

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Trump budget sets up another battle over wall funding

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is reviving his border wall fight, preparing a new budget that will seek $8.6 billion for the U.S-Mexico barrier while imposing steep spending cuts to other domestic programs and setting the stage for another fiscal battle.

Budget documents are often seen as just a starting point of negotiation, but fresh off the longest government shutdown in history Trump’s 2020 proposal shows he is eager to confront Congress again to reduce domestic spending and refocus money on his priorities. It calls for boosting defence spending and making $2.7 trillion in nondefense cuts.

Trump’s proposal, titled “A Budget for a Better America: Promises Kept. Taxpayers First” and set for release Monday, “embodies fiscal responsibility,” said Russ Vought, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Vought said the administration has “prioritized reining in reckless Washington spending” and shows “we can return to fiscal sanity.”

Two administration officials confirmed that the border wall request was part of Trump’s spending blueprint for the 2020 budget year, which begins Oct. 1.

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Donor claimed Chinese clients could mingle with Trump

PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — A company run by a donor to President Donald Trump claimed it could provide Chinese clients with a chance to mingle and take photos with the president, along with access to his private club in Palm Beach, Florida.

It remains unclear how much Li Yang charged for the services and whether she was ever hired to provide them.

But the company’s claims and other eyebrow-raising activity, which were first reported by The Miami Herald and Mother Jones, mark the latest in a litany of complications and ethical issues stemming from Trump continuing to own and operate a private club where dues-paying members and their guests rub shoulders with the president of the United States and his family, friends, White House staff and members of his Cabinet.

The Associated Press has previously reported that aides who accompany the president on frequent trips to the club are always on alert for club members and guests with nearly unlimited access who like to buttonhole the president. They raise pet projects, make policy suggestions and share oddball ideas ranging from the benefits of nuclear-powered cars to personal plans for Mideast peace.

Former administration officials have described the lengths to which aides have gone to try to run interference, including reserving the dinner table next to Trump’s to keep as close an eye on him as possible and scanning guest lists for visitors who might prove problematic.

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US Olympic cyclist Catlin found dead in her home at age 23

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — Olympic track cyclist Kelly Catlin, who helped the U.S. women’s pursuit team win the silver medal at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, died Friday at her home in California. She was 23.

USA Cycling chief executive Rob DeMartini said in a statement Sunday that “the entire cycling community is mourning this immense loss. We are offering continuous support to Kelly’s teammates, coaches and staff. We also encourage all those who knew Kelly to support each other through the grieving.”

Catlin’s father, Mark Catlin, told VeloNews that his daughter killed herself.

Catlin was born and raised near Minneapolis, Minnesota, and rose to prominence on the track as a member of the U.S. national team. She also raced on the road for the Rally UHC Pro Cycling Team, and she was pursuing a graduate degree in computational mathematics at Stanford.

The Associated Press

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Siti Aisyah

Siti Aisyah

SHAH ALAM, Malaysia — An Indonesian woman held two years on suspicion of killing the North Korean leader’s half brother was freed from custody Monday after prosecutors unexpectedly dropped the murder charge against her.

The High Court judge discharged Siti Aisyah without an acquittal after prosecutors said they wanted to withdraw the charge. They did not give a reason.

Aisyah cried and hugged her co-defendant, Doan Thi Huong from Vietnam, before leaving the courtroom. She told reporters she had only learned Monday morning that she would be freed. “I am surprised and very happy. I didn’t expect it.”

She was quickly ushered out of the court building in an embassy car. Her lawyers said she is heading to the Indonesian embassy and expected to fly back to Jakarta soon.

Huong’s murder trial was put on hold after the surprise development. She was to have begun giving her defence in Monday’s court session, after months of delay.

“I am in shock. My mind is blank,” a distraught Huong told reporters through a translator after Aisyah left.

Indonesian Ambassador Rusdi Kirana said he was thankful to the Malaysian government. “We believe she is not guilty,” he said.

Huong’s Lawyer, Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, said they will seek to postpone the trial. He said Huong was distraught and felt Aisyah’s discharge was unfair to her as the judge last year had found sufficient evidence to continue the murder trial against them.

The two young women were accused of smearing VX nerve agent on Kim’s face in an airport terminal in Kuala Lumpur on Feb. 13, 2017. They have said they thought they were taking part in a prank for a TV show. They were the only suspects in custody after four North Korean suspects fled the country the same morning Kim was killed.

Salim Bashir, a lawyer for Huong, said previously she was prepared to testify under oath for her defence.

“She is confident and ready to give her version of the story. It is completely different from what the prosecutors had painted. She was filming a prank and had no intention to kill or injure anyone,” he told the AP.

Lawyers for the women have previously said they were pawns in a political assassination with clear links to the North Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, and that the prosecution failed to show the women had any intention to kill. Intent to kill is crucial to a murder charge under Malaysian law.

Malaysian officials have never officially accused North Korea and have made it clear they don’t want the trial politicized.

Kim Jong Nam was the eldest son in the current generation of North Korea’s ruling family. He had been living abroad for years but could have been seen as a threat to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s rule

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By The Wall of Law March 11, 2019 Off