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New EU leaders take office vowing to tackle climate change
By LORNE COOK | Sun, December 1, 2019 10:55 EST
BRUSSELS (AP) — A new team of leaders took office at the helm of the European Union on Sunday, pledging to put the fight against climate change at the top of their agenda and foster European unity despite the likely departure of Britain from the 28-nation bloc.
Germany’s Ursula von der Leyen officially replaced Jean-Claude Juncker as president of the EU’s powerful executive arm, which polices EU laws and negotiates trade on behalf of member countries. The former German defense minister becomes the first woman in the post.
Former Belgian premier Charles Michel succeeded Donald Tusk as president of the European Council, meaning he will chair summits of national leaders and drive their common agenda forward.
In the company of European Parliament President David Sassoli and new European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde, Von der Leyen and Michel marked the start of their five-year terms in Brussels with events marking the 10th anniversary of the Lisbon Treaty, the EU’s rule book.
“Today we can present a unified face to the rest of the world. With more weight and greater coherence in a rules-based world,” Michel said. “Today we do more than look back, we celebrate a new beginning, with great enthusiasm and hope.”
Sassoli urged the EU’s main institutions the new team to deliver on the hopes invested in them by the more than 500 million citizens who make up the world’s biggest trading bloc.
“We need to turn the promises of the past few months into results that improve people’s lives,” he said. “From the fight against climate change to tackling the rise in the cost of living, Europeans want to see real action.”
At the commission’s headquarters, as workers were still moving in office furniture and equipment, von der Leyen outlined her schedule, seeming somewhat relieved to be at work after “a difficult and bumpy start” getting her policy commissioners approved by the European Parliament.
Setting the tone for what she describes as “geopolitical commission,” Von der Leyen held phone talks with the leaders of China, South Korea, Turkey, Indonesia and Australia, with more due later.
Showing that she is hitting the ground running on an issue of major European concern, von der Leyen heads Monday to Madrid for the international climate conference.
“The European Union wants to be the first climate neutral continent in 2050. Europe is leading in this topic and we know that we have to be ambitious for our planet,” she told reporters.
On Friday, von der Leyen makes her first foreign trip and has chosen Africa. In Addis Ababa, she will meet with Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairman of the African Union Commission, as well as the president and prime minister of Ethiopia.
The future of Britain’s place in the EU should become clearer after the Dec. 12 election there.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson hopes to secure a majority to can push through the Brexit divorce deal sealed with the EU in October. Under the terms of that deal, the U.K. would leave the EU on Jan. 31 but remain part of Europe’s single market and bound by EU rules, until the end of 2020.
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Thomas Adamson in Paris and David Rising in Berlin contributed to this report.

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Namibia’s president wins another term but support drops
By SONJA SMITH and BRANDON VAN WYK | Sat, November 30, 2019 04:33 EST
WINDHOEK, Namibia (AP) — Namibia’s president won another term Saturday but the longtime ruling party lost its powerful two-thirds majority in its most challenging election since independence nearly 30 years ago.
The southern African nation’s electoral commission said President Hage Geingob received 56% the vote while opposition challenger Dr. Panduleni Itula had 29%. Itula made history as the first independent candidate for the presidency, though he retained his ruling party membership.
The results showed a sharp decrease in support for Geingob from 87% in the previous election in 2014. Public frustration has been high over corruption scandals and unemployment.
“It was a tough campaign,” Geingob said. “I campaigned like hell.”
Itula did not attend the announcement of the final results.
The ruling SWAPO party, which has been in power since independence from South Africa in 1990, received 63% of the vote in the National Assembly race while the Popular Democratic Movement gained seats with 16%. The percentages are roughly equal to the number of seats won. SWAPO won 77 seats in the previous election.
Some 1.3 million voters were registered for Wednesday’s election. Turnout was 60%.
While troubles were reported with some electronic voting machines, a preliminary statement by observer missions called the election free, fair and “generally peaceful.” It said 62% of polling stations opened on time.
Some Namibians expressed frustration over what they considered the slow pace of vote-counting.
“The counting, accuracy and verification process leave us more confused. One would think that the reason why we opted for (electronic voting machines) is for the purposes of effectiveness and efficiency,” political analyst Ndumba Kamwanyah said. “But that really is turning out to be the opposite. It seems we haven’t quite mastered how to use those voting machines to our advantage.”
The ruling SWAPO shortly before the election was shaken by corruption allegations linked to fishing quotas that led two cabinet ministers to resign.
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Follow Africa news at https://twitter.com/AP_Africa

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Death toll put at 20 for Mexico cartel attack near US border
01:26 EST
MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexican security forces on Sunday killed seven more members of a presumed cartel assault force that rolled into a town near the Texas border and staged an hour-long attack, officials said, putting the overall death toll at 20.
The Coahuila state government said in a statement that lawmen aided by helicopters were still chasing remnants of the force that arrived in a convoy of pickup trucks and attacked the city hall of Villa Union on Saturday.
Gov. Miguel Angel Riquelme said late Sunday afternoon that authorities had determined the casualty count from the gunbattles stood at 14 gunmen dead and four police officers killed. He said two civilians also were slain by gunmen after being abducted.
The governor said six more officers were wounded as were four young people who had been taken by the attackers.
Francisco Contreras, an official in the state security agency, said later that the two slain civilians were a firefighter and an engineer who worked for the municipality. He said a second firefighter was missing.
The reason for the military-style attack remained unclear. Cartels have been contending for control of smuggling routes in northern Mexico, but there was no immediate evidence that a rival cartel had been targeted in Villa Union.
Earlier Sunday, the state government had issued a statement saying seven attackers were killed Sunday in addition to seven who died Saturday. It had said three other bodies had not been identified, but its later statement lowered the total deaths to 20.
The governor said the armed group — at least some in military style garb — stormed the town of 3,000 residents in a convoy of trucks, attacking local government offices and prompting state and federal forces to intervene. Bullet-riddled trucks left abandoned in the streets were marked C.D.N. — Spanish initials of the Cartel of the Northeast gang.
Several of the gunmen stole vehicles as they fled and kidnapped locals to help guide them on dirt tracks out of town, the governor said. At least one of the stolen vehicles was a hearse headed for a funeral, according to the newspaper Zocalo of Saltillo.
The town is about 35 miles (60 kilometers) south-southwest of Eagle Pass, Texas, and 12 miles (20 kilometers) from the town of Allende — site of a 2011 massacre involving the Zetas cartel in which officials say 70 died.
Rapid gunfire could be heard in videos posted to social media along with frantic people telling friends to stay indoors. Images of the aftermath of the shootout showed burned out vehicles, while the facade of Villa Union’s city hall was riddled with bullets.
The governor said security forces would remain in the town for several days to restore a sense of calm.
Falko Ernst, senior Mexico analyst for the non-profit Crisis Group, which seeks to promote peace, said there are few incentives for armed groups in the country to refrain from violence.
“Solving this issue — which underpins impunity — would have to be the centerpiece of an integrated security strategy. But such a thing is yet to be presented by (President) López Obrador and his team,” said Ernst.
“The price of that absence is not least the flaring up of regional conflict scenarios.”
Mexico’s homicide rate has increased to historically high levels, inching up by 2% in the first 10 months of the presidency of Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Federal officials said recently that there have been 29,414 homicides so far in 2019, compared to 28,869 in the same period of 2018.
The November slaughter by Mexican drug cartel gunmen of three women who held U.S. citizenship and six of their children focused world attention on the rising violence.
Saturday’s attack also showed cartels again resorting to quasi-military operations in a brazen challenge to state authority.
In October, a massive operation by the Sinaloa cartel prompted the federal government to release the captured son of a drug lord and pull back the army, which found itself outmaneuvered on the streets of Culiacan.
U.S. President Donald Trump said in a radio interview last week that he plans to designate Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations, though he declined to say what actions might follow that designation.
Mexican officials have opposed such a designation, worried it could lead to unilaterial U.S. interventions in its territory.
Coahuila state itself has been far from the worst-hit part of Mexico amid violence in recent years. The government census bureau’s survey of public perceptions of security found that Coahuila ranked well this year, with only three other states having a higher public perception of safety.

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Police: No indication of terrorist motive in Hague stabbing
Sun, December 1, 2019 09:24 EST
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Police say they have not found any indications of a terrorist motive in a stabbing on a busy Dutch shopping street that injured three teens.
Police said Sunday, after questioning a 35-year-old homeless man arrested as a suspect in the stabbing, that “so far there are no indications that point to a possible terrorist motive.”
Investigations are continuing into what motivated the Friday night attack in downtown The Hague that injured two 15-year-old girls and a 13-year-old boy. All three were treated in a hospital and released late Friday.
The attack in the Netherlands came hours after a convicted terrorist wearing a fake explosive vest stabbed to death two people and wounded three more in London, before he was fatally shot by officers.

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Lawsuit wave expected as New Jersey eases sex abuse limits
By DAVID PORTER and MIKE CATALINI | Sat, November 30, 2019 02:07 EST
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — The loosening of limits on sexual abuse claims in New Jersey is expected to create a tectonic shift in the way those lawsuits are brought, giving hope to victims who have long suffered in silence and exposing a broader spectrum of institutions to potential liability.
A law passed last spring goes into effect Sunday and allows child victims to sue until they turn 55, or within seven years of their first realization that the abuse caused them harm. The limit was two years before the new law. Adult victims also have seven years from the discovery of the abuse, and victims who were previously barred by the statute of limitations have a two-year window to file claims.
That’s welcome news for people like Dennis Bachman, a 40-year-old construction worker from Westville, in southern New Jersey, who plans to file a lawsuit alleging a female counselor sexually abused him at a home for juveniles in Salem County. He said last week it took him a long time to recognize he had been abused, in part because of a misguided societal view that says damage done to boys abused by women “isn’t the same” as other kinds of abuse.
“Maybe (it’ll) give me a chance to make things right,” Bachman said. “I caused so much damage in my life in so many different ways. I figured maybe this would give me a chance to settle some things.”
New Jersey’s push for expanding the statute of limitations gained momentum from last year’s release of a grand jury report in Pennsylvania that catalogued the experiences of thousands of victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests and the church’s cover-up of the scandal.
Many states have overhauled their criminal and civil statutes of limitations in the last 10 or 15 years, but just a handful including California, Delaware, Hawaii and Minnesota have created so-called lookback windows for lawsuits. New York enacted a bill earlier this year that creates a window similar to the one in New Jersey.
The Roman Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts have both already been inundated with sexual abuse lawsuits that were filed when similar laws were passed in other states. The church opposed the law change in New Jersey, saying it wanted to push back the date it became effective. But those two organizations are far from the only defendants.
Attorneys Jay Mascolo and Jason Amala represent about 40 defendants who are set to file lawsuits in New Jersey. They said their clients mostly allege abuse at the hands of people associated with the Catholic church and the Boy Scouts, but that about a quarter of the suits involve other institutions.
Attorney Robert Fuggi said a key component of the law is that it removes an earlier provision that held a person acting in loco parentis, or “in place of a parent,” could only be liable if the abuse occurred “within the household.”
That will make it easier to take legal action against public schools, Fuggi said. It could help revive a suit brought by one of his clients who claimed her high school’s assistant band director repeatedly sexually assaulted her in 2004. A state appeals court dismissed that case, ruling the “household” provision didn’t apply to public schools.
“I think you’re going to see substantially more claims against public schools than ever before,” said Fuggi, who said he has prepared several lawsuits alleging sexual abuse at a restaurant, casino, church, high school and hospital.
The new law has prompted some criticism that the two-year window exposes institutions to retroactive claims that could sink organizations whose current employees are not implicated and whose work could be upended by hefty damages.
Alida Kass, the president and chief counsel of the New Jersey Civil Justice Institute, which advocates against lawsuit abuse, opposed the legislation because it lacked amendments to target only predators and institutions that were complicit in the alleged crimes.
“There is at least a measure of justice in holding an organization to account, even years later, for their willful misdeeds,” she said. “(But) we are not talking about charities that didn’t to do background checks when no one was doing background checks, or that failed to have as-yet unheard of protocols, or missed the warning signs that we now take for granted.”
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Catalini reported from Trenton, New Jersey.

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