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Australia’s highest court will hear Cardinal Pell’s appeal
By ROD McGUIRK | Wed, November 13, 2019 05:45 EST
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia’s highest court agreed Wednesday to hear an appeal from the most senior Catholic to be found guilty of sexually abusing children, giving Cardinal George Pell his last chance at getting his convictions overturned.
The decision by the High Court of Australia comes nearly a year after a unanimous jury found Pope Francis’ former finance minister guilty of molesting two 13-year-old choirboys in Melbourne’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral in the late 1990s, shortly after Pell became archbishop of Australia’s second-largest city.
The 78-year-old was sentenced to six years in prison in March and is no longer a member of Francis’ Council of Cardinals or a Vatican official. The Victoria state Court of Appeal rejected his appeal in August.
Pell is in a Melbourne prison, where a newspaper reported last month that he had been given a gardening job. He did not attend the High Court in Canberra to hear the decision Wednesday.
SNAP, an abuse victims’ support group, described the court’s decision as a blow to clergy abuse victims and to the Australian criminal justice system.
“We are disappointed that Cardinal George Pell and his lawyers will have yet another opportunity to attack and re-victimize the former choirboy,” SNAP spokesman Steven Spaner said in a statement.
Archbishop Mark Coleridge, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, which represents church leaders in Australia, hoped the appeal would be resolved quickly.
“This will prolong what has been a lengthy and difficult process, but we can only hope that the appeal will be heard as soon as reasonably possible and that the High Court’s judgment will bring clarity and a resolution for all,” Coleridge said in a statement.
The Vatican said it trusted the Australian legal system and noted in a statement that Pell had always maintained his innocence.
“At this time, the Holy See reaffirms once again its closeness to those who have suffered because of sexual abuse on the part of members of the clergy,” said a statement from Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni.
Two of the seven justices — Michelle Gordon and James Edelman — heard Pell’s application for an appeal and unanimously approved it for a hearing by the full bench. The court rejects around 90% of such applications.
The two justices took the unusual step of directing the full bench to hear Pell’s application for an appeal hearing rather than hear a full appeal, but lawyers agree the effect is similar: the court will consider Pell’s argument for why his convictions should be overturned.
It is not clear whether the court would hear his application for an appeal and his appeal simultaneously, which is what happened with his state appeals court hearing in June.
An appeal hearing cannot happen before the justices return from their summer break in early February.
Pell’s lawyers did not immediately respond on Wednesday when asked by The Associated Press if the cardinal would now apply to the High Court to be released from prison on bail.
Prof. Jeremy Gans, who heads Melbourne Law School, said the court’s decision improved his prospects of making a successful application for bail.
“If he did apply, he’s got some good arguments,” Gans said.
Those arguments could include that Pell is serving a relatively short sentence while the court’s verdict could be eight months away, his advanced age, health problems and the added dangers he faces behind bars from fellow inmates as a convicted pedophile, Gans said.
Pell’s lawyers argued in their 12-page application for a High Court appeal that two state appeals court judges made error in dismissing his appeal in August. The judges made a mistake by requiring Pell to prove the abuse was impossible, rather than putting the onus of proof on prosecutors, the lawyers said.
They also said the two judges erred in finding the jury’s guilty verdicts were reasonable. Pell’s lawyers argued there was reasonable doubt about whether opportunity existed for the crimes to have occurred.
Pell’s lawyers also argued that changes in law over the years since the crimes were alleged have increased the difficulty in testing sexual assault allegations.
They say Pell should be acquitted of all charges for several reasons, including inconsistencies in the accuser’s version of events.
Prosecutors argued there is no basis for the appeal and that the Victorian courts made no errors.
Pell was largely convicted on the testimony of one victim. The second victim died of an accidental heroin overdose in 2014 when he was 31 without complaining that he had been abused.
Lawyer Vivienne Waller said she spoke on Wednesday to the victim, her client who cannot be identified, and he was “very respectful of the legal process.”
“I can understand that there are many survivors who might feel disappointed by the outcome and I can also understand that there are a lot of people who feel very deeply for my client and are concerned for his well-being and those sentiments are greatly appreciated,” Waller said.
The father of Pell’s dead victim was devastated by the court’s decision, his lawyer Lisa Flynn said.
“He was really hopeful that this would be over for him today because as the process goes on, and has gone on for some time, it is extremely retraumatizing for him,” Flynn said. “Every appeal that is announced by Pell is a downturn. It brings up the raw emotions.”
The father, who cannot be named, intends to sue the church over his son’s abuse.
Clerical sexual abuse and the Catholic Church’s handling of such cases worldwide have thrown Francis’ papacy into turmoil.
In a little more than a year, the pope has acknowledged he made “grave errors” in Chile’s worst cover-up, Pell was convicted of abuse, a French cardinal was convicted of failing to report a pedophile, and U.S. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was defrocked after a Vatican investigation determined he molested children and adults.
Pell must serve at least three years and eight months behind bars before he becomes eligible for parole. As a convicted pedophile, he is provided with extra protection from other inmates and spends 23 hours a day in solitary confinement.
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Australian wildfires destroy homes and force evacuations
By ROD McGUIRK 02:33 EST
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Scores of wildfires continued to rage across vast tracts of Australia’s drought-stricken east coast on Wednesday, forcing hundreds of residents to evacuate their homes, some for the second time in a week.
The most intense fires were concentrated in the northeastern states of New South Wales and Queensland, although a fire emergency warning had also been issued for a blaze threatening the west coast city of Geraldton.
New South Wales had lost more than 200 homes since Friday, while 14 homes had been destroyed in southeast Queensland.
Some communities have been evacuated repeatedly as the fire danger recedes, then returns with flames fanned by strong wind changes.
Tony Wellington, mayor of the Queensland town of Noosa North Shore, said residents there were being evacuated for the second time in a week.
“It’s bad enough being evacuated once let alone multiple times,” Wellington told Australian Broadcasting Corp. “It’s terribly distressing, always, to be evacuated.”
A severe fire danger warning was in place for much southern Queensland, with soaring temperatures and thunderstorms expected.
“We’ve got another tough day today and there is an extended forecast that we are not out the woods by any means,” said Michael Wassing of the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services Commission.
The Insurance Council of Australia, an industry body, said insurers had received 450 fire damage claims in the disaster areas.
In New South Wales, more than 50 homes were damaged or destroyed and 13 firefighters were injured overnight by catastrophic wildfires across that subsided on Wednesday.
At one point on Tuesday, 16 fires raged out of control at emergency level simultaneously across New South Wales, a near record number.
Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons warned that rain that would quench the fire danger on the east coast is not forecast for months.
State Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she was relieved that the destruction on Tuesday had not been worse. A weeklong state of emergency for New South Wales was declared on Monday because of the fire danger, with Tuesday forecast to be the most dangerous day.
“I have to confess to being hugely relieved this morning that yesterday our amazing volunteers and emergency service personnel withstood the catastrophic conditions and did manage to save life and property,” Berejiklian said.
Fitzsimmons said none of the injured firefighters had been seriously hurt.
EarthLink – News
Record cold follows early snowstorm over much of eastern US
By CAROLYN THOMPSON 04:47 EST
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Snow and cold records fell as an arctic airmass that started in Siberia spilled over a big chunk of the eastern half of the U.S., including the normally mild South, on Tuesday.
The mid-autumn taste of winter brought record single-digit temperatures to Chicago and environs; set snowfall records in Buffalo and Detroit; dusted cars with snow in Memphis, Tennessee; and froze lakes in Minnesota weeks earlier than usual.
Wisconsin farmer Bob Grove still has soybeans in the field, 20 miles south of Milwaukee, but said he can’t harvest them because the snow will clog the machinery.
“Normally, you don’t see this kind of weather to well into December,” Grove said. “It’s caught us off guard, as far as getting crops harvested. Doing what we can in between snow, rain, mud.”
The roughly 10 inches of snow in Buffalo and Detroit by Tuesday morning was a record depth for the time of year, weather service records show. Areas of Vermont and Maine saw similar totals as a wintry mix also closed or delayed hundreds of schools in northern New England.
“This is an air mass that’s more typical for the middle of January than mid-November,” National Weather Service meteorologist Kevin Birk said in Chicago, where Tuesday morning’s low of 7 degrees (minus 13 Celsius) broke the previous record of 8 (minus 13 Celsius), set in 1986. “It is pretty much about the coldest we can be this time of year (and) it could break records all over the region.”
At least six cities in Kansas set new record lows Tuesday, led by Garden City, which dropped to minus 1 (minus 18 Celsius), breaking the record of 7 (minus 14 Celsius) set just last year. Records also fell in Wichita, Salina, Russell, Dodge City and Medicine Lodge.
In St. Louis, the mercury dipped to 11 degrees, breaking a record for the date that had stood since 1911.
Warming shelters in Memphis offered relief from a reading of 21 degrees (minus 6 Celsius), also a record low for the date.
Schools and businesses as far south as the Gulf Coast states opened late or closed Tuesday because of the unusual cold.
About 20 school systems delayed opening across north Alabama under the threat of wintry precipitation, including all the public schools around Huntsville.
Even more opened late or closed in Tennessee, and a handful of businesses and schools opened late in Georgia.
Forecasters said daytime temperatures would remain in the 30s across a wide area of the South. Freeze warnings reached from eastern Texas to coastal South Carolina, with overnight lows predicted in the 20s.
The dip to 8 degrees (minus 13 Celsius) in Indianapolis gave the city its earliest recorded fall temperature in the single digits. The closest similar reading was 11 degrees (minus 11 Celsius) recorded on Nov. 3, 1951.
Farther north, heavy lake-effect snow piled more than 10 inches high near Goshen.
In Ohio, authorities investigated two fatal wrecks in snowy and icy conditions Tuesday, one on the Ohio Turnpike in Richfield and another in Clark County. Seven passengers on a New York City-bound bus escaped serious injury when it turned on its side on a snow-slicked highway south of Syracuse. A section of Interstate 90 in Pennsylvania was back open Tuesday after being closed overnight because of jackknifed tractor-trailers.
The Eaton County Sheriff’s Office in Michigan said two women, ages 81 and 64, and a 57-year-old man were killed Monday in a two-vehicle crash caused by poor road conditions. And in Kansas, the Highway Patrol said an 8-year-old girl died in a three-vehicle wreck.
Officials in central Wyoming searched for a 16-year-old boy with autism who disappeared Sunday wearing only his pajamas.
In Chicago, a plane landing Monday at O’Hare International Airport slid across the runway. No one was injured. More than 1,000 flights at O’Hare and Midway International Airport were canceled after more than 3 inches (7 centimeters) of snow fell.
In some areas, the mercury fell quickly. Temperatures in Denver climbed past 70 degrees (21 Celsius) over the weekend only to fall to 14 degrees (minus 10 Celsius) early Monday.
EarthLink – News
As Hong Kong descends into chaos, China mulls its options
By YANAN WANG | Wed, November 13, 2019 12:38 EST
BEIJING (AP) — A sharp escalation of violence in Hong Kong is once again raising the question of how China’s central government will respond: Will it intervene, or allow the chaos to persist?
The Liaison Office, which represents mainland authorities in Hong Kong, said Wednesday that actions in the semi-autonomous territory were “slipping into the abyss of terrorism.” It pointed out that a man was set on fire Monday during an argument with demonstrators, leaving him in critical condition.
On the same day, a police officer shot a protester who was then taken to a hospital, also in critical condition.
The unabating tumult, now in its sixth month, may give China’s ruling Communist Party the justification it needs to take more direct action, analysts said.
“Beijing is hoping that the Hong Kong community will start blaming the protesters and support the restoration of order,” said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a political science professor at Hong Kong Baptist University.
The central government must wait for the right moment to step in, Cabestan said, adding that if China acts before public opinion is fully on its side, it could exacerbate existing discontent.
While the movement began peacefully in June to oppose a now-withdrawn extradition bill, it has been increasingly defined by smaller groups of hard-core demonstrators bent on sowing chaos. Their actions, which have included setting cars on fire and smashing storefronts, have alienated many residents.
The Liaison Office described the act of setting the man on fire as “flagrant terrorism,” and pledged support for Hong Kong authorities taking measures to curb “various illegal acts of violence and acts of terrorism.”
Whereas Chinese authorities previously called the demonstrators “rioters” with behavior “close to terrorism,” they are now calling them “murderers” and tying them more explicitly to terrorism. This label may presage more severe enforcement measures and impact how demonstrators are ultimately prosecuted.
A former British colony, Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997 under the framework of “one country, two systems,” a policy that promises Hong Kong certain democratic rights not granted to the mainland. But the arrests of pro-democracy activists and booksellers in recent years have raised fears among Hong Kong residents that Beijing is encroaching on the city’s freedoms.
During a key meeting of the party’s Central Committee at the end of October, Chinese leaders proposed establishing and strengthening the “legal system and enforcement mechanism for safeguarding national security” in special administrative regions like Hong Kong and Macao.
A meeting summary from China’s official Xinhua news agency did not elaborate on what this would entail, but Chinese officials have variously pointed to Article 14, Article 18 and Article 23 of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s de facto constitution.
Article 14 allows the Hong Kong-based garrison of the Chinese military to help with public order maintenance at the request of the local government. Article 18 states that national laws may be applied in Hong Kong if China’s ceremonial parliament decides that the region is in a “state of emergency” that endangers national unity or security.
“When necessary, the People’s Armed Police Force and the People’s Liberation Army Hong Kong Garrison will back you up,” the nationalistic Global Times said in an editorial Monday, addressing the Hong Kong police.
Zhang Xiaoming, head of the Cabinet’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, said over the weekend that Hong Kong has yet to fulfill Article 23, which stipulates that the city will “enact laws on its own to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion” against the central government. These laws should also ban the theft of state secrets and prevent foreign political organizations from conducting political activities in Hong Kong. Beijing has repeatedly accused foreign forces of fomenting the unrest.
Proposing new national security legislation is likely to further inflame the protests, though China may not be opposed to that, said Joseph Cheng, a pro-democracy advocate and retired City University of Hong Kong political scientist.
China has made it clear that it intends to maintain a hard line politically, refusing to make any concessions to protesters while pushing ahead with unpopular security legislation, Cheng said.
A further concern is that Beijing might order the postponement of Hong Kong’s local assembly elections scheduled for Nov. 24, freezing in place the current pro-China makeup of the body and avoiding possible embarrassment for the administration of Hong Kong’s leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam.
Although Lam has been criticized for a lack of leadership and her inflexibility, she has faithfully carried out Beijing’s will. During meetings last week in Shanghai and Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping expressed support for her work.
At least for now, the central government appears to be leaving enforcement to local authorities, said Ben Bland, a research fellow at Australia’s Lowy Institute and author of “Generation HK: Seeking Identity in China’s Shadow.”
This approach allows the party to keep the issue tied to Hong Kong, as opposed to one that requires intervention at a higher level, Bland said, adding that while Beijing has several options for cracking down on the protests, each carries its own risks and could aggravate tensions.
As protesters’ tactics have become increasingly extreme, crippling regular operations in the city and plunging various districts into mayhem, Hong Kong’s government has shifted its focus toward the violence and away from the democratic reforms the movement intended to advocate.
“We all feel very depressed because we don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Cheng said.
Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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Saudi Arabia, Yemen’s Houthi rebels in indirect peace talks
By AHMED AL-HAJ and MAGGIE MICHAEL | Wed, November 13, 2019 12:50 EST
SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Saudi Arabia and Yemen’s Iran-backed rebels are holding indirect, behind-the-scenes talks to end the devastating five-year war in Yemen, officials from both sides have told The Associated Press.
The negotiations are taking place with Oman, a Gulf Arab country that borders both Yemen and Saudi Arabia, as mediator. Oman has positioned itself as a quiet mediator in the past and in a possible sign the back-channel talks could be stepping up, Saudi Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman arrived in Muscat on Monday.
The two sides have communicated via video conference over the past two months, according to Gamal Amer, a negotiator for the Yemeni rebels known as Houthis. They have also talked through European intermediaries, according to three Houthi officials.
Yemen remains a divided country. The Iran-backed Houthis have controlled the capital, Sanaa, and much of the north since 2014. The Saudi-led military coalition, which entered the war in 2015, is fighting on behalf of Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and his internationally recognized government.
The Oman-mediated talks began in September, after a Houthi-claimed drone struck a key crude processing plant in Saudi Arabia — the world’s largest — and dramatically cut into global oil supplies. The United States blamed Iran, which denied involvement.
The attack laid bare the vulnerability of Saudi Arabia’s oil installations and appears to have propelled Riyadh toward negotiating an end to the increasingly costly war. The kingdom has also faced a growing backlash against its role in the Yemen war, including from the U.S. Congress.
The current talks focus on interim goals, such as re-opening Yemen’s main international airport in Sanaa, shut down by the Saudi-led coalition in 2016. Also under discussion is a buffer zone along the Yemen-Saudi border in areas under Houthi control.
Abu Bakr al-Qirbi, a former Yemeni foreign minister, told the AP from Oman that the Saudis’ main concerns include dismantling the Houthis ballistic and drone capabilities and the kingdom’s border security.
The Saudis are looking for assurances the Houthis will distance themselves from Shiite power Iran, the Sunni kingdom’s archrival. Riyadh has long feared the Houthis could establish an Iranian presence along the Saudi-Yemen border.
These talks could pave the way for more high-profile negotiations early next year, said one of the Houthi officials.
All officials, with the exception of Amer and al-Qirbi, spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters on backchannel negotiations.
The recent rapprochement — if materialized — could put an end to a war that has killed over 100,000 people, destroyed Yemen’s infrastructure, displaced millions, and pushed the country’s 30 million people into one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. However, it remains to be seen how future peace talks could shape a post-war Yemen, deeply fragmented along many fault lines during the conflict.
Last week, a senior Saudi official told a group of reporters in Washington that, “there is a sense that we need to move to resolution of this conflict.” He said the ongoing talks are also focusing on prisoner exchanges between the warring sides.
There are signs all involved in the fighting are seeking a way out. The United Arab Emirates, a member of the Saudi-led coalition, has tried to extricate itself from the conflict and last month said it was pulling out of Yemen, after spending years financing and training militias and separatist political factions in southern Yemen.
Talks between the Yemeni rebels and the Saudis are not new.
The two sides struck a cease-fire in 2016 after a meeting in the southern Saudi region of Asir but the truce later fell apart. Amer, the Houthi negotiator, says an exchange of messages between the two sides never stopped and that they “kept a window open” for dialogue.
The Houthis and Hadi’s government have also sat at a negotiating table several times, most notably at the U.N.-brokered talks in Sweden last December, when they reached a tentative peace plan that involved a cease-fire in the flashpoint port of Hodeida, the main passageway for Yemen imports and a lifeline to Houthi-controlled areas.
However, the Oman-mediated talks are not inclusive for all parties to the conflict, according to a Yemeni government official.
President Hadi’s adviser Abdel-Aziz Jabari, who is also deputy speaker of parliament, says the government has been kept in the dark about what its Saudi patrons are negotiating.
He said he fears that Saudi Arabia could strike a deal to leave Sanaa, the Yemeni capital, and key other Houthi-held areas, exclusively under rebel control — cementing the country’s divide.
“That would be a grave mistake and the Saudis would deeply regret it,” Jabari said.
Salman al-Ansari, a Saudi commentator who heads the pro-Saudi lobbying organization known as the Saudi American Public Relations Affairs Committee, says the Saudis were emboldened by their success in brokering a deal earlier this month between Hadi’s government forces and the UAE-backed southern separatists to halt their months-long infighting in southern Yemen.
“The kingdom never concedes anything,” al-Ansari said. “Especially when (it is about) securing its own borders and deterring Iranian influence.”
Michael reported from Cairo. Associated Press writer Ben Fox contributed to this report from Washington.