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One dead, five missing after snowmobiles fall through ice in Canada

A Canadian guide died and five French tourists were missing after their snowmobiles plunged through ice into freezing water in northern Quebec, Canadian police said Wednesday.File photoThe group were riding near where a river exits the Saint-Jean lake, and were outside the approved area for snowmobiles, police spokesman Hugues Beaulieu told AFP.Nine people, including the excursion guide, were on the trip when the ice broke underneath them in the dark on Tuesday evening.Police said they were alerted by two of the tourists who had rescued a third from the water.The 42-year-old guide, Benoit LEsperance of Montreal, was pulled out by emergency response teams and taken to hospital, but he died overnight, Beaulieu said, adding "five French tourists are still missing."Officials said that details of the accident remained unclear.Survivors were hospitalized in the nearby town of Alma and treated for minor injuries and hypothermia.Ice on the lake is often very thick, but it is thinner where the lake funnels into the Saguenay River.The tourists had hired snowmobiles in the village of Saint-Michel-des-Saints, nearly 300 kilometers (185 miles) away by trails, according to Canadian media.- Thin ice -Powerful snowmobiles on skis, which can reach the speed of 140 kilometers per hour, are popular with Quebecers and foreign tourists, but cause numerous accidents each year.Divers and two helicopters searched the area on Wednesday, alongside the police and army."This sector was not part of a marked trail, they were off-piste," said the police spokesman.Authorities planned to continue searching through the night, while underwater and aerial reconnaissance were to pause until Thursday morning.Earlier, one of the search helicopters crashed into the icy lake, sending the pilot to hospital, police said.Frances deputy consul general in Quebec, Laurent Barbot, who visited the site, told reporters that the missing French tourists were from the east of France.The t...

'Pablo Escobar of eggs' faces justice after 35 years of poaching

An African fish eagle. The illegal trade in animals is worth nearly $20 billion each year, according to Interpol. (Photo: AFP)Jeffrey Lendrum spent three decades living as the so-called "Pablo Escobar of eggs", smuggling the fragile shells from the nests of falcons and other birds of prey to wealthy international clients.His racket was smashed in 2018 when customs officers at Londons Heathrow Airport found him in possession of 19 birds of prey eggs worth a total of £100,000 pounds ($130,000, 118,000 euros).During a full search, he was found to be wearing a body belt made out of bandages concealing 19 eggs from vultures, falcons and kites as well as two newly-hatched African fish eagle chicks.His body belt was designed to "brood" his stash so the chicks would not die before he sold them.A British court sentenced the 58-year-old Irish-Zimbabwean to more than three years in prison in January last year.But he now faces another court appearance on Wednesday, which could see him spend up to three more years in jail in South America, if Britain accepts an extradition request.He is wanted for skipping bail in 2016 after a Brazilian judge sentenced him to four and a half years for attempting to smuggle peregrine falcons out of the country.Middle East buyersStealing bird eggs runs in the family: the veteran thief received his first conviction aged 22, when he and his father were found guilty of petty theft in Zimbabwe.He has since served time in Canada, Brazil and Britain.The main drivers of egg poaching are wealthy clients in the Middle East, where peregrine falcons are in great demand for traditional falconry and can sell for thousands of dollars, according to the wildlife trade specialists Traffic.Illegal trade in animals is worth nearly $20 billion each year, according to Interpol.But Traffic spokesman Richard Thomas said there are "fewer than half a dozen" reported cases of egg thefts around the world each year.However, the thefts...

Charity brands number of UK prison deaths 'national scandal'

Inquest, which probes state related deaths, said in a new report that there were six deaths and nearly two suicides every week inside British jails last year. (Photo: AFP)The death toll in British prisons is "a national scandal", a pressure group said on Wednesday, calling for a reduction in inmate numbers just as the government is promising tougher sentences.Inquest, which probes state related deaths, said in a new report that there were six deaths and nearly two suicides every week inside British jails last year.It called the rate "shocking and unacceptable", noting many fatalities were found to be preventable, and criticised record levels of distress and self-harm within the system.The charity said Prime Minister Boris Johnson should make "a substantial reduction in the prison population" and invest instead in health and community-based alternatives to jail.Johnson and his Conservative party won a comfortable parliamentary majority at elections in December on a manifesto that included vowing to be tougher on crime.On Tuesday, interior minister Priti Patel and justice minister Robert Buckland unveiled plans to increase sentences for more serious crimes, including terrorism offences.The plans also target the end of the early release of some prisoners.The Tories pledged during the election they would create 10,000 more prison places and spend an extra £100 million ($130 million, 118 million euros) cracking down on crime in jails.Inquests executive director Deborah Coles said the current rate of prison deaths, alongside the repeated failure to enact change, were leaving inmates and their families "traumatised"."Appalling inspection reports, damning inquest findings, and statistics on yet more deaths, have become so regular that those in power seem to forget these are human beings to whom the state owes a duty of care," she added.In its report the charity found there were 308 deaths in prison in the 12 months to S...

Battle for India’s new citizenship law moves to top court

Indian Union Muslim League leader P.K.Kunhalikutty, center, one of the petitioners, speaks to media on the lawns of Indias Supreme Court after the top court started hearing dozens of petitions that seek revocation of a new citizenship law amendment in New Delhi, India. (Photo: AP)India’s top court on Wednesday began hearing dozens of petitions seeking the revocation of amendments to the citizenship law following nationwide protests and a security crackdown that led to more than 20 deaths.The Supreme Court would not grant a stay before hearing from the government, which has argued the law is a humanitarian gesture allowing citizenship for people fleeing religious persecution in Muslim-majority Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.Chief Justice Sharad Arvind Bobde, the head of a three-judge panel, told the courtroom he will make a decision in four weeks after the government has replied to all of the petitions. He also asked a larger, five-judge constitutional panel to take part in the decision.The law Parliament approved in December sparked vehement opposition. Protesters, political opponents and constitutional lawyers have said it is discriminatory because it excludes Muslims.The nationwide protests numbering in the tens of thousands appear to be the fiercest public criticism Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist-led government has faced.Modi’s party has downplayed the protests as orchestrated by political opponents. His powerful Home Minister Amit Shah said the government will not retreat on the law.“Those who want to protest may continue doing so,” Shah said Tuesday at a public rally in Lucknow.Most of the petitions argue that by excluding Muslims, the law undermines the first sentence of the preamble to the Indian Constitution, which defines the country as secular, and violates Article 14, which guarantees equality before the law.“We believe the court will certainly take into consideration the views expressed by all these sections of people, and th...

Greek islanders strongly protest overcrowded refugee camps

Protesters take part in a rally outside the Municipality of Mytilene, on the northeastern Aegean island of Lesbos, Greece, on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. (Photo: AP)Thousands of Greek residents and business owners joined a strike and protested Wednesday on the Greek islands hardest hit by migration, demanding that the government ease severe overcrowding at refugee camps.Most stores were closed and public services were halted on the islands of Lesbos, Chios, and Samos, where some refugee camps have more than 10 times the number of people they were built for. International aid officials have strongly criticized the living conditions at some Greek island camps.The day of protest was organized by regional governors and mayors who plan to travel to Athens on Thursday to present their demands to the government. About 6,000 people joined a protest on Lesbos and another 2,000 demonstrated on Samos.Nearly 75,000 people crossed illegally to European Union member Greece from Turkey in 2019, according to the UN refugee agency, an increase of nearly 50% from the previous year.Island authorities are urging the Greek government to step up migrant transfers to the Greek mainland and want more information on its plans to build additional facilities to detain migrants listed for deportation.While promising to take a tougher line on illegal migration, Greece’s six-month-old conservative government has been unable to deliver on promises to end the overcrowding at island refugee camps by building a larger network of camps on the mainland.Officials at Greece’s largest refugee camp at Moria, on the island of Lesbos, are struggling to provide basic services to more than 19,000 refugees and migrants at a facility built to house fewer than 3,000 people. Most camp dwellers live in tents on a hill outside the fenced-off facility of container homes.“What we want is for people to be transferred to the mainland in greater numbers, for the camp to be phased out and closed, and for any new facility t...

WWII-era ammunition found at Tesla factory site near Berlin

In this Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020 photo members of a bomb disposal team search for World War II munition at the site of the planned new Tesla Gigafactory in Gruenheide near Berlin, Germany. (Photo: AP)Authorities in Germany say 85 kilograms (187 pounds) of World War II ammunition have been found on the site where Tesla plans to build its first European factory.Local newspaper Maerkische Oderzeitung quoted officials in Brandenburg on Wednesday as saying they estimate about 25 unexploded bombs could be found at the partially wooded site on the outskirts of Berlin, the German capital.Thousands of unexploded bombs dropped over Nazi Germany by American, British and Russian forces remain undiscovered even 75 years after the end of the war.This week alone, bomb squads had to evacuate parts of central Cologne and Berlin to defuse unexploded ordnance found during construction work in the cities.The site for Tesla’s planned Gigafactory in Gruenheide was recently valued at almost 41 million euros ($45 million). The company wants to start manufacturing 150,000 electric cars a year from mid-2021, with plans to increase that number to half a million annually.

DC sues Trump inaugural committee, alleging abuse of funds

The Trump International Hotel in Washington. (Photo: AP)The District of Columbia is suing President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee and two companies that control the Trump International Hotel in the nation’s capital, accusing them of throwing parties for the Trump family with nonprofit funds, and overpaying for event space at the hotel.The district’s attorney general, Karl Racine, said the inaugural committee had been “blatantly and unlawfully abusing nonprofit funds to enrich the Trump family.” The lawsuit, announced Wednesday, alleges that the committee abused nonprofit funds and coordinated with the Trump family to “grossly overpay for event space” in the hotel.The committee has maintained that its finances were independently audited, and that all money was spent in accordance with the law.It was the latest allegation that Trump and his family have used public and nonprofit funds spent at Trump-owned properties to enrich themselves — part of the peril of Trump not fully withdrawing from his businesses while he is president. Trump has maintained ownership but turned the reins over to his adult sons, who have bristled at the charge that they are profiting off their father’s presidency.The suit alleges the committee coordinated with the hotel’s management and members of Trump’s family to arrange the events and that committee staffers knew they were paying prices that were “grossly above market rate” but didn’t consider less expensive alternatives.The committee raised an unprecedented $107 million to host events celebrating Trump’s inauguration in January 2017. But the committee’s spending has drawn mounting scrutiny.“District law requires nonprofits to use their funds for their stated public purpose, not to benefit private individuals or companies,” Racine said. “In this case, we are seeking to recover the nonprofit funds that were improperly funneled directly to the Trump family business.”Prosecutors found that Rick Gates, a former Trump campaign aide who flipp...

Biden downplays tensions with Sanders over social security

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event at Iowa Central Community College, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020, in Fort Dodge, Iowa. (Photo: AP)Joe Biden sought on Wednesday to ease tensions with Democratic presidential rival Bernie Sanders after the two candidatesexchanged several volleys over Social Securityand other matters.And the former vice president pledged in a wide-ranging interview with MSNBC that if he reaches the White House, he would not agree to any budget deal that curtails Social Security benefits.Biden demurred on “Morning Joe” when asked whether Sanders had “lied” when he and his campaign aides asserted Biden sought to cut Social Security benefits over his decades in public office. Biden also noted that Sanders apologized to him after one of the Vermont senator’s top supporters wrote that the former vice president has a “corruption” problem.“Sometimes campaign staff gets a little ahead of the candidate,” Biden said, later adding, “I accept his apology, and I hope we can argue on the facts.”Biden’s comments come at a tumultuous moment in the Democratic primary as candidates are increasingly feuding with each other on multiple fronts. Tensions within the party soared on Tuesday after The Hollywood Reporter published an interview in which Hillary Clinton ripped into Sanders, reigniting divisions from the 2016 campaign and raising concerns that Democrats may struggle to unify behind a nominee this year and defeat President Donald Trump.Still, the acrimony between Sanders and Biden isn’t likely to dissipate completely as they vie for every advantage with less than two weeks until the Feb. 3 Iowa caucuses. Just Tuesday night, Biden’s campaign released a video accusing Sanders of “dishonest” attacks, while Sanders’ official Twitter account countered: “Let’s be honest, Joe. One of us fought for decades to cut Social Security, and one of us didn’t.”Sanders attached audio of speeches Biden gave as a Del...

4 killed in small plane crash at California's Corona airport

(Photo: Corona Fire Department)LOS ANGELES, Jan. 22 (Xinhua) -- Four people died in an plane crash incident Wednesday noon at Corona Municipal Airport, 75 kilometers east of Los Angeles downtown, US state of California, local authorities said.The crash was reported at 12:11 p.m. local time on the east side of the airport, according to Corona Police Department. The plane with four on board crashed to the ground after turning off and burned on fire in the brush.Corona firefighter John Deyoe was quoted by the local Press-Enterprise news organization as saying that there were no survivors in the fatal incident.Ian Gregor, spokesman of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), said the agency will investigate the crash.

8 crew members kidnapped from Greek-flagged tanker freed

The gunmen stormed into the tanker as it was trying to anchor two nautical miles (2.3 miles, 3.7 kilometers) outside the port of Limboh. (Photo: CGTN)Eight crew members of a Greek-flagged tanker ship that were kidnapped by pirates off the coast of Cameroon in December have been freed, Greeces merchant marine ministry said Wednesday.The Happy Lady Tanker crew were abducted by gunmen on December 31, and were held in captivity for more than 20 days.The gunmen stormed into the tanker as it was trying to anchor two nautical miles (2.3 miles, 3.7 kilometers) outside the port of Limboh.The ministry said the eight, including five Greeks, had been freed in the early hours of Wednesday after "the successful end of negotiations."The five Greeks were in good health and were taken to a safe location as they await to return home.There has been a spike in the number of incidents of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, with a recent report by the International Maritime Bureau noting a 50% increase in piracy in the area last year. The region accounted for more than 90% of global crew member kidnappings in 2019. The Greek merchant fleet is one of the largest in the world and several incidents have involved Greek owned or flagged ships.

WHO holds off on making a decision on coronavirus

World Health Organization panel meets in Geneva, Jan. 22, 2020. (Photo: China Daily)New York (People’s Daily) -- Officials from the World Health Organization (WHO) convened a special meeting in Geneva Wednesday to determine a course of action in response to growing concerns over the spread of the new coronavirus in Wuhan, China. They will announce their decision on Thursday.WHO President Tedros Adhanom saidofficials have been in constant touch with health officials in China and their own experts are on the ground in Wuhan to carry out investigations into the outbreak of the coronavirus.Adhanom confirms that there is evidence of person-to-person transmission through close contact, such as in families or in health care settings, but they have not seen any evidence of onward transmission such as third or fourth generation transmission.At this stage, the officials say they need more information before they can consider the best course of action to take to contain the spread of the virus and whether to declare an international health emergency.They say a decision of that magnitude cannot be taken without having access to all the appropriate information, which they expect to have within the next 24 hours.The WHO emergency committee will meet again Thursday to continue discussions on the situation and to make an announcement on whether it’s necessary to declare a public emergency.

Mexico investigates first possible case of Wuhan Coronavirus

(Photo: AFP)Mexico City (Peoples Daily)-- Mexico is investigating its first potential case of coronavirus, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Wednesday.According to the Mexican president, the patient is located in the northern border state of Tamaulipas, a region that boarders the southern tip of Texas.Gloria Molina, Secretary of Health of Tamaulipas, said the 57-year-old patient, who has been identified as possibly being infected with the new coronavirus, traveled to the Wuhan region of China on December 25, and returned from China to Reynosa on January 10.After his arrival, the patient of Asian origin and who is also a doctor in the Reynosa Molecular Biology Center, began to show symptoms of the virus including a runny nose and dry cough, so he isolated himself at home.Molina said that this possible case of coronavirus does not represent an alert for the entire country as it is an isolated case.

UN experts: Jeff Bezos phone hack shows link to Saudi prince

In this Dec. 14, 2017, file photo, Jeff Bezos attends the premiere of "The Post" at The Newseum in Washington. (Photo: AP)The phone of Amazon founder and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos was hacked after receiving a file sent from an account used by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, United Nations experts said Wednesday.The twoexperts called for an “immediate investigation”by the United States into information that suggests that Bezos’ phone was likely hacked after he received an MP4 video file sent from the Saudi prince’s WhatsApp account in May 2018, after the two exchanged phone numbers at a dinner in California.The file was sent to Bezos’ phone five months before Saudi critic and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was killed by Saudi government agents inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey in October. At the time, the crown prince was being widely hailed for ushering in major social reforms to the kingdom, but Khashoggi was writing columns in the Post that highlighted the darker side of the crown prince’s simultaneous clampdown on dissent.The Post was harshly critical of the Saudi government after Khashoggi’s killing and demanded accountability in a highly public campaign that ran in the paper for weeks after his death.“The information we have received suggests the possible involvement of the Crown Prince in surveillance of Mr. Bezos, in an effort to influence, if not silence, The Washington Post’s reporting on Saudi Arabia,” the independent U.N. experts said.They said that at a time when Saudi Arabia was “supposedly investigating the killing of Mr. Khashoggi, and prosecuting those it deemed responsible, it was clandestinely waging a massive online campaign against Mr. Bezos and Amazon targeting him principally as the owner of The Washington Post.”The U.N. experts published their statement after reviewing a full report conducted by a team of investigators hired by Bezos. The experts said they reviewed the 2019 digital foren...

Roberts admonishes House prosecution, White House defense

Presiding officer Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts speaks during the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump in the Senate at the US Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. (Photo: AP)Chief Justice John Roberts drew little attention to himself in the beginning 12 hours of his firstimpeachment trial. But it was just before 1 a.m., as tempers on the floor had started to wear thin, that he reminded senators, House impeachment managers and President Donald Trump’s defense team who was in charge.“I think it is appropriate at this point for me to admonish both the House managers and the president’s counsel in equal terms to remember that they are addressing the world’s greatest deliberative body,” Roberts said, after a particularly tense exchange between House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler and the president’s lawyers.Roberts asked them to “avoid speaking in a manner and using language that is not conducive to civil discourse.”He did not say what prompted his comments, but they came after Nadler told senators that voting to deny certain witnesses in the trial, as many GOP senators had, was a “treacherous vote” and a vote against the United States. Trump’s defense team then said Nadler should be embarrassed and should apologize to the president and the American people.Roberts’ new role presiding over the trial is one of two jobs he is juggling asthe impeachment sessiongets underway. On Tuesday morning, he donned his black robe and oversaw two arguments at the Supreme Court before heading across the street to the US Capitol where he is presiding over the trial in the Senate chamber. His busy schedule meant he didn’t have time to join his fellow justices for a group lunch, a high court custom following arguments.And he was scheduled to be back again in the Court on Wednesday morning — just hours after the first day of the trial adjourned at 2 a.m.Just before the day ended, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tha...

World leaders arrive in Jerusalem for World Holocaust Forum

(Photo: AFP)JERUSALEM, Jan. 22 (Xinhua) -- Around 40 world leaders arrived in Jerusalem for the fifth World Holocaust Forum held on Wednesday and Thursday.British Prince Charles, the presidents of Russia, Germany, France, Italy, Ukraine, the vice president of the United States as well as the kings of Spain and Belgium were among the participants in the two-day forum marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Nazis Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland.Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met on Wednesday in Jerusalem with French President Emmanuel Macron.Netanyahu called on the French president to join the pressures and sanctions against Iran.They discussed the situation in Lebanon and Hezbollahs plan to manufacture precision missiles, as well as the developments in Libya in the light of Turkish military involvement.Israeli President Reuven Rivlin also met some of the world leaders and will host on Wednesday evening a special official dinner for the guests.The world leaders have expressed their commitment to remember the Holocaust and combat anti-semitism.Russian President Vladimir Putin called on the leaders of the world to unite in the fight against antisemitism.German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the Holocaust "is not only a part of German history but also an awareness that guides us in the present day."

Gabbard sues Hillary Clinton over Russia ‘favorite’ comments

Democratic presidential candidate US Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, of Hawaii, hosts a town hall meeting at the Keene Public Library, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020, in Keene, NH. (Photo: AP)Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard filed a defamation lawsuit against Hillary Clinton on Wednesday over an interview in which Clinton appeared to call Gabbard “the favorite of the Russians.”Gabbard, a Hawaii congresswoman, said in her lawsuit filed in federal court in Manhattan that Clinton’s comments in a podcast last year in which she suggested that Gabbard was being groomed by Russia to be a third-party candidate were based on either her own imagination or “extremely dubious conspiracy theories” that any reasonable person would know to be “inherently and objectively unreliable.”During the Oct. 15 Democratic presidential debate, Gabbard criticized a TV commentator she said had called her “an asset of Russia.”Without naming Gabbard, Clinton appeared to agree with the characterization during a podcast appearance days later on “Campaign HQ with David Plouffe.” Plouffe was campaign manager for President Barack Obama in 2008 and served as served as a senior adviser to the president.“She’s the favorite of the Russians,” Clinton told Plouffe, who was campaign manager for future President Barack Obama in 2008, referring to a person she had earlier identified as a woman “who’s currently in the Democratic primary. ... They have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her so far.”The lawsuit charges that Clinton “reserves a special hatred and animosity for Tulsi” because Gabbard endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders over Clinton in the 2016 Democratic primary campaign and never endorsed Clinton.Asked to comment on the lawsuit, Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill said, “That’s ridiculous.”Gabbard, whose support among Democratic primary voters has averaged around 1% in polls, has said she will not run for president as a third-party candidate.

Notre Dame renovation chief says rebuild won’t be rushed

Notre Dame cathedral is pictured in Paris, Monday, Jan. 6, 2020. (Photo: AP)The French army general in charge of rebuilding fire-ravaged Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris says renovation work will begin in earnest later this year.Gen. Jean-Louis Georgelin told a French parliament commission Wednesday that workers are still securing the structure. Concerns persist that Notre Dame’s vaulted ceilings could collapse.“Even if we are rather confident and even if all the indicators seem positive, it is still too early to affirm that the cathedral is saved,” he said.The April fire destroyed the landmark’s spire and the roof that kept its twin-towered facade and ceilings stable.In mid-February, specialists plan to start taking down scaffolding that was installed before the fire for planned repair work. The process will take four months and involve professional climbers removing 40,000 pieces of scaffolding weighing a total of 200 tons, Georgelin said.The cathedral also has to be cleared of lead, and only then will experts be able to make decisions about how to rebuild Notre Dame.Georgelin said the church could reopen to the public within five years as President Emmanuel Macron has promised, even though some experts have that timetable unrealistic.Renovation teams won’t “form a commission to take three months to decide whether to replace one stone,” but also don’t play to do a rush job on a “cathedral that we are leaving for generations to come.”The reconstruction of Notre Dame, whose first stone was laid in 1163, has prompted widespread debate across France, with differing views over whether it should involve new technologies and designs.

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