Panama Papers: Mossack Fonseca 'helped firms subject to sanctions'

The Panama legal firm at the heart of a massive data leak kept clients who were subject to international sanctions, documents show.

Mossack Fonseca worked with 33 individuals or companies who have been placed under sanctions by the US Treasury, including companies based in Iran, Zimbabwe and North Korea.

One had links to North Korea's nuclear weapons programme.

The information comes from the leak of 11m of the company's internal files.

Mossack Fonseca registers companies as offshore entities operated under its own name. This meant the identities of the real owners were hard to trace because they were kept out of public documents.

Owners from Pyongyang

Some of the businesses were registered before international sanctions were imposed. But in several cases Mossack Fonseca continued to act as a proxy for them after they were blacklisted.

DCB Finance was established in 2006, with its owners and directors based in North Korea's capital Pyongyang. It was later put under sanctions by the US Treasury for raising funds for the North Korean regime and being linked to a bank helping to fund the regime's nuclear weapons programme.

The leaked files reveal the owners of DCB Finance were a North Korean official, Kim Chol Sam and Nigel Cowie, a British banker who was also CEO of the sanctioned Daedong Credit Bank.

Mossack Fonseca appears to have overlooked that the owners and directors of the company were based in Pyongyang until it was contacted by the British Virgin Islands (BVI) authorities in 2010, inquiring about another company Mossack Fonseca had set up with directors in North Korea.

Mossack Fonseca resigned as agents for DCB Finance in September 2010.


Panama Papers - read more from BBC News

In 2013 the BVI authorities contacted Mossack Fonseca again, asking what checks they had carried out before opening DCB Finance in 2006.

An email from Mossack Fonseca's compliance department on 9 August 2013 says: "We have not yet addressed the reason we maintained a relationship with DCB Finance when we knew or ought to have known from incorporation in 2006, that the country, North Korea was on the black list."

It adds: "We should have identified from the onset that this was a high risk company."

Mr Cowie was not placed under sanctions. He has said that DCB Finance was established for legitimate business purposes and that he was "unaware, whether directly or indirectly, of any transactions being made with any sanctioned organisation or for any sanctioned purpose, during my entire tenure".

Assad's cousin

Another case involves Rami Makhlouf, who is the cousin of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and has reported wealth of $5bn.

In 2008 the US Treasury imposed sanctions on him because it deemed him to be a "regime insider" and someone who "manipulated the Syrian judicial system and used Syrian intelligence officials to intimidate his business rivals".

Mossack Fonseca continued to front six businesses - including one company called Drex Technologies - for Mr Makhlouf after the restrictions were put in place.

The files also show the Swiss branch of HSBC provided financial services for the firm.

In 2010, two years after the sanctions were imposed, HSBC wrote to Mossack Fonseca saying it believed Drex Technologies was a company of "good standing".

An internal email from Mossack Fonseca's compliance department also suggests HSBC staff dealing with Drex Technologies knew who Rami Makhlouf was.

The email, dated 17 February 2011, says: "We have contacted HSBC who stated that they are very aware of the fact that Mr Makhlouf is the cousin of the President of Syria.

"The HSBC compliance department of the bank not only in Geneva but also in their headquarters in London know about Mr Makhlouf and confirm that they are comfortable with him."

HSBC said: "We work closely with the authorities to fight financial crime and implement sanctions. Our policy is clear that offshore accounts can only remain open either where clients have been thoroughly vetted where authorities ask us to maintain an account for the purposes of monitoring activity, or where an account has been frozen based on sanctions obligations."

War fuel

Mossack Fonseca cut all its links with Rami Makhlouf in September 2011, nine months after it was first recommended.

But the leaked documents reveal the firm also provided business services to another company that was registered on a US sanctions list in 2014.

The company is called Pangates International Corporation Limited. The US Treasury Department believes it supplied aviation fuel to the Syrian government to fly military aircraft during the current civil war. The files show Mossack Fonseca first incorporated the petroleum firm in 1999.

Nine months after the sanctions came into effect, it was still handling the paperwork for Pangates International Corporation and certified it was a company in the Seychelles of good standing.

It was not until August 2015 that Mossack Fonseca acknowledged the company was on a blacklist and reported it to financial regulators in the Seychelles.

Mossack Fonseca said: "We have never knowingly allowed the use of our companies by individuals having any relationship with North Korea or Syria. We have our own procedures in place to identify such individuals, to the extent it is reasonably possible."

Panama's President Juan Carlos Varela told the BBC his country was willing to contribute to any investigation in any country relating to the documents.

"We are an open country," he said.


Panama Papers - tax havens of the rich and powerful exposed

  • Eleven million documents held by the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca have been passed to German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung, which then shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. BBC Panorama and UK newspaper The Guardian are among 107 media organisations in 76 countries which have been analysing the documents. The BBC does not know the identity of the source
  • They show how the company has helped clients launder money, dodge sanctions and evade tax
  • Mossack Fonseca says it has operated beyond reproach for 40 years and never been accused or charged with criminal wrong-doing
  • Tricks of the trade: How assets are hidden and taxes evaded
  • Panama Papers: Full coverage; follow reaction on Twitter using #PanamaPapers; in the BBC News app, follow the tag "Panama Papers"

Source: bbc.com

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Donald Trump urges John Kasich to quit White House race

Republican front-runner Donald Trump has said he would easily win the Republican nomination if John Kasich drops out of the contest.

He said the Ohio governor should not stay in the contest because he cannot collect enough delegates to win.

His comments came just ahead of Tuesday's Wisconsin vote which could reshape the Republican race.

"If I didn't have Kasich, I automatically win," Mr Trump said at a rally in Wisconsin.

If Mr Trump loses the primary contest on Tuesday, as the polls suggest, it is far less likely he will have the all-important 1,237 delegates needed to secure the nomination.

Delegates represent their states at the party's convention and are accumulated by the votes in each state.

Currently, Mr Trump has 735 delegates, Texas Senator Ted Cruz 461 and Ohio Governor Mr Kasich 143.

If no-one hits 1,237 after all 50 states have voted, the Republican convention in July is contested, meaning the delegates vote for a nominee, and Mr Trump, who is unpopular among sections of the party, could lose the nomination.

The New York businessman has had a very difficult seven days, sparking outcry over comments he made about abortion, standing by his campaign manager after he was charged with assaulting a reporter and raising eyebrows with remarks about US foreign policy.

"Was this my best week? I guess not," Mr Trump told "Fox News Sunday".


More on the Trump campaign

Femme fatale- How Trump's women problem could doom his chances

Nukes in Asia - Is Trump's foreign policy so crazy it might just work?

What might happen - Five ways Republican bloodbath could end

None of the Above - Rarely have those running for high office been held in such low esteem

How it all works - It's complicated, but here's a handy guide


A loss in Wisconsin, which is the kind of state he has done well in up to now, then questions will be raised about whether his campaign is running out of steam.

He met the Republican National Committee (RNC) in Washington to review delegate and party rules, days after breaking a promise made to them that he would back the eventual nominee.

In response to Mr Trump's comments that Mr Kasich should follow former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Florida Senator Marco Rubio and quit the race, the Ohio Governor said he will stay because no-one will get the required number to win outright.

"Since he thinks it's such a good idea, we look forward to Trump dropping out before the convention," Kasich spokesman Chris Schrimpf said.

Mr Kasich has recognised that he will not be able to gain enough delegates before the convention.

Reince Priebus, president of the RNC, has said the nominee will be someone who is running, but acknowledged that a brokered convention is a possibility.

The Democrats are campaigning ahead of Wisconsin's primary as well, where Hillary Clinton is hoping to hold off a resurgent Bernie Sanders.

What is a brokered convention?

  • no candidate has 1,237 delegates needed to secure nomination
  • someone who was not previously running can be elected by delegates at the party convention
  • delegates can decide not to back their original candidate
  • there can be a "floor fight" in which delegates urge one another to come to their side, with multiple rounds of voting

Source: bbc.com

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Vitamin D 'heals damaged hearts'

Vitamin D supplements may help people with diseased hearts, a study suggests.

A trial on 163 heart failure patients found supplements of the vitamin, which is made in the skin when exposed to sunlight, improved their hearts' ability to pump blood around the body.

The Leeds Teaching Hospitals team, who presented at a meeting of the American College of Cardiology, described the results as "stunning".

The British Heart Foundation called for longer trials to assess the pills.

Vitamin D is vital for healthy bones and teeth and may have important health benefits throughout the body but many people are deficient.

No safe way to suntan - warning

The average age of people in the study was 70 and like many people that age they had low levels of vitamin D even in summer.

"They do spend less time outside, but the skin's ability to manufacture vitamin D also gets less effective [with age] and we don't really understand why that is," said consultant cardiologist Dr Klaus Witte.

Patients were given either a 100 microgram vitamin D tablet or a sugar pill placebo each day for a year.

And researchers measured the impact on heart failure - a condition in which the heart becomes too weak to pump blood properly.

The key measure was the ejection fraction, the amount of blood pumped out of the chambers of the heart with each beat.

In a healthy adult the figure is between 60% and 70%, but only a quarter of the blood in the heart was being successfully pumped out in the heart failure patients.

But in those taking the vitamin pills, the ejection fraction increased from 26% to 34%.

Dr Witte told the BBC News website: "It's quite a big deal, that's as big as you'd expect from other more expensive treatments that we use, it's a stunning effect.

"It's as cheap as chips, has no side effects and a stunning improvement on people already on optimal medical therapy, it is the first time anyone has shown something like this in the last 15 years."

The study also showed the patients hearts became smaller - a suggestion they are becoming more powerful and efficient. 

In the UK, people over 65 are advised to take 10 microgram supplements of the vitamin.

However, Dr Witte does not think high-dose vitamin D should be routine prescribed just yet.

He told the BBC: "We're a little bit off that yet, not because I don't believe it, but data have shown improvements in heart function, they may show improvements in symptoms and we now need a large study."

It is also not clear exactly how vitamin D is improving heart function, but it is thought every cell in the body responds to the vitamin.

Most vitamin D comes from sunlight, although it is also found in oily fish, eggs and is added to some foods such as breakfast cereals.

Prof Peter Weissberg, from the British Heart Foundation, cautioned that the patients seemed no better at exercise.

And added: "A much bigger study over a longer period of time is now needed to determine whether these changes in cardiac function can translate into fewer symptoms and longer lives for heart failure patients."

Source: bbc.com

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Two aeroplanes collide at Jakarta airport

Two planes collided at an airport in Indonesia's capital Jakarta, resulting in a wing bursting into flames.

A Batik Air passenger plane was taking off when its wing clipped the tail of a TransNusa aircraft being towed across the runway.

Authorities said there were no injuries in the Monday night incident, and all passengers were evacuated safely.

Indonesia has had a dismal air safety record amid a boom in air travel, particularly with budget carriers.

Mangled parts

The incident took place at the largely-domestic Halim Perdanakusuma airport in Jakarta, causing the temporary closure of the airport.

The damaged wing of the Batik Air aeroplane

The Batik Air plane (pictured) and the TransNusa aircraft both suffered damage

The Batik Air plane was carrying 49 passengers and crew, reported AFP news agency.

A spokesman for budget carrier Lion Air Group, which owns Batik Air, told the wire news agency that the pilot had aborted the takeoff after the collision, and passengers and crew were safe.

Transport ministry officials said the collision had mangled parts of both aircraft. A video posted online shows flames erupting from the Batik Air plane wing.

In 2013, a Lion Air plane overshot the runway at Bali's Denpasar airport and crashed into the sea, in an incident that hospitalised at least 22 people.

That same year another Lion Air plane skidded off a runway on the island of Sulawesi after it crashed into a cow.

In 2014, an Indonesian subsidiary of AirAsia flying from Surabaya to Singapore crashed into the sea, killing all 162 onboard.

Source: bbc.com

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Whatsapp adds end-to-end encryption

Instant messaging service Whatsapp has announced it will encrypt all its users' communications from Tuesday.

With end-to-end encryption, messages are scrambled as they leave the sender's device and can only be decrypted by the recipient's device.

It renders messages unreadable if they are intercepted, for example by criminals or law enforcement.

Whatsapp, which has a billion users worldwide, said file transfers and voice calls would be encrypted too.

The Facebook-owned company said protecting private communication was one of its "core beliefs".

Encryption was thrown under the spotlight after the FBI asked Apple to help it access data on an iPhone used by California gunman Syed Farook.

Whatsapp said: "The idea is simple: when you send a message, the only person who can read it is the person or group chat that you send that message to. No one can see inside that message. Not cybercriminals. Not hackers. Not oppressive regimes. Not even us."

Users with the latest version of the app were notified about the change when sending messages on Tuesday. The setting is enabled by default.

Amnesty International called the move a "huge victory" for free speech.

"Whatsapp's roll out of the Signal Protocol, providing end to end encryption for its one billion users worldwide, is a major boost for people's ability to express themselves and communicate without fear," the organisation said in a statement.

"This is a huge victory for privacy and free speech, especially for activists and journalists who depend on strong and trustworthy communications to carry out their work without putting their lives at greater risk."

Whatsapp encryption

Whatsapp's decision was also welcomed by security professionals.

"Wire-tappers lament, law-abiding citizens rejoice, for WhatsApp's latest update is a victory for communications privacy," said Lee Munson, a security researcher for Comparitech.

"With the ability to access data removed even from the company behind the app, only ill-informed law enforcement agencies are likely to mutter 'terrorists' as the masses enjoy the encrypted text messages, photos, video and phone calls they've been demanding ever since Edward Snowden blew the lid on government surveillance."

The move is likely to irk law enforcement agencies, particularly the US Department of Justice which has recently expressed concern over "unreachable" information contained in devices. The DoJ did not respond to the BBC's request for comment on Tuesday.

Other messaging apps with end-to-end encryption include Telegram, which is known to be used by the so-called Islamic State to share information.

Source: bbc.com

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US Election 2016: Cruz wins Wisconsin in blow to Trump

Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz has decisively won the Wisconsin primary, complicating front-runner Donald Trump's path to the nomination.

In the Democratic race, Bernie Sanders scored a strong victory over Hillary Clinton in the Midwestern state.

Mr Trump leads the Republican race, but there are concerns that he could fall short of the number of delegates needed to secure the party's nomination.

Mr Trump's rivals have pinned their hopes on a contested convention.

At a contested convention, party leaders, not voters, would choose the nominee.

"Tonight is a turning point, it is a rallying cry to the people of America," Mr Cruz told supporters in Milwaukee on Tuesday. "We are winning because we are uniting the Republican Party."

Mr Cruz is unlikely to earn enough delegates to win the nomination outright, but Republican Party leaders have rallied around the Texas senator in hopes of wounding Mr Trump.


Analysis: Jon Sopel, BBC News North America Editor

Who knew it? Newton was right; there is such a thing as gravity after all.

I'm not much of a scientist, but I had, well, started to doubt him. I thought maybe he hadn't got it right with the whole thing about the apple falling. After nine months of the most improbable act of levitation ever seen outside of a circus or a weightlessness laboratory, the blond sorcerer has come down to earth.

No, he didn't reach terminal velocity. And as falls go, it wasn't that serious. He's got a few scrapes, and maybe that over-inflated ego has had some of the air knocked out. You could hear the hissing sound from miles away. But a fall it has been.

And that is remarkable and worthy of note. Because for nine months now it has seemed that Donald Trump could say and do whatever he liked without there being consequences.

But then he took on women. And so Wisconsin is lost. And Mr Trump has shown he is mortal.

Read more from Jon


Mr Trump said on Tuesday he would prevail despite the loss and took aim at his rival.

"Ted Cruz is worse than a puppet - he is a Trojan horse, being used by the party bosses attempting to steal the nomination," the Trump campaign said in a statement.

Party leaders are concerned that Mr Trump would be a weak candidate in the general election and could harm other Republicans lawmakers on the ballot.

Polls show that the real estate tycoon is extremely unpopular among key voting blocs including women, Latinos and young people.

Marlow Mittelstaedt holds a sign and cheers while waiting for the arrival of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.,

New York will be a key test for the Sanders campaign

On the Democratic side, Wisconsin adds to a recent spate of wins by the Sanders campaign, giving the Vermont senator a boost before key races in New York and Pennsylvania.

Addressing supporters in Wyoming, Mr Sanders stressed momentum was on his side and that his outsider candidacy could change the status quo.

"Real change never takes place from the top down; it always takes place from the bottom up," Mr Sanders told supporters.

Mrs Clinton still holds a sizeable lead and most analysts say she will eventually become the Democratic nominee despite her recent losses.

While Tuesday's loss was a setback for Mr Trump, his campaign has time to rebound.


More on the 2016 campaign

US election 2016: Wisconsin Primary - Complete results as votes are counted

For Bernie Sanders, it's momentum versus math - The Sanders campaign is on a winning streak

Trump's disastrous women voter problem - This voting bloc could doom in chances in the general election

Full US election coverage from the BBC


The campaign now moves to large north-eastern states, where polls show Mr Trump holds significant leads.

Mr Trump's loss in Wisconsin comes after a rocky week for the campaign, particularly with female voters.

The New York businessman repeatedly struggled to articulate his position on abortion. At one point, he called for women to be punished for having abortions, then quickly changed his mind.

His campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was also arrested, accused of manhandling a female journalist. Mr Trump has vehemently defended Mr Lewandowski and rebuffed calls to fire him.

Meanwhile, outside groups opposed to Mr Trump's nomination stepped up their efforts in Wisconsin, running negative television adverts.

Popular state leaders such as Governor Scott Walker and influential talk radio programme hosts also opposed the Trump campaign and threw their support behind Mr Cruz.

Source: bbc.com

 

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For Bernie Sanders, it's momentum versus math

Bernie Sanders can now boast four wins in a row and victories in six of the last seven contests for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Despite all the talk about the challenges he faces in trying to catch Hillary Clinton, it's still a remarkable achievement given how far back he started from the former secretary of state when the race began last year.

The Vermont senator wasn't in Wisconsin to relish the win, however. He chose to spend primary night instead at a rally in Wyoming, which holds its Democratic caucus on Saturday.

For Mr Sanders every delegate counts if he wants to catch Mrs Clinton - a formidable task given the sizable lead she built up by routing the Vermont senator in contests across the South last month.

But even if it doesn't give him much of a delegate boost, this Wisconsin result does offer Mr Sanders that most precious of political commodities - momentum.

He'll likely post another victory in Wyoming, and then all eyes turn to New York in two weeks - where Mr Sanders grew up and Mrs Clinton served as a senator for six years.

Mr Sanders, if his recent string of victories is to be anything more than a political footnote, will need to attract black and Hispanic votes in numbers he has yet achieve. If he can do that, then the narrative in this race stops being Mrs Clinton's inevitability and becomes a question of whether the front-runner can hang on.

If New York is the key, however, Mr Sanders's campaign there may be stumbling out of the gate. Today he received a raft of negative press for an interview he gave with the editorial board of the Daily News, a New York City newspaper, that critics say exposes his thin grasp on the issues - and foreign policy in particular.

When asked about Israeli-relations, the senator said he didn't know the answer to some questions and wasn't qualified to respond to others. He said he hasn't thought much about where so-called Islamic State leaders captured by the US should be held and didn't know whether President Barack Obama has the right policy to deal with IS.

He even demurred on questions about whether the US government has the authority to order the breakup of banks that the president determines are too powerful.

"If a bank is too big to fail, it is too big to exist," he said. "And then you have the secretary of treasury and some people who know a lot about this, making that determination."

Gloves come off for Clinton and Sanders - It's crunch time in the Democratic race and nerves are starting to fray

#BernieMadeMeWhite: Minority supporters of Sanders speak out - Supporters push back against "all-white" narrative

Trump, Clinton and the 'None of the Above' era - Rarely have those running for high office been held in such low esteem

Full US election coverage from the BBC


The headlines following the interview were scathing. "This New York Daily News interview was pretty close to a disaster for Bernie Sanders," read the Washington Post.

"Even on bread-and-butter matters like breaking up the big banks, the Democratic presidential hopeful came across as tentative, unprepared or unaware," wrote the Atlantic's David Graham.

It didn't take long for the Clinton camp to pounce, either.

"We've said for a long time that this primary is about who's really going to be able to get things done," the campaign said in a news release on Tuesday night. "And from reading this interview, you get the impression Senator Sanders hasn't thought very much about that."

New York politics can be rough and tumble. The tabloid culture in the New York City tends to reward politicians who are both aggressive and thick-skinned.

The Wisconsin win was sweet for Mr Sanders, but he is about to face the biggest test of his campaign. In two weeks he could be on his way back in the race - or left licking his wounds.

Source: bbc.com

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Fake US university exposes 'pay-to-stay' immigration fraud

Twenty-one people have been arrested after US authorities set up a fake university to expose immigration fraud.

Officials said the accused knew that the University of Northern New Jersey did not exist, but they were unaware it was a ruse run by immigration agents.

The defendants acted as brokers for more than 1,000 foreigners who sought to maintain student and work visas, prosecutors said.

Most foreign nationals involved in the scheme came from China and India.

Immigration authorities will deal with the nationals affected, but they will not be prosecuted, officials said.

"This was just another stop on the 'pay-to-stay' tour," Paul Fishman, US attorney for New Jersey, told the Associated Press.

Federal agents set up a fake website and posed as administrators who dealt with suspects.

The agents' recorded conversations with the defendants showed that the practice of paying to extend visas had been going on for years, prosecutors said.

Source: bbc.com

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Panama Papers: Iceland PM Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson resigns

Iceland's prime minister has resigned - the first major casualty of the leaked Panama Papers that have shone a spotlight on offshore finance.

The leaks, from Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca, showed Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson owned an offshore company with his wife but had not declared it when he entered parliament

He is accused of concealing millions of dollars' worth of family assets.

Mr Gunnlaugsson says he sold his shares to his wife, and denies any wrongdoing.

He is one of dozens of high-profile global figures mentioned in the 11.5 million leaked financial and legal records, which were first published on Sunday.

Pressure on Mr Gunnlaugsson to quit had been building since then, with thousands of people protesting outside the parliament building in the capital Reykjavik on Monday and opposition parties tabling a confidence motion.

Earlier on Tuesday, the prime minister had asked President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson to dissolve parliament and call an early election.

But Mr Grimsson said he first wanted to consult leaders of the Independence Party, which has been in the ruling coalition with Mr Gunnlaugsson's Progressive Party since 2013.

Gudlaugur Thor Thordarson, the chairman of the Independence Party, said the prime minister's request had come as a "total surprise" and was not "the rational thing to do".

Later, ahead of the proposed confidence vote, Mr Gunnlaugsson announced he was stepping down.

The Progressive Party's deputy leader, Agriculture Minister Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson, told reporters after a meeting that the party planned to name him as the new leader and propose that he become prime minister.

Despite the resignation, Katrín Jakobsdottir, head of the Left-Green Movement, told the Reuters news agency that opposition parties still wanted early elections.


Other Panama Papers reaction

  • Fifa president Gianni Infantino signed off on a TV rights contract with businessmen subsequently accused of bribery, leaked documents show
  • France returns Panama to a list of countries which fail to co-operate over tax evasion
  • Panama says it is considering retaliatory measures against France, but reiterates that is ready to co-operate with any investigations stemming from the leaks
  • Chile: the country head of the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International, Gonzalo Delaveau, steps down after his name emerges in the documents
  • US President Barack Obama says tax avoidance is a global problem and governments should not make it easy for illegal funds to move around the world
  • Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif orders judicial investigation into allegations of family links with offshore companies

Panama Papers: Q&A

Watergate to Wikileaks: Leaks that shook the world


The documents leaked from Mossack Fonseca show that Mr Gunnlaugsson and his wife bought the company Wintris in 2007.

He did not declare an interest in the company when entering parliament in 2009. He sold his 50% of Wintris to his wife, Anna Sigurlaug Palsdottir, for $1 (£0.70) eight months later.

Mr Gunnlaugsson maintains no rules were broken and his wife did not benefit financially.

The offshore company was used to invest millions of dollars of inherited money, according to a document signed by Mrs Palsdottir in 2015.

Court records show that Wintris had significant investments in the bonds of three major Icelandic banks that collapsed during the financial crisis which began in 2008.

Some of Icelanders' anger is believed to stem from the perceived conflict of interest.

The prime minister was involved in negotiations about the banks' future and had characterised foreign creditors who wanted their money back as "vultures", while Wintris itself was a creditor.

Mr Gunnlaugsson had kept his wife's interest in the outcome a secret.

In a resignation statement, Mr Gunnlaugsson said he had no wish to stand in the way of further government work, such as reform of the financial system.

Addressing the issue of his wife's assets, the statement says the couple have "never sought to hide these assets from Icelandic tax authorities and these holdings in Wintris have been reported as an asset on the prime minister's wife's income tax returns since 2008 and taxes have been paid accordingly in Iceland.

"No parliamentary rules on disclosure have been broken. Even the Guardian and other media covering the story have confirmed that they have not seen any evidence to suggest that the prime minister, his wife, or Wintris engaged in any actions involving tax avoidance, tax evasion, or any dishonest financial gain."


Panama Papers - tax havens of the rich and powerful exposed

  • Eleven million documents held by the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca have been passed to German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung, which then shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. BBC Panorama is among 107 media organisations - including UK newspaper the Guardian - in 76 countries which have been analysing the documents. The BBC does not know the identity of the source
  • They show how the company has helped clients launder money, dodge sanctions and evade tax
  • Mossack Fonseca says it has operated beyond reproach for 40 years and never been accused or charged with criminal wrong-doing
  • Tricks of the trade: How assets are hidden and taxes evaded
  • Panama Papers: Full coverage; follow reaction on Twitter using #PanamaPapers; in the BBC News app, follow the tag "Panama Papers"
  • Watch Panorama on the BBC iPlayer (UK viewers only)

Source: bbc.com

 

Read more

Panama papers: Iceland names PM replacement

Iceland's ruling coalition has named Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson as the new PM, with early elections to be held in the autumn.

Mr Johannsson, 53, is agriculture and fisheries minister and deputy leader of the Progressive Party (PP).

The move comes after PM and PP chairman Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson stepped down in the wake of the leaked Panama Papers.

The leaks, from Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca, showed Mr Gunnlaugsson owned an offshore firm with his wife.

It was not declared when he became an MP. Mr Gunnlaugsson says he sold his shares to his wife and denies any wrongdoing. But he is accused of concealing millions of dollars' worth of family assets.

Protester prepares to throw egg - 6th April

At the scene: Paul Adams, BBC News, Reykjavik

With protesters keeping up a steady drumbeat of pots and pans outside parliament, for the third day in a row, members of Iceland's political parties held lengthy discussions inside.

The demonstrators sensed a deal was in the offing, and hurled eggs and fruit at the building as a mark of disgust. For many of them, nothing less than the resignation of the entire government would do.

But eventually came word that the two coalition parties, the Progressives and Independents, had reached agreement.

Opposition parties don't like the deal and some are vowing to go ahead with a vote of no confidence. The government has a comfortable majority and it seems the crisis may be over, for now.

But polls suggest the Progressive Party has lost much of its support and that the tiny Pirate Party, founded just over three years ago, stands to make significant gains. Unless this government's fortunes change, it could be out of power in a few months' time.


Mr Gunnlaugsson is one of dozens of high-profile global figures mentioned in the 11.5 million leaked financial and legal records, which were first published on Sunday.

Pressure on Mr Gunnlaugsson to step down had been building since then, with thousands of people protesting outside the parliament building in the capital Reykjavik on Monday and opposition parties tabling a confidence motion.

Earlier on Tuesday, Mr Gunnlaugsson had asked President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson to dissolve parliament and call an early election, although the president said he would need to talk to parties.

Screengrab taken from video showing Iceland's Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson walking down stairs after a meeting in parliament (5 April 2016)

Iceland's prime minister stepped down ahead of a confidence vote in parliament

But later on Wednesday, Mr Johansson said: "We expect to have elections this autumn," adding that in the meantime the government had work to do.

"We will continue to lead a good government and keep up the good work we have worked on for the last three years and get finished with all those good works we have started on," he said.

Pirate Party leader Birgitta Jonsdottir also told reporters in parliament that early elections would be held in the autumn.

Mr Gunnlaugsson has put out a statement insisting he has not in fact resigned and that Mr Johannsson will take over the post "for an unspecified amount of time".

The documents leaked from Mossack Fonseca show that Mr Gunnlaugsson and his wife bought the company Wintris in 2007.

He did not declare an interest in the company when entering parliament in 2009. He sold his 50% of Wintris to his wife, Anna Sigurlaug Palsdottir, for $1 (£0.70) eight months later.

Mr Gunnlaugsson maintains no rules were broken and his wife did not benefit financially.

In his statement, Mr Gunnlaugsson said he had no wish to stand in the way of further government work, such as reform of the financial system.


Panama Papers - tax havens of the rich and powerful exposed

  • Eleven million documents held by the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca have been passed to German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung, which then shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. BBC Panorama is among 107 media organisations - including UK newspaper the Guardian - in 76 countries which have been analysing the documents. The BBC does not know the identity of the source
  • They show how the company has helped clients launder money, dodge sanctions and evade tax
  • Mossack Fonseca says it has operated beyond reproach for 40 years and never been accused or charged with criminal wrong-doing
  • Tricks of the trade: How assets are hidden and taxes evaded
  • Panama Papers: Full coverage; follow reaction on Twitter using #PanamaPapers; in the BBC News app, follow the tag "Panama Papers"
  • Watch Panorama on the BBC iPlayer (UK viewers only)

Source: bbc.com

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Klopp guides Liverpool to draw with former team, Dortmund

Divock Origi gave Liverpool a potentially crucial away goal in their Europa League quarter-final tie with Borussia Dortmund as the first leg in Germany ended in a draw.

The Belgium striker struck on Reds boss Jurgen Klopp's return to his former club with a low finish across goal.

Dortmund goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller then denied Origi one-on-one.

Mats Hummels headed in an equaliser and the hosts pressed in search of a winner, but Liverpool kept them at bay.

More on the Europa League
Henderson set for knee scan
Relive how the action unfolded
Sevilla take control of quarter-final tie
You'll Never Walk Alone rendition 'a wow moment'

In the end it was a fair result as Dortmund, favourites to win the Europa League, dominated possession but Klopp's tactics ensured Liverpool frustrated their opponents, restricting them to few real chances.

A stirring rendition of You'll Never Walk Alone - a song both teams have adopted as their football anthem - before kick-off set the tone for the game, with a special atmosphere playing its part in an encounter that was tense and, at times, thrilling.

Klopp gets his tactics right

Some eyebrows were raised before kick-off when Klopp decided to start Origi instead of England international Daniel Sturridge.

Origi had not scored since 14 February, while Sturridge appeared to be finding his form after returning from injury with three goals in nine games.

The 20-year-old was nothing more than a spectator in the opening stages as Liverpool soaked up some early pressure, but Klopp said before the game that he had given him the nod because of his pace and power - and both were on show when the visitors took the lead.

He controlled captain Jordan Henderson's slightly awkward ball superbly before turning towards goal and steering a low strike into the far corner.

From then on, Origi held up the ball excellently to relieve some pressure on a defence that unsurprisingly came under some heavy pressure at times.

In Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Dortmund possess one of the most lethal finishers in Europe, but Dejan Lovren and Mamadou Sakho stood up to the task of nullifying the 33-goal Gabon striker.

He was limited to one real chance, an effort from close range that was blocked by Lovren, while Sakho threw his body in the way of Henrikh Mkhitaryan to deny what was an almost certain goal.

Eyes on Klopp for 'El Kloppico'

Interest in Klopp's return to Dortmund was huge in the build-up.

The 48-year-old German is fondly remembered for his achievements at the club he managed for seven years from 2008, having led them to two Bundesliga titles as well the final of the Champions League in 2013.

Around 20 television crews and some 100 journalists were in attendance for his pre-match news conference, while one German TV had been planning a 'Klopp Cam', which would have focused on the Liverpool boss for the full 90 minutes - although that idea was ultimately shelved.

When Klopp emerged before the match, his name was chanted by the home fans but the Liverpool boss was evidently keen to make sure he was not the centre of attention.

After acknowledging the home fans with a clap, he switched focus firmly to his own players warming up and there was no doubt about where his allegiances lie when he thumped his chest and roared in delight after Origi's goal.

Advantage Liverpool?

Despite the away goal, the tie is far from over. Dortmund have scored in each of their previous six away games, including two goals at Tottenham in the previous round of the competition.

Improving their defending at set-pieces will also be key for Liverpool. Hummels was left unmarked to head in the simplest of goals from a corner, meaning the past three goals Liverpool have conceded in the Europa League have been from set-pieces.

History is on Liverpool's side, though. They have progressed from 11 of their past 12 European ties in which they have drawn the first leg away from home.

What they said

Borussia Dortmund manager Thomas Tuchel: "In a quarter-final it can be that you don't deserve to win and that was the case.

"This was exactly what we expected from Liverpool - but we expected ourselves to be better, freer in our passing and with a better rhythm.

"We are able to score away goals as well. We are not frightened and we are not too disappointed. Tonight was not our top performance and to win you need a top performance.

"We have been to a lot of places and scored and won. It's half-time and the players are confident. We are looking forward to the game at Anfield."

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp: "Dortmund is a pretty good side and everyone could see that, but we had our moments and we could have won the game.

"I'm pretty sure a lot of people thought we would lose 2-0, 3-0 or 4-0. But at some moments we had Dortmund and around our goal we were brilliant.

"We are not that far on our way to being like they are. We cannot at the moment play like they play, but we can defend and score goals so we can win."

On his own reception from the Dortmund fans: "It was nice. A lot of people spoke about it but when I came onto the pitch it was respectful applause and that's nice. That's how it should be."

The stats you need to know

  • Divock Origi scored his first Europa League goal for Liverpool and his first since October 2014 for Lille against Wolfsburg.
  • Origi is the ninth different Liverpool player to score in the Europa League this season, with only Lazio and Napoli (10) having more different scorers.
  • Five of Origi's six Liverpool goals have been scored away from home.
  • Mats Hummels scored Borussia Dortmund's fifth goal from a corner in the Europa League, more than any other side in the competition.
  • Dortmund have been eliminated on five of the six occasions they've drawn the first leg of a European tie at home.

What next?

Liverpool host Stoke in the Premier League on Sunday, while Dortmund travel to Schalke in the Bundesliga on the same day. The two sides then meet at Anfield in the Europa League quarter-final second leg on Thursday, 14 April.

Source: bbc.com

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Migrant crisis: Deportations resume from Greece to Turkey

A second group of migrants is being sent back from Greece to Turkey as part of an EU deal to reduce the numbers reaching Europe.

Three protesters dived into the water to try to stop a ferry carrying 45 Pakistani men as it left Lesbos but were fished out by coastguards.

Other protesters tried to enter the gates of the port, Mytilene.

Some 200 mainly Pakistanis were deported on Monday but the process stalled as asylum applications surged.

Under the EU deal with Turkey, migrants who have arrived illegally in Greece since 20 March are expected to be sent back to Turkey if they do not apply for asylum or if their claim is rejected.

And for each Syrian migrant returned to Turkey, the EU is due to take in another Syrian who has made a legitimate request.

Water and breakfast

Each person being deported is accompanied by a guard from the EU's border agency, Frontex.

A Frontex spokesperson said there had been no trouble bringing the migrants from a camp to the port.

"There were escorts with each returnee plus a back-up team," Ewa Moncure told reporters. "Also, in addition, on board the ferry there was a doctor and translators.

"Now on the way to Turkey, migrants will be given water and breakfast. They all had return decisions. Nobody indicated to our escorts last-minute that they would like to apply for international protection."

Greek customs officials told the BBC that 140 people would be travelling on two boats on Friday, with the second carrying 95 from other islands.

Of those being returned to Turkey on Friday, the non-Syrians will be taken to deportation centres while any Syrians will be taken to refugee camps to take the place of Syrian refugees who will be directly resettled in the EU.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned his country will only implement the deal if the EU sticks to its side of the bargain:

  • A further €3bn (£2.4bn; $3.4bn)
  • Galvanising Turkey's EU accession process
  • Granting Turks visa-free travel to the EU's Schengen area by the end of June

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country has taken in the bulk of the asylum seekers so far, said on a visit to France she was "very happy" with progress in resolving the migrant crisis.

'Shame on you'

The small group of protesters in Mytilene chanted "EU - shame on you".

One million migrants and refugees have entered the EU by boat from Turkey to Greece since early last year.

The returns arrangement has alarmed rights groups, who say Turkey is not a safe country for migrants.

Citizens of Pakistan make up the fourth-biggest group of undocumented migrants arriving in Greece this year, after Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis.

Migrant arrivals to Greece

152,137

in 2016, up to 4 April

  • 37% of 2016 arrivals are children

  • 53% arrive on Lesbos

  • 366 died on Turkey-Greece route

  • 853,650 arrivals in 2015

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US election: Tensions escalate between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders

Hillary Clinton has dismissed as "ridiculous" a charge by Bernie Sanders that she is "unqualified" to be president, as tensions rise in the Democratic race.

The Vermont senator stood by his comments, pointing to her Wall Street links and her vote for the war in Iraq.

He said she started the latest war of words by attacking him first.

The two candidates will do battle in a New York showdown in two weeks, a state where both have strong links.

There is much at stake, as the former secretary of state tries to stem the momentum of the self-described democratic socialist, who has a string of wins behind him.

Mr Sanders beat Mrs Clinton in the Wisconsin primary contest on Tuesday, and could pick up more delegates in Wyoming on Saturday before the greater prize of New York is up for grabs.


Analysis - Anthony Zurcher, BBC News, Washington

Is it a sign of desperation from a losing campaign or a proportional response to an earlier unfair attack? Whatever the reason, Bernie Sanders's recent criticisms of Hillary Clinton as "unqualified" for the presidency represent a marked escalation in the war of words between the two candidates.

Mrs Clinton's supporters are bristling at the remarks, which they consider both sexist and patently untrue, given the former secretary of state's weighty political biography.

The Vermont senator's point, however, is that Mrs Clinton's lengthy experience within the establishment isn't a mark in her favour, it's a flaw that makes her beholden to the special interests he has spent his campaign denouncing.

With what could be a decisive New York primary less than two weeks away, the battle lines are clearly forming and the rhetoric is only just starting to heat up.

Democrats often boast of the substantiveness of their presidential nomination contest, particularly compared to the ongoing Republican slugfest.

This relatively genteel atmosphere may not persist through a rough-and-tumble contest in the Empire State, however, with its tabloid media culture that trumpets every squawk and squabble. In the political pressure cooker that is New York politics, things may be about to take an ugly turn.


The latest row began on Wednesday when Mrs Clinton was asked if Mr Sanders was qualified to be president, after he gave a newspaper interview in which he appeared to struggle to answer some questions.

"I think he hadn't done his homework and he'd been talking for more than a year about doing things that he obviously hasn't really studied or understood, and that does raise a lot of questions," she told MSNBC's Morning Joe.

On Wednesday night, Bernie Sanders told a crowd of supporters at Temple University that Mrs Clinton had accused him of being unqualified.

"Well let me, let me just say in response to Secretary Clinton, I don't believe that she is qualified if she is, through her super PAC [fundraising committee], taking tens of millions of dollars in special interest funds," he said.

"I don't think you are qualified if you get $15 million from Wall Street through your super PAC."

He went on to list her backing of the Iraq War and her support of trade agreements as other disqualifications. On Thursday, he repeated his comments.

The Clinton campaign hit back, with spokesman Brian Fallon tweeting: "Hillary Clinton did not say Bernie Sanders was 'not qualified.' But he has now, absurdly, said it about her. This is a new low."

One of her senior aides, Christina Reynolds, said it was "a ridiculous and irresponsible attack for someone to make" against one of the most qualified candidates ever to run.

On the campaign trail, Mrs Clinton told Politico she explains things in a way more "open and truthful than my opponent," and said she explains what she would do as president rather than "lots of arm-waving and hot rhetoric".

In the Republican race, the two front-runners Ted Cruz and Donald Trump also traded insults on the campaign trail in New York.

Mr Trump, a businessman with no experience of elected office, accused the Texas senator of "hating" the city when he accused Mr Trump of having "New York values".

Source: bbc.com

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Pope Francis to make key marriage pronouncement

Pope Francis is to make public the conclusions of his two Synods on the family in a document eagerly awaited by 1.3 billion Roman Catholics.

It will detail the pope's views about family life, marriage, contraception and bringing up children.

Many hope it will open the way for the church to offer communion to the divorced and civilly remarried, something conservatives have resisted.

The document is the culmination of three years' work by the Pope.

BBC religious affairs correspondent Caroline Wyatt says that what is known as an Apostolic Exhortation is a wide-ranging document of more than 200 pages entitled The Joy of Love.

Pope's reforms polarise the Vatican

Interpreting pope's contraception hint

The Pope sent a questionnaire to families across the world asking them about their hopes and their fears.

Then he brought bishops and cardinals together for two Synods in Rome, at which he encouraged them to debate and even to disagree over issues that divide the church in many countries.

Those range from offering communion for the divorced and remarried, contraception and the treatment of Catholics who are gay.

Our correspondent says the lengthy document will show exactly where Pope Francis stands - with some already describing it as a Papal bombshell - as he steps into the minefield of Catholic teaching on the family.

While conservatives do not want him to change doctrine, liberals hope he will tell the church to show a more merciful attitude to those whose families do not conform to the current Catholic ideal.

Some in the church have called for measures which allow a priest or a bishop to decide privately, on a case-by-case basis, if a Catholic who has divorced and remarried can be fully readmitted and receive communion.

While progressives such as the influential Cardinal Walter Kasper of Germany support this policy, conservatives maintain it would devalue the principle established by Jesus of marriage being indissoluble.

At the conclusion of the Synod last year, Francis castigated church leaders who he accused of burying their heads in the sand over the issue, arguing that their adherence to rigid doctrine was over-riding their concern for the suffering of families.

The papal document is also expected to call for better marriage preparation while repeating the Synod's view that homosexual unions cannot be on a par with heterosexual marriage.

Source: bbc.com

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'Most Award Schemes Kill Creativity in Music' - Nuru

Young Ghanaian Rapper, Nuru has stated that he doubts the credibility of most music award schemes. Nuru raised several objections on twitter hitting specifically at Charter House's 'Vodafone Ghana Music Awards'. Most people in the entertainment industry get excited when their names pop up in events which are meant to award them but the question will always remain; 'Do they really deserve to be commended?'
 
Ghana's biggest music event, the Vodafone Ghana Music Awards remains a major discourse on many Showbiz platforms. From Radio, online media, newspapers to TV, analysts are discussing the event. Awards has always had its criticism from the nomination phase to award winners and people from all walks of life get the opportunity to talk, rant and dissect it with different mind-set to suit their individual understanding. In most cases, board members of these schemes lack independence from the organisers. Event organisers should not influence the award scheme and have to just make sure the necessary logistics and process are set in place.
 
It is also believed that, people who take a negative stance on these schemes get rewarded in subsequent editions. But does personal feuds and vendetta play a role in who gets listed or not? Needless to say, where's there’s money and public acclaim involved, we should not be surprised that the competitive nature of the industry trips over itself. In a series of tweets, Nuru described award schemes as creativity killers. The rapper tweeted;
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Unfortunately, we cannot count everyone in our industry to play with originality and produce just good music. However, it says more about the artist than the industry. Awards are a good thing in any industry but we need to win it for all the right reasons.
 
By: Dickson Maloon Kombiok
 
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Paris attacks: Key suspect Abrini arrested in Brussels

The key remaining suspect in November's Paris terror attacks, Mohamed Abrini, has been arrested in Belgium, prosecutors have confirmed.

Belgian media say Abrini is also likely to be the "man in the hat" seen on CCTV before bomb blasts in the Brussels airport departure hall on 22 March.

Five arrests were made on Friday. One suspect, Osama K, will be investigated over the bomb attack on the metro that followed the airport bombing.

The two attacks left 32 people dead.

The gun and bomb attacks in Paris on 13 November killed 130 people.

New footage

Amateur footage said to be of Abrini's arrest shows a man being bundled into a car in Place Albert in the Anderlecht district of Brussels.

Abrini had not been directly linked to the Brussels attacks until today.

Belgian investigators confirmed at a press conference that Abrini was among those detained. Two more suspects were arrested with him.

They said the fourth arrested man, named as Osama K, was being investigated for helping suicide bomber Khalid el-Bakraoui at the Maelbeek metro station.

The prosecutor's office said he had been filmed in Brussels buying sports bags used to hide the airport and metro station bombs.

The authorities had on Thursday released new video footage of the so-called "man in the hat", appealing for the public's help in finding him.

The individual in the footage was seen beside the two suicide bombers at Brussels airport. He left the airport shortly before the blasts.

At the press conference, the investigators said they were trying to determine whether the "man in the hat" was Abrini.

Childhood friends

Abrini, 31, a Belgian national of Moroccan origin, is believed to have been filmed at a petrol station with Salah Abdeslam, another arrested Paris attacks suspect, two days before the attacks there.

Abrini and brothers Salah and Brahim Abdeslam were all childhood friends from Brussels.

Abrini is believed to have driven twice with the brothers from Belgium to Paris and back on 10 and 11 November.

Salah Abdeslam was detained in Brussels in March, days before militants launched attacks in the Belgian capital.

Brahim Abdeslam blew himself up at the Comptoir Voltaire restaurant after a shooting spree.

Graphic

Source: bbc.com

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Two dead in US Air Force base shooting

A shooting at a US Air Force base in Texas has left at least two people dead, police say.

Officials have told US media that an airman shot his commander in an apparent murder-suicide.

Police responded to reports of a shooting at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland around 09:00 local time (15:00 BST), a spokesman said.

Two bodies were found in a room at the base, and authorities believe the gunman is one of the dead.

The Bexar County Sheriff's Office said they continued to search the buildings after finding the people who were killed.

"There are no indications that this was a terrorist attack," an Air Force statement said.

Joint Base San-Antonio Lackland is the military's largest joint base, where airmen do basic training.

Lackland Air Force Base

Source: bbc.com

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North Korea 'tests long-range missile engine'

North Korea says it has successfully tested an engine designed for an intercontinental ballistic missile.

The new type of engine would "guarantee" the ability to launch a nuclear strike on the US mainland, the KCNA news agency said.

The test was conducted at the country's long-range missile launch site near its west coast.

It is the latest in a series of tests and launches carried out by the isolated nation.

Can South Korea defend itself?

Dealing with the North: Carrots or sticks?

How advanced is North Korea's nuclear programme?

Leader Kim Jong-un supervised the test, state media reported, during which "the engine spewed out huge flames with a deafening boom".

The country would now be able to "keep any cesspool of evils in the earth including the US mainland within our striking range," Mr Kim was quoted as saying.

In March, North Korea said it had developed nuclear warheads small enough to fit on ballistic missiles.

However, experts cast doubt on the claims.

March also saw North Korea threaten "indiscriminate" nuclear strikes on the US and South Korea as they held big joint military drills, which the north sees as a rehearsal for an eventual invasion.

Meanwhile, the US has imposed new sanctions on North Korea following a nuclear test in January and a satellite launch in February, which was widely seen as a test of banned missile technology.

The US has also held talks with South Korea aimed at deploying a US missile defence system to the Korean peninsula, a move strongly opposed by North Korea, Russia and China.

Beijing says the Thaad anti-missile system compromises its security and would undermine its nuclear deterrent.

Source: bbc.com

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Springsteen cancels North Carolina concert over 'anti-gay' law

Bruce Springsteen has cancelled a concert in North Carolina, joining business groups in condemning a state law that rolls back protection for gay and transgender people.

The law invalidated several local anti-discrimination measures that protected gay and transgender people.

It also requires people to use public toilets that correspond to the sex listed on their birth certificates.

Major companies like Apple and Bank of America have criticised the law.

"Some things are more important than a rock show and this fight against prejudice and bigotry — which is happening as I write — is one of them," Springsteen said in a statement.

"It is the strongest means I have for raising my voice in opposition to those who continue to push us backwards instead of forwards."

Springsteen and his band were scheduled to perform in Greensboro on Sunday.

People protest outside the North Carolina Executive Mansion in Raleigh

The new law in North Carolina has led to protests

Springsteen's cancellation is the latest fallout from the law.

On Tuesday, tech company Pay Pal dropped plans to expand in the state, pulling out about 400 jobs.

A television series for the streaming service Hulu decided to film in Canada rather than North Carolina because of the law.

There have also been calls to move major sporting events out of the state including the NBA All-Star Game.

Governor Pat McCrory, a Republican, defended the law calling it "common sense". He said news reports about the law and the backlash were "smearing our state in an inaccurate way".

Some supporters of the law said allowing transgender people to choose their restroom could lead to women and children being attacked.

They said they feared that men could pose as transgender people and use legal protections as a cover.

North Carolina is one of a number of states in the southern US that have recently considered or enacted legislation that many deem anti-gay.

Protesters hold up signs as the dome of the Capitol stands in the background during a rally against a contentious

Georgia's governor vetoed a religious freedom bill amid concerns from business groups

Last June, a US Supreme Court ruling made gay marriage legal nationwide. In response, conservatives have sought to enact protections for religious people who believe marriage should only be between a man and woman.

Last year, Indiana made changes to a "religious freedom" law after business groups and others threatened to boycott the state. The updated law included language that prohibited discrimination of any kind.

This week, Mississippi passed a religious freedom law. That measure, however, specifically allows people to refuse service to gay people on religious grounds.

Georgia's Governor Nathan Deal vetoed a similar bill in March after pressure from prominent firms including Coca-Cola and the Walt Disney Co.

Source: bbc.com

 

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Quata says radio DJ's killed his inspiration for music.

Self-acclaimed originator of tongue-twisting rap in Ghana, Quata Budukusu known in real life as Jacob Kwame Etroo is blaming Ghanaian DJ's for his loss of inspiration to make music in the past six years.

Speaking on Adom TV’s Bisa Nwom music request show, he said “I lost inspiration for doing music in Ghana because Ghanaian DJ’s have created the impression if you don’t sing a particular style there’s no way they will play that song.”

Quata said he is tired because the Ghana music industry does not allow artistes to be creative and do new things.

The former tongue-twister said he does not understand why radio DJs have pushed Ghanaian musicians into a corner where they are forced to sing songs with the same style and tempo.

He however revealed that after spending six years in hibernation, Ghanaians should expect nothing but the best from him because his comeback is to change Ghanaian music.

He is currently promoting his two new singles “Wind N Go low” and “One life to live.” Watch Wind N Go Low video below.

Source: Adomonline.com

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Zika virus 'scarier than thought' says US

The Zika virus is "scarier" than first thought and its impact on the US could be greater than predicted, public health officials have admitted.

A wider range of birth defects has been linked to the virus, said Dr Anne Schuchat of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And the mosquitoes that carry the virus could travel to more US states than previously thought, she said.

The current Zika outbreak began almost a year ago in Brazil.

It has been linked to thousands of birth defects in the Americas.

"Most of what we've learned is not reassuring," said Dr Schuchat at White House briefing on Monday.

"Everything we know about this virus seems to be scarier than we initially thought."

Earlier this year, US President Obama asked the US Congress for $1.8bn (£1.25bn) in emergency funding to combat the virus.

In the meantime it has been using money totalling $589m left over from the Ebola virus fund.

Map of Zika cases

Microcephaly: Why it is not the end of the world

What you need to know Key questions answered about the virus and its spread

Travel advice Countries affected and what you should do

The mosquito behind spread of virus What we know about the insect

Abortion dilemma Laws and practices in Catholic Latin America

That was a temporary stopgap and inadequate to get the job done, said Dr Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health.

The US now needs more money to fight the mosquitoes and to fund better research into vaccines and treatments, he said.

"When the president asked for $1.9 billion, we needed $1.9 billion."

He said there had been recent discoveries about how destructive Zika appeared to be to foetal brains.

Passengers walk by a signboard about Zika virus at the passenger terminal of Incheon International Airport in Incheon, South Korea, Tuesday, March 22, 2016.

The rapid spread of the Zika virus has spurred travel warnings across the globe

There were also reports of rare neurologic problems in adults, he said.

The CDC announced that Puerto Rico is to receive $3.9m in emergency Zika funding as the number of cases there doubles every week.

In February, the first US case of locally transmitted Zika was reported in Dallas, Texas - spread through sexual contact, not a mosquito bite.

Source: bbc.com

 

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Brazil impeachment: Vote deals new blow to Rousseff

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff has suffered a blow to her hopes of staving off impeachment proceedings, after a committee voted they should go ahead.

The 65-member congressional committee voted 38 to 27 to recommend impeachment over claims she manipulated government accounts to hide a growing deficit.

All eyes will now be on a full vote in the lower house on 17 or 18 April.

The issue has divided Brazil, with police preparing for mass protests in the capital, Brasilia.

The vote took place amid chaotic scenes with supporters and opponents of President Rousseff shouting slogans and waving placards.

The committee's vote, while largely symbolic, was being watched as a measure of how much support there is for the impeachment process ahead of the crucial vote in the full lower house of Congress.

There, 342 votes in favour are needed to send the matter on to the Senate. The latest opinion poll by the Estadao daily suggests 292 are in favour, 115 against and 106 undecided.

Analysis by Wyre Davies, BBC South America Correspondent

President Rousseff, whose popularity has dived in recent months, has been hit by a faltering economy and a damaging corruption scandal focused on the state-controlled oil giant Petrobras which has implicated several senior politicians and business leaders.

Although opinion polls regularly indicate that a majority of Brazilians support the impeachment process, President Rousseff and her supporters in the ruling Workers Party say the proceedings in Congress amount to a parliamentary coup against a democratically elected government.

They point out that, unlike many of the Congressmen sitting in judgment against her, Ms Rousseff has not been formally accused in the Petrobras corruption probe but is being "tried" on lesser charges of manipulating government accounts to conceal a growing deficit.

During a bad-tempered debate leading up to the vote, Attorney General Jose Eduardo Cordozo, speaking for the president, said the impeachment process was "flawed".

"It is absurd to dismiss a president who has not committed crimes, nor stolen a penny. And such a process without crime or fraud, would be a coup," he said.

Opposition lawmaker Vanderlei Macris said an impeachment would be important to Brazilian society and would bring change.

Rousseff under pressure

The Brazilian president faces a battle to stay in power

  • 513 members of the lower house of Congress

  • 342 votes needed for her suspension

  • 172 votes needed to block her impeachment

  • 180 days she would be suspended for while the Senate debates her impeachment

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Venezuela's Supreme Court overturns amnesty bill

Venezuela's Supreme Court has overturned an amnesty for jailed opposition leaders approved by the opposition-controlled parliament.

About 70 activists opposed to President Nicolas Maduro's socialist government had been due for release under the law approved last month.

But the court declared the amnesty law unconstitutional.

President Maduro had condemned the law as an attempt to destabilise his leadership of the country.

The Supreme Court has consistently backed the Venezuelan government since the opposition triumphed in congressional elections in December.

In a statement, the court said the amnesty law was unconstitutional because it covered offences "that are acts of organised crime, which are not related to crimes of a political nature".

Leopoldo Lopez: Venezuela's maverick opposition leader

Venezuela opposition pushed for Maduro's exit

What changes will the new Congress bring?

The opposition won parliamentary elections largely on a promise to work towards the release of dozens of what it considers political prisoners.

Among the detainees is Leopoldo Lopez, a prominent opposition leader who was sentenced to 13 years and nine months in prison last year for inciting violence during mass protests.

The prosecutor in the case later fled Venezuela and told media abroad that Mr Lopez's conviction had been a political show trial.

Government officials maintain that Mr Lopez is responsible for violence that erupted during protests in which 43 people were killed in 2014.

Other political leaders who were set to be freed include the former Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma, who is under house arrest, and the former mayor of San Cristobal, Daniel Ceballos.

Members of the governing PSUV party had said the amnesty was a carte blanche for "murderers".

President Maduro had the choice of signing the law, sending it back to the National Assembly or challenging it before the Supreme Court.

Last week, he told supporters that he had decided to ask the court to invalidate the "criminal" bill.

After the Supreme Court's ruling, he said he would set up a truth commission to deal with jailed opposition activists' cases and that opposition members would be invited to join.

Critics of the government say the top court is stacked with supporters of the president.

Venezuela is deeply divided into those who support the socialist government of Nicolas Maduro and those who oppose it.

In February, the opposition announced it would try to drive President Maduro from power by means of a recall referendum or a constitutional amendment to shorten his term.

The government denounced the plans as an attempted coup.

Source: bbc.com

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US Navy officer charged with spying for China and Taiwan

A US Navy officer has been charged with espionage, accused of passing military secrets to China and Taiwan, according to US military officials.

The Associated Press news agency named him as Lt Cdr Edward Lin, a US citizen who was born in Taiwan.

He is being held in Navy brig in Virginia awaiting a court-martial.

Officials believe he passed information to a Chinese girlfriend, the New York Times reported. Lt Cdr Lin is also charged with lying about his travels.

United States Naval Institute (USNI) News first reported the charges against Lt Cdr Lin. The website said that Lin worked as a signals intelligence specialist on the Navy's EP-3E Aries II reconnaissance planes.

He joined the Navy as an enlisted sailor in 1999 and became a US citizen in 2008.

"I always dreamt about coming to America, the 'promised land," Lt Cdr Lin said when he became citizen. "I grew up believing that all the roads in America lead to Disneyland."

Source: bbc.com

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President Obama: Libya aftermath 'worst mistake' of presidency

US President Barack Obama has said failing to prepare for the aftermath of the ousting of Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi was the worst mistake of his presidency.

Mr Obama was answering a series of questions on the highs and lows of his time in office on Fox News.

He said, however, that intervening in Libya had been "the right thing to do".

The US and other countries carried out strikes designed to protect civilians during the 2011 uprising.

But after the former Libyan leader was killed, Libya plunged into chaos with militias taking over and two rival parliaments and governments forming.

How Obama learned the limits of US power

So-called Islamic State (IS) gained a foothold, and Libya became a major departure point for migrants trying to reach Europe.

A UN-backed national unity government arrived in the capital Tripoli earlier this month but is waiting to take charge.

The leader of the faction ruling western Libya has threatened to prosecute any of his ministers who co-operate with the UN-backed administration, contradicting an earlier announcement the ministers would stand down.


President Obama gave the brief but revealing answer speaking to Chris Wallace:

CW: Worst mistake?

Obama: Probably failing to plan for the day after, what I think was the right thing to do, in intervening in Libya.


It is not the first time President Obama has expressed regret over Libya. He told the Atlantic magazine last month the operation went as well as he had hoped, but Libya was now "a mess".

In that interview, he also criticised France and the UK, in particular saying British Prime Minister David Cameron became "distracted" after the intervention.

It was a rare rebuke for a close ally and one which BBC correspondents at the time said angered Downing Street.

President Obama told Fox that his biggest accomplishment in office was "saving the economy from the great depression".

He said the best day of his presidency was when he passed the healthcare reforms. The worst, he said, was responding to the mass shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school.

Mr Obama discussed his legacy in a BBC interview last year, saying his failure to pass tighter gun control laws was the biggest frustration of his presidency.


Libya timeline

February 2011: Protests against Colonel Gaddafi's regime erupt in Libya

March 2011: UN Security Council authorises a no-fly zone over Libya and air strikes to protect civilians

October 2011: Gaddafi is captured and killed by rebel fighters

2012: Splits emerge as the transitional government struggle to rein in local militias

September 2012: The US ambassador and three other Americans are killed when Islamist militants storm the consulate in eastern Benghazi

June 2014: Disputed elections are held. Two governments are formed: one in the capital Tripoli, the other UN-backed administration in eastern Torbruk

January 2015: The UN announces a new interim government but it is yet to take charge

Source: bbc.com

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Canadian Attawapiskat First Nation suicide emergency

An indigenous community in northern Canada has declared a state of emergency after 11 people attempted to take their own lives in one day.

The Attawapiskat First Nation in Ontario saw 28 suicide attempts in March and more than 100 since last September, Canadian media said, with one person reported to have died.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the news "heartbreaking".

Canada's 1.4 million indigenous people have high levels of poverty.

Their life expectancy is also below the Canadian average.

Bruce Shisheesh, the chief of the Attawapiskat First Nation community, said 11 people attempted to take their own lives on Saturday, prompting him to declare a state of emergency.

He tweeted that the regional Weeneebayko Health Authority was flying in a crisis team, mental health nurses and social workers, and that he was waiting for Ontario's minister of health to deliver more emergency workers to the area.

The First Nations government was sending a crisis response unit to the community following the declaration on Saturday, Canadian media said.

Attawapiskat First Nation

  • isolated First Nation tribe in Kenora District, northern Ontario, Canada
  • population around 2,000 on the reserve
  • former chief Theresa Spence had a hunger strike in 2013 to protest over the Canadian government not providing enough money, education and health care for the tribe
  • had a state of emergency in 2011, the third in three years, due to low temperatures and insufficient housing
  • in 2013 accused Stephen Harper's Conservative government of being right-wing and racist

The Health Canada federal agency said in a statement it had sent two mental health counsellors as part of that unit.

Charlie Angus, the local MP, said: "This is a systemic crisis affecting the communities."

"There's just not been a serious response from any level of government until now," he said.

"We'll continue to work to improve living conditions for all Indigenous peoples," Prime Minister Trudeau said.

Another Canadian aboriginal community in the western province of Manitoba appealed for federal aid last month, citing six suicides in two months and 140 suicide attempts in two weeks.

Suicide and self-inflicted injuries are among the top causes of death for First Nations, Métis and Inuit people, according to studies from Health Canada.

National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Perry Bellegarde called for a national strategy to combat indigenous suicide last month.

"Immediate support to communities is essential & a #FirstNations driven national strategy on mental health," he tweeted on Monday.

Source: bbc.com

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The city that allows women to sell sex

A suburb in Leeds is the first place in the UK where it is permitted for women to sell sex between specified hours. The "managed approach" was introduced to try to control the trade. The Victoria Derbyshire programme spent a night there to find out how it is working.

Chelsea, whose name has been changed, 29, has been a sex worker for five years. She's addicted to crack cocaine and earns roughly £150 a night - which she spends on drugs and gifts for her children. They do not live with her and she would hate for them to know what she does.

In the evenings she puts on her make-up and gets the bus to Holbeck, a mainly industrial area to the south-east of Leeds city centre.

During the day it is bustling, but on a cold March night it is quiet with lots of small, dark areas for sex workers to operate.

Chelsea knows her work is dangerous. "You don't know what type of man you're getting next. They may look all right but they could be nasty. You take a gamble with yourself. It's life or death," she says.

It is not actually illegal to sell sex in the UK, but it is illegal to solicit - offering sex in a public place.

But in this specified network of roads, street prostitutes can sell their services from 19.00 to 07.00 BST, without being stopped by police.

Traditionally, workers operated across the whole of Holbeck - this scheme has moved them from residential streets to places where businesses operate in the day but not at night.

managed area

The 'managed area' in Holbeck

What are the rules of the managed area?

  • Working on streets outside the agreed area or times will not be tolerated
  • Litter including condoms/wrapping/syringes should not be left
  • People should respect business and other properties
  • Crime, public disorder and anti-social behaviour will not be tolerated
  • No drug use is allowed

Source: Safer Leeds Partnership


Chelsea points out a cul-de-sac where men pull up if they want business and the railway bridge that marks the end of the managed area. She says most of the people driving past are punters as they stare at her as she walks down the main road.

"I charge a lot. I tell them if they pay for steak they get steak, if they pay for mince they get mince," she says.

Around 40 women work here regularly - a mixture of migrant and British sex workers - who must be over 18.

Chelsea says street work has "changed a lot" since the area was introduced last October after a year-long pilot. Police check their welfare instead of arresting them.

"I used to get a lot of cautions. It's better like this. We are all in agreement. They're giving you a time, you have to stick to it. If you go over you've only got yourself to blame," she says.

But this approach is more than just a physical zone. The police, council and charities also support the sex workers and try to keep them safe.

Emily, a caseworker from the charity Basis, visits regularly to check if there is anything the women are concerned about and offers hot drinks and condoms.

"If we have a managed area, we know where people are. It's policed properly with marked vehicles and a liaison officer. There's extra street cleaning. It's a whole approach," she explains.

Woman killed

Chelsea was attacked two years ago on a nearby back street - badly beaten and raped while she was pregnant.

"What I suffered was bad, I was close to dying at one point. He was a vicious man. He's serving a 10-year prison sentence," she says.

But a woman has been killed since the zone was established. In December, Daria Pionko, 21, from Poland, was found injured and later died in hospital.

A 24-year-old man has been charged with her murder.

Emily admits it is not completely safe, but says it is safer, with the key being an improved relationship with the police.

The percentage of crime victims willing to report their incidents has increased from 26% to 51%, according to National Ugly Mugs - a sex worker support organisation which runs database sharing information on potentially dangerous clients.

"What happened as a result of the managed area - the trust now between girls and police - girls coming forward, punters coming forward," she said.

Safer Leeds - the police and council partnership - says the previous approach of police enforcement had not worked, so the zone was an attempt to reduce a long-standing nuisance. It says it has led to fewer complaints in residential areas and a significant increase in women accessing support services.

'Offensive debris'

But some people want it to close and it is under review this month.

Greg Adams, owner of an office supplies company, says while he cannot disagree with a scheme that supports the vulnerable, he feels the problem has been forced on to the businesses.

"It's just every time you drive to the end of the road you see street prostitutes plying for trade - it's very obvious - they eye you up.

"It's not that offensive, but what is offensive is the debris from nefarious activities. Used condoms, drugs paraphernalia. In the first month, two items of soiled undergarments on the street, in my yard used condoms. It's all shocking," he says.

At the end of her night's work we meet Chelsea again - she has earned £150 from three men in an hour: "Doesn't take me long to make money. Sexy girl like me. Who can resist?" she says.

The next morning it is clear it has been a busy night, they leave behind litter - beer cans, condom wrappers - you can see why people coming back to work are not happy.

It is a difficult balance - women like Chelsea would still be on these streets with or without the permission of the authorities. But the impact some feel the managed approach has had on this area's reputation may force its closure.

Source: bbc.com

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Oil price rises boost Asian markets

Markets in Japan and Australia have started higher on Wednesday, following the gains from US markets.

At the open, Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index was up 213.92 points, or 1.3%, at 16,142.71.

In Australia, the S&P ASX 200 kicked off the Wednesday session with a gain of 1.05% - or 52 points - to 5,028.

Among those stocks with the more marked movement, shares of Shinsei Bank in Japan jumped by more than 5% in Tokyo trade.

That followed reports the company will develop a smartphone payment system with a Chinese partner.

Also in Japan, Fast Retailing shares opened 2.2% higher on reports in local media the company will slash prices at its Uniqlo clothing stores. The retailer last week warned that its profit will weaken, due to slower sales.

Elsewhere in Asia, markets in South Korea are shut for a public holiday. Trading will resume on Thursday.

US markets all closed higher overnight, as market sentiment got a boost from higher oil prices. That led to a rally in energy sector shares on Wall Street.

After weeks of decline due to oversupply, oil prices rebounded overnight, on reports oil producers Russia and Saudi Arabia have reached a consensus about a freeze in output ahead of the Opec producer's meeting in Doha, Qatar on April 17.

Source: bbc.com

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North Carolina governor wants to change 'anti-gay' law

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory has said he wants to make changes to a controversial new state law condemned by business groups, activists and celebrities as anti-gay.

The law invalidated several local anti-discrimination measures that protected gay and transgender people.

It also requires people to use public toilets that correspond to the sex listed on their birth certificates.

The state's anti-discrimination rules should be strengthened, McCrory said.

However he said the restrictions on access to public toilets should remain.

Major companies such as Bank of America and Apple have criticised the law and others vowed to curtail their businesses in the state because of it.

The fallout included:

  • Pay Pal dropped plans to open an operations centre in the state that would have employed about 400 people
  • Deutsche Bank stopped plans to add 250 jobs to the state
  • Rock singer Bruce Springsteen cancelled a concert in Greensboro
  • A TV production for the streaming service Hulu relocated to Canada
  • Greater Raleigh Convention & Visitors Bureau said five groups have cancelled conventions with 16 others considering

Mr McCrory acknowledged receiving a large amount of "feedback" about the law over the past few weeks.

"Based upon this feedback, I am taking action to affirm and improve the state's commitment to privacy and equality," he said.

Under Mr McCrory's suggested changes, gay, lesbian and transgender people would be able to sue in state court over discrimination. That change would require the approval of the legislature.

Using an executive order, Mr McCrory will expand the equal employment policy for state employees to include sexual orientation and gender.

He also affirmed that private businesses are able to set their own policies regarding public toilets.

Gay rights activists said Mr McCrory's actions to did not go far enough and called for a full repeal of the law.

The state American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which is challenging the law in court, said the governor was making "a poor effort to save face".

North Carolina is one of a number of states in the southern US that have recently considered or enacted legislation that many deem anti-gay.

Last June, a US Supreme Court ruling made gay marriage legal nationwide. In response, conservatives have sought to enact protections for religious people who believe marriage should only be between a man and woman.

Last year, Indiana made changes to a "religious freedom" law after business groups and others threatened to boycott the state. The updated law included language that prohibited discrimination of any kind.

This week, Mississippi passed a religious freedom law. That measure, however, specifically allows people to refuse service to gay people on religious grounds.

Georgia's Governor Nathan Deal vetoed a similar bill in March after pressure from prominent firms including Coca-Cola and the Walt Disney Co.

Source: bbc.com

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Paul Ryan rules out 2016 presidential bid

US House Speaker Paul Ryan has officially ruled out making a late attempt to become the Republican presidential nominee.

"I do not want, nor will I accept the Republican nomination," he said.

Mr Ryan's name was floated as a late contender if there is a contested convention in July, as doubts persist over the strength of the candidates.

If Donald Trump, John Kasich nor Ted Cruz is able to win 1,237 delegates, the convention will be contested.

The state-by-state primary contests, which come to New York next week, determine the number of delegates pledged to a particular candidate.

Mr Trump is still well ahead in the number of delegates accumulated but may fall short of the magic number required.


Only two men left - Anthony Zurcher, BBC News, Washington

In 1886 former civil war general William Sherman set the gold standard for disavowing interest in serving as US president. "I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected," he bluntly stated.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan may not reach Shermanesque levels of certainty with Tuesday's statement, but the move should put the latest round of rampant speculation and rumour-mongering to rest.

The Ryan presidential boomlet was largely a result of growing desperation among Republicans who see a presidential ticket headed by the epically unpopular Donald Trump as an unmitigated disaster and by absolutist Ted Cruz as only a slightly mitigated disaster.

Mr Ryan won't be their establishment-friendly "white knight", however, and there are few others out there with the stature to pull off such an unlikely convention coup.

Former candidate Mitt Romney? Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker? At this point, anyone other than Mr Cruz or Mr Trump - the two men who have slogged through the presidential season and won the votes and delegates - appears to be pure fantasy.

How does a contested convention work?

Five ways Republican bloodbath could end

Profile: House Speaker Paul Ryan


At a contested convention, the delegates are free after the first ballot to back whom they want, opening the door for Texas Senator Mr Cruz or even the third candidate in the race, Mr Kasich.

Some in the party had hoped Mr Ryan would emerge as a candidate at that stage, believing he would be a more effective and less divisive figure than Mr Trump or Mr Cruz.

Speaking at the Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington, Mr Ryan - who ran as Mitt Romney's running mate in the 2012 presidential election - ruled himself out unequivocally.

But some commentators were quick to point out that he said he did not want to run for Speaker of the House last year before eventually accepting the job.

Source: bbc.com

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Plane turned around for couple to visit dying grandson

A pilot allowed an elderly couple to get off a plane moments before take-off so they could visit their dying grandson in hospital.

They had boarded the Abu Dhabi-bound aircraft at Manchester Airport when they received a text message about their relative's condition.

The flight, which had been taxiing towards the runway, returned to the gate so the couple could rush to their grandson's bedside.

He died later on the same night.

The couple's travel agent Becky Stephenson said the 30 March incident was "very unusual".

"I've been in the travel business for 25 years and never heard of this happening," she said.

Airline praised

Ms Stephenson, who is based in Bradford, praised the Etihad Airways pilot and said she had not heard of an airline going "above and beyond with their customer service" in such a way.

"I'm just really grateful that my customers could get back to see him," she said:

"My customers were so grateful that staff were very helpful and they were taken care of."

"The flight still went ahead after the couple got off," Ms Stephenson added.

"Etihad have said they can use the ticket again on a different date.

"But my customers are not thinking of when they're flying back out again."

Source: bbc.com

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Minister John Whittingdale admits relationship with escort

Culture Secretary John Whittingdale has admitted he had a relationship with an escort but said he did not know her real occupation.

He said he ended the relationship as soon as he found out, in February 2014.

BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said it raises questions about his role in press regulation, given some papers had the story but did not publish it.

Mr Whittingdale insisted it had not compromised his job as culture, media and sport secretary, from May 2015.

Downing Street said Mr Whittingdale "is a single man entitled to a private life" and had the full confidence of Prime Minister David Cameron.

'Bit embarrassing'

Mr Whittingdale told BBC Newsnight: "Between August 2013 and February 2014, I had a relationship with someone who I first met through Match.com.

"She was a similar age and lived close to me. At no time did she give me any indication of of her real occupation and I only discovered this when I was made aware that someone was trying to sell a story about me to tabloid newspapers. As soon as I discovered, I ended the relationship.

"This is an old story which was a bit embarrassing at the time. The events occurred long before I took up my present position and it has never had any influence on the decisions I have made as culture secretary."

Labour shadow cabinet minister Chris Bryant, who was shadow culture secretary until September last year, said: "It seems the press were quite deliberately holding a sword of Damocles over John Whittingdale.

"He has a perfect right to a private life but as soon as he knew this he should have withdrawn from all regulation of the press.

Mr Bryant added that the prime minister had promised to fully implement the recommendation of the Leveson Inquiry into press standards, adding: "That's what he should deliver."

Public interest

Before taking up the cabinet post Mr Whittingdale served as chairman of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee for a decade.

Earlier this month the journalism website Byline reported that Mr Whittingdale had had a relationship with a professional dominatrix and fetish escort.

BBC political correspondent Ben Wright says the fact the story stayed out of the press has raised questions about a potential conflict of interest involving the man in charge of media regulation and the motivation of newspapers and broadcasters not to report it.

A number of newspapers told Newsnight they did not run the story because it was not in the public interest.

However, Brian Cathcart, co-founder of campaign group Hacked Off which wants tougher press regulation, said Mr Whittingdale's credibility had been damaged.

Source: bbc.com

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Support private sector to enhance agric - Kufuor

Former President John Agyekum Kufuor says the only way agricultural productivity can be increased on the African continent is for governments to support its private sector through adequate budget allocations and incentives.

According to him, agricultural production is largely vested in the private sector and supporting it would help contribute to the growth and development of the continent.

Former President Kufuor was speaking at a conference organized by the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) in Accra on Tuesday, April 12.

The conference, which was attended by representatives from around the African continent and elsewhere, gave participants the platform to develop ideas and policies to ensure food security around the world.

Addressing participants at the conference, the former Ghana leader said African leaders must formulate acceptable standards that would help supervise the operations of the agricultural sector.

The move, according to him, would enable the sector enter the international market and rub shoulders with its competitors.

Furthermore, he called on the ministries of agriculture to sensitize and educate local farmers on modern systems in agriculture to help enhance the quality of their produce.

Speaking more on measures to increase agricultural productivity on the continent, he urged African leaders to develop measures to clamp down on the incidences of aflatoxins and its related poisons in agricultural production.

He indicated that aflatoxins are a major contributory factor to some severe sicknesses and deaths on the African continent.

Aflatoxins are poisonous and cancer-causing chemicals that are produced by certain molds which grow in the soil, decaying vegetation, hay and grains.

They are regularly found in improperly stored staple commodities such as cassava, corn, cotton seed, peanuts, rice, and a variety of spices.

Source: TV3 Network

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US health experts confirm that Zika causes birth defects

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed that the Zika virus causes severe birth defects, including microcephaly.

Hundreds of babies were born in Brazil last year with microcephaly, a syndrome where children are born with unusually small heads.

The defects coincided with a spike in Zika infections, leading experts to suspect the mosquito-borne virus.

Research has now affirmed those experts' suspicions, the CDC said.

"This study marks a turning point in the Zika outbreak. It is now clear that the virus causes microcephaly," said Dr Tom Frieden, the head of the CDC.

Map showing the countries that have had confirmed cases of the Zika virus

Microcephaly: Why it is not the end of the world

What you need to know Key questions answered about the virus and its spread

Travel advice Countries affected and what you should do

The mosquito behind spread of virus What we know about the insect

Abortion dilemma Laws and practices in Catholic Latin America

On Monday, US health officials warned the Zika outbreak could have more of an effect on the United States and called for additional funding to combat the virus.

"Everything we know about this virus seems to be scarier than we initially thought," said Dr Anne Schuchat of the CDC.

Zika virus was first diagnosed in 1947 in Uganda, but symptoms have typically been mild, including rash, joint pain and fever.

The current outbreak started in 2015 in Brazil and the symptoms have been much more severe. Nearly 200 babies have died as result of the virus.

Researchers are interesting learning why some cases of the virus result in birth defects while others do not.

Some women who were infected with Zika while pregnant gave birth to apparently healthy children.

This file photo shows an Aedes Aegypti mosquito photographed on human skin in a laboratory of the International Training and Medical Research Training Center (CIDEIM) in Cali, Colombia.

The Zika virus can be transmitted via mosquito

There have been 346 confirmed cases of Zika in the continental United States, according to the CDC, all associated with travel.

CDC officials said the findings do not change the agency's earlier guidance to pregnant women.

The CDC has discouraged pregnant women from travelling to places where the Zika virus is spreading, mostly in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Dr Frieden said intensive research was under way to find out much more about the mosquito-borne virus and to develop a vaccine for it, although he warned that that could still be years away.

This is the first time that mosquito bites have caused birth defects, Dr Frieden said. The virus can be transmitted by sexual contact as well.

Source: bbc.com

 

 

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Russian warplanes 'aggressively' pass US missile destroyer

Two Russian planes flew close to a US guided missile destroyer almost a dozen times, American officials have said.

The Sukhoi SU-24 warplanes, in international waters in the Baltic Sea, had no visible weaponry and the ship took no action.

One official called the events on Monday and Tuesday "one of the most aggressive acts in recent memory".

The commander of the missile destroyer, the USS Donald Cook, described the flights as a "simulated attack".

The passes were "unsafe, potentially provocative" and "could have caused an accident," officials said in a release.

At one point the jets were so close, about 30ft (9m), that they created wakes in the water around the ship.

The actions may have violated a 1970s agreement meant to prevent dangerous incidents at sea, but it is not clear whether the US is going to protest.

A Russian helicopter taking pictures also passed by the ship seven times.

The Donald Cook was conducting deck landing drills with an Allied military helicopter when the jets made their passes, according to a statement from the United States European Command.

Flight operations were suspended until the jets left the area.

The next day, a Russian KA-27 helicopter did circles at low altitude around the ship, followed by more jet passes.

The aircraft did not respond to safety warnings in English or Russian.

Two Russian Sukhoi Su-24 attack aircraft fly over USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) in the Baltic Sea, 12 April 2016

The jets were so close they created wakes in the water near the ship

These close encounters of a military kind between the US and its allies and Russia have escalated significantly over the past two years, ever since Russia's annexation of Crimea and the substantial break down of relations between East and West.

They take various forms. They can be violations of national airspace; narrowly avoided mid-air collisions, close encounters at sea and simulated attack runs.

The incidents have taken place over a wide area - in and around the Baltic states; in the Baltic sea; the Black Sea and even close to Stockholm, when the Swedish authorities believed a Russian submarine had violated its territorial waters in 2014.

They are regarded by defence analysts as a flexing of muscle - a reminder that Russia has military might and cannot be pushed around.

But the frequency of such situations means many fear that a full on confrontation - be-it deliberate or accidental - is just a matter of time between the world's two great military powers.

"We have deep concerns about the unsafe and unprofessional Russian flight manoeuvres," the statement read. "These actions have the potential to unnecessarily escalate tensions between countries, and could result in a miscalculation or accident that could cause serious injury or death."

US officials are reviewing the incident.

A similar incident occurred last June, when Russian warplanes made close passes over a US destroyer in the Black Sea.

Russian media had reported at the time that the USS Ross was acting "aggressively" but the Department of Defense refuted that.

Source: bbc.com

 

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Nigeria Chibok girls 'shown alive' in Boko Haram video

A video released by the Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram appears to prove that some of the schoolgirls kidnapped two years ago from the town of Chibok are still alive.

The video, sent to the Nigerian government, shows 15 girls in black robes identifying themselves as pupils abducted from the secondary school.

Some of those filmed have been identified by their parents.

It is the first footage of the girls to be seen since May 2014.

The kidnapping of the 276 girls triggered the global social media campaign #BringBackOurGirls, involving US first lady Michelle Obama and a host of celebrities.

But despite their efforts, most of the girls are still missing.

Meanwhile, hundreds of parents are due to hold a march in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, to demand the government does more to find their daughters.

The BBC's Martin Patience in Abuja says they blame the previous government for doing nothing when the abduction took place and now the current administration for failing to devote enough resources to the search.

Boko Haram militants attacked the government boarding school in Borno state on 14 April 2014, seizing the girls who had gone there to take exams.

Shortly afterwards they released a video of them and demanded a prisoner exchange.

Boko Haram's leader, Abubakar Shekau, said the girls had converted to Islam and he threatened to force them into marriage with his fighters or sell them into slavery.

As the months passed, about 57 students managed to escape but at least 219 are still missing.

The latest video, apparently filmed on Christmas Day 2015, shows the girls pleading with the Nigerian government to co-operate with militants on their release.

They said they were being treated well but wanted to be with their families.

Two mothers, Rifkatu Ayuba and Mary Ishaya, said they recognised their daughters in the video while a third mother, Yana Galang, identified five of the missing girls, Reuters reported.

They were shown the video at a screening organised by local officials in Maiduguri, capital of Borno state.

"They were definitely our daughters... all we want is for the government to bring back our girls," said Mrs Galang.

Amnesty International says about 2,000 children have been abducted by Boko Haram since 2014. Many are used as sex slaves, fighters and even suicide bombers.

Although the militants are still launching attacks, the Nigerian army has made progress in its fight against them over the past year, our correspondent adds.

It has retaken towns and villages controlled by Boko Haram and has also freed hundreds of women and children held captive.

  • Founded in 2002, initially focused on opposing Western-style education - Boko Haram means "Western education is forbidden" in the Hausa language
  • Launched military operations in 2009
  • Thousands killed, mostly in north-eastern Nigeria, hundreds abducted, including at least 200 schoolgirls
  • Joined so-called Islamic State, now calls itself IS's "West African province"
  • Seized large area in north-east, where it declared caliphate
  • Regional force has retaken most territory last year

'Boko Haram took my children'

Town divided by Boko Haram legacy

On patrol against Boko Haram

Who are Boko Haram?

Source: bbc.com

 

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Will Smith, retired NFL star, was shot in the back seven times

A "rageful" driver shot retired US football star Will Smith in the back seven times, killing him, the Smith family has said.

The former New Orleans Saints player was driving with his wife in the city on Saturday when a Humvee crashed into Smith's car.

Police said the crash set off a row and the Humvee's driver, Cardell Hayes, killed Smith and wounded his wife.

Smith's family told reporters Mr Hayes was "remorseless" after the shooting.

Mr Hayes ignored the pleas of Smith's wife to leave the couple alone and stood over Smith's dead body yelling, said Peter Thomson, an attorney for the Smith family.

Mr Thomson said Smith's wife, Racquel, said her husband died trying to protect her. She called him "her superman".

"Go back to your car. We have children. This is not worth this," Racquel Smith reportedly told Mr Hayes before he opened fire.

She is being treated at hospital and is expected to recover.

Police said Smith had a gun in his car the night he was shot but it was never fired and he did not have it on him.

Mr Hayes, who has been charged with murder, said Smith was the aggressor.

Smith, a 34-year-old father of three, played with the Saints for his entire career and won a Super Bowl with the team in 2009.

He retired in 2012 after he was implicated in the "Bounty Bowl" scandal.

The NFL accused of Smith of being part of a locker-room pool that paid cash bonuses for heavy and even injurious hits.

Source: bbc.com

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US election: Trump accuses Republican leaders of conspiracy

Republican Donald Trump has said the party's leaders do not want him to win the presidential nomination.

The system was "stacked" against him, he said in New York, accusing the Republican National Committee (RNC) of conspiring against him.

His comments come after his rival Ted Cruz was awarded all the delegates in Colorado without a state-wide vote.

Mr Trump leads the race but may fall short of getting enough delegates to get the nomination outright.

That would lead to a contested convention in July, where delegates are free after the first ballot to back whom they want, opening the door for Texas Senator Mr Cruz or even the third candidate in the race, John Kasich.

The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that Mr Cruz is likely to win on a second vote, because he has persuaded so many delegates to vote for him when they are "unbound" to vote as pledged.

But Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus rejected Mr Trump's charge that the rules in states like Colorado had been changed in response to his rise in the polls.

Mr Priebus tweeted that the nomination process had been well known for more than a year.

"It's the responsibility of the campaigns to understand it. Complaints now? Give us all a break."

Asked at a town hall event in New York whether the RNC wanted him to win, Mr Trump said: "No, I don't think so. I really don't."

He has been criticised for not campaigning hard enough on the ground in states like Colorado.

But Mr Trump said delegates who wanted to support him were being pushed out by the RNC.

"They don't like when I put up my own money because it means they don't have any control of me because I'm working for the people," he said.


Analysis - Anthony Zurcher, BBC North America reporter

Donald Trump's insurgent presidential candidacy has proven to be extremely successful in besting a fractured Republican field at the ballot box, propelling him to a commanding lead in the race for the nomination.

What his campaign has not been built to do is engage in the gruelling, behind-the-scenes political combat that comes in the weeks and months after the headline-generating nominating contests. Although Mr Trump has received almost 2 million more votes than Ted Cruz, it's the Texas senator who is prevailing in the unglamorous race to ensure that the Republican National Convention floor is packed with loyalists who, in a nominating free-for-all, will stand by their candidate.

Before Mr Trump complains too loudly about the undemocratic nature of the process, however, it should be noted that at least so far he's won a larger share of pledged convention delegates (45%) than he has of the raw vote in nomination contests (37%).

In this close, contentious primary season, the veneer of accountability is rubbing off, exposing the sometimes unsightly gears that still power the US political system. It isn't a pretty sight - and it's difficult for anyone to claim the moral high ground.

Is the US presidential race 'rigged'?


Most states have opted to hold state-wide primaries or caucuses to determine the number of delegates pledged to a particular candidate.

But Colorado decided last summer to select its delegates in a different way, at its own state convention.

The state-by-state primary contests come to New York next week where a high number of delegates will be up for grabs.

Several senior Republicans have expressed opposition to Mr Trump winning, doubting his ability to win a general election and disagreeing with his hard line on immigration.

Mr Trump has broken an earlier pledge he made to support whoever the Republicans nominate, therefore refusing to rule out a third-party run.

He has said there will be "riots" if he is not chosen as the party's nominee, having headed to the convention with the most delegates.

Source: bbc.com

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Holders Barcelona suffered a shock Champions League exit

Holders Barcelona suffered a shock Champions League exit as Antoine Griezmann's double sent Atletico Madrid into the semi-finals.

Barca arrived in Spain's capital with a 2-1 advantage from the first leg but poor defending allowed the unmarked Griezmann to power home Saul's cross.

Saul headed against the bar as Barca toiled before Griezmann scored a late penalty after Andres Iniesta handled.

Barca were denied a penalty when Gabi handled just inside the area.

The defeat ended Luis Enrique's hopes of securing a La Liga, Champions League and Copa del Rey treble, while Atletico join Bayern Munich, Manchester City and Real Madrid in Friday's semi-final draw (11:30 BST).

Barcelona's players surrounded the referee after Gabi clearly handled inside the area though he was standing outside it, the referee awarding only a free-kick.

Listen again:'Simeone is the archetypal baddie'

But Barca were a shadow of the team that conquered Europe so convincingly last season and have now lost three of the last four games in all competitions.

In addition, Lionel Messi failed to score for the fifth game in a row for his club, and Neymar and Luis Suarez were frustrated by excellent home defending.

More on the Champions League
Enrique takes blame for Barca exit
Hat-trick answers critics - Ronaldo
Pellegrini targets Champions League glory
Bayern Munich ease through to semi-finals

On the rare occasions Suarez managed to work an opening he found Jan Oblak in fine form on a great night for Atletico.

Barca's bad-tempered exit

The tie was littered with late challenges - there were eight bookings in total - while there were two flashpoints as Barca exited the competition on a bad-tempered note.

Suarez caught Uruguay team-mate Diego Godin with an elbow that left the Atletico defender with a swelling above his eye.

Atletico Madrid defender Diego GodinAtletico Madrid defender Diego GodinAtletico Madrid defender Diego Godin

And another scuffle between the top two clubs in Spain broke out when Neymar appeared to lash out at Juanfran from behind.

Barca enjoyed 77% possession and had more shots than Atletico , yet could not disguise their frustration as they were undone by Griezmann's double.

History repeats itself

This was the eighth meeting in 15 months between the sides, with Barcelona having won the previous seven.

Indeed, Atletico's most recent win over their oppoents was at this stage of the Champions League two years ago.

Barcelona suffered a 2-1 aggregate defeat in 2014 with Diego Simeone's side eventually reaching the final - only to lose 4-1 to Real Madrid after extra time.

Simeone will be confident after this fine performance that his side can go one better this time.

Wait goes on for Messi

Messi remains on 499 career goals, just as he has done since 30 March when he scored for Argentina.

He has gone 452 minutes without scoring for Barcelona.

On Wednesday, Messi did not look like finding the net as he failed to register a shot on target in a Champions League game for the first time since 2014 - also against Atletico.

The 28-year-old cut a frustrated figure as Godin and Lucas Hernandez produced commanding performances at the heart of the home defence.

Messi's last touch of the game was a free-kick on the edge of the area, when they should have had a penalty, which flew wide.

It summed up Barcelona's night.

The stats you need to know

  • No team has still ever retained the Champions League since its inception in 1992/93.
  • Only Diego Costa in 2013/14 (8 goals) has scored more for Atletico Madrid in a Champions League season than Antoine Griezmann has for them this campaign (6).
  • It was Griezmann's third Champions League brace this season, after scoring two in both matches against Galatasaray
  • Barcelona failed to score in a Champions League game for the first time since April 2014, which was also against Atletico Madrid.

What's next?

Barcelona are three points clear at the top of La Liga with six games remaining. They will look to put this result behind them when they entertain Valencia on Sunday (19:30 BST)

Atletico host Granada on the same day at 17:15 BST.

Source: bbc.com

 

 

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