Explosion at New York City's Port Authority

Suspect in custody following explosion at New York station

Lots of emergency responders on 8th Ave.
between 42nd and 43rd streets. 

NEW YORK - An explosion struck the Port Authority bus terminal at 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue on Monday morning, the New York Police Department said in a tweet.

One male suspect is in custody following an explosion early Monday at New York City’s Port Authority Bus Terminal near Times Square, according to preliminary information from the New York Police Department.

New York police immediately provided a heavy response.
The suspect, whose identity has not yet been released, sustained non-life-threatening injuries in the blast, fire officials said. No other injuries have been reported, police said.

Some kind of explosive device detonated at the A/C/E Port Authority subway stop around 7:30 a.m. Monday, an NYPD spokesperson said. All subways that typically stop at the Port Authority are bypassing the station. Authorities have temporarily closed the Port Authority Bus Terminal, a major transportation hub for New York City residents and visitors near Times Square, and several train lines have been rerouted or suspended.

PRESIDENT Trump has been briefed after an explosion at the New York Port Authority station during Monday morning rush hour.

Port Authority Police watch as people evacuate after a reported
explosion at the Port Authority Bus Terminal
A law enforcement official told AP that a man had explosive device strapped on when it exploded in New York City subway around 7:30am. The person was arrested and has non-life threatening injuries.

New York police confirmed one male suspect is in custody and there are “no injuries other than the suspect at this time.” Locals are being urged to avoid the area.

A police officer near the scene said: “There was an explosion under Port Authority somewhere in the subway. That’s all we’ve got for now.”

Local media reported that a man with a “possible second device” has been detained in a subway tunnel, however, this has not yet been confirmed by police.

Commuter Diego Fernandez, who was caught up in the chaos, said: “There was a stampede up the stairs to get out...Everybody was scared and running and shouting.”

The explosion happened during rush hour
The enormous bus and train station is one of the busiest in New York and connects Manhattan to New Jersey. It’s located directly opposite the New York Times office and is just two blocks from Times Square in the heart of mid-town.

Police closed off the busy 8th avenue surrounding the station within minutes and footage from the scene showed an orderly evacuation.

Earlier, police confirmed they were investigating an explosion of “unknown origin” in

Manhattan, and that people were being evacuated from several train lines.

Police and other first responders respond to an explosion at the
Port Authority Bus Terminal.
“The NYPD is responding to reports of an explosion of unknown origin at 42nd Street and 8th Ave, #Manhattan. The A, C and E line are being evacuated at this time. Info is preliminary, more when available,” the New York police department wrote on their Twitter account.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said the President had been briefed on the explosion. New York Mayor Bill De Blasio has also been briefed.

Local media reports said the explosion came from a suspected pipe bomb and battery pack, however, this has not been confirmed by police.

The event comes after eight people were killed and 11 injured after a 29-year-old man drove a white truck down a cycle lane into people on Halloween.

Sayfullo Saipov pleaded not guilty to murder and other criminal charges.


The only person injured was the suspect, Police said



Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital explained

“Today we finally acknowledge the obvious: that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.”


President Trump just officially declared Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel, upending decades of US diplomacy and threatening to spark massive unrest across the Muslim world.

Speaking in the White House’s Diplomatic Reception Room, Trump also announced his plan to eventually relocate the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and begin the difficult logistical work of building a new diplomatic facility in the disputed city.

“Israel is a sovereign nation with the right like any other sovereign nation to determine its own capital,” Trump said. “Acknowledging this is a fact is a necessary condition for achieving peace.”

Trump described Jerusalem as the capital that “the Jewish people established in ancient times,” a line that may anger those in the Arab world who minimize, or deny, that Jews have had a historic connection to the city for millennia.

Still, Trump’s speech was decidedly less inflammatory than it could have been. The president said the US “would support a two-state solution if agreed to by both sides” - at least nominally maintaining Washington’s commitment to a cornerstone of US foreign policy for decades - and called on both sides to maintain the existing status quo in the city.

And although Trump declared Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital, he explicitly didn’t call it the undivided capital of Israel, leaving the door open for Israelis and Palestinians to divide the city during any final status negotiations between the two sides. In advance of the speech, White House officials repeatedly stressed that Trump’s announcement doesn’t represent a change US policy on the future borders of Jerusalem.

Here’s why that linguistic choice is so important. Both the Palestinians and the Israelis claim Jerusalem as their capital, and the city contains sites sacred to both Jews and Muslims. Though Israel’s parliament and the prime minister’s home are in Jerusalem, they sit in West Jerusalem, on the side of the city Israel has controlled since 1949. Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967 and annexed that half of the city.

The international community considers East Jerusalem occupied territory. But that half of the city also contains sites holy to all three major monotheistic religions, including the Western Wall, the holiest place in the world where Jews can openly pray, and Haram al-Sharif, Arabic for “the Noble Sanctuary,” a sacred site for Muslims that Israelis refer to as the Temple Mount.

The Palestinians want to officially divide the city and make East Jerusalem the capital of a future Palestinian state. The Israelis, to put it mildly, disagree - and the right-wing government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long made clear that it wouldn’t even consider making concessions over Jerusalem.


The decades-long political fight over the future of the city is what makes Trump’s new move so momentous - and so dangerous.

World leaders from France to Saudi Arabia to China had cautioned Trump against the decision. Pope Francis even weighed in, calling on world leaders to let “wisdom and prudence prevail” so as “to avoid adding new elements of tension.” The US Consulate in Jerusalem issued a security warning barring all US government employees and their families from traveling to Jerusalem’s Old City or the West Bank ahead of the announcement because “widespread demonstrations” were expected.

But even though Trump’s speech ultimately didn’t go quite as far as many had expected, it may be too late to change perceptions that the Trump administration has unequivocally aligned itself with Israel. In other words, the damage may already be done.

Trump is touching the third rail of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

The status of Jerusalem has been a source of both division and contention for decades. During most of the 1990s - including during the creation of the Oslo peace accords between the Israelis and the Palestinians - negotiations over the final status of the city were left for the future to avoid derailing the rest of the talks.

In 2000, negotiations between then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and then-Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat reportedly came close to dividing the city between the two peoples. The Israelis would have retained control over the Western Wall, and the Palestinians would have been given control of Haram al-Sharif, the third-holiest site in Islam.

Final negotiations reportedly broke down over questions of who would control a maze of underground tunnels that run beneath Jerusalem’s Old City.

There have been no recent negotiations over the city for a simple and grim reason: Despite the official US government line, Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have been largely on hold for years, with no indications that they’ll resume anytime soon.

In the meantime, Jerusalem has retained the uniquely strange status of a city without a country. Americans born in the city must put “Jerusalem” rather than “Israel” on their passports. That’s because the nationality of the entire city remains contested, which is a source of deep fury for many Israelis and American Jews.

The specific wording of Trump’s speech matters

Though Trump affirmed Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, he didn’t called it the undivided capital of Israel - suggesting the US would still support potentially dividing Jerusalem between the Israelis and the Palestinians as part of future peace negotiations.

Indeed, he explicitly stated that the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty and Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations of a future peace agreement between the Palestinians and Israelis.

“We are not taking a position of any final status issues including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem or the resolution of contested borders,” Trump said.

That matters. For years, official US policy has been support for a two-state solution, with the final status of Jerusalem to be decided as part of a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Had Trump chosen to go further and declare Jerusalem to be the undivided capital of Israel, it would have sent the message that the US has taken a clear position on Jerusalem’s final status.

“[N]o issue seems to put Arab leaders more on the defensive than Jerusalem,” Middle East experts David Makovsky and Dennis Ross wrote in advance of Trump’s speech. “Because the administration needs these leaders to play a role in any renewed peace effort, it should avoid any moves that look like Washington is preempting negotiations and adopting Israel's position on the city.”

The damage may already be done

Even though Trump exercised uncharacteristic caution in how he worded his speech, the damage may already be done. That’s because news of Wednesday’s announcement leaked out several days earlier, immediately sparking fury in much of the Arab world.

On Tuesday, Palestinian leaders called for three “days of rage” to protest the decision, and demonstrations had already broken out in the Gaza Strip and a Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon, before Trump even spoke.

“Trump's tone is at least as important as his substance,” Tamara Cofman Wittes, a senior fellow at the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, tweeted in advance of Trump’s speech. “But it may be neither will matter v[ery] much, because the framing of his statement in the region has largely already happened.”





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Michael Flynn Has Been Charged With Lying During The Russian Investigation

Mike Flynn to plead guilty to lying to the FBI about contacts with Russia

former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn

Former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn will plead guilty on Friday to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian government officials.

The United States District Court for the District of Columbia has scheduled a plea hearing for Flynn that is set to take place at 10:30 a.m. ET. In the hearing, Flynn will plead guilty to making “materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent” statements to FBI agents this past January.

Mueller’s prosecutors have been investigating a wide range of potential charges against Flynn. The agreement to plead to one count comes amid recent signs that the former Trump advisor was now cooperating with investigators.

Specifically, Flynn falsely told the FBI that he did not tell the Russian ambassador to the United States that the country should “refrain” from escalating tensions between the two countries in the wake of new sanctions leveled against it by the outgoing Obama administration.

The Russian government did not retaliate against the Obama administration’s new sanctions late last year, and President Trump himself praised this decision as “very smart” on Twitter.



The Trump tweet was subsequently promoted by the Russian embassy of the United States’ official Twitter account.

Speculation about Flynn cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe spiked in late October when the special counsel hit former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort with an indictment that included money laundering allegations.

Flynn resigned as national security adviser this past February, less than a month into Trump’s first term, when it was revealed that he had lied about conversations he’d had with Russian officials about potential sanctions relief.

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Automakers struggle with the future

Automakers struggle with the future in Los Angeles



DETROIT: Car manufacturers’ attempts to square what US consumers want against the clean vehicles regulators and investors demand will be on display in Los Angeles this week at an auto show that has moved away from calling itself just an auto show.

Automakers on Monday will begin previewing new models for the media at an event called AutoMobility LA, reflecting an emphasis on digital technology and new ways to get around, such as self-driving cars. On Friday, the Los Angeles Auto Show will open to the public for 10 days, attracting visitors from one of the world’s most affluent and culturally influential metropolitan markets.

For now, self-driving cars are not ready for consumers, and sales of the battery-powered vehicles demanded by California regulators remain marginal and money-losing. Profits are generated by gasoline-fueled sport utility vehicles and trucks.

Automakers caught between the petroleum past and the digital future will send muddled messages.

Volkswagen AG will try to replace memories of the diesel emissions cheating scandal that tarnished its image with many California customers by promoting its US$40 billion waves of electric vehicles.

In the next breath, the German automaker will tout its gasoline-fuelled Audi A8 large luxury sedan, which can pilot itself under limited circumstances but is out of step with a market where buyers are switching to sport utility vehicles.

Rivals overshadowed by electric vehicle pioneer Tesla Inc are in a quandary, too. Despite a booming stock market, sales for luxury brands BMW, Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz and Toyota Motor Corp’s Lexus are down for the first 10 months of 2017.

BMW AG is expected to roll out new versions of its i8 plug-in hybrid sports car. But for those not interested in electrification, the company will use the show to promote a high-performance version of its 5 Series sedan.

Tata Motors unit Jaguar Land Rover will accompany its new gasoline-powered Range Rover SVAutobiography billed as the “pinnacle” of a lineup that already has models priced above US$100,000, with its first plug-in hybrid Range Rovers.


At AutoMobility LA, auto and technology industry executives will debate how ride-sharing, self-driving vehicles and electric cars will shape the future. At the auto show itself, the stars will be gasoline-burning SUVs, such as the Subaru Ascent, a large, three-row SUV from a brand known for compact, all-wheel-drive cars.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV will unveil a new Jeep Wrangler with styling that still harks back to the trusty vehicles that helped the United States win World War II.




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Uber's data breach cover up

Uber's data breach cover-up could provide customers a significant push to shift to its competitors


Uber has managed to hold the title of world’s largest ride-hailing service despite its seemingly endless string of scandals.

Its latest misbehavior involving a data breach cover-up revealed this week could be the impetus for people to ride elsewhere - or keep looking the other way.

Hackers were able to steal data from 57 million riders and drivers, and Uber concealed it for a year after paying $100,000 in ransom for the stolen information to be destroyed.

Riders and business experts say that while Uber’s problems such as workplace sexual harassment, drivers with criminal records and other past infractions are serious, stolen data hits people directly and could make them mad enough to delete the app. Then again, riders have fled from the service before, but enough have stayed because of the Uber’s convenience so the latest scandal-of-the-week may not make much of a difference. The brand is so well-known for quickly responding to ride requests that it’s often used as a verb for such trips, no matter which service is summoned.

Michael Pachter, a technology analyst based in Los Angeles, said he uses Uber five to 10 times a month.

“I don’t blame the drivers for the company transgressions, and view Uber as the glue that facilitates drivers willing to drive me around,” he said.

But for Vermont resident Jay Furr, the breach was the “final straw.” He had stuck with Uber despite recent problems because of the service. But now he’ll use Lyft, Uber’s main competitor when he goes to the airport for frequent business trips.

“Why to reward crooked behavior?” he asked. “The only way they will learn is if they lose business.”

For much of the past year, Uber has been mired in well-publicized problems. A female former engineer blogged that her boss had propositioned her for sex, exposing widespread sexual harassment. A federal judge urged prosecutors to investigate allegations that Uber stole technology from Waymo, Google’s autonomous vehicle unit. The Justice Department is investigating whether Uber used a bogus app to deceive inspectors in several cities, and in London, authorities decided not to renew Uber’s operating license in part for failing to report crimes.

Earlier this week the state of Colorado fined Uber $8.9 million for allowing employees with serious criminal or motor vehicle offenses to drive for the company. Then came the stolen data, which has touched off more government inquiries.

The scandals have damaged Uber’s brand reputation over time, said Robert Passikoff, president of Brand Keys Inc., a New York-based customer research firm. The company’s polling has found that in 2015 Lyft passed Uber as the most trusted of ride-hailing brands, and trust in Uber has been eroding ever since. Consumers will give technology companies the benefit of the doubt for a long time. But with Uber, “That well of forgiveness isn’t bottomless,” Passikoff said.

Passikoff doesn’t measure the impact on ridership and Uber won’t discuss it. But Lyft says its share of the US market has risen 3 percentage points since August to 33 percent. It’s up from 12 percent two years ago as Lyft has expanded with more drivers in major US cities.

In the data breach, Uber has said that for riders, hackers got only names, email addresses, and telephone numbers. They did not get personal information such as trip details or credit card and Social Security numbers. For about 600,000 drivers in the US, hackers got driver’s license numbers, and the company has offered them free credit monitoring services.

While Uber drivers lost personal data and face uncertainty over identity theft, it appears they’ll stick with Uber. Many drives for Lyft as well.

Nate Tepp, who drives Uber in Seattle, said he doesn’t plan to leave, nor does he think other drivers will.

“All they are doing is cutting out 60 to 65 percent of their income,” Tepp said of drivers who might consider leaving. That estimate is based on his own split between Uber and Lyft fares.

Tepp also thinks the last three to four months at Uber have been different and things have “started to go in drivers’ favor.” This includes adding an option for riders to tip.

He is also somewhat forgiving about the hacking - and the subsequent cover-up. After all, companies are hacked often, he said.

“Does it make me happy? No. Does it (make me angry) to the point that I am going to stop making money through that company? No,” he said.

New Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi could do little but admit the problem and promises ethical behavior in the future. “We are changing the way we do business, putting integrity at the core of every decision we make and working hard to earn the trust of our customers,” he wrote in a blog post.

Marlene Towns, a professor at Georgetown University’s business school who studies brand values, said Uber is testing the boundaries of how many scandals people will endure. While data breaches are personal to people, she still thinks Uber will get through this scandal as well.

“We have a short memory as consumers,” she said. “We tend to be if not forgiving, forgetful.”




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Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will marry in May 2018

Royal wedding date: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will marry in May 2018

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding will take place at Windsor Chapel

PRINCE Harry and Meghan Markle will wed at St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle in May.
Kensington Palace has confirmed the pair will not hold their nuptials at Westminster Abbey, as Prince William and Catherine Middleton did.
Instead, they have opted for the lower-key choice of St George’s Chapel at the Windsor Castle royal estate west of London.

Prince Harry was christened there, and his father Prince Charles held a blessing there after his civil wedding to his second wife, Camilla Parker-Bowles, in 2005.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle appeared on British TV to discuss their engagement.

“As with all members of the Royal family, Windsor is a very special place for Prince Harry and he and Ms. Markle have regularly spent time there over the last year and a half,’’ Prince Harry’s communications secretary Jason Knauf said.
“They are grateful to the Queen for granting permission for the use of the chapel.’’

The royal family would pay for all the core elements of the wedding including the service, flowers, and music.
No final date has been announced, and Kensington Palace is yet to reveal who will conduct the service, although it is likely it will be conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.

The happy couple officially announced
their engagement on Monday in London
A Kensington Palace spokesman also confirmed that Ms. Markle, a Protestant, would be baptized and confirmed into the Church of England prior to the wedding. The Queen is the head of the Church of England.

While much smaller and less grand that Westminster Abbey or St Paul’s Cathedral, which are both in the historic center of London, St George’s Chapel can still seat 800 guests.

However, it is on the Windsor Castle estate and will be more difficult for members of the public to access.

Mr. Knauf said the day would be a “fun and joyful’’ occasion for family and friends, and Prince Harry and Ms. Markle “want the day to be shaped so as to allow members of the public to feel part of the celebrations too.’’
It is not yet know how the public might be able to view either the wedding or the potential arrival of the bridal party at the chapel. The service will be televised.
Ms. Markle, 36, and Prince Harry, 33, formally announced their engagement at Kensington Palace, their home, on Monday.

Mr. Knauf revealed Ms. Markle would begin formal royal duties almost immediately and would join Prince Harry at a series of public appearances in Nottingham, a midlands city three hours north of London, on Friday.
She will conduct a street walk to meet the public, visit the National Justice Museum, and join a celebration for World AIDS Day.
The spokesman confirmed the American Ms. Markle would begin the process of gaining UK citizenship, which was likely to take several years.

Prince William and Kate Middleton were married at Westminster Abbey in 2010

It was also confirmed one of Ms. Markle’s dogs, a beagle called Guy, was now living with the couple in Nottingham Cottage in Kensington Palace in central London, while her second dog, a mixed-breed called
Bogart, had been rehomed with friends at an undisclosed location - presumably in Canada or the United States.

“It is a permanent arrangement,’’ the spokesman confirmed, leading the British press to joke about headlines of “Bogart Dumped.’’

“Prince Harry and Ms. Markle are extremely grateful for the warm public response following yesterday’s announcement of their engagement,’’ Mr. Knauf said.
“In a happy moment in their lives, it means a great deal that so many people throughout the UK, the Commonwealth and around the world are celebrating with them.’’

Prince Charles and Camilla held a blessing at St George’s Chapel
 after their civil wedding in 2005

The date of the wedding and details on the service will be released in coming weeks.
A May date will avoid a clash with the arrival of Prince William and Catherine’s third child, which is due in April.
Prince Charles will also be in Australia in early April to open the Commonwealth Games.




SOURCE

Challenge to Trump as North Korea tests ICBM

With N.Korea missile reach global, focus falls on defenses



North Korea test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile on Wednesday, in a major challenge to US President Donald Trump after he slapped fresh sanctions on Pyongyang and declared it a state sponsor of terrorism.

It was the nuclear-armed North's first ballistic test in more than two months and an initial Pentagon assessment said the ICBM flew about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) before splashing down within Japan's maritime Economic Exclusion Zone.

At least one expert said its lofted trajectory suggested an actual range of 13,000 kilometers that would bring every city in the continental United States within range.

Trump, who has previously threatened North Korea with "fire and fury," was guarded in his immediate response, as the UN Security Council agreed to convene an emergency session to discuss the latest provocation.

"I will only tell you that we will take care of it," Trump said at the White House. "It is a situation that we will handle," he added, without elaborating.

North Korea's immediate neighbors were less restrained, with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe calling the test an intolerable, "violent" act and South Korean President Moon Jae-In condemning Pyongyang's "reckless" behavior.

The South Korean military responded by staging a precision-strike missile exercise as it has done following previous North Korean tests.

Prior to Wednesday's launch, the North's last missile test was on September 15 and the subsequent pause had prompted some to speculate whether the North might be willing to embrace a negotiated solution to the nuclear standoff.


- Diplomatic options -


Trump insisted there would be no change to his administration's "maximum pressure campaign" which has sought to curb Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programme with tightened sanctions backed by dire warnings of massive retaliation in the event of an attack.

But his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, also stressed that diplomatic options remained "viable and open."

It was the North's third successful ICBM test and David Wright, a co-director at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the flight parameters pointed to a "significantly longer" range than previous launches.

"Such a missile would have more than enough range to reach Washington DC, and in fact any part of the continental United States," he said.

While Pyongyang has yet to prove its mastery of the re-entry technology required to bring a warhead back through the Earth's atmosphere, experts say it is on the threshold of developing a working nuclear strike capability against US cities.

Tensions over the North's weapons programme peaked after Pyongyang conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test in September and then fired an intermediate-range missile over Japan.

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Wednesday's test went higher than ever before and was a step toward North Korea building missiles that can "threaten everywhere in the world, basically."

There was no immediate reaction from China, the North's sole ally and economic lifeline, which has come under repeated US pressure to do more to rein in Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.

China has pushed for a "dual-track approach" to the crisis which would see the United States freeze its military drills in South Korea while North Korea would halt its weapons programmes.

Washington has rejected that approach, and last week unveiled new sanctions targeting North Korean shipping, as well a number of Chinese companies doing business with the pariah state.


- Terror sponsor -


President Trump also declared North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism, a spot on a US blacklist the country had shed nearly a decade ago.

But the North remained defiant, vowing to continue building up its nuclear force and warning that sanctions would never succeed.

Drumming up support for a tough stance against North Korea's nuclear weapons ambitions was the main focus of a marathon Asian tour undertaken by Trump earlier this month.

Trump and Abe, who enjoy a close relationship, spoke by phone after Wednesday's ICBM test and, according to a White House statement, agreed that repeated provocations by leader Kim Jong-Un's regime were "undermining" North Korea's own security and "further isolating it from the international community".

Trump's relations with his South Korean counterpart Moon, whom he has accused of appeasing Pyongyang, are far cooler, and there are concerns in Seoul that the US president might be considering military action against the North that could trigger a full-scale war.

"The situation could get out of control," Moon warned during a hastily convened meeting with national security officials on Wednesday.

"We have to prevent such a scenario where the North may miscalculate the situation and threaten us with nuclear weapons, or the US may consider a pre-emptive strike," Moon said.

Seoul is home to 10 million people and only about 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the border -- well within a range of Pyongyang's artillery.

One study by the Nautilus think-tank in California estimated around 65,000 civilians would die in Seoul alone on the first day of a conventional North Korean attack.




SOURCE
AFP

Amazon and Netflix hailed

Amazon and Netflix hailed as new gatekeepers of video content by director Shekhar Kapur


After film studios and producers, popular online video content platforms Amazon and Netflix are the new 'gatekeepers' of cinema, says ace director Shekhar Kapur, who envisions that in the future technology will ensure that the masses and not 'gatekeepers' will dictate the video content trends.

Participating at a panel discussion on 'Digital Space - The Future Ahead' on the sidelines of the ongoing 48th International Film Festival of India, he also said the technology-enabled film distribution on mobile phones and other gadgets, will make going to a cinema hall a once-in-a-while social experience.

"So now Amazon and Netflix are the new gatekeepers because now they are going to decide who they are going to pick. Before that, there were the studios, before that they were the big producers... We are now heading towards a world where the crowd will decide what is good or not and gatekeepers will go," Kapur said.

"One of the things that digital is constantly doing now, is undercutting the idea of iconism... What's happening is, inertia is being sucked out of the system. Amazon and Netflix and Facebook are people that actually rebelled against iconism, who then became icons themselves," he said.

Kapur claimed that in the future, constantly evolving technology will result in failure of conventional organizations, who would not be able to keep pace with the developments.

"Organisations won't be able to sustain because, by the time they have created an organization, the technology will change. The future lies in individuality. The future lies with democracy. That's where it is going.

"It is going to a point where, if anyone of you believes you can tell a story, you can tell a story. If you believe you can give the story to the world, you can give it to the world. You have the means, you have the technology, you can upload the video," he said.

He also said that the concept of an outing at the cinema hall would be minimal in the future, but may not be eliminated all the same.

"It is becoming difficult to go out in Mumbai. You cannot go out to eat (often), but you still go out to eat as a social occasion. Cinema will be a social occasion... There are various reasons why you go to films. It is a darkened theatre. You'll have a social experience," he said.




Source
Firstpost

Germany on road to political stability

Germany on road to political stability as coalition talks between Conservatives, SPD gain momentum


Momentum in Germany is building up for a new ‘grand coalition’ between Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc as well as the Social Democrats (SPD) to stop the political imbalances caused by the failure of her coalition talks with some other parties.

The conservatives and SPD have ruled collectively during the last 4 years and many ministers are retaining their posts in an interim government until a fresh coalition or minority government is formed.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier hosts an initial meeting of Merkel, the head of Bavaria’s CSU conservatives, Horst Seehofer, and SPD leader Martin Schulz on Thursday.

Below are a few of the overlaps and differences in policy areas probably going to be discussed in every coalition talks.

Finances


Merkel has stressed she would like to sustain Germany’s solid finances. Germany has operated a budget surplus since 2014 under the stewardship of her hardline conservative finance minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble.


She has also said she wants some tax cuts, mostly for low and medium earners.

The SPD is actually devoted to boosting spending and has in the past couple of days said it wishes to increase investment in education and homes as well as on infrastructure. The SPD hopes to increase inheritance tax, some in the party want to demand to raise the minimum wage and it fought the election on a pledge of keeping pensions stable.

The conservatives and SPD both want to increase spending to expand broadband.

Migration and Security


An area of possible conflict.

Since the election, Merkel has bowed to pressure from her Bavarian allies to put a cap on the number of people Germany will accept on humanitarian grounds. Merkel recurrent on Saturday that she desired to limit the number to about 200,000 a year. The SPD opposes this, arguing it breaches the constitution’s guarantee of asylum to people who are persecuted for political reasons. Some leading party members have said they will not agree to a cap.


Europe


The SPD is more positive than Merkel’s cautious stance towards French President Emmanuel Macron’s proposals for a eurozone budget and a eurozone finance minister. The SPD also backs the concept of turning the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) bailout fund into a European Monetary Fund along with the lines of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

There is little change on the strategy to Brexit talks.

Foreign Policy


Broad agreement on many areas of foreign policy, including with the United States and Turkey. The SPD puts greater concentrate on mending ties with Russia that happen to be hurt by the conflict in Ukraine, however, this is more an issue of nuance than a deep policy rift.

Also, agreement on armed forces missions abroad, although the SPD is more skeptical on NATO, demands to advance towards increasing defense spending to 2 percent of gross domestic product by 2014.

Social Justice


The SPD fought its election on the platform of social justice and wants to improve a lot of the less affluent.

A long-standing commitment which several senior SPD members have repeated lately is the idea of making health insurance fairer for everybody by introducing a ‘citizen’s insurance’. The SPD also wants to ensure both women and men have equal pay and working conditions.





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India Police gets rid of beggars from city streets as Ivanka Trump visits

 India Authorities takes no chances for Ivanka Trump visit


HYDERABAD: Indian authorities have removed beggars away from the streets and introduced 10,000 extra security forces for Ivanka Trump’s most significant foreign mission since her father became president.

President Donald Trump’s eldest daughter is planned to be the main speaker Tuesday during the launching of a three-day Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Hyderabad together with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The southern city is the location of the India operations of Google, Facebook and Amazon.

The 36-year-old, who will be an official White House advisor, will attempt to press women’s empowerment in business corporations.

She will also highlight the expanding friendship between the United States and India - therefore the host country is taking no chances.

Trump will probably be welcomed in Hyderabad by Modi who is going to host an event dinner at the Falaknuma Palace, a luxury hotel once owned by one of the Nizams who ruled the city before India’s independence.

The authorities have spruced up an open-air market around Charminar, a 16th-century mosque which is among the many city’s icons. Media reports have recommended that Trump could visit the market.

Police have cleared scores of beggars off the streets, saying they cause nuisance and block traffic.


Approximately 10,000 security personnel including anti-terrorist forces and dog squads is going to be deployed, and Trump will travel around Hyderabad in her own special bulletproof vehicle with US Secret Service handling close security.

The visit has long been clouded by US media reports questioning Trump’s clothing line along with its supply chain plus a snub by Rex Tillerson, the US secretary of state, who has reportedly turned down to send out senior staff with Trump to India.

“They won’t send someone senior for the reason that doesn't wish to bolster Ivanka,” CNN quoted a senior State Department official as saying.

But US business front-runners are typically in the Trump delegation working with around 1,200 entrepreneurs from 150 countries at the meeting.

“Entrepreneurship… is really an important concern for this particular administration. The United States acknowledges innovation and entrepreneurship vital tools for job creation, economic growth, and stability…” Trump said ahead of the visit.

“Globally, between 2014 and 2016, entrepreneurship activity among women improved by 10 percent. One study estimates that closing the gender entrepreneurship gap worldwide could grow our global GDP by up to two percent.”

Trump’s Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative, or We-Fi, aims to improve having access to business capital for women in the developing world.

In keeping with Trump, women-owned businesses in the developing world suffer an annual credit deficit of $300 billion, either by being incapable of borrow or receiving only high-cost, short-term credit.

The We-Fi was initially projected at the G20 summit in Hamburg this year as well as being backed up by Germany, Russia, China, Japan, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and also other countries.


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FMT

Islamist protests results Pakistan minister resignation

Pakistan minister resigns after violent Islamist protests: state media

Pakistan's law minister Zahid Hamid has resigned, state media reported Monday, meeting a vital demand of Islamist protesters that have clashed violently with security forces and blockaded the capital Islamabad for many days.

Hamid "has submitted his resignation to Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to assist the nation away from crisis," the state-run news agency Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) said in a report citing unnamed official sources, without giving further details.

State television station PTV also reported the minister's resignation, without citing any sources.

There wasn't any quick confirmation or comment from government officials.

Hamid's resignation was a key demand of the little known Islamist group that has virtually paralyzed Islamabad since it began a sit-in on a major highway into the capital on November 6.

The Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah Pakistan (TLY) have been calling for Hamid's ousting for weeks over a hastily-abandoned amendment to the oath that election candidates must swear.

The protesters have linked it to blasphemy -- a highly contentious issue in Muslim Pakistan that has often fuelled violence.

On Saturday security forces attempted to clear the roughly 2,000 demonstrators at the sit-in in a botched operation that devolved into violence, with at least seven people killed and hundreds wounded before they were ordered to retreat.

The clashes fuelled more protests in other cities, including Pakistan's two largest Karachi and Lahore, and saw thousands of more demonstrators arrive on the streets of Islamabad.

The government called on the army to intervene to restore order late Saturday. By Monday morning there still had been no official response from the military.


The reports of Hamid's resignation raised hopes that the protest leaders would end the sit-in, which has enraged commuters with hours-long traffic snarls, caused the death of at least one child whose ambulance could not reach the hospital in time, and infuriated the judiciary.

Numbers were dwindling at the Islamabad protest site early Monday, with AFP reporters saying around 2,500 demonstrators remained. Leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi had not yet arrived as Hamid's resignation was reported.

The minister's ousting is the latest in a series of heavy blows to the beleaguered Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) government as general elections approach in 2018.

In July, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was deposed by the courts over graft allegations, while finance minister Ishaq Dar -- also accused of corruption -- has taken indefinite medical leave.

Source
AFP

Pope Francis arrives in Myanmar

Pope arrives in Myanmar on high-stakes visit


Pope Francis visited mainly Buddhist Myanmar Monday with a highly fragile trip to a nation facing sharp global criticism for the presumed ethnic cleansing of its Rohingya Muslim minority.

Catholics in vibrant ethnic traditional dress waved flags and danced at Yangon's airport in a joyful welcome for the pope, making the first visit to the country by a pontiff.

The visit has come about as Myanmar's military stands charged with waging an ethnic cleansing campaign up against the Rohingya Muslims. More than 620,000 have fled a crackdown in northern Rakhine state for neighboring Bangladesh over the past three months.

The pope's four-day visit intensifies pressure on Myanmar over its treatment of the stateless minority, a group he has called his "brothers and sisters" in repeated entreaties to ease their plight.

His messages are going to be scrutinized by Buddhist hardliners of any reference to the word "Rohingya", an incendiary term in a country in which the Muslim group is reviled and branded "Bengalis" -- alleged illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Francis will meet civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner whose luster has faded as a result of her failure to speak up extensively for the Rohingya.

He will probably also hold discussions with army chief Min Aung Hlaing -- a session between a religious leader who has championed the rights of refugees and the man accused of supervising the brutal strategy to push out the Rohingya.

Speaking to a large group of 30,000 people today St Peter's Square, briefly before he left Rome, the pontiff said: "I ask you to be with me in prayer so that, for these peoples, my presence is a sign of affinity and hope."

His visit is a historic chance for Myanmar's flock to get close to the head of their church.

Myanmar's approximated 700,000 Catholics constitute about one percent of the country's 51 million people and are generally spread in far-flung corners of the nation, most of them roiled by conflict.

About 200,000 Catholics are coming into Yangon, Myanmar's commercial capital, by airplane, train and car ahead of a tremendous open-air mass on Wednesday.

"We are prepared to welcome the Pope cheerfully... with pure hearts," a woman from the northernmost state of Kachin told AFP, one of the hundreds waiting near the archbishop's residence in Yangon.

- Prayers for peace -


But the Rohingya crisis frames the pope's visit.

The army, which ran the country with an iron fist for nearly half a century, insists its Rakhine operation was a proportionate response to Rohingya "terrorists" who raided police posts in late August, killing at least a dozen officers.

But rights groups, the UN and the US have accused the army of using its operation as cover to drive out a minority it has oppressed for decades.

That is at odds with views inside the country.

"The vast majority of people in Myanmar don't believe the international narrative of abuse against the Rohingya and the refugee numbers that we're seeing in Bangladesh," said Myanmar-based political analyst Richard Horsey.

"If the pope did come and weigh in heavily on this issue, it would inflame tensions and it would inflame public sentiment," he added.

Days before the pope's visit, Myanmar and Bangladesh inked a deal vowing to begin repatriating Rohingya refugees in two months.

But details of the agreement -- including the use of temporary shelters for returnees, many of whose homes have been burned to the ground -- raise questions for Rohingya fearful of coming back without guarantees of basic rights.

Nur Mohammad, a 45-year-old Rohingya imam at the Nayapara refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, said he hoped the pope would tell the Myanmar government to accept Rohingya, "give citizenship to them and end all discriminations against them."





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AFP

Qatari central banker: Efforts to hurt Qatar’s riyal may backfire

Efforts to hurt Qatar’s riyal may backfire on region, central banker says


DUBAI: Some Arab states making the effort to destabilize Qatar’s riyal but efforts to push down its value could backfire by damaging other dollar-linked currencies in the market, a Qatari central banker said.

Khalid Alkhater, currently in the united kingdom on leave out from the central bank, was commenting on moves by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt to target Qatar. Doha’s rivals say it facilitates terrorism, this Qatar denies.

“It’s strategic economic warfare, a technique to cause fear or panic and anxiety amongst the public and investors to destabilize the economy,” Alkhater told Reuters in a phone interview, saying he was giving his personal thoughts.

Saudi Arabia, the United Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar in June. A good number of independent analysts think its economy, with huge gas and financial reserves, can weather the storm and you should not see any serious probability of a devaluation on the riyal, whose dollar peg of 3.64 riyals has long been enshrined in law since 2001.

Alkhater, architect of Qatar’s monetary policy during the 2008 global financial crisis, said some of the strategies to undermine the riyal involved trading Qatar government bonds at artificially low prices to point out the economy is in trouble.

This was unsuccessful considering that the market in Qatari bonds was illiquid so trading high amounts were difficult and since Qatar got precautionary steps, said Alkhater, on sabbatical leave doing research at the Britain’s University of Cambridge. He decided not to identify the methods.

Alkhater ascribed low quotes for Qatar’s riyal in the offshore market on a few banks - that he said were from countries boycotting Qatar, without naming the institutions - trying to manipulate the market by exchanging the currency at weaker levels than on the onshore market. He still did not present proof.

The riyal exchanged onshore a week ago not far from its official peg of 3.64 to the US dollar, however, it traded at only 3.8950 offshore on the Reuters conversational dealing platform.

Equity index compiler MSCI cited this gap a couple weeks ago when it said it would use offshore forex trading rates to value Qatar’s stock market, essentially changing the weighting of Qatari equities in MSCI’s growing market index.

Qatar’s central bank reacted by saying it may well provide currency would need to all investors and be working together with banks to make sure that transactions can be conducted normally.

Central bank governor Sheikh Abdullah bin Saud al-Thani, in office since 2006, said last month that the government and the central bank could provide the banking system with state reserves and the holdings of Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund.

Alkhater said Qatar, the world’s top liquefied natural gas (LNG) exporter, could in future consider other steps to bolster the riyal if needed, such as taking payments for LNG exports in riyals instead of dollars, that would create global interest in its currency.

But he said there seemed to be a threat that efforts to undermine the riyal could shake confidence in dollar-linked currencies of other oil-reliant Gulf Arab states.

“It could spark contagion across a region that is absolutely linked to the US by means of dollar pegs, and that is presently struggling with financial troubles and economic challenges simply because of low oil prices,” he said, calling attacks on Qatar’s riyal “a weapon of mutual destruction”.

Any kind of increase of pressure on the currency of Bahrain, whose debts are rated junk, could potentially cause Manama to search for support from Saudi Arabia, whose own economy is struggling a giant state budget deficit caused by few years of poor oil prices, Alkhater said.

He added that the boycott was forcing Qatar to always be more self-sufficient in agriculture, food processing, and light manufacturing, accelerating a long-term goal to diversify the economy. “Now Qatar has to expedite it out of necessity.”




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Malaysia-based romance scammers who duped Hongkongers out of HK$30 million arrested

Two men and two women said to have swindled cash after striking up relationships online, held after raid on alleged operation centre


Local and Malaysian police have busted a Kuala Lumpur-based syndicate that they say duped 48 Hong Kong women and one elderly man out of HK$29.5 million since January in online romance scams.

One victim lost HK$6 million to a con artist pretending to be a British engineer.
The alleged ringleader of the transnational racket was among two Nigerian men, a Nigerian woman and an Indian woman picked up during a raid on their operational centre in the Malaysian capital on October 24.

And in Hong Kong, police arrested five local women whose bank accounts were suspected to have been used to transfer the scammed cash to accounts in Malaysia and Taiwan. They were arrested for money laundering and obtaining property by deception and released on bail pending further investigation.

Sources said the women were initially scam targets themselves. But when the con artists failed to get money from them, they used their accounts to filter the cash instead. Police were looking into whether the women knew the money was criminal proceeds.
Two men were also arrested in the city in connection with the swindle.


Romance scams involve criminals striking up online relationships with people under false pretences, often over several months. Once they have gained their victim’s trust, they make up a false reason to ask them for money.

Scams of this kind snared 142 people in the city in the first nine months of this year, netting HK$78 million, according to police figures. That is almost 100 percent up on the 72 cases in the same period last year, which netted HK$57 million.

A lawyer, teacher and doctors were understood to have been among the Kuala Lumpur syndicate’s victims, who were mostly aged between 40 and 50.
The biggest loser was a senior executive at a local company, who was conned out of HK$6 million in nearly 20 transactions over six months.

“The scammer, disguised as an engineer from the UK, befriended her via an online dating platform in January,” one police source said. “He claimed he ran into financial problems and needed money urgently and then borrowed money from the victim.”

The victim realised it was a scam after she lost contact with him in June.
A 77-year-old man lost HK$4,500 to a similar scam.

After weeks of exchanging messages with what he thought was an American woman, the victim was lured into sending her HK$4,500 to buy a gift, according to police. He too realised it was a scam when the messages dried up. Officers said he was the oldest known victim of a romance scam.

According to police, the gang was headed by one of the arrested Nigerian men, 33, working with his two compatriots, 29 and 38, and the Indian woman. They ran the scams out of a flat in Kuala Lumpur.
During the raid on the flat, officers found love messages on computers and mobile phones.
Officers from Hong Kong’s cybersecurity and technology crime bureau sought help from Malaysian police to investigate the syndicate earlier this year after signs that some of the scammed cash was transferred to bank accounts in the country.


“The three core members found targets through online dating platforms and used emails and instant phone messages to contact victims,” another source said.
He said scammers usually pretended to be men from the UK or America, claiming to be professionals, businessmen, soldiers or retired.

“They used different excuses to cheat, but they never met their victims in person,” the source said, adding that the gang targeted more than 100 women in Asian countries such as Japan and South Korea.

Police believed the gang had been in operation since January.

That would be soon after Hong Kong, Malaysian and Nigerian police jointly smashed another syndicate based in Malaysia in December 2016. That group, headed by a Nigerian man and his Malaysian girlfriend, duped 73 Hong Kong women out of HK$58 million from 2014.

Chief Inspector Hui Yee-wai of the cybersecurity and technology crime bureau said the prevalence of social media and the increasing number of online dating platforms were partly behind the surge in the number of romance scams on the web.

She warned online love-seekers that “people you meet online might not be who you think they are,” and urged them to make sure to keep an eye on their privacy settings.



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Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal arrested: Billionaire tycoon knows as proponent of Saudi modernisation, critic of Donald Trump

Billionaire prince with stakes in Twitter, Apple among those arrested in Saudi sweep

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal

Saudi Arabia has arrested dozens of princes and former government ministers, including a well-known billionaire with extensive holdings in Western companies, as part of a sweeping anti-corruption probe, further cementing King Salman and his crown prince son’s control of the kingdom.

A high-level employee at Prince Alwaleed bin Talal’s Kingdom Holding Company told The Associated Press that the royal was among those detained overnight on Saturday. The employee said he received calls from several security bodies notifying him of the arrest. The employee spoke on condition of anonymity due to fear of repercussions.

The Associated Press reached out overnight to Kingdom Holding for comment. There was no response as of Sunday morning.

Prince Alwaleed is one of the Middle East’s richest people, with investments in Twitter, Apple, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., Citigroup, and the Four Seasons, Fairmont and Movenpick hotel chains. He is also an investor in ride-sharing services Lyft and Careem, both competitors to Uber in the U.S. and the Middle East, respectively.

The prince, often pictured on his multimillion-dollar 85.65-metre (281 foot) superyacht in the Mediterranean, is also known for being among the most outspoken Saudi royals, long advocating for women’s rights. He is also the majority owner of the popular Rotana Group of Arabic channels.

Official state media have not reported on the arrests, but the kingdom’s top council of clerics issued a statement saying it is an Islamic duty to fight corruption essentially giving religious backing to the high-level arrests being reported.

The Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya satellite news channel reported that at least 11 princes and dozens of former ministers had been detained in the probe launched by a new anti-corruption committee. The committee is led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Saudi Twitter accounts released names of several high-ranking princes, including a prominent and powerful son of the late King Abdullah, Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, who was removed from his post as head of the National Guard overnight.

The arrests came as Lebanon’s Prime Minister, a close Saudi ally, announced his own resignation from the Saudi capital. Yemeni rebels, the target of a 2-year Saudi-led military campaign, meanwhile fired a ballistic missile toward Riyadh’s international airport on Saturday night that was intercepted by Saudi air defence before it could cause any damage.

Al-Arabiya reported that the anti-graft committee is looking into deadly floods that overwhelmed parts of the city of Jiddah in 2009 and the government’s response to the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus that has killed several hundred people in the past few years.

Reports also suggested those detained were being held in the Ritz Carlton in Riyadh, which only days earlier hosted a major investment conference. The phone number for the hotel had been disconnected by Sunday morning and a Dubai-based spokeswoman for the hotel chain did not respond to a request for comment.

The government said the anti-corruption committee has the right to issue arrest warrants, impose travel restrictions and freeze bank accounts. It can also trace funds, prevent the transfer of funds or the liquidation of assets, and take other precautionary measures until cases are referred to the judiciary.

The royal order said the committee was established “due to the propensity of some people for abuse, putting their personal interest above public interest, and stealing public funds.”

Long-standing complaint of corruption


Saudi nationals have long complained of rampant corruption in government and of public funds being squandered or misused by people in power.

Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a research fellow at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, said the scale of the arrests is designed to further smooth the young crown prince’s eventual succession to the throne.

“As a leader who is set to remain in power for decades, Mohammed bin Salman is remaking the kingdom in his own image and signalling a potentially significant move away from the consensual balancing of competing interests that characterized Saudi rule in the past,” Ulrichsen said.

Prince Miteb was replaced by a lesser known royal, Prince Khalid bin Ayyaf al-Muqrin, who had held a senior post with the National Guard.

Prince Miteb’s father the late King Abdullah also had led the National Guard and had transformed it into a powerful and prestigious force tasked with protecting the ruling Al Saud family, as well as important holy sites in Mecca and Medina, and oil and gas sites.

Prince Miteb was once considered a contender for the throne. His ouster essentially sidelines one of the most formidable rivals to the current crown prince, who is also defence minister. Just three months ago, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef was ousted from the line of succession and from his post as interior minister, overseeing internal security.

Only hours earlier, Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri resigned from his post in a televised address from Riyadh, offering a vicious tirade against Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah group for what he said was their meddling in Arab affairs.

“Iran’s arms in the region will be cut off,” Hariri said.

Saudi Arabia then said its forces intercepted a ballistic missile fired by Iran-backed rebels in Yemen toward one of the kingdom’s major international airports on the outskirts of Riyadh. A Saudi-led coalition launched a war against the Houthi rebels and their allies in March 2015 that grinds on today, a campaign overseeing by Crown Prince Mohammed.

The missile fire drew an immediate rebuke from President Donald Trump, who blamed Iran in part for the attack.

“A shot was just taken by Iran, in my opinion, at Saudi Arabia. And our system knocked it down,” Trump said, referring to the Patriot missile batteries Saudi Arabia has purchased from the U.S. “That’s how good we are. Nobody makes what we make and now we’re selling it all over the world.”

It’s unclear if the U.S. had any advance word of the coming arrests. Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser Jared Kushner and others made an unannounced trip recently to Riyadh. Trump earlier Saturday said he spoke to King Salman about listing the kingdom’s massive state-run oil company, Saudi Aramco, in the United States.



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Paradise Papers: Leak unveils US commerce chief, UK queen's offshore investments

Leaks show US commerce chief, UK queen’s offshore investments 

Wilbur Ross

WASHINGTON: US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has business ties to a shipping firm linked to Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, according to a vast leak of financial documents that also revealed Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II’s investments in tax havens.

It was also revealed that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s top fundraiser and senior advisor Stephen Bronfman, heir to the Seagram fortune, moved some US$60 million to offshore tax havens with ex-senator Leo Kolber.

The findings have emerged as part of the Paradise Papers released by the US-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which was behind the Panama Papers made public last year.

There is no suggestion that Ross, Bronfman or the queen’s private estate acted illegally.

But Ross’s ties to Russian entities raise questions over potential conflicts of interest, and whether they undermine Washington’s sanctions on Moscow.

The revelations about Bronfman could spell trouble for Trudeau, who was elected two years ago riding on the coattails of promises to reduce economic inequality and tax avoidance.

In the case of Queen Elizabeth’s private estate, critics may question whether it is appropriate for the British head of state to invest in offshore tax havens.


Putin’s son-in-law


Ross, a billionaire investor, holds a 31% stake in Navigator Holdings through a complex web of offshore investments detailed in the documents examined by nearly 100 news organizations as part of an international collaboration.

The 79-year-old reduced his stake when he took public office, according to public filings.

Navigator Holdings runs a lucrative partnership with Russian energy giant Sibur, which is partially owned by Putin’s son-in-law Kirill Shamalov and Gennady Timchenko, the Russian president’s friend and business partner who is subject to US sanctions.

The US imposed sanctions on Russian entities and individuals following its annexation of Crimea and aggression in Ukraine.

Ross’s private equity firm has been the biggest shareholder in Navigator.

His personal share of the firm’s stake was reduced when he took office in February, but the commerce chief’s investment is still valued at between $2 million to $10 million, according to his security filings and government ethics disclosure.

The New York Times reported that Ross’s stake in Navigator has been held by companies in the Cayman Islands. His wealth, estimated to exceed $2 billion, is said to be tied to similar arrangements in various tax havens like the Cayman Islands.

“Secretary Ross was not involved with Navigator’s decision to engage in business with Sibur, a publicly traded company, which was not under sanction at the time and is not currently,” said James Rockas, a Commerce Department spokesman.

“Moreover, Secretary Ross has never met the Sibur shareholders referenced in this story and, until now, did not know of their relationship.”

Queen Elizabeth

Controversial businesses


The documents also show around £10 million ($13 million) of the Queen’s private money was placed in funds held in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda, first reported in Britain by the BBC and the Guardian newspaper.

They reported the funds reinvested the money in an array of businesses, including controversial rent-to-buy retailer BrightHouse, which has been accused of exploiting the poor, and a chain of alcohol stores that later went bankrupt.

A spokeswoman for the Duchy of Lancaster, which provides the monarch with an income and handles her investments, said: “All of our investments are fully audited and legitimate.”

“We operate a number of investments and a few of these are with overseas funds,” she added.

The spokeswoman added that one of the fund investments represents only 0.3% of the total value of the Duchy.

The Paradise Papers contain 13.4 million documents mainly from Appleby, an offshore law firm with offices in Bermuda and beyond.

The files were first obtained by the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung, and shared with the ICIJ and partner media outlets.


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