Chinese official sentenced 10 years in vaccine scandal

Agence France Presse
Tue, 2017-01-03

BEIJING: A former official of China’s Food and Drug Administration has been jailed for taking bribes from vaccine manufacturers, reports said Tuesday, in a case with echoes of a major scandal that rocked the Asian country last year.
Yin Hongzhang, the former deputy director of the administration’s drug testing center, received a 10-year sentence and was fined 500,000 yuan for taking bribes to help vaccine manufacturers gain approval for their drugs, China’s Legal Evening News newspaper said.
His wife and son earlier received prison sentences for participating in the scheme and accepting property and bribes worth 3.56 million yuan ($510,000), including ivory products worth 180,000 yuan, it said.
Yin was taken into custody in April 2015 and charged with taking payouts in relation to four biotech firms’ efforts to obtain government permits for a variety of vaccines, including for SARS and avian flu.
The sentence follows the March revelation of a massive vaccine scandal that enraged the Chinese public.
That case involved the improper storage, transport and sale of tens of millions of dollars’ worth of vaccines — many of them expired.
No one was believed to have been harmed, but the story still provoked outrage in a country where families, who were long limited to one child by government policy, fiercely protect their offspring.
Public fury erupted after a report revealed that information about the case had been suppressed by authorities, who had arrested two key suspects nearly a year earlier.
From 2010, the pair, a mother and daughter from Shandong province in eastern China, sold 25 different kinds of expired or improperly stored vaccines worth more than 570 million yuan ($88 million), the official Xinhua news agency reported at the time.

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South Korean president refuses to testify in impeachment trial

Tue, 2017-01-03

SEOUL, South Korea: South Korean President Park Geun-hye refused to testify Tuesday in the impeachment trial that will decide her future, prompting the prosecutors to question why she has publicly denied the charges of corruption but will not do so before the court.
After Park’s refusal, the Constitutional Court delayed the start of oral arguments and asked her to testify on Thursday, when some of her current and former aides are also scheduled to testify. The court cannot force her to appear but can proceed without her if she refuses twice to appear at the hearings.
Lawmaker Kweon Seong Dong, the chief prosecutor in the trial, questioned why Park cannot defend herself in court when just two days ago she vehemently rejected the accusations of corruption in a hastily arranged meeting with reporters at Seoul’s presidential Blue House.
“It’s not good etiquette to the justices and also inappropriate for the president, as the defendant of the impeachment trial, to say this and that to the media outside of court,” Kweon told reporters.
Lee Joong-hwan, Park’s lawyer, said she does not plan to appear Thursday and will probably not testify during the impeachment trial.
The trial in the Constitutional Court must decide within six months of her Dec. 9 impeachment whether Park should permanently step down or should be reinstated to office. If the court formally removes Park from office, a presidential election will be held within 60 days.
Park has been accused of colluding with confidante Choi Soon-sil to extort money and favors from companies and allowing the friend to manipulate government affairs. Choi, Choi’s niece, and several former government and presidential officials have been indicted, and a special prosecution team has been investigating bribery suspicions between Park and business giant Samsung.
The investigators want to bring home Choi’s daughter, Yoora Chung, who was arrested in Denmark on an international warrant, as they look into the suspicions that Samsung sponsored Choi in exchange for government favors.
Cho June-hyuck, Seoul’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, said that the ministry is preparing for the extradition of Chung, and that her passport will be invalidated if she doesn’t hand it in by next Monday.
Speaking to Korean reporters in Denmark, Chung said she’s willing to return to South Korea if she could continue to be with her 19-month-old-son. She also said Samsung took back a horse and car it had provided her.
Her Danish lawyer, Jan Schneider, said Chung denied any wrongdoing and that an appeal of her four-week detention had been filed.
Prosecutor Mohammad Ahsan told The Associated Press that Denmark had not received yet a formal request from South Korea, adding it “will be treated with thoroughness like any other similar case,” adding “any extradition will be assessed on what Danish law says.”
“A decision would be made a few weeks after we have received a formal South Korean request,” Ashan said. “After that a decision will be sent to a court of law and can be appealed.”
The country’s former health minister was arrested on allegations he forced the National Pension Service to support a merger between two Samsung affiliates last year. The deal shaved the fund’s stake in one of the companies by an estimated hundreds of millions of dollars, but allowed Samsung scion Lee Jae-yong to promote a father-to-son succession of leadership and boost corporate wealth at the group.
Lee has apologized for the use of corporate funds to buy a horse for Chung, an equestrian athlete, but denied that Samsung sought favors from Choi or Park’s administration. There are also questions as to why Samsung financially supported a winter sports center run by Choi’s niece and a sports management firm Choi established in Germany.

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‘Jealous’ Austrian held over false terror accusations

Wed, 2017-01-04

VIENNA: An Austrian man has been arrested for falsely accusing a Syrian migrant of being a terrorist and sparking a major police operation out of “jealousy,” authorities said on Tuesday.
The 61-year-old was detained on a European arrest warrant while visiting relatives in Romania on Dec. 29, said the prosecutor’s office in the western city of Innsbruck in the Tyrol state.
The suspect sparked alarm in November when he sent an anonymous e-mail to the Interior Ministry, alleging he had information that a 29-year-old Syrian was in fact a Daesh commander who was planning an attack in Innsbruck.
Acting on the tip-off, officers of Austria’s elite “Cobra” force staged a major raid and arrested the Syrian on Nov. 26.
But they were forced to let him go 24 hours later after the Austrian admitted he had made up the whole story to stop his partner from attending an event with the Syrian.
“The motive was jealousy,” Thomas Willam, said a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office.
The European arrest warrant had been issued after the Austrian failed to notify police that he was leaving the country, Willam said.
Romanian authorities have yet to confirm the man’s extradition.

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Months-long dry spell ends in Pakistan with rain, snowfall

Associated Press
Tue, 2017-01-03

ISLAMABAD: A senior meteorologist says the first rain and snowfall of the winter season have come to Pakistan, ending a months-long dry spell which caused breathing problems and water shortages.
Mohammad Hanif said Tuesday’s drizzle in the capital, Islamabad, and elsewhere prompted many residents to rush outside and enjoy the weather. More rain and snowfall is expected this week, which will help replenish depleted reservoirs in dams.
The unusual four-month long dry spell raised fears of a food shortage. Pakistan’s agriculture sector contributes about 25 percent to the country’s annual GDP.

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Emboldened Republicans take reins of new Congress

Michael Mathes | AFP
Tue, 2017-01-03

WASHINGTON: A new US Congress convenes Tuesday, with Republicans emboldened by Donald Trump’s incoming presidency and pushing their ambitious conservative agenda including cutting taxes, slashing regulations and repealing Barack Obama’s health care law.
With the Senate and the House of Representatives remaining in full Republican control, the party’s leadership has less than three weeks before Trump takes office, when Republicans will run both chambers of Congress and the White House for the first time since 2007.
Tuesday will see Vice President Joe Biden swear in seven new members of the 100-seat US Senate.
Some 52 new House members will also take the oath, and the chamber was expected to re-elect Paul Ryan as speaker of the House, a role that will have him oversee and guide many of the efforts to impose Republican changes to existing law.
The shift in presidential power will lift what has been a large White House road block against Republican action in Congress.
But Republicans took bold action even before the new Congress was seated, acting late Monday night — and without participation by Democrats — to hobble an independent ethics office which has investigated corruption allegations against members of Congress.
The move, severely criticized by Democrats and some Republicans as undermining transparency, is part of a House rules package that the chamber’s members vote on during Tuesday’s session.
The action appeared to place Republicans on a collision course with Trump, who rebuked the Republicans for their strategy on Day One of the 115th Congress.
“With all that Congress has to work on, do they really have to make the weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog, as unfair as it may be, their number one act and priority,” Trump tweeted Tuesday.
“Focus on tax reform, health care and so many other things of far greater importance!“
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told MSNBC that a primary early goal of the new Congress will be the dismantling of the Affordable Care Act, Obama’s signature if controversial domestic achievement that has helped 20 million people gain health insurance.
The issue is stirring heated debate in Washington. Obama will visit Capitol Hill Wednesday to huddle with Democrats about how to defend his health care law from repeal, while Vice President-elect Mike Pence is scheduled to meet on the same day to discuss Obamacare with Republican lawmakers.
Another early task awaits: Senate confirmation of some 20 cabinet-level appointments nominated by Trump as he fleshes out his administration. Senate hearings are expected to begin in the coming weeks.
Some nominees are expected to sail through, notably respected retired general James Mattis, who was picked by Trump to head the Pentagon.
But the minority Democrats have pledged to fight several nominations, including Rex Tillerson, the ExxonMobil chief executive who Trump chose for secretary of state; and Betsy DeVos, a wealthy Republican campaigner for alternatives to public schools, who is Trump’s pick for education secretary.
In 2009, the Senate unanimously confirmed seven members of Democrat Obama’s administration on the day of his inauguration. This year, in the face of the deeply controversial Trump’s rise to power, the opposition is more resistant.
Beyond Obamacare, Republicans have been chomping at the bit for years to do away with several Obama-era regulations, including environmental and corporate restrictions, and to launch a tax overhaul.
Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have a catalog of laws ready for passage and implementation.
“We spent all of 2016 getting ready for the possible opportunity of having unified government in 2017,” Ryan told CNBC in December.
Trump has expressed support for much of the Republican congressional agenda. But there are disagreements over the massive, $1 trillion infrastructure investment plan that the populist president-elect has promised his constituents.
The coming weeks will also be dominated by the case of alleged Russian cybertattacks against the Democratic Party and a close aide to Hillary Clinton during the election campaign.
Obama slapped sanctions on Russia for trying to influence the outcome of the US election.
But Trump, countering the opinion of US intelligence experts, has expressed doubts that Moscow is responsible. He said Saturday he knew “things that other people don’t know” about the alleged Russian attacks.
“It could be somebody else,” he said from his private Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, adding that he could reveal details “on Tuesday or Wednesday.”

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Judges rule Jakarta governor blasphemy trial closed to media

Tue, 2017-01-03

JAKARTA, Indonesia: An Indonesian court ruled Tuesday that witness testimony will be closed to the media in the blasphemy trial of the capital’s minority Christian governor.
Jakarta Gov. Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama is charged with insulting Islam and desecrating the Qur’an by using one of its verses to boost his chances of winning re-election. Ahok, 50, is seeking a second term as governor in elections due in February.
The blasphemy controversy erupted when a video circulated online in which Ahok lightheartedly said people were being deceived if they believed his detractors who asserted that the Qur’an prohibits Muslims from having a non-Muslim leader.
A five-judge panel ruled that journalists will not be allowed to cover witness testimony during the trial and that spectators can’t bring cellphones inside the courtroom. Testimony began shortly after the decision was announced Tuesday.
Presiding Judge Dwiarso Budi Santiarto ordered journalists to leave the packed courtroom at the North Jakarta District Court shortly after he opened the hearing.
One of Ahok’s lawyers, Trimoelja Soerjadi, said the ruling was aimed at protecting the witnesses given the huge amount of attention the trial has received in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.
He said that none of the four people who reported Ahok to police and testified Tuesday directly heard what Ahok said when he visited a fishing village in northern Jakarta.
Muchsin Alatas, one of the witnesses, told reporters after testifying that Ahok was using the Qur’an for his political interests.
“He was insulting Qur’an, that’s why I reported him to the police … justice must be done,” he said.
Protests against Ahok, led by conservative Muslims and which drew hundreds of thousands of people, have kept Jakarta on edge for weeks. A Nov. 4 protest there turned violent, with one death and dozens of police and protesters injured.
The trial could take two to three months.

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Indian minister blames ‘western dress’ for sex attacks

Agence France Presse
Tue, 2017-01-03

BANGALORE, India: An Indian minister faced a severe backlash Tuesday after he criticized women for dressing “like westerners” at a New Year’s eve celebration where a mob allegedly carried out a series of sex assaults.
Although police have yet to charge anyone in connection with the violence on Saturday night in Bangalore, local media have carried testimony and photos of victims cowering from their attackers or fleeing for safety.
Police say they are now trawling through CCTV footage to see if they can identify any of the attackers.
But a minister with responsiblity for policing in the southern state of Karnataka, whose largest city is Bangalore, said the “unfortunate” attacks were a consequence of women wearing western clothing.
“A large number of youngsters gathered — youngsters who are almost like westerners,” Karnataka’s Home Minister G Parameshwara told The Times Now television network, speaking in English.
“They try to copy westerners not only in mindset, but even the dressing, so some disturbance, some girls are harassed, these kind of things do happen.”
Parameshwara, who later claimed to have been misquoted, was widely condemned for his televised comments, with the central government’s junior home minister Kiren Rijiju describing them as “irresponsible.”
“We can’t allow the shameful act of #MassMolestation go unpunished,” he said on Twitter, adding that women’s safety is a “must in a civilized society.”
Lalitha Kumaramangalam, who heads India’s National Commission for Women, said Parameshwara should resign over his comments.
“I want to ask this minister: are Indian men so pathetic and weak that when they see a woman in western clothes on a day of revelry, they get out of control?
“When will the Indian men learn to respect women? The minister should apologize to the women of the country and resign,” Kumaramangalam told the Press Trust of India news agency.
India has been shamed by shocking levels of sexual assault against women, which came into sharp focus in December 2012 when a student was gang-raped on a bus in New Delhi and later died of her injuries, leading to the official cancelation of that year’s New Year celebrations.
Some of the country’s most senior politicians have been accused of casual misogyny, with the leader of one political party widely condemned for brushing off the December 2012 attack by saying “boys will be boys.”
The attacks in Bangalore have drawn comparison with last year’s mass sexual assaults at New Year’s celebrations in the German city of Cologne, where police were also accused of losing control.
Senior Bangalore police officer Malini Krishnamoorthy told AFP no complaint had yet been filed and officers were scanning hours’ worth of CCTV footage.
“We have appealed to the public to come forward if they have evidence in any form,” the officer added.

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Britain’s EU envoy Ivan Rogers resigns — FT

Tue, 2017-01-03

LONDON: Britain’s ambassador to the European Union has abruptly resigned just a few months before Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to start formal Brexit negotiations, the Financial Times reported on Tuesday.
Ivan Rogers told staff on Tuesday afternoon that he would be step down from his post early, the FT said. He did not explain the reasons for the move, according to people who have seen the his note to diplomatic staff, the FT said.
May has said she will trigger formal Brexit talks with the rest of the EU by the end of March.
Rogers, appointed by former Prime Minister David Cameron as Britain’s envoy to Brussels in November 2013, is one of Britain’s most experienced diplomats on EU affairs.
Downing Street and Britain’s Foreign Office did not immediately comment on the FT report. (Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge)

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Nigeria attacks S.Africa police after ‘barbaric’ death

Agence France Presse
Tue, 2017-01-03

LAGOS: Nigeria has urged “urgent” diplomatic action after one of its citizens died in a violent confrontation with South African police, in what they called a “barbaric” and “extra-judicial” killing.
The incident involves Nigerian man Victor Tochukwu Nnadi, who was allegedly choked as he lay handcuffed on a main street on Thursday.
Photos and film footage taken by witnesses show a prone body with a swollen face and blood coming from his mouth.
“The barbaric behavior of the perpetrators is not only unacceptable, but also calls for urgent attention by diplomatic authorities in Nigeria and South Africa,” said Abike Dabiri-Erewa, a senior aide to the president on foreign affairs and the Nigerian diaspora.
“While appealing to Nigerians to avoid crimes, the extra-judicial killing of Nigerians is… unacceptable,” she said.
South African police said Nnadi resisted arrest on suspicion of drug dealing and died after swallowing a dose of heroin that he was trying to sell.
A group representing expatriates, the Nigerian Union in South Africa (NUSA), complained there had been no examination to confirm he had died of heroin.
South African police say they are carrying out further investigations.
“The accused is innocent until proven guilty,” NUSA spokesman Emeka Ezinteje Collins told AFP. “This is not a crime to be a Nigerian. We tend to believe that Nigerian lives don’t matter to them.”
Nnadi’s brother, who tried to prevent the arrest, was himself detained and remains incarcerated.
According to NUSA, there are around 800,000 Nigerians in South Africa, many of them living in Johannesburg.
The community was badly hit by a wave of xenophobic violence in April 2015 that, according to an official toll, left seven people dead and thousands homeless.
In its latest report, an independent watchdog said 640 people had died from police brutality or in police custody in South Africa.

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