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Draft deal agreed on DR Congo crisis: mediators, govt

Author: 
Agence France Presse
Sat, 2016-12-31
ID: 
1483211854691842100

KINSHASA: DR Congo opposition parties and the government reached agreement Saturday on a deal to defuse a political crisis over President Joseph Kabila’s fate that has caused months of deadly unrest, a church mediator and officials said.
Kabila’s second and final mandate ended on December 20 with no sign of him stepping down and no election in sight, spurring the church to launch negotiations to avert more violence in Democratic Republic of Congo.
“We have reached agreement on all points,” said Marcel Utembi, the bishop who chairs the Episcopal Conference (CENCO) overseeing the talks.
“There will be a plenary session at 8:00 p.m. (1900 GMT) to formally adopt it and a solemn signing ceremony at 8:30 pm.”
Justice Minister Alexis Thambwe Mwamba confirmed a deal had been reached, saying: “Everything is settled.”
However a spokesman for Kabila’s longtime rival, Etienne Tshisekedi, said negotiators aimed to submit the deal to the 84-year-old opposition leader for approval before returning to sign the accord.
“We want to be absolutely sure” (of Tshisekedi’s response), said his adviser Valentin Mubake.
A working document for the deal previously seen by AFP proposed a “political transition” until presidential elections can be held at the end of 2017. A prime minister would come from opposition ranks.
That document also guaranteed Kabila would not seek a third mandate.
In return, the opposition would accept that Kabila remain in office until handing over to an elected successor.
The opposition had previously demanded his immediate departure from public life.
The Catholic Church, which plays a key role in the vast central African country of some 70 million people, launched the negotiations on December 8 and had initially hoped to see a deal before Christmas.
Voters in DR Congo were originally to have chosen a new president this year, but the authorities said the electoral registers must be revised, a huge enterprise in a country almost the size of Europe.
And in a highly controversial ruling, the constitutional court said Kabila could remain in office until an election was held.
The ruling fed opposition fears that he planned to amend the constitution to allow him to run for a third term.
Kabila, 45, has been in power since the 2001 assassination of his father Laurent at the height of the Second Congo War.
He was confirmed as leader in 2006 during the first free elections since independence from Belgium in 1960, and re-elected for a second term in 2011 in a vote marred by allegations of massive fraud.
Sixteen representatives met on Saturday, comprising eight from the opposition coalition, called Rassemblement (“Gathering“), and eight from the government and groups which had signed a deal with the regime in October.
After six hours of talks, new stumbling blocks emerged.
The government side said it wanted the agreement to include giving Kabila the right to call a referendum on constitutional change during the transition period.
The opposition is completely opposed, arguing that Kabila will use this as a device to stay legally in office.

Another dispute is over wording for the appointment of the prime minister — the government side want the individual to be “drawn from the opposition,” whereas Gathering want the premier to be “appointed by the opposition.”
The opposition side also want the deal to allow a wealthy businessman and potential presidential candidate, Moise Katumbi, to be allowed to return to the country.
Katumbi has been sentenced to a three-year term in prison in an alleged case of property fraud and faces another trial in an alleged case of mercenary recruitment.
DR Congo has never witnessed a democratic transfer of power following polls since independence from Belgium in 1960.
Two decades ago, the country collapsed into the deadliest conflict in modern African history.
Its two wars in the late 1990s and early 2000s dragged in at least six African armies and left more than three million dead. Its restive east remains a battleground for rival ethnic militias.

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Draft deal agreed on DR Congo crisis: mediators, govt

Author: 
Agence France Presse
Sat, 2016-12-31
ID: 
1483211854691842100

KINSHASA: DR Congo opposition parties and the government reached agreement Saturday on a deal to defuse a political crisis over President Joseph Kabila’s fate that has caused months of deadly unrest, a church mediator and officials said.
Kabila’s second and final mandate ended on December 20 with no sign of him stepping down and no election in sight, spurring the church to launch negotiations to avert more violence in Democratic Republic of Congo.
“We have reached agreement on all points,” said Marcel Utembi, the bishop who chairs the Episcopal Conference (CENCO) overseeing the talks.
“There will be a plenary session at 8:00 p.m. (1900 GMT) to formally adopt it and a solemn signing ceremony at 8:30 pm.”
Justice Minister Alexis Thambwe Mwamba confirmed a deal had been reached, saying: “Everything is settled.”
However a spokesman for Kabila’s longtime rival, Etienne Tshisekedi, said negotiators aimed to submit the deal to the 84-year-old opposition leader for approval before returning to sign the accord.
“We want to be absolutely sure” (of Tshisekedi’s response), said his adviser Valentin Mubake.
A working document for the deal previously seen by AFP proposed a “political transition” until presidential elections can be held at the end of 2017. A prime minister would come from opposition ranks.
That document also guaranteed Kabila would not seek a third mandate.
In return, the opposition would accept that Kabila remain in office until handing over to an elected successor.
The opposition had previously demanded his immediate departure from public life.
The Catholic Church, which plays a key role in the vast central African country of some 70 million people, launched the negotiations on December 8 and had initially hoped to see a deal before Christmas.
Voters in DR Congo were originally to have chosen a new president this year, but the authorities said the electoral registers must be revised, a huge enterprise in a country almost the size of Europe.
And in a highly controversial ruling, the constitutional court said Kabila could remain in office until an election was held.
The ruling fed opposition fears that he planned to amend the constitution to allow him to run for a third term.
Kabila, 45, has been in power since the 2001 assassination of his father Laurent at the height of the Second Congo War.
He was confirmed as leader in 2006 during the first free elections since independence from Belgium in 1960, and re-elected for a second term in 2011 in a vote marred by allegations of massive fraud.
Sixteen representatives met on Saturday, comprising eight from the opposition coalition, called Rassemblement (“Gathering“), and eight from the government and groups which had signed a deal with the regime in October.
After six hours of talks, new stumbling blocks emerged.
The government side said it wanted the agreement to include giving Kabila the right to call a referendum on constitutional change during the transition period.
The opposition is completely opposed, arguing that Kabila will use this as a device to stay legally in office.

Another dispute is over wording for the appointment of the prime minister — the government side want the individual to be “drawn from the opposition,” whereas Gathering want the premier to be “appointed by the opposition.”
The opposition side also want the deal to allow a wealthy businessman and potential presidential candidate, Moise Katumbi, to be allowed to return to the country.
Katumbi has been sentenced to a three-year term in prison in an alleged case of property fraud and faces another trial in an alleged case of mercenary recruitment.
DR Congo has never witnessed a democratic transfer of power following polls since independence from Belgium in 1960.
Two decades ago, the country collapsed into the deadliest conflict in modern African history.
Its two wars in the late 1990s and early 2000s dragged in at least six African armies and left more than three million dead. Its restive east remains a battleground for rival ethnic militias.

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Pope urges the faithful to help youth find purpose

Author: 
Associated Press
Sat, 2016-12-31
ID: 
1483211377491778800

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis strolled through St. Peter’s Square Saturday evening during the last frigid hours of 2016, exchanging New Year’s Eve greetings with the faithful.
Francis made his way through the crowd to pray in front of the life-size Nativity scene following the traditional vespers, also called evening prayer, inside St. Peter’s Basilica. Along the way, he stopped to kiss children on the cheek and shake hands with well-wishers, occasionally accepting small gifts that he handed off to his body guards. People in the crowd held up their smart phones and tablets to snap pictures of the pontiff.
During the evening prayers, the pope called on the faithful to help young people find purpose in the world, noting the paradox of “a culture that idolizes youth” and yet has made no place for the young.
“We have condemned our young people to have no place in society, because we have slowly pushed them to the margins of public life, forcing them to migrate or to beg for jobs that no longer exist or fail to promise them a future,” Francis said.
More than responsibility, the pope said the world owed young people “a debt” because they have been deprived of “dignified and genuine work” that would allow them to take part in society, instead condemning them “to knock on doors that for the most part remain closed.”

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Pope urges the faithful to help youth find purpose

Author: 
Associated Press
Sat, 2016-12-31
ID: 
1483211377491778800

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis strolled through St. Peter’s Square Saturday evening during the last frigid hours of 2016, exchanging New Year’s Eve greetings with the faithful.
Francis made his way through the crowd to pray in front of the life-size Nativity scene following the traditional vespers, also called evening prayer, inside St. Peter’s Basilica. Along the way, he stopped to kiss children on the cheek and shake hands with well-wishers, occasionally accepting small gifts that he handed off to his body guards. People in the crowd held up their smart phones and tablets to snap pictures of the pontiff.
During the evening prayers, the pope called on the faithful to help young people find purpose in the world, noting the paradox of “a culture that idolizes youth” and yet has made no place for the young.
“We have condemned our young people to have no place in society, because we have slowly pushed them to the margins of public life, forcing them to migrate or to beg for jobs that no longer exist or fail to promise them a future,” Francis said.
More than responsibility, the pope said the world owed young people “a debt” because they have been deprived of “dignified and genuine work” that would allow them to take part in society, instead condemning them “to knock on doors that for the most part remain closed.”

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Australia kicks off global New Year party defying terror threat

Sat, 2016-12-31
ID: 
1483202889431082500

SYDNEY: Australia rang in the New Year with a spectacular fireworks display in Sydney, sending rainbow-colored showers into the night sky and defying the global terror attacks that cast a pall over 2016.
Around 1.5 million people packed Australia’s biggest city to watch as the midnight fireworks erupted from Sydney Harbor Bridge, with the extravaganza beamed to television sets and phones across the world.
Japan also ushered in 2017 in style, with thousands packing the streets of Tokyo and releasing balloons into the air in celebration of the new year.
Sydney’s visual feast paid tribute to some of the international musical legends who died this year, including David Bowie and Prince, with purple rain pouring off the bridge in an early display and firework “stars” soaring high above the harbor.
2016 has seen repeated bloodshed, most recently a deadly truck attack at a Berlin Christmas market, a similar incident on Bastille Day in France that killed 86 people, and atrocities in Turkey and the Middle East.
But the New South Wales state premier urged “business as usual” as a larger-than-usual crowd gathered due to the weekend timing and warm weather.
“My encouragement to everyone is to enjoy New Year’s Eve… in the knowledge that police are doing everything they can to keep us safe,” Premier Mike Baird said.
Around 2,000 extra officers were deployed in Sydney after a man was arrested for allegedly making online threats against the celebrations.
There were a number of other reported threats during the holiday period, in Asia-Pacific and elsewhere.
In Melbourne, police foiled a “significant” Daesh-inspired Christmas Day terror plot.
Indonesia said it foiled plans by an IS-linked group for a Christmas-time suicide bombing, and 52 died in the Philippines in bomb attacks blamed on Islamist militants.
Israel on Friday issued a warning of imminent “terrorist attacks” to tourists and western targets in India.
Despite the terror fears, revellers in Hong Kong and Taipei were expected to throng city streets to watch firework performances.
Shoppers in Japan had earlier filled markets to buy tuna and crabs — seen as expensive items for special feasts — for New Year’s Day family gatherings.
Security concerns have hit many New Year events with truck blockades a new tactic to try to prevent vehicles plowing into crowds, with Sydney using garbage trucks.
The German capital has beefed up security after the December 19 carnage, deploying more police, some armed with machine-guns.
“This year, what’s new is that we will place concrete blocks and position heavy armored vehicles at the entrances” to the zone around Brandenburg Gate, a police spokesman said.
Visitors seemed undeterred by recent events as they began to gather under a cold blue sky for a series of concerts ahead of large midnight firework display in the area.
In Paris, there will be a firework display again, after muted 2015 celebrations following the massacre of 130 people by jihadists in the French capital.
Nearly 100,000 police, gendarmes and soldiers will be deployed across France against the jihadist threat.
Brussels has reinstated its firework show after last year’s was canceled at the last minute due to a terrorist threat.
With more than a million people expected to turn out to watch the ball drop in Times Square, New York is deploying 165 “blocker” trucks and some 7,000 police.
Rome has deployed armored vehicles and greater numbers of security forces around the Coliseum and St. Peter’s Square, where Pope Francis will celebrate a “Te Deum” hymn of thanksgiving.
Moscow police will deploy more than 5,000 officers backed by thousands more from the new national guard and volunteer militia to maintain order.
Thousands traditionally gather in Red Square, but for the second year in a row, the area will be open solely to 6,000 invitees.
London will have 3,000 officers on patrol with crowds flocking to line the banks of the Thames to watch the fireworks.
Up to two million people are expected to party at Rio’s Copacabana beach. But with Brazil mired in its worst recession in a century, the fireworks have been cut to just 12 minutes. 
Normally boisterous Bangkok will see in the new year on a more somber note as the nation grieves for King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died in October.
And, at the stroke of midnight, the celebrations will last one second longer — a leap second — decreed by the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service to allow astronomical time to catch up with atomic clocks that have called the hour since 1967.

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48 Iraqis discovered in truck carrying chocolate

Sat, 2016-12-31
ID: 
1483197201670564700

BUCHAREST: Romanian border guards have discovered 48 Iraqi citizens hidden away in a truck that officially was transporting boxes of chocolate.
Border police at the Danube port of Giurgiu on the Romanian-Bulgarian border said they discovered 22 men, 9 women and 17 minors including a young infant on Thursday evening after checks on the truck revealed a high level of carbon dioxide, a gas that humans exhale.
A statement from Romania’s border police Saturday said the truck was driven by a Bulgarian man. Papers showed it was transporting boxes of Bulgarian chocolate to Hungary. 
Migrants told police they wanted to reach Hungary. The driver said he was unaware of the people in the back of his truck.
Bulgarian police are questioning the driver and the migrants.

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NYPD takes ‘first step’ to allow Muslim officers to grow beards

Author: 
Rob L. Wagner
Sat, 2016-12-31
ID: 
1483190084470104700

JEDDAH: Muslim New York City police officers say that a new policy allowing them to grow their beards up to a half inch long on religious grounds is a “step in the right direction” but improvements in the regulations are still needed.
Police Lt. Adeel Rana, president of the Muslim Officers Society of the New York Police Department, told Arab News on Saturday that his members are excited about the policy change. 
“The policy change doesn’t fully resolve the issues but it is a great step toward that full achievement,” Rana said. “The biggest excuse that was given in the past was that due to safety and gas mask the beard is not allowed. Now that excuse is eliminated, let’s see what will be the next step. We have high hopes and know that the department will work with us and will try to accommodate anyone to the best ability as they can.”
The revised policy, which also covers religious accommodations for Sikhs, previously limited the length of an officer’s beard to 1 millimeter. Sikhs also are now permitted to wear turbans. Female Muslim New York police officers have been allowed to wear the hijab for many years.
There are about 1,000 Muslim and 160 Sikh New York City police officers. Two Sikhs and 33 Muslims were among the 557 recruits who recently graduated from the department’s training academy.
Police Commissioner James O’Neill said in a statement to Arab News that, “It’s a major change in our uniform policy, so we had to go about it carefully. And now I have the opportunity to make the change, and I thought it was about time that we did that.”
Rana said the policy revision stems from a lawsuit filed by police officer Masood Syed, who was suspended due to his beard length. A judge ordered the police department to develop a policy to accommodate religious beliefs.
“Over all the membership is excited about the change in the policy,” Rana said. “There are a few individuals including Masood Syed that feel it doesn’t go far enough. They were asking for at least 2 inches. Most of the members have a beard that is shorter or about ½ inch and are happy with the new policy, which will allow them to keep their beards without any repercussions.”
Rana said the issue “is an important topic” among members of the Muslim Officers Society.
“It was mainly overlooked and members were allowed to keep the beard without anyone challenging,” Rana said. “And when someone was challenged, it was dealt with case by case bases. There was no official rule other than a 1mm length rule.”
Syed, a lawyer and 10-year veteran of the department, told CNN that he wants the policy to allow beards up to 2 inches long. He called the revision “arbitrary.”
“I’m still disappointed,” Syed said. “If they’re saying now that the policy is half an inch and I’m walking around in police headquarters with the top brass, walking around with a beard that’s 1 1/2 to 2 inches, where does that leave me? Am I going to be suspended again? Am I going to be walked out of the building again?”

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Merkel urges Germany to face down terror with cohesion, compassion

Sat, 2016-12-31
ID: 
1483183833959872700

BERLIN: Chancellor Angela Merkel called on Germans Saturday to hold firm to democratic values in the face of jihadist terror, urging them to counter “murderers who are full of hate” with compassion and cohesion. 
In her New Year’s address delivered less than two weeks after a Tunisian suspect rammed a truck into a crowded Christmas market in Berlin, killing 12 people, Merkel acknowledged it was “bitter and sickening” that the attack and others in July were carried out by asylum seekers.
Nevertheless, she defended her decision in September 2015 to let in tens of thousands fleeing war from mostly Arab and Muslim nations.
“When we look at the images of bombed out Aleppo in Syria, we have to say once again how important and right it was for us to have helped those who needed our protection to find their way here and to integrate,” she said.
Merkel said it was through such values of humanity and openness that Germany should face down those who espouse hate.
“As we go on with our lives and work, we tell the terrorists: You are murderers full of hate, but you will not determine how we live and want to live. We are free, compassionate and open,” she said.
Merkel has been under fire over her liberal refugee policy, as the arrival of around a million people over the past two years has deeply polarized society.
Two other attacks carried out in July by asylum seekers, and the December 19 assault have emboldened right-wing populist critics.
The German leader promised that the government will in 2017 “swiftly put in place and implement any necessary political or legal changes” to close down any security gaps, after the Berlin truck attack exposed serious failures.
But she cautioned against placing certain groups of people under a blanket of suspicion.
Without naming populists, Merkel hit out at those who she said present a “distorted” picture of democracy.
But she said the system is “strong, it allows everyone to act, participate.
“It accepts, no, it demands contradictions and criticisms.
“Criticism that peacefully and respects individuals, that seek solutions and compromises and does not exclude entire groups,” she said, urging politicians not to forget these guiding principles in the run-up to elections in 2017.

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Russian hackers penetrated US electricity grid

Sat, 2016-12-31
ID: 
1483170391859690600

WASHINGTON:A code connected to Russian hacking efforts has been discovered in a utility system in Vermont, which could point to vulnerabilities in the US electrical grid, The Washington Post reported Friday.
The code detected in the northeastern state’s system did not disrupt its operations, the paper cited US officials as saying. The code was associated with the Russian hacking efforts that US officials have dubbed “Grizzly Steppe.”
The Burlington Electric Department said it had been alerted by the government Thursday night, carried out a scan and found the malware in one laptop not connected to its grid systems. It said it took action to isolate that laptop.
US authorities have not yet pinpointed why the Russians targeted the grid, according to the Post, but that it “may have been designed to disrupt the utility’s operations or as a test by the Russians to see whether they could penetrate a portion of the grid.”
In December 2015, a power failure that plunged parts of western Ukraine into the dark was found to be caused by a cyberattack. The Russians were accused of causing the blackout, an allegation they have denied.
A US federal law enforcement report released this week showed that Russian intelligence agencies over the last two years blanketed Democratic Party targets with malicious e-mails and have likely continued such efforts after November’s elections.
The report’s release followed an array of measures unveiled by Washington as retribution for what US officials have described as Moscow’s malicious efforts to tip the vote in favor of President-elect Donald Trump by stealing embarrassing information from Democratic Party operations and senior party members before releasing it to the news media.

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Brazilian police: Greek ambassador killed by wife’s lover

Author: 
MAURICIO SAVARESE | AP
Sat, 2016-12-31
ID: 
1483146863139232800

RIO DE JANEIRO: Police in Brazil believe that Greece’s ambassador to the country was killed by his wife’s lover under her orders in a house in the Rio area and have detained three suspects, authorities said Friday.
Ambassador Kyriakos Amiridis went missing on Monday in Nova Iguacu, a city just north of Rio de Janeiro, where the ambassador had been vacationing. The couple lived most of the time in the capital of Brasilia.
On Friday, police investigator Evaristo Pontes Magalhaes said that 29-year-old police officer Sergio Gomes Moreira Filho had confessed to killing Amiridis, alleging self-defense.
He said Filho was having an affair with the ambassador’s 40-year-old wife, Francoise Amiridis.
Filho’s cousin, Eduardo de Melo, acknowledged taking part in the killing as a lookout, Magalhaes said. The cousin accused Francoise of offering him the equivalent of $25,000 to participate.
Francoise has denied any role in the alleged plot. According to Magalhaes, Francoise said she couldn’t stop Filho from killing her husband and insisted she was not at home at the time of the crime.
But the police investigator said in a press conference late Friday that the “evidence clearly puts the ambassador’s wife as a co-author of the crime.”
He said Francoise started plotting with Filho to kill the ambassador after the couple had a serious fight three days before Christmas.
“All our evidence suggests that her motivation was to use the financial resources left by the ambassador so she could enjoy life with Sergio,” the police officer, Magalhaes said.
Magalhaes said a judge had ordered the temporary arrest of Francoise, Filho and his cousin.
The first signs the ambassador had been murdered emerged late Thursday, when police found blood spots believed to be his on a sofa inside the house the couple kept in Nova Iguacu, where the wife’s family lives.
Filho told police that he strangled the ambassador during a fight, but the blood evidence found on the scene makes his claim unlikely, Magalhaes said. Neighbors said they did not hear any shots, leading police to believe the policeman stabbed Amiridis.
The investigation showed that Amiridis’ body was removed from the house in a carpet at the same time that Francoise arrived with their 10 year-old daughter, who did not see the body of her dead father, Magalhaes said.
Police believe a body found in a burned-out car that Amiridis had rented on Dec. 21 belongs to the ambassador, but forensics experts are still working to confirm that it is him.
Brazil’s government has offered its condolences to Greece over his death.
The Greek Embassy website in Brazil says Amiridis started his career as diplomat in 1985 in Athens and became Greece’s top diplomat in Brazil in 2016.
He earlier was Greece’s ambassador to Libya and worked as consul in Rio from 2001-2004.

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