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Russian ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin dies aged 64

Russia's foreign ministry has announced the sudden death of Moscow's long-time UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin. The 64-year-old had been Russia's permanent representative to the United Nations since 2006. In a statement on Monday, the Russian foreign ministry said the country's ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, had "unexpectedly" died in New York. "The outstanding Russian diplomat passed away at his work post," the statement said. The ministry gave no details on the circumstances of his death but offered condolences to his relatives and said the diplomat had died one day before his 65th birthday. Churkin has been Russia's envoy at the United Nations for a little over a decade and was considered Moscow's great champion at the UN. Previously he worked at the foreign ministry in Moscow, served as an envoy to Canada (1998-2003), Belgium (1994-1998) and as a special representative to the talks on former Yugoslavia (1992-1994). 'Pillar of the UNSC' Tributes to the ambassador soon followed the announcement of his death. The Kremlin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russian President Vladimir Putin was grieving after learning of Churkin's death. "The head of state highly valued Churkin's professionalism and diplomatic talent," Peskov said, adding that the president had expressed his condolences to Churkin's loved ones. Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for the UN secretary general's office, said: "He has been such a regular presence here that I am actually quite stunned. Our thoughts go to his family, to his friends and to his government." Meanwhile, the UK Mission to the United Nations tweeted: "Vitaly Churkin was a pillar of the [UN Security Council] for over a decade. Our deepest condolences to his family [and] colleagues..." Churkin was a pugnacious defender of Russian policy, most notably its intensive bombing of the Syrian city of Aleppo last year to crush rebels opposing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. When then-US envoy to the UN Samantha Power accused Syria, Russia and Iran last year of bearing responsibility for atrocities there, Churkin said she was acting like Mother Teresa and forgetting her own country's track record in the Middle East. On hearing of her counterpart's death, Power said was "devastated," describing Churkin as a "diplomatic maestro." He was a "deeply caring man" who tried to bridge differences between the US and Russia, she added. Power's successor Nikki Haley - who took up the post last month - also offered her condolences, saying that Churkin "showed himself to be a gracious colleague." "We did not always see things the same way," she added. "But he unquestionably advocated his country's positions with great skill."

Russia’s foreign ministry has announced the sudden death of Moscow’s long-time UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin. The 64-year-old had been Russia’s permanent representative to the United Nations since 2006. In a statement on Monday, the Russian foreign ministry said the country’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, had “unexpectedly” died in New York. “The outstanding Russian diplomat passed away at ... Read More »

No survivors in Melbourne chartered plane crash

Police reported all five individuals on board have died after the plane smashed into a shopping center shortly after take off. Authorities suspect engine failure may have caused the accident. All five individuals aboard the Beechcraft light aircraft that smashed into an outlet shopping complex Tuesday have perished in the accident, Victoria police said. The crash occured shortly after the plane took off from the Essendon Fields airport around 9 a.m. local time (23.00 UTC), causing an explosion and significant damage to the building and surrounding area. The retail complex had not yet opened for the day at the time of accident, and authorities confirmed that no one was inside the building at the time of impact. Police Assistant Commissioner Stephen Leane expressed amazement that the casualties had not been higher. "Looking at the fireball, it is incredibly lucky that no one was at the back of those stores or in the car park of the stores, that no one was even hurt," Leane said. Victoria Premier David Andrews called the crash the state's worst air accident in the past thirty years. "Today's a desperately sad day for our state, a very, very sad day for our state," Andrews said at a press conference. "A number of people have died as a result of the what is the worst civil aviation accident that our state has seen for 30 years." Witnesses described a "massive fireball" as the plane hit the building, follwed by debris and plane parts flying onto the nearby highways and a rising cloud of black smoke. Firefighters and emergency responders were dispatched to the scene immediately after the addicent. Preliminary investigations are centering on possible engine failure. The plane sent out a May-Day signal shortly before crashing, Victoria police reported. Previous reports that the plane was an ambulance aircraft were incorrect. Essendon airport, located some 16 kilometers (10 miles) north of Melbourne, is mostly used for small airplanes.

Police reported all five individuals on board have died after the plane smashed into a shopping center shortly after take off. Authorities suspect engine failure may have caused the accident. All five individuals aboard the Beechcraft light aircraft that smashed into an outlet shopping complex Tuesday have perished in the accident, Victoria police said. The crash occured shortly after the ... Read More »

Some 1,600 migrants rescued from Mediterranean in two days

More migrants attempting to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean have been taken aboard rescue ships, aid organizations said. The rescues come as EU leaders adopt controversial measures in cooperation with Libya. Aid organizations on Saturday rescued 300 people from waters in the Strait of Sicily after some 1,300 refugees and migrants were saved off the Libyan coast the day before, the Italian news agency Ansa reported. The Italian coast guard confirmed the number of those rescued on Saturday, saying they had been on board two rubber dinghies and a punt. Aid organizations on Saturday rescued 300 people from waters in the Strait of Sicily after some 1,300 refugees and migrants were saved off the Libyan coast the day before, the Italian news agency Ansa reported. The Italian coast guard confirmed the number of those rescued on Saturday, saying they had been on board two rubber dinghies and a punt. Dangerous route Another 1,300 people were rescued on Wednesday. The sea crossing from Libya across the Mediterranean to Italy is currently the main route to Europe for migrants. More than 5,000 are believed to have drowned attempting the crossing in 2016, with many consigned to flimsy and often overfilled boats run by people smugglers. A record 181,000 people made the journey last year. Controversial cooperation The latest rescues come a day after European Union leaders meeting in Malta adopted a number of plans in cooperation with Libya aimed at cutting the number of migrants attempting the sometimes perilous sea crossing from Africa to Europe. Among other things, they agreed to give financial aid to the Libyan coast guard to help it intercept boats shortly after they set off. They also intend to set up "safe" refugee camps in Libya. The proposed measures have met with criticism from rights groups, who say cooperation with Libya is dangerous for migrants owing to the country's fragile security situation and record of violent conflict. MSF was among those to slam the plans forged at the Malta summit. Since longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi was ousted and killed in 2011, Libya has remained divided between militias. It currently has a UN-backed Tripoli-based government that controls only sections of the country's vast coastline.

More migrants attempting to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean have been taken aboard rescue ships, aid organizations said. The rescues come as EU leaders adopt controversial measures in cooperation with Libya. Aid organizations on Saturday rescued 300 people from waters in the Strait of Sicily after some 1,300 refugees and migrants were saved off the Libyan coast the day ... Read More »

Trump causing domestic political problems in Mexico

After provocations from President Donald Trump, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto canceled a scheduled US visit. Although people in Mexico have shown support for the move, the mood in the country is bad. "Many Mexicans are scared," says Mexican political scientist Carlos Perez Ricart, who is currently researching at the Free University of Berlin's Institute of Latin American Studies. Businesses, citizens with relatives in the United States, and not least, the middle-class, all of whom who have had more influence on the county's economy than anyone else until now, are worried about President Donald Trump's threats of punitive tariffs, tighter border controls and higher import taxes. "Right now many Mexicans are looking closely at the US," says Perez Ricart. "That has led many to ignore Mexico's domestic problems and look instead to the external enemy." The result has been an increasingly nationalist sentiment. Currently, profile images featuring the Mexican flag or other national symbols are very popular on social networks. Mexicans dissatisfied Still, none of that can hide the country's deeper problems. Not only do drug cartels still control much of the country, its government has also been involved in a number of corruption scandals. These are things that Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and his Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) had wanted to tackle. "Mexicans don't see any structural improvements, instead life has just gotten worse for them," says Mexican political scientist Luicy Pedroza of the Hamburg-based German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA). "The promised reforms were poorly enacted, both in the energy sector and the business sector," she says. Recent polls show that just 12 percent of Mexicans approve of their president. Scared of Trump, frustrated with Pena Nieto But Pena Nieto intends to stick to his plan - part of which is the deregulation of fuel pricing. The next phase of the plan is to be introduced in February. Total deregulation is to be complete in 2018. Until now, gas prices have been set by the finance ministry. The measures could not have come at a worse time for Mexico: The peso is at a historic low, and global oil prices are on the rise. The liberalization means that not only do Mexicans have to pay more for gasoline, but they have had to pay higher electricity prices since the beginning of the year as well. Other everyday items have also gotten more expensive due to inflation. People are so angry that even around the time of Trump's inauguration - when hundreds of thousands of people around the world took to the streets to protest the new US president - Mexicans didn't protest the man that so often insulted them publicly. Instead, they demonstrated against Pena Nieto. Many even accused him of being partially responsible for Trump getting elected. Pena Nieto was the only international leader to extend Trump an invitation to visit during his candidacy. Pena Nieto invited Trump to Mexico City despite the fact that he had repeatedly used strong anti-Mexican rhetoric to drum up support. In fact, he began his presidential bid by defaming Mexicans as "rapists" and "drug dealers," charges he repeated throughout the campaign. The day after his Mexico City visit, Trump campaigned in New Mexico, saying: "They're paying for the wall, they just don't know it yet." In an editorial titled "Trump is a problem, Pena Nieto is not the solution," Mexican journalist Ricardo Raphael wrote that Donald Trump had "used Enrique Pena Nieto as the warm-up act for his show." Actually, Pena Nieto should have been able to use the situation with Trump to his own advantage, says political scientist Carlos Perez Ricart: "But the Mexican government lacks strength and confidence." Pena Nieto, he says, acted far too timidly.

After provocations from President Donald Trump, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto canceled a scheduled US visit. Although people in Mexico have shown support for the move, the mood in the country is bad. “Many Mexicans are scared,” says Mexican political scientist Carlos Perez Ricart, who is currently researching at the Free University of Berlin’s Institute of Latin American Studies. Businesses, ... Read More »

Romania decriminalizes official misconduct amid mass protests

Romania's leftist government has adopted an emergency law to decriminalize abuse of power crimes and corruption offences. Protests erupted late Tuesday in cities across the country after the government's announcement. The measures, adopted late on Tuesday, will decriminalize cases of official misconduct in which financial damage is valued at less than 200,000 lei (44,000 euros). Romania's leftist government, which swept into power in December, says the move was needed to get the Eastern European country's criminal code in line with recent constitutional court rulings. Critics claim it is a bid by Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu (main picture, left) to protect the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) chairman Liviu Dragnea (pictured right), who is facing legal proceedings for about half that amount. The new measures, which take effect immediately, include pardons for convicts sentenced to less than five years and reduced sentences for prisoners over 60. They are likely to result in the release of at least 2,500 convicts, ostensibly to ease prison overcrowding. Protesters took to the streets across the country soon after the government announced its new measures late Tuesday. Tens of thousands of people protested against the proposed ordinance in the past few weeks, saying it would be a blow to a years-long anti-graft drive in Romania. On Tuesday night, thousands of demonstrators in Bucharest chanted anti-government slogans outside the government offices, with some calling the PSD "the red plague." Some chanted "You did it at night, like thieves," referring to the government's passing of the law in the late hours. A 'blow' to anti-corruption efforts "This measure will render the anti-corruption fight irrelevant," Laura Codruta Kovesi, Romania's anti-corruption chief, told the AP news agency, adding that the National Anti-corruption Directorate had prosecuted 1,170 cases of abuse in office in the past three years. The anti-corruption agency said the decriminalization measures would "encourage the abusive behavior of public workers, dishonesty, (and) immorality." President Klaus Iohanis, who has limited powers in the government, is a strong critic of the ruling party's ordinance. He called the adoption of the law "a day of mourning for the rule of law ... which has received a grave blow from the enemies of justice." "From today onward, my mission is to re-establish the rule of law. I will do everything I can to make Romania a country free of corruption, until the last day of my mandate," the president said Tuesday. Romania is one of the most corrupt countries in the European Union, with graft in government offices and state institutions rife.

Romania’s leftist government has adopted an emergency law to decriminalize abuse of power crimes and corruption offences. Protests erupted late Tuesday in cities across the country after the government’s announcement. The measures, adopted late on Tuesday, will decriminalize cases of official misconduct in which financial damage is valued at less than 200,000 lei (44,000 euros). Romania’s leftist government, which swept ... Read More »

Turkish MPs back constitutional reforms in first parliament vote

Turkish MPs have approved 18 constitutional amendments that grant expansive powers to President Erdogan in a first vote. If the measures pass a second round, a referendum on the changes could take place this spring. Turkey's parliament backed controversial constitutional amendments on Sunday that would bolster the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The vote was the first of two readings. The MPs approved the final two sections of the 18-article new constitution after a week of debating that began on January 9 and included sessions that lasted late into the night. Lawmakers must now wait 48-hours before voting a second and final time on the amendments that seek to change Turkey from a parliamentary system to a presidential one. The second reading is expected to start on Wednesday where the 18 articles will be debated one by one. If passed in the second round, the constitutional reforms would then be put to the public in a referendum which could take place as early as this spring. The amendments would turn the presidency into the office that runs the government and weaken the legislature. Under the constitutional changes, the president would have the power to appoint and fire ministers while the post of prime minister would be abolished for the first time in Turkey's history. The post would be replaced with one or several vice presidents. Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), founded by Erdogan, had been pushing for the constitutional changes for years while Erdogan was still prime minister, claiming that a strong leadership would lead to greater prosperity. Opponents say that the changes would inadvertently inflate the president's authoritarian ways and allow him to rule without checks and balances in place. Fights broke out in parliament on Thursday as lawmakers debated the reforms, with punches thrown, and deputies blooded. One lawmaker even claimed to have been bitten in the leg. Turkey has been under a state of emergency for almost six months following a failed coup last year on July 15. The amendments would also widen the scope of conditions in which the president can declare an emergency.

Turkish MPs have approved 18 constitutional amendments that grant expansive powers to President Erdogan in a first vote. If the measures pass a second round, a referendum on the changes could take place this spring. Turkey’s parliament backed controversial constitutional amendments on Sunday that would bolster the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The vote was the first of two ... Read More »

Oxfam highlights world inequality ahead of WEF Davos summit

The eight richest businessmen own as much as half the world's population, 3.6 billion people, according to the Oxfam report. Inequality is 'more shocking than ever before' the aid group said. In its report, Oxfam called for an overhaul of what it described as a "warped" economy which allowed eight billionaires to own as much wealth as half of the world's population, or 3.6 billion people. The report was published on Monday, a day ahead of the start of the World Economic Forum (WEF) for the world's politicians and business leaders in the ski resort of Davos in the Swiss Alps. "Inequality is not only keeping millions of people trapped in poverty, it is fracturing our societies and poisoning our politics," Mark Goldring Oxfam GB chief executive said. "It is beyond grotesque that a group of men who could easily fit in a single golf buggy own more than the poorest half of humanity." Oxfam reported pay ratios meant the average pay of leading UK company chief executives was 129 times that of the average employee. It was the equivalent of 10,000 people working in Bangladeshi garment factories. "It is obscene for so much wealth to be held in the hands of so few when 1 in 10 people survive on less than $2 (1.88 euros) a day," said Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International New and better data on the distribution of global wealth, especially in India and China, has indicated the poorest people have less wealth than previously thought. Oxfam reported that had the information been available for its research last year, the report would have indicated nine billionaires owned as much as the poorest half of the planet, instead of the richest 62 people. A call for improvements Oxfam called on international leaders to improve cooperation to prevent tax avoidance, to encourage companies to take action for the benefit of staff as well as shareholders. It called for wealth taxes to fund healthcare, education and job creation. Oxfam also wants to see improved opportunities for women and urged business leaders to commit to the payment of a living wage, as well as paying their own fair share of taxes. The charity said the trickle-down notion of wealth had been proved wrong. Corruption and cronyism have distorted markets and they need to be managed, Oxfam said. "Together we need to create a new common sense, and turn things on their head to design an economy whose primary purpose is to benefit 99 per cent, not the 1 per cent." The WEF released a Global Risks Report last week in which it stated that "rising income and wealth disparity is rated ... as the most important trend in determining global developments over the next 10 years," adding that "Reforming market capitalism must also be added to the agenda."

The eight richest businessmen own as much as half the world’s population, 3.6 billion people, according to the Oxfam report. Inequality is ‘more shocking than ever before’ the aid group said. In its report, Oxfam called for an overhaul of what it described as a “warped” economy which allowed eight billionaires to own as much wealth as half of the ... Read More »

Zuma vows to unite South Africans as ANC leadership race begins

President Jacob Zuma has promised to address problems of corruption and infighting within the ruling ANC party. The ANC Women’s League said that they would back Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as a presidential candidate. "We accept that we have made mistakes," Zuma, told ANC supporters during the African National Congress (ANC) 105th birthday celebration that took place in a stadium in the Soweto township on Sunday. "When leaders and members of the ANC are corrupt and steal they are betraying the values of the ANC, the people and our country. We will not allow this," he added. The past two years have been tough for South Africa's largest party, which has built its reputation around its role in the anti-Apartheid struggle and the legacy of its former leader Nelson Mandela. Amidst student protests and strikes by the mining unions, the ANC leadership has been embroiled in multiple scandals including the use of state money to make luxury improvements on Zuma's private home in Nklandla. At the same time South Africa's public protector launched an investigation into the role of an Indian business family, the Guptas, in influencing the appointment of government posts. In August South Africa's ruling party saw its lowest election results to date in local elections. The party lost control of major metropolitan areas like the capital Pretoria and Cape Town to the main opposition party the Democratic Alliance (DA). Although Zuma himself has repeatedly rejected calls from the opposition as well as his own party members to step down, it is clear that his term is coming to an end. In December 2017, he plans to step down as party leader as the country prepares for presidential elections in 2019. In Sunday's speech, Zuma made a last effort to unite party members. "The ANC will elect a new national leadership towards the end of the year," Zuma said. "Too often, comrades fight for leadership positions as they see leadership as the route to material and personal gain." He went on to say that instead of infighting, the ANC should rather focus on the common enemies which he said were unemployment, poverty and inequality. Time for a woman? In the question of who will succeed Zuma and will ultimately become the ANC's presidential candidate for 2019, African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and South Africa's vice president Cyril Ramaphosa are seen as the main contenders. While neither of them has declared their intention to run for the post, the powerful ANC Women's League on Saturday pledged their support to Dlamini-Zuma. "We've been saying we want a woman president, we want a woman president and therefore yesterday we had to define what we want and the most suitable candidate and face of our campaign was comrade Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma," explained ANC Women's League president Bathabile Dlamini. Dlamini-Zuma formerly held the post of South Africa's health minister, foreign minister and home affairs minister in both the Mbeki and Zuma administrations, before becoming the first female head of the AU. She is also President Zuma's ex-wife.

President Jacob Zuma has promised to address problems of corruption and infighting within the ruling ANC party. The ANC Women’s League said that they would back Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as a presidential candidate. “We accept that we have made mistakes,” Zuma, told ANC supporters during the African National Congress (ANC) 105th birthday celebration that took place in a stadium in the ... Read More »

Multiple deaths as extreme weather sweeps Europe

Blizzards, icy roads and dangerously low temperatures over the past two days have claimed more than a dozen lives in parts of Europe. The harsh winter weather has also cut off towns and caused massive power outages. Four Portuguese tourists were killed and some 20 others were injured on Sunday when their bus skidded off an ice-covered highway in eastern France. Authorities said the Switzerland-bound bus plummeted into a ditch in the Saone-et-Loire region near Lyon. "It was very icy," state prosecutor Karine Malara said. "The weather conditions this morning were very bad." Severe conditions across Europe have caused fatalities in a number of countries in recent days. Black ice across northern and western Germany was blamed for dozens of road accidents and injuries overnight. One person died near Hannover after their car skidded into a tree, the German Press Agency reported. Meanwhile, firefighters in the city of Hamburg said Sunday they had received 415 emergency calls for weather-related incidents. Freezing temperatures In Poland, two men died of hypothermia on Saturday, bringing the nation's death toll from winter weather to 55 since November 1, authorities said. Some parts of the country saw temperatures as low as minus 30 degrees Celsuis (minus 22 Fahrenheit). In the neighboring Czech Republic, three people died because of the icy weather, according to the CTK agency. Eight weather-related deaths were reported in Italy, including a man who died of cold on a street near Florence's Arno River. Police in Bulgaria said two Iraqi men and a Somali woman died from cold in the mountains near Turkey as they attempted to walk toward Europe. Bulgarian authorities said a passenger train derailed in the center of the country on Sunday after it hit a pile of snow. Meanwhile, several villages to the north were left without electricity and water. Similar conditions were reported in Serbia's south, where some towns were cut off by heavy snow and around 70 kilometers (43 miles) of water pipes froze. Snow also fell on Istanbul, Turkey, for a third straight day, prompting major delays and hundreds of flight cancellations at the city's two main airports.

Blizzards, icy roads and dangerously low temperatures over the past two days have claimed more than a dozen lives in parts of Europe. The harsh winter weather has also cut off towns and caused massive power outages. Four Portuguese tourists were killed and some 20 others were injured on Sunday when their bus skidded off an ice-covered highway in eastern ... Read More »

Unrest eases in Ivory Coast after mutiny ends

Calm has returned to cities in the Ivory Coast after a deal between the government and soldiers ended a two-day revolt. Soldiers launched the uprising to demand improved pay and working conditions. Shops reopened and traffic resumed in Ivory Coast's second-largest city, Bouake, on Sunday after mutinying soldiers agreed to head back to their barracks. The revolt kicked off Friday when soldiers demanding pay rises, housing and improved working conditions seized the city, putting up roadblocks and firing their weapons into the air. From Bouake, the uprising quickly spread to other cities around the country, including the economic capital Abidjan. Deal reached Defense ministry officials met with the mutiny leaders late Saturday and reached an agreement aimed to address soldiers' demands and end the unrest. "We have cleared the corridors everywhere as promised and we have been in barracks since last night," Sergeant Mamadou Kone told Reuters. "All over the country all our men have returned to barracks and wait for their money. The mutiny is over for us." He added that the soldiers expected to be paid on Monday under the deal brokered by Defense Minister Alain-Richard Donwahi. Following the negotiations, the minister was briefly detained by rogue soldiers in a tense standoff before he was released. On returning to Abidjan on Saturday night, Donwahi said all bonus arrears would be paid. "We are aware that there are many problems to resolve... I can assure you that we will keep our commitments but they too should keep theirs," he said. While the terms of the deal haven't been made public, sources close to the negotiations said the soldiers had demanded 5 million CFA francs ($8,000; 7,500 euros) each. Divisions in the military Years of conflict and failure to reform an army made up of former rebel fighters and government soldiers has left debilitating divisions in the West African nation. This week's uprising follows another, almost identical revolt in 2014 in which hundreds of soldiers blocked roads in cities across the country to protest their pay. Following that unrest, the government agreed to a financial settlement and amnesty from punishment for the mutineers. Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara entered office in 2011 after a postelection civil war that claimed over 3,000 lives. The crisis was triggered by former President Laurent Gbagbo's refusal to accept defeat and step down. Gbagbo was eventually arrested and turned over to the International Criminal Court in The Hague where his trial began a year ago for crimes against humanity.

Calm has returned to cities in the Ivory Coast after a deal between the government and soldiers ended a two-day revolt. Soldiers launched the uprising to demand improved pay and working conditions. Shops reopened and traffic resumed in Ivory Coast’s second-largest city, Bouake, on Sunday after mutinying soldiers agreed to head back to their barracks. The revolt kicked off Friday ... Read More »

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