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Saturday
Feb242018

Syrian ceasefire wins UN Security Council approval after a week of delays while hundreds of civilians died

Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously on Saturday to adopt a resolution demanding a temporary humanitarian ceasefire across war-torn Syria, a measure that was delayed several times this week while hundreds of civilians died in airstrikes by the Syrian government and its allies.

The resolution demands all parties to cease hostilities in Syria for 30 days to deliver much-needed humanitarian aid and to evacuate the sick and wounded. It calls for the ceasefire to begin "without delay."

One exemption to the ceasefire is allowed under the resolution -- attacks on militants from ISIS and any Al Qaeda affiliates.

"We are late to this crisis -- very late," U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said after the vote inside the Security Council chambers at the U.N. headquarters in New York City.

The Syrian government, with support from Russia and Iran-backed militants, has carried out a fierce military offensive this week against the last major territory still under rebel control. Since Sunday night, the bombing campaign has killed at least 462 civilians, including 103 children, and wounded more than 2,000 people in the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a United Kingdom-based monitoring group. It’s among the deadliest offensives of Syria's seven-year civil war.

Syria's Ambassador to the U.N. Bashar Jaafari, who was present for Saturday's vote, defended the military offensive in Eastern Ghouta and criticized those who don't want his government combating "terrorists" on its own territory.

“We have responsibilities as a state to protect our citizens," Jaafari said in Arabic through a translator, following the vote. "We are exercising our right to fight terrorism."

The vote on the resolution had been scheduled and delayed three times this week amid lengthy, drawn-out negotiations. Russia's Ambassador to the U.N. Vassily Nebenzia had repeatedly called an immediate ceasefire unrealistic.

Sweden's Ambassador to the U.N. Olof Skoog said the resolution could potentially abate violence and save lives.

“The U.N. convoys and evacuation teams are ready to go,” Skoog said prior to Saturday's vote.

Following the unanimous vote, Haley took the floor to lambaste Russia for stalling the vote. She said the Russian ambassador "obstructed the vote" and "dragged out" negotiations this week, which she said cost lives.

"At least 19 health facilities have been bombed since Sunday," Haley said. "How many mothers lost their kids to the bombing and the shelling?"

Haley and other Security Council members acknowledged the resolution "will be tested" and that all parties "must rise to the challenge of maintaining the ceasefire." Previous truces haven't been successful in ending fighting in Syria.

Council members also expressed concern that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime will not adhere to the immediate ceasefire. Still, Haley said, "we must demand nothing less."

"We owe this to the innocent people of Syria begging for help," she said.

What started as a local protest movement in Syria’s southern city of Dara'a expanded into a full-fledged civil war by 2012. ISIS, which grew out of Al Qaeda in Iraq, took root in northern and eastern Syria in 2013 after seizing swaths of territory in neighboring Iraq. The jihadist group is fighting to overthrow Assad's regime and establish a caliphate.

The Syrian Civil War has pulled in the United States, Russia, Iran and almost all of Syria's neighbors. It has become the largest humanitarian crisis since World War II, according to the U.N.

Earlier this week, while speaking at a Security Council meeting, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged an immediate suspension of "all war activities" in besieged Eastern Ghouta, where he said 400,000 people are "living in hell on earth."

Since late December, there has been an upsurge in violence in the rebel-held enclave, located just outside the Syrian capital Damascus. The residents trapped there have little access to food, water, fuel, electricity and health care.

“A human tragedy is unfolding in front of our eyes," said Guterres, explaining that an estimated 700 people in Eastern Ghouta need urgent medical treatment that cannot be provided there.

“I don’t think we can let things go on in this horrendous way," he said.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Saturday
Feb242018

Olympics 2018: Closing ceremony themed 'The Next Wave' to conclude Pyeongchang Winter Games

Richard Heathcote/Getty Images(PYEONGCHANG, South Korea) -- After weeks of exhilarating competition and dazzling spectacles against the backdrop of Pyeongchang's snow-capped mountains, the 23rd Olympic Winter Games will come to an end Sunday.

The closing ceremony, which starts Sunday at 8 p.m. local time (6 a.m. ET), will tell the story of "The Next Wave," while emphasizing the "human spirit of perseverance." The program will combine music, dance and art and will be "somewhat interactive, allowing spectators to both get involved and stay warm," according to an official press release.

Oh Jang-hwan, director of ceremonies for the Pyeongchang 2018 organizing committee, said the event will have a "festival atmosphere to recognize and celebrate the athletes' hard work and achievements at the games."

"We have created a show that looks toward the future; it includes quite a lot of traditional Korean humor and fun elements to add to the party feel," Oh said in an interview published on the official Olympics website.

K-pop boy group EXO and solo singer CL are slated to be among the star-studded line-up of performers to take part in Sunday's closing ceremony.

Few other details have been revealed about the program. But it certainly appears the closing ceremony will showcase South Korea's modernity, in contrast to the Feb. 9 opening ceremony, which emphasized Korean tradition and culture as well as peace.

U.S. President Donald Trump's daughter, Ivanka Trump, arrived in South Korea on Friday and she will attend the closing ceremony, leading the U.S. presidential delegation that also includes White House press secretary Sarah Sanders.

Like the splendid opening ceremony, the closing ceremony will take place at the Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium in the normally sleepy mountain town of Hoenggye, located in Pyeongchang County in Gangwon province, South Korea.

"This is the first stadium built exclusively for ceremonies in Olympic history, and its pentagon shape will allow closer interaction with the spectators," Oh said. "As the stadium is open-air, they will also get a different sensory experience. They just need to come dressed appropriately for the cold winter weather!"

Spectators at the 35,000-seat temporary venue were provided with gear to fend off the area's bitter cold and high winds during the opening ceremony, such as a raincoat, blanket and knitted hats as well as hand, feet and seat warmers.

There are four final sporting events to watch Sunday before the closing ceremony begins: men's bobsledding, women's cross-country skiing, women's curling and men's ice hockey.

This was the second Olympics held in South Korea; Seoul was the host city for the Summer Olympics in 1988.

But as International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said earlier this month at the opening ceremony, these are "the first Olympic Games on snow and ice in the Republic of Korea."

"Now is the time for Pyeongchang," he said.

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Saturday
Feb242018

Ivanka Trump in South Korea affirms 'maximum pressure' on North Korea

Andreas Rentz/Getty Images(PYEONGCHANG, South Korea) -- President Donald Trump's daughter and senior adviser, Ivanka Trump, is at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang to lead the American delegation cheering on athletes while also reaffirming the alliance between the U.S. and South Korea.

The U.S. delegation, which will attend the Winter Games closing ceremony on Sunday, arrived at Incheon International Airport on Friday to layer upon layer of waiting reporters.

"We are excited to attend the 2018 Winter Olympic Games to cheer for Team USA and to reaffirm our strong and enduring commitment with the people of the Republic of Korea," Ivanka Trump said to media at the airport.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in welcomed the delegation with a dinner banquet at his official residence, the Blue House, Cheong Wa Dae. The meal had a kosher menu for Trump.

During dinner, Ivanka thanked President Moon for hosting the delegation. She said she wanted to reaffirm the partnership between the U.S. and South Korea, and the "maximum pressure campaign to ensure that the Korean Peninsula is denuclearized."

On Saturday, some South Korean media ran headlines quoting public comments at the banquet. Kookmin Daily’s top headline said Ivanka Trump says "efforts by S. Korea, U.S. to pressure N. Korea have been effective." Donga Ilbo’s top headline quoted Trump as saying her "heart aches when thinking of the suffering of N. Koreans under repressive regime."

In Pyeongchang, Ivanka Trump sat in the audience along with South Korea’s first lady and Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha to watch the men’s big air final round at the Alpensia Ski Jumping Center. Then the U.S. delegation moved on to watch the men’s curling match, with the United States and Sweden competing for the gold.

The American delegation's four-day itinerary in South Korea will include more rooting for U.S. athletes and attendance at the closing ceremony Sunday evening, with a return to Washington on Monday.

There was some speculation that Ivanka Trump might encounter members of the North Korean delegation at the closing ceremony.

But officials said the chance of that is slim.

"There is no plan, nor will there be a chance, for a meeting between the North and the U.S. during their visit to South Korea for the closing ceremony," an anonymous official told South Korean media outlet Yonhap News on Friday.

U.S. officials said the same about the possibility of a meeting.

“As of right now, there's nothing planned,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters at Team USA House in Yonpyong Ski Resort.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Feb232018

US to move embassy to Jerusalem in May

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. will move its embassy to Jerusalem in May after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signed off on a final plan Thursday, according to two State Department officials.

The move, later confirmed by State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert, comes much earlier than anticipated, after several top officials, including President Trump, said it would not happen until at least the end of 2019.

To make the move quickly, the new embassy will be at the existing U.S. consular building that provides visa services for American citizens in the Arnona neighborhood. The U.S. ambassador and a small number of staff will begin working there this spring, with plans for a new embassy facility to open on the compound by the end of next year, according to Nauert.

One Israeli minister suggested the administration could potentially cut the ribbon and open the embassy on May 14 — Israel's independence day and its 70th anniversary — although in Israel, it will be celebrated on April 19 in the Hebrew calendar.

Ambassador David Friedman, President Trump's former lawyer and campaign adviser, will bring a smaller staff to Arona in May, but there is no specific date yet for the opening, according to the two officials. Nauert said only that, "The opening will coincide with Israel’s 70th anniversary."

In addition to this new interim embassy, the administration has started the search for a permanent embassy site, Nauert said, calling it a "longer-term undertaking." It will take years to purchase land, get proper zoning and permits, and then build the facility.

The Trump administration had previously said any move would be next year: "We anticipate having a small version of it open sometime next year," Trump said while meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Davos, Switzerland, in January.

In particular, Secretary Tillerson, who is the one to sign off on any embassy renovation or move, had concerns about security that would delay the decision.

State Department officials would have to "go over there, they take a look at the buildings, they take a look at the set-backs — the requirements for how far we have to be back from the street — look at different angles, and they make all those assessments. That's not something that can be done overnight, but we're engaged in that process now," a senior State Department official told ABC News on January 25.

Tillerson himself said the embassy move was "probably no earlier than three years out" in December.

But the accelerated timeline is a win for Friedman and Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, who had pushed for the embassy move before the 2018 Congressional elections, according to an administration source.

But there were some reports that casino magnate and Republican donor Sheldon Adelson had offered to help pay for the new embassy. A State Department official dismissed the report, saying there are no formal discussions or proposals.

The existing U.S. consulate general in Jerusalem, a historic building dating back to 1912, will continue its mission and remain open independent of the future embassy.

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Friday
Feb232018

NRA denies receiving foreign money for US elections

Scott Olson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The National Rifle Association has denied receiving money “from foreign persons or entities in connection with United States elections” in a letter to a leading Democratic senator who has sought federal financial records related to a Russian businessman with ties to the organization.

“NRA political decisions are made by NRA officers and executive staff, all of whom are United States citizens,” the letter from John C. Frazer, the national gun group’s general counsel, to Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat. “No foreign nationals are consulted in any way on these decisions.”

McClatchy reported in January that the FBI was investigating whether Alexander Torshin, a Russian politician with close ties to both Vladimir Putin and the NRA, illegally funneled money to the Trump campaign. The letter claims, however, the NRA has not been contacted by the FBI regarding Torshin’s activities.

Earlier this month, Sen. Wyden wrote to the U.S. Treasury Department to seek financial records concerning alleged links between Torshin and the NRA, citing published reports suggesting possible ties between Torshin’s interest in the NRA and the organization’s hefty campaign spending in support of then-candidate Donald Trump.

“The national security as well as legal implications of those reports make it imperative that Congress conduct a thorough investigation,” Wyden wrote.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the NRA reported spending nearly $55 million on the 2016 elections, including more than $30 million in support of Trump.

A Wyden aide told ABC News that the senator “is reviewing the NRA’s response and considering additional follow-up questions.”

President Trump, meanwhile, has remained a vocal opponent of gun control measures even as calls for new regulations have gained momentum following the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 17 students and teachers. On Friday, Trump doubled down on his proposal to arm teachers during a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday morning.

“When we declare our schools to be gun free zones, it just puts our students in far more danger,” Trump told the crowd of supporters. “People that are adept with weaponry and with guns — they teach. I don’t want to have 100 guards with rifles standing all over the school. You do a concealed carry permit.”

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Friday
Feb232018

Airstrikes continue to pound Eastern Ghouta ahead of UN vote

iStock/Thinkstock(DAMASCUS, Syria) -- Relentless airstrikes pounded rebel-held Eastern Ghouta for the sixth day in a row, hours before members of the United Nations Security Council will vote on a resolution to institute a 30-day ceasefire in Syria to deliver humanitarian aid and evacuate the sick and wounded.

The fierce bombing campaign, launched by Syrian government forces and their allies, has killed at least 462 civilians, including 103 children, and left more than 2,000 people injured, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based monitoring group. The offensive is one of the deadliest of the seven-year Syrian civil war.

Residents say they find it difficult to describe what life is like under the intense bombardment.

"The situation is catastrophic," Siraj Mahmoud, a spokesperson for the White Helmets and resident of Eastern Ghouta who works under a pseudonym, told ABC News on Thursday. "It can't be described at all."

Eyewitnesses and monitoring groups said that multiple towns in the besieged enclave were bombed on Friday, including Zamalka, Harasta, Saqba, Hamouriya, Ein Tarma and Douma, which is the largest town in Eastern Ghouta.

"There are no houses that haven't either been flattened or damaged," Samira, a resident of Douma, who asked that her real name be withheld out of concern for her and her family's safety, told ABC News on Friday. Her own house was damaged on Wednesday night after a rocket was dropped on her street, she said. When the airstrikes intensify, she hides in the living room, which is the safest place in her apartment because it has no windows.

An estimated 400,000 people are trapped in Eastern Ghouta with little access to food, water, fuel, electricity and health care. More than 20 hospitals there have been attacked this week, according to the Syrian American Medical Society, which supports hospitals in Eastern Ghouta. Doctors in the enclave say they don’t have trauma drugs and surgical equipment, making it difficult, if sometimes impossible, to save lives.

“I don’t know how to describe what I feel when I see children in pieces and dead bodies,” Amani Ballour, a pediatrician and hospital manager in Eastern Ghouta, told ABC News. “We don’t know what to do.”

The United Nations Security Council met Thursday to discuss the situation in Eastern Ghouta at the request of Russia.

At the emergency meeting, Staffan de Mistura, the U.N. Special Envoy for Syria, called for a ceasefire.

“There is a need for avoiding a massacre, because we will be judged by history,” he said.

Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, called the resolution unrealistic and proposed amendments.

The recent surge in violence in Eastern Ghouta, which has been besieged by the Syrian government since 2013, is part of President Bashar al-Assad’s campaign to seize Syria’s last remaining opposition-held territories.

The Syrian government and its main ally Russia say their military offensive against Eastern Ghouta is necessary to overthrow rebels who have been firing mortars on Damascus. The Syrian state news agency SANA said that one civilian was killed and 60 were injured on Friday after opposition militants fired shells on Damascus.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Feb232018

US unveils largest sanctions yet on ships, companies trading with North Korea

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Trump administration has slapped 27 trading and shipping companies, 28 vessels, and one individual with new sanctions for evading U.S. and United Nations embargoes on trading oil, coal, and other fuel with North Korea, and warned it might even impose a military blockade to stop North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

President Donald Trump was supposed to reveal the sanctions himself in a speech Friday morning before the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, a major conservative summit, with the administration touting it as a major announcement. Instead, just as he wrapped up a more than one-hour-long speech, he mentioned it as an aside.

"I do want to say it, because people have asked -- North Korea -- we imposed today the heaviest sanctions ever imposed on a country before," he said. "Frankly, hopefully, something positive can happen. We will see."

Trump's daughter and senior adviser Ivanka Trump, who is in Seoul, South Korea, to attend the closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics as the U.S. representative, briefed South Korean President Moon Jae-in on the sanctions, according to a senior administration official. They also discussed the continued effort on the joint maximum pressure campaign against North Korea, the official said.

Deemed the largest package of sanctions to date by the Treasury Department, it's the latest move by the U.S. in its global pressure campaign to force North Korea to give up its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, as the country marches on to developing a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile.

The Treasury Department, along with the U.S. Coast Guard and the State Department, also issued a worldwide advisory, warning countries of "significant sanctions risks" if they keep doing business with North Korea. It's a threat the Trump administration has made in statements before, but such a formal warning paired with Friday's actions was meant to send a message that the U.S. wants to tighten the noose.

To that end, the Trump administration is not ruling out the idea of a military blockade to confront North Korean vessels in the event the sanctions don't affect their activity, according to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.

The U.S. mission to the U.N. will also seek U.N. sanctions on this same list of ships and companies, according to senior administration officials who briefed reporters. Doing so would really give the new move punch, but it's unclear if North Korea's backers China and Russia would sign on to those.

So far, those two have worked with the U.S. and the rest of the U.N. Security Council to pass three big resolutions last year, banning over 90% of North Korea's exports and capping its refined fuel imports. That means gasoline, diesel, and other fuels are down 89% now, according to a senior administration official, in the hopes of slowing their rocket development.

But in the face of those restrictions, North Korea has stepped up ship-to-ship transfers and other evasive tactics, according to a senior administration official.

"We know that North Korea is feeling the pressure," they said, but, "We also want to make sure that we are sensitive to the likelihood that North Korea is going to move toward more evasive actions... [which] we know North Korea is quite practiced at."

U.S. Treasury Department

Transfers at sea may be far from the eyes of port authorities, but they do come under the watch of satellite images. The Treasury also released two images on Friday, showing what they say are a North Korean ship falsifying its vessel information and the same ship conducting a transfer, likely of oil, with a Panama-flagged ship in December.

U.S. Treasury Department

The new sanctions are meant to take on that activity and "make sure that the significant reductions in fuel going into North Korea that are mandated by the UN sanctions are unable to be circumvented," as one senior administration official said. The officials declined to say how much of an impact these specific sanctions will have, but Treasury said each of the nine vessels from countries other than North Korea could carry over $5.5 million worth of coal at a time.

But a top Democrat urged the administration to do more, saying, "the so-called 'largest package' of sanctions... yet again fails to apply the kind of targeted economic pressure necessary to bring Kim Jong Un to the negotiating table."

"China, the biggest enabler of North Korea’s destabilizing activities, only gets a slap on the wrist, escaping any punishment in this package. It will continue to pump crude oil into North Korea with little fear of an American-led oil embargo," said Sen. Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's East Asia Subcommittee.

Despite Trump putting Russia on notice last month, there are no Russian entities on Friday's list either.

"Russia is not helping us at all with North Korea," Trump told Reuters in January, with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson adding, "They're not fully implementing all of the sanctions, and there’s some evidence that they may be frustrating some of the sanctions," especially those on fuel.

Instead, the ships and companies blacklisted Friday are from North Korea, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Marshall Islands, Tanzania, Panama, and Comoros -- and the one individual is a Taiwanese businessman.

Trump was supposed to announce the sanctions himself in a speech before the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, a major conservative summit, Friday morning, with the administration touting it as a major announcement. Instead, just before wrapping up, he mentioned it as an aside.

"I do want to say it, because people have asked -- North Korea -- we imposed today the heaviest sanctions ever imposed on a country before," he said. "Frankly, hopefully, something positive can happen. We will see."

For his part, Vice President Mike Pence hailed the announcement as Trump 'delivering' after Pence promised "the toughest and most aggressive round of economic sanctions on North Korea ever" during a press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe two weeks ago. The sanctions were not ready in time to be unveiled on Pence's trip to Japan and South Korea ahead of the Winter Olympics, according to Mnuchin.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Feb232018

Second Russian athlete fails doping test at Winter Olympics

iStock/Thinkstock(PYEONGCHANG, South Korea) -- A second Russian athlete has failed a doping test at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, days after a Russian curler had to hand back a bronze medal over a doping offense, reviving once again the doping scandal that has hung around Russia at the Games and hurting the country's chances of being reinstated for the closing ceremony this weekend.

The Russian Bobsled Federation in a statement confirmed that Nadezhda Sergeeva, a bobsled pilot for the Russian women’s team in Pyeongchang, had tested positive for a banned heart medication.

The federation’s president, Alexander Zubkov, told reporters that Sergeeva denied taking the substance and team doctors had not prescribed it. The federation said Sergeeva, 30, whose sled placed 12th in the women’s competition on Wednesday, had passed a doping test five days earlier.

The federation did not specify what the medication in the sample was, but official reports cited Russian Olympic delegation officials saying that it was trimetazdine, a drug for treating angina and which is included in the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)’s list of banned substances.

Sergeeva's failed test casts further doubt on Russian hopes of being reinstated for the Games’ closing ceremony on Sunday.

The International Olympic Committee banned Russia from these Games as punishment for a cover-up of systemic doping among its athletes, who are competing in Pyeongchang as neutrals. A small group of Russian athletes were allowed in under a special status -- Olympic Athletes from Russia -- after passing IOC vetting. Russia’s national flag and anthem have been forbidden from appearing throughout the Games.

Russian officials, though, had been holding out for a return to normality during the closing ceremony. The terms of the ban held out the chance for it to be lifted during the ceremony, provided that Russia had met its conditions during the Olympics, including ensuring anti-doping rules are observed and that banned athletes and officials were not permitted to appear at the Games.

The IOC is due to vote on Saturday whether to reinstate Russia’s national Olympic Committee, which would effectively mark an end to the punishments imposed on the country for the doping scandal.

But the implication of two Russian athletes for doping will increase the pressure on the IOC to keep the country out of the ceremony. The Russian curler, Alexander Krushelnitsky, was stripped of a bronze medal he won with his wife, Anastasia Bryzgalova, after he accepted a partial suspension for failing a doping test. Krushelnitsky has denied deliberately taking the drug -- meldonium -- that was found in both his test samples, but acknowledged the positive tests and withdrew his appeal from the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) before it could officially ban him.

Russian sporting officials and Krushelnitsky have loudly protested his innocence, alleging he must have had his drink spiked. Russia’s curling federation has asked the country’s law enforcement to investigate whether Krushelnitsky could have been sabotaged. A source involved in the curler’s defense told the newspaper Kommersant that Krushelnitsky could be a victim of “doping terrorism.” The International Curling Federation will now investigate the case and decide what punishment to impose on Krushelnitsky.

Coaches and other athletes have pointed out that curling is a sport in which it seems to make no sense to dope. The drug, meldonium, is also grimly familiar to Russian athletes; its banning by WADA in 2016 wreaked havoc on the country’s sports, with dozens of Russian athletes, including tennis star Maria Sharapova, testing positive for it. Some coaches and athletes have insisted that it would be absurd for Krushelnitsky to have used it given its notoriety.

“I don’t believe that a young man, a clever man will use the same doping which was so big the last two years. It’s stupid. But Alexander is not stupid,” Russian women’s curling Coach Sergei Belanov told The Toronto Star. “Sorry, I don’t believe it.”

An IOC spokesman, Mark Adams, told reporters this week that the case could impact the decision to reinstate Russia, saying it would be taken into consideration.

Some had interpreted Krushelnitsky's acceptance of the suspension as a sign that Russia had struck a deal with Olympic organizers to muffle the scandal in return for reinstating the country for the ceremony.

Russia had appeared to be gearing up for the reinstatement, paying a $15 million fine to the IOC that was imposed for the doping scandal and which was a condition for lifting the ban. Some had also been encouraged by comments from South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who thanked Russian sports officials at a reception this week, telling them the presence of Russian athletes had “made our games better.”

The Russian Bobsled Federation in a statement appeared to acknowledge that Sergeeva’s failed test could undo those hopes.

“The federation and the athlete herself understand the measure of our responsibility and how what has happened can affect the fates of all the teams,” the federation said in a statement.

Russia's bobsled team had been heavily entangled in the doping scandal. The federation president, Zubkov, a former bobsledder himself, was given a lifetime ban and stripped of two gold medals by the IOC for doping at the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014. Zubkov, along with four other Russian bobsledders, were among the minority of Russian athletes who the CAS still found to have committed doping violations when it overturned IOC bans for 28 Russian athletes ahead of the Olympics for lack of evidence. The CAS converted Zubkov's lifetime ban to a one-off ban for this Olympics, but still ruled he had made a violation.

Krushelnitsky’s disqualification had already prompted some to urge Russia’s Olympic ban to be maintained. Richard McLaren, the Canadian lawyer whose investigation for WADA laid the basis for the ban, this week told the British newspaper the Evening Standard he felt the IOC had made a "huge step backwards" in fighting state-organized doping.

“The closing ceremony message will be entirely inappropriate -- it says to clean athletes that nothing’s being properly done,” said Dick Pound, vice president of the IOC.

He continued, “Russia is not at all contrite. There’s no admission, no promise to correct things. What all this has said is that if you’re big, aggressive and mean, the IOC will fold.”

The IOC has suggested that if Pound is unhappy, he is free to leave the organization, of which he is the longest-serving member.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Feb232018

Ivanka Trump arrives in South Korea ahead of Olympics closing ceremony

Ahn Young-joon/Pool/Getty Images(SEOUL) -- Ivanka Trump arrived in South Korea to flashing cameras and a live broadcast across South Korean TV two days before she will attend the closing ceremony for the 2018 Winter Olympics.

She was given the red-carpet treatment in Seoul as the leader of the U.S. delegation as she landed at Incheon International Airport on a commercial airline, Korean Air, on Friday.

"We are very, very excited to attend the 2018 Winter Olympic Games to cheer for Team USA and to reaffirm our strong and enduring commitment with the people of the Republic of Korea, so thank you for the kind welcome,” she said to dozens of media reporters lined up at the gate.

For hours before her plane's arrival, local news organizations repeatedly aired video of Ivanka’s departure at Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C. Reporters and analysts discussed whether she would bring a personal message from her father, President Donald Trump, or at least offer deep insight into how the core Washingtonians view North Korea.

It's unknown whether she will meet with anyone from North Korea's own high-level delegation, which will attend the closing ceremony.

The U.S. delegation is to dine with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at a traditional Korean house, a venue used only at special occasions for heads of state visits. The evening banquet in honor of Ivanka will prepare a kosher menu for Ivanka's strict kosher lifestyle.

Raw fish, crustaceans and meat will not be included in Ivanka's menu.

Trump’s delegation also includes Sen. James Risch, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia and Counterterrorism; White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders; Gen. Vincent Brooks, commander of United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command and U.S. Forces Korea; Marc Knapper, acting US Ambassador to Korea; and current Team USA bobsled coach Sgt. Shauna Rohbock, a member of the Army National Guard and an Olympic silver medalist in 2004.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Feb222018

Star of France's political right serves red meat to US conservative conference

Alex Wong/Getty Images(NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.) --  After laying low for a year following her aunt’s humiliating election defeat, French hard-right firebrand Marion Marechal-Le Pen came roaring back at the Conservative Political Action Conference Thursday, with a nationalist speech that cast France as a society overwhelmed by the European Union, Islam and secularism.

France, she told CPAC, has been transformed “from the eldest daughter of the Catholic Church to the little niece of Islam” and into “an atomized world of individuals without gender, without mother, without father, without nation.”

“We are once again standing side-by-side in another battle for freedom,” Marechal-Le Pen told the cheering crowd. “I am not offended when I hear President Donald Trump say America first - I want America first for the American people, I want Britain first for the British people and I want France first for the French people.”

In 2012, at age 22, Maréchal-Le Pen became the youngest person ever elected to France’s national assembly. In July 2016, just before he joined the Trump campaign, then-Breitbart editor Steve Bannon described her as “the new rising star” of the political dynasty founded by her great grandfather, Jean-Marie Le Pen, a virulent anti-Semite.

While she denies being a racist or anti-Semitic herself, Maréchal-Le Pen’s views on France’s large Muslim population echo the alt-right message.

“We are not a land of Islam,” Le Pen told supporters in 2015. “And if French citizens can be Muslims, it's on the condition to submit to habits and ways of life that the Greek, Roman influence and 16 centuries of Christianity have shaped.”

In 2017, after her aunt, Marine Le Pen, was crushed in the presidential election by Emmanuel Macron, Maréchal-Le Pen gave up her seat and stepped out of the spotlight.

"At 27, it is time for me to leave it for a while," she explained at the time, adding “I am not giving up the political fight forever. I have the love of my country embedded in my heart and I cannot remain indifferent to the suffering of my compatriots.”

Thursday at CPAC she announced a new transatlantic initiative to connect political activists who share her hard right views.

“Just like you, we want our country back,” she said in a short, high-energy speech delivered in heavily accented but fluent English. “I come here to tell you there is a youth ready to fight for their country in Europe today.”

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