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Wednesday
Jan172018

British member of Parliament falls asleep during House of Commons debate

ABCNews.com(LONDON) -- It's never a good idea to take a nap at work.

On Tuesday, Sir Desmond Swayne, a British lawmaker, was caught red-handed for all the world to see. Desmond, 62, fell asleep during a debate on Brexit in the House of Commons. And this was not just a quick shutting of the eyes; Swayne was sprawled out almost horizontally. Swayne eventually opened his eyes, realizing he might be in full view on the House of Commons cameras. He quickly adjusted his position, looking ever so slightly embarrassed.

Swayne is not the first British lawmaker caught sleeping on the job, and undoubtedly he won’t be the last. In fact, some people have become so outraged by the phenomenon that an online petition was started two years ago to fire MPs who fall asleep.

"It is an insult to us the people. How dare they show such disregard for their position and the things that matter in our lives," the petition says.

In 2012 lawmaker Stephen Pound, after seemingly to fall asleep during a rather sensitive debate on Afghanistan, initially insisted he was checking his cellphone -- a line of defense that might be a little difficult for Swayne to use.

Swayne did apologize later, blaming an early morning swim.

 


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Wednesday
Jan172018

Drought-stricken Cape Town, South Africa, could run out of water by April's 'day zero'

iStock/Thinkstock(CAPE TOWN, South Africa) -- One of the world’s favorite tourism designations, South Africa’s iconic city of Cape Town, has less than a 100 days of water supply left if a drought is not relieved soon.

The city’s mayor, Patricia de Lille, has again urged Capetonians to conserve water in order to avoid “day zero,” now forecast for April 21.

The debilitating water shortage has forced city government to implement an online water consumption map, which will allow residents to check up on their neighbors’ water habits based on households’ municipal bills.

The website‚ formally launched this week‚ has already prompted a wave of social media comment, most of it negative. But the city council defended the initiative‚ which it says is aimed at increasing residents’ awareness of water consumption.

“The potential water-saving benefit for all of Cape Town of making water consumption indicators publicly available outweighs any privacy issues at this stage of the crisis‚” mayoral spokeswoman Zara Nicholson said.

After three consecutive years of drought, the city’s dams, sourced by rainfall, are sitting at just over 36 percent, with the last 10 percent of water unsuitable for drinking.

Apart from asking neighbors to keep an eye on each other’s consumption, the city has also been preparing how to deal with what looks like an inevitable shut down of the taps.

Using water driven in from other provinces, residents would rely on 200 distribution points across the city.

Residents would be able to collect and 6.5 gallons of drinking water per person per day, which is in line with the World Health Organization’s recommendations of the minimum amount of water for people to maintain health and hygiene.

The distribution points would operate 24 hours a day and a public health communications campaign will be mounted in advance to ensure that all sanitation systems continue to function and limit the risk of disease. Prior to filling their vessels, each person would be given a dose of hand sanitizer.

Cape Town has seven projects lined up to supplement water supplies, including desalination plants, water recycling and drilling into the earth’s natural underground reservoir. But it’s unclear whether such projects would be completed in time to prevent taps from running dry.

Renowned as one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Cape Town is famous for its harbor, its natural setting in the Cape Floristic Region and for such well-known landmarks as Table Mountain and Cape Point.
 
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Wednesday
Jan172018

North and South Korea agree to compete, march together at Olympics

ABC News(SEOUL, North Korea) -- North and South Korea have agreed to form a joint female ice hockey team and march together at next month’s Winter Olympics, according to a joint statement from the countries released today by the South.

The Koreas said their teams would walk together at the opening ceremony under a “Korean Peninsula flag.” South Korea is hosting the Games next month in the city of Pyeongchang.

Officials from both nations plan to meet with the International Olympic Committee in Switzerland on Saturday about the North’s Olympic participation. The IOC needs to approve their plans but has indicated support for the North’s participation.

The two countries have been holding high-level talks since last week. They will meet again Wednesday at their shared border.

The Koreas said in the statement that their National Olympic Committees would discuss which Olympic events North Korean athletes would participate in and how many would attend.

North Korea also plans to send a 230-member cheering squad that will root for athletes from both countries, the statement said.

Moreover, the North will send around 30 Taekwondo demonstrators who will perform in Pyeongchang and Seoul, the countries said.

The North Korean delegation will travel by train, with the athletes arriving on Feb. 1. The Olympics start Feb. 9.

Before the start of the Games, the two countries will hold a joint cultural event at Mt. Kumgang in North Korea, the statement said.

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Wednesday
Jan172018

Secretary Tillerson says US ready for 'serious negotiations' if North Korea proves to be 'credible partner'

Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images(VANCOUVER, Canada) -- Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. is "ready for serious negotiations" if North Korea shows itself to be a "credible partner."

Tillerson made the remarks during a joint press conference with his Canadian counterpart at the conclusion of a global summit on the security situation on the Korean peninsula, known as the Vancouver Group.

"We had constructive discussions about how to push our diplomatic efforts forward, and prepare for the prospects of talks," Tillerson told reporters in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Tuesday. "But productive negotiations require a credible negotiating partner. North Korea has not yet shown themselves to be that credible partner."

He added that the U.S. has sent "clear messages" to North Korea that they are "ready for serious negotiations," but the regime must pause its nuclear and ballistic missile tests -- what Tillerson called an "indicator of whether the regime is truly ready to pursue a peaceful diplomatic solution to the security threat that it has created."

Tillerson would not comment on remarks President Donald Trump made to The Wall Street Journal last week that he had a "good relationship" with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Trump has accused The Wall Street Journal of misquoting him.

The Vancouver Group on Tuesday consisted of the original U.N. Command Sending States -- the countries that provided troops and supplies to U.N. forces to defend South Korea in the Korean War. Allies like South Korea, Japan, Sweden and India were also invited to the summit, but noticeably absent were China and Russia.

A senior State Department official defended the decision to not invite those nations, emphasizing they were not U.N. Command Sending States. The official said Tillerson will give readouts to his counterparts in Beijing and Moscow after the summit.

Tillerson said the "unity" with others in the region, "most particularly China and Russia," will remain despite North Korea's attempts to divide them. At the same time, the secretary called on China and Russia specifically to fully implement sanctions against North Korea agreed upon in U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Strengthening the enforcement of existing sanctions was a key goal of Tuesday's meeting, which included how nations can better counter sanctions evasion through smuggling. Tillerson called on nations to "strengthen global maritime interdiction operations to foil illicit ship to ship transfers."

"I think that because [North Korea is] feeling bite of sanctions, they're looking for ways to cheat and to smuggle illicit goods. And interdiction is just one option," the senior State Department official said.

South Korea has already seized two ships accused of smuggling goods into North Korea, including a Hong Kong-flagged oil tanker in December.

The official emphasized that every country has a role to play in interdiction, whether it's reporting illegal activity, sharing intelligence, refusing to allow ships that have engaged in illicit activities from coming to their ports, or de-flagging ships found complicit in violating U.N. sanctions.

"No nation is too small to play an effective role implementing sanctions against North Korea, to deepen their financial and diplomatic isolation," the official said.

When asked about the threat of war with North Korea, Tillerson mentioned the regime's latest nuclear test in September, as well as progress made on their 15 ballistic missile tests in 2017, saying, "We have to recognize that that threat is growing and if North Korea does not choose the pathway of engagement, discussion, negotiation, then they themselves will trigger an option.

"The situation only gets worse, it gets worse with each step they take, it gets worse with time," Tillerson added. "That is not working to their objectives of wanting to be secure. They are not more secure; they are becoming less secure."

He said he did not believe that message was "resonating" with North Korea, but that there was a "realization" on the regime's part that the world would never accept them as a nuclear power.

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Tuesday
Jan162018

Who is Wendi Deng Murdoch?

Jean Catuffe/GC Images via Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Wendi Deng Murdoch, a Chinese-American businesswoman who was previously married to conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch, emerged at the center of a brewing political drama this week.

On Monday, The Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. counterintelligence officials warned President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner in 2017 that Deng Murdoch — a close friend of both Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump -- could be promoting the Chinese interests.

A senior official briefed on the matter confirmed to ABC News that Kushner had been warned about Deng Murdoch.

Citing people familiar with the matter, the Journal reported that Kushner was told that Deng Murdoch “could be using her close friendship with [them] to further the interests of the Chinese government.” The report noted that it is common for senior members of an incoming administration to be warned about associates with foreign connections.

Officials were reportedly concerned that Deng Murdoch had previously lobbied for a $100 million project funded by the Chinese government at the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., that was ultimately blocked because of concerns that a proposed tower could be used for surveillance.

Deng Murdoch, 49, married News Corp executive chairman Rupert Murdoch in 1999 after interning for him at the Murdoch-owned Star TV in Hong Kong. The couple had two children, Grace Helen and Chloe, before the mogul filed for divorce in 2013.

According to Vanity Fair, the union ended “abruptly” after Murdoch became suspicious that Deng Murdoch had engaged in an affair with former United Kingdom Prime Minister Tony Blair. A spokesperson for Blair denied the rumors.

At the height of the 2016 presidential campaign, Deng Murdoch appeared alongside Ivanka Trump in several photographs.

In August, Ivanka Trump posted a photo of them together on Instagram while traveling in Croatia. In September, Deng Murdoch shared a luxury box with Kushner and Ivanka Trump at the men’s singles final of the U.S. Open, photos published by Town & Country showed.


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Tuesday
Jan162018

Tillerson calls on global community: 'Nuclear-armed' N. Korea not acceptable

Cem Ozdel/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(VANCOUVER) -- Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called on partners to maximize pressure on North Korea and combat the regime's attempts to evade international sanctions.

Sitting beside his counterparts from Canada, Japan and South Korea, Tillerson told top diplomats assembled in Vancouver, British Columbia, for a global summit on North Korea that they are sending a "unified message" to Kim Jong Un's regime: "We will not accept a nuclear-armed North Korea."

He urged nations to fully enforce the three United Nations Security Council resolutions from last year that increased sanctions on North Korea, specifically calling on Russia and China to comply.

The two nations were not invited to the summit, known as the Vancouver Group, because they were not part of the original U.N. Command Sending States -- the countries that provided troops and supplies to U.N. forces to defend South Korea in the Korean War. Allies like South Korea, Japan, Sweden and India were invited to the summit.

"We cannot abide lapses or sanctions evasions," Tillerson said. "We will continue to call attention to, and designate, entities and individuals complicit in such evasive actions."

Tillerson also called for the improvement of maritime interdiction operations to "put an end to illicit ship-to-ship transfers that undermine U.N. sanctions," as well as "new consequences" to be imposed on the regime "whenever new aggression occurs."

North Korea launched 15 ballistic missile tests and conducted one nuclear test in 2017, but has yet to conduct a test in 2018.

Though Russia and China were not invited to Tuesday's summit, Tillerson did acknowledge that North Korea's nuclear weapons threat has joined nations that "were once enemies," specifically China and the U.N. Command Sending States, with a common goal to denuclearize the Korean peninsula.

"The sending states stand shoulder to shoulder with China, with the Republic of Korea, with Japan, with Russia -- and is joined with the entire international community in saying to the regime in North Korea that we cannot and will not accept you as a nuclear state," he said.

Tillerson rejected the "freeze for freeze" approach, in which military exercises would be suspended in exchange for North Korea halting its ballistic and nuclear weapons tests.

He also specifically talked about the threat North Korea's ballistic missile tests pose to civilian aircraft.

Tillerson mentioned that individuals on a Nov. 28 flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong last year witnessed part of a North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test in the sky -- 280 nautical miles from where the missile landed in the Sea of Japan.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), nine other flights were within that same range, he said.

"Over the course of that day, according to the Department of Defense, an estimated 716 flights were due to pass within that same range," Tillerson said. "The FAA says the total available seats on those 716 flights was 152,110. That’s a lot of people from a lot of countries being put at risk by irresponsible testing of ballistic missiles."

ABC News first reported last summer that an Air France jet with 323 people on board flew past the location where a North Korean ICBM would land in the Sea of Japan less than 10 minutes later.

"Based on its past recklessness, we cannot expect North Korea to have any regard for what might get in the way of one of its missiles, or parts of a missile breaking apart. This is to say nothing of potential technological errors associated with a launch that could result in disaster," Tillerson said. "Of course this is hardly the only threat, or the likeliest threat, posed by North Korean missiles."

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Tuesday
Jan162018

New Hampshire man vanishes during swim in Guatemalan lake

Booska Family(NEW YORK) -- Justin Booska is an avid swimmer. So much so, his brother said, that he used to routinely paddle in his parents' pond to rivers and lakes wherever he roamed.

That's why when Justin Booska mysteriously vanished earlier this month while attempting to swim across a crater lake in Guatemala, Benjamin Booska couldn't believe it.

"He's an athlete and a very strong swimmer," Benjamin Booska told ABC News in a phone interview from his Denver home.

Justin Booska, 27, has been missing since Jan. 6. He was with friends in Santa Rosa enjoying a beach day at Laguna de la Arza.

Booska was "hanging on the beach" on the north side of the area and took a dip to "get to the south side" where he believed a coffee plantation was, his brother said.

The waters of the lake, Benjamin said, are not known to be turbulent.

"It's not known for strong tides," Benjamin added. "It's all fresh water, no predators -- it's calm."

As Justin was "most of the way across" to the other side of the lake, Benjamin said, a boat carrying one of his friend's relatives headed out to "check on him and make sure he wasn't hungry."

And Justin, Benjamin learned later, gave no signs he was in any distress.

"He waved back that he was okay," he said.

Somewhere between 3 and 5 p.m. local time, Benjamin said Justin's friend and his family realized he was nowhere to be found.

"His friend alerted local authorities...they got a hold of my parents," he said.

A local firefighting brigade was dispatched and a search party began that night and into Sunday around the lake and the feral land around it.

The response swelled with police, soldiers in the military, drones, a helicopter and dive teams, all directed with efforts by both the Guatemalan and U.S. embassies.

Back home, Justin Booska as a child attended the prestigious Holderness boarding school before going Brandeis University, where he graduated with a degree in women and gender studies.

The outgoing traveler stayed local for a while advocating for women who suffered from domestic violence, his brother said.

Recently, Justin shifted gears and tended bar at a local tavern in Waltham, Massachusetts, and worked as a representative to a microbrewery, his older brother said.

It also meant more time and energy to travel, even though his brother said he was frugal.

"He wanted to live life and had always been interested in South and Central America," Benjamin said.

His disappearance has drawn interest from many supporters, including New Hampshire Congresswoman Carole Shea-Porter.

“I was heartbroken to learn that Justin is missing in Guatemala," she said in a statement. "I am praying for his safe return, and I am thinking of him and his family every day. This search must continue, and I will do everything that I can to make sure that it does.”

The U.S. State Department, too, said it has been briefed on Booska's disappearance.

"When a U.S. citizen is reported missing overseas, we cooperate with search efforts by local authorities," an official said in a statement. "We stand ready to provide appropriate assistance to U.S. citizens in need."

Beyond the reach of diplomats and public servants, Guatemalan locals have also dedicated whatever they can to track down Justin.

"There was one lady and she had seven Guatemalan dollars, and that was all she had and she gave it up to help find my brother," he said.

A local newspaper, Prensa Libre, reported that volunteer firefighters had still been looking for Booska at least eight days after his disappearance.

The family has started a crowdfunding campaign to keep the effort going to recover Justin, and repay that woman and others who have made it their mission to find him.

"We want to help these Guatemalan firefighters and the community there that are dedicating themselves to finding Justin," Benjamin Booska said. "Whatever money is not used in the search will go to the local Guatemalan community... to help them get back to where they were before the search.

"And get them ready for it if this ever happens again."

And his parents are preparing to head to Guatemala to help find their youngest son and not give up on the chance that Justin is still alive.

"We hope he made it to the other side and he fell and hurt himself and couldn't extricate himself from that situation," Benjamin said. "That he couldn't help himself."

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Tuesday
Jan162018

Deep freeze in Siberia pushes temperatures down to 85 degrees below zero

iStock/Thinkstock(YAKUTSK, Russia) -- If you thought the recent cold snap in the United States was bad, try telling that to some residents of Siberia.

On Tuesday, in Russia's Yakutia region, temperatures dropped to an unbelievable 85 degrees below zero. Temperatures are so low that thermometers are freezing and bursting.

For the Yakutians, cold Januarys are normal, so life typically goes on.

But Tuesday's temperatures were so cold, schools were closed and people had been advised to stay indoors.

The government has warned of emergencies at energy plants due to increased loads and warned everyone about the increased danger of fires from indoor heaters.

But for those with jobs to do, it’s on with that extra layer, brave the freezing fog and get on with the day.

In the Magadan region, further to the south, it was a little warmer -- a balmy 67 degrees below zero. Farther south, in the Krasnoyarsk region, it was a milder minus 40, although with wind chill it felt like 58 degrees below zero.

Even by Siberian standards, this year has been extremely cold, and the bad news is that these extreme temperatures are expected to last until the end of the month.


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Tuesday
Jan162018

Pope Francis begs forgiveness for harm caused by sex abuse in Chile

Giuseppe Ciccia/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images(BUENOS AIRES, Chile) -- On his first full day in Chile today, Pope Francis immediately confronted the issue of sex abuse by the clergy in Chile and apologized and said he felt ashamed.

"Here I feel bound to express my pain and shame at the irreparable damage caused to children by some ministers of the Church," Francis said while addressing Chilean government officials, including President Michelle Bachelet, other officials, representatives and the diplomatic corps in the capitol city of Santiago. "I am one with my brother bishops, for it is right to ask for forgiveness and make every effort to support the victims, even as we commit ourselves to ensuring that such things do not happen again."

Thousands of Chileans have reportedly left the church recently, which many believe is a a result of both the country's increasing secular beliefs and scandals involving sex abuse by the clergy that were finally made public.

In 2010, information came to light that a well-known and powerful priest known as a father figure for the Chilean elite had been sexually abusing minors in his high-class Santiago parish for decades and the church hierarchy allegedly protected him.

After many complaints, the church carried out an internal investigation and found the priest, Father Karadima, guilty of sexual abuse of minors and psychological abuse. In 2011, he was ordered to live a "life of prayer and penitence" that banned him for life from public duties as a priest, especially giving confession and spiritual guidance to parishoners.

In 2015, many of the country's Catholics were angered by the Pope’s decision to appoint a bishop to the southern city of Oserno who had been one of Karadima’s followers. Bishop Juan Barros has denied knowledge of Karadima’s behavior as a sexual predator.

Tensions have flared ahead of the Pope’s arrival in Chile; his trip has already been marred by attacks on churches carried out by political groups and campaigners for indigenous rights. Nine churches were attacked in recent days, with three attacked on Monday night, including two in Araucania, an economically disadvantaged region the pope is scheduled to visit on Wednesday.

After his speech this morning, Francis went to O’Higgins Park where he celebrated his first open-air mass in Chile. An estimated 400,000 people attended, according to Chilean authorities; thousands of Argentines came from the pope's native Argentina to see him. A colorful, pious crowd, many dressed in traditional costumes, sang and clapped at the sight of the pope.

The pope arrived in Santiago on a flight from Rome Monday and was scheduled to stay in Chile for three days before moving on to Peru for another three days.

On Wednesday, he is scheduled to travel south to Temuco to meet the Mapuche native people, listen to their grievances and celebrate mass there. The following day, he will travel north to Iquigue where he plans to celebrate mass again and speak about immigration.

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Tuesday
Jan162018

Texas-based company is latest hope for the recovery of MH370

Richard Polden - Pool/Getty Images(HOUSTON) -- A Texas-based oceanic exploration company will launch a high tech search in the southern Indian Ocean on Wednesday as part of a new international effort to find Malaysian Airlines Flight 370.

Almost four years after the Boeing 777's disappearance with 239 people on board, Ocean Infinity has agreed to a 90-day contract with the Malaysian government that only rewards the company if they find the aircraft.

A 378-foot vessel named Seabed Constructor departed Durban, South Africa last week with 65 crew members from Ocean Infinity, two Malaysian Navy officials and 8 autonomous underwater vehicles armed with cameras and sensors.

Officials said that on Wednesday, exactly a year after the last search was called off, the ship will reach the new 25,000-square-km search area. The plan is to launch multiple drones at a time that will search the seafloor in a grid, using cameras and sensors to detect aircraft debris.

A previous Australian-led search covered more than 120,000 square kilometers of seabed, but officials came up empty before deciding they were likely looking in the wrong place the whole time.

Ocean Infinity and the Seabed Constructor will remain at sea for two to three weeks at a time before returning the Perth to refuel and refresh the crew. They believe they can cover more than the entire search area in the agreed upon 90 day period with the underwater drones.

These untethered vehicles have the ability to dive to nearly 20,000 feet and bring back HD images and troves of data to the scientists onboard the vessel.

According to Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai, Ocean Infinity's potential reward is on a sliding scale between $20 million and $70 million, depending on what is found and how long it takes to find it.

The only search comparable to the one for MH370 was the search and eventual recovery of 2009's Air France Flight 447 that crashed in the Atlantic Ocean on its way to Paris, killing all 228 people on board. According to the CEO Oliver Plunkett, Ocean Infinity has two staff members who were involved in that investigation.

"What I can say is we have as much experience as is possible to have," Plunkett said at a news conference in Malaysia.

It's unclear how much investigators could learn in the event Ocean Infinity finds the jet. Even if the black box is retrievable and functional after years on some the ocean's deepest floors, the cockpit voice recorder operates on a loop and the mysterious early moments of the flight likely would have been erased.

One key question however may be answered upon discovery of the cockpit: who was in control during the plane's final moments?

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