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Tuesday
Nov122019

Shark attacks American diver off coast of Mexico, officials say

Mexican Navy(NEW YORK) -- An American diver was attacked by a shark off the coast of Mexico, officials said.

The 23-year-old U.S. citizen was diving in Magdalena Bay off the coast of Baja California Sur state in northwest Mexico on Monday when a shark chomped down on his right forearm, according to a press release from the Mexican Navy.

The man, whose name hasn't been released, apparently managed to swim back to his dive boat and call for help. He was medically evacuated by a naval search and rescue team to the port of San Carlos, where an ambulance transported him to a local hospital for treatment.

The man's wounds are not considered life-threatening, according to the Mexican Navy.

It’s unknown what species of shark attacked him.

ABC News has reached out to the U.S. Department of State for comment.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Nov122019

Firefighters save man’s house from wildfires -- then apologize for drinking his milk

Toa55/iStock(NEW YORK) -- As Australia's most populous state declared a state of emergency due to unprecedented wildfire danger, firefighters who saved a man’s house from the flames left him a note in which they apologized for drinking his milk.

After returning to his New South Wales home, Paul Sekfy said that he found a note signed by the Urunga Rural Fire Service (RFS).

He shared a photo of the short message on Facebook, where it has been shared thousands of times.

“It was a pleasure to save your house. Sorry we could not save your sheds. P.S. - we owe you some milk," the firefighters’ handwritten communication said.

The recipient described it as the “best note on my kitchen bench since the morning after my wedding.”

Residents have been facing what "could be the most dangerous bushfire week this nation has ever seen,” New South Wales state Emergency Services Minister David Elliott said.

The fireman who claims to have been behind the note eventually responded to Paul Sekfy’s social media post.

“We took refuge in your house for a moment and that's when we discovered the fridge,” Kale Hardie-Porter commented on Facebook.

Fires in the state's northeast have claimed three lives, destroyed more than 150 homes and razed more than 3,800 square miles since Friday.

Having already apologized for drinking the homeowner’s milk and being unable to save his sheds despite heroic efforts, the firefighter went on to explain his “shocking handwriting,” saying “it was late and couldn't see a thing!”

More than 100 people have been treated by doctors and paramedics for fire-related injuries, including 20 firefighters, Ambulance Commissioner Dominic Morgan said.

Wishing Sekfy well for the future, Hardie-Porter described it as a pleasure “to do a little good in such horrendous conditions.”

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Nov112019

Hong Kong protester shot by police while pro-China man is set on fire

pawel.gaul/iStock(HONG KONG) -- 21-year old protester was shot by police with a live round and a pro-China man was set on fire as Hong Kong woke up Monday to chaos on its streets. Over 260 people have been arrested, Hong Kong police said on the agency's Twitter account.

Hong Police also issued several warnings on Twitter. "Police warn the rioters to stop brutalizing others. Police will take enforcement action."

"Police will carry on with the enforcement action in response to the illegal acts of the rioters," the Hong Police stated in another tweet.

Protesters, answering an online call, attempted to disrupt the Monday morning commute all across the city with what they dubbed as "Operation Dawn." Groups of protesters fanned out across the city setting up blockades and vandalizing subways stations and intersections.

The death of a university student last week from a fall has reignited rage in the protest movement. The protesters believe that the police bear responsibility for the student's injury because he fell off a parking garage in the vicinity of a police clearance operation.

After a relatively subdued weekend, the protesters chose to escalate their actions by disrupting Monday rush hour to force a general strike.

Just before 8 a.m. in the residential district of San Wai Ho, a squad of traffic police officers were captured on an online livestream attempting to clear the small blockade put up by protesters when one of the officers was approached by black-clad students.

The cop pulls out his service revolver and tackles one of the protesters while another unarmed protester approaches and attempts to reach for the revolver.

A shot then rings out. The officer shoots the protester in the abdomen before firing off another two rounds that police later confirmed did not hit anyone else.

At a police press conference later that day, Hong Kong Police spokesperson Tse Chun-chung said, “at that time, the officer believed it was very likely that the revolver would be snatched and the consequences would be disastrous.”

The protester who was shot, a 21 year old student at the Institute of Vocational Educational, was then seen on the livestream in a puddle of blood, body limp with blood draining from his face, his eyes wide open. This excerpt has been circulating this morning across multiple social media platforms.

As the livestream continued, the protester can be seen waking up and attempting to escape before being subdued again by police. He was then taken to the Hong Kong's Pamela Youde Nerthersole Eastern Hospital where he is currently in the stable condition after coming out of surgery.

The police shooting, the third known since these protests began in early June, caused clashes to erupt in numerous districts across the city including in the heart of Hong Kong’s central business district at the height of lunch time.

Riot police fired tear gas into a crowd that included protesters and office workers which then sent them running for cover into high-end shopping centers.

Stand offs also sprung up at numerous universities across the city including Hong Kong University, Hong Kong Polytechnic University and the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Protesters ignited barricades at both PolyU and CUHK during their confrontation with police.

Violence has escalated as tempers have flared on both sides as the Hong Kong protests enter their sixth month. There has been a steady escalation of tactics by protesters and police. What began as a protest against a now-shelved extradition bill has morphed into a pro-democracy movement marred by anti-government and police sentiments with those involved more willing to engage in targeted violence. Meanwhile the police have seemingly lowered the threshold to engage with the protesters.

A couple of other videos also emerged on Monday morning of a police motorcycle appearing to deliberately drive into a group of protesters. Police later confirmed that the officer has been suspended from active duty and the incident is under investigation.

Protesters have also resorted to violence to settle disputes. In multiple graphic videos, a protester douses a man with an unknown fluid and set him alight. The man was in the midst of an argument with the protestors and had earlier tousled with them as they were vandalizing the Ma On Shan MTR rail station. Police said that man is now in critical condition.

At a press conference, protesters called on Hong Kong people to stage “a massive strike, to be carried out indefinitely” in response to today’s shooting and to continue to pressure the government to meet their demands which including an independent probe into police actions as well as restarting political reforms towards true democracy.

Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam condemned the violence Monday evening.

“If there is any wishful thinking that by escalating violence that Hong Kong SAR government will yield to pressure to satisfy the so-called political demands, I am making this statement clear and loud here … that will not happen," Lam said speaking to the media. "Violence is not going to give us any solution to the problems that Hong Kong is facing. Our joint priority now is to end the violence and to return Hong Kong to normal as soon as possible.”

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Nov112019

Kremlin remarks on Russian scholar charged with murder, after woman's body parts found

TomasSereda/iStock(MOSCOW) — A prominent Russian Napoleon scholar has confessed to murdering and dismembering his young lover and former student after he was found in a canal in St. Petersburg with a rucksack containing her severed arms.

Oleg Sokolov, a 63-year-old professor at St. Petersburg State University’s history department, was arrested after he was pulled from the freezing waters of the city’s Moika canal on Saturday. Rescuers discovered the arms along with a pistol in his bag, Russia’s Investigative Committee said in a statement.

Police then visited Sokolov’s apartment where they found the dismembered body of Anastasia Yeshchenko, a 24-year-old former student at the university who had also co-authored several works on Napoleonic history with Sokolov and who was in a romantic relationship with him. Police believe Sokolov shot Yeshchenko and then sought to cover up the crime by disposing her body. A local news site, News47, reported he had been drunk while trying to throw away Yeshchenko's arms and had slipped into the water and almost drowned.

Sokolov appeared in a St. Petersburg's court on Monday for a pre-trial hearing, where he acknowledged shooting Yeshchenko and using a saw and kitchen knife to cut up her body to conceal the killing. Sokolov said he and Yeshchenko had been in a relationship since 2015 and that he had considered her his bride and had intended to propose to her soon, Russian news media reported.

The judge asked Sokolov why he had killed Yeshchenko. He replied that he had not wanted to, saying it happened during a quarrel over his children from a former marriage and appeared to claim he had acted in self-defense.

"I said that on Saturday-Sunday she should spend time with the kids. She went crazy. After that this monstrous misfortune happened ... I have never seen such flood of aggression ... an attack with a knife ... The girl, who I believed to be ideal, suddenly turned into..." he said, according to the local news site, Fontanka.

Sokolov's lawyer interrupted, saying it was premature to discuss the details of the case. A break in the hearing was called after the historian broke down crying in the courtroom.

The judge ordered Sokolov held two months in detention ahead of his trial. His defense had requested he be placed under house arrest but Sokolov himself demanded to go to jail. He had been briefly hospitalized with hypothermia from the canal waters but by Monday had been signed off as healthy, his lawyer said.

Police have charged Sokolov with murder on a charge that carries six to 15 years in prison if he is convicted. His lawyer Alexander Pochuev told state media that his client had admitted to killing Yeshchenko and was fully cooperating with the investigation.

“He is completely remorseful," Pochuev told the TASS news agency, but added there were elements of the case with which the defense didn't agree.

Sokolov is one of Russia’s most prominent Napoleon experts and has lectured at Paris’ Sorbonne university. The author of several books on the French leader, in 2003 he was made a member of France’s Legion d’Honneur, one of the country’s highest state honors.

Sokolov was also known for taking part in historical costumed re-enactments and was seen as one of the founders of the practice in Russia. Photos have been published widely showing him dressed up as Napoleon, holding a sword and at costume balls with Yeshchenko, who also took part in the re-enactments.

He had also at one time been a member of Russia’s Military-Historical Society, which is headed by Russia’s conservative culture minister, Vadim Medinsky. The society quickly removed Sokolov’s name from its website after his arrest and claimed he had never been a full member.

Accounts from his students posted on social media over the weekend portray Sokolov as a talented lecturer and a master of his subject, but also eccentric, domineering and sometimes aggressive. “Everyone viewed him as a freak, completely immersed in his subject,” Fyodor Danilov, one of Sokolov’s students told the St. Petersburg site Fontanka. “But no one thought he was capable of such a murder.”

Others criticized the university, saying it had ignored multiple examples of aggressive and inappropriate behavior by Sokolov, who they said had been addicted to alcohol. Evgeny Ponasenko, another Napoleon specialist who had a long-time feud with Sokolov, wrote on his Facebook wall that he had repeatedly warned the university and demanded that Sokolov be fired over allegations he had beaten up another female student.

"If they had listened to me, a person, most likely would still be alive. I appealed to the rector, to the director of the history institute! I WARNED that Sokolov was dangerous," Ponasenko wrote.

Sokolov was censored by a university ethics committee in 2018 after an incident where a student supportive of Ponasenko was violently removed from one of Sokolov’s lectures.

The murder has gripped Russia. On Monday, the Kremlin commented on it, with president Vladimir Putin's spokesman describing it as "a monstrous act of insanity".

Sokolov had also been a member at the French Institute of Social Science, Economics and Politics (ISSEP). The Lyon-based institute was founded by Marechal Le Pen, the niece of Marine Le Pen, the French far right leader who has sought closer ties with Russia. On Saturday, it announced it had removed Sokolov from its membership and issued a statement saying it was horrified by his crime.

Sokolov's arrest was also discussed by enthusiasts on Napoleonic re-enactment forums on Monday. One user, under the name "Royal Scot's Guard" wrote he had known Sokolov for 20 years and often spent time with him during re-enactments in Europe. But he said in recent years organizers outside of Russia had been wary of inviting Sokolov because of his heavy drinking.

"I knew Oleg well having shared many bivouacs with him over these last 20 years. He knew the life of the Grande Armée to perfection, all the songs of the soldiers. But his inordinate consumption of alcohol often spoilt the ends of parties! In Spain he was banned from the re-enactment for having killed a horse that we lent him and which he had been unable to master. That was Oleg! An eminent historian of the 1st Empire but tarnished by the reputation of a thug! I had suspected he would finish one day in misery or decimated by alcohol, but this has beaten all my predictions."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Nov112019

Teen survivor recalls details of ambush in Mexico that killed nine

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- A 13-year-old boy hailed as a hero in the wake of last week's deadly ambush in Mexico is speaking out for the first time about the horrors he witnessed that day.

Devin Langford said the last thing his mother said to him before she was fatally shot was "get down right now."

"She was trying to pray to the lord, and she was trying to start the car up to get out of there," Devin said in an interview Monday on ABC News' Good Morning America.

His mother, Dawna Langford, and his younger brothers, Trevor, 11, and Rogan, 2, were among the nine women and children killed in the gruesome Nov. 4 attack.

"They just started hitting [the] car first, like with a bunch, a bunch of bullets. Just start shooting rapidly at us," he said. "The car didn't work. So she was just trying right there, starting the car as much as she could, but I'm pretty sure they shot something so the car wouldn't even start."

"Afterward, they got us out of the car, and they just got us on the floor and then they drove off," he added.

Devin, who was unharmed in the attack, walked about 14 miles seeking help after hiding his injured siblings in the bushes and covering them with branches. He said the shooters had long guns and he feared for his life the entire time.

As he made the trek for help, he said he wondered "if there was anybody else out there trying to shoot me or following me" and he thought about "my mom and my two brothers that died."

The family was ambushed by a heavily armed group while traveling from the town of Bavispe in Sonora state to Galeana in Chihuahua state between 9:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. local time, according to Mexican authorities. The family members were U.S. citizens but lived in a Mormon community, called La Mora, in the Mexican border state of Sonora.

The area where the attack took place -- less than 100 miles from the Arizona border -- is of territorial dispute by several cartels, and it's possible the family's convoy of cars was mistaken for one of them, authorities said.

Speaking in an interview beside his father, David Langford, Devin said he prayed over and over for his family to pull through.

He said the other children tried to flee as well, but most of them -- including his sister, Kylie, who was shot in the foot and his baby brother, Brixon, who was hit in the chest -- were too injured to travel.

"We walked a little while until we couldn't carry them no more. And so we put them in the bushes so they wouldn't get hit or nothing. So I started walking," Devin said. "Every one of them were bleeding really bad. So I was trying to get in a rush to get there."

Devin said he doesn't feel like a hero, but his father said there's no doubt in his mind that his son saved lives.

"Every one of my children that survived that are living miracles," Langford said. "How many bullet holes were fired into that vehicle … at that horrific scene and how many children were involved. It's amazing. It's amazing. It's beyond amazing that they survived."

"To be honest with you, my boy's a hero simply because he gave his life for his brothers and sisters," he added.

Langford said more evidence is showing the killers were cartel hit men -- a belief that has shaken Mexico's Mormon community.

That's why Langford, and much of his extended family, said they're leaving northwest Mexico. They're part of a fundamentalist Mormon group that has lived in this area for decades before the drug cartels took over and the violence became inescapable.

"It's not worth living in fear," he said. "The toughest part for me was saying goodbye … saying goodbye to two innocent lives that were cut short and a vibrant wife that lived a life to its fullest that had many friends and was loved by everybody."

As for Devin, he said he's focusing on helping his siblings heal and keeping his mother's memory alive.

"She was a nice person and a brave woman that tried to save her kids," he said.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Nov112019

Myanmar being sued by 57 countries over reported genocide of Rohingya

yorkfoto/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Fifty-seven nations are suing Myanmar at the International Court of Justice, alleging in a historic lawsuit that the government has conducted genocide against its Rohingya minority.

The suit comes just weeks after the United Nations warned that the violent campaign against the Rohingya is continuing in northwest Myanmar, and its special envoy called for the U.N. Security Council to refer Myanmar's senior officials to the International Criminal Court, a separate international body.

Over 700,000 Rohingya, a Muslim-majority ethnic minority, have fled Myanmar since a campaign by the country's military to push them out and raze their villages began in August 2017. Myanmar, previously called Burma, has denied any wrongdoing, saying that the campaign was against an Islamist extremist group.

The Gambia, a small West African country, filed the lawsuit Monday on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, a coalition of countries with significant Muslim populations. It asks the ICJ to investigate whether Myanmar's government has violated the Geneva Convention, which prohibits genocide.

In particular, it charges that Myanmar is responsible for "killing, causing serious bodily and mental harm, inflicting conditions that are calculated to bring about physical destruction, imposing measures to prevent births, and forcible transfers, [which] are genocidal in character because they are intended to destroy the Rohingya group in whole or in part."

According to a statement from the law firm Foley Hoag, which is assisting with the case, the suit bases that charge on the U.N.'s fact-finding mission released in August 2018 that found Myanmar's military had genocidal intent in its violent campaign to expel the Rohingya. Myanmar has also been accused of violent oppression against the Shan, Kachin and other ethnic minorities.

The Trump administration has stopped short of that designation, instead labeling the violence ethnic cleansing in November 2017, even after its own investigative report was "consistent" with the U.N.'s, according to then-U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley.

While this new ICJ lawsuit would hold Myanmar as a state responsible for the alleged genocide of Rohingya, a separate ICC investigation already is underway. In July, the ICC chief prosecutor requested that the global body authorize an investigation into possible war crimes by Myanmar senior military and civilian officials, after the prosecutor's office's preliminary investigation said it had determined their actions met the legal conditions necessary.

More recently, Yanghee Lee, a South Korean diplomat who serves as the U.N. special envoy for Myanmar, said on Oct. 23 that Myanmar should face prosecution at the ICC and that conditions on the ground remain too dangerous for the nearly one million Rohingya refugees in neighboring Bangladesh.

As advocates seek a path forward for justice, however, the Myanmar military continues its crimes under international law, according to the U.N. and Amnesty International.

Marzuki Darusman, the head of the U.N.'s fact-finding mission for Myanmar, said in late October that crimes under international law continue to be committed against Rohingya.

"It is an ongoing genocide that is taking place at the moment," Darusman said during a U.N. Security Council meeting. "Myanmar presents precisely the kind of peace and security that the U.N. and particularly this Council was created to address."

Similarly, Amnesty International released a report in late October that included "fresh evidence that the Myanmar military is continuing to commit atrocities against ethnic minorities," including arbitrary arrest, detention and torture.

The top U.S. diplomat for Asia traveled to Myanmar in late October for the highest-level U.S. visit since former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. David Stilwell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, met with senior civilian leaders, including Nobel Peace Prize-winning activist turned head of state Aung San Suu Kyi, who has since come under global criticism for defending her government's actions.

Ahead of the trip, a State Department spokesperson told ABC News the U.S. is "deeply concerned by reports of ongoing human rights abuses by the Burmese military across Burma and the devastating impact of violence. ... We are focused on accountability for those responsible, seeking justice for victims, advocating for unhindered humanitarian assistance and promoting reforms that will prevent the recurrence of atrocities and other human rights abuses."

But the spokesperson declined to say whether the administration supported a referral to the ICC, which the administration has sanctioned for opening an investigation into possible war crimes in Afghanistan, including by U.S. forces. The spokesperson also declined to offer a readout after Stilwell's meetings, although the department did tweet "U.S. support for Myanmar's democratic transition and economic transformation."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Nov112019

World War II submarine found off coast of Japan, ending 75-year mystery

Courtesy Lost52 Project(NEW YORK) -- A team of ocean explorers discovered the likely resting place of 80 U.S. sailors presumed dead when one of the most successful American submarines of World War II sank after leaving Pearl Harbor more than 75 years ago.

Private explorers found the USS Grayback about 1,400 feet below the ocean surface, off the coast of Japan, ending a decades-old mystery and bringing closure to relatives of those who went down with the ship.

Gloria Hurney, who lost her uncle Raymond Parks, an electrician's mate, first class, and Kathy Taylor, who lost her uncle and Godfather John Patrick King, an electrician's mate, third class, were among the first to find out about the discovery.

"I committed from the very beginning, from a little girl, that I was gonna find him or follow him or keep his memory alive, whatever I could do," Taylor told ABC News in an interview. "I thought it was probably blown to pieces. That's what I thought. And obviously it's not."

The Grayback, credited with sinking 14 enemy ships, was discovered south of Okinawa with much of its body still in tact. Its plaque was still affixed to the front, but there was evidence that the sub likely was bombed.

Undersea explorers Tim Taylor and his wife Christine Dennison discovered the warship back in June and spent months searching for relatives of its crew who perished. Together, they've set out to find the wrecks of every American submarine lost in the war, an effort they dubbed the Lost 52 Project. So far, they've found five of 52 subs.

"We do not tell people that we're looking for these because we don't want to disappoint people, and we don't want to blast it across the internet until it's done properly through the Navy," Taylor told ABC News. "With the technology that we're using, and the ability to cover large swaths of ground, we're looking at the potential to find several more."

Researchers recently discovered a flaw in the translation of Japanese war records that misrepresented the spot where the Grayback may have sank.

"The numbers that came out were wrong, and that's how we found it," Taylor said. "It was mistranslated after post-WWII, and they changed one number -- an 8 to a 6 -- and our Japanese translator re-translated it, found it, put us 100 miles to a different area."

Dennison said the most important part of their work is about bringing closure to the families of those who died.

"It's very vital that we remember them, and that they feel that they haven't been forgotten, that their sacrifice wasn't in vain," Dennison said. "We are grateful for their sacrifices, and we will never forget our veterans. The most important thing is, they're here, now they can be celebrated again, they can be honored again, and we know where they are."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Sunday
Nov102019

American father speaks out for the 1st time since deadly Mexican ambush

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- An American father who lost his wife and two young sons in an ambush in Mexico last week spoke out for the first time in an exclusive interview with ABC News over the weekend, sharing his heartbreak and the difficult decision he's just made to pull his family out of that country.

"So now it's my whole life has turned upside down. Not only have I lost a wife and two children, but I'm having to move the rest of my family with really no place to go at this point," David Langford said in a tearful interview airing on "World News Tonight" Sunday. "I believe in forgiveness, but I also believe in justice and forgiveness doesn't rob justice. You don't get justice too much in Mexico."

Langford's 13-year-old son, Devin, was hailed as a hero in the wake of the horrific Nov. 4 attack in northern Mexico that claimed the lives of nine women and children, including his 43-year-old wife Dawna Langford, and his two boys, Trevor Langford, 11, and Rogan Langford, 2.

The family was ambushed by an armed group while traveling from the town of Bavispe in Sonora state to Galeana in Chihuahua state between 9:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. local time, according to Mexican authorities. The family members were U.S. citizens but lived in a Mormon community, called La Mora, in the Mexican border state of Sonora.

The area where the attack took place -- less than 100 miles from the Arizona border -- is of territorial dispute by several cartels, and it's possible the family's convoy of cars was mistaken for one of them, authorities said.



Devin, who was unharmed in the ambush, walked about 14 miles to La Mora to seek help after hiding his injured siblings in the bushes and covering them with branches. Devin said the suspects had long guns and wore vests. He offered details about the harrowing experience in an exclusive interview airing on "Good Morning America" Monday morning.

"Every one of my children that survived that are living miracles," Langford said. "How many bullet holes were fired into that vehicle … at that horrific scene and how many children were involved. It's amazing. It's amazing. It's beyond amazing that they survived."

Langford said there's no doubt in his mind that Devin is a hero.

"To be honest with you, my boy’s a hero simply because he gave his life for his brothers and sisters," he said.

One of the family's vehicles, a Chevrolet Tahoe, was found burned with the charred bodies of Rhonita Maria Miller, 30, Howard Jacob Miller Jr, 12, Krystal Bellaine Miller, 10, Titus Alvin Miller, 10, and 8-month-old twins Titus Alvin Miller and Tiana Gricel Miller, authorities said. They were all shot in addition to being burned.

Another vehicle, a white Suburban, was discovered about a mile away from the border between Sonora and Chihuahua states, with a woman's body found a few feet away from the SUV, according to authorities. Christina Marie Langford Johnson, 29, was found shot dead.

Langford's wife and sons were found nearby in a white Chevrolet Suburban with fatal gunshot wounds. Langford says more and more evidence is showing the killers were cartel hit men -- a belief that has shaken Mexico's Mormon community.

That's why Langford, and much of his extended family, are leaving northwest Mexico. They're part of a fundamentalist Mormon group that has lived in this area for decades before the drug cartels took over and the violence became inescapable.

"It's not worth living in fear," he said. "The toughest part for me was saying goodbye … saying goodbye to two innocent lives that were cut short and a vibrant wife that lived a life to its fullest that had many friends and and was loved by all by everybody."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Sunday
Nov102019

William, Harry, Kate and Meghan join the Queen for Remembrance Sunday ceremonies

kylieellway/iStock(LONDON) -- Prince William and Prince Harry along with Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, reunited in central London for "Remembrance Sunday" -- a memorial day observed in the British Commonwealth to honor fallen military members of service.

Queen Elizabeth II led events at the Cenotaph war memorial in Whitehall, London, for the annual laying of the wreaths. Two minutes' silence was observed throughout the U.K. at 11 a.m. -- the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

Prince Charles placed a wreath of crimson poppies on the memorial, a tradition usually performed by the Queen, who has been handing off more of her ceremonial duties to son Charles.

William, Harry, Kate and Meghan were at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday night, marking the first time they have all appeared together in public since Harry and Meghan commented about their struggles with constantly being in the public spotlight.

When asked by an ITV correspondent if he had grown distant from William, Harry said, "Part of this role and part of this job, and this family being under the pressure it’s under, inevitably stuff happens. But look, we’re brothers, we’ll always be brothers. We’re certainly on different paths at the moment. But I will always be there for him, as I know he’ll always be there for me."

The royal couples were attending a remembrance concert organized by the Royal British Legion, a charity for war veterans. There were musical performances by various divisions of the Armed Forces including the Royal Marines, and veterans shared memories of the war. British actors read war poetry and a series of video shorts were played during the event.

Prince Andrew, Prince Edward, Sophie, the Countess of Wessex and other nobility were also in attendance.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his girlfriend Carrie Symonds were also in the royal box.

This year's ceremonies were particularly poignant as they marked the 75th anniversary of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy. D-Day is often considered the most pivotal battle of World War II, leading up to the defeat to the Nazis and the end of the war.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserve

Saturday
Nov092019

'For me, it goes too far': France grapples with #MeToo era

iStock/SerrNovik(PARIS) -- Reactions in France over the recent news of McDonald's CEO Steve Easterbrook being shown the door for being in a consensual relationship with an employee have been those of shock and dismay.

Some are calling it the latest case of American puritanism, "far from French ways," and reminding the French public that, at least in France, employees and bosses are free to date and protected by their right to privacy.

France is generally a very tolerant country when it comes to intimate relationships. The Paris Court of Appeal even recently acknowledged that an accident during sexual intercourse in the context of a business trip could be considered a workplace accident.

In the U.S., McDonald's decision to act was interpreted as the sign of a concern for workplace issues that have come to light in the #MeToo era. But in France, the company's rule not to date "employees who have a direct or indirect reporting relationship to each other" is seen as anti-freedom, including sexual freedom.

"For me, it goes too far," said Anne Rudisuhli, a psychotherapist who signed a letter with 99 other women defending men's "freedom to importune, indispensable to sexual freedom."

In the 1960s and '70s, the women's rights battles in France, such as the fight for contraception or the right to have an abortion, gave women full control of their bodies and determination over their sexual lives for the first time.

The sexual revolution became a way for French women to take part in a culture that had defined French society and, as such, allowed women to be operators rather than merely objects.

"The sexual question is magnified among some feminists," admitted Françoise Vergès, a political scientist and writer of "A Decolonial Feminism." "It is part of a certain tradition that magnifies the issue of sexual freedom as the place par excellence of freedom. ... It's the '70s really, the idea that in sex and sexuality they will find the heart of subversion."

Therefore, to exclude sex from the workplace as a means of protecting women is perceived as an exclusion from the sexual realm that they fought so hard to have access to, thereby reducing them again to the status of objects who need protection from men.

"We are putting walls in places where it is not necessary," Rudisuhli said. "The sexuality of people does not concern the company. Women are big enough to know what they want. All women do not dream of marrying their boss. There is contempt for women as if we were venal and we need to protect them. It's contemptuous."

Rudisuhli voiced the concern that women in France risk being victimized in the wake of the #MeToo movement and reduced to an inferior position of needing protection, in the sexual realm as well as in the workplace. It is through this lens that many consider McDonald's rules to be patriarchal.

"I come back from the United States," said Rudisuhli, "and when I hear an old friend introduce me to her boyfriend, she tells me she found him via apps. Because today they can not meet any other way. In the workplace, it became too complicated."

For Margaux Collet, a consultant on gender issues in the workplace, this is a fantasy. She sees a tendency to caricature American behaviors regarding these issues in order to point to the United States as an extreme in order to preserve "French seduction, the rapports of coquetry, French gallantry."

"There really is an urban legend that in the U.S. we cannot take the elevator alone with a woman," Collet added.

For Vergès, this idea of courtly love in France is "a total construct," but "it's also part of a self-image that must be kept."

The French archetype of female freedom was recently promoted by a lingerie brand's campaign called "The French Liberté." On posters plastered on buses all over Paris, the free Frenchwoman is seen as white, thin and sexy in a bikini. She owns "French sexiness," as quoted in the advertising campaign.

These images, in effect, portray women as sexual beings, albeit as subjects instead of objects. As such, she is not expected to ask for her boss' demotion if he flirts with her, nor hide her newly freed body under a veil. This may also be one of the reasons for France's concern with hijab regulations. The woman in a hijab completely fails to satisfy the criteria of the free Frenchwoman.

If France's backlash over a #MeToo culture from across the pond can be seen as traditional and the ideal subject for cultural relativism, it can also show an ugly side, particularly in court.

While Time Magazine voted her "Person of the year" for starting her own #MeToo movement called #BalanceTonPorc and speaking out against a French TV executive she accused of sexual harassment, New York-based French journalist Sandra Muller was fined €20,000 ($22,000) for defamation in France in September. Thousands of women had used her hashtag to expose the people who sexually harassed or assaulted them.

On Nov. 6, French actress Adèle Haenel revealed in a French investigative newspaper that she had decided not to report a complaint for sexual harassment on account that "the judicial system ignores us."

She accused the director of the movie that she was in when she was between 12 and 15 years old of forcibly kissing her on the neck and touching her thighs and breasts. She spoke plainly of the "power relationship" and of "the hold" he had on her.

The testimony of the actress sent a shockwave through French cinema and led the Paris prosecutor to open an investigation on counts of "sexual assaults" and "sexual harassment." The award-winning actress confessed to French media Mediapart that only after watching the U.S. documentary "Leaving Neverland" did she decide to talk to a journalist.

"The issue of sexual harassment has been taken into account in the U.S. for much longer than in France. If McDonald's decision is so polemic in France on the issue, then it shows we still have a long way to go," Collet added.

Still, she doesn't believe that sanctioning relationships at work is a good idea: "It maintains the idea that there is a gray area between harassment and consent, when we are not on the same level. But it's an easy solution for companies to simply ban."

Instead, in France, she works at putting in place standards within companies for better reporting of harassment.

"There isn't a need for McDonald's regulations in France," Muller agreed. "Not because it is less puritan, but because of the existence of strong bodies within companies that are here to represent employee interests, contrary to the U.S., where courts are the first recourse, which companies seek to avoid."

She created WeWorkSafe, an NGO that encourages companies to enact training sessions and stronger alert procedures.

For Vergès, "we can only be in favor" of "resolutions that ensure that these power relations are not suffered," But she agrees that a ban is not enough to change cultural attitudes.

In the French militant movements, she sees suspicions about the systematic response to being sanctioned. Will the law finally solve everything? Is it going to change social relationships? Incarceration -- or in this case, a layoff -- may be a prop, not a long-term solution.

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