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Monday
Jun172019

Indian magician feared drowned after stunt attempt

FILE photo - STR/AFP/Getty Images(NEW DELHI) — An Indian magician is feared dead after an attempt at a magic stunt in a river went awry, according to authorities in the city of Kolkata.

Chanchal Lahiri, also known by his stage name Mandrake, went missing on Sunday, according to police.

Lahiri was performing an underwater escape act in Kolkata’s Hoogly River, and a search began for him when he failed to emerge from the water, Samir Bhowmik of Kolkata Police’s Disaster Management Group (DMG) told ABC News.

Harry Houdini popularized escape stunts almost a century ago, and magicians have attempted variations on the act ever since.

To do the trick, a ferry took Lahiri to the middle of the river just under the Howrah Bridge, according to Jayanta Shaw, a photographer for a local newspaper who was covering the event.

Lahiri, bound in chains, was then lowered into the water by a crane, according to Shaw.

“I was there with several others. After being lowered into the water, he seemed to come up to the surface and swim, and that’s when I left. But then a couple of hours later I found out that he had gone missing. It’s very tragic indeed,” Shaw told ABC News.

“I asked him why he wanted to take such risks. He told me he wanted to inspire people to do magic.”

Authorities still don’t have a clear idea of what happened. Divers searching for Lahiri on Sunday failed to find his body, according to officials who conducted a rescue operation.

“He only had permission to perform magic stunts on a steamer,” Sanjoy Chanda of the Kolkata Police told ABC News. “We didn’t know that he would be going into the water.”

This wasn’t Lahiri’s first attempt at an escape feat.

Shaw said he witnessed Lahiri being lowered into the same river in a glass box around 20 years ago. In 2013 a mob attacked Lahiri and accused him of cheating after he escaped from a locked cage that was lowered into the river, according to the Times of India.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Jun172019

South Korea tackles hidden camera epidemic with spy cam inspection team

Seoul Metropolitan Government(SEOUL, South Korea) -- Three times a week, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., women in navy blue vests with hidden camera detectors in their hands inspect public restrooms around Seoul. They are South Korea’s first spy cam inspection team.

The city’s program started in August 2016 with 50 women. Now, the team consists of 39 trained women and men who regularly inspect places vulnerable to illegal filming, such as public restrooms, subway stations and changing rooms.

“Victims are often left with no power to exercise control over the videos once they circulate online without their consent,” Kim Yeo-jin, director of Korea Cyber Sexual Violence Response Center, an organization that provides support service for victims of cyber sexual violence, told ABC News. “Overseas porn websites often refuse to cooperate with the South Korean law enforcement. Plus, the anonymity in cyberspace makes the punishment extremely difficult.”

In 2017, a male victim reported to the center that he found a sex tape of himself with his girlfriend on a porn website. It turned out that the footage was taken from a hidden camera installed in a motel room unbeknownst to them.

More than 6,000 crimes related to illegal filming were reported in 2017, a five-fold increase since 2010, according to the Korean National Police Agency.

This phenomenon, dubbed the “spy cam epidemic,” sparked public outrage once again in March when police arrested suspects accused of installing hidden cameras in motels.

Even female celebrities have fallen victim to illegal filming. In September 2018 a television crew member was caught installing a hidden camera in the shape of a portable smartphone battery charger inside their private rooms, according to Seoul Gangnam police.

Son Hae-young, a spy cam detection expert, told ABC News that a number of hidden cameras are disguised as everyday objects -- remote controls, computer mice, wristwatches, coat hooks -- to not arouse suspicion.

Women as well as companies and government agencies have been combating the hidden camera phenomenon through a number of measures.

When using public restrooms in subway stations, bus terminals and shopping malls, women "have sealed up any tiny, suspicious-looking holes on the walls of their stalls and in door hinges with tissue papers and stickers in fear of mini spy cams that may be installed there,” Lee Won-up, director of Spy-Zone Korea, which specializes in spy cam detection, told ABC News.

Sales of spy cam detectors also skyrocketed following a series of digital sex crimes involving hidden cameras. South Korean e-commerce website G-Market saw a 333 percent increase in sales of those devices this March compared to the previous year.

As a more convenient way of detecting hidden cameras, some companies started selling portable detection cards with a layer of red cellophane paper that can be used with a smartphone. Users simply need to attach the card to the smartphone camera lens, turn on the camera flash and take a picture of the suspicious-looking spot. The resulting photo will have a bright flashing dot indicating the location of the spy cam lens.

Lee said his agency has been in demand by universities, corporations and homeowners especially after September 2017 when the South Korean government announced its plans to strengthen preventive measures and penalties to tackle digital sex crimes.

Other than the spy cam inspection team, Seoul Metropolitan Government announced this week that it will expand its hidden cam inspection areas to motels, bathhouses and beauty salons. It will also appoint 500 business owners and citizens as honorary spy inspection team members.

“The city will implement a regular inspection system to eradicate illegal filming, hoping that more people become aware that these areas will remain as the 'hidden cam-free zone,'" said Yoon Hee-cheon, director of Women’s Policy Division of the Seoul Metropolitan Government.

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Monday
Jun172019

Meghan, Prince Harry share new photo of baby Archie for Father's Day

Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images(LONDON) -- The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have released a new photo of their son Archie on Father's Day.

The sepia-tinted photo is the first picture of the baby with his eyes open. The last time the public saw him was when Harry and Meghan introduced him to the world two days after his birth in early May.

The picture, published on the couple's Instagram account, shows Archie looking up from his father's arms, with his right hand clasping Harry's middle finger. The caption reads: "Happy Father's Day! And wishing a very special first Father's Day to the Duke of Sussex."

Last month, Harry and Meghan celebrated American Mother's Day by sharing a photo of Archie's feet in a backdrop of blue forget-me-not flowers -- a favorite of the late Princess Diana.

Meanwhile, the Duke of Cambridge posted a picture on the Cambridges' Instagram account, of him playing with Prince Louis on a rope swing in a garden, with the caption, "Happy Father's Day!"

The post was followed by another photo of him and his father, the Duke of Cornwall, Prince Charles.

Prince Charles meanwhile released a photo of himself with his sons William and Harry in the Buckingham Palace Gardens, all in their full uniforms of the Royal Air Force during an event marking the Prince of Wales' 70th birthday last year, with the words, "To Dads everywhere, have a wonderful #FathersDay."

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Sunday
Jun162019

Hong Kong suspends controversial extradition bill indefinitely following protests

ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images(HONG KONG) -- Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam acquiesced, at least in part, to massive protests in the city this week as she announced Saturday the controversial extradition bill will be suspended indefinitely.

"The original urgency to pass the bill in this legislative year is perhaps no longer there,” Lam said at a press conference. "After repeated internal deliberations over the last two days, I now announce that the government has decided to suspend the legislative amendment exercise."

It was unclear how the announcement would affect protests, already scheduled over the weekend. A march was planned for Sunday, and there were also calls for another protest to take place Monday when lawmakers returned to work.

The streets of Hong Kong were calm and quiet Friday after days of protests over the government's controversial proposal to change an extradition law that would allow individuals to be sent to mainland China for trial.

A largely peaceful march, which organizers said drew over a million people in sweltering heat, took place in central Hong Kong last Sunday. The situation turned violent three days later when the extradition law amendment was scheduled to be introduced for debate in the city's legislature.

Thousands of mostly-young protesters shut down Hong Kong's Legislative Council complex and paralyzed parts of the semi-autonomous Chinese territory on Wednesday. Riot police fired multiple rounds of tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the throngs of demonstrators, who hurled bottles, umbrellas and other objects at them.

At least 72 people were injured, including 22 police officers. Eleven people were arrested for disorderly conduct, unlawful assembly, assaulting officers and riot-related activities stemming from Wednesday's protests, authorities said.

Heavy rain prevented most organizers from carrying out fresh demonstrations the following day. Still, the president of the Legislative Council cancelled all planned sessions again Thursday and Friday, pushing debate on the bill to next week.

Under the extradition law amendment, any country -- including China -- could request the extradition of an individual to their home country from Hong Kong for trial. Many who oppose the proposed legislation fear that China could use it to arrest political dissidents.

The bill was scheduled to be voted on June 20. Lam had said she planned to sign it.

However, some of Lam's supporters signaling a possible delay in the legislation prior to Saturday's announced suspension. Her top aide, Bernard Chan, seemed to test the waters during an interview Friday morning with the public broadcasting service, Radio Television Hong Kong, in which he admitted to underestimating the business community's opposition to the new law. He also said he didn't want a single bill to hold up the entire legislative agenda.

“I think it is impossible to discuss [it] under such confrontation. It would be very difficult,” Chan told RTHK. “At the very least we should not escalate the antagonism.”

Michael Tien, a pro-Beijing legislator who's usually an ally of Lam, also called for a delay in a Facebook post on Friday, saying it should be seen as the politically responsible thing to do, not as a concession.

Meanwhile, 27 former Hong Kong government officials and lawmakers issued a joint statement on Friday, urging Lam to "yield to public opinion" and withdraw the bill, calling on her ministers to resign in protest if she doesn't. They criticized Lam for appearing "unmoved" by Wednesday's "bloody conflict" between police and protesters.

"This is our future generation to be cherished, how can anyone with a heart not be pained to see the treatment they received?" they said in a statement. "A deeply divided society, serious concerns of the international community -- are these the sacrifices to be made to satisfy the will of the Chief Executive? What great public interest is supposed to be served by the hurried passage of this bill? Where will this escalation of police force to suppress protest lead Hong Kong?"

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Saturday
Jun152019

Iran attempted to shoot down US drone over tanker attack site in Gulf of Oman

iStock(TEHRAN, Iran) -- Iran attempted to shoot down a U.S. drone that was surveilling the attack on one of two tankers hit in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday morning, U.S. Central Command said. The attempt missed the MQ-9 Reaper by "approximately 1 kilometer."

The Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous, along with another tanker, the Front Altair, were damaged by mines that the U.S. said Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) had placed on the ship's hulls.

"According to our assessment, a modified Iranian SA-7 surface-to-air missile attempted to shoot down a U.S. MQ-9, at 6:45 a.m. local time, June 13, over the Gulf of Oman, to disrupt surveillance of the IRGC attack on the M/T Kokuka Courageous," CENTCOM spokesperson Lt. Col. Earl Brown said in a statement to ABC News on Saturday.

CENTCOM said that, prior to the attempt by Iran to shoot down the MQ-9, the drone had observed the Front Altair on fire.

"The SA-7 was ineffective and its closest point of approach to the MQ-9 was approximately 1 kilometer," Brown said. "Subsequent analysis indicates that this was a likely attempt to shoot down or otherwise disrupt the MQ-9 surveillance of the IRGC attack on the M/T Kokuka Courageous."

In the day following the attacks, Iranian small boats prevented salvage tugs from towing the Front Altair, as they had been contracted to do, a U.S. official told ABC News.

The 23 mariners on board the Front Altair were rescued shortly after Thursday's attack by the Hyundai Dubai, but Iranians aboard small boats quickly demanded the crew be turned over to their custody. The master of the Hyundai Dubai contacted the headquarters of his shipping company in Seoul and was instructed not to turn the crew over to the Iranians. However, the ship's master felt he had no choice but to comply with the Iranian demands.

The Kokuka Courageous is now in territorial waters of the United Arab Emirates, a second official said.

CENTCOM also confirmed on Saturday that another U.S. MQ-9 was shot down by a Houthi SA-6 surface-to-air missile over Yemen on June 6.

"The altitude of the engagement indicated an improvement over previous Houthi capability, which we assess was enabled by Iranian assistance," Brown said. 

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Saturday
Jun152019

Notre Dame Cathedral holds first mass since devastating fire

iStock(PARIS) -- Notre Dame Cathedral held mass on Saturday, its first since a devastating fire tore through the building two months ago on April 15.

Only a small group of about 30 people attended the mass, including the church’s clergy, worshipers, media and construction workers. The mass was also transmitted live on a French Catholic TV station, and dozens of other Catholics attended the service from outside the cathedral, watching on their phones.

The small group convened in a chapel behind the large gold-covered cross that was miraculously found intact after the fire, which destroyed the building’s roof, causing its iconic spire to collapse. For safety reasons, those attending the mass were asked to wear hard hats inside the church.

Paris archbishop Michel Aupetit led the service. He has pushed for the reconstruction of Notre Dame since the fire and wanted to hold the mass as a way to keep the energy around the monument’s recovery alive.

French Minister of Culture Franck Riester that only 9% of the $955 million in donations that had been promised to Notre Dame’s reconstruction had actually been received, according to Agence France-Press. He said some donors were waiting to send their donations because they wanted clear plans for how their money would be spent.

The mass was held a day before an annual celebration of the consecration of the church’s altar, known as the feast of the Dedication of Our Lady, and Aupetit prayed to the statue of the Virgin Mary, saying that he was thankful to be there.

“It was extraordinary,” he said, “to be able to celebrate again, even in this wounded cathedral. I was ordained bishop in this cathedral.”

Aupetit called it “a little weird” praying with hard hats on and said that he took it off during the consecration because “come on.”

He hopes he’ll be able to hold mass again soon, though. “As soon as I’m given the authorization again, I will go again, because I used to go all the time,” he said.

The church site is still being investigated by the French police. Investigators have now seized 100 samples from the crime scene to undergo laboratory examinations. However, they fear that a lot of the samples won’t be useful.

Investigators believe that the fire started due to a short-circuit around the electrified bells in the spire. They also believe that there had been a human error in locating the fire, and that a security guard inspected the wrong sector of the church.

As the investigation continues, the church’s reconstruction will remain on hold until it is fully cleared of rubble. Yet still, with this mass, the clergy around Notre Dame demonstrates that it’s eager to start a regular church life again.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Jun142019

US looks to build 'international consensus' around tanker attacks, says Iran interfered with the damaged ships

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. is looking to build an "international consensus" around Thursday's tanker attacks in the Gulf of Oman that the U.S. has blamed squarely on Iran. Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the attack, Iranian small boats have prevented salvage tugs from moving one of the damaged ships to a port, according to a U.S. official.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan highlighted to reporters on Friday that the attacks were not only a "U.S. situation," saying the focus now is to "build international consensus to this international problem."

"When you look at the situation, a Norwegian ship, Japanese ship, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, UAE..." Shanahan said, listing some the countries that owned ships attacked in Middle Eastern waters Thursday and in another attack a few weeks prior.

"Fifteen percent of the world's oil flows through the Strait of Hormuz," Shanahan continued. "So, we obviously need to make contingency plans should the situation deteriorate, but we also need to broaden our support for this international situation."

He said the effort to declassify intelligence and release it publicly was part of the effort to build international consensus.

On Thursday evening, U.S. Central Command released video taken from a U.S. Navy P-8 surveillance aircraft showing what they said were Iranian small boats attempting to remove an unexploded mine from the side of the Kokuka Courageous -- one of the two ships attacked earlier that day. CENTCOM also released images of that ship, showing where one mine had exploded and another had not.

In a statement, the United Kingdom's Foreign Office said it was “almost certain that a branch of the Iranian military -- the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps -- attacked the two tankers," adding that "no other state or non-state actor could plausibly have been responsible."

But the German Foreign Minister was not as convinced, saying video released by CENTCOM was "not enough" for Germany to make a final assessment.

Iranian officials have flatly denied any involvement in the attacks.

Iranian interference in aftermath of tanker attacks

In the day following the attacks, Iranian small boats have prevented salvage tugs from towing the other damaged ship, the Front Altair, as they had been contracted to do, a U.S. official told ABC News.

The Front Altair suffered significant damage after the explosion of two to three mines triggered a massive fire on board the ship. While it was feared that that tanker would sink, officials said it now appears salvageable. But the salvage tugs have been told by Iranians that they cannot move the tanker, the official said.

The 23 mariners on board the Front Altair were rescued shortly after Thursday's attack by the Hyundai Dubai, but Iranians aboard small boats quickly demanded the crew be turned over to their custody. The master of the Hyundai Dubai contacted the headquarters of his shipping company in Seoul and was instructed not to turn the crew over to the Iranians. However, the ship's master felt he had no choice to comply with the Iranian demands. So the crew was taken to an Iranian port where they remained on Friday.

While the owners of the Front Altair said the mariners would be repatriated, there have been no indications yet from Iran that that is the case.

According to a separate U.S. official, crew members from the Kokuka Courageous returned to their tanker very early Friday morning and contracted a tug to pull the ship back to the United Arab Emirates.

Several Iranian small boats and an Iranian tug “offered assistance,” but that assistance was declined by the ship’s master. As the Iranians on those vessels kept insisting that they wanted to assist, the U.S. Navy destroyer, USS Bainbridge, made a bridge to bridge communication with the Iranians and told them that no assistance was required. The official added that the Iranians did not try to force themselves onto the ship because of the Bainbridge’s presence.

On Thursday, it was the Bainbridge that rescued the Kokuka Courageous's 21-person crew, treating minor injuries.

The Bainbridge, along with another U.S. Navy destroyer, USS Mason, remain near the Kokuka Courageous. The USS Lincoln carrier strike group, which was deployed to the Middle East in response to threat streams emanating from Iran in early May, is also in the vicinity.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Jun142019

Appeals court says Trump administration can't block abortion for migrant teens

iStock/AndreyPopov(WASHINGTON) -- A federal court on Friday knocked down the Trump administration’s policy that allowed officials to deny abortion access to pregnant migrant teenagers in government custody.

A judge had already issued a preliminary injunction on the policy. Friday’s ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit means the Department of Health and Human Services must continue to facilitate abortion access for the young women in its custody.

"Under binding Supreme Court precedent, a person has a constitutional right to terminate her pregnancy before fetal viability, and the government cannot unduly burden her decision," the court stated.

The decision is a blow to the Trump administration, which argued in court that allowing young migrant women access to abortion would result in "abortion tourism" and encourage other young women to make that journey. The court said in its unanimous opinion that it didn't support that argument, noting the threat of sexual violence many women face en route to the U.S.

“That hazardous journey for minors is not ‘tourism,’ much less ‘tourism’ to ‘demand abortion,’” the court wrote.

The Justice Department declined to comment. A spokesman for HHS said the "Office of General Counsel is currently reviewing the decision."

The ruling comes amid an unprecedented number of families and children arriving at the border each month to seek asylum. Some 11,000 children and teens traveling without their parents arrived in the month of May alone. According to court documents, "several hundred" pregnant girls under the age of 18 are in government custody each year. Shelter for the women is provided by the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement, which contracts with privately run shelters scattered across the country.

When Scott Lloyd became the office's director in March 2017, he announced that shelters wouldn’t be allowed to accommodate a young woman in custody seeking an abortion without his approval.

That was a shift from past policy. A director’s approval hadn’t been needed previously, and if a shelter objected on religious grounds, the Office of Refugee Resettlement would transfer her to another shelter willing to provide access.

That year, according to court documents, 18 pregnant women under the age of 18 requested an abortion. Lloyd “denied every abortion request presented to him during his tenure,” the documents state.

Lloyd is no longer at HHS and was not immediately available for comment.

“He refused every request regardless of circumstances, including when the pregnancy resulted from rape,” the documents state.

“The requirement to obtain the Director’s approval thus functions as a blanket ban,” the court concluded.

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Friday
Jun142019

Perfectly preserved 32,000-year-old Ice Age wolf's head found in Russia

iStock/Sergey Sidorov(MOSCOW) -- A Russian scientific institute says it has found an almost perfectly preserved head of a 32,000 year-old wolf has been found frozen in the ground in Siberia, so complete that it is still covered with fur and its brain is intact.

Scientists from the Republic of Sakha’s Academy of Sciences in Russia's Arctic region of Yakutia, announced the find this week, hailing it as the first of its kind.

The head was found by a local man, Pavel Efimov, close to the Tirekhtyakh River in Yakutia in the summer of 2018, according to a press release published on the institute's website. Efimov had stumbled across the head buried in a layer of permafrost visible in the riverbank.

The institute said that its scientists along with others in Japan had confirmed that the wolf had lived during the Ice Age and released photographs and video of the head, in which it appeared barely decayed with its fur still soft and matted.

“This is the first find known to science of remains of a Pleistocene wolf with preserved soft fur,” Albert Protopopov, the director of the Academy’s department of mammoth fauna studies, said in the statement.

The Russian institute said Japanese scientists at Tokyo’s Jikei University conducted a tomographic study and carbon dating to establish the wolf’s age. The wolf’s head is 16.4 inches long, meaning it is almost half the size of the body of a large modern-day wolf, the institute said, calling the ancient animal “gigantic.” The wolf would have been 2 to 4 years old when it died, they said.

The fact that the head was intact is extraordinary, the scientists said, noting that the wolf’s brain was “undamaged” and that almost all its teeth were still present. Protopopov said they were now studying the head in order to see how modern wolves had evolved.

The scientists said the wolf head had been found in the same area as an immaculately preserved body of an Ice Age cave lion cub, that was discovered in 2017. That was the fourth whole lion cub to be found since 2015.

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Friday
Jun142019

Alleged New Zealand mosque shooter pleads not guilty

Marilyn Nieves/iStock(CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand) -- The Australian man accused of killing 51 people at two mosques in New Zealand earlier this year has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Brenton Tarrant, 28, appeared via video link from a maximum security prison for Friday's hearing at the Christchurch High Court in Christchurch, New Zealand. He's facing 51 counts of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and one terrorism charge in connection to the March 15 massacre, to which his attorney entered not guilty pleas.

The courtroom was packed with dozens of survivors and family members of those who were killed.

Worshipers were gunned down inside the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch and then at a nearby mosque in the suburb of Linwood. It was the deadliest terror attack in the nation's history.

Much of the attack was broadcast live on Facebook.

New Zealand police say Tarrant, a suspected white supremacist, wrote a rambling manifesto before the shootings and emailed it to dozens of recipients, including the prime minister's office.

Six days later, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a ban on all military-style semi-automatic weapons, such as the ones used in the March 15 shootings. Ardern has vowed never to say Tarrant's name.

Tarrant will go to trial on May 4. He will remain in custody in Auckland, New Zealand, until his next hearing on Aug. 16.

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