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Monday
Jan142019

Rome mayor agrees to keep Trevi Fountain coins going to charity

fazon1/iStock(ROME) -- Each day, some $3,500 in coins are thrown into Rome’s Trevi Fountain by tourists making wishes. This scene, made famous by the 1954 film "Three Coins in the Fountain," has been a windfall for a local charity.

But a leaked document suggesting Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi's administration may want to keep those coins for the city’s empty coffers caused confusion -- and concern from many of the charity's supporters.

After a weekend of social media outrage, Raggi said on Monday that the money will remain with local Catholic charity Caritas Rome, a plan that has been in place since 2001, when then-Mayor Francesco Rutelli put a stop to the unauthorized private collection of coins.

"I confirm that [the coins] will remain available to the charitable activities of the diocesan body," Raggi told L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, in Italian. "No one has ever thought of depriving Caritas of these funds."

For nearly two decades, the city periodically emptied the fountain, bagged the coins and, in the presence of the Rome police, delivered them to the Caritas Rome offices where they were separated, counted and deposited in their bank account.

The money -- about 15 percent of Caritas Rome’s annual budget -- has gone to support soup kitchens, homeless shelters and other projects that help Rome’s poor communities.

Raggi’s administration first proposed using the Trevi coins for Rome’s infrastructure and cultural heritage in 2017. But the idea was immediately attacked by opposition politicians and the church and was postponed for a year.

The mayor had called for a meeting at City Hall on Tuesday to finalize a new plan on where the money should be allocated.

In a headline this weekend, The Avvenire, a paper associated with the Italian Catholic Bishops conference, wrote that Raggi's reported plan to keep the coins for the city amounted to "Money Taken from the Poorest."

Caritas Rome posted a statement of gratitude on its Facebook page to all those who have challenged the mayor’s plan to redirect the money from the poor back to the city.

Raggi and her administration, which was elected in 2016, have been under fire for failing to get the city’s finances in order.

Earlier this month, the head of the Association of School Principals warned in a letter to the mayor that schools would need to be closed if the city didn’t improve trash collection –- made worse when a suspicious fire in December destroyed one of the city’s main incinerators.

In October, thousands protested with complaints of poor condition of the Rome streets, an unreliable public transit system and filthy conditions due to piles of uncollected garbage.

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Monday
Jan142019

Canadian air traffic controllers sending support in the form of pizzas to US counterparts during government shutdown

Courtesy of the Canadian Air Traffic Control Association(NEW YORK) -- Canadian air traffic controllers are really leaning in to the stereotypical niceness associated with our neighbors to the north.

As a show of solidarity, a number of air traffic controllers have banded together to get meals for their American counterparts amid the ongoing government shutdown.

The grassroots effort started on Thursday, according to Peter Duffey, the president and CEO of the Canadian Air Traffic Control Association.

Controllers in Edmonton wanted to do something thoughtful for their peers in Anchorage, Alaska, who they deal with "all day long," Duffey said.

"It was a natural thing to send it to the people we work with on a daily basis, [but] we got through that fairly quickly," Duffey said.

From there, the generosity spread to other air traffic control centers across the U.S., picking other places where they had connections.

For instance, air traffic controllers in the northern area in Fort McMurray chose to send pizza to air traffic controllers in El Paso, Texas, clearly not because of geographic proximity, but instead because they are both oil towns.

Duffey said another air traffic control center chose to send pizzas to colleagues in Phoenix, Arizona, because it's "a massive destination for Canadians in the winter."

As of midday Monday, Duffey said over 400 pizzas have been sent to 52 different air traffic control facilities in the U.S. -- "and that number just keeps growing."

"It was a natural thing for them to do. They wanted to show support," Duffey said.

The effort comes as the government shutdown enters history-making territory as the longest shutdown in U.S. history, with tens of thousands of airport security screeners among those forced to work without pay, prompting some to call in sick and contributing to longer lines at some airports.

He said the cheesy show of support is just the latest in a history of working together in tough times, citing how American air traffic controllers donated thousands of dollars to their colleagues in Fort McMurray after the area suffered from wildfires in 2016.

"We've always stood with our U.S. counterparts," Duffey said. "We really do have each others' backs."

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Monday
Jan142019

Indonesian divers recover recorder from Lion Air plane that crashed into Java Sea

AZWAR IPANK/AFP/Getty Images(JAKARTA, Indonesia) -- Indonesian Navy divers recovered a cockpit voice recorder from a missing Lion Air plane that crashed into the Java Sea in October, killing all 189 people on board, officials said Monday.

The device, one of two recorders on the jet, could offer insight into the final moments of the fatal flight as investigators search for clues about why the brand new Boeing 737 Max 8 went down.

Investigators now will work to retrieve data from the so-called black box hoping it will contain audio of the pilots' conversations. The plane crashed in waters nearly 98 feet deep on Oct. 29, just after takeoff.

Officials are expected to offer more details at a press conference later Monday.

Search and rescue officials said they lost contact with Lion Air flight JT610 minutes after it left Jakarta, the country's capital. The cockpit data recorder, recovered days three days after, showed that its airspeed indicator had malfunctioned on previous flights.

The 189 on board included three children and the crew, officials said.

Lion Air is one of Indonesia's largest airlines.

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Monday
Jan142019

Pregnant Meghan Markle gives hint about due date

Charlotte Graham - WPA Pool/Getty Images(LONDON) -- Meghan Markle is bringing color into the new year and revealing a new hint about her due date.

The Duchess of Sussex, 37, stepped out Monday for her first appearance with the Duke of Sussex, Prince Harry, in bold color choices of purple and red.

She paired a purple Babaton by Aritzia dress under a red winter coat by Sentaler, a Canadian brand, and completed the look with red heels.

Meghan cradled her now-very visible baby bump during her visit with Harry to Birkenhead, Merseyside, near the northern U.K. city of Liverpool.

The Duchess, expecting her first child with Harry, told a well-wisher she is due in April. Kensington Palace said only that Meghan was due "in the spring" when her pregnancy was announced in October.

Meghan and Harry, 34, greeted fans and met with veterans and local charities and unveiled a plaque to mark their visit to Birkenhead.

The visit came just days after Kensington Palace announced Meghan’s first patronages as a member of the royal family.

Meghan, a former actress, is taking over from Queen Elizabeth as patron of the National Theater and the Association of Commonwealth Universities.

She is also now patron of Mayhew, an animal charity, and Smart Works, a charity that focuses on helping women. Meghan visited Smart Works last week in her first public event as patron.

Meghan's four patronages "reflect the causes and issues with which she has long been associated including the arts, access to education, support for women and animal welfare," Kensington Palace said in a statement.

In addition to their charitable work and impending parenthood, Meghan and Harry are preparing for a big move in 2019. The couple plan to move from Kensington Palace to Frogmore Cottage, on the grounds of Windsor Estate, about 30 miles from London.

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Sunday
Jan132019

Key Brexit vote expected to once again test Theresa May's leadership

ABC News(LONDON) -- In December, the House of Commons held five days of debate over the agreement secured by May and European officials that covered the terms of the British withdrawal from the European Union -- but when it looked certain that her plan would fail to get passed by MPs, she postponed the vote.

The U.K. voted in June 2016 to leave the EU by a majority of 52 to 48 percent. But the question on the ballot did not specify what relationship Britons wanted with the bloc, and so the last two years have been fraught with negotiation and politicking.

May’s premiership has taken a battering, although she survived a vote of no confidence in December after rebels in her Conservative Party plotted to overthrow her through a party mechanism for triggering a leadership contest. They failed, but in order to get MPs to back her, May promised she would not fight the next general election as leader.

But things are far from resolved in Westminster. A previous vote in the Commons means that Parliament must have a vote on the deal with the EU. Having postponed it in December, with hopes that spending Christmas with constituents and having more time to reflect might mean that MPs would back her deal, May is now fighting once again for Parliament to accept her plan.

What is "Brexit"?

On June 23, 2016, Britain voted to leave the EU in a referendum delivered by the ruling Conservative Party. Then-Prime Minister David Cameron resigned the morning after the vote, and May won Conservative leadership to begin implementing the withdrawal.

The U.K. voted to join the EU in 1973 when it was known as the European Economic Community. It is now a group of 28 countries governed by a continental parliament, commission and council representing each member state; it uses a common currency (the Euro) and compromises an area across the European continent where citizens of member states are able to live and work easily in different areas within the union.

What are the main issues?


The Brexit referendum asked a simple question: Should the U.K. leave the EU, or remain in the union?

But there is conflict over whether Britain should retain some aspects of European membership, if it is able, in order to preserve much of its close trade and security relationship with the E.U.

What’s the issue with May’s deal?

MPs are not happy with parts of the deal, which cover aspects of the border with Northern Ireland. A clause in the agreement would mean that the U.K. would remain in a customs arrangement with the E.U. if a permanent solution was not found within the negotiating period.

Doing this would avoid the need for a "hard border" of security and customs checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which is in the EU. An open border is of paramount importance to both sides of the Irish, and its settlement brought peace after the conflict known as “The Troubles.”

The clause, known as "the backstop," is a red line with which many in the U.K. on both sides of the Brexit debate vehemently disagree. The Europeans maintain their stance that they will not renegotiate May’s deal.

What happens if May loses the vote?

The vote on the deal is scheduled for Tuesday, and as things stand the government appears to be heading for a heavy defeat. If May loses the vote, what happens afterward will largely depends on how badly, and how some political heavy hitters decided to vote.

There is speculation that if May suffers only a narrow defeat, she might make an emergency trip to Brussels for a last-ditch attempt at compromise. Or she may have cross-party talks to try to come to a compromise on the British side.

What most of Westminster fears, however, is the U.K. exiting the EU without a deal -- which would mean a withdrawal falling back on World Trade Organization rules. Business consortiums have more or less presented a united front against such an outcome, saying it would severely harm Britain’s economy.

Another option would be for May to buy extra time by pausing what is known as "Article 50" of the Treaty of the European Union -- the mechanism for beginning an exit from the EU.

When triggered, that begins a period of two years of preparation before an exit date. May invoked it on March 29, 2017, meaning the day of Brexit is set for that same date in 2019.

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Friday
Jan112019

Teacher in South Africa suspended after controversial photo of students goes viral

hudiemm/iStock(NEW YORK) -- A teacher in South Africa has been suspended and allegations of racism are being investigated in a small town in the country's North West province after a photograph showing black and white children sitting at separate desks went viral.

Twenty-five years after the dawn of democracy in South Africa, the country is still grappling with the specter of apartheid -- a policy that separated citizens based on the color of their skin and prevented the black majority from accessing the same quality of services, including education, as the white minority.

Public schools reopened for the new academic year on Wednesday and a teacher at the Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke School took the picture and shared it with parents in a WhatsApp group, reportedly to show that the children were settling in on their first day of school. The photo in question shows four black children sitting separately from their white classmates.

The controversial picture went viral on social media, prompting the North West Provincial Education Department to launch an investigation. Sello Lehari, the political head of the provincial department, suspended the teacher on Thursday. According to the school, the black students were separated because they could not understand Afrikaans, a language spoken by about 6 million South Africans, including the white minority known as Afrikaners.

"We did not accept that explanation," Lehari said. "The teacher is suspended with immediate effect."

“We are also shocked to learn about this particular barbaric incident,” Aaron Motswana, a local politician from the ruling African National Congress Party, told the South African Broadcasting Corporation. “It was unwarranted and we strongly want to condemn it. On behalf of the ANC and the municipality that we lead, 24 years into democracy, we don’t expect such incidents, to continuously happen."

He added, “There’s a history of this particular area, especially where Schweizer-Reneke Hoërskool is affected.”

The opposition political party, the Democratic Alliance, has welcomed the suspension of the teacher.

DA provincial leader, Joe McGluwa, told ABC News, “The DA strongly opposes segregation of young children on any grounds. As a country, we need to recommit to Nelson Mandela’s ideals of reconciliation and the rejection of racism.”

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) is also investigating the allegations of racism, saying that there will be serious repercussions if children have been discriminated against. SAHRC Commissioner André Gaum told ABC News there’s still far too many cases of discrimination in the country.

"It's also a broader societal issue and a great problem that we still have so many instances of unfair discrimination that is taking place, which is of great concern to the commission," he said.

Gaum said if it is found that the incident was indeed of a racist nature, the SAHRC might recommend sensitivity training for other teachers.

The photo was “a reflection of a single moment in a classroom” and not an indication of school policy, the school said in a statement that was provided to local media.

The statement explained that the photo reflected an isolated moment and the children do in fact interact and are integrated. Other photos have since emerged showing an integrated classroom; however, it is not clear if those photos were taken on the same day or only after the outrage began on Wednesday.

ABC News' requests for comment from school officials were not returned.

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Friday
Jan112019

US military begins withdrawing equipment from Syria

omersukrugoksu/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. military began moving military equipment out of Syria this week, but no U.S. troops have left, two U.S. officials said Friday. Other officials said there is still no timeline for the pullout of the 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria following President Donald Trump's surprise decision to withdraw them last month.

Earlier on Friday, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad had issued a statement that the U.S. military had "begun the process" of a deliberate withdrawal from Syria.

Two U.S. officials told ABC News that only equipment has been moved out of Syria and that no American troops have left Syria. One of them told ABC News that in recent days military equipment has been moved out of Syria into Iraq.

The official added, "We have made a number of preparations for the deliberate withdrawal from Syria including planning for personnel and equipment moves, preparing facilities for retrograde and moving materials out of Syria." The official said the limited movement of cargo out of Syria was being carried out as the opportunity presented itself "or as part of pre-planned movements.”

“CJTF-OIR has begun the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria," said Col. Sean Ryan, a spokesman for the anti-ISIS coalition had said in an earlier statement released Friday. "Out of concern for operational security, we will not discuss specific timelines, locations or troops movements.”

The withdrawal of equipment came amid conflicting statements over when a withdrawal of American troops would begin and at what pace since President Donald Trump abruptly announced the U.S. would leave last month.

In late December, former Defense Secretary James Mattis signed orders for the military to follow Trump's pullout announcement. It was that decision, as well as the president’s decision to reduce the number of troops in Afghanistan, that led Mattis to resign.

But U.S. officials say there are no timelines attached to that order as the U.S. military continues developing the timing of that withdrawal plan.

According to one of those officials, the orders signed by Mattis can be adjusted to include timelines as decided by the White House. So far, there has been no such policy decision.

Military planners have developed plans that could take as long as four months for the U.S. to pull out all of the troops and equipment inside Syria. That timeline took into account that the U.S. had accumulated a lot of heavy equipment inside Syria that would have to be removed. But U.S. officials stressed that no decisions had been made about the pace of withdrawal.

Officials have said that a withdrawal of equipment could lead to the temporary deployment of additional forces specifically tasked with equipment removal from Syria as well as the security of those troops.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Friday that 10 armored vehicles, in addition to engineering machines, withdrew Thursday evening from the U.S. base in al-Remelan in the al-Hasaka province in northeastern Syria.

A U.S. official said the withdrawal of equipment without its being replaced would constitute part of the withdrawal.

Earlier this week, National Security Advisor John Bolton indicated that the pullout of U.S. troops could take much longer. During a visit to Israel, he said a Syria pullout would be pegged to the total defeat of ISIS and assurances from Turkey that it would not attack America's Kurdish allies in Syria after a troop withdrawal.

Turkish President Recip Erdogan later labeled that characterization as a "serious mistake.”

He also laid out a tougher line, saying there would be “no concessions” and that the new plan contradicted the “clear agreement” he had with Trump for a U.S. pullout from Syria.

On Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pushed back strongly that Bolton and Erdogan's comments contradicted each other.

"There’s no contradiction whatsoever," said Pompeo. This is a story made up by the media."

Pompeo added that while Trump had decided to withdraw troops from Syria, the U.S. commitment to defeat ISIS would continue.

"We’re going to do it in a way, in one particular place, Syria, and differently," said Pompeo.

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Friday
Jan112019

American Paul Whelan formally charged with espionage in Russia

Whelan family(MOSCOW) -- Russia on Friday said American Paul Whelan, who was arrested last month in Moscow, has been formally charged with espionage.

Whelan was charged under Article 276 of Russia's criminal code, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters at a televised briefing.

Whelan, a former United States Marine, was detained Dec. 28 by Russia's domestic intelligence agency, the FSB, which accused him of espionage. His Russian lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov, has said Whelan contests the charge and intends to plead not guilty.

Russian news agency Interfax reported on Jan. 3 that Whelan had been formally charged, citing anonymous security service sources. But Zakharova's comments on Friday were Russia's first public confirmation of it.

Russia has still not provided any details of the charge against Whelan. Announcing his arrest, the FSB said he had been detained while conducting "spying activity" but has not elaborated.

The foreign ministry spokeswoman also said Friday that exchanging Whelan for anyone imprisoned outside Russia was not being considered.

"I'd like to underline that the exchange of Paul Whelan for anyone incarcerated abroad is currently not on the table," Zakharova said, according to Russian news agency Interfax. "The defendant will stand trial."

Some former U.S. intelligence officers have speculated Whelan may have been taken in retaliation over the jailing of Maria Butina, the Russian gun rights activist who last month pleaded guilty in a U.S. court to acting as a foreign agent. She has admitted to trying to infiltrate American conservative political circles.

Zherebenkov has suggested that Whelan could later be exchanged for Russians held in U.S. jails, including Butina. He noted, however, that Whelan could only be traded once he has been convicted.

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Friday
Jan112019

Canada wants one million more immigrants over next three years

Martin Holverda/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Canada, a nation of not quite 37 million people, wants to add more than one million immigrants through 2021.

"Thanks in great part to the newcomers we have welcomed throughout our history, Canada has developed into the strong and vibrant country we all enjoy," Ahmed Hussen, minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship, wrote in an annual report to Parliament. "Immigrants and their descendants have made immeasurable contributions to Canada, and our future success depends on continuing to ensure they are welcomed and well-integrated."

Hussen, now in his early 40s, fled to Canada from war-torn Somalia when he was 16.

A year ago, Donald Trump, the president of the United States of America, said he didn't want the U.S. accepting immigrants from Haiti or countries in Africa or similar "s---hole countries."

Somalia is in Africa.

"My experience is not unique," Hussen told The New York Times in 2017. "Canada receives a lot of refugees every year."

For Canada to add one million immigrants over the next three years, the nation would need to welcome approximately 350,000 -- roughly 1 percent of its current population -- in each of 2019, 2020 and 2021.

"Canada is a world leader in managed migration with an immigration program based on non-discriminatory principles, where foreign nationals are assessed without regard to race, nationality, ethnic origin, colour, religion or gender," Hussen wrote in his report.

About 1 in 5 current Canadians are immigrants, according to the report, with more than six million arriving since 1990.

About 13.7 percent of the U.S. population, roughly 1 in 7, in 2017 was foreign born, according to U.S. Census estimates. In 2016, that figure was 13.5 percent.

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Friday
Jan112019

Ocean temperatures rising faster than initially thought, new research shows

Kerrick/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Ocean temperatures are increasing faster than scientists previously thought, according to new research.

An analysis published in the journal Science on Thursday states that improved methods of testing found that warming throughout oceans between 1971 and 2010 was more widespread than originally reported.

The planet is "clearly warming," according to the analysis. Evidence from the new testing in four independent groups now suggest stronger observed “Heat Ocean Content” warming, with all four recent studies showing that the rate of ocean warming accelerated after 1991.

The warming has lead to an increase of rain, rising sea levels, destruction of coral reefs, declining ocean oxygen levels and declines in ice sheets, ice caps and glaciers in polar regions, according to the study.

The projected warming for the 21st century -- in two different scenarios -- "would have major impacts on ocean ecosystems," and sea levels would continue to rise, according to the article.

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