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Wednesday
Feb212018

Secret meeting between Pence, North Koreans scrapped at last minute, official says

Carl Court/Getty Images(PYEONGCHANG, South Korea) -- A secret meeting planned between Vice President Mike Pence and North Korean officials at the Olympics was scrapped at the last minute, an official in Pence's office has confirmed to ABC News.

An account of the planned meeting was first reported in the Washington Post. The meeting was set for Feb. 10 between Pence and Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and Kim Yong Nam, North Korea's nominal head of state. But the North Koreans pulled out, citing new sanctions the U.S. announced before Pence's arrival in South Korea, according to the official.

In a statement, Nick Ayers, Pence's chief of staff, said North Korea "dangled a meeting in hopes of the vice president softening his message, which would have ceded the world stage for their propaganda during the Olympics." Ayers added that Pence would have confronted the North Koreans about human rights abuses and their nuclear weapons ambitions.

Citing White House officials, the Post reported that President Donald Trump and Pence had agreed beforehand that the goal of any meeting would not be to open any negotiations with Kim’s regime, but to deliver the administration’s tough stance against North Korea face to face.

"This administration will stand in the way of Kim’s desire to whitewash their murderous regime with nice photo ops at the Olympics," Ayers said. "Perhaps that’s why they walked away from a meeting, or perhaps they were never sincere about sitting down. The president made a decision that if they wanted to talk, we would deliver our uncompromising message. If they asked for a meeting, we would meet. He also made clear that until they agreed to complete denuclearization, we weren’t going to change any of our positions or negotiate.”

At the Olympics opening ceremony, Pence sat just a few feet away from Kim Yo Jong, but did not acknowledge her.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Feb212018

North Korea now blasting choral, folk music at demilitarized zone, not propaganda

iStock/Thinkstock(PYONGYANG, North Korea) -- North Korea has changed its tune -- at least along the DMZ, or Korean Demilitarized Zone, a two-and-a-half-mile-wide buffer of landmines and booby traps that separates it from South Korea.

For years, giant speakers at North Korea's propaganda village, Kijong-dong, would blast a looping playlist of martial speeches. But since the Winter Olympics began earlier this month in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the speeches, which some American officers said they can recite nearly word for word, have given way to pleasant choral and folk music, according to United Nations Command officials.

"Instead of a lot of the hard-line speeches, it has gotten softer," Lt. Cmdr. Daniel McShane, a United Nations Command duty officer who has been posted at the DMZ for five years, told ABC News during a visit to the site Wednesday. "We've been hearing a lot more music, and a lot of it has been more classical, especially at night."

The new playlist may point to a wider thaw in the 65-year-old cold war that has dominated the Korean Peninsula since the communist North invaded the South in June 1950. Relations also appeared to warm when North Korean leader Kim Jong Un dispatched his sister and the president of the country's puppet parliament to represent him at the Olympics.

North Korea also sent a cheerleading team and a marching band, and the nation's athletes marched under a unified flag with the South Koreans.

McShane said North Korea's different musical offerings near the border "could be just because there's a good number of North Korean citizens here."

"Or," McShane added, "it could just be a coincidence. Maybe they've run out of speeches."

Not much else has changed near the DMZ. Although diplomats from both the North and South recently met at the so-called Peace House, tensions remain, according to McShane. Communicating with North Korea remains challenging. In 2013, representatives of North Korea stopped answering a hotline phone that had connected them to the U.S.-led United Nations command.

When messages must be sent -- especially complaints about armistice violations -- an American officer will descend from a command post, walk between the iconic blue huts, around the sunglasses-wearing South Korean guards, and signal for a translator who must literally yell into North Korea from the very edge of South Korea.

It often takes multiple attempts. Eventually, a North Korean officer will descend, carrying a video camera to record the U.S. officer's request. That video, according to officers on the South Korean side, is then relayed to central command in Pyongyang. Often, the North Korean officer will not even respond directly to the American who's making the request.

Nearby, to the north, an estimated 15,000 artillery pieces are pointed directly at Seoul, about 25 miles to the south.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Feb202018

Queen Elizabeth II sits next to Anna Wintour at London Fashion Week show

iStock/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- British royalty rubbed shoulders with fashion royalty Tuesday at London Fashion Week.

Queen Elizabeth II made her first ever appearance at London Fashion Week and sat front row next to Vogue’s Anna Wintour at designer Richard Quinn’s runway show.

The 91-year-old monarch sparkled in a blue tweed dress and jacket while viewing the emerging designer’s bold printed looks on the runway. She chatted with Wintour, who didn't remove her signature sunglasses.

Quinn, who started his own label in 2016, is the inaugural recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design, established to recognize emerging British fashion talent.

The award, initiated in recognition of the role the fashion industry plays in society and diplomacy, will be awarded annually to an emerging British fashion designer of womenswear, menswear or accessories that shows exceptional talent and originality, while demonstrating value to the community and/or strong sustainable policies, according to a statement issued by Buckingham Palace.

The British Fashion Council selected Quinn for his creative talent and for his work establishing a print studio, which offers high-quality and accessible services to students and fellow up-and-coming designers.

"From the tweed of the Hebrides to Nottingham lace, and of course Carnaby Street, our fashion industry has been renowned for outstanding craftsmanship for many years, and continues to produce world-class textiles and cutting-edge, practical designs," the queen said. "As a tribute to the industry, and as my legacy to all those who have contributed to British fashion, I would like to present this award for new, young talent."

The award was the idea of the queen’s personal advisor, Angela Kelly, who accompanied her and has coordinated her wardrobe for over 26 years.

Caroline Rush, the chief executive of the British Fashion Council, acknowledged Queen Elizabeth's role as a fashion icon and her groundbreaking effect on the industry when she ascended the throne.

"Your Majesty, it is a true honor to have you here and to have your support for British fashion," Rush said today. "Throughout your reign you have embraced fashion, using its power of diplomacy to communicate understanding between cultures and nations."

Earlier in the day, the monarch visited showrooms to meet designers.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Feb202018

Airstrikes pound rebel-held Damascus suburb, leaving more than 200 dead

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The Syrian government and its allied forces pounded a besieged rebel-held Damascus suburb on Tuesday, killing dozens of civilians -- the enclave’s deadliest day in three years.

Airstrikes and shelling have killed at least 210 civilians, including 54 children, since Sunday night, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based monitoring group, said. On Tuesday, at least 66 civilians were killed.

On Monday alone, at least 127 civilians lost their lives, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

“Every day people die and we’re used to it,” Nour Adam, 22, a media activist in Eastern Ghouta who asked that his real last name be withheld out of concern for the safety of family members in government territory, told ABC News via Skype. “But people think we are numbers. Actually, we are humans.”

During the interview the sound of an explosion could be heard in the background.

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

“The Syrian government is attacking all areas with all kinds of weapons -- known and unknown weapons,” Siraj Mahmoud, head of media for the White Helmets civil defense rescue force, which operates in rebel-held areas in Syria, told ABC News.

“Warplanes don’t leave the sky at all. Today, we can’t say that we have any safe areas left in Eastern Ghouta,” Mahmoud, who works under a pseudonym, added.

The Syrian foreign ministry said that militants in Eastern Ghouta fired shells at Damascus on Tuesday, killing six civilians, according to the state news agency SANA.

An estimated 400,000 people are trapped in Eastern Ghouta with little access to food, water, fuel, electricity and health care. Many of them have left their homes and moved into underground shelters, where they spend their days and nights in hiding due to the intensity of the strikes.

Save the Children said on Tuesday that 4,100 families now live in underground basements and shelters. More than half are without water, sanitation or ventilation systems, according to local aid workers.

“The bombing has been relentless, and children are dying by the hour,” said Sonia Khush, Save the Children’s Syria response director, in a statement. “These families have nowhere left to run – they are boxed in and being pounded day and night.”

The aid agency said that in some parts of Eastern Ghouta, the destruction is worse than it was at the height of the Syrian government’s offensive against Aleppo in 2016, “yet with only a tiny fraction of the global attention and outrage.”

The United Nations warned on Tuesday that the humanitarian situation in Eastern Ghouta is “spiraling out of control” and that lack of access to the besieged enclave has kept aid away, leading to severe food shortages and a sharp rise in food prices. Malnutrition rates have now reached unprecedented levels, the U.N. said.

“I am deeply alarmed by the extreme escalation in hostilities in East Ghouta,” Panos Moumtzis, U.N. regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syria crisis, said in a statement.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Feb202018

Man who says he was a Russian 'troll' arrested after going public

ABCNews.com(MOSCOW) -- Russian police have reportedly arrested a man who has claimed to be a worker at a so-called troll factory in St. Petersburg, Russia, hours after he gave interviews to foreign journalists and lifted the lid on a secretive organization the U.S. Department of Justice last week accused of trying to undermine the 2016 presidential election.

The Justice Department Friday indicted 13 Russians it accused of running a campaign through the alleged trolling operation to undermine the U.S. election, using social media posts and fake news websites. The indictment named the company behind the alleged operation as the Internet Research Agency.

Since the indictment, Marat Mindiyarov, a 43-year-old former teacher who said he worked for the operation from 2014 to early 2015, has been giving interviews to multiple foreign news outlets, including The Associated Press and The Washington Post, describing its inner workings.

He was then detained Sunday by police who accused him and a friend of making a false report about a bomb near his village outside St. Petersburg, he told The Moscow Times.

Mindiyarov has since been released, Russian radio station Echo of Moscow reported.

Mindiyarov, like most of the workers, was not named in the U.S. indictment brought as part of U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. The indictment Friday named people accused of overseeing the alleged trolling effort or playing a key role in the operation to undermine the election.

It also named the Internet Research Agency’s alleged owner, Yegenvy Prigozhin, a man nicknamed “Putin’s Chef” because of his close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Mindiyarov has said he was a lower-level employee, posting hundreds of comments on social media expressing Kremlin viewpoints.

Mindiyarov knew the operation’s “Facebook Department” had hired hundreds of Russians who spoke English well to take part in a campaign to influence U.S. public opinion, he told reporters.

"Your first feeling, when you were there, was that you were at some factory that turned a lie into a conveyor belt,” Mindiyarov told The Washington Post Saturday. “The volumes were enormous; there were a huge number of people, from 300 to 400, and they all wrote an absolute lie. It was like in the world of [novelist George] Orwell, the place where you have to say that white is black, and black is white.”

He is among a number of former employees at the “troll factory,” as well as undercover journalists, who have come forward in the past two years to explain what they say are the internal workings of its operation to media organizations, including ABC News.

The Kremlin has denied having any connection to the “troll factory,” with Putin’s spokesman telling reporters Monday that Mueller had failed to provide sufficient evidence of a campaign to meddle in the U.S. election.

Echo of Moscow, the Russian radio station, reported that police had detained Mindiyarov and a friend it named as Igor at an apartment Sunday, accusing Igor of having used his phone to make false reports about bombs near their village.

But, writing on his Facebook page Monday, Mindiyarov said he “is not afraid even after the events of the last night and today.”

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Feb202018

Iranian rescuers still looking for wreckage of plane crash that killed 66 people

ABCNews.com(TEHRAN, Iran) -- Time is ticking as Iranian rescue teams search the Zagros Mountains trying to locate the wreckage of a missing Aseman Airliner that crashed there on Sunday morning with 66 people on board.

The missing plane was an ATR 72-500 twin-engine turboprop. It left the capital city of Tehran to Yasuj, a southwestern city at 4:30 a.m. GMT on Sunday, but went off the radar 50 minutes into its journey around the city of Semirom in Isfahan Province.

Relatives of those on board have been desperately waiting all day on Sunday, but are losing hope as reports say all 66 passengers are feared dead. Those on board include 60 passengers, two flight attendants, two security guards, and the pilot and co-pilot.

According to the statement of Iran Emergency Center, the heavy winds and snow did not allow a rescue team's helicopter to approach the possible location of the crash on the first day.

The rescue operation was resumed Monday in better weather, but the plane wreckage had yet to be tracked down.

To accelerate the operation, Iran has reached out to other countries for help.

“We have asked China and European countries to immediately inform us of any image they might capture with their satellites,” Mojtaba Saradeghi, deputy head of Iran's Civil Aviation Organization, told the Iranian Student News Agency on Monday.

Family and friends have posted desperate pleas for news on the missing on social media, including one from a women who listed four co-workers killed in the accident and the statement, translated as, "Do you know we have filled your desks at the office with flowers? We shared your memories, and cried."

Russia has also sent information on the possible location of the crash to Tehran via diplomatic channels, according to Spotnik, the Russian news agency.

The Iranian airliner's fleet is very old as it has been prevented from updating for years due to severe sanctions from the West. The Islamic Republic was not allowed to purchase new Western planes and spare parts for about two decades.

In 2015, the country signed a nuclear deal with six world powers (Germany, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and the United States), based on which Iran agreed to curb its nuclear-related activities in return for the easing of some sanctions against the country.

One of the top priorities of Iran was removing sanctions on its aviation industry. While easing these sanctions has led to a major deal between Iran and Boeing for the purchase of airplanes over the coming years, the body of the fleet of the country is still worn out.

The recent crash has led to discussions on social networks about where the West and Iranian aviation stands two years after the lifting of the sanctions on the industry.

Pouyan Tabasinejad, policy chair of the Iranian Canadian Congress, was among those to criticize Canadian Sen. Linda Frum on Twitter after she slammed Boeing for selling Iran new aircraft.

However, some of those who used to blame the West for the high number of casualties in airplane crashes in Iran are now pointing their fingers at Tehran’s mismanagement for not upgrading its fleet in the past two years after the lifting of the former restrictions.

Capt. Houshang Shahbazi became a national hero to Iranians in December 2011 after he managed to safely land a 40-year-old Boeing 727 while the gear in the nose was jammed and the front wheel did not open. He saved the life of 120 passengers on board.

Before the nuclear deal, Shahbazi was a vocal critic of the Western sanctions on Iran’s civil aviation industry. But in an interview with ABC News about the recent incident, he said time to blame the West for such incidents is over. Instead, he criticized Iranian aviation officials for not being swift enough in updating the fleet.

“It is not a humanitarian crisis. This crash is the result of a political crisis,” he said, putting the blame on where political parties choose to invest the resources of the country. “Two years has passed and managers have had enough time to buy new planes and spare parts, if it was their priority.”

However, Aseman Airliner’s technician and training manager, Capt. Bahador Ashayeri, denied any technical problem with the missing ATR plane.

“This plane was of the most modern models. ... It has no problem at all,” Ashayeri said in a live TV program on Sunday.

The weather is expected to get even colder in the Zagros Mountains on Tuesday, making the search and rescue operation more difficult.

“Regardless of the weather condition, search and rescue operation will go on,” Shahin Fathi, operation deputy of Iran’s Red Crescent Organization told the News Channel.

“However, in case of a snowfall, aerial and helicopter search will not be possible and search will go on with the rescue teams on the ground.”

 Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Feb192018

Villages covered in ash after volcano erupts in Indonesia 

iStock/Thinkstock(KARO, Indonesia) --  A volcano on Indonesia’s Sumatra island sent columns of ash shooting into the sky on Monday, prompting a "code red" warning to airlines by an Australian agency monitoring volcanic ash.

Villages in the Karo region near the volcano were covered in layers of grey ash, which settled on trees and the tops of buildings, motorcycles and cars.

Villagers were forced to wear masks.

Mount Sinabung has been erupting intermittently since 2010 after being dormant for centuries.

Thousands have been displaced in the surrounding area, and continued seismic activity has kept the alert level at its highest point since June 2015.

Mount Sinabung is one of three currently active volcanoes in Indonesia, which is located on the Pacific "Ring of Fire," an area of concentrated seismic activity due to the presence of tectonic fault lines in the region.

Last year, the eruption of Mount Agung in Bali forced the cancellation of several flights, grounding thousands of tourists and sparking an evacuation order for 100,000 residents.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Feb192018

Inside Lesbos' Moria camp, home to thousands of trapped refugees and migrants

ABC News(LESBOS, Greece) --  In her temporary home, a fraction of a tent, Aziza Hommada holds up a transparent plastic bag with pita bread. The plastic has little holes in it and the bread is in pieces.

“Look,” she says. “The rats come into the tent and eat our bread. I have to throw this out.”

Hommada, 37, is five months pregnant and lives with her six children in the Moria camp, the largest refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos.

The words “Welcome to prison” are spray-painted at the entrance and barbed wire surrounds the camp, which used to be a detention center for rejected asylum seekers. Tents and containers are packed tightly together, with narrow, muddy passageways between them. Trash spills out of overflowing garbage bins and piles up on the ground. At night, bonfires light up the faces of children and adults who try to stay warm.

As Europe experienced an unprecedented influx of refugees and migrants in 2015, the camp was originally a temporary solution that could house up to 2,000 people. When ABC News visited the camp in mid-January, it was home to more than 5,300 people, according to the director of the camp.

ABC News was granted rare permission to access a small area of the Moria camp, and also visited other parts where journalists were not allowed.

Like most people in the camp, Hommada and her children share their living space. A piece of fabric splits Hommada’s tent in two. She lives with her children in one half while some of her relatives occupy the other.

She washes laundry by hand using water from a room right next to her tent. The floor there is brown from dirty water and on one recent evening two rats peeked out of a corner.

The family escaped from airstrikes and fighting between ISIS and the Syrian government in their village in Deir Ezzor, Syria. The family became separated when Hommada's husband left to pick up his sister from another village, she says. She has not heard from her husband or been able to find out what happened to him. She arrived in Lesbos with her children about two weeks ago. Even though the family is now safe from airstrikes, Hommada feels scared in the camp, especially at night.

“I don’t sleep from the fear,” says Hommada. “If anyone walks by our tent at night I sense it immediately and feel frightened.”

International organizations operating on the island say lack of security and hygiene are two major issues in the Moria camp. The UN warned earlier this month that women and children are at risk of sexual violence in the camp and called for more police. It described the bathrooms there as “no-go zones” for women and children after dark if they are not accompanied. Even showering during the day can be dangerous, the UN said.

 In his office inside the Moria camp, Giannis Balpakakis, the camp's director, who is appointed by the Greek government to run it, lets out a sigh.

“The only problem is that there are a lot of people and it is difficult for us,” he says when asked why the camp is crowded and dirty. “If you have an apartment with one kitchen and two bedrooms and this apartment is for two people and in the same apartment you put 10 people you will have a problem. This is the problem.”

New containers were recently added in the camp, increasing the capacity from 2,000 to 3,000, he says, but it’s still not enough. People keep arriving to the island and the camp is crowded, he says -- so crowded that staff members clean the bathrooms and toilets only to find them dirty again one hour later.

“We may make mistakes, we may not be able to get to everything, but we are trying really hard,” he says. “All of us here are striving for the betterment of the people. I’m not saying that it’s the best, but we earnestly try. Everyone talks countless hours on the phone, to get everything in order, to strive, but I say to you honestly the problems that we have here are huge. Why? Because we constantly have new people. There is this stress, to welcome 100 people today, then 200 tomorrow, then another 100.”

In March 2016, the EU sealed a deal with Turkey intended to stop illegal migration to Europe by closing the main route that a million refugees and migrants had used to cross the sea to Greece. Since the EU-Turkey pact went into effect, the Greek islands have received a much smaller number of migrants and refugees. But in the second half of 2017, the numbers increased. Since September, more than 16,000 migrants and refugees have arrived on the Greek islands by sea from Turkey. And while asylum seekers before the EU-Turkey deal could move to the Greek mainland after typically just a few days on the islands, they now wait on the islands for months -- and in some cases, more than a year.

Under the agreement, which has been criticized by humanitarian organizations, refugees and migrants who manage to cross the sea to Greece are trapped on the islands. They face being returned to Turkey, unless the Greek authorities determine that they should be granted asylum in Greece. Only vulnerable asylum seekers such as pregnant women, unaccompanied children and torture victims -- or asylum seekers with close family members elsewhere in Europe -- are allowed to move to mainland Greece. But even those vulnerable people often have to wait on the islands for months for a decision.

The crowded conditions create tension and fights break out in the camp, Balpakakis says. There are also problems with the infrastructure and electricity. At one point during the interview the lights in the director’s office go off because of a sudden power outage.

 Deeper inside the camp Jihad Al-Haj Hussein Al-Hilal, 50, lights a cigarette in his part of a shipping container that serves as a temporary home. When he lived in his Syrian hometown in Deir Ezzor under ISIS rule, smoking was not allowed. He escaped intense fighting between ISIS and the Syrian government there and has been on Lesbos with his family since late October.

“I’m still trapped on this island,” says al-Hilal. “We escaped from death and came to death -- from quick death to slow death.”

It’s around dinner time and people line up for food outside. Residents say they usually have to wait two to three hours for a meal. A sound of men yelling makes its way into the container.

“Can you hear that?” asks Jihad. “They’re fighting. It happens a lot when people line up for food.”

The conditions in the camp surprised him when he arrived, he says. “I had expected that I would at least feel safe here,” he says.

Berevan Ahmad Hassan, a 25-year-old Kurdish Syrian from Aleppo, fled her country after an airstrike destroyed her home and all her belongings. When she saw the wreckage, she actually felt relief. Her children and husband were safe and that was all that mattered to her, she says. But after seven years of war, she decided to leave her country for the safety of her 5-year-old and 3-year-old. In Greece, her children often wake up screaming at night because they see bombs in their dreams. They refuse to use the toilets in the camp unless their mother cleans them first.

“They have started bed-wetting,” she says. “They didn’t do that in Syria.”

She has lived with her family in a tent for two months. The conditions in the camp are far worse than she imagined, she says. Every morning when she wakes up her first thought is: I can’t wait for this day to be over.

“I think, I hope this day will go by fast so that it will be night so that I can reach the day when I will get out of here,” she says.

She wants to settle in an actual home where her children can feel like they are living a stable life. And she wants them to go to school.

“It will be a while before that can happen. We will suffer until then,” she says. “But after everything we’ve been through I can’t imagine that I will end up regretting coming. I can’t think that. I have to think that it will be good.”

After ABC News left the Greek island of Lesbos, the Hommada family told ABC News that they had been transferred from the Moria camp to Lesbos' Kara Tepe camp, which is known to have much better conditions than the Moria camp. The family said they now live in a container by themselves rather than a shared tent.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Sunday
Feb182018

Princess Kate steps out in green at the British Academy Film Awards

Samir Hussein/WireImage via Getty Images(LONDON) -- Princess Kate arrived at the British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA) tonight with Prince William in a dark green Jenny Packham gown, as the majority of other women on the red carpet chose to wear black in solidarity with the fight against sexual harassment and the Time's Up movement.

The mother of Prince George, 4, and Princess Charlotte, 2, who is currently pregnant in her third trimester, however, did wear a black tie around her dress above her glowing figure, in what may have been a subtle nod to fellow women.

Royal family members are forbidden from making political statements of any kind and must remain unbiased. Kensington Palace declined to comment on Kate’s decision to wear green instead of black in solidarity with other women. Last year, Kate wore a black Alexander McQueen gown with printed flowers.

The dress code is similar to other red carpets, most notably the Golden Globes, when women and men both showed their support for gender equality and human rights for women.

Margot Robbie, Jennifer Lawrence, Angelina Jolie and almost every other major celebrity wore black on the red carpet tonight, which has been a dominant theme at awards shows in the wake of the Time's Up and #MeToo movements after the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke last fall.

There was considerable discussion online and on television about the Duchess of Cambridge’s decision to forego black on the red carpet as the Time's Up movement is not aligned with a particular political party.

British TV presenter Piers Morgan wrote on Twitter “Duchess of Cambridge being abused by 'feminists' on Twitter for not wearing a black dress at tonight's #BAFTAS Apparently, she's not allowed to exercise HER feminist right to wear whatever colour dress she chooses.”

Others said that it was a missed opportunity for Kate, and argued that wearing black was not a political statement but rather simply an affirmation of women’s rights.

Kate accessorized her gown with stunning emerald and diamond earrings, which she donned previously in New York when she and Prince William attended the 600th anniversary benefit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art of their Alma mater St Andrews University.

Princess Kate accompanied William, who is president of BAFTA, and also wore a glittering matching emerald and diamond necklace to the Awards ceremony.

"Catherine and I are extremely pleased to be here amongst you all this evening," William said at tonight's event. "The Film Awards are just one part of BAFTA's activity. I have been privileged over the years to experience first-hand the impact of its work in the United Kingdom, in Los Angeles, New York and Asia -- work ranging from scholarships and supporting new talent, through to masterclasses with the very best in the film industry -- many of whom are here this evening."

"Your support of BAFTA -- sharing skills, expertise and time -- means we can ensure the growth of creative talent in the UK and internationally. It ensures that we can do much, much more to help talented people from all backgrounds to be given the opportunity to succeed," he added.

Earlier in the day more than 200 women signed on to a new fund to support women who experience abuse and harassment at work. Emma Watson donated $1 million to the campaign, while Kate Winslet, Keira Knightley and Kristen Scott Thomas are all signatories to the open letter.

"As we approach the BAFTAs, our industry's time for celebration and acknowledgement, we hope we can celebrate this tremendous moment of solidarity and unity across borders by coming together and making this movement international," the letter states.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Saturday
Feb172018

Three billboards in London ask hard questions about Grenfell tower fire

Carl Court/Getty Images(LONDON) -- Three large billboards pulled by vans snaked through the British capital Thursday afternoon. The words on the stark red backdrops read:

“71 dead.”

“And still no arrests?”

“How come?”

The banners were inspired by the 2017 film “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri," about a woman campaigning for police to find the culprit responsible for her daughter’s rape and murder.

Last June, at least 71 people were killed as a devastating fire ravaged a tower block in West London. A block of public housing flats entrenched in Britain’s wealthiest neighborhood of Kensington and Chelsea, the burning tower became an iconic symbol of inequality in London.

In the initial days following the tragedy, the council responsible for the area was harshly criticized for its slow response and for having possibly neglected safety standards that could have prevented the fire from taking place.

After several initial reviews into fire safety and building materials, the Metropolitan Police -- the force responsible for Greater London –- announced a criminal investigation into the fire. In a public notice the police said that they had “reasonable grounds” to suspect that both the council and the building management company may have committed corporate manslaughter.

In January 2018 the Metropolitan Police requested more than $50 million from the UK Home Office to cover the costs of the investigation, one of the most expansive and complex inquiries in the force’s history, involving around 250 officers and staff. More than 30 million documents and more than 1,000 statements have been taken from witnesses so far.

Given the scale of the inquiry, reaction to the "Three Billboards" campaign through London was mixed online.

Film director Ken Loach, known for his work exploring social issues through his films, praised and promoted the campaign as a way to refocus public attention on the issue in order to push for accountability.

The Secret Barrister –- an anonymous legal commentator who has cautioned against prosecution to satisfy public anger -- replied to Loach's tweet, calling the three-billboard display "antagonism" that would help no one.

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