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Thursday
Nov162017

Secretary of Defense Mattis: 'Opportunity for talks' if North Korea stops testing, developing and exporting nuclear weapons

US Department of Defense(WASHINGTON) -- There could be an "opportunity for talks" between the United States and North Korea, Secretary of Defense James Mattis said Thursday, if North Korea halts its nuclear tests, development and exports.

Speaking to reporters during a trip to visit U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, Mattis said that "as long as they stop testing, stop developing, they don't export their weapons, there would be opportunity for talks."

But on Thursday, Chief Pentagon spokesperson Dana White gave a briefing in which she could not speculate on an apparent sudden pause in North Korea's nuclear activities.

"Our policies remain to have the verifiable, irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," White said. "So it's a diplomatic effort. We'll continue to support our diplomats and ensure that they can negotiate from a position of strength."

"I think it's perilous to predict anything about what North Korea does or doesn't do," she added. "But we're continuing to monitor the situation."

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Thursday
Nov162017

Australian police seize $186 million worth of cocaine on yacht

Ben185/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW SOUTH WALES, Australia) -- More than 1,500 pounds of cocaine, worth an estimated $186 million, were seized from a yacht in the state of New South Wales, Australian police said.

Three men were also arrested in Australia as part of a multi-agency investigation into drug trafficking, according to the Australian Federal Police.

Investigators tracked the yacht as it traveled from the South Pacific bound for New South Wales. When it reached Lake Macquarie, in New South Wales, authorities boarded the vessel and arrested a 68-year-old man, police said.

A 47-year-old man was taken into custody at a hotel in the nearby Warners Bay area of Lake Macquarie, and a third man, 63 years old, was arrested at a home in nearby Islington, according to police.

When police boarded the vessel, they found “a large commercial quantity of cocaine concealed within the hull” -- believed to amount to 1,543 lbs. of cocaine with an estimated potential street value of $186 million, police said.

Forensic officers are continuing to take apart the boat, as well as examine and test the cocaine, according to police



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Thursday
Nov162017

More French women are reporting incidents of sexual misconduct 

claudiodivizia/iStock/Thinkstock(PARIS) -- The fallout from the Harvey Weinstein scandal has been reverberating far beyond the United States’ borders, and in France, where male chauvinism is ingrained in the culture, the allegations of sexual misconduct have inspired women here to speak out.

Reports of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment in France rose 25 percent in October compared to the same month a year ago, a spokesman for the French interior ministry told ABC News.

In the wake of the #MeToo hashtag started by actress Alyssa Milano in the United States, French women invented a hashtag of their own to speak up about sexual harassment.

#Balancetonporc, which translates to “Expose your pig,” went viral as thousands of French women posted stories of inappropriate sexual behaviors and abuse. According to the French research institute Odoxa, 335,300 tweets with the hashtag #balancetonporc were posted in just five days. Seventeen thousand of them were testimonies of sexual aggression and harassment.

“In recent years in France, we have seen female journalists and politicians speaking up about sexual abuse,” Alice Debauche, an associate professor of sociology at Strasbourg University who specializes in violence against women, told ABC News. “But what we are seeing is unprecedented.”

The fact that famous actresses kicked off the Weinstein scandal has resonated in France, Debauche said.

“Women feel like they know these actresses by watching their movies and seeing them on the cover of magazines. There is sentiment of proximity,” she said. “Women identify themselves to actresses much more than to politicians, intellectuals or anonymous females.”

The recent increase in reports of sexual assault and harassment show that French women are trying to change cultural norms.

“Filing a complaint is always an obstacle for victims,” Debauche said. “It shows that they are feeling empowered to come forward after the campaigns on social media.”

According to Claire Ludwig, a member of the French feminist organization “Stop Street Harassment,” there is definitely a connection between the rise in reports and the numerous sexual misconduct stories of the past few weeks.

“This demonstrates that we are on the right path,” Ludwig said. “Fear is switching from the victim’s side to the aggressor’s.”

In a study published last year, the French Institute for Demographic Studies said an estimated 62,000 women in France are victims of at least one rape or attempted rape each year. Additionally, the study said that around 580,000 women are victims of sexual violence every year in France.

“Authorities need to extend this ongoing cultural debate through information, prevention and education campaigns," Debauche said. “Otherwise it might be short-lived.”

The massive wave of sexual harassment and assault stories in France is having political and legal repercussions, too.

French President Emmanuel Macron said during a television interview last month that he had begun the procedure to strip Harvey Weinstein of France’s highest award, the Legion of Honor. “His actions lack honor,” Macron said.

The ongoing debate in France amid the Weinstein scandal might also lead to changes in the law.

Marlène Schiappa, France’s minister for gender equality, wants to fine men for catcalling women in public.

A task force of legal professionals, policemen and politicians are working to define street harassment. The proposed law is expected to be presented next year.

“The creation of a legal framework to denounce street harassment is a victory for us,” Ludwig said. But she believes that the new law will be very hard to enforce. “Sexual harassers will have to be caught 'in the act' by police officers in order to be fined,” she said. “Is the government planning to put a police officer behind every woman on the streets of France?”

Schiappa admitted in a newspaper interview that “we know that policemen won’t be able to fine every acts of street harassment.”

“Street harassment is a cultural fight,” Schiappa said. “This law will open a public debate and change attitudes.”

The question of France's child sex laws is also on the table, after two recent separate controversial cases where men were acquitted of raping two 11-year-old girls because authorities could not prove coercion.

A minimum age of sexual consent does not currently exist in France, and the French government is now drafting a bill to say that sex with children under a certain age is by definition coercive.

France's justice minister received criticism after suggesting in a radio interview Monday that 13 could be the age of consent.

Establishing a legal age of consent is part of pending bill that will be presented next year to address sexual violence and harassment in France.



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Thursday
Nov162017

Prince William releases first-ever online code of conduct to combat cyberbullying

Tolga Akmen/WPA Pool/Getty Images(LONDON) -- Prince William announced recommendations Thursday for combating cyberbullying after convening a task force of leading tech companies to look at the issue.

The online code of conduct, called "Stop, Speak, Support," is the first in the world of its kind. Its aim is to create a safer space online for children and give them online resources if they feel threatened or lost.

William, 35, brought together the world’s leading tech firms -- including Google, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat -- as part of the Royal Foundation's task force on the prevention of cyberbullying. The task force, which first convened in May 2016, also included parents, children and representatives from children's charities.

The campaign will work with tech giants Facebook and Snapchat to initiate a trial program to support victims of cyberbullying and implement safety guidelines for online users.

The tech firms that are part of the task force have also agreed to make changes, William announced in his speech Thursday.

"The technology company members of the task force have agreed to adopt new guidelines to improve the process for reporting bullying online and to create clearer consequences for those who behave unacceptably," he said.

The online code of conduct includes a website where kids can go for support. The website teaches children to stop participating when they see negative comments, speak out to adults and/or report the bullying to the social media platform, and to support the person being bullied.

Kensington Palace on Wednesday released a moving video of William speaking with a mother who lost her son to suicide and a teen girl who attempted suicide after being the victim of cyberbullying.

"I started to self-harm as a way to cope, to make me feel better. And then I decided that I couldn't take this anymore and I tried to end my life," Chloe, who was cyberbullied at the age of 13, told William during their conversation at Kensington Palace.

In the video, William praised the women for their bravery and told them, "I only wish that neither of you had gone through what you've gone through."

"I think it is worth reminding everyone what the human tragedy of what we are talking about here," William said. "It isn't just about companies and about online stuff. It's actually real lives that get affected."

William said he became particularly interested in how social media can affect children after becoming a father to Prince George, 4, and Princess Charlotte, 2. William and Princess Kate are expecting their third child next April.

William also became interested in this cause through his work as an air ambulance pilot, where he witnessed and responded to many young men in despair and on the verge of suicide. After hearing a story of a little boy who killed himself due to online abuse, William vowed to get involved himself.

"Through my work on mental health, I have spent time getting to know parents and children for whom the impact of online bullying has been devastating," William said. "And as a parent myself, I understand the sense of loss and anger of those particular families who have lost children after they were the targets of campaigns of harassment."

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Thursday
Nov162017

Police: Grenfell Tower fire killed 71 people, including a stillborn baby

Carl Court/Getty Images(LONDON) -- The Grenfell Tower fire killed a total of 71 people, including a stillborn baby, London’s police said on Thursday after recovering and identifying all those believed to have died in the blaze.

In June, London’s Metropolitan Police estimated that about 80 people had died in the fire, which started on June 14 just before 1 a.m. local time.

Since then, police said they have searched every apartment on every floor and every communal area of the 24-story building and examined 15.5 metric tons of debris on each floor. The search operation is not expected to end until early December, but the police said it is very unlikely that anyone remains inside Grenfell Tower -- and all those reported missing have been found.

“I cannot imagine the agony and uncertainty that some families and loved ones have been through whilst we have carried out our meticulous search, recovery and identification process,” Metropolitan Police Commander Stuart Cundy said in a statement.

Detectives used CCTV footage to identify the residents who escaped the tower. The videos show that 223 people escaped Grenfell Tower that night and survived. Police believe that 293 people were inside at the time of the fire, while a number of residents weren't home.

"The human cost and terrible reality of what took place at Grenfell Tower affects so many people,” said Cundy. "Our criminal investigation is continuing, and we are determined to do all we can to find the answers that so many people so desperately want."

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Wednesday
Nov152017

Tillerson 'deeply concerned' about violence against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar

iStock/Thinkstock( NEW YORK ) -- Secretary of state Rex Tillerson stated that he is “deeply concerned” about the continuing atrocities involving the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. His comments came during a press conference with Burmese De-Facto civilian head of state, Aung San Suu Kyi, on Wednesday in Myanmar.

The ethnic group has faced oppression in the predominantly Buddhist area for years. Since the August 25 attacks by Arakan Rohingyan Salvation Army on security forces and Muslim minorities, over 600,000 Rohingyan have fled to Bangladesh. An unknown number from multiple ethic groups remain internally displaced with limited access to food, water and shelter.
 
As a result, Tillerson announced an additional $47 Million in humanitarian assistance for refugees, bringing the American response to the Rakhine State crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh to more than $87 million since August of 2016.

Last week, the United Nations Security Council slammed called upon the government of Myanmar to ensure no further excessive use of military force in Rakhine State, to restore civil administration and apply rule of law, and to take immediate steps in accordance with their obligations and commitments to respect human rights.

In a report on its Facebook page, the Myanmar Military cleared itself of any role in the abuse of the Rohingya, reporting that the atrocities are at the hands of ARSA Bengali terrorists. Human rights organization Amnesty International has slammed the military’s report, labeling it an attempted “whitewash” of the injustices against the Rohingya Muslim minority.

Tillerson calls upon Myanmar’s civilian government and military to conduct a “full, effective, and independent investigation” into the atrocities -- an investigation that Tillerson assures “The United States strongly supports.”

When asked if Tillerson and the State Department would follow the United States Congress recommendation to use the term "ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya, Tillerson said "we're evaluating the criteria and the information available to us, and we'll make a determination on that probably after I return."

Secretary Tillerson said he believes that the Rohingya crisis is a test for Myanmar’s new government. “Myanmar's response to this crisis critical to determining the success of its transition to a more democratic society. The key test of any new democracy is how it treats its most vulnerable and marginalized populations.”

Last Week, Suu Kyi neglected to answer questions regarding the conflict while attending the Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN) summit in Manila, Philippines. During the press conference, the de facto civilian leader of Myanmar said that she watches her statements in an effort to avoid further instability in the region, "We mustn't forget that there are many different communities in the Rakhine, and if they are to live together in peace and harmony in the long term, we can't set them against each other. We cannot make the kind of statement that drive them further apart."

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Wednesday
Nov152017

Trump administration to reverse ban on elephant trophies from Africa 

Ingram Publishing/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The Trump administration plans to allow hunters to import trophies of elephants they killed in Zimbabwe and Zambia back to the United States, reversing a ban put in place by the Obama administration in 2014, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official confirmed to ABC News Wednesday.

Even though elephants are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, a provision in the act allows the government to give permits to import these trophies if there is evidence that the hunting actually benefits conservation for that species. The official said they have new information from officials in Zimbabwe and Zambia to support reversing the ban to allow trophy hunting permits.

"Legal, well-regulated sport hunting as part of a sound management program can benefit the conservation of certain species by providing incentives to local communities to conserve the species and by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation," a Fish and Wildlife spokesperson said in a statement.

This change only applies to elephants in those two countries but questions about using game hunting to generate money for conservation efforts also came up during the controversy after Cecil the lion was killed in Zimbabwe in 2015.

The government has not actually announced this policy change yet but it was reportedly announced at a wildlife forum in South Africa this week, according to Safari Club International, which filed a lawsuit to block the 2014 ban.

It's unclear how the current political situation in Zimbabwe could affect this decision, but a blog post from the president of the Humane Society points out that poaching has been a problem in Zimbabwe over the years and that the hunting industry there faces corruption issues.

A notice regarding this change will be posted in the Federal Register on Friday with more specifics on what new information justifies the changes.

The finding applies to elephants hunted in Zimbabwe on or after January 21, 2016, and on or before December 31, 2018, and elephants hunted in Zambia during 2016, 2017 and 2018 for applications that meet all other applicable permitting requirements, according to Fish and Wildlife spokesperson.

Savanna elephant populations declined by 30 percent across 18 countries in Africa from 2007 to 2014, according to the Great Elephant Census published last year, which put their remaining numbers at just over 350,000.

The elephant population declined six percent overall in Zimbabwe but dropped by 74 percent within one specific region. Elephants saw "substantial declines along the Zambezi River," in Zambia while other areas of that country were stable, according to the census.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has been talking with wildlife officials in Zimbabwe since the ban was announced in 2014. Since then, Zimbabwe officials have stepped up efforts to combat poaching, established a system to report financial benefit from American hunters, and provided more information on how officials establish hunting quotas, according to the text of the federal register notice that will be posted Friday.

The census reported around 82,000 elephants in Zimbabwe. Wildlife officials set annual quotas limiting hunting there to 500 elephants in different areas.

Elephant hunting has been banned in Zambia several times over the years due to declining population size but was re-established in 2015 after surveys found a larger population in some areas. Zambia is home to some 22,000 elephants, according to the census.

Tourists can hunt elephants on private game ranches or specified areas in Zambia, many of which are on the outskirts of national parks. Zambian officials also carry out anti-poaching efforts and manage elephant hunting through permits and quotas, according to the Federal Register notice. In 2016, 30 elephants were allowed to be killed there as trophies but the government reported that only 12 males were killed, according to the notice.

Fees paid by hunters are also used to fund the country's conservation efforts.

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Wednesday
Nov152017

Scientists discover Earth-sized planet that 'could potentially sustain life'

Tokarsky/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A newly discovered Earth-sized planet that "could potentially sustain life" is poised to become Earth's closest stellar neighbor in a cosmic "blink of the eye," scientists at the European Southern Observatory announced in a press release Wednesday.

Ross 128 b is an exoplanet currently located 11 light-years from our solar system, but it is moving closer and is predicted to become Earth's closest stellar neighbor in 79,000 years, scientists said. It is currently the second-closest temperate planet to Earth, after Proxima b.

Every 9.9 days, Ross 128 b orbits a red dwarf star known as Ross 128. Ross 128 is relatively quiet, cool and has just over half the surface temperature of the sun, scientists said, which could make Ross 128 b conducive to life. The star Ross 128 is part of the constellation of Virgo.

"Many red dwarf stars, including Proxima Centauri, are subject to flares that occasionally bathe their orbiting planets in deadly ultraviolet and X-ray radiation. However, it seems that Ross 128 is a much quieter star, and so its planets may be the closest known comfortable abode for possible life," ESO scientists said in the press release.

A research team at the La Silla Observatory in Chile used the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) to locate Ross 128 and Ross 128 b. Their full findings were published in the scientific journal Astronomy and Astrophysics on Nov. 8.

More research is needed to determine if Ross 128 b has all of the conditions to sustain life, scientists said, and they plan to use ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope to explore the planet's atmosphere.

"While the scientists involved in this discovery consider Ross 128b to be a temperate planet, uncertainty remains as to whether the planet lies inside, outside, or on the cusp of the habitable zone, where liquid water may exist on a planet’s surface," scientists added.

ESO also released a video about the new planet's significance Wednesday.

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Wednesday
Nov152017

Pope Francis sticks with popemobile instead of $200K Lamborghini 

Hornet83/iStock/Thinkstock(VATICAN CITY) -- Billionaires, get out your checkbooks. A one-of-a-kind Lamborghini -- blessed and signed by Pope Francis -- is coming to auction soon.

The Italian sportscar maker designed and built a special Huracan for the pope, who officially received it at the Vatican Wednesday with Lamborghini executives in tow. The donated car was painted to replicate the Vatican's flag colors, complete with papal-gold accents on the hood, roof and doors. Pope Francis smiled as he signed "Francesco" with a black marker on the car.

The Huracan RWD Coupe starts at $200,000.

Sotheby’s will auction off the sportscar, the Vatican said in a statement. The money raised will go toward several charities the pope has selected, including one that helps Christians who are living as refugees in Kurdistan to return to their communities in Iraq.

The pope, who prefers to be driven around in the modest popemobile, will not take the pricey Lamborghini for a joy ride before the May 12, 2018, auction.



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Wednesday
Nov152017

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe 'confined to his home' as military seizes control

Rainer Lesniewski/iStock/Thinkstock(HARARE, Zimbabwe) -- Zimbabwe's military apparently seized control of the southern African nation overnight, deploying tanks to the capital, taking control of the state-run broadcaster and confining longtime leader Robert Mugabe to his residence.

An established Zimbabwean journalist, who spoke to ABC News on condition of anonymity, said there is an increased military presence in Harare, with tanks stationed on the outskirts of the city center. The streets were quiet early Wednesday, but overnight Tuesday into Wednesday the journalist said he heard the sound of heavy artillery firing from the military vehicles.

Meanwhile, soldiers are inside the state broadcaster's headquarters and have told employees there to not be afraid, that "we are here to protect you" and to continue their work as usual, the journalist told ABC News.

The journalist noted that Mugabe has had strained relations with the army in recent months, and this activity is an indication of that. Officials, journalists and residents alike are not sure what to make of it, he added.

It's uncharted waters for Zimbabweans. Mugabe, 93, has led the country since its independence in 1980, making him the world's oldest head of state. Despite his age and concerns over his health, Mugabe so far has showed no signs of relinquishing his grip on power.

In December of last year, Zimbabwe's ruling party confirmed Mugabe as its sole candidate for the 2018 election.

Though the ongoing situation bears many hallmarks of a coup d'etat, Zimbabwe's army said on state-run media early Wednesday that "this is not a military takeover" and that the president and his family are "safe and sound."

"We are only targeting criminals around him who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country, in order to bring them to justice. As soon as we have accomplished our mission, we expect that the situation will return to normalcy," Maj. Gen. S.B. Moyo, spokesman for the Zimbabwe Defense Forces, said in a statement on the state broadcaster.

"To both our people and the world beyond our borders, we wish to make it abundantly clear that this is not a military takeover of government. What the Zimbabwe Defense Forces is doing is to pacify a degenerating political, social and economic situation in our country, which if not addressed may result in a violent conflict," he added.

Moyo urged other security services to "cooperate" with the army "for the good of the country," and warned that "any provocation will be met with an appropriate response."

As the political turmoil continued to unfold Wednesday, it remained unclear whether Mugabe was still in power.

The president of neighboring South Africa, Jacob Zuma, said he spoke with Mugabe on Wednesday morning, who told him he was "confined to his home but said that he was fine." Zuma is sending "special envoys" to meet with Mugabe and the Zimbabwean army "in light of the unfolding situation," according to a press release from the South African presidency.

The whereabouts of Mugabe's wife, Grace Mugabe, were unknown Wednesday.

The U.S. Embassy in Zimbabwe issued an advisory Tuesday night, urging all employees to stay home the following day and warning American citizens in the southern African nation to shelter in place "as a result of the ongoing political uncertainty."

"U.S. government personnel have been instructed to shelter in their residences Wednesday night and work remotely from home. The embassy will be minimally staffed and closed to the public," the U.S. embassy said in its statement. "U.S. citizens in Zimbabwe are encouraged to shelter in place until further notice. Please monitor news and embassy notifications."

The United States in 2003 imposed targeted sanctions, a travel ban and an asset freeze against Mugabe and his close associates, citing the Zimbabwean government's human rights abuses as well as evidence of rigged elections.

U.K. Acting Ambassador to Zimbabwe Simon Thomas confirmed in a video message posted to Twitter that the Zimbabwean military remained deployed at "strategic locations" around the capital Wednesday morning. Thomas advised British nationals in and around Harare to "stay at home, stay in your hotel room, wait until things settle down a little bit."

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