Iran brands Britain America’s ‘partner in crime’ over handling of Qassim Soleimani assassination 

Iran has branded the UK “a partner in crime” with the US over the killing of its top general as the Defence Secretary took “urgent measures” to protect the safety of British troops in the region.

Britain’s ambassador to Tehran was on Tuesday summoned to the Iranian foreign ministry where he was told comments by Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab about the death of Qassim Soleimani were “unacceptable”.

The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have urged Iran to “de-escalate” the growing crisis, but after Mr Johnson said the US was justified in killing Soleimani Tehran communicated its fury with Britain via ambassador Rob Macaire.

It came as Nato began withdrawing troops from Iraq to protect them…

Soul-searching in Venezuela as Juan Guaido seeks re-election

Nicolas Maduro was worried. His rival for the Venezuelan presidency, Juan Guaido, had appeared at an airbase in Caracas, flanked by national guardsmen, to declare that a coup was under way. Mr Maduro was on the telephone to Russia, asking his guardians for advice.

For that one heart-stopping moment in April, it appeared that Mr Maduro’s socialist dictatorship might be brought down by Mr Guaido, a charismatic young leader whose rise had been backed by the Trump administration.

Days later, it all looked very different.  

It soon became clear that the military would not switch sides, and a strident Mr Maduro promised to punish the instigators of the foiled coup attempt. 

The opposition scattered….

Quadriga creditors seek exhumation of founder Gerald Cotten’s body in bid to retrieve £122 million in cryptocurrency

Investors who lost money as a result of the collapse of cryptocurrency exchange QuadrigaCX are demanding the exhumation of the body of its founder, Gerald Cotten, who died last year, aged 30,  while on honeymoon in India.

Creditors’ lawyers are claiming the circumstances surrounding Mr Cotten’s death from complications related to Crohn’s disease are “questionable.”

He was the only person who had the passwords of the digital wallets to cryptocurrency accounts worth $163 million (£122 million) held by more than 100,000 users.

Attempts by the exchange to locate the money have proved unsuccessful.

Mr Cotten’s sudden death has fuelled a number of conspiracy theories on the internet including suggestions that he faked his own demise.

Miller Thomson LLP, lawyers acting on behalf of the creditors, have written to the  Canadian Mounted Police asking that they “conduct an exhumation and post-mortem autopsy on the body of Gerald Cotten to confirm both its identity and the cause of death given the questionable circumstances”.

The lawyers claim that  publicly available information related to both Mr Cotten and Quadriga highlights the need for certainty around the question of whether Mr Cotten is in fact deceased.”

Amid fears that the body could decompose, they have asked the exhumation is carried out swiftly.

Quadriga Fintech Solutions Corp, is currently undergoing bankruptcy proceedings in Toronto.

A report by auditors Ernst & Young in May found Mr Cotten had used aliases to create several accounts which he may have used to trade on the exchange.

 

The auditors also discovered that substantial amounts of money had been transferred to Mr Cotten’s personal holdings. E&Y did succeed in recouping approximately $25 million.

According to the auditors several other agencies, including the FBI, are also examining the collapse of the Quadriga.

Jennifer Robertson, Mr Cotten’s widow, said in a statement issued by her lawyer that she was heartbroken to learn of this request".

She added that her husband’s death should not be in doubt and that it was unclear how its confirmation "would assist the asset recovery process further".

Shinzo Abe cancels Japan-India summit amid citizenship bill violence

Japan’s prime minister cancelled a planned summit in India after a second day of violent unrest over the enactment of a controversial new citizenship law.

Clashes erupted between police and students in Delhi, a day after two people were shot dead in widespread protests in the north eastern state of Assam.

Narendra Modi’s government has said its Citizenship Amendment Bill, making it easier for non-Muslim minorities from neighbouring countries to gain India citizenship, will protect those persecuted from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

But thousands protested in Assam fearing it would encourage a wave of migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh. Elsewhere, the amendment has been criticised for undermining India’s secular constitution, and pushing Mr Modi’s Hindu first agenda, by not offering protection to Muslims.

Two died in the Assam clashes when police fired on mobs torching buildings and attacking railway stations in protest.

Shinzo Abe cancelled a trip to Assam scheduled for Sunday to highlight Japan’s aid and development work in the state.

“Both sides have decided to defer the visit to a mutually convenient date in the near future," Indian foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said.

Meanwhile police fired tear gas to disperse students demonstrating at Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia university. Protesters attacked cars in the capital, and several people were injured and taken to hospital.

Zakir Riyaz, a PhD student in social work, said the new law made a mockery of India’s religious openness.

He told Reuters: "It goes against the whole idea of a secular India.”

Police barricades were knocked down in the clashes and streets were strewn with shoes and broken bricks. An official at the university dispensary said that more than 100 students had been brought in with injuries but all had been discharged.

The United Nations human rights office voiced concern that the new law is "fundamentally discriminatory in nature", and called for it to be reviewed.

Opposition parliamentarians have threatened to challenge the new law in court.

Number of pregnant women detained for migration offences rises 52 per cent under Trump

The number of pregnant women sent to jail for migration offences has risen by 52 per cent under President Donald Trump, a government report has found.

The Government Accountability Office announced on Thursday that 2,098 pregnant women were jailed for immigration violations in 2018. Hundreds of them were held for weeks or longer.

The rise in detention of pregnant women came after the Obama-era policy of leniency towards expectant mothers was ended.

All US governments have detained pregnant women, but under Mr Obama the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) was instructed, in a 2016 memo, that pregnant women should “generally” be released from detention and that agents should pay attention to expectant mothers’ “particular needs and vulnerabilities.”

That was reversed in December 2017, when the then-acting director of ICE, Thomas Homan, issued a new directive that officials said “ended the presumption of release for all pregnant detainees.”

During the next year, the number of detained pregnant women rose to 2,098.

Most pregnant women taken into custody last year had no prior criminal record, according to the report.

Most were apprehended by border agents at or near the southern border – a sign that many were among the thousands of Central American families seeking asylum.

The report said the majority of pregnant detainees were held for 15 days or less, but 615 were held for longer than that. That marks a sharp increase from the last year of the Obama administration, in which 92 pregnant women were held for more than 15 days.

Lawyers for pregnant migrant women argue that it is unfair to force women to remain in jail, fighting nausea and other pregnancy symptoms, while pleading their asylum cases.

The number of immigrant women who have miscarried in ICE detention has nearly doubled under Trump, according to a report in March from the Daily Beast.

Some of the women have fled domestic violence in Central America, while others were raped and became pregnant on their journeys through Mexico to the US border.

The report, which examined ICE enforcement from 2015 through 2018, said arrests and deportations rose overall, including increases in the number of migrants who are elderly, transgender and disabled.

‘Mega fire’ forms north of Sydney blanketing Australia’s biggest city in hazardous smoke

Several Australian bushfires have combined to form a "mega fire" that is burning out of control across a swathe of land north of Sydney, authorities said Friday, warning they cannot contain the blaze.

New South Wales Rural Fire Service deputy commissioner, Rob Rogers said "there are probably more than eight fires in all" that have merged to form what has been dubbed a "mega fire" in an area of national park forest.

The blaze was burning across 300,000 hectares – an area roughly 60 kilometres (37 miles) across – within an hour’s drive of Australia’s largest city, which was again subsumed in a soup of toxic smoke.

"There is just fire that whole way" said Rogers, who added that firefighters could do little more than get any residents out, protect property and hope for an end to fire-friendly dry and windy conditions.

We "cannot stop these fires, they will just keep burning until conditions ease, and then we’ll try to do what we can to contain them," he told public broadcaster ABC.

"The best thing we can do is try to protect property and people as much as we can."

Prolonged drought has left much of eastern Australia tinder-dry and spot fires have raged every day for the past three months.

Bushfires are common in Australia but scientists say this year’s season has come earlier and with more intensity due to a prolonged drought and climatic conditions fuelled by global warming.

Dramatic footage of firefighters running from a wall of fire ripping through the tree canopy above them was captured overnight in Orangeville, less than 100 kilometres west of Sydney.

The local fire and rescue team that shot the images said no one was injured and the vehicles surrounded by the swirling embers also survived the blaze.

"The video was put up to demonstrate why you need to listen to the fire advisory system," the team from Ingleburn fire station said on Facebook.

"If your property is not prepared for the bushfire season and your (sic) not sure you are able or capable of defending your property if a fire approaches you need to leave straight away," they warned.

At a wildlife park in the area, 300 animals were evacuated.

A woman wearing a mask walks in the CBD as smokey haze blankets Sydney, Australia, 06 December 2019 Credit: REX

Walkabout Wildlife Park said it had shipped out lizards, dingoes, peacocks and marsupials, as firefighters battled more than 100 fires up and down the eastern seaboard.

"This fire has been doing some crazy things, so we have to be prepared," general manager Tassin Barnard told AFP.

New South Wales rural fire chief Shane Fitzsimmons said some US and Canadian firefighters had arrived to help out.

The specialists are expected to supervise waterbombing planes and heavy equipment used in creating fire containment lines.

"We are not only appreciative of their presence here today, but of their sacrifice," said Fitzsimmons – who has become a fixture on Australian television screens for weeks, updating the public on blazes in towns, national parks and backwaters.

"They are volunteering to sacrifice time from loved ones, from families, to give up that special time of the year around Christmas and New Year to come down here and lend us a hand," he said.

Firefighters hose down a burning woodpile during a bushfire in Werombi, 50km south west of Sydney, Australia, 06 December 2019 Credit: REX

More than 600 homes have been destroyed and six people have died since the crisis began in September.

That is many fewer than Australia’s deadliest recent fire season in 2009 when almost 200 people died, but 2019’s toll so far belies the scale of devastation.

An estimated two million hectares have burned – the size of some small countries – across a region spanning hundreds of kilometres (miles).

The fires have taken a toll in Sydney and other major cities, which have been blanketed in toxic smoke for weeks and occasionally sprinkled with snow-like embers.

Fitzsimmons said he could not "overstate the effect that this profound drought is having" as he warned of a long, painful summer ahead.

"There is an absolute lack of moisture in the soil, a lack of moisture in the vegetation… you are seeing fires started very easily and they are spreading extremely quickly, and they are burning ridiculously intensely."

Prince Andrew’s palace venture criticised over links to Chinese firm banned by US

The Buckingham Palace unit founded by Prince Andrew to support new entrepreneurs has been criticised for its partnership with a Chinese firm blacklisted by the US for human rights abuses.

The Chinese artificial intelligence giant iFlyTek is one of the highest profile partners of Pitch@Palace, with the firm’s chairman, Liu Qingfeng, sitting on its China Committee.

But critics, including US government agencies, say iFlyTek technology, such as its voice recognition equipment, is used in the persecution of China’s minority muslim community.

iFlyTek was added to the US Entity List last month, barring it from buying US-made technology after it was linked by Washington to Beijing’s alleged persecution…

Calls for hunting ban in France after pregnant woman killed by dogs while on forest stroll

French hunters are facing calls for a blanket ban this season after a pregnant woman was killed by dogs while a hunt with hounds was taking place nearby.

The body of Elisa Pilsarki, 29, who was walking her own dogs, was discovered on a path in the forest of Retz near the town of Villers-Cotterêts, northeast of Paris. 

She died after "several dog bites to the upper and lower limbs and the head," said local prosecutor Frederic Trinh.

Police are conducting tests on 93 dogs in an attempt to establish which of the dogs were behind the attack.

The woman, who was six months pregnant, was walking with five of her own dogs when the attack took place. 

An autopsy showed that the victim suffered dog bites to the head, torso and arms before and after death. Police said they had opened a manslaughter investigation.

The pack of dogs was hunting deer, according to local reports (file photo) Credit: Guilhem Baker

“No line of inquiry has been ruled out at this stage,” said the prosecutor, including the possibility she was attacked by stray dogs. “Numerous technical investigations will help determine the origin of the bites.”

Ms Pilarski’s partner Christophe, who was at work at the time, recounted how she had contacted him after taking out their dogs for a walk to say she was "worried as there were lots of dogs".

"It took me 45 minutes to get there," he told BFMTV. "I looked for her, I saw her four-wheel drive. I came across some hunting dogs, a rider as well," he said. 

"I called Curtis (one of their dogs) and he gave me a warning bark. When I looked down into the precipice, the ravine, I saw around 30 dogs coming towards me so I pulled back," he said without specifying whether the dogs were ones taking part in a local deer hunt.

Finally, he managed to approach Ms Pilarski who was not moving, had no clothes and had been "partially devoured".

He rushed to neighbours and phoned the police.

Brigitte Bardot, the former actress who is president of an animal welfare foundation, called on French authorities to immediately suspend "all hunt authorisation for this season" after the "shocking" death.

The French hunting association said in a statement that there was no evidence of "the involvement of hunting hounds in the death of this woman”.

It said that there were 30,000 hunting dogs in France in 390 companies. “These dogs are trained to hunt a particular animal and obey man in all circumstances,” it said.