BEIJING, China (China Daily) — Officials in Beijing and Moscow remain in close contact over a potential visit by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to China, which was initially due to take place this autumn, says China’s ambassador to Russia, Zhang Hanhui.
“The potential visit by Russia’s leader will strengthen various fields of bilateral practical cooperation, enhance international strategic coordination and benefit both peoples,” Zhang said on Saturday.
China and Russia helped one another during the most difficult period of the novel coronavirus pandemic, which added to the Sino-Russian comprehensive strategic partnership, Zhang said.
Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping have held four telephone conversations to discuss collaboration between the two countries throughout the pandemic, and the close contact between them underlined the strength of the relationship between Moscow and Beijing, Zhang said.
Russia’s ambassador to China, Andrey Denisov, said in an interview in May that despite the pandemic it was likely Putin would visit China in September.
“Although the coronavirus pandemic has hit the global economy and bilateral trade, the long-term positive trend of Sino-Russian trade will not change, and we are confident that the target of reaching $200 billion worth of trade turnover by 2024 will be accomplished,” Zhang said.
Japan ‘Twitter killer’ victims consented to death, lawyers argue
A Japanese man dubbed the “Twitter killer” for luring his victims on social media admitted in court Wednesday to murdering nine people, local media said.
But lawyers for Takahiro Shiraishi, 29, argued the charges should be reduced because the victims — who had expressed suicidal thoughts — gave their consent to be killed.
Shiraishi, who is also accused of dismembering his victims and storing body parts in coolboxes, did not contest nine counts of murder, saying they “are all correct”, public broadcaster NHK reported.
He is also facing rape charges, according to media reports.
Shiraishi is accused of using Twitter to contact victims aged between 15 and 26 who posted online about taking their own lives, telling them he could help them in their plans — or even die alongside them.
If convicted of murder, Shiraishi faces the death penalty, which is carried out by hanging in Japan.
But his lawyers want the charges against him reduced to “murder with consent”, which carries a prison sentence of between six months and seven years.
In an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun daily, Shiraishi said he disagreed with his lawyers and would tell prosecutors that he had “killed without consent”.
“There were bruises on the back of the victims’ heads. It means there was no consent and I did it so that they wouldn’t resist,” he said in comments published on Wednesday.
Shiraishi was detained three years ago by police investigating the disappearance of a 23-year-old woman who had reportedly tweeted about wanting to kill herself.
After she went missing, her brother apparently gained access to her Twitter account, and noticed a suspicious handle.
Police uncovered a grisly house of horrors behind Shiraishi’s front door on the morning of Halloween in 2017.
Nine dismembered bodies, with as many as 240 bone parts stashed in coolers and toolboxes, had been sprinkled with cat litter in a bid to hide the evidence.
Shiraishi told the Mainichi Shimbun he “didn’t plan on getting caught” and boasted of not being identified until his final killing.
More than 600 people lined up for 13 public gallery seats to observe Wednesday’s first hearing, NHK said.
Japan has the highest suicide rate among the Group of Seven industrialised nations, with more than 20,000 people taking their lives annually.
The suicide rate has been falling since it peaked in 2003, however.
Seagram heiress jailed for bankrolling sex cult
NEW YORK (AFP) — The heiress of the Canadian drinks empire Seagram was sentenced to more than six years in prison by a New York court Wednesday after pleading guilty in a sex trafficking scandal linked to a cult.
The 81-month sentence handed down to Clare Bronfman, 41, was seen as particularly stiff, since prosecutors had themselves only called for five years of incarceration.
Bronfman pleaded guilty last year to credit card fraud and harboring illegal immigrants on behalf of “self-help” group Nxivm, whose founder Keith Raniere was found guilty in June 2019 of having kept between 15 and 20 sex slaves for years.
Prosecutors said that Bronfman spent tens of millions of dollars supporting the group, known as Nxivm — pronounced “Nexium.”
“There can be little doubt that Raniere would not have been able to commit the crimes with which he was convicted were it not for powerful allies like Bronfman,” the prosecution said.
Her defense had hoped she would be able to avoid jail time and had called for a three-year suspended sentence.
Her lawyers said that even though she had pleaded guilty to credit card fraud and harboring illegal immigrants for the group, she did not know about the sexual abuse committed by Raniere in a group parallel to Nxivm called DOS, which was made up of “masters” and “slaves.”
They said she only knew of the beneficial side of the Albany, New York-based organization, which purported to teach classes for women’s self-empowerment.
Of the six people charged in the scandal that broke in 2018, Bronfman was the first to learn her sentence.
Prosecutors have requested life in prison for Raniere, who will find out his sentence on October 27.
Four others have pleaded guilty, including actress Allison Mack from the series “Smallville,” who admitted to two counts of racketeering in April 2019.
The dramatic story has been the subject of two screen adaptions: HBO’s recently released “The Vow” docu-series and “Escaping the Nxivm Cult,” a 2019 Lisa Robinson film focused on the testimony of a mother working to save her daughter from the organization.
China-Vietnam ties cited
The global spread of the epidemic has once again demonstrated that humanity faces a shared future, and only with solidarity and collaboration can mankind get through difficulties.
BEIJING, China (Xinhua) — Chinese President Xi Jinping said Tuesday that China and Vietnam have illustrated their profound “comradely and brotherly” friendship with concrete actions in the joint fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and fully demonstrated the unique advantages of Communist parties’ leadership and the socialist system.
Xi, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, made the remarks in a phone conversation with Nguyen Phu Trong, president of Vietnam and general secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) Central Committee.
Expressing great pleasure in talking with Trong over phone as people in both countries are celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival, Xi noted that in the battle against the coronavirus disease, the two parties and two countries have been supporting each other in tackling the current difficulties, and have made major achievements in COVID-19 control and prevention.
The global spread of the epidemic has once again demonstrated that humanity faces a shared future, and only with solidarity and collaboration can mankind get through difficulties, Xi said.
China attaches importance to exploring cooperation with Vietnam in vaccine production and other fields, and is ready to offer vaccines first to developing countries after they have been developed and put into use, Xi said.
China, he added, firmly opposes the politicizing, stigmatizing and labeling attempts by certain countries on the pretext of the pandemic, and is willing to work with other countries to promote the building of a global community of health for all.
Noting that China and Vietnam are linked by mountains and rivers and remarkably similar in ideology, development path, social system and values, Xi said it serves the fundamental interests of both countries and their people to maintain sound development of bilateral relations.
Xi noted that this year marks the 70th anniversary of China-Vietnam diplomatic ties, and that the relationships between the two parties as well as between the two countries have both reached a new historical starting point.
China-Vietnam cooperation in trade and other areas is manifesting a strong upward momentum despite the COVID-19 pandemic, in a clear demonstration of the resilience and potential of bilateral relations, Xi added.
With the profound changes unseen in a century gathering pace, China and Vietnam should adhere more steadfastly to the leadership of Communist parties and the socialist system, uphold the two parties’ high-level political guidance, and maintain inter-party exchanges of theoretical and practical experience, so as to deepen understanding of the basic rules in the socialist cause, Xi said.
The two sides, he added, should firmly push forward bilateral practical cooperation in the post-pandemic era, continuously unleash the potential for cooperation, and enhance the synergy between the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative and Vietnam’s “Two Corridors and One Economic Circle” plan, he said.
He also called for joint efforts to carry forward the traditional friendship between the two nations, cement the foundation of the friendly bond between the two peoples, and guide the youth generations in both countries to inherit and pass on the everlasting China-Vietnam friendship.
Gene-editing technology breakthrough reported
It has long been hoped that the challenge could be alleviated through animal organ transplants — a concept known as xenotransplantation.
China (Global Times) — An international team led by Chinese researchers has used gene-editing technology to produce “Pig 3.0” prototypes, a leap forward for life-saving organ transplants from animals to humans.
In a recent paper published in Nature Biomedical Engineering, researchers from China and the United States reported the successful production of pigs whose organs are more compatible with the human immune system and are free of active porcine endogenous retrovirus (PERV).
Globally, there is a huge gap between the number of people who need organ transplants and the number of organs available, said Yang Luhan, a corresponding author of the research as well as co-founder and chief executive officer of Qihan Biotech.
It has long been hoped that the challenge could be alleviated through animal organ transplants — a concept known as xenotransplantation.
The Pig 3.0 immunological and blood-coagulation compatibility with the human immune system was enhanced and PERV was eradicated. Engineered pigs also exhibit normal physiology and fertility.
In 2017, Yang and her team produced the first batch of live pigs free of PERV, setting the stage for xenotransplantation. In 2018, Pig 2.0 was born, addressing concerns about pig-to-human immunocompatibility.
Pigs have been especially promising candidates due to their similar size and physiology to humans. But one of the biggest safety concerns has been the fact that most mammals, including pigs, contain repetitive, latent retrovirus fragments in their genomes — present in all their living cells — that are harmless to their native hosts but can lead to disease in other species.
Shut up, Biden tells raging Trump
How many of you got up this morning and had an empty chair at the kitchen table because someone died of Covid?
CLEVELAND (AFP) — Democrat Joe Biden told a raging President Donald Trump to “shut up” in an opening debate that turned almost immediately into a shouting match 35 days ahead of the most tense US election in recent memory.
The debate in Cleveland, Ohio, was as bad-tempered as had been feared, with Trump leading the way in yelling over his challenger and the Fox News moderator Chris Wallace alike.
There was no handshake as the two men took the stage and while this was due to Covid-19 restrictions, the absence of the traditional greeting symbolized divisions through the country in the final countdown to 3 November.
Trump went as hard on 77-year-old Biden as he’d threatened to do, saying the “radical left” had the centrist Democrat “wrapped around their little finger.”
And he got personal, seeking to rile the Democrat by accusing one of his sons of corruption, and telling Biden that “there’s nothing smart” about the Democrat.
Biden, though, not only gave as good as he got — he launched the kind of attack on Trump that the billionaire president has rarely had to endure to his face.
“Liar,” “racist” and “clown” were just some of the missiles launched from Biden, who also branded Trump the “puppy” of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
At times, neither Biden nor Wallace could get a word in, as Trump loudly touted his economic record and went after Biden’s son Hunter.
At one point an exasperated Biden, who leads strongly in the polls, turned to Trump and said: “Will you shut up, man!”
That moment symbolized the strength of Biden’s performance in an arena where Trump’s campaign had for months been predicting he would crumble.
The Republican had even spread lurid conspiracy theories right up until the last minute that Biden would need drugs or an earpiece secretly providing answers to get through the night.
The anger-filled event did nothing to calm fears around the country that the presidential election, taking place in the middle of an ongoing coronavirus pandemic, could end in chaos.
Asked by Wallace whether they pledged to urge calm and refrain from declaring victory if the results are not immediately known 3 November, Biden said: “Yes.”
Trump, though, wouldn’t commit, saying that if he saw “tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can’t go along with that.”
And when asked if he condemned far-right armed militias like the Proud Boys group, Trump gave a cryptic reply: “Proud Boys — stand back and stand by.”
Direct to American people
Biden sought to tie Trump squarely to the Covid-19 pandemic that has claimed more than 200,000 lives in the United States, more than in any other country.
And he came with a visible plan to dodge the Trump rhetorical storm by frequently turning to face the cameras directly and addressing the tens of millions of people watching across the country.
“How many of you got up this morning and had an empty chair at the kitchen table because someone died of Covid?” Biden said, channeling his famed ability to show empathy for the suffering — something that Trump has long had difficulty in matching.
Mocking the 74-year-old Trump for one of his more notorious statements on supposed cures for coronavirus, Biden said: “Maybe you could inject bleach in your arm and that would take care of it.”
Before they even appeared for the first of their scheduled three 90-minute TV showdowns, Biden was capitalizing on bombshell revelations in The New York Times that the businessman managed to avoid paying almost any federal income taxes for years.
Trump — who has broken longtime presidential transparency by refusing to publish his tax returns — reportedly used loopholes to pay just $750 in federal tax during the first year of his presidency.
Hours before the Cleveland showdown, Biden published his own tax returns — and at the debate demanded that Trump do likewise.
Disney to cut 28,000 jobs
LOS ANGELES (AFP) — Disney said Tuesday it will cut 28,000 jobs from its US theme parks division, singling out California restrictions that have prevented the giant Disneyland resort from reopening due to the coronavirus crisis.
The cuts were needed in light of social distancing requirements and depressed demand caused by the pandemic, along with uncertainty on when the parks will recover, the Mouse House said in a press release.
“(A)s difficult as this decision is today, we believe that the steps we are taking will enable us to emerge a more effective and efficient operation when we return to normal” said Josh D’Amaro, chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products.
About two-thirds of the affected employees are part-time staff.
Drawing millions of tourists each year, Disneyland in Anaheim near Los Angeles is the world’s second-most visited theme park, after the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Orlando.
But unlike the Disney theme parks in Florida, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Paris, the Anaheim resort has so far been unable to reopen due to the Golden State’s Covid restrictions.
Uncertainty had been “exacerbated in California by the state’s unwillingness to lift restrictions that would allow Disneyland to reopen,” D’Amaro said.
Disneyland had originally been scheduled to reopen in July, but that was called off as local officials rolled back reopenings due to another coronavirus surge.
California’s 805,000 confirmed cases are now the most of any US state.
‘Help us reopen’
While the rate of new infections has since gone back into decline, and certain businesses are once again allowed to welcome customers back, theme parks remain shuttered in the nation’s most populous and richest state.
Last week, D’Amaro called on California Governor Gavin Newsom to “help us reopen” or risk the losses of tens of thousands of jobs.
“The longer we wait, the more devastating the impact will be to the Orange County and Anaheim communities,” he said, urging officials to “to treat theme parks like you would other sectors.”
The state has introduced a four-tier system for counties, with Orange County — where Disneyland is based — ranked in the second-highest category.
But even the handful of counties with “minimal” coronavirus are not yet permitted to reopen theme parks.
Earlier in the month, Disneyland joined Universal Studios and other theme parks in a statement demanding California officials set out the health criteria required for them to reopen.
Armenia: Turkey shot down plane
The two sides have defied calls for a ceasefire over Karabakh — an ethnic-Armenian enclave that broke from Azerbaijan in the 1990s.
YEREVAN, Armenia (AFP) — Armenia said Tuesday that a Turkish fighter jet had shot down one of its warplanes during heavy fighting with Turkey’s ally Azerbaijan, but Ankara fiercely denied the claim.
Direct Turkish military action against Armenia would mark a major escalation after three days of heavy fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces over the breakaway region of Nagorny Karabakh.
And the UN Security Council called on both sides for an immediate end to the fighting.
The two sides have defied calls for a ceasefire over Karabakh — an ethnic-Armenian enclave that broke from Azerbaijan in the 1990s — and are both claiming to have inflicted heavy losses on opposing forces.
Ankara has backed Azerbaijan in the conflict and on Tuesday the Armenian defence ministry said a Turkish F-16 flying in support of Baku’s forces had downed an Armenian SU-25 warplane.
Ministry spokeswoman Shushan Stepanyan said the Turkish jet was supporting Azerbaijani aviation bombing civilian settlements in Armenia when it shot down the Armenian plane, killing the pilot.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s top press aide called the claim “absolutely untrue.”
“Armenia should withdraw from the territories under its occupation instead of resorting to cheap propaganda tricks,” said the aide, Fahrettin Altun.
Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev said: “There is not a shred of evidence of Turkey’s participation in the conflict.” Ankara was giving only moral support, he insisted.
Armenia and Azerbaijan have been locked for decades in a territorial dispute over Karabakh and have blamed each other for sparking fierce clashes that erupted on Sunday and have since caused nearly 100 confirmed deaths.
Foreign powers including the United States and Russia have called for an immediate ceasefire and a return to negotiations over theq future of Karabakh, talks that have been stalled for years.
On Tuesday, the UN Security Council called on both sides to “immediately stop fighting”, according to a statement seen by AFP.
Earlier, both Azerbaijan’s Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan had vowed to continue fighting, their armies claiming to have dealt heavy blows to enemy forces.
The Armenian defence ministry said separatist forces in Karabakh had repelled Azerbaijani attacks along the frontline and that “the enemy suffered serious losses in manpower.”
2 California wildfires ravage wine region
CALIFORNIA (AFP) — Two California wildfires that ravaged Napa’s famous wine region and killed three people exploded in size Tuesday as firefighters faced a weeks-long battle to contain the blazes.
The so-called Glass Fire enveloping some of northern California’s world-famous vineyards has scorched 42,000 acres (17,000 hectares) and remains zero percent contained, despite the efforts of some 1,500 firefighters.
Celebrated Napa wineries such as Chateau Boswell and part of Castello di Amorosa have been lost to the flames, which reached the fringes of Santa Rosa — the largest town in neighboring Sonoma County.
Tens of thousands of residents have been evacuated from towns including the entirety of wine tourism destination Calistoga.
“It looks like a bomb went off,” 61-year-old resident Joe Ortega told the San Francisco Chronicle. “The trees go up like matches.”
Cal Fire official Jonathan Cox said 80 houses have been destroyed between the two counties.
Santa Rosa fire chief Tony Gossner said it would take weeks to bring the flames under control, warning “it’s going to be kind of long, and it’s going to be painful.”
Russia reports non-standard air leak on Space Station
MOSCOW, Russia (AFP) — Russia said Tuesday that astronauts had found an air leak in its section of the International Space Station (ISS), with a senior space official calling the air loss beyond expected levels.
The crew on the ISS — Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner and NASA astronaut Christopher Cassidy — have been searching for the air leak since August, first checking the US segment.
Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, said in a statement that after analysis and a search for the leak “it was established that the spot is located in the Zvezda (star) service module, which contains scientific equipment.”
It said a search was now underfoot to pinpoint the exact location, saying the situation “is not dangerous for the life and health of the ISS crew and does not prevent the ISS continuing manned flight.”
“It’s not critical in the near future,” said Sergei Krikalyov, the executive director of Russia’s manned space programmes, in a televised comment.
He said the ISS always has slight air loss due to the air purifying system.
“These leaks are predictable. What’s happening now is more than the standard leakage and naturally if it lasts a long time, it will require supplies of extra air to the station,” he said.
He said the crew were now resting but hoped to find the precise spot and fix the leak on Wednesday.