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Cardi B files for divorce from rapper Offset

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In this file photo taken on 9 October 2018 American Cardi B and rapper Offset arrive at the 2018 American Music Awards in Los Angeles, California. (AFP)

After three tumultuous years of marriage, superstar rapper Cardi B filed for divorce Tuesday from her husband, rapper Offset, according to court records.

The couple, who married secretly in September 2017, had already been through a well-publicized rough patch that resulted in her announcing their break-up almost two years ago.

“We got a lot of love for each other but things just haven’t been working out between us for a long time,” she said in a December 2018 video on Instagram, where she has some 75.5 million followers.

“It’s just like, I guess we just grew out of love, but we’re not together anymore.”

But by about a year later the pair had reconciled and Cardi B, whose real name is Belcalis Marlenis Almanzar, told Vogue at the time that the split was over her husband’s infidelity.

“We have come to a clear understanding. For me, monogamy is the only way,” she said.

Cardi B is seeking custody of 2-year-old daughter Kulture and child support from Offset, whose real name is Kiari Cephus.

A hearing is set for November 4, according to the Fulton County court in Georgia, which is Offset’s home state.

Despite the turmoil in her personal life, Cardi B has rocketed to success from her humble origins in New York’s Bronx.

Her 2017 hit “Bodak Yellow” brought her fame, and 2020 chart topper “WAP” brought her controversy.

The song is an unadulterated celebration of female desire brimming with graphic sexual metaphors that left American conservatives hot and bothered.

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US seeks breakthrough on Sudan before election

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo poses for a picture with Sudan's top general Abdel Fattah al-Burhan in Khartoum on an August 2020 visit. (Yahoo)

With weeks to go before US elections, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is racing to make a breakthrough with Sudan that he hopes could also benefit Israel.

Sudan’s new civilian-led government is urgently seeking to be removed from the US blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism and is seen by Washington as open to becoming the latest Arab state to recognize Israel — a major cause for President Donald Trump’s electoral base.

“The United States has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to ensure that compensation is finally provided to victims of the 1998 Al-Qaeda-backed terrorist attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania,” Pompeo wrote in a letter to senators that was confirmed by congressional sources.

“We also have a unique and narrow window to support the civilian-led transitional government in Sudan that has finally rid itself of the Islamist dictatorship that previously led that country.”

Sudan is one of four nations listed as a state sponsor of terrorism by the United States, severely impeding investment as businesses worry of legal risks in dealing with the country.

The designation dates back to 1993 when then strongman Omar al-Bashir welcomed Islamists including Osama bin Laden, the founder of Al-Qaeda, which carried out the embassy attacks that claimed more than 200 lives.

Washington had been gradually reconciling with Bashir, who agreed to independence for mostly Christian South Sudan.

But Sudan was transformed last year when Bashir was deposed following a wave of youth-led protests. British-educated economist Abdalla Hamdok has become the new prime minister with a reformist mandate in a transitional arrangement with the military.

Question for Congress

Sudan’s delisting has been held up by a dispute over a package of some $335 million that Khartoum would pay as compensation to victims’ families and survivors of the embassy attacks.

Completing a compensation package “is one of the highest priorities for the Department of State,” a spokesperson said.

In his letter, Pompeo said it was “very likely” that an agreement on claims and on delisting Sudan from the terror blacklist would be completed by the end of October — days before the November 3 election.

But Congress also needs to pass legislation to provide Sudan immunity from further claims.

Senate Democrats are divided in part because the draft package would provide more money to US citizens than Africans, who made up the bulk of the victims — an arrangement some call discriminatory but others say is realistic and in keeping with precedent.

Some lawmakers also want further discussion on compensation for other attacks by Al-Qaeda, notably the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole off Yemen.

Why the sudden push by Pompeo, who in his more than two years as America’s top diplomat has rarely seemed preoccupied by Africa?

Sudan has hinted at a willingness to engage Israel, whose prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in February met Khartoum’s top general, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, in Uganda.

The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain last month recognized Israel, a coup for the Jewish state, and a signature foreign policy win for Trump.

Pompeo briefly stopped in Khartoum in late August in the first visit there by a US secretary of state in 15 years.

Hamdok demurred in his meeting with Pompeo, saying that his transitional government, which is set to rule until 2022 elections, did not have a mandate to normalize relations with Israel — in what would be a major about-face for a country until recently considered Islamist-run.

But some observers believe there can still be forward movement on relations with Israel, especially with the prospect of removal from the terror blacklist.

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Avigan maker to seek virus treatment approval after trials

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The maker of anti-influenza drug Avigan said Wednesday it will apply for the medication to be approved for treating coronavirus patients after trials showed it can shorten recovery time.

In a statement, manufacturer Fujifilm Toyama Chemical said its phase III trial in Japan, which began in March, was now complete.

Of 156 individuals described as “analysis targets”, the median recovery time was 11.9 days in those receiving Avigan compared with 14.7 for patients given a placebo.

Recovery was defined in the trial as when the virus was no longer detectable in PCR tests, and when symptoms related to temperature, oxygen saturation, and chest imaging were improved.

The “randomized, placebo-controlled, single-blind comparative study” did not produce any new safety concerns, Fujifilm said.

The firm said it would now “conduct a detailed analysis of the data obtained in this trial, and will work to file Application for Partial Changes to include the additional indication in as early as October.”

The drug, whose generic name is favipiravir, was approved for use in Japan in 2014, but only in flu outbreaks that are not effectively addressed by existing medications.

It is not available on the market and can only be manufactured and distributed at the request of the Japanese government.

Favipiravir, which can be taken orally as a pill, works by blocking the ability of a virus to replicate inside a cell.

Avigan has been shown in animal studies to affect fetal development, meaning it is not given to pregnant women.

Japan has heavily backed the drug, asking Fujifilm to ramp up production for use at home and offering to supply it for free to dozens of countries that have put in requests.

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Britain faces virus surge, WHO issues grim warning

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A waiter wearing a face mask or covering due to the COVID-19 pandemic, cleans a table outside a restaurant in Covent Garden, London on 22 September 2020. (AFP)

LONDONUnited Kingdom — The British government announced fresh steps Tuesday to try and stop a coronavirus surge in England, as the World Health Organization warned that new cases worldwide soared to almost two million last week in a grim new record.

The pandemic is showing no signs of abating — more than 31.3 million infections have been detected globally, with 965,000 deaths — and nations are scrambling to contain new outbreaks.

The World Health Organization said 1,998,897 new Covid-19 cases were registered around the world last week — a six-percent increase over a week earlier.

It was “the highest number of reported cases in a single week since the beginning of the epidemic,” the UN health agency said.

However the number of deaths declined by 10 percent over the previous week to 37,700.

The ramped-up response in Britain follows warnings that the country could see up to 50,000 cases a day by mid-October, and a month later exceed 200 deaths every day.

Britain also put on hold plans to allow the phased return of fans to sporting venues in England from October 1.

France and Spain are battling similar surges. Spain’s health minister on Tuesday called on Madrid residents to limit their movements and social contacts to the “essential”.

Nobel ceremony cancelled

Under new rules to come into force on Thursday, English pubs, bars and other hospitality venues will be required to close at 10 pm. Food and drink outlets will also be restricted to table service only.

Many nations in Europe were easing restrictions after largely overcoming initial outbreaks, but the resurgence of the virus has forced them to tighten curbs again.

The Nobel award ceremony in Stockholm has been cancelled for the first time since 1944 and will be replaced by a televised event, the Nobel Foundation said.

Rather than receiving their medals and diplomas from the king of Sweden in person, the laureates will receive their medals and diplomas in their home countries.

This year’s laureates, in the fields of medicine, physics, chemistry, literature, peace and economics, will be announced between October 5 and 12.

The Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in December will also be scaled back this year, the head of the Nobel Institute said.

This year’s ceremony will not be held as usual in the main room of Oslo’s City Hall, which can accomodate 1,000 guests, but in the auditorium of Oslo University, which can host a tenth of that number.

The banquet usually held in honour of the laureate the same evening has been cancelled outright.

Trump under pressure

The number of deaths in the United States was closing in on 200,000 on Tuesday, with infections in the world’s worst-hit nation approaching seven million.

Overall, the US accounts for four percent of the world’s population and 20 percent of its coronavirus deaths.

President Donald Trump has faced intense criticism of his handling of the crisis ahead of the November election.

Trump insisted Monday that the United States was “rounding the corner with or without a vaccine”.

But US Federal Reserve boss Jerome Powell will warn Tuesday that a full recovery in the world’s biggest economy “is likely to come only when people are confident that it is safe to reengage in a broad range of activities,” according to prepared remarks.

‘We are not the problem’

The pandemic has wiped out hundreds of thousands of jobs around the world, with millions living rough.

Hundreds of restaurant, bar and nightclub workers demonstrated in the southern Spanish tourist resort of Malaga on Tuesday to seek government help to tide over the crisis.

They held banners saying “We are not the problem” and “rescue now”.

“What we are seeking… is that steps be taken to save the hospitality sector. Many of my colleagues can’t make ends meet. We have to save this sector by whatever means because there are many families that depend on this,” Borja Ramos, a 37-year-old kitchen worker told AFP.

Until a vaccine is available, the options for treatment available to the less privileged are limited.

In Mexico, where more than 73,000 people have died, many are choosing to stay at home when they fall ill instead of seeking treatment at creaking public hospitals.

Jessica Castillo in Hidalgo state said she suffered for a week at home, and even had suicidal thoughts.

“I felt that the air I was breathing wasn’t entering my lungs,” said 43-year-old pastry chef, whose coronavirus recovery took more than a month.

“But I said: ‘If I go to hospital, I’ll never return’.”

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TikTok urges social media alliance against suicide content

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TikTok on Tuesday proposed an alliance with nine other social media platforms to work collectively and rapidly to remove suicide content, following an incident this month when a man killed himself on Facebook.

The Chinese-owned app said it had set out its proposal in a letter to the chief executives of Facebook, Instagram, Google, YouTube, Twitter, Twitch, Snapchat, Pinterest, and Reddit.

TikTok’s interim CEO Vanessa Pappas noted that each of the platforms had its own policies to take down harmful content and stop its distribution.

“However, we believe each of our individual efforts to safeguard our own users and the collective community would be boosted significantly through a formal, collaborative approach to early identification and notification amongst industry participants of extremely violent, graphic content, including suicide,” she wrote in the letter.

Pappas proposed a meeting of safety officers from each company to work out details of a collective approach, “which we believe will help us all improve safety for our users”.

TikTok launched its own investigation after clips of the man’s suicide were embedded into otherwise inoffensive videos shared widely on its global platform, which is especially popular with young teens.

The original video came from a Facebook livestream and showed an American man taking his own life, according to a warning TikTok sent to users on September 8.

Mea culpa

The video was uploaded to various social media platforms after a “coordinated attack” by people operating on the dark web, senior TikTok executive Theo Bertram told a British parliamentary hearing on Tuesday.

“Our hearts go out to the victim in this case. But we do believe that we can do things better in the future,” said Bertram, who is director of government relations and public policy for the company in Europe.

“We should now establish a partnership around dealing with this kind of content,” he said, noting the proposed alliance would build on existing collaboration by the social media firms against material showing sexual abuse of children.

Bertram refused to be drawn on TikTok’s travails in the United States, where a deal to restructure the platform involving Oracle and Walmart is in doubt, following threats by President Donald Trump to shut it down.

The executive insisted the platform, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, is free of interference by Beijing but regretted instances in the past where it has taken down content critical of the communist regime.

Such content included references to the plight of Uighur Muslims in the region of Xinjiang, and to the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.

“There is no political censorship of any kind,” Bertram, a former adviser to British prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, told the MPs.

“I accept there are things we’ve got wrong, but I believe TikTok overwhelmingly is a force for good.”

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Trump defiantly presses ‘UN’ sanctions on Iran

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President Donald Trump said Monday that he was imposing sanctions on Iranians for violating a UN arms embargo and demanded enforcement by US allies, who roundly dispute that he has any such authority.

Trump’s defiant move came on the very day that the United Nations was celebrating its 75th anniversary with a virtual summit full of calls for greater international cooperation.

The Trump administration said it was imposing sanctions on 27 individuals and entities under a UN resolution including Iran’s defense ministry, its Atomic Energy Organization, and Venezuela’s leftist leader Nicolas Maduro, whom Washington has been trying without success to topple.

“The United States has now restored UN sanctions on Iran,” Trump said in a statement.

“My actions today send a clear message to the Iranian regime and those in the international community who refuse to stand up to Iran.”

The Trump administration argues that it is enforcing a UN arms embargo that Iran has violated, including through an attack on Saudi oil facilities.

The embargo on conventional arms shipments to Iran is set to expire next month after the United States failed to win support for a new UN resolution.

The Trump administration says it is “snapping back” virtually all UN sanctions on Iran lifted under a 2015 nuclear accord with Tehran negotiated by former president Barack Obama.

Trump pulled out of the deal with fanfare in 2018 and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo again on Monday called it an “abject failure.”

But Pompeo argues that the United States is still a “participant” in the deal — with the right to impose sanctions for violations — as it was listed in the resolution that blessed Obama’s diplomatic effort.

Iran says no renegotiating

The legal argument has been rejected by almost the entire UN Security Council, with European allies of the United States saying the priority is to salvage a peaceful solution on Iran’s nuclear program.

“We have made it very clear that every member state in the United Nations has a responsibility to enforce the sanctions,” Pompeo told reporters when asked about European opposition.

“That certainly includes the United Kingdom, France, and Germany.”

A news conference to announce the move was scheduled at the very time that Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was speaking before a leading US think tank, in an appearance denounced by the Trump administration.

Zarif told the Council on Foreign Relations that the latest effort would have no “significant impact” on his country.

“The United States has exerted all the pressure it could on Iran, it has. It had hoped that these sanctions will bring our population to the knees. It didn’t,” Zarif said.

The United States already slapped sweeping unilateral sanctions on Iran when Trump withdrew from the nuclear accord, at a time that UN inspectors said Tehran was in compliance with the deal that was meant to offer it economic relief.

Some observers believe Trump’s real goal is to definitively kill the nuclear deal, which was staunchly supported by Joe Biden, his Democratic rival in November 3 elections.

Zarif said that Iran was not willing to renegotiate the original accord even if Biden wins.

“The United States must first prove that it’s worthy of the trust that is required for its re-entry into the deal before it sets conditions,” Zarif said.

Snub at UN

The Trump administration has been seeking to reduce Iran’s regional clout and boost its rivals Saudi Arabia and Israel.

It achieved a significant win earlier this month when the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain recognized Israel.

Pompeo addressed the media alongside cabinet colleagues and the US ambassador to the United Nations, Kelly Craft, who traveled to Washington rather than stay in New York for the world body’s 75th anniversary summit.

As world leaders sent recorded messages, the United States was represented by its acting deputy envoy, although Trump is expected to speak virtually to the annual General Assembly on Tuesday.

French President Emmanuel Macron, addressing the anniversary summit by video, urged a new focus on the United Nations to combat the world’s “disorder.”

“At a time when the pandemic is feeding fear of decline and a narrative of collective powerlessness, I want to say very clearly — faced with this health emergency, the climate challenge and the retreat on rights, it is here and now that we must act.”

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Judge halts WeChat download ban in US-China tech battle

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A US judge on Sunday blocked the government’s ban on WeChat downloads, hours before it was due to take effect in an ongoing technology and espionage battle between Washington and Beijing.

The Trump administration had ordered a ban on downloads of the messaging platform WeChat as well as hugely popular video-sharing app TikTok, both owned by Chinese companies. Both bans have now been suspended.

A California court ruling said it granted a “motion for a nationwide injunction against the implementation” of the government order on WeChat, with the judge citing concerns over free speech.

The order would have slowed WeChat down and made it unusable in the United States for video chats with family and friends, according to experts.

Owned by technology giant Tencent, WeChat has around 19 million active daily users in the United States.

When contacted by AFP, Tencent declined to comment on the ruling.

The ruling “is a short-term relief for the plaintiffs, who wanted to be sure that the app was not shut down tonight,” said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond.

If the government appeals and wins, the plaintiffs can appeal that decision. “The plaintiffs wanted to just buy time,” Tobias said. “It may be very soon that the president is no longer the president.”

As President Donald Trump seeks a breakthrough with voters to win a second term in the November 3 election, he has increasingly put national security and his aggressive stance toward China at the center of his campaign.

He regularly accuses Democratic opponent Joe Biden of weakness toward Beijing.

The president said Saturday that he had approved a deal allowing Silicon Valley giant Oracle to become data partner for TikTok to avert a shutdown of that app.

The deal, announced by the companies, includes Walmart as a commercial partner and would create a new US company named TikTok Global.

National security threat?

TikTok — owned by China’s ByteDance — confirmed the Oracle agreement, which came as companies raced against the Sunday deadline.

The US Department of Commerce on Saturday announced it was postponing the ban on TikTok downloads until September 27, due to “recent positive developments.”

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on Friday accused China of using the two apps “to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and the economy of the US.”

WeChat is “mostly used by Chinese visiting or working here or by Chinese-Americans staying in touch with their relatives,” said William Reinsch of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

That includes several hundred thousand Chinese students in the United States, who use it for daily online conversations.

Trump has often claimed, without providing evidence, that TikTok and WeChat are collecting user data for Beijing.

In early August, he gave ByteDance until September 20 to hand over TikTok’s US operations to an American company.

TikTok’s brand of short, quirky phone videos has become a global phenomenon, especially among young people, with 100 million users in the United States alone.

China on Saturday condemned US “bullying,” saying it violated international trade norms and that there was no evidence of any security threat.

China also launched its long-expected “unreliable entities list,” seen as a weapon for Beijing to retaliate against the United States.

The Trump administration has used its own “entity list” to shut Chinese telecom giant Huawei out of the US market, in addition to the recent moves against TikTok and WeChat.

US officials have described Washington’s crackdown as essential to safeguard against potential Chinese espionage through the platforms.

According to the US Treasury, the TikTok deal still needs to be finalized by the involved companies and approved by a federal national security committee.

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US delays ban on downloading TikTok until 27 September

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The US Department of Commerce announced Saturday (Sunday, Philippine time) that it is postponing until at least 27 September the ban on downloading the popular TikTok video-sharing app in the United States, which was to take effect on Sunday (Monday, Philippine time).

This decision was taken “in light of recent positive developments,” according to a press release issued shortly after Chinese-owned TikTok confirmed a proposed agreement on the management of its US operations involving Oracle as a technology partner and Walmart as a business partner.

TikTok announced Saturday it had prepared a deal with Oracle as its US technology provider and Walmart as a commercial partner, the day before a federal ban was to go into effect against the Chinese-owned platform.

“We are pleased that the proposal by TikTok, Oracle, and Walmart will resolve the security concerns of the US Administration and settle questions around TikTok’s future in the US,” a spokeswoman for TikTok, owned by China’s ByteDance, told AFP.

Oracle will become the “trusted technology provider, responsible for hosting all US user data and securing associated computer systems to ensure US national security requirements are fully satisfied,” the spokeswoman said. “We are currently working with Walmart on a commercial partnership as well.”

US President Donald Trump had earlier touted a “fantastic” deal between TikTok, Oracle and Walmart, saying he had given the deal his “blessing.”

“I have given the deal my blessing,” he said. “If they get it done, that’s great, if they don’t, that’s OK too.”

Trump has claimed for weeks that TikTok is collecting user data for Beijing, without ever providing evidence for his allegations.

In early August, he gave ByteDance until September 20 to hand over TikTok’s US operations to an American company.

And on Friday (Saturday, Philippine time) the Trump administration ordered a ban on downloads of the video-sharing app, as well as Chinese-owned messaging platform WeChat, escalating a fight with Beijing over technology.

Following TikTok’s announcement, the US delayed the ban on downloading the app.

Trump said the “security will be 100 percent” and that the companies will use separate cloud servers.

The deal will lead to the creation of a new company, headquartered in Texas, that will have “nothing to do with China” but will still be called TikTok, according to the president.

Trump also said that the companies involved will make a $5 billion contribution toward “the education of American youth.” He had previously said that the federal government deserved a cut of the deal for authorizing it.

TikTok’s spokeswoman only confirmed the creation of the new jobs and that the company’s global headquarters would remain in the US.

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Lebanon army surveys 85K building units post-Beirut blast

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A building near Beirut port with broken windows and wrecked furniture after the August 4 explosion that ravaged the Lebanese capital (AFP)

Lebanon’s army said Saturday it has carried out a survey of more than 85,000 dwellings, businesses, and other building units damaged by the massive Beirut port blast last month.

The August 4 explosion of hundreds of tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored at Beirut port killed more than 190 people, wounded thousands, and ravaged large parts of the capital.

“A total of 85,744 affected units have been surveyed,” the army said.

It had surveyed 60,818 housing units, 19,115 businesses, 1,137 heritage units, 962 restaurants, 82 teaching institutions, and 12 hospitals, among other unis.

It recorded almost 550,000 square meters (half a square kilometer) of glass ravaged, and well as 140,000 square meters of glass facades broken.

More than 108,000 doors had been damaged, the survey showed.

The army said it was still looking for nine people — three Lebanese, five Syrians and an Egyptian — still missing after the blast.

The survey “is considered to be sufficient, and there is, therefore, no need for further surveys by donor countries”, it said in a statement.

The army said the donors, non-governmental organizations, or volunteers could request access to the results.

On August 9, international donors pledged over 250 million euros (around $300 million) in emergency aid, in a video conference jointly organized by France and the United Nations.

French President Emmanuel Macron vowed in early September during a second visit to Lebanon since the blast to host a second conference in Paris in the second half of October.

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US Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg dies at 87

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US Supreme Court Justice and liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg died Friday, opening a crucial vacancy on the high court expected to set off a pitched political battle at the peak of the presidential campaign.

Affectionately known as the Notorious RBG, the 87-year-old Ginsburg was the oldest of nine Supreme Court justices.

She died after a fight with pancreatic cancer, the court announced, saying she passed away “surrounded by her family at her home in Washington, DC.”

Coming just 46 days before an election in which President Donald Trump lags his Democratic rival Joe Biden in the polls, the vacancy offers the Republican a chance to lock in a conservative majority at the court for decades to come.

Trump issued a statement praising Ginsburg as a “titan of the law,” but gave no indication whether he intended to press ahead with a nomination.

Accolades flowed in for the pioneering Jewish justice.

“Our Nation has lost a jurist of historic stature,” said Chief Justice John Roberts.

Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama said in a tweet that Ginsburg “fought to the end, through her cancer, with unwavering faith in our democracy and its ideals.”

Biden said she was “an American hero, a giant of legal doctrine, and a relentless voice in the pursuit of that highest American ideal: Equal Justice Under Law.”

In Washington, hundreds of tearful mourners laid flowers in front of the Supreme Court, where the diminutive Ginsburg sat for 27 years — even taking arguments and issuing opinions from her hospital bed after repeated bouts of illness over the past two years.

US flags flew at half-mast on each side of the court building. People lit candles on the steps of the court while others held rainbow flags.

Born in Brooklyn in 1933, Ginsuburg was a law-school star when women didn’t study law, and a law professor with a powerful impact on the establishment of rights for women and minorities.

She died on the evening that marked the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. According to tradition, those who die during the holiday are revered as a “tzaddik,” or a person of great righteousness.

Ginsburg’s death gives Trump the opportunity to tilt the court to the right, potentially for decades, with media reporting that a new nomination could be quick.

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