Author Archives: VidWorld


Coronavirus Death Toll Near 1,900

Chinese health officials reported Tuesday the number of confirmed cases from a coronavirus outbreak has surpassed 72,000, with the death toll rising to nearly 1,900.

The latest update included 98 more deaths and 1,886 new cases of the virus that has strained China’s healthcare system and caused authorities to put areas on lockdown to try to stop it from spreading.

The country’s state television reported that one person who died from the virus Tuesday was Liu Zhiming, the director of Wuchang Hospital in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province that is the epicenter of the outbreak.

The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said Monday that Chinese data from recent days appeared to indicate a decline in new cases. However, he said the trend “must be interpreted very cautiously.”

“Trends can change as new populations are affected. It is too early to tell if this reported decline will continue. Every scenario is still on the table,” he said. He described the outbreak as “very serious” with the “potential to grow” but said it was mostly confined to Hubei province.”

Ghebreyesus also said more than 80% of patients “have mild disease and will recover.”

The WHO said in its latest report on the virus there were 794 confirmed cases outside of China. Some 454 cases have been passengers on a cruise ship under quarantine in Yokohama, Japan.

A woman wearing a mask walks past a quarantine notice about the outbreak of coronavirus in Wuhan, China at an arrival hall of Haneda airport in Tokyo, Japan, January 20, 2020.

The United States said Monday it had evacuated more than 300 of its citizens and their immediate family members who had been on board the Diamond Princess.  One flight carrying the passengers arrived early Monday at Travis Air Force Base in California, while another landed hours later at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.

A group of 14 people who did not show symptoms, but did test positive for the virus, were allowed on the flights in an area isolated from the rest of the passengers. All of the evacuees are being held under quarantine for 14 days.

Australia announced Monday it would also be evacuating its citizens from the ship. Canada, Italy, South Korea and Hong Kong are planning their own evacuation efforts.

The U.S. State Department is also looking into the case of a U.S. citizen who was diagnosed with the coronavirus after departing another cruise ship, the Westerdam, whose passengers tested negative for the virus before disembarking in Cambodia.

Malaysian medical authorities said the passenger, an 83-year-old woman, twice tested positive for the virus upon arriving in Malaysia after showing signs of a viral infection, a State Department spokesperson said Sunday. She is the first person from the Westerdam to test positive. Her husband tested negative.

The spokesperson said U.S. authorities do not have “sufficient evidence to determine when the passenger may have been exposed and where.”  The American patient remains in Malaysia where she is receiving treatment.

While China has recently been complimented for the way it has handled the outbreak and its efforts to contain it, the WHO is still asking for more information on how China is making its diagnoses.

Chinese state media Saturday published a speech President Xi Jinping made Feb. 3 that shows Chinese authorities knew more about the seriousness of the coronavirus at least two weeks before it made the dangers known to the public. It wasn’t until late January that officials said the virus could spread among humans.

In a January 7 speech, Xi ordered the shutdown of the cities most affected by the virus. Those lockdowns began January 23.

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UN: Impact of Long Libya War on Civilians is ‘Incalculable’

The U.N humanitarian coordinator for Libya said Monday the impact of the country’s nine-year war on civilians “is incalculable,” pointing to its intensity escalating “exponentially” since a rebel commander launched an offensive last April, casualties rising and almost 900,000 people now needing assistance.

Yacoub El Hillo said a 55-point road map for ending the war in Libya which was agreed to by 12 key leaders at a conference in Berlin on Jan. 19, endorsed last week by the U.N. Security Council, and reaffirmed at a meeting in Munich on Sunday has seen “serious violations” in the last 10 days, with new strikes in and around the capital Tripoli.

El Hillo, who is also the U.N. deputy representative for the oil-rich North African country, said in a briefing to journalists by video from Tripoli that the protracted conflict is “severely impacting civilians in all parts of the country on a scale never seen before.’’

The Berlin peace plan backed a cease-fire, called for compliance with a U.N. arms embargo, and said all countries must refrain from interfering in the conflict between the U.N.-recognized government and the rebel forces of self-styled Gen. Khalifa Hifter, and the country’s internal affairs.

On a potentially positive note, a Joint Military Commission comprising representatives of the warring parties is scheduled to begin a second round of talks Tuesday in Geneva under U.N. auspices, with the aim of agreeing to a lasting cease-fire.

The first meeting of a Libyan Political Forum aimed at forming a new government has also been scheduled for Feb. 26 in Geneva.

Libya has been in turmoil since 2011, when a civil war toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who was later killed. In the chaos that followed the country was divided.

A weak U.N.-recognized administration that holds the capital of Tripoli and parts of the country’s west is backed by Turkey, which recently sent thousands of soldiers and military equipment to Libya, and to a lesser degree Qatar and Italy as well as local militias.

On the other side is a rival government in the east that supports self-styled Gen. Khalifa Hifter, whose forces launched an offensive to capture the capital last April 4 and are backed by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt as well as France and Russia.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has decried violations of the U.N. embargo since the Berlin conference by supporters of the warring sides.

El Hillo said “the increasing use of explosive weapons has resulted in unnecessary loss of life.” pointing to attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, particularly health facilities, that have doubled since 2019, resulting in at least 650 civilians killed or injured.

He cited a U.N. mine expert in Libya who said last week that the country has the world’s largest uncontrolled ammunition stockpile, with an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 tons of uncontrolled munitions across the country.

Libya “is also the largest theater for drone technology,” El Hillo said, stressing that “everyone has something flying in the Libyan sky, it seems.’’

Turkey’s recent move into Libya in “a very heavy way militarily speaking” was to support the government “and create a balance of power so that the capital does not fall,” he said.

On the other side, El Hillo cited reports of the UAE financing Chinese-made drones and the Jordanian government selling six drones to Hifter’s forces.

“Unless we speak so bluntly and openly, … unless we start naming and shaming, we will have the resolutions but the reality on the ground will remain appalling, especially for civilians, and particularly for children and for women,” El Hillo said.

At the end of 2019, he said, more than 345,000 people had fled their homes and become displaced, including 150,000 in and around Tripoli since Hifter’s offensive began last April.

More than half the nearly 900,000 people in need of humanitarian assistance are women and children, he said, and more than 30 percent are migrants and refugees.

El Hillo said the lengthy conflict has degraded services including health care, education an, garbage collection – and he warned that if electricity fails there will soon be “a water crisis” because the water plants require electricity.

Libya is also facing a severe cash shortage, El Hillo said.

With oil exports reduced from 1.2 million barrels per day three weeks ago to almost nothing today, he said, the situation is worsening with two commercial banks on the verge of collapse and people having great difficulty accessing their deposits in the bank. Humanitarian organizations are also facing financial difficulties, he said.

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Federal Judges to Hold Emergency Meeting on Trump Admin Interference in Politically Sensitive Cases

A national association of federal judges will hold an emergency meeting Wednesday after Justice Department officials intervened in the case involving a close confident of U.S. President Donald Trump.

The head of the independent Federal Judges Association, District Judge Cynthia Rufe, tells VOA the judges are “concerned about the attacks on individual judges” and it will be the main issue to be discussed.

Rufe declined to give any more details, but said the jurists “could not wait” until their spring meeting.

The Justice Department stunned the political and legal community last week when it overruled its own prosecutors and recommended a lighter prison sentence for Roger Stone — a longtime friend and confident of Trump who was convicted on lying to Congress, witness tampering, and obstruction of justice stemming from the Russian election meddling probe.

Prosecutors in the case had recommended seven to nine years prison time for Stone — a recommendation based on sentencing guidelines for such crimes.

But the Justice Department recommended a lighter sentence after Trump complained in a tweet that the seven to nine years would be “horrible” and “unfair.”

Three prosecutors in the Stone case withdrew and a fourth quit the agency altogether.

Stone is to be sentenced Thursday and it is up to Judge Amy Berman Jackson to decide how long he is to be locked up.

This courtroom sketch shows former campaign adviser for President Donald Trump, Roger Stone talking from the witness stand as Judge Amy Berman Jackson listens during a court hearing at the U.S. District Courthouse in Washington, Feb. 21, 2019.

Jackson has scheduled a Tuesday conference call with attorneys in the Roger Stone case, two days before the former Trump associate is set to be sentenced.

Former President Barack Obama appointed Judge Jackson and Trump has been notoriously critical of many decisions and policies made by his predecessor. Trump complained last week about Jackson’s decision to jail former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort in solitary confinement and not to try to prosecute former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Judge Rufe says the Federal Judges’ Association has no interest in getting involved in the Stone case, but does support Jackson.

“We are supportive of any federal judge who does what is required,” she said.

The Roger Stone case has raised questions in Congress about political interference in what is historically suppose to be an independent judiciary.

Trump congratulated Attorney General William Barr last week for “taking charge” of the Stone case. But both deny that Trump asked Barr to intervene.

Barr is scheduled to appear before Congress next month.

More than 2,000 former Justice Department officials have called on Barr to resign, saying his handling of the Stone case “openly and repeatedly flouted” the independence of the judicial branch.

Barr told ABC News last week that Trump’s tweets “make it impossible for him to do his job,” saying he will not be “bullied or influenced by anybody, whether it’s Congress, a newspaper editorial board, or the president.”   

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First Russian Citizen is Diagnosed With COVID-19

A Russian woman aboard the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan has become the first Russian citizen to be diagnosed with COVID-19, Russia said Monday.

The woman on the ship will be transferred to a hospital and receive treatment, the Russian Embassy in Japan said in its Facebook posting. It wasn’t immediately clear whether that would be in Russia or Japan.

The virus, which emerged in central China in December, has infected 454 people on that particular cruise ship. Globally, the virus has infected more than 71,000 people, killing 1,770 patients in mainland China and five others elsewhere. China has instituted strict lockdown measures on over 60 million people in central Hubei province.

In January, Russia reported two confirmed cases of COVID-19 and hospitalized two Chinese citizens, who have since recovered.

Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, the Russian government has halted most of its air traffic to China. All trains connecting Russia to China and North Korea have been suspended and the Russian land border with China and Mongolia is closed.

Moscow has temporarily stopped issuing work visas to Chinese citizens and Chinese students who had left for the Lunar New Year vacation have been asked not to resume their studies in Russian universities until March 1.

Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin has said that Russia may start deporting foreigners infected with the virus.

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Equatorial Guinea: France Illegally Seized ‘Embassy’

Lawyers for Equatorial Guinea told United Nations judges Monday that French authorities illegally seized a mansion in Paris that the African nation insists operated as its embassy. The building was seized as part of a money laundering investigation into the son of the central African nation’s president.

“France has submitted my country to treatment which is totally arbitrary, discriminatory, and consequently contrary to international law,” Carmelo Nvono-Nca, who led Equatorial Guinea’s legal team, told judges as public hearings in the case got underway.

The International Court of Justice case is focused on the diplomatic status of a multimillion-euro (dollar) mansion on one of the French capital’s most prestigious streets, Avenue Foch.

French authorities seized it in 2012 as they investigated Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue for misuse of public funds and money laundering. Equatorial Guinea argues that, under an international treaty governing diplomatic relations, France had no right to seize the building as it had been operating as the country’s embassy since 2011.

Equatorial Guinea filed a case with the world court in 2016 arguing that Obiang, who is his country’s vice president, had immunity from prosecution. However the United Nation’s highest court said in 2018 that it did not have jurisdiction over that issue and narrowed the case down to the status of the mansion.

An appeals court in France a week ago upheld Obiang’s 2017 conviction and three-year suspended sentence for embezzling millions of dollars in public money, and fined him 30 million euros.

The conviction also ordered the Avenue Foch mansion confiscated, but the ruling cannot be carried out pending the outcome of the world court case.

Nvono-Nca told judges that France was continuing “its attacks against the dignity of my country which started almost 10 years ago before the French courts. The French courts where our vice president was accused — and even our head of state was accused — of crimes which in our view, simply never occurred.”

Lawyer Michael Wood told the court that Equatorial Guinea would be seeking compensation for “material and moral” damage caused by France’s actions.

Lawyers representing France are scheduled to present their arguments on Tuesday. Judges will likely take months to issue a ruling.



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Disgraced Religious Order Tried to Get Abuse Victim to Lie

The cardinal’s response was not what Yolanda Martinez  had expected — or could abide.

Her son had been sexually abused by a priest of the Legion of Christ, a disgraced religious order. And now she was calling Cardinal Valasio De Paolis — the Vatican official appointed by the pope to lead the Legion and to clean it up — to report the settlement the group was offering, and to express her outrage.

The terms: Martinez’s  family would receive 15,000 euros ($16,300) from the order. But in return, her son would have to recant the testimony he gave to Milan prosecutors that the priest had repeatedly assaulted him when he was a 12-year-old student at the order’s youth seminary in northern Italy. He would have to lie.

The cardinal did not seem shocked. He did not share her indignation.

Instead, he chuckled. He said she shouldn’t sign the deal, but should try to work out another agreement without attorneys: “Lawyers complicate things. Even Scripture says that among Christians we should find agreement.”

The conversation between the aggrieved mother and Pope Benedict XVI’s personal envoy was wiretapped. The tape — as well as the six-page settlement proposal — are key pieces of evidence in a criminal trial opening next month in Milan. Prosecutors allege that Legion lawyers and priests tried to obstruct justice, and extort Martinez’s  family by offering them money to recant testimony to prosecutors in hopes of quashing a criminal investigation into the abusive priest, Vladimir Resendiz Gutierrez.

Lawyers for the five suspects declined to comment. The Legion says they have professed innocence. A spokesman said that at the time, the Legion didn’t have in place the uniform child protection policies and guidelines that are now mandatory across the order.

De Paolis is beyond earthly justice — he died in 2017 and there is no evidence he knew of, or approved, the settlement offer before it was made. But the tape and documents seized when police raided the Legion’s headquarters in 2014 show that he had turned a blind eye to superiors who protected pedophiles.

In addition, the evidence shows that when De Paolis first learned about Resendiz’s  crimes in 2011, he approved an in-house canonical investigation but didn’t report the priest to police. And when he learned two years later that other Legion priests were apparently trying to impede the criminal investigation into his crimes, the pope’s delegate didn’t report that either.

And a few hours after he spoke with Martinez, De Paolis opened the Legion’s 2014 assembly where he formally ended the mandate given to him by Benedict to reform and purify the religious order. The Legion had been “cured and cleaned,” he said.

In fact, his mission hadn’t really been accomplished.

Benedict had entrusted De Paolis, one of the Vatican’s most respected canon lawyers, to turn the Legion around in 2010, after revelations that its founder, the late Rev. Marcial Maciel, had raped his seminarians, fathered three children and built a cult-like order to hide his crimes.

There had been calls for the Vatican to suppress the Legion. But Benedict decided against it, apparently determining in part that the order was too big and too rich to fail. Instead, he opted for a process of reform, giving De Paolis the broadest possible powers to rebuild the Legion from the ground up and saying it must undergo a profound process of “purification” and “renewal.”

But De Paolis refused from the start to remove any of Maciel’s old guard, who remain in power today. He refused to investigate the cover-up of Maciel’s crimes. He refused to reopen old allegations of abuse by other priests, even when serial rapists remained in the Legion’s ranks, unpunished.

More generally, he did not come to grips with the order’s deep-seated culture of sexual abuse, cover-up and secrecy — and its long record of avoiding law enforcement and dismissing, discrediting and silencing victims. As a result, even onetime Legion supporters now openly question his reform, which was dismissed as ineffective by the Legion’s longtime critics.

“They always try to control victims, minimize them, defame them, accuse them of exaggerating things,” said Alberto Athie, a former Mexican priest who has campaigned for more than 20 years on behalf of clergy sexual abuse victims, including victims of the Legion.

“Then, if they don’t achieve that level of control, they go to the next level, looking for their parents, trying to minimize them or buy them off, silence them. And if that doesn’t work, they go to trial and try to do what they can to win the case,” he said.

Now, victims of these other Legion priests are coming forward in droves with stories of sexual, psychological and spiritual abuse, and how the Legion’s culture of secrecy and cover-up has remained intact.

“They say they’re close to the victims and help their families,” Martinez  told The Associated Press at her home in Milan. “My testimony is this didn’t happen.”

Martinez, a 54-year-old mother of three, chokes up when she recalls the day she received the phone call from her son’s psychologist. It was March of 2013, and her eldest son had been receiving therapy on the advice of his high school girlfriend. Martinez  thought she was about to learn that she would be a grandmother; she thought her boy had gotten the girl pregnant.

Instead, Dr. Gian Piero Guidetti told Martinez  and her husband that during therapy, their son had revealed that he had been repeatedly sexually molested by Resendiz  starting in 2008, when he was a middle schooler at the Legion’s youth seminary in Gozzano, near Italy’s border with Switzerland. Guidetti, himself a priest, told them he was required by his medical profession to report the crime to prosecutors.

His complaint, and the testimony of Martinez’s  son, sparked a criminal investigation that resulted in Resendiz’s  2019 conviction, which was upheld on appeal in January. Resendiz, 43, who was convicted in absentia and is believed to be living in his native Mexico, has until the end of March to appeal the conviction and 6 1/2-year prison sentence to Italy’s highest court. (Efforts by The Associated Press to reach his lawyer were unsuccessful.)

The investigation, however, netted evidence that went far beyond Resendiz’s  own wrongdoing. Documents seized by police and seen by AP in the court file showed a pattern of cover-up by the Legion and the pope’s envoy that stretched from Milan to Mexico, the Vatican to Venezuela and points in between.

Personnel files, for example, made clear Resendiz was known to the Legion as a risk even when he was a teenage seminarian in the 1990s, yet he was ordained a priest anyway in 2006 and immediately sent to oversee young boys at the Gozzano youth seminary.

“He’s a boy with strong sexual impulses and low capacity to control them,” Resendiz’s  novice director, the Rev. Antonio Leon  Santacruz, wrote in an internal assessment on Jan. 9, 1994. “Given his psychological character, he’s inclined to not respect rules without great difficulty and the psychologist thinks it will be difficult for him to undertake consecrated life given he has little respect for rules. He follows them as long as he’s being watched, but as soon as he can, he breaks them and has no remorse.”

A year later, on Resendiz’s  19th birthday, the seminarian wrote a letter to Maciel — addressing it as all Legionaries addressed the man they regarded as a living saint: “Nuestro Padre,” “Our Father.”

“I’m having various problems in the field of purity and the truth is I’m having a hard time, because temptations are coming to me,” he wrote. “I’m praying to the Holy Virgin every day for grace and asking her for strength to not offend again; I say again because I have had the disgrace of falling, but with the help of God I will fight to form that pure, priestly heart.”

When Martinez  saw such letters in the court file, her heart fell.

“My son wasn’t even born yet, she said. “How can you put someone like that in charge of a seminary?”

A Legion spokesman, the Rev. Aaron Smith, said the Legion has overhauled its training process for seminarians since Resendiz’s  era, applying more scrutiny before ordination.

“Things are different today,” he said in emailed response to questions.
While Milan prosecutors first heard about Resendiz’s  pedophilia in March 2013 when the therapist reported it, the crimes were old news to both the Vatican and the Legion.

The Legion has admitted it received a first report of abuse by Resendiz on March 6, 2011, from another boy who had been a student at Gozzano. The Legion says that boy, an Austrian, had first told a Legion priest of Resendiz’s  abuse. That priest recommended he report it to a church ombudsman’s office in Austria that receives abuse complaints, which he did, Smith said.

Separately, the Legion got wind of another possible victim in Venezuela, where Resendiz  had been sent from Gozzano in 2008, after he abused Martinez’s  son.

Italian police were never informed by the Legion or the Vatican. Neither the Vatican nor Italy requires clergy to report suspected child sex abuse.

When police finally did get wind of the case in March 2013, they uncovered elaborate efforts to keep Resendiz’s  crimes quiet. According to one email seized by Italian police — written March 16, 2011, or 10 days after the Austrian claim was first received by the order — a Legion lawyer recommended to one of the Legion’s most powerful behind-the-scenes superiors, the Rev. Gabriel Sotres, that a Legion priest visit with the victim in Austria.

The aim of the visit, prosecutors wrote in summarizing the email exchanges, “was to speak to the [victim’s] older brother and convince him to not tell their parents and not go to police because this could cause serious problems not only for the Legion but also Father Vladimir, all the other priests involved and the victim and his family.”

Smith, the Legion spokesman, didn’t deny the prosecutors’ account but said that “encouraging a child to keep something from their parents or guardians is contrary to our code of conduct.”

Later in 2011, the Legion arranged for Resendiz  to be transferred from Venezuela to Colombia, and prepared a legal strategy to limit the possible damage if the Venezuelan case escalated. The emails were sent to several Legion leaders, including Sotres, who remain in top positions today. In fact, in the Legion’s current leadership assembly under way in Rome to choose new superiors and priorities, at least 13 of the 89 priests were involved in some way in dealing with the Resendiz  scandal, fallout and cover-up, including two priests who are defendants in the upcoming Milan trial.

According to the seized emails, the plan proposed by a Legion lawyer involved reporting only Resendiz’s  name to Venezuelan police to comply with local reporting laws, leaving out that he was a priest, that he was accused of a sex crime against a child, and the name of the Legion, prosecutors said in summarizing the emails. The report would also note that he no longer lived in Venezuela.

The Legion has said Resendiz  was removed from priestly ministry and from his work with young people in Venezuela within days of receiving the initial Austrian report.

But the emails seized indicate that the restrictions weren’t necessarily enforced: One from Dec. 20, 2012, suggests that Resendiz was hearing confessions in schools and celebrating Mass in Colombia, news that prompted the leadership to ultimately recommend he be sent for psychological counseling in Mexico and later assigned to an administrative position “where they don’t know his situation.”

Eventually, as part of the church’s in-house investigation, Resendiz  confessed — but only to the Legion and Vatican authorities, and only about other boys he abused, not Martinez’s  son.

“I sincerely recognize my terrible behavior as a priest,” he wrote the Vatican official in charge of the sex crimes office in 2012, Cardinal Gerhard Mueller.

“Truly I lived in hell when these sad facts occurred. I recognize the gravity of the acts that I committed and I humbly ask the church for forgiveness for these sad and painful facts. I can’t understand how it could have happened, and I recognize that I lacked the courage to admit to the problem and advise my superiors of the danger.”

The Vatican defrocked him on April 5, 2013 — just a few weeks after Italian prosecutors first heard about Martinez’s  son.

By October of that year, the Legion was nearing the end of De Paolis’ mandate and clearly wanted to avoid the possibility that the Resendiz  case could explode publicly and jeopardize the plan to resume their independence from the Vatican.

Martinez  and her family, for their part, were coping with the trauma of her son’s abuse.

“He would have nightmares. He wouldn’t let me touch him …,” Martinez  said. “He couldn’t stand anyone being close to him.”

Once, he was even prevented from throwing himself in front of a subway train.

Martinez  had been in regular touch with the Legion priest closest to the family, the Rev. Luca Gallizia, her husband’s spiritual director. He was serving as the family’s contact with the Legion, after all other priests and members of Martinez’s  Regnum Christi social circle severed contact — apparently on orders from the leadership.

Gallizia traveled to Milan to meet with Martinez  on Oct. 18, 2013, bringing a proposed settlement to compensate the family. They met in a room off the parish playground of the Sant’Eustorgio basilica where Martinez  worked.

When Martinez  read it later that night with her husband, she was shocked.

“It was a second violation, because for all intents and purposes in that letter, they asked us to deny the facts. And for us it was a stab in the back because it was brought to us by our spiritual father. … He knew everything about us, because my husband confided in him. And that made it even more painful.”

The Legion declined to comment on the proposed settlement, citing the upcoming trial.

The document the Legion wanted Martinez’s family to sign states that her son ruled out having been sexually abused by Resendiz and regardless didn’t remember. It said he denied having any phone or text message contact with him, and that his ensuing problems were due to the fact that he left the seminary and was having trouble integrating socially into his new public high school.

The document set out payments for the son’s continuing education and therapy and required “absolute” secrecy. If the family were called to testify, they were to make the same declarations as contained in the settlement — denying the abuse.

A few months later, the Legion realized it had erred in leaving the proposal with Martinez  and proposed a revised settlement acknowledging the abuse occurred. Now, though, it required the family to pay back double the 15,000 euro ($16,300) settlement offer if they violated the confidentiality agreement.

It was then that Martinez  called De Paolis.

“Both my lawyer and I, our jaws dropped,” she told the Vatican cardinal. The pope’s envoy said he was surprised as well.

“Yes, but this, this is how it’s done in Italy,” he said.

The mother would have none of it. “It’s not a very nice agreement, signing a lie,” Martinez  told the cardinal. “Aside from the fact that I don’t want any money, I’m not signing the letter.”



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Early US Democratic Presidential Caucus Voting Starts in Nevada

Early voting has started in Nevada in the next U.S. Democratic Party presidential nominating contest, the third in a long string of state caucuses and party primary elections to pick a candidate to oppose Republican President Donald Trump in November’s national election.

The bulk of the voting occurs at caucuses next Saturday in the western state, the first where the Democratic contenders will face a racially diverse electorate. Hispanic and African-American voters comprise a large part of the Nevada population, unlike the predominantly white states of Iowa and New Hampshire where the first votes were cast in the last two weeks.

Pre-election polls show that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-declared democratic socialist who won the popular vote in both Iowa and New Hampshire, could also win in Nevada, home to the country’s gambling mecca in Las Vegas.

Sanders was locked in tight vote counts with former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg in both of the first two states, but the political surveys show former Vice President Joe Biden could be his main challenger in Nevada. Biden, once the favorite in national polls to take on Trump, is seeking to regain his political footing after finishing fourth in Iowa and fifth in New Hampshire.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who finished third and fourth, respectively, in New Hampshire, are also looking to gain new strength in the Nevada voting ahead of a primary election in the southern state of South Carolina on Feb. 29.

The five candidates have had the field to themselves in the early contests. But come March 3, dubbed Super Tuesday with voting in 14 states, they will face a new challenger, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Bloomberg, by his own choice, has skipped the voting in the first four states. But he has spent nearly $400 million of his own money on an array of television ads and hiring campaign workers throughout the Super Tuesday states and in states voting later in the Democratic chase for the presidential nomination.

Democratic presidential candidate and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks during his campaign launch of “Mike for Black America,” at the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, Feb. 13, 2020, in Houston.

Bloomberg’s ascent in national presidential polling has drawn the attention of Trump, who has disparaged his candidacy. Bloomberg’s rise has also drawn new scrutiny to his tenure as mayor of the country’s largest city from 2002 to 2013 and his ownership of his eponymous business information company that made him a billionaire.

Bloomberg has apologized for a “stop-and-frisk” policy he implemented on the streets of New York, an effort to curb crime, that he now acknowledges inordinately targeted minorities.

The Washington Post on Saturday published a withering account of the 78-year-old Bloomberg’s life as a corporate chieftain, detailing countless profane, sexist and misogynistic comments targeting women who worked at his company, many of them in the years before he entered New York City politics.

In response, a campaign spokesman said Bloomberg “simply does not tolerate any kind of discrimination or harassment, and he’s created cultures that are all about equality and inclusion.”

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Assad’s Forces Make Advances, Further Securing Aleppo Region

Syrian troops have made significant advances against the last rebel held enclaves in the country’s northwest, state media said on Sunday, consolidating the government’s hold over the key Aleppo province.   

The Syrian government advance also appeared to put the provincial capital of Aleppo out of the firing range of opposition groups for the first time in years, another sign of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s growing control of the area.
The armed opposition had been driven out of Aleppo city’s eastern quarters in late 2016, which they controlled for years while battling government forces who were in charge in the western part. Rebel groups had continued to harry government forces, however, from outside the city with mortar rounds.
State news agency SANA reported 30 villages and towns around the city in the western Aleppo countryside were captured on Sunday.
Rami Abdul-Rahman, the head of the Britain-based war monitor Syria Observatory for Human Rights, confirmed the report.
“This means the control of Aleppo [city], and the countryside and securing all of Aleppo,” Abdul-Rahman said.
The state-run Al-Ikhbariya TV said government troops were still besieging remnants of opposition fighters in a small part of rural Aleppo.
The fighting in the Aleppo region and nearby Idlib province has unleashed a humanitarian crisis. Over 800,000 civilians out of nearly 4 million living in the enclave have been displaced, living in open fields and temporary shelters for the most part in harsh winter conditions.
The armed opposition is now squeezed into a shrinking area of nearby Idlib province, where the government is also on the offensive.
“The Syrian people are determined to liberate all Syrian territories,” President Assad said according to the Syrian state news agency on Sunday.
Assad was speaking during a meeting with visiting Iranian parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani. Both Iran and Russia have heavily backed Assad in the civil war.
The Syrian leader also claimed “terrorists”  in northwestern Syria were using residents as “human shields,” in an attempt to stop Syrian troops from advancing into the territory.
Syria’s government considers all the opposition in the nine-year war as “terrorists” and has repeatedly leveled accusation that they take residents of areas they control as hostages. But many of the displaced in Syria’s Idlib province have fled the fighting in other parts of the country, choosing to live in areas outside of government control.
Turkey has sent thousands of troops and equipment into the opposition enclave, in an attempt to stall the government advance.
Turkey, which backs the opposition, has called for an end to the Syrian government offensive. It also fears that the displaced may overwhelm its borders. Turkey is already home to more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees. The United Nations has also called for a cease-fire.
Larijani, meanwhile, reiterated his country’s support for Syria in fighting terrorism. Iran has played a key role in supporting Assad’s war efforts, sending financial support as well as fighters to back up Syrian military operations.
Support from Russia and Iran has enabled Assad’s forces to regain control of much of the territories they had lost to armed groups who worked to topple him.
Over 400,000 people have been killed and half of Syria’s population displaced since peaceful protests in 2011 turned into a civil war stoked by foreign interventions.


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Somali Court Sentences Mogadishu Official for Past al-Shabab Membership

A court in the Somali capital Mogadishu has sentenced an official with the city’s municipality to three years in prison for past membership of the al-Shabab militant group.

The court found that Nur Ali Ahmed (Mahad Alle) was a member of the terrorist organization and failed to follow the proper process to register himself as a defector when he left the group. He claimed he left al-Shabab in 2010.

During the hearing, Ahmed insisted that he reported his defection to the authorities but the court could not find a record of that. The court also established that prior to his appointment as Acting Director of Works for Mogadishu municipality; he also worked at Mogadishu’s port and at one of the city’s hospitals.

Ahmed was arrested following last July’s explosion at the Mogadishu mayor’s office, which killed the Mayor Abdirahman Omar Osman and seven other regional officials.

A blind female suicide bomber who was a senior aide to the late mayor as carried out the attack. The bomber went by the name Basira Abdi Mohamed although her real name was Maryam. The court released Maryam’s brother who was ordered to regularly report his movement to authorities.

The court did not find evidence-linking Ahmed to the explosion that killed Mayor Osman, but his past connection with the group was established after an investigation by the security agencies.

The conviction indicates a pattern of al-Shabab’s infiltration in administrations and social institutions, experts argue.

Just last month, the same court found a college teacher who is the son of a senior police officer guilty of being al-Shabab’s operational leader of assassinations in Mogadishu for several years.

Mohamed Haji Ahmed was sentenced to death after being convicted of assassinating three generals, a police corporal and a deputy attorney general.

In the worst case, a top official in Somalia’s National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA), Abdisalam Mohamed Hassan, was found guilty in 2014 of providing photos of intelligence agents and other identifying data to al-Shabab. Hassan is now serving a life sentence.

Meanwhile, a roadside explosion killed three soldiers and injured two others in the southwest of Mogadishu, Sunday. Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack.

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Afghans Mark Soviet Withdrawal as US Negotiates Its Own Exit

Afghanistan on Saturday marked the 31st anniversary of the last Soviet soldier leaving the country. This year’s anniversary came as the United States negotiates its own exit after 18 years of war, America’s longest. 

Some of the same Afghan insurgent leaders who drove out the former Soviet Union have been fighting the U.S. and have had prominent seats at the negotiating table during yearlong talks with Washington’s peace envoy. 

Moscow pulled out of Afghanistan in 1989, a decade after invading the country to support an allied communist government. Afghan mujaheddin, or holy warriors, received weapons and training from the U.S. throughout the 1980s to fight the Red Army. Some of those mujaheddin went on to form the Taliban. 

The U.S. and the Taliban agreed Friday to a temporary truce. If successful, it could open the way for another historic withdrawal that would see all American troops leave the country. 

The chief negotiator for the Taliban, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, was once an American ally against the Soviets. So was another Taliban negotiator, Khairullah Khairkhwa. He spent 12 years detained at Guantanamo Bay until his release in 2014 in exchange for U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. 

The Taliban are now at their strongest since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan ousted them from power. 

No public festivities

Kabul’s streets were quiet Saturday, normally the busy start of the Afghan workweek. There were no official public celebrations marking the anniversary, and most people took the holiday off. 

Shakeb Rohin was only 7 years old when the Soviets pulled out. Now a graduate of Kabul University’s economics department, he said he couldn’t remember the Soviet occupation. Since then, he said, he’s witnessed only war. 

“We are so tried of war, we want a peaceful solution for Afghanistan’s problems,” he said. 

Abdul Shakor Ahmadi, 56, recalled how people were very happy on the day of the pullout. But he said the civil war that followed was worse. 

With the Cold War over, the U.S. lost interest in Afghanistan. The mujaheddin government — which included many of the warlords in Kabul today — eventually turned their guns on each other in the early 1990s. The fighting killed tens of thousands of civilians. It also led some former mujaheddin to regroup into the Taliban, who rose to power in 1996 and implemented a harsh interpretation of Islamic rule. 

Fear for the future

“I hope peace comes this time ,” Ahmadi said. “At least once in our lifetime we would be able to see peace in our country. We’re so worried about the future of our children.” 

It’s unclear when newly brokered truce will take effect. The peace deal would call for negotiations between Afghans on both sides of the conflict to start next month. It would also set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and include a commitment from the Taliban not to harbor terrorist groups like al-Qaida. 

Amin Mohammadi, a shopkeeper in Kabul, remained pessimistic. “Most people are jobless. No one has enough money to come and buy things. I don’t want to celebrate anything.“ 

“The Soviets withdrew, but what was the benefit?“ 

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