Boeing to Halt Production of 737 Max Airliner in January

Boeing Co. said Monday that it will temporarily stop producing its grounded 737 Max jet starting in January as it struggles to get approval from regulators to put the plane back in the air.

The Chicago-based company said production would halt at its plant with 12,000 employees in Renton, Washington, near Seattle. But it said it didn’t expect to lay off any workers “at this time.”

The move amounts to an acknowledgement that it will take much longer than Boeing expected to win approval from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and other global regulators to fly the planes again.

Grounded since March

The Max is Boeing’s most important jet, but it has been grounded since March after crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia that killed total of 346 people. The FAA told the company last week that it had unrealistic expectations for getting the plane back into service. Boeing has missed several estimates of a return date for the plane, and the company didn’t give a date on Monday.

Even if no employees are laid off, ceasing production still will cut into the nation’s economic output because of Boeing’s huge footprint in the nation’s manufacturing sector. Through October of this year, the U.S. aerospace industry’s factory output has fallen 17% compared with the same period last year, to $106.4 billion, in part due to previous 737 Max production cuts.

The shutdown also is likely to ripple through Boeing’s vast network of 900 companies that make engines, bodies and other parts for the 737, and layoffs are likely.

Richard Aboulafia, an aircraft industry analyst at the Teal Group, said the shutdown would probably hinder the economy in the coming months and could worsen the nation’s trade balance.

“This is the country’s biggest single manufactured export product,” Aboulafia said.

Government regulators 

In a statement, Boeing said it will determine later when production can resume, based largely on approval from government regulators.

“We believe this decision is least disruptive to maintaining long-term production system and supply chain health,” the statement said.

Boeing said some of the Renton plant’s workers could be reassigned to 737 or other programs elsewhere in the Seattle area. Some could also help to prepare the 400 Max planes Boeing has built and stored, so they’re ready whenever approval comes to return to the skies.

Investigators have found that flight control software designed to stop an aerodynamic stall was a major factor in the crashes, and Boeing is updating the software, making it less aggressive. But regulators have yet to approve the changes.

Jeff Windau, industrials analyst for Edward Jones, said the 400 planes that Boeing has built but can’t deliver likely were a major factor in the decision to halt production. This comes “both in consideration of storage space and how efficiently can you get them delivered once the plane is ready to return to service,” he said.

Production halt a negative

Boeing has made progress on some FAA requirements to get the Max back in service, Windau said, but he still views the production halt as a negative for the company.

“The flight control system is complex and there are still unknowns with the timing of regulator reviews and approvals,” Windau wrote in an email. He also wrote that it may be difficult to restart an idled factory once production ramps back up.

Boeing will likely face some tough negotiations with suppliers about what level of payments it will provide during the production hiatus. The company will want to avoid any layoffs or shutdowns by suppliers that would keep it from quickly restarting production once its safety is approved.

“It’s really in Boeing’s interest to identify who needs payments to keep workers and capabilities in place for when the ramp up eventually happens,” Aboulafia said.

The production halt means that it will take longer than expected to get FAA approval, he said.

“If they had gotten some information quietly, behind the scenes from the FAA, that things were looking good for January or February, they wouldn’t have done this,” he said.

Cash flow problems

Boeing already is having cash flow problems. In October, the company reported that free cash flow went from $4.1 billion a year ago to a negative $2.9 billion in the third quarter, worse than analysts had expected.

The company’s stock came under pressure Monday after reports surfaced about the production halt. It closed down $14.67, or 4.3%, at $327.

The stock slipped another 1% in after-hours trading following the company’s announcement that it would stop Max production. It has fallen 23% since the March 10 crash of a Max flown by Ethiopian Airlines, which followed the crash of a Lion Air Max off the coast of Indonesia in October 2018.


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China Says it is Committed to Resolving Issues in Trade Deal With US

China’s Foreign Ministry, when asked about the trade deal with the United States, said it is committed to resolving the issues but the deal must be mutually beneficial.

Spokeswoman Hua Chunying made the comments on Friday at a daily briefing.

The United States and China are coming up against a natural deadline on Dec. 15 when a tariff hike will come into effect.

Washington has set its terms for the first part of the so-called “phased deal”, offering to suspend some tariffs on Chinese goods and cut others in exchange for Beijing buying more American farm goods, U.S. sources have said.


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An Ethiopian ‘Hero’ Works to Give Girls Back Their Dignity

Freweini Mebrahtu remembers when she returned to her home village in northern Ethiopia and saw women squatting over holes in the ground. Without any sanitary pads to use during their menstrual period, they were stuck in this undignified position.

“How is that possible? And they were telling me that they don’t even use underwear,” she told VOA. “And that was the turning point for me. I kind of felt the nerves going from head to my toes. And that’s when I said, ‘you know, I’ve gotta do something.’ Why is this thing bothering me over and over again? So that was it.”

The more she examined the problem the bigger it appeared. Two out of every five girls have been forced to miss school during their periods with many eventually dropping out. Grown women were resorting to using old cloth or grass as pads. Women and girls, she found, were being shamed by their community during their menstrual periods.

“We’re talking about gender equality and all that stuff. But when the basic necessity of a young girl is not fulfilled, how is that possible?” she said. “ How is the country going to be developed when 50 percent of your society – women – are compromised this way?”

A Mariam Seba product is seen in this photo in Ethiopia. (Photo: Courtesy of Joni Kabana with Dignity Period)
A Mariam Seba product is seen in this photo in Ethiopia. (Photo: Courtesy of Joni Kabana with Dignity Period)

In 2009, Freweini founded Mariam Seba Products Factory (MSPF) in Ethiopia’s northern city of Mekelle. The factory produces reusable pads that can last up to 18 months and cost 90 percent less than disposable pads. Freweini has teamed up with a charitable organization Dignity Period and together they have distributed more than 150,000 free menstrual hygiene kits produced by the factory.

The work is having an impact. Dignity Period has recorded a 24% increase in attendance by girls in schools where they offer services.

This month Freweini was selected as the CNN Hero of the Year and will receive $100,000 to support her work. She said the award was an affirmation of a decision she made years ago to move, along with her 3-year-old daughter, from the U.S. back to Ethiopia and pursue this cause. Today her daughter is 18 and going off to college.

Congratulations to 2019 CNN Hero of the Year Freweini Mebrahtu

Learn more about her at https://t.co/MkgzSoE3Zf#CNNHeroespic.twitter.com/xTTfdWCnkn

— CNN Heroes (@CNNHeroes) December 9, 2019

“You know, it was a moment of an amazing journey. And people thought that I was crying because of the whole event. But it’s the whole timing issue,” she said. “It must have been God’s willing it to happen, the way it happened.”

But she says her work is not done. She noted that there are 30 million women of reproductive age in Ethiopia and the vast majority do not have access to affordable sanitary pads. Additionally, there is a 15 percent value-added tax on many menstrual hygiene products.

“It’s not just Ethiopia. It’s everywhere, developing countries even in the U.S. there is a tax issue. So, now that CNN has made it an issue for anybody to look at this seriously, we hope that everyone will make a sensible solution and a sensible change in making this a reality for all,” she said.

“Reach out and help your sisters. Wherever you are, together we can make this issue a thing of the past.” #CNNHero Freweini Mebrahtu is stamping out the stigma surrounding menstruation — all while paying women premium wages. https://t.co/Ae0lyQdDY0pic.twitter.com/2G7cyaUYO6

— CNN Heroes (@CNNHeroes) December 9, 2019


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UK Conservatives Secure Historic Parliamentary Majority

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party has won a solid majority of seats in Britain’s Parliament — a decisive outcome to a Brexit-dominated election that should allow Johnson to fulfill his plan to take the U.K. out of the European Union next month.

With just over 600 of the 650 seats declared, the Conservatives reached the 326 mark, guaranteeing their majority.

Johnson said it looked like the Conservatives had “a powerful new mandate to get Brexit done.”

The victory will likely make Johnson the most electorally successful Conservative leader since Margaret Thatcher, another politician who was loved and loathed in almost equal measure. It was a disaster for left-wing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who faced calls for his resignation even as the results rolled in. The party looked set to gain around 200 seats.

Corbyn called the result “very disappointing” for his party and said he would not lead Labour into another election, though he resisted calls to quit immediately,

Results poured in early Friday showing a substantial shift in support to the Conservatives from Labour. In the last election in 2017, the Conservatives won 318 seats and Labour 262.

The result this time looked set to be the biggest Tory majority since Thatcher’s 1980s’ heyday, and Labour’s lowest number of seats since 1935.

The Scottish National Party appeared set to take about 50 of Scotland’s 59 seats — a big increase — with a lackluster dozen or so for the centrist, pro-EU Liberal Democrats. Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson lost her own Scottish seat.

The Conservatives took a swathe of seats in post-industrial northern England towns that were long Labour strongholds. Labour’s vote held up better in London, where the party managed to grab the Putney seat from the Conservatives.

The decisive Conservative showing vindicates Johnson’s decision to press for Thursday’s early election, which was held nearly two years ahead of schedule. He said that if the Conservatives won a majority, he would get Parliament to ratify his Brexit divorce deal and take the U.K. out of the EU by the current Jan. 31 deadline.

Speaking at the election count in his Uxbridge constituency in suburban London, Johnson said the “historic” election “gives us now, in this new government, the chance to respect the democratic will of the British people to change this country for the better and to unleash the potential of the entire people of this country.”

That message appears to have had strong appeal for Brexit-supporting voters, who turned away from Labour in the party’s traditional heartlands and embraced Johnson’s promise that the Conservatives would “get Brexit done.”

“I think Brexit has dominated, it has dominated everything by the looks of it,” said Labour economy spokesman John McDonnell. “We thought other issues could cut through and there would be a wider debate, from this evidence there clearly wasn’t.”

The prospect of Brexit finally happening more than three years after Britons narrowly voted to leave the EU marks a momentous shift for both the U.K. and the bloc. No country has ever left the union, which was created in the decades after World War II to bring unity to a shattered continent.

But a decisive Conservative victory would also provide some relief to the EU, which has grown tired of Britain’s Brexit indecision.

Britain’s departure will start a new phase of negotiations on future relations between Britain and the 27 remaining EU members.

EU Council President Charles Michel promised that EU leaders meeting Friday would send a “strong message” to the next British government and parliament about next steps.

“We are ready to negotiate,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.

The pound surged when an exit poll forecast the Tory win, jumping over two cents against the dollar, to $1.3445, the highest in more than a year and a half. Many Investors hope a Conservative win would speed up the Brexit process and ease, at least in the short term, some of the uncertainty that has corroded business confidence since the 2016 vote.

Many voters casting ballots on Thursday hoped the election might finally find a way out of the Brexit stalemate in this deeply divided nation. Three and a half years after the U.K. voted by 52%-48% to leave the EU, Britons remain split over whether to leave the 28-nation bloc, and lawmakers have proved incapable of agreeing on departure terms.

On a dank, gray day with outbreaks of blustery rain, voters went to polling stations in schools, community centers, pubs and town halls after a bad-tempered five-week campaign rife with mudslinging and misinformation.

Opinion polls had given the Conservatives a steady lead, but the result was considered hard to predict, because the issue of Brexit cuts across traditional party loyalties.

Johnson campaigned relentlessly on a promise to “Get Brexit done” by getting Parliament to ratify his “oven-ready” divorce deal with the EU and take Britain out of the bloc as scheduled on Jan. 31.

The Conservatives focused much of their energy on trying to win in a “red wall” of working-class towns in central and northern England that have elected Labour lawmakers for decades but also voted strongly in 2016 to leave the EU. That effort got a boost when the Brexit Party led by Nigel Farage decided at the last minute not to contest 317 Conservative-held seats to avoid splitting the pro-Brexit vote.

Labour, which is largely but ambiguously pro-EU, faced competition for anti-Brexit voters from the centrist Liberal Democrats, Scottish and Welsh nationalist parties, and the Greens.

But on the whole Labour tried to focus the campaign away from Brexit and onto its radical domestic agenda, vowing to tax the rich, nationalize industries such as railroads and water companies and give everyone in the country free internet access. It campaigned heavily on the future of the National Health Service, a deeply respected institution that has struggled to meet rising demand after nine years of austerity under Conservative-led governments.

It appears that wasn’t enough to boost Labour’s fortunes. Defeat will likely spell the end for Corbyn, a veteran socialist who moved his party sharply to the left after taking the helm in 2015, but who now looks to have led his left-of-center party to two electoral defeats since 2017. The 70-year-old left-winger was also accused of allowing anti-Semitism to spread within the party.

“It’s Corbyn,” said former Labour Cabinet minister Alan Johnson, when asked about the poor result. “We knew he was incapable of leading, we knew he was worse than useless at all the qualities you need to lead a political party.”

For many voters, the election offered an unpalatable choice. Both Johnson and Corbyn have personal approval ratings in negative territory, and both have been dogged by questions about their character.

Johnson has been confronted with past broken promises, untruths and offensive statements, from calling the children of single mothers “ignorant, aggressive and illegitimate” to comparing Muslim women who wear face-covering veils to “letter boxes.”

Yet, his energy and determination proved persuasive to many voters.

“It’s a big relief, looking at the exit polls as they are now, we’ve finally got that majority a working majority that we have not had for 3 1/2 years,” said Conservative-supporting writer Jack Rydeheard. “We’ve got the opportunity to get Brexit done and get everything else that we promised as well. That’s investment in the NHS, schools, hospitals you name it — it’s finally a chance to break that deadlock in Parliament.”


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In Madrid, Young Africans Are Stepping up the Fight Against Climate Change

Time Magazine’s selection of Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg as its Person of the Year underscores the growing clout of youth power—pushing governments to escalate the fight against what many consider a climate crisis. That is also happening in Africa, which is especially vulnerable to climate change. At the Madrid climate conference, Lisa Bryant reports on three young Africans who are making a difference


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Rwanda Co-Hosts Anti-Corruption Excellence Award Summit

Rwanda this week (Dec 9) co-hosted the annual Anti-Corruption Excellence Award summit to celebrate and encourage successes against graft, including at home.  Transparency International ranks Rwanda as the fourth-least corrupt country in Africa, behind the Seychelles, Botswana, and Cabo Verde.  Eugene Uwimana reports from Kigali


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As Cambodia’s Opposition Leader Plans Return, Government Cracks Down

To protect her family, Him Taing Or lied to local authorities that she and her husband had divorced.

Her husband, Oun Srean is a deputy head of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in Cambodia’s northwest Uddar Meanchey province, on the border with Thailand.

To protect his family, Oun Srean fled Cambodia when Cambodia’s Supreme Court in November 2017 dissolved the CNRP, which represented a growing challenge to Hun Sen, the prime minister for more than three decades. His ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) oversaw a purge of more than 5,000 local CNRP representatives who lost their positions after the party’s dissolution. They were banned from political activity.

The result was that after billions of dollars spent in international effort to build democracy in Cambodia since the early 1990s, Hun Sen won all 125 seats in parliament in the July 2018 national election, and now enjoys an increasingly authoritarian one-party rule.

And for the past month, the Hun Sen government has been doubling down on CNRP supporters because the self-exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy announced on August 18 that he plans to return to Cambodia on November 9. The official position is that this amounts to “plotting a coup.” The government has made clear that that anyone who supports Rainsy will face legal action.

Dozens of opposition members have been arrested since Rainsy’s announcement. Local TV news programs, all on stations controlled by the government or its allies, feature file footage of demonstrations against Hun Sen in 2013, when the opposition questioned election results that kept him and the CPP in power.

In Cambodia, where 1.7 million people died between 1975 and 1979 as the Khmer Rouge attempted to create a Marxist agrarian paradise, there’s a wariness of anything that might trigger instability. The TV footage in regular rotation shows government forces keeping the peace by shooting water cannons at the protestors.

Soeung Sen Karona, a spokesman for the Cambodian human rights group Adhoc, which has followed the threats against the opposition, said the situation has worsened since Sam Rainsy’s announcement. Adhoc has received written and verbal complaints from activists who have fled and from their families. “Activists and supporters are now scared,” said Soeung Sen Karona.

Police visit

Before the government dissolved the CNRP, “Police came to my house several times,” said Him Taing Or. “So, I told them I have divorced [my husband],” she told VOA Khmer in a recent interview at a restaurant in Anlong Veng, a onetime Khmer Rouge stronghold now best known as the gravesite of Pol Pot, the regime’s mastermind who died in 1998.

“I went to Thailand to live with my husband for a while in July 2018 and then came back in November,” said Him Taing Or, 47, the mother of two children.

“I told local authorities a year ago that I have divorced,” she said.

Him Taing Or, who earns about $5 a day packing rice cookies made in her village, is afraid of giving an interview at her home because she believes she is under surveillance by local authorities.

Oun Srean has been a wanted man since October 7 when he was charged with “plotting” because he backed Sam Rainsy’s return. Him Taing Or found out authorities has issued an arrest summons for her husband when her father called with the news.

“I am worried that he will be arrested and jailed,” she said, knowing that the Uddar Meanchey provincial municipal court asked local police to arrest him.

Oun Srean is just one of dozens of activists who have been charged with “plotting.”

The opposition activists arrested this month and who have been charged with “plotting” face prison terms of up to 10 years if found guilty. Others are in hiding or have fled the country.

“The political situation is still dire for the opposition in Cambodia,” said Ear Sophal, an associate professor in diplomacy and world affairs at Occidental College, Los Angeles, California. “Phnom Penh loves power and money more than freedom and democracy.”

Unafraid activist

Chhun Vean, a former deputy CNRP commune chief from the Kdey Run commune in Siem Reap province, now works in construction in Thailand. “I am not scared or willing to stop my work for democracy in Cambodia,” he said.

A banner of outlawed opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, hung at Chek Chhun’s house in Siem Reap province’s Kdey Run commune, October 11, 2019.

The Siem Reap provincial court issued a summons dated October 8 for the opposition activist in Pouk district’s Kdey Run commune. VOA obtained a copy of the summons.

Chhun Vean joined a precursor to the CNRP in 2008, a year marked by CPP-dominated national elections. He became active in commune politics. “That is why they want to intimidate me, to stop me.”

 “Cambodia’s courts are a tool politicians use to threaten their opponents,” said Chhun Vean, the 30-year-old father of a six-year-old daughter and a two-year-old son. His wife is with him in Thailand, and the children are with their grandparents in Cambodia.

The summons allows him to confess. If he does, he will be released and the charges dropped.

The government has been making good on this promise. When Seng Sokhun, a former CNRP commune chief in Phnom Penh, confessed on video on October 10, the government dropped charges. Local media featured the story which lit up social media.

On Friday, as VOA spoke with Chhun Vean’s 67-year-old father Chek Chhun, police vehicles drove by his house in Tapang village of Siem Reap province’s Pouk district’s Kdey Run commune.

“They may come and question me,” said Chek Chhun, who was once active in the opposition and now worries about his son. “There are no equal political rights. I don’t know what to say now.”

More arrests threatened

Hun Sen has threatened to deploy the military if CNRP leaders and supporters return from exile with Sam Rainsy. On Monday, he threatened to arrest opposition activists living in Thailand.

“Those who are in Bangkok, it is not certain that you will be safe,” he said. “I will arrest and bring you all back.”

His threat is not empty. Cambodia and Thailand signed an extradition agreement in 2001, and Thai authorities have handed over opposition activists in the recent past.

“Under the military guided government of [Prime Minister] Prayut Chan-ocha, it’s clear Thailand is no longer safe for opposition activists,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch in an email.

“There’s no doubt Thailand is prepared to sell or barter Cambodian asylum seekers and refugees in exchange for favors from Phnom Penh,” he added.

The Thai government did not respond to a request for comment.

Mork Vanvuthy, a former CNRP council member in Bansayrak commune, is also wanted by Hun Sen’s government and living outside Cambodia.

“I have not done anything illegal. We expressed our opinion,” said Mork Vanvuthy, 47, adding that if he remained in Cambodia, “I would die or be jailed.”

Sok Thai, 37, a villager in Cambodia’s Kampong Thom province, said her husband, Nou Phoeun was arrested early in September because he expressed his political opinions and criticized the government about the price of rice in their neighborhood and online. Three other Kampong Thom province activists were arrested at the same time, she said.

Increased violence

Human rights advocates are concerned that more activists will be arrested and violence against CNRP sympathizers will increase as Rainsy’s return date nears.

“Cambodia is intensifying its campaign of repression against CNRP activists because they want to prevent the return of Sam Rainsy and the other senior CNRP leaders in exile,” said Robertson. “It’s likely it will get even worse the closer we get to November 9.”

On September 22, Sam Rainsy’s bodyguard, Pouk Chanda, was beaten on a Phnom Penh street. He suffered head injuries.

Sim Bona, a former CNRP commune chief in Phnom Penh’s Koh Dach commune was attacked September 25 by an unidentified man wielding an iron pipe.

“They tried to beat my head but I had a helmet,” he told VOA Khmer at his home in Koh Dach commune the day after the assault. Sim Bona, 59, defended himself at a cost: the attacker broke his left arm in three places.

Others in the opposition told VOA the beatings may have been a form of political retribution or intimidation.

Phay Siphan, a government spokesman, said making accusations against the government is the CNRP “culture.”

“Whenever there are victims, [they say] it is political,” he said. “I don’t want to have a prejudgment. Let’s wait for the investigation.”

Back in Anlong Veng, Him Taing Or, who takes herbal medicine daily for diabetes and high blood pressure, is hopeful that her husband will be able to return without fear of arrest or jail.

“Life is difficult since we are separated,” said Or. “I hope that my husband can come back and we live together.”


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Biles Dazzles on Floor to Win Record 25th World Championship Medal

American Simone Biles became the most decorated gymnast in world championship history on Sunday when she won the beam and floor finals to take her career tally to 25 medals.

Soon after securing a convincing victory on the beam in Stuttgart to overtake Belarusian Vitaly Scherbo’s record tally of 23 world medals, the 22-year-old Biles successfully defended her floor title to win medal number 25.

The four-time Olympic champion is now the owner of 19 gold medals across four championships against 12 for Scherbo, who competed in five world events between 1991 and 1996.

Making her final appearance of the week in front of a raucous crowd, Biles wasted no time as she landed a superb triple-twisting double back flip — known as the Biles II – on her first pass.

Biles’s double layout with a half turn — another skill named after her — put her out of bounds for a 0.1 penalty but she did enough to post a winning score of 15.133.

“Honestly, I just couldn’t move. I was so tired,” Biles said of her final pose on the stage.

“This is really the best worlds performance I have ever put out.”

The Americans took a one-two finish as Sunisa Lee finished with 14.133 for the silver medal, while Russian Angelina Melnikova came third.

<!–[if IE 9]><![endif]–>FILE - US gymnyst Simone Biles poses with her gold medal for artistic gymnastics during the victory ceremony at the Rio Olympic Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Aug. 16, 2016.
Olympic Champ Simone Biles Says She was Abused by Doctor

Simone Biles watched as her friends and former Olympic teammates came forward to detail abuse at the hands of a now-imprisoned former USA Gymnastics team doctor.Drawing in part from their strength, the four-time gold medalist acknowledged Monday she is among the athletes who were sexually abused by Larry Nassar.Biles, who won five medals overall at the 2016 Olympics, released a statement via Twitter outlining that abuse.

BEAM BRILLIANCE

Earlier, Biles delivered a polished routine on the beam before a full twisting double tuck dismount for an impressive 15.066.

Although Biles had twice before won the world beam title, in 2014 and 2015, it has not always been plain sailing for her on the apparatus.

Her slip on the landing of a front tucked somersault at the 2016 Rio Olympics meant she had to settle for a bronze in the event. Last year again, she dropped off the beam during the women’s all-around final at the world championships.

But she has regained her swagger this week, under the watchful eyes of balance beam coach Cecile Landi, and posted top scores in all four attempts — qualifying, the team and all-around finals and Sunday’s apparatus final.

“It meant a lot because Cecile has really been working on bringing my confidence back up to where it used to be on the beam,” Biles said.

“To go out there and nail the routine, just like I do in practice, it felt really good and I knew she was really proud.”

As another title-winning score was announced in the arena, Biles punched the air in jubilation before joining celebrations with the U.S. team.

“I was really excited,” she added. “I thought it was going to be at least 14.8, 14.9, but to see 15, I was like well that’s pretty crazy, so I was very proud.”

Last year’s winner Liu Tingting of China took silver with 14.433, while team mate Li Shijia won the bronze.

Biles finished her campaign in Stuttgart with five gold medals from six events to mark ideal preparations for next year’s Tokyo Olympics.

Her barnstorming run included a record fifth all-around gold, an individual vault title, as well as helping the U.S. to a fifth straight world team title.

 


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Teen’s Parents Fly to US Hoping to Meet Driver Who killed Him

Parents of the British teen killed when his motorcycle collided with car allegedly driven by an American diplomat’s wife are on their way to the U.S. hoping to seek justice.

Harry Dunn, 19, died in August in near the Croughton Royal Air Force base in Northhamptonshire, which is used by the U.S. Air Force as a communications center.

Dunn’s mother, Charlotte Charles, told the BBC the family hopes to meet with the suspected driver, identified by British police and Prime Minister Boris Johnson as Anne Sacoolas, wife of an American intelligence officer based at Croughton.

Sacoolas claimed diplomatic immunity and returned to the United States while the case was still being investigated. She has since written a letter of apology to Dunn’s family.

But Charles said Sunday, “It’s nearly seven weeks now since we lost our boy, sorry just doesn’t cut it.

“That’s not really quite enough,” she told Sky News. “But I’m still really open to meeting her, as are the rest of us. I can’t promise what I would or wouldn’t say, but I certainly wouldn’t be aggressive.”

Charles also said the family was thankful to receive a letter Saturday from the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab that said since Sacoolas had left Britain, “immunity is no longer pertinent”.

The family is hoping Sacoolas will return to Britain.  They have even called on U.S. President Donald Trump to intervene on their behalf.

But Trump told a news conference Wednesday that Sacoolas would not return. Harry Dunn’s death was a “terrible accident,” the president said but he noted that driving on the worn side of the road “happens”.

 

 


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California Becomes First US State to Ban Fur Products

California has become the first U.S. state to ban all production and sale of animal fur products.

Governor Gavin Newsom signed the bill that will make it illegal to make, sell and even donate any new item made using animal fur starting in 2023.

The bill excludes used items, taxidemy products, fur taken with a hunting license and fur used by Native American tribes for religious purposes.

Violators of the ban will face fines of up to $500, or even $1,000 for repeat offenses.

“The signing of AB44 underscores the point that today’s consumers simply don’t want wild animals to suffer extreme pain and fear for the sake of fashion,” Kitty Block, the head of the Humane Society of the United States said in a statement.

But the Fur Information Council of America condemned the ban as being part of a “radical vegan agenda” and has threatened a court challenge.

Along with the fur ban, Newsom also approved a ban on the use of most animals in circuses. Exceptions will be made for dogs and horses.

“California is a leader when it comes to animal welfare, and today that leadership includes banning the sale of fur,” Newsom said in a statement. “But we are doing more than that. We are making a statement to the world that beautiful wild animals like bears and tigers have no place on trapeze wires or jumping through flames.”


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Poland’s Ruling Party Declares Victory in Divided Nation

Poland’s conservative governing Law and Justice party won the most votes in Sunday’s election in the deeply divided nation and appeared, according to an exit poll, to have secured a comfortable majority in parliament to govern for four more years.

The exit poll, conducted by the research firm Ipsos, projected that Law and Justice won 43.6% of the votes. That would translate into 239 seats, a majority in the 460-seat lower house of parliament.

The poll said a centrist pro-European Union umbrella group, Civic Coalition, would come in second with 27.4%. The biggest party in the coalition is Civic Platform, which governed Poland in 2007-2015.

Coalition leaders cheered and welcomed the result as a spur toward uniting society around common goals.

Other parties projected to surpass the 5% threshold to get into parliament were a left-wing alliance with 11.9%, the conservative agrarian Polish People’s Party with 9.6% and a new far-right alliance called Confederation with 6.4%.

The exit poll had a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points. Final vote results, which are expected by Tuesday, could shift, as they have in past elections.

A prominent journalist, Konrad Piasecki, said that “at the moment it looks like the largest triumph in the history of parliamentary elections” in Poland. But he also cautioned that results varying even slightly from the exit poll could mean big changes to the distribution of seats in parliament.

Law and Justice has governed Poland since 2015 and is popular for its social conservatism and generous social spending. It ran a campaign that highlighted its social programs and vowed to defend traditional Roman Catholic values.

It has been accused of weakening the rule of law in the young democracy with an overhaul of the judicial system that has given the party more power over the courts and has drawn criticism as well for using state media as a propaganda outlet and for anti-gay rhetoric.

Pawel Zerka, policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank, said the high level of support for Law and Justice, known in Poland by its acronym PIS, “should not be interpreted as a sign that Poles have become nationalist or xenophobic. Rather, it reveals an effective party machine – and an ability of PIS to mobilize voters with policies based on direct social transfers.”

Party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who is considered the real power behind Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s government, cautioned that the exit polls weren’t the final results but nonetheless declared victory.

“We received a lot but we deserve more,” Kaczynski told party supporters as he held high a bouquet of roses.

Civic Platform leader Grzegorz Schetyna said the fight wasn’t fair, an apparent reference to the way Law and Justice harnessed state media to pump out positive coverage of itself while casting a poor light on political rivals.

“This was not an even struggle; there were no rules in this struggle,” Schetyna said.

The left-wing party leaders celebrated their expected return to parliament after failing to get any seats in 2015.

Critics fear that four more years for Law and Justice will reverse the democratic achievements of this Central European nation, citing the changes to the judiciary and the way the party has marginalized minorities, for instance with its recent campaign depicting the LGBT rights movement as a threat.

Law and Justice’s apparent success stems from tapping into the values of the largely conservative society while also evening out extreme economic inequalities.

It is the first party since the fall of communism to break with the austerity of previous governments, whose free-market policies transformed Poland into one of Europe’s most dynamic economies.

However, many Poles were left out in that transformation and inequalities grew, creating grievances. Law and Justice skillfully addressed those concerns with popular programs, including one that gives families a monthly stipend of 500 zlotys ($125) for each child, taking the edge off poverty for some and giving others more disposable income. It says it has been able to pay for its programs thanks to a tighter tax collection system.

It has also clearly benefited from the sacrifices forced by earlier governments and the growth of Europe’s economy.

In his victory speech, Kaczynski referred to his party’s improvement of public finances and said it would continue on that path.

“We are finishing a certain stage; we are starting a new one,” he said. “It is not easier, maybe more difficult. But I hope that it will be finished with even greater success.”


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Nigeria’s Buhari Faces Flak Over Cabinet Picks

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has come under fire for stacking his new cabinet with ageing party loyalists despite hopes he might opt for more technocrats in his final term.

The senate this week approved the list of 43 ministers after the former military ruler finally settled on their names some two months after his inauguration in May.

Buhari, 76, is yet to hand out their portfolios but already his choice of stalwarts from his All Progressives Congress (APC) party has caused dismay.

“One would have expected that the president would shop for more people with more expertise” to assuage worries about the future, said Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, head of Abuja-based Transition Monitoring Group organisation.

She said she doubted the ability of those chosen “to push the agenda for development for Nigeria”.

Buhari faces a raft of challenges in his second term at the helm of Africa’s most populous nation — from tackling a grinding Islamist insurgency and spreading insecurity to trying to bolster a fragile economic recovery.

During his first four years he earned the nickname “Baba go-slow” after he took six months to name a cabinet and was seen to proceed with decisions at a glacial pace.

Far from cutting lose for his second, and final stint in power, he now appears to have fallen back on familiar faces.

In a country with more than half the population under 30, not one of the ministers is less than 40 years old.

Only seven of those chosen are women.

“16.3 percent representation is abysmal,” Ndi Kato, a 28-year-old female politician told local media.

“We have an abundance of qualified women and we have been advocating throughout the process of selecting ministers. The disrespect of tossing out the requests of women like it doesn’t matter is traumatic.”

‘More patronage’

Analysts said the decision to reward loyalists and keep key players in place means there are unlikely to be major reforms in the years ahead.

Fourteen of the ministers in the new cabinet served Buhari during his first term from 2015 to 2019.

Among those coming back are heavyweights like Babatunde Fashola, a former Lagos governor, transport minister Rotimi Amaechi, who ran oil-rich Rivers state, finance minister Zanaib Ahmed, foreign minister Geoffrey Onyema and education minister Adamu Adamu.

“Rewarding APC powerbrokers will improve party cohesion in the second term but also risks eroding first-term gains in curbing patronage,” said the Eurasia consultancy group in a note.

The president appeared to be prioritising APC unity and making up for 2015 when some leading backers in the party complained they had been overlooked, the group said.

“It also signals to party officials that Buhari will condone more patronage and possible leakages from government coffers than during his first term,” it said.  

The opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which is still challenging Buhari’s election victory, has been quick to criticise the government selection as uninspiring and unable to tackle the challenges ahead.  

“In recycling failed yesterday’s men for today’s assignment, President Buhari and the APC have left no one in doubt that they have no vision to move our nation out of the economic and security predicaments into which they have plunged us in the last four years,” the party said in statement.

Rooting out graft

Anti-graft crusaders also worried that the appointments did not look promising for attempts to seriously tackle Nigeria’s endemic corruption.

Rooting out graft was one of Buhari’s big pledges in 2015 and he has promised to step it up this time round.

But critics have accused him of using the corruption crackdown to target his political opponents.

Debo Adeniran of the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL) pressure group, pointed to new ministers with major questions hanging over them.

Although Adeniran did not give their names, Fashola has been asked by CACOL to step down over fraud allegations while at the helm in Lagos.

Goodwill Akpabio, a former opposition leader, senator and governor of southern oil-rich Akwa Ibom state who defected to Buhari’s ruling party ahead of the 2019 elections has also faced accusations of looting his state treasury.

Another name is former information minister Lai Mohammed, who has been summoned by a court to clear his name over a phony contract awarded in his department.

“I don’t think there was due diligence on the nominees. Otherwise, the president would not have considered many of them,” Adeniran said.

“For Buhari’s integrity and fight against corruption to be taken serious, he has to do away with many of his appointees.”

 


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