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Floors collapse at Russian university in St. Petersburg

8 hours 53 min ago
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia - Part of the roof and several floors of university building in Russia’s second-largest city collapsed Saturday, but officials say there were no casualties. The Emergencies Ministry said the collapse at the Saint Petersburg National Research University of Information Technologies, Mechanics and Optics took place as construction work was underway. An investigation into criminal violation of construction safety has been opened. St. Petersburg acting governor Alexander Beglov told journalists at the scene in the central city that 81 people were evacuated from the building. “No victims, no injured,” he said. He said about 20 of those evacuated were foreign students attending a weekend class. The school, known as ITMO University, is one of Russia’s national research universities. The Associated Press

Brighton beats Derby to reach FA Cup quarterfinals

9 hours 9 min ago
BRIGHTON, England - Brighton reached the quarterfinals of the FA Cup for the second year in a row after holding on for a 2-1 win over second-tier Derby on Saturday. Brighton looked to be in complete control after taking a 2-0 lead at halftime, with Anthony Knockaert and Jurgen Locadia scoring for the Premier League side. But Derby threatened to make a comeback after veteran left back Ashley Cole - a seven-time FA Cup winner with Arsenal and Chelsea - scored his first goal in the competition in the 81st. That made for a nervy last 10 minutes for the hosts, but Harry Wilson and Fikayo Tomori both shot wide for Derby to scupper any hopes of a comeback. Knockaert opened the scoring in the 33rd minute by meeting a low cross in the area and sweeping a shot inside the near post, before Locadia doubled the lead on the stroke of halftime by firing in from close range after Yves Bissouma’s effort had hit the post. Cole responded with his first goal in English football in six years after Florian Jozefzoon went down under a challenge from Bernardo and the ball was cleared into the path of the former England defender. While his teammates appealed for a penalty, Cole calmly headed home. The 38-year-old Cole signed with Derby in January after leaving the Los Angeles Galaxy. The Championship side is managed by Cole’s former Chelsea teammate, Frank Lampard, and was looking for another upset after knocking Manchester United out of the League Cup and beating Southampton in the FA Cup’s third round - both times on penalties. MILLWALL THROUGH Championship side Millwall also advanced after Murray Wallace’s early goal was enough to secure a 1-0 win over League One struggler AFC Wimbledon. Wallace headed in a cross from Ryan Leonard in the fifth minute and the hosts had a number of second-half chances to add to the lead, but couldn’t find a way past Wimbledon goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale for a second time. It’s the second time in three years the London club reaches the quarterfinals. Later Saturday, Manchester City travelled to fourth-tier Newport. ___ More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports The Associated Press

Toronto’s Kevin Drury races to bronze in ski cross World Cup; Thompson fourth

9 hours 12 min ago
FELDBERG, Germany - Toronto’s Kevin Drury raced onto his first World Cup ski cross podium of the season, winning bronze on Saturday to open a double-header. Drury, who won every heat en route to Saturday’s big final, survived contact and a near-spill early on in the final to cross the line fourth. The jury reviewed the race and bumped Drury to bronze while disqualifying Switzerland’s Alex Fiva. “A small mistake at the start put me into third, and partway down the course, there was some contact made between me and Alex,” Drury said. “It could have gone either way, really. (The contact) was just kind of a bummer of a situation, so mixed emotions for this podium but I’m still happy with the way today went.” Drury reached the podium three times last season, and is coming off a bronze-medal finish at the world championships earlier this month Marielle Thompson of Whistler, B.C., was the only other Canadian to race in a big final, finishing fourth. “I skied well pretty much all day, in the final I just got stuck behind and really didn’t have anywhere to go with the soft snow,” said Thompson, who won gold at the recent world championships. “I tried a few things (to move ahead) but it didn’t quite work out. Fourth’s okay, but I’m hoping for more (Sunday).” Racing continues on Sunday. The Canadian Press

Vatican defrocks former US cardinal McCarrick over sex abuse

9 hours 20 min ago
VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis has defrocked former U.S. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick after Vatican officials found him guilty of soliciting for sex while hearing confession and of sexual crimes against minors and adults, the Holy See said Saturday. McCarrick, 88, is the highest-ranking Catholic churchman to be laicized, as the process is called. It means he can no longer celebrate Mass or other sacraments, wear clerical vestments or be addressed by any religious title. He is the first churchman who reached the rank of cardinal to be defrocked in the church’s sex abuse scandals. The punishment for the once-powerful prelate, who had served as the archbishop of Washington, spent years in New Jersey dioceses and had been an influential fundraiser for the church, was announced five days before Francis leads an extraordinary gathering of bishops from around the world to help the church grapple with the crisis of sex abuse by clergy and the systematic coverups by church hierarchy. The decades-long scandals have shaken the faith of many Catholics and threaten Francis’ papacy. The scandal swirling around McCarrick was particularly damning to the church’s reputation because it apparently was an open secret in some church circles that he slept with adult seminarians. Francis removed McCarrick as a cardinal in July after a U.S. church investigation determined that an allegation he fondled a teenage altar boy in the 1970s was credible. The Vatican’s press office said the Holy See’s doctrinal watchdog office, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, found McCarrick on Jan. 11 guilty of “solicitation in the sacrament of confession, and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power.” The commandment forbids adultery. The officials “imposed on him the penalty of dismissal from the clerical state.” It considered his appeal on Wednesday and upheld its ruling, telling McCarrick Friday of that decision, the Vatican said. McCarrick, when he was ordained a priest in his native New York City in 1958, took a vow of celibacy in accordance with church rules on priests. The pope “has recognized the definitive nature of this decision made in accordance with (church) law, rendering it as ‘res iudicata,'” the Vatican said, using the Latin phrase for admitting no further recourse. One victim, James Grein, the son of a family friend of McCarrick’s, had testified to church officials that, among other abuses, McCarrick had repeatedly groped him during confession. He said the abuse, which went on for decades, began when he was 11. “Today I am happy that the pope believed me,” Grein said in a statement issued through his lawyer. Grein also expressed hope that McCarrick “will no longer be able to use the power of Jesus’ church to manipulate families and sexually abuse children.” Adding that it’s “time for us to cleanse the church,” Grein said pressure needs to be put on state attorney generals and senators to change the statute of limitations for abuse cases. “Hundreds of priests, bishops and cardinals are hiding behind man-made law,” he said. McCarrick’s civil lawyer, Barry Coburn, told The Associated Press that for the time being his client had no comment on the defrocking. Coburn also declined to say if McCarrick was still residing at the Kansas friary where he had moved to when Francis ordered him to live in penance and prayer while the investigation continued. The archdiocese of Washington, D.C., where McCarrick was posted at the pinnacle of his clerical career, from 2001-2006, said in a statement it hoped that the Vatican decision “serves to help the healing process for survivors of abuse, as well as those who have experienced disappointment or disillusionment because of what former Archbishop McCarrick has done.” Complaints were also made about McCarrick’s conduct in the New Jersey dioceses of Newark and Metuchen, where he previously served. Francis’ move marks a remarkable downfall for the globe-trotting powerbroker and influential church fundraiser who mingled with presidents and popes but preferred to be called “Uncle Ted” by the young men he courted. The Vatican summit, which starts Thursday and runs through Feb. 24, will draw church leaders from around the world to talk about preventing sex abuse. It was called in part to respond to the McCarrick scandal as well as to the explosion of the abuse crisis in Chile and its escalation in the United States last year. Despite the apparent common knowledge in church circles of his sexual behaviour, McCarrick rose to the heights of church power. He even acted as the spokesman for U.S. bishops when they enacted a “zero tolerance” policy against sexually abusive priests in 2002. That apparent hypocrisy, coupled with allegations in the Pennsylvania grand jury report detailing decades of abuse and coverup in six dioceses, outraged many among the rank-and-file faithful who had trusted church leaders to reform how they handled sex abuse after 2002. The allegation regarding the altar boy was the first known against McCarrick to involve a minor - a far more serious offence than sleeping with adult seminarians. Francis himself became implicated in the decade-long McCarrick coverup after a former Vatican ambassador to the U.S. accused the pope of rehabilitating the cardinal from sanctions imposed by Pope Benedict XVI despite being told of his penchant for young men. Francis hasn’t responded to those claims. But he has ordered a limited Vatican investigation. The Vatican has acknowledged the outcome may produce evidence that mistakes were made, but said Francis would “follow the path of truth, wherever it may lead.” An advocate for church accountability in the sex abuse crisis demanded Saturday that Francis “tell the truth about what he knew and when he knew it” about McCarrick. Anne Barrett Doyle of BishopAccountability.org says also demanded that the pope use immediately laicize other abusive bishops. In a statement, she said of the 101 accused bishops her group has tracked, McCarrick is only the seventh to be laicized. She said the other 94 either still hold the title of bishop or did so until they died. Vatican watchers have compared the McCarrick coverup scandal to that of the Rev. Marcial Maciel, perhaps the 20th-century Catholic Church’s most notorious pedophile. Maciel’s sex crimes against children were ignored for decades by a Vatican bureaucracy impressed by his ability to bring in donations and vocations. Among Maciel’s staunchest admirers was Pope John Paul II, who later became a saint. Like Maciel, McCarrick was a powerful, popular prelate who funneled millions in donations to the Vatican. He apparently got a calculated pass for what many in the church hierarchy would have either discounted as ideological-fueled rumour or brushed off as a mere “moral lapse” in sleeping with adult men. ___ Frances D’Emilio is on twitter at http://www.twitter.com/fdemilio Frances D’Emilio And Nicole Winfield, The Associated Press

Floors collapse at Russian university in St. Petersburg

9 hours 50 min ago
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia - Russian emergency authorities say part of the roof and several floors of a university building in Russia’s second-largest city have collapsed, but there were no immediate indications of casualties. The Emergencies Ministry said the collapse Saturday afternoon at the Saint Petersburg National Research University of Information Technologies, Mechanics and Optics took place as construction work was underway. About two hours after the collapse, Russian news agencies cited the ministry as saying no bodies had been found in the rubble and there were no immediate reports of injuries. Russian media said about 80 people were evacuated from the building. The school, known as ITMO University, is one of Russia’s national research universities. The Associated Press

Toronto’s Kevin Drury races to bronze in ski cross World Cup; Thompson fourth

10 hours 7 min ago
FELDBERG, Germany - Toronto’s Kevin Drury raced onto his first World Cup podium of the season, winning bronze on Saturday to open a double-header. Drury, who won every heat en route to Saturday’s big final, survived contact and a near-spill early on in the final to cross the line fourth. The jury reviewed the race and bumped Drury to bronze while disqualifying Switzerland’s Alex Fiva. “A small mistake at the start put me into third, and partway down the course, there was some contact made between me and Alex,” Drury said. “It could have gone either way, really. (The contact) was just kind of a bummer of a situation, so mixed emotions for this podium but I’m still happy with the way today went.” Drury reached the podium three times last season, and is coming off a bronze-medal finish at the world championships earlier this month Marielle Thompson of Whistler, B.C., was the only other Canadian to race in a big final. “I skied well pretty much all day, in the final I just got stuck behind and really didn’t have anywhere to go with the soft snow,” said Thompson, who won gold at the recent world championships. “I tried a few things (to move ahead) but it didn’t quite work out. Fourth’s okay, but I’m hoping for more (Sunday).” Racing continues on Sunday. The Canadian Press

8 miners rescued in Zimbabwe; dozens more feared dead

10 hours 21 min ago
KADOMA, Zimbabwe - Eight artisanal miners who were trapped underground for several days after heavy flooding in Zimbabwe have been rescued, though dozens of their co-workers are still missing and feared dead. Rescuers on Saturday pulled the exhausted, muddied survivors from the ground and took them to a tent for medical treatment. Relatives waiting at the scene ululated, cheered and hugged each other. Later came the retrieval of bodies. One by one the bodies were pulled from one of the tunnels in the gold fields, put in blue body bags and into a police truck which is transporting them to a tent for identification. Dozens of gold miners were caught underground Tuesday on the outskirts of Kadoma, west Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, when a dam wall collapsed and water rushed into the nearby mining tunnels. It is unclear how many miners remain trapped, but the government has said between 60 and 70 people were working underground at the time of the accident. The government has declared it a national disaster. Uniformed police, government workmen and artisanal miners, some of them wearing shorts, T-shirts and sandals, are working together in the retrieval operation using a hand-powered winch and ropes. Ignoring a strong stench, some people broke through the police perimeter to catch a glimpse of the process, while others hoped to identify their friends and relatives. At least 20 bodies had been identified underground, while the search for more bodies continued, said Henrietta Rushwaya, the leader of Zimbabwe’s association of small scale miners. A government statement Friday said that $200,000 is needed to complete the operation. Local head of the Civil Protection Unit Cecilia Chitiyo told reporters Saturday that “well-wishers” should donate body bags, masks, gloves, diesel fuel and other needed items. Farai Mutsaka, The Associated Press

Floors collapse at Russian university building

10 hours 24 min ago
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia - Russian emergency authorities say several floors of a university building in Russia’s second-largest city have collapsed. There was no immediate information on casualties. The cause of the collapse Saturday afternoon at the building of the Saint Petersburg National Research University of Information Technologies, Mechanics and Optics was not clear. News reports said there may have been students in the building for elective weekend instruction. The school, known as ITMO University, is one of Russia’s national research universities. The Associated Press

Blue Jays sign Canadian right-hander John Axford to minor league deal

10 hours 39 min ago
DUNEDIN, Fla. - The Toronto Blue Jays have signed Canadian right-handed pitcher John Axford to a minor league deal. The contract, announced by the team Saturday, includes an invitation to Major League spring training, where Axford reported that morning. Axford, from Port Dover, Ont., went 4-1 with a 4.41 ERA in 45 games with the Blue Jays last season before being traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 31. The towering right-hander combined to throw 54 2/3 innings in 2018, allowing 52 hits with 22 walks and 54 strikeouts. Axford, 35, owns a career record of 38-34 with a 3.87 ERA and 144 saves in 543 games for eight different teams (2009-2018). The Canadian Press

Plenty of Canadian content as Seattle hosts Toronto in Major League Rugby play

10 hours 43 min ago
Canada captain Phil Mack’s welcome will likely be warm and short Sunday when the Toronto Arrows visit his Seattle Seawolves in Major League Rugby play. Introductions won’t be needed. Thirteen of the Arrows’ starting 15 are Canadian and nine members of the matchday 23 are Canadian internationals. “Certainly I’ve played alongside a lot of them,” Mack, a veteran scrum half who has won 55 caps for Canada, said of the Arrows. “I’ve played against them for a long time. So it’s going to be a lot of fun. I’m really looking forward to it.” Seattle, who won the MLR’s inaugural title in 2018, also has a sizable Canadian contingent in wing Brock Staller (Vancouver), centre George Barton (Duncan, B.C.), back-rower Cam Polson (London, Ont.), flanker Nakai Penny (Penticton B.C.) and prop Djustice Sears-Duru (Oakville, Ont.). The Seawolves roster also draws on talent from the U.S., Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Fiji, New Zealand and South Africa. Penny and Sears-Duru were part of the Canadian squad that just played Americas Rugby Championship matches in Uruguay and Brazil. That roster included seven members of the Arrows: Guiseppe du Toit, Cole Keith, Kainoa Lloyd, Jamie Mackenzie, Lucas Rumball, Theo Sauder and Mike Sheppard. Sheppard and du Toit slot back into the Arrows’ starting lineup at lock and inside centre, respectively. Du Toit will make his MLR debut, while Andrew Wilson and Doug Wooldridge will be waiting to do the same from the bench. “The guys have looked sharp in training all week, and definitely have a little extra bounce in their step after our first win last Friday,” Chris Silverthorn, Toronto’s director of rugby, said in a statement. “We’re starting to get a couple of our players back from international duty, and the squad is filling back out again. We’ve seen plenty of good competition for spots, which has helped push us during the early weeks of the season.” Toronto is coming off a 23-19 decision over Austin Elite Rugby in Texas on Feb. 8. The Arrows lost their season opener in New Orleans by a 36-31 margin despite a 24-point fightback in the second half. “As a Canadian I think it’s fantastic,” Mack said of Toronto joining the league. “We need to expose more Canadian rugby players to any higher-level rugby and the MLR’s a perfect outlet. “Having a team like Toronto, having them provide 30 to 35 guys kind of the full-time rugby experience is massive as a country. In terms of what it’s going to do for development and long-term growth in Canada, it’s huge.” Mack has done his part for Canadian rugby, starring at both the sevens and 15s level. The 33-year-old splits his year between his Victoria home and Seattle. That means being away from his wife during the season, although they trade visits when possible. Facing a tough schedule to open the 2019 season, Seattle is 1-2-0. The Seawolves downed the Glendale Raptors 20-18 in a rematch of last year’s championship game before losing 17-13 to at the San Diego Legion in heavy rain and 41-31 at New Orleans (NOLA Gold). NOLA Gold (3-0-0, 15 points including bonus points) tops the nine-team standings, ahead of San Diego (2-1-0, nine points), Toronto (1-1-0, six points) and Seattle (1-2-0, six points). “I have all the faith that over the duration of the season, we’re going to start sorting things out and for us it’s going to have to start this weekend against Toronto,” said Mack. Mack served as a player coach last season but has put the coaching aside this season with Richie Walker running the show in 2019.  Mack captained Canada to victory in last November’s last-ditch World Cup qualifying tournament in France. Wins over Kenya, Germany and Hong Kong earned the Canadian men the 20th and last berth in the Rugby World Cup that starts Sept. 20 in Japan.  “That was probably one of the most challenging experiences, the pressure was pouring on to get into the world Cup. I thought the boys really responded well. To get there is an achievement but to perform well at the World Cup is completely different. So we still have a ton of work to do and I think everybody’s really looking forward to get into that work.” Mack, who made his test debut against Ireland in May 2009, says he will likely retire after the World Cup. “There’s not many better occasions to make the decision to not play any longer than the World Cup. I’m going to put all the energy and all my effort into performing at the World Cup. I never say never but we’ll see what happens at the end of it.” He hopes to go into coaching after calling time to his playing career. Sunday’s game is the third of eight consecutive away matches for the Arrows. Toronto will then play straight home matches between April 7 and June 2 to close out the regular season. Toronto Arrows Lineup: Tom Dolezel, Andrew Quattrin, Morgan Mitchell, Mike Sheppard, Paul Ciulini, Peter Milazzo, Marcello Wainwright, Kolby Francis, Andrew Ferguson, Sam Malcolm, Dan Moor (capt.), Guiseppe du Toit, Spencer Jones, Avery Oitomen, Shawn Windsor. Replacements Steven Ng, Doug Wooldridge, Cole Keith, Josh Van Horne, Andrew Wilson, Riley Di Nardo, John Sheridan, Jack Evans. --- Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

Vatican defrocks former US cardinal McCarrick over sex abuse

10 hours 49 min ago
VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis has defrocked former U.S. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick after Vatican officials found him guilty of soliciting for sex while hearing confession and of sexual crimes against minors and adults, the Holy See said Saturday. McCarrick, 88, is the highest-ranking Catholic churchman to be laicized, as the process is called. It means he can no longer celebrate Mass or other sacraments, wear clerical vestments or be addressed by any religious title. He is the first churchman who reached the rank of cardinal to be defrocked in the church’s sex abuse scandals. The punishment for the once-powerful prelate, who had served as the archbishop of Washington, spent years in New Jersey dioceses and had been an influential fundraiser for the church, was announced five days before Francis leads an extraordinary gathering of bishops from around the world to help the church grapple with the crisis of sex abuse by clergy and the systematic coverups by church hierarchy. The decades-long scandals have shaken the faith of many Catholics and threaten Francis’ papacy. The scandal swirling around McCarrick was particularly damning to the church’s reputation because it apparently was an open secret in some church circles that he slept with adult seminarians. Francis removed McCarrick as a cardinal in July after a U.S. church investigation determined that an allegation he fondled a teenage altar boy in the 1970s was credible. The Vatican’s press office said the Holy See’s doctrinal watchdog office, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, found McCarrick on Jan. 11 guilty of “solicitation in the sacrament of confession, and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power.” The commandment forbids adultery. The officials “imposed on him the penalty of dismissal from the clerical state.” It considered his appeal on Wednesday and upheld its ruling, telling McCarrick Friday of that decision, the Vatican said. McCarrick, when he was ordained a priest in his native New York City in 1958, took a vow of celibacy in accordance with church rules on priests. The pope “has recognized the definitive nature of this decision made in accordance with (church) law, rendering it as ‘res iudicata,'” the Vatican said, using the Latin phrase for admitting no further recourse. One victim, James Grein, the son of a family friend of McCarrick’s, had testified to church officials that, among other abuses, McCarrick had repeatedly groped him during confession. He said the abuse, which went on for decades, began when he was 11. “Today I am happy that the pope believed me,” Grein said in a statement issued through his lawyer. Grein also expressed hope that McCarrick “will no longer be able to use the power of Jesus’ church to manipulate families and sexually abuse children.” Adding that it’s “time for us to cleanse the church,” Grein said pressure needs to be put on state attorney generals and senators to change the statute of limitations for abuse cases. “Hundreds of priests, bishops and cardinals are hiding behind man-made law,” he said. McCarrick’s civil lawyer, Barry Coburn, told The Associated Press that for the time being his client had no comment on the defrocking. Coburn also declined to say if McCarrick was still residing at the Kansas friary where he had moved to when Francis ordered him to live in penance and prayer while the investigation continued. The archdiocese of Washington, D.C., where McCarrick was posted at the pinnacle of his clerical career, from 2001-2006, said in a statement it hoped that the Vatican decision “serves to help the healing process for survivors of abuse, as well as those who have experienced disappointment or disillusionment because of what former Archbishop McCarrick has done.” Complaints were also made about McCarrick’s conduct in the New Jersey dioceses of Newark and Metuchen, where he previously served. Francis’ move marks a remarkable downfall for the globe-trotting powerbroker and influential church fundraiser who mingled with presidents and popes but preferred to be called “Uncle Ted” by the young men he courted. The Vatican summit, which starts Thursday and runs through Feb. 24, will draw church leaders from around the world to talk about preventing sex abuse. It was called in part to respond to the McCarrick scandal as well as to the explosion of the abuse crisis in Chile and its escalation in the United States last year. Despite the apparent common knowledge in church circles of his sexual behaviour, McCarrick rose to the heights of church power. He even acted as the spokesman for U.S. bishops when they enacted a “zero tolerance” policy against sexually abusive priests in 2002. That apparent hypocrisy, coupled with allegations in the Pennsylvania grand jury report detailing decades of abuse and coverup in six dioceses, outraged many among the rank-and-file faithful who had trusted church leaders to reform how they handled sex abuse after 2002. The allegation regarding the altar boy was the first known against McCarrick to involve a minor - a far more serious offence than sleeping with adult seminarians. Francis himself became implicated in the decade-long McCarrick coverup after a former Vatican ambassador to the U.S. accused the pope of rehabilitating the cardinal from sanctions imposed by Pope Benedict XVI despite being told of his penchant for young men. Francis hasn’t responded to those claims. But he has ordered a limited Vatican investigation. The Vatican has acknowledged the outcome may produce evidence that mistakes were made, but said Francis would “follow the path of truth, wherever it may lead.” An advocate for church accountability in the sex abuse crisis demanded Saturday that Francis “tell the truth about what he knew and when he knew it” about McCarrick. Anne Barrett Doyle of BishopAccountability.org says also demanded that the pope use immediately laicize other abusive bishops. In a statement, she said of the 101 accused bishops her group has tracked, McCarrick is only the seventh to be laicized. She said the other 94 either still hold the title of bishop or did so until they died. Vatican watchers have compared the McCarrick coverup scandal to that of the Rev. Marcial Maciel, perhaps the 20th-century Catholic Church’s most notorious pedophile. Maciel’s sex crimes against children were ignored for decades by a Vatican bureaucracy impressed by his ability to bring in donations and vocations. Among Maciel’s staunchest admirers was Pope John Paul II, who later became a saint. Like Maciel, McCarrick was a powerful, popular prelate who funneled millions in donations to the Vatican. He apparently got a calculated pass for what many in the church hierarchy would have either discounted as ideological-fueled rumour or brushed off as a mere “moral lapse” in sleeping with adult men. ___ Frances D’Emilio is on twitter at http://www.twitter.com/fdemilio Frances D’Emilio And Nicole Winfield, The Associated Press

Merkel defends Iran deal, multilateralism but Pence resists

11 hours 5 min ago
MUNICH - German Chancellor Angela Merkel robustly defended European nations’ decision to stand by the Iran nuclear deal in a spirited backing Saturday of her multilateral approach to global affairs, but U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence promptly accused Europe of once again undermining the United States. Merkel’s comments at the Munich Security Conference, an annual gathering of top global defence and foreign policy officials, followed days of tensions between Washington and Europe over Iran. U.S. President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled out of the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement last year, leaving the others involved - Germany, Britain, France, China, Russia and the European Union - scrambling to try and keep it alive. The deal offers Iran sanctions relief for limiting its nuclear program, and the International Atomic Energy Agency has said so far that Tehran is sticking to the agreement. But the U.S. argues that the deal just puts off when Iran might be able to build a nuclear bomb. Pence pushed at the conference for Europeans to end their involvement in the nuclear deal, calling Iran “the leading state sponsor of terrorism in the world.” “The time has come for our European partners to stop undermining U.S. sanctions against this murderous revolutionary regime,” Pence said. “The time has come for our European partners to stand with us and with the Iranian people, our allies and friends in the region. The time has come for our European partners to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.” The comments came after Merkel said she shared concerns about many Iranian efforts to grow its power in the region. While she said the split with the U.S. over the nuclear agreement “depresses me very much,” she defended it as an important channel to Tehran. “I see the ballistic missile program, I see Iran in Yemen and above all I see Iran in Syria,” she said. “The only question that stands between us on this issue is, do we help our common cause, our common aim of containing the damaging or difficult development of Iran, by withdrawing from the one remaining agreement? Or do we help it more by keeping the small anchor we have in order maybe to exert pressure in other areas?” Merkel also questioned whether it’s good for the U.S. to withdraw troops quickly from Syria “or is that not also strengthening the possibilities for Iran and Russia to exert influence there?” Turning to nuclear disarmament, Merkel said the U.S. announcement earlier this month that it was pulling out of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty was “inevitable” because of Russian violations. Moscow followed suit by also withdrawing from the treaty, strongly denying any breaches. The U.S. administration also has worried that the pact was an obstacle to efforts to counter intermediate-range missiles deployed by China, which is not covered by the treaty. Merkel noted the treaty was conceived “essentially for Europe,” where such missiles were stationed during the Cold War. She said “the answer cannot lie in blind rearmament.” “Disarmament is something that concerns us all, and we would of course be glad if such negotiations were conducted not just between the United States … and Russia, but also with China,” she said. Merkel also defended Germany’s progress in fulfilling NATO guidelines for countries to move toward spending 2 per cent of gross domestic product on defence by 2024, which have been criticized as too slow. And overall, she rejected the idea of go-it-alone foreign policy. She said it is better to “put yourself in the other’s shoes … and see whether we can get win-win solutions together.” Pence stuck to the U.S. line that the 2 per cent NATO guideline is a strict commitment rather than a target, saying while more alliance members have met the criteria, “the truth is, many of our NATO allies still need to do more.” He also reiterated American opposition to the joint German-Russian Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, which Washington is concerned will make Europe overly reliant on Russian gas. “The United States commends all our European partners who’ve taken a strong stand against Nord Stream 2,” he said. “And we commend others to do that same.” Merkel defended the pipeline under the Baltic Sea, dismissing the American concerns as unfounded and assuring Ukraine that it won’t get cut off from Russian fuel. Speaking as Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko looked on, she told him his country would continue to be a transit country for Russian gas even after the pipeline is complete. Merkel noted that Europe also has enough terminals to receive more liquefied gas from the U.S., among other options. “There’s nothing that speaks against getting gas from the United States, but to exclude Russia is the wrong strategic signal.” Merkel’s speech was warmly received, while Pence’s met with polite applause. The two met one-on-one after the speeches and Pence told reporters they had “frank” discussions on all of the issues they’d touched on in public. Former U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden, who was in office when the Iran nuclear deal was negotiated, went out of his way to thank Merkel and defended the Iran deal as a “significant agreement.” “The America I see does not want to turn its back on the world,” Biden said. ___ Moulson reported from Berlin. David Rising And Geir Moulson, The Associated Press

London Fashion Week: Alexa Chung shows quirky classics

11 hours 56 min ago
London Fashion Week is picking up pace with Alexa Chung, Jasper Conran and other designers offering catwalk shows Saturday, to be followed by the House of Holland and Simone Rocha. The spectacle is bringing much needed colour and verve as grey London shakes off its winter blues amid the first hints of warmer weather. ALEXA CHUNG SHOWS QUIRKY CLASSICS Model and TV presenter Alexa Chung has a loyal fan base and her many admirers flocked to Saturday’s show in London’s redeveloped King’s Cross neighbourhood. They weren’t disappointed as Chung offered a new collection featuring her quirky, feminine take on classic designs. For her second London Fashion Week show, called “Off the Grid,” the designer announced she had lost all interest in “prettiness” and was imagining a “gaggle of women” who have retreated to California’s Big Sur coastal wilderness to regroup. There’s an independence to the collection, even as some of the models wear long coats with matching head scarves that are evocative of the American prairie. Many of the deceptively simple dresses emphasize the shoulders, giving the women an outline of physical strength, and much of the outerwear is masculine in style, particularly a forest green suit. Chung showed an easy, eclectic touch in a collection that included long black coats, several sexy gold dresses, and a few beautiful green midi dresses, including one that Chung wore to the show. The Associated Press

Merkel defends Iran deal, multilateralism but Pence resists

12 hours 17 min ago
MUNICH - German Chancellor Angela Merkel robustly defended European nations’ decision to stand by the Iran nuclear deal in a spirited backing Saturday of her multilateral approach to global affairs, but U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence promptly accused Europe of once again undermining the United States. Merkel’s comments at the Munich Security Conference, an annual gathering of top global defence and foreign policy officials, followed days of tensions between Washington and Europe over Iran. U.S. President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled out of the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement last year, leaving the others involved - Germany, Britain, France, China, Russia and the European Union - scrambling to try and keep it alive. The deal offers Iran sanctions relief for limiting its nuclear program, and the International Atomic Energy Agency has said so far that Tehran is sticking to the agreement. But the U.S. argues that the deal just puts off when Iran might be able to build a nuclear bomb. Pence pushed at the conference for Europeans to end their involvement in the nuclear deal, calling Iran “the leading state sponsor of terrorism in the world.” “The time has come for our European partners to stop undermining U.S. sanctions against this murderous revolutionary regime,” Pence said. “The time has come for our European partners to stand with us and with the Iranian people, our allies and friends in the region. The time has come for our European partners to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.” The comments came after Merkel said she shared concerns about many Iranian efforts to grow its power in the region. While she said the split with the U.S. over the nuclear agreement “depresses me very much,” she defended it as an important channel to Tehran. “I see the ballistic missile program, I see Iran in Yemen and above all I see Iran in Syria,” she said. “The only question that stands between us on this issue is, do we help our common cause, our common aim of containing the damaging or difficult development of Iran, by withdrawing from the one remaining agreement? Or do we help it more by keeping the small anchor we have in order maybe to exert pressure in other areas?” Merkel also questioned whether it’s good for the U.S. to withdraw troops quickly from Syria “or is that not also strengthening the possibilities for Iran and Russia to exert influence there?” Turning to nuclear disarmament, Merkel said the U.S. announcement earlier this month that it was pulling out of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty was “inevitable” because of Russian violations. Moscow followed suit by also withdrawing from the treaty, strongly denying any breaches. The U.S. administration also has worried that the pact was an obstacle to efforts to counter intermediate-range missiles deployed by China, which is not covered by the treaty. Merkel noted the treaty was conceived “essentially for Europe,” where such missiles were stationed during the Cold War. She said “the answer cannot lie in blind rearmament.” “Disarmament is something that concerns us all, and we would of course be glad if such negotiations were conducted not just between the United States … and Russia, but also with China,” she said. Merkel also defended Germany’s progress in fulfilling NATO guidelines for countries to move toward spending 2 per cent of gross domestic product on defence by 2024, which have been criticized as too slow. And overall, she rejected the idea of go-it-alone foreign policy. She said it is better to “put yourself in the other’s shoes … and see whether we can get win-win solutions together.” Pence stuck to the U.S. line that the 2 per cent NATO guideline is a strict commitment rather than a target, saying while more alliance members have met the criteria, “the truth is, many of our NATO allies still need to do more.” He also reiterated American opposition to the joint German-Russian Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, which Washington is concerned will make Europe overly reliant on Russian gas. “The United States commends all our European partners who’ve taken a strong stand against Nord Stream 2,” he said. “And we commend others to do that same.” Merkel defended the pipeline under the Baltic Sea, dismissing the American concerns as unfounded and assuring Ukraine that it won’t get cut off from Russian fuel. Speaking as Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko looked on, she told him his country would continue to be a transit country for Russian gas even after the pipeline is complete. Merkel noted that Europe also has enough terminals to receive more liquefied gas from the U.S., among other options. “There’s nothing that speaks against getting gas from the United States, but to exclude Russia is the wrong strategic signal.” Merkel’s speech was warmly received, while Pence’s met with polite applause. “This was a big and say-it-as-it-is Merkel speech,” Daniela Schwarzer, the director of the German Council on Foreign relations think-tank , wrote on Twitter. “Minutes of applause and standing ovations for a powerful commitment to picking up the pieces of a shattered (world) order and working on a European and (international) order that creates win-win situations.” ___ Moulson reported from Berlin. David Rising And Geir Moulson, The Associated Press

Syrian chocolatier to hire, mentor refugees: ‘They come here to contribute’

12 hours 34 min ago
ANTIGONISH, N.S. - A one-time Syrian refugee who founded a thriving Nova Scotia chocolate company has announced plans to hire and mentor other refugees. Peace by Chocolate of Antigonish, N.S., has committed to hiring 50 refugees by 2022, and to mentor 10 refugee-run start-ups over the next few years. The now-famous company was founded by the Hadhad family, who fled their home in war-torn Damascus in 2012. They arrived in Nova Scotia with next to nothing in 2016. The company was founded shortly after and quickly found success, bolstered by high-profile shout outs like one from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in an address to the United Nations. The family’s remarkable story has been told around the world. Tareq Hadhad, CEO of the company, said Peace by Chocolate aims to give back to the country that welcomed his family when so many nations were closing their borders to the Syrian plight. Now he plans to expand on that vision by giving back to other refugees looking to start new lives — as Canadians did for his family when they needed it most.   “They (refugees) come here to contribute, they come here to give back to the community, and as a family that lost everything in the world we know how they feel,” Hadhad said in an interview. “Being a refugee is not a choice, it’s not a decision, it’s not a life goal. These people are fleeing their homes because of war, because of persecution. It is substantial and it’s the responsibility for everyone to do his role in supporting these newcomers to Canada.” Hadhad said the roles on offer will include positions in production, sales, and senior management, nurturing the skills and experience refugees bring with them. Hadhad’s father, Assam, ran a chocolate business in Damascus for decades but it was destroyed in a 2012 bombing. Many of the jobs will be located at new facilities planned for different parts of the country as Peace By Chocolate expands, with locations still being finalized. Hadhad said he hopes other Canadian businesses will follow his lead and support newcomers. The chocolatier added that most Canadians have the generosity of Indigenous people to thank for their successes in Canada. “Everyone when they came here, they received a hand, and now it’s the turn for all these settled Canadians to help,” he said. “We want to support other refugees like our community supported us.” – By Holly McKenzie-Sutter in St. John’s, N.L. The Canadian Press

Wilson-Raybould resignation stokes anger, frustration within veterans community

12 hours 34 min ago
OTTAWA - Jody Wilson-Raybould’s resignation from cabinet this week has stoked long-standing frustration, disappointment and anger among Canada’s veterans, who say they have been ignored and betrayed by the Trudeau government. The Liberals went out of their way during the last federal election to court former service members, as Justin Trudeau promised to improve service delivery and reinstate a lifelong disability pension for veterans after years of Conservative cuts and inaction. That pension, first introduced after the First World War, was abolished by the Conservatives with unanimous support in the House of Commons in 2006 and replaced by a suite of rehabilitation programs and financial compensation for injured soldiers. Since then, the Liberals have run through three veterans-affairs ministers in as many years - Kent Hehr, Seamus O’Regan and Wilson-Raybould - while making little headway on improving service delivery and breaking their pension promise. The government has increased some supports and benefits for veterans and unveiled its own so-called Pension for Life program that will roll out in April, but that program has been widely assessed as falling far short of Trudeau’s original pledge. “Our key concern is there’s been a betrayal of the commitment that the prime minister made in the election of 2015,” said Brian Forbes, chair of the National Council of Veterans Associations, which represents more than 60 veteran groups. “That is felt very strongly in the veterans’ community.” The Liberals have also been roundly accused of ignoring the various ministerial advisory groups and other mechanisms established after the 2015 election to solicit feedback from the veterans’ community about its needs and concerns. All of which had sowed seeds of discontent even before Wilson-Raybould was handed the veterans-affairs portfolio on Jan. 14, taking over from O’Regan in a move widely regarded as a demotion from her previous role as justice minister. Now, while parliamentarians and Canadians at large wonder about the truth surrounding Wilson-Raybould’s discussions with the prime minister’s office about SNC-Lavalin, many veterans feel they have been forgotten. Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has added responsibility for veterans to his duties, but only temporarily. “It’s like the veterans are the last priority in this story,” said Aaron Bedard, an Afghan War veteran from B.C. who led an unsuccessful legal battle against the government to reinstate the old disability pension. “We don’t have a minister of veterans affairs anymore.” Even before Wilson-Raybould’s departure, some veterans and veterans’ groups had questioned the number of ministers who have handled the portfolio under the Liberals - and what it means about their importance to the government. Not that the trend has been unique to the Liberals; all told, there have been seven veterans-affairs ministers in the past decade, not counting Sajjan. The Conservatives had three in less than two years, leading up to the last election. That in itself creates difficulties, says Scott Maxwell, executive director of Wounded Warriors Canada, which helps former service members with mental-health injuries, because new ministers take time to find their footing. “It just makes it difficult to get the work done,” Maxwell said in an interview earlier this month, before Wilson-Raybould’s resignation. “That’s something we’ve tracked as a barrier.” Yet Wilson-Raybould was also different in that many of her predecessors were seen as up-and-comers getting promotions and looking to impress, not senior ministers getting a demotion. While she repeatedly denied that description, insisting that working for veterans was vitally important, it nonetheless stuck with some veterans. “When you’re saying you’re being demoted and you’re being sent to veterans affairs, it’s a slap in the face for us,” said Daniel Tremblay, an Afghan War veteran from Ottawa who is now struggling with back problems and post-traumatic stress. “It should be a promotion, not a demotion. That way you know the individual wants to be there and cares for us.” The Trudeau government is scrambling to contain the damage caused by Wilson-Raybould’s resignation, which followed a Globe and Mail story saying the Prime Minister’s Office had pressured her to intervene in a criminal case against SNC-Lavalin. Yet her resignation also makes a difficult task for the government even harder, as the Liberals already faced an uphill climb selling their Pension for Life program ahead of this year’s federal election. It’s difficult to assess how veterans’ concerns affect federal elections given that the community is spread across the country, but anecdotal evidence has suggested many former service members voted Liberal in 2015 - largely because of the disability-pension promise. That appears almost certain to change in October, though the question is who veterans will actually support. Bedard, who worked with the Liberals in the last election, says the Conservatives have repeatedly reached out to him and others over the past year or so. Yet others still remember the deep cuts to frontline work at Veterans Affairs Canada that were imposed by Stephen Harper’s government and the Conservatives’ refusal to reinstate the disability pension after a decade in power. That leaves open the question: Where will veterans turn in 2019? “The (veterans-affairs) file has been mismanaged for a decade or more,” said Nova Scotia veteran David MacLeod, who was forced to leave the military in 2010 for medical reasons. “Based on mismanagement alone, I will not be supporting any of the major political parties in the coming election. I support one of the smaller parties or a credible independent candidate.” - Follow @leeberthiaume on Twitter. Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

Vatican defrocks former US cardinal McCarrick over sex abuse

12 hours 40 min ago
VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis has defrocked former U.S. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick after Vatican officials found him guilty of soliciting for sex while hearing confession and sexual crimes against minors and adults, the Holy See said Saturday. McCarrick, 88, is the highest-ranking churchman to be laicized, as the process is called. It means he can no longer celebrate Mass or other sacraments, wear clerical vestments or be addressed by any religious title. The scandal swirling around him was particularly damning to the church’s reputation in the eyes of the faithful because it apparently was an open secret that he slept with adult seminarians. Francis removed McCarrick as a cardinal in July after a U.S. church investigation determined that an allegation he fondled a teenage altar boy in the 1970s was credible. The punishment for the once-powerful prelate, who had served as the archbishop of Washington and had been an influential fundraiser for the church, was announced five days before Francis is set to lead an extraordinary gathering of bishops from around the world to help the church grapple with the crisis of sex abuse by clergy and systematic coverups by church hierarchy. The decades-long scandals have shaken the faith of many Catholics and threatened Francis’ papacy. The Vatican’s press office said that on Jan. 11, the Holy See’s doctrinal watchdog office, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, had found McCarrick guilty of “solicitation in the sacrament of confession, and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power.” The commandment forbids adultery. The officials “imposed on him the penalty of dismissal from the clerical state.” McCarrick, when he was ordained a priest his native New York City in 1958, took a vow of celibacy, in accordance with church rules on priests. The pope “has recognized the definitive nature of this decision made in accordance with (church) law, rendering it as ‘res iudicata,'” the Vatican said, using the Latin phrase for admitting no further recourse. “Today I am happy that the pope believed me,” said one of McCarrick’s chief accusers, James Grein. In a statement issued through his lawyer, Grein also expressed hope that McCarrick “will no longer be able to use the power of Jesus’ church to manipulate families and sexually abuse children.” Grein had testified to church officials that, among other abuses, McCarrick had repeatedly groped him during confession. Saying it’s “time for us to cleanse the church,” Grein said pressure needs to be put on state attorney generals and senators to change the statute of limitations. “Hundreds of priests, bishops and cardinals are hiding behind man-made law,” he said. McCarrick moved from his Washington retirement home to a Kansas religious residence after Francis ordered him to live in penance and prayer while the investigation continued. McCarrick’s civil lawyer, Barry Coburn, told The AP that for the time being his client had no comment. Coburn also declined to say if McCarrick was still residing at the Kansas friary. McCarrick had appealed his penalty, but the doctrinal officials earlier this week rejected that, and he was notified of the decision on Friday, the Vatican announcement said. The archdiocese of Washington, D.C., where McCarrick was posted at the pinnacle of his clerical career, from 2001-2006, said in a statement it hoped that the Vatican decision “serves to help the healing process for survivors of abuse, as well as those who have experienced disappointment or disillusionment because of what former Archbishop McCarrick has done.” Complaints were also made about McCarrick’s conduct in the New Jersey dioceses of Newark and Metuchen, where he previously served. It marks a remarkable downfall for the globe-trotting powerbroker and influential church fundraiser who mingled with presidents and popes but preferred to be called “Uncle Ted” by the young men he courted. The Vatican summit, running Feb. 21-24, draws church leaders from around the world to talk about preventing abuse. It was called in part to respond to the McCarrick scandal as well as to the explosion of the abuse crisis in Chile and its escalation in the United States last year. Despite the apparent common knowledge in church circles of his sexual behaviour, McCarrick rose to the heights of church power. He even acted as the spokesman for U.S. bishops when they enacted a “zero tolerance” policy against sexually abusive priests in 2002. That perceived hypocrisy, coupled with allegations in the Pennsylvania grand jury report detailing decades of abuse and coverup in six dioceses, outraged many among the rank-and-file faithful who had trusted church leaders to reform how they handled sex abuse after 2002. The allegation regarding the altar boy was the first known to involve a minor - a far more serious offence than sleeping with adult seminarians. Francis himself became implicated in the decade-long McCarrick coverup after a former Vatican ambassador to the U.S. accused the pope of rehabilitating the cardinal from sanctions imposed by Pope Benedict XVI despite being told of his penchant for young men. Francis hasn’t responded to the claims. But he has ordered a limited Vatican investigation. The Vatican has acknowledged the outcome may produce evidence that mistakes were made, but said Francis would “follow the path of truth, wherever it may lead.” Vatican watchers have compared the McCarrick coverup scandal to that of the Rev. Marcial Maciel, perhaps the 20th-century Catholic Church’s most notorious pedophile. Maciel’s sex crimes against children were ignored for decades by a Vatican impressed by his ability to bring in donations and vocations. Among Maciel’s staunchest admirers was Pope John Paul II, who later became a saint. Like Maciel, McCarrick was a powerful and popular prelate who funneled millions in donations to the Vatican. He apparently got a calculated pass for what many in the church hierarchy would have either discounted as ideological-fueled rumour or brushed off as a mere “moral lapse” in sleeping with adult men. ___ Frances D’Emilio is on twitter at http://www.twitter.com/fdemilio Frances D’Emilio And Nicole Winfield, The Associated Press

US-backed fighters squeezing IS gunmen in eastern Syria

12 hours 51 min ago
BAGHOUZ, Syria - A U.S.-backed force in Syria is closing in on Islamic State militants in a tiny area less than a square kilometre (square mile) in eastern Syria, and will soon declare the defeat of the militant group, a commander with the group said Saturday. The capture of the last pocket still held by IS fighters in the village of Baghouz would mark the end of a devastating four-year global campaign to end the extremist group’s hold on territory in Syria and Iraq - their so-called “caliphate” that at the height of the group’s power in 2014 controlled nearly a third of both Iraq and Syria. “We will very soon bring good news to the whole world,” said Ciya Furat, a commander with the Kurdish-led force known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, speaking at a news conference at the al-Omar Oil Field Base in the Deir el-Zour province. President Donald Trump said the White House will make an announcement about Syria and the fight against IS by the end of Saturday. “We have a lot of great announcements having to do with Syria and our success with the eradication of the caliphate and that will be announced over the next 24 hours,” Trump told journalists at the White House on Friday. An Associated Press team in Baghouz Saturday, hundreds of meters away from the last speck of land where IS militants were holed up, saw several aircraft overhead and two airstrikes hit the area. SDF fighters said were fired by the U.S.-led coalition. The Syrian Democratic Forces declared the final push to capture the village a week ago after more than 20,000 civilians, many of them the wives and families of foreign fighters, were evacuated. Since then, SDF commanders say they have been surprised to discover that there were hundreds more civilians in the enclave, after they were brought up by the militants from underground tunnels. Their presence has slowed down the SDF advance. Furat, the SDF commander, said IS fighters are now besieged in an area that is about 700 square meters (840 square yards). He said that SDF fighters were able to liberate 10 of their colleagues that were held by IS. Furat’s comments were carried by Kurdish news agencies, including Hawar News. “We are dealing with this small pocket with patience and caution. It is militarily fallen but civilians are used as human shields,” SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali told The Associated Press. Bali added that the SDF believes that IS gunmen are also holding previously kidnapped Syrians in the area. Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, said SDF fighters are almost in full control of the area once controlled by extremists, adding that there might still be IS fighters hiding in a network of underground tunnels. The Observatory said that some 200 IS gunmen surrendered Friday, days after about 240 others surrendered and were taken by SDF fighters and members of the U.S.-led coalition. “The defeat of Daesh will come within days,” Furat said, using the Arabic acronym to refer to the group. He added that after the physical defeat of IS, the SDF “will continue in its fight against Daesh sleepers cells.” Despite the expected defeat on the ground, activists and residents say IS still has sleeper cells in Syria and Iraq and is laying the groundwork for an insurgency. The group has claimed responsibility in recent months for deadly attacks, mostly in Iraq, more than a year after the Iraqi government said the extremists have been defeated after losing the northern city of Mosul in 2017, the largest they held. ___ Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report. Sarah El Deeb, The Associated Press

US-backed fighters squeezing IS gunmen in eastern Syria

13 hours 31 min ago
BEIRUT - A U.S.-backed force in Syria is fighting the Islamic State group in a tiny area in Deir el-Zour province and the defeat of the extremists will soon be declared, a commander with the group said Saturday. The capture of the last pocket of IS fighters in the village of Baghouz would mark the end of a devastating four-year global campaign to end the extremist group’s hold on territory in Syria and Iraq, their so-called “caliphate” that at the height of the group’s power in 2014 controlled nearly a third of both Iraq and Syria. The Syrian Democratic Forces declared the final push to end IS presence in eastern Syria last Saturday and since then sporadic fighting has been ongoing with civilians coming out and scores of extremists surrendering. Ciya Furat, a commander with the Kurdish-led SDF, said during a news conference in eastern Syria that his group will “very soon bring good news to the whole world.” It was an apparent reference to an announcement about the defeat of the extremists in Syria. President Donald Trump said the White House will make an announcement about Syria and the fight against IS by the end of Saturday. “We have a lot of great announcements having to do with Syria and our success with the eradication of the caliphate and that will be announced over the next 24 hours,” Trump told journalists at the White House on Friday. Furat’s comments were carried by Kurdish news agencies, including Hawar News. Furat said IS fighters are besieged in an area that is about 700 square meters (840 square yards), adding that the push is slow because the extremists are using civilians as human shields. He said that SDF fighters were able to liberate 10 of the fighters that were held by IS. SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali told The Associated Press “we are dealing with this small pocket with patience and caution. It is militarily fallen but civilians are used as human shields.” Bali added that the SDF believes that IS gunmen are also holding previously kidnapped Syrians in the area. Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, said SDF fighters are almost in full control of the area once controlled by extremists, adding that there might still be IS fighters hiding in a network of underground tunnels. The Observatory said that some 200 IS gunmen surrendered Friday days after about 240 others surrendered and were taken by SDF fighters and members of the U.S.-led coalition. “The defeat of Daesh will not last days,” Furat said, using the Arabic acronym to refer to the group. He added that after the physical defeat of IS, the SDF “will continue in its fight against Daesh sleepers cells.” “Now we are moving to the stage of clearing the last besieged area of Daesh,” Furat said. Despite the expected defeat on the ground, activists and residents say IS still has sleeper cells in Syria and Iraq and is laying the groundwork for an insurgency. The group has claimed responsibility in recent months for deadly attacks, mostly in Iraq, more than a year after the Iraqi government said the extremists have been defeated after losing the northern city of Mosul in 2017, the largest they held. Bassem Mroue, The Associated Press

Convicted murderer escaped from Quebec prison, officials say

13 hours 40 min ago
LAVAL, Que. - Government officials say a convicted murderer has escaped from custody in Laval, Que. Correctional Service Canada says staff at the minimum-security unit of the Federal Training Centre discovered Denis Begin, 58, was missing on Friday. They say staff made the discovery during the 12:15 p.m. head count. Begin is currently serving a life-sentence for second-degree murder. Officials say he has also served two sentences for conspiracy to commit a criminal act. They’re asking anyone with information about the man’s whereabouts to call police. The Canadian Press

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