After fresh mandate, Putin tells West: ‘I don’t want arms race’

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with candidates who participated in the last presidential election, Boris Titov, Maxim Suraikin, Ksenia Sobchak, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Pavel Grudinin, Sergei Baburin and Grigory Yavlinsky, at the Kremlin in Moscow Monday. (Reuters)
Updated 20 March 2018
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After fresh mandate, Putin tells West: ‘I don’t want arms race’

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin struck a softer tone toward the West on Monday after winning his biggest ever election victory, saying he had no desire for an arms race and would do everything he could to resolve differences with other countries.
Putin’s victory, which comes at a time when his relations with the West are on a hostile trajectory, will extend his political dominance of Russia by six years to 2024. That will make him the longest-serving ruler since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and has raised Western fears of spiralling confrontation.
But Putin, 65, used a Kremlin meeting with the candidates he soundly defeated in Sunday’s election to signal his desire to focus on domestic, not international, matters, and to try to raise living standards by investing more in education, infrastructure and health while reducing defense spending.
“Nobody plans to accelerate an arms race,” said Putin.
“We will do everything to resolve all the differences with our partners using political and diplomatic channels.”
His comments, which are likely to be heard with some skepticism in the West following years of confrontation, mark a change in tone after a bellicose election campaign during which Putin unveiled new nuclear weapons he said could strike almost any point in the world.
With nearly 100 percent of the votes counted, the Central Election Commission (CEC), announced that Putin, who has run Russia as president or prime minister since 1999, had won 76.69 percent of the vote.
With more than 56 million votes, it was Putin’s biggest ever win and the largest by any post-Soviet Russian leader.
But the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), a rights watchdog, said restrictions on fundamental freedoms, as well as on candidate registration, had restricted the scope for political engagement and crimped competition.
“Choice without real competition, as we have seen here, is not real choice,” the OSCE said in a statement.
The CEC said earlier on Monday it had not registered any serious complaints of violations.
Backed by state TV and the ruling party, and credited with an approval rating of around 80 percent, Putin faced no credible threat from a field of seven challengers.
His nearest rival, Communist Party candidate Pavel Grudinin, won 11.8 percent while nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky got 5.6 percent. His most vocal opponent, anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny, was barred from running.
Navalny, who had called on voters to boycott the election, urged his supporters not to lose heart and said his campaign had succeeded in lowering the turnout, accusing authorities of being forced to falsify the numbers.
Near-final figures put turnout at 67.7 percent, just shy of the 70 percent the Kremlin was reported to have been aiming for before the vote.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov played down suggestions that tensions with the West had boosted turnout, saying the result showed that Russians were united behind Putin’s plans to develop the country.
He said Putin would spend the day fielding calls of congratulation, meeting supporters, and holding talks with the losing candidates.
Chinese President Xi Jinping was among the first to offer his congratulations to Putin, but Heiko Maas, Germany’s new foreign minister, questioned whether there had been fair political competition.


Bill Cosby convicted of drugging and molesting a woman

Updated 26 April 2018
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Bill Cosby convicted of drugging and molesting a woman

NORRISTOWN-PENNSILVANIA: Bill Cosby was convicted Thursday of drugging and molesting a woman in the first big celebrity trial of the #MeToo era,
completing the spectacular late-life downfall of a comedian who broke racial barriers in Hollywood on his way to TV superstardom as America’s Dad.
Cosby, 80, could end up spending his final years in prison after a jury concluded he sexually violated Temple University employee Andrea Constand at his suburban Philadelphia home in 2004. He claimed the encounter was consensual.
Cosby stared straight ahead as the verdict was read, but moments later lashed out loudly at District Attorney Kevin Steele and called him an “a--hole” after the prosecutor asked that Cosby be immediately jailed because he might flee. Cosby denied he has an airplane and shouted, “I’m sick of him!“
The judge decided Cosby can remain free on bail while he awaits sentencing.
Shrieks erupted in the courtroom when the verdict was announced, and some of his accusers whimpered and cried. Constand remained stoic, then hugged her lawyer and members of the prosecution team.
“Justice has been done!” celebrity attorney Gloria Allred, who represented some of Cosby’s accusers, said on the courthouse steps. “We are so happy that finally we can say women are believed.”
The verdict came after a two-week retrial in which prosecutors put five other women on the stand who testified that Cosby, married for 54 years, drugged and violated them, too. One of those women asked him through her tears, “You remember, don’t you, Mr. Cosby?“
The panel of seven men and five women reached a verdict after deliberating 14 hours over two days, vindicating prosecutors’ decision to retry Cosby after his first trial ended with a hung jury less than a year ago.
Cosby could get up to 10 years in prison on each of the three counts of aggravated indecent assault. He is likely to get less than that under state sentencing guidelines, but given his age, even a modest term could mean he will die behind bars.
Constand, 45, a former Temple women’s basketball administrator, told jurors that Cosby knocked her out with three blue pills he called “your friends” and then penetrated her with his fingers as she lay immobilized, unable to resist or say no.
It was the only criminal case to arise from a barrage of allegations from more than 60 women who said the former TV star drugged and molested them over a span of five decades.
“The time for the defendant to escape justice is over,” prosecutor Stewart Ryan said in his closing argument. “It’s finally time for the defendant to dine on the banquet of his own consequences.”
Another prosecutor, Kristen Feden, said Cosby was “nothing like the image that he played on TV” as sweater-wearing, wisdom-dispensing father of five Dr. Cliff Huxtable on “The Cosby Show.”