Ghislaine Maxwell ‘served up’ girls for sex to Epstein: prosecutors

Ghislaine Maxwell ‘served up’ girls for sex to Epstein: prosecutors
A line of people, mostly journalists, wait to enter the courthouse for the start of the Ghislaine Maxwell trial in New York, Monday, Nov. 29, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 30 November 2021

Ghislaine Maxwell ‘served up’ girls for sex to Epstein: prosecutors

Ghislaine Maxwell ‘served up’ girls for sex to Epstein: prosecutors

NEW YORK: Ghislaine Maxwell set young girls up to be abused by “predator” Jeffrey Epstein, prosecutors said Monday as the sex trafficking trial of the British jet-set socialite and heiress began in New York.
Maxwell was the “lady of the house” in financier Epstein’s world who maintained “a culture of silence” over their years-long arrangement to sexually exploit girls under 18 years old, said attorney Lara Pomerantz as she presented the federal case in the first day of the trial.
Maxwell “made those girls feel seen. They made them feel special. But that was a cover,” Pomerantz told a jury.
In fact, she “served them up to be sexually abused,” Pomerantz said.
Two years after Epstein killed himself in jail before he went on trial for similar charges, Maxwell sat in the packed Manhattan courtroom facing six counts of enticing and transporting minors for sex.
Four unnamed women who allegedly suffered at the hands of the two are the key witnesses in the trial, which takes place under intense media attention.
Masked and wearing in a beige sweater and black slacks, the 59-year-old daughter of the late newspaper baron Robert Maxwell stared straight ahead during proceedings.
She faces the possibility of spending the rest of her life in prison if convicted.
Maxwell, whose sister Isabel was also inside the courtroom, has pleaded not guilty to all six counts.
Her attorneys have claimed she is being prosecuted only because US authorities were unable to bring Epstein himself to justice.
But Pomerantz said that during the period the charges against her cover, 1994-2004, she was Epstein’s “right-hand” partner, winning the trust of girls as young as 14 and then conditioning to give nude massages and then sex to Epstein.
Maxwell “knew exactly what Epstein was going to do to those children when she sent them in those massage rooms” in Epstein’s luxurious homes in New Mexico, Manhattan and Palm Beach, Florida, as well as her own London home, the prosecutor said.
Epstein was a multi-million-dollar money manager who befriended countless celebrities, including Britain’s Prince Andrew, and was accused of providing them with women, including minors.
The indictment says Maxwell took part in the abuse of the four unidentified women, wooing them with shopping and movie theater trips before coaxing them to engage in sex acts with Epstein before giving them money.
Two of the women say they were just 14 and 15 years old when they were sexually abused.
Epstein, who for years skirted charges with the help of flawed laws, powerful connections and sympathetic law enforcement, was arrested in July 2019.
But a month later he committed suicide while in prison.
Prosecutors vowed to go after anyone who helped him in the abuse of the girls, and arrested Maxwell in July 2020.
The trial is expected to stretch over six weeks, and Maxwell faces up to 80 years in prison if convicted on all charges.
The key witnesses will be the women who allegedly suffered in her and Epstein’s hands. They will be allowed to testify with their identities kep secret.
Due to the threat of Covid-19, and heightened fears of the new Omicron variant, plexiglass boxes with air filters have been set up for the witnesses and questioning attorneys.
Maxwell’s attorneys have indicated they will challenge the accusers’ credibility by referencing alleged previous substance abuse and erroneous memories of what happened.
Days before the trial, fake claims spread across social media, echoed by some prominent political conservatives, that the judge in the case had banned media coverage, ostensibly to protect Epstein’s powerful friends and associates.
While the trial proceedings are not being televised, reporters in fact were in the courtroom as well as watching the trial by video in a separate courthouse media room.

WHO says pandemic ‘nowhere near over’ as France, Germany post record cases

Updated 5 sec ago

WHO says pandemic ‘nowhere near over’ as France, Germany post record cases

WHO says pandemic ‘nowhere near over’ as France, Germany post record cases
GENEVA: The World Health Organization has warned that the Covid-19 pandemic is far from over, as France, Germany and Brazil posted new records of infections in the past 24 hours.
The highly transmissible omicron strain has spread unabated around the world, pushing some governments to impose fresh measures while speeding up the rollout of vaccine booster shots.
“This pandemic is nowhere near over,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters Tuesday from the agency’s headquarters in Geneva.
Europe is at the epicenter of alarming new outbreaks, with Germany’s cases soaring past 100,000 and France reporting nearly half a million cases on Tuesday.
The UN health chief warned against dismissing omicron as mild, as the dominant Covid strain continues to flare new outbreaks from Latin America to East Asia after it was first detected in southern Africa in November.
“omicron may be less severe, on average, but the narrative that it is a mild disease is misleading,” he said.
Five millions cases were reported in Europe last week and the WHO has predicted omicron could infect half of all Europeans by March, filling hospitals across the continent.
Germany on Tuesday recorded 112,323 coronavirus cases and 239 deaths, officials said, with omicron found in more than 70 percent of the infections.
The surge has pushed German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to seek compulsory vaccinations to ramp up the immunity of the population in Europe’s biggest economy.
Other European countries are also battling soaring omicron rates, with neighboring France recently averaging around 300,000 cases daily.
The latest data issued by Public Health France showed that there were 464,769 new cases in the last 24-hour period, a record number.
The record cases come days after the two-year anniversary of the announcement of the first person dying of a virus in China only later identified as Covid.
Since January 11, 2020, known fatalities in the pandemic have soared to more than 5.5 million.
Hopes for Europe’s tourism recovery remain bleak with the World Tourism Organization saying Tuesday that foreign arrivals will not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024 at the earliest, despite a rise of 19 percent last year compared to 2020.

Elsewhere in the world, Brazil registered a new record number of daily cases of more than 137,000 on Tuesday.
The country suffered a devastating second wave last year with deaths topping 4,000 a day, pushing its death toll to the second highest in the world behind the United States.
President Jair Bolsonaro, an avowed vaccine skeptic who has downplayed omicron, is increasingly under fire for his handling of the pandemic, and he is on course to lose the country’s October presidential election, according to polls.
In Asia, Japan was set to tighten restrictions across the country, including Tokyo, as it battles record infections fueled by omicron while China partially relaxed transport restrictions in the megacity of Xi’an where millions have been confined to their homes for weeks.
Japanese experts on Wednesday backed placing 13 regions “under quasi-emergency measures from January 21 to February 13” Daishiro Yamagiwa, minister in charge of coronavirus affairs, told reporters.
China’s resumption of some inter-city train routes in Xi’an from Tuesday comes just before the Lunar New Year holiday later this month, traditionally a period of mass travel.
It also comes as Beijing battles multiple clusters that are testing its enforcement of a strict “zero-Covid” approach ahead of next month’s Winter Olympics.
Focus is increasingly turning to animals and how the virus interacts with them, after at least two countries reported Covid-19 cases in creatures big and small potentially passed between them and humans.
A study published Tuesday in South Africa said big cats caged in zoos are at risk from catching Covid from their keepers.
Researchers found clues pointing to the infection of three lions and two pumas by their handlers at a zoo in Johannesburg, some of whom were asymptomatic.
In Hong Kong, hamsters were bearing the brunt of the semi-autonomous Chinese city’s similarly strict approach to Covid, with officials appearing to blame them for two human cases.
The financial hub’s government faced growing outrage Wednesday over its decision to cull 2,000 small animals in pet shops after several hamsters in a store allegedly tested positive for Covid-19.
“Internationally, there is no evidence yet to show pets can transmit the coronavirus to humans,” Health Secretary Sophia Chan told a press conference.
“But... we will take precautionary measures against any vector of transmission.”

Afghan acting PM Akhund calls for official recognition of Taliban administration

Afghan acting PM Akhund calls for official recognition of Taliban administration
Updated 8 min 24 sec ago

Afghan acting PM Akhund calls for official recognition of Taliban administration

Afghan acting PM Akhund calls for official recognition of Taliban administration
  • The Taliban administration took over Afghanistan in August

KABUL- Afghanistan’s acting prime minister, Mullah Hasan Akhund, on Wednesday called for international governments to officially recognize the country’s Taliban administration, saying at a news conference in Kabul that all conditions had been met.
“I ask all governments, especially Islamic countries, that they should start recognition,” Akhund said, in his first major public broadcast appearance since he assumed the role in September.
Foreign powers have been reluctant to recognize the Taliban administration which took over Afghanistan in August while Western nations led by the United States have frozen billions of dollars worth of Afghan banking assets and cut off development funding that once formed the backbone of Afghanistan’s economy.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives in Ukraine in show of support

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives in Ukraine in show of support
Updated 14 min 21 sec ago

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives in Ukraine in show of support

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives in Ukraine in show of support
  • US official will later meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky

KIEV: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken landed in Kiev Wednesday for crisis talks with Ukraine’s leaders, as diplomatic efforts to dissuade Russia from attacking its pro-Western neighbor falter.

After talks last week failed to ease fears, the White House warned Tuesday that Russia was ready to attack Ukraine at “any point.”

It was a marked intensification of its threat assessment ahead of a meeting between Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expected in Geneva on Friday.

Hoping to show robust support ahead of the talks, the top US diplomat is making a one-day visit to Kiev in a show of support for Ukraine.

He was greeted by Ukrainian officials on an icy moonlit tarmac and will later meet President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Blinken heads Thursday to Berlin for four-way talks with Britain, France and Germany to seek Western unity.

“We’re now at a stage where Russia could at any point launch an attack on Ukraine,” the White House’s Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Tuesday.

“No option is off the table,” she said, warning of an “extremely dangerous situation.”

And she said that Russian President Vladimir Putin “has created this crisis.”

Moscow has repeatedly denied that an invasion is planned.

In a call between the US and Russian top diplomats ahead of Blinken’s trip, the Russian foreign ministry said Lavrov had called on Blinken “not to replicate speculation about the allegedly impending ‘Russian aggression’.”

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said that Blinken “stressed the importance of continuing a diplomatic path to de-escalate tensions.”

And a US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Blinken’s goal was to see “if there is a diplomatic off-ramp” and “common ground” where Russia can be persuaded to pull back from Ukraine.

With tens of thousands of Russian troops massing on Ukraine’s borders, efforts have intensified to prevent tensions escalating into a new European war.

However, in a joint press conference with visiting German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Tuesday, Lavrov said there would be no further negotiations until the West responds to its demands for sweeping security guarantees.

They include a permanent ban on Ukraine joining NATO.

Washington has rejected the demands.

While the United States and its European allies have no plans to meet a Russian attack against Ukraine with military force, the economic counter-measures would be unlike any used in the past, Washington says.

The US official said it was possible that Russia is not interested in a diplomatic solution.

“I think it’s still too early to tell if the Russian government is genuinely interested in diplomacy, if it is prepared to negotiate seriously in good faith, or whether it will use discussions as a pretext to claim that diplomacy didn’t address Moscow’s interests,” the official said.

Washington meanwhile warned that draft constitutional reforms in Belarus could lead to the deployment of Russian nuclear weapons in the country.

Joint Russia-Belarus military exercises announced Tuesday by Minsk as Russian troops arrived in the country were “beyond normal,” a US official said, and could presage a permanent Russian military presence involving both conventional and nuclear forces.

Kiev has been battling a pro-Moscow insurgency in two breakaway regions bordering Russia since 2014, when the Kremlin annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.

The conflict in eastern Ukraine has so far left more than 13,000 dead.

Japan widens COVID-19 curbs, including in Tokyo, as cases surge

Japan widens COVID-19 curbs, including in Tokyo, as cases surge
Updated 52 min 26 sec ago

Japan widens COVID-19 curbs, including in Tokyo, as cases surge

Japan widens COVID-19 curbs, including in Tokyo, as cases surge
  • Experts’ panel approves a plan to put the 13 areas under a three-week restraint through Feb. 13
  • Japan has so far resisted the use of lockdowns to fight the pandemic

TOKYO: The Japanese government will place Tokyo and a dozen other areas under new restrictions for COVID-19 effective Friday, allowing local leaders to shorten hours for eateries, as a surge in omicron cases threatens to paralyze society.
A government-commissioned experts’ panel on Wednesday approved a plan to put the 13 areas under a three-week restraint through Feb. 13, said Economy Revitalization Minister Daishiro Yamagiwa, who is also in charge of virus measures.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is expected to officially announce the new measures at a government taskforce meeting later Wednesday.
Japan has so far resisted the use of lockdowns to fight the pandemic and instead has focused on requiring restaurants and bars to close early and not serve alcohol, and asking the public to wear masks and practice social distancing, as the government seeks to minimize damage to the economy.
Japan had been gradually expanding social and business activity since an earlier wave of infections subsided in September, which experts say was largely due to the country’s rapid progress in rolling out the initial two doses of vaccines.
But experts say breakthrough infections by the omicron variant are more common. The fast-spreading variant has caused a number of medical workers and others to self-isolate after testing positive or coming into close contact with someone who has. Sharply rising infections have already begun to paralyze hospitals, schools and other sectors in some areas.
The national government is taking action following requests by local governors, including Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, who raised alarms about the possibility of essential public services, such as public transportation and garbage collection, grinding to a halt.
Tokyo reported 5,185 new infections Tuesday. Nationwide, Japan has logged more than 32,000 cases, bringing its total to 1.93 million cases, with 184,00 deaths.
More than 134,000 patients are now quarantining or hospitalized for COVID-19, according to the Health Ministry.
Shigeru Omi, the government’s top medical adviser, said vaccines no longer offer reliable protection against the omicron variant, making testing and social curbs among the only effective and realistic measures to prevent more infections.
Restrictions will be in place in 16 areas around the country, including three other prefectures — Okinawa, Hiroshima and Yamaguchi — which were placed under similar measures earlier this month.
Other areas, including badly hit Osaka, where 5,396 new cases were reported Tuesday, may be added later.
While about 80 percent percent of Japanese have received their first two vaccine doses, the booster rollout nationwide has been slow and reached only 1.3 percent of the population.
The government recently decided to cut intervals between the second and third shots to six months from eight for elderly people, but younger people are unlikely to get their turn until March or later.
While Kishida stresses the need for safety as justification for the restrictions, the measures are also seen as political moves to gain public support ahead of this summer’s parliamentary elections.
Critics also say the measures, which almost exclusively target bars and restaurants, make little sense and are unfair.

New Zealand navy ships taking water, other supplies to tsunami-hit Tonga

New Zealand navy ships taking water, other supplies to tsunami-hit Tonga
Updated 19 January 2022

New Zealand navy ships taking water, other supplies to tsunami-hit Tonga

New Zealand navy ships taking water, other supplies to tsunami-hit Tonga
  • Hundreds of homes in Tonga’s smaller outer islands have been destroyed
  • Tonga is one of the few countries that is COVID-19 free and an outbreak there would disastrous

Two New Zealand navy vessels will arrive in Tonga on Friday, carrying much-needed water and other supplies for the Pacific island nation reeling from a volcanic eruption and tsunami, and largely cut off from the outside world.
Hundreds of homes in Tonga’s smaller outer islands have been destroyed, and at least three people were killed after Saturday’s huge eruption triggered tsunami waves, which rolled over the islands causing what the government has called an unprecedented disaster.
With its airport smothered under a layer of volcanic ash and communications badly hampered by the severing of an undersea cable, information on the scale of the devastation has mostly come from reconnaissance aircraft.
“For the people of Tonga, we’re heading their way now with a whole lot of water,” Simon Griffiths, captain of the HMNZS Aotearoa, said in a release.
Griffiths said his ship was carrying 250,000 liters of water, and had the capacity to produce another 70,000 liters a day, along with other supplies.
New Zealand’s foreign ministry said the Tongan government has approved the arrival of Aotearoa and the HMNZS Wellington in the COVID-free nation, where concerns about a potential coronavirus outbreak are likely to complicate relief efforts.
Tonga has said its water supplies have been contaminated by ash from the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano, which erupted with a blast heard 2,300 kilometers away in New Zealand. It also sent tsunami waves across the Pacific Ocean.
James Garvin, chief scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said the force of the eruption was estimated to be equivalent to five to 10 megatons of TNT, an explosive force more than 500 times the nuclear bomb dropped by the United States on Hiroshima, Japan, at the end of World War Two.
The Red Cross said its teams in Tonga were distributing drinking water across the islands where salt water from the tsunami and volcanic ash were “polluting the clean drinking water sources of tens of thousands of people.”
Other countries and agencies including the United Nations are drawing up plans to send aid.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said it would send help, including water and food, when the archipelago’s main Fua’amotu International Airport reopens. It was not damaged but was covered in ash, which is being cleared manually,
“We thought that it would be operational yesterday, but it hasn’t been fully cleared yet because more ash has been falling,” Fiji-based UN co-ordinator Jonathan Veitch said on Wednesday.
Pacific neighbor Fiji will send defense engineers on Australia’s HMAS Adelaide, which is due to set sail from Brisbane for Tonga on Friday, a Fiji military spokesman told a briefing in Suva.
A second New Zealand Defense P3 Orion surveillance flight will fly over Tonga on Wednesday to assess damage, the foreign ministry said.
Waves reaching up to 15 meters hit the outer Ha’apia island group, destroying all of the houses on the island of Mango, as well as the west coast of Tonga’s main island, Tongatapu, the prime minister’s office said.
On the west coast of Tongatapu, residents were being moved to evacuation centers as 56 houses were destroyed or seriously damaged on that coast.
New Zealand said power has now been restored, and clean-up and damage assessments were going on and Tongan authorities were distributing relief supplies.
Australia and New Zealand have promised immediate financial assistance. The US Agency for International Development approved $100,000 in immediate assistance to support people affected by volcanic eruptions and tsunami waves.
Tongan Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni has met the heads of diplomatic missions to discuss aid, the office said.
Tonga is still largely offline after the volcano severed the sole undersea fiber-optics communication cable.
International mobile phone network provider Digicel has set up an interim system on Tongatapu using the University of South Pacific’s satellite dish, the New Zealand foreign ministry said.
That would allow a 2G connection to be established but the connection is patchy and amounts to about 10 percent of usual capacity,
US cable company SubCom has advised it will take at least four weeks for Tonga’s cable be repaired, it added.
Tongan communities abroad have posted images from families on Facebook, giving a glimpse of the devastation, with homes reduced to rubble, fallen trees, cracked roads and sidewalks and everything coated with grey ash.
Aid agencies, including the United Nations, are preparing to get relief supplies to Tonga at a distance to avoid introducing the coronavirus, Veitch said.
Tonga is one of the few countries that is COVID-19 free and an outbreak there would disastrous, he said.
“We believe that we will be able to send flights with supplies. We’re not sure that we can send flights with personnel and the reason for this is that Tonga has a very strict COVID-free policy,” Veitch told a briefing.
“They’ve been very cautious about opening their borders like many Pacific islands, and that’s because of the history of disease outbreaks in the Pacific which has wiped out societies here.”