Pope Francis leaves hospital, saying ‘I’m still alive’
Updated 01 April 2023
ROME: Pope Francis left hospital to return to the Vatican on Saturday after being treated for bronchitis, making light of his illness by saying : “I wasn’t frightened, I’m still alive.”
The pope, 86, was taken to Rome’s Gemelli hospital on Wednesday after complaining of breathing difficulties, but responded rapidly to an infusion of antibiotics, his medical team has said.
The media was kept far from the pope when he last left hospital in 2021 following surgery on his colon.
This time, looking to show the world that he was fully recovered, Francis got out of his car on his way out, greeting well wishers and talking to waiting reporters. He used a walking stick to support himself.
He embraced a couple whose daughter had died overnight in the hospital and prayed with them, and also signed the plaster cast of a young boy with a broken arm. He waved from the window of his car as he was driven back to the Vatican.
The pope, who marked the 10th anniversary of his pontificate in March, has suffered a number of ailments in recent years.
Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni confirmed on Friday that Francis would take part in this weekend’s service for Palm Sunday — a major event in the Church calendar that kicks off Easter week celebrations.
Holy Week, as it is known, includes a busy schedule of rituals and ceremonies that can be physically exhausting, including a Good Friday nighttime procession by Rome’s Colosseum.
The dean of the college of cardinals, Giovanni Battista Re, has said a cardinal would help the pope during the week’s celebrations and take care of altar duties.
A similar arrangement was put in place last year, when the pope sat to one side during some Easter events due to persistent knee pain, leaving it to senior cardinals to lead the Masses.
US to open embassy in Vanuatu to counter China’s Pacific expansion
The US and its regional allies have held concerns that China has ambitions to build a naval base in the region since the Solomon Islands struck a security pact with Beijing last year
Updated 01 April 2023
WASHINGTON: The United States plans to open an embassy in the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, the State Department said on Friday, in Washington’s latest move to boost its diplomatic presence in the Pacific to counter China’s growing influence.
“Consistent with the US Indo-Pacific strategy, a permanent diplomatic presence in Vanuatu would allow the US Government to deepen relationships with Ni-Vanuatu officials and society,” the department said in a statement.
“Establishing US Embassy Port Vila would facilitate areas of potential bilateral cooperation and development assistance, including efforts to tackle the climate crisis,” it said.
The US has diplomatic relations with Vanuatu, which has a population of 319,000 spread across 80 islands, but is currently represented by diplomats based in New Guinea.
The US reopened its embassy in the Solomon Islands this year after a 30-year absence and the latest State Department announcement follows a visit this month to the region, including Vanuatu, by US Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell.
Other US embassies are planned in the Pacific island nations of Kiribati and Tonga.
Despite the diplomatic push, the Solomon Islands announced this month it had awarded a multi-million-dollar contract to a Chinese state company to upgrade an international port in Honiara.
The United States and its regional allies have held concerns that China has ambitions to build a naval base in the region since the Solomon Islands struck a security pact with Beijing last year.
Washington has also been working to renew agreements with the Marshall Islands, Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) under which it retains responsibility for the islands’ defense and gains exclusive access to huge swaths of the Pacific.
The Biden administration is seeking more than $7 billion over the next two decades for economic assistance to the three countries, the State Department said last week, funds seen as key to insulating them from growing Chinese influence.
South Africa’s Pistorius denied parole decade after killing girlfriend
Steenkamp’s parents, who opposed an early release, saying they do not believe the ex-athlete told the truth about what happened and has not shown remorse, welcomed the decision
Updated 01 April 2023
PRETORIA: South African Paralympic champion Oscar Pistorius was refused parole on Friday after seeking early release from prison, a decade after he shot and killed his girlfriend, lawyers and authorities said.
The Department of Correctional Services said a parole board found Pistorius had not completed the minimum detention period required to be let out.
“We were... advised at this point in time that it has been denied” and it will be considered again in one year’s time, Tania Koen, a lawyer for the victim’s family, told AFP.
The motivation came as a surprise and was described as “extraordinary” by legal experts, as the correctional services had previously said Pistorius was eligible for early release having served more than half his sentence.
Pistorius killed Reeva Steenkamp, a model, in the early hours of Valentine’s Day 2013, firing four times through the bathroom door of his ultra-secure Pretoria house, in a killing that shocked the world.
A parole hearing opened Friday morning at the jail on the outskirts of the capital where the 36-year-old is detained.
Steenkamp’s parents, who opposed an early release, saying they do not believe the ex-athlete told the truth about what happened and has not shown remorse, welcomed the decision.
“While we welcome today’s decision, today is not a cause for celebration. We miss Reeva terribly and will do so for the rest of our lives. We believe in justice and hope that it continues to prevail,” they said in a statement via their lawyer.
Earlier, Steenkamp’s mother, June, had made the couple’s position known to the board addressing the hearing in person.
“I don’t believe his story,” she told journalists from the back of a car as she arrived at the correctional facility.
She did not meet face to face with her daughter’s killer on Friday, as the parole board decided to hear the two separately, Koen later told reporters outside the prison.
“It was very unpleasant for her... but she knew that she had to do it for Reeva,” Koen said.
Steenkamp’s father Barry was unable to travel because of ill health but submitted a statement, she added.
“Before he dies he has one wish and that’s Oscar would just tell us exactly what happened that night,” Carmen Dodd, who read the statement to the board, told journalists.
Comprising at least three people, including prison services and community members, the board was to determine whether the purpose of imprisonment had been served, according to the Department of Correctional Services.
“The (board) granted inmate Pistorius a further profile for August 2024,” correctional services spokesman Singabakho Nxumalo said in a statement.
“The reason provided is that the inmate did not complete the minimum Detention Period as ruled by the Supreme Court of Appeal.”
In a short memo dated Tuesday and seen by AFP on Friday, the court explained that the prison term it imposed started on the day of the last judgment in 2017 and not when Pistorius was first sentenced in 2014.
“It’s an extraordinary decision, in fact, it seems completely implausible,” said Kelly Phelps, a law professor at the University of Cape Town, adding the court’s memo backtracked on previous interpretations of its own ruling.
As a consequence, the parole hearing went ahead when it should not have, she said.
“The whole process put so much unnecessary trauma for both sides. But at the same time, justice prevails,” added Koen.
Known worldwide as the “Blade Runner” for his carbon-fiber prosthetics, Pistorius was found guilty of murder and given a 13-year jail sentence in 2017 after a lengthy trial and several appeals.
He had pleaded not guilty and denied killing Steenkamp in a rage, saying he mistook her for a burglar.
Pistorius met with Steenkamp’s parents last year, part of a process that authorities say aims to ensure inmates “acknowledge the harm they have caused to their victims and the society at large.”
Koen described the meeting as “very emotional” and “traumatic.”
A year before killing Steenkamp, Pistorius became the first double-amputee to race in the Olympics, competing at the 2012 London Games.
He became a household name worldwide and courted by sponsors, but it all came crashing down after the killing.
Inmates have the right to approach the courts for review when parole is denied.
UN food chief: Billions needed to stave of unrest, mass migration and starvation
David Beasley says an estimated 350 million people in 49 countries desperately need food
Urges China, Gulf nations, billionaires and other countries “to step up big time”
Updated 01 April 2023
UNITED NATIONS: Without billions of dollars more to feed millions of hungry people, the world will see mass migration, destabilized countries, and starving children and adults in the next 12 to 18 months, the head of the UN World Food Program warned Friday.
David Beasley praised increased funding from the United States and Germany last year, and urged China, Gulf nations, billionaires and other countries “to step up big time.”
In an interview before he hands the reins of the world’s largest humanitarian organization to US ambassador Cindy McCain next week, the former South Carolina governor said he’s “extremely worried” that WFP won’t raise about $23 billion it needs this year to help an estimated 350 million people in 49 countries who desperately need food.
“Right at this stage, I’ll be surprised if we get 40 percent of it, quite frankly,” he said.
WFP was in a similar crisis last year, he said, but fortunately he was able to convince the United States to increase its funding from about $3.5 billion to $7.4 billion and Germany to raise its contribution from $350 million a few years ago to $1.7 billion, but he doesn’t think they’ll do it again this year.
Other countries need to step up now, he said, starting with China, the world’s second-largest economy which gave WFP just $11 million last year.
With $400 trillion worth of wealth on the planet, there’s no reason for any child to die of starvation.
David Beasley, WFP chief
Beasley applauded China for its success in substantially reducing hunger and poverty at home, but said it gave less than one cent per person last year compared to the United States, the world’s leading economy, which gave about $22 per person.
China needs “to engage in the multilateral world” and be willing to provide help that is critical, he said. “They have a moral obligation to do so.”
Beasley said they’ve done “an incredible job of feeding their people,” and “now we need their help in other parts of the world” on how they did it, particularly in poorer countries including in Africa.
With high oil prices Gulf countries can also do more, especially Muslim nations that have relations with countries in east Africa, the Sahara and elsewhere in the Middle East, he said, expressing hope they will increase contributions.
Beasley said the wealthiest billionaires made unprecedented profits during the COVID-19 pandemic, and “it’s not too much to ask some of the multibillionaires to step up and help us in the short-term crisis,” even though charity isn’t a long-term solution to the food crisis.
In the long-term, he said what he’d really like to see is billionaires using their experience and success to engage “in the world’s greatest need – and that is food on the planet to feed 8 billion people.”
“The world has to understand that the next 12 to 18 months is critical, and if we back off the funding, you will have mass migration, and you will have destabilization nations and that will all be on top of starvation among children and people around the world,” he warned.
Beasley said WFP was just forced to cut rations by 50 percent to 4 million people in Afghanistan, and “these are people who are knocking on famine’s door now.”
“We don’t have enough money just to reach the most vulnerable people now,” he said. “So we are in a crisis over the cliff stage right now, where we literally could have hell on earth if we’re not very careful.”
Beasley said he’s been telling leaders in the West and Europe that while they’re focusing everything on Ukraine and Russia, “you better well not forget about what’s south and southeast of you because I can assure you it is coming your way if you don’t pay attention and get on top of it.”
With $400 trillion worth of wealth on the planet, he said, there’s no reason for any child to die of starvation.
The WFP executive director said leaders have to prioritize the humanitarian needs that are going to have the greatest impact on stability in societies around the world.
He singled out several priority places — Africa’s Sahel region as well as the east including Somalia, northern Kenya, South Sudan and Ethiopia; Syria which is having an impact on Jordan and Lebanon; and Central and South America where the number of people migrating to the United States is now five times what it was a year-and-a-half ago.
Trump to appear in court on Tuesday to answer criminal charges
Trump is due in court on Tuesday in Manhattan
He is first former US president to face criminal charges
Updated 01 April 2023
NEW YORK: Donald Trump is due to be fingerprinted and photographed in a New York courthouse next week as he becomes the first former US president to face criminal charges in a case involving a 2016 hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels.
Trump’s expected appearance before a judge in Manhattan on Tuesday, as the Republican mounts a bid to regain the presidency, could further inflame divisions in the United States. A New York judge in a document unsealed on Friday authorized Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a Democrat, to disclose that Trump had been indicted, but it was not clear when the specific charges would be made public.
Trump plans to fly to New York on Monday from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida and spend the night at Trump Tower before appearing in court early on Tuesday, according to a person familiar with the matter. Trump plans to return to Florida afterward, the source said.
Susan Necheles, a Trump attorney, told Reuters he will plead not guilty. Necheles said she did not expect the charges to be unsealed until Tuesday.
“I am not afraid of what’s to come,” Trump said in a fundraising email on Friday.
For nearly two weeks, Trump has been using the various legal troubles he faces to rally supporters and raise money as he seeks his party’s nomination to challenge Democratic President Joe Biden next year in a rematch of the 2020 election. His campaign said Trump raised more than $4 million in the 24 hours following the news of his indictment by a Manhattan grand jury.
The first American president to try to overthrow an election defeat, inspiring the deadly 2021 assault on the US Capitol, has signaled he will continue to run despite the charges.
Biden on Friday kept his thoughts on the charges against his political rival to himself, telling reporters: “I’m not going to talk about Trump’s indictment.”
After word surfaced on Thursday about the indictment, Trump called himself “completely innocent” and a victim of political persecution.
On Friday, Trump lashed out at Justice Juan Merchan, the judge expected to oversee the case. Trump wrote on social media that Merchan, who also presided over last year’s trial in which his real estate company was convicted of tax fraud, “HATES ME” and treated the Trump Organization “VICIOUSLY.” Trump was not charged in that case, which also was handled by Bragg’s office.
The specific charges in the new indictment are not yet known, though CNN reported that Trump faced more than 30 counts related to business fraud and the Associated Press reported the former president faced at least one felony charge.
Another Trump lawyer, Joseph Tacopina, said Trump will not have to wear handcuffs at his court appearance and will likely be released without having to post bail.
“He’s ready to fight. He’s gearing up,” Tacopina said in a phone interview.
Any potential trial is still at least more than a year away, legal experts said, meaning it could occur during or after the presidential campaign.
Trump, 76, has accused Bragg of trying to damage his electoral chances. Trump’s claims have been echoed by many of his fellow Republicans and his potential rivals in the race for the party’s presidential nomination.
Mike Pence, Trump’s former vice president and a possible 2024 candidate, said the charges send a “terrible message” to the world about US justice.
“I’m very troubled by it,” Pence said at a forum in Washington.
Ahead of the indictment, the grand jury heard evidence about a $130,000 payment to Daniels in the waning days of the 2016 presidential campaign. Daniels has said she was paid to keep silent about a sexual encounter she had with Trump in 2006.
“It’s vindication,” Daniels told the Times of London. “He’s done so much worse that he should have been taken down (for) before.”
Senior House of Representatives Republicans have vowed to investigate Bragg and demanded he hand over documents and other confidential material from the investigation. Bragg said Congress does not have authority to interfere with a New York legal proceeding and accused the lawmakers of escalating political tensions. Bragg’s office has been the target of bomb threats in recent weeks.
“You and many of your colleagues have chosen to collaborate with Mr. Trump’s efforts to vilify and denigrate the integrity of elected state prosecutors and trial judges,” Bragg wrote in a letter to Republican lawmakers.
Aside from this case, Trump faces two federal criminal investigations into his efforts to overturn his 2020 election defeat and his handling of classified documents after leaving office. Trump also faces a separate Georgia investigation into his efforts to overturn his 2020 loss in that state.
Officials have stepped up security around the courthouse in New York since Trump on March 18 called on his supporters to protest any arrest. A law enforcement source said police would close streets around the courthouse ahead of Tuesday’s expected appearance.
On Friday, media outlets were set up outside the courthouse but there was no sign of unrest or protests related to the case.
Trump appealed this month for nationwide protests, recalling his charged rhetoric ahead of the Jan. 6, 2021, US Capitol attack, and warned last week of potential “death & destruction” if he were charged.
Outside Mar-a-Lago, about a dozen people waved Trump flags and cheered as cars passed by.
Sonja Simpson, 62, said the payment to Daniels was not a public concern.
“If there were a thing, that’s between him, that woman and his wife. Period. Let them work it out,” Simpson said.
Merchandise vendor Ronald Solomon said sales of Trump-themed hats and t-shirts were up sharply after the charges were announced.
Some 44 percent of Republicans said Trump should drop out of the race if he is indicted, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released last week.
The former president’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen has said he coordinated with Trump on the payments to Daniels and to a second woman, former Playboy model Karen McDougal. Trump has denied having had sexual relationships with either woman, but has acknowledged reimbursing Cohen.
Cohen pleaded guilty to a campaign-finance violation in 2018 and served more than a year in prison. Federal prosecutors said he acted at Trump’s direction.