In pictures: Notre-Dame cathedral engulfed in flames in Paris

In pictures: Notre-Dame cathedral engulfed in flames in Paris

Notre-Dame Cathedral went up in flames on Monday (April 15) in a roaring blaze that devastated the Parisian landmark, a searing loss for the city and for France. The flames that began in the early evening burst through the roof of the centuries-old cathedral and engulfed the spire, which collapsed, quickly followed by the entire roof.

Taking to Twitter French President Emmanuel Macron said, “Like all our compatriots, I am sad this evening to see this part of all of us burn.”


EU Envoy Offers Sudan Help With Transition to Civilian Rule – Sudanese Military

EU Envoy Offers Sudan Help With Transition to Civilian Rule - Sudanese Military

KHARTOUM (Sputnik) – The EU ambassador to Sudan, Jean-Michel Dumond, has promised the country’s ruling military council the bloc’s assistance in the transition to civilian rule, the Sudanese military said in a press release.

“The EU ambassador said that the union was committed to providing all necessary assistance to guarantee a successful transition in Sudan,” the council said in the release.

It added that Dumond applauded the council’s decision to lift night curfew and free political prisoners detained by the government of ousted President Omar Bashir.

The release comes after Dumond made the offer at a meeting in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum on Monday with the council’s deputy head, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.

This follows Sudanese Defence Minister Awad Mohamed Ahmed Ibn Auf announcement made on 11 April that Omar Bashir had been detained and a transitional military council had been established to govern the country for the next two years.Omar Bashir was toppled last week after nearly 30 years in power. The transitional military council, led by Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan, promised to hold a new election in two years’ time. This move was met by new protests in Khartoum, with demonstrators calling for an immediate handover to a civilian caretaker government.

Commenting on the situation, the EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said in a statement last week that a military council did not “provide the answers.” She said only a swift handover to a civilian transitional government could meet the aspirations of the Sudanese people.

The UN Security Council will address again the situation in Sudan on Wednesday, according to the United Kingdom’s Ambassador to the United Nations Karen Pierce.

Actress Lori Loughlin pleads not guilty in college admissions case

Actress Lori Loughlin pleads not guilty in college admissions case

Actor Lori Loughlin, and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, leave the federal courthouse after facing charges in a nationwide college admissions cheating scheme, in Boston, Massachusetts, US, on April 3, 2019. Reuters file photo

BOSTON, April 15

Actress Lori Loughlin said on Monday she will plead not guilty to charges that she participated in what prosecutors say was the largest college admissions scandal uncovered in US history.

Loughlin, who starred in the television sitcom, ‘Full House’, and her fashion designer husband Mossimo Giannulli filed papers in federal court in Boston seeking to waive their personal appearances at an arraignment hearing and have not guilty pleas entered on their behalf.

They are among 50 people accused of participating in a scheme that allowed wealthy parents to use cheating and bribes to help their children secure spots at universities like Yale, Georgetown and the University of Southern California (USC).

California college admissions adviser William “Rick” Singer has pleaded guilty to charges that he facilitated cheating on college entrance exams and bribed coaches at universities to falsely present the parents’ children as athletic recruits.

Loughlin, 54, and Giannulli agreed with Singer to pay $500,000 to have their two daughters named as recruits to USC’s crew team, prosecutors said, even though they did not row competitively, to help them gain admission.

The couple and several other parents were originally charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. Prosecutors secured an indictment on April 9 that included an additional charge of conspiring to commit money laundering.

In all, 33 parents have been charged in the college admissions scandal. Of those, 14 have agreed to plead guilty, including ‘Desperate Housewives’ TV star Felicity Huffman. Reuters

US Begins 4-Day Response Exercise if Mass Migration Hits Caribbean – Coast Guard

US Begins 4-Day Response Exercise if Mass Migration Hits Caribbean – Coast Guard

WASHINGTON (Sputnik) – A Department of Homeland Security (DHS) task force and service members from US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) have launched a three-day exercise to address a hypothetical mass migration in the Caribbean, the US Coast Guard said.

“In support of DHS’ plan to respond to a mass migration, which includes a supporting role for SOUTHCOM and its components, partner agencies train to be able to communicate and work together seamlessly and provide the required support if necessary to this humanitarian and national security crisis,” the US Coast Guard announced in a press release on Monday.The 15 April through 18 April exercise, named “Integrated Advance,” provides an opportunity for DHS’ Southeast Task Force and component commands, plus multiple partners from the federal, state, and local governments to respond to regional migration crises, the release said.

The Coast Guard made no mention of a separate migration crisis on the Southwestern US border, where more than 1 million migrants are expected to enter the US illegally this year and request political asylum.

However, the release noted that migrations in boats, as in the Caribbean, often lead to drownings, making training for maritime rescues as important as border security.

Sweden Left With Empty Fighter Jet Hulls in Wait for ‘Sukhoi Killer’

Sweden Left With Empty Fighter Jet Hulls in Wait for 'Sukhoi Killer'

More than a dozen fighter jet hulls ordered to keep the assembly line going in anticipation of the new fighter jet intended to “kill Russian Sukhoi jets” haven’t been completed and are believed to have become a burden for Swedish taxpayers.

The Swedish Defence Materiel Administration (FMV) ordered 14 hulls of its prized Saab Gripen fighter jet, which have been left empty and unused. While the price of the deal remains undisclosed, it is speculated to have set back the state hundreds of millions of kronor, the Svenska Dagbladetnewspaper reported.

While the official price tag for the 60 Gripen Es ordered by the Swedish state was SEK 37 billion (almost $4 billion), Saab was also commissioned to build the hulls for an additional 14 Gripens (10 single-seat Gripen C and four two-seat Gripen D).

This batch was largely ordered to maintain the competence to manufacture fighter aircraft, as the production of Gripens for Sweden’s Air Force and other export customers, such as Thailand, South Africa and the Czech Republic, almost ceased, and a substantial break was looming. The extra hulls were therefore ordered to keep the assembly line running before the production of Gripen Es, dubbed the “Sukhoi Killer”, could begin.

“Gripen is an important safety interest for Sweden, and it was important to keep production going and hone the skills”, FMV press officer Henrik Hedberg told Svenska Dagbladet.

The decision to start production of the Gripen E was taken by the former centre-right government. The the extra 14 Gripen C/D hulls were intended with several potential export transactions in mind. The clou of Saab’s management’s marketing campaign has been the idea that they can deliver brand new Gripen C/Ds in 18-24 months, which is significantly faster than its competitors can manage.

However, as of today, the hulls remain empty and lack the equipment needed for a functioning fighter. The FMV didn’t specify how much taxpayer money the Swedish state spent on the hulls. A rough estimation indicated that the transaction involved at least several hundred million kronor.

In its statement, the FMV management stressed that the cost of the 14 hulls is included in the total cost of the entire Gripen E project.

“More detailed than that, we cannot be as the agreement for Gripen E is classified as confidential”, the FMV told Svenska Dagbladet.

FMV declined to disclose its plans on what to do with the empty hulls. Since they cannot be used for Saab’s brand new Gripen E, they are likely to end up unused, unless a new deal is reached.

One possibility is to use the hulls as a replacement for crashed Gripen jets. Previously, parliament decided that the Swedish Air Force should have 100 Gripen C/Ds. Today, there are 95. No such decision has been made so far.

With 60 Grupen Es ordered, Sweden remains their largest (and only) user. The rest of the Gripen users, such as the Czech Republic, Hungary or Thailand, fly the previous model C/D model.

Libya’s Deputy PM Warns EU not to Trust Haftar, Avoid Repeat of Syrian Scenario

Libya’s Deputy PM Warns EU not to Trust Haftar, Avoid Repeat of Syrian Scenario

On Sunday, the World Health Organisation reported that the death toll from the renewed clashes between Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s forces and those loyal to the UN-backed Government of National Accord has climbed to 147.

Libya’s Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Maiteeq has warned the countries of the EU not to sit down with Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar to discuss the Libyan conflict, which he claimed may lead to a civil war, Syrian-style.

“I would like to ask the heads of European governments: do you understand who Haftar is and what he wants? The subversion of the Tripoli government that we represent is a betrayal of international law and UN principles”, Maiteeq told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

He added that Libya would like to urge Italy and Europe to help the North African country “observe international law and stop war”.

“Can Europeans trust a person [Haftar] who, in the midst of difficult negotiations under the auspices of the UN, is betraying the whole process?” Maiteeq noted.

He claimed that by using Egypt’s support, Haftar is drawing Libya into a protracted war that may result in mass migration and the spread of terrorism.

Maiteeq’s interview comes after the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Sunday that 147 people have already been killed amid the renewal of clashes between Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) and forces loyal to the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA). According to the WHO, just four days ago, the death toll stood at 58 people.

Earlier last week, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said that the EU is concerned by the participation of ‘terrorists’ in hostilities in Libya and called on the parties to the conflict “to dissociate themselves from these elements, both publicly and on the ground”.

Mogherini has also urged the sides to resume a political dialogue and “continue to engage in the UN-led process for an inclusive political settlement”.

Her remarks followed a statement by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who warned that a serious political dialogue that should be resumed in Libya cannot be launched until the hostilities completely stop in the country.

The dangerous confrontation in Libya started to unravel on 4 April, when Haftar’s forces announced an unexpected offensive on Tripoli.

The Field Marshal claimed at the time that the GNA had formed an alliance with terrorist groups in the country; he pledged to defeat them and cleanse jihadists from the region.Forces loyal to the Tripoli-based GNA said, in turn, that they were launching a counteroffensive operation, dubbed Volcano of Rage.

After National Transitional Council forces, supported by NATO, murdered the country’s former head Muammar Gaddafi in October 2011, Libya was involved in a protracted political gridlock.

The country remains divided between the LNA-backed parliament, which was elected in 2014 and is based in the city of Tobruk; and the GNA, which was formed as part of a UN initiative and controls the western part of the country, including the capital Tripoli.

Global measles cases skyrocket

Measles cases rose 300 per cent worldwide through the first three months of 2019 compared to the same period last year, the UN said, as concern grows over the impact of anti-vaccination stigma.

Measles, which is highly contagious, can be entirely prevented through a two-dose vaccine, but the World Health Organisation (WHO) has in recent months sounded the alarm over slipping global vaccination rates.

“Preliminary global data shows that reported cases rose by 300 per cent in the first three months of 2019, compared to the same period in 2018. This follows consecutive increases over the past two years,” it said in a statement.

Global measles cases skyrocket

A nurse examines a child infected with measles in Madagascar. Picture: APSource:AP

“While this data is provisional and not yet complete, it indicates a clear trend. Many countries are in the midst of sizeable measles outbreaks, with all regions of the world experiencing sustained rises in cases,” WHO further said.

The agency noted that only about one in 10 actual measles cases are reported, meaning the early trends for 2019 likely underestimate the severity of the outbreaks.

New York has declared a state of emergency because of a measles outbreak in the area. Picture: APSource:AP

So far this year, 170 countries have reported 112,163 measles cases to WHO. At this time last year, 163 countries had reported 28,124 cases.

“Spikes in case numbers have also occurred in countries with high overall vaccination coverage, including the United States,” WHO said.

“The disease has spread fast among clusters of unvaccinated people,” it added. New York’s mayor declared a public health emergency in parts of Brooklyn last week, after a measles outbreak emerged in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, where some had resisted vaccination on religious grounds.

WHO said that the most dramatic rise in cases — a 700-percent increase compared to last year — has been reported in Africa, which has weaker vaccination coverage than other regions.

It comes as US measles cases have surged again, and are on pace to set a record for most illnesses in 25 years.

A doctor holds a newborn baby, sick rubella or measles Picture: istockSource:istock

Health officials on Monday said 555 measles cases have been confirmed so far this year, up from 465 as of a week ago.

While 20 states have reported cases, New York has been the epicentre. Nearly two-thirds of all cases have been in New York, and 85 per cent of the latest week’s cases came from the state. Most of the New York cases have been unvaccinated people in Orthodox Jewish communities.

Measles cases in New York have surged this year with most instances coming from unvaccinated people in Orthodox Jewish communities. Picture: Getty Images/AFPSource:AFP

The 2019 tally is already the most since 2014, when 667 were reported. The most before that was 963 cases in 1994.

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all children get two doses of measles vaccine.

German Network Regulator Refuses to Ban China’s Huawei From 5G Rollout – Reports

German Network Regulator Refuses to Ban China's Huawei From 5G Rollout - Reports

MOSCOW (Sputnik) – Germany’s federal network agency Bundesnetzagentur will not shut China’s technology giant Huawei out of the high-speed 5G Internet network rollout, the agency’s director told The Financial Times on Monday.

“The position the Bundesnetzagentur takes is that no equipment supplier, including Huawei, should, or may, be specifically excluded,” Jochen Homann told The Financial Times newspaper.Germany began an auction last month to select telecom operators for the project, with Drillisch Netz, Telefonica, Telekom Deutschland and Vodafone competing for the opportunity to roll out the wireless broadband network across the country. Huawei is expected to play a role in it.

The United States has been pushing for the European Union to ban the Chinese company from the broadband network over its alleged industrial espionage. But Homann said his agency had no proof of Huawei’s spying.

“The Bundesnetzagentur has not received any concrete indications against Huawei. Nor are we aware of any other body in Germany that has received any reliable indications,” he told the paper.

Washington has warned that it would scale down intelligence cooperation with Germany should it allow the Chinese manufacturer of telecom equipment to participate in the project. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas issued the sharpest rebuke yet in March when he said Berlin would not tolerate blackmail.

Australia accused of ‘siphoning’ millions in Timor-Leste oil revenue

Australia accused of 'siphoning' millions in Timor-Leste oil revenue

An oil platform in the Timor Sea. Australia has been accused of taking oil revenue that should belong to Timor-Leste. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Australia has been accused of “siphoning” millions of dollars a month in oil revenue that should belong to Timor-Leste, because the government is yet to ratify last year’s maritime border treaty.

Estimates suggest the revenue taken by Australia since the signing of the treaty now totals more than it has given to Timor-Leste in foreign aid, and more than Timor-Leste spends on health in a year.

The historic treaty, signed at the United Nations in March 2018, delimited a permanent maritime border to close the Timor Gap, and established a “special regime” area for sharing an untapped, multibillion-dollar gas field in the Timor Sea. The new border confirmed several former and operational fields were in Timorese territory, despite decades of Australia profiting from them.

‘She didn’t have the energy to cry’: Timor-Leste and its struggle against malnutrition

At the time of the signing, Australia insisted the treaty would not take effect until both countries had ratified it. But the Australian government has now failed to ratify the deal before the announcement of the federal election. Critics have blamed this on the “dysfunction” of the Coalition government and 45th parliament.

The delay has meant that Australia continues to draw profits from the Bayu-Undan fields, which had previously been split 90-10 but was confirmed by the treaty to have belonged entirely to Timor-Leste.

Estimates vary between $350,000 and $2.9m per week that Australia is drawing by continuing to claim 10% of the Bayu-Undan revenue.

“This is pretty outrageous when it comes to one of our poorest neighbours,” said Steve Bracks, the former Victorian premier and founder of the Timor-Leste governance project. “They’re being denied that money because of the dysfunction of the Australian government and its insistence that parliament needs to ratify the treaty.”

Timor-Leste is the second-most oil-dependent country on earth but its reserves are expected to run out first. The government is scrambling to diversify its economy and stave off the crisis of losing the 90% share of its annual budget that come from the Petroleum Fund – primarily Bayu-Undan profits.

Australia and Timor-Leste sign historic maritime border treaty

Bracks, who is also an occasional adviser to Timor-Leste, called on Australia’s main political parties to commit to repaying the money collected since March 2018 when the treaty was signed.

The Labor party, which is expected to win the election, did not respond to requests for comment.

The foreign affairs minister, Marise Payne, did not say if a re-elected Coalition government would repay the money. However, she said both countries were working to finalise the necessary arrangements.

“The Coalition government tabled the first tranche of legislation in parliament last year and the Senate economics committee recommended on 8 February that it be passed,” Payne said. “Work is under way on the second tranche of legislation, which will be finalised after negotiations on extensive transitional arrangements with the affected companies have been concluded.”

However, Bracks said that was not necessary to enable Timor-Leste to receive the revenue it was entitled to.

“Under executive fiat they could have just proceeded [with the new arrangements] but instead Australia insisted the parliaments of both countries ratify this,” he said.

L’ao Hamutuk, a Dili-based human rights organisation, said both countries could have ratified the treaty in August – when Timor-Leste’s new parliament began sitting and when the Australian joint select committee on the treaty published its report.

“But in the next seven months Australia received US$44m from Bayu-Undan,” said Charles Scheiner, of L’ao Hamutuk. “If ratification doesn’t happen until the end of July 2019 [the next sitting dates after the Australian federal election], this will grow to about US$76m.

“If the treaty had been ratified expeditiously, the Bayu-Undan revenue no longer being siphoned off by Australia would have covered the health costs of the entire Timorese population.”

Treaty confirms Australia profited from Timor-Leste oil and gas, rights groups say

The treaty ended a decades-long negotiation process that included Australia spying on Timorese representatives, and revelations that successive Australian governments were driven by a desire for resources when it decided to legitimise the Indonesian invasion of Timor-Leste.

Bracks accused the government of continuing to obfuscate and insist on a previous arrangement “forged under industrial espionage”.

L’ao Hamutuk estimated last year that Australia had taken billions of dollars in revenue over the decades that negotiations continued – money that should have been Timor-Leste’s and which has not been requested back by the tiny island nation in what Bracks described as an “act of goodwill”.

Last year, a Timorese diplomatic source told the Guardian Timor-Leste was unlikely to push for compensation because of Australia’s generosity during “difficult times”, but added: “If Australia wanted to give it to Timor, then that would be nice.”

Bracks said that “on any fair reasoning” it should be repaid, but Timor-Leste was not asking for that, which made the revelation that Australia was continuing to earn revenue from Bayu-Undan even more outrageous.

Fighting in Libya will create huge number of refugees, PM warns

Fighting in Libya will create huge number of refugees, PM warns

Smoke rises from an airstrike near forces loyal to Libya’s government of national accord near Tripoli. Photograph: Mahmud Turkia/AFP/Getty Images

Hundreds of thousands of refugees could flee the fighting caused by Khalifa Haftar’s attempt to seize the Libyan capital, Tripoli, the prime minister of the country’s UN-recognised government has warned.

The warnings by Fayez al-Sarraj – who also claimed Haftar had betrayed the people of Libya – echo those given privately to the Italian government by its intelligence services, and are clearly designed to alert EU states to the possible consequences for European migration of a prolonged civil war in the country.

There have been concerns that Libya could become a “new Syria”, with civil war leading to massive population displacement.

Speaking to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Sarraj, who has been PM since 2016, said: “We are facing a war of aggression that will spread its cancer throughout the Mediterranean, Italy and Europe. We need to be united and firm in blocking the war of aggression of Haftar, a man who has betrayed Libya and the international community.

Fear and despair engulf refugees in Libya’s ‘market of human beings’

“There are not only the 800,000 migrants potentially ready to leave, there would be Libyans fleeing this war, and in the south of Libya the terrorists of the Islamic State that the Tripoli government with the support of the city of Misrata had expelled from the town of Sirte three years ago”.

Sarraj said Haftar’s foreign-funded forces “are attacking civilian structures, roads, schools, houses, the airport and medical facilities: ambulances and hospitals. General Haftar says he is attacking terrorists, but there are only civilians here.”

He added: “Haftar’s treacherous action will bring destruction to Libya and neighbouring countries; no negotiation will be possible if its attack on the population does not cease and if it does not withdraw.”

The Italian prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, meeting supporters of the Sarraj government in Rome, underlined the scale of the problem. He said: “We must avert a humanitarian crisis that could be devastating, not only for the repercussions on Italy and the EU but in the interests of the Libyan people themselves.”

Migration from Libya to Italy fell severely more than a year ago, in part due to deals made by the previous Italian government. Only 551 migrants reached Italy between January and 10 April this year.

The UN International Organization for Migration said it was impossible to predict how many migrants might flee Libya and head for Europe. The IOM pointed out that Italy was able to welcome more than 6,000 migrants per month up until 2017. But that level of migration prompted a political backlash, and the interior minister, Matteo Salvini, has built his personal popularity on a tough migration stance.

A protester demands an end to Haftar’s offensive against Tripoli, 12 April. Photograph: Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters

At least 147 people have been killed and 614 wounded in the offensive launched by Haftar on 4 April to take Tripoli, the World Health Organization said.

The clashes have also displaced more than 18,000 people, according to the latest figures from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The international community remains divided over the best course in Libya, with a coalition of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, France and the United Arab Emirates seeing Haftar as a possible source for stability after years of civil war. These countries highlight the role played by Islamist militia in Tripoli, and insist they want to bring stability to a country that has been overrun by terrorists.

But the UN special envoy for Libya, Ghassan Salamé, rejected Haftar’s explanation for his actions, saying Haftar’s attack resembled more a coup rather than a counter-terror operation.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4, Salamé said Haftar’s conflict with the Tripoli government “started a long time ago, in fact three or four years ago, in a counter-terrorism logic, but what is happening now is not necessarily a counter-terror logic. It is an attempt clearly to control the capital of the country where one-third of the population lives, at least. This was made even clearer by the fact that he issued a warrant of arrest against the prime minister, Serraj, and others, which sounded like a coup more than counter-terrorism.”

Serraj also claimed Tripoli has been locked in a military stalemate over the past 8 days with neither side making decisive advances.

The acting assistant secretary, US Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, David Satterfield, called for all sides to show restraint, but dialled down previous American criticism of Haftar, and instead emphasised the destructive role of militia, adding that the US favoured an enduring solution.