Scuffles break out as artworks removed from Catalan city’s museum

Police clash with protesters in Lleida as 44 works of art at centre of disagreement between Catalonia and region of Aragn are removed

Scuffles broke out between police and demonstrators after hundreds of people met outside a museum in the Catalan city of Lleida to protest against the removal of 44 works of art that have been at the centre of a long-running dispute between Catalonia and the neighbouring region of Aragon.

The pieces, which include paints, alabaster reliefs and polychromatic wooden coffins, were sold to the Catalan government by the nuns of the Sijena convent, in Aragon, in the 1980 s.

The Aragonese authorities have been trying to recover the works through the courts, arguing they were unlawfully sold.

At the end of November, Spain’s culture minister, Inigo Mendez de Vigo, received a judicial order for the return of the works.

With Catalonia currently under the control of the Spanish government after Madrid sacked the regional government over its unilateral declaration of independence, Mendez de Vigo authorised their return on behalf of the administration. The move has exacerbated tensions in Catalonia, which were already running high in the buildup to next week’s snap regional election.

In the early hours of Monday morning, experts accompanied by officers from the Guardia Civil and the Catalan police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, entered the Museum of Lleida to begin packing up the pieces.

Around 500 people congregated outside the museum to demonstrate against the removal, some chanting” Hands up! This is a theft !” and expressing fury over the Spanish government’s decision to assume control of Catalonia using article 155 of the constitution. Scuffles broke out between police and some protesters and a cordon was set up to allow the artworks to be loaded on to a lorry.

The mayor of Lleida, Angel Ros, have asserted that article 155 could not to be used to” sacred art” and called for common sense and wisdom to prevail.

” There is still a long way to go to resolve the litigation over these goods ,” he wrote in a local paper on Sunday.” We will use all legal means to show that the purchase, by the[ Catalan government] was made in accordance with the law and that the works were transferred to the Museum of Lleida with full legality and legitimacy .”

The former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium after he was sacked, attacked the move on Twitter.

He accused the Spanish government of using the cover of night and the Guardia Civil to” take advantage of a coup d’etat to plunder Catalonia with absolute impunity “.

A poll published on Sunday in the Catalan daily La Vanguardia indicates Catalan separatist parties will narrowly fall short of a majority in the election on 21 December.

The survey said Puigdemont’s Junts per Catalunya party, the Catalan Republican Left party and the anti-capitalist Popular Unity Candidacy( CUP) would win 66 or 67 seats in the 135 -seat regional parliament, one or two shy of the 68 needed for a majority.

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Macron tells Netanyahu that US recognition of Jerusalem is threat to peace

Call comes as Palestinian human stabs Israeli security guard following Donald Trumps announcement about Jerusalem

Emmanuel Macron, the French chairman, has warned US recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital was a” threat to peace” as he hosted the country’s “ministers “, Benjamin Netanyahu, on his first foreign trip since Donald Trump provoked widespread censure with the decision.

The joint appearance by the two men, following talks in Paris, came as tear gas was used to disperse protesters outside the US embassy in Beirut and a Palestinian human stabbed an Israeli security guard at Jerusalem’s central bus station in the first assault in the city since Trump’s announcement.

Palestinian media identified the assailant as 24 -year-old Yasin Abu al-Qur’a from a village near Nablus in the northern West Bank, who reportedly posted on Facebook hours earlier mentioning Jerusalem. Police described as a terrorist attack.

Trump last week declared the US would recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, violating the international consensus on one of the most sensitive issues in relations between Israel and the Palestinians – who wish the capital of a future Palestinian nation to be in the east of the city.

Macron said he had told Netanyahu that Trump’s statement on Jerusalem” is a threat to peace and we are against it” and suggested that an Israeli freeze on settlement house would be an important gesture, proving Israel was committed to peace.

In uncompromising remarks unlikely to calm the ongoing crisis, Netanyahu replied by saying that the sooner Palestinians recognised the reality that Jerusalem was Israel’s capital, the sooner there would be peace.

He also lashed out at the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, saying he would not” take lecturings” from someone who bombs Kurdish villages, supportings Iran and “terrorists” in Gaza.

Several rockets were fird from the Gaza Strip toward Israel on Thursday and Friday following Trump’s declaration, resulting Israel to respond with airstrikes that killed two people.

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Of all the issues at the heart of the enduring conflict between Israel and the Palestinians , none is as sensitive as the situation of women Jerusalem. The holy city has been at the centre of peace-making efforts for decades.

Seventy years ago, when the UN voted to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab nations, Jerusalem was defined as a separate entity under international supervision. In the war of 1948 it was divided, like Berlin in the cold war, into western and eastern sectors under Israeli and Jordanian control respectively. Nineteen years later, in June 1967, Israel captured the eastern side, expanded the city’s borders and annexed it- an act that was never recognised internationally.

Israel routinely describes the city, with its Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy place, as its” united and eternal” capital. For their portion, the Palestinians say East Jerusalem must be the capital of a future independent Palestinian nation. The unequivocal international position, accepted by all previous US administrations, is that the city’s status must be addressed in peace negotiations.

Recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital sets the US out of step with the rest of the world, and legitimises Israeli settlement-building in the east- considered illegal under international law.

Photograph: Thomas Coex/ AFP

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Macron has been resulting European criticism of the US decision and rang Trump before his announcement to alert him of the likely damaging outcomes for the Palestinian peace process. Before Netanyahu’s visit, he and Erdogan spoke by telephone about a joint diplomatic approach to try to persuade the US to row back on Jerusalem.

He began his pre-prepared remarks alongside Netanyahu with a clear disapproval” of all forms of attacks in the last hours and days against Israel .”

Graphic footage of the incident in Jerusalem demonstrated the attacker calmly handing his coat to the security guard before abruptly plunging a large knife into the guard’s chest. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the guard sustained a serious meander to his upper body and the attacker was apprehended.

In Beirut, meanwhile, Lebanese security force broke up a protest outside the heavily guarded US embassy with teargas after demonstrators pelted them with stones.

Protesters, some of them waving Palestinian flags, lit flames in the street and threw objects at members of the security forces who had barricaded the main road to the embassy.

Addressing the protesters, the head of the Lebanese Communist party, Hanna Gharib, declared Washington” the enemy of Palestine” and said the embassy was ” a emblem of imperialist aggressivenes” that must be closed.

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, defended Trump’s decision saying it reflected his appreciation for such facts on the ground and – without devoting details – that it would advance peace talks.

” You’ve got the parliament, the president, the cabinet of ministers, the supreme court, so why shouldn’t we have the embassy there ?” she told CBS.

” When you recognise the truth, when both parties recognise reality, peace comes. We are living in the reality that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel .”

She said US allies in the Middle East are the most worried about Iran’s growing influence in the region, where Washington was ” in lockstep” with them.

The US president’s recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital has nevertheless infuriated the Arab world and upset western friends, who say it is a blow to peace efforts and dangers causing further unrest.

The Vatican on Sunday said Pope Francis was praying so that” leaders of nations” commit themselves to work to” forestalls a new spiraling of violence” over Jerusalem. Its statement reiterated the Vatican position on” the essential need for respecting the status quo “.

Most countries consider East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed after capturing it in 1967, to be occupied territory. They say the status of the city should be left to be decided at future Israeli-Palestinian talks.

Netanyahu is on Monday due in Brussels where he will fulfill the EU foreign policy chief, Frederica Mogherini, and hold a working breakfast with 27 EU foreign ministers. Before he left Israel for Europe he was critical of EU leaders, who have also condemned the building of Israeli settlements in West Bank.

” While I respect Europe, I am not prepared to accept a doubled criterion from it ,” Netanyahu said on Saturday evening.” I hear voices from there condemning President Trump’s historic statement, but I have not heard condemnations of the rockets fired at Israel or the terrible incitement against it. I am not prepared to accept this hypocrisy .”

Arab League foreign ministers met for hours on Saturday to denounce the US decision as illegitimate and unlawful, but appeared to have held back from taking any new measures.

The Arab League chief, Ahmed Abul Gheit, said Trump’s decision was ” against international law and raises questions over American efforts to support peace” between Palestine and Israel.

The shift in US policy undermined Arab confidence in the Trump administration and amounted to the legalisation of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, he added.

The pastors reiterated that such a move had no legal impact and was void, adding:” it deepens tension, kindles anger and threatens to plunge region into more violence and chaos .”

The ministers agreed to” demand that the United States rescind its decision on Jerusalem … and the calling on the international community to recognise the state of Palestine … with east Jerusalem as its capital ,” said the statement.

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US believed it would ‘undoubtedly win’ war with North Korea in 1994 but with huge casualties

Declassified document predicted massive losses for US and South and Pyongyang has since made dramatic steps in nuclear and missile technology

Declassified documents published under Friday show that the United States believed its military and South Korea’s forces would” undoubtedly win” a conflict on the divided Korean peninsula, during a 1994 standoff over Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions.

But long before North Korea had developed nuclear weapons, the Pentagon estimated that some 490,000 South Korean service members and 52,000 US personnel would be killed or wounded in the first three months of any conflict.

The assessment does not mention North Korean and civilian casualties, but analysts say loss would be enormous.

Today, with North Korea almost able to directly threatened the US mainland with nuclear ten-strikes, the possibility of conflict looms as it did in 1994.

At that time, President Bill Clinton’s administration considered a cruise missile ten-strike on a Northern korean nuclear complex after it began defuelling a reactor that could offer fissile material for bombs for the first time. Former president Jimmy Carter headed off a conflict, meeting with the founding North Korean leader, Kim Il-sung, and helping seal an aid-for-disarmament arrangement. The pact suffered for nearly a decade, despite frequent disputes and periodic flare-ups on the peninsula.

” We had taken a very strong position that we would not permit North Korea to make a nuclear bomb ,” William Perry, who was defense secretary during the course of its crisis, said this week.” We have said that many times since then, but then we really meant it .”

A declassified transcript published by the National Security Archiveat George Washington University records Perry’s discussion on the standoff with South Korea’s president in 1998. Perry was by then Clinton’s special envoy for North Korea.

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Much of the regime’s domestic legitimacy rests on portraying the country as under constant threat from the US and its regional friends, South Korea and Japan.

To support the claim that it is in Washington’s crosshairs, North Korea cites the tens of thousands of US troops lined up along the southern side of the demilitarised zone- the heavily fortified border dividing the Korean peninsula. Faced with what it says are US provocations, North Korea says it has as much right as any other state to develop a nuclear deterrent.

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un is also aware of the fate of other despots who lack nuclear weapons.

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Perry told the then chairwoman, Kim Dae-jung, that the US had planned for a military showdown and that” with the combined forces of the ROK and US, we can undoubtedly win the war “. ROK refers to the abbreviation of the South’s official name, the Republic of Korea.

Speaking to South Korea’s Kim, who pursued a “sunshine” policy of diplomatic outreach to North Korea, Perry said the” war involves many casualties in the process. As a former defense secretary, I am well aware of the negative aspects of war, and will do my best to avoid war .”

Since then, North Korea has made dramatic advances in its nuclear and weapon growth, particularly under its current young leader, Kim Jong-un. Last month, it tested an intercontinental ballistic missile with a likely scope of more than 8,000 miles( 13,000 km ), moving it closer to perfecting a nuclear-tipped bullet that they are able strike all corners of the US mainland.

Trump has not ruled out using force to stop the North from achieving that capability if diplomacy fails. The US has stepped up members of the military drills with friends, which Pyongyang condemns as preparations for invasion. This week, the US and South Korea held air force drills involving more than 200 aircraft, including six US F-2 2 and 18 F-3 5 stealth fighters.

North Korea’s foreign ministry alerted this week:” The remaining topic now is: when will the war break out .”

Speaking at an Arms Control Association briefing in Washington, Perry exhorted a renewed attempt at diplomacy, which he said would not get North Korea to give up its nukes in short order, but could lower the likelihood of war.

He said that a nuclear-armed North Korea would not attack America but may be emboldened in military provocations against South Korea that could spiral into a wider conflict. The US could itself blunder into a nuclear war if it undertook a conventional military ten-strike on North Korea that inspired the North to assault the South, he said.

” An all-out war with North Korea, nuclear war, even if China and Russia did not enter ,” Perry said,” could still entail casualties approximating those of World War I or even World War II .”

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In a class of its own: New Zealand school with no students vows to stay open

Tuturumuri school is surviving on savings in case any parents want to give their children the highest staff-to-student ratio in the country

A school in a rural New Zealand that has no students has pledged to stay open for as long as possible in case a new pupil wants to enrol.

Tuturumuri schoolin Wairarapa in the North Island has been without any children for the last term and has no new children scheduled to start in the new year.

Teachers say the lack of students is down to families moving out of the region as the region’s farming industry contracts.

However, the school’s board has said it won’t give up just yet, and will use its savings account to pay three staff in order to be allowed to remain open for the coming term.

Tuturumuri School map

If they still don’t have any enrolments next year, the scheme is to buy a bus so children can be taught in the nearest town, 35 km away.

Charmaine Potter, who works as a teacher’s aide at Tuturumuri, said there were benefits to attending small schools.” I have had the beauty of insuring what a lot of one-on-one teaching can have on the children and the classroom, especially when they can get lost in some of the bigger schools ,” she told the New Zealand Herald.

” It is various kinds of nice when you are in a little school with a small amount of students and you can actually spend that time helping them and watching them grow and learn .”

Tuturumuri school had 22 students five years ago, but numbers have dwindled steadily since then.

Any new students would get the highest staff-to-student ratio in the country- and a heated indoor swimming pool.

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The rise and fall of Al Franken: from comedy to politics to disgrace

The Minnesota senator had begun to attain his mark on Capitol Hill as an incisive and amusing presence, but those who knew him alerted he came here with baggage

When Al Franken was mooted as a possible dark horse in the 2020 presidential election, those who knew him warned that he comes with baggage. They little guessed how much.

The Democratic senator announced on Thursday that he will resign in the coming weeks following a string of sex misconduct accusations. It marked a dizzying rise and fall for the comedian-turned-politician whose legacy on Capitol Hill will be heatedly contested.

In his farewell address on the Senate floor, Franken sought to portray himself as a victim.” Some of the allegations against me are simply not true ,” he said defiantly.” Others I remember very differently … But this decision is not about me. It’s about the people of Minnesota .”

Not all the people of Minnesota have been taken by surprise by the events of the past three weeks, however. Larry Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota, said:” I didn’t know of any of these accusations but he’s a very self-confident person who guess of himself as special. With some of the accusations you see that: what he felt was being goofy or having his style was clearly unacceptable .”

Franken, 66, who grew up in the Jewish community in St Louis Park, a suburbium of Minneapolis ,~ ATAGEND had appeared to be a phase in favour of the debate that politics is enriched by people from varied and colourful backgrounds rather than career politicians.

He first stimulated his name 40 years ago as a writer and musician on the TV slapstick show Saturday Night Live and was twice a guest performer at the White House correspondents’ dinner . He also worked as a talkshow host and wrote books such as Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations and Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right.

Then came an abrupt turning when Franken ran for the Senate in 2008. He went to Jeff Blodgett ,~ ATAGEND who operated the late Paul Wellstone’s Senate campaigns, for advice. Blodgett commented on Thursday:” I would hope that Al Franken would get credit for growing into a senator of real substance, someone who dug deep on issues like net neutrality, mental health and veterans affairs, a senator who paid close attention to his country, and a consistent progressive voice during a tough era for our country .”

During the election campaign Republican attempted to turn his old jokes against him, but in vain. The Democrat creaked home by 312 referendums after an eight-month legal battle. But anyone expecting him to become court jester in the Senate was in for a letdown .~ ATAGEND

Al Franken on election night in November 2008 Photograph: Craig Lassig/ EPA

Facing scepticism over whether he possessed the necessary grativas, Franken chose he had to prove himself as” a workhorse and not a indicate horse”, he recalled in a recent memoir, Giant of the Senate. He subjected himself to what he calls” the DeHumorizer” and became a polished politician who steered clear of reporters.

” Possibly the most ridiculous Politician Skill I had to learn … was how to’ fulcrum ,’ which basically means’ not answer questions ‘,” he writes. But there were occasional lapsings, such as the time he rolled his eyes at the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell.” As soon as Mitch had finished his speech, he marched up to the podium and let me know he was furious, as he had every right to be.’ This isn’t’ Saturday Night Live ,’ Al !'”

Meanwhile Franken induced significant contributions to policy, including to Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Jacobs said:” There’s no doubt Al Franken is very bright, “hes having” genuine interest in public policy and he worked hard to prove to his constituents and his fellow senators that he was worthy .”

It paid off. Franken was re-elected by a comfortable margin in 2014. He allowed the mask to slip a little, letting himself be funny again and more media friendly. Thus liberated, he also became one of the Democrats’ hardest hitters, pummeling the education secretary, Betsy DeVos ,~ ATAGEND us attorney general Jeff Sessions and supreme court justice Neil Gorsuch during confirmation hearings.

He also took on unfashionable causes such as net neutrality, and his recent grilling of Facebook and Google over Russian election interference was at once sardonic and incisive, amusing and devastating.

But the inner jester was still there and so were its dark secrets. Allegations began to emerge last month when Los Angeles radio anchor Leeann Tweeden accused Franken of forcibly kissing her during a 2006 United Service Organisations tour. He apologised and called for himself to be investigated, but over day a further seven women came forward with asserts about inappropriate behaviour.

On Wednesday more than 30 Democratic Senators called for Franken to stand down .~ ATAGEND No amount of “pivoting” could save him from his past. Jacobs said:” His career was in an industry where outrageous behaviour and sexual aggressivenes have a free rein and the commission has caught up with him with a vengeance. It’s a sad day: he put their own lives on hold and now his career in politics appears to be over. There’s nothing to celebrate .”

During an interview with the Guardian at a cafe in St Paul in September, a casually dressed Franken showed a down-to-earth side of his personality, relating how he had just been to the Minnesota Vikings’ training camp with his son. A stranger approached him and said:” I’m this close to asking for your autograph but the memory will be enough .” Franken graciously insisted on an autograph.

Reaction in his home country is mixed, Jacobs said, with conservatives generally “elated” and some liberals “hopping mad” that the senator has been pushed out of office.” I believe most Minnesotans have a heavy heart. A sense of disloyalty, frustration and annoyance about what’s going on in public life .”

For now, Franken has joined the ranks of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer as out of work and unemployable. But he said on Thursday:” I may be resigning my seat, but I am not giving up my voice .”

Jacobs suspects he could yet attempt a third act.” He may be forced from office but I don’t think it’s the last we’ve seen of him. He may recover, re-energise and come back as a spitfire comedian looking for retaliation. I would not want to be on his enemies list .”

But some assured Franken’s farewell statements in the Senate as self-serving. His legacy is eternally tainted. Neil Sroka, spokesman for the progressive political organisation Democracy for America, which called for him to resign last week ,~ ATAGEND said:” It’s hard not to see how this doesn’t cast a cloud up what could have been an important career in the Senate, but it’s a shadow that has to exist. There’s a broad sense, at the least among Democrats, that we cannot ignore the victims of sexual harassment: their voices need to be heard .”

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‘A Christmas miracle’: heavy snow falls in southern Texas for first time in years

Frigid temperatures behind a cold front combined with moisture off the Gulf of Mexico brought snow and sleet to unusual places

Snowfall has blanketed parts of the Deep South, including southern Texas, delighting schoolchildren and knocking out power to thousands.

Frigid temperatures behind a cold front combined with moisture off the Gulf of Mexico brought snows and sleet to communities on the border with Mexico.

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The weather band then moved towards San Antonio, Corpus Christi and Houston, which has not considered more than an inch of snow since 2009. In Austin, temperatures dropped as low as 27 F( -3C ).

About 5in( 127 mm) of snow fell on the campus of Texas A& M University in College Station.

San Antonio received about 2in( 51 mm) of snow, the largest amount to fall in that city since January 1987.

The weather conditions were so unusual that they spawned the hashtag #TexasSnow2017.

Many Texans were unsure about what to do with the cold white stuff falling from the sky.

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North Korea is ready to open direct talks with US, says Russia’s Sergei Lavrov

Lavrov says he advised Rex Tillerson in Vienna on Thursday that Pyongyang wants above all to talk to the US about guarantees for its security

North Korea is open to direct talks with the US over their nuclear standoff, according to the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, who said he passed that message to his counterpart, Rex Tillerson, when the two diplomats met in Vienna on Thursday.

There was no immediate response from Tillerson but the official posture of the state department is that North Korea would have to show itself to be serious about giving up its nuclear arsenal as part of a comprehensive agreement before a dialogue could begin.

Lavrov communicated the apparent offer on the day a top UN official, Jeffrey Feltman, met the Northern korean foreign minister, Ri Yong-ho, in Pyongyang, during the course of its first high-level UN visit to the country for six years. Feltman is an American and a former US diplomat, but the state department stressed he was not in North Korea with any message from Washington.

” We know that North Korea wants above all to talk to the United States about guarantees for security and safety. We are ready to support that, we are ready to take part in facilitating such negotiations ,” Lavrov said at an international conference in Vienna, according to the Interfax news agency.” Our American colleagues,[ including] Rex Tillerson, have heard this .”

The diplomatic moves come amid an increased sense of urgency to find a way of defusing the tensions over North Korea’s increasingly ambitious nuclear and missile exams. The standoff reached a new peak on 29 November, when North Korea tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile( ICBM ), the Hwasong-1 5, capable of reaching Washington, New York and the rest of the continental United States. The missile launching followed the test of what was apparently a hydrogen bomb in September.

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The Hwasong-1 5 rocket fired on 29 November flew on a steep trajectory for 50 minutes, reaching an altitude of 2,800 miles( 4,500 km) and distance of 620 miles, according to North Korea.

The US-based Union of Concerned Scientists said that if the numbers were correct, then the missile would have a range of 8,080 miles on a standard trajectory. That figure suggests that all of the US could theoretically be within range.

The missile appears to be an advanced version of the Hwasong-1 5 ICBM tested in July by North Korea, which claims this version stimulates it a “complete” nuclear state.

Pyongyang has not, however, proved it has the capability to marry a miniaturised nuclear warhead with a long-range rocket and send it at a trajectory that would reached US cities.

It also remains unclear whether the Northern korean have perfected a re-entry vehicle capable of protecting a nuclear warhead during its descent.

Photograph: Kim Hong-Ji/ X90173

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Pyongyang has said that current joint exercises by the US and South Korea involving hundreds of warplanes, along with” bellicose statements” by US officials have” made an outbreak of war on the Korean peninsula an established fact “.

” The remaining topic now is: when will the war break out ,” a foreign ministry spokesman said on Wednesday.

North Korean officials have said in recent informal meetings that they are particularly concerned by the threat of a astonish “decapitation” strike, is targeted at killing the country’s leaders and paralysing military command and control systems before Pyongyang could launch its missiles.

The heightened tensions and threatening language have increased anxieties around the world that the two sides could blunder into war through miscalculation, mistaking war games for a real assault or misreading blurred red lines.

US and Northern korean postures are currently far apart, with Pyongyang rejecting any suggestion that its nuclear disarmament would be on the table at any future negotiation. The regime wants the US to recognise it as a nuclear weapons power and discontinue its” hostile policies” to North Korea, including sanctions and military manoeuvres off the Korean peninsula.

For its part, the US has rejected a “freeze-for-freeze” proposal advanced by Russia and China, by which North Korea would suspend nuclear and missile exams while the US would curtail its military exercises.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said on Thursday that direct talks with North Korea were” not on the table until they are willing to denuclearize .”

A photo released by the Northern korean Central News Agency shows the launch of the inter-continental ballistic missile Hwasong-1 5 on 29 November. Photograph: KCNA/ EPA

However, the two sides have had informal contacts this year, involving Joseph Yun, the US special representative for North Korea policy. Those contacts, known as the” New York channel” were cut by the Northern korean after threatening statements by Donald Trump during the UN general assembly in September. But there have been some recent signs that Pyongyang might be interested in restoring the channel.

At a session in Stockholm that brought together western experts and officials from Pyongyang in late November, a North Korean representative appeared to raise, for the first time, the possibility of a channel for military-to-military communications with the US.

” In an informal discussion that we had in Stockholm, an official made an observation that there isn’t at present a style for the US and North Korea to work together to prevent an accident. I thought that was an interesting observation that I had not heard them say before ,” said Suzanne DiMaggio, a senior fellow at the New America thinktank who has played a leading role in back-channel contacts with Iran and North Korea, and who attended the Stockholm meeting.

” I believe the US would be best served by putting aside the focus on denuclearisation and instead look at ways to prevent collisions, reduce risks and de-escalate. Those to me seem like achievable aims .”

Sue Mi Terry, a former CIA analyst who was director for Korea, Japan and Oceanic affairs at the National Security Council in the Bush and Obama administrations, said Washington might be amenable to such a military hotline being established.

” I suppose even this administration does recognize that some sort of an open channel is needed for that , not to negotiate but to have a little more transparency ,” she said.” I think everyone recognises that is needed .”

Terry, who was deputy national intelligence officer for east Asia at the National Intelligence Council from 2009 to 2010, said that it was also possible that Yun could re-establish the New York channel with Pyongyang. But she added there was little sign such contacts would lead to substantive negotiations in the current climate.

” This latest exam put a big hole in the possibility of negotiation at this moment, she said.” Ambassador Yun might do that but it’s different with the White House. I’m not sure he has strong White House supporting .”

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After six years in jail, Gaddafi’s son Saif plots return to Libya’s turbulent politics

Gaddafi, freed in June after being held since the 2011 insurgency, is scheming a comeback and experts say he could benefit if elections take place next year

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of the former Libyan dictator, is seeking to make a comeback after years in detention, and claims to be leading a military campaign against terrorist groups around Tripoli.

Gaddafi was freed in June after six years as the captive of a militia in the town of Zintan following the Nato-supported uprising in 2011 that led to the killing of his father, Muammar Gaddafi, and the fragmentation of the country.

Saif Gaddafi was once the heir apparent of the Libyan regime, a London School of Economics graduate touted as a moderniser who mixed with British high society. Now, he stands accused of ordering the killing of protesters as the Gaddafis fought desperately to hold on to power.

But in recent weeks he has told a longstanding US contact he was meeting a force-out that had taken control of the coastal township of Sabratha- and claimed he would fight his route to Tripoli.

” Saif al-Islam is inside Libya and is committed to his word, which he dedicated to all Libyans in 2011, when he said that he will remain in Libya to defend its territory or die a martyr for it ,” a spokesman for Gaddafi said in a written statement, rendered through the US contact who had extensive dealings with him before the fall of his family’s regime.

” The forces-out who oppose in Sabratha against Isis, the gangs of illegal immigrants and the oil-smuggling mafiums were mainly members of the tribes who are in favour of Saif al-Islam, and those who were part of the former Libyan army, also loyal to Saif Gaddafi .”

A fighter loyal to Libya’s Government of National Accord fires his weapon during fighting against Isis in Sirte. Photo: Fabio Bucciarelli/ AFP/ Getty Images

It is unclear, however, to what magnitude Gaddafi is claiming credit for military operations carried out by others. Much of the recent battle has been between tribal militias vying for control of smuggling roads. Commentators said they doubted the dictator’s son would be able to muster sufficient loyalists to pose a serious threat to the capital.

The Warshefana tribal militia, Gaddafi loyalists who controlled some of the area surrounding Tripoli, were routed last month by rival forces-out from Zintan- former allies who appear to have been angered by Warshefana endeavors at extortions at road checkpoints.

” Growths on the ground have not been in his prefer ,” said Mattia Toaldo, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.” He can dream, but he can’t get anywhere .”

Observers say Gaddafi could still emerge as a political force if elections are held next year and he is allowed to stand despite his 2011 indictment from the international criminal tribunal( ICC ) for alleged crimes against humanity. He was also sentenced to death by a court in Tripoli in 2015, though that trial was conducted in absentia and was widely criticised by international human rights groups.

A diplomat involved in election preparations said the ICC indictment against Gaddafi would not necessarily stop him from standing, or winning.


” We don’t control who stands in the election. That is up to the Libyans ,” the diplomat said, pointing to the precedent of Uhuru Kenyatta’s 2013 presidential election win in Kenya despite ICC charges.” You can see “hes having” popularity on the ground, particularly in the south .”

Gaddafi is seeking to benefit from the chronic sense of uncertainty and insecurity since his father’s autumn. Libya has two rival parliaments, and a kaleidoscope of vying fiefdoms run by warlords and militias. A tenuous UN agreement designed to hold the nation together is wearing thin and its critics claim it will expire on 17 December, the anniversary of its signing.

If there is no agreement between the factions to amend and extend the agreement, there are fears that the current most powerful military figure, General Khalifa Haftar, head of the Libyan National Army( LNA ), which holds sway in the east, will seek to capture Tripoli, and depose the UN-backed prime minister, Fayez al-Sarraj, and his Government of National Accord( GNA ).

Haftar has backing from Egypt, Russia and the United Arab Emirates( UAE ). Russia is reported to have established a small military presence in western Egypt, and Cairo and Moscow have come to a preliminary agreement the coming week that would allow Russian warplanes to use Egyptian airspace.

Haftar is also reported to have held talks in Paris last month with militia leaders based in Tripoli, on whom Sarraj depends for his security, seeking to persuade them to stand down or defect. The outcome of those contacts is unclear, but they are likely to have increased Sarraj’s nervousness about his future.

The prime minister met Donald Trump on Friday, but his requests for a most active US role, including a guarantee of personal security for himself and his government, were rebuffed.

” They wanted a military insure from the United States that we would basically defend their block in Tripoli ,” a US source familiar with the talks said. He added that there were deep distrusts about corruption in the GNA and the human rights record of the militias protecting it.

” Is the US going to use military force against performers against the UN plan in Libya? Perfectly not .”

However, the fact Trump met Sarraj at all- and has held at least two sessions on the situation there in the past month- is itself being seen as a step forward as it marks the first time he has taken a direct interest in the country since taking the presidency.

” When Trump came into office there was a fear his perceived preference for strongmen would result him to back Haftar ,” Jason Pack, executive director of the US-Libya Business Association.” This visit sets get paid to that myth. Trump is lock, stock and barrel backing the UN process .”

But the UN-brokered agreement signed in December 2015 has failed to bind Libya’s divisions. It created a presidency council in Tripoli that was supposed to form a unity government, and the house of representatives in eastern Libya was supposed to approve the unity government, but it has yet to do so.

Saif Gaddafi attends a hearing behind bars in a courtroom in Zintan in May 2014. Photograph: Reuters

The UN special envoy, Ghassan Salame, has been seeking to keep the peace process alive with a new action plan to reconfigure the transitional government to make it more effective in delivering services, convening a national meeting early in 2018 to be followed in theory by elections.

There are serious doubts over whether elections are feasible in the current climate of general insecurity, and Salame acknowledged over the weekend those elections might not take place in 2018 as schemed if the conditions were not met.

If or when a vote does go ahead, Libya commentators said Saif Gaddafi could benefit from general weariness of political divisions and nostalgia for the relative stability of the Gaddafi era.

Salame has said that any election law adopted by Libya should be” open for all” including loyalists from the old regime and Saif Gaddafi.

Wolfgang Pusztai, a former Austrian defense attache in Libya and Tunisia, described Gaddafi as a polarizing figure, but one with outside support.

” There are industries in the west who were dealing with the old regime who would like to see Saif back ,” Pusztai , now a security consultant who writes extensively about Libya, said.” But if he joined the political landscape it would make it even more divided .”

Additional reporting by Chris Stephen

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Do you know the state of your country? Take the test, as poll reveals perception gap

Around the world, people tend to overestimate murder rate, number of foreign prisoners and teenage pregnancies, Ipsos Mori survey shows

People worldwide tend to exaggerate the proportion of foreign-born captives, overestimate teenage pregnancies and underestimate the lives of the nation, research proves.

The worldwide Ipsos Mori survey, which discloses the gaps between perception and reality, also shows that people tend to think the murder rate- including demises caused by terrorism- are growing when, in many cases, the opposite is true.

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When asked in the survey results to guess how many captives were born in another country, the average answer by American respondents was 32%- six times higher than the actual figure( 5.2% in 2014 ).

In the UK, the average calculate was 34%, nearly three times the real figure( 11.8% in England and Wales in June 2017 ), while Australians perceived that 40% of prisoners were foreign-born, almost twice the actual figure( 18.7% in mid-2 016 ).

Meanwhile, respondents from the Netherlands gave an average answer of 51%( the actual figure was 19.1% in September 2015 ).

The survey asked people in 37 countries what proportion of adolescents dedicated birth per year, a question that resulted in vast gaps between perception and reality.

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Every country in which the survey results was conducted overestimated the number of teenagers giving birth.

Brazilians, on average, believed almost one in two 15 – to 19 -year olds gave birth per year- whereas the above figures is actually 6.7%, according to the latest World Bank data.

South Africans and Colombians also enormously overestimated teenage birthrates, guessing that 44% of 15- to 19 -year-olds dedicated birth per year( in reality the figures are 4.4% and 4.9% respectively ).

American, British and Australian respondents is likewise wide of the mark: the average US respondent set the above figures at 24%( it is, in fact 2.1% ); Britons’ average answer was 19%( in fact it was 1.4% in 2015) while Australians said 18%( it was actually 1.2% ).

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Elsewhere, the survey results asked people in 30 countries if the assassination rate was higher or lower than in 2000. In 25 countries the murder rate fell in the intervening years and remained stable in two others.

More than half of Americans( 52% ), 38% of Australians and 36% of Britons supposed the assassination rate was higher now despite it falling in all three countries.

The annual Ipsos/ Mori Perils of Perception survey also shows that people tend to think the number of deaths caused by terrorism has increased even though, in many of the 34 countries surveyed for this question, the opposite is true.

While 25 of these countries experienced a decrease in the number of deaths caused by terrorism in the 15 years post-9/ 11, many respondents said they thought things had get worse.

Bobby Duffy, managing director of the Ipsos Mori Social Research Institute, said there is one key issue that leads to these delusions:” Our brains manage negative info differently and store it more accessibly ,” he said.

” We overrate what we worry about: the more we find coverage of an issue, the more prevalent we think it is, especially if that coverage is vivid and threatening .”

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Methodology: The Ipsos Mori Perils of Perception Survey 2017 interviewed 29,133 people in 38 countries between 28 September and 19 October 2017 with between 500 and 2000 participants in each country encompassed and the data was weighted to match the profile of the population. A full listing of sources and links to the data can be found at http :// .

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‘Enough is enough’: leading Democrats call on Al Franken to quit

Minnesota senator, 66, recommended by several female my fellow members to resign as allegations of sexually inappropriate behavior mount

Half a dozen female Democratic senators have called on Al Franken to resign, as other women stepped forward to accuse the Minnesota Democrat of sexually inappropriate behavior. They were joined by the minority leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, and the national party chair, Tom Perez, who also called on Franken to step down.

Franken’s office said he would make a public statement- expected to include a response to the calls- on Thursday. One Democratic senator, Ron Wyden, said he expected Franken to” announce his resignation tomorrow “.

In Facebook posts, tweets and public statement, several Democrats advised their colleague to step aside amid widening accusations of sexual assault and misconduct against powerful humen that have roiled Hollywood, Silicon Valley and Washington.

” I have spent a lot of day reflecting on Senator Franken’s behaviour ,” Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, a longtime advocate for victims of sexual assault, said in a Facebook post that started the cascade of calls.” Enough is enough .”

Gillibrand was joined by Patty Murray of Washington, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Kamala Harris of California and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire.

Those calls were swiftly echoed by other colleagues, including Dick Durbin, the No 2 Democrat in the Senate, as well as Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, and Joe Donnelly of Indiana.

Tom Perez, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, also called on Franken to resign.

” Everybody has to share the responsibility of building a culture of trust and respect for women in every industry and workplace, and that includes our party ,” Perez said.

Perez’s remarks came less than 36 hours after the Republican National Committee renewed its support for Roy Moore, the Republican Senate candidate who is facing multiple allegations of inappropriate behavior with teenage girls and women, including sexual assault.

While many national Republican have distanced themselves from the Alabama Republican, he has approved by Donald Trump. The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, who has called on Moore to drop out, has said the Alabama Republican would face an ethics investigation if elected.

McConnell issued a statement calling for Franken to step down:” The near daily barrage of allegations of sexual misconduct against Senator Franken are extremely concerning to all of us in the Senate. While the Senate ethics committee is reviewing these serious allegations, it now appears that Senator Franken has lost the support of his colleagues, and most importantly, his constituents. I do not believe he can effectively serve the person or persons of Minnesota in the US Senate any longer .”

Hours afterward, the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, weighed in to say he too believed Franken should resign. In a brief statement, Schumer said:” I consider Senator Franken a dear friend and greatly respect his accomplishments, but he has a higher obligation to his constituents and the Senate, and he should step down immediately .”

Franken, 66, who has been accused by multiple other women of groping or trying to forcibly kiss them, has apologized for his behaviour and asked the Senate ethics committee to analyse himbut the senators said elected official must be held to a higher standard, putting his political future in question. Franken did not appear in the Senate on Monday.

” This institution has evolved over centuries, it’s evolved over my virtually three decades of service, and it’s evolving once more before our very eyes ,” said Murray, a member of Democratic leadership.

” This current evolution is long overdue. It’s time for us as elected representatives to hold ourselves to a higher criterion, to define two examples, and to live a situated of values that is truly representative and worthy of the Congress, our republic, and our great country .”

Hirono tweeted:” Today, I am calling on my colleague Al Franken to step aside. I’ve fought with this decision because he’s been a good senator and I consider him a friend. But that cannot excuse his behaviour and his mistreatment of women .”

Harris posted:” Sexual harassment and misconduct should not be allowed by anyone and should not occur anywhere. I believe the best thing for Senator Franken to do is step down .”

Earlier on Tuesday, Politico reported on a new accusation against Franken. A former Democratic congressional aide said the former comedian tried to forcibly kiss her after a taping of his radio show in 2006, as he was ramping up his campaign for the US Senate, according to Politico. The aide dodged his advance and alleged that Franken said as she left:” It’s my right as an entertainer .” Franken denied the accusation to Politico.

The calls for Franken to resign come one day after John Conyers, the longest-serving Democrat in Congress, resigned after allegations of sexual harassment. Conyers, who was the top Democrat on the House judiciary committee and spend over a half-century on Capitol Hill, had settled one claim of sexual harassment against him with taxpayer money and had been accused of misconduct by several other former staffers.

Two other members of Congress currently face allegations of sexual harassment: Republican Blake Farenthold of Texas and Democrat Ruben Kihuen of Nevada.

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