Kamala Harris to visit Korean Demilitarized Zone Thursday


Vice President Kamala Harris will visit the Korean Demilitarized Zone that divides North and South Korea on Thursday as part of her visit to South Korea, a White House official said.

Harris’ trip will include site visits at the DMZ, meetings with service members, and an operational briefing from US commanders, the official said, reiterating the US’ commitment “to stand beside” South Korea in the face of “any threats” posed by North Korea.

Harris, the official added, “will reflect on the shared sacrifice of tens of thousands of American and Korean soldiers who fought and died together, and will reaffirm that the U.S. commitment to the ROK’s defense is ironclad.”

The DMZ is a 160-mile-long no-man’s land about 30 miles north of Seoul that was established in the 1953 Korean War Armistice Agreement. It is often described as the world’s most heavily armed border.

The news of Harris’ visit first came during a bilateral between her and South Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-soo, according to reporters traveling with the vice president as she leads a US delegation to Japan for former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s state funeral.

“I think your visit to the DMZ and Seoul will be very symbolic demonstrations of your strong commitments to the security and peace to Korean Peninsula and we are working with you and US in dealing with North Korea,” the prime minister told Harris, according a report from the pool.

The unplanned announcement by the prime minister appeared to take reporters and White House aides by surprise. An official later confirmed the stop to reporters.

Last month, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that a congressional delegation traveled to South Korea and visited the Korean Demilitarized Zone.

Pelosi said the delegation was “honored to be hosted” at a parliamentary meeting “where we reaffirmed our commitment to the U.S.-Korea alliance” and “was pleased to engage in a phone meeting with Korea’s President Yoon Suk-yeol.”

Source link

Expect big holiday sales on everything but the bling

New York
CNN Business

Retailers have already signaled big sales are coming for the holidays — with one major, sparkly exception.

Stores are looking to offload overstocks of clothes, shoes, toys, gadgets and furniture. But jewelry might evade all that deep discounting.

That’s because holiday jewelry sales have been on fire over the last two years. On an annual basis they surged 32% in 2021 and 26.2% in 2020, according to MasterCard’s SpendingPulse report that tracks retail spending from Nov. 1 to Dec. 24 , the peak period for year-end gift shopping each year.

“Jewelry is in good shape heading into this holiday season,” said Marshal Cohen, chief retail industry adviser with NPD Group. He expects consumers will gravitate to bling because they perceive it to be a “good investment gift, so spending limits by consumers will feel better spent on jewelry.”

Fine jewelry like diamond studs and necklaces — and maybe even an engagement ring — have historically been popular gift options, but a few trends are pushing its popularity even higher, Cohen said.

There aren’t many new flashy, lavish tech products to compete with jewelry this year. More importantly, jewelers aren’t struggling with excess inventory that has plagued much of the retail industry.

“With no real overstock position, [jewelry] retailers are not anxious” and don’t see the need to run big sales, he said.

Signet Jewelers -— the largest jewelry company in the US and owner of Zales, Kay Jewelers and Jared — highlighted these trends in its most recent earnings call, with the company also seeing stronger demand for higher-priced items.

“This is reflected in the fastest jewelry growth being luxury-price tiers, followed by accessible luxury,” Signet CEO Gina Drosos told analysts during the call earlier this month. Signet said it is seeing the strongest sales growth in the $1,000 and higher pricepoints in general, and in the $4,000 to $5,000 and $10,000 range, especially for bridal jewelry.

The company is increasing the amount higher-priced offerings to cater to growing demand from wealthier customers, Drosos said. But Signet is also navigating the impact of inflation on value-focused shoppers by expanding its assortment of affordable jewelry, such as pieces with much lesser-priced lab-created diamonds instead of natural diamonds.

Heading into the holiday season, Signet said it has a “healthy level of inventory” to meet demand but the amount of stock is down year-over-year.

“This gives us the confidence that we are well-positioned to deliver newness with minimal levels of clearance for the holidays,” Joan Hilson, Signet’s chief financial and strategy officer, said in a statement earlier this month.

Paul Zimnisky, an independent jewelry industry analyst, said Signet’s comments indicate that consumers should not expect big sales or liquidation deals.

“I do not expect discounting. However, I expect that a lot of jewelers will likely be stocking lower-priced merchandise options,” said Zimnisky.

Source link

Ebola infections grow in Uganda as death toll rises to 23


Ebola infections have risen across districts in Uganda, bringing the cumulative number of confirmed and suspected deaths to 23, health authorities in the east African country said Monday.

Uganda declared an Ebola outbreak last Tuesday after a case of the relatively rare Sudan strain was detected in the country’s Mubende district.

The virus has now spread to neighboring Kyegegwa and Kassanda districts, with the Ugandan Health Ministry reporting that cumulative cases had risen to 36, including confirmed and probable cases. No cases have been detected in the capital city Kampala.

The Ugandan Health Ministry considers a “probable case” as any person who died from suspected EVD (ebola) and had an epidemiological link to a confirmed case but was not tested and did not have lab confirmation.

The ministry considers “confirmed cases” as those with positive lab results. Of the number of infections identified so far, 18 of the cases have been confirmed to be infected while another 18 were suspected of having the virus.

The ministry also stated that five of the deceased patients were confirmed to have died of the virus while 18 were listed as probable deaths. Around 35 patients are currently being admitted, it added.

Uganda has experienced four Ebola outbreaks. The deadliest left more than 200 people dead in 2000.

According to the World Health Organization, vaccination against the rare Sudan strain hasn’t been tested for efficacy. However, the Ervebo (rVSV-ZEBOV) vaccine has been found to be effective in protecting against the Zaire variant of the Ebola virus.

Source link

What it’s like to visit Saudi Arabia right now

(CNN) — I have seen countries change before, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like the change taking place in Saudi Arabia. It is not like the fall of Soviet Europe, nor the upheaval recently witnessed in Sri Lanka. Saudi’s change is deliberate, deep-reaching and dramatic.

It is difficult to visit Saudi Arabia without a host of preconceived ideas, stereotypes and prejudices creeping into what one expects. After all, the country has spent the last five decades shielding itself from the outside world — and until recently — making it very difficult for anyone to visit, unless they were on religious pilgrimage to Mecca.

We’ve all heard about how women must be fully covered and veiled, no mixing of the sexes and a religious police force that is draconian and uncompromising. Frankly, it would be surprising if Western tourists wanted to go on vacation there — it’s hard to have a good time in that oppressive environment.

So the decision by the nation’s leadership to blow hurricanes of fresh air through the country has turned the whole place on its head. As part of this change, Saudi is spending obscene sums of money creating new cities and tourist attractions — long-term planning for the post-oil world. In today’s Saudi there is only one constant: change at breakneck speed.

It would be silly to go further without talking about the man behind these changes — Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, better known simply as MBS. And no discussion of MBS can take place without reference to the controversy he generates.

MBS is the architect of Saudi Arabia’s reforms. He is modernizing the economy at a phenomenal speed, and creating massive opportunities within the country, but he is also heavily criticized for Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.

Many say he’s been selective in his reforms. While he famously changed laws allowing women to drive, critics say that there is still very little room for public dissent.

The murder of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi makes the point: A US intelligence report says MBS was behind the killing in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul. MBS has consistently and resolutely denied ordering the murder but has said he bears responsibility as Saudi leader.

I raise this now because it is the core of the contradiction that is Saudi today: MBS is lauded for making societal and economic reforms, giving new freedoms to millions of ordinary Saudis, yet there is this dark side to the reforms that offends Western values and prevents full-throated endorsement.

US President Joe Biden experienced this contradiction when he visited Saudi in July, balancing needs for Saudi oil and economic force with trying to not appear too cozy with the man his office of national intelligence says approved the killing. It is a contradiction to be witnessed in so many ways by anyone visiting this amazing country

The genie is out of the bottle

There is one fact that everyone here reminds me of with a frequency bordering on a mantra: The majority of people in Saudi Arabia are under 30 (just over 40% are under 25!). Nowhere showcases that better than The Boulevard.

This is a new entertainment district in the city, where young women can openly socialize with men and women can veil or not — their choice. (Yes I know, tradition and social pressure can force you to do things you don’t want to do, but we are talking about progress and societal progress is never neat and tidy.)

In Saudi, I never expected to see men and women mixing together, DJs pumping out loud tunes and crowds swaying to the music.

Yet there it is in front of my eyes.

“This only happened in the past five years,” explains Rajaa Alsanea. A dentist by training, Alsanea is also the author of “Girls of Riyadh,” a fictional tale of four women and their complicated love lives which has been dubbed the Saudi “Sex and the City.”

Masmak fort pigeons 2

Al Masmak fortress.


Rajaa specializes in root canals — and like the dentistry she loves, she knows the difficulty of pain. She swam against the tide for so long that now she is rightly enjoying riding the waves of change. She doesn’t believe those changes could be reversed.

She says, the “…genie’s not going back [in the bottle].”

So how does this country, where the call to prayer still rings out loudly five times a day, negotiate massive change while being true to tradition and religious sanctity?

Can you rebuild the house, without pulling it down around your ears?

That’s Saudi Arabia’s conundrum: attempting to respect the country’s past while bringing in reforms designed to benefit local people and draw in tourists to a place that can feel undiscovered — a rare commodity in the modern age of travel.

The country’s tourist destinations are here and waiting. The renovation of Riyadh’s imposing Al Masmak fortress, where the al Saud family began its rule of the country in 1932 is now a must for any visitor. As is the At-Turaif district — a UNESCO world heritage site which has been restored with such archaeological care and detail. In Saudi when they say “no expense spared” they are talking about a different league of spending.

Alsanea took me for a ride in her car — women driving in Saudi is still a novelty, and while the headline fact is progress, there are still glaring anomalies. Women need guardian permission to marry or pass on citizenship. It is one of those “job half done” aspects of Saudi reform.

Rajaa AlSanea

Rajaa Alsanea, the author of “Girls of Riyadh.”


Alsanea’s book “Girls of Riyadh” is not a bodice ripper in the traditional sense, but in Saudi it is a big deal.

“I think a female writing about women’s issues and love and the social life of everyday and the struggles of work, the struggles of tackling this life,” she says.

She is effusive, too, about what is happening now in the country.

“We’re very eager to learn,” she says, “…very eager to own this culture.”

Time for coffee

There is no legal alcohol in Saudi. Simple fact.

Yes, there’s talk about whether hotels or restaurants or certain places for foreigners will be allowed to serve wine, beer and so forth in the distant future. After all, if you are intending to turbo charge your tourism industry, not having such libations puts one at great disadvantage against other destinations.

Where Riyadh does excel is the sheer number of places for coffee. With no bars, Western-style coffee shops have sprouted everywhere over the last few years. It’s simple social economics: relax the rules and the coffee shops become the place to meet, although few are like MW Café.

MW has a very unlikely owner, from the United States and with an incredible tale to tell. Mutah Beale was once known as the rapper Napoleon. He was a member of the group Outlawz founded by his friend, the late Tupac Shakur.

Mutah Beale 1

Rapper turned coffee shop owner Mutah Beale.


“I was signed to Death Row records,” he explains. “This is the record company that was responsible for spreading gangster rap music in the 90s. They had Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Tupac, Outlawz, so we was in the midst of this. And the people that was involved inside the studio were gang members… It was a very violent situation.”

From gangster rap to Saudi Arabia? He grew tired of the life he was living, especially after Shakur was murdered in 1996. He says he spiraled out of control and was looking for something that would bring him peace. He found it through converting to Islam, moving to Saudi Arabia and completing the Hajj pilgrimage. He’s lived here for 11 years, and coffee has become his passion.

“When I first came here, you couldn’t just sit outside and have a cup of coffee,” he says. “I enjoy these things now, you know what I mean? You have a lot of changes that I think make more people feel like…” he exhales loudly.

“I can get on my bike now in my neighborhood and I can literally grab a coffee, grab a sandwich.”

These might sound like small things. But they are actually major developments in a country that has lived a different way of life than the West and many parts of the Arab world for decades.

‘Our moment of enlightenment’

Abdulnasser Gharem

Abdulnasser Gharem.


To only see Riyadh will give a false sense of what’s going on. When I go to Asir Province, 900 kilometers (560 miles) from Riyadh, in the southwest, I see transition happening, but much more gently.

For instance, in our hotel, there are separate tables for men, women and families. And while we can all sit together, there are few who are choosing to do so.

Those who are unveiled are expats or Westerners. Here, I see Saudis thoughtfully digesting what is taking place and individually deciding what is the right pace for their lives.

Al Muftaha

Al Muftaha is a haven for artists.


Asir’s capital, Abha, has long been a maverick. During times of intense conservatism in Saudi, and for centuries before, creative expression thrived here.

It was here, at the city’s Al-Muftaha Arts Village, where the famous Saudi artist Abdulnasser Gharem came as a teenager to train at the feet of local elders. His work has since sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars at auction.

Remarkably, the governor of Asir province, not the artists themselves, set up this space for creatives in 1989. Since then, the colony, which is funded by the government, has churned out art freely in a country bound by a strict religious code.

It’s a classic example of Saudi contradiction.

“In the whole country, it was… the only place where you can find art and music,” says Gharem as he shows us around the village where he made his name 30 years ago. “It was so difficult, to be honest, because we can feel the resistance from the society.”

Gharem embodies the balance Saudi Arabia is trying to strike. As well as being a renowned and commercially successful artist, he was a lieutenant colonel in the Saudi Army, a position that is about as establishment as it gets. He believes the world created at Al-Muftaha Arts Village has shown the way for the country as a whole.

Quest clouds Asir region

Above the clouds in Asir region.


“I think it’s the spark of what’s happening now all over the kingdom,” he says.

As an artist, says Gharem, he needs to be two steps ahead of what’s happening. With so many other pioneers working at these studios, it’s perhaps why this place has had such a profound effect.

“Right now, I think we are living in a narrative, I could call it an enlightenment. You know, each nation has their own moment of enlightenment. And I think we are still in the phase of constructing our discourse.”

A country transformed

Maraya concert hall in AlUla area

Maraya concert hall in Al’Ula.


In a country undergoing such profound change, only a fool would come to sweeping conclusions, because we are in the middle of the storm and it’s hard to see the final result.

So, I visit Al’Ula, a vast ancient city set on the incense route which crossed this corner of the Middle East, and the nearby Tombs of Hegra, the country’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, where a massive restoration project is underway.

Here money is being spent to preserve the past, and even more money on mirrored buildings like the Maraya concert hall, a work of art in its own right. The two live together seemingly in harmony.

At Al’Ula, spectacular tombs were constructed by the Nabataeans in the first century BCE. The ruins have been left untouched for almost 2,000 years and represent a gold mine for archaeologists.

AlUla top down view

Al’Ula’s ruins, seen from above.


“Saudi Arabia is one of the last opportunities we have to find out something completely new about how humans became the people we are today,” says Jane McMahon, an archaeologist digging in the region. “We believe there are neolithic houses [here] dating to around 7,000 years ago.”

Today’s change across Saudi Arabia is being anchored in efforts to establish its true past, something which visitors can see for themselves in a place that is sure to rival ancient cities like Jordan’s Petra and Turkey’s Ephesus in years to come.

What I discovered, whether on the teeming streets of Riyadh, in the cool mountains of Asir or exploring the ancient past at Hegra — from social to commercial, to archaeological, to everyday life — is that everything in Saudi Arabia seems to be transforming.

There is one postscript to my visit that I think perhaps shows the difficulty everyone faces when it comes to Saudi: The week after I left, in March, the country executed 81 people in one day, for terrorist offenses.

It is a staggering number. The hows and whys are for others. For me, it raises the question of how far Saudi Arabia can go to bring the world in before excesses become too much.

Or maybe these contradictions are precisely what makes the country so fascinating — it can be difficult, ugly and harsh, but it’s also captivating, invigorating and improving the lives of a nation.

Source link

North Korea fires ballistic missile into sea


North Korea has fired a ballistic missile into the waters off the east coast of the Korean peninsula, according to officials in both South Korea and Japan.

The short range missile was fired early Sunday morning local time from the Taechon area of North Pyongan Province, according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).

It said the South Korean and US militaries are maintaining “full readiness posture” and closely cooperating following the launch, which it described as a “significant provocative action that harms peace and safety of the Korean Peninsula as well as the international community.”

The JCS said the launch was a “clear violation” of the UN Security Council’s resolution and called on North Korea to “immediately stop.”

This is the 19th missile launch this year, according to CNN’s count. The last was on August 17.

The missile had a flight distance of about 600 kilometers (370 miles), altitude of 60 kilometers (37 miles) and speed of about Mach 5, according to the JCS. The intelligence agencies of South Korea and the US are analyzing further details.

Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said the ballistic missile may have possibly flown on an irregular trajectory.

“North Korea is believed to have launched at least one missile,” at around 6:52am local time in Japan or 5:52pm eastern time Saturday, Hamada said.

He added it fell “near the eastern coast of North Korea”, outside of Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone.

“North Korea has launched missiles 19 times this year, an unprecedentedly high frequency, including the announcement of the launch of a cruise missiles, and has also launched missiles in new responses,” the Japanese defense minister said.

He added North Korea’s “recent remarkable development of nuclear missile-related technologies cannot be overlooked for the security of our country and the region.”

The defense minister added, “we have protested to North Korea through the embassy route in Beijing.”

The US Indo-Pacific Command said there was “no immediate threat to US territory or military personnel following the launch of a short range ballistic missile in North Korea.”

Japan’s Coast Guard sent an alert out to vessels at 6:56 a.m. local time Sunday warning them of the missile.

“Vessels are advised to pay attention to further information and if they see any falling objects, please do not approach them and report relevant information to the Japan Coast Guard,” it said.

In an update 15 minutes later it said the missile was believed to have landed in the sea.

The missile launch comes after the USS Ronald Reagan carrier strike group arrived in South Korea’s southeastern port city of Busan on Friday.

The US and South Korean navy are expected to conduct combined drills this month.

The launch also comes shortly before US Vice President Kamala Harris is expected to visit Japan and South Korea.

She will stop first in Tokyo to attend a state funeral for Japan’s assassinated former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe before heading to South Korea.

Source link

Mahsa Amini death: Fifth Iranian paramilitary member killed as president warns protesters will be dealt with ‘decisively’


A fifth member of an Iranian volunteer paramilitary group died Sunday after clashing with what state media called “rioters and thugs,” as the country’s President Ebrahim Raisi warned that protesters would be dealt with “decisively” after days of nationwide unrest.

The person died from injuries sustained on Thursday in Urmia city in northwest Iran, Iranian state news agency IRNA said. Other members of Basij, a paramilitary organization connected to the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), have been killed in Qazvin, Tabriz, Mashhad and Qouchan.

The protests have been sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian woman detained by morality police on September 13 accused of violating the country’s conservative dress code.

Hundreds of anti-government demonstrators returned to the streets of Tehran and dozens of other provincial towns as darkness fell on Sunday, despite claims by state-run news agencies that pro-government rallies have put an end to the protests.

The protesters organized themselves despite a crackdown by security forces, arrests of protesters and internet disruption. Protesters chanted anti-government and anti-Supreme Leader slogans, as well as “death to dictator,” while venting their anger against the Basij militias.

Since Friday, demonstrations have taken place in at least 40 cities nationwide, including the capital Tehran, with protesters demanding an end to violence and discrimination against women as well as an end to compulsory wearing of the hijab.

At least 35 people have died in Iran in recent protests over the death of Amini, state media outlet the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) said late on Friday.

Amnesty International previously said that 30 people had died. CNN cannot independently verify the death toll – a precise figure is impossible for anyone outside the Iranian government to confirm – and different estimates have been given by opposition groups, international rights organizations and local journalists.

At least 1,200 people have been arrested in connection with the wave of protests, Iranian state-backed news agency Tasmin reported Saturday, citing a security official. The IRGC has accused the protesters of “rioting” and “vandalism,” and called on the police to “protect the security of the nation.”

At least 17 journalists have been arrested in Iran as anti-state protests spread across the country, according to a report from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a non-profit that monitors press freedom.

Iranian authorities say they will restrict internet access in the country until calm is restored to the streets. Meanwhile, the IRGC, the elite wing of the Iranian military that was established in the aftermath of the country’s revolution in 1979, has asked all people to identify protesters, the country’s semi-official news agency Fars News said.

On Sunday, hundreds of thousands of Iranians held pro-government rallies in many cities in Iran to condemn the recent unrest, state news IRNA reported.

People took to the streets in many cities and towns, including the holy city of Mashhad, the northwestern city of Qazvin, the central city of Esfahan as well as the western cities of Hamedan and Yasuj, to show their “unity and outrage over the recent acts of sabotage perpetrated by rioters,” state news added.

According to Press TV, the demonstrators “condemned the crimes and evil acts committed by a handful of mercenaries serving foreign enemies, who set fire to the Holy Qur’an, mosques, and the national flags and forcefully removed women’s headscarves on the streets.”

People light a fire during a protest over the death of Mahsa Amini in Tehran on September 21, 2022.

Authorities hope that by restricting the internet they can control the protests – the latest in a wave that has swept Iran in recent years. They started with the Green movement in 2009 over contested election results and more recently the 2019 protests sparked by a rise in fuel prices. Hundreds were believed to have been killed in the violent crackdown three years ago and thousands injured, according to estimates released by the UN and rights groups.

But this year’s protests are different – in their scope, scale and unprecedented feminist nature. There is also mobilization across the socio-economic divide. A young generation of Iranians are rising up on the streets against decades of repression – arguably bolder than ever.

The demonstrations have spread to dozens of Iranian cities, from the Kurdish region in the northwest, to the capital Tehran and even more traditionally conservative cities like Mashhad.

While they were ignited by the death of Amini, the initial calls for accountability have turned into demands for more rights and freedoms, especially for women who for decades since the 1979 Islamic Revolution have faced discrimination and severe restrictions on their rights.

‘I’m frightened’: Women open up about Iran’s hijab law following police custody death

But calls for regime change are growing too. People across the country are chanting for “death to the dictator,” in a reference to the Supreme Leader, tearing down portraits of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Remarkable images emerged on Friday night from Khamenei’s birthplace in the city of Mashhad, where protesters set fire to the statue of a man considered one of the symbols of the Islamic Revolution. Such scenes were unthinkable in the past.

This is all happening at a time when Iran’s hardline leadership is under growing pressure with talks to revive the stalled 2015 nuclear agreement and the state of the economy under US sanctions; ordinary Iranians are struggling to cope with soaring levels of inflation.

While these protests are the biggest challenge for the government for years, analysts believe the government will likely move to contain them by resorting to the heavy-handed tactics it has used in the past. There are signs a brutal crackdown is coming, along with the internet restrictions on a level not seen since 2019. Other measures include the government mobilizing its supporters in mass rallies following Friday prayers; officials dismissing the demonstrators as rioters and foreign agents, and ominous warnings the army and powerful Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps will be deployed to deal with the protests.

Source link

Cubans to decide on same-sex marriage in national referendum

The two women married in September, surrounded by a small group of fellow LGBTQ activists in the sea-side city of Matanzas. But their union is not recognized by the Cuban government, at least not yet.

“It’s a legal right and we should all be the same before the law. It’s a question of a human right,” Yennys Hernandez told CNN moments after her wedding at the Metropolitan Community Church, a LGBTQ-friendly church that is one of the few on the island to carry out same-sex marriages.

Following the church service, the couple reminded assembled friends and family members to vote for the new family code.

“I believe we are all equal in terms of rights, options, possibilities and in terms of being a citizen and expressing that citizenship. I don’t think we are less than the rest of society,” said Annery Rivera, who said that if the new family code passes, she and Hernandez would hold a civil wedding that would mean in the eyes of the Cuban state they are legally married.

Annery Rivera Velasco and Yennys Hernandez Molina, who married in September.

A decades-long wait

According to the Cuban government, the 100-page family code provides greater protections to women, children and the elderly as well as allowing LGBTQ couples to marry and adopt children.

Members in the LGBTQ community in Cuba have waited decades for this moment.

But some also fear a backlash if the code passes.

Following the 1959 revolution, gay people were among those sent to work camps known as Military Units to Help Production along with political dissidents, priests and others considered undesirables by Fidel Castro’s new government. Some gay men and lesbians even said they carried out sham marriages to avoid falling under suspicion.

Castro later apologized for the way homosexuals were treated but a full accounting of how many people were sent to the forced labor camps and who ordered their creation has never been revealed by the government.

In 1979, homosexuality was legalized in Cuba although many gay men and women said they still faced open discrimination.

In 1993, the Cuban film “Strawberry and Chocolate” about the unlikely friendship between a young supporter of the revolution and an older gay man was released and sparked a national debate about the treatment of LGBTQ people on the island.

For more than a decade, Mariela Castro, the daughter of former Cuban president Raul Castro, has openly advocated through a government-funded center for improved rights for gays, lesbians and transgender people.

But the push for greater equality has faced stiff opposition from both outside and from within the Cuban government.

Starved for fuel and broiling in the heat, Cuba faces deepening energy crisis

In 2018, Cuban legislators abandoned provisions that would have legalized same sex marriage amid fears that a homophobic backlash would have lowered turnout for a referendum to approve a new constitution.

The following year, Cuban police broke up a peaceful LGBTQ rights parade saying the marchers did not have permission to hold the rally.

Cuba’s growing evangelical community in particular has openly advocated against approving the family code.

Evangelical pastor Yoel Serrano told CNN that while evangelicals have been more outspoken about their opposition to same-sex marriage, many groups across Cuban society have their reservations.

“I think about 95% of Christians disapprove but it’s not just Christians,” Serrano said. “There are communists who are not in agreement, materialistic people not in agreement. A lot of people who believe in different things that don’t agree with the changes they want to make with the new family code.”

Even at neighborhood “consultations” organized by the government across the island, some people who identified themselves as loyal revolutionaries said they were unsure how they would vote.

“It would be unfortunate if the code wasn’t approved massively because of one article,” a woman named Melba said — referring to the same-sex provision — at a neighborhood meeting in 2021 that CNN was permitted to cover.

In the weeks before the referendum, the Cuban government has made a full court press in favor of the new family code across state-run media, arguing the new code is proof the island’s now more than six-decades-old-revolution is capable of adapting to the times.

Same-Sex Marriage Fast Facts
It remains to be seen if Cubans will vote overwhelmingly to allow same-sex marriage or if they will use the referendum as a rare opportunity to express their anger at the government over wide-spread power cuts, runaway inflation and increasingly bare supermarket shelves.

At the church in Matanzas, Rev. Elaine Saralegui Caraballo, the pastor who married Yennys and Annery, said that if the referendum passes or is rejected, the struggle for full equality still needs to continue.

“I have faith that love will win,” she said. “If it’s a “Yes” or “No” it’s the same. We tell our community no one can take away your value, who you are.”

Source link

Italy expected to look right as polls open in national election


Polls opened Sunday in the Italian national elections, with the far-right Brothers of Italy party – led by Giorgia Meloni – poised to make big gains after the collapse of two governments since the last election.

Her ultra-conservative party, whose origins lie in post-war fascism, control just two of Italy’s 20 regions, winning just 4.5% of the vote in the 2018 elections.

But since the collapse of former Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s coalition earlier in this year – which triggered the snap election – the Brothers of Italy have only surged in popularity, with recent polling suggesting nearly a quarter of the electorate backs her.

Meloni, a 45-year-old mother from Rome who has campaigned under the slogan “God, country and family,” leads a party whose agenda is rooted in Euroskepticism, anti-immigration policies, and one that has also proposed weakening LGBTQ and abortion rights.

Her astronomical rise in popularity is a reflection of Italy’s longstanding rejection of mainstream politics, seen most recently with the country’s support of anti-establishment parties such as the Five Star Movement and Matteo Salvini’s League.

Giorgia Meloni speaks to supporters  in Turin ahead of the Italian election on September 25.

Party supporters attend a campaign rally for Giorgia Meloni in Ancona, central Italy, on August 23, 2022.

Meloni’s partners in Italy’s center-right political alliance, Salvini and Forza Italia’s Silvio Berlusconi, are partly responsible for her popularity.

In 2008, as prime minister, Berlusconi named her as his sports minister, making her the youngest minister to hold that position.

And in the 2018 election, Meloni was Salvini’s junior partner in the center-right alliance. But this time, she’s in charge, and has hinted that, if elected, she may not give Salvini a ministerial portfolio – which would strip him of the power to potentially bring her government down.

Trailing behind in recent polling is the center-left coalition, led by the left-wing Democratic Party and centrist parties +Europe. The parties formed an alliance with another centrist party Azione, whose alliance following Draghi’s resignation to counter a lurch to the right, but it broke down shortly after it was formed, further opening the door to Meloni.

Italians are voting on a number of hot button issues, including Italy’s cost-of-living crisis, a 209-billion euro package from the European Covid-19 recovery fund and the country’s support for Ukraine.

Meloni differs from Berlusconi and Salvini on a number of issues, including Ukraine, and has no connection to Russian President Vladimir Putin, unlike her partners, who have said they would like to review sanctions against Russia because of their impact on the Italian economy. Meloni has instead been steadfast in her support for defending Ukraine.

The Democratic Party, led by former prime minister Enrico Letta, strongly opposes Putin and his war in Ukraine, openly supports LGBTQ rights, including same-sex marriage – which was made legal in 2016 – and legislation to combat homophobia.

If her party wins, Meloni could also become Italy’s first female prime minister. However her politics do not mean that she is necessarily interested in advancing women’s rights.

Emiliana De Blasio, adviser for diversity and inclusion at LUISS University in Rome told CNN that Meloni’s politics are more important than her gender, but that she has not proven herself to be a feminist first.

“We need to reflect on the fact that Giorgia Meloni is not raising up at all questions on women’s rights and empowerment in general,” she said.

The Italian elections come as other far-right parties in other European countries have marked recent gains.

In France, despite far-right candidate Marine Le Pen losing the French Presidential election to Emmanuel Macron in April, her supporters were heartened at her share of the popular vote, which shifted France’s political center dramatically to the right.

And in Sweden, the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats, a party with neo-Nazi roots, are expected to play a major role in the new government after winning the second largest share of seats at a general election earlier this month.

If Meloni’s party wins, it might very well confirm that a resurgent populist wave that’s been sweeping across Europe is here to stay.

Source link

Boeing agrees to pay $200 million for misleading the public about the 737 Max

New York
CNN Business

Boeing and its former CEO Dennis Muilenburg agreed to pay hefty fines to settle charges from the Securities and Exchange Commission that they misled the public about the safety of the 737 Max following two fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019.

The SEC alleges that, following an October 2018 crash of a Lion Air 737 Max jet that killed 189 people, Boeing and Muilenburg knew that part of the plane’s flight control system posed an ongoing safety concern yet told the public that the 737 Max was safe to fly. After a March 10, 2019 fatal 737 Max crash, the SEC alleges that Boeing and Muilenburg knowingly misled the public about “slips” and “gaps” in the certification process of that flight control system.

“In times of crisis and tragedy, it is especially important that public companies and executives provide full, fair, and truthful disclosures to the markets,” said SEC Chair Gary Gensler in a statement. “The Boeing Company and its former CEO, Dennis Muilenburg, failed in this most basic obligation. They misled investors by providing assurances about the safety of the 737 MAX, despite knowing about serious safety concerns.”

In a statement, Boeing said that the settlement “fully resolves the SEC’s previously disclosed inquiry into matters relating to the 737 MAX accidents.”

“Today’s settlement is part of the company’s broader effort to responsibly resolve outstanding legal matters related to the 737 MAX accidents in a manner that serves the best interests of our shareholders, employees, and other stakeholders,” Boeing said.

The company and Muilenburg agreed to settle charges of violating the antifraud provisions of US securities laws, but they did not admit or deny the SEC’s allegations. Boeing agreed to pay a $200 million settlement and Muilenburg agreed to pay $1 million.

“Boeing and Muilenburg put profits over people by misleading investors about the safety of the 737 Max all in an effort to rehabilitate Boeing’s image following two tragic accidents that resulted in the loss of 346 lives and incalculable grief to so many families,” said Gurbir Grewal, director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division in a statement.

Muilenburg lost the top job at Boeing in December 2019. But he left with stock options and other assets worth about $80 million at that time — though Boeing shares have lost more than half their value since then. It is unknown what Muilenburg did with his Boeing shares and options after his departure.

While $200 million may seem like a substantial fine for a company, it is a small fraction of the losses already caused by the two fatal crashes that killed 346 people in total and led to a 20-month grounding of Boeing’s best-selling plane.

Boeing already disclosed the company has taken a $21 billion hit to its bottom line because of lost sales revenue and increased costs — and that doesn’t include potential legal liability to families of the victims. So the $200 million fine represents less than 1% of its previously disclosed losses.

Investors have lost even more: Boeing’s market capitalization has plunged about 58%, or $115 billion, since the first crash of a 737 Max soon after take-off from Indonesia in October 2018. While about $100 billion of that has occurred in the pandemic era that has hurt demand for flying and aircraft purchases, the prolonged grounding of the Max opened the door for airlines to cancel hundreds of orders for the planes without penalty.

Shares of Boeing

fell more than 3% Thursday but rose slightly in after-hours trading following the SEC’s announcement.

Source link

Amid internet shutdowns in Iran, US takes step to allow tech firms to help Iranian people access online info

“It is clear that the Iranian government is afraid of its own people,” Blinken said in a statement. “Mahsa Amini is senselessly, tragically dead, and now the government is violently suppressing peaceful protesters rightly angry about her loss.”

Blinken said the Treasury Department has issued a general license, which authorizes certain transactions which would otherwise be prohibited under sanctions, “to advance our efforts and commitments to ensure that the Iranian people can freely access information online.”

Iran protests rage as Mahsa Amini's father says authorities lied about her death

“We are taking this step against a stark backdrop,” he said. “The Iranian government has cut off access to the Internet for most of its 80 million citizens to prevent them — and the world — from watching its violent crackdown on peaceful protestors.”

“(W)e are going to help make sure the Iranian people are not kept isolated and in the dark. This is a concrete step to provide meaningful support to Iranians demanding that their basic rights be respected,” he said.

According to the Treasury Department, the general license expands the categories of software and services that can be provided “to include social media platforms, collaboration platforms, video conferencing, as well as cloud-based services,” gives “additional authorization for the services that support the communication tools to assist ordinary Iranians in resisting repressive internet censorship and surveillance tools deployed by the Iranian regime,” and “removes the requirement to verify communications are ‘personal’ in nature.”

It also “continues to authorize anti-virus and anti-malware software; anti-tracking software; mobile operating systems and related software; anti-censorship tools and related software; Virtual Private Network (VPN) client software; and related software,” noting that “these tools protect the ability of Iranians to engage in free expression and bravely resist regime oppression,” the Treasury said.

The announcement comes a day after the US issued sanctions on Iran’s Morality Police, in whose custody Amiri died.

Source link