January, 2016

 

Iran gives medals for capture of U.S. sailors

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s supreme leader has awarded medals to navy commanders for capturing U.S. sailors who entered Iranian territorial waters this month, Iran’s state media said on Sunday.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has said Iran should remain wary of its arch-enemy the United States even after a landmark accord over Tehran’s nuclear program, awarded the Fath (Victory) medal to the head of the navy of the Revolutionary Guards and four commanders involved in the seizure of two U.S. Navy boats.

Iran has awarded the Fath medal since 1989 to war heroes, military commanders and politicians, especially those linked to the eight-year Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.

Iran freed the ten U.S. sailors on Jan. 13, a day after detaining them aboard the two U.S. Navy patrol boats in the Gulf, bringing a swift end to an incident that had rattled nerves shortly before the expected implementation of the nuclear accord with world powers.

The Revolutionary Guardss said it had determined the patrol boats had entered Iranian territorial waters by mistake.

The quick resolution contrasted with previous cases in which British servicemen were held by Iran for considerably longer, in once case almost two weeks.

(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Sami Aboudi and David Goodman)


Thai junta pressures Facebook, Line to censor online posts

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand’s military government will try to persuade media companies Facebook and Line to comply with court orders to remove content it considers harmful to peace and order, a senior official said Sunday.

The junta-appointed NRSA advisory council plans to meet executives from the two companies in the next three months, council member Major General Pisit Paoin told Reuters.

The government has been granted court orders for the removal of content that damages the country and the monarchy and affects peace and order, which companies have rarely complied with. The firms would be asked to in future respond quickly to such rulings, he said.

Thailand’s junta has faced repeated criticism for what rights groups say is a deepening slide into authoritarianism since the army took power in May 2014.

Its previous attempts to get social media platforms to take down political postings have been largely ineffective, although the country has blocked thousands of websites hosting lese majeste content.

Numbers of people arrested under the laws against criticizing the monarchy have also risen sharply.

Thai representatives for Facebook and Google could not immediately be reached for comment.

Thai authorities made a similar request over content on Jan. 22 to technology giant Google, which owns the YouTube video sharing platform, Pisit said.

Authorities have also increasingly cracked down on criticism of the junta.

A former politician from the Pheu Thai party of deposed Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was charged on Friday for violating the country’s Computer Crime Act for sharing on line a video mocking junta leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha.

(Reporting by Pairat Temphairojana and Aukkarapon Niyomyat. Writing by Aubrey Belford; John Stonestreet)


THIS WEEK IN THE BAHAMAS (25 – 29 JANUARY 2016)

COMMENTARY BY ELCOTT COLEBY

 This day in The Bahamas Parliament

Parliamentarians met at 10am on Wednesday, 27th January 2016 to conclude debate on the resolution on the $33 million Public Financial Management System and Performance Management Project and the $20 million Citizen Security and Justice Program, both being funded by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). 

The Minister of Health, the Hon. Perry Gomez began statements by Ministers by delivering a House communication on the Zika Virus. He said that the virus is carried by the aedes aegypti mosquito, the same mosquito that carries the dengue and chikungunya virus.

The Minister advised the House that to date there is no reported case of a Zika viral infection in The Bahamas but listed the 20 countries in the region with confirmed cases of the viral infection. 

As of Friday January 22, 2016, Mr. Speaker, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) reported twenty (20) countries and territories with laboratory confirmed case(s) of Zika Virus including Colombia, Suriname, Puerto Rico, French Guiana, Martinique, Panama, Cape Verde, Brazil, Venezuela, Honduras, Mexico, Haiti, Guatemala, El Salvador, Bolivia, Saint Martin, Ecuador, Guadeloupe, Barbados, and Guyana” said the health minister.  

He also revealed that there was no specific treatment for a Zika viral infection including no vaccine, but if infected, the public was advised against the use of aspirin. According to Dr. Gomez, the symptoms of the infection include fever, skin rash, joint pain and headache with one in four infected persons developing symptoms of the disease. 

“Persons with Zika virus infection most commonly have fever, skin rash, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). They may also have muscle and joint pain and headache.  Symptoms usually begin 2 – 7 days after the bite of an infected mosquito. Only one out of four to five infected people develop symptoms of the disease. Among those who do, the disease is usually mild and lasts 2-7 days” said Dr. Gomez.  

The Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christieupdated the House on a number of current topical issues including CLICO, the Hawksbill Creek Agreement and the stalled Baha Mar project. 

The Prime Minister was wrapping up his debate on a resolution to borrow $33 million to finance the Public Financial Management System and Performance Management Project.   

The Prime Minister foreshadowed a public/private sector steering committee to provide supervisory oversight of this project and to ensure its successful completion. Mr. Christie said this was very important to ensure accountability and transparency instead of the government acting “incestuously” with the use to public servants alone. He said that by doing so, his government was “institutionalizing transparency and accountability.” 

According to the Prime Minister, an Inter-American Bank (IDB) report indicated that The Bahamas scored 0.8 out of 5 on an assessment measuring ‘Managing for results.’ Mr. Christie said that this public financial management and performance monitoring project is designed to address these institutional weaknesses. 

“Both programs at this juncture are vital to transforming the Bahamian economy” said Mr. Christie as he concluded his debate. “And it is my belief that the implementation of these projects will achieve the desired results considering the support of the government and people of The Bahamas for change” said Prime Minister Christie. 

The Prime Minister’s statement on CLICO is as follows:

“The previous administration at the onset of the liquidation of CLICO proposed to provide a conditional guarantee of $30 million to any entity which would have purchase the insurance operations of CLICO. This guarantee was conditional on the sale of the book and while affording comfort to a potential purchaser did not actually guarantee that the policyholders would be made whole. 

“For two main reasons: namely concerns with respect to the information system; and the conditional nature of the guarantee (i.e. it was unclear what event would have triggered the calling in of the guarantee) was unsuccessful in the sale of the portfolio.  

“The liquidator has proposed and the Government has agreed a plan to make all existing policyholders whole. This plan involves the creation of a special purpose vehicle to assume the insurance operations of CLICO and to pay out the policyholders who have been unable to receive the full pay out of their benefits subject to the policy not lapsing during the period of liquidation.

“In short order the Insurance Commission and the liquidator will announce the details of the plan including pay out dates. I know that there are many persons impacted by CLICO and these persons have grown impatient waiting for a solution but rest assured a solution is at hand.  

“The transaction being proposed is complex and required time to ensure that all stakeholders, which would be the Insurance Commission, the policyholders, the liquidator and the Government arrived at a consensus position. This has now been achieved.” 

National Security Minister the Hon. Bernard Nottage foreshadowed the establishment of Citizen Security Councils in criminal hot spots to provide a measure of supervision and to assist in the reduction in crime in those neighborhoods under the Citizen Security and Justice program. The Northern Pastor Alliance in the Kemp Road area headed by Rev. Dale Moss is a good model to replicate said the Minister. 

He made this announcement during the first reading of a resolution to borrow $20 million from the IDB to fund a Citizen Security and Justice program being spearheaded by the Ministry of National Security. 

The Minister pointed out that the rate of incarceration in The Bahamas stands at 379 persons per 100,000 persons, well above the Caribbean average of 277 persons per 100,000 persons. Nottage also noted that the rate of recidivism was on the increase and must be arrested. 

He provided a breakdown of the four components of the program as follow: 

  1.  Social crime and violence prevention in New Providence ($4.8 million).With 70% of the population residing in New Providence, the program seeks to improve behaviors for non-violent conflict resolution in New Providence and includes evidence-based interventions (delivered in association with local NGOs, schools, and others local partners) in order to prevent violence in some of The Bahamas’ most troublesome communities. The program is heavy on social re-engineering, public private sector partnerships and community involvement.
  2. Youth employability, employment training and strengthening of the Public Employment Services ($4 million). This component aims to increase employability and employment among at-risk youth in The Bahamas (15-29 years old).
  3. Strengthening of the justice administration system ($5.5 million).Institutional strengthening and capacity building seek to address systemic bottlenecks and inefficiencies in the administration of justice. These inefficiencies sometimes prevent the successful and timely prosecution of and sentencing for crimes.
  4. Rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders ($3.3 million). This program component establishes a parole system complete with assigned parole officers. The objective is to improve the effectiveness of the Bahamian correctional services in reducing re-offenders or the rate of recidivism.

Dr. Nottage assured the House that the Citizen Security and Justice Programme also reinforces the ongoing work being undertaken by the Ministry of Legal Affairs and Office of the Attorney General to strengthen the Swift Justice Programme, which has seen widespread success in improving efficiencies in the administration of justice. These developments are helping the country move towards a safer and Stronger Bahamas.

Referring to the success in the Ministry of Education in securing bipartisan support in crafting a national education plan, Minister Nottage invited members of the opposition to reach across the aisles and work with the government on this national anti-crime and social development effort in the interest of all Bahamians. 

Gibson: Resolution to “increase employability and employment of at-risk youth”

Debating the resolution to borrow 20 million dollars from the IDB for the Inter-American Development Bank funded Citizen Security and Justice Programme, Labour Minister Gibson pointed out the five overarching objectives of the program as follow:

  • Lead to a reduction in Crime and Violence in The Bahamas.
  • Promote non-violent conflict resolution in New Providence
  • Increase employability and the employment of at-risk youth
  • Strengthen institutional capabilities of justice services
  • Reduce the recidivism rate among inmates at the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services.

On the $4.08 million jobs training and employment component of the program that will fall under his portfolio, the Minister told the House that 2,600 at-risk youth between the ages of 15 and 27 will be positively impacted by this program.

“The Department of Labour, with the help of several non-government agencies, will identify 1,000 people between the ages of 15 and 27, who will be enrolled in an apprenticeship program hosted by the National Training Agency. Once participants have acquired new skills, they will have the opportunity to work at local businesses engaged by the Department of Labour and the National Tripartite Council.

“Secondly, the Department of Labour in conjunction with the National Training Agency and the Bahamas Technical & Vocational Institute will identify an additional 1600 young people, who will participate in a comprehensive training program with special emphasis on the Hospitality and Retail sectors” said Minister Gibson.

NHI Bahamas Secretariat unveils new NHI website

At a press conference on Monday morning at the National Health Insurance (NHI) Bahamas Secretariat, Permanent Secretary Peter Deveaux-Isaacs and NHI project coordinator Dr. Delon Brennen updated the media on some significant milestones in the implementation of National Health Insurance as the new website was launched.

The website address is www.nhibahamas.gov.bs

The compelling evidence for NHI exists in the fact that 70% of Bahamians do not have health insurance said the NHI Secretariat. Further, only 47% of Bahamian households were found to have at least one insured person according to recent statistics and with households spending approximately $2,300 per annum on healthcare, accessing quality healthcare is beyond the reach of too many Bahamians resulting in premature deaths and high rates of non-communicable diseases. Research has shown that over 700 Bahamians die annually from preventable diseases and The Bahamas has the highest rate of diabetes in the region. 

“Not being able to afford healthcare can result in illness and even death” said the NHI Secretariat. “Severe illness can be prevented often with a simple visit to the doctor, health education, and prevention activities. Modernizing our current health care system is essential to improving the health of our population. 

“The new (NHI) program ensures that all legal Bahamian residents – no matter your income, age, island of residence or current health status – can receive health care free of cost at the point of service. Cost of health care is paid for in full or in part, by Government” said the NHI Secretariat.         

Contract signed for maintenance of east Paradise Island Bridge

Prime Minister Christie, Deputy Prime Minister Davis and executives from the Bridge Authority met at the Hera Room of the Convention Center in the Coral Towers of Atlantis on Monday morning to execute a contract for the refurbishment and maintenance of the east Paradise Island Bridge. 

The $5.359 million contract signed with local engineering firm Island Site Development is for the ‘immediate, comprehensive refurbishment of the eastern bridge with a scheduled replacement in 2042.’ 

“This is a very significant part of the mainstay of our country” said Prime Minister Christie during the signing ceremony. 

“It is important that we pay attention to it and it is important that the hotel owners over on Paradise island, the properties on Paradise Island becomes a significant one where we are completely at one with them when it comes to protecting the future of the island” said Mr. Christie. 

The chairman of the Bridge Authority, Mr. Rory Higgs, revealed an increase in the bridge toll for single axle vehicles from $1 to $2. 

This and other projects under the purview of the Bridge Authority are part of a $28 million private placement bond being funded by shareholders through the Central Bank of The Bahamas.

According to Labour Minister Shane Gibson, 30 to 40 Bahamians will be employed during this refurbishment project.

Moores Island to get new infrastructure

Deputy Prime Minister the Hon. Philip Brave Davis led a team of engineers, Technical Officers and ministry officials on Monday morning of this week to Moores Island Abaco to host a consultative Town Hall Meeting at Greater Bethel Baptist Church.

The purpose of the public meeting was to consult with and inform local residents of the construction of five miles of new roads; new seawalls; a new sports academy with dormitories; an upgrade to the municipal water supply network; and a new airport terminal complete with an additional 1,000 feet of runway.

In speaking with the residents, the Deputy Prime Minister said that he was not there to make empty promises but to demonstrate that the promises were being delivered as he spoke. This included the regularization of the long and vexing challenge inherent in the ‘generation property’ phenomenon. By first taking possession of the land through the Land Acquisition Act, the government would be able to issue clear titles upon submission of applications, clearing up much of the existing confusion.

Prime Minister Christie, in recognizing the contribution Moores Island has made in the area of sports, promised the construction of a sporting facility as a gift to the youth of that island. Moores Island has produced elite track and field athletes who have proudly represented The Bahamas in the international arena.

The infrastructure upgrades and amenities will assist in bringing the quaint settlement of Moores Island into the 21st century said area member the Hon. Edison Key.

San Salvador International Airport gets an upgrade   

Transport and Aviation Minister the Hon. Glenys Hanna-Martin led a delegation to San Salvador on Tuesday morning to tour the San Salvador International Airport as it undergoes an expansion and structural upgrades after the terminal suffered structural damage during the passage of Joaquin.

“It would not be unfair to say that San Salvador is getting a new airport” said the Transport and Aviation Minister, obviously pleased with the progress made to date. 

With increased airlift to the island from France, Canada and the United States, Minister Hanna-Martin is confident that an enhanced airport, the gateway, will definitely enhance the island’s tourism product. 

“An enhanced airport that more properly facilitates people to this island I think will enhance the (tourism) product” she said. 

Having commenced on the 12th January, the $1.2 million airport expansion and upgrades are being carried out by World Construction and Development Company. 

National Training Agency graduates its fifth cohort

The venue was the familiar Holy Trinity Activity Center on Monday evening and the speakers were the Labour Minister the Hon. Shane Gibson, the Executive Director Agatha Marcelle and Chamber Chief Edison Sumner.

The event was the fifth cohort of graduates from the National Training Agency where some 170 graduates were trained in disciplines ranging from the Microsoft Windows computer application to auto body work repair. 

Minister Gibson congratulated the institution, saying that he was “impressed by the progress the agency has made over the years. To date, the agency and its work have brought about a paradigm shift in how vocational training is delivered” said Minister Gibson. 

Director Agatha Marcelle assured the youngsters that the training agency was established to assist them in achieving their goals through the provision of second chances and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce and the Employers’ Confederation Edison Sumner told graduates not to ever look back or harbor regrets for past mistakes, but to fix their past mistakes and move forward. 

“Living life in the lane of regret gets you nowhere. The way to get over something that you regret doing is to find a way to fix it” said the Chamber Chief.

In Passing…

A ceremony was held on Thursday evening to honour the Employee of The Year for Nassau Flight Services. The ceremony was held at the Holy Trinity Activities Center and delivering the keynote address was Transport and Aviation Minister the Hon. Glenys Hanna-Martin.   

Governor General Dame HE Marguerite Pindling and Deputy Prime Minister the Hon. Philip Davis traveled to the South Central Bahamas this week to visit and encourage communities recently ravaged by category four Hurrican Joaquin. Stops were made in Crooked Island, Rum Cay, San Salvador and Long Island. 

The Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) was in Bimini on Thursday of this week to demonstrate its Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) or Flow TV as the telecommunications giant prepares to launch the product in Inagua and three other family islands. On hand to celebrate this achievement was Prime Minister Christie. The Prime Minister spoke about great job and entrepreneurial opportunities that will be created with the technological expansion in the communications industry. One such area of opportunity according to CEO Leon Williams is the establishment of Nassau as one of just three Smart Cities in the Western Hemisphere, the other two being New York and Toronto.     

President of the Court of Appeal Justice Anita Allen defended the decisions of the court and warned newspaper editors about potentially contemptuous editorials recently published in the local dailies. She warned editors to take the time to educate themselves on all of the facts surrounding the cases before offering public opinions on the same. 

Earlier this week, FNM Senator Lanisha Rolle called into a local talk show and attacked members of the Lower House. Former Deputy Prime Minister Frank Watson criticized her while former Cabinet Minister Maurice Moore supported her. Opposition leader the Hon. Hubert Minnis held a FNM caucus meeting then issued a statement calling such attacks “unhelpful” and called for party unity. Central Grand Bahama Member of Parliament the Hon. Neko Grant demanded an apology from Senator Rolle who offered only a private apology. 

The Bahamas Olympic Committee announced on Friday afternoon that The Bahamas was successful in its bid to host the 7th Commonwealth Youth Games here in Nassau scheduled for the 19th to the 23rd of July 2017. The games are under the auspices of the Commonwealth Games Federation. Over 1,000 junior athletes from 71 Commonwealth countries are expected to participate in seven events, namely athletics, boxing, cycling, judo, rugby, swimming and tennis.

Calling it a “red letter day” for our youth and for junior sailing generally, Agriculture Minister the Hon. Alfred Gray announced a junior national regatta competition as a stand-alone event as the government gives focused attention to this national sporting activity and the role young athletes will play in its further development. He made this announcement at a press conference at his ministry on Friday, 29th January 2016. The regatta is called the Sir Durward Knowles National Invitational Junior Sailing Regatta involving ‘E’ Class sailing sloops. This event is scheduled for George Town, Exuma during the Easter holiday weekend, or the 25th to the 28th March 2016. Until now the junior regatta was a part of the National Family Island Regatta that took place in George Town at the end of April each year.

Minister Gray also introduced a new initiative in the government led backyard farming program. Errington Thompson and Ian Hutchinson, two consultants within the Ministry of Agriculture will head up the new and expanded backyard farming program. In addition to managing farms at the Department of Corrections and the Ranfurly Home for Children, Thompson and Hutchinson are now tasked with expanding the program to include ten inner city properties as the government seeks to take backyard farming to a new level.   


Netanyahu rejects French ultimatum on Palestinian statehood

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on Sunday for a more “sober” approach toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in dismissing a French peace initiative as only encouraging Palestinians to shun compromise.

The proposal on Friday by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius for an international peace conference was the latest sign of Western frustration over the absence of movement toward a two-state solution since the collapse of U.S.-brokered negotiations in 2014.

Fabius said that if the French plan did not break the deadlock, Paris would recognize a Palestinian state.

Such a step would raise concern in Israel that other European countries, also long opposed to its settlement-building in occupied territory, would follow suit.

In public remarks to his cabinet, Netanyahu did not explicitly reject the notion of an international conference – an aide said Israel would examine such a request once it was received – but he made clear that reported details of the plan made it a non-starter.

Netanyahu said a “threat” to recognize a Palestinian state if France’s peace efforts did not succeed constituted “an incentive to the Palestinians to come along and not compromise”.

“I assess that there will be a sobering up regarding this matter,” Netanyahu added. “In any event, we will make effort so that there is a sobering up here, and our position is very clear: We are prepared to enter direct negotiation without preconditions and without dictated terms.”

On Saturday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the French proposal, telling an African summit in Ethiopia that “the status quo cannot continue”.

But Washington responded with caution to the French move, saying it continued to prefer that Israel and the Palestinians reach an agreement on final-status issues through direct talks.

While aware the initiative may struggle to get off the ground, French officials said Paris had a responsibility to act now in the face of ongoing Israeli settlement activity and the prospect of continued diplomatic inaction as the United States focuses on a presidential election in November.

And, the officials said, Netanyahu had gone a step too far in accusing U.N. Secretary of State Ban Ki-moon of giving a “tailwind to terrorism” by laying some of the blame for four months of stabbings and car rammings by Palestinians at Israel’s door. Ban angered Israel by saying last week that it is “human nature to react to occupation”.

The United States, European Union – Israel’s closest allies – have also issued unusually stern criticism of Israel in recent weeks, reflecting their own frustration with the policies of Netanyahu’s right-wing government.

The criticism, particularly about the settlements, where

some 550,000 Jews live in around 250 communities scattered

across the West Bank and East Jerusalem, has raised Palestinian

hopes that world powers might finally be minded to support a

U.N. resolution condemning Israel’s policy outright.

WEST BANK ATTACK

Since October, Palestinian attacks, partly fueled by tensions over the freeze in peace talks, have killed 26 Israelis and a U.S. citizen.

In an incident on Sunday, a Palestinian gunman wounded three Israelis near the West Bank settlement of Beit El and was then shot dead by soldiers, the Israeli army said. Palestinian officials said he worked as a bodyguard for a Palestinian prosecutor in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Shortly after that attack, a Palestinian motorist was shot and wounded when he tried to run down soldiers at a military checkpoint in the West Bank, the army said.

Over the past four months, Israeli forces have killed at least 152 Palestinians, 98 of them assailants according to authorities. Most the others have died in violent protests.

“I don’t see anything that warrants living as long as the occupation smothers us and kills our brothers and sisters … You were first and I am following you,” the Beit El assailant, Amjad Abu Omar, wrote on Facebook.

Palestinians seek a state in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, parts of which have been occupied by Israel since the 1967 Middle East war. Palestine has non-member observer status at the United Nations and its flag flies with those of member states at UN headquarters in New York.

Sweden became the first EU member nation to recognize the Palestinian state in 2014. A total of 136 U.N.-member countries, mostly in Africa, Latin America and Asia, now do so.

(Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris, Dan Williams in Jerusalem, Ali Sawafta in Ramallah, Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza)


Djokovic masters Murray for sixth Australian title

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Novak Djokovic crushed Andy Murray 6-1 7-5 7-6(3) on Sunday to match Roy Emerson’s record of six Australian Open titles and leave the Briton heartbroken again at Melbourne Park.

The defending champion was at his ruthless best under the lights at Rod Laver Arena, mauling Murray in the baseline duels and closing out the match in two hours and 53 minutes.

Murray succumbed to his fifth loss in five Australian Open finals, and fourth against the Serbian world number one, who claimed his 11th grand slam title to draw level with the totals of Australian Rod Laver and Swede Bjorn Borg.

Having fended off Murray in a marathon second set, Djokovic again had to put down some stiff Murray resistance in the third as the Scot refused to go quietly.

But having been dragged into a tiebreak, Djokovic sealed the title on his third match point with a clinical ace down the T.

For a man who has owned the year’s first grand slam for five of the past six years and won his first in 2008, Djokovic’s celebrations were subdued and he gave Murray a consoling pat on the chest as they shook hands.

After walking around the court and pumping his fist at clutches of thrilled Serbian fans, Djokovic ripped off his shirt and flung it to a young woman who jumped up and down in delight.

“Andy, you are a great champion, a great person and a great friend and I’m sure you are going to have more opportunities to fight for this trophy,” Djokovic said at the trophy presentation.

“It’s a great privilege to match the record of one of the greatest players to play the game,” he added, referring to Laver who was watching on.

Murray, whose wife Kim is heavily pregnant at home in Britain and was rocked by a medical emergency involving his father-in-law at the tournament, was magnanimous in defeat.

“I feel like I’ve been here before,” Murray said jokingly as he took the microphone.

“I’d like to congratulate Novak. Six Australian Opens is an incredible feat. And what he has done in the last year has been incredible consistency.”

STARTED BRILLIANTLY

Djokovic started brilliantly in his semi-final win over Roger Federer and launched the same attack om Murray, breaking the Scot twice to roar into a 5-0 lead and winning 22 of the opening 29 points.

Sealing the set with an unreturnable serve, the Serb prised another four break-points in the third game of the second set but Murray dug in to hold with an ace.

Murray began to make inroads in some brutal baseline rallies and the players traded service breaks before Murray seemed set to move 6-5 ahead when he went 40-0 ahead on serve.

Djokovic struck back from nowhere though and whipped a passing shot beyond Murray to raise a break-point after a punishing 36-stroke rally.

Murray clubbed a backhand well past the baseline to concede serve but still had chances when the Serb lost his focus with a pair of double-faults in the next game.

He clattered a backhand into the net and then failed with a forehand though as Djokovic took an 80-minute set to move clear.

Any hope of a comeback seemed remote when Murray fluffed a smash barely halfway up the net in the opening game of the decider to give Djokovic two break points, the second of which Djokovic converted with a sublime backhand pass down the line.

It looked like game over but Murray roused himself to break back at 3-3 and he still had a glimmer of hope when the tiebreak began.

But the wheels fell off for the Scot who slumped to 4-1 with a double-fault and set up five championship points with a wild shot into the tramlines.

Murray saved one match-point with an ace, then a second when Djokovic hit a forehand long but the Serb stiffened his resolve to club the winning ace and extend his reign over Melbourne Park for another year.

Murray becomes only the second man to lose five finals at the same grand slam — joining former coach Ivan Lendl who lost five at the U.S. Open.

(Editing by Martyn Herman)


Cruz and Trump make final appeals to Iowans

AMES, Iowa (Reuters) – Republicans Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, locked in a tight race in Iowa just two days before the state’s crucial U.S. presidential nominating contest, urged their supporters on Saturday to give them the first victory of the 2016 campaign.

Trump, the billionaire New York developer, and Cruz, the Texas senator, were among 10 Republicans and three Democrats campaigning in Iowa for their parties’ nominations ahead of Monday’s caucus sessions but much of the focus was on the fight between Cruz and Trump.

The influential Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics Iowa poll released on Saturday showed a tight race, with Trump receiving 28 percent of the support of likely Iowa caucus-goers and Cruz 23 percent. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida was overwhelmingly the third choice, at 15 percent.

In the Democratic competition, Hillary Clinton held a slight edge over Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, 45 percent to 42 percent.

The margin of error for the poll was plus/minus 4 percent.

On Monday, Iowans will gather in homes, gymnasiums, libraries, taverns and even grain elevators for caucuses to select their favorite for the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations. When they are finished, the race will take on a new dynamic and several candidates are expected to drop out altogether.

“This is your time,” Cruz told a crowd of about 1,000 at a hotel ballroom. “This is the time for the men and women of Iowa to make a decision. We are inches away.”

Across the state, Trump used stagecraft and blasted Cruz to enliven the crowd as he barnstormed through eastern Iowa. At the Dubuque airport, Trump’s plane, with his name emblazoned on the side, did a fly-by before he spoke to a crowd of about 400, small by Trump standards.

“You’ve got to go out and caucus,” Trump told them. “You’ve got to get out there. I don’t care what happens. If your wife leaves you for another man, if you leave your wife because you don’t like her, I don’t care what it is. If you’re sick, you’ve got to get out.”

While Trump made his remarks before the release of the Iowa poll, he noted that other polls have shown his lead in Iowa more tenuous than in other states.

“I’m not used to 5 points,” he said.

While at his event in Ames, Cruz refrained from attacking Trump but the New York developer was not so circumspect. He continued to suggest that Cruz may not be legally qualified to be president because he was born in Canada.

“How the hell can you run for president?” Trump said. “Ted has a big problem.”

On the Democratic side, Clinton and Sanders, along with former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, agreed in principle to add four debates to their calendars, Clinton’s campaign said, although the Sanders campaign said there remained disagreements over where they should be held. If the campaigns can find agreement, the first will be next week in New Hampshire, contingent on approval by the Democratic National Committee.

CLINTON ON GUN CONTROL

Clinton made a stop as well in Ames, where she spoke to a crowd of more than 1,100 at Iowa State University. She was introduced by former astronaut Mark Kelly and his wife, former U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords, who in 2011, was critically wounded in an assassination attempt in Arizona. In her remarks, Clinton praised gun-control measures recently taken by President Barack Obama.

“None of it will stick if it’s not a voting issue, and as you go to caucus Monday night, please think about this,” Clinton said.

Sanders, speaking at a college in Waverly, stuck to his familiar theme of reducing economic inequality and cited his fund-raising operation.

“I am proud to tell you that we have received almost 3 million individual contributions, more than any other candidate in history,” he said, while criticizing Clinton, without naming her, for relying more heavily on wealthier donors.

The New York Times editorial board Saturday weighed on the campaign, endorsing Clinton for the Democratic nomination and Republican John Kasich for the Republicans. The Times called Clinton one of the most “deeply qualified presidential candidates in modern history.”

The newspaper said Kasich, the governor of Ohio who is trailing badly in national polls, was “the only plausible choice for Republicans tired of the extremism and inexperience on display in this race.”

The moderate Kasich will not be a factor in Iowa, where social and religious conservatives hold sway at the caucuses. Those voters seem to have largely cohered around the fiery Cruz, whose stump speech carries a distinct anti-establishment tone. Conservative commentator Glenn Beck introduced Cruz at the Ames rally.

Cruz is trying to bounce back from what many observers considered a rocky performance in Thursday’s debate. With Trump boycotting the event over a disagreement with sponsor Fox News Channel, much of scrutiny fell on Cruz, who tussled with moderators and sniped repeatedly at Rubio.

Rubio also has much to gain from Monday’s caucuses. A finish in the top tier could give him needed momentum going into the next nominating contest, the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 10.

He also was on the Iowa State campus, telling about 500 people that his campaign would be working to ensure they follow through with their support.

“We need your help. We want to stay in touch with you for the next 48 hours,” Rubio said. “We want to make sure you go caucus.”

(This story has been refiled to remove extraneous word in next-to-last paragraph)

(Additional reporting Jonathan Allen by Washington; Writing by James Oliphant; Editing byBill Trott)

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Twelve people dead after fire at a sewing room in Moscow

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Twelve people were found dead after a fire in a sewing room in Moscow, Russia’s Investigative Committee said on Sunday.

The committee, which has opened a criminal case over the fire, said the blaze broke out late on Saturday. It was investigating possible causes, including a technical problem or deliberate arson.

Interfax news agency said that according to preliminary information, among the 12 people dead was a small child. The rest were workers from Central Asia.

(Reporting by Katya Golubkova; Editing by Angus MacSwan)


Ex-president of El Salvador dies facing corruption charges

SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) – The former president of El Salvador, Francisco Flores, 56, died on Saturday after suffering a stroke as he waited to face trial over embezzlement charges.

Flores ruled the Central American nation from 1999 to 2004 and he had been operated on last Sunday after suffering a stroke.

“We regret the death of President Francisco Flores and we sympathize with his family at this time,” his far-right Nationalist Republican Party (Arena) said in a statement.

Flores was accused of embezzling $15 million of aid from Taiwan that was donated after two devastating earthquakes hit the country in 2001. He had siphoned $10 million to give to his party and kept $5 million, according to prosecutors.

Flores maintained his innocence and was under house arrest for the charges.

“He suffered a terrible health crisis, provoked by this unjust political attack,” his wife Lourdes de Flores told local media.

(Reporting by Nelson Renteria)


France to offer Cuba more debt relief during Castro visit: source

PARIS (Reuters) – France is to sign a deal with Cuba next week to ease the Caribbean island nation’s bilateral debt to Paris during a visit by the Cuban president to the French capital, a diplomatic source said on Friday.

Raul Castro is due to arrive on Saturday in Paris for a five day stay, in what will be the first official visit to France by a Cuban president since the country’s independence.

With ties between Washington and Havana warming, France is eager to further improve relations with Cuba starting with a visit by French President Francois Hollande to the island last year.

As Havana’s biggest creditor, France played a key role in December in a debt relief deal between Cuba and the foreign governments it owes money to.

Its Paris Club creditors agreed to forgive $8.5 billion in late interest payments of Cuba’s $11.9 billion in debt, including $4 billion in late payments due to France.

The bilateral agreement to be signed next week will allow for part of the principal that Cuba still owes France to be converted into financing for development projects, the source said.

“It’s an additional gesture on France’s part after forgiving the late interest payments,” the source said, adding that France’s development agency would set up an outpost in the country.

Several commercial and development agreements are due to be signed during Castro’s visit, the source said.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau; writing by Leigh Thomas)


Kerry to attend Rome, London talks on Islamic State, Syria

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will attend a gathering in Rome on Tuesday of countries fighting Islamic State militants and then go on to London the next day for an aid conference on Syria, the State Department said.

Kerry makes the trip as the United Nations is having trouble starting indirect peace talks between the Syrian government and opposition to try to end the nearly five-year civil war in which more than 250,000 people have been killed.

The so-called proximity talks, in which U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura would speak separately to each side in Geneva, were supposed to begin on Monday but were postponed amid uncertainty about whether the opposition would attend.

Syria’s opposition High Negotiations Committee would go to Geneva to meet de Mistura, an independent activist said on Friday on behalf of the group, but it would not get involved in negotiations with the Syrian government.

Kerry has pushed hard for the talks to try to end the conflict, which has been intensified by the Islamic State militant group’s seizure of swathes of Syrian territory.

Tuesday’s meeting in Rome “will review progress to date and discuss ways to further intensify commitments across all lines of effort to degrade and defeat” the militant group, State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.

Other nations at the Rome gathering will include Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, France, Germany, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Norway, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom, Kirby said.

(Reporting by Arshad Mohammed; editing by Grant McCool)