Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Queen to meet Pope Francis for first time on Vatican visit in April

Queen to meet Pope Francis for first time on Vatican visit in April 

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Queen and Duke of Edinburgh to have private audience with pontiff after meeting Italian president Giorgio Napolitano
The Queen is to meet Pope Francis for the first time on a visit to the Vatican in April, the British embassy in Rome has announced.
The encounter – the first between the supreme governor of the Church of England and the leader of the Roman Catholic church since 2010 – will take place as part of a wider visit to Rome.
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh will have a private audience with the Argentinian pontiff in the Vatican on 3 April, a statement said.
Beforehand they will meet the Italian president, Giorgio Napolitano. The Queen was supposed to meet the 88-year-old head of state last year shortly before the end of his seven-year mandate, but the visit was postponed because she was unwell.
However, after he became the first Italian president to be re-elected for a second term, the two have another chance to catch up.
The Queen last met a pope in September 2010 when emeritus pope Benedict XVI, who resigned last year, visited England and Scotland.

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Rivers run dry as corruption claims surround Romania's hydropower boom

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Green tariffs are driving development in the Southern Carpathian mountains, but with ecological and legal consequences
Deep into the wilderness of Romania's Southern Carpathian mountains, Bogdan Binescu, an avid angler and environmental campaigner, stops by the white waters of a mountain stream. "This river used to be the only route back to civilisation," he says. "But now civilisation has caught up."
A few kilometres on, his meaning becomes clear. Where beech trees had previously risen from the banks of the River Capra, a grey concrete building sits on muddied earth, housing the turbines of a small hydropower plant. Beyond, the river has all but disappeared, its bed of shattered rock and compacted earth now exposed. Between 80 and 90% of the river now flows through a thick metal pipe, carried here from a dam five kilometres upstream.
This is one of more than 500 "micro" hydropower plants operating or in various stages of construction and planning in the largely protected mountains. Together, they will produce less than 4% of the country's energy.
Often subsidised by European funds and with profits boosted by up to 500% from green tariffs – a subsidy drawn from a tax on energy consumers – micro hydropower has quickly become a favoured form of investment.
As profits are highest where the rivers run fast, investors are drawn deep into the mountains, in many cases to state-owned nature parks, protected under EU and domestic law. Binescu says: "Many of these projects are illegal on so many levels that only the powerful and well-connected have access to them." It is this, as much as the ecological impact of the power plants, which has drawn public protests throughout the Carpathians over the last year, in Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria.
Here in the Southern Carpathians, the power plant to which Binescu has taken us is one of 10 recently constructed by the retail company Imob Expert Consulting, owned by the self-declared "two top businessmen" in the county, one of whom, Gheorghe Badea, recently ran in the local elections. In partnership with them is the fiancée of the daughter of the Romanian president, Radu Pricop, a lawyer and local MP whose private law firm carried out all the legal operations involved in the investment.
Funded with €2m of European rural development funds, the investment will see a return of €1.2m a year. Of this, €1m will come directly from government-issued green tariffs, guaranteed annually for at least the next 13 years.
Without the political connections of the investors, opponents say, the project would be impossible. Spread across three rivers, the power plants all lie within an European protected Natura 2000 siteand on state-owned land. Environmental regulations deem the project unlawful on three counts, it is claimed, while to rent the land from the state would cost, at rates set by the National Forestry Department, around €1m a year.
Yet the company engineered a straight land swap with the state, exchanging the 24,000 square feet of mountain land necessary for the power plants for a similar-sized area of arable land it owned. It drew up its own environmental impact assessments, critics say. When construction began, video footage allegedly recorded violations of environmental law on multiple counts.
At first, the Romanian government agency, the National Guard for the Environment, urged action, declaring the project and environmental forms "absolutely illegal". Two days later, officials had changed their minds and refused to "talk any more about it." The European commission, however, is set to visit the site next month to assess its legality.
Badea told the Guardiant: "The projects have been made with all the necessary approvals, authorisations and they function like all the other projects for micro hydropower plants in Europe. But there are some sick people who don't have anything to do, so they invent things about these projects."
Over the last few months the opposition to micro hydropower in the region has grown. Backed by a petition signed by 20,000 Romanians, WWF Romania and the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River have drawn up a protocol to create areas protected from hydropower development.
However, government support for the industry is strong and Diana Popa, a policy officer with WWF who worked on the protocol, sees a tough fight ahead. A state report has identified 4,000 locations to be potentially exploited for hydropower. Meanwhile, president Traian Băsescu recently blocked a well-supported government proposal to reduce green tariffs for micro hydropower by 24%.
"The political connections in this industry are everywhere," says Popa. "Because of the green tariff scheme, many politicians have big interests in hydropower. They think they can get away with what they want as it comes under the 'green category'."
Attila Andras Nagy, a freshwater marine biologist with the Romanian wildlife protection organisation Milvus, explains. "We are talking about the loss of thousands of kilometres of river. Tens of thousands across the whole mountains range. The habitat fragmentation this creates severely affects the populations of countless fish species, many of them protected. Then consider the animals that feed from the water – the otters, European dipper birds and more. The impact is cumulative and ends far from the rivers."
• Bogdan Binescu's name has been changed at his request.

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Top 10 tweeters on sexuality and development 

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Many on our list are activists on the issue of gay rights, while others look but we are also interested in the tweeters discussing the wider spectrum of sexuality.

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Russia Says Syria Will Resume Peace Talks, Hosts Opposition Leader

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Russian officials say they expect the Syrian government to resume peace talks with the opposition next week, following an opening round of negotiations in Geneva that ended Friday with little progress.The statements Tuesday came as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov hosted Syrian National Coalition President Ahmad Jarba for a meeting in Moscow.Lavrov said Russia wants to keep regular contacts with the opposition, and is working with all sides to find a political solution to the Syrian...

Karzai Arranged Secret Contacts With the Taliban

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KABUL, Afghanistan — President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan has been engaged in secret contacts with the Taliban about reaching a peace agreement without the involvement of his American and Western allies, further corroding already strained relations with the United States.
The secret contacts appear to help explain a string of actions by Mr. Karzai that seem intended to antagonize his American backers, Western and Afghan officials said. In recent weeks, Mr. Karzai has continued to refuse to sign a long-term security agreement with Washington that he negotiated, insisted on releasing hardened Taliban militants from prison and distributed distorted evidence of what he called American war crimes.
The clandestine contacts with the Taliban have borne little fruit, according to people who have been told about them. But they have helped undermine the remaining confidence between the United States and Mr. Karzai, making the already messy endgame of the Afghan conflict even more volatile. Support for the war effort in Congress has deteriorated sharply, and American officials say they are uncertain whether they can maintain even minimal security cooperation with Mr. Karzai’s government or its successor after coming elections.
Frustrated by Mr. Karzai’s refusal to sign the security agreement, which would clear the way for American troops to stay on for training and counterterrorism work after the end of the year, President Obama has summoned his top commanders to the White House on Tuesday to consider the future of the American mission in Afghanistan.
Western and Afghan officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the private nature of the peace contacts, said that the outreach was apparently initiated by the Taliban in November, a time of deepening mistrust between Mr. Karzai and his allies. Mr. Karzai seemed to jump at what he believed was a chance to achieve what the Americans were unwilling or unable to do, and reach a deal to end the conflict — a belief that few in his camp shared.
The peace contacts, though, have yielded no tangible agreement, nor even progressed as far as opening negotiations for one. And it is not clear whether the Taliban ever intended to seriously pursue negotiations, or were simply trying to derail the security agreement by distracting Mr. Karzai and leading him on, as many of the officials said they suspected.
As recently as October, a long-term agreement between the United States and Afghanistan seemed to be only a few formalities away from completion, after a special visit by Secretary of State John Kerry. The terms were settled, and a loya jirga, or assembly of prominent Afghans, that the president summoned to ratify the deal gave its approval. The continued presence of American troops after 2014, not to mention billions of dollars in aid, depended on the president’s signature. But Mr. Karzai repeatedly balked, perplexing Americans and many Afghans alike.
Peace Contacts Fade
The first peace feeler from the Taliban reached Mr. Karzai shortly before the loya jirga, Afghan officials said, and since then the insurgents and the government have exchanged a flurry of messages and contacts.
Aimal Faizi, the spokesman for Mr. Karzai, acknowledged the secret contacts with the Taliban and said they were continuing.
“The last two months have been very positive,” Mr. Faizi said. He characterized the contacts as among the most serious the presidential palace has had since the war began. “These parties were encouraged by the president’s stance on the bilateral security agreement and his speeches afterwards,” he said.
But other Afghan and Western officials said that the contacts had fizzled, and that whatever the Taliban may have intended at the outset, they no longer had any intention of negotiating with the Afghan government. They said that top Afghan officials had met with influential Taliban leaders in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in recent weeks, and were told that any prospects of a peace deal were now gone.
The Afghan and Western officials questioned whether the interlocutors whom Mr. Karzai was in contact with had connections to the Taliban movement’s leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, whose blessing would be needed for any peace deal the group were to strike.
Though there have been informal contacts between Afghan officials and Taliban leaders since the very early days of the war, the insurgents’ opaque and secretive leaders have made their intentions difficult to discern. Afghan officials have struggled in recent years to find genuine Taliban representatives, and have flitted among a variety of current and former insurgent leaders, most of whom had only tenuous connections to Mullah Omar and his inner circle, American and Afghan officials have said.
Western Outreach
The only known genuine negotiating channel to those leaders was developed by American and German diplomats, who spent roughly two years trying to open peace talks in Qatar. The diplomats repeatedly found themselves incurring the wrath of Mr. Karzai, who saw the effort as an attempt to circumvent him; he tried behind the scenes to undercut it.
Then, when an American diplomatic push led to the opening of a Taliban office in Qatar, Mr. Karzai lashed out publicly at the United States. Afghan officials said that to them, the office looked far too much like the embassy of a government-in-exile, with its own flag and a nameplate reading “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.” Within days, the Qatar initiative stalled, and Mr. Karzai was fuming at what he saw as a plot by the United States to cut its own deal with Pakistan and the Taliban without him.
In the wake of the failure in Qatar, Afghan officials redoubled their efforts to open their own channel to Mullah Omar, and by late autumn, Mr. Karzai apparently believed those efforts were succeeding. Some senior Afghan officials say they did not share his confidence, and their doubts were shared by American officials in Kabul and Washington.
Both Mr. Karzai and American officials hear the clock ticking. American forces are turning over their combat role to Afghan forces and preparing to leave Afghanistan this year, and the campaigning for the Afghan national election in April has begun. An orderly transition of power in an Afghanistan that can contain the insurgency on its own would be the culmination of everything that the United States has tried to achieve in the country.
“We’ve been through numerous cycles of ups and downs in our relations with President Karzai over the years,” Ambassador James B. Cunningham said during a briefing with reporters last week. “What makes it a little different this time is that he is coming to the end of his presidency, and we have some very important milestones for the international community and for Afghanistan coming up in the next couple of months.”
Mr. Karzai has been increasingly concerned with his legacy, officials say. When discussing the impasse with the Americans, he has repeatedly alluded to his country’s troubled history as a lesson in dealing with foreign powers. He recently likened the security agreement to the Treaty of Gandamak, a one-sided 1879 agreement that ceded frontier lands to the British administration in India and gave it tacit control over Afghan foreign policy. He has publicly assailed American policies as the behavior of a “colonial power,” though diplomats and military officials say he has been more cordial in private.
Mr. Karzai reacted angrily to a negative portrayal of him in a recent memoir by the former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, and he is still bitter over the 2009 presidential election, when hundreds of thousands of fraudulent ballots were disqualified and, as he sees it, the Americans forced him into an unnecessary runoff against his closest opponent.
Domestic Interests
In some respects, Mr. Karzai’s outbursts have been an effort to speak to Afghans who want him to take a hard line against the Americans, including many ethnic Pashtuns, who make up nearly all of the Taliban. With the American-led coalition on its way out and American influence waning, Mr. Karzai is more concerned with bridging the chasms of Afghan domestic politics than with his foreign allies’ interests.
If the peace overture to the Taliban is indeed at an end, as officials believe, it is unclear what Mr. Karzai will do next. He could return to a softer stance on the security agreement and less hostility toward the United States, or he could justify his refusal to sign the agreement by blaming the Americans for failing to secure a genuine negotiation with the insurgents.
Mr. Karzai has insisted that he will not sign the agreement unless the Americans help bring the Taliban to the table for peace talks. Some diplomats worry that making such a demand allows the Taliban to dictate the terms of America’s long-term presence in Afghanistan. Others question Mr. Karzai’s logic: Why would the insurgency agree to talks if doing so would ensure the presence of the foreign troops it is determined to expel?
The White House expressed impatience on Monday with Mr. Karzai’s refusal to sign the agreement. “The longer there is a delay, the harder it is for NATO and U.S. military forces to plan for a post-2014 presence,” said Jay Carney, the White House press secretary. “This is a matter of weeks, not months.”
The military leaders expected to attend the planning conference at the White House on Tuesday include Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the commander of American forces in Afghanistan; Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, the former Iraq commander now serving as head of the United States Central Command; and Adm. William H. McRaven, head of the United States Special Operations Command.
In recent statements, Mr. Karzai’s office in Kabul has appeared to open the door to a resolution of the impasse over the security agreement. The presidential spokesman, Mr. Faizi, has said that if one party is obstructing the American efforts to get talks going, the United States need only say so publicly.
“Once there is clarity, we can take the next step to signing” the agreement, he said.
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Russia: 3 Jailed in Anti-Gay Case

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A court in Russia’s Far East on Monday found three men guilty of murdering a man in an attack that prosecutors said was motivated by homophobia. The three men were convicted of stabbing and beating the man, Oleg Serdyuk, to death in a forest near the village of Ust-Bolsheretskii in the Kamchatka region in May, and then burning his body in a car. Prosecutors said the defendants had killed Mr. Serdyuk because they believed he was gay. The men received sentences ranging from nine to 12 and a half years in a labor camp. Advocates for gay rights in Russia have claimed that the number of homophobic attacks has risen since the introduction of a law last year banning “gay propaganda” among children.
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World Briefing: Russia: 3 Jailed in Anti-Gay Case

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A court in Russia’s Far East on Monday found three men guilty of murdering a man in an attack that prosecutors said was motivated by homophobia.

World Briefing: Italy: Knox Judge Faces Inquiry

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Italy’s justice minister announced an investigation into comments made to the Italian news media by the judge who read the guilty verdicts against Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito.

Microsoft, Facebook, Google and Yahoo release US surveillance requests - The Guardian

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The Guardian

Microsoft, Facebook, Google and Yahoo release US surveillance requests
The Guardian
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Christie: I did not know anything 

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Governor Chris Christie refutes alleged evidence that he knew anything about the George Washington Bridge lane closures.
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Christie reiterates: No role in lane closures

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TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Gov. Chris Christie said Monday he may have heard about congestion on the George Washington Bridge last fall but it didn't register as anything more than regular traffic jams because he wasn't aware his aides had ordered lanes blocked, apparently for political retribution.
Christie also acknowledged during an hour-long radio call-in program that his office has been subpoenaed by federal law enforcement officials conducting a criminal investigation into the bridge scandal. Christie said his office would fully comply with the document request.
The Republican governor and possible 2016 presidential candidate fielded questions for the first time in three weeks about a scandal that has engulfed his administration and threatened to upend any political ambitions.
Christie, 51, reiterated during the radio show that he did not know about the planning or execution of the lane closings near the bridge in Fort Lee. He disputed the account of a former loyalist, who said Friday there was evidence the governor knew about the closings while they were happening over four days in September, which is earlier than Christie has acknowledged.
Christie said an email from Patrick Foye, the executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the agency that runs the bridge, made him realize the traffic gridlock may not have been routine. That email was forwarded to a top Christie aide on Sept. 13, the day Foye ordered the lanes reopened.
"I know prior to (the Foye email) there were press accounts about traffic issues up there, and if I read that or someone said something ... it wouldn't have been meaningful to me because I didn't know there was any problem up there because I didn't know we had actually closed lanes up there before that," Christie said on TownSquare Media's "Ask the Governor" show.
"Nobody has said I knew about this before it happened, and I think that's the most important question," he said.
Christie has been asked before when he learned of the lane closures, which has cost five people close to the governor their jobs. During a Dec. 13 news conference, he said, "It was certainly well after the whole thing was over before I heard about it."
Monday was the first time Christie took questions since David Wildstein, Christie's No. 2 man at the Port Authority before he resigned amid the scandal, contradicted the governor's accounting of the lane closings. Christie referred to the dispute over what he knew when as "a game of gotcha."
Meanwhile, a former Christie aide who set the lane closings in motion with an email to Wildstein has invoked her right not to incriminate herself and is refusing to cooperate with a subpoena from a legislative committee looking into the scandal and trying to unravel how high up Christie's chain of command the lane closing order went and whether the operation was meant to punish a Democratic adversary.
The lawyer for former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Kelly sent a letter Monday to the committee's lawyer saying she would not comply because the information demanded "directly overlaps with a parallel federal grand jury investigation."
Christie fired Kelly last month after learning of her email saying, "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee" less than a month before the lane closures.
Former Christie campaign manager Bill Stepien made a similar argument last week and is also not complying with a subpoena.
The special legislative investigative committee said Monday that it had begun receiving documents it requested in response to 20 subpoenas it issued last month.
Assemblyman John Wisniewski, the co-chairman of the joint legislative panel, told The Associated Press that some deadline extensions were granted. The requests of others who were asked to produce documents on a rolling basis were also being accommodated.
Christie's campaign on Monday sought to exceed New Jersey's election spending cap to pay for lawyers dealing with subpoenas stemming from the scandal.
In a request to the state Election Law Enforcement Commission, Christie's campaign organization asked for permission to raise more money and to spend it on lawyers handling subpoenas issued by both legislative investigators and the U.S. attorney's office.
The campaign has already spent all but $13,000 of the more than the $12.2 million limit for Christie's re-election. Without more money, the campaign said it would not be able to answer the subpoenas.
Neither subpoena suggests the campaign "has engaged in wrongdoing," the campaign's lawyers said in their request.
A hearing before the election commission was set for Feb. 11.
Mulvihill reported from Haddonfield, N.J. Associated Press reporters Ken Thomas in Washington andTom Beaumont in Iowa contributed.
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Christie cooperating with prosecutor's subpoena - Seattle Post Intelligencer

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Christie cooperating with prosecutor's subpoena
Seattle Post Intelligencer
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Gov. Chris Christie on Monday said that his office is cooperating with a subpoena from federal authorities investigating whether any laws were broken when lanes near a New Jersey bridge were apparently closed for political ...

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UPDATE 1-Without Keystone, oil trains may cause 6 deaths per year -US State ... - Reuters

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UPDATE 1-Without Keystone, oil trains may cause 6 deaths per year -US State ...
Feb 3 (Reuters) - Replacing the Keystone XL pipeline with oil-laden freight trains from Canada may result in an average of six additional rail-related deaths per year, according to a U.S. State Department report that is adding to pressure for President Barack
Obama awaits Kerry recommendation before making call on KeystoneNBCNews.com 

Vermillion protesters rally against Keystone XL pipelineUSD Volante Online
Protesters: We can stop the Keystone pipelineGazetteNET
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California educator accused in YouTube video charged with sex abuse

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Mon Feb 3, 2014 9:07pm EST

Feb 3 (Reuters) - A California educator who resigned after a woman accused her in a YouTube video of abusing her when she was a 12-year-old student has been charged with 16 counts of felony child abuse, local prosecutors said on Monday.

The former teacher, Andrea Michelle Cardosa, was charged with abusing two girls over a 13-year-period while teaching at schools they attended in Riverside and Perris, both suburbs east of Los Angeles, said John Hall, a spokesman for the Riverside County District Attorney's office.

Cardosa had not been arrested as of late Monday, but Hall said a warrant had been issued. The case grew out of a video posted on YouTube earlier this month in which a woman confronted Cardosa and accused her of abuse, he said.

Cardosa could not immediately be reached for comment. Her attorney was also not immediately available.

Officials for the Alhambra Unified School District, where Cardosa had been working as a high school assistant principal, said they received an email with a link to the YouTube video and immediately notified police.

On the YouTube video, 28-year-old Jamie Carillo confronts a woman, identified as Cardosa, with sexual abuse allegations and tells her she ruined her childhood. Carillo claims the abuse took place over several years in Riverside, east of Los Angeles.

In the video, the woman expresses regret and says the abuse was not anything she had intended. (Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Edith Honan and Andre Grenon)

Former teacher charged with 16 felonies in YouTube sex abuse case - Los Angeles Times

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New York Daily News

Former teacher charged with 16 felonies in YouTube sex abuse case
Los Angeles Times 

Riverside County prosecutors filed felony charges Monday against a former teacher accused of sexually assaulting two students, one of whom made her accusations public in a video posted on YouTube. A $5-million warrant has been issued for the arrest of...
YouTube confrontation leads to sex abuse chargesUSA TODAY
Former California educator accused of sexually abusing two students is charged ...New York Daily News
California educator accused in YouTube video charged with sex abuseReuters
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U.S. and Europe Work on Financial Solution to Ukraine Crisis

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Senior officials said they would try to assemble an aid package intended to help a new government, though one led by an opposition leader or a technocrat.

Woody Allen: Dylan Farrow letter 'untrue and disgraceful'

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The director Woody Allen has rebutted claims of abuse alleged by adopted daughter Dylan Farrow, and urged people to remember 'no credible evidence of molestation' was found when the case was originally investigated
The director Woody Allen has issued a statement in response to theopen letter by Allen's adopted daughter, Dylan. The letter, posted, on a New York Times blog, reiterates accusations of sexual abuse that were dismissed from court in 1993.
On Sunday, Leslee Dart, a publicist for Allen, 78, said:
Mr Allen has read the article and found it untrue and disgraceful. He will be responding very soon. In the meantime, it is essential that your coverage make the following facts clear.
At the time, a thorough investigation was conducted by court appointed independent experts. The experts concluded there was no credible evidence of molestation; that Dylan Farrow had an inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality; and that Dylan Farrow had likely been coached by her mother, Mia Farrow. No charges were ever filed.

Cate Blanchett also responded to Dylan's accusation that the actor had acted thoughtlessly in working with Allen. Blanchett wrote:
It's obviously been a long and painful situation for the family and I hope they find some resolution and peace.
Likewise, Blanchett's co-star Alec Baldwin appeared to call for an end to the public nature of the row, terming Dylan's allegations "this family's personal struggle".
On Saturday, Allen's adopted daughter Dylan Farrow spoke out for the first time independently over allegations that the director sexually assaulted her when she was seven.
In an open letter published on a New York Times blog, the 28-year-old, now known as Malone Farrow, renewed the claims and blamed Hollywood for exacerbating her torment by "turning a blind eye".
All allegations were denied by Allen at the time, who then called them "an unconscionable and gruesomely damaging manipulation of innocent children for vindictive and self-serving motives". Following an investigation in 1993, no charges were brought.
Farrow's letter alleges sexual abuse by Allen, in particular at the family's holiday home in 1992, during which time he was fighting his former partner Mia Farrow for custody of their two adopted children, Dylan and Moses, as well as their biological, son Ronan.
The couple, who were together for 12 years but maintained separate houses, split up after she discovered his relationship with Soon-Yi Previn, then 19, whom Farrow had adopted with former husband André Previn.
Dylan Farrow alleges she was led to a "dim, closet-like attic" and instructed to lie on her stomach and play with her brother's train set while Allen sexually assaulted her. Other abusive behaviour, skilfully hidden from her mother, and continuing for years, was also alleged.
The prosecutor at the time of the incident said he lacked evidence to prosecute but suspected abuse occurred. After the publication of Dylan Farrow's letter, former Litchfield county state attorney Frank Maco confirmed that the statute of limitations on the accusations had expired many years before.
Dr John Leventhal, who led the investigative team and conducted repeated interviews with Dylan, said at the time that he and his colleagues discredited her testimony because they felt she "was coached or influenced by her mother".
In her letter, Dylan Farrow describes suffering eating disorders and self-harm after her traumatic childhood, but is now married and living in Florida. Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn married in 1997 and adopted two girls, who are now teenagers.
In the letter, Farrow explains her motivation in speaking up as guilt over her fears Allen could abuse others, and disgust at what she sees as the film industry's defence of a "predator".
"That he got away with what he did to me haunted me as I grew up," she wrote. "I was stricken with guilt that I had allowed him to be near other little girls … Woody Allen is a living testament to the way our society fails the survivors of sexual assault and abuse."
She went on to name actors with whom Allen has recently worked – such as Louis CK and Scarlett Johansson – and ask them to examine their consciences. "What if it had been your child, Cate Blanchett? You knew me when I was a little girl, Diane Keaton. Have you forgotten me?"
The notion that Hollywood's continued embrace of Allen may make the industry culpable for alleged abuses was the logic offered by Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, on whose blog the letter was published. In an introductory paragraph, he explains that he sees it as a continuation of the debate about the propriety or otherwise of giving Allen a Golden Globe award. In a separate article, he says he is a family friend of Mia and Ronan Farrow. Some have voiced disquiet about his potential conflict of interests.
When Allen was awarded the Cecil B DeMille Golden Globe for lifetime achievement in January, the Farrows took to Twitter to voice their disgust. When the director's tribute started, Mia Farrow wrote: "Time to grab some ice cream & switch over to #GIRLS." Ronan, an activist lawyer and now a TV news host, added: "Missed the Woody Allen tribute – did they put the part where a woman publicly confirmed he molested her at age 7 before or after Annie Hall?"
It was in an interview last October in Vanity Fair magazine that Mia, Ronan and Dylan – the latter then breaking a long silence – first returned to the claims of abuse.
"I have never been asked to testify," said Dylan, whose initial allegations were only via video. "If I could talk to the seven-year-old Dylan, I would tell her to be brave, to testify."
Her letter has led to heated debate on Twitter over the allegations, although the Farrows themselves have remained relatively silent, with Ronan simply tweeting tweeted "I love and support my sister and I think her words speak for themselves."
Many, including Girls creator Lena Dunham, have tweeted support for Dylan, while others have pointed to a blog from last week by the director Robert Weide, who made a documentary about Allen and who seeks to debunk some of the misapprehensions about the case.
In a long piece on the Daily Beast, he also revealed that Mia Farrow had granted permission for her image to be used in film clips honouring Allen during the Golden Globes, and expressed surprise at her Twitter reaction.
Allen is nominated for an Oscar for best original screenplay at the Academy Awards next month, forBlue Jasmine, his most critically acclaimed film in many years, with Blanchett up for best actress and Sally Hawkins best supporting actress. The film tells the story of a wealthy New York socialite and pathological liar whose inability to control her rage on learning of her husband's infidelity leads to the whole family's downfall.

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Russia cracks down on 'militants' 

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Russia demands "militants" in north Caucasus republic stay home during the Olympics. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh reports.
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Report: Abortion rate in U.S. is lowest since 1973 - Tulsa World

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Report: Abortion rate in U.S. is lowest since 1973
Tulsa World
NEW YORK —- The U.S. abortion rate declined to its lowest level since 1973, and the number of abortions fell by 13 percent between 2008 and 2011, according to the latest national survey of abortion providers conducted by a prominent research institute.

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Sexual slavery in Mexico – a pimp tells his story 

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Sex trafficking entraps thousands of Mexican women every year. A jailed pimp, who claims to be reformed, explains his role
Pedro's life as a sex trafficker began when he offered a sweet to a pretty young domestic servant out on a Sunday stroll in a provincial city in central Mexico. "Once I got her laughing, I knew I was in with a chance," he recalls. "Then I got the sun, the moon and the stars down from the sky for her."
A week later he was roasting a pig at the home of her poverty-stricken family to celebrate their non-existent forthcoming nuptials. Within a month she was working an alley in a northern border city to raise money to help him pay off an imaginary debt. "The merchandise," he says, using the jargon of the Mexican sex-trafficking business, "had been activated."
After many years of largely ignoring the problem, federal deputies approved a people-trafficking law in 2012 that was supposed to spur a nationwide crackdown. So far, however, only Mexico City has responded with any gusto, ratcheting up the number of raids in the name of rescuing victims and arresting traffickers.
"Sexual exploitation is a modern form of slavery," says Juana Camila Bautista, the head of a special prosecutor's office set up last May to focus on the issue. "We are doing battle against this horror."
But the new official concern about sex trafficking in the capital has sparked controversy. Some say the raids have left many important traffickers untouched. Instead the authorities have been rounding up prostitutes and accusing them of complicity.
"If they want to criminalise all sex work they should come out and say it," says Elvira Madrid of the combative NGO Brigada Callejera (Street Brigade), which works with prostitutes in the capital. "Trafficking is one thing, sex work is another."
Another problem is that even well-directed stings in Mexico City rarely dismantle the much broader sex-trafficking networks often generated in other states where the authorities continue to turn a blind eye. It is a problem that some estimate sucks in thousands of women every year.
"At least where I come from, it is seen as a normal job," Pedro says of the collection of towns in the central state of Tlaxcala where he grew up, which are famed for producing pimps the way others produce artisans. Pedro, who was detained in a raid on a hotel in the capital in 2009, adds that the influence of pimps in his home state would almost certainly have protected him from facing justice.
Tlaxcala pimps dominate sexual slavery in the capital, as well as in several other Mexican cities – and the odd US one as well, including New York. And, according to Pedro, there are ever more of them. "When I was a boy, there were a few renowned local families involved," he says. "Now every young man seems to have a brand new car they couldn't have got through any other means."
Pedro became one of them 15 years ago, after a short stint working in a US factory as an illegal immigrant took the shine off the American dream.
To get started, he sought out veterans who had retired and laundered their profits in a string of legal businesses while also keeping their oar in the old trade by initiating younger relatives and eager pupils like Pedro.
"They said it wasn't a game and that there would be lots of problems with the police and the girls, and with other pimps who might want to kill me or who I might have to kill. And they asked me if I was conscious of that," he recalls. "I said yes, but the truth was that I was 19 and not conscious of anything other than that I wanted to make money and this was the only option I had."
Pedro's pimping godfathers advised him on how to ensnare poor and lonely Mexican women, often from troubled families. They told him to limit his initial "investment" when going after potential targets to a week, in order to avoid wasting his time.
They also played an active part in his first conquest, the one that started with a sweet. Posing as his uncles, they helped convince the girl's family that Pedro was a hard-working young man with good intentions. Once she was well and truly hooked, they helped him organise a move to the border city of Tijuana, where they ran hotels.
Even so, it was up to Pedro to cajole her into prostitution in the name of paying off a debt, while keeping the dream of a wedding and future happiness alive.
That was in 2000. When he was arrested nine years later, she was still seeing dozens of clients every day, entirely for his profit. By then, Pedro says, he had entrapped about 30 women in similar ways, and usually had six working for him at the same time – each earning $300-$400 a day. "I never had any problem activating my girls," he boasts, before giving a lesson in the language of trafficking that labels women as "furniture" and "merchandise", and talks about new recruits as "fresh meat for the lions".
He never gave his women any of their earnings, though he insists he sometimes took them to dinner or to the cinema and reserved violence for extreme circumstances such as an escape. "I knew lots of pimps who drugged and beat their women all the time," he says. "I knew pimps who kept them near starved and kept their children hostage, but that wasn't the school I was taught in."
This was the nightmare that Veronica lived for years. She met her pimp while working in a brothel just outside Mexico City when she was 15. He approached her as a client, treating her with a kindness she had never known, and promising to take her away to a life of love and security. By the time she discovered that his family owned brothels in the state of Michoacán, where she was expected to work, it was too late.
"They are all the same. They talk to you nicely and they treat you well at first because they see the profit in you," she says. "They look over your face and your body and have sex with you to see if you have potential, and then they start with their rap about how pretty you are and little by little you are pulled in. And when you fall, you are stuck."
Things got even worse for Veronica after a failed escape attempt prompted her pimp to move her to the capital, where she was allowed only an hour's sleep a day between seeing about 40 clients.
The pimp's fear that a rival was trying to steal Veronica, or the merest hint of insubordination, prompted vicious beatings. But, Veronica says, what really kept her in line was his family's control of her two children, whom they rarely allowed her to see.
Eventually Veronica did escape, with the help of the activists from Brigada Callejera, who also helped her snatch back her daughter in a daring raid on her pimp's family home. "I tried to save my son but couldn't," she says. "Maybe they will tie him to the business as well. That's the way they do it, the father passing the title to the son."
Veronica laid low for a while until, penniless and with no education, she returned to prostitution, though at least she was keeping her earnings.
A few months ago her trained eye spotted an obvious pimp honing in on her daughter, and the terror came flooding back. "For the first time I told her everything that had happened to me, to make her understand what she was getting herself into," says Veronica, who took her daughter into semi-hiding.
Veronica's pimp was not from Tlaxcala, and nor was the man hitting on her daughter. According to Pedro, this shows that while Tlaxcala pimps may abound, they are not particularly territorial. After all, the supply of vulnerable young women in Mexico can seem close to endless. "This is a free market," he says. "As long as you don't steal another pimp's girls there is no problem."
Pedro insists he is a reformed character with no intention of returning to the business when he is released from jail in a few years, though his expressions of regret appear to be tinged with nostalgia.
"I am sorry I hurt them. Sorry I broke their dreams and illusions," he says at one point. "It was really easy for me," he muses at another, a discreet smile at the memory just visible on his lips.

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