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World News February 2019: Get the latest World Headline News with news links and news feeds from major news organizations.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has denied wrongdoing after he tried to shield one of the country's biggest firms from a corruption trial. Mr Trudeau said any lobbying by him or his inner circle for engineering giant SNC-Lavalin was done to protect jobs. In explosive testimony, ex-Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said she faced "sustained" pressure to abandon prosecution of the Quebec-based firm. Opposition Conservatives are calling on the Liberal PM to resign. They are also demanding a public inquiry following Ms Wilson-Raybould's testimony on Wednesday before the Commons justice committee in Ottawa. How did Trudeau defend himself? Speaking to reporters on Thursday morning, Mr Trudeau said he disagreed with his former justice minister's "characterisation" of events and maintained his staff followed the rules. The prime minster said he had full confidence in an inquiry by a parliamentary justice committee into the affair and in an investigation by the federal ethics commissioner, and would "participate fully" in that process. Opposition parties have been ramping up pressure on the prime minister and the Conservatives have said the Royal Canadian Mounted Police must immediately open an investigation. Mr Trudeau said that to his knowledge no member of his staff has been contacted by the RCMP. The prime minster has insisted for weeks that all communications between himself, federal officials and Ms Wilson-Raybould were above board. He says that any advocacy for SNC-Lavalin was done in the interest of protecting Canadian jobs that no lines were crossed. What does the ex-justice minister allege? Ms Wilson-Raybould told the justice committee on Wednesday she had faced attempts at interference and "veiled threats" from top government officials seeking a legal favour for the Montreal construction firm. The former justice minister and attorney general said she and her staff endured four months - between last September and December - of a "sustained" and "inappropriate effort" to push for a possible deferred prosecution agreement for the construction company. That agreement would have allowed the firm to avoid a criminal trial and instead agree to alternative terms or conditions, like penalties or enhanced compliance measures. Ms Wilson-Raybould said that while some discussions about the ramifications of the decision were normal, the pressure went well beyond what was appropriate given her role as attorney general. In Canada, an attorney general is supposed to act independently with respect of his or her prosecutorial function and decisions are not supposed to be politically motivated. Ms Wilson-Raybould said that in various meetings, Mr Trudeau and senior staff repeatedly raised concerns about the possibility of job losses and potential political ramifications of a trial. She said she had made clear she was not prepared to help the company avoid a trial and that she believes it was why she was demoted in a Cabinet shuffle in January, which Mr Trudeau denies. Ms Wilson-Raybould also said during her testimony she did not believe any laws were broken.

By Sasha Ingber
Authorities in Sweden have arrested a person on suspicion of being a Russian agent. The individual, whose name has not been disclosed, was passing information to Russia since 2017, the Swedish Security Service says. He or she was working in a high-technology sector "on tasks known by our Service to be the type of intelligence sought after by foreign powers," the agency said. Swedish police officers working with security service agents arrested the suspect on Tuesday evening, in the midst of a meeting in central Stockholm. "This individual is suspected of having been recruited as an agent by a Russian intelligence officer who was working under diplomatic cover in Sweden," Daniel Stenling, Head of Counter-Intelligence at the Swedish Security Service, said in a statement. The agency is conducting a criminal investigation into the matter, led by a national security prosecutor. Stenling described the threat facing Sweden today as "greater than it has been for several years." Advances in technology have helped state actors use more sophisticated approaches to gather intelligence in cyberspace, he said. "At the same time, the more traditional intelligence-gathering approach, using recruited agents to collect information, is still being used," he said. "This combination enables state actors to broaden and deepen their collection of classified information."

By Afp and Reuters
UN report claims Israeli snipers knowingly shot at 'health workers and children'. They say soldiers may have committed war crimes in response to Gaza unrest. Israel rejected the findings of the UN probe, calling it 'hostile and biased'. At least 251 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since March 2018. Hamas calls for Israel to be held accountable after the UN Gaza probe. Israeli security forces may have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in killing 189 Palestinians and wounding more than 6,100 at weekly protests in Gaza last year, United Nations investigators said on Thursday. The UN report, which examined Israeli soldiers' actions in response to unrest in the Gaza Strip, said they had found 'reasonable grounds' to believe snipers knowingly shot at 'journalists, health workers, children and persons with disabilities.' Israel rejected the findings of the UN probe, calling it 'hostile, deceitful and biased', and accused Palestinian Islamist Hamas of 'pushing the residents of Gaza to the fences, including women and children.'

By By Yuliya Talmazan and Paul Goldman
An indictment would mark the first time in Israeli history that a sitting prime minister has been charged with a crime. Israel's attorney general announced Thursday that his office plans to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on corruption charges after a two-year investigation. The prime minister faces one count of bribery and two counts of fraud and breach of trust. Police have previously recommended indicting Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three different cases. The most serious allegations against Netanyahu involve his relationship with Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of Israel's telecom giant Bezeq. Police recommended an indictment in the case based on evidence collected that confidants of Netanyahu promoted regulatory changes worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Bezeq. In exchange, they believe Netanyahu used his connections with Elovitch to receive positive press coverage on Bezeq's popular subsidiary news site, Walla. Police have said their investigation concluded that Netanyahu and Elovitch engaged in a "bribe-based relationship." Police also recommended charges be brought against Elovitch, members of his family and members of his Bezeq management team. Police have previously recommended indicting Netanyahu on corruption charges in two other cases. One involves accepting gifts from billionaire friends, and the second revolves around alleged offers of advantageous legislation for a major newspaper in return for favorable coverage. Netanyahu, 69, who is serving his third consecutive term as prime minister and his fourth overall, has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and called the various allegations against him a witch hunt aimed at removing him from office. The attorney general's decision to publish his conclusions 39 days prior to the general election on April 9 is raising questions about what impact it can have on the outcome of the vote. Israeli media reported Thursday that with just hours to go before Mandelblit's anticipated decision to indict Netanyahu, his Likud Party filed a petition to the Supreme Court to stop the announcement from happening before the election on the grounds that it would unfairly impact on Netanyahu's prospects of re-election. However, the court's spokesperson confirmed later in the afternoon that the petition was rejected. The indictment would mark the first time in Israeli history that a sitting prime minister has been charged with a crime.

Probe finds 'reasonable grounds to believe' snipers intentionally shot at children, civilians during 2018 Gaza rallies. Evidence suggests Israel committed crimes against humanity in responding to 2018 protests in Gaza, as snipers targeted people clearly identifiable as children, health workers and journalists, according to a United Nations report. Santiago Canton, the chair of the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on the protests in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, said in a statement on Thursday that "Israeli soldiers committed violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. Some of those violations may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity." Razan al-Najjar 'angel of mercy': Thousands attend funeral for Gaza medic (1:45). The inquiry, set up by the UN Human Rights Council, investigated possible violations from the start of the protests on March 30, 2018, through to December 31. "More than 6,000 unarmed demonstrators were shot by military snipers, week after week at the protest sites," it said. "The Commission found reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers shot at journalists, health workers, children and persons with disabilities, knowing they were clearly recognisable as such."

By Jeffrey Gettleman, Maria Abi-Habib and Salman Masood
NEW DELHI — Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan announced on Thursday that his country would be releasing a captured pilot from India after days of military conflict, offering a way out of the crisis and seeking to position Pakistan as the cooler head in a confrontation that has put the world on edge. In our desire of peace, I announce that tomorrow, and as a first step to open negotiations, Pakistan will be releasing the Indian Air Force officer in our custody,” Mr. Khan said. After hours of relative lull throughout Thursday, the gesture appeared to be a face-saving opening for both countries to head off a war. But Indian officials were guarded, saying that the pilot’s release would not necessarily end the crisis, which they said was rooted in Pakistan’s support of terrorist groups that strike at India. The days before had brought both nations to the brink. On Tuesday, Indian warplanes dropped bombs inside Pakistan — it is not clear what they hit — and Pakistan shot down at least one Indian fighter jet on Wednesday. Tens of thousands of troops have been rushed to the countries’ border, heavy artillery barrages and gunfire have been volleyed across it, and tank columns have been chugging into place for what many feared could turn into a full-blown war. Both nations wield nuclear weapons, and China, the United States, Britain and many other countries have been urging them to step away from conflict, which began after a suicide bomber killed more than 40 Indian paramilitary troops in the disputed region of Kashmir on Feb. 14. India accuses Pakistan of aiding in the attack, which was claimed by the terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammed, but Pakistan has denied it. At a news conference after his summit meeting in Vietnam on Thursday, President Trump said that there was “reasonably decent” news coming from India and Pakistan and “hopefully it’s going to be coming to an end.”

By Carol E. Lee and Courtney Kube
The country's refusal to disclose all of its nuclear materials is the issue over which talks fell apart a decade ago. HANOI, Vietnam — U.S. negotiators are no longer demanding that North Korea agree to disclose a full accounting of its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs as part of talks this week between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, according to current and former senior U.S. officials. The decision to drop, for now, a significant component of a potential nuclear deal suggests a reality that U.S. intelligence assessments have stressed for months is shaping talks as they progress: North Korea does not intend to fully denuclearize, which is the goal Trump set for his talks with Kim. Disclosure of a full, verifiable declaration of North Korea’s programs is the issue over which the last round of serious negotiations between Pyongyang and world powers, including the U.S., fell apart a decade ago. Negotiations between U.S. and North Korean officials in advance of Trump and Kim’s second summit, which begins Wednesday night over dinner in Hanoi, have focused heavily on a core component of Pyongyang’s program, the Yongbyon nuclear reactor, officials said. Dr. Siegfried Hecker, a nuclear scientist who has visited the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center numerous times to assess the country's capabilities, said dismantling elements of the facility would be the most significant step North Korea could take toward denuclearization. “Yongbyon is the heart of North Korea’s nuclear program,” Hecker said, explaining that completely dismantling the reactor there would be critical and would mean North Korea would never be able to make plutonium there again.

India has demanded the release of a fighter pilot shot down by Pakistan warplanes in a major escalation between the two nuclear powers over Kashmir. Video showing the pilot - blindfolded and with blood on his face - was shared by Pakistan's information ministry. India described the images as a "vulgar display of an injured personnel". Wednesday's aerial attacks across the Line of Control (LoC) dividing Indian and Pakistani territory in Kashmir are the first since a war in 1971. The incident, in which Pakistan said it had shot down two military jets, has escalated tensions between the two nations, both of whom claim all of Kashmir, but control only parts of it. It comes a day after India struck what it said was a militant camp in Pakistan in retaliation for a suicide bombing that killed at least 40 Indian troops in Kashmir. A Pakistan-based group said it carried out the attack - the deadliest to take place during a three-decade insurgency against Indian rule in Kashmir. On Wednesday, the US urged India and Pakistan to avoid further military action and said it was focused on de-escalating the tension between the two sides.

By Maria Abi-Habib
NEW DELHI — Pakistan said Wednesday that it downed two Indian fighter jets and captured a pilot, escalating hostilities between the nuclear-armed neighbors a day after Indian warplanes struck inside Pakistani territory for the first time in five decades. The abrupt speed of the events raised fears that the historical animosities between India and Pakistan could be veering toward another war. Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan urged India to settle matters through talks. “All big wars have been due to miscalculation. No one knew how the war would end,” he said in a televised speech. “My question to India is that given the weapons we have, can we afford miscalculation?” In New Delhi, officials confirmed an Indian air force pilot was in Pakistani custody, complicating an already tough landscape for Prime Minister Narendra Modi ahead of hotly contested elections this spring. Indian opposition politicians seized on what they saw as the opportunity the current crisis presented: 21 opposition parties issued a statement Wednesday to condemn Mr. Modi for his “politicization” of the nation’s armed forces and the current “Pakistani misadventure.” The fate of the Indian air force pilot in Pakistani custody was likely to further roil India ahead of the election, and New Delhi urged that he be treated with respect under the Geneva Convention, which forbids torture.

By Dmitriy Kiselyov
It is fundamental that our retaliation in case of a counter-attack would be directed against the United States, as Putin said, against ‘decision-making centers.’...Where are these decision-making centers in the United States? On the U.S. East Coast, the Pentagon, where the highest command of the Armed Forces, the Joint Chiefs of Staff is located; Camp David, the government command post the U.S. President is also present; Fort Ritchie, Maryland, a command post of the American President and command center of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Now on the West Coast: McClellan (California), a command center of the strategic offensive forces, and Jim Creek (Washington), a nuclear command control center.” - Source: Rossiya 24 TV. Russian television host Dmitriy Kiselyov attempted to clarify what President Vladimir Putin meant when he threatened the United States with retaliation during his annual address to the Federation Council, the Russian parliament. Putin declared that should Washington deploy intermediate-range missiles in Europe, Russia would be forced to strike at key “decision-making centers” in the United States. He then spoke of Russia’s progress in developing a hypersonic missile, the Tsirkon, which Moscow claims would have a range of 1,000 km and move with a speed of 11,000 km. Russian TV host and CEO of the Kremlin’s media arm Rossiya Segodnya, Kiselyov, who is reportedly close to Putin, was quick to identify the U.S. military “decision-making centers” located along the East and West coasts. But he blundered, listing nonexistent military bases as Russian targets and Kremlin spokesperson Dmitriy Peskov immediately distanced the government from war scenarios presented on its own state-owned television outlet. “We never interfere and cannot interfere in the editorial policy of our television channels, even the state ones. Therefore, in this case, the question must be addressed directly to the television channels,” said Peskov. Kiselyov listed the Pentagon as the defense department’s headquarters and Camp David, as the command center of the U.S. president and the Joint Chief of Staff.. But the remainder of Kiselyov’s list seems to not have been updated for at least two decades. Two of the military facilities he named were closed more than twenty years ago and he misrepresented the functions of the third base.

By Saheli Roy Choudhury
Tensions between nuclear powers India and Pakistan escalated this week after each country said it carried out airstrikes against the other, prompting concerns about a potential outbreak of war in South Asia. On Tuesday, India said its Air Force conducted strikes against a militant camp in Pakistani territory. A day later, Pakistan said its Air Force carried out strikes into India-controlled territory and claimed to have shot down two Indian jets. Long-standing tensions between nuclear powers India and Pakistan escalated this week after each country said it carried out airstrikes against the other, prompting concerns over the potential outbreak of a war in South Asia. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged both countries on Tuesday to "exercise restraint" and avoid an "escalation." France, Australia and China, which is a close ally of Islamabad and a major investor in the country, also called for restraint. While the countries have had a contentious relationship since 1947, this week's escalation reached heights not seen in recent years.

By Mushtaq Yusufzai, F. Brinley Bruton and Ahmed Mengli
At least 2,300 American troops have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001, and U.S. commanders have referred to the conflict as a "stalemate." PESHAWAR, Pakistan — The Taliban sent its A-team to this week's peace talks aimed at closing a deal to end America’s longest war and winding down decades of devastating violence. Abdul Ghani Baradar, a powerful commander and a co-founder of the movement, landed in the Qatari capital of Doha on Sunday, two Taliban members told NBC News. Baradar is believed to have the authority to sell a pact to rank-and-file members who have been fighting to overthrow the U.S.-backed government in Kabul since 2001. Baradar, who is the Taliban's deputy leader, was released from jail in Pakistan last year. Abdul Manan Omari — the younger brother of the Taliban’s longtime leader, the late Mullah Omar — was also among the negotiating team that also includes senior militants freed from U.S. custody in exchange for captured U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl in 2014. withdrawal in return for a promise that the Taliban will not again use the country as a launchpad for terrorist attacks. When the group ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, imposing their harsh and austere version of Islamic law on the desperately poor population, it hosted Osama bin Laden as he masterminded the 9/11 attacks on the U.S.

By Dennis Romero, Reuters and Associated Press
"I’ve decided to sever all ties with the fascist government of Colombia," Venezuela's Maduro said. President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela cut off diplomatic ties with neighbor Colombia after that nation was used to stage U.S.-backed humanitarian aid that he has vowed to block. Opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who is recognized by President Trump as Venezuela's legitimate leader, was in Colombia for a concert organized by billionaire Richard Branson. "We can't keep putting up with Colombian territory being used for attacks against Venezuela," Maduro said at a rally Saturday. "For that reason I’ve decided to sever all ties with the fascist government of Colombia. All consul employees should leave within 24 hours. Out! Get out. Enough is enough."

During his annual address to the Federal Assembly, Russia’s parliament, President Vladimir Putin threatened Washington with retaliation should it deploy intermediate-range missiles in Europe: “Russia will be forced to create and deploy types of weapons that can be used not only for those territories from which there will be a corresponding direct threat to us, but also for those territories where there are decision-making centers on the use of missile systems that threaten us,” the Russian president vowed. Putin warned American policy-makers to take into account “the range and speed of Russia’s future arms systems” before making decisions that will prompt Russia to respond. However, these future arms systems will come with a hefty price tag that could kill the new social assistance programs central to Putin’s annual address. The Russian president said the United States’ “unilateral withdrawal” from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty is the most urgent issue in Russian-American relations. Blaming Washington for suspending its obligations under the INF Treaty, he reiterated Moscow’s official claim that the U.S., not Russia, was in breach of the treaty as it was “using medium-range target missiles and deploying launchers in Romania and Poland that are fit for launching Tomahawk cruise missiles.” The alleged U.S. violations of the INF Treaty apparently involve Washington’s deployment of elements of its missile defense shield in Poland and Romania. The U.S. Aegis Ashore missile defense system in these two countries is operated by NATO and comprises the Alliance’s defense shield in Europe. Other elements include a command-and-control center at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany, a radar installation in Kürecik, Turkey, and four multi-mission BMD-capable Aegis ships based in Rota, Spain.

By F. Brinley Bruton and Paul Goldman
Analysis: Israel's PM is facing an election challenge from a new alliance — and is potentially bringing extremists closer to the center of power. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has proved to be the Houdini of Israeli politics — an expert escape artist who extricates himself from the trickiest of situations to remain in power. But his latest gambit may prove to be the beginning of the end of his more than a decade on the world stage. Netanyahu announced this week that he was forging an alliance with a fringe extremist party inspired by an American-born rabbi, Meir Kahane, who advocated a Jewish theocracy and the forced removal of Palestinians. Ex-military chief Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, head of the Yesh Atid party, subsequently announced they were joining forces in a bid to oust Netanyahu in the April 9 elections. Opinion polls suggest their centrist coalition, known as the Blue and White after the colors of the Israeli flag, could triumph over Netanyahu’s Likud at the ballot box. Three major corruption cases further cloud Netanyahu's future.

By Donald Kirk
Kim Jong Un used the threat of war—and Trump’s own hysterical rhetoric—to create a situation where he appears a peacemaker, and U.S. forces are out of the peninsula. There is no way North Korea is going to give up its nukes, says Pyongyang’s most prominent defector. And if President Donald Trump doesn’t watch out, Thae Yong Ho predicts, he will slip into the quicksand of a deal that will lead “inevitably” to withdrawal of America’s 28,500 troops from South Korea. In a meeting with foreign correspondents here, Thae outlined the dangers facing U.S. policy with the emergence of what he called “the Trump doctrine.” It bears a distinct resemblance, he said, to the “Nixon doctrine” that led the U.S. to pull its troops from South Vietnam and finally opened the way for North Vietnamese forces to overrun Saigon nearly half a century ago. The fact that Trump will be sitting down with Kim Jong Un next week in Hanoi, capital of the Vietnamese regime that destroyed South Vietnamese forces in April 1975, deepened the scary image of looming disaster. Thae is not a random refugee from the north. He was a career North Korean diplomat who was the second-ranking person in Pyongyang’s London embassy until South Korea’s National Intelligence Service helped him, his wife, and two sons defect in August 2016. The Vietnam analogy is not random, either. Thae is well versed in Asian history. The “doctrine” proclaimed by President Richard Nixon in July 1969 laid the groundwork for “Vietnamization” under which the U.S. counted on South Vietnamese forces to fight and win on their own. Four years later, American troops were out of Vietnam. Two years after that, Saigon fell. What’s different, Thae made clear in a wide-ranging session at the Foreign Correspondents' Club here, is that North Korea now has the threat of nuclear warheads. With the North’s nuclear capabilities at the center of all discussions, Thai doubts if the danger was ever so high in reality as in the propaganda that now gives Kim a decided diplomatic advantage.

MIAMI (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday warned members of Venezuela’s military who remain loyal to socialist President Nicolas Maduro that they are risking their future and their lives and urged them to allow humanitarian aid into the country. Speaking to a cheering crowd mostly of Venezuelan and Cuban immigrants in Miami, Trump said if the Venezuelan military continues supporting Maduro, “you will find no safe harbor, no easy exit and no way out. You’ll lose everything.” Maduro retaliated late on Monday that Trump’s speech was “nazi-style” and said he acted as if he were the owner of Venezuela and its citizens his slaves. Trump offered strong backing for Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, whom the United States, many of Venezuela’s neighbors and most Western countries have recognized as interim president of Venezuela. But Maduro, who won a second term last year in an election that critics denounced as a sham, retains the backing of Russia and China and control of Venezuelan state institutions, including the security services. Trump cautioned Venezuelan armed forces not to harm Guaido or other opposition politicians, urged them to accept the National Assembly leader’s offer of amnesty and demanded that they allow in food, medicine and other supplies.

The Russians hyped a cruise missile launch earlier this year. But a briefing by the CIA and a second agency determined that it was essentially a hoax. On Jan. 23, Russian military officials held a press conference showing off what they said was a cruise missile at the center of a years-long arms control controversy between Washington and Moscow. Except the presentation was essentially a hoax, according to a classified briefing prepared by U.S. intelligence. Neither the missile, nor its launch vehicle, nor the accompanying schematics were what Russia claimed them to be. The alleged Russian misdirection came just days before the United States announced that it would withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty—the treaty that Russia violated, in the U.S. view.

Associated Press - The developments mark a new low in a dispute between the countries over how to remember and characterize Polish actions toward Jews during World War II. Poland's prime minister canceled plans for his country to send a delegation to meeting in Jerusalem on Monday after the acting Israeli foreign minister said that Poles "collaborated with the Nazis" and "sucked anti-Semitism with their mothers' milk." The Polish pullout triggered the collapse of a planned summit of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu with leaders of four Central European nations known as the Visegrad group. With the Hungarian and Slovak prime ministers already in Israel, bilateral meetings will take place instead, according to announcements by Czech Prime Minister Andrei Babis and Israel's Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon. Netanyahu had touted the meeting as an important step in his outreach to the countries of Central Europe, which have pro-Israeli governments that he is counting on to counter the criticism Israel typically faces in international forums.

A study released on Sunday tallies the chemical weapons attacks over the course of the Syrian civil war, which has left hundreds of thousands dead. At least 336 have occurred, according to authors Tobias Schneider and Theresa Lütkefend of the Berlin-based Global Public Policy Institute. That's a number higher than previously known — and "we suspect that the real number may still be significantly higher," they write. The researchers pored over reports of chemical attacks going back to 2012, reviewing the available information on each to verify the details. They collected evidence from "Syrian and international non-governmental organizations, monitoring groups, private firms, local administrative bodies, relevant international bodies, local and international media, and the open source." The report's authors attributed 2 percent of the chemical weapons attacks in Syria to the Islamic State. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime carried out 98 percent of them, according to the authors, dropping chlorine gas, sarin and sulfur mustard gas on Syrian civilians. "It is clear that the Syrian military has consistently prioritized striking population centers over rebel positions on the frontlines, even in the face of defeat on the ground," they write.

Vice President Mike Pence left room for applause. But no one clapped. At a security conference in Munich on Saturday, Pence mentioned President Donald Trump, noting he was there “on behalf of a champion of freedom and of a strong national defense.” The vice president went on: “I bring greetings from the 45th President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump.” Pence then paused for applause but no one in the room clapped. After what seem like a very long five seconds, Pence continues with his speech. The silence when Trump’s name was uttered was partly a reflection of how the conference in Munich put on display just how divided Europe is from Washington under Trump. “No one any longer believes that Trump cares about the views or interests of the allies,” a senior German official told the New York Times. “It’s broken.”

Prime minister says hack that breached parliament systems earlier this month also hit major political parties. Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said the country's major political parties were hacked earlier this month alongside the federal parliament by a "sophisticated state actor". The announcement on Monday came 10 days after the launch of a probe into the cybersecurity breach of the parliament's computer network. Morrison told parliament that, while investigating the parliament hack, "we also became aware that the networks of some political parties, Liberal, Labor and Nationals have also been affected". "Our cyber experts believe that a sophisticated state actor is responsible for this malicious activity," he said. The parliament hack, which was unveiled on February 8, had forced MPs and staff members to reset their computer passwords as a precaution. At the time, the Australian Signals Directorate had confirmed it was working with parliament in response to the breach, a move that indicated the possible involvement of sophisticated actors. Local media had also reported intelligence agencies were looking into whether a foreign government could be behind the attack.

IRAN, Russia and Turkey’s leaders welcomed Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of Syria as “a positive step” after they met to decide the future of the war-stricken country. Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted his Iranian and Turkish counterparts in the southern city of Sochi, where they had “constructive and business-like” talks regarding Syria on Thursday. And in the joint press conference, Mr Putin said Washington’s decision of recalling the 2,000 US soldiers currently in northeastern Syria was “a positive step that would help stabilise the situation in this region, where ultimately the legitimate government should re-establish control”. But, he added, he hasn’t seen so far any movement in Syria signalling Mr Trump’s promises will be fulfilled.

Analysis: The U.S. organized a global conference on the Mideast in Warsaw, but Turkey's leader is at a summit with Russian and Iranian leaders instead. As Trump administration officials presided over the second day of an international conference in Warsaw dominated by calls to ratchet up pressure on Iran, one longtime U.S. ally and NATO member was noticeably absent — Turkey. Snubbing the gathering in Poland, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday attended a rival conference in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, where he planned to meet his Russian and Iranian counterparts to work out a final settlement of the war in Syria. The dueling summits illustrate President Donald Trump's struggle to forge a united front against Iran, and reflect Turkey's drift away from Washington as it finds common ground with Moscow and Tehran, experts and former officials said. For decades, the U.S. could count on Turkey as a reliable partner that would line up with other allies against Iran and support Washington's strategic goals. But the political landscape has changed, U.S. influence in the region is in doubt, and Ankara is staking out an independent course, said Colin Clarke, senior research fellow at the Soufan Center, a New York-based think tank. "I think we're seeing a realignment," Clarke told NBC News. "The U.S. has gone from the position where we called the shots, to where we are making mere suggestions to Turkey. That's a major sea change."

A truck bomb attack on a bus carrying members of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, killed 27 Guards and wounded 13 others in the southeastern Sistan and Baluchistan Province on Wednesday, according to Iranian media reports. The Guards, part of the elite branch of Iran's armed forces, were traveling a 100-mile mountainous route from the city of Khash to the provincial capital of Zahedan, when they came under attack, reports Iran's semi-official Fars news agency, citing a statement from the Revolutionary Guards. The group's Quds Force unit said the United States, its allies and Zionism shared responsibility for the attack, without elaborating on the claim. But the Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium, known as TRAC, posted a tweet allegedly showing a message from the Sunni militant group Jaish al Adl, claiming responsibility for the attack. The group's fighters, whose name is also spelled Jaysh al Adl, which translates to Army of Justice, have been known to stage attacks in the greater Baluchistan area targeting Shia Muslims.

Did Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu just say the quiet part out loud? Israeli prime minister's office deletes tweet mentioning "war with Iran" https://t.co/UtPJuuEUyt pic.twitter.com/UdAkkfqzYS — The Hill (@thehill) February 13, 2019. The tweet was part of a translation of remarks Netanyahu made in front of the incongruous backdrop of a Polish skating rink after a meeting with Oman’s foreign minister. Both were in Warsaw for a Mideast summit co-hosted by the U.S. and Poland. According to Mideast analyst Michael Koplow, “war with Iran” is a misleading translation of a phrase that could mean “combating Iran.” The tweet has been deleted and replaced with a statement using “combating Iran,” but the “war” version made it into some headlines, which have since been updated.

Two US Navy destroyers conducted a freedom-of-navigation operation in the South China Sea on Monday, challenging China's claims to the Spratly Islands. Beijing accused the US of entering Chinese waters without permission and engaging in provocations that threaten China's sovereignty. It was the second such US operation in the South China Sea this year. Freedom-of-navigation operations occur frequently, but they have not stopped China's from bolstering its position militarily in the South China Sea.  The US Navy sent two guided-missile destroyers to challenge China in the South China Sea, and Beijing is outraged. Two Arleigh Burke-class destroyers — the USS Spruance and the USS Preble — conducted a freedom-of-navigation operation on Monday, sailing within 12 nautical miles of Chinese outposts in the contested Spratly Islands. The purpose was "to challenge excessive maritime claims and preserve access to the waterways," as well as to show that the US "will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows," Cmdr. Clay Doss, a US Navy 7th Fleet spokesman, told CNN. Beijing sharply criticized the operation. A spokeswoman for the Chinese foreign ministry, Hua Chunying, accused the US of entering Chinese waters without permission and engaging in provocations that threaten China's sovereignty, the South China Morning Post reported.  China's claims to the South China Sea were largely discredited by an international arbitration tribunal three years ago. Beijing rejected the ruling and the authority of the tribunal. The Chinese military has since bolstered its presence in the region through deploying surface-to-air missiles, anti-ship missiles, jamming technology, and other defense systems to Chinese-occupied territories.

(Reuters) - Venezuela’s state-run oil company PDVSA is telling customers of its joint ventures to deposit oil sales proceeds in an account recently opened at Russia’s Gazprombank AO, according to sources and an internal document seen by Reuters on Saturday. PDVSA’s move comes after the United States imposed tough, new financial sanctions on Jan. 28 aimed at blocking Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro’s access to the country’s oil revenue. Supporters of Venezuelan opposition leader and self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaido said recently that a fund would be established to accept proceeds from sales of Venezuelan oil. The United States and dozens of other countries have recognized Guaido as the nation’s legitimate head of state. Maduro has denounced Guaido as a U.S. puppet seeking to foment a coup.

Responding to congressional efforts this week to sanction Saudi Arabia over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and the kingdom's role in the bloody conflict in Yemen, top Saudi official Adel Al-Jubeir accused legislators of "providing ammunition to the 'death to America' crowd." "I find it very strange that members of Congress would try to curtail allies like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in trying to push back against terrorist organizations supported by Iran and Hezbollah," Al-Jubeir, the Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs, told "Face the Nation" moderator Margaret Brennan as part of an interview that will air Sunday. Democratic and Republican lawmakers reintroduced legislation Thursday to impose sanctions on anyone found responsible for the death of Khashoggi, which senators last year blamed on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Congress could also curb weapon sales to the kingdom, as Saudi Arabia's critics have long called for. The "Saudi Arabia Accountability and Yemen Act of 2019" renews a similar bipartisan push that stalled in the previous Congress, after President Trump sounded his opposition and the then-Republican-led House blocked a vote on the measure. "From the war in Yemen that has become a humanitarian disaster to the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia has committed egregious and unacceptable violations of human rights," Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins said in a statement Thursday, supporting the measure. -

US-backed forces face fierce resistance from ISIS in 'final battle' - Ben Wedeman, Kareem Khadder, Eliza Mackintosh
(CNN) Fighters from the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have launched an assault to oust ISIS from its last remaining enclave in Syria, the final remnant of the jihadist group's so-called "caliphate." At its peak, ISIS held large swaths of Iraq and Syria -- an expanse about the size of Portugal. Its territory has now shrunk to a tiny pocket in Syria's eastern Deir Ezzor province, with militants holed up in the village of Baghouz Al-Fawqani, near the Iraqi border. After pausing more than a week to allow thousands of civilians to flee the town, the SDF on Saturday renewed its push to wrest the last 4 square kilometers (1.5 square miles) from the militants. At sunrise on Sunday, US-led coalition airstrikes pummeled the western part of Baghouz Al-Fawqani, sending dark columns of smoke into the sky. SDF commanders have told CNN that its fighters are being met by fierce resistance from ISIS militants, who are retaliating with heat-seeking missiles. Two SDF fighters were killed and others injured after one SDF vehicle was hit.

Thailand's King Vajiralongkorn has denounced as "inappropriate" his sister's unprecedented bid to run for prime minister in March's election. In a palace statement, he said such an act would "defy the nation's culture". Princess Ubolratana Mahidol, 67, has been nominated as a candidate for a party allied to divisive former PM Thaksin Shinawatra. Such a move would break with the tradition of the Thai royal family publicly staying out of politics. Analysts say the king's intervention is likely to lead to the election commission disqualifying her from the 24 March election. The vote is being closely watched as the first chance for Thailand to return to democracy after five years under military rule. In a palace statement broadcast on all Thai TV networks, the king said: "Even though she has relinquished her royal titles in writing, she maintained her status and carried herself as a member of the Chakri dynasty.

Facebook’s massively lucrative advertising model relies on tracking its one billion users—as well as the billions on WhatsApp and Instagram—across the web and smartphone apps, collecting data on which sites and apps they visit, where they shop, what they like, and combining all that information into comprehensive user profiles. Facebook has maintained that collecting all this data allows the company to serve ads that are more relevant to users’ interests. Privacy advocates have argued that the company isn’t transparent enough about what data it has and what it does with it. As a result, most people don’t understand the massive trade-off they are making with their information when they sign up for the “free” site. On Thursday, Germany’s Federal Cartel Office, the country’s antitrust regulator, ruled that Facebook was exploiting consumers by requiring them to agree to this kind of data collection in order to have an account, and has prohibited the practice going forward. “Facebook will no longer be allowed to force its users to agree to the practically unrestricted collection and assigning of non-Facebook data to their Facebook user accounts,” FCO president Andreas Mundt said in a statement announcing the decision.

Intercepted conversations revealed evidence that the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, considered killing Jamal Khashoggi long before his death in Istanbul. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia told a top aide in a conversation in 2017 that he would use “a bullet” on Jamal Khashoggi, the journalist killed in October, if Mr. Khashoggi did not return to the kingdom and end his criticism of the Saudi government, according to current and former American and foreign officials with direct knowledge of intelligence reports. The conversation, intercepted by American intelligence agencies, is the most detailed evidence to date that the crown prince considered killing Mr. Khashoggi long before a team of Saudi operatives strangled him inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul and dismembered his body using a bone saw. Mr. Khashoggi’s murder prompted weeks of outrage around the world and among both parties in Washington, where senior lawmakers called for an investigation into who was responsible. The Saudi government has denied that the young crown prince played any role in the killing, and President Trump has publicly shown little interest in trying to get the facts about who was responsible. Prince Mohammed, the next in line to the Saudi throne behind his ailing father, King Salman, has become the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia and a close ally of the Trump White House — especially Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser. The conversation appears to have been recently transcribed and analyzed as part of an effort by intelligence agencies to find proof of who was responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s death. The National Security Agency and other American spy agencies are now sifting through years of the crown prince’s voice and text communications that the N.S.A. routinely intercepted and stored, much as the agency has long done for other top foreign officials, including close allies of the United States.

Saudi Arabia "seriously curtailed and undermined" Turkey's ability to investigate the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a UN expert has said. A preliminary report says it was 13 days before Turkey was allowed into the consulate where the journalist was killed. Khashoggi was last seen alive entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October. The 59-year-old was a prominent critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. US officials have reportedly said such an operation would have needed the prince's approval. But Saudi officials insist he was murdered by a "rogue" team of Saudi agents not acting on Prince Mohammed's orders. The country has put 11 people on trial for the murder and is seeking the death penalty for five of them. Saudi Arabia has refused to extradite its citizens to Turkey after the country issued arrest warrants for several Saudi officials.

Russia says it must develop new nuclear missiles by 2021. The country’s defense minister is quoted as saying the need for more missiles follows a U.S. decision to suspend a 32-year-old bilateral treaty. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said his country should develop new ground-based hypersonic and cruise missiles in a direct response to the apparent ending of a nuclear treaty between Washington and Moscow. On Friday, the U.S. confirmed it would suspend its participation in the decades-old Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces, or INF, treaty, which bans ground-launched medium-range missiles with a range of 310-3,400 miles. The U.S. administration said it had taken the measure following Russia’s refusal to accept that its SSC-8 missile directly contravenes the Cold War-era agreement. By Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin reacted by also halting his country’s obligations to the treaty. Speaking to media, Putin said Russia would provide a “mirror like response” to the U.S. by engaging in fresh research and development for nuclear missile technology but would not “get involved in a costly arms race.”

President Trump has spent about 60 percent of his time over the past three months in "Executive Time," according to leaked schedules obtained by Axios. A source told Axios that Trump typically spends the first five hours of his day in his residency. There he is understood to be watching television, reading newspapers and making phone calls to aides, lawmakers, friends, advisers and administration officials. "He's always calling people, talking to people," a senior White House official told Axios. "He's always up to something; it's just not what you would consider typical structure." Trump's first meeting of the day typically doesn't come until 11 or 11:30 a.m. and is typically an intelligence briefing or a half-hour meeting with his chief of staff, a schedule Axios also reported last year. Trump has been criticized for his use of "Executive Time" in the past, including by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.)

Iraq has found itself in a tricky position between two of its key allies as relations deteriorate between Tehran and Washington. U.S. troops do not have the right to use Iraq to “watch Iran,” Iraqi President Barham Salih said on Monday after Donald Trump indicated American forces were there to do just that. “We are surprised by the statements made by the U.S. president on the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq,” Salih said at a forum in Baghdad. “Trump did not ask us to keep U.S. troops to watch Iran.” In an interview that aired Sunday, Trump said it was important to keep a military presence in Iraq so Washington could keep an eye on neighboring Iran. The Iraqi president said U.S. troops had no right to monitor Iran under the agreement between the two nations, and that their specific mission was to combat terrorism, according to Reuters. He added that he would wait for clarifications from Washington on the numbers and nature of the U.S. troops’ mission in his country. "Those forces do not have the right to monitor many things, including watching Iran. We will not allow this," he added.

President Nicolás Maduro’s authoritarian regime has sent security forces to crush dissent in poor neighborhoods, in deadly operations that have alarmed even some of the president’s traditional supporters. The agents barged into the home of Yonaiker Ordóñez, 18, on Sunday morning as he slept. Dressed in helmets and carrying rifles, the men grabbed the teenager and forced him to another room without explaining why they came, his family said. “They took him to the area behind and killed him there,” said his sister, Yengly González. The operation resembled one of the many police raids against the gangs that terrorize Venezuela’s poor neighborhoods. But Ordóñez’s only crime, his family said, was that he attended a protest against the government days before.

EL SALVADOR voters go to the polls today for the first round of the presidential elections, with Nayib Bukele leading the race in what could be a boost for Venezuela’s Juan Guaido. Mr Bukele who branded Venezuela’s embattled President Nicolas Maduro a “dictator”, has come out top of polls after beginning the race as an outsider. The energetic young businessman who is seeking to end decades of a two-party system, is expected to win the top job on a campaign ticket to end corruption. Throughout his campaign he has been an outspoken critic of Mr Maduro, who continues to cling to power in Venezuela in the face of intense domestic and international pressure to step down and hand the presidency to Juan Guaido. The former mayor of San Salvador, Mr Bukele, 37, has capitalised on the anti-establishment sentiment sweeping across the Central American region, as “fed up” voters seek an alternative to traditional parties. He was raised in a relatively wealthy family who were sympathetic to the FMLN, the former leftist guerrilla army that became a political party at the end of El Salvador's bloody civil war in 1992, after 75,000 people had died. But Mr Bukele has since turned his back on Latin America’s traditional left, branding Mr Maduro, as well as Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega and conservative Honduran Juan Orlando Hernandez, dictators. He wrote in a tweet last week: "A dictator is a dictator, on the ‘right’ or the ‘left’.”

Motherboard has identified a specific UK bank that has fallen victim to so-called SS7 attacks, and sources say the issue is wider than previously reported. Sophisticated hackers have long exploited flaws in SS7, a protocol used by telecom companies to coordinate how they route texts and calls around the world. Those who exploit SS7 can potentially track phones across the other side of the planet, and intercept text messages and phone calls without hacking the phone itself. This activity was typically only within reach of intelligence agencies or surveillance contractors, but now Motherboard has confirmed that this capability is much more widely available in the hands of financially-driven cybercriminal groups, who are using it to empty bank accounts. So-called SS7 attacks against banks are, although still relatively rare, much more prevalent than previously reported. Motherboard has identified a specific bank—the UK's Metro Bank—that fell victim to such an attack. The news highlights the gaping holes in the world’s telecommunications infrastructure that the telco industry has known about for years despite ongoing attacks from criminals. The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), the defensive arm of the UK’s signals intelligence agency GCHQ, confirmed that SS7 is being used to intercept codes used for banking. "We are aware of a known telecommunications vulnerability being exploited to target bank accounts by intercepting SMS text messages used as 2-Factor Authentication (2FA)," the NCSC told Motherboard in a statement.

President Donald Trump on Friday announced the U.S. intention to withdraw from the INF Treaty, accusing Russia of violating the agreement "with impunity." President Vladimir Putin announced Saturday that Russia will suspend a key Cold War-era missile treaty with the United States following the Trump administration's move to withdraw a day earlier. "We will respond quid pro quo," Putin said during a televised meeting with foreign and defense ministers. "Our American partners have declared that they suspend their participation in the deal, we suspend it as well." Putin said Russia will start work on creating new missiles, including hypersonic ones, and told ministers not to initiate disarmament talks with Washington, accusing the U.S. of being slow to respond to such moves. Putin said that Russia will not increase its military budget for the new weapons and it won't deploy its weapons in Europe and other regions unless the United States does so. "We must not and will not be drawn into a costly arms race," he said.

Russia created a playbook for spreading disinformation on social media. Now the rest of the world is following it. Twitter said on Thursday that countries including Bangladesh and Venezuela had been using social media to disseminate government talking points, while Facebook detailed a broad Iranian disinformation campaign that touched on everything from the conflict in Syria to conspiracy theories about the Sept. 11 attacks. The campaigns tied to various governments — as well as privately held accounts in the United States — followed a pattern similar to Russian disinformation efforts before and after the 2016 presidential election. Millions of people were targeted by content designed to widen political and social divisions among Americans. The global spread of social media disinformation comes in a year when major elections are set to take place in countries including India and Ukraine. Last year, social media disinformation played a role in a number of campaigns, including the highly contested presidential election in Brazil. “Elections are coming up around the world, and our goal is to protect their integrity to the best of our ability and to take the learnings from each with us,” said Carlos Monje Jr., Twitter’s director of public policy in the United States and Canada, in a blog post.

Almost a third of the smaller businesses in Great Britain could move their operations outside the U.K. over fears of the impact of the breakup with the European Union, according to a survey of 1,200 company directors. The London-based Institute of Directors published the results of its survey on Friday — 56 days before the U.K. is due to leave the EU with or without an agreement to replace more than four decades of intricate trade, customs and security ties. A wide range of the biggest companies that do business in Britain — from international banks and insurance companies to the giants of the Japanese electronics market — have said they are either moving their European headquarters from the U.K. to continental Europe, or are shifting significant assets in that direction. If financial transactions and trade between Britain and the 27 remaining EU nations is all suddenly subjected to new tariffs, controls and bureaucratic red tape, as would be the case with a no-deal Brexit, those big corporations stand to lose the most.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has sent a letter to President Trump outlining potential cost reductions for the U.S. engagement in Afghanistan. The letter calls for a full review of the military partnership, including a possible troop drawdown, a senior Afghan official confirms to CBS News' "Face the Nation" host Margaret Brennan. The letter does not, however, advocate for a major U.S. troop withdrawal, as ordered by Mr. Trump. The Pentagon was ordered late last year to start planning a major drawdown of roughly 7,000 troops in Afghanistan, about half of the current force deployed there, CBS News' David Martin reported. Mr. Trump campaigned on getting out of long-running wars in Syria and Afghanistan, the latter of which is now the longest-running war in which the U.S. military has ever been engaged.  It began with the U.S. invasion in October 2001, meaning children born after the war began can now enlist to serve. The president has insisted it's time to stop fighting the costly wars and to divert the money to infrastructure and other domestic needs in the U.S.

Applying for a US visa will no longer be a straightforward process for Ghanaian nationals, for now at least. The US department of homeland security (DHS) and department of state has issued visa sanctions on Ghana owing to its “lack of cooperation” in accepting its citizens ordered removed from the US. In a statement, secretary of homeland security Kirstjen Nielsen said Ghana has “denied or unreasonably delayed accepting their nationals ordered removed from the United States.” As a result, the US has initially placed unspecified visa restrictions on certain categories of applicants from Ghana until cooperation on removals improves “to an acceptable level.” However, should Ghana fail to comply with the removal orders, DHS says the scope of the sanctions could be imposed more broadly. Ghanaian citizens, a former British colony, are big fans of the American dream. In 2015, one of the most recent years for which data is available, Ghana, with 1.73 million people, accounted for the highest number of applicants for the US diversity visa program also known as “green card lottery”. Those applications would account for 7% of the country’s 25 million population.

A record eight tonnes of pangolin scales and more than 1,000 elephant tusks have been seized from a shipping container in Hong Kong, officials say. The container, from Nigeria and said to be carrying frozen beef, was searched after a tip-off. The illegal cargo has an estimated value of about $8m (£6m). Two arrests were made, officials say. The scales of the pangolin, an endangered anteater, are said to have medicinal value in parts of Asia.

(CNN) A mother-of-three has become the first person to be found guilty of female genital mutilation (FGM) in the UK, in a landmark verdict given at the Old Bailey in London on Friday. The Central Criminal Court confirmed to CNN that a 37-year-old Ugandan woman from Walthamstow, London, was found guilty of performing FGM on her daughter in summer 2017. The mother wept in court when the verdict was announced, the UK's Press Association (PA) news agency reported, while her partner, 43, from Ghana, was acquitted of all charges. The couple, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had denied the charges of performing FGM and failing to protect a girl from the risk of genital mutilation. "You have been found guilty of a serious offense against your daughter," Judge Mrs Justice Whipple said, as she warned of a "lengthy" prison sentence. The woman has been remanded in custody and will now be sentenced on March 8, according to London's Metropolitan Police. Detective Chief Inspector Ian Baker from the Metropolitan Police acknowledged the "bravery" of the victim since the ordeal, and confirmed in a statement that she has made a "very speedy recovery" and been placed with another family. Under UK law, anyone found guilty of performing FGM can be imprisoned for a maximum of 14 years. It has been illegal in the UK since 1985 under the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act, which was later modernized in the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003. CNN has contacted the woman's lawyer for comment. The victim's case was raised to police after she was taken to Whipps Cross Hospital in northeast London suffering from severe bleeding. Doctors subsequently confirmed that her injuries were consistent with being cut with a scalpel, police said in a statement.

(CNN) When Europeans arrived in the Americas, they caused so much death and disease that it changed the global climate, a new study finds.
European settlers killed 56 million indigenous people over about 100 years in South, Central and North America, causing large swaths of farmland to be abandoned and reforested, researchers at University College London, or UCL, estimate. The increase in trees and vegetation across an area the size of France resulted in a massive decrease in carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, according to the study. Carbon levels changed enough to cool the Earth by 1610, researchers found. Columbus arrived in 1492, "CO2 and climate had been relatively stable until this point," said UCL Geography Professor Mark Maslin, one of the study's co-authors. "So, this is the first major change we see in the Earth's greenhouse gases." Before this study, some scientists had argued the temperature change in the 1600s, called the Little Ice Age, was caused only by natural forces. But by combining archaeological evidence, historical data and analysis of carbon found in Antarctic ice, the UCL researchers showed how the reforestation -- directly caused by the Europeans' arrival -- was a key component of the global chill, they said. "For once, we've been able to balance all the boxes and realize that the only way the Little Ice Age was so intense is ... because of the genocide of millions of people," Maslin told CNN.

In 1998, after 30 years of violence that left 3,500 people dead, peace was finally achieved in Northern Ireland. Now some are concerned that Brexit could be putting at risk the treaty that helped end the fighting, usually known as the Good Friday Agreement. A critical part of that agreement was softening the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which was militarized during the decades of violence known as the Troubles. Today, people and goods can pass freely across that border, thanks to the peace and the European Union’s policy of free movement between its member countries. But if Britain leaves the E.U., it could potentially need to reestablish customs controls and entry points with Ireland. Many fear that returning such checkpoints to the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland — making it a “hard border” once more — would be reminiscent of the island’s dark past, potentially unleashing a new wave of instability. “Both the U.K. and Ireland will have an obligation to honor the Good Friday Agreement, protect the peace and honor our commitment to the people of Ireland and Northern Ireland, that there won’t be a hard border,” Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said Wednesday. Former U.S. senator George J. Mitchell, who served as independent chairman of the Northern Ireland peace talks, wrote in The Washington Post in December that changing the status of the border “could increase the possibility of a resumption of violence.”

(CNN) US cities as cold as the Arctic. An Australian inferno. The UK covered in snow. It's only one month into 2019 and meteorologists are already talking in superlatives as extreme weather patterns have brought cities and towns across the globe to a standstill. In the United States this week, some 200 million Americans experienced a historic deep freeze that saw temperatures plummet below -32 degrees Celsius (-26 Fahrenheit), killed at least 17 people and led to the cancellation of more than 2,300 flights. On Thursday, temperatures in 11 states in the continental US saw temperatures lower than the one recorded in Utqiagvik, Alaska's northernmost city, situated north of the Arctic Circle. Authorities in some of the hardest-hit cities such as Minneapolis and Chicago implored residents to stay indoors to prevent frostbite -- in one Chicago hospital, doctors treated 50 frostbite victims; some may lose an arm or a leg. Across the pond, the United Kingdom recorded record lows this week as frosty weather pounded parts of England, Scotland and Wales. On Thursday, residents in Braemar in northeast Scotland experienced -14.4 C (6.1 F), according to the UK's national weather service, the Met Office. This was the lowest temperature recorded in the UK since 2012.

Venezuela's opposition leader Juan Guaido has warned the national security forces loyal to President Nicolas Maduro to stay away from his family. Guaido accused the forces of showing up at his apartment, while his 20-month-old daughter was at home.

(CNN)A former South Korean governor and one-time presidential contender has been sentenced to three and a half years in prison for rape, five months after he was controversially acquitted for the same crime. Ahn Hee-jung was jailed by an appeals court Friday for the rape and assault of Kim Ji-eun, his former assistant, Kim's lawyer Jung Hye-sun told CNN. Speaking after the verdict, Kim thanked her lawyers and witnesses who supported her case. "I can say goodbye to my torturous time when I was forced to live feeling like a witch to be burnt," she said. "I'd like to share all the help I received with other victims who still have to prove everything in their lonely fights. I'd like to send my solidarity to all the victims of sexual crimes whether they spoke about their cases but were ignored or couldn't speak about their issues and quietly watched my trial." Kim came forward with the allegations during an interview with South Korean news channel JTBC last year. Her testimony helped kick start the South Korean MeToo movement, and Ahn was later charged with 10 counts of sexual harassment and sexual coercion. At the first trial, however, a court found Ahn not guilty on all counts based on a lack of evidence he had abused his power to compel Kim to act against her will. In a controversial decision, judges refused to admit some of Kim's testimony about her assault. After prosecutors appealed the case, a court on Friday threw out the initial verdict, and found Ahn guilty on nine of 10 counts, Jung said.

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