TPM World News

QUEBEC CITY (AP) — The man accused in the slayings of six men at a Quebec City mosque asked for forgiveness Wednesday after changing his mind and pleading guilty.

Alexandre Bissonnette faced six charges of first-degree murder and six of attempted murder. More than 50 people were at the Islamic Cultural Centre in January last year when the shooting began during evening prayers. Six men aged between 39 and 60 were killed.

“Every minute of my existence I bitterly regret what I did, the lives I have destroyed, the pain and suffering I have caused to so many people, without forgetting the members of my own family,” Alexandre Bissonnette said as he read out a letter in court. “I am ashamed of what I did.”

Bissonnette, 28, spoke to the court shortly after a judge accepted his guilty pleas. Many people in the courtroom burst out sobbing and held hands as the judge confirmed the guilty pleas.

He originally pleaded not guilty to the 12 charges Monday morning but that afternoon announced he wanted to plead guilty.

Superior Court Justice Francois Huot refused to accept the pleas Monday pending a psychiatric assessment of the accused to ensure he fully understood the consequences of his decision. Huot placed a publication ban on Monday afternoon’s proceedings but agreed Wednesday to accept the 12 guilty pleas.

In reading his letter, Bissonnette said he had been “overcome by fear, by negative thoughts and a sort of horrible kind of despair” before the shootings.

“It’s though I was battling a demon that finished by winning out … I would like to ask for forgiveness for what I did, but I know my acts are unforgivable.”

On Monday, Bissonnette said he wanted to plead guilty in order to “avoid a trial and for the victims to not have to relive this tragedy.”

Bissonnette told the judge then he had been thinking for some time of pleading guilty but that he was missing certain pieces of evidence, which were relayed Sunday.

When Huot asked him if he was fully aware of what he was doing, Bissonnette replied, “Yes.”

Huot asked Bissonnette whether he knew he would be getting a life sentence and he answered, “I understand.”

Huot also asked him if he understood he could receive consecutive sentences, meaning 150 years of prison.

“I know,” Bissonnette replied, in a low voice.

Psychiatrist Sylvain Faucher said Bissonnette “is fit to stand trial and to plead what he wants to plead.”

“He did not want to be the perpetrator of another collective drama,” said Faucher, who met with Bissonnette on Monday evening.

Many members of Quebec City’s Muslim community were present in court Monday and Wednesday.

Amir Belkacemi, whose 60-year-old father Khaled Belkacemi was killed, said no one wants to live the trauma again.

“That the trial won’t have to take place, it’s a good thing for us, it’s a good thing for everyone in the community,” said Amir Belkacemi, the son of victim Khaled Belkacemi, told reporters. “Very relieved.”

Jury selection was scheduled to start April 3 and the trial to last two months.

Sentencing arguments will take place at a later date.

Those who monitor extremist groups in Quebec described the French-Canadian university student as someone who took extreme nationalist positions at Laval University and on social media. He was a supporter of French far-right leader Marine Le Pen and U.S. President Donald Trump.

Quebec’s premier previously acknowledged the French-speaking province has its “demons” in terms of attitudes toward Muslims.

Read More →

QUITO, Ecuador (AP) — Ecuador’s government is cutting off WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s communications outside the nation’s London embassy.

Officials announced Wednesday they were taking the measure in response to Assange’s recent activity on social media.

As part of an agreement between Assange and the Ecuadorean government, he is not permitted to send any messages that could interfere with the South American nation’s relations with other countries.

Assange has been living in Ecuador’s embassy for more than five years.

Ecuador gave Assange asylum after he sought refuge in the embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden for investigation of sex-related claims. Sweden dropped the case, but Assange remains subject to arrest in Britain for jumping bail.

Read More →

BEIJING (AP) — North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping sought to portray strong ties between the long-time allies despite a recent chill as both countries on Wednesday confirmed Kim’s secret trip to Beijing this week.

The visit highlights Beijing and Pyongyang’s efforts to better position themselves by showing they support each other ahead of Kim’s planned meetings with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and President Donald Trump in the coming weeks.

Kim made the unofficial visit to China from Sunday to Wednesday at Xi’s invitation, China’s official Xinhua News Agency said, in what was in his first trip to a foreign country since he took power in 2011.

Xi held talks with Kim at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing and he and his wife Peng Liyuan hosted a banquet for Kim and his wife Ri Sol Ju, Xinhua said. They also watched an art performance together, the news agency said.

Official reports from both countries depicted in effusive terms warm ties between the two leaders in an effort to downplay recent tensions in relations over Kim’s development of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.

In these reports, “Kim reaffirms the traditional friendship between the two countries as if nothing had ever happened, when the relationship had plummeted to unprecedented lows,” said Bonnie Glaser, an Asia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Ties in recent months have frayed as China supported tougher U.N. sanctions on North Korea and suspended imports of coal, iron ore, seafood and textiles. Pyongyang last year seemingly sought to humiliate Beijing by timing some of its missile tests for major global summits in China, while its state media accused Chinese state-controlled media of “going under the armpit of the U.S.” by criticizing the North.

Xi hailed Kim’s visit as embodying the importance with which the North Korean leader regarded ties with China.

“We speak highly of this visit,” Xi told Kim, according to Xinhua.

For China, the visit also reminds other countries that Beijing remains one of North Korea’s most important allies and is a player not to be sidelined in denuclearization talks. It also projects to the Chinese public that Xi is firmly in charge of steering Beijing’s relations with North Korea in a way that favors China’s interests.

“Here is Xi Jinping saying, ‘Don’t worry, everything is going to be great’,” Glaser said.

Analysts say Kim would have felt a need to consult with his country’s traditional ally ahead of summits with Moon and Trump. China would also not want Kim’s first foreign meeting to be with someone other than Xi.

“China was getting concerned it could be left out of any initial political agreements that Moon and Kim or Trump and Kim could come to,” said Michael Kovrig, senior advisor for northeast Asia at the International Crisis Group.

“This is China asserting its regional hegemony and influence, saying: ‘Hey, you talk to me first.'”

Kim was described by Xinhua as saying that his country wants to transform ties with South Korea into “a relationship of reconciliation and cooperation.” The two Koreas are still technically at war because their 1950-53 war ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.

Kim also said that North Korea is willing to hold a summit with the United States, according to Xinhua.

North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency published Kim’s personal letter to Xi dated on Wednesday, where he expressed gratitude to the Chinese leadership for showing what he described as “heartwarming hospitality” during his “productive” visit.

Kim said that the first meeting between the leaders of the two countries will provide a “groundbreaking milestone” in developing mutual relations to “meet the demands of the new era.” Kim also said that he’s satisfied that the leaders confirmed their “unified opinions” on mutual issues.

“For the North Koreans, it is in their best interests to enter any meetings with Moon or Trump having shored up and repaired to a certain extent their relations with Beijing,” said Paul Haenle, director of the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy in Beijing.

KCNA said Kim also called for more meetings with Xi and other Chinese officials to deepen the ties between the countries and also asked Xi to visit North Korea at a time convenient for him, to which Xi “gladly accepted.”

The North’s diplomatic outreach this year follows a tenser 2017 when it conducted its most powerful nuclear test to date and tested three intercontinental ballistic missiles designed to target the U.S. mainland.

The developments are being interpreted as the North being desperate to break out of isolation and improve its economy after being squeezed by heavy sanctions.

“At least one of the things that Kim would want out of these meetings is a way forward to begin to ease those sanctions and support from China in that effort,” Glaser said.

China remains North Korea’s only major ally and chief provider of energy, aid and trade that keep the country’s broken economy afloat.

In a speech at a banquet in China, Kim described the traditional allies as inseparable “neighboring brothers” with a relationship molded by a “sacred mutual fight” to achieve socialist ideals, according to KCNA.

In addition to the trip being his first abroad as leader, his talk with Xi was his first meeting with a foreign head of state. Kim’s father, late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, had visited China several times during his rule, lastly in May 2011, months before his death that December.

“It’s most proper that my first overseas trip would be the capital of the People’s Republic of China,” said Kim Jong Un, according to the North Korean agency. “It’s also one of my noble duties to value the North Korea-China friendship as I do my own life.”

___

Kim reported from Seoul, South Korea. Associated Press writer Foster Klug in Seoul contributed to this report.

Read More →

LONDON (AP) — Australia and Ireland on Tuesday joined more than 20 other nations in expelling Russian diplomats in response to the nerve agent attack on a former Russian military intelligence officer and his daughter in Britain.

The mass expulsions were a show of solidarity for Britain, which blames Russia for the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. Moscow vehemently denies responsibility, and has vowed a “tough response” to the expulsions.

More than 20 countries on Monday announced that they were expelling a total of more than 130 Russian diplomats, including 60 kicked out by the United States.

On Tuesday Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said his country was expelling two Russian diplomats whom he described as undeclared intelligence officers. They have been given seven days to leave Australia. Turnbull slammed Russia for “reckless and deliberate” conduct that harms global security and violates rules against the use of chemical weapons.

The Russian Embassy in Canberra said the decision was regrettable and jeopardized bilateral relationships.

“It is astonishing how easily the allies of Great Britain follow it blindly contrary to the norms of civilized bilateral dialogue and international relations, and against … common sense,” it said.

Ireland also announced it was ordering one Russian diplomat to leave. Foreign Minister Simon Coveney called the nerve-agent attack on Skripal and his daughter a “shocking and abhorrent” use of chemical weapons.

The Skripals remain hospitalized in critical condition after they were found unconscious on March 4 in the English city of Salisbury, where the former spy lived. Britain says they were poisoned with a Soviet-made military-grade nerve agent known as Novichok.

Official in Moscow on Tuesday condemned the expulsions but have not yet announced steps of retaliation yet.

Speaking at a conference in Uzbekistan, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters that a reaction will follow because Russia “will not tolerate such rude behavior.” Lavrov also speculated that the United States might have coerced some of the European countries into expelling Russian diplomats.

Earlier on Tuesday, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Moscow was working on a “tough response” to the expulsions.

Read More →

LONDON (AP) — The whistleblower at the heart of the Facebook privacy scandal is set to testify before British lawmakers investigating the increasing rise of fake news.

Christopher Wylie has alleged that Cambridge Analytica harvested details of 50 million Facebook users and used the material in U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign. It is alleged the material made it possible to micro-target users with campaign material.

At a news conference on Monday on a linked issue, Wylie declined to answer questions about whether the data was also used in Britain by the campaign to leave the European Union. He said he would discuss the matter when he spoke to lawmakers from Parliament’s media committee on Tuesday.

Read More →

LONDON (AP) — Britain’s information regulator said Saturday it was assessing evidence gathered from a raid on the office of data mining firm Cambridge Analytica, part of an investigation into alleged misuse of personal information by political campaigns and social media companies like Facebook.

More than a dozen investigators from the Information Commissioner’s Office entered the company’s central London office late Friday, shortly after a High Court judge granted a warrant. The investigators were seen leaving the premises early Saturday after spending about seven hours searching the office.

The regulator said it will “consider the evidence before deciding the next steps and coming to any conclusions.”

“This is one part of a larger investigation by the ICO into the use of personal data and analytics by political campaigns, parties, social media companies and other commercial actors,” it said.

Authorities in Britain as well as the U.S. are investigating Cambridge Analytica over allegations the firm improperly obtained data from 50 million Facebook users and used it to manipulate elections, including the 2016 White House race and the 2016 Brexit vote in Britain.

Both Cambridge Analytica and Facebook deny wrongdoing.

The data firm suspended its CEO Alexander Nix this week after Britain’s Channel 4 News broadcast footage that appeared to show Nix suggesting tactics like entrapment or bribery that his company could use to discredit politicians. The footage also showed Nix saying Cambridge Analytica played a major role in securing Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Cambridge Analytica’s acting chief executive, Alexander Tayler, said Friday that he was sorry that SCL Elections, an affiliate of his company, “licensed Facebook data and derivatives from a research company (Global Science Research) that had not received consent from most respondents” in 2014.

“The company believed that the data had been obtained in line with Facebook’s terms of service and data protection laws,” Tayler said.

His statement said the data was deleted in 2015 at Facebook’s request, and denied that any of the Facebook data that Cambridge Analytica obtained was used in the work it did on the 2016 U.S. election.

Read More →

BEIJING (AP) — China’s newly appointed economic czar told U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Saturday that Beijing is ready to defend its interests after President Donald Trump announced plans to slap tariffs on nearly $50 billion in Chinese imports.

Vice Premier Liu He told Mnuchin in a phone call that the order Trump signed Thursday violates international trade rules, China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported.

The White House says the planned tariffs are aimed at punishing Beijing for allegedly stealing American technology and pressuring U.S. companies to hand it over.

Xinhua cited Liu as saying that China is “ready and capable of defending its national interest and hopes both sides will remain rational.”

China said Friday that it planned to raise tariffs on a $3 billion list of U.S. goods, including pork, apples and steel pipes in response to the steel and aluminum duties earlier announced by Trump.

The Chinese move appeared to be a warning shot aimed at increasing domestic U.S. pressure on Trump by making clear which exporters, including farm areas that voted for the president in 2016, might be hurt.

On Friday, American farmers from hog producers in Iowa to apple growers in Washington state and winemakers in California expressed deep disappointment over being put in the middle of a potential trade war with China by the president many of them helped elect.

China’s Commerce Ministry said Beijing was considering a tariff increase of 25 percent on pork and aluminum scrap, mirroring Trump’s 25 percent charge on steel. A second list of goods, including wine, apples, ethanol and stainless steel pipe, would be charged 15 percent, mirroring Trump’s tariff hike on aluminum.

Overall, the nation’s farmers shipped nearly $20 billion of goods to China in 2017. The American pork industry sent $1.1 billion in products, making China the No. 3 market for U.S. pork.

“No one wins in these tit-for-tat trade disputes, least of all the farmers and the consumers,” said National Pork Producers Council President Jim Heimerl, a pig farmer from Johnstown, Ohio.

The U.S. has complained for years about China’s sharp-elbowed trading practices, accusing it of pirating trade secrets, manipulating its currency, forcing foreign companies to hand over technology, and flooding world markets with cheap steel and aluminum that drive down prices and put U.S. manufacturers out of business.

The spiraling trade dispute between the world’s two largest economies has spurred concerns among companies and investors that global commerce could be depressed.

Read More →

MOSCOW (AP) — President Vladimir Putin thanked Russians Friday for his landslide re-election to another six-year term, pledging to lead the country to an economic “breakthrough.”

Putin’s live televised statement came shortly after the Central Election Commission officially declared him the winner of Sunday’s election with nearly 77 percent of the vote, putting him on track to become the nation’s longest-serving leader since Josef Stalin.

“Such a powerful civic activity, your responsibility and consolidation are extremely important now when we face serious domestic and external challenges,” Putin said.

The massive victory — Putin’s best-ever electoral showing — will strengthen the president’s hand as he ponders his choices for shaping Russia’s political future beyond 2024: groom a dependable successor, scrap term limits or create a new position of power to keep ruling the country after his fourth term ends.

Putin vowed to fulfill his campaign promises, but warned Russians that “it would be utterly irresponsible to promise to do it instantly.”

He said that the country needs to make a “real breakthrough” in many spheres and move to encourage economic growth, raise living standards, modernize health care and education, revive the infrastructure and solve environmental and other problems. He stressed that Russia needs to make a “technological leap” to meet those challenges.

Putin also emphasized the need for alliances to achieve the ambitious goals, saying that “political affiliations mustn’t divide us.”

“Our unity, responsibility, a common vision of our goals and aspirations by millions of people must drive Russia forward,” he said. “I’m sure that together we will succeed.”

Putin has never faced a serious threat to his rule since he came to power on the eve of the new millennium. He won 53 percent of the vote in the 2000 presidential election, 71 percent in 2004 and 63 percent in 2012.

The Sunday election came amid accusations that Moscow was behind the nerve-agent poisoning this month of a former Russian double agent in Britain, and that its internet trolls had waged an extensive campaign to undermine the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The Western accusations ultimately bolstered Putin among a populace that sees him as their defender against a hostile West and a symbol of Russia’s resurgent power on the world stage.

Communist Pavel Grudinin came in a distant second with 11.8 percent. Third was ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky with 5.6 percent. The only candidate to openly criticize Putin during the campaign, liberal TV star Ksenia Sobchak, won just 1.7 percent.

Putin’s most serious rival, opposition leader Alexei Navalny, was barred from the race because of a criminal conviction widely seen as politically motivated.

Observers reported numerous incidents of ballot stuffing and unprecedented pressure on Russians to vote to raise the turnout that topped 67 percent. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said that the Russian state media’s extensive coverage of Putin’s activities gave him a significant advantage in the race.

Ella Pamfilova, chairwoman of the Election Commission, said at the commission’s session on Friday that the vote was free and fair. She insisted that ballot stuffing incidents and other violations were rare and quickly dealt with.

“We have created an unprecedented full-proof system … ensuring protection from fools, provocateurs and criminals,” she said.

Read More →

BRUSSELS (AP) — British Prime Minister Theresa May urged European Union leaders on Thursday to unite and condemn Russia for not respecting international rules or borders, while Moscow slammed the U.K. as untrustworthy in its investigation of the poisoning of a former spy.

Amid heated words and frosty relations between London and Moscow, May accused Russia of staging “a brazen and reckless attack against the United Kingdom” by attacking Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia with a nerve agent March 4 in the English city of Salisbury.

“I will be raising this issue with my counterparts today because it is clear that the Russian threat doesn’t respect borders and indeed the incident in Salisbury was part of a pattern of Russian aggression against Europe and its near neighbors, from the western Balkans to the Near East,” May said as she arrived an EU summit in Brussels.

Britain blames Moscow for the attack with a military-grade nerve agent and has called Russia a growing threat to Western democracies. Russia has fiercely denied the accusations.

Both nations have expelled 23 of each other’s diplomats in a feud that shows no signs of cooling.

Russia’s ambassador to the U.K., Alexander Yakovenko, hit back Thursday, saying his country “can’t take British words for granted,” and accusing the U.K. of having a “bad record of violating international law and misleading the international community.”

“History shows that British statements must be verified,” he told reporters in London. “We demand full transparency of the investigation and full cooperation with Russia” and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

Britain says it is complying with the international chemical-weapons watchdog over the March 4 attack on Skripal — a former Russian intelligence officer convicted of spying for the U.K. — and his daughter.

Experts from the OPCW have come to Britain to take samples of the nerve agent that has left the Skripals in critical condition.

May wants nations at the EU summit in Brussels to make a strong statement against Russian President Vladimir Putin. EU foreign ministers have already expressed their “unqualified solidarity” with Britain, but May will try to swing the 27 other EU leaders behind a more strongly worded statement that explicitly condemns Russia.

European politicians and leaders vary in how far they are willing to go in blaming Putin’s Kremlin.

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, whose former Soviet state shares a border with Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave, offered her full backing to Britain and said she was weighing whether to expel Russian diplomats from her country over the Salisbury attack.

German politician Manfred Weber, leader of the biggest group in the European Parliament, said Putin “wants to destabilize the European idea, European cooperation, and that’s why we don’t have to be naive, we have to be strong.”

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsiprias was more cautious. He said “we have to express our solidarity to the U.K., to the British people, but at the same time we need to investigate.”

Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, a former criminal lawyer, said he wanted to hear what May had to say.

“I have the principle that first I listen, and then I take a decision,” he said.

EU Council President Donald Tusk is seen by the U.K. as supportive, saying this week that Europe must “reinforce our preparedness for future attacks.”

But British officials are irked that another EU chief, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, congratulated Putin on his victory in Sunday’s presidential election in Russia. Election monitors say the Russian vote did not take place on a level playing field since state media gave so much coverage to Putin.

The Salisbury attack has sent relations between London and Moscow to Cold War-style lows.

On Wednesday, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said it was “emetic” — vomit-inducing — that Putin is rejoicing over hosting the World Cup soccer tournament this summer. Russia responded that Johnson was “poisoned with venom of malice and hate.”

Johnson also said Russia’s hosting of the June 14-July 15 tournament could be compared to the 1936 Olympics, which was used as propaganda exercise by Nazi Germany.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the comparison an “utterly disgusting statement which is unworthy of a foreign minister of any country.” He called Johnson’s words “insulting and unacceptable.”

Read More →

LONDON (AP) — A British parliamentary committee on Tuesday summoned Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to answer questions as authorities stepped up efforts to determine if the personal data of social-media users has been used improperly to influence elections.

The request comes amid allegations that a data-mining firm based in the U.K. used information from more than 50 million Facebook accounts to help Donald Trump win the 2016 presidential election. The company, Cambridge Analytica, has denied wrongdoing.

However, the firm’s board of directors announced Tuesday evening that it had suspended CEO Alexander Nix pending an independent investigation of his actions. Nix made comments to an undercover reporter for Britain’s Channel 4 News about various unsavory services Cambridge Analytica provided its clients.

“In the view of the board, Mr. Nix’s recent comments secretly recorded by Channel 4 and other allegations do not represent the values or operations of the firm and his suspension reflects the seriousness with which we view this violation,” the board said in a statement.

Facebook also drew continued criticism for its alleged inaction to protect users’ privacy. Earlier Tuesday, the chairman of the U.K. parliamentary media committee, Damian Collins, said his group has repeatedly asked Facebook how it uses data and that Facebook officials “have been misleading to the committee.”

“It is now time to hear from a senior Facebook executive with the sufficient authority to give an accurate account of this catastrophic failure of process,” Collins wrote in a note addressed directly to Zuckerberg. “Given your commitment at the start of the New Year to ‘fixing’ Facebook, I hope that this representative will be you.”

Facebook sidestepped questions on whether Zuckerberg would appear, saying instead that it’s currently focused on conducting its own reviews.

The request to appear comes as Britain’s information commissioner said she was using all her legal powers to investigate the social-media giant and Cambridge Analytica.

Commissioner Elizabeth Denham is pursuing a warrant to search Cambridge Analytica’s servers. She has also asked Facebook to cease its own audit of Cambridge Analytica’s data use.

“Our advice to Facebook is to back away and let us go in and do our work,” she said.

Cambridge Analytica said it is committed to helping the U.K. investigation. However, Denham’s office said the firm failed to meet a deadline to produce the information requested.

Denham said the prime allegation against Cambridge Analytica is that it acquired personal data in an unauthorized way, adding that the data provisions act requires services like Facebook to have strong safeguards against misuse of data.

Chris Wylie, who once worked for Cambridge Analytica, was quoted as saying the company used the data to build psychological profiles so voters could be targeted with ads and stories.

The firm found itself in further allegations of wrongdoing. Britain’s Channel 4 used an undercover investigation to record Nix saying that the company could use unorthodox methods to wage successful political campaigns for clients.

He said the company could “send some girls” around to a rival candidate’s house, suggesting that girls from Ukraine are beautiful and effective in this role.

He also said the company could “offer a large amount of money” to a rival candidate and have the whole exchange recorded so it could be posted on the internet to show that the candidate was corrupt.

Nix says in a statement that he deeply regrets his role in the meeting and has apologized to staff.

“I am aware how this looks, but it is simply not the case,” he said. “I must emphatically state that Cambridge Analytica does not condone or engage in entrapment, bribes or so-called ‘honeytraps’, and nor does it use untrue material for any purposes.”

Nix told the BBC the Channel 4 sting was “intended to embarrass us”.

“We see this as a coordinated attack by the media that’s been going on for very, very many months in order to damage the company that had some involvement with the election of Donald Trump,” he said.

The data harvesting used by Cambridge Analytica has also triggered calls for further investigation from the European Union, as well as federal and state officials in the United States.

Read More →

LiveWire