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DeAgostini/Getty Images(ROME) -- The "Portrait of a Lady," a painting by Austrian painter Gustav Klimt now valued at $66 million, was stolen from a gallery in northern Italy more than 20 years ago.

But it may have just been found -- and in the external wall of the very gallery from which it was thought pilfered.

Investigators said they're remaining cautious as they await the results of high-tech X-rays to verify the work's authenticity, after which questions on how it went missing and who was involved still require answers.

The theft of "Portrait of a Lady" was believed to have happened during a three-day span leading up to Oct. 22, 1997, when the work was being moved into another building as part of a temporary exhibition.

The painting, one of Italy's most sought-after, has received immense attention ever since its disappearance. Years of investigations followed.

Custodians at the gallery were among those initially questions, but the case eventually was abandoned because of a lack of evidence.

The case was briefly reopened in 2016 -- a trace of DNA was found on the painting's frame, which was discovered inexplicably on the gallery's roof -- but that investigation stalled.

The painting, from 1917, was part of the original donated collection when the Ricci Oddi gallery was inaugurated in 1931, in Piacenza, south of Milan.

What's believed to be the painting was found Tuesday afternoon by gardeners working on the gallery's exterior. Clearing away ivy from a wall, they discovered a small door that opened into a small storage space -- similar to those containing utility meters -- and found the artwork inside a large, black garbage bag.

Dario Gallinari, a gallery employee, told ABC NEWS he first thought the gardeners were teasing him when they alerted him to their find. But Gallinari said he quickly changed his mind when he saw a corner of the painting peeking out from the garbage bag.

He took it into the gallery’s ticket office and called the police.

"My hands were trembling when I held the painting," he added. "It was an incredible to think that this could be possible."

Gallinari declined to speculate on how the painting could've ended up in an unused cubby hole, but did add, "All I can say is that it seems in perfect condition."

Gallinari was 9 when the painting went missing.

"The people of Piacenza were very distraught when the painting was stolen," he said, "and it will mean a lot to us all when the painting is put back where it belongs."

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iStock(LAHORE, Pakistan) -- Dozens of lawyers attacked the Punjab Institute of Cardiology in Pakistan in an escalation of a feud that started last month in a dispute over the care of a lawyer's relative.

Three patients died during Wednesday’s incident after they were left unattended while others, including attendants and nurses, were injured when lawyers went amok to settle a score between their group and doctors who took part in a brawl at the same hospital last month.

“They came prepared,” and had planned for a fight, Dr. Salman Haseeb, President of the Punjab Young Doctors Association, said.

The previous attack on the hospital was repulsed by hospital security, but this time, “the lawyers overwhelmed us by their sheer numbers,” he said.

As a result, the emergency room, wards and other parts of the hospital were ransacked, causing a loss of Rs 70 million ($989,000).

“We called everyone for help and threw the lawyers out," Haseeb said.

While Asim Cheema, President of the Lahore Bar Association, expressed remorse over the incident, he said that the lawyers’ protest was initially peaceful until doctors allegedly started throwing stones at them as they walked into the institute. He said the lawyers were simply retaliating, but he did not explain the deaths nor the thousands of dollars in damage to the equipment caused by the lawyers.

Doctors disputed his account, who said that the lawyers “came prepared” with the intention to ransack the institute and “to attack the doctors.”

The initial fight took place in November when a group of lawyers came to the hospital for a medical consultation for one of the lawyers' mother, according to Haseeb. Doctors told ABC News that the lawyers went to pick up medication from the institute, but refused to wait in line and jumped the queue. After being denied the medicine and being forced to leave, violence broke out.

Lahore government official Kamran Ali, according to Reuters, said the lawyers become violent after doctors shared videos on social media of beating the lawyers up.

A country-wide strike was observed Friday by lawyers to protest the arrest of 40 people in connection with the incident.

Their cases have been registered under various charges, including terrorism and unintentional murder by an anti-terrorism court in Pakistan.

Zeeshan Asghar, the investigating police officer, said that the “charges against the lawyers are being investigated.”

Eyewitnesses allege they saw inhuman scenes that day, with people running for protection or trying to protect their patients from harm’s way.

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Ramberg/iStock(LONDON) -- Boris Johnson's Conservative Party has won a huge victory in U.K.'s closely watched general election.

Britain went to the polls for the third time in five years Thursday to determine who the public wants to resolve the stalemate over Brexit.

While early polling suggested the Conservatives would win a narrow majority, in the end the result was decisive.

With just one seat left to declare, the Conservative Party won 364 seats, with a majority of 78, in the largest majority they have secured since 1987, when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister.

The opposition Labour Party meanwhile only won 203 seats -- their worst electoral performance since 1935.

The victory is a clear vindication for Brexit-champion Boris Johnson, who would remain as prime minister.

Polling booths in the historic election opened at 7 a.m. local time and closed at 10 p.m., which is five hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time in the United States.

Johnson, the prime minister and leader of the Conservative Party, called the election to secure the majority he needs to get his Brexit deal through Parliament. His primary opponent, Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, said he would hold a second referendum on Brexit if his party came into power.

President Donald Trump heaped praise on Johnson after it became clear the Conservatives had won a majority, talking up the prospect of a free trade deal between the U.S. and the U.K.

"Congratulations to Boris Johnson on his great WIN!" Trump tweeted. "Britain and the United States will now be free to strike a massive new Trade Deal after BREXIT. This deal has the potential to be far bigger and more lucrative than any deal that could be made with the E.U. Celebrate Boris!"

Trump's 2020 rival Joe Biden, meanwhile, suggested that Johnson's victory could be a warning to progressives within the Democratic Party, going as far as to say the U.K. prime minister was "kind of a physical and emotional clone of the president."

"Look what happens when the Labour Party moves so, so far to the left," Biden said at a fundraiser in California. "It comes up with ideas that are not able to be contained within a rational basis quickly."

"You’re also going to see people saying, my god, Boris Johnson, who is kind of a physical and emotional clone of the president, is able to win,” Biden said.

The election was hailed on all political sides as the “most important vote in a generation.”

Both Johnson and Corbyn were seen casting their votes in their local constituencies Thursday morning.

At the last general election in 2017, Theresa May, the prime minister at the time, lost the Conservatives’ governing majority, which ultimately shot down her attempts to get her Brexit deal through Parliament. After she resigned, Johnson replaced her this summer with the promise to secure Brexit by the Oct. 31 deadline.

He was ultimately forced by opposition parties, and rebel MPs in his own ranks, to request an extension to the deadline and call an election.

Johnson hailed the election victory as a "powerful mandate to get Brexit done."

"That gives us now in this new government the chance to respect the democratic will of the British people, to change this country for the better, and to unleash the potential of the entire people of this country," he said. "And that is what we will now do."

Corbyn, meanwhile, announced he would not be leading the Labour Party in the next general election after the significant defeat.

"I want to also make it clear that I will not lead the party in any future general election campaign," Corbyn said. "I will discuss with our party to ensure there is a process now of reflection on this result and on the policies that the party will take going forward. And I will lead the party during that period to ensure that discussion takes place and we move on into the future."

The election campaign has been marred by accusations that misinformation has been peddled by all sides on the political spectrum, and claims that Johnson has avoided scrutiny of his policy. In one key instance, the Conservative Campaign Headquarters' Twitter account (@CCHQPress), changed its name to "factcheckUK" during a leaders’ debate between Johnson and Corbyn.

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CT757fan/iStock(LONDON) -- An angry crowd of protesters killed a teenager and strung up his corpse in the streets of Iraq's capital on Thursday amid the ongoing anti-government demonstrations, Iraqi officials said.

The brutal killing in Baghdad apparently stems from a days-old dispute in which the teen -- identified as 17-year-old Haitham Ali Ismael -- repeatedly ordered a group of protesters gathered on the street near his home to move but they refused, according to Maj. Gen. Abdul Karim Khalaf, a spokesman for the Iraqi Armed Forces.

The argument took a violent turn on Thursday morning when the teen climbed up onto the roof of his small house and fired a pistol into the air above the crowd, Khalaf told ABC News.

The protesters, apparently believing the boy had shot and killed someone, threw Molotov cocktails at his house, setting it on fire. They then stormed the home and stabbed the teen multiple times before tearing off his clothes and dragging him out on to the streets, according to Khalaf.

The mob tied rope around the teen's feet and hung his bloodied, lifeless body from a traffic light in Al Wathba Square in central Baghdad, Khalaf said.

"Security forces have not intervened yet and are awaiting a decision by the competent authorities for fear of collision and friction with the undisciplined elements between these groups," Khalaf said.

The civil unrest in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities began in October, fueled by anger over rampant corruption, inadequate public services, soaring unemployment and Iran's interference in the country's affairs. Baghdad's Tahrir Square, just a couple miles from Al Wathba Square, has become the heart of the anti-government uprising.

"A decision must be taken to enter the armed forces in the vicinity of Tahrir Square to end the tragic situation that is taking place there under the pretext of demonstrating," Khalaf said.

Muqtada al-Sadr, an influential Shia cleric, has threatened to pull is supporters from Tahrir Square unless the "terrorists" who killed the boy are found and brought to justice within 48 hours.

Organizers of the months-long protest movement have distanced themselves from Thursday's lynching, saying those involved were not their own. They claim, however, that the teen was under the influence of drugs when he fired on demonstrators and that Iraqi authorities stood by as "a number of them" were killed.

"What happened today in Al Wathba Square is a crime condemned by demonstrators and condemned by humanity and religions and punishable by law," the organizers told ABC News.

The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad issued a statement Thursday condemning the violence and expressing concern over the "disturbing accounts of citizens, demonstrators and activists being threatened, kidnapped, or killed."

"These actions should not be tolerated, and the government of Iraq cannot allow these lawless criminal events to continue without action," the embassy said. "Today's events in Al-Wathba Square were horrific. As we have said before and will say again, the U.S. government supports Iraq's desire for security, stability and sovereignty -- which cannot happen until kidnappings and violence cease."

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StanRohrer/iStock(LONDON) -- Chile's air force said it has located debris at sea believed to be from its cargo plane that vanished this week with 38 people aboard.

The Chilean-flagged vessel Antarctic Endeavour found the debris on Wednesday in the treacherous, icy waters of Drake Passage, about 19 miles south of where the C-130 Hercules aircraft last made contact, according to a statement from the Chilean Air Force.

The debris included floating pieces of sponge, which the air force said "could be part of the remains of the sponges of the internal fuel tanks of the C-130." The parts were recovered and taken to land for analysis to determine if they are indeed from the doomed plane.

The military aircraft disappeared over a stretch of sea between South American and Antarctica on Monday evening, a little over an hour after taking off from a base in Puntas Arenas, Chile.

The Chilean Air Force said the plane is presumed to have crashed.

The aircraft was on a logistical support mission with 21 passengers and 17 crew members on board, heading to a base in Antarctica -- a flight that generally takes about three hours.

The crew was supposed to revise a floating fuel supply pipeline among other tasks at the Antarctica base.

All of those on board were Chilean, with most from the air force. Two private contractors and a university student were also on the flight, according to an official with the Chilean Air Force.

The official said they are considering the flight lost at sea and have intensified search and rescue efforts, although there is little hope of finding survivors in the frigid ocean.

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Global Wildlife Conservation(NEW YORK) -- Biologists have rediscovered the "starry night" harlequin toad in Colombia for the first time in nearly three decades after the species was largely wiped out by a deadly fungal pathogen.

The toad, characterized by its black and white spots, was photographed in Colombia’s Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the tallest coastal mountain on Earth, the Global Wildlife Conservation announced on Thursday. The harlequin toad species is classified as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species and typically resides in mountainous regions of Latin America.

While the "starry night" subspecies was lost to scientists since 1991, it was never lost to the indigenous Arhuaco people of the Sogrome community in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, who call it "gouna," according to the conservation. The community has historically protected the amphibian which they consider guardians of water and symbols of fertility, and its habitat, Suarez Chaparro, a member of the Sogrome community and a biology student at the Francisco José de Cladas District University, said in a statement.

As an inspiration to the Sogrome's ancestral culture, the toad also represents a "legitimate authority of the natural world" and serves as an indicator on when to plant crops or perform spiritual ceremonies, according to the organization.

"We manage our resources and conserve our home as the law of origin dictates, which means that we live in balance with Mother Earth and all of the life here," Chaparro said. "Now we have a great opportunity to bring together two worldviews for the protection and preservation of the Sierra species: the Western scientific knowledge and the indigenous scientific, cultural and spiritual knowledge."

The documentation was made possible by a partnership between the Global Wildlife Conservation, Colombian NGO Fundación Atelopus and the Arhuaco people. The toad was largely not documented because biologists could not gain access to its habitat, which includes an eight-hour hike and required permission from the indigenous community.

The Fundación Atelopus was allowed to see the toad in April after four years of negotiations with Sogrome spiritual leaders but were not yet permitted to take photos. The community later granted scientists to take photos after they determined that they "genuinely" shared the community's interest in protecting the Sierra Nevada range.

Biologists went in expecting to find one individual toad but instead came across a population of about 30, said Fundación Atelopus Vice President and biologist José Luis Pérez-González.

"We were full of joy and hope as we had the chance to observe a healthy population from a genus for which very few species remain," Pérez-González said.

The partnership among the groups is a "powerful" example about how working with indigenous and local communities can help scientists rediscover and better understand how species survive, Lina Valencia, Colombia conservation officer at Global Wildlife Conservation, said in a statement.

"We are tremendously grateful to the Arhuaco people for giving us this opportunity to work with them," Valencia said.

The starry night harlequin toad is one of four harlequin species with "seemingly steady populations" living in mid-to-high level elevations in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, which has surprised biologists due to the association of dramatic amphibian declines with high elevations, according to the conservation.

The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is "one of the most important sites for the conservation of harlequin toads in Latin America," Luis Alberto Rueda, professor at Universidad del Magdalena and Fundación Atelopus co-founder, said in a statement.

Eighty of the known 96 harlequin toad species are critically endangered or extinct as a result of infectious disease, habitat destruction and degradation, invasive species and climate change, according to the IUCN. As of 2018, 37 harlequin toad species had disappeared from their homes and have not been seen since the early 2000s, despite efforts to find them.

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DanielBendjy/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Archaeologists have discovered what they say is the earliest figurative painting known to man, in a cave in Indonesia.

It depicts an intricate hunting scene, scholars believe, in which eight small, human-like figures pursue an anoa, a type of buffalo found in Indonesia.

The humans have animal features, like snouts and tails, and appear to be wielding thin objects that scholars are interpreting as spears or ropes.

After testing the painting using uranium analysis, scientists determined it to be 44,000 years old. The findings were published this week in the journal Nature.

While the painting is believed to be the earliest to depict a scene, it's not the earliest drawing on record. That honor goes to an abstract drawing found in a cave in South Africa in 2018 that is believed to be 73,000 years old.

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iStock(LONDON) -- China and Turkey were the world’s most prolific jailers of journalists in 2019, according to a special report released by the press freedom watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists this week.

The report, described as “a snapshot of those incarcerated at 12:01 a.m. on Dec. 1, 2019,” found at least 250 journalists imprisoned around the world in relation to their work, including at least 48 journalists jailed in China and at least 47 journalists jailed in Turkey. The report also identified Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Eritrea, Vietnam and Iran as particularly repressive media environments.

“China tightened its iron grip on the press and Turkey, having stamped out virtually all independent reporting, released journalists awaiting trial or appeal,” the report said. “Authoritarianism, instability, and protests in the Middle East led to a rise in the number of journalists locked up in the region.”

While most imprisoned journalists face “anti-state charges,” the report notes, the number of journalists charged with reporting “false news” has continued to rise in recent years, with some countries even passing laws criminalizing the publication of so-called “fake news.”

Officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment sent to both the Chinese and Turkish embassies in Washington, D.C.

According to Steven Butler, the Asia program director for the Committee to Protect Journalists, the charges levied by the Chinese government against offending journalists are often “extremely vague.”

“Every year there’s a different story about why people are picked up, but it all sends the same message,” Butler told ABC News. “China does not tolerate freedom of expression or honest reporting of the news.”

Coverage of China’s Xinjiang province, where one million Uyghurs, a Muslim ethnic minority native to the region, have been ushered into state-run “re-education” camps, appears to have emerged as a major flashpoint in the alleged government crackdown on the press. Dozens of journalists have been arrested there, the report notes, some of them facing charges for work they had published many years earlier.

“Journalists are expected to work for the Communist Party of China, and the government has been pretty open about that, so journalists who don't go along with that go to jail,” Butler said. “You report human rights abuses, you go to jail."

In Turkey, meanwhile, the decline from at least 68 imprisoned journalists in 2018 to at least 47 imprisoned journalists in 2019 “does not signal an improved situation for the Turkish media,” the report notes, with the industry having been “gutted by government shutdowns and takeovers, and scores of journalists in exile, jobless, or cowed into self-censorship.”

While the government has enacted some modest reforms that appear to have reduced the number of journalists currently imprisoned, the report identified dozens of journalists still awaiting trial on anti-state charges or facing prison sentences upon return to the country after being convicted in absentia.

According to Kathy Kiely, the Lee Hills Chair in Free Press Studies at the University of Missouri, the hostile media environment still has a chilling effect on critical reporting.

“It’s a clever, Orwellian way for Turkey to get their numbers down without actually improving their behavior,” Kiely told ABC News. “We have to acknowledge that these countries know how to game the system. Turkey's control tactics promote self-censorship and repress freedom of speech in more subtle ways.”

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iStock(WASHINGTON) -- In a historic vote, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution to recognize as genocide the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman-era Turkey a century ago, overcoming weeks of active opposition from President Donald Trump's White House as it convinced three Republican senators to block earlier votes.

The vote is sure to further roil U.S.-Turkish relations and upset the country's strongman president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who, despite a warm relationship with Trump, has overseen a fraying between the two NATO allies.

This is the first time this kind of resolution passed the Senate -- unanimously, no less -- and weeks after a similar measure passed the House, 405 to 11. Lawmakers have said they're increasingly upset with the Turkish government for its offensive against Syrian Kurdish forces that fought with the U.S. against ISIS and its purchase of a Russian missile defense system that violates U.S. law and undermines the NATO alliance's security.

The resolution, for which the Armenian government and diaspora have long asked, officially recognizes the mass violence against and forced displacement of Armenian Christians in the Ottoman Empire during World War I. As many as 1.5 million Armenians died. The modern-day Turkish government vehemently rejects the label of "genocide," admitting atrocities took place, but saying there was no systematic campaign to exterminate Armenians.

After the House passed its resolution, Turkey's foreign ministry called it a "grave mistake" that "will negatively affect the image of the U.S. before the public opinion of Turkey as it also brings the dignity of the U.S. House of Representatives into disrepute."

The Trump administration had been urging individual Republican senators to block the resolution for weeks, even as Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, reintroduced the legislation. The White House has said the timing of the resolution is inappropriate, just weeks after Erdoğan visited Washington, as he and Trump try to patch things up.

On three occasions, the administration was successful. Sen. Lindsey Graham blocked a vote on the day of Erdoğan's visit, Sen. David Purdue blocked one a week later and Sen. Kevin Cramer blocked one just last week -- even though he was a co-sponsor of a similar resolution in 2017.

Trump has praised Erdoğan and pushed for closer ties with Turkey, but lawmakers of both parties have sought to penalize its government for behavior they've said damages U.S. interests. At the top of that list is Turkey's offensive against the majority-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces that served as de facto U.S. ground forces against ISIS. That operation included potential war crimes by Turkish-backed opposition groups, according to the U.S. Defense Secretary and special envoy for Syria.

Critics, including prominent Republican senators, blasted Trump as giving a green light to Erdoğan for the assault, and after the U.S. and Turkey reached an agreement to halt it, Trump embraced the Turkish leader at the White House and removed any sanctions on senior Turkish officials.

The administration has also so far refused to sanction Turkey for its purchase of the Russian S400 missile defense system despite a 2017 law Trump signed requiring sanctions for any significant Russian defense purchases.

That softer approach to Ankara has fueled a stronger stance in Congress, including renewed support for the Armenian genocide declaration.

It's also gotten a boost from celebrity backers who are Armenian American.

Kim Kardashian West urged her followers to call their senators and ask them to vote yes on the resolution hours before the vote Thursday, writing in an Instagram post: "Denial is the final stage of genocide."

 

 

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dan_prat/iStock(LONDON) -- New Zealand authorities said they've recovered the bodies of six tourists who were stranded on White Island, where a volcano erupted earlier this week.

"Six bodies have been prepared for air lifting off Whakaari / #WhiteIsland and the process to transport them to HMNZS Wellington by helicopter has begun," New Zealand Police said in a tweet Friday, local time.

Authorities began the dangerous task of retrieving the bodies at first light Friday morning. The major operation included helicopters and boats as others searched at ground level.

Investigators had previously announced that plan was contingent on risk factors beyond their control, including weather and the conditions on the volcanic island.

Through aerial reconnaissance flights over the island, authorities discovered the location of six bodies but said there may be at least two more.

"A lot has to go right for us tomorrow to make this work," New Zealand Police Deputy Commissioner Mike Clement said in a statement Thursday. "There is no zero-risk option in regard to the plan, but we have carefully considered it. We don't expect the risk to change tonight or tomorrow, but we have planned for it."

White Island, also known as Whakaari, is about 30 miles from the country's mainland and home to New Zealand's most-active cone volcano. The uninhabited island has had regular eruptions for years but has become a widely popular tourist destination, accessible only by boat and helicopter.

Risk assessment maps released Thursday by New Zealand's geoscience agency, GNS Science, show the crater floor of White Island remains a high-risk area, with another eruption increasingly likely. The information has been provided to the New Zealand Police to support their decision-making.

"Whakaari/White Island is an active volcano, and the estimated chance of an eruption is increasing every day," GNS science volcanologist Graham Leonard said in a statement. "Today is less safe than yesterday, and the day before that."

A total of 47 people, including at least nine Americans, were visiting the island when it suddenly spewed scalding steam, ash and rock into the air Monday afternoon. Thirty-four people were evacuated via helicopters that and taken to hospitals for injuries, according to the New Zealand Police, which said there are likely no survivors left on the island.

Rescue workers hadn't been able to return to the island since then because the conditions have been too dangerous and unpredictable.

"This level of volcanic activity is the highest we've seen since the eruption in 2016," Leonard said.

At least eight people have died from their injuries since being rescued.

Among the dead are two teenage brothers, Matthew and Ben Hollander, who were born in the United States and moved to Australia from the Chicago area six years ago. The boys' parents, Martin and Barbara Hollander, are still missing, according to Knox Grammar School in Sydney, Australia, which the boys attended and is acting as a liaison for their family.

Another 29 people suffering burns over at least 30% of their bodies were still receiving treatment at various hospitals in the country as of Wednesday. Twenty-two of the patients remain on breathing support due to the severity of their burns and other injuries -- some were burned over 90% of their bodies, according to Dr. Peter Watson, chief medical officer of the Counties Manukau District Health Board.

"The majority [of patients] are very severe," Watson told reporters at a press conference Wednesday. "Our surgical teams have been working around the clock."

The nature of the burns is complicated by the gases and chemicals from the volcanic eruption, requiring more rapid surgical treatment than would be the case for thermal-only burns, according to Watson.

Watson said doctors require an estimated 1.2 million square centimeters of skin grafts to continue treating the burn victims.

An order has been placed with the United States for the additional skin as well as more wound dressings, according to Watson. The skin is the human body's largest organ, averaging a surface area of about 22 square feet.

Authorities are still working to confirm the identities of the deceased as well as the injured. New Zealand police have launched an investigation into the circumstances of the deaths and injuries on White Island.

Those who cannot get in touch with a friend or family member in the wake of the eruptions are urged to register them by visiting the New Zealand Red Cross website, or they can contact the New Zealand Police.


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iStock(LONDON) -- If early exit polls are any indication, Conservatives have won a huge victory in U.K.'s closely watched general election.

Britain went to the polls for the third time in five years Thursday to determine whom the public wants to resolve the stalemate over Brexit.

In an exit poll released at 10 p.m. local time, with the Conservative Party winning 368 seats and the Labour Party taking 191. The victory would mean a clear vindication for Brexit-champion Boris Johnson, who would remain as prime minister.

Polling booths in the historic election opened at 7 a.m. local time and closed at 10 p.m. -- which is five hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time in the United States.

The official results are expected to be announced Friday morning.

Johnson, the prime minister and leader of the Conservative Party, called the election to secure the majority he needs to get his Brexit deal through Parliament. His primary opponent, Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, has said he will hold a second referendum on Brexit if his party comes into power.

The election has been hailed on all political sides as the “most important vote in a generation.”

The public cast their votes in all 650 constituencies throughout the United Kingdom, with the outcome determining how many seats each political party secures in the House of Commons.

Both Johnson and Corbyn were seen casting their votes in their local constituencies Thursday morning.

At the last general election in 2017, Theresa May, the prime minister at the time, lost the Conservatives’ governing majority, which ultimately shot down her attempts to get her Brexit deal through Parliament. After she resigned, Johnson replaced her this summer with the promise to secure Brexit by the October 31 deadline.

He was ultimately was forced by opposition parties, and rebel MPs in his own ranks, to request an extension to the deadline and call an election.

The election campaign has been marred by accusations that misinformation has been peddled by all sides on the political spectrum, and claims that Johnson has avoided scrutiny of his policy. In one key instance, the Conservative Campaign Headquarters twitter account (@CCHQPress), changed its name to "factcheckUK" during a leaders’ debate between Johnson and Corbyn.

Another key issue during the campaign has been accusations of Islamophobia leveled at the Conservative Party, and anti-Semitism in the ranks of the Labour Party.

While the Conservative Party has sought to campaign predominantly on the issue of Brexit -- with the slogan “Get Brexit Done” -- the Labour Party have focused primarily on the National Health Service (NHS), according to Paula Surridge, a political sociologist at the University of Bristol.

“Brexit is still a key issue, but the Labour Party has wanted to fight the election on other issues where they feel they have a stronger position in the electorate, particularly on issue of health,” she told ABC News. “Here they have focused on trade with the U.S. and issues around parts of the NHS being open to U.S. markets for drugs and medicines.

"So the NHS has focused heavily in the campaign,” she added.

The final poll by the major election tracker YouGov, which predicted how 93% of seats in the 2017 general election, projects that the Conservative Party will win 339 seats. That would give them a governing majority of 28.

However, due to the margin of error involved, they have not ruled out a "hung Parliament" -- which means no political party will have a majority to govern effectively.

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oversnap/iStock(LONDON) -- Britain goes to the polls for the third time in four years Thursday to determine whom the public wants to resolve the stalemate over Brexit.

Polling booths in the historic election opened at 7 a.m. local time and will close at 10 p.m. -- which is five hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time in the United States.

The results are expected to be announced Friday morning.

Boris Johnson, the prime minister and leader of the Conservative Party, called the election to secure the majority he needs to get his Brexit deal through Parliament. His primary opponent, Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, has said he will hold a second referendum on Brexit if his party comes into power.

The election has been hailed on all political sides as the “most important vote in a generation.”

The public will cast their votes in all 650 constituencies throughout the United Kingdom, with the outcome determining how many seats each political party secures in the House of Commons.

Both Johnson and Corbyn were seen casting their votes in their local constituencies Thursday morning.

At the last general election in 2017, Theresa May, the prime minister at the time, lost the Conservatives’ governing majority, which ultimately shot down her attempts to get her Brexit deal through Parliament. After she resigned, Johnson replaced her this summer with the promise to secure Brexit by the Oct. 31 deadline.

He was ultimately forced by opposition parties, and rebel MPs in his own ranks, to request an extension to the deadline and call an election.

The election campaign has been marred by accusations that misinformation has been peddled by all sides on the political spectrum, and claims that Johnson has avoided scrutiny of his policy. In one key instance, the Conservative Campaign Headquarters twitter account (@CCHQPress), changed its name to "factcheckUK" during a leaders’ debate between Johnson and Corbyn.

Another key issue during the campaign has been accusations of Islamophobia leveled at the Conservative Party, and anti-Semitism in the ranks of the Labour Party.

While the Conservative Party has sought to campaign predominantly on the issue of Brexit -- with the slogan “Get Brexit Done” -- the Labour Party have focused primarily on the National Health Service (NHS), according to Paula Surridge, a political sociologist at the University of Bristol.

“Brexit is still a key issue, but the Labour Party has wanted to fight the election on other issues where they feel they have a stronger position in the electorate, particularly on issue of health,” she told ABC News. “Here they have focused on trade with the U.S. and issues around parts of the NHS being open to U.S. markets for drugs and medicines.”

"So the NHS has focused heavily in the campaign,” she added.

The final poll by the major election tracker YouGov, which predicted how 93% of seats in the 2017 general election, projects that the Conservative Party will win 339 seats. That would give them a governing majority of 28.

However, due to the margin of error involved, they have not ruled out a “hung Parliament” -- which means no political party will have a majority to govern effectively.

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RonTech2000/iStock(NEW YORK) -- The Nobel Peace Prize-winning leader of Myanmar defended her government from accusations of genocide against the Rohingya community at the United Nation's top court on Wednesday, calling the allegations "misleading."

Addressing the International Court of Justice at the Peace Palace in the Netherlands, Aung San Suu Kyi listened as lawyers recounted claims of mass murder, rape and torture of Myanmar's Muslim minority, the Rohingya. When Suu Kyi took the microphone, she vehemently defended her government against accusations of genocide.

"The situation in Rakhine state is complex and not easy to fathom," she told a panel of 17 ICJ judges, referring to the region where the crackdown by Myanmar's military has been centered. "Surely, under the circumstances, genocidal intent cannot be the only hypothesis."

In November, the small West African country of Gambia filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, a coalition of countries with significant Muslim populations, requesting the ICJ to investigate whether Myanmar's government has violated the Geneva Convention.

Suu Kyi accused Gambia of giving an "incomplete and misleading factual picture" of the situation in Rakhine state.

Nevertheless, Suu Kyi acknowledged that "disproportionate force" by Myanmar's military during the conflict could not be ruled out, but said Myanmar's own investigations would be adequate.

"Under its 2008 constitution, Myanmar has a military justice system and criminal cases against soldiers or officers for possible war crimes committed in Rakhine must be investigated and prosecuted by that system," she said. "There will be no tolerance of human rights violations in the Rakhine, or elsewhere in Myanmar."

The leader, who was given the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, has faced intense criticism over her silence on the killings in Rakhine.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority, have fled Myanmar, many to Bangladesh, since a campaign by the country's military to push them out and raze their villages began in August 2017. As recently as late October, the United Nations said in a report that the persecution "continues unabated in defiance of the international community. The treatment of some 600,000 Rohingya remaining in Rakhine State is largely unchanged."

A U.N. fact-finding mission in 2018 found human rights violations that were "principally committed by the Myanmar security forces," and recommended that they "be investigated and prosecuted in an international criminal tribunal for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes."

The weeklong ICJ hearing could lead to protections for Rohingya who remain in Myanmar, but the court doesn't hold enforcement powers and is instead used to settle legal disputes and give advisory opinions.

The United States imposed sanctions Tuesday on four Myanmar military leaders, including the commander-in-chief, for the alleged human rights abuses against the Rohingya and other minorities.

The sanctions issued Tuesday were implemented under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which freeze any U.S. assets held by those sanctioned and stops Americans from conducting financial transactions with them.

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DNY59/iStock(NEW YORK) -- A Belgian boy who was on track to become the youngest person to graduate from college has dropped out, leaving his parents and school administrators quarreling over who is to blame.

Laurent Simons, 9, gained worldwide attention after finishing high school in just a year and enrolling at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands in March 2018.

Laurent and his parents chose the school after learning that a special committee would be formed to help him finish the three-year electrical programming in just 10 months, his father, Alexander Simons, told ABC News in a telephone interview Wednesday.

He was set to finish the program on Dec. 26, when he turned 10, effectively making history. The current record holder is American Michael Kearney, who graduated in June 1994 at the age of 10 years 4 months, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

But when the family decided he would go to the United States for further studies after graduation and not Eindhoven, Simons said the school veered off course.

"We saw a change in the behavior after Laurent dropped the news to the university," Simons said.

In an email shared with ABC News from Nov. 17, the organizer of the boy's studies wrote to the examination committee at Eindhoven that there was "a realistic chance that Laurent can finish his program in 2019."

But in a meeting with the dean and Laurent's mentor on Monday, the three were allegedly told that Laurent wouldn't be able to graduate in the 10 months they were promised, but instead it would take another six to eight months.

"It doesn't make sense," Simons said. "All of a sudden, in a few weeks, everything changes."

Ivo Jongsma, a spokesman for the university, told ABC News that Simons "never made it a secret that he wanted his son to do a Ph.D. in the U.S., so in our perception there was no change of plan."

He said even if there had been a change, "it would not have changed our attitude."

Eindhoven defended its position not to let Laurent finish his studies by Dec. 26 in a statement to ABC News.

The university deemed the timetable "not feasible and would be unfavorable to Laurent's academic development."

Instead, school officials proposed an agenda that would allow him to finish his courses and graduate by mid-2020.

"In our view, this timeline would offer Laurent the opportunity to sufficiently develop the skills associated with the final phase of the study program, such as insight, creativity and critical analysis, without undue pressure on this 9-year-old student," the statement said.

Laurent's father, though, wasn't convinced.

"Do they think we are idiots?" Simons said.

He said if the school had initially told the family it would take three years, it wouldn't have mattered to them.

"But this is not OK," according to Simons. "It's your university, do whatever you like, but it's also Laurent's life and it's his decision to stay here or not."

As for Laurent, he was both heartbroken and angry after hearing the news.

The plans to head for the United States are still in place, according to Simons, and the family is working on getting certifications from the university to prove that he passed his classes.

Simons would not say what universities in the U.S. they were looking at for Ph.D. programs but they have been in touch with some who have offered support.

"Sometimes you win some, sometimes you lose some," Simons said, noting that he believes his son has a "great future ahead" no matter what.

"We also believe in karma," he quickly added.

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Echinophoria/iStock(WELLINGTON, New Zealand) -- The death toll from Monday's volcanic eruption in New Zealand has climbed to eight, according to the country's national police force.

The eight confirmed deaths were all people who had been evacuated from White Island shortly after the volcano erupted and have since succumbed to their injuries at hospitals across New Zealand.

Among those killed are two American-born brothers, Matthew and Ben Hollander, who moved to Australia from the Chicago area six years ago. The boys' parents, Martin and Barbara Hollander, are still missing, according to Knox Grammar School in Sydney, Australia, where the boys attended and which is acting as a liaison for their family.

"We are absolutely heartbroken by this loss," the family said in a statement. "Ben and Matthew were wonderfully kind and spirited boys who lived short but very fulsome lives."

"They had a positive and lasting impact on everyone’s paths they crossed," the statement continued. "The family requests privacy at this difficult time."

Meanwhile, 29 people suffering burns over at least 30% of their bodies were still receiving treatment at various hospitals in the country as of Wednesday. Twenty-two of the patients remain on airway support due to the severity of their burns and other injuries -- some were burned on 90% of their bodies, according to Dr. Peter Watson, chief medical officer of the Counties Manukau District Health Board.

"The majority [of patients] are very severe," Watson told reporters at a press conference Wednesday. "Our surgical teams have been working around the clock."

The nature of the burns is complicated by the gases and chemicals from the volcanic eruption, requiring more rapid surgical treatment than would be the case for thermal-only burns, according to Watson.

Watson said doctors require an estimated 1.2 million square centimeters of skin grafts to continue treating the burn victims.

An order has been placed with the United States for the additional skin as well as more wound dressings, according to Watson. The skin is the human body's largest organ, averaging a surface area of about 22 square feet.

A total of 47 people, including at least nine Americans, were visiting White Island, also known as Whakaari, when the volcano suddenly spewed steam, ash and debris into the air on Monday afternoon. Thirty-four people were rescued via helicopters that day and taken to hospitals for injuries, while others were stranded on the volcanic island, according to the New Zealand Police, which said there are likely no survivors.

Authorities are working to confirm the identities of the deceased as well as the injured. The New Zealand Police has launched an investigation into the circumstances of the deaths and injuries on White Island.

Police on Wednesday released the names and nationalities of another nine people who are listed officially as missing. Seven are from Australia and the other two are New Zealanders.

Earlier, police said eight people who are missing were believed to be still on the island and presumed dead.

Rescue workers have been unable to return to the island to recover the bodies of those believed to be killed because the conditions are too dangerous and unpredictable. A 5-mile no-fly zone is in place around the island, along with a 5-nautical-mile maritime exclusion zone.

"The environment on the island has changed, with increased volcanic activity since early this morning," New Zealand Police Deputy Commissioner John Tims said in a statement Wednesday. "We are standing by and ready to go as soon as we can be confident that the risks on the island are manageable."

White Island, about 30 miles from mainland New Zealand, is home to the country's most active cone volcano. The uninhabited island has had regular eruptions for years but has become a widely popular tourist destination, accessible only by boat and helicopter.

The family that owns the island has asked that the public respect a new prohibition restricting access to the ash-covered site.

Those who cannot get in touch with a friend or family member in the wake of the volcanic eruptions are urged to register them by visiting the New Zealand Red Cross website or call the New Zealand Police.

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