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Joe Biden Names Samantha Power As US Aid Chief, Boosts Role

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President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday nominated former ambassador Samantha Power, a forceful advocate of humanitarian diplomacy, to lead US foreign aid and elevated the position’s role.

Power, if confirmed as administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), would sit on the National Security Council along with John Kerry, the former secretary of state tapped as climate envoy — for the first time giving such prominence to the two issues.

“Samantha Power is a world-renowned voice of conscience and moral clarity — challenging and rallying the international community to stand up for the dignity and humanity of all people,” Biden said in a statement.

“As USAID administrator, Ambassador Power will be a powerful force for lifting up the vulnerable, ushering in a new era of human progress and development and advancing American interests globally.”

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Power would be the best-known figure ever to lead USAID, a new indication that Biden plans to put a focus on overseas assistance, which Secretary of State-nominee Antony Blinken has said will be “at the center of our foreign policy.”

A former war correspondent born in Ireland, Power won the Pulitzer Prize for her 2002 book “A Problem from Hell” in which she critiques the US reluctance to label and prevent genocide around the world.

Power, 50, was an early supporter of Barack Obama who in his second term as president made her US ambassador to the United Nations.

In a memoir published in 2019 entitled “The Education of an Idealist,” Power described the struggles to fit her vision into the reality of governance, including her unsuccessful push for more action on Syria by Obama, who feared stronger US intervention would become a quagmire.

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At USAID, Power will face an early test in seeing how US assistance can bridge inequalities that have been aggravated by the Covid-19 crisis, which the World Bank has estimated could plunge up to 115 million people worldwide into extreme poverty.

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Outgoing president Donald Trump has been a staunch critic of foreign aid, saying the United States should focus on itself, although bipartisan coalitions in Congress have rejected his more drastic proposals of cuts.

The Trump administration has largely seen aid through the prism of competition with China and other powers, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo boasting that the United States is “the most generous nation in the history of the world.”

Power would succeed acting USAID chief John Barsa, a Trump advisor who has raised controversy for installing outspoken conservatives and demanding the United Nations remove references to “reproductive health.”

AFP

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France Sets To Change Sexual Consent To 15 Years

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France Sets To Change Sexual Consent To 15 Years

The French government has set up plans to change the age of sexual consent at 15 and make it easier to punish long-ago child sexual abuse.

The move has long been supported by victims of sexual abuse and child protection activists pushed for tougher laws and greater societal recognition of the problem of sexual abuse and this new development has been welcomed by them.

The Justice Ministry said systematic sexual abuse is “intolerable”, adding that “the government is determined to act quickly to implement the changes that our society expects.”

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“An act of sexual penetration by an adult on a minor under 15 will be considered a rape,” Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti said Tuesday, Feb 9, on France-2 television.

Perpetrators could no longer cite consent to diminish the charges, he said, though exceptions would be made for teenagers having consensual sex.

The change still needs to be enshrined in law, but the announcement is a major step.

“It’s very good that there is this revived debate, that there is an idea of a minimum age (of consent),” said Fatima Benomar, whose group Les Effrontees has pushed for stronger laws against sexual abusers. “This will make adults more responsible.”

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An effort to set France’s first age of consent three years ago in the wake of the global #MeToo movement failed amid legal complications. But it has gained new momentum since accusations emerged last month of incestuous sexual abuse involving a prominent French political expert, Olivier Duhamel. That unleashed an online #MeTooInceste movement in France that led to tens of thousands of similar testimonies.

The Justice Ministry is in discussions with victims’ groups about toughening punishment of incestuous abuse and extending or abolishing the statute of limitations on sexual violence against children, because it creates such deep trauma that it can take decades for victims to speak out. The law currently allows child victims to file complaints until they are 48.

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The ministry also says it wants “to ensure that victims of the same perpetrator do not receive different legal treatment,” which could broaden the scope to prosecute those accused of abusing multiple people over decades.

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Angola Decriminalizes Same-Sex Relationships As New Law Takes Effect

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Angola Decriminalizes Same-Sex Relationships As New Law Takes Effect

A new law decriminalizing same-sex sexual relations has gone into effect in Angola.

A new law decriminalizing same-sex sexual relations went into effect Wednesday, Feb 10, in Angola.

The new law overturned a colonial-era “vice against nature” provision that was seen as a ban on homosexual relations.

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The changes were passed in January 2019 by Angola’s parliament, but was not signed into law by the country’s president until November 2020. It went into effect on Feb 10, 2021.

The new law also prohibits discrimination based upon a person’s sexual orientation.

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The changes came from the first rewriting of the country’s penal code since gaining independence in 1975. Angola had previously been a colony of Portugal, and the amended laws had been a remnant of the colonial-era rule that encouraged discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community.

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According to Human Rights Watch, the previous laws on same-sex sexual relations had been rarely prosecuted, but served as a basis for undue scrutiny and discrimination. The new law includes imprisonment of up to two years for discrimination based on sexual orientation.

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Orthodox Church Under Pressure As Six-week-old Baby Dies During Baptism

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Romania Orthodox Church

The Romania Orthodox Church is facing growing pressure to change baptism rituals style after a  six-week-old baby died following a ceremony earlier this week.


The baby boy reportedly suffered a cardiac arrest during the Baptism on Monday and was rushed to hospital but died a few hours later, with autopsy revealing liquid in his lungs. 

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Prosecutors have now opened a manslaughter investigation against the priest in the north-eastern city of Suceava.

An online petition calling for changes to the ritual had gathered more than 56,000 signatures by Thursday evening.

“The death of a newborn baby because of this practice is a huge tragedy,” said a message with the petition. “This risk must be ruled out for the joy of baptism to triumph.”

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Due to several similar incidents in recent years, Church spokesman, Vasile Banescu had suggested that priests pour a little water on the baby’s forehead instead of immersing infants three times in holy water. But Archbishop Teodosie, leader of the Church’s traditionalist wing, said the ritual would not change.

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More than 80% of Romanians are Orthodox and the Church is one of the most trusted institutions, according to recent opinion polls.

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Trump Hires New Defence Team Ahead Of Impeachment trial

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Former U.S. president Donald Trump has hired a new defence team shortly before his second impeachment trial is due to start.

The defence will be led by David Schoen and Bruce Castor, Trump’s office said late on Sunday.

Broadcaster CNN had reported earlier that Trump’s initial defence team of five lawyers would not be representing the Republican after all, citing differences over his legal strategy.

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CNN cited sources as saying Trump wanted the attorneys to pursue unsubstantiated allegations of electoral fraud instead of questioning the legitimacy of impeachment proceedings against a president who has already left office.

The attorneys had so far not received any advance payments, and no letter of intent was ever signed, according to CNN.

The announcement from Trump’s office said that Schoen and Castor agree that the trial against Trump is unconstitutional.

A large majority of Republicans in the Senate also recently took this view.

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Trump is facing an unprecedented second impeachment trial over the deadly storming of the Capitol building on Jan. 6.

Lawmakers have accused Trump of inciting an insurrection after a violent mob of his supporters attacked the Congress building following one of his rallies, leading to the deaths of five people.

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The trial, which is similar to a court proceeding with the senators functioning as jurors, is set to begin during the week of Feb. 8.

A two-thirds majority is needed to obtain a conviction in the Senate and subsequently bar Trump from running for office again. (dpa/NAN)

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5,000 Artefacts Retrieved From US, says Egypt

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Egypt announced Wednesday that it had retrieved some 5,000 ancient items from the United States, after years of negotiations to return what it said were fraudulently acquired items.

In a statement, the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities confirmed the “arrival at Cairo airport of a large number of ancient Egyptian items which had been in the possession of the Museum of the Bible in Washington”.

The items, totalling nearly 5,000, mainly consisted of manuscripts, but also included funeral masks, parts of coffins and the heads of stone statues, said Chaabane Abdeljawad, an official quoted in the statement.

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The items, which left Egypt in a fraudulent manner, would be placed in the Coptic Museum in Cairo, the statement added.

It was not clear how the items left Egypt illegally or ended up at the museum in Washington, but Egyptian authorities negotiated their return over several years.

Many treasured items were damaged, destroyed or illegally whisked out of the country during the popular uprising against former president Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

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