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By Angus McDowall and Suleiman Al-Khalidi BEIRUT/AMMAN (Reuters) - The Syrian government stepped up its efforts on Thursday to retake the opposition's last besieged enclaves, as rebels prepared to withdraw from one and a newspaper reported an ultimatum against another. President Bashar al-Assad scored a major victory this month by retaking eastern Ghouta, the biggest rebel stronghold near Damascus, putting his forces in by far their strongest position since the early months of the seven-year-old civil war. The United States, Britain and France launched a volley of air strikes on Saturday against three Syrian targets in retaliation for a suspected chemical weapons strike during the Ghouta assault.
A 911 operator in Texas has been sentenced to jail time followed by probation for hanging up on emergency callers “thousands” of times. Crenshanda Williams, 44, was sentenced to 10 days in jail and 18 months probation after an investigation into an unusual number of “short calls” for the former emergency operator, meaning they lasted no longer than 20 seconds, according to local media reports. Williams systematically hung up on the calls, prosecutors told the jury that found her guilty of interference with emergency phone calls, including instances in which vehicles were proceeding at dangerous speeds on a highway, and one where someone was attempting to report a violent burglary.
The Queen has expressed her "sincere wish" that her son, the Prince of Wales, will one day succeed her as Head of Commonwealth, in the clearest signal yet about the future of the family of nations. The Queen, who addressed the Commonwealth heads of government in the Buckingham Palace ballroom at the official opening of CHOGM this morning, said it was her sincere wish that Prince Charles would “carry on the important work” started by her father, George VI in 1949. Her highly significant speech, met with warm applause, is the most explicit statement she has made to date of her hopes for the Commonwealth’s future, and the honorary and not hereditary position of its head. In an unusually explicit statement of her views, she told the presidents and prime ministers of the Commonwealth: “It remains a great pleasure and honour to serve you as Head of the Commonwealth and to observe, with pride and satisfaction, that this is a flourishing network. “It is my sincere wish that the Commonwealth will continue to offer stability and continuity for future generations, and will decide that one day The Prince of Wales should carry on the important work started by my father in 1949.” The Queen and the Prince of Wales at the official opening of CHOGM Credit: Yui Mok /PA The Prince of Wales’ bid to one day accede to his mother’s Commonwealth role is due to be discussed at a private CHOGM retreat at Windsor on Friday, but is now widely considered a foregone conclusion. Two years ago, speaking at the last CHOGM in Malta, the Queen offered a hint to her feelings, saying she could not have been "better supported and represented in the Commonwealth than by The Prince of Wales who continues to give so much to it with great distinction”. The Prime Minister, Theresa May, and the Queen Credit: Dominic Lipinski /PA Today, at the start of the London summit, she told an audience: "When I meet the young leaders of this century, I remember my own life-long commitment – made in South Africa in 1947 at the age of 21. "As another birthday approaches this week, I am reminded of the extraordinary journey we have been on, and how much good has been achieved." Saying that "my family and I have been heartened" by the successful Commonwealth programmes "in which we are proud to play a part," she added: "Here at Buckingham Palace in 1949, my father met the Heads of Government when they ratified the London Declaration, which created the Commonwealth as we know it today – then comprising just eight nations. The Commonwealth Heads of Government "family picture" Credit: Jonathan Brady /PA "Who then - or in 1952, when I became Head of the Commonwealth - would have guessed that a gathering of its member states would one day number 53, or that it would comprise 2.4 billion people? Members of the Royal Family watch the ceremony Credit: Jonathan Brady /PA "Put simply, we are one of the world's great convening powers: a global association of volunteers who believe in the tangible benefits that flow from exchanging ideas and experiences and respecting each other's point of view. "And we seem to be growing stronger year by year. The advantages are plain to see." The CHOGM opening ceremony saw leaders move to pay tribute to the Queen’s service to the Commonwealth in a ceremony attended by 46 Commonwealth heads of government and seven foreign ministers representing their countries to make up 53 member states. The Queen delivers her speech Credit: Dominic Lipinski /PA Dr Joseph Muscat, Prime Minister of Malta and outgoing chair-in-office of the Commonwealth, said: "When your father, His Majesty King George, started what he started, you have not only continued, but also elevated to unprecedented levels. "We are equally elated by the vigour with which His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales actively participates in Commonwealth affairs, and puts a strong Commonwealth dimension in his various national and global initiatives. "We are certain that when he will be called upon to do so, he will provide solid and passionate leadership for our Commonwealth." A Guard of Honour for CHOGM Credit: Gareth Fuller /PA Theresa May, the Prime Minister, received prolonged applause after addressing the Queen directly, saying: “This week you have opened your homes to us – here in London and in Windsor. Over many years you have been the Commonwealth’s most steadfast and fervent champion. “You have been true to the deepest values of the Commonwealth – that the voice of the smallest member country is worth precisely as much as that of the largest; that the wealthiest and the most vulnerable stand shoulder to shoulder. “You have seen us through some of our most serious challenges. And we commit to sustaining this Commonwealth, which you have so carefully nurtured. Soldiers of the Coldstream Guards carry flags of the 53 Commonwealth countries at Buckingham Palace Credit: Gareth Fuller /PA “For your service, for your dedication, for your constancy – we thank you.” The Prince of Wales, who walked into the ballroom at the side of the Queen and made the first address, said: “For my part, the Commonwealth has been a fundamental feature of my life for as long as I can remember, beginning with my first visit to Malta when I was just five years old. “And so, Ladies and Gentlemen, I pray that this Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting will not only revitalize the bonds between our countries, but will also give the Commonwealth a renewed relevance to all citizens, finding practical solutions to their problems and giving life to their aspirations. Theresa May delivers her speech at Buckingham Palace Credit: Jonathan Brady /PA “By doing so, the Commonwealth can be a cornerstone for the lives of future generations, just as it has been for so many of us.” He raised a smile from Canadian leader Justin Trudeau, as he name-checked his father Pierre during a list of “giants of the Commonwealth” he has been “fortunate” enough to meet. The ceremony, hosted by broadcaster Reeta Chakrabarti, also saw guests treated to musical performances, with the Queen looking on intently. Emeli Sande gave a rendition of the national anthem, before a group of six “Commonwealth Voices” performed a version of Unwritten, a pop song now considered by organisers to be a “youth anthem”. The Queen and Prince of Wales arrive at the opening of CHOGM together Credit: Jonathan Brady /PA Young musicians played Shepherd’s Hey, a folk song, and two winners of the Queen’s Young Leaders programme, Devika Malik and Philip Cole, told their stories. While the Queen took her seat on stage with the heads of government and Secretary-General Baroness Scotland, the Prince of Wales watched with senior members of the Royal from a small audience. The formal opening of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in the ballroom at Buckingham Palace Credit: Dominic Lipinski /PA He was joined by his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, and sons the Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry. Also in attendance were the Duke of York, the Princess Royal, the Countess of Wessex, the Duke of Kent, Prince and Princess Michael of Kent and Princess Alexandra, who walked out as a family at the end of the ceremony. Later today, the Queen and Prince of Wales will host a lunch at Buckingham Palace for new heads of government. This evening, the Royal Family, heads of government and their spouses, will reconvene at the palace for a formal “Queen’s Dinner”, with a drinks reception and a second speech from Her Majesty. About | The Commonwealth
NASA on Wednesday blasted off its newest planet-hunting spacecraft, TESS, a $337 million satellite that aims to scan 85 percent of the skies for cosmic bodies where life may exist. "Three, two, one and liftoff!" said NASA commentator Mike Curie as the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) soared into the cloudless, blue sky atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida at 6:51 pm (2251 GMT). The washing machine-sized spacecraft is built to search outside the solar system, scanning the nearest, brightest stars for signs of periodic dimming.
By Timothy Gardner WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House budget office said on Wednesday it was probing whether a $43,000 soundproof phone booth installed for Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt violated the law, while dozens of Democratic senators called for him to resign over allegations of ethics lapses. Pruitt has been under fire for potential ethics lapses, including flying first class, excessive spending on security, and the rental of a room in a Washington condominium owned by the wife of an energy lobbyist. The Office of Management and Budget is reviewing whether spending on the booth installed in Pruitt's office broke a law prohibiting federal agencies from incurring expenses in excess of available funds, known as the Anti-Deficiency Act.
Although the United States and Russia have imposed economic sanctions on each other since 2014, several large U.S. corporations, including PepsiCo Inc and McDonald's Corp , still count Russia as a growth market. The United States imposed sanctions on 24 Russian oligarchs and government officials and 12 Russian companies on April 6.
In preparation for all of this, the ship is now going through combat activation in San Diego, Calif., to pave the way toward preparing the weapons systems for the ship’s planned move to operational status in 2020, Navy officials say. This process will also carefully refine many of the ship’s other technologies, such as its advanced Integrated Power System and Total Ship Computing Environment, multi-function, volume-search SPY-3 radar and sonar systems. Navy developers of the new high-tech, stealthy USS Zumwalt destroyer are widening the mission envelope for the ship, exploring new ammunition for its guns and preparing to fire its first missiles next year.
There has been public outrage in Germany after video footage emerged of two Jewish men being violently assaulted in an apparent anti-Semitic attack in central Berlin. The two men, who were both wearing kippah, traditional Jewish skullcaps, were insulted before being set upon and whipped with a belt in one of the city’s most fashionable neighbourhoods. A group of three unidentified men can be heard on the video clearly shouting “Yahudi”, the Arabic word for Jew. The two victims stood their ground and threatened to call the police before their main assailant was dragged away by his companions. The incident was videoed by one of the victims, who was named by Israeli television as Adam Armoush, a 21-year-old Israeli citizen living in Berlin. Antisemitischer Angriff in #Berlin – ein Mann schlägt mit einem Gürtel auf einen Mann ein und bezeichnet ihn wiederholt als "Yahudi" (arabisch für "Jude"). #Antisemitismuspic.twitter.com/YCHVgCF1ox— Jüdisches Forum (@JFDA_eV) April 17, 2018 “They kept cursing at us and my friend asked them to stop,” Mr Armoush, who suffered minor injuries, told Kan TV. “They started to get angry and one of them ran at me and I knew it was important to film it because there would be no way to catch him by the time the police arrived.” The video shows the attacker whipping Mr Arnoush with a belt. The 21-year-old said he had suffered bruises and minor injuries. The other victim, a 24-year-old Israeli citizen, has not been named. The incident is the latest in a disturbing series of attacks on Jewish people in the German capital, which have seen men in skullcaps assaulted on the streets and Jewish children threatened in schools. Most of the incidents have involved Muslim assailants. “It is intolerable for young men to be attacked here just because they are wearing a kippah,” Heiko Maas, the German foreign minister, said in a statement. “Jews must never again feel threatened here. It is our responsibility to protect Jewish life.” “Anti-Semitism doesn’t belong to the Berlin we want to live in,” Michael Müller, the city’s mayor said. “It is unbearable to see a young Jewish man being attacked on the street in the well-heeled Berlin neighbourhood of Prenzlauer Berg because he recognizes himself as a Jew,” Levi Salomon of the Jewish Forum for Democracy and Against Anti-Semitism. “This shows that Jewish people are not safe here. Politicians and civil society have to act. We do not need Sunday speeches anymore, we need action.” “It makes me angry when I see such hateful violence,” Aiman Mazyek of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany said. “Anti-Semitism must not be given an inch of space.”
Pope Francis made a fresh plea on Wednesday against a British court ruling that authorises doctors to turn off a terminally ill British toddler's life-support. Alfie Evans, 23 months old, has been in a coma for over a year and needs a ventilator to keep him breathing due to a rare degenerative neurological condition. The parents, Tom Evans and Kate James, attended the pope's weekly general audience at the Vatican on Wednesday.
Iraqi courts have sentenced to death a total of more than 300 people, including dozens of foreigners, for belonging to the Islamic State group, judicial sources said Wednesday. The suspects are being tried by two courts, one near the former jihadist stronghold of Mosul in northern Iraq and another in Baghdad which is dealing notably with foreigners and women. Since January in the capital, 103 foreign nationals have been condemned to death -- including six Turks sentenced on Wednesday -- and 185 to life in prison, according to a judicial source.
Audio of the Southwest Airlines incident has emerged, showing how pilot Tammie Jo Shults remained completely calm after an engine exploded and a woman passenger was nearly sucked out of the plane. It is believed that one woman, Jennifer Riordan, died in the initial engine explosion, which sent shrapnel smashing into the Boeing 737-700, but Ms Shults, whose experience includes being one of the first female fighter pilots in the US Navy, was able to get all the other passengers to safety.
Starbucks, moving swiftly to confront a racially charged uproar over the arrest of two black men at one of its stores in Philadelphia, plans to close more than 8,000 U.S. stores for several hours next month to conduct racial-bias training for nearly 175,000 workers. Philadelphia police released a recording of the call from the Starbucks employee that led to the arrests. In the recording, a woman is heard saying, "Hi, I have two gentlemen in my cafe that are refusing to make a purchase or leave." She gives the address of the Starbucks store, and the entire call lasts less than 30 seconds.
Tammie Jo Shults, 56, may have drawn on her Navy skills when one of the two engines on her Boeing 737-700 blew and broke apart at 32,000 feet on Tuesday, forcing her to implement a rapid descent towards Philadelphia International Airport. One of the first female fighter pilots in the U.S. Navy, Shults calmly told air traffic control that part of her plane was missing, and she would need ambulances on the runway.