Dominican Republic to require visas for Venezuelans

Posted on: December 9th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

The Dominican Republic will require visas for Venezuelans, who have moved to the country by the thousands amid an economic and humanitarian crisis

Dominican Republic to require visas for Venezuelans

Posted on: December 9th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

The Dominican Republic will require visas for Venezuelans, who have moved to the country by the thousands amid an economic and humanitarian crisis

Russia, Ukraine agree to prisoner exchange by year’s end

Posted on: December 9th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy says after peace talks in Paris with Russian President Vladimir Putin that an exchange of all prisoners will take place by year’s end

Russia, Ukraine agree to prisoner exchange by year’s end

Posted on: December 9th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy says after peace talks in Paris with Russian President Vladimir Putin that an exchange of all prisoners will take place by year’s end

Up to 13 feared dead in volcanic eruption off New Zealand

Posted on: December 9th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

It is not clear if any people were on the island at the time.

Up to 13 feared dead in volcanic eruption off New Zealand

Posted on: December 9th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

It is not clear if any people were on the island at the time.

Ukraine’s leader says after talks with Russian president that an exchange of all prisoners will take place by year’s end

Posted on: December 9th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

Ukraine’s leader says after talks with Russian president that an exchange of all prisoners will take place by year’s end

Ukraine’s leader says after talks with Russian president that an exchange of all prisoners will take place by year’s end

Posted on: December 9th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

Ukraine’s leader says after talks with Russian president that an exchange of all prisoners will take place by year’s end

Canada charges Volkswagen over faking car emissions tests

Posted on: December 9th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

Volkswagen imported cars company executives knew violated emissions standards.

Canada charges Volkswagen over faking car emissions tests

Posted on: December 9th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

Volkswagen imported cars company executives knew violated emissions standards.

Russian court upholds release of American held for 2 years over cleaning product

Posted on: December 9th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

DNY59/iStock(MOSCOW) — A Moscow court has upheld a decision to release an American man who spent almost two years in a Russian jail after he was put on trial over a cleaning product he bought online.

Gaylen Grandstaff, a 54 year-old English teacher from Texas, was arrested in 2017 and spent 608 days in pre-trial detention in Moscow as prosecutors sought to jail him on drug smuggling charges. One of the few Americans to spend so much time in a Russian prison, he was held in grim conditions, harassed by guards, severely beaten by other inmates and denied medical assistance. ABC News chronicled Grandstaff and his Russian wife, Anna’s ordeal in a short film earlier this year.

In March, Grandstaff was unexpectedly freed after a judge suddenly acknowledged serious problems with the case. In the ruling, the judge found the prosecution had failed to gather basic evidence and sent the case back for further investigation. Grandstaff was released in the courtroom and was allowed to return to the apartment where he and Anna live in Moscow.

The prosecution, however, appealed the ruling, leaving the threat that Grandstaff could be returned to jail. With the case still open, he has been unable to leave Russia, left instead in limbo for 9 months while authorities ignored deadlines to hold a hearing.

On Monday, Moscow’s highest appeals court rejected the prosecutors’ request. The judge at Moscow’s City Court upheld in full the March ruling to keep Grandstaff free and confirmed that the case lacked basic evidence to go forward.

Monday’s ruling removes all charges against Grandstaff and returns the case to the stage of preliminary police investigation. That means the while the case is still not formally closed– investigators now must decide whether to formally drop it— it at last clears a path to him finally being able to go home.

“I feel quite spectacular right now,” Grandstaff said outside the court. “It’s a very good feeling. I didn’t really let myself entertain much of the idea of going home. Right now it seems like a step closer.”

In Russia, less than 1 percent of criminal trials end in acquittal, making Grandstaff’s release extraordinary. Inherited from the Soviet Union, the Russian judicial system is most often a conveyor belt of convictions, where evidence is routinely fabricated and defendants are essentially treated as presumed guilty.

When Grandstaff will be able to leave Russia is still not clear. Grandstaff’s Russian visa expired while he was in jail and was never renewed, meaning he has been in an immigration gray zone where it is simultaneously illegal for him to work in Russia but is also impossible for him to leave. The next step is for the Grandstaffs to try to receive a visa to exit Russia. It also still unclear that he might not be stopped at the border because the police investigation is still on the books.

“Legally I think I should be able to leave but whether or not they would actually let me leave may be another,” Grandstaff said on Monday.

The case against Grandstaff held serious problems from the beginning. The cleaning product he bought from the Chinese website Ali Express turned out to contain gamma-butyrolactone or GBL, an industrial cleaner that is sometimes used as an illegal party drug or more rarely as a muscle-builder and which is banned in Russia and many other countries as a narcotic. Grandstaff said he had been upsold the cleaner by the Chinese vendor while he was shopping online for medication for his Crohn’s disease and had had no way of knowing it contained the banned substance.

Police though charged Grandstaff with large-scale drug smuggling, a heavy offense that carries a maximum prison sentence of 10-20 years and is intended to prosecute major traffickers. But the case made little sense– first they accused Grandstaff of buying the cleaner to sell, but then switched to alleging he intended to use it for personal body-building. Despite that, they continued to press the serious drug smuggling charge while arguing Grandstaff had bought the GBL for his own fitness. Needing to paint Grandstaff as a fitness obsessive, they then appeared to use crude tactics to do so, including distorting a testimony according to one witness. A judge continued to prolong Grandstaff’s detention for months, despite the evidence provided by the prosecution remaining mostly unchanged.

Ultimately, rights advocates and legal experts said even if Grandstaff had known what he was buying the charge brought against him was excessively severe, likely driven by prosecutors seeking to appear effective on drugs cases and unable to reverse once charges were brought. Grandstaff’s long detention and then legal limbo after his release are typical of the Russian justice system, where prosecutors have little incentive to drop charges and are permitted to let cases languish for months.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Russian court upholds release of American held for 2 years over cleaning product

Posted on: December 9th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

DNY59/iStock(MOSCOW) — A Moscow court has upheld a decision to release an American man who spent almost two years in a Russian jail after he was put on trial over a cleaning product he bought online.

Gaylen Grandstaff, a 54 year-old English teacher from Texas, was arrested in 2017 and spent 608 days in pre-trial detention in Moscow as prosecutors sought to jail him on drug smuggling charges. One of the few Americans to spend so much time in a Russian prison, he was held in grim conditions, harassed by guards, severely beaten by other inmates and denied medical assistance. ABC News chronicled Grandstaff and his Russian wife, Anna’s ordeal in a short film earlier this year.

In March, Grandstaff was unexpectedly freed after a judge suddenly acknowledged serious problems with the case. In the ruling, the judge found the prosecution had failed to gather basic evidence and sent the case back for further investigation. Grandstaff was released in the courtroom and was allowed to return to the apartment where he and Anna live in Moscow.

The prosecution, however, appealed the ruling, leaving the threat that Grandstaff could be returned to jail. With the case still open, he has been unable to leave Russia, left instead in limbo for 9 months while authorities ignored deadlines to hold a hearing.

On Monday, Moscow’s highest appeals court rejected the prosecutors’ request. The judge at Moscow’s City Court upheld in full the March ruling to keep Grandstaff free and confirmed that the case lacked basic evidence to go forward.

Monday’s ruling removes all charges against Grandstaff and returns the case to the stage of preliminary police investigation. That means the while the case is still not formally closed– investigators now must decide whether to formally drop it— it at last clears a path to him finally being able to go home.

“I feel quite spectacular right now,” Grandstaff said outside the court. “It’s a very good feeling. I didn’t really let myself entertain much of the idea of going home. Right now it seems like a step closer.”

In Russia, less than 1 percent of criminal trials end in acquittal, making Grandstaff’s release extraordinary. Inherited from the Soviet Union, the Russian judicial system is most often a conveyor belt of convictions, where evidence is routinely fabricated and defendants are essentially treated as presumed guilty.

When Grandstaff will be able to leave Russia is still not clear. Grandstaff’s Russian visa expired while he was in jail and was never renewed, meaning he has been in an immigration gray zone where it is simultaneously illegal for him to work in Russia but is also impossible for him to leave. The next step is for the Grandstaffs to try to receive a visa to exit Russia. It also still unclear that he might not be stopped at the border because the police investigation is still on the books.

“Legally I think I should be able to leave but whether or not they would actually let me leave may be another,” Grandstaff said on Monday.

The case against Grandstaff held serious problems from the beginning. The cleaning product he bought from the Chinese website Ali Express turned out to contain gamma-butyrolactone or GBL, an industrial cleaner that is sometimes used as an illegal party drug or more rarely as a muscle-builder and which is banned in Russia and many other countries as a narcotic. Grandstaff said he had been upsold the cleaner by the Chinese vendor while he was shopping online for medication for his Crohn’s disease and had had no way of knowing it contained the banned substance.

Police though charged Grandstaff with large-scale drug smuggling, a heavy offense that carries a maximum prison sentence of 10-20 years and is intended to prosecute major traffickers. But the case made little sense– first they accused Grandstaff of buying the cleaner to sell, but then switched to alleging he intended to use it for personal body-building. Despite that, they continued to press the serious drug smuggling charge while arguing Grandstaff had bought the GBL for his own fitness. Needing to paint Grandstaff as a fitness obsessive, they then appeared to use crude tactics to do so, including distorting a testimony according to one witness. A judge continued to prolong Grandstaff’s detention for months, despite the evidence provided by the prosecution remaining mostly unchanged.

Ultimately, rights advocates and legal experts said even if Grandstaff had known what he was buying the charge brought against him was excessively severe, likely driven by prosecutors seeking to appear effective on drugs cases and unable to reverse once charges were brought. Grandstaff’s long detention and then legal limbo after his release are typical of the Russian justice system, where prosecutors have little incentive to drop charges and are permitted to let cases languish for months.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

South Africa’s Zozibini Tunzi named Miss Universe 2019

Posted on: December 9th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

JadeThaiCatwalk/iStock(ATLANTA) — Sunday saw the Miss Universe crown go to South Africa’s Zozibini Tunzi. She bested 90 other women competing in the annual pageant that was filmed by Tyler Perry Studios.

People reports that Tunzi is a 26-year-old public relations professional and a gender-based violence activist. While ecstatic about her win, she’s more excited how dark-skinned girls will feel when they see her wearing the iconic tiara.

“Society has been programmed for a very long time that never saw beauty in a way that was black girl magic, but now we are slowing moving to a time where women like myself can finally find a place in society, can finally know they’re beautiful,” she told reporters.

She also hopes her new title will help bring “a new, fresh and different perspective of what South Africa is.”

Tunzi is being credited for her inspirational response to a question from host Steve Harvey about the most important thing we should be teaching young girls today.

“I think the most important thing we should be teaching young girls today is leadership,” she said. “It’s something that has been lacking in young girls and women for a very long time. Not because we don’t want to but because of what society has labeled women to be. I think we are the most powerful beings in the world and that we should be given every opportunity, and that is what we should be teaching these young girls, to take up space.”

Final Word: SOUTH AFRICA#MissUniverse2019 LIVE on @FOXtv. Airing in Spanish on @Telemundo. pic.twitter.com/kk1ySPXxXU

— Miss Universe (@MissUniverse) December 9, 2019

With Tunzi’s win comes South Africa’s third Miss Universe crown, having won in 1978 and 2017. Miss Puerto Rico Madison Anderson was runner-up while Miss Mexico Sofía Aragón came in third.

It also marks a milestone: for the first time, black women simultaneously hold the titles of Miss Universe, Miss USA, Miss Teen USA and Miss America, with Tunzi, Cheslie Kryst, Kaliegh Garris and Nia Franklin reigning, respectively.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

At least five dead, many more missing after New Zealand volcano erupts

Posted on: December 9th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

Echinophoria/iStock(WELLINGTON, New Zealand) — At least five people were killed and many more remain missing after a volcano erupted on a small island in New Zealand on Monday, officials said.

New Zealand Police Deputy Commissioner John Tims told reporters that 23 people, including those with injuries, have been rescued from White Island, also known as Whakaari, which is home to the country’s most active cone volcano.

Tims said the death toll is “likely” to rise.

An unknown number of people were stranded on the volcanic island hours after the massive eruption as the site, covered in ash, became too dangerous for police and rescuers to search for the missing.

Although the number of those unaccounted for remains unclear, Tims said there were fewer than 50 people on White Island at the time of the eruption on Monday afternoon.

“It is unsafe for us to go onto that island,” Tims told reporters at a press conference that evening. “I’ve got to also consider the safety of our people and emergency services staff.”

A 5-mile no-fly zone is in place around White Island, along with a 5-nautical mile maritime exclusion zone, according to Judy Turner, the mayor of Whakatane, which sits on mainland New Zealand just south of White Island.

“We have been advised that the situation on Whakaari / White Island remains extremely volatile,” Turner said in a press release Monday evening. “There have been three eruptions and there is unpredictable ongoing volcanic activity. The current risk of ash fall reaching the East Coast [of mainland New Zealand] is low to very low.”

New Zealand police are in “constant contact” with the country’s geoscience agency regarding the level of risk of a further eruption, according to Turner.

White Island, located 30 miles offshore from mainland New Zealand, has had regular eruptions for years and remains uninhabited, but is still a popular tourist destination. The island is accessible only by boat and helicopter.

The five deaths were people who had been rescued earlier in the day and died from their injuries, according to Tims, who couldn’t confirm their nationalities.

Some 30 passengers from the Ovation of the Seas cruise ship were among those visiting White Island at the time of the eruption, according to New Zealand Cruise Association CEO Kevin O’Sullivan.

“Our hope is that everyone will be recovered quickly and unharmed, but at this time we have no further information,” O’Sullivan said in a statement.

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

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

At least five dead, many more missing after New Zealand volcano erupts

Posted on: December 9th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

Echinophoria/iStock(WELLINGTON, New Zealand) — At least five people were killed and many more remain missing after a volcano erupted on a small island in New Zealand on Monday, officials said.

New Zealand Police Deputy Commissioner John Tims told reporters that 23 people, including those with injuries, have been rescued from White Island, also known as Whakaari, which is home to the country’s most active cone volcano.

Tims said the death toll is “likely” to rise.

An unknown number of people were stranded on the volcanic island hours after the massive eruption as the site, covered in ash, became too dangerous for police and rescuers to search for the missing.

Although the number of those unaccounted for remains unclear, Tims said there were fewer than 50 people on White Island at the time of the eruption on Monday afternoon.

“It is unsafe for us to go onto that island,” Tims told reporters at a press conference that evening. “I’ve got to also consider the safety of our people and emergency services staff.”

A 5-mile no-fly zone is in place around White Island, along with a 5-nautical mile maritime exclusion zone, according to Judy Turner, the mayor of Whakatane, which sits on mainland New Zealand just south of White Island.

“We have been advised that the situation on Whakaari / White Island remains extremely volatile,” Turner said in a press release Monday evening. “There have been three eruptions and there is unpredictable ongoing volcanic activity. The current risk of ash fall reaching the East Coast [of mainland New Zealand] is low to very low.”

New Zealand police are in “constant contact” with the country’s geoscience agency regarding the level of risk of a further eruption, according to Turner.

White Island, located 30 miles offshore from mainland New Zealand, has had regular eruptions for years and remains uninhabited, but is still a popular tourist destination. The island is accessible only by boat and helicopter.

The five deaths were people who had been rescued earlier in the day and died from their injuries, according to Tims, who couldn’t confirm their nationalities.

Some 30 passengers from the Ovation of the Seas cruise ship were among those visiting White Island at the time of the eruption, according to New Zealand Cruise Association CEO Kevin O’Sullivan.

“Our hope is that everyone will be recovered quickly and unharmed, but at this time we have no further information,” O’Sullivan said in a statement.

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

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Finnish minister Sanna Marin to be world’s youngest prime minister at 34

Posted on: December 9th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

Derek Brumby/iStock(HELSINKI, Finland) — The world’s youngest prime minister is a woman.

Sanna Marin is expected to be confirmed this week as prime minister of Finland by the country’s Parliament.

The 34-year-old was named prime minister by Finland’s ruling Social Democratic Party after its leader, Antti Rinne, stepped down from the position, according to the BBC.

Marin has been a lawmaker since 2015 and was most recently the minister of transport and communications of Finland. She also served as deputy chairwoman of the Social Democratic Party that elected her.

In addition to her age and gender, Finland’s new leader is a new mom. She gave birth to her daughter Emma last year.

The prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, who is also in her 30s, last year became only the second elected world leader in modern times to give birth in office, joining the late Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who in 1990 gave birth to daughter Bakhtawar.

One of Finland’s former prime ministers, Alexander Stubb, posted on Twitter that Marin’s appointment “shows that #Finland is a modern and progressive country.”

Finland was one of the first countries in the world to give women full political rights, in 1906, according to UN Women, which calls the country a leader on “issues of gender equality and the empowerment of women.”

The country was named the third most gender-equal country in the world in 2017 and the second-best country in the world to be a female in 2016, according to the International Gender Equality Prize, an award established in 2017 to mark Finland’s 100th anniversary of independence and the country’s focus on gender equality.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Peace in sight? Paris summit seeks solution for Ukraine war

Posted on: December 9th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

Ukrainian protesters are camping out in front of their president’s office in Kyiv ahead of a long-awaited summit that aims to end the war in eastern Ukraine

Peace in sight? Paris summit seeks solution for Ukraine war

Posted on: December 9th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

Ukrainian protesters are camping out in front of their president’s office in Kyiv ahead of a long-awaited summit that aims to end the war in eastern Ukraine

Iran ready for more prisoner swaps with US, not negotiations

Posted on: December 9th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

Iran’s Cabinet spokesman says his country is ready for more prisoners swaps with the United States but reiterated the Iranian leadership’s stance that there will be no other negotiations between Tehran and Washington

Iran ready for more prisoner swaps with US, not negotiations

Posted on: December 9th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

Iran’s Cabinet spokesman says his country is ready for more prisoners swaps with the United States but reiterated the Iranian leadership’s stance that there will be no other negotiations between Tehran and Washington

Quake rattles Tuscany, no injuries reported

Posted on: December 9th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

An earthquake has struck Tuscany north of Florence, sending frightened people into the street in the middle of the night, opening up cracks in walls of homes and damaging at least one church

Quake rattles Tuscany, no injuries reported

Posted on: December 9th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

An earthquake has struck Tuscany north of Florence, sending frightened people into the street in the middle of the night, opening up cracks in walls of homes and damaging at least one church

Trial of Cambodian opposition party chief set for next month

Posted on: December 9th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

A Cambodian court has announced that the trial on treason charges of opposition leader Kem Sokha will begin next month, more than two years after he was arrested

Trial of Cambodian opposition party chief set for next month

Posted on: December 9th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

A Cambodian court has announced that the trial on treason charges of opposition leader Kem Sokha will begin next month, more than two years after he was arrested

Bosnian police forcibly break up protest over landfill site

Posted on: December 9th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

Police in the southern Bosnian city of Mostar have removed residents who have been blocking access to the city’s only landfill over concerns that it poses serious health and environmental risks

Bosnian police forcibly break up protest over landfill site

Posted on: December 9th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

Police in the southern Bosnian city of Mostar have removed residents who have been blocking access to the city’s only landfill over concerns that it poses serious health and environmental risks

China claims everyone in Xinjiang camps has ‘graduated’

Posted on: December 9th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

A Chinese official says people who were at vocational training centers in China’s far west Xinjiang have all “graduated" and are living happy lives

China claims everyone in Xinjiang camps has ‘graduated’

Posted on: December 9th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

A Chinese official says people who were at vocational training centers in China’s far west Xinjiang have all “graduated" and are living happy lives

Recent developments surrounding the South China Sea

Posted on: December 9th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

Recent developments surrounding the South China Sea, include Japan warning about China’s intentions in crafting a code of conduct with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations

Recent developments surrounding the South China Sea

Posted on: December 9th, 2019 by ABC News No Comments

Recent developments surrounding the South China Sea, include Japan warning about China’s intentions in crafting a code of conduct with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations