Ousted Catalan Leader in Brussels as Spain Seek Charges

Spain’s High Court Tuesday called for ousted Catalonia President Carles Puigdemont to appear in court on Thursday morning.

Spanish prosecutors announced plans to seek sedition, rebellion and embezzlement charges against Puigdemont and his colleagues, who are currently in Brussels “for safety purposes and freedom”.

Puigdemont said Tuesday he would not be seeking asylum in Belgium. He and 13 members of his sacked administration were called to appear in court at 9 a.m. on Thursday.

Chief prosecutor Jose Manuel Maza said Monday he would seek to charge the leaders of Catalonia who led a push to secede from Spain. It is up to a court to decide whether to move forward with the charges, which could bring lengthy jail terms, including up to 30 years for rebellion.

A disputed Catalonian referendum on October 1 ended with a vote for the autonomous region to break away from Spain.

The government in Madrid rejected the secession push, and after Catalan lawmakers declared independence last week the central government asserted control over the region and dissolved the local parliament.

New elections are set for December, and Catalonia’s separatist party announced it would field candidates.

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Czech Election Winner Babis to Seek Minority Government

Czech election winner Andrej Babis will attempt to form a minority government after being shunned by other parties, Babis said on Tuesday after meeting the president.

The country faces the possibility of months of political wrangling which could put approval of the 2018 budget approval at risk, potentially curbing investments that would help the economy keep growing at least at its current rapid pace.

Babis said he hoped to have a new government put together by the Christmas holiday.

His ANO party won a parliamentary election this month by a large margin, convincing voters it could deliver a more effective state, weed out corruption and distribute the fruits of economic expansion more fairly.

Other parties have refused to back a government that includes billionaire businessman Babis, who is facing fraud charges regarding a 2 million euro EU subsidy. Babis denies any wrongdoing, calling the charges politically motivated.

After meeting President Milos Zeman, Babis said he was “very sorry” the other parties had not given ANO a chance in coalition talks.

“We will try to form a minority government and will try to convince lawmakers … of other parties with our program,” he told a news conference alongside Zeman.

Zeman said he would give Babis a second attempt if his first try fails a confidence vote in the lower house.

Forming a minority government would require support from other parties as ANO’s 78 seats do not make up a majority in the 200-member lower chamber.

Only the Communists have said they could tolerate a minority government.


Babis can be appointed prime minister only after Nov. 20, when the newly elected lower chamber of parliament opens its session. It has to elect a speaker before current Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka can vacate the position for his successor.

This process could take long as some parties may try to prevent Babis’ appointment by blocking the speaker’s election.

In 2013, Zeman rejected a majority coalition in parliament after a center-right cabinet had collapsed, and appointed Jiri Rusnok, the current Governor of the Czech National Bank, as prime minister. His government ruled for half a year without winning a confidence vote.

Babis dismissed a suggestion by the head of the conservative TOP 09 party to block the speaker as “destructive and reckless.”

“The worst thing which could happen is that we would have a blocked parliament and a provisional budget,” he said.

If a budget is not approved by the end of the year, a provisional arrangement kicks in, meaning the state would run with the previous year’s budget, imposing severe limits on investments and other non-mandatory spending.

Czech markets have taken the political uncertainty in their stride, with the crown trading near multi-year highs as the central bank looks set to continue raising interest rates this week.

The country of 10.6 million has a history of shaky coalition governments. The outgoing center-left coalition, led by the Social Democrats and including ANO, is the first in 15 years to finish its four-year term.

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Expert Tells UN He’s Haunted by Video of 3-Year-Old Cutting Teddy Bears’s Head

Mubin Shaikh says he’s haunted by a video image: A 3-year-old boy uses a large knife given to him by his parents to cut off his teddy bear’s head.

Shaikh is a Canadian Muslim who was radicalized as a young man and is now an expert on countering violent extremism. He uses that video to train police and intelligence services.

Shaikh told a U.N. Security Council meeting on children and armed conflict Tuesday that it’s a “real-life story of where we are today and what we will deal with tomorrow.”

He said armed groups around the world are using children to carry out attacks, build their ranks and promote their beliefs.

Shaikh urged action to prevent recruitment — and to demobilize and rehabilitate radicalized children.

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Dakota Fanning Says ‘Important’ to Speak Up About Assault

Actress Dakota Fanning has told reporters that although she hasn’t experienced the sort of sexual assault that has turned Hollywood on its head, it’s “important to talk about these issues, for women to stand up for themselves.”


Fanning, 23, spoke Tuesday at the Rome Film Festival, where she was presenting the film “Please Stand By.” She plays a young autistic woman obsessed with the Star Trek series, who runs away from her home in San Francisco to get to Los Angeles to submit her manuscript for a Star Trek script writing contest.


Fanning said she shares her character’s determination in achieving her goal, adding: “you have to fight for what you believe in and stay true to what you are.”



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Under Fire, Kevin Spacey Won’t Get International Emmy Award

The International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences has revoked an award it was going to give Kevin Spacey, a decision made after allegations that he made sexual advances on a teen boy.

The group says “”it will not honor Kevin Spacey with the 2017 International Emmy Founders Award.”

The award is to honor “an individual who crosses cultural boundaries to touch humanity.” Spacey was to get it at a gala on Nov. 20 in New York City. Past recipients include Steven Spielberg, Shonda Rhimes and J.J. Abrams.

The move comes after actor Anthony Rapp came forward with claims Spacey made inappropriate sexual advances toward him in 1986, when he was 14. Netflix announced Monday that it was pulling the plug on “House of Cards,” which stars Spacey.

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Malawi Kung Fu Movie Generates Online Buzz

The southern African country of Malawi may not be what comes to mind when you think of kung fu movies. But four young acrobats in its capital, Lilongwe, are out to change that. The trailer for their first locally produced action flick, The Town Monger, has been generating buzz online and drawn interest from regional cable distributors. The film will premiere in Malawi this week.

The buzz started soon after the director posted the film’s trailer online.

“It is not what we expected, and we have been overwhelmed by the response,” said Denis Imaan, manager of the Kufewa Acrobatics. “And we have taken some time now just to sit down, trying to strategize like ‘OK, where do we go from now?’”

Kufewa Acrobatics is a group of four school drop-outs from the Area 36 Township in Malawi’s capital.

The acrobats are self-taught. They learned by watching Jackie Chan movies and videos of Cirque de Soleil.

“At first, we were performing around our neighborhood. After the positive response, we started performing in townships, performing in the streets. In the process, people would give us money for each performance,” explained group member Abdul Rashid Shaibu.

Making their own movie seemed a natural progression. In 2015, they embarked on The Town Monger. The film tells the story of the challenges they have faced.

“We have sometimes been accused by many people, even by our own relatives, that what we are doing has no future. But I could not back down because I had a vision, and, moreover, these are the skills which God blessed me with,” said Alfred Hambali of Kufewa Acrobatics.

The 82-minute movie was filmed using a borrowed camera and a borrowed iPad. The set was the streets they know well.

The action movie got mixed reviews at its first local screening to journalists.

“What has impressed me most is the setting. As [what] was at the beginning, when the movie was being set, it was not just linear,” said Shadrick Kalukusha of World Wide Media.

“It never had a lot of dialogue,” noted Gertrude Abudu of Rainbow TV. “That they can really grow on. It never had a lot of female actresses. We only saw only one female actress. That we also definitely grow on.”

Meanwhile, several regional TV networks have expressed interest in buying rights to the film. It is entirely in the local language, Chichewa. Producers are busy adding English subtitles.

The four young men are preparing to stage live action performances of The Town Monger, and they hope to one day perform abroad.

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Putin Opens Monument to Stalin’s Victims, Dissidents Cry Foul

President Vladimir Putin inaugurated a monument to the victims of Stalinist purges on Monday, but Soviet-era dissidents accused him of cynicism at a time when they say authorities are riding roughshod over civil freedoms.

“The Wall of Grief” occupies a space on the edge of Moscow’s busy 10-lane ring road and depicts a mass of faceless victims, many of whom were sent to prison camps or executed on Josef Stalin’s watch after falsely being accused of being “enemies of the people.”

Nearly 700,000 people were executed during the Great Terror of 1937-38, according to conservative official estimates.

“An unequivocal and clear assessment of the repression will help to prevent it being repeated,” Putin said at the opening ceremony. “This terrible past must not be erased from our national memory and cannot be justified by anything.”

His words and the ceremony amounted to one of his strongest condemnations of the Soviet Union’s dark side in the 18 years he has dominated Russia’s political landscape.

Putin has in the past called Stalin “a complex figure” and said attempts to demonize him were a ploy to attack Russia. But at Monday’s ceremony, he said there were lessons for Russia.

“It doesn’t mean demanding accounts be settled,” said Putin, who stressed a need for stability. “We must never again push society to the dangerous precipice of division.”

‘Tragic Pages’

Putin’s carefully balanced words reflect Kremlin unease over this year’s centenary of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, which paved the way for Stalin’s rise. Uncomfortable about promoting discussion of the idea of governments being overthrown by force, the Kremlin is not organizing any commemorative events.

Putin, who is expected to run for and win the presidency again in March, told human rights activists earlier on Monday that he hoped the centenary would allow society to draw a line under the tumultuous events of 1917 and to accept Russia’s history – “with great victories and tragic pages.”

Yet some historians fret that what they say is Putin’s ambiguity about Stalin along with Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea have emboldened Stalin’s admirers.

Monuments and memorial plaques honoring Stalin have sprung up in different Russian regions. State-approved textbooks have softened his image, and an opinion poll in June crowned him the country’s most outstanding historical figure.

By contrast, those who have helped document Stalin’s crimes, from the Memorial human rights group to individual historians and journalists, have sometimes felt themselves under pressure from the authorities.

A group of Soviet-era dissidents published a letter on Monday, accusing Putin of cynicism.

“We … consider the opening in Moscow of a monument to victims of political repression untimely and cynical,” they said in the letter, published on the Kasparov.ru news portal. “It’s impossible to take part in memorial events organized by the authorities who say they are sorry about victims of the Soviet regime, but in practice continue political repression and crush civil freedoms.”

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Leftist Candidates Dominate Local Elections in Macedonia

Candidates supported by Macedonia’s left-led government have dominated local elections, preliminary results from Sunday’s runoff show.


Results on the state electoral commission’s website Monday gave government-backed candidates victory in 57 of 81 municipalities, including the capital, Skopje.

Candidates backed by the main opposition VMRO-DPMNE conservatives won five posts.


The election took place amid bitter rivalry between Prime Minister Zoran Zaev’s new Social Democrat-led government and VMRO-DPMNE, which had governed for a decade.


The first round was held Oct. 15. Past elections in Macedonia have been marred by claims of vote-rigging or voter intimidation.


But the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which monitored the elections, said the second round of voting showed “respect for fundamental freedoms.”

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Romania: Lawmakers Approve Law That May Harm Press Freedom

Romanian senators on Monday approved a proposal that would allow Parliament to dismiss the chief of the Agerpres national news agency, despite opposition from press groups, which said it could harm the outlet’s political independence.


Senators voted 64-16 with 27 abstentions to approve the amendment, initiated by members of the ruling Social Democratic Party. Culture Minister Lucian Romascanu said the changes were necessary because Parliament currently lacked the authority to fire the agency’s general manager.


But press groups, including Reporters Without Borders, the European Center for Press and Media Freedom and the Romanian Center for Independent Journalism among others, published a letter earlier urging lawmakers not to change the law, saying: “Don’t destroy this institution. Don’t vote to change the law.” The proposal still needs to be approved by the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies before it can become law.


Agerpres general manager Alexandru Giboi criticized the vote, saying lawmakers wanted “merely to transform (the agency) into…. a button that any political party in power can press,” to control it.


Under existing legislation, Agerpres’ general manager has a five-year mandate and the agency, under parliamentary control, is required to be politically impartial.


The European Federation of Journalists has called the measure “an instrument to politicize the public service media.”

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Forbes: Michael Jackson Top-earning Dead Celebrity With $75 Million

Michael Jackson died eight years ago, but he’s still generating millions of dollars.

Jackson is atop the Forbes list of top-earning dead celebrities for the fifth straight year, with $75 million. Forbes says Jackson’s earnings are boosted by a new greatest hits album, a Las Vegas Cirque du Soleil show and a stake in the EMI music publishing catalog.

Two other singers join Jackson in the top five. Elvis Presley comes in fourth with $35 million and Bob Marley ranks fifth with $23 million.

Golf legend Arnold Palmer is the second-highest earner. He brought in $40 million in part through sales of Arizona lemonade and ice tea beverage made in his name.

Palmer is followed by Charles Schulz. The creator of the “Peanuts” franchise made $38 million.

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