De Blasio: ‘Time is wasted’ on Mother Cabrini statue controversy

Mayor de Blasio doesn’t have time to debate the importance of America’s first saint.

“I want us all to start thinking about how people talk about things in this city and how much time is wasted on the wrong things,” de Blasio said on WNYC Friday morning about the controversy over Frances Xavier Cabrini, the patron saint of immigrants who founded 67 charities in the late 1800s.

De Blasio also refused to comment on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announcement on Columbus Day that the state would fund a Cabrini statue.

“I’m just not going to get lost in this,” de Blasio said.

“It’s just not pertinent. What’s pertinent is we are trying to honor the majority of New Yorkers who are women and actually bring their history to life in this city and we’re going to keep doing that and there’s going to be more ahead and I think Mother Cabrini is someone who should be honored and we’re going to make sure it happens,” he said.

A group controlled by the mayor’s wife, Chirlane McCray, nixed the revered Catholic icon in favor of other historic women for the first round of female statues that will be erected in the city as part of the She Built NYC project.

The She Built group asked for nominations from the public and Cabrini was the top vote-getter.

But McCray and former Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen ignored the poll and made the final call, selecting jazz legend Billie Holiday, desegregation activist Elizabeth Jennings Graham, Latina doctor Helen Rodriguez Trias and LGBTQ advocate Sylvia Rivera, who described herself as a drag queen.

Shirley Chisholm, America’s first black congresswoman; Katherine Walker, who saved at least 50 victims of shipwrecks and boat accidents as keeper of the Robbins Reef Lighthouse; and Marsha P. Johnson, a transgender activist involved in the Stonewall uprising will also get statues.

De Blasio claimed on WNYC that “there was never a vote there was never a public process where we said were going to have a vote and whoever gets the most vote wins it was never anything like that.”

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Protests sweep Lebanon as fury at ruling elite grows

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of angry protesters blocked roads, burned tires and marched across Lebanon for a second day on Friday, demanding the removal of a political elite they accuse of looting the economy to the point of breakdown.

Addressing protesters, Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri blamed his rivals in government for obstructing reforms that could have resolved the economic crisis and gave them a 72-hour deadline to stop blocking him, otherwise he hinted he may resign.

He said Lebanon was going through an “unprecedented, difficult time”.

Lebanon’s biggest protests in a decade are reminiscent of the 2011 Arab revolts that toppled four presidents. They have brought people from all sects and walks of life on to the streets, holding banners and chanting slogans calling on Hariri’s government to resign.

“There are those who placed obstacles in front of me since the government was formed, and in the face of all the efforts that I have proposed for reform,” Hariri said, without naming names.

“Whatever the solution, we no longer have time and I am personally giving myself only a little time. Either our partners in government and in the nation give a frank response to the solution, or I will have another say.

“The deadline left is very short, it’s 72 hours,” he added.

At sunset, protesters poured through the villages and towns of Lebanon’s south, north and east as well as the capital Beirut. No political leader, Muslim or Christian, was spared their wrath.

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Across the country, they chanted for leaders, including President Michel Aoun, Hariri and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, to step down.

The mood was a mixture of rage, defiance and hope.

A security source said two protesters were killed and four wounded after the bodyguards of a former member of parliament fired into the air in the northern city of Tripoli.

Fires burned in the streets of Beirut. Pavements were littered with broken glass and torn billboards. Demonstrators came close to Aoun’s palace in Baabda.

Addressing protesters from the presidential palace, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, Aoun’s son-in-law, also blamed other parties for blocking reforms, saying the government must work to stop corruption and avoid imposing new taxes.

“Any alternative to the current government would be far worse and might lead the country into catastrophe and strife,” said Bassil, dismissing calls for the administration to resign.

The latest unrest was prompted by anger over inflation, new tax proposals including a fee on WhatsApp voice calls, and the rising cost of living.

In an unprecedented move, Shi’ite protesters also attacked the offices of their deputies from Lebanon’s influential Hezbollah group and the Amal movement in southern Lebanon.

“We came to the streets because we can no longer bear this situation. This regime is totally corrupt,” said Fadi Issa, 51, who was marching with his son. “They are all thieves, they come to the government to fill their pockets, not to serve the country.”

The demonstrations follow warnings by economists, investors and rating agencies that indebted Lebanon’s economy and graft-entrenched financial system are closer to the brink than at any time since the war-torn 1980s.

Foreign allies have pressured Hariri to enact reforms long promised but never delivered because of vested interests.

“DOWNFALL OF THE REGIME”

“The people want the downfall of the regime,” protesters near the government’s Serail headquarters chanted, echoing “Arab Spring” slogans.

The unrest prompted Hariri to cancel a cabinet meeting due on Friday to discuss the 2020 draft budget.

“Our demand is to stop the salaries of all parliamentarians, prime minister and ministers,” one banner read. “They are looters, down with them.”

Fatima, a dentist, said: “We are protesting against the politicians to force them to give back the money they stole and put it back at the service of the people. If it wasn’t for their corruption there would be no economic crisis.”

In a country fractured along sectarian lines, the unusually wide geographic reach of these protests highlights the deepening anger of the Lebanese. The government, which includes nearly all of Lebanon’s main parties, has long failed to implement reforms that are vital to resolve the crisis.

Christian politician Samir Geagea and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, whose parties both have ministers in the coalition cabinet, have called on the government to resign.

Seeking ways to boost revenues, a government minister on Thursday announced a new fee for WhatsApp calls, fuelling outrage. But as the protests spread, Telecoms Minister Mohamed Choucair revoked the proposed levy.

Shattered by war between 1975 and 1990, Lebanon has one of the world’s highest debt burdens as a share of its economy. Economic growth has been hit by regional conflict, and unemployment among the under-35s runs at 37%.

The steps needed to fix the national finances have long proven elusive. Sectarian politicians, many of them civil war militia leaders, have used state resources for their own political benefit and are reluctant to give that up.

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Lemann-backed Brazil school chain Eleva to raise $200 million to expand: sources

SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Brazilian K-12 school chain Eleva Educação SA is in talks with investors to raise around $200 million in a new financing round to fund expansion, two sources with knowledge of the matter said.

Eleva is backed by Brazilian billionaire Jorge Paulo Lemann, one of the three founders of private equity firm 3G Capital, a controlling shareholder at companies such as Anheuser Busch Inbev, Kraft Heinz co and Restaurant Brands International.

Eleva’s move comes as investors are targeting private K-12 school chains in Brazil, expecting strong growth, given the poor quality of public schools in Brazil.

The school network, which also has a learning system, has doubled its number of students to 70,000 in the last two years and expanded geographically through acquisitions, with 115 schools across eight states. Its revenue is expected to reach 1 billion reais ($240 million) this year.

Eleva was founded by Gera Capital, a Brazilian asset management firm focused on impact sectors.

Proceeds from the new round of financing will be used to fund acquisitions and organic growth. A small portion of the proceeds may also be raised by existing shareholders, although there has been no decision on it yet.

Other Brazilian education groups have been investing in expansion of K-12 private schools, such as Cogna Educacao, formerly known as Kroton Educacional, with its division Saber.

Businessman Chaim Zaher, founder of Yduqs , formerly known as Estacio Participacoes SA, is also investing in K-12 schools through his privately held holding.

Besides Lemann, Eleva has among its shareholders private equity firm Warburg Pincus LLC, which acquired a roughly 25% stake in Eleva for 300 million reais in 2017, in a round that valued the company at 1.3 billion reais.

Itau Unibanco Holding SA’s investment banking unit is advising Eleva in the capital raising. Eleva did not immediately comment on the matter.

($1 = 4.1451 reais)

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Georgia man fills up motorized coffin in bizarre viral video

He’s cruising straight to the grave.

A Georgia man was captured on video at a Savannah gas station driving a coffin.

The video, posted to “TheHoodNewsAt6” Instagram page, shows a man in gym shorts and a black suit jacket fueling up the motorized white casket before hopping in for a ride.

“He’s driving a f—ing casket!” a woman taking video of the bizarre moment can be heard saying.

“[He] just put gas in the casket,” another man in the car can be heard saying as the coffin driver fueled up his peculiar ride, which had wheels affixed to the bottom.

“And it’s moving!” the woman replied as the man turned to the camera, threw up a peace sign and drove away.

No further explanation was immediately available.

Man driving a coffin in Savannah, GeorgiaMan driving a coffin in Savannah, GeorgiaMan driving a coffin in Savannah, Georgia

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Georgia man hides inside Costco, waits for employees to leave before stealing $13G in jewelry

Man hides in Costco store overnight, steals $13K worth of jewelry

Raw video: The Coweta County Sheriff’s Office is searching for a man who hid in a Costco for hours before stealing thousands of dollars worth of jewelry in Georgia.

A bold thief in Georgia hid in a local Costco and waited for employees to leave for the night before swiping more than $13,000 worth in jewelry, police said.

The Coweta County Sheriff’s office said the thief was caught on camera entering the store in Sharpsburg earlier in the day on Oct. 10, seemingly staking out the place. He left, only to return several hours later.

“Surveillance video showed that at 7:45 on Thursday evening, the offender enters the location, walks around the store, then hides behind a display rack,” Sgt. Jae Robertson of Coweta County Sheriff's Office told FOX 5 Atlanta.

He was wearing a red had and fluorescent vest.

The suspect waited until the store closed and employees went home before making his move, just after midnight, authorities said.

Around 12:02 a.m., the suspect was spotted again on surveillance footage wearing a black ski mask and gloves, walking toward the jewelry counter.

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“The offender emerges, goes straight for the jewelry counter, bust out the glass, removed the jewelry, placed it in a bag, and left the location,” Robertson said. “When he exited through the employee door, that’s when the alarm sounded.”

The suspect's haul is believed to be worth some $13,000. Investigators said they believe the suspect ditched the fluorescent vest and red hat before his heist.

A car spotted on a nearby security camera is believed to have picked up the suspect and drove away. The vehicle's make or model was not immediately known.

Anyone with information should call the Coweta County Sheriff’s Office at 770-253-1502.

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U.N. rights office urges Egypt to free blogger, lawyer, journalist

GENEVA (Reuters) – The U.N. human rights office called on Egypt on Friday to free a prominent blogger, lawyer and journalist allegedly mistreated in custody who are among several thousand people detained since street protests began a month ago.

Officials at Egypt’s interior ministry were not immediately available for comment. The state prosecutor’s office said in late September that it had questioned up to 1,000 suspects who took part in the demonstrations.

About 3,400 people have been arrested since protests began, including about 300 who have since been released, according to the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, an independent body.

“Unfortunately such arrests are continuing, and have included a number of well-known and respected civil society figures,” U.N. human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told a news briefing.

Protests against President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo and other cities have followed online calls for demonstrations against alleged government corruption.

Sisi, first elected in 2014 after, while army chief, leading the 2013 overthrow of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi, has overseen a crackdown on dissent ranging from liberal to Islamist groups – the most severe in recent memory, rights groups say.

Journalist and activist Esraa Abdelfattah was arrested by plainclothes security officers in Cairo on Oct. 12 and was reportedly beaten after she refused to unlock her mobile phone, Shamdasani said. Abdelfattah is on a hunger strike, she added.

Alaa Abdel Fattah, a blogger and software engineer, was released in March after serving a five-year sentence for protesting without permission, but was re-arrested on Sept. 29, Shamdasani said. The same day, his lawyer Mohamed al-Baqer, was arrested while attending the interrogation, Shamdasani added.

Abdel Fattah was struck by guards on his back and neck while being forced to walk down a corridor in his underwear, while al-Baqer has been subjected to physical and verbal abuse, and denied water and medical aid, she said.

Ivan Surkos, the European Union’s ambassador to Egypt, tweeted on Tuesday that he had raised concerns over individual detained activists with Ahmed Gamal Eddin, Assistant Foreign Minister for Human Rights.

“Will my messages end as (a) dialogue of deaf persons? Let’s hope not,” Surkos said.

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EU's Juncker says blocking membership for North Macedonia and Albania 'a historic error'

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union’s failure to agree on starting talks with North Macedonia and Albania was “a historic error”, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Friday.

He was echoed by European Council President Donald Tusk, who said the veto at an EU summit on starting accession talks with the two Balkan countries was a “mistake”.

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Kashmiris down shutters, shun schools in 'acts of defiance'

Over 70 days since India revoked Kashmir’s autonomy shops remain shut and schools are empty as part of ‘silent protest’.

    Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir – Shabir Ahmad shutters his shop at 9:30am every day, clocking just two hours of work, as part of an ongoing “civil disobedience movement” in Indian-administered Kashmir against the stripping of the region’s autonomy.

    In the last four days, Shabir, who sells curtains and bedsheets, has not earned a single penny, but the 60-year-old shopkeeper insists the “silent protest” by traders is important “for the future of their children”.

    “Our lives are finished now and we fear for the tomorrow of our children,” he told Al Jazeera as he sat in his shop located in the heart of old Srinagar’s Nowhatta area that has been the epicentre of clashes between the youth and Indian armed forces.

    “All means of protest for us have been choked and this is the only way to resist.”

    Traders in the region have been running their businesses for just two hours from 7:30am to 9:30am as a mark of protest against the Indian government’s decision on August 5 to scrap Article 70 of the constitution that granted special rights to the Muslim-majority region.

    The near-total shutdown of businesses, schools and civilian activity in the disputed region has forced the government to take out full-page ads in local newspapers, urging people to open their shops and send their children to school.

    The advertisement heading read “Closed shops, no public transport? Who benefits?” It asked people to make a choice. However, it had little impact on the ground, as people continued the shutdown “as an act of defiance”.

    The authorities on Monday restored the postpaid mobile phone services which nearly 1.8 million people have access to in the region of nearly seven million people.

    But the internet blackout and ban on prepaid phones continue to be in place keeping people cut off from the outside world for more than 70 days now.

    While Shabir says he has been able to earn $100 since August 5, the mobile store adjacent to his shop run by Jalees Ahmad, 45, has had no sales at all amid the unprecedented phone restrictions.

    The authorities arrested thousands of separatist leaders, protesters and pro-Indian Kashmiri politicians in the wake of the August 5 decision and brought thousands of additional troops to one of the most militarised zones in the world.

    Tens of thousands of people have died as India deployed nearly half a million troops to quell an armed rebellion that erupted in the late 1980s. Fatalities sharply dropped in the 2000s but since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power more than five years ago, the region has seen an uptick in violence.

    The abrogation of Article 370 was one of the main poll planks of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose BJP is opposed to autonomy given to Kashmir as part of its “one nation, one constitution” vision.

    Rights groups say hundreds of those arrested, including minors and patients with terminal illnesses, have been booked under the Public Safety Act (PSA), a controversial law under which a person can be held for up to two years without bail.

    While most of the shopkeepers are distressed due to the losses, many are equally resolved to carry on their “protest”.

    “Our protest is part of our freedom struggle which we are fighting since 30 years, where thousands of people have been killed and blinded,” says salesman Jalees sitting at his shop waiting for customers.

    Like Shabir, Jalees too has to pay the shop rent. He has to cover the education of his children and support his family which would cost him his entire monthly salary of approximately $300. But they are ready to “suffer the losses”.

    “This is the Muslim-majority land but we fear this all will change,” said another shopkeeper who wished to remain anonymous.

    “If police sees us talking to journalists, they might come to pick us up in the evening. There is only fear among people who have been crushed from all sides,” he said. 

    ‘Threats by militants’

    The region’s police chief, Dilbagh Singh, told Al Jazeera that armed rebels were targeting people who were trying to resume their normal work.

    He said that the latest target was a 45-year-old non-local truck driver from the state of Rajashthan who was shot dead in south Kashmir’s Shopian district on Monday evening when he was loading apples in his truck.

    “There were militants and their overground workers who were spreading posters and threatening shopkeepers and farmers,” the official said adding that they have launched crackdown on the network of overground workers of armed groups and arrested 20 people.

    The police official said that the incidents of threats have particularly surfaced in southern Kashmir districts where rebels are active.

    ‘UN has failed all’

    Indian Prime Minister Modi sold the move as a way to bring development to the region but since the lockdown was placed in August, the apple industry – the lifeblood of the economy involving nearly half of the state’s population – has suffered.

    Tourism and handicraft sectors have also been hit hard as tourist inflow almost stopped amid precarious security situation.

    Abdul Ahad, who works as a tourist driver alleged that the government is “bringing workers of the BJP” to Kashmir and “presenting them as tourists”.

    “They are busy in showing tourism is returning back [to normalcy] through their propaganda media. Their democracy in Kashmir is based on lies. They lie every day,” he said while puffing on a cigarette.

    Like the shopkeepers, school and college students in the region too have stayed away from their classes. The annual board exams are nearing but the students have not completed their syllabus. 

    “Our parents groom us for 10-15 years. We study, work hard, secure distinctions but one day we are hit with a bullet suddenly. What is our future? Why should we worry about schools when we are not sure about our future,” said Bisma Shafi, a 25-year-old college student.

    “What does education mean in such [a] situation, when our lives are at an edge, when kids are jailed and tortured?” asked Shafi.

    After August 19, when the curfew was lifted in Kashmir, the government announced the opening of educational institutions but the students have stayed away as parents fear for the safety of their children.

    A college professor in the main city of Srinagar told Al Jazeera that they were being asked by authorities to “motivate students to attend classes in uniforms”.

    “They want us to give students projects, force them to come for exams but we don’t want to do that because it is not a normal situation,” the college professor told Al Jazeera on the conditions of anonymity.

    Many residents also expressed their disappointment with the global human rights organisations and the United Nations.

    “What is United Nations doing?” asked Sameed Ahmad, 31, who works in the Middle East and has come to Kashmir to attend his sister’s wedding.

    “It [the UN] has not done anything for the oppressed people of the world. It has failed [us] all,” he said.

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    Trump ‘earned his spurs in a letter from a doctor’, Mattis jokes at New York gala

    New York: Former US defense secretary James Mattis is laughing off an insult hurled at him by President Donald Trump.

    Speaking at a New York charity event on Thursday the day after Trump demeaned him as "the world's most overrated general," Mattis joked that he took it as a compliment.

    Former US secretary of defence Jim Mattis, right foreground, receives a standing ovation during the 74th Annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner.Credit:AP

    "I'm not just an overrated general. I'm the greatest, the world's most overrated," he told diners at the annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner.

    "I'm honoured to be considered that by Donald Trump because he also called Meryl Streep an overrated actress," he said. "So I guess I'm the Meryl Streep of generals, and frankly that sounds pretty good to me."

    Trump lashed out at his former defence secretary on Wednesday, during a contentious White House meeting with members of Congress.

    The meeting was intended to be a bipartisan discussion of Trump's decision to pull US forces from northern Syria, but it broke up after a testy exchange between Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

    Before the walkout, Trump disparaged Mattis, who had argued as defence secretary that US troops were needed in Syria to prevent a resurgence of Islamic State fighters.

    Trump said Mattis was "the world's most overrated general. You know why? He wasn't tough enough."

    "I captured ISIS," Trump went on to say.

    Mattis resigned as defence secretary last December after Trump said he intended to pull 2000 American troops out of Syria. In his resignation letter, the retired Marine general told Trump he had "the right to have a Secretary of Defence whose views are better aligned with yours."

    Since then, he has largely refrained from publicly criticising the administration, saying he owed the commander-in-chief "a duty of silence."

    But he did save a zinger for Trump at the laughter-filled gala, saying the "overrated" moniker didn't bother him.

    "I earned my spurs on the battlefield … and Donald Trump earned his spurs in a letter from a doctor," Mattis joked.

    On a serious note, Mattis alluded to Trump's decision to have US troops stand down in Syria, clearing the way for Turkey to launch an offensive against Kurdish forces who had been US allies in the fight against the Islamic State group. On Thursday, the US and Turkey agreed to a five-day cease-fire that requires the Kurdish fighters to vacate, largely solidifying Turkey's position in the region.

    "We owe a debt to all who fought for liberty, including those who tonight serve in the far corners of our planet, among them the American men and women supporting our Kurdish allies," Mattis said.

    The annual gala draws luminaries from finance and politics. Hosted by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, the benefit is named after a former New York governor who was the first Catholic to receive a major party nomination for president in 1928, before losing the general election.

    AP

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    What is Disease X and is there a vaccine? – The Sun

    A DEVASTATING outbreak of a flu-like illness has been dubbed as Disease X by scientists.

    But what exactly is it and is there a vaccine to combat the deadly plague? Here's what we know.

    What is Disease X?

    The deadly plague, dubbed by scientists as Disease X, is an outbreak of a flu-like illness.

    It was reported recently that an outbreak of the flu-like illness could result in a pandemic that would kill 80 million people worldwide.

    In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified Disease X as more deadly that Ebola and Lassa fever.

    The Global Preparedness Monitoring Board's report cited the 1918 "Spanish flu" pandemic, which killed an estimated 50 million people.

    Studies have shown most of the fatalities were among those under the age of 65.

    The virus is thought to have used the body's own immune system to work against it.

    This caused fatal "cytokine storms" in victims – an overproduction of immune cells that can overwhelm the body.

    The stronger the immune system, the more devastating the effects of the Spanish Flu on an infected person.

    If Disease X spawns from an influenza strain it could have a similarly devastating effect on younger populations.

    Is there a vaccine?

    Scientists are currently looking for vaccines that could combat the as-yet-unknown infectious diseases and unknown pathogens.

    On Tuesday, the Coalition of Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) said it was looking for funding applications for platforms capable of developing vaccines to combat the threat.

    Richard Hatchett, CEO of the CEPI, said: “We can be sure that another epidemic is on the horizon. It is not a case of if, but when. We need to be prepared."

    He added: "We need to invest in platform technologies that can be used to quickly respond to the emergence of a pathogen with epidemic potential.

    "That’s why CEPI is boosting its funding for such platform technologies that can be used to make vaccines and other immunoprophylactics in a matter of weeks and months, instead of years, which is currently the case.”

    The calls add to the $54 million the organisation has already committed on a guarding against the spread.

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