JK Rowling sues Daily Mail for libel

Harry Potter author JK Rowling has filed a libel lawsuit against bosses at British newspaper the Daily Mail over a 2013 report published about her past as a struggling single mother.

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The writer claims editors attributed a single incident involving one woman, who had visited her local church in Edinburgh, to formulate a story about how her fellow church members treated her in a “bigoted, unchristian manner”, because she was raising a child on her own.

Rowling insists the article, which said “How JK Rowling’s sob story about her past as a single mother has left the churchgoers who cared for her upset and bewildered”, damaged her reputation and caused her distress and embarrassment, according to The Guardian.

She is suing executives at the publication over the “misleading and unfair” story, which was published in September.

The court documents state: “(They wrote) a knowingly false account of her time as a single mother in Edinburgh… falsely and inexcusably accusing her fellow churchgoers of behaving in a bigoted, unchristian manner towards her, of stigmatising her and cruelly taunting her for being a single mother.”

A journalist reportedly contacted Rowling’s lawyer before the article was published but did not give the author an opportunity to comment.

Rowling is seeking unspecified damages from publishers at parent company Associated Newspapers.

The article has since been removed from the Daily Mail website. A spokesperson for the publication has declined to comment on the case.

It’s the latest legal drama for the author – she was awarded damages in July after a British lawyer who outed Rowling as the secret writer of The Cuckoo’s Calling was fined over the leak.

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Next Iran nuclear talks set for February 1

World powers will hold their next talks on Tehran’s contested nuclear program on February 18.

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In an earlier accord in November, Iran agreed with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States – plus Germany that it would open up its nuclear program to allay fears it would build atomic weapons.

In return, the world powers agreed to a progressive lifting of tough sanctions that have caused immense damage to the Iranian economy.

Top Iranian and European Union (EU) diplomats agreed the latest stage during talks on Friday.

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, who has led the international nuclear talks with Iran, said she had a “really interesting” meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.

Speaking about the upcoming talks to be held in Vienna in just over two weeks, Ashton added: “I very much look forward to working together with you then.”

The US State Department also confirmed the date and place of the next talks, after having earlier this week said that they would take place in New York.

“A European city made more sense because of travel schedules,” deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters.

Earlier this month, the United Nations nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, certified that Tehran had stuck to its side of the initial deal, giving access to key nuclear installations and cutting back its enriched uranium stockpile.

Accordingly, the EU and the US began lifting sanctions on January 20, laying the groundwork for the next, six-months of the process.

During this period, the EU and US have promised to impose no new sanctions.

Iran has insisted repeatedly that its nuclear program is peaceful. But in an atmosphere of complete distrust, the West applied ever tighter sanctions, with serious impacts on the Iranian economy.

Despite the initial progress, the core of these sanctions remains in place.

The accord provides for ultimately removing the sanctions if Iran lives up to all its commitments.

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Aid enters besieged Syria Yarmuk camp

The United Nations has distributed food in the Syrian capital’s besieged Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp for a second day in a bid to help tens of thousands of trapped civilians.

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The aid distribution comes after months of siege by the army that has caused shortages of food and medicines, leading to the deaths of 86 people, according to a monitoring group.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that more than 100 people deemed “humanitarian cases” were evacuated from the camp on Friday by the Red Crescent and taken to local hospitals.

UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) spokesman Chris Gunness said an aid convoy entered the camp in south Damascus in the morning.

“UNRWA staff carried out another full day of food aid distributions in Yarmuk … handing out 980 food parcels,” he said.

“This follows the distribution of 1026 food parcels yesterday. Since we were able to enter the camp on 18th January, we have distributed a total of 2144 food parcels.”

Yarmuk is largely in the hands of rebel forces, and has been under army siege since June, making it nearly impossible for food and medicines to enter or for residents to leave.

Residents have spoken of eating grass, cats, and dogs in a bid to stay alive.

The camp began as a home for Palestinian refugees, but long ago evolved into a bustling district housing some 150,000 Palestinians, as well as many Syrians.

But now just an estimated 18,000 Palestinians remain in the camp, much of which has been destroyed by fighting.

Gunness said UNRWA appreciated the efforts of the Syrian government and others in facilitating the aid delivery.

“These distributions demonstrate that the extraordinary suffering in Yarmuk and other closed areas of Syria can be addressed if all parties to the conflict fulfil their obligations to protect civilians,” he said.

He said UNRWA stood ready to provide food for all the estimated 18,000 Palestinian civilians still in the camp.

The food parcels contain enough provisions to feed a family for 10 days, and Gunness said it was “imperative that continuous access to Yarmuk is authorised and supported.”

Gunness said “chaotic scenes” accompanied Thursday’s aid distribution – the first since January 21 – as thousands of residents tried to get food.

Yarmuk is one of a number of rebel-held areas where army blockades have left trapped civilians in desperate straits.

The United Nations has also been trying to negotiate access for humanitarian aid to the besieged Old City of Homs in central Syria.

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30 killed in CAR capital in three days

An unprecedented level of violence in the Central African Republic capital has left 30 dead in three days, the Red Cross says.

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The violence occurred as French troops converged on a rebel-held northern town.

French military aircraft hovered over the strategic town of Sibut, 180 kilometres north of the capital Bangui, which was seized by ex-Seleka rebels on Thursday, prompting African troops and hundreds of frightened residents to flee.

“A military operation is happening in Sibut,” a French communication officer told AFP on Friday, while a defence official in Paris confirmed the presence of the aircraft since Friday afternoon.

Newly installed interim president Catherine Samba Panza slammed the rebel efforts, saying they aimed to destabilise her mandate.

“At the time when the government is calling for togetherness, tolerance and national reconciliation, some of our countrymen are taking upon themselves the heavy responsibility of dividing the country,” she said.

No Central African citizen “worthy of the name” would allow such “anti-patriotic, irresponsible and dangerous” actions, she added, vowing not to cede “an inch of our ground.”

The installation of a new government in the strife-torn nation has failed to stem inter-religious violence between the mostly Muslim Seleka and Christian militia groups.

Tensions remain high in Bangui, where Red Cross officials said they had collected 30 bodies in the past three days after fighting which also left 60 people wounded.

The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation Georgios Georgantas said he was very concerned by an unprecedented level of violence.

The poor, landlocked country descended into chaos 10 months ago after Seleka overthrew the government and installed one of its leaders, Michel Djotodia, as the country’s first Muslim president.

His Seleka fighters began targeting people from the Christian majority, prompting the emergence of self-defence groups who launched revenge attacks on Muslims amid reports of murder, mutilation, rape and looting by both sides.

By the time Djotodia was effectively ousted by regional leaders on January 10 for his failure to end the spiralling bloodshed, about a million people were displaced out of a population of 4.6 million.

Georgantas urged the authorities and some 7000 French and African troops based near Bangui Airport to “take up their responsibilities” and keep the peace in a city abandoned by hundreds of thousands of residents.

The foreign soldiers were patrolling districts of the capital, where French troops this week warned looters that they would open fire if they failed to disperse.

In contrast the interior of the country is a lawless zone ruled by warlords, with few or no foreign troops present.

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‘Romanian invasion’ in UK fails to eventuate

A quarantine period that kept Bulgarians and Romanians out of the jobs market in the UK and eight other EU states ended on January 1, seven years after the two countries achieved full EU membership.

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The temporary restrictions meant Bulgarians and Romanians could only apply for jobs in the agricultural and food processing sectors under a quota system.

Tricia McCarron from Worldwide Fruit Limited says in the last month she has seen no sign of a mass migration of Romanians or Bulgarians in Britain.

“We haven’t seen any here and I’ve also checked with our agency GM recruitment and they’ve had no applications either,” Ms McCarron said.

“We’ve always got jobs and if they were able to do the jobs, if they shared our values and had the right skills we would employ them.”

In Peterborough, Britain’s fastest growing city, predictions of mass migration have not materialised either.

“I never thought it was likely and because we didn’t think it was likely I didn’t think it was going to be any bigger challenge then the one we already have,” said Councillor Marco Cereste from Peterborough City Council.

“Our evidence shows us that we’ve got one Romanian family that’s arrived in Peterborough recently.”

Nurse Liliana Demeter moved from Romania a decade ago and says she finds the language of the immigration debate offensive.

“They’re not on benefits. I don’t know even one Romanian to even be on benefits,” she said.

“Are we in the European Union or not? It would better not to let us come [if we’re going to] just be put through all this humiliation.”

The government will publish the first official arrival figures in five months time.

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Swiss stroll, Czechs level in Davis Cup

France and Switzerland enjoyed perfect starts to their Davis Cup World Group first round ties on Friday but the Czech Republic stuttered in their quest for a third consecutive title.

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Roger Federer and newly crowned Australian Open winner Stanislas Wawrinka put the Swiss 2-0 up in Serbia to leave last year’s beaten finalists on the brink of an early elimination.

Australia too were heading for the Davis Cup exit after Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet were on target for France.

Wimbledon champion Andy Murray and James Ward won their opening singles matches in San Diego as Great Britain pushed the United States to the brink on the opening day.

In Ostrava, the Czechs were left facing an uphill battle when the Netherlands’ Robin Haase saw off Radek Stepanek (CZE) 3-6 6-4 6-7 (4-7) 6-2 6-1.

But Tomas Berdych cruised past Igor Sijsling (NED) 6-3 6-3 6-0 to draw the 2012 and 2013 champions back level ahead of Saturday’s doubles.

“I didn’t know much about him… I tried to attack him a lot,” said Berdych, a semi-finalist of the Australian Open where he lost to eventual champion Wawrinka.

Elsewhere five-time winners Spain, missing Rafael Nadal, were up against it losing 2-0 to Germany in Frankfurt, Argentina were level 1-1 with Italy in Mar del Plata, Kazakhstan led Belgium 2-0 in Astana, and Japan and Canada were all square in Tokyo.

In San Diego, world number six Murray set the tone for Great Britain with a dominant 6-1 6-2 6-3 defeat of Donald Young.

Sam Querrey seemed poised to get the hosts back on terms before Ward – down two sets and trailing 2-4 in the fourth – roared back to win 1-6 7-6 (7-3) 3-6 6-4 6-1.

On the clay in Mouilleron-le-Captif, France were sitting pretty after Gasquet beat Aussie teenager Nick Kyrgios 7-6 (7-3) 6-2 6-2 before Tsonga ousted Lleyton Hewitt 6-3 6-2 7-6 (7-2).

Federer, a last-minute addition to the Swiss team, won through 6-4 7-5 6-2 against 268th-ranked Ilija Bozoljac on the hard court surface in Novi Sad.

The Swiss, buoyed with two Grand Slam winners in their ranks, are favourites with Serbia weakened by the absence of star turns Novak Djokovic and Janko Tipsarevic.

Tired from his exploits in the heat of Melbourne Wawrinka then stepped up to battle past 102nd ranked Dusan Lajovic 6-4 4-6 6-1 7-6 (9-7).

“It was a tough match and it wasn’t easy for me to come here after the last few weeks,” Wawrinka told reporters.

“I didn’t really have enough time to get ready as I was exhausted both mentally and physically, but I was determined to fight and win the match and I was really happy to get through it.

“He is a good player and tough to beat in front of his home fans so it was a tough situation for me, so we are really happy to be 2-0 up after the opening day.”

In Frankfurt, Philipp Kohlschreiber gave Germany a winning start over Spain with a 6-2 6-4 6-2 victory in less than two hours against Roberto Bautista Agut.

Spain’s 26th-ranked Feliciano Lopez then fell 7-6 (8-6) 7-6 (7-4) 1-6 5-7 6-3 to Florian Mayer, ranked 29, in their second rubber.

The Spanish are playing without their stars – world number one Nadal and fifth-ranked David Ferrer.

In Mar del Plata, Carlos Berlocq put hosts Argentina ahead by beating Italy’s Andreas Seppi 4-6 6-0 6-2 6-1.

But Italy drew level when Fabio Fognini defeated Juan Monaco 7-5 6-2 6-2.

In Tokyo, Japanese number one Kei Nishikori beat Canada’s Peter Polansky 6-4 6-4 6-4 before Frank Dancevic levelled 6-4 7-6 (7-2) 6-1 win over Go Soeda.

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Aus women seeking moral victory over Eng

The Ashes might be lost but Australia can claim a moral victory over England in Sydney on Sunday and build vital momentum for their World Twenty20 defence.

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If Australia triumph in the third T20 international at ANZ Stadium, the Southern Stars will have won more matches than England this summer, despite losing the series.

Losing the heavily weighted one-off Test match (worth six points) cruelled Australia’s chances of winning back the urn, but in the shorter-formats they’ve fought back strongly.

Having won the ODI component 2-1, Australia are pushing for the same result in the T20 finale, which would allow them to take winning form into the World T20 in Bangladesh in March.

Australia are looking to win the World T20 for a third straight time, and wicketkeeper Alyssa Healy says despite losing the Ashes, the Southern Stars have the squad and self-belief to create history.

“No one had done it twice so to do it three times would be pretty spectacular,” said Healy, who returned to form opening the batting with a composed 37 not out off 43 balls in Australia’s seven-wicket win over England at the MCG on Friday.

“We’ve got a really good squad of girls around at the moment who are actually very good T20 cricketers so it’s a big bonus for us. We play a lot of it back here in Australia in our domestic cricket so we’re ready to go.

“I think if we get out there (on Sunday) and win it’s a big boost for us in coming away from the tour winning more games of cricket than the English team.

“We can take a big positive out of that. Obviously it’s very disappointing not to be able to regain the Ashes but we can get on a bit of a roll before the World Cup and I guess get a bit of a mental edge on them.”

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Thousands protest against WA shark cull policy

The biggest event was at Cottesloe Beach, one of Western Australia’s most famous beaches, where more than 6,000 people gathered.

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They’re calling on the government to stop the use of baited hooks placed one kilometre off the coast and killing certain sharks larger than three metres.

One shark has already been killed under the policy and another was found dead on a hook this morning after hooks were set off the coast for the first time yesterday.

Protester Craig Berry says the government is taking the wrong action following seven fatal shark attacks in three years.

“I don’t feel it makes our beaches any safer,” he told SBS. “In fact I feel more threatened by having baited hooks out there when I want to enjoy the ocean and I think a lot of people feel similarly.

“I think the number of sightings we have of sharks shouldn’t be reported as horror stories, but the sign of a healthy eco system and most of our interactions with sharks are positive.”

   

The policy was introduced after a fatal attack off Gracetown in November, and targets tiger, bull and great white sharks longer than three metres that come within a kilometre of the shore.

Sea Shepherd Managing Director Jeff Hansen says the support from people all over the world has been humbling.

“Ten years ago we may have only had a handful of people on the beach speaking out for sharks and now we’ve got regular people – mums, dads, average people that aren’t working in conservation, talking about biodiversity, talking about apex predators and talking about the importance of sharks in our oceans,” he told SBS.

“People are saying an ocean without sharks is a planet without people. We need to give them the respect they deserve and that’s really humbling and encouraging to see that.”

Have your say in the comments section below: What do you think of the WA government’s policy to prevent shark attacks?

Earlier today, a female activist chained herself to a Department of Fisheries vessel in Fremantle as part of the protest against the shark cull.

The boat is one of two fisheries vessels being used to set and monitor baited hooks off the Perth coast.

Police say emergency services had to cut her free from the locks.

In defence of its policy, the WA government says a spike in often-fatal shark attacks has dented tourism and leisure-based businesses.

 

But shark expert Paul Sharp says the baited drum lines might actually increase the risk.

He says simply having the baits in the water will result in excited sharks, meaning there was a greater chance of an accident.

Great whites have rights! Surfers know the score when it comes to sharks #noWAsharkcull #savesharks @SavageNatPelle pic.twitter广西桑拿,/oWp3YhaquL

— Greenpeace Aus Pac (@GreenpeaceAustP) February 1, 2014

#noWAsharkcull Hobart Tasmania! Great event!! #Tasmanian #Hobart pic.twitter广西桑拿,/joBwvVLWWJ

— Salter Vox (@SalterVox) February 1, 2014

Huge turnout at The Entrance NSW @GreenpeaceAustP #noWAsharkcull #SaveSharks pic.twitter广西桑拿,/WEiYvy021f

— MonMarsh (@mon_marsh) February 1, 2014

#nowasharkcull @GreenpeaceAustP pic.twitter广西桑拿,/bxrr3C5Yo2

— maddison doyle (@mdoy3157) February 1, 2014

Fired up crowd at #Manly #noWAsharkcull pic.twitter广西桑拿,/IB2hHiRKfN

— Greenpeace Aus Pac (@GreenpeaceAustP) February 1, 2014

Great Sydney turnout for manly shark rally #noWAsharkcull pic.twitter广西桑拿,/ltY9IVd3Hl

— Nathaniel Pelle (@SavageNatPelle) February 1, 2014

Lots of anti-Colin Barnett signs #sharkcull pic.twitter广西桑拿,/p3UnwHUl3Z

— Oliver Milman (@olliemilman) February 1, 2014

Thousands of West Australians saying no to shark culling #nosharkculling pic.twitter广西桑拿,/FEnM5sv0as

— Rachel Siewert (@SenatorSiewert) February 1, 2014

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Ukraine activist says he was kidnapped, tortured

Dmytro Bulatov, a 35-year-old opposition activist said his unknown captors cut off an ear and drove nails through his hands before dumping him in a forest.

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Speaking slowly and visibly shaken by his experience, Bulatov said his unknown captors blindfolded and abused him before dumping him in a forest outside the Ukrainian capital, from where he was able to make his way to a nearby village.

‘My hands … they crucified me, nailed me, cut my ear off, cut my face,’ Bulatov told Ukraine’s Channel 5 television, still wearing his blood-soaked clothes and pointing to holes on his palms. ‘Thank God I am alive.’

‘I can’t see well now, because I sat in darkness the whole time,’ he said, adding that he was unable to see his captors.

   

The US Embassy in Kiev posted a picture of Bulatov with a blackened gash on his cheek and said that “the government of Ukraine must take full responsibility for the timely investigation, capture, and prosecution of those responsible for this heinous crime.”

The White House said it was “appalled” at indications a leading Ukrainian opposition protestor, who surfaced after being missing for eight days, had been tortured.

Washington was “deeply concerned” by increasing reports of protestors disappearing and being beaten and of attacks on journalists during Ukraine’s deepening political crisis — as well as by suggestions that President Viktor Yanukovych’s security forces were involved, said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

   

“I would note that we were appalled by the obvious signs of torture — torture — inflicted on protest leader Dmytro Bulatov,” Carney said.

   

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Kerry warns Syria on chemical weapons

US Secretary of State John Kerry has warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad he could face consequences for failing to live up to international agreements on removing his chemical weapons stockpile.

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Kerry told reporters ahead of talks in Berlin with Chancellor Angela Merkel that Damascus was not complying with a US-Russian agreed timetable for shipping out the arsenal.

“We now know that the Assad regime is not moving as rapidly as it promised to move the chemical weapons out of Syria,” he said on Friday.

“I would remind Bashar al-Assad that the agreement that we reached in New York with the (UN) Security Council makes it clear that if there are issues of non-compliance, they will be referred to the Security Council for Chapter 7 compliance purposes.”

The United States and Russia agreed on a deal last September to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons.

The accord included a commitment to imposing measures under Chapter 7 within the UN Security Council, which sets out possible sanctions including the threat of military force.

The agreement was brokered as a way to avert US missile strikes that Washington threatened after a chemical attack near Damascus that the US and other Western governments blamed on the regime.

Kerry said Syria must respect “a global, legal, international obligation” it made.

“Our hope is that Syria will move rapidly to live up to its obligations,” Kerry said.

The world’s chemical watchdog said on Wednesday that Damascus had handed over less than five per cent of the most dangerous chemicals in its armoury.

Just two small shipments of chemicals have so far left the Syrian port of Latakia, the US government said this week.

Around 700 tonnes of chemicals were supposed to have left Syria by December 31, which means the ambitious disarmament project is weeks behind schedule.

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