Singapore diplomat urges repeal of ‘antiquated’ gay sex law

SINGAPORE: One of Singapore’s most influential diplomats called Tuesday for the repeal of a law criminalising sex between men, saying it was time for the modern city-state to abandon the “antiquated” legislation.

The Indian Supreme Court’s decision earlier this month to decriminalise homosexual sex has sparked fresh debate in Singapore, and a new legal challenge has been lodged against the city’s anti-gay sex law.

Sex between men remains illegal in Singapore under “Section 377A” of the penal code, inherited from the British colonial era, although it is rarely enforced.

Tommy Koh, a veteran diplomat and former ambassador to the United Nations and the US, wrote in a column for the pro-government newspaper The Straits Times that the statute should be abandoned.

“Section 377A is an antiquated law, not supported by science, and should be repealed,” said Koh, an international law expert and ambassador at large in the foreign ministry.

The 80-year-old said Singapore is one of a minority of countries that still outlaw sodomy because the law was inherited from the old British penal code.

“For a country which embraces science and technology, it is surprising that, on this one aspect, the law has not been updated in light of the scientific evidence,” he said.

Koh said the World Health Organization had removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders, and while religious leaders consider sodomy a sin it should not be a crime.

The last time a challenge was brought against the law was in 2014 but the city-state’s appeals court dismissed it, saying it was up to parliament to repeal the law.

Singaporean DJ Johnson Ong lodged a new challenge earlier this month. Lawyers for Ong, known as DJ Big Kid, said they will seek to show the ban runs counter to the constitution’s guarantee of personal liberty.

While affluent Singapore boasts a modern and vibrant culture, official attitudes toward homosexuality remain conservative.

But public support for gay rights has been growing, with thousands turning up in recent years for Singapore’s annual Pink Dot gay rights rally. — AFP

No respite for relatives of Ethiopia’s disappeared

ADDIS ABABA: When Ethiopia released thousands of prisoners earlier this year, Hannah Tesemma hoped her three siblings and cousin, seized from the streets 24 years ago, would be among them.

They were not, so Hannah and her sister took a banner calling for their release to a rally for new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, sticking around even after a deadly grenade attack disrupted the gathering in the capital Addis Ababa.

“We aren’t living, so why should we hide?” Hannah said of her decision to openly challenge the popular prime minister in public.

Still, she has received no word on their whereabouts.

Since taking office in April, Abiy has pursued an aggressive reform agenda that includes trying to right some of the wrongs committed by his party, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).

He has released scores of jailed dissidents and publicly admitted that the security forces tortured detainees.

But he has yet to bring closure for Hannah and many other Ethiopians whose friends and family opposed the EPRDF and were never seen again.

“Our family has been torn apart,” Hannah told AFP, tears in her eyes. “Why do we have to suffer like this?”

Enforced disappearances

The EPRDF took power in 1991 after defeating the Derg military junta, establishing itself as the sole ruler in Africa’s second most-populous country.

Hannah’s brother Menelik Tesemma, 19 at the time, was active in an opposition party, the All-Amhara People’s Organisation.

Not long after giving a forceful speech at a party meeting in 1994, plainclothes security agents in an unmarked car intercepted Menelik and his cousin.

That evening Hannah’s other brothers, twins aged 21, went out looking for the pair after neighbours told them about the arrests. Security agents seized them too.

None has been seen since: there were no court appearances, no police records.

Once, Hannah secured a meeting with a government official who listened to her story before dismissing it, saying, “Our government would not do such things”.

But in the early 1990s, as the EPRDF consolidated power, the enforced disappearance of opponents was an explicit strategy, said Fisseha Tekle, a researcher with Amnesty International.

Having survived the Derg’s bloody purges against his Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP), 47-year-old Berhanu Ejigu was arrested by plainclothes police in 1994.

It was months before his brother Gebeyehu Ejigu was told he could visit Berhanu in a jail cell.

But when he got there, the man they showed him was not his brother.

“There are fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, wives and husbands, loved ones mysteriously disappeared. Every one of those needs closure,” Gebeyehu said.

He believes his brother is one of tens of thousands of disappeared, but Fisseha says the exact number is hard to know.

“You can count the allegations, but you can’t find out the number of people who have ‘been disappeared’ (under) this kind of government,” he said.

The search for truth

A prime target for the government’s tactic of enforced disappearance was the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF).

“Some people who disappeared just left the office and never returned,” said Leenco Lata, a top official in the OLF when it fell out with the EPRDF in the early 1990s.

Family members sometimes made desperate attempts to find their vanished loved ones.

After Lencho Bati’s brother, an OLF official, was taken in 1992, their father travelled to the northern Tigray region where the disappeared were thought to have been put to work building roads.

He would watch work crews closely, hoping to catch sight of his missing son Yosef Bati. He never did.

“I do not expect my brother is alive,” said Lencho, a former OLF spokesman, who still hopes one day to recover his brother’s remains, so he can bury them.

Today, the EPRDF and its allies hold every seat in parliament and political opposition is weak.

Abiy has welcomed once-banned groups like the OLF back into the country and made forgiveness a theme in speeches, but has yet to resolve the issue of enforced disappearances.

“Right now, the government is talking about forgiveness, but the truth should be a priority,” said Fisseha.

Recently billboards with the words “Where are they?” have appeared in Oromia, alongside images of the missing, such as Bekele Dawano Hebeno, an OLF member who disappeared in 1992.

His son, Edao, has made repeated trips from his home in the US, seeking information, but to no avail, leaving him and his family in a terrible limbo.

“Right now my family are standing in between death and life,” he said during a recent trip to Addis Ababa.

That will only change, he said, when he learns the truth of what happened to his father. — AFP

Kavanaugh intensifies counter-offensive against sex accusations

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Monday launched an aggressive campaign against allegations of sexual misconduct, vowing on national television to clear his name while appearing to claim his virginity at the time of the accusations as a defense.

With pressure mounting to put Kavanaugh’s nomination on hold for the FBI to investigate his past — a day after a second woman came forward with allegations against him — Trump stood firmly behind his embattled nominee, accusing Democrats of working hard to “destroy a wonderful man”.

The claims, dating back to the conservative judge’s high school and college days, threaten to derail what was seen as an all-but-certain confirmation to the lifelong post on the top court.

Instead, he now faces an explosive Senate showdown against the first of his accusers, university professor Christine Blasey Ford, who is set to testify against him Thursday.

With his future and reputation on the line, Kavanaugh stepped up his defense, saying “I’ve never sexually assaulted anyone, not in high school, not ever. I’ve always treated women with dignity and respect”.

He also sought to present an image of himself as a strait-laced student devoted to his studies and sports, and declared he was a virgin for much of his youth, apparently as a strategy of defence.

“I did not have sexual intercourse or anything close to sexual intercourse in high school or for many years thereafter,” he told Fox News, appearing alongside his wife Ashley ahead of his own Senate testimony due after Ford’s.

“I’m not going to let false accusations drive us out of this process,” he added, repeatedly calling for a “fair process”.

Trump later tweeted to throw his full weight behind his candidate.

“The Democrats are working hard to destroy a wonderful man, and a man who has the potential to be one of our greatest Supreme Court Justices ever, with an array of False Accusations the likes of which have never been seen before!”

Second accuser

After a dramatic weeklong standoff, Kavanaugh’s accuser Ford finally committed Sunday to be questioned in a public hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is weighing Kavanaugh’s nomination.

Ford alleges that a drunken Kavanaugh and another boy shut her in a room and tried to tear her clothes off at a high school beer party in suburban Washington around 1982, when she was 15 and he 17.

Just hours later, The New Yorker dropped a new bombshell, reporting that a second woman was accusing the Washington appeals court judge of sexual misconduct, while they were students at Yale University around 1983-84.

Deborah Ramirez, 53, says Kavanaugh exposed himself to her during a party, thrusting his genitals in her face and causing her to touch them without her consent, according to the magazine.

The allegations stand to derail a nomination that Republicans see as crucial to gaining conservative control of the high court for years.

They could also play decisively in the Nov midterm elections, where Republican control of both houses of Congress is under threat.

With emotions running high, dozens of protesters were removed from the US Capitol for unlawfully demonstrating against the judge’s confirmation.

A spokesperson for the Time’s Up movement later issued a statement calling for Kavanaugh to withdraw: “His confirmation would compromise the integrity of the court for generations to come,” he said.

Lack of witnesses

Kavanaugh’s approval was only two weeks ago considered a done deal, with all Republicans in the narrowly divided Senate appearing set to back him.

But the allegations have left some Republican senators — especially two women who have spoken out in the past about sexual abuse of women — under pressure to weigh the accusers’ stories.

The year-old #MeToo movement against sexual harassment also has politicians wary of angering women voters.

Yet Trump’s defiant stance could also stir his Republican base to head to the polls in November, frustrated at what many see as a cynical attempt to sink a qualified nominee.

Kavanaugh argues that no witnesses have yet come forward to corroborate either woman’s account. Both accusers have acknowledged memory lapses, which could weaken their claims.

Democrats say that is all the more reason to halt the nomination process and let the FBI, which carries out background investigations for candidates to high positions, investigate them.

“There is only one way to get to the bottom of these allegations against Judge Kavanaugh and prevent the nation from being thrown into further turmoil: an independent background check investigation by the FBI,” said Senator Chuck Schumer, the senior Democrat in the Senate. — AFP

‘Love Corbyn, hate Brexit’: Labour faces Brexit split

LIVERPOOL: Britain’s main opposition Labour Party is bracing for a tumultuous debate on the toxic issue of Brexit at its annual conference on Tuesday amid deep divisions between delegates.

Many young members oppose it, carrying bags reading “Love Corbyn, Hate Brexit” at the gathering in Liverpool, while older, working-class Labour voters are in favour.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has so far played a canny game by allowing the debate to tie the government in knots while remaining ambiguous, but the time is nearing to reveal his hand.

“It’s decision time and we need to nail our colours to the mast,” Emily Wallace, chair of the Vauxhall Labour party, told AFP on the sidelines of the party conference in Liverpool.

Her delegation plans to vote in favour of a conference motion on Tuesday supporting “all options remaining on the table”, including the possibility of a second referendum on Brexit.

The motion’s wording was agreed on Monday after five hours of intense talks and it disappointed many party members, who had hoped for a firm commitment to a second vote on a final Brexit deal, including the option to remain in the EU.

Labour’s policy on Brexit is significant because of the current weakness of Prime Minister Theresa May’s government, which lacks a stable majority in parliament and could face defeat by MPs if and when it brings a final deal with Brussels for a vote.

‘Remain on the table’

Pro-EU activists were dealt another blow when shadow finance minister John McDonnell on Tuesday said any second vote should not include the choice of whether or not to stay in the EU.

Shadow Brexit minister Keir Starmer contradicted him, saying the motion “clearly keeps remain on the table”, while pro-EU MP Stephen Kinnock told AFP he was “baffled” by the comments.

The confusion reflects the ideological and tactical splits within the party, which Corbyn has largely masked through vague messaging, instead focusing on unifying domestic issues.

However, with Brexit negotiations entering the final phase, the pressure is on Corbyn to plot a clear path in order to capitalise on May’s weakness in the negotiations.

But the way ahead is far from clear and polls show the country is still more or less divided on Brexit — although a narrow majority might now support staying in the EU.

Labour’s traditional leftwing working-class constituencies voted largely to leave the EU.

“The EU was a social democratic movement, and it was a good idea, but after the financial crash, it decided to bail out the banks at the expense of the people,” Brexit supporter Les Thomas told AFP at a protest against a second referendum.

But the centrists who took charge when Tony Blair became party leader in 1994 strongly favour the EU, and despite being sidelined by Corbyn’s election, they comprise a large rump of the party’s MPs.

Ultimate prize beckons

The most complex set of voters are the new members, many young, who were attracted to Corbyn’s social justice agenda, but who tend to not share his historic suspicion of the EU and its free-trade policies.

The stakes couldn’t be higher, with a wrong move potentially returning Corbyn to the political sidelines.

If he can bridge the party’s divides, the ultimate prize beckons.

Speaking at a pro-EU demonstration at the conference, Claire Hallett, 60, said Corbyn was in “a terribly difficult position” but should come out firmly against Brexit.

“He really needs to stand up and be clear. He will get a load of support from people who are not natural Labour voters,” said Hallett, who runs a holiday cottage business in Wales and attended the rally with her dog Desmond dressed in an EU flag.

“If Jeremy Corbyn were to come out and support a second referendum, and they had a snap election next month, I think they would win”. — AFP

German Catholic Church to own up to decades of child abuse

BERLIN: Germany’s Catholic Church was Tuesday due to confess to and apologise for thousands of cases of sexual abuse against children, part of a global scandal heaping pressure on the Vatican.

It will release the latest in a series of reports on sexual crimes and cover-ups spanning decades that has shaken the largest Christian Church, from Europe to the United States, South America and Australia.

In Germany alone, almost 3,700 minors were abused between 1946 and 2014, according to the report prepared by the German Bishops’ Conference, details of which were leaked to the media earlier this month.

Justice Minister Katarina Barley said the study was “shocking and probably just the tip of the iceberg”. She urged the Church to “take responsibility for decades of concealment, cover-ups and denials”.

Barley also called on the Roman Catholic Church to work with state prosecutors to bring every known case to justice, and to take steps to prevent more abuse, speaking to news weekly Der Spiegel.

The independent commissioner for child sex abuse issues, Johannes-Wilhelm Roerig, recommended state authorities step in to clear up the crimes and ensure victims get access to Church files and compensation.

The state “has a duty of care for all children, including those who are in the care of the Church”, he told the Sueddeutsche newspaper.

The German Bishops Conference was due to officially release the research paper, which it commissioned four years ago, at the start of a four-day meeting in the western city of Fulda.

A victims support hotline and a dedicated website with information will be put in place during the meeting.

The conference head, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, said earlier this month that bishops were “deeply depressed, shaken and ashamed before the reality of sexual abuse of minors within the Catholic Church”.

Predator priests

According to the study, 1,670 clergymen in Germany committed some form of sexual attack against 3,677 minors, mostly boys, between 1946 and 2014, Spiegel Online reported.

It points to a pattern of priests who have taken the vow of celibacy and diocese staff abusing minors. They kept the victims quiet by intimidation, instilling guilt and using their own status as figures of authority and trust.

More than half of the victims were 13 years old or younger, the study concluded, after examining 38,000 documents from the 27 German dioceses.

Researchers from three universities who carried out the survey warned that the true scale of the abuse was far greater, as many documents had been “destroyed or manipulated”.

Predator priests were often transferred to another parish, which was commonly not warned about their criminal history.

Only about one in three were subject to disciplinary hearings by the Church, and most got away with minimal punishment, said Die Zeit weekly.

Only 38% of the accused were prosecuted by civil courts, mostly on complaints lodged by victims or their families.

Systemic abuse

The Catholic Church has since the 1980s been battered by scandals of rape, sexual abuse, paedophilia and physical abuse.

Pope Francis has found himself embroiled after conservative US Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano claimed the pontiff had himself ignored abuse allegations against prominent US cardinal Theodore McCarrick for five years.

Francis, currently on a tour of the Baltics, has so far refused to respond to the allegations.

He has however announced a Vatican meeting of heads of episcopal conferences on the protection of minors, for February 2019.

Joerg Schuh of the Berlin-based Tauwetter centre for victims of sexual abuse told AFP TV that “the Catholic Church has a global problem”.

“I would like the Pope to make it his number one topic, and for his Church to really work on it,” he said.

Major abuse cases in Germany have included a Berlin elite Jesuit school which admitted to systematic sexual abuse of pupils by two priests in the 1970s and 1980s.

Last year, the world-famous Catholic choir school the Regensburger Domspatzen revealed that more than 500 boys there had suffered sexual or physical abuse which one victim likened to “prison, hell or a concentration camp”.

The brother of former Pope Benedict XVI, Georg Ratzinger, who led the choir school from 1964 to 1994, said he was not aware of sexual abuse and rejected claims he did too little to shed light on the tragedy. — AFP

After N. Korea, Trump targets Iran with ‘maximum pressure’

UNITED NATIONS, United States: One year after mobilizing the international community against North Korea, Donald Trump is trying to force another arch enemy to the negotiating table by targeting Iran with a similar campaign of “maximum pressure”.

But if North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un has seen his standing with the US president transformed in the 12 months since Trump’s United Nations debut, the prospects of Hassan Rouhani undergoing a similar transformation appear far from clear.

In his debut speech before the UN General Assembly last September, Trump gave an initial airing to his “maximum pressure” philosophy as he railed both against Iran and North Korea.

But Kim, derided a year ago by Trump as “a little rocket man” who was on a “suicide mission” is now being hailed as a “terrific” leader by the US president after their historic summit in Singapore in June. A second get-together could be announced shortly.

According to one senior European diplomat, the Trump administration is convinced that its tough talk — allied with a massive program of sanctions — forced the North Korean leadership to change course, even if doubts remain about how many concrete measures the North has actually taken towards ending its nuclear program.

The Trump administration, therefore, plans to “do the same thing with Iran: hit hard and then negotiate from a position of strength”, the diplomat added.

Much to the dismay of Washington’s Western allies, Trump slammed the door in May on a deal that the US and European powers brokered with Iran back in 2015 that allowed for a lifting of sanctions in exchange for restrictions on Tehran’s nuclear program.

With the Iranian economy showing increasing signs of strain, the Trump administration is hoping that Tehran will have no option if it wants to survive and return to the negotiating table.

Behnam Ben Taleblu of the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, whose organization is known for its hardline stance towards the regimes in both Pyongyang and Tehran, said there were clear parallels.

“It’s hard not to mention Iran and North Korea in the same breath when talking about rogue regimes and nuclear non-proliferation,” he told AFP.

“I believe that a ‘maximum pressure’ strategy towards both regimes is wise and warranted, but it will be challenging to conduct,” added Ben Taleblu.

While both regimes have been accused of trying to develop nuclear weapons, Washington’s complaints against Iran are more extensive — encouraged by its Sunni Arab allies who have long been hostile towards the mainly Shiite regime in Tehran.

Changing behaviour

Various administration officials have accused Tehran of destabilizing large parts of the Middle East by becoming directly or indirectly involved through proxy militias in the conflicts in countries such as Syria, Yemen and Iraq.

“What we expect from Iran is massive changes in their behavior. And until that happens, we will continue to exert what the president has called ‘maximum pressure,'” Trump’s national security advisor John Bolton told reporters in New York on Monday.

While Trump has not totally ruled out meeting with Rouhani on the sidelines of the General Assembly, the Iranian president appears in no mood to meet his US counterpart and rejects any comparison with the situation with North Korea.

“The North Korean model cannot be a correct model, because we cannot draw such comparisons,” Rouhani, who is to make his own address to the General Assembly on Tuesday, told the NBC network.

While US hardliners reject the president’s reputation as a moderate, the Iranian government — with Rouhani resoundingly re-elected last year on a platform of better relations with the world — is far more multifaceted than North Korea where Kim’s family has ruled with an iron fist for more than a half-century.

Thomas Countryman, who served in the State Department under Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama, said that one of the reasons why Trump’s strategy appears doomed to fail with Iran is that he has failed to work with key allies such as fellow members of the Security Council and has been instead too heavily guided by Tehran’s enemies.

“The campaign of pressure against Iran is driven in part by Middle Eastern friends of the Trump administration who wish to draw the US into an active confrontation with Iran,” said Countryman who now heads the Arms Control Association pressure group.

“The US is burning up its traditional credibility on the Security Council,” he added. — AFP

Ex-mayor, ex-footballer go head-to-head to govern crisis-hit Rio

RIO DE JANEIRO: On the brink of bankruptcy and racked by violence, Rio de Janeiro state, Brazil’s tourism gateway, will next month elect its new governor — with former state capital mayor Eduardo Paes the favourite against outsider and football icon Romario.

Home to 17.1 million people, Rio is Brazil’s third most populous state and second richest, with its namesake capital city shown off as dynamic and vibrant during the 2016 Olympic Games.

But in February, current governor Luiz Fernando Pezao admitted Rio was in a “calamitous state” — a confession of helplessness after President Michel Temer ordered military intervention to help restore order amidst a wave of drug and gang-related violence.

While the Games passed without any major incidents, crime has shot up since, with 6,731 murders in the city of Rio de Janiero in 2017.

Aside from rampant violence, the election’s winner will also inherit 10 billion reals (RM10 billion) of debt, despite significant revenue from tourism and the oil industry.

Last year, Brazil emerged from a historic recession with a meager 1.0% growth, but Rio’s GDP shrank by 0.6%.

As for unemployment, the state boasts one of the highest rates in the country: 15.4% in this year’s second quarter, compared to 12.4% nationally.

Meanwhile, civil servants are often paid months late and waits for health care services seem endless.

“These are clear signs of lack of organization and inability to provide the most essential public services,” Michael Mohallem, a political science professor at the Getulio Vargas Foundation, told AFP.

The state is also plagued by corruption scandals.

Pezao was Rio’s vice-governor during the seven-year stewardship of Sergio Cabral (2007-2014), taking over following the latter’s resignation amidst protests against his alleged bribe-taking.

Arrested in November 2016, Cabral is now serving more than 100 years for five graft convictions.

‘Difficult, high-risk job’

The 12 candidates for governor have put themselves up for a “difficult job, with a lot of challenges and very high political risk,” Mohallem said.

The latest survey by the Datafolha Institute put Paes as leading voter intentions, with 24%, ahead of Romario, who dropped 2.0% from last month to 14%.

Paes, 48, is running off the back of his prosperous mayorship, which was boosted by huge investments related to the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics.

He also managed to escape unscathed from the vast “Operation Car Wash” corruption probe that took down Cabral and many other top politicians such as former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

As one of the greatest footballers in history, famous for his flair in the box, popularity is no problem for goal poacher-turned-politician Romario.

He recently won the support of today’s Selecao superstar, Neymar.

But the 52-year-old is also known for his strong personality, taste for provocation and arrogance — not to mention several scandals, including allegations he concealed assets to avoid paying debts.

From the start of his political career, Romario stood out as a diligent figure during his term in the lower chamber of Congress, before he was elected to the Senate in the last election — but he has no experience of being the man in charge.

“He could be penalized for his lack of experience, but it may also be looked upon kindly by part of the electorate in search of novelty,” Mohallem said. — AFP

Cosby risks sentence of up to 10 years Tuesday

NORRISTOWN, United States: Disgraced television icon Bill Cosby risks being sentenced to a maximum punishment of 10 years on Tuesday after the Canadian woman whom he sexually assaulted appealed for “justice” from a US court.

The frail 81-year-old — once beloved as “America’s Dad” — became the first celebrity of the #MeToo era convicted of a sex crime, for drugging and molesting Andrea Constand, a former university basketball administrator, at his Philadelphia mansion in January 2004.

“All I’m asking for is justice as the court sees fit,” Constand told the court Monday on the first of Cosby’s two-day hearing in Norristown, Pennsylvania.

Around 60 women, many of them onetime aspiring actresses and models, publicly branded the pioneering actor a calculating, serial predator who plied victims with sedatives and alcohol to bed them over four decades.

But the case involving Constand, a former Temple University employee turned massage therapist, was the only one recent enough to have come to court.

The pioneering comedian and award-winning actor now risks becoming one of the most famous Americans ever sent to prison.

Prosecutors demanded the “maximum” sentence, served in a state prison, together with a US$25,000, (RM103,362) fine and the full cost of the prosecution.

Defence lawyers argue that Cosby should be restricted to house arrest, arguing that he is too old and too frail — the actor says he is legally blind — to endure the rough and tumble of a correctional facility.

‘No remorse’

The actor once adored by millions for his defining role on “The Cosby Show” sat silently in court, dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and patterned tie. He appeared relaxed, at times chatting and smiling with his defence team.

Constand’s parents and sister testified, recalling how traumatic her ordeal at the hands of Cosby had been for the entire family.

Her sister described Constand as “frail,” “timid” and “nervous” after the assault, the opposite of her customary vibrant personality.

Chief prosecutor Kevin Steele castigated Cosby for failing to express any remorse for his crimes.

“He doesn’t believe that he did anything wrong,” Steele told the court, dismissing the argument that Cosby was “too old” to go to jail.

“Nobody is above the law,” he added.

On Monday, Judge Steven O’Neill confirmed that both sides agreed to merge into one the three counts of aggravated indecent assault, reducing the maximum sentence he had theoretically faced from 30 to 10 years.

The prosecution also wants Cosby slapped on a list of violent sexual predators, as recommended by a state board. The defence does not.

Future victim ‘possible’

Pennsylvania law defines a sexually violent predator as an offender with “a mental abnormality or personality disorder” that makes them likely to engage in repeat crimes.

The classification would force Cosby to register with state police for the rest of his life and submit to mandatory sex offender counseling.

“Mr Cosby is not dangerous. Eighty-one-year-old blind men that are not self sufficient are not dangerous,” hit back defence lawyer Joseph Green.

A psychologist and member of the assessment board said that it was “possible” he had already met “a future victim,” saying being blind was irrelevant. “Being blind doesn’t make you unconscious,” she said.

A key witness for the defence, psychologist Timothy Foley, is expected to testify on Tuesday.

Only after that will O’Neill impose his punishment, making Cosby the first celebrity sentenced for a sex crime since the 2017 downfall of Harvey Weinstein ushered in a US watershed on sexual harassment.

The once towering figure in late 20th century American popular culture was the first black actor to grace primetime US television has been confined to his home on a US$1 million bail for nearly three years.

A group of Cosby accusers, chatting and hugging one another during court recess, attended proceedings in an almost triumphant mood. — AFP

Colombian leader urges diplomatic isolation of Venezuela

UNITED NATIONS, United States: Colombia’s new president, Ivan Duque, called Monday for the diplomatic isolation of neighboring Venezuela, urging pressure to restore democracy in what he labeled a dictatorship.

At the annual United Nations General Assembly, the right-leaning leader said Caracas should be barred from talks called for Tuesday to support countries that have taken in migrants from the country grappling with a severe political and economic crisis.

Colombia has accepted more than one million Venezuelans.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza has said he wants to gate-crash the meeting, which will include representatives of the World Bank and other financial institutions, and seek US$500 million, (RM2,067 million) for his own country’s needs so it can repatriate its nationals.

“I want to be very clear on this — what we have in Venezuela is a dictatorship. And what we are going to have there is a forum of countries that are defending democracy and want freedom for Venezuela,” Duque told reporters when asked about Arreaza’s hope of attending.

“The world needs there to be a real and effective diplomatic siege so that we can end this dictatorship and return freedoms and democracy to Venezuela,” Duque said.

“This statement is not bellicose, but we are calling on the international community to denounce and apply all necessary sanctions”.

Some 2.3 million Venezuelans, or 7.5% of the population, live abroad with the number sharply growing in the past several years as hyperinflation slashes the worth of salaries and makes necessities prohibitively expensive, according to the UN.

Colombia has been joined by Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Peru in calling on the International Criminal Court to investigate alleged crimes against humanity by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s hard-left government.

Duque said that the move would boost coordination “to allow the Venezuelan people to take back their freedom”.

Duque meets separately Tuesday with US President Donald Trump, who has taken a tough line on Venezuela but also opposes the International Criminal Court on grounds of US sovereignty. — AFP

Google tunes search for prescience and pictures

  SAN FRANCISCO: Google unveiled changes Monday aimed at making the leading search engine more visual and intuitive to the point it can answer questions before being asked. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are core drivers of how Google will pursue its 20-year-old mission to organize the world’s information and make it accessible to anyone, […]