Pablo Escobar: Colombians mark 25 years since drug lord's death

The drug lord’s cartel supplied an estimated 80% of the cocaine smuggled into the US at the height of his career – making $21.9bn (£17.2bn) a year.

Forbes listed him as the world’s seventh richest man in 1989 with an estimated net worth of $9bn (£7bn).

Often called “The King of Cocaine,” Escobar was one of the wealthiest criminals in history.

He was gunned down in his home city of Medellin by police on 2 December 1993, a day after his 44th birthday.

On the anniversary of his death, people are paying tribute to Escobar in the neighbourhood where he donated 443 houses to formerly homeless people.

One resident, Maria Eugenia Castano, said: “I see him like a second God. To me, God is first, and then him.”

Hair stylist Yamile Zapata, who works at a beauty salon that sells Escobar merchandise, said: “Pablo will confuse you.”

“If you want to look at the good side, he was very good. If you want to look at the bad, he was very bad.”

Escobar’s eight-storey mansion, the Monaco, has fallen into disrepair since his death.

It was once a symbol of the infinite wealth of the Colombian mafia in the 1980s and 90s.

The white building is set to be demolished in February, in an event complete with stands for people to watch.

“The Monaco has become an anti-symbol, in a place where some people are outspoken defenders of crime and terrorism,” said Manuel Villa, the city hall secretary who will perform the official countdown to the detonation.

“We don’t want any more children saying they want to be Pablo Escobar when they grow up.”

The derelict property still bears the scars of Colombia’s first car bombing in 1988 – which marked the beginning of a bloody war between the country’s rival cartels.

The mansion, a top tourist attraction in the upmarket El Poblado neighbourhood, will be replaced by a public park dedicated to the thousands of people killed in Colombia by “narcoterrorism”.

The park will cost an estimated $2.5m (£1.9m), while renovating and reinforcing the crumbling mansion would have cost $11m (£8.6m), according to the city.

“It will be painful” to tear it down, said Mr Villa, “but it’s the only way we can heal our wounds”.

Colombian society remains deeply divided over Escobar’s legacy, as well as other drug barons.

Angela Zuluago is among those who want to wipe out the country’s lingering “narco culture”.

Her father was a judge named Gustavo Zuluaga, who was killed by Escobar hitmen for issuing an arrest warrant against their boss before she was born.

“Creating a space to remember the victims means having a space where we attempt to symbolically compensate those of us who have suffered from the scourge of narcoterrorism,” she said.

On the other side of the cultural divide, Escobar’s sister, Luz Maria Escobar, is changing his tombstone.

The new inscription reads: “Beyond the legend you symbolise today, few know the true essence of your life.”

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125 Women and Girls Seeking Food Were Raped and Whipped in South Sudan

JUBA, South Sudan — At least 125 women and girls seeking food aid were raped, whipped and clubbed over 10 days this month in attacks described as “abhorrent” even amid the widespread sexual violence of South Sudan’s civil war, according to Doctors Without Borders.

The medical charity said on Saturday that the “dramatic increase” in sexual violence occurred between Nov. 19 and Thursday, as the women and girls were walking to a food distribution site in Bentiu in Unity State. In contrast, the group’s Bentiu clinic treated 104 survivors of sexual assault in the first 10 months of this year.

The United Nations mission chief in the country, David Shearer, said the “abhorrent” attacks were carried out by young men in military uniforms and civilian clothing.

The international agency has increased patrols in the area and has begun an investigation while urging the authorities to hold the attackers accountable.

Sexual violence has been weaponized in South Sudan’s civil war, and even under a recent peace deal, humanitarian groups have warned of higher rates of sexual assault as growing numbers of desperate people try to get aid.

Ruth Okello, a midwife with Doctors Without Borders who treated some of the survivors, said those targeted included pregnant and older women, and girls as young as 10 years old.

“What is happening since last week is indescribable,” Ms. Okello said. “I haven’t got words for it.”.

The women were robbed of clothing and shoes, and even their ration cards for food distribution were seized and destroyed, the aid group said.

South Sudan’s government was not immediately available to comment. But the state minister for information in Northern Liech State, where the attacks were reported, disputed the reports.

“A rape of such a magnitude is not true,” the minister, Lam Tungwar, told Reuters. He said the state “respects human rights, and women’s rights top our list.”

The international body charged with monitoring the peace deal’s implementation said on Saturday that it had opened an investigation into the reports.

The United Nation’s World Food Program said distribution was underway in Bentiu for displaced people, and it was looking into whether it could move distribution sites closer to communities in the area.

A panel of experts monitoring sanctions on South Sudan for the United Nations said in a new report that they remained “extremely concerned” about the high level of conflict-related sexual violence, despite the peace deal signed in September.

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CDAC to offer all-round support for weaker students from disadvantaged families

SINGAPORE – Under-performing students from disadvantaged families will be given more holistic support by the Chinese Development Assistance Council (CDAC) from next year.

The non-profit self-help group for the Chinese community will expand its student programme to help develop motivation, resilience and discipline in learning among weaker students.

This will be done through extra mentoring and supervision from former school leaders, tutors and trainers.

The organisation will also help create a more conducive learning environment at home for the students by providing tables and lamps where needed, along with additional study grants, financial literacy workshops and savings top-ups.

This is on top of the existing financial assistance, employment support and mentoring schemes.

Parents from disadvantaged families will also be taught effective parenting skills through CDAC’s Walk With Me parent education series, to better support their children through key transition phases in their education.

On the education front, CDAC’s flagship tuition programme will offer tuition to small groups of four or five under-performing students each to help them keep up with their school work.

At the 15th annual CDAC Ready for School event on Sunday (Dec 2), Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, also the chairman of the CDAC board of directors, announced that, of the $30 million budget for 2019, 15 per cent is set aside for the enhanced programme.

Mr Ong said CDAC is working with the Ministry of Education to identify the initial 1,000 families for this enhanced programme.

He added that teachers have a good idea of who the children are who need help, who are trying their best to overcome the difficulties at home but are constrained by circumstances.

“Hopefully in a few years’ time, instead of helping 1,000 families, we can help 2,000 or even 3,000,” he said.

At the event, held in Nanyang Junior College, 6,500 low-income families, including 12,500 school-going children, received family and school-ready packs containing vouchers to prepare for the upcoming school year.

Each family pack contained $40 in FairPrice vouchers and $120 in transport e-vouchers. The school-ready pack contained $80 in vouchers for school supplies.

CDAC’s programmes now reach out to about 20,000 households.

Madam Wong Chew Yoon, 45, a single parent of two who was at the event to collect the family and school packs, said the CDAC’s financial assistance and tuition programme helped tide her family through a difficult period and allowed her 11-year-old daughter to do well in her class.

She said in Mandarin: “My English is not good and I’m busy with work, so my daughter having one-to-one homework supervision with a volunteer on Saturdays really helps ease my burden. She recently topped her class, so the tuition classes really helped.”

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Wanted in India, fiery Islamic preacher says he has not broken any law

KANGAR, PERLIS (REUTERS) – Controversial Islamic preacher Zakir Naik, wanted in his home country of India, said he has not broken any Indian law and was being targeted by the “enemies of Islam”, in a rare public speech in Malaysia where he has sought refuge.

Naik, 53, is facing charges of money laundering and hate speech in India, where the authorities last year said he has been “promoting enmity and hatred between different religious groups in India through public speeches and lectures”.

The preacher has been living in Malaysia, where he has permanent residency, since India started investigating him, but he has kept a low profile over the past year amid criticism that he is a threat to peace in multi-ethnic Malaysia.

Naik said in a late Saturday (Dec 1) speech in Kangar, capital of the north Malaysian state of Perlis, that he had never broken any Indian law.

“But because I was spreading peace, I was giving solution for humanity, all the people who don’t like peace to prevail, they don’t like me,” he said, adding he was being targeted because of his work to spread Islam. “This doesn’t go down (well with) the enemies of Islam. Be it western countries or the country I was born in, India.”

Naik has been controversial because of his puritan brand of Islam – recommending the death penalty for homosexuals and those who abandon Islam as their faith, according to media reports.

In a clip on Youtube, Naik says that if Osama bin Laden “is terrorising America the terrorist, the biggest terrorist, I am with him”.

Bangladesh suspended a television channel that featured his preachings after media reported that militants who attacked a Dhaka cafe killing 22 people last year were admirers of him. Militant group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the attack. Britain banned Naik from entering in 2010.

About 1,000 people turned up for Naik’s speech, along with the Perlis chief minister, the state’s crown prince and religious officials.

The preacher was known to be close to officials in the previous Malaysian administration, which was unexpectedly defeated in a May general election.

New Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in July said that as long as Naik was not creating any problems in Malaysia, he would not be deported.

Indian media has reported that India has sought his extradition.

In Kangar, Naik described himself as a fundamentalist for following the fundamental teachings of Islam. “I am proud to be a fundamentalist Muslim,” he said.

A doctor by training, Naik will be delivering more lectures at universities and a mosque on the speaking tour.

His wife, Farhat Naik, will address women in separate speeches.

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Israeli police recommend PM Netanyahu be charged with bribery

JERUSALEM (REUTERS) – Israeli police on Sunday (Dec 2) said its investigation has found sufficient evidence for bribery and fraud charges to be brought against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife in a third corruption case against the leader.

The authorities allege that Mr Netanyahu awarded regulatory favours to Bezeq Telecom Israel in return for more positive coverage of him and his wife on a news website owned by the company. Mr Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing.

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Massive plea to public to 'shun festive plastic' this Christmas

Plastics polluting Irish waters is the subject of a renewed warning from Coastwatch Ireland.

The growing threat of plastics in the environment has brought calls for curbs on the use of all plastics this Christmas.

While plastic bottles were among the most common plastic waste found on Irish shorelines in recent decades, the growing use of micro-plastics and polystyrene beads is posing a growing threat to sea creatures and birds, said Karin Dubsky, director of the Coastwatch environmental group.

Micro-plastics are being detected in bigger amounts by Coastwatch volunteers during clean-ups on Irish shorelines, she said.

“These micro-plastics are far more worrying as you can’t clean up this ‘micro litter’,” she added. “Just look closely at the tideline among seaweeds to see the micro-litter load swept up by the tide.”

Micro-plastics are defined as being less than 5mm in size and there are countless trillions of them in the world’s waters.

Together with ‘micro beads’ – a form of plastic used in several industries, including cosmetics, where they are used in exfoliating products – they are ingested by sea creatures that form part of the food chain.

“Micro beads in cleaning and beauty products are bite-size for filter feeders like mussels and oysters,” said Dubsky.

“Our oceans are now full of plastics. Lost pots, plastic nets, ropes and plastic string are heaping up in the underwater landscapes.

“These can cause creatures to get trapped and others come to help or forage and they get trapped.

“Plastic bags and balloons are a particular choke threat to large mammals and sea turtles which may be mistaking them for jellyfish.”

Large polystyrene objects such as fish boxes break down into individual polystyrene beads, which are picked up by foraging birds.

Under-nourished dead birds found on the Dutch coast were full of polystyrene, Dubsky said.

Some materials now being used to prevent coastal erosion are also giving cause for serious concern, she added.

Researchers have warned that the amount of plastic ending up in the ocean is set to treble in the space of a decade if action is not taken to curb the problem.

The final episode of David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II documentary series for the BBC depicted albatrosses unwittingly feeding their chicks plastic.

Dubsky said another consumer blind spot concerned the use of wet wipes in the bathroom. These can contain plastics or treated cloth that congeal in sewers with other materials to form balls or ropes that cause sewage treatment plants to break down, leading to pollution.

She said people should be encouraged to use reusable metal cutlery at their Christmas parties this year. And she also hopes polystyrene snowmen will become extinct.

New European Union regulations about single-use plastics are to be welcomed, Dubsky added.

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Here’s weather your neighbour can actually stop you putting up Christmas lights

Are you notorious in your neighbourhood for draining the National Grid when you put up your festive lights?

This is the weekend when many people will start to decorate their homes for Christmas.

But if you have plans to illuminate the outside of your home, there are a few things you need to consider first:

Do you need permission to put up lights?

If you rent from a private landlord or the local authority or live in a shared ownership house, you may need permission to put up decorations outside.

Last year two readers told me their housing association had written demanding they take the external lights down.

So check the terms of your lease or housing agreement before you turn the outside of your pad into a festive version of the Blackpool Illuminations.

Can anyone stop me putting up Christmas lights?

No law can stop you from putting up external Christmas lights.

However, if they cause a nuisance to any of your neighbours – or anybody else for that matter – you may run into an issue.

Local authorities therefore have a duty to take reasonable steps to investigate complaints about nuisances, including those relating to Christmas lights.

This is due to a law known as the Environmental Protection Act 1990. As a consequence, you could be told to take the lights down.

Are Christmas lights dangerous?

When people come on to your land (such as visitors and the postman) you owe them a duty of care. That is a duty not to cause them injury. It is therefore important that no Christmas decorations cause a hazard.

Last year I heard of a story where a delivery driver in Sheffield tripped over a Christmas ornament placed on the homeowner’s driver and, as a result of this, he sued for compensation.

Do I need to tell my insurer about Christmas lights?

Rita in Yorkshire wrote to me about a house fire that happened last December.

It was initially thought it was started by festive lights outside.

When she approached the insurer they rejected her claim.

It was then discovered that this was in fact not the cause of the fire so they paid out. But the point is they wouldn’t have done if the decorations had been the cause.

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Gold 'Viagra' ring and first Playboy issue sold in Hefner auction

LOS ANGELES (REUTERS) – A red smoking jacket worn by Playboy founder Hugh Hefner fetched US$41,600 (S$57,050) at an auction of the late publisher’s possessions in Los Angeles, as fans and collectors snapped up such items as his college typewriter and the magazine’s first issue.

Bidders at the two-day auction conducted by Julien’s Auctions included comedian Jim Belushi, who purchased a leather-bound script for a 1977 Saturday Night Live show that Hefner hosted for US$3,125, the auction house said.

The highest grossing item was the typewriter, which he used to write copy for the magazine’s first issue in 1953. It went for US$162,500, while his personal copy of the issue itself, featuring Marilyn Monroe, sold for US$31,250.

Hefner, who helped usher in the 1960s sexual revolution with his magazine and nightclubs, died in September 2017 at age 91. He left his property to his foundation, which put some of the items up for sale.

Among the more unusual items was a gold ring with a compartment holding a blue viagra pill, the medication that allows men with to maintain an erection when they otherwise might not be able to. That sold for US$22,400.

Hefner’s complete set of bound volumes of the magazine, from 1953 to 2013, sold for US$76,800.

His white captain’s hat went for US$19,200. A 1962 letter from future feminist leader Gloria Steinem, who took an undercover job as a playboy bunny at Hefner’s New York nightclub and wrote about it for Show magazine, sold for US$22,400.

The proceeds from the Nov 30 to Dec 1 auction will go to Hefner’s foundation, which was set up in 1964 to advocate for civil liberties, including LGBT rights and the legalisation of medical marijuana, the auction house said.

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Mexico swears in a leader from the left

Andrés Manuel López Obrador – Mexico’s first leftist president in seven decades – has been sworn in at a ceremony in the country’s parliament.

The former Mexico City mayor pledged on Saturday to end corruption and impunity to transform the nation on behalf of the poor and marginalised.

The 65-year-old, popularly known by his initials Amlo, won a landslide victory in July – his third presidential bid.

The political veteran begins his six-year term with approval ratings of 56%.

His predecessor Enrique Peña Nieto leaves office with only 24% – his administration was plagued with corruption scandals and crime-related murder rates reaching record-high levels.

President López Obrador inherits an immediate foreign policy issue – what to do about the thousands of Central American migrants camping on the US-Mexico border.

Foreign dignitaries including US Vice-President Mike Pence, first daughter Ivanka Trump and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro attended the inauguration in the capital.

British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who Mr López Obrador considers a close friend, was also present.

Mr López Obrador – whose leftist National Regeneration Movement party (Morena) will lead a coalition government – later took part in a traditional indigenous ceremony in Mexico City’s Zocalo square.

What did Amlo say?

“We will carry out a peaceful and orderly but also deep and radical transformation,” the silver-haired leader said in his first speech to Congress. “Because we will put an end to the corruption and impunity that are blocking Mexico’s rebirth.”

Mr López Obrador reiterated many of the populist pledges he made during his campaign, tackling crime, poverty and corruption.

He intends to rule frugally – selling Mexico’s presidential plane, not living in the presidential palace, and by cutting his own salary by 60%.

Mexico has privatised almost every part of its economy over the past three decades and Amlo vowed to reverse what he called disastrous neo-liberal economic policies of his predecessors.

He promised that he would “never seek re-election” and more surprisingly, announced his intention to promote a recall referendum during his administration, allowing voters to remove an elected official through a direct vote.

“I no longer belong to myself, I belong to you, I belong to the people of Mexico,” the new president said.

New hope for Mexico

Will Grant, BBC Mexico and Central America correspondent

To chants of “Presidente” and “Yes we could!” inside the chamber, Andres Manuel López Obrador received the presidential sash from the outgoing President Enrique Peña Nieto.

There has undoubtedly been a sea change in Mexican politics but whether he will truly be able to effect a change in Mexico remains to be seen.

It certainly won’t be easy given the extent to which such problems are endemic in the country’s politics and society.

However, the new presidential approach was clear from the moment Amlo left his home to attend the ceremony. He travelled in the same aging Volkswagen he has driven for years while Mr Peña Nieto was in the usual armoured convoy.

Crowds also flocked to watch the ceremony at the official residence of Los Pinos, which President López Obrador has refused to live in and has instead turned into a public museum.

His thousands of supporters have gathered in the main square in Mexico City to celebrate a moment many thought would never come: the one-time political outsider now crowned as the new hope for change in Mexico.

First act

President López Obrador has signed an agreement with three Central American counterparts to create a plan to stem the flow of migrants seeking asylum in the US, the Associated Press reported.

Mexico’s foreign ministry said the plan included a fund to generate jobs in the region.

In the Mexican border city of Tijuana, more than 6,000 migrants from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador face months of waiting for their asylum claims to be processed.

They say they are fleeing persecution, poverty and violence in their home countries and have travelled more than 4,000km (2,500 miles) for a chance at the American Dream.

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U.S.-China summit ends with signals of progress in defusing trade war

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping held high-stakes trade talks in Argentina on Saturday, and both sides signaled they made progress toward defusing a damaging tariffs war between the world’s two largest economies.

With the United States and China locked in an economic dispute that has unnerved global financial markets and weighed on the world economy, Trump and Xi sat down with their aides for a working dinner at the conclusion of a two-day gathering of world leaders in Buenos Aires.

After the 2-1/2 hour meeting, White House chief economist Larry Kudlow told reporters the talks went “very well,” but offered no specifics as he boarded Air Force One headed home to Washington with Trump.

Suggesting that at least a partial truce may have been reached to reduce trade tensions, Chinese state television said “no additional tariffs will be imposed after January 1, and negotiations between the two sides will continue,” without giving details.

Beijing’s goal was to persuade Trump to abandon plans to hike tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods to 25 percent in January, from 10 percent at present. Trump has threatened to go ahead with that and possibly add tariffs on $267 billion of imports if there is no progress in the talks.

The closely watched encounter came shortly after the Group of 20 industrialized nations on Saturday backed an overhaul of the global body that regulates international trade disputes, marking a victory for Trump, a sharp critic of the organization.

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Trump told Xi at the start of their meeting he hoped they would achieve “something great” on trade for both countries.

He struck a positive note as he sat across from Xi, despite the U.S. president’s earlier threats to impose new tariffs on Chinese imports as early as the start of next year.

He suggested that the “incredible relationship” he and Xi had established would be “the very primary reason” they could make progress on trade, though he offered no sense of how they might resolve the main issue dividing their countries.

Xi told Trump that only through cooperation could the United States and China serve the interest of peace and prosperity. Washington and Beijing have also increasingly been at odds over security in the Asia-Pacific region.

At the same time, Trump again raised with Xi his concern about the synthetic opioid fentanyl being sent from China to the United States, urging the Chinese leader to place it in a “restricted category” of drugs that would criminalize it.

The talks between Trump and Xi were widely seen as the most important meeting of U.S. and Chinese leaders in years.

Afterwards, the editor of a major Chinese state-run newspaper also had a positive assessment of the outcome.

“Based on information I received, talks between Xi and Trump went well and consensus was reached,” Hu Xijin, the editor of the Global Times, published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, wrote on Twitter, without giving details.

WTO REFORMS

Earlier on Saturday, the leaders of all the world’s top economies called for reforms to the crisis-stricken World Trade Organization in a final statement from their summit.

Officials expressed relief that agreement on the summit communique was reached after negotiators worked through the night to overcome differences over language on climate change.

The final text recognized trade as an important engine of global growth but made only a passing reference to “the current trade issues” after the U.S. delegation won a battle to keep any mention of protectionism out of the statement.

In addition to tariffs on Chinese goods, Trump has imposed tariffs on steel and aluminums imports into the United States this year. Numerous countries have filed litigation at the WTO to contest the levies.

The United States is unhappy with what it says is the WTO’s failure to hold Beijing to account for not opening up its economy as envisioned when China joined the body in 2001. The European Union is also pushing for sweeping changes to how the WTO operates.

“Notwithstanding our differences, we have been able to agree a path forward at the G20,” French President Emanuel Macron told a news conference. “The United States has endorsed a clear multilateralist text.”

G20 delegates said negotiations on the final summit statement proceeded more smoothly than at a meeting of Asian leaders two weeks ago, where disagreements on protectionism and unfair trading practices prevented a consensus.

European officials said a reference to refugees and migration – a sensitive issue for Trump’s administration – was excised to ensure consensus.

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