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Warren Joins Buttigieg in Nixing Threat to Church Tax Status

Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign says she would not seek to revoke the tax-exempt status of churches or other religious entities that decline to perform same-sex marriages.

The Massachusetts Democrat’s campaign spokeswoman addressed the issue after former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke said religious institutions should lose their tax exemption for opposing same-sex marriage – drawing criticism from conservatives.

“Religious institutions in America have long been free to determine their own beliefs and practices, and (Warren) does not think we should require them to conduct same-sex marriages in order to maintain their tax-exempt status,” campaign spokeswoman Saloni Sharma said when asked about O’Rourke’s remarks.

Warren is the latest Democratic presidential hopeful to create distance from O’Rourke’s suggestion. Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Ind., criticized the idea to CNN on Sunday.

 




Protests Erupt After Spain Sentences Catalan Separatists Leaders

Spanish riot police have clashed with protesters outside Barcelona’s airport Monday after the Supreme Court sentenced nine former Catalan separatist leaders to lengthy prison terms for their attempt to declare independence from Spain in 2017.

Witnesses say police with batons charged at the protesters who were blocking the entrance to El Prat airport.

Spain’s airport operator says that at least 20 flights were canceled.

Protesters in the Catalan region also stopped some train service in the region by placing wood on the tracks and blocking roads.

The protesters converged on the transportation hubs Monday after Spain’s high court sentenced Catalan separatist leaders to between nine and 13 years in prison for their role in pushing for the region’s independence.

The former regional vice president, Oriol Junqueras, received the longest prison term of 13 years behind bars for sedition and misuse of public funds.

The court found three other defendants guilty only of disobedience and did not sentence them to prison.

The court, however, acquitted all defendants of the most severe charge, rebellion.

The former head of Catalonia’s regional government called the Monday ruling an “atrocity.”

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, center, speaks to the media at a sports center, assigned to be a polling station by the Catalan government and where Puigdemont was originally expected to vote, in Sant Julia de Ramis, near Girona, Spain, Oct. 1,

Carles Puigdemont wrote on Twitter: “100 years in prison in total. An atrocity. Now more than ever … It is time to react like never before. For the future of our sons and daughters. For democracy. For Europe. For Catalonia.”

Puigdemont was not a defendant in the landmark ruling over the banned referendum and short-lived independence declaration because he fled to Belgium, where he now lives in self-imposed exile.

After its ruling, the Supreme Court issued a European arrest warrant for Puigdemont.

Catalan’s current regional leader, Quim Torra, called the court’s ruling an insult to democracy.

Spain’s caretaker prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, said in a statement broadcast on live television that the sentences of the Catalan separatists must be carried out.

He also said he hoped that the sentences will help to “turn the page” in relations between Catalonia and greater Spain.

 




Sudan’s Government, Rebels Start Peace Talks in Juba

Sudan’s new transitional government met with rebel leaders on Monday, kicking off peace talks aimed at ending the country’s yearslong civil wars.

The peace initiative was built into a power-sharing deal between Sudan’s army and its pro-democracy movement. That deal was reached after the overthrow of longtime autocrat President Omar al-Bashir in April. The transitional authorities have six months to make peace with the rebels, according to the agreement.

South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir is hosting the talks in its capital, Juba, where some rebel groups signed a draft agreement last month that detailed a roadmap for the talks, trust-building measures and an extension of a cease-fire already in place.
 
South Sudan gained independence from the north in 2011 after decades of civil war. But in the 2000s, Sudan was most known for al-Bashir’s brutal repression of an uprising in the western Darfur region.

Achieving peace is crucial to the transitional government in Sudan. It has counted on ending the wars with rebels in order to revive the country’s battered economy through slashing the military spending, which takes up much of the national budget.

Sudanese authorities have introduced good-will signals. They dismissed death sentences against eight rebel leaders and released more than a dozen prisoners of war. They have also delayed the formation of the parliament and the appointment of provincial governors to allow time for the rebels to come on board.

The government delegation, led by Gen. Mohammed Hamadan Dagalo, a member of the Sudan’s sovereign council, arrived in Juba late Sunday. Rebel leaders arrived earlier this month.

Rebel leader Malik Agar of the Sudan Revolutionary Front, an alliance of Darfur rebel groups, told The Associated Press that they would start “the official opening” of the talks Monday in Juba.

Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, head of Sudan’s sovereign council, also arrived in Juba to attend the opening session, along with other African leaders including Egypt’s Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly and Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, according to the official SUNA news agency.

Ahmed said the start of the negotiations was a “demonstration of the will for peace and reconciliation.” He encouraged “all stakeholders to reach a consensus and redirect their focus to building an inclusive and prosperous Sudan,” his office said.

Ethiopia and the African Union mediated the power-sharing agreement in August which ended months of violence and faltering talks between Sudan’s generals and protesters following the uprising against al-Bashir.

On Sunday, Sudan’s newly appointed top judicial officials were sworn in before Burhan.

Neamat Kheir, a veteran female judge, took the oath as chief of the judiciary. She’s the first woman to rise to Sudan’s highest judicial post. Taj al-Ser al-Hebr, a lawyer, was sworn in as the country’s public prosecutor.

Last month, thousands of Sudanese took to the streets demanding the two original appointees be sacked. Those two had been chosen by the military council that ruled Sudan after ousting al-Bashir.

Protesters insisted that independent judges be appointed before prosecuting members of the old regime, as well as those responsible for a deadly crackdown on protesters in June.

Unlike many judges, Kheir was not known to compromise her integrity to serve the interests of al-Bashir’s government. However, she was widely criticized for not having supported the Sudanese uprising since its inception.




Biles Dazzles on Floor to Win Record 25th World Championship Medal

American Simone Biles became the most decorated gymnast in world championship history on Sunday when she won the beam and floor finals to take her career tally to 25 medals.

Soon after securing a convincing victory on the beam in Stuttgart to overtake Belarusian Vitaly Scherbo’s record tally of 23 world medals, the 22-year-old Biles successfully defended her floor title to win medal number 25.

The four-time Olympic champion is now the owner of 19 gold medals across four championships against 12 for Scherbo, who competed in five world events between 1991 and 1996.

Making her final appearance of the week in front of a raucous crowd, Biles wasted no time as she landed a superb triple-twisting double back flip — known as the Biles II – on her first pass.

Biles’s double layout with a half turn — another skill named after her — put her out of bounds for a 0.1 penalty but she did enough to post a winning score of 15.133.

“Honestly, I just couldn’t move. I was so tired,” Biles said of her final pose on the stage.

“This is really the best worlds performance I have ever put out.”

The Americans took a one-two finish as Sunisa Lee finished with 14.133 for the silver medal, while Russian Angelina Melnikova came third.

<!–[if IE 9]><![endif]–>FILE - US gymnyst Simone Biles poses with her gold medal for artistic gymnastics during the victory ceremony at the Rio Olympic Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Aug. 16, 2016.
Olympic Champ Simone Biles Says She was Abused by Doctor

Simone Biles watched as her friends and former Olympic teammates came forward to detail abuse at the hands of a now-imprisoned former USA Gymnastics team doctor.Drawing in part from their strength, the four-time gold medalist acknowledged Monday she is among the athletes who were sexually abused by Larry Nassar.Biles, who won five medals overall at the 2016 Olympics, released a statement via Twitter outlining that abuse.

BEAM BRILLIANCE

Earlier, Biles delivered a polished routine on the beam before a full twisting double tuck dismount for an impressive 15.066.

Although Biles had twice before won the world beam title, in 2014 and 2015, it has not always been plain sailing for her on the apparatus.

Her slip on the landing of a front tucked somersault at the 2016 Rio Olympics meant she had to settle for a bronze in the event. Last year again, she dropped off the beam during the women’s all-around final at the world championships.

But she has regained her swagger this week, under the watchful eyes of balance beam coach Cecile Landi, and posted top scores in all four attempts — qualifying, the team and all-around finals and Sunday’s apparatus final.

“It meant a lot because Cecile has really been working on bringing my confidence back up to where it used to be on the beam,” Biles said.

“To go out there and nail the routine, just like I do in practice, it felt really good and I knew she was really proud.”

As another title-winning score was announced in the arena, Biles punched the air in jubilation before joining celebrations with the U.S. team.

“I was really excited,” she added. “I thought it was going to be at least 14.8, 14.9, but to see 15, I was like well that’s pretty crazy, so I was very proud.”

Last year’s winner Liu Tingting of China took silver with 14.433, while team mate Li Shijia won the bronze.

Biles finished her campaign in Stuttgart with five gold medals from six events to mark ideal preparations for next year’s Tokyo Olympics.

Her barnstorming run included a record fifth all-around gold, an individual vault title, as well as helping the U.S. to a fifth straight world team title.

 




Teen’s Parents Fly to US Hoping to Meet Driver Who killed Him

Parents of the British teen killed when his motorcycle collided with car allegedly driven by an American diplomat’s wife are on their way to the U.S. hoping to seek justice.

Harry Dunn, 19, died in August in near the Croughton Royal Air Force base in Northhamptonshire, which is used by the U.S. Air Force as a communications center.

Dunn’s mother, Charlotte Charles, told the BBC the family hopes to meet with the suspected driver, identified by British police and Prime Minister Boris Johnson as Anne Sacoolas, wife of an American intelligence officer based at Croughton.

Sacoolas claimed diplomatic immunity and returned to the United States while the case was still being investigated. She has since written a letter of apology to Dunn’s family.

But Charles said Sunday, “It’s nearly seven weeks now since we lost our boy, sorry just doesn’t cut it.

“That’s not really quite enough,” she told Sky News. “But I’m still really open to meeting her, as are the rest of us. I can’t promise what I would or wouldn’t say, but I certainly wouldn’t be aggressive.”

Charles also said the family was thankful to receive a letter Saturday from the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab that said since Sacoolas had left Britain, “immunity is no longer pertinent”.

The family is hoping Sacoolas will return to Britain.  They have even called on U.S. President Donald Trump to intervene on their behalf.

But Trump told a news conference Wednesday that Sacoolas would not return. Harry Dunn’s death was a “terrible accident,” the president said but he noted that driving on the worn side of the road “happens”.

 

 




California Becomes First US State to Ban Fur Products

California has become the first U.S. state to ban all production and sale of animal fur products.

Governor Gavin Newsom signed the bill that will make it illegal to make, sell and even donate any new item made using animal fur starting in 2023.

The bill excludes used items, taxidemy products, fur taken with a hunting license and fur used by Native American tribes for religious purposes.

Violators of the ban will face fines of up to $500, or even $1,000 for repeat offenses.

“The signing of AB44 underscores the point that today’s consumers simply don’t want wild animals to suffer extreme pain and fear for the sake of fashion,” Kitty Block, the head of the Humane Society of the United States said in a statement.

But the Fur Information Council of America condemned the ban as being part of a “radical vegan agenda” and has threatened a court challenge.

Along with the fur ban, Newsom also approved a ban on the use of most animals in circuses. Exceptions will be made for dogs and horses.

“California is a leader when it comes to animal welfare, and today that leadership includes banning the sale of fur,” Newsom said in a statement. “But we are doing more than that. We are making a statement to the world that beautiful wild animals like bears and tigers have no place on trapeze wires or jumping through flames.”




First Asian American Presidential Candidate Scrutinized by Asian Americans

There are more than a dozen candidates running against U.S. President Donald Trump in the next presidential race, but one Democrat who is standing out in the Asian American community is entrepreneur, Andrew Yang. He may not be one of the top three candidates in the Democratic Party, but he is the first Asian American candidate to make a serious run for the White House.  He has qualified for the next Democratic presidential primary debate near Atlanta, Ga., Oct. 15, while other Democrats have not. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee reports from one of his rallies in Los Angeles.
 




Washington Celebrates Freedom to Read With List of Banned Books

Banned Books Week happens every year as many children in America begin a new school year. In honor of the occasion, local libraries organize readings of Harry Potter, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, To Kill A Mockingbird and hundreds of other novels. Despite many of them being considered classical literature, they continue to be banned in some school libraries. Natalka Pisnya has the story narrated by Anna Rice. 
 




Ecuador Closes Border with Venezuela, Stranding Refugees

There are thousands of Venezuelans stranded at the border after the Ecuadorian government imposed new rules that bar people from entering the country without a visa. But many of the refugees are stuck because they can’t afford the $50 fee to get a visa. VOA’s Celia Mendoza reports from the Rumichaca International Bridge in Colombia.
 




Xi and Modi Meet, Focus on Trade, Border

Indian and Chinese leaders at an informal summit Saturday sidestepped their differences and said they will tackle a huge trade deficit that has been troubling India, and enhance measures to strengthen border security.  
 
In the coastal heritage town of Mamallapuram in southern India, where the two leaders met, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that “we have decided to manage our differences prudently,” and not let them become “disputes.” He said both sides will remain sensitive to each other’s concerns so that the relationship “will be a source of peace and stability in the world.”
 
Without elaborating, Chinese President Xi Jinping said “we have engaged in candid discussions as friends,” as they sat down for talks.
 
Their sharp differences over the disputed region of Kashmir that came to the fore in the weeks ahead of the summit did not figure into the one-on-one talks held for several hours between Xi and Modi, according to Indian officials.
 
China has strongly backed Pakistan in raising strong objections to India’s move to scrap autonomy in the disputed Himalayan region, angering New Delhi, which says it is its internal affair.
 
Saying that there had been “visible progress” since Modi and Xi held their first informal summit in China last year, Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale told reporters that the summit had underlined that “there is no fundamental disruption and there is a forward-looking trajectory,” in their ties.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi (3rd R) and China’s President Xi Jinping (3rd L) lead talks in Mamallapuram, on the outskirts of Chennai, India, Oct. 12, 2019.

 
The informal summits are aimed at getting past decades of mistrust that have dogged their ties since they fought a war in 1962. Parts of their borders are still disputed and both sides claim parts of each other’s territories.
 
The immediate focus appears to be on addressing a $55 billion trade deficit in Beijing’s favor that is a huge irritant for India, especially as it is grappling with an economic slowdown.
 
The two countries will establish a high-level economic and trade dialogue led by senior leaders to improve business ties and better balance their trade.  
 
Calling the trade deficit economically unsustainable for India, Gokhale said “there is a very significant market in China and we need to find ways in which we can enhance exports and China can increase imports.”
 
Gokhale said Xi had welcomed Indian investment in pharmaceuticals and textiles – areas in which New Delhi has been seeking market access.

“China is ready to take sincere action in this regard and discuss in a very concrete way how to reduce the trade deficit,” he said.  
 
Indian officials also said that both leaders also resolved to work together in facing the challenges of radicalization and terrorism, which continues to pose a common threat.  
 
The Chinese leader has invited Modi for a third informal summit in China.
 
From India, Xi travels to Nepal, the tiny Himalayan country wedged between the two Asian giants. The first visit by a Chinese head of state to Nepal since 1996 comes as the two develop closer ties, raising some concern in India, which worries about Beijing’s growing influence in its immediate neighborhood.
 
Kathmandu hopes to sign agreements to begin infrastructure projects under Xi’s signature Belt and Road Initiative, which India has stayed away from but Nepal has joined.