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Yemen peace talks start in Sweden with prisoner exchange deal

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Yemen’s warring sides have agreed to free thousands of prisoners at the start of peace talks to end the country’s devastating conflict.

The meeting is set to last a week in the picturesque town of Rimbo – 35 miles north of Stockholm – with UN sources saying they are hoping for “confidence-building measures” rather than a breakthrough.

The prison exchange, to be overseen by the International Committee of the Red Cross, was seen as an encouraging start to the talks. The Red Cross said about 5,000 people would be freed.

At least 10,000 people have been killed in the war – though observers believe the number could be much higher – and Save the Children estimates 85,000 children under five may have starved to death.

Martin Griffiths (L) shook hands with Yemeni delegates as the talks prepared to start
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Martin Griffiths (L) shook hands with Yemeni delegates as the meeting began
The talks are at being held at Johannesberg Castle in Rimbo,  north of Stockholm
Image:
The talks are at being held at Johannesberg Castle in Rimbo, north of Stockholm

The UN has called it the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and that 14 million people are in danger of famine because of an aid blockade.

The UN’s special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, said that even just getting the warring sides to the table was an important milestone.

“During the coming days we will have a critical opportunity to give momentum to the peace process,” he said as the rival delegations arrived in Sweden.

However, he cautioned that the talks were “consultations” and “not yet beginning the process of negotiations”.

Sweden’s foreign minister, Margot Wallstrom, welcomed the two sides as they sat in the same room at Rimbo’s Johannesberg Castle and urged them to find “compromise and courage”.

“Now it is up to you, the Yemini parties,” she said. “You have the command of your future.”



Martin Griffiths








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Video:
November: Failure in Yemen would be ‘quite appalling’ – Griffiths

Ahead of the talks, a top Houthi official threatened to stop UN planes using the capital’s airport unless the negotiations allowed for its full reopening.

Yemeni government officials hit back by demanding rebels disarm and pull out of the Red Sea port city of Hodeida.

The foreign ministry tweeted a demand that the “coupist militias withdraw fully from the western coast and hand the area over to the legitimate government”.

The Saudi-led coalition – which backs the government – has been laying siege to Hodeida for months, with civilians caught in the crossfire.

The coalition intervened in 2015 to restore a government ousted by the Iran-aligned Houthi movement.

Pro-government forces gather on the eastern outskirts of Hodeida
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Pro-government forces have been trying to take control of Hodeida

Pressure to end the war has intensified amid dire humanitarian warnings and the Jamal Khashoggi murder, which has focussed attention on Saudi government actions.

A Yemeni government source told Reuters they wanted maps of where rebels have planted landmines.

Sources on both sides said they would demand a ceasefire and the opening of humanitarian corridors.

Mr Griffiths said he believes the talks can “bring good news for Hodeida and for the people of Yemen”.



Countless children are dying from lack of food and healthcare in Yemen








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Special report: Yemen’s children are starving

“We have been working to reach a negotiated agreement to spare both the city and port the threat of destruction, and guarantee the full operation of the port,” he wrote in The New York Times.

The coalition also allowed the Houthis to evacuate 50 wounded rebels for treatment in Oman.

Saudi Arabia and the coalition it leads first intervened in Yemen in 2015, with the aim of restoring its internationally-recognised government that had been ousted from the capital of Sana’a the year before.

They are widely seen as having got involved because of the rebels’ ties to regional rival Iran.

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Russia used social media to target 2014 European Parliament election, evidence suggests | World News

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Evidence of Kremlin efforts to use social media to target the 2014 European Parliament elections have been uncovered by researchers at Cardiff University.

They tracked the activities of Twitter accounts identified by the United States as being linked to the Kremlin’s Internet Research Agency (IRA).

This is the Russian organisation accused of running fake Twitter and Facebook accounts that targeted the 2016 US presidential election in support of Donald Trump.

Cardiff University found that one of the IRA accounts “appears to have been engaging in reconnaissance activities of European Parliamentary election processes in Greece in 2014”.

It discovered messages sent by whoever was operating the account that included photographs from inside polling stations of ballot boxes and pictures of ballot papers.

The team also noted that by 2016 these accounts were posting messages in a number of European languages, including French, German, Italian and Estonian.

“Collectively, these IRA Twitter accounts were displaying high levels of interest in the American elections, but there were also significant levels of interest in a series of elections and democratic events across Europe in 2016,” Cardiff University said in a report.

It added: “Based upon the maxim that the best guide to future behaviour is past conduct, the evidence presented suggests a strong potential for similar kinds of activities to be directed towards the 2019 European Parliamentary elections.”

Professor Martin Innes, director of the Crime and Security Research Institute at the university, said the research presented in two reports “clearly evidence a sustained and wide-ranging interest in European politics from social media accounts covertly run on behalf of the Kremlin”.

“By examining in forensic detail some of the tactics and techniques featuring in their historic information-influence operations, this research affords urgent insights about the future threats to the integrity of the democratic process as we approach the 2019 European elections.”

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Pentagon: US could send 10,000 more troops to Middle East to counter ‘Iran threat’ | US News

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The Pentagon is preparing to send as many as 10,000 more troops to the Middle East as tensions with Iran continue to rise, according to reports.

The move is not in response to any new threat but is aimed at strengthening security in the region, according to officials quoted by The Associated Press.

A final decision has not been made on the deployment, which could include additional weapons and ships.

Any increase in US troop numbers would contrast sharply with US President Donald Trump’s previous stated aim of reducing America’s military presence overseas.

Air Force Colonel Patrick Ryder, spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said: “As a matter of long-standing policy, we are not going to discuss or speculate on potential or alleged future operations or plans.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives for a closed-door briefing on Iran in the auditorium of the Capitol Visitors Center in Washington, DC, on May 21, 2019
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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the situation is being evaluated daily

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the situation was being evaluated “every day”, telling Fox And Friends: “We’re evaluating the risks, making sure that we have it right.”

Meanwhile, the German foreign ministry’s political director Jens Ploetner headed for Tehran on Thursday for talks with Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi in an effort to stop the nuclear deal from falling apart.

The deal, signed under the Obama administration in 2015, had offered economic incentives in exchange for Iran curtailing its nuclear production.

But Mr Trump pulled the US out of the deal last year and has reimposed sanctions, hurting Iran’s struggling economy.

An F/A18E Super Hornet lands on the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72). Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group is deployed to U.S. Central Command area of responsibility in order to defend American forces and interests in the region. With Abraham Lincoln as the flagship, deployed strike group assets include staffs, ships and aircraft(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Dan Snow/Released)
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Earlier this month, the US accelerated the deployment of an aircraft carrier to the Middle East

Iran – which has obeyed the deal’s conditions according to a February report by the International Atomic Energy Agency – gave the remaining signatories Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia two months to develop a plan to shield it from the effect of sanctions.

The German foreign ministry said in an email: “The situation in the Persian Gulf and the region, and the situation surrounding the Vienna nuclear agreement, is extremely serious.

“There is a real risk of escalation – including due to misunderstandings or an incident. In this situation, dialogue is very important.”

German deputy Foreign Ministry spokesman Jens Ploetner addresses a news conference in Berlin October 20, 2006
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Jens Ploetner is trying to save the Iran nuclear deal

On Monday, Iran said it had increased its production capacity of low-enriched uranium but that it would not be enriched beyond the 3.67% limit in the nuclear deal. This would mean it can be used for power but not for an atomic weapon.

Earlier this month, the US accelerated the deployment of an aircraft carrier to the Middle East and sent four B52 bombers to the region.

Non-essential US personnel have been told to leave Iran’s neighbour Iraq, due to what the Trump administration described as threats from Iranian-backed militias.

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Geoffrey Rush: Oscar-winning actor awarded record £1.5m damages in defamation case | World News

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Geoffrey Rush is set to receive the largest ever damages payout to a single person in Australia’s history following a defamation case against a newspaper publisher and journalist. 

The judge awarded Rush 2.9m Australian dollars (£1.5m) on Thursday, up from the original amount of 484,000 Australian dollars (£263,000), after taking the actor’s loss of earnings into consideration.

In the case, Oscar-winning Rush successfully sued Australia’s Nationwide News and journalist Jonathon Moran over its reporting in 2017 of accusations that he sexually abused actress Eryn Jean Norvill.

The pair appeared together in a production of Shakespeare’s King Lear in 2015 and 2016, where Norvill alleged the four-time Academy Award nominee had touched her inappropriately on several occasions, and had made lewd comments.

Rush has denied the accusations against him.

Norvill alleges that the Oscar-winning actor touched her inappropriately during a production of King Lear
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Norvill alleges the Oscar-winning actor touched her inappropriately during a King Lear production

Judge Michael Wigney found two reports and a poster by the company, which publishes the Daily Telegraph, to be defamatory toward the Shine actor.

He called the reporting, in an article headlined “King Leer”, a “recklessly irresponsible piece of sensationalist journalism of… the very worst kind”, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.

Both Nationwide News and Mr Moran intend to appeal the court’s decision.

In early 2018, Rush’s legal team said it would be happy to settle the case with an apology and a £27,000 payout from Nationwide News, but the outlet did not respond.

Stone's evidence was not heard in the case as the judge said her allegations could cause Rush prejudice
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Evidence from Yael Stone was not heard in the case

The media publisher later lost a key element in the almost two-week trial after Judge Wigney refused to allow Netflix actress Yael Stone to give evidence of her own personal experiences with Rush.

Stone alleges that the Australian actor behaved inappropriately toward her when they appeared together in a stage production of The Diary of a Madman in 2010. Rush denies the allegation.

However, Judge Wigney said Stone’s evidence created new allegations that would cause Rush “manifest and palpable” prejudice.

Rush said at the time that Stone’s allegations were “incorrect” and had in some cases “been taken completely out of context”.

He added: “I sincerely and deeply regret if I have caused her any distress.

“This, most certainly, has never been my intention.”

A record-breaking damages payout for Australia was awarded to actress Rebel Wilson in a defamation case against Bauer Media last year.

She was originally awarded £2.55m, but this was cut back to £327,000 following an appeal.

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