Body found in hunt for Argentine activist

Body found in hunt for Argentine activist

Major political parties in Argentina have suspended election campaigning after the discovery of a body thought to be that of a missing activist.

Santiago Maldonado, 28, was last seen in August during a confrontation between police and indigenous rights activists at a protest in Patagonia.

Mr Maldonado’s disappearance caused a national outcry and has since become highly politicised.

The news comes ahead of Argentina’s congressional elections on Sunday.

Both governing and opposition parties have suspended campaigning as the body is transported to Buenos Aires for identification.

Forensic experts have been assigned and a post-mortem will take place at the request of the Maldonado family.

Prosecutor Silvia Avila said the body, discovered in a riverbed just a few hundred metres from where Mr Maldonado was last seen, was found with clothing that resembled those belonging to the missing activist, AFP news agency reports.

In a statement, the Maldonado family said that the true identity of the body and cause of death would not be known until “experts have completed their work”.

They added: “We are asking that our privacy be respected at this difficult time.”

Witnesses say Mr Maldonado was last seen after he was arrested at a demonstration for the rights of the Mapuche indigenous group in southern Argentina on 1 August.

On the day that he disappeared, border police clashed with protesters while dismantling a roadblock that had been erected on Route 40, the main road crossing Argentina from north to south.

Police later denied detaining Mr Maldonado.

Human rights campaigners, union leaders and left-wing groups had called on the government of Mauricio Macri, which has denied allegations of a cover-up, to do more to find him.

President Macri’s government then offered a reward of almost $30,000 (£23,000) for information on his disappearance.

Meanwhile Mr Maldonado’s brother, Sergio, has called for an independent investigation outside police authority.

In September, thousands of Argentines marched in the capital Buenos Aires to protest the activist’s disappearance.

The rally was one of many protests in cities across Argentina.

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Brazil panel rejects Temer graft charges

Brazil panel rejects Temer graft charges

A congressional committee in Brazil has voted to reject corruption charges against President Michel Temer.

The 39-26 vote by the justice committee comes ahead of the full lower chamber taking up the case. MPs are expected to follow the committee’s lead.

Mr Temer is accused of obstruction of justice and being part of a criminal organisation.

The president denies any wrongdoing, and his lawyers have argued that the case is flawed.

The charges stem from a corruption case involving the world’s largest meat-packing firm, JBS. He survived a similar congressional vote in August on bribery charges.

Mr Temer can only face trial with the approval of two-thirds of the lower house of Congress.

He is currently facing the worst approval ratings in Brazilian history, but lawmakers seem prepared to protect him again, the BBC’s Julia Carneiro in Rio de Janeiro reports.

Mr Temer became president last year following the impeachment of his predecessor, Dilma Rousseff.

She was found guilty of tampering with the government accounts in order to hide a growing deficit ahead of her re-election in 2014.

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Rio Olympics head charged with corruption

Rio Olympics head charged with corruption

Prosecutors in Brazil have formally charged the former head of the country’s Olympics committee with corruption during the campaign to win last year’s Games for Rio de Janeiro.

Carlos Nuzman is accused of running a criminal organisation, money laundering and violating currency laws.

The charges follow an investigation into a payment of $2m (£1.52m) to secure votes for the Rio bid.

Mr Nuzman, who was arrested on 5 October, denies any wrongdoing.

Vote-buying allegations

According to the indictment, Mr Nuzman and the former governor of Rio state, Sergio Cabral, “directly solicited” the $2m payment from Brazilian businessman Arthur Soares.

Mr Soares allegedly paid the money to the son of an influential Senegalese member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) just three days before the IOC voted on which country would host the 2016 Summer Games.

Rio beat Chicago, Madrid and Tokyo to become the first South American city to host the Olympics.

Mr Soares, Mr Cabral, Brazilian Olympic Committee ex-chief Leonardo Gryner, Senegalese IOC member Lamine Diack and Mr Diack’s son have all been charged.

They all deny the allegations made against them.

Mr Cabral is already in jail. The former Rio governor was sentenced in June to 14 years in prison for corruption and money laundering.

An arrest warrant has been issued for Mr Soares but he remains at large.

The IOC suspended Mr Nuzman and the IOC’s Brazilian arm earlier this month.

Mr Nuzman resigned from the Brazilian Olympic Committee last week saying he needed to devote himself to his legal defence.

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Brazil records Amazon deforestation drop

Brazil records Amazon deforestation drop

Amazon deforestation is down by 16% in the year to July 2017 compared to the previous 12 months, the Brazilian government says.

Satellite date suggest 6,624 sq km (2,460 sq miles) of forest were destroyed, down from 7,893 km sq in 2015/16, Environment Minister Jose Sarney Filho said.

But the figure is still above Brazil’s climate change target.

Mr Sarney Filho cited stiffer controls and more agents on the ground.

“When the illegal loggers know that [officers of] the Brazilian State are on location, they diminish their activities,” he said.

The size of the deforested area from August 2016 to July 2017 was four times that of Brazil’s largest city, Sao Paulo.

Taken state by state, the picture was mixed.

While deforestation diminished by 55% in Tocantins state and by 43% in Roraima, it rose by a massive 86% in Amapa, according to the satellite data gathered by the Programme for the Estimation of Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon (PRODES).

Amapa is the state where the National Reserve of Copper and Associates (Renca) is located.

There was an outcry in August, when President Michel Temer signed a decree opening up parts of the reserve for mining.

A court blocked the move and the government revoked it in September.

Mr Sarney Filho said that while the drop was welcome news, a change of attitude was needed for a more lasting change.

“Surveillance and control help, but it is not a solution,” he said. “We will only end deforestation when we value the standing forest.”

Some environmentalists have cast doubt on whether the drop is caused by government police.

Paulo Barreto, a senior researcher for non-profit Amazon institute Imazon, told Reuters news agency that Brazil’s economic recession and a drop in livestock prices were probably the major causes of the decline.

Ranchers clearing forest for cattle are major contributors to deforestation.

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Mexico fugitive rustled cattle – NGO

Mexico fugitive rustled cattle – NGO

The ex-governor of the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua, César Duarte, is suspected of stealing hundreds of cows bought with public money.

Mr Duarte was declared a fugitive after leaving Mexico in March when he was accused of embezzling millions of pesos.

He is believed to be hiding in the US.

The latest allegations against him surfaced in official documents published by a non-governmental organisation fighting corruption.

While Mexicans are used to politicians being involved in multi-million corruption scandals, these latest allegations have caused outrage because they illustrate how the most needy are often the ones to suffer.

The cattle were bought with public funds and imported from New Zealand in 2015.

The animals were meant to be handed over to small-scale ranchers in Chihuahua to repopulate their herds, which had been decimated by a drought.

But the documents suggest that 903 out of the 1,408 animals imported into Chihuahua were taken to a ranch owned by Mr Duarte, with hundreds more being given to close political associates of his.

According to the investigation by Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity, only 150 animals were given to needy ranchers.

In October 2016, Mexican newspaper Proceso and La Jornada reported that 345 of the cows from New Zealand had been taken to Mr Duarte’s ranch.

But the official documents released by Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity suggest the total number was more than double that.

The NGO spoke to two small-scale ranchers who had taken out loans to buy some of the cattle. They said they had paid out the money but the animals never arrived.

Lavish lifestyle

Mr Duarte, from the governing PRI party, was governor of Chihuahua from October 2010 to October 2016.

He was known for his lavish lifestyle and is accused of using an official helicopter to fly friends and family to his ranch at weekends.

He is suspected of embezzling 79m pesos ($4.2m; £3.2m) during his six-year term and channelling the money into his party’s coffers.

His successor in office, Javier Corral from the rival PAN party, ran on a promise to bring Mr Duarte to justice.

Mr Duarte has been spotted in Texas, New Mexico and Florida.

He is one of a number of high-ranking fugitive former PRI politicians facing corruption charges:

  • The ex-governor of Tamaulipas, Tomás Yarrington, was arrested in Italy in April
  • The former governor of Veracruz, Javier Duarte, was extradited to Mexico from Guatemala in July

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Spain moves to suspend Catalan autonomy

Spain moves to suspend Catalan autonomy

Spain is to start suspending Catalonia’s autonomy from Saturday, as the region’s leader threatens to declare independence.

The government said ministers would meet to activate Article 155 of the constitution, allowing it to take over running of the region.

Catalonia’s leader said the region’s parliament would vote on independence if Spain continued “repression”.

Catalans voted to secede in a referendum outlawed by Spain.

Some fear the latest moves could spark further unrest after mass demonstrations before and since the ballot on 1 October.

Spain’s supreme court declared the vote illegal and said it violated the constitution, which describes the country as indivisible.

Article 155 of the constitution, which cemented democratic rule three years after the death of dictator General Francisco Franco in 1975, allows Madrid to impose direct rule in a crisis but it has never been invoked.

BBC Madrid correspondent Tom Burridge says that for Madrid this is about upholding the rule of law in Catalonia, protecting the Spanish constitution and disciplining what it sees as an unruly, disobedient devolved government.

However, the central government wants to minimise the risk of large-scale demonstrations, our correspondent says. Civil servants and government lawyers have thought long and hard about what measures to adopt and when and how they should be implemented.

A slow game

By Katya Adler, BBC Europe editor

The Catalan crisis is reaching breaking point but we have to be careful here. Nothing will happen from one day to the next.

Political rhetoric aside, both the Spanish government and Catalan regional leaders know sentiments are running so high across Spain at the moment, that millions are poised to take to the streets.

Once the shopping list of measures has been decided, the Catalan leader has the right of reply and we’re told there is no legal window of opportunity for him to do so, meaning this could take days or weeks.

Finally, the Spanish Senate needs to approve the measures.

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What is Madrid’s position?

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy had set a deadline of 10:00 local time (08:00 GMT) for Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont to offer a definitive answer on the independence question, and called on him to “act sensibly”.

When it passed, the Spanish government accused the Catalan authorities of seeking confrontation.

“The Spanish government will continue with the procedures outlined in Article 155 of the Constitution to restore legality in Catalonia’s self-government,” it said.

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“It denounces the attitude maintained by those in charge of the Generalitat [Catalan government] to seek, deliberately and systematically, institutional confrontation despite the serious damage that is being caused to the coexistence and the economic structure of Catalonia.

“No-one doubts that the Spanish government will do all it can to restore the constitutional order.”

What happens now?

Mr Rajoy is due to attend an EU summit in Brussels on Thursday afternoon.

On Saturday the government will be expected to draw up a list of specific measures under Article 155 of the constitution, launching the transfer of powers from Catalonia to Madrid.

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The article says: “If a self-governing community does not fulfil the obligations imposed upon it by the constitution or other laws, or acts in a way that is seriously prejudicial to the general interest of Spain, the government… may… take all measures necessary to compel the community to meet said obligations, or to protect the above-mentioned general interest.”

It is thought the measures implemented could range from taking control of the regional police and finances to calling a snap election.

Spain’s Senate, controlled by Mr Rajoy’s conservative Popular Party (PP) and its allies, would then have to approve the list.

Analysts say Article 155 does not give the government the power to fully suspend autonomy, and it will not be able to deviate from the list of measures.

Where does this leave the Catalan leader?

Mr Puigdemont said in a letter to Mr Rajoy on Thursday morning that the independence declaration remained suspended but this could change.

“If the government continues to impede dialogue and continues with the repression, the Catalan parliament could proceed, if it is considered opportune, to vote on a formal declaration of independence.”

But he faces an uphill struggle – it is likely that senior figures in charge of internal security in Catalonia could be dismissed, and control of the region’s police force could pass to Madrid.

The regional parliament could also be dissolved.

One Spanish newspaper has reported that Mr Puigdemont might nominally remain in his job but Madrid would aim to take control of many of his duties and powers.

Ultimately the process could end in regional elections but the Spanish constitution does not impose any time limit.

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PM offers more assurances to EU citizens

PM offers more assurances to EU citizens

Theresa May has vowed to make it as easy as possible for EU citizens to remain in the UK after Brexit ahead of a key summit of European leaders.

In a Facebook post, the prime minister insisted the application process for settled status would be “streamlined” and the cost “as low as possible”.

Campaigners welcomed her message but said it seemed more aimed at persuading the EU to progress Brexit talks.

The PM will address EU leaders at a summit in Brussels later.

The leaders of the other 27 member states will then consider the overall progress in the talks so far.

At a meeting on Friday, at which the UK will not be present, they are expected to conclude officially that “insufficient progress” has been made on the first topics for discussion to move onto the second phase of trade discussions.

A group of pro-Brexit politicians is urging her to make clear she will walk away from talks unless the EU changes its stance.

European Council President Donald Tusk said there would be no “breakthrough” at the two-day summit, but progress could be achieved by the next scheduled meeting of EU leaders in December.

As well as citizens’ rights, agreement has yet to be reached on the UK’s financial obligations to the EU and the border in Northern Ireland.

Before leaving for Brussels, Mrs May used her Facebook post to offer further assurances to the three million or so nationals of other EU countries living in the UK and uncertain about their future after Brexit.

In her message, she said those who already had permanent residence would be able to “swap this” for settled status in as hassle-free a way as possible.

Some encouragement for UK

Analysis by Europe correspondent Kevin Connolly

The October summit was always the first date in the EU calendar on which a gathering of the 27 heads of government could declare themselves satisfied with the Brexit divorce negotiations and agree to start talking about trade.

It’s been clear for weeks that they won’t do that – but they will offer the UK some encouragement by starting internal discussions about future trade with the UK – ready for any breakthrough at the next summit in December.

Theresa May isn’t expected to make any big new proposal in her after-dinner remarks but to underline the quality of the financial offer made in her speech in Florence – worth around £20bn.

The EU side wants more though – more money as well as further movement on citizens rights and the Irish border.

There are almost as many predictions about what happens next as there are diplomats in Brussels; one has suggested that the prospects of a December breakthrough are no better than fifty-fifty but an official close to the talks said the signal on Brexit from this summit would be fundamentally positive.

“I know there is real anxiety about how the agreement will be implemented,” she wrote.

“People are concerned that the process will be complicated and bureaucratic, and will put up hurdles that are difficult to overcome. I want to provide reassurance here too.

“We are developing a streamlined digital process for those applying for settled status in the UK in the future. This process will be designed with users in mind, and we will engage with them every step of the way.”

The process of applying for permanent residency, for which EU nationals are eligible after five years, has long been criticised as cumbersome and overly bureaucratic. At one point, it involved filling out an 85-page form.

‘People first’

In simplifying it, Mrs May said she was committed to putting “people first” in the negotiations and expected British nationals living on the continent to be treated in the same way.

“I know both sides will consider each other’s proposals with an open mind and with flexibility and creativity on both sides, I am confident we can conclude discussions on citizens’ rights in the coming weeks.”

Nicolas Hatton, of the 3million pressure group formed to fight for the rights of EU nationals in the UK, described the PM’s statement as “very positive”, but said its timing was “a bit more dubious”.

“We should have received that letter maybe 12 months ago so we would not have felt so anxious about our future” he said, adding: “I think the letter was actually addressed to EU leaders.”

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Mrs May, who will address other leaders at a working dinner on Thursday, wants mutual dialogue on the UK’s future relationship with the EU, including trade and defence, to begin as soon as possible.

But Mr Tusk is expected to propose to the other 27 EU leaders that they begin talks amongst themselves about Britain’s future relationship with the EU, when it leaves the bloc in March 2019.

A group of pro-Brexit Tory and Labour politicians – including former Chancellor Lord Lawson, former Conservative minister Owen Paterson and Labour MP Kate Hoey – is urging Mrs May to walk away from negotiations this week if the EU does not accommodate the UK’s wishes.

A letter to the PM, organised by the Leave Means Leave campaign and also signed by pro-Brexit business figures, says the government “has been more than patient” and “decisive action” is now needed to end the “highly damaging” levels of uncertainty facing businesses.

In the event of no progress at Thursday’s meeting, the letter says, Mrs May should formally declare the UK is working on the assumption it will be reverting to World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules on 30 March 2019.

Early notification of such a move would allow the UK to “concentrate our resources on resolving administrative issues” and prepare to “crystallise the economic opportunities” of Brexit, it adds.

Mr Paterson told the Today programme the UK should not be “terrified” of leaving the EU without a deal in place, saying this appeared “inevitable at the moment” due to the EU’s “complete obsession with money” – the so-called Brexit divorce bill.

But Labour’s Brexit spokesman, Sir Keir Starmer, said it would be “irresponsible” to threaten to walk away with the talks only at “phase one”.

He added that Labour was not “duty bound” to support any deal the PM secures with Brussels.

Sir Keir and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn are also in Brussels for their own talks.

Meanwhile, a trade body for the UK’s creative sector has warned that money generated by it could be hit by a post-Brexit restriction on immigration.

The Creative Industries Federation (CIF) said the £87bn a year that UK-made films, music, adverts and video games generated for the UK economy was at risk if immigration was restricted.

The sector relies heavily on freelance staff, many of whom are from the EU, and the CIF wants the government to negotiate free movement of UK and EU workers for short-term projects.

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Dead journalist’s sons reject cash reward

Dead journalist’s sons reject cash reward

The sons of an investigative journalist killed in a car bomb attack in Malta have refused to endorse a one million euro (£890,000) reward for evidence leading to a conviction in the case.

Daphne Caruana Galizia’s three sons have also called for the country’s prime minister to resign.

Caruana Galizia died in an explosion shortly after she left her home in Bidnija, near Mosta, on Monday.

She was known for her blog accusing top politicians of corruption.

A Facebook post by Matthew Caruana Galizia, signed by his brothers Andrew and Paul, said they had faced “unrelenting pressure” from Malta’s leaders to “endorse a million-euro reward for evidence leading to the conviction of our mother’s assassins”.

But they said they are “not interested in justice without change”.

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“A government and a police force that failed our mother in life will also fail her in death. The people who for as long as we can remember sought to silence our mother cannot now be the ones to deliver justice,” they said.

They took aim at Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and called for him to stand down. “Show political responsibility and resign. Resign for failing to uphold our fundamental freedoms,” they said.

The sons demanded he replace Malta’s police commissioner and attorney general “with public servants who won’t be afraid to act on evidence against him and those he protects”.

After Caruana Galizia’s death, Mr Muscat denounced the killing, calling it an attack “on the freedom of expression in our country”.

Speaking to the BBC, he said the journalist was “a very harsh critic of mine” and described her killing as “a nightmare”.

“I wouldn’t know whether this is because of something she had written, or something she was going write,” he said.

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Daphne Caruana Galizia was a harsh critic of the government and effectively triggered an early election this year by publishing allegations linking Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to the Panama Papers scandal.

Mr Muscat and his wife denied claims they used secret offshore bank accounts to hide payments from Azerbaijan’s ruling family – and he was returned to power in the election, despite the controversy.

Caruana Galizia’s popular blog had also targeted opposition politicians, calling the country’s political situation “desperate” in her final post.

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Russian socialite in presidential bid

Russian socialite in presidential bid

Russian socialite Ksenia Sobchak is to stand in the country’s presidential election in March, when Vladimir Putin is widely expected to run again.

Ms Sobchak conceded she was an unlikely candidate and said she supported opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who is barred from standing.

However he had warned her not to stand and some commentators now predict an opposition split.

The Kremlin welcomed her candidacy, saying it was fully constitutional.

Mr Navalny is currently serving a 20-day prison sentence for his role in organising “unsanctioned” protests.

He is banned from the election due to a fraud conviction which he says was fabricated.

Dismissed as a ‘Kremlin stooge’

by Sarah Rainsford, BBC News, Moscow

This announcement was a long time rumoured, so Alexei Navalny made his views clear last month shortly before his latest arrest.

The anti-corruption blogger dismissed Ksenia Sobchak as a Kremlin stooge, a “liberal laughing stock” and an opposition “caricature”, brought in to lend legitimacy to a sham vote. He scorned her as a showbiz celebrity, only seeking more social media “likes” and followers.

Ms Sobchak herself denies she is a spoiler, saying she will step down if Mr Navalny himself is allowed to run for president. That scenario looks highly improbable though.

So the socialite-turned-journalist has promised to be a “loudspeaker” for those fed up with the lies, theft and corruption of their leaders. It is language that she borrows quite heavily from Mr Navalny.

She would be the first woman candidate in 14 years, a point which her campaign video in a kitchen underscores. But Ms Sobchak also has the “Marmite” effect: she is as unpalatable to as many people as she attracts.

And crucially, it’s not clear how far she’d actually go in criticising Vladimir Putin himself, a close family friend since her childhood.

Ms Sobchak, a journalist and TV presenter, called for the bar on him standing to be lifted.

She said she wanted to be “a mouthpiece for those who cannot be candidates”.

“I am against revolution but I am a good middleman and organiser,” Ms Sobchak wrote in a letter published on the website of Vedomosti business daily.

Russia’s election campaign starts around 7 December, when political parties are expected to hold congresses to nominate their candidates.

A Russian citizen not backed by a political party has the right to register as an independent presidential candidate provided he or she collects at least 300,000 signatures.

President Putin, who first took office as president in 2000, has not announced yet whether he will stand again.

Who is Ksenia Sobchak?

  • Aged 35, she is the daughter of Anatoly Sobchak, the late mayor of St Petersburg and a man who in the 1990s employed then little-known former KGB agent Vladimir Putin
  • Nicknamed “Russia’s Paris Hilton”, she won fame by presenting a popular dating reality show called Dom-2
  • Denigrated by some as a party girl, she also gained attention for once presenting another reality TV show from a bubble bath
  • She raised eyebrows by joining opposition protests in 2012 against Mr Putin

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