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Malaysian ex-PM Najib combative ahead of 1MDB graft trial

KUALA LUMPUR: From appearing in an R&B music video and trolling social media to vilify the new government, former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has been combative before the start of his graft trial, linked to the multibillion-dollar looting of the 1MDB state investment fund that has battered the country’s standing abroad.The trial starting Tuesday…

Malaysian ex-PM Najib combative ahead of 1MDB graft trial

KUALA LUMPUR: From appearing in an R&B music video and trolling social media to vilify the new government, former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has been combative before the start of his graft trial, linked to the multibillion-dollar looting of the 1MDB state investment fund that has battered the country’s standing abroad.The trial starting Tuesday comes nine months after Najib’s spectacular election defeat, spurred by voters’ furor over the 1MDB scandal that is being investigated in the US and several other countries for alleged cross-border money laundering and embezzlement.US investigators say more than $4.5 billion was stolen from 1MDB by associates of Najib between 2009 and 2014 and the ill-gotten gains were laundered through layers of bank accounts in the US and other countries to finance Hollywood films and buy hotels, a luxury yacht, art works, jewelry and other extravagances. Some $700 million from the fund that Najib set up for Malaysia’s economic development allegedly landed in his own bank account.One of only a few Southeast Asian leaders to be arraigned after losing office, Najib has denied any wrongdoing. He is charged with 42 counts of criminal breach of trust, graft, abuse of power and money laundering in one of Malaysia’s biggest criminal trials. His wife Rosmah Mansor also has been charged with money laundering and tax evasion linked to 1MDB. She has pleaded not guilty and her trial has not been set.The first of Najib’s multiple criminal trials begins Tuesday but instead of lying low, Najib has fought back with a political makeover on social media that aims to transform his image from an out-of-touch elitist to a leader for the working class.A Malay-language catchphrase translating to “What’s to be ashamed about, my boss?” was coined while he was campaigning in a by-election last month and has become his new rally cry. Expensive tailored suits have been replaced by hoodies and jeans. A picture Najib posted on social media showing himself posing on a Yamaha motorcycle with his new “’no-shame” meme resonated with many Malay youths disenchanted by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s new government.In another offbeat music video that he uploaded on social media, Najib slammed the new government as “liars” and crooned about the “slander and revenge” against him in a Malay-language rendition of the 1970’s R&B soul hit “Kiss and Say Goodbye” by the American group, the Manhattans.He posts a dozen messages daily on social media, mostly mocking the new government and its policies, and touching on the plight of the needy.Last month while visiting vendors at a wet market, Najib jeered government leaders on Facebook: “Let the ministers sleep on this Saturday morning.”Bridget Welsh, political science professor at the John Cabot University in Rome, said Najib is seeking to tap into anger from those who were displaced politically and those disappointed by the new government.“There will actually be two battles — that in the courtroom and that in the public — in which Najib has used a flush-funded social media machine to build support,” said Welsh, a Southeast Asia expert. “He has fanned two sentiments — supposed political victimization and racial insecurity — stemming from the fact that Malay chauvinists do not have the same level of political power in the new government.”Najib’s online campaign isn’t likely to extend beyond his Malay political base but it could split Malaysia along racial lines, she said. Ethnic Malays makeup about 60 percent of Malaysia’s 32 million people, followed by large Chinese and Indian minorities.Despite his smiles and cool public persona, the patrician Najib — whose father and uncle were Malaysia’s second and third prime ministers respectively — could face years in prison if convicted.Once a towering figure in politics and literally beyond the law, Najib has fallen from grace swiftly since his historic electoral loss on May 9, which led to the first change of government since Malaysia’s independence from Britain in 1957.The new government soon after it took office reopened investigations into 1MDB that had been stifled under Najib. He and his wife were barred from leaving the country and grilled by anti-graft officials, and their properties were raided. Truckloads of luggage stashed with cash, jewelry and hundreds of expensive designer bags worth a staggering 1.1 billion ringgit ($270 million) were seized from their home and other properties.The trials for both Najib and his wife will be closely watched but are expected to be long-lasting as defense lawyers could appeals up to the top court. Najib has a team of top lawyers, who are appealing Monday to delay his trial.Farhan Read, one of Najib’s lawyers, told The Associated Press that the defense team wants a deferment to resolve a technical issue that could impair the validity of the hearing. He said Najib’s trials are scheduled back-to-back and that it was unprecedented for a person to be hit with 42 charges.

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17 Chinese, Ukrainian seamen kidnapped off Cameroon

LIBREVILLE: President Ali Bongo of Gabon on Friday made his first live appearance in public nearly 10 months after suffering a stroke, attending ceremonies in the capital Libreville.Bongo, whose every move has been scrutinized for signs of ill health, attended commemorations on the eve of the country’s anniversary of independence, an AFP correspondent at the…

17 Chinese, Ukrainian seamen kidnapped off Cameroon

LIBREVILLE: President Ali Bongo of Gabon on Friday made his first live appearance in public nearly 10 months after suffering a stroke, attending ceremonies in the capital Libreville.Bongo, whose every move has been scrutinized for signs of ill health, attended commemorations on the eve of the country’s anniversary of independence, an AFP correspondent at the scene reported.It was the first time he had been seen in public outside the presidential palace since falling ill last October, except for appearances that were filmed and edited by Gabonese government or state media.Smiling, the 60-year-old head of state exchanged a few words with security officers before laying a wreath at the tomb of Gabon’s first president, Leon Mba.Bongo walked with a stick and an aide helped him to climb several steps. The ceremony lasted half an hour, which was shorter than in previous years.Speculation about Bongo’s ability to rule the small oil-rich country surged after he suffered a stroke on October 24.He was flown to Morocco for treatment, returning in January. During his extended absence, the army quashed a brief attempted coup.In May, he dismissed his vice president and minister of forests after a scandal erupted over the smuggling of precious timber.Ten members of Gabon’s political opposition, civil society and trade union movement have filed a suit requesting Bongo be assessed to see whether he is medically fit to continue in office.A lower court dismissed the case in May, saying that only the two houses of parliament, or the Constitutional Court acting at the behest of the government, were empowered to determine whether the president was unfit.But the Court of Appeal on Monday said it would hear an appeal by the plaintiffs and set a date for it — August 26.Bongo is scheduled to make a televised speech on Friday evening and then on Saturday attend an annual military parade to mark the country’s independence from France in 1960.Opposition figures have urged the public to turn out in large numbers on Saturday to gain a closer look at his health.Bongo succeeded his father Omar Bongo, who became head of state in 1967 and died in June 2009, leaving a legacy of corruption allegations.

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Gabon’s Bongo in first live public appearance after stroke

ROME: Italy has evacuated a handful of medical cases from a Spanish migrant rescue ship off the coast of Lampedusa, as the boat remained in limbo on Friday despite a European deal to take in 134 people remaining onboard.Three migrants who suffered “medical complications which require specialized care” and an escort were brought to the…

Gabon’s Bongo in first live public appearance after stroke

ROME: Italy has evacuated a handful of medical cases from a Spanish migrant rescue ship off the coast of Lampedusa, as the boat remained in limbo on Friday despite a European deal to take in 134 people remaining onboard.Three migrants who suffered “medical complications which require specialized care” and an escort were brought to the southern Italian island of Lampedusa late on Thursday, Spanish charity Proactiva Open Arms said on Twitter.This is the umpteenth standoff between a charity vessel rescuing migrants making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean and Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, but this time set against the background of a political crisis in Rome.Thursday saw sparring between Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Salvini, who last week pulled his party’s support from the ruling coalition in the hope of toppling the 14-month-old government.Salvini’s anti-immigrant League party has been squabbling with coalition partner the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) over a host of issues.“France, Germany, Romania, Portugal, Spain and Luxembourg have told me that they are ready to welcome the migrants,” Conte said in an open letter to Salvini, who has sought to bar all NGO rescue vessels from entering Italian waters.In a distinct change of tone since the coalition disintegrated last week, Conte slammed what he called Salvini’s “obsessive focus” on an immigration policy reduced to the phrase “closed ports.”Salvini has taken a hard-line against migrants rescued at sea being brought to Italy, which he says bears an unfair burden as the first port of call for refugees from several countries.Responding to Conte, Salvini wrote on Facebook: “It is clear that without (my) resolve, the European Union would never have lifted a finger, leaving Italy and the Italians on their own like (previous governments) did for years.”The UN refugee agency welcomed the news of a deal to distribute the migrants but regretted it took so long.“People cannot be left at sea for days on end. Predictable, regional and fair approach urgently needed so no rescued person is again left at sea for so long,” the UNHCR tweeted.After Salvini pulled the plug on his coalition with M5S last week, he had hoped for a no-confidence vote but his gambit failed.The fate of the migrants aboard the Open Arms vessel, operated by Spanish charity Proactiva, found itself at the center of Italy’s political crisis.Earlier this month, Salvini signed a decree banning the Open Arms from Italian waters, saying it was to protect public order.But Proactiva appealed to an administrative court which on Wednesday suspended the decree.Salvini then signed a new one blocking the ship, but in a demonstration of his diminished power, Italy’s defense minister blocked it on Thursday.Elisabetta Trenta, an M5S party member with the authority to sign off on Salvini’s decree, announced that she has decided not to do so after “listening to my conscience.”It is estimated Salvini enjoys up to 38 percent support among the electorate, thanks largely to his hard-line against immigrants.Spokeswoman Vanessa Mock said the European Commission welcomed the willingness of member states to help relocate the migrants.The Commission is ready to help “once a solution has been found for the disembarkation of the persons rescued at sea. The situation where persons are stranded at sea for days and weeks on end is untenable.”The mainly African migrants aboard Open Arms had been plucked from boats in the Mediterranean this month with weather conditions encouraging more departures from Libya.Both Italy and Malta have refused the boat permission to dock and disembark its passengers.Five migrants disembarked at Lampedusa on Thursday “for psychological reasons,” the NGO said.Another rescue ship, the Ocean Viking, operated by SOS Mediterranee and Doctors without Borders (MSF), is also looking for a port to dock with more than 350 migrants on board.

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Five dead as Pakistan, India exchange fire in Kashmir

LONDON: A man was taken to hospital after being stabbed Thursday outside Britain’s Home Office interior ministry in London.One man was arrested at the scene on suspicion of grievous bodily harm, the city’s Metropolitan Police said.The Home Office is responsible for tackling crime and the government has recently launched a campaign to deter people from…

Five dead as Pakistan, India exchange fire in Kashmir

LONDON: A man was taken to hospital after being stabbed Thursday outside Britain’s Home Office interior ministry in London.One man was arrested at the scene on suspicion of grievous bodily harm, the city’s Metropolitan Police said.The Home Office is responsible for tackling crime and the government has recently launched a campaign to deter people from carrying blades in a bid to combat a surge in knife crime.Police said they were called at 1:06 p.m. local time following a report of a man with a knife.“Officers attended to find one man with knife injuries,” the police said in a statement.“One man has been arrested on suspicion of grievous bodily harm and taken to a police station.“Enquiries are ongoing into the exact circumstances of the incident.”The police initially reported the injuries were life-threatening but later said his injuries were not life threatening.The London Ambulance Service said the casualty was treated at the scene and taken to hospital.“We dispatched an incident response officer, a medic in a response car, a motorcycle paramedic and an ambulance crew,” a spokeswoman said.“We treated a man at the scene and took him to a major trauma center.”Figures out last month revealed that knife crime in England and Wales over the previous 12 months had soared to a record high of more than 43,500 offenses.The figures were up eight percent year-on-year.New Prime Minister Boris Johnson reiterated his commitment to tackling the “scourge” of knife crime as he took questions from the public live on Facebook on Wednesday.

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