Maduro Accuses US of Attacking Food Aid Program

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro Thursday accused the United States of seeking to destroy a food aid program that the government of the crisis-stricken OPEC nation says feeds 6 million families.

Washington is preparing sanctions and criminal charges against Venezuelan officials and others suspected of using the food program to launder money for the Maduro government, sources familiar with the matter said Tuesday.

The measures against the program, known in Venezuela by its Spanish acronym CLAP, are expected to be enacted within the next 90 days, according to the sources, who asked not to be identified.

“(The U.S.) is preparing sanctions to destroy the CLAP system,” Maduro said in televised broadcast, accompanied by the military high command.

“Do what you want to do, Venezuela will continue with the Local Supply and Production Committees,” he said, referencing the full name of the CLAP program.

The State Department did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Subsidized food

The program sells at subsidized prices boxes of food that include products such as rice, pasta, oil and powdered milk.

Some of the products are imported from countries such as Turkey, Mexico, Colombia and Brazil.

Maduro launched the plan in 2016 in response to chronic food shortages and spiraling prices, as Venezuela struggled under hyperinflation and a severe economic contraction. Critics call the program a form of social control that is used to pressure its recipients to support the ruling Socialist Party.

Crisis deepening

Venezuela’s political crisis has deepened since opposition leader Juan Guaido invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency in January, arguing that socialist Maduro’s 2018 re-election was illegitimate.

The United States as well as most European and Latin American countries have recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s rightful leader.

But Maduro retains control of state functions and the support of the military’s top brass, as well the support of allies such as Russia, Cuba and China. He says the country’s economic problems are the result of an “economic war” led by his political adversaries with the help of Washington.

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Anacondas Born to ‘Virgin Mother’ at Boston Aquarium

Anna, a female green anaconda that has lived most of her life in an all-female enclosure at the New England Aquarium, has given birth.

The anaconda produced 18 snakes in early January. A DNA test has confirmed that the births were a result of a nonsexual reproduction process known as parthenogenesis, or “virgin birth,” according to the aquarium.

Parthenogenesis commonly occurs in the plant world and among animals without a backbone, but is rare among vertebrates. The process has been documented only among lizards, birds, sharks and snakes.

The phenomenon involving Anna is the second known confirmed case of parthenogenesis for a green anaconda. The first was at a British zoo in 2014.

Only two of Anna’s 18 offspring have survived.

Aquarium staff said the young snakes are clones of their mother. Limited genetic sequencing shows complete matches on all the sites tested.

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Sources: FAA Expects to OK Boeing 737 MAX to Fly in June

The Federal Aviation Administration expects to approve Boeing Co.’s 

737 MAX jet to return to service as soon as late June, representatives of the U.S. air regulator informed members of the U.N. aviation agency in a private briefing Thursday, sources told Reuters. 

The target, if achieved, means U.S. airlines would most likely not have to greatly extend costly cancellations of 737 MAX jets they have already put in place for the peak summer flying season, but the FAA representatives warned that there was no firm timetable to get the planes back in the air. 

American Airlines Group Inc., Southwest Airlines Co. and United Airlines suspended 737 MAX flights into July and August after the FAA grounded Boeing’s best-selling jet in March following two crashes in the space of five months that together killed 346 people. 

FAA and Boeing officials privately briefed members of the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) governing council in Montreal on the 737 MAX on Thursday, the same day that the FAA’s acting administrator. Dan Elwell. met with international air regulators for eight hours in Fort Worth, 

Texas. 

Laying out a potential schedule for getting the 737 MAX back in the air in the United States goes further than the FAA’s public statements so far. 

Elwell declined to answer questions about the private ICAO briefing. “The last thing I want is to put a date out there and then to have anybody, either the FAA or you or the public, drive to the date instead of the end result of the process,” he told Reuters at a briefing with reporters after the Fort Worth meeting, which he called “constructive.” 

Safety first

He repeated previous statements that the FAA will not approve the plane for flight until it has completed a safety analysis, with no set timetable. 

The path to getting the 737 MAX back in the air outside the United States remains even more uncertain. Canada and Europe said on Wednesday that they would bring back the grounded aircraft on their own terms, not the FAA’s. 

Shares of Boeing, the world’s largest plane maker, pared earlier losses on Thursday to close down 0.6% at $350.55. The stock has fallen about 17 percent since the second crash, of an Ethiopian Airlines jet in March, wiping about $40 billion off its market value. 

Software fix 

The FAA has said it will not reverse its decision to ground the plane until it sees the findings of a multiagency review of Boeing’s plan to fix software on the 737 MAX, which the plane maker has described as a common link in the two crashes. 

Boeing said last week it had completed an update to the software, known as MCAS, which would stop erroneous data from triggering an anti-stall system that automatically turned down the noses of the two planes that crashed, despite pilot efforts to prevent such action.

Boeing has yet to formally submit the fix to the FAA and has not set a date to do so. 

“Once we have addressed the information requests from the FAA, we will be ready to schedule a certification test flight and submit final certification documentation,” Boeing communications director Chaz Bickers said on Thursday. 

Even after the FAA lifts its ban on 737 MAX flights, airlines will have to spend about 100 to 150 hours getting each aircraft ready to fly again after being put in storage, plus time for training pilots on the new software, officials from the three U.S. airlines that operate the 737 MAX told Reuters. 

Southwest, American and United provided estimates to Reuters after discussing the process with Boeing in Miami earlier this week. 

Southwest is the world’s largest MAX operator with 34 jets, followed in the United States by American  with 24 and United with 14. All three have dozens more on order, meant to service booming air travel demand. 

Long checklist

Each airline has a long list of items to tick off as it uploads the new 737 MAX software, including fluid changes and engine checks. 

FAA associate administrator Ali Bahrami said on Thursday it could take up to a week to return the planes to service following approval, noting that some grounded 737 MAX planes have missed scheduled inspections during the grounding. 

On top of that, each airline must train its pilots on the new software.

Boeing has said that simulator training is not necessary for the 737 MAX, and is recommending a mandatory computer-based course that explains MCAS and could be completed at a pilot’s home in about an hour, according to pilot unions. 

Elwell said on Thursday that “no individual country stood up and said we need to have sim [simulator] training.”

The FAA has made no decision yet on what type of pilot training will be required. Each airline will be responsible for developing its own training plan once the FAA lays down guidelines. 

If the FAA hits its target of approving the 737 MAX to fly by the end of June, airlines may still have to adjust their schedules for the busy summer travel season. 

United has removed the MAX from its flight schedule through July 3, Southwest through Aug. 5 and American through Aug. 19. 

For Southwest and American, that has meant more than 100 daily flight cancellations during the summer travel season. Both have said they will start using the aircraft as spares if they are ready to fly before those dates. 

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Italy Anti-mafia Body Says Berlusconi ‘Unpresentable’ for EU Vote

The Italian parliament’s anti-mafia committee on Thursday declared five candidates for the European elections “unpresentable,” including billionaire and three-time prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The five include three candidates from Berlusconi’s center-right Forza Italia party and one from the far-right Casa Pound, and all are currently under investigation or being tried for alleged crimes, according to the committee’s president Nicola Morra.

The committee’s declaration will not stop the candidates from running in the European Parliament elections, which in Italy are to be held on Sunday.

Media magnate Berlusconi has faced a string of charges over the so-called Rubygate scandal linked to his dinner parties and then 17-year-old Moroccan nightclub dancer Karima El-Mahroug, also known as “Ruby the heart-stealer.”

The 82-year old is currently on trial accused of paying a witness to give false testimony about the notoriously hedonistic soirees.

Berlusconi is also being investigated or prosecuted for alleged witness tampering in Milan, Sienna, Rome and Turin, each time accused of paying people to keep quiet about his so-called “bunga-bunga” parties.

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Italy Anti-mafia Body Says Berlusconi ‘Unpresentable’ for EU Vote

The Italian parliament’s anti-mafia committee on Thursday declared five candidates for the European elections “unpresentable,” including billionaire and three-time prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The five include three candidates from Berlusconi’s center-right Forza Italia party and one from the far-right Casa Pound, and all are currently under investigation or being tried for alleged crimes, according to the committee’s president Nicola Morra.

The committee’s declaration will not stop the candidates from running in the European Parliament elections, which in Italy are to be held on Sunday.

Media magnate Berlusconi has faced a string of charges over the so-called Rubygate scandal linked to his dinner parties and then 17-year-old Moroccan nightclub dancer Karima El-Mahroug, also known as “Ruby the heart-stealer.”

The 82-year old is currently on trial accused of paying a witness to give false testimony about the notoriously hedonistic soirees.

Berlusconi is also being investigated or prosecuted for alleged witness tampering in Milan, Sienna, Rome and Turin, each time accused of paying people to keep quiet about his so-called “bunga-bunga” parties.

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US Charges WikiLeaks Founder With Violating Espionage Act

U.S. prosecutors Thursday announced new criminal charges under the Espionage Act against jailed WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange over his alleged role in what they termed “one of the largest compromises of classified information” in U.S. history.

The charges are not related to WikiLeaks’ alleged role in disseminating stolen Democratic emails during the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.

An 18-count superseding indictment returned by a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia accuses Assange of working with former Army specialist Chelsea Manning to obtain and publish on WikiLeaks hundreds of thousands of highly sensitive U.S. government reports about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as the Guantanamo Bay prison.

The documents, many of them classified as secret, contained the names of journalists, dissidents and other human sources that provided information to U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as to U.S. diplomats around the world.

Warned in 2010

Assange, prosecutors allege, knew that disseminating the names endangered the human sources and that he continued to do so even after a warning by the State Department in late 2010.

Assange was charged last year with one count of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion in connection with working with Manning. The indictment was unsealed in April after Assange was expelled from Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he’d taken refuge in 2012, and arrested by British police.

He remains in jail on charges of violating his bail conditions and faces possible extradition to the U.S. and Sweden.

The new charges against Assange include conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defense information as well as obtaining and disclosing national defense information. The conspiracy charge carries a maximum of five years in prison. Each new count carries a maximum of 10 years in prison.

Assange has long maintained that he’s being targeted for his work as a journalist.

“This is madness,” WikiLeaks tweeted after the charges were announced. “It is the end of national security journalism and the First Amendment.”

Press and government transparency advocates have come to Assange’s defense, arguing that prosecuting Assange could endanger others who publish classified information.

But U.S. law enforcement officials were quick to emphasize that they don’t see Assange’s work as journalism.

“The department takes seriously the role of journalists in our democracy and we thank you for it,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers told reporters. “It has not and never has been the department’s policy to target them for reporting. Julian Assange is no journalist.”

​‘Complicity in illegal acts’

U.S. Attorney Zach Terwilliger stressed that Assange is only charged for his “complicity in illegal acts” and for “publishing a narrow set of classified documents” that contained names of confidential human sources.

“Assange is not charged simply because he is a publisher,” Terwilliger told reporters.

Assange, a 47-year-old Australian computer programmer and activist, founded WikiLeaks in 2006 as “an intelligence agency of the people.”

To obtain secret documents to publish, he “repeatedly encouraged sources with access to classified information to steal and provide it to WikiLeaks to disclose,” prosecutors wrote in the indictment.

Manning, an intelligence specialist based in Iraq, responded to Assange’s call by stealing and providing to him databases containing about 90,000 Afghanistan war reports, 400,000 reports about the Iraq war, 800 Guantanamo Bay detainee assessment briefs, and 250,000 U.S. Department of State cables, according to the indictment.

Manning served seven years in a military prison for her role in the WikiLeaks disclosures before then-President Barack Obama commuted the remainder of her 35-year sentence shortly before he left office in January 2017.

She spent 62 days in federal jail earlier this year on civil contempt charges after she refused to answer questions to the federal grand jury investigating WikiLeaks. Last week, a federal judge ordered her back to jail.

The charges against Assange predate by several years allegations that the anti-secrecy website published tens of thousands of Democratic documents stolen by Russian agents during the 2016 election.

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США висунули додаткові звинувачення Ассанжу

Сполучені Штати Америки висунули нові обвинувачення проти засновника WikiLeaks Джуліана Ассанжа.

Його звинувачують за 17 пунктами у незаконній публікації секретних матеріалів, зокрема імен засекречених джерел, а також у змові з екс-аналітиком армії Челсі Меннінг у доступі до секретної інформації.

Досі Вашингтон збирався судити Ассанжа тільки за змову з Меннінг для отримання доступу до комп’ютерної мережі Пентагону в рамках розголошення WikiLeaks секретної інформації щодо воєн в Афганістані й Іраку, пише агенція Reuters.

Нові звинувачення можуть привести до більш суворого покарання в разі екстрадиції Ассанжа з Великої Британії до США.

Ассанж в 2012 році сховався в посольстві Еквадору в Лондоні, щоб уникнути видачі до Швеції за звинуваченням у зґвалтуванні. У квітні еквадорська влада позбавила Ассанжа притулку і видала британській владі.

Зараз він відбуває в британській в’язниці термін у 50 тижнів за порушення умов звільнення під заставу. Крім того, суд розглядає справу про його екстрадицію в США, де його звинувачують у незаконному доступі до секретної інформації. Про намір вимагати видачі Ассанжа також заявила Швеція.

Ассанж завжди заявляв, що побоюється саме екстрадиції до Сполучених Штатів, де, за його словами, йому можуть висунути більш серйозні звинувачення.

У WikiLeaks вважають відновлення справи в Швеції результатом «політичного тиску».

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Кремль: «Бі-Бі-Сі» не просила дозволу на використання зображення Путіна в новому шоу

Британська корпорація «Бі-Бі-Сі» не запитувала у Кремля дозволу на використання зображення президента Росії Володимира Путіна в своїй новій програмі. Про це заявив його прес-секретар Дмитро Пєсков 23 травня.

«Я тут можу сказати тільки одне: Путін не читав і не читає книги про себе і не дивиться на себе ні шаржі, ні карикатури. В даному випадку у нього є своя позиція: він вважає, що не він повинен бути схожий на ці карикатури, а карикатури повинні бути схожі на нього», – цитує Пєскова російська державна агенція новини ТАСС.

Цього тижня канал BBC Two анонсував програму, ведучим якої буде тривимірне анімоване зображення президента Росії.

Віртуальний Путін буде брати інтерв’ю у гостей перед аудиторією.

Програма в ефір ще не виходила, але вже відзняті два її 12-хвилинні пілотні випуски.

Відносини між Москвою і Лондоном погіршилися після отруєння минулого року колишнього російського шпигуна Сергія Скрипаля і його дочки Юлії в британському Солсбері. Влада Британії звинуватила в цьому російські спецслужби.

 

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Facebook заявляє про видалення понад 3 мільярдів фейкових акаунтів

Facebook у період із жовтня 2018 року по березень цього року видалили із соцмережі понад три мільярди фейкових акаунтів.

За даними, оприлюдненими компанією 23 травня, з жовтня по грудень 2018 року деактивували 1,2 мільярда сторінок, а з січня по березень 2019 року – 2,19 мільярда.

За повідомленням, кількість видалених за півроку акаунтів збільшилася удвічі порівняно з попереднім аналогічним періодом.

При цьому значну кількість цих сторінок, як зазначає компанія, виявили протягом кількох хвилин після реєстрації, до того, як вони стали «активними».

У Facebook додали, що досягають прогресу в боротьбі з мовою ненависті, видаливши 65% такого контенту через автоматизовані системи, а не очікуючи скарг користувачів.

Читайте також: Довіряєте власним очам? «Діпфейки» змусять вас у цьому сумніватися

У компанії заявили, що в перші три місяці 2019 року видалили чотири мільйони публікацій, які вважалися мовою ненависті, щоб розробити систему виявлення таких повідомлень на різних мовах і в різних регіонах.

У Facebook неодноразово заявляли про видалення фейкових акаунтів і сторінок, пов’язаних із поширенням спаму і дезінформації. Зокрема, на початку травня Facebook видалив понад 100 проблемних сторінок, які координувалися з Росії та фокусувалися зокрема на Україні. 

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Iran Tells German Envoy Its Patience Is Over, Fars Reports

Iran told a German envoy seeking to preserve the 2015 nuclear deal that its patience was over and urged the treaty’s remaining signatories to fulfill their commitments after the United States pulled out, the Fars news agency reported on Thursday.

Jens Ploetner, a political director in the German Foreign Ministry, met Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi. A German diplomatic source told Reuters that talks with other Iranian officials were also planned.

The semi-official Fars news agency said Araghchi had relayed Iran’s impatience during the talks.

Britain, France and Germany, which signed the 2015 deal along with the United States, China and Russia, are determined to show they can compensate for last year’s U.S. withdrawal from

the deal, protect trade and still dissuade Tehran from quitting an accord designed to prevent it developing a nuclear bomb. 

But Iran’s decision earlier this month to backtrack from some commitments in response to U.S. measures to cripple its economy threatens to unravel the deal, under which Tehran agreed

to curbs on its uranium enrichment program in exchange for the removal of most international sanctions.

“At the center of the political director’s visit is the preservation of the Vienna nuclear accord (JCPOA),” the German diplomatic source told Reuters. “After Iran’s announcement to partly suspend its commitments under the JCPOA, there is a window of opportunity for diplomacy to persuade Iran to continue to fully comply with the JCPOA.”

U.S., Iran tensions

Tensions have soared between Iran and the United States since Washington sent more military forces to the Middle East, including an aircraft carrier, B-52 bombers and Patriot missiles, in a show of force against what U.S. officials say are Iranian threats to its troops and interests in the region.

On Wednesday, U.S. officials said the Defense Department was considering a U.S. military request to send about 5,000 additional troops to the Middle East.

Despite such pressure, Keyvan Khosravi, a spokesman for Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, reiterated on Thursday that there would be no negotiations with Washington.

He said officials from several countries had visited Iran recently, “mostly representing the United States,” but that Tehran’s message to them was firm. 

“Without exception, the message of the power and resistance of the Iranian nation was conveyed to them,” he said. 

‘Clash of wills’

Fars earlier quoted a senior commander of the powerful Revolutionary Guards as saying the U.S.-Iranian standoff was a “clash of wills” and any enemy “adventurism” would meet a

crushing response.

The German diplomatic source added: “The situation in the Persian Gulf and the region, and the situation around the Vienna nuclear accord is extremely serious. There is a real risk of escalation. … In this situation, dialogue is very important.”

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