Police use DNA from discarded napkin, genealogy site to make arrest in 1993 murder

MINNEAPOLIS – A businessman is charged with fatally stabbing a Minneapolis woman in 1993 after investigators ran DNA evidence from the murder scene through a genealogy website and obtained his DNA from a discarded napkin.

Jerry Westrom is charged with second-degree murder in the death of 35-year-old Jeanne Ann “Jeanie” Childs. The 52-year-old was released from jail after posting bail Friday in Hennepin County. Westrom’s lawyer says the case was charged prematurely.

Court documents say Childs’ naked body was found in her apartment in an area known for prostitution. The case went cold until the FBI ran DNA evidence collected from the murder scene through a genealogy website in 2018. Westrom came up as a possible suspect.

Investigators recently trailed Westrom to a hockey game in Wisconsin and secretly confiscated a napkin he’d tossed in the trash.

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Polish NGO leaves to deliver sex abuse report to Pope

WARSAW (Reuters) – Representatives of a Polish NGO helping victims of child abuse committed by Catholic priests left Warsaw early on Monday hoping to deliver a report to Pope Francis in the Vatican about Polish bishops neglecting pedophilia cases.

Their trip comes just days before an unprecedented Vatican conference on sex abuse gathering senior bishops from around the world to discuss how best the 1.3 billion-member Church can tackle a problem that has decimated the Church’s credibility.

The four-day meeting, starting on Thursday with the theme of “prevention of abuse of minors and vulnerable adults”, is intended to help faltering attempts to coordinate a global response to a crisis that is now more than two decades old.

The “Have No Fear” organization, led by a former victim Marek Lisinski, hopes that the report, which accuses some bishops in devoutly Catholic Poland of failing to report crimes, will trigger resignations from top positions in the Church.

Such a development happened in Chile in 2018, where the Pope accepted resignations of several bishops after abuse scandals.

“Our report contains the neglect of bishops over the past years. … We hope that the Pope, after reading this report, will react in the same way as in Chile,” Lisinski told Reuters at Warsaw airport as he was just about to get onto the plane.

Mariusz Milewski, 28, was a victim of sexual abuse by a priest in a tiny town 101 miles (163 km) north-west of Warsaw, with the first incident taking place when he was nine. He went on to be abused regularly by a priest for nine years.

“Every time I went to the church I was afraid that the priest will invite me to the presbytery, where he did these things to me,” he told Reuters in a televised interview.

“I was from a poor family, my father overused alcohol. I was alone with this, and I had no one I could ask for help. I was blaming myself and asking myself if he does it to me because of my sins,” Mariusz said.

The perpetrator was jailed in 2014 for three years by a criminal court, after a canonical court declared him not guilty, according to documents seen by Reuters. Critics say this shows the Church often defends the perpetrators of abuse.

In Poland victims of abuse by priests are often accused by society of making false accusations, even long after the offender is jailed, since priests have high social prestige.

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India says mastermind of Kashmir bombing killed in clash

SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) – Indian forces on Monday killed three militants, including the suspected organizer of a suicide bombing in the disputed region of Kashmir that fueled tension between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, police said, with five troops also killed in the clash.

The suicide bomb attack on a paramilitary police convoy in Indian-controlled Kashmir last Thursday killed at least 40 men, the deadliest single assault on Indian forces in 30 years of insurgency in the Muslim-majority region.

The Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) claimed responsibility for the attack. India accuses Pakistan for harboring the group. Pakistan denies that.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, facing an election that must be held by May, is under domestic pressure for decisive action against Pakistan.

Modi has promised a strong response and says he has given the military a free hand to tackle cross-border militancy.

The three militants killed in the clash on Monday were all Pakistani nationals and members of JeM, two security sources said.

“The encounter is still in progress and the security forces are on the job,” police said in a statement.

But the 17-hour engagement, that ended shortly before 1330 GMT, came at a cost for India’s security services.

Four Indian soldiers and a policeman were killed, while nine troops were wounded, including a brigadier, one of the army’s top roles, and a deputy inspector general of police.

A civilian was also killed.

“They have protection. Our officers and men are exposed, whereas they’re in the built up area, hiding,” said K. Rajendra Kumar, a former director general of police in Jammu and Kashmir.

Security force sources told Reuters one of the dead militants had been identified as Abdul Rashid Gazi, who went by the alias Kamran Bhai and is suspected of playing a leading role in organizing Thursday’s attack.

Indian troops had earlier cordoned off Pinglan village in Kashmir’s Pulwama district, where the attack took place on Thursday.

An indefinite curfew has been imposed and police have asked people to stay indoors.

Mohammad Yunis, a journalist in Pulwama, said troops were searching the village and civilians trapped in houses were being evacuated.

On Sunday, police said Indian forces had detained 23 men suspected of links to the militants who carried out the Thursday bombing.

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Kashmir is at the heart of decades of hostility between India and Pakistan. They both claim it in full but rule it in part.

India withdrew trade privileges offered to Pakistan after the bomb attack and has warned of further action.

The United States had told India it supported its right to defend itself against cross-border attacks, India said on Saturday.

With tension mounting, Pakistan withdrew its envoy to India for consultations, a spokesman for Pakistan’s foreign ministry said on Twitter on Monday.

The Thursday bomb attack has sparked outrage in India with calls for revenge circulating on social media, and rising animosity towards Kashmiri Muslims in other parts of the Hindu-majority country, to the alarm of rights groups.

“We are at a dangerous moment, and authorities must do everything they can to uphold the rule of law,” said Aakar Patel, head of Amnesty India.

“Ordinary Kashmiris across India who are only seeking to improve their lives should not be singled out for violence simply because of where they come from.”

The anger has also spread to India’s two big obsessions: cricket and its Bollywood film industry.

Several cricket fans and a sport official have called on India to boycott a World Cup match against Pakistan in June, while the Cricket Club of India has covered up a portrait of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan – himself a former cricketer – at its Mumbai office.

The All India Cine Workers Association called for a “total ban” on Pakistanis working in India’s film industry, though they have been largely blacklisted from Bollywood since a similar attack in Kashmir in 2016 in which 19 soldiers died.

The Confederation of All India Traders called for a nationwide strike to protest against the attack, and footage from Reuters partner ANI showed shuttered shops in several states on Monday.

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Czech PM Babis says V4 summit in Israel scrapped: CTK agency

PRAGUE (Reuters) – A meeting of the central European Visegrad group countries scheduled to start in Israel in Monday has been canceled after Poland pulled out, news agency CTK said, citing Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis.

Babis said bilateral discussions would take place instead, while the summit may be rescheduled for the second half of this year, CTK reported.

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Indonesian presidential hopefuls vow energy self-sufficiency through palm

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia’s two presidential candidates pledged on Sunday to achieve energy self-sufficiency by boosting the use of bioenergy, particularly fueled by palm oil, to cut costly oil imports by Southeast Asia’s biggest economy.

Indonesia, the world’s biggest palm oil producer, has been pushing for all diesel fuel used in the country to contain biodiesel to boost palm consumption, slash fuel imports, and narrow a yawning current account gap.

In a televised election debate, President Joko Widodo said if he won a second term the government planned to implement a B100 program, referring to fuel made entirely from palm oil, after last year making it mandatory to use biodiesel containing 20 percent bio-content (B20).

“We hope 30 percent of total palm production will go to biofuel. The plan is clear, so we will not rely on imported oil,” Widodo said, adding that Indonesia’s crude palm oil production had reached 46 million tonnes a year.

Agreeing on the importance of bioenergy for self-sufficiency, his opponent Prabowo Subianto said if elected he would also “boost the use of palm oil, palm sugar, cassava and ethanol from sugar (cane)”.

The challenger did not elaborate on his bioenergy plan, but his campaign team has proposed using millions of hectares of degraded land to cultivate palm sugar to produce energy.

Widodo’s government has previously said it would offer incentives for developers of B100, which the net oil importer hopes can replace fuel imports within three years.

Indonesia’s state energy company PT Pertamina has signed an agreement with Italian oil company Eni to develop a refinery in Indonesia that would produce fuel completely derived from crude palm oil (CPO).

Oil imports have contributed to Indonesia’s widening current account deficit and the volatility of the rupiah currency. The government claimed that its biodiesel program would save billions of dollars in diesel fuel imports.

Although retired general Prabowo agreed with Widodo on several points during the debate, he said Indonesia’s “land and water, and the resources within” must be controlled by the government.

“We are of the view that the government must be present in detail, thoroughly, firmly and actively to correct inequalities in wealth,” he said.

The challenger said the proportion of small farmers’ holdings in the country’s palm plantations should also be larger. Smallholders currently account for roughly 40 percent of Indonesia’s 12 million hectares of palm oil plantations.

Farmers currently do not require larger plots of land, but instead, they need a program to boost yield from their current farm, Mansuetus Darto of Palm Farmers Union said.

He added that farmers wanted more clarity on Widodo’s B100 program and have asked to ensure that small holders play a greater role in the biodiesel supply chain.

“This is an important task for Jokowi on how to prevent big palm companies to be the only main suppliers and not farmers,” Darto said, referring to the president’s nickname.

Both candidates expressed support for greater control of Indonesian natural resources.

President Widodo highlighted Pertamina’s takeover of stewardship of major oil and gas blocks from foreign operators, and an agreement for a state company to purchase a 51 percent stake in the giant Grasberg copper mine from Freeport McMoRan.

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Nicaraguan government meets with business leaders in bid to end crisis

MANAGUA (Reuters) – The Nicaraguan government said it has initiated talks with the country’s private sector in what observers see as a bid to repair the relationship between embattled President Daniel Ortega and business leaders and ease a political crisis that has engulfed the country since last spring.

The dialogue between the government and businessmen “has confirmed the need for an agreement to begin negotiations through an inclusive, serious and frank meeting,” the government said in a statement Saturday evening.

José Adán Aguerri, the president of the Superior Council of Private Enterprise, told local media that the meeting was an “important effort to open a door that has been closed for a long time.”

Next week, Nicaragua’s national assembly, which is dominated by legislators loyal to the government, is expected to discuss tax reform that would increase taxes on business and eliminate some exemptions.

Protests first erupted in April when Ortega’s leftist government moved to reduce welfare benefits, but have escalated into broader opposition against Ortega, who has been in office since 2007.

More than 320 people have been killed and more than 600 detained since protests began, according to figures from human rights groups.

Roman Catholic Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes and Archbishop Waldemar Stanislaw also participated in the talks. The Catholic Church of Nicaragua organized previous talks between Ortega and the opposition.

Kevin Sullivan, the U.S. ambassador to Nicaragua, applauded the meeting.

“The U.S. government welcomes this effort to re-establish negotiations between Nicaraguan government and civil society representatives,” he wrote in a post on Twitter on Saturday evening. “The negotiations will require good faith efforts to achieve real solutions in real time for the Nicaraguan people.”

Organizations such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Amnesty International and a group of expert investigators from the Organization of American States (OAS) have accused the government of violence against protesters.

However, the government has said it is the victim of an attempted coup d’état financed by the United States and Europe.

Over the past week, Ortega said in meetings with the OAS that he was willing to reform state institutions ahead of presidential elections in 2021, according to a statement from the OAS.

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French court to investigate anti-Semitic insults during protest

(Editor’s note: paragraph 2 contains language that readers may find offensive)

PARIS (Reuters) – A Paris court said on Sunday it had begun an investigation into anti-Semitic insults hurled at French philosopher and intellectual Alain Finkielkraut on the sidelines of Saturday’s “yellow vests” protest.

A video on several French media channels showed Finkielkraut being accosted by several protesters, with the words and threats like “dirty Zionists”, “bastard”, “We are in France,” heard aimed at him.

The “yellow vests” demonstrations, named after the protesters’ high-visibility jackets, began in November over fuel taxes but have morphed into a more general revolt against politicians and a government they see as out of touch.

Finkielkraut told Le Parisien newspaper that he came across a group of protesters and approached them out of curiosity. He said he heard some of the insults, including one telling him to throw himself into a canal. He said he does not plan to file a complaint.

French President Emmanuel Macron and others from across the political spectrum condemned the attack.

“The anti-Semitic insults he has been subjected to are the absolute negation of who we are and what makes us a great nation. We will not tolerate them,” Macron said on Twitter.

The French government said on Tuesday that anti-Semitic acts in France rose 74 percent in 2018 compared with the previous year. In a separate incident this week, swastikas were sprayed on portraits of the late French politician and holocaust survivor Simone Veil in Paris.

Fourteen French political parties, including Macron’s ruling La Republique En Marche, plan to hold symbolic gatherings against anti-Semitism across the country on Tuesday.

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Miner Vale evacuates 200 people near Brazilian dam on fears of instability

SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Around 200 residents were evacuated from an area near a tailings dam in Brazil operated by Vale SA late on Saturday, amid fears that it was structurally weak and could burst like a similar barrier failure last month that killed 300 people.

Vale said in a statement that it had evacuated people living near the inactive B3/B4 dam of the Mar Azul mine about 25 kilometers south of Belo Horizonte, the capital of Minas Gerais state, after revising security data on the structure.

Those forced to flee were taken to a community center and would then be put in hotels, the company said.

The evacuation comes little more than a week after two communities located close to nearby dams were forced to leave their homes on similar fears of dam failures.

The collapse last month of a separate Vale dam in the same area unleashed an avalanche of mud that engulfed nearby buildings and farms, killing an estimated 300 people in Brazil’s deadliest mining disaster.

As evidence mounted that Vale missed warnings of trouble at the dam in the town of Brumadinho, pressure has risen on the firm and other mining companies to bolster safety measures to avoid a recurrence.

Another dam, also used to store the muddy mining detritus known as tailings and co-owned by Vale and BHP Group, had collapsed in 2015, killing 19 people and wreaking massive environmental damage.

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Bangladesh slum fire kills at least eight

CHITTAGONG, Bangladesh (Reuters) – A fire gutted more than 200 slum houses in the Bangladeshi port of Chittagong on Sunday, killing at least eight people and injuring more than 50, police and fire fighters said.

A fire official said the fire may have been caused by a short circuit.

Bangladesh is an impoverished country where safety regulations are rarely followed and accidents kill hundreds every year.

In 2013, the Rana Plaza factory collapse killed more than 1,100 garment workers.

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Calgary parking ban starts Monday as the snow flies

The City of Calgary announced a snow route parking ban that will be effective on Monday, Feb. 18 at noon.

Officials said it’s due to increased and consecutive snow events during the cold snap.

“Crews have been working around the clock since before the snow started falling on Friday,” said roads spokesperson Chris McGeachy on Saturday.

“We’ve seen numerous snow events in the past few weeks coupled with frigid temperatures that continue challenging our snow clearing efforts. The parking ban will help us make good progress on our bus routes and connector roads.”

The ban is expected to last up to 72 hours after major traffic routes have been cleared.

“We’re right now focused on the high-volume roads, your Crowchilds and Glenmores, while the snow continues to fall,” McGeachy said. “As soon as it stops falling, that starts our clock and we start working down our priority list.”

Calgary’s parking ban goes into effect on Monday and could last up to 72 hours.

McGeachy said crews’ work is dictated by the snow, which he expects to stop by Sunday morning. He said the main focus with slippery roads is traction, so crews are putting out gravel and sanding chips.

“When temperatures get below -10 C, our melting materials typically don’t have an effect,” he said. “So the temperatures have stayed frigid cold and we’re not putting salt or chlorides out there because it’s going to be ineffective.”

Calgary’s snow removal budget runs Jan. 1 to Dec. 31. McGeachy said the city is well within the $40.4 million parameter.

If vehicles are parked on the routes, they could be ticketed and towed.

Are you affected by the parking ban? Find out here.

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