Suspect in Colombian Bombing Said to Belong to a Rebel Group

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — The suspect in a car bombing that left 21 people dead on Thursday in Bogotá, the capital,was a member of the country’s largest remaining guerrilla group, the defense ministry said Friday.

José Aldemar Rojas Rodríguez, the assailant who was also killed in the attack, was a member of the National Liberation Army, a Marxist rebel group known as the ELN, said Guillermo Botero, the Colombian defense minister.

The group did not claim responsibility for the bombing, but it has stepped up attacks against the government since its rival, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or the FARC, signed a peace deal with the government in 2016.

Thursday’s attack was the first car bombing in Bogotá in years, a gruesome reminder of a time when drug lords and rebel groups ravaged the capital’s streets with car bombs, killing hundreds of civilians and members of the security forces. Since the signing of the peace accords, the Colombian government has said it turned the page on that violent era.

Scenes of the carnage tell a different story. Cellphone videos shared with The New York Times on Friday and filmed by someone who was at the scene showed a burning vehicle with a dismembered torso in blue pants sprawled in front of the flames. The camera also captured images of a human foot and what appeared to be a severed head. Rescue workers struggled to carry survivors out on stretchers.

The attack against security forces in Colombia’s center of power marked an escalation of hostilities with the ELN, which in the last year has bombed police stations, attacked oil pipelines and kidnapped soldiers, police officers and military contractors. And it will almost certainly derail negotiations with the group, which says it is seeking a similar peace deal as the FARC, said Jairo Libreros, a professor at Externado University in Bogotá and a security analyst who tracks the group.

“This closes the window and ends all chance in the short term of peace talks,” Mr. Libreros said. “Citizens will not tolerate peace negotiations at a time of attacks.”

Iván Duque, Colombia’s president, who had been away from the capital, called the bombing a “miserable terrorist act” and said that he was returning to direct the investigation. “All Colombians reject terrorism and are united to confront it,” he said on Twitter.

The car had been laden with about 175 pounds of pentolite, a powerful explosive, which went off minutes after a promotion ceremony for police officers, according to the office of the Colombian attorney general.

“This kind of thing has an impact,” said Jenifer Beltrán, 36, a mother of two who was home when she heard the explosion. “It makes you think that once again the country is headed toward that memory of those years when there were so many car bombs and attacks everywhere.”

By midday Thursday, relatives of students of the Santander General School had gathered by the building to search for their loved ones.

Among them was Leonor Pardo, a saleswoman whose 21-year-old son had been studying at the academy and had just been found unharmed.

“We heard an explosion — it was horrible because the first thing I thought of was my son,” said Ms. Pardo, who was near the police academy at the time. “I fainted.”

Even before Mr. Botero spoke on Friday, local news reports speculated that the bombing may have been the work of Colombia’s remaining guerrilla fighters, many of whom remain at large.

Last January, guerrilla fighters of the National Liberation Army killed five police officers and wounded more than 40 in the bombing of a police station in the port city of Barranquilla.

The group also kidnapped four soldiers, three police officers and two military contractors last year in a bid to pressure the government to enter into peace talks. The hostages were released, but the government refused to negotiate.

The attack was a blow to Mr. Duque, whose approval ratings as president have fallen in recent months, particularly on issues of security.

“I think this comes at a critical juncture for Duque’s early government,” said Arlene B. Tickner, a political scientist at Bogotá’s Del Rosario University who writes a column in El Espectador, a Colombia newspaper. “He’s not high in the polls, he’s subject to ridicule in some circles and under tremendous pressure on security.”

Under pressure from his own right-wing Democratic Center party, Mr. Duque recently replaced the heads of the national police and armed forces with hard-liners and promoted other top military officials who had been linked to extrajudicial killings, according to Human Rights Watch.

“The decision to appoint officers linked by credible evidence to serious abuses conveys the toxic message to the troops that respect for human rights is not necessary for career success,” said José Miguel Vivanco, the head of Human Rights Watch’s Americas division.

Among the witnesses on Thursday was Berta Poussaint, 62, who sells military uniforms near the school. Rather than using this as a call for a crackdown, she said, the authorities should try to negotiate with guerrilla groups.

“The president needs to push for peace,” said Ms. Poussaint.

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Opinion | If You Shut Down the Government, You Slow Down the Economy

President Trump, you could not have wanted your partial government shutdown, your tariffs, your corporate tax cuts and your war on undocumented immigrants to hobble economic growth, and hurt farmers, factory workers, airline passengers, government contractors, retailers and Coast Guard members and F.B.I. agents. But the economy can only take so many bad policies.

A $19.4 trillion economy is losing momentum as fast as your approval ratings. Growth is slowing down in spite of a $1.5 trillion tax cut that is blowing up the deficit while helping companies like Goldman Sachs, which earned $2.5 billion in the fourth quarter thanks in part to a $467 million tax benefit.

Government workers have already missed an average of $5,000 in pay because of the shutdown. These unpaid federal employees may only represent 0.53 percent of all payrolls, according to the economist Ian Shepherdson, but because they have above-average earnings, the harm to the economy is greater than that proportion might suggest. Presumably they’ll get back those wages at some point. Even then, some of those earnings will have to go to pay late fees on credit card and mortgage bills that are piling up. None of that money, though, will compensate for restaurant meals not eaten, movies not seen, Frappuccinos not sipped, or supermarket runs not made, at least not by Coast Guard members who are heading to food banks instead. Those sales, and sales taxes, are lost forever.

The shutdown is also aggravating damage you’ve already caused. You must have thought your audience was just a bunch of hayseeds when you told the American Farm Bureau Federation this week that “we’re setting records together for farmers and for agriculture.” Farmers are losing sales to China, Mexico, Canada and elsewhere thanks to your trade policy. They’ve lost customers who may never return. And now, because of the shutdown, they can’t get services from the Department of Agriculture, from crop financing to vital information about commodity supplies. Farmers have crucial decisions to make before the spring planting season begins, and the shutdown is keeping them in the dark. And in the red.

Will that mean they’ll start buying less machinery, too? The manufacturing sector could be running out of steam. Both the Institute for Supply Management’s manufacturing index and the Empire State manufacturing index, leading indicators of activity in that segment, turned sharply lower amid concerns over tariffs and a slowing Chinese economy. Nor can the steel industry that you tried to protect with tariffs escape market forces. Prices for steel have fallen drastically after the industry first tried to use the tariffs to raise prices. Customers don’t take kindly to being price-gouged and adjust their purchases accordingly.

Damage from the trade war with China is spreading. China’s economic growth is expected to slow to 6.3 percent this year, the worst in decades, in part because of the Trump tariffs. This means China buys less from every nation. The export-focused German economy slowed last year because of diminished exports to China. Any sluggishness in Germany reverberates around Europe and then ultimately makes it way across the ocean. The World Bank has already taken its global growth estimates down a notch — and the risks are increasing.

Even what seemed like sweet news to your supporters in the mining industry has turned sour. The “war on coal is over,” your former Environmental Protection Agency boss said, even pulling back pollution regulations that protect our air and our health. He was right, it is over, and coal lost. Production in 2018 is expected to have hit a 39-year low. Utilities, out of concern for their pocketbooks more than the environment, continue to replace their coal-burning plants with cleaner, cheaper gas-burning units as well as wind and solar generators.

Your immigration policies aren’t working out so well for the economy, either. Last year many business owners, in both high-tech and low-tech areas, complained that they didn’t have enough workers. We need more immigrants, not fewer.

Meanwhile, the shutdown is hurting businesses as varied as craft beer and airlines, the former because brewers can’t get required government approval for new labels. Airline passengers are responding to the growing lines at airports by delaying travel. Once a jet takes off, the potential revenue from an empty seat takes off with it. And doesn't return. Delta reports that it expects flat revenues in the current quarter in part because federal employees are traveling less. Some airports, such as Miami, have been forced to close terminals temporarily because of a shortage of T.S.A. employees who, understandably enough, have been less than enthusiastic about showing up for work without pay. That, in turn, means fewer hours for the service workers staffing the ticket counters, hauling bags, or maintaining the terminal’s restrooms. Elsewhere in those terminals, lost wage hours can’t be returned to the folks behind the counters at Starbucks, Auntie Anne’s Pretzels or other shops that populate airports.

Most Americans wouldn’t know if Auntie Anne’s sold fewer pretzels in the Miami airport, or that a farmer in Minnesota decided not to plant another 10 acres of wheat because she couldn’t finance it.

But all of these millions of individual rational decisions make up our economy, which is being undone by your irrational policies.

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram.

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Approaching winter storm prompts warnings for residents of the Maritimes

An intense winter storm is forecast to descend on the Maritimes on Sunday, and the New Brunswick government is warning residents to prepare for power outages.

Environment Canada says a low-pressure system approaching from the southwest will track across the Bay of Fundy, dumping between 20 and 60 centimetres of snow across much of the province.

In Nova Scotia, between 10 and 20 centimetres of snow is in the forecast for much of the province, with the higher amounts expected in northern Nova Scotia.

Residents of Prince Edward Island are being told to brace for between 20 and 40 centimetres of snow and rainfall amounts reaching 40 millimetres.

The storm is also expected to deliver strong winds and freezing rain, particularly in southern New Brunswick and along Nova Scotia’s Atlantic coast.

New Brunswick’s Department of Public Safety says residents should have well-stocked, 72-hour emergency kits in their homes and vehicles.

The kits should include food, water, batteries, a flashlight, a battery-powered radio, first-aid supplies, cash in small bills in case ATMs are unavailable, prescriptions, infant formula and equipment for people with disabilities.

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'My daughter feared mummy would be killed' – man jailed for attempted murder of ex-girlfriend

A Dublin man whose gun jammed when he tried to shoot his ex-girlfriend has been sentenced to eight years in prison for her attempted murder.

Justice Michael White said Gerard Mooney (39), of no fixed abode, had come “within a hair’s breadth” of facing the most serious charge in Irish law and that but for good fortune his victim would not have survived.

Mooney, a father of three who previously lived in Castlerea, Co Roscommon pleaded guilty last year to the attempted murder of Stephanie Clifton (28) on 12 February 2017 at Cartron, Co Roscommon.

He also admitted to the possession of a shotgun, making a threat to kill or cause serious harm to Ms Clifton and criminal damage on the same occasion.

He further pleaded guilty to harassing Ms Clifton by persistently following, watching, pestering, besetting or communicating with her between 7 and 12 February 2017. The court heard that he made more than 250 calls to her phone between those dates.

He also pleaded guilty to committing burglary at the home of Stephen O’Donoghue in Cartron by entering as a trespasser and committing assault causing harm to Stephanie Clifton.

Justice White said the evidence showed that Mooney had been in a “turbulent” relationship with Ms Clifton and could not accept it when they broke up.

Psychological problems and abuse of drink and drugs were factors in his offending behaviour, the judge added.

He said there were a number of aggravating factors including that he had been ordered by a court not to contact Ms Clifton when he tried to murder her.

Justice White noted that relationships are often “the most dangerous place for victims” and said this was a “startling example” of the reality where love becomes distorted to something very different.

In mitigation the judge noted that Mooney had mental health problems and issues with alcohol and drug abuse.

He shows genuine remorse, the judge said, and while in custody has attended courses in anger management, alternatives to violence, peer mediation, conflict awareness and harm reduction. He has also achieved a certificate of basic literacy.

On the attempted murder charge Justice White imposed a 12-year sentence but suspended the last four.

He sentenced him to five years for burglary, eight years for possession of a firearm, three years for criminal damage, five years for threatening to kill and two years for harassment. All sentences will run concurrently and were backdated to February 15, 2017 when he first went into custody.

Justice White further ordered that for 15 years from the date of his release Mooney must not contact Ms Clifton in any way directly or indirectly. Mr Mooney entered a bond and accepted the terms.

During a sentence hearing last December Garda Fergal Reynolds of Boyle Garda Station said Ms Clifton, a Birmingham-born woman, had met the accused three or four years ago when they were both living in Co Roscommon.

He told Philipp Rahn BL, prosecuting, that they began a turbulent relationship, which had broken down by 7 February, 2017. On that evening she was at home in Meadow Crest, Boyle with her young daughter, who was asleep.

The accused arrived around 8.30pm and began banging on her windows and demanding entry.

She had moved on with someone else and refused to let him in, but she spoke to him through a window. “He would have been at her house for a couple of hours trying to talk to her,” explained Gda Reynolds.

He said that he had become quite agitated when he realised that he wasn’t getting in. His victim told him that she had to go to attend to food that was cooking and left the window. She then heard glass breaking, looked out and saw the accused standing with a crowbar, having smashed her car windows.

It was almost midnight when she called the gardai. The officers attended and later came across the accused leaving the estate. He took off running, but was found hiding inside a hedge, two feet off the ground.

He was released from custody the following morning on strict bail conditions, including that he would not have any contact with the victim and stay out of Boyle. He phoned her and threatened to kill her that very morning.

“See you, rat face. You’re dead,” he said, while also threatening to burn her house down. He proceeded to make another 273 calls to her on 11 and 12 February.

She went to stay with her cousin, Mr O’Donoghue, in Cartron that weekend. She woke up at 7.30am on Sunday 12 to find the accused standing over her. He pulled her out of bed and assaulted her.

The accused had brought another man with him, and they left together after the assault. Ms Clifton dialled 999 and gardai were dispatched.

“We were en-route to the initial call to the assault when we got a further call to say he’d returned to the house and a shot had been discharged,” recalled Gda Reynolds.

The door had been unlocked on his first arrival, but Mooney found it locked this time. He fired a shot through the glass part of the door, and gained entry that way. Wearing blue surgical gloves, he walked to the bedroom with a sawn-off shotgun in his hand.

He brought Ms Clifton to the kitchen and pointed the gun at her head. He pulled the trigger a number of times but it didn’t fire. So he opened it and tried to unload and load it before pulling the trigger another few times. It still didn’t work so he tried the same procedure again.

“He just seemed to be getting really pissed off when the gun didn’t go off,” said Mr O’Donoghue in a statement.

“The gun was inches away from her face. She was shouting: ‘Ger don’t do it. Please don’t do it’.”

Before he left, Mooney shouted that he would kill her if she rang the gardai. He also referred to killing her father and Mr O’Donoghue.

Gardai were there by the time the accused made his next threats to his victim, this time in a phone call. He was tracked down that evening, hiding in a wardrobe in a friend’s house in Castlerea. He was arrested and interviewed, but denied everything.

Gda Reynolds read out Ms Clifton’s victim impact statement, in which she said that her mental health had suffered as a result of the incident with the gun.

“I have constant flashbacks of the gun being pointed at my head and him reloading,” she wrote.

She said she had since been diagnosed with PTSD, was on medication and had felt suicidal. She had also been left with a fractured rib.

“I constantly suffer from anxiety and jump at loud bangs,” she continued. “I feel weakened as a person but have to stay strong for my daughter.”

She said she felt like prisoner in her own home and constantly though he would turn up. She also had to leave work as a result.

“I think that someone must have been looking over me that day, as the bullets kept jamming, despite him reloading,” she said.

She said that her daughter had also been affected and that her worst fear was now ‘that my Mummy would be killed’.

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Tesla to cut workforce by 7 percent, sees small fourth-quarter profit

(Reuters) – Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) said on Friday it would cut thousands of jobs to rein in costs as it plans to increase production of lower priced versions of its crucial Model 3 sedan, sending its shares down 7 percent.

The company, which has struggled to achieve long-term profitability and keep a tight lid on expenses, also said it expects fourth-quarter profit to be lower than the previous quarter.

Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk said the company would need to deliver at least the mid-range Model 3 version in all markets starting around May, as it needs to reach more customers who can afford the vehicles.

In addition, Tesla said it needs to continue making progress toward a lower-priced Model 3.

Musk has been under intense pressure to stabilize production of the Model 3, a car that was unveiled in early 2016 to great fanfare and seen critical to the company’s long-term viability.

But Tesla has scrambled to get the Model 3 into the hands of customers, many of whom have been waiting since early 2016, and Musk said last year that Tesla had moved from “production hell to delivery logistics hell.”

This is Tesla’s second job cut in seven months and comes just days after it cut U.S. prices for all vehicles and fell short on quarterly deliveries of its mass-market Model 3 sedan.

In a memo to employees on Friday, Musk said 2018 was the “most challenging in Tesla’s history,” adding the company hired 30 percent employees last year which was more than it could support.

“I want to make sure that you know all the facts and figures and understand that the road ahead is very difficult,” Musk said.

“There isn’t any other way,” he added.

Musk said the need for lower priced versions of Model 3 becomes even greater on July 1, when the U.S. tax credit again drops in half, making the car $1,875 more expensive, and again at the end of the year when it goes away entirely.

“Headcount reduction is part of the process of reducing Model 3 price point with the lower range battery and offsetting the reduction in U.S. federal tax credits,” Jefferies analyst Philippe Houchois said .

Tesla sales benefited from a $7,500 federal tax credit on electric vehicles throughout 2018, but that full credit expired at the end of 2018, and new buyers will now receive only half that amount.

“This quarter, as with Q3, shipment of higher priced Model 3 variants (this time to Europe and Asia) will hopefully allow us, with great difficulty, effort and some luck, to target a tiny profit,” Musk said.

Tesla reported a profit of $311.5 million, or $1.75 per share, for the third quarter ended Sept. 30.

Musk, who has often set goals and deadlines that Tesla has failed to meet, surprised investors by delivering on his pledge to make the company profitable in the third quarter, for only the third time in its 15-year existence.

Tesla said on Friday it would reduce full-time employee headcount by about 7 percent and retain only the most critical temps and contractors.

In June, the company said it was cutting 9 percent of its workforce. Musk had tweeted in October that the company’s team had 45,000 people. (

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BOJ Kuroda quoted: see Sino-U.S. friction resolved this year

TOKYO (Reuters) – Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda said he expected trade tensions between China and the United States to be resolved this year, a government official said at a key economic panel on Friday.

Kuroda said he expected the two countries to reach an agreement on how to fix trade imbalances and protect intellectual property, according to the official.

The official was briefing reporters on what was discussed at Friday’s meeting of the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy, a key government panel that discusses long-term economic policies.

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Opinion | Marie Kondo and the Life-Changing Magic of Japanese Soft Power

A diminutive Japanese woman kneels, eyes closed, caressing a rug with open palms. She appears to be praying — to a house. She greets it, thanking it for its service.

The camera pans to her American hosts, Kevin and Rachel. Ensconced in armchairs, struggling to keep a straight face, they look a little like children in church — and in a way, they are. In her new Netflix series, the decluttering guru Marie Kondo is shown not just sprucing up people’s homes but also reimagining them as sacred spaces — channeling her experience as a former assistant at a Shinto shrine, along with the related belief that life, even consciousness, of a kind, courses through everything.

The series leans on Ms. Kondo’s nationality in other ways, too: The conspicuous presence of her interpreter helps to create the impression of a cultural chasm being effortfully but productively bridged; Ms. Kondo’s own energy and kindness is tinged with an artfully ill-concealed sadness at these desperate Americans, their homes and minds choked with trash. When her first book came out several years ago, Ms. Kondo’s publisher did much the same: To “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” it added the subtitle “The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.” Readers would no longer be doing chores; they would be engaged in a cultural and possibly spiritual activity.

Marie Kondo is by far the most successful participant in a larger trend of the past few years: packaging inspirational but fairly universal lifestyle advice as the special product of Japanese soil and soul, from which Westerners might usefully learn. We’ve had “ikigai,” which translates as the familiar concept of value and purpose in life. We’ve had forest bathing, as though the soothing power of nature had not occurred to people like Wordsworth and Emerson. Such advice books may be having a moment, but they are not new. Rather, they’re the latest installment in a surprisingly old tradition: Japan and its culture marketed as a moderating force in a world otherwise overwhelmed by the West.

The tradition goes back to a civil war in 1868-69, after which a new and forward-looking group of Japanese leaders found themselves facing a conundrum: How do you modernize without simply Westernizing? Ideas from the United States and Western Europe on science and medicine, philosophy, fashion and music were pouring in, while Japan, it seemed, was sending precious little back in the other direction. From beef to ballroom dancing, sideburns to suits, there appeared a real risk that Japan would forget its past completely, winding up a mere Asian facsimile of Western life.

And so, there followed a rooting around in the cupboards in search of things that might usefully define “Japan,” offering reassurance at home and material for export. The most successful of these played on the idea that the technological superiority of countries like Britain and America had been purchased at the cost of the Western soul. They were societies, as an adviser to the Japanese emperor put it in 1879, whose “only values are fact-gathering and techniques.” Japan’s mission in the world, some began to say, should be to succeed where the West had evidently failed: creating a form of modern life that integrates technological with spiritual progress, rationality with intuition and emotion, individualism with a deep feeling for community. As exports went, it beat geisha dolls and paper umbrellas.

This grand mission came closest to success when Westerners themselves willingly signed up. One of the reasons many in the West have heard of Zen but not any other big Japanese Buddhist sect is that from around the turn of the 20th century, canny Zen advocates worked with allies in the United States and elsewhere to present it as the answer to Westerners’ prayers: Meditation promised direct spiritual experience, shorn of Christianity’s increasingly unpalatable doctrines and institutional authority.

The reality of Zen in Japan was rather different — no shortage of rules, rites and philosophical complexity. Still, here was one culture helping to refresh another, offering a precious new practice while helping to rekindle awareness of Christianity’s own contemplative dimension — from the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the third century to Meister Eckhart a thousand years later.

But there was always the potential for this polarizing of Japan and the West to go too far, moving from mutual enrichment — rooted in shared spiritual aspirations — to aggressive contrast and competition. People’s everyday lives and habits easily became the fodder for sweeping and heavily politicized cultural conclusions.

Some went as far as claiming that Zen revealed the essence of Japanese life: simple, intuitive and relatively free of the wordiness with which Europeans and Americans so complicated their existences. Zen as the ultimate decluttering.

Others harped on the state of Japanese versus Western homes. The philosopher Tetsuro Watsuji argued that the thick internal walls found in Western homes indicated the real meaning there of “family”: pragmatic cohabitation by self-interested individuals. By contrast, Japanese homes’ movable internal partitions of wood and paper reflected the true and natural state of humanity: never solitary, always in relationships, always putting others first.

As Western empires had their “civilizing missions” in India, Africa and elsewhere, so Japanese leaders drew on the likes of Watsuji to supply cultural ballast for their own empire-building and war-making. First, the Koreans and the Chinese needed to be taught how to live well. Then the malign influence of a corrupt and materialistic Anglosphere had to be countered, not just on battlefields but in everyday life: Messy haircuts that drew inspiration from Hollywood were “tidied up.” Record companies switched from jazz to a more rousing “national music.”

World War II and its aftermath put Japan and much of the West on opposite sides, and encouraged an emphasis on contrast: Ruth Benedict’s famous study of Japanese culture and personality, “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword,” published in 1946, was a popular best seller, not just in the West but in Japan, too, where for years after the war, many were more comfortable seeing their country defined by culture than by recent history. But in the end, the war made little more than a dent in entrepreneurial efforts to sell “Japaneseness.” And the wealth to which postwar leaders encouraged a poverty-stricken population to aspire helped to generate the consumer culture, and clutter, in Japanese homes that gave the likes of Marie Kondo her start in life.

Such connections are worth bearing in mind, because so little has really changed in 150 years. We in the West still hanker after new and exotic ways to make our lives better. And Japan still seeks to fit the bill. Its foreign policy is constrained by a pacifist Constitution and a one-sided alliance with America. Its economy has seen better days. But it flourishes through cultural “soft power,” offering Westerners at once a quieter life — the serene hush of forest or temple — and a quirkier, more fun one, courtesy of a world-beating pop culture. (Prime Minister Shinzo Abe went as far as dressing up as Super Mario at the closing ceremony of the Rio Olympics in 2016, promoting his country’s hosting of the Games in 2020.)

There’s no reason both sides can’t keep benefiting from this venerable tradition of compare and contrast. As ever, the challenge on both sides is not to take it — or indeed ourselves — too seriously. The success of ikigai, forest bathing and Marie Kondo may indeed be telling us something. But it isn’t that Japan possesses a particular genius for good living. And it isn’t (just) the power of a consumer trend once it gains some momentum. It is that for some perverse reason, the most valuable human insights are easily lost or forgotten. Being gifted them again in some fresh form is surely good for us — we just shouldn’t get hung up on whose they are or where they come from.

Christopher Harding is senior lecturer in Asian history at the University of Edinburgh and a regular presenter and contributor on BBC Radio. His most recent book is “Japan Story: In Search of a Nation, 1850 to the Present.”

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ELN peace talks: What are the challenges?

The National Liberation Army (ELN), Colombia’s second-largest rebel group, has entered into formal peace talks with Colombian government negotiators.

The talks are aimed at ending more than five decades of armed conflict. Here, we take a closer look at the discussions ahead.

Were talks not due to start last year?

Yes, the ELN and the government first announced their intention to start formal peace talks at a news conference on 30 March 2016.

They had originally been expected to start in May 2016, but did not go ahead.

Later, the two sides said the negotiations would start in the Ecuadorean capital, Quito, on 27 October, but that date also came and went.

A new date was set for 7 February 2017.

Why all the delays?

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said that a precondition for the talks was the release of hostages the ELN was holding.

The ELN has long used kidnapping for ransom as a means of financing itself. It also considers the kidnapping of soldiers and police officers a legitimate tactic.

The rebels eventually agreed to free a soldier they had recently seized and former Congressman Odin Sanchez in exchange for a pardon for two of its jailed members.

The move finally paved the way for formal talks to start.

However, future delays cannot be ruled out as the ELN has been reluctant to hurry the negotiations along.

In an answer to an open letter by Colombian intellectuals asking the rebels to negotiate speedily, ELN leader Nicolas Rodriguez said that “for the ELN, setting a deadline for peace means obstructing it”.

What is on the agenda?

President Santos has set his aims high. He says he wants to “achieve complete peace”.

The ELN says it also wants peace but Mr Rodriguez, better known as Gabino, says he does not want the negotiations just to be between the government and the ELN but for civil society to be involved, too.

The six points on the agenda are currently rather vague. They are:

What does the ELN want?

The group was founded in 1964 and follows a Marxist-Leninist ideology.

It was inspired by the Cuban revolution of 1959 with an aim to fighting Colombia’s unequal distribution of land and riches.

It feels particularly strongly that the country’s oil and mineral riches should be shared among its people rather than exploited by foreign multinationals.

Over the decades, the guerrilla group has attacked large landholders and multinational companies. It has repeatedly blown up oil pipelines.

In the talks, its representatives are likely to call for social change to achieve more equality and for the inclusion in politics of Colombians whose voices they say have gone unheard for too long.

How big is the ELN?

The ELN is believed to have fewer than 1,500 active fighters, according to intelligence reports seen by Colombian media.

They are backed up by a larger number of “militants” or sympathisers who provide logistical support and back-up.

Its strongholds are in rural areas in the north and on the border with Venezuela, and also in the provinces of Casanare, Norte de Santander and Cauca.

The ELN is made up of regional commandos which have a certain degree of autonomy, which could make implementation of any deal hard to achieve.

How likely are the talks to succeed?

Both sides say they are completely committed to the negotiations succeeding.

The government would like to see a deal signed before the presidential election in May 2018 but the ELN has said it will not be rushed.

Observers of the peace process think the ELN may prove harder to negotiate with than Colombia’s largest rebel group, the Farc, with whom the government signed a peace deal in November.

That is because the ELN is less hierarchical in its structure and its members are believed to be more wedded to their Marxist ideology than the Farc.

The ELN also has not yet sworn off kidnappings for good, something the government says it will demand.

Previous peace talks with the ELN failed. But analysts say the current talks will benefit from the experiences gained from the successful negotiations between the government and the Farc.

What happens next?

After a ceremony marking the beginning of the formal peace talks on 7 February, the two sides are due to get down to the business of negotiating on 8 February.

The opening and closing rounds are scheduled to take place in Ecuador, but the current plan is for the other rounds to take place in the other countries acting as guarantors: Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Norway and Venezuela.

However, the head of the government delegation has lobbied against this plan, arguing it will cause too much disruption and delay the process unnecessarily.

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Pound set for biggest weekly gain vs euro in more than a year on Brexit hopes

LONDON (Reuters) – The pound weakened on Friday as investors took profits after a stellar rally that set the currency up for its biggest weekly gain against the euro in more than a year on growing confidence that a no-deal Brexit can be avoided.

Data showing British shoppers cut back on spending in the three months to December was broadly in line with market expectations and sparked just a brief rise in sterling.

The bigger focus for traders remained Brexit, especially after a tumultuous week in which British Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal suffered a heavy defeat in parliament but won a subsequent vote of confidence.

Those developments boosted a perception in markets that Britain will be able to leaving the EU without a deal.

The pound has risen about 1.3 percent against the euro EURGBP=D3 this week, set for its biggest weekly gain since December 2017.

“Sterling has rallied quite a bit over the past week-and-a- half and the weakness today is a bit of check on those gains and a bit of profit taking,” said Tapas Strickland, of National Australia Bank in London.

“The market is pricing out the risk of hard Brexit and some kind of agreement … so against this background, you’d expect sterling to grind higher above $1.30.”

At 1540 GMT, the pound was down 0.65 percent at $1.2895 GBP=D3, having touched $1.30 on Thursday.

Against the euro, sterling slipped 0.5 percent to 88.12 pence and below two-month peaks hit a day earlier at around 87.65 pence.

On Friday, prominent Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage said the United Kingdom is likely to delay Brexit and another referendum is possible.

May is due to hold a series of meetings with some of her top ministers on Friday to discuss the way forward after her deal with Brussels was rejected by parliament, her spokeswoman said.

“The bottom line for sterling is that when the probability of second referendum rises it is positive and when the probability of hard Brexit rises it is negative so sterling crashes between the two views,” said Adam Cole, chief currency strategist at RBC Capital Markets.

Ross Hutchison, rates portfolio manager at Aberdeen Standard Investments, added that as concerns about a no-deal Brexit recede, factors such as brighter outlook for the economy and what the Bank of England will do on rates come back into play.

“I think that kind of analysis is broadly correct but that doesn’t mean there couldn’t be an accident on Brexit,” he said.

Britain’s 10-year government bond or gilt yield rose to 1.376 percent GB10YT=RR on Friday, its highest in more than six weeks.

(GRAPHIC: Sterling set for best week in over year vs euro –

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Woman posted details from family law court sitting after receiving 'revenge porn' threat, court hears

A County Clare woman posted details aired at a behind-closed doors family law court sitting on Facebook after she received a ‘revenge porn’ threat from her ex-partner, a court has heard.

At the family law court in Ennis, solicitor for the woman, Pamela Clancy said that the ‘revenge power threat’ explanation put forward by the woman was not a justification or excuse for her client to make the Facebook post.

Ms Clancy said: “What caused the outburst on Facebook was a perceived threat that her former partner was going to be releasing personal information on her.”

The estranged couple appeared before the family law court in Ennis in November concerning access and maintenance for their child.

In early December, the woman posted a narrative on her Facebook account running to two printed pages that included information that was heard at the behind closed door hearing where there are strict rules prohibiting parties making public details of what occurred.

In a letter read out in court and sent to the man’s solicitor, Anne Walsh, Ms Clancy stated that her client alleges that her former partner “threatened to publish extremely sensitive and personal material he admitted to having on my client which she interpreted to be a ‘Revenge Porn’ threat, which at the time provoked her to in relation to posting the original long narrative on Facebook”.

In court, Judge Patrick Durcan warned the estranged couple that if there any instances of breaching the in-camera rule proven from now on, he will impose prison sentences of 14 days on either party.

Ms Walsh brought the application to court concerning the alleged breach of the in-camera rule.

Ms Walsh said that the Facebook post was brought to the attention of her client by third parties with the narrative giving the woman’s version of her relationship with Ms Walsh’s client.

Ms Walsh said that she wrote a letter on December 5th pointing out that the information was inaccurate and that her client’s family were distressed and asked that the author would post an apology on Facebook and that there would be  more postings on Facebook.

However, Ms Walsh stated that instead of an apology, her client’s former partner posted another message on Facebook that was derogatory towards her client.

Ms Walsh stated that it was quite astonishing to receive the complaint of ‘revenge porn’, which was never on anyone’s radar until the letter arrived.

She said: “My client’s only concern is that the original posting which is two pages of very small type on Facebook should not have happened.

She added: “He wants to get on with his life – what was published on social media was there for the world to see.”

Ms Clancy said that her client has removed the Facebook posts and apologised for them.

Ms Clancy said that earlier on the day that her client made the Facebook post, she received a text from her former partner which read ‘You might want to think of the material I have on you and I will publish it’.

Ms Clancy said that her client was extremely upset and extremely distressed to receive such a text.

Ms Clancy said: “She is not saying that justifies her reaction but that is what precipitated what occurred. In retrospect she regrets everything and went on to Facebook foolishly.”

In court the man said said referring to the text: “I didn’t threaten it. I didn’t threaten anything. That is not a threat.”

Ms Clancy said that there “was an element of tit for tat” in what occurred. She added: “She apologises now and undertakes that there will be no more such communication.”

Ms Clancy said that the parties’ relationship is quite fractious. She said: “There are ongoing issues with access. There is a high level of dispute between the parties and emotions have been running high.”

Addressing the couple, Judge Durcan said: “The in-camera rule is there for very good reasons. You should be very careful in dealing with a case such as this.

He said: “What happens within this courtroom stays within this courtroom other than the matter may be reported by the media in accordance with the law which govern the reporting of proceedings in camera.”

He added: “This court would take the breach of the in-camera rule by either of you most seriously and it would be regarded as a contempt of court should be it that it is proven against either of you.”

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