U.S. hopes Russia will continue to let Israel hit Iran in Syria: envoy

BEIRUT (Reuters) – The United States said on Wednesday it hoped Russia would continue to allow Israel to strike Iranian targets in Syria, despite Moscow’s supply of the S-300 air defense system to the Syrian government.

“Russia has been permissive, in consultation with the Israelis, about Israeli strikes against Iranian targets inside Syria. We certainly hope that that permissive approach will continue,” Ambassador James Jeffrey, Washington’s Syria envoy, said in a conference call with reporters.

Moscow said in October it had delivered the S-300 surface-to-air missiles to Syria, after accusing Israel of indirectly causing the downing of a Russian military jet by Syrian air defenses following an Israeli air strike nearby.

Like Russia, Iran is a key military supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Israel regards the Islamic republic as its most dangerous enemy and has staged repeated air raids against its military and allied militia deployed in Syria.

“Israel has an existential interest in blocking Iran from deploying long-range power projection systems … inside Syria to be used against Israel. We understand the existential interest and we support Israel,” Jeffrey said.

The downing of the Russian jet in September underscored the risks attached to the presence of numerous foreign militaries operating in proximity in Syria, he added.

“Our immediate effort is to try to calm that situation down and then move on to a long-term solution.”

U.S. policy is to ensure the enduring defeat of Islamic State, work on a solution to the conflict under the terms of United Nations Security Council resolution 2254 and ensure all Iranian-commanded forces leave Syria entirely, he said.

The United States seeks to regularize ceasefires now in place in Syria, move towards a political solution and then have all foreign forces that have entered the conflict since 2011 leave, except Russia.

“The Russians, having been there before, would not in fact withdraw, but you’ve got four other outside military forces – the Israelis, the Turkish, the Iranian and the American – all operating inside Syria right now. It’s a dangerous situation,” Jeffrey said.

Iran has said it will stay in Syria as long as Assad wants it to. Turkey has staged two incursions into northern Syria since 2016 aimed at curbing the role of Kurdish forces that the United States is supporting against Islamic State.

Jeffrey said Washington took Turkish concerns about its support for the Kurdish fighters seriously. It had limited its weapons supply to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces to light arms, something which had slowed recent operations against Islamic State, he said.

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Improving economy leads to rise in demand for 'party drugs' in Ireland – new report

THE improving economic conditions in Ireland over recent years has led to a resurgence in demand for “party drugs” like cocaine and MDMA, according to a new report.

The Cross Border Organised Crime Threat Assessment Report 2018, which looks at criminal activity on the island of Ireland, said that retailing at approximately €70 per gram and in constant demand across a wide variety of areas, cocaine is second only to cannabis in its attractiveness for organised criminal groups.

“It is as yet unclear if the consumption of cocaine has returned to its 2007 peak and stabilised, but anecdotal evidence suggests that such a return is likely to occur soon if that has not already happened,” it said.

The report was released as the sixteenth annual cross border organised crime conference, which opened today at the Slieve Donard Hotel in Newcastle, Co Down.

The conference on the theme of “Shared Problems, Shared Solutions” takes place over two days, and brought together representatives from government departments, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, gardai, the Criminal Assets Bureau, the National Crime Agency, HM Revenue and customs and Revenue Commissioners.

At today’s session, the threat assessment report jointly prepared by the PSNI and gardai for the conference provided those present with an update into organised criminality on both sides of the border.

Meanwhile, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris described work in preparation for Brexit as “well advanced” and said it was set against a context of strong co-operation between both organisations, and strong relationships which have been built up.

“But we do require the legal underpinnings that allow us to share information, vehicles like the European Arrest warrant, all of those are important on the island of Ireland in terms of keeping people safe and the policing service that we provide.

“But we will be re-doubling our efforts around cross border strategy, looking to that and then identifying what we think maybe gaps in powers, gaps in policing powers that may open up, and how those can be addressed,” he said.

Commissioner Harris said that “the issues for us are the impact of anti-social behaviour, local crime and the extent of travel that there is backwards and forwards across the border, and how criminals may use that to facilitate their activities and all forms of criminality, and also then the threat from organised crime.”

“Our strategy is to work together to prevent crime,” he said.

The report looks at a wide variety of issues including human trafficking, money laundering, rural crime, and excise fraud.

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The mid-terms seen from abroad

The world’s press has been digesting the results of the US mid-terms, which saw the Republicans lose the House of Representatives but consolidate their grip on the Senate.

Many have been asking what that means for President Trump – here is a round-up from BBC Monitoring.

Latin America

“The triumph of the opposition will define the wall, impeachment and migration,” the regional Mexican daily La Razon says. It quotes political expert Manuel Martinez as saying President Trump “knows that without the majority he will have to learn to give in, the way he already did when did not manage to find the funding for the wall with Mexico”.

The victory of Democrats in the House “will have a huge impact on the government of Donald Trump within the next two years”, commentator Solange Marquez Espinoza says in her blog on the website of the centre-right Mexican newspaper El Universal.

“Migration policy, in particular the separation of the families on the border, will be another topic which Democrats in the Congress will try to abandon or put a stake on a migration reform that will benefit millions of migrants in the country without documents,” she suggests.

Europe

“A political era is over in Washington,” says Italian centrist daily Stampa, adding the result shows “it is possible to beat Trump in 2020”. Liberal La Repubblica notes the voters have delivered a negative verdict on the president but that forecasts of a considerable Democratic comeback failed to materialise despite “street protests and celebrity statements”.

It is a “defeat Trump can live with”, concludes German centre-right daily Frankfurter Algemeine.

But “four out of five Americans fear the hostile atmosphere could lead to violence” amid deep polarisation of society, reports Czech business-oriented Hospodarske Noviny newspaper.

German liberal weekly Die Zeit agrees, saying in an article headlined “Hatred and malice remain electable”, that the election “mirrors the division in society which Donald Trump has widened”.

The House of Representatives with a Democrat majority means the president will be held to account, commentators agree, but they see impeachment as unlikely. The Democrats “may well never commit to a delicate path” such as impeachment, “but their power to harass is great”, French private BFMTV says.

The election saw to it that the “so-called Republican moderates, the critics within the party, have disappeared from the House of Representatives,” Czech TV’s correspondent observes, while BFMTV quotes Olivier Piton, a lawyer specialising in French and US public law, as saying that the president has “won the battle of ideas” and the right-wing camp has no option but to realign with him.

An analysis in the Irish Times says that as Donald Trump prepares for a new phase of his presidency, a Democratic majority in the House could actually aid him politically in 2020.

“As a combative president who thrives on division, the president may be happy to use the Democratic-controlled House as a foil, blaming Democrats for not allowing him to achieve many of his campaign promises,” it says.

Russia

Influential Russian business daily Kommersant notes that, whatever the outcome, the elections “will not settle the main domestic problem, the polarisation in the US society”.

Even before the results were known, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov predicted that they would not “further complicate relations” between Russia and the US as they were “pretty difficult anyway”.

Middle East

Arab media focus on the election of two Muslim women – Somali-American Ilhan Omar and Palestinian-American Rashida Tlaib – to the Congress. The Saudi-funded pan-Arab Al-Arabiya TV ran a profile on Omar entitled “From the refugee camps to the Congress, that is how Ilhan Omar has celebrated”.

Tlaib’s achievement is hailed by Palestinian mainstream media and social media users, most of whom highlight her family roots.

With the Democratic majority in the House, the Iranian domestic rolling news channel Irinn sees “the project of impeaching” the president already “under way”.

“Even if they do not succeed, he [Trump] will not be able to go on a rampage as he did two years ago,” it says.

Asia

“The impact on Sino-US relations looks minimal,” says an editorial in the nationalist Chinese newspaper Global Times. “It is because… the Democratic Party never attacked Trump’s trade war with China during electioneering. They are also even more high-profile on human rights issues.”

“Chinese people need not hold any expectation on the changing political atmosphere in the US,” it adds. “We cannot count on a choice made by the American voters to protect our interests.”

Top state media outlets in China like Xinhua news agency or the People’s Daily newspaper have not reported prominently or offered any commentary on the mid-term elections at the time of writing.

The Japanese government said it would be working to strengthen co-operation under President Trump “in a variety of fields”, describing the US-Japan alliance as “unshakeable”.

BBC Monitoring reports and analyses news from TV, radio, web and print media around the world. You can follow BBC Monitoring on Twitter and Facebook.

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Injured owl rescued by Acres in Jurong West, undergoing treatment at Jurong Bird Park

SINGAPORE – An injured owl which was found by a Jurong West resident on Sunday (Nov 4) is currently undergoing treatment at the Jurong Bird Park.

The spotted wood owl, which is uncommon in Singapore, is suffering from bilateral paralysis and is unable to stand on either leg, a Wildlife Reserves Singapore spokesman told The Straits Times on Wednesday (Nov 7).

Jurong Bird Park’s Avian Hospital received the owl on Monday evening, said the spokesman.

It is currently being housed in an incubator and receiving intensive care from an avian veterinary team.

Despite this, its condition has not improved much since Monday. Bruising was also noted on the skin on its back.

The spokesman added that if the owl does not respond well to treatment, its condition would suggest that it has a more severe spinal cord injury.

Ms Siti Norbarizah, 34, found the owl on the pavement outside her ground floor Housing Board flat on Sunday evening, and contacted the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) for help.

She posted a video of the injured owl on Facebook, and it was reposted on bird enthusiast Facebook group BirdCraze. Wildlife photographer Ted Ng, 34, who saw the video, went to check on the owl around 10.15pm on Sunday.

Mr Ng, who witnessed Acres handle a bird rescue before, told ST he noticed that there was some blood on owl’s beak, suggesting that the bird could have crashed into a glass surface.

He brought the owl home with him and wrapped it in a towel, placing it in a basket. He also provided Acres with updates on the owl’s condition, he said.

“My intention was to release the owl once it recovered. However, a few hours had passed and the owl was unable to stand up on its feet,” he said. Mr Ng handed over the owl to Acres on Monday morning .

Acres deputy chief executive Kalai Vanan told ST that the young adult owl was “weak and in a state of shock” when they picked it up.

While Acres was not certain how the owl sustained its injuries, Mr Kalai said that it was “most likely due to a window collision”.

Mr Kalai said that “owls are wild birds which are very sensitive to stress” and the public should not attempt to handle or contain large birds of prey like owls unless advised by Acres.

Members of the public are advised to call Acres on 9783-7782 or the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore on 1800-476-1600 should they encounter a wild animal in distress.

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Tech, healthcare stocks boost Wall Street after midterm results

(Reuters) – U.S. stocks surged on Wednesday, as investors piled into growth sectors such as technology and healthcare on relief that the outcome of the U.S. midterm elections was as expected.

Democrats won control of the House of Representatives on Tuesday, while Republicans tightened their grip on the Senate, pointing to a political gridlock in Washington.

The technology and healthcare sectors rose more than 1.5 percent each, with investors betting that a gridlocked Congress would not be able to push through restrictive regulations, a fear that has weighed on the growth sectors.

A Democrat-controlled House will hamper President Donald Trump’s pro-business agenda, but the results for Republicans were no worse than feared, allowing investors to buy back into a market that had its worst month in seven years in October.

“A lot of what was holding the market back was fear of what might happen, and the fact that it’s over now will eliminate a lot of it,” said Brad McMillan, chief investment officer for Commonwealth Financial in Waltham, Massachusetts.

At 10:06 a.m. EDT the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 142.47 points, or 0.56 percent, at 25,777.48, the S&P 500 was up 21.30 points, or 0.77 percent, at 2,776.75 and the Nasdaq Composite was up 87.50 points, or 1.19 percent, at 7,463.46.

Following a steep selloff in October, the S&P 500 remains down more than 5 percent from its record high, as uncertainty about the election and fears about rising interest rates and trade wars roil stocks globally.

The Federal Reserve starts its two-day monetary policy meeting on Wednesday, where it is expected to keep interest rates unchanged, but a rate hike in December is largely priced in.

“The policy path implied by this outcome shifts the narrative away from rising rates at least temporarily,” Morgan Stanley’s Michael Zezas wrote in a client note.

“In the near term, that could alleviate the pressure that stocks have felt in recent weeks.”

But, financial stocks slipped 0.27 percent, led by a 0.52 percent decline in bank stocks.

The S&P energy index jumped 1.1 percent as oil prices rose on a report that Russia and Saudi Arabia are discussing whether to cut crude output next year.

Anadarko Petroleum Corp surged 7.1 percent and Noble Energy Inc jumped 4.3 percent after Colorado voters a rejected a tougher rule on oil and gas drilling, which spurred shares of companies operating in the state.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by a 1.90-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and a 1.58-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded 24 new 52-week highs and three new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 42 new highs and 28 new lows.

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Independent review following school safety controversy to be conducted by construction expert

The independent review into the Design and Build programme at the centre of the school safety controversy will be conducted by someone with expertise in the construction industry, not a lawyer.

Education Minister Joe McHugh told the Dail today that he wanted the review to look at accountability and culpability, and also lessons that needed to be learned about building safe schools.

The Department is known to be keen to avoid a tribunal-type inquiry, usually conducted by a judge or senior counsel, which, potentially, could have implications for pursuing separate legal avenues.

Mr McHugh said “I do not want it set up so that it will impact on the legal process, the legal channels have to continue,” as he referred to legal action already initiated by the Department against the company at the centre of the building controversy, Western Building System (WBS).

“I want to be crystal clear that, in parallel to this, we fully intend to pursue Western Building System through all contractual and legal challenges for the costs arising from the structural defects” he said.

Labour TD Joan Bruton said it should be headed by someone extremely experienced and competent in relation to building and someone like a reputable senior counsel, because “obviously there are a high number of issues as to where ultimately legal responsibility will fall”.

Solidarity –People Before Profit TD Ruth Coppinger asked would there be a criminal type investigation or would it “just be an inquiry that would  look at some specifics.”

Meanwhile, the minster said the Department’s legal teams were working closely with the Attorney General’s office and the Chief State Solicitor’s Office on the issue of responsibility.

The Department is pursuing Co  Tyrone-based WBS in relation to fire safety works at four schools arising from checks conducted in the past year.

It was while conducting fire safety remediation work at Ardgillan Community College, Balbriggan, Co Dublin that “significant structural issues” came to light, which led to structural checks on 42 WBS-built schools.

While Mr McHugh described Ardgillan as “an outlier”, 23 of the 42 schools have been confirmed as either needing remediation work or have precautionary protective measures in place pending further investigation.

Mr McHugh also addressed the issue of where responsibility lies for certifying projects built under the Design and Build programme, which has been the subject of a dispute between the minister and WBS.

He repeated that the contractor and the contractor’s design team “are very clearly responsible for ensuring quality and for presenting certificates which confirm that the buildings are constructed in accordance with the works requirements and building regulations.

The certificates signed by Western Building Systems are on the Department’s files – yet, as we now see, significant issues have been uncovered in buildings which were confirmed by the contractor as having been compliant with regulations”.

Arising from concerns in  relation to fire safety, since 2017 the Department  appoints  clerk of works to school building sites. WBS points to guidance on the Department’s website setting out the role a clerk of works, including that person is there “primarily to represent the interests of the client in regard to ensuring that the quality of both materials and workmanship are in accordance with architects/engineers drawings and specifications.

Independent TD Mick Wallace, who has a background in the construction industry,  said that even with a clerk of works on a Design and Build site,  “the responsibility is 100pc with the contractor”.  He said if a clerk of works saw something a miss, they would not have the power to stop a contractor, who could say “I will take responsibility for this”.

Mr Wallace said the Design and Build approach “creates huge problems.”    

  • Read more here: Independent review due into build programme at centre of school safety controversy

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Trump says Democrat Pelosi 'deserves' to be House speaker

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday threw his support behind top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi, saying she ought to be U.S. House Speaker, one day after Democrats won enough seats in the midterm congressional election to take control of Congress’ lower chamber.

“In all fairness, Nancy Pelosi deserves to be chosen Speaker of the House by the Democrats. If they give her a hard time, perhaps we will add some Republican votes. She has earned this great honor,” Trump said in a post on Twitter.

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Quebec deer disease may sideline Rudolph this year

Quebec’s efforts to control a deadly deer disease may end up depriving the province of a couple of popular Rudolph stand-ins this holiday season.

The province has been grappling with chronic wasting disease detected this year in three farm-raised deer. Serge Michaud and the red deer he named Rudolph 1 and Rudolph 2 are feeling the impact.

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Michaud said he was told last week the animals, a fixture at Christmas parades and events in the province, need to stay penned as investigations continue to determine the extent of the disease. He was forced to cancel a parade appearance in Riviere-du-Loup, Que. last Saturday.

“They embody Rudolph — the companion of Santa Claus — and we dress up as elves and take part in Christmas parades, at product launches, for photos with the public,” Michaud explained.

The province’s Wildlife Department confirmed in September that chronic wasting disease had been detected in a farm-raised animal that was sent to slaughter in late August.

Since then, two more cases were confirmed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

The disease, similar to mad cow disease, is an infection of the central nervous system that afflicts deer, elk, reindeer and moose.

While it can go undetected for years, the condition eventually causes poor health, behavioural changes, disorientation and death.

Biologists have raised fears the highly contagious disease has the potential to decimate the wild deer population if it spreads.

Michaud said his animals are both healthy and are seen regularly by a veterinarian.

They were born on a livestock farm and have been with Michaud since they were a day old.

“They’ve never lived in a herd,” he said.

The deer both have a bit of star power — Rudolph 1’s first public appearance was with the Cirque de Soleil, while Rudolph 2 appeared in the Hollywood blockbuster “X-Men: Apocalypse.”

The province’s Agriculture Department informed Michaud of the travel ban last Friday.

In September, officials banned hunting, trapping and off-road activities within a 400-kilometre radius of the farm where the infection was detected.

That includes Oka, where Michaud’s animals live. The disease first emerged in the 1960s in the United States.

It is nearly impossible to eradicate once it becomes established in the general population. It has spread to 25 U.S. states as well as Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Quebec has modelled its intervention plan on that of New York State, which is believed to be the only jurisdiction to have successfully eliminated the disease.

“We haven’t finished our investigations, so we’re simply not taking any risks,” Yohan Dallaire-Boily, an Agriculture Department spokesman, said of the need for controls.

Michaud said he stands to lose up to $40,000 this year if his deer are not allowed to travel.

“The schedule was booked solid, sometimes three events a day,” he said.

He acknowledged it might take a Christmas miracle of sorts to get the Rudolphs back on the road.

“We’ll leave the door open in the event we get an exemption,” he said.

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Republican concedes Connecticut's gubernatorial race to Democrat

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Republican seeking the Connecticut governorship conceded the race to his Democratic rival on Wednesday, handing the Democratic party another statehouse win following Tuesday’s midterm U.S. election.

“A few moments ago, I called Ned Lamont to concede the race for governor and congratulate him on a hard-fought victory. I wish both Ned and the state of Connecticut success over these next four years,” Bob Stefanowski said in a series of posts on Twitter that also highlighted his focus on taxes.

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Takeaway bosses jailed over teen's allergy death after manslaughter conviction

Nut allergy sufferer Megan Lee had an immediate allergic reaction after eating food from the Royal Spice takeaway in Oswaldtwistle, Lancashire on 30 December 2016.

The 15-year-old died two days later after suffering irreversible brain damage from a later asthma attack.

The restaurant’s bosses, Mohammed Abdul Kuddus, 40, and Harun Rashid, 38, were found guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence at Manchester Crown Court.

Rashid has been jailed for three years and Kuddus for two.

Kuddus received an additional eight-month sentence, to run concurrently, for two food safety offences.

Rashid was given 10 months in custody, also to run concurrently, for the same offences.

Rashid was also found guilty of failing to discharge a general duty of employers and another count of failing to put in place, implement and maintain a permanent procedure in contravention of European Union food safety regulations.

Kuddus had already pleaded guilty to those two charges.

Sentencing the pair, Mrs Justice Yip told them Megan was responsible enough to highlight her allergies when placing the order but “sadly the same responsibility was not at your end”.

She said: “The Royal Spice had no systems or processes to manage allergen control.

“The menu contained no information about allergens. No record was kept of the ingredients used in dishes.

“In short, it appears that no one at the takeaway had any way of knowing what allergens were in the food supplied.”

The court heard that Megan’s friend ordered the meal through the Just Eat website and wrote “prawns, nuts” in the comments and notes section.

But the meal – which included an onion bhaji, a seekh kebab and a Peshwari naan – was later found to have the “widespread presence” of peanut protein.

Peter Wright QC, prosecuting, said her death was a “disaster waiting to happen”.

There was a “litany of failings” in the kitchen including poor hygiene and no records of ingredients kept, it was alleged.

The takeaway restaurant has since reopened under new ownership.

More follows…

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