What is the National Enquirer?

US gossip magazine the National Enquirer has found itself, again, at the centre of a huge news story of its own.

Its owners, who last year admitted to helping hide allegations about an alleged affair involving Donald Trump, have been accused by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos of trying to blackmail him over lewd photographs.

The world’s richest man released bombshell details about the accusations in a lengthy blog post on Thursday.

But what is the National Enquirer? And who are the parent company and man behind it?

The tabloid is best known for its outlandish celebrity gossip and crime coverage.

It was originally founded as The New York Evening Enquirer back in 1926 – when it was distributed as a broadsheet on a Sunday.

After changing hands to Generoso Paul “Gene” Pope Jr in the 1950s, it was shrunk down to a tabloid size. He renamed it and began to focus more on sensationalised gory stories with headlines like: “Mom boiled her baby and ate her.”

Targeting supermarket check-out distribution in the 1960s, the owner lessened the gore and increased its celebrity coverage.

The publication has been unashamed in its use of payment for interviews and photograph scoops since.

It has covered some of the country’s biggest scandals – including the Monica Lewinsky affair and OJ Simpson’s trial.

At its peak it had a weekly circulation of millions, but the internet has had a huge impact on sales. Last year it was announced circulation had dropped to about 265,000 – 18% down in one financial year.

Its most popular front-page ever was of Elvis Presley dead in his casket – which reportedly sold more than 6.5m copies.

The publication was bought by American Media Inc (AMI) in 1999. The group already had a substantial number of US tabloids and gossip magazines in its portfolio.

The group hired David Pecker as their chief executive – a New Yorker who originally trained as an accountant before getting into publishing.

A 2017 New Yorker profile explored how their headlines are firmly anchored in formulas and celebrities they know sell well.

Journalist Jeffrey Toobin observed that a lawyer is on call at all times to check stories and try to mitigate against any potential libel issues.

US tabloid culture

Over the years, the National Enquirer has been no stranger to controversy and, occasionally, lawsuits over its coverage.

In the US, tabloids have a reputation for outlandish reporting – in part because the standard for libelling public figures in the US is high. It has to be proven that there was “actual malice” behind any libel claim.

Any figure wanting to sue could face a protracted and expensive legal battle – which could draw even more attention to any substantiated claim.

The National Enquirer was first sued for libel by actress Carol Burnett over a 1976 report that she had been drunk and boisterous in an encounter with then-US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

Burnett, a campaigner against alcoholism, fervently denied the allegations. A California court sided with her and she was awarded a $1.6m settlement – but the National Enquirer appealed. Eventually the two parties settled out of court.

Others tried the same in the aftermath, but cases remain hard to prove.

Apologies and retractions from the National Enquirer are also considered rare, but it also has an edition in the UK – where libel laws are far tighter.

In 2006 actress Kate Hudson was able to win damages at the High Court in London over a two-page story which falsely implied she had an eating disorder.

Ties to the president

By Mr Pecker’s own admission, he and President Trump are good friends.

In the 1990s Mr Pecker ran a publishing house that distributed a magazine named Trump Style around Mr Trump’s resorts and properties.

Mr Pecker also attended Mr Trump’s 2005 wedding to Melania.

When the real estate mogul announced he was running for president, the Enquirer endorsed him and disparaged his opponents.

Reports in US media suggested stories about the race were sent and reviewed through Mr Trump’s lawyer before publishing – though the National Enquirer denied this.

At one point during the election race, the tabloid ran a front page that said Hillary Clinton had “6 MONTHS TO LIVE!”

They also made allegations about his Republican opponents – alleging at one point that Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s father had direct links to the assassination of John F Kennedy.

The tabloid labelled him “pervy Ted” and falsely alleged he had several extramarital affairs.

Mr Cruz at the time labelled the affair story “garbage” and accused “Donald Trump and his henchmen” of attempting to smear him.

‘Catch and kill’

Mostly notably, AMI has admitted helping Donald Trump’s campaign bury a report about an alleged extramarital affair with a former Playboy model.

Federal prosecutors announced in December that AMI had admitted paying Karen McDougal $150,000 (£115,000) for a “catch and kill” on her story in the run-up to the 2016 election.

Officials said they did so “in concert with a candidate’s presidential campaign” to ensure the damaging allegations did not get out before the vote.

AMI entered into a non-prosecution agreement in exchange for their admission.

Mr Pecker also reportedly received immunity from an investigation into President Trump’s long-time lawyer Michael Cohen – who now faces jail – in exchange for information.

Bezos blackmail allegations

As the New York Times reports, tech giants aren’t the usual subject of the National Enquirer’s focus – making some believe it was his links to the Washington Post newspaper that made him a target.

The tabloid has already published intimate details of his alleged extramarital affair – including private message exchanges.

Mr Bezos launched a private investigation into how they got their hands on that information, an action he now says has brought threats of intimate photograph leaks.

“It’s unavoidable that certain powerful people who experience Washington Post news coverage will wrongly conclude I am their enemy,” he wrote in a blog post.

After this, he pointed to President Trump’s tweets about himself but also cited his newspaper’s coverage of the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi – a former columnist – which he said was “undoubtedly unpopular in certain circles”.

Mr Bezos also pointed to an Associated Press report about a 97-page glossy magazine produced by AMI that praised Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. It appeared across the US last April.

Prince Mohammed has been accused of involvement in the death of the journalist – a charge the Saudis deny.

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Man fights for life after early morning shooting in Dublin

A man is fighting for life after an early morning shooting in Dublin.

Investigators have sealed off a corner in the Marigold Crescent housing estate in Darndale after the shooting at approximately 6.30am.

Gardaí believe the man, who was shot outside a house, was with a number of other people at the time of the shooting.

However this group fled from the scene as the gunman opened fire and Gardai say they are anxious to locate these witnesses.

The injured man was treated at the scene by emergency personnel and then taken to Beaumont Hospital where it is understood his condition is critical.

It is understood that the gunman escaped by car.

A vehicle has been found burned out at Blunden Drive off the Malahide Road and gardaí are investigating if there is a connection.

Meanwhile officers are currently at the scene of the shooting.

The street is located in a residential area off the Malahide Road not far from ClareHall Shopping Centre and O’Tooles GAA club.

The scene is currently preserved pending a Garda Technical Examination.

One neighbour described the incident as “very unusual”.

“I was woken by the flashing lights this morning and thought it was just an ambulance. It’s really sad to hear,” she said.

Gardaí are appealing for witnesses including those who may have dashcam footage from the area.

 

More to follow.

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Canada mosque shooter gets life, no parole for 40 years

QUEBEC CITY (REUTERS) – A Canadian man who gunned down six members of a Quebec City mosque in 2017 was sentenced to life in prison on Friday (Feb 8), with the judge saying he would be eligible for parole after serving 40 years behind bars.

Alexandre Bissonnette, 29, pleaded guilty last year to six counts of first-degree murder and six counts of attempted murder for the attack, one of Canada’s rare mass shootings.

Justice Francois Huot said a life sentence with eligibility for parole between 35 and 42 years into the sentence was appropriate, and rejected calls by prosecutors to impose the harshest sentence handed down since Canada eliminated the death penalty.

In the end, the judge said Bissonnette will not be eligible for parole until he served 40 years of his sentence.

The January 2017 shooting, which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau denounced as a terrorist attack, provoked debate over the treatment of new arrivals at a time when Canadians were being tested by a growing number of migrants crossing from the United States into the province of Quebec.

Huot said Bissonnette’s actions in entering the mosque at the end of prayers and shooting congregants were not a terrorist attack, but motivated by prejudice, particularly towards Muslim immigrants.

But the judge also said Bissonnette’s mental health issues, including an obsession with suicide, played a role in the shooting and influenced his sentence.

A 2011 legal change allows Canadian judges to hand down consecutive sentences in the case of multiple murders. Prosecutors had asked for Bissonnette to serve six consecutive sentences or 150-years in prison without eligibility for parole, the harshest sentence since Canada abolished the death penalty in 1976.

“The US Supreme Court would not find a 150-year (term) cruel and unusual punishment,” Huot said earlier in the day, but added “punishment should not be vengeance.”

Huot also stressed the importance in Canada of rehabilitating offenders.

The dark-haired, slightly-built Bissonnette, who wore a white shirt under a navy blue jacket and handcuffs, had been described by police as a lone-wolf attacker.

Bissonnette had previously asked his victims for forgiveness when entering his guilty plea in March, telling the court: “I am not a terrorist, nor an Islamophobe.”

But Huot said Bissonnette had previously considered attacking other targets including feminists, shopping centres and airports.

The judge recounted Bissonnette’s remarks to a prison social worker in Sept 2017, when he expressed a desire for “glory” in shooting congregants and that he “regretted not shooting more”.

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Lethbridge Police Service taking part in provincewide campaign targeting distracted drivers

In an effort to reduce the number of distracted drivers on Alberta roads, law enforcement agencies throughout the province are targeting motorists who don’t pay attention when they’re behind the wheel.

The Lethbridge Police Service is one of many agencies taking part in the month-long campaign and hoping to make a difference.

“We’re focusing on distracted driving, and within Lethbridge, if our police officers catch you driving distracted, you will be fined,” said Sgt. Rod Pastoor.

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Sending an important text message or looking at your latest social media notice could cost you: the penalty in Alberta is a fine of $287 and three demerits.

Motorists who are caught using any sort of handheld device, reading printed materials, writing, sketching or even performing personal grooming while in the driver’s seat will be pulled over and fined.

To avoid a ticket, using a device in hands-free mode is just fine. Drivers are also able to drink a beverage, eat a snack or smoke while on the road.

“Distracted drivers are three times more likely to be involved in collisions and, of course, with that is property damage, injuries, fatalities, and we want to stop that,” added Pastoor.

Police aren’t the only ones sharing this message of safety. The Lethbridge Driving Academy incorporates distracted driving safety information into its teaching for all students who pursue their licence.

“Having the students understand the driving environment and being able to focus on what is happening within that driving environment is ultimately very, very important,” said Adrian Brown, senior instructor at Lethbridge Driving Academy.

“If you are taking your eyes off the road, the car is still moving, whether you are looking at a passenger, whether you are adjusting the radio, the worst case if you are even on your phone. The phones are the worst because it takes your eyes off the road.”

Brown added: “We’re not the only person on the road. We have many other people who use our road ways and we need to look out for them.”

The provincewide distracted driving campaign wraps up at the end of February.

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New multimedia content from new Straits Times newsroom

New year, new newsroom – and new products and content.

Readers – and viewers – can look forward to more multimedia content across various platforms as The Straits Times gets down to work in a revamped newsroom with new facilities.

The newsroom in Toa Payoh North underwent its first complete renovation since 2002.

The features include a central hub for key editors, which makes it easier for them to collaborate on cross-desk, multi-platform projects.

A state-of-the-art video production and editing lab will be ready next month.

“Our purpose in revamping our newsroom is clear and simple: to serve our audience better by producing content across platforms that they value,”said Straits Times editor Warren Fernandez, who is also editor-in-chief of Singapore Press Holdings’ English/Malay/ Tamil Media (EMTM) Group.

“We will be rolling these out in the weeks and months to come. We hope people will enjoy them, and send us their feedback and views, so that we can keep striving to improve things as we go along.”

SOME NEW OFFERINGS TO CHECK OUT:

VIDEO 

Kicking off this year’s special video offerings is a series on Singapore’s bicentennial year with the theme “200 years in 200 seconds”.

The series was launched yesterday with the release of the first of six videos, which succinctly captures key milestones in Singapore’s history in 200 seconds, through rare pictures from as far back as 1819.

These old images, which include the earliest surviving drawing of Singapore, literally come alive in the video, thanks to special effects.

The other videos in the series cover topics such as heritage foods and fashion.

The video team, with more than 20 people, has been ramping up video production and experimenting with different formats.

These are part of The Straits Times’ strategy to engage younger readers and overseas audiences, said Mr Eugene Leow, head of digital strategy for the EMTM Group.

“Consumption habits are changing towards more visual formats,” he said. “Singaporeans are already familiar with bylines from our brand-name journalists – we want to give them more channels to share their expertise and perspectives.”

PODCASTS

In the era of one-minute videos, audio-based media may seem like a nostalgic relic of the past. But it has been making a comeback – in the form of podcasts.

Starting with just two podcasts in March last year, ST now offers eight monthly. Four of these are posted every week, and the rest either monthly or fortnightly. Each podcast runs for around 10 minutes.

Said Mr Ernest Luis, head of podcast productions: “Right from the start, we aimed for conversational and punchy podcast formats.”

Money Hacks, a joint podcast with The Business Times now into its second season, is the top-performing series. The podcast, available on Mondays, offers financial tips.

Other offerings include A Game Of Two Halves, a sports podcast on Tuesdays featuring ST sports journalists, and Life Picks on Thursdays, featuring lifestyle events.

All the podcasts can be found at http://str.sg/stpodcasts

They are also available on Spotify, Apple iTunes and Google Podcasts, as well as for Google Home smart speakers and the Google News online platform.

ASIAN INSIDER

It is a turbulent time in geopolitics. Many are looking for insights from seasoned political watchers on what to make of major developments.

Here is where ST’s growing network of correspondents around Asia comes in – to provide not only up-to-date news reports, but also an insider’s perspective on events in this part of the world.

Mr Fernandez said: “Many readers turn to us for an objective reading on developments in Asia. They want an insider’s perspective and insights.

“They value our coverage because we can stay neutral on events in China, Japan, Korea, India, South-east Asia, and how these relate to each other, as well as with the United States. Few others join the dots in that way.”

A new Asian Insider newsletter has been launched to meet this need. The weekday newsletter comes with a bite-size digest to help put in context the biggest news on Asia.

ST foreign editor Jeremy Au Yong said: “We wanted to find a way to further tap our correspondents – our insiders – to help our readers make sense of the fast-changing region.”

Sign up for the newsletter at http://str.sg/newsletters

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Cannabis bill proposed aims to ease U.S. federal restrictions

Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden proposed legislation Friday that would give states a free hand to allow legal cannabis markets without the threat of federal criminal intervention, the latest push in Congress to bolster the nation’s burgeoning pot industry.

The proposal, identical to a bill in the House, aims to ease the longstanding conflict between states where cannabis is legal in some form and the U.S. government, which categorizes marijuana as a dangerous illegal drug, similar to LSD or heroin.

“The federal prohibition of marijuana is wrong, plain and simple,” Wyden, a Democrat, said in a statement. “Too many lives have been wasted, and too many economic opportunities have been missed.”

It remains unclear if Wyden’s bill would have a chance of clearing the Republican-controlled Senate.

Global News

The Democratic majority in the House appears more open to considering proposals to ease federal restrictions on marijuana. The chamber has set a hearing next week on a bill intended to make banking services more widely available for pot companies.

A proposal similar to Wyden’s previously languished in the Senate and House.

However, Rep. Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat carrying the current bill in the House, said voters have “elected the most pro-cannabis Congress in American history.”

“It’s tough to see how things will shake out, but there is a very serious chance cannabis policy reform will move in the Senate,” said Morgan Fox of the National Cannabis Industry Association.

Most Americans live in states where pot can be legally purchased for medical or recreational use, and the move to loosen federal restrictions on marijuana came as the issue has played into the emerging 2020 presidential campaign.

The proposal would take marijuana off the federal controlled substances list, and remove federal criminal penalties for individuals and businesses acting in compliance with state marijuana laws.

It would also reduce barriers for legal marijuana businesses to get access to banking.

The bill is part of a three-bill package: A second would impose a tax on marijuana products similar to federal excise taxes on alcohol, while a third would allow state-legal marijuana businesses to claim tax deductions and credits.

Justin Strekal, political director of the pro-legalization group NORML, said in a statement that the proposal is another sign of the “growing public support for ending our failed war on cannabis consumers.”

Former House Speaker John Boehner, who sits on the board of cannabis company Acreage Holdings, on Friday announced the formation of an industry-backed lobbying group that would push for national marijuana reforms.

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Virginia lieutenant governor denies new sexual assault allegation

RICHMOND, Va. (Reuters) – Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax faced a second accusation of sexual assault on Friday, when a woman accused him of raping her when they were fellow students at Duke University, adding to the chaos that has engulfed the state’s top three elected officials.

Fairfax denied both accusations as a “coordinated smear campaign.” He called the latest allegation “demonstrably false,” and vowed he would not step down.

Fairfax, 39, is first in line to succeed the state’s embattled governor, Ralph Northam, a fellow Democrat under fire for admitted racially offensive behavior in 1984.

Northam, who has resisted mounting pressure to resign since he became embroiled in his own scandal a week ago, indicated in an earlier email message on Friday to state employees that he planned to remain in his post.

“You have placed your trust in me to lead Virginia forward – and I plan to do that,” said Northam, 59, who had stayed almost entirely out of the public eye and the media since holding a news conference on Saturday to address the racial controversies that sparked Virginia’s political crisis.

In a statement from his spokeswoman, Fairfax said he has “never forced myself on anyone ever” and demanded a “full investigation into these unsubstantiated and false allegations.”

“I will clear my good name and I have nothing to hide,” he wrote, branding the allegations as part of a “vicious and coordinated smear campaign … being orchestrated against me.” He concluded by declaring: “I will not resign.”

The woman who made the new accusation, identified as Meredith Watson, was “reluctantly coming forward out of a strong sense of civic duty and her belief that those seeking or serving in public office should be of the highest character,” the law firm that is representing her said in a statement.

The firm, New Jersey-based Smith Mullin, said the alleged assault occurred in 2000. Watson is “not seeking any financial damages,” and her attorneys had notified Fairfax through his lawyers “that Ms. Watson hopes he will resign from public office,” the firm said in its statement.

RACIST PHOTOS

The latest accusation deepened a political upheaval in Virginia that began with the revelation last Friday that Northam’s medical school yearbook page contained a racist photo. That was followed by admissions from Northam and the state’s attorney general, Mark Herring, 57, that each had darkened their faces during the 1980s to imitate black performers, a practice widely considered to be racist.

Should all three men be forced to resign, Democrats would lose the governorship to the state’s Republican speaker of the House of Delegates, who is third in the line of succession, after Fairfax and Herring.

The Smith Mullin statement said the alleged attack on Watson “was premeditated and aggressive,” while also saying Fairfax and Watson “were friends but never dated or had any romantic relationship.”

The law firm said Watson had “shared her account of the rape with friends in a series of emails and Facebook messages that are now in our possession.” Additionally, the firm said it possessed statements from former classmates corroborating that Watson had immediately told friends about the alleged rape.

Calls for Northam’s resignation quickly escalated, following revelations last weekend about Northam’s 1984 blackface appearance and a racist photo on his yearbook page of two individuals – one in blackface and the other dressed in white robes of the Ku Klux Klan. Northam had originally admitted that he was one of the people in that photo, but later said that he was not.

CONSERVATIVE WEBSITE

Fairfax briefly seemed poised to succeed Northam to become the second African-American governor in Virginia’s history. But within days Fairfax was fending off a scandal of his own as the same conservative website that first disclosed Northam’s yearbook photo published oblique allegations that Fairfax had been accused of sexual assault.

On Wednesday, the woman in that case, Stanford University academic Vanessa Tyson, came forward to accuse Fairfax of having forced her to perform oral sex in a hotel room during the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston.

Fairfax insisted his encounter with Tyson was consensual but said she deserved to be treated with respect.

A number of Virginia’s Democratic politicians, including the state’s two U.S. senators and nine Democratic members of the state House of Representatives, had labeled the Tyson accusations as “disturbing,” though reaction was relatively muted compared with nearly universal calls for Northam’s resignation.

But within an hour of the new rape accusation on Friday, former Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe called for Fairfax’s immediate resignation, saying the allegations “are serious and credible.”

In an apparent effort at mending fences with Virginia’s African-American population, Northam on Friday met privately with the president and founder of the National Black Farmers Association, John Boyd Jr., in Richmond, the state capital. Boyd told Reuters the two men prayed together and “we asked for forgiveness.”

Boyd, whose group says it represents 109,000 farmers across the country, said on Twitter afterward that he pledged his support to the governor and “urged him NOT to step down.”

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Use of handbrakes mandated on Canadian railways following fatal Field, B.C. derailment

The federal government is enforcing new braking regulations on trains travelling along Canada’s railways following a massive and deadly derailment near Field, B.C.

Three crew members were killed early Monday when the 112-car Canadian Pacific Railway (CP Rail) train they were on started moving on its own after being parked for two hours with airbrakes applied.

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Canadian railways ration space as congestion problems worsen

Advocates, industry experts call for stricter regulations following deadly B.C. train derailment

Rail line through Field, B.C. reopens after train derailment kills 3 workers

The train sped down a steep grade between the Spital Tunnels — built in the early 1900s to accommodate the grade in the Kicking Horse Pass — with 99 cars and two locomotives derailing.

Several cars and the locomotive believed to be carrying conductor Dylan Paradis, locomotive engineer Andrew Dockrell and conductor trainee Daniel Waldenberger-Bulmer, plunged into the Kicking Horse River.

In the early stages of its investigation, the Transportation Safety Board said no handbrakes were applied while the train was stopped.

Until the investigation into the derailment is complete, no other train across the country will be parked in the same way.

“As a precaution, until such time that the exact cause of the accident is determined, my department has issued a ministerial order under the Railway Safety Act to all railway companies mandating the use of handbrakes should a train be stopped on a mountain grade after an emergency use of the air brakes,” Garneau said in a statement Friday afternoon.

“This order takes effect immediately and will remain in effect as long as necessary.”

Garneau said Transport Canada is also conducting an investigation into the tragedy, adding that a minister’s observer has been assigned to keep him apprised of the investigation’s progress.

“As I have said many times before, rail safety is my top priority and I will never hesitate to take appropriate actions when necessary,” Garneau said.

According to a report on the CP Rail website, the company studied the effectiveness of airbrakes in extreme cold, finding that cold temperatures cause an increase in the amount of air that leaks from a train’s air-brake system.

“This is a major challenge,” the report said.

At the time of the derailment, it was about -20 C.

— With files from The Canadian Press

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Regina Airport Authority CEO eyes direct United States route

Over 1.2 million people passed through the Regina International Airport in 2018.

Now, CEO James Bogusz thinks it’s time to stage a comeback.

“Passenger growth being up over 1.5 per cent is a great place to be, given that in 2017, we came off a pretty challenging year,” Bogusz said.

United and Delta Airlines cancelled direct routes to Chicago, Denver, and Minneapolis over the space of two years.

Global News

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Regina airport authorities carry out mock disaster exercise

Regina Airport adding destinations

But the city’s reputation as an event host, paired with growing population and increased economic stability has put a regular direct flight to the United States back on the table.

Bogusz is currently in talks with United Airlines to bring a direct Denver, Colorado flight back to the Queen City.

“Let’s assume the same aircraft that used to fly here, which is a 50 seat regional jet, that would add over $15 million a year to local economy. It’s massive,” he explained. “That would be for double daily service flying between Regina and Denver at 100 seats a day.”

The airport contributes well over $800 million into the local economy annually.

Adding an American route will be the top priority for Bogusz at Monday’s Routes North America conference in Quebec City.

In a round of what is essentially airport speed dating, YQR will hold 20 minute meetings with eight different airlines to try to sell them on Regina.

Four of the airlines in talks with the group offer service to the United States, with United and Delta emerging as the most likely prospects.

From handshake to takeoff, it would take about nine months to have a new route up and running.

At the same time, more changes are on the way for the airport itself.

“We have to offer our customers far more choice past security when it comes to food service and concessions,” Bogusz said.

Renovations will be needed on the second floor to allow for more food choices. Outside, ground transportation spaces could shift with ride sharing set to kick off in march- a solid start to a new era at YQR.

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Brazil president Jair Bolsonaro's medical condition improving, says spokesman

BRASILIA (REUTERS) – Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has no fever or pain and is quickly overcoming a bout of pneumonia, signs that his medical condition is improving, spokesman General Otavio Rego Barros said on Friday (Feb 8).

A feeding tube and another tube draining liquid that accumulated where his colostomy bag had been attached to his intestine have been removed, according to a medical bulletin issued by the Sao Paulo hospital where he is being treated.

Bolsonaro, who was stabbed in the abdomen during the election campaign in September, ate chicken broth and jelly.

His medical team said his bodily functions are returning to normal, but there is not date set for him to go home.

“The doctors will only discharge the president when he is able to walk out the front door of the hospital,” Rego Barros said at a news briefing.

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