Arts & Entertainment

Mexican Leader Knocks Racism at Home After ‘Roma’ Oscar Wins

Mexico’s president on Monday denounced racism in his country a day after the Mexican film Roma emerged as a big winner at the Academy Awards with a plot that highlighted prejudice and inequality.

Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron won the best director Oscar on Sunday for his semi-autobiographical film Roma, which told the story of an indigenous domestic worker who cares for a middle-class family in 1970s Mexico City.

The movie also won awards for best foreign language film and cinematography, and President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador fielded several questions about Roma at his regular morning press conference.

Asked if he agreed with Cuaron that Mexican society remains rife with racist prejudice, the veteran leftist did not mince his words.

“I completely agree. Unfortunately, there is a lot of racism in Mexico,” he said.

Lopez Obrador, who in the 1970s worked for the indigenous affairs bureau in his home state of Tabasco in southern Mexico, has pledged to give priority to the poor as president.

Cuaron noted that the film emphasized the divided nature of Mexico’s social structure, opening up a much-needed discussion on racism and domestic worker rights.

“It’s a moment in which the country has recognized itself as a racist country,” he said at an event in Los Angeles last week.

In his acceptance speech, he thanked the Academy for recognizing a movie centered around an indigenous woman, saying her character represents the “70 million domestic workers in the world without work rights.”

Lopez Obrador admitted that he has yet to see the movie, but said he will do so soon. He added that the success of Roma has become a source of pride for many Mexicans.

Named for the neighborhood in the Mexican capital where it is set, Roma stars Yalitza Aparicio as a maid named Cleo who becomes pregnant as she looks after a family with four children just as the parents are splitting up.

While cheers echoed through Roma when the film began collecting Oscars on Sunday, revelers were disappointed when Aparicio did not win the Best Actress award, the first indigenous woman to be nominated for the honor.

Reactions to her performance sparked a debate in Mexico over discrimination faced by darker-skinned indigenous or mixed-race Mexicans, a topic often relegated to the sidelines of political discussions in the country.

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Science & Health

Green Climate Fund Names France’s Glemarec as New Chief

The $8 billion Green Climate Fund, set up to help developing nations tackle global warming, named Yannick Glemarec of France as its new executive director Monday after his predecessor quit.

Former leader Howard Bamsey of Australia stepped down in July after what the fund described as a “difficult” board meeting marred by disputes between rich and poor nations about how to select projects in developing nations.

“Yannick Glemarec brings 30 years of experience in climate change, development, finance and their inter-relationships,” the fund said in a statement. He has previously had senior jobs at U.N. Women and the U.N. Development Program.

The fund, set up in South Korea in 2014, is trying to help developing nations to cut their greenhouse gas emissions and adapt their economies to extremes such as floods, droughts, downpours and rising sea levels.

It has been plagued by internal disputes and U.S. President Donald Trump denounced it as a waste of taxpayer dollars. He halted U.S. contributions as part of his decision to leave the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

Trump’s decision cut the fund to $8 billion from $10 billion originally pledged. The United States under President Barack Obama promised a total of $3 billion but had provided just $1 billion by the time Trump took office.

The fund has a portfolio of 93 projects in developing nations worth about $4.6 billion. It had been led by interim chief Javier Manzanares of Spain since Bamsey quit.

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Arts & Entertainment

Oscar Win Seen Ending Shame About Menstruation That Puts Women at Risk

Giving an Academy Award to a documentary about periods set in India will help shatter the monthly shame that impacts millions of women globally, with some even dying in isolation while menstruating, health campaigners said on Monday.

The Netflix film “Period. End of Sentence.,” set in a village in northern India, clinched the Oscar for best short documentary on Sunday, shining a spotlight on a topic rarely discussed openly in the country.

For many women in South Asia, especially adolescent girls, menstruation is shameful and uncomfortable.

From being barred from religious shrines to dietary restrictions to a lack of toilets and sanitary products that prevent them from going to school and work, they face many challenges when they have their periods, health experts say.

“Although this film shows a negative side of India, it will help trigger more conversation about periods – a natural bodily process that is usually talked about in hushed tones, if at all,” said Surbhi Singh, founder of Delhi-based Sachhi Saheli, a charity that raises awareness about menstrual health.

“This will help people look deep within themselves and, hopefully, make them realize how they treat menstruation.”

In rural areas, a lack of awareness and the high cost of pads mean many women instead use unsanitary rags, increasing the risk of infections and disease.

The problem is more dire in Nepal, where an ancient Hindu tradition that banishes women to animal sheds during their periods claims lives year after year as a result of suffocation, animal bites or cold.

Earlier this month, a teenager died sleeping in a hut, becoming the fourth victim in less than a month.

The 26-minute documentary, directed by Rayka Zehtabchi and produced by India’s Guneet Monga, focuses on rural women in Uttar Pradesh state who start a sanitary pad business after generations of limited access to basic hygiene products.

When a sanitary pad vending machine is installed in their village, they decide to make and sell their own brand.

The women follow the lead of Arunachalam Muruganantham, who invented a low-cost machine for manufacturing sanitary pads.

His story inspired Bollywood’s first film on menstrual hygiene, “Padman”, with the popular action hero Akshay Kumar wearing a sanitary pad and talking about periods.

It triggered a nationwide conversation.

“Now, the whole world will turn up and see what is happening. This will help more people to understand the perfect menstrual health hygiene,” Muruganantham, who features in the Oscar-winning film, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. 

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Arts & Entertainment

Rami Malek’s Relatives in Egypt Celebrate His Oscar Victory

Rami Malek’s relatives in Egypt huddled around a TV set at home as if cheering the national soccer team, but they were celebrating his first best actor Oscar for his role in Bohemian Rhapsody.

Malek’s 24-year-old cousin, Fadi, said uncles, aunts and their children had gathered at the family house in the hamlet of Feltaous in Minya province, 265 km (165 miles) south of Cairo, to watch the Academy Awards live from Los Angeles.

When Malek’s name was announced as best actor, the family erupted in jubilation, hugging each other and dancing for joy.

“It was like watching Egypt score a goal to win the cup,” Fadi told Reuters by telephone from Feltaous. “It wasn’t a win for the family only, but also for Egypt.”

The family called Malek’s mother in the United States to congratulate her on the honor and invite their celebrity cousin to visit Egypt.

“Auntie Nelly [Rami’s mother] said she and Rami were eager to visit,” said Rami, another cousin of Malek, a Los Angeles native of Egyptian descent.

Malek, 37, had emerged as a favorite for the Oscar in recent weeks after winning Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild and British BAFTA awards for playing late frontman Freddie Mercury of British rock band Queen in Bohemian Rhapsody.

In his acceptance speech, Malek noted that he was “the son of immigrants from Egypt. … I’m a first-generation American and part of my story is being written right now,” he said to applause.

Rami, who is also in his 30s, said Malek’s talents were evident when he visited Egypt as a high school student back in the 1990s for the first time since his family emigrated to the United States in 1979.

“I did not imagine then that Rami would become a world-famous actor, but he clearly loved acting,” Rami said.

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Science & Health

UAE Says its First Astronaut Going Into Space in September

The first astronaut from the United Arab Emirates will blast off into space on Sept. 25 on a trip to the International Space Station, authorities announced Monday.

Either military pilot Hazza al-Mansoori or engineer Sultan al-Neyadi will be the first Emirati in space, part of an ambitious space program for this Gulf Arab nation home to the world’s tallest building and the busiest airport for international travel.

But the two men, selected from over 4,000 applicants, say they aren’t worried after the recent failure of another Russian rocket carrying astronauts to the space station.

“After the incident we were more confident with the preparedness of the mission,” al-Mansoori told The Associated Press. “In case of any failure there is equipment onboard the rocket to ensure the safety of the crew, which made us more confident that the system works with a high level of adequacy.”

That incident happened Oct. 11, which saw a Soyuz-FG rocket carrying U.S. astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexei Ovchinin fail shortly after launch due to a damaged sensor. The two men landed safely in Kazakhstan.

“The astronauts who were involved will go into space soon,” al-Neyadi said. “This shows how safe the Soyuz is, that astronauts are able to survive in case of any accident.”

Both men have undergone intensive training at the Star City space center outside of Moscow, which included pressure chamber tests, centrifuge tests, parabolic flight training, and winter survival training. Parabolic flights allow astronauts to train for being weightless in space.

“Since I’m a pilot, I was able to withstand a gravitational force of 9-G,” al-Mansoori said. “Now I must train in this sort of gravitational force, 0-G, the lack of gravity.”

Al-Neyadi said the biggest challenge he faced was not a physical one.

“The most difficult thing perhaps was learning Russian, since it’s the only language which we will use to communicate with the crew onboard the vessel,” he told the AP. “It was also the language they used while training at the center in Russia.”

The Russian Soyuz spacecraft is currently the only vehicle that can ferry crews to the International Space Station after the U.S. space shuttle fleet retired.

Organizers had said they’d announce the name of the astronaut going Monday. They didn’t, without offering an explanation. It remains unclear when authorities will choose the first astronaut to go in September.

The first astronaut will travel in September with the Russian space mission aboard Soyuz MS-15 and spend eight days at the International Space Station. The selected astronaut will return onboard the Soyuz MS-12 and then be replaced by the second astronaut.

The UAE has a fledgling space program with big ambitions. It launched its first locally made satellite, KhalifaSat, in October from Japan. It also wants to launch a probe to Mars in 2020.

The UAE also says it wants to colonize Mars by 2117, with a fully functioning city of 600,000.

Though the men will be over 400 kilometers (250 miles) above the Earth’s surface while on their trip, the Emirati astronauts will have a taste of home when they travel closer to the stars. Russia’s state-owned RIA Novosti news agency quoted an unnamed industry source saying that UAE space travelers have been offered a menu of Arab dishes to select from when they go into space. The men have chosen maqloubeh, a one-pot rice dish, salona, a lamb stew, and the standard hummus, the agency reported.

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Arts & Entertainment

R. Kelly’s Attorney Enters Not Guilty Plea on Singer’s Behalf

R&B singer R. Kelly’s attorney entered a not guilty plea on behalf of his client Monday as the singer faces multiple charges of sexual abuse in Chicago.

Kelly, one of the best-selling music artists of all time, entered the courtroom wearing an orange jail jumpsuit after spending the weekend in Chicago’s 7,000-inmate jail. He was arrested Friday on 10 counts of aggravated sexual abuse involving four females, three of whom were minors.

Kelly remains jailed after a judge on Saturday set bond at $1 million. The Grammy Award-winning singer is required to pay 10 percent, and his attorney said Kelly’s confidants are trying to pay $100,000 to get him released as he awaits trial.

Among the conditions of release is that Kelly have no contact with females younger than 18.

Kelly appeared at the arraignment hearing Monday with defense attorney Steve Greenberg, and the case was assigned to Cook County Associate Judge Lawrence Flood. Kelly’s next court date is March 22.

Greenberg told The Associated Press on Sunday that coordination of the bail payment is complicated. But he said Kelly could be released as early as Monday or Tuesday.

“He has to rely on others acting on his behalf,” Greenberg said. “And it’s just not that easy — because Kelly’s in jail.”

Attorney Michael Avenatti, who said he represents two Kelly victims, said his legal team will give prosecutors a second video on Monday that he alleges shows Kelly sexually assaulting a minor. Avenatti has said he recently gave prosecutors video evidence of the singer having sex with an underage girl.

In arguing for bail within the singer’s ability to pay, Greenberg told a judge over the weekend that Kelly wasn’t wealthy despite decades of success creating hit songs. The lawyer blamed mismanagement, bad contracts and other issues for his client’s financial woes.

There are multiple logistical issues that could have thwarted Kelly’s efforts to pay over the weekend, said Joseph Lopez, a criminal defense attorney in Chicago not connected to the Kelly case. He said court officials must be able to talk to bank officials directly to confirm that an amount written on a check is covered, and that’s not possible when banks are closed.

Records on the Cook County sheriff’s website show Kelly is in Division 8 of the county jail, where the medical unit is located but also where inmates considered at risk from the general inmate population are held, Lopez said.

Disturbing details of the allegations against Kelly emerged Saturday when the prosecution released four detailed documents — one for each accuser — outlining the basis for the charges. The allegations date back as far as 1998 and span more than a decade.

A girl who attended Kelly’s child pornography trial in 2008 got his autograph after a court session. He later invited her to his home in the Chicago suburb of Olympia Fields, where they had sex multiple times starting the following May, when she was 16, according to the documents, which said he also slapped, choked and spit on the girl.

In 1998, another girl reported meeting Kelly at a restaurant where she was having a 16th birthday party. Kelly’s manager gave her the singer’s business card and suggested she call Kelly. The girl’s mother heard the exchange, took the card and told the manager her daughter was 16.

But her daughter later retrieved the card from her purse. She contacted Kelly, who told her to take a cab to his studio, where they had sex periodically for a year, the documents said. After the first encounter, she was given an envelope of cash.

In early 2003, a Chicago hairdresser told prosecutors that she thought she was going to braid Kelly’s hair, but he pulled down his pants and instead tried to force her to give him oral sex. The woman, who was 24, was able to pull away, but Kelly ejaculated on her and spit in her face, the documents said.

Prosecutors also described a witness who had access to videotapes showing Kelly having sex with a 14-year-old girl. The witness turned a tape over to authorities and identified the girl, who repeatedly stated her age on the footage, according to the documents.

Kelly’s DNA was found in semen on one of the accuser’s shirts, and semen found on a shirt worn by another was submitted for DNA testing, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said. It was not clear when the accusers turned the shirts over to authorities — whether it was shortly after the abuse or more recently.

At the bond hearing, Greenberg said his client is not a flight risk. He told the judge, “Contrary to the song, Mr. Kelly doesn’t like to fly.” One of Kelly’s best-known hits is “I Believe I Can Fly.”

After the hearing, Greenberg told reporters that Kelly did not force anyone to have sex.

“He’s a rock star. He doesn’t have to have nonconsensual sex,” Greenberg said.

The judge ordered Kelly to surrender his passport, ending his hopes of doing a tour of Europe in April. Kelly defiantly scheduled concerts in Germany and the Netherlands despite the cloud of legal issues looming over him. Greenberg denied that any tour was planned.

The recording artist, whose legal name is Robert Kelly, has been trailed for decades by allegations that he violated underage girls and women and held some as virtual slaves. Kelly has consistently denied any sexual misconduct.

Kelly broke into the R&B scene in 1993 with his first solo album, “12 Play,” which produced such popular sex-themed songs as “Your Body’s Callin”‘ and “Bump N’ Grind.” He rose from poverty on Chicago’s South Side and has retained a sizable following. Kelly has written numerous hits for himself and other artists, including Celine Dion, Michael Jackson and Lady Gaga.

In 2008, a jury acquitted Kelly of child pornography charges that centered on a graphic video that prosecutors said showed him having sex with a girl as young as 13. He and the young woman allegedly seen with him denied they were in the 27-minute video, even though the picture quality was good and witnesses testified it was them, and she did not take the stand. Kelly could have been sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Charging Kelly now for actions that occurred in the same time frame as the allegations from the 2008 trial suggests the accusers are cooperating this time and willing to testify.

Because the alleged victim 10 years ago denied that she was on the video and did not testify, the state’s attorney’s office had little recourse except to charge the lesser offense under Illinois law, child pornography, which required a lower standard of evidence.

Each count of the new charges carries up to seven years in prison, and the sentences could be served consecutively, making it possible for him to receive up to 70 years. Probation is also an option.

The walls began closing in on Kelly after the release of a BBC documentary about him last year and the multipart Lifetime documentary “Surviving R. Kelly,” which aired last month. Together they detailed allegations that he held women against their will and ran a “sex cult.”

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Economy & business

Afghanistan Begins Exports To India Through Iranian Port

Afghanistan has started shipping goods to India for the first time through a newly developed Iranian seaport in a bid to improve exports and reduce reliance on routes through its uneasy neighbor, Pakistan.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani traveled Sunday to the western border city of Zaranj to see off the inaugural convoy of 23 trucks loaded with 570 tons of cargo to the Chabahar port in neighboring Iran. The consignment is destined for the Indian port city of Mumbai. 

For decades, landlocked Afghanistan has mostly relied on Pakistani land and seaports for international trade. But mutual tensions have in recent years significantly reduced Afghan trade and transit activities through Pakistan. 

Addressing the nationally televised ceremony, Ghani credited a “healthy cooperation between India, Iran and Afghanistan” for achieving the milestone. He said the new export route will help improve economic growth in his war-shattered country, saying “Afghanistan is not landlocked anymore.”

New Delhi has financed and developed Iran’s Chabahar Port to enable Kabul get direct and easy sea trade access.

India took operational control of a portion of the Iranian port late last year for 18 months and plans to send cargo ships from its ports of Mumbai, Kandla and Mundra every two weeks, according Indian media reports. 

The United States last year waived certain anti-Iran sanctions to allow development of Chabahar to support efforts aimed at stabilizing Afghanistan. The waiver has enable India, Iran and Afghanistan to continue their work to establish a new transit and transport corridor linking the three countries to help improve Afghan economy and allow the war-ravaged country to import food and medicines.

India successfully shipped 1.1 million tons of wheat to Afghanistan through Chabahar Port in 2017. That year, New Delhi also launched an air corridor with Kabul for bilateral trade. 

Indian ambassador to Afghanistan, Vinay Kumar, while addressing Sunday’s ceremony in Zaranj said the air corridor has since helped increased Afghan exports to his country by 40 percent. 

China also opened an air corridor with Afghanistan in November and has since imported thousands of tons of Afghan pine nuts, bringing much-need foreign exchange to Kabul. Afghanistan is the largest producer of pine nuts in the world, with an annual output of about 23,000 tons. The increase in exports to China has led to an unusual rise in in prices of pine nuts in Afghanistan, say local traders and consumers.

Pakistan allows Afghanistan to use its seaports for international trade under a bilateral trade and transit agreement. It also allows use of overland routes for Afghan exports to India. However, Islamabad wants improvement in ties with New Delhi before it will allow Indian exports via the same routes back to Afghanistan. 

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