News & Current Affairs

March 29, 2009

Colombia shocked by incest case

Colombia shocked by incest case

Colombia map

A Colombian man has appeared in court accused of imprisoning his daughter and fathering eight children with her.

Arcedio Alvarez is said to have abused his daughter, now in her thirties, since she was less than 10 years old.

The case has shocked Colombia, and the 58-year-old needed police and army protection for his court appearance.

Mr Alvarez, who the press have dubbed the “monster of Mariquita” after the area he comes from, denies incest and rape, saying his daughter was adopted.

“We agreed to have a romantic relationship because we really loved each other. But she was not my own child,” he told the court in the central Tolima province.

It is not clear whether his claim is true, or whether it would affect the charges he faces, but the woman says she always saw him as her father.

“I always respected him as my father and he is my father,” she said.

“He never spoke about [incest], about why we were doing it. Sometimes I would ask him and he would say it was God’s will.”

The woman told police how her mother died when she was five years old, leaving her in the care of Mr Alvarez.

She says she was raped repeatedly and had 11 children – three of whom died.

The woman and her children are now under state protection.

Child welfare campaigners have called for a life sentence if he is convicted, saying there are hundreds of thousands of child sexual abuse cases in Colombia not being prosecuted.

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September 12, 2008

Sarah Palin: 10 things we’ve learnt

Sarah Palin: 10 things we’ve learnt

It has been a week since Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was catapulted from relative obscurity to center stage as US Republican John McCain’s choice for running mate. Here are 10 things we now know about her.

Images of Sarah Palin, past and present

1. Her five children are named Track, Bristol, Willow, Piper and, last but not least, Trig Paxson Van Palin. According to the Washington Post newspaper, Track was named after the course of the sockeye salmon the family fishes off the town of Dillingham, while her eldest daughter’s name comes from Bristol Bay, an area known for its salmon fisheries. The name Willow relates to the state bird, the willow ptarmigan, and a nearby town, the paper says, while daughter Piper shares her name with the family’s small plane. Trig is the Norse word for “brave victory”, the Post adds.

2. Her rimless glasses are now a style phenomenon. The titanium Kawasaki 704 frames – designed in Japan, where they sell for $300 – are apparently flying off the shelves. Her upswept hair-do is also reportedly spawning imitators. LA Times fashion writer Booth Moore writes: “The untidiness of her updo has a can-do spirit that says, ‘I have more important things to do than worry about my hair, so I just twirled it into this clip so I could get to the real business of governing and shooting caribou and having babies and taking them to hockey practice.'”

3. John McCain picked someone who not only appeals to “Wal-Mart Moms” but is one herself, shopping for the family in a local branch. Not only that, writes New York Times columnist William Kristol, but “he picked someone who, in 1999 as Wasilla mayor, presided over a wedding of two Wal-Mart associates at the local Wal-Mart”.

4. Mrs Palin enjoys moose-hunting and salmon-fishing – and has said her favorite dish is moose stew. Former Republican senator and one-time presidential hopeful Fred Thompson described her as “the only nominee in the history of either party who knows how to properly field-dress a moose”. Cindy McCain, in her speech to the party’s national convention, said her husband John had “picked a reform-minded, hockey-mommin’, basketball-shooting, moose-hunting, salmon-fishing, pistol-packing mother-of-five for vice-president”.

5. A month before her fifth child, Trig, was due, Mrs Palin’s waters broke while she was in Texas to address a conference. She delivered her speech nonetheless and embarked on the long flight back to Alaska – changing planes in Seattle – before traveling an hour by road to hospital to give birth. She says she was not in “active labor” and her doctor said it was fine. Alaska Airlines allows women to travel in the late stages of pregnancy. Husband Todd – a commercial fisherman – is quoted by the s Anchorage Daily Newas saying: “You can’t have a fish picker from Texas.” Three days later, Mrs Palin was back at work.

6. As governor of Alaska, Mrs Palin ditched plans for a “bridge to nowhere” – a federally-funded project to link a handful of Alaskans to an airport at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. In her speech to the Republican National Convention, she said she had told the US Congress “thanks, but no thanks”. But US media say she appeared to support the project while running for governor in 2006, though she said the proposed design was too “grandiose”. And when she announced the cancellation of the bridge a year ago – after it gained notoriety as an example of wasteful spending – she hardly seemed to be turning down federal funds out of thrift. She explained the decision by saying, “It’s clear that Congress has little interest in spending any more money on a bridge between Ketchikan and Gravina Island.” The federal funding was diverted to other projects in Alaska.

Sarah Palin with one of her daughters on a fishing trip (handout)

Mrs Palin enjoys hunting, shooting and fishing for salmon

7. In a line that has gone down well at the Republican National Convention and on the campaign trail, she boasts of putting the previous governor’s “luxury jet” on eBay as a measure to cut wasteful spending. That is true. But what she has not always explained to her audience is that the plane failed to sell on the internet auction site and so aides had to broker a deal with a buyer.

8. She was baptised a Catholic as an infant but attended a Pentecostal church in Wasilla – her hometown since her parents moved to Alaska from Idaho when she was three months old – for many years. She now attends Wasilla Bible Church, a non-denominational, evangelical church. The Associated Press reports that the church is promoting a conference that promises to convert gays into heterosexuals through the power of prayer.

9. As hunters sometimes do, Mrs Palin has incurred the wrath of wildlife-lovers. It’s not just that she shoots moose and caribou, she has also backed legislation to encourage the aerial hunting of wolves, as a “predator control” measure. Plus, she has opposed the US government’s listing of a variety of animals as endangered, including the polar bear and the beluga whale. Unlike Mr McCain and to the horror of many environmentalists, she actively supports drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

10. She is a self-described “average hockey mom”; a biography published a few months ago was entitled Sarah: How a Hockey Mom Turned Alaska’s Political Establishment on Its Ear. The hockey mom branding could prove useful come November in the swing states of Michigan and Minnesota, where ice hockey is a big game. Her best-known joke so far? “What’s the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? Lipstick.”

September 9, 2008

Life for microwave baby killer

Life for microwave baby killer

China Arnold 3 Sept 2008

Arnold was not in court to hear the sentence

A mother who murdered her one-month-old daughter by burning her to death in a microwave oven has been sentenced to life in prison without parole.

China Arnold, 28, was spared the death penalty when the jury in Dayton, Ohio failed to reach a consensus.

Prosecutors said Arnold, who maintains she is innocent, killed her daughter in 2005 after a fight with her boyfriend.

Judge Mary Wiseman said the crime was “shocking and utterly abhorrent for a civilized society”.

“No adjectives exist to adequately describe this heinous atrocity,” Judge Wiseman said, rejecting a plea by Arnold’s lawyers for a sentence that allowed the possibility of parole after 25 years in prison.

Arnold was not in court to hear her sentence, but followed proceedings by video-link from a side room.

Cell confession

The court had heard that China Arnold had argued with her boyfriend Terrell Talley about whether he was the biological father of baby Paris.

Officials investigating the case said Paris Talley had suffered high-heat internal burns but had no external marks.

Prosecutors said that the baby’s DNA had been found inside the microwave in Arnold’s apartment.

Arnold’s cellmate told the court that she had confessed to putting her daughter in the microwave and switching it on, because she was afraid that her boyfriend would leave her if he discovered that he was not the baby’s father.

The defence team said that there was evidence that somebody else was responsible for Paris Talley’s death, and says the cellmate has now changed her story.

Arnold’s lawyers now want a third trial. The first hearing was declared a mistrial when new witnessed came forward.

Arnold “has faith in the system, she is strong and will continue to fight until her innocence is proven,” said her lawyer Jon Paul Rion.

September 3, 2008

Palin case highlights teenage pregnancy

Palin case highlights teenage pregnancy

The Expressyoureself Blog looks at the problem of teenage pregnancy in the US after the revelation that the 17-year-old daughter of Alaska Governor and new Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin is pregnant.

Bristol Palin, 17, holds her brother Trig during a Republican campaign rally in Dayton, Ohio, on 29 August 2008

Bristol Palin’s pregnancy was announced on Monday

The US is said to have one of the worst annual rates of teenage pregnancies in the developed world.

According to a report by Population Action International, published at the end of last year, there were 44 births per 1,000 women aged 15-19 in the US for 2000-2005.

This compares with figures in the UK – itself said to be the country with the worst teenage pregnancy rate in Europe – of 27 births per 1,000 women aged 15-19.

Put differently, America is estimated to have some 750,000 teenage pregnancies a year.

Despite the continuous declines, the US teenage pregnancy rate is still among the highest among industrialised nations
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

According to America’s leading health agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): “About one-third of girls in the United States get pregnant before age 20.”

More than 80% of births in this group “were unintended, meaning they occurred sooner than desired or were not wanted at any time”, the CDC said.

Separately, in a report on 2002 data, the CDC said: “Despite the continuous declines, the US teenage pregnancy rate is still among the highest among industrialized nations. The costs of teenage childbearing in the United States are substantial.

“The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy recently estimated that $9.1bn in public funding was expended on teenage childbearing in 2004. These costs include public assistance, healthcare, child welfare and other expenses.”

Abstinence education

There is a debate state-side as to the reason for this high pregnancy rate.

The US offers government funding for health education programmes that promote sexual abstinence until marriage, although US lawmakers were investigating earlier this year whether to cut the funding.

State governments receive federal money they must match to fund abstinence programs.

Opponents of abstinence education say the approach ignores the fact that teenagers are sexually active and fails to give them accurate medical information or advice on safer sex.

Governor Palin herself has said she opposes funding sexual-education programs in Alaska and has supported abstinence programs in schools.

“The explicit sex-ed programs will not find my support,” she wrote in a 2006 questionnaire distributed among gubernatorial candidates, the Associated Press reports.

A social conservative who is opposed to abortion, she said in a statement her daughter Bristol would keep the child and was to get married.

And in 2005, presidential candidate John McCain, who picked Mrs Palin as his running mate, opposed a Senate Democratic proposal that would have spent tens of millions of dollars to pay for pregnancy prevention programmes other than abstinence-only education, including education on emergency contraception such as the morning-after pill, AP reports.

August 30, 2008

Two bodies found at arson house

Police have revealed that two bodies have been recovered from the burnt-out Shropshire home of a millionaire and his family.

Christopher Foster, 50, his wife Jillian, 49, and daughter Kirstie, 15, who lived at Osbaston House, near Maesbrook, are all missing.

The building was deliberately set alight early on Tuesday, police said.

The remains will be examined by a Home Office pathologist and postmortem examinations will be carried out later.

West Mercia Police said the bodies were found in the main part of the house overnight on Friday, but the search of the property is likely to take some days, possibly several weeks.

It is going to be a painstaking and lengthy process before the full examination of the house and its surrounds is completed
Supt Gary Higgins

Police said they were not able to give any further details such as the gender or age of the bodies which were found.

Formal identification would take place in the future and there were a range of techniques which could help, such as dental records and DNA profiles, Supt Gary Higgins said.

He added: “It is going to be a painstaking and lengthy process before the full examination of the house and its surrounds is completed.

“In the meantime, we will keep an open mind concerning what we may, or may not find.”

Mr Higgins said all possible lines of inquiry were being followed up.

Christopher, Jillian and Kirstie Foster

Special prayers will be said for the family at a church service on Sunday

Police have retrieved two computers from the house and are examining them as part of their inquiries.

Forensic teams were able to move into the main part of the house by mid-afternoon on Friday after access was delayed by falling debris.

Three horses found dead in a stable block, which was also gutted in the fire, have now been examined and police are awaiting test results.

Detectives also confirmed the bodies of three dogs had been found close to the horses and a large horse box, parked close to the gates of the property, had been removed from the site for forensic examination.

CCTV cameras from the property have also been taken away by police.

Firm in administration

Special prayers will be said for the Foster family at a church service in Maesbrook on Sunday.

The service, at St John’s Church at 1000 BST, will be open to members of the public and the media.

The Fosters had been at a friend’s barbecue on Monday evening before returning home later.

The fire in the house, thought to be valued at £1.2m, started at about 0500 BST on Tuesday.

Mr Foster, who made his fortune developing insulation technology for oil rigs, is listed as the director of Ulva Limited – a thermal insulation manufacturing company in Telford – with Mrs Foster named as company secretary.

The firm went into administration in August last year and a court order was issued in November for the company to be wound up.

A judge later found Mr Foster had spent the previous months stripping Ulva of its assets and transferring them to a new firm he had set up called Ulva International.

Anyone with information has been asked to contact West Mercia Police’s incident room at Shrewsbury or Crimestoppers.

August 16, 2008

FBI identifies US kidnap accused

FBI identifies US kidnap accused

Clark Rockefeller

Christian Gerhartsreiter, aka Clark Rockefeller, faces a number of charges

The FBI has used fingerprint testing to confirm the identity of a father accused of kidnapping his London-based daughter in the US.

It believes Clark Rockefeller, 48 – accused of abducting Reigh Boss, seven – is Christian Gerhartsreiter.

LA police had earlier said he was thought to be the German national, also “of interest” to officers over the 1985 disappearance of a couple in the US.

Mr Rockefeller’s lawyer said his client had little memory of pre-1993 events.

The FBI said it had now matched fingerprints from old immigration papers of Mr Gerhartsreiter to the suspect who called himself Clark Rockefeller.

The prints were taken from papers dating back to the 1980s and matched with a wine glass touched in late July – around the time he is accused of abducting his daughter – as well as prints taken by Baltimore police after his arrest on 2 August.

Last week a spokesman for the LA County sheriff’s department said the accused had been a “person of interest” in the disappearance in San Marino, California, of Jonathan and Linda Sohus, from whom he had rented a guesthouse in the 1980s.

Skeletal remains believed to be those of Mr Sohus were unearthed at the couple’s property in 1994. No charges have ever been filed in the case.

The accused has said he now recalls living in the guesthouse at the time of the couple’s disappearance and also remembered using the name Christopher Chichester, while living in California.

Reunited

Lawyer Stephen Hrones said his client had told him that he barely knew the couple and that they had left while he was still in California.

He had used the name of Chichester because “he was aspiring to be an actor out there”, Mr Hrones said.

Jonathan and Linda Sohus

Jonathan and Linda Sohus went missing in 1985

He added there was nothing wrong with using aliases “as long as you don’t use it to defraud”.

The FBI said he was born in the former West Germany in 1961 and spent 27 years in the US using various names.

Daniel Conley, district attorney in Suffolk County, Massachusetts, said that by matching recent fingerprints to those on the old papers, the FBI’s fingerprint technicians had “brought science to bear where mere suspicion had prevailed”.

Mr Hrones said earlier this week that his client still believed his real name was Clark Rockefeller and that he had no recollection of being Christian Gerhartsreiter, but has not commented on the fingerprint results.

His client was arrested in Baltimore earlier this month over the alleged kidnapping of his daughter after a tip-off from a member of the public.

He was taken to Boston and remanded in custody by the court there.

He is charged with felony custodial kidnapping, assault and battery, and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon on 27 July.

The girl was reunited with her mother, Sandra Boss, with whom she lives in London.

August 6, 2008

Troops stage coup in Mauritania

Troops stage coup in Mauritania

map

The president and prime minister of Mauritania, in north-west Africa, have been taken into custody by soldiers in a military coup.

President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi and Prime Minister Yahia Ould Ahmed El-Ouakef are being held by men loyal to a general sacked by the president.

Mauritania staged elections in June 2007, two years after a military coup.

The country has been gripped by political crisis for a fortnight, after a vote of no confidence in the cabinet.

On Tuesday, 48 MPs walked out of the ruling party.

Unusual troop movements

Earlier on Wednesday, President Abdallahi replaced several senior army officers, including the head of the presidential guard, Gen Ould Abdelaziz.

Shortly afterwards, Gen Abdelaziz led soldiers in a coup against the president.

Officials loyal to the general said that all the officers sacked by the president have been re-instated.

A statement issued by them also said Mr Abdallahi was no longer president of Mauritania.

The first indications of a military coup came as state television was taken off the air amid reports of unusual troop movements in the capital, Nouakchott.

The president’s daughter, Amal Mint Cheikh Abdallahi, told Reuters news agency soldiers seized her father at his house at 0920 local time (0920 GMT).

The streets of the capital are said to be calm with no violence reported.

Political instability

Mauritania is one of the world’s poorest nations as well as its newest oil producer.

The desert nation, a former French colony of more than three million people, has been looking to oil revenues to boost its economy.

Presidential elections held in 2007 ended a two-year period of military rule – the product of an earlier coup in 2005.

The elections were deemed to have been free and fair and appeared to herald a new era of democracy.

Earlier this year, however, the president dismissed the government amid protests over soaring food prices.

The cabinet that replaced it has been dogged by instability, lacking the support of a moderate Islamist party and a major opposition group that were in the former government.

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