US and Canada-led summit wants more sanctions on N. Korea beyond the UN’s

After a long day of discussions, the ‘Vancouver Foreign Ministers Meeting on Security and Stability on the Korean Peninsula’ represented by 20 foreign affairs ministers agreed to consider “unilateral sanctions” to retard North Korea’s ballistic and nuclear programs.

Participants “agree to consider and take steps to impose unilateral sanctions and further diplomatic actions that go beyond those required by UN Security Council resolutions,” a joint statement issued at the end of the summit reads.

The delegations specifically agreed to tackle North Korean financing that fuels nuclear research, revenue which they claim comes from the country’s criminal activities and cyber operations. While the foreign ministers agreed to support the recent inter-Korean dialogue that could potentially lead to an “easing of tensions” on the peninsula, the North Korea meeting in Vancouver recognized the importance of China and Russia to contribute to a long-term solution to the crisis.

Only problem is that Beijing nor Moscow, both neighboring North Korea and considered key players in the region, were not invited to the talk shop. Instead, the conference was co-hosted by officials from half the globe away: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.

On Monday, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called the meeting “unacceptable” and “destructive.” “When we found out about the meeting, we asked: Why do you need all those countries together?” Lavrov said. “Greece, Belgium, Colombia, Luxembourg – what do they have to do with the Korean Peninsula?”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said “this meeting has no legality and representativeness at all, and China has been opposing it all along.”
“Some parties dusted off the Cold War term of ‘UN Command’ and convened a meeting where major parties to the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue are not represented. One has to question what they are going after,” Kang noted.

For over half a year, the excluded Sino-Russian alliance has been urging the US and N. Korea to implement the so-called ‘double freeze’ initiative, which envisages Pyongyang suspending its nuclear and missile programs in exchange for the US and its allies halting military exercises in the region. Tillerson on Tuesday once again brushed the ‘double freeze’ proposal aside, arguing instead, that Pyongyang must be choked with sanctions until it agrees to sit down for talks… And not just any talks, but those that satisfy Washington’s definition as “credible.”

“We reject a ‘freeze for freeze’ approach in which legitimate defensive military exercises are placed on the same level of equivalency as the DPRK’s unlawful actions,” he said. “The pressure campaign will continue until North Korea takes decisive steps to denuclearize.”

“We must increase the costs of the regime’s behavior to the point that North Korea must come to the table for credible negotiations,” Tillerson said.

Later, the US Secretary of State declined to comment on whether Washington is considering military strikes against North Korea. “I think we all need to be very sober and clear-eyed about the current situation, as North Korea has continued to make significant advances in both its nuclear weapons, the lethality of those weapons, as demonstrated by their last thermonuclear test, as well as the continued progress they’ve made in their intercontinental ballistic missile systems,” Tillerson said. “We have to recognize that that threat is growing. And if Pyongyang does not choose the path of engagement, discussion, negotiation, then they themselves will trigger an option” of possibly going to war.

The Intra-Korean talks which resumed in the run-up to the PyeongChang Winter Olympics have so far shown promise of achieving some sort of peace on the peninsula. The dialogue between the two Koreas initiated in the wake of Kim Jong-un’s New Year speech has, so far, produced positive outcomes, despite Trump’s skepticism and his threatening tweet about his big nuclear button.

On Wednesday the neighbors began the second round of vice-ministerial talks relating to Pyongyang’s possible participation in the Winter Olympics. Last Tuesday, the North agreed to send athletes and art performers to PyeongChang. Following talks on January 9, it was also agreed that military officials from the North and South will hold discussions in a bid to defuse tensions on the border, as well as to intensify exchanges in other areas.

Prior to that, Pyongyang and Seoul agreed to reopen their military hotline, as South Korea maintains that future dialogue with its neighbor can lead to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

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‘Most vulnerable’ Palestinians hurt by Washington’s $65mn aid cut – PLO

The mixed reactions swiftly followed the US State Department’s decision to notify the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA)  that it is withholding $65 million of a planned installment payment of $125 million. UNRWA provides social services, education and health care to Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) reacted angrily to the US move, saying, the decision targets “the most vulnerable segment of the Palestinian people and depriving the refugees of the right to education, health, shelter and a dignified life,” according to AP.

The PLO added that the cut in aid “is also creating conditions that will generate further instability throughout the region and will demonstrate that it has no compunction in targeting the innocent.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he did not know about the US decision when asked about it at the UN Tuesday, but warned that “vital services” are provided to the Palestinian people through UNRWA, AP reported.

“I am very concerned and I strongly hope that in the end it will be possible for the United States to maintain the funding of UNRWA in which the US has a very important share,” Guterres said, according to AP.

Danny Damon, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, praised Washington’s decision.

“It is time for this absurdity to end and for humanitarian funds to be directed towards their intended purpose: the welfare of refugees,” Damon said in a statement, AP reported. Damon believes that UNRWA misuses humanitarian aid in order to support propaganda against Israel and also perpetuates the plight of Palestinians.

The letter sent Tuesday also makes clear that any additional US funding to UNRWA will be contingent on major changes implemented by UNRWA, which has previously been criticized by Israel, according to the AP.

The State Department said it would, however, release the other $60 million in relief funds to UNRWA to prevent it from running out of cash by the end of the year.

The US is the largest donor to UNRWA, responsible for almost 30 percent of its budget.

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Mila Kunis named 2018 Hasty Pudding Woman of the Year

Jan. 16 (UPI) — Actress and producer Mila Kunis has been named Hasty Pudding Theatricals’ 68th Woman of the Year.

The Bad Moms star and That ’70s Show alum will be honored by Harvard University’s famed acting troupe with a parade and roast on Jan. 25 in Cambridge, Mass.

Previous Woman of the Year Award recipients include Meryl Streep, Debbie Reynolds, Julia Roberts, Scarlett Johansson and Octavia Spencer.

“We could not be more excited to give Mila Kunis our Woman of the Year award! We have been watching her on both the big and small screen since we were young and can’t wait to celebrate her achievements in a truly unique and memorable way,” Hasty Pudding Theatricals co-producer Annie McCreery said in a statement Tuesday.

“Everyone in the company is really looking forward to meeting her. If she’s even half as fun as her character in Bad Moms then we’re sure it’s going to be a great time for all!” added co-producer Hannah Needle.

Kunis, 34, is married to actor Ashton Kutcher. They have two children together.

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Raccoon breaks into Tennessee cellphone store

Jan. 16 (UPI) — Police in Tennessee encountered a four-legged “masked-up” suspect trespassing at a local cellphone store.

Knoxville Police Department shared photos of the mischievous raccoon that set off an alarm at a Boost Mobile store at 3:30 a.m. on Monday.

“Upon arrival, officers discovered that the suspect had entered the business by breaking through the roof,” police said. “Upon further investigation, officers located the masked-up suspect still inside the business.”

Photos show the raccoon hanging from a metal bar and crawling a long a display rack full of cellphone cases.

The business owner eventually arrived and allowed the raccoon to “escape” out of the front door.

“The Sgt. on the scene could not confirm nor deny the suspect successfully escaped with an iPhone X,” police joked.

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Raptors, Pistons square off looking to snap skids

The Toronto Raptors and the Detroit Pistons have each lost two games in a row and have dropped three of their past four.

That is about as far as the similarities go between the teams, who play Wednesday night at the Air Canada Centre in the first of four meetings this season.

The Raptors (29-13) have yet to lose three games in a row this season and have dropped two in a row four times. They are 15-3 at home.

The Pistons (22-20) have lost as many as seven in a row this season and have dropped six of their past nine. They are 9-14 on the road.

The Raptors have fallen behind early in their two most recent losses. They trailed the Golden State Warriors by 27 points before losing 127-125 at the ACC on Saturday and were down by 21 points to the 76ers in a 117-111 loss at Philadelphia on Monday afternoon.

“We didn’t start the game offensively moving the basketball, not crisply enough,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said after the game Monday. “We were turning down shots and taking tougher shots and that’s just not the way we play.

“We had zero 3-pointers at the half. I was afraid we were going to come out flat and (Philadelphia) was jacked up. We’ve got to get our motors going no matter who we play, it can’t just be for Cleveland (a 133-99 Toronto win on Jan. 11) or Golden State. It’s got to be every night and be consistent with that focus and alertness.”

The Raptors did have point guard Kyle Lowry back in the lineup Monday after he missed three games with a bruised tailbone. He had 13 points, seven rebounds and four assists in 37 minutes. Casey said he was afraid to sit Lowry on the bench too long because his back might tighten.

“I was terrible,” Lowry said. “Maybe it’s part of the process. I’ve got to get better, get back in rhythm. It’s only one game, bad shooting game. I’ve got to keep working and get better.”

Raptors reserve point guard Fred VanVleet suffered a bruised knee Monday and is listed as day-to-day.

The Pistons are coming off a 118-107 loss to the Charlotte Hornets on Monday when their defense was again questioned.

“They crushed us on the glass,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. “They crushed us in the paint and that gave them the disparity at the free-throw line. They were just going at us and we didn’t offer much resistance whatsoever. Six-point lead at the half and then the first three defensive possessions of the second half set the tone.

“We did nothing and then they just got rolling and we weren’t up for the task. … We’ve got to get back to defending or we’re not going to win.”

“I think it’s something that we’ve been saying the last few games,” Pistons guard Avery Bradley said. “We kind of saw the writing on the wall that if we’re not going to defend then we’re not going to win.”

The Pistons have a chance to solidify their playoff position in the next few weeks when they play 10 of their next 11 at home, where they are 13-6.

Pistons forward Stanley Johnson (strained right hip flexor) is questionable for the game against the Raptors. Detroit point guard Reggie Jackson (right ankle sprain) and forward Jon Leuer (left ankle sprain) remain out.

The Pistons are 3-6 since Jackson was injured.

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Xavier ready for skidding St. John’s

Xavier got back on track in a big way on Saturday afternoon with a rout of Creighton. Meanwhile, the struggles continued for St. John‘s, which has lost six straight.

It will be a matchup of two teams headed in opposite directions when the Musketeers (16-3, 4-2 Big East) and Red Storm (10-8, 0-6 Big East) play Wednesday night at Cintas Center, where XU is 12-0 this season.

There were high hopes for St. John’s, which began the season 10-2 but has since fallen on hard times. A season-ending injury to sophomore guard Marcus LoVett, who was averaging 15 points, hasn’t helped.

“I’m not concerned about predictions and expectations,” Red Storm head coach Chris Mullin told the New York Post last week. “The only thing that’s going to distract us or keep us down is a negative mindset. We just have to keep competing and keep working hard. Things will turn for us.”

Not even 37 points from Shamorie Ponds could get St. John’s over the hump in a 78-71 loss to top-ranked Villanova on Saturday. It will take another Herculean effort by the sophomore for the Red Storm to snap their four-game losing streak to Xavier.

Musketeers coach Chris Mack said the loss of LoVett for the season was a big blow for an SJU offense just beginning to gel.

“They’re a team that’s trying to figure out their offensive identity here in conference play thinking, they were probably getting him back,” Mack said.

The 11th-ranked Musketeers ended a two-game skid with a convincing 92-70 win over the Blue Jays on Saturday. Highlighting that win was the return to form of Trevon Bluiett, who scored 24 points on 5-of-7 shooting from 3-point range. XU’s offense was efficient throughout with 22 assists on 34 made field goals.

Xavier leads the all-time series with St. John’s 6-3, including four straight wins. The Musketeers have won six of eight meetings since the schools have been members of the Big East.

Mullin was a freshman guard when the teams met for the first time, a 75-55 victory for SJU in the 1981 Lapchick Memorial Tournament.

The Musketeers have gotten a boost lately from graduate transfer Kerem Kanter, who is averaging 17.3 points and 8.3 rebounds over his past three games, and freshman guard Naji Marshall, who was named Big East Freshman of the Week after averaging 11.5 points in two games.

Beating Xavier could prove to be a tall order for St. John’s, which took ‘Nova to the wire before falling short on Saturday.

“We’re in a rut right now,” Red Storm forward Marvin Clark II said, according to the New York Post. “We just gotta figure out how to knock the door down. I feel like once we get that first win, we’ll taste blood and I feel like we’ll go on a run.”

Mack, in his ninth season, is on the verge of a coaching milestone. With a win on Wednesday night, he will eclipse Pete Gillen to become the all-time coaching wins leader at Xavier with 203.

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400 Turkish pre-schoolers create world’s largest marbling painting

Jan. 16 (UPI) — A group of 400 pre-schoolers in Turkey showed off their creativity by crafting a record-breaking piece of art.

The students from Vilayetler Hizmetler Birligi Kindergarten gathered in Antakya to set the Guinness World Record for the world’s largest fabric marbling painting.

Their creation measured more than 164 feet long and 6.5 feet wide and surpassed the previous record of 145 feet by 5 feet, also created in Turkey.

Marbling describes the process of creating an image on the surface of a cellulose solution and transferring it to a piece of fabric.

The hundreds of students worked together to mix bright colors together, creating a vibrant mural.

Organizers from the school said they arranged the event to promote the importance of art education for young kids.

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Emmanuel Macron ‘agrees to loan Bayeux Tapestry to Britain’

French president to allow artefact to leave the country for first time for 950 years

Bayeux Tapestry

The tapestry is not likely to be loaned for another five years, after structural tests have been carried out.
Photograph: Alinari/Rex/Shutterstock

The Bayeux Tapestry will be loaned to Britain after the French president agreed to let it leave his country for the first time in 950 years, the Guardian understands.

Emmanuel Macron is expected to announce that the artefact depicting the Norman conquest of England after the Battle of Hastings in 1066 will be moved from its current location in Normandy to the UK at an Anglo-French summit on Thursday.

Theresa May will use the decision, which has involved lengthy talks between each country’s respective culture departments, to highlight the strength in UK-French relations following Brexit.

The artwork, which is 70 metres (229 ft) long and 50cm high, is thought to have been made shortly after the battle in the 11th century. Some historians argue it was made in Kent, England, a debate that is set to reignite following the announcement.

The loan is not likely to take place for five years and is reportedly subject to tests by the Bayeux Museum to ensure it can be moved without causing damage. It is not yet known where the artwork will be displayed when it arrives in the UK.

There have been previous unsuccessful attempts to negotiate a loan of the embroidery to the UK: once for the Queen’s coronation in 1953; and in 1966 for the 900-year anniversary of the Battle of Hastings.

The first written record of it is in 1476 when it was recorded in the Bayeux cathedral treasury as “a very long and narrow hanging on which are embroidered figures and inscriptions comprising a representation of the conquest of England”.

However, the embroidery has rarely been moved even within France. In 1803 Napoleon Bonaparte put it on display in Paris and in 1945, it was briefly displayed in the Louvre in 1945 after being seized from the Nazis.

The announcement will likely lighten the mood when May hosts Macron at Sandhurst military academy on Thursday.

The talks will see the leaders discuss the handling of the migration crisis at Calais and agree closer cooperation on fighting al-Qaida-linked militants “at source” in north Africa.

The prime minister is expected to use the summit to announce that Britian will send military helicopters to join a French campaign against Islamist extremists in the region.

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