Spanish PM: Powers of Catalan administration will be transferred to central government

Spanish government will administer Catalonia directly from Madrid, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said at a press conference. He added that Madrid wants to curb the powers of the Catalan parliament.

Rajoy declared on Saturday that the government wants to dissolve the Catalan parliament and call a snap election to restore order in the region.

He said Madrid is not revoking Catalonia’s autonomy but merely removing local leaders whose actions were against the law.

Rajoy said the government was seeking unprecedented constitutional authority to ”restore order” in Catalonia.

The government did not initially want or intend to rule Catalonia directly, according to Rajoy, but took this unprecedented step to ensure that public services and the economy remain functional.

The snap election will take place in six months, the Prime Minister said. The measures taken by Madrid are expected to be approved now by Spain’s Upper House on October 27.

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Spanish Constitutional Court website down after ‘Anonymous hack’ (VIDEO)

A hack purportedly executed by Anonymous, the online activist group, has blocked the website of the Spanish Constitutional Court. On Saturday morning, the court’s website was unreachable online and displayed a connection error message.

The website blackout has been linked to Anonymous, which expressed its desire to oppose the Spanish government’s attempts to stifle the region of Catalonia’s autonomy from the rest of the country.

READ MORE: Putin on Catalonia: EU triggered rise of separatism by supporting Kosovo independence

Spain’s Department of National Security said that on Friday the group had announced its intention to target government pages, in solidarity with those seeking independence for Catalonia.

“Hacktivist group Anonymous, through associated Twitter accounts, is announcing a massive cyberattack for tomorrow… under the name ‘#OpCatalunya’ and ‘#FreeCatalunya’,” the Department of National Security tweeted.

A video linked to members of Anonymous suggested that the hacking collective would undertake an operation to ‘free’ Catalonia.

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Several injured in central Munich knife attack, suspect on the run – police

An unidentified knifeman has attacked and wounded several people in downtown Munich, local police reported, adding that the perpetrator is still at large.

DETAILS TO FOLLOW 

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Astronaut completes essential ISS repairs despite worn-out tether & faulty jetpack

A NASA astronaut had to battle with faulty life-saving gear before he could replace a blurry camera essential for docking cargo spaceships to the International Space Station (ISS) in a more than six-hour spacewalk.

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 © NASA Johnson

Shortly after flight engineer Joe Acaba and expedition commander Randy Bresnik embarked on an array of maintenance tasks Friday, Acaba noticed that one of the two steel lifelines attaching him to the space station had “wear and tear.”

Bresnik had to come back to fetch a new tether so Acaba could continue working on replacement of a camera on the hand of a robot used to seize hold of the spacecraft for docking.

The camera, installed previously, was sending murky images back to Earth and had to be replaced with a new high-definition one so next month’s scheduled supply ship docking can go along without any glitches.

“Crisp, new space views!” NASA, which broadcast the ordeal live, wrote on Twitter, accompanying the message with footage of first few seconds of new camera working.

However, Acaba’s troubles for the day didn’t stop at that.

Towards the end of the spacewalk, Acaba suffered another malfunction, this time, with his jetpack. The device is worn like a backpack and is designed to propel an astronaut back to the station in case he or she happens to drift off. Dubbed SAFER, or Simplified Aid For EVA Rescue, it can be directed only by hand controllers attached to the space suit.

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© Getty Images

Flight controllers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center observed that one of the handles of Acaba’s jetpack was open. Bresnik volunteered to help his crewmate fix the handle with tape, but NASA declared the jetpack unreliable and ordered Acaba to go back inside after he was done with his current task, which was to lubricate the stations new robot arm.

After his seven-hour spacewalk, Bresnik said that while the operation did not run smoothly “with all the stuff that happened today and the challenges we had,” it still was a success.

NASA said that the duo managed to complete all of the tasks planned for the spacewalk, which is set to become the last for them this year.

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‘Drugged & tortured:’ Mental health center employees arrested over extreme child abuse

Ten employees of a state-run mental facility in Colombia have been charged with torture for allegedly subjecting children in their care to a “military doctrine” that involved stuffing minors with drugs, tying them to beds and other extreme punishments.

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© Jochen Sand / Global Look Press

At least 11 children were reportedly subjected to long-term ill-treatment at the hands of their caretakers in the Peces Vivos center in the city of Ibagué, western Colombia. The facility was contracted by the Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF), a government agency tasked with “comprehensive protection of infancy, childhood, adolescence and well-being of families.”

Prosecutors say that the employees of Peces Vivos did exactly the opposite, effectively turning children’s life in the institution into a nightmare.

“The children were subjected to degrading acts of cruelty. They were tethered to their beds. The people who supposedly looked after them and had to protect their rights gave them drugs to keep them under control and applied military doctrine to punish them,” child welfare prosecutor Mario Gomez said, as cited by Colombia Reports.

Police began looking into the reports of wide-ranging human rights violations in the facility since June after a former employee leaked information to the prosecutor’s office and local police.

As a result of the investigation, 10 of the center’s employees were placed under arrest and charged with torture and conspiracy to commit a crime and to destroy evidence.

City police chief Colonel Jorge Morales said that one of the punishments administered by the workers to the disabled children was throwing soup in their faces if they refused to eat.

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© Google

While the abhorrent nursing practices came to light only now, locals say they were constantly hearing blood-curdling yells and pleas for help from behind the closed doors of the facility, which was known locally as a “house of terror.”

“Day and night, I heard the heartbreaking screams of young people interned in that house,” a local woman said, as cited by El Tiempo, adding that last week she heard a young man crying for help as though he was about to be killed.

Despite all the signs of abuse, nobody attempted to stop the suspected mistreatment as the center’s authorities made sure no information seeped out.

“The house was always closed, even padlocked, to hide the abuse against children,” another woman said.

In the wake of the revelations, the center was temporarily shut down and children, some of them severely traumatized, transferred to other institutions.

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Iraqi forces clash with Kurds moving closer to regional capital Erbil (VIDEO)

Iraqi and Kurdish forces have clashed in the town of Altun Kupri on the border of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region, security official said, as Baghdad continues its offensive in the wake of a controversial referendum on Kurdish independence.

Iraqi security and pro-government militias descended on Altun Kupri, which lies some 50 km (30 miles) to the south of the Kurdish capital, Erbil, early on Friday.

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© Alaa Al-Marjani

Iraqi security and pro-government militias descended on Altun Kupri, which lies some 50 km (30 miles) to the south of the Kurdish capital, Erbil, early on Friday.

Video footage from the Kurdish front lines showed columns of smoke rising and what sounds like gunshots being heard in the distance.

In a statement, the Peshmerga General Command said it had repelled the Iraqi advance and destroyed a number of vehicles, including an American-made Abrams tank.

“In the morning of Friday October 20, 2017 at 8am, the Hashd al-Shaabi [Popular Mobilization Forces] militias using American weapons which were given to the Iraqi army launched a widespread attack on the Peshmerga forces in [Altun Kupri] Pirde with the Iranian artillery units also involving,” read the statement published by the Kurdish news outlet Rudaw.

READ MORE: Iraqi forces taking over Kirkuk ‘a declaration of war’ – Kurdish Peshmerga

“Until now, all of the attacks have been repelled and forces defeated and more than 10 Humvees and an Abrams tank were destroyed. In the confrontation, the Kurdistan Peshmerga forces have bravely put up a defense, achieving a great dignity for them.”

However, the Iraqi Defense Ministry said that the military have secured the town and the area around it.

“Altun Kupri is now under the total control of federal forces,” the ministry said in a statement quoted by Al-Jazeera.

Pictures on social media appear to show Iraqi soldiers in the town, displaying captured Kurdish flags.

A security source told AFP that Iraqi forces managed to “hoist the flag on the municipality building” in Altun Kupri as the sides exchanged mortar and automatic gunfire. 

The sources also said that Kurdish general Ghazi Dolemri was killed in the fighting on Friday.

It’s unclear how many have been killed or wounded in Altun Kupri, but hospitals have confirmed they are dealing with a number of casualties.

An Al-Jazeera correspondent reported that two bridges had been destroyed and local people were fleeing the scene, while the Kurds were sending in reinforcements.

According to Iraq’s Joint Operations Command, the governmet forces have extended its territory to within 50 kilometers (30 miles) of Kurdish capital, Erbil.

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Members of Iraqi federal forces enter oil fields in Kirkuk, Iraq October 16, 2017. © Reuters

AFP reported further shelling as Iraqi troops and militias advanced on Sirawa, located five kilometers north of Altun Kupri.

The district of Alton Kupri lies on the border between Iraqi Kurdistan and disputed territories formerly under its control, including the oil-rich province of Kirkuk, which had been seized by the Kurdish peshmerga forces during the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) advance of 2014.

The fighting in Alton Kupri comes days after the Iraqi military captured the regional capital of Kirkuk on Monday, where fighting also broke out with Kurdish militias.

Though Kurdish peshmerga fought alongside Iraqi soldiers and Shiite militias in the campaign against Islamic State, relations with the central government in Baghdad have taken a downward turn since then.

In September, the Kurdish government went ahead with a controversial referendum on independence, with 93 percent of voters opting for sovereignty. This drew the ire of not only Baghdad but also Turkey and Iran, which have their own large Kurdish minorities.

READ MORE: Barrels, ballots & ISIS: Why Iraq is taking back Kirkuk, and what the US will do about it

As a result, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered his military to take control of the contested areas including Kirkuk Governorate, and government forces began advancing on the region on Monday

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‘Sickening’: Rights groups slam WHO for appointing Zimbabwe’s Mugabe a goodwill ambassador

The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) decision to name Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe a “goodwill ambassador” has been met with condemnation by human rights and medical groups.

The 93-year-old Zimbabwean leader was given the position, which is bestowed on personalities who highlight “important health issues,” at a WHO conference on noncommunicable diseases (NCD) in Montevideo, Uruguay.

READ MORE: Britain ‘turned blind eye to massacres in Zimbabwe to protect its interests,’ study claims

WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom told the conference that he was honored to have Mugabe, who is regarded as one of the most controversial political leaders of the 21st century, serve as an ambassador.

Dr Tedros also said that Mugabe can “influence his peers” and praised Zimbabwe as a “country that places universal health coverage and health promotion at the center of its policies”.

But not everyone is in agreement. International watchdog, UN Watch, described the United Nations health agency’s announcement as “sickening”.

“The government of Robert Mugabe has brutalized human rights activists, crushed democracy dissidents, and turned the breadbasket of Africa – and its health system – into a basket-case,” said UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer.

“The notion that the UN should now spin this country as a great supporter of health is, frankly, sickening,” Neuer added.

Knighted by the British monarchy in 1994, Mugabe had the honor revoked in 2008 due to the violent nature of Zimbabwe’s Zanu-PF party regime.

Mugabe has also been slammed for muzzling the press by threatening journalists reporting on protests with imprisonment.

Some 24 health organisations from around the world, including the World Heart Alliance, Cancer Research UK, and the Healthy Latin America Coalition, issued a statement Friday, saying they were “shocked and deeply concerned” due to Mugabe’s “long track record of human rights violations”.

READ MORE: ‘Go hang on a banana tree’: Zimbabwe tells US embassy to buzz off over human rights concerns

“Given these systematic abuses and his approach to NCDs and tobacco control in the past, NCD civil society present in Montevideo believe that President Mugabe’s appointment as WHO Goodwill Ambassador for NCDs cannot be justified,” the statement read.

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Bitcoin surges to over $6,000 to set new record for 2 weeks in a row

The world’s most popular digital currency, Bitcoin, has topped another threshold, reaching $ 6,031 on Friday. It comes less than a week after the cryptocurrency smashed the $ 5,000 benchmark.

Just two days before climbing to the new high, Bitcoin registered its largest one-day drop in a month, plummeting by more than 8 percent following a release of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission [CFTC] primer, envisioning tighter oversight over digital tokens.

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© Benoit Tessier

The report put virtual currencies in the same category with securities, thus making them a subject of the relevant securities laws. The newly released report echoes the stance of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on the issue, which said in July that digital currency sales should fall under the scope of the US federal securities laws. The debate over whether to view digital tokens issued through initial coin offerings as commodities has been raging in the US and in another countries.

Bitcoin plunged to below $ 3,000 in September after China shut down cryptocurrency exchanges. Russia, where Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are not currently regulated by law, this month announced it would start regulating issuing, mining and circulation of cryptocurrencies. Russian President Vladimir Putin noted that it is necessary to diminish the risks associated with cryptocurrencies, as at present nobody can be held responsible for currency bubbles or other illicit activities with the tokens.

Recently, the Russian Central Bank said that it may block Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency exchange websites as the nature of their operations are akin to financial pyramid schemes.

“We have seen how Bitcoin has transformed from a payment unit into an asset, which is bought in order to obtain a high yield in a short period of time. This is a definition of a pyramid,” the first deputy governor of the Bank of Russia Sergey Shvetsov said in October.

Despite constant fears of a looming governmental crackdown, Bitcoin’s value has increased by more than 500 percent in 2017.

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NGO publishes names of 2,300+ RT guests, labels them ‘useful idiots who undermine Western democracy’

An NGO called the European Values Think-Tank has published a report on RT featuring an extensive list of US and European public figures who have been accused of “undermining western democracy” just by appearing in RT shows.

The report, claiming to be an “overview of RT’s editorial strategy and evidence of impact,”  comes with an Excel list of 2,327 people who have appeared on RT over the last four years. The names are carefully arranged in seven categories, including US politicians, UK politicians, European politicians and so on, and are arranged in alphabetical order. The list mentions the shows the guests appeared on, the total number of their appearances, and gives hyperlinks to all the relevant episodes.

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The report states that appearing on the network is counterproductive and makes the guest a “useful idiot” to a “hostile foreign power.” Expressing one’s opinion on RT is considered by the NGO as equivalent to “complicity with the Russian propaganda machine.”

Although the list looks like a really thorough effort at cataloguing all of the RT guests, it’s got a number of strikingly weird blunders. For example, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is there, but only the link attached leads to a satirical show featuring someone impersonating him. Meanwhile, US Senator John McCain’s daughter is mistaken for the senator himself and “Politicking with Larry King” is unexpectedly referred to as “Politicking with Larry David.”

The report generally claims that RT is “an instrument of hostile foreign influence,” which has the sole purpose of “undermining public confidence in the viability of liberal democracy.”

It repeatedly discourages any public figures from potentially appearing on any of RT’s shows in the future, as those on the list are accused of boosting RT’s “credibility as a legitimate news network.”

The report spares no words to prove the opposite. It constantly describes RT as the “Kremlin’s mouthpiece” tasked with no less than destroying the western civilization and society from within.

It does not mince words calling RT “a second-rate news network with an abysmal reputation and dubious audience numbers” as well as “the Russian propaganda machine” and a “disinformation tool.”

However, it eventually gets so much enmeshed in its own allegations that it starts to contradict itself. The paper claims that RT’s influence on its western audiences ranges from “minimal to modest,” yet almost immediately says that the news network’s “specific effects” on its viewers “should be a research priority for all organizations and governments interested in countering the Kremlin’s disinformation campaign.”

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© RT

It further says that Russia’s “disinformation campaign,” which includes RT’s activities, poses a “security hazard” that “should not be taken lightly,” and adds at the same time that it is “imperative” not to “overinflate” the threat of RT.

The report was prepared by Monika Richter, who is described as an analyst at the European Values Think-Tank who works specifically for the “Kremlin Watch Program” – a project aimed at “exposing and confronting instruments of Russian influence and disinformation operations focused against Western democracies.” Richter also cooperates with the Atlantic Council – a US-based think tank, which is known for its staunch anti-Russian stance.

The European Values Think-Tank was founded as an NGO in 2005 and is located in the Czech Republic. It claims to be a neutral, not-for-profit organization aimed at defending democracy and not linked to any political force.

However, its annual report reveals that one-quarter of its funding comes from various governmental actors, including the US and the UK embassies, the Czech government and several EU structures, such as the European Parliament and the European Commission as well as their subordinate bodies. According to the same report, the NGO receives most of its funding from a large number of private donors. Its biggest single donor is George Soros’s Open Society Foundation, which covers almost 10 percent of its funding.

Campaign against ‘dissenting voices’

George Barda, an environmental activist and social justice campaigner, called the report “disappointing” and “a piece of propaganda.”

“The reality is that dissident voices in the UK only rarely get into the mainstream media … and RT has been the only news network providing a regular platform for them. Much of this report is incredibly disappointing and it is clearly not even pretending to give any kind of serious consideration to the other side of the argument. It is a fairly standard piece of propaganda,” he said.

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“Do the author of this report and the politicians in the UK and the US really think that [such people] as Robert Kennedy Jr., Yanis Varoufakis, the former Foreign Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, or the former mayor of London are just ‘idiots’?” Afshin Rattansi, the host of RT’s “Going Underground” show said. “Of course, they are not and this is incredibly insulting,” he said, calling the report a “McCarthy atavism.”

He went on to say that the supporters of the anti-Russian campaign first criticize Moscow for allegedly censoring journalists and then suggest doing exactly the same in the West, thus revealing the inconsistency in their own views.

Rattansi also drew attention to the fact that RT’s activities have always been in line with the regulations of the UK media watchdog, Ofcom, as the news network has never been fined for any violations. So, it is only the politicians, who “clearly do not want some voices being expressed” publicly, who see some issues with RT, he added.

Luzi Stamm, an MP from the Swiss People’s Party, said that a smear campaign that the western elites wage against Russia and RT is just a part of a bigger crackdown against the “dissenting voices” inside Europe and the US.

“This recent development in Europe is relatively dangerous,” he told RT, adding that the campaign against political dissent in Europe is becoming increasingly more “aggressive” and “one of the games they [the western elites] are playing is destroying the reputation of the politicians they do not like.”

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9.7mn-yo ape teeth puzzle scientists, challenge timeline of human species

Ancient ape teeth dating back more than 9 million years and discovered in Germany last year are raising questions about the timeline of human evolution.

The two teeth, discovered in sediment of the Proto-Rhine River, are of an ape species whose remains have never before been observed in Europe.

Understood to belong to one ape, the two teeth are similar in structure to 3 million year old fragments belonging to an ape skeleton previously uncovered in Africa.

READ MORE: 4,500yo ‘fashionable’ male skeleton wearing jewelry found in Turkey

However, the German river bed remains, an upper right molar and left canine, predate the African example by more than 6 million years, according to a study published by the National History Museum Mainz.

The age disparity is puzzling since it raises questions over whether apes really originated in Africa.

While study author Herbert Lutz refused to be drawn on what it means for evolutionary theory, he said the findings indicate that there are still blind spots in the study of fossils.

READ MORE: Egyptian archaeologists unearth 3,500yo mummy-filled tomb in Luxor (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

“We want to hold back on speculation,” Lutz told Research Gate. “What these findings definitely show us is that the holes in our knowledge and in the fossil record are much bigger than previously thought.”

How the ape came to be in the Germany region near Eppelsheim is a “mystery,” Lutz said.

He added that if the ape is found to be related to the species observed in Africa 3 million years ago, then “[it] would mean that a group of primates was in Europe before they were in Africa.”

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