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June, 2019

‘Killer’ mum awaits sentence

A French court is set to hand down a verdict on Thursday in the trial of a woman accused of murdering three newborn babies and hiding two corpses in a freezer at her expat home in South Korea.

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Prosecutors have asked the court to sentence Veronique Courjault to 10 years in jail after she admitted to smothering her two baby boys at her house in Seoul in 2002 and 2003 and killing a third child born in France in 1999.

The 41-year-old stay-at-home mother fought back tears as she took the stand for a last time on Wednesday after an eight-day trial that has gripped France.

“I killed my children,” she says.

“These hearings have allowed me to face up to many things, to ask myself questions. But I have not found any answers. I hope I will.”

Mental health concerns

The trial has focussed on whether Ms Courjault who has been described as a caring mother to her two sons, now 12 and 14, suffered from a mental illness when she gave birth alone to the three babies and then killed them.

Mental health experts were called to testify on a little-known condition identified as “pregnancy denial”, a deep psychosis in which a woman suffers from a complete lack of awareness of being pregnant.

Ms Courjault faced a maximum life sentence for the triple infanticide, but prosecutors sought 10 years in their closing arguments before the criminal court in Tours, central France.

“Do not demonize Veronique Courjault,” prosecutor Philippe Varin told the court after requesting the 10-year jail term. “But do not turn her into an icon either.”

Pregnancies hidden

Varin argued that she was not suffering from mental illness because she managed to “fool her entire entourage” but acknowledged that many questions remained unanswered in the case.

Already the mother of two young sons, Ms Courjault hid two pregnancies from her husband Jean-Louis after he moved the family to the South Korean capital to take a job as an engineer for the US car parts company Delphi.

Jean-Louis Courjault found the two bodies in the freezer in Seoul in July 2006 after going downstairs to put some fish in the icebox.

“Suddenly, I saw a hand. The baby’s body was wrapped in a towel, in a bag. I didn’t understand a thing,” he told the court last week.

Confession given

The couple at first insisted they had no idea who the infants were, but after DNA tests showed they were the parents, Veronique Courjault admitted to their murder.

Ms Courjault testified that she burned the body of a third baby in the fireplace of their home in France in 1999.

Since his wife’s confession, Mr Courjault has supported her and visited her regularly in jail.

He believes she acted in a state of extreme psychological distress and needs help, not punishment.

Lawyer Marc Morin, who represents the husband, appealed to jurors to show understanding and allow the troubled family to rebuild their lives.

“Don’t forget that the ordeal has been immense for everyone and ask yourselves whether you want to add to this ordeal,” he says.

The nine jurors are expected to render a verdict late Thursday.

Aboriginal cricketers to tour UK

A group of Aboriginal cricketers hope their re-tracing of the famous 1868 tour of England will raise the sport’s profile to indigenous Australians.

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A squad of 14 players aged 16-26 will depart for England on Saturday, and play 11 matches inside a month against county and club sides, some at the grounds where the tourists of 141 years ago visited.

The 2009 squad, whose visit will coincide with the Test side’s Ashes defence, are only the third tour party of indigenous players to visit England since the 1868 squad became the first sports team to represent Australia overseas.

The 1868 team led by star allrounder Johnny Mullagh, won 14, lost 14 and drew 19 of their 47 games over six months and were a curiosity in England, embraced by many, but also mocked by some.

Participation ‘low’

Despite the achievements of those players, cricket took a long time to take off among indigenous Australians, and it has only been in the last few years that participation has grown steadily.

There are 13,000 registered Aboriginal cricketers across the country, but that figure is dwarfed by the hundreds of thousands of indigenous footballers, either in Australian rules or rugby league.

At the highest level, the ratio is even more skewed.

Indigenous stars comprise about 11 per cent of the total number of players in the AFL and NRL, whereas Aborigines make up 2.5 per cent of the national population.

Boxing, athletics and even basketball are other sports where Aborigines have reached the top.

Yet, in the 132 years since the first Test match was played, Jason Gillespie is the only player with indigenous blood to have represented Australia at cricket, although Eddie Gilbert was a bowler of such talent in a short career for Queensland in the 1930s that he dismissed Don Bradman.

South Australian allrounder Dan Christian, who will captain the squad about to leave for England, believes it will be sooner rather than later that more indigenous players earn selection in state sides.

“It is essentially a development tour, so it will be a great opportunity for the guys who have never been overseas before to learn more about their game and obtain some pretty valuable life experience along the way,” he says.

Crackdown on Iranian protesters ‘intensifying’

Tens of thousands of people joined a rally in Tehran to remember protesters who were killed while opposing Iran’s election results, amid unconfirmed reports that arrests and killings are on the rise across the country.

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Amnesty International claims around 15 protesters have been killed and hundreds more injured or arrested by security forces across Iran since Monday. State radio has reported seven deaths since the protests started.

Islamic rulers ‘now on the offensive’

Facing their biggest crisis since the 1979 revolution against the shah, Iran’s Islamic rulers have gone on the offensive. They arrested protesters and prominent reformists, tightened their grip on the media and lashed out at “meddling” by foreign foes, including the United States.

Besides the seven reported deaths, many more people have been wounded in the worst violence for at least a decade, with protests reported in provincial cities as well as Tehran.

Warning they would crush any “velvet revolution,” the authorities have rounded up scores of people, even former government officials.

Ebrahim Yazdi and Mohammad Tavasoli, veteran revolutionaries and leaders of Iran’s Liberation Movement were arrested on Wednesday, the Etemad Melli newspaper reported.

Unofficial reports said Yazdi was detained at a hospital emergency unit.

Political activists ‘arrested’

In addition to seven protesters killed in Tehran, three people are reported to have died in Oroumiye and Shiraz, Amnesty International says.

In Tabriz, north-western Iran, 17 political activists, including doctors and those affiliated to the Nehzat-e Azadi (Iran Freedom Movement) are reported to have been detained and taken to unspecified locations on Monday night after they staged a peaceful protest in the city’s Abresan Square.

Among those arrested was Doctor Ghaffari Farzadi, a leading member of the Iran Freedom Movement and a lecturer at Tabriz University, Amnesty International says.

Students appear to have been particularly targeted, the human rights organisation says.

Security forces reportedly entered dormitories at Tabriz University on Monday and detained 10 students who had been involved in demonstrations.

‘Two killed’ in north-western Iran

In the city of Oroumiye, also in north-western Iran, local media reported on Tuesday that two people had been killed and hundreds more detained after a crackdown on around 3,000 protesters in Imam Street.

In Shiraz, southern Iran, security forces used tear gas as they forced their way into a university library, Amnesty International says.

Reports say that several students were beaten and around 100 were detained. Unconfirmed reports suggest that one person may have been killed.

Students dormitories ‘targeted’

In the northern town of Babol, armed paramilitaries and plain-clothed officials are reported to have surrounded Babol University and targeted students in dormitories.

This scenario was repeated in other centres, the human rights organisation says.

In Mashhad, in the north-east, there were further reports of security forces attacking students and in Zahedan, in Iran’s southeast, two students are among at least three activists who have been detained.

Crackdown within the Iranian elite

In a sign of cracks emerging within the Iranian elite, several influential clerics spoke out about the election results and the subsequent crackdowns.

Ayatollah Mehdi Hadavi Tehrani called on Thursday for Interior Minister Sadeq Mahouli to be impeached.

Hundreds of poll violations cited

The latest rally came as the electoral watchdog, the Guardians Council, said it was investigating 646 complaints of poll violations from Mousavi and the other two losing candidates.

The council also invited the trio to set out their grievances on Saturday, with a decision on Sunday about any possible recount in the June 12 election which returned hardline incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power.

Mousavi joined the crowds, most of whom were dressed in black as a mark of mourning for demonstrators killed in clashes during the protests, which have been banned by the authorities, witnesses said.

The crowds dispersed quietly about five hours later, witnesses said.

Foreign media barred

Foreign journalists have been barred from attending all rallies or other events without express authority.

Protesters carried pictures of Mousavi — who is demanding a new election — and placards bearing slogans such as “We have not had people killed to compromise and accept a doctored ballot box,” one witness said.

Mousavi appeared despite warnings from the hardline Basij militia, which has been at the forefront of action against protests, for defeated candidates to dissociate themselves from the “rioters.”

‘Western bombing plot’ on election day

Meanwhile state television reported that a plot with “extensive ties” to unnamed foreign interests had been uncovered to carry out bombings in Tehran on election day.

World powers have raised concern about the situation, particularly the violence and widespread arrests, with some European leaders publicly speaking of fraud and irregularities.

The Iranian mission to the European Union hit back on Thursday saying that foreign support for the opposition demonstrators “cannot be justified.”

On Wednesday, Iran summoned the Swiss ambassador, who represents American interests in Iran, to protest at what it called “interfering remarks” by US officials.

Protests in Paris

The media curbs prompted protests Thursday in Paris, where several dozen journalists and the press watchdog Reporters Without Borders staged a rally outside the Iranian embassy.

RSF secretary general, Jean-Francois Julliard, protested against Iran’s decision not to renew 10-day visas issued to visiting correspondents, which are due to expire in the coming days.

Brutal scenes of violence on the web

Pictures, videos and updates from Iran’s streets continue to pour in to social-networking and image-sharing websites such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube despite Iranian efforts to cut off mobile phones and the Internet.

Some jumpy amateur video footage broadcast on the Internet has shown chaotic and sometimes brutal scenes of violence, with police beating protesters.

One image purportedly showed a protester shot dead during Monday’s massive demonstrations.

Safe landing after pilot dies en route

A Continental plane travelling from Brussels to New York landed safely at Newark airport Thursday after the pilot died during the flight, the airline said.

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The Boeing 777 flight, carrying 247 passengers, made an emergency landing guided by two co-pilots around midday 1600 GMT at the New Jersey airport, which is one of the three main airports serving New York City.

“The captain of Continental flight 61, which was en route from Brussels to New York, died on flight apparently of natural causes,” the airline said in a statement. “The fight continued safely with two pilots at the controls.”

FAA spokesman Jim Peters told NY1 television that other planes were taken out of the landing queue so the aircraft would have a clear descent into Newark airport.

Asked if passengers had been alerted to the emergency, Peters said, “the attention of the flight crew was on maintaining control of the aircraft.”

The pilot, Continental said, was 61 years old, based in Newark and had worked for the airline for 21 years.

Continental Airlines, the world’s fifth largest airline, flies daily from Brussels to New York-Newark and offers connections to more than 230 destinations across the United States, Canada, Latin and South America, and the Caribbean.

Airlines have lost pilots in flight before. In January 2007, a Continental flight from Texas to a Mexican vacation spot made an emergency landing after the pilot fell ill. The co-pilot safely landed the plane carrying 210 passengers and the pilot died on the ground.

In May 2000, Taiwanese airline China Airlines was forced to turn back shortly after take off when the pilot suffered a heart attack. The co-pilot returned the plane to the airport and the pilot died soon after arriving at a hospital.

In March 1997, a Gulf Air Airbus A-320 skidded at Abu Dhabi airport after a pilot had a heart attack right at take-off.

Finance overhaul ‘essential,’ Geithner says

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on Thursday defended the US administration’s vast regulatory overhaul plan as “essential” in averting or containing future financial crises.

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Geithner appeared in Congress a day after President Barack Obama unveiled the wide-ranging program to reform financial market rules in the most sweeping overhaul since the 1930s.

The plan has already drawn fire for being too ambitious, but others have argued the plan does not go far enough in streamlining regulations and protecting against unsound financial practices.

But Geithner said the brutal financial meltdown should lead to action now to avoid the same type of crisis in the future.

“Every financial crisis of the last generation has sparked some effort at reform. But past efforts have begun too late, after the will to act has subsided,” he told the Senate Banking Committee.

“We cannot let that happen this time. We may disagree about the details, and we will have to work through those issues. But ordinary Americans have suffered too much; trust in our financial system has been too shaken; our economy has been brought too close to the brink for us to let this moment pass.”

Geithner said the administration consulted with lawmakers, regulators, consumer advocates, business leaders, academics and the broader public before drafting its plan.

“We considered a full range of options and decided that now is the time to pursue the essential reforms, those that address the core causes of the current crisis; and that will help to prevent or contain future crises,” he said in a prepared statement.

“Let me be clear, our plan does not address every problem in our financial system. That is not our intent. It does not propose reforms that, while desirable, would not move us towards achieving those core objectives and creating a more stable system.”

The reforms, which require approval by Congress, will inject the government deeper into the finance sector in a bid to tame the recklessness that saw a mortgage meltdown tip the world into deep economic crisis.

They are the latest attempt by the Obama administration to heal the US economy and ensure it never again pitches into such turmoil.

The regulatory reforms join a massive array of housing, banking, mortgage and credit card reforms, a 787-billion-dollar stimulus package and managed auto firm bankruptcies adopted by Obama since taking office in January.

In a speech at the White House on Wednesday, Obama blamed a “culture of irresponsibility,” a Great Depression-era regulatory system, reckless executive compensation, excessive debt and markets awash in new and risky financial products for sparking the crisis.

“An absence of oversight engendered systematic, and systemic, abuse,” Obama said.

The proposals would give the Federal Reserve expanded powers to oversee regulation on all finance firms or banks that pose a significant systemic risk to the wider financial infrastructure.

They would introduce new discipline and transparency into financial markets and would enable investors to better ride out the failure of one or more large financial institution.

The reforms will include the creation of a Consumer Financial Protection Agency to shield Americans from the extremes of credit, savings and mortgage markets.

The Office of Thrift Supervision — one of several federal bank regulators — would be abolished under the reform proposals.

Some Obama critics, hoping for a top-to-bottom reconstruction of the tainted financial system, complained the overhaul did not go far enough, while others said it would require too much government intervention in the economy.