December 4, 2016 at 7:19 am

Jill Stein changes strategy in Pennsylvania recount

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The Green Party says it is switching strategy in its bid to force a statewide recount of Pennsylvania’s presidential election, won by Republican Donald Trump.

Hours after dropping a state court case, it said late Saturday night that it will go to federal court instead.

A statement from the lead lawyer for the recount campaign said that it will seek an emergency federal court order for the recount. It said barriers to a recount in Pennsylvania are pervasive and the state court system is not equipped to address the problem.

Green Party leader Jill Stein later tweeted that The Stein campaign will fight for a statewide recount in PA. We are committed to protecting the civil and voting rights of all Americans.”

Stein’s lawyer Lawrence M Otter had earlier said the party withdrew the lawsuit filed with the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania  due to the cost associated with the recount request.

“Petitioners are regular citizens of ordinary means. They cannot afford to post the $1m bond required by the Court,” read the filing.

Stein plans to hold a rally on Monday across the street from Trump Tower in New York “vowing to fight tooth and nail to verify the accuracy, security and fairness of the vote,” a statement read.

On Twitter, Stein said “How odd is it that we must jump through bureaucratic hoops and raise millions of dollars so we can trust our election results?”

State election officials said on Friday that Trump now leads Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton by 49,000 votes in Pennsylvania, down from 71,000 as provisional and absentee ballots from overseas are recorded. 

Stein, who won about 1 percent of the presidential vote nationally, has sought recounts in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan.

The left-wing candidate’s fundraising efforts for recounts in these states have obtained nearly $7m so far, according to her website.

READ MORE: Trump backers ask courts to halt or prevent recounts

Her recount request in Pennsylvania was complicated by opposition from Trump. Michigan’s attorney general filed suit to halt Stein’s recounts efforts in the state. And in Wisconsin, Trump supporters have tried to stop the recount there.

Stein has claimed that voting machines used in some parts of Wisconsin and other states are vulnerable to hacking and could have been manipulated.

Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan are all industrial heartland states where Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton had been expected to win but lost to Trump, the nominee of the Republican Party.

Clinton led the national popular vote by more than 2.5 million votes but lost in the decisive electoral vote, in which states are weighted by population.

Stein has sought a recount in Michigan and filed a lawsuit to force a recount in Pennsylvania. Recounting started across Wisconsin on Thursday following payment this week of $3.5m in recount costs by Stein’s presidential campaign.

Trump has denounced Stein’s effort as a fundraising “scam” for the Green Party. But Clinton’s campaign said last week that they  would participate in the recounts initiated by the Green Party .

Marc Elias, the Clinton campaign counsel, said the campaign had not planned to seek a recount, since its own investigation had failed to turn up any sign of hacking of voting systems.

“But now that a recount has been initiated in Wisconsin, we intend to participate in order to ensure the process proceeds in a manner that is fair to all sides,” Elias said in a post on the website  Medium .

Source: Al Jazeera News and News Agencies

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at 7:19 am

Indonesians rally for unity after blasphemy protests

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Tens of thousands of Indonesians have rallied in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, calling for tolerance and unity after massive protests were held against the city’s minority Christian governor.

The crowds on Sunday filled a major traffic circle in Jakarta and sprawled into its main thoroughfares, waving “We Are Indonesia” signs and a giant red-and-white national flag was held aloft.

The rally was held in response to protests against Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who is being prosecuted for alleged blasphemy.

Jakarta has been rocked in the past months by major protests against Purnama, who is accused of insulting Islam by criticising opponents who used Quranic references to attack him ahead of an election in February.

Protesters took to the streets on Friday in the latest rally targeting him, demanding Punama be jailed on blasphemy charges. A similar rally was held on November 4, both attracting tens of thousands of people.

Purnama is a long-term ally of President Joko Widodo. He denies wrongdoing but has apologised for the remarks.

‘Detention not necessary’

Conservative Muslim groups are demanding his immediate arrest. Police say his detention is not necessary and have called for the respect of the legal process.

Sunday’s counter-rally for tolerance and unity coincided with a weekly car-free morning in Jakarta when a central artery of the city is handed over to pedestrians for a few hours.

Organisers called it the “Parade of Indonesian Culture” and it featured traditional dances from Sabang in westernmost Aceh to Merauke in easternmost Papua.

The Jakarta government has also put up signboards on major roads calling for national unity and displaying pictures of independence heroes who fought against colonial rule.

Purnama is popular with many for pushing through tough reforms to modernise the traffic-plagued capital.

However, opinion polls have shown him slipping into second place in the race for re-election as governor.

Indonesia is home to the world’s largest Muslim population, and less than 9 percent of the are Christians.

Source: News Agencies

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at 7:19 am

Thousands bid farewell to Cuba’s Fidel Castro

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President Raul Castro has led tens of thousands of Cubans in a pledge to defend the socialist legacy of his brother Fidel Castro, who died last week aged 90 and will be interred in the city where the Cuban Revolution was launched.

“This is the unconquered Fidel who calls us with his example,” the president, dressed in his four-star general’s uniform, told a crowd that had burst into chants of “I am Fidel” on Saturday night.

“Yes, we will overcome any obstacle, turmoil or threat in the building of socialism in Cuba,” Raul Castro, 85, said in a speech before Santiago’s packed central plaza.

READ MORE: Cuba allies join thousands to honour Castro in Havana

Castro’s ashes will be entombed near the remains of Cuba’s independence hero Jose Marti in a private ceremony beginning on Sunday at 7am (12:00 GMT), concluding nine days of national mourning.

Raul Castro was joined on the stage by leftist foreign dignitaries and the Cuban political leadership to bid farewell to the man known to most Cubans as “El Comandante” – the commander – or simply “Fidel”.

After two days of events in Havana, Castro’s funeral cortege departed on a three-day, 800km journey east, retracing the route that the triumphant rebels took upon overthrowing the US-backed Fulgencio Batista in 1959.

Rejecting the ‘cult of personality’

Raul Castro said “millions” had come out to pay tribute. Crowds have greeted the caravan along the whole route, with volunteers sprucing up bridges and houses with fresh paint in Castro’s honour.

Although billboards with Castro quotes stand throughout the country and his portrait hangs from numerous government buildings and in private homes, Fidel Castro’s image will not be immortalised with statues and public places will not be named after him, Raul Castro said.

Students cheered at President Raul Castro’s tribute to the former Cuban leader in Santiago [Edgard Garrido/Reuters]

“The most interesting thing that he [Raul Castro] announced was that Fidel Castro before dying had specifically asked that there will be no statues built of him,” said Al Jazeera’s Lucia Newman, reporting from the ceremony in Santiago.

“Raul Castro said that his brother did not believe in the cult of the personality. So he says that he will send legislation to the national assembly to make Fidel Castro’s wishes law.”

REPORTER’S NOTEBOOK: Farewell to Fidel Castro – ‘It is hard, so hard’

With his brother at his side, Castro began his revolution on July 26, 1953, with a failed assault on the Moncada barracks in the eastern city of Santiago.

He went on to build a Soviet-sponsored Communist state 145km from the United States and survived a half century of US attempts to topple or kill him.

“He defeated the empire and defended his country,” Alvin Bailey, a social activist who lived in Cuba and met Castro many times, told Al Jazeera.

“Algeria, Angola, Ethiopia, Chili… humble people of all shades knew he stood for the common man wherever on the planet.”

Castro’s socialist government survived the fall of the Berlin Wall, but at the cost of more than a decade of great economic hardship that was relieved by the largesse of his political disciple, the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

“In the unipolar world, the one of transnationals that arose after the fall of the socialist bloc, the permanent lesson of Fidel is that, yes, it can done, man is capable of overcoming the most difficult conditions,” Raul Castro said.

Over the past two decades a clutch of leftist governments rose to power in Latin America inspired by his ideas and fierce opposition to the US. Several have now been defeated at the ballot box.

High-profile friends of Castro, including Bolivian President Evo Morales and former Brazilian Presidents Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff, arrived for the evening sendoff.

Lula was a close ally of Cuba when he was president from 2003 to 2010, as was his successor Rousseff until she was impeached this year.

A cadet carries an image of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro [Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters]

Source: Al Jazeera News and Agencies

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December 3, 2016 at 7:11 pm

Fidel Castro’s last goal? A football pitch for kids

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Fidel Castro is remembered around the world as a charismatic revolutionary or a ruthless tyrant, but in his neighbourhood he was also a friendly old man who used his influence to build a football field for kids two weeks before his death.

Castro, who led Cuba’s 1959 revolution and for five decades defied US efforts to topple him, died on November 25 at age 90, a decade after ceding power to his brother Raul Castro.

The revolutionary leader’s ashes arrived in his hometown of Santiago on Saturday. He will be laid to rest at 7am local time on Sunday in Santiago’s cemetery next to Cuba’s independence hero Jose Marti.

Cuban leader Fidel Castro’s mixed legacy

Castro lived on the western edge of Havana in a large complex hidden from view by trees and adjacent to a typical Cuban neighbourhood called Jaimanitas.

Horse-drawn carts pass through occasionally and people socialise outside the dispensary for basic goods on the government’s ration card. The modest homes are a little worn.

One of Castro’s final acts was to order a football pitch built for youth in Jaimanitas, where he periodically stopped his car to talk with the people, according to neighbours.

On the surface, support for Castro seems particularly strong in Jaimanitas, where two women who spoke to Reuters news agency teared up when asked about him a week after his death.

On November 9, Castro stopped his car in the neighbourhood to greet kids playing football in the street, according to several neighbours.

“There’s no other place to play. He was interested in this, asking, ‘What do you mean there’s nowhere to play soccer?’ And the next day they were clearing the field,” said Rafael Sierra, 56, a veteran of Cuba’s 1980s involvement in the war in Angola, who said he worked for Castro in logistics.

Fidel Castro’s African legacy: Friendship and freedom

Jennifer Diaz, a 14-year-old ninth-grader, was able to get a picture of Castro. She proudly displayed the image on her iPad of Castro seated in the back seat of his car alongside his wife, Dalia Soto del Valle.

Yossiel Calvo, a 13-year-old eighth-grader, grew excited when talking about his brush with Castro.

“I spoke with him about a month ago,” he said. “He said he was going to make a soccer field for us, and he did it. They’re working on it now.”

Interior Ministry officials cut short a Reuters visit to the neighbourhood, saying the area was off limits to journalists, but not before neighbours could express appreciation for one last order from “El Comandante”.

“And just like that it was done,” said Miriam LaValle, 62, a retired telecommunications worker. “He kept his word.”


Source: Reuters

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at 7:11 pm

Nine dead, many missing after fire at California rave

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At least nine people have been killed after a fire broke out inside a warehouse holding a rave party in northern California with many people still unaccounted for.

The blaze started on Friday at about 11pm local time (07:00 GMT Saturday) inside the two-story building in the city of Oakland.

“It was too hot, too much smoke, I had to get out of there,” Bob Mule, a photographer and artist who lives at the building and suffered minor burns, told the East Bay Times. “I literally felt my skin peeling and my lungs being suffocated by smoke. I couldn’t get the fire extinguisher to work.”

In a social media post, ABC 7 News in San Francisco quoted the Alameda County sheriff department as saying that up to 40 people are feared dead.  

Fire officials were still trying to determine how the fire started, said Oakland Fire Chief Teresa Deloach-Reed, who described the building as “huge.” She said the roof had collapsed, complicating efforts to recover bodies.

“There is a large majority of that building that has not been searched,” Deloach-Reed said during a press briefing.

Fire officials said they were told up to 70 people were at the warehouse when the fire broke out [EPA]

“We are hoping that the number nine is what there is and that there are no more,” the fire chief said, referring to the number of known fatalities. “But we have not done a complete search of the building.”

A Facebook event page showed 176 people planned to attend the party.  

The San Jose Mercury News newspaper quoted fire officials as saying they were told up to 70 people were at the warehouse.   

The fire was brought under control by early morning with crews sifting through the rubble searching for victims, fire officials said.

Oakland is a major California city about 19km east of San Francisco. 


Source: Al Jazeera News and Agencies

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at 7:11 pm

Park impeachment filed as South Koreans step up protest

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More than two million South Koreans hit the streets demanding the ouster of President Park Geun-hye – the largest-ever mass gathering in the country’s history.

It was the sixth straight weekend that massive crowds gathered in the capital Seoul to force Park out of office, as the country’s three opposition parties introduced an impeachment bill in parliament.

Protest organisers told Al Jazeera the number of demonstrators swelled to 1.7 million as of 13:00 GMT on Saturday, surpassing last weekend’s 1.5 million people.

Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett, reporting from Seoul, quoted officials as saying as many as 500,000 more people also protested in other parts of the country. 

Opinion: South Korea’s political morass

Police estimated the turnout in Seoul at 320,000, though the crowd appeared to be much larger, according to The Associated Press news agency.

Fawcett said the protesters “don’t seem satisfied” by Park’s offer on Tuesday to voluntarily leave office by April, and hold an early presidential election in June.

Opposition parliament members have criticised Park’s overture, saying it was a stalling ploy aimed at luring back members of her party who supported her impeachment.

Opposition parties registered an impeachment motion, which could be voted on as early as next Friday.

The motion, which had the support of 171 opposition and independent lawmakers, accuses Park of violating the constitution and undermining democracy by allowing her longtime friend, Choi Soon-sil, to interfere in state affairs, and letting senior presidential aides help Choi extort from companies.

It also accuses Park of other crimes, including abuse of authority, coercion and bribery.

Police allowed protesters to advance to a narrow alley about 100 metres away from the presidential palace [EPA]

Squabbling in parliament

The scandal has sparked mass protests each Saturday in downtown Seoul. 

Demonstrators advanced to a narrow alley about 100 metres away from the presidential palace grounds, an area police did not previously permit them to enter.

Some of the protesters, led by the relatives of a 2014 ferry disaster that killed more than 300 people, mostly teenagers on a school trip, jammed the alley near the presidential office, shouting for hours for Park’s arrest, not just her resignation.

Others angrily threw flowers at police who had created tight perimeters around the street, and demanded the officers get out of the way.

Protesters are also trying to pressure parliament members, including Park’s conservative ruling party, to vote for her impeachment next week.

Opposition parties controlling South Korea’s parliament had earlier planned to call for a vote this past week, but were thrown off after Park made a conditional offer on Tuesday to resign, leaving lawmakers squabbling over timing.

Some anti-Park parliament members from her own ruling party have called for her to announce by Wednesday, that she will step down voluntarily in April.

It remains uncertain whether those parliament members, numbering between 30 to 40, will back the impeachment bill if she makes the commitment to resign, Al Jazeera’s Fawcett said.

Park Geun-hye: Scandal is all my fault and mistake

Without their support, there would not be enough number, to pass the impeachment motion.

Park’s confidante Choi now faces charges for meddling on government affairs, and in a first for a sitting South Korean president, Park had earlier been named a “suspect” by prosecutors.

As president, Park cannot be charged with a criminal offence except insurrection or treason, but she would lose that immunity once she steps down.

Source: Al Jazeera News and Agencies

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at 7:06 am

Donald Trump speaks directly to Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-wen

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US President-elect Donald Trump has spoken with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, a move that is likely to infuriate China and complicate US relations with Beijing.

During Friday’s discussion, Trump and Tsai noted “the close economic, political and security ties” between Taiwan and the United States, according to the president-elect’s transition team.

“President-elect Trump also congratulated President Tsai on becoming president of Taiwan earlier this year,” it said.

The call was the first such contact with Taiwan by a US president-elect or president since President Jimmy Carter adopted a one-China policy in 1979. As part of its so-called “one China” policy Washington shifted diplomatic recognition of China from the government in Taiwan to the communist government on the mainland.

OPINION: The new Taiwan crisis

Under that policy, the US recognises Beijing as representing China but retains unofficial ties with Taiwan. Washington is Taiwan’s most important political ally and sole arms supplier, despite the lack of formal diplomatic ties.

Al Jazeera’s Adrian Brown, reporting from Beijing, said that the response from the Chinese government was swift. “A spokesperson said China opposes any official contact or military interactions between the US and Taiwan.

“It is not what was said that will upset China, but the symbolism of the US president-elect directly speaking to the Taiwanese leader,” he said.

Defending the move

As he came under fire for the move, Trump defended the contact on Twitter.

He first tweeted that Tsai initiated the call, one of several he has had with world leaders in recent days, and brushed off criticism for speaking directly with the leader.

“Interesting how the US sells Taiwan billions of dollars of military equipment but I should not accept a congratulatory call,” Trump wrote in a second tweet sent an hour after the first one.

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi Wang said that the so-called “one-China policy” is the cornerstone of US-China relations and that Beijing hoped that foundation would not be “interfered with or damaged” by Trump’s move.

China views Taiwan as a renegade province.

During the election campaign, Trump referred to China as a currency manipulator and accused Beijing of raping the US economy.

The White House responded to the call by saying that “longstanding policy” on China and Taiwan has not changed.

“We remain firmly committed to our ‘one China’ policy,” said Ned Price, a national security spokesman for President Barack Obama. “Our fundamental interest is in peaceful and stable cross-Strait relations.”

The call comes at a time of worsened Taiwan-China relations since the election of Tsai’s pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) earlier this year.

Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke by telephone on November 14. Xi stressed that cooperation was the only choice for relations between the world’s two largest economies, and Trump said that the two had established a “clear sense of mutual respect”.

Source: Al Jazeera News and Agencies

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at 7:06 am

Gambia: Yahya Jammeh concedes loss to Adama Barrow

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Yahya Jammeh, the longtime president of The Gambia, has conceded defeat to opposition leader Adama Barrow, accepting that the people have “decided that I should take the back seat”.

Jammeh, who came to power in 1994 as a 29-year-old army officer following a military coup, had won four previous polls.

Speaking to the public on Gambian television late on Friday, Jammeh congratulated Barrow for his “clear victory”, saying: “I wish him all the best and I wish all Gambians the best.”

He said: “If [Barrow] wants to work with us also, I have no problem with that. I will help him work towards the transition,” he said, confirming that he would not contest the result.

Barrow’s victory in Thursday’s presidential election brings to an end Jammeh’s 22-year rule.

Gambians voted by placing marbles into drums marked for each candidate.

Yahya Jammeh ruled The Gambia for 22 years [Thierry Gouegnon/Reuters]

Many stayed up all night listening to the radio and tallying results as they were read out constituency by constituency. 

Barrow received 263,515 votes while Jammeh won 212,099, Alieu Momarr Njai, the electoral commission head, said in the capital Banjul on Friday.

News of Barrow’s victory prompted thousands to take to the streets of Banjul in celebration – some on foot while others rode in cars and trucks and on motorbikes – as confused soldiers looked on.

Candidate of change

“For many Gambians, this is the first time they have voted,” Al Jazeera’s Nicolas Haque, reporting from Fatick in neighbouring Senegal due to Gambian restrictions, said. “They have only seen for the last 22 years one ruler. A lot of young people want to see change and a new ruler.

“Adama Barrow represents change; he represents hope for a lot of young Gambians.”

In his first comments after the results came out, Barrow acknowledged the nation’s huge shift.

“It’s time for work. It’s a new Gambia,” he said.

An estate agent who worked as a security guard in Britain, Barrow was chosen as the opposition candidate by a group of political parties who had joined forces for the first time, rustling up unprecedented popular support.

Still, Jammeh had projected confidence, saying his victory was all but assured by God, predicting “the biggest landslide in the history of the country” after he voted on Thursday.

Voters placed marbles into drums marked for each candidate [Thierry Gouegnon/Reuters]

Source: Al Jazeera News and Agencies

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at 7:06 am

Saudi king sacks labour minister, reshuffles councils

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King Salman bin Abdulaziz has replaced Saudi Arabia’s labour minister after recent statistics showed a rise in unemployment and thousands of foreign workers have gone months without salaries in the country.

In a royal decree read on state television on Friday, the king also reshuffled the country’s top religious body, the Council of Senior Scholars, and the Shura Council, which advises the government.

The changes come as the kingdom prepares to implement reforms proposed by its Vision 2030, which aims to reduce dependence on oil, attract foreign investments and promote more cultural openness.

State television said King Salman had appointed Ali bin Nasser al-Ghafis as labour minister to replace Mufrej al-Haqbani. Haqbani had been in the position for only seven months

Ghafis is currently head of the Technical and Vocational Training Corporation, a network of colleges set up to train young Saudis in the trades.

Haqbani faced a slew of challenges in his time at the helm of the labour ministry, as a sharp drop in crude prices slashed government revenues and took a toll on economic growth.

READ MORE: Saudi Arabia agrees on plan to cut reliance on oil

Job creation dried up this year amid severe cuts to public spending and delays in state payments to contractors, despite reforms geared towards creating jobs for Saudis.

The unemployment rate rose to 12.1 percent in the third quarter, up from 11.6 percent the previous quarter.

The kingdom’s economic reform plan, led by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has set targets to cut the jobless rate to 7 percent by 2030 and raise women’s participation in the labour force to 30 percent from 22 percent.

Saudi Arabia has also seen a labour crisis this year, as delayed payments by the state have pushed the kingdom’s largest contractors into financial duress and led them to delay salary payments.

After Saudi Arabia’s oil revenues collapsed, the government was left owing billions of dollars to private firms, chiefly in the construction sector, which in turn could not pay their workers.

Thousands of foreign employees – most of them from India, Pakistan and the Philippines – went unpaid for months and were left with limited access to food in squalid labour camps. As the salary delays worsened, frustrated workers in some cases staged public protests.

The government has vowed to clear the arrears by this month.

Council changes

The king also changed the head of the country’s consultative Shura Council and replaced several members of the assembly.

Some members of the council have recently come under fire on social media for proposing or supporting cuts to some social benefits and the raising of prices of some basic services.

On Friday, the king appointed 150 members of the council, including 30 women, some of whom were new.

READ MORE: Let women drive, says Saudi prince

Several moderate clerics were also appointed to the Council of Senior Scholars, seemingly to support the Vision 2030 reform plan, which has courted controversy in the conservative kingdom by calling for women’s employment.

New members include Mohammed al-Issa, a previous minister of justice and former member of the council often cited by liberals as the sort of moderate Wahhabi cleric that reformers in the royal family want to promote.

The council remains dominated by older conservatives such as Saleh al-Fawzan and Saleh al-Luhaidan, who once called for Muslim media owners who broadcast “depravity” to be executed.

In recent years, however, the government has promoted more moderate clerics and opened up the council to include scholars from the other main branches of Sunni jurisprudence beyond the Hanbali school followed by Wahhabis.

Source: Al Jazeera News and News Agencies

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December 2, 2016 at 7:00 pm

Hundreds contact police over sex abuse in UK football

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British police officials say hundreds of people have filed reports of child sex abuse within the country’s football system.

In a statement released on Thursday, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) said 350 people had approached police forces across the UK with allegations of child abuse in football clubs.

Officials said the police would be investigating all of the reports they receive, with many believed to be dating back decades.

“We continue to encourage those who have been the victim of child sexual abuse to report it, regardless of how long ago the abuse may have taken place,” said Chief Constable Simon Bailey, NPCC spokesperson.

“We will listen and treat all reports sensitively and seriously. Anyone with any information regarding child sexual abuse is also urged to come forward.”

The police statement came as the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) said it had received more than 800 calls on a dedicated phone line set up to report abuse in football.

“The number of prominent footballers bravely speaking out about their ordeal has rightly caught the attention of the entire country,” said Peter Wanless, NSPCC chief executive.

“We have had a staggering surge in calls to our football hotline which reveals the worrying extent of abuse that had been going on within the sport.”

The flood of reports follows revelations by former Crewe Alexandra player Andy Woodward detailed abuse he suffered in the 1980s.

READ MORE: The UK’s celebrity sex offenders

Other players soon followed suit, with alleged perpetrators believed to have worked at clubs across the country and in different tiers of the Football League system.

The scandal is the latest to affect a British institution and comes just a few years after revelations about child sex abuse involving a number of prominent media personalities.

Most significant among these was former BBC presenter Jimmy Savile, who raped and abused hundreds of children and other vulnerable people over five decades.

Savile died before the accusations were revealed and the issue could be brought to court.

Source: Al Jazeera

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