Archive for September 2019

Syrian government and opposition delegates to peace talks in Geneva on Saturday warned of the impact on negotiations after a day of violence in Syria that included jihadist suicide bombings and missile strikes by the air force.

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The United Nations opened the peace talks with a symbolic ceremony on Thursday in Geneva, attended by representatives of the warring sides. But there has been no further direct contact with UN mediator Staffan de Mistura, who is still trying to get agreement on how the talks should be arranged.

With tensions palpable among participants, the United Nations is treading carefully in its efforts to revive negotiations after a 10-month hiatus.

READ MORE: At least 35 dead after car bomb explodes near Syria town captured from Islamic State militants

“Every time we have talks, or negotiations, there is always someone who tries to spoil,” de Mistura told reporters before meeting the government delegation. “I am expecting (it),” he said.

A ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey with Iran’s support is increasingly violated with groups opposed to the truce and the Geneva process also attempting to force their collapse.

Suicide bombers stormed two Syrian security offices in Homs on Saturday, killing dozens with gunfire and explosions including the head of military security, prompting airstrikes against the last rebel-held enclave in the western city.

WATCH: Bana Alabed posts video with Syrian whos lost both legs in an airstrike

The jihadist rebel alliance Tahrir al-Sham, which opposes the talks – although it has fought alongside factions that are represented there – said that five suicide bombers had carried out the attack. It celebrated with the words “thanks be to God” but stopped short of explicitly claiming responsibility.

Tahrir al-Sham was formed this year from several groups including Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, which was formerly known as the Nusra Front and was al Qaeda‘s Syrian branch until it broke formal allegiance to the global jihadist movement in 2016.

Warplanes also carried out six raids on Douma in the eastern suburbs of Damascus, resulting in six deaths, and earlier, an air raid in Hama killed four people from the same family, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

WATCH: Quarter of Canadians support Trump-style ban on Syrian refugees: poll

Speaking to Reuters, Basma Kodmani, a negotiator from the opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC), said groups backing the talks had abided by the ceasefire, but questioned the government’s commitment and whether Russia, a key Assad ally, was ready to pressure it to curb the violence. [L8N1GA0B1]

“The ceasefire…is violated today in the most horrible way,” she said. “The use of napalm yesterday and today massive air bombings on the suburb of Waer of homs city. That is giving us very negative intentions about what the regime’s intentions are,” she said.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry said it had written to the United Nations demanding condemnation for Saturday’s attack and what it called other terrorist acts. Damascus regards all the groups fighting against it as terrorists.

READ MORE: Syrian president welcomes US troops to fight ‘terrorists’ in Syria

“The terrorist explosions that hit Homs city are a message to Geneva from sponsors of terrorism, and we tell everyone that the message is received and this crime won’t pass unnoticed,” the government’s chief negotiator Bashar Ja’afari told reporters.

Although Assad’s government has controlled most of Homs since 2014, rebels still control its al-Waer district, which warplanes bombed on Saturday, wounding 50, the Observatory said.

“If it (ceasefire)is not credible, if nothing is happening here in Geneva, I fear that the ceasefire even for the opposition is going to collapse,” Kodmani said.

“Where is Russia to get compliance again from the regime so that the talks in Geneva can take place?”

READ MORE: Syria denies Amnesty International report of mass hangings

De Mistura handed a working paper on procedural issues to delegations at the talks on Friday, but there appeared little prospect of them meeting directly soon. Further bilateral talks are scheduled for later on Saturday.

The envoy is looking to lay the foundations for negotiations to end the six-year-old conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions.

“It may be good not to have too high expectations but it also reflects the state of things,” said a Western diplomat.

“To get them in the room is symbolic. But there is no way you can get anything out of that at the moment unless you have the beginning of an agreement between the backers.”

Saturdays are usually one of the busiest days of the week for the Mont Rigaud ski hill, located roughly 70 kilometres west of Montreal.

However, rain and mild temperatures made clientele hard to come by.

On weekends, the ski hill typically has around 3,000 people a day taking to the trails, but this Saturday there were only about 50 people.

“Even if there’s warm weather like 10 C or 5 C that’s OK, the snow doesn’t melt that fast,” said Luc Elie, Mont Rigaud ski hill owner.

The ski hill makes snow at the beginning of the season, which serves as a base coating on the trails.

Elie said people think because snow has melted in their yards that it’ll disappear from the ski hills.

“There’s a big base,” he said. “We have over two feet and in some places over three to five feet of snow.”

With spring break on the horizon, Elie is hoping for Mother Nature to cooperate.

After all it’s one of the busiest times of the year.

“Usually every day of the week is like a weekend,” Elie said. “It’s a very important time of the year for us.”

Mont Rigaud plans to stay open for skiers until early April.

ChangSha Night Net

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In December, President Donald Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer was on a panel when he said keeping an open channel from the White House to the press is the difference between “a democracy vs. a dictatorship.”

Spicer barred several major U.S. media outlets from attending an informal, on-the-record White House press briefing Friday.

READ MORE: Some media blocked from White House briefing after Donald Trump attacks ‘fake news’ during CPAC speech

The list included CNN, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and Politico.

The Trump campaign was well-known for banning reporters from his campaign events for weeks at a time.

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In the most recent twist of irony for the Trump administration, Spicer was on a panel hosted by Politico’s Jake Sherman in December, where he was asked about barring reporters from attending presidential events.

Spicer said: “There’s a big difference between a campaign where it is a private venue using private funds and a government entity, and I think we have a respect for the press when it comes to the government that that is something that you can’t ban an entity from —; Conservative, Liberal or otherwise. I think that’s what makes a democracy a democracy vs. a dictatorship.”

READ MORE: Donald Trump’s old tweets about Barack Obama prove ironic again

During Spicer’s informal briefing, he denied he was playing favourites by his actions.

“We’ve brought more reporters into this process. And the idea that every time that every single person can’t get their question answered or fit in a room that we’re excluding people. We’ve actually gone above and beyond with making ourselves, our team, and our briefing room more accessible than probably any prior administration. And so I think you can take that to the bank.

READ MORE: Trump has a ‘healthy respect’ for media he called ‘enemies’: Sean Spicer

“We do what we can to accommodate the press. I think we’ve gone above and beyond when it comes to accessibility, and openness and getting folks – our officials, our team.”

You could soon be taking a public transit bus from Metro Vancouver to Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton.

BC Transit is looking at the possibility of connecting Vancouver and the Sea-to-Sky corridor with public transit service. The areas are currently only connected by private bus companies and seasonal float plane routes.

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The inter-regional transit network is part of BC Transit’s Sea-to-Sky Transit Future Plan project which also hopes to improve transportation within the Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton communities. Routes are currently only available between Whistler and Pemberton.

The plan makes clear that introducing weekday service between Metro Vancouver and Squamish is a high priority, considering the high traffic volume between the two regions and the number of Squamish residents who commute into the city for work each day. Its goal is to have this completed by 2020.

The initial service would include weekday peak hour trips between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.

That service, along with the introduction of mid-day or evening transit between Pemberton and Whistler and further study into the region’s transit needs, is expected to cost roughly $800,000.

Just the service between Metro Vancouver and Squamish is estimated to bring in $121,200 in annual revenue with three buses dedicated to the route serving 40,400 passengers a year. It could cost $626,600, shared between the regions and BC Transit.

The proposal plans to increase weekday service and add weekend service between Squamish and Metro Vancouver by 2025. It will also begin routes between Squamish and Whistler (which previously operated between 2005 and 2011), meaning passengers can travel between Vancouver, Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton entirely on transit.

BC Transit also proposes that by 2025:

Weekday service will add additional trips between 9 a.m and 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. and 10 p.m.Weekend service is introduced with four round trips per day, operating every two hours

While there are no estimates on how long the bus route would take to travel between the communities, the typical drive from downtown Vancouver to Squamish is roughly one hour. It takes about another 45 minutes to get to Whistler and just over two hours to get to Pemberton. There is no indication how much a ride between any of the communities would cost but the plans suggest a zone-based system similar to TransLink’s Metro Vancouver structure.

“It’s time for action. The province is committed to the Sea-to-Sky as the next logical step for regional transit in the province… but the governance structure and funding formula is going to be a challenge to reach an agreement on,” Jordan Sturdy, MLA for West Vancouver-Sea-to-Sky, said about the project.

The Sea-to-Sky region is home to nearly 40,000 people and its population has increased 86 per cent in the last 25 years. Census data from 2016 shows the population of Squamish increased over 13 per cent between 2011 and 2016, while Whistler grew by over 20 per cent and Pemberton grew by almost 6 per cent. The whole region expected to continue growing by 2.2 to 2.6 per cent each year until 2031, partly due to staggering home prices in Metro Vancouver that are pushing more people farther away from the city.

Elements like growing tourism and more jobs in the region means that thousands of people visit the Sea-to-Sky corridor every day. Seasonal swells in Whistler’s population can grow to up to 45,000 people on a holiday weekend, for instance, and the resort town records 2.7 million tourists each year.

New tourist attractions like the Sea-to-Sky Gondola in Squamish – which just counted its one millionth visitor – are also helping to push the region onto the map. In 2015, the New York Times named Squamish as one of the 52 places to go in 2015 because of the city’s access to one of the West Coast’s best wilderness playgrounds.

BC Transit will be hosting six public consultations in early March on the proposed Sea-to-Sky transit changes. The consultations will include conversations about where bus stops should be located, routing, schedules and fares.

A previous survey of over 2,700 people, mostly from Squamish and Whistler, found 43 per cent of respondents preferred Vancouver’s Waterfront Station as the most desirable pick-up and drop-off location in Metro Vancouver. Garibaldi Village and downtown Squamish were the most preferred in Squamish. The Village was the top pick in Whistler and downtown Pemberton was the most preferred stop in the Pemberton area.

A 17-year-old transgender boy moved within one match of winning a Texas state girls wrestling title.

Mack Beggs pinned Kailyn Clay to improve to 56-0, putting him in Saturday afternoon’s championship match.

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Beggs is a junior from Euless Trinity in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. His family has said he would rather be wrestling boys. Some girls and their advocates agree.

They say the testosterone Beggs has been taking while transitioning from female to male has made him too strong to wrestle fairly against girls. But state policy calls for students to wrestle against the gender listed on their birth certificates.

READ MORE: Texas transgender teen wrestler to compete against girls in state tournament amid controversy

So Beggs beat Taylor Latham and Mya Engert handily on Friday before his victory over Clay that sent him to the finals.

In the semifinals, the match was halted for a couple of minutes because Beggs had a bloody nose. Trainers finally managed to stop the bleeding and the fight resumed. Not long after, Beggs slammed Clay on the mat and pinned her.

He and Clay shared a long hug before an official raised Beggs’ arm to signal victory, and the wrestler scurried off the mat. Clay’s coached shouted to reporters that she “did not have permission” to talk to them after her loss and both of her parents declined comment.

Beggs, who reached the state tournament after two opponents forfeited, will face Chelsea Sanchez for a shot at a state title.

READ MORE: Caitlyn Jenner on Trump’s transgender bathroom decision: ‘This is a disaster’

Beggs’ participation comes at a crucial moment, with the public and politicians debating the growing belief that gender is fluid. Just this week, the Trump administration announced an end to federal protections that allowed transgender students to use facilities based on their gender identity, leaving states and school districts to determine their own policies.

And in Texas, lawmakers are considering a bill similar to HB2, the North Carolina law that prompted the NBA to move this year’s All-Star Game out of that state. If passed, the Texas version, called SB6, would require transgender people to use the bathroom of their “biological sex.”

READ MORE: North Carolina’s failure to repeal transgender bathroom law exposes bitter cultural divide

The University Interscholastic League, which oversees athletics in Texas public schools, enacted the birth certificate policy Aug. 1.

Attorney Jim Baudhuin tried and failed to get injunctions before both the district and regional meets to prevent Beggs from competing while he transitions. He told The Associated Press earlier this week he doesn’t blame Beggs for the situation, but faults the UIL.

READ MORE: Silicon Valley giants slam Trump for reversing transgender bathroom guideline

“The more I learn about this, the more I realize that she’s just trying to live her life and her family is, too,” Baudhuin said. “She’s being forced into that position. Who knows, through discovery we may find out that’s not the case. But every indication is, the way the winds are going now, the blame rests with the UIL and the superintendents.”

Despite criticism of the policy, UIL executives don’t envision a change.

“Ninety-five percent of the school superintendents in Texas voted for the rule as it was proposed, which was to use birth certificates,” UIL deputy director Jamey Harrison said. “So any rule can be reconsidered, but … given the overwhelming support for that rule, I don’t expect it to change anytime soon.”