New Zealand begins body recovery mission after volcanic eruption

An eight-person team will wear protective clothing and breathing apparatuses during the search-and-recovery mission.

    New Zealand police and military specialists have launched a perilous dawn mission to recover bodies from a volcanic island amid fears it might erupt again.

    Two New Zealand Defence Force military helicopters set off from the township of Whakatane at first light on Friday bound for Whakaari, the volcano off the North Island where an eruption on Monday is believed to have resulted in at least 16 deaths. 

    More:

    • New Zealand volcano deaths rise, plan to retrieve bodies set

    • Increased activity on New Zealand’s Whakaari stymies recovery

    • White Island volcano: All you need to know

    At the same time, police took grieving families out near the island on a boat and a Maori blessing was performed.

    Authorities say eight bodies remain on the volcano and – after coming under pressure from distraught families – approved a recovery mission despite a 50 to 60 percent chance the volcano – also known as White Island – will explode again in the next day or so.

    From a ship based just off the island, volcanologists will monitor live feeds of seismic activity from the still-smouldering volcano as the eight-strong military team attempt to extract the bodies, ready to call off the operation if signs point to another eruption.

    ‘A lot has to go right for this to work’

    The recovery team will wear protective clothing and use breathing apparatuses to try to retrieve the bodies. Scientists have warned that gases on the island after Monday’s eruption are so toxic and corrosive that a single inhalation could be fatal. 

    “Of course, I’m worried, I would be inhuman if I did not worry,” Deputy Police Commissioner Mike Clement said when he outlined the plan late on Thursday, adding “we have a job to do.”

    Clement said the success of the operation would depend on many factors beyond the control of the recovery team, like “the mountain itself, the volcano, the weather and other matters, environmental factors that we don’t control.”

    “A lot has to go right for this to work,” he said. “We will all be waiting tomorrow morning to ensure that the people who are putting themselves in harm’s way in the interests of recovering those bodies, our thoughts and our prayers and our love will be with them.”

    With the help of drone flights and helicopter pilots who were near the volcano immediately after the eruption, authorities have located six of the eight bodies on the island.

    The plan is to immediately recover the six bodies and search for the other two, then transport them to military frigate HMNZS Wellington anchored off the coast, Clement said. 

    The operation is expected to take several hours. 

    A further eruption?

    New Zealand medical staff were working around the clock to treat the injured survivors in hospital burn units, and specialist medical teams are due to arrive from Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

    The enormity of the task was clear when Dr Peter Watson, a chief medical officer, said at a news conference that extra skin has been ordered from US skin banks. Hospital personnel anticipated needing an extra 120 square metres (1,300 square feet) of skin for grafting onto patients, Watson said.

    Whakaari is the tip of a mostly-underwater volcano that is about 50 kilometres (30 miles) off New Zealand’s North Island and has been a popular attraction visited by thousands of tourists each year.

    Authorities say 24 Australians, nine US citizens, five New Zealanders, four Germans, two Britons, two Chinese and a Malaysian were visiting the island on Monday at the time of the eruption. Many were from a Royal Caribbean cruise ship that had left Sydney two days earlier.

    New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Thursday that some injured Australians had been medically evacuated and such flights would continue. Australia previously said up to 10 such patients would be transferred to hospitals in Victoria and New South Wales states for further treatment.

    New Zealand’s GeoNet seismic monitoring agency on Thursday lowered Whakaari‘s volcanic alert level to 2, noting there had been no further eruption since Monday, when the level had briefly been raised to 4. Its alert level since late Monday had been 3 on a scale where 5 signifies a major eruption.

    A further eruption in the next day still remains a possibility, the agency said, noting volcanic tremors are rising and steam and mud were being vented regularly.

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    Teen arrested after threats allegedly made against Lower Sackville school

    A 14-year-old boy has been arrested after allegedly making threats online against a school in Lower Sackville.

    In a news release Thursday, Nova Scotia RCMP said they learned of the threats on Dec. 7 just before 6 p.m.

    The suspect, whose identity is protected under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, was arrested for uttering threats.

    No one was hurt, police said.

    In light of the situation, police are reminding the public that police investigate all calls involving threats to a school, even if the information is received through a third party or via social media

    “In every case, police attempt to get to the source of the information,” police said in the news release.

    “There can be serious criminal consequences to making a threat to a school. Additionally, investigating complaints where a false threat was made ties up police and school resources, when they could be better used in other areas.”

    The teen was released on conditions and is scheduled to appear in Halifax youth court on Jan. 9, 2020.


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    Police identify suspect in central Edmonton homicide

    Investigators are looking for 31-year-old Michael Tyrel Arnold, of Edmonton, in connection with the fatal shooting in the Oliver neighbourhood on Dec. 3.

    Arthur Charles Edward Beauchamp, 45, was shot and killed that Tuesday morning at an apartment complex near 103 Avenue and 115 Street.

    Police are searching for Arnold in connection with this death.

    “Arnold is believed to be armed and dangerous and is arrestable fro murder,” the Edmonton Police Service said in a news release Thursday.

    He is described as about 5’9″ tall, 166 pounds, with red hair and green eyes. He has a broken front tooth and a scar on his chin.

    Anyone with information about his whereabouts is asked not to approach him; but contact EPS at (780) 423-4567.

    The suspect vehicle, a grey Nissan Rogue, has been found by investigators.


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    Quebec court refuses to suspend law banning religious symbols

    (Reuters) – The Quebec Court of Appeal refused on Thursday to suspend a law banning the wearing of religious symbols by public employees in the Canadian province, although more legal battles await.

    The law, which the Quebec government said was designed to preserve “laicite” or secularism in the mainly French-speaking province, prohibits many types of civil servants, including teachers and police officers, from wearing religious symbols such as hijabs and turbans on the job.

    Multiple lawsuits have been filed claiming the law is discriminatory and unconstitutional.

    The appeals court ruling came on a motion by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the National Council of Canadian Muslims that argued the law was outside Quebec’s jurisdiction, impermissibly vague and violated constitutional guarantees of equal access.

    The court heard from women who were refused teaching jobs because they wear hijabs. And while judges agreed those women had suffered irreparable harm, in a 2-1 ruling they said that at this stage the court had to assume the impugned law serves a “valid public purpose.”

    “I’m beyond disappointed,” said Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, director of the Civil Liberties Association’s Equality Program.

    “We have a horrendous law on the books and we were very much hoping that relief would be granted by the court to people who really need it, who just want to go to work and feed their families and live in a free and equal society. That’s what we were hoping for and that did not happen. … This is a really difficult decision for so many people, not just people who themselves have lost their jobs, but for every person who cares about equality and justice.”

    Aviv said it was too early to say whether they would appeal Thursday’s ruling. The court challenges to the law continue to move forward.

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    CANADA FX DEBT-Loonie holds near December high after U.S.-China trade deal

     (Adds strategist quotes and details; updates prices)
        * Canadian dollar weakens 0.1% against the greenback
        * Loonie trades in a range of 1.3163 to 1.3194
        * Price of U.S. oil rises 0.7%
        * Canadian bond prices fall across a steeper yield curve
    
        By Fergal Smith
        TORONTO, Dec 12 (Reuters) - The Canadian dollar edged lower
    against its U.S. counterpart on Thursday but held onto most of
    the previous day's gains as investors cheered news of a
    U.S.-China trade deal and after the Bank of Canada was
    untroubled by November's jobs decline.
        The U.S. dollar        rallied against a basket of major
    currencies and Wall Street's main indexes hit record highs
    following news that the United States had reached a "deal in
    principle" with China to resolve a trade war that has rattled
    markets for nearly two years.             
        Canada is a major exporter of commodities, including oil, so
    its economy could benefit from reduced global trade uncertainty.
    U.S. crude oil futures        settled 0.7% higher at $59.18 a
    barrel.             
        "Positive trade news is going to be positive for the
    Canadian dollar," said Andrew Sierocinski, foreign exchange
    analyst at Klarity FX.    
        A recent weakening in Canada's labor market, underscored by
    major job losses in November, is unlikely to weigh heavily on
    future monetary policy decisions, Bank of Canada Governor
    Stephen Poloz said.             
        Poloz is sending the message that the economic outlook is
    looking better than at the bank's monetary policy report in
    October, Sierocinski said, though he said that message may be
    too optimistic.
        At 4:32 p.m. (2132 GMT), the Canadian dollar          was
    trading 0.1% lower at 1.3184 to the greenback, or 75.85 U.S.
    cents. The currency traded in a range of 1.3163 to 1.3194,
    within reach of its December peak at 1.3158.
        On Wednesday, the loonie rallied 0.5% after the U.S. Federal
    Reserve's benign inflation outlook reduced expectations for a
    rate hike any time soon.             
        Canadian government bond prices were lower across a steeper
    yield curve in sympathy with U.S. Treasuries. The two-year
               fell 7 Canadian cents to yield 1.701% and the 10-year
                was down 80 Canadian cents to yield 1.671%.
        The 10-year yield touched its highest intraday level since
    May 23 at 1.682%.
    
     (Reporting by Fergal Smith; editing by Jonathan Oatis and
    Leslie Adler)
      

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    Concordia appoints Graham Carr as university’s new president

    Concordia University has named Graham Carr its new president after his five-year term was approved by the board of governors on Thursday.

    According to a press release from the university, Concordia’s new president is a Quebec native who joined the university’s history department in 1983 after earning his PhD from the University of Maine. Carr has served as interim president since July 1, succeeding Alan Shepard.

    He has held several leadership roles at Concordia prior to his appointments as interim president and now president. He served as provost and vice-president of academic, vice-president of research and graduate studies and dean of graduate studies.

    Carr has also worked on several of the university’s initiatives, including District 3 Innovation Centre and the Indigenous Directions Action Plan.

    “Graham emerged from the international search process as the board’s overwhelming top choice,” said Norman Hébert, the chairperson of the Board of Directors.

    Hébert said Carr’s knowledge of the higher education landscape is extensive.

    The university also announced the appointment of vice-chair Helen Antoniou as board of governors chair. She will succeed Hébert on Jul. 1, 2020.

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    U.S. imposes sanctions on son of Nicaragua's president

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions on Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s son, Rafael Antonio Ortega Murillo, for alleged money-laundering and corruption, the U.S. Treasury Department announced, in its latest move against the Nicaraguan government.

    The Trump administration has criticized Nicaragua’s government for the concentration of power in the hands of the president and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, who is already subject to U.S. sanctions along with other Nicaraguan officials.

    In addition to accusing the government of monopolizing power, the Trump administration has criticized it for a crackdown on anti-government protests and accused it of human rights abuses, unlawful killings, arbitrary detentions, political persecution and widespread corruption.

    Washington on Thursday also blacklisted two of Rafael Ortega’s companies that it said he used to launder money for and finance the Ortega government, as well as a third company owned by the family, Treasury said in a statement.

    The latest sanctions freeze any U.S. assets of Rafael Ortega and the targeted companies and bar Americans from doing business with them.

    “Rafael Ortega is the key money manager behind the Ortega family’s illicit financial schemes. Treasury is targeting Rafael and the companies he owns and uses to launder money to prop up the Ortega regime at the expense of the Nicaraguan people,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in the department’s statement.

    The Nicaraguan Embassy in Washington did not answer the phone and did not immediately reply to an emailed request for comment.

    The Treasury Department said Rafael Ortega was targeted under an executive order for providing support to Murillo, who was blacklisted last year.

    Washington accused Rafael Ortega of using his company Inversiones Zanzibar, S.A. as a “front company” to avoid U.S. sanctions and said his security firm Servicio De Proteccion Y Vigilancia, S.A. had received millions in government contracts.

    A chain of gas stations, Distribuidor Nicaraguense de Petroleo S.A., owned by Rafael Ortega as well as by Murillo, was also blacklisted.

    Treasury said the company, bought with public money before being transferred to the Ortega family, had benefited from non-competitive contracts with the government.

    The Nicaraguan government has called previous U.S. sanctions on officials a continuation of “imperial” designs on the small Central American country.

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    PM Johnson heads for Brexit election win

    LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is on course to win Thursday’s election, giving him the numbers in parliament needed to pass his Brexit divorce deal next month, according to an exit poll on Thursday.

    Below is early reaction:

    JOHN BERCOW, FORMER HOUSE OF COMMONS SPEAKER

    “That would be a phenomenal victory for the Conservative Party and Boris Johnson will feel completely vindicated with the gamble that he took. That would be an absolutely dramatic victory.”

    JAMES CLEVERLY, CONSERVATIVE PARTY CHAIRMAN

    “I’ve always felt that polls should be taken with a degree of caution. We’ve seen over a number of electoral events in the last few years they’ve called it wrong.”

    “I’ve been cautious of poll results when they look good, I’m cautious of poll results when they look bad. So we’ll see how the seats actually roll out before we get too excited.

    “If, big if, the numbers play out as per that exit poll then that is numerically a big majority but we’ll want to see if it plays out.”

    BARRY GARDINER, LABOUR PARTY TRADE SPOKESMAN

    “If that is the case then obviously its a devastating result for us.”

    NAOMI SMITH, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF THE PRO-EUROPEAN CAMPAIGN GROUP BEST FOR BRITAIN

    “While this exit poll isn’t promising, the influence of tactical voting at this election has yet to be revealed.

    “Let’s be clear: a majority for Boris Johnson tonight would engulf the UK in a fresh crisis. There is no Brexit deal, only an agreement to talk about a deal in the future.”

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    Wall Street hits records on news of U.S.-China trade deal

    (Reuters) – Wall Street’s main indexes hit record highs on Thursday following news that the United States had reached a “deal in principle” with China to resolve a trade war that has rattled markets for nearly two years.

    Stocks were boosted in the morning when President Donald Trump tweeted that the United States was close to a deal ahead of Sunday, when a new round of tariffs on Chinese goods has been set to go into effect. Later in the day, reports emerged that the two countries had reached a deal in principle.

    Wall Street has focused on the new round of tariffs, hopeful they would at least be delayed as the world’s two largest economies make progress on an initial trade deal.

    “It’s been a long, painful process to come to a deal, if this is it,” said Rick Meckler, partner at Cherry Lane Investments in New Vernon, New Jersey. “Certainly it’s something that the market has been looking for as maybe the last real near-term drawback to the market.”

    (Graphic: U.S.-China trade war timeline Image link: here)

    The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI rose 220.75 points, or 0.79%, to 28,132.05, the S&P 500 .SPX gained 26.94 points, or 0.86%, to 3,168.57, and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC added 63.27 points, or 0.73%, to 8,717.32.

    All three indexes hit intraday records, while the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq posted record high closes.

    Investors expressed some wariness of placing too much faith in the trade developments given the continued ups and downs during the prolonged U.S.-China trade saga.

    The benchmark S&P index has gained 26% so far in 2019, fueled by interest rate cuts by the U.S. Federal Reserve and better-than-expected corporate profits along with optimism over the U.S.-China trade relations.

    On Wednesday the Fed held interest rates steady in its last policy meeting of the year and signaled borrowing costs will not change anytime soon. On Thursday, Europe’s central bank held its rates steady, and its new head struck a more upbeat tone on the economy.

    Among S&P 500 sectors, financials .SPSY and energy .SPNY gained the most on Thursday, while defensive groups, including real estate .SPLRCR and utilities .SPLRCU, were negative.

    In company news, Facebook Inc (FB.O) shares fell 2.7% after the Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission is considering seeking a preliminary injunction against the social media company.

    Delta Air Lines Inc (DAL.N) shares rose 2.9% as the company projected another annual rise in profit and revenue in 2020.

    Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 1.89-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.85-to-1 ratio favored advancers.

    The S&P 500 posted 83 new 52-week highs and two new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 195 new highs and 56 new lows.

    About 8 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, well above the 6.7 billion daily average over the last 20 sessions.

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    Boeing scuttles 2019 timeline for 737 MAX return after CEO meets with U.S. FAA

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Boeing Co (BA.N) on Thursday abandoned its goal of winning approval this month from the Federal Aviation Administration to unground the 737 MAX after Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg met with senior U.S. aviation officials.

    The announcement came after a congressional hearing on Wednesday in which numerous lawmakers prodded the FAA to take a tougher line with Boeing as it continues to review the plane that has been grounded since March after two fatal crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia that killed 346 people.

    FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said on Wednesday he would not clear the plane to fly before 2020 and disclosed the agency has an ongoing investigation into 737 production issues in Renton, Washington. He added there are nearly a dozen milestones that must be completed before the MAX returns to service. Approval is not likely until at least February and could be delayed until March, U.S. officials told Reuters.

    Muilenburg and Boeing’s commercial airplanes chief, Stan Deal, met with Dickson and “committed to addressing all of the FAA’s questions,” the company said, adding it will work to support the agency’s “requirements and their timeline as we work to safely return the Max to service in 2020.”

    Dickson told Muilenburg, according to an email sent to lawmakers by the FAA, that “Boeing’s focus should be on the quality and timeliness of data submittals for FAA review. He made clear that FAA’s certification requirements must be 100% complete before return to service.”

    Boeing had said last month it expected the FAA would allow it to resume 737 MAX deliveries in December.

    The company previously warned a significant delay in MAX approval could force it to cut or halt production of the aircraft, a move that would have repercussions across its global supply chain.

    Boeing’s shares closed 1.1% lower at $346.29 on Thursday.

    Separately, American Airlines Group Inc (AAL.O) said on Thursday it was extending cancellations of 737 MAX flights through April 6. American, the largest U.S. airline, had previously canceled about 140 flights a day through March 4 and now expects to resume 737 MAX passenger flights on April 7.

    Related Coverage

    • FAA chief tells Boeing CEO to focus on quality, timeliness of data submissions: email

    Gary Kelly, the CEO of Boeing’s largest 737 MAX customer, Southwest Airlines Co (LUV.N), said he was “concerned” about what Boeing decides to do with its production line. Southwest was supposed to have 75 MAX jets in service this year and, like other airlines, it has had to cancel routes and scale back growth plans as it operates a slimmer fleet.

    Kelly said it is “likely” the airline will again need to push back its restart date from March.

    In an email to congressional staff earlier on Thursday disclosing the meeting between Dickson and Muilenburg, FAA official Philip Newman said Dickson is “concerned that Boeing continues to pursue a return-to-service schedule that is not realistic due to delays that have accumulated for a variety of reasons. More concerning, the administrator wants to directly address the perception that some of Boeing’s public statements have been designed to force FAA into taking quicker action.”

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