International: Saudi Arabia Voted Into UN Women’s Rights Commission

Saudi Arabia’s election to the UN Commission on the Status of Women has sparked outrage, as the country has been ranked as one of the worst in gender equality.

The country was elected in a secret ballot at the UN’s 54-member Economic and Social Council last week. It is to serve from 2018 to 2022.

The commission’s aims, stated on its website, are for “the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women”.

The election has received strong condemnations from observers. “Electing Saudi Arabia to protect women’s rights is like making an arsonist into the town fire chief,” said Hillel Neuer of UN Watch. “Why did the U.N. choose the world’s leading promoter of gender inequality to sit on its gender equality commission?”

According to Human Rights Watch, women in Saudi Arabia are forbidden to drive cars and require permission from male guardians to travel. They also have difficulty in working, doing transactions or accessing healthcare without a male relative.

Former UN Development Program Administrator Helen Clark has defended Saudi Arabia’s election to the commission, saying that it is “important to support those in the country who are working for change for women”.

International: US Would No Longer Tolerate North Korea’s Nuclear and Missile Tests, Pence Says

US Vice President Mike Pence said “the era of strategic patience is over” with North Korea, following the failed missile test in the North.

Speaking in Seoul on Sunday alongside South Korea’s acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn, Pence said the missile launch on Saturday was “a provocation” to US and its allies.

Pence warned the North to mind President Donald Trump’s foreign military policy, as has been in shown in other countries recently. “Just in the past two weeks, the world witnessed the strength and resolve of our new president in actions taken in Syria and Afghanistan,” said Pence.

“North Korea would do well not to test his resolve or the strength of the armed forces of the United States in this region… We want to see North Korea abandon its reckless path of the development of nuclear weapons, and also its continual use and testing of ballistic missiles is unacceptable.”

On the same day, Trump also said on Twitter that China is “working with us on the North Korean problem”. US security adviser HR McMaster also indicated that the President would be “comfortable making tough decisions” in order to ensure the nuclear-free status of Korean Peninsula.

International: United Airlines Passenger Bloodied and Dragged Off Overbooked Flight

United Airlines CEO has apologized for “having to re-accommodate” a few customers from an overbooked Sunday flight after a video showing a passenger dragged out of the plane went viral.

The 30-second video shows a 69-year-old man being forced out of his seat and dragged out of the plane by police officers. Tyler Bridges, a passenger on the 3411 flight said United asked for volunteers on the gate to take a later flight for cash remuneration and hotel stay, but no one took the offer. After boarding, passengers were told four people would be randomly selected by computer to leave the aircraft. “We almost felt like we were being taken hostage,” Bridges said. “We were stuck there. You can’t do anything as a traveller. You’re relying on the airline.”

Bridges said when the man in the video was selected and approached, he rejected to leave, saying he was a doctor who needed to see patients in the morning. “He was resisting any way he could,” Bridges said. “He was flailing his arms a little bit and yelling.”

A picture of the man with bloodied face also emerged, sparking outrage.

United spokesman Charlie Hobart said the man was the only person who refused to move, and insisted police assistance was justified. “We followed the right procedures,” said Hobart.

United CEO Oscar Munoz has apologized on Twitter for “having to re-accommodate” the passengers, and said the company is now contacting them to resolve the issues.

Netizens have condemned the airline for going against its promise to “Fly the Friendly Skies”.

International: At Least 11 Killed in Saint Petersburg Explosion

At least 11 people were killed in an explosion in Saint Petersburg metro on Monday, with dozens injured.

The blast tore apart a train carriage which was travelling between two stations around 2.40 pm.

A second explosive device was found at a nearby station and defused by authorities. No groups have claimed responsibility for the explosion.

President Vladimir Putin said the cause of the explosion was not clear yet. “We will look at all possible causes, terrorism as well as common crime,” Putin said.

Russia’s Investigative Committee said while the investigation into the event was based on an assumption of terrorism, it was also considering other possibilities.

According to state media, the bomb contained a kilogram of TNT and was hidden in a fire extinguisher. Law enforcement agencies also confirmed that the bomb was filled with shrapnel.

All St Petersburg metro stations have been closed.

International: Donald Trump Signs a Revised Travel Ban Order

US President Donald Trump has signed a newly revised travel ban order, exempting Iraqi nationals and US permanent residents from the prohibition to enter the country.

The new order, which takes effect starting March 16, will apply a 90-day visa halt on citizens of six Muslim-majority countries: Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. It also explicitly exempts US permanent residents and valid visa holders.

The new order comes after the controversies surrounding the original order, which was issued on January 27 and blocked by federal courts following protests and .

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the order was required to provide “a needed pause” for US to review its relationship with travellers from “countries of concern”.

“We cannot compromise our nation’s security by allowing visitors entry when their own governments are unable or unwilling to provide the information we need to vet them responsibly, or when those governments actively support terrorism,” said Sessions.

The American Civil Liberties Union said it would try to block the new order in court, saying the latest revision still amounts to religious discrimination.

“President Trump has recommitted himself to religious discrimination, and he can expect continued disapproval from both the courts and the people,” said Omar Jadwat, ACLU’s Immigrant Rights Project director.

Democrats senator Bernie Sanders said the ban would instead jeopardise the safety of American citizens.

“This ban is a racist and anti-Islamic attempt to divide us up,” Sanders wrote in a statement. “This isn’t about keeping America safe. A president responsible for keeping our citizens safe would not hand over ideological ammunition to terrorists seeking new recruits to kill Americans.”

“A watered-down ban is still a ban,” said senator Chuck Schumer in a statement. “Despite the administration’s changes, this dangerous executive order makes us less safe, not more, it is mean-spirited, and un-American. It must be repealed.”

International: Photo of Turkish Assassin Wins World Press Photo of the Year

Associated Press photographer Burhan Ozbilici has won Photo of the Year at the 2017 World Press Photo awards for his image of an off-duty Turkish policeman standing over a Russian ambassador whom he just shot.

The picture of gunman Mevlut Mert Altintas and ambassador Andrei Karlov, which was taken in December, was controversial among jury members. The awards’ jury chair, Stuart Franklin voted against the photo, saying it was “morally as problematic to publish as a terrorist beheading”.

“It was a very very difficult decision, but in the end we felt that the picture of the year was an explosive image that really spoke to the hatred of our times,” member of the jury Mary F Calvert said.

“Every time it came on the screen you almost had to move back because it’s such an explosive image and we really felt that it epitomises the definition of what the World Press Photo of the Year is and means.”

Ozbilici’s picture was chosen among 80,408 photos submitted to the competition by 5,034 photographers from 125 countries.

Ozbilici said upon receiving his award, “I immediately decided to do my job because I could be wounded, maybe die, but at least I have to represent good journalism.”

The jury awarded prizes in eight categories to 45 photographers from 25 countries, including USA’s Brent Stirton for his rhino poaching picture, France’s Laurent van der Stockt for his Mosul photo, and Russia’s Valery Melnikov for her long-term project Black Days of Ukraine.

International: Israel Passes Bill to Legalise Settlement on Private Palestinian Lands

Israel’s parliament has passed a controversial bill that legalises the state’s settlement on lands owned privately by Palestinians in the West Bank.

The Regulation Bill, which was passed with a vote of 60 to 52, is set to protect Israeli settlement built “in good faith or at the state’s instruction” from court-ordered eviction and demolition.

The Palestine Liberation Organisation said the law proved that “the Israeli government’s will to destroy any chances for a political solution”, and that the “Israeli settlement enterprise negates peace and the possibility of the two-state solution.”

Anti-occupation organisation Peace Now has condemned the bill, saying it would “practically allow the government and private individuals to steal lands of Palestinians without any legal implications”.

Experts have warned that this law would violate property and human rights. Opposition lawmaker Tzipi Livni said the bill would lead the Israel Defense Forces to the International Criminal Court, while former justice minister Dan Meridor said the law would set an “evil and dangerous” precedent of Israeli government applying its sovereignty to the West Bank.

The state’s Attorney General, Avichai Mandelbilt also said the bill was unconstitutional and would lead to violation of international laws.

Days before the vote, the state’s defense minister Avigdor Lieberman said, “You don’t have to be a genius to understand that when the attorney general is opposed to the bill, this means that he is not willing to defend it in the High Court of Justice and that it is an unconstitutional bill, and its chances of being disqualified are 100 percent.”

International: Trump’s Son-in-Law Named as White House Advisor

President-elect Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner has been appointed as senior White House advisor to work on trade deals and foreign policy.

Kushner, husband to Trump’s daughter Ivanka, accepted the position after receiving legal advice that he would not be violating the 1967 anti-nepotism law. Kushner’s lawyer, Jamie Gorelick argues on Monday that the law does not apply to the White House.

“Even without that law, two DC Circuit decisions strongly suggest that the White House Office is not an ‘agency’ under the anti-nepotism statute, a position supported by the views of the Justice Department under presidents Bill Clinton and George W Bush,” said Gorelick.

In a statement, Trump said Kushner would be “an invaluable member of my team as I set and execute an ambitious agenda, putting the American people first.” The statement also said that Kushner would waive his salary while employed in the administration.

“It is an honour to serve our country,” said Kushner in the same statement. “I am energised by the shared passion of the President-elect and the American people and I am humbled by the opportunity to join this very talented team.”

Kushner was one of Trump’s campaign advisors during the elections, working in the campaign’s digital aspects. Kushner has also been assisting Trump during the transition period, coordinating communication between the president-elect’s team and foreign leaders and officials.

Kushner will be stepping down from his position as CEO of real estate company Kushner Companies in an effort to diminish conflict-of-interest concerns. In a statement, Gorelick said Kushner “is committed to complying with federal ethics laws.”

Technology: iPhone Turns 10

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the original iPhone, which was first introduced by late Apple founder Steve Jobs in an Apple conference.

On January 9, 2007, Jobs said: “Every once in a while a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything. One’s very fortunate if you get to work on just one of these in your career. Apple has been very fortunate that it’s been able to introduce a few of these into the world. In 1984, we introduced the Macintosh. It didn’t just change Apple, it changed the whole computer industry. In 2001 we introduced the first iPod, and it didn’t just change the way we all listened to music, it changed the entire music industry. Well, today we’re introducing three revolutionary products…”

These three revolutionary products – an iPod, a phone, and an “internet mobile communicator” –  were later revealed to be “not three separate devices, and we are calling it iPhone. Today Apple is going to reinvent the phone. And here it is.”

Jobs unveiled a smartphone with a 3.5 inch touchscreen and features like web browser, music player, weather and map apps, which would turn out revolutionary for mobile and communication technology.

The touchscreen technology was the main driver in making the device a dominant force in the market, Foad Fadaghi, managing director at technology analyst firm Telsyte said. “With the arrival of the third party app store and 3G connectivity the iPhone really started to help the device take off,” Fadaghi said.

iPhone also helped drive the smartphone market to condense multiple features, such as camera and music player, into one device, said Dr Christine Satchell, mobile device expert at Queensland University of Technology. “The smartphone both democratised internet access and improved it for many millions of people,” Fadaghi said.

Although iPhone was one of Apple’s biggest moneymaker, the sales of the latest iPhone 7 have been sluggish. The company’s operating profit declined 16 percent to $60 billion due to a decline in the sales of the device for the first time since it came out a decade ago.

However, Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook said the anniversary only marks the beginning. “iPhone is an essential part of our customers’ lives, and today more than ever it is redefining the way we communicate, entertain, work and live,” Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook said in a statement. “iPhone set the standard for mobile computing in its first decade and we are just getting started. The best is yet to come.”

International: Lawyers for President Park Geun-hye Say Impeachment Should Be Reversed

Lawyers for South Korean president Park Geun-hye said her impeachment should be reversed as there is not enough evidence to justify ejecting her from office.

Lawmakers voted on December 9 to impeach Park by a 234-56 margin, suspending her power until the Constitutional Court decides whether to uphold the legislature’s impeachment.

The resolution submitted by lawmakers cited 13 charges, including constitutional violations and legal offenses. However, Park’s legal team said that these charges lack any basis.

“We see no grounds for impeachment and it should be struck down,” said Lee Joong-hwan, one of the three attorneys representing Park on Friday.

Park has been accused of colluding with friend Choi Soon-sil, who has been indicted, to extort money and favours from businesses. Choi also allegedly meddled in state affairs by influencing the president on a number of state projects as well as through her possession of classified documents.

Public protests have broken out since October, with two million people hitting the streets on the November 26 demonstration.

Park has denied charges of power abuse. “Not for a single moment have I pursued my personal interests,” Park said in her third and final address to the nation on November 29. “I have carried forward these state projects for I believed them to be public business for the nation.”

Parliamentary investigators from the independent counsel team have been denied access to Park’s residence in the Blue House due to concerns of national security.

“Several warrants have been issued for the search, but their execution has been thwarted,” said Lee Kyu-chul, the team’s spokesperson.

“We are currently reviewing related laws to see if we may (raid the office).”