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SYDNEY: Former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott has claimed "very top" level Malaysian officials believed vanished Flight MH370 was deliberated downed by the captain in a mass murder-suicide.

The Malaysia Airlines jet vanished on Mar 8, 2014 carrying 239 people – mostly from China – en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

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No sign of the plane was found in a 120,000 sq km Indian Ocean search zone and the Australian-led search, the largest in aviation history, was suspended in January 2017.

A US exploration firm launched a private hunt in 2018 but it ended after several months of scouring the seabed without success.

READ: 'I will never give up': Relatives of missing Chinese on MH370 vow to keep searching

The disappearance of the plane has long been the subject of a host of theories – ranging from the credible to outlandish – including that veteran pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah had gone rogue.

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In an excerpt from a Sky News documentary airing Wednesday, Abbott claims he was told within a week of it vanishing that Malaysia believed the captain had intentionally downed the jet.

"My very clear understanding from the very top levels of the Malaysian government is that from very, very early on here, they thought it was murder-suicide by the pilot," he said.

"I'm not going to say who said what to whom but let me reiterate, I want to be absolutely crystal clear, it was understood at the highest levels that this was almost certainly murder-suicide by the pilot – mass murder-suicide by the pilot."

Zaharie's family and friends have long strongly rejected such claims as baseless.

In 2016, Malaysian officials revealed he had plotted a path over the Indian Ocean on a home flight simulator but stressed Read More – Source

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SINGAPORE: Singapore is "leaving no stone unturned" as it faces the coronavirus outbreak, said World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Tuesday (Feb 18).

"We are very impressed with the efforts they are making to find every case, follow up with contacts and stop transmission," said Dr Tedros at a media briefing.

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The WHO chief said he had spoken to Health Minister Gan Kim Yong about Singapore's response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

READ: DORSCON: What you need to know about the framework that guides Singapore's pandemic response

"Singapore is leaving no stone unturned, testing every case of influenza-like illness and pneumonia," Dr Tedros added.

"So far they have not found evidence of community transmission."

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On Tuesday night, Singapore announced that five COVID-19 patients were discharged after recovery, bringing the total of discharged patients to 29.

A total of 81 people in Singapore have been infected with the coronavirus as of Tuesday night.

Earlier on Monday, the Ministry of Health (MOH) announced a new Stay-Home Notice for Singapore residents and long-term pass holders with recent travel history to mainland China outside the Hubei province.

Such travellers will be required to stay home at all times during their 14-day leave period. This is stricter than the Leave of Absence measure, which allows them to leave their homes briefly, for example for meals or to buy household supplies.

Singapore on Feb 7 raised the Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON) to Orange, prompting additional precautionary measures.

MANY COUNTRIES TAKING STEPS TO PROTECT THEMSELVES

Dr Tedros in the briefing also said he had spoken to Malaysia's health minister on the Westerdam case as well as the country's preparations.

The cruise ship in Cambodia had many of its 2,200 people on board disembark after initially receiving a clean bill of health from authorities.

An 83-year-old American woman was later diagnosed with the virus in Malaysia, raising concerns tRead More – Source

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MONTREAL—A 74−year−old man taking a driving test in Montreal was killed on Feb. 18 when a commuter train struck the car he was driving.

The examiner, an employee of Quebecs motor vehicle insurance agency, who was seated next to the driver, suffered critical injuries and was taken to hospital.

Police say the collision occurred in the citys north end at a level railway crossing on Gouin Boulevard, near the river that separates Montreal from its northern suburb.

Mario Vaillancourt, spokesman for the Societe de lassurance automobile du Quebec, said the 74-year-old was being re-evaluated for a drivers license.

Vaillancourt said the type of exam the man was taking “is often tied to someones health condition,” though he declined to discuss the specifics of the collision.

“We ask that they take a road test” to evaluate whether the person can still drive safely, Vaillancourt said.

The SAAQ released a statement Tuesday afternoon offering condolences to the 74−year−olds family. “A team has been deployed … to meet with staff members to provide them with the necessary psychological support,” the agency said.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada said it has dispatched an investigator to the rRead More – Source

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Issued on: Modified:

Ashraf Ghani has secured a second term as president of Afghanistan, according to final results of the September 28, 2019 poll released Tuesday by the country's election commission.

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"The election commission… declares Mr Ashraf Ghani, who has won 50.64 percent of the votes, as the president of Afghanistan," election commission chief Hawa Alam Nuristani told a press conference in Kabul.

"May God help him in serving the people of Afghanistan… I also pray that peace comes to our country," she added.

The results had been delayed for nearly five months after allegations of vote-rigging from Ghani's main rival, Afghanistan's Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, forced a recount.

The delay left Afghanistan facing a political crisis just as the US seeks a deal with the Taliban which would allow it to withdraw troops in return for various security guarantees and a promise that the militants would hold peace talks with the Afghan government.

If all goes well, then Ghani is likely to be the man sitting across from the Taliban at the negotiating table in a bid to chart Afghanistan's future.

Earlier this week, Abdullah's team said they would not accept fraudulent results.

Current vice-president Abdul Rashid Dostum, a powerful Uzbek former warlord andRead More – Source

World News

The judge in the Harvey Weinstein rape case has warned the lead defence lawyer not to talk to the press, after she penned an opinion piece on Saturday.

Writing in Newsweek, Donna Rotunno called on jurors to "do what they know is right".

But she told Justice James Burke the piece was not intended to address the jury directly.

The row came before the jury of seven men and five women were sent away to try to reach a verdict.

Mr Weinstein has pleaded not guilty to sexually assaulting former production assistant Mimi Haleyi and raping former actress Jessica Mann.

The trial began in New York last month.

Accusations of sexual misconduct against the Hollywood producer by dozens of women helped drive the #MeToo movement.

Only two of the accusers' cases, those of Mimi (Miriam) Haleyi and Jessica Mann, have led to individual criminal charges in New York, but the testimony of others is being used as supporting evidence.

What did the judge say?

Judge Burke instructed jurors on Tuesday morning before they retired to consider their verdict.

As the court session opened, prosecutors asked the judge to instruct jurors to ignore the Newsweek piece as it was "100% inappropriate".

Judge Burke refused the prosecutors' request, but restated a ban he imposed at the beginning of the trial on both defence and prosecution from giving media interviews.

"I would caution you about the tentacles of your public relations juggernaut," he told Ms Rotunno.

The defence attorney responded: "This is an op-ed about the jury system as a whole, about the criminal justice system as a whole."

In the piece, she accused her opponents of trying to influence the trial.

"The mocking of Mr Weinstein's walker, the unflattering courtroom-artist sketches of his body, the countless critical op-eds and biased stories, and the convenient timing of the politically-motivated charges in Los Angeles were all designed to pre-determine his guilt," she wrote.

"I implore the members of this jury to do what they know is right and was expected of them from the moment they were called upon to serve their civic duty in a court of law."

But Judge Burke asked the defence: "You don't think addressing the jury in the first person isn't problematic?"

Prosecutors have argued Mr Weinstein was a "seasoned" sexual predator who prayed on aspiring young actresses.

His defence team said his actions were consensual, including in one "loving" relationship. They also said prosecutors had failed to present any forensic evidence or eyewitness accounts.

The 67-year-old denies five charges, including rape and sexual assault, relating to two accusers. The jury must reach unanimous verdicts on each count.

Mr Weinstein, who never took the stand during the trial, could face life behind bars if convicted.

What are the accusations against Mr Weinstein?

Once one of Hollywood's most decorated and lauded producers, Mr Weinstein has been accused of sexual misconduct by more than 80 women.

But few of the complaints have led to criminal charges.

During the trial, one-time aspiring actress Jessica Mann detailed a catalogue of abuse by the Hollywood producer, saying he had once trapped her in a hotel bedroom and raped her. Three of the five charges against Mr Weinstein relate to Ms Mann.

Production assistant Mimi Haleyi told the court Mr Weinstein had assaulted her twice in Manhattan in 2006, after he helped her get a job on a television show he produced.

Former Sopranos actress Annabella Sciorra testified the film producer had raped her at her home in the early 90s, after forcing his way into her apartment and attacking her.

That incident happened too long ago to be pursued under New York law but prosecutors wanted to use Ms Sciorra's testimony to support tRead More – Source

World News

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday (Feb 18) he would curb the practice of foreign countries sending imams and teachers to France to crack down on what he called the risk of "separatism".

Macron has so far stayed away from issues related to France's Muslim community, the biggest in Europe, focusing instead on economic reforms.

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In a much-anticipated intervention less than a month before mayoral elections, Macron said he would gradually put an end to the system in which Algeria, Morocco and Turkey send imams to France to preach in mosques.

"This end to the consular Islam system is extremely important to curb foreign influence and make sure everybody respects the laws of the republic," he told a news conference in the eastern city of Mulhouse.

Macron said 300 imams were sent to France every year by these countries, and that those who arrived in 2020 would be the last to arrive in such numbers.

He said his government had asked the body representing Islam in France to find solutions to train imams on French soil instead, make sure they can speak French and don't spread Islamist views.

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Macron, who is constantly attacked by far-right leader Marine Le Pen on the issue of how to integrate French Muslims, also said he would end the practice of French students being taught by teachers paid by foreign governments.

France has agreements with nine countries, including Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Turkey, whereby their governments can send teachers to French schools to teach Read More – Source

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MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday (Feb 18) dismissed a veteran, once close adviser who until recently managed Moscow's relations with war-torn Ukraine.

Putin fired Vladislav Surkov, seen as a hardliner by many in Kiev, in a terse two-line statement on the Kremlin website. His sacking, which coincided with a flare-up in fighting in eastern Ukraine, had been rumoured for weeks.

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The decree was issued a week after the Kremlin said a senior Ukrainian-born Russian official, Dmitry Kozak, was now in charge of managing Moscow's relations with Ukraine, effectively sidelining Surkov.

Relations between Moscow and Kiev unravelled after Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea region in 2014 and Moscow-backed separatists launched an uprising in Donbass, eastern Ukraine, that has killed more than 13,000 people.

Russia denies any role in the conflict.

Moscow and Kiev are wrangling over how to implement a peace deal on Donbass, but major disagreements remain and full normalisation is far off.

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Alexei Chesnakov, a political analyst who used to work for Surkov in Russia's prRead More – Source

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BEIJING: China reported its fewest new coronavirus infections since January on Tuesday (Feb 18) and its lowest daily death toll for a week, but the World Health Organization said data suggesting the epidemic had slowed should still be viewed with caution.

The head of a leading hospital in China's central city of Wuhan, epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, died of the disease, becoming one of the most prominent victims since the disease first appeared at the end of last year.

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Illustrating the impact of the outbreak on worldwide growth and corporate profits, oil prices tumbled and equity markets slid after Apple Inc issued a revenue warning due to the disruption the disease is causing to global supply chains.

Chinese officials reported 1,886 new cases – the first time the daily figure has fallen below 2,000 since Jan 30 – bringing the mainland China total to 72,436. A figure of 98 new deaths marked the first time the daily toll in China had fallen below 100 since Feb 11, bringing the total to 1,868.

A recovered patient (in wheelchair) is discharged from Leishenshan Hospital, the newly-built makeshift hospital for COVID-19 patients, in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province. (STR/AFP)

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Chinese data "appears to show a decline in new cases" but any apparent trend "must be interpreted very cautiously".

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READ: More than 80% of COVID-19 patients have mild disease and recover: WHO chief

Outside China, there have been 827 cases of COVID-19 and five deaths, according to a Reuters count based on official statements. More than half of those cases have been on a cruise ship quarantined off Japan.

Tedros said there had been 92 cases of human-to-human spread of the coronavirus in 12 countries outside China but the WHO did not have the data to make meaningful comparisons to what was going on in China.

"We have not seen sustained local transmission of coronavirus except in specific circumstances like the Diamond Princess cruise ship," he said.

READ: 88 more people test positive for COVID-19 on Diamond Princess cruise ship

China says figures indicating a slowdown in new cases in recent days show that aggressive steps it has taken to curb travel and commerce are slowing the spread of the disease beyond central Hubei province and its capital, Wuhan.

A member of the medical staff massages a patient who has displayed mild symptoms of the COVID-19 coronavirus at an exhibition centre converted into a hospital in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province. (STR/AFP)

READ: China's Hubei to adopt thorough checks on patients to curb COVID-19

The WHO's Mike Ryan said China had had success with "putting out the fire" first in Hubei and ensuring that people returning to Beijing from the Lunar New Year holiday are monitored.

The numbers appear encouraging, said Mark Woolhouse, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at Britain's University of Edinburgh, who described himself as cautious.

"Though it is unrealistic to reduce the transmission rate to zero it may have been reduced to a level where the epidemic is brought under control," Woolhouse said.

"It may be that the epidemic is simply running its natural course, and is starting to run out of new people to infect. It could also be that the unprecedented public health measures introduced in China are having the desired effect."

Chinese state television said Liu Zhiming, the director of Wuhan Wuchang Hospital, died on Tuesday, the seventh health worker to fall victim. The hospital was designated solely for treating virus-infected patients.

READ: Hospital director dies in China's Wuhan, epicentre of COVID-19 outbreak

GLOBAL REPERCUSSIONS

Despite global concerns about the economic impact of the disease, China's ambassador to the European Union said on Tuesday this would be "limited, short-term and manageable" and that Beijing had enough resources to step in if needed.

Chinese state television quoted President Xi Jinping as saying China could still meet its economic growth target for 2020 despite the epidemic.

Economists are warning of potential mass layoffs in China later this year if the virus is not contained soon.

"The employment situation is OK in the first quarter, but if the virus is not contained by end-March, then from the second quarter, we'll see a Read More – Source

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MONTREAL—The two occupants of a Cessna 150 are dead after the small aircraft crashed on the evening of Feb. 17 in a field near an airport west of Montreal.

Provincial police said today the two victims were men in their 20s, but police couldnt say where they were from.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada says it has dispatched a team of investigators to the crash site, located in a field bordering Highway 30, near the Montreal/Les Cedres airport, off the western tip of Montreal island.

TSB workers were scheduled to join provincial police investigators this morning to examine the scene.

Read More – Source

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Cancelled rail arrivals and departures are listed on the board at Central Station in Montreal, Canada, on Feb. 14, 2020. (Ryan Remiorz/TheCanadianPress)

Cancelled rail arrivals and departures are listed on the board at Central Station in Montreal, Canada, on Feb. 14, 2020. (Ryan Remiorz/TheCanadianPress)

MONTREAL—Via Rail says partial service is set to resume between Quebec City, Montreal and Ottawa beginning on Feb. 20.

Almost all other Via Rail services remain cancelled with the exception of Sudbury—White River and Churchill—The Pas, until further notice.

Via trains have been disrupted by protests by people showing solidarity with the hereditary Wetsuweten chiefs opposing the Coastal GasLink project.

Protestors have blocked rail lines across the country and Read More – Source