Monthly Archives: September 2019

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AP Interview: Israeli minister predicts Assad will be ousted within 6 months

LE BOURGET, France – Israel’s defence minister predicted on Monday that Syrian President Bashar Assad will reach his “demise” within six months because he has lost his legitimacy during the crackdown on anti-government protests.

“It’s my personal judgment that Bashar Assad crossed the point of no return towards his demise,” Ehud Barack said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Since the uprising began in mid-March, activists say more than 1,400 Syrians have been killed and 10,000 detained as authorities try to maintain their grip on power. Despite international criticism, the crackdown has so far allowed the regime to ride out the nationwide wave of protests.

“(Assad) ended up using too much brutal force, too many graves have been dug and he lost practically his legitimacy in the eyes of the Syrian people,” Barak told the AP. “He probably will stay around for another quarter or two but that will not change his fate.”

Syria’s embattled president said Monday he would consider political reforms, including ending his Baath Party’s monopoly on power. In a televised speech, Assad acknowledged demands for reform were legitimate, but said “saboteurs” were exploiting the situation.

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Barak was speaking after opening the Israeli pavilion at the Paris Air Show, where Israel hopes to secure foreign orders for its Iron Dome missile defence system. Experts say the system is the first with a proven capability to intercept short-range rockets.

Barack said Israel was also in the final stages of testing the David’s Sling ballistic missile defence system, which would defend against medium-range ballistic missiles and cruise missiles.

“Governments that are under direct threat of missiles and rockets should consider this,” he said. “This is something unique; nobody else has it.”

Israel’s defence and security firms have a particularly strong presence at this year’s air show, the world’s biggest.

Campaign to save N.L. marine rescue centre ramps up after deadly weekend

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. – When the call came in Saturday that three fishermen were stranded on a rock ledge in Labrador, their small boat swallowed by rough seas, Merv Wiseman says he didn’t waste time looking at nautical charts.

The maritime search and rescue co-ordinator knew exactly where they were.

“I’ve been in Cape Harrison on the Labrador coast – a very remote area,” he said Monday as a campaign ramped up to save the marine rescue sub-centre in St. John’s, N.L., where Wiseman has worked since 1978.

“I didn’t even have to pull a chart. I knew the situation that was involved there, the kinds of terrain, the sea conditions and so on.

“You just simply don’t have time to lose.”

The three men were plucked from the cliff face in a helicopter rescue about five hours after they called for help.

Wiseman said two of 13 calls since Thursday ended in death for a man who went missing from a Dutch cargo vessel off Newfoundland’s southeast coast, and a fisherman whose small boat capsized near Harbour Grace, N.L.

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Union leaders gathered Monday with local and provincial politicians to announce a rally Saturday in St. John’s to protest Ottawa’s plan to close the rescue centre. They say local knowledge is vital in the complex handling of about 500 search and rescue incidents a year, one-third of which are distress calls.

“On average, 600 lives are saved and 18 lives are lost” in the region each year, says the Canadian Coast Guard website.

Federal Fisheries officials say communications technology means rescue co-ordination services in St. John’s and Quebec can be shifted to Halifax and Trenton, Ont.

Wiseman told reporters Monday that plans are on track to close the St. John’s centre next June, costing up to 12 jobs including his own.

NDP MP Jack Harris, representing St. John’s East, has called it a “negligent” move that will risk lives as Ottawa shaves $56 million from its fisheries budget.

Fisheries Minister Clyde Jackman pleaded his case with his federal counterpart, Keith Ashfield, earlier this month. But the federal Conservative government has said closing what it has referred to as a “call centre” won’t jeopardize safety.

Jackman will attend Saturday’s rally, a spokeswoman said.

Premier Kathy Dunderdale said in a statement Monday that she will continue to push Ottawa to reverse course.

“We have voiced our extreme concern with this decision and efforts are ongoing in our communication with the Prime Minister’s Office on this.”

Earle McCurdy, president of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union, stressed Monday that lives are at stake.

“There are families who walk the halls of the house at night because they have loved ones at sea trying to make a living from a very hostile environment,” he said.

“The Titanic didn’t go down on the other side of the Atlantic. It didn’t go down off Florida. It went down off the northeast coast of Newfoundland because it’s a very, very hostile environment.

“We need the best facilities we can get to try and deal with distress calls when they arise.”

Critics say the timing is especially mind-boggling after the deadly crash of an offshore helicopter two years ago put search and rescue services under intense scrutiny.

Cougar Flight 491 crashed on March 12, 2009, off Newfoundland, killing 17 people. A public inquiry into offshore helicopter safety recommended faster emergency response, independent safety oversight and several other improvements.

St. John’s city councillor Danny Breen lost his brother, Peter, in the tragedy.

The federal government’s first reply to the helicopter safety inquiry recommendations is “a cut in service,” he told reporters Monday.

“So I believe that the people of Newfoundland and Labrador need to stand up and have this decision reversed. We need to send a strong and clear message that we deserve better than this.”

Canada’s Milos Raonic opens Wimbledon account with win over Frenchman

WIMBLEDON, England – Canadian Milos Raonic made his Grand Slam grass-court singles debut Monday with a 6-3, 7-6 (3), 6-3 victory over Frenchman Marc Gicquel at Wimbledon.

Raonic fired 25 aces in a 96-minute effort that sent him into the second round in his first senior appearance at the All England club.

“I think I played well,” Raonic said. “It’s tough, especially being at a completely new tournament and also being at this stage and people talking it up – how I should be doing well.”

Aleksandra Wozniak of Blainville, Que., Rebecca Marino of Vancouver and Stephanie Dubois of Laval, Que., all had their first-round matches postponed due to rain.

Gicquel, the world No. 119, reached the main draw as a lucky loser following the withdrawal of Italian Fabio Fognini.

The Frenchman never threatened the 20-year-old Canadian, who swept the first set in 25 minutes and won on the first of three match points. Raonic blew 41 winners past his outclassed opponent while committing only 13 unforced errors.

Gicquel failed on his only break point chance while the Canadian broke twice in their brief encounter under sunny skies in London. Raonic won on Court 14, which is close to an intersection of several walkways at the All England club.

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“If you stop and you try to listen, you can notice a lot of things,” Raonic said. “You just try to forget all this stuff. I remember in the warmup there was some guy doing construction. I don’t know where, but there was some guy drilling something into something.

“That was the only thing that really popped up. But I tried to stay within the court and not look around too much.”

Raonic, who has a whopping 502 aces on the season, is the No. 31 seed at the tournament.

He began his ATP-level grass career in Halle, Germany, earlier this month. He made it to the quarter-finals before losing to Philipp Petzschner.

Raonic, who was born in Montenegro but grew up in Thornhill, Ont., then worked on polishing his grass-court game over the last week.

“I was fortunate enough to be able to practise with a few of the top guys – that helps,” he said. “I’ve just been trying to soak up as much and trying to learn as much (as I can).”

Raonic will next play veteran left-hander Gilles Muller of Luxembourg, a 7-6 (5), 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-3 winner over Tommy Haas of Germany. The winner of the second-round match will likely face top-seeded Rafael Nadal of Spain in the third round.

The Canadian said he would relish a meeting with Nadal, but doesn’t want to look past Muller.

“It would mean a lot,” Raonic said of the potential matchup. “First of all, it’s a third round of a Grand Slam, so that’s a plus.

“But I still have to play (the second round). But if it does get to that (Nadal), it’s a good opportunity and something to look forward to.”

Pink tank returns to Prague to mark the 20th anniversary of Soviet troops withdrawal

PRAGUE – A pink tank has temporarily returned to the heart of Prague to mark the 20th anniversary of the Soviet troops’ withdrawal.

Tank No. 23 was originally put on display on a Prague’s square in 1945 to commemorate the liberation of Czechoslovakia by the Red Army after the WWII occupation by Nazi troops.

For many, it became a symbol of the 1968 Soviet-led invasion that crushed the liberal reforms of Alexander Dubcek and ended an era known as the Prague Spring.

The presence of the soldiers was called temporary by communist authorities but lasted almost 23 years.

When the Velvet Revolution led by Vaclav Havel toppled the communist regime in 1989, the country’s new officials immediately demanded the troops’ withdrawal, Defence Minister Alexandr Vondra, a former anti-communist dissident, said Monday.

“Immediately after the Velvet Revolution, one of the first requirements was that those troops must go home,” Vondra told the AP in an interview.

David Cerny, a Czech visual artist painted the tank pink with friends in April 1991. The Soviet troops left by the end of June that year.

Some opposed the move, saying it dishonoured those who liberated the country but Cerny insisted Monday it was the right thing to do.

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“I’m not ashamed of what I did,” Cerny said. “It was a pretty good thing to do. At that time, most of the nation understood that we didn’t want them here any more.”

After Cerny’s action, the tank received its original look before it was painted pink again by a group of lawmakers from the Czechoslovak parliament. Since June 1991, the tank has been at the Military Technical Museum in Lesany, south of Prague.

It was taken to Prague from the museum Monday to be placed on a pontoon on the Vltava river near Prague’s famed Charles Bridge till July 1. It’s arrival kicked off a series of commemorative events called “The Week of Freedom” that marks the troops’ withdrawal.

“It’s one of the most important anniversaries in the Czech modern history,” said Pavla Kantnerova of the Curtain, a non-governmental group that’s organizing the events.

“People tend to forget it even though it was a great victory to get rid of the occupying troops,” Kantnerova said. “For our generation … the pink tank is the real symbol of the end of the occupation.”

Cameron Diaz swears up a storm and reunites with old beau Justin Timberlake in ‘Bad Teacher’

LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Some actors swear a lot as the cameras roll and, in most instances, those blue moments end up on the cutting-room floor. But not in the case of “Bad Teacher,” in which Cameron Diaz raises profanity to the level of high art in her title role.

“It was all phonetic,” Diaz said, laughing. “We started with an ‘F’ and we ended up with a ‘K,’ and, apparently, if you put these other two letters in between, it makes a very funny noise … and people understand it.”

As Diaz explains, actors typically drop F-bombs on the set, even if it’s not in the script. “Then you’re, ‘God, you can’t say that. We can’t use that one,’” said the actress.

But in the making of “Bad Teacher,” which opens Friday, Diaz said it was just the opposite: “You’re like, ‘More F-bombs, give it to us’ in this film. So to be able to be on set and have your director screaming that at you is a lot of fun. Everybody is just laughing.”

The 38-year-old Diaz was at CinemaCon in Las Vegas earlier this year to get theatre owners warmed up to “Bad Teacher” – a rare, R-rated studio comedy with a female lead.

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But with the subsequent success of “Bridesmaids,” another rare raunchy female comedy this season, exhibitors are likely eyeing the concept as Hollywood’s next hot genre.

“It wasn’t a character that was originally written for a man and then made for a woman,” Diaz said of her “Bad Teacher” role. “It was conceived as a woman. And so, it is a lot of fun. I think it is funnier. If it was a guy, it wouldn’t be as funny. Guys don’t need to get (breast) jobs.”

“Teacher” reunites Diaz with former beau Justin Timberlake. And while Diaz and Timberlake had worked together post-breakup on the “Shrek” films, “Teacher” marks their first live-action effort together.

“We were all like, ‘This is the right person for the job,’” Diaz explained. “Any worry that we had was like what the media was going to turn it into. Because we all know what they can turn it into.

“So we were very grateful that they didn’t, because there was nothing to make of it, other than two people working together, who just happened to have gone out in another time in our lives. So, it wasn’t a big deal, and we had a great time. And we did the job.”

As for Diaz’s own high-school past? She said she never was sent to detention. “I should have, but somehow, I always got away with it.”

And was she a bad girl in high school? “Not in high school,” Diaz replied with a laugh.

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