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Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman leaves the Hotel Matignon in Paris.
Saudi Arabia denies crown prince seeks to buy Manchester United
18 February 2019, 9:16 AM

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince is not seeking to buy Premier League football club Manchester United, the kingdom’s media minister said on Monday, denying reports and adding that there had only been a meeting with the Saudi wealth fund regarding sponsorship.

Reports that Mohammed Bin Salman intends to buy the club are “completely false”, the minister, Turki al-Shabanah, wrote on social network Twitter.

He was reacting to reports that the crown prince had sought to tempt the Glazer family to cede control of the club.

“Manchester United held a meeting with PIF Saudi to discuss (a) sponsorship opportunity,” Shabanah said, adding that no deal materialized.

On Sunday, the British newspaper, the Sun, said the crown prince was in a $4.9-billion takeover bid for one of football’s most popular clubs.

The paper said a bid was first submitted in October but the fallout from the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s embassy in Istanbul put the “skids” on a potential offer.

France's Gael Monfils shakes hands with Switzerland's Stan Wawrinka after winning their Final match.
Monfils tops Wawrinka in Rotterdam
18 February 2019, 7:53 AM

Gael Monfils beat his training partner Stan Wawrinka 6-3, 1-6, 6-2 on Sunday at the ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament to capture his first ATP Tour title in 13 months.

It took one hour and 44 minutes for Monfils to win the match in Rotterdam, Netherlands. The Frenchman now holds a lifetime 8-21 record in ATP Tour finals.

Wawrinka, of Switzerland, won the tournament in 2015.

“We have been practicing all winter together, and really for the past 14 years, too,” Monfils, 32, said after the match, per ATPtour.com. “In these matches, it’s tricky to surprise the other. I was a bit tougher than him in the third set and changed the rhythm, as I felt he was playing heavy in the second set and I felt like I couldn’t handle it. I had to break his momentum. I had to be more aggressive and sneak in some serve-and-volley tennis.”

Wawrinka last competed in a tour-level final in the 2017 French Open, which he lost to Rafael Nadal. He is 16-13 in finals in his career.

“It was a tough final and Gael played really well,” Wawrinka said. “He did what he had to do at the right moments. I was struggling with my footwork at times to be more aggressive on my groundstrokes. That’s what made the difference.”

Argentina Open

Third-seeded Marco Cecchinato of Italy finished off a stellar tournament, defeating home-crowd favorite and fourth-seeded Diego Schwartzman 6-1, 6-2 in Buenos Aires.

Cecchinato did not drop a set throughout the week on the way to his third tour title.

“I was able to play a great match and was always focused. I followed the game plan from the beginning to the end,” the 26-year-old Italian said. “I was able to win the first two matches (of the tournament) the hard way, working point by point. I improved my level yesterday and I was focused today, so I’m happy with how I was able to win the tournament.”

For the tournament, he led all players with second-serve points won (63 percent) and second-serve return points won (64 percent).

Schwartzman, also 26, was just one more challenger to fall.

“Marco played a great match and deserved to be the champion. He didn’t let me do anything today,” he said. “Playing at home and getting to the final was very nice for me. I had the unconditional support of the fans all week and that respect is something that makes me feel good despite the bad result.”

New York Open

American Reilly Opelka earned his first ATP Tour title with a three-set win over Canadian qualifier Brayden Schnur, 6-1, 6-7 (7), 7-6 (7) at New York.

Opelka, 21, recorded 43 aces in Sunday’s match although it took six championship points for him to finally put away 23-year-old Schnur with his final ace. The win came a day after surviving six match points to beat top-seeded John Isner in the semifinals.

Schnur, who arrived in New York having never won a tour-level match before, mounted a remarkable comeback against Opelka after losing the first set in less than 20 minutes. Tied at six games all in the second set, Opelka had two match points in the tiebreaker but a double fault on the second match point allowed Schnur to force the deciding set.

Neither player dropped serve in the third set, which led to the final-set tiebreaker. A big first serve by Schnur at 7-7 appeared to set up championship point, but a challenge by Opelka showed the ball was out. Schnur double faulted the point away and Opelka seized the opportunity to win with his 43rd ace of the day to end the match after two hours and one minute.

Pope Francis holds a mass at Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Catholic Church credibility on the line at abuse meeting
18 February 2019, 6:45 AM

The Vatican will gather senior bishops from around the world later this week for a conference on sex abuse designed to guide them on how best to tackle a problem that has decimated the Church’s credibility, but critics say it is too little, too late.

The unprecedented four-day meeting, starting on Thursday, brings together presidents of national Roman Catholic bishops conferences, Vatican officials, experts and heads of male and female religious orders.

“I am absolutely convinced that our credibility in this area is at stake,” said Father Federico Lombardi, who Pope Francis has chosen to moderate the meeting.

“We have to get to the root of this problem and show our ability to undergo a cure as a Church that proposes to be a teacher or it would be better for us to get into another line of work,” he told reporters.

The meeting, whose theme is “prevention of abuse of minors and vulnerable adults”, comes as the 1.3 billion-member Church still struggles to enact a concerted, coordinated and global effort to tackle a crisis that is now more than two decades old.

Lombardi, 71, said bishops from countries including the United States, which have developed protocols for preventing abuse and investigating accusations against individual members of the clergy, would share experiences and knowledge with those from developing countries, including those whose cultures make it harder to discuss abuse.

The Church has repeatedly come under fire for its handling of the sexual abuse crisis, which exposed how predator priests were moved from parish to parish instead of being defrocked or turned over to civilian authorities around the world.

Most of the crimes took place decades ago.

The pope called the meeting in September at the suggestion of his closest advisers, and last month he told reporters it was necessary because some bishops still did not know fully the procedures to put in place to protect the young and how to administer cases of abuse.

Francis said it would be a “catechesis,” or a teaching session, a pronouncement that stunned victims of abuse and their advocates.

DISGRACEFUL DELAY

Some experts have questioned why it has taken so long to get to this point.

“The fact that this still exists in 2019, that there is still awareness-raising that has to be done (among bishops) is a measure of what a low priority this has truly been for the Vatican,” said Anne Barrett-Doyle of the US-based abuse tracking group bishopaccountability.org.

“I hope he has the candor to admit that it’s absolutely disgraceful that that’s where we are today,” said Barrett-Doyle, speaking in St. Peter’s Square.

On Saturday the Vatican sent what some saw as a warning that it would get tough with bishops who have either committed abuse or covered it up.

It expelled former US Cardinal Theodore McCarrick from the Roman Catholic priesthood after he was found guilty of sexual crimes against minors and adults.

While many priests have been expelled for sexual abuse, few bishops have met the same fate, and McCarrick was the first former cardinal to be thrown out.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna, the Vatican’s top sexual crimes investigator, told Reuters that McCarrick’s dismissal was a “very important signal” to the Catholic hierarchy that no one is above the law.

While victims of sexual abuse and their advocates welcomed the expulsion, many were skeptical.

“I worry that this (McCarrick’s expulsion) is not going to be anything more than the equivalent of the pope tossing a bone to placate his critics, placate the survivors,” said Phil Saviano, who was molested by a priest in Massachusetts when he was 12 years old and whose story was told in the 2015 Oscar-winning film Spotlight.

A woman looks at the Facebook logo on an iPad in this photo illustration.
Facebook needs independent ethical oversight: UK lawmakers
18 February 2019, 6:16 AM

Facebook and other big tech companies should be subject to a compulsory code of ethics to tackle the spread of fake news, the abuse of users’ data and the bullying of smaller firms, British lawmakers said on Monday.

In a damning report that singled out Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg for what it said was a failure of leadership and personal responsibility, the UK parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee said the companies had proved ineffective in stopping harmful content and disinformation on their platforms.

“The guiding principle of the ‘move fast and break things’ culture often seems to be that it is better to apologize than ask permission,” committee chairman Damian Collins said.

“We need a radical shift in the balance of power between the platforms and the people.”

Collins said the age of inadequate self-regulation must come to an end.

“The rights of the citizen need to be established in statute, by requiring the tech companies to adhere to a code of conduct written into law by Parliament, and overseen by an independent regulator,” he said.

Facebook became the focus of the committee’s 18-month inquiry after whistleblower Christopher Wylie alleged that political consultancy Cambridge Analytica had obtained the data of millions of users of the social network.

Zuckerberg apologized last year for a “breach of trust” over the scandal.

But he refused to appear three times before British lawmakers, a stance that showed “contempt” toward parliament and the members of nine legislatures from around the world, the committee said.

“We believe that in its evidence to the committee Facebook has often deliberately sought to frustrate our work, by giving incomplete, disingenuous and at times misleading answers to our questions,” Collins said.

“Mark Zuckerberg continually fails to show the levels of leadership and personal responsibility that should be expected from someone who sits at the top of one of the world’s biggest companies.”

The lawmaker identified major threats to society from the dominance of tech companies such as Facebook – which also owns WhatsApp and Instagram – Google and Twitter.

Democracy was at risk from the malicious and relentless targeting of citizens with disinformation and personalized adverts from unidentifiable sources, they said, and social media platforms were failing to act against harmful content and respect the privacy of users.

Companies like Facebook were also using their size to bully smaller firms that relied on social media platforms to reach customers, it added.

Taxis called in a local language Keke-Napep move in a street after the postponement of the presidential election in Kano, Nigeria.
Nigerian candidate says delayed presidential vote could be compromised
18 February 2019, 5:44 AM

While most Nigerians took the delay in a presidential election in their stride on Sunday, after similar postponements in 2011 and 2015, one presidential candidate and civil society groups expressed concern that the vote could now be compromised.

Authorities postponed Saturday’s election by a week just hours before polls had been due to open. The vote pits President Muhammadu Buhari, in power since 2015, against former vice president Atiku Abubakar.

Previous elections in Africa’s biggest democracy and top oil producer have been marred by vote rigging, voter intimidation and post-election violence.

Kingsley Moghalu – one of the best-known candidates aside from Buhari and Atiku – and civil society groups said there was uncertainty over the extent to which ballot papers and result sheets may have been exposed.

“There is the risk of manipulation,” said Moghalu, a former deputy governor of the central bank, whose campaign has focused on reviving the economy.

“Even if there was a need to postpone the election it could have been done in a much tidier way that would not have exposed the process to these kinds of risks,” he said.

They fear the paperwork that was distributed only to be recalled hours before polling was due to begin could be used to falsify information to enable vote rigging in some areas.

Voters at one church in the capital Abuja appeared largely unfazed on Sunday. The last two presidential elections, in 2011 and 2015, were also delayed over logistics and security issues.

“Are people demoralized? Absolutely, definitely – but we are also a resilient people. Whatever it takes, they’ve shifted it to next week, we are ready to go back to vote,” said banker Doyin Coker at the church.

Mahmood Yakubu, chairman of the electoral commission, said the postponement was due to logistical factors. He denied political pressure had played any part.

Clement Nwankwo, convener of the Situation Room, which represents more than 70 civil society groups, said there had been a few reports from some of the organization’s 9,000 observers of “instances in which the ballots have been exposed”, although he said the scale of the problem was not clear.

“There is concern over whether materials that have traveled are safe from partisan abuse. It would be an issue of how much manipulation this could mean,” said Nwankwo.

He said civil society groups were due to hold a meeting with Yakubu on Monday to address this and other issues over the delay.

In Abuja on Sunday, church pastor Wilson Adebge said he and others would remain patient until the vote is over.

“If they keep postponing and cancelling, we would keep getting ready until the day they vote,” he said.

Elections 2019

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