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Kim Jong-un makes visit to cosmetics firm with wife


Kim Jong-un makes visit to cosmetics firm with wife

Image copyright KCNA via Reuters
Image caption The broadcast on state media said his father Kim Jong-il visited the factory in 2003

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has taken time away from the confrontation with the US and allies to visit a cosmetics factory in Pyongyang.

He went to the newly renovated factory with senior party members and his rarely seen wife, Ri Sol-ju.

The site was visited by his father and predecessor Kim Jong-il 14 years ago.

The visit was broadcast on state media, one day after US Defence Secretary James Mattis said his country would "never accept" a nuclear-armed North Korea.

Image copyright KCNA via Reuters
Image copyright KCNA via AFP

Mr Mattis said any use of such weapons would be met with a "massive military response", while visiting Seoul on Saturday.

Tension has risen on the peninsula over a series of North Korean missile and nuclear tests and escalating rhetoric between Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump.

  • Keeping up with the Kims: North Korea's first family
  • North Korea crisis in 300 words
  • North Korea 'accidentally reveals' plans during factory visit

The visit made a stark difference from the leader's usual photo opportunities with missiles and weapons, as he instead posed with soap and beauty products.

He praised the company and called on it to produce world-class cosmetics.

Image copyright kcna via reuters

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Puerto Rico governor: Scrap Whitefish energy grid deal


Puerto Rico governor: Scrap Whitefish energy grid deal

Image copyright AFP
Image caption More than five weeks after Storm Maria, most Puerto Ricans are still in the dark

Puerto Rico's governor has called for the cancellation of a contract given to a tiny Montana firm to help rebuild the island's power grid.

Ricardo Rossello also said he wanted to see repair teams brought from New York and Florida to aid with reconstruction efforts in the wake of Storm Maria.

The contract was given to Whitefish Energy, which has little experience of work on such a scale, without a public bid process.

Several inquiries are under way.

More than 70% of people on the US-controlled island were without power as of Sunday morning – more than five weeks after the powerful hurricane devastated the power grid.

Mr Rossello said on Sunday he had asked the board of governors of the Puerto Rican Electric Power Authority (Prepa) to cancel the Whitefish contract.

"There can be no distraction to alter the commitment to restore the power system as quickly as possible," he said.

The governor said he had instructed Prepa to "immediately coordinate with the states of Florida and New York to reinforce brigades" that are currently rebuilding the grid on the island.

Concerns were raised about why Puerto Rican authorities had not requested "mutual aid" from other public power authorities, as is typical during disasters in the US.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The island's power grid will have to be completely rebuilt

The White House and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) distanced themselves from the deal late last week.

The company has its headquarters in the town of Whitefish, the hometown of US Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Mr Zinke has denied any involvement or wrongdoing.

  • White House distances itself from Whitefish power grid deal
  • Puerto Rico to audit power contract for Montana firm

Whitefish has said that it secured the $300m (£228m) deal in a legitimate manner.

The company did not immediately respond to a BBC request for comment on the governor's statement.

Prepa also did not immediately return a request for comment on the latest developments.

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Media captionHurricane Maria: Puerto Rico faces long road to recovery

Earlier this week, Fema denied allegations by Prepa, the US territory's main utility, that it had reviewed the deal.

The contract states that "Prepa hereby represents and warrants that Fema has reviewed and approved of this Contract".

In a statement on Thursday, Fema said: "Any language in any contract between Prepa and Whitefish that states Fema approved that contract is inaccurate."

  • Whitefish Energy regrets Twitter spat with San Juan mayor

Fema also said it had "significant concerns" with how Prepa had procured the contract and had "not confirmed whether the contract prices [were] reasonable".

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption More than five weeks after Storm Maria most light on the island is generator-driven

It is unclear what will happen to any outstanding costs.

Walt Green, a former director of the US National Center for Disaster Fraud, told BBC News earlier this week that it was "impossible" to say at this stage who was responsible for costs.

"Any dispute may result in appeals, administrative hearings and lawsuits," he added.

Puerto Rican authorities initially said Fema would pay for the deal.

They later said there was "nothing illegal" about the contract.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Whitefish Energy is based in the hometown of US Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke

Prepa and the Puerto Rican government are saddled with massive debts. The power authority declared bankruptcy in July.

The US House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Caribbean island, is also scrutinising the contract.

On Friday, top Democrats from that panel and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee sent a letter asking the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general to launch an investigation.

The correspondence follows similar requests from other members of Congress to the interior department's inspector general.

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Missing Russian helicopter found on seabed in the Arctic


Missing Russian helicopter found on seabed in the Arctic

G.O. Sars/NTB scanpix/via REUTERS
The wreckage of a Russian helicopter that has been missing since Oct. 26 is seen in an underwater photo made off of Barentsburg, Norway, and released on Oct. 29, 2017.

Norwegian rescue officials said Sunday the wreckage of a Russian helicopter that crashed with eight people onboard off the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard has been located on the seabed.

The Joint Rescue Coordination Center for northern Norway said that the Mi-8 helicopter, which went down Thursday near the Svalbard settlement of Barentsburg, is around two kilometers (one mile) east of Cape Heer at a depth of nearly 210 meters (about 685 feet).

A Norwegian remote-controlled submarine was involved in the search, which will now focus on the chopper's passengers.

Russian helicopter crashThe Associated Press
Russian helicopter crash

Russian authorities said earlier that the helicopter belonged to Russian coal company Arktikugol but was operated by charter company Konvers Avia.

Yevgeny Saidov, head of the Russian emergencies ministry's special group at the site, told news agency TASS that Russian remotely controlled underwater vehicles would join the operation to survey the Mi-8 crash site.

The helicopter had been en route to Barentsburg, a coal-mining town of about 500 people, from the Russian settlement of Pyramiden, carrying five crew members and three staff members from Russia's Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute.

Under an international 1920 treaty, Norway has sovereignty over Svalbard, which is 800 kilometers (500 miles) north of its mainland. Other signatory countries of the treaty have rights to exploit its natural resources at the archipelago, known also with its earlier name Spitzbergen.

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Trump rages on Twitter at Clinton and Russia inquiry ‘witch hunt’


Trump rages on Twitter at Clinton and Russia inquiry 'witch hunt'

Image copyright Reuters

US President Donald Trump has launched a Twitter tirade about the "guilt" of Hillary Clinton and the opposition Democratic Party.

His Sunday morning outburst came amid reports that the first arrest in the Russian collusion inquiry would be made this week, possibly as early as Monday.

Mr Trump insisted allegations of collusion between his campaign and Russia were "phony" and a "witch hunt".

He said Republicans were united behind him, before urging: "DO SOMETHING!"

Media reports say the first charges have been filed in the investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election to assist Mr Trump.

It is not clear what the charges are and whom they are targeting, CNN and Reuters report, quoting unnamed sources.

Skip Twitter post by @realDonaldTrump

…are now fighting back like never before. There is so much GUILT by Democrats/Clinton, and now the facts are pouring out. DO SOMETHING!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 29, 2017


End of Twitter post by @realDonaldTrump

Mr Trump issued a series of four tweets on Sunday morning:

  • "Never seen such Republican ANGER & UNITY as I have concerning the lack of investigation on Clinton made Fake Dossier (now $12,000,000?),….
  • "…the Uranium to Russia deal, the 33,000 plus deleted Emails, the Comey fix and so much more. Instead they look at phony Trump/Russia,….
  • "…'collusion,' which doesn't exist. The Dems are using this terrible (and bad for our country) Witch Hunt for evil politics, but the R's…
  • "…are now fighting back like never before. There is so much GUILT by Democrats/Clinton, and now the facts are pouring out. DO SOMETHING!"

About an hour later he tweeted: "All of this 'Russia' talk right when the Republicans are making their big push for historic Tax Cuts & Reform. Is this coincidental? NOT!"

  • Who's who in the drama to end all dramas?
  • Russia: The 'cloud' over the Trump White House

Critics on Twitter were quick to accuse him of attempting to divert attention from the Russian investigation by complaining about the lack of focus on an opponent he defeated in the presidential election nearly a year ago.

Skip Twitter post by @EdKrassen

You are blaming others for diversion when you are the king of diversion yourself.

— Ed Krassenstein (@EdKrassen) October 29, 2017


End of Twitter post by @EdKrassen

US intelligence agencies have already concluded that the Russian government sought to help Mr Trump win the election.

Mr Mueller's investigation is looking into any links between Russia and the Trump campaign. Both deny there was any collusion.

His team is known to have conducted extensive interviews with several current and former White House officials.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mueller was appointed special counsel after Trump fired FBI director James Comey

Mr Mueller, a former FBI director, was appointed by the department of justice as special counsel in May shortly after Mr Trump fired FBI director James Comey.

Mr Trump said on Friday that it was now "commonly agreed" that there was no collusion between him and Russia but said that there were links between Moscow and Mrs Clinton.

Republican lawmakers have said that a uranium deal with a Russian company in 2010, when Mrs Clinton was secretary of state, was sealed in exchange for donations to her husband's charity.

A Congressional investigation has been opened into the case. Democrats say it is an attempt to divert attention from the alleged ties between Russia and Mr Trump.

  • Republicans investigate Clinton and Obama

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Trump ally Roger Stone suspended from Twitter


Trump ally Roger Stone suspended from Twitter

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Mr Stone has claimed credit for getting Mr Trump to run for president

Roger Stone, a high-profile supporter of Donald Trump, has been suspended from Twitter after using the network to attack journalists.

Mr Stone, who advised Mr Trump during his election campaign, said he had been told he had violated Twitter's rules.

His suspension came hours after he used abusive and homophobic language to target journalists, including a gay CNN presenter, Don Lemon.

Mr Stone has said he will sue Twitter for blocking his account.

Twitter has not commented or confirmed if Mr Stone's suspension is permanent.

He was an aide to President Richard Nixon in the 1970s and became a political consultant. He says in the Netflix documentary Get Me Roger Stone that he got Mr Trump to run for president.

While he acted as an adviser during the early days of the Trump campaign, he left his role in disputed circumstances in August 2015 – Mr Stone says he quit, Mr Trump says he was fired.

Since then, Mr Trump has tried to put some distance between himself and Mr Stone, who regularly appears on network television to support his former employer.

Over several hours on Saturday, Mr Stone took to Twitter to attack CNN and New York Times journalists over their reporting.

His attacks came hours after CNN reported that the first charges had been laid by a grand jury in the investigation into Russian influence on the 2016 election.

In a Facebook post, Mr Stone said he believed his suspension should have ended "some time ago yet my Twitter feed is still not functional".

In an interview with entertainment website The Wrap, he said he had hired "one of the best telecommunications lawyers in the country" and would sue Twitter, but it is not clear whether there are legal grounds to do so.

"I have been inundated on Twitter with bloggers threatening to kill me, my wife my kids and even my dogs yet Twitter seems unconcerned about that," he said.

One of the people he targeted on Saturday, CNN contributor Ana Navarro, said she did not sympathise with Mr Stone over his suspension.

Skip Twitter post by @ananavarro

Can you hear me playing my little violin for him?????

— Ana Navarro (@ananavarro) October 28, 2017


End of Twitter post by @ananavarro

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Mogadishu bombings: Top Somali officials fired over deadly blasts


Mogadishu bombings: Top Somali officials fired over deadly blasts

Image copyright AP/getty
Image caption Militant group al-Shabab said it was behind the twin bombings on Saturday

The Somali government has fired two top security officials after twin blasts and a siege left at least 27 people dead on Saturday.

They came just two weeks after at least 358 people died in another attack, one of the deadliest ever to hit Mogadishu.

Police chief Abdihakin Dahir Saiid and the director of national intelligence, Abdillahi Mohamed Sanbaloosh, were both removed from office on Sunday.

The decision came after an emergency cabinet meeting, Somali officials say.

The Islamist militant group al-Shabab says it carried out Saturday's bombings.

Police say three militants were captured alive and two others blew themselves up during the attack.

The siege started on Saturday afternoon after a car bomb was driven into the Nasahablod Two hotel. A few minutes later, a second car bomb targeted the former parliament house nearby.

Sporadic gunfire continued inside the hotel throughout the night, witnesses said. Police said the siege lasted almost 12 hours.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionThe aftermath of the latest bomb blast in Mogadishu

Al-Shabab – with has links with al-Qaeda – denies having any involvement in the 14 October attack.

  • Who are Somalia's al-Shabab?

The militants say they targeted the hotel on Saturday because it was frequented by security officials and politicians.

The dead included at least 12 policemen. Many more people were injured.

Provincial leaders, police and intelligence officials were gathering for a meeting with the government to agree on a joint strategy against al-Shabab, due to take place on Sunday.

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US Cuba: Allegations of sonic attacks ‘totally false’


US Cuba: Allegations of sonic attacks 'totally false'

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The US says nearly two dozen staff were affected by the alleged attacks

Cuba says there have been no sonic attacks against US embassy staff in its capital, Havana, and that the claims are a "political manipulation" aimed at damaging bilateral relations.

Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez dismissed allegations of any kind of attack as "totally false".

The US said nearly two dozen personnel had health problems after the alleged attacks and cut its staff as a result.

Reports suggest sonic attacks were to blame, but nothing has been proven.

Washington has not blamed Havana for the alleged attacks, and the Cuban government has previously denied targeting embassy staff.

  • What is a covert sonic weapon?
  • US-Cuba thaw halted amid diplomat injuries

The US expelled 15 Cuban diplomats, saying that Havana had failed to protect its employees, but Cuba said the move was "unjustified".

The US government also suspended visa processing in Cuba indefinitely.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Rodriguez dismissed as false "any type of attack"

Speaking in Washington at a meeting of Cubans living in the US, Mr Rodriguez said the allegations have caused a "serious deterioration in the relationship between both governments and both countries".

"It's unacceptable and immoral, from the point of view of the Cuban government, for people to be harmed by a difference between governments," he added.

The reported health problems ranged from mild brain trauma and deafness to dizziness and nausea.

Mystery in Havana

Late 2016: US embassy staff and at least one Canadian began to notice symptoms

May 2017: US expels two Cuban diplomats for failing to protect its diplomats

August: US says 16 employees have been treated but attacks seem to have stopped. A Canadian diplomat in Havana is treated for hearing loss.

Early September: US says attacks are continuing and 19 staff members have now been hurt

29 September: Washington pulls out diplomatic staff, warns US citizens not to visit and says 21 embassy employees now injured

3 October: US expels Cuban diplomats from Washington

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Missing Russian helicopter found in Norway Arctic sea


Missing Russian helicopter found in Norway Arctic sea

Image copyright AFP
Image caption A 2011 photo of the Russian Mi-8 helicopter at Barentsburg

A Norwegian search team has located the wreckage of a Russian helicopter that crashed into the sea with eight people on board in the Arctic.

The helicopter, which has been missing since Thursday, lies on the ocean floor off the archipelago of Svalbard, near Barentsburg, officials said.

Norwegian police would now search for those on board, a statement said.

Norway has sovereignty over Svalbard but Russia has a small coal-mining community in Barentsburg.

Russia's consul in Barentsburg said five crew and three scientists were on board the helicopter, all Russians. They are feared dead.

The helicopter went missing at 15:35 local time (13:35 GMT).

It was on a short flight to Barentsburg from Pyramiden, a disused Russian mining settlement. The helicopter is operated by a Russian coal-mining enterprise, Arktikugol.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The disused Russian mining settlement of Pyramiden on Svalbard

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Catalonia independence: 300,000 attend Barcelona pro-Spain rally


Catalonia independence: 300,000 attend Barcelona pro-Spain rally

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Media captionDemonstrators were keen to reflect not all Catalonia backed independence

A reported 300,000 people are attending a rally for Spanish unity in Barcelona after Catalonia was stripped of its autonomy for declaring independence.

Many of those protesting in the region's largest city chanted that sacked Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont should be jailed.

Mr Puigdemont was dismissed as Spain's central government took control of Catalan institutions.

On Sunday, a minister in Belgium said he could get political asylum there.

Spain has been gripped by a constitutional crisis since a referendum, organised by Mr Puigdemont's separatist government, was held earlier this month in defiance of a ruling by the Constitutional Court which had declared it illegal.

The Catalan government said that of the 43% of potential voters who took part, 90% were in favour of independence.

The Guardia Urbana, a Catalan municipal police force, said at least 300,000 people had turned out in Barcelona.

Among them was Marina Fernandez, a 19-year-old student, who said she was unhappy with the actions taken by the Catalan authorities.

"I am enraged about what they are doing to the country that my grandparents built," she told the AFP news agency.

  • Madrid's enforcer for Catalonia
  • Catalonia crisis: What next for Spain?

Another protester, Maria Lopez, told Reuters news agency: "What do we want? That they don't break us up. This is a disgrace. We are not going to consent. They are shameless, shameless, and Mr Puigdemont needs to be taken to prison."

Image copyright AFP/Getty Images
Image caption Pro-Spain protesters gathered at the Gaudi-designed Casa Batllo in Barcelona

Friday saw the regional parliament declare independence, with Madrid responding by declaring the move illegal.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy then announced the dissolution of the regional parliament and the removal of Mr Puigdemont as Catalan leader, and ordered that fresh regional elections should be held in December.

Mr Puigdemont has urged "democratic opposition" to direct rule from Madrid, which has said it would welcome his participation in the election.

  • What powers has Catalonia now lost?
  • The case for and against independence

A government spokesman in Madrid, Íñigo Méndez de Vigo, said Mr Puigdemont had the right to continue in politics, despite his removal from office.

"If Puigdemont takes part in these elections, he can exercise this democratic opposition," he said, quoted by Reuters.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionCatalonia: Spanish flags and what they mean

On Sunday, Belgium's migration minister Theo Francken told local TV the separatist leader could be given asylum protection which Spain would find difficult to reverse.

"If you see the situation at the moment, the prison sentences and the repression from Madrid and the prison sentences that are bandied about. Then the question is obviously whether somebody like that has the chance of a fair trial," he said.

There is no suggestion that Mr Puigdemont is seeking to leave Catalonia.

Later on Sunday, he is expected to attend a football match in Girona, the heartland of the pro-independence movement, when the local team play Real Madrid – who Mr Rajoy supports.

  • Does Catalonia want to leave Spain?
  • Reality Check: Police violence in Catalonia

A poll published by Spanish national newspaper El Pais on Saturday suggested more Catalans (52% to 43%) were in favour of the dissolution of the regional parliament and the holding of elections.

Fifty-five per cent of Catalan respondents opposed the declaration of independence, with 41% in favour.

Before Madrid took over the Catalan government, the region had one of the greatest levels of self-government in Spain.

It has its own parliament, police force and public broadcaster, as well as a government and president, though those have now been dismissed.

Catalans had a range of powers in many policy areas from culture and environment to communications, transportation, commerce and public safety.

Foreign affairs, the armed forces and fiscal policy were always the sole responsibility of the Spanish government.

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Iceland election: Independence Party ‘still has most seats’


Iceland election: Independence Party 'still has most seats'

Image copyright AFP/Getty
Image caption Mr Benediktsson's Independence Party appears to have retained most seats

Iceland's governing coalition appears to have suffered big losses in parliamentary elections with centre-left parties picking up many seats.

With 81% of the vote counted, Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson's centre-right Independence Party still looks set to emerge the largest.

However it may have lost nearly a quarter of its seats.

The second snap election in a year, called after a paedophile scandal, was held amid deep voter distrust.

Coalition talks are expected to be complex, with a record eight parties poised to enter parliament.

A three-party coalition is only possible if it includes both the Independence Party and its nearest rival, the Left-Green movement headed by 41-year-old Katrín Jakobsdóttir, the Iceland Monitor news website reports.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Ms Jakobsdóttir says she wants to use Iceland's economic boom to fund investment

Most parties say investment is needed in welfare, infrastructure and tourism but disagree on how to fund it.

Mr Benediktsson called the election after it emerged that his father had written a letter saying a convicted paedophile should have his "honour restored".

The Bright Future party left the ruling coalition, triggering the election, but lost all its seats.

Meanwhile two new parties – including the Centre Party of former PM Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, who was forced to resign last year after a tax haven scandal – won seats.

  • Pirate Party MP forced to wear eyepatch

The furore over Mr Benediktsson's father's letter relates to an old Icelandic system allowing convicts to have certain civil rights restored if three letters of recommendation from persons of good character are provided.

Icelanders were furious at the secret backing for Hjalti Sigurjón Hauksson – convicted in 2004 of raping his stepdaughter almost every day for 12 years from when she was five. He served a five-and-a-half-year jail term.

The government was also accused of an attempted cover-up after it refused to disclose who had written the letter of recommendation.

The island of 340,000 people was one of the countries hit hardest by the 2008 financial crisis but has turned its economy around by focusing on tourism.

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