Vice President Pence calls on European leaders to recognize Venezuela’s opposition leader

Sean Gallup/Getty Images(MUNICH) — As tension in Venezuela continues to escalate, Vice President Mike Pence took the stage at the Munich Security Conference in Germany Saturday to call on European nations to stand by the United States in recognizing Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s president.

“The struggle in Venezuela is between dictatorship and democracy. Nicolas Maduro is a dictator with no legitimate claim to power, and Nicolas Maduro must go,” Pence said, referring to Venezuela’s president.

Pence, who has been heavily involved in the Trump administration’s efforts to resolve the ongoing tension in Venezuela, called for European allies to do more.

“Now, it’s time for the rest of the world to step forward,” he stated.

Over the past few weeks, the Trump administration has challenged Maduro’s claim to the presidency and instead recognized Guaido as the country’s leader, amid sustained and at times violent protests.

Pence told reporters that USAID is working closely with Guaido to make sure humanitarian aid gets to those suffering in the country.

“I know that USAID officials have been working very closely with Juan Guaido to ensure that the humanitarian aid that has already been delivered, additional aid that is in route from the United States and other countries is positioned in a place where we will be able to move it into Venezuela to assist the families that are struggling there,” Pence said.

Pence, who held a roundtable discussion earlier this month with exiles from Venezuela in Florida, has vowed to continue to apply pressure “until the suffering is over and freedom is restored.”

On Friday, the U.S. Treasury announced it is sanctioning five top Venezuelan officials as it seeks to tighten the hold on Maduro and his government and force the socialist leader to resign.

Maduro, meanwhile, told the Associated Press this week that his government has had secret talks with the United States. He also told the wire service he expects to survive the increasing calls for him step down.

The president also said his foreign minister Elliott Abrams, the Washington-based special envoy for Venezuela, to visit the country.

“If he wants to meet, just tell me when, where and how and I’ll be there,” Maduro said without providing more details, according to the AP.

The Munich Security Conference brings together more than 450 senior leaders from all over the world including presidents, ministers and heads of states.

As Pence spoke, there were familiar faces in the audience. The largest U.S. congressional delegation traveled to Munich to attend the conference, including some prominent skeptics of Trump’s national emergency declaration.

Among those attending were South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, whom Pence recognized at the top of his remarks.

President Donald Trump met with Colombian President Ivan Duque Marquez on Thursday to discuss what they called “the democratic and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.”

The United States and Colombia vowed to work together with Guaido to provide aid to Venezuelans in need and to “restore, freedom, democracy, and prosperity,” according to White House statement.

When asked if the White House is considering military action in the country, Trump replied he is looking at “a number of different options.”

The president is expected to travel to Florida on Monday to continue to express support for Venezuela.

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Brexit ‘preppers’ stockpiling supplies in case of a doomsday ‘no-deal’

ABC News(LONDON) —  Britain is due to leave the European Union on March 29, but with less than two months to go, the country’s future is more uncertain than ever. Lawmakers have been unable to agree on the terms of Brexit, and there are growing fears that the U.K. could leave the E.U. without a deal, which many experts and business leaders say could have disastrous economic consequences. In such a confusing and chaotic political landscape, a growing number of people in the U.K. are taking matters into their own hands by becoming Brexit “preppers” — stockpiling foods and medicines in their own homes in case of the hardship of a “no-deal Brexit.”

Graham Hughes, a travel writer based in northeast England, began stockpiling last summer as it became increasingly clear that politicians seemed no closer to finding a solution to the Brexit problems.

“I started stockpiling last summer, because it was getting to the point where the government still didn’t seem to know what it was playing at and how things were going to unfold,” he told ABC News. “And we are an island nation, we are completely reliant on food coming in.”

Graham is a Guinness World Record holder for visiting every country in the world without using a plane. He has a degree in politics and is not a naturally cautious person, he said. But Graham has now amassed at least a few months supply of canned foods, hygienic products and ordinary medicines.

As news reports regularly come out warning of the impact of a no-deal Brexit, he felt it was necessary to begin stockpiling extra food with his partner and her two children.

The BBC reported last month that pharmacists are struggling to obtain many common medicines. Farming leaders told the government a “no-deal” would be “catastrophic” for U.K. food supplies, according to The Guardian. The Times also reported that officials are considering plans to declare a state of emergency and introduce martial law in the event of “no-deal” last month.

“It’s painful. And for a government to do this it’s cruel,” Hughes said. “To say to every company in the United Kingdom, every individual, ‘Do you know what, in two months’ time we don’t know what’s going to happen, but we’re hoping for the best.’ That’s just not good enough.”

Graham is not alone in having these concerns. Others gather online in a small but growing Facebook group named 48% Peppers. Its membership has doubled in size over the past 30 days to 10,000 people, as the Brexit deadline looms ever closer. The “48%” refers to the percentage of the British population that voted to remain in the European Union in 2016.

While Graham said that he has “never wanted to be so wrong” in his life, he is above all acting out of concern for his family.

“Never before in my lifetime have we been in a situation where we’ve had to do this kind of thing,” he said. “Where we’ve had to take steps to make sure my family has enough food. My dad has enough medicine. It’s a very strange feeling.”

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US citizen detained in Egypt for over 5 years is dying, desperate for release

Kassem Family(CAIRO) — A U.S. citizen detained in Egypt for five-and-a-half years who is on a hunger strike is dying, according to his lawyer and family.

Five months after Moustafa Kassem wrote letters to President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence pleading for their help, the New York City taxi driver and father of two has not been freed by the government of strongman President Abdel Fattah el Sisi.

“My brother can’t wait weeks or months. He is dying now,” his sister Iman Kassem said in a statement this week.

Kassem started his hunger strike in September when he was sentenced to 15 years in jail in a mass trial with more than 700 co-defendants: “I am losing my will and don’t know how else to get your attention,” he wrote in those letters to Trump and Pence, adding that while he knows “full well that I may not survive,” he had no choice.

Kassem is fed a liquid-only diet, but his health has greatly deteriorated, especially given his diabetes.

“Given his fragile health, we are very concerned,” said Praveen Madhiraju, Kassem’s lawyer and executive director of Pretrial Rights International, who added that Kassem has lost significant weight, been losing his hair and several times lost consciousness.

They are urging the Trump administration to do more to pressure Sisi, who the president is close with, and secure Kassem’s release.

A dual U.S. and Egyptian citizen, Kassem was visiting his wife and two children, then 3 and 6 years old, in August 2013. It was a particularly volatile moment in Egypt’s recent history — one month after the military seized power following days of protests against the recently elected government of Mohamed Morsi.

In Morsi’s place, then-General Sisi took control, implementing a crackdown on political opposition and civil society that has since expanded. About 20 Americans currently are in Egyptian jails, but there are as many as 60,000 political prisoners across Egypt, according to a Human Rights Watch report in 2017.

Sisi denied there were any political prisoners in a recent interview with CBS News.

On Aug. 14, 2013, the night before Kassem was set to return to the U.S., he went out in Cairo to exchange some money and shop, when security officials detained him and accused him of participating in protests against the military takeover in a nearby square, according to Madhiraju. The military was cracking down on the demonstrations in what human rights groups say was the single deadliest incident in Sisi’s sweep to power, with as many as 800 killed.

Accused of being an American spy because of his U.S. passport and beaten by security forces, Kassem has been imprisoned ever since. His lawyers have called all the charges against him bogus.

“His imprisonment is only one example of Egypt’s out-of-control security state, which has imprisoned tens of thousands for expressing political opinions or even for just being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Stephen McInerney, executive director of the Project Project on Middle East Democracy, a nonpartisan organization that advocates for democracy in the region.

Just this week, the Egyptian parliament voted overwhelmingly in favor of a constitutional amendment that would allow Sisi to remain in power until 2034. After winning reelection in April 2018 in a vote with no real opposition and where his biggest opponent was jailed, Sisi’s second term is currently set to expire in 2022, when he would be forced to step down.

In recent months, Kassem and his lawyers have given up appealing his case and filed paperwork to renounce his Egyptian citizenship, so that he could be deported. But at least three times now, according to Madhiraju, Egyptian authorities have denied that he has submitted paperwork, prolonging his detention.

The Egyptian embassy in Washington did not respond to request for comment on Friday.

Kassem’s case was raised publicly and directly with Sisi by Pence when he visited Cairo in January 2018: “President Al Sisi assured me that he would give that very serious attention. … I told him we’d like to see those American citizens restored to their families and restored to our country,” he said at the time.

Kassem’s sister Iman pleaded with Pence directly, “For him, his wife and his children, I’m asking Vice President Pence to please bring him home.”

But there are concerns that Secretary of State Pompeo did not raise his case when he met Sisi more recently in January. Madhiraju told ABC News that he was told Pompeo did not, a claim that ABC cannot independently verify.

When asked, State Department deputy spokesperson Robert Palladino said in a statement, “We are deeply concerned by the conviction and sentencing of U.S. citizen Moustafa Kassem and have raised his case repeatedly with the Egyptian government both here and in Egypt.”

Palladino said the U.S. is “concerned about the toll” on Kassem’s health and remains “in communication with Mr. Kassem, his family and his attorney about the case and will continue providing appropriate consular service.”

Consular officials from the U.S. embassy have been able to visit Kassem on multiple occasions over the last few years, Madhiraju said.

But on whether Pompeo specifically raised the case, a State Department official would only add, “While we don’t discuss private diplomatic conversations, Mr. Kassem’s case has been raised at the highest levels.”

During his time in Cairo, Pompeo was asked about raising detained Americans’ cases and told reporters, “We talk about the full panoply of human rights issues each time we engage.”

“His case shows the willingness of President Sisi’s regime to ignore legitimate concerns expressed by the Trump White House for an American citizen wrongly imprisoned in awful conditions and in dangerously poor health,” said McInerney, adding that the fact that Pompeo may not have raised Kassem’s case “gives the appearance that this administration has lost interest in the fate of an American citizen in critical condition.”

Critics have said the Trump administration has been quieter on human rights and cozier with strongmen, from Vladimir Putin of Russia to Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey to Sisi in Egypt.

After withholding $195 million in aid to Egypt over human rights concerns in 2017, the State Department announced in July it was releasing that money “in the spirit of our efforts to further strengthen this partnership,” an official told ABC News at the time. The same week Kassem was sentenced, the administration announced it had approved the possible sale of $99 million worth of tank rounds to Egypt, calling it a “friendly country” and “important strategic partner.”

Annually, the U.S. typically provides Egypt with more than a billion dollars in aid and military assistance — the second highest amount behind Israel.

But Trump’s tight bond and warm words with Sisi have yielded some results, too.

In April 2017, Egypt freed Aya Hijazi, a U.S. citizen and humanitarian aid worker, her husband Mohamed Hassanein and four others after Trump and his top aides urged Sisi to do so as a goodwill gesture.

For Kassem, there still hasn’t been an Oval Office celebration.

He hasn’t celebrated a birthday in years, either. On Monday, he turned 54 years old, and when his family tried to visit him to mark the occasion — his fifth birthday behind bars — they were forced to wait nine hours and then ultimately blocked by Egyptian officials, Madhiraju said.

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Richard Branson to hold fundraising concert for Venezuela relief

@richardbranson/Twitter(CUCUTA, Columbia) — Billionaire Virgin founder Richard Branson is taking on delivering relief to the people of Venezuela into his own hands.

Branson announced on Friday he will be throwing a massive fundraising concert in neighboring Colombia on Feb. 22.

Venezuela is in a tug of war for leadership between current President Nicolas Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido, who the U.S. has recognized as the rightful leader of the country. Guaido declared himself the country’s legitimate president on Jan. 23 following Maduro’s re-election in a race that many countries, including the U.S., have called fraudulent.

Hunger, poverty and violence have wracked the country in recent years. The country’s paper currency has become worthless as some economists project inflation could reach 10 million percent this year.

“The world can no longer close its eyes to this unacceptable situation,” Branson wrote in a release. “While diplomatic efforts to bring in humanitarian goods must kick into high gear, we all need to mobilise much-needed financial support, and we need to do it quickly.

“I know a thing or two about the music business, and I’m old enough to remember how George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh and Bob Geldof’s LiveAid moved the world to action,” he added. “And so I’ve offered to help organise an international benefit concert, Venezuela Aid Live, which myself and Bruno Ocampo are happy to announce will take place on February 22nd in Cucuta, Colombia, right on the Venezuelan border.”

The Concert for Bangladesh, held on Aug. 1, 1971, featured Harrison, the former Beatles guitarist, and Indian sitar legend Ravi Shankar. The Madison Square Garden concert and live recording also included appearances from fellow Beatle Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan and Billy Preston. It raised millions of dollars for UNICEF, which was providing relief for Bangladeshis fleeing their country following war.

Geldof’s LiveAid in July 1985 was a massive success, with concerts in London and Philadelphia raising money for the Ethiopian famine. Queen’s performance became iconic, while other megastars performing included U2, David Bowie, Tom Petty, The Rolling Stones, The Who and Paul McCartney.

Branson has not yet announced any performers for the concert on Friday, saying only that “this massive concert will count with the participation of a list of major musicians of the Latin and English industry. As hours go by, more international artists are joining in.”

The 68-year-old entrepreneur has said he hopes to raise $100 million over the next 60 days, according to the event’s website.

Maduro is currently not allowing aid into the country. Maduro has called the effort to bring truckloads of supplies into Venezuela a pretext for a military invasion of the country and so far the armed forces have followed his orders to block the supplies at the border.

“We must break this impasse or many Venezuelans will be on the verge of starvation and death,” Branson said in a post on Twitter.

Branson launched Virgin Records in 1972, Virgin Atlantic Airways in 1984 and expanded into telecommunications in the 1990s and 2000s.

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Timeline of the alleged Jussie Smollett attack investigation

ABC News(CHICAGO) — When news broke of the alleged racist attack on a star from one of the most popular shows on television, it riveted everyone, drawing the nation into a heated discussion about race, politics and celebrity. But as the investigation continued, growing skepticism about Smollett’s story added enormous pressure on Chicago investigators to get to the bottom of what really happened that night. Here is a timeline of the Jussie Smollett case as it unfolded over the past several weeks.

Jan. 22: Smollett reports to police receiving a threatening letter sent to the Fox studio where ‘Empire’ is filmed, containing threatening language and laced with a powdery substance investigators believe was likely crushed-up Tylenol.

Jan. 29: Smollett is allegedly attacked at 2 a.m. near his apartment in Chicago. Two masked assailants poured ‘an unknown chemical substance’ on him, possibly bleach, and wrapped a rope around his neck, he told police. In a follow-up interview with police, Smollett alleges that the attackers yelled “MAGA country,” a reference to President Donald Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ slogan.

Jan. 30: Chicago police announce in a tweet that they are seeking two “persons of interest” who were captured on surveillance video near the scene and around the time of the alleged attack.

Jan. 31: Smollett’s family releases and emotional statement describing the alleged attack as a hate crime. “In the early hours of Tuesday morning, our beloved son and brother, Jussie, was the victim of a violent and unprovoked attack. We want to be clear, this was a racial and homophobic hate crime,” the family wrote in the statement to ABC News. “Jussie has told the police everything from the very beginning. His story has never changed, and we are hopeful they will find these men and bring them to justice.”

Feb. 1: Smollett releases a new statement thanking his fans and reiterating that his account of the alleged attack has remained consistent. “I am working with authorities and have been 100% factual and consistent on every level,” he said in the statement. “Despite my frustrations and deep concern with certain inaccuracies and misrepresentations that have been spread, I still believe that justice will be served.”

Feb. 2: Smollett makes his first appearance on stage since the alleged attack, performing at the Troubadour in West Hollywood, California. “Regardless of what anyone else says, I will only stand for love,” Jussie Smollett said, tearing up before beginning his set. “We hope that you all stand with us.”

Feb. 4: Chicago police release the initial incident report about the alleged attack on Smollett. The report reveals that Smollett was apparently reluctant to report the attack, and that when police arrived at his home to interview him, he was still wearing the rope around his neck. The report states that a 60-year-old friend of Smollett called the police on his behalf and said the actor “did not want to report offense however he believed it to be in the best interest to.”

Smollett said the attack happened at around 2 a.m. as he was leaving a Subway restaurant. He told police that two attackers gained his attention by yelling racial and homophobic slurs and began to beat him “about the face with their hands,” the report said. “The primary aggressor was wearing a black mask concealing any facial features and both offenders were dressed in black,” according to the report. “The victim does not remember any other distinguishing features of the offenders, or in which direction they fled,” it added.
Ten days passed without any developments in the investigation into the alleged attack, prompting growing skepticism about Smollett’s account on social media.

Feb. 13: Unbeknownst to the public, Chicago police investigators had been “tracking the two ‘persons of interest’ and were aware of who they were “for awhile,” a law enforcement source subsequently told ABC News. Investigators learned that these two individuals were returning to Chicago on Feb. 13 from Nigeria and moved in. The pair were detained at the airport, placed under arrest and taken in for questioning.

Feb. 14: In an exclusive interview with “Good Morning America” anchor Robin Roberts, Smollett said he was heartbroken when he found out that people questioned the details of his story. He defended himself against skeptics who pointed out that it wasn’t until a follow-up interview with the police that he mentioned that the assailants were wearing red “MAGA” hats.

“For me, the main thing was the idea that I somehow switched up my story, you know? And that somehow maybe I added a little extra trinket, you know, of the MAGA thing,” Smollett said. “I didn’t need to add anything like that. They called me a f—-, they called me a n—-. There’s no which way you cut it. I don’t need some MAGA hat as the cherry on top of some racist sundae.”

The same day, Smollett is re-interviewed by Chicago police investigators. By evening, police sources confirm that they obtained search warrants and raided the homes of the two individuals, recovering bleach, shoes, electronics and other items.

Feb. 15: Chicago police announce that they have identified and are questioning the two “persons of interest” captured on a surveillance video.

By midday, a CPD spokesman tells ABC News that the two ‘persons of interest’ are, in fact, under arrest, and acknowledge that the pair has “a relationship with” Smollett. In an unusual move for an ongoing investigation, police officials who had originally described the two as ‘persons of interest’ begin describing the two men as “potential suspects.” But by late that evening, investigators changed course, and announced that the two men have been released without charges.

Feb. 16: Chicago police identify the two men they arrested and later releases as brothers — Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo — both U.S. citizens of Nigerian descent.

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Panic unfolds at Orlando Airport after man attempts to breach security, travelers yell ‘gun’

iStock/Bogdan Khmelnytskyi(ORLANDO) — Chaos erupted at Orlando International Airport Saturday after a man tried to breach a security checkpoint and travelers yelled out that the suspect had a gun, police said.

The man, Ryan Scott Mills, 38, was unarmed, Orlando Police said in a statement, adding that there was no gun involved in the incident and that “no shots were ever fired.”

Mills was attempting to cross the airport’s west checkpoint around noon on Saturday when he was stopped by TSA agents, who called police for assistance, authorities said. When police attempted to arrest him, he reached into his pocket, and that’s when “unknown persons in the screening area yelled that he had a gun,” police said.

“The commotion caused a panic and persons in the screening area fled,” the police statement said. “Some of them ran past the checkpoints, which caused TSA to immediately suspend screening operations. Several travelers were injured due to the panic (pushing from the crowd) but all were minor in nature.”

Video from the incident shows people becoming increasingly panicked as they ran away from the screening area. With alarms blaring, children can be seen crying and rope barriers are strewn across the floors.

The person who took the video can be heard saying that the suspect had “a grenade or something in his hand” as he runs through the hallways of the airport.

Caroline Fennell, senior director of public affairs at the airport, said in a statement that the incident happened during one of the busiest times for security screening at the airport but that operations have resumed.

Orlando International Airport also tweeted that the checkpoint was “fully operational” but “delays continue.” Passengers scheduled for flights Saturday afternoon should check for status updates, according to the tweet.

Mills was taken into involuntary protective custody and he will be charged with disorderly conduct and resisting officer without violence, according to the police statement.

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New information in Jussie Smollett investigation ‘could change the story entirely,’ police say

ABC News(CHICAGO) —  After interrogating and releasing two men seen in surveillance video near the scene of the alleged attack on “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett, Chicago police are saying that the new information they have “could change the story entirely.”

The two men, confirmed by police as those seen in surveillance images from the night of the alleged incident, were arrested on Wednesday night and interviewed by detectives in the following days.

Initially, the two men were considered potential suspects because they admitted to police that they were at the scene, that they were the men in the images and because police had probable cause they could be the attackers. Based on the video evidence that police discovered, it did not indicate anyone else was there at the scene of the alleged incident, police say.

But on Saturday, after their release the night before, police were only considering them to be persons of interest, saying that they may still have information that is helpful to the investigation.

In the early morning hours of Jan. 29, Smollett reported that he was walking outside when he was attacked by two men. The attackers shouted racist and homophobic slurs before hitting him, pouring “an unknown chemical substance” on him — possibly bleach — and wrapping a rope around his neck, he told detectives.

Police confirmed phone records show that during the attack, Smollett was on the phone with Brandon Moore, his music manager. Both claim that the alleged attackers yelled “MAGA country.”

While police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said on Saturday that he could not speak on what the new information was, he said that the break from detectives has “shifted the trajectory” of the investigation. Though he did not say whether Smollett spoke to the men that night — one of them had previously appeared on “Empire” — he said it will also be central to the investigation whether they spoke to or saw Smollett.

Police raided the home of the two men on Wednesday night to search for possible evidence and retrieved shoes, electronic devices, bleach and a red hat, among other items, according to photos of an inventory log confirmed to ABC News. The inventory log, first reported by a local CBS station, also contained a description for an item saying “Script-Empire.”

It’s unclear whether forensic results have come back on any of the seized items on the inventory log.

Police could not confirm that the two men, U.S. citizens of Nigerian descent, are brothers, but told ABC News that they believed as much. They also said that the two “have a relationship with [Jussie].”

They did not name the men, saying they’re not doing so because they weren’t being criminally charged.

On Friday, as interviews with the two men continued, Guglielmi said that “the alleged victim is being cooperative at this time and continues to be treated as a victim, not a suspect.” He also said that there was “no evidence to say that this is a hoax.”

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Aurora shooting suspect opened fire during termination meeting: Police

ABC News(AURORA, Illinois) — A “disgruntled” worker of an Illinois factory opened fire after being called into a meeting to terminate his employment, killing five co-workers and wounding five police officers before he was shot dead in a gunfight, officials said Saturday.

Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman said the suspect, Gary Martin, 45, committed Friday’s massacre at the sprawling Henry Pratt Company in Aurora with a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson handgun he should have never been able to possess because of 1995 felony conviction.

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Former US Cardinal Theodore McCarrick defrocked by Vatican over sex abuse claims

ABC News(WASHINGTON) — Pope Francis officially defrocked the disgraced former cardinal of Washington, D.C., Theodore McCarrick on Friday, following a secret Vatican tribunal into allegations that he molested a 16-year-old boy decades ago.

“On 11 January 2019, the Congress of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Theodore Edgar McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington, DC, Guilty of the Following Delicacies while a cleric: solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession, with the aggravating factor of the use of power,” a statement from the Vatican on Saturday said. “The Congress imposed on him the penalty of dismissal from the clerical state.

“On 13 February 2019, the Ordinary Session (Feria IV) of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith considered the recourse and presented against this decision,” the Vatican’s statement continued. “Having examined the arguments in the recourse, the Ordinary Session confirmed the decree of the Congress. This decision was sent to Theodore McCarrick on 15 February 2019. The Holy Father has recognized the definitive nature of this decision, made in accord with law, rendering it a res iudicata (ie, admitting of no further recourse).”

McCarrick, 88, resigned from the College of Cardinals last summer at the pope’s insistence, but only after an accusation that he molested a 16-year-old altar boy while serving at the Archdiocese of New York was found credible by the church. A July 2018 report from The New York Times alleged that McCarrick coerced seminarians into sexual relationships.

By announcing the sanctions against McCarrick, the church had hoped to send a strong message ahead of next week’s unprecedented global summit on the protection of minors.

But it’s unlikely that many critics will be satisfied.

Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganó and others say church leaders have known for years about allegations that McCarrick was a well-known abuser of seminarians and priests, but chose to turn a blind eye. In a bombshell open letter last August, Viganó even called on Pope Francis to resign.

“Laicization,” the term the church uses for revoking a priest’s ordination, is considered the most severe penalty possible under the circumstances. McCarrick was already the first cardinal in a century to forfeit his red hat. Pope Francis demoted McCarrick last summer after investigators for the Archdiocese of New York determined the charges against him were credible.

McCarrick is reported to be living a life of penance and seclusion at the St. Fidelis Friary in Victoria, Kansas. The friary is one block away from an elementary school, a decision some survivors of sexual abuse have called “reckless.”

The Bishop of Kansas City Gerald Vincke told the Kansas City Star the disgraced ex-cardinal posed no threat to the school.

“McCarrick is not allowed to make any public appearances or visit the school or do any ministry,” he said.

Next week, Pope Francis convenes a worldwide summit to address the issue of protecting minors from sexual abuse. New waves of the scandal have called attention to the church’s failure to be fully transparent or to police bishops accused of covering up past abuses.

Law enforcement agencies in the U.S. have recently adopted a more aggressive stance on the issue after last summer when a grand jury in Pennsylvania disclosed the names of more than 300 alleged predator priests going back decades.

The scandal prompted the resignation of McCarrick’s successor in Washington, D.C., Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who was Bishop of Pittsburgh during some of the period covered in the grand jury report.

Now, other jurisdictions are following suit. Lawmakers in New York recently voted to extend the statute of limitations for child victims in civil and criminal cases despite objections from church officials. In Texas, law enforcement recently raided the office of Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops who will represent the U.S. at next week’s Vatican summit.

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Federal authorities seize massive 221-pound shipment of cocaine at Southern California port

Customs and Border Protection(LOS ANGELES) — Federal authorities seized two massive shipments of cocaine at the same California port of entry in late January. The total for the two shipments was 221 pounds — the largest at that port in 25 years, according to officials.

The busts, which were announced on Friday, were both found aboard ships at Port Hueneme in Ventura County, about 60 miles northwest of Los Angeles, coming from Central and South America. The first shipment, which was 204.2 pounds, was seized on Jan. 22 on a cargo ship from Ecuador.

Six days later, the same authorities found a seven-bundle, 17.5-pound shipment of cocaine on a ship from Guatemala.

Both deliveries were concealed beneath the floorboards of the ships.

Customs and Border Protection, Home Security Investigations and Immigration and Customs Enforcement seized the drugs in a joint operation.

“CBP plays a critical role in the effort to keep dangerous drugs from illegally entering the country. Specifically, by leveraging a comprehensive, multi-layered, intelligence driven, and threat-based approach to enhance the security of our seaports, we can diminish the effectiveness of transnational criminal organizations drug operations,” Carlos C. Martel, CBP director of Field Operations in Los Angeles, said in a statement.

The seizures came just days after a joint drug bust between Australian and U.S. authorities on Jan. 11 resulted in a record 1.7 tons of methamphetamine being found at Los Angeles/Long Beach seaport.

The location of the bust announced Friday is only about 90 minutes northwest of Long Beach seaport.

That shipment included a record 3,810 pounds of meth, 55.9 pounds of cocaine and 11.5 pounds of heroin. Australian officials said the total street value of the haul was $1.29 billion.

Officials said the seizure announced Friday was the largest bust at Port Hueneme “in the last quarter century.”

No one has been arrested in the drug bust, according to CBP, but an investigation into the shipment is ongoing.

CBP seizes an average of 5,863 pounds of narcotics every day, according to government statistics.

CBP’s Office of Field Operations, which monitors 328 ports of entry, seized 62,331 pounds of cocaine for fiscal year 2017, the last year for which full statistics are available. Another 9,346 pounds of cocaine were seized by the U.S. Border Patrol.

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