Maddie’s parents say ‘welcome news’ on probe into suspect

Images of Madeleine McCann's parents and the beach resort in Portugal where she disappeared as well as a garden that was searched in Germany in 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 22 April 2022

Maddie’s parents say ‘welcome news’ on probe into suspect

  • The girl's parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, said in a statement on their website that the announcement was a reflection of "progress in the investigation"
  • Portuguese public prosecutors announced late Thursday that a man had been named as an "arguido", or formal suspect in the high-profile case

LONDON: The parents of British toddler Madeleine McCann, who went missing while on holiday in 2007, said Friday they “welcome the news” that Portuguese authorities and German prosecutors have declared a convicted German rapist the prime suspect in her disappearance.
The girl’s parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, said in a statement on their website that the announcement was a reflection of “progress in the investigation” into the “disappearance of our beloved daughter Madeleine.”
“Even though the possibility may be slim, we have not given up hope that Madeleine is still alive and we will be reunited with her,” they added, however.
Portuguese public prosecutors announced late Thursday that a man had been named as an “arguido,” or formal suspect in the high-profile case.
While they did not name the suspect, it is understood to be Christian B., the same person German prosecutors in Brunswick are investigating on suspicion of murdering “Maddie.”
No charges have been brought yet against Christian B. in either country however, and nobody has been found.
The McCanns said in their statement that it “is important to note the ‘arguido’ has not yet been charged with any specific crime related to Madeleine’s disappearance.”
Christian B.’s lawyer, Friedrich Fuelscher, told AFP the Portuguese announcement “should not be overrated.”
He said the “arguido” move appeared to be linked to Portugal’s 15-year statute of limitation for certain crimes.
“I assume that the statute of limitations was interrupted by this step,” Fuelscher said.
Brunswick prosecutor Hans Christian Wolters also suggested the step was a formality and unlikely to indicate a major breakthrough in the Portuguese probe.
“Portugal apparently by now also sees reason to suspect” Christian B., Wolters said.
But he said he would be “surprised” if the Portuguese probe was further along than the German one.
Portuguese prosecutors said they were working “in cooperation with English and German authorities.”
Christian B. is currently serving a seven-year sentence in Oldenburg, northern Germany, for raping a 72-year-old American tourist in Portugal’s Praia da Luz in 2005.
Madeleine McCann, then aged three, went missing from the same seaside resort on May 3, 2007.
Her disappearance sparked a huge manhunt and international media frenzy, with photographs of Maddie plastered across billboards and news bulletins.
Maddie’s parents Gerry and Kate were at one point also declared “arguidos” in the Portuguese investigation, before the status was lifted for both of them.
The latest step “is related to the statute of limitations,” agreed ex-police inspector Goncalo Amaral, who led the inquiry into Maddie’s disappearance in Portugal in 2007.
“It’s a procedural trick by the public prosecutors,” he said.
Amaral was sued by Kate and Gerry McCann over a 2008 book in which he accused them of concealing her body after she died accidentally.
Portuguese police shelved their controversial investigation — which saw Amaral sacked — in 2008, but reopened it five years later citing “new elements.”
British police opened their own inquiry in July 2013, but on-site excavations in Praia da Luz yielded no evidence.
The case appeared to have gone cold until Brunswick prosecutors made the stunning revelation in June 2020 that they were certain Maddie was dead and that they believed Christian B. killed her.
Christian B. was at that time already serving a jail sentence for drug trafficking in Kiel, northern Germany.
He has a long criminal history including sex offenses and convictions for child sexual abuse.
Christian B. lived just a few kilometers (miles) away from Praia da Luz in Portugal’s Algarve region at the time Maddie vanished from her family’s holiday accommodation, according to Brunswick prosecutors.
Wolters said his team was currently also investigating Christian B. on suspicion of raping an Irish woman in 2004 and over suspected cases of child abuse in Portugal.
Wolters said he hoped to complete those probes soon, while the Maddie investigation “could take a while longer.”


Blinken says US is “equal partner” with African countries

Updated 4 sec ago

Blinken says US is “equal partner” with African countries

  • US top diplomat is in South Africa as part of a three-nation tour of Africa including Congo and Rwanda.

JOHANNESBURG: The United States sees Africa’s 54 nations as “equal partners” in tackling global problems, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in South Africa Monday.
“Our strategy is rooted in the recognition that sub-Saharan Africa is a major geopolitical force — one that has shaped our past, is shaping our present, and will shape our future,” Blinken said at the University of Pretoria in a speech detailing the Biden administration’s policies for Africa.
“It’s a strategy that reflects the region’s complexity, its diversity, its agency; and one that focuses on what we will do with African nations and peoples, not for African nations and peoples,” he said.
Blinken said that the United States and African nations “can’t achieve any of our shared priorities — whether that’s recovering from the pandemic; creating broad-based economic opportunities; addressing the climate crisis; expanding energy access; revitalizing democracies; or strengthening the free and open international order — if we don’t work together, as equal partners.”
South African academics and students responded warmly to Blinken’s speech, which was a broad declaration of US intentions toward sub-Saharan Africa. The United States is often faulted for overlooking the continent in recent decades, opening space for Russian and Chinese interests to make significant inroads.
The United States’ top diplomat is in South Africa as part of a three-nation tour of Africa including Congo and Rwanda in what is seen as a contest between Western nations and Russia to win support from African countries over the war in Ukraine.
Blinken’s tour follows recent trips to African countries by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and French President Emmanuel Macron.
South Africa is among many African countries that have taken a neutral stance on the Ukraine war.
Before his speech, Blinken met in Pretoria, South Africa’s administrative capital, with Minister of International Relations Naledi Pandor. Pandor appears to have maintained her country’s refusal to criticize Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. Instead, in a press briefing following the meeting, Pandor criticized the US and other Western powers for focusing on the Ukraine conflict to the detriment of other international issues.
“We should be equally concerned at what is happening to the people of Palestine, as we are with what is happening to the people of Ukraine,” she said.
Before the closed-door meeting with Pandor, Blinken had said that the United States’ good relations with South Africa would allow them to be frank in discussing their differences.
Many African countries have declined to follow the US lead in condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Some were among more than a dozen African governments that have signed security deals with the Wagner Group, a shadowy Russian mercenary group that the US and other countries say is backed by the Kremlin.
Sub-Saharan nations also have been major recipients of Chinese investment through its “Belt and Road Initiative,” which supports infrastructure developments.


Flush with cash, Pfizer buys Global Blood Therapeutics in $5.4 bln deal

Updated 11 min 37 sec ago

Flush with cash, Pfizer buys Global Blood Therapeutics in $5.4 bln deal

  • Pfizer’s 2021 revenue of $81.3 billion was nearly double the mark from the previous year, due to COVID-19 vaccine sales.

LONDON: Pfizer Inc. on Monday agreed to pay $5.4 billion in cash for sickle cell disease drugmaker Global Blood Therapeutics, as it looks to capitalize on a surge in revenue from its COVID-19 vaccine and treatment.
Pfizer will pay $68.50 per GBT share, which represents a 7.3 percent premium to its Friday closing price. The deal is at a more than 40 percent premium where GBT was trading before the Wall Street Journal reported that Pfizer was in advanced talks to buy it on Thursday.
Pfizer’s 2021 revenue of $81.3 billion was nearly double the mark from the previous year, due to COVID-19 vaccine sales. With the addition of its COVID-19 antiviral pill Paxlovid, Pfizer is expected to generate around $100 billion in revenue this year, but sales from both products are expected to decline going forward.
Pfizer has been on the lookout for acquisitions that could bring in billions in annual sales by the end of the decade.
“We have very deliberately taken a strategy of diversification in our M&A deals,” Aamir Malik, Pfizer’s top dealmaker, said in an interview. He said the company was focused on improving growth for the second half of the decade, rather than large deals that generate value through cost cuts.
“We think that there are opportunities across all therapeutic areas that we’re active in,” Malik said, noting that the company was also agnostic about size for future deals.
In May, Pfizer struck an $11.6 billion deal for migraine drug maker Biohaven Pharmaceutical Holding and recently also completed a $6.7 billion deal to buy Arena Pharmaceuticals.
With the acquisition of Global Blood Therapeutics, Pfizer adds sickle cell disease treatment Oxbryta, which was approved in 2019 and is expected to top $260 million in sales this year. It will also pick up two pipeline assets — GBT601 and inclacumab — targeting the same disease.
Pfizer said if they are all approved, it believes GBT’s drugs could generate more than $3 billion in sales annually at their peak.
Sickle cell disease is an inherited blood disorder that affects an estimated 70,000 to 100,000 people in the United States.
GBT Chief Executive Officer Ted Love said that Pfizer’s resources and multinational infrastructure will allow the company to launch Oxbryta in additional markets and boost its uptake.
“We really have no infrastructure outside of that (US and western Europe) and it takes time and money to build out those infrastructures and Pfizer already has all of it,” Love said.
Shares of Global Blood rose 4.5 percent following the deal announcement.


Suspected militants kill 4 Mali soldiers, 2 civilians in north

Updated 08 August 2022

Suspected militants kill 4 Mali soldiers, 2 civilians in north

  • Army blames the attack on ‘terrorists’, using the term it typically uses for militants

BAMAKO: At least four soldiers, two civilians and five assailants were killed on Sunday in an attack in a strategic border zone between Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, Mali’s army said.
The army blamed the attack on “terrorists” in an announcement late Sunday, using the term it typically uses for militants.
Earlier, it had said its troops had been repelling an attack by the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) group, affiliated with the Daesh organization.
The army’s death toll could be “much higher,” an elected official said, asking not to be named for security reasons.
The two civilians killed were local elected officials, their relatives said.
Tessit is located on the Malian side of the so-called three-border area in a vast gold-rich region beyond state control.
Armed groups under the umbrella of Al-Qaeda aligned militants Jama’at Nasr Al-Islam wal Muslimin, or JNIM, are fighting ISGS there.
The Malian army, which has a military camp next to the town of Tessit, has frequently been attacked in the area.
UN peacekeepers and, until a few months ago, French soldiers from Operation Barkhane, have also been deployed there.
Thousands of residents have fled the area, many heading to the town of Gao, some 150 kilometers away.
The Tessit area, like the whole of the so-called three-border zone, is even more isolated during the rainy season when heavy rainfall prevents passage.
In a separate attack Sunday morning, five police officers were killed in Sona, in the Koutiala area of southern Mali near the border with Burkina Faso.
On Friday, suspected militants killed about 12 civilians in central Mali with explosives planted in the bodies of slain civilians that relatives had come to collect.
Mali is struggling with a long militant insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes.
Violence that began in the north has spread to the center and south of the country, as well as to neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.


Thai pub owner charged in connection with deadly blaze

Updated 08 August 2022

Thai pub owner charged in connection with deadly blaze

  • 27-year-old arraigned for causing death by negligence and operating an entertainment venue without permission

BANGKOK: The owner of a music pub in eastern Thailand where a fire last week killed 15 people and injured more than three dozen others was released on bail when he was brought to court Monday to hear criminal charges against him.
Pongsiri Panprasong, owner of the Mountain B pub in Sattahip district of Chonburi province, about 160 kilometers southeast of Bangkok, turned himself in late Saturday. Police charged the 27-year-old with causing death by negligence and operating an entertainment venue without permission. He could face up to 10 years in jail and a fine of up to 200,000 baht ($5,580).
At his Monday court appearance, he was granted release on bail of 300,000 baht ($8,390) on condition he wear a tracking device.
Live bands regularly played on a stage at the pub, including as the fire started early Friday morning on the ceiling above them. Police have said the venue was licensed only for operation as a restaurant.
The site of the fire, which took place early Friday morning, remained sealed off Monday as forensic police and building inspectors worked to determine the cause of the blaze and whether the pub had met building standards.
“I am sorry. I want to say sorry to the victims’ families,” said Pongsiri to reporters through a window at the back of a police prison van at the court in Pattaya. Pongsiri, whose face was concealed by a mask, a hat and a towel, said he will compensate the victims.
Many of the injured from the fire suffered severe burns that left them in critical condition. Thirteen died at the scene, one more in a hospital on Friday and the 15th victim, Thanakrit Neenoi, died on Saturday. His sister told local media that Thanakrit went to the pub with his wife and friends to celebrate his birthday. His wife remains in the hospital for treatment.
The governor of Bangkok, Thailand’s biggest city, said Saturday that the city had inspected more than 400 entertainment venues in the city before the fire and found 83 places failing to comply with safety standards. Chadchart Sittipunt told reporters the venues would be ordered closed if they did not act to fix their problems.
Sixty-six people were killed and more than 200 injured in a fire during a Jan. 1, 2009, New Year’s Eve celebration at the Santika nightclub in Bangkok. That blaze was apparently sparked by an indoor fireworks display. Toxic smoke flooded the venue and contributed to the death toll as the entire club caught fire.


Two more grain ships sail from Ukraine as third port opens

Updated 08 August 2022

Two more grain ships sail from Ukraine as third port opens

  • Ten ships have already sailed since the first last left week under a deal with Russia to unblock Ukrainian grain exports

ISTANBUL: Two more ships, carrying corn and soybeans, departed from Ukrainian Black Sea ports on Monday, Turkey and Ukraine said, taking the total to ten since the first ship sailed last week under a deal with Russia to unblock Ukrainian grain exports.

The United Nations and Turkey brokered the agreement last month after warnings the halt in grain shipments caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could lead to severe food shortages and even outbreaks of famine in parts of the world.

The Sacura, which departed from Pivdennyi, is carrying 11,000 tons of soybeans to Italy, Turkey’s defense ministry said on Monday, while the Arizona, which left Chornomorsk, is carrying 48,458 tons of corn to Iskenderun in southern Turkey.

Separately, the Polarnet, which departed on Friday, reached its final destination in northwestern Turkey’s Derince on Monday morning to be unloaded, marking the completion of the first shipment since the exports were re-launched.

So far, around 243,000 tons of corn has been exported from Ukraine on seven ships since the first departure on Aug. 1, according to a Reuters tally of data from Turkey’s defense ministry.

The other ships carried 11,000 tons of soybeans, 6,000 tons of sunflower oil and 45,000 tons of sunflower meal.

Ukraine’s infrastructure minister, Oleksandr Kubrakov, confirmed the two latest ships left on Monday, adding Pivdennyi, the third Ukrainian port included in the deal, was finally up and running as part of the initiative.

Kubrakov had said previously the opening of Pivdennyi would push Ukraine’s total export capacity up to three million tons a month.

In peacetime, Ukraine exported up to six million tons of grain a month from its ports on the Black Sea and Sea of Azov coast.

The four ships that left Ukraine on Sunday are expected to anchor near Istanbul on Monday evening, Turkey’s defense ministry said, adding they would be inspected on Tuesday.

Before Russia invaded Ukraine for what it calls its “special military operation,” the two countries together accounted for nearly a third of global wheat exports.

The resumption of grain exports is being overseen by a Joint Coordination Center in Istanbul where Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish and UN personnel are working.

The Razoni, which was the first ship to depart, was scheduled to arrive in Lebanon on Sunday but is currently at anchor off Turkey’s southern coast, according to Refinitiv ship tracker data.

Ukraine’s Infrastructure Ministry said on Sunday the Fulmar S, the first foreign-flagged bulk ship to reach the Black Sea port of Chornomorsk since the conflict, was ready for loading.

A second ship traveling to Ukraine, the Osprey S, was inspected in Istanbul on Sunday and was nearing Ukraine on Monday morning, Refinitiv data also showed.