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World

    A parliamentary committee report has recommended that the United Kingdom government increase oversight of social media platforms like Facebook to better control harmful or illegal content. The report published Sunday concludes an 18-month investigation and says that social media sites should have to follow a mandatory code of ethics overseen by an independent regulator. The report called out Facebook in particular, saying that the site's structure seems to be designed to 'conceal knowledge of and responsibility for specific decisions.' 'It is evident that Facebook intentionally and knowingly violated both data privacy and anti-competition laws,' the report states. It also accuses CEO Mark Zuckerberg of contempt for not appearing before the committee last year. Facebook did not immediately respond to an email request for comment. The report by the Parliament's media committee echoes and expands upon an interim report with similar findings issued by the committee in July . And in December , a trove of documents released by the committee offered evidence that the social network had used its enormous trove of user data as a competitive weapon, often in ways designed to keep its users in the dark. Facebook and other internet companies have been facing increased scrutiny over how they handle user data and have come under fire for not doing enough to stop misuse of their platforms by groups trying to sway elections. Facebook faced its biggest privacy scandal last year when Cambridge Analytica, a now-defunct British political data-mining firm that worked for the 2016 Donald Trump campaign, accessed the private information of up to 87 million users.
  • Indonesia's presidential candidates debated some of the most pressing issues facing the world's third-largest democracy: dilapidated infrastructure, struggling farmers, forest fires — and unicorns. When President Joko Widodo, who is seeking a second term, asked challenger Prabowo Subianto about his policies for supporting Indonesian unicorns a look of bafflement passed across the former general's face. Wondering aloud, he replied: 'What are unicorns? You mean those online things?' Widodo sagely nodded in the affirmative. Subianto was probably not alone in his ignorance, but social media in Indonesia gleefully seized on Sunday night's exchange as proof of his lack of qualification to be president. In the tech world, a unicorn is a start-up company valued at $1 billion. Indonesia has several of them, and they are transforming areas of the national economy such as transport and shopping. Twitter and Facebook were awash with unicorn memes after the debate. In one, juxtaposed photos of Widodo and Subianto with thought bubbles above their heads showed Widodo projecting tech start-up logos and Subianto imagining the magical horned horse creature. Sunday night's debate was the second of five televised face-offs between the opposing campaigns before April's election. Opinion polls show Widodo about 20 percentage points ahead of Subianto. The former general, who is campaigning on a Trump-style Indonesia First platform, narrowly lost to Widodo in the 2014 election. After the debate started, smoke and the sound of an explosion caused panic near the venue in central Jakarta. City police are investigating and said it was probably firecrackers. No one was injured.
  • Two brothers from Ecuador wanted in the South American country on charges that they stole millions of dollars from a now-defunct bank have been detained in Florida by U.S. immigration authorities. William and Roberto Isaias were arrested Wednesday in Miami and detained pending deportation, Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Nestor Yglesias said in an email late Saturday. Ecuador's government has sought the brothers' extradition for years, but it was not clear what prompted their arrests. Yglesias only said the men were 'unlawfully present' in the U.S. The bank, Filanbanco, was the largest in Ecuador, and its failure in the late 1990s contributed to an economic collapse. The brothers were charged with embezzlement but fled the country before trial. They were found guilty in absentia and sentenced to eight years in prison in 2012. The brothers' deny the allegations and have been fighting for the return of businesses and assets seized by the Ecuadoran government. Their arrests were inconsistent with the U.S. government's treatment of their case thus far, the brothers' Miami-based spokesman, Freddy Balsera, told The Associated Press on Sunday. He noted that their extradition has been denied three times over the past two decades, under both Republican and Democratic administrations. 'I don't think this was targeted. We think this was just the way the current immigration policy is being applied,' Balsera said, adding that the brothers' were seeking release from detention and a review of their case. He said the brothers were grateful to the U.S. for giving them refuge from the regime of former Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa, who governed from 2007 through 2017. Roberto Isaias, 74, was arrested at his doctor's office, while William, 75, was arrested at home, Balsera said. Both men were being held at ICE's Krome Detention Center outside Miami. The Ecuadoran government's attorney in Miami did not respond to emails or a phone message left over the weekend.
  • U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio on Sunday visited a border staging point for U.S. aid to Venezuela and warned soldiers loyal to socialist President Nicolas Maduro that would commit a 'crime against humanity' if they block entry of the packages that are being channeled through Maduro's rivals. An enthusiastic throng of Venezuelan migrants, some chanting 'Rubio! Liberty!' met the Florida Republican as he visited Cucuta and held a news conference in sight of a border bridge that has been flooded in recent months by Venezuelans people fleeing hardship in their own country. The U.S. has used military and civilian aircraft to fly in food and personal care aid — an effort that is meant to undermine Maduro and dramatize his government's inability to overcome shortages of food and medicine. The aid is supposed to be distributed in Venezuela on Feb. 23 by supporters of congressional leader Juan Guaido, who is recognized the U.S. and dozens of other countries as Venezuela's legitimate president. Maduro Is using troops to block aid from entering, saying it's unnecessary and part of coup to overthrow him. Rubio warned those soldiers that blocking aid would be an international 'crime against humanity.' He said in Spanish that soldiers who block aid from entering would spend 'the rest of their lives hiding from justice.' But those who renounce Maduro have been promised amnesty by Guaido and the opposition-dominated congress. Few soldiers have accepted that promised. Rubio, who has been an influential voice in advocating U.S measures against Maduro, noted that about 50 nations have declared Guaido the constitutional president of Venezuela, based on arguments that Maduro's re-election last year was fraudulent, and that other government-stacked institutions such as the supreme court have no legal authority. While Russia, China, Turkey and a large number of Asian and African countries still back Maduro, Rubio dismissed them, saying in English, 'The countries that support Maduro do not surprise us. All of them are corrupt and none of them is a democracy and many of them are owed billions of dollars that they want to get paid by the corrupt regime.' Rubio said the issue was 'a humanitarian crisis, of human beings who have nothing to do with politics.' He said Venezuelans 'are being denied medicine, food and aid needed to live while those people who are at the head of that regime are living like multi-millionaires.' While Rubio was on the border in Colombia, a delegation of five members of the European Parliament was barred entry into Venezuela after arriving at Caracas' airport Sunday night. One of the visitors, Esteban Gonzalez Pons of Spain, said in a posted on social media that the group was invited by the National Assembly and was going to be the first foreign mission to meet with congress leader Juan Guaido, who the European Parliament and a majority of the European Union members recognize as Venezuela's rightful leader. 'It is not about not letting us in, but about not letting interim president Juan Guaido see any personality from outside Venezuela,' Gonzalez Pons said. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said Maduro's government had sent word through diplomatic channels several days ago that the European lawmakers would not be allowed into the country to pursue 'conspiratorial' purposes. 'The constitutional government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela will not allow right-wing European extremists to disturb the peace and stability of the country with another one of their nasty interventions,' Arreaza wrote on social media.
  • Officials in the English city where a former Russian double agent was poisoned with a nerve agent last year have denounced the placing of a huge Russian flag on the city's cathedral. Workmen were seen removing the flag early Sunday from scaffolding on the side of Salisbury Cathedral. Salisbury's representative in Parliament, John Glen, said the 'stupid stunt' mocked the serious events that took place in the city. Ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, were poisoned with the military grade nerve agent Novichok in March 2018. The local police department said in a statement it was aware of the flag but said it was 'not a police matter.' Both Skripals survived after weeks in the hospital. British officials have blamed their poisoning on Russian military intelligence. Moscow has denied wrongdoing.
  • The Taliban has postponed an unscheduled round of peace talks with the United States set for Monday in Pakistan saying 'most' members of their negotiating team are unable to travel because they're on the U.S. and United Nations' blacklists. The statement Sunday offered no other details. It did not explain how several members previously were able to travel to meetings in the United Arab Emirates and Moscow. The Taliban maintain a political office in Qatar, where members of the negotiating team reside. The Islamabad talks were seen as significant, coinciding with the visit of the Saudi crown prince to Pakistan. The Taliban 14-member team includes five former inmates of the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, and Anas Haqqani, the jailed younger brother of the leader of the militant Haqqani network.
  • Roman Catholics who were sexually abused by clergy are insisting that decisive actions to confront the decades-long problem of pedophile priests and church cover-ups must come out of an upcoming Vatican summit. A founding member of the advocacy group Ending Clergy Abuse, Peter Isely, contended Sunday that Pope Francis is 'facing resistance' from top Vatican officials as he prepares to convene bishops from around the world. 'Let me tell you what it was like to try and have to resist that priest when I was a boy who was sexually assaulting me,' Isely said. 'So whatever difficulty for him or discomfort this is for anybody in the papal palace, it is nothing compared to what survivors have had to undergo.' Isely offered his perspective in an interview with The Associated Press near St. Peter's Square shortly before Francis spoke of the importance of the Feb. 21-24 event on protecting children and teenagers in the church,. Addressing faithful in the square, Francis asked for prayers for the gathering of the heads of Catholic bishops' conferences worldwide. Francis said he wanted the summit, to be 'an act of strong pastoral responsibility in the face of an urgent challenge of our time.' Revelations in many countries about priests raping and committing other kinds of sexual abuse against children and a pattern of bishops hiding the crimes have shaken the faith of many Catholics. They also test the pontiff's ability to ensure the safety of children and punishment for the abusers as well as any complicit superiors. The Vatican announced Saturday that Francis approved the expulsion from the priesthood for a former American cardinal, Theodore McCarrick, for sexual abuse of minors and adults. But survivor advocates also have demanded that Francis say what he and other top Vatican officials knew about the prelate's sexual wrongdoing, which spanned decades. 'You abuse a child, you have to be removed from the priesthood,' Isely said. 'If you cover up for abusing a child, you have to be removed from the priesthood, and this is the only thing that is going to turn the corner on this global crisis.' Another founding member of the group, Denise Buchanan, a native of Jamaica, said a priest raped and assaulted her when she was 17. 'That rape actually resulted in a pregnancy, and the priest arranged for an abortion,' Buchanan said. Veteran Vatican watcher Marco Politi told the AP he also sees the pope facing inside resistance. 'There is a struggle going on between the pope and his supporters who want a change, and a lot of people among the bishops and among the clergy who don't want transparency and applying law and order in the abuse issue in the world,' Politi said. Some of Francis' critics contend that as a product of the Catholic Church's hierarchical culture, he, too, has been slow to recognize the hierarchy's role in perpetuating abuse by pedophile priests. Francis has tried to temper expectations for the summit, saying in January the 'problem of abuse will continue' because 'it's a human problem.' Isely of Ending Clergy Abuse said the bar should be high and the participants 'have to deliver for survivors.
  • Israel said Sunday it will withhold over $138 million from the Palestinian Authority for payments given to families of Palestinians who carried out attacks against Israelis. The government's security Cabinet said it is implementing a law passed last year allowing Israel to withhold funds used to pay stipends to Palestinian attackers and their families from taxes Israel collects on the behalf of the PA. Nabil Abu Rdeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said in a statement that Israel's action was 'a unilateral blow' to bilateral agreements, and that any deduction of taxes by Israel was 'piracy of the Palestinian people's money.' Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah called Israel's action 'open war against the Palestinian people' and an attempt to destroy the PA. Israel says the payments encourage violence — a claim the Palestinians reject. In the past Palestinian officials have defended the payments by saying those involved in deadly attacks are a small percentage of those aided by the fund, and that the Palestinian Authority has a responsibility to its citizens like any other government. The freeze comes as the Palestinians face major budget cuts made last year after the United States slashed funding for the U.N.'s Palestinian refugee program UNRWA and for development programs in the Palestinian territories. The U.N.'s World Food Program also cut back services due to funding shortages.
  • Nigeria's presidential campaign has been largely free of the religious pressures that marked the 2015 vote when Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim northerner, defeated a Christian president from the south who had grown unpopular over his failure to control Boko Haram. Now, with the leading candidates both northern Muslims, the Christian vote in the upcoming election on Saturday may be decisive in sweeping the incumbent from power for the second time in as many elections in Africa's most populous country. Nigeria's 190 million people are divided almost equally between Christians mainly in the south and Muslims, like Buhari and his opponent, Atiku Abubakar, who dominate in the north. Yet religious tensions remain even in an election that offers no clear sectarian choice, underscoring the pervasive influence of faith in Nigerian politics.
  • Saudi Arabia's powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman began his four-day regional visit on Sunday, arriving in Pakistan where Saudi officials signed agreements worth $20 billion to help the Islamic nation overcome its financial crisis. Prime Minister Imran Khan and top government and military officials greeted him at Islamabad's airport, where he received a 21-gun salute. Earlier, Pakistan Air Force jets escorted Prince Mohammad's flight when he entered the country's airspace. At the airport, a young boy and girl in traditional Pakistani dress handed the prince flowers. He was greeted by a host of Pakistani Cabinet ministers and the country's powerful army chief, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa. Khan himself drove the prince to the prime minister's residence, where he was met by an honor guard. During his two-day stay in Pakistan, the crown prince will hold formal talks with Khan to find ways to enhance bilateral cooperation. Saudi Arabia will invest in the energy sector across the country, including setting up an oil refinery in the southwest near the border with Iran. The move will likely irk Tehran as Iran is Saudi Arabia's regional foe. Shortly after his arrival, Prince Mohammad, accompanied by a high-powered delegation including leading businessmen and Cabinet ministers, attended a signing ceremony for the investment agreements worth $20 billion. 'This is first phase,' he said, at the ceremony, adding that he hoped the future would bring even more Saudi investment in Pakistan. 'Saudi Arabia has always been a fiend of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia has been a friend in need,' Khan said. Pakistan is in the grip of a major debt crisis and is seeking a $12 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund but has yet to sign the deal which comes with tough conditions. Prince Mohammad will later travel to neighboring India amid heightened tensions between Islamabad and New Delhi over this week's attack in Indian-controlled Kashmir that killed 41 troops. This week also saw an attack in Iran that killed 27 Revolutionary Guard soldiers that was claimed by the Pakistan-based militant Jaish al-Adl group. Pakistan condemned the attacks, but India and Iran blame it for the violence. Pakistan enjoys close ties with Saudi Arabia. It maintains a balancing act between Riyadh and Tehran. Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Sunday that the visit by the crown prince will take their countries' bilateral relations 'to new heights.' Pakistan voiced support for the prince during the international outcry after the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents. Khan attended an investment conference in Saudi Arabia in October that saw a wave of cancellations linked to the Khashoggi killing. The crown prince has called the killing a 'heinous crime that cannot be justified.' Khashoggi, who had written critically about the prince, went missing on Oct. 2 after entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. After denying any knowledge of his death for weeks, Saudi authorities eventually said that he was killed in an operation aimed at forcibly bringing the writer back to the kingdom. Saudi prosecutors say the plan was masterminded by two former advisers to the crown prince. The kingdom denies the crown prince knew of the plot.