Suicide bomb kills election candidate, driver in Pakistan

A suicide bombing on Sunday in northwestern Pakistan killed a candidate running for a seat in the provincial assembly and his driver, and wounded three other people, police said.

It was the latest violence ahead of Wednesday’s elections, when Pakistanis are to elect the National Assembly, or lower house of parliament, and four provincial assemblies.

According to police officer Zahoor Afridi, the candidate Ikramullah Gandapur from opposition leader Imran Khan’s party, was returning home from a campaign event when the bomber struck in the city of Dera Ismail Khan, wounding him. He died a short while later in a military hospital, Afridi said. Along with his driver who was also killed, three other people, including two policemen, were wounded.

Later Sunday, the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing that killed Gandapur.

Earlier this month, a provincial assembly candidate was killed in a massive suicide bombing in Mastung district in southwestern Baluchistan province, along with 148 people. Also, in the northwestern city of Peshawar, a suicide bombing this month killed another provincial assembly candidate and 20 others.

Gandapur’s brother Israr was killed in a suicide attack in 2013. After his younger brother’s death, Gandapur was elected as a member of the assembly of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and appointed provincial minister for agriculture.

In the July 25 balloting, he was to run on the list of the Tahrike-e-Insaf party, led by Khan, who aspires to become the country’s next prime minister.

Analysts say Khan, a famous former cricket player, enjoys the backing of military, which has ruled Pakistan directly and indirectly for most of its 71-year history.

Also Sunday, the convoy of another election candidate, Akram Durrani, came under fire in the northwestern town of Bannu. No one was hurt.

Durrani survived a suicide attack earlier this month that killed four people.

Following Sunday’s attacks, Pakistan’s election oversight body postponed the balloting for the provincial assembly seat that Gandapur was contesting.

It also postponed the balloting for the National Assembly seat from the garrison city of Rawalpindi, where a candidate from former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s party was disqualified after being convicted of substance abuse.

Voting for those two seats would take place at a later date.

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Associated Press writer Zarar Khan in Islamabad contributed to this report.

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Brits reject May’s Brexit plan, some turn to Boris and far right – poll

LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Theresa May’s plans to leave the European Union are overwhelmingly opposed by the British public and more than a third of voters would support a new right-wing political party committed to quitting the bloc, according to a new poll.

FILE PHOTO – Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson attends a cabinet meeting hosted by Theresa May at the Prime Minister’s country retreat Chequers in Buckinghamshire to discuss department-by-department Brexit action plans, Britain August 31, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Rousseau/Pool/File Photo

May’s political vulnerability was exposed by the survey which found voters would prefer Boris Johnson, who quit as Britain’s foreign minister two weeks ago, to negotiate with the EU and lead the Conservative Party into the next election.

Only 16 percent of voters say May is handling Brexit well, compared to 34 percent who say that Johnson would do a better job, according to the poll conducted by YouGov for The Sunday Times newspaper.

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May delivers a speech at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast, Northern Ireland, July 20, 2018. Charles McQuillan/Pool via Reuters

With a little more than eight months to go before Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29, 2019, May’s government, parliament, the public and businesses remain deeply divided over what form Brexit should take.

May’s plans to keep a close trading relationship with the EU on goods thrust her government into crisis this month after two of her most senior ministers, including Johnson, resigned over the plans.

Only one in ten voters would pick the government’s proposed Brexit plans if there was a second referendum, according to a poll. Almost half think it would be bad for Britain.

The survey also found voters are increasingly polarised, with growing numbers of people alienated from the two main political parties.

Slideshow (2 Images)

Thirty eight percent of people would vote for a new right-wing party that is committed to Brexit, while almost a quarter of the public would support an explicitly far-right anti-immigrant, anti-Islam party, the poll found.

Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage and U.S. President Donald Trump’s former adviser Steve Bannon are in discussions about a forming a new right-wing movement, according to The Sunday Times.

Half of voters would support remaining in the EU if there was a second referendum, the poll found, a level of support found in other surveys this year.

YouGov spoke to 1,668 adults in Britain on July 19 and 20, according to The Sunday Times, which did not provide other details about how the poll was conducted.

Reporting by Andrew MacAskill; Editing by Andrew Heavens

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Crackdown feared as Russian grad school faces govt penalty

One of Russia‘s best-known graduate schools, created to avoid a brain drain among top academics in the newly open Russia of the 1990s, has lost its state accreditation, amid fears of a wider clampdown on educational institutions with strong Western connections.

Russian government auditors last month revoked the accreditation of the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences, the second case in a year that a private school which partners with a European university has been downgraded.

“They are closing down independent intellectual centers,” said Mikhail Gelfand, a biotechnology professor at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow.

Known colloquially as Shaninka, after British sociologist Theodor Shanin who founded it in 1995, the school routinely tops Russian university rankings and launches its students into prestigious careers at home and abroad. Shaninka, a small school that graduates about 450 students a year, also runs a joint program with the University of Manchester in Britain, and students can receive both a Russian and a British degree.

The government audit in May started out routinely, said Konstantin Gaaze, who teaches sociology at Shaninka, but three days later the auditors apologized and left abruptly, without sharing their preliminary findings with the school, as is normal.

A month later, the education oversight agency announced that it was stripping Shaninka of its government accreditation, citing violations.

Among these was that the dean of the school’s law department has an undergraduate degree in history, not law — even though he does hold advanced degrees in law and has published articles in international law journals. Another complaint was that a theoretical course on political and legal studies did not include a laboratory-based workshop.

Shaninka’s troubles follow a string of regulations passed in Russia in recent years that restrict the work of nongovernmental groups and media that receive foreign funding. The audit also took place when Russia’s relations with the West were at a particularly low point. London had accused Moscow of the March poisoning in Britain of a former Russian spy and his daughter. The Kremlin denied the accusations and responded by closing down the British Council in Russia, a government-funded group that promotes British culture abroad.

Shaninka’s president, Sergei Zuyev, would not speculate about what could have brought on the sanction, but staunchly disputed the findings of the audit.

“People who teach here are usually well-known researchers in Russia and abroad who are published widely, but for some reason we are told that these people cannot lecture or hold certain positions at the school,” he said. “This is strange. I don’t agree with that.”

The University of Manchester said in a statement that it “has validated programs at the Moscow School since 1996 and in that time they have not caused any concern with regards to academic quality and standards.”

Rosobrnadzor, the agency that conducted the audit, did not respond to a request for comment. But deputy prime minister Tatyana Golikova has recently called for giving top universities more freedom in setting their own curriculum and for reforming the way auditors are chosen, the state news agency Interfax reported.

Gaaze said academic standards at the school are far superior to those at most Russian universities. He said he had to read up to 150 books and up to 500 articles during his graduate course there.

“I had a feeling that I simply didn’t know how to read books before I enrolled at Shaninka,” Gaaze said.

Arnold Khachaturov, a philosophy major at Shaninka, says the school teaches students to think independently.

“They call it a hotbed of liberalism but I would rather say it’s a greenhouse for critical thought, for independent analysis,” Khachaturov said.

While the university can continue to operate without state accreditation, it will not have access to government funds for scholarships and will not be able to offer deferrals from military service to male students.

Students and professors are concerned that Shaninka might follow in the footsteps of the European University in St. Petersburg, another top private liberal arts school that lost its government license last year under similar circumstances. The university was left to function only as a research center and can no longer educate students.

A bitter twist in Shaninka’s case is that a watchdog group has revealed that a dissertation defended in 2005 by Svetlana Nikonova, one of the experts who audited Shaninka, had been plagiarized.

“This is the usual case of a dissertation that was copy-pasted from the works of other people without any references,” said Andrei Rostovtsev, who heads the Dissernet group.

Nikonova declined to speak to an Associated Press reporter when reached for comment.

Nikonova’s work is one of about 8,000 “garbage” dissertations identified by Dissernet volunteers since the group was founded five years ago. Among those exposed are national lawmakers, one federal and many regional ministers, university presidents and deans, and other prominent public figures.

Rostovtsev says such dissertations are usually “purchased” by government officials, members of the military, doctors and even university professors because academic titles give better pay, perks and prestige. A dissertation can cost from $10,000 up to $50,000.

Since Dissernet’s inception, about 200 people have been stripped of academic titles because of bogus dissertations.

Against this background, experts are all the more worried that President Vladimir Putin’s government has decided to go after Shaninka.

“The authorities view independently thinking people, whatever their views, as a potential threat,” said Vladimir Gelman, a political science professor at the European University.

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Israel evacuates 800 White Helmets in face of Syria advance | World news

Israel has evacuated 800 White Helmets volunteer rescuers and their family members threatened by advancing Syrian regime forces to Jordan for resettlement in Britain, Canada and Germany, Amman has said.

Founded in 2013, the Syria Civil Defence, or White Helmets, is a network of first responders that rescues wounded in the aftermath of airstrikes, shelling or explosions in rebel-held territory.

Jordan authorised the United Nations to organise the passage of 800 Syrian citizens through Jordan to be resettled in western countries, the kingdom said.

“The government gave the permission after Britain, Germany and Canada made a legally binding undertaking to resettle them within a specified period of time due to ’a risk to their lives’.”

An Israeli government source confirmed Israel’s military had rescued 800 people who were taken to Jordan.

“Upon request of the US, Canada and European states Israel has completed a humanitarian effort to rescue members of a Syrian civil organisation (’White Helmets’) and families,” the Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, Emmanuel Nahshon, tweeted.

Raed Saleh, the head of the White Helmets, said the evacuees had arrived in Jordan after being “surrounded in a dangerous region”.

They were encircled in the provinces of Deraa and Quneitra, he said, including a number trapped between the border with the Golan Heights and advancing Russia-backed regime troops, he told AFP.

The Canadian foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, said she had “called for global leadership to support and help these heroes” during a meeting of foreign ministers at the Nato leaders’ summit in Brussels a week ago.

The White Helmets have rescued thousands of civilians caught up in fighting in opposition-held zones along various fronts of Syria’s seven-year conflict.

Since its formation, when Syria’s conflict was nearing its third year, more than 200 of its volunteers have died and another 500 have been wounded.

Some members have received training abroad, including in Turkey, returning to instruct colleagues on search-and-rescue techniques.

The group receives funding from a number of governments, including Britain, Germany and the US, but also solicits individual donations to purchase equipment such as its signature hard hats.

Last year, the Netflix production The White Helmets won an Academy Award for best short documentary. A second film on the group, Last Men in Aleppo, was nominated for an Oscar in 2018.

The Israeli army said it evacuated the White Helmets overnight at the request of the US and European countries, in what it called “an exceptional humanitarian gesture”.

“The civilians were evacuated from the war zone in southern Syria due to an immediate threat to their lives. “The civilians were subsequently transferred to a neighbouring country,” it said without elaborating.

Israel has been sending medical aid to civilians who have fled fighting in the Syrian-controlled part of the Golan Heights.

Israel seized 1,200sq km (460 sq miles) of the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day war and later annexed it, in a move never recognised internationally.

On 19 June, forces of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, launched a Russia-backed offensive to retake Deraa and Quneitra provinces.

Just a month later, government institutions look set to return to most of these two provinces through a combination of deadly bombardment and Moscow-brokered surrender deals.

These deals provide for rebels to hand over their heavy weapons and those who disagree with a regime takeover to be bussed with family members towards opposition-held areas in the north of the country.

Jihadists are not party to these deals, and Russian planes bombarded a holdout of the Islamic State group in Deraa province overnight, a UK-based war monitor said.

More than 20,000 civilians have fled bombardment on the Isis-held corner on the border with Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan in the past 24 hours, fleeing into regime-held areas, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

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Zimbabwe’s leader tries to rally white voters as gap narrows

Harare:  Zimbabwe’s president is trying to rally the country’s white minority voters, who traditionally back the opposition, as the race in this month’s historic election becomes too close to call.

A child plays next to Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa's election campaign poster during a rally organised for the white community in Harare on Saturday.

A child plays next to Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s election campaign poster during a rally organised for the white community in Harare on Saturday.

Photo: AP

President Emmerson Mnangagwa told the gathering of a few hundred people in the capital, Harare, that the era of land seizures from white farmers is over. The deeply unpopular, often violent land grabs under former leader Robert Mugabe contributed to the economic collapse of the once-prosperous southern African nation.

Just 3 percentage points now separate former Mugabe deputy Mnangagwa and leading opposition challenger Nelson Chamisa, according to a new survey by the Afrobarometer research group. It surveyed 2400 voters across the country between June 25 and July 6.

Campaigning ahead of the July 30 vote, the first without Mugabe since independence in 1980 from white minority rule, has been largely peaceful but the opposition has expressed concern about possible fraud and the role of the military, which pressured Mugabe to resign in November.

The 75-year-old Mnangagwa has repeatedly vowed to hold a credible election after past votes under Mugabe were marked by alleged violence and intimidation. While Mugabe scorned Western election observers Mnangagwa has welcomed them for the first time in almost 20 years.

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Concern about “sexualised” children often misses the point

IN JAPAN it is hard to avoid the disturbing spectacle of young girls being treated as sex objects. Rorikon, an abbreviation of “Lolita complex”, is ubiquitous. In M’s Pop Life, a sex shop in Tokyo’s Akihabara district, known for its pop subculture, life-size models of girls, their breasts at various stages of puberty, are openly on sale. Elsewhere big-bosomed cartoon girls are splashed across posters; children (or grown-ups made to look like children) pose in magazines in bikinis.

Rorikon is a peculiarly Japanese phenomenon. But across the world there are growing concerns about children being portrayed sexually, and the effects on the children themselves. This comes in two forms. The first, “direct” sexualisation, includes advertising, television programmes and magazine content that portray children, especially girls, as sexually aware or active. It also includes goods aimed at children who are seen as trying to make themselves “sexier”—such as padded bras or hot-pants, make-up or pole-dancing toys. The second is “indirect”—the worry that, thanks to the internet, children witness ever more depictions of sexual activity. They are likely to see far more pornography than earlier generations, and at a younger age. In Britain, for instance, around half of 11- to 16-year-olds have seen pornography online, mostly by accident, according to a 2016 study by the NSPCC, a British children’s charity.

Japan has belatedly been reining in some excesses. In 2014 it banned the possession of child pornography—although it is still a hub for making and selling the illegal stuff. Last year the Tokyo metropolitan government banned under-18s from working in the JK (joshi kosei, schoolgirl) industry, where men pay, for example, to go for a walk with a schoolgirl or to lie down next to one (or, under the new rules, a woman pretending to be one). This year, after a few customer complaints, Aeon, a big retail chain, said it would stop stocking pornographic magazines in some of its shops. But they remain widely on sale in convenience stores. Keiji Goto, a police officer turned children’s-rights lawyer, says “Japan remains behind other countries.”

Don’t grow up

Indeed, across the rich world, countries are grappling with how to deal with the over-sexualisation of children. The assumption—often unspoken—is that exposure to sexualised images is linked to a growing number of sexual incidents involving children. Amanda Hulme, the head of a primary school in north-western England, says it is seeing more peer-on-peer abuse. Across Britain, the police received almost 30,000 reports of sexual assaults by children on other children over the past four years, including 2,625 allegedly on school grounds. And “sexting”—sending explicit images—is widespread. It can ruin young lives. A boy who opens a forwarded sext might find himself on a sex-offenders’ register. A girl whose intimate photo ends up widely shared online may be driven to despair or even suicide.

But it is not known whether all this is really linked to the sexual content children are exposed to. Their youth precludes most research. And Deevia Bhana, a South African academic, says that some of the concern stems from moral attitudes about the way children—almost always girls—should act, rather than from actual evidence of harm. In fact, in some ways risky behaviour is decreasing. Surveys show that in much of the rich world young people are waiting longer to lose their virginity. Teenage pregnancies are falling.

Precocious sexualisation, however, is recognised as causing some forms of harm. One is to mental health. Sharon Lamb, a child psychologist and professor at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, says she sees children, mainly girls, losing self-esteem when they feel that the only way they are valued is if they act sexually. This feeds into problems such as eating disorders, and can affect future relationships. Boys suffer, too. Ms Lamb says stereotypes portraying them as always wanting sex put them under pressure to act in a certain way.

A second possible type of harm is that a sexualised, pornographic culture may give children damaging ideas about sex. Ms Hulme reckons that the increase in children inappropriately touching each other is linked to pornography. No one has ever proved how pornography relates to action, but children (more boys than girls) have told pollsters from the NSPCC that it gave them ideas about what to try. This highlights the need for good sex education, if only to inform children about real life.

A third sort would be if such material encouraged paedophilia. Risa Yasojima of M’s Pop Life says, without citing evidence, that she reckons its products can help paedophiles refrain from touching actual children. But others fear that ubiquitous images of sexualised children and child pornography foster the paedophile delusion that sees ordinary, spontaneous and tactile children as flirtatious.

Not in front of the children

Efforts to tackle these dangers need to accept that in the internet age it may be possible to limit children’s exposure to sexual images, but not to eliminate it. Better to prepare them to be able to cope, and to recognise that the images themselves are a symptom of a broader problem: how society turns women into sexual objects.

In the past decade countries have started to act on worries about the over-sexualisation of children. The turning-point in Britain was a 2010 report on the issue that the government commissioned from Reg Bailey, then at Mothers’ Union, a British Christian charity, and now a council member at the Advertising Standards Authority, the industry’s self-regulatory body.

Published in 2011, his report made 14 recommendations, such as keeping explicit magazines out of children’s sight. It also advocated raising parents’ awareness of sales techniques, and developing codes of practice among retailers covering goods marketed to children. Since 2011 guidelines about what can be shown on street billboards and magazine displays have been tightened. Internet-service providers offer parental filters to limit what their children may see. A new law, coming into force this year, obliges pornography sites to require evidence that users are over 18.

Other countries are following suit. In 2014, France outlawed beauty contests for under-13s. La Paz, the capital of Bolivia, has moved to do the same. Some Cubans are fretting about a craze among girls as young as five for quinceañeras, coming-of-age parties intended for 15-year-old girls, in which the girls often pose for photos, dolled up and looking sultry. Pressure groups and individual complaints also have an impact. In 2006 Tesco, a British supermarket chain, removed a children’s pole-dancing kit from the toys section of its website. In 2010 Primark, an Irish clothing company, withdrew children’s bikinis with padded tops.

If driven by online vigilantism alone, however, measures to prevent premature sexualisation may infringe freedom of expression—or simply go too far. In May, after a storm of online condemnation, Sweaty Betty, a boutique British fitness-wear brand, withdrew from its website an image of three girls around 15 or 16 clad in tropical-patterned leggings and crop-tops, which, in hindsight, looks fairly inoffensive.

Criticism is almost always directed at girls, not at boys or the culture around them. Girls are told not to wear short skirts to school so as not to distract boys, or even teachers—yet not enough is done to teach boys about consent. “I am a bit sick of the simplistic ‘sexy-so-soon’ discourse out there,” says Ms Lamb, the child psychologist. “A girl playing at being Beyoncé isn’t harmful. But a society that only values her for being Beyoncé is a problem.”

Research from places such as South Africa and Sweden suggests children can be better at dealing with sexualised advertising than adults realise. Ms Bhana, the South African academic, says her research suggests children are “highly sophisticated consumers”. But children need help to navigate the culture they grow up in. Mr Bailey says too little is done to develop children’s resilience to the stuff they inevitably stumble across, especially pornography.

If parents and teachers were matter-of-fact and honest about sex, young people would find it easier to talk about their worries and less likely to let what they see bother them. Research by the NSPCC suggests parents tend not to be too concerned by some things their children do—wearing “sexy” clothes or make-up, for example—seeing children as wanting to grow up quicker than they do. But they do worry about them seeing hard-core pornography.

Britain’s Department for Education is in the process of updating its sex-and-relationships guidance for the first time since 2000. Martha Kirby of the NSPCC says this is long overdue. The government is to hold consultations on new approaches, such as teaching primary-school children about the idea of consent, and those in secondary school about the laws on sexual abuse and the dangers of online grooming by paedophiles.

In many places even basic sex education is lacking. Ms Bhana sees a danger in the extreme positions of some lobbies, especially religious ones, and countries such as Saudi Arabia that resist teaching children about sex at all, in the hope of keeping them “pure”. Religious groups in America, such as the Abstinence Clearinghouse, also argue that sex education encourages children to have sex. In Myanmar similar concerns mean schools barely cover the birds and the bees.

Better to accept that children will naturally want to explore their desires and feelings, and equip them to do so safely with factual information, awareness of online dangers, access to contraception—and the power to know what they want and to say no to what they don’t want.

Don’t worry, be happy

Countries such as the Netherlands and Denmark are closer to this healthier approach. They expect children to be well informed about their bodies, and see the purpose of sex education as not just to warn of the risks, but to help prepare for a happy sex life. This may be one reason why, according to Anna Sparrman, a professor of child studies at Linkoping University in Sweden, Scandinavian countries have not really seen premature-sexualisation panics. It is not because of an anything-goes attitude; Sweden, for example, bans all broadcast advertising aimed at children under 12.

Just as important, countries need to face up to the cultural backdrop behind over-sexualisation, says Michelle Jongenelis, a researcher at Australia’s Curtin University. That images of girls looking sexy are so much more prevalent than those of boys reflects sexism and the sexual objectification of women; so does the way much pornography shows women being treated in a degrading manner. Children assimilate these norms through the images of their peers and the products pushed at them—including, at the extreme, pornography.

Happily, this broader cultural context does seem to be under scrutiny in some parts of the world, though the process is at a very early stage. Basic ideas about gender—such as shops labelling baby clothes as “boys’” and “girls’”—are being challenged, and more nuanced understanding of the meaning of “consent” are gaining ground. The #MeToo debate, which has pushed sexual assault to the fore, leads Ms Jongenelis to conclude that there is a shift in norms about what is acceptable. If so, then children should be among the greatest beneficiaries.

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‘Suffering’ ends with Honduran baby back in parents’ arms

Baby Johan spent his first day home chasing his family’s kitten, bouncing to music and playing like any 15-month-old boy.

But his mom said Saturday he also seemed lost in his own home — not recognizing his favorite aunt and only able to sleep with the lights on after spending five months in U.S. custody forcibly separated from his parents.

“We have to give him time, be patient,” his mother, Adalicia Montecinos said with a tired smile after her first night back with her son, who only slept for a few hours.

He also seemed to be speaking words that his mom figured were likely in English.

For months, the couple watched their only son grow up in videos while he was kept at a U.S. government-contracted shelter in Phoenix. That’s where he took his first steps and spoke his first words.

Johan, who grabbed the world’s attention when he appeared in a U.S. courtroom in diapers, at first also didn’t recognize his mom and dad after he was flown to San Pedro Sula on Friday.

Adalicia broke down Friday in tears as she talked about how her son had become a poster child for outrage over the Trump administration’s policy of separating immigrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“He suffered everything that we have been suffering,” she said.

His father soon won him over by playing ball. Within an hour, the tiny boy in an orange tank top, blue shorts but no shoes laughed as both parents kissed him outside a center where they finished final legal paperwork before heading home.

And so ended the extraordinary journey of a baby whose short life has ranged from Honduran poverty to a desperate dash across the U.S. border to the front pages of the world’s newspapers.

Captured by Border Patrol agents almost instantly upon arrival, Johan’s father was deported — and the 10-month-old was kept at the Arizona shelter. Over the next five months, he spoke and walked for the first time and had his first birthday; his parents, hundreds of miles away, would miss it all.

“The nightmare is over,” Adalicia said Saturday as she washed clothes in an outdoor sink outside their cement home in the steamy mountains in central Honduras.

But the family faces new challenges as their son readjusts and she fears the effects of their separation will be lasting.

Johan shook his head “no” over and over when his aunt who lives with the family picked him up. He has been fussier and Adalicia wondered if it was because of tiredness from his long journey or something more serious.

Only time will tell, said Clara Long, a researcher with Human Rights Watch. At least a dozen parents were deported back to their homelands without their children.

“I think we don’t know the future impact on these kids who were separated from their parents, but it could be life-long,” she said.

In early July, Johan went before an immigration judge. An Associated Press account of that court appearance — of the judge’s befuddlement over how to deal with this tiny detainee in diapers, sucking on a bottle — set off an international furor.

“I never thought they could be so cruel,” said his father, Rolando Antonio Bueso Castillo, 37.

Rolando said he thought his plan was a beautiful one. He would escape his hard life in the tiny town of Libertad — Freedom, in Spanish. His children would not grow up in the same poverty that he had endured — he had dropped out of the fourth grade to sell burritos to help his single mom support him and his four siblings.

His younger brother left the coffee-growing mountains of central Honduras for the United States seven years ago and thrived in Maryland with his wife and children. His sister followed, and also did well. Their eldest brother was killed in a drive-by shooting in San Pedro Sula, one of Latin America’s most dangerous cities.

Rolando earned $10 a day driving a bus; his brother in America sent back hundreds of dollars to help out.

An easy-going and hard-working man, Rolando was well aware of the dangers of crossing Mexico. Scores of Central Americans have fallen to their deaths jumping on trains or been shaken down by Mexican police, murdered, kidnapped, robbed or raped on their way to the United States.

He paid a smuggler $6,000, money his brother sent to him. Everything was supposed to be included — hotel stays, three meals daily and transport in an SUV with two other mothers and three children to the U.S. border. He packed five onesies, three jackets, a blue-and-white baby blanket, lotion, cream, 50 diapers, two bottles and cans of formula.

His wife, in her first trimester of pregnancy, would stay behind, working at her market stand selling Nike baseball hats, “California Dreaming” T-shirts and jewelry. In Maryland, their family would help mind Johan while Rolando worked. Adalicia would join them in a few months.

The father and son made it as far as Tampico, Mexico, 500 kilometers (300 miles) from the Texas border, when their beautiful plan started to unravel.

The smuggler drove them into a warehouse in the port city and told them to board a tractor trailer filled with scores of other parents and children from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Peru.

Rolando and his son would spend three days locked in the trailer, before arriving to the Mexican border city of Reynosa, where they boarded a makeshift raft and floated across the Rio Grande to Texas.

He thought the worst was over, but his troubles were only beginning.

Within minutes a Border Patrol agent stopped them and they were taken to a detention center.

On the fifth day, immigration officers told Rolando they needed to take him to an office for questioning. One agent removed Johan from his arms. As they walked away, Johan turned, reaching for his dad.

It would be the last time they would see each other for five months.

The agents told Rolando he was going to be separated from the boy and deported to Honduras because this was the fourth time he had attempted to enter the United States. Each time, he was caught almost immediately.

Rolando spent 22 days locked up in various detention centers along the Texas border. He knew nothing of his son.

His wife would wake up reaching for her baby and remember again what had happened. She watched videos of Johan over and over of him kicking and wiggling, laughing with his dad, staring into the camera.

Rolando said he had first been told by immigration authorities that the two would be deported together, so he agreed to go. Then, they told him his son would follow in two weeks. But months passed.

The boy’s parents learned he took his first steps from the social worker, who also sent a video of him on his first birthday, waking up and crying. From the AP’s news story on Johan’s appearance before a judge, they learned that he had started to talk.

The father said he was overwhelmed by guilt over the dismal failure of his beautiful plan. Someday, he knows, his son will ask what happened, and why he had left him in the United States.

“I’ll tell him the truth,” he said. “We thought we had a good plan to give him a better life.”

Will Rolando concoct yet another plan to reach America? He says only that he is a fighter and will work hard to survive, as he always has.

But he knows that his life and that of his family will never be the same.

“They broke something in me over there,” Rolando said. “This was never my son’s fault. Why did he have to be punished?”

___

Associated Press writer Astrid Galvan in Phoenix contributed to this report.

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Cuba aims to build socialism, not communism, in draft constitution

HAVANA (Reuters) – A draft of Cuba’s new constitution omits the aim of building communism, recognizes private property and opens the door to gay marriage, in a sign of changing times, although it keeps the Communist Party as the guiding force of the one-party system.

The Cuban flag hangs next to the photographs of late Cuba’s President Fidel Castro and his brother, Cuba’s former President Raul Castro, in Havana, Cuba July 21, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

Cuba’s national assembly is this weekend debating a draft of the document to replace its Soviet-era constitution, reflecting political, social and economic changes designed to make its brand of socialism sustainable and implementing new ones too.

Once lawmakers have approved the draft, it will be submitted to a popular consultation. The final document, which could include changes, will then be put to a national referendum.

The current draft omits a clause in the 1976 constitution on the ultimate aim of building a “communist society”, instead simply focusing on socialism.

“This does not mean we are renouncing our ideas,” the president of the National Assembly Esteban Lazo was quoted as saying by state-run media. Cuba had simply moved into a different era following the fall of the Soviet Union, he said.

“We believe in a socialist, sovereign, independent, prosperous and sustainable country.”

People walk in front of Cuba’s Capitol, or El Capitolio, in Havana, Cuba, July 21, 2018. REUTERS/ Stringer

Laying out the new constitution to lawmakers on Saturday, the secretary of the council of state, Homero Acosta, said it included the recognition of private property, something long stigmatized by the Communist Party as a vestige of capitalism.

That change should give greater legal recognition to the micro businesses that have flourished in the wake of market reforms to the ailing state-run economy that have fostered a small but vibrant private sector and attempted to rake in more foreign investment.

Cuba’s current constitution only recognizes state, cooperative, farmer, personal and joint venture property.

The draft also appears to strengthen political institutions and create a more collective leadership structure, after nearly 60 years of rule by late revolutionary leader Fidel Castro and his younger brother Raul Castro.

Castro, then 86, handed over the presidency in April to his mentee Miguel Diaz-Canel, 58, although he remains head of the Communist Party until 2021. He also heads the constitutional reform commission.

Under the new constitution, the president will no longer be the head of the council of state and council of ministers.

Instead it creates the position of prime minister and designates the president of the assembly also as head of the council of state, Cuba’s highest executive body.

Slideshow (8 Images)

One of the other top items at Saturday’s assembly was the recognition in the draft constitution of marriage as between two individuals rather than a man and a wife.

The draft also sets an age and term limits for presidents, stating they must be under 60 when they first take office and can carry out no more than two consecutive five-year terms.

Reflecting the desired gradual generational transition in Cuba’s leadership, new President Diaz-Canel named his cabinet at the start of the assembly meeting on Saturday, promoting two officials in their fifties to become vice presidents alongside two sitting octogenarians and a septuagenarian.

Diaz-Canel kept a majority of ministers from Castro including in the key posts of defense, interior, trade and foreign relations, in line with his April promise to provide continuity.

Marino Murillo, the head of the Communist Party’s reform commission and previously one of the council of ministers’ vice presidents, was the only top figure omitted from the new lineup.

Under Castro, Murillo spearheaded changes to the state-run economy and he remains head of the Party’s reform commission and a member of the political bureau.

The reforms have slowed however in recent years amid fears they have allowed some Cubans to enrich themselves, fostering inequality, and weakened the control of the state.

This month, Cuba issued regulations tightening control of the private sector and limiting business licenses to one per person.

Reporting by Sarah Marsh, Nelson Acosta and Marc Frank in Havana, Editing by James Dalgleish and Diane Craft

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    Trump says Cohen taping him ‘totally unheard of and perhaps illegal’

    Lawyer Rudy Giuliani said no campaign funding was involved in the discussion between Trump and Cohen, who has distanced himself from Trump in recent months as the FBI investigates Cohen’s business dealings. If campaign funds were used, that could run afoul of federal election law, legal experts say.

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    Before the election, the Trump campaign denied any knowledge of payment to McDougal, but the taped conversation could undermine those denials.

    The existence of the audio recording was first reported by the New York Times, which said Trump and Cohen discussed a potential payment to McDougal.

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    Giuliani also denied Trump had an affair with McDougal. He said the tape would show that Trump makes clear that if there is going to be a payment, it should be done by cheque, which would be easily traced.

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    A representative for McDougal has not responded to requests for comment. The White House had also declined comment.

    McDougal has said she began a nearly year-long affair with Trump in 2006 shortly after his wife, Melania, gave birth.

    She sold her story for $150,000 in August 2016 but it was never published by the National Enquirer, a practice known as “catch and kill” to prevent a potentially damaging story from becoming public. David Pecker, the chairman of parent company American Media Inc (AMI), is Trump’s friend.

    Giuliani said the discussion of payment did not mean McDougal’s claim of an affair was true and characterised it as an attempt to resolve false allegations that were “personally damaging” to Trump.

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