Russian envoy to United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, dies in New York

Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin addresses members of the U.N. Security Council during a meeting about the Ukraine situation, at the U.N. headquarters in New York

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, died suddenly at work in New York on Monday, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

The ministry gave no details on the circumstances of his death but offered condolences to his relatives and said the diplomat had died one day before his 65th birthday.

“The outstanding Russian diplomat passed away at his work post,” it said.

Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general’s office, said: “He has been such a regular presence here that I am actually quite stunned. Our thoughts go to his family, to his friends and to his government.”

Churkin was a pugnacious defender of Russian policy, notably its intensive bombing of the Syrian city of Aleppo last year to crush rebels opposed to President Bashar al-Assad.

When then-U.S. envoy to the U.N. Samantha Power accused Syria, Russia and Iran last year of bearing responsibility for atrocities there, Churkin said she was acting like Mother Teresa and forgetting her own country’s track record in the Middle East.

(Reporting by Jack Stubbs; Editing by Gareth Jones and Mark Trevelyan)

Trump supports free press but will call out false reports

U.S. President Donald Trump takes questions during a news conference at the White House in Washington, U.S.

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump believes in a free and independent press but he will not hesitate to point out flawed reporting, the U.S Vice President Mike Pence said on Monday.

“Rest assured the president and I both strongly support a free and independent press but you can anticipate that the president and all of us will continue to call out the media when they play fast and loose with the facts,” Pence told a news conference at the NATO headquarters in Brussels.

“When the media gets it wrong, President Trump will take his case straight to the American people to set the record straight,” he added.

(Reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek; editing by Philip Blenkinsop)

Malaysian P.M says probe into airport killing will be fair

North Korean ambassador to Malaysia Kang Chol (C) leaves a morgue at Kuala Lumpur General Hospital where Kim Jong Nam's body is held for autopsy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

By Rozanna Latiff and Joseph Sipalan

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak said on Monday his government’s investigation of the killing of the North Korean leader’s half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, will be “objective”, as tensions rose between the countries.

Earlier on Monday, Malaysia said it had recalled its envoy from Pyongyang and summoned North Korea’s ambassador in Kuala Lumpur, who again cast doubt on the impartiality of Malaysia’s investigation into the murder and said the victim was not Kim Jong Nam.

“We have no reason why we want to do something to paint North Korea in a bad light, but we will be objective,” Najib told reporters in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur.

The son of Kim Jong Nam, 22-year-old Kim Han Sol, was expected to arrive in the Malaysian capital from Macau late on Monday, according to an airline source and a media report.

Malaysian authorities have said they will release the body of the victim, believed to have been killed by North Korean agents, to the next of kin.

CCTV footage, released by Japanese broadcaster Fuji TV, appeared to show Kim Jong Nam being attacked at Kuala Lumpur International Airport last Monday by a woman believed to have wiped a fast-acting poison on his face.

Reuters could not independently verify the authenticity of the video, and police officials were not immediately available for comment.

Kim Jong Nam, 46, who had been living in the Chinese territory of Macau under Beijing’s protection, had spoken out publicly against his family’s dynastic control of isolated, nuclear-armed North Korea.

South Korean legislators last week cited their spy agency as saying the young and unpredictable North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, had issued a “standing order” for his half-brother’s assassination, and that there had been a failed attempt in 2012.

CHASING SUSPECTS

Malaysian police said they were hunting four North Koreans who fled from the country on the day of the attack, having already detained one North Korean man, a Vietnamese woman, an Indonesian woman, and a Malaysian man.

At least three of the wanted North Koreans caught an Emirates flight to Dubai from Jakarta late on the day of the attack, an immigration official in Indonesia told Reuters.

Malaysia’s Star newspaper reported that all four had returned to North Korea.

North Korea had sought to prevent Malaysia from conducting an autopsy, insisting the body be handed over. Its envoy in Kuala Lumpur criticized Malaysian authorities for “delaying” the release of the body.

“At the moment we cannot trust the investigation by the Malaysian police,” ambassador Kang Chol told reporters after talks at the foreign ministry.

He said the embassy had only identified the victim as Kim Chol, based on the passport found on the dead man, and suggested a joint investigation with Malaysian authorities. Kim Jong Nam had been caught using fake travel documents in the past.

Malaysia’s foreign ministry said it had recalled its ambassador to North Korea “for consultations”, and said investigations were being carried out in compliance with the law.

“Any suggestion to the contrary is deeply insulting to Malaysia, as is the suggestion that Malaysia is in collusion with any foreign government,” Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said in a statement.

Malaysia’s health minister said autopsy results could be released by Wednesday.

Malaysia is one of the few countries that maintains ties with reclusive North Korea, and the dispute could further isolate the impoverished state.

“GETTING BOLDER”

South Korea, acutely sensitive to events in its volatile neighbor, convened a meeting of its National Security Council.

Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn told the meeting that it was nearly certain that North Korea was behind the killing.

“The murder carried out in public at an international airport of a third country is an unforgivable and inhumane criminal act and clearly demonstrates the recklessness and brutality of the North Korean regime that will spare no avenues when it comes to perpetuating itself,” Hwang said.

“The North Korean regime’s terrorism tactics are getting bolder so we must be more vigilant.”

South Korean and U.S. officials had earlier said the killing was probably carried out by North Korean agents.

Grainy CCTV images showed Kim, wearing a light-colored jacket and trousers and with a backpack on one shoulder, heading for an automatic check-in counter in the airport departure hall.

A woman approached Kim from behind on the left and another – identified by Fuji as the Vietnamese woman, wearing a white shirt – walks rapidly up behind him from his right, before what appears to be a scuffle takes place.

In footage taken from another angle, the woman in the white shirt appears to lunge from behind and throw something over his head, locking her arms around him briefly.

As the woman in white quickly walks away, the second woman also moves off rapidly in another direction.

Later footage shows the portly, balding middle-aged man stumbling, wiping his face, and seeking help from people while gesturing to his eyes before being escorted to a clinic.

The mother of the detained Indonesian woman told Reuters that her daughter, Siti Aishah, had been duped into believing she was part of a television show or advertisement.

According to Malaysian media, the Vietnamese suspect, Doan Thi Huong, told police she had been tricked into taking part in what she thought was a practical joke.

There is speculation that China’s patience with North Korea could be tested by the killing, because Kim Jong Nam had been living in Macau, where he was headed when he was attacked.

China said on Saturday it had suspended all coal imports from the North, a vital source of revenue.

China is seen to be irritated by the North’s repeated aggression, including two nuclear tests since early 2016 and a Feb. 12 intermediate-range ballistic missile launch, the latest in a series of missile tests.

(Additional reporting by Jack Kim in Seoul and Elaine Lies in TOKYO; Writing by Praveen Menon and Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Robert Birsel and Mike Collett-White)

SpaceX Falcon rocket blasted off on Sunday from a Florida launch pad

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off on a supply mission to the International Space Station from historic launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Cente

y Irene Klotz

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) – A SpaceX Falcon rocket blasted off on Sunday from a Florida launch pad once used to send NASA astronauts to the moon, a step forward for billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk and his company’s goal of ferrying astronauts to the International Space Station.

The 229-foot tall (70-meter) Falcon 9 soared off a seaside launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center at 9:39 a.m. EST (1439 GMT) carrying a Dragon cargo ship that holds supplies and science experiments for the station.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket disappears into clouds after it lifted off on a supply mission to the International Space Station from historic launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida,

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket disappears into clouds after it lifted off on a supply mission to the International Space Station from historic launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S., February 19, 2017. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

Nine minutes after blastoff, the main section of the rocket flew back to a landing pad at nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the eighth successful touchdown for Space Exploration Technologies Corp.

“Baby came back,” Musk wrote on Twitter, celebrating the landing. SpaceX had decided to delay the mission on Saturday, 13 seconds before launch due to concerns about the steering system in the rocket’s upper stage.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration closely monitored Sunday’s launch to learn more about the company’s operations before it clears SpaceX to fly U.S. astronauts.

The liftoff marked a successful debut for SpaceX at Kennedy’s Launch Complex 39A, originally built for the 1960s-era Apollo moon program and later repurposed for the space shuttles. SpaceX plans to use the pad for commercial missions, as well as future manned flights.

The pad was last used for the final space shuttle launch in 2011. In 2014, SpaceX signed a 20-year lease and has spent millions on remodeling.

“It was really awesome to see 39A roar back to life,” SpaceX Dragon program manager Jessica Jensen told reporters after the launch. “This is a huge deal for us.”

It was also SpaceX’s first launch from Florida since an accident in September caused heavy damage to what had been the company’s prime site at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, located just south of the NASA spaceport.

NASA hired SpaceX to fly cargo to the station after the shuttle program ended. SpaceX and Boeing Co are scheduled to begin flying crews to the station by the end of 2018, but a U.S. government report last week said technical hurdles likely will delay both companies.

Last month, SpaceX resumed flying its Falcon 9 rockets using a second launch pad in California, where the first stage of the rocket also succeeded in relanding.

The company plans to reuse the rockets to slash costs and reduce pricing.

SpaceX aims to have the Florida launch pad damaged in last year’s explosion up and running by this summer.

(Editing by Letitia Stein, Jeffrey Benkoe and Alan Crosby)

Norway pledges $10 million to counter Trumps global anti abortion move

Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, attends the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland,

OSLO (Reuters) – Norway has joined an international initiative to raise millions of dollars to replace shortfalls left by U.S. President Donald Trump’s ban on U.S.-funded groups worldwide providing information on abortion.

In January, the Netherlands started a global fund to help women access abortion services, saying Trump’s “global gag rule” meant a funding gap of $600 million over the next four years, and has pledged $10 million to the initiative to replace that.

Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Luxembourg, Finland, Canada and Cape Verde have all also lent their support.

“The government is increasing its support for family planning and safe abortion by 85 million Norwegian crowns ($10 million) compared with 2016,” Prime Minister Erna Solberg said.

“At a time when this agenda has come under pressure, a joint effort is particularly important,” he said in a statement.

Last month, Trump reinstated a policy requiring overseas organizations that receive U.S. family-planning funds to certify they do not perform abortions or provide abortion advice as a method of family planning.

(Reporting by Gwladys Fouche; Editing by Louise Ireland)

Turkish soldiers accused of Erdogan assassination attempt to go to trial

Turkish soldiers accused of attempting to assassinate President Tayyip Erdogan on the night of the failed last year's July 15 coup, are escorted by gendarmes as they arrive for the first hearing of the trial in Mugla, Turkey,

By Humeyra Pamuk

MUGLA, Turkey (Reuters) – Prosecutors called for life sentences for more than 40 Turkish soldiers on Monday at the start of their trial for attempting to assassinate President Tayyip Erdogan during last year’s failed coup, according to the indictment obtained by Reuters.

Under tight security, the defendants were bussed in to a courthouse in the southwestern city of Mugla, not far from the luxury resort where Erdogan and his family narrowly escaped the soldiers, fleeing in a helicopter shortly before their hotel was attacked.

More than 240 people were killed during the July 15 failed coup, when a group of rogue soldiers commandeered tanks, warplanes and helicopters, attacking parliament and attempting to overthrow the government.

On Monday, prosecutors in Mugla charged 47 suspects, almost all of them soldiers, with charges including attempting to assassinate the president, breaching the constitution and membership of an armed terrorist organization.

It was not immediately clear how all the suspects would plead. One of the first defendants to testify admitted to accepting a mission to seize, but not kill, Erdogan.

“My mission was to take the president and bring him to Akinci air base safe and sound,” Gokhan Sonmezates told the court, referring to a base outside Ankara that briefly functioned as a command center for the coup plotters.

Turkey says the coup was orchestrated by a U.S.-based Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gulen. The cleric, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, has denied the charges and condemned the coup.

Since the failed coup, more than 40,000 people have been arrested and more than 100,000 have been sacked or suspended from the military, civil service and private sector.

Turkey launched its first criminal trial related to the coup in December and more trials are expected.

SNIPERS, SPECIAL FORCES

Sonmezates, a former brigadier general, was described in the indictment as a leader of the mission, something he denied in court. He also denied charges that he was a member of Gulen’s network.

“It was for the country, for the nation, to stop the decay domestically, to put an end to the bribery, to protect my country from the PKK,” he told the court, referring to the militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

The suspects, who include Erdogan’s former aide-de-camp, were wearing suits when they were brought from prison to the courthouse. They were met by a crowd of some 200 people waving flags and calling for their execution.

“We want the death penalty. Let the hand that tried to harm our chief be broken,” said one of the protesters, 61-year-old Zuhal Ayhan, referring to Erdogan. “I’d give my life for him.”

Turkey formally abolished the death penalty as part of its 2002 European Union accession talks. Since the coup, crowds have repeatedly called for it to be restored, a move that would likely spell the end of Turkey’s bid to join the EU.

The area around the courthouse was cordoned off and patrolled by dozens of security force members, including police and special forces. Snipers stood on nearby rooftops.

Forty-four defendants were brought in, while three remain at large and are being tried in absentia. The courthouse in Mugla was too small to handle the number of defendants and authorities said the trial was being heard at the conference room of the chamber of commerce next door.

According to the indictment, some 37 soldiers were charged with a having a direct role in the storming of the luxury Grand Yazici Club Turban, others are those who provided assistance to the operation.

The soldiers in helicopters descended on the hotel in Marmaris, on ropes, shooting, just after Erdogan had left.

In an interview with Reuters after the coup, Erdogan said his faith as a Muslim helped him and his family escape unscathed.

(Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Dominic Evans)

Oil Rises but growing U.S. output threatens Rally

A natural gas flare on an oil well pad burns as the sun sets outside Watford City, North Dakota

By Amanda Cooper

LONDON (Reuters) – Oil edged up on Monday, as investor optimism over the effectiveness of producer cuts encouraged record bets on a sustained price rise, although growing U.S. output and stubbornly high stockpiles kept price gains in check.

Brent futures were up 28 cents at $56.09 a barrel at 1448 GMT, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude was up 23 cents at $53.63.

Investors have certainly taken OPEC members at their word on their commitment to cut production and now hold more crude futures and options than at any time on record.

But evidence of rising output in the United States has tempered money managers’ appetite to push prices higher. Since the start of the month oil prices have gained around $2.

“There is still a general consensus that the OPEC/non-OPEC agreement helps supply to get in line with demand. This bullish stance is countered by the ever-increasing inventories in the U.S. and rising rig counts,” PVM Oil Associates strategist Tamas Varga said in a note.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and other producers, including Russia, agreed last year to cut output by almost 1.8 million barrels per day (bpd) during the first half of 2017.

Estimates indicate compliance with the cuts is around 90 percent, while Reuters reported last week that OPEC could extend the pact or apply deeper cuts from July if global crude inventories fail to drop enough.

Top OPEC exporter Saudi Arabia’s crude oil shipments fell in December to 8.014 million bpd from 8.258 million bpd in November, official data showed on Monday.

“Sustained gains above $55 a barrel, and a hoped-for rally to $60 a barrel, (are) both proving incredibly tough nuts to crack,” said Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at futures brokerage OANDA in Singapore.

“At the crux of the matter is that 90 percent OPEC compliance is being balanced by ever increasing U.S. shale production,” he added.

U.S. energy companies added oil rigs for a fifth consecutive week, Baker Hughes said on Friday, extending a nine-month recovery with producers encouraged by higher prices, which have largely traded above $50 a barrel since late November.

“Assuming the U.S. oil rig count stays at the current level, we estimate U.S. oil production would increase by 405,000 (barrels per day, or bpd) between fourth quarter 2017 and fourth quarter 2016 across the Permian, Eagle Ford, Bakken and Niobrara shale plays,” Goldman Sachs said in a research note.

The U.S. market will be closed on Monday for the Presidents Day holiday.

(Additional reporting by Henning Gloystein in SINGAPORE and Aaron Sheldrick in TOKYO; Editing by Louise Heavens/Ruth Pitchford)

One in four Canadians support temporary refugee ban

A man who claimed to be from Sudan runs for the border after his family crossed the U.S.-Canada border into Hemmingford, Canada,

OTTAWA (Reuters) – One in four Canadians say Ottawa should have adopted a temporary halt on Syrian refugees in response to the United States’ controversial travel ban, though the majority supported the government’s current immigration plan, an Angus Reid Institute poll showed on Monday.

Sixty percent of those surveyed in an online poll said the Canadian government had done a good job of resettling Syrian refugees since the Liberals came to power in 2015.

The Syrian crisis became an issue during the election campaign after photos of a drowned Syrian toddler in Turkey whose family had wanted to emigrate to Canada made front page news. The Liberals made bringing in more Syrian refugees part of their platform.

The government plans to bring in 40,000 refugees from Syria and elsewhere this year. Forty-seven percent of those polled said Canada is taking in the right amount, though 41 percent said the number was too high. Just 11 percent said Canada should open its doors to more refugees.

“Public opinion in this country is onside with its government’s approach and response on domestic refugee policy, but is showing signs Ottawa may be testing the limits of how many migrants Canadians are willing to accept,” the report said.

After U.S. President Donald Trump issued an executive order last month suspending travel to the United States by citizens of seven mostly Muslim countries, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted that Canada welcomes those fleeing war and persecution.

Fifty-seven percent of people in the poll said the government had made the right decision in standing pat, but 25 percent said Canada should have put its own ban in place. Eighteen percent said Canada should have responded by taking in more refugees.

While Canada often prides itself as being a tolerant, ethnically diverse country, 54 percent doubted refugees would make what they considered enough effort to fit into Canadian society.

The survey of 1,508 Canadians was conducted earlier this month.

(Reporting by Leah Schnurr; Editing by Sandra Maler)

U.S. infrastructure legislation back on Congress’ radar

Senate Majority Leader

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s pledge to bring massive investments in U.S. infrastructure projects showed new signs of life on Friday after lying dormant for weeks, as leading Republican lawmakers said proposals from the administration could be in the offing.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, told reporters he expects to receive “some kind of recommendation on an infrastructure bill, a subject that we frequently handle on a bipartisan basis,” but gave no details or timing.

He has previously voiced concern over adding to budget deficits with a new injection of federal funds for road, bridge and other construction projects like the ones President Barack Obama secured from Congress in 2009, especially after a major highway funding law was enacted about a year ago.

Some Republicans and Democrats in Congress are increasingly criticizing Trump’s administration for being slow to get behind his legislative initiatives during the first month of his presidency.

Trump’s plans to create an infrastructure council led by two New York billionaire friends, developers Richard LeFrak and Steven Roth, have yet to be launched, a spokesman for LeFrak said.

During his presidential campaign, Trump said he would push for a $1 trillion infrastructure program to rebuild roads, bridges, airports and other public works projects. He said he wanted action during the first 100 days of his administration, which now seems unlikely.

The Republican president has talked about creating a tax credit to encourage private sector investment in many of these projects. But Democrats say that would fail to spur enough rebuilding and put taxpayers on the hook for a tax credit to wealthy developers, who they said would build toll roads that taxpayers would then have to pay to use.

Democrats want a more direct federal role in sparking a construction boom.

In an interview on Tuesday, Republican Representative Mario Diaz-Balart said he had “no doubt that it (infrastructure investment) is a priority for the administration.”

Diaz-Balart chairs a House subcommittee that would control the flow of Washington money that might be needed to fund some of the public works projects.

Several lawmakers and aides speculated the initiative could be attached to tax reform legislation that Republicans want to advance this year, but no decisions have been made.

Writing an infrastructure bill involves seven or eight committees, there are complicated tax and spending questions at stake, and lawmakers are divided.

There are also questions over what would qualify as an infrastructure project, with rural areas, for example, clamoring for more broadband internet service.

Senator John Thune, a member of the Republican leadership who chairs the commerce and transportation panel which has a say on any bill, said he had little information on the content or status of legislation.

Asked about McConnell’s comments, Thune said, “Maybe he knows more about it since he’s married to the secretary of transportation,” Elaine Chao.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; additional reporting by Herb Lash in New York; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and James Dalgleish)

Wisconsin man, Virginia man each get prison for trying to join Islamic State

FILE PHOTO: An Islamic State flag is seen in this picture

(Reuters) – A Wisconsin man and a Virginia man were sentenced separately to federal prison on Friday for attempting to travel abroad to join Islamic State, the U.S. Justice Department said.

Joshua Van Haften, 36, of Madison received a 10-year sentence from a federal court in Wisconsin after pleading guilty in October to attempting to support a terrorist organization.

Van Haften, who posted an oath of allegiance to Islamic State’s leader online, traveled to Turkey in 2014 and tried to cross the border into Syria, according to prosecutors.

He also attempted to aid another American interested in joining the militant group, Leon Davis, who was sentenced to 15 years in 2015 after federal agents arrested him at an Atlanta airport on his way to Turkey.

Meanwhile, Haris Qamar, 26, from Burke, Virginia, was sentenced to 8-1/2 years in prison on Friday by a federal court in Alexandria, Virginia. Like Van Haften, Qamar pleaded guilty in October to a terrorism charge.

U.S. prosecutors said Qamar helped a confidential witness working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation take photographs of landmarks in Washington, D.C., for what he believed would be a propaganda video for Islamic State to encourage attacks.

Qamar also told the witness he bought a plane ticket to Turkey in 2014 so he could join Islamic State but was stymied when his parents confiscated his passport, prosecutors said.

Federal agents also arrested two acquaintances of Qamar on Wednesday and charged them with lying to investigators about the case.

The Justice Department has prosecuted more than 100 Islamic State-related cases since 2014.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Alistair Bell)