Students tied to U.S. college admissions scandal could face expulsion

FILE PHOTO: A sign is pictured on the grounds of University of Southern California in Los Angeles, California, U.S., March 13, 2019. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

By Gabriella Borter

(Reuters) – The University of Southern California said it may expel students linked to the largest college-admissions cheating scandal in U.S. history after it completes a review of their records.

The school said on Monday night that it has already “placed holds on the accounts of students who may be associated with the alleged admissions scheme,” preventing them from registering for classes or acquiring transcripts.

“Following the review, we will take the proper action related to their status, up to revoking admission or expulsion,” the college said in a tweet on Monday night.

The move would affect the daughters of “Full House” actress Lori Loughlin and fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli. The parents were among 50 people charged last week with participation in what federal prosecutors called a $25 million bribery and fraud scam.

The mastermind of the scheme last week pleaded guilty to racketeering charges for bribing coaches, cheating on standardized tests and fabricating athletic profiles to help children of wealthy families gain admission to top universities including Yale, Stanford and Georgetown.

A spokesman for Georgetown on Tuesday said the school would not comment on disciplinary action against individual students linked to the scandal but added that it is “reviewing the details of the indictment, examining our records, and will be taking appropriate action.”

Yale, UCLA, and the University of Texas said last week that any students found to have misrepresented any part of their applications may have their admission rescinded. Stanford said it is “working to better understand the circumstances around” one of its students linked to the scheme.

Wake Forest’s president said in a statement last week, “We have no reason to believe the student was aware of the alleged financial transaction.”

Prosecutors said some students involved in the scandal were not aware that their parents had made the alleged arrangements, although in other cases they knowingly took part. None of the children were charged.

Several celebrities and corporate executives charged in the scandal have already felt career consequences.

The Hallmark cable channel last week cut ties with Loughlin for her alleged role in the fraud.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Steve Orlofsky)

Israel abandons plan to forcibly deport African migrants

FILE PHOTO: A boy takes part in a protest against the Israeli government’s plan to deport African migrants, in Tel Aviv, Israel March 24, 2018. REUTERS/Corinna Kern/File Photo

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The Israeli government said on Tuesday it had abandoned a plan to forcibly deport African migrants who entered the country illegally after failing to find a willing country to take in the migrants.

The government had been working for months on an arrangement to expel thousands of mostly Eritrean and Sudanese men who crossed into Israel through Egypt’s Sinai desert.

“At this stage, the possibility of carrying out an unwilling deportation to a third country is not on the agenda,” the government wrote in a response to Israel’s Supreme Court, which has been examining the case.

The migrants will again be able to renew residency permits every 60 days, as they were before the deportation push, the government said.

The migrants and rights groups say they are seeking asylum and are fleeing war and persecution. The government says they are job seekers and that it has every right to protect its borders.

Despite Tuesday’s climbdown, the government said immigration authorities would still try to deport migrants voluntarily, drawing criticism from rights group Amnesty International.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later said that after failing to reach agreement with any country to take them in, he would try to draft legislation that would allow the reopening of detention centers in Israel for the migrants.

The Supreme Court has previously struck down legislation that permits such detention and ordered the facilities shut.

“I’M THRILLED”

The government’s U-turn was welcomed by those targeted for expulsion.

“I’m thrilled. I’m speechless. I was so scared every day. If I can stay here it will be good, I’ve lived here so long – I have a job, I have Israeli friends. I am used to the place,” said Ristom Haliesilase, a 34-year-old Eritrean who lives in Tel Aviv, working as a carer for the elderly.

The fate of some 37,000 Africans in Israel has posed a moral dilemma for a state founded as a haven for Jews from persecution and a national home.

Around 4,000 migrants have left Israel for Rwanda and Uganda since 2013 under a voluntary program, but Netanyahu has come under pressure from his right-wing voter base to expel thousands more.

After pulling out of a U.N.-backed relocation plan a few weeks ago, Israel shifted efforts toward finalizing an arrangement to send the migrants against their will to Uganda.

A number of migrant rights groups then petitioned the Supreme Court to block any such policy.

Amnesty also welcomed Tuesday’s decision but criticized Israel’s plan to continue with voluntary deportations.

“… in reality there is nothing voluntary about them. Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers agree to them under pressure. Israel remains under the obligation not to transfer anyone to a country” where they would be unsafe, said Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.

Amnesty will closely monitor the deportations, it said.

(Reporting by Maayan Lubell and Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Poisoned Russian agent Sergei Skripal is getting better fast, hospital says

Sergei Skripal, a former colonel of Russia's GRU military intelligence service, looks on inside the defendants' cage as he attends a hearing at the Moscow military district court, Russia August 9, 2006. Kommersant/Yuri Senatorov via REUTERS

By Alistair Smout and Guy Faulconbridge

LONDON (Reuters) – Former Russian spy Sergei Skripal is no longer in a critical condition and his health is improving rapidly more than a month after he was poisoned with a nerve agent in England, the British hospital treating him said on Friday.

Skripal, 66, a former colonel in Russian military intelligence who betrayed dozens of spies to Britain’s foreign spy service, and his daughter Yulia were found slumped unconscious on a public bench in the English city of Salisbury on March 4.

Britain blamed Russia for the poisoning, the first known offensive use of such a nerve agent on European soil since World War Two. Moscow denied any involvement and suggested that Britain had carried out the attack to stoke anti-Russian hysteria.

“He is responding well to treatment, improving rapidly and is no longer in a critical condition,” Christine Blanshard, Medical Director at Salisbury District Hospital, said in a statement.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said the Skripals were poisoned with Novichok, a deadly group of nerve agents developed by the Soviet military in the 1970s and 1980s.

Russia has said it does not have such nerve agents and President Vladimir Putin said it is nonsense to think that Moscow would have poisoned Skripal and his 33-year-old daughter.

A British judge said last month, nearly three weeks after the attack, that it might have left them with compromised mental capacity and that it was unclear whether they would recover.

The attack prompted the biggest Western expulsion of Russian diplomats since the height of the Cold War as allies in Europe and the United States sided with May’s view that Moscow was either responsible or had lost control of the nerve agent.

But Moscow has hit back by expelling Western diplomats, questioning how Britain knows that Russia was responsible and offering its rival interpretations, including that it amounted to a plot by British secret services.

Both Moscow and London have accused each other of trying to deceive the world with an array of claims, counter-claims and threats.

“PLAYING WITH FIRE”

At a session of the executive of the global chemical weapons watchdog this week, Russia called for a joint inquiry into the poisoning of the Skripals, but lost a vote on the motion.

At a UN Security Council meeting on Thursday, Russia warned Britain that “you’re playing with fire and you’ll be sorry” over its accusations.

Given the twists and turns in the affair, British and Russian diplomats have variously claimed the mystery to be worthy of Sherlock Holmes or of an Agatha Christie whodunit.

In an exchange at the United Nations, the ambassadors of Britain and Russia quoted extracts from “Alice in Wonderland” at each other.

The hospital in Salisbury said it was providing the medical update in response to “intense media coverage yesterday.”

Russian state television reported that Yulia had phoned her cousin in Russia and told her that she and her father were both recovering and that she expected to leave hospital soon.

Yulia’s health has improved rapidly. On Thursday, she issued a statement through British police to thank hospital staff and people who came to her help when “when my father and I were incapacitated”.

Sergei Skripal, who was recruited by Britain’s MI6, was arrested for treason in Moscow in 2004. He ended up in Britain after being swapped in 2010 for Russian spies caught in the United States.

Since emerging from the John le Carre world of high espionage and betrayal, Skripal lived modestly in Salisbury and kept out of the spotlight until he was found poisoned.

British police believe a nerve agent was left on the front door of his home. Skripal’s cat was put down by British authorities. His guinea pigs were discovered dead.

“When a vet was able to access the property, two guinea pigs had sadly died,” a British government spokeswoman said.

“A cat was also found in a distressed state and a decision was taken by a veterinary surgeon to euthanise the animal to alleviate its suffering,” the spokeswoman said.

(Editing by Richard Balmforth)

Russia says it will respond in kind to West’s expulsions

A general view shows the U.S. embassy in Moscow, Russia March 27, 2018. REUTERS/Tatyana M

By Christian Lowe and Katya Golubkova

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia said on Wednesday it would respond in kind to the mass expulsion of Russian diplomats by the West over the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal in the English city of Salisbury.

What began as a row between London and Moscow after Britain accused Russia of using a nerve agent to poison Skripal and his daughter has now snowballed into an international chorus of rebuke for the Kremlin, with even some friendly governments ejecting Russian diplomats.

Adding to the list on Wednesday, Slovakia, Malta and Luxembourg each recalled their ambassador in Moscow for consultations, while Montenegro said it would expel a Russian diplomat. Slovakia and Montenegro, while both members of the U.S.-led NATO alliance, are traditionally close to Russia.

The biggest demarche came from the United States, which on Monday said it was expelling 60 Russian diplomats. That dented Russian President Vladimir Putin’s hopes of forging a friendly relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump.

Valentina Matviyenko, a Kremlin loyalist and speaker of the upper house of parliament, said Russia would retaliate.

“Without a doubt, Russia, as is diplomatic practice, will respond symmetrically and observe parity when it comes to the number of diplomats,” RIA news agency quoted her as saying.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said a Russian military aircraft had, for the first time since the Cold War, conducted a training flight via the North Pole to North America, RIA news agency reported.

There was no immediate indication that the flight was linked to Russia’s standoff with the West. The U.S. navy is holding a five-week training exercise in the Arctic Circle.

COLD WAR ECHOES

In total, more than 100 Russian diplomats are to be sent home from states ranging from Denmark to Australia, the biggest Western expulsion of Russian diplomats since the height of the Cold War.

Moscow has denied being behind the attack on the Skripals and says its adversaries are using it to whip up a campaign of “Russophobia.”

Skripal, 66, a double agent who was swapped in a spy exchange deal in 2010 and went to live in England, and Yulia Skripal, 33, were found unconscious on a public bench in a shopping center in Salisbury on March 4. They remain critically ill in hospital from the attack in which, British authorities say, a Soviet-era nerve toxin called Novichok was used.

Russia has already expelled 23 British diplomats, a tit-for-tat response to Britain’s expulsion of the same number of staff at the Russian embassy in London.

Adding to a drum beat of tough rhetoric coming from Moscow and London, the Russian foreign ministry raised the prospect British intelligence services had poisoned Skripal and his daughter.

“If convincing evidence to the contrary is not presented to the Russian side we will consider that we are dealing with an attempt on the lives of our citizens,” the ministry said in a statement.

In Australia, whose government said on Tuesday it would expel two diplomats, the Russian ambassador, Grigory Loginov, told reporters the world will enter into a “Cold War situation” if the West persists with its bias against Russia.

Two days after the United States announced the expulsion of Russian diplomats, there was still no sign of how exactly Russian planned to respond – an indication, perhaps, that the scale of the Western action caught Moscow off guard.

Interfax news agency quoted Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying Moscow would assess the level of hostility in Washington and London before deciding how to retaliate.

(Additional reporting by Reuters bureaux; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

Woman’s murder prompts mass eviction of Syrians from Lebanese town

Woman's murder prompts mass eviction of Syrians from Lebanese town

MIZIARA, Lebanon (Reuters) – Abu Khaled had lived in the Lebanese town of Miziara for almost 20 years until a woman’s suspected murder by a Syrian refugee led to his expulsion alongside several hundred other Syrians.

“They gave us notice to evict at 2 a.m.,” said Abu Khaled, standing outside a bare building in a nearby village with some of his 13-strong family, who were all forced to leave on the orders of the local authorities.

“I don’t know how we left – we carried our stuff on the road and then found this warehouse and we put ourselves here,” he told Reuters.

More than six years into the Syrian war, 1.5 million Syrians account for one quarter of Lebanon’s population. But patience is wearing thin with their presence and the strain it has placed on local resources.

The Lebanese army has previously carried out evictions of Syrian refugees, citing security concerns.

At the local level, ill feeling has surfaced intermittently in recent years, with councils imposing curfews, telling Lebanese not to rent houses to Syrians, or outright asking them to leave an area.

The Miziara council went a step further by using trucks to move people out, said George Ghali, programs manager at the Lebanese rights group ALEF.

The decision was prompted by last week’s arrest of a Syrian man for the murder of 26-year-old Rayya Chidiac in Miziara, a wealthy Christian town in north Lebanon.

Chidiac had been found dead in a relative’s home on Sept. 22 showing signs of bruising, strangling and sexual assault, security forces said.

The refugee, in his 20s, had worked as the building’s caretaker, and confessed to her murder.

“THEY ARE DEVOURING US”

While the crime shocked Syrians and Lebanese alike, the locals said they must protect their own and could no longer risk living alongside Syrians.

“We are giving them food and they are devouring us. We cannot welcome them here any more,” priest Yousef Faddoul told Reuters. “Let them set up tents for them elsewhere.”

But the Syrians say they are being punished collectively for one man’s crime.

“If I don’t go back to my work, what can I do? In my country there is a war … two days ago, a rocket exploded near my house,” said Sobhi Razzouk, a Syrian from Idlib who had worked in Miziara for 15 years before being expelled. Like Abu Khaled, he was had joined in Lebanon by his family after the war began.

“We condemn this horrific act … but the way we were expelled – we never expected this.”

In response to questions from Reuters, the United Nations’ refugee agency UNHCR called for “restraint from collective reprisals against refugees”, and said it was in touch with local authorities and refugee families.

Miziara’s municipal authority said on its Facebook page that Syrians could now only be in town during daytime working hours – if they had work permits. Landlords can only rent accommodation to those with residency permits.

Another post from the municipality encouraged Miziara landlords and those who sponsor Syrians to evict them or annul their guarantees.

“We support evicting Syrians in a legal way and evicting all those who break the law and anyone who has no business being in Miziara,” said Maroun Dina, the head of the municipal council, said.

“This is a problem across Lebanon. If the government doesn’t take the necessary steps then the public will and I cannot control the public,” Dina said.

PRECARIOUS STATUS

Many Syrians in Lebanon live in a precarious legal situation, with proper residency and work documentation expensive and hard to obtain.

Lebanon has resisted the establishment of organized refugee camps for Syrians, fearing a repeat of its experience with around half a million Palestinians, most still living in refugee camps set up after the creation of Israel almost 70 years ago.

That has left Syrians scattered across the country in tented settlements or urban areas – without any clear definition of their rights, and at the mercy of local authorities.

Their long-term presence is a particularly sensitive issue for Lebanon, where the addition of so many predominantly Sunni Muslim Syrians would upset the delicate sectarian balance with Christians, Shi’ite Muslims and other groups.

As the Syrian government regains control of more Syrian territory, calls have increased in Lebanon for Syrians to return home, although Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri has said there can be no forced return.

Last week, the north Lebanese town of Bsharri cited Chidiac’s death as a reason to clamp down on Syrians, saying the situation in Syria had improved to the point where they no longer needed to be in Lebanon.

It issued a statement saying Syrians must not gather in public squares, must not go out after 6 p.m., and would be barred from renting properties in the area from Nov. 15.

(Reporting by Reuters TV; Writing by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Tom Perry and Kevin Liffey)