Rescued Canadian-U.S. couple reunited with family; receiving medical attention

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TORONTO (Reuters) – A U.S.-Canadian couple freed in Pakistan this week, nearly five years after being abducted in Afghanistan, reunited with the husband’s family on Saturday, the Associated Press reported.

Joshua Boyle and Caitlan Coleman arrived with their three children late on Friday in Toronto, where the husband said one of his children was murdered and his wife had been raped.

Citing an email from Boyle, the AP reported the family had “reached the first true ‘home’ that the children have ever known — after they spent most of Friday asking if each subsequent airport was our new house hopefully.”

Boyle, a Canadian, and Coleman, an American were kidnapped while backpacking in Afghanistan in 2012 by the Taliban-allied Haqqani network.

Pakistani troops rescued the family this week in the northwest of the country, near the Afghan border. The United States has long accused Pakistan of failing to fight the Haqqani network. The couple had three children while in captivity.

Boyle opened his Friday media statement by saying he was delayed due to a medical emergency involving one of his children.

AP, citing Boyle’s email, said his daughter had a cursory medical exam and hospital staff were “enthusiastically insistent that her chances seemed miraculously high based on a quick physical.”

Boyle made a brief statement at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport late on Friday, calling on the Taliban “to provide my family with the justice we are owed.”

“God willing, this litany of stupidity will be the epitaph of the Haqqani network,” he said.

Reporting by Maggie Parkhill; Writing by Denny Thomas; Editing by Bill Trott

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Church bells to draw attention to Philippines death toll

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A Roman Catholic archbishop is sounding the alarm about the mounting bodies of drug and crime suspects in the Philippines.

Archbishop Socrates Villegas has ordered church bells to be rung for 15 minutes across his northern religious district each night beginning Tuesday, to rouse a citizenry that he says “has become a coward in expressing anger against evil.”

Added Manila Cardinal Luis Tagle, another Catholic leader, as quoted by Ireland’s RTE: “We knock on the consciences of those who kill even the helpless, especially those who cover their faces with bonnets, to stop wasting human lives. The illegal drug problem should not be reduced to a political or criminal issue. It is a humanitarian concern that affects all of us.”

The church’s stand adds to a growing outcry after more than 80 suspects were gunned down by police in metropolitan Manila and nearby Bulacan province in just three days last week, the bloodiest stretch under President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal crackdown.

The rising death toll has followed Duterte’s offers to police of immunity, promotions, commendations, rewards and vacations in Hong Kong in exchange for cracking down on the drug trade in the Philippines, the Straits Times reported.

But the results – with bodies in the streets on an almost daily basis — have had human rights activists and opposition politicians condemning what they describe as extrajudicial killings.

Despite the sharp spike in deaths, Duterte – who took office in June 2016 — has reassured law enforcers that they will not be punished, the report says.

“If the police and the military get into trouble in connection with the performance of duty, you can expect, I really won’t agree for you to be jailed,” he said.

But critics argue that Duterte and the country’s police are fighting the wrong war. They say corruption and poverty are bigger problems than drugs.

“They’re killing democracy and innocent people, and in the process unsettling financial markets,” says Panos Mourdoukoutas, a professor and chair at LIU Post in New York, writing in Forbes magazine. “And they’re not touching the poverty and corruption that pushes people into the drug trade.”

“They’re killing democracy and innocent people, and in the process unsettling financial markets.”

– Panos Mourdoukoutas, LIU Post, writing in Forbes

Mourdoukoutas argues that Duterte and other “revolutionists” who’ve led the Philippines have neglected to remove stifling regulations that have inhibited economic growth and infrastructure development.

He says Duterte’s hard-line tactics could be having the opposite of their intended effect, by dividing the country and pushing it to the brink of civil war.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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‘A Wrinkle in Time’s’ diverse cast draws attention

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Ava DuVernay’s screen adaptation of “A Wrinkle in Time” won’t be in theaters until next March — but it’s already stirring up a stew of chatter on social media.

In Madeleine L’Engle’s classic 1962 teen science fantasy novel, a teenager named Meg travels in space with her brother and a friend to find her scientist father, who has disappeared while doing secret work for the government.

The Disney remake — the novel was previously adapted for the screen in 2003 — features Storm Reid in the role of Meg and includes Chris Pine, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling among its stars. 

While the vast majority of social media users praised the film’s diverse casting and celebrated that the movie features a female director, some users wondered if the casting was meant to push a political agenda. DuVernay has previously directed “Selma,” the civil rights drama, and “13th,” a documentary about African-Americans in the criminal justice system.

The Observer” noted DuVernay is taking some heat from haters on social media for “trying to make too much of a political point by casting African-American actors as characters that were assumed to be white (though the book doesn’t actually specify).”

In DuVernay’s version, Meg’s father (Pine) is white, her mom (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is black and the three celestial beings who help her “wrinkle” time and space are played by Witherspoon, Kaling and Winfrey.

And there’s nothing wrong with that, the director says.

“The first image [I had in my head] was to place a brown girl in that role of Meg, a girl traveling to different planets and encountering beings and situations that I’d never seen a girl of color in,” DuVernay, who is African-American, told Entertainment Weekly

“I was interested in… a heroine that looked like the girls I grew up with.”

DuVernay said she identified with some progressive ideas she found in L’Engle’s novel.

“She’s a very radical thinker and she embedded her sense of what society should and could be in this piece, and a lot of it I agree with.”

But does that mean her adaptation will adopt a political tone? Experts say we shouldn’t jump to any conclusions about what DuVernay’s final film will look like. 

Freelance journalist Orrin Konheim, who has written for “The American Conservative,” noted that many films, including “The Manchurian Candidate,” have been remade with African-American stars.

“Ava DuVernay’s casting choice seems like a non-issue,” he said. “I also think that it’s important not to let our politically polarized climate prevent directors from telling the stories they want to make, and DuVernay, like any other filmmaker, should have full support to make art how she sees fit.”

But, Kohheim added, “This does go double for the left… which as of late has been coupling their quest for gender, racial and sexual orientation inclusiveness with a certain intellectual exclusivity and a desire to limit or punish filmmakers who don’t conform to their new expectations. 

“While DuVernay is a person whose ideas and opinions command respect as a gifted filmmaker and leader in thought, it does seem reasonable to take any of DuVernay’s comments on race and film within the context of someone who is actively infusing political statements into her films and likely uses public comments as part of that same political mission.”

Russell Boast, vice president of the Casting Society of America and head of its inclusion and diversity committee, said he is thrilled about the diversity in DuVernay’s casting.

“The more we can celebrate diversity, the better,” he said.

“The original book that I read as a kid, I don’t recall race as being a plot point with these characters… and it’s so exciting to see filmmakers not making diversity the plot point, just saying, ‘This is a great story. It’s not about race… it’s just people,’ makes me super excited about how progressive that is….

“The haters,” he continued, “who are the traditionalists and will say, ‘But that’s not how it was written,’ I want to say, ‘But people are responding to more accurate representation of what the world looks like on the screen these days, and it’s not about the storyline as much as it used to be.’”

Radio host and film critic Michael Medved warned against judging “A Wrinkle in Time” prematurely.

“I’m not one of those people… who view the work of Madeleine L’Engle as being the equivalent of Scripture or Holy Writ,” Medved said. “This is a very revered novel… obviously there’s a fan base… that’s going to be very proprietary and protective about any aspect of the casting or the preparations or scripting from it.”

But the cast is impressive, Medved said, adding that “This is a very different film from ‘Selma’ and ‘13th’….

“I don’t think it’s fair to… go after a director with presumed propagandistic political intent before anyone’s seen this film.”

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‘A Wrinkle in Time’s’ diverse cast draws attention

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Ava DuVernay’s screen adaptation of “A Wrinkle in Time” won’t be in theaters until next March — but it’s already stirring up a stew of chatter on social media.

In Madeleine L’Engle’s classic 1962 teen science fantasy novel, a teenager named Meg travels in space with her brother and a friend to find her scientist father, who has disappeared while doing secret work for the government.

The Disney remake — the novel was previously adapted for the screen in 2003 — features Storm Reid in the role of Meg and includes Chris Pine, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling among its stars. 

While the vast majority of social media users praised the film’s diverse casting and celebrated that the movie features a female director, some users wondered if the casting was meant to push a political agenda. DuVernay has previously directed “Selma,” the civil rights drama, and “13th,” a documentary about African-Americans in the criminal justice system.

The Observer” noted DuVernay is taking some heat from haters on social media for “trying to make too much of a political point by casting African-American actors as characters that were assumed to be white (though the book doesn’t actually specify).”

In DuVernay’s version, Meg’s father (Pine) is white, her mom (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is black and the three celestial beings who help her “wrinkle” time and space are played by Witherspoon, Kaling and Winfrey.

And there’s nothing wrong with that, the director says.

“The first image [I had in my head] was to place a brown girl in that role of Meg, a girl traveling to different planets and encountering beings and situations that I’d never seen a girl of color in,” DuVernay, who is African-American, told Entertainment Weekly

“I was interested in… a heroine that looked like the girls I grew up with.”

DuVernay said she identified with some progressive ideas she found in L’Engle’s novel.

“She’s a very radical thinker and she embedded her sense of what society should and could be in this piece, and a lot of it I agree with.”

But does that mean her adaptation will adopt a political tone? Experts say we shouldn’t jump to any conclusions about what DuVernay’s final film will look like. 

Freelance journalist Orrin Konheim, who has written for “The American Conservative,” noted that many films, including “The Manchurian Candidate,” have been remade with African-American stars.

“Ava DuVernay’s casting choice seems like a non-issue,” he said. “I also think that it’s important not to let our politically polarized climate prevent directors from telling the stories they want to make, and DuVernay, like any other filmmaker, should have full support to make art how she sees fit.”

But, Kohheim added, “This does go double for the left… which as of late has been coupling their quest for gender, racial and sexual orientation inclusiveness with a certain intellectual exclusivity and a desire to limit or punish filmmakers who don’t conform to their new expectations. 

“While DuVernay is a person whose ideas and opinions command respect as a gifted filmmaker and leader in thought, it does seem reasonable to take any of DuVernay’s comments on race and film within the context of someone who is actively infusing political statements into her films and likely uses public comments as part of that same political mission.”

Russell Boast, vice president of the Casting Society of America and head of its inclusion and diversity committee, said he is thrilled about the diversity in DuVernay’s casting.

“The more we can celebrate diversity, the better,” he said.

“The original book that I read as a kid, I don’t recall race as being a plot point with these characters… and it’s so exciting to see filmmakers not making diversity the plot point, just saying, ‘This is a great story. It’s not about race… it’s just people,’ makes me super excited about how progressive that is….

“The haters,” he continued, “who are the traditionalists and will say, ‘But that’s not how it was written,’ I want to say, ‘But people are responding to more accurate representation of what the world looks like on the screen these days, and it’s not about the storyline as much as it used to be.’”

Radio host and film critic Michael Medved warned against judging “A Wrinkle in Time” prematurely.

“I’m not one of those people… who view the work of Madeleine L’Engle as being the equivalent of Scripture or Holy Writ,” Medved said. “This is a very revered novel… obviously there’s a fan base… that’s going to be very proprietary and protective about any aspect of the casting or the preparations or scripting from it.”

But the cast is impressive, Medved said, adding that “This is a very different film from ‘Selma’ and ‘13th’….

“I don’t think it’s fair to… go after a director with presumed propagandistic political intent before anyone’s seen this film.”

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Attention turns to freedom of Liu Xiaobo’s widow after Chinese dissident’s death

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BEIJING (Reuters) – Friends of China’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning dissident Liu Xiaobo, who died of liver cancer in custody, said on Friday they were unable to contact his widow, Liu Xia, and that ensuring her freedom was now a top priority.

Liu Xiaobo, 61, was jailed for 11 years in 2009 for “inciting subversion of state power” after he helped write a petition known as “Charter 08” calling for sweeping political reforms.

Liu Xia has been under effective house arrest since her husband won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 and was allowed to visit him in prison about once a month.

Liu Xiaobo died on Thursday after suffering multiple organ failure. He was recently moved from jail to a hospital in the city of Shenyang to be treated for late-stage liver cancer.

Liu Xia was at the hospital as her husband’s health deteriorated over the past couple of weeks.

Rights groups and Western governments have mourned Liu Xiaobo’s death and also called for authorities to grant his wife and the rest of his family freedom of movement.

China responded by lodging “stern representations” with countries that made remarks about Liu Xiaobo, including the United States, expressing its firm opposition, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular briefing.

China also lambasted Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen for her comments on Liu and her calls for China to embrace democracy, saying her behaviour was “very dangerous”.

Geng said he had no information about Liu Xia, but added that the entry and exit of Chinese citizens would be handled in accordance with the law.

“Let’s not make any prejudgements here,” he responded, when pressed on whether Liu Xia was allowed to leave the country. He did not elaborate.

Mo Shaoping, Liu Xiaobo’s lawyer, said there was no legal reason for China to prevent Liu Xia from leaving the country.

“But China is not a country with pure rule of law, so it is possible they will ignore the law and stop her from going,” he added.

In an interview, Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, said she shared the compassion of people over Liu’s death.

Hu Jia, a fellow dissident and family friend, said: “Now, we are most concerned about Liu Xia, but there has been no information about her.”

“All the willpower and force we put behind freeing Liu Xiaobo, we have turned to Liu Xia,” he said.

Efforts should also focus on Liu Hui, the younger brother of Liu Xia, who was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2013 for fraud and to whom Liu Xia is very close, Hu added.

Several other friends said they were unable to reach Liu Xia, who suffers from depression, or confirm her whereabouts.

FILE PHOTO – Liu Xia, the wife of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, talks to the media in Beijing February 11, 2010.Nir Elias/File Photo

Efforts are being made to secure permission from Chinese authorities for Liu Xia and Liu Hui to leave, a Western diplomat said, but it was unclear if they would succeed.

Diplomatic sources also said that, before her husband’s hospitalisation, Liu Xia had expressed a wish to go to Germany, in telephone calls with the German embassy.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee, which awards the Nobel Peace Prize, said it was “deeply worried” about Liu Xia’s situation.

Its leader, Berit Reiss-Andersen, said the Chinese embassy in Oslo had declined to receive her visa application for travel so she could attend Liu’s funeral.

“I was told that my visa application was incorrectly filled in … because I did not have an invitation from the person I was visiting,” Reiss-Andersen told Reuters.

The Shenyang justice department released a video clip of Liu Xiaobo’s treatment, emphasizing that his family had a history of liver cancer and that family members were involved in the treatment process and informed of developments.

Funeral Arrangements

Friends have begun calling to be allowed to join in Liu Xiaobo’s funeral arrangements and support his wife and family.

More than 150 friends and supporters have signed an open letter announcing plans for an “online memorial” to Liu, urging authorities to release his body and allow a public funeral.

“We will pay close attention to how Liu Xiaobo’s funeral will be arranged,” said Shanghai-based writer Wen Kejian, another friend of the family.

“We, at the very least, hope to have the opportunity to go to Shenyang or Beijing to send him off.”

Liu’s remains were taken to Shenyang’s Xiheyuan funeral parlour, a source close to the family said, but a Reuters reporter was turned away on Friday.

Shenyang authorities forced half-a-dozen supporters of Liu who went to pay their respects to leave, or detained them, said Beijing-based rights activist Li Yu, who is tracking the situation.

News of Liu’s death prompted an outpouring of grief online, with many liberals, lawyers, dissidents and journalists sharing articles and posting on messaging app WeChat.

But censors were swift to act. An article titled, “Speaking of heroes, who is a hero?” from respected business publication Caixin was taken down after being shared by many of Liu Xiaobo’s supporters, despite making no mention of him.

“The deceased has gone, the feigned sorrow is really preposterous,” the state-backed Global Times tabloid said in a social media post that appeared to mock mourners. “We will just eat watermelon and watch for the night.”

Ye Du, a writer and friend of Liu’s, said he hoped people would be able to commemorate Liu Xiaobo, adding, “Liu Xia will surely be monitored and controlled”.

Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard, Gwladys Fouche in OSLO, Joesph Campbell in SHENYANG, China and Fabian Hamacher and Damon Lin in TAIPEI; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel

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