Police nab dozens of suspected mobsters in global operation

At least 84 suspected members of Italian ‘Ndrangheta clan arrested in coordinated raids across Europe and South America.

    Police in Europe and in South America have arrested at least 84 suspected mobsters in a massive international crackdown targeting a powerful branch of Italy’s notorious mafia, officials said.

    Hundreds of officers took part in the coordinated operation on Wednesday in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Suriname against the ‘Ndrangheta clan, one of Italy’s three main organised crime groups. 

    Those arrested are suspected of drug trafficking, money laundering, bribery and violence, said Italian police and Eurojust, the European prosecution agency that tackles cross-border organised crime

    Police seized four tonnes of cocaine, 120 kilogrammes of ecstasy and around 2m euros ($2.3m) in cash from locations including Italian restaurants and ice cream parlours.

    “Today we have issued a clear message to criminal alliances across Europe, and they are not the only ones who can work across borders,” Filippo Spiezia, Eurojust deputy head, told a press conference in The Hague. 

    He said the “unprecedented and extraordinary result” targeted “dangerous members of the ‘Ndrangheta family deeply involved in drug trafficking and money laundering.”

    The crackdown on the powerful organised crime syndicate based in Calabria, southern Italy, came just a day after Italian police arrested the new boss of the Cosa Nostra Sicilian mafia and dozens of other suspects in a major operation.

    Wednesday’s raids were the culmination of an investigation codenamed “Pollino” that was launched in 2016 against the ‘Ndrangheta.

    ‘Decisive hit’

    The ‘Ndrangheta, which derives its meaning from the Greek word for heroism, is made up of numerous village and family-based clans in Calabria, the rural, mountainous and under-developed “toe” of Italy’s boot.

    Eurojust said Italian authorities arrested 41 suspects, mainly in the southern regions of Calabria and Catanzaro.

    In Germany, the operation focused on restaurants, offices and apartments, mainly in the states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Bavaria, with 21 suspects targeted. 

    German prosecutors said 65 premises linked to the southern Italy-based organised crime group were also being searched.

    Five suspects were arrested in the Netherlands, where Dutch prosecutors said the investigation began in 2014 after they noticed money laundering at two Italian restaurants in the south that showed criminal links with Germany and Calabria, home of the ‘Ndrangheta.

    The Belgian operations were concentrated on the Limburg area, home to many people of Italian descent who moved there after World War II to work in coal mines, Belgian prosecutors said.

    Two people were also arrested in Luxembourg, and one in Suriname. 

    Officials hailed Wednesday’s operation as a serious blow to the group.

    The European police agency Europol said it was a “decisive hit against one of the most powerful Italian criminal networks in the world”.

    Italian anti-mafia prosecutor Federico Cafiero De Raho said the operations would affect the ‘Ndrangheta’s drug trafficking operations around the world, including in Colombia, Ecuador, and Brazil.

    But he warned that it was “just a first step”, saying the arrests were “nothing for the ‘Ndrangheta, there are thousands of people who should be arrested and billions that should be seized”.

    On Tuesday, Italian police arrested new Cosa Nostra boss Settimino Mineo and dozens of other suspects in Sicily.

    Mineo, 80, was detained along with at least 45 others just before he was due to be appointed official heir to notorious mafia boss Toto Riina who died in prison last year.

    Special series

    A Very Sicilian Justice: Taking on the Mafia

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    Fans climb onto roofs to catch free view of Galatasaray's Turkish Cup clash

    The Super Lig giants were taking on the minnows in the nation's capital, Ankara, in the first-leg of their fifth-round Turkish Cup clash.

    With just 5,000 seats in the stadium, some supporters opted for a more daredevil approach as they climbed on the roofs of houses.

    Galatasaray came out triumphant in today's first-leg, winning 2-1.

    They will now turn their attention to the reverse leg at their 52,000-seater home – over ten times the size of today's venue – on December 18.

    Today's showdown in Ankara is a far cry from what Keciorengucu can expect in a fortnight's time.

    After all, 42,000 Galatasaray fans turned up to the ground with flares and banners… for a TRAINING SESSION.

    A record-breaking number of fans took in the team's training ahead of the fierce Istanbul derby against Besiktas on Sunday.

    Despite the incredible scenes – as the ground was engulfed in red smoke – the giants slipped to a 1-0 defeat away to their rivals.

    Galatasaray next take on Rizespor in the league, before their sixth and final Champions League group stage game against Porto at home on Tuesday, with qualification now impossible.

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    Guillermo del Toro’s Canon of Alternative Mexican Cinema Heads to Toronto — Full List

    As one third of the film world’s three amigos, Guillermo del Toro has been instrumental in earning Mexican cinema international acclaim. The Oscar-winning director of “The Shape of Water,” “Pan’s Labyrinth,” and “Cronos” partnered with Toronto International Film Festival programmer Diana Sanchez to bring a robust Mexican film retrospective to TIFF Bell Lightbox. Spanning six decades and including 25 films, Sui generis: An Alternative History of Mexican Cinema includes a number of rare and archival prints, and features introductions by special guests Arturo Ripstein and Paz Alicia Garciadiego.

    “The series not just explores some of the films that most influenced myself and the current generation of filmmakers working today in Mexico, but it also reflects the depth and the richness of my country’s cinema: genre, auteurist efforts, and independent film,” del Toro said in an official statement. “Many of the films we present are by filmmakers who are unafraid to play with themes, with social mores, with genre-bending stories. It speaks to a diversity and idiosyncrasy that is uniquely Mexican.”

    “We are thrilled to offer Toronto the opportunity to see — on the big screen — the calibre and diversity of works that have been produced in Mexico for decades, and that have clearly influenced the current generation of Mexican masters,” added Sanchez, TIFF’s International Programmer for Spain, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

    Sui generis: An Alternative History of Mexican Cinema will run from February 28 to April 6, 2019. Check out the full list of curated films below.

    “Angel of Fire”
    “Black Sheep”
    “El Compadre Mendoza”
    “El Grito, México 1968”
    “El Suavecito”
    “Like a Bride”
    “Los Caifanes”
    “Los Olvidados”
    “Love in the Time of Hysteria”
    “My Son, the Hero”
    “Poison for the Fairies”
    “The Bricklayers”
    “The Curse of the Doll People”
    “The Exterminating Angel”
    “The Passion of Berenice”
    “The Realm of Fortune”
    “The Shark Hunters”
    “The Skeleton of Mrs. Morales”
    “Woman of the Port”

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    Julia Roberts on ‘Ben is Back,’ ‘Homecoming’ spoilers and why she can’t eat gnocchi anymore

    Spoiler alert! Contains major details about the end of “Homecoming” Season 1 on Amazon Prime. 

    NEW YORK – You won’t see much of Julia Roberts’ famous megawatt smile in her latest on-screen outings. 

    In Peter Hedges’ drama “Ben is Back” (in theaters Friday in New York and Los Angeles, expands to additional cities through December), the Oscar-winning actress delivers one of her most moving performances yet as the solicitous Holly, whose son Ben (Lucas Hedges), a recovering opioid addict, shows up on their family’s doorstep on Christmas Eve and asks to spend the holiday together, despite her better judgment. 

    It’s a 180-degree turn from her role in Amazon Primes’s twisty, 10-episode “Homecoming” (now streaming) as the reticent and at times terrifying Heidi Bergman, who is hired as the lead administrator of a mysterious operation for returning veterans. But when she learns the government-sponsored Homecoming program’s true intentions – to wipe soldiers’ traumatic memories using experimental drugs and redeploy them – she rebels by administering the medication on herself and her favorite patient Walter Cruz (Stephan James), who becomes unresponsive and returns home after she gives him an overdose. 

    Roberts, 51, chats with USA TODAY about both projects. 

    Question: What drew you to “Ben is Back,” reading the script for the first time? 

    Julia Roberts: Peter did an incredible thing in (tackling) something that’s so big and prevalent (such as addiction) and writing about it in a way that’s so contained and fragile and complex and humanizing. 

    Q: Is there an aspect of parenting or addiction that you think this film really gets right? 

    Roberts: That you just cannot know what people are truly going through. As a parent, I say that to my children very often. Just as an observation, they’ll say, “Oh, this person behaves this way,” so we try to have those family conversations where you say, “You just don’t know (why). That might be the result of something really sad or a real insecurity.” So I sat in a place of constant nonjudgment of what Holly or Ben, for that matter, were doing for a lot of the film. 

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    Before He Was President, George HW Bush Was The Man Who Fixed The CIA

    Before George H.W. Bush found himself seated in the Oval Office, he was appointed by former President Gerald Ford to be director of the then scandal-clad CIA.

    As reported by the Daily Beast, it wasn’t exactly Bush’s first choice, given that he had been on the shortlist to be Ford’s vice-president. The climate at the agency at the time didn’t appeal to Bush either, and he felt that Ford was trying to kill his political career with the unexpected appointment.

    At the time, the CIA was caught up in a major scandal after an expose was posted in the New York Times by Seymour Hersch, in which it was shared that the agency had been spying on anti-war groups within its own borders. That expose was written just 13 months before Bush took the reigns. The internal surveillance hit the agency hard when it became public knowledge, and their popularity was in the gutter.

    But when Bush took over, the entire attitude inside the agency changed. John McLaughlin, who regularly briefed the director on communist groups forming in Europe, remembers that Bush was “extremely gracious” every time they spoke.

    “Every time you briefed him, you got a personal note thanking you.”

    During his tenure there, Bush came to love working as the CIA Director. For his 52nd birthday, the “masters of disguise” at the agency’s Office of Science and Technology dressed him up in disguise for a meeting. He was transformed into a man with red hair, thick glasses, and a big nose, and only blew his cover when he muttered “I’m sweating under this thing” in the meeting.

    Duane Clarridge, who served as the chief of Arab operations for the agency’s directorate of operations under Bush, expressed before his passing how much respect Bush had from the spies who worked within the agency.

    “He was very much of the view, ‘let the troops do their jobs.’ He was there to support them. He was very people-oriented.”

    Clarridge in particular remembered the incident in which the U.S. Embassy in Beirut had to be evacuated under dangerous circumstances. Instead of heading to the White House to brief Ford on the unfolding situation, Bush stayed at the CIA’s Headquarters where he could monitor the extraction from start to finish.

    Bush also ruffled feathers among senior leaders in the CIA, eventually firing some of them. And as is customary for people in high ranking government agencies, he was also forced to make some controversial decisions during his time as director, one of which would have been his decision to approve an in-depth analysis of the Soviet Union’s military capabilities, at that time still during the Cold War.

    Ironically, his own son, George W. Bush, who would later serve two terms in the White House, was inherently suspicious of the CIA throughout his eight years as president.

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    More radio stations ban ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’ amid #MeToo controversy

    Across the country, radio stations and their listeners continue to debate what should be done about the 1944 Christmas song “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” 

    The tune made headlines this holiday season when Cleveland radio station WDOK announced it would cease playing the song after some listeners complained its lyrics hadn’t aged well amid the #MeToo movement.

    Now radio stations all around the United States are beginning to follow suit, with mixed reactions from listeners. 

    A station in San Francisco, 96.5 KOIT, banned “Baby It’s Cold Outside” on Monday, citing the Cleveland station’s decision as well as feedback from its own listeners. However, the decision was met with uproar, and now the station is allowing listeners to vote on the fate of the song via a poll on its website through Dec. 10.

    According to 96.5 KOIT’s website, the ban was met with “hundreds of comments on social media and via email demanding that ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’ be placed back to the Christmas Playlist.”

    Meanwhile, KOSI 101.1 in Colorado, marketed as “Denver’s Holiday Station,” originally pulled the song due to listener complaints but has since reversed its decision. According to a press release from the station Tuesday, a poll with over 15,000 responses found listeners to be overwhelmingly in support of the song. 

    “Respondents voted 95 percent in favor of us keeping the song as part of KOSI 101.1’s tradition of playing all of your holiday favorites,” Program Director Jim Lawson said in the release. “While we are sensitive to those who may be upset by some of the lyrics, the majority of our listeners have expressed their interpretation of the song to be non-offensive.” 

    A former Atlanta radio program director noted this is not an entirely new concept. His station, as well as others, “pulled this song 5+ years ago for the same reason.”

    “We didn’t turn it into public debate, or turn it into a ratings stunt,” Tony Lorino wrote in a Facebook post. “We just knew it was the right thing to do for the audience we served and quietly removed the song from the playlist. (And, we never got complaints for *not* playing it, either; we had plenty of other great Christmas songs to play, after all.)”

    The debate also reached Canada, where multiple radio broadcasters have pulled the song from their holiday lineups.

    Nicola Makoway, a representative for CBC Radio, told The Toronto Star that the song would be officially removed Tuesday at midnight with “no plans to play it going forward.” 

    Meanwhile in Cleveland where the controversy began, WDOK said a poll on its website showed a majority of listeners supported the ban when the decision to retire the song was made.

    A poll on the WDOK Facebook page now shows overwhelming support to bring the song back.

    “When the song was written in 1944, it was a different time, but now while reading it, it seems very manipulative and wrong,” wrote Glenn Anderson, one of the station’s hosts, in a post on the WDOK website. “The world we live in is extra sensitive now, and people get easily offended, but in a world where #MeToo has finally given women the voice they deserve, the song has no place.”

    Those against the song say it promotes date rape, describing a man pressuring a woman to stay despite her adamantly telling him “no, no, no.” Other lyrics like “say, what’s in this drink?” have also raised eyebrows.

    Supporters of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” argue that context is important. When the song was written over 70 years ago, unmarried women would be ostracized for spending the night alone with a man, which made it important to appear as though it was solely the man’s idea. Hence lyrics like “my mother will start to worry” and “the neighbors might think…”

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    America's Next Top Model contestant Jael Strauss dies at 35 after breast cancer battle

    Veteran American’s Next Top Model contestant Jael Strauss has died at the age of 35 after a brief battle with breast cancer.

    Strauss appeared on the programme in 2007 and two months ago, she was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. After deciding to end her treatment, she entered hospice care last month and her family was with her until her last moments.

    Throughout her battle, she had been keeping followers up to date on social media, including that there were “so many things I never knew about life – or death” during her first night in hospice.

    Last month, she publicly shared her diagnosis, writing on Facebook, “I was going to write some long thing but some of you guys deserve to know, On October 2nd I was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer. It has aggressively spread throughout my body and is incurable.’

    “With treatment it may prolong my life longer than the ‘few months’ doctors said I could make it. I don’t want to die. I need another one of those miracles that I got back in 2013.”

    After her time on the show, she battled an addiction to crystal meth which left her homeless, during which time she appeared on the Dr Phil show, which she later said she felt “exploited” by.

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    Bulgaria will shun U.N. migration pact

    SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria will not join a United Nations accord on regulating the treatment of migrants worldwide and would not attend the conference marking its formal adoption in Morocco next week, its centre-right government decided on Wednesday.

    The Black Sea state’s government said it would also abstain in a subsequent vote on a resolution in the U.N. General Assembly to endorse the already adopted pact in a move that highlights how Europe has turned colder on accepting foreigners.

    At least five other EU countries, including Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia, have already shunned the accord – a sign of how the bloc has turned increasingly restrictive on accepting refugees and migrants alike since a 2015 spike in arrivals.

    “At this stage, the Bulgarian government believes that the decision not to join the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, protects to the fullest extent the interests of the country and its citizens,” it said.

    The pact, which addresses issues such as how to protect people who migrate, how to integrate them into new countries and how to return them to their home countries, was approved in July by all 193 member nations except the United States, which backed out last year.

    It followed the biggest influx of migrants into Europe since World War Two, many fleeing conflicts in the Middle East and beyond.

    The issue has led to a government crisis in Belgium, Austria has said it will not sign up and opposition from Italy’s prominent interior minister, the right-wing Matteo Salvini, has thrown Rome’s support into doubt.

    In the Netherlands, a recent opinion poll showed 41 percent of people against signing the pact versus 34 percent in favor. Outside of the EU, Australia has also quit.

    Bulgaria, a Balkan country with a population of 7 million, lies on one of the main migratory routes from the Middle East to western Europe, says it is already taking steps to stop illegal migration and protect the EU’s external borders.

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    Kate Middleton Talks 'Sugar Highs' with Troops and Prince William Shares George's Sweet Request

    Kate Middleton and Prince William may have made things a little too sweet for military families.

    Meeting the troops in Cyprus on Wednesday, the royal parents talked with Royal Air Force service members, including some whose children attended a party at Kensington Palace on Tuesday.

    “Did we meet any of your families yesterday?” Kate asked a small circle of service men and women. “I hope they enjoyed it. It was very kiddie-friendly. I think some of the grandparents felt slightly bombarded.”

    Kate added that the children “had a lot of sweets by the end of the day. We felt quite responsible.The sugar highs … there were a lot of marshmallows. Did they get back [home] okay?”

    She also noted the sacrifices the troops were making during the holidays. “Some of the children really understood what their mums and dads are doing and missed you all,” she said. “I’m sorry that we couldn’t bring your families with us for Christmas.”

    Speaking to a second group, she disclosed she had tried to show her older children, 5-year-old Prince George and 3-year-old Princess Charlotte, the festive treats laid out for military families at Kensington Palace when they arrived home from school and nursery yesterday afternoon — but they were too late.

    “We took the children down to where the party was but everything was gone,” she said. “They were so disappointed!”

    Still, George was already looking forward to something else, William shared with a group of pilots.

    “I told George this morning we were going to see the pilots today, and he said, ‘If you see a helicopter, can you take a picture?’”

    The couple handed out gifts for personnel and later enjoyed tea and cakes with families living in the Cyprus military bases, asking children their names and ages and quizzing adults about life there.

    “Are any of you football fans?” William asked at one point. After a look from his wife, he conceded: “I’m sorry!”

    “You’re not going to find an Aston Villa fan everywhere,” an amused Kate chided him before William declared, “I’ve found one already, actually.”

    Kate also made time for some more serious conversation, sharing some of her research into early childhood development and the importance of mental health.

    “Is mental health something you guys are interested in as part of your work?” she asked.

    “Some of the stuff we have learned has shown that everyone should have some sort of basic mental health training,” she said.

    “I really want to get mental health training as part of teacher training, not just for the sake of the teachers themselves but for the children too.”

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