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WORLD NEWS FEB.9-Russian rejection; N. Koreans arrive; Asian share prices fall; more

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's younger sister Kim Yo Jong, center, arrives at the Jinbu train station in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Friday, Feb. 9, 2018. In a stunning turn of events, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's younger sister arrived in South Korea on Friday to be her brother's special envoy to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. ©Lee Jin-man
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's younger sister Kim Yo Jong, center, arrives at the Jinbu train station in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Friday, Feb. 9, 2018. In a stunning turn of events, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's younger sister arrived in South Korea on Friday to be her brother's special envoy to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. ©Lee Jin-man - Associated Press

Court rejects appeals by 47 Russians against Olympic bans

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) - Sports' highest court rejected appeals by all 45 Russian athletes plus two coaches who were banned from the Pyeongchang Olympics over doping concerns in a decision announced Friday less than nine hours before the opening ceremony.

The International Olympic Committee had refused to invite the group of Russians, saying it had evidence of alleged doping in Russian sports.

After two days of hearings, the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that the IOC has the right to set its own standards for who is eligible.

CAS Secretary General Matthieu Reeb, reading from a statement and declining to take questions, said the IOC process “could not be described as a sanction but rather as an eligibility decision.”

“The CAS panel found that the applicants did not demonstrate that the manner in which the two special commissions - the Invitation Review Panel and the Olympic Athlete from Russia Implementation Group - independently evaluated the applicants was carried out in a discriminatory, arbitrary or unfair manner. The Panel also concluded that there was no evidence the (commissions) improperly exercised their discretion.”  TO READ THE COMPLETE STORY, PLEASE CLICK/TAP HERE

N. Korea delegation led by Kim's sister arrives for Olympics

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - The plane carrying a high-level North Korean government delegation including leader Kim Jong Un's sister has arrived in South Korea to attend the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

Kim Yo Jong will be the first member of North Korea's ruling family to set foot in the South since the 1950-53 Korean War.

The North Korean officials during their three-day visit beginning Friday will meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who's trying to use the Olympics as an opportunity to pull North Korea into meaningful talks over its nuclear program.

Analysts say the North's decision to send her to the Olympics shows its ambition to break out from diplomatic isolation by improving relations with the South, which it could use as a bridge for approaching the United States.  TO READ THE COMPLETE STORY, PLEASE CLICK/TAP HERE

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Asian shares fall after Wall Street plunge

BEIJING (AP) - China's stock market benchmark plunged 5.5 per cent on Friday and other Asian markets were off sharply after the Dow Jones industrials on Wall Street plummeted more than 1,000 points, deepening a week-long sell-off.

Asian markets followed Wall Street down after the Dow entered “correction” territory for the first time in two years.

The Shanghai Composite Index dipped 5.5 per cent but recovered slightly to end morning trading down 4.1 per cent at 3,127.91. Tokyo's Nikkei 225 was off 3.2 per cent at 21,180.28 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 4.2 per cent to 29,142.87. Benchmarks in Australia, South Korea and Southeast Asia also retreated.

Financial analysts regard corrections as a normal market event but say the latest plunge might have been triggered by a combination of events that rattled investors. Those include worries about a potential rise in U.S. inflation or interest rates and whether budget disputes in Washington might lead to another government shutdown.

“Markets are down again today, maybe unnerved by fears that the U.S. Senate will not pass a budget bill in time to avoid a U.S. government shutdown,” said Rob Carnell of ING in a report. “With financial markets vulnerable at the moment, this was not great timing for such political brinksmanship.”  TO READ THE COMPLETE STORY, PLEASE CLICK/TAP HERE

Senate stumbles into shutdown, as Rand Paul blocks vote

WASHINGTON (AP) - The government stumbled into a midnight shutdown Thursday as a rogue Senate Republican blocked a speedy vote on a massive, bipartisan, budget-busting spending deal, protesting the return of trillion-dollar deficits on the watch of Republicans controlling Washington.

A shutdown - technically a lapse in agency appropriations - became inevitable as GOP Sen. Rand Paul repeatedly held up votes on the budget plan, which is married to a six-week government-wide spending measure. The Senate recessed around 11 p.m. with plans to reconvene just after midnight.

Paul was seeking a vote on reversing spending increases and refused to speed things up when he was denied.

“I ran for office because I was very critical of President Obama's trillion-dollar deficits,” the Kentucky senator said. “Now we have Republicans hand in hand with Democrats offering us trillion-dollar deficits. I can't in all honesty look the other way.”

While the government's authority to spend some money would expire at midnight, there weren't likely to be many clear immediate effects. Essential personnel would remain on the job regardless, and it appeared possible - if not likely - that the measure could pass both the Senate and House before most federal employees were due to report for work.

Used to scuffles, Rand Paul takes on Senate, risks shutdown

WASHINGTON (AP) - The last time Sen. Rand Paul was in the news for a scuffle, it involved a neighbour who allegedly tackled him in his yard over a lawn dispute. Thursday night, the Kentucky Republican took on the entire U.S. Senate - and rather than fisticuffs, his weapons of choice were obstinacy and the chamber's weird rules.

With the clock ticking toward a midnight government shutdown, the 55-year-old lawmaker, ophthalmologist and veteran Senate pest made himself the sole obstacle to his chamber's quick passage of legislation keeping federal agencies open.

The measure - which would shower the Pentagon and domestic programs with around $400 billion in new spending - was destined for overwhelming Senate approval, no matter what Paul did.

But the libertarian, failed 2016 GOP presidential contender and “wacko bird” - a moniker an angry Sen. John McCain gave him years ago - said “I object” when Senate leaders tried speeding a vote on the measure. Under the chamber's rules, senators were looking at likely votes on the massive legislation beginning at 1 a.m. Friday.

“I didn't come up here to be part of somebody's club. I didn't come up here to be liked,” said Paul, whose actions during a seven-year Senate career make it likely that many colleagues would silently answer, “Mission accomplished.”

Trump aims to reduce drug costs under Medicare

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Donald Trump will propose lowering prescription drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries by allowing them to share in rebates that drug companies pay to insurers and middlemen, an administration official said Thursday.

A senior administration official outlined the plan on condition of anonymity ahead of the release of Trump's 2019 budget plan next week.

Pharmaceutical companies now pay rebates to insurers and pharmacy benefit managers to help their medications gain a bigger slice of the market.

Insurers apply savings from rebates to keep premiums more manageable.

Under Trump's proposal, seniors covered by Medicare's popular “Part D” prescription benefit would be able to share in the rebates for individual drugs that they purchase at the pharmacy.

Kelly in harsh spotlight after senior aide's resignation

WASHINGTON (AP) - Pressure mounted on White House chief of staff John Kelly Thursday as questions swirled about his defence of a senior aide he fought to keep in a highly sensitive West Wing job despite accusations of spousal abuse from two ex-wives.

White House staff secretary Rob Porter, a member of President Donald Trump's inner circle and arguably Kelly's closest aide, cleaned out his desk on Thursday. But the aftershocks of his resignation reverberated amid concerns about his access to classified information.

Kelly himself faced criticism for initially defending his aide - only to later shift course after the publication of photos showing one of Porter's ex-wives with a black eye.

“It's fair to say we all could have done better over the last few hours or last few days in dealing with this situation,” said White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah, who faced a barrage of questions about Kelly during a press briefing.

Though the allegations against Porter became public this week, Kelly learned last fall that something was amiss with the staff secretary's attempts to get a security clearance, according to an administration official who insisted on anonymity to discuss internal matters.

Syrian forces capture 2 members of Islamic State 'Beatles'

WASHINGTON (AP) - The American-backed Syrian Democratic Forces captured two notorious British members of an Islamic State insurgent cell commonly dubbed “The Beatles” and known for beheading hostages, U.S. military officials said Thursday.

Air Force Col. John Thomas said that El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Amon Kotey were captured in early January in eastern Syria. The two men are among four members of the IS cell that captured, tortured and beheaded more than two dozen hostages including American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and American aid worker Peter Kassig.

The State Department has imposed sanctions on both men. They are believed to be linked to the British terrorist known as Jihadi John, the masked IS militant who appeared in several videos depicting the graphic beheadings of Western hostages.

Thomas, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, said American officials have been able to interrogate the two detainees. And he characterized their capture as “certainly a big deal for America” as well as the families of the people the two men killed.

While the SDF discovered the two and captured them, the U.S. helped with biometric data and other tools to accurately identify them.

Low-key prosecutor escapes GOP fury as Trump winds whirl

WASHINGTON (AP) - When President Donald Trump fired the acting attorney general last year for refusing to defend his controversial travel ban, Dana Boente stepped into the job.

When Trump abruptly ousted dozens of Obama-era federal prosecutors, Boente was tasked with letting them know.

And when Republicans released a politically explosive memo last week on the monitoring of a Trump campaign adviser, Boente was revealed as one of the officials who signed off on the surveillance.

The unassuming career federal prosecutor keeps finding himself in the middle of Trump's political storms. But while some relatively obscure Justice Department veterans have sparked Republican rage for their roles in high-profile investigations, Boente has thus far emerged largely unscathed.

In fact, his profile continues to rise. FBI Director Christopher Wray recently chose him as general counsel, plunging him into the bureau's inner machinations during an especially tumultuous time.

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EXPANDED COVERAGE OF BRIEF STORIES ABOVE

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Asian shares plunge after major US index enters correction

By Joe McDonald

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

BEIJING - Asian stocks plunged Friday after Dow Jones industrials on Wall Street plummeted more than 1,000 points, deepening a week-long sell-off.

Asian markets followed U.S. stocks down after the Dow, coming off a record high, entered a correction - or a 10 per cent decline from its latest peak - for the first time in two years.

The Shanghai Composite Index was off 4.5 per cent at 3,114.91 after tumbling 5.5 per cent at mid-morning. Tokyo's Nikkei 225 was off 2.7 per cent at 21,295.38 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng retreated 3.4 per cent to 29,142.87.

Financial analysts regard corrections as a normal market event but say the unusually abrupt plunge might have been triggered by a combination of events that rattled investors. Those include worries about a potential rise in U.S. inflation or interest rates and whether budget disputes in Washington might lead to another government shutdown.

“Markets are down again today, maybe unnerved by fears that the U.S. Senate will not pass a budget bill in time to avoid a U.S. government shutdown,” said Rob Carnell of ING in a report. “With financial markets vulnerable at the moment, this was not great timing for such political brinksmanship.”

Chinese markets fell despite unexpected strongly trade data Thursday.

Elsewhere in Asia, Seoul's Kospi fell 1.6 per cent to 2,370.34 points and Sydney's S&P-ASX 200 lost 0.9 per cent to 5,837.10. India's Sensex retreated 1.4 per cent to 33,917.83 and benchmarks in New Zealand, Taiwan and Southeast Asia also fell.  TO GO BACK TO BRIEFS STORY COLLECTION ABOVE, PLEASE CLICK/TAP HERE

In Europe, markets were unnerved Thursday by the Bank of England's indication that it could raise its key interest rate in coming months due to stronger global economic growth. Germany's DAX lost 2.6 per cent while France's CAC 40 ended down 2 per cent. Britain's FTSE 100 fell 1.5 per cent.

U.S. stocks started to tumble last week after the Labor Department said workers' wages grew at a fast rate in January.

Investors worried rising wages will hurt corporate profits and could signal an increase in inflation that could prompt the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates at a faster pace, putting a brake on the economy.

On Wall Street, many companies that rose the most over the last year have borne the brunt of the selling. Facebook and Boeing have both fallen sharply.

The Dow lost 1,032.89 points, or 4.1 per cent, to 23,860.46. Boeing, Goldman Sachs and Home Depot took some of the worst losses.

The Standard & Poor's 500, the benchmark for many index funds, shed 100.66 points, or 3.8 per cent, to 2,581. Even after this week's losses, the S&P 500 index is up 12.5 per cent over the past year. The Nasdaq composite fell 274.82 points, or 3.9 per cent, to 6,777.16.

The market, currently in its second-longest bull run of all time, had not seen a correction for two years, an unusually long time. Many market watchers have predicted a pullback for some time, saying stock prices have become too expensive relative to company earnings.

“We may have seen the worst, but it's too early to say for sure. However, our view remains that it's just another correction,” said Shane Oliver of AMP Capital in a report.

Corrections of up to 15 per cent “are normal,” said Oliver.

“In the absence of recession, a deep bear market is unlikely,” he said.

Stocks are not falling because investors have doubts about the economy. Employers are hiring at a healthy pace, with unemployment at a 17-year low of 4.1 per cent. The housing industry is solid. Manufacturing is rebounding. Households and businesses are spending freely. Personal debt has lightened since the financial crisis a decade ago. And major economies around the world are growing in tandem for the first time since the Great Recession.

Economies around the world are strengthening and corporate profits are on the rise. That combination usually carries stocks higher. But stock prices climbed faster than profits in recent years. Many investors justified that by pointing out that interest rates were low and few alternatives looked like better investments. Fast rising interest rates would make that argument much less persuasive.

In currency markets, the dollar edged up to 108.84 yen from Thursday's 108.73 yen. The euro held steady at $1.2248.

Benchmark U.S. crude lost 66 cents to $60.49 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It fell 64 cents the previous session to $61.15.

Brent crude, used to price international oils, lost 47 cents to $64.34 in London. It retreated $70 cents on Thursday to $68.81.

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