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US House passes bill that could ban TikTok nationwide

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The US House of Representatives has overwhelmingly passed a bill that would give TikTok’s Chinese owner ByteDance about six months to divest the US assets of the short-video app, or face a ban, in the greatest threat to the app since the Trump administration.

The bill passed 352-65 on Wednesday (local time), with bipartisan support, but it faces a more uncertain path in the Senate where some favour a different approach to regulating foreign-owned apps posing security concerns. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the Senate will review the legislation.

The fate of TikTok, used by about 170 million Americans, has become a major issue in Washington.

Lawmakers said their offices had received large volumes of calls from teenage TikTok users who oppose the legislation, with the volume of complaints at times exceeding the number of calls seeking a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

“This process was secret and the bill was jammed through for one reason: it’s a ban,” a TikTok spokesperson said after the vote, adding that they hoped the Senate will “consider the facts, listen to their constituents”, when considering the bill.

The measure is the latest in a series of moves in Washington to respond to US national security concerns about China, from connected vehicles to advanced artificial intelligence chips to cranes at US ports.

“This is a critical national security issue. The Senate must take this up and pass it,” No 2 House Republican Steve Scalise said on social media platform X.

Senate Commerce Committee chair Maria Cantwell, who will play an important role in the Senate’s next move, said she wanted legislation “that could hold up in court,” and was considering a separate bill, but was not sure what her next step would be.

The vote comes just over a week since the bill was proposed following one public hearing with little debate, and after action in Congress had stalled for more than a year. Last month, President Joe Biden’s re-election campaign joined TikTok, raising hopes among TikTok officials that legislation was unlikely this year.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee last week voted 50-0 in favour of the bill, setting it up for a vote before the full House.

TikTok CEO heads to Washington

TikTok chief executive Shou Zi Chew will visit Capitol Hill on Wednesday (US time) on a previously scheduled trip to talk to senators, a source briefed on the matter said, amid popular support for the app.

Several dozen TikTok users rallied outside the Capitol before the vote. The company paid for their travel to Washington and accommodation, a TikTok spokesperson said.

The group included Mona Swain, 23, who said she had joined TikTok in 2019, during her freshman year at college pursuing musical theatre. Now a full-time content creator, she said she was paying her mother’s mortgage and for her brother and sister’s college educations with her earnings from the app.

“It’s gonna put a lot of people out of work, which is the scariest part,” Swain said. “We live in a time where the majority of people my age are barely getting by day-to-day. And to be put out of work at such a crazy time in my life and just in a lot of other creators’ lives, it’s really, really scary right now.”

But the political climate is in favour of the bill. Biden said last week he would sign it and White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Tuesday said the goal was ending Chinese ownership, not banning TikTok.

“Do we want TikTok, as a platform, to be owned by an American company or owned by China? Do we want the data from TikTok – children’s data, adults’ data – to be going, to be staying here in America or going to China?” he said.

It is unclear whether China would approve any sale or if TikTok’s US assets could be divested in six months.

If ByteDance failed to do so, app stores operated by Apple , Alphabet’s Google and others could not legally offer TikTok or provide web hosting services to ByteDance-controlled applications.

In 2020, then-President Donald Trump sought to ban TikTok and Chinese-owned WeChat but was blocked by the courts. In recent days he had raised concerns about a ban. It remains unclear if Tencent’s WeChat or other high-profile Chinese-owned apps could face a ban under the legislation.

Any forced TikTok divestment from the US would almost certainly face legal challenges, which the company would need to file within 165 days of the bill being signed by the president.

There are still potential legal issues with the American Civil Liberties Union and other advocacy groups arguing the bill is unconstitutional on free speech and other grounds.

In November, a US judge blocked a Montana state ban on TikTok use after the company sued.

Source:Reuters and RNZ

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World

Three men rescued off island due to beach ‘HELP’ sign

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Three men were rescued by the US Coast Guard off an island in Micronesia after they sent out a plea for “HELP” using palm tree leaves.

They spelled out “HELP” with the leaves, which led to the rescue nine days after they left on a sailing trip.

They had been reported missing after failing to return from a journey to Pikelot Atoll – an uninhabited coral island about 415 miles (667km) from Guam.

It is the second time in four years people were rescued from the island.

The Coast Guard said in a statement that the three experienced mariners, all unnamed men in their 40s, had embarked on their sailing trip from Polowat Atoll – an island that is a part of the Federated States of Micronesia.

They departed on Easter Sunday for Pikelot Atoll, about 115 miles (185km) away, in a traditional 20-foot skiff with an outboard motor, the Coast Guard added.

After failing to return, a relative of the men alerted the Coast Guard’s Joint Rescue Sub-Center in Guam that her three uncles were missing, sparking a search and rescue mission.

First responders were initially searching an area that was more than 78,000 square nautical miles in poor weather conditions. But then they spotted the men from the air – thanks to the makeshift “HELP” sign.

“In a remarkable testament to their will to be found, the mariners spelled out ‘HELP’ on the beach using palm leaves, a crucial factor in their discovery,” said Lieutenant Chelsea Garcia, who led the search and rescue mission the day they were located.

“This act of ingenuity was pivotal in guiding rescue efforts directly to their location,” she said.

Coast Guard personnel then airdropped survival packages and a radio to the men while a US Coast Guard vessel made its way to the island.

The mariners later radioed back and said they were in good health and had access to food and water, the US Coast Guard said.

They also had recovered their skiff, which sustained damage that rendered it non-functional, and said they needed help getting back to Polowat.

After departing on their voyage on 31 March, the sailors were officially rescued off the island on 9 April.

The US Coast Guard said the rescue is an example of the strong coordination between the US and the Federal States of Micronesia, as well as US Navy personnel who are stationed in the area.

Micronesia, in the western Pacific, consists of some 600 tiny islands scattered over a vast ocean expanse.

“Every life saved, and every mariner returned home is a testament to the enduring partnership and mutual respect that characterizes our relationship,” said Lieutenant Commodore Christine Igisomar, who was also part of the search and rescue mission.

Though uninhabited, Pikelot Atoll is often temporarily visited by hunters and fishermen. It has also been the site of another rescue in recent years.

In 2020, three Micronesian mariners were saved – by the Australian Defence Force – after spelling out “SOS” on the beach.

Source: BBC and RNZ

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OJ Simpson, NFL star acquitted in ‘trial of the century’, dies aged 76

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OJ Simpson, the former American footballer who was controversially cleared of double murder, has died aged 76.

Orenthal James Simpson rose to fame as a college footballer before playing in the NFL.

In 1995, he was acquitted of the murder of his former wife Nicole Brown and a friend in a trial that gripped America.

In 2008, he was sentenced to 33 years’ imprisonment on charges of armed robbery. He was released in 2017.

Simpson died of cancer on Wednesday “surrounded by his children and grandchildren”, a family statement read.

In 1994, Simpson was arrested as a suspect in the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ron Goldman.

The pair were found stabbed to death outside Brown’s home in Los Angeles, and Simpson was an immediate person of interest in the case.

On the day he was due to turn himself in, Simpson fled in his white Ford Bronco with a former teammate, and led the police on a slow-speed chase through the Los Angeles area.

That chase engrossed audiences in both the United States and abroad as it was broadcast live on “rolling” 24-hour news channels that were still in their relative infancy.

In the ensuing court case, dubbed the “trial of the century” by US media, prosecutors argued Simpson had killed Brown in a jealous fury. Evidence included blood, hair and fibre tests linking Simpson to the murders.

The defence argued Simpson was framed by police who were motivated by racism.

In one of the trial’s most memorable moments, prosecutors asked Simpson to wear a pair of blood-stained gloves allegedly found at the scene of the murder, but Simpson struggled to put them on. It led to one of Simpson’s lawyers, Johnnie Cochrane, telling the jury in his closing arguments: “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”

The jury ultimately sided with Simpson, who declared he was “absolutely 100 percent not guilty”. The acquittal proved hugely controversial.

The families of Smith and Goldman did not give up – they pursued a civil case against Simpson in 1997 where a jury found Simpson liable for the two deaths. He was ordered to pay US$33.5m (NZ$57m) in damages to their families.

In 2006, Simpson sold a book manuscript, titled “If I Did It”, and a prospective TV interview, giving a “hypothetical” account of the murders he had always strenuously denied.

Public objections ended both projects, but Goldman’s family secured the book rights, added material imputing guilt to Simpson and had it published.

Simpson’s final disgrace came in 2008, when he was convicted of armed robbery for breaking into a Las Vegas hotel room with four accomplices, holding two sports memorabilia dealers at gunpoint and stealing items related to his NFL career.

He was sentenced to 33 years in jail, but was granted parole after serving the minimum of nine years.

Before his legal problems, Simpson was well-liked, known as an athlete, actor and the face of several major companies.

He was a college football star at University of Southern California before signing with the Buffalo Bills in 1969, where he played until 1977.

He became one of the greatest ball carriers in NFL history. In 1973, he was the first NFL player to “rush” – running to advance the ball for his team – more than 2000 yards in a season.

He retired in 1979 to concentrate on a career in film and television. His credits include roles in the Towering Inferno, Capricorn One and the Naked Gun series.

Initial public reaction to his death ranged from muted to hostile.

In a statement, the Pro Football Hall of Fame outlined Simpson’s achievements as an NFL player, and said records of those contributions would be preserved in its archive.

Fred Goldman, Ronald’s father, described Simpson’s death as “no great loss”.

“The only thing I have to say is it’s just further reminder of Ron being gone all these years,” he told the NBC News network. “It’s no great loss to the world. It’s a further reminder of Ron’s being gone.”

Source: BBC and RNZ

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World

Former Fiji leader Frank Bainimarama, suspended police chief avoid jail in corruption case

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Frank Bainimarama was given an absolute discharge in a packed Suva’s Magistrates Court on Thursday after last week being convicted of perverting the course of justice.

An absolute discharge is the lowest-level sentence that an offender can get. It means no conviction is registered against Bainimarama.

State broadcaster FBC reports, Magistrate Seini Puamau considered Bainimarama’s health.

The 69-year-old was sentenced alongside suspended police chief Sitiveni Qiliho, who was given a FJ$1500 fine without conviction as well.

The absolute discharge and a fine without conviction was given despite the prosecutors last week urging Magistrate Puamau to order immediate custodial sentences towards the high end of the tariff for both men – which would be no less than five years in jail for Bainimarama and 10 years for Qiliho.

Source : RNZ

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