Dominique Strauss-Kahn to stand trial for pimping, French prosecutors say

Former IMF chief charged with aggravated pimping in connection with alleged prostitution ring at Carlton hotel in Lille

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund, is to go on trial on charges of pimping in connection with an alleged prostitution ring at a luxury hotel in the northern French city of Lille

Magistrates in France decided on Fridayto press ahead with charging the former Socialist minister in spite of calls by the state prosecutor for the case to be dropped.

Strauss-Kahn, 64, a former French presidential candidate, has admitted attending the “libertine” parties and having sex with a number of women. However, he has always insisted he did not know that some of them were prostitutes.

The case, known as the Carlton affair after the luxury hotel where the orgies were said to have taken place, centres around allegations that businessmen and police officials in Lille operated a vice ring supplying women for sex parties.

This affair, which came to light in late 2011, is the last of a series of inquiries into Strauss-Kahn since his arrest in New York in May 2011 where he was accused of trying to rape a hotel maid.

The charges in the US were eventually dropped because of doubts over maid Nafissatou Diallo’s credibility after she was found to have lied on her immigration claim, but Strauss-Kahn was later forced to pay her substantial damages reported to be in the region of $6m( 3.9m).

Two subsequent cases against the former French finance minister have also been dropped. An allegation of sexual assault against writer Tristane Banon in Paris in 2003 did not result in criminal charges because it had passed the legal time limit. In October last year, French prosecutors decided to drop an inquiry into allegations of gang rape at a hotel in Washington after one of the women involved who had made the claim retracted her evidence.

The state prosecutor had recommended that the Carlton affair charges against Strauss-Kahn be dropped on the grounds of a lack of evidence.

Magistrates decided otherwise; they put aside a charge of “aggravated pimping as part of an organised gang”, but maintained the lesser charge of “aggravated pimping as part of a group”. He is facing trial along with 12 other defendants.

In France pimping can cover a wide range of crimes including aiding or encouraging prostitution. A trial is expected to take place next year. If convicted, Strauss-Kahn could face up to 10 years in prison and a 1.5m ( 860,000) fine.

The former IMF chief has vehemently denied all allegations against him and described them as “dangerous and malicious insinuations and extrapolations”.

“It will all come out publicly before the tribunal and everyone will realise that there is nothing in this case,” Henri Leclerc, one of Strauss Kahn’s lawyers said on Friday.

Leclerc said the legal team was “under no illusions” about the “relentlessness shown by the investigating magistrates” and claimed Strauss-Kahn was being targeted because of his high profile.

“This decision is based on an ideological and moral analysis, but certainly not on any legal grounds. We’re sending someone to court for nothing,” said the lawyer.

After an earlier hearing into the Carlton affair, Leclerc told the French radio station Europe 1 that Strauss-Kahn could not have known whether the women at the parties were prostitutes.

“As you can imagine, at these kinds of parties you’re not always dressed, and I challenge you to distinguish a naked prostitute from any other naked woman,” Leclerc said.

Strauss-Kahn had been a frontrunner as the Socialist party’s candidate to become French president in last year’s election before his arrest in New York. He was forced to resign from his job as IMF chief and his third wife Anne Sinclair, a wealthy heiress and former television presenter, divorced him.

At the Cannes film festival in May, Strauss-Kahn was pictured with a new girlfriend, Moroccan-born Myriam L’Aouffir, 45, who works in the internet and social media department at France Television.

US will not seek death penalty for Edward Snowden, Holder tells Russia

Reports this week claimed Snowden had applied for asylum in Russia because he feared torture if he was returned to US

The US has told the Russian government that it will not seek the death penalty for Edward Snowden should he be extradited, in an attempt to prevent Moscow from granting asylum to the former National Security Agency contractor.

In a letter sent this week, US attorney general Eric Holder told his Russian counterpart that the charges faced by Snowden do not carry the death penalty. Holder added that the US “would not seek the death penalty even if Mr Snowden were charged with additional, death penalty-eligible crimes”.

Holder said he had sent the letter, addressed to Alexander Vladimirovich, Russia’s minister of justice, in response to reports that Snowden had applied for temporary asylum in Russia “on the grounds that if he were returned to the United States, he would be tortured and would face the death penalty”.

“These claims are entirely without merit,” Holder said. In addition to his assurance that Snowden would not face capital punishment, the attorney general wrote: “Torture is unlawful in the United States.”

In the letter, released by the US Department of Justice on Friday, Holder added: “We believe that these assurances eliminate these asserted grounds for Mr Snowden’s claim that he should be treated as a refugee or granted asylum, temporary or otherwise.”

The US has been seeking Snowden’s extradition to face felony charges for leaking details of NSA surveillance programmes. There were authoritative reports on Wednesday that authorities in Moscow had granted Snowden permission to stay in Russia temporarily, but when Snowden’s lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, arrived to meet his client at Sheremetyevo airport, he said the papers were not yet ready.

Kucherena, who has close links to the Kremlin, said Snowden would stay in the airport’s transit zone, where he has been in limbo since arriving from Hong Kong on 23 June, for the near future.

The letter from Holder, and the apparent glitch in Snowden’s asylum application, suggest that Snowden’s fate is far from secure.

But a spokesman for President Vladimir Putin insisted Russia has not budged from its refusal to extradite Snowden. Asked by a reporter on Friday whether the government’s position had changed, Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies that “Russia has never extradited anyone and never will.” Putin has previously insisted Russia will not extradite Snowden to the US. There is no US-Russia extradition treaty.

Putin’s statement still leaves the Russian authorities room for manoeuvre, however, as Snowden is not technically on Russian soil.

Peskov said that Putin is not involved in reviewing Snowden’s application or involved in discussions about the whistleblower’s future with the US, though he said the Russian security service, the FSB, had been in touch with the FBI.

Speaking on Wednesday, Snowden’s lawyer said he was hoped to settle in Russia. “[Snowden] wants to find work in Russia, travel and somehow create a life for himself,” Kucherena told the television station Rossiya 24. He said Snowden had already begun learning Russian.

There is support among some Russian politicians for Snowden to be allowed to stay in the country. The speaker of the Russian parliament, Sergei Naryshkin, has said Snowden should be granted asylum to protect him from the death penalty.

The letter from Holder was designed to allay those fears and negate the grounds for which Snowden as allegedly applied for asylum in Russia. The attorney general said that if Snowden returned to the US he would “promptly be brought before a civilian court” and would receive “all the protections that United States law provides”.

“Any questioning of Mr Snowden could be conducted only with his consent: his participation would be entirely voluntary, and his legal counsel would be present should he wish it,” Holder said.

He added that despite Snowden’s passport being revoked he “remains a US citizen” and said the US would facilitate a direct return to the country.

Germany’s president, who helped expose the workings of East Germany’s Stasi secret police, waded into the row on Friday. President Joachim Gauck, whose role is largely symbolic, said whistleblowers such as Snowden deserved respect for defending freedom.

“The fear that our telephones or mails are recorded and stored by foreign intelligence services is a constraint on the feeling of freedom and then the danger grows that freedom itself is damaged,” Gauck said.

Bus carrying high school students home from Harvard trip crashes in Boston

34 people injured after driver of charter bus bound for Philadelphia failed to follow warning signs for oversized vehicles

After a visit to Harvard University, dozens in a group of high school students and their adult chaperones were injured when their charter bus hit a bridge after police say the driver failed to heed low-clearance warning signs.

One person was hospitalized with life-threatening injuries and three with serious injuries, the Boston emergency medical services said. Thirty-four people were injured in all.

The bus was carrying 42 people and was heading back to the Philadelphia area when it struck an overpass at around 7.30pm on Saturday, Massachusetts state police said. Some passengers were trapped for more than an hour as rescue crews worked to free them.

Authorities said the bus did not belong on the road, where a 10-foot height limit is in place and oversized vehicles are not authorized. State police said the driver, whose name was not released, “failed to heed signs” warning of the height limit and will likely be cited for an over-height violation. The driver was not injured.

The driver looked down at his GPS and saw the bridge when he looked up, but it was too late to avoid hitting it, Ray Talmedge, owner of the Philadelphia-based Calvary Coach bus company, told WCAU-TV.

David Cameron in fresh peace talks with Afghan and Pakistani leaders

PM to meet Hamid Karzai and Asif Ali Zardari for talks aimed at preventing Taliban resurgence after British troops leave

David Cameron is to meet the Afghan and Pakistani presidents in the latest round of talks aimed at preventing a Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan when British troops leave next year.

The prime minister will dine with Hamid Karzai and Asif Ali Zardari at Chequers on Sunday night as part of his efforts to strengthen Afghanistan-Pakistan relations and promote regional peace and stability.

The meeting comes ahead of in-depth discussions on Monday focusing on how the Pakistanis and international community can support the Afghan-led peace process.

Foreign ministers, army chiefs of staff, intelligence chiefs and the chairman of the Afghan High Peace Council are expected to attend the third trilateral session since last summer.

A Downing Street spokeswoman said: “As the prime minister has set out previously, a stable Afghanistan is not just in the interests of Afghans, but also in the interests of their neighbours and the UK. We share the same vision for Afghanistan: a secure, stable and democratic country that never again becomes a haven for international terror.

“We are working together to achieve it and Afghanistan’s neighbours have a vital role to play. It is vital not just for the future security of their citizens, but for their prosperity too.”

Blair: fight against al-Qaida could last a generation

Former PM likens battle to struggle against revolutionary communism and warns that cost of standing aside would be far greater

The west’s fight against al-Qaida is like the battle against revolutionary communism, says Tony Blair, who warns that it could last for a generation.

The former prime minister said on Sunday that Britain was right to send troops to support the French effort in Mali to put down a terrorist attempt to overthrow the country’s government.

David Cameron faced difficult decisions to fight terrorism, Blair said, but warned the cost of standing aside would be far greater.

Britain at least had to try and “shape” events in the Middle East, he added, telling the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that in Syria there was already a danger the more extreme elements of the opposition forces fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime would take over.

Blair said: “I think we should acknowledge how difficult these decisions are.

“Sometimes in politics you come across a decision which the choice is very binary, you go this way or that way and whichever way you go the choice is very messy.

“If we engage with this, not just militarily but over a long period of time, in trying to help these countries, it is going to be very, very hard but I think personally the choice of disengaging is going to be even greater.”

He added: “We always want in the west, quite naturally, to go in and go out, and think there is a clean result. It’s not going to happen like that. We now know that. It is going to be long and difficult and messy.

“My point is very simple though: if you don’t intervene and let it happen, it is also going to be long, difficult and messy, and possibly a lot worse. It’s a very difficult decision.

“We are certainly talking about a generation. I think a better way to look at it is like the fight the west had over a long period of time with revolutionary communism.

“It will happen in many different theatres, it will happen in many different ways but the truth is that you have no option but to confront it, to try over time to defeat it.”

Consumer Interest in Apple Products Due to Great Ecosystem

Apple Brand Loyalty

Brand loyalty is something that every company dreams of, fights for and would sell their first-born child to obtain. Apple has it in spades. According to a recent survey done by Reuters, Apple costumers are doggedly loyal, even when then don’t mean to be. One major reason: iTunes and the App Store. Another, Apple makes simple products that everyone can use.

According to the Reuters survey, those who have already invested in the Apple ecosystem are much more likely to continue using their products.

One shopper surveyed was looking into Samsung’s Galaxy Tab after his iPad was recently stolen. “The Samsung appeals to me because it has an SD (digital memory) card and is more flexible in terms of software and hardware you can use with it,” said Parisian Max Cevenne, 62. “But I may end up going back to the iPad since I already use other Apple products, and it might be simpler.”

A mother in London looked into the Amazon Kindle Fire for her sons this Christmas, but ended up buying three iPad minis instead. “I looked at going for another tablet, but although they are cheaper, you have to re-buy everything,” said Joanna Sargent. “We’d have to buy all the music again, and you have to take that into account.”

I purchased my first Apple product in 2005. The iPod existed, but Apple was mostly known for its desktop and laptop computers at the time. The only reason I went with Apple versus PC was that my college used them in the Journalism department. I decided it would be a smart move to buy a computer that was easily compatible with my school.

Since then, I’ve invested thousands of dollars on dozens of Apple gadgets and I’ve never been disappointed with a single one. I’ve purchased iPhones and iPads for family members in an effort to sway them to my side (my brother still refuses to download iTunes to any computer in his house).

What makes Apple products special to me is how easy they are to use. If I can teach my technologically challenged former boss how to download apps, send pictures in text, and even update her devices, then Apple is doing something right.

Another reason Apple products stand out above others is their customer service. If you have a problem with your iPad, you can make an appointment with an Apple Genius through the Internet and have someone ready to help you within five minutes of your appointment, even if it is just after a product launch and the place is packed with people. If there is something wrong with your iPad that they know they can’t fix, they’ll just hand you a brand new one, right there in the store (if you are still under warranty, of course).

If you are having a problem with your iPad, but you don’t want to take it in, there is a fairly good chance that the answer is in the Apple forums. The community of Apple fans is supportive and helpful.

I recently discovered a charging issue with my iPad. It wouldn’t charge when connected to my iMac. I looked into the support forums and found out that I needed to plug the iPad directly into the computer, instead of through the USB hub I had it connected to. It turns out, the third-generation iPad’s battery needed more juice than it was getting through the hub. Problem solved.

When non-Apple users complain about iPads, iPhones, and the like, what do they say is the problem? Price and lack of open-sourcing are usually the biggest complaints with PC or Android loyalists. Sure, I can’t get the latest iPhone for $0.99 with a two-year contract, but you get what you pay for. Apple isn’t friendly with open-source software, but they do work pretty hard to make sure that apps being downloaded into your devices aren’t coded with viruses.

Why would Apple work so hard to make the perfect product, only to let any old geezer come in and ruin it? If you bought a brand new house and needed to have it carpeted, would you let your inexperienced friend come in and lay down carpet? Probably not. You’d want to make sure that someone who doesn’t know what he is doing isn’t going to ruin the interior of your house.

These are the reasons why Apple has earned its brand loyalty. The company makes a solid product and surrounds it with a healthy ecosystem and helpful support community. That is why I go back to Apple every time. Why do you?