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FRANKFURT: Germany's Transport Ministry said on Monday (Oct 15) it would order roughly 100,000 Opel vehicles to be recalled as part of an emissions probe, after prosecutors searched the carmaker's offices earlier in the day.
German motor vehicle authority KBA found four software programmes capable of altering vehicle emissions in 2015, and ordered Opel to implement a software update in cars to remove them, Germany's Transport Ministry said in a statement.
"After a fifth software device was discovered in early 2018, which KBA found to be illegal, there is currently an official hearing going on with the goal of imposing a mandatory recall for the models Cascada, Insignia and Zafira," the ministry said in a statement.
The transport ministry said Opel had dragged its feet on the hearing. The KBA had told Frankfurt prosecutors about the software device in April, it said.
"The official recall of the affected roughly 100,000 vehicles will take place shortly," it added.
Opel said in a statement it rejected any accusation of using illegal defeat devices that can manipulate exhaust emission tests, also denying it was procrastinating.
"Should (a mandatory recall) be ordered, Opel will challenge it legally," said the carmaker.
German prosecutors searched offices at Opel's sites in Ruesselsheim and Kaiserslautern earlier on Monday.
The Frankfurt prosecutor's office said it was probing 95,000 vehicles equipped with Euro 6d engines.
PSA Group, which owns the Opel and Vauxhall brands, declined to comment.
The Opel Insignia, Zafira and Cascada were developed when Opel and its sister brand Vauxhall were still owned by General Motors. General Motors sold Opel to PSA Group in 2017.
Opel admitted in 2016 that its Zafira model contained engine software which switched off exhaust emissions treatment systems under certain circumstances. Opel insisted at the time that it was making use of a legal loophole.
SINGAPORE: The former CEO of Family Dental Centre (FDC) was on Tuesday (Oct 16) fined S$15,000 for attempting to bribe a dental assistant at another dental group for patient referrals, the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) said in a press release.
Nurul Aizat Zainudin, a 32-year-old Singaporean, was charged on Sep 26 for one count of corruptly offering S$50 to a dental assistant employed by T32 Dental for each patient referred from T32 to FDC.
The offence took place on May 28 last year when Aizat messaged the dental assistant, Syakirah Atiqah Samsul Bahar, and offered the bribe.
Syakirah rejected the bribe and the matter was reported to the CPIB.
"The CPIB would like to commend Syakirah for her act of integrity and honesty," the bureau said.
At the time, Aizat was employed as the director, CEO and dentist of FDC. His services have since been terminated, the release said.
The Singapore Dental Council is looking into Aizat's professional misconduct.
"Singapore adopts a zero tolerance approach towards corruption. The CPIB takes a serious view of any corrupt practices and will not hesitate to take action against any party involved in such acts," the bureau said.
MEXICO BEACH, Florida.: Dozens of people remained missing on Sunday (Oct 14) in Florida Panhandle communities reduced to ruins by Hurricane Michael as rescuers said they expected the death toll to rise and survivors grappled with power outages and shortages of food and water.
Already at least 18 deaths in four states have been blamed on the hurricane as rescue crews using cadaver dogs and heavy equipment searched through collapsed homes in small towns such as Mexico Beach and Panama City for more victims.
So far one person has been confirmed killed in Mexico Beach, which took a direct hit from the massive storm, but rescuers have been hobbled by blocked roads and huge piles of rubble from searching much of the town.
"If we lose only one life, to me that's going to be a miracle," Mexico Beach Mayor Al Cathey told local media.
Cathey said more than 250 residents had stayed behind when Michael came ashore on Wednesday as a Category 4 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, one of the most powerful storms to make landfall in the continental United States since records have been kept.
The mayor told reporters that 46 people out of the town of some 1,000 remained missing or unaccounted for as of Sunday. Search and rescue volunteers have already located hundreds of people initially reported missing last week across the Panhandle.
Florida Governor Rick Scott, who toured the devastated areas by helicopter with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)officials, said the top priority remained search and rescue efforts.
Scott said crews were also distributing food, water and fuel to residents who have faced long lines for supplies.
More than 1,700 search and rescue workers were deployed, Scott's office said, including seven swift-water rescue teams and nearly 300 ambulances.
In Panama City, one of the hardest-hit communities, Fire Chief Alex Baird said search and rescue teams were now in "recovery mode" after largely giving up hope of finding any more survivors.
Electricity and telephone service were being slowly restored, but it could be weeks before power is restored to the state's most damaged areas.
Two Florida prisons housing a total of nearly 3,000 inmates were evacuated and closed at least temporarily after suffering structural damage from Michael, the Florida Department of Corrections said.
The department said no staff or inmates were injured during the storm and all had access to sufficient food and water.
President Donald Trump is expected to visit both Florida and Georgia early this week to inspect the damage, accompanied by first lady Melania Trump, and the White House said late on Saturday the president was fully committed to helping state and local agencies with the recovery.
TEHRAN: At an outreach centre in southern Tehran, teenagers are learning to be journalists, while upstairs their mothers are fine-tuning their sewing skills and rushing to fill an order for hospital uniforms.
The brand-new centre in the working-class neighbourhood of Shahr-e Rey caters to hundreds of struggling families and Afghan refugees.
It's a relatively new approach for Iran, where social welfare has often been left to informal groups based around the bazaar and mosque or fallen to large-scale government-controlled organisations.
Today, privately-run charities are emerging, with managers, targets and buzzwords such as "empowerment" and "skills-training", and funded by wealthy business people who have made fortunes in booming industries such as private healthcare.
This centre is run by the ILIA Foundation, created by social workers and members of the Nikan Hospital Group, who have partnered with UN refugee and health agencies to help around 1,000 families from deprived backgrounds.
For now these groups can only reach a small number of those in need but supporters say it is providing a model for future social work in Iran.
At one of the sewing machines is 27-year-old Somareh Ghazvani, a second-generation refugee - one of around 3 million Afghans who have fled decades of conflict across the border.
"It was a surprise to find this place. The conditions are much better than other places I have worked, so I'm very happy," she said.
In the computer room, 16-year-old Masoumeh is working with InDesign and Photoshop as part of her summer classes in journalism.
"Our families have really counted on this centre. If we go to classes somewhere else, the fees are so high we can't afford it," she said.
One of the pioneers of the new approach to charity is the Imam Ali Popular Students Relief Society, which was recognised by the UN in 2010 and has built a network of 12,000 volunteers helping Iran?s poorest children.
A recent football tournament it organised for street kids was a reminder of Iran?s diversity, as Azeris, Baluchis, Kurds and many others were thrown together on the pitch in Tehran.
"The only choice for most of these kids in their neighbourhoods is violence, poverty and misery. We have tried to give them self-confidence through sports to improve their lives," said Meysam Vahdei, head of sports for the foundation.
Ten-year-old Obeidollah had travelled since 3:00 a.m. from one of Iran's poorest cities -- Sarbaz in southeastern Sistan-Baluchistan province -- and, inevitably, dreams of being the next Cristiano Ronaldo.
The foundation brought him to Tehran so he could participate in the tournament in a sport he loves.
"Some charity workers came to our city square. They saw me do a backflip and said 'Wow! What a boy', and now I'm here in Tehran playing football," he said, excitedly.
Official data on poverty is hard to pin down in Iran.
The labour ministry said 800,000 households were eligible for government support because they earned below the poverty line of seven million rials (around $160) a month, according to a report in January by the Financial Tribune.
The English-language newspaper cited prominent economist Hossein Raghfar as saying some 12 million Iranians lived in absolute poverty, in a country with a population of around 80 million.
Faced with mounting economic woes, President Hassan Rouhani has introduced welfare cuts and other austerity measures since coming to power in 2013.
The government was already struggling to support the poor before the recent return of US sanctions -- after Washington withdrew from a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers -- which has sent prices soaring and threatens to take a huge chunk out of the budget this year.
That has put more pressure on charities and private donors, and encouraged the more modern approach to charity work.
"BREAKING THE POVERTY CHAIN"
"We need to help these kids at an early stage of life to get them on the right path and help break the chain of poverty in their families," said Reza Taghdir, a doctor with the high-end Nikan hospital group and a director for the ILIA Foundation.
It marks a change from the old ways of doing things, said one of ILIA's promoters, who asked not to be named.
"In the past, some old guys would get near to death and start worrying about the afterlife, so they would hand out a load of money to build something in their name. It was really just about status and was not very organised," he said.
"Now it's much more professional, the donors are younger and much more concerned to find real solutions to problems in society."
BRUSSELS: Next week's EU summit has been billed as a last chance to negotiate an orderly Brexit, but is the cliff edge really that close? When is the true deadline?
Officials from both London and Brussels say the draft of a Brexit deal must be reached by the summit dinner on next Wednesday (Oct 17) - or at the very most by mid November.
This is supposed to give Prime Minister Theresa May time to get a text approved by the British parliament in time for the Mar 29 divorce deadline.
But some European officials hint privately that the dates are not immoveable and all the recent urgency unnecessary. Can EU leaders kick the can down the road?
For Europe, the March deadline is purely technical, based on a never-used Article 50 process that dictates the timeline of a divorce from the EU.
Under Article 50 of the EU treaties, the two sides have two years to negotiate a divorce agreement.
Britain launched that process on Mar 29, 2017, so - as far as European officials are concerned - the deadline is that same date two years later.
But Britain's withdrawal deal will require ratification by the European Parliament.
MEPs, led by their Brexit coordinator liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt, will make a lot of noise.
But few believe parliament will slow down or even block a landmark deal forged in fire by the 28 EU leaders.
In fact, insiders say the European Parliament could vote immediately before the March 30 cliff edge.
"Parliament could vote on a withdrawal agreement up until about Mar 25 or 26, assuming that the Mar 29 Brexit date holds," a parliamentary source said.
"It would certainly not be desirable for the decision to be taken so tight up to the deadline, but ... it is technically possible," the source added.
The last session of the European Parliament is on April 18 before it breaks up for EU elections in late May.
So - even if Brexit negotiations veer off course - the Article 50 deadline can not be extended far.
British officials chafe at any casual attitude to the deadline.
"People need to realise that this vote may be the most important of our lifetime. That it's just not going to be fudged and rushed through," one said.
Indeed, British negotiators say Brexit talks with EU officials can continue into mid-November and no further.
That is because, if May is to avoid a no-deal catastrophe, she will need to provide as much time as possible for lawmakers to debate and approve the divorce.
A Brexit deal in October already leaves the "extremely compressed," wrote the Institute for Government, a Britain think tank.
If negotiations slip behind, passing the legislation in time will be a "heroic" task, it warned.
The EU withdrawal will be a landmark vote for Britain and experts cite previous major EU treaties passed by the UK parliament as a benchmark for the time needed.
The EU treaties of Rome and Maastricht each took around 40 sitting days to go through both the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
Before Brexit day there are about 70 sitting days between a theoretical deal mid-November, and around 50 from the already scheduled EU summit in December.
PANAMA CITY: The death toll from Hurricane Michael, which slammed into the Florida coast as a Category 4 storm, has risen to at least six in three states, US officials said on Thursday (Oct 11).
The Gadsden County Sheriff's Office confirmed four fatalities in the Florida Panhandle county, which is west of the state capital Tallahassee.
In Georgia, where the storm moved after making landfall Wednesday in the Panhandle, an 11-year-old girl also died, the rescue chief in Seminole County said.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said on Twitter that Michael, downgraded to a tropical storm, had claimed a life in his state, when a tree fell on a car.
In Mexico Beach, a seafront town where the hurricane made landfall, houses had been razed by storm surge, boats had been tossed into yards and the streets were littered with trees and power lines.
Florida Governor Rick Scott said the storm had caused "unbelievable devastation" and the priority for the moment was looking for survivors among residents who failed to heed orders to evacuate.
"We have over 1,000 people doing search and rescue," Scott told reporters. "I'm very concerned about our citizens that didn't evacuate and I just hope that, you know, we don't have much loss of life."
President Donald Trump pledged to help storm victims.
"Our hearts are with the thousands who have sustained property damage, in many cases entirely wiped out," Trump said. "We will not rest or waver until the job is done and the recovery is complete."
Florida officials said more than 400,000 homes and businesses were without electricity in Florida and Governor Scott said nearly 20,000 utility workers had been deployed to restore power.
Michael made landfall on Wednesday afternoon as a Category 4 storm, the most powerful to hit Florida's northwestern Panhandle in more than a century.
Michael has since been downgraded to a tropical storm as it moves through the Carolinas, which are still recovering from last month's Hurricane Florence.
Mexico Beach, where the hurricane came ashore, suffered massive destruction from the 250 kilometres per hour winds and several metres of storm surge.
'HOUSES STARTED FLOATING'
Home after home was razed from its foundations in the town of around 1,000 people, leaving just bare concrete slabs. Others were missing roofs or walls. Roads were impassable and canals were choked with debris.
A Mexico Beach resident who rode out the hurricane described the impact of the storm surge to reporters.
"When the water came in houses started floating," said the man identified as Scott. "We had furniture in our house that wasn't even our furniture. The surge had brought stuff in.
"There's nothing left here anymore," he said of the town. "Our lives are gone here. All the stores, all the restaurants, everything.
"It's hard to grasp," he said. "This was never in our imagination."
Nearby Panama City Beach experienced similar damage along with other communities along the shore of the Gulf of Mexico.
A storage facility in Panama City Beach housing hundreds of boats was ripped apart by the strong winds with the roof shredding into strips of twisted metal.
Margaret Decambre, a 48-year-old gemologist, rode out the storm in her Panama City fourth-floor condo with her husband and three cats.
"The wind was so hard that it was pushing water through windows and doors," Decambre said. "We had probably about half an inch of water on my floor and no way to stop it from coming in.
"It's total devastation - no power, no water, no communication," she said.
Decambre said she had opened her home to a friend who takes care of three elderly women.
"We brought all four of them and their cat to my condo," she said. "Yes, it is all about helping others."
STORM OVER NORTH CAROLINA
At 5pm Eastern time (2100 GMT), Michael was over North Carolina, the National Hurricane Center said.
It warned of possible flash flooding in North Carolina and Virginia and said the storm was still packing winds of 50 mph.
"The center of Michael will move across eastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia this evening, and move into the western Atlantic Ocean tonight," it said.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) chief Brock Long said Michael was the most intense hurricane to strike the Florida Panhandle since record keeping began in 1851.
Long said many Florida buildings were not built to withstand a storm above the strength of a Category 3 hurricane on the five-level Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.
As it came ashore, Michael was just shy of a Category 5 - defined as a storm packing top sustained wind speeds of 157 mph or above.
COBLESKILL, New York.: The operator of a limousine company that owned the vehicle involved in a crash that killed 20 people in upstate New York was charged on Wednesday with criminally negligent homicide, court officials in Cobleskill, New York, said.
Nauman Hussain, 28, was charged with one felony count related to the deadliest U.S. transportation accident in nearly a decade. All 20 victims were listed on the charging document.
Hussain was released on US$150,000 bail by a court in Cobbleskill, near the state capital, Albany. The judge entered a not guilty plea on his behalf.
The arraignment was held several miles (km) from the crash site in Schoharie, where a candlelight vigil was being held for the victims.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Monday that the 2001 Ford Excursion limousine involved in the crash failed inspection last month and that its driver did not have the proper license to operate the vehicle.
The state ordered the vehicle out of service in September and it should not have been on the road, New York State Police Superintendent George Beach said.
"The sole responsibility for the motor vehicle being on the road on Saturday rests with Nauman Hussain," Beach said.
Shahed Hussain, Nauman's father and the owner of Prestige Limousine, was not in the country and more charges were possible, Beach said.
The company's lawyer, Lee Kindlon, told a news conference on Wednesday that he intended to defend Nauman Hussain against any charges.
Kindlon said on Tuesday that safety violations issued last month on the limousine involved in the accident were largely minor and had not caused the crash.
The vehicle, carrying 17 people on their way to a birthday party on Saturday, ran a stop sign at a highway intersection in Schoharie, about 40 miles (65 km) west of Albany, police and the National Transportation Safety Board said.
It crashed into an unoccupied parked car and two pedestrians before coming to a halt in a shallow ravine, officials said. The driver, all 17 passengers and the two pedestrians were killed.
George Longworth, an attorney for the family of the driver, 53-year-old Scott Lisinicchia, said on Tuesday that his family "believes that unbeknownst to him, he was provided with a vehicle that was neither roadworthy nor safe for any of its occupants."
Before the crash, one of the victims, Erin McGowan, texted a friend that the limousine appeared to have engine trouble, reporters reported.
GENEVA: The economic cost of climate-related disasters hit US$2.25 trillion over the last two decades, an increase of more than 150 per cent compared to the previous 20 years, the UN said Wednesday (Oct 10).
The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) noted that "climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of extreme weather events" such as floods and storms.
Between 1978-1997, total losses for climate-related disasters was US$895 billion, UNISDR said in a report based on data compiled by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) at the Universite Catholique de Louvain in Belgium.
But between 1998-2017 that figure hit US$2.25 trillion, the report said, listing the United States, China, Japan and India as the countries where the financial toll has been highest.
The findings were released as Michael, a Category Four hurricane, rumbled towards the Gulf Coast of Florida, in the latest storm to threaten vast destruction across the eastern US.
"The report's analysis makes it clear that economic losses from extreme weather events are unsustainable and a major brake on eradicating poverty in hazard exposed parts of the world," the UN secretary general's special representative for disaster reduction, Mami Mizutori, said in a statement.
UNISDR counted the number of climate-related disasters between 1998-2017 at more than 6,600, with storms and floods the most common events.
The report notes gaps in data collection, but says the findings clearly show investing in disaster risk reduction must become a central part of policy making in response to climate change.
WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump on Tuesday (Oct 9) said that planning for his next summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is advanced and that "three or four locations" have been short-listed.
Trump said at the White House that the meeting would "probably" not be in Singapore, where their historic first talks took place in June.
Speaking to reporters as he flew to Iowa for a political rally, Trump also said it would be held after US congressional elections on Nov 6.
Trump said that in terms of timing, the summit "won't be that far away."
He also said that "eventually" there could be a meeting on US soil.
"On their soil also," he added.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Kim on Monday in Pyongyang to discuss a future summit and told reporters the North had made "significant progress" toward denuclearisation.
He said international inspectors would be allowed into the country to inspect a nuclear test site that Pyongyang has said it dismantled.
"I think we've made incredible progress," Trump said Tuesday, hailing the absence of missile or nuclear tests this year and the recent return of remains of US service members killed during the Korean War.
"No nuclear tests, no rockets, and we have a very good relationship with Chairman Kim, which is very important," Trump said.
"I like him, he likes me, the relationship is good."
TORONTO: Suspended more than 300 metres above downtown Toronto, six new Canadians took the oath of citizenship on Tuesday (Oct 9) from the edge of one of the world's tallest structures.
Canadian Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen administered the oath to the new citizens, hailing from six different countries, as they were held in cables off a 116-storey-high platform known as the EdgeWalk, on the side of the landmark CN Tower.
The tower, which soars 553 metres, has hosted citizenship ceremonies before, but not one from such breathless heights, according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
Canada, which prides itself on the country's multiculturalism, accepted more than 270,000 new immigrants in 2017.
"The sky is the limit with #Canadian citizenship," tweeted the minister after the ceremony.