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Six Malian soldiers killed by gunmen in coordinated attacks

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(Last Updated On: January 25, 2021)

Gunmen in Mali killed at least six soldiers and wounded 18 others in two coordinated attacks in the centre of the African nation on Sunday morning, an army spokesman told Reuters.

The attacks occurred at around 3 am in the villages of Boulkessi and Mondoro in the Mopti region, sparking a gunfight between the armed group and the army, said Colonel Souleymane Dembelé. About 30 assailants were killed, he said.

It is not yet clear who carried out the attack.

Mali’s central and northern regions have for years been home to jihadist groups with links to al-Qaeda and Islamic State (Daesh), Reuters reported. They control large areas of the remote desert and regularly carry out raids on the army and civilians.

They have also used the area as a launch pad to carry out attacks across neighbouring Niger and Burkina Faso, destabilising the whole region and sucking in thousands of international troops.

Four United Nations peacekeepers were killed and five wounded in central Mali this month after a convoy struck an explosive device and came under fire, Reuters reported.

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Mexico City rail overpass collapses onto road, killing at least 23

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(Last Updated On: May 4, 2021)

At least 23 people were killed and 65 were hospitalized when a railway overpass and train collapsed onto a busy road in Mexico City on Monday night, crushing cars under fallen carriages and rubble.

The authorities halted rescue efforts shortly after they began, saying there was a risk that more train parts and debris could slam down onto the road.

A video on local channel Milenio TV showed the structure plummeting onto a stream of cars near the Olivos station in the southeast of the city at around 10.30 p.m. local time, sending up clouds of dust.

At least two train carriages precariously hung from the damaged overpass. Initial rescue efforts saw medical and fire crews trying to access the carriages. The army was also in attendance.

Speaking to reporters at the site, Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum said it appeared a girder had given way on the overpass but the cause was being investigated.

She said the rescue had been suspended as the structure was very weak. A crane was working to stabilise the train carriages so rescuers could resume their search for survivors.

The authorities were working to identify the dead, which included children, Sheinbaum said. One person trapped in their car underneath the wreckage had been rescued alive and was taken to hospital. Seven of the people transported to hospital were in a “grave condition” and undergoing surgery, she said.

The Metro 12 line that runs over the collapsed overpass was built almost a decade ago when Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard was mayor of Mexico City.

“What happened today with the Metro is a terrible tragedy. My solidarity is with the victims and their families,” Ebrard said on Twitter. “Of course, the causes must be investigated and responsibilities defined.”

Ebrard and Sheinbaum are seen by many political observers as the most likely successors to President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador once his six-year term is over in 2024.

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Heeding complaints, Biden lifts refugee cap to 62,500

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(Last Updated On: May 4, 2021)

U.S. President Joe Biden said on Monday he has resurrected a plan to raise refugee admissions this year to 62,500 after drawing a wave of criticism from supporters for initially keeping the refugee cap at a historically low level.

A Democrat, Biden formally reversed himself just two weeks after his administration announced it would keep the cap at the 15,000 level set by his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, an immigration hawk.

In a statement, Biden said his action “erases the historically low number set by the previous administration of 15,000, which did not reflect America’s values as a nation that welcomes and supports refugees.”

“It is important to take this action today to remove any lingering doubt in the minds of refugees around the world who have suffered so much, and who are anxiously waiting for their new lives to begin,” he said.

Soon after taking office in January, Biden pledged to ramp up the program but then surprised allies when he opted to stick with the lower cap out of concern over bad optics, given the rising number of migrants crossing the U.S. southern border with Mexico, U.S. officials have said.

Biden’s flip-flopping drew the ire of refugee advocates and some Democratic lawmakers.

Trump steadily slashed the size of the refugee program during his term in office, and Biden officials say the cuts have made quickly raising admissions more difficult.

But the refugee program is distinct from the asylum system for migrants. Refugees come from all over the world, many fleeing conflict. They undergo extensive vetting while still overseas to be cleared for entry to the United States, unlike migrants who arrive at a U.S. border and then request asylum.

The allocations for the increased cap matched an earlier plan Biden sent to Congress, according to a memo signed by Biden. The memo said there would be 22,000 spots for refugees from Africa, 6,000 from East Asia, 4,000 from Europe and Central Asia, 5,000 from Latin America and the Caribbean, and 13,000 from South Asia. Another 12,500 unallocated spots will also be available.

Biden said it was doubtful the United States would be able to welcome a total of 62,500 refugees by the end of the current fiscal year on Sept. 30, or reach a goal of 125,000 admissions next year.

“The sad truth is that we will not achieve 62,500 admissions this year. We are working quickly to undo the damage of the last four years. It will take some time, but that work is already under way,” he said.

A White House official said Biden now wanted to raise the cap regardless of capacity limitations to “send a very clear message that refugee processing is a critical part of America’s place in the world,” acknowledging the initial lower announcement “did not send the right message.”

Delays in Biden’s decisionmaking on the issue led to hundreds of canceled flights for refugees already cleared to travel to the United States, often after years of waiting, refugee groups said.

Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of the resettlement organization Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said in a statement that advocacy groups were breathing a “sigh of relief” following the announcement on Monday, even though meeting the high target would be “daunting.”

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Bill and Melinda Gates to divorce, but charitable foundation to remain intact

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(Last Updated On: May 4, 2021)

Billionaire benefactors Bill and Melinda Gates, co-founders of one of the world’s largest private charitable foundations, filed for divorce on Monday after 27 years of marriage but pledged to continue their philanthropic work together.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has become one of the most powerful and influential forces in global public health, spending more than $50 billion over the past two decades to bring a business approach to combating poverty and disease.

The Gates have backed widely praised programs in malaria and polio eradication, child nutrition and vaccines. The foundation last year committed some $1.75 billion to COVID-19 relief.

In a joint petition for dissolution of marriage, the couple asserted their legal union was “irretrievably broken,” but said they had reached agreement on how to divide their marital assets. No details of that accord were disclosed in the filing in King County Superior Court in Seattle.

Bill Gates, 65, who co-founded Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O), and his spouse, Melinda French Gates, 56, met after she joined the software giant as a product manager, and they dated for a few years before marrying in January 1994 in Hawaii.

“After a great deal of thought and a lot of work on our relationship, we have made the decision to end our marriage,” the two said in a joint statement posted on each of their individual Twitter accounts.

“We no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in the next phase of our lives. We ask for space and privacy for our family as we begin to navigate this new life,” they said.

The divorce petition, which states that the couple have no minor children, comes after the youngest of their three offspring recently turned 18.

Launched in 2000, the nonprofit Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation ranks as the largest private philanthropic foundation in the United States and one of the world’s biggest, with net assets of $43.3 billion at the end of 2019, according to the latest full-year financials shown on its website.

From 1994 through 2018, the couple gifted more than $36 billion to the Seattle-based foundation, the website said.

Last year, investor Warren Buffett reported donating more than $2 billion of stock from his Berkshire Hathaway Inc (BRKa.N) to the Gates Foundation as part of previously announced plans to give away his entire fortune before his death.

‘NO CHANGES TO THEIR ROLES’

In their divorce petition, the couple asks the court “to dissolve our marriage” and to divide their communal property, business interests and liabilities “as set forth in our separation contract,” though that accord was not made public.

Bill Gates is ranked No. 4 on the Forbes list of the world’s wealthiest individuals, with an estimated $124 billion fortune.

In a separate statement, the Gates Foundation said the couple would remain as co-chairs and trustees of the organization.

“They will continue to work together to shape and approve foundation strategies, advocate for the foundation’s issues, and set the organization’s overall direction,” the foundation’s statement said.

The split comes two years after another leading Seattle-based billionaire and philanthropist, Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) founder Jeff Bezos, said that he and his then-wife, MacKenzie, were getting divorced.

At least one critic of billionaire benefactors cited the Gates’ split as a cautionary tale in the wisdom of concentrating so much sway over global humanitarian issues under the control of super-wealthy individuals.

“The Gates divorce will do more than upend a family’s life. It will ramify into the worlds of business, education, public health, civil society, philanthropy, and beyond,” Anand Giridharadas, author of the book “Winners Take All” told Reuters.

“That is because our society has made the colossal error of allowing wealth to purchase the chance to make quasi-governmental decisions as a private citizen,” he said.

Gates dropped out of Harvard University to start Microsoft with school chum Paul Allen in 1975. Gates owned 49% of Microsoft at its initial public offering in 1986, which made him an instant multimillionaire. With Microsoft’s explosive growth, he soon became one of the world’s wealthiest individuals.

After an executive tenure in which he helped transform the company into one of the world’s leading technology firms, Gates stepped down as CEO of Microsoft in 2000 to focus on philanthropy. He remained chairman until 2014 and left the company’s board in March 2020.

Known in the technology industry as an acerbic and ruthless competitor, Gates drew the ire of rivals and eventually the U.S. government for Microsoft’s business practices.

The software giant was convicted of antitrust violations in the late 1990s. But the verdict was overturned on appeal, and the company then settled the case out of court.

Gates’ public persona softened into an avuncular elder statesman as he turned his attention to philanthropy, and he has largely steered clear of the many controversies currently roiling the technology business.

Melinda French Gates, who recently added her maiden name on most of her websites and social media, was raised in Dallas and studied computer science and economics at Duke University before joining Microsoft.

In 2015 she founded Pivotal Ventures, an investment company focused on women and families, and in 2019 published a book, “The Moment of Lift”, centered on female empowerment.

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