N.Y. Metropolitan Opera suspends conductor James Levine after sexual abuse claim

New York’s Metropolitan Opera suspended its famed longtime conductor James Levine on Sunday while it investigates allegations of sexual misconduct.

In a statement, the opera’s general manager, Peter Gelb, said Levine wouldn’t be in involved in performances or other activities while it investigates.

“While we await the results of the investigation, based on these new news reports, the Met has made the decision to act now,” Gelb said, adding that the opera’s board and executive committee fully supported the suspension.

“This is a tragedy for anyone whose life has been affected,” he said.

Gelb told NBC News on Sunday that the opera company first became aware of the allegations when Illinois police opened their investigation in October 2016.

“At the time [Levine] said that the charges were completely false, and we didn’t hear anything further from the police,” Gelb said in a written statement. “We need to determine if these charges are true and, if they are, take appropriate action. We will now be conducting our own investigation with outside resources.”

The opera’s announcement followed a report in the New York Post that Levine was accused in a police report of molesting young man beginning when the man was 15 years old and that the sexual abuse continued for years.

The man detailed the allegations to the Lake Forest, Illinois, Police Department in 2016, according to the Post, which first reported the accusation. Lake Forest is where the boy lived when the alleged abuse began and near the site of the Ravinia Music Festival, north of Chicago, where Levine, now 74, was a conductor during summers from 1971 until 1993, according to the festival’s website.

A copy of the police report was obtained by the New York Post and The New York Times.

Levine’s accuser told police that he first met the conductor attending the festival as a young boy and continued to have harmless encounters with him for several years, according to the Post. Then, in 1985, Levine became physical with the boy in a car after dropping him off at home, the New York Post reported.

“I began seeing a 41-year-old man when I was 15, without really understanding I was really ‘seeing’ him,” the alleged victim, now 48, said in a written statement to police, according to the Post. “It nearly destroyed my family and almost led me to suicide. I felt alone and afraid. He was trying to seduce me. I couldn’t see this. Now I can.”

The younger man wasn’t identified in either report, but The Times reported that it had interviewed the alleged victim on condition of anonymity and that he confirmed that he made the accusations in the police report. A relative of the man also told The Times that the alleged victim first complained of the sexual abuse privately in 1993.

Levine’s manager at Columbia Artists Management Inc. didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Levine, who first became musical director of the Met in 1976, continued to work there as recently as Saturday night, when he completed his run conducting Giuseppe Verdi’s “Requiem.” Levine was next scheduled to conduct Giacomo Puccini’s “Tosca,” on New Year’s Eve.

The conductor, known for his wild hair and revered for his musical talent, has won 10 Grammys and been nominated 37 times. He was honored by the Kennedy Center in 2002, along with Paul Simon, Chita Rivera, Elizabeth Taylor and James Earl Jones. He was also the conductor in Disney’s “Fantasia 2000.”

U.S. and South Korea Start Air Force Drills Amid Heightened Tensions

HONG KONG — The United States and South Korea began large-scale combined air force drills Monday, with plans to carry out simulated strikes on North Korean nuclear and missile testing sites, South Korean military officials said.

Some 230 aircraft will take part in the drills, which will include some of the Pentagon’s most powerful warplanes, such as stealth F-35 Lightning II fighters and B1-B Lancer bombers. They come just a week after North Korea tested a missile that analysts said had the capability of reaching much of the continental United States.

The drills were part of an annual exercise that had been planned before North Korea conducted the missile test, officials said.

The exercise is “aimed at enhancing the all-weather, day and night combined air power operation capabilities of South Korea and the U.S.,” South Korea’s defense ministry said.

Such drills have drawn vigorous criticism from North Korea, whose state news media said Sunday that the latest exercises were pushing the Korean Peninsula “to the brink of nuclear war.” It warned that Pyongyang would “seriously consider” countermeasures against the drill and that the United States and South Korea would “pay dearly for their provocations,” the North’s Korean Central News Agency said.

Underscoring the tensions, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina urged the Pentagon on Sunday to move dependents of American service members out of South Korea because of the threat of conflict. More than 28,000 United States troops are stationed there, many living with their families.

“It’s crazy to send spouses and children to South Korea, given the provocation of North Korea,” Mr. Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

“I think it’s now time to start moving American dependents out of South Korea,” he added.

The military exercises that began Monday involve 12,000 personnel and also include six F-22 Raptors, representing the largest deployment of the stealth fighters to South Korea, officials said.

The drills will be conducted under wartime scenarios that include attacks on mock North Korean nuclear and missile targets, South Korea’s military said.

North Korea’s missile launch last Tuesday came after more than a two-month lull in the country’s nuclear and missile testing, which raised some hopes that it might be extending an olive branch to ease the hair-trigger military tensions on the peninsula.

The South China Morning Post reported Monday that the crew of a Cathay Pacific flight traveling to Hong Kong from San Francisco spotted what appeared to be the North Korean missile exploding upon re-entry as the flight was passing over Japan on Tuesday. The airline said that it had no plans to change its routes in the wake of the sighting.

Zimbabwe cabinet pick to show if Mnangagwa is breaking with the past

HARARE (Reuters) – New Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa is expected to form a new cabinet this week, with all eyes on whether he breaks with the past and names a broad-based government or selects old guard figures from Robert Mugabe’s era.

Of particular interest is his choice of finance minister to replace Ignatius Chombo, who was among members of a group allied to Mugabe and his wife, Grace, who were detained and expelled from the ruling party. Chombo is facing corruption charges and is due to appear in court for a bail hearing on Monday.

In a tentative sign that he might do things differently, ZANU-PF cut the budget for a special congress to be held next month and also slashed the duration by half from six days, the state-owned Herald newspaper reported on Monday.

Mnangagwa was sworn in as president last Friday after 93-year-old Mugabe quit under pressure from the military.

He vowed to rebuild Zimbabwe’s ravaged economy and serve all citizens. But behind the rhetoric, some Zimbabweans wonder whether a man who loyally served Mugabe for decades can bring change to a ruling establishment accused of systematic human rights abuses and disastrous economic policies.

“The composition of the new government will show a clear path whether we continue with the status quo or the clear break with the past that we need to build a sustainable state. It’s a simple choice,” said former finance minister and opposition leader Tendai Biti.

“ALL HANDS ON DECK”

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change has called for an inclusive “transitional authority” to mark a break with Mugabe’s 37-year rule and enact reforms to allow for credible and free elections due next year.

“Zimbabwe needs all hands on deck…We cannot continue reproducing these cycles of instability,” Biti, who earned international respect as finance minister in a 2009-2013 unity government, told Reuters.

Some economic and political analysts say Mnangagwa’s choices may be limited after Cyber Security Minister and close ally Patrick Chinamasa said last week he saw no need for a coalition, as ZANU-PF had a parliamentary majority.

And with Mnangagwa saying on Friday elections would go ahead next year as scheduled, the opposition would have little to gain from participating in a coalition just eight months before the vote, Professor Anthony Hawkins, a business studies professor, said.

“If I were an opposition politician I would say: what’s in it for me? Unless I‘m convinced I‘m going to lose the election, I won’t participate,” Hawkins told Reuters.

SOURCE: Reuters

Four US hikers rescued off Mexico volcano, one missing

The Mexican military and high-altitude alpine experts rescued four of five American hikers injured while climbing the tallest volcano in North America, officials said Sunday.

Initial reports said that eight people had gone missing on the country’s highest peak, an inactive volcano known as Citlaltepetl, but the figure was later lowered to five.

The Mexican Navy, Puebla state medical services and a Mexican alpine rescue group participated in the search.

A navy helicopter searched for the climbers on Saturday before a ground operation took over on Sunday, as weather took a turn for the worse.

Two of the travelers were rescued by land overnight and were taken to Mexico City, according to civil protection authorities.

Two more climbers were found in the early morning and taken to the town of Tlachichuca before being hospitalized in the state capital of Puebla. They were being treated for bruises.

– Tighter rules planned –

At midday, with bad weather grounding search helicopters, workers on foot were trying to find and bring the fifth member of the expedition off the volcano.

The governments of Puebla and Veracruz states, along with the National Defense Ministry, said they planned to revise rules on access to the peak to prevent inadequately trained or poorly equipped climbers from risking their lives.

Citlaltepetl, on the border of Puebla and Veracruz states, rises 18,372 feet (5,600 meters).

Also known as the Peak of Orizaba, the mountain is popular with climbers but has proved deadly in the past.

On Thursday, the body of a US hiker was recovered from the peak during a risky operation in which a rescuer fell into a ravine and was injured.

In 2015, the mummified remains of two climbers were found at an altitude of 17,000 feet but could not be recovered because of the perilous terrain.

Pope’s trip to Myanmar, Bangladesh turns on 1 word: Rohingya

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Pope Francis arrived Monday on a visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh to encourage their tiny Catholic communities and reach out to some of Asia’s most peripheral and poor, but the big question looming is whether he’ll utter the word “Rohingya” while he’s here.

The “will he or won’t he?” issue has dominated debate before Francis’ trip, which began Monday and ends with a youth rally in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Dec. 2.

Upon arrival in Yangon, the pope was greeted by local Catholic officials and his motorcade passed by thousands of Myanmar’s Catholics, who lined the roads, wearing traditional attire and playing music.

Children in traditional dress greeted him as he drove in a simple blue sedan, chanting “Viva il papa!” (Long live the pope) and waving small plastic Burmese and Holy See flags. Posters wishing Francis “a heartiest of welcome” lined the route into town.

En route from Rome, Francis greeted journalists on the plane and apologized for the expected heat, which was 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 Celsius) upon his arrival and is expected to rise during his stay.

In Myanmar, Francis will meet separately with the country’s civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, its powerful military chief and Buddhist monks. He’ll greet a delegation of Rohingya Muslims and meet with Bangladesh’s political and religious leadership in Dhaka. Masses for the Catholic faithful and meetings with the local church hierarchy round out the itinerary in each country.

Myanmar’s local Catholic Church has publicly urged Francis to avoid using the term “Rohyingya,” which is shunned by many locally because the ethnic group is not a recognized minority in the country. Rohingya in recent months have been subject to what the United Nations says is a campaign of “textbook ethnic cleansing” by the military in poverty-wracked Rakhine state.

Francis, though, has already prayed for “our Rohingya brothers and sisters,” and any decision to avoid the term could be viewed as a capitulation to Myanmar’s military and a stain on his legacy of standing up for the most oppressed and marginalized of society, no matter how impolitic.

“Being a religious leader — Catholic leader — means that he is well-regarded, but of course there is this worry if he says something, people might say, ‘OK, he just came to meddle,'” said Burmese analyst Khin Zaw Win, a former political prisoner. “So, I think a lot of diplomacy is needed, in addition to the public relations.”

The trip was planned before the latest spasm of violence erupted in August, when Rohingya militants attacked security positions in Rakhine. Myanmar security forces responded with a scorched-earth campaign that forced more than 620,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh, where they are living in squalid refugee camps.

In the Kutupalong refugee camp in southern Bangladesh, Senu Ara, 35, welcomed Francis’ arrival for what he might be able to do for the refugees.

“He might help us get the peace that we are desperately searching for,” she said. “Even if we stay here he will make our situation better. If he decides to send us back, he will do so in a peaceful way.”

The signals from the Vatican going into the trip were mixed about how Francis would address the refugee plight: The Vatican spokesman used the term “Rohingya” in a pre-trip briefing and said “It’s not a prohibited word” as far as the Vatican was concerned. But the Holy See’s top diplomat, Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, avoided it in an interview with Vatican media on the eve of the trip.

The debate isn’t just semantic: Myanmar’s government and most of the Buddhist majority consider them Bengali migrants from Bangladesh living illegally in the country, though Rohingya have lived there for generations.

“It’s going to be a tricky situation (if he uses the word), I think because most of the people can’t accept it,” said farmer Win Myaing.

Seaman Kyaw Thu Maung said the issue is difficult because the term “Rohingya” carries so much political weight for all of Myanmar’s people.

“But my feeling is that if the pope is going to talk about the Rakhine issue, the people aren’t going to like the pope anymore,” he said.

Egypt recovers from mosque attack, vows to respond

CAIRO – As Egyptians try to recover from the massacre at a northern Sinai mosque that left 305 dead, the area’s tribal leaders swore blood-feud revenge on Sunday against those behind the coordinated attack.

No one has claimed responsibility for Friday’s bombing and assault, but Egyptian law enforcement officials believe the Islamic State-Sinai Province, a 6-year-old terror cell that swore allegiance to the Islamic State, was responsible.

“The massacre that was carried out against the residents of al-Rawdah village will turn into a burning fire that will eliminate (the Islamic State),” said Ibrahim Ergany, chief of the Union of Sinai Tribes, a group representing the three largest Bedouin clans in the territory.

In the days following Friday’s assault — the deadliest militant attack in modern Egyptian history — the military carried out airstrikes against hideouts used by terrorists believed to be behind the attack, the military said Sunday in a statement. The airstrikes destroyed hideouts containing weapons, ammunition and explosive material, and law enforcement personnel followed up by combing through the bombed-out areas.

Those strikes did little to heal the survivors of the attack, mostly Bedouin from the Sawarka tribe, a group that spiritually identifies with the mystical Sufi order of Muslim. The Islamic State views Sufis as heretics.

Witnesses said more than two dozen assailants descended on the mosque in five all-terrain vehicles. Gunmen detonated a bomb at the end of prayers and then opened fire as people tried to flee. The gunmen also fired on ambulances and set cars on fire to block roads, witnesses said.

“I found people piled on top of each other and they kept firing at anyone,” the mosque’s Imam Mohamed Abdel Fattah told Egyptian State TV from his hospital bed in Sharqiyah, 100 miles west of the massacre site. “They fired at anyone who breathed.”

“We received warnings about 10 days ago not to perform Sufi rituals, claiming that it is contrary to Islam,” said Ahmed Ghanem al-Jarirat, a village elder in al-Rawdah. “Before the attack, we never saw any violence in our village because we are peaceful.”

Since President Mohammed Morsi was deposed by a military coup in 2013, terrorists in Egypt had mostly targeted security forces and Coptic Christians. Friday’s mosque attack signaled that the country’s armed Islamists are changing tactics and selecting Muslims with different beliefs and rituals as their new targets.

Eyewitnesses said the assailants arrived carrying the black flag of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS — a sign that the Islamic State-Sinai Province was behind the attack.

On Sunday, most people were focused on caring for the 125 worshipers who were wounded and burying those who died. Islamic tradition dictates that the dead are buried within 24 hours, creating a busy scene throughout the desert city.

“The funerals reminded me of the massacre,” said Ahmed al Sawarki, 40, who survived the attack. “The victims were buried in the mass graves, each of them with about 80 bodies inside.”

Al Sawarki said his cousin, Mansour, was one of those killed, leaving behind his family with nobody to care for the women and children. “There is no one left in the house now, other than his wife and two handicapped sisters,” al Sawarki said.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has vowed to respond to the terrorism with “brute force” and ordered the establishment of a monument to honor the victims of the mosque attack. Sisi also instructed his government to pay $11,000 to each victim’s family.

But the Bedouins of the Sinai say nothing will satisfy them short of direct retribution.

“We will not be consoled until each murderer in the Sinai is eliminated, and no mercy will be shown,” said the statement issued by Ibrahim Ergany’s Union of Sinai Tribes.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle Are Officially Engaged

After months of anticipation, Britain’s Prince Harry and former Suits star Meghan Markle announced their engagement.

Clarence House released a statement on the morning of Nov. 27, stating that Prince Harry had informed the Queen as well as other close family members, and that the wedding would take place in Spring 2018. “The couple will live in Nottingham Cottage at Kensington Palace,” it added.

Prince Harry, 33, and Los Angeles-born Markle, 36, have been dating for at least 15 months. The newly-engaged pair met for the first time in London in July 2016, when they were introduced by a mutual friend. The Prince and Markle made their first public appearance together at the Invictus Games last September, where they held hands at a wheelchair tennis event and spent time with Markle’s mother, Doria.

Markle, who is known for her role as paralegal Rachel Zane on the popular legal-drama series Suits, spoke openly about her relationship for the first time in a candid Vanity Fair interview in early September. “We’re a couple,” she said of her relationship with Harry, whom she referred to as her “boyfriend”. “We’re in love. I’m sure there will be a time when we will have to come forward and present ourselves and have stories to tell, but I hope what people will understand is that this is our time. This is for us.”

As Prince Harry is in the line of succession to the throne (he’s currently fifth in line, but will become sixth after Prince William and Kate Middleton welcome their third baby in spring 2018), he must have obtained the approval of his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, to get engaged and eventually wed Markle.

It’s not yet clear whether Harry and Markle will follow the example of Prince William and Kate Middleton by opting for a grand royal wedding ceremony with hundreds of guests at Westminster Abbey, or will instead choose to have a quieter, more intimate affair. Among the locations where the nuptials could take place is St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, where Harry’s father, Prince Charles, wed Camilla Parker Bowles and Harry’s uncle, Prince Edward, married Sophie, Countess of Wessex.

The wedding will be Markle’s second, as she married movie producer Trevor Engelson in a barefoot ceremony at the Jamaica Inn in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, in 2011 — the same year Prince William and Kate Middleton tied the knot.

Markle and Engelson divorced two years after their marriage, citing “irreconcilable differences.” Although it has previously been forbidden for a royal to marry a divorcee (King Edward VIII advocated the throne in late 1936 to marry divorced American Wallis Simpson), the family’s approach to divorce has softened over the years; Prince Charles has famously divorced and remarried.

Miss South Africa is crowned Miss Universe 2017

Miss South Africa Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters has been crowned Miss Universe 2017.

Nel-Peters beat out first runner-up Miss Colombia Laura González and second runner-up Miss Jamaica Davina Bennett for the crown Sunday night in Las Vegas.

Nel-Peters, 22, recently earned her degree in business management at North-West University.

During a pre-taped interview, the Western Cape native talked about how her experience being held at gunpoint made her passionate about training women in self-defense. She plans to bring that passion, along with a self-defense program she helped develop, to the Miss Universe platform.

During the competition’s Q&A portion, the newly crowned Miss Universe was asked about the most important issue she thought was facing women in the workplace.

“In some places, women get paid 75% of what men earn for doing the same job, working the same hours — and I do not believe that this is right,” she said. “I think we should have equal work for equal pay for women all over the world.”

Miss Colombia and Miss Jamaica also impressed the judges during the Q&A segment, answering questions on how to talk to children about terrorism and sexual harassment, respectively.

“Sexual harassment is a form of abuse and no abuse should be tolerated whether in the workplace or in society,” Bennett said. “I believe that men and women should come together and be professional.”

The competition’s top 13 finalists were Thailand, Sri Lanka, Ghana, Spain, Ireland, Croatia, Great Britain, USA, Brazil, Canada, Philippines, Venezuela and China.

America Debuts New Military Mega-Base in South Korea

While U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wage an escalating war of words over Pyongyang’s nuclear-weapons program, the U.S. military is quietly transforming its forces on the Korean Peninsula, boosting their ability to defend against an attack from the North.

The centerpiece of the transformation is a sprawling new installation south of Seoul, where the majority of the roughly 30,000 U.S. troops in South Korea are based, or soon will be. Camp Humphreys, 50 miles south of Seoul, is an American fortress on the Korean Peninsula—and the key to U.S. war plans.

In the case of open conflict with the North, Camp Humphreys “would enable the rapid deployment of augmenting U.S. forces to the [Korean military] and their expeditious projection to the forward area,” wrote Won Gon Park, an analyst for the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses (PDF).

By air and road, U.S. troops would stream from Humphreys to the front line. Meanwhile, potentially hundreds of thousands of American and allied reinforcements would flow to the base before departing for the front. Gathering senior leaders at Humphreys should help to streamline wartime planning, Dr. Bruce Bennett, an analyst with the RAND Corporation, told The Daily Beast. “If you’re strewn out all over the peninsula, it’s hard to have a classified conversation.”

As recently as 2003, U.S. forces in South Korea were scattered across 174 bases. Arguably the most problematic was the Army garrison at Yongsan in Seoul, a fast-growing city of 10 million that lies just 30 miles from the border with North Korea—well within range of Pyongyang’s heavy artillery.

To escape urban congestion and reduce the garrison’s vulnerability to artillery, in 2004 the Pentagon brokered a deal with the South Korean government to expand Camp Humphreys—then a modest-size outpost—and concentrate U.S. troops and their families there. The military aims to cut its installations in South Korea nearly in half to just 96 by 2020.

The $11-billion expansion is nearly complete. A veterinary clinic, a dental clinic, and a food court opened in October. Camp Humphreys boasts new headquarters buildings, an airstrip, firing ranges, barracks, motor pools, communications facilities, schools, day cares, retail stores, several churches, and even a golf course.

At 3,500 acres, Humphreys is as big as a small city. The military projects the camp could soon house 36,000 troops, dependents, and civilian contractors.

The base is just a few miles from Pyeongtaek harbor and equally close to Osan air base, streamlining the flow of the reinforcements by sea and air. “The greatest utility of Camp Humphreys comes from the seamless employment of joint forces during contingencies thanks to the collocation of ground, naval and air forces’ installations,” Won wrote.

The ability to quickly ship in additional troops and their vehicles has become more important in the last year. The Army used to keep hundreds of tanks and other vehicles in storage in South Korea. If war broke out, several thousand soldiers from a U.S.-based brigade would leave behind their usual equipment and rush to the peninsula to activate the stored vehicles.

But the Pentagon decided it wanted to quickly expand its tank force without waiting for new vehicles to roll out of factories. In 2016, it shipped the stored vehicles to a base in Georgia and matched them up with an existing infantry brigade.

Now that unit has joined with other brigades taking turns deploying—tanks and all—to South Korea to bolster U.S. forces on the peninsula. Increasingly, the visiting troops pass through Camp Humphreys. “Even though we’re not on a war footing, so to speak, the operational tempo remains high,” Col. Patrick Seiber, an Army spokesman, told The Daily Beast.

But there’s a downside to concentrating so much military power at one facility. While Camp Humphreys is beyond range of North Korea’s cannon artillery, it’s still within range of the North’s rockets. Pyongyang recently named the base as its number one target. “Wherever you create a high-value target, you tempt the enemy to strike that,” Bennett explained.

Humphreys isn’t defenseless against rockets. The Army keeps Patriot air-defense missiles at nearby Osan air base. The ground-combat branch also stations long-range Terminal High-Altitude Air-Defense missiles around 100 miles south of the camp. At any sign of a major North Korean mobilization, the U.S. military plans to fly civilians off the peninsula and disperse combat units into the countryside.

Ironically, Camp Humphreys’ growing importance could raise the strategic stakes on the Korean Peninsula. In a recent op-ed, Bennett recommended that the United States respond with overwhelming force to any attack on the base. “North Korea should understand that if it does target Camp Humphreys, the United States may well respond by targeting the North Korean regime leaders.”