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24 Nov

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

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US politics >>

Jill Stein raises over $2m to request US election recounts in battleground states>>

Nikki Haley chosen to serve as Trump’s US ambassador to United Nations>>

US Syria policy Signs of shift as Trump son meets pro-Russia Damascus figure>>

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Canada proposes restoring voting rights for long-term expats

  • Canadians who have lived abroad over five years to have vote restored
  • Liberal government to legislate to lift ban imposed by Conservatives
Justin Trudeau’s children watch him vote in Montreal last October

Justin Trudeau’s children watch him vote in Montreal last October. Now his government is proposing to lift restrictions on expats voting in Canadian elections. Photograph: Pool/Reuters

Canada’s Liberal government is poised to restore the voting rights of expatriates who have lived outside the country for five or more consecutive years.

The democratic institutions minister, Maryam Monsef, will on Thursday unveil legislation to reportedly remove that restriction, and help fulfil the Liberals’ election campaign promise to “make it easier for Canadians to vote”.

It is estimated that 1.4 million Canadians are affected by the current ban, which does not allow expats to receive a special mail-in ballot.

Although the law has been in place since 1993, no one had ever challenged it until 2014 when Gillian Frank and Jamie Duong – two Canadians living in the United States – took the Canadian government to court after they were denied the right to vote in the 2011 Canadian general election.

An Ontario superior court judge agreed with them that their right to vote under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms had been violated and therefore that section of the elections law was unconstitutional.

But the then Conservative government appealed against the ruling, which was reversed by Ontario’s top court, preventing expats who had lived outside Canada for five years or more from casting a ballot in last year’s Canadian general election.

The legal battle is not over.

Frank and Duong have taken their fight to the supreme court of Canada, which will hear their case in February.

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Japan’s capital wakes up to smattering of snow, with meteorologists forecasting up to 2cm would fall

 Associated Press in Tokyo

Tokyo residents have woken up to the first November snowfall in more than 50 years.

The Japan Meteorological Agency also said it was the first time fallen snow on the ground had been observed in November since such records started to be made in 1875.

An unusually cold air mass brought wet snow to Japan’s capital on Thursday. Above-freezing temperatures kept the snow from sticking in most places, though it did accumulate on sidewalks and cars in Tokyo’s far western suburbs.

Meteorologists forecast up to 2cm would fall, and more in the mountains north-west of Tokyo.

The snow caused minor train delays during the morning commute.

The last time it snowed in central Tokyo in November was 1962. Until Thursday’s fall, the earliest snow on the ground in the winter season had been on on 6 December 1987, according to the JMA.

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Large majority of MEPs condemns Turkey’s post-coup crackdown in non-binding vote

Recep Tayyip Erdo?an

The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdo?an, responded with fury, saying the vote had no value. Photograph: Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images

The European parliament has voted in favour of a freeze of membership talks with Turkey over its post-coup crackdown, further escalating tensions with the president, Recep Tayyip Erdo?an.

Erdo?an has already dismissed the vote as having no value because it is non-binding, and because most European Union member states so far want to keep the Turkey talks on track.

But the motion, approved by a big majority, is a fresh blow to ties, which have unravelled in the wake of the failed putsch on 15 July, threatening a key migration deal between Brussels and Ankara.

MEPs voting in Strasbourg, France, said the parliament “strongly condemns the disproportionate repressive measures taken in Turkey since the failed military coup attempt”.

They said they remained “committed to keeping Turkey anchored to the EU” but parliament “calls on the commission and the member states, however, to initiate a temporary freeze of the ongoing accession negotiations with Turkey”.

The motion was approved by 479 votes to 37, with 107 abstentions.

A furious Erdo?an said on Wednesday: “I want to say in advance from here and address the whole world watching on their TV screens – this vote has no value at all, no matter what result emerges.

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Death row: the lawyer who keeps losing

A single attorney has had more clients sentenced to death in federal court than any other defence lawyer in America. He’s part of a deeply flawed system that is about to get worse

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Kansas City attorney Frederick Duchardt at the Clay County courthouse in Liberty, Missouri

Kansas City attorney Frederick Duchardt at the Clay County courthouse in Liberty, Missouri. Photograph: Christopher Smith for the Guardian

n the evening of 19 November 1998, the body of a Colombian man, Julian Colon, was found in the boot of an abandoned car in Kansas City, Missouri. His hands, feet and eyes had been bound with duct tape, and he had been shot in the head. Cartel drug lords, who were importing cocaine, via Mexico, into Texas and distributing it onwards from Kansas City, were convinced that Colon had stolen $300,000 from them, and had him executed.

Ten days later, a Colombian immigrant, said to be an enforcer for the cartels, German Sinisterra, was arrested. Under interrogation, he confessed, saying that he had been told by the traffickers to fly to Kansas City from his home in Dallas, and to undertake a job for a fee of $1,000. He was afraid to say no: most of his family was in Colombia, vulnerable to reprisals. Sinisterra described how Colon was lured to a meeting by two cartel associates, where he was bound and beaten, before Sinisterra was ordered to shoot him.

Sinisterra went on trial for first degree murder in Kansas City in December 2000. His case was not heard in the local state court, but in the separate federal system, run by the Department of Justice – the forum for some of the most serious cases, many involving organised crime or terrorism. The prosecution asked the court to sentence him to death.

Leading his defence was Frederick Duchardt, a Kansas City attorney appointed by the judge. American death penalty trials consist of two successive phases. In the first – the “guilt phase” – the jury decides whether the prosecution has proven its case beyond reasonable doubt. Then, in the “penalty phase”, the same lawyer presents the case, and the same jurors determine whether the prisoner should be sentenced to death or life imprisonment.

As Sinisterra’s guilt was not disputed, what sentence he would receive was crucial. Duchardt’s plea for Sinisterra in the second, penalty stage focused on evidence that he was a caring husband and father, beloved by his family in Texas, and his relatives still in Colombia. Duchardt revealed that Sinisterra was raised in poverty in the port city of Buenaventura, had emigrated in his late teens and worked in construction. His wife, a nurse named Michelle Rankin, told the court he was “loving and caring”. They had two small children, and he also took care of his daughter from a previous relationship. His mother-in-law testified that all her family adored him. Videotapes in Spanish recorded by family members in Colombia spoke of his generosity. His nine-year-old said that her father played with her, took her to school, and had bought her a Bible story book.

None of this made much impact. The jury deliberated for less than a day before sentencing Sinisterra to death.

Since Sinisterra’s sentencing, three more of Duchardt’s clients have been condemned to death: Wes Purkey, Lisa Montgomery, and, most recently, in 2014, Charles Hall. Out of seven federal death trials, four of Duchardt’s clients have received the death penalty, two have been handed life sentences and one has been acquitted after an appeal and a retrial. This tally means that Duchardt has had more clients sentenced to death in federal court than any other defence lawyer in America.

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Texas women convicted of sexually assaulting girls have ‘unquestionably established’ their innocence, judge says after scientific evidence discredited

Four San Antonio women, known as the San Antonio Four – from right, Anna Vasquez, Elizabeth Ramirez, Kristie Mayhugh and Cassandra Rivera – look on during a hearing in San Antonio, Texas, last year.

Four San Antonio women, known as the San Antonio Four – from right, Anna Vasquez, Elizabeth Ramirez, Kristie Mayhugh and Cassandra Rivera – look on during a hearing in San Antonio, Texas, last year. Photograph: Bob Owen/AP

Four women who spent more than a decade in prison after being wrongfully convicted of sexually assaulting two girls were declared innocent and exonerated on Wednesday by Texas’s highest criminal court.

“These four women have unquestionably established that they are innocent of these charges,” Judge David Newell wrote in a majority opinion of the Texas court of criminal appeals. “Those defendants have won the right to proclaim to the citizens of Texas that they did not commit a crime. That they are innocent. That they deserve to be exonerated.”

The “San Antonio Four” were convicted of gang-raping the girls at an apartment in the city largely as a result of scientific evidence that was later discredited and retracted by the state’s expert witness. One of the girls, who were seven and nine at the time of the alleged offense in 1994, recanted her accusation in an interview with the San Antonio Express-News in 2012.

“It couldn’t be more clear that they are acknowledging and declaring that these women are factually and legally innocent and that’s obviously what we have been fighting and struggling for,” said Mike Ware, an attorney with the Innocence Project who represented them.

The outcome will allow the four to seek compensation from the state that could amount to $80,000 each for every year spent in prison. It follows a long effort by the women and their supporters to win their release and clear their names.

As evidence mounted that the convictions were faulty, the girls’ aunt, Elizabeth Ramirez, Cassandra Rivera and Kristie Mayhugh were granted bail in 2013, and Anna Vasquez was paroled in 2012. All are in their early forties. Ramirez, who was pregnant when accused, was sentenced to 37 and a half years in prison in 1997 and the other three women to 15 years in 1998. The women were subject to bail restrictions, such as requiring permission to leave the San Antonio area.

“I think maybe it hasn’t sunk in yet but we are so excited and so happy,” said Rivera, who said she cried with joy after seeing the news posted on Facebook on Wednesday morning while having coffee with her brother.

“It means everything to me, to my family. I have a son and a daughter and I do not want them living with the fact that I had been charged with a crime I did not commit, especially one such as child molestation,” she said.

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