An Indian court sentenced four men to death Friday for the rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman in New Delhi, an attack that appalled the South Asian nation.
Announcing the sentence, Judge Yogesh Khanna said the crime "shocked the collective conscience" of India and fell into the "rarest of rare category" that deserves capital punishment.
"In these times when crimes against women are on the rise, the court cannot turn a blind eye to this gruesome act," he said.
One of the convicted men, Vinay Sharma, broke down in tears and cried loudly as the judge spoke.
Prosecutors had asked for the death penalty for the men, citing the "extreme brutality" of the attack, which took place on a moving bus in December. They had also argued that the court needed to send a message to Indian society with its judgment.
Anger about the deadly assault has had a widespread impact in India. It set off demonstrations in various cities, started a debate about women's treatment in Indian society and prompted the introduction of tougher punishments for sexual abuse.
"We are very happy. Justice has been delivered," said the father of the victim, whose name has been withheld under Indian law.
Calls for the men to be executed had come from the victim's family members, high-profile politicians and many other Indians.
The announcement of the sentence was met with cheering from hundreds of protesters outside the court. Posters and banners held by those in the crowd read "hang the rapists" and "a woman's life is the foundation, do not defile it."
Indian Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said his initial reaction was that "justice was given to that girl and family."
Defense lawyers had urged the judge to show leniency and sentence the convicts to life in prison, saying the death penalty should be the exception, not the rule.
As the judge announced the death sentence, defense lawyer A.P. Singh shouted, "This is not the victory of truth. But it is the defeat of justice."
A shocking attack
The brutality of the New Delhi attack, as described by police and prosecutors, helped stir the strong emotions surrounding the case.
On the evening of December 16, the victim, a 23-year-old physiotherapy student, had gone to see the movie "The Life of Pi" with a male friend at a New Delhi mall.
During their journey home to the suburbs, they boarded a bus at a major intersection in upmarket South Delhi.
The driver and at least five other men on the bus were drunk and looking for a "joyride," police said.
The men, from a poverty-ridden slum on the outskirts of Delhi, dragged the woman to the back of the bus and beat up her male friend.
Police say the men took turns raping the woman, using an iron rod to violate her as the bus drove around the city for almost an hour. When they had finished, they dumped the two victims by the side of the road.
The woman's injuries were so severe that some internal organs had to be removed. She died two weeks later at a hospital in Singapore.
After a trial that lasted about seven months, the Delhi court on Tuesday convicted four of the men -- aged between 19 and 28 -- of murder, rape and kidnapping.
The victim's parents had tears in their eyes as the judge read the verdict, in which he said the men had been found guilty of "committing the murder of a helpless victim." Her brother wiped a tear from his cheek.
The four men -- Sharma, Akshay Thakur, Pawan Gupta and Mukesh Singh -- will appeal the verdict, their lawyers said.
Human rights groups criticized the decision to impose capital punishment.
"The rape and murder of the young woman in Delhi last year was a horrific crime, and our deepest sympathy goes out to the victim's family. Those responsible must be punished, but the death penalty is never the answer," said Tara Rao, director of Amnesty International India. "Sending these four men to the gallows will accomplish nothing except short-term revenge."
Rao said there is "no evidence that the death penalty is a particular deterrent to crime, and its use will not eradicate violence against women in India."
Death sentences issued by Indian courts have rarely been carried out in the past decade. No state executions took place in the country between 2004 and late 2012, when the last surviving gunman from the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai was hanged.
But human rights advocates have said they fear that India's stance on executions has changed.
"In the past year, India has made a full-scale retreat from its previous principled rejection of the death penalty," Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said last month.
Two others accused
The fate of two others accused in the case had been determined before this week.
One man, Ram Singh, 35, was found dead in his jail cell in March. Authorities said he had hanged himself, but his family said he had been murdered.
A juvenile court convicted a teenage boy on August 31 for his part in the gang rape, sentencing him to three years in a special juvenile correctional facility.
His trial was in juvenile court because he was 17 at the time of the crime, and the sentence is the maximum allowed under the court's rules.
Many Indians, including the victim's family, expressed dissatisfaction with the sentence.
The same crowd outside the courthouse that cheered Friday's death sentence for the four adults turner their ire on the juvenile. The crowd chanted, "hang the juvenile."
A lawyer for the victim's family said they would go to India's top court to contest the youth's sentence.
A rape every 22 minutes
As in many countries, rape is a grimly frequent occurrence in India.
According to Indian government statistics, a woman is raped every 22 minutes on average.
But the New Delhi attack seized the country's attention.
Advocates criticized the world's largest democracy for failing to protect half of its population. Protesters demanded better treatment of women and decried the apathy of police and the judicial system.
The government passed tougher anti-rape laws, introducing the death penalty for repeat offenders, and imprisonment for acid attacks, human trafficking and stalking.
But some Indians say that while the laws on crimes against women have changed, mindsets and enforcement have been slower to adjust.
'Take it to the source'
Government figures show that the number of women reporting rapes has risen significantly since the New Delhi attack and the heavy scrutiny that followed it. Observers say it indicates that women who are victims of sexual attacks feel more emboldened to come forward than they did before.
Prosecution of such crimes has improved, said Kiran Bedi, a human rights activist and former Indian police officer But it will take a heavy emphasis on the family and school environments to resolve the problem in the long run, Bedi says.
"You can't just begin and end with the police and the prosecution and the courts," she said. "You have to go backward and take it to the source."
Russia and the United States will meet later this month to discuss a possible diplomatic solution to the crisis in Syria, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said from Switzerland on Friday, where the two nations are holding a second day of talks about Syria's chemical weapons.
Kerry said they would meet "around the United Nations General Assembly" on September 28.
Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, spoke to reporters after meeting with the joint U.N. and Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, in Geneva.
They pledged to work toward setting a date for a second round of peace talks involving all parties in Syria, known as Geneva II, at the meeting in New York.
U.S. President Barack Obama is "deeply committed to a negotiated solution with respect to Syria, and we know Russia is likewise," Kerry said. "We are working hard to find common ground to be able to make that happen. And we discussed some of the homework that we both need to do."
The secretary of state said that conversations with the Russian delegation about Syria's chemical weapons had been "constructive" and would continue Friday.
The possibility of progress in the planned talks in New York will largely depend on whether negotiations in the next hours and days over Syria's chemical weapons succeed, Kerry said.
Lavrov said the meeting with Brahimi had been "very useful."
Russia has promoted a peaceful solution to the situation in Syria from the beginning, and it was unfortunate that a communique agreed to at a first round of peace talks in Geneva last year had been "basically abandoned," he said.
On chemical weapons, Lavrov said international officials had to work together "to design a road which would make sure that this issue is resolved quickly, professionally, as soon as practical."
Up to 37 people died Friday after a fire tor through a psychiatric institution in Russia, a regional branch of the country's Investigative Committee said, according to the state-run RIA Novosti news agency.
A representative of Russia's Emergencies Ministry gave a different toll, telling the news agency that 15 bodies had been recovered and 22 people were still missing after the fire outside the central Russian city of Veliky Novgorod.
A criminal case has been opened to look into the cause of the fire, according to a statement on the Investigative Committee's website.
A total of 59 people were inside the building when the fire broke out, the Health Ministry said, according to RIA Novosti. The Emergencies Ministry said 23 people have been rescued, according to the news agency.
Police are searching the area for residents who may have fled the site, it said.
The fire broke out shortly before 3 a.m. Moscow time in the men's ward of the Oksochi mental health care clinic, state-run Itar-Tass reported. The facility is a low-level wooden building.
The fire has been extinguished, the news agency said, and dozens of emergency personnel are working at the scene.
In April, a fire at another psychiatric hospital near the capital, Moscow, left 38 people dead. President Vladimir Putin called for an investigation and a closer focus on fire safety in hospitals after that blaze.
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The cultural practices and beliefs of the Caribs and West African descendants are the underpinning factors which has shaped the characteristics of SVG’s present day culture and society. The following are the major cultural highlights of this unique society.
Prof Leonard O’Garro is a plant pathologist whose work has been principally concerned with the use of science to treat or eradicate diseases that attack food crops in the region, and the development and adoption of biotechnology and biosafety protocols in CARICOM. He has had careers as a distinguished academic and a scientist who has ensured that his work is of direct value to the long-term sustainable development of the region, in the crucial area of food security. Born in St Vincent, Leonard O’Garro entered the UWI, Cave Hill, as an undergraduate in 1979. He was awarded his PhD in biology in 1986, whereupon he joined the faculty of Pure and Applied Sciences at Cave Hill. He was appointed Professor of Plant Pathology in 1999. He left UWI in 2005 to become the United Nations Biosafety Coordinator managing the United Nations Environmental Programme project for the Development of National Biosafety Frameworks. He was responsible for the Caribbean region’s implementation in compliance with the Cartegena Protocol for Biosafety. His work has directly affected all the countries of the OECS, by providing specialized training to create crop protection means and methodologies in those countries (and Barbados) for specialized or important crops including pepper, tomato, onion, yams, and papaya. He has also been key in designing the University of the West Indies’s biotechnology thrust for and on behalf of Caricom countries. Prof O’Garro has been widely recognized for his work. He has received UNESCO Biotechnology and International Fellowships (1993, 1987-88), and a Leverhulme Fellowship (1993). In 2009, he was recognized as a Caribbean Icon of Science by the National Institute for Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology (NIHERST, Trinidad & Tobago). He has also been a member of several high-level international panels on biotechnology policy and research for agencies including the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), UWI, and CARICOM, as well as several government panels on sugar, cotton, and intellectual property in Barbados.
A Boston-area man, who was planning to kidnap children, lock them in a basement dungeon, rape and eat them, should be imprisoned for at least 27 years, federal authorities said in court documents filed this week.
Geoffrey Portway pleaded guilty in May to distribution and possession of child pornography and solicitation to commit a crime of violence, according to court documents. He is scheduled to be sentenced on September 17.
"Portway has pled guilty to some of the most vile and heinous crimes known to our society," federal prosecutors wrote in a sentencing recommendation.
But a lawyer for the 40-year-old defendant told CNN his client "lived in a fantasy world" and there was no evidence he harmed any child.
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Portway went by the moniker "Fat Longpig" during his online chats, according to court documents. It was these chats that put Portway on the radar screen of police.
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When his home in Worcester was searched last year, authorities found tens of thousands of computer images and videos of child pornography and 4,500 exchanges of child pornography between Portway and the people he chatted with online. The images included children being cooked and prepared to be eaten, court documents said. Those photographs are sealed.
Authorities also found a locked basement, court documents show. Photos taken the day of Portway's arrest, and released by prosecutors, show a narrow wooden staircase leading downstairs to a soundproof room.
It was furnished with a metal cage with a circular hole for feeding, a rusted and worn steel-topped table, as well as multiple kinds of metal bondage equipment. A child-sized coffin made of plywood was found on the floor nearby.
Portway's lawyer, Richard J. Sweeney, told CNN that Tuesday's sentencing hearing will be "the proper time to address all the issues addressed by the government." But he added, "There's no evidence at all of Geoffrey being involved with any child or harming any child."
"Geoffrey lived in a fantasy world where he did live-action role playing, did things online unrelated to child porn and cannibalism. A lot of the chats that he had were, in his mind, fantasy," Sweeney said. "When they went out to the other people he was talking to, these other people actually had kids they were taking photos of. Geoffrey did not have any kids he had abducted, though he certainly talked about it."
Photographs reviewed by CNN show handcuffs, rope intended for bondage, mouth gags, and castration tools. A large box of frozen raw chicken, near a handful of disposable scalpels, was photographed by investigators near two industrial-sized freezers.
In the kitchen, a jug of bleach was seen by the doorway, while a red child-sized "onesie" lay on the countertop, amid snacks and disposable syringes. A butcher kit containing plastic gloves, multiple knives and other items was photographed in the sink.
Among a DVD collection, the documents show, were titles such as "Human Beast," "Hansel and Gretel," "The Real Cannibal Holocaust," "The Genesis Children," "Cannibal the Musical," and "Cannibal Ferox," a film with the tagline "Make them die slowly."
Online chats, seized by police, showed Portway call his basement a "dungeon" where he intended to "keep kidnapped children while he sexually abused them and as a place to eventually murder and cannibalize the children."
Two other men who chatted with Portway have already been convicted.
One was a puppeteer who, authorities say, plotted with Portway to kidnap children the puppeteer knew from his work at a local Florida church.
"Portway's collection is truly chilling and demonstrates a real risk based upon which the Court should sentence Portway to a substantial term of years in order to protect the public," prosecutors said.
Russians and Americans have been duking it out in the Twitter world over who's scoring more points in high-stakes diplomatic wrangling over Syria, U.S. President Barack Obama or Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, tweeted Thursday: "Three days ago there seemed no diplomatic way to hold Assad accountable. Threat of U.S. action finally brought Russia to the table."
In her tweet, Margarita Simonyan, head of Russia's English-language television network RT, quipped: "If the Russian proposal on Syria works, Obama, as an honest man, has to give his Nobel Prize to Putin."
Taking Syria's chemical weapons out of government control and preventing another horrendous attack on civilians is too serious an issue to reduce to political one-upmanship.
But after Putin's bombshell opinion piece in the New York Times in which, among other things, he takes America to task for an "alarming" pattern of intervening in the internal conflicts of foreign countries, it's obvious something has shifted.
"It absolutely is a diplomatic win by Putin right now," said Fiona Hill, expert on Putin and director of the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution.
"If we think about this as judo, which is of course Mr. Putin's favorite sport, this is just one set of moves," she said. "And right now, he's managed to get Obama off the mat, at least, and get the terms set down that play to his advantage."
Putin's comments cause a fuss
Putin stopped Obama's drive for military action against Syria in its tracks this week as Russia's plan to put Syria's chemical weapons under international control pushes the action to the United Nations, just where Putin wants it.
Russia has veto power in the U.N. Security Council, and as Hill noted, it's an "arena that they're really very skilled at, which is usually blocking other people from getting resolutions or moving forward."
Putin's op-ed is not going down lightly in Washington. Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez said the piece made him almost want to throw up.
"Mr. Putin's personality has been widely demonized in the Western world, so anything that comes from Mr. Putin will be met not only with skepticism but a lot of people will reject just out of hand anything that Mr. Putin will say," said Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center.
"However, in this particular situation, when so many people are confused in the United States, in Europe, including in the political classes of Western countries, the arguments that Putin is making so clearly could be used in the domestic debate," he added.
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Trenin thinks Putin "is trying to insert himself and the Russian position into the debate that's now ongoing on Capitol Hill, within the U.S. more broadly, in the European countries. He does not want to leave the field to Westerners alone. He wants to have a voice in that discussion."
Arguments Putin presents in his op-ed struck a chord with some in Washington, even if they dislike him.
One example: "Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multi-religious country. There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government."
Other points, like his swipe at Obama's comment this week trumpeting American "exceptionalism," are bound to irritate some of the Americans Putin is trying to sway.
Sen. James Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma, said Thursday that "Putin was lecturing to the United States, and I could hear (Ronald) Reagan turning over in his grave as this was going on."
Some Russians claim that Obama "owes" Putin for getting him out of a bind. Alexey Pushkov, chairman of the Russian State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee, tweeted tartly: "Obama should be 'for' Russia's plan with two hands. It gives him a chance not to start a new war, not lose in the Congress, and not become another Bush," referring to his predecessor.
Hill said Putin did do Obama a favor.
"For Putin, being the old KGB guy, having someone owe him something is always to his advantage," she said.
"But this is more about a win for Russia here. Russia gets an imminent U.S. strike off the table for a while," Hill said.
The White House is trying to throw the ball back to Putin, cautioning that his chemical weapons proposal will boomerang if it doesn't work.
Putin "now owns this. He has fully asserted ownership of it, and he needs to deliver," a senior White House official told CNN.
Strobe Talbott, president of the Brookings Institution and former deputy secretary of state in the Clinton administration, tweeted: "If Kerry-Lavrov meeting exposes Russian proposal as sham, it will strengthen Obama's hand with Congress, assuring what Putin hopes to stop."