B.C. babysitter charged with second-degree murder

August 12th, 2018

VANCOUVER -A Cranbrook, B.C., babysitter has been charged with second-degree murder in the drowning death of 19-month-old Iyanna Teeple.

Tammy Marion Bouvette, 28, was charged after the infant was found face down in a bathtub in Bouvette’s townhouse on May 26.

According to police, Bouvette called emergency crews at around noon. When they arrived, they discovered the baby girl, who wasn’t breathing, said RCMP spokesman Cpl. Chris Faulkner.

Iyanna was taken to East Kootenay Regional Hospital and then flown to Calgary Children’s Hospital, where she was taken off life support on May 28.

Though Iyanna was declared brain-dead a day earlier, she remained on life support for organ-donation purposes, Iyanna’s mother, Renee Savarie, told The Sun on Tuesday.

A forensic autopsy confirmed that she had died from drowning.

Police said Iyanna had been dropped off at Bouvette’s townhouse a few hours before she was found in the tub. The home is located in a modest area of the southeastern British Columbia town, on a street lined with low-rise apartments, duplexes, and detached homes.

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“We were at work at the time,” Savarie said, adding that she’s known Bouvette for a couple of years. “I met Tammy at a pre-natal group,” she said, explaining that they were acquaintances, “not really friends.”

Bouvette, who has four children of her own, sometimes watched Iyanna for Savarie and her husband, Jason Teeple, when Savarie’s mother or their regular sitter were unavailable.

Asked about the charges, Savarie said, “You don’t leave a baby alone in the tub. That’s every mother’s common sense.”

After interviewing Bouvette several times following Iyanna’s death, police collected enough evidence to indicate that foul play was involved, Faulkner said. On June 24, they sent the investigation to Crown counsel, who on Monday approved a charge of second-degree murder.

Faulkner said police wouldn’t be releasing many details about the case. “I’m glad it’s slowly coming to an end,” Savarie said. “We just want to get it over with.”

Iyanna, an only child, “was very polite, happy and really a great baby,” Savarie said.

“She didn’t like to see people upset, so she would do something silly to make you smile. It’s just been an emotional roller-coaster for us. … It was her birthday on the 14th of October,” she said. “We’re planning to have more kids,” she added.

Renee’s younger brother, Mike Savarie, also of Cranbrook, said his niece “was the happiest little thing around. She was always smiling.”

He said the family hopes the trial won’t drag on so his sister and her husband can finally find a way to move on from the tragedy.

Bouvette appeared in Cranbrook Provincial Court Tuesday, but will have to appear in front of a Supreme Court Justice for a bail hearing.

According to the Criminal Code, second-degree murder carries a sentence of life in prison, though the judge can set parole eligibility anywhere between 10 and 25 years. Generally, the charge applies to homicide carried out intentionally but without premeditation.

Maintenance work curbs MEG third-quarter productions; full-year targets intact

August 12th, 2018

CALGARY – MEG Energy Corp. said Wednesday its output was reduced during the third-quarter as its Christina Lake oilsands project underwent three weeks of maintenance downtime, but that it is on track to meet its full-year production targets.

The Calgary-based oilsands operator (TSX:MEG) produced an average of 20,945 barrels of bitumen per day between July and September, higher than the 19,339 barrels it churned out during the same period a year ago, when maintenance work was also undertaken.

During the first nine months of 2011, MEG produced an average of 25,450 barrels per day, and remains on track to meet its guidance range of 25,000 to 27,000 barrels.

“This quarter was a very busy one for us, and it was marked by the successful completion of a full plant turnaround at our Christina Lake facilities in late September,” said chief executive officer said Bill McCaffrey.

“And I’m happy to report that the shut down was completed in a safe and efficient manner with costs coming in as planned.”

MEG shares rose more than 7.5 per cent, or $3.21, to $45.81 Wednesday afternoon on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

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McCaffrey made his remarks on a conference call with analysts to discuss the company’s results during the third quarter, in which MEG booked net and operating losses.

McCaffrey likened a plant turnaround to a driver taking his or her car to the mechanic for regular tune-ups. First, the company inspects its systems for possible problems, then cleans them out and replaces any parts to ensure they keep working smoothly.

“We found that our equipment was in good shape, which is a strong indication that our existing operations are being very effective. Basically it tells us that our field facilities’ designs and operations are quite robust,” McCaffrey said.

Regulators require oilsands companies to undergo regular turnarounds. And since MEG has got a number of expansions in the hopper, future downtime will be needed to make tweaks along the way.

But in time, McCaffrey said it’s possible that such shutdowns will become less frequent – so long as MEG has gained enough confidence its various components can go a longer time without being cleaned or replaced.

“It is our goal, as we go forward, to reduce the amount of time and potentially the frequency of the turnarounds, and our guys are actively working on that.”

Also Wednesday, MEG recorded a net lost $115.2 million, or 60 cents per share, in the three months ended Sept. 30, compared to earnings of $21.2 million or 11 cents a year earlier.

MEG said its third-quarter loss reflected an unrealized foreign exchange loss of $101.4 million in the latest quarter, compared to a foreign exchange gain of $28.8 million in the same year-earlier period.

Stripped of the effects of unusual items, MEG reported an operating loss of $5.4 million, or three cents per share, compared to profits of $6.1 million, or three cents per share a year ago.

MEG attributed the operating loss to higher interest costs on its debt, higher staffing levels as it undergoes its Christina Lake expansions and higher costs as a result of the maintenance work.

The company develops oilsands deposits in the southern Athabasca region of Alberta using steam assisted gravity drainage, or SAGD, technology. Its key project is the Christina Lake oilsands development.

SAGD oilsands companies pipe steam underground to melt thick tar-like oilsands deposits. The oil is then collected through a second pipeline and pumped to the surface.

MEG said it expects to spend $1 billion on capital projects this year, with the majority invested in the company’s strategic plan to increase bitumen production capacity to 260,000 daily production.

Air Canada may be protecting bottom line by abandoning appeal, say experts

August 12th, 2018

MONTREAL – Air Canada’s decision to abandon a legal challenge of an arbitration ruling with one of its unions may win it some labour goodwill, but the ultimate goal is to preserve the airline’s bottom line, industry observers said Wednesday.

“The last thing that Air Canada needs at this point is more negativity. The whole issue of challenging the pension ruling just optically didn’t look good,” said Robert Kokonis of airline consulting firm AirTrav Inc.

With the economy souring and the key holiday period approaching, the national carrier could ill afford to scare off potential customers amidst a threat of disruptions by customer service workers represented by the CAW union, he said.

The customer service agents represented by the Canadian Auto Workers were the first of Air Canada’s major unionized groups to reach a collective agreement in the current round of contract negotiations.

The deal included a provision to send the difficult issue of pension reform to an arbitrator for what was intended to be a binding resolution.

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Air Canada’s original plan to challenge the arbitrator’s ruling unsettled not only the CAW, but also a hard-won agreement with the Canadian Union of Public Employees – which had agreed to abide by the arbitrator’s decision as well.

Kokonis said Air Canada’s (TSX:AC.B) brand could have been tarnished for several months until case against the CAW arbitration was heard by the Federal Court and Ontario divisional court.

Chief executive Calin Rovinescu said Tuesday the airline would abandon its judicial review “to create a climate of stability so that the company can move forward.”

The move came after he had a telephone conversation with Canadian Auto Workers president Ken Lewenza, who had threatened major disruptions.

Kokonis said more negativity at this point would create a snowball effect for the travelling public.

“As the snowball gets larger and the more the public hears about labour instability as Christmas is coming up, there is a real danger of seeing a material impact.”

Air Canada’s flight attendants union said the airline’s decision to abandon the judicial review brings relief for all bargaining groups.

“I would hope that Air Canada does want to forge peaceful times with the unions and the employees. It has been a rough go,” said CUPE national representative Daniela Scarpelli.

The head of Air Canada’s machinists union, whose members handle aircraft repairs and maintenance and baggage transport, said he was disgusted by the judicial review, calling it ridiculous.

“There was no common sense to that decision so who knows why they came to their senses,” Chuck Atkinson, district chairman of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers said from Ottawa.

The Machinists union resumes negotiations next week with eight days of talks.

Atkinson doesn’t believe the arbitration rulings for customer service agents or flight attendants will set precedents for his union’s members.

It doesn’t accept a two-tier wage system for new hires and opposes a hybrid pension model favoured by the CAW and CUPE.

“We have a separate proposal that we think will meet the needs of the company and the union guys that’s not the hybrid plan.”

The company has put a low-cost carrier on the bargaining table, but the key issues for the Machinists is money. Like other workers, they want to recoup losses from the airline’s 2003 bankruptcy protection and 2009 wage freeze.

And it’s prepared to fight back, possibly through a legal challenge, if Labour Minister Lisa Raitt threatens back-to-work legislation to prevent a strike, Atkinson said.

“We are there to get a deal, to move forward for our members, and we would not like to have a disruption in service but we’ll do what we have to do.”

Air Canada faces intense competition from lower-cost WestJet (TSX:WJA) and Porter Airlines, along with charter operators such as Transat A.T. (TSX:TRZ.B) and Sunwing.

Ian Lee, who teaches strategic management at Carleton University, said Air Canada likely miscalculated when it launched the legal challenge.

But it faces the daunting challenges of an unfunded pension liability exceeding $2 billion, low margins and intense competition.

“I think that they decided from a rational, strategic point of view that going to judicial review on the pensions was not good for their bottom line,” he said in an interview.

Just the noise about possible disruptions – even without a strike – could have affected bookings and further eroded its relationship with customers, added George Smith, a former Air Canada director of employee relations and fellow at Queen’s University.

“If you’re running a fragile business and a highly competitive one…you’ve got a lot of pressure without adding the pressure of labour unrest to the travelling public’s thought about whether and when they travel.”

He said the airline may have been trying, through the legal challenge, to send a message to the flight attendants arbitrator to stay within the bounds of their jurisdiction.

The airline has found itself in a difficult position by having a pension ruling it can’t afford, which now serves as a precedent for other labour groups, he said.

“It’s a little hard after that milk has been spilt to scoop it back into the glass.”

Air Canada’s pilots will return to the bargaining table in the fall after previously rejecting a tentative agreement.

On the Toronto Stock Exchange, Air Canada’s shares closed down two cents to $1.32 in Wednesday trading.

Mediterranean flavours add zing to warm-weather stuffed and grilled chicken

April 23rd, 2019

These tasty stuffed chicken breasts with walnuts combine the distinct Mediterranean flavours of feta cheese, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, oregano and basil.

Enjoy with a fresh salad for a complete meal.

Mediterranean Chicken

75 ml (1/3 cup) walnut pieces

125 ml (1/2 cup) feta cheese, crumbled

6 kalamata olives, pitted and chopped

4 sun-dried tomatoes (in oil), diced

15 ml (1 tbsp) lemon zest

15 ml (1 tbsp) lemon juice

15 ml (1 tbsp) oregano

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2 ml (1/2 tsp) red pepper flakes

3 boneless chicken breasts

Handful fresh basil leaves

Salt and pepper, to taste

Olive oil

Preheat barbecue to 260 C (500 F).

In a small bowl, combine walnuts, feta, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, lemon zest, lemon juice, oregano and red pepper flakes. Set aside.

Butterfly chicken breasts by slicing in half (lengthwise) so the chicken remains attached. Gently pound chicken with a mallet to flatten. Place 4 to 5 basil leaves on flattened breast followed by 1/3 of the walnut and feta mixture and spread evenly.

Begin rolling chicken from one end to the other to form a pinwheel shape. Brush with olive oil and season lightly with salt and pepper. Secure roll with butcher string or 3 to 4 skewers to prevent roll from unravelling. Repeat with remaining chicken and filling.

Reduce heat to medium-high and grill chicken for 25 to 30 minutes until internal temperature is 85 C (185 F).

Makes 6 servings.

Nutritional information per serving: 210 calories; 23 g protein; 12 g fat (3 g saturated fat); 3 g carbohydrates; 61 mg cholesterol; 1 g fibre; 416 mg sodium.

Source: California Walnuts, walnutinfo杭州桑拿.

Burn, baby, burn in Alexandre Vauthier’s sexy couture inferno, presented in Paris

April 23rd, 2019

PARIS – If the devil were a woman on the prowl for a wardrobe capable of persuading any man to sign over his soul, she need look no further than rising French star Alexandre Vauthier’s all-red fall-winter 2011-12 haute couture collection.

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As if the weather were conspiring to lend Vauthier’s inferno added credibility, Paris temperatures soared Tuesday to 32 C, turning the cramped show venue – a historic high school library illuminated by red spotlights – into a hellish sauna. The elaborately costumed audience of fashion glitteratti fanned themselves and wiped their streaming brows as Vauthier’s she-devils skulked the catwalk in clothes that faintly dripped sensuality.

A bustier fitted around the torso of a cherry-coloured fur coat to give it a formfitting hourglass shape and more than a hint of naughtiness, while the second-skin pantsuits in fire-engine neoprene left precious little to the imagination.

A draped tomato-coloured tuxedo was fitted with dangling panels that formed a seductive V-shape as the model walked, as did the oversized butterfly wing sleeves on a maroon cocktail dress.

Flames made from glimmering beads licked up from the hemline of a square-shouldered gown – the product, Vauthier said, of more than 600 hours of painstaking embroidery.

With their sculptural batwing sleeves and plunging backs, the necklines of the rusty red sheath dresses looked like puckering lips.

“When I started thinking of this collection, I imagined something smeared entirely with lipstick,” Vauthier told The Associated Press in a backstage interview. “I mean, lipstick is really the symbol of femininity.”

Judge sends Bret Michaels’ lawsuit over Tony Awards accident to New York

April 23rd, 2019

LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Bret Michaels’ lawsuit over an accident at the 2009 Tony Awards that the singer claims nearly killed him should be heard in New York where the accident happened, a federal judge in Los Angeles has ruled.

It makes more sense for the case – which stems from Michaels being hit in the head by a set piece after performing at Radio City Music Hall – to be handled by a federal court in Manhattan, U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee wrote in a ruling Tuesday.

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The Poison frontman sued CBS Broadcasting and Tony organizers in March in Los Angeles, claiming the accident contributed to a brain hemorrhage that nearly killed him. His attorneys argued the case should be heard on the West Coast since Michaels lives in Los Angeles and Arizona, as do some witnesses, including his manager and other workers.

Gee agreed with attorneys for Tony Awards Productions that much of the potential evidence and the vast majority of witnesses – including actors and production workers on the awards show – are in New York.

Michaels is seeking unspecified damages on claims that show organizers never explained that the set would be changing after the band performed “Nothin’ But a Good Time” during the 2009 Tony Awards. The accident broke his nose, and he contends it led to the hemorrhage that later left him hospitalized and forced him to cancel several concerts.

He also claims the show could have prevented the incident from airing, but chose not to. The clip of the accident became a viral hit on the Internet, with more than 27 million views on YouTube when the case was originally filed.

Email messages to spokespersons for the Tonys were not immediately returned.

Under starry summer night sky, Chanel’s crystal-emblazoned skirt suits shine

April 23rd, 2019

PARIS – When it comes to putting on blockbuster shows, the sky is literally the limit for Chanel. For its fall-winter 2011-12 haute couture collection, the deep-pocketed French label recreated a life-sized model of Paris’ Place Vendome jewelry Mecca – complete with a starry night sky.

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The Chanel display usually takes place in the morning, but to add to the nighttime feeling of Tuesday’s show, it was held at the unprecedented hour of 10 p.m. That meant a fatigued fashion crowd, which had been working largely non-stop for the previous 11 hours, traipsed into the venue – Paris’ glass and steel Grand Palais.

Models circled the set’s centrepiece – a life-sized version of the towering column that presides over Place Vendome – in cropped jackets with shirtdress hybrids with sculptural bell-shaped peplums, which were layered over hobblingly tight pencil skirts. In dark tweed embroidered with Swarvoski crystals, the ensembles twinkled like the faux night sky of the set.

Translucent, thigh-high boots and boater hats completed the looks.

The evening wear also hewed closely to the same silhouettes. Lean, ankle-length tweed dresses were embellished with trompe l’oeil contrast piping – in scintillating crystals – that mimicked the brand’s best-selling skirt suits.

It was a collection that looked likely to appeal to the growing couture clientele in Asia, who tend to want Chanel clothes to be instantly recognizable as such – particularly when they’re shelling out five figures for a dress.

And what could possibly scream Chanel more than an evening gown that looks like an elongated version of Coco Chanel’s iconic skirt suit?

William, Kate trade western wear for formal attire to wrap up Canadian visit

March 23rd, 2019

TORONTO – After fully embracing Stampede style, Prince William and Kate swapped their white cowboy hats and western wear for more formal attire as the couple’s Canadian tour drew to a close.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge launched the Calgary Stampede parade on Friday beaming from under the brims of their white cowboy hats.

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Kate wore a white long-sleeved “Rodeo” cotton- and silk-blend blouse by Temperley London paired with jeans. The look was quite similar to what Kate wore the previous evening when she pulled on jeans and a printed, white long-sleeved blouse by the same designer.

William appeared to be wearing the exact same outfit as he did Thursday, when he and his wife watched a demonstration of Stampede rodeo events.

He wore a green and navy plaid print buttoned-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up and jeans, and donned it again to watch the Stampede parade on Friday morning.

They both appeared to have completed their western outfits with cowboy boots.

But for their tour of the Calgary Zoo and the remaining stops on their Canadian visit, William had reverted to his familiar navy suit and tie.

Kate gave one last patriotic style nod to Canada as she again opted to wear the Queen’s Maple Leaf Brooch. She was first seen wearing the glittering diamond brooch for Canada Day celebrations in Ottawa.

The Queen, as Princess Elizabeth, wore the brooch on her first visit to Canada in 1951 and again on Canada Day last year.

For her final Canadian appearances, Kate wore the symbolic jewelry piece pinned to a bold red satin and wool coat-dress from Catherine Walker.

Zippy fish tacos with citrus slaw ideal for outdoor summertime meal

March 23rd, 2019

This zippy fish dish is ideal for serving on the patio or at the cottage. It incorporates catfish fillets with hints of citrus and small flour tortillas. Serve with an orange slaw to give a crispy balance to the meal.

Citrus Catfish Tacos

15 ml (1 tbsp) chili powder

15 ml (1 tbsp) canola oil

15 ml (1 tbsp) lime juice

4 farm-raised catfish fillets (each 175 to 250 g/6 to 8 oz)

8 small flour tortillas

Lime wedges (optional)

Citrus Slaw

2 oranges

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500 ml (2 cups) prepared coleslaw mix

250 ml (1 cup) thinly sliced red pepper

125 ml (1/2 cup) thinly sliced red onion

30 ml (2 tbsp) each canola oil and seasoned rice vinegar

30 ml (2 tbsp) chopped fresh coriander

Citrus Slaw: Cut both ends off oranges. Using sawing motion, cut skin and white pith off oranges and discard. Using a smaller knife, cut in between segments to get orange sections and place in a large bowl. Add coleslaw mix, red pepper, red onion, oil, vinegar and coriander. Toss to combine well and set aside.

Fish Tacos: In a small bowl, stir together chili powder, oil and lime juice. Brush mixture over both sides of catfish fillets. Place in a non-stick skillet or grill pan over medium-high heat and cook for about 10 minutes, turning once, until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Remove to cutting board and cut each fillet in half lengthwise. Place each half of catfish on one of the flour tortillas and top with citrus slaw. Fold over and serve.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Nutritional information per 175-g (6-oz) serving: 485 calories; 39 g protein; 44 g carbohydrates; 18 g fat; 8 g fibre; 1.3 mg iron.

Fast-food chicken noodle bowl favourite gets a nutritious makeover

March 23rd, 2019

Here’s proof a fast-food favourite can get a nutritious makeover with fresh vegetables, milk and lean chicken breast. It’s a healthy meal to please take-out food fans.

Chicken Noodle Bowl

15 ml (1 tbsp) butter

375 g (12 oz) boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 2), cut into thin strips

30 ml (2 tbsp) minced fresh ginger root (or 5 ml/1 tsp ground ginger)

750 ml (3 cups) reduced-sodium chicken broth

50 ml (1/4 cup) reduced-sodium soy sauce

30 ml (2 tbsp) rice vinegar

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5 ml (1 tsp) Asian red chili sauce (or to taste)

250 g (8 oz) small mushrooms, thinly sliced

3 stalks celery, thinly sliced

175 g (6 oz) wide rice noodles

30 ml (2 tbsp) cornstarch

375 ml (1 1/2 cups) milk

2 green onions, thinly sliced

Heat a large pot over medium-high heat. Add butter, swirl to coat. Add half each of the chicken and ginger and saute for 2 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink inside; transfer to a bowl (some ginger will stick to pot). Repeat with remaining chicken and ginger. Set aside.

Add broth, soy sauce, vinegar and chili saute to pot; increase heat to high and bring to a boil, scraping up brown bits.

Stir in mushrooms, celery and noodles. Whisk cornstarch into milk; stir into pot. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring, for 5 to 10 minutes or until bubbling and noodles are tender.

Stir in chicken mixture. Season to taste with more chili sauce, if desired. Using tongs, divide chicken and noodles among warmed serving bowls; ladle broth on top. Top with green onions.

Makes 4 servings.

Source: Dairy Farmers of Canada, MyMilkCalendar杭州龙凤

Court orders curator to protect and preserve Indian temple’s newly revealed treasures

March 23rd, 2019

NEW DELHI – India’s top court Wednesday ordered that a curator be appointed to protect and preserve the vast treasures newly revealed in a Hindu temple in southern India.

The gold coins, jewels and gem-encrusted statues were found recently in an inventory of underground vaults of the 16th-century Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Kerala. Initial estimates put the value at $22 billion but the inventory is not yet finished.

The Supreme Court also Wednesday directed that the entire trove be photographed and filmed.

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The court previously ordered the inspection of the vaults after a lawyer petitioned a local court asking the state government to take over the temple. The lawyer cited security concerns.

The Court appointed two retired judges to serve as observers to supervise the opening up of the temple’s treasures, directing that the inventory be prepared in their presence.

The temple was built by the maharajas who ruled the then-kingdom of Travancore and was controlled by the erstwhile royal family after India’s independence in 1947. It is dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, and the treasures were donated by devotees for centuries.

So far five of the six vaults of the temple have been opened.

The Supreme Court is expected give its orders on forcing open the remaining vault on Friday as its steel-framed doors will have to be cut open.

The unforeseen riches instantly have turned the temple into one of India’s wealthiest religious institutions.

The royal family had petitioned the court against the inspection but hasn’t commented on the revelations since the vaults were opened.

Jeter back from injury and playing for Yankees, six hits shy of 3,000 club

February 23rd, 2019

CLEVELAND – On a tradition-filled day, Derek Jeter is back playing shortstop and batting leadoff for the New York Yankees.

Sidelined since June 13 with a calf injury, Jeter was activated from the 15-day disabled list Monday to continue his quest to reach 3,000 career hits. Jeter is batting first and playing short in manager Joe Girardi’s starting lineup as the Yankees open a three-game series with the Cleveland Indians.

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The Yankees’ captain, named to his 12th all-star team Sunday, needs six more hits to become the 28th major leaguer to reach 3,000. He is batting .260 in 62 games this season.

Jeter is also just a few swings from becoming the first player in New York’s storied history to eclipse 3,000 – a distinction that would separate the 37-year-old from all previous pinstriped greats.

Jeter was eligible to come off the DL last week, but needed more time to strengthen his calf. The AL East-leading Yankees went 14-4 without him.

As he dressed before the game, Jeter quietly chatted with former major leaguer Bobby Bonilla, who now works for the players’ union. Alex Rodriguez walked into the Yankees’ clubhouse after getting a haircut and faked being surprised when he walked up to Jeter, who shared a hug with his teammate.

Jeter spent the weekend on a rehab assignment with double-A Trenton. On Sunday, he went 1-for-2 with a bunt single, a walk and a throwing error in six innings.

If Jeter doesn’t reach 3,000 hits over the next three days in Cleveland, he may have the chance to reach the milestone at Yankee Stadium. New York will open a four-game series with Tampa Bay on Thursday before heading into the all-star break.

Moroccans turn out in record numbers to approve new constitution, says government

February 23rd, 2019

RABAT, Morocco – Moroccans on Friday overwhelmingly approved a new constitution their king says will bring the country much-needed democratic reform, the Interior Ministry announced.

The 98.94 per cent approval rating and 72.56 per cent turnout appeared to indicate strong belief by Moroccans in the king’s promises of reform just months after hundreds of thousands marched throughout the North African country calling for more democracy.

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The huge turnout Friday announced by the government was in stark contrast to the 37 per cent that voted in 2007 parliamentary elections, and evoked some skepticism among pro-democracy activists.

“Now we have become a banana monarchy,” said Elaabadila Chbihna of the pro-democracy February 20 movement, whose demonstrations over past months sparked the King Mohammed VI’s decision to amend the constitution. “I am very skeptical, by 2 p.m. very few people had been to the polling stations.”

The amended constitution gives more power to the parliament and the prime minister and guarantees the independence of the judiciary, while still leaving control in the hands of the king.

The February 20 movement had called for a boycott, saying the new constitution was drawn up without consulting the public and left too much power in the king’s hands.

In Washington Friday, a State Department spokesman, Mark Toner, said that the United States welcomed the peaceful conduct of the referendum during what it called a period of profound change for Morocco.

“We welcome the referendum as an important step in Morocco’s democratic development. We feel this referendum did allow the people to express their views” on some of the issues outlined in King Mohammed’s reforms.