History of slavery in America unleashes Trump frustrations

Maryland authorities have taken down a statue of a 19th century chief justice who wrote an infamous pro-slavery decision, the latest example of action across the United States over memorials that have triggered racially charged protests.

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Meanwhile, the mother of a woman killed when a man crashed a car into a crowd of counter-protesters at a white nationalist rally in the Virginia city of Charlottesville last week said that after hearing Donald Trump’s latest comments, she did not want to talk to the president.

In what has become the biggest domestic crisis of his presidency, Trump has been strongly criticised, including by many fellow Republicans, for blaming the Charlottesville violence not only on the rally organisers, but also the anti-racism activists who opposed them.

Crews in Maryland’s state capital, Annapolis, removed the 145-year-old bronze statue of Roger Taney from its base outside State House overnight using a crane, local media showed.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, a Republican, had called on Wednesday for the monument to be taken down immediately. Taney’s 1857 ruling, known as the Dred Scott decision, reaffirmed slavery and said black people could not be US citizens.

0:00 Mounting criticism of US President as the political fallout continues Share Mounting criticism of US President as the political fallout continues

Opponents of monuments to the Confederate states, which fought in the US Civil War for the preservation of slavery, view them as a festering symbol of racism.

Supporters say they honour American history, and some of the monuments have become rallying points for white nationalists.

In North Carolina, Durham County Sheriff Mike Andrews said his officers were preparing for a possible march by white nationalists in front of a Durham city courthouse on Friday, the News & Observer newspaper reported. Protesters tore down a Confederate statue in the city earlier this week.

Efforts to remove many such statues around the country have been stepped up since the Charlottesville rally, called by white nationalists to protest plans to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

Trump on Thursday decried the removal of Confederate monuments, drawing stinging rebukes from fellow Republicans in a controversy that has inflamed racial tensions nationwide.

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Trump’s lawyer expects Russia probe to end shortly

The White House lawyer dealing with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling believes the focus of the probe is “narrow” and aspects related to President Donald Trump should be completed before the end of the year.

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The lawyer, Ty Cobb, who joined the White House staff on July 31, declined to provide specifics backing his outlook, which contradicts media reports that the scope of Mueller’s probe is expanding and the views of several outside experts that the investigation is likely to continue well into 2018.

“I’d like to see the president out from under this by Thanksgiving, but certainly by year end,” Cobb said, adding that he would be “embarrassed” otherwise.

Mueller is investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, among other matters. Moscow has denied interfering in the election and the president has denied collusion took place.

Cobb said he meets with or talks to Trump almost daily and interacts with Mueller’s team.

As a White House lawyer, Cobb is in a different position than the president’s outside counsel John Dowd and Jay Sekulow. Cobb would not be able to assert attorney-client privilege to protect his conversations with Trump from a grand jury subpoena.

Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller, declined to comment on any timeline for the probe or which matters would fall under the special counsel’s aegis.

Trump has said he believes investigations of his and his family’s finances would be beyond the scope of Mueller’s probe. Mueller is reportedly already looking at Trump’s business dealings going back a decade.

Cobb said he believed Mueller’s 16-lawyer team was “appropriately focused” and understood “the urgency to the country and to the presidency” of finishing the probe as quickly as possible.

Several legal experts said Cobb’s timeline was unrealistic, noting similar probes have dragged on for years.

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Roman Polanski victim’s bid to end case rejected

A Los Angeles judge has rejected a request by the woman who was raped by director Roman Polanski 40 years ago to have the criminal case against him dismissed.

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Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon ruled that Polanski remained a fugitive from justice and that the court could not dismiss a case “merely because it would be in the victim’s best interest.”

The ruling follows the first appearance in June in the case by Samantha Geimer, who was 13 years old when Polanski sexually assaulted her in Los Angeles in 1977.

The director, who admitted raping Geimer, spent 42 days in pre-trial custody. He then fled the United States, fearing a plea bargain with prosecutors would be overruled and that he would get a lengthy prison term.

The Chinatown director, who turned 84 on Friday, has never returned and numerous attempts by his lawyers to strike a deal without him spending more time in prison have failed.

“The defendant in this matter stands as a fugitive and refuses to comply with court orders,” Gordon wrote.

Geimer went to Los Angeles Superior Court in June pleading for his case to be resolved, saying she had forgiven Polanski years ago and wanted the case put to rest “as an act of mercy to myself and my family.”

Geimer, who has three sons and now lives in Hawaii, said in June that Polanski had apologised to her years ago, but that she continued to remain a victim because of media attention each time there was a new development in the case.

Gordon on Friday also rejected a request by Polanski’s attorney, Harland Braun, to unseal testimony about the 1977 plea deal. Braun had hoped to use the testimony to persuade European authorities to rescind the international arrest warrant against Polanski.

Two recent bids by the United States to extradite Polanski, from Switzerland and Poland, have failed.

Braun says Polanski wants to be able to travel freely and to visit the grave in the United States of his wife, Sharon Tate, who was murdered in Los Angeles by followers of Charles Manson in 1969.

Polanski’s career has flourished despite the notoriety of the rape case. In 2003, he won an Oscar for directing the Holocaust film The Pianist but did not travel to the United States to collect it.

Braun on Friday expressed frustration at the failure to resolve matters.

“This case is 40 years old, with an 84 year-old defendant and a 50 year-old victim requesting that the matter be resolved… It appears that a resolution of this case should be simple,” he said.

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Barcelona van attacker may still be alive

The driver of the van that ploughed into crowds in Barcelona, killing 13 people, may still be alive and at large, Spanish police said, denying earlier media reports that he had been shot dead in a Catalan seaside resort.

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Josep Lluis Trapero, police chief in Spain’s northeastern region of Catalonia, said he could not confirm the driver was one of five men killed.

“It is still a possibility but, unlike four hours ago, it is losing weight,” he told regional TV.

The driver abandoned the van and fled on Thursday after speeding along a section of Las Ramblas, the most famous boulevard in Barcelona, leaving a trail of dead and injured among the crowds of tourists and local residents thronging the street.

It was the latest of a string of attacks across Europe in the past 13 months in which militants have used vehicles as weapons – a crude but deadly tactic that is near-impossible to prevent and has now killed nearly 130 people in France, Germany, Britain, Sweden and Spain.

Suspected jihadists have been behind the previous attacks. Islamic State said the perpetrators of the latest one had been responding to its call to target countries involved in a U.S.-led coalition against the Sunni militant group.

Hours after the van rampage, police shot dead five people in the Catalan resort of Cambrils, 120 km down the coast from Barcelona, after they drove their car at pedestrians and police officers.

The five assailants had an axe and knives in their car and wore fake explosive belts, police said. A single police officer shot four of the men, Trapero said.

A Spanish woman was killed in the Cambrils incident, while several other civilians and a police officer were injured.

Trapero had earlier said the investigation was focusing on a house in Alcanar, southwest of Barcelona, which was razed by an explosion shortly before midnight on Wednesday.

Police believe the house was being used to plan one or several large-scale attacks in Barcelona, possibly using a large number of butane gas canisters stored there.

However, the apparently accidental explosion at the house forced the conspirators to scale down their plans and to hurriedly carry out more “rudimentary” attacks, Trapero said.

More extremely premmie babies surviving

Parents of an extremely premature baby have every reason to be optimistic about their child’s future, with more than ever surviving without severe disability.

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However for unknown reasons they face greater academic challenges later in life, leading to calls for greater surveillance and early intervention.

Associate Professor Jeanie Cheong is a neonatal pediatrician at the Royal Women’s Hospital and says it’s important that clinicians closely monitor the long-term outcomes of premature babies beyond the age of two.

“We have every reason to be optimistic – back in the 70’s less than 10 per cent of these children survived and now they are surviving in very reasonable numbers,” Professor Cheong said.

“There is still a higher proportion of children born extremely pre-term who are at risks of challenges in terms of their abilities, so as clinicians and for families it’s important that the children have close surveillance and follow-up so that any potential disabilities are picked up early and they can be referred to early intervention to optimise their outcomes.”

A study published in The BMJ this week showed premature babies born in France in 2001 were more likely to survive and less likely to have severe disabilities by age two compared with those born in 1997.

Premature birth, occurring before 37 weeks, is a risk factor for development of many medical conditions, in particular Cerebral Palsy.

Half of the children born at 24-26 weeks gestation and a third of those born at 32-34 weeks gestation were considered a risk of developmental delay.

While an observational study, there were noticeable delays in language development and social-emotional skills in many of the prematurely born children.

Associate Professor Cheong, who is also a senior research fellow at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and University of Melbourne, says what the French study has found is reflected in the Australian data.

Two previously published papers looked at two year outcomes for infants born in 1991, 1997 and 2005 in Victoria and found similar results, she says.

“We found that survival rates have increased, cerebral palsy rates have stayed roughly the same, but their academic achievement has not improved and may even be a little bit worse,” she said.

At eight years of age, children born in the late 90’s were not doing as well academically compared to those born in 1991, the Australian research found.

“Why that’s the case is unclear,” said Prof Cheong.

For this reason, Professor Cheong believes assessing children at two years of age is not enough.

“It’s really important to follow children up until their school age and older because early assessments are not good indicators of what happens in the longer term.”

Despite the concerns around academic achievement there is no reason for parents to “panic”, assures Professor Cheong.

“So many are still free of severe disability. Ten per cent might have cerebral palsy, 90 per cent do not,” she said.

“Close surviellance, early detection and intervention, that’s the message rather than absolute panic.”