Family of kidnapped Chinese student Zhang Yingying asks Trump for help

Family members of a Chinese student presumed kidnapped in Illinois asked President Donald Trump on Tuesday to provide more resources to help find her.

Zhang Yingying, a 26-year-old visiting scholar at the University of Illinois from southeast China, disappeared on June 9. Police believe Zhang is dead, although no body has been found.

Brendt Christensen, a former master’s student at the university, has been charged with abducting Zhang. Christensen, 28, pleaded not guilty to the kidnapping last month and is scheduled to stand trial in September.

Zhang’s father, Zhang Ronggao, cited the president’s own role as a father in a letter sent to Trump earlier this month and read by Zhang’s boyfriend, Hou Xiaolin, at a news conference on Tuesday.

As a loving father to your own children, you can understand what we are going through, the letter said. We fervently request that you direct all available federal law enforcement and investigatory resources be used to find our daughter as soon as possible.

A White House representative could not immediately be reached for comment.

Hundreds demand ‘justice for Yingying’ as kidnap suspect makes first court appearance

Hou also told reporters at the news conference in Champaign, Illinois, that he and the family would not return to China until Zhang was found.

An online fundraising platform has collected more than US$137,000 to support the family’s stay in the United States.

The case has been watched closely by Chinese media, China government officials and Chinese students in the United States.

Zhang, who had been studying photosynthesis and crop productivity, was last seen when a security camera recorded her getting into a black car that the authorities linked to Christensen, according to court documents.

Christensen was placed under surveillance by federal agents who heard him talking about how he kidnapped Zhang, court records said. He could receive a life sentence if convicted.

Christensen’s attorney, Anthony Bruno, said in a phone interview on Tuesday that the defence received more than 1,000 pages of police reports related to the case earlier this month and expects to gain access to video evidence soon.

Suspect pleads not guilty to kidnapping Chinese scholar in US

Bruno said the defence plans to request a delay to the start of the trial to get more time to review the enormous amount of evidence received from the government.

A spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Springfield, Illinois, office referred questions to US Attorney spokeswoman Sharon Paul.

Paul said in a phone interview on Tuesday that prosecutors have no update on Zhang’s whereabouts and declined to provide details of the FBI’s search efforts.

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Magnificently-preserved Canadian dinosaur gets a name and a backstory

An extraordinarily well-preserved 110-million-year-old dinosaur found in a mine pit in Canada now has a name and evidence of a troubled past, researchers said Thursday.

With fossilized skin and scales, the dragon-like creature is actually a new kind of nodosaur, coined Borealopelta markmitchelli, after the museum technician Mark Mitchell who spent more than 7,000 hours painstakingly removing rock from around the specimen.

The report in the journal Current Biology described it as the best-preserved armoured dinosaur ever found, and one of the best dinosaur specimens in the world.

The 5.5-metre-long creature was first discovered in 2011 by a mining machine operator named Shawn Funk, who was working at the Suncor Millennium Mine in Alberta.

The entire animal would have weighed more than 1,300 kilograms. The portion recovered spans from the snout to the hips.

Unlike most dinosaur specimens, which consist of skeletons or bone fragments, this one is three-dimensional and covered in preserved, scaly skin.

If you just squint your eyes a bit, you could almost believe it was sleeping, said lead author Caleb Brown, a scientist at the Royal Tyrrell Museum where the creature is on display.

It will go down in science history as one of the most beautiful and best preserved dinosaur specimens the Mona Lisa of dinosaurs.

By studying its skin, researchers found that this plant-eater, though covered in armour and resembling a walking tank, likely faced a significant threat from meat-eating dinosaurs.

That’s because it employed a shielding technique known as counter-shading, which is also used by many modern-day animals.

Researchers used chemical analysis of organic compounds in the dinosaur’s scales to reveal the pigmentation pattern of this new genus and species of dinosaur, showing it had reddish-brown pigmented skin with countershading across its the body.

This may have helped it blend in with the environment when approached by a taller predator, researchers say.

But most contemporary animals that have countershading think deer, zebras or armadillos are much smaller and more vulnerable as prey, signaling that this nodosaur faced a real struggle to survive.

Strong predation on a massive, heavily-armored dinosaur illustrates just how dangerous the dinosaur predators of the Cretaceous must have been, said Brown.

Scientists are continuing to study the animal for clues about its life, including its preserved gut contents to find out what it ate for its last meal.

They believe that when the dinosaur died, it fell into a river and was swept out to sea, where it sank on its back to the ocean floor.

At that time, Alberta was as warm as south Florida is today, and rivers and oceans likely spread far further inland than they do now.

The dinosaur was first unveiled to the public in May, but it didn’t yet have a formal name.

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Trump’s son-in-law meets with Netanyahu to push for peace deal with Palestinians

Jared Kushner’s return to Israel this week bolsters White House efforts to broker a peace deal, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu examines what he needs to give Palestinians to bring ties with the broader Arab world out of the shadows, diplomats and Israeli government officials said.

Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and designated chief for Mideast diplomacy, met Netanyahu on Wednesday afternoon and was to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the evening. In his own trip to the region last month, Trump said nurturing relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia could help produce the wider Mideast pact that former US President Barack Obama and his predecessors failed to deliver.

Kushner’s presence, weeks after Trump made the Israeli-Palestinian peace track a centrepiece of his first foreign trip as president, raises the stakes for everybody, according to Dan Shapiro, the Obama-era ambassador to Israel.

While both Netanyahu and Abbas say they’re eager to revive talks under the new administration, any conciliatory tone evident during Trump’s visit has evaporated.

Israel starts work on new settlement amid US peace push

Netanyahu said in a Facebook post on Tuesday he was proud to break ground on Israel’s first new West Bank settlement in decades, fulfilling a pledge to resettle residents evacuated from an illegal settlement outpost earlier this year. Israeli officials criticised Abbas’ government for continuing to name buildings and streets after militants who kill Israeli civilians.

Cabinet allies say Netanyahu’s primary focus now is on building relations with Arab states in the Persian Gulf, which already are cooperating quietly with Israel, primarily on security matters involving shared foes.

There’s a very good chance that we will soon have relations with what we call the Saudi coalition, said Communications Minister Ayoob Kara, the Israeli cabinet’s only Arab member. The Palestinian issue is No 3 on the agenda today, he said, behind security concerns about Iran and terrorism that Israel and Saudi Arabia have in common.

Kushner and Trump diplomatic envoy Jason Greenblatt, who accompanied the US president to Saudi Arabia, Israel and the West Bank last month, are returning to ask Netanyahu and Abbas about their priorities and potential next steps, the White House said in a statement on Sunday.

Saudi Arabia and its Gulf neighbours have indicated a willingness to upgrade unofficial ties with Israel, but veteran diplomats say that will depend on Israel’s willingness to withdraw from West Bank territory and commit to Palestinian statehood, as spelled out in the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. That initiative also alluded to a right of return to Israel for millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants, a demand rejected across the Israeli political spectrum.

Kushner and Greenblatt are wary of proceeding too quickly and want to make sure that both Israelis and Palestinians are willing to make substantial compromises, said Nimrod Novik, a longtime envoy for former Israeli President Shimon Peres who still undertakes diplomatic tasks.

Neither side trusts the other, so you have an orchestra conductor in Washington to make sure that nobody feels like a sucker when they do something constructive and see that it’s not reciprocated, said Novik, an adviser to the US-based Israel Policy Forum.

Analysis: Netanyahu, at odds with the world over settlements, is pinning his hopes on Trump

Others say Trump needs to act quickly to sew up the deal before investigations entangling him eat away at his presidential power. After hosting Abbas and Netanyahu separately at the White House and visiting them in the Middle East, Trump has maximal leverage right now, Shapiro said in a conference call with reporters on Monday.

It’s very difficult for any party in the region to say no to Trump, said Shapiro, now a visiting fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. If the investigations drag on for a long period of time and there begin to be questions raised about the future of his administration, that will contribute to a lessening of his leverage.

Abbas, who previously said he would not enter peace negotiations unless Netanyahu froze all settlement construction, recently indicated he would drop the condition. Still, Netanyahu’s announcement of a new settlement on the eve of Kushner’s arrival drew a sharp Palestinian rebuke.

This is a serious escalation, Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said in an email. It’s an attempt to undermine the efforts of the American administration.

Through US mediators, Israel and Saudi Arabia have discussed a variety of potential actions that would show their intention to develop open diplomatic relations once the conflict with the Palestinians is resolved, Kara said. On Wednesday, he suggested the naming of reformer Mohammed bin Salman as Saudi crown prince could speed peace and normalisation between the kingdom and Israel.

The two countries have a long history of covert defence cooperation, and Saudi Arabia has expressed interest in Israeli technology connected to cybersecurity, desalination and agriculture. Gestures being discussed include allowing Israeli businesses to operate in Saudi Arabia and authorising Israeli planes to fly over the kingdom, which would shave up to three hours off flights to Asia, Kara said.

Saudi Arabia won’t take such actions, though, unless Israel offers significant steps that allow its leaders to say they won significant concessions for the Palestinians, such as releasing prisoners, expanding construction rights in the West Bank or easing conditions in Gaza, said Joshua Teitelbaum, a senior research associate at Bar Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies.

There’s no benefit to the Saudis to allow overflights or low-level economic stuff when they can basically get what they want from Israel without that, he said. Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?

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Barbie’s boyfriend Ken gets a makeover: man bun, beefy bod

He’s been overshadowed by Barbie for decades, but now Ken is finally getting some attention.

Mattel is introducing 15 new looks for the male doll, including different skin tones, body shapes and hair styles. Barbie had a similar makeover more than a year ago, both part of the toy company’s plan to make its dolls more diverse and appealing to today’s kids.

Ken hadn’t changed much since he was introduced 56 years ago as Barbie’s blue-eyed, chiselled boyfriend. Now he’ll be sold in three body shapes: slim, broad and original.

He’ll have modern hairdos, such as cornrows and man buns, and come in seven skin tones. And he’ll also be sporting new fashions: think skinny ties, plaid shirts and graphic tees.

We are redefining what a Barbie or Ken doll looks like to this generation, said Mattel’s Lisa McKnight, who oversees the Barbie line.

Mattel is trying to fight falling sales of its iconic doll line at a time when many kids would rather play with an iPad. Barbie sales were down 13 per cent in the first three months of the year compared with the same period a year ago. A live-action Barbie film is in the works for next year, with hopes that the big-screen flick will spur doll sales as well.

Ken was in need of a makeover, said Jim Silver, the editor-in-chief of toy review website TTPM. He said kids who play with the revamped Barbie dolls don’t want an outdated Ken.

He’s part of the storyline and he has to fit in with the picture, Silver said, or you would lose sales.

Some of the new US$10 Ken dolls were being rolled out to shops and online stores on Tuesday, Mattel said, and all of them will be on store shelves by the holidays.

The El Segundo, California-based company also announced new Barbie looks on Tuesday, including one with a nearly shaved head and another with an Afro. Mattel has been tinkering with other lines to be more inclusive, such as adding its first boy doll for the American Girl brand.

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Cosby’s lawyers demand mistrial in rape case as judge orders jury to keep working

Lawyers for Bill Cosby demanded that a judge declare a mistrial in the entertainer’s sexual assault case on Friday, complaining that jurors were essentially rehearing the entire week of trial testimony as their deliberations passed the 45-hour mark.

Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas Judge Steven O’Neill rebuffed the argument, saying he could not stop the jury as long as it was willing to continue mulling whether the 79-year-old comedian was guilty of drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand at his suburban Philadelphia home in 2004.

I have no ability to do anything other than what I’ve done in this case, O’Neill told Cosby’s lawyer, Brian McMonagle.

The judge also appeared angered by what he called a public misperception that there was a time limit on deliberations, which he suggested was fueled by statements from Cosby’s spokesman, Andrew Wyatt, on Thursday night urging O’Neill to end the trial.

The star of the 1980s TV hit family comedy The Cosby Show faces similar allegations from dozens of women, though only Constand’s led to criminal charges. Cosby has denied all of the claims.

The jurors told O’Neill on Thursday morning they were having trouble reaching a verdict on any of the three counts he faces, prompting the judge to give a standard instruction that they should keep working.

McMonagle has made at least five mistrial motions based on the length of the jury deliberations, according to O’Neill, who until Friday afternoon had held all discussions with the attorneys out of public view.

O’Neill told the defence that until the jury says it is still deadlocked, there was little he could do but provide them with any evidence they request.

The jury’s latest note, the ninth they have sent since deliberations began Monday evening, asked to rehear trial testimony from both Constand and her mother, Gianna.

‘I go into the area between permission and rejection’: Cosby’s lurid testimony read to jury

Earlier on Friday, the jurors reviewed portions of the sworn depositions Cosby gave during Constand’s civil lawsuit in 2005 and 2006, when he described the night in question.

Cosby did not testify at the trial, but the jury heard a police interview with him from 2005 as well as his depositions.

A hung jury could represent a clear victory for Cosby, allowing him to avoid what might have been years in prison for three counts of aggravated indecent assault.

But O’Neill asked the comedian on Friday whether he understood that a hung jury could also allow prosecutors to retry him.

Yes, Cosby replied.

Constand was the prosecution’s key witness, telling jurors that Cosby gave her three unidentified pills before taking advantage when she was disoriented to sexually assault her.

Cosby’s lawyers sought to discredit her by pointing to discrepancies between her testimony and statements to law enforcement in 2005, when she first reported the incident a year after it allegedly occurred.

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Tom Cruise confirms there will be sequel to cult action film Top Gun

Tom Cruise, still feeling the need for speed, said in an interview that a sequel to his 1986 military action film Top Gun is definitely happening.

Cruise, currently promoting his latest film The Mummy, was speaking on the Wednesday edition of Australia’s morning TV show Sunrise when he was asked by the host if rumours of Top Gun 2 were true.

It’s true, it’s true, he said, grinning as he added, I’m going to start filming it probably in the next year. It’s happening.

Cruise played the cocky pilot Maverick in Top Gun, one of the top students in an US training camp for elite military fighter pilots and engaged in a bitter rivalry with a fellow pilot played by Val Kilmer.

Watch: Top Gun’s ‘you can be my wingman anytime’ scene

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The Paramount Pictures film launched Cruise’s career as a global action star and grossed more than $350 million globally, according to film tracker

Representatives for Paramount Pictures declined to comment on whether the studio is involved with the sequel.

Top Gun producer Jerry Bruckheimer tweeted a photo with Cruise last week, captioning it as the 31st anniversary of the opening day of Top Gun.

In January 2016, Bruckheimer teased Top Gun fans by tweeting Just got back from a weekend in New Orleans to see my old friend @TomCruise and discuss a little Top Gun 2.

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