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  • Scott Olson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The National Rifle Association has denied receiving money “from foreign persons or entities in connection with United States elections” in a letter to a leading Democratic senator who has sought federal financial records related to a Russian businessman with ties to the organization.“NRA political decisions are made by NRA officers and executive staff, all of whom are United States citizens,” the letter from John C. Frazer, the national gun group’s general counsel, to Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat. “No foreign nationals are consulted in any way on these decisions.”McClatchy reported in January that the FBI was investigating whether Alexander Torshin, a Russian politician with close ties to both Vladimir Putin and the NRA, illegally funneled money to the Trump campaign. The letter claims, however, the NRA has not been contacted by the FBI regarding Torshin’s activities.Earlier this month, Sen. Wyden wrote to the U.S. Treasury Department to seek financial records concerning alleged links between Torshin and the NRA, citing published reports suggesting possible ties between Torshin’s interest in the NRA and the organization’s hefty campaign spending in support of then-candidate Donald Trump.“The national security as well as legal implications of those reports make it imperative that Congress conduct a thorough investigation,” Wyden wrote.According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the NRA reported spending nearly $55 million on the 2016 elections, including more than $30 million in support of Trump.A Wyden aide told ABC News that the senator “is reviewing the NRA’s response and considering additional follow-up questions.”President Trump, meanwhile, has remained a vocal opponent of gun control measures even as calls for new regulations have gained momentum following the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 17 students and teachers. On Friday, Trump doubled down on his proposal to arm teachers during a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday morning.“When we declare our schools to be gun free zones, it just puts our students in far more danger,” Trump told the crowd of supporters. “People that are adept with weaponry and with guns — they teach. I don’t want to have 100 guards with rifles standing all over the school. You do a concealed carry permit.”
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  • iStock/Thinkstock(DAMASCUS, Syria) -- Relentless airstrikes pounded rebel-held Eastern Ghouta for the sixth day in a row, hours before members of the United Nations Security Council will vote on a resolution to institute a 30-day ceasefire in Syria to deliver humanitarian aid and evacuate the sick and wounded.The fierce bombing campaign, launched by Syrian government forces and their allies, has killed at least 462 civilians, including 103 children, and left more than 2,000 people injured, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based monitoring group. The offensive is one of the deadliest of the seven-year Syrian civil war.Residents say they find it difficult to describe what life is like under the intense bombardment."The situation is catastrophic," Siraj Mahmoud, a spokesperson for the White Helmets and resident of Eastern Ghouta who works under a pseudonym, told ABC News on Thursday. "It can't be described at all."Eyewitnesses and monitoring groups said that multiple towns in the besieged enclave were bombed on Friday, including Zamalka, Harasta, Saqba, Hamouriya, Ein Tarma and Douma, which is the largest town in Eastern Ghouta."There are no houses that haven't either been flattened or damaged," Samira, a resident of Douma, who asked that her real name be withheld out of concern for her and her family's safety, told ABC News on Friday. Her own house was damaged on Wednesday night after a rocket was dropped on her street, she said. When the airstrikes intensify, she hides in the living room, which is the safest place in her apartment because it has no windows.An estimated 400,000 people are trapped in Eastern Ghouta with little access to food, water, fuel, electricity and health care. More than 20 hospitals there have been attacked this week, according to the Syrian American Medical Society, which supports hospitals in Eastern Ghouta. Doctors in the enclave say they don’t have trauma drugs and surgical equipment, making it difficult, if sometimes impossible, to save lives.“I don’t know how to describe what I feel when I see children in pieces and dead bodies,” Amani Ballour, a pediatrician and hospital manager in Eastern Ghouta, told ABC News. “We don’t know what to do.”The United Nations Security Council met Thursday to discuss the situation in Eastern Ghouta at the request of Russia.At the emergency meeting, Staffan de Mistura, the U.N. Special Envoy for Syria, called for a ceasefire.“There is a need for avoiding a massacre, because we will be judged by history,” he said.Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, called the resolution unrealistic and proposed amendments.The recent surge in violence in Eastern Ghouta, which has been besieged by the Syrian government since 2013, is part of President Bashar al-Assad’s campaign to seize Syria’s last remaining opposition-held territories.The Syrian government and its main ally Russia say their military offensive against Eastern Ghouta is necessary to overthrow rebels who have been firing mortars on Damascus. The Syrian state news agency SANA said that one civilian was killed and 60 were injured on Friday after opposition militants fired shells on Damascus.
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  • iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Trump administration has slapped 27 trading and shipping companies, 28 vessels, and one individual with new sanctions for evading U.S. and United Nations embargoes on trading oil, coal, and other fuel with North Korea, and warned it might even impose a military blockade to stop North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs.President Donald Trump was supposed to reveal the sanctions himself in a speech Friday morning before the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, a major conservative summit, with the administration touting it as a major announcement. Instead, just as he wrapped up a more than one-hour-long speech, he mentioned it as an aside."I do want to say it, because people have asked -- North Korea -- we imposed today the heaviest sanctions ever imposed on a country before," he said. "Frankly, hopefully, something positive can happen. We will see."Trump's daughter and senior adviser Ivanka Trump, who is in Seoul, South Korea, to attend the closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics as the U.S. representative, briefed South Korean President Moon Jae-in on the sanctions, according to a senior administration official. They also discussed the continued effort on the joint maximum pressure campaign against North Korea, the official said.Deemed the largest package of sanctions to date by the Treasury Department, it's the latest move by the U.S. in its global pressure campaign to force North Korea to give up its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, as the country marches on to developing a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile.The Treasury Department, along with the U.S. Coast Guard and the State Department, also issued a worldwide advisory, warning countries of "significant sanctions risks" if they keep doing business with North Korea. It's a threat the Trump administration has made in statements before, but such a formal warning paired with Friday's actions was meant to send a message that the U.S. wants to tighten the noose.To that end, the Trump administration is not ruling out the idea of a military blockade to confront North Korean vessels in the event the sanctions don't affect their activity, according to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.The U.S. mission to the U.N. will also seek U.N. sanctions on this same list of ships and companies, according to senior administration officials who briefed reporters. Doing so would really give the new move punch, but it's unclear if North Korea's backers China and Russia would sign on to those.So far, those two have worked with the U.S. and the rest of the U.N. Security Council to pass three big resolutions last year, banning over 90% of North Korea's exports and capping its refined fuel imports. That means gasoline, diesel, and other fuels are down 89% now, according to a senior administration official, in the hopes of slowing their rocket development.But in the face of those restrictions, North Korea has stepped up ship-to-ship transfers and other evasive tactics, according to a senior administration official.
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  • Samir Hussein/WireImage via Getty Images(LONDON) -- Princess Kate arrived at the British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA) tonight with Prince William in a dark green Jenny Packham gown, as the majority of other women on the red carpet chose to wear black in solidarity with the fight against sexual harassment and the Time's Up movement.The mother of Prince George, 4, and Princess Charlotte, 2, who is currently pregnant in her third trimester, however, did wear a black tie around her dress above her glowing figure, in what may have been a subtle nod to fellow women.Royal family members are forbidden from making political statements of any kind and must remain unbiased. Kensington Palace declined to comment on Kate’s decision to wear green instead of black in solidarity with other women. Last year, Kate wore a black Alexander McQueen gown with printed flowers.The dress code is similar to other red carpets, most notably the Golden Globes, when women and men both showed their support for gender equality and human rights for women.Margot Robbie, Jennifer Lawrence, Angelina Jolie and almost every other major celebrity wore black on the red carpet tonight, which has been a dominant theme at awards shows in the wake of the Time's Up and #MeToo movements after the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke last fall.There was considerable discussion online and on television about the Duchess of Cambridge’s decision to forego black on the red carpet as the Time's Up movement is not aligned with a particular political party.British TV presenter Piers Morgan wrote on Twitter “Duchess of Cambridge being abused by 'feminists' on Twitter for not wearing a black dress at tonight's #BAFTAS Apparently, she's not allowed to exercise HER feminist right to wear whatever colour dress she chooses.”Others said that it was a missed opportunity for Kate, and argued that wearing black was not a political statement but rather simply an affirmation of women’s rights.Kate accessorized her gown with stunning emerald and diamond earrings, which she donned previously in New York when she and Prince William attended the 600th anniversary benefit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art of their Alma mater St Andrews University.Princess Kate accompanied William, who is president of BAFTA, and also wore a glittering matching emerald and diamond necklace to the Awards ceremony."Catherine and I are extremely pleased to be here amongst you all this evening," William said at tonight's event. "The Film Awards are just one part of BAFTA's activity. I have been privileged over the years to experience first-hand the impact of its work in the United Kingdom, in Los Angeles, New York and Asia -- work ranging from scholarships and supporting new talent, through to masterclasses with the very best in the film industry -- many of whom are here this evening.""Your support of BAFTA -- sharing skills, expertise and time -- means we can ensure the growth of creative talent in the UK and internationally. It ensures that we can do much, much more to help talented people from all backgrounds to be given the opportunity to succeed," he added.Earlier in the day more than 200 women signed on to a new fund to support women who experience abuse and harassment at work. Emma Watson donated $1 million to the campaign, while Kate Winslet, Keira Knightley and Kristen Scott Thomas are all signatories to the open letter."As we approach the BAFTAs, our industry's time for celebration and acknowledgement, we hope we can celebrate this tremendous moment of solidarity and unity across borders by coming together and making this movement international," the letter states.
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  • Carl Court/Getty Images(LONDON) -- Three large billboards pulled by vans snaked through the British capital Thursday afternoon. The words on the stark red backdrops read:“71 dead.”“And still no arrests?”“How come?”The banners were inspired by the 2017 film “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri," about a woman campaigning for police to find the culprit responsible for her daughter’s rape and murder.Last June, at least 71 people were killed as a devastating fire ravaged a tower block in West London. A block of public housing flats entrenched in Britain’s wealthiest neighborhood of Kensington and Chelsea, the burning tower became an iconic symbol of inequality in London.In the initial days following the tragedy, the council responsible for the area was harshly criticized for its slow response and for having possibly neglected safety standards that could have prevented the fire from taking place.After several initial reviews into fire safety and building materials, the Metropolitan Police -- the force responsible for Greater London –- announced a criminal investigation into the fire. In a public notice the police said that they had “reasonable grounds” to suspect that both the council and the building management company may have committed corporate manslaughter.In January 2018 the Metropolitan Police requested more than $50 million from the UK Home Office to cover the costs of the investigation, one of the most expansive and complex inquiries in the force’s history, involving around 250 officers and staff. More than 30 million documents and more than 1,000 statements have been taken from witnesses so far.Given the scale of the inquiry, reaction to the "Three Billboards" campaign through London was mixed online.Film director Ken Loach, known for his work exploring social issues through his films, praised and promoted the campaign as a way to refocus public attention on the issue in order to push for accountability.The Secret Barrister –- an anonymous legal commentator who has cautioned against prosecution to satisfy public anger -- replied to Loach's tweet, calling the three-billboard display "antagonism" that would help no one.
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