Confi dent Semenya brushes aside gender issue

JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s Caster Semenya is back and vowing to win an Olympic gold medal that could reignite the complex biological and ethical gender storm that once engulfed her life.

The athlete, who was at the centre of a bitter dispute over gender testing seven years ago, is favourite to win the women’s 800m in Rio next month.

Semenya shot to international stardom in 2009 when she won the 800m at the World Championships in Berlin.

But her victory triggered a storm of controversy when rivals questioned her gender.

She was forced to undergo medical tests and barred from the track for nearly a year, before returning to win silver at the 2011 World Championships and 2012 London Olympics.

Her career appeared to be in sharp decline, however, when she failed to qualify for the world championship final last year.

But now Semenya, 25, is in the best form of her life, and confidently brushing off the past track disputes.

“I don’t have time for that,” she said when asked about the gender issue at the African Athletics Championships in Durban last month.

“I am an athlete and I focus more on the issues that concern me: training, performance, eat, sleep. So that thing — you know, it’s not part of me.”

Semenya’s full health records have never been made public, but her case triggered a debate in sport over hyperandrogenism, a condition involving overproduction of male sex hormones.

Last year, regulations were suspended that required women athletes to take testosterone-lowering medication if their levels were above a legal mark.

The ruling ended much of the uncertainty over Semenya’s right to run, even if some of her competitors still feel she holds an unfair natural advantage.

Semenya has put in some startling track times in recent months.

She scored a gold hattrick at the African championships, winning the 1,500m and 800m titles and anchoring the 4x400m relay to first place.

In April she became the first person to take triple gold in the 400m, 800m and 1,500m races — all in a single day at the South African national championships in Stellenbosch.

Semenya has also run the fastest 800m times in the world this year, posting 1:56.64s twice, in Rome and Rabat.

“She’s a clear favourite for an Olympic gold medal,” Hezekiel Sepeng, athletics manager with Athletics South Africa, said.

Semenya said she drew inspiration from Nelson Mandela who stood by her during the 2009 scandal, when she endured what she described as “invasive scrutiny of the most intimate and private details of my being.”

The test results were never released, but speculation was fuelled by unconfirmed leaks to the press.

Ahead of the Olympics, IAAF president Sebastian Coe has already rallied to her defence.

“I don’t like to see any athlete in any discipline under sensitive situations being demonised, we are talking about human beings here,” he said last month. — AFP

‘Terror attack’ foiled

RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazilian security forces conducted a simulated counterterrorism operation on Saturday at a train station, a day after security was beefed up following the truck attack in Nice. Two people posing as violent extremists in a train parked at a platform set off an explosion and then fired a series of blank rounds. A dozen soldiers quickly arrived to begin containing the “attack.” Special forces members then arrived in two helicopters. Briefed about the situation by the soldiers, they lobbed a grenade into the train then stormed it, neutralising the “terrorists”. “The exercise was very useful, because it allowed us to work within real parameters for the operation and utilisation of the troops,” said General Mauro Sinott, who heads the military’s counterterrorism unit. — AFP

Blow to Czech tennis hopes

PRAGUE — Czech tennis stars, world No 8 Tomas Berdych and 16th-ranked Karolina Pliskova, on Saturday joined the growing band of players pulling out of the Olympics due to concerns over the Zika virus. Their decision came just a day after top 10 stars Milos Raonic and Simona Halep also withdrew over similar health fears. Their decision will not please Radek Stepanek, who was due to form a doubles pair with time-tested Davis Cup teammate Berdych in Rio, and Lucie Safarova, snubbed by Pliskova, who may however team up with Barbora Strycova for doubles. On Friday, Wimbledon runner-up and world No 7 Raonic, as well as Romania’s world No 5 Halep, the 2014 French Open runner-up, said they would not make the trip to Rio. — AFP

Nadal gets go ahead

BARCELONA — Rafael Nadal (pic), has been given the green light by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) to compete at the Rio Olympics despite not fulfilling the qualification criteria. The 2008 Beijing gold medallist’s participation had been in doubt as injury had prevented him from appearing in the minimum number of Davis Cup ties required in a four-year Olympic cycle to qualify for the Games. The Spaniard, who has been out of action since pulling out of the French Open following his second round match with a wrist injury, won his appeal to compete in the Games and was named in the final list of participants issued by the ITF on Friday. — Reuters

Wanjiru forgotten in record time

NAIROBI — Grass has overgrown the unattended grave of Samuel Wanjiru on the remote Ol-Ojorok plateau in central Kenya — a symbol of how quickly a country can forget its heroes.

“He was a great guy,” said Eliud Kipchoge, a two-time London marathon champion who began running at the same time as Wanjiru. Kipchoge hopes to win the Olympic marathon in Rio de Janeiro to revive memories of his friend.

“It is sad he lies in his grave completely forgotten. He brought a lot of honour to Kenya.

“It is still fresh in my mind when he entered the Beijing Olympic stadium, seeing him win the marathon gold medal. It was a great moment.”

Wanjiru died on May 15, 2011 aged just 24. He had had a few drinks when he fell, or maybe pushed, from a balcony at his house in Nyahururu.

He is the subject of at least two books. But the cause of his death has never been fully established. The case set off a tabloid furore. His mother was convinced he was murdered.

Born to a single mother, Hannah, Wanjiru was raised by a grandfather at Ol-Ojorok where he grew up herding cattle and goats.

He excelled in school sports and caught the eye of veteran athletics coach Robert Kioni, who took Wanjiru to Nyahururu to train.

Kioni said Wanjiru was “dedicated”. “He was there to inspire the other younger athletes.”

Kioni convinced Shunichi Kobayashi, a Kenyan-based Japanese athletics promoter, to take Wanjiru to Japan to study. At the age of 14, the youth joined a growing number of young Kenyans heading East instead of taking track scholarships in the United States.

Stephen Mayaka, one of the first Kenyan athletes to train in Japan, helped Wanjiru through the early years in Sendai.

“Wanjiru took some time to integrate into the Japan jitsugyodan system. He wasn’t a strong athlete. It took him two to three years of hard training to become the runner he would be.”

At the age of 18, in his first international track race, Wanjiru, came third in Brussels behind Ethiopian 10,000m world record holder, Kenenisa Bekele and Uganda’s Boniface Kiprop, the world junior record holder.

Wanjiru set a world junior record time of 26:41.75s, eclipsing Kiprop’s 27:04.00s set at the same meeting the previous year.

No race captured the Wanjiru spirit better than the Beijing Olympic marathon in August 2008.

It was his first full marathon and Wanjiru, at 21, was the youngest man in the field of 98 competitors from 57 countries.

The field crawled through the opening 10km in 29:25s before Wanjiru charged ahead with Ethiopia’s Derba Merga. The Kenyan attacked, dropping Merga and two-time world champion Jaouad Gharib of Morocco in the last 10km.

Wanjiru took the gold medal in an Olympic record time of 2:6:32s, erasing a 24-year-old mark set by Portugal’s great Carlos Lopez at the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

“Wanjiru put everything into something that he believed in,” Njenga said. “He was a rare talent, a sort of a person who warmed himself into many people’s hearts.” — AFP

Cilic keeps Croatia’s hopes alive

LOS ANGELES — Ivan Dodig and Marin Cilic dealt Bob and Mike Bryan a rare doubles defeat on Saturday to keep Croatia alive in their Davis Cup World Group quarterfinal against the United States.

World No 12 Cilic stepped in at the last minute to partner Dodig, and the move paid off with a 6-2, 2-6, 6-2, 6-4 victory over the Bryan brothers — owners of 16 Grand Slam doubles titles.

With the win, Croatia closed the gap to 2-1 in the best-of-five match hardcourt tie in Portland, Oregon.

“It was a group decision,” Cilic said of his replacing Marin Draganja in the doubles. “Ivan is our first player in the team and he felt that I would work a little better with him against the Bryan brothers.

“As it happened, I played probably the best match of my life in doubles.”

The Croatians were on the ropes after singles defeats for Cilic and Borna Coric on Friday.

Jack Sock, ranked 26th in the world, roared back after dropping the first two sets to stun former US Open champion Cilic 4-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4, and US No 1 John Isner then overpowered Coric 6-4, 6-4, 6-3.

Cilic will try to keep the tie alive when he takes on Isner in the first reverse singles match. He has beaten the big-serving American in all five of their prior encounters.

“It’s bit different situation now, it’s 2-1. Whatever happened the last two days is behind us. It’s going to be definitely a tough match against John, especially on this kind of court. I’m hoping I am going to be 100 per cent and I can pull out a great match,” Cilic said.

With 32 titles, the United States are the most successful Davis Cup nation ever. But they were ousted in the first round the past two years by Britain and last reached the semifinals in 2012 — when they were beaten by Spain.

The winners of the best-of-five match tie will take on either the Czech Republic or France in the semifinals. — AFP

Queen Latifah, grannies join mass anti-AIDS rallies

Queen Latifah gestures as she attends the ‘Keep The Promise’ rally with thousands of AIDS activists through the streets of Durban, South Africa, on Saturday. — Picture by AFP

Trump’s formal introduction of Mike Pence is mostly about Trump

NEW YORK — Donald Trump strolled onto stage solo, leaving his new running mate hidden backstage for nearly half an hour.

Standing behind a podium that bore only one name–“Trump”–the presumptive Republican nominee spoke without the aid of a teleprompter, which he has used in formal settings in recent months. He boasted about his primary victories, mocked former rival Ted Cruz about his “non-endorsement,” and delighted in the demise of the “never Trump” movement ahead of the Republican convention.

One topic Trump seemed to have less enthusiasm for was Indiana Governor Mike Pence, the man who would be one heartbeat away from the presidency in a Trump administration.

“One of the reasons is party unity, I have to be honest,” Trump said, referring to why he selected 57-year-old Pence to fill the vice presidential slot on his ticket.

Trump shifted to prepared remarks when he finally began introducing Pence, offering a brief summation of his achievements. “I admire the fact that he fights for people, and he’ll fight for you,” Trump said. Then he pivoted directly into an attack on presumptive Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton. Among other things, Trump said Clinton “got away with murder” when the FBI decided against recommending prosecution for her private e-mail practices as secretary of state. And Trump, 70, repeatedly diverted from lauding Pence for the governor’s work to boost Indiana’s economy, to talking about himself.

“No one’s fighting for the veterans like I’m fighting for the veterans,” he said. And a few sentences later, “Do I know how to build a wall? Do I know how to build infrastructure?” Trump offered an aside about how Cruz gave “the single greatest non-endorsement I’ve ever had,” and even bragged that his new hotel being built in downtown Washington is “under budget and ahead of schedule.”

It was an awkward first public appearance for the Republican ticket that will vie with Clinton and an as-yet-unnamed Democrat to succeed President Barack Obama. The were together on stage very briefly–just long enough to get a few photos and a perfunctory hand-shake. After speaking for 28 minutes, Trump waved on Pence, saying Pence will “be outstanding in every way.” Pence spoke for about 12 minutes, sounding polished and determined. Later on Saturday he attended a “welcome home” rally in Zionsville, Indiana, north of the state capital Indianapolis. “I accept your invitation to run and serve as vice president of the United States of America,” Pence said in New York, describing himself as “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order.” Echoing his new boss, Pence said that “Hillary Clinton must never become president.” The choice, he said, “could not be more clear, and the stakes could not be more higher.” Strong Republican leadership can bring about real change, said Pence. Yet the policy visions of the pair, on issues from trade to the Iraq war to LGBT rights, are often at odds. They also disagree on campaign tactics, with Trump’s serial nicknames for his opponents, including Crooked Hillary and Lyin’ Ted, a contrast with Pence’s assertion – after an ugly Congressional campaign in 1990 which he lost—that negative campaigning is wrong. Asked about Trump’s “tone and negativity” in a joint interview with CBS News’ “60 Minutes,” Pence said the property developer-turned-politician was “a good man who’s been talking about the issues the American people care about,” according to a partial transcript provided by the network. Trump said he hadn’t asked Pence to mimic his rhetorical tone: “He won’t—I—I don’t—I didn’t ask him to do it, but I don’t think he should do it because it’s different for him.” The full interview will be broadcast on Sunday. Saturday’s event was postponed by 24 hours following the attack late Thursday in Nice, France. After multiple media reports that Pence was his final choice, and facing a deadline for Pence to withdraw from the Indiana governor’s race, Trump’s big reveal came via a single mid-morning tweet on Friday.

The setting for the televised roll-out, two days before the Republican National Convention kicks off in Cleveland, was a New York Hilton Midtown ballroom with floor-to-ceiling drapery, multiple US flags and little other decoration other than the usual “Trump” placard on the front of the podium. The 250 seats were filled with invited guests, including members of the Manhattan Republican Club and of Trump’s golf courses, and one surprised vacationing Nebraska family invited to attend while milling in the lobby.

The buttoned-down Pence, 57, is the stylistic opposite of Trump. The polished, silver-haired conservative is adept at speaking many words without saying much of anything—a studied contrast to Trump’s penchant for off-message outbursts.

Once Pence joined the ticket, he strongly backed Trump positions that he’d criticized in the past. On Fox News on Friday evening, the governor said he was “very supportive of Donald Trump’s call to temporarily suspend immigration from countries where terrorist influence and impact represents a threat to the United States.” In December he derided the ban as “offensive and unconstitutional.”

Pence also backed another signature proposal of the Trump campaign, vowing that a wall between Mexico and the US would be built under their administration. He also said that Mexico would “absolutely” pay for it.

A former No. 3 Republican leader in the House of Representatives, Pence understands policy and where the levers of power are in Washington. He was in Congress for 12 years, and has occupied the governor’s mansion in Indianapolis since January 2013.

He’s also the kind of restrained career politician Trump has ridiculed over the last year.

One of Trump’s signature campaign anecdotes happened under Pence’s watch—about Carrier Corporation eliminating 1,400 jobs at its Indianapolis air conditioner plant and moving production to low-wage Mexico. Pence explicitly backs Nafta and has called for ratification of the Treas Pacific Partnership and granting normal trade status to China. That’s awkward for Trump, who uses free trade as the scapegoat for lost jobs.

Also unlike Trump, Pence has connections to special interest money from powerful donors like the Koch brothers; he was a strong proponent of the Iraq War; and opposed attempts to extend anti-discrimination laws to gay people.

Internal documents obtained Friday by Bloomberg Politics show Trump’s campaign aides planned to pitch Pence as the steady hand who can help unify the party—and reel in reluctant business Republicans who backed Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio as well as evangelical conservatives who pinned their hopes on Cruz.

As outlined in the strategy memos, Team Trump intends to promote Pence as a “devout evangelical Christian” and a “job-creating governor” with legal, small business and public policy experience.

As a member of Congress, the Trump memo says, “Pence developed a reputation as an advocate for limited government, fiscal discipline, a strong national defense, and traditional family values.”| In holding their first rally as running mates blocks from Trump’s residence, the candidate took a different path than the past two Republican presidential nominees, who held their events in important swing states. However, Governor Mitt Romney and Senator John McCain both lost to Barack Obama—and Trump often boasts that he can flip his home state to the Republicans for the first time since 1984. On his way to victory in 2000, then-Governor George W. Bush formally announced Dick Cheney as his running mate in his home state of Texas, however.At his rally in Indiana, with about 400 people in attendance in the hangar of the Indianapolis Executive Airport, Pence spoke for about eight minutes. He thanked his mother, wife and three children, and said he was “couldn’t be more humbled” by Trump’s support. “Our state is inspiring the nation and I’m going to take Hoosier ideas to Washington DC,” said Pence, adding that he was on his way home for pizza night. Earlier on Saturday Pence tweeted that his “busy weekend” in New York included a meal at the restaurant chain Chili’s. — Bloomberg

Payback time in Turkey as coup survivor Erdogan cracks down

ISTANBUL — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered massive reprisals for the failed attempt to oust him in a coup, with thousands of army officers and judges swept up in a nationwide wave of arrests.

The resurgent leader, whose grip on power seemed to have been shaken just a day earlier, also pressed the US to extradite the cleric he accuses of being the ringleader. Well past midnight, supporters of Erdogan’s government were celebrating in city centers that had been engulfed in bloody gun battles and airstrikes the previous night.

Surviving the plot gives Erdogan, the Islamist-rooted politician who’s become Turkey’s most dominant leader since the republic’s secular founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, more ammunition to crack down on his opponents. The president has already drawn charges of growing authoritarianism for suppressing critical voices in the judiciary, media and academic and cultural life.

As the coup attempt evaporated, leaving some 200 people dead, Erdogan blamed followers of US-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen, his one-time ally. “They will pay a heavy price for their treason,” he said.

Erdogan told a crowd of supporters in Istanbul later on Saturday that the US must agree to extradite Gulen to its fellow NATO member. “Dear Mr. President, I told you this before,” he said, addressing his American counterpart Barack Obama. “Either deport Fethullah Gulen or return him to Turkey.” Labor Minister Suleyman Soylu went further, saying that the US is “behind this coup” as long as it shelters the Pennsylvania-based cleric.

Gulen denied any connection with the uprising, and there was no additional information to cast light on the motives of the rebels. US Secretary of State John Kerry said the US would help Turkish authorities to investigate the plot, and consider any evidence that was presented.

But in a phone call later on Saturday, he warned his Turkish counterpart that “public insinuations or claims about any role by the United States in the failed coup attempt are utterly false and harmful to our bilateral relations,” according to the State Department.

Those killed during the attempted coup included civilians whose cars were crushed by tanks, soldiers who joined the putschists, and policemen who fought them. In raids across Turkey on Saturday, senior generals were among more than 2,800 military personnel arrested. The purge extended deep into the judiciary, with thousands of judges and prosecutors fired and arrest warrants issued, including for members of the Constitutional Court, the nation’s top tribunal.

Parliament held an extraordinary session in Ankara, and the speaker read out a joint statement from all four parties in the legislature condemning the coup. Defense Minister Fikri Isik said that while the military takeover has been thwarted, and the whole country is under government control, it’s too early to say that the threat has disappeared.

Erdogan served more than a decade as prime minister before he was elected president. He’s trying to turn his new post, a traditionally ceremonial role, into the engine of government, in the face of widespread opposition to the plan.

“Through putting down this coup, Erdogan’s grip on power will be further enhanced,” said Timothy Ash, a London-based strategist at Nomura International Plc. “He has yet again proven his invincibility.”

Still, the attempted coup risks fueling more instability in a NATO member that’s already entangled in the war in neighboring Syria as well as a conflict with Kurdish separatists at home. It also threatens to unbalance an economy that’s dependent on foreign capital flows to offset an entrenched trade deficit.

The lira plunged as much as 6 per cent against the dollar in the first hours of the army intervention, as tanks rolled through the streets of Ankara and Istanbul while warplanes and helicopters circled above them. Trading in stocks and bonds had already halted for the day.

The recent pickup in flows of foreign cash into Turkey “will now surely reverse, causing inevitable market distress,” Michael Howell, managing director of CrossBorder Capital, said in an e-mail.

Since 1960, Turkey has experienced at least three army-led takeovers. Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AK Party government, which came to power in 2002, made it a priority to curb the military’s political influence, and hundreds of officers were jailed in earlier purges. Before their uprising petered out, the coup leaders said in a nationwide broadcast that the president and the ruling party had undermined democracy and the country’s secular system.

Turkey’s NATO and European allies, including the US, have often been critical of Erdogan but they were unanimous in condemning the coup attempt and expressing support for his government. Turkey has played a part in operations against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, though not always to the extent the US wanted. It’s also sheltering almost 3 million refugees from those countries, and reached a deal with the EU to halt the flow of migrants further west.

A prolonged reckoning with the Gulenists may undermine Turkey’s ability to perform those roles, and also dim the prospects for investors.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim branded Gulen a “gang leader” during a press conference in Ankara, while deputy premier Nurettin Canikli said the government would step up its hunt for the cleric’s followers. “Even if they went into the tiniest veins of the state, they will be purged,” he said.

Erdogan and Gulen, once allies, fell out three years ago when Erdogan accused Gulen of being behind a corruption probe that threatened his government, and authorities subsequently removed thousands of police and judiciary officials said to be linked to the preacher.

Whenever crisis has struck, Erdogan’s ability to mobilise the streets has helped give him the upper hand, and he displayed it again as the coup attempt unfolded. Shortly after the news broke, a defiant president urged the public to take to the streets and public squares in resistance. Mosques echoed Erdogan’s call from their minarets, and anti-coup crowds gathered in Istanbul and Ankara, where the bloodiest fighting occurred, and other cities.

Dawn revealed extensive damage to buildings including parliament, the presidential palace and military bases, caught up in the overnight fighting or targeted by helicopters and warplanes from the rival factions.

The tide had turned by the time Erdogan arrived in Istanbul in the early morning. In a symbolic surrender, about 50 rebel soldiers who had been blocking a bridge across the city’s Bosporus strait were shown on television leaving their tanks and armored carriers with hands raised.

Other participants attempted to flee. Greek police said they had arrested eight people after a Turkish army helicopter landed in northern Greece. Officials in Athens said they’ll respond rapidly to Turkish demands for extradition, but only after due legal process.— Bloomberg

Brother confesses to ‘honour killing’

KARACHI — The brother of Qandeel Baloch, whose risque social media posts both titillated and appalled conservative Pakistan, yesterday admitted to strangling her in a crime that reignited debate about so-called “honour killings” in Pakistan.

Muhammad Waseem said he gave a “tablet” to Baloch to subdue her and then strangled her in their family home over the weekend.

“I have no regrets,” he told journalists in a press conference arranged by the police early yesterday.

The killing sent shockwaves across Muslim Pakistan and triggered an outpouring of grief on social media for Baloch, whose real name was Fauzia Azeem.

In Facebook posts, Baloch, 26, spoke of trying to change “the typical orthodox mindset” of people in Pakistan. She faced frequent misogynist abuse and death threats but continued to post provocative pictures and videos.

“As per our initial investigation ‘honour’ is the motive of murder,” said Azhar Ikram, the police chief in Multan, where Baloch was killed.

More than 500 people — almost all women — die in Pakistan each year in such killings, usually carried out by members of the victim’s family meting out punishment for bringing “shame” on the community.

Waseem said he killed his sister due to her social media activities, which included a series of posts with a prominent Muslim cleric, Abdul Qavi. One video shows her sitting on the cleric’s lap.

Qavi, who was suspended from a prominent Muslim council in the controversy following the posts, told local media after Baloch’s death he had “forgiven her” and the matter was now in God’s hands.

After Baloch’s death, many Pakistanis again called for the passage of an anti-honour killing law, aimed a closing a loophole that allows family members to forgive the killers.

“The death of Qandeel Baloch conveys an insidious message: that women will be kept back at all cost; murdered, if they dare nurture ambitions to break the glass ceiling,” the English daily Dawn newspaper wrote in an editorial yesterday.

“Her murder must serve as an impetus for legislators to renew demands for legislation to protect women who are threatened under false notions of ‘honour’.”

Baloch, who called herself a modern day feminist, was described as Pakistan’s Kim Kardashian and built a modelling career on the back of her social media fame.

“As women we must stand up for ourselves. As women, we must stand up for each other,” she told her 758,000 followers on Facebook, days before her death. — Reuters

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