Epstein Pilot Resumes Testimony at Ghislaine Maxwell Trial

A longtime pilot for the late financier Jeffrey Epstein resumed his testimony at Ghislaine Maxwell’s sex trafficking trial Tuesday, saying that the British socialite charged with helping the financier find teenage girls to sexually abuse was “Number 2” in the hierarchy of Epstein’s operations.

Lawrence Paul Visoski Jr. is the first witness in the sex trafficking trial of Maxwell, 59, a woman who traveled for decades in circles that put her in contact with accomplished and wealthy people before her July 2020 arrest.

Asked where Maxwell stood in the hierarchy of Epstein’s world, Visoski said Maxwell “was the Number 2.” He added that “Epstein was the big Number 1.”

The testimony supports what Assistant U.S. Attorney Lara Pomerantz told jurors in her opening statement Monday when she said Epstein and Maxwell were “partners in crime.”

Pomerantz said Maxwell recruited and groomed girls for Epstein to sexually abuse from 1994 to at least 2004.

Maxwell has pleaded not guilty and her lawyer says she’s being made a scapegoat for Epstein’s bad behavior.

Visoski testified briefly on Monday before beginning Tuesday on the witness stand. Prosecutors have used his testimony to show jurors photographs of Epstein’s homes and properties.

Epstein killed himself in his Manhattan jail cell in August 2019 as he awaited a sex trafficking trial. 

Maxwell has been held without bail since her arrest on charges alleging she recruited teenage girls for Epstein to abuse from 1994 to 1997. Earlier this year, the indictment against her was expanded to accuse her of continuing to aid Epstein’s sexual abuse of teenagers from 1997 to 2004.

IOM Says Despite Risks, Number of Migrants Crossing the Mediterranean Sea Has Doubled

In search of a better life, many migrants cross from Africa to Europe through what has been dubbed the “deadliest border in the world:” The Mediterranean Sea. But despite the risks, the International Organization for Migration says the number of people crossing has doubled in the first half of this year to an estimated 77,000. For VOA, Ruud Elmendorp reports from onboard the Ocean Viking, a rescue vessel in the Mediterranean Sea.

Blinken in Latvia for NATO Security Talks

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Latvia Tuesday for talks with the country’s leaders and a NATO ministerial meeting as the alliance expresses concern about Russia’s military buildup along the border with Ukraine.

Blinken’s schedule in Riga includes sessions with Latvian President Egils Levits, Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins and Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics. He is also due to meet with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg ahead of the ministerial talks later in the day.

Levits told reporters after his own talks with Stoltenberg on Monday that Russia’s military presence represents direct pressure on Ukraine, and that NATO “will remain in solidarity with Ukraine.”

Stoltenberg called on Russia to reduce tensions in the region, saying the military buildup is “unprovoked and unexplained.”

“Any future Russian aggression against Ukraine would come at a high price and have serious political and economic consequences for Russia,” Stoltenberg said.

A main focus of work at the NATO ministerial meeting is updating what the group calls its Strategic Concept, which was last changed a decade ago.

Stoltenberg said it is important to revisit the strategic document given the changed nature of the threats NATO faces, what he called a “more dangerous world.”

“We see the behavior of Russia, we see cyber, we see terrorist threats, we see proliferation of nuclear weapons,” Stoltenberg said. “And we see the security consequences of China which is now becoming more and more a global power.”

The talks in Riga also come as NATO members Latvia, Lithuania and Poland deal with a border crisis with neighboring Belarus.

The European Union accuses Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of enticing thousands of migrants, mainly from the Middle East, to travel to Belarus and try to cross into Latvia, Lithuania and Poland in order to destabilize the European Union. The EU says Lukashenko is retaliating for sanctions it imposed against his government.

Blinken is scheduled to travel Wednesday to Sweden to meet with fellow ministers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and to discuss bilateral ties with Swedish officials.

Jury Seated in Trial of Former ‘Empire’ Actor Jussie Smollett

A jury was seated Monday to hear the case against Jussie Smollett, who says he was the victim of a racist and homophobic assault in downtown Chicago that authorities say was a hoax concocted and staged by the former “Empire” actor.

Two brothers, who worked with Smollett on the TV show, say he paid them $3,500 to pose as his attackers on a frigid night in January 2019. The men now stand at the center of the case that prosecutors will lay before jurors this week.

Smollett, who arrived at the courthouse in Chicago on Monday with his mother and other family members, is accused of lying to police about the alleged attack and has been charged with felony disorderly conduct. The Class 4 felony carries a prison sentence of up to three years, but experts have said it is likely that if Smollett is convicted, he would be placed on probation and perhaps ordered to perform community service. 

Twelve jurors plus three alternate jurors were sworn in and were expected to begin hearing opening arguments late Monday in a trial Judge James Linn said he expects to take about one week. During jury selection, Linn asked potential jurors if they have been the victim of a hate crime, if they have watched “Empire” or “TMZ,” a program and website about celebrities, or if they belong to any civil rights or pro-police organizations. Cameras are not allowed inside the courtroom, and the proceedings are not being livestreamed, unlike in other recent high-profile trials. 

Whether Smollett, who is Black and gay, will testify remains an open question. But the siblings, Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, will take the witness stand where they are expected to repeat what they have told police officers and prosecutors: They carried out the attack at Smollett’s behest.

Jurors also may see surveillance video from more than four dozen cameras that police reviewed to trace the brothers’ movements before and after the reported attack, as well as a video showing the brothers purchasing a red hat, ski masks and gloves from a beauty supply shop hours earlier. 

Smollett’s attorneys have not spelled out how they will confront that evidence, and the lead attorney, Nenye Uche, declined to comment ahead of this week’s proceedings. But there are clues as to how they might do so during the trial. 

Buried in nearly 500 pages of Chicago Police Department reports is a statement from an area resident who says she saw a white man with “reddish brown hair” who appeared to be waiting for someone that night. 

She told a detective that when the man turned away from her, she “could see hanging out from underneath his jacket what appeared to be a rope.” 

Her comments could back up Smollett’s contention that his attackers draped a makeshift noose around his neck. Further, if she testified that the man was white, it would support Smollett’s statements — widely ridiculed because the brothers, who come from Nigeria, are Black — that he saw pale or white skin around the eyes of one of his masked attackers. 

Given there is so much evidence, including the brothers’ own statements that they participated in the attack, it is unlikely that Smollett’s attorneys will try to prove they did not take part. That could perhaps lead the defense to contend that Smollett was the victim of a very real attack at the hands of the brothers, perhaps with the help of others, who now are only implicating the actor so they won’t be charged, too.

The $3,500 check could be key, although Smollett says he wrote it to pay one of the brothers to work as his personal trainer. 

“I would assume the defense is going to zero in on that,” said Joe Lopez, a prominent defense attorney not involved with the case.

What they will almost certainly do is attack the brothers’ credibility, reminding jurors that they are not facing the same criminal charges as Smollett, despite admitting they took part in the staged attack. 

“Everything Smollett is responsible for, they are responsible for,” said David Erickson, a former state appellate judge who teaches at Chicago-Kent College of Law and is not involved in the case.

Finally, Smollett’s career could take center stage. Prosecutors could make the same point that then-Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson made when he announced Smollett’s arrest in 2019: Smollett thought the attack would win him more fame and a pay raise.

But Lopez said the defense attorneys might ask the jury the same question he asked himself.

“How would that help him with anything?” he asked. “He’s already a star.” 

 

Israeli Court: 6-Year-Old Cable Car Crash Survivor to Return to Italy

Israel’s Supreme Court on Monday upheld lower court rulings in the bitter custody battle surrounding a 6-year-old boy who survived a cable car crash in Italy, saying he should be returned to his relatives there within two weeks. 

Eitan Biran has been the focus of a legal battle between his paternal relatives in Italy and his maternal family in Israel since surviving the May 23 cable car crash, which killed 14 people, including his parents and younger brother.

Eitan and his parents were living in Italy at the time of the accident. After his release from a Turin hospital following weeks of treatment, Italian juvenile court officials ruled the child would live with a paternal aunt, Aya Biran, near Pavia, in northern Italy. 

His maternal grandfather, Shmulik Peleg, then spirited him away without the knowledge of the relatives in Italy, taking him across the border into Switzerland by car and then flying him to Israel on a private jet. Peleg has said he acted in the child’s best interest. 

The Peleg family said it would continue to fight “in every legal way” to return the child to Israel. It was not immediately clear what legal options were available following the Supreme Court ruling. 

Earlier this month, an Italian judge issued an arrest warrant for Gabriel Abutbul Alon, who is accused of having driven the car on September 11 that spirited Eitan from his home near Pavia to Switzerland. Alon was arrested in Cyprus last week. 

Peleg was also named in the arrest warrant. 

The boy’s family in Italy said they were happy with the Supreme Court decision, calling it “just and awaited.”

“We can only be happy with the end of this case, which represents a victory for the law and justice,” they said in a statement. Eitan is expected to arrive December 12 in Italy, “where he is awaited with joy.” 

 

Russia Says Latest Zircon Hypersonic Missile Test Successful

Russia said Monday it had carried out another successful test of its Zircon hypersonic cruise missile, as world powers race to develop the advanced weaponry.

Russia, the United States, France and China have all been experimenting with so-called hypersonic glide vehicles — defined as reaching speeds of at least Mach 5.

As part of “the completion of tests” of Russia’s hypersonic missile weapons, the Admiral Gorshkov warship launched a Zircon missile at a target in the Barents Sea at a range of 400 kilometers, the defense ministry said.

“The target was hit,” the ministry said, describing the test as successful.

The missile has undergone several recent tests, with Russia planning to equip both warships and submarines with the Zircon.

Putin revealed the development of the new weapon in a state of the nation address in February 2019, saying it could hit targets at sea and on land with a range of 1,000 kilometers and a speed of Mach 9.

Russia’s latest Zircon test came after Western reports that a Chinese hypersonic glider test flight in July culminated in the mid-flight firing of a missile at more than five times the speed of sound over the South China Sea.

Up until the test, none of the top powers had displayed comparable mastery of a mid-flight missile launch.

China denied the report, saying it was a routine test of a reusable space vehicle.

Russia has boasted of developing several weapons that circumvent existing defense systems, including the Sarmat intercontinental missiles and Burevestnik cruise missiles.

Western experts have linked a deadly blast at a test site in northern Russia in 2019 — which caused a sharp spike in local radiation levels — to the Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile.

Merriam-Webster Chooses Vaccine as the 2021 Word of the Year

With an expanded definition to reflect the times, Merriam-Webster has declared an omnipresent truth as its 2021 word of the year: vaccine.

“This was a word that was extremely high in our data every single day in 2021,” Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster’s editor-at-large, told The Associated Press ahead of Monday’s announcement. 

“It really represents two different stories. One is the science story, which is this remarkable speed with which the vaccines were developed. But there’s also the debates regarding policy, politics and political affiliation. It’s one word that carries these two huge stories,” he said.

The selection follows “vax” as word of the year from the folks who publish the Oxford English Dictionary. And it comes after Merriam-Webster chose “pandemic” as tops in lookups last year on its online site.

“The pandemic was the gun going off and now we have the aftereffects,” Sokolowski said.

At Merriam-Webster, lookups for “vaccine” increased 601% over 2020, when the first U.S. shot was administered in New York in December after quick development, and months of speculation and discussion over efficacy. The world’s first jab occurred earlier that month in the UK.

Compared to 2019, when there was little urgency or chatter about vaccines, Merriam-Webster logged an increase of 1,048% in lookups this year. Debates over inequitable distribution, vaccine mandates and boosters kept interest high, Sokolowski said. So did vaccine hesitancy and friction over vaccine passports.

The word “vaccine” wasn’t birthed in a day, or due to a single pandemic. The first known use stretches back to 1882 but references pop up earlier related to fluid from cowpox pustules used in inoculations, Sokolowski said. It was borrowed from the New Latin “vaccina,” which goes back to Latin’s feminine “vaccinus,” meaning “of or from a cow.”  

The Latin for cow is “vacca,” a word that might be akin to the Sanskrit “vasa,” according to Merriam-Webster. 

Inoculation, on the other hand, dates to 1714, in one sense referring to the act of injecting an “inoculum.”

Earlier this year, Merriam-Webster added to its online entry for “vaccine” to cover all the talk of mRNA vaccines, or messenger vaccines such as those for COVID-19 developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. 

While other dictionary companies choose words of the year by committee, Merriam-Webster bases its selection on lookup data, paying close attention to spikes and, more recently, year-over-year increases in searches after weeding out evergreens. The company has been declaring a word of the year since 2008. Among its runners-up in the word biography of 2021:

INSURRECTION: Interest was driven by the deadly Jan. 6 siege on the U.S. Capitol. Arrests continue, as do congressional hearings over the attack by supporters of President Donald Trump. Some of Trump’s allies have resisted subpoenas, including Steve Bannon. Searches for the word increased by 61,000% over 2020, Sokolowksi said.

INFRASTRUCTURE: President Joe Biden was able to deliver what Trump often spoke of but never achieved: A bipartisan infrastructure bill signed into law. When Biden proposed help with broadband access, eldercare and preschool, conversation changed from not only roads and bridges but “figurative infrastructure,” Sokolowski said.

“Many people asked, what is infrastructure if it’s not made out of steel or concrete? Infrastructure, in Latin, means underneath the structure,” he said. 

PERSEVERANCE: It’s the name of NASA’s latest Mars rover. It landed Feb. 18, 2021. “Perseverance is the most sophisticated rover NASA has ever sent to the Red Planet, with a name that embodies NASA’s passion, and our nation’s capability, to take on and overcome challenges,” the space agency said.  

The name was thought up by Alexander Mather, a 14-year-old seventh-grader at Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, Virginia. He participated in an essay contest organized by NASA. He was one of 28,000 K-12 students to submit entries. 

NOMAD: The word had its moment with the 2020 release of the film “Nomadland.” It went on to win three Oscars in April 2021, including best picture, director (Chloé Zhao) and actress (Frances McDormand). Zhao became the first woman of color to win best director.  

The AP’s film writer Jake Coyle called the indie success “a plain-spoken meditation on solitude, grief and grit. He wrote that it “struck a chord in a pandemic-ravaged year. It made for an unlikely Oscar champ: A film about people who gravitate to the margins took center stage.”

Other words in Merriam-Webster’s Top 10: Cicada (we had an invasion), guardian (the Cleveland Indians became the Cleveland Guardians), meta (the lofty new name of Facebook’s parent company), cisgender (a gender identity that corresponds to one’s sex assigned at birth), woke (charged with politics and political correctness) and murraya (a tropical tree and the word that won the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee for 14-year-old Zaila Avant-garde).

In French Pantheon, Josephine Baker Makes History Yet Again

France is inducting Josephine Baker — Missouri-born cabaret dancer, French World War II spy and civil rights activist — into its Pantheon, the first Black woman honored in the final resting place of France’s most revered luminaries.

On Tuesday, a coffin carrying soils from the U.S., France and Monaco — places where Baker made her mark — will be deposited inside the domed Pantheon monument overlooking the Left Bank of Paris. Her body will stay in Monaco, at the request of her family.

French President Emmanuel Macron decided on her entry into the Pantheon, responding to a petition. In addition to honoring an exceptional figure in French history, the move is meant to send a message against racism and celebrate U.S.-French connections.

“She embodies, before anything, women’s freedom,” Laurent Kupferman, the author of the petition for the move, told The Associated Press.

Baker was born in 1906, in St. Louis, Missouri. At 19, having already divorced twice, had relationships with men and women, and started a performing career, she moved to France following a job opportunity.

“She arrives in France in 1925, she’s an emancipated woman, taking her life in her hands, in a country of which she doesn’t even speak the language,” Kupferman said. 

She met immediate success on the Theatre des Champs-Elysees stage, where she appeared topless and wearing a famed banana belt. Her show, embodying the colonial time’s racist stereotypes about African women, caused both condemnation and celebration.

“She was that kind of fantasy: not the Black body of an American woman but of an African woman,” Theatre des Champs-Elysees spokesperson Ophélie Lachaux told the AP. “And that’s why they asked Josephine to dance something ‘tribal,’ ‘savage,’ ‘African’-like.” 

Baker’s career took a more serious turn after that, as she learned to speak five languages and toured internationally. She became a French citizen after her marriage in 1937 to industrialist Jean Lion, a Jewish man who later suffered from anti-Semitic laws of the collaborationist Vichy regime.

In September 1939, as France and Britain declared war against Nazi Germany, Baker got in touch with the head of the French counterintelligence services. She started working as an informant, traveling, getting close to officials and sharing information hidden on her music sheets, according to French military archives.

Researcher and historian Géraud Létang said Baker lived “a double life between, on the one side, the music hall artist, and on the other side, another secret life, later becoming completely illegal, of intelligence agent.” 

After France’s defeat in June 1940, she refused to play for the Nazis who occupied Paris and moved to southwestern France. She continued to work for the French Resistance, using her artistic performances as a cover for her spying activities.

That year, she notably brought into her troupe several spies working for the Allies, allowing them to travel to Spain and Portugal. “She risks the death penalty or, at least, the harsh repression of the Vichy regime or of the Nazi occupant,” Letang said.

The next year, seriously ill, Baker left France for North Africa, where she gathered intelligence for Gen. Charles De Gaulle, including spying on the British and the Americans — who didn’t fully trust him and didn’t share all information.

She also raised funds, including from her personal money. It is estimated she brought the equivalent of 10 million euros ($11.2 million) to support the French Resistance. 

In 1944, Baker joined a female group in the Air Force of the French Liberation Army as a second lieutenant. The group’s logbook notably mentions a 1944 incident off the coast of Corsica, when Senegalese soldiers from colonial troops fighting in the French Liberation Army helped Baker out of the sea. After her plane had to make an emergency landing, they brought “the shipwrecked to the shores, on their large shoulders, Josephine Baker in the front,” the logbook writes. 

Baker also organized concerts for soldiers and civilians near combat zones. After the defeat of the Nazis, she went to Germany to sing for former prisoners and deportees freed from the camps. 

“Baker’s involvement in politics was individual and atypical,” said Benetta Jules-Rosette, a leading scholar on Baker’s life and a sociology professor at the University of California, San Diego. 

After the war, Baker got involved in anti-racist politics. She fought against American segregation during a 1951 performance tour of the U.S., causing her to be targeted by the FBI, labeled a communist and banned from her homeland for a decade. The ban was lifted by President John F. Kennedy in 1963, and she returned to be the only woman to speak at the March on Washington, before Martin Luther King’s famed “I Have a Dream” speech.

Back in France, she adopted 12 children from all over the world, creating a “rainbow tribe” to embody her ideal of “universal fraternity.” She purchased a castle and land in the southwestern French town of Castelnaud-la-Chapelle, where she tried to build a city embodying her values.

“My mother saw the success of the rainbow tribe, because when we caused trouble as kids, she would never know who had done it because we never ratted on each other, risking collective punishment,” one of Baker’s sons, Brian Bouillon Baker, told the AP. “I heard her say to some friends ‘I’m mad to never know who causes trouble, but I’m happy and proud that my kids stand united.’”

Toward the end of her life, she ran into financial trouble, was evicted and lost her properties. She received support from Princess Grace of Monaco, who offered Baker a place for her and her children to live.

She rebuilt her career but in 1975, four days after the triumphant opening of a comeback tour, she fell into a coma and passed away from a brain hemorrhage. She was buried in Monaco.

While Baker is widely appreciated in France, some critics of Macron question why he chose an American-born figure as the first Black woman in the Pantheon, instead of someone who rose up against racism and colonialism in France itself. 

The Pantheon, built at the end of the 18th century, honors 72 men and five women, including Baker. She joins two other Black figures in the mausoleum: Gaullist resister Felix Eboué and famed writer Alexandre Dumas.

“These are people who have committed themselves, especially to others,” Pantheon administrator David Medec told the AP. “It is not only excellence in a field of competence, it is really the question of commitment, commitment to others.”

Talks on Iran Nuclear Deal Resuming in Vienna

Talks about reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal resume Monday in Vienna after a five-month break and for the first time since a new president took office in Iran.

Like six previous rounds of negotiations, which began in April, the United States is participating indirectly, similar to the 2015 deal, which was known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Iran will talk directly with the remaining signatories of the 2015 deal — Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany — with European diplomats shuttling back and forth to consult with the U.S. side. 

At stake is the resumption of the agreement that brought limits to Iran’s nuclear program lasting between 10 and 15 years in exchange for sanctions relief.

The United States withdrew from the agreement in 2018 during the administration of President Donald Trump, after which Iran began stepping away from its commitments.

To date, Iran has exceeded its agreed limits on the amount of uranium it stockpiles, enriched uranium to higher levels and utilized more advanced centrifuges in its nuclear facilities.

The original agreement came in response to fears that Iran was working to develop nuclear weapons, which Iran has denied, saying its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes such as research and generating power.

Some information for this report came from the Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

Taiwan, Europe Must Defend Democracy Together, President Says

Taiwan and Europe must work together to defend against authoritarianism and disinformation, President Tsai Ing-wen told visiting lawmakers from the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia on Monday.

Lithuania has faced sustained pressure from China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory, since allowing the opening of a de facto Taiwanese embassy in its capital.

Beijing has ramped up military and diplomatic pressure on Taipei to accept Chinese sovereignty claims and to limit its international participation, though Tsai says Taiwan will not bow to threats and will defend its freedom and democracy.

Tsai told the lawmakers at the Presidential Office that Taiwan and the Baltic nations – once part of the Soviet Union – share similar experiences of breaking free from authoritarian rule and of fighting for freedom.

“The democracy we enjoy today was hard earned. This is something we all understand most profoundly,” she said.

“Now the world faces challenges posed by the expansion of authoritarianism and threat of disinformation. Taiwan is more than willing to share its experience at combating disinformation with its European friends. We must safeguard our shared values to ensure our free and democratic way of life.”

Matas Maldeikis, leader of the Lithuanian parliament’s Taiwan Friendship Group, told Tsai in response their group was in Taipei to express their solidarity with the island.

“Lithuanian government policy towards Taiwan has wide support in our society.

Preserving freedom and the rules-based international order is in the vital interests for both Taiwan and Lithuania,” he said.

There is much opportunity for economic and cultural cooperation, added Maldeikis, whose trip has been condemned by China.

No European Union member state has official ties with Taiwan.

The United States has strongly backed its NATO ally Lithuania in its spat with China.

Lithuania faces problems too with pressure from Russia and Belarus, with migrants on its border with Belarus.

Katrin Jakobsdottir, Iceland’s Staunch Feminist PM, Begins Second Term

Katrin Jakobsdottir, a popular and fervent feminist who has become a unifying force after years of political upheaval, on Sunday kicked off her second term as prime minister of Iceland.

The country’s three coalition parties agreed that the 45-year-old former journalist would remain premier, a post she has held since 2017, despite her Left-Green Movement’s weak showing in September’s legislative election.

That mere fact illustrates Jakobsdottir’s pivotal role in the unusually broad coalition, made up of her Left-Greens, the conservative Independence Party and the center-right Progressive Party.

The unlikely alliance has been hard for some in her party to accept.

“I know I’ve been criticized for it, but when I look back, I think this government has done a good job and I think it has really shown what is possible in politics,” she told AFP in a recent interview.

Jakobsdottir has won over Icelanders with her integrity, sincerity and consensual management style.

Almost 60% said they wanted her to stay on as prime minister, in a poll published in October, even though her party won only 12.6% of votes at the ballot box.

A former education minister, from 2009 to 2013, she has remained down-to-Earth and avoided scandal during her years in power, earning the people’s trust, according to analysts.

“Katrin Jakobsdottir is a very skilled politician (who) has more of a consensus style than confrontational style,” notes University of Iceland political science professor Olafur Hardarson.

This is only the second time since 2008 that a government made it to the end of its four-year mandate on the sprawling island of 370,000 people.

Deep public distrust of politicians amid repeated scandals sent Icelanders to the polls five times from 2007 to 2017.

However, holding onto power has come at a high price, with Jakobsdottir forced to make concessions on key issues like immigration and the environment during her first term.

She had to back down from a promise to create a national park in the center of the country, to protest a natural national treasure, after her two allies refused to support the legislation.

Born into a family of academics and lawmakers, Jakobsdottir is the second woman to head Iceland’s government.

Her concern for the environment was awakened in the 2000s by a controversial project to build a hydroelectric dam in eastern Iceland.

“I wouldn’t say I was the most radical activist in town, but, yes, I began my political participation through demonstrations,” she told U.S. magazine The Nation in 2018.

She joined the youth wing of the Left Green Movement in 2002, before becoming deputy leader a year later. She has been the head of the party since 2013.

The slender, athletic politician has been a member of parliament for 14 years.

A huge football fan, she has rooted for Liverpool FC since she was a child.

That makes for a sometimes-tense atmosphere in her Reykjavik apartment, where her husband and three sons are all Manchester United supporters.

“I clearly didn’t raise my children well enough,” she joked on a radio show earlier this year, blaming her husband who has spent more time with their children due to her hectic schedule.

In a country that champions gender equality, she has made women’s causes a priority. Among other things, she has extended parental leave.

Her friends are meanwhile quick to point out her funny side. 

“With her sense of humor and jokes she can put a room at ease,” says former party member Rosa Bjork Brynjolfsdottir, who studied with her at university.

With a degree in Icelandic and French studies and a Masters in Icelandic literature, Jakobsdottir is a fan of crime novels and fiction, finding time to read almost every day. 

Louis Vuitton Star Designer Virgil Abloh Dies After Battle With Cancer

Virgil Abloh, fashion’s highest profile Black designer and the creative mind behind Louis Vuitton’s menswear collections, died on Sunday of cancer, Vuitton’s owner LVMH said.

The French luxury goods giant said Abloh, 41, had been battling cancer privately for years.

“Virgil was not only a genius designer, a visionary, he was also a man with a beautiful soul and great wisdom,” LVMH’s billionaire boss Bernard Arnault said in a statement.

Abloh, a U.S. national who also worked as a DJ and visual artist, had been men’s artistic director for Vuitton, the world’s biggest luxury brand, since March 2018.

His arrival at LVMH marked the marriage between streetwear and high-end fashion, mixing sneakers and camouflage pants with tailored suits and evening gowns. His influences included graffiti art, hip hop and skateboard culture.

The style was embraced by the group as it sought to breathe new life into some labels and attract younger customers.

In July this year, LVMH expanded his role, giving him a mandate to launch new brands and partner with existing ones in a variety of sectors beyond fashion.

LVMH also bought a 60% stake in Abloh’s Off-White label, which it folded into the spirits-to-jewelry conglomerate.

“For over two years, Virgil valiantly battled a rare, aggressive form of cancer, cardiac angiosarcoma,” a message posted to his Instagram said. “He chose to endure his battle privately since his diagnosis in 2019, undergoing numerous challenging treatments, all while helming several significant institutions that span fashion, art, and culture.”

Abloh drew on messages of inclusivity and gender-fluidity to expand the Louis Vuitton label’s popularity, weaving themes of racial identity into his fashion shows with poetry performances and art installations.

With an eye to reaching Asian consumers grounded by the coronavirus pandemic, the designer sent his collections of colorful suits and utilitarian-flavored outerwear off to Shanghai last summer, when many labels canceled fashion shows.

“Virgil Abloh was the essence of modern creativity,” said an Instagram post by Alexandre Arnault, one of Bernard Arnault’s sons and executive vice president for product and communications at U.S. jeweler Tiffany, which LVMH bought this year.

COVID-Positive Czech President Appoints New PM From Plexiglass Cubicle

Czech President Milos Zeman appointed the leader of a center-right alliance Petr Fiala as prime minister on Sunday in a ceremony he performed from a plexiglass cubicle after testing positive for COVID-19.

Fiala leads a bloc of five center and center-right opposition parties that won an election in October, ousting the incumbent premier Andrej Babis and his allies.

The new government will have to tackle a new wave of coronavirus infections that is threatening to overwhelm hospitals and an energy crisis, after the collapse of a large electricity provider. The coalition has also said it plans to rework the 2022 state budget to reduce a large deficit.

“The new government has a very complicated time ahead and many challenges… I want it to be a government of change for the future,” Fiala said at a news conference.

He expected his cabinet to be appointed in mid-December.

The new prime minister also called on people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and praised medical staff as cases are on the rise.

Opponents of vaccination and government’s anti-coronavirus measures such as a ban on Christmas markets gathered in their thousands in Prague later on Sunday for a protest rally.

Only 58.5% of Czechs are vaccinated against the coronavirus. This compares to a European Union average of 65.8%, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

Zeman performed the inauguration ceremony from a plexiglass cubicle after testing positive for coronavirus. Zeman, who arrived in a wheelchair escorted by a medic in full protective gear, contracted the virus after a six-week stay in hospital for an unrelated illness.