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KUALA LUMPUR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Domestic workers in Hong Kong are being forced to sleep in toilets, tiny cubbyholes, and on balconies, activists found in an investigation that uncovered the "appalling" living conditions of maids in the wealthy financial hub.

 

In the city that employs 350,000 maids, mostly from the Philippines and Indonesia, three out of five domestic workers are made to live in unsuitable accommodation that sometimes threatens their health and safety, said rights group Mission for Migrant Wokers (MFMW).

 

In a survey of 3,000 maids, MFMW found 43 percent of the respondents said they do not have their own room and were asked to sleep in places including storage rooms, kitchens, toilets, basements, closets and on balconies.

 

Photos collected from the domestic helpers showed shocking examples. In one case, a domestic worker was made to sleep in a cubbyhole above the refrigerator and microwave oven. Another was forced to sleep in a cubbyhole over a shower.

 

Another helper slept in a tiny, 1.2-metre-high room built on a balcony, next to the laundry area.

 

"It is appalling we are allowed to do this to a domestic worker. This is modern-day slavery," lead researcher Norman Uy Carnay told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

 

"Most of this accommodation doesn't even approach basic human decency. Hong Kong is a world-class city, it shames Hong Kong to have this kind of treatment of its migrant domestic workers."

 

Carnay said maids should be given suitable accommodation even if they are in space-scarce Hong Kong, where sky-high property prices make housing unaffordable for many of the city's 7 million residents.

 

In an email to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Hong Kong's Labour Department urged maids to lodge complaints and said employers can face action if they fail to provide suitable accommodation.

 

Asked whether sleeping in kitchens or toilets is acceptable, the department said it was "not feasible" to define what is suitable accommodation.

 

Of the 57 percent of domestic workers surveyed with their own room, one-third said their quarters also doubles as a storage area, space for laundry, a study or a room for pets, MFMW said. Fourteen percent of the 3,000 polled said they have no ready access to toilets.

 

Domestic helpers said they had no choice but to accept the conditions.

 

"We agree because we need to earn money. If we disagree, of course, we're sent to the agency or we're sent to go back home, right?" one unidentified maid was quoted by MFMW as saying.

 

Carnay urged Hong Kong to outlaw unsuitable accommodation and abolish rules that make it mandatory for maids to live with their employers.

 

At present, the rules only say employers must not force maids to sleep on beds in the corridor with little privacy, or to share a room with an adult of the opposite sex.

 

Although domestic workers generally have better protection in Hong Kong than in other parts of Asia, mistreatment in the city has come under scrutiny since the 2014 case of Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, an Indonesian maid beaten by her employer and burned with boiling water.

 

 (Writing by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi, editing by Alisa Tang. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)

 

By Sebastien Malo

 

NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Girls being trafficked for sex in northern Mexico often have been forced into exploitation as under-age child brides by their husbands, a study showed on Thursday.

 

Three out of four girls trafficked in the region were married at a young age, mostly before age 16, according to Mexican and U.S. researchers in a yet-unpublished study.

 

Human trafficking is believed to be the fastest-growing criminal industry in Mexico, and three-quarters of its victims are sexually exploited women and girls, according to Women United Against Trafficking, an activist group. [nL2N1611I3]

 

Under a 2012 anti-trafficking law, those convicted of the crime can spend up to 30 years in prison. 

 

Nevertheless, nearly 380,000 people are believed to be enslaved in Mexico, according to the 2016 Global Slavery Index published by rights group Walk Free Foundation. [nL8N1I55JH] 

 

The researchers interviewed 603 women working in the sex industry in the Mexican cities of Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez, both along the border with the United States.

 

Most said they had been trafficked as under-age brides, often by their husbands, said Jay Silverman, the study's lead author and a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego.

 

In about half the cases, the brides were pregnant, so healthcare workers could play a critical role in thwarting sex trafficking, the researchers said.

 

"Within being provided pregnancy-related care, there's the opportunity of interviewing that girl to understand her situation," Silverman told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

 

"We can support and assist those girls to reduce the likelihood that they will become trafficked," he said.

 

Under a 2014 law, the minimum age for marriage in Mexico is 18 but girls can marry at age 14 and boys at age 16 with parental consent.

 

The researchers include members of the United States-Mexico Border Health Commission, a joint effort launched in 2000 by the two nations' governments to improve health and quality of life along the border.

 

They also came from Mexican economic institutions, and one was a medical doctor.

 

 (Reporting by Sebastien Malo @sebastienmalo, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)

 

The closing night of the Tribeca Film Festival brought together the cast from two of the most important and influential movies ever made: The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II. Led by the festival’s co-founder, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, James Caan, Robert Duvall, and Talia Shire took the stage with their director, Francis Ford Coppola, to look back on the iconic films after they screened back to back for the audience.

The discussion, which was led by director Taylor Hackford, focused mainly on the first film, which allowed De Niro — who only appeared in Part II  to stay almost completely silent, seemingly to the notoriously shy actor’s satisfaction.

Coppola led a good deal of the talk, which focused mainly on how chaotic much of the production was. He recalled first learning about Mario Puzo’s original novel, hearing from the men who would go on to be the film’s producers, and receiving a call from Marlon Brando (he was turning down a part in Coppola’s The Conversation) all on the same day.

Given some time to warm up, Pacino took command of the stage, delivering a lively retelling of his casting process, which was tortured, to put it lightly. Coppola had wanted Pacino, then known mainly for his work on the stage, from the get-go, but Paramount wasn’t convinced. Producer Robert Evans thought Pacino was too short - which Pacino admitted was “sorta true” - and favored someone like Robert Redford, since as Coppola pointed out, there are some fair-haired Sicilians.

A dozen or so screen tests later Pacino got the part, but his first weeks on set were troubled. He recalled hearing people on set giggling at his performance, and when Coppola showed him some of the takes from those early days, he understood. The director then moved up the famous restaurant scene in the shooting schedule in order to convince Paramount not to fire Pacino, and it worked.

Pacino was not the only person that Paramount was looking to get rid of. At one point during filming, Coppola was told that he was going to be fired that weekend. The studio had gotten the sense that things weren’t going well, and the company wanted to weekend to solidify a replacement. And perhaps channeling Don Vito, Coppola found the 12 people working on set that were his loudest “naysayers” and fired them. He wasn’t sure at the time whether that was allowed, but the move had the desired affect. Once the studio saw a reshot version of the Don’s assassination, Coppola was back on the picture, with a more loyal crew.

As the night went on, the group exchanged stories, some of which had been forgotten by other cast members. Caan, in particular, had a few wild tales that only he seemed to remember, but he would regularly forget to speak into the microphone. One of the more surreal moments of the evening came as a result, when Duvall instructed Caan to “Use your mic” in pitch-perfect Tom Hagen sternness.

Given some time to warm up, Pacino took command of the stage, delivering a lively retelling of his casting process, which was tortured, to put it lightly. Coppola had wanted Pacino, then known mainly for his work on the stage, from the get-go, but Paramount wasn’t convinced. Producer Robert Evans thought Pacino was too short - which Pacino admitted was “sorta true” - and favored someone like Robert Redford, since as Coppola pointed out, there are some fair-haired Sicilians.

A dozen or so screen tests later Pacino got the part, but his first weeks on set were troubled. He recalled hearing people on set giggling at his performance, and when Coppola showed him some of the takes from those early days, he understood. The director then moved up the famous restaurant scene in the shooting schedule in order to convince Paramount not to fire Pacino, and it worked.

Pacino was not the only person that Paramount was looking to get rid of. At one point during filming, Coppola was told that he was going to be fired that weekend. The studio had gotten the sense that things weren’t going well, and the company wanted to weekend to solidify a replacement. And perhaps channeling Don Vito, Coppola found the 12 people working on set that were his loudest “naysayers” and fired them. He wasn’t sure at the time whether that was allowed, but the move had the desired affect. Once the studio saw a reshot version of the Don’s assassination, Coppola was back on the picture, with a more loyal crew.

As the night went on, the group exchanged stories, some of which had been forgotten by other cast members. Caan, in particular, had a few wild tales that only he seemed to remember, but he would regularly forget to speak into the microphone. One of the more surreal moments of the evening came as a result, when Duvall instructed Caan to “Use your mic” in pitch-perfect Tom Hagen sternness.

 

The Alien series is filled with horrific, chest-bursting, face-hugging, acid-blood-burning moments. But somehow it's the quieter scenes that get to you, where the doom builds as the Marines' cameras start to drop off the screen one by one, or where Newt grimly notes, "They mostly come at night. Mostly."

A new "Alien: Covenant" clip released Friday isn't gore-filled, but the way it slowly builds will still make the hairs on your arms stand up straight. Daniels (Katherine Waterston) is having a friendly conversation with MUTHUR, the Covenant's onboard artificial intelligence. Until she's not anymore. And then it's time to lock and load.

"Alien: Covenant" opens May 19 in the US (May 12 in the UK, May 18 in Australia).

President Tayyip Erdogan declared victory in a referendum on Sunday to grant him sweeping powers in the biggest overhaul of modern Turkish politics, but opponents said the vote was marred by irregularities and they would challenge its result.

Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast and its three main cities, including the capital Ankara and the largest city Istanbul, looked set to vote "No" after a bitter and divisive campaign.

Erdogan said 25 million people had supported the proposal, which will replace Turkey's parliamentary system with an all-powerful presidency and abolish the office of prime minister, giving the "Yes" camp 51.5 percent of the vote.

That appeared short of the decisive victory for which he and the ruling AK Party had aggressively campaigned. Nevertheless, thousands of flag-waving supporters rallied in Ankara and Istanbul in celebration.

"For the first time in the history of the Republic, we are changing our ruling system through civil politics," Erdogan said, referring to the military coups which marred Turkish politics for decades. "That is why it is very significant."

Under the changes, most of which will only come into effect after the next elections due in 2019, the president will appoint the cabinet and an undefined number of vice-presidents, and be able to select and remove senior civil servants without parliamentary approval.

There has been some speculation that Erdogan could call new elections so that his new powers could take effect right away. However, Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek told Reuters there was no such plan, and the elections would still be held in 2019.

Erdogan himself survived a failed coup attempt last July, responding with a crackdown that has seen 47,000 people detained and 120,000 sacked or suspended from their jobs.

In Ankara, where Prime Minister Binali Yildirim addressed cheering supporters, convoys of cars honking horns clogged a main avenue as they headed toward the AK Party's headquarters, their passengers waving flags from the windows.

But opponents questioned the validity of the vote, calling for a recount and challenging a last minute decision by the electoral authorities to allow ballots to be counted that were not stamped by election officials.

The head of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), Kemal Kilicdaroglu, said the legitimacy of the referendum was open to question. His party said it would demand a recount of up to 60 percent of the votes.

The chairman of the electoral board said the decision to allow unstamped ballots to be counted was not unprecedented, as the government had allowed such. In some affluent neighborhoods in Istanbul, people took to the streets in protest while others banged pots and pans at home - a sign of dissent that was widespread during anti-Erdogan protests in 2013.

In Istanbul's Besiktas neighborhood, more than 300 protesters brought traffic on a main street to a standstill, a Reuters cameraman at the scenesaid. In Ankara, scuffles between AK Party and opposition supporters broke out near the headquarters of the CHP.

 

EUROPEAN UNEASE

Turkey's lira firmed to 3.65 to the dollar in Asian trade following the referendum, from 3.72 on Friday.

European politicians, however, who have had increasingly strained relations with Turkey, expressed concern. The European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, said the close result meant that Ankara should seek "the broadest national consensus" in implementing the vote.

Relations hit a low during the referendum campaign when EU countries, including Germany and the Netherlands, barred Turkish ministers from holding rallies in support of the changes.

Erdogan called the moves "Nazi acts" and said Turkey could reconsider ties with the European Union after many years of seeking EU membership.

Former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt, who heads the liberal group of MEPs in the European Parliament, said Erdogan needed to change course, noting the result was very tight. "If Erdogan persists, EU should stop accession talks," he said.

Manfred Weber‏, leader of the center-right grouping tweeted: "No matter the result: with his referendum Pres. Erdogan is splitting his country."

After the vote Erdogan repeated his intention to review Turkey's suspension of the death penalty, a step which would almost certainly spell the end of Ankara's EU accession process.

Further deterioration in relations with the European Union could also jeopardize last year's deal under which Turkey has curbed the flow of migrants - mainly refugees from wars in Syria and Iraq - into the bloc.


"This is our opportunity to take back control of our country," said self-employed Bayram Seker, 42, after voting "Yes" in Istanbul.The referendum has bitterly divided the nation. Erdogan and his supporters say the changes are needed to amend the
current constitution, written by generals following a 1980 military coup, confront the security and political challenges Turkey faces, and avoid the fragile coalition governments of the past.

"I don't think one-man rule is such a scary thing. Turkey has been ruled in the past by one man," he said, referring to modern Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Opponents say it is a step toward greater authoritarianism.

Erdogan and the AK Party enjoyed a disproportionate share of media coverage in the buildup to the vote while the leaders of the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP), which opposes the changes, have been in jail for months.

"I voted 'No' because I don't want this whole country and its legislative, executive and judiciary ruled by one man," said Hamit Yaz, 34, a ship's captain, after voting in Istanbul.

Proponents of the reform argue that it would end the current "two-headed system" in which both the president and parliament are directly elected, a situation they argue could lead to deadlock. Until 2014, presidents were chosen by parliament.

The government says Turkey, faced with conflict to the south in Syria and Iraq, and a security threat from Islamic State and PKK militants, needs strong and clear leadership.

 

The package of 18 amendments would give the president the authority to draft the budget, declare a state of emergency and issue decrees overseeing ministries without parliamentary approval.

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