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Pistorius to learn sentence for killing girlfriend

South African paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius rests his head on October 17, 2014 during his sentencing hearing at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria

Pretoria (AFP) – South African Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius on Tuesday learns his sentence for shooting dead his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day last year, bringing an end to a seven-month trial that gripped the nation.

Pistorius’s fate lies in the hands of Judge Thokozile Masipa, who will announce her decision after the prosecution called for 10 years in jail and the defence pleaded for house arrest and community service.

The judge last month acquitted the double amputee sprinter of the more serious charge of murder over Reeva Steenkamp’s death. But she found him guilty of culpable homicide, for which the punishment can range from a fine to jail time.

Pistorius claims he shot Steenkamp, a 29-year-old law graduate and model, four times through a locked bathroom door at his upmarket Pretoria home after he mistakenly believed she was an intruder.

His lawyers, arguing that Pistorius would be more vulnerable than most in prison because of his disability, have called for three years of “correctional supervision”, the equivalent of house arrest for the 27-year-old.

They also suggested that Pistorius could carry out 16 hours of community service a month cleaning a Pretoria museum.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel said such a sentence would be “shockingly inappropriate” and could cause South Africans to lose faith in their legal system.

- ‘Guilt and ridicule’ -

On the eve of the sentencing at the Pretoria High Court, Pistorius’s siblings Aimee and Carl spoke to the media for the first time since the fatal shooting.

They vowed to stand by Pistorius as he faces his punishment and said the family had struggled to cope with the death of Steenkamp, of whom they had become fond in the few months the couple were together.

“It’s important for us that they (Steenkamp’s family) know that she was very much cared for and loved and accepted as part of our family in the short time that she was with us,” said Aimee, who has sat through each court session since the trial opened in March.

“It’s been difficult to try support someone through this grief,” she told local tv station eNCA. “The guilt and ridicule that surrounds it as well as the exposure that has come with it, and just the heartache for both my brother, my family and of course the Steenkamp family.”

Pistorius would at times weep and vomit during the high-profile trial, large chunks of which were broadcast live around the world, including on a specially-created 24-hour television channel.

Pistorius’s older brother Carl said his family would “stand strong” on Tuesday but refused to speculate on the sentencing outcome. “I don’t think one can ever be prepared for whatever the sentence might be,” he said.

Legal experts were divided on which way Judge Masipa will swing.

“There is a strong argument to be made for certainly a period of direct imprisonment,” said William Booth, a criminal lawyer based in Cape Town. “You do have to send a message to the public.”

But even if Pistorius does not spend any time behind bars, Booth said he would not be getting off “scot free” as “correctional supervision is recognised as a fairly severe sentence”.

Despite being unpalatable to many South Africans, a house arrest sentence would be fitting for Pistorius, said Kelly Phelps, a law lecturer at the University of Cape Town.

Defence lawyer Barry Roux said the “broken” Pistorius was an ideal candidate for a non-custodial sentence given his remorse, his status as a first-time offender and the fact that he would be an easy target in South Africa’s notoriously brutal jails.

The athlete made history by becoming the first Paralympian to compete against able-bodied athletes at the 2012 London Olympics, inspiring millions with his story.

But during his trial the prosecution painted a darker picture of the one-time sports star, presenting a dangerously volatile young man with a penchant for guns, beautiful women and fast cars.

Both the state and the defence have the right to appeal the verdict, potentially dragging out the legal proceedings for years to come.

Whatever the outcome, Pistorius has lost his glittering sports career, lucrative contracts and — above all — his hero status, tarnished forever.

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China’s Q3 GDP growth falls to five-year low at 7.3%, govt says

A group of Chinese women drink coffee outside a shopping mall in Beijing on October 18, 2014. China's GDP growth slumped to a five-year low in July-September

Beijing (AFP) – China’s gross domestic product expanded 7.3 percent year-on-year in July-September, official data showed Tuesday, slumping to a five-year low despite official efforts to shore up growth in the world’s second-largest economy.

The third-quarter figure announced by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) was lower than the 7.5 percent expansion in the previous three months, but exceeded the median forecast of 7.2 percent in an AFP survey of 17 economists.

It is the slowest since the 6.6 percent recorded in the first quarter of 2009, in the depths of the global financial crisis.

“China’s economy showed a good momentum of stable growth in the first three quarters of the year with progress made and quality improved,” the NBS said in a statement.

“However we should keep in mind that the internal and external environment is still complicated and the economic development still faces many challenges.

“We should maintain the continuity and the stability of macro policies and make anticipatory adjustments and fine-tuning in an appropriate and timely manner, so as to achieve a stable and sound development of the national economy.”

The NBS also said the economy expanded 7.4 percent in the first nine months of the year.

Separately, the Bureau said industrial production, which measures output at factories, workshops and mines, rose 8.0 percent year-on-year in September. That is a rebound from a more than five year low of 6.9 percent in August.

Retail sales, a key indicator of consumer spending, expanded 11.6 percent in the same month, while fixed asset investment, a measure of government spending on infrastructure, rose 16.1 percent on-year in the first nine months. 

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New Music: Dej Loaf Feat. Remy Ma & Ty Dolla Sign “Try Me (Remix)”


Dej Loaf’s “Try Me” street anthem has taken the rap world by storm, with various unofficial remixes from Wiz Khalifa, The LOX, E-40, YG, Lil’ Durk, and more. On the eve that her Sell Sole mixtape is set to drop online, the pint-sized Detroit rapper-singer blasts off the official remix of “Try Me,” featuring Remy Ma and Ty Dolla $ign. Premiered by VIBE, the trio recently shot a video for the DDS-produced remix that’s coming soon.

Listen below, and click here for another new record from the Columbia Records-signee titled “Bird Call.”

Continue after the jump……

New Music: Dej Loaf Feat. Remya Ma & Ty Dolla Sign – “Try Me (Remix)” (prod. by DDS)

DeJ Loaf – “Bird Call” (Video)
Dej Loaf Signs to Columbia Records
DeJ Loaf – “Try Me / We Good” (Video)

Transgender troops seek end to US military taboo

Transgender Major Alexandra Larsson of the Swedish Armed Forces (2nd L) speaks alongside fellow transgenders Corporal Natalie Murray (R), Major Donna Harding (2nd R) and Sergeant Lucy Jordan (C)in Washington on October 20, 2014

Washington (AFP) – For Donna Harding, joining the Australian army was a bid to try to suppress what she had known from an early age — she was a girl trapped in a boy’s body.

“It’s quite a common pathway for people who are gender conflicted, trying to fix what we see is wrong with us, and see the military as the way of doing that,” Major Harding said.

She was speaking at an unprecedented gathering of transgender troops from foreign armies in Washington, sharing their experiences in the hopes of persuading the Pentagon and the US administration to break perhaps the last taboo — openly integrating members of their community into the military’s ranks.

Eighteen countries around the world expressly allow transgender personnel to serve, including major US allies like Australia, Britain, Canada, Sweden and New Zealand.

But in the United States, despite the 2011 repeal of the divisive “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law, which banned gays from serving openly, there is little talk of extending the same rights to transgender people.

There are an estimated 15,500 transgender people believed to be serving in the US armed forces, but, under the current rules, if they are discovered the military is required to dismiss them.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said earlier this year he was open to reconsidering the current ban. But as yet no review is underway, and any move to incorporate transgender people openly into the ranks is likely to stir controversy.

Harding joined the Australian reserve forces in 2000 before entering the regular army in 2004. She said she had “lived under the constant anxiety and fear that someone would find out my secret.”

“I’ve lost count of the number of times it would have been so easy to drive into that oncoming truck,” Harding told the audience at the event organized by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), noting that 80 percent of transgender people have contemplated suicide, and some 40 percent have tried it. 

Now after transitioning to become a woman, Harding works with the Royal Australian Nursing Corps and says that being “open and authentic is the key to being able to perform your job.”

Major Alexandra Larsson, an intelligence officer with the Swedish Air Force, insisted she had been very lucky to receive good support once she plucked up the courage to become a woman, saying she has “the best job in the world.”

“The problem today is that it depends on who you are and where you are. And it shouldn’t be like that. Everybody should have the same opportunity … but hopefully people can look at me and say at least ‘for her it was possible.'”

- Being true to yourself -

Key to ensuring that transgender people can be embraced by the army is education, and working so those who undertake the difficult decision can do so with dignity and security.

There is little to suggest that including them has any effect on a military’s operational effectiveness.

“Without doubt, the more mature our inclusive policies become, the better our operational delivery becomes, because we have got people who are being themselves, they are being authentic in the workplace, without having to have personal challenges alongside that,” said Squadron Leader Sarah Maskell, who promotes equality and diversity in the British Royal Air Force.

Issues such as sharing showers or medical costs and care should be relatively easy to deal with by applying some common sense, the panellists argued.

Sergeant Lucy Jordan, the first person in the New Zealand Defense Forces to become a woman while serving, praised the support she had been given by her commanding officers.

“What my organization gave me, and what we are doing here, is primarily about investing in the most important thing that an organization has: its people.” 

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