United States: A leader of a secretive group in upstate New York who allegedly coerced female followers into having sex with him and getting branded with his initials has appeared in federal court in Texas. Sporting a blue T-shirt, close-cropped grey beard, dark-rimmed glasses and chains, self-help guru Keith Raniere waived his right to an identification hearing during the court appearance in Fort Worth. Raniere, who is accused by some former members of leading a cult, was arrested in Mexico and returned to Texas on charges of sex trafficking and forced labour. Raniere will be moved to New York sometime in the next two weeks. Raniere, 57, is co-founder of the group Nxivm. Prosecutors in Brooklyn allege that Raniere set up a series of self-help workshops, with five-day courses costing as much as US$5000. However, women were told that the best way to advance was within a secret group of "slaves" and "masters". Raniere stood at the top of the pyramid, and women were expected to have sex with him, investigators claim. Women claimed they took part in videotaped ceremonies where victims were branded in their pelvic area with a symbol that featured Raniere's initials. Some were forced to follow low-calorie diets, prosecutors said.

Switzerland: Senior North and South Korean parliamentarians have shaken hands and shared a toast to "peace" with Swiss wine, a witness says, in a rare gesture of friendship suggesting relations between their two countries are thawing. South Korean MP and politician Young Chin shook hands with Ri Jong Hyok, director of North Korea's National Reunification Institute and deputy head of its Supreme People's Assembly. They were attending the annual assembly in Geneva of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, an organisation that brings together members of national parliaments from around the world.

Britain: The computer expert who alleges a trove of Facebook data was improperly used to help US President Donald Trump's White House bid said that he strongly believes the information was also used by the Brexit movement that persuaded Britain to quit the European Union. In a 3½-hour hearing, Chris Wylie told the House of Commons media committee that he believes the breach exceeded the 50 million Facebook users reported earlier — though he didn't give an exact figure. And he said the data compiled by the political consulting business Cambridge Analytica was available to other firms with links to it. Among the companies that had access to the data was AggregateIQ, a Canadian political consultant that did work for Vote Leave, the official campaign backing Britain's withdrawal from the EU, Wylie said. Wylie described Cambridge Analytica as just one arm of a global company, SCL Group, that gets most of its income from military contracts but is also a political gun-for-hire, often in countries where democratic institutions are weak. He suggested the company combines computer algorithms and dirty tricks to help candidates win regardless of the cost.

France: The girlfriend of an attacker who killed four people and took hostages in a French supermarket has been given preliminary terrorism charges in the investigation. A French judicial official says the woman, identified only as Marine P., is in custody pending a hearing on whether to release her during the investigation. The official says she was given preliminary charges of association with terrorist criminals planning to prepare attacks. Attacker Radouane Lakdim was killed by police after his rampage. Authorities said he claimed allegiance to Isis.


American Samoa: A lawsuit filed in federal court in Utah seeks to grant US citizenship status to American Samoans. Lead plaintiff John Fitisemanu, and others who were born in American Samoa, are asking the court for citizenship under the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, which confers citizenship at birth to anyone born in the US. The complaint was filed in Salt Lake City. American Samoa has been a US territory since 1900. It is the only territory in which residents don't have birthright citizenship, and are instead considered US nationals. Under that status, they cannot vote, run for office, or serve on a jury despite paying American taxes. The plaintiffs also say they have lost job opportunities because of their status.

Space: The launch of a new Nasa telescope originally scheduled to take place October 2018 has been pushed back again to allow time for further testing, the US space agency says. The new target date for the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope is now approximately May 2020, Nasa said. The telescope's hardware is complete, but problems with the integration of the spacecraft with the observatory itself have come to light. Recent findings from the project's review board indicate more time is needed to test and integrate components, a Nasa said. Nasa has touted the Webb as the biggest astronomical space science telescope ever built. It will succeed the Hubble Space Telescope in exploring mysteries of the solar system.

Britain: A British supporter of Isis who tried to recruit over 100 children into an "army" of jihadists to carry out a wave of attacks across London has been jailed for a minimum of 25 years. Umar Haque, 25, showed the children beheading videos and other violent militant propaganda, forced them to re-enact deadly attacks on the British capital and made them role-play attacking police officers. "The children were paralysed by fear of Haque, who they understood to have connections to terrorists and who essentially told them that a violent fate would befall them if they told anyone what he was doing," said Dean Haydon, head of the Metropolitan Police's Counter Terrorism Command. "We recovered a number of exercise books from his home and it was evident from his notes that his plan was a long-term one. He intended to execute his plan years later, by which time he anticipated he would have trained and acquired an army of soldiers, including children." Haque used the guise of teaching Islamic studies to groom 110 children into becoming militants at the Lantern of Knowledge, a small private Islamic school, and at a madrassa connected to the Ripple Road Mosque in east London. His intention was to use them to attack London targets such as Big Ben, soldiers from the Queen's Guards, a large shopping centre, banks, and media stations, prosecutors said at his trial.

Israel: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been released from hospital after suffering from a high fever and a cough, a Reuters witness said. Netanyahu said on Twitter: "I am on my way home. Sure some rest and hot soup will put things right." An official statement from his office said hospital tests indicated the prime minister was suffering from a mild viral infection of his upper respiratory tract.

Brazil: Thousands of troops and police are entering a complex of favelas in Rio de Janeiro in one of the largest operations since the military took control of security in the Brazilian city last month. Rio is experiencing a wave of violence as drug gangs fight for control of swaths of the city. Militias, armed groups of current and former police officers, are also vying for influence. Today, 3400 soldiers and 500 police entered the Lins Complex. They are creating a perimeter around the area to prevent suspects from fleeing and clearing the streets of obstructions placed by gangs. A major highway that passes through Lins is shut.

Australia: Tonga is reaping the lion's share of benefits from Australia's Pacific seasonal workers programme but participation rates among Papua New Guineans and other islanders need a boost. The World Bank is releasing a new report today that finds the programme is helping to reduce poverty levels. But there was scope to improve the the involvement of PNG, Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Solomon Islands workers. Nine Pacific nations and East Timor are allowed to send workers to Australia for six or nine-month job opportunities in the agriculture and tourism sector in selected areas. Pacific Islanders remit an average of A$2200 while in Australia, and transfer A$6650 in savings home at the end of their stay, the report says. The A$99.4 million in net income that Tonga earned through the programme since its inception around 2012, is more than double the annual aid budget from the Australian Government, the report says.

Vatican: Pope Francis met Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI in the first known contact between the two, following a major gaffe by Francis' communications chief over his misrepresentation of a letter from the retired pontiff. The Vatican press office said Francis called on Benedict to bring him Easter greetings. The meeting, however, came a week after Francis' hand-picked communications tsar, Monsignor Dario Vigano, was forced to resign over the so-called Lettergate scandal.

United States: A suspected arson fire at Joshua Tree National Park in California has damaged a historical landmark. The fire damaged the Oasis of Mara, a site settled by Native Americans who planted the 29 palm trees that inspired the name of the nearby city Twentynine Palms, according to the National Park Service. Strong winds stoked the rapid spread of the fire, which was contained at less than 2.6 sq km, said Eric Sherwin, a spokesman for the San Bernardino County Fire Department.


Egypt: A nearly decade-long makeover of King Tut's tomb aimed at preserving one of Egypt's most important archaeological sites and also one of its most popular tourist attractions is close to complete, the Getty Conservation Institute of Los Angeles said. The project has added a filtration system to keep out dust and humidity and a barrier to keep visitors from continuing to damage the tomb's elaborate wall paintings. Other amenities include walkways and a viewing platform. New lights are also scheduled to be installed in the fall in the tomb of Tutankhamen, the legendary boy king who ruled Egypt more than 3000 years ago. His mummified body remains on display in an oxygen-free case. The project was launched in 2009 by the Los Angeles institute, known worldwide for its conservation work, in collaboration with Egypt's Ministry of Antiquities.

Britain: Julian Assange has been called a "miserable little worm" by a British foreign affairs minister who says the WikiLeaks founder should leave the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and give himself up to British justice. The Australian has been living inside the embassy since June 2012, when he entered the building to avoid extradition to Sweden to face questioning about allegations of sex crimes, which he has always denied. The Swedish investigation was dropped in May last year, but Assang faces arrest by the British authorities for breaching his bail terms should he step outside. "It's of great regret that Julian Assange remains in the Ecuador Embassy," junior minister Alan Duncan said. "It's about time that this miserable little worm walked out of the embassy and gave himself up to British justice." Assange responded with a tweet. "As a political prisoner detained without charge for 8 years, in violation of 2 UN rulings, I suppose I must be 'miserable'; yet nothing wrong with being a 'little' person although I'm rather tall; and better a 'worm', a healthy creature that invigorates the soil, than a snake."

United States: Authorities say a coyote that was found on an outdoor mezzanine at the New York State Museum in Albany has been tranquilised and removed from the building. The state Department of Environmental Conservation tweeted that its wildlife officers shot the animal with a tranquiliser dart on the museum's fourth-floor mezzanine. Officials say the coyote was placed in a crate and taken to the DEC's wildlife health lab outside Albany for evaluation. The animal was discovered lying in front of doors at a walkway leading to the mezzanine of the museum, located at the southern end of the Empire State Plaza.

- agencies