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‘He is a free man’: Thailand releases refugee Bahraini footballer after extradition bid dropped

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'He is a free man': Thailand releases refugee Bahraini footballer after extradition bid dropped

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand on Monday freed a jailed refugee Bahraini footballer with residency status in Australia, after Bahrain abandoned its bid to seek his extradition, and immigration officials said he was immediately driven to the airport.

A police car believed to be carrying Bahraini footballer Hakeem Al Araibi is pictured as it leaves the Bangkok’s Remand Prison, Thailand, February 11, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

Hakeem Al Araibi, 25, who fled Bahrain in 2014 and received refugee status in Australia, was arrested in November last year at a Bangkok airport while on a honeymoon trip, following an Interpol notice issued at Bahrain’s request.

However, the Middle East nation has withdrawn the request, prompting a Thai court to approve a motion by prosecutors to drop the case against the footballer, Thai officials said.

“There are no grounds to hold him anymore. It is his right to decide where he will go next. He is a free man,” said Chatchom Akapin, an official in the Thai Attorney-General’s office.

A Reuters witness said Araibi was seen leaving the Bangkok remand prison in a car and immigration officials said he was heading for the main international airport in the Thai capital.

Rights group Amnesty International, which lobbied for his release, later said Araibi had arrived at the airport.

It was not immediately clear when or why Bahrain withdrew its request.

Authorities in Bahrain, which has accused Araibi of crimes committed during the Arab Spring protests of 2011, said the country reaffirmed its right to pursue legal action against him, however.

In a statement, Bahrain’s foreign ministry said it had noted the halt of legal proceedings and the verdict against the footballer remained in place.

Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it had no comment on the case.

The detention of Araibi, who appeared with his feet in shackles at a court hearing last week, drew international criticism, with Australian authorities and fellow footballers urging Thailand to release him. He says he faces torture if returned to Bahrain.

In the Australian capital of Canberra, Prime Minister Scott Morrison welcomed the decision of the Thai government.

“We greatly respect the process that they have had to work through and we greatly appreciate their listening to the issues that have been raised by our government and many others,” he told a news conference.

On social network Twitter, former Australia soccer captain Craig Foster, who had helped lobby officials at world governing body FIFA, said, “My thanks go to the wonderful people of Thailand for your support and to the Thai government for upholding international law.”

Araibi has said he wants to return to Australia, where he has lived since 2014 and plays for a Melbourne football club.

He was convicted of vandalizing a police station during 2011 anti-government protests in Bahrain and sentenced in absentia after he fled. Araibi denies the charges, saying he was playing in a televised soccer match at the time of the police station attack.

FILE PHOTO: Jailed Bahraini footballer Hakeem Al Araibi leaves Thailand’s Criminal Court, in Bangkok, Thailand February 4, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

New York-based Human Rights Watch has said Araibi was tortured by Bahraini authorities because of his brother’s political activities during the 2011 protests.

Bahraini authorities deny allegations of torture.

Additional reporting by Panu Wongcha-um and Juarawee Kittisilpa; Paulina Duran in SYDNEY and Aziz El Yaakoubi in DUBAI; Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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Reports: Bears to cut K Parkey in March

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Reports: Bears to cut K Parkey in March

After a difficult season culminated by a crucial missed field goal on a potential game-winning field goal in the NFC playoffs, kicker Cody Parkey will be released by the Chicago Bears when the new league year begins in March.

FILE PHOTO: Sep 17, 2018; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears kicker Cody Parkey (1) watches his field goal during the first half against the Seattle Seahawks at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

According to multiple reports on Friday, the team intends to cut ties with Parkey once the NFL free agency period begins on March 13.

Parkey, who turned 27 on Tuesday, endured an inconsistent season in Chicago after inking a four-year, $15 million contract last winter following the team’s release of Robbie Gould, the Bears’ all-time leading scorer who moved on to the San Francisco 49ers.

Parkey, a five-year veteran, not only missed a career-high seven field-goal attempts and three extra points during the regular season, but his 43-yard attempt in the final seconds of the NFC wild-card round against the Philadelphia Eagles first hit the upright then the crossbar before bouncing back on the field.

Despite the NFL later ruling that the kick was partially blocked, Parkey took much of the public blame for the Bears’ season ending.

Parkey began his career with the Eagles in 2014 when he made the Pro Bowl as a rookie, scoring a franchise-record 150 points while making 32 of 36 field-goal tries. In two seasons with the Eagles, Parkey never missed an extra point.

Parkey later kicked for the Cleveland Browns in 2016 and Miami Dolphins in 2017.

In January, the Bears signed Tulsa product Redford Jones after conducting a workout that reportedly included multiple hopefuls. Jones made 50 of his 67 field-goal attempts at Tulsa from 2015-17, and he does have a kick on his resume where he hit both uprights. Unlike Parkey’s double-doink, though, that 2016 attempt against Cincinnati ended up going over the crossbar for three points.

“We need more production out of that position,” Bears general manager Ryan Pace said last month after signing Jones. “We know we need to get better there, and it will be an area of focus.”

—Field Level Media

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WTA roundup: Bencic upsets Svitolina to reach Dubai final

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WTA roundup: Bencic upsets Svitolina to reach Dubai final

Belinda Bencic secured a spot in the final by stunning two-time champion Elina Svitolina 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (3) on Friday at the Dubai Duty Free Championships in the United Arab Emirates.

Tennis – WTA Premier 5 – Dubai Tennis Championships – Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium, Dubai, United Arab Emirates – February 22, 2019 Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic in action during the Semi Final against Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina REUTERS/Satish Kumar

Bencic trailed 5-3 in the final set before recovering to defeat the sixth-seeded Svitolina. She will face second-seeded Petra Kvitova in the championship match after the Czech Republic star defeated Taiwan’s Su-Wei Hsieh 3-6, 6-2, 6-4.

“I think I’m always the most proud of how I fight,” Bencic said after posting the victory. “Even when I lose, I learned myself to just look in the mirror and be proud of myself when I’m fighting, when I’m giving my all, when I’m trying to do what I have to do.”

Bencic won eight consecutive points after Svitolina was in position to close out the match. Then the Switzerland native carried the momentum into the tiebreaker to notch one of the biggest victories of her career by outdueling the Ukrainian.

“Basically, I stayed in the zone, even in (the) tiebreak,” Bencic said. “I was barely breathing, just playing automatic. You are not thinking any more. It’s where the instincts just guide you through it.”

Bencic will be seeking her third career title when she squares off with Kvitova, who will be shooting for her 27th.

Kvitova dropped the first set on Friday before recovering to win the last two.

“It was a tough one today, for sure,” Kvitova said. “She really didn’t give me anything for free. It was a tough first set. I’m glad that I was able to came back in the second. I didn’t play great at the end of the first.

“I think I’m pleased with my kind of mental focus after losing the first set, that I was calmer when I came back and played from the beginning of the second set. I still kind of felt that I can do that somehow. I don’t know. It was something weird.”

Kvitova overcame eight double faults to claim the victory.

Hungarian Ladies Open

Top-seeded Alison Van Uytvanck defeated Ukraine’s Kateryna Kozlova 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 to advance to the semifinals in Budapest.

Van Uytvanck, of Belgium, will face fifth-seeded Ekaterina Alexandrova in the semis. The Russian dispatched third-seeded Frenchwoman Pauline Parmentier 6-3, 6-2.

Eighth-seeded Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic will face Russian Anastasia Potapova in the other semi. Vondrousova outlasted Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu 5-7, 6-1, 6-3 while the 17-year-old Potapova fought past Romania’s Sorana Cirstea 6-4, 6-7 (5), 7-5 in 2 hours, 50 minutes.

—Field Level Media

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Patriots owner Robert Kraft facing charges of solicitation of prostitution

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Patriots owner Robert Kraft facing charges of solicitation of prostitution

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft is facing charges of misdemeanor solicitation of prostitution after he was twice videotaped paying for a sex act at an illicit massage parlor, police in Florida said Friday.

The 77-year-old Kraft was one of 25 people involved in the alleged solicitation at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter.

Michael Edmondson, spokesman for the state attorney’s office in Palm Beach County, told ESPN that the nature of any charges that the 25 people face will not be released until next week.

Kraft has denied wrongdoing.

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