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CRIME

Swiss weatherman not guilty of rape

A Swiss weatherman who is one of Germany's best-known television personalities was acquitted of raping a girlfriend Tuesday in a case that riveted the country and raised questions about media coverage of high-profile trials.

The regional court in the southwestern city of Mannheim found presenter Jörg Kachelmann, 52, not guilty of sexually assaulting his partner at knife-point after an argument.

Presiding judge Michael Seidling said as he read out the verdict to applause from the packed courtroom that the prosecution had failed to make its case beyond a reasonable doubt during the eight-month-long trial.

“None of the evidence is in itself sufficient to prove the guilt or even the innocence of the accused,” he said, as Kachelmann listened impassively.

Seidling added that Kachelmann was entitled to compensation for the four months he spent in pretrial detention as well as his legal costs.

Prosecutors said they were weighing whether to appeal.  

Kachelmann was popular throughout the German-speaking world for his rollicking weather reports on public broadcaster ARD before his shock arrest last year.

The accuser, a now 38-year-old radio presenter with whom he had an on-again, off-again relationship for 13 years, had alleged that Kachelmann attacked her in her apartment after a dispute over another woman.

She testified that he held a kitchen knife with an eight-centimetre (three-inch) blade to her throat and raped her.

But doubts soon surfaced about her account, along with allegations that prosecutors had ignored exculpatory evidence while building their case.

Critics said the blanket media coverage of the accusations against Kachelmann as well his affairs with several other women had destroyed his career before a verdict could be delivered.

Meanwhile women’s rights groups said the intense scrutiny of the accuser in the press would keep victims of sexual assault from going to the police.

Judge Seidling noted that the trial had left its mark on both sides.   

“We are dismissing both the accused and the accuser with a suspicion that can perhaps never be lifted – he as a potential rapist, and she as a potential vengeful liar,” he said.

Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger was also strongly critical of the attention given to the case.

She said the presumption of innocence was “in danger if the media deliver their verdict long before the judges have spoken,” in an interview with the daily Passauer Neue Presse.

The burly Kachelmann with a lilting Swiss accent had been a fixture on ARD newscasts since 2002 and had a major following for his fanciful descriptions of precipitation, clouds and the jet stream.

He became an Internet phenomenon two years ago when a large tabby cat wandered onto the set during a broadcast and he scooped it into his arms and continued his report. The clip drew more than 1.1 million hits on YouTube.

The alleged rape occurred just before Kachelmann left to help cover the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. He was arrested at Frankfurt airport upon his return from Canada.

ARD said it would decide whether to put Kachelmann back on the air pending an appeal when the verdict is final.

WILDFIRES

Europe facing record year for wildfire destruction: EU

Europe's blistering summer may not be over yet, but 2022 is already breaking records, with nearly 660,000 hectares ravaged since January, according to the EU's satellite monitoring service.

Europe facing record year for wildfire destruction: EU

And while countries on the Mediterranean have normally been the main seats of fires in Europe, this year, other countries are also suffering heavily.

Fires this year have forced people to flee their homes, destroyed buildings and burned forests in EU countries, including Austria, Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

Some 659,541 hectares (1.6 million acres) have been destroyed so far, data from the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) showed, setting a record at this point in the year since data collection began in 2006.

Europe has suffered a series of heatwaves, forest fires and historic drought that experts say are being driven by human-induced climate change.

They warn more frequent and longer heatwaves are on the way.

The worst-affected country has been Spain, where fire has destroyed 244,924 hectares, according to EFFIS data.

The EFFIS uses satellite data from the EU’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS).

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How the climate crisis is hitting Europe hard

The data comes after CAMS said Friday that 2022 was a record year for wildfire activity in southwestern Europe and warned that a large proportion of western Europe was now in “extreme fire danger”.

“2022 is already a record year, just below 2017,” EFFIS coordinator Jesus San-Miguel said. In 2017, 420,913 hectares had burned by August 13, rising to 988,087 hectares by the end of the year.

“The situation in terms of drought and extremely high temperatures has affected all of Europe this year and the overall situation in the region is worrying, while we are still in the middle of the fire season,” he said.

Since 2010, there had been a trend towards more fires in central and northern Europe, with fires in countries that “normally do not experience fires in their territory”, he added.

“The overall fire season in the EU is really driven mainly by countries in the Mediterranean region, except in years like this one, in which fires also happen in central and northern regions,” he added.

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