FBI releases 9/11 Pentagon photos

Never-seen photographs from the September 11, 2001 attack on the Pentagon released by the FBI this week show the massive devastation that faced first responders.Twenty-seven pictures from that day depict the crushed walls, blazing fires and eviscerated…

Never-seen photographs from the September 11, 2001 attack on the Pentagon released by the FBI this week show the massive devastation that faced first responders.

Twenty-seven pictures from that day depict the crushed walls, blazing fires and eviscerated interiors of the seat of the US Department of Defense.

The American Airlines jet that struck the Pentagon was one of four airliners hijacked by Al-Qaeda teams and used as weapons in the deadliest terror attack ever on US soil.

When the Pentagon was hit, two other airliners had already been flown into New York's World Trade Center; the fourth plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania after passengers rose up against the hijackers.

American Airlines Flight 77 out of Dulles International Airport slammed into the Pentagon's western wall, killing all 64 people on the plane, including the five hijackers, and 125 on the ground.

One poignant shot shows an American flag tangled in concrete-and-rebar wreckage being cleared by a tractor.

Another shows rescuers crouched as a blaze consumes part of west side of the building.

In another, helmeted and gas-masked rescuers watch as a dog sniffs the rubble in the search for survivors and bodies.

In all, nearly 3,000 people died in the attacks, most of them at the World Trade Center.

‘Real’ Syria peace talks yet to start: UN

The UN on Friday said “incremental” progress was made during a fifth round of talks between Syria’s warring parties, but warned the “real peace negotiations” had yet to begin.Syrian government and opposition representatives had been “serious and engage…

The UN on Friday said "incremental" progress was made during a fifth round of talks between Syria's warring parties, but warned the "real peace negotiations" had yet to begin.

Syrian government and opposition representatives had been "serious and engaged" during the latest nine days of talks in Geneva, UN mediator Staffan de Mistura told reporters.

He said all sides were "keen and ready to return to Geneva for a sixth round of talks," adding that he would announce the date after discussions next week with UN chief Antonio Guterres and the UN Security Council.

The two sides, who met with de Mistura separately, did finally delve into some substance, after spending four previous rounds squabbling over the agenda.

They began discussing four separate "baskets" of issues, on governance, drafting a new constitution, elections and combating terrorism in the war-ravaged country.

There was never much hope of a breakthrough, with the sides hopelessly deadlocked over the fate of President Bashar al-Assad and violence persisting in a six-year conflict that has already claimed more than 320,000 lives.

De Mistura previously warned not to expect "miracles" and on Friday hailed the fact that no one had walked out. He acknowledged though that the talks still remained in the preparation stage.

- No immediate peace deal -

"In every negotiation there are certain issues that need to be prepared... before the real, real peace negotiations start... and it is clear, we are not quite there," he said.

"I cannot deny that there are serious challenges, and I am not seeing immediately this developing into a peace agreement," he added.

He insisted that "we must maintain this incremental momentum on the political process, even if it is only incremental."

The negotiating sides hailed that negotiations on substance had finally begun, but appeared less optimistic than their mediator that progress was being made.

Nasr al-Hariri, the chief negotiator for the opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC), lamented to reporters that the opposition was dealing with "a side that does not want to reach a political solution."

The chief negotiator on the government side, Syria's ambassador to the UN Bashar al-Jaafari, was even more pessimistic.

"We were looking forward to achieving... at least some progress in this round, but this did not happen," he told reporters.

He maintained that his opponents "do not want a political solution, unless (it) is in accordance with their illusions... that we would hand over the keys to Syria to them."

The Syrian government appears to have little reason to make concessions.

The rebels increasingly find themselves on the back foot, both on the ground, where they have been haemorrhaging territory, and when it comes to international support.

The United States, long the opposition's most powerful backer, acknowledged Thursday that it is no longer focused on ousting Assad as it seeks a new strategy to end Syria's civil war.

Other opposition backers have been indicating the same, even as government supporters Russia and Iran wield increasing influence.

De Mistura on Friday meanwhile dismissed a barrage of rumours he was preparing to step down.

Only "if and when you will hear it directly either from the Secretary General or from myself, then you have to take it very seriously," he told reporters.

South Shore Habitat for Humanity, Arbella Insurance Foundation team up on Facebook “Like” Campaign

If you “like” the Arbella Insurance Foundation, you’ll get to help another organization that everyone likes too! In fact, the Facebook campaign is being launched to help South Shore Habitat for Humanity (http://sshabitat.org) and with some help from…

If you "like" the Arbella Insurance Foundation, you'll get to help another organization that everyone likes too! In fact, the Facebook campaign is being launched to help South Shore Habitat for Humanity (http://sshabitat.org) and with some help from...

S&P raises Spain’s rating outlook

Ratings firm Standard & Poor’s raised its outlook on Spain’s sovereign credit rating to “positive” from “stable” on Friday, saying it believed the country’s strong economic performance would continue over the next two years.

The US agency left its debt rating for the country unchanged at BBB+ but said it could raise it within the next 24 months “if economic performance and budgetary consolidation continue in line with our expectations,” it said in a statement.

It predicts the Spanish economy, the euro zone’s fourth largest, will grow by 2.5 percent in 2017 and by 2.1 percent in 2018 after expanding by 3.2 percent last year.

The growth will be fuelled by strong domestic demand as household consumption benefits from solid job creation and low interests rates, as well as from exports, which are being boosted by the weak euro and recent gains in competitiveness, the agency said.

Standard & Poor’s said Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s conservative government, which was sworn in for a second term in October without a majority in parliament, may not last its full mandate until 2020.

“We don’t rule out early elections. But internal conflicts within the main opposition parties make such a scenario less likely in the near term,” it said.

The last time Standard & Poor’s raised its credit rating for Spain was in October 2015, when it increased it by one notch to BBB+, lauding labour market reforms that it said improved the country’s economic prospects.

Ratings firm Standard & Poor's raised its outlook on Spain's sovereign credit rating to "positive" from "stable" on Friday, saying it believed the country's strong economic performance would continue over the next two years.

The US agency left its debt rating for the country unchanged at BBB+ but said it could raise it within the next 24 months "if economic performance and budgetary consolidation continue in line with our expectations," it said in a statement.

It predicts the Spanish economy, the euro zone's fourth largest, will grow by 2.5 percent in 2017 and by 2.1 percent in 2018 after expanding by 3.2 percent last year.

The growth will be fuelled by strong domestic demand as household consumption benefits from solid job creation and low interests rates, as well as from exports, which are being boosted by the weak euro and recent gains in competitiveness, the agency said.

Standard & Poor's said Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's conservative government, which was sworn in for a second term in October without a majority in parliament, may not last its full mandate until 2020.

"We don't rule out early elections. But internal conflicts within the main opposition parties make such a scenario less likely in the near term," it said.

The last time Standard & Poor's raised its credit rating for Spain was in October 2015, when it increased it by one notch to BBB+, lauding labour market reforms that it said improved the country's economic prospects.

Army regains territory lost in central Syria: monitor

Syria’s army and allies have regained most of the territory they lost during an assault by rebels and jihadists earlier this month in the country’s centre, a monitor said Friday.”The regime has recaptured 75 percent of the territory it lost in the nort…

Syria's army and allies have regained most of the territory they lost during an assault by rebels and jihadists earlier this month in the country's centre, a monitor said Friday.

"The regime has recaptured 75 percent of the territory it lost in the north of Hama province," said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor.

An array of factions, including an alliance headed by a former Al-Qaeda affiliate, launched an assault on government positions in Hama province on March 21, seizing several strategic areas.

But after a string of losses, the regime sent significant reinforcements to the region, the Observatory said, and has been able to reverse most of its losses, backed by heavy air strikes from ally Russia.

The factions involved in the assault still hold a handful of newly gained areas, including the town of Suran which has changed hands several times since the Syrian war began in 2011.

Hama province is of strategic importance to President Bashar al-Assad, as it separates opposition forces in the northwestern province of Idlib from Damascus to the south and from the regime's coastal heartlands to the west.

The Observatory said the fighting had killed dozens of people on both sides, but was unable to give a precise toll.

Syria's opposition has accused the government of using "toxic substances" in its battle to repel the assault.

On Thursday, air strikes on several areas in the north of Hama province left around 50 people suffering respiratory problems, according to the Observatory, which could not confirm the cause of the symptoms.

The Syrian opposition National Coalition cited doctors in the area reporting "symptoms that included frothing at the mouth, pinpoint pupils, shortness of breath, burning eyes, and general weakness".

Doctors without Borders (MSF) on Friday said a bomb dropped from a helicopter exploded at the entrance of a hospital in Latamneh in northern Hama province on March 25, killing two people including a surgeon.

MSF said "patients and staff reported suffering severe respiratory symptoms and burning of mucous membranes -? symptoms consistent with an attack using chemicals".

Syria's government agreed to turn over its chemical weapons in 2013 and joined the Chemical Weapons Convention.

But there have been repeated allegations of ongoing chemical weapons use, and a UN-led investigation has pointed the finger at the government for at least three attacks involving chlorine bombs in 2014 and 2015.

More than 320,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests.

Russian teen Medvedeva soars to second figure skating world gold

Russian teen Evgenia Medvedeva soared to a second straight women’s gold with a record-breaking free skate at the world figure skating championship on Friday.The 17-year-old from Moscow led all the way to crush her rivals finishing over 15 points ahead …

Russian teen Evgenia Medvedeva soared to a second straight women's gold with a record-breaking free skate at the world figure skating championship on Friday.

The 17-year-old from Moscow led all the way to crush her rivals finishing over 15 points ahead of silver medallist Kaetlyn Osmond of Canada.

Canada's Gabrielle Daleman took a distant third in Helsinki's Hartwall Arena.

ANC: From anti-apartheid fight to internal struggles

South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC), now struggling with internal conflicts, started out as an elite black group.The liberation movement took power in 1994, four years after the lifting of a four-decade ban linked to its fight against…

South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC), now struggling with internal conflicts, started out as an elite black group.

The liberation movement took power in 1994, four years after the lifting of a four-decade ban linked to its fight against the white minority rule of apartheid.

- Early days -

- 1912: On January 8, influential blacks found the South African Native National Congress (SANNC), two years after Britain and the descendants of Dutch settlers form the Union of South Africa in which only the rights of whites are protected.

In 1923, the SANNC changes its name to the African National Congress (ANC) but remains fairly inactive.

Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu start the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) in 1943. Mandela later writes they felt the old leadership was "a tired, unmilitant, privileged African elite more concerned with protecting their own rights than those of the masses."

- Apartheid -

In 1948, the National Party wins elections and introduces apartheid. The ANCYL advocates strikes, boycotts and civil disobedience.

The ANC organises its first large "Defiance Campaign" in 1952, and tens of thousands of blacks break curfews, burn internal passports, and enter whites-only areas, risking jail.

- Outlawed -

On March 21, 1960, police kill 69 people during the Sharpeville Massacre. The ANC and an offshoot are banned amid a state of emergency.

The ANC goes underground in 1961 and abandons non-violent protest. Mandela starts the military wing Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) and launches attacks.

In 1962-63, Mandela, Sisulu and other ANC leaders are arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment.

The movement continues the struggle in exile from London, Dar es Salaam and Lusaka and allies itself with the Soviet bloc.

- Secret talks -

In the late 1980s, officials declare states of emergency to curb violent riots in black townships, but the government also begins secret talks with the ANC.

In 1990, new South African president FW de Klerk legalises the ANC and other groups. He also frees political prisoners, including Mandela, who becomes the ANC president the next year.

Negotiations for the transition to democracy start and parliament scraps the remaining apartheid laws.

- Multi-racial elections -

On April 27, 1994, the ANC wins 62.6 percent of the vote in the first multi-racial elections. Mandela becomes South Africa's first black president.

Thabo Mbeki succeeds Mandela as president in 1999 but his two terms are tarnished by allegations of abuse of power and denialist policies over AIDS.

Mbeki is recalled by the ANC in September 2008 before the end of his second term.

Jacob Zuma, cleared of previous corruption and rape charges, becomes president in 2009 after the ANC wins 65.9 percent of the vote in the fourth general elections since the demise of apartheid.

- Fall from grace -

The ANC suffers a setback during municipal elections in 2014, taking less than 54 percent of the vote and losing an absolute majority in five of the six biggest metropolitan areas.

Zuma is dogged by corruption scandals and says in January 2017 that a woman should take over as head of the ANC. That is implicit backing for his ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

On March 31, Zuma sacks finance minister Pravin Gordhan in a cabinet purge and stirs animosity among senior ANC leaders.

Nadal downs Fognini to reach Miami tennis final

Rafael Nadal marched into the final of the Miami Open, where he could face rival Roger Federer, with a 6-1, 7-5 win over Italian Fabio Fognini on Friday.The unseeded Fognini struggled to get going in the first set which was dominated by fifth-seeded Na…

Rafael Nadal marched into the final of the Miami Open, where he could face rival Roger Federer, with a 6-1, 7-5 win over Italian Fabio Fognini on Friday.

The unseeded Fognini struggled to get going in the first set which was dominated by fifth-seeded Nadal and over with in 25 minutes.

The Italian, who indicated he had some trouble with his elbow, put up a better response in the second but his work was undone when he double-faulted on break point, leaving the Spaniard to serve out for the win,

Nadal will play in his fifth Miami final but will be looking for his first title in the Masters series event.

Federer played Australian Nick Kyrgios later on Friday.

The Swiss great beat Nadal in an Australian Open final thriller in January to claim an 18th Grand Slam title and he swept past Nadal in straight sets in the fourth round at Indian Wells this month.

Spain boosts social spending in long-delayed 2017 budget

Spain’s minority government presented Friday its long-delayed draft budget for 2017 which boosts social spending and moves away from austerity in a bid to win opposition support for the spending plans.Budget Minister Cristobal Montoro said the budget w…

Spain's minority government presented Friday its long-delayed draft budget for 2017 which boosts social spending and moves away from austerity in a bid to win opposition support for the spending plans.

Budget Minister Cristobal Montoro said the budget would "fuel growth and employment" while at the same time allowing Spain to meet the deficit targets agreed with the European Union.

The spending plan slashes the value added tax slapped on live shows such as concerts and theatre performances from 21 percent to 10 percent and boosts funding for programmes to aid youths and the unemployed.

It is the first budget without major cutbacks since Spain was plunged into an economic crisis in 2008 when a decade-long property boom finally turned to bust, throwing millions of people out of work and causing its public debt to soar.

The 2017 budget was put on hold after two inconclusive elections left the country without a functioning government for nearly a year.

It is based on a prediction that the Spanish economy, the euro zone's fourth largest, will expand by 2.5 percent in 2017 while the unemployment rate will drop to 16.6 percent from 18.6 percent last year, which will reduce spending on unemployment benefits and increase tax revenues.

The government predicts the public deficit will fall to 3.1 percent of economic output from 4.5 percent last year.

"These are prudent forecasts," Spanish Economy Minister Luis de Guindos told a news conference.

The Spanish economy grew by 3.2 percent last year, one of the fastest rates in Europe, boosted by a booming tourism sector and low petrol prices.

Parliament is expected to vote on the draft budget at the end of May. The budget vote will be a key test for Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's conservative government, which was sworn in for a second term in October without a majority in parliament.

Rajoy's Popular Party has 137 seats in the 350-seat parliament and will need the support of other parties to get the 176 votes it needs to pass the budget into law.

New podcast ‘S-Town’ from ‘Serial’ creators tops charts

The new radio show “S-Town,” by the team behind “Serial,” the most downloaded podcast in history, is leading download charts just about everywhere in the world.”Serial” is considered the first big radio hit in the history of podcasts, audio files that …

The new radio show "S-Town," by the team behind "Serial," the most downloaded podcast in history, is leading download charts just about everywhere in the world.

"Serial" is considered the first big radio hit in the history of podcasts, audio files that can be downloaded from the internet and listened to at any time.

Put online in October 2014, it has been downloaded tens of millions of times. On Friday, it was still in second place in the list of the most downloaded podcasts on Apple's iTunes.

"Serial" tells a true story over the course of a season in weekly chapters. The first season looked at a murder committed in 1999 in Baltimore and at the man convicted of the crime, Adnan Syed, who was sentenced to life imprisonment and insisted he was innocent.

The investigation by the journalists of "Serial," from the creators of "This American Life," a weekly public radio show, turned up several troubling elements in the case.

On that basis, a Baltimore judge ordered a retrial of Syed in June 2016.

The success of "Serial" led to a second season, based on a true story on a totally different subject, that of a US soldier in Afghanistan.

A third season is in the works, the producers say, without revealing the subject or release date.

In the meantime, they launched an independent production company, Serial Productions, which created the new podcast "S-Town." Both "Serial" and "S-Town" are free to download.

Put online Tuesday, "S-Town," which stands for the subject's nickname for the rural Alabama town of Woodstock where he lives -- Shittown -- is now at the top of the most downloaded podcasts in the United States on iTunes.

According to Apple's iTunes Charts, it is also leading the charts in Australia, Britain, Canada and Germany.

The central character in "S-Town" is John B. McLemore, a reclusive antique horologist who asked "This American Life" executive producer Brian Reed to investigate a potential murder in his town.

The seven-episode podcast, which begins somewhat like "Serial" by looking into a murder, expands into a fresco of life in America's Deep South, hosted by Reed.

Producer Julie Snyder explained that the team wanted to create a podcast with the feel of a novel, while "Serial" is more like a television show.

"You can enter their specific world, and you don't know really know what it's about or where it's going," she told the website Wired. "But hopefully you're compelled to stay in it the whole time."

Japan kills 333 whales for ‘research purposes’ despite intl criticism

A Japanese fleet has returned to port with the carcasses of 333 minke whales which were harpooned in the Antarctic Ocean, despite an international ban on commercial whale hunting and appeals from animal rights groups. Read Full Article at…

Preview A Japanese fleet has returned to port with the carcasses of 333 minke whales which were harpooned in the Antarctic Ocean, despite an international ban on commercial whale hunting and appeals from animal rights groups.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Lebanon at ‘breaking point’ with Syria refugee influx: PM

Lebanon’s prime minister warned Friday that his country has reached “breaking point” by hosting more than one million Syrian refugees and urged investment from the international community.Saad Hariri’s comments came as the United Nations refugee agency…

Lebanon's prime minister warned Friday that his country has reached "breaking point" by hosting more than one million Syrian refugees and urged investment from the international community.

Saad Hariri's comments came as the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said more than six million Syrians have fled their country since its devastating war broke out in 2011.

Of those, Lebanon is hosting more than a million Syrians, roughly a quarter of its current population of four million.

"This issue has reached a breaking point for us in Lebanon.. We want the international community to hear us and understand that Lebanon is facing a crisis," Hariri told foreign media in Beirut.

He was speaking ahead of an international conference on the post-conflict future of Syria that the European Union and United Nations are to host in Brussels on April 5.

The prime minister said he would appeal at the conference for international investment to improve infrastructure, including schools, roads, the environment and security in Lebanon.

He would propose the international community "commits... 10,000 to 12,000 (US) dollars per refugee (in Lebanon) over five to seven years".

Hariri told reporters he also fears that the refugee crisis could implode on the social level because of "huge tensions" between Lebanese and Syrians in most host communities.

"I fear civil unrest," he said.

The influx of Syrian refugees in Lebanon has stretched the country's economic resources, the billionaire premier said.

In the education system, classrooms were overcrowded with the number of students more than doubling in six years to accommodate Syrian pupils.

Unlike Palestinian refugees who live in camps managed by the United Nations, Syrian refugees in Lebanon live in informal camps.

"Some say we should have refugee camps in Lebanon, I say Lebanon has become a big refugee camp," Hariri said.

Lebanon, whose infrastructure was devastated during a 15-year war that ended in 1990, is struggling with endemic corruption and a public debt that represents 140 percent of its GDP.

Brazil’s government popularity sinks deeper

Only one in 10 Brazilians think President Michel Temer’s government is doing a good job, according to a new poll Friday.The Ibope poll commissioned by Brazil’s National Confederation of Industry found just 31 percent consider Temer’s government is doin…

Only one in 10 Brazilians think President Michel Temer's government is doing a good job, according to a new poll Friday.

The Ibope poll commissioned by Brazil's National Confederation of Industry found just 31 percent consider Temer's government is doing an acceptable job, while 55 percent call the performance bad or terrible, and 10 percent said it was good or excellent.

The result maintained the downward slide of Temer's popularity. In December, the same polling organization found 13 percent considered he was doing a good job and in October it was 14 percent.

Temer took over last year after the impeachment of leftist president Dilma Rousseff, who was found guilty of illegal government accounting tricks.

He has promised to restore the economy to health after two years of recession, but his center-right government is no more popular than Rousseff's.

The new poll found that 38 percent of respondents think there is no difference in performance between the two governments, while 41 percent consider it's doing worse.

Despite government predictions of economic recovery within months, Brazil's jobless rate shot to 13.2 percent over the last quarter, the state statistics office said Friday.

The unemployment rate for December through February jumped from 12.6 percent in the previous quarter, which had been a third higher than the unemployment figures a year earlier.

This amounts to 13.5 million people out of work, the Brazilian Geography and Statistics Institute (IBGE) said. That's 1.4 million more than in the previous quarter and 3.4 million more than in the same period a year earlier.

Brazil's economy shrank 3.8 percent in 2015 and is expected to have contracted a further 3.5 percent in 2016, the most painful recession in a century.

However, the government and central bank forecast a modest return to growth in 2017. This will be boosted, Temer says, by far-reaching reforms intended to cut the deficit, reduce longterm spending and force fiscal responsibility.

Series based on Elena Ferrante novel coming to HBO

Filming is set to start this summer on a TV series based on Elena Ferrante’s best-selling novel “My Brilliant Friend,” co-produced by American cable network HBO and Italian public broadcaster RAI.The book was the first in Ferrante’s hugely successful N…

Filming is set to start this summer on a TV series based on Elena Ferrante's best-selling novel "My Brilliant Friend," co-produced by American cable network HBO and Italian public broadcaster RAI.

The book was the first in Ferrante's hugely successful Neapolitan quartet, which tells the story of a complicated friendship between two brilliant women that begins in a poor neighbourhood in post-war Naples.

HBO said in a statement that the author, who uses Elena Ferrante as a pseudonym, participated in the adaptation of the saga for the eight-episode production, which will be filmed in Italian.

Casey Bloys, HBO's president of programming, said they were excited "to bring the powerful, epic storytelling of Elena Ferrante and her Neapolitan Novels to life."

Although they have won no major literary prizes to date, the novels were a publishing sensation and translated into dozens of languages, sparking intense public interest in the author's true identity.

Italian journalist Claudio Gatti recently claimed that evidence he had uncovered pointed to Anita Raja, a Rome-based translator, as the writer.

But a row subsequently erupted over journalistic ethics and writers' right to protect their identities.

Italian director Saverio Costanzo, known for "The Solitude of Prime Numbers" (2011), will direct the series, while Italian companies Wildside and Fandango are also participating in the production.

"Producing a series based on the incredible work of Elena Ferrante is an exciting challenge," said Wildside CEO Lorenzo Mieli.

"Through the eyes and lives of two extraordinary friends, her quadrilogy describes 50 years of Italian history, touching on universal themes and feelings."

Antonio Campo Dall'Orto, RAI's director general, said the project "satisfies many of the public service's objectives in the field of TV drama.

"It is Italian and international; it is universal but complex; it is a huge co-production with a global value," he said.

Gibraltar’s leader furious over EU Brexit proposal

Gibraltar’s leader Fabian Picardo on Friday hit out at an EU proposal to give Spain a say in the future of the British overseas territory post-Brexit, branding it “unnecessary” and “discriminatory.”In guidelines unveiling the EU’s position in upcoming …

Gibraltar's leader Fabian Picardo on Friday hit out at an EU proposal to give Spain a say in the future of the British overseas territory post-Brexit, branding it "unnecessary" and "discriminatory."

In guidelines unveiling the EU's position in upcoming negotiations for Britain to exit the bloc, a clause stipulates that Spain must have a say over whether any post-Brexit deal applies to the tiny rocky outcrop at the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula Madrid has long wanted back.

The clause is likely to face a fierce backlash from London, which has long been engaged in a sovereignty row with Spain over Gibraltar and has pledged to stand by its overseas territory known as the Rock. But it was welcome by Madrid.

"This is a disgraceful attempt by Spain to manipulate the European Council for its own, narrow, political interests," Picardo said in a statement.

"Brexit is already complicated enough without Spain trying to complicate it further," he added, branding the proposed singling out of Gibraltar "unnecessary, unjustified, unacceptable" and "discriminatory."

The draft proposal means that Madrid could potentially block Gibraltar's access to any trade deal Britain negotiates with the EU, opposition politicians in the Rock claim.

It also shows that the European Union is putting Spain -- its member state -- first.

A senior EU official said the issue of Gibraltar was included in the negotiating guidelines as it is one of a number that involve joint or contested jurisdiction, and that "the EU is naturally pursuing the interests of the remaining 27 member states."

Gibraltarians want to stay British, as demonstrated in 2002 when they rejected a referendum on shared sovereignty with Spain.

In last year's Brexit referendum, 96 percent voted against leaving the European Union, but they still appear set on remaining British after the vote.

Still, sensing an opportunity after the outcome, Spain again proposed shared sovereignty, arguing it would allow Gibraltar -- whose economy largely depends on the EU single market -- to remain in the bloc.

Picardo has repeatedly rejected the proposal, and did so again on Friday.

"The whole world and the whole EU should know: this changes nothing in respect of our continued, exclusive British sovereignty," he said.

EU tells UK to make ‘significant progress’ on Brexit before trade talks can start

The European Union has demanded that Britain make “significant progress” on its divorce from the bloc before talks on a trade deal can start, as it unveiled its tough Brexit negotiating guidelines on Friday.

The European Union has demanded that Britain make "significant progress" on its divorce from the bloc before talks on a trade deal can start, as it unveiled its tough Brexit negotiating guidelines on Friday.

Clinton knocks Trump for proposing cuts to US diplomacy

Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, slowly emerging from post-election seclusion, slammed President Donald Trump Friday for proposing budget cuts to US diplomacy and foreign aid, calling it a “grave mistake.””We are seeing signals of a shift tha…

Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, slowly emerging from post-election seclusion, slammed President Donald Trump Friday for proposing budget cuts to US diplomacy and foreign aid, calling it a "grave mistake."

"We are seeing signals of a shift that truly alarms us all," the former Democratic presidential candidate told hundreds of students at Georgetown University in Washington.

"This administration's proposed cuts in international health, development and diplomacy would be a blow to women and children and a grave mistake for our country," said the Democrat, who ran the State Department from 2009 to 2013.

Trump wants to slash the US diplomatic budget by 28 percent, although Congress will have the final say.

Clinton also pointed to the rise in the number of global refugees, and warned it is "not just somebody else's problem."

"I am pleading that our government will continue its leadership role on behalf of peace in the world," she said, "because the world must continue this work with or without US involvement."

Clinton said today's "complex and interconnected world" requires continued American leadership on multiple fronts, not merely a focus on one or two priorities.

"Will we be left behind or will we continue to lead the way?" she asked.

Clinton was at Georgetown to present awards in her name to four Colombians who helped advance the role of women in peace and security.

The former candidate and first lady received a warm welcome from the students, who chanted "Hillary! Hillary!" as she took the stage.

The 69-year-old former candidate offered a few jabs about the extraordinary 2016 presidential race, drawing extended applause when she said, "Here I go again, talking about research, evidence and facts."

She also mocked the phrase of a Trump advisor when she said stereotypes about women "belongs to the alternative reality."

After her bitter defeat last November, Clinton largely disappeared from public view. When she took a selfie with someone she bumped into while walking in the woods outside her Chappaqua, New York home, the photograph went viral.

In the months since, she has emerged to attend Broadway shows, where she has received ovations and adulation from supporters.

She has also begun delivering speeches, including an address Tuesday at a businesswomen's conference in San Francisco where she criticized the shortage of women in Trump's inner circle, and pledged to keep speaking out about issues that matter.

"I am thrilled to be out of the woods, in the company of so many inspiring women," she said. "And there's no place I'd rather be than here with you -- other than the White House."

Spain must have a say in Gibraltar’s future post-Brexit: EU

Spain must have a say over whether any post-Brexit deal applies to Gibraltar, the EU said Friday, a move welcomed by Madrid which is engaged in a bitter sovereignty row with London over the British territory.The proposal represents the EU’s position in…

Spain must have a say over whether any post-Brexit deal applies to Gibraltar, the EU said Friday, a move welcomed by Madrid which is engaged in a bitter sovereignty row with London over the British territory.

The proposal represents the EU's position in tough Brexit negotiating plans unveiled by EU president Donald Tusk just days after Britain formally triggered the process to exit the 28-member bloc.

But it is likely to face a fierce backlash from London, which has pledged to stand by the tiny rocky overseas territory on the southern tip of Spain that was ceded to Britain in 1713.

"After the United Kingdom leaves the union, no agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without the agreement between the Kingdom of Spain and the United Kingdom," the EU's draft negotiating guidelines read.

- EU 'pursuing' Spain interests -

This means that Madrid could potentially block Gibraltar's access to any trade deal Britain negotiates with the EU, opposition politicians in the Rock claim.

It also shows that the European Union is putting Spain -- its member state -- first.

A senior EU official said the issue of Gibraltar was included in the negotiating guidelines as it is one of a number that involve joint or contested jurisdiction, and that "the EU is naturally pursuing the interests of the remaining 27 member states."

Spain's conservative government, which has been particularly vocal about getting Gibraltar back, welcomed the latest development.

"EU recognition of the legal-political situation defended by Spain satisfies us entirely," government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo told reporters.

- Bad neighbourly relations -

Relations between Spain and Gibraltar have ebbed and flowed over the decades.

In recent years, tensions have heightened under Spain's conservative government, which apart from sovereignty claims also bristles at tobacco smuggling across the border and accuses Gibraltar of being a corporate tax haven.

Both sides have been involved in disputes, prompting the European Union to step in.

In 2013, for instance, it was forced to ease one particularly belligerent row over disputed waters that saw Spanish authorities up checks on their land border with Gibraltar, creating hours-long logjams for workers and tourists going to the Rock.

Fearing that this type of disruption could happen again without EU protection, Gibraltarians voted by 96 percent to stay in the bloc in last year's referendum.

Sensing an opportunity after the outcome, Spain proposed that Gibraltar -- whose economy largely depends on the EU single market -- be allowed to remain in the bloc in exchange for shared sovereignty with Britain over the Rock.

Having already rejected such a proposal in a 2002 referendum, residents still appear set on remaining British after the vote, even if it means exiting the European Union.

And on Wednesday, British Prime Minister Theresa May pledged her support for Gibraltar.

"We have been firm in our commitment never to enter arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another state against their wishes, nor to enter into a process of sovereignty negotiations with which Gibraltar is not content," she told parliament.

- 'So Spain want Gibraltar?' -

On Wednesday, Gibraltar leader Fabian Picardo vowed to fight any attempt by Spain to gain more control over "the Rock" during Brexit negotiations.

Over in Britain, lawmakers and activists reacted with defiance and concern.

Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake said the decision "shows just how damaging the government's hard Brexit will be on this strategically-important British territory."

"Theresa May must urgently produce a plan that protects the citizens of Gibraltar, including their businesses and communities."

The sovereignty row between Britain and Spain over Gibraltar regularly stokes nationalist sentiment in both countries.

On Friday, Brexit campaign group Leave.EU tweeted a picture of thousands of Spaniards marching in support of independence for the northeastern region of Catalonia, a sore issue for Madrid.

"So Spain want Gibraltar?," it read.

"Perhaps we should recognise Catalonia..."

UN renews smaller DR Congo peackeeping force

The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously Friday to renew the mandate of the peacekeeping force in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but cut its numbers.Members of the council paid tribute to two kidnapped UN researchers whose bodies were f…

The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously Friday to renew the mandate of the peacekeeping force in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but cut its numbers.

Members of the council paid tribute to two kidnapped UN researchers whose bodies were found this week, and voted to approve the MONUSCO mission for another year.

The resolution reduces the authorized size of the military component of the mission from 19,815 to 16,215 troops, but the force is already under-strength and in practice fewer than 500 will come home.

The United States, which will assume the presidency of the Security Council in April, has called for a deep review of the strategy behind all the United Nations' peacekeeping missions.

And Washington, which currently funds more than 28 percent of the peacekeeping budget, is seeking to cut costs and improve the efficiency of the missions.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, UN members are pressing President Joseph Kabila's government to honor a power-sharing deal with the opposition ahead of elections later this year.

Napoli fans plot fiery reception for ‘Judas’ Higuain

“Traitor”, “mercenary”, “Judas”, are some of the kinder words bitter Napoli fans bandied about this week when talking about the reception being prepared for the return of Argentine striker Gonzalo Higuain with arch-rivals Juventus.

Higuain was worshipped in the balmy southern port city as the striker banged home a historic 36 goals last season as Napoli made the cut for the Champions League.

But after a secret medical in Madrid, Juventus paid Napoli 90 million euros ($96 million) for his services and the Argentine reportedly left the city without even saying goodbye.

“We’ve been waiting a year for him to come back. We really didn’t like the way he left and the way he behaved. He said he loved Napoli. But he left for the money. He’s a mercenary, a traitor,” says Bruno Alcidi, owner of Bar Nilo in Napoli’s old town.

Tha bar features an alter to the glory of Diego Maradona, another Argentine whose memory is cherished in the city after the incomparable superstar led the team to two titles.

“Higuain is a big footballer but for us he’s worthless. Look at Maradona. He gave his heart, he’s a saint. In Napoli’s history Higuain is a zero,” says Napoli fan Salvatore Romano on the city’s Via San Gregorio Armeno at a stall selling Napoli paraphernalia.

Higuain features prominently with his face on toilet rolls, dressed in his Juventus shirt with salacious insults written beneath

“Him going there to Juventus is the worst possible scenario. He could have gone anywhere but he went to the enemy – it’s like leaving Madrid for Barcelona – a complete betrayal,” Alcidi said.

Even Maradona is twisting the knife.

“He went behind the supporters’ backs. If he’d been open about it he’d have been hated less. Leaving an ordinary team is no big deal, but leaving Napoli isn’t like that,” he told Gazzetta dello Sport.

Higuain himself was blasé on the matter.

“A team shirt does have a value but at the end of the day football is a profession like any other and people are free to work wherever it makes them happy to be,” the 29-year-old striker told Sky tv.

Daniele “Decibel” Bellini, the Napoli San Paulo stadium announcer, used to shout Higuain’s first name ‘Gonzalo’ nine times every time he scored a goal.

“There’ll be booing and whistling from start to finish. He will be made to understand his mistake. It will be difficult for him,” Bellini said.

I’ve been asked to insult him over the mike but obviously I can’t,” he said.

The club’s 60,000 fans are also apparently preparing to blow a collective raspberry to greet Higuain as he comes onto the pitch.

"Traitor", "mercenary", "Judas", are some of the kinder words bitter Napoli fans bandied about this week when talking about the reception being prepared for the return of Argentine striker Gonzalo Higuain with arch-rivals Juventus.

Higuain was worshipped in the balmy southern port city as the striker banged home a historic 36 goals last season as Napoli made the cut for the Champions League.

But after a secret medical in Madrid, Juventus paid Napoli 90 million euros ($96 million) for his services and the Argentine reportedly left the city without even saying goodbye.

"We've been waiting a year for him to come back. We really didn't like the way he left and the way he behaved. He said he loved Napoli. But he left for the money. He's a mercenary, a traitor," says Bruno Alcidi, owner of Bar Nilo in Napoli's old town.

Tha bar features an alter to the glory of Diego Maradona, another Argentine whose memory is cherished in the city after the incomparable superstar led the team to two titles.

"Higuain is a big footballer but for us he's worthless. Look at Maradona. He gave his heart, he's a saint. In Napoli's history Higuain is a zero," says Napoli fan Salvatore Romano on the city's Via San Gregorio Armeno at a stall selling Napoli paraphernalia.

Higuain features prominently with his face on toilet rolls, dressed in his Juventus shirt with salacious insults written beneath

"Him going there to Juventus is the worst possible scenario. He could have gone anywhere but he went to the enemy - it's like leaving Madrid for Barcelona - a complete betrayal," Alcidi said.

Even Maradona is twisting the knife.

"He went behind the supporters' backs. If he'd been open about it he'd have been hated less. Leaving an ordinary team is no big deal, but leaving Napoli isn't like that," he told Gazzetta dello Sport.

Higuain himself was blasé on the matter.

"A team shirt does have a value but at the end of the day football is a profession like any other and people are free to work wherever it makes them happy to be," the 29-year-old striker told Sky tv.

Daniele "Decibel" Bellini, the Napoli San Paulo stadium announcer, used to shout Higuain's first name 'Gonzalo' nine times every time he scored a goal.

"There'll be booing and whistling from start to finish. He will be made to understand his mistake. It will be difficult for him," Bellini said.

I've been asked to insult him over the mike but obviously I can't," he said.

The club's 60,000 fans are also apparently preparing to blow a collective raspberry to greet Higuain as he comes onto the pitch.

Rockets in the jungle: Understanding French Guiana’s social unrest

The roots of the crisis paralysing France’s South American enclave are to be found in the distinctive history of this remote outpost of the French Republic, which once served as a tropical penal colony.

The roots of the crisis paralysing France’s South American enclave are to be found in the distinctive history of this remote outpost of the French Republic, which once served as a tropical penal colony.

French presidential hopeful Fillon dismisses Russian ‘interference’ in election as ‘fantasy’

Preview French center-right presidential candidate Francois Fillon has dismissed allegations of Russian interference in the French election, calling them “fantasies,” and saying that Europe should seek a dialogue with Moscow.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview French center-right presidential candidate Francois Fillon has dismissed allegations of Russian interference in the French election, calling them “fantasies,” and saying that Europe should seek a dialogue with Moscow.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Staying true to ideals, Yes at last lands in Hall of Fame

With flowing instrumental passages, song lengths that baffled radio DJs and lyricism inspired by Hindu scripture, Yes defied rock ‘n’ roll even while finding success within it.

The defining band of the progressive rock genre will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on April 7 — and co-founder Jon Anderson credits Yes with holding firm to principles.

“Music shouldn’t just be a commodity. It’s about evolving as a musician and a group of musicians,” Anderson told AFP by telephone.

“And that’s what Yes did. It stayed true to its ideal,” he said. “It’s great when a band sticks to an ideal — sometimes you’re famous and sometimes you’re not.”

Led by Anderson’s distinctive countertenor voice, Yes took more inspiration from the structure of steady-building classical symphonies than the quick-paced power of R&B that is at the root of so much rock.

Yes, which has sold more than 50 million records, nonetheless had its only number-one song in the United States with a more traditionally structured pop tune, 1983’s “Owner of a Lonely Heart.”

The English band will next year celebrate its 50th anniversary after a slew of personnel changes that have left its lineup unrecognizable from the original.

Bassist Chris Squire, who founded Yes with Anderson, died in 2015 after being diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia.

Longtime Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman was especially upset that Yes is finally entering the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after Squire’s death but agreed to attend the ceremony in New York after an agreement to honor Squire’s widow.

“I think Chris will be there in spirit, but bless him,” said Anderson, 72, who tours with Wakeman and former Yes guitarist Trevor Rabin as ARW.

– ‘We’re all spiritual’ –

Anderson has long incorporated meditation into his daily life and frequently brings themes of nature and environmental protection into his lyrics, such as on the 1978 song “Don’t Kill the Whale.”

Asked about his rituals, the singer said meditation was not a fixed activity.

“It depends on how you look at meditation. Walking around the garden or walking around the city, you can meditate by being part of the whole energy that surrounds you,” he said.

Anderson said he often wondered why he and not others have had so much success and believed it was because of his focus on “this divine energy that surrounds us all the time.”

“From the first few songs I wrote on the first album, I’m still singing about the same things,” he said.

“People say, ‘Oh, you’re very spiritual.’ I just say, ‘No, no, we’re all spiritual. I just like to sing about it,'” he said with a laugh.

The ambitions of Yes came into stark focus in 1973 with its album “Tales from Topographic Oceans,” consisting of four tracks of around 20 minutes each.

Anderson wrote the concept around four Hindu shastras, or scriptures, he read in Paramahansa Yogananda’s classic book “Autobiography of a Yogi.”

Friction over the length of the album, which covered four sides of vinyl in an era before CDs and the internet, prompted Wakeman to leave Yes for a time.

– Excited for future –

Outside of Yes, Anderson has embarked on diverse projects that include ambient music for meditation, an exploration of West African music and an album on a Native American legend of a people living across different cultures and centuries.

Anderson said his upcoming ideas include a musical take on Rumi, the celebrated 13th-century Persian poet whose writings he called beautiful yet clear.

More unexpectedly, Anderson volunteered that he was a fan of “La La Land,” the Hollywood musical revival. He said his daughter suggested he see it and the prog rock veteran became convinced that “La La Land” broke the mould in its own way.

Mentioning he has three large screens in his home studio in California, Anderson said he was looking to test the impact on music of new technologies from virtual reality to surround sound.

“I’m working on so many things it would drive you crazy to even understand,” he said with a laugh.

“I’m in my 70s and I’m still enjoying what I do.”

With flowing instrumental passages, song lengths that baffled radio DJs and lyricism inspired by Hindu scripture, Yes defied rock 'n' roll even while finding success within it.

The defining band of the progressive rock genre will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on April 7 -- and co-founder Jon Anderson credits Yes with holding firm to principles.

"Music shouldn't just be a commodity. It's about evolving as a musician and a group of musicians," Anderson told AFP by telephone.

"And that's what Yes did. It stayed true to its ideal," he said. "It's great when a band sticks to an ideal -- sometimes you're famous and sometimes you're not."

Led by Anderson's distinctive countertenor voice, Yes took more inspiration from the structure of steady-building classical symphonies than the quick-paced power of R&B that is at the root of so much rock.

Yes, which has sold more than 50 million records, nonetheless had its only number-one song in the United States with a more traditionally structured pop tune, 1983's "Owner of a Lonely Heart."

The English band will next year celebrate its 50th anniversary after a slew of personnel changes that have left its lineup unrecognizable from the original.

Bassist Chris Squire, who founded Yes with Anderson, died in 2015 after being diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia.

Longtime Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman was especially upset that Yes is finally entering the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after Squire's death but agreed to attend the ceremony in New York after an agreement to honor Squire's widow.

"I think Chris will be there in spirit, but bless him," said Anderson, 72, who tours with Wakeman and former Yes guitarist Trevor Rabin as ARW.

- 'We're all spiritual' -

Anderson has long incorporated meditation into his daily life and frequently brings themes of nature and environmental protection into his lyrics, such as on the 1978 song "Don't Kill the Whale."

Asked about his rituals, the singer said meditation was not a fixed activity.

"It depends on how you look at meditation. Walking around the garden or walking around the city, you can meditate by being part of the whole energy that surrounds you," he said.

Anderson said he often wondered why he and not others have had so much success and believed it was because of his focus on "this divine energy that surrounds us all the time."

"From the first few songs I wrote on the first album, I'm still singing about the same things," he said.

"People say, 'Oh, you're very spiritual.' I just say, 'No, no, we're all spiritual. I just like to sing about it,'" he said with a laugh.

The ambitions of Yes came into stark focus in 1973 with its album "Tales from Topographic Oceans," consisting of four tracks of around 20 minutes each.

Anderson wrote the concept around four Hindu shastras, or scriptures, he read in Paramahansa Yogananda's classic book "Autobiography of a Yogi."

Friction over the length of the album, which covered four sides of vinyl in an era before CDs and the internet, prompted Wakeman to leave Yes for a time.

- Excited for future -

Outside of Yes, Anderson has embarked on diverse projects that include ambient music for meditation, an exploration of West African music and an album on a Native American legend of a people living across different cultures and centuries.

Anderson said his upcoming ideas include a musical take on Rumi, the celebrated 13th-century Persian poet whose writings he called beautiful yet clear.

More unexpectedly, Anderson volunteered that he was a fan of "La La Land," the Hollywood musical revival. He said his daughter suggested he see it and the prog rock veteran became convinced that "La La Land" broke the mould in its own way.

Mentioning he has three large screens in his home studio in California, Anderson said he was looking to test the impact on music of new technologies from virtual reality to surround sound.

"I'm working on so many things it would drive you crazy to even understand," he said with a laugh.

"I'm in my 70s and I'm still enjoying what I do."

Treasury Secretary regrets Lego Batman remarks

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Friday expressed regret for telling moviegoers to check out his latest Hollywood film, “The Lego Batman Movie,” in a possible violation of ethics rules.Mnuchin told an audience of reporters in Washington last wee…

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Friday expressed regret for telling moviegoers to check out his latest Hollywood film, "The Lego Batman Movie," in a possible violation of ethics rules.

Mnuchin told an audience of reporters in Washington last week that they should "all send your kids" to see the film, for which he is credited as an executive producer.

The Treasury secretary at the time stipulated that he was "not promoting any product."

However, Senator Ron Wyden, the senior Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, asked the Office of Government Ethics to review the matter.

In a letter to the ethics watchdog on Friday, Mnuchin said he had been mistaken to encourage people to see the film during an interview with the website Axios.

Mnuchin said he had used "words that could reasonably have been interpreted to encourage the questioner to see a film with which I was associated."

"I should not have made that statement," he wrote, adding that he had received an ethics briefing on taking office and would schedule a followup.

"I fully appreciate the core ethics principle that public office is a public trust and that no employee may use his office for his own or others' private gain."

Mnuchin has promised to divest himself of his holdings within four months of taking office.

The events marked at least the second time an administration member faced scolding for using public office to promote consumer products.

The White House said last month it had "counseled" Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway after she used a television appearance to endorse a clothing and accessories line created by the president's daughter, Ivanka Trump.

The Trump administration has faced persistent controversy over potential conflicts of interest due to the president's sprawling business interests.

By contrast, in 2015, ethics rules prevented Deputy US Trade Representative Michael Punke from discussing or attending screenings of the Leonardo DiCaprio thriller "The Revenant," which was based on a novel Punke had written in his spare time.

Lego Batman is so far the third-highest grossing film of 2017, having taken in $171.7 million since opening last month, according to Box Office Mojo.

Including Lego Batman, Mnuchin is credited as an executive producer on five films slated for release in 2017, among them "The Lego Ninjago Movie," an animated feature starring Olivia Munn and Justin Theroux.

Britain’s Konta thanks Murray for taking tennis spotlight

Britain?s Johanna Konta, facing the biggest final of her career in the Miami Open on Saturday, says the success of Andy Murray has kept the attention and pressure off her as she has risen through the ranks.The 25-year-old is the first British woman to …

Britain?s Johanna Konta, facing the biggest final of her career in the Miami Open on Saturday, says the success of Andy Murray has kept the attention and pressure off her as she has risen through the ranks.

The 25-year-old is the first British woman to play in the final of the premier mandatory tournament in Miami and her win in straight sets over local favourite Venus Williams on Thursday ensures she will return to the top ten in the rankings regardless of the outcome of her clash with Caroline Wozniacki.

Born in Australia, but having been based in England since she was 14, Konta has not had to deal with much of the hype and expectation that have accompanied some British players in the past.

And for that, she thanks the current men?s world number.

"I think the fortunate position that I'm in is we have someone called Andy Murray who, bless him, has I think carried most of that weight on his shoulders," she said after her third straight win over Williams.

"But it's also a great thing we promote tennis there. If it's talked about, circulated, it's only good for our sport. If it grows at home, that's a good thing," she said.

Konta already has a tournament win on the WTA tour this season, triumphing in Sydney and this is not her first premier final - she lost to Agnieszka Radwanska in the final of the China Open in Beijing in October.

But in terms of status and profile, the Miami final certainly carries more catchet.

"Well, according to the calendar it's on par (with Beijing). I guess Miami may have a certain just more history possibly. Obviously it's always talked about Indian Wells/Miami,? she said.

"In terms of who I'm playing and what we're playing for, that's quite equal. I played Radwanska in that final and now I am playing Wozniacki in the final here. I think it's a great finals to be a part of," she said.

Konta will move to world number seven if she can beat Wozniacki at Key Biscayne and in the pair?s only previous meeting - she beat the Dane 6-3, 6-1 in the third round of the Australian Open in January.

"I remember I played very well that match. I did play very well and also until the very end I knew that it was never for certain.

"I think that's the thing with Caroline: she never goes away. She's there until the very, very last ball. I know that will be my challenge on Saturday,? she said.

Wozniacki showed her excellent defence and staying power in her semi-final win over second-seed Karolina Pliskova on Thursday. Konta says she expects to be made to work hard by the former world number one who has been in excellent form this year.

"Against Caroline, I'm definitely going to be looking forward to playing a lot of balls and a lot of tough points. She's one of the best athletes in the game.

"She ran a marathon for goodness sake. I'm sure it'll be a match where I'll be running for a lot of balls. Hopefully we'll give a great match for the final," she said.

Saturday will be the Dane?s third final of the year after she lost at Dubai and Doha.

?I'm hoping it's third-time lucky,? she said.

Holy cow! Butchers face life sentence in India for slaughtering sacred animal

Those slaughtering cows now face a life sentence in the Indian state of Gujarat, after lawmakers voted to pass new measures to protect the sacred animal, up from a previous punishment of seven years. The state law is the toughest in the c…

Preview Those slaughtering cows now face a life sentence in the Indian state of Gujarat, after lawmakers voted to pass new measures to protect the sacred animal, up from a previous punishment of seven years. The state law is the toughest in the country
Read Full Article at RT.com

Swedish, Norwegian newspapers to ditch April Fools’ stories amid ‘fake news’ concerns

Preview As scheming jokesters across the globe prepare their April Fools’ pranks, Swedish and Norwegian newspapers have announced they won’t be taking part in the fun, over fears that silly stories might be spread as “fake news.”
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview As scheming jokesters across the globe prepare their April Fools’ pranks, Swedish and Norwegian newspapers have announced they won’t be taking part in the fun, over fears that silly stories might be spread as “fake news.”
Read Full Article at RT.com

Venezuela’s Maduro decried as ‘dictator’ after Congress annulled

Opposition leaders branded Venezuela’s socialist President Nicolas Maduro a “dictator” on Thursday after the Supreme Court took over the functions of Congress and pushed a lengthy political standoff to new heights.

Opposition leaders branded Venezuela's socialist President Nicolas Maduro a "dictator" on Thursday after the Supreme Court took over the functions of Congress and pushed a lengthy political standoff to new heights.

Turkey will maintain military presence in Syria: army

The Turkish army said Friday it will keep a military presence in Syria despite officially ending its offensive in the country’s north against the Islamic State jihadists.”Our activities continue for the protection of our national security, to prevent a…

The Turkish army said Friday it will keep a military presence in Syria despite officially ending its offensive in the country's north against the Islamic State jihadists.

"Our activities continue for the protection of our national security, to prevent any undesirable entity, to allow our displaced Syrian brothers and sisters to return to their country, and to ensure security and stability in the region," the military said.

The Turkish armed forces said in a statement this "phase" of its operation against IS and "terrorists" in the region was "successfully completed".

The completion of the operation dubbed "Euphrates Shield" had been announced by Prime Minister Binali Yildirim on Wednesday, who nevertheless did not rule out new military campaigns inside Syria.

At the time, neither Yildirim nor the top advisory national security council had said whether or not there were plans to withdraw Turkish troops.

Turkey launched in August its unilateral operation with Syrian rebels to remove IS from its border and to halt the Kurdish militia advance.

Dozens of Turkish soldiers were killed by IS during clashes and attacks as Turkey-backed Syrian opposition fighters recaptured towns including Jarabulus, Al-Rai, Dabiq and Al-Bab.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said Friday the completion of the military operation did not mean Turkey would ignore what takes place on its southern border.

"There should be no meaning taken from this that Turkey will remain indifferent to the security risks or will not engage there," Kalin told reporters in Ankara.

"Just the opposite actually, security measures in the region continue at the highest level," he added, without giving further details.

Turkey has suggested it wants to join any operation to capture IS stronghold Raqa, but without the Kurdish militia it views as terrorists.

Turkey appears to be sidelined as US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces including Kurdish fighters are laying the groundwork for an assault on the heart of the jihadists' so-called caliphate.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would give no comment on Turkish involvement during his visit to Ankara on Thursday.

UN agency suspends Gaza missions after Hamas restrictions

A United Nations political agency suspended its missions to Gaza Friday after the Hamas authorities in the Palestinian enclave partly closed the key border crossing into Israel, a source said.The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East peace process…

A United Nations political agency suspended its missions to Gaza Friday after the Hamas authorities in the Palestinian enclave partly closed the key border crossing into Israel, a source said.

The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East peace process (UNSCO) will not send staff to Gaza until further notice, the source close to the organisation told AFP on condition of anonymity, after Hamas imposed tough new restrictions following the assassination of one of its members.

The decision was made, the source added, as frustration grows at the negative impact of the restrictions for aid work and Gazan citizens.

UNSCO is the key UN agency working on the currently stagnant Palestinian-Israeli peace process, and the restrictions will apply to its head, UN envoy for the Middle East Nickolay Mladenov.

In previous conflicts between Hamas and Israel UNSCO helped to negotiate ceasefires, and Mladenov reports regularly to the UN Security Council.

Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, shut the Erez crossing into Israel on Sunday after blaming the Jewish state for assassinating senior military figure Mazen Faqha, 38, near his home last Friday.

Erez is the only crossing for people, although a separate route is available for goods.

On Monday, they reopened Erez for those entering Gaza, but men between 18 and 45 are still largely prevented from leaving the enclave of two million people.

Reports said Hamas was looking for the assassins, believing they are still in Gaza, but the knock-on effects have been significant.

Around half a dozen international aid workers have been prevented from leaving in recent days, a senior humanitarian source said.

So far, according to the World Health Organization, 79 Gazan patients have missed medical appointments in Israel because of the restrictions.

More than two thirds of Gazans are dependent on aid, according to the United Nations.

On Thursday, a coalition of more than 100 Palestinian NGOs and rights groups called on Hamas to reopen the crossing.

"Security goals should not come at the expense of human rights," the Palestinian NGOs Network said in a statement.

Israel has maintained a blockade on Gaza for a decade, largely restricting residents from entering.

However, Israel grants hundreds of permits for medical, educational, business and other reasons per week.

Hamas has fought three wars with Israel since 2008.

Foreigners in Japan face major discrimination, language not the problem – poll

About 25 percent of foreigners in Japan failed to get jobs, while nearly 40 percent who were looking for accommodation were turned down, according to the latest study commissioned by the Japanese Justice Ministry. Read Full Article at RT….

Preview About 25 percent of foreigners in Japan failed to get jobs, while nearly 40 percent who were looking for accommodation were turned down, according to the latest study commissioned by the Japanese Justice Ministry.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Devils icon Elias retires from NHL hockey

Injury-plagued Czech forward Patrik Elias said Friday he was retiring from NHL hockey after more than two decades spent with the New Jersey Devils.”I’m immensely proud of the fact that I have spent my entire career in a single club,” the 40-year-old le…

Injury-plagued Czech forward Patrik Elias said Friday he was retiring from NHL hockey after more than two decades spent with the New Jersey Devils.

"I'm immensely proud of the fact that I have spent my entire career in a single club," the 40-year-old left wing told the isport.cz news site.

Grappling with a knee injury, Elias played his last NHL game in April.

"You have to be honest with yourself and decide whether you can go on doing the job you love," he added.

"For the past few months, I have weighed this decision both physically and mentally. I am happy to say this provides me and my family with closure," Elias said in a statement published on the Devils' website.

Drafted in 1994, Elias had 408 goals and 617 assists in 1,250 regular-season games and 45 goals and 80 assists in 162 play-off games for the Devils with whom he won the Stanley Cup in 2000 and 2003.

He leads the Devils' all-time statistics in goals, assists and points, both in the regular season and in the play-offs, alongside a host of other rankings.

With the Czech Republic team, Elias won the bronze at the Turin Olympics in 2006 and at the 1998 and 2011 world championships, scoring 20 goals in 43 international games.

The Devils have announced they will raise Elias's number 26 to the rafters next season.

Depression is leading cause of illness, disability worldwide – WHO

Preview Depression is the leading cause of illness and disability across the globe, the World Health Organization (WHO) has announced. The condition’s prevalence rose more than 18 percent in a decade, with 300 million people now suffering from it.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview Depression is the leading cause of illness and disability across the globe, the World Health Organization (WHO) has announced. The condition’s prevalence rose more than 18 percent in a decade, with 300 million people now suffering from it.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Ban on Russian singer ‘threatens’ future Ukraine participation in Eurovision – broadcasting chief

Preview The head of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) has sent a letter to Ukraine’s prime minister, warning that if Kiev doesn’t let Russia’s nominee participate in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, its own future involvement in the event will be “under threat.”
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview The head of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) has sent a letter to Ukraine's prime minister, warning that if Kiev doesn’t let Russia’s nominee participate in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, its own future involvement in the event will be "under threat."
Read Full Article at RT.com

World urges Venezuela to reverse decision to muzzle legislative branch

The United Nations, along with leaders from Spain to Peru, on Friday urged Venezuela’s Supreme Court to reverse its decision to take over legislative powers and called on President Nicolas Maduro’s government to uphold rights to peaceful assembly.

The United Nations, along with leaders from Spain to Peru, on Friday urged Venezuela’s Supreme Court to reverse its decision to take over legislative powers and called on President Nicolas Maduro’s government to uphold rights to peaceful assembly.

Syrian migrant sets himself ablaze at Greek refugee camp (GRAPHIC VIDEO)

A migrant from Syria has set himself on fire at a Greek refugee camp, apparently after being rejected for asylum multiple times, local media reported. The moment the man set himself alight was captured on numerous mobile phones and later …

Preview A migrant from Syria has set himself on fire at a Greek refugee camp, apparently after being rejected for asylum multiple times, local media reported. The moment the man set himself alight was captured on numerous mobile phones and later posted online.
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DuPont to sell parts of pesticides unit for Dow merger

US chemical giant DuPont said Friday it will sell some of its pesticide business to FMC to clear the regulatory hurdles to the merger with Dow Chemical.However, the companies pushed back the closing date of their mega-merger.DuPont will divest part of …

US chemical giant DuPont said Friday it will sell some of its pesticide business to FMC to clear the regulatory hurdles to the merger with Dow Chemical.

However, the companies pushed back the closing date of their mega-merger.

DuPont will divest part of its crop protection business to FMC to comply with a ruling by the European Commission earlier this week clearing its $130 billion merger with Dow on the condition it unload "major parts" of its global pesticides business due to antitrust concerns.

In exchange, DuPont will receive the health and nutrition business from Philadelphia-based chemical company FMC along with $1.6 billion in cash and working capital.

"This agreement with FMC is a win-win. It is pro-competitive; it advances the regulatory approval process; and it maintains the strategic logic and value creation potential of our merger with Dow," said DuPont chief executive Edward Breen in a press release.

FMC said the assets included industry-leading insecticides which are expected to generate over $1 billion in 2017 revenue, as well as a pipeline of products now under development and a network of manufacturing plants.

The deal also will significantly boost the company's presence in Asia and Europe, catapulting FMC "into a tier-one ag technology company," said FMC chief executive Pierre Brondeau.

Dow and DuPont again amended their agreement to push back the closing date of the merger to August, rather than the first half of the year as initially planned.

"This revised agreement was necessary and a very positive outcome driven by the transaction with FMC, announced by DuPont today," Dow chief executive Andrew Liveris said in a joint-statement with DuPont.

"It is another significant milestone in our progress to complete this value-creating transaction."

The union of two of the oldest US companies, originally announced in December 2015, has been heavily scrutinized by antitrust regulators globally.

The EU also required Dow to sell two plants in Spain and in the US, with German giant BASF widely seen as a potential buyer.

After the merger, Dow and DuPont intend to split up into three companies within 18 months. The first spin-off will be the Material Science Company.

Shares of FMC shot up 14.7 percent $70.49 in morning trading. DuPont fell 0.8 percent to $81.00, while Dow Chemical shed 0.4 percent to $63.96.

German military to launch cyber command

Germany’s armed forces Saturday launch a cyber command, with a status equal to that of the army, navy and air force, meant to shield its IT and weapons systems from attack.Military planners fear that wars of the future will start with cyber attacks aga…

Germany's armed forces Saturday launch a cyber command, with a status equal to that of the army, navy and air force, meant to shield its IT and weapons systems from attack.

Military planners fear that wars of the future will start with cyber attacks against critical infrastructure and networks, extensive online espionage and sabotage.

The Bundeswehr's new Cyber and Information Space (CIR) Command, based in the former West German capital of Bonn, will start off with 260 IT specialists but grow to 13,500 military and civilian personnel by July.

With the new digital force, Germany is taking a leading role among NATO allies, its new commander, Lieutenant General Ludwig Leinhos, told news weekly Focus.

Leinhos said the main tasks would be to operate and protect the military's own IT infrastructure and computer-assisted weapons systems, as well as surveillance of online threats.

He said the centre would also develop and war-game offensive capabilities because "in order to be able to defend yourself, you have to know the options for attack".

However, any full-scale cyber attacks abroad would have to be approved by the German parliament, just like any other military mission.

The security of national and government IT systems, meanwhile, remains the responsibility of the interior ministry which oversees the domestic security agency that handles counterespionage.

The German government has been sensitised to cyber security since the parliament was attacked last year, with security sources suspecting Russian hackers behind the attack.

Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen had announced the creation of the cyber command two years ago to protect the military from increasing numbers of online attacks.

The defence ministry said that in this year's first nine weeks alone, the IT systems of the Bundeswehr had been targeted more than 280,000 times.

Leinhos said that "we are in a constant race between the development of attack options and defensive capabilities".

US will keep climate commitments despite Trump: ex-NY mayor Bloomberg

The former mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, said Friday the United States will keep its commitment to reduce greenhouse gases despite US President Donald Trump’s skeptical outlook on climate change.”No matter what roadblocks the White House and Co…

The former mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, said Friday the United States will keep its commitment to reduce greenhouse gases despite US President Donald Trump's skeptical outlook on climate change.

"No matter what roadblocks the White House and Congress throw up, the United States can -? and I'm confident, will ?- meet the commitment it made in Paris in 2015 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the planet," Bloomberg wrote in the New York Times.

"Those who believe that the Trump administration will end American leadership on climate change are making the same mistake as those who believe that it will put coal miners back to work."

Bloomberg said that mistake is "overestimating Washington's ability to influence energy markets, and underestimating the role that cities, states, businesses and consumers are playing in driving down emissions on their own."

Bloomberg, a noted environmentalist, said that with or without Obama's Clean Power Plan, which Trump has promised to re-examine and roll back, also half the coal plants in the United States have said they "will close or switch to cleaner fuels."

Consumers prefer cleaner energy that pollutes less, he argued. And the price of renewables like wind and solar is dropping.

"In fact, even if the Clean Power Plan disappears entirely, we would still be in a position to meet our Paris commitment, which is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 26 percent below 2005 levels by 2025," Bloomberg wrote.

Certain federal policies cannot be changed, such as vehicle fuel efficiency standards that have been set through model year 2021.

And big cities, which represents two-thirds of US emissions, along with countless private industries are committed to improving energy efficiency without any encouragement from Washington.

"Claims that the United States will no longer be able to meet its Paris obligations give other countries an excuse to walk away from theirs," he added.

"How terrible it would be if a misunderstanding of American climate leadership -? which is not based in Washington and never has been -? led to an unraveling of the Paris agreement."

Trump has not yet said whether or not he plans to stay in the landmark Paris Agreement, a 196-nation treaty that vows to cap global warming as "well below" two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) compared to late 19th-century levels.

Venezuela attorney general breaks ranks with Maduro

Venezuela’s attorney general surprisingly broke ranks with President Nicolas Maduro on Friday, condemning recent Supreme Court rulings that consolidated the socialist president’s power as a “rupture of constitutional order.”Attorney General Luisa Orteg…

Venezuela's attorney general surprisingly broke ranks with President Nicolas Maduro on Friday, condemning recent Supreme Court rulings that consolidated the socialist president's power as a "rupture of constitutional order."

Attorney General Luisa Ortega is the first high-level official in Venezuela to criticize court rulings this week that effectively dissolved the opposition-majority legislature and revoked lawmakers' immunity from prosecution.

The rulings "show evidence of various violations of the constitutional order and ignorance of the state model established in our constitution," Ortega said live on state television at an event to mark the release of her 2016 annual report.

Ortega was long seen as a loyalist of the socialist "revolution" launched by Maduro's mentor Hugo Chavez in 1999.

But with once-booming oil giant Venezuela now mired in food shortages, political chaos and an epidemic of violent crime, she fired some of the most severe public criticism yet from within the president's own camp.

"It is my duty to inform my country of my deep concern over these events," she said, drawing applause from the crowd.

The criticism came two days after the court, which has staunchly backed Maduro through an economic and political crisis, assumed the powers of the National Assembly, the only pillar of power that was not under the president and his allies' control.

Critics have branded the move a "coup."

On Tuesday, the court also cleared the way for opposition lawmakers to be prosecuted for what Maduro calls treason.

White House cautions Israel on ‘unrestrained’ settlement building

The White House on Friday cautioned Israel on large-scale settlement building, refraining from criticism of a major project just approved but warning further expansion could block peace efforts.”While the existence of settlements is not in itself an im…

The White House on Friday cautioned Israel on large-scale settlement building, refraining from criticism of a major project just approved but warning further expansion could block peace efforts.

"While the existence of settlements is not in itself an impediment to peace, further unrestrained settlement activity does not help advance peace," a White House official said.

The Israeli cabinet gave unanimous backing late Thursday to the first officially sanctioned new settlement in the occupied West Bank in more than 20 years.

The White House official said that settlement, at Amona, was in the pipeline during Barack Obama's administration, and refrained from criticizing the decision.

"We would note that the Israeli prime minister made a commitment to the Amona settlers prior to President Trump laying out his expectations, and has consistently indicated that he intended to move forward with this plan," the official said.

"Going forward... the Israeli government has made clear that Israel's intent is to adopt a policy regarding settlement activity that takes President Trump's concerns into consideration."

Sindhu beats Saina to enter India Open semis

India’s PV Sindhu won a much-anticipated clash with compatriot Saina Nehwal in straight games to book a place in the semi-finals of the India Open badminton tournament in New Delhi on Friday.Rio Olympics silver medallist Sindhu served past former champ…

India's PV Sindhu won a much-anticipated clash with compatriot Saina Nehwal in straight games to book a place in the semi-finals of the India Open badminton tournament in New Delhi on Friday.

Rio Olympics silver medallist Sindhu served past former champion Saina 21-16, 22-20 in an intense 47-minute quarter-final battle at the Siri Fort Sports Complex.

Sindhu, 21, had to dig deep into her reservoir of talent against the former world number one Saina as a raucous home crowd found it hard to take sides.

Sindhu, who lost to Saina, 27, in their only international meeting in 2014, won the first game in 19 minutes but had to fight hard to recover a 16-19 trail in the second game.

"Overall a very good match... even when she was leading 20-19, I still had the belief that I could pull through, I can do it," Sindhu told reporters.

"Sindhu-Saina is not a new rivalry... rivalry is always there on court but off court we are normal friends. I didn't feel any pressure. I don't know about her.

"Saina is not someone special that I have to win against her. Against each player, I will give 100 percent."

Sindhu will now meet second-seeded South Korean player Sung Ji Hyun, who earlier edged out defending champion Ratchanok Intanon of Thailand 21-16, 22-20, in the semi-finals on Saturday.

Top-seeded Spanish star Carolina Marin also booked her last-four spot after battling past Minatsu Mitani of Japan 21-10, 20-22, 21-14.

Marin will clash with fourth-seeded Akane Yamaguchi, who staved off a challenge from fellow Japanese Nozomi Okuhara 21-13, 11-21, 21-18.

In the men's singles quarter-finals, Denmark's Viktor Axelsen survived a tough challenge from Wang Tzu Wei of Taiwan to prevail 19-21, 21-14, 21-16 in 65 minutes.

Spectre of starvation haunting globe: report

Record prices, conflicts and extreme weather combined to drive the number of people vulnerable to starvation up to 108 million last year, according to a UN and EU-backed report published Friday.The global total of people deemed “severely food insecure”…

Record prices, conflicts and extreme weather combined to drive the number of people vulnerable to starvation up to 108 million last year, according to a UN and EU-backed report published Friday.

The global total of people deemed "severely food insecure" represents a 35 percent increase on the 80 million considered to be in that dangerously exposed position in 2015.

The term refers to people already suffering from acute malnutrition or lacking enough food to provide their basic energy requirements on a sustainable basis.

It can include households who can only survive by, for example, slaughtering their animals and thus depleting their future ability to produce food.

The report warns that the food insecurity crisis is set to worsen this year with four parts of the developing world, South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and northeast Nigeria, at risk of famine.

The report was produced under the joint auspices of the European Union, UN agencies including the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and USAID/FEWSNET along with some regional food security institutions.

Extreme weather factors blamed for the deteriorating situation included drought and erratic rainfall caused by the El Nino phenomenon.

But civil conflict was the driving factor in nine of the 10 worst humanitarian crises, the 2017 Global Report on Food Crises says.

Other countries facing widespread food insecurity this year are Iraq, Syria (including refugees in neighbouring countries) Malawi and Zimbabwe.

"In the absence of immediate and substantive action not only to save people's lives, but also to pull them back from the brink of famine, the food security situation in these countries will continue to worsen in coming months," the report says.

FAO Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva said: "We can prevent people dying from famine but if we do not scale up our efforts to save, protect and invest in rural livelihoods, tens of millions will remain severely food insecure."

Ertharin Cousin, Executive Director of the World Food Programme, said food insecurity was not just a humanitarian issue.

"Hunger exacerbates crisis, creating ever greater instability and insecurity," he said. "What is a food security challenge today becomes tomorrow's security challenge.

"It is a race against time -- the world must act now to save the lives and livelihoods of the millions at the brink of starvation."

BlackBerry narrows loss amid focus on services

BlackBerry said Friday its loss in the past quarter narrowed as it distanced itself further from smartphone making to concentrate on software and services.The Canadian tech firm reported a loss in its fiscal fourth quarter ending in February of $47 mil…

BlackBerry said Friday its loss in the past quarter narrowed as it distanced itself further from smartphone making to concentrate on software and services.

The Canadian tech firm reported a loss in its fiscal fourth quarter ending in February of $47 million compared with a $238 million deficit in the same period a year earlier.

That resulted in a full-year loss of $1.2 billion, including $600 million in charges for restructuring. The company reports its results in US dollars.

The results, better than expected by most analysts, sent BlackBerry shares surging nearly 15 percent in early New York trade.

The company, which a decade ago was among the dominant smartphone brands, has largely exited the handset business, allowing China's TCL to manage the development of BlackBerrys under a license agreement.

With BlackBerry's smartphone market share falling to less than one percent of the world market, the deal has allowed the Ontario firm to focus on other areas such as security software and its connected car systems.

Executive chairman John Chen said the latest results "came in at or above expectations in all major metrics," as "we continued to grow our mix of software and services revenue across the company."

Revenues in the past quarter fell 36 percent from a year ago to $297 million, with 80 percent coming from software and services.

Sudan rejects new US travel warning for Americans

Sudan on Friday rejected a new US travel advisory warning Americans against visiting the country, particularly three conflict zones, due to risks of “terrorism and violent crimes”.The latest advisory was issued by the State Department on Thursday and p…

Sudan on Friday rejected a new US travel advisory warning Americans against visiting the country, particularly three conflict zones, due to risks of "terrorism and violent crimes".

The latest advisory was issued by the State Department on Thursday and posted on the website of the American embassy in Khartoum. It replaces a previous travel warning issued in January 2016.

It said "terrorist groups are active in Sudan and have stated their intent to harm Westerners and Western interests through suicide operations, bombings, shootings and kidnappings".

"Violent crimes targeting Westerners, including kidnappings, armed robberies, home invasions, and carjacking occur everywhere in Sudan but are particularly prevalent in the Darfur region," it said.

US citizens should also "avoid all travel" to Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan states, two other hotspots in Sudan, it said.

Sudan's foreign ministry rejected the allegations.

"This travel warning contradicts the reality on the ground because US, British and other diplomats have visited Darfur, Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan and moved freely in these areas," a statement said.

"Allegations that there are terrorist groups in Sudan are contradictory to all the praise and appreciation offered by high ranking US officials for Khartoum's role in fighting terrorism and extremism in the region."

The ministry urged the State Department to review the measure, saying improved relations with Washington are necessary and help serve the common goal of fighting terrorism.

The US designated Sudan a state sponsor of terrorism in 1993 and Khartoum has been subject to a US trade embargo since 1997 over its alleged support for Islamist groups.

Before leaving office, president Barack Obama eased the sanctions, but kept Khartoum on the blacklist.

Earlier this month, the foreign ministry summoned the most senior diplomat at the US embassy to protest President Donald Trump's travel ban which bars citizens from six Muslim-majority countries, including Sudan, from entering the United States.

A US judge has halted Trump's travel ban.

Veteran Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide related to the conflict in Darfur. He denies the charges.

Canadian ice dancers Virtue and Moir hit new high at world champs

Ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir hit a new high with an electrifying Prince-inspired short dance putting them on the brink of a third gold at the world figure skating championships on Friday.Competing in their first worlds since 2013, the return…

Ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir hit a new high with an electrifying Prince-inspired short dance putting them on the brink of a third gold at the world figure skating championships on Friday.

Competing in their first worlds since 2013, the returning Canadians had the Hartwall Arena crowd on their feet after skating to "Kiss", "Five Women" and "Purple Rain".

It earned the 2010 Olympic champions a first-place score of 82.43 -- bettering their own all time best by 1.93 -- and left two-time holders Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France a distant second with 76.89.

The three-time European champions have a mountain to climb to make up the 5.5-point gap in Saturday's free dance final.

Three American couples -- Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, Madison Chock and Evan Bates and brother-and-sister Maia and Alex Shibutani -- are placed just behind the French.

"I felt really electrocuted, there was so much energy going through my body," said 29-year-old Moir.

"With all the pressure of the comeback and the Olympics coming up, we really just wanted to enjoy ourselves.

"It's great to have a 20-year partnership and still enjoy going out there every day."

Virtue and Moir are looking to add to their titles in 2010 and 2012, but have not competed in the worlds since taking silver in 2013.

They took two years off following their silver at the 2014 Sochi Games and have been unbeatable as they returned this season in a bid to recapture gold in Pyeongchang next year.

"It's nice to end the season with a season's best for sure but it was just so much fun," said 27-year-old Virtue.

"The reason behind this comeback was to challenge ourselves. The competition is top notch so we needed to raise the level of our skating.

"We have an idea where out skating is going and 2018 is the ultimate goal."

And Moir warned: "We are really excited to do our free (programme) tomorrow. It's very technical and pretty demanding, so we have to be on our game.

"I hope what you are going to see is a deeper connection between Tessa and I."

The top three couples all train together in Montreal under the same coaching team of Romain Haguenauer and former ice dancers Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon.

And Haguenauer said he was perplexed by the difference in technical scores achieved by the top two teams despite Cizeron making an error on a twizzle in their "Blues" and "Swing" routine.

"It's strange to see such a difference (in scores) between the best two ice dance pairs in the world," said Haguenauer.

"It's a pity because it kills the competition a bit."

Meanwhile, the championship continues on Friday with Russia's Evgenia Medvedeva poised to seal her second straight women's gold.

UN, world leaders urge Venezuela to reverse decision to muzzle legislative branch

The United Nations, along with leaders from Spain to Peru, on Friday urged Venezuela’s Supreme Court to reverse its decision to take over legislative powers and called on President Nicolas Maduro’s government to uphold rights to peaceful assembly.

The United Nations, along with leaders from Spain to Peru, on Friday urged Venezuela’s Supreme Court to reverse its decision to take over legislative powers and called on President Nicolas Maduro’s government to uphold rights to peaceful assembly.

Russia sees first growth for two years in Q4: statistics agency

Russia’s economy expanded for the first time in two years in the fourth quarter of 2016, data from the state statistics service showed Friday.The country recorded 0.3 percent growth in gross domestic product year-on-year, Rosstat said, as Moscow pulls …

Russia's economy expanded for the first time in two years in the fourth quarter of 2016, data from the state statistics service showed Friday.

The country recorded 0.3 percent growth in gross domestic product year-on-year, Rosstat said, as Moscow pulls itself out of a two-year economic crisis triggered by tumbling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine.

Russia's GDP last experienced growth in the fourth quarter of 2014, when it grew 0.2 percent.

Rosstat said that Russia's GDP had contracted 0.2 percent overall last year, after having shrank 2.8 percent in 2015.

The Russian government expects 0.6 percent growth this year. Economy minister Maxim Oreshkin has said that growth could even reach two percent.

This month Standard and Poor's agency raised its outlook for Russia's credit rating to "positive" from "stable", citing improving growth prospects and a lower risk of large capital outflows.

The agency said it expected Russia to resume positive growth this year, "averaging about 1.7 percent in 2017-2020."

Russia's economy has appeared to stabilise over the last few months after a recession that has diminished people's purchasing power and pushed large segments of the population into poverty.

The ruble -- battered by falling oil prices and Western sanctions in 2014 and 2015 -- has risen dramatically in recent months and last month strengthened to fewer than 60 rubles to the euro for the first time since June 2015 as oil prices recovered.

Eden Hazard won’t be unsettled by suitors, says Chelsea’s Conte

Antonio Conte insists Eden Hazard will remain loyal to Chelsea despite reports linking Real Madrid with a world record bid for the Belgium star.

Hazard has played a key role in Chelsea’s charge to the top of the Premier League and the midfielder is said to be Real’s top transfer target for the close-season.

The Spanish giants are prepared to offer over £100 million ($124 million, 116 million euros) to prise the 26-year-old away from Stamford Bridge.

But Blues boss Conte, who is reported to have told owner Roman Abramovich not to sell Hazard at any cost, is confident the player is settled in England and won’t agitate for a move to Madrid.

“The only thing I can say is Eden is a Chelsea player, our player,” Conte told reporters on Friday.

“We are happy with him. He is happy with us. I don’t see a problem.

“It’s normal, it’s logical in this part of the season, to start rumours about our player… to try to create difficulty in the mind of the players.

“We have great experience to face this situation. Also my players have this experience.

“If Chelsea players are requested by the other teams, it means they’re doing very well.

“I’m very happy. It means I’m doing a great job.”

With Hazard under contract until June 2020, Chelsea will be able to control his fate.

In contrast, Chelsea captain John Terry, who has not made a Premier League start since September, is out of contract at the end of the season.

It has been reported the veteran defender could be offered another one-year contract extension.

But Conte stressed contracts and transfers would be addressed at the end of the season and his players should focus on maintaining the team’s 10-point lead at the top of the table

“For every situation, there will be the right moment to face. The club is working very well to solve many situations,” he said.

“I like to talk about John for this season. He’s helping a lot. I repeat: he’s doing a great job.

“John knows my thoughts about him and I think the most important thing is this.”

Chelsea play Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge on Saturday and need 21 more points to seal the title.

“I think we deserve to win, but there are 10 games to go. For sure our opponents don’t want to accept that Chelsea is champions,” Conte added.

“Football is full of surprises. In my experience as a footballer, I won a lot, but I think I lost more.

“For this reason, I want to keep our feet on the ground. It’s very important, this.”

Antonio Conte insists Eden Hazard will remain loyal to Chelsea despite reports linking Real Madrid with a world record bid for the Belgium star.

Hazard has played a key role in Chelsea's charge to the top of the Premier League and the midfielder is said to be Real's top transfer target for the close-season.

The Spanish giants are prepared to offer over £100 million ($124 million, 116 million euros) to prise the 26-year-old away from Stamford Bridge.

But Blues boss Conte, who is reported to have told owner Roman Abramovich not to sell Hazard at any cost, is confident the player is settled in England and won't agitate for a move to Madrid.

"The only thing I can say is Eden is a Chelsea player, our player," Conte told reporters on Friday.

"We are happy with him. He is happy with us. I don't see a problem.

"It's normal, it's logical in this part of the season, to start rumours about our player... to try to create difficulty in the mind of the players.

"We have great experience to face this situation. Also my players have this experience.

"If Chelsea players are requested by the other teams, it means they're doing very well.

"I'm very happy. It means I'm doing a great job."

With Hazard under contract until June 2020, Chelsea will be able to control his fate.

In contrast, Chelsea captain John Terry, who has not made a Premier League start since September, is out of contract at the end of the season.

It has been reported the veteran defender could be offered another one-year contract extension.

But Conte stressed contracts and transfers would be addressed at the end of the season and his players should focus on maintaining the team's 10-point lead at the top of the table

"For every situation, there will be the right moment to face. The club is working very well to solve many situations," he said.

"I like to talk about John for this season. He's helping a lot. I repeat: he's doing a great job.

"John knows my thoughts about him and I think the most important thing is this."

Chelsea play Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge on Saturday and need 21 more points to seal the title.

"I think we deserve to win, but there are 10 games to go. For sure our opponents don't want to accept that Chelsea is champions," Conte added.

"Football is full of surprises. In my experience as a footballer, I won a lot, but I think I lost more.

"For this reason, I want to keep our feet on the ground. It's very important, this."