Sweden truck attack: What we know

A hijacked truck has slammed into a crowd of people outside a busy department store in central Stockholm, causing an unspecified number of “deaths” in what the prime minister described as a “terror attack.”Here is what we know about the truck attack in…

A hijacked truck has slammed into a crowd of people outside a busy department store in central Stockholm, causing an unspecified number of "deaths" in what the prime minister described as a "terror attack."

Here is what we know about the truck attack in Sweden's capital:

- What happened? -

The incident occurred just before 1300 GMT on Friday at the corner of the Ahlens department store and Drottninggatan, Stockholm's biggest pedestrian street.

"Police received a call from SOS Alarm that a person in a vehicle has injured other people on Drottninggatan," police wrote on Twitter.

Pictures showed a large blue truck with a mangled undercarriage smashed into the store.

Witnesses described scenes of panic and horror and authorities quickly sealed off the area.

Swedish authorities said they could not immediately provide a death toll or say how many people were injured but local media said two or three people had lost their lives in the attack.

"There are deaths, and many injured," Nina Odermalm Schei, a spokeswoman for Swedish intelligence agency Sapo, told AFP, providing no further details.

- Who was the attacker? -

Police on Friday released a grainy picture of a suspect captured on video surveillance cameras near the scene of the attack, but said they did not currently have him in custody.

"We do not have contact with the driver," national police chief Dan Eliasson told reporters.

The picture showed a man wearing a white sweater and dark hoodie under a military green jacket, with dark stubble on his face.

- Was it terrorism? -

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven described the incident as a "terror attack".

"Sweden has been attacked. Everything points to a terror attack," he said.

In 2010, another section of Drottninggatan was also the scene of Sweden's only other terror attack, when a suicide bomber blew himself up, slightly injuring several others.

Friday's attack in Stockholm followed a string of similar massacres in Europe by people using vehicles as weapons.

The deadliest came last year in France on the Bastille Day national holiday of July 14, when a man rammed a truck into a crowd in the Mediterranean resort of Nice, killing 86 people.

Last month, Khalid Masood, a 52-year-old convert to Islam known to British security services, drove a car at high speed into pedestrians on London's Westminster Bridge before launching a frenzied knife attack on a policeman guarding the parliament building.

The incident killed five people, while Masood himself was shot dead by police.

- How did authorities react? -

Helicopters could be heard hovering in the sky over central Stockholm and a large number of police cars and ambulances were dispatched to the scene.

The centre of the usually buzzing city was in lockdown, with the central train station evacuated and other stores quickly emptied of shoppers.

Police vans circulating in the city using loudspeakers urged people to go straight home and avoid large crowds.

The Stockholm metro was also completely shut down, with the attack taking place at the city's T-Centralen station, through which all the city's lines pass.

Large public buildings were evacuated and closed down, such as shopping malls and cinemas, while parliament was on lockdown for several hours. Armed guards patrolled outside the government offices.

- What was the reaction abroad? -

European politicians expressed solidarity, with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker saying the incident was an "attack on us all."

A spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: "Our thoughts go out to the people in Stockholm," adding: "We stand together against terror."

French President Francois Hollande voiced his "horror and indignation" over the assault.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said: "We hope that those responsible for the attack will be swiftly brought to justice".

Trump strikes Syria but no plan yet to oust Assad

Donald Trump’s cruise missile strike on a Syrian air base drags Washington deeper into the country’s tragedy but does not yet represent a new strategy to oust Bashar al-Assad.The new US president has been an outspoken opponent of US military interventi…

Donald Trump's cruise missile strike on a Syrian air base drags Washington deeper into the country's tragedy but does not yet represent a new strategy to oust Bashar al-Assad.

The new US president has been an outspoken opponent of US military intervention in Middle East conflicts and until this week, his administration had insisted that removing the Syrian strongman was not a priority.

But Assad's alleged use of a banned nerve agent to massacre scores of civilians moved Trump to act, which in turn gave hope to those who have long hoped that the United States would help depose him.

They may well be disappointed. Trump's cautious chief diplomat, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, was quick to pour cold water on the idea that the cruise missile salvo heralded a change in strategy.

"I would not in any way attempt to extrapolate that to a change in our policy or our posture relative to our military activities in Syria today. There's been no change in that status," Tillerson said.

- Regime overthrow -

James Jeffrey, who held senior national security positions under former president George W. Bush and advised Tillerson when the secretary was head of oil giant ExxonMobil, does not see a change in tack.

"I think the administration clearly is in a different place with Assad than it was a week ago, but I don't think its primary intent is to use military force to directly overthrow this regime," Jeffrey said.

But could the strike hasten Assad's fall by forcing him or his backers Russia and Iran to take the UN-mediated effort to negotiate a political solution to the civil war more seriously?

The idea is not new. Former US president Barack Obama famously backed away from a threat to punish Assad's chemical weapons use in 2013, agreeing instead to allow him to surrender his arsenal.

It now seems clear that the Syrian autocrat cheated on that deal and kept at least some of his banned nerve agents -- as well as carrying out frequent attacks with mixed-use substances like chlorine.

In June last year, dozens of dissident US diplomats signed a "dissent cable" protesting Obama's policy and urging "a judicious use of stand-off and air weapons" to get Assad's attention.

Then secretary of state John Kerry was loyal to Obama in public but has let it be known that he sympathized with the view of his colleagues, feeling US action might force Assad to the table.

Thursday night's cruise missile attack was exactly the kind of raid the diplomats wanted. So might Assad now see the UN peace track in Geneva as a way out of the conflict?

- Punishment strikes -

Observers say that even if Assad believes he can hang on without seriously engaging in the peace process, Russia may be running out of patience with him, especially after the latest atrocity.

Andrew Tabler, a veteran regional expert who founded Syria's first English-language news magazine and is now a fellow of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, thinks so.

"In a way the strikes are not necessarily a bad thing for Russia," he told reporters. "Russia's had a very hard time getting president Assad to come to the negotiating table in any kind of meaningful way."

If Washington remains prepared to punish any further chemical strikes -- "and I think under this administration that is within the realm of the possible" -- Assad may back down.

"How you get there, though, is the real question," Tabler added, suggesting that Tillerson's planned trip to Moscow next week could be key to turning the strikes into a strategy.

Russia has accused Washington of violating international law by attacking Assad's air base, but US officials argue they are covered by a 2013 UN Security Council resolution.

Under UNSCR 2118, passed in September 2013, Assad agreed to surrender his declared stockpile of chemical arms and to abide by the international convention banning their use.

"The question is: Can you get Assad off of this course where he thinks that the only solution to the war is a military solution, that there is a political solution?" Tabler said.

"I think you can, but I think it's going to take a strategy that has to include the likelihood that the regime could use strategic weapons again in the future and that an international response would have to be looming."

Any new strategy, just like Obama's before it, will need Russia's support -- reluctant or otherwise -- and the key to that may be Tillerson's Moscow talks with President Vladimir Putin next week.

"If the Russians don't cancel the visit, and I hope they don't, that will be a sign that they're willing to live with this strike," Jeffrey suggested.

France sweep Britain aside in Davis Cup opener

Lucas Pouille and Jeremy Chardy moved France to the verge of the Davis Cup semi-finals on Friday with straight sets wins against a British team missing injured world number one Andy Murray.Pouille gave hosts France a winning start in the quarter-final …

Lucas Pouille and Jeremy Chardy moved France to the verge of the Davis Cup semi-finals on Friday with straight sets wins against a British team missing injured world number one Andy Murray.

Pouille gave hosts France a winning start in the quarter-final with a 7-5, 7-6 (8/6), 6-3 victory over Kyle Edmund.

Chardy then eased past Dan Evans, playing on clay for the first time in three years, 6-2, 6-3, 6-3.

Edmund, drafted into the singles line-up after the withdrawal of Murray with an elbow injury, was made to pay for letting slip a 5/2 lead in the second-set tiebreak.

Pouille, the world number 17 and his team's top singles player in the absence of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gael Monfils, swept the breaker before dominating the deciding set.

France can wrap up the tie on Saturday when Nicolas Mahut and Julien Benneteau face Jamie Murray and Dominic Inglot in the doubles.

The winners of the tie will face either Serbia or Spain in the semi-finals.

India take 2-0 lead against Uzbekistan in Davis Cup

India took a 2-0 lead against Uzbekistan on the opening day of the Davis Cup Asia/Oceania Group I tie on Friday.India’s Ramkumar Ramanathan and Prajnesh Gunneswaran clinched back-to-back victories for their country against the Uzbeks in the singles rub…

India took a 2-0 lead against Uzbekistan on the opening day of the Davis Cup Asia/Oceania Group I tie on Friday.

India's Ramkumar Ramanathan and Prajnesh Gunneswaran clinched back-to-back victories for their country against the Uzbeks in the singles rubbers played in Bangalore.

Ramanathan, ranked 267, beat Temur Ismailov 6-2, 5-7, 6-2, 7-5 in the first rubber that lasted two hours, 24 minutes.

The Uzbek suffered cramps in his right leg in the third set, helping Ramanathan score easy points against the visitor, who took a medical timeout before losing the set with two unforced errors.

In the second rubber, debutant Gunneswaran, ranked 187, defeated Sanjar Fayziev 7-5, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Fayziev was playing in the place of Denis Istomin, who pulled out of the second round tie due to a foot injury.

India's Rohan Bopanna and Sriram Balaji will play Uzbeks Sanjar Fayziev and Farrukh Dustov in the first doubles rubber on Saturday.

The winner of the tie will qualify for the World Group play-offs, to be played in September.

Former Russian coach Melnikov given life ban

The former senior coach of the Russian national athletics team, Alexei Melnikov, has been handed a lifetime ban for breaching rules on doping, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) announced on Friday.Melnikov was cited in last year’s McLaren report…

The former senior coach of the Russian national athletics team, Alexei Melnikov, has been handed a lifetime ban for breaching rules on doping, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) announced on Friday.

Melnikov was cited in last year's McLaren report into state-sponsored doping in Russian athletics, with the authors calling for him to be suspended for life. Fellow coach Vladimir Kazarin was also banned for life.

However, Russian middle distance runner Ekaterina Poistogova -- who came third in the 800m at the London 2012 Olympics -- escaped the life ban demanded by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

CAS instead slapped her with a two-year ban back-dated to August 2015 and ordered her to be disqualified from all events in which she competed in the preceding 10 months.

Stanislav Emelyanov, the race walker, was given a ban of eight years after being found guilty of a second anti-doping offence.

Five Russian race walkers had already been suspended for four years last October, including Mikhail Ryzhov, a silver medallist over 50km at the 2013 world championships.

FIFA poised to seal Qatar Airways deal

FIFA could seal a major partnership deal with Qatar Airways within weeks, a source said on Friday, the same day football’s corruption-tainted world body announced a $369 million loss.”We hope to confirm it in the next few months, perhaps before the con…

FIFA could seal a major partnership deal with Qatar Airways within weeks, a source said on Friday, the same day football's corruption-tainted world body announced a $369 million loss.

"We hope to confirm it in the next few months, perhaps before the congress in Bahrain (May 10-11)," the source close to FIFA said in Zurich.

The contract between FIFA and Qatar Airways was negotiated and concluded in the era of disgraced former FIFA president Sepp Blatter after the 2022 World Cup was awarded to Qatar, said a source.

However, it has not been formalised yet.

FIFA has been struggling to find major new sponsors since corruption scandals that ousted Blatter and dozens of other football officials erupted in 2015.

Sony and the airline Emirates quit as top-level sponsors after the 2014 World Cup and were not immediately replaced.

In announcing the hefty financial loss for 2016 on Friday, FIFA acknowledged it had spent a huge chunk of its reserves in the past year.

Sympathy for Sweden after Stockholm attack

International leaders united in sympathy and condemnation on Friday after a man ploughed a truck through a crowd into the front of a department store in central Stockholm.Police said there were “deaths” and many wounded in the attack, without giving pr…

International leaders united in sympathy and condemnation on Friday after a man ploughed a truck through a crowd into the front of a department store in central Stockholm.

Police said there were "deaths" and many wounded in the attack, without giving precise figures, while Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said "everything pointed" to it being a terror attack.

- Germany -

Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman said Germany stood "together against terror" with Sweden, and offered sympathy for those involved in the attack.

- Russia -

"In our country, we are well familiar with the crimes of international terrorism. At this difficult time, Russians weep with the Swedish people," President Vladimir Putin said in a statement.

- United Nations -

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres condemned the attack and voiced sympathy for the victims' families.

"We hope that those responsible for the attack will be swiftly brought to justice," he said.

- European Union -

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the attack was a blow struck against all EU countries.

"An attack on any of our member states is an attack on us all," Juncker said in a message of condolences to the victims, adding the aim appeared to strike at "our very way of life."

Antonio Tajani, the head of the European Parliament, said on Twitter that he was "shocked by the terrible news from Stockholm."

- France -

President Francois Hollande expressed his "horror and indignation" at the attack.

"France expresses its sympathy and solidarity with the families of the victims and all Swedes," he said.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo announced on Twitter that the Eiffel Tower, which is normally illuminated, would go dark for a minute at midnight in honour of the victims of the attack.

- Netherlands -

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte called the attack "terrible news" and said he had conveyed his country?s condolences to his Swedish counterpart.

"Our thoughts go out to the victims and survivors," he said in a message on his Twitter account. "NL stands ready to help where needed."

- Hungary -

The foreign ministry in Budapest condemned the attack in a statement to AFP, saying that "the Swedish people can count on Hungary in the fight against terrorism."

"It is unthinkable that innocent people are walking in a city centre street, and then suddenly they are the victim of a brutal attack. We condemn this appalling act," the statement said.

18 hurt as train ploughs into lorry in Poland

A train crashed into a lorry at a level crossing in Poland on Friday, injuring 18 passengers, seven seriously.The injured were airlifted to hospitals, Pawel Fratczak, a spokesman for Polish national firefighters, told AFP.”The train was carrying betwee…

A train crashed into a lorry at a level crossing in Poland on Friday, injuring 18 passengers, seven seriously.

The injured were airlifted to hospitals, Pawel Fratczak, a spokesman for Polish national firefighters, told AFP.

"The train was carrying between 250 and 300 passengers. One of the carriages derailed," he said, adding that an investigation was underway to establish the cause of the crash.

The accident occurred on Friday afternoon at a level crossing near the town of Ozimek, in southwest Poland.

Fratczak said that the lorry driver was not injured in the accident.

But pictures in local media show his truck was completely wrecked.

Trainer Tizzard completes 4,334/1 Aintree treble

Trainer Colin Tizzard saddled three winners on the second day of the Grand National meeting at Aintree on Friday as he completed a spectacular 4,334/1 treble.

Cheltenham Gold-Cup winning jockey Robbie Power was aboard the Tizzard-trained Pingshou as it won the Top Novices Hurdle at odds of 16/1.

The same jockey and trainer combination were involved as Fox Norton, a 4/1 chance, triumphed in the Melling Chase.

Tizzard, who is based in Sherborne, southwest England, had his third winner Friday when teenager Harry Cobden rode 50/1 shot Ultragold to victory in the Topham Chase.

The Topham features some of the extra-large fences used in Saturday’s Grand National — Britain’s best-known steeplechase horse race and a gambling bonanza, with Ladbrokes, one of the UK’s major bookmakers, forecasting £250 million ($310 million, 292 million euros) will be wagered on this year’s edition alone.

Cobden’s victory was a huge boost for the 18-year-old, coming just a day before he rides Just A Par, another 50/1 chance, in the Grand National for leading trainer Paul Nicholls.

“That was my first spin over the (National) fences. Unbelievable,” Cobden told the BBC after riding Ultragold to victory.

“That was his first run over them too and he was back off his winning mark — I actually fancied him.

“He was very clever, dancing over ditches. There was a bit of carnage at Canal Turn but he knew what to do.”

Both Liam Treadwell and Daryl Jacob suffered falls in the Topham and the two jockeys, along with top lady rider Katie Walsh, who was injured on Thursday’s first day of the Aintree meeting, will need to be passed fit by the course doctor on Saturday before they can take up their scheduled Grand National rides.

Treadwell, who won the National on Mon Mome for Venetia Williams in 2009, is due to ride another od the trainer’s horses in Tenor Nivernais.

Jacob is due to be abord Ucello Conti for Gordon Elliott, with Walsh down to ride Wonderful Charm for Nicholls.

Trainer Colin Tizzard saddled three winners on the second day of the Grand National meeting at Aintree on Friday as he completed a spectacular 4,334/1 treble.

Cheltenham Gold-Cup winning jockey Robbie Power was aboard the Tizzard-trained Pingshou as it won the Top Novices Hurdle at odds of 16/1.

The same jockey and trainer combination were involved as Fox Norton, a 4/1 chance, triumphed in the Melling Chase.

Tizzard, who is based in Sherborne, southwest England, had his third winner Friday when teenager Harry Cobden rode 50/1 shot Ultragold to victory in the Topham Chase.

The Topham features some of the extra-large fences used in Saturday's Grand National -- Britain's best-known steeplechase horse race and a gambling bonanza, with Ladbrokes, one of the UK's major bookmakers, forecasting £250 million ($310 million, 292 million euros) will be wagered on this year's edition alone.

Cobden's victory was a huge boost for the 18-year-old, coming just a day before he rides Just A Par, another 50/1 chance, in the Grand National for leading trainer Paul Nicholls.

"That was my first spin over the (National) fences. Unbelievable," Cobden told the BBC after riding Ultragold to victory.

"That was his first run over them too and he was back off his winning mark -- I actually fancied him.

"He was very clever, dancing over ditches. There was a bit of carnage at Canal Turn but he knew what to do."

Both Liam Treadwell and Daryl Jacob suffered falls in the Topham and the two jockeys, along with top lady rider Katie Walsh, who was injured on Thursday's first day of the Aintree meeting, will need to be passed fit by the course doctor on Saturday before they can take up their scheduled Grand National rides.

Treadwell, who won the National on Mon Mome for Venetia Williams in 2009, is due to ride another od the trainer's horses in Tenor Nivernais.

Jacob is due to be abord Ucello Conti for Gordon Elliott, with Walsh down to ride Wonderful Charm for Nicholls.

Willett blows up on first hole, could miss Masters cut

Reigning Masters champion Danny Willett scored a quadruple bogey on the treacherous first hole on Friday at the Masters and could be heading home after just two rounds.Willett, who won the 2016 Masters with a bogey-free final round of 67 at Augusta Nat…

Reigning Masters champion Danny Willett scored a quadruple bogey on the treacherous first hole on Friday at the Masters and could be heading home after just two rounds.

Willett, who won the 2016 Masters with a bogey-free final round of 67 at Augusta National, fired his tee shot onto the lip of a fairway bunker at the deceptively simple slight dog-leg hole.

His troubles continued when he fired into the rough on his approach shot and nearly tumbled into the bunker as he lost his balance.

Before finally sinking his putt, the 29-year-old Englishman added to his woes by overshooting the green which is notoriously tough to putt and described as "really challenging" by former Masters champion Adam Scott of Australia.

Willet was six shots over par after 13 holes of the second round while the projected cut line stood at five-over -- which could mean Willett will be the first defending champion since Canadian Mike Weir in 2004 to miss the Masters cut.

Baghdatis’s Davis Cup 14-year, 36-win streak ends

Marcos Baghdatis’s record-breaking run of 36 consecutive Davis Cup wins, which stretched back 14 years, was ended on Friday when the Cypriot veteran lost to Tunisia’s Moez Echargui.Baghdatis, the 31-year-old world number 56, had passed the previous bes…

Marcos Baghdatis's record-breaking run of 36 consecutive Davis Cup wins, which stretched back 14 years, was ended on Friday when the Cypriot veteran lost to Tunisia's Moez Echargui.

Baghdatis, the 31-year-old world number 56, had passed the previous best in the competition of 33 wins in a row, held by Swedish legend Bjorn Borg, in March 2016.

But his luck ran out on Friday when he lost 7-5, 7-6 (7/2,), 4-6, 4-6, 6-1 to Echargui in a Europe/Africa zone play-off match in Nicosia.

Baghdatis's last Davis Cup loss was in 2003 against Irakli Labadze of Georgia.

NBA to set up worldwide basketball schools

The NBA is to open a worldwide network of basketball schools aimed at unearthing talent from across the globe, the league announced on Friday. The first NBA Basketball School was launched in Mumbai on Friday, open to male and female players aged betwee…

The NBA is to open a worldwide network of basketball schools aimed at unearthing talent from across the globe, the league announced on Friday.

The first NBA Basketball School was launched in Mumbai on Friday, open to male and female players aged between six and 18, an NBA statement said.

Basketball officials said the new schools would complement existing NBA development initiatives, and would offer year-long tuition-based programs.

"Our goal is to inspire more young male and female players to learn the game under the guidance of established coaches with proven training techniques," said NBA vice president Brooks Meek.

The Mumbai school is the first of several planned for India and other locations around the world.

Top players at each school would be offered the chance to advance to NBA Academies, a statement said.

"The NBA Basketball School builds an additional track between the Junior NBA and NBA Academies with the goal of increasing the pool of players who have the talent to attend our academies around the world," Meek added.

Turkey ‘welcomes’ US attack on Syria but believes it’s ‘not enough’ – Erdogan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he welcomes the US strike on Syria, but believes it isn’t sufficient. He has also called for a no-fly zone to be set up over Syria. Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he welcomes the US strike on Syria, but believes it isn't sufficient. He has also called for a no-fly zone to be set up over Syria.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Cyprus amends controversial bill on decades-old vote

Greek Cypriot lawmakers voted Friday to overturn a controversial bill calling on schools to mark a decades-old vote on union with Greece, after peace talks with Turkish Cypriots broke down over the law.UN-backed negotiations aimed at reuniting the divi…

Greek Cypriot lawmakers voted Friday to overturn a controversial bill calling on schools to mark a decades-old vote on union with Greece, after peace talks with Turkish Cypriots broke down over the law.

UN-backed negotiations aimed at reuniting the divided island came to a standstill in February in a row over Greek Cypriot schools marking the anniversary of the unofficial 1950 referendum supporting "Enosis", or union with Greece.

Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci told his Greek Cypriot counterpart Nicos Anastasiades this week that he was ready to restart the talks provided the Enosis bill was revoked.

Akinci welcomed Friday's decision to amend the bill, and confirmed he would be taking part in the talks from Tuesday.

"In the talks that start on April 11, we must make a new start and work to create a new structure for a lasting peace on our island," he said.

"We do not have much time. We are at a crossroads. I hope that all the interested parties will take this into account."

Following a heated parliamentary debate, an amended bill was passed on Friday by 30 votes to 20.

The bill was put forward by Anastasiades's ruling conservative Disy party and backed by the opposition communist Akel.

In the original vote, Disy MPs abstained, allowing the bill to pass after it was proposed by the far-right Elam.

A few dozen Elam supporters demonstrated outside parliament on Friday urging lawmakers not to back down with a banner saying "Disy-Akel are murdering history".

Akinci and Anastasiades have been engaged in fragile peace talks since May 2015 that observers saw as the best chance in years to reunify the island.

Since the bill passed, a climate of trust between the sides has deteriorated, with each blaming the other for the deadlock.

Much of the progress in recent talks was based on the strong personal rapport between the two leaders.

The eastern Mediterranean island has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded its northern third in response to an Athens-inspired coup seeking Enosis.

After a failed referendum on a UN peace plan in 2004, the Cyprus republic now headed by Anastasiades joined the European Union with the island still divided.

The breakaway state in the Turkish-held north headed by Akinci is recognised only by Turkey.

After US strikes, Syria attack victims dream of Assad ouster

Emerging dazed but well after three days of treatment in Turkey following the suspected chemical attack in Syria, Ahmad Raheel says he is happy with US air strikes targeting the regime.His one hope now is to see Syrian President Bashar al-Assad ousted….

Emerging dazed but well after three days of treatment in Turkey following the suspected chemical attack in Syria, Ahmad Raheel says he is happy with US air strikes targeting the regime.

His one hope now is to see Syrian President Bashar al-Assad ousted.

"We are happy. I hope that they will rid us of Bashar al-Assad," he told AFP outside the hospital in the Turkish border town of Reyhanli.

"I hope that the war will come to an end in Syria."

At least 86 people including 27 children were killed early Tuesday in Khan Sheikhun and dozens more were being treated after they were found convulsing and foaming at the mouth.

Around 60 injured Syrians were brought to southern Turkey for medical treatment in the wake of the attack in Idlib province in rebel-held northwestern Syria.

The wounded were taken from Idlib through Turkey's Cilvegozu border gate for treatment in the town of Reyhanli just north of the Syrian border.

Three of the victims died in hospital and the Turkish health ministry on Thursday said initial analysis suggested they were exposed to the deadly nerve agent sarin.

- 'We fainted'-

Around 20 wounded were discharged on Friday before returning to Syria.

Samer Mohamad, 35, another victim of the attack sitting on the front row of a bus transporting the survivors back, said he lost consciousness at the time of the attack and when he opened his eyes, he found himself in Turkey.

"We were in Khan Sheikun and we were targeted by chemical weapons. The planes hit us with chemical substances, we fainted and did not know what was going on," he said.

"After the chemical attack, we were completely unaware of what was going on.

"I was asleep and all of sudden a plane launched an attack, people started saying 'that was a chemical attack'," he added.

"We went out of the house and started vomiting and then we fainted. When we woke up we found ourselves in Turkey."

Looking somber, Mohamad still looked shocked, as he showed burn marks on his arms.

Too tired to even speak, he struggled to find the words when asked about the US air strikes. "I don't know what to say," he said.

The United States' missile strike on a Syrian regime airbase, welcomed by Ankara as a "positive" action, came in retaliation for the suspected chemical attack, the first such action by Washington in Syria's six-year civil war.

- 'Hospital quarantined'-

The bleak mood on the bus contrasted with the pictures on the seat covers on the vehicle hired from a Turkish tourism firm -- a desert island with a palm tree and a figure enjoying the sun.

Some women in the bus disguised their faces from the camera and one woman was seen weeping but refused to speak.

"All the injured have been discharged," a doctor, who asked not to be named, told AFP as he accompanied the wounded into the bus.

"They want to see their families, their kids. They've recovered and they're leaving now," he said.

Another injured Syrian who was discharged and gave his name as Faysal angrily blamed the United States for what happened in Syria, expressing impatience with the media coverage.

"Rid us of Russia and Bashar and everything will be fine. What counts for us is not to be filmed but to get rid of Bashar," he told AFP.

"Nobody in the world has gone through what we are going through," he said.

"All the time planes are hovering over us. Planes and explosions; and images of Bashar on the TV. This is all America's mistake."

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has squarely put the blame on "murderer" Assad over the attack while the Damascus regime has denied any involvement.

IOC to decide on Lima for 2024 vote on Wednesday

Lima’s fate as the location for a meeting that will choose the 2024 Olympic Games hosts is expected to be decided on Wednesday, an International Olympic Committee (IOC) source said.The IOC had looked set to decide on Friday whether to keep the flood-hi…

Lima's fate as the location for a meeting that will choose the 2024 Olympic Games hosts is expected to be decided on Wednesday, an International Olympic Committee (IOC) source said.

The IOC had looked set to decide on Friday whether to keep the flood-hit Peruvian capital for September's vote, but a conference call of the IOC Executive Board was cancelled, the source told AFP, not giving a reason.

"However, a decision is now expected on Wednesday," the source added, saying that possible alternatives to Lima were Doha, Abu Dhabi or Dubai.

Paris and Los Angeles are vying for the right to host the 2024 Games.

Flash floods and landslides hit parts of Lima last month and with the difficulties faced by Peruvian authorities the crucial IOC congress on September 13 to decide the winner "seems very threatened", another IOC source said on Thursday.

In its decision over Lima the IOC will take into account the report of Spanish Olympic Committee president Alejandro Blanco, who carried out an evaluation with local authorities in Peru.

But several other IOC sources believe that the 130th IOC session in Lima may not go ahead because of problems between Peru's national Olympic committee and the government as well as organisational hold-ups and the fallout from the recent floods.

Peru's Olympic committee chief Jose Quinones was banned from holding any public post for five years in 2016 because of irregularities in accounts he controlled.

Gorsuch confirmed to US Supreme Court after lengthy stand-off

The US Senate on Friday confirmed Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, ending a bruising year-long political battle and presenting President Donald Trump with a welcome victory.

The US Senate on Friday confirmed Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, ending a bruising year-long political battle and presenting President Donald Trump with a welcome victory.

Garcia makes his charge at Masters leader Hoffman

Spain’s Sergio Garcia, seeking his first major golf title, charged within two strokes of fading US leader Charley Hoffman in Friday’s second round of the Masters.Garcia, making his 74th major start and 19th Masters appearance, opened with three consecu…

Spain's Sergio Garcia, seeking his first major golf title, charged within two strokes of fading US leader Charley Hoffman in Friday's second round of the Masters.

Garcia, making his 74th major start and 19th Masters appearance, opened with three consecutive birdies at breezy Augusta National, then followed a bogey at the fourth with four pars.

The Spaniard was the only player in the first 22 groups Friday to birdie the opening hole, sinking a tricky 10-footer, then reached the second green in two shots to set up a two-putt bogey and dropped another long birdie putt at the third before his lone early setback, a bogey that came after he missed the green off the tee at the par-3 fourth.

The 37-year-old Spaniard, a four-time major runner-up whose best Masters showing was a share of fourth in 2004, was on three-under for the tournament as 18-hole leader Hoffman began to wither over the wind-swept 7,435-yard layout.

Hoffman, who fired a seven-under par 65 in Thursday's opening round, birdied the par-5 second but stumbled with three consecutive bogeys starting at the par-3 six to watch his lead dwindle before closing the front nine with a par.

American William McGirt, who teed off in the opening group, owned the clubhouse lead at two-under par 142 for 36 holes after a second-round 73, suffering a bogey at the last hole.

Syria & Iraq: Anatomy of a 21st century conflict

The US missile strike on the Shayrat airbase in Syria, a response to an alleged gas attack by Syrian government forces, may prove a landmark escalation reminiscent of that which led to the Iraq War of 2003. Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview The US missile strike on the Shayrat airbase in Syria, a response to an alleged gas attack by Syrian government forces, may prove a landmark escalation reminiscent of that which led to the Iraq War of 2003.
Read Full Article at RT.com

US afraid of real investigation into Syria chemical incident – Russian deputy UN envoy

Preview The US missile strike in Syria “only facilitated the strengthening of terrorism,” Russia’s representative at the UN Security Council has said, adding that it shows Washington is “afraid” of a “real investigation” into an alleged chemical attack in Syria.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview The US missile strike in Syria “only facilitated the strengthening of terrorism,” Russia’s representative at the UN Security Council has said, adding that it shows Washington is “afraid” of a “real investigation” into an alleged chemical attack in Syria.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Gorsuch confirmed to US Supreme Court, ending lengthy fight

The US Senate on Friday confirmed Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, ending a bruising year-long political battle and presenting President Donald Trump with a welcome victory.Republicans and a handful of Democrats got the federal judge from Colorado ac…

The US Senate on Friday confirmed Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, ending a bruising year-long political battle and presenting President Donald Trump with a welcome victory.

Republicans and a handful of Democrats got the federal judge from Colorado across the finish line with a 54-45 vote, one day after opposition Democrats launched a historic blockade of the nominee.

Senate Republican leaders countered with the so-called "nuclear option," a maneuver that changed the chamber's rules so that moving Gorsuch -- and all subsequent Supreme Court nominees -- ahead for a final vote requires a simple majority of 51 votes, rather than the traditional 60 votes.

"Today is a new day," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said just before the vote, seeking to put a positive stamp on what has been a contentious congressional process for Trump's new administration.

Gorsuch is "going to make an incredible addition to the court," McConnell said. "He's going to make the American people proud."

Gorsuch, 49, has been hailed by Republicans as a worthy successor to conservative justice Antonia Scalia, who died in February 2016 as the presidential race was gaining steam.

Then-president Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland as Scalia's replacement, but McConnell balked, arguing that since it was an election year, the next president should pick the nominee.

The nine-justice court has had one seat on the bench empty for more than a year amid the ensuing political battle, with Democrats and Republicans sliding into bitter attacks and accusations of blame.

The White House has said it expects Gorsuch to be sworn in as early as Monday.

New documentary on Egypt’s Jon Stewart follows Arab Spring turmoil

Not long ago, the Egyptian heart surgeon-turned-comedian Bassem Youssef was hosting the most popular political satire television show in his country’s history.Launched after the 2011 uprising ousted former president Hosni Mubarak from power, the ground…

Not long ago, the Egyptian heart surgeon-turned-comedian Bassem Youssef was hosting the most popular political satire television show in his country's history.

Launched after the 2011 uprising ousted former president Hosni Mubarak from power, the groundbreaking "Al Bernameg" (The Show) drew as many as 30 million viewers per episode in a country of 82 million people -- until it folded and Youssef left the country.

Now his story is chronicled in a documentary titled "Tickling Giants," which premieres on Friday in Los Angeles. He also has a new memoir out called "Revolution for Dummies."

Dubbed Egypt's Jon Stewart, Youssef ignored all the rules governing the state-controlled media, lampooning politicians from across the spectrum and providing a much-needed dose of humor as the country was undergoing massive political turmoil.

But his mockery proved too much for the country's new rulers -- first the Muslim Brotherhood-led regime of Mohamed Morsi, elected president after Mubarak's downfall, and then the current president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who ousted Morsi.

After "El Bernameg" folded in 2014, Youssef left Egypt with his family, first heading to Dubai before settling in Los Angeles.

"There are many people, especially Egyptians, who will watch this movie and they will consider it... a story of a very important period of history for them," the exiled 43-year-old comedian told AFP in an interview.

He praised the film's director Sara Taksler -- a longtime producer on "The Daily Show," formerly hosted by Youssef's idol Jon Stewart -- for managing to use comedy and satire to capture the upheaval of the Arab Spring in Egypt and explaining it to Western audiences without lecturing.

"Most importantly, this is a human story."

- Adjusting to America -

Despite the silencing of his show, Youssef takes pride in knowing that "Al Bernameg" helped spur debate, offering a conduit through which viewers expressed their frustrations with the political system.

"The show gave people a motivation to speak their mind through comic memes, funny sketches on YouTube or on the internet, so people kind of found their voice," he says.

"I think we have opened the door to many people to come forward and do something that was not even imaginable before."

As for his new life, Youssef acknowledges that it has been difficult to adjust, especially because his arrival in the United States coincided with one of the most acrimonious presidential campaigns ever.

"You have all these jokes about me leaving a dictator for someone who is trying to become one," he said, referring to US President Donald Trump.

"But however horrible Trump is, you still have faith in the institutions that can actually hold him back."

- An adventure -

Taksler says following Youssef for three years chronicling his story against the backdrop of the Arab Spring has given her a new sense of appreciation about the importance of free speech.

"When we were making 'Tickling Giants,' I couldn't imagine what it would be like to have a president who was so sensitive to jokes and now we have the tiniest taste of that," she said. "I can't imagine what Bassem's team felt like dealing with the repercussions."

Looking forward, Youssef says he is reviewing his options as he reinvents himself in America.

"This is a very tough market, it's Hollywood and there are people who are even more experienced than I am who are struggling," he said. "It's an adventure, it is something that is interesting and terrifying at the same time."

Still, he says he wouldn't trade the jokes for a return to heart surgery.

"If I hadn't embarked on this journey, I wouldn't be sitting here with a big poster with my face on it and a documentary about me," he said.

"All I did was crack jokes and I have more media attention than any heart surgeon in my field, which is a little bit unfair. But this is life."

Djokovic shrugs off injury with Davis Cup win

World number two Novak Djokovic shrugged off his recent elbow injury to give Serbia a winning start in their Davis Cup quarter-final against Spain on Friday with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 victory over Albert Ramos-Vinolas.Djokovic, who skipped the Miami Masters …

World number two Novak Djokovic shrugged off his recent elbow injury to give Serbia a winning start in their Davis Cup quarter-final against Spain on Friday with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 victory over Albert Ramos-Vinolas.

Djokovic, who skipped the Miami Masters because of the injury and came into the tie in Belgrade with just seven wins on the tour this year, wrapped up the rubber in style, dropping just one point on serve in the final set against his 24th-ranked opponent.

"I am satisfied with my game, especially with the serve," said Djokovic, who led Serbia to their only Davis Cup title in 2010.

"It worked well today and I won a lot of points off my first serve. At this level that's important."

Five-time winners Spain are without Rafael Nadal for the tie after the 14-time Grand Slam champion opted to stay at home to prepare for the clay court season.

In his absence world number 19 Pablo Carreno Busta will try to level the tie later Friday against Viktor Troicki, ranked at 39.

Valverde claims stage and overall Tour of Basque lead

In-form Spanish veteran Alejandro Valverde scorched into the overall lead by claiming the fifth stage of the Tour of the Basque country on Friday.Valverde, 36, claimed his sixth stage win of the season to go with overall victories in the Tour of Andalu…

In-form Spanish veteran Alejandro Valverde scorched into the overall lead by claiming the fifth stage of the Tour of the Basque country on Friday.

Valverde, 36, claimed his sixth stage win of the season to go with overall victories in the Tour of Andalucia and Tour of Catalonia by edging out France's Romain Bardet and Colombian Rigoberto Uran in a time of 3hrs 26mins 32secs over the 139.8km run from Bilbao to Eibar.

A 27.7km individual time-trial around Eibar will decide the winner in Saturday's final stage.

Victory means Valverde takes over the leader's yellow jersey, but he is tied with Bardet, Uran, Louis Meintjes and Michael Woods on the same time in the overall standings.

"We have a great opportunity, but whatever happens I will be happy," said Valverde.

"This year I have eight victories, two tours and now I'm leading in the Tour of the Basque country, so no matter how it goes I will be happy."

Four-time champion Alberto Contador was three seconds back in sixth on the day and in the overall standings.

Overnight leader David de la Cruz lost 22 seconds back in 10th to slip to ninth overall.

Swedish police question 2, seek third in connection with Stockholm truck attack

Preview Swedish police have released images of a man wanted in connection with Friday’s suspected terrorist attack in Stockholm in which a truck deliberately ran over pedestrians. Two people are currently being interviewed in relation to the attack.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview Swedish police have released images of a man wanted in connection with Friday’s suspected terrorist attack in Stockholm in which a truck deliberately ran over pedestrians. Two people are currently being interviewed in relation to the attack.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Syria was warned of US strike threat: military source

Syria’s armed forces were warned about the threat of American military action hours before the US strike on the Shayrat airbase on Friday, a military source said.”We learned of the American threat and the expected military bombardment on Syrian territo…

Syria's armed forces were warned about the threat of American military action hours before the US strike on the Shayrat airbase on Friday, a military source said.

"We learned of the American threat and the expected military bombardment on Syrian territory," the source told AFP.

"We took precautions in more than one military point, including in the Shayrat airbase. We moved a number of airplanes towards other areas," the official said, adding they were forewarned "hours" before the strike.

He did not specify where the planes had been moved to or who had warned the Syrian government.

American forces fired a barrage of 59 cruise missiles at Shayrat airbase in central Syria overnight -- the first time the US has carried out direct military action against President Bashar al-Assad's troops.

US officials said Russia's military in Syria had been informed of the strike beforehand in order to avoid casualties that could prompt a broader crisis.

The Kremlin confirmed it had been warned by the United States, but refused to say whether any Russian soldiers had to be evacuated from the base.

According to the Syrian military source, the strike put nine planes out of service, including several that were "totally destroyed".

It came in response to a suspected chemical attack on a rebel-held town on Tuesday widely blamed on the Damascus regime, which has repeatedly denied it has used toxic substances.

Instead, the Syrian government says, it struck a warehouse used by jihadist groups to store toxic substances.

DR Congo PM resigns under power-sharing deal with opposition

Congolese Prime Minister Samy Badibanga formally resigned on Friday, two days after President Joseph Kabila pledged to appoint a new prime minister under a stalled power-sharing agreement with the opposition.”The premier tendered his resignation to the…

Congolese Prime Minister Samy Badibanga formally resigned on Friday, two days after President Joseph Kabila pledged to appoint a new prime minister under a stalled power-sharing agreement with the opposition.

"The premier tendered his resignation to the president at 1:00 pm" (1200 GMT), a source in the prime minister's office told AFP. "The president took note of it and told him to handle all current business."

A cabinet spokesman confirmed Badibanga's resignation.

Kabila had announced in a speech Wednesday that he would name a new prime minister "within 48 hours" and urged the opposition "to overcome its internal squabbles" and hand him a list of candidates for the post of prime minister.

The appointment of a new premier is part of a deal brokered by the influential Catholic church on New Year's Eve, which aimed to avoid a full-blown crisis in the central African country after Kabila refused to step down when his second and final five-year term ended in December.

The agreement would allow Kabila, 45, to remain in office until elections in late 2017, ruling in tandem with a transitional watchdog and a new premier, to be chosen from within the opposition ranks.

The transitional watchdog was to have been headed by veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, who had gathered together an opposition coalition called "Rassemblement" (Unity), but died in early February.

Violence has flared across the central African country of 71 million people in recent months amid fears of a continued delay in this year's promised elections.

The country, which suffered through two wars between 1996 and 2003, has not had a democratic transition of power since its independence from Belgium in 1960.

Kendrick Lamar readies album with U2 credit

Grammy-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar is set to release a new album next week with rock veterans U2 on the credits.Lamar recently put out a song in which he boasted about himself and warned rival rappers: “You all got ’til April the 7th to get y’all shi…

Grammy-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar is set to release a new album next week with rock veterans U2 on the credits.

Lamar recently put out a song in which he boasted about himself and warned rival rappers: "You all got 'til April the 7th to get y'all shit together."

They will apparently have another week. Lamar did not release the album Friday as widely anticipated, instead unveiling pre-order information for the still-untitled 14-track work.

The album will come out on April 14 -- two days before Lamar headlines a night of Coachella, the major music festival in southern California.

The album's credits, made available upon pre-order, include U2 on track 11 -- with frontman Bono identified by his real name Paul Hewson.

The credits could indicate a fresh track with the Irish rockers, who are preparing a new album of their own, or indicate that Lamar sampled or took inspiration from an existing U2 song.

Other artists credited include the English singer James Blake, Canadian hip-hop instrumentalists BadBadNotGood and rap producers Top Dawg and 9th Wonder.

Lamar's last full-fledged studio album, 2015's "To Pimp a Butterfly," won wide acclaim for its lyrical reflections and musical experimentation, with its song "Alright" becoming an unofficial anthem of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Lamar last year unexpectedly released a companion album of demos from the recording sessions called "untitled unmastered."

UN chief urges restraint, council to meet on US strikes in Syria

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday urged restraint and a renewed push for peace in Syria as the Security Council called an emergency meeting to discuss the US missile strikes on a Syrian air base.”Mindful of the risk of escalation, I appea…

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday urged restraint and a renewed push for peace in Syria as the Security Council called an emergency meeting to discuss the US missile strikes on a Syrian air base.

"Mindful of the risk of escalation, I appeal for restraint to avoid any acts that could deepen the suffering of the Syrian people," Guterres said in a statement.

"These events underscore my belief that there is no other way to solve the conflict than through a political solution."

The Security Council was set to meet at 11:30 am (1530 GMT), at the request of Bolivia, to hear a briefing from UN political chief Jeffrey Feltman.

US Ambassador Nikki Haley, who holds the council presidency this month, said the discussion would be held in an open session despite Bolivia's request for a closed-door meeting.

"Any country that chooses to defend the atrocities of the Syrian regime will have to do so in full public view, for all the world to hear," Haley said in a statement.

Russia had also demanded an emergency meeting after angrily denouncing the military action as an "aggression against a sovereign state."

US President Donald Trump on Thursday ordered cruise missile strikes on a Syrian air base in response to a chemical weapons attack on a rebel-held town that killed 86 people and shocked the world.

The strike -- the first direct US action against President Bashar al-Assad and Trump's biggest military decision since taking office -- marked a dramatic escalation in American involvement in Syria's six-year war.

The Security Council failed during a meeting Thursday to agree on terms for an investigation of the suspected sarin gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhun.

Russia's Deputy Ambassador Vladimir Safronkov on Thursday warned of "negative consequences" from the US military action, which he described as a "doubtful, tragic enterprise."

"Look at Iraq, look at Libya," he said, referring to Western interventions that unleashed years of chaos in those countries.

Eighty-six people including at least 27 children died in the suspected attack in Khan Sheikhun. Results from post-mortems performed on victims point to exposure to the deadly sarin nerve agent, according to Turkish health officials.

Guterres called on the council to unite and agree on a way forward on Syria.

"For too long, international law has been ignored in the Syrian conflict, and it is our shared duty to uphold international standards of humanity," he said.

"This is a prerequisite to ending the unrelenting suffering of the people of Syria."

What Chelsea bust-up? We are ‘so polite’ – City boss Guardiola

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola shrugged off suggestions his “so polite” side were involved in a heated row with Chelsea’s stars following a 2-1 loss at Stamford Bridge.Tempers are said to have flared in the tunnel after Wednesday’s defeat that l…

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola shrugged off suggestions his "so polite" side were involved in a heated row with Chelsea's stars following a 2-1 loss at Stamford Bridge.

Tempers are said to have flared in the tunnel after Wednesday's defeat that left City 14 points off top spot when an insult in Italian was allegedly directed towards the visitors.

Staff and players from both sides were said to have been involved before calm was restored.

"The tunnel at Chelsea is so tight -- come on, it was nothing," Guardiola told media on Friday.

"We congratulate Chelsea for the victory, we are so polite in our defeats. And especially we are so polite when we win, especially that."

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte, speaking at a separate news conference, said he was unaware of any incident before adding: "The respect is always important. I think this is the most important thing in football.

"I think there is a winner and there is a loser and both must accept the final result and show respect."

Guardiola's much-anticipated first season in the Premier League has been a disappointment given the expectations that were heaped on his shoulders at the start of the campaign.

Defeat at Chelsea means the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss has lost six league games in a season for the first time as a manager.

City face Hull at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday without a win in four league games -- having also been knocked out of the Champions League by Monaco during that spell -- and now face a challenge to make sure they qualify for the Champions League.

They are fourth in the table, four points ahead of Arsenal and Manchester United, who both have a game in hand, with Guardiola's only chance of silverware this season now the FA Cup.

City face Arsenal in the semi-finals at Wembley on April 23.

"The situation is clear -- eight games left and we need to qualify for the top four and that is our target for the end of the season," said Guardiola.

"I was expecting from the beginning of the season to fight for the Premier League until the end. OK, we are a little bit disappointed, but I am quite happy with the way we made good things in this season."

Guardiola warned that Hull, rejuvenated under manager Marco Silva, will present a tough challenge as they bid to avoid relegation.

"I know him from the Champions League when he was a manager in Greece and I was at Bayern Munich," he said. "He's making an outstanding job, not only great results -- I like the way they play.

"Not just long balls, a lot of quality."

Russian military bases in Syria under ‘ensured’ air defense cover — MoD after US strike

Preview Russia’s S-400 and S-300 anti-missile complexes are among the systems providing protection for its military bases in Syria, the Defense Ministry said following Washington’s missile attack.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview Russia’s S-400 and S-300 anti-missile complexes are among the systems providing protection for its military bases in Syria, the Defense Ministry said following Washington’s missile attack.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Norway’s wealth fund calls for cap on executive pay

Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, the world’s largest, on Friday called for a cap on executive pay and fiscal transparency at the companies in which it invests, further buffing its reputation as an ethical investor.In every company, “the board should… …

Norway's sovereign wealth fund, the world's largest, on Friday called for a cap on executive pay and fiscal transparency at the companies in which it invests, further buffing its reputation as an ethical investor.

In every company, "the board should... disclose a ceiling for total remuneration for the coming year" for the chief executive, Norway's central bank, which manages the fund built on the country's oil revenues, said in a new policy document.

In an era of fat-cat salaries that have drawn widespread criticism, the stance is all the more significant given that the fund holds stakes in about 9,000 companies worldwide, representing 1.3 percent of the global market capitalisation.

With its weight, and its often-praised management requirements on ethics and transparency, the Scandinavian fund often sets the bar for investment funds worldwide.

The shift comes as challenging a company's remuneration policies has proven increasingly succesful.

Last year, BP chief executive Bob Dudley saw his overall pay cut by 40 percent after a rebellion by shareholders.

Volkswagen decided last month to cap salaries for members of its board of directors, a hot topic in Germany.

And on Sunday, under pressure from politicians and unions, six top executives at the Canadian engineering group Bombardier agreed to have their promised pay increase reduced by half.

- 'Say on pay' -

For many years, the Norwegian wealth fund had little to say about executive pay, but recently it has begun to play a more active role.

Last year, it voted against the executive pay policies at companies including Alphabet (the parent of Google), Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and Sanofi, according to The Financial Times.

"We are not in a position any longer as investors to say that this is an issue we are not going to have a view on," the fund's director, Yngve Slyngstad, told the newspaper, noting that the principle of "say on pay" was now spreading in a number of countries.

The fund's policy document said that in order to align a CEO's interests with those of shareholders, "a substantial proportion of total annual remuneration should be provided as shares that are locked in for at least five and preferably 10 years, regardless of resignation or retirement," and without any conditions based on a company's performance.

In another document published Friday, Norway's central bank also called on companies to implement fiscal transparency.

"Taxes should be paid where economic value is generated," it said, expressing clear opposition to so-called fiscal optimisation, where companies declare their profits in countries with lower taxes.

In Europe, giants like Apple, Starbucks and Fiat have in recent years been at odds with the European Commission over their fiscal opportunism, which is technically legal.

The Norwegian fund, worth around 7.87 trillion kroner (859 billion euros, $912 billion) at the end of March, grew by 298 billion kroner in the first quarter, its third-best quarterly performance in its 20-year history.

The fund invests in stocks, bonds and real estate.

The policies announced Friday are a signal it wants to set the bar for investor responsibility even higher.

Ethical rules already prohibit the fund from investing in companies accused of serious violations of human rights, the use of child labour or serious environmental damage, as well as in tobacco companies and manufacturers of "particularly inhumane" weapons.

And in line with a 2015 vote in Norway's parliament, the fund cannot invest in mining or energy companies where coal represents more than 30 percent of their business -- a somewhat paradoxical stance for a fund bankrolled by Norway's oil revenues.

Comeback king or washed-up? Damien Hirst’s new Venice show divides

Damien Hirst is back, and the art world does not know what to make of the latest grandiose exhibition from the crown prince of contemporary art.Open to the public from Sunday, “Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable,” plunges visitors into a fant…

Damien Hirst is back, and the art world does not know what to make of the latest grandiose exhibition from the crown prince of contemporary art.

Open to the public from Sunday, "Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable," plunges visitors into a fantasy universe raised from the depths of the Indian Ocean that has been ten years in the making.

And as ever with the 51-year-old Briton, famed for his stuffed sharks and the huge fortune he has amassed as the most commercially successful member of the Young British Artist (YBA) movement of the 1990s, it is nothing if not controversial.

Depending on which critic you listen to, the vast exhibition spread across the Palazzo Grassi and the Punta della Dogana halls of Venice's old customs house, the monumental new collection is either a spellbinding return to form, or a career-ending artistic shipwreck.

In the former camp is the Guardian's Jonathan Jones, who wrote that with the ensemble of more than 200 new pieces, "the arrogant, exciting, hilarious, mind-boggling imagination that made (Hirst) such a thrilling artist in the 1990s is audaciously and beautifully reborn."

Others were equivocal. "A fantasy too far?" asked Jan Dalley in The Financial Times, predicting that visitors would find Hirst's watery fantasy "either fascinating and enriching or pointless and annoying."

And some were damning. The London Times's Rachel Campbell-Johnston, a self-described Hirst aficionado, wrote: "This show is, quite frankly, absurd. It should be dumped at the bottom of the sea."

- Fake news -

The two-site exhibition asks visitors to buy into a back story about Hirst being alerted to a shipwreck discovered off eastern Africa in 2008 and organising the recovery of the treasures it contained.

It is these precious coral- and seaweed-encrusted artefacts from the hold of the "Apistos" (Unbelievable), that make up the exhibition.

The ship supposedly belonged to a former slave who amassed a fortune and spent it collecting artefacts across the ancient world: Egyptian sphinxes, Greek statues, and jewel-studded sculptures including a massive 18-metre-tall (60-foot) monster, along with many other gems.

As visitors make their way through the collection they can watch videos of divers carrying out the supposed salvage operation.

But there are many surprises along the way which will unsettle anyone who goes along with the shipwreck story.

From an Egyptian goddess who looks uncannily like Kate Moss to coral-encrusted fossils of Disney characters, it's all about the real and the false -- Or as many reviewers saw it, Hirst's take on the very contemporary issue of fake news.

- Riches -

"The visitor does not really know if the works she sees have spent 2,000 years at the bottom of the sea or if they are the work of the artist," said Martin Bethenod, director of the two venues, both of which are owned by the Foundation Pinault, owned by French fashion tycoon Francois Pinault, a noted collector of Hirst's work.

"There is this ambiguity which leaves space for dreams," Bethenod told AFPTV. "There are different levels of interpretation that overlap, which give the project its richness and complexity."

Hirst rose to fame as the leader of the YBA gang that dominated the British art scene in the 1990s.

He won the Turner Prize in 1995 and attracted a huge following that went well beyond the rarified confines of conceptual art.

His 2012 show at Tate Modern in London attracted a record 463,000 visitors at the time to see works including a diamond-encrusted human skull called "For The Love Of God".

He figures regularly on lists of Britain's wealthiest people, thanks partly to a 2008 auction at Sotheby's which saw him cut out the gallery middlemen to sell 223 new pieces for 111 million pounds (130 million euros or $138 million at current exchange rates).

That sale coincided with the start of the financial crisis which hit the contemporary art sector hard, and the value of Hirst's work has waned since.

That has led to much debate about whether collectors will show much enthusiasm for his latest collection.

All the pieces, some of which exist in three different forms, are to be sold after the exhibition ends on December 3.

The art world is already busy speculating how much money Hirst will have left after he has covered the huge costs of creating the works over the past decade and transporting them to Venice.

Immediate aftermath of Stockholm truck attack caught in dramatic footage (VIDEOS)

Dramatic video footage taken immediately after the truck attack in Stockholm on Friday shows the chaos as people run for their lives in the immediate aftermath.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview Dramatic video footage taken immediately after the truck attack in Stockholm on Friday shows the chaos as people run for their lives in the immediate aftermath.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Using vehicles as weapons

A truck was rammed into a crowd in central Stockholm on Friday, the Swedish intelligence agency Sapo said, killing and injuring an unknown number of people.Here are previous attacks of this kind:- London -On March 22, 2017, a 52-year-old British conver…

A truck was rammed into a crowd in central Stockholm on Friday, the Swedish intelligence agency Sapo said, killing and injuring an unknown number of people.

Here are previous attacks of this kind:

- London -

On March 22, 2017, a 52-year-old British convert to Islam, Khalid Masood, mowed down pedestrians on a bridge near parliament and stabbed a policeman, killing four people before he was shot dead by police.

The death in hospital of a fifth person, a Romanian woman who was knocked into the River Thames, was announced on Friday. The attack was claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group.

- Berlin -

On December 19, 2016, Tunisian national Anis Amri, 24, hijacked a truck and slammed into a crowd of people at a Christmas market in Berlin, killing 12 people.

Amri was shot dead by Italian police in Milan four days later after travelling through several European countries. The rampage was claimed by IS.

- Nice -

On July 14, 2016, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, a 31-year-old Tunisian, ploughed a 19-tonne truck into a Bastille Day crowd leaving a fireworks display in Nice on the Promenade des Anglais, killing 86 people on the famous beachfront street.

IS later claimed Bouhlel as one of its followers.

- Montreal -

On October 20, 2014, Muslim convert Martin Couture-Rouleau, 25, from Quebec, used his car to mow down two soldiers near Montreal, killing one of them. Couture-Rouleau was shot dead by police as he climbed out of his wrecked vehicle brandishing a knife.

EU clears Fox Sky buy-out unconditionally: statement

The European Commission on Friday cleared the multi-billion dollar buy-out bid for European pay-TV giant Sky by 21st Century Fox without conditions as the tie-up does not undercut competition.”Based on the results of its market investigation, the Commi…

The European Commission on Friday cleared the multi-billion dollar buy-out bid for European pay-TV giant Sky by 21st Century Fox without conditions as the tie-up does not undercut competition.

"Based on the results of its market investigation, the Commission concluded that the proposed transaction would raise no competition concerns," it said in a statement.

South Africans protest against Zuma as country downgraded to ‘junk’

Sporadic violence broke out in Johannesburg as more than 50,000 people marched in
South African cities to protest against President Jacob Zuma on Friday, demanding he quit after a cabinet reshuffle triggered the latest crisis of his presidency.

Sporadic violence broke out in Johannesburg as more than 50,000 people marched in South African cities to protest against President Jacob Zuma on Friday, demanding he quit after a cabinet reshuffle triggered the latest crisis of his presidency.

Google adds ‘fact check’ to global search results

Google is adding a fact-checking tag to search results globally, its latest initiative to help curb the spread of misinformation and “fake news,” the company said Friday.The new tags, to be used in all languages for users worldwide, will use third-part…

Google is adding a fact-checking tag to search results globally, its latest initiative to help curb the spread of misinformation and "fake news," the company said Friday.

The new tags, to be used in all languages for users worldwide, will use third-party fact-checkers to indicate whether news items are true, false or somewhere in-between.

"For the first time, when you conduct a search on Google that returns an authoritative result containing fact checks for one or more public claims, you will see that information clearly on the search results page," Google said in a blog post.

"The snippet will display information on the claim, who made the claim, and the fact check of that particular claim."

The information won't be available for every search result, and there may be conflicting conclusions in some cases, Google said in the blog post, from researcher Cong Yu and Justin Kosslyn of Google's sister company Jigsaw.

"These fact checks are not Google's and are presented so people can make more informed judgments," it said.

"Even though differing conclusions may be presented, we think it's still helpful for people to understand the degree of consensus around a particular claim and have clear information on which sources agree."

Google has worked with 115 fact-checking groups worldwide for the initiative, which began last year.

The move came a day after Facebook added a new tool in news feeds to help users determine whether shared stories are real or bogus.

Fake news became a serious issue in last year's US election campaign, when clearly fraudulent stories circulated on social media, potentially swaying some voters.

Concerns have been raised since then about hoaxes and misinformation affecting elections in Europe this year, with investigations showing how "click farms" generate revenue from online advertising using made-up news stories.

The moves by both firms aim to change the way news is ranked, diminishing the importance of how often a particular story is shared or clicked on.

FIFA announces record $369 million loss amid scandal fallout

World football’s governing body FIFA on Friday announced a record $369 million loss for 2016 as it paid for the fallout from multiple scandals and bad investments.FIFA blamed accounting changes as well as the cost of investigating the scandals for the …

World football's governing body FIFA on Friday announced a record $369 million loss for 2016 as it paid for the fallout from multiple scandals and bad investments.

FIFA blamed accounting changes as well as the cost of investigating the scandals for the loss but also warned that it expected a higher loss of $489 million for 2017 and admitted that it has had to spend hundreds of millions of dollars from its reserves in the past year.

D’Ambrosio re-signs with Europa-chasing Inter

Inter Milan’s international defender Danilo D’Ambrosio has signed a contract extension that will see him remain with the Serie A giants until 2021.”I’m very proud to be part of this family, I want to thank the club, the coach Stefano Pioli and above al…

Inter Milan's international defender Danilo D'Ambrosio has signed a contract extension that will see him remain with the Serie A giants until 2021.

"I'm very proud to be part of this family, I want to thank the club, the coach Stefano Pioli and above all my teammates," said 28-year-old D'Ambrosio, who has made 97 appearances since joining in January 2014 and recently earned a call-up to Gian Piero Ventura's Italy squad.

Inter are sixth in Serie A, two points behind Atalanta in fifth and the league's second Europa League spot before travelling to relegation-haunted Crotone on Sunday.

Having seen their Champions League qualifying hopes quashed by a shock 2-1 home defeat to Sampdoria last week, Pioli has called for a "determined response".

"It was a very disappointing defeat to Sampdoria but our season is far from over. I expect us to transform that disappointment into determination," Pioli told media on Friday.

A win would maintain Inter's hopes of returning to the European stage next season and also keep spirits high ahead of hosting AC Milan in the city derby on April 16.

With 56 goals Inter are the fourth highest scorers in the league behind Napoli (69), Roma (66) and Juventus (60). But with 33 conceded, Pioli said the holes in his side's defensive game must be plugged.

"We have a lot of top players but how we play off the ball is crucial. We're scoring a lot of goals but we're now conceding too many as well," he added.

"We looked at the mistakes we made last week but we definitely won't be distracted by next week's derby. Partly because of the international break, it's been a month since we've tasted victory.

"So it would be a big mistake to underestimate Sunday's game."

US strike in Syria not enough, further steps needed: Erdogan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday welcomed the US strike on an airbase of the Syrian regime but said it was not enough and more action was needed.”I want to say that I welcome this concrete step as positive,” Erdogan, a longtime foe of P…

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday welcomed the US strike on an airbase of the Syrian regime but said it was not enough and more action was needed.

"I want to say that I welcome this concrete step as positive," Erdogan, a longtime foe of President Bashar al-Assad, said in a rally in the southern city of Antakya just north of the Syrian border.

"Is it enough? I don't see this as enough... the time has come for steps for a serious result to protect the oppressed Syrian people," he added.

US President Donald Trump ordered the missile strike in retaliation for the suspected chemical weapons attack in the town of Khan Sheikhun in northwestern Syria's Idlib province that killed dozens and was blamed by many world leaders on Assad.

Erdogan reaffirmed his past calls that international community needed to impose a safe zone in northern Syria -- which Ankara has said should be backed by a no-fly zone -- to ensure security in the area.

"We again say how important it is for a terror-free safe zone to be created," he told thousands of supporters in the city.

He added: "I want to state something clearly: while children are being massacred in this world, no one has the right to feel themselves safe or in peace."

Hours before the military strike took place, Erdogan had called on Trump in a television interview to back up his harsher rhetoric against Assad with actions, telling his US counterpart "don't limit yourself to comments".

Erdogan's spokesman Ibrahim Kalin earlier said the strike against the Sharyat airbase in Homs, northern Syria, was "a positive response" to the "war crimes" of the regime of Assad.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu meanwhile said safe zones in Syria were "now important more than ever" and said Assad needed to be ousted from power.

"This regime should be ousted from leading Syria at once. The best way to do this is to start a transition process as soon as possible," said Cavusoglu.

"We need to establish a transition government."

There were protests outside the Russian and Iranian embassies in Ankara on Friday, with hundreds of demonstrators carrying 100 black coffins with images of children killed in Tuesday's attack in Idlib, an AFP photographer said.

The coffins had "murderer Assad" and "tyrant Putin" written on them.

Dozens of the victims were treated in Turkey and the Turkish health ministry on Thursday said initial analysis suggested victims were exposed to the deadly nerve agent sarin.

Eurozone head won’t quit over ‘drinks and women’ gaffe

Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem on Friday said he refused to step down over his comment that southern European countries blew their money on “drinks and women”.”Certainly not,” Dijsselbloem said in Malta when questioned whether he would resign over…

Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem on Friday said he refused to step down over his comment that southern European countries blew their money on "drinks and women".

"Certainly not," Dijsselbloem said in Malta when questioned whether he would resign over a controversy that has refused to die down.

Last month's gaffe by Dijsselbloem, who is also Dutch finance minister, and the resulting backlash exposed simmering north-south tensions within the European Union's single currency zone.

The flare-up has weakened Dijsselbloem, already reeling after his party lost heavily in last month's Dutch election, a result that puts his future as finance minister and Eurogroup chief in jeopardy.

Dijsselbloem, 51, holds one of Europe's most influential positions, chairing the meetings of finance ministers from the 19-country eurozone.

Dijsselbloem told reporters he "brought the issue up myself" at Friday's meeting in Malta, "saying that I regret that my choice of words has upset and insulted people because it was never my intention to insult people."

"No ministers took the floor after that... no one called for my resignation," he said.

In an interview with Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on March 20, Dijsselbloem said that while coming to the aid of eurozone partners was important, "I can't spend all my money on drinks and women and then ask for help."

The words caused an uproar in the southern European countries of Portugal, Greece and Cyprus that have all received eurozone bailouts in recent years, with Spain's banks also receiving support.

Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos, also in Malta, offered a vigorous defense of Dijsselbloem, who plays a leading role in Greece's massive bailout negotiations.

"I think when somebody says that he has hurt people and that he never intended to insult the people, people should be willing to draw a line on that," Tsakalotos said.

"He was honest... and I think that this issue should be finished," he said.

DRONE VIDEO of Syria missile strike aftermath released by Russian MoD

The Russian Ministry of Defense has released drone footage of Shayrat Airbase in Syria, showing the aftermath of a US missile strike which killed at least six people. Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview The Russian Ministry of Defense has released drone footage of Shayrat Airbase in Syria, showing the aftermath of a US missile strike which killed at least six people.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Truck rams pedestrians in central Stockholm attack

Several casualties have been reported after a truck rammed a crowd of pedestrians outside a busy department store in central Stockholm on Friday, in what local authorities are treating as a terrorist attack.

Several casualties have been reported after a truck rammed a crowd of pedestrians outside a busy department store in central Stockholm on Friday, in what local authorities are treating as a terrorist attack.

Healing the dark past in ETA-hit Renteria

Since ETA declared a ceasefire in 2011, Renteria has slowly been recovering from decades of upheaval marked by violent protests, murders and torture brought about by the conflict waged by the Basque separatist group.For some in this former industrial t…

Since ETA declared a ceasefire in 2011, Renteria has slowly been recovering from decades of upheaval marked by violent protests, murders and torture brought about by the conflict waged by the Basque separatist group.

For some in this former industrial town in northern Spain, that involves walking the streets without a bodyguard, others are savouring living without fear, while still more say they enjoy the sight of tourists in their once-restive home.

And while news that ETA may finally fully lay down its weapons on Saturday is welcome, many are looking beyond with a pressing question -- how do you heal the wounds of a town once torn by strife and hate?

"This city has known tumultuous periods," acknowledges Julen Mendoza, mayor of the 40,000-strong town.

Renteria was the scene of more than 20 ETA killings, ranging from taxi drivers to policemen and town councillors, according to a report by regional rights group Argituz.

The report also details the seven murders and other torture cases inflicted by "parapolice" groups, such as the so-called GAL death squads established illegally in the 1980s by officials of Spain's then Socialist government to counter ETA.

Interspersed throughout were fierce, sometimes violently repressed protests -- all of which bred resentment in a town, whose fervent nationalism and sense of Basque identity appears only to be matched by its deep suspicion of the central government.

- 'Too many funerals' -

"I was six-months pregnant with my daughter, and a policeman hit me in the gut, I had to go to hospital," remembers Lourdes Irizar Rezola, a 59-year-old cleaner, pointing to a corner in the town centre where the incident happened over 30 years ago.

Staunchly pro-independence, she was attending protests for the rights of people from the nationalist left who had been jailed.

And while acknowledging the violence wrought by ETA in its four-decades campaign of bombings and shootings for an independent Basque homeland that left 829 people dead, her most vivid memory is of police violence which, she says, marked protests.

A couple of streets away, Miguel Buen sits in an office above the bar at the headquarters of his Socialist party, in power when he became mayor of Renteria in 1987, a post he held for 18 years.

His story is one marked by threats by ETA, whose bloody battle put it on a collision course with the central government, be it Socialist or conservative.

"I've sadly had to attend too many funerals of colleagues and friends, and others I didn't know, of councillors from the (conservative) Popular Party, businessmen, people who were merely passing by," he says.

The headquarters where Buen now sits were attacked 28 times during the period of upheaval -- with the occasional Molotov cocktail thrown in.

The ground floor used to have automatic fire extinguishers and bars on the windows and door -- all of which have now been removed.

Things have changed for Buen too, who at 69 is now retired.

"For five years now I have been walking through the streets of my town, of any town in Euskadi (Basque Country) without bodyguards," he says.

"People don't harass me, many people who wouldn't greet me before now greet me."

- Conciliation meets tensions -

This apparent thaw in town relations may be down in part to mayor Julen Mendoza.

He hails from the far-left pro-independence EH Bildu coalition but has nevertheless managed to rally politicians of all sides behind him in an effort at conciliation.

In 2013, he organised a public event where, among others, people who had once been jailed for their links to ETA mixed with victims of the separatist group.

A tough, emotional exercise, it proved useful to change people's mentalities, and move them away from rancour, he says.

Still, despite these kinds of initiatives that are taking place across the Basque Country, the path ahead is fraught with difficulties.

A quick walk around the town reveals several posters hung on walls or on flats' balconies calling for better prison conditions for ETA's roughly 350 jailed members.

Even if they reject the crimes committed by ETA, many nationalists in the Basque Country argue they should be allowed to serve prison time in their homeland.

But this is fiercely resisted by Madrid and other Spaniards for whom memories of bomb attacks are still all too raw, underscoring the tensions that remain.

"We have to learn to live together," says Juanma Alvarez, a retired 61-year-old, who will be attending Saturday's disarmament ceremony in France's Bayonne across the border.

"It's really important for me, and most people I know completely agree. Almost all of us are going."

Van drives into crowd in Stockholm, people injured: police

A van drove into a crowd of people outside a busy department store in central Stockholm on Friday, causing injuries, police said.”Police received a call from SOS Alarm that a person in a vehicle has injured other people on Drottninggatan,” police wrote…

A van drove into a crowd of people outside a busy department store in central Stockholm on Friday, causing injuries, police said.

"Police received a call from SOS Alarm that a person in a vehicle has injured other people on Drottninggatan," police wrote on Twitter.

The incident occurred just before 1300 GMT at the corner of the Ahlens department store and Drottninggatan, the city's biggest pedestrian street, above-ground from Stockholm's central subway station.

Thick smoke was rising from the scene, while video images showed an area blocked off by police and crowds gathering around the police cordon.

Helicopters could be heard hovering in the sky over central Stockholm, and a large number of police cars and ambulances were dispatched to the scene, witnesses said.

While it was unclear whether the incident was an attack or an accident, it follows after a series of attacks in Europe by people using vehicles as weapons.

The worst attack was last year in France on the Bastille Day national holiday of July 14, in which a man rammed a truck into a crowd in the Mediterranean resort of Nice, killing 86 people.

He was shot dead by police, and the Islamic State group claimed responsibility.

Last month, Khalid Masood, a 52-year-old convert to Islam known to British security services, drove a car at high speed into pedestrians on London's Westminster Bridge before launching a frenzied knife attack on a policeman guarding the parliament building.

The incident killed five people, while Masood himself was shot dead by police.

And in December, a man hijacked a truck and slammed into shoppers at a Christmas market in Berlin, killing 12 people.

That attacker was shot dead by police in Milan four days later, and the rampage was claimed by the IS.

In 2014, IS spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani called for attacks on citizens of Western countries and gave instructions on how they could be carried out without military equipment, using rocks or knives, or by running people over in vehicles.

There have also been false alerts, however.

Earlier Friday, Belgium dropped terrorism charges against a driver who sped into a crowded shopping area in Antwerp last month, which sparked fears of a copy-cat terror attack.

However, the driver, a Tunisian man identified as Mohamed R., remained in custody on a weapons offence related to the incident, the federal prosecutor's office said.

India overturns flight ban on sandal-whacking politician Gaikwad

India on Friday overturned a travel ban on a controversial politician who attacked a flight steward with his sandal after being refused a business class seat.Ravindra Gaikwad made national headlines after footage emerged in March of the Shiv Sena polit…

India on Friday overturned a travel ban on a controversial politician who attacked a flight steward with his sandal after being refused a business class seat.

Ravindra Gaikwad made national headlines after footage emerged in March of the Shiv Sena politician repeatedly striking a steward aboard an Air India flight.

He later admitted to whacking the 60-year-old steward roughly two dozen times with his sandal during the altercation over seating on a flight from Pune to New Delhi.

Gaikwad was forced to take trains after the airline filed a police complaint and banned him from its flights, prompting other airlines to follow suit.

But the ban was overturned Friday after the civil aviation ministry asked that the airline consider Mr Gaikwad's recent apology.

"The ban placed by Air India on Mr. Gaikwad has, therefore, been lifted with immediate effect," airline spokesman G.P. Rao said in a written statement.

"Air India, however, remains committed to ensure that its employees are not assaulted and neither misbehaved with by any passenger and would always take strong action to preserve the dignity of its employees at all times."

The hot-headed MP had initially refused to accept fault, prompting outrage in India's lower house Thursday when he demanded the ban be lifted.

Gaikwad even compared his predicament with prejudice to that endured by Mahatma Gandhi more than a century ago.

India's independence icon and most famous pacifist was ejected from a first-class train carriage in British South Africa, famously spurring his quest for civil rights.

Gaikwad last month had to make the nearly 1,600 kilometres (1,000 miles) journey to his hometown in western Maharashtra state by train after an airline cancelled his ticket.

The decision to overturn the ban was interpreted by some as the government caving to protect one of its own.

"Shiv Sena MP Ravindra Gaikwad is now free to fly. Wish the central government had shown some spine," one Twitter user wrote.

S.Africa denies breaking rules by not arresting Sudan’s Bashir

South Africa on Friday denied it had flouted international law by refusing in 2015 to arrest visiting Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, wanted by war crimes judges on charges of genocide in Darfur.At an unprecedented hearing at the International Crimi…

South Africa on Friday denied it had flouted international law by refusing in 2015 to arrest visiting Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, wanted by war crimes judges on charges of genocide in Darfur.

At an unprecedented hearing at the International Criminal Court, Pretoria fended off accusations it had failed in its obligations to the very tribunal it helped found.

There "was no duty under international law on South Africa to arrest the serving head of a non-state party such as Mr Omar al-Bashir," argued Pretoria's legal advisor Dire Tladi.

Despite two international arrest warrants issued in 2009 and 2010, Bashir remains at large and in office amid the raging conflict in the western Sudanese region of Darfur.

He has denied the ICC's charges, including three accusations of genocide as well as war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The deadly conflict broke out in 2003 when ethnic minority groups took up arms against Bashir's Arab-dominated government, which launched a brutal counter-insurgency.

The UN Security Council asked the ICC in 2005 to probe the crimes in Darfur, where at least 300,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million displaced, according to UN figures.

- 'No immunity waiver' -

Pretoria, which had sought legal clarification from ICC judges before Bashir's 2015 visit, argues the Sudanese leader has immunity as a head of state.

There was "nothing at all" in the UN resolution which waived Bashir's immunity, said Tladi.

Therefore Pretoria could not arrest him during his brief visit to South Africa in June 2015 for an African Union summit, despite its obligation to cooperate with the ICC set out in the tribunal's founding Rome Statute.

"The duty to arrest Mr Omar al-Bashir was not as clear as the office of the prosecutor would suggest," added Tladi.

But prosecutor Julian Nicholls shot back that South Africa "had the ability to arrest and surrender him and it chose not to do so."

"All the reasons for not arresting Mr al-Bashir, in the end, simply boil down to that South Africa disagreed with the court's jurisprudence, the law as set out..., so it did not comply."

Several victims of the conflict, who now live in The Netherlands, were attending Friday's hearing in the tribunal in The Hague.

Conditions in Darfur remain "dire," said Monica Feltz, executive director of the rights group, International Justice Project.

The 10 Darfurians who will watch the hearing are "hoping to see that their story is told, and that their voices are heard, and that the international community still cares," she told AFP.

Presiding judge Cuno Tarfusser said the aim of the hearing was to decide "whether South Africa failed to comply with its obligations ... by not arresting and surrendering Omar al-Bashir ... while he was on South African territory."

- 'Most serious crimes' -

The prosecution argues that since the ICC does not have its own police force it relies on member states to help execute arrest warrants.

Without such help, "the court's going to be unable to carry out its most basic function: putting on trial persons charged with the most serious crimes," said Nicholls.

The judges will return their decision at a later date, and may decide to agree with the prosecution's request to report Pretoria to the UN Security Council for non-compliance and eventual sanctions.

But Pretoria's lawyers argued such a move would be "unwarranted and unnecessary," aimed only at casting South Africa "in a bad light."

Although this is the first public hearing of its type, last year the ICC referred Chad, Djibouti and Uganda to the UN for also failing to arrest Bashir. So far no action has been taken against them.

The Sudanese leader was also a guest last month at an Arab League summit hosted by Jordan -- also a signatory to the Rome Statute.

South Africa had moved to withdraw from the court, angered by the case against it.

But it formally revoked its decision last month after its own High Court ruled it would be unconstitutional.

ETA weapons ‘handed over to civil society’ in France

The Basque separatist group ETA, which has promised to give up all its remaining arms by Saturday, has handed over the weapons to “civil society” in France, one of them told AFP on Friday.”We have the political and technical responsibility for ETA’s di…

The Basque separatist group ETA, which has promised to give up all its remaining arms by Saturday, has handed over the weapons to "civil society" in France, one of them told AFP on Friday.

"We have the political and technical responsibility for ETA's disarmament, and it has been done," said Txetx Etcheverry, a Basque environmentalist.

"ETA has handed over its weapons to civil society. They are on French soil," he said.

Etcheverry gave no other details about the purported arms transfer or the contents of the arsenal itself, saying they were "confidential".

ETA, founded in 1959, says its pledge confirms it has brought the curtain down on its armed campaign for a Basque homeland, a territory that straddles the border between northwest Spain and southwest France.

In Madrid, the government on Saturday dismissed ETA disarmament as a unilateral affair and bluntly warned that the group -- which it denounces as a terror organisation --- could expect "nothing" in return.

"It will not reap any political advantage or profit," said Inigo Mendez de Vigo, who is culture minister and government spokesman.

Analysts say ETA's arsenal is estimated at 130 handguns and two tonnes of explosives.

ETA, blamed for the deaths of 829 people in a string of bombings and shootings on both sides of the Franco-Spanish border, says it gave up its armed campaign in 2011.

It has sought to negotiate its dissolution in exchange for amnesties or improved prison conditions for roughly 350 members of the group being held in Spain and France.

Around a hundred of them are serving sentences of more than 10 years.

Etcheverry said weapons "experts" would carry out "a series of checks" on Saturday, referring to a verification body that includes a former Interpol secretary general, Raymond Kendall, that is not recognised by either the French or the Spanish governments.

French police are on standby to take possession of the weapons, officials have told AFP.

An event is planned in the French Basque city of Bayonne on Saturday to mark "Disarmament Day" but Etcheverry warned that peace could be harder to find.

"Disarmament does not mean peace," he said. "The French and Spanish government must help to resolve all the consequences of this conflict."

ETA is still considered a terrorist group by the European Union.

The head of the regional Basque government, Inigo Urkullu, last month called on the Spanish and French governments to "show ambitious vision and open direct lines of communication" with ETA.

But the Spanish national government rebuffed the plea and instead demanded the group "dissolve" and never reappear.

In a newly published letter, ETA said the process of disarmament had been "difficult", praising the Basque authorities while accusing Spain and France of being "stubborn".

Spanish Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido said on Wednesday there "would be no negotiations nor concessions" to ETA members in exchange for disarmament.

Trump’s missile attack on Syria stuns allies, foes

Long before he launched his 2016 campaign, Donald Trump firmly opposed US military intervention in Syria. So when the US president ordered missile strikes on a Syrian airbase Friday, it caught both his admirers and detractors by surprise.

Long before he launched his 2016 campaign, Donald Trump firmly opposed US military intervention in Syria. So when the US president ordered missile strikes on a Syrian airbase Friday, it caught both his admirers and detractors by surprise.