‘New dawn’ for Brits as Aussies take charge at Track Cycling World Championships

Katie Archibald hailed a “new dawn” for controversy-plagued Britain as she broke their gold medal drought and interrupted a run of Australian successes at the Track Cycling World Championships on Friday.The pink-haired Olympic team pursuit champion cla…

Katie Archibald hailed a "new dawn" for controversy-plagued Britain as she broke their gold medal drought and interrupted a run of Australian successes at the Track Cycling World Championships on Friday.

The pink-haired Olympic team pursuit champion claimed her country's first title in Hong Kong, and her first individual world gold, with a thrilling victory in the women's omnium.

It didn't stop Australia roaring clear on the medals table on day three as Cameron Meyer brilliantly won the men's points race and Jordan Kerby triumphed in the individual pursuit.

Britain dominated last year's Olympics but British Cycling has been hit by explosive claims of sexism and bullying which prompted an independent review.

A new-look team has also failed to ignite in Hong Kong, but Archibald said her win showed the riders were focused on the build-up to the next Olympics, despite the swirling controversy.

"It kind of echoes the same sentiment that we've all felt. The riders have been focused on performance around the politics of the review and things," Archibald said.

"It's a mark of a new dawn for British cycling now. I'm really looking forward to the next four years."

Archibald's title was hard-won as she went into the points race, the climax of the four-event omnium, neck-and-neck with Australia's Amy Cure, and wasn't assured of gold until the final sprint.

"I went out with fatigue... I didn't ride a brilliant race, but I was just knackered," she said.

"I was very close to done for. I thought I wasn't going to finish at one point. I just needed to keep grinding and recover for the sprints. It came off in the end."

Behind the leaders, Canada's Stephanie Roorda went down heavily in a multi-bike pile-up and was led away in a neck brace and a makeshift sling.

And the home crowd came alive when Hong Kong's Sarah Lee took bronze in the women's sprint, where gold went to Germany's Olympic champion Kristina Vogel.

- Starting pistol misfire -

Earlier, Meyer obliterated the field to win his fourth points race world title, a day after leading Australia to men's team pursuit gold.

Meyer, 29, was in front from nearly halfway in the gruelling, 160-lap race, finishing with 76 points, ahead of Belgian Kenny De Ketele and Poland's Wojciech Pszczolarski, who both had 40.

It was an eighth world title for the 2009, 2010 and 2012 points-race champion, who has returned to the track after a spell in road racing.

"It's been a fantastic championship for us. We've started really well and hopefully there's more to come in the next few days," Meyer said.

Kerby won the men's individual pursuit despite the distraction of a misfiring starting pistol, which forced the race to be called off and restarted.

"I was very scattered when that happened. I wasn't exactly sure what was going on. I heard the gun go twice," said Kerby. "I had to collect my thoughts again."

The 24-year-old eventually clocked 4min 17.068sec to win by more than four seconds from defending champion Filippo Ganna of Italy and claim his first world title.

Australia also won silver through Samantha Morton in the women's pursuit, and bronze through Cure in the omnium and Kendall O'Brien in the men's pursuit.

With two days to go, Australia have eight medals overall and lead the table with three golds ahead of a group of eight countries with one victory apiece.

Rights group slams Yemen journalist’s death sentence

Reporters Without Borders said Friday it was “appalled” at a death sentence handed to a veteran journalist by a court in Yemen’s rebel-held capital.The court in Sanaa, which is controlled by Iran-backed Huthi insurgents, on Thursday found Yahya al-Juba…

Reporters Without Borders said Friday it was "appalled" at a death sentence handed to a veteran journalist by a court in Yemen's rebel-held capital.

The court in Sanaa, which is controlled by Iran-backed Huthi insurgents, on Thursday found Yahya al-Jubaihi guilty of spying for neighbouring Saudi Arabia.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said it was the first death sentence issued against a journalist in Yemen.

"This Huthi-imposed death sentence sets a dangerous precedent for journalists in Yemen," said Alexandra El Khazen, the head of RSF's Middle East desk.

"Issued at the end of an unfair trial, it constitutes a grave violation of international law. We urge Huthi leaders to free this journalist at once," she said.

The Huthis hail from Yemen's Shiite-linked Zaidi minority in northern Yemen.

Since March 2015, oil-rich Saudi Arabia has been leading a deadly military intervention against the Huthis and their allies in the kingdom's impoverished neighbour.

The Huthis, supported by renegade troops loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, have controlled all government institutions in Sanaa since they overran the capital in September 2014.

Rival bodies loyal to internationally recognised president Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi operate out of second city Aden or from exile in Saudi Arabia.

Yemen's press union on Thursday condemned the sentence as "arbitrary" and accused the rebels of "targeting press freedom".

It said Jubaihi, 61, was seized from his home on September 6.

Press watchdogs and human rights groups have been deeply critical of the rebels' treatment of journalists as the conflict in the Arabian peninsula country has escalated over the past two years.

Eight reporters were killed in Yemen last year, according to the International Federation of Journalists.

RSF says at least 16 journalists and media workers are currently being held by armed groups in Yemen including the Huthis and Al-Qaeda.

Yemen is ranked 170th out of 180 countries in the organisation's 2016 World Press Freedom Index.

Outbreak of panic mars Spanish Good Friday processions

An outbreak of panic sparked by troublemakers caused mayhem in Seville’s nightime Good Friday processions, famed for their religious floats, hooded penitents and hordes of spectators, seriously injuring one person, Spanish authorities said Friday.Emerg…

An outbreak of panic sparked by troublemakers caused mayhem in Seville's nightime Good Friday processions, famed for their religious floats, hooded penitents and hordes of spectators, seriously injuring one person, Spanish authorities said Friday.

Emergency services said eight people were detained in connection with the incidents that took place from 04:00 local time (0200GMT), sending people running in panic and leaving children in tears in different parts of the processions.

In a statement, the Cecop centre that oversees security during the processions in the southern Spanish city said those detained had variously "shouted", used metallic objects to make loud noise or made "wild gesticulations" to create panic in the thousands-strong crowds.

An AFP photographer present said she heard what sounded like a stampede of galloping animals, and then a mass of people pushed towards her.

Standing on the Isabel II bridge that goes over Seville's Guadalquivir River, she climbed onto a lamppost.

"There were children, women with prams," she said, adding some people rushed down steps towards the river, falling over themselves in panic.

"The first thing people think is that there is a terrorist attack."

An initial probe showed that there were three initial movements of panic, which sparked a "domino effect" in other parts of the city, Cecop said.

It added that the different incidents did not appear to be coordinated.

"These are isolated cases without any apparent connection that are similar to cases of vandalism and hooliganism," it said.

Cecop said three of those arrested were "common delinquents".

Some 17 people were taken to hospital for injuries and panic attacks, it said.

One of them was in intensive care in a serious condition, suffering from brain trauma.

A video posted on Spanish news site El Confidencial showed what looked like a post-panic scene, with people hanging onto bars on windows and the famed penitents, some of them with their hoods off, waiting anxiously as an onlooker on a balcony urged everyone to calm down.

The situation was later brought back under control and the processions continued.

Organised by religious brotherhoods and featuring huge floats of wooden sculptures of religious scenes accompanied by hooded penitents, the processions known as "La Madruga" are the high point of Easter Week festivities in Seville.

This morning's early incident mirrors a similar outbreak of panic in 2000 in Seville's Good Friday processions, which left 52 people injured.

US snubs 11-state Afghanistan peace conference, says Russia trying to ‘assert influence’

Preview Washington failed to attend the latest international conference hosted by Moscow, where 11 nations discussed ways of bringing peace to Afghanistan. The US branded it a “unilateral Russian attempt to assert influence in the region.”
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview Washington failed to attend the latest international conference hosted by Moscow, where 11 nations discussed ways of bringing peace to Afghanistan. The US branded it a “unilateral Russian attempt to assert influence in the region.”
Read Full Article at RT.com

Christian pilgrims commemorate Good Friday in Jerusalem

Thousands of Christians from around the world marked Good Friday in Jerusalem’s Old City, retracing the steps Jesus Christ is believed to have taken carrying his cross to his crucifixion.Through the Old City’s narrow alleyways, pilgrims and Palestinian…

Thousands of Christians from around the world marked Good Friday in Jerusalem's Old City, retracing the steps Jesus Christ is believed to have taken carrying his cross to his crucifixion.

Through the Old City's narrow alleyways, pilgrims and Palestinian Christians carried wooden crosses, icons and flags of their respective countries in a procession under heavy surveillance from Israeli police.

Like every year in the runup to Easter, they retraced the 14 Stations of the Cross and walked to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where Jesus Christ is believed to be buried.

Inside the church, Egyptian Coptic Christian pilgrim Sameera Haleem, 52, prayed for protection for her family after deadly church bombings in her country on Palm Sunday.

"Parting with loved ones is very hard but they are martyrs," she said of the 45 people who died in the bombings in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria that were claimed by the Islamic State group.

"Copts being targeted and killed only serves to strengthen our belief," she said, as she stood by the shrine surrounding what is believed to be the tomb of Jesus, clutching a piece of paper with the names of relatives she wanted to protect.

"This sacred place is blessed beyond all sacred places," she said, tears glistening in her eyes as she tried to keep her place next to the shrine as pilgrims poured into the church.

Outside, a group of Russian nuns had stopped, carrying a portrait of Jesus surrounded by flowers.

A group of Catholic pilgrims from India wore red hoods.

Lara, an Australian Christian pilgrim, described the procession as "an amazing experience".

"We can't be any happier, it's like a dream," she said.

The "Via Dolorosa" -- or "Way of Suffering" -- includes points where Jesus is said to have met his mother, fallen several times, been helped in carrying the cross, and met the lamenting women of Jerusalem.

The route is situated in east Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in 1967 and later annexed in a move never recognised by the international community.

Christians made up more than 18 percent of the population of the holy land in 1948, before Israel was created, but now they number less than two percent.

They are mostly Orthodox Christians.

Police were on high alert as Christian commemorations were under way for Good Friday and as Jews marked the week-long Passover holiday.

On Friday, a 23-year-old British tourist was stabbed to death on a tram close to the Old City, and her Palestinian attacker arrested, police said.

Unrepentant Enrique plots Barcelona’s new Euro revival

Barcelona boss Luis Enrique insisted he made no tactical errors in his side’s 3-0 defeat to Juventus and talked up Barca’s chances of another stunning Champions League revival on Friday. The Spanish champions suffered back-to-back defeats at Malaga and…

Barcelona boss Luis Enrique insisted he made no tactical errors in his side's 3-0 defeat to Juventus and talked up Barca's chances of another stunning Champions League revival on Friday.

The Spanish champions suffered back-to-back defeats at Malaga and Juventus in the past week to severely damage their hopes of winning La Liga or the Champions League.

However, having overcome a 4-0 first-leg deficit to beat Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16, Enrique is convinced Barca still have a shot at another miraculous comeback when the sides meet for their quarter-final return leg on Wednesday.

"If I wasn't able to get across to my players how I wanted them to play, I am responsible, but in the tactical planning for Turin I didn't make any mistakes," said Enrique, who will step down as coach at the end of the season.

"I don't doubt the team will have chances to turn the tie around, in fact it is easier than against PSG."

Barca will be without the suspended Neymar for Real Sociedad's visit on Saturday as he begins a three-game ban for sarcastically applauding the officials after receiving the first red card of his Barca career at Malaga last weekend.

However, the Catalans have no room for error as they trail Real Madrid by three points at the top of La Liga, having played a game more than their title rivals.

Madrid also host Barca in El Clasico next weekend.

"Everything depends on getting back on the road to victory against Real Sociedad and then we will see what happens in the Champions League," he added.

"We need the points as a morale boost to continue fighting for La Liga."

And Enrique called on the fans at the Camp Nou not to pick out those they feel were responsible for Barca's collapse in Turin in midweek.

"If they need to boo players, my advice would be to wait until the end of the season," he said.

"In this situation I only see the need to rebel and fight against all the adversity."

From Netherlands to Norway, Klangstof on dark rock journey

When Koen Van Der Wardt was 14, his parents moved with him from their native Netherlands to rural Norway, longing for nature. His musical awakening was an unintended consequence.As the frontman and principal songwriter of the band Klangstof, Van Der Wa…

When Koen Van Der Wardt was 14, his parents moved with him from their native Netherlands to rural Norway, longing for nature. His musical awakening was an unintended consequence.

As the frontman and principal songwriter of the band Klangstof, Van Der Wardt conjures up the dark atmospherics of rural Norway in guitar rock that breaks free from traditional song structure.

He was kicking off Coachella on Friday, becoming the first Dutch act to play the leading music festival that takes place in the desert of southern California.

Now 24, Van Der Wardt recalls growing up in The Netherlands listening to electronic dance music like other Dutch preteens. In Norway, he said, he spent his first year engrossed in only one album -- Radiohead's "OK Computer," the English rockers' seminal 1997 transformation into digital experimentation.

He first picked up a guitar in Norway simply out of boredom. But he gradually came to appreciate his parents' decision to move.

"It was very inspirational to have no pressure from the outside world that you usually have when you live in a city or live in a country with a lot of people," Van Der Wardt told AFP before a pre-Coachella rehearsal at a Los Angeles studio.

"Norway just makes you feel that you don't have to care about anything around you," he said, "because there isn't much around other than beautiful nature."

- Mood, not words -

Although the music bears the clear influence of Radiohead, Van Der Wardt's high-pitched, melody-resistant vocals and Klangstof's Nordic sensibility also bring to mind the Icelandic post-rockers Sigur Ros and, to a lesser extent, the earlier era of progressive rock.

Klangstof -- the name, so evocative of the band's sound, is a portmanteau between the Norwegian word for "echo" and Dutch for "dust" -- had its break when it uploaded "Hostage," a bleak song about personal confinement.

The song was spotted by David Dann, founder of label Mind of a Genius, who quickly signed the band. "Hostage" became the starting point for Klangstof's debut album "Close Eyes to Exit," released last year.

Van Der Wardt said he focused on creating an ambience on the album -- reinforced by vaguely futuristic cover art -- and sang only where he thought the voice built the mood.

"I got kind of fed up with sitting down and writing verses and choruses. I thought that was a bit boring," he said.

"For me it was always about having a lot of cool sounds instead of having a catchy hook."

- Dark music, happy life -

If Coachella's sunshine and scanty outfits seem a disconcerting match for Klangstof, Van Der Wardt is hardly gloomy as a person, with an easygoing smile and constant laugh.

"I always felt like I put all of the bad emotions into the music, and as soon as I'm done writing music and I'm on the road or living life, I actually feel like a pretty happy person," he said.

"People always expect to have very depressed musicians on stage and when they come to me after the show, they're like, 'Huh? What was going on there? You were dancing, you were happy, you were screaming.'"

Van Der Wardt expressed pride at being the first Dutch act at Coachella, but said he was barely thinking about it.

"Music isn't a nationalist thing. Music is for everyone and it doesn't know any borders. In any case, I don't feel like I'm 'the hippest export product from The Netherlands' or anything," he quipped with a laugh.

After Coachella, Klangstof will play more festival dates and open on US tours for The Flaming Lips and Miike Snow.

In a fitting sign of the band's origins, the headliner Friday at Coachella is Radiohead.

"I'm definitely going to try to see if I can get a little high-five going backstage," Van Der Wardt said.

Venezuela arrests two opposition leaders

Venezuelan authorities said Friday they arrested two opposition youth leaders, the latest move in a crackdown on anti-government protests that have left five dead.Jose Sanchez and Alejandro Sanchez were arrested “for organizing terrorist acts and assau…

Venezuelan authorities said Friday they arrested two opposition youth leaders, the latest move in a crackdown on anti-government protests that have left five dead.

Jose Sanchez and Alejandro Sanchez were arrested "for organizing terrorist acts and assaults against the peace of the country," Interior Minister Nestor Reverol wrote on Twitter.

The two are youth leaders of the Justice First party, one of the main groups in the center-right opposition coalition pushing for President Nicolas Maduro to be removed from office.

Venezuelan authorities drew international criticism last week for banning the party's most prominent figure, Henrique Capriles, from public office for 15 years.

Reverol said the two detainees "confessed taking part in this week's violence."

Five people, including a 13-year-old boy have been killed since April 6 in clashes with riot police during a wave of protests against Maduro.

Justice First rejected Reverol's allegations. It wrote on its Twitter account that the two youth leaders were "abducted" by military intelligence forces.

"Nestor Reverol, the real terrorism is the one you are leading by repressing the people," it wrote.

Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters in Caracas in the latest eruption of unrest on Thursday, AFP reporters saw.

Maduro is fighting off efforts to oust him as Venezuela, once a booming oil-exporting nation, struggles with shortages of food and medicine.

The next major organized rallies called by opposition leaders are set for Wednesday next week.

That is expected to be the next big showdown in an increasingly fraught crisis that has raised international concerns for Venezuela's stability.

The opposition is demanding the authorities set a date for postponed regional elections.

It is also furious over moves to limit the powers of the legislature and ban Capriles from politics.

Those moves have raised international condemnation including from the United States and the European Union.

Maduro has resisted opposition efforts to hold a vote on removing him, vowing to continue the "socialist revolution" launched by his late predecessor Hugo Chavez.

Maduro says the economic crisis is the result of what he calls a US-backed capitalist conspiracy.

New AC Milan president Li given Berlusconi backing

Yonghong Li was officially named AC Milan’s new president on Friday, but reminded fans the Serie A club’s new Chinese owners could “always count on” iconic former owner Silvio Berlusconi.A remarkable 31-year reign at the Italian giants ended for Berlus…

Yonghong Li was officially named AC Milan's new president on Friday, but reminded fans the Serie A club's new Chinese owners could "always count on" iconic former owner Silvio Berlusconi.

A remarkable 31-year reign at the Italian giants ended for Berlusconi on Thursday when the 80-year-old media tycoon and former prime minister of Italy sold Milan to Chinese consortium Rossoneri Sport Investment Lux.

The 740 million-euro ($786 million) deal, dogged by months of delays, sees mystery Chinese businessman Li -- whose 500m euros fortune reportedly comes from the construction and packaging businesses -- take over as the new boss.

Li, who led the takeover alongside fellow businessman Han Li, became Milan's 22nd president following a general assembly.

Having dined with Berlusconi at his villa in Arcore following the conclusion of Thursday's deal, Li told Mediaset Premium on Friday: "He's someone for whom I have a lot of respect, he steered Milan to untold success and gave the fans so much joy.

"Last night we had a good chat and he said if we ever needed to, we could always count on him."

A former three-time Prime Minister of Italy who was embroiled in a series of scandals during a storied political career, Berlusconi bought the ailing Serie A club in 1986 and oversaw the most successful spell in its history.

Although watching Milan struggle to even qualify for Europe in recent seasons, he saw five Champions League trophies, eight Serie A titles, seven Italian Super Cups and five UEFA Super Cups go into the club's trophy cabinet among a total of 29 trophies.

Berlusconi said he could no longer support the club financially in an ever-competitive international football club market.

"... to compete at the highest levels in the modern game we need outside investment and resources that a single family is no longer able to support," he said Thursday in a touching farewell statement.

"I will always be AC Milan's number one fan and I wish the club's new owners all the best for the future.

"I offer them my most cordial wishes and hope they achieve many more extraordinary feats than we did."

Matching those feats is a challenge the new owners said they are ready to meet.

Although the immediate priority is to see Milan clinch a top five finish in Serie A to book a Europa League spot for next season, the Rossoneri are targeting a Champions League spot in 2018 when four Serie A teams, instead of three, can qualify for Europe's premier club competition.

"The Champions League is a platform a club like Milan can't be without," said Milan's new chief exectuvie Marco Fassone.

"There are four places up for grabs as of 2018-2019, so I won't hide the fact that our aim is to take one of those places.

"That is our aim, but we also want to create a strong and competitive squad."

One of Milan's internal priorities is to secure the services of 18-year-old goalkeeping sensation Gianluigi Donnarumma.

Considered the heir to Italy and Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, whom he grew up idolising, Donnarumma is a target for a number of top clubs despite signing a new-improved three-year deal last year.

Fassone added: "He is our top priority. We want to make sure Donnarumma is a pillar of this team for the future."

Nothing special about Chelsea reunion, says Mourinho

Jose Mourinho insists he won’t be fuelled by revenge when Manchester United face Chelsea on Sunday because he regards the crucial clash against his old club as just another game.Mourinho, sacked by Chelsea last season, could be forgiven for doing every…

Jose Mourinho insists he won't be fuelled by revenge when Manchester United face Chelsea on Sunday because he regards the crucial clash against his old club as just another game.

Mourinho, sacked by Chelsea last season, could be forgiven for doing everything in his power to beat Antonio Conte's side after suffering two chastening defeats at the hands of the Premier League leaders earlier this season.

The 54-year-old was humiliated on his return to Stamford Bridge in October and took umbrage with Conte's touchline celebrations as Chelsea cruised to a 4-0 win.

Mourinho fared no better when he went back to the Bridge in the FA Cup quarter-finals in March as Chelsea won 1-0 after United midfielder Ander Herrera was sent off.

Adding insult to injury for Mourinho, the self-styled "Special One" was taunted by Chelsea fans who called him "Judas" and chanted "you're not special anymore" following the United manager's touchline row with Conte.

Mourinho, the most successful manager in Chelsea's history, hit back by pointing out that "Judas is number one" in Chelsea's record books.

With fifth-placed United desperately needing a victory this weekend in the battle for Champions League qualification and Chelsea, seven points clear at the top, looking to move a step closer to the title in Conte's first season, the stage is set for a classic encounter.

But Mourinho is trying his best to take the emotion out of the showdown, insisting Sunday's match is like any other.

"You say that word 'emotion'," he said when asked how his emotions differ from the previous meetings.

"For me, it is just a game. One more game. No difference for me."

Asked if there was nothing special about the game, Mourinho: "No, not at all."

United have gone on a 21-match unbeaten league run since losing to Chelsea in October, but a lack of cutting edge has damaged their bid to finish in the top four.

That lack of cutting edge reared its head again on Thursday as Anderlecht snatched a late 1-1 draw in the first leg of their Europa League quarter-final.

Chelsea have had no draining European fixtures to distract them from the Premier League title race this season, giving them a freshness Mourinho says has been beneficial for his former club.

"First of all, some guys are fresh, some guys are tired," the United boss said when asked how the sides compare.

"That's very important in football. But for some reason they are top of the league, it's not just because they are fresh.

"It's also because they have individual quality and they have collective quality.

"They have a certain style of play. They stick to it, they do it very well."

Dortmund attack ‘longest 15 mins of my life’ – Bartra

Borussia Dortmund defender Marc Bartra, who was wounded when three bombs rocked his Bundesliga team’s bus, described on Friday his ordeal as “the longest and hardest 15 minutes of my life”.”The pain, the panic, the uncertainty of not knowing what was h…

Borussia Dortmund defender Marc Bartra, who was wounded when three bombs rocked his Bundesliga team's bus, described on Friday his ordeal as "the longest and hardest 15 minutes of my life".

"The pain, the panic, the uncertainty of not knowing what was happening, or how long it would last... they were the longest and hardest 15 minutes of my life," the Spanish defender wrote in a message posted on Instagram.

The bombs containing metal pieces detonated minutes after the team bus set off to a Champions League game against Monaco on Tuesday night.

Bartra was hurt by flying glass and had to undergo a wrist operation, taking him out of action for four weeks.

The 26-year-old said "the shock of the past few days is diminishing all the time" and that when he looks at his swollen wrist, what he feels is "pride".

"I look at it proud thinking of all the damage they wanted to do to us on Tuesday and it resulted in just that," he said, thanking those who are treating him as well as fans, his team-mates and others who have showered him with support.

"I needed to write and get this off my chest and settle it so I can just think about getting back to 100 percent as soon as possible," he added.

- 'Most Germans feel safe' -

Three days after the attack that injured Bartra and a policeman who suffered trauma from the noise of the blasts, investigators are still scrambling to find possible culprits.

The probe suffered a setback on Thursday when the sole suspect in custody was cleared of involvement in the crime.

Investigators had zeroed in on two suspects believed to belong to a large jihadist scene in western Germany's Ruhr region, after three identical letters were found at the site of the attack.

The letter demanded that Berlin stop its Tornado reconnaissance missions in the international anti-IS coalition and close the US air base at Ramstein, western Germany.

But the head of domestic intelligence for the region, Burkhard Freyer, said investigators had not ruled out the extreme-right, the far-left or hooligans of being behind the attack.

Germany has been on high alert since a series of jihadist attacks last year, including a deadly Christmas market truck rampage in Berlin.

Despite the attack, most Germans still feel safe, according to a poll of 1,000 people a day after the blasts by public broadcaster ARD.

Some 82 percent polled said they "feel rather safe", said ARD. Likewise, a majority -- 56 percent -- of those surveyed said they felt well protected against terror attacks.

Dortmund, who eventually played the delayed match against Monaco a day after the attack, are preparing to host Eintracht Frankfurt in the Bundesliga on Saturday.

The club's manager Thomas Tuchel had hit out at the decision to play the Monaco Champions League game so soon after the assault, saying they were treated as if only a "beer can" had been thrown at their bus.

Plaudits are nice but we want title, says Chelsea’s Conte

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte has told Eden Hazard and N’Golo Kante to forget about individual awards and focus on ensuring the Premier League leaders are crowned champions.Chelsea stars Hazard and Kante were named this week on the six-man shortlist fo…

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte has told Eden Hazard and N'Golo Kante to forget about individual awards and focus on ensuring the Premier League leaders are crowned champions.

Chelsea stars Hazard and Kante were named this week on the six-man shortlist for the PFA Player of the Year award, along with Tottenham's Harry Kane, Manchester United's Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez and Everton's Romelu Lukaku.

Conte acknowledged Belgium playmaker Hazard and France midfielder Kante deserved nominations for their part in Chelsea's rise to a seven-point lead at the top of the table.

But Conte, speaking ahead of Chelsea's trip to Manchester United on Sunday, is far more interested in picking up collective silverware by finishing the season as winners of the title race.

"I think it's great, for them, it's a great achievement to receive this nomination," Conte told reporters on Friday.

"I hope for them to be the best player of the year and also I want them to win the league. Awards are important but the most important thing is if you match the two.

"But I don't like to make a choice between two of my players. It's not right. They deserve the best because they are having a good season, but I think all my players are having a great season.

"I'm pleased because it's a fight between two of my players and four other players from other teams. I want to see who is the winner."

Although the title fight is far from over, Chelsea have already been linked with a host of transfer targets for next season, including Everton striker Lukaku.

The Belgian, who has scored 24 goals this season, has already had one spell with Chelsea before being sold by former Blues boss Jose Mourinho in 2014.

Chelsea legend Didier Drogba recently said Lukaku still has a point to prove at "the house he knows", but Conte was keen to play down talk of a possible move for the powerful forward.

"I think it's not the right time to talk about this," he said.

"I have great respect for Drogba, a legend for Chelsea, but I can't talk about this.

"It's not right to talk about players from other teams, we must have respect for players and other clubs."

Large asteroid to hurtle past Earth on April 19

An asteroid as big as the Rock of Gibraltar will streak past Earth on April 19 at a safe but uncomfortably close distance, according to astronomers.”Although there is no possibility for the asteroid to collide with our planet, this will be a very close…

An asteroid as big as the Rock of Gibraltar will streak past Earth on April 19 at a safe but uncomfortably close distance, according to astronomers.

"Although there is no possibility for the asteroid to collide with our planet, this will be a very close approach for an asteroid this size," NASA said in a statement.

Dubbed 2014-JO25 and roughly 650 metres (2,000 feet) across, the asteroid will come within 1.8 million kilometres (1.1 million miles) of Earth, less than five times the distance to the Moon.

It will pass closest to our planet after having looped around the Sun. 2014-J25's will then continue on past Jupiter before heading back toward the centre of our Solar System.

Smaller asteroids whizz by Earth several times a week. But the last time one at least this size came as close was in 2004, when Toutatis -- five kilometres (3.1 miles) across -- passed within four lunar distances.

The next close encounter with a big rock will not happen before 2027, when the 800-metre (half-mile) wide asteroid 199-AN10 will fly by at just one lunar distance, about 380,000 km (236,000 miles).

The last time 2014-JO25 was in our immediate neighbourhood was 400 years ago, and it's next brush with Earth won't happen until sometime after 2600.

The April 19 flyby is an "outstanding opportunity" for astronomers and amateur stargazers, NASA said.

"Astronomers plan to observe it with telescopes around the world to learn as much about it as possible," the US space agency said.

Besides its size and trajectory, scientists also know that its surface is twice as reflective as that of the Moon.

It should be visible with a small optical telescope for one or two nights before moving out of range.

2014-J25 was discovered in May 2014 by astronomers at the Catalina Sky Survey near Tucson, Arizona.

Also on April 19, a comet known as PanSTARRS will make its closest approach to Earth at a "very safe" distance of 175 million km (109 million miles), according to NASA.

The comet has brightened recently and should be visible in the dawn sky with binoculars or a small telescope.

Asteroids are composed of rocky and metallic material, whereas comets -- generally smaller -- are more typically made of ice, dust and rocky stuff.

Both were formed early in the history of the Solar System some 4.5 billion years ago.

Aussie shop in hot water after banning black teens ‘because they steal’

Preview An Australian shop has been harshly criticized on social media after it posted a sign saying that black teenagers are prohibited because “blacks always steal.” People called the sign “disgraceful”, “absolutely disgusting” and “racist”.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview An Australian shop has been harshly criticized on social media after it posted a sign saying that black teenagers are prohibited because “blacks always steal.” People called the sign “disgraceful”, “absolutely disgusting” and “racist”.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Bum-pinching Tunisian football boss slapped with life ban

The head of a Tunisian football club who pinched an assistant referee on the backside during a match has been banned from the sport for life.The Tunisian football Federation (FTF) suspended CS Sfaxien President Moncef Khemakhem “from any activity in fo…

The head of a Tunisian football club who pinched an assistant referee on the backside during a match has been banned from the sport for life.

The Tunisian football Federation (FTF) suspended CS Sfaxien President Moncef Khemakhem "from any activity in football" for abusing officials at a championship match last month, it said in a statement Thursday.

It said Khemakhem had "violently assaulted" and bitten an assistant referee then pinched his buttocks in an attempt to influence the match's outcome.

Khemakhem later boasted on TV that he had twice pinched the assistant referee on the backside during the match against Etoile de Sahel on March 1.

Sfaxien won the game 3-2.

The FTF accused Khemakhem of verbally abusing match officials, "dangerous and unsporting behaviour", "indecent assault" and "harm to good morals".

It also fined him $12,900 (12,000 euros), it said.

The FTF statement did not say whether the judgement was open to appeal.

In a video posted on YouTube, Khemakhem can be seen joining players' protests on the pitch Etoile equalised with a controversial penalty.

After grabbing the referee, the club president heads back to the sideline, raising his thumb at the linesman. He can be seen kissing the official, biting him below the left ear and pinching his cheek.

The next day, Khemakhem appeared on public TV channel Wataniya and declared, smiling, that he had "twice pinched the backside" of the linesman "to cheer him up because he lost the match".

"We decided to get our rights with our teeth and our fingers," he added, before concluding: "we have had our gift."

UN keeping eye on Haiti, envoy says

Sandra Honore — a diplomat from Trinidad who has headed the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH since July 2013 — says the UN will keep tabs on progress in the country even after the mission shuts down.Following the UN Security Cou…

Sandra Honore -- a diplomat from Trinidad who has headed the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH since July 2013 -- says the UN will keep tabs on progress in the country even after the mission shuts down.

Following the UN Security Council's decision on Thursday to end the mission by the end of October, she also spoke to AFP about allegations of sexual abuse committed by UN peacekeepers in the poor Caribbean country.

Q: MINUSTAH has inflicted significant harm, in terms of the sexual abuse committed by UN peacekeepers. Doesn't that constitute an enormous failure for the mission that arrived in 2004 to aid the country?

A: "It goes without saying that every case is regrettable. We are doing everything to conduct a rigorous investigation, to report to our headquarters and communicate with those countries where the responsible peacekeepers are from in order to carry out legal procedures when necessary. In cases where babies have been born, we are working with those countries to determine paternity through DNA tests if needed. We are also providing counseling for victims."

Q: The effort to combat the cholera epidemic caused by Nepalese UN peacekeepers is still largely underfunded (with barely $2 million raised of the $400 million needed). Do you understand the anger of victims who see MINUSTAH's departure as a sign that those responsible will not be punished?

A: "Very soon after he took office, UN Secretary General (Antonio) Guterres appealed to member states in an effort to relaunch the call for contributions to the new drive. (...) The United Nations has been working with the government on this since 2010. Between October 2010 and the end of 2016, the United Nations has backed the government by mobilizing more than $330 million in support of the national plan to eliminate cholera. UN agencies have been working on this constantly since the epidemic began."

Q: With the departure of the peacekeepers, Haitian civil society is worried about the politicization of the police. The changes within the national police this week (a personnel reshuffle following a rock-throwing incident against the motorcade of President Jovenel Moise) were a bad sign. Do you share that fear?

A: "I have received a commitment from the government that national policy can develop and remain apolitical in order to protect and serve all Haitian people. I hope the government's commitment will be strengthened and that we will see its effects. Yes, there have been changes in the police this week. These changes have been explained as stemming from the desire to strengthen certain aspects of the national police's work. I believe the government understands the comments from Haitian civil society and certain international partners about the pressing need for the police to remain apolitical in the service of the entire population."

Damascus to Trump: Look at yourself before calling Assad ‘an animal’

Preview The Syrian Foreign Ministry has fired back at Donald Trump – who recently labeled President Bashar Assad “an animal” and “an evil person” – telling the US leader not to measure others by his own image.

Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview The Syrian Foreign Ministry has fired back at Donald Trump – who recently labeled President Bashar Assad “an animal” and “an evil person” – telling the US leader not to measure others by his own image.
Read Full Article at RT.com

New Korean War may break out ‘at any moment’ – Chinese FM

Preview China’s Foreign Minister warned that an armed conflict with North Korea may break out “at any moment,” urging Washington and Pyongyang to tone down their hawkish rhetoric and realize the price to pay for both sides if a new Korean War were to start.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview China’s Foreign Minister warned that an armed conflict with North Korea may break out “at any moment,” urging Washington and Pyongyang to tone down their hawkish rhetoric and realize the price to pay for both sides if a new Korean War were to start.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Iran hardliner Ebrahim Raisi registers for election

Iranian hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi registered on Friday to run for next month’s presidential election, state television showed.The 56-year-old has emphasised his concern for the poor and the high levels of unemployment — considered a weak spot for …

Iranian hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi registered on Friday to run for next month's presidential election, state television showed.

The 56-year-old has emphasised his concern for the poor and the high levels of unemployment -- considered a weak spot for President Hassan Rouhani who also registered on Friday.

"Despite all the efforts of previous governments, the situation of the country is such that people ask why is there so much unemployment?" Raisi told reporters at the interior ministry where registration was being held.

He said he would announce detailed economic policies at a later date.

"I have come to be the candidate for the whole of Iran. I don't limit myself to a certain group, party or faction," he added.

Having rarely been in the political spotlight, Raisi has given little insight into his view of foreign affairs, but said Friday: "Our relations will be ongoing with every country -- except the occupying regime of Israel -- but on condition of respect."

Iran's conservatives remain divided, but Raisi has emerged as a favourite.

He is considered a close ally of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who last year appointed him to run the powerful charity-cum-business-empire Astan Qods Razavi (AQR), which oversees the Imam Reza shrine in the holy city of Mashhad.

"My mission in AQR has been to help the poor and from the day one we created a department to aid the poor."

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to run for second term

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, a pragmatist who engineered the country’s landmark 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, registered on Friday to run for a second four-year term in the May election, state television reported.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, a pragmatist who engineered the country's landmark 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, registered on Friday to run for a second four-year term in the May election, state television reported.

Bake bread not war: Russian military helps Syrians restore Aleppo bakery (VIDEO)

In Aleppo, where relentless fighting between the Syrian Army and Islamist militants ended only two months ago, the Russian military has helped local authorities restore a large bakery, setting hopes for a slow but steady recovery for the …

Preview In Aleppo, where relentless fighting between the Syrian Army and Islamist militants ended only two months ago, the Russian military has helped local authorities restore a large bakery, setting hopes for a slow but steady recovery for the war-ravaged city.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Kremlin fury at Eurovision dropping Russia

A decision by the organisers of the Eurovision Song Contest to drop Russia from this year’s contest following a spat with Ukraine was roundly denounced by Moscow on Friday.Russia’s state-run Channel One said Thursday it would not broadcast the event, a…

A decision by the organisers of the Eurovision Song Contest to drop Russia from this year's contest following a spat with Ukraine was roundly denounced by Moscow on Friday.

Russia's state-run Channel One said Thursday it would not broadcast the event, after rejecting proposals for contestant Yulia Samoilova to take place via video link or be replaced after Ukraine slapped her with an entry ban.

In response, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) then confirmed Russia "will no longer be able to take part in this year's competition".

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov lashed out at the organisers for failing to make Kiev accept the Russian performer.

"We express regret that the Eurovision organisers could not fulfil the conditions of their own rules and were unable to call upon the country that expressed willingness to hold the contest to observe the rules on hosting," Peskov said.

Kiev barred Russia's 28-year-old entrant Samoilova from entering the country for performing a concert on the Crimea peninsula in 2015 after it was annexed from Ukraine by Moscow.

Channel One said Thursday it was dropping the competition from its schedule, slamming Ukraine's entry ban on Samoilova as "absolutely groundless" and intended to "politicise" the glitzy event.

The broadcaster, which selected Samoilova as Russia's contestant, said it had rejected an offer from the EBU for the singer to compete via video link or for Russia to choose another entrant.

Former Soviet neighbours Russia and Ukraine have been at loggerheads since Moscow seized Crimea in 2014 and was then accused by Kiev and the West of fuelling a separatist conflict in the east of the country that has killed some 10,000 people.

The EBU had earlier threatened to bar Ukraine from future competitions and insisted it "strongly" condemned Ukraine's ban on Samoilova since "it thoroughly undermines the integrity and non-political nature of the Eurovision Song Contest".

"However, preparations continue apace," the organiser said.

"Our top priority remains to produce a spectacular Eurovision Song Contest."

Kiev will host the final of the Eurovision Song Contest on May 13.

Australian cyclist Kerby wins individual pursuit gold

Australia’s Jordan Kerby won the men’s individual pursuit with a towering victory over Italian defending champion Filippo Ganna at the Track Cycling World Championships on Friday.Kerby, 24, shrugged off the distraction of a misfiring starting pistol, w…

Australia's Jordan Kerby won the men's individual pursuit with a towering victory over Italian defending champion Filippo Ganna at the Track Cycling World Championships on Friday.

Kerby, 24, shrugged off the distraction of a misfiring starting pistol, which forced the race to be aborted and restarted, to clock 4min 17.068 and win by more than four seconds.

Australia's Kelland O'Brien took bronze when he beat Corentin Ermenault of France by 2.527sec with his time of 4:16.909 at the Hong Kong Velodrome.

German bus driver faces €10K fine for refusing to transport niqab-wearing Muslim woman

Preview A bus driver in Germany is facing a fine of up to €10,000 for preventing a Muslim woman who was wearing a face veil from getting on his bus, according to a police spokesman.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview A bus driver in Germany is facing a fine of up to €10,000 for preventing a Muslim woman who was wearing a face veil from getting on his bus, according to a police spokesman.
Read Full Article at RT.com

‘Unsubmissive’ France…and other awkward political translations

There’s an ongoing dialogue in the FRANCE 24 newsroom on the challenge of translating French presidential hopefuls’ slogans and party names into the “language of Shakespeare.” As the election approaches, we take a closer look at the trickiest cases.

There’s an ongoing dialogue in the FRANCE 24 newsroom on the challenge of translating French presidential hopefuls’ slogans and party names into the “language of Shakespeare.” As the election approaches, we take a closer look at the trickiest cases.

US inflation, retail sales dip in March

US inflation dropped in March for the first time in more than a year on the back of falling auto and fuel prices, the Labor Department reported Friday.While the annual trend in the Consumer Price Index was still upward, the monthly decline could reinfo…

US inflation dropped in March for the first time in more than a year on the back of falling auto and fuel prices, the Labor Department reported Friday.

While the annual trend in the Consumer Price Index was still upward, the monthly decline could reinforce the Federal Reserve's plan to raise interest rates only gradually.

Meanwhile, falling auto sales helped drive down retail spending for the second consecutive month, even while sales remain well above the level recorded a year ago, according to a separate by the Commerce Department.

Analysts had been expecting the CPI price measure in March to remain unchanged over the prior month, but instead it fell 0.3 percent, its first monthly decline since February 2016.

The index was still up 2.4 percent over March of last year, but that was slower than the 2.7 percent rise in February which was a five-year high.

The falling price of fuel was the largest contributor to the decrease last month, but even excluding the more volatile food and fuel categories, the so-called core CPI was still down 0.1 percent, the first monthly drop since January 2010.

Core CPI was up two percent year-over-year, slowing from 2.2 percent in the prior month, and the second straight decline.

Measures of inflation closely watched by US central bankers have been rising slowly since mid-2016 and the Fed has twice raised its benchmark interest rates since December to prevent inflation from getting too far beyond its two percent target.

Fed officials have sometimes been divided on the amount of slack in labor markets and the near-term risk of inflation, and the latest CPI figures could support the views of those who favor a slow pace of rate increases as the economy continues to recover.

March also saw another contraction in retail sales, which fell 0.2 percent in the month, as US consumers shelled out $470.8 billion, according to a seasonally adjusted estimate.

The decline followed February's 0.3 percent drop and was a tenth of a point below an analyst forecast.

Year-on-year, March retail sales were up 5.2 percent over the same month in 2016.

Excluding a 1.2 percent decline in the more volatile auto sector, March was flat over February.

Despite the consecutive monthly declines, the auto sector still shows signs of strength. Sales for motor vehicle and parts dealers in the first quarter of 2017 are 5.4 percent over the same period last year and one percent over the prior quarter.

Among the gainers, electronics and appliance stores had their best month in nearly two years, with sales volumes rising 2.6 percent. Clothing and accessory stores saw their fastest monthly increase since February 2016, up one percent.

So-called nonstore retailers, such as internet businesses, continued to rise, adding 0.6 percent in sales for the month, which put them up 11.9 percent over March 2016.

The legal woes of France’s presidential candidates

French prosecutors have asked the European parliament to lift the immunity of far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, ratcheting up an investigation over an expenses scandal on the eve of the election.The move comes just nine days before the fi…

French prosecutors have asked the European parliament to lift the immunity of far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, ratcheting up an investigation over an expenses scandal on the eve of the election.

The move comes just nine days before the first round of a vote upended by revelations that conservative Francois Fillon had his wife on the public payroll for years, for a suspected fake job as a parliamentary aide.

Following is a summary of the cases facing two of the top five contenders:

- Francois Fillon -

The 63-year-old former premier has been charged with misusing public money in respect of payments totalling 680,000 euros ($725,000) to his wife Penelope over more than 20 years from funds made available to lawmakers for parliamentary assistants.

French MPs are allowed to employ family members but Fillon has failed so far to convince investigators that Penelope -- a low-key figure who had previously claimed to have had little to do with her husband's career -- earned her salary, which exceeded 10,000 euros a month in 2007.

She herself has been charged with complicity in the affair and concealment.

Prosecutors are also looking into whether they forged a document to justify the payments.

Fillon is also being investigated over payments to two of the couple's children from funds for Senate assistants between 2005 and 2007. Fillon said his daughter Marie helped him write a book and that son Charles compiled notes for him. The younger Fillons later transferred part of the funds to their parents, fuelling suspicions that they had not earned the money.

A staunch Catholic who had campaigned as a man of integrity, Fillon has also been charged over payments to Penelope from a magazine owned by a billionaire friend of his, Marc Ladreit de Lacharriere, and for failing to declare an interest-free loan from Ladreit de Lacharriere to a transparency watchdog.

Fillon has since repaid the loan.

Finally, he is being investigated for possible influence peddling over revelations that he accepted gifts of expensive bespoke suits from a lawyer known for his links to African leaders.

- Marine Le Pen -

Far-right leader Le Pen, 48, also goes into the election with several investigations hanging over her party and her entourage.

The European Parliament accuses the eurosceptic National Front (FN) leader of using funds for parliamentary assistants to pay staff members for party work in France. Two FN members have already been charged with concealment.

Le Pen invoked her immunity as a member of the parliament to duck out of questioning last month. French prosecutors have asked the parliament to lift her immunity so that she can be prosecuted.

The funding of several campaigns of the FN, which regularly complains of being stretched for cash, has also come under scrutiny.

A close friend of Le Pen's, Frederic Chatillon, is accused of illegally funding the FN's campaign in municipal, European and departmental polls in 2014 and 2015.

Chatillon already faces trial, along with two FN officials, over the party's 2012 general election campaign. The three are accused of setting up a scheme to overcharge for campaign expenses that were reimbursed by the state.

Le Pen is also being investigated by French prosecutors for distributing violent images after tweeting pictures of Islamic State atrocities. The European Parliament has already lifted her immunity from prosecution in that case.

Finally, tax authorities are looking into claims that Le Pen and her estranged father, former party leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, failed to declare the full value of family properties.

Spanish firefighter refuses to ship arms to Saudi Arabia over Yemen ‘war crimes,’ may lose job

A Spanish firefighter could be suspended from work for up to four years after refusing to supervise a shipment of some 4,000 tons of munitions to Saudi Arabia. He walked out on the job because he believed the arms could be used to commit …

Preview A Spanish firefighter could be suspended from work for up to four years after refusing to supervise a shipment of some 4,000 tons of munitions to Saudi Arabia. He walked out on the job because he believed the arms could be used to commit war crimes in Yemen.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Iran’s Rouhani registers for tougher-than-expected election

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani registered on Friday for next month’s election, facing a tougher-than-expected battle thanks to widespread criticism over his handling of the economy.Rouhani, a politically moderate cleric, inherited an economy in freefa…

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani registered on Friday for next month's election, facing a tougher-than-expected battle thanks to widespread criticism over his handling of the economy.

Rouhani, a politically moderate cleric, inherited an economy in freefall and a country dangerously isolated over its nuclear programme when he took power in 2013.

He retains the support of moderate and reformist lawmakers for taming inflation and reaching a landmark nuclear deal with world powers that ended many sanctions.

But disappointment with the 68-year-old's administration is palpable on the streets of Iran.

Unemployment is stuck at 12 percent, the promised billions in foreign investment have not materialised, and he has failed to ease social restrictions or release political prisoners, including reformist leaders under house arrest for their part in 2009 protests.

After registering for the election at the interior ministry, Rouhani pushed back against hardliners who have criticised the nuclear deal and his efforts to reach out to the West.

"The preservation of the (nuclear deal) is one of the most important political and economic issues in the Iranian nation. The stepmothers who repeatedly tried to kill this baby cannot be good custodians for it," he told reporters.

He said an "unprecedented" $20 billion worth of new projects would be announced next week, which would also see gas production at the South Pars field surpass that of Qatar -- which shares the field -- for the first time.

That follows government plans, outlined this week, to triple or even quadruple cash hand-outs to the poor -- a move immediately criticised by opponents as a transparent attempt to buy votes.

- Cash hand-outs -

Ardavan Amir-Aslani, a French-Iranian lawyer who advises European companies setting up in Iran, said he would be surprised if Rouhani does not win re-election despite the economic malaise.

"He has at least stabilised the economy... and created a better business environment," he told AFP.

But he "has not been successful in opening up foreign investment. Buying planes is good, but how many Iranians can afford to fly to Paris?" Amir-Aslani added, referring to recent purchases of Airbus and Boeing planes that have been among the few concrete results of the nuclear deal.

"He inherited a bad situation, but he created so much expectation and nothing has changed for the guy on the street."

The stagnation, which has prompted criticism from supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has boosted Iran's conservatives, who also point to the aggressive rhetoric from US President Donald Trump as a sign that Rouhani's diplomatic efforts have failed.

The conservatives remain divided, but attention has lately focused on hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi, 56, who runs the powerful Imam Reza charitable foundation. He has emphasised his concern for the poor, and is seen as a close ally of the supreme leader.

Former hardline president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took the shock move on Wednesday of registering for the election, going against the advice of the supreme leader.

Rouhani has lost one of his main backers. Heavyweight former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who passed away in January, played a key role in the surprising landslide victory in 2013.

But, crucially, Rouhani retains the unified support of moderates and reformists, who still see him as the best hope for change within the strict parameters of Iran's Islamic system.

The next question is whether he will be approved by the conservative-controlled Guardian Council, who will vet the hundreds of registered hopefuls over the coming week, with the election due on May 19.

N. Korean army vows ‘merciless’ response to US provocation: KCNA

North Korea’s army vowed a ‘merciless’ response to any US provocation, the official news agency reported Friday, as tensions soar over Pyongyang’s rogue nuclear programme.A statement on KCNA, which cited Washington’s recent missile strike on Syria, sai…

North Korea's army vowed a 'merciless' response to any US provocation, the official news agency reported Friday, as tensions soar over Pyongyang's rogue nuclear programme.

A statement on KCNA, which cited Washington's recent missile strike on Syria, said the administration of President Donald Trump had "entered the path of open threat and blackmail against the DPRK".

Trump recently threatened unilateral action against Pyongyang if Beijing failed to help curb its neighbour's nuclear weapons programme.

The North has conducted a series of missile launches and nuclear tests in defiance of UN sanctions and there is growing speculation that it is preparing another atomic or missile test.

The Korean People's Army statement was typically defiant and menacing, boasting that US military bases in the South "as well as the headquarters of evils such as the (South Korean presidential) Blue House would be pulverized within a few minutes".

"The closer such big targets as nuclear powered aircraft carriers come (to the Korean peninsula), the greater would be the effect of merciless strikes," the statement added.

Vettel on top, Mercedes stay in Bahrain shade

Championship leader Sebastian Vettel clocked the fastest time for Ferrari in Friday’s opening free practice session for this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix.The four-time world champion recorded a best lap in one minute and 32.697 seconds to wind up four-…

Championship leader Sebastian Vettel clocked the fastest time for Ferrari in Friday's opening free practice session for this weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix.

The four-time world champion recorded a best lap in one minute and 32.697 seconds to wind up four-tenths of a second ahead of Australian Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull.

Ricciardo?s Red Bull team-mate Max Verstappen was third ahead of Sergio Perez of Force India and Felipe Massa of Williams.

Three-time champion Lewis Hamilton, who shares the leadership of this year?s embryonic title race with Vettel, was down in 10th for Mercedes, the champion team not attempting to deliver their best in scorching hot conditions.

His new Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas was 14th quickest as they went about their own programme of preparation in temperatures that touched 48 degrees Celsius.

Fellow-Finn Kimi Raikkonen in the second Ferrari suffered a blazing engine failure midway through the 90-minutes action and had to park his car off-track before walking back towards the pits.

In the hot, dry and dusty conditions at the Bahrain International Circuit, the outcome was not representative of true potential for Sunday?s race when the temperature is expected to be cooler by at least 15 degrees.

Many of the drivers complained of lack of grip as demonstrated by several spins, including one spectacular off-circuit excursion by Massa in the closing stages.

Vettel?s fastest lap was more than four-tenths of a second slower than 2016 world champion Nico Rosberg?s fastest at last year?s event.

It was more than two seconds adrift of the record set by seven-time champion Michael Schumacher for Ferrari in 2004 when he lapped in 1:30.252.

N. Korea to strike US bases in Asian Pacific & S. Korean presidential palace if US attacks – KCNA

Preview North Korea will strike US military bases in Japan and South Korea, as well as the South Korean president’s residence in Seoul, if America engages in aggression against Pyongyang, North Korea’s General Staff warned, according to state news agency KCNA.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview North Korea will strike US military bases in Japan and South Korea, as well as the South Korean president’s residence in Seoul, if America engages in aggression against Pyongyang, North Korea’s General Staff warned, according to state news agency KCNA.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Nigeria marks three years of mass schoolgirl kidnap

Nigeria held rallies in major cities Thursday to mark three years since the mass abduction of 276 schoolgirls by Boko Haram extremists.Spearheading the rallies was the Bring Back Our Girls movement, which has been urging the government of President Muh…

Nigeria held rallies in major cities Thursday to mark three years since the mass abduction of 276 schoolgirls by Boko Haram extremists.

Spearheading the rallies was the Bring Back Our Girls movement, which has been urging the government of President Muhammadu Buhari to ramp up efforts to free the 195 girls still believed held by the radical Islamic group.

One rally was being held in the capital Abuja, where Nigeria's second most influential traditional Muslim leader, the Emir of Kano, was to make an address and lead prayers.

Parents of the missing were congregating at the school where their daughters aged 12 to 17 were kidnapped in the northeastern village of Chibok on April 14, 2014.

Participants were set to plant trees as a symbolic gesture in memory of the missing girls.

Another rally was due in the country's commercial centre Lagos.

Fifty-seven girls escaped in the immediate aftermath of the kidnapping while three others were found or rescued by the military. Some had babies in captivity.

Last October, 21 were freed after negotiations between Boko Haram and the Nigerian government brokered by the ICRC and the Swiss government.

The Chibok schoolgirls have become a symbol of the Boko Haram insurgency that began in 2009 and has left at least 20,000 people dead.

Despite a military fight-back, villages near Chibok, which is 125 kilometres (80 miles) by road from the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, have seen a wave of suspected Boko Haram attacks in recent months.

A presidential spokesman said Wednesday negotiations were ongoing with "foreign entities" for the release of those still held by the fundamentalist group active in Nigeria's northeast and which has pledged allegiance to Islamic State.

Having started as an extremist sect Boko Haram has mushroomed in recent years into an ultra-violent jihadist movement which uses mass kidnapping as a recruitment tool.

In December, Buhari triumphantly announced the "final crushing" of the group, which he described as being "on the run" after an army offensive flushed them out of their stronghold in the huge Sambisa forest.

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau denied the claim and said that some of the abducted girls were killed in Nigerian airstrikes against his group.

Support from abroad came in the shape of a British government statement Friday.

"We are working side by side with Nigeria in the fight against Boko Haram and call for the release of all those who have been taken," a foreign ministry statement read.

Uzbekistan says Stockholm suspect had ties to IS: report

Uzbekistan on Friday said the suspect in last week’s deadly Stockholm truck attack had ties to Islamic State jihadists and the West had been warned about him, Russian media reported.Rakhmat Akilov, a 39-year-old Uzbek national, is in custody on suspici…

Uzbekistan on Friday said the suspect in last week's deadly Stockholm truck attack had ties to Islamic State jihadists and the West had been warned about him, Russian media reported.

Rakhmat Akilov, a 39-year-old Uzbek national, is in custody on suspicion of mowing down a crowd on a busy street in the Swedish city. The attack killed four people.

Uzbekistan Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov said Akilov was radicalised after moving to Sweden in 2014 and the Central Asian nation's intelligence service had passed on information about him.

"During his stay abroad, he was recruited through the internet by emissaries of the international terrorist organisation the Islamic State," Kamilov said at a press briefing in Tashkent, the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported.

"Information about the wrongful acts of Rakhmat Akilov was transferred via the special services to one of our Western partners to further inform the Swedish side," he added.

There were no more details on which country Uzbekistan had told.

Interfax, another Russian agency, on Wednesday quoted an anonymous security source in Uzbekistan who said a warrant had been issued for Akilov's arrest on extremism charges in February.

Swedish police are currently holding Akilov, whose lawyer says he has already confessed to driving a stolen truck through the crowd and into the front of a department store in central Stockholm.

Iran’s Rouhani registers to run for re-election

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, the driving force behind a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, registered on Friday to run for re-election next month, state television footage showed. The politically moderate cleric faces a tougher than expected bat…

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, the driving force behind a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, registered on Friday to run for re-election next month, state television footage showed.

The politically moderate cleric faces a tougher than expected battle for a second term on May 19 as criticism mounts over the continued stagnation of the economy.

The president appeared in the afternoon at the interior ministry, where registration to stand for the election runs until Saturday.

He has made much of his successes in controlling inflation and reaching a landmark nuclear deal with world powers that ended many sanctions.

"In every aspect that you consider, figures tell us that after the (nuclear deal), there is more space for movement and progress," he told reporters last week.

Rouhani's support among moderate and reformist lawmakers remains solid, but disappointment with the 68-year-old's administration is palpable on the streets.

Unemployment is stuck at 12 percent, the promised billions in foreign investment have not materialised, and he has failed to ease social restrictions or release political prisoners, including opposition figures held under house arrest for their part in 2009 protests.

The conservative opposition remains divided, but attention has lately focused on hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi, 56, who runs the powerful Imam Reza charitable foundation.

Raisi has emphasised his concern for the poor, and is seen as a close ally of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The conservative-controlled Guardian Council will vet the hundreds of registered hopefuls over the coming week, before releasing a final list of candidates.

Saudi woman’s fear: ‘They will kill me’

Activists expressed fear Friday for the safety of a young Saudi woman they say was returned to the kingdom against her will, in a case highlighting tight restrictions on women.Dina Ali Lasloom, 24, intended to flee to Australia to escape a forced marri…

Activists expressed fear Friday for the safety of a young Saudi woman they say was returned to the kingdom against her will, in a case highlighting tight restrictions on women.

Dina Ali Lasloom, 24, intended to flee to Australia to escape a forced marriage, Human Rights Watch cited a Canadian witness as saying.

The witness said Lasloom approached her while in transit at the airport in Manila, saying "airport officials had confiscated her passport and boarding pass" for a Sydney-bound flight.

The Canadian said she helped Lasloom film social media videos about her plight. In one of them she said: "If my family comes they will kill me," HRW said.

Arranged marriages are the norm in Saudi Arabia, where a "guardianship" system requires a male family member, usually the father, husband or brother, to grant permission for a woman's study, travel and other activities.

"Lasloom's whereabouts are currently unknown," HRW said in a statement from Manila.

The Canadian witness, who spent several hours with Lasloom at the airport in Manila, reported that two of Lasloom's uncles arrived, the New York-based watchdog said.

It also quoted an airline security official as saying he heard Lasloom "screaming and begging for help" on Tuesday before security personnel and men who appeared to be Middle Eastern carried her "with duct tape on her mouth, feet and hands" at the airport.

Asked about the HRW statement by AFP on Friday, the Philippine immigration department said it had held no one of Lasloom's name and no Saudi national.

"There was no Saudi national by that name who presented herself," spokeswoman Antonette Mangrobang said.

"As far as immigration is concerned, we did not hold any Saudi national."

The spokeswoman said that if Lasloom was a transiting passenger, then she would not have passed through immigration and it would have been up to the airline to decide what happened to her.

A Saudi activist told AFP that "Dina was brought back by force to Riyadh and is now in custody."

Another woman, Alaa, who went to the Riyadh airport to support Lasloom, was arrested when she tried to inquire about her whereabouts, the Saudi activist said.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was on a state visit to Saudi Arabia on Monday and Tuesday when the incident occurred.

The Berlin-based European Saudi Organization for Human Rights told AFP that "the seriousness of what Dina Ali is facing" stems from the guardianship system.

"Women's rights are... the most prominent human rights problem in Saudi Arabia," the group said.

The Saudi embassy in the Philippines said on Twitter that "the information that has been circulating over social media is untrue."

It described the incident as a family matter and said: "The citizen has now returned with her family to the homeland."

Credit Suisse execs take bonus cuts of 40% after outcry

Credit Suisse’s chief and other top executives offered Friday to have their bonuses slashed by 40 percent, following investor concern over the size of their proposed compensation packages.Credit Suisse chief Tidjane Thiam and the bank’s executive board…

Credit Suisse's chief and other top executives offered Friday to have their bonuses slashed by 40 percent, following investor concern over the size of their proposed compensation packages.

Credit Suisse chief Tidjane Thiam and the bank's executive board proposed that the "long-term incentive awards for 2017 and short-term incentive awards for 2016 ... be reduced by 40 percent each," according to a statement.

The board of directors would also leave its compensation unchanged at the same level as 2015 and 2016, and would not accept a proposed incremental increase, it added.

"My highest priority is to see through the turnaround of Credit Suisse which is under way," Thiam said in a letter to shareholders published Friday.

"I hope that this decision will alleviate some of the concerns expressed by some shareholders and will allow the executive team to continue to focus on the task at hand," he added.

The move came after Credit Suisse's compensation committee last month proposed handing Thiam and the bank's 12 other executive directors 26 million Swiss francs ($26 million, 24 million euros) in short-term bonuses for 2016 and up to 52 million francs in long-term bonuses.

Ahead of its annual meeting on April 28, Switzerland's second largest bank has also asked investors to give chief executive Tidjane Thiam nearly 12 million francs in total for his first full year on the job in 2016, after short and long-term bonuses were added to his 3.7-million-franc salary.

The compensation committee had also proposed boosting compensation to the board of directors to 12.5 millions Swiss francs this year.

Several investor advisory groups have voiced outrage over the proposed bonuses, pointing to the bank's $2.7-billion net loss in 2016 following a massive $5.28-billion settlement with US authorities over its role in the sub-prime crisis.

Ethos, which advises major Swiss pension funds and other tax-exempt institutions, described the proposed bonuses as "excessive", insisting that Credit Suisse's "executive management should not have received a bonus in 2016 given the disappointing results of the bank".

Amid market turbulence and legal woes, the bank's stock price plunged more than 30 percent last year.

And as it dramatically reorganised its operations, it slashed 7,250 jobs over the course of 2016, with nearly the same number of jobs expected to go this year.

In a separate letter to shareholders Friday, chairman of the Credit Suisse board Urs Rohner stressed the board's "high degree of satisfaction with the performance of the CEO and the Executive Board in 2016."

But he added that "in light of the current environment and sentiment towards compensation, the board of directors understands the decision made by the CEO and the executive team ... (and) accepts these voluntary and personal decisions with great respect."

Baby with eight limbs gets new lease on life in India

A baby born with eight limbs, including two protruding from his stomach, has undergone surgery in India to successfully remove the extra arms and legs, in an operation being hailed as a world first.Seven-month-old Karam was born in Iraq with an extreme…

A baby born with eight limbs, including two protruding from his stomach, has undergone surgery in India to successfully remove the extra arms and legs, in an operation being hailed as a world first.

Seven-month-old Karam was born in Iraq with an extremely rare condition where a conjoined twin did not fully form and was partially absorbed, resulting in the additional limbs.

The boy's father Sarwed Ahmed Nadar flew the infant to India for surgery, where doctors performed a three-stage operation to remove the unnecessary limbs.

There are just five or six known cases worldwide of this condition, making the task more difficult for the doctors, said senior orthopaedic consultant Gaurav Rathore, who was part of the surgical team.

"He was brought to us when he was just two weeks old and his condition was quite unique. Most of the surgeries we performed had not been attempted before," Rathore told reporters in Noida, a satellite city outside New Delhi.

"Till now our journey has been quite successful. Karam is a very courageous young baby. He is in fact a very happy child."

The team of doctors at Jaypee Hospital conducted the surgery in three stages, first removing the limbs sticking out from his stomach before correcting a cardiac complication.

The final procedure saw doctors remove all the extra limbs, though he will require more procedures as he grows older to correct other anomalies.

A hub of medical tourism, India attracts thousands of patients from all over the world, owing to low costs and high quality of medical care.

Karam's father Nadar, who was initially horrified when his son was born, said his only hope was that his son now grows up normal and healthy.

"He is my only child and the first-born is always special," said Nadar, 28.

"There were a lot of risks but I never lost hope."

Egypt Copts mark solemn Good Friday

Egyptian Copts observed a solemn Good Friday with prayers and fasting, as the community reeled from a pair of church bombings that killed dozens on Palm Sunday.The government had declared a state of emergency and called in the army to protect “vital” i…

Egyptian Copts observed a solemn Good Friday with prayers and fasting, as the community reeled from a pair of church bombings that killed dozens on Palm Sunday.

The government had declared a state of emergency and called in the army to protect "vital" installations following last week's suicide bombings claimed by the Islamic State group.

On Friday, Copts attended churches across the country to commemorate the day they believe Jesus Christ was crucified.

The services mark the Stations of the Cross, representing the Biblical account of the cross-bearing Christ as he was led to his crucifixion and burial.

The rites were especially mournful for the Christian minority following last Sunday's suicide bombings at churches in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria which killed 45 people, Coptic Bishop Kirillos told AFP.

"With these incidents we are now living with Christ in his pain," he said.

On Saturday, the Orthodox will mark Easter, with Coptic Pope Tawadros II leading services in Cairo's Saint Mark's Cathedral.

The church had announced it would scale back Easter celebrations to a simple mass in the wake of the bombings.

"Given the current circumstances and our solidarity with the families of the dead, we are going to limit our celebrations to Easter mass," it said in a statement.

"There will be no decorations in churches and the rooms normally reserved for the reception of worshippers wishing to exchange season's greetings will remain closed," an official at the Coptic patriarchate told AFP.

The violence came ahead of Catholic Pope Francis's first visit to Egypt, which a Vatican official said will go ahead as planned on April 28 and 29 despite the attacks.

Copts, who make up about one tenth of Egypt's population of more than 92 million, have been targeted several times in recent months.

In December, an Islamic State group suicide bomber set off an explosives vest in a Cairo church, killing 29 people.

Sharapova slams ITF for lack of doping warning

Maria Sharapova hit out at tennis authorities on Friday for failing to warn her that a drug she had been taking had become a banned substance.Sharapova, a five-times Grand Slam champion, had an initial two-year suspension by the International Tennis Fe…

Maria Sharapova hit out at tennis authorities on Friday for failing to warn her that a drug she had been taking had become a banned substance.

Sharapova, a five-times Grand Slam champion, had an initial two-year suspension by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) reduced to 15 months after she tested positive at the 2016 Australian Open for meldonium.

This was a medication the Russian had been taking when it was within the rules but which was later reclassified as a prohibited drug.

"Why didn't someone come up to me and have a private conversation, just an official to an athlete, which would have taken care of the confidentiality problem they talked about later?" Sharapova told The Times.

However, she did accept she had become "complacent", saying she was responsible for failing the drug test.

"Ultimately the fault was mine," she added. "I had been getting clearance on everything I was taking for seven years and I became complacent."

Meldonium was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency list of banned substances at the start 2016 after increasing evidence that it enhanced performance.

Sharapova is set to make her return to competitive tennis at the WTA Stuttgart Grand Prix, which starts on April 24.

HELP! French farmer mows ‘message of despair’ in wheat field

Preview A French farmer has mown the giant letters HELP into his wheat field, hoping presidential candidates will handle the agricultural sector crisis. He says the authorities are “deaf” to farmers’ anger, but hopes they won’t be blind to his “message of despair.”
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview A French farmer has mown the giant letters HELP into his wheat field, hoping presidential candidates will handle the agricultural sector crisis. He says the authorities are “deaf” to farmers’ anger, but hopes they won't be blind to his “message of despair.”
Read Full Article at RT.com

‘We will go to war if they choose’: N. Korea warns ‘aggressive’ Trump not to provoke Pyongyang

Preview North Korea won’t hesitate to go to war if provoked, its vice foreign minister said in an interview, adding that the North has “a powerful nuclear deterrent” and “certainly will not keep arms crossed” if facing a pre-emptive strike from Washington.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview North Korea won’t hesitate to go to war if provoked, its vice foreign minister said in an interview, adding that the North has “a powerful nuclear deterrent” and “certainly will not keep arms crossed” if facing a pre-emptive strike from Washington.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Israeli stabbed in Jerusalem, attacker arrested: police

An Israeli woman was stabbed and seriously wounded in Jerusalem on Friday and her attacker arrested, a police spokeswoman said.The attack took place on the light railway close to the Old City, where Christian commemorations were under way for Good Frid…

An Israeli woman was stabbed and seriously wounded in Jerusalem on Friday and her attacker arrested, a police spokeswoman said.

The attack took place on the light railway close to the Old City, where Christian commemorations were under way for Good Friday as Jews marked the week-long Passover holiday.

The woman, who is her 20s, was in a "critical condition", the emergency services said.

Police had been on high alert for Passover when tens of thousands of Jews pray at the Western Wall inside the Old City and some visit the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound above it.

The compound, which is the third holiest site in Islam and the holiest site to Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount, is the source of constant tensions.

Jews are allowed to visit but not pray at the site.

Palestinian fears that Israel will seek to change those rules have been the source of repeated violence.

A wave of unrest which erupted in October 2015 has claimed the lives of 260 Palestinians, 41 Israelis, two Americans, one Jordanian, an Eritrean and a Sudanese, according to an AFP count.

Most of the Palestinians killed were carrying out knife, gun or car-ramming attacks, the Israeli authorities say.

Others were shot dead during protests or clashes, while some were killed in Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip.

The violence has greatly subsided in recent months.

Ecuador to recount 12 percent of presidential votes

Ecuador will recount almost 1.3 million ballots from the country’s presidential election earlier this month, 12 percent of the total, the National Electoral Council (CNE) has said.Socialist Lenin Moreno won the April 2 second round with a 51.15 percent…

Ecuador will recount almost 1.3 million ballots from the country's presidential election earlier this month, 12 percent of the total, the National Electoral Council (CNE) has said.

Socialist Lenin Moreno won the April 2 second round with a 51.15 percent share -- more than 226,000 votes ahead of his conservative rival Guillermo Lasso, who has alleged fraud, refused to accept the result and asked for a full recount.

In a statement issued late Thursday, the electoral council said it approved a "recount of the votes corresponding to the disputed tallies" to be held on Tuesday.

A total of 1,275,450 votes will be recounted -- 12 percent of the 10,637,996 votes cast.

Lasso, a right-wing former banker, dismissed the announcement.

"We will not accept anything less than the opening of all ballot boxes for the recount of all votes," he said in a statement.

"We will not endorse any partial opening of ballot boxes with our presence."

The CNE said only those votes disputed on a technical basis would be reviewed, adding that a full recount has "no legal basis."

The council had set April 12 as a deadline for challenges and appeals.

Following the vote, the Organization of American States said its election observers "witnessed that there were no discrepancies between the ballot papers they observed and the official figures" reported by the council.

However, some Lasso supporters protested outside election offices in Quito and other cities. There were no injuries or arrests.

Moreno is set to replace fellow socialist President Rafael Correa on May 24.

His election bucks a trend in Latin America, where more than a decade of leftist dominance is on the wane.

Assad comments on chemical attack ‘100% lies’: French FM

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s comments that last week’s chemical weapons attack was a fabrication to justify a US military strike are “100 percent lies”, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Friday.”It’s 100 percent lies and propaganda,”…

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's comments that last week's chemical weapons attack was a fabrication to justify a US military strike are "100 percent lies", French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Friday.

"It's 100 percent lies and propaganda," Ayrault said during a visit to Beijing, responding to an exclusive AFP interview with Assad on Wednesday.

"It's 100 percent cruelty and cynicism."

The French minister mirrored language used by Assad himself, who dismissed the allegation that his regime perpetrated the attack that left 87 civilians dead, including many children.

"Definitely, 100 percent for us, it's fabrication," Assad said in the interview.

The Syrian leader questioned whether the attack had in fact occurred, claiming that "fake videos" and "propaganda" were being used against his government.

He also accused the United States of colluding with terrorists and "fabricating the whole story in order to have a pretext" for a cruise missile strike on a Syrian air base last week.

The French minister made the remarks during a joint press conference with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

"The reality is that more than 300,000 have died, 11 million people have been displaced or become refugees, tens of thousands have been placed in Syrian prisons and a country has been destroyed," Ayrault said.

"That is the reality. It is not a fantasy."

He emphasised the need for an end to the conflict with a "real ceasefire, one which restricts the Syrian air force and military and is upheld by the international community."

Ayrault praised China's role in the matter, noting its abstention from a United Nations Security Council vote on a resolution to condemn the Syrian gas attack.

In the past, China has voted alongside Russia to veto UN resolutions on the Syrian conflict.

Wang expressed his agreement with the French minister, noting that an "independent, fair and professional investigation" into the chemical weapons attack should be conducted "as soon as possible."

Russia urges ‘restraint’ over N. Korea tensions: Kremlin

Russia on Friday called for “restraint” over the situation in North Korea, warning against any “provocative steps” after Washington said it was assessing military options in response to the country’s weapons programs.”Moscow is watching with great conc…

Russia on Friday called for "restraint" over the situation in North Korea, warning against any "provocative steps" after Washington said it was assessing military options in response to the country's weapons programs.

"Moscow is watching with great concern the escalation of tensions on the Korean peninsula," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.

"We call for restraint from all countries and warn countries not to pursue actions that could consist of any provocative steps," he added.

Speculation has mounted in recent days that Pyongyang is preparing to fire a trial nuke or missile when it marks a major anniversary on Saturday, prompting US President Donald Trump to pledge the matter "will be taken care of."

Trump has sent an aircraft carrier-led strike group to the Korean peninsula to press his point, in one of a series of signals indicating his willingness to shake up foreign policy strategy.

Russia's North Korea envoy Alexander Matsegora on Friday said he does not rule out a test or launch in the near future, expressing concern that Trump could take a fateful decision without any North Korea experts on his team.

"If Mr. Trump would listen to a Russian Korea expert with 40 years of experience, I would advise him not to do it," he told RIA-Novosti of a potential US strike.

"Right now we all must stop at the edge of the abyss and not take this fateful step," he said.

Turkey in final referendum push as jihadists detained

The opposing sides in Turkey’s tightly-contested referendum on expanding President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s powers made a last push for votes Friday as the arrest of five suspected jihadists fuelled security concerns.Opinion polls — usually treated with…

The opposing sides in Turkey's tightly-contested referendum on expanding President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's powers made a last push for votes Friday as the arrest of five suspected jihadists fuelled security concerns.

Opinion polls -- usually treated with caution in Turkey -- have predicted a tight outcome on Sunday despite the considerable advantages of the 'Yes' campaign in both airtime and campaign resources.

The referendum will take place under a state of emergency that has been in place since last summer's failed coup which has seen some 47,000 arrested in the biggest crackdown in Turkey's history.

Analysts regard the referendum as a turning point in the modern history of the country that will affect not just the shape of its political system but also its relations with the West.

If the new system is passed, it will abolish the office of prime minister, enabling the president to centralise all state bureaucracy under his control and also to appoint cabinet ministers.

Supporters see the new system as an essential modernisation step for Turkey to streamline government but opponents fear it risks granting Erdogan authoritarian powers.

Erdogan has raised hackles in the West throughout the campaign with his repeated denunciations of the European Union, which Turkey has sought to join for the last half century.

"April 16 will be an answer to the European Union," Erdogan said in a TV interview late on Thursday.

He expressed confidence that the new presidential system would be approved, saying there were no longer undecided voters. "'Yes' has gone up considerably, while 'No' has gone down," he said.

- Conflicting polls -

A poll by the Konda group showed 'Yes' ahead at 51.5 percent but the Sonar group has projected a 'No' vote of 51.2 percent, and with other polling companies producing different figures the outcome remains uncertain.

Erdogan will on Friday speak in Konya, the Anatolian city seen as the heartland of conservative supporters who have benefited from his rule.

The leader of the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) Kemal Kilicdaroglu has called for a 'No' vote, arguing there was too much uncertainty over the consequences of the new system.

"We will altogether write a legend of democracy (on Sunday) because our questions have been left unanswered," he told reporters in Istanbul.

The referendum is taking place after a bloody year of terror attacks in Turkey blamed on jihadists and Kurdish militants.

Adding to security concerns, Turkish police on Friday detained five suspected Islamic State jihadists in Istanbul accused of planning a "sensational" attack targeting the weekend referendum.

Turkish authorities had on Tuesday detained another 19 suspected IS supporters in the Aegean city of Izmir, accused of planning to sabotage the vote.

In the latest issue of its Al-Naba magazine, IS called for attacks on polling stations in Turkey.

- Last-minute spat? -

Campaigning is allowed until 6:00 pm (1500 GMT) on Saturday and voting in the country's east gets under way at 7:00 am (0400 GMT) on Sunday and an hour later elsewhere.

Meanwhile, a last-minute dispute appeared to be brewing between Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its main political ally in implementing the plan, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

An advisor to Erdogan suggested this week Turkey could form a federal system if 'Yes' won in a move that would be an anathema to the nationalists.

But MHP leader Devlet Bahceli quickly responded saying he would dismiss any advisor of his if they made similar remarks.

"Have you heard such a thing from me? No," Erdogan hit back.

In a bid to prevent any last-minute schism with the MHP, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim also said he would resign if there was any move towards a federal structure for Turkey.

- UN raps Turkey -

Ahead of the vote, UN experts accused Turkey of "massive violations" of the right to education and work, citing figures suggesting that since the state of emergency was declared, some 134,000 public servants had been dismissed.

The dismissals "cannot be justified by reference to Turkey?s longstanding international human rights obligations," said four UN special rapporteurs in a statement.

However, Turkey's foreign ministry rejected the "political statement", adding it would diminish the value of the UN mechanisms.

Arsenal board debate no bother to Wenger

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger had insisted any discussions the Gunners’ board may be having about his future will not distract him from his job, with the debate about his position showing no sign of stopping.Wenger’s contract is up at the end of the se…

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger had insisted any discussions the Gunners' board may be having about his future will not distract him from his job, with the debate about his position showing no sign of stopping.

Wenger's contract is up at the end of the season and there has been intense speculation about whether the veteran French manager, in post at north London giants Arsenal since September 1996, will carry on.

Poor recent results, including Monday's 3-0 defeat by a Crystal Palace side battling to avoid relegation, have only fuelled talk about Wenger's Gunners' prospects.

Wenger has indicated previously he has made a decision about his Arsenal future but that any public announcement will come from the club.

"What is happening at board level is not down to me," said Wenger at a news conference on Friday.

"I focus on what is down to me, the performance of the team and what the fans are interested in is the performance of the team."

Arsenal are sixth in the Premier League table and seven points adrift of a Champions League place, with eight league games left to play this season.

Theo Walcott suggested after the Palace defeat that the Eagles wanted to win more than the Gunners, adding to the pressure being heaped on the 67-year-old Wenger.

But no one in Arsenal's hierarchy, including the club's US-based owner Stan Kroenke, has yet said anything in public to suggest Wenger's position is under threat, for all that some fans have called for him to resign.

And Wenger insisted Friday that results such as Monday's loss at Selhurst Park had not altered his relationship with Kroenke.

"I believe our relationship has always been the same and that has not changed."

Wenger, asked if anything had changed regarding his future, replied: "Nothing."

Arsenal's next match is away to second-bottom Middlesbrough -- whose four league wins are the least by any Premier League club so far this season - on Monday.

Extreme religious acts mark Good Friday in the Philippines

Whipping their backs to a bloody state and nailing themselves to crosses, devotees in the fervently Catholic Philippines marked Good Friday with extreme acts of faith that have become tourist attractions.In towns north of Manila at least five people we…

Whipping their backs to a bloody state and nailing themselves to crosses, devotees in the fervently Catholic Philippines marked Good Friday with extreme acts of faith that have become tourist attractions.

In towns north of Manila at least five people were nailed to crosses, while in an island to the south hundreds of residents dressed up as Roman centurions as part of decades-old traditions in the Southeast Asian nation.

These customs flourish, although they are not officially endorsed by church leadership.

In the island of Marinduque, about 150 kilometres (100 miles) south of the capital, residents in centurion outfits and heavy wooden masks, played at hunting down a renegade Roman soldier called St. Longinus.

Legends say Longinus thrust his spear through the side of the crucified Christ.

Christ's blood spurted on his face, healing the centurion's blindness and convincing him to change sides.

The climax of the week-long drama is on Saturday when the centurions capture Longinus and dramatically "behead" him.

Organiser Raymond Nepomuceno said they were now encouraging children to take part even if they used lighter plastic or fibreglass masks.

"I feel like it's a dying culture and to preserve it for the new generation we let the children join whether as a vow (to God) or just to enjoy," he told AFP.

Nemesio de los Reyes said he was taking part in the re-enactment so he and his family would remain healthy.

"Being a Morion (centurion) is part of my vow in life. While I'm still strong and healthy I will do this. It's also my sacrifice and I?m hoping that my prayers will be answered that my friends and family will stay healthy," he said.

Half-naked men showed their devotion in a cemetery by flogging their backs that had earlier been sliced by a razor as part of their vow to God.

"I've been doing this for 15 years. I do this so my sins will be forgiven," said Sammy Matre.

Newcomer John Allen Jamig, 17, briefly fainted after his flogging drew blood.

"I don?t know why I felt dizzy, I think because I didn?t have enough sleep last night," he insisted.

In San Pedro village north of Manila, 56-year-old Ruben Enaje underwent his 31st crucifixion after surviving a construction accident.

Dozens of other devotees whipped their backs in a macabre procession under the burning sun, with foreigners and local tourists in the normally sleepy village watching the spectacle in awe.

In a nod to commercialism, vendors hawked soft drinks, snacks, hats and umbrellas with banners of major telecom firm Smart Communications, a sponsor of the Good Friday event, in the background.