Venezuela marks one month of deadly violence

May Day protests risk being rough in Venezuela on Monday as it marks one month since deadly clashes erupted in a political crisis with no end in sight.Protesters took to the streets from April 1 to demand elections after the courts tried to strengthen …

May Day protests risk being rough in Venezuela on Monday as it marks one month since deadly clashes erupted in a political crisis with no end in sight.

Protesters took to the streets from April 1 to demand elections after the courts tried to strengthen President Nicolas Maduro's grip on power.

Marches in various cities erupted into clashes between riot police and protesters which have since left 28 people dead, according to public prosecutors.

"We are not going to cool down the street," said senior opposition lawmaker Freddy Guevara, however.

"On May 1 we must show our strength, that we are in the majority and that we want to have our say in elections."

The opposition has accused Maduro of installing a dictatorship.

It blames him for an economic crisis that has sparked food and medicine shortages in the major oil-exporting nation.

Even residents of traditionally pro-Maduro districts have been joining in the protests against him in recent days.

"I have been a month now joining in all the protests because I want my country to be free of this dictatorship," said Yoleida Viloria, 42, a hairdresser from the poor neighborhood of Petare in eastern Caracas.

- Election headache -

The president has vowed to continue the socialist "Bolivarian revolution" launched by his late predecessor Hugo Chavez.

Maduro has rejected opposition calls for general elections before his term ends late next year.

He has said he is willing to hold regional polls that were postponed in December. But the electoral authorities have not set a date.

"Any election in the short term would be a defeat for Chavismo," said Edgard Gutierrez, an analyst with pollster Venebarometro.

But the electoral prospects for the center-right opposition coalition look slim.

Popular Will party leader Leopoldo Lopez is in jail.

Prominent opposition leader Henrique Capriles of the Justice First party has been officially banned from politics by authorities.

Opposition parties are obliged to go through an electoral registration process that could lead to some of them being excluded.

But aside from dangerous street protests, some of them see the prospect of regional elections this year as their only remaining lever for pressuring Maduro.

"We have to win back votes, even though these elections will not resolve the underlying problem," said Miguel Pizarro, an opposition member of the legislature.

"We have to take part and combine the elections with resistance in the street to change the government."

Maduro on Sunday welcomed an offer by Pope Francis of Vatican mediation but opposition leaders rebuffed the overture, insisting that there must be a timetable for general elections.

Sunwolves’ winger Taulagi banned for five weeks

Sunwolves winger Jamie-Jerry Taulagi was banned for five weeks Monday after pleading guilty to a dangerous tackle during the weekend’s tense Super Rugby loss to the Waikato Chiefs.Taulagi was shown a red card for a shoulder charge targeting the head of…

Sunwolves winger Jamie-Jerry Taulagi was banned for five weeks Monday after pleading guilty to a dangerous tackle during the weekend's tense Super Rugby loss to the Waikato Chiefs.

Taulagi was shown a red card for a shoulder charge targeting the head of Chiefs outside back Shaun Stevenson in the dying moments of the match in Hamilton.

The SANZAAR judiciary said the Auckland-born player was facing a suspension of up to seven weeks but it was reduced to five due to his early guilty plea and remorse.

While Taulagi is suspended until June 10, a round 12 bye and Super Rugby's mid-season break means he will miss only three matches.

The next match he will be available for is the Sunwolves' clash with the Golden Lions in Johannesburg on July 1.

Opera troupe tours rural China defending a dying art

For the 50-year-old Chinese opera performer, every aspect of the dimly-lit backstage room was a reminder that things had changed.The elaborate costumes carelessly thrown aside, the young troupe members playing with their smartphones, the half-eaten noo…

For the 50-year-old Chinese opera performer, every aspect of the dimly-lit backstage room was a reminder that things had changed.

The elaborate costumes carelessly thrown aside, the young troupe members playing with their smartphones, the half-eaten noodles abandoned in the corner -- all were tokens of disorder that made Li Zhiguo grimace in his blue and gold cap.

"I get angry sometimes watching my students perform, because their heart isn't in it," Li said.

"But when they ask me if rehearsing diligently will guarantee them a good living, I have nothing to say."

When Li joined the Yu County Jin Opera Troupe in northern Hebei province 35 years ago, he and his fellow teenage recruits believed that they had secured stable futures as the public guardians of a traditional art.

But policy reforms in 2005 turned their government-sponsored project into a private venture without a concrete business strategy, gutting the performers' salaries and threatening the future of an early Qing Dynasty opera form.

Jin opera, which is characterised by upbeat songs and wooden clapper instruments, originated in the northern Shanxi province bordering Yu county.

From the Spring Festival to the end of March, the troupe travels from village to village in Hebei, performing on ramshackle rural stages to mostly elderly crowds.

Despite their new business designation, they still rarely charge for performances -- most attendees wouldn't pay -- and rely heavily on support from local governments.

Backstage at one of their last shows of the season, Li sighed as he recounted all the departures in recent years. Many of his students had left the troupe after struggling to support their families.

"If it's about the art, I'll tell them to stay," said Li. "If it's about survival, I'll tell them: go."

- An 'iron rice bowl' no more -

The group of 90 has been active since 1985, drawing its members from auditions held across Yu county. The performers join when they are between 13 and 15 years old; those who stay have known each other their entire adult lives.

Liu Donghai, a former actor who now helps manage the troupe, recalled that being chosen from among more than a thousand kids had felt like winning the lottery.

His parents were thrilled because, being a state institution at the time, the troupe offered him an "iron rice bowl" -- the Chinese parlance for a secure job.

Since they were stripped of their public status, however, some performers have started driving pedicabs between shows for supplementary income.

Even the most senior members of the troupe make less than 2,500 yuan ($363) a month, while the average actor makes closer to 1,500 yuan ($217) in a district where the minimum monthly wage is 1,590 yuan ($231).

Over the 23 years that Liu, 36, has been with the group, he has seen his cohort shrink. But a sense of loyalty has kept him from leaving.

"This is my family," he said. "Our troupe leader is like a father to me. Whatever he says, I'll do."

Sometimes that means singing in freezing cold weather, or dancing while snow settles on his elaborate costumes.

But as Geng Liping, a 30-year-old actress, said, "When you're on stage you never feel cold."

- 'Sword dangling over their heads' -

Jin opera recounts ancient Shanxi history, with storylines soaked in nostalgia for the province's imperial past.

Modern audiences have different tastes, said Wang Jia, founder of the China Jin Opera Network.

"Even our notion of beauty has changed, so everything -- from the costumes to the dialogue -- is being adapted for contemporary viewing," Wang said.

The greatest problem they face now is attracting young recruits willing to endure the nomadic life of an actor, a life without financial guarantees.

"Most of them don't have health insurance," Wang said.

"The question of whether their basic needs will be met is like a sword dangling over their heads."

At a March performance in Yu county's Baocao village, there were no chairs in the viewing area, but some attendees had brought their own. Others watched from inside their cars, or found perches along a crumbling brick fence as a harsh wind blew around them.

More people used to come, the performers said, before the county's coal plants closed and the migrants left.

Now there were about 50 mostly elderly locals, some with babies in their arms. They heard about the show through word of mouth.

One of the few young people, 20-year-old Zhang Zehui, had attended several performances with her grandmother.

"It's lively and interesting, but I don't really understand it," Zhang said.

Garbed in a colourful robe, Li stood backstage, awaiting his cue.

"Has it been worth it?" he asked as he looked out at the crowd. "That's a big question mark in my heart."

With a week to go, Macron and Le Pen to hold duelling May Day events

France’s rivals for the presidency, centrist frontrunner Emmanuel Macron and far-right challenger Marine Le Pen, are set to hold duelling rallies in Paris on Monday, the May Day holiday that will also see major demonstrations against both candidates.

France’s rivals for the presidency, centrist frontrunner Emmanuel Macron and far-right challenger Marine Le Pen, are set to hold duelling rallies in Paris on Monday, the May Day holiday that will also see major demonstrations against both candidates.

3 Chinese warships make ‘goodwill’ port call in Duterte’s hometown of Davao (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

Preview Three Chinese warships have docked in Davao City, starting a three-day “goodwill visit” to President Rodrigo Duterte’s hometown, where it will stage “confidence-building” activities between the Chinese and Philippines navies.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview Three Chinese warships have docked in Davao City, starting a three-day “goodwill visit” to President Rodrigo Duterte’s hometown, where it will stage “confidence-building” activities between the Chinese and Philippines navies.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Winter fighting took heavy toll on Afghan forces: report

Afghan security forces were killed at a “shockingly high” rate during what historically has been a winter lull in fighting against the Taliban, a US watchdog said in a report Monday.According to the US government’s Special Inspector General for Afghani…

Afghan security forces were killed at a "shockingly high" rate during what historically has been a winter lull in fighting against the Taliban, a US watchdog said in a report Monday.

According to the US government's Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), 807 troops from the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces died between January 1 and February 24.

"Afghanistan remains in the grip of a deadly war. Casualties suffered by (ANDSF) in the fight against the Taliban and other insurgents continue to be shockingly high," the report noted.

Levels of violence have traditionally dipped over Afghanistan's cold winter months, but this year the Taliban continued to battle government forces, most successfully in a horrific April 19 attack on a military base outside the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif.

The massacre saw insurgents armed with guns and suicide bombs slaughter at least 144 recruits, a US official told AFP, though multiple sources have claimed the toll was higher still.

The Afghan Taliban launched their "spring offensive" Friday, heralding fresh fighting the group said would include "conventional attacks, guerrilla warfare, complex martyrdom attacks (and) insider attacks."

Afghan police and army units in 2015 took over from NATO the task of providing security for the country.

According to SIGAR, 6,785 Afghan soldiers and police officers were killed between January 1 and November 12, 2016, with another 11,777 wounded.

The Afghan government has not provided US Forces-Afghanistan with data for the last seven weeks of that year, but even the partial numbers showed an increase of about 35 percent from all of 2015, when some 5,000 security forces were killed.

The SIGAR report also found that both Afghan government and insurgent groups slightly increased the amount of territory they held, as the number of areas previously considered "contested" dropped.

Afghan forces now control 59.7 percent of the country, up from 57.2 percent the previous quarter.

The Taliban and other insurgent groups meanwhile saw their areas of control or influence increase slightly from about 10 percent to 11.1 percent.

The US Congress created SIGAR to provide oversight into how the more than $100 billion appropriated for Afghan reconstruction has been spent since 2002.

Part of its remit is to compile quarterly reports providing snapshots of the country's progress -- or lack thereof -- and highlight ongoing challenges to the security situation.

The SIGAR report also points to a UN tally showing that civilian casualties in 2016 were the highest since the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan began recording them in 2009.

That count found conflict-related civilian casualties in Afghanistan rose to 11,418 in 2016, including 3,498 killed and 7,920 wounded.

S. Korea media warn of ‘Trump risk’ to alliance

South Korean media on Monday warned of a “Trump risk” threatening the alliance between Washington and Seoul amid high tensions over the North’s weapons ambitions.The two countries are bound by a defence pact and 28,500 US troops are stationed in the So…

South Korean media on Monday warned of a "Trump risk" threatening the alliance between Washington and Seoul amid high tensions over the North's weapons ambitions.

The two countries are bound by a defence pact and 28,500 US troops are stationed in the South.

But the new US president has said in recent interviews that Seoul should pay for a "billion-dollar" US missile defence system being deployed in the South to guard against threats from the nuclear-armed North.

He has also pushed for renegotiation of what he called a "horrible" bilateral free trade pact that went into effect five years ago, calling it an "unacceptable... deal made by Hillary".

The remarks stunned Seoul, with South Korean politicians immediately rejecting his push for payment for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery.

Tensions are high over the North's nuclear and missile programmes -- it has ambitions to develop a rocket that can deliver a warhead to the US mainland -- and threats on both sides have raised fears of conflict.

"Trump's mouth rattling Korea-US alliance" said a front-page headline in South Korea's top-selling Chosun daily on Monday.

"There are issues that are far more important than just money," it said in an editorial.

"If either country keeps reducing the alliance to the matter of money or the economy, it is bound to undermine basic trust."

Seoul, it said, needed to come up with "various Plan Bs" for the future.

The THAAD system is being installed at a former golf course in the South.

This has infuriated China, which sees it as compromising its own capabilities and has responded with a series of measures seen as economic retaliation, even as Washington looks to Beijing to rein in Pyongyang.

At the weekend Seoul's presidential office said US National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster had appeared to backtrack on THAAD, telling his South Korean counterpart by phone that the US would bear the cost of the missile deployment as initially agreed.

But McMaster told Fox News Sunday that the "last thing" he would ever do was contradict the president, and that "the relationship on THAAD, on our defence relationship going forward, will be renegotiated as it's going to be with all of our allies".

Another major South Korean newspaper, JoongAng Ilbo, accused Trump's administration of sending "confusing and contradictory messages", creating a "chaotic situation" that dealt a "huge blow" to the bilateral alliance.

"The US must be well aware of the pain and backlash Seoul has endured to push for the THAAD deployment," it added.

US Congress agrees funding deal in effort to avert shutdown

US congressional leaders have reached a deal on a federal spending bill which if passed by lawmakers this week will avert a government shutdown, a top lawmaker and congressional aides said late Sunday.

US congressional leaders have reached a deal on a federal spending bill which if passed by lawmakers this week will avert a government shutdown, a top lawmaker and congressional aides said late Sunday.

Paul Pierce departs league with ‘no regrets’

Paul Pierce said he departs the NBA with “no regrets” despite the bitter disappointment of the Los Angeles Clippers first-round playoff loss to the Utah Jazz.”I really enjoyed myself with this group this year. Regardless of what happened today with the…

Paul Pierce said he departs the NBA with "no regrets" despite the bitter disappointment of the Los Angeles Clippers first-round playoff loss to the Utah Jazz.

"I really enjoyed myself with this group this year. Regardless of what happened today with the basketball, I'm happy," he said.

"What I've been able to accomplish, what I've been able to do with my career, I gave every ounce I could. I have no regrets."

After the retirements of Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan, the NBA is bidding farewell to another star of the 2000s in Pierce.

The 39-year-old won a title with the Boston Celtics in 2008 and competed for another in the NBA Finals.

But his bid to recapture that magic with former Celtics coach Doc Rivers in Los Angeles -- where he signed with the Clippers as a free agent prior to the 2015 season -- didn't pan out.

But he was hailed by his peers as one of the greats.

"Paul Pierce is 'The Truth'" Bryant told The Players' Tribune website -- a nod to Pierce's nickname.

A video tribute on the website featured Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, Oscar Robertson and an emotional Kevin Garnett, Pierce's teammate in Boston and Brooklyn, among others.

Pierce later tweeted his thanks.

"Thanku to all my NBA brothers and sisters associated with the game a game Ive loved my whole life but now ready for a new chapter stay tuned," he posted on the social media site.

Pierce leaves the game with 26,397 career points, the 15th-most on the league's all-time scoring list.

On Sunday he played 22 minutes, scoring six points and pulling down three rebounds.

He left the court waving to fans in his hometown, where his time with the Clippers at last let him play regularly in front of family members, including his mother, Lorraine.

"It's tough if you come up short of your goals," Pierce said. "Every year you set a goal to be champions and it's a tough pill to swallow every year."

"I've been in the league 19 years and had to swallow 18 tough pills."

Preparing to leave Staples Center on Sunday, Pierce indicated the magnitude of retirement had not fully sunk in.

With his departure, Dirk Nowitzki and Vince Carter are the only members of the 1998 NBA draft class still playing.

Perhaps when next season is approaching, and he isn't trying to gear himself up for another long campaign, he will understand what retirement means, he said.

"Maybe in those months, when I get up and I don't have to practice, it'll hit me more," he said.

When it does, he does not expect to have any second thoughts about the decision to depart.

"I enjoyed this ride," Pierce said.

A Spanish quest to hand down prehistoric secrets

It’s dark and surprisingly warm in a cave in western Spain that hides our most intimate connection to the prehistoric past — hand silhouettes painted tens of thousands of years ago.Archeologist Hipolito Collado and his team had not entered the Maltrav…

It's dark and surprisingly warm in a cave in western Spain that hides our most intimate connection to the prehistoric past -- hand silhouettes painted tens of thousands of years ago.

Archeologist Hipolito Collado and his team had not entered the Maltravieso Cave in the city of Caceres for close to a year to avoid damaging the 57 faded hands that adorn the walls, precious remnants of a far-flung piece of history we know little about.

Why did our ancestors or distant relatives paint hands in caves? Was it merely to make their mark, or part of a ritual to commune with spirits?

Do they tell us anything about the role of women during the Paleolithic era that ended some 10,000 years ago? And why are some fingers missing?

- 'Inaccessible art accessible' -

In a bid to unlock some of these mysteries, Collado, head of archeology for the government of the Extremadura region where Caceres is located, has set out to catalogue all of Europe's prehistoric painted hands.

Crouching under low hanging rocks or abseiling down crags, he and other archeologists have been going from cave to cave, taking scans and high-resolution photos of all the hands they encounter.

They then post them in detailed, 3D format in a free-to-use online database, as part of an EU-funded project called Handpas.

The idea is for researchers anywhere in the world to be able to examine them all in one place without having to visit every cave or gain access to those closed for conservation, in the hope of producing a breakthrough.

"It's about making inaccessible art accessible," says Collado, as he checks sensors for any change in CO2 levels, temperature or humidity since he last visited the meandering, cramped cave.

Surrounded by high rises in what was a poor neighbourhood of Caceres, the cave was discovered in 1951 in a quarry but left neglected for decades, squatted by thrill-seekers, junkies and others until authorities put up a wrought-iron gate barring the entrance in the mid-1980s.

- I woz ere? -

According to Collado, a Spaniard who is also head of the International Federation of Rock Art Organizations, painted hands have been found in 36 caves in Europe -- all in France, Spain and Italy.

Some also contain animal drawings and fossils but his project focuses only on hands.

Further afield, hands have also been discovered in South America, Australia and Indonesia, where recent research revealed that a hand silhouette in a cave on Sulawesi island was 40,000 years old -- the world's oldest.

That was around the time when Homo sapiens -- the first modern humans -- arrived in Europe after having emerged in Africa and lived in parts of Asia.

Theories abound about what the hands mean, but with no written records, much of it is conjecture.

Researchers have tried to determine whether they were male or female, and why in some cases fingers are missing.

Was this a ritual? Did they lose them in freezing cold weather? Or -- as is more commonly believed -- did they simply fold some fingers over when painting in some sort of sign language?

What if scientists were able to determine for certain that all hands in one area were done by women?

"It could mean a matriarchal society," says Collado's colleague Jose Ramon Bello Rodrigo.

And did Homo sapiens -- or possibly Neanderthals before them -- merely wander into a cave and casually leave their hand imprint as a form of ancient "I woz ere"?

Paul Pettitt, professor of Paleolithic Archeology at Britain's Durham University, doesn't think so.

His research focuses on where people placed their hands and he found that in some cases, fingers appeared to be deliberately placed over a bump in the wall like they were "gripping" it.

Many hands are also in the deeper recesses of the caves.

"It must have been very frightening, it must have been quite a degree of exertion, a lot of climbing in the darkness," says Pettitt.

"You don't do that for fun."

- Awaiting French go-ahead -

Why then would people go to such lengths to paint hands onto the walls -- be it via stencils, created by spraying pigment around an open hand, or actual handprints applied to the rock face?

French prehistorian Jean Clottes believes it may have been a form of shamanism.

"It's likely that putting paint -- what we could call sacred paint -- on the rock face introduces a link between the person who does it and the rock face, and therefore with the forces in the rock face," he says.

Collado also interprets some of the hands he has seen as warnings.

"In the La Garma Cave (in northern Spain) there is a panel with hands that is next to a big well that would be deadly," he says.

"These were definitely done to say 'stop'."

Work on documenting painted hands in two Italian caves has also begun.

But the project has come up against a major stumbling block as Collado's team has yet to get the green light to access the French caves -- 18 months after sending their first letter to the culture ministry.

"We're on standby," he concludes impatiently.

Brexit puts tiny German village at centre of Euroverse

A European Union flag snapping in the wind in the tiny German village of Gadheim is the only hint at why the world’s media are beating a path to this out-of-the-way spot.Its handful of houses are set in the rolling hills of Bavaria’s wine country, clus…

A European Union flag snapping in the wind in the tiny German village of Gadheim is the only hint at why the world's media are beating a path to this out-of-the-way spot.

Its handful of houses are set in the rolling hills of Bavaria's wine country, clustered around a solitary road wending through fields overlooked by a clutch of wind turbines.

When Britain's two-year negotiations on leaving the EU end in 2019, Gadheim's 89 inhabitants will find themselves at the geographic centre of the bloc, according to the IGN geographic institute in Paris.

Most here first heard the news on the radio, says Juergen Goetz, mayor of nearby Veitshoechheim -- Gadheim being too small to have a Buergermeister (mayor) of its own.

"We thought it was an April Fool's joke at first," Goetz laughs, as he recounts the story around a table in the village hotel.

There's no doubt that locals are proud to see their countryside in focus, with its vineyards, endless fields and the winding Main river.

"My husband has always said that we were the centre of the world," jokes Inge Diek, the village representative of the German Farmers' Association.

"There's a pretty saying, 'God kissed the Earth only once, and that's where Veitshoechheim is'. Gadheim is a part of that," beams Goetz.

Gadheimers have set up a WhatsApp group to marvel at their newfound fame and mull how to mark the spot.

Most surprised of all was Karin Kessler, dark-haired, slightly weather-beaten and dressed in warm, practical farming attire.

Her son sent her a message with a map of the exact coordinates -- which she at first thought were on her neighbours' land.

"No, it's in your field!" her son shot back.

- Bittersweet feeling -

Kessler may be amused to find the centre of the EU in her unremarkable field of rapeseed.

But "the fact that it's only happening because of this Brexit is a bit of a shame for me," she says.

Like others in the village, Kessler still hasn't got over her disbelief, first that British voters would choose to quit the club, and that the process will now be seen through to its end.

For her, the most tangible impact of the EU -- castigated for decades in some of the British press as a burdensome foreign yoke -- is the fact that there are no border checks when she drives to France on regular holidays.

"And then I think, my father was in World War II. He was a prisoner of war in France. That gives me good reason to value" the EU, founded to bind historic enemies together, she explains.

Some gathered around the table wonder whether Britons might change their minds before it's too late -- or whether Scotland's simmering independence movement might keep a part of the island nation in the currently 28-member union.

If, and when, Brexit is final, Kessler is looking forward to pointing out to her father the flags marking the EU's centre flying in her field -- although she muses that "if the British think again then I'll be happy too".

- Moving on -

In Westerngrund, some 60 kilometres (40 miles) to the northwest, mayor Brigitte Heim also rues the British decision, not least because it will cost her small town its status as the centre of the EU, gained when Croatia joined in July 2013.

That cachet put it squarely on the regional government's radar too.

Since the centre has been here, "they know in (state capital) Munich that Westerngrund is still part of Bavaria," Heim says, despite the locals' dialect and fondness for Apfelwein (cider) -- both of which owe something to neighbouring Hesse state.

When local school pupils checked in 2015, around 6,000 people from 93 countries -- some from as far away as Australia and Mongolia -- had signed visitors' books kept at the neat lawn laid down to mark the spot, with a row of town, region, state, German and EU flags overlooking tranquil hillside fields.

"We thought Chinese buses would be coming there every week. It didn't really turn out that way," says local baker Christoph Biebrich, who crafted ring-shaped loaves with the hole representing the navel of the EU, surrounded by stars.

Still, locals and tourists love picnicking there, or hiking and mountain biking along the trail linking Westerngrund to the previous EU centre point in nearby Meerholz, he goes on.

Biebrich's advice for the people of Gadheim? Not to get too attached to their place in the sun.

"Sometime it will move again, just like it was in Meerholz before, and now it's been with us. That's just the way it is," the baker says.

But people in both Westerngrund and Gadheim hope that the next time the centre of the EU moves, it will be because of a new member -- not another exit, as mulled by French far-right presidential contender Marine Le Pen.

"Brexit is a step backwards. Things can't go on like this," says Mayor Heim. "Of course we hope that France doesn't take the same step."

Tech billionare buys Sydney mansion for record price

Tech billionaire Scott Farquhar has bought a Sydney waterfront mansion for an Australian record Aus$75 million (US$56 million), a report said Monday, after the owners resisted selling the 1863-built home to developers.The co-founder of Australian softw…

Tech billionaire Scott Farquhar has bought a Sydney waterfront mansion for an Australian record Aus$75 million (US$56 million), a report said Monday, after the owners resisted selling the 1863-built home to developers.

The co-founder of Australian software giant Atlassian, which floated in the United States in late 2015, snapped up the iconic "Elaine" from John Brehmer Fairfax, whose family formerly owned the Sydney Morning Herald.

The estate, which stretches down to a harbour beach in Sydney's prestigious Point Piper, had been in the Fairfax family since 1891 when it was bought for 2,100 pounds. It features horse stables, a tennis court and a ballroom.

Fairfax reportedly resisted larger offers from developers to subdivide the land.

"We're thrilled with the purchase and honoured to take over the Elaine estate in its entirety from the Fairfax family," Farquhar, 37, told Fairfax Media.

"It would have been a great loss to see this rare property sold to developers and carved up.

"When we heard of the plans, we just couldn't let this beautiful piece of Australian history be turned into a development site."

The price tag set a record for residential property in Australia, the Australian Financial Review said.

It topped the previous Aus$70 million in 2015 when mogul James Packer, who runs worldwide gambling empire Crown, sold his Sydney home to Australian-Chinese billionaire businessman Chau Chak Wing.

Deal reached on US spending, shutdown likely averted

US congressional leaders have reached a deal on a federal spending bill which if passed by lawmakers this week will avert a government shutdown, a top lawmaker and congressional aides said.The agreement would keep federal operations running through Sep…

US congressional leaders have reached a deal on a federal spending bill which if passed by lawmakers this week will avert a government shutdown, a top lawmaker and congressional aides said.

The agreement would keep federal operations running through September 30, the end of the fiscal year.

Congress is expected to vote in the coming days on the package, which aides said includes some $1.5 billion in funding for increased border security measures, but no funding for an actual wall.

They also said it adds $2 billion in new funding for the National Institutes of Health, and is expected to increase military spending.

Comprehensive details were not available Sunday as the measure had yet to be officially finalized and released. Lawmakers have until Friday to get new spending legislation to President Donald Trump's desk.

"This agreement is a good agreement for the American people, and takes the threat of a government shutdown off the table," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement.

"The bill ensures taxpayer dollars aren't used to fund an ineffective border wall, excludes poison pill riders, and increases investments in programs that the middle-class relies on, like medical research, education, and infrastructure."

Trump made building the wall one of the primary pledges of his presidential campaign, insisting it would begin within his first 100 days, a milestone that came and went on Saturday.

Last week White House aides acknowledged the administration could wait until later this year or next year to consider funding for the wall.

Kiwi dual Olympic rowing champion Murray retires

New Zealand’s two-time Olympic rowing champion Eric Murray announced his retirement Monday, saying he no longer felt the buzz of victory after an eight-year winning streak.Murray and Hamish Bond formed one of the sport’s most dominant duos as they rack…

New Zealand's two-time Olympic rowing champion Eric Murray announced his retirement Monday, saying he no longer felt the buzz of victory after an eight-year winning streak.

Murray and Hamish Bond formed one of the sport's most dominant duos as they racked up 69 consecutive race wins in the men's pair.

The run delivered two Olympic golds, in London and Rio, as well as six straight world championships.

"We got to the point where we were always winning but it was playing on our minds and wearing us down," Murray, 34, told celebrity magazine Woman's Day.

"When we won a race it was like 'job done'. We didn't get that elation any more. Everyone expected us to win, so when we won, we just met the expectation."

Bond has not public revealed his career plans following Murray's departure.

Indian minister arms 700 newlyweds with wooden bats against drunk & abusive husbands

Preview An Indian state minister has armed some 700 brides with wooden bats to be used in self-defense should their husbands ever raise a hand on them. “Police won’t intervene,” reads the reassuring inscription, encouraging its use on alcohol-dependent spouses.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview An Indian state minister has armed some 700 brides with wooden bats to be used in self-defense should their husbands ever raise a hand on them. “Police won’t intervene,” reads the reassuring inscription, encouraging its use on alcohol-dependent spouses.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Controversial Indian TV anchor’s ‘nationalistic’ new channel

India’s most brash and controversial TV news anchor Arnab Goswami, renowned for his hectoring style, is about to launch a new channel and he’s unapologetic about what viewers should expect.”I’m patriotic and nationalistic and so will the channel be,” t…

India's most brash and controversial TV news anchor Arnab Goswami, renowned for his hectoring style, is about to launch a new channel and he's unapologetic about what viewers should expect.

"I'm patriotic and nationalistic and so will the channel be," the 43-year-old tells AFP in a mellow tone drastically different from his manner on-screen where he regularly shouts at guests.

Goswami -- known simply in India as "Arnab", such is his celebrity status -- will launch "Republic TV" within the next fortnight, six months after quitting Times Now where he hosted a nightly news show.

The journalist is adored by many Indians for his jingoistic, anti-Pakistan views but is equally loathed by others, often on the left, who accuse him of noisily trumpeting a right-wing agenda.

Commentators also criticise him for promoting a biased approach to covering news, but Goswami is unrepentant, rejecting any notion that journalists' reporting should be balanced and impartial.

"When a Pakistani terrorist group kills my soldier, I shall not try to look at it through this distilled lens of objectivity and say I must understand the perspective of the militant terrorist and call him a militant or a gunman," he says.

"I would say he was a terrorist and he has killed my country's soldier. If that violates a few rules of journalism then I would like to violate a few more rules of journalism. I don't believe in this fake objectivity. I'm an Indian and I will be on the side of India."

The Oxford University graduate started his career at the Kolkata-based Telegraph in 1994 before joining NDTV. In 2006 he help set up Times Now where he anchored "The Newshour" before leaving in November.

- 'Fox News' of India? -

Goswami has built up a team of around 300 full-time journalists and commercial staff in just four months at Republic TV's shiny new newsroom and studio in central Mumbai.

He has big plans for his new venture. Goswami is confident of defeating what he calls the "Indian media cabal operating out of Delhi" by making Republic TV the most-watched English-language news channel in India. Then he will set his sights on media giants in the West.

"I believe that the hegemony of the Western media has to end," says Goswami, wearing black-rimmed glasses.

"There has been too much of a Western dominance over English news media in the world. In the course of the next three or four years I am certain that I will correct it and I think the challenge to organisations like the BBC or CNN can only come from a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, vibrant, growing democracy like India."

Goswami criticised Western media coverage of Donald Trump, saying it was "almost embarrassing" to see some American media outlets "fight a battle" with the US president. But he denied claims he wants to make Republic TV the "Fox News of India".

"It's the losers in the Indian media market who call us the 'Fox News'. I've never seen Fox News so I don't seek any inspiration from it."

Goswami's shows are high-decibel affairs, usually featuring half a dozen panellists on the screen, all trying to get a word in at the same time as the anchor barks questions.

- Catchphrase -

"I shout because in India if you don't shout you're not going to be heard," he said, describing more sober news shows as "boring".

"I would request all the Western audiences to loosen up, roll up their sleeves, have a cup of coffee and wake up when they're doing the news because some of the news channels abroad put me to sleep," Goswami added.

He insists he will continue to use the catchphrase "nation wants to know" despite his previous employer filing a legal notice against him trying to stop him from doing so, claiming it is their intellectual property.

Detractors say Republic TV has the backing of investors sympathetic to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party but Goswami insists he has no party political interest.

He supported the government's decision to scrap high-denomination banknotes, its fight for a single goods and services tax and surgical strikes on Pakistan but wants it to be tougher on militants in Kashmir and Maoist insurgents.

Goswami describes himself as a "liberal nationalist", saying he supports secularism, greater inclusion, has championed women and LGBT rights, and also questioned both Hindu and Muslim fundamentalism.

"I just do whatever I think comes from the heart. I'm a person who shoots from the hip, I pull no punches, I will do nothing else," he said.

Blixt-Smith, Kisner-Brown set for Monday playoff in Zurich Classic

Kevin Kisner chipped in for eagle on the 72nd hole as he and teammate Scott Brown forced a Monday playoff with Jonas Blixt and Cameron Smith at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.Darkness was falling as Kisner’s chip hit the pin and fell in, with Austra…

Kevin Kisner chipped in for eagle on the 72nd hole as he and teammate Scott Brown forced a Monday playoff with Jonas Blixt and Cameron Smith at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.

Darkness was falling as Kisner's chip hit the pin and fell in, with Australia's Smith responding with a birdie putt from inside two feet that kept him and Sweden's Blixt in the title hunt.

Both teams finished regulation on 27-under par 261 after Sunday's better-ball round, in which Blixt and Smith shot 64 and Kisner and Brown carded a sizzling 60.

The tournament is the first US PGA Tour team event in 36 years. It featured two-man teams playing two better ball rounds and two alternate shot rounds.

Blixt and Smith -- who is seeking a first US tour title -- have barely put a foot wrong, finishing regulation play without a bogey.

They led after 36 and 54 holes, and withstood a furious charge by Kisner and Brown, who birdied 10 of their first 11 holes to grab the lead.

Six of those birdies came before play was halted for more than six hours as thunderstorms swept through.

With Blixt's birdie at 16 and Smith's at 17 the duo regained a one-shot lead.

It looked like that would be enough when Smith then gave himself a short birdie putt at 18.

But Kisner's chip-in means all four will return on Monday morning to settle things.

Americans Kelly Kraft and Kevin Tway were third after combining for a 61 that left them on 265.

Rapper Eminem takes New Zealand political party to court

Rapper Eminem launched court action against New Zealand’s ruling political party on Monday, accusing it of using an unlicensed version of his hit “Lose Yourself” in a campaign advert.Lawyers for the US artist told the High Court in Wellington that he n…

Rapper Eminem launched court action against New Zealand's ruling political party on Monday, accusing it of using an unlicensed version of his hit "Lose Yourself" in a campaign advert.

Lawyers for the US artist told the High Court in Wellington that he never gave the National Party permission to use the song, which featured in the 2002 movie "8 Mile".

Barrister Garry Williams said National breached the copyright of Eight Mile Style, Eminem's publisher, by using the tune in a 2014 election television commercial.

Williams said the Detroit rapper's hit was "iconic", having won an Academy Award, two Grammys and critical acclaim.

He said that meant rights to the work were "enormously valuable" and were strictly controlled by the publisher, which had rarely licensed them for advertising purposes.

Williams said the song, which topped the charts in 24 countries, dealt with "the idea of losing yourself in the moment and not missing opportunities in life".

"That's why the song appeals to both the public and those who wish to influence the public by using it in advertising," he said.

No details were immediately revealed of what damages Eminem was seeking.

National's lawyers are set to argue the tune they used, "Eminem-esque", was a generic track that was part of a library bought from production music supplier Beatbox.

They are expected to contend that any copyright infringement was accidental.

The conservative party's campaign director Steven Joyce dismissed Eminem's claim when the row erupted in 2014.

"We think it's pretty legal, I think these guys are just having a crack," he told reporters at the time.

The judge-only hearing is scheduled to take six days.

Erdogan seeks to send Trump stern message on Syrian Kurds

By launching air strikes against Syrian Kurdish fighters and threatening more action, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is seeking to send a tough message to Donald Trump in the hope of bringing about a major U-turn in US Syria policy.Turkey last …

By launching air strikes against Syrian Kurdish fighters and threatening more action, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is seeking to send a tough message to Donald Trump in the hope of bringing about a major U-turn in US Syria policy.

Turkey last week bombed targets of the Kurdish Peoples' Protection Units (YPG) in Syria, earning the wrath of its NATO ally Washington and on Sunday Erdogan warned more action could be imminent.

"We can come unexpectedly in the night," said Erdogan. "We are not going to tip off the terror groups and the Turkish Armed Forces could come at any moment."

The YPG has been seen by the United States as the best ally on the ground in the fight against Islamic State (IS) group jihadists in Syria and Trump has inherited a policy from Barack Obama of actively supporting the group.

But Ankara says the YPG is a terror outfit and the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), who have waged an insurgency since 1984 inside Turkey that has left tens of thousands dead.

- 'Sign of impatience' -

Analysts say the dispute will be the number one issue when Erdogan meets Trump for the first time as president on May 16 in the United States. Failing to resolve the problem could seriously harm US efforts to destroy IS in Syria.

"The strikes are manifestly a sign of impatience by Turkey and part of a long line of appeals telling the US to stop supporting the YPG," said Jean Marcou, professor at Sciences Po Grenoble and associate researcher at the French Institute of Anatolian Studies.

Since Trump's election, Turkey had indicated it wanted a "change in US policy on the YPG support. But in reality Erdogan has obtained nothing for now," he said.

The cooperation between Washington and the YPG, which saw the United States send a limited number of forces to work with the group, led to bitter tensions between Ankara and Washington in the dying months of the Obama administration.

The US backed the formation of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), dominated by the YPG but also including Arab fighters, yet Ankara contends it is merely a front from the Kurdish group.

In an unusual move after days of border clashes between the Turkish army and YPG that followed the air strikes, the US sent military vehicles to the Syrian side of the frontier to carry out patrols in an apparent bid to prevent further fighting.

Erdogan said the sight of American flags in the convoy alongside YPG insignia had "seriously saddened" Turkey.

- 'Tensions help IS survival' -

The Turkish president, fresh from winning the controversial April 16 referendum on enhancing his powers, has indicated that the rewards for Washington in breaking up with the YPG could be high by spurring Turkish involvement in a joint operation to take the IS fiefdom of Raqa.

Together the United States can "turn Raqa into a graveyard for Daesh (IS)," Erdogan said on Saturday.

But Ankara has made clear it will have nothing to do with any operation involving the YPG and analysts say Turkey could even be a threat to a Raqa operation if it is not included.

"Washington was reluctant to launch the Raqa operation before Turkey's April 16 referendum to avoid potential complications with Ankara," said Aykan Erdemir, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

He said the Turkish air strikes -- which were combined with strikes against the PKK in Iraq -- brought "another unanticipated challenge" to coalition efforts against the jihadists.

"Tensions among coalition members have been one of the key factors for the Islamic State's continued survival," he said.

- 'Singular dilemma' -

The International Crisis Group (ICG) said in its latest report on the Syria crisis that the US had "a singular dilemma" on the future of its relationship with the YPG

It said the YPG "is indispensable" to defeat IS but there is also "no avoiding the fact" that the US is backing a force "led by PKK-trained cadres in Syria while the PKK itself continues an insurgency against a NATO ally."

It said that Turkey had pressed ahead with the air strikes despite US objections and this "should serve as a warning for what could lie in store."

But it said while the YPG was counting on American and also Russian support as a bulwark against Turkey, the importance of the country will mean Trump will have an ear for Erdogan's concerns.

Ultimately Washington "will likely view relations with Turkey ?- a NATO member and critical ally ?- as more important to its broader strategic interests," it said.

‘Baghdaddy’: New York turns Iraq war into musical

The Iraq war may not sound like musical comedy, but an Off-Broadway revival is spinning intelligence failures and tragedy into a farce that offers potent messages for Donald Trump’s America.”Baghdaddy” officially opens on Monday, telling the true story…

The Iraq war may not sound like musical comedy, but an Off-Broadway revival is spinning intelligence failures and tragedy into a farce that offers potent messages for Donald Trump's America.

"Baghdaddy" officially opens on Monday, telling the true story of an Iraqi defector, code named Curveball, whose claims about weapons of mass destruction became justification for the US-led invasion in 2003.

"If you put 'Hamilton' and 'The Office' in a blender you would have this show," says producer Charlie Fink of the Broadway smash hit about American founding father Alexander and the US television sitcom.

The plot opens in the present day with disgraced CIA spies gathering at a support group -- think Spooks Anonymous -- as they seek understanding and redemption for mistakes that haunt them years later.

The action then switches back in time to Frankfurt airport, where the informant offers to trade apparent secrets about Saddam Hussein's presumed bio-weapons program for political asylum.

German intelligence consults the CIA, where analysts driven by ambition, office crushes and intransigent bosses see Curveball as a ticket out of everyday routine and a fast-track to promotion.

But the growing farce quickly gives way to the 9/11 attacks, swapping comedy for tragedy and the onset of a war still being fought today, 14 years after an invasion found no weapons of mass destruction.

It's a fast-paced script woven into a tight score that blends traditional musical theater and camp dancing with hip-hop tracks that carry a stark warning that history should not repeat itself.

Fink says it is more relevant than ever in today's climate of "fake news" and "alternative facts" as some fear that Trump could drag the country into another conflict, if not in Syria then over North Korea.

"It has an immediacy that it didn't have in 2015 and a sense that we're doing this all again," says Fink, referring to a short run two years ago.

- 'Scary' -

"It feels like a time when rules are being rewritten and authority is listening to its instincts, rather than listening to facts and analysis. And that's scary," says Fink.

The first preview on April 6 coincided with the day that the president ordered a cruise missile attack on a Syrian airbase, the first direct US action against the Syrian regime.

Low budget and in the works for 10 years, there are just eight actors playing six main roles. "Baghdaddy" returns at the height of the Broadway season, competing with more than a dozen other new shows.

It also spreads responsibility for the 2003 invasion far and wide, not just at the door of then president George W. Bush or the US government but the country as a whole and its Western allies in general.

"We all messed up," says Marshall Pailet, director, co-writer and composer. Far from seeing comedy as inappropriate, he says it's a great vehicle to get New York theater-goers thinking.

"Because we open up their minds and their hearts with comedy, we're able to slip in substance, story, character and a lesson."

A.D. Penedo, who wrote the lyrics and co-wrote the book, admits it was daunting to turn the subject into a musical that both entertains and sends people away with a clear message.

"We want them to be entertained and moved," he said. "But we want them to take away... that even though you feel like you don't matter, you really do, and there's ramifications for your actions."

The show is scheduled to run until June 18 at St Luke's Theatre, a basement venue just steps from Times Square.

But never does the show laugh at war itself. More than 4,500 US troops have died in Iraq since 2003. Some estimates for the number of civilians to have perished range from 173,916 to nearly half a million.

"We all own it," says Fink. "A wound in the world that is not going to be healed with tears or laughter."

Madeleine McCann’s disappearance haunts Portuguese resort

Scarred by Madeleine McCann’s disappearance 10 years ago, the seaside resort town of Praia da Luz in southern Portugal is struggling to shake off the mystery surrounding the British toddler.”The residents are all fed up… 10 years later we want to for…

Scarred by Madeleine McCann's disappearance 10 years ago, the seaside resort town of Praia da Luz in southern Portugal is struggling to shake off the mystery surrounding the British toddler.

"The residents are all fed up... 10 years later we want to forget all this. It's a shame that this case shed a bad light on this lovely place, it's totally unfair," says Ron Clark, a 68-year-old retired British soldier.

"Praia da Luz doesn't deserve this. There has been too much fake news," said David S. Jones, 72, a writer from London who has lived there for 45 years.

Many British expatriates in the city gather in the shady courtyard of the Baptista supermarket, spending mornings buried in British newspapers and drinking tea.

But the subject of "Maddie" rouses the group, interrupting the calm routine.

About 200 metres away (650 feet), the blinds of apartment 5A at the Ocean Club hotel complex are closed. Madeleine disappeared from one of the apartment's rooms on May 3, 2007, days before her fourth birthday, while her parents were having dinner with friends in a nearby restaurant.

Was it a kidnapping? An accidental death? Homicide? After ten years, hundreds of hours of questioning and numerous searches, the case remains a mystery to Portuguese police and Scotland Yard.

The girl's parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, say they are convinced their daughter was kidnapped and have vowed to do "whatever it takes" to find her.

British police scaled back their search in 2015 after launching a new investigation in 2011.

Scotland Yard said this month that they were still pursuing "critical" lines of inquiry.

- 'Stolen time' -

The tenth anniversary of her disappearance is a "horrible marker of time, stolen time", Kate McCann wrote on Facebook.

There are no more photos of the blonde girl on Praia da Luz's cobblestone streets or near the whitewashed church frequented by the McCanns.

"We haven't forgotten her. We still pray for Maddie every Sunday as we do for all missing children," says John Payne, 76, a member of the Anglican parish.

The only visible trace is on some traffic signs, where "STOP McCann circus" is spray-painted in stencilled white letters, reflecting the frustrations of many in the city.

The McCanns seem to have few supporters in the ancient fishing village in Portugal's southern region of Algarve. It is a slice of paradise for the overwhelmingly British population, which makes up two-thirds of the town's 3,500 inhabitants.

The huge amount of media attention spooked vacationers, especially families with young children, in the years after the girl's disappearance.

"The hotel sector suffered for three or four years. The Ocean Club lost a lot of clients, which had a ricochet effect on other hotels too," says the town's deputy mayor Nuno Luz.

The Ocean Club laid off workers, Luz said, paring staff levels back to just 20 employees from 400.

"But meanwhile, tourism has returned to normal levels," he said.

- Mystery tours -

Holiday-makers stroll along the palm-lined promenade that borders a sandy beach where children play on a cloudy day ahead of the high tourist season.

"It's a safe place. I have been coming here regularly with my children aged of seven, five and two years," says Jo White, a 38-year-old Briton with a big smile.

There are some tourists, however, who want to know more about the mystery.

One British resident in his sixties is engrossed by the story, and offers guided tours for the curious.

"It's not a tourist tour but I am showing places of interest to experts of the Maddie case," says the man, who declines to give his name but says he does not accept any money for the tours.

His tour starts in front of the apartment where the McCanns had been staying, and continues along the street where a man was reportedly seen carrying a child the night of the disappearance.

It eventually leads to scrubland surrounded by villas and apartments where police searched for the child's body in 2014. Horses graze there today.

Facing criticism over his tours, which strike many as morbid, the guide stands his ground.

"I would like to help to resolve the case," he says.

Nomura outlasts Kerr to win LPGA Texas Shootout

Japan’s Haru Nomura birdied the sixth hole of a sudden-death playoff to beat Cristie Kerr on Sunday for the LPGA Texas Shootout title in suburban Dallas.Nomura was the last woman standing on a brutally windy day that turned into even more of a marathon…

Japan's Haru Nomura birdied the sixth hole of a sudden-death playoff to beat Cristie Kerr on Sunday for the LPGA Texas Shootout title in suburban Dallas.

Nomura was the last woman standing on a brutally windy day that turned into even more of a marathon as she and Kerr both parred the first five playoff holes -- all played at Las Colinas Country Club's par-five 18th hole.

As they returned for one more time before darkness fell, Nomura gave herself an eagle chance and tapped in from inches for the birdie. She then watched as Kerr's birdie attempt from outside 10 feet slid by.

Nomura captured her third LPGA crown, to go with the Women's Australian Open and Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic titles she won last year.

She had to dig deep to do so on a day when the scoring average was more than five strokes over par.

Nomura started the day with a two-stroke lead and did well in the conditions to finish the front nine in even par after one bogey and one birdie.

But she bogeyed 10 and 11, and dropped two more shots at 14 and 16.

She made a 12-footer to salvage a double-bogey at 17, but that left her a stroke behind Kerr who had made the only birdie of the day at the par-three 17th.

After Kerr had completed her three-over 74 for a three-under par total of 281, Nomura birdied the 18th for a five-over 76 that forced the playoff.

The top two finished regulation two strokes in front of American Jessica Korda, whose two-over 73 gave her a one-under total of 283 -- the only other under par total for the week.

South Korea's Park Sung-Hyun was fourth after a 74 for 284.

Accidental cult star Kurt Russell enjoying renaissance

If not for Kurt Russell’s mainstream, boyish good looks, the phrase “cult star” would work for this unpredictable actor whose career includes some of history’s best-loved box office flops.Picture the 66-year-old’s performances in comedy crime caper “Bi…

If not for Kurt Russell's mainstream, boyish good looks, the phrase "cult star" would work for this unpredictable actor whose career includes some of history's best-loved box office flops.

Picture the 66-year-old's performances in comedy crime caper "Big Trouble in Little China," sci-fi horror film "The Thing" or buddy cop movie "Tango and Cash," and it's easy to see why he has just about attained "national treasure" status.

In truth, these movies, like many of his best-known roles, made no significant money during their theatrical runs, and each was panned by critics before enjoying a second lease on life in the home video market.

"I've done things that I loved that didn't get a very good release or were ill-timed or that people didn't want to see, but then got found and became cult movies," Russell told AFP in an interview in Los Angeles.

"'The Thing' was not at the time well received. Now it's considered one of the great horror movies.... 'Big Trouble in Little China' was a movie that was completely misunderstood by a lot of people, loved by some. It really has a big cult following."

This month sees Russell as the common denominator in two of 2017's biggest blockbusters, with "The Fate of the Furious" having broken worldwide box office records and "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" expected to be one of the largest domestic openings of all time.

"When that happens, it's nice. It's just nice to have the moment happen where two of them go 'boom boom,'" the actor said, settling into his chair in a West Hollywood hotel.

- Opportunity knocks -

Sitting firmly to the right of the political spectrum -- he calls himself a libertarian -- Russell is a passionate supporter of gun ownership rights and enjoys hunting elk at the Colorado ranch he shares with his partner of 34 years, the actress Goldie Hawn.

A Tinseltown outsider in almost every respect -- even his LA home is an hour's drive to the coast from Hollywood Boulevard -- he has never won a major acting prize, doesn't go to many showbiz parties and is not even a member of the Academy.

His first movie was a two-week shoot with Elvis Presley in "It Happened at the World's Fair" (1963), but he made his name as a young teen on a series of family-friendly live-action Disney movies.

He became friendly with Walt Disney and has often recounted how, shortly after the mogul's death in 1966, he was shown a sheet of paper on which the great man had scrawled his last written words: "Kirt Russell." Disney took his plans for the young actor -- and the reason for the odd spelling -- to the grave but it was not the last time opportunity knocked briefly for Russell before being snatched, or pushed, away.

In 1976 he auditioned for the parts of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo in a promising if farfetched-sounding space Western called "Star Wars."

He dropped out, though, as filmmaker George Lucas dithered over which part would be most suitable and as NBC came in with a rival job offer on a Western series.

- 'Genre-jumping' -

That NBC show, "The Quest," was canceled amid poor ratings after 11 episodes while "Star Wars" has arguably done rather better. Still, Russell is circumspect about his choices.

"If you do movies for 54 years you're going to get lots of them out there that you could have done, didn't do, didn't get, whatever. That's what an actor does," he said with an insouciant shrug.

Russell met up-and-coming director John Carpenter when they made an unlikely success out of TV movie "Elvis" (1979), and the pair reunited for the dystopian "Escape From New York" (1981), "The Thing" (1982) and "Big Trouble in Little China" (1986).

Russell's half-century career comes full circle on May 5 with Disney's release of Marvel's "Guardians 2," in which he plays Ego the Living Planet opposite Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana.

"My whole career has been genre-jumping, and having the fun of being in all those different genres," he said.

Russell, as it happens, isn't much of a sci-fi guy; he hadn't even seen the original "Guardians" when he was being talked up for the sequel.

"I know of them, I've seen a few 'Iron Mans,' I've seen a couple of 'Spider-Mans,' 'Batmans' and 'Supermans.' There's a portion of it that doesn't draw me," he says, tailing off, as if suddenly unsure how to pluralize superheroes' names.

"'Guardians of the Galaxy' -- I was the right audience for that. That one works for me."

Austria’s oldest football club, founded by Brits, faces final whistle

“Vienna til I die!” chanted the fans, in accented English, at a recent rainy match, testament to the British roots of Austria’s oldest football club: the once-mighty First Vienna FC 1894.But while the few hundred diehard supporters give it their all we…

"Vienna til I die!" chanted the fans, in accented English, at a recent rainy match, testament to the British roots of Austria's oldest football club: the once-mighty First Vienna FC 1894.

But while the few hundred diehard supporters give it their all week in week out, the now dilapidated terraces of what was once continental Europe's biggest stadium may soon fall silent for ever.

In March the 123-year-old club, which even under the Nazis was allowed to keep its English name "Vienna", declared itself insolvent and is trying to hammer out a survival plan.

The players haven't been paid since December and automatic relegation looms from Austria's already lowly third division, the Austrian Regional League East, making finding new sponsors even harder.

"If it all ends, it will be the end of an era," sighed Robert Haidinger, head of the supporters club, as he charged five euros ($5.50) for the trickle of cars arriving for the evening match.

"A piece of Viennese history would disappear," he told AFP.

- British import -

Like elsewhere in Europe and beyond in the late 19th century, British immigrants were a major driving force in the birth of Austrian football.

The "Vienna" was founded, in a pub, in 1894 by British gardeners together with locals smitten with this exotic new combination of exercise and gentlemanly "fair play".

The club quickly became an all-Austrian affair but its three-legged logo, the triskelion, still survives in tribute to the homeland of one of the founders, William Beale from the Isle of Man.

To this day many of the chants on the terraces are in English. "Hey ho let's go," says a sign, in English, on the way out of the ground.

"To hear lots of voices singing all together something like 'Come on Vienna' is, well, it gives you goosebumps," said Josef Keglevic, a lifelong fan.

- 'Wunderteam' -

"Vienna" used to be a force to be reckoned with not only in domestic football but internationally too. Visiting Spain in 1925, they thrashed Barcelona 4-1.

Its Hohe Warte stadium, the biggest in Europe outside Britain when it opened in 1921, was also the home ground for Austria's legendary national "Wunderteam".

As many as 85,000 supporters watched trainer Hugo Meisl's men -- slayers of allcomers and unlucky favourites for the 1934 World Cup -- play Italy here in 1923.

When Hitler, no fan of football, annexed his native Austria into the Third Reich in 1938, the club's many Jewish players and functionaries were quickly expelled.

Rudolf Spitzer, who took part in the club's first official match in 1894, was one of several people associated with the club murdered in the Holocaust.

But from a sporting point of view the Nazi era went well for the Viennese.

In 1943 they won the Tschammerpokal cup at the since-renamed "Adolf-Hitler-Kampfbahn" stadium in Stuttgart.

"It was one of most successful teams in World War II," historian Alexander Juraske, author of a book on the club's history, told AFP.

After 1945, once Austria was re-established and life returned to normal, the club remained highly successful and in 1955 won the Austrian championship for the sixth and, so far, final time.

Plagued by poor performances, a slow decline set in over the following decades and in 1992 it slipped out of the Bundesliga top league for the final time.

"The club also made a lot of mistakes," Juraske said. "Financially it bit off more than it could chew."

- Vienna got soul -

Chief executive Gerhard Krisch is trying to cut spending by 700,000 euros -- a third of the club's costs -- but faces an uphill battle to save this piece of sporting history.

Regulations only allow the stadium -- now a "nature arena" with a grass bank on three sides -- to hold 5,500 people, stymying efforts to make money through events like concerts.

And in this small Alpine country, only the big clubs like Red Bull Salzburg can make any money, filling their stadiums with 15,000-20,000 fans.

"All the others have problems, including in the Bundesliga, with fewer than 2,000-3,000 supporters. That's not enough to run a club economically," Krisch told AFP.

But Josef Keglevic, a supporter since he was six years old, said "Vienna" still has something special.

"At clubs like Barcelona, Real Madrid or Bayern Munich... there is no humanity any more. There as a supporter you are just a number, a revenue generator," he said.

"But here there is something, a feeling... A soul, yes."

Marlins honor Japanese hit king Ichiro

The Miami Marlins honored outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, paying tribute to the future Hall of Famer for reaching 3,000 career Major League Baseball hits.Ichiro, 43, became the 30th player with 3,000 major league hits last year, and Marlins manager Don Matti…

The Miami Marlins honored outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, paying tribute to the future Hall of Famer for reaching 3,000 career Major League Baseball hits.

Ichiro, 43, became the 30th player with 3,000 major league hits last year, and Marlins manager Don Mattingly said he hasn't let up since.

"Just the way he prepares and what he's doing every day," Mattingly said of the Japanese star's strengths.

"Every day he's out there throwing, he's working, stretching. It's just an ongoing movement. It just never stops.

"Some guys get tired of it or get out of their routines. But his routine, he just seems to do it every day and is ready to go. It's just good to watch."

Ichiro notched his 3,000th hit, a triple on August 7 last year at Colorado.

The Marlins had planned to celebrate the feat at a game last September 25, but it was cancelled due to the death of Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez in a boating accident that day.

Prior to Sunday's game against the Pirates, the Marlins presented Ichiro with a collage of photos of all 3,000 hits.

"It's the most emotional I've ever seen him," Marlins president David Samson said of Ichiro's reaction when the collage was unveiled. "When he looked at the magnitude of it and saw hits 1 through 3,000, I think it occurred to him how many hits that is."

The festivities included a video tribute from Japan's retired home run king Sadaharu Oh, after which Ichiro bowed toward the scoreboard on which it played.

"I thought the highlight of the whole ceremony was when he bowed to Mr. Oh," Samson said. "I think he began to understand the significance of his accomplishment _ how few players do it and how beloved he is across the world."

Ichiro is in his third season as a reserve outfielder with the Marlins. He went into Sunday's game ranked 25th on the MLB career list with 3,034 hits. He had 1,278 in Japan before launching his Stateside career.

Whistleblowers reluctant to betray doping friends, says report

Whistleblowers are seen as crucial in the fight against doping by World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) president Craig Reedie but a research paper suggests that athletes have no desire to inform on friends.Kelsey Erickson, research fellow at Leeds-Beckett U…

Whistleblowers are seen as crucial in the fight against doping by World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) president Craig Reedie but a research paper suggests that athletes have no desire to inform on friends.

Kelsey Erickson, research fellow at Leeds-Beckett University in Yorkshire, England, told AFP her research highlighted how student athletes she interviewed do want a clean sport but are reluctant to inform on friends or rivals they know are taking performance enhancing products.

Reedie announced last month the whistleblower programme had started -- without going into any great detail -- whilst WADA director-general Olivier Niggli said earlier this year he preferred if those wishing to inform on athletes doping went to them.

Erickson based her findings on interviews with track and field student athletes in the United States and the United Kingdom.

"The research has highlighted situations of whistleblowing presents a true moral dilemma," said Erickson, whose paper on whistleblowing in the context of doping is only the second to be published.

"A majority of them said they would adamantly refuse to personally take drugs and had a very negative view of performance enhancing product use.

"However, when I asked them whether they would report an athlete or competitor for doping less than half of them suggested they would and even fewer said they would contact a doping hotline," added the American.

- 'They do take risks' -

Erickson, whose expertise lies in the psychology of drugs in sport, said the athletes preferred to take it to a figure of authority like a coach or, most commonly, they suggested that they would be inclined to confront the performance enhancing drug user directly.

"On one hand they want to protect the rights of athletes at large to compete in doping free sport but, on the other hand, they are concerned for the dopers and their reputation, their well being and future.

"That causes them to wrestle with whether they want to report the problem.

"They want something to be done and addressed but they do not necessarily want to be the one to report it."

The lack of protection offered to the Stepanovs who blew the lid on the 'institutionalised doping' in Russia was heavily criticised as they fled Russia to live in the United States, and has stressed the importance of having established policies and procedures in place for protecting whistleblowers.

"We have certainly seen the value of whistleblowers coming forward," said Erickson.

"They are the the ones that have been the catalysts for the biggest cases of recent times and have been great value.

"It is incumbent on us that we must do our utmost to make sure they have the protection they require.

"They do take risks, some more than others. We must do our best to facilitate and protect and honour them given the risk they take."

Erickson suggests that based on her research, there may be additional avenues for addressing performance enhancing drug use.

"Maybe hotlines aren't the only way to do that," she said.

"So we can perhaps learn from other industries (who have had whistleblowers) and from athletes and how they would prefer to share this information."

Japan deploys warship to protect US vessel, authorizes ‘minimum’ use of firepower

Preview Japan has reportedly deployed a helicopter carrier and authorized it to use weapons, if necessary, to escort and protect a US supply vessel. The mission, performed under the country’s expanded military doctrine, marks the first such mission since WWII.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview Japan has reportedly deployed a helicopter carrier and authorized it to use weapons, if necessary, to escort and protect a US supply vessel. The mission, performed under the country’s expanded military doctrine, marks the first such mission since WWII.
Read Full Article at RT.com

NATO may boost its presence & prolong ‘training’ mission in Afghanistan – Stoltenberg

Preview NATO is considering sending additional military personnel to Afghanistan and increasing the timeframe of the deployment in the view of the “challenging security situation,” the alliance’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, told the German Die Welt daily.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview NATO is considering sending additional military personnel to Afghanistan and increasing the timeframe of the deployment in the view of the “challenging security situation,” the alliance’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, told the German Die Welt daily.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Saudi Arabia ‘won’t be stubborn’ asking for German arms again – minister

Preview Saudi Arabia understands Germany’s reluctance and will not engage in “arguments” over weapon supplies any more, as the kingdom values good relations with Berlin and wants to develop cooperation in other areas, Saudi Deputy Economy Minister Mohammed al-Tuwaijri has said.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview Saudi Arabia understands Germany’s reluctance and will not engage in “arguments” over weapon supplies any more, as the kingdom values good relations with Berlin and wants to develop cooperation in other areas, Saudi Deputy Economy Minister Mohammed al-Tuwaijri has said.
Read Full Article at RT.com

George Michael fans host public memorial service

George Michael fans on Sunday paid their last respects to the late British pop star at a public memorial service they organised themselves.Hundreds of fans from around the world attended the service at a church in Bushey, on the northwest edge of Londo…

George Michael fans on Sunday paid their last respects to the late British pop star at a public memorial service they organised themselves.

Hundreds of fans from around the world attended the service at a church in Bushey, on the northwest edge of London, where Michael went to secondary school and met his Wham! bandmate Andrew Ridgeley.

The service featured some of his best-known hits including "Jesus to a Child" and "Wake Me Up Before You Go Go".

It was followed by a wake at The Three Crowns pub, where Wham! were formed.

The singer was found dead at his home on December 25. He was 53.

His funeral took place in private on March 29 at Highgate Cemetery in north London and was not announced to fans until it was over.

George Michael Appreciation Group founder Tracey Wills organised Sunday's public event.

"I have always been a fan and I decided that I was going to do something for him because he has done so much for everyone else," she said.

"George left such a mark on a lot people and I felt like we needed to do something for him. The fans needed somewhere to grieve.

"I put this together for George, for the fans. I wish his family were here to be able to see this."

Michael's cause of death was dilated cardiomyopathy with myocarditis and fatty liver, according to senior coroner for Oxfordshire Darren Salter.

Dilated cardiomyopathy, which can be caused by substance abuse, affects the heart's ability to pump blood due to the muscle becoming enlarged and weakened. Myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart wall.

Born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou to a Greek Cypriot father and English mother in north London in 1963, Michael shot to fame with Wham! and sold more than 100 million records.

Real Madrid depth keeps rare double alive

Real Madrid welcome Atletico Madrid for the first leg of their Champions League semi-final on Tuesday hoping to do something that has been beyond the reigning 11-time European champions for six decades.Alfredo Di Stefano — not Cristiano Ronaldo — was…

Real Madrid welcome Atletico Madrid for the first leg of their Champions League semi-final on Tuesday hoping to do something that has been beyond the reigning 11-time European champions for six decades.

Alfredo Di Stefano -- not Cristiano Ronaldo -- was Madrid's star man the last time Los Blancos won La Liga and Europe's top club prize in the same season.

The eight times Real have been crowned champions of Europe since they have always done so happy to sacrifice La Liga for the tournament they see as defining their role as the biggest and best club in the world.

"I won a Champions League with Madrid in a year in which we trained horribly," former Spanish international goalkeeper Santiago Canizares told radio station Cadena SER of the 1997/98 season.

"There was very little commitment, but it was like there was psychological doping when we played in the Champions League. Everyone performed."

Two years later he experienced the power of Madrid's commitment to the Champions League from the opposite side.

"Then I lost a final with Valencia against Madrid in another horrible season for them.

"They finished the league terribly, there were problems in the dressing room... and then they arrived in Paris and played us off the park."

Even this season the lure of becoming the first side to successfully defend the Champions League has edged out that of ending Barcelona's dominance of La Liga.

That has been evidenced by coach Zinedine Zidane's line-ups for a string of recent Liga games sandwiched between big European ties.

None of Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Luka Modric or Toni Kroos started any of Madrid's last three away games.

In their absence the likes of Isco, Alvaro Morata and Marco Asensio have shone and Madrid won all three games, scoring 13 times in the process.

Real have already played 53 games this season across five competitions and even two continents after travelling to Japan for the Club World Cup.

Yet they remain on course for the most successful season in the club's storied recent history thanks to the depth of their resources.

- One-season luxury? -

Which has thrown up a new dilemma: the performances of Madrid's youngsters have left question marks over whether a few star names deserve their place in the team for Tuesday's semi-final.

Real smashed Deportivo la Coruna 6-2 on Wednesday with a team containing nine changes from the side that lost El Clasico to Barcelona days previously.

Yet they laboured to beat Valencia 2-1 thanks to Marcelo's late strike when Zidane resorted to largely his preferred XI on Saturday.

"For me, it is harder to play against Madrid's B team than their A team," said Deportivo boss Pepe Mel.

Bale's absence through injury means that one of Isco or Asensio are likely to finally start one of Real's biggest games of the season this week.

However, even for Real Madrid, a squad of this size and talent may be a one-season luxury.

Isco, Morata and James Rodriguez have all been heavily linked with moves away from the Bernabeu in the summer due to their lack of game time.

At 21 and 22 respectively, Asensio and Mateo Kovacic have the time to be more patient, but they too will expect to graduate to first-team regulars -- or find somewhere else where they will be.