US soldier killed in fight with Somalia’s al Shabaab

The US military said Friday a service member has been killed in Somalia during an operation against al Shabaab as President Donald Trump’s administration steps up its fight against the al Qaeda-linked militant group.

The US military said Friday a service member has been killed in Somalia during an operation against al Shabaab as President Donald Trump’s administration steps up its fight against the al Qaeda-linked militant group.

IBM tumbles as Buffett discloses he is trimming stake

IBM shares tumbled Friday after billionaire investor Warren Buffett revealed he has sold about a third of his stake and “revalued” downward the computing giant.In early Wall Street trade, IBM shares were down 2.5 percent at $154.00.Buffett, one of IBM’…

IBM shares tumbled Friday after billionaire investor Warren Buffett revealed he has sold about a third of his stake and "revalued" downward the computing giant.

In early Wall Street trade, IBM shares were down 2.5 percent at $154.00.

Buffett, one of IBM's biggest shareholders, told CNBC he had divested shares in the first and second quarter.

"I don't value IBM the same way that I did six years ago when I started buying," he told the financial channel. "I've revalued it somewhat downward."

Buffett added that "IBM is a big strong company, but they've got big strong competitors too."

Buffett, who heads the Berkshire Hathaway holding company and is among the world's richest individuals, invested some $10.7 billion in IBM in 2011 for a stake of some 5.5 percent. His stake was worth an estimated $13.5 billion at the end of 2016.

The move comes with Buffett set to release his closely followed annual shareholder letter, offering important clues for investors who follow his advice.

Algeria ruling coalition wins legislative elections

The party of Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and its coalition ally have won a clear majority in parliamentary elections, the interior ministry said Friday.Bouteflika’s National Liberation Front (FLN) won 164 of the national assembly’s 462 seat…

The party of Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and its coalition ally have won a clear majority in parliamentary elections, the interior ministry said Friday.

Bouteflika's National Liberation Front (FLN) won 164 of the national assembly's 462 seats in a poll marred by low turnout, public disillusionment over a tepid economy and allegations of political corruption.

The FLN, which has dominated the North African nation's politics since its 1962 independence from France, lost a quarter of the seats it won in 2012 polls, according to preliminary results from Thursday's vote announced by interior minister Nourredine Bedoui.

But the FLN preserved its majority thanks to its ally, the Rally for National Democracy (RND), which won 97 seats, up from 68 in the last election.

Two opposition Islamist lists won 48 seats between them -- their worst ever result since Algeria first held multi-party elections in 1990.

"For political observers, there are no surprises," analyst Rachid Tlemcani told AFP. "The ruling parties take the top two places and the Islamists are on the bottom step of the podium."

The official results will be announced by the constitutional council after any appeals.

The ministry said turnout was 38 percent, down from just over 43 percent in the 2012 election.

Thursday's vote was marked by voter disillusionment over what many see as broken government promises on the economy and a political system tainted by corruption.

Officials spent weeks before the poll trying to drum up enthusiasm among electors, launching a campaign dubbed "Samaa sawtek" ("Let your voice be heard").

- Political stagnation -

Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal even told an all-female audience in the eastern city of Setif to wake their husbands early, refuse them coffee and "drag" them to voting booths.

"If they resist, hit them with a stick," he said.

But many voters were put off by a scandal involving candidates accused of paying to have their names added to party lists.

Voters have also been put off by perceived stagnation in the political system and speculation over the health of their 80-year-old president, who has rarely been seen in public since a 2013 stroke.

Bouteflika voted from a wheelchair at a polling booth in Algiers on Thursday in what was his first appearance before the international media since he was sworn in for a fourth term in April 2014.

Many Algerians pay little attention to parliamentary polls in a opaque system dominated by the office of the president.

"It's normal to vote for the president, but I don't see the interest in MPs," said Mourad, a 45-year-old engineer.

Algeria weathered the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings with massive spending on wages and subsidies that depleted government coffers.

But a 2014 slump in crude oil prices forced the government to raise taxes and mothball many public projects.

Today, in a country of 40 million where half the population is under 30, one young person in three is unemployed.

Tlemcani said the disconnect between the elite and the youth had worsened in recent years.

"People are disappointed by the previous legislature, which has done nothing," he said.

FIFA lifts Messi four-game international ban

FIFA on Friday overturned Barcelona star Lionel Messi’s four-game ban from international matches imposed for swearing at an assistant referee, saying there was not enough evidence to support the stiff punishment. The U-turn is a major boost to Argentin…

FIFA on Friday overturned Barcelona star Lionel Messi's four-game ban from international matches imposed for swearing at an assistant referee, saying there was not enough evidence to support the stiff punishment.

The U-turn is a major boost to Argentina's hopes of reaching next year's World Cup in Russia, with the South Americans struggling in regional qualifying.

FIFA said its appeal committee sided with a challenge filed on Messi's behalf by the Argentine Football Association and lifted "the sanctions imposed on him as a result".

"Despite the fact that the FIFA Appeal Committee considered Lionel Messi's behaviour as reproachable" it concluded "the evidence available was not sufficient" to justify a four-game ban.

In March the striker was found guilty of "having directed insulting words at an assistant referee" in a World Cup qualifier against Chile which Argentina won 1-0 thanks to a penalty from the Barcelona hitman.

Argentine football chief Armando Perez conceded that Messi "made a mistake", but argued that FIFA's sanction was disproportionate.

UNESCO ratifies Jerusalem resolution slammed by Israel

The executive board of the UN’s cultural agency ratified Friday a resolution that identifies Israel as “the occupying power” in Jerusalem and calls on it to rescind any move changing the city’s “character and status.”The resolution had been passed by a…

The executive board of the UN's cultural agency ratified Friday a resolution that identifies Israel as "the occupying power" in Jerusalem and calls on it to rescind any move changing the city's "character and status."

The resolution had been passed by a UNESCO commission on Tuesday, sparking anger in Israel.

The text, approved at UNESCO headquarters, denounces "all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, the occupying power, which have altered or purport to alter the character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem."

It said such moves were "null and void and must be rescinded forthwith".

It particularly criticised Israel's annexation of east Jerusalem after occupying it in 1967, a move that remains unrecognised by the international community.

The resolution had been passed on Tuesday by 22 votes to 10, with 23 abstentions.

It drew the ire of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who responded this week by cutting his country's UN funding by $1 million.

Saying the resolution denies Jews' historical connection with Jerusalem, Netanyahu called the move "absurd" and said "this systemic harassment has a price."

It was the third time in recent months Israel reduced its UN budget over what it considers anti-Israel votes, putting the 2017 payments at $3.7 million instead of the original $11 million, an Israeli official said.

Israel had already locked horns with UNESCO in October, when the agency's World Heritage Committee adopted a resolution voicing concern about threats to the city from Israeli building works and archaeological excavations.

Netanyahu recalled his UNESCO envoy for consultations.

Israel considers all of Jerusalem its undivided capital, but the Palestinians want the eastern part, including the Old City, as the capital of a future state.

Czech PM withdraws resignation, wants finance minister sacked

Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka withdrew his planned resignation on Friday, calling instead for the dismissal of his billionaire finance minister, a popular political rival, over suspicions of fraud.The move deepened a political crisis triggered …

Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka withdrew his planned resignation on Friday, calling instead for the dismissal of his billionaire finance minister, a popular political rival, over suspicions of fraud.

The move deepened a political crisis triggered by Sobotka's shock resignation announcement earlier this week amid a high-stakes row with Finance Minister Andrej Babis.

The 62-year-old Babis is head of the centrist ANO party which is tipped to win parliamentary elections scheduled for October 20-21 in the EU and NATO member of more than 10 million people.

"I will not present my resignation. I will soon ask the president of the republic to recall the finance minister," Sobotka told reporters in Prague.

Sobotka changed his mind about quitting after President Milos Zeman made it clear he would opt to only replace him as prime minister and leave intact the rest of the government, including his arch-rival Babis.

Last week Czech media reports had been rife with speculation that Sobotka, who heads the flagging CSSD Social Democrats, was poised to sack Babis himself.

But saying he did not want to make the tycoon look like a "martyr", Sobotka tendered his entire government's resignation instead, a move that appears to have badly backfired on him.

Presidential spokesman Jiri Ovcacek said Friday that Zeman "was in no rush" to push through changes, adding that he would be travelling from May 9-18, including a visit to China.

"We'll analyse the situation after that," he added.

- 'Huge error' -

Babis called Sobotka's manoeuvring "ridiculous", telling reporters Friday that "the prime minister has changed his mind for the fourth time in a few hours, I don?t get it".

Czech politics were plunged into crisis on Tuesday when Sobotka, 45, said he would tender his government's resignation amid the row with Babis over alleged financial fraud, which the tycoon has flatly denied.

Ranked by Forbes as the Czech Republic's second most wealthy citizen, Babis ran the sprawling Agrofert conglomerate before putting his assets into a trust earlier this year to ward off conflict of interest allegations.

Sobotka has questioned the way Babis had raised money to buy tax-free bonds for Agrofert and insisted that as a finance minister fighting tax evasion, Babis should not benefit from tax loopholes.

Zeman waded into the crisis on Thursday saying he would likely tap either the foreign or interior minister -- both members of Sobotka's CSSD -- to replace him as prime minister, making it clear Babis could remain finance minister.

The tycoon for his part told reporters Friday that he would "leave it up to the president" to decide his fate.

Prague-based political analyst Tomas Lebeda told AFP that Sobotka had become the victim of his own "ill conceived decision", calling his move to quit a "huge error" just months ahead of a general election.

"Instead of putting pressure on the president and the finance minister, the prime minister put himself under pressure," Lebeda said, adding that it was "extremely difficult to make any predictions."

Babis is the Czech Republic's most popular politician, with a 56 percent approval rating according to an April CVVM poll, compared with 39 percent for Sobotka, in sixth place.

The Slovak-born self-made businessman has worked to present himself and the ANO (Yes) party he set up 2012 as being tough on corruption, something voters perceive as pervasive in often murky Czech politics.

Sobotka has been in office since 2014, with his CSSD Social Democrats sharing power in a coalition government with the ANO and the smaller centre-right KDU-CSL Christian Democrats.

US soldier killed, two wounded in fight with Shabaab in Somalia

An American soldier was shot dead and two others wounded in Somalia during a joint operation with Somali forces against Shabaab militants, the US military said Friday.”On May 4, one US service member was killed during an operation against al-Shabaab ne…

An American soldier was shot dead and two others wounded in Somalia during a joint operation with Somali forces against Shabaab militants, the US military said Friday.

"On May 4, one US service member was killed during an operation against al-Shabaab near Barii, Somalia, approximately 40 miles west of Mogadishu," said a statement from the US Africa Command (AFRICOM), adding the US forces were "conducting an advise and assist mission alongside members of the Somali National Army."

AFRICOM spokeswoman Robyn Mack told AFP two US soldiers were also wounded.

"The service member was struck by small arms fire while conducting an advise and assist mission alongside members of the Somalia National Army. Two other US service members were wounded in the incident. They are both receiving proper medical attention," she said.

US special forces have been deployed in Somalia for years, training and supporting the Somali military in the fight against the al-Qaeda aligned Shabaab. Drone and missile strikes have also been used against Shabaab commanders and footsoldiers.

Since taking office President Trump has signed a directive loosening the US military's rules of engagement in Somalia and authorised the deployment of dozens of additional regular troops from the 101st Airborne Division.

In 1993, during the last major deployment of US troops in Somalia, 18 US soldiers were killed in the capital Mogadishu in fighting against warlords and their clan militias. The incident was captured in the book and film 'Black Hawk Down'.

For the last decade the Shabaab has been fighting to overthrow the internationally-backed government of Somalia.

Deal on safe zones in Syria to come into effect 21:00 GMT on May 5 – Russian MoD

The agreement for safe zones in Syria will come into force on Friday at 21:00 GMT, the Russian Defense Ministry announced. Russia, Iran and Turkey negotiated the memorandum on Thursday in Astana, Kazakhstan. Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview The agreement for safe zones in Syria will come into force on Friday at 21:00 GMT, the Russian Defense Ministry announced. Russia, Iran and Turkey negotiated the memorandum on Thursday in Astana, Kazakhstan.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Top court upholds death sentence for gang-rape that shocked India

India’s top court on Friday upheld the death sentences of four men who were convicted in the fatal gang-rape and torture of a 23-year-old medical student on a moving bus in the Indian capital nearly five years ago.

India's top court on Friday upheld the death sentences of four men who were convicted in the fatal gang-rape and torture of a 23-year-old medical student on a moving bus in the Indian capital nearly five years ago.

Malaysia-bound AirAsia X flight hit by severe turbulence

Five passengers were injured after a Malaysia-bound AirAsia X flight was hit by “severe turbulence”, the budget carrier said Friday.Flight D7 377 from Taipei to Kuala Lumpur, which had 291 passengers and 11 crew members on board, suffered the turbulenc…

Five passengers were injured after a Malaysia-bound AirAsia X flight was hit by "severe turbulence", the budget carrier said Friday.

Flight D7 377 from Taipei to Kuala Lumpur, which had 291 passengers and 11 crew members on board, suffered the turbulence mid-flight Thursday.

The Airbus A330 - 300 aircraft managed to land safely at Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2.

"Five injured passengers were treated by paramedics at the airport upon landing," the airline said in a statement.

"All other passengers were attended to by ground staff and provided with necessary assistance."

AirAsia X did not comment on the extent of the injuries or if hospitalisation was required.

An unverified mobile video clip apparently taken on board the flight was being shared on social media, The Star newspaper reported.

The footage, seen by AFP, showed a flight stewardess on the floor and a flight steward tightly gripping onto the side compartments in the plane for balance.

Sounds of someone crying could be heard, and food and some utensils were strewn about on the floor.

A stewardess who was seated was composed and told the others: "Guys, alright, don't be panicked okay. It's going to be alright."

Towards the end of the video a few of the crew members can be seen getting up from the floor and trying to quickly get seated.

Mourinho to rest United stars for Arsenal clash

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho pledged to rest a host of first-team regulars for Sunday’s Premier League showdown at Arsenal as he believes his side have missed their chance to claim a top-four finish.Mourinho instead vowed to keep his key pla…

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho pledged to rest a host of first-team regulars for Sunday's Premier League showdown at Arsenal as he believes his side have missed their chance to claim a top-four finish.

Mourinho instead vowed to keep his key players as fresh as possible for the second leg of their Europa League semi-final against Celta Vigo on May 11 having claimed a vital 1-0 first leg lead in Spain thanks to Marcus Rashford's winner on Thursday night.

"I think in the last match against Swansea we lost our last chance to fight for top four, so I am going to rest players," said Mourinho, despite United sitting just one point behind fourth-placed Manchester City with four games to go.

"We are not going to Arsenal to say beat us five or 6-0. We are going there to fight for a result.

"But it is impossible, I cannot do it in another way."

Celta have consistently rested players in La Liga in recent weeks as they are mired in mid-table.

And Mourinho claimed doing anything but rotating his injury hit squad would give the Galicians an advantage ahead of the second leg at Old Trafford.

"If Celta was fighting for important things in La Liga we would go in same circumstances, but I cannot go with the same team that played here and go again in the next Thursday.

"We need to be human with the players, be sensible and use common sense in the Premier League."

Winning the Europa League for the first time in the club's history would hand United the same prize of a return to the Champions League next season that a top four finish offers.

By fielding a weakened team at the Emirates this weekend, though, Mourinho risks suffering a first ever league defeat against long-standing rival Arsene Wenger.

Arsenal manager Wenger has managed just one win over Mourinho, in the 2015 Community Shield, during his time at Chelsea and United in 16 previous meetings.

- 'Specialist in failure' -

During a long history of bad-tempered clashes, Mourinho has often goaded Wenger in the press.

He called the Frenchman a "specialist in failure" in February 2014, whilst the two nearly came to blows in a touchline clash later that year.

Wenger said on Thursday he was prepared to make peace with Mourinho.

But Mourinho claimed there was no need to bury the hatchet with Wenger and that the under-fire Arsenal boss should be happy he will make changes with the Gunners themselves still harbouring ambitions of a top four finish.

"In the last match at Old Trafford, we shook hands before, after, I remember that I still met him in the corridor for the press conferences and we shook hands again," added Mourinho.

"He doesn't need to make peace. When there is peace, we don't have to have problem. I am a big boy, I'm in football all my life, I know a problem on the pitch, the next day is not a problem at all.

"So for me not a problem at all and I think he will be really pleased with me that I am going to change my team against Arsenal."

US unemployment falls to 10-year low in April

Job creation in the world’s largest economy rebounded strongly in April, pushing the unemployment rate to its lowest level in 10 years, the US Labor Department reported Friday.After a slow March, when hiring likely was held down by a winter storm, the …

Job creation in the world's largest economy rebounded strongly in April, pushing the unemployment rate to its lowest level in 10 years, the US Labor Department reported Friday.

After a slow March, when hiring likely was held down by a winter storm, the US economic engine added an estimated 211,000 net new positions while the jobless rate fell a tenth to 4.4 percent, the lowest since May 2007.

The result handily surpassed an analyst consensus, which had predicted 180,000 new jobs for the month, and rebound in the unemployment rate to 4.6 percent.

The news could offer the White House a measure of relief after a first quarter when economic data appeared to have softened. President Donald Trump has vowed to add 25 million new jobs over a decade but economists say this may be unrealistic.

Wages also continued to climb in April, with average hourly earnings rising nearly 0.3 percent for the month to $26.19, which is 2.5 percent higher than the same month last year.

The figures supported the view of a US economy in generally good health but with an increasingly tight labor market, which could begin to fuel inflation worries.

The unemployment rate has now fallen 0.6 percentage points since the start of the year, with 854,000 fewer unemployed people, while average monthly job creation of 185,000 so far in 2017 is in line with last year's trend.

The figures also followed signals from the Federal Reserve on Wednesday that the central bank was likely to stick to a planned course of two more interest rate hikes in 2017 despite softer economic data in the first quarter of the year, which it said was "transitory."

April saw job gains in mining, social assistance, leisure, hospitality and health care. Bars and restaurants also continued to hire, adding 26,000 jobs last month, bringing the 12-month total for the industry to 260,000.

The jobless rate for adult men fell three tenths to four percent but rose a tenth for women to 4.1 percent.

EU official angers Hungary with ‘anti-Semitism’ charge

Hungary told European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans to quit on Friday after he was quoted suggesting Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s animosity towards George Soros was driven by anti-Semitism.Hungary’s foreign ministry said Timmermans “shoul…

Hungary told European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans to quit on Friday after he was quoted suggesting Prime Minister Viktor Orban's animosity towards George Soros was driven by anti-Semitism.

Hungary's foreign ministry said Timmermans "should resign from his post after having accused Hungary's Prime Minister and the country's government of anti-Semitism".

Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said that the comments were an "unfounded accusation" and that Hungary "has done more than anyone in Europe to combat anti-Semitism," a statement said.

It added that Budapest "has major issues" with the Hungarian-born financier and philanthropist but that "these disputes have absolutely nothing to do with George Soros's origins or religion".

Orban on Wednesday told the European Parliament that Soros was an "American financial speculator attacking Hungary" and that the Hungarian-born financier has "destroyed the lives of millions of Europeans".

Asked in an interview with Germany weekly Die Zeit published on Thursday whether he thought the comments sounded anti-Semitic, Timmermans said: "I understood that in exactly the same way as you and was appalled".

Orban was in Brussels to defend education legislation that the Central European University in Budapest, a highly respected institution founded by Soros, believes is aimed at forcing it to close.

The legislation has drawn street protests and international concern including from the US State Department and an open letter signed by more than 900 academics around the world.

Orban has accused the university, set up in 1991 after the fall of communism, of "cheating" and of having an "unfair advantage" over local institutions -- allegations rejected by the CEU as "defamatory".

Orban's government also aims to oblige non-governmental organisations receiving above a certain amount of foreign funding to register and stamp any publication with "foreign-funded organisation".

Mirroring similar rules in Russia, this is also seen as targeting Soros's Open Society Foundation which funds civil society groups and which has also come under fire elsewhere in the region.

Orban, a strong admirer of US President Donald Trump, has long accused Soros, 86, of seeking to undermine Europe by backing immigration, calling it the "Trojan horse of terrorism".

German magazine ordered to pay damages to F1 legend Schumacher

The German magazine Bunte was ordered Friday to pay 50,000 euros ($55,000) in damages plus legal fees to Michael Schumacher for claiming the former five-time Formula One world champion could walk again.In December 2015, two years after Schumacher susta…

The German magazine Bunte was ordered Friday to pay 50,000 euros ($55,000) in damages plus legal fees to Michael Schumacher for claiming the former five-time Formula One world champion could walk again.

In December 2015, two years after Schumacher sustained serious head injuries on a skiing holiday, Bunte ran the headline "It's more than a Christmas miracle -- Michael Schumacher can walk again".

But the media chamber of Hamburg's regional court found the article infringed Schumacher's privacy and ordered the magazine to pay compensation plus 65 percent of his legal costs.

"The chamber assumes that this statement is false," said court judge Simone Kaefer.

The verdict was based on the fact Schumacher cannot currently walk and thus could not have done so at the time the article was printed.

Schumacher's family had sought damages of 100,000 euros but the court, in mitigation, determined that the magazine had researched and sourced the article.

Schumacher has not appeared in public since a skiing accident in December 2013 left him in a coma, from which he later emerged.

His family has given few details on his current state of health. He is being treated at their home near Geneva.

Players deserve privacy over mental health – Klopp

Jurgen Klopp strongly believes players should be allowed to deal with health issues in private, saying of the glare of publicity focused on Everton’s Aaron Lennon: “I really hate it.”Lennon has been in the spotlight after the former England winger was …

Jurgen Klopp strongly believes players should be allowed to deal with health issues in private, saying of the glare of publicity focused on Everton's Aaron Lennon: "I really hate it."

Lennon has been in the spotlight after the former England winger was detained under the Mental Health Act on Sunday.

His club say Lennon is suffering from a stress-related illness, but Klopp does not believe it is fair to an individual's recovery to have their medical problems openly debated.

"Whatever I could say about it doesn't help, it is only another headline," the Liverpool manager said on Friday.

"What I really think is (that we should) keep all these kind of issues as private as possible. Give the people the privacy they need -- stop talking about it, stop asking about it.

"If it is not a football player the only advantage is that no one asks about it, so it is easy to come back when you feel better.

"In football or in the public eye everyone is interested and I don't like it.

"It is like watching a car accident -- instead of helping you only watch or take your smartphone out, and I really hate it.

"I am sure Everton are doing everything they can to keep it as private as possible and that is their job and everything will be good in the end."

G7 turns Sicilian gem into ‘warzone’, locals cry

Bewildered tourists step gingerly around roaring bulldozers in the picturesque Sicilian coastal city of Taormina, where preparations for an upcoming G7 summit have enraged the local population.Soldiers stand guard at the Roman gates and in the shadow o…

Bewildered tourists step gingerly around roaring bulldozers in the picturesque Sicilian coastal city of Taormina, where preparations for an upcoming G7 summit have enraged the local population.

Soldiers stand guard at the Roman gates and in the shadow of the ancient theatre as the city prepares to go into total lockdown for the arrival on May 26 of the heads of the Group of Seven, including new US President Donald Trump.

The state has forked out more than 14 million euros ($15.4 million) to spruce up pot-holed roads and crumbling ruins, but locals say the disruption has already scared off international holidaymakers in a key month for business.

"The town looks like its been bombed. It's pure madness," restaurant owner Turi Siligato, 53, told AFP as he stood on a dust-choked street where diggers shattered old tarmac in front of shops forced to close for the roadworks.

"Tourists who see this will never come again. It is unbelievable to think of starting such large works in a season already underway. They are ruining the place," he said.

The city will be in lockdown from May 13, with cars banned and residents bussed in and out of town under guard.

- Ash clouds and riots -

Mayor Eligio Giardina concedes that hosting the summit -- which will see the heads of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States wined, dined and serenaded by the famed La Scala orchestra -- has won him no favours.

"I'm perhaps the most hated man in Taormina... but once it's over, and the anger is gone, the public works will remain," he said.

The Greek theatre is being cleaned after 50 years of neglect, while the main road into the city is undergoing urgent works to shore up a viaduct which Giardina says "could have collapsed at any moment".

The biggest win for this sun-drenched, cliff-top gem in eastern Sicily is the media coverage it will get, he says.

But with nearby volcano Mount Etna spewing ash clouds and fears that so-called "black bloc" protesters may infiltrate anti-G7 demonstrations, it may not be plain sailing.

There will be 10,000 security agents patrolling the area, including nearby Giardini Naxos, a tiny resort town on the shoreline where protesters and media will be cordoned off from the main event.

"While Taormina will be the safest city in the world, I am really worried about the surrounding areas," Giardina admits.

- A Sicilian toast -

Demonstrators will rally in Giardini Naxos to demand protection for "the rights of the weakest in society, to defend peace, and the environment," campaigner Anna Di Salvo said.

Some of the leaders will be at their first G7, including the new French president and Britain's Theresa May, but protesters "have little hope new faces will mean things will change for the better," she said.

It is not all gloom: some have embraced the event, like the gelato makers at the Fanaberia ice cream shop who have created a "Trump Cup" in the colours of the American flag with an orange swirl on top to mimic the president's hair.

"The are huge disadvantages for tourism. Cruise ships are staying away, car parks are closed, but you have to think positively," said Paolo Ando, 59, who works in the shop.

Trump is not expected to drop in to taste his namesake, because "the American 007s say the street has no escape routes" in case of an attack, he said.

"But we're not letting that stop us. We're creating a G7 cocktail as well, a light blue summer drink -- but with only a dash of alcohol or the delegations will be falling asleep around the table," he quipped.

What are the ‘de-escalation zones’ agreed for Syria?

After six years of conflict in Syria, government backers Russia and Iran and rebel supporter Turkey have signed a deal to create four “de-escalation zones” in the country.Here are some questions and answers about the deal and the planned zones:- What a…

After six years of conflict in Syria, government backers Russia and Iran and rebel supporter Turkey have signed a deal to create four "de-escalation zones" in the country.

Here are some questions and answers about the deal and the planned zones:

- What are 'de-escalation zones?' -

The zones are four areas located across eight of Syria's 14 provinces.

The first includes Idlib in the northwest, which is controlled by a coalition of Islamists and jihadists including a former Al-Qaeda affiliate, along with neighbouring Latakia, Hama and Aleppo, each of which have rebel-held areas.

The second is in the north of central Homs province, where rebels hold a stretch of territory, with the third covering the Eastern Ghouta area, a rebel stronghold outside the capital Damascus.

The fourth zone covers southern Syria, particularly Daraa and Quneitra province, which both have large rebel-held areas, though a jihadist faction close to the Islamic State is also present in Quneitra.

The zones do not cover the three areas held entirely by the government, Damascus city, Tartus and Sweida, or areas in the northeast held by IS or a Kurdish-Arab alliance fighting the jihadist group.

Along the lines of the "de-escalation zones" will be "security zones" with checkpoints and observation posts to monitor and secure access.

- What's the timescale? -

The memorandum agreed during talks in Astana does not specify a start date for the implementation of the zones, but calls on the signatories to form a joint working group within two weeks.

The group will then "take steps to complete by 4 June 2017 the preparation of the maps of the de-escalation areas and security zones and to separate the armed opposition groups from the terrorist groups."

The document defines "terrorist groups" as IS, the former Al-Qaeda affiliate previously known as Al-Nusra Front, as well as groups or individuals affiliated with them.

Once established, the zones will be in place for an initial period of six months, but may be extended.

- How will it look on the ground? -

Government forces and rebels who have signed onto the deal will agree to halt all hostilities, including the use of warplanes, in the zones.

Several forces have carried out air strikes within Syria, including Russia and a US-led coalition battling IS.

A Russian diplomat confirmed Friday that the terms would prevent the coalition from carrying out strikes in the zones.

The deal calls for "rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access" in the areas in question, as well as measures to restore basic infrastructure and allow the "safe and voluntary return" of displaced people and refugees.

Access to the areas will be controlled via security zones complete with checkpoints and observation posts.

The deal calls for security to be "ensured by the forces of the guarantors by consensus," adding that "third parties might be deployed."

- What chance of success? -

The deal builds on a ceasefire agreed between Russia and Turkey last December that reduced violence for a period but gradually fell apart.

This proposal is significantly more ambitious, involving the deployment of forces from the guarantor countries and seeking to ground all warplanes.

But it also calls for the continued fight against IS and former Al-Qaeda affiliate Fateh Al-Sham Front, which could pose challenges.

In Idlib province in particular, Fateh al-Sham is a leading and powerful component of the opposition forces controlling the region, and a key ally for other rebel groups against the regime.

Noah Bonsey, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, said the agreement "looks more serious than previous Astana efforts."

But, writing on Twitter, he warned it would probably "unravel" over the fight against Fateh al-Sham.

Radicalized man detained near military base in northern France – prosecution sources

A man who has been on French police radar for radicalization has been arrested near a military base in northern France, sources close to the investigation told local media. Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview A man who has been on French police radar for radicalization has been arrested near a military base in northern France, sources close to the investigation told local media.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Migrant rescues, deaths in Med as NGOs cry foul

Rescuers in the Mediterranean raced Friday to the aid of more than 20 migrant dinghies in distress as the debate in Italy over privately-funded aid ships intensified and the death toll at sea ticked steadily upwards.”There are over 20 boats in difficul…

Rescuers in the Mediterranean raced Friday to the aid of more than 20 migrant dinghies in distress as the debate in Italy over privately-funded aid ships intensified and the death toll at sea ticked steadily upwards.

"There are over 20 boats in difficulty off Libya and an already tense situation has worsened with people in the water," said Mathilde Auvillain, communicator officer for SOS Mediterranee.

Charities Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and Save the Children were taking part in a senate meeting in a bid to clear the air after weeks of speculation over whether some of the rescue vessels may have links to traffickers in Libya.

NGOs have fiercely denied claims of collusion with smugglers made by Sicilian prosecutor Carmelo Zuccaro, who has suggested they are worsening Europe's worst migrant crisis since World War II -- but also admitted he has no proof.

"We are under political attack, probably because we are giving a voice to those we save at sea, and pointing the finger at Europe for its failure to respond" to the crisis, said MSF search and rescue coordinator Michele Trainiti.

- 'Never too soon' -

The MFS boat Vos Prudence disembarked six bodies recovered from the Mediterranean in the port of Catania Friday morning, five of whom were young women of African origin aged between 16 and 35.

"We think they were in the water for around a week, we can't be more specific because of the advanced state of decomposition of the bodies," MSF nurse Elena Zandanel, 33, told AFP.

The furore has been stoked by the populist Five Star Movement and anti-immigrant Northern League, whose leader Matteo Salvini said this week that the rescues were little more than "a financial and commercial operation".

Zuccaro appealed Wednesday for more resources to expand his investigation, including intercepting the satellite calls made by traffickers, saying European Border Agency Frontex had intelligence of contact between NGOs and smugglers.

A Frontex spokesperson in Warsaw said Frontex had never accused the NGOs.

"They want more resources, the resources should be used to save those risking their lives at sea," said Trainiti.

"Frontex has said there is no proof linking us to traffickers, as has (anti-smuggling operation) EU Navfor med and the (Sicilian) prosecutor of Siracusa", he said.

He also rubbished Zuccaro's suggestion the NGO boats were intervening to rescue people before they needed help.

"There's never a 'too soon' when you speak of rescues. According to the rules of the sea, as soon as one of these dinghies leaves land it is a vessel in distress, because it has over 10 times the number of people it could legally carry.

"It doesn't need to send a distress signal, it doesn't need to call for help, the law of the sea says it is a boat that needs assistance, full stop".

- 'Entire families raped' -

The flimsy dinghies used by traffickers are launched from the North African coast with an average of 122 passengers crammed aboard.

More than 1,000 people have died or are missing feared drowned on the central Mediterranean crossing so far this year.

The debate -- which saw Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni wade in Thursday to hail the NGOs -- is distracting from the real issue, the chaotic situation in Libya which is forcing ever larger numbers of people to flee across the sea, Trainiti said.

"We are very worried the situation will get worse with the summer and good weather. The situation in Libya becomes more critical by the day, there are stories of prolonged violence, torture and rape, including the rape of entire families".

Giancarlo Perego, director of the Migrantes foundation, said it was "right that prosecutors and the judiciary be vigilant and take note of the current situation in the Mediterranean, so that migrants are not victims twice over".

"But indistinct political fire on the nine NGOs operating in the Mediterranean to save lives using the resources of banking and private foundations, of civil society, is hypocritical and shameful."

Food insecurity increases global migration: UN

At a time of a record-high number of people fleeing their homes due to violent conflicts, the UN food agency said Friday a global crisis in food supplies is causing even more migrants to cross borders.”Each one percentage increase in food insecurity in…

At a time of a record-high number of people fleeing their homes due to violent conflicts, the UN food agency said Friday a global crisis in food supplies is causing even more migrants to cross borders.

"Each one percentage increase in food insecurity in a population compels 1.9 percent more people to migrate," a new report by the World Food Programme (WFP) said.

In addition, 0.4 percent more people flee a country for each additional year of conflict, it said.

Little or no access to food and other humanitarian assistance compel people to keep moving. and then they also often find due to the hardship of their journey that migration itself can cause food insecurity.

"At WFP, we are doing everything we can to care for refugees who are hungry or starving across the world,? said David Beasley, WFP executive director.

?By understanding the dynamics that compel people to move, we can better address what lies at the heart of forced migration and what must be done to end their suffering,? he said.

The WFP report includes some accounts that give a sense of the food crisis facing migrants.

A woman who fled Syria to Jordan with her family told the UN: ?We had to eat grass to survive. My kids stayed up all night crying because they were hungry.?

A man from Deir Ezzor in war-torn eastern Syria told of the suffering he had witnessed: ?They made people hungry, stole our produce, closed schools, and prevented people from working.?

The total number of migrants worldwide reached 244 million in 2015, and among them a record 63 million were forced to leave their homes, including refugees, displaced people within their countries and asylum seekers, the Rome-based UN agency.

The WFP study also found that armed conflict was what triggered migrants to cross borders, and to a lesser extent natural catastrophes and economic factors.

The report also said that displaced people don't want to move away and try to stay close to their place of origin.

"Nearly eight in ten Syrian refugee families interviewed had been internally displaced inside Syria at least once, and 65 percent twice or more," the WFP said.

The report recommended that the international community invest in food supplies and livelihoods as close as possible to the displaced peoples homes to reduce further displacement and further migration.

Marathon runners target two-hour barrier

Three elite runners backed by a small army of scientists will on Saturday attempt an audacious assault on the boundaries of the possible by trying to run a marathon in less than two hours.Reigning Olympic marathon champion Eliud Kipchoge from Kenya, Et…

Three elite runners backed by a small army of scientists will on Saturday attempt an audacious assault on the boundaries of the possible by trying to run a marathon in less than two hours.

Reigning Olympic marathon champion Eliud Kipchoge from Kenya, Ethiopia's Lelisa Desisa and Eritrea's Zersenay Tadese will aim to complete the classic marathon distance of 26.2 miles (42.195 kilometres) in 1hr 59min 59 sec or faster on a fixed loop at the Monza National Autodrome racing circuit in Italy.

In their pursuit of sporting immortality the trio will need to set a ferocious pace of 4min 34sec per mile -- seven seconds quicker than the pace of the existing world record of 2:02:57 set by Dennis Kimetto of Kenya at the 2014 Berlin Marathon.

In many respects it is the distance running equivalent of attempting to put a man on the Moon, requiring the sort of evolutionary leap against the clock that is usually only achieved over decades.

But increasingly scientists are convinced that the sub-two-hour marathon is achievable.

"People have been thinking about the magical sub-two-hour marathon for a long time," said Wouter Hoogkamer, lead researcher of a study recently published by the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Hoogkamer's team set out a series of mathematical calculations demonstrating how an elite marathon runner could break the two-hour barrier.

"Our calculations show that a sub-two-hour marathon time could happen right now, but it would require the right course and a lot of organisation," Hoogkamer said in the study published by the journal Sports Medicine.

Slicing roughly three minutes off the marathon world record requires a perfect alignment of human physiology, state-of-the-art equipment and perfect conditions.

Kipchoge, Desisa and Tadese were selected by Nike after an exhaustive analysis of their physical make-up and technique.

"We have spent a long time exploring many dimensions of their performance, like the maximum oxygen an athlete can consume; the critical speed, or threshold an athlete is capable of maintaining; and the energy required; to their economy of running," a spokeswoman for Nike told AFP.

"We know that these runners are perfectly equipped and wanting to run something that has never been run before."

- Encouraging signs -

The Colorado study estimated that to be successful, runners would need to wear shoes roughly 100 grams lighter than those worn by Kimetto during his 2014 world record.

Nike produced shoes to be worn by the athletes making the attempt, the "Zoom Elite", pitched as the ideal blend of weightlessness, energy return and aerodynamics.

Preparations for the sub-two-hour attempt have been encouraging. At a test event in Monza, Kipchoge completed a half-marathon on the circuit in a time of 59min 17sec.

Even if the Nike-backed runners are successful their time will not be regarded as a formal world record by track and field's governing body, the IAAF, as it will not take place in officially sanctioned race conditions.

Nike is unfazed by this.

"The course will be IAAF ratified and will meet to all marathon course requirements including independently measured course distance, start versus finish location and course elevation," a spokeswoman told AFP.

Other observers question whether the sub-two-hour attempt even needs the stamp of approval from the IAAF.

Ed Caesar, author of the 2015 book "Two Hours: The Quest to Run the Impossible Marathon", notes that Roger Bannister's iconic breaching of the four-minute-mile barrier in 1954 was frowned upon in certain quarters because of the Briton's use of pace runners.

"People thought it was cheapening to have two other guys helping Bannister, but we don't remember that," Caesar told The Wall Street Journal.

"There are always ideas of what is sportsmanlike, but the fact is we are interested on whether it's possible to run a marathon in less than two hours."

London finance centre to ‘stall’ on Brexit: Goldman boss

Development of London’s financial centre will “stall” owing to Brexit, but is unlikely to “totally reverse”, Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein said in an interview broadcast Friday.”It will stall, it might backtrack a bit, it just depends o…

Development of London's financial centre will "stall" owing to Brexit, but is unlikely to "totally reverse", Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein said in an interview broadcast Friday.

"It will stall, it might backtrack a bit, it just depends on a lot of things about which we are uncertain, and I know there isn't certainty at the moment," the head of the US investment banking giant told the BBC.

"I don't think it will totally reverse," said Blankfein.

The British government will soon start negotiations to set the terms of its departure from the European Union.

Britain plans to leave the single market but hopes to agree a trade deal, and protecting its crucial financial sector is a main priority.

UK-based banks and other financial firms face losing "passporting" rights to sell services to clients operating in the European Union once Britain officially quits the EU in March 2019 unless a deal can be reached.

Blankfein said the bank was "trying to avoid" a large-scale move out of London.

"Obviously, a lot of people elect to have their European business concentrated in a single place, and the easiest place, certainly, for the biggest economy in the world [the US] to concentrate would be the UK ?- the culture, the language, the special relationship ?- and we are an example of that," he said.

However, the bank would have to reconsider if unable to sell services on the continent.

"If you cannot benefit from access to the EU from the UK, and nobody knows what those rules and determinations will be, then the risk is there will be some adjustment that will cause some people to have a smaller footprint in the UK."

A number of banks have already announced plans to shift a few thousand jobs from London to other European financial centres such as Frankfurt, Dublin, Luxembourg and Paris.

Goldman Sachs has already said that it will create hundreds of positions elsewhere in Europe.

Britain's finance sector employs 2.2 million people in the UK, seven percent of the country's entire workforce.

London's financial sector alone employs 750,000 workers is home to many of the world's top banks.

‘We’re not fragile like US, which went on its knees to China’ – Zimbabwe president Mugabe

Preview Robert Mugabe, the 93-year-old leader of Zimbabwe who is seeking reelection next year, has rejected the view that his country is in economic turmoil. Mugabe instead claims Zimbabwe is the second most developed in Africa, while calling the US “fragile.”
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview Robert Mugabe, the 93-year-old leader of Zimbabwe who is seeking reelection next year, has rejected the view that his country is in economic turmoil. Mugabe instead claims Zimbabwe is the second most developed in Africa, while calling the US “fragile.”
Read Full Article at RT.com

Bouteflika party, coalition allies win parliamentary majority

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s party and its coalition ally have won a clear majority of seats in parliament, results released by the interior ministry showed on Friday.

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's party and its coalition ally have won a clear majority of seats in parliament, results released by the interior ministry showed on Friday.

Doubts over Saudi order that ‘eases’ control over women

Saudi women no longer need a man’s consent to carry out certain activities, local media reported on Friday, but activists said the royal order does not go far enough.Saudi Arabia has some of the world’s tightest restrictions on women, and is the only c…

Saudi women no longer need a man's consent to carry out certain activities, local media reported on Friday, but activists said the royal order does not go far enough.

Saudi Arabia has some of the world's tightest restrictions on women, and is the only country where they are not allowed to drive.

Under the guardianship system a male family member, normally the father, husband or brother, must grant permission for a woman's study, travel and other activities.

But the Arab News said a royal decree issued by King Salman ordered that women are no longer required to obtain a guardian's consent for official services "unless there is a legal basis for this request" under Islamic law.

Government agencies were advised of this directive, the report said.

Other Saudi media including the Sabq online newspaper, which is close to authorities, have carried similar reports.

Sahar Hassan Nasief, a women's rights activist in the Red Sea city of Jeddah, welcomed royal attention to the issue but said it remained unclear what will change under the decree.

"We still need more. We still need to get rid of the guardianship completely," she told AFP.

Nassima al-Sadah, an activist in the Gulf coast city of Qatif, said she does not think the government is about to end guardianship.

"Maybe they will just reduce it," she said.

Last year thousands of people signed a petition calling for an end to guardianship.

United Nations special rapporteur Philip Alston, on a visit to Saudi Arabia in January, said the guardianship system needs reform.

Activists say that even female prisoners have to be received by the guardian upon their release, meaning some have to languish in jail or a shelter beyond their sentences if the man does not want to accept them.

Although the government no longer requires guardian permission for women to work, Human Rights Watch said in an earlier report that many employers still demand guardian consent in order to hire a woman.

Some hospitals also require a guardian's approval before carrying out medical procedures, it said.

Activists say that if they have open-minded male family members, getting their consent is not a problem.

Cartoonists ‘first victims’ of crackdowns on press

Ten countries including Russia, Turkey and India have been condemned for censoring, locking up or threatening cartoonists in a new report published Friday.The Cartooning for Peace group said cartoonists were increasingly becoming the victims of repress…

Ten countries including Russia, Turkey and India have been condemned for censoring, locking up or threatening cartoonists in a new report published Friday.

The Cartooning for Peace group said cartoonists were increasingly becoming the victims of repressive crackdowns on free speech.

The watchdog's first annual global report also documents attacks on freedom of expression in Kenya, Venezuela, Egypt, Malaysia, Jordan, Ecuador and Burkina Faso.

Its founder, the French cartoonist Plantu -- who set up the group a decade ago with former United Nations chief Kofi Annan -- told AFP that his peers were in danger across the globe.

Cartoonists were the canary in the mineshaft, he said, "often the first to be threatened" by authoritarian governments.

"Finally for the last few days we in Europe are worrying about what has been happening in Venezuela," added Plantu, whose work appears on Page One of the French daily Le Monde.

"For six years we have been trying to defend the cartoonist Rayma," who was first targeted by Hugo Chavez and has since fled to Florida after being threatened by his successor, President Nicolas Maduro.

The report also highlights the case of Turkish cartoonist Musa Kart, who has been jailed since October with colleagues from the liberal daily Cumhuriyet on accusations of "collusion with a terrorist organisation".

The newspaper incurred the wrath of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for running a story about a shipment of arms intercepted at the Syrian border, allegedly bound for Islamic extremists.

The report was also highly critical of Malaysia's Sedition Act, which it said has been used to try to silence journalists.

It said the Malaysian cartoonist Zunar has been subject to nearly a decade of persecution, travel bans and harassment for his work criticising official corruption.

"Whether their cartoons concern politics, the economy, sports or religion, cartoonists are confronted with the same threats as journalists who cover sensitive subjects," the group said in a statement.

Cartoonists are always on the front line, it said, the victims of "censorship, attacks, imprisonment, exile, disappearances and, in the worst cases, even murder."

Last week the press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders warned that the media has never been as threatened as it is now, undermined by increased surveillance and the rise of authoritarian leaders across the globe.

Sri Lankan embassies sheltered criminals: foreign minister

Sri Lanka’s foreign minister on Friday accused the previous administration of using its embassies abroad as “safe houses” for murderers accused of perpetrating human rights abuses during the civil war.Mangala Samaraweera told parliament a deputy ambass…

Sri Lanka's foreign minister on Friday accused the previous administration of using its embassies abroad as "safe houses" for murderers accused of perpetrating human rights abuses during the civil war.

Mangala Samaraweera told parliament a deputy ambassador posted to Brazil and two staffers sent to Germany were among those suspected of murders and war crimes that were sheltered in embassies by the former government.

"Many of our embassies had become safe houses for criminals involved in killings as well as grave human rights violations at home," Samaraweera told parliament.

"They were rewarded by giving places in our embassies abroad."

The minister said the envoy sent to Brazil by the Mahinda Rajapakse government was accused of murdering another embassy employee and committing human rights abuses in the dying days of the decades-long conflict, which ended in 2009.

Meanwhile the two given postings in Berlin were key suspects in the 2009 high-profile assassination of newspaper editor Lasantha Wickrematunga, a Rajapakse critic, he added.

Both have since been remanded in custody over the murder, which triggered international outrage.

Local media have reported that another suspected criminal was nominated for a diplomatic posting in Thailand shortly before Rajapakse's re-election in 2010.

The former president and several members of his family are under investigation for large-scale fraud and murder during his presidency, which ended in 2015.

Sri Lankan criminal investigators have told an ongoing court hearing that a death squad overseen by Rajapakse's brother was responsible for targeting the president's political opponents and critics, including Wickrematunga.

The Rajapakse family have denied any wrongdoing and have accused the new government of a political vendetta.

Rajapakse's regime faced international censure after it was caught smuggling into Britain a pro-Colombo Tamil warlord, Vinayagmoorthy Muralitharan, in September 2007 using a Sri Lankan official passport.

Muralitharan who is also known as colonel Karuna was sentenced for nine months imprisonment and the incident soured relations between the two countries and led to Sri Lanka's isolation by Western nations over its rights record.

Turkey court rejects Wikipedia appeal over blocking

A Turkish court on Friday rejected an appeal by the Wikimedia Foundation against the nearly week-long blocking of access in Turkey to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, state media said.The first magistrates court in Ankara threw out the appeal filed e…

A Turkish court on Friday rejected an appeal by the Wikimedia Foundation against the nearly week-long blocking of access in Turkey to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, state media said.

The first magistrates court in Ankara threw out the appeal filed earlier this week by the Wikimedia Foundation, which owns the domain name for Wikipedia, the state-run Anadolu news agency said.

The ban had been imposed on Saturday by Turkey's Information and Communication Technologies Authority (BTK) and had remained in place after being backed up by a court order earlier this week.

Turkish officials have said that the ban was needed as Wikipedia had failed to remove content deemed to be false from its pages that linked Turkey with terror groups.

But the move caused an outcry among freedom of information activists who accuse Turkey of slapping bans on websites and social media with alarming regularity.

There have also been questions why Turkey had to ban the entire website in all languages as its objections reportedly related only two pages in the English version.

BTK head Omer Fatih Sayan said earlier this week that the ban would only be lifted when the judiciary's decisions were implemented and the pages removed.

Istanbul municipality officials on Tuesday also removed Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales from the guest list of the World Cities Expo, a major international conference to be held in the city on May 15-18.

Reacting to the ban for Wikipedia on Saturday, Wales had said on Twitter: "Access to information is a fundamental human right. Turkish people, I will always stand with you to fight for this right."

Turkey has frequently blocked access to websites temporarily including popular websites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube following terror attacks or anti-government demonstrations.

Savvy internet users frequently resort to the use of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to get around these bans although there have been complaints that the use of VPNs has now also started to be blocked.

First test flight of stratospheric solar plane

The first solar plane aimed at reaching the stratosphere made an initial low-altitude test flight over Switzerland Friday.The SolarStratos, a super-light, sleek, white two-seater aircraft with long wings covered with solar panels, took off from Payerne…

The first solar plane aimed at reaching the stratosphere made an initial low-altitude test flight over Switzerland Friday.

The SolarStratos, a super-light, sleek, white two-seater aircraft with long wings covered with solar panels, took off from Payerne at 8:00 am (0600 GMT), according to an AFP photographer at the airbase in western Switzerland.

"The maiden flight of the prototype ... went off without a hitch," the SolarStratos team said in a statement.

Pilot Damian Hischier took the craft for a seven-minute test flight, reaching an altitude of 300 metres (nearly 1,000 feet), it said.

"The group will now study the test flight results before scheduling a longer flight at higher altitude," the statement added.

Eventually, the plane is expected to be able to fly at an altitude of 25,000 metres (82,000 feet), an impossible feat using a propulsion-driven aircraft.

Swiss adventurer Raphael Domjan, who is behind the project, aims to take the plane on its first stratospheric flight next year.

- Harness potential -

"We must continue to work hard to learn how to harness the potential of this solar-powered treasure," he said Friday.

"We want to demonstrate that with current technology, it is possible to go beyond what fossil fuels offer."

The SolarStratos is 8.5 metres long, with long wings covered with 22 square metres (237 square feet) of solar panels, which are meant to provide it with 24 hours of autonomous flying time.

The plane weighs just 450 kilos (992 pounds).

Domjan, who in 2012 became the first person to sail around the world in a fully solar-powered boat, is aiming to go on a five-hour mission into the stratosphere: two hours up and three hours back.

The stratosphere lies above Earth's lowest atmospheric layer, called the troposphere.

At middle latitudes, the stratosphere runs from a lower boundary of about 10,000 metres to an upper boundary of about 50,000 metres.

Until now, reaching the stratosphere has required large quantities of energy or helium.

Reaching an altitude of 25,000 metres will pose huge technical and human challenges, SolarStratos points out on its website.

The plane and pilot will also be subject to temperatures as low as -70 degrees Celsius (-94 degrees Fahrenheit), it said.

And for weight reasons, the aircraft will not be pressurised, forcing Domjan to wear a spacesuit, meaning he will not be able to get out of the plane using a parachute in the case of an emergency, SolarStratos said.

The project comes after two of Domjan's compatriots, Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg, completed the first-ever round-the-globe trip in a solar plane last July, in a bid to showcase the possibilities for the future of renewable energy.

Q&A: What do we know about 2012 gang rape case that rocked India?

The four men convicted of a fatal 2012 gang rape of a Delhi student had their death sentences upheld in India’s top court Friday, for an attack that shocked the world and led to tough new penalties for sexual violence.The horrific violence meted out to…

The four men convicted of a fatal 2012 gang rape of a Delhi student had their death sentences upheld in India's top court Friday, for an attack that shocked the world and led to tough new penalties for sexual violence.

The horrific violence meted out to 23-year-old Jyoti Singh on a bus in the capital city sparked angry protests and shone unprecedented attention on the scourge of sexual crimes against women in India.

The case spurred a major overhaul of laws governing such crimes, faster prosecutions in courts and harsher punishments for perpetrators.

Here are five questions and answers about the watershed case.

- Who was the victim? -

Singh's father moved the family from their small farming village in rural Uttar Pradesh state to the bustling capital in search of work.

It was hoped Singh would become the first professional in the family, and all energies were channelled into her studies at a private physiotherapy college.

Her father earned just $200 per month as an airport baggage handler but sold ancestral land to help pay for his daughter's tuition.

To supplement her family's meagre income, Singh worked nights at an outsourcing firm and gave private lessons to school children.

- What happened on December 16, 2012? -

Singh was returning from the cinema with a male friend when they were offered a ride in a private bus.

Six men, including a juvenile, beat Singh's friend unconscious before binding, gang raping and torturing her with an iron bar as the bus drove loops through the city.

Singh was dumped on the streets 45 minutes later with horrific internal injuries, and died 13 days later in a Singapore hospital.

- Why is this case extraordinary? -

The savagery of the attack proved a tipping point in a city where an average of six women are raped every day.

Angry protesters took to the streets of Delhi demanding swifter justice for victims and tougher laws to punish those perpetrating such crimes.

It also led to much soul-searching about the treatment of women in India, which suffers from extremely high levels of sexual assault and discrimination against women and girls is rife.

As Singh struggled to survive long enough to help police identify her attackers, she became a symbol of India's long-overdue campaign to end sexual violence against women.

- What happened to the attackers? -

The accused were low-paid migrants to New Delhi, among them a bus cleaner, a gym assistant, a fruit seller and a school dropout.

Four were convicted in September 2013 for murder, gang rape, theft, conspiracy and "unnatural acts" after a seven-month trial in a fast-track court.

A fifth man, the suspected ringleader, was found dead in jail in a suspected suicide, while the 17-year-old was sentenced to three years in a detention centre and has since been released.

Sentencing the four in 2013, Judge Yogesh Khanna said the case fell into the "rarest of rare category" which justifies capital punishment in India.

- What changes came of it? -

In the aftermath of the crime, a panel headed by a former chief justice was tasked with reviewing India's laws on sexual violence.

While the panel did not recommended the death penalty for rapists, it did recommend minimum sentences of 20 years for gang rape, with the possibility of life.

It also called for tougher punishments for a range of sexual crimes common across India, including voyeurism, stalking and acid attacks.

The government responded by introducing tougher punishments for rapists, including the death penalty for repeat offenders.

Pearson shares surge on restructuring plans

British publisher Pearson sent its share price rocketing Friday after the group launched a new cost-cutting plan and put its US schoolbooks division up for sale.

In late morning trade, Pearson shares soared 13.75 percent to 748.50 pence on London’s FTSE 100 index, which was almost flat.

Pearson, which has issued a series of profit warnings in recent years, revealed Friday that it will slash its costs by £300 million ($387 million, 354 million euros) on an annualised basis by the end of 2019.

The group added that its trading in the first quarter of this year was in line with expectations, with underlying sales rising by six percent.

“Though the bulk of our sales come later in the year, our first-quarter trading is encouraging and in line with expectations,” said chief executive John Fallon.

“We are creating a leaner Pearson, equipped to innovate and win in digital education.

“The measures we are announcing today build on the work completed last year and will allow us to further simplify our portfolio, reduce costs and accelerate our digital transformation.”

Pearson has already stripped £650 million in costs out of the business over the last four years.

The publisher is largely dependent on the education market, after it shed the Financial Times newspaper and half of the Economist Group in 2015.

British publisher Pearson sent its share price rocketing Friday after the group launched a new cost-cutting plan and put its US schoolbooks division up for sale.

In late morning trade, Pearson shares soared 13.75 percent to 748.50 pence on London's FTSE 100 index, which was almost flat.

Pearson, which has issued a series of profit warnings in recent years, revealed Friday that it will slash its costs by £300 million ($387 million, 354 million euros) on an annualised basis by the end of 2019.

The group added that its trading in the first quarter of this year was in line with expectations, with underlying sales rising by six percent.

"Though the bulk of our sales come later in the year, our first-quarter trading is encouraging and in line with expectations," said chief executive John Fallon.

"We are creating a leaner Pearson, equipped to innovate and win in digital education.

"The measures we are announcing today build on the work completed last year and will allow us to further simplify our portfolio, reduce costs and accelerate our digital transformation."

Pearson has already stripped £650 million in costs out of the business over the last four years.

The publisher is largely dependent on the education market, after it shed the Financial Times newspaper and half of the Economist Group in 2015.

Indonesia seeks $2 bn over Australia oil spill

Indonesia said Friday it has filed a $2 billion lawsuit against an energy company over an oil spill off Australia that it claims caused environmental damage in the archipelago’s waters. The civil suit was filed Wednesday in a Jakarta court against PTTE…

Indonesia said Friday it has filed a $2 billion lawsuit against an energy company over an oil spill off Australia that it claims caused environmental damage in the archipelago's waters.

The civil suit was filed Wednesday in a Jakarta court against PTTEP Australasia, which was operating the rig in the Timor Sea where the accident happened, and its parent company, Thailand's state-owned PTT Exploration and Production.

The spill in the Montara field, north of Australia, took place in August 2009. Thousands of barrels of oil leaked for close to 10 weeks following a blowout at the rig, in Australia's worst ever offshore drilling accident.

Indonesia is seeking about 27.4 trillion rupiah (around $2 billion) in damages, including for damage caused to the environment, after the oil spread into its waters, said Arif Havas Oegroseno, deputy minister for maritime affairs.

The government is also seeking to freeze the firm's assets in Indonesia and overseas, he said.

"This is an effort to seek justice for the PTTEP oil spill," Oegroseno said.

Oegroseno said the oil spill killed and damaged a huge area of coral reefs, seagrass meadows and mangroves in Indonesia.

Over the years, Indonesia had tried to negotiate with the company to come to a resolution but was not satisfied with their response, Oegroseno said.

"We feel that they are not serious in handling this issue," he said.

An independent commission which included the former Indonesian and Thailand foreign ministers did not manage to resolve the issue when PTTEP failed to show up for the signing of an agreement over the oil spill in late 2012, the deputy minister said.

Oegroseno said the company's failure to show up was a "clear signal" that the company was not taking the case seriously.

There was no immediate comment from the energy company.

PTTEP has previously said comprehensive studies clearly showed "no lasting impact on the highly sensitive and biodiverse ecosystems in the areas closest to Indonesian waters".

In August last year about 13,000 Indonesian seaweed farmers launched a AUS$200 million (US$150 million) class action against PTTEP Australasia in Sydney, claiming the accident devastated their livelihoods.

Trump to meet EU’s Juncker, Tusk in Brussels on May 25

US President Donald Trump will meet European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker and EU Council President Donald Tusk during his visit to Brussels on May 25, the EU said on Friday.The meetings with the EU’s top officials will be part of Trump’s first f…

US President Donald Trump will meet European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker and EU Council President Donald Tusk during his visit to Brussels on May 25, the EU said on Friday.

The meetings with the EU's top officials will be part of Trump's first foreign tour since taking office in January and come on the same day he attends a NATO summit, also in Brussels.

"Confirmed. @eucopresident and @JunckerEU will meet @realDonaldTrump in Brussels on 25 May", Preben Aamann, spokesman for Tusk, wrote in a tweet.

Trump had rankled European leaders by predicting that other countries "will leave" the EU after Britain voted to do so last year.

Juncker even joked he was ready to encourage independence movements by US states if Trump failed to tone down his Brexit support.

But more recently, Trump has endorsed the European bloc, which describes itself as a bastion against the nationalistic rivalries that so often tore Europe apart.

Last month, the US president told the Financial Times newspaper he thought the European Union was "getting their act together" -- though he maintained Brexit would be "really, really good" for the EU and for Britain.

Trump on Thursday said his marathon trip will also include stops in Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican.

The former business tycoon in January 2016 said Brussels was a "hellhole" due to the city's high Muslim immigrant population.

Novak Djokovic splits with entire coaching team

Novak Djokovic said that he had parted ways Friday with his entire training team including coach Marian Vajda as he attempts to arrest an alarming slide in form in the past year.”I am a hunter and my biggest goal is to find the winning spark on the cou…

Novak Djokovic said that he had parted ways Friday with his entire training team including coach Marian Vajda as he attempts to arrest an alarming slide in form in the past year.

"I am a hunter and my biggest goal is to find the winning spark on the court again," the Serbian, who lost his world number one ranking late last year to Andy Murray, said in a statement.

Saudi women to get state services without male guardian’s permission

Preview Saudi women will no longer need a male guardian’s consent to receive state services. The new decree comes after Riyadh, which has been slammed for a poor women’s rights record and gender inequality, was appointed to the UN Commission on the Status of Women.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview Saudi women will no longer need a male guardian’s consent to receive state services. The new decree comes after Riyadh, which has been slammed for a poor women’s rights record and gender inequality, was appointed to the UN Commission on the Status of Women.
Read Full Article at RT.com

‘Vicious plot’: Pyongyang claims CIA planning biochem attack against Kim Jong-un

Preview A terrorist cell supported by the CIA and South Korea’s National Intelligence Service is plotting to kill North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in a “biochemical” attack, Pyongyang has claimed.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview A terrorist cell supported by the CIA and South Korea’s National Intelligence Service is plotting to kill North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in a “biochemical” attack, Pyongyang has claimed.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Czech PM withdraws resignation, wants to sack finance minister

Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka withdrew his planned resignation on Friday, and called instead for the dismissal of his finance minister, a popular political rival whom he suspects of fraud.The move deepened a political crisis triggered by Sobotk…

Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka withdrew his planned resignation on Friday, and called instead for the dismissal of his finance minister, a popular political rival whom he suspects of fraud.

The move deepened a political crisis triggered by Sobotka's shock resignation announcement earlier this week amid a high-stakes row with Finance Minister Andrej Babis.

"I will not present my resignation. I will soon ask the president of the republic to recall the finance minister," Sobotka told reporters in Prague.

Sobotka, the head of the CSSD Social Democrats, backtracked after President Milos Zeman made it clear he would opt to only replace him as prime minister and leave intact the rest of the government including Babis.

According to most constitutional experts, the resignation of a prime minister automatically entails his entire government, but a different interpretation of the constitution could allow Zeman to press ahead with his plan.

"I hope that the president will respect received constitutional practice," Sobotka added.

Babis told reporters "the prime minister has changed his mind for the fourth time in a few hours, I don?t get it".

Ranked by Forbes as the Czech Republic's second most wealthy citizen, Babis ran the sprawling Agrofert conglomerate before putting his assets into a trust earlier this year to ward off conflict of interest allegations.

Czech politics were plunged into crisis on Tuesday when Sobotka, 45, said he would quit amid the row with Babis over alleged financial fraud, something that the tycoon has flatly denied.

Zeman waded into the crisis on Thursday saying he would likely tap either the foreign or interior minister -- both members of Sobotka's CSSD -- to replace him as prime minister, making it clear Babis could remain finance minister.

The head of the centrist ANO party, the 62-year-old Babis is tipped to win elections scheduled for October 20-21.

Sobotka cast doubt on the way Babis had raised money to buy tax-free bonds for Agrofert and insisted that as a finance minister fighting tax evasion, Babis should not benefit from tax loopholes.

Babis is the Czech Republic's most popular politician, with a 56 percent approval rating according to an April CVVM poll, compared with 39 percent for Sobotka, in sixth place.

Sobotka has been in office since 2014, with his CSSD Social Democrats sharing power in a coalition government with the ANO and the smaller centre-right KDU-CSL Christian Democrats.

RugbyU: Hurricanes’ late show blows away Stormers

Defending Super Rugby champions Wellington Hurricanes held off a gritty fightback from the Western Stormers to extend their winning home run to 11 matches Friday.The Hurricanes scored seven tries to one in the 41-22 victory, including two apiece for Jo…

Defending Super Rugby champions Wellington Hurricanes held off a gritty fightback from the Western Stormers to extend their winning home run to 11 matches Friday.

The Hurricanes scored seven tries to one in the 41-22 victory, including two apiece for Jordie Barrett and Ngani Laumape, to inflict the Stormers' fourth straight loss.

Stormers captain Siya Kolisi admitted it was a disappointing end to their three-match New Zealand tour but took heart from a much-improved performance.

"We were playing really good rugby, then we make one mistake and they're going for 80-metre tries," he said.

While the South Africans conceded 57 points in each of their previous two outings, they were in the match until a late three-try burst from the Hurricanes.

"They frustrated us a little bit, I've no doubt that they'll be there at the back end of the season," Hurricanes captain TJ Perenara said.

The Stormers still lead the Africa 1 conference and the Hurricanes move up to second in the New Zealand standings behind the unbeaten Canterbury Crusaders.

It was the Hurricanes' sixth consecutive win and maintains New Zealand teams' unblemished home record against overseas opposition this season.

The Stormers applied early pressure but could only score a penalty before gifting the Hurricanes a try in the ninth minute when Dilyn Leyds' kick was charged down.

Wellington pounced on the mistake, with Beauden Barrett sending up a cross-field kick to set up the try for winger Cory Jane.

It was the first of four first-half tries for the home side, with Julian Savea contributing one and Jordie Barrett scoring a brace.

His first came when he stole the ball from Nizaam Carr as the hooker tried to clear the ball from his own in-goal area and the second stemmed from a perfectly weighted kick by brother Beauden.

The Stormers clawed their way back through their forwards, who set up a lineout drive to take hooker Ramone Samuels across for a try.

Full-back SP Marais then kicked two penalties to made it 22-16 at the break.

Another two penalties after the restart levelled the scores at 22-22, with the Stormers forced to dig deep in defence to keep the Hurricanes at bay.

Ngani Laumape finally broke through after the Hurricanes won a scrum then scored another six minutes from time off the back of Julian Savea's run from his own tryline.

Beauden Barrett blew out the scoreline further with another five-pointer after the siren.

Israel mulls hiring foreign doctors to force-feed Palestinians hunger strikers – media

Israel is considering hiring foreign medical staff to force-feed Palestinian inmates who went on mass hunger strike over what they say are poor prison conditions, local media report. Israeli doctors refuse to participate in force-feeding …

Preview Israel is considering hiring foreign medical staff to force-feed Palestinian inmates who went on mass hunger strike over what they say are poor prison conditions, local media report. Israeli doctors refuse to participate in force-feeding on ethical grounds.
Read Full Article at RT.com

UK ministers accuse Brussels of trying ‘to bully’ Britain over Brexit

British ministers blasted the European Commission on Friday, accusing EU officials of trying to “bully” the UK ahead of two years of gruelling Brexit negotiations.

Rallying around Prime Minister Theresa May, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon criticised Brussels for what he described as “one-side leaking”.

He also told BBC radio that Brexit talks would “certainly be easier if commission officials kept their views to themselves”.

Fallon’s remarks come just a few hours after Brexit minister David Davis said Brussels was “trying to bully the British people” by suggesting it could be hit with a 100 billion euros (£85 billion, $110 billion) exit bill.

“Clearly what was happening was the commission was trying to bully the British people – and the British people will not be bullied, and the Government will not allow them to be bullied,” he told the BBC.

May accused some EU officials on Wednesday of trying to interfere with the upcoming parliamentary election.

She said the hardening of the European Commission’s stance was “deliberately timed to affect the result” of the snap June 8 general election she called seeking to shore up her mandate ahead of Brexit negotiations.

The prime minister’s scathing attack followed reports of a disastrous dinner with EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker and Barnier.

German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung said Juncker had left the April 26 dinner at Downing Street “10 times more sceptical” about the prospect of a Brexit deal and told German Chancellor Angela Merkel that May was in a “different galaxy”.

May’s accusations were swiftly rejected by Juncker and the head of the European parliament Antonio Tajani and were seen in Brussels as election campaign rhetoric as Britain held local elections on Thursday.

But EU president Donald Tusk cautioned on Thursday against letting “emotions get out of hand”.

“These negotiations are difficult enough as they are. If we start arguing before they even begin they will become impossible,” he said.

British ministers blasted the European Commission on Friday, accusing EU officials of trying to "bully" the UK ahead of two years of gruelling Brexit negotiations.

Rallying around Prime Minister Theresa May, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon criticised Brussels for what he described as "one-side leaking".

He also told BBC radio that Brexit talks would "certainly be easier if commission officials kept their views to themselves".

Fallon's remarks come just a few hours after Brexit minister David Davis said Brussels was "trying to bully the British people" by suggesting it could be hit with a 100 billion euros (£85 billion, $110 billion) exit bill.

"Clearly what was happening was the commission was trying to bully the British people - and the British people will not be bullied, and the Government will not allow them to be bullied," he told the BBC.

May accused some EU officials on Wednesday of trying to interfere with the upcoming parliamentary election.

She said the hardening of the European Commission's stance was "deliberately timed to affect the result" of the snap June 8 general election she called seeking to shore up her mandate ahead of Brexit negotiations.

The prime minister's scathing attack followed reports of a disastrous dinner with EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker and Barnier.

German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung said Juncker had left the April 26 dinner at Downing Street "10 times more sceptical" about the prospect of a Brexit deal and told German Chancellor Angela Merkel that May was in a "different galaxy".

May's accusations were swiftly rejected by Juncker and the head of the European parliament Antonio Tajani and were seen in Brussels as election campaign rhetoric as Britain held local elections on Thursday.

But EU president Donald Tusk cautioned on Thursday against letting "emotions get out of hand".

"These negotiations are difficult enough as they are. If we start arguing before they even begin they will become impossible," he said.

N. Korea accuses CIA of plot to assassinate Kim Jong-Un

North Korea on Friday accused the CIA of plotting with South Korea to assassinate leader Kim Jong-Un, amid soaring tensions in the flashpoint region.The CIA and Seoul’s Intelligence Services have “hatched a vicious plot” involving unspecified “biochemi…

North Korea on Friday accused the CIA of plotting with South Korea to assassinate leader Kim Jong-Un, amid soaring tensions in the flashpoint region.

The CIA and Seoul's Intelligence Services have "hatched a vicious plot" involving unspecified "biochemical substances" to kill the hermit state's young leader during public ceremonial events in Pyongyang, the Ministry of State Security said.

For the CIA "assassination by use of biochemical substances including radioactive substance and nano poisonous substance is the best method that does not require access to the target, their lethal results will appear after six or twelve months," the Ministry said in a statement carried by state media.

The accusation comes as Pyongyang issues increasingly belligerent rhetoric in a tense stand off with the administration of US President Donald Trump over its rogue weapons programme.

The war of words between the West and the reclusive regime has spiked in recent weeks, and Pyongyang has threatened to carry out a sixth nuclear test that would further inflame tensions.

The CIA and Seoul's Intelligence Services (IS) have "ideologically corrupted and bribed a DPRK citizen surnamed Kim" to carry out the attack on Jong-Un, the statement said.

"We will ferret out and mercilessly destroy to the last one the terrorists of the US CIA and the puppet IS of South Korea," the statement said, adding that the plot was tantamount to "the declaration of a war".

"The heinous crime, which was recently uncovered and smashed in the DPRK, is a kind of terrorism against not only the DPRK but the justice and conscience of humankind and an act of mangling the future of humankind."

The statement did not give any information on how the plot was foiled or what happened to the alleged spy.

North Korea maintains extensive surveillance operations over its own population, and open dissent against the regime is considered extremely difficult.

Brexit a tragedy and EU partly to blame: Juncker

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Friday described Brexit as a “tragedy” that had happened partly as a result of the European Union’s past mistakes.In a speech in Florence, the head of the EU’s executive arm warned of tough negotiati…

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Friday described Brexit as a "tragedy" that had happened partly as a result of the European Union's past mistakes.

In a speech in Florence, the head of the EU's executive arm warned of tough negotiations to come but also struck a more conciliatory tone after the first round of contacts on a Brexit deal degenerated into a cross-Channel war of words.

"Our British friends have decided to leave, which is a tragedy," the former Luxembourg Prime Minister told the European University Institute's State of the Union conference.

"I don't want anyone to underestimate the real importance of this sovereign decision of the British people. It is not a small thing but we must and will negotiate in all 'fairness' with our British friends.

"But I would like to recall here that there should be no doubt that it is not the EU abandoning the UK, it is the oppposite. They are abandoning the EU and this is a difference of status that must and will be felt over the next few years."

In a nod to longstanding British complaints about Brussels bureaucracy and perceived meddling in national affairs, Juncker acknowledged that the EU "has some weaknesses which can partly explain the outcome of the referendum in the UK."

"In the past, the EU has done a little too much, even the Commission: too many rules, too much interference in the daily lives of our citizens."

Juncker said his Commission had slashed the number of legislative proposals put to EU governments from 130 a year to 23 and was concentrating on the environment and programmes to boost trade, growth and jobs.

The only comment that could have been interpreted as a barb at Britain came at the start of his speech, when he briefly spoke in English to say it would be delivered in French.

"Slowly but surely English is losing importance in Europe," he said with a rueful smile, before explaining: "The French will have elections on Sunday and I would like them to understand what I am saying about Europe and about nations."

Juncker's speech came at the end of a week which has seen Prime Minister Theresa May accuse Brussels of meddling in the British election campaign and another government minister describe the Commission as trying to "bully" London.

The spat was sparked by the leaking of details of a Downing Street dinner May hosted for Juncker which exposed frustration in Brussels about the British government's "delusions" over the divorce proceedings.

Macron has chosen a prime minister but won’t reveal name

French presidential election front-runner Emmanuel Macron said on Friday he had decided who would be his prime minister if he wins Sunday’s vote, but would only reveal the make-up of his government after he took office.

French presidential election front-runner Emmanuel Macron said on Friday he had decided who would be his prime minister if he wins Sunday’s vote, but would only reveal the make-up of his government after he took office.

India’s top court upholds 2012 gang rape death sentences

India’s Supreme Court on Friday upheld the death sentences of four men convicted in the 2012 gang rape and murder of a Delhi student.A Supreme Court panel of judges said the 23-year-old woman had suffered a “devastating hour of darkness” as they reject…

India's Supreme Court on Friday upheld the death sentences of four men convicted in the 2012 gang rape and murder of a Delhi student.

A Supreme Court panel of judges said the 23-year-old woman had suffered a "devastating hour of darkness" as they rejected an appeal against the death penalty, which was handed down in 2013.

Eiffel Tower demo banner urges voters to ‘resist’ Le Pen

Greenpeace activists on Friday hung a giant banner saying “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” and “#resist” from the Eiffel Tower in Paris in protest over the programme of far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen.The protest, which comes two days bef…

Greenpeace activists on Friday hung a giant banner saying "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" and "#resist" from the Eiffel Tower in Paris in protest over the programme of far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen.

The protest, which comes two days before France votes in the run-off of an exceptionally divisive election, was intended as "a warning against Marine Le Pen's programme and the dangers it poses for NGOs and others," Greenpeace France head Jean-Francois Julliard told reporters.

"Liberty, equality, fraternity: it is vital to defend these values which are particularly threatened by the National Front," Julliard said, referring to Le Pen's party.

The yellow-and-black banner was hung from an arch connecting two legs of the iconic 324-metre (1,063-foot) Iron Lady, the symbol of Paris.

Julliard said Greenpeace was concerned about the "resurgence of nationalism" around the world, citing Turkey and Hungary as examples of countries where the right to protest had been curtailed.

Defending basic rights "is critical to continuing our environmental struggle," he added.

Le Pen faces centrist Emmanuel Macron in Sunday's presidential run-off. Polls give him a lead of 22-24 points.

The Paris police department said Friday's protest had shown up "flaws" in the security of the Eiffel Tower that needed to be addressed.

France is on high alert after a string of jihadist attacks in the past two years.

Six million people visit the Eiffel Tower each year, making it the world's most visited paying monument.

‘I will kill you & that’s why UN is here’: Duterte fumes over UN rapporteur’s surprise visit

Preview The Philippines is up in arms over a UN special rapporteur’s unofficial visit to the country, claiming she is biased against the country’s controversial ‘war on drugs,’ and threatening to lodge a complaint to the UN.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview The Philippines is up in arms over a UN special rapporteur’s unofficial visit to the country, claiming she is biased against the country’s controversial ‘war on drugs,’ and threatening to lodge a complaint to the UN.
Read Full Article at RT.com

US-led coalition warplanes banned from Syria safe zones – Russian envoy

The four safe zones to be established in Syria will be closed for flights by US-led coalition warplanes, said the Russian envoy to the Astana peace talks, where the zones were agreed upon. Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview The four safe zones to be established in Syria will be closed for flights by US-led coalition warplanes, said the Russian envoy to the Astana peace talks, where the zones were agreed upon.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Bangladesh coal plant could cause 6,000 early deaths: Greenpeace

A giant coal-fired power plant approved by Bangladesh could drastically worsen air pollution for millions and cause the early deaths of 6,000 people over its lifetime, Greenpeace said Friday.Bangladesh is constructing the 1,320-megawatt power plant on …

A giant coal-fired power plant approved by Bangladesh could drastically worsen air pollution for millions and cause the early deaths of 6,000 people over its lifetime, Greenpeace said Friday.

Bangladesh is constructing the 1,320-megawatt power plant on the edge of the Sundarbans, the world's largest mangrove forest, despite warnings the controversial project threatens the fragile ecosystem and human health.

The United Nations has already urged Bangladesh to halt construction, warning it poses an unacceptable risk to the UNESCO-protected mangroves that provide a barrier against deadly storm surges and cyclones.

But in a new report Greenpeace warned emissions from the plant represented one of the single largest threats to air quality for millions living across Bangladesh and as far as neighbouring India.

"Over its operational lifetime, the plant?s emissions will increase the risk of stroke, lung cancer, heart and respiratory diseases in adults, as well as respiratory symptoms in children," stated the report released Friday.

"People in Dhaka and Calcutta (India), particularly children and the elderly, would also be harmed. Even if Bangladesh currently had zero air pollution, the plant alone would cause the premature deaths of 6,000 people, and low birth weights of 24,000 babies."

The plant at Rampal in Bangladesh's south-west could also deposit enough mercury to render fish unsafe to eat for millions living across the Bay of Bengal, and devastate the aquatic food chain of the Sundarbans.

The plant -- a joint project by India and Bangladesh -- would be powered by nearly five million tons of coal shipped every year along the mangroves' fragile waterways, a natural habitat for endangered Bengal tigers and rare Irrawaddy dolphins.

Scheduled to open in 2018, the plant is projected to discharge nearly 125,000 cubic metres of chemically-tainted water every day into nearby water catchments, Greenpeace said.

The UN warned in October that the plant would "irreversibly damage" the pristine forest, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997.

The dense mangroves provide a buffer against violent weather roaring into the delta, which has killed thousands living in impoverished coastal villages and islands in recent years.

There was no immediate comment from Bangladeshi authorities or the joint-venture company bankrolling the $1.7-billion plant.

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has defended the project and rejected concerns about its impact as politically motivated.

The project has galvanised street protests in Bangladesh, with campaigners calling for the plant to be scrapped or relocated.