‘Immortal regiment’ marches across world (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

Groups of people carrying portraits of family members affected by World War II are appearing worldwide in the runup to Victory Day celebrations. What started as a local tradition in Russia has grown into a global phenomenon. Read Full Art…

Preview Groups of people carrying portraits of family members affected by World War II are appearing worldwide in the runup to Victory Day celebrations. What started as a local tradition in Russia has grown into a global phenomenon.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Up to 2 killed, 6 inured in ISIS attack on Iraq base hosting US advisors

Preview An Islamic State suicide bomber carried out an attack on a base hosting US military advisors in Iraq’s Kirkuk province early on Sunday, reportedly leaving at least two people dead and six wounded.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview An Islamic State suicide bomber carried out an attack on a base hosting US military advisors in Iraq’s Kirkuk province early on Sunday, reportedly leaving at least two people dead and six wounded.
Read Full Article at RT.com

UN defends migrant rescue groups, under fire in Italy

The UN refugee agency sprang to the defence Sunday of aid groups that rescue migrants in the Mediterranean, some of which have come under fire in Italy for alleged complicity with Libyan people smugglers.An Italian prosecutor said last month that chari…

The UN refugee agency sprang to the defence Sunday of aid groups that rescue migrants in the Mediterranean, some of which have come under fire in Italy for alleged complicity with Libyan people smugglers.

An Italian prosecutor said last month that charity boats were colluding with traffickers off Libya, in what EU border agency Frontex described as tantamount to providing a "taxi" service to Europe.

But UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi paid tribute to the role of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), in comments about Mediterranean crossings over the weekend.

"The tireless efforts of the Italian Coast Guard, in coordination with Frontex .. and of NGOs are truly remarkable," he said in a statement.

"Together, they have saved tens of thousands of lives. In 2016, NGOs rescued more than 46,000 people in the central Mediterranean, representing over 26 percent of all rescue operations. This trend continues, reaching 33 percent since the beginning of the year."

Some 6,000 migrants were rescued over Friday and Saturday in the Mediterranean in some 40 operations coordinated from Rome by Italian coastguards, as well as by several NGOs.

But these groups, in particular SOS Mediterranee and Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF), have been for some days the target of criticism from prosecutors and politicians in Italy.

NGOs have all dismissed suggestions of de facto collusion with smugglers as a baseless slur on volunteer crews whose only mission is to save lives in the absence of EU governments acting effectively to do so.

The number of people leaving Libya in the hope of starting a new life in Europe is up nearly 50 percent this year compared with the opening months of 2016.

With most departures coming in the warm summer months, the trend points to around 250,000 people arriving over the course of 2017. Some 500,000 migrants were registered in Italy in the three years spanning 2014-16.

Vintage cycling toasted in Italian wine country

The worlds of vintage wine and vintage cycling gently collided on Sunday as thousands of amateur enthusiasts took to the country lanes of southern Tuscany for the Eroica Montalcino cycling festival.The mass ride — a spin-off from an annual autumn even…

The worlds of vintage wine and vintage cycling gently collided on Sunday as thousands of amateur enthusiasts took to the country lanes of southern Tuscany for the Eroica Montalcino cycling festival.

The mass ride -- a spin-off from an annual autumn event in the nearby Chianti wine country -- is the latest in a series that celebrates professional cycling's noble values of team work and self-sacrifice.

It also seeks to promote the preservation of the "strade bianche" (white roads), the gravel paths that are as much a part of the region's famous landscape as olive groves and cypress trees.

Participants had the option of various circuits, ranging from 46 kilometres (28 miles) to 171 km (106 miles), through the bucolic countryside around Montalcino, much of it covered in vines that produce the grapes for one of Italy's most revered wines, Brunello di Montalcino.

The town's mayor, Silvio Franceschelli, said the "Eroica", whose model has been exported around the world, was a fine example of the gastronomy-based, environmentally-friendly tourism that regions like Tuscany are seeking to develop.

"It is the perfect marriage between the things we do very well and the relaxed way of getting around that we want our visitors to enjoy," Franceschelli said.

Organisers say the Eroica, founded in 1997, is about celebrating the golden age of pro cycling in the 1960s and 1970s and especially the unsung heroes of that era, the "domestiques", the team riders whose efforts were so important to delivering victories for the big names but never got a fraction of the glory.

The Eroica, they say, is "a ride not a race" and the message they are trying to pass on to a new generation is: "There was once a man who won because he knew how to lose."

Greek unions protest against Sunday trading

Hundreds of people gatheredin central Athens to protest against plans to increase Sunday trading hours in a rally organised by unions and communist groups. Sunday’s demonstration largely drew members of the PAME communist labour union alongside others …

Hundreds of people gatheredin central Athens to protest against plans to increase Sunday trading hours in a rally organised by unions and communist groups.

Sunday's demonstration largely drew members of the PAME communist labour union alongside others representing small- and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) who oppose reforms demanded by Greece's international creditors.

Demonstrators rallied in the city centre carrying flags and banners in Greek reading "Never work on Sunday," an AFP correspondent said.

Shops in Greece are currently compelled to open on the first Sunday of every month in a step imposed three years ago by the country's creditors.

The reform would increase the number of Sundays from 12 times a year to 30.

Extending Sunday trading is one of a list of demands by the creditors, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, which are among the measures that must be approved by the Greek parliament by mid-May.

Unions have called a 24-hour general strike on May 17 to protest against the new measures, whose adoption is a prerequisite for unblocking a new seven-million-euro ($7.7 million) tranche of loans that Athens needs to meet its debt repayment schedule in July.

Deregulation has been at the heart of the "reforms" demanded by Greece's creditors since the explosion of the country's debt crisis in 2010, with the aim of boosting growth.

Following an unprecedented six-year recession, the Greek economy is still struggling to recover with growth flat in 2016.

For 2017, the European Commission has revised down its growth projections for Greece, from 2.7 percent to 2.0 percent.

Brief security alert in Louvre plaza as France votes

The plaza outside the Louvre Museum in Paris, where French presidential frontrunner Emmanuel Macron plans a victory party if elected, was briefly evacuated on Sunday following a security alert, sources said.A spokesman for Macron’s movement said the al…

The plaza outside the Louvre Museum in Paris, where French presidential frontrunner Emmanuel Macron plans a victory party if elected, was briefly evacuated on Sunday following a security alert, sources said.

A spokesman for Macron's movement said the alert was due to a "suspicious package."

The check was completed around 1230 GMT.

A police source said the area was cordoned off and searched by a police team "simply to banish any doubts."

Several hundred journalists who have been accredited for the post-election rally were asked to briefly move away from the site.

The Louvre, the most visited museum in the world, is situated on the banks of the River Seine in the heart of Paris.

The plaza is the square between the two long arms of the building, where its famous glass pyramid entrance is located.

The second-round vote in France's presidential election is taking place amid tight security, with tens of thousands of police and troops mounting guard.

A string of jihadist attacks since January 2015 have left at least 230 dead and hundreds injured.

On February 3, a 29-year-old Egyptian wielding knives attacked troops patrolling the underground access to Louvre. He was shot and wounded by the patrol.

On April 20, three days before the first round of the presidential poll, a policeman was shot dead on the Champs-Elysees avenue, in an attack claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group.

On Friday, a suspected extremist was detained near a military base outside Paris.

Guns were discovered as well as a pledge of allegiance to IS and several of the group's flags, sources close to the case told AFP.

Pedrosa wins Spanish Moto GP

Honda’s Dani Pedrosa led from pole to flag to claim a dominant victory at the Spanish Moto GP on Sunday ahead of Marc Marquez as Spanish riders cleaned up at Jerez.Pedrosa clocked 45min 26.827sec for his first win on Spanish soil since he won on the sa…

Honda's Dani Pedrosa led from pole to flag to claim a dominant victory at the Spanish Moto GP on Sunday ahead of Marc Marquez as Spanish riders cleaned up at Jerez.

Pedrosa clocked 45min 26.827sec for his first win on Spanish soil since he won on the same track in 2013. It was the 31-year-old's 30th MotoGP win.

"It was an extremely hard race to be calm. I wanted to go faster but maybe the track condition was not there," said Pedrosa.

"I wasn't really riding very comfortably so I had to be very concentrated. In the end I was able to control my pace and manage my lap times."

Fellow Honda rider Marquez pushed hard throughout the 27 laps around the sun-kissed circuit, but had to settle with second, at 6.1sec. Jorge Lorenzo, on a Ducati, rounded out the podium to make it an all-Spanish top three.

"Honestly I was pushing and trying to stay with him," said Marquez, whose younger brother Alex won the Moto2 earlier in the day.

"Second place was a really good position here."

Lorenzo dubbed his third place "like a victory". "I'm very proud, very happy... It's such a difficult bike."

Championship leader Valentino Rossi, seeking a 10th world title, could only manage 10th position, more than 38sec off Pedrosa's winning pace.

But the Italian, with 62 points, kept his place atop the standings, two ahead of Yamaha teammate Maverick Vinales, with Marquez (58) in third and Pedrosa fourth (52).

Alex Marquez, riding a Kalex, made the most of a fall by championship leader Franco Morbidelli to notch up his first win in the Moto2 category.

The Spaniard timed 43min 24.350sec, finishing more than 3sec ahead of Italian Francesco Bagnaia, also on a Kalex, with Portugal's Miguel Oliveira (KTM) completing the podium.

And another Spanish rider, Aron Canet, left it late to secure his maiden victory in the Moto3 race.

Canet, riding a Honda, soared into the lead on the final turn to take the chequered flag in 41min 25.706sec and finish a whisker ahead of Italian Romano Fenati, with Spaniard Joan Mir in third.

Sharapova sets up Bouchard grudge match

Maria Sharapova set up a mouth-watering second-round clash with Eugenie Bouchard at the Madrid Open after battling back from a set down to beat Mirjana Lucic-Baroni 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 on Sunday.Bouchard called the Russian “a cheater” last week and suggested…

Maria Sharapova set up a mouth-watering second-round clash with Eugenie Bouchard at the Madrid Open after battling back from a set down to beat Mirjana Lucic-Baroni 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 on Sunday.

Bouchard called the Russian "a cheater" last week and suggested she should have been banned for life -- rather than 15 months -- after testing positive for meldonium at the 2015 Australian Open.

And the Canadian said she would have "a bit more motivation" against her former idol Sharapova after registering a first win on the WTA Tour since January against Alize Cornet on Saturday to set up the grudge match.

Despite the controversy surrounding the decision to hand her a wildcard, Sharapova was given a warm reception by the sparse crowd on the main Manolo Santana court in the Spanish capital.

"My goal here is to play as many matches as I can," said Sharapova, 30, whose immediate return after her ban has gone down badly with some of her fellow players.

"When you're out of the game for a long time you just want to play as many games as possible."

After reaching the semi-finals on her return from her doping ban last week in Stuttgart, Sharapova showed impressive levels of fitness to dig deep after a tough couple of opening sets against world number 20 Lucic-Baroni.

There were four breaks of serve in the opening six games, but Lucic-Baroni was good value for her lead when she served to take the first set.

Former number one Sharapova bounced back at the start of a gruelling second set that lasted over an hour by moving 4-1 in front.

However, Lucic-Baroni held off four set points and then broke back for 5-4.

The Croatian's good work was undone, though, by a sloppy service game as Sharapova broke once more to level at one-set all.

And there was no stopping the five-time Grand Slam champion in the decider as she dismissed a dispirited Lucic-Baroni for the loss of just 11 points.

World number two Angelique Kerber eased into round two with a convincing 6-4, 6-2 win over Hungary's Timea Babos.

The German is the top seed in the draw with world number one Serena Williams absent because the 23-time Grand Slam champion is expecting her first child.

Kerber's form has been inconsistent this season, but she was rarely troubled in wrapping up victory in just over an hour on court.

Sharapova's conqueror in Stuttgart, Kristina Mladenovic -- another fierce critic of the Russian -- is also safely through when Ana Konjuh retired after Mladenovic levelled at one set all.

Eighth seed and 2015 finalist in Madrid, Svetlana Kuznetsova, cruised past Yaroslava Shvedova 6-4, 6-3.

Trainee pilot flew Pakistani jet with 300 on board as captain slept in 1st class – media

A London-bound Pakistan International Airlines flight with over 300 people on board was left in the hands of a trainee pilot for more than two hours while his captain was in the first-class cabin grabbing some shuteye, local media reveale…

Preview A London-bound Pakistan International Airlines flight with over 300 people on board was left in the hands of a trainee pilot for more than two hours while his captain was in the first-class cabin grabbing some shuteye, local media revealed.
Read Full Article at RT.com

North Korea detains another US citizen: state media

North Korea has detained another US citizen for committing “hostile acts”, it said Sunday, its second arrest of an American in a fortnight with tensions high between Pyongyang and Washington.The arrest of Kim Hak-Song means that the North is holding fo…

North Korea has detained another US citizen for committing "hostile acts", it said Sunday, its second arrest of an American in a fortnight with tensions high between Pyongyang and Washington.

The arrest of Kim Hak-Song means that the North is holding four US citizens, with the two countries at loggerheads over Pyongyang's nuclear and missile ambitions.

Kim was detained on Saturday, the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported. "A relevant institution is now conducting detailed investigation into his crimes," it added.

The two-paragraph report gave no further details of the latest arrest.

But it said Kim had been working for the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) -- an institution founded by evangelical Christians from overseas and opened in 2010, which is known to have a number of American faculty members. Pupils are generally children from the North's elite.

Kim is the second of its personnel to have been detained in as many weeks.

Accounting professor Kim Sang-Duk, or Tony Kim, also a US citizen, was held on April 22, the North confirmed last week, for trying to "overturn" the regime.

He was detained at the capital's airport as he tried to leave the country after teaching for several weeks at the university.

KCNA said he had been held for "committing criminal acts of hostility aimed to overturn the DPRK", using an abbreviation for the country's official name.

Using similar phrasing to Sunday's dispatch, it added that Kim was "under detention by a relevant law enforcement body which is conducting detailed investigation into his crimes".

PUST officials could not immediately be reached for comment by AFP in connection with Saturday's arrest.

In a statement in late April the university said Tony Kim's arrest was "not connected in any way with the work of PUST".

- High tensions -

Pyongyang is engaged in a tense standoff with the administration of new US President Donald Trump over its banned missile and nuclear weapons programmes.

The North, which is widely seend as making progress towards building a rocket capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to the US mainland, has carried out a series of missile launches this year. It has also warned that it could carry out a sixth nuclear test at any time.

But no blast took place during symbolic anniversaries in April, and its key ally and diplomatic protector China has urged restraint.

Trump has suggested military action could be on the table but has softened his message more recently, saying he would be "honoured" to meet Kim Jong-Un under the right conditions.

North Korea has arrested and jailed several US citizens in the past decade, often releasing them only after high-profile visits by current or former US officials or former US presidents.

Two more US citizens -- college student Otto Warmbier and Korean-American pastor Kim Dong-Chul -- are currently being held in the North after being sentenced to long prison terms.

The pastor was sentenced last year to 10 years of hard labour for spying. Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years in 2016 for stealing a propaganda material and for "crimes against the state".

Pyongyang last week accused the CIA and the South's intelligence services of conspiring to assassinate leader Kim Jong-Un using a biochemical weapon.

The claim came just months after Kim's half-brother was murdered by two female agents at Kuala Lumpur airport using a banned nerve agent, in a killing widely blamed on Pyongyang.

UK super-rich got richer despite Brexit: rich list

Britain’s super-rich “kept calm and carried on making billions” despite worries about Brexit, according to The Sunday Times newspaper’s Rich List for 2017, with more billionaires living in the country than ever before.

In the past 12 months, the total wealth of Britain’s richest 1,000 individuals and families surged 14 percent to £658 billion ($854 billion, 777 billion euros), the paper said.

It said that there are now more UK-based billionaires than ever before, at 134.

Industrialist brothers Sri and Gopi Hinduja topped the list with a combined wealth of £16.2 billion, up £3.2 billion over the previous year.

“While many of us worried about the outcome of the EU referendum, many of Britain’s richest people just kept calm and carried on making billions,” said the list compiler, Robert Watts.

“We expected to see a chilling effect in the run-up to the EU referendum, but that simply did not materialise.”

Britain voted in June 2016 to leave the EU after more than four decades of membership in a referendum that sent shockwaves across Europe.

Despite gloomy forecasts ahead of the referendum, the UK economy proved resilient in the last six months of 2016 with a weaker pound and record low interest rates helping to boost exports and investor confidence.

“A buoyant stock market usually drives the wealth of Rich Listers higher, and since last June equities have soared,” Watts said.

London remains the city with the most billionaires at 86, up nine over the previous year.

– Adele joins list –

Overall, 19 people increased their wealth by £1 billion or more in a year.

Publicity-shy brothers David and Simon Reuben, who topped the year last year, fell down two places despite adding £900 million to their £14 billion fortune.

Among the 58 newcomers — a minimum of £110 million is now required to make the list compared to just £15 million in 1997 — are famous names including chart topper Adele.

The singer, who released her third studio album “25” and went on a world tour in 2016, is now worth £125 million, making her the sixth richest person under 30.

Football player Zlatan Ibrahimovic and “Fifty Shades of Grey” author EL James also made the cut for the first time.

Other well-known names include Paul McCartney (£780 million), Elton John (£290 million), Lewis Hamilton (£131 million), and David and Victoria Beckham who have a combined wealth of £300 million.

“Harry Potter” creator J.K. Rowling continued to work her magic, adding £50 million to bring her estimated fortune to £650 million.

Queen Elizabeth II, who turned 91 in April, slipped 10 places to become the 329th richest person in her kingdom, with a wealth of £360 million.

The list does not count the totality of the income and assets from the Crown Estate — the collection of lands and holdings belonging to the monarch but controlled by an independent board — whose property portfolio alone is now worth £12 billion.

Her fortune is therefore easily dwarfed by the Duke of Westminster’s.

At just 26 the Duke, one of Prince George’s godfathers once dubbed “the world’s most eligible bachelor is at the head of a £9.5 billion empire.

Britain's super-rich "kept calm and carried on making billions" despite worries about Brexit, according to The Sunday Times newspaper's Rich List for 2017, with more billionaires living in the country than ever before.

In the past 12 months, the total wealth of Britain's richest 1,000 individuals and families surged 14 percent to £658 billion ($854 billion, 777 billion euros), the paper said.

It said that there are now more UK-based billionaires than ever before, at 134.

Industrialist brothers Sri and Gopi Hinduja topped the list with a combined wealth of £16.2 billion, up £3.2 billion over the previous year.

"While many of us worried about the outcome of the EU referendum, many of Britain's richest people just kept calm and carried on making billions," said the list compiler, Robert Watts.

"We expected to see a chilling effect in the run-up to the EU referendum, but that simply did not materialise."

Britain voted in June 2016 to leave the EU after more than four decades of membership in a referendum that sent shockwaves across Europe.

Despite gloomy forecasts ahead of the referendum, the UK economy proved resilient in the last six months of 2016 with a weaker pound and record low interest rates helping to boost exports and investor confidence.

"A buoyant stock market usually drives the wealth of Rich Listers higher, and since last June equities have soared," Watts said.

London remains the city with the most billionaires at 86, up nine over the previous year.

- Adele joins list -

Overall, 19 people increased their wealth by £1 billion or more in a year.

Publicity-shy brothers David and Simon Reuben, who topped the year last year, fell down two places despite adding £900 million to their £14 billion fortune.

Among the 58 newcomers -- a minimum of £110 million is now required to make the list compared to just £15 million in 1997 -- are famous names including chart topper Adele.

The singer, who released her third studio album "25" and went on a world tour in 2016, is now worth £125 million, making her the sixth richest person under 30.

Football player Zlatan Ibrahimovic and "Fifty Shades of Grey" author EL James also made the cut for the first time.

Other well-known names include Paul McCartney (£780 million), Elton John (£290 million), Lewis Hamilton (£131 million), and David and Victoria Beckham who have a combined wealth of £300 million.

"Harry Potter" creator J.K. Rowling continued to work her magic, adding £50 million to bring her estimated fortune to £650 million.

Queen Elizabeth II, who turned 91 in April, slipped 10 places to become the 329th richest person in her kingdom, with a wealth of £360 million.

The list does not count the totality of the income and assets from the Crown Estate -- the collection of lands and holdings belonging to the monarch but controlled by an independent board -- whose property portfolio alone is now worth £12 billion.

Her fortune is therefore easily dwarfed by the Duke of Westminster's.

At just 26 the Duke, one of Prince George's godfathers once dubbed "the world's most eligible bachelor is at the head of a £9.5 billion empire.

Armed man ‘sexually harassed’ female monitor in rebel Ukraine: OSCE

A female member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe mission monitoring the conflict in eastern Ukraine was “sexually harassed” by an armed man in rebel territory, the group confirmed Sunday.The OSCE has already limited its patrol…

A female member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe mission monitoring the conflict in eastern Ukraine was "sexually harassed" by an armed man in rebel territory, the group confirmed Sunday.

The OSCE has already limited its patrols in parts of the war-torn east since it sustained its first fatality of the three-year conflict when an American medic was killed in an apparent mine blast last month in the insurgent-controlled area.

A spokeswoman for the organisation confirmed to AFP on Sunday that the latest incident took place in territory seized from Kiev by Russian-backed separatists.

"A man armed with an assault rifle (AK-47) sexually harassed a female patrol member and threatened to stop the patrol from moving east from Petrivske towards Rozdolne until his demands were met," the OSCE said in a statement released late Saturday.

The patrol then "left the area via a different road", it said, without specifying when the incident happened.

The unarmed OSCE mission is the only international presence on the ground in Ukraine observing the implementation of a largely-ignored peace deal signed in February 2015.

Ukrainian forces and rebels clash sporadically along the volatile frontline as the conflict which has cost some 10,000 lives since April 2014 rumbles on.

Kiev and the West accuse Russia of masterminding and fuelling the conflict, but Moscow denies evidence it has sent troops and weapons across the border.

Israeli ministers back nation-state bill delisting Arabic as official language

Preview A ministerial legislation committee has approved a controversial bill that seeks to enshrine Israel’s status as a nation state of the Jewish people, but critics say it would undermine democracy and could lead to discrimination of non-Jews.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview A ministerial legislation committee has approved a controversial bill that seeks to enshrine Israel’s status as a nation state of the Jewish people, but critics say it would undermine democracy and could lead to discrimination of non-Jews.
Read Full Article at RT.com

North Korea detains another US citizen: official news agency

North Korea announced Sunday it had detained a US citizen for “hostile acts” — its second arrest in a fortnight of an American as tensions rise between Pyongyang and Washington.Kim Hak Song was detained on Saturday, the state news agency KCNA reported…

North Korea announced Sunday it had detained a US citizen for "hostile acts" -- its second arrest in a fortnight of an American as tensions rise between Pyongyang and Washington.

Kim Hak Song was detained on Saturday, the state news agency KCNA reported. "A relevant institution is now conducting detailed investigation into his crimes," it added.

It said Kim had worked for the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), as had the US citizen detained last month.

The two-paragraph report gave no further details of the arrest of Kim Hak Song.

Last Wednesday the North confirmed the arrest on April 22 of Kim Sang-Duk, or Tony Kim, for trying to "overturn" the regime.

The arrest of Kim Hak Song means four US citizens are currently being held in the North.

Pyongyang is engaged in a tense standoff with the administration of new US President Donald Trump over its missile and nuclear weapons programmes.

The Pyongyang University of Science and Technology -- founded by evangelical Christians from overseas and opened in 2010 -- is known to have a number of American faculty members. Pupils are generally children from the North's elite.

Frenchman kidnapped in Chad freed in Sudan

A French mineworker who was kidnapped in Chad and taken to neighbouring Sudan has been freed after more than six weeks in captivity, French and Sudanese officials said on Sunday.Thierry Frezier, 60, was freed after collaboration between Sudanese, Chadi…

A French mineworker who was kidnapped in Chad and taken to neighbouring Sudan has been freed after more than six weeks in captivity, French and Sudanese officials said on Sunday.

Thierry Frezier, 60, was freed after collaboration between Sudanese, Chadian and French intelligence services, a member of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) told reporters in Khartoum.

Frezier was taken to Sudan's capital after being freed on Saturday.

French President Francois Hollande's office put out a statement saying he felt "great pleasure" at the release.

Sudanese security agents launched a search for Frezier in late March after a Chadian minister said he was being held there after being abducted near Goz Beida in southeastern Chad on March 23.

His kidnappers took him to Sudan's war-torn region of Darfur and it was from there that he was liberated, a foreign ministry official in Khartoum said.

"I thank Sudan's government and civil and military authorities for their efforts to free me," Frezier said in a brief statement to reporters at Khartoum airport on Sunday.

"The kidnappers treated me well during my time in captivity."

NISS officer Mohamed Hamid said Frezier would be handed over to the French embassy in Khartoum.

"An operation to free him was launched in coordination with French and Chadian intelligence services," Hamid said.

Sudanese and French officials in Khartoum said no ransom had been paid.

"The outlaws inside Chad had kidnapped him for ransom, but no ransom has been paid," Sudanese foreign ministry official Khalid Al-Kalas said on Sunday.

"NISS was monitoring his situation and yesterday they liberated him and also captured his kidnappers."

France's charge d'affaires in Khartoum, Christian Bec, also told reporters that no money had been handed over in exchange for Frezier's freedom.

"I thank the Sudanese government for liberating the hostage without paying any ransom," Bec said.

Several French and other Western nationals have been kidnapped by jihadist groups in west and central Africa in recent years.

The last such case in Chad -- a former French colony -- was in 2009, when a Frenchman working for the International Committee of the Red Cross was abducted by a shadowy armed group called the Freedom Eagles of Africa, based in Sudan's Darfur province.

He was freed after 89 days.

Chad is one of France's key African allies in the counter-terror fight, with its capital N'Djamena serving as headquarters for France's Operation Barkhane anti-jihadist force.

Set up in 2014, the force, which counts 4,000 troops, works in five Sahel countries -- Chad, Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Burkina Faso -- to flush out Al-Qaeda-linked extremists.

S. America families seek damages over Germanwings crash

Two years after the Germanwings plane crash, relatives of the South American victims have filed suit in Germany seeking over three million euros in damages, a judicial source said Sunday.The Duesseldorf civil court has received two cases seeking compen…

Two years after the Germanwings plane crash, relatives of the South American victims have filed suit in Germany seeking over three million euros in damages, a judicial source said Sunday.

The Duesseldorf civil court has received two cases seeking compensation of "more than three million euros" ($3.3 million) from the German subsidiary of Lufthansa, a spokesman told national news agency DPA.

According to German daily Bild, the lawsuits were filed by three Paraguayan plaintiffs.

None of the nine South American victims had Paraguayan nationality but an Argentinian businessman had been living in the country.

Germanwings copilot Andreas Lubitz deliberately flew the plane into a mountainside in the French Alps in March 2015, killing 149 people.

It later emerged that he had been treated for mental health problems in the months before the disaster.

In January, German prosecutors closed a criminal investigation into the crash after concluding that Lubitz alone was responsible and without pressing negligence charges against the airline or the doctors who had examined him.

But many relatives of the victims were unhappy with the outcome.

In March last year, two lawyers representing 73 victims filed a case in the United States against the pilot school that trained Lubitz.

After the crash, the airline said it would pay 50,000 euros in emergency aid to the families of all the victims, as well as 35,000 euros to parents of the Germans killed -- as required by German law.

German president seeks to move past rift with Israel

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier sought to move past a diplomatic dispute between his country and Israel while visiting Sunday, saying ties were strong enough to endure “turbulence”.Steinmeier’s visit, his first to Israel since becoming preside…

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier sought to move past a diplomatic dispute between his country and Israel while visiting Sunday, saying ties were strong enough to endure "turbulence".

Steinmeier's visit, his first to Israel since becoming president in March and first to any country in that capacity outside Europe, comes after a recent row between Germany's foreign minister and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"The foundations (of the Israeli-German) relationship are so broad that I think they can endure some turbulence like that taking place in the last 14 days," Steinmeier said at the residence of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.

Netanyahu had cancelled an April 25 meeting with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel after the visiting diplomat declined to call off meetings with rights groups critical of Israel's government.

"The unique relationship of our two states is too important to be measured solely by the question of who a legitimate interlocutor should be," Steinmeier said.

Steinmeier, who is not scheduled to meet any potentially controversial group during his visit, said trust and understanding between Israel and Germany should result in no limitations.

"I believe that we can and should be able to lead an open and honest dialogue with one another, and to my mind, need no new rules," he said.

"We should not impose any restrictions, we should have the trust that friends like we are will be able to interpret what they hear in the right way," he said.

Host Rivlin addressed the controversy, saying that "Israel is a vibrant democracy with different voices, varied and critical, even if at times these voices are hard to accept and infuriating."

Gabriel had met with members of Breaking the Silence, which seeks to document alleged Israeli military abuses in the occupied Palestinian territories, and of B'Tselem, which works on a number of human rights issues and strongly opposes Israeli settlement building.

Netanyahu's rightwing government says the groups unfairly tarnish Israel and strengthen the arguments of its enemies.

The German president was to meet Netanyahu later on Sunday. On Tuesday, Steinmeier will call on Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas at his Ramallah headquarters in the occupied West Bank.

Such disputes have arisen in the past between visiting foreign officials and Israel's government.

In February, Israel reprimanded the Belgian ambassador after his country's premier, Charles Michel, met members of both B'Tselem and Breaking The Silence during a visit to the Jewish state.

Israel has occupied the West Bank for 50 years, and Jewish settlement building in the Palestinian territory has drawn intense international criticism.

Israeli settlements are seen as illegal under international law and major stumbling blocks to peace efforts as they are built on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state.

German military orders that all army barracks be searched for Nazi Wehrmacht memorabilia

All barracks and premises of the Bundeswehr will be searched after memorabilia commemorating the Nazi army, the Wehrmacht, were found at Franco-German brigade facilities during an investigation into an army officer suspected of plotting a…

Preview All barracks and premises of the Bundeswehr will be searched after memorabilia commemorating the Nazi army, the Wehrmacht, were found at Franco-German brigade facilities during an investigation into an army officer suspected of plotting a false flag attack.
Read Full Article at RT.com

IS holds off US-backed force in Syria’s Tabqa

Dozens of Islamic State group fighters cornered in a northern part of Syria’s Tabqa are holding off US-backed forces that hold almost all of the city, a monitor said Sunday.Tabqa sits on the Euphrates River and on a strategic supply route about 55 kilo…

Dozens of Islamic State group fighters cornered in a northern part of Syria's Tabqa are holding off US-backed forces that hold almost all of the city, a monitor said Sunday.

Tabqa sits on the Euphrates River and on a strategic supply route about 55 kilometres (35 miles) west of Raqa, the Syrian heart of IS's so-called caliphate.

In their drive for Raqa, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have captured more than 90 percent of Tabqa, but have not been able to fully clear the jihadists out of the city or the adjacent dam.

"The SDF hasn't been able to seize complete control of Tabqa because IS fighters are still present in the neighbourhoods of Wahdah and Hurriyah," said Rami Abdel Rahman, who heads the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The two districts are in the city's north near Tabqa Dam, Syria's largest.

Abdel Rahman said "dozens" of IS fighters were laying mines and engaging in small-scale skirmishes with the SDF, but had not deployed suicide bombers in recent days.

An SDF commander inside Tabqa told AFP on Sunday that his forces were locked in "violent clashes" in the northern part of the city.

"The operation is going slowly because of the presence of civilians being used as human shields by IS," the commander said, saying his forces were trying to advance "carefully and accurately".

"Soon we will be able to announce the city fully cleared of Daesh," he added, using the Arabic acronym for IS.

The SDF first entered Tabqa on April 24, but IS has put up fierce resistance including using snipers and weaponised drones, a tactic it perfected in neighbouring Iraq.

Overnight, IS's propaganda arm Amaq said jihadists had clashed with SDF forces inside the city.

The assault on Raqa, dubbed "Wrath of the Euphrates", was launched in November and has seen the SDF capture large swathes of countryside around the city.

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

Djokovic hints at stellar name after coaching overhaul

Novak Djokovic hinted on Sunday that he will follow the trend of hiring a highly successful former player as his new coach, but says he will take his time to make the right decision.Djokovic parted with long-time coach Marian Vajda on Friday, having al…

Novak Djokovic hinted on Sunday that he will follow the trend of hiring a highly successful former player as his new coach, but says he will take his time to make the right decision.

Djokovic parted with long-time coach Marian Vajda on Friday, having also ended a three-year relationship with six-time Grand Slam champion Boris Becker at the end of last season, in a bid to get back to his brilliant best.

"It's going to be someone that has been through similar experiences like I have," said the world number two.

"Not too many people in the past of tennis have managed to get to that stage and play at that level, so I'll see.

"I'm thinking slowly and thoroughly about it. I don't want to take things with a rush."

Andy Murray ousted the Serb as world number one at the end of last season after rehiring eight-time Grand Slam champion Ivan Lendl, whilst another former world number one, Carlos Moya, has joined Rafael Nadal's coaching team this season.

With barely two weeks until the defence of his French Open begins, Djokovic, 29, has been joined on tour by his brother and his spiritual guru Pepe Imaz.

"I also know that I'll not stay by myself without a tennis coach for too long," added the 12-time Grand Slam champion, speaking in Madrid.

"I'm sure difficult paths lead to beautiful destinations, so I'm sticking with that."

Djokovic's form has slumped markedly since winning the French Open to complete the career Grand Slam 11 months ago.

His defence of the Australian Open ended in a shock second-round defeat to Denis Istomin, whilst he failed to make it beyond the quarter-finals of both the Indian Wells and Monte Carlo Masters series tournaments.

Djokovic admitted he doesn't know how long it will take him to find top form once more.

"In the last six months I haven't had too many great results. That's why, you know, I've felt like I needed some changes and I needed to approach things maybe a little bit differently, which is completely fine.

"How long maybe this process is going to last before I get to the winning terms again? I don't know, I'm just hoping I will get there again."

Djokovic will begin life without Vajda on Wednesday at the Madrid Masters against Tommy Robredo or Nicolas Almagro.

Iran’s Rouhani faces protests at site of deadly mine collapse

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani faced angry protests from victims’ families on Sunday when he visited the site of a mine accident that claimed dozens of lives, two weeks ahead of an election.Local news agencies showed family members shouting at the pre…

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani faced angry protests from victims' families on Sunday when he visited the site of a mine accident that claimed dozens of lives, two weeks ahead of an election.

Local news agencies showed family members shouting at the president and hitting his car as he visited the site in the northern Golestan province, where at least 26 people were killed by an explosion on Wednesday.

"The entire Iranian nation shares the sorrow of families of those killed in the Zemestan Yort mine accident," Rouhani said according to the government's website.

"Those responsible and anyone who had a fault in the incident must be found and dealt with accordingly, without any exceptions," said Rouhani, who is standing for re-election on May 19.

As well as 26 confirmed dead, at least nine more miners were trapped inside after Wednesday's explosion, but officials say there is little chance they have survived.

The accident is thought to have been caused by concentrated methane gas that was triggered when workers tried to jump-start an engine.

Workers and families are angry over poor safety conditions, but also over delayed wages -- a common problem in factories and industrial enterprises across the country due to the struggling economy.

Labour Minister Ali Rabii travelled 1,400 metres deep into the mine earlier, where rescue teams have been trying to unblock the collapsed tunnel.

The president has ordered a taskforce to investigate the causes of the explosion and handle compensation for victims and their families.

"We are all responsible in this incident," said Rouhani, calling for tighter regulations in the mining sector.

Bobby Robson set benchmark for English managers abroad: Mourinho

English football managers should take a leaf out of the late Bobby Robson’s book, Manchester United’s Jose Mourinho told the Mail on Sunday.Mourinho formed a close friendship with Robson — who died in 2009 from cancer — first as his interpreter at Sp…

English football managers should take a leaf out of the late Bobby Robson's book, Manchester United's Jose Mourinho told the Mail on Sunday.

Mourinho formed a close friendship with Robson -- who died in 2009 from cancer -- first as his interpreter at Sporting Lisbon and then at Porto whilst at the same time becoming a tactical analyst, the duo's time together peaking at Barcelona.

Mourinho, who later Sunday tackles Arsenal in a pivotal match in the race to finish in the Premier League top four and earn Champions League qualification, spoke to the newspaper as part of the 20th anniversary of Robson coaching Barcelona to a Cup Winners Cup victory over holders Paris Saint-Germain.

Robson, who guided England to the 1990 World Cup semi-finals where they lost to the then-West Germany on penalties, was able to adapt to European football, said Mourinho, and handled the fallout of replacing Dutch legend Johan Cruyff at the helm brilliantly.

"Sir Bobby's mentality was to be very open-minded," Mourinho told the newspaper.

"He enjoyed living and coaching abroad, meeting different people.

"He was humble despite his experience.

"He wanted to learn the differences between the leagues and didn't mind asking for advice or asking for help.

"He changed and improved through the new experiences. He arrived in Portugal as a 4-4-2 coach when every team there played with lots of people in midfield.

"He understood that he needed to change so he became more multi-functional. Even as an older manager."

Mourinho, who said Robson proved a rock when he lost his sister and mother-in-law in the same year as his daughter was born, said this spirit of adventure and willingness to learn new things by coaching abroad is no longer a characteristic of English managers.

"Nowadays it looks to me that English managers either don't like to go abroad or people abroad think English managers are for the English game," said Mourinho.

"They haven't had someone to open the door for them in the last decade.

"To be honest, I think that myself, (Pep) Guardiola and (Carlo) Ancelotti are guilty of why it's quite trendy to have managers from Portugal or Spain or Italy.

"Obviously the other guys then have to do well to keep it going, Leonardo Jardim at Monaco is doing phenomenal, Antonio Conte at Chelsea, others.

"Maybe also in England, they don't have the jobs that give access to the big prizes. If you have a British manager like Tony Pulis and you are at West Bromwich Albion, it is very difficult to win a European Cup."

Mourinho, who has gone on to be one of the most successful managers in club football, said it was no surprise that several of the Barcelona side went on to become really successful club coache.

Amongst those are Luis Enrique, who coached Barcelona to the treble in 2015, Guardiola, who led Barcelona to two Champions League triumphs amongst a plethora of other trophies, and Juan Antonio Pizzi, who won the 2016 Copa America with Chile.

"When you are intelligent, you learn to drink from every source and Cruyff and (Louis) Van Gaal (who replaced Robson) were also important," Mourinho said.

"But Bobby's leadership was phenomenal and that is a very important part of management."

Mourinho said Robson had taught him another important lesson.

"I would always get really upset after bad results, I am still the same, but Bobby helped me by saying if I thought of the other dressing room, that the other guys are very happy, it makes you feel less sad," said Mourinho.

50,000 evacuated in Germany over unexploded WWII bombs

German police on Sunday evacuated some 50,000 people from the northern city of Hanover in one of the largest post-war operations to defuse World War II era bombs.Residents in a densely populated part of the city were ordered to leave their homes for th…

German police on Sunday evacuated some 50,000 people from the northern city of Hanover in one of the largest post-war operations to defuse World War II era bombs.

Residents in a densely populated part of the city were ordered to leave their homes for the operation, planned since mid-April, to extract five recently discovered unexploded bombs.

Seven retirement and nursing homes were affected and some rail traffic through the city was disrupted for the operation, which was expected to last all day.

Local authorities arranged sports, cultural and leisure activities, including museum visits and film screenings, to occupy residents affected by the evacuation.

More than 70 years after the end of the war, unexploded bombs are regularly found buried on German land, legacies of the intense bombing campaigns by the Allied forces against Nazi Germany.

The biggest such evacuation took place last Christmas, when an unexploded British bomb forced 54,000 people out of their homes in the southern city of Augsburg.

Juventus’ Benatia in live TV racism storm

Italian football has been hit by a second racist storm inside a week after Juventus defender Mehdi Benatia was insulted live on air during a live, post-match television interview with Italian state broadcaster Rai.Benatia, a Morocco international, was …

Italian football has been hit by a second racist storm inside a week after Juventus defender Mehdi Benatia was insulted live on air during a live, post-match television interview with Italian state broadcaster Rai.

Benatia, a Morocco international, was being interviewed following a 1-1 Serie A draw at home with city rivals Torino when it was cut embarrassingly short by what seemed like a studio technician's gaffe.

As he was speaking to studio presenters about Juventus, Benatia heard a voice over his radio earpiece say: "What are you saying, shitty Moroccan?"

Benatia, who had been answering a question about Juventus winning their sixth consecutive Serie A title, stopped mid-sentence and said: "Who said that? What stupid person is speaking?"

Presenters also heard the remark, but tried to brush it off, telling Benatia: "It seems there are some technical problems. No one hear has been heard making any insults."

A visibly angry Benatia wiped his brow as presenters thanked him for his time before bringing the interview to an abrupt end.

It is thought the remark came from a careless studio technician who had left a microphone on, but it put racism firmly back in the spotlight a week after the controversy surrounding Ghana's Sulley Muntari.

Pescara midfielder Sulley Muntari says Saturday he felt "treated like a criminal" after being sanctioned for walking off the pitch during a 1-0 loss at Cagliari last week where he fell victim to racial abuse.

Muntari was booked by the referee for complaining about the abuse and then shown a red card for walking off the pitch in the final minutes.

After he personally appealed to league bosses, his ban was rescinded on Saturday when he said: "I was being treated like a criminal. How could I be punished when I was the victim of racism?"

East Europeans resentful about taking in Syrian refugees, Muslims less so – poll

In the majority of Eastern European countries, at least half of the population does not want to offer asylum to even a limited number of Syrian refugees, a Gallup poll has revealed, although the aversion is not as strong in predominantly …

Preview In the majority of Eastern European countries, at least half of the population does not want to offer asylum to even a limited number of Syrian refugees, a Gallup poll has revealed, although the aversion is not as strong in predominantly Muslim nations.
Read Full Article at RT.com

French citizen kidnapped in Chad has been freed, authorities confirm

The French president’s office confirmed on Sunday that a French national who had been kidnapped in Chad’s Abeche region in March, and taken to the restive Sudanese region of Darfur, has been released.

The French president’s office confirmed on Sunday that a French national who had been kidnapped in Chad’s Abeche region in March, and taken to the restive Sudanese region of Darfur, has been released.

Berlin orders barracks inspection after Nazi symbols found

The top brass of the German military has ordered an inspection of all of its barracks after discovering Nazi-era memorabilia at two of them, the defence ministry said Sunday. “The inspector general of the Bundeswehr (Germany’s armed forces) has ordered…

The top brass of the German military has ordered an inspection of all of its barracks after discovering Nazi-era memorabilia at two of them, the defence ministry said Sunday.

"The inspector general of the Bundeswehr (Germany's armed forces) has ordered an inspection of all of its properties in order to see if any of them contain memorabilia of the Wehrmacht and if so, to remove it," a defence ministry spokesman told AFP.

The Wehrmacht was the army which served the Nazi regime.

The move follows a growing scandal over far-right leanings of some within the German military which has shaken the army and the defence ministry over the past two weeks.

Details emerged in late April following the arrest of a 28-year-old soldier stationed at a Franco-German base near Strasbourg who had expressed far-right extremist views and was plotting an attack disguised as a Syrian refugee.

Following his arrest, Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen scrapped a trip to the United States and went to his base in Illkirch in northeastern France.

There, officials found Wehrmacht memorabilia openly displayed in the common room without any apparent effort to remove it.

The ministry, which has banned such symbols, then discovered other Wehrmacht items at another base in southwestern Germany.

- 'Giant swastika' -

Press reports also referred to another incident at the Illkirch base in 2012 when German soldiers painted a huge swastika on the floor of the base to provoke their French counterparts ahead of a football match between Bayern Munich and Lille.

A battalion of German combat troops has been stationed there since 2010 as part of the joint Franco-German Brigade.

As the scandal widened, Von der Leyen called her generals to order, demanding they show zero tolerance with any extremist tendencies within the ranks.

The minister, who is close to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, has sharply rapped the armed forces for leadership failures, criticising "a misunderstood esprit de corps" that led superior officers to "look the other way".

"This process of clarification demands courage and tenacity," she told the Bild newspaper on Sunday.

"We must all support it, from the general down to the new recruits because it concerns the reputation of the Bundeswehr."

Live: Macron and Le Pen face off in French presidential run-off

French voters on Sunday began casting ballots in the presidential run-off between independent centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen. Follow FRANCE 24’s live blog below for all the latest Election Day news.

French voters on Sunday began casting ballots in the presidential run-off between independent centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen. Follow FRANCE 24’s live blog below for all the latest Election Day news.

Kiev to bar Russian journalists who visited Crimea from Eurovision despite valid accreditation

Preview Russian journalists going to the Eurovision song contest will be turned away at the border if they are found to have visited Crimea without Kiev’s authorization, including those with valid accreditation, an aide to Ukraine’s Interior Minister has warned.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview Russian journalists going to the Eurovision song contest will be turned away at the border if they are found to have visited Crimea without Kiev’s authorization, including those with valid accreditation, an aide to Ukraine’s Interior Minister has warned.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Thousands of migrants rescued in Mediterranean in two days

Some 6,000 migrants hoping to head to Europe were rescued in the Mediterranean on Friday and Saturday in dozens of frantic operations coordinated by the Italian coastguard.

Some 6,000 migrants hoping to head to Europe were rescued in the Mediterranean on Friday and Saturday in dozens of frantic operations coordinated by the Italian coastguard.

Family of Trump son-in-law solicits Chinese investment: US media

White House senior advisor Jared Kushner’s family business is courting wealthy Chinese to buy stakes in real estate through a controversial government program that offers US residency in exchange for investment, according to US media reports.Kushner’s …

White House senior advisor Jared Kushner's family business is courting wealthy Chinese to buy stakes in real estate through a controversial government program that offers US residency in exchange for investment, according to US media reports.

Kushner's sister Nicole Kushner Meyer was in Beijing on Saturday, seeking $150 million in investment in a luxury apartment complex project in New Jersey.

Jared Kushner, 36, is a senior adviser to US President Donald Trump with far-reaching influence over domestic and foreign policy, and stepped down from the family company in January to serve in the administration.

However, eyebrows have been raised as the Chinese investment sought by his family is to be funnelled through the US EB-5 visa program.

The program offers foreign nationals permanent residency -- commonly known as a green card -- in exchange for investments of at least half a million dollars in a US business that must also create 10 American jobs.

The New York Times reported that the family business' investment drive is also "highlighting their ties to Mr. Kushner as they court investors".

Speaking before more than 100 investors at Beijing's Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Nicole Kushner Meyer said the project "means a lot to me and my entire family", and mentioned her brother's former role as chief executive of Kushner Companies, the report added.

Photographs of the event showed promotional posters bearing the slogan: "Government supports it; Celebrity property developer builds it."

Kushner Companies were also due to pitch for investment in Shanghai on Sunday and in the southern Chinese cities of Shenzhen and Guangzhou next weekend, according to the events' organiser QWOS, a Chinese government-approved immigration agency.

The EB-5 program was created in 1990 to help stimulate the US economy through job creation and capital investment from foreign nationals, but detractors say it puts citizenship up for sale.

Nearly 90 percent of EB-5 visas were issued to Chinese nationals in 2014, when the program reached its quota of 10,000 visas.

Last week, federal agents in California raided two homes and a business allegedly connected to a $50 million visa fraud scheme that benefited up to 100 Chinese nationals.

Authorities said the key suspects in the case helped wealthy Chinese obtain US residency visas in exchange for bogus investments.

Philippine blast probe focuses on Shiite imam

Philippine police believe a Shiite Muslim cleric was the likely target of explosions that killed two people in Manila, an official said Sunday, rejecting Islamic State claims of involvement.Six others were injured when two explosions rocked the office …

Philippine police believe a Shiite Muslim cleric was the likely target of explosions that killed two people in Manila, an official said Sunday, rejecting Islamic State claims of involvement.

Six others were injured when two explosions rocked the office of the imam, Nasser Abinal, in the capital's busy Quiapo district on Saturday.

Oscar Albayalde, head of police forces in the capital, said the bomb was apparently intended for Abinal who is also government tax officer for the Manila region.

He was not at the office at the time.

"He admitted there were threats to his life in the past" while being questioned by police, Albayalde told AFP.

The bomb was carried in a package by a hired delivery man who handed it over to an aide of Abinal just before it went off, killing them both.

As police were searching the blast site late Saturday, another explosion rocked the area, possibly from a second bomb planted earlier, said Albayalde.

"This has nothing to do with terrorism. There is no indication that this was done by a terror group, local or foreign," he said.

The Islamic State group has claimed it staged the explosion.

"Five Shiites were killed and six others wounded in a bomb blast by Islamic State fighters in the centre of Manila," said a statement from Amaq, IS's propaganda arm.

Albayalde said this was just the IS custom of taking credit for any such incidents.

The Islamic State has carried out attacks in other countries on Shiite sites and events.

But Albayalde said the attack seemed to be targeting Abinal, adding that it may be for personal reasons, his work or his religion.

Tension remained high after the blasts, with police cordoning off the area again on Sunday after a suspicious bag was spotted.

A bomb disposal robot later established it was a false alarm.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's spokesman Ernesto Abella urged the public to stay alert but avoid spreading "unverified" news that may cause panic.

The Philippines is a mainly Catholic country but has a significant Muslim minority, some of whom live in the Quiapo district.

Just over a week ago another explosion injured 14 people in Quiapo as Southeast Asian leaders were meeting for a summit a few kilometres away.

IS claimed responsibility for the April 28 explosion, but police insisted it was not a terrorist attack and not related to the gathering of political leaders.

Local Muslim militants who have pledged allegiance to IS are based in the southern Philippines, hundreds of kilometres from Manila.

French voters choose between Le Pen & Macron in presidential run-off

French voters are set to elect their next president in a landmark run-off, choosing between liberal centrist Emmanuel Macron of the En Marche! movement and right-wing Marine le Pen of the Front National.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview French voters are set to elect their next president in a landmark run-off, choosing between liberal centrist Emmanuel Macron of the En Marche! movement and right-wing Marine le Pen of the Front National.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Voting begins in final round of French presidential election

French voters will pick a new president on Sunday, choosing between young centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen in a watershed election for the country and Europe.

French voters will pick a new president on Sunday, choosing between young centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen in a watershed election for the country and Europe.

2nd round of presidential elections kicks off in France amid state of emergency

Preview French voters are heading to the polls to choose France’s next president. The presidential runoff between centrist Emmanuel Macron and right-wing Marine le Pen is the first to take place amid an ongoing state of emergency, introduced in the country after 2015 terrorist attacks.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview French voters are heading to the polls to choose France’s next president. The presidential runoff between centrist Emmanuel Macron and right-wing Marine le Pen is the first to take place amid an ongoing state of emergency, introduced in the country after 2015 terrorist attacks.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Australian Olympians miss drug tests – report

Olympic silver medallist Madeline Groves and two other Australian Olympic swimmers are facing possible two-year bans for missing drug tests, reports said on Sunday.Groves, two-time Olympian Thomas Fraser-Holmes and Rio Olympic open water swimmer Jarrod…

Olympic silver medallist Madeline Groves and two other Australian Olympic swimmers are facing possible two-year bans for missing drug tests, reports said on Sunday.

Groves, two-time Olympian Thomas Fraser-Holmes and Rio Olympic open water swimmer Jarrod Poort missed three drug tests in a 12-month period, the Sunday Telegraph reported.

Swimming Australia said it was informed by the Australian Sport Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) and the sport's world governing body FINA that some team members may have failed to update their whereabouts.

"ASADA and FINA are yet to finalise their processes and to confirm the final outcomes in relation to these matters," SA said in a statement.

"Under ASADA and FINA rules, Swimming Australia is unable to announce details on any individual swimmers who may have failed to update their whereabouts appropriately until ASADA and FINA have completed their process."

Athletes are required to keep their whereabouts updated for the purpose of drug testing.

"It was disappointing that the information had been leaked before the relevant organisations had concluded the matters under a thorough and fair process for all involved," SA chief executive Mark Anderson added.

Anderson said Australian swimmers were reminded about anti-doping protocols as recently as last month's national championships in Brisbane.

"I have very clearly and very strongly reminded our team that you can never switch off from ensuring your whereabouts is accurate," he said.

"As an athlete it is a non-negotiable, you must be available for testing every single day of the four-year cycle."

Groves claimed the silver medal in the 200-metres butterfly at last year's Rio Olympics.

ASADA said at the point of each missed test, athletes have the opportunity to put forward an explanation before a missed-test declaration was made.

Alvarez pummels Chavez in lopsided catchweight bout

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez cruised to a unanimous decision win over Julio Chavez Jr. in a 12-round beatdown to claim Mexican bragging rights on Cinco de Mayo weekend in Las Vegas on Saturday.The 26-year-old Alvarez used Chavez for target practice, landing j…

Saul "Canelo" Alvarez cruised to a unanimous decision win over Julio Chavez Jr. in a 12-round beatdown to claim Mexican bragging rights on Cinco de Mayo weekend in Las Vegas on Saturday.

The 26-year-old Alvarez used Chavez for target practice, landing jabs, hooks and combinations at will as he won every round of the 164-pound (75 kg) fight on all three judges' scorecards.

Chavez, who has a four inch (10 cm) height advantage, was booed during and after the fight by the standing room only crowd at the T-Mobile Arena.

Alvarez treated the lopsided bout as if it were a sparring session in the gym, even standing up between rounds for the entire fight.

He landed 228 punches to just 71 for Chavez and an incredible 31 percent of his jabs connected as he had his way with former champion Chavez, who has largely made his career off the name of his famous boxing champion father Julio Cesar Chavez Sr.

Alvarez, who is the World Boxing Organization light middleweight champion, improved to 49-1-1 with his only loss coming against Floyd Mayweather in 2013.

There was no title on the line Saturday as Alvarez moved up in weight to fight the much bigger Chavez at a catchweight of 164lbs.

Alvarez was the heavy favorite going into the fight and it didn't take long to see why. Chavez had no answer for the punches from Alvarez which often came in combinations of three, four and sometimes even six.

Chavez, 31, was bleeding from the left nostril in the fifth round. By the final round, he was bleeding from both nostrils and his left eye was almost swollen shut.

Athletes warn Coates to bring in AOC change

Australia’s athletes say they will hold John Coates to account after the country’s most powerful sports figure was returned as president of the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) this weekend.Coates, 67, who has been the AOC president for 27 years, won…

Australia's athletes say they will hold John Coates to account after the country's most powerful sports figure was returned as president of the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) this weekend.

Coates, 67, who has been the AOC president for 27 years, won a secret ballot 58-35 against former field hockey Olympian Danni Roche at the Sydney AGM on Saturday to continue in his role.

Coates's task will be to unite the fractured AOC movement divided after a bitter presidency campaign, which he conceded had damaged the Olympic brand in Australia.

He has declared this will be his last four-year term of office and has vowed to step down after the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Australian athletes' commission chair Steve Hooker warned Coates to keep his promise of change within the AOC amid allegations of bullying and intimidation inside its administration.

"In our conversations with John, he understands that things have to change," the former Olympic pole vault champion said late Saturday.

"There has to be some bridges that are repaired. And he has expressed to us personally that he is going to do that.

"We are going to hold him to account."

Olympic rowing gold medallist and commission deputy Kim Brennan said Roche's challenge for the AOC presidency should become a catalyst for change.

"Danni has done a huge service for sport by standing up and putting a light on to so many of these issues," Brennan said.

Swimming gold medallist Cate Campbell said attention needed to return to chasing sporting success.

"We're looking forward to moving on from this," she said.

- 'Change in culture'

Swimming Australia said even though the incumbent president and International Olympic Committee vice-president Coates had retained his position, the result would still bring change at the AOC.

"I think the reality is that John's spent the last 10 years overseas," Swimming Australia president John Bertrand told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

"You know they needed more leadership at home. There's a new CEO in place that people feel very comfortable about.

"I think we're going to see a change in culture and a change in governance as a result of all of those factors."

Coates said part of his charter was now ensuring a smooth transition plan, but distanced himself from choosing his successor.

"This meeting in 2021 is going to have one, two or three candidates to choose from who are going to be better than me," he said.

"And that is my task to make sure we do that."

One of new CEO Matt Carroll's immediate tasks will be to oversee an investigation into workplace practices at the AOC amid widespread bullying claims.

Coates' right-hand man Mike Tancred stepped down from his role as AOC media director last month pending an independent committee investigation of allegations of bullying made by former AOC chief executive Fiona de Jong.

Coates said he would also put out an olive branch to John Wylie, chairman of the government-backed Australian Sports Commission, in a bid to end their ongoing feud.

India’s new property law seeks to protect home buyers

In 2010, Neena Nagpal and her husband spent their life savings on a flat outside Delhi that was never built. Now, a new law seeks to protect thousands of home buyers like her from unscrupulous property developers.”The entire experience has been painful…

In 2010, Neena Nagpal and her husband spent their life savings on a flat outside Delhi that was never built. Now, a new law seeks to protect thousands of home buyers like her from unscrupulous property developers.

"The entire experience has been painful," says the 54-year-old, whose husband recently died, leaving her to take care of their partially deaf son alone in a two-room house in a run-down part of the Indian capital.

"When you don't walk what you talk, it really hurts us."

From the mid-2000s onward, millions of middle class Indians eager to own their own homes poured cash into new building projects on the outskirts of major cities as a property boom took hold across the country.

Many were young workers in the burgeoning IT sector eager to break away from the traditional joint family set-up.

But the industry was riddled with problems and buyers were almost always the victims.

"What was shown and what was delivered was always different," said Gulam Zia, executive director at real estate consultancy Knight Frank India.

"Developers got away with whatever they wanted and consumers always got a raw deal. Now a developer can't hide anything and he can't go back to his old habit of taking the consumer for a ride."

Developers could face jail sentences of up to three years and substantial fines under the new law, which took effect on May 1 and applies to ongoing as well as new projects.

State governments will be responsible for keeping tabs on developers' progress and ensuring they stick to their plans for everything from the number and size of apartments to the construction schedule.

Buyers' money will have to be deposited in an escrow-like account and can only be used for the property they are investing in -- not to launch the developer's next project.

If the flats are not delivered on time, the developer will have to pay the monthly interest on the buyers' bank loans.

The Confederation of Real Estate Developers' Associations of India, a trade body, welcomed the new law saying it had been calling for better regulation.

"This will go a long way in restoring consumer faith in the real estate sector," said its president Jaxay Shah.

- Thousands of cases -

The road from Delhi to the satellite city of Noida provides ample evidence of the problems, lined as it is with half-built apartment buildings, most behind schedule.

Among them is Lotus Panache, where Nagpal and her family were hoping to make a home.

The 3C Company sold the development as "an enviable blend of sheer luxury and suburban lifestyle", touting ambitious plans for a creche and 135,000 square-foot (12,500 square-metre) sports and leisure centre.

The reality -- rows of unfinished shells -- is a far cry from that.

Although every buyer has paid at least 90 per cent of the price, only about 800 of the 4,200 promised apartments have been delivered so far and the project is nearly four years behind schedule.

The promised sports and leisure facilities amount to some workout equipment in one of the empty flats, a small swimming pool and some swings for kids on a brown patch of land.

About 600 buyers have filed a case against the developer in a consumer court demanding the homes they paid for and fair compensation for the delay.

But the slow pace of India's overburdened judicial system means they are still waiting.

One couple borrowed two million rupees ($44,000) to buy an apartment on the 19th floor of a development being built on the outskirts of Delhi by Supertech.

It was not until they had paid 95 percent of the purchase price that they discovered the company only had permission to build 12 storeys.

They have taken the company to court, but are still having to repay the loan at 20,000 rupees a month as the case continues.

"In the past, contracts signed were typically in favour of the developer and they could wriggle out of them. Those things will be fixed now," said Ramesh Nair, chief executive of JLL India, a real estate company.

"Today with this act in place there's more accountability."

Crusaders tame Bulls in Super Rugby New Zealand rampage

The Canterbury Crusaders stacked up their 10th-straight win as New Zealand continued on a Super Rugby rampage at the weekend, leaving South African and Australian teams scattered in their wake.The unbeaten seven-time champion Crusaders, even without ke…

The Canterbury Crusaders stacked up their 10th-straight win as New Zealand continued on a Super Rugby rampage at the weekend, leaving South African and Australian teams scattered in their wake.

The unbeaten seven-time champion Crusaders, even without key All Black forwards Kieran Read and Sam Whitelock, minced South Africa's Northern Bulls 62-24 in Pretoria to hold on to their lead in the fiercely-competitive New Zealand conference.

It was the Crusaders' second-biggest victory margin this year after a 50-3 rout of the Japanese Sunwolves. They have totted up 167 points in their last three games, all against South African opposition.

The Christchurch outfit top the New Zealand standings by four points from the Waikato Chiefs, with defending champions the Wellington Hurricanes a further four points back with a game in hand.

"We were really fired up for this match as the team has struggled to win at Loftus," skipper and flanker Matt Todd said, referring to the Crusaders' last win in Pretoria nine years ago.

"Facing the Bulls, we needed early momentum and achieved that goal. However, our victory was not as easy as the scoreline suggests."

It was yet another masterclass from the benchmark Super Rugby team, hammering the hapless Bulls 10 tries to three, prompting local pundits to call for the head of Bulls' coach Nollis Marais.

The Chiefs kept in touch of the high-flying Crusaders with a bonus-point 46-17 win over the Queensland Reds in New Plymouth, marking the successful return of Charlie Ngatai.

Ngatai was out of action for 12 months with concussion issues but showed no sign of rust on his return to join a logjam of talent vying for a start in the All Blacks midfield when the British and Irish Lions arrive next month.

There were concussion issues for All Blacks hope Sonny Bill Williams as the Auckland Blues staved off the fast-finishing NSW Waratahs 40-33 in Sydney.

Double World Cup-winning centre Williams left the field for a head injury assessment just before half-time and never returned.

- Lions roar past Rebels -

Defending champions Wellington Hurricanes held off a fightback from South Africa's Western Stormers to extend their winning home run to 11 matches.

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

The Otago Highlanders capped a sensational weekend for Kiwi teams with an incredible comeback to squeeze a 45-41 win over the Central Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.

Trailing by 17 points in the 76th minute, the Highlanders rushed in three tries to stretch a winning streak to six matches, a feat they last achieved in 2005.

South Africa's red-hot Golden Lions posted their biggest win in Australia with a thumping 47-10 victory over the Rebels in Melbourne.

The Johannesburg-based Lions hammered the hapless Rebels seven tries to one for their seventh-straight win and further extended their lead over the Coastal Sharks at the top of the South Africa 2 conference.

The yellow-carding of Western Force centre Curtis Rona cost his side dearly as they lost 37-12 to the Sharks in Durban.

The Jaguares of Argentina snapped a four-match losing streak with a come-from-behind 46-39 victory over the Sunwolves in Buenos Aires.

Australia's ACT Brumbies and South Africa's Southern Kings had byes this weekend.

Durant propels Warriors past Jazz

Kevin Durant scored 38 points and the Golden State Warriors withstood a determined Utah effort to down the Jazz 102-91 on Saturday to take a commanding 3-0 lead in their NBA playoff series.The Warriors will try to close out the best-of-seven Western Co…

Kevin Durant scored 38 points and the Golden State Warriors withstood a determined Utah effort to down the Jazz 102-91 on Saturday to take a commanding 3-0 lead in their NBA playoff series.

The Warriors will try to close out the best-of-seven Western Conference second-round series in game four on Monday in Salt Lake City.

The Jazz had hoped a return to their home floor on Saturday would spark a resurgence, and it briefly looked as if it had.

Although the Warriors got off to another fast start, leading by 10 after the first quarter, the Jazz, fueled by a standout performance from French center Rudy Gobert, responded.

They seized the lead for the first time in the series when they went up 48-47 in the second period, and led 50-49 at halftime.

The hosts stretched their lead to as many as nine in the third quarter before the Warriors reasserted themselves.

Durant did the heavy lifting as Stephen Curry connected on just six of 20 shots en route to 23 points and Klay Thompson made just one basket in scoring six points.

Trailing 75-74 early in the fourth, the Warriors launched a 10-4 scoring run to regain a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

The Warriors out-scored the Jazz by nine points in the final four minutes, Curry warming up late to contribute to the surge with a three-pointer that made it 89-84.

On the next possession Durant came off a screen and drained a pull-up three over Gobert to make it 92-84.

Not long after, Durant and Gobert were involved in a testy exchange, with Durant called for a flagrant foul and a technical. Gobert, however, missed both free throws.

Gobert finished the night with 21 points and 15 rebounds for the Jazz, who were led by Gordon Hayward's 29 points but still find themselves one defeat away from elimination.

Fancy a noodle burger? East meets West in Indonesian fusion food

From a restaurant serving burgers and pizzas made with local noodles to a social media star giving street food a touch of haute cuisine, a new wave of innovative chefs are putting a modern twist on Indonesia’s traditional fare.New eateries have sprung …

From a restaurant serving burgers and pizzas made with local noodles to a social media star giving street food a touch of haute cuisine, a new wave of innovative chefs are putting a modern twist on Indonesia's traditional fare.

New eateries have sprung up rapidly in recent years in the capital Jakarta offering a wide array of foreign foods to cater to a growing consumer class which has emerged after a long economic boom.

But rather than focus entirely on cuisine from overseas, some chefs decided to fuse the new influences with age-old Indonesian foods.

One eatery offering fusion food is "Mammamie", whose name is a playful take on an Italian expression of shock combined with the local word for noodles, "mie".

It uses the country's favourite instant noodles, Indomie -- cheap blocks of fodder in colourful packaging that are sold at almost every grocery store and supermarket -- to make Western dishes.

Among the most popular are the "mizza", a pizza whose base is made out of noodles, and a "merger", a burger which has buns fashioned from Indomie. It also serves burrito, quesadillas and sushi dishes made with the noodles.

Cafe owner Muhammad Luqman Baehaqi said he was trying to appeal to young Indonesians who were keen to try Western foods but still enjoyed Indomie.

"There isn't a single Indonesian person that doesn't know Indomie," the 39-year-old said. "It's tasty and familiar to all of us.?

The small cafe can seat about 20 people on chairs designed to look like Indomie packing cases and has a distinctly hipster vibe, with young office workers enjoying dishes that cost the equivalent of about two to four dollars under an image of late Apple founder Steve Jobs.

- Gourmet street food -

While the "Mammamie" cafe uses Indonesian ingredients to spice up Western dishes, Jakarta chef Dede Akbar is taking local dishes as his starting point, and seeking to make them more classy.

In his brightly-decorated kitchen, the 34-year-old carefully placed two blocks of tempe -- a traditional soybean patty -- onto a plate. He blowtorched a hard-boiled egg, and added small flowers as a garnish before artistically dripping sauce across the dish.

Satisfied with his creation, he took out a camera and snapped pictures from various angles, before uploading them to Instagram. It was his popular Instagram account "Warteg Gourmet", which currently has about 40,000 followers, that catapulted him to fame.

Wartegs are modest stalls or kiosks selling cheap food, often cramped spaces on street corners where blue-colour workers stop for a bite and to smoke a cigarette.

But rather than drab dishes for people earning low incomes, Akbar said he celebrates warteg food as it has "different textures and a wide range of colours that we can play with".

Akbar was inspired to make haute-cuisine, warteg-style food after becoming annoyed at the careless presentation of dishes at the traditional streetside eateries.

What started off as a hobby became an obsession, and eventually Akbar found he was receiving so many invites to be a "food stylist" at events that he quit his day job as an advertising agency art director to become a full-time chef.

He hopes his efforts can help raise the profile of humble Indonesian street food, which is not as well-known as local cuisine from other parts of Asia, such as Thailand.

"I want to make Indonesian food more appreciated by Indonesians in general and recognised internationally," he said.

Outcry at Moscow plan to raze thousands of communist-era flats

Valeriya Yevseyeva and her husband Alexei bought a flat last year in a five-storey brick building near a Moscow park where they love to cycle.Now they face the possibility that authorities will demolish their 1950s-era building and rehouse them in a to…

Valeriya Yevseyeva and her husband Alexei bought a flat last year in a five-storey brick building near a Moscow park where they love to cycle.

Now they face the possibility that authorities will demolish their 1950s-era building and rehouse them in a tower block, in an urban development plan not seen since Soviet times to demolish more than 4,500 apartment blocks and relocate hundreds of thousands of Muscovites.

"This is a brick building, everyone knows they can stand for up to 150 years, so this is a shock," said 31-year-old Yevseyeva, who works for a medical device company.

Backed by President Vladimir Putin, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin wants to knock down low-rise housing, focusing on the five-storey buildings thrown up under Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in the 1950s and 1960s as the USSR rushed to build housing for everyone.

Supporters argue the vast 3.5-trillion ruble ($62.1-billion, 57-billion euro) project is vital, replacing the smaller, aged buildings with high-rise housing in Russia's fast-developing capital of 12 million which faces a housing crunch and rising rents.

But the programme -- due to start in September -- has prompted protests from residents fearful of losing their homes and who say it rides roughshod over their property rights.

And the level of outcry has even forced Putin to react in a bid to reassure residents.

"The aim is to improve housing conditions for people who live in buildings that are falling down," the Kremlin strongman told ministers.

"It goes without saying that this should be done in such a way and with such means and methods so as to not breach the rights of citizens."

- 'Deportation of Muscovites' -

Authorities initially wanted to demolish 8,000 buildings, home to 1.6 million people, but reduced the scale this month after conducting opinion polls.

The first five-storey buildings -- nicknamed khrushchevki after the Soviet leader -- rehoused people living in communal flats -- where entire families were squeezed into one room -- and were celebrated as a symbol of social progress in films and Dmitry Shostakovich's 1958 operetta, "Moscow, Cheryomushki".

Now, some seven decades later, those backing the project to pull them down are billing it as an equally important transformation

"It's a historic step. There probably hasn't been such large-scale change to Moscow since the 1950s," said ruling United Russia party MP Pyotr Tolstoy.

Often situated in leafy communal settings, the apartment blocks were built without lifts and kitchens are small. The worst are made of pre-cast concrete panels but many are brick.

"They're outdated. It's impossible to repair, renovate or reconstruct them -- people really do live in awful conditions," said the lawmaker.

Tolstoy co-authored the bill on the demolitions that got the preliminary backing of parliament, but many details are vague and remain left to be worked out.

Under the programme people are promised a flat of "equivalent" size -- not the same value -- in the same, albeit likely spread-out, district.

It would be impossible to legally contest eviction -- only the new flat's size -- and residents have just 60 days to move out.

- 'Nightmare' -

Some people are happy to swap their pokey flats for new ones.

"The building's worn-out: there's not much pleasant about it," said one resident, who gave only her first name Yekaterina, adding her kitchen measures just five square metres (54 square feet).

But many are deeply upset and have not been afraid to express their anger.

Yevseyeva, who lives in a spacious 1957 building with high ceilings and thick walls, was horrified to realise her home could be at risk if demolition plans for her building go ahead.

"We were sure it didn't face any threat, but according to this bill, it's possible to take away any property," she said, calling the plan "a nightmare".

She has joined a Facebook protest group with 16,000 members and held a placard against "deportation of Muscovites" at a rally -- the first she ever attended.

In theory, a majority of residents in each building will need to approve demolition and only unsafe buildings will be touched, but with property developers standing to profit from taking over prime real estate, many people say they are worried they will be forced out.

"We risk handing Moscow over to business and city contractors," warned lawmaker Mikhail Degtyarev, of the nationalist Liberal Democrat Party, in parliament.

At a packed public meeting in Izmailovo, a district by a large park, officials didn't help their cause by failing to specify where the new flats would be, leading to tempers fraying.

Sergei Mitrokhin, a leading member of the liberal opposition Yabloko party, warned inhabitants: "They're asking if you want to be moved or not -- but they're not telling you where they're moving you to."

Mozambique’s gas boom dream under threat

The small, palm-fringed fishing town of Palma was meant to become a symbol of Mozambique’s glittering future, transformed by one of the world’s largest liquefied natural gas projects.But construction has fallen far behind schedule and the town’s fate i…

The small, palm-fringed fishing town of Palma was meant to become a symbol of Mozambique's glittering future, transformed by one of the world's largest liquefied natural gas projects.

But construction has fallen far behind schedule and the town's fate is uncertain after gas prices fell and the government became engulfed in a $2 billion debt scandal.

Tucked between the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean and thick tropical forests, Palma remains a sleepy village of 3,000 people, still waiting for the promised arrival of new jobs and infrastructure.

The discovery of gas reserves in 2010, estimated at 180 trillion cubic feet (five trillion cubic metres) in the surrounding Rovuma Basin, was the biggest natural gas find in recent decades.

Experts have predicted that Mozambique could become the world's third-largest exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG) -- and an African version of wealthy Qatar.

Plans to exploit the reserves moved fast, and Palma's residents were soon looking for opportunities to lift themselves out of poverty in one of the world's poorest nations.

"It's only through such projects that we will get proper jobs because otherwise we just depend on the sea," said 46-year-old fisherman Pedro Abuda-Nchamo.

Since the discovery of the gas, the face of the town has started to change.

Excavators and construction vehicles are working on the planned liquefaction plant and export facilities.

A gated residential complex for the anticipated influx of skilled workers is almost ready, and the town's first shopping mall is being built.

But the much-touted gas project has run into strong headwinds.

Initial estimates were that the first LNG would come on stream in 2016 but now it is expected in 2023 -- or later.

The plunge in global gas prices has led energy companies to slow down capital expenditure.

Meanwhile the government in Maputo is caught up in a debt scandal that has triggered an economic crisis unseen since the end of the southern African country's civil war in 1992.

- Vast secret debts -

News emerged last year that the government had borrowed massively -- including three secret loans amounting to $2 billion -- between 2012 and 2014 to fund a coastal protection project.

As a result, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank have suspended budgetary support.

The loans, which the government is unable to repay, were taken out in anticipation of the gas windfall that remains elusive.

"The government thought it would repay the loans with gas money," said Borges Nhamire, analyst with CIP, an anti-corruption non-governmental organisation.

Analysts fear that Mozambique's state-owned Empresa Nacional de Hidrocarbonetos (ENH), a minority partner in the gas project, may now struggle to raise its contribution of the share capital -- although ENH insists it will honour its share of the deal.

Meanwhile, other players in the multi-billion-dollar gas project appear to be making investment decisions.

In March Exxon announced that it was buying for $28 billion, a 25 percent stake in Italian energy giant ENI's Mozambique gas resource.

That same month another major player, US oil and natural gas company Anadarko, also said it was investing $770 million in its deepwater project in Mozambique where it "expects to continue advancing" and that it has "made good progress on the legal and contractual framework."

But Nhamire said it will take a "long time" for any benefits from the gas project to reach average Mozambicans.

- 'Blessing or curse'? -

The long-running conflict between the ruling Frelimo party and opposition Renamo fighters engaged in a low-key armed insurgency resurfaced in 2013, but a ceasefire in place since December has raised hopes of progress towards permanent peace.

Yet the debt controversy has dented investor confidence and provoked fears that Mozambique is another African victim of the "resource curse".

"It's been really a pretty serious disaster that impacted right throughout the economy," said Peter Fabricius, a consultant with the South Africa-based Institute of Security Studies.

"What it does indicate is serious deficiency in governance and that is at the heart of any discussion about whether resources are going to become a blessing or a curse."

For a decade until 2014, Mozambique experienced galloping growth of more than seven percent annually, fuelled by foreign capital inflows on the back of coal and natural gas discoveries.

But growth has slowed by half from 6.6 percent in 2015 to 3.3 percent last year, and the central bank in April forecast "a continuation of the weakening of economic activity".

"Foreign direct investment declined by 20 percent indicating a decline in confidence in the economy," said the World Bank in its latest country overview.

For Palma residents, delays in the start of the gas project are breeding anxiety and frustration.

"They promised that when the companies come we would get jobs but until now it has not happen and people are complaining," said Amade Mussa, a village leader.

The government insists the Palma project is still on track and that local people will benefit even as some have to be relocated for the construction of the gas terminal.

"Our priority is to take that community out of poverty," Land Minister Celso Correa told AFP.