Baby deaths soar 30% in Venezuela: ministry

Deaths of babies soared by 30 percent last year in Venezuela, hit by shortages of food and medicine in an economic and political crisis, the health ministry said on Wednesday.Deaths of mothers in childbirth soared by two thirds meanwhile, according to …

Deaths of babies soared by 30 percent last year in Venezuela, hit by shortages of food and medicine in an economic and political crisis, the health ministry said on Wednesday.

Deaths of mothers in childbirth soared by two thirds meanwhile, according to the data published online by the ministry -- the latest such figures since 2015.

It said 11,466 babies younger than one year old died in 2016, up from 8,812 the year before. The report gave no comparative rate in relation to the number of births.

Among the causes of infant death it cited were septicemia, pneumonia, premature birth and breathing difficulties.

The report said 756 women died in childbirth, just under 66 percent more than the previous year.

Cases of malaria rose by 76 percent to more than 240,000.

Medical associations thought the disease had been eradicated in Venezuela but say it has re-emerged during the past three years of crisis and reached epidemic level in 13 of the country's 24 states.

The collapse in prices for Venezuela's crucial oil exports has left it short of cash to import medicine and basic goods.

Deadly unrest broke out last month with the opposition demanding elections to replace President Nicolas Maduro, whom they blame for the crisis.

Pakistan frustrate Windies in opening session

Pakistan negotiated a potentially tricky first session, reaching 70 for one on the first day of the third and final Test against the West Indies at Windsor Park in Dominica on Wednesday.After they were put in to bat, Shan Masood was the tourists’ only …

Pakistan negotiated a potentially tricky first session, reaching 70 for one on the first day of the third and final Test against the West Indies at Windsor Park in Dominica on Wednesday.

After they were put in to bat, Shan Masood was the tourists' only casualty of the morning, falling to off-spinner Roston Chase after an hour's play.

Opening partner Azhar Ali (36 not out) was set to resume after the interval alongside Babar Azam (24 not out), their partnership having already produced 51 runs for the second wicket.

West Indies' faster bowlers failed to make the inroads that Jason Holder would have hoped for after he won the toss and had no hesitation in putting the opposition in to bat in heavy, overcast conditions.

While Shannon Gabriel, the destroyer of the Pakistanis on the final day of the second Test, used the new ball with accuracy and economy, Alzarri Joseph lacked control, forcing the captain to introduce himself and then Chase in the quest for the breakthrough.

It came when Masood, playing his first match of the series in place of the unwell Ahmed Shehzad, reached nine off 30 deliveries and prodded indecisively at a delivery from Chase for Holder to take the straightforward catch at second slip.

Having failed to score in both innings of the second Test, new batsman Azam found the bowling to be much less challenging than at Kensington Oval and settled into the promising partnership with Ali.

Despite an effort dominated so far by caution, Ali latched on to two loose deliveries from Chase, hoisting them for sixes to highlight an otherwise quiet morning.

With a 106-run win in Barbados levelling the series, the home side named an unchanged eleven in pursuit of a first Test series win for five years against a team ranked higher than themselves.

Apart from the recall of Masood, fast-medium bowler Hasan Ali is making his debut at the expense of leg-spinner Shadab Khan, who struggled in his first appearance in the second Test.

Pakistan have never won a Test series in the Caribbean on seven previous tours and the significance of the fixture has been magnified by the fact that Pakistan captain Misbah ul Haq and senior batsman Younis Khan are playing their final international matches.

McDonald’s employee in Turkey splashes boiling water on boy for ‘disturbing customers’

Preview A female McDonald’s employee in Istanbul splashed boiling water on a child who was allegedly “disturbing customers.” The fast food chain acknowledged the “unfortunate events,” calling them “unacceptable.”
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview A female McDonald’s employee in Istanbul splashed boiling water on a child who was allegedly “disturbing customers.” The fast food chain acknowledged the “unfortunate events,” calling them “unacceptable.”
Read Full Article at RT.com

Facebook takes aim at ‘low quality’ websites

Facebook said Wednesday it was making changes designed to keep its users from linking to “low-quality” websites, part of an effort to fight spam and misinformation.The world’s biggest social network said it is updating its ranking algorithm with the he…

Facebook said Wednesday it was making changes designed to keep its users from linking to "low-quality" websites, part of an effort to fight spam and misinformation.

The world's biggest social network said it is updating its ranking algorithm with the help of artificial intelligence so users would see fewer posts "that link to these low-quality web page experiences."

"With this update, we reviewed hundreds of thousands of web pages linked to/from Facebook to identify those that contain little substantive content and have a large number of disruptive, shocking or malicious ads," a Facebook blog post said.

"If we determine a post might link to these types of low-quality web pages, it may show up lower in people's feeds and may not be eligible to be an ad," the blog post from researchers Jiun-Ren Lin and Shengbo Guo said.

"This way people can see fewer misleading posts and more informative posts."

The move is the latest by Facebook to attack "fake news" and other forms of misinformation, as well as to crack down on "click farms" that aim to generate revenue from users linking to websites.

Facebook, which came under criticism for its role in the spread of misinformation during the 2016 US presidential campaign, has argued the platform did not play a major role in influencing voters.

The social network with nearly two billion users worldwide also recently stepped up its security to counter efforts by governments and others to spread misinformation or manipulate discussions for political reasons.

Eccentric French maths genius’s ‘scribblings’ go online

Nearly 18,000 pages of notes by eccentric French maths genius Alexandre Grothendieck were posted online Wednesday by his alma mater, Montpellier University in southern France.Grothendieck, who died aged 86 in 2014, “revolutionised an entire area of mat…

Nearly 18,000 pages of notes by eccentric French maths genius Alexandre Grothendieck were posted online Wednesday by his alma mater, Montpellier University in southern France.

Grothendieck, who died aged 86 in 2014, "revolutionised an entire area of mathematics, algebraic geometry," said Jean-Michel Marin, head of an institute that bears the mathematician's name at the university.

"It will take years of work by experts to benefit from his notes," Marin told AFP. "There are only a few hundred people in the world who could understand them."

The papers put on line are part of a trove of 28,000 pages bequeathed by the genius to one of his students, Jean Malgoire, who is still a professor at Montpellier University.

The German-born mathematician's children ceded online publication rights to the university while retaining ownership of the physical documents, which Grothendieck referred to as "scribblings".

"They contain not only original results but also tools for understanding (Grothendieck's) thinking," Marin said.

Grothendieck won the Fields medal, known as the Nobel prize of the maths world, in 1966.

But by then he had become a radical environmentalist and pacifist who opposed the Vietnam war as well as Soviet military expansionism, and he refused to travel to Moscow to accept the prize.

According to the legend that has built up around Grothendieck, his talents were not immediately obvious when he was a young man.

It was while he was studying at the university that two professors gave him a list of 14 questions, considered to be years' worth of work, and told him to pick one.

Grothendieck came back a few months later having completed them all.

He was born in 1928 in Berlin to a Russian anarchist father and a journalist mother, who left him behind in Germany while they went to fight in the Spanish Civil War.

The family was reunited in France, where Grothendieck was naturalised and was to spend most of his life, only for his father -- a Jew -- to be rounded up by the Nazis and killed in Auschwitz.

He became a recluse, even from his family, in 1991, living in a small village in the French Pyrenees until his death in 2014.

EBRD sees oil price rebound boosting economic growth

Europe’s development bank predicted Wednesday a pick-up in economic growth this year in most of the regions where it operates as rebounding oil prices boost Russia and other commodity exporters.The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, at i…

Europe's development bank predicted Wednesday a pick-up in economic growth this year in most of the regions where it operates as rebounding oil prices boost Russia and other commodity exporters.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, at its annual meeting in Cyprus, also rebuffed a push by Moscow to end a freeze in investments in Russia over the Ukraine crisis.

One weak spot in the cautiously upbeat outlook is Turkey where growth is expected to slow as political uncertainty hits the economy, the EBRD said.

Average economic growth in the EBRD region -- which also includes countries in eastern and central Europe, central Asia and the Mediterranean -- is expected to pick up to 2.4 percent in 2017 and 2.8 percent in 2018, the EBRD said.

That would mark an improvement from growth of 1.8 percent seen in 2016.

"Overall the news is good. Growth is faster... despite all the risks, all the global challenges," EBRD chief economist Sergei Guriev told a news conference.

The rebound in world oil prices since the first quarter of 2016 has been positive for Russia as well as countries that rely on it for remittances and export demand, the bank said.

Russia is emerging from a two-year recession but even so the economic recovery is expected to be relatively muted with growth seen at 1.2 percent this year and 1.4 percent in 2018, the EBRD said.

"Even though recession in Russia is over, we forecast only a very slow recovery and we don't see remittances going back to the peak of 2013, which means for the countries that rely on remittances from Russia this is continuing to be a difficult time," Guriev said.

- 'Dangerous precedent' -

The London-based EBRD rejected a challenge by Moscow over the suspension of new investments in Russia that the development bank announced in 2014 as part of European action against Moscow over the Ukraine conflict.

"The board of governors overwhelmingly agreed that the bank has complied with its own internal rules with respect to its engagement with the Russian Federation," EBRD president Suma Chakrabarti said.

"That is a final and binding resolution."

Russian Economy Minister Maxim Oreshkin lashed out at the decision, calling it a "dangerous precedent".

Moscow has condemned the freeze as politically motivated and in breach of the mandate of the EBRD, which was founded in 1991 to help former Soviet bloc countries switch to free-market economies.

In its forecasts, the EBRD said growth in Turkey would slow further to 2.6 percent in 2017 from 2.9 percent in 2016 as security and political concerns hit investor sentiment and tourism.

"While increased disposable income on the back of a 30-percent hike in the minimum wage in January 2016 resulted in an increase in private consumption, growth was hit by a sharp fall in tourism receipts, Russian sanctions, and geopolitical tensions in the Middle East," the bank said in its economic update.

"Weak consumer and investor sentiment following the attempted military coup in July 2016 compounded these problems."

Growth in the southern and eastern Mediterranean region -- which includes Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia -- is projected to pick up to 3.7 percent in 2017, from 3.4 percent last year.

The economies of southeast Europe are set to expand by around three percent on average both this year and in 2018, with Greece returning to growth as reforms progress and business confidence creeps back, the EBRD said.

The bank announced that its board of governors had given the green light for it to engage in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip for an initial period of five years to support the Palestinian territories with investments through a trust fund.

National Front’s Marion Maréchal-Le Pen steps away from politics, for now

When Marion Maréchal-Le Pen announced she was withdrawing from politics, the National Front prodigy was not slamming the door on a brilliant future. She was just leaving the door ajar. All the better to come back with a bang when the time is right.

When Marion Maréchal-Le Pen announced she was withdrawing from politics, the National Front prodigy was not slamming the door on a brilliant future. She was just leaving the door ajar. All the better to come back with a bang when the time is right.

Mini mind maps: Unique scans to show babies’ brains in womb as part of new project (PHOTOS)

Preview UK scientists have released dozens of unique high-resolution images of newborn babies’ brains to help scientists from across the world unravel how complex conditions such as autism, cerebral palsy and attention deficit disorders appear.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview UK scientists have released dozens of unique high-resolution images of newborn babies’ brains to help scientists from across the world unravel how complex conditions such as autism, cerebral palsy and attention deficit disorders appear.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Puerto Rico drinking water is worst in US: report

The US territory of Puerto Rico has the worst drinking water in the nation, and the majority of the island’s water supply is in violation of federal standards, a report said Wednesday.Nearly every person in Puerto Rico — 99.5 percent of the population…

The US territory of Puerto Rico has the worst drinking water in the nation, and the majority of the island's water supply is in violation of federal standards, a report said Wednesday.

Nearly every person in Puerto Rico -- 99.5 percent of the population -- was served by water systems that had violations in 2015, including failure to test for contaminants or report problems to the public, said the report by the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group.

"Puerto Rico suffers the worst rate of drinking water violations of any state or territory in the United States," said co-author Erik Olson, director of NRDC Health Program.

More than 2.4 million people in 2015 -- or 69.4 percent of the population in Puerto Rico -- got their water from community water systems that violated the federal health-based standards, said the report, based on data from Puerto Rico's Department of Health.

Nearly half of the island's water systems were found to have violations that included "unlawfully high levels of contaminants such as volatile organic compounds, total coliform bacteria, and disinfection byproducts," or otherwise broke water treatment rules, said the report.

These contaminants can cause cancer, birth defects and cognitive impairments.

"We found that there are serious problems with outdated and deteriorating water infrastructure, and poor implementation of the Safe Drinking Water Act," said Olson.

Problems also include "poor enforcement by states and territorial governments and the EPA, under-reporting of violations, and frankly, weaknesses in drinking water standards for contaminant like arsenic and lead," he told reporters on a conference call.

Increased investment is needed for drinking water infrastructure, which could protect people's health and create jobs fixing Puerto Rico's water system, the report said.

Olson warned that deep cuts proposed by the White House to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could further harm the water supply.

"The Trump administration has proposed massive budget cuts that could make the problem worse nationally, and particularly worse in Puerto Rico," he said.

These include slashing nearly a third of the EPA, and eliminating $500 million in funding for rural drinking water supplies and sewers.

"That would hit rural areas very badly," he said.

Earlier this month, the governor of Puerto Rico announced the US territory would seek a form of bankruptcy protection to restructure its $70 billion debt, the largest municipal restructuring in US history.

By declaring bankruptcy, the US commonwealth in the Caribbean can prevent any interruption in services to island residents, Governor Ricardo Rossello said.

Billionaire Czech finance minister under fire

The Czech Republic’s finance minister found himself under heavy fire in parliament Wednesday over his business dealings and leaked conversations that led the prime minister to try to sack him last week.Andrej Babis, the second wealthiest Czech, leads t…

The Czech Republic's finance minister found himself under heavy fire in parliament Wednesday over his business dealings and leaked conversations that led the prime minister to try to sack him last week.

Andrej Babis, the second wealthiest Czech, leads the centrist ANO (Yes) movement which opinion polls show headed for victory in legislative elections later this year.

He is at the centre of a week-long political crisis sparked by doubts over his business dealings, which the tycoon insists are all legal.

Parliament wants him to explain how he raised the money to buy his sprawling Agrofert farming, chemicals and media conglomerate.

"I'd like to ask the Czech public: stop believing that when someone's rich, he's a safer choice," Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek of the leftist CSSD party, which governs in coalition with the smaller ANO and the Christian Democrats, told parliament.

"When people like you (Babis) enter politics, it's a huge danger," Zaoralek said, during the special parliamentary sitting called to address Babis's alleged wrongdoing.

Babis shot back calling the debate "a live execution" and "another mega-campaign against me."

A Slovak-born self-made magnate, Babis has become the EU state's most popular politician by selling himself and the party he forged 2012 as being tough on corruption, something voters perceive as pervasive in often murky Czech politics.

Questions have also been raised about Babis's purchase of tax-free bonds issued by Agrofert, with critics insisting that as a finance minister fighting tax evasion, he should not benefit from tax loopholes.

- Leaked convos -

Babis is also under fire over leaked conversations revealing that he pressured a journalist from his media group to attack political rivals.

The 62-year-old Babis has refused to comment on the leaks.

Josef Mlejnek, a political analyst at Charles University in Prague, told AFP the recordings could dent his popularity.

"The recordings... prove he's a liar," said Mlejnek, recalling that Babis vowed in 2013 to "never meddle in editorial matters."

So far Babis's ANO movement has led opinion polls with support reaching as high as 30 percent, twice as much as Sobotka's CSSD.

Mlejnek said the current crisis was also partly triggered by the CSSD as an early campaign move ahead of the October 20-21 elections.

"They (CSSD) didn't want to end up in opposition with ANO winning the election, so they decided to attack Babis hard, even at the cost of destroying the (coalition's) cabinet," he said.

The latest crisis in often turbulent Czech politics began on May 2 when CSSD head and Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka tendered his entire government's resignation in a bid to oust Babis.

But days later Sobotka withdrew the resignation and demanded President Milos Zeman to just axe Babis instead, a move the veteran leftist has so far refused.

US offers $10 mn reward for ex-Qaeda affiliate chief

The United States is offering a $10 million reward for information to identify or locate the head of Al-Qaeda’s former Syria affiliate the Fateh al-Sham Front.The State Department’s Rewards for Justice reward for information on Abu Mohamed al-Jolani is…

The United States is offering a $10 million reward for information to identify or locate the head of Al-Qaeda's former Syria affiliate the Fateh al-Sham Front.

The State Department's Rewards for Justice reward for information on Abu Mohamed al-Jolani is its first for a leader of the group.

He has been named a "specially designated global terrorist" by the State Department and is also listed at the United Nations Security Council.

In its notice, the State Department indicates that Jolani pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda in April 2013 after falling out with the Islamic State group. He praised Al-Qaeda again in an online video posted in July 2016.

Fateh al-Sham Front, previously known as Al-Nusra Front, split from Al-Qaeda in July 2016 from Al-Qaeda in a move analysts said was an abortive attempt to end its blacklisting by the United Nations and Western governments.

It has a contentious relationship with some rebel groups, but many others have allied with it against President Bashar al-Assad's regime, despite its jihadist ideology.

Fateh al-Sham has been excluded from the opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC), as well as previous talks between rebel groups and the government.

"Under Jolani's leadership, ANF has carried out multiple terrorist attacks throughout Syria, often targeting civilians," the State Department notice read.

"In April 2015, ANF reportedly kidnapped, and later released, approximately 300 Kurdish civilians from a checkpoint in Syria. In June 2015, ANF claimed responsibility for the massacre of 20 residents in the Druze village Qalb Lawzeh in Idlib province, Syria."

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

Switzerland limits work permits for Romanians, Bulgarians

The Swiss government decided Wednesday to limit work permits issued to Romanian and Bulgarian citizens following a spike in immigration from those countries, invoking a clause in its agreement with the EU.The clause is part of a bilateral agreement wit…

The Swiss government decided Wednesday to limit work permits issued to Romanian and Bulgarian citizens following a spike in immigration from those countries, invoking a clause in its agreement with the EU.

The clause is part of a bilateral agreement with the European Union on the freedom of movement and allows Switzerland, which is not a member of the bloc, to impose temporary quotas on work and residency permits.

According to the agreement, Switzerland has the right until 2019 to impose quotas on Romanian and Bulgarian citizens if it registers a hike of 10 percent or more in the number of permits issued compared to the previous three-year average.

In 2016, net immigration from the two countries stood at 3,300 people in 2016 -- double the number registered in 2015.

The Swiss government therefore said it had decided to "activate the safeguard clause."

Only 996 long-term residency and work permits would be made available to citizens of the two countries over the next year, it said, adding that the quota system would take effect on June 1.

Short-term residency permits for stays shorter than one year will not be subject to quotas, it said.

Netflix hit by Cannes ‘ban’ after cinema release row

The Cannes film festival effectively slapped a ban on future Netflix-backed movies Wednesday after the streaming giant refused to screen its two films in this year’s competition in French cinemas.Although “The Meyerowitz Stories” — starring Adam Sandl…

The Cannes film festival effectively slapped a ban on future Netflix-backed movies Wednesday after the streaming giant refused to screen its two films in this year's competition in French cinemas.

Although "The Meyerowitz Stories" -- starring Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller -- and the Korean-American thriller "Okja" will be allowed to compete next week for its top prize, the Palme d'Or, the festival's organisers said they were changing the rules so it can never happen again.

"From now on every film wishing to be in competition at Cannes must be shown in French cinemas afterwards," they said in a statement.

They said they had "asked Netflix in vain" for the films to be released in France as well to its 86 million subscribers, but it refused.

The row comes as Netflix is locked in a bitter conflict with big US cinema chains.

Top Hollywood directors including director Sofia Coppola -- whose new film "The Beguiled" is also competing at Cannes -- have also urged their fans to watch their films on the big screen rather than stream them on tablets and phones.

The crux of the Cannes row turns on French law, which restricts online streaming until three years after a movie is put on general release.

- Furious reaction -

The country's cinemas owners reacted furiously last month after three films distributed by streaming rivals Netflix and Amazon were chosen to run for Cannes' top prize.

Festival organisers tried to negotiate a compromise, with a "limited release" of the movies in France mooted.

But faced with the possibility of a Palme d'Or-winning film being shown in only "one or two screens" in France, talks with Netflix broke down.

Amazon, on the other hand, is giving its film, Coppola's "The Beguiled", a proper cinematic release in France, as it did with Woody Allen's Cannes contender last year, "Cafe Society".

Contacted by AFP, Netflix was not available for comment.

Netflix's long-running battle with cinema chains in the US centres on its insistence on releasing its movies online the same day as they hit theatres.

In 2015 most of the big multiplex chains refused to screen the long-awaited Netflix-made sequel to the martial arts blockbuster "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon".

The film reportedly bombed, with Netflix taking the highly unusual step of not releasing its box office figures.

It's online rival Amazon has taken a very different approach.

Rather than confronting the cinema establishment, Amazon Studios courts Hollywood, releasing its films in theatres before they are made available to subscribers.

The Cannes film festival, the world's most prestigious, begins next week in the French Riviera resort.

Nineteen films are in competition for the Palme d'Or, with Nicole Kidman starring in three in the official selection.

UN warns of massive displacement in Yemen

A UN official warned Wednesday that up to half a million people could be displaced as conflict escalates and the humanitarian situation worsens in Yemen’s southwestern Taez province, mainly in Hodeida.”Between 100,000 and half a million people could be…

A UN official warned Wednesday that up to half a million people could be displaced as conflict escalates and the humanitarian situation worsens in Yemen's southwestern Taez province, mainly in Hodeida.

"Between 100,000 and half a million people could be displaced as the conflict and humanitarian situation continue to worsen,? said Shabia Mantoo, Yemen spokesperson for the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR.

"The humanitarian situation alone continues to worsen even without the conflict intensifying," Mantoo told AFP from the Red Sea city of Hodeida.

Fears of large-scale displacement are exacerbated by rampant food insecurity in Hodeida that the UNHCR says has reached critical levels.

Mantoo said more women and children were begging in the streets of Hodeida, where people displaced mainly from southwestern Mokha and the city of Taez have for two years sought refuge.

The United Nations estimates more than 7,700 people have been killed and millions displaced since a Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015 against Huthi rebels in support of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.

The fighting has left 19 million people -- or 60 percent of the population -- struggling to find food, the United Nations says, with a third of the country's provinces on the brink of famine.

Anglican head backs Trump’s Israeli-Palestinian peace effort

The leader of the world’s Anglicans on Wednesday backed US President Donald Trump’s bid for fresh peace talks between Israel and Palestinians, saying “determined leadership” could tip the balance towards a resolution.Speaking near the end of a 12-day t…

The leader of the world's Anglicans on Wednesday backed US President Donald Trump's bid for fresh peace talks between Israel and Palestinians, saying "determined leadership" could tip the balance towards a resolution.

Speaking near the end of a 12-day trip to Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said Trump would be "in my prayers" when he visits the region later this month and attempts to restart the moribund peace process.

"We have known from history in this region that determined leadership by the United States, together with patient working by lots of other people in the background, often unknown, can tip things very, very decisively," he told journalists in Jerusalem.

"When he comes here my prayer for him is he will be filled with determination and courage and given gifts of wisdom that will make a difference."

Trump is expected to arrive in Israel on May 22 as part of his first foreign tour since his inauguration, though the date has not yet been officially confirmed.

The self-styled deal maker spoke last week in Washington with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas of his desire to seal the "toughest deal" of them all.

Welby said his trip had been about learning and understanding the complexities of the situation in the Middle East.

He also sought to clarify comments that had caused some criticism in the Israeli media regarding dialogue with Hamas.

The Islamist movement, which runs Gaza, is considered a terrorist organisation by Israel, and both sides reject direct negotiations.

Welby did not meet with Hamas officials during a trip to the Gaza Strip, but said there may be a time when it is necessary to speak to them directly.

Also considered a terrorist group by the United States and European Union, Hamas has been seeking to improve its reputation in the international community, including releasing a new policy document last week that somewhat eases its stance on Israel.

The Jewish state rejected the move by its long-term adversary, with which it has fought three wars since 2008, as window dressing.

"You look round some of the conflicts around the world in the past and you see people who have started in one place and have ended in a very, very different place and deeply committed to peace," Welby said Wednesday.

He added that any such agreement would be predicated on Hamas saying it is committed to non-violence and to a political process.

Welby said that militant groups "can over time -- at the right time when the politicians decide, if they are convinced that it is authentic -- be brought to a place where it is good to talk to them."

"I don't know when it is. It certainly doesn't look like now."

Putin acts to curb protests at Confed, World Cup

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree to prevent civil demonstrations disrupting next month’s Confederations Cup and the 2018 World Cup. The decree, published Wednesday on the government’s legal information internet portal, said that dem…

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree to prevent civil demonstrations disrupting next month's Confederations Cup and the 2018 World Cup.

The decree, published Wednesday on the government's legal information internet portal, said that demonstrations, rallies and pickets that are not tied to the football tournaments can only be held in host cities' regions in places and at times approved by the authorities.

The measure will remain in place "from June 1 to July 12, 2017" for the Confederations Cup and "from May 25 to July 25, 2018" for the World Cup.

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who has called for nationwide anti-corruption protests on June 12, said Putin's move would not keep his supporters off the streets.

"The constitutional rights of the citizens of Russia cannot be repealed and amended by presidential decrees," Navalny wrote on Twitter.

"Of course our rallies will not interfere with the matches."

Putin in 2013 imposed a sweeping ban on protests in and around the 2014 Sochi Olympics and Paralympics before softening the measures by allowing protests to be held at times and places agreed upon with the authorities.

Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Kazan and Sochi will host the Confederations Cup from June 17 to July 2.

Moscow is scrambling to calm fears of fan violence at the Confed and World Cup following clashes involving Russian hooligans at Euro 2016 in France.

Moscow has passed laws to prevent local hooligans from attending matches and says it is introducing special IDs for both Russian and foreign fans attending the upcoming footballing extravaganzas.

Ex-Qaeda branch threatens Syria rebels on safe zone deal

An alliance dominated by Al-Qaeda’s former Syrian branch has warned rebel groups against implementing a deal on safe zones, saying they would be considered traitors.Tahrir al-Sham, led by the jihadist Fateh al-Sham Front, made the threat late Tuesday i…

An alliance dominated by Al-Qaeda's former Syrian branch has warned rebel groups against implementing a deal on safe zones, saying they would be considered traitors.

Tahrir al-Sham, led by the jihadist Fateh al-Sham Front, made the threat late Tuesday in response to an agreement signed by rebel backer Turkey and regime supporters Iran and Russia in Kazakhstan last week.

The agreement calls for the establishment of four "de-escalation zones" where rebels and government forces will halt hostilities, including air strikes, for six months.

But it carves out an exception for the continued targeting of jihadist groups like the Islamic State group and Fateh al-Sham, previously known as Al-Nusra Front.

"Accepting the Astana deal is tantamount to betrayal... and a conspiracy to destroy jihad and revolution in Syria," Tahrir al-Sham said.

It called on its allies to "fight any criminal gangs and spend every effort to prevent" rebel groups trying to advance on its territory.

Neither Syria's government nor the rebels are direct signatories to the Astana deal. While the foreign ministry in Damascus has said it accepts the agreement, the opposition has expressed concerns.

The exact borders of the de-escalation zones are to be delineated by June 4, but a ceasefire in the rough areas affected came into effect on Friday night.

The four main battlegrounds included are: the northwestern province of Idlib, parts of the central province of Homs, the south, and the opposition enclave of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus.

But Fateh al-Sham is a powerful force and a regular ally for rebels in several opposition-controlled areas, particularly in Idlib.

Analysts expect the close relationship will complicate the implementation of the deal, which was reached in Astana during a fresh round of talks on Syria's war brokered by Ankara, Moscow, and Tehran.

Under the agreement, the three powers are responsible for "separating" jihadist groups like IS and Fateh al-Sham from other rebel factions.

The first round of the Astana talks in January was marred by fierce fighting between Fateh al-Sham and other rebel groups that left dozens of fighters dead in Idlib.

The conflict broke out with protests in 2011 against the Damascus government, but has since evolved into a multi-front war that has killed more than 320,000 people.

Microsoft aims to make artificial intelligence mainstream

Microsoft on Wednesday unveiled new tools intended to democratize artificial intelligence by enabling machine smarts to be built into software from smartphone games to factory floors.Improving programs with artificial intelligence that could tap into s…

Microsoft on Wednesday unveiled new tools intended to democratize artificial intelligence by enabling machine smarts to be built into software from smartphone games to factory floors.

Improving programs with artificial intelligence that could tap into services in the internet "cloud" and even take advantage of computing power in nearby machines, was part of a vision unveiled as the US technology titan's annual Build Conference opened.

"We are infusing AI into every product and service we offer," said Microsoft executive vice president of artificial intelligence and research Harry Shum.

"We've been creating the building blocks for the current wave of AI breakthroughs for more than two decades."

Microsoft research has gone deep into areas such as machine learning, speech recognition, and enabling machines to recognize what they "see."

"Now, we're in the unique position of being able to use those decades of research breakthroughs," Shum said.

Microsoft rivals including Amazon, Apple, Google and IBM have all been aggressively pursing the promise and potential of artificial intelligence.

Amazon on Tuesday unveiled the latest member of its family of devices powered by its Alexa digital assistant, with a touchscreen.

Also this week, Samsung-owned Harman Kardon announced the release of its new Invoke speaker powered by Microsoft's digital assistant Cortana and integrating Skype for making calls using the device.

Meanwhile, Google has been ramping up capabilities of its Home digital assistant.

Artificial intelligence is getting a foothold in people's homes, with personal assistants answering questions and controlling connected devices such as appliances or light bulbs.

Digital assistants already boast features such as reminding people of appointments entered into calendars and chiming in with advice to set out early if traffic is challenging.

Microsoft's aim on Wednesday was on businesses and software developers, whether they been students building a fun app or professional technology teams.

"Microsoft is trying to use AI for businesses to solve business problems and app developers to make applications better," said Moor Insights and Strategy principal analyst Patrick Moorhead.

"Which is different from Amazon, Facebook, and Google whose primary business model is to mine personal information using AI to sell you things or put ads in front of you."

Microsoft is taking a unique approach by letting developers customize gesture commands, voice recognition and more instead of making them conform to settings in "off-the-shelf" AI, according to the analyst.

German defense minister vows to reform army amid far-right attack probe

Preview German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen has pledged to respond to the discovery of far-right sympathizers in the German Army with reforms, including reviewing one of the Bundeswehr’s post-Nazi era key principles, Traditionserlass.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen has pledged to respond to the discovery of far-right sympathizers in the German Army with reforms, including reviewing one of the Bundeswehr’s post-Nazi era key principles, Traditionserlass.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Hollande announces slavery memorial in last speech as president

In his likely final speech as president, François Hollande called on France to fight hate speech and announced a new working group that will be put in charge of designing a memorial and a museum for victims of slavery.

In his likely final speech as president, François Hollande called on France to fight hate speech and announced a new working group that will be put in charge of designing a memorial and a museum for victims of slavery.

Djokovic surives scare to start new era

Novak Djokovic staved off a huge upset in his first match since splitting with his long-time coaching team to beat Nicolas Almagro 6-1, 4-6, 7-5 in the second round of the Madrid Masters on Wednesday.After a blistering start, Djokovic had to battle bac…

Novak Djokovic staved off a huge upset in his first match since splitting with his long-time coaching team to beat Nicolas Almagro 6-1, 4-6, 7-5 in the second round of the Madrid Masters on Wednesday.

After a blistering start, Djokovic had to battle back from 3-0 down in the deciding set to book his place in the last 16 on Thursday against Feliciano Lopez or Gilles Simon.

Djokovic is without a coach in the Spanish capital after bringing to an end a 10-year relationship with Marian Vajda in an attempt to reverse his dramatic slump in form over the past year.

The early signs were positive for the 12-time Grand Slam champion as despite losing his service in the opening game, he broke straight back to start a six-game streak to romp through the first set.

Almagro had taken just one set from four previous meetings with Djokovic, but willed on by a partisan home crowd, he held on to his serve despite more pressure from the Serb in the first game of the second set.

The Spaniard had to save two break points to hold for 4-3 and then took his chance to break with Djokovic serving to stay in the set.

The world number 75, who dipped down to the challenger tour after losing in the first round of the Australian Open earlier this year, then looked set for a monumental upset as he raced into a 3-0 lead in the decider.

However, a mixture of Almagro nerves and Djokovic upping his intensity saw the world number two react immediately to level at 3-3.

More Almagro errors flowed to give Djokovic another break for 6-5 and he served out for the match.

Djokovic could meet Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals.

However, the 14-time Grand Slam champion has a difficult route to that potential matchup as he faces Fabio Fognini later on Wednesday and potentially Nick Kyrgios in the third round.

Controversial Australian Kyrgios cruised past American Ryan Harrison 6-3, 6-3.

Kyrgios and Nadal have only met twice with the Australian making his breakthrough with a four-set win over the 14-time Grand Slam champion at Wimbledon in 2014.

Nadal, though, edged their only previous meeting on clay at the Rome Masters last year.

Fifth seed Milos Raonic is also into the last 16 as he got the better of a battle between two big servers 6-4, 6-4 over Gilles Muller.

Raonic will face Belgium's David Goffin next.

Kei Nishikori recovered from a dreadful start to beat Argentine Diego Schwartzman 1-6, 6-0, 6-4.

The world number eight has made at least the semi-finals in each of the last three years in Madrid and will face David Ferrer in round three.

Ferrer progressed as Jo-Wilfried Tsonga withdrew with a shoulder injury.

In the WTA Madrid Open, Svetlana Kuznetsova remained one of only three of the top 10 seeds left in the draw with a 6-4, 7-5 win over Wang Qiang to reach the quarter-finals.

Kuznetsova will face the winner of an intriguing clash between top seed Angelique Kerber and Eugenie Bouchard, who dumped out Maria Sharapova in thrilling fashion on Monday.

‘Was he fired? You’re kidding!’ Lavrov feigns surprise at Comey’s dismissal

Preview Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov pretended to be deeply surprised by news of FBI Director James Comey’s dismissal, asking journalists if he was fired, before a meeting with his US counterpart, Rex Tillerson, in Washington.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov pretended to be deeply surprised by news of FBI Director James Comey’s dismissal, asking journalists if he was fired, before a meeting with his US counterpart, Rex Tillerson, in Washington.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Suspected Qaeda suicide bombing kills Yemeni soldier

A suspected Al-Qaeda suicide bombing on Wednesday killed a Yemeni soldier in the southeastern province of Hadramawt, a security official said.Six other people, including three civilians, were wounded when the assailant detonated his explosives at a che…

A suspected Al-Qaeda suicide bombing on Wednesday killed a Yemeni soldier in the southeastern province of Hadramawt, a security official said.

Six other people, including three civilians, were wounded when the assailant detonated his explosives at a checkpoint in the village of Duaan, some 300 kilometres (186 miles) northwest of the port city of Mukalla, the official said.

The attack comes days after government forces backed by the Saudi-led coalition mounted an operation against Al-Qaeda militants suspected of being behind the recent bombing of two abandoned police stations.

Al-Qaeda extremists remain active in the vast region of Hadramawt after taking advantage of more than two years of conflict between the government and Shiite rebels.

The United States has intensified its air attacks on Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Yemeni branch that it considers the global terror network's most dangerous.

Israeli police teach 5th-graders how to shoot a terrorist

Preview Israeli police have been caught on film in a mock shooting operation against an “assailant” in front of a crowd of fifth-graders. Parents expressed shock at the demonstration, while police justified it as strengthening “the children’s sense of security.”
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview Israeli police have been caught on film in a mock shooting operation against an “assailant” in front of a crowd of fifth-graders. Parents expressed shock at the demonstration, while police justified it as strengthening “the children’s sense of security.”
Read Full Article at RT.com

‘Looked like monsters’: Iraqi boys who fled ISIS captivity tell their terrifying stories

Separated from their loved ones, they had to fight over a tomato, learn to blow themselves up and behead people. These Iraqi boys managed to flee Islamic State captivity and share their harrowing stories with AP. Read Full Article at RT.c…

Preview Separated from their loved ones, they had to fight over a tomato, learn to blow themselves up and behead people. These Iraqi boys managed to flee Islamic State captivity and share their harrowing stories with AP.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Germany probes 2,000 firms over alleged Malta tax dodge

German authorities said Wednesday they had opened a probe into up to 2,000 companies registered in Malta on suspicion of tax fraud, after receiving an anonymous tip.”There are branches of big German corporations on this long list,” the finance minister…

German authorities said Wednesday they had opened a probe into up to 2,000 companies registered in Malta on suspicion of tax fraud, after receiving an anonymous tip.

"There are branches of big German corporations on this long list," the finance minister of Germany's most populous state North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), Norbert Walter-Borjans, told reporters in Berlin.

The nameless informant handed over a USB stick listing 70,000 companies registered in Malta, of which between 1,700 and 2,000 are linked to German corporations, Walter-Borjans said.

He said there was "strong suspicion" that the nominally Maltese firms linked to major German corporations were trying to dodge tax laws as shell companies.

"Our investigators with global contacts will not be steered off course in their campaign against tax evasion and won't be intimidated," he added.

NRW has spearheaded Germany's campaign against tax cheats who attempt to hide their holdings offshore.

Since January 2006, several German states have bought CDs or USB sticks containing stolen data on German tax cheats.

NRW alone has bought 11 CDs, which it says have led 120,000 German citizens to self-report Swiss bank accounts and pay back-taxes and fines.

The latest announcement from NRW, which goes to the polls on Sunday, comes just weeks after German prosecutors said they had arrested a Swiss man, identified as Daniel M., 54, on suspicion of espionage since 2012.

Media have reported that the alleged spy had run a paid mole inside the NRW finance ministry in a bid to monitor cross-border tax probes.

In May 2015, the EU and Switzerland signed an agreement on exchanging bank data from 2018 that will effectively end the Swiss tradition of bank secrecy for members of the bloc.

German defence minister vows clear army break with Nazi past

Germany’s defence minister announced reforms Wednesday to rid the armed forces of links with the Nazi-era Wehrmacht, responding to a scandal around a far-right attack plot within the military.Two soldiers and one civilian have been arrested over an all…

Germany's defence minister announced reforms Wednesday to rid the armed forces of links with the Nazi-era Wehrmacht, responding to a scandal around a far-right attack plot within the military.

Two soldiers and one civilian have been arrested over an alleged conspiracy to kill pro-refugee politicians and -- having created the fake identity of a Syrian refugee -- make it look like an Islamist attack.

Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen announced a series of reforms for the NATO member's armed forces, including a review of its 1982 "decree on traditions" which allows the display of Wehrmacht memorabilia within its "historical context".

The current rules "include many good points but allow for back doors," she said, following revelations that Nazi-era army steel helmets, weapons and pictures were on open display in some army barracks.

Amid the scandal, debate has flared on why a Wehrmacht item can be shown in a glass display but not in an officers' mess, and why several barracks are still named after World War II field marshall Erwin Rommel, dubbed the "Desert Fox" for his North Africa campaign.

- Zero tolerance -

Von der Leyen had pledged zero tolerance on all forms of extremism after it emerged the top suspect arrested, Lieutenant Franco Albrecht, 28, had expressed racist views years ago but that superior officers looked the other way out of a "misunderstood esprit de corps".

The minister, under fire over the scandal, also announced changes to reporting chains, disciplinary procedures and the civics education of soldiers, speaking before a hearing by the parliamentary defence committee.

Germany's Bundeswehr -- including the army, navy and air force -- has a troop strength of about 180,000 active military personnel, the second largest in the EU after France.

The bizarre far-right plot has, meanwhile, widened with the arrest Tuesday of a second suspect from the same Franco-German base near Strasbourg, a lieutenant identified only as Maximilian T., 27.

According to prosecutors, Albrecht had managed to create the false identity of a Syrian fruit seller from Damascus and to register himself as a refugee who was granted asylum, a space in a shelter and monthly state benefits.

The suspects' plan, say prosecutors, was to commit an attack, for which they had obtained a pistol and drawn up a hit list of pro-refugee politicians, including then president Joachim Gauck and Justice Minister Heiko Maas.

The pair, along with 24-year-old student Mathias F., had hoped the murder would "be seen by the population as a radical Islamist terrorist act committed by a recognised refugee," said the prosecution.

Germany has taken in more than one million asylum seekers since 2015, many from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, amid an initial wave of goodwill followed by an anti-foreigner backlash and a spate of racist hate crimes.

Kosovo government falls, snap election to follow

Kosovo’s government collapsed Wednesday after it lost a confidence vote in parliament, expected to trigger a snap election after over a year of political crisis in the tiny Balkan country.The ruling coalition had been strained by growing discord betwee…

Kosovo's government collapsed Wednesday after it lost a confidence vote in parliament, expected to trigger a snap election after over a year of political crisis in the tiny Balkan country.

The ruling coalition had been strained by growing discord between its two main parties, President Hashim Thaci's centre-right PDK and the conservative LDK of Prime Minister Isa Mustafa.

Under the constitution fresh elections have to be held within 45 days, and the president is expected to call them by the end of the week.

Of those present, 78 deputies in the 120-member parliament backed the no confidence motion while 34 were against it, speaker Kadri Veseli said.

The main trigger for the confidence vote was a border demarcation deal with neighbouring Montenegro, the final condition for obtaining visa-free travel in the European Union.

Three main opposition parties strongly oppose the move, alleging that the deal deprives Kosovo of several thousand hectares of land.

Since the signing of the deal, the opposition has released tear gas in the parliament on many occasions and has also held street protests, some of which were marred by serious violence.

Kosovo?s political crisis has also been fuelled by another agreement, reached with former foe Serbia in mid-2015, that envisages political autonomy for the Serb minority.

The opposition also fiercely opposes this deal.

The PDK eventually supported the rest of the opposition in their wish for early parliamentary elections, before their scheduled date next year.

Kosovo, home to around 1.8 people who are mostly ethnic Albanians, unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008.

The move is now recognised by more than 110 countries. But Serbia, supported by its traditional ally Russia, still rejects it.

West Virginia seeks future — without coal

Chuck Nelson spent 30 years underground in nearly every mining job available but today he is in no doubt about it: “There is no future in coal.”For the fourth-generation retired miner, the politicians — Donald Trump chief among them — who won votes i…

Chuck Nelson spent 30 years underground in nearly every mining job available but today he is in no doubt about it: "There is no future in coal."

For the fourth-generation retired miner, the politicians -- Donald Trump chief among them -- who won votes in his native West Virginia on a promise to bring back coal are peddling false hopes.

Economists agree: despite a recent uptick, few believe in a lasting revival for a sector that is ever more mechanized, requiring fewer workers, and pummeled by competition with cheap, clean natural gas.

So how does a small state with few other industries, where the biggest single employer is Wal-Mart, find a path to replace high-paying albeit dangerous mining jobs?

The "Mountain State" just west of the nation's capital long suffered from a condition known as "Dutch disease" -- in economic parlance, the over-reliance on a single product, especially a natural resource, to the exclusion of other industries.

"When are we ever going to be economically free, not serfs to the coal industry, unless there is economic diversity," asks the filmmaker Mari-Lynn Evans, whose documentary "Blood on the Mountain" explores the troubled history of the state's coal industry.

- 'Wild and wonderful' -

If West Virginia has a competitive advantage besides coal, the most obvious is tourism. Skiing, hiking, white-water rafting and a well-known resort -- site of the underground bunker intended to house the US government in the event of a nuclear war -- make it a vacation destination.

Fuelled by a "wild and wonderful" ad campaign, tourism last year generated $4.5 billion in travel spending making it the state's fourth largest industry.

But mining companies have used bankruptcies to escape the obligation to restore damaged and polluted land, leaving the state with billions of dollars in restoration costs.

Maria Gunnoe lives in the shadow of a mountain-top removal site, just below a slurry pond filled with toxic mine waste. The dam broke a few years ago and just missed wiping out her house at the base of the hollow.

The environmental activist talks of catching fish with black ulcers on them, of waking up one morning to find the creek running white, and of the neighbor girl who developed four kinds of cancer -- well aware of studies that point to elevated rates of the disease.

"Our streams are spillways," says Gunnoe, who like many locals fears the environmental scars left by a dying industry now threaten one of their best chances at a brighter future.

- 'Renaissance' -

Amid West Virginia's economic struggle, the state has been hard hit by America's opioid epidemic with the highest rate of overdose deaths in the country. Huntington, where 28 people overdosed, two fatally, in a single day last year, is considered the epicenter of the crisis.

But Huntington is also fighting to invent a new future for itself.

It was recently named "America's Best Community" winning a $3 million redevelopment prize after a two-year competition against 50 other cities.

"We're on the verge of a renaissance," insists Mayor Steve Williams.

That rebirth involves deploying high-speed internet -- scarce in the remote state -- turning blighted industrial areas into a new research and development park, and retraining dislocated workers in highly-skilled fields from solar and craft furniture, to organic farming on former strip mine sites.

Such revitalization, Williams says, is key to beating the opioid epidemic as well.

"If we're going to win on this we have to turn the economy," he says. "As you do that you start to attract investment, put people back to work and give them hope."

- Inner colony -

While it shares borders with traditional mining states like Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Virginia, West Virginia has perhaps more in common with former colonies, where foreign companies reaped the profits from diamonds or oil and left little to show for it.

More than two-thirds of its private land and mineral rights are owned by outside interests, according to the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy.

"It's a colony. It always has been," Ted Boettner, head of the budget center told AFP, who says the state has long been trapped in a "vicious cycle of boom and bust, with a very under-educated, under-invested economy."

Boettner points to states such as North Dakota and Alaska, that funneled tax revenue from their dominant industry into schools and other development -- and hopes West Virginia can learn from their example.

West Virginia has "given more to the American dream than any other state," he says, "and received less in return."

Israeli parliament advances bill enshrining state’s Jewish status

The Israeli parliament gave preliminary approval Wednesday to a bill defining the country as the “national home of the Jewish people” that critics say discriminates against the state’s Arab minority.The bill, supported by 48 against 41 of the Knesset’s…

The Israeli parliament gave preliminary approval Wednesday to a bill defining the country as the "national home of the Jewish people" that critics say discriminates against the state's Arab minority.

The bill, supported by 48 against 41 of the Knesset's 120 members, seeks to "defend (Israel's) status as a Jewish and democratic state", said Avi Dichter, the bill's sponsor, of the ruling Likud party.

On Sunday, ministers gave the bill the initial green light.

It needs to be debated by a parliamentary committee and voted on three more times in the plenum before it becomes part of the country's so-called "basic laws", which are similar to a constitution.

It would give special status to the "Jewish and democratic" nature of Israel, to the Jewish calendar and to Hebrew as Israel's official language.

The bill's explanatory notes said such legislation was "especially crucial in times like these, when there are those who seek to undermine the Jewish people's right to a national home in its land".

Some 17.5 percent of Israel's population are Arab, and are descendants of Palestinians who remained after Israel's creation in 1948.

Public signs and government services are typically in Arabic as well as Hebrew, but it was unclear if the new bill would change that.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government is seen as the most right-wing in the country's history, and Arab Israelis allege widespread discrimination.

Defining Israel as the "national home of the Jewish people" has also raised concerns among rights activists and others worried over discrimination and attempts to further mix religion and state.

"No apartheid law, as racist and nationalistic as it may be, will erase the fact that two peoples live here," parliament member Ayman Odeh, who heads the mainly Arab Joint List alliance, said.

"The extreme right-wing government is trying to spark a fire of nationalistic hatred, but I still believe there lives a majority here that wants to live in peace, equality and democracy", he said.

Masud Ganaim, of Odeh's list, questioned the need to legislate the principles that already appear in Israel's Declaration of Independence, accusing the bill of being an attempt to target Arabs.

Dichter, however, rejected claims that the law would harm Arabs or the Arabic language, saying in the debate ahead of the Wednesday vote that Hebrew would be the national language but Arabic would have a "special status".

Germany to shut Berlin hostel over North Korea link

The German government said Wednesday it will shut down a Berlin hostel after it emerged that the site is North Korean embassy property and had been leased in violation of UN rules.Located downtown next to the gated North Korean embassy, Cityhostel Berl…

The German government said Wednesday it will shut down a Berlin hostel after it emerged that the site is North Korean embassy property and had been leased in violation of UN rules.

Located downtown next to the gated North Korean embassy, Cityhostel Berlin offers dorm beds for as little as 16 euros ($17) a night.

But it came under scrutiny after German media reported that the North Korean embassy was not just the hostel's neighbour but also owner of the prime real estate.

Rented out since 2004, the property fetches Pyongyang some 38,000 euros per month in rent, public broadcaster ARD said.

Foreign ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer cited a UN Security Council resolution that requires member states to only allow "North Korean foreign representations to carry out diplomatic and consular activities".

"Any kind of commercial activity on the site of the embassy or in relation to the embassy is prohibited," he said.

"Cityhostel in Berlin constitutes neither a diplomatic nor consular activity of a North Korean foreign representation," said Schaefer, adding that the government will move to "shut down the financial source to the North Korean regime as quickly as possible".

Over the past 11 years, the Security Council has imposed six sets of sanctions on Pyongyang -- two adopted last year -- to significantly ramp up pressure and deny the North Korean regime the hard currency revenue needed for its rocket and atomic programmes.

But UN sanctions experts have repeatedly told the council the measures have had little impact because they have been poorly implemented.

Pyongyang is seeking to develop a long-range missile capable of hitting the US mainland with a nuclear warhead, and has so far staged five nuclear tests, two of them last year.

‘No question’ of breaking EU ties: Turkey

It is out of the question for Turkey to break off relations with the EU and it will press ahead with its membership bid, Turkish EU Affairs Minister Omer Celik said Wednesday.EU ties with Turkey have been strained to breaking point by a massive crackdo…

It is out of the question for Turkey to break off relations with the EU and it will press ahead with its membership bid, Turkish EU Affairs Minister Omer Celik said Wednesday.

EU ties with Turkey have been strained to breaking point by a massive crackdown following a failed July coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and were tested again after a referendum last month gave him increased powers.

But Celik insisted none of this should be allowed to stand in the way of improved relations and ultimate membership of the bloc.

"We want to move forward within the context of full membership. There is no question of breaking off relations with the EU," Celik said after talks with EU foreign affairs head Federica Mogherini in Brussels.

"The picture that emerges after the referendum shows the democratic power of Turkey. This needs to be taken account of well," he said in remarks made in Brussels and broadcast on Turkish television.

The minister repeated that Turkey faced a major terrorist threat but had got through the coup attempt with "a democratic self confidence."

Urging Brussels to open new chapters in Ankara's long-stalled accession talks, Celik said: "We need to come to an era where relations are tighter."

A spokeswoman for Mogherini said the two had had "a frank, positive and constructive discussion and talked about the present and future perspective for EU-Turkey relations."

The spokeswoman gave no further details.

Mogherini said last month the accession talks had not been halted -- despite calls by some EU member states -- but progress depended on Ankara meeting the rights and democratic norms expected of all candidate countries.

Celik is due to meet European Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans and Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos later Wednesday.

In March last year, the EU signed an accord with Turkey to speed up the accession talks, along with visa liberalisation and billions in aid in return for Ankara halting a flood of migrants, mostly from Syria and Iraq, coming to Europe.

Erdogan and top Turkish officials have repeatedly threatened to rip up the deal because of the lack of progress in the membership talks.

US ready to add capabilities to deter Russia in Europe: Mattis

Pentagon chief Jim Mattis on Wednesday said the United States and NATO are prepared to deploy any capabilities necessary to help beef up air defence systems in the Baltic region.Mattis’s remarks come amid heightened tensions with Russia, which is prepa…

Pentagon chief Jim Mattis on Wednesday said the United States and NATO are prepared to deploy any capabilities necessary to help beef up air defence systems in the Baltic region.

Mattis's remarks come amid heightened tensions with Russia, which is preparing for massive military exercises in its western military region in September, and has deployed a missile system in neighbouring Kaliningrad.

"We will deploy whatever capability is necessary here," Mattis said when asked about regional air defences.

Two US defence officials earlier said the United States was considering sending a Patriot missile battery to the Baltic region for NATO air defence exercises this summer, though they stressed the move would only be temporary.

Moscow last year deployed nuclear-capable Iskander missiles into its Kaliningrad exclave, which borders Lithuania and Poland, rattling the NATO members.

Mattis blasted such moves.

"Any buildup of Russian combat power in an area where they know, and we all know, they are not threatened by anything that we are doing ... is simply destabilising," Mattis said at a press conference with Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite.

He however refused to discuss whether Vilnius had requested a permanent Patriot missile deployment.

"We will make those decisions in consultation with the Lithuania government," he said.

The Patriot is a mobile air defence system made by Raytheon designed to intercept tactical ballistic missiles, low-flying cruise missiles and aircraft.

"Everyone knows this is not an offensive capability," Mattis said.

Moscow is holding its so-called "Zapad" drills in September that will see the Russian military showcase new hardware and upgrade existing systems in its western military region, US officials said.

- German troops -

Mattis later drove into the Lithuanian countryside outside Vilnius to visit a large, wooded training area about 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the border with Belarus.

A German NATO battle group along with other NATO troops is operating in the area, training to better work together and improve coordination between the militaries.

NATO is deploying the battalions in Poland and the Baltic states as tripwires against Russian adventurism in a region formerly under Moscow's control, spooked by its actions in Ukraine and Syria.

"The reason for the deployment you see right now is the lack of (Russian) respect for international law," Mattis told reporters after he visited US, Lithuanian and Dutch troops on a frigid training field.

Mattis's trip to Lithuania is his first to eastern Europe as defence secretary and his meeting with Grybauskaite, a very vocal critic of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, could be interpreted as a signal to Moscow.

The highly militarised Russian exclave of Kaliningrad is right next door and Putin is prone to sabre rattling there.

A US-led NATO battalion that is stationed nearby in Poland and the German-led battalion Mattis visited are the first line of defence for the so-called "Suwalki Gap".

NATO experts see the vulnerable stretch of territory as key to eastern flank security.

The battalions will hold exercises focused on defending the Gap from June 10-24.

Indian shooting team held for 12 hours while customs clear guns

Indian shooters, including Olympic athletes, were held at Indira Gandhi International Airport for more than 12 hours after customs officials refused to clear their guns. The embarrassing incident came just days ahead of the World Cup in M…

Preview Indian shooters, including Olympic athletes, were held at Indira Gandhi International Airport for more than 12 hours after customs officials refused to clear their guns. The embarrassing incident came just days ahead of the World Cup in Munich.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Wanderers down SIPG as AFC Champions League last-16 settled

Western Sydney Wanderers pinched only their second win of this season’s AFC Champions League with a late winner over big-spending Shanghai SIPG in their final group game in Sydney on Wednesday.Jaushua Sotirio had a tap-in in the 89th-minute to claim a …

Western Sydney Wanderers pinched only their second win of this season's AFC Champions League with a late winner over big-spending Shanghai SIPG in their final group game in Sydney on Wednesday.

Jaushua Sotirio had a tap-in in the 89th-minute to claim a 3-2 win for the 2014 AFC Champions League winners who grabbed a consolation win after failing to qualify for the last 16.

SIPG coach Andre Villas-Boas didn't risk his star Brazilians Oscar and Hulk given his Chinese Super League giants were already safely through to the knockout stages.

Shanghai found the net after just 21 seconds through Wu Lei but Wanderers scored the next two goals through Japanese Jumpei Kusukami and Steven Lustica in the space of three minutes to lead 2-1 in the sixth minute.

Spanish defender Aritz Borda conceded a penalty which Brazilian Elkeson converted in the 23rd-minute penalty to equalise.

The game looked like petering out to a draw in the second half before Jumpei claimed another assist for Sotirio to prod home.

Shanghai SIPG finished second in Group F to Japan's Urawa Red Diamonds, who lost 1-0 to FC Seoul in Korea courtesy of Yoon Seung-Won's 38th minute goal.

It means Shanghai face a mouthwatering all-China last-16 clash against Group H winners Jiangsu Suning with the first leg in two weeks time, while Urawa will have Korean opposition in Jeju United.

Japan's Kashima Antlers ensured they would top Group E -- and face a last-16 encounter against China's two-time Asian Champions Guangzhou Evergrande -- thanks to a 2-1 win at home to Thailand's Muangthong United, who are also through.

But Kashima needed a controversial winner from Yuma Suzuki, whose second goal of the game in the 60th minute appeared to be scored with his left arm.

Muangthong's Teerasil Dangda had earlier equalised Suzuki's 18th-minute opener with a searing strike from outside the box on the stroke of half-time.

Muangthong will face Japan's Kawasaki Frontale in the knockout stages.

South Korea's Ulsan Hyundai came from behind to beat Brisbane Roar 3-2 in a battle for the Group E wooden spoon in Brisbane.

A-League marksman Jamie Maclaren put Roar ahead with two first-half goals after a goalkeeping howler from Jamie Young had gifted Ulsan the lead in the ninth minute.

Ulsan equalised through Nam Hee-Cheol off a misjudged backpass from Tommy Oar in the 54th minute before substitute Kim Young-Jin scored off a free kick to put them ahead.

Ulsan's victory gave them third place in Group E with Roar finishing last.

AFC Champions League (eastern region) knockout stage draw: Muangthong United (THA) v Kawasaki Frontale (JPN), Guangzhou Evergrande (CHN) v Kashima Antlers (JPN), Shanghai SIPG (CHN) v Jiangsu Suning (CHN), Jeju Utd (KOR) v Urawa Reds (JPN)

First leg to be played May 23/24. Second leg May 30/31.

France’s far right grapples with departure of rising star

France’s far-right National Front sought Wednesday to paper over internal divisions exposed by the withdrawal of one of its most high-profile figures, the telegenic niece of leader Marine Le Pen.Marion Marechal-Le Pen, 27, said she will give up her sea…

France's far-right National Front sought Wednesday to paper over internal divisions exposed by the withdrawal of one of its most high-profile figures, the telegenic niece of leader Marine Le Pen.

Marion Marechal-Le Pen, 27, said she will give up her seat in parliament as well as her position as opposition leader on the council for the southern Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur region, a bastion of the far right.

The withdrawal deals a blow to the anti-immigration party as France gears up for legislative elections next month, when the FN hopes to become the leading opposition force.

Marechal-Le Pen, the divorced mother of a toddler, said she was leaving politics indefinitely to spend more time with her family and to work in the private sector.

Marine Le Pen sought to play down the decision, tweeting: "As a political leader I deeply regret Marion's decision, but alas, as a mother, I understand."

And Nicolas Bay, the party's number three, urged party stalwarts to "dispel erroneous interpretations" of Marechal-Le Pen's departure, calling the decision "above all personal", according to an internal memo seen by AFP.

The legislative elections will determine France's new political landscape after both the traditional left and right were sidelined from the presidential race and Marine Le Pen was roundly defeated by centrist Emmanuel Macron.

Marechal-Le Pen had been seen as an asset in the FN's bid to attract support from the traditional right wing whose scandal-hit candidate Francois Fillon -- like her a devout Catholic -- crashed out in the first round.

France's youngest MP was also seen as a potential successor to her aunt as FN leader, but one with more traditional rightwing, Catholic views on social issues such as abortion and homosexuality that played especially well in the south.

Without her, "we will lose a huge number of supporters and members who are there because of her," an FN regional councillor told AFP, calling it a "massive upheaval" inside the party.

- 'Desertion' -

Marine Le Pen's 33.9 percent showing against Macron weakened her standing in the party, even though she racked up an historic 10.6 million votes.

Social networks revealed deep anxiety among party supporters over Marechal-Le Pen's departure, with one Twitter user fretting over the FN's "new line", adding: "In my opinion there won't be many values left."

FN co-founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine's estranged father and Marion's grandfather, decried what he called a "desertion" by "one of the movement's most beloved and admired stars".

Relations have long been strained between Marechal-Le Pen and her aunt, who has worked to attract a wider base by softening the party's image and jettisoning its anti-gay and anti-abortion positions.

Notably, Marine Le Pen booted her xenophobic, anti-Semitic father out of the party in 2015.

She said in an interview in late March that if elected she did not foresee giving her niece a ministerial portfolio, citing her inexperience as well as her "rigidity".

Marechal-Le Pen became the youngest member of France's national assembly aged just 22 in 2012.

She insisted that she was not definitively turning her back on political struggle. "I shall never be able to remain indifferent to the suffering of compatriots," she wrote in a letter to the Vaucluse Matin daily in her southern fiefdom.

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Juventus keeper Gianluigi Buffon seeks to get gloves on elusive prize

Cardiff beckons for Gianluigi Buffon and an elusive Champions League winners’ medal is not the only prestigious prize within the gangly reach of one of the great goalkeepers.At 39, Buffon feared his chance to win club football’s biggest competition mig…

Cardiff beckons for Gianluigi Buffon and an elusive Champions League winners' medal is not the only prestigious prize within the gangly reach of one of the great goalkeepers.

At 39, Buffon feared his chance to win club football's biggest competition might have gone after featuring in losing Juve teams in the 2003 and 2015 finals.

But the 2006 World Cup winner has never been one to let anything slip easily through his fingers.

His exemplary form this season has been a key reason for Juve's irresistible advance on the Welsh capital, where they will face Real Madrid or Atletico Madrid on June 3.

And if Buffon and co. do return from Wales victorious, what price the skipper crowning a silverware-sprinkled career by becoming the first goalkeeper since Lev Yashin in 1963 to win the Ballon d'Or?

With Real Madrid the more likely opponents, shutting out Cristiano Ronaldo would inevitably bolster Buffon's prospects of ending the Portuguese striker and Lionel Messi's recent monopoly on world football's leading individual award.

The notion that "Gigi" deserves nothing less is already being pushed noisily by the adoring Italian media.

But the well-travelled Claudio Ranieri, whose long career included a stint managing Buffon at Juventus, says the case for Buffon is founded on more than patriotic fervour.

- 'Done nothing yet' -

"If they win the Champions League I really think he would deserve it," the former Leicester and Chelsea boss told SkyItalia.

"It is a very particular role and it is not easy. They have only given it to a goalkeeper once, with Yashin. But if you ask, who is the best footballer in the world, then yes, the answer can be Buffon."

Juve booked their second final slot in three seasons on Tuesday by beating Monaco 2-1, completing an impressive 4-1 aggregate win in front of home supporters convinced this could be their year.

As a club, Turin's Old Lady has a habit of stumbling on the doorstep of glory. Eight times Juventus have reached the final match in the world's most prestigious club competition, but only twice have they brought the trophy back to Italy.

"We had some tough moments," Buffon said after sending a young Monaco side packing.

"And it would have been even harder if we had gone out there with our noses in the air. But we didn't, we knew we had to suffer.

"Now this final is here. But it counts for nothing yet."

- 'Impossible into reality' -

Juventus were well beaten when they lost to Barcelona in 2015 in what was their fourth final setback since they beat Ajax in 1996.

Heartbreak followed in 1997, 1998 and 2003 and many feared Juventus's days as a great force in European football were over when the club was caught up in a match-fixing scandal and relegated to Serie B following the 2006 World Cup.

Buffon was among the club's leading stars who opted to stay and he has been a pillar of its rebirth as the predominant force in Italian football.

A point at direct rivals Roma on Sunday will wrap up a sixth straight Scudetto and, with a Coppa Italia final to come against Lazio on May 17, a memorable treble looks like a distinct possibility.

There is little doubt about which piece of silverware counts most.

"When we played in the 2015 final, everyone thought it would be my last in the Champions," Buffon said. "Even I thought it, even if underneath I kept hoping."

And the sense of being on the brink of history was underlined in a tweet from Italy's most capped player on Wednesday.

"We will be remembered for our actions," he wrote. "For our capacity to turn the impossible into reality."

Activists urge EU to rebuke Denmark for Faroe whale hunt

Environmental campaigners on Wednesday urged the EU to take action against Denmark, accusing officials there of facilitating the traditional annual hunt of pilot whales in the Faroe Islands.”It is forbidden to kill whales and dolphins in Europe,” said …

Environmental campaigners on Wednesday urged the EU to take action against Denmark, accusing officials there of facilitating the traditional annual hunt of pilot whales in the Faroe Islands.

"It is forbidden to kill whales and dolphins in Europe," said Geert Vons, director of the activist group Sea Shepherd Netherlands.

"By supporting the Faroe Islands in the killing of pilot whales and other cetaceans, Denmark facilitates the slaughter and fails to fulfil its EU obligations."

It has called on Brussels to launch so-called "infringement proceedings" against member state Denmark, claiming to have "evidence proving that Danish officials from the police, navy, and customs have been facilitating and even actively participating" in the hunt.

The Faroe Islands, an autonomous territory of nearly 50,000 inhabitants in the North Atlantic, chose to remain outside the European Union when Denmark joined in 1973.

They are heavily dependent on fishing -- mainly herring and mackerel -- which together with fish farming accounts for 98 percent of its goods exports.

The traditional hunt is held every year from June to November, when a flotilla of islanders drives the whales into a bay or the mouth of a fjord where they are killed by hand.

The practice is defended by many locals as a cultural right, and the whale meat and blubber are consumed as delicacies.

Sea Shepherd has traditionally tried to stop and document the hunt, but last year a law was passed to allow the government to ban ships from entering Faroese water.

Under its "infringement proceedings," Brussels writes to national governments to demand legal explanations on an issue and can then refer the government to the European Court of Justice.

The top EU court can impose stiff financial penalties if member states fail to comply.

Trump’s firing of FBI director ‘domestic matter’: Kremlin

The Kremlin on Wednesday described the firing of the FBI director James Comey by US President Donald Trump as an internal matter that had nothing to do with Russia.”This is absolutely a domestic matter for the United States, a sovereign decision by the…

The Kremlin on Wednesday described the firing of the FBI director James Comey by US President Donald Trump as an internal matter that had nothing to do with Russia.

"This is absolutely a domestic matter for the United States, a sovereign decision by the US president which has absolutely nothing to do with Russia and cannot have anything to do with it," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.

The US president stunned Washington by firing Comey, the man who leads the agency charged with investigating whether Trump campaign aides colluded with Russia to sway the November elections.

Asked how the change of leadership would affect bilateral relations, Peskov said "we hope that it won't affect them at all."

The head of the foreign affairs committee of the Russian senate Konstantin Kosachev earlier called Trump's firing of Comey "quite elegant" in comments to Interfax news agency.

"He removed a figure who was inconvenient for him using the same accusations that Trump's own opponents had previously presented against the FBI director," Kosachev said.

Trump's rival in the election Hillary Clinton blamed Comey for her defeat after he revealed just before the polls that he was re-opening a probe into Clinton's use of a personal email server while serving as secretary of state.

Spanish police smash ring that exploited Nicaragua boxers

Spanish police said Wednesday they had busted a ring that allegedly exploited boxers they brought to Spain from Nicaragua and forced to take part in competitions across Europe.The investigation, which began in February 2016, resulted in the arrest of s…

Spanish police said Wednesday they had busted a ring that allegedly exploited boxers they brought to Spain from Nicaragua and forced to take part in competitions across Europe.

The investigation, which began in February 2016, resulted in the arrest of seven Spanish nationals who are suspected of belonging to the ring and the release of 19 victims, police said in a statement.

The group, based in Terrassa, an industrial town located some 30 kilometres (18 miles) north of Barcelona, allegedly used a former Nicaraguan boxer dubbed "El Terrible" to make contact with and recruit the victims.

The man, who lives in Terrassa, was not arrested.

A sports event company would invite the boxers to Spain to take part in a fight and once they arrived in the country the ring would hold them in a home in "overcrowded and unhealthy conditions", the statement said.

If they did not obey orders, members of the group would hit them and threaten to hurt their family members back in Nicaragua.

The group forced the victims to take part in competitions across Europe "without undergoing medical controls and with false permits and licences", the police statement added.

The money earned from these fights would go entirely to the ring.

The suspects were arrested over the past few weeks, a police spokesman said.

They are accused of fraud, forgery, making threats and causing bodily harm.

Axel Springer continues to reap rewards from going digital

German media group Axel Springer said Wednesday its digital publishing investments were continuing to pay off, driving up revenue and profits in the first quarter and putting it on target to meet its forecasts for the full year.Axel Springer said in a …

German media group Axel Springer said Wednesday its digital publishing investments were continuing to pay off, driving up revenue and profits in the first quarter and putting it on target to meet its forecasts for the full year.

Axel Springer said in a statement that it booked adjusted net profit of 78.1 million euros ($85 million) between January and March, almost 20 percent more than in the same period last year.

Operating, or underlying profit stood at 147.2 million euros, up 16.9 percent, on the back of a 6.7-percent increase in revenues to 836.2 million euros.

"Significant investments in growth areas in recent years contributed to the good start in 2017," said chief executive Mathias Doepfner, pointing to the group's specialist classified advertising sites and online news media such as Business Insider, acquired in 2015.

Digital publishing made up 72 percent of Springer's revenue and 80 percent of its operating profit in the first three months, the group said.

Founded just after World War II by journalist Axel Springer, the Berlin-based group is best known as the publisher of conservative broadsheet Die Welt and raucous, tabloid-style Bild, Germany's biggest-selling newspaper.

But it was one of the first German publishing houses to go all-in on digital media, selling off some print titles, offering online subscriptions to its existing outlets and buying up web-only publications.

"Axel Springer is further driving migration towards digital business models with above average margins. We expect further solid organic and external growth," commented analyst Harald Heider of DZ Bank.

Looking ahead to the full year, Springer confirmed its forecast of a revenue increase "in the mid single-digit percentage range", while operating profit and adjusted earnings per share are set to rise in the "mid-to-high single-digit percentage range".

Shares in the publisher were trading at 53.83 euros ($58.55) around 1220 GMT in Frankfurt Wednesday, up 0.1 percent on the day, while the DAX index of leading German shares was down very slightly.

Wife of Palestinian hunger striker wants pope to intervene

The wife of the leader of a hunger strike by hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails has written to Pope Francis calling on him to intervene “before it is too late”.Fadwa Barghouti, wife of Palestinian leader and prominent prisoner Marwan Ba…

The wife of the leader of a hunger strike by hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails has written to Pope Francis calling on him to intervene "before it is too late".

Fadwa Barghouti, wife of Palestinian leader and prominent prisoner Marwan Barghouti, has called on the pope to "speak up, because freedom and dignity are God given rights, and no human group should deprive another of these rights."

"Your call for respect of the rights of the Palestinian people, including the rights of our political prisoners, would allow the voice of those placed in isolation to reach the world," the letter says.

The Vatican has recognised Palestine as a state.

The hunger strike began on April 17, led by Barghouti, who is serving five life sentences over his role in the second Palestinian intifada.

Israeli authorities say 894 Palestinian prisoners have kept up the strike, though Palestinian officials say it is more than 1,000.

Some 6,500 Palestinians are currently detained by Israel for a range of offences and alleged crimes.

Around 500 are being held under Israel's system of administrative detention, which allows for imprisonment without charge.

Palestinian prisoners have mounted repeated hunger strikes, but rarely on such a scale.

Israel has vowed not to negotiate with the hunger strikers, with Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan calling them "terrorists and incarcerated murderers."

In her letter, Fadwa Barghouti said "the Israeli courts are instruments of oppression not justice, especially Israeli military courts with their conviction rate of 90 percent to 99 percent for Palestinians."

Marwan Barghouti, called the "Palestinian Mandela" by supporters, is a popular figure among Palestinians.

The European Parliament has called for his release, saying he could potentially help peace efforts.

While many Palestinians view him as a hero, Israelis point to the bloody suicide attacks of the second intifada of 2000-2005 and his role in that uprising.

Kyrgios sets up potential Nadal clash

Nick Kyrgios could face Rafael Nadal in a blockbuster third-round clash at the Madrid Masters on Thursday after easily seeing off Ryan Harrison 6-3, 6-3.Nadal begins his quest for a fifth title in Madrid later Wednesday against Italy’s Fabio Fognini.Ky…

Nick Kyrgios could face Rafael Nadal in a blockbuster third-round clash at the Madrid Masters on Thursday after easily seeing off Ryan Harrison 6-3, 6-3.

Nadal begins his quest for a fifth title in Madrid later Wednesday against Italy's Fabio Fognini.

Kyrgios and Nadal have only met twice with the Australian making his breakthrough with a four-set win over the 14-time Grand Slam champion at Wimbledon in 2014.

Nadal, though, edged their only previous meeting on clay at the Rome Masters last year.

Fifth seed Milos Raonic is also into the last 16 as he got the better of a battle between two big servers 6-4, 6-4 over Giles Muller.

Raonic will face Belgium's David Goffin next.

David Ferrer made it into round three without having to hit a ball as Jo-Wilfried Tsonga withdrew with a shoulder injury.

World number two Novak Djokovic begins life without long-term coach Marian Vajda later against Nicolas Almagro.

Paris 2024 Olympic bid team hails ‘dynamic’ Macron

The Paris bid for the 2024 Olympics lavished praise Wednesday on incoming French President Emmanuel Macron, saying he was a boost to their chances of beating Los Angeles to the GameP.The French capital is primed to receive a team of International Olymp…

The Paris bid for the 2024 Olympics lavished praise Wednesday on incoming French President Emmanuel Macron, saying he was a boost to their chances of beating Los Angeles to the GameP.

The French capital is primed to receive a team of International Olympic Committee delegates as the race to host 2024 heads into the home straight.

Tony Estanguet, co-chairman of the bid committee, described France's youngest-ever president as "dynamic and open to the world".

The three-time Olympic canoe champion said of the 39-year-old Macron: "In the international press he has the image of a young leader who goes beyond political divisions... and is completely in line with the values ??we want to bring.

"He has just been elected but he has been familiar with the project for a long time," Estanguet said, three days after Macron's election victory.

The Paris bid will be under scrutiny from Sunday to Tuesday with the visit of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Evaluation Commission, a key moment in the bid process.

The commission is currently in Los Angeles.

The crunch vote to decide on the 2024 host is in September.

US to continue South China Sea operations – top navy commander

Preview The US is looking to continue its ‘Freedom of Navigation’ ops in the disputed South China Sea region, according to top military officials. No such missions have been carried out since the Trump administration took office.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview The US is looking to continue its ‘Freedom of Navigation’ ops in the disputed South China Sea region, according to top military officials. No such missions have been carried out since the Trump administration took office.
Read Full Article at RT.com

France’s Hollande nears exit as party falls apart

French President Francois Hollande chaired his final cabinet meeting Wednesday before handing over the reins to Emmanuel Macron, with his Socialist Party close to implosion.Macron will be inaugurated on Sunday and the centrist’s victory over far-right …

French President Francois Hollande chaired his final cabinet meeting Wednesday before handing over the reins to Emmanuel Macron, with his Socialist Party close to implosion.

Macron will be inaugurated on Sunday and the centrist's victory over far-right leader Marine Le Pen is threatening to rapidly re-draw the French political map.

The bruising contest left the traditional parties of left and right on the sidelines, and the governing Socialist Party in particular is in tatters after the two-round election.

After former prime minister Manuel Valls shocked the party by saying it was "dead" and he wanted to be a parliamentary candidate for Macron's year-old "Republique on Marche" (Republic on the Move) movement, another leading Socialist struck out on Wednesday.

Benoit Hamon, who as the Socialist presidential candidate finished fifth in the first round of the election, said he planned to launch a new leftwing movement.

Hamon vowed to "rebuild the left" with a new "broad-based movement", while saying he intended to remain a member of the Socialist Party.

Left-winger Hamon beat centrist Valls to secure the Socialist nomination for the election after an ideological battle within the party.

But he won just 6.4 percent of the first-round presidential vote on April 23, after being overshadowed by Communist-backed leftwinger Jean-Luc Melenchon.

Hamon said his movement would be launched on July 1, after legislative elections in June that are crucial to Macron's chances of enacting his programme.

Macron, 39, has promised to rejuvenate France's jaded governing class by bringing more people into parliament who, like him, have never held elected office.

The incoming president has said half of the candidates for the 577 seats up for grabs in the two-round June 11-18 elections to the National Assembly will be new to politics.

The rest will be from the centrist Modem party or rebels from the Socialists and right-wing Republicans -- and he will likely need to form a coalition to govern.

A representative of Republic On the Move said Wednesday that Valls had "not yet" fulfilled the criteria to be a candidate.

The candidates will be announced by Thursday.

- FN divisions laid bare -

The ramifications of Macron's victory were also reverberating through Le Pen's National Front (FN), with the announcement that her influential niece Marion Marechal-Le Pen is quitting politics -- for now.

Marechal-Le Pen, 27, who has been tipped as a future leader of the party, said in a letter to a regional newspaper in southern France that she would resign her parliamentary seat because she wanted to work in the "business world" and spend more time with her young daughter.

Behind her decision though is a battle for the far-right party's future between the more socially progressive wing led by her aunt and the more Catholic, conservative branch based in the south of France represented by Marechal-Le Pen.

She was openly critical of Marine Le Pen's score of 33.9 percent against Macron, reflecting the opinion of many critics of her aunt that a score of below 40 percent was a failure.

Marine Le Pen, a mother of three children, tweeted that "as a political leader I deeply regret Marion's decision but, alas, as a mum, I understand it".

Macron meanwhile was mobbed after he took part in a ceremony in the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris with Hollande to commemorate the abolition of slavery.

The incoming president was surrounded by wellwishers for around an hour after the ceremony.

Meanwhile, the head of the US National Security Agency said Russia was behind the 11th-hour hack of Macron's campaign team 36 hours before voting and that it was US officials who had informed France that a cyber-attack was underway.

"We had become aware of Russian activity," Admiral Mike Rogers told a US Senate hearing on Tuesday.

Thousands of files were leaked online and although they were spread by groups including WikiLeaks, French election law prevented any reporting of their contents in the mainstream media.

Hatchlings raise hope for Cambodia’s endangered ‘Royal Turtle’

The birth of nine Cambodian royal turtle hatchlings has sparked hope for the future of a species on the brink of extinction, conservationists said Wednesday.The baby turtles hatched this week, three months after a villager discovered a 14-egg nest in s…

The birth of nine Cambodian royal turtle hatchlings has sparked hope for the future of a species on the brink of extinction, conservationists said Wednesday.

The baby turtles hatched this week, three months after a villager discovered a 14-egg nest in sand along a river in southwestern Koh Kong Province -- the only place where the reptile is still found in Cambodia.

The freshwater turtle, also known as the southern river terrapin, was thought to be extinct in Cambodia until 2000, when a small population was re-discovered in the Sre Ambel river.

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WSC) and Cambodian government have been desperately trying to protect the species ever since with a program that hires former egg collectors to search for and protect nests, instead of harvesting the eggs.

"I am proud of the result, especially to be part of conserving Cambodia?s royal turtles from extinction," villager Long Sman, who helped guard the nest of the latest hatchlings, was quoted as saying by the WSC.

The turtle species acquired its name because only Cambodia's royal family was historically allowed to consume its eggs.

The nine new hatchlings will join around 200 others in a nearby conservation centre "for feeding, raising and possibly breeding in the future," the WSC said in a statement.

The group warned that sand dredging, illegal logging and fishing remain critical threats to the small number of royal turtles in the wild.

Only one nest was found this year compared to two nests found in 2016 and three nests in 2015, said WSC's technical advisor Som Sitha.

"This is a big concern for royal turtle conservation," he added.

Deforestation and poaching have devastated many species in Cambodia, one of Asia's poorest and most corrupt nations.

Last year tigers were declared "functionally extinct" in the country, with the last big cat seen on a camera trap in 2007.

In its haste to develop, the government has been criticised for allowing firms to clear hundreds of thousands of hectares of forest land -- including in protected zones -- for everything from rubber and sugar cane plantations to hydropower dams.

Parents of Chibok schoolgirls face wait to be reunited

Eighty-two Nigerian schoolgirls who were released from Boko Haram captivity after more than three years face a wait to be reunited with their families, a town elder said on Wednesday.Yakubu Nkeki, head of the Abducted Chibok Girls Parents’ group, said …

Eighty-two Nigerian schoolgirls who were released from Boko Haram captivity after more than three years face a wait to be reunited with their families, a town elder said on Wednesday.

Yakubu Nkeki, head of the Abducted Chibok Girls Parents' group, said parents of the girls would only be able to see their daughters once government approval was given.

"This may take some time, as the girls are now undergoing medical and mental evaluation to ensure they are in the best of condition," he told AFP.

"We don't mind waiting... Their health and wellbeing is paramount to us and such evaluation takes time, especially with such a huge number of girls."

The 82 were released on Saturday after months of talks, in exchange for a number of suspected Islamist militant fighters in government custody.

A total of 276 girls were seized in April 2014 from the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, northeast Nigeria, triggering global condemnation.

Fifty-seven escaped in the hours that followed and of the 219 who remained hostages, 21 were released in a deal last October and three others have been found.

Nkeki said he had met the 82, including his niece, whom he said was "in good condition and in high spirits". He said he established that all of those released were from the Chibok school.

Photographs of the girls have been sent to the remote town in Borno state and surrounding villages for their parents to verify their identities.

On Saturday, one of the released girls was seen on crutches and another with her arm in a sling.

Nkeki said seven of the 21 students freed previously had shrapnel wounds, which needed surgical treatment.

"Time is required to heal such wounds. The 82 girls will not be different. They will undergo the same procedure," he added.

Presidency spokesman Garba Shehu gave an indication of the potential difficulties facing those who were freed by disclosing that one girl had refused to leave.

She declined to be part of the release deal because she had married a Boko Haram fighter. Analysts said it was likely others may have developed sympathies for their captors over time.

Thousands of women and young girls have been abducted in the eight-year insurgency, which has left at least 20,000 people dead and displaced more than 2.6 million.

Mausi Segun, from Human Rights Watch in Nigeria, said the released girls were likely to have to deal with issues such as their abduction, the effects of conflict and prolonged isolation.

"Addressing the psychological effects of captivity and the entire conflict itself is one that the Nigerian government and several humanitarian organisations have struggled with," she said.

"The initial assessment is that existing services have reached only a few people. In addition, there are concerns about the quality and effectiveness of what has been offered."

Norway to build first self-sailing electric cargo ship

Norway plans to launch the first autonomous and fully electric cargo ship next year that the project’s backers said Wednesday will save 40,000 truck journeys per year.Fertiliser company Yara International has teamed up with industrial group Kongsberg t…

Norway plans to launch the first autonomous and fully electric cargo ship next year that the project's backers said Wednesday will save 40,000 truck journeys per year.

Fertiliser company Yara International has teamed up with industrial group Kongsberg to build the Yara Birkeland, which will haul fertilisers between three ports in southern Norway.

With a range of more than 65 nautical miles, the ship will be able to haul roughly 100 containers at a speed of 12 to 15 knots, according to the project's director, Bjorn Tore Orvik.

Initially the ship will be manned, but remote operation is expected to begin in 2019 and fully autonomous operation in 2020, the companies said.

"Every day, more than 100 diesel truck journeys are needed to transport products from Yara's Porsgrunn plant to ports in Brevik and Larvik where we ship products to customers around the world," Yara's chief executive Svein Tore Holsether said in a statement.

"With this new autonomous battery-driven container vessel we move transport from road to sea and thereby reduce noise and dust emissions, improve the safety of local roads, and reduce NOx and CO2 emissions," he added.

The switch is expected to reduce CO2 emissions by 678 tonnes per year, according to Yara, with the electricity used to charge the ship's batteries coming almost exclusively from hydro plants.

While Norway is a major oil producer it has been a leader in the adoption of electric cars thanks to generous tax incentives and has experimented with electric-powered ferries to cross its famous fjords.