London retrospective charts 50 years of Pink Floyd

From guitars to sketches for iconic album artwork, an immersive Pink Floyd retrospective at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum traces the half-century career of the famous British band.Featuring around 350 objects including instruments, musical scores…

From guitars to sketches for iconic album artwork, an immersive Pink Floyd retrospective at London's Victoria and Albert Museum traces the half-century career of the famous British band.

Featuring around 350 objects including instruments, musical scores and album covers, the show is the "biggest exhibition ever" about the group, curator Victoria Broackes told AFP.

The "Pink Floyd, Their Mortal Remains" retrospective, running from May 13 to October 1, has been timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the band's album: "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn".

It was 1967 and the world was awakening to the progressive rock created by the foursome: Roger Waters, Richard Wright, Nick Mason and Syd Barrett, who was replaced in 1968 by David Gilmour.

The band's early days form the first part of the exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, taking in the scene of the British capital in the sixties.

On the wall of a room illuminated by psychedelic colours and patterns, visitors can see a poster advertising a Pink Floyd gig at the UFO club, a short-lived underground music venue.

"We were living the hippy life, experimenting with LSD, we were smoking cannabis, reading Kerouac," said Aubrey "Po" Powell, the band's creative director who helped visualise the exhibition.

"They were playing whatever, call it an amateurish way, but in a very English way, a very eccentric way... they were the darlings of the London underground scene," Powell told AFP, recalling Pink Floyd playing at the UFO club.

"I never envisioned for one minute that 50 years later, we'd be having an exhibition here."

The early years were also marked by the erratic behaviour of Barrett, with his sensitive personality, fragile health and drug-taking, which combined did not respond well to Pink Floyd's growing popularity.

Included in the exhibition is a 1967 letter from the BBC, demanding the band explain his "unexplained" disappearance while recording a programme.

- A musical experience -

Thought up as an "immersive" and "multi-sensorial" experience, the exhibition allows visitors to don headphones with music and audio which changes as they walk through different rooms.

Passing through a room dedicated to the 1975 album "Wish you were here", the headphones switch between interviews by Waters and Gilmour explaining how they came up with the song of the same name.

The track is one of the group's most celebrated and was written as a tribute to their former bandmate Barrett.

"(It's a) very simple sort of country song. Still, because of its resonance and the emotional weight it carries, it's one of our best songs," said Gilmour.

A centrepiece of the exhibition is a huge installation dedicated to Pink Floyd's 1979 album "The Wall", over which hangs the terrifying schoolmaster who terrorised children in the band's celebrated rock opera.

The exhibition concludes in a vast room dedicated to the band's last concerts as a full line-up, in 2005, with 25 speakers giving visitors the feeling they are at the heart of the show.

The Pink Floyd exhibition follows the Victoria and Albert Museum's hugely successful 2013 show dedicated to David Bowie, which embarked on a global tour and has been see by 1.8 million people.

‘Not a coincidence’: Democrats slam Comey firing

US Democrats said Tuesday that President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey may be an effort to undermine the investigation of possible collusion between his team and Russia, demanding an independent investigation.

US Democrats said Tuesday that President Donald Trump's firing of FBI director James Comey may be an effort to undermine the investigation of possible collusion between his team and Russia, demanding an independent investigation.

More trouble ahead for Taiwan’s Tsai after rocky year

It has been a turbulent first year in power for Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen as relations with Beijing have soured and her approval ratings have plummeted.And in the face of an intransigent China and warming ties between Beijing and the United State…

It has been a turbulent first year in power for Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen as relations with Beijing have soured and her approval ratings have plummeted.

And in the face of an intransigent China and warming ties between Beijing and the United States -- Taiwan's most powerful ally -- observers say there is more trouble ahead.

Tsai was inaugurated as the island's first female leader on May 20 last year, defeating the Beijing-friendly Kuomintang (KMT) party by a landslide.

Her victory spelled the end of eight years of cross-strait rapprochement as she refused to acknowledge the concept that Taiwan is part of "one China", unlike her predecessor Ma Ying-jeou.

Beijing still sees self-ruled democratic Taiwan as a renegade province to be reunified, and is deeply suspicious of Tsai.

Her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is traditionally pro-independence and there is little hope of finding middle ground.

Tsai has said she feels Taipei has shown "good will" towards China and she has repeatedly urged Beijing to break with its "old thinking" on cross-strait dealings.

But the message has fallen on deaf ears -- Beijing has cut off all official communication with Taipei and upped its military drills.

Observers say China has yet to really flex its muscles and that could happen in the year ahead.

The two sides are in a tense "holding pattern", says Jonathan Sullivan, director at the University of Nottingham's China Policy Institute.

Beijing is currently preoccupied with domestic issues ahead of a key Communist Party congress later this year, which could cement President Xi Jinping's grip on power for years to come.

After that, the gloves may come off.

"Given the consolidation of both Xi's position and the relationship that seems to be emerging with (US President Donald) Trump, I don't see that Beijing's own position is going to soften," Sullivan told AFP.

Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a political scientist at Hong Kong Baptist University, agrees.

Beijing "will be tempted to use all sorts of ways to increase its pressure on Taiwan -- economic, political, and military -- to force it to give in", he said.

- Trump ties -

Tsai was praised for putting Taipei back on Washington's agenda in December when then president-elect Trump took a protocol-busting congratulatory phone call from her.

A direct conversation between the two leaders was unprecedented -- although it is Taiwan's main ally and biggest arms supplier, the US has had no official diplomatic relations with the island since switching recognition to Beijing in 1979.

The call infuriated China, but ties between Trump and Xi have since improved as Washington courts Beijing's cooperation in handling North Korea and other issues.

Trump last month rebuffed Tsai's suggestion that another call could take place, in what was widely seen as a slap in the face.

Washington will be "more cautious" in the year ahead to avoid rocking the boat with Xi, predicts Tang Shao-cheng, a political analyst at National Chengchi University.

"Tsai is in an awkward position as she doesn't have bargaining chips," he added.

In winning the leadership, Tsai capitalised on a sense of indignation at what many saw as Taiwan kowtowing to China under Ma.

Now some voters fear the repercussions of increasingly frosty ties.

"I hope the government will soften its stance in order to resume communication with China," restaurateur Michael Liu told AFP.

"Otherwise relations will continue to worsen and it's bad for Taiwan's economy."

Economic woes were one of the main reasons Tsai was elected, as low salaries failed to compete with cost of living.

But although GDP has rallied, up 2.88 percent in the last quarter of 2016, Tsai's initial 70 percent approval rating has sunk to below 30 percent in some polls.

Residents say despite promised reforms and incentives, such as better social welfare and tax cuts, there has been little real improvement in day-to-day lives.

"For young people, we need to make more money, we need pay rises. We need hope that we can live better lives," said Taipei salesman Yu Ya-han, 27.

Last month there were violent protests against proposed public-sector pension cuts.

Some analysts say Tsai must work harder to strike a chord with the public in her second year, with policies that have a more immediate impact.

But her supporters in the DPP remain philosophical.

"The Tsai government is cleaning up the house in the first year," said lawmaker Wang Ting-yu.

"The direction is right and the things they are doing are not easy. It's inevitable that dust is flying."

Mobile phones ring changes for Nigeria’s music industry

Phizbarz is only 23 but hopes to become the next Nigerian Afropop star to be famous across Africa — and to get himself known and earn a living, he’s using his mobile phone.The young performer from the country’s commercial and entertainment capital, La…

Phizbarz is only 23 but hopes to become the next Nigerian Afropop star to be famous across Africa -- and to get himself known and earn a living, he's using his mobile phone.

The young performer from the country's commercial and entertainment capital, Lagos, floods social networking sites Twitter, Facebook and Instagram with clips of his music.

Sometimes he appears as a baseball-capped rapper surrounded by gyrating, scantily clad dancers, sometimes as a sheikh in a pristine white dishdasha, dripping with gold.

"If you want to be someone, you have to show off," he told AFP, from behind the wheel of a sparkling red Mercedes that he borrowed from his manager.

In all, Phizbarz has composed about 100 songs but has never produced an album.

Instead, his creations are converted into ringtones by telephone companies, who sell them individually and pay him and his label 60 percent of the profits.

Phizbarz himself earns about 50,000 naira ($164, 150 euros) a month, which he considers a "decent" wage.

In Nigeria, performing artists have long been left to their own devices because of the lack of a structured market, making them powerless against piracy that accounts for most sales.

In the packed streets of Lagos -- a capital of creativity and temple of resourcefulness -- bootlegged copies are sold at car windows or between packets of sweets, cigarettes and recent Nollywood releases -- many of which are also pirated.

- Ringtone market -

For the last three years, there's been a revolution in Nigeria's music industry because of digital sales and especially mobile telephones, which are bringing in increasingly more revenue.

Analysts PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) estimated in a report published late last year that Nigeria's music industry was worth $47 million in 2015 and should rise to $86 million by 2020.

"Nigeria's total music revenue is dependent on ringtones and ringback tones, with the legitimate music sector being small otherwise," it added.

Instead of hearing a beep while waiting for a caller to pick up, companies play the latest releases and offer them for download.

Telephone operators, led by South African mobile giant MTN, sensed the potential of Nigeria, which is home to nearly 190 million people and where music is almost a religion.

MTN, which has 60 million subscribers in Nigeria, said it is the largest distributor of music.

Ringtones are sold at 50 naira each and it also operates a download platform MTN Music Plus, which competes with world-leading online music sites such as iTunes.

"There are lots of talented musicians on this market who had issues with piracy, it was difficult for them to sell their music," said MTN Nigeria's marketing director, Richard Iweanoge.

"We enable them to monetise the work. Every year we pay out more money to the artists, it's really a working formula.

"Nigerians actually wanted to buy music, they just didn't have the means to acquire it legally."

- Brand development -

Wannabe megastars like Phizbarz are looking to emulate musicians such as D'banj and Davido, whose songs play in clubs from Johannesburg to Cotonou and Kinshasa.

With roots on the streets of Lagos, they are now courted by major labels and record in Europe and the United States.

"Superstars like Wizkid inspire millions of Nigerians," said Sam Onyemelukwe, the head of Entertainment Management Company, a partner of the Trace TV music network.

"There are not many jobs for them, not much to do with their lives. Everybody wants to become a singer, have a lot of girlfriends and buy a jet: it's glamorous."

The law of averages suggests few will attain the dizzy heights of fame but mobile phones are one potentially lucrative way of getting noticed.

According to PwC, ringtone downloads alone can earn artistes like D'banj and Davido up to $350,000 a year.

"Anybody can record a song for a few thousands of naira and sell it online," said Onyemelukwe. "There's about one million 'artistes' in Nigeria. But very few of them are successful."

Phizbarz doesn't need to be told. "The music industry is very hard," he said.

Posting photos and videos online, and touring the local music scene and radio stations is a way of trying to catch the attention of one of the top industry figures, he said.

"You sell your brand first and then you get recognition," he said.

"You have to know a lot of managers, radio presenters. Even if your beats are good, it is more about who do you know in the industry?

"It's more a brand that you are developing, it's business."

Supporters rally for Jakarta’s jailed Christian governor

Supporters of Jakarta’s Christian governor staged a colourful rally outside city hall Wednesday a day after he was jailed for blasphemy, in a case that has damaged Indonesia’s image as a bastion of tolerant Islam.A crowd wearing red and white — the co…

Supporters of Jakarta's Christian governor staged a colourful rally outside city hall Wednesday a day after he was jailed for blasphemy, in a case that has damaged Indonesia's image as a bastion of tolerant Islam.

A crowd wearing red and white -- the colours of the Indonesian flag -- gathered outside the colonial-era building calling for Basuki Tjahaja Purnama's release, and singing the country's national anthem.

"Let's fight for justice," said acting governor Djarot Saiful Hidayat, who was Purnama's deputy and has taken over his powers, to cheers from the crowd.

Purnama was jailed Tuesday for two years after being found guilty of blasphemy against Islam, a shock decision after prosecutors recommended only probation.

The jail sentence and his loss in last month's Jakarta's election to a Muslim rival amid the blasphemy controversy have stoked concerns that a much-vaunted brand of tolerant Islam in the world's most populous Muslim-majority country is under threat.

The United Nations and European Union have expressed concerns over the verdict while Amnesty International said it "will tarnish Indonesia?s reputation for tolerance".

Despite the claims he insulted Islam, Purnama, 50, retained a loyal following due to his determined efforts to clean up the chaotic Indonesian capital.

Over 1,000 supporters packed out the courtyard of city hall at the rally, chanting "Free Ahok".

"I admire Ahok, the way he leads, regardless of his religion," said Diana Sari, 49, adding she was a Muslim.

Acting governor Hidayat added: "Last night I met with Ahok and he wants me to convey this message: 'We have to respect whatever the judges have decided, but the fight is not over yet'."

Purnama, Jakarta's first Christian governor for half a century and its first ethnic Chinese leader, was transferred early Wednesday to a high-security detention facility outside the capital after hundreds of supporters descended on the jail where he was initially sent.

Islamic hardliners -- who led a series of mass protests last year against Purnama -- celebrated after the verdict was handed down, although some were angry the governor did not receive the maximum jail term of five years.

The blasphemy allegations stemmed from comments that Purnama made in September in a pre-election speech, in which he accused his rivals of using a Koranic verse to trick people into voting against him.

Five facts about Fatima, where Virgin visions turn 100

Pope Francis begins a two-day pilgrimage on Friday to the holy site of Fatima in central Portugal to mark the centenary of the first visions of the Virgin Mary. Here are five key facts about Fatima, one of Catholicism’s most revered sites:- 100 years o…

Pope Francis begins a two-day pilgrimage on Friday to the holy site of Fatima in central Portugal to mark the centenary of the first visions of the Virgin Mary.

Here are five key facts about Fatima, one of Catholicism's most revered sites:

- 100 years of popular devotion -

The site where the Madonna is said to have appeared to three shepherd children between May and October 1917 has become a major centre of worship.

Between 50,000 and 70,000 faithful flock to the shrine every year on the anniversary of the last apparition on October 13, 1917, when witnesses claimed to have seen the sun "dance in the sky".

Many make the last few hundred metres of their journey on their knees as a sign of gratitude to the Virgin for favours they believe she has granted them.

At the shrine, pilgrims suffering from an illness or disability buy wax models of the body parts that are ailing, as part of a ritual of prayer for well-being and good health.

- From shepherds to saints -

The pope will on Saturday make two of the three shepherd children believed to have seen the Madonna in Fatima saints.

The canonisation of Francisco Marto and his sister Jacinta Marto will coincide with the 100th anniversary of the first of the reported apparitions of the Virgin.

Francisco and Jacinta -- who died in an influenza pandemic while they were still children several years after the visions -- were beatified, the final step before sainthood, by Pope John Paul II in 2000.

The beatification process for their cousin Lucia dos Santos, the oldest of the three children, began in 2008, three years after her death at the age of 97.

- Three secrets -

The Church believes the Virgin gave the children three messages, the so-called three secrets of Fatima, which were written down by Lucia in several memoirs written years after the apparitions.

The first secret concerned a vision of hell, seen by believers as a call for prayer and a denunciation of the persecution of the Catholic Church.

The second secret predicted the outbreak of World War Two and asked that the Church consecrate Russia, which was undergoing the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, to the Virgin.

The third secret, which was only made public by the Vatican in 2000, foretold the attempted assassination in Rome of Pope John Paul II on May 13, 1981, on the anniversary of the first apparition in Fatima.

Pope Benedict XVI later gave an updated interpretation of the third secret, saying it could include the suffering the Church would have to endure following sexual abuse scandals that were shaking the Vatican at the time.

- Four popes -

Pope Francis will be the fourth pope to visit Fatima.

Pope John Paul II, a three-time visitor to the site, credited the Virgin of Fatima with saving his life in the 1981 assassination attempt.

After he visited the shrine in 1982 to give thanks, a bullet extracted from his body was placed alongside diamonds in a gold crown worn by a statue of the Virgin.

- Eight million visitors -

Around eight million faithful are expected to visit Fatima in 2017, up from 6-7 million last year, making it one of the most visited Marian shrines in the world.

The shrine in Lourdes in southwestern France receives around six million visitors per year while the Guadalupe shrine in Mexico city welcomes some 20 million visits annually.

Breastfeeding Aussie senator in political first

A Greens senator has made Australian political history by becoming the first person to breastfeed a baby in the nation’s parliament.

Larissa Waters returned to the upper house Senate for the first time Tuesday since giving birth to her second child, and brought her in for a feed during a vote.

“So proud that my daughter Alia is the first baby to be breastfed in the federal Parliament! We need more #women & parents in Parli,” she wrote on Twitter.

Being able to breastfeed in the chamber follows new rules introduced last year to create a more a “family friendly” parliament in the wake of what has been described as a “baby boom” among politicians.

Under previous rules, children were technically banned.

Labor frontbencher Katy Gallagher said the moment deserved to be acknowledged.

“Women have been doing it in parliaments around the world… It is great to see it is able to occur now in the Senate,” she told Sky News.

“Women are going to continue to have babies and if they want to do their job and be at work and look after their baby… the reality is we are going to have to accommodate that.”

A Greens senator has made Australian political history by becoming the first person to breastfeed a baby in the nation's parliament.

Larissa Waters returned to the upper house Senate for the first time Tuesday since giving birth to her second child, and brought her in for a feed during a vote.

"So proud that my daughter Alia is the first baby to be breastfed in the federal Parliament! We need more #women & parents in Parli," she wrote on Twitter.

Being able to breastfeed in the chamber follows new rules introduced last year to create a more a "family friendly" parliament in the wake of what has been described as a "baby boom" among politicians.

Under previous rules, children were technically banned.

Labor frontbencher Katy Gallagher said the moment deserved to be acknowledged.

"Women have been doing it in parliaments around the world... It is great to see it is able to occur now in the Senate," she told Sky News.

"Women are going to continue to have babies and if they want to do their job and be at work and look after their baby... the reality is we are going to have to accommodate that."

Ginobili soars to deny Harden and Rockets as Spurs take thriller

Kawhi Leonard scored 22 points as the San Antonio Spurs outgunned the Houston Rockets 110-107 in an overtime thriller to grab a 3-2 lead in their Western Conference playoff series.

Veteran Manu Ginobili pulled off an astonishing defensive block of James Harden as the Rockets star shaped for a game-tying three-pointer in the final seconds of overtime at San Antonio’s AT&T Center.

It was a superb piece of athleticism from the 39-year-old Argentinian, which gives the Spurs a precious lead as the series heads to Houston for Game 6 on Thursday.

But it was a frustrating night for Harden, who led the scoring for the Rockets with 33 points and a triple-double but was unable to provide his team with the breakthrough in overtime.

Harden made only four of 15 attempted three-pointers and crucially coughed up nine turnovers — including three in overtime.

Three other players made double figures for the Rockets with Patrick Beverley finishing with 20 points, Ryan Anderson 19 points and Eric Gordon with 11.

San Antonio’s scoring was spread throughout the team, with LaMarcus Aldridge adding 18, Danny Green 16 and Patty Mills 20.

Jonathan Simmons (12) and Ginobili (12) also notched double digits.

The winner of the best-of-seven Western Conference semi-final series will play the Golden State Warriors for a place in the NBA Finals.

Golden State reached the Western Conference finals after completing a 4-0 sweep of the Utah Jazz on Monday.

Kawhi Leonard scored 22 points as the San Antonio Spurs outgunned the Houston Rockets 110-107 in an overtime thriller to grab a 3-2 lead in their Western Conference playoff series.

Veteran Manu Ginobili pulled off an astonishing defensive block of James Harden as the Rockets star shaped for a game-tying three-pointer in the final seconds of overtime at San Antonio's AT&T Center.

It was a superb piece of athleticism from the 39-year-old Argentinian, which gives the Spurs a precious lead as the series heads to Houston for Game 6 on Thursday.

But it was a frustrating night for Harden, who led the scoring for the Rockets with 33 points and a triple-double but was unable to provide his team with the breakthrough in overtime.

Harden made only four of 15 attempted three-pointers and crucially coughed up nine turnovers -- including three in overtime.

Three other players made double figures for the Rockets with Patrick Beverley finishing with 20 points, Ryan Anderson 19 points and Eric Gordon with 11.

San Antonio's scoring was spread throughout the team, with LaMarcus Aldridge adding 18, Danny Green 16 and Patty Mills 20.

Jonathan Simmons (12) and Ginobili (12) also notched double digits.

The winner of the best-of-seven Western Conference semi-final series will play the Golden State Warriors for a place in the NBA Finals.

Golden State reached the Western Conference finals after completing a 4-0 sweep of the Utah Jazz on Monday.

Pope to make pilgrimage to Fatima for child saints-to-be

Pope Francis heads to Fatima on Friday on a pilgrimage that will see him canonise two child shepherds who reported apparitions of the Virgin Mary 100 years ago.Some 400,000 pilgrims from around the world will welcome the Argentine pontiff on the giant …

Pope Francis heads to Fatima on Friday on a pilgrimage that will see him canonise two child shepherds who reported apparitions of the Virgin Mary 100 years ago.

Some 400,000 pilgrims from around the world will welcome the Argentine pontiff on the giant esplanade that faces the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima as he arrives in his "Popemobile", while countless others will follow proceedings on television.

The Virgin is said to have appeared six times in Fatima, north of Lisbon, between May and October 1917 to three impoverished, barely-literate children -- Jacinta, 7, Francisco, 9, and their cousin Lucia, 10.

She apparently shared three major prophesies with the trio at a time marked by the ravages of the First World War and Church persecution in a relatively new Portuguese republic.

According to interpretations of what Lucia revealed much later on, the first secret gave a vision of hell, while the second warned of a second devastating war and the rise of communist Russia.

The third secret, which Lucia kept to herself for years, is believed to have been a prediction of the 1981 assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II.

His successor Benedict XVI, however, later said she had foreseen the "suffering" of the Church, which at the time was racked by pedophilia scandals.

- To believe or not to believe? -

As such, the 12,000-strong town has become a major draw for pilgrims, with millions visiting every year.

On Friday and Saturday, some 40,000 walkers, 2,000 journalists, 2,000 priests, 71 bishops, eight cardinals, 350 patients hoping for a miracle and hundreds of volunteers will be present, according to Carmo Rodeia, one of the sanctuary managers.

Pilgrims will journey from countries as varied as South Korea, Japan and China, Mexico and Colombia.

Nationals from Portugal -- where 89 percent of the 10.3 million inhabitants are Catholic -- will be out in force, prompting the Pope to speak in Portuguese.

On Saturday -- the 100th anniversary of the Virgin Mary's first reported apparition -- Pope Francis will canonise Jacinta and Francisco who were apparently responsible for two miracles.

Talk of apparent apparitions and miracles outside of those described in the Old and New Testaments does not sit comfortably with everyone.

But the Church is nevertheless very attentive to popular piety -- forms of prayer and worship inspired by believers' culture and experiences rather than by official religious teachings.

"The Church must base itself on what people have experienced," says theology professor Ermenegildo Manicardi.

"If it didn't, it would have an absolutist position."

For instance, while the Vatican has yet to recognise the reported continuous apparitions of the Virgin Mary in the Bosnian town of Medjugorje since 1981, it has dispatched a special envoy to examine "the needs" of the millions of faithful who go there.

- Donated bullet to shrine -

Fatima's apparitions, though, have been officially recognised by the Catholic church since 1930.

And it's not just regular faithful who are attracted to the site, but popes too.

With Francis included, four pontiffs will have visited the Marian sanctuary in half a century.

Arguably the most devoted was the late Pope John Paul II, who made three pilgrimages to the shrine located 130 kilometres (81 miles) north of Lisbon.

He attributed his narrow escape from death following an assassination attempt at St. Peter's Square on May 13, 1981 -- the anniversary of the reported apparitions -- to the intervention of the Virgin Mary.

He later donated the bullet extracted from his abdomen to the Fatima shrine, a move described by Manicardi as "an extreme gesture of popular piety".

Pope Francis is also sensitive to the tradition of popular piety in his native Latin America.

"John Paul II and Francis are both pastoral popes who go to the people," says Manicardi, explaining their attraction for popular piety, unlike Pope Benedict XVI who was more of a theologian.

Senators advance as Rangers downed in NHL playoffs

The Ottawa Senators booked their place in the Eastern Conference final on Wednesday after a deserved 4-2 victory over the New York Rangers in their NHL playoff battle.Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone fired Ottawa into an early lead at Madison Square Garden …

The Ottawa Senators booked their place in the Eastern Conference final on Wednesday after a deserved 4-2 victory over the New York Rangers in their NHL playoff battle.

Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone fired Ottawa into an early lead at Madison Square Garden as the Canadian visitors got off to a dream start.

Mika Zibanejad pulled a goal back for New York to give the home fans hope but Erik Karlsson got the Senators third in the second period to make it 3-1.

A second New York goal from Chris Kreider in the third period made it 3-2 but Jean-Gabriel Pageau struck late to seal the win for Ottawa, who advance to their first conference final since 2007.

Senators goaltender Craig Anderson made 37 saves between the sticks for his eighth win of the playoffs. Rangers counterpart Henrik Lundqvist made 22 saves.

The win gave the Senators a 4-2 victory in the best-of-seven series.

The Canadians will now face either the Washington Capitals or Pittsburgh Penguins in the final. Washington and Pittsburgh play a decisive Game 7 on Wednesday.

Newlywed McIlroy ready for Players challenge

Rory McIlroy believes that tying the knot can give his golf game a lift as he prepares for an assault on the $10.5 million Players Championship in Florida this week.World number two McIlroy, who split from tennis star Caroline Wozniacki in 2014 after s…

Rory McIlroy believes that tying the knot can give his golf game a lift as he prepares for an assault on the $10.5 million Players Championship in Florida this week.

World number two McIlroy, who split from tennis star Caroline Wozniacki in 2014 after sending out wedding invites, married girlfriend Erica Stoll last month at a ceremony in Ireland.

The 28-year-old Northern Ireland ace told reporters in Florida on Tuesday the wedding was "the best weekend of my life."

McIlroy, who also confirmed a new long-term clubs and ball deal with US giant TaylorMade, said he hoped the calm in his private life would boost his game.

"It seems like everything's very settled. There's not really many question marks going on in my life right now," McIlroy said.

"I feel like everything's exactly where it's meant to be, and if you feel like that off the golf course, then I can only imagine that it will help you on it."

Yet McIlroy said there was no chance of marriage dimming his competitive spirit.

"My mentality on the golf course I feel will just be the same," he said. "It might help me get over tough losses a little bit easier.

"I don't know, I'll have to tell you when the time comes, but I'm in a great place in my life and I feel very settled and very lucky to be in this position. Now it's just about trying to make the most of, I guess, the fortune that I've had."

The 28-year-old four-time major champion has never won at TPC Sawgrass, where the winner will take home a cheque of $1.89 million, making it one of the most lucrative events on the USPGA Tour.

McIlroy said the challenging par-72 layout invariably caused him to curb his natural aggressive instincts.

"This is a golf course where I've had to rein in my game over the years," McIlroy said. "I missed my first three cuts here, and then since that I've had four pretty good finishes. I think my worst has been 12th in the last four years.

"I've definitely limited the amount of drivers I've hit. I've always felt that driving is a big advantage for me if I can drive the ball well -- but it just doesn't let me do that here."

Defending champion Jason Day meanwhile is hoping that a return to the course where he claimed his last PGA event a year ago can help him end an alarming title drought.

The 29-year-old Australian said he was close to burnout last year as the pressure of defending his world number one ranking took hold.

"I could sense that being No. 1 and all that stuff was getting pretty hard mentally more so than physically ... the expectations, and it's very, very easy to get burnt out in a sense," Day said.

"So I would love to win every week. But unfortunately, it's very, very difficult to do."

Day believes his game over the closing holes will decide his quest to become the first back-to-back Players champion in the history of the event.

"I think what won me the tournament last year was I played the back nine probably better than most, probably best out of everyone in the field last year," he said. "I think that's what holds the key to winning around this golf course is playing the back nine best."

S. Korea’s Moon begins term as president after landslide election win confirmed

Hours after celebrating his election win, new South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Wednesday was thrown into the job of navigating a nation split over its future and faced with growing threats from the North and an uneasy alliance with the US.

Hours after celebrating his election win, new South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Wednesday was thrown into the job of navigating a nation split over its future and faced with growing threats from the North and an uneasy alliance with the US.

China factory gate inflation slows to 6.4% in April

Prices for goods at the factory gate in China rose at a slower pace than expected in April, the government said on Wednesday, as commodity prices have fallen.The producer price index (PPI) rose 6.4 percent year-on-year in April, according to the Nation…

Prices for goods at the factory gate in China rose at a slower pace than expected in April, the government said on Wednesday, as commodity prices have fallen.

The producer price index (PPI) rose 6.4 percent year-on-year in April, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), slightly lower than economists' expectations of a 6.7 percent increase in a Bloomberg News survey.

It slumped following a 7.6 percent gain in March -- the first month-on-month decline since last July, NBS statistician Sheng Guoqing said in a statement.

"The sharp rebound in producer prices over the past year has now run out of steam," Chang Liu, a China economist at Capital Economics Ltd. in London, wrote in a recent report, according to Bloomberg News.

"We expect PPI inflation to ease over the rest of 2017."

Commodity prices sank to a five-month low last week, according to Bloomberg.

China's consumer price index (CPI), a main gauge of inflation, rose 1.2 percent year-on-year in April, up from a 0.9 percent gain in March, according to the NBS.

Two national holidays in April had driven up prices for air tickets, hotels, and tours, contributing to this month's CPI increase, Sheng said.

China's economy, a vital engine of global growth, expanded 6.7 percent for all of last year, the slowest rate in a quarter of a century. But a slight uptick in the last three months of 2016 provided signs of stabilisation.

S.Korea’s Moon to seek change with North

The election of South Korea’s new president Moon Jae-In heralds a sea change in Seoul’s approach towards the nuclear-armed North — and puts it on a potential collision course with Washington.The left-leaning new leader — a former human rights lawyer …

The election of South Korea's new president Moon Jae-In heralds a sea change in Seoul's approach towards the nuclear-armed North -- and puts it on a potential collision course with Washington.

The left-leaning new leader -- a former human rights lawyer -- favours engagement and dialogue with Pyongyang over its atomic and missile ambitions.

In contrast, Donald Trump's administration has called for stepped up sanctions and warned military action is an "option on the table", sending fears of conflict spiralling.

The 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty and the two Koreas are divided by the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), one of the most heavily fortified places on Earth.

The isolated, impoverished North is accused of widespread rights abuses and dreams of a missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to the United States.

It has carried out five atomic tests -- two of them last year -- and multiple rocket launches.

The last time South Korea had a liberal leadership it embraced a "Sunshine Policy" of rapprochement with Pyongyang and, as a close aide to then president Roh Moo-Hyun, Moon helped arrange the last inter-Korean summit with late North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il.

"I would go anywhere in the world -- including North Korea itself -- if doing so would solve the North's nuclear problem," Moon told reporters during the presidential campaign. "I would meet anyone for that."

He also advocates resumption of some inter-Korean projects shuttered under the conservative governments of the last 10 years, including the Kaesong joint industrial zone, where South Korean firms employed Northern workers.

But his scope for manoeuvre will be limited, analysts say.

Under Moon, Seoul's policy towards the North will change "substantially", Robert Kelly of Pusan National University told AFP, "but less substantially than many people on the South Korean left and Moon himself would like".

Unlike 20 years ago, when the Sunshine policy was first introduced, the North now has nuclear weapons, an increasingly advanced missile programme, and a reputation as a drug manufacturer and counterfeiter.

"That doesn?t mean we shouldn?t talk to North Korea," Kelly said, but if Moon wants to pursue re-opening Kaesong or a 'Sunshine Policy 2', "he's going to collide with the American government where there is a pretty solid consensus right now that North Korea is a genuine global menace".

- 'Good cop' -

The new president wants the South to have a greater say in its alliance with security guarantor the United States, which has 28,500 troops in the country.

Their presence is also in Washington's own interests, he said. "They are important not only to our own security but also to the global strategy of the US."

He has expressed ambivalence over the US THAAD missile defence system, whose deployment in the South has infuriated China, and which Trump has demanded Seoul pay for.

But its accelerated installation -- it was declared operational last week -- meant he can now present it to opponents as a "fait accompli", analysts say.

To his critics, any concession to Pyongyang is dangerous and they accuse Moon -- whose parents fled the North during the Korean War -- of being a Communist sympathiser.

Others suggest his presidential victory could give the US room for manoeuvre.

Trump has moderated his tone more recently, saying he would be "honoured" to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, and Cheong Seong-Chang of the private Sejong Institute told AFP that Washington was "groping for an exit following all the huffing and puffing over the past few months".

"Moon's policy of engagement may appear to clash with Trump's line of heaping utmost pressure and sanctions, but they are complementary to each other as Seoul may play a 'good cop' role here," he said.

- Bomb shelter -

South Koreans are accustomed to living under the threat from the North, and opinions are divided on how to handle Pyongyang.

With corruption and the economy uppermost in voters' minds, surveys showed that only around 18 percent considered security the most important issue in the election.

And engagement has its backers.

Gyodong island lies on the DMZ, with the North barely two kilometres away at its closest point, and its residents are subject to a constant barrage of propaganda broadcasts from both sides.

One of the polling stations where voters cast their ballots this week stands just a few hundred metres from a new municipal facility under construction -- a giant bomb shelter with thick blast doors.

As well as its nuclear arsenal, Pyongyang has a huge conventional military at its disposal, including vast artillery forces within range of Seoul.

Resident Lee Mee-jung declined to tell AFP who she voted for.

But she said: "We're in close quarters with North Korea. So we need a more peaceful policy of talking to each other so that war doesn't break out."

Can West Virginia’s coal jobs come back?

When Donald Trump promised hopeful voters in Charleston, West Virginia to bring back mining jobs to the heart of American coal country, out-of-work miner Craig Branham was all ears.Three months into Trump’s presidency, Branham has been rehired, as have…

When Donald Trump promised hopeful voters in Charleston, West Virginia to bring back mining jobs to the heart of American coal country, out-of-work miner Craig Branham was all ears.

Three months into Trump's presidency, Branham has been rehired, as have many of his friends in Mingo County on the border with Kentucky -- as previously-idled mines reopen or working ones expand operations.

Things are looking up, and Branham believes his change of fortune is down to the Republican leader, who won a resounding 68 percent of the vote in West Virginia, once a reliably Democratic state.

"So far Trump is keeping his promises. I mean we see a whole lot happening, just because he is in office," he said. "And we think we have a little bit of hope."

Trump had blamed the decline in coal jobs on Obama-era environmental rules, and one of his first acts as president was to reverse clean water and air rules coal companies complained about.

The uptick in mining jobs began before the Republican took office: about 700 were added in the final three months of 2016, and the small increase appears to have continued into early this year.

But can coal really hope for a lasting revival in West Virginia?

Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, is upbeat.

He says regulatory "overreach" by the previous administration "paralyzed the coal industry," but that since the start of the year "the attitude has been very, very positive."

Economists are not so optimistic: many say the gains are illusory -- and warn against equating a small, short-term improvement with a genuine resurgence.

"The chances of it coming back are slim to none," summed up Ted Boettner, head of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy. "I think people were very hopeful that President Trump would be able to do that. They might have rose-colored lenses. We just go by the numbers."

- Unique challenges -

Despite Trump's promises, mining employment in West Virginia has been shrinking for decades: it topped out at 125,000 in 1948 and is down to less than 13,000.

West Virginia's coal production last year was the lowest since the late 1800s.

The mountainous state just west of the nation's capital, with a population of just under two million, has unique characteristics that made it more vulnerable to downturns than other coal mining states.

Perhaps most important is that it has little economic diversity to cushion it from changes in the once-dominant industry.

It is one of the only US states where the population is falling, as those who are able, especially the highly educated, leave in search of opportunity elsewhere. The labor force has shrunk from 820,000 at the start of 2009 to just over 780,000 at the start of this year.

With few other businesses hiring, health care is now the state's biggest industry, with about five times as many workers as coal.

- 'Costing more and more' -

For Elias Johnson of the Energy Information Administration's coal and uranium analysis team, West Virginia's biggest challenge stems from "the economics of mining production."

Mining has been going on for well over 100 years, "so all of the coal that's cheap or easy to get to has been mined and it's costing more and more" to pull out what's left, Johnson told AFP.

Most mines in West Virginia are underground -- as opposed to the far cheaper surface mining practiced in western states like Wyoming. That type of mining, including mountain-top removal -- which faces stiff opposition from communities in West Virginia -- is highly mechanized and requires far fewer workers.

"In Wyoming, once you've exposed the seam of coal, it's basically bulldozer and dump truck," Johnson said.

But for West Virginia, "the greatest single factor, has been competition with natural gas."

The fracking boom has drastically lowered prices, leading natural gas to overtake thermal coal in US electricity generation, shrinking the share of coal to 30 percent.

- 'It's a curse' -

Industry officials say even Trump's lifeline to coal-fired power plants, with the suspension of clean air rules, will not alter the move towards using the cleaner fuel in new plants.

And with an huge oversupply of steel in the world market, even demand for higher-price metallurgical coal is not expected to pick up -- unless domestic demand for steel jumps dramatically, for example if Trump follows through on promises of a massive infrastructure project.

Chuck Nelson is a fourth-generation miner -- now retired -- whose whole life was intertwined with the West Virginian coal industry.

He watched as a major coal company built a cleaning plant 200 feet from the house he was born in. And he eventually had to sell his house to the company due to failing health.

Nelson has sympathy for miners hoping to get rehired at newly activated sites.

"This is the only life they've known," he said, while acknowledging that for younger men being hired by the mines, any job is better than none at all.

Yet Nelson, like many retired miners, believes the time has come for West Virginia to look beyond coal.

"I don't wish for coal to come back," he said. "It's a curse."

US court orders Spirit pilots back to work after airport chaos

Spirit Airlines on Tuesday won a temporary restraining order in a lawsuit against the union representing its pilots, which the company said had coordinated a work slowdown that set off chaos at a Florida airport.The Fort Lauderdale airport north of Mia…

Spirit Airlines on Tuesday won a temporary restraining order in a lawsuit against the union representing its pilots, which the company said had coordinated a work slowdown that set off chaos at a Florida airport.

The Fort Lauderdale airport north of Miami regained its calm Tuesday afternoon, following a night of clashes between Spirit employees and frustrated passengers stranded at the terminal due to flight cancellations.

Three people were arrested.

"We sincerely apologize to our customers for the disruption and inconveniences they have suffered," Spirit spokesman Paul Berry said in a statement.

"We believe this is the result of intimidation tactics by a limited number of our pilots affecting the behavior of the larger group."

The lawsuit, which was filed Monday, accused the Air Line Pilots Association of coordinating a "pervasive illegal work slowdown" in order to "pressure Spirit in its current collective bargaining negotiations."

Since last Thursday some 300 Spirit flights have been canceled -- 15 percent of the airline's offerings -- with some 20,000 impacted passengers in cities like Fort Lauderdale, Chicago, Las Vegas and Detroit.

Spirit said in the suit it has lost $8.5 million.

The federal order issued Tuesday will force the pilots to normalize operations. A hearing for a preliminary injunction is slated for May 15 in a Florida court.

The union said pilots would "fully comply with the order handed down, which is completely in line with our overriding goal: the resumption of normal operations."

"We call on the company to join forces with ALPA and the Spirit pilots to do just that."

Chadwick Boseman: I’m not ready for ‘Black Panther’ fame

Many actors on the verge of the big time like to pretend they have it all worked out, that they know what to expect and are ready. Not Chadwick Boseman.The 40-year-old American actor spent more than a decade mainly in television and indie movies before…

Many actors on the verge of the big time like to pretend they have it all worked out, that they know what to expect and are ready. Not Chadwick Boseman.

The 40-year-old American actor spent more than a decade mainly in television and indie movies before Marvel came calling in 2014 with a lucrative five-picture deal to play African superhero Black Panther.

His appearance in "Captain America: Civil War" (2016) brought Boseman his first taste of real fame but his celebrity is about to skyrocket when a standalone "Black Panther" and "Avengers: Infinity War" come out in 2018.

"I'm honestly not prepared for the level of it right now. I like being able to do regular stuff -- go to the store, go shopping, spend time with my family in a restaurant," Boseman tells AFP.

Any significant involvement on the creative side of a Marvel movie essentially means that you've made it, whether you're an actor, director, writer or producer.

Two "Avengers" movies and an "Iron Man" are among the top ten grossing films of all time, and the 15 releases in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) so far have made more than $11 billion between them.

"I can't really go anywhere and people not say, 'That's the Black Panther.' I don't really know what the (next) level of that is," Boseman confides.

- Lavished with praise -

"I guess my way of seeing it is that to play people and make it feel real you want to still experience life in a real, regular way. It doesn't necessarily feel good to know you can't do any of that stuff. I'm just being completely honest."

Born in South Carolina, the son of a nurse and an upholstery entrepreneur, Boseman has roots in the west African state of Sierra Leone.

Before Marvel, he was best known for acclaimed portrayal of the legendary Jackie Robinson in Brian Helgeland's "42" (2013), which had the highest-grossing debut for a baseball movie in Hollywood history.

He was also lavished with praise for his interpretation of soul singer James Brown in "Get on Up" (2014), earning inclusion among the top 10 performances of 2014 by Time magazine.

T'Challa, king and protector of the technologically advanced fictional African nation of Wakanda, has been characterized as the first black superhero, which is partly true.

Around 30 black characters have donned the lycra for the big screen since the early 1990s, including Marvel's Falcon (Anthony Mackie since 2014), Wesley Snipes's titular vampire hunter in "Blade" (1998) and Halle Berry's Kenyan princess Storm in four "X-men" movies.

The Wakandan royal can claim to be the first black superhero to land a standalone movie in the MCU and the first in mainstream American comics, having featured in "The Fantastic Four" in 1966.

- 'Damaging and untrue' -

Boseman, who recently wrapped filming on "Black Panther," believes there have been too many "damaging and untrue" portrayals of Africa in American cinema and doesn't want to add to them.

"I feel the weight of it. You can't be overly concerned in every breath you take. But you have to do the research and do the work so that when you get there it all feels like it's honest," he said.

Boseman, who pays for incognito theater visits so that he can gauge genuine reaction to his movies, has a film up next which, for once, didn't bring the pressure of having to interpret an already much-loved figure.

In noir revenge thriller "Message from the King," he plays Jacob King, a South African who spends a week in Los Angeles' underbelly to hunt the killer of his estranged younger sister.

Fabrice du Welz's movie casts Boseman opposite an accomplished ensemble including Luke Evans ("The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies," "Beauty and the Beast") and Alfred Molina ("Spider-Man 2," "Boogie Nights").

"It was exciting to start that process and know that nobody was really going to say, 'That's not Jacob, that's not who he is,'" Boseman jokes.

"It's not necessarily a completely blank canvas. But it is a canvas that I can do a lot with without having to worry about people's attachment to it."

"Message from the King" is released theatrically in France on Wednesday and on Netflix later in the year. "Black Panther" and "Avengers: Infinity War," are scheduled for release in February and May next year.

Big banks fume over hefty new Australia levy

Australia’s banking sector reacted with fury on Wednesday to a government plan to slug lenders with a hefty new levy, calling it a “naive” tax grab that sent the wrong signal to global financial markets.The move to raise Aus$6.2 billion (US$4.5 billion…

Australia's banking sector reacted with fury on Wednesday to a government plan to slug lenders with a hefty new levy, calling it a "naive" tax grab that sent the wrong signal to global financial markets.

The move to raise Aus$6.2 billion (US$4.5 billion) over four years through a 0.06 percent charge on the borrowings of the big five banks -- ANZ, Commonwealth, Macquarie, NAB and Westpac -- was a key plank of the federal budget on Tuesday.

Treasurer Scott Morrison said the lenders could afford to pay, and the cash would help with budget repair and a raft of spending on infrastructure, health and schools.

"This represents an additional and fair contribution from our major banks, is similar to measures imposed in other advanced countries, and will even up the playing field for smaller banks," he said.

Morrison warned the banks -- some of Australia's most profitable companies -- not to pass on the hit to customers as it did not apply to mortgage or deposit accounts.

"If they do, take your money somewhere else, take your money to a regional or smaller bank," he said.

Rumours of the new tax sent bank shares tumbling on Tuesday, wiping Aus$14 billion from their value, and the sharp falls continued Wednesday.

Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott called it a "worrying policy precedent".

"The banking levy effectively represents double-taxation of some of Australia's most successful companies, which already pay Aus$11 billion in company tax each year, employ about 130,000 Australians and contribute to the superannuation (pensions) of millions more," she said.

Australian Bankers' Association chief executive Anna Bligh blasted the decision as "a political tax grab to cover a budget black hole".

"Contrary to the government's claim that the tax will only be levied on banking liabilities, the reality is that it will affect the entire banking system," she said.

"It is naive and misguided and has already sent the wrong signals to global financial markets about the strength and stability of our banking sector."

Bligh said there had been no consultation with the industry and warned "it should make every company in Australia which earns more than banks wonder who's next".

The government has in recent years faced calls for a national inquiry into the banking sector, which has been dogged by allegations of financial planning fraud and claims of manipulating reference rate benchmarks.

As part of the budget, Canberra said banks could face penalties of up to Aus$200 million if their staff were caught ripping off customers, while regulators were handed more money to better police them.

Battle for 2024 heats up as IOC heads to LA

A team of International Olympic Committee delegates kick off a three-day tour of Los Angeles Wednesday as the city attempts to demonstrate its readiness to stage the 2024 Olympics.With just four months to go until a September 13 vote in Lima that will …

A team of International Olympic Committee delegates kick off a three-day tour of Los Angeles Wednesday as the city attempts to demonstrate its readiness to stage the 2024 Olympics.

With just four months to go until a September 13 vote in Lima that will decide the race, the IOC's Evaluation Commission will spend this week studying the fine detail of Los Angeles's bid before heading to rival Paris next week.

The back-to-back visits of the only two cities in the running for the 2024 Games usher in what is expected to a frenzied final spurt of campaigning.

The bidding contest has been overshadowed in recent weeks by speculation that the IOC is aiming to offer the 2028 Olympics to whomever loses out on the 2024 Games, anxious to lock in two strong bids at a time when the pool of cities willing to stage the mammoth sporting spectacular is shrinking.

But Los Angeles will spend the next three days aiming to make the case that the Californian metropolis is the right city at the right time.

The Los Angeles bid, which enjoys wide public support according to recent surveys, has emphasized the fact that its vision for the 2024 Games would require no new venue construction, with events staged in an array of stadia which exist or are already in the process of being built.

IOC delegates will be ferried around the city to examine venues which include the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the iconic centerpiece of the 1932 and 1984 Olympics.

"We are very well prepared, we are enthusiastic, we have been rehearsing, literally every minute is planned," LA24 chief executive Gene Sykes told AFP.

One potential hurdle for LA 2024 officials to overcome this week as they seek to impress IOC delegates is traffic congestion, a perennial complaint of often-gridlocked locals.

- No 'fake version' of LA -

Bid chiefs are adamant however that there will be no attempt to ease the passage of the IOC delegation by rigging traffic lights as officials move around the city.

"That's against the rules," bid chief Casey Wasserman said.

"We're not trying to show them a fake version of what LA is -- we're trying to show them exactly what LA is, and exactly the LA they will get."

Los Angeles 2024 officials also point to the $88 billion of expanded subway, light rail, bus and express lane projects that will be operational by 2024, an investment Wasserman described as "the largest ongoing transportation and infrastructure project in American history."

Wasserman believes, too, that the city's notorious traffic congestion issues are overstated in the context of an Olympic fortnight.

"Ask anybody from LA what their best memory was of the 1984 Games and they'll say there was no traffic," said Wasserman, a successful sports talent agent who acted as an Olympic torch bearer during the flame relay for the 1984 games.

Wasserman believes the readiness of Los Angeles's venues and infrastructure, which includes plans to host the Olympic athletes village at the UCLA campus, creates a "very clear line in the sand" between the city and Paris.

"Los Angeles is a bid that can uniquely connect the Olympic Games with the future," Wasserman said at a recent briefing in London. "And the reason we can say that and the reason we can absolutely do that is because we've got universal public support and we've got all of our facilities that exist today.

"And if you take those two things, as risks, off the table, what you can actually do is focus on serving the Olympic movement for seven years. No other city can say that."

Venezuela military courts claim sparks alarm

Venezuela’s opposition and rights campaigners voiced alarm on Tuesday over claims that the military is holding and prosecuting scores of people detained in recent anti-government protests.One lawyer working for those detained, Tony Marval, said 70 of t…

Venezuela's opposition and rights campaigners voiced alarm on Tuesday over claims that the military is holding and prosecuting scores of people detained in recent anti-government protests.

One lawyer working for those detained, Tony Marval, said 70 of them were being held in the northern state of Carabobo on the order of military courts.

The non-governmental criminal justice body Foro Penal said a further 11 were in a similar plight in Caracas and the northwestern state of Lara.

President Nicolas Maduro has yet to respond to the statement, which has raised claims of an authoritarian turn in Venezuela's political crisis.

Government officials have not confirmed the arrests, or the military processing of civilian suspects.

Opposition lawmakers passed a motion Tuesday condemning the detentions.

"The constitution is clear: military courts are not for civilians. Bringing demonstrators before them is a violation of their human rights," said the opposition speaker of the legislature, Julio Borges.

The National Assembly resolution condemned the military detentions and charging of civilian protestors, calling it a human rights violation.

"That is something that dictatorships do," Organization of American States chief Luis Almagro said from Washington.

The Uruguayan is the most outspoken international critic of Maduro. The Venezuelan president brands him a US puppet.

- Deadly clashes -

Clashes between protesters and riot cops have left 36 people dead and hundreds injured since the unrest erupted on April 1, according to authorities.

Demonstrators blame Maduro for an economic crisis that has caused food shortages in the oil-rich state.

His move to reform the constitution has further inflamed protesters, who say it is a ploy to resist calls for early elections.

Maduro says the crisis is a US-backed capitalist conspiracy against his elected socialist government. He has branded protesters "terrorists" and insurgents.

- Hundreds detained -

A senior military commander, Jesus Suarez, said that 780 people had been arrested in protests.

He said 251 of them were sent to military courts for charges such as attacking security forces and "rebellion."

Constitutional law expert Jose Vicente Haro said the detentions violate article 261 of the Venezuelan constitution which says military courts can only handle "crimes of a military nature."

"This is a violation of citizens' right to be judged by their peers in a civil manner with due process," Marval told AFP by telephone.

- Robbery, 'rebellion' -

Alfredo Romero, an attorney with Foro Penal, told AFP that many of the detainees were arrested for robbery but face charges such as rebellion and contempt.

Venezuela's chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega has broken ranks with the government to speak out against detentions of protestors.

Human rights groups said the military courts were a way to try cases that she had dismissed.

Maduro has the public backing of the military high command -- a decisive factor in the political crisis, analysts say.

Democrats slam ‘outrageous’ Trump sacking of FBI chief

US Democrats said that President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey may be an effort to undermine the investigation of possible collusion between his team and Russia, demanding an independent investigation.”I told the president, ‘Mr Pres…

US Democrats said that President Donald Trump's firing of FBI director James Comey may be an effort to undermine the investigation of possible collusion between his team and Russia, demanding an independent investigation.

"I told the president, 'Mr President, with all due respect you are making a big mistake,'" the top Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, told reporters.

Schumer and others said Comey's shock dismissal was the latest in a series of administration firings that raised red flags about the White House's commitment to probing Russian interference in last year's election, and possible Trump-Russia connections.

"This does not seem a coincidence," Schumer said. "This investigation must be run as far away as possible from this White House and as far away as possible from anyone that President Trump has appointed."

Unless the administration appoints an independent special prosecutor to probe the Russian meddling, Schumer said, "every American will rightly suspect that the decision to fire director Comey was part of a cover-up."

Ron Wyden, a Democratic Senator from Oregon, was blunt in his criticism.

"Donald Trump's decision to fire him now, in the midst of an investigation into Trump associates and their ties to Russia, is outrageous," he charged.

The stated reason for Comey's dismissal was that he mishandled the probe into Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton's emails.

But his sacking raised immediate questions about Trump's motives.

Several Republicans approached by AFP about the news, which hit Washington like a thunderclap, declined to criticize the president or Comey directly.

"Given the recent controversies surrounding the director, I believe a fresh start will serve the FBI and the nation well," said Senator Lindsey Graham in a statement.

Democrats did not hold back their fury.

"This is nothing less than Nixonian," charged Senator Patrick Leahy, the longest-serving Democrat in the chamber, drawing a parallel with the decision by a crisis-plagued Richard Nixon to fire his attorney general.

"The President has removed the sitting FBI Director in the midst of one of the most critical national security investigations in the history of our country -- one that implicates senior officials in the Trump campaign and administration."

The House Intelligence Committee's top Democrat, Adam Schiff, echoed those concerns, saying the dismissal "raises profound questions about whether the White House is brazenly interfering in a criminal matter."

"To take this action without addressing the profound conflict of interest of the President and Attorney General harkens back to a similarly tainted decision by President Nixon."

Democrat Mark Warner, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said it was vital to rebuild "trust" in the Justice Department, which oversees the FBI, by appointing an independent special counsel.

That call was echoed by Leahy, among others.

"There simply is no avoiding the compelling fact that this cascading situation demands the prompt appointment of an independent special counsel to pick up the pieces of these investigations."

Herrera says fans can fire Manchester United to Europa League final

Ander Herrera wants Manchester United’s supporters to turn Old Trafford into a cauldron when his side look to complete victory over Celta Vigo in Thursday’s Europa League semi-final return leg.Marcus Rashford’s sweet second-half free-kick brought Unite…

Ander Herrera wants Manchester United's supporters to turn Old Trafford into a cauldron when his side look to complete victory over Celta Vigo in Thursday's Europa League semi-final return leg.

Marcus Rashford's sweet second-half free-kick brought United a 1-0 win in last week's first leg, putting Jose Mourinho's side within touching distance of the final in Stockholm on May 24.

But although United have gone 17 European home games without defeat, Celta have scored in all six of their Europa League away matches this season and Herrera says everyone in United red will have to be on their game.

"They have scored away in every game they've played in the competition so we have to be aware of that," the Spanish midfielder said.

"They are a very good team, very dangerous when they play away and we will need our fans at home.

"I tell them we really need them to create a good atmosphere, a difficult atmosphere for the opponents, who can push us to be in the final. It's not going to be easy."

United have never won the Europa League and are bidding to reach a first continental final since their 3-1 loss to Barcelona at Wembley in the deciding match of the 2010-11 Champions League.

But while success in Europe's second-tier competition will complete United's collection of trophies, what motivates them above all is the place in next season's Champions League that Europa League success will yield.

Mourinho has openly abandoned United's hopes of securing the top-four finish in the Premier League that would open the door to the Champions League.

He made eight changes to his starting XI for last Sunday's 2-0 defeat at Arsenal, which brought an end to United's 25-game unbeaten run in the league and left them four points below fourth-place Manchester City.

Eric Bailly, Daley Blind, Antonio Valencia, Paul Pogba and Rashford are among the players expected to return for United on Thursday.

- 'Still close' -

Celta need not look far for inspiration, having overcome a 1-0 home defeat against Shakhtar Donetsk to prevail 2-1 on aggregate in the last 32.

They can also call upon cup pedigree that saw them overcome Real Madrid in the quarter-finals of this season's Copa del Rey, a year after they had accounted for Atletico Madrid at the same stage of the tournament.

"It is still close," said Celta striker John Guidetti, who was formerly on the books of United's cross-town rivals City.

"It is half-time. They are leading 1-0 and we have to go out and make the second half count.

"At the end of the day, if we go to Old Trafford and score the first goal, we are in the driving seat because if we score another one, they have to score two."

Celta's Europa League commitments have had a striking impact on their league form, largely due to coach Eduardo Berizzo's determination to rest players.

Their 3-0 defeat at Malaga last weekend was their sixth loss in seven La Liga outings and they have won only two of their last 10 games in all competitions.

Peter Bosz's dazzling young Ajax team are likely to be awaiting the victors in the final, having beat Lyon 4-1 in the home leg of their semi-final.

But Lyon have averaged over four goals per game in their Europa League home matches and coach Bruno Genesio believes his side's 3-2 victory over Nantes on Sunday showed they are capable of pulling off a famous comeback.

"There's an hour and a half to overcome our deficit," he said.

"We'll have to create chances and take them, but also remain calm and organised when we lose the ball.

"We have to remember that we scored three goals. And if we score three on Thursday, we could go through."

Fixtures (aggregate scores in brackets)

Thursday (1905 GMT):

Lyon (FRA) v Ajax (NED) (1-4)

Manchester United (ENG) v Celta Vigo (ESP) (1-0)

Erdogan urges ‘100s of thousands’ Muslims to visit Jerusalem in support of Palestinians

Preview The Turkish president has described Israel’s treatment of Palestinians as “racist” and “discriminatory,” as he urged Turks and other Muslims to visit Jerusalem “more often” to support the Palestinian struggle for an independent state.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview The Turkish president has described Israel’s treatment of Palestinians as “racist” and “discriminatory,” as he urged Turks and other Muslims to visit Jerusalem “more often” to support the Palestinian struggle for an independent state.
Read Full Article at RT.com