115 dead as Yemen cholera outbreak spreads: ICRC

A cholera outbreak in war-torn Yemen has killed 115 people and left 8,500 ill as hospitals struggle to cope with an influx of patients, the International Committee of the Red Cross said Sunday.”We now are facing a serious outbreak of cholera,” said ICR…

A cholera outbreak in war-torn Yemen has killed 115 people and left 8,500 ill as hospitals struggle to cope with an influx of patients, the International Committee of the Red Cross said Sunday.

"We now are facing a serious outbreak of cholera," said ICRC director of operations Dominik Stillhart at a news conference in the capital Sanaa.

Citing figures compiled by the Yemeni health ministry, Stillhart said 115 people had died of cholera between April 27 and Saturday.

More than 8,500 suspected cases of the waterborne disease were reported in the same period in 14 governorates across Yemen, Stillhart said, up from 2,300 cases in 10 governorates last week.

This is the second outbreak of cholera in less than a year in Yemen, the Arab world's poorest country.

Yemen is witnessing a devastating war between the Saudi-supported government and Iranian-backed Huthi rebels, and less than half of the country's health facilities are functioning two years into the conflict.

"The humanitarian situation in Yemen is catastrophic," Stillhart said.

Hospitals were filled beyond capacity with patients displaying symptoms of cholera, a bacterial infection contracted through ingesting contaminated food or water, he said.

"There are up to four cholera patients in one single bed," Stillhart said.

"There are people in the garden, and some even in their cars with the IV drip hanging from the window."

A garbage crisis caused by a 10-day pay strike by rubbish collectors in Sanaa has "contributed to the outbreak," said Stillhart.

People walking about in Sanaa have been seen wearing face masks to avoid the stench of rotting refuse that has piled up on the streets of the capital.

Jameel Nashir, Yemen's health chief at the World Health Organisation, said Sanaa residents should follow strict guidelines "like cleaning fruits and vegetables very well".

They should also avoid eating food that has been left uncovered and "use good water from sources that are safe and away from the polluted areas," he told AFP.

The WHO now classifies Yemen as one of the worst humanitarian emergencies in the world alongside Syria, South Sudan, Nigeria and Iraq.

Critical food imports are also at an all-time low as many of the country's Red Sea ports are blockaded.

The United Nations has warned 17 million people -- equivalent to two-thirds of the population -- are at imminent risk of famine in Yemen.

More than 8,000 people have been killed since the Saudi-led Arab coalition intervened to support Yemen's government in 2015, according to the WHO.

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Traditional dhow boat race retraces Gulf pearl route

More than 120 traditional dhows retraced a centuries-old pearl diving route off the coast of the United Arab Emirates on Sunday for an annual boat race.The “Al-Gaffal” race, Arabic for “The Return”, traces the path pearl-divers would take on their retu…

More than 120 traditional dhows retraced a centuries-old pearl diving route off the coast of the United Arab Emirates on Sunday for an annual boat race.

The "Al-Gaffal" race, Arabic for "The Return", traces the path pearl-divers would take on their return home from a day at sea.

The wooden dhows with billowing white sails made the 51.3 nautical mile (95-kilometre) journey from the island of Sir Bu Nayer to the Dubai coast.

The winner, the dhow "Zilzal," or "Earthquake," was awarded 10 million dirhams ($2.72 million).

The tradition of dhows dates back to pearl diving in the Gulf, a major industry for coastal communities until the mid-20th century, when manufactured pearls made their way into international markets.

Hull City relegated from the Premier League

Hull City crashed out of the Premier League on Sunday as Crystal Palace secured their own survival with a 4-0 thrashing of their relegation rivals at Selhurst Park.Marco Silva’s side knew only a victory would give them a realistic chance of staying up,…

Hull City crashed out of the Premier League on Sunday as Crystal Palace secured their own survival with a 4-0 thrashing of their relegation rivals at Selhurst Park.

Marco Silva's side knew only a victory would give them a realistic chance of staying up, but goals from Wilfried Zaha, Christian Benteke, Luka Milivojevic and Patrick van Aanholt consigned them to the drop.

Third-bottom Hull, winners just once in their last six matches, return to the Championship just 12 months after their promotion via the play-offs.

They paid the price for a chaotic campaign marred by poor signings and boardroom turmoil.

The Tigers will join already relegated Sunderland and Middlesbrough in the second tier next season.

Palace had needed a point to stay up and their dominant display completed boss Sam Allardyce's latest survival mission after he rescued Sunderland last season.

Swansea City's win at Sunderland on Saturday had left Hull with no margin for error and Palace's desire to secure their safety meant the stakes couldn't have been higher.

In the circumstances, the first goal would be crucial and Hull, who had won only once at Palace in 32 years, were getting a sinking feeling in south London once again after Zaha punished a terrible blunder to open the scoring in the third minute.

When a Palace pass went astray, Andrea Ranocchia had the simple task of hoofing clear, but instead the Hull defender completely missed his kick and Zaha gleefully pounced on the loose ball to slot home.

Hull were rocked by that self-inflicted wound and James Tomkins almost doubled Palace's lead with a glancing header from Jason Puncheon's corner.

With just one away league win all season, the odds were heavily stacked against Hull and Alfred N'Diaye couldn't find a cure for their travel sickness as he blazed well over.

Hull's fate was sealed in the 34th minute when Benteke barged in front of Harry Maguire to meet Puncheon's corner with a close-range header that flashed past Eldin Jakupovic.

When Puncheon escaped without conceding a penalty after blocking Kamil Grosicki's free-kick with his hand, Silva and his players must have realised there would be no great escape.

Silva sent on Shaun Maloney and Jarrod Bowen at half-time, but Hull lacked poise and Palace held them at bay with ease.

Bowen had Hull's one decent chance to grab a lifeline but he screwed wide from a Sam Clucas cross.

Time was running out for Hull's condemned men and Milivojevic stroked home an 85th-minute penalty after Michael Dawson's foul on Jeffery Schlupp.

Van Aanholt delivered the final blow with a close-range finish in the 90th minute.

Renault to re-open factories Monday after ransomware cyber attack

Factories of the French car-making giant Renault which had been closed by the massive cyber attack that affected 150 countries over the weekend would resume operation Monday, a representative said.

Factories of the French car-making giant Renault which had been closed by the massive cyber attack that affected 150 countries over the weekend would resume operation Monday, a representative said.

Venezuelans in Miami gather supplies for street protesters back home

Venezuelans living abroad are collecting box loads of items — including safety helmets, gas masks and first-aid kits — to support the crowds marching in their homeland against the socialist government of President Nicolas Maduro.Increasingly violent …

Venezuelans living abroad are collecting box loads of items -- including safety helmets, gas masks and first-aid kits -- to support the crowds marching in their homeland against the socialist government of President Nicolas Maduro.

Increasingly violent near-daily protests that began April 1 have left a toll of 38 dead, and hundreds wounded and under arrest.

In Miami, often referred to as the "capital of Latin America" and a city with a large Venezuelan community, meet-ups where donations are collected are increasingly common.

The gatherings are advertised among community members on Whatsapp, Instagram or Twitter, and identified with Venezuelan flags and signs like "Solidarity" or "SOS Venezuela." Lists of preferred items are also posted online.

"I did what I could to buy everything that was on the list and contribute my grain of sand to support these people who are fighting for my country," said Michelle Lewin, a 31 year-old fitness model who lives in Miami.

Lewin dropped two large bags of supplies on a table at a Colombian restaurant where donations were being accepted.

Half of the 225,000 Venezuelans living in the United States reside in Florida, mostly in the greater Miami area.

- Goggles and gloves -

Most donations are geared towards protecting demonstrators from tear gas, pepper spray and other crowd-dispersal gases used by Venezuelan riot police.

Police also use high-pressure blasts of water from water cannons to break up the crowds. Hooded protesters, sometimes carrying home-made shields, respond by throwing rocks, fuel bombs and bottles filled with paint or excrement.

Liquid antiacids -- the kind sold at corner pharmacies -- are good to treat gas-caused skin burns. For eye protection, swim goggles and over-the-counter eye drops are popular.

Also in demand are walkie-talkies, hydrogen peroxide to clean superficial wounds, neck braces, anti-biotic cream, and leather gloves for protesters to pick up and hurl hot gas canisters back at the cops.

- Destination: Green Cross -

Jose Colina is a Venezuelan ex-National Guard lieutenant who heads a group called the Organization of Persecuted Venezuelans Living in Exile (VEPPEX). He told AFP that he hopes to collect 100 boxes of donations over the weekend. Last week he said he collected 1.4 tonnes of supplies.

The items are sent to the Green Cross, a group of first responders from the Universidad Central de Venezuela that rush in to aid wounded protesters.

"This is a way of doing something, to show that we may be far away but we are not absent," Colina said.

He described the support from Venezuelans and sympathetic Latin Americans in Florida immigrants as "exceptional."

Recently the Green Cross volunteers were blasted as a "paramilitary group" on a state-run VTV television show in Venezuela.

- Anonymity rules -

Medical supplies, almost all imported, are especially hard to find in the cash-starved Venezuela, where the oil-dependant economy is in a free fall.

"We're trying to help the heroes that are fighting for the freedom of our country," said Gloria Mora, who heads a group of Venezuelans living in Miami and is also gathering supplies.

Much of the donation work is done anonymously. Organizers are often wary of interviews, fearing retaliation on relatives and friends still in Venezuela.

Anonymity is especially common online.

There are several anonymous sites at Amazon.com asking for medicine for Venezuelans. Organizers list what they want, and anyone can make the purchase. The whole transaction, including the final destination of the items, is anonymous.

Another anonymous group, "Helmets against Bombs," accepts donations to buy hard-hat safety helmets -- the kind used at construction sites -- and cans of red, yellow and blue paint.

At the crowd funding site Go Fund Me organizers collected nearly $23,000 in nine days. The group's Instagram account then showed pictures of long tables were the helmets were being painted with the colors of the Venezuelan flag.

Absent from the pictures: faces.

Others collect money at Venmo, a mobile payment app. Again, all anonymous.

Three die as Greek train slams into a house

An express train that slammed into a house after derailing near Greece’s second city Thessaloniki killed three people and seriously injured two others, the train’s operator said Sunday.Trainose had initially reported four deaths from the accident which…

An express train that slammed into a house after derailing near Greece's second city Thessaloniki killed three people and seriously injured two others, the train's operator said Sunday.

Trainose had initially reported four deaths from the accident which occurred at 1640 GMT on Saturday, with five people suffering serious injuries.

It then revised the toll to just two dead, but one of the injured later died.

The company did not identify the victims, but said the train driver was among the injured after all five carriages of the express train travelling from Athens left the track and the engine carriage ploughed into the house.

A 24-year-old man who lived in the house which was hit told reporters that he managed to jump off a balcony to safety just before the crash.

Search and rescue operations ended in the evening.

Most of the 70 passengers were safely evacuated within three hours of the accident which happened near the station at Adendro, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the northern city of Thessaloniki.

The cause of the derailment was not immediately known, police said, and Trainose said it had opened an investigation.

But a regional official, Voula Patoulidou, said the train might have been travelling too fast as it shuttled between Greece's two biggest cities.

Photos showed at least one carriage on its back.

A senior national railway official, who arrived at the crash site, said there had been no problems or incidents reported on that stretch of the railway line.

#Wannacry ransomware epidemic could spread as unsuspecting workers return to desks – Europol chief

Preview The virus that downed critical digital infrastructure in the UK’s National Health Service and locked thousands of people out of their computers may be about to get worse, warns the head of Europol.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview The virus that downed critical digital infrastructure in the UK’s National Health Service and locked thousands of people out of their computers may be about to get worse, warns the head of Europol.
Read Full Article at RT.com

115 dead as Yemen cholera outbreak spreads

A cholera outbreak in war-torn Yemen has killed 115 people and left 8,500 ill as hospitals struggle to cope with an influx of patients, the International Committee of the Red Cross said Sunday.”We now are facing a serious outbreak of cholera,” said ICR…

A cholera outbreak in war-torn Yemen has killed 115 people and left 8,500 ill as hospitals struggle to cope with an influx of patients, the International Committee of the Red Cross said Sunday.

"We now are facing a serious outbreak of cholera," said ICRC director of operations Dominik Stillhart at a news conference in the capital Sanaa.

Citing figures compiled by the Yemeni health ministry, Stillhart said 115 people had died of cholera between April 27 and Saturday.

More than 8,500 suspected cases of the waterborne disease were reported in the same period in 14 governorates across Yemen, Stillhart said, up from 2,300 cases in 10 governorates last week.

This is the second outbreak of cholera in less than a year in Yemen, the Arab world's poorest country.

Yemen is witnessing a devastating war between the Saudi-supported government and Iranian-backed Huthi rebels, and less than half of the country's health facilities are functioning two years into the conflict.

Stillhart said hospitals were filled beyond capacity with patients displaying symptoms of cholera, a bacterial infection contracted through ingesting contaminated food or water.

"There are up to four cholera patients in one single bed," Stillhart said.

"There are people in the garden, and some even in their cars with the IV drip hanging from the window."

The World Health Organization now classifies Yemen as one of the worst humanitarian emergencies in the world alongside Syria, South Sudan, Nigeria and Iraq.

Critical food imports are also at an all-time low as many of the country's Red Sea ports are blockaded.

The United Nations has warned 17 million people -- equivalent to two-thirds of the population -- are at imminent risk of famine in Yemen.

More than 8,000 people have been killed since the Saudi-led Arab coalition intervened to support Yemen's government in 2015, according to the WHO.

Protest against massive redevelopment project held in Moscow

Preview Critics of a proposed program to replace old housing in Russia’s capital are holding a protest rally on Sunday. They believe the massive plan is prone to abuse by authorities and has other major flaws.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview Critics of a proposed program to replace old housing in Russia’s capital are holding a protest rally on Sunday. They believe the massive plan is prone to abuse by authorities and has other major flaws.
Read Full Article at RT.com

200,000 cyberattack victims in 150-plus states: Europol

The unprecedented global ransomware cyberattack has hit more than 200,000 victims in more than 150 countries, Europol executive director Rob Wainwright said Sunday.The head of the pan-European Union policing agency said that few had given in to the dem…

The unprecedented global ransomware cyberattack has hit more than 200,000 victims in more than 150 countries, Europol executive director Rob Wainwright said Sunday.

The head of the pan-European Union policing agency said that few had given in to the demands for payment to unblock files so far, but warned that the situation was escalating.

Wainwright said he was worried that the ransomware attack might spread further once people return to work on Monday and log on to their computers.

"We are running around 200 global operations against cyber crime each year but we've never seen anything like this," he told Britain's ITV television.

"The latest count is over 200,000 victims in at least 150 countries. Many of those victims will be businesses, including large corporations.

"The global reach is unprecedented."

He said the motivation remained unknown but ransomware attacks were normally "criminally minded".

"Remarkably few payments so far have been made, so most people are not paying this," Wainwright said.

"We're in the face of an escalating threat, the numbers are going up.

"I'm worried about how the numbers will continue to grow when people go to work and turn on their machines on Monday morning."

- European banks well protected -

Wainwright said the attack was indiscriminate, fast-spreading and unique because the ransomware was being used in combination with a worm -- meaning that the infection of one computer could automatically spread it through an entire network.

He said few banks in Europe had been affected, having learned through the "painful experience of being the number one target of cyber crime" the value of having the latest cyber security in place.

"We have been concerned for some time that the healthcare sectors in many countries are particularly vulnerable. They're processing a lot of sensitive data," he said.

Britain's state-run National Health Service was affected by the attack.

Wainwright said Europol was working with the FBI in the United States to track down those responsible, saying that more than one person was likely behind it.

He said the cyber crime scene was increasingly going underground, meaning it was "very difficult" to identify the offender or their location.

"We're in a very difficult fight against these ever more sophisticated cyber crime syndicates that are using encryption to hide their activity," he said.

Wainwright said Europol provided free downloads of decryption programmes for most ransomware.

"Once we get to the bottom of this one, we'll make sure that this is available to people as well," he said.

Jilted Indian man rapes, kills ex-girlfriend: police

A jilted man who kidnapped and raped his ex-girlfriend before smashing her head with bricks and running her over with a car has been arrested, Indian police said Sunday.Police in the northern state of Haryana said the 23-year-old victim was abducted by…

A jilted man who kidnapped and raped his ex-girlfriend before smashing her head with bricks and running her over with a car has been arrested, Indian police said Sunday.

Police in the northern state of Haryana said the 23-year-old victim was abducted by the man and his friend who then allegedly raped and mutilated her, in the latest case of sexual violence in the country.

They then dumped her in an isolated industrial area where a local resident discovered her four days later, on Friday, when they noticed stray dogs nibbling at her mangled body.

"We have arrested two men under various sections -- murder and rape also," Jagjeet Singh, spokesman for Sonipat city police in Haryana, told AFP.

"The main accused, Sumit, and she (the victim) were in a relationship but she didn't want to marry him and he lost it. He wanted revenge," he said, adding that an investigation was under way.

Singh said the victim's post-mortem report showed she had been drugged or sedated during the horrific attack.

Women's rights activists and politicians have demanded justice for the victim, whose case echoed the murderous 2012 sexual assault on a student in the Indian capital that sparked mass street demonstrations.

"This savage and bone-chilling incident has shocked the conscience of the nation, reminding each one of us about the crying need for revisiting the important issue of women's safety and security," opposition leader Sonia Gandhi said in a statement late Saturday.

Haryana state chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar called the assault "unfortunate", according to the Press Trust of India.

In a separate case, a 10-year-old was in critical condition in Haryana's Rohtak city after doctors reportedly found she was five months pregnant after her stepfather raped her.

Police have arrested the man, NDTV news network reported.

India has a gruesome record on rape, with New Delhi alone registering 2,199 rape cases in 2015 -- an average of six a day.

Nearly 40,000 rape cases are reported every year but the real number is thought to be much higher, with victims wary of how their complaints will be dealt with or the social stigma attached to sex crimes.

There is also disillusion with a sluggish legal system.

North Korean rocket flew away from Russia, was no threat – Russian Defense Ministry

Preview Russian missile defense systems tracked the latest North Korean missile test, the Russian Defense Ministry said, adding that it landed some 500 kilometers from Russia and hadn’t posed a threat.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview Russian missile defense systems tracked the latest North Korean missile test, the Russian Defense Ministry said, adding that it landed some 500 kilometers from Russia and hadn’t posed a threat.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Emmanuel Macron takes office as French president

Centrist Emmanuel Macron has officially assumed power in an inauguration ceremony at the Elysee Place in Paris, becoming the youngest president in French history. Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview Centrist Emmanuel Macron has officially assumed power in an inauguration ceremony at the Elysee Place in Paris, becoming the youngest president in French history.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Spurs await ‘special’ White Hart Lane farewell against United

Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino expects a “special” day on Sunday when his side play Manchester United in the last game at White Hart Lane.

With Chelsea having wrapped up the Premier League title by winning at West Bromwich Albion on Friday, Spurs’ farewell to their home of 118 years will now be the central focus of Sunday’s game.

“I hope Sunday will be the most special day in the last three seasons. It will be special for our fans, staff, players, people who love Tottenham,” Pochettino said.

“At the same time I am excited about the new stadium because the soul and the smell of White Hart Lane will keep there.

“When the new era and stadium arrive there will be different expectations, but, most important, always in our memory will be White Hart Lane, the soul and the smell.

“When you move to another area it’s so difficult, but now we are changing nothing because the new stadium will be in the same place as White Hart Lane and that is fantastic.”

Whatever the outcome, Sunday will be a deeply poignant occasion as Spurs say goodbye to a ground graced by such club greats as Jimmy Greaves, Danny Blanchflower, Steve Perryman, Glenn Hoddle and Paul Gascoigne.

A ceremony featuring figures from the club’s past will take place after the game and fans have been offered the chance to buy their seats for £50 ($64.40, 59 euros).

Demolition work on the Lane, Spurs’ home since 1899, will begin on Monday to make way for the club’s new 61,559-seater stadium, which will be completed in time for the 2018-19 campaign.

Spurs had hoped to bow out at the atmospheric old ground with a first league title since 1961, but although that objective has now disappeared, they still have a chance to make history.

Pochettino’s side are gunning for a 14th successive home league win, which would equal the club record, set over two seasons in 1987, and establish a new mark for consecutive home victories within the same campaign.

They can also go unbeaten at home in a league season for the first time since 1964-65.

– Up in smoke –

United have unhappy recent memories of a farewell match at a venerable London venue.

Their Champions League hopes went up in smoke last season after they lost 3-2 to West Ham United in the final game at Upton Park.

United went 14 games without defeat at the Lane before last season’s 3-0 loss, but gone are the days when their former manager Alex Ferguson could dismiss Spurs’ threat with a disdainful: “Lads, it’s Tottenham.”

Spurs will finish above United this term for the third time in four seasons and Jose Mourinho’s side have little motivation to spoil the farewell party.

Four points off the top four, Mourinho has abandoned hope of qualifying for the Champions League via the league and is likely to rest players after Thursday’s Europa League semi-final success against Celta Vigo.

“In the Premier League we can only finish fifth or sixth, I think,” said Mourinho, whose team’s 25-game unbeaten run came to an end in north London last weekend following a 2-0 defeat at Arsenal.

“But obviously, like we did against Arsenal, we didn’t throw the match away. We played, we tried to win, we gave a difficult match to our opponent.

“That’s what we’re going to do. We’re not going to say that matches are not important.

“But we have one (the Europa League final) that is more important than others. The match on Sunday is important for us too.”

Marouane Fellaini, whose goal helped United secure a 2-1 aggregate win over Celta Vigo that set up a meeting with Ajax in the May 24 final, is unavailable due to a domestic suspension.

Pochettino has no new injuries concerns. Danny Rose is not yet match-fit despite having returned to training after injury, so Ben Davies is expected to continue at left-back.

Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino expects a "special" day on Sunday when his side play Manchester United in the last game at White Hart Lane.

With Chelsea having wrapped up the Premier League title by winning at West Bromwich Albion on Friday, Spurs' farewell to their home of 118 years will now be the central focus of Sunday's game.

"I hope Sunday will be the most special day in the last three seasons. It will be special for our fans, staff, players, people who love Tottenham," Pochettino said.

"At the same time I am excited about the new stadium because the soul and the smell of White Hart Lane will keep there.

"When the new era and stadium arrive there will be different expectations, but, most important, always in our memory will be White Hart Lane, the soul and the smell.

"When you move to another area it's so difficult, but now we are changing nothing because the new stadium will be in the same place as White Hart Lane and that is fantastic."

Whatever the outcome, Sunday will be a deeply poignant occasion as Spurs say goodbye to a ground graced by such club greats as Jimmy Greaves, Danny Blanchflower, Steve Perryman, Glenn Hoddle and Paul Gascoigne.

A ceremony featuring figures from the club's past will take place after the game and fans have been offered the chance to buy their seats for £50 ($64.40, 59 euros).

Demolition work on the Lane, Spurs' home since 1899, will begin on Monday to make way for the club's new 61,559-seater stadium, which will be completed in time for the 2018-19 campaign.

Spurs had hoped to bow out at the atmospheric old ground with a first league title since 1961, but although that objective has now disappeared, they still have a chance to make history.

Pochettino's side are gunning for a 14th successive home league win, which would equal the club record, set over two seasons in 1987, and establish a new mark for consecutive home victories within the same campaign.

They can also go unbeaten at home in a league season for the first time since 1964-65.

- Up in smoke -

United have unhappy recent memories of a farewell match at a venerable London venue.

Their Champions League hopes went up in smoke last season after they lost 3-2 to West Ham United in the final game at Upton Park.

United went 14 games without defeat at the Lane before last season's 3-0 loss, but gone are the days when their former manager Alex Ferguson could dismiss Spurs' threat with a disdainful: "Lads, it's Tottenham."

Spurs will finish above United this term for the third time in four seasons and Jose Mourinho's side have little motivation to spoil the farewell party.

Four points off the top four, Mourinho has abandoned hope of qualifying for the Champions League via the league and is likely to rest players after Thursday's Europa League semi-final success against Celta Vigo.

"In the Premier League we can only finish fifth or sixth, I think," said Mourinho, whose team's 25-game unbeaten run came to an end in north London last weekend following a 2-0 defeat at Arsenal.

"But obviously, like we did against Arsenal, we didn't throw the match away. We played, we tried to win, we gave a difficult match to our opponent.

"That's what we're going to do. We're not going to say that matches are not important.

"But we have one (the Europa League final) that is more important than others. The match on Sunday is important for us too."

Marouane Fellaini, whose goal helped United secure a 2-1 aggregate win over Celta Vigo that set up a meeting with Ajax in the May 24 final, is unavailable due to a domestic suspension.

Pochettino has no new injuries concerns. Danny Rose is not yet match-fit despite having returned to training after injury, so Ben Davies is expected to continue at left-back.

Bawling babies face off in Japan’s ‘crying sumo’

More than 100 Japanese babies faced off Sunday in a traditional “crying sumo” ring, an annual ceremony believed to bring infants good health.In the sumo ring at the precinct of the Kamegaike Hachimangu shrine in Sagamihara west of Tokyo, two hulking wr…

More than 100 Japanese babies faced off Sunday in a traditional "crying sumo" ring, an annual ceremony believed to bring infants good health.

In the sumo ring at the precinct of the Kamegaike Hachimangu shrine in Sagamihara west of Tokyo, two hulking wrestlers held up toddlers wearing tiny sumo belts and aprons to try to make them bawl.

Wrestlers sometimes shake the babies gently to encourage tears.

"My boy was crying from the very beginning and I felt a little bad," Tomoyo Watanabe, the mother of Zentaro, told AFP.

"But as I watched my baby crying, I was praying for him to grow up healthy and strong after this event."

The "crying sumo" is held at shrines and temples nationwide, to the delight of parents and onlookers.

"The cries of babies are believed to drive out demons and protect the infants from troubles," said priest Hiroyuki Negishi.

The ceremony is believed to date back more than 400 years.

The rules vary from region to region -- in some places parents want their offspring to be the first to cry, in others the first to weep is the loser.

In the Sagamihara event, which has been running since 2011, the babies accompanied by parents and grandparents were first taken before a Shinto altar and purified by the priest.

Pairs of toddlers were then brought into the sumo ring -- where most of them were bawling even before facing off against their rival.

Evacuation of rebel Damascus district begins

Civilians and rebels began evacuating a third opposition-held district of Damascus on Sunday, bringing the government closer to cementing its control over the Syrian capital.An AFP correspondent inside Qabun saw around 10 buses carrying out residents a…

Civilians and rebels began evacuating a third opposition-held district of Damascus on Sunday, bringing the government closer to cementing its control over the Syrian capital.

An AFP correspondent inside Qabun saw around 10 buses carrying out residents and fighters in the morning, after a deal for the neighbourhood was announced late Saturday following heavy fighting.

The agreement mirrors those implemented earlier this week in the nearby rebel-held districts of Barzeh and Tishrin.

State media announced the evacuation had started, and an activist inside the remaining opposition-held part of the district earlier confirmed preparations for the operation were underway.

"The buses are being prepared, they are waiting in the areas controlled by the regime," Odai Awdeh told AFP.

"The names of those who want to leave, whether civilians or fighters, are being registered," he added.

The evacuation deal came on Saturday night after government forces advanced inside the neighbourhood.

"The Syrian army yesterday managed to encircle dozens of armed elements inside Qabun neighbourhood, forcing them to surrender and hand over their weapons," a source from the pro-regime National Defence Forces militia told AFP.

The deals for Qabun, Barzeh and Tishrin neighbourhoods follow a pattern of agreements under which the rebels agree to surrender in exchange for safe passage to opposition-held territory elsewhere.

The government says the deals are the best way to end the six-year war, but the opposition says it is forced into the agreements by regime bombardment and siege.

Two groups of evacuees left Barzeh neighbourhood this week, with one leaving from Tishrin.

All three headed to Idlib province, in northwest Syria.

The negotiations on evacuating Qabun had stalled earlier this week over demands that some rebels be allowed to head to Eastern Ghouta, rebel-held territory outside Damascus.

But the National Defence Forces source and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said the final agreement only allowed evacuees passage to Idlib.

Damascus has been insulated from some of the worst violence of Syria's war, which has killed over 320,000 people since it began with anti-government protests in March 2011.

But the government has made securing control of the last remaining rebel districts in the capital a key priority.

US Treasury to play key role protecting finance IT infrastructure

The US Treasury Department said Saturday it will play a “leading role” in protecting the global financial system’s IT infrastructure.The statement came as a massive wave of weekend ransomware attacks struck banks, hospitals and government agencies in d…

The US Treasury Department said Saturday it will play a "leading role" in protecting the global financial system's IT infrastructure.

The statement came as a massive wave of weekend ransomware attacks struck banks, hospitals and government agencies in dozens of countries around the world.

"These global cyberattacks highlight the real world consequences of technological vulnerabilities," a senior US Treasury Department officials told reporters on the return flight from the G7 gathering of financial chiefs in Bari, Italy.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin "has made protecting America's financial infrastructure from cyberattacks a top priority."

The Treasury Department "will continue to work across agency and with international partners to develop and spread best practices based on the highest established cybersecurity standards."

President Donald Trump's administration "is committed to protecting Americans and the global financial system from the constantly evolving threat of cyberattack ... and Treasury will play a leading role in this critical national security effort."

Mnuchin said earlier Saturday that he had productive meetings with his counterparts at Bari on the need to protect the financial IT infrastructure.

G7 finance chiefs vowed Saturday to unite against cyber crime, stating that cyber incidents represent a growing threat to their economies and that tackling them should be a priority.

Live: France prepares for Macron’s presidential inauguration

Emmanuel Macron, 39, will officially assume power on Sunday in an inauguration ceremony at the Elysée Palace making him the youngest French president in history.

Emmanuel Macron, 39, will officially assume power on Sunday in an inauguration ceremony at the Elysée Palace making him the youngest French president in history.

Quake kills two, injures hundreds in Iran: state media

A 5.7 magnitude earthquake near Iran’s border with Turkmenistan killed two people, injured hundreds and caused widespread damage, state media reported Sunday, citing the country’s seismological centre.The quake, which struck at 1800 GMT Saturday in and…

A 5.7 magnitude earthquake near Iran's border with Turkmenistan killed two people, injured hundreds and caused widespread damage, state media reported Sunday, citing the country's seismological centre.

The quake, which struck at 1800 GMT Saturday in and around the city of Bojnurd, North Khorasan province, killed a 54-year-old woman and a teenage girl, ISNA news agency reported.

It left more than 370 people injured and damaged as many as 40 percent of houses in the area, it said.

The US Geological Survey put the strength of the quake at 5.8 magnitude, and said it occurred at a depth of 12.5 kilometres (7.8 miles).

The epicentre of the earthquake was just 50 kilometres from the border with Turkmenistan.

On April 5, a 6.1 magnitude quake killed at least two people near Iran's second city Mashhad, which is located southeast of Bojnurd.

The region is on an active fault line stretching from Turkmenistan's capital Ashgabat into Iran's three provinces of north, central (Razavi) and south Khorasan, according to state news agency IRNA.

The last major earthquake to strike Iran was in 2003 at Bam, in the southeastern province of Kerman, which killed at least 31,000 people and flattened the city.

Tibetan medicine lures patients seeking drug-free cures

Before dawn in the Indian Himalayas, scores of patients clutching small vials of urine queue patiently to see Yeshi Dhonden, a Tibetan monk who became a legend as personal healer to the Dalai Lama.Tibetan medicine, known as Sowa-Rigpa, draws on centuri…

Before dawn in the Indian Himalayas, scores of patients clutching small vials of urine queue patiently to see Yeshi Dhonden, a Tibetan monk who became a legend as personal healer to the Dalai Lama.

Tibetan medicine, known as Sowa-Rigpa, draws on centuries-old techniques such as blood-letting, cupping, and moxibustion -- burning herbs on energy points of the body -- to try to heal ailments.

The practise draws on aspects of traditional Chinese medicine and India's Ayurvedic system as well as its own unique theories and treatments. It also features spiritual practises including meditation and Buddhist prayer.

Today it attracts devotees from all over the globe, hoping for help with conditions from back pain to cancer and degenerative diseases.

"If the sick come to me I will take care of them," Dhonden told AFP at his private clinic in McLeodganj, surrounded by Tibetan scrolls and beaming images of his most famous client.

Dhonden -- who spent three decades tending the health of Tibet's spiritual leader -- relies on his senses to divine what ails patients.

"I don't go for tests like X-ray and all. I trust myself. I just test the pulse and the urine," he explained.

A touch at the wrist is how he ascertains the health of vital organs and blood pressure.

The urine, held in a white porcelain cup, is stirred with two small bamboo sticks. Colour, bubble formation, sediment and smell can all shape the diagnosis.

Devotees swear Tibetan medicine works, though few scientific studies have been conducted into its efficacy.

- 'Imbalanced energies' -

The teachings -- contained in some 2,000 textbooks and the messages of the Buddha, considered the guardian deity for all spiritual healers -- are believed to have originated in Tibet.

But as it features elements of both ancient Chinese and Indian healing practises, and is rapidly evolving from a niche tradition into popular alternative treatment, both nations have scrambled to claim it as their own.

In April, the Asian giants nominated Tibetan medicine for inclusion on a UNESCO list for "intangible culture". China and India have engaged in countless spats over the Tibetan community since New Delhi granted sanctuary to the Dalai Lama in 1959.

Beijing took control of Tibet eight years earlier and was furious when India granted the Dalai Lama permission to headquarter a government-in-exile in McLeodganj.

The traditions of Tibetan medicine are based on four root texts known as the 'tantras' that evolved in two medical colleges, Chakpori and Men-Tsee-Khang, in the Tibetan capital Lhasa.

These tantras classify thousands of diseases into separate categories, with unique mixtures of herbs and minerals -- mostly sourced from the upper reaches of the Himalayas -- listed as remedies for each ailment.

"We believe diseases are caused when our inner energies are imbalanced," said Tsewang Tam Din, a medical practitioner at the McLeodganj branch of the Men-Tsee Khang school, one of many across India.

Taking a delicate golden hammer, Din demonstrated how healers heat the instrument over fire and place it against the body to offset pain and other common malaises.

"The idea behind our medicine system is that one should not have to take medication all his life for chronic problems like arthritis and diabetes," Din said in McLeodganj, nicknamed "Little Lhasa" for the large Tibetan community residing there.

- Science of healing -

The increasing popularity of Buddhism in the west, as well as a global Tibetan diaspora has helped spread awareness about its unique alternative medicine.

But like other Eastern health treatments, it is viewed with scepticism among the conventional medical fraternity.

A lack of standardisation and clinical trials means it will be some time before Tibetan medicine can go mainstream, said cardiologist D. Prabhakaran from the Public Health Foundation of India.

But even doubters acknowledge the natural treatment appears to assist some patients in certain cases.

"I know of anecdotal examples where people with terminal diseases have lived much longer than predicted after taking Tibetan medicine," Prabhakaran said.

"I think there's a lot of empathy towards the patient in Tibetan medicine. Basically it comes from the thinking of Buddhism and that may be one of the reasons why it's becoming more popular," he added.

In 2010, India officially recognised Tibetan medicine as a "science of healing" and enshrined it within the nation's healthcare system, paving the way for future research and investment into the spiritual discipline.

It's good news for devotees like 60-year-old Abdul Rehman, who has eschewed mainstream medicine his entire life in favour of Tibetan alternatives.

"I suffered from a recurrent cold which was cured in one year," said Rehman as he collected herbal pills at a clinic in a posh Delhi suburb.

He added: "Now I have some back and neck pain and I think it will also be cured soon."

Ethiopian honey farmers struggle with sticky traditions

The beehives of Ethiopia, Africa’s top honey producer, make about a quarter of the continent’s honey, but travellers who come to sample the liquid gold often find there isn’t enough to go around?.In a country where 85 percent of all jobs are in agricul…

The beehives of Ethiopia, Africa's top honey producer, make about a quarter of the continent's honey, but travellers who come to sample the liquid gold often find there isn't enough to go around?.

In a country where 85 percent of all jobs are in agriculture, industry experts say the beekeeping -- or apiculture -- sector is still a long way from harvesting its full potential, hampered by outdated, low-yield techniques, periodic droughts and uncompetitive prices.

Honey traditionally plays a big role in Ethiopian life -- where its delicious white, red and yellow varieties are used in cooking, for medicinal purposes and as a key ingredient in the local mead known as tej.

The problem is that the majority of farmers use outdated styles of beehives that are stored in trees or clay jars.

And these do not produce as much honey as modern wooden boxes, says Juergen Greiling, a senior adviser at the Ethiopian Apiculture Board, an umbrella group for the honey industry.

Equipped with the right modern techniques, honey production has the potential to pull thousands of poor farmers out of poverty, experts say.

Alem Abraha is one such farmer.

He was previously living from hand to mouth as a subsistence farmer, but took up beekeeping full time about 10 years ago.

"My life has been completely changed," he says, as bees circle his head in the village of Zaena, situated in Ethiopia's northernmost region of Tigray.

It is on Tigray's high-altitude mountain slopes that the yellow Adey Abeba flower grows, a key component in making the unique white honey that is one of Ethiopa's most prized exports.

"If you train farmers to have modern training like I'm doing here, that would transform production," Alem says.

Tesfamariam Assefa, a coordinator at the Tigray regional agriculture bureau, said the government aimed to boost the region's honey exports from 50 percent to 80 percent of output by teaching farmers better beekeeping techniques.

- Growing demand abroad -

The outside world is waking up to the qualities of Ethiopian honey, too.

In 2008, the European Union officially gave the green light to imports of Ethiopian honey.

However, nearly a decade later, the country is still only exporting at most 800 tonnes of the 50,000 tonnes it produces annually.

Alem Abraha says he travels regularly to Italy to show off his wares and honey merchants in Tigray say they are noticing more and more interest from buyers from Ethiopia and beyond.

"Tigray's honey has a lot of customers all over Ethiopia," said Haile Gebru, who sells honey from a shopping mall in Tigray's capital of Mekele.

"But production is low."

The low yields of Ethiopian beehives, along with periodic droughts that can disrupt supplies of water to colonies and shrivel trees that insects need for pollen, have caused honey shortages.

These shortfalls drive up prices to as much as 450 birr ($20, 18 euros) per kilogramme, effectively pricing honey exports to Asia and Europe out of the market.

"I'm not able to sell as much as I can because the price is not competitive, especially here from Tigray," said Daniel Gebremeskel, managing director of Comel, a honey processing and export company based in Mekele.

"We are not making as much as we expect. We are working at low capacity because of supply problems," Gebremskel said.

There is also a grey market for Ethiopian honey, with people smuggling it across the border to Sudan or in their luggage in Mekele's airport to avoid paying export taxes, said Greiling of the Ethiopian Apiculture Board.

The regional government, alarmed at the lost export tax revenues, is seeking to curb the undercover trade by introducing limits on the amount of honey that can be taken in checked baggage.

Despite the challenges facing Ethiopia's apiculture sector, Gebremeskel is undeterred and is currently remodelling his processing facility and seeking to woo buyers abroad, some of whom frequently mistake the white honey for cream.

"We're getting more demand than before," Gebremeskel says.

Germany’s Merkel faces test in bellwether state election

One in five German voters goes to the polls in a state election Sunday, with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party hoping to deal a crushing blow to her main rival four months before national elections.

One in five German voters goes to the polls in a state election Sunday, with Chancellor Angela Merkel's party hoping to deal a crushing blow to her main rival four months before national elections.

Nigerian economy glimpses dim light at end of tunnel

Suffering from rampant inflation, stalled investment and mass layoffs, Nigeria is still gripped by one of the worst economic crises in its history.But for the first time in months, the West African economic giant is finally looking to exit its first re…

Suffering from rampant inflation, stalled investment and mass layoffs, Nigeria is still gripped by one of the worst economic crises in its history.

But for the first time in months, the West African economic giant is finally looking to exit its first recession in decades.

On Thursday, parliament approved the government's ambitious seven-trillion-naira ($23-billion) budget to "pull the economy out of recession as quickly as possible".

The plan, bolstered by improved output in oil production and a potential billion-dollar World Bank loan, aims to kick-start growth through rail, ports and power projects.

In January, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said it expected Nigerian growth to hit 0.8 percent for 2017 and 2.8 percent in 2018.

Others are more optimistic. "Growth of 2.0 percent (in 2017) is totally possible," said Moody's analyst Aurelien Mali at the ratings agency's annual West Africa conference in Lagos this week.

"Import figures suggest that after declining for two years, domestic demand picked up at the turn of the year," John Ashbourne, economist at Capital Economics, said in a recent note.

Ashbourne added that there were also encouraging "signs of life in Nigeria's non-oil sector".

- Oil output up -

The new figures are far from the boom time in Nigeria, which over the past decade had enjoyed average annual growth of eight percent, according to Bloomberg.

"Compared to other oil powers like Qatar, Nigeria didn't prepare for rainy days," said Douglas Rowlings, an analyst with Moody's.

Saving for a worldwide crash in commodity prices wasn't under the control of President Muhammadu Buhari, who only came into power in 2015.

But his tough talk towards rebel groups in the Niger Delta only served to deepen the recession, said emerging market analysis firm BMI Research.

As a result of attacks on oil and gas infrastructure in the oil-producing swamplands last year production fell to a low of 1.4 million barrels per day (bpd) and Nigeria's growth contracted to 1.5 percent in 2016.

Ongoing talks with the rebels and money in the form of amnesty payments solved the problem.

It helped that junior oil minister Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu succeeded in securing an exemption for Nigeria from a global agreement to reduce oil production.

Meanwhile, Buhari's overseas medical trips have left the more conciliatory and collegiate Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo in charge of handling negotiations with the rebels.

Now production has once again risen over two million bpd, giving Nigeria access to foreign currency and supplying banks and businesses who were unable to pay suppliers for much of 2016.

- Political risk -

The Central Bank of Nigeria has eased a dollar shortage by creating a market-determined rate for investors, yet a black market for dollars persists.

"Many investors are waiting to reinvest in the country but as long as there's a parallel market they will be hesitant," said Moody's Mali.

Structural reforms will be needed to improve the business climate.

But if, how and when legislators will loosen currency controls put in place by Buhari remains a question, keeping investors at bay.

Then there is the issue of Buhari's health. The president was away for almost two months at the beginning of the year and left the country again last week for treatment of an undisclosed ailment.

The 74 year old's failing health "threatens to paralyse Nigeria's government", Ashbourne said.

Compared to 2016, it won't take much for Nigeria to rebound. How much it grows depends on the price of oil, which the country depends on for the bulk of its foreign exchange.

"Nigeria's economy might not be as attractive as before but it's still very compelling in the long term," said Rowlings.

Films in the running for the Palme d’Or

From the tale of a mysterious beast to a migrant who finds he can levitate after being shot on a border fence, these are the 19 movies competing in the main competition at this week’s Cannes film festival:- Wonderstruck -Todd Haynes in back in period …

From the tale of a mysterious beast to a migrant who finds he can levitate after being shot on a border fence, these are the 19 movies competing in the main competition at this week's Cannes film festival:

- Wonderstruck -

Todd Haynes in back in period mode after his huge hit "Carol" with the first of two Amazon-backed movies to have made the cut. Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams star in the story of two deaf children living parallel lives in the 1920s and 1970s.

- Jupiter's Moon -

Hungarian director Kornel Mundruczo -- who won the newcomers prize with "White God" in 2014 -- has turned his lens on the European migrant crisis, with this story of a young refugee who discovers amazing powers when he is shot.

- The Beguiled -

Sofia Coppola's starry and much-touted American Civil War thriller, a remake of the 1971 movie with Clint Eastwood, features Colin Farrell as a wounded soldier who seduces the women around him, including Nicole Kidman and Kirsten Dunst.

- Redoubtable -

The buzz is also good on this cheeky "comedy" about the legendary New Wave movie director Jean-Luc Godard from Michel Hazanavicius, the man behind the whimiscal multi-Oscar winner "The Artist".

- Okja -

Netflix are pushing the boat out for their big-budget "E.T."-like "creature feature" "Okja", starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Tilda Swinton, which tells the tale of a girl who risks everything to protect a shy giant animal.

- The Meyerowitz Stories -

The streaming giant has also snapped up Noah "While We're Young" Baumbach's story about a neurotic New York boho family trying to deal with their difficult artist father. Ben Stiller, Emma Thompson, Candice Bergen and Dustin Hoffman complete a top-notch cast.

- You Were Never Really Here -

Scotland's Lynne Ramsay made her Cannes debut with the unforgettable "Ratcatcher". This year she will close the festival with this drama of a war veteran (Joaquin Phoenix) who tries to save a victim of sex-trafficking.

- Loveless -

Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev wowed Cannes in 2014 with "Leviathan", a darkly funny meditation on family bonds and religion. Family is again the focus of his new film about a clan with an aversion to affection.

- Good Time -

Billed as a grindhouse movie with a brain, New York indie brothers Benny and Josh Safdie have cast "Twilight" heartthrob Robert Pattinson as a bank robber struggling to evade the police.

- Happy End -

No one has ever won the Palme d'Or three times. But with Isabelle Huppert again by his side fresh from her accolades for "Elle", Austrian-born Michael Haneke could write his place in history with this family drama set in northern France against the backdrop of the migrant crisis.

- The Square -

The Swedish director Ruben Ostlund best known for "Snow Therapy" was a late entry with his dystopian tale of a place without rules where people can do what they want.

- The Killing of a Sacred Deer -

Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell team up for the second time in the competition, this time in the story of a boy trying to bring a surgeon into his dysfunctional family, with disastrous consequences. With Greek maestro Yorgos Lanthimos at the helm, expect the weird.

- Rodin -

Gerard Depardieu has already had a go at playing France's greatest sculptor. This time Vincent Lindon picks up the chisel to portray the artist in a biopic that marks the centenary of his death.

- In The Fade -

Hamburg's Fatih Akin of "Head-On" fame returns to home ground in a promising story of vengeance set among Germany's Turkish community.

- Amant Double (The Double Lover) -

No one does erotic thrillers like French director Francois "Swimming Pool" Ozon. His latest follows a young woman who falls in love with her therapist before realising he's not who she thought he was.

- 120 Beats Per Minute -

Drama by Franco-Moroccan director Robin Campillo set among a group of people working with an AIDS charity in Paris in the 1990s.

- Radiance -

Japan's Naomi Kawase returns to the competition three years after her "Still the Water" with a film following a photographer whose eyesight is failing.

- The Day After -

South Korean director Hong Sang-Soo is bringing two films to Cannes. His new feature "The Day After" is in the main competition with a special screening for "Claire's Camera", which features Isabelle Huppert, and was partly shot during last year's festival.

- A Gentle Creature -

A woman tries to learn the truth about her husband held in a remote prison in Russia when a package for him is returned to her in Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa's sombre story.

Crusaders beat ‘Canes in Super Rugby heavyweight fight

The Canterbury Crusaders have strengthened their claims for an eighth Super Rugby crown with a dominating win over defending champions Wellington Hurricanes to stay unbeaten this season.Crusaders’ forward pack crushed the Hurricanes 20-12 in Christchur…

The Canterbury Crusaders have strengthened their claims for an eighth Super Rugby crown with a dominating win over defending champions Wellington Hurricanes to stay unbeaten this season.

Crusaders' forward pack crushed the Hurricanes 20-12 in Christchurch to remain unbeaten after 11 games and open an eight-point lead in the formidable New Zealand conference.

Kiwi teams have dominated this season's Super Rugby competition ahead of next month's much-anticipated British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand.

Saturday's showdown between the two Super Rugby heavyweights was expected to be a try-fest. But at half-time it was locked up at 9-9, with all the points from penalties.

Eventually, the power of the Crusaders' All Blacks-laden forward pack and the smart direction of centre Ryan Crotty defused the Hurricanes strike force of Beauden and Jordie Barrett and kept them tryless for the first time in three years.

The Crusaders had more than enough power up-front despite being without injured All Blacks Kieran Read and suspended Sam Whitelock.

Scott Barrett (ankle) and Matt Todd (concussion) also had to leave the field during the game.

"It was such a massive effort," said Crotty, who ended up captaining the side in the absence of Todd.

"We didn't let them get anything going off set-piece, which was massive, a credit to the tight five."

South Africa's Golden Lions won their third Australian tour game with a resilient 13-6 win over the ACT Brumbies in Canberra.

The Lions scored the only try of the dour contest through Springbok Sevens star Kwagga Smith early in the second half after trailing the Australian conference leaders 3-0 at half-time.

- 'It was a grind' -

It was only the second win for the Johannesburg-based Lions in Canberra, with the result lifting them to a 13-point lead over the Coastal Sharks in the Africa 2 conference.

"It was a grind. Gee, it was a tough battle, the conditions were tough, the ball was slippery and we had to keep it tight, so I am extremely proud of the boys," Lions skipper Warren Whiteley said.

The Sharks went down 35-32 to the revitalised Southern Kings -- who are under threat of the axe when Super Rugby reverts to only 15 teams next year -- in Port Elizabeth.

It was the seemingly-doomed Kings' fourth win of the season and their first over a fellow South African side.

All Blacks centre Malakai Fekitoa scored a brilliant solo try to give New Zealand's Otago Highlanders a 17-10 win over the Northern Bulls in Pretoria.

The Highlanders are fourth in the New Zealand conference but in contention for a berth in the post-season eight-team finals with 36 points.

Skipper Samu Kerevi scored a last-minute try to grab a thrilling 29-24 victory for the Queensland Reds over the Rebels in Melbourne.

The Reds scored five tries to two to stay alive for the finals but found it difficult to put away the Rebels, whose place in next year's competition is still to be determined.

Queensland's win pushed them above the NSW Waratahs into second place in the Australian conference and three points behind the Brumbies.

All Black prospect Rieko Ioane scored a try double as the Auckland Blues trounced South Africa's Central Cheetahs 50-32 at Eden Park.

Australia's Western Force won on the road in Super Rugby for the first time since last May when they upset Argentina's Jaguares 16-6 in Buenos Aires.

The Waikato Chiefs, Western Stormers, Sunwolves and Waratahs all had byes.

Portugal wins first ever Eurovision Song Contest

Portugal won the Eurovision Song Contest for the first time ever early Sunday with a melancholy ballad performed by a singer who suffers from a serious heart condition.

Portugal won the Eurovision Song Contest for the first time ever early Sunday with a melancholy ballad performed by a singer who suffers from a serious heart condition.

Iran’s delayed gold rush disillusions voters

The investment gold rush that was supposed to follow Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers and revitalise the economy has not materialised, leaving many voters disillusioned ahead of Friday’s election.The figures say it all — President Hassan Rouhani …

The investment gold rush that was supposed to follow Iran's nuclear deal with world powers and revitalise the economy has not materialised, leaving many voters disillusioned ahead of Friday's election.

The figures say it all -- President Hassan Rouhani wanted $50 billion a year in foreign investment to reach his target of eight-percent growth.

But since the nuclear deal came into force in January 2016, lifting some sanctions in exchange for curbs to Iran's atomic programme, only $1-2 billion worth of deals have actually been finalised, his deputy Eshaq Jahangiri admitted to AFP this week.

Unofficial polls still show Rouhani in the lead for Friday's election, but faced with a 12.5-percent unemployment rate it is no wonder that many have lost faith in his administration.

The problem is even worse for young people, with more than a quarter of 18- to 25-year-olds out of work, and many of the rest taking jobs far below their education level.

"I studied five years at one of Iran's top architecture universities but what I'm doing now could be done by someone who learnt the software on a two-month course," said 24-year-old designer Parnian Dalili, who nonetheless felt lucky to have landed a job at all.

All this has been a boon for Rouhani's conservative opponents, who say the government has failed to cash in on the nuclear deal and ignored the plight of the poor.

"A tree that has not born any fruit in four years will not yield anything positive in the future," said Tehran mayor and presidential candidate Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf in the final debate on Friday.

- Waiting game -

For all its troubles, Iran with its diverse economy and large, cosmopolitan middle class is still a great untapped opportunity among emerging markets, and hardly a week goes by without another huge business delegation coming from Europe or Asia.

Big names such as Siemens, Renault and Nestle are on the ground and hungry to expand.

But everyone is wary of US President Donald Trump, who has threatened to tear up the nuclear accord.

The US has also maintained a raft of sanctions that continue to scare off global banks which companies need to finance their deals.

"In the absence of large banking firms, the deals can't happen," said Farid Dehdilani, of the Iranian Privatisation Organisation.

He recently returned from a roadshow in London, where he found a lot of interest from investors in coming to Iran.

"But everyone is waiting for someone just a little bit bigger to make the first move," he said.

"They understand the risks and they're willing to take them, but the uncertainty over Trump and other factors is putting them off."

The crucial test is whether Trump continues to waive the sanctions suspended under the nuclear deal, which he must sign off over the next two months.

"All the big firms, especially the energy companies, are waiting to see whether Trump will keep the sanctions suspended," said a French businessman in Tehran.

The one clear success for Iran has been the return of oil sales, with exports doubling to almost 2.8 million barrels per day since the deal.

Rouhani says he will use this money to invest in the economy, and vowed this week to work for the removal of all remaining US sanctions over the next four years, although that would require a major attitude shift from the Trump administration.

"People have seen the benefits of the (nuclear deal) because there's stability. They're no longer worrying about prices going up overnight and having to hide dollars under their mattress," said Dehdilani.

"But people were over-excited. Iran could be a trillion-dollar economy, but it will take time."

And many fear the meagre progress of the past year could evaporate if the hardliners win on Friday, since they would likely take a much less friendly approach to the West.

"If the conservatives win, we might as well just pack up and go home," said a European diplomat.

Screen sirens who have shaken Cannes

The Cannes film festival — which starts this week — is famous for glamour and glitz. With the festival celebrating it 70th anniversary, we look back at some of the actresses who have lit up the red carpet:- ‘La Lollo’ vs Sophia – In the late 1950s, t…

The Cannes film festival -- which starts this week -- is famous for glamour and glitz. With the festival celebrating it 70th anniversary, we look back at some of the actresses who have lit up the red carpet:

- 'La Lollo' vs Sophia -

In the late 1950s, two curvacious Italian actresses competed for the attention of rowdy paparazzi: Gina Lollobrigida, affectionately known as "La Lollo" by fans, and Sophia Loren, born Sofia Scicolone.

The press revelled in their supposed public rivalry and Cannes became a key battleground where the divas competed for the eyes and imaginations of film buffs.

Loren gained the upper hand in 1962 when she won the best actress Oscar for "Two Women" by Vittorio De Sica.

Even so, she still had to compete at Cannes with other rising Italian stars -- Claudia Cardinale, Monica Vitti and Silvana Mangano -- for attention.

- Bardot mania -

Then an unknown, Brigitte Bardot first appeared at Cannes in 1953 and caused quite a sensation, lounging on the beach in a bikini while Kirk Douglas plaited her hair.

Fourteen years later the French star returned as an international sex symbol for the festival's closing ceremonies in May 1967 where she was to pay tribute to Swiss actor Michel Simon, the night's guest of honour.

But photographers battled each other amid a massive crowd trying to catch a glimpse of "BB" as she enter the auditorium.

Police had to fight to clear the way for Bardot as her husband Gunter Sachs pleaded for the crowd not to crush her.

- In bed with Madonna -

At the height of her fame in 1991, the US icon came to Cannes to present her documentary "Madonna: Truth or Dare".

Holed up in the five-star Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc, she stopped traffic on the winding roads of Cap d'Antibes for her daily 15-kilometre (10-mile) run -- surrounded by 15 bodyguards.

On the night of the screening, a crowd of at least 10,000 onlookers gathered in front of the Palais des Festivals to try to catch a glimpse of the star, whose limo inched through the crowd.

Chaos ensued as Madonna, wrapped in a pink cloak, strolled the red carpet, before halting, turning and revealing the cream conical bra designed by Jean Paul Gaultier she wore underneath.

A female television presenter was thrown to the ground live on-air, as were several photographers.

- Sharon Stone: A star is born -

In 1992, the festival opened with the whodunnit "Basic Instinct", an erotic thriller by Dutch director Paul Verhoeven.

The main female role -- a novelist who stabs her victims with an ice pick while engaged in acrobatic sex acts -- was played by US star Sharon Stone.

Completely at ease and oozing glamour, Stone, up to then known for just secondary roles, caused a minor riot among cameramen as she ascended Cannes' red carpet in a low-cut gown.

Stone became a regular feature at Cannes, turning her into a worldwide star.

- Sophie Marceau's boob -

In 2005, French actress Sophie Marceau made headlines across with world when the knot of her dress' shoulder strap came undone, revealing her left breast, as she climbed the palace steps.

Marceau quickly re-tied the knot, but the image had already been captured by a handful of photographers. Their shots ranked among the most expensive photos sold that year.

Ten years later, the star accidentally flashed the nude underwear she wore underneath her shift gown as she again climbed the palace steps.

Pope casts doubt on Bosnian Virgin apparitions

Pope Francis expressed serious doubts regarding reported daily apparitions of the Virgin at Medjugorje in Bosnia, a site which attracts a million pilgrims annually.In June 1981, six Bosnian children and teenagers said they had witnessed the appearance …

Pope Francis expressed serious doubts regarding reported daily apparitions of the Virgin at Medjugorje in Bosnia, a site which attracts a million pilgrims annually.

In June 1981, six Bosnian children and teenagers said they had witnessed the appearance of the Virgin in the southern town, and allege she continues to visit to this day.

The woman they saw "is not the mother of Jesus," the Pope said Saturday aboard the papal plane on his return from a trip to Portugal, where he canonised two young shepherds who had visions of the Virgin 100 years ago.

The Pope said an investigation under way by the Church had thrown up doubts regarding the Medjugorje apparitions.

He said he preferred "'the Mother Madonna' or 'our Mother', and not the 'Madonna chief of service', for sending daily messages."

The remarks are likely to make waves in Bosnia, where Catholics make up about 10 percent of the population and the religious tourism at Medjugorje brings money into the poor Balkan country.

"These supposed apparitions don't have much value -- I'm giving my personal opinion," the pontiff continued.

"But it is obvious, who thinks the Virgin would say: 'come to this place tomorrow at this time and I'll give a message to a seer'?"

However the Pope was more circumspect about the original 1981 apparitions, which he didn't immediately reject.

"On the original apparitions, the ones the children had, the enquiry says, more or less, that investigations need to continue," he said.

Several investigations have already been carried out, the last in January 2014, but the Pope had made no announcement since.

However, in November 2013, he did express some doubts.

"The Virgin," he said, "is not a chief of the post office who would send messages every day."

The Vatican earlier this year sent a new envoy to "acquire a deeper knowledge of the pastoral situation? in Medjugorje, and "above all the needs of the faithful who go there on pilgrimage".

The envoy, however, will not be tasked with verifying the authenticity of the apparitions, because that task falls to the Vatican?s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Merkel’s party seeks decisive victory in bellwether state vote

One in five German voters goes to the polls in a state election Sunday, with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party hoping to deal a crushing blow to her main rival four months before national elections.About 13.1 million eligible voters in North Rhine-Westp…

One in five German voters goes to the polls in a state election Sunday, with Chancellor Angela Merkel's party hoping to deal a crushing blow to her main rival four months before national elections.

About 13.1 million eligible voters in North Rhine-Westphalia will cast ballots to elect a new regional parliament for the sprawling industrial region, which has a large migrant population and has been a Social Democratic Party (SPD) stronghold for decades.

But surveys ahead of the vote show the centre-left party running neck-and-neck with Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, with some even placing the CDU ahead.

The surveys were the latest indication that initial enthusiasm for the new SPD leader, Martin Schulz, could be fizzling out.

The SPD had been ailing nationwide but saw a surge in support in February when Schulz took over. That support failed however to translate into votes in the last two state elections, when the CDU won comfortably.

Schulz shrugged off the two disappointments.

"Sometimes you lose, sometimes you win. I have the impression that Sunday will be a day when we will say 'we win'," he told voters at a rally in Leverkusen on Thursday.

An election in Germany's biggest state is always significant, but it carries higher stakes this year, being the last regional vote before national polls and having a direct impact on whether the SPD can close the gap nationwide with the CDU.

- Local vote, national stakes -

In the run-up to Sunday's vote, Schulz held more than 30 rallies in the state, where he began his political career in his hometown of Wuerselen.

The party is banking its hopes on incumbent state premier Hannelore Kraft, 55, who secured 39.1 percent in a 2012 vote, while the CDU clinched just over 26 percent.

"If Kraft succeeds, then the chances of the SPD's bid to take back the chancellery grow. If she loses, it would mean that the Schulz train has slammed against a wall," the weekly Spiegel magazine said.

Political analyst Oskar Niedermayer also noted the state's significance to the SPD, telling AFP that "a defeat there would be a disastrous symbol" for the party.

Schulz is hoping that his push for "social justice" will resonate in North Rhine-Westphalia, which has lagged behind western Germany economically.

He argues that many people are struggling in temporary or low-paid jobs even though the country as a whole is growing richer.

But Merkel has also been pounding the streets in the state of 18 million people, including 4.2 million of migrant origin.

In the town of Haltern am See on Wednesday, she took aim at Schulz's arguments, saying the CDU offers "justice in the sense of jobs, strong budgets, funds for local communities".

She also urged voters to look at her government's economic record -- with 7.5 percent unemployment, the state fares worse than the national rate of 5.8 percent, she said.

"Through intelligent policies and solid finances, and by doubling our investments in research, we have managed to reduce the number of jobless people to half that in 2005 when I became chancellor," she said, campaigning for CDU candidate Armin Laschet.

- Security, traffic jams -

Mindful that local issues can tip the balance, Merkel has also blamed the incumbents for persistent traffic jams that "are longer than from here to the moon".

The CDU has also accused the state's SPD-Green governing coalition of security failures.

State interior minister Ralf Jaeger has faced criticism for failing to detain Anis Amri, the Tunisian asylum seeker suspected in the deadly Berlin Christmas market rampage last year.

Amri had lived in the state and was deemed a threat by intelligence officials, but Jaeger argued that there was insufficient evidence to lock him up.

On Jaeger's watch, Cologne also became the scene of mass sexual assaults by groups of mostly North African men on New Year's Eve of 2015-2016, inflaming the debate over the 890,000 asylum seekers Germany welcomed in 2015.

The populist AfD (Alternative for Germany), which has railed against the migration influx, hopes to win its first seats in North Rhine-Westphalia, which would give it seats in 13 of 16 state parliaments.

Wal-Mart pushing hard to catch Amazon in e-commerce

Wal-Mart Stores, the 800-pound gorilla of retail, is running hard to catch up in an increasingly crucial segment where it is neither the biggest nor the best: e-commerce.The company, founded in 1962 by Sam Walton, has been gobbling up smaller and niche…

Wal-Mart Stores, the 800-pound gorilla of retail, is running hard to catch up in an increasingly crucial segment where it is neither the biggest nor the best: e-commerce.

The company, founded in 1962 by Sam Walton, has been gobbling up smaller and niche players in e-commerce in an effort to reach online shopping market leader Amazon.

Whether those efforts are paying off will be a focal point when Wal-Mart Stores reports quarterly earnings on Thursday.

A bit more than half of all funds spent online in the United States now goes to Amazon, according to the bank Macquarie.

Part of Amazon's success stems from its breadth of offerings, which includes the Kindle that people use for reading and the Prime service that broadcasts popular television shows, said Krista Fabregas, e-commerce staff writer at FitSmallBusiness.com.

"It's because Amazon has been doing such a great job at injecting itself into our everyday life," she told AFP.

"Wal-Mart is not part of everyday life, nor is Macy's, nor is Gap, nor the other stores. We don't have a connection with any of them throughout the day."

- Shopping spree -

Wal-Mart has been doing some shopping of its own, in an effort to make up ground against Amazon.

It spent $3.3 billion last year to buy Jet.com, which was started by e-commerce entrepreneur Marc Lore, whose previous company was sold to Amazon for $550 million.

Lore is now chief executive of Walmart eCommerce US, where he oversees 15,000 employees split between Silicon Valley, Boston, Omaha and Bentonville, Arkansas, where Wal-Mart is based.

His annual salary at $237 million is 10 times that of Wal-Mart chief executive Doug McMillon.

In less than five months, Lore has directed Wal-Mart to a number of acquisitions, including Shoebuy.com ($70 million), ModCloth ($45 million) and MooseJaw ($51 million).

Wal-Mart is also in talks to acquire the menswear chain Bonobos for $300 million, according to a person close to the matter.

Part of Wal-Mart's objective is to become a go-to place online for "essential" products, such as toilet paper, beauty products, groceries and holiday gifts and children's toys.

"We are focusing on the type of products that customers buy most," said Wal-Mart spokesman Ravi Jariwala. "We want to make sure that we have the best prices, shipping to your home or offering a pickup discount."

Wal-Mart in February scrapped a subscription delivery program that was a rival to Amazon Prime in favor of a guarantee of free two-day shipping for orders of more than $35.

Under the program customers can also pick up orders below $35 for free if they go to one of Wal-Mart's 4,700 US stores.

- Amazon keeps edge -

These efforts may cut into Amazon's lead in e-commerce, but overtaking Amazon appears unlikely anytime soon.

"They have invested heavily on channels. It will restore growth that was necessary for survival," said Keith Anderson of e-commerce analytics firm Profitero.

"I don't see anything that suggests that Wal-Mart would catch up to Amazon or beat Amazon, but it's still very early," he said.

The vigor of Wal-Mart's online investments today contrasts with its initial reticence in e-commerce, which was due to worries that growth of online shopping would cut into sales at brick-and-mortar stores.

Wal-Mart also was slow to introduce platforms for individual vendors who sought a venue for goods and did not introduce such an online marketplace until 2015, much after Amazon.

Hannah Donoghue, director of advisory at Planet Retail RNG, said it is still relatively early in the game as far as e-commerce.

Amazon is "the strongest right now, they are far ahead but there are a lot of innovations underway," Donoghue said. "I don't think Amazon will be the only one. There will be another strong player."

For now, Wall Street is giving the edge to Amazon, valuing the technology giant at $453 million, compared with Wal-Mart's $230 million.

That's in spite of Wal-Mart's far greater overall revenues, which were $485.9 billion in 2016, more than 11 times those of Amazon.

Brigitte Macron: French president’s teacher-turned-wife

Once his high school drama teacher, now wife of incoming French president Emmanuel Macron, 64-year-old Brigitte Macron stepped into the spotlight long before her husband was elected.The 25-year age difference and the extraordinary way they met — he pu…

Once his high school drama teacher, now wife of incoming French president Emmanuel Macron, 64-year-old Brigitte Macron stepped into the spotlight long before her husband was elected.

The 25-year age difference and the extraordinary way they met -- he pursued her when he was her pupil -- makes her the most talked-about French president's partner since Nicolas Sarkozy married singer-model Carla Bruni nine years ago.

Even Madonna is a fan, writing on Instagram after Macron's election that "no-one seems to care about their age difference nor insisted that Brigitte 'act her age'".

Elegant, always tanned and blonde, Brigitte is her husband's closest collaborator and he has pledged to give her an official role -- unlike in the US, there has hitherto been no definition of First Lady in the French presidency.

"As a teacher, I know young people... My fight will be education, to give them something other than hanging around in the stairwells of apartment buildings," she told Paris Match in an interview last year.

During the campaign, there were dozens of carefully-managed glossy magazine covers and then an appearance at her husband's side with her family at the Louvre pyramid in Paris for his victory party, dressed in a striking blue Louis Vuitton outfit.

But before all that she was another man's wife and mother-of-three who taught French, Latin and drama and was on course for a comfortable, if somewhat conventional, life.

Brigitte Trogneux was born on April 13, 1953, in Amiens in northern France, which is also Emmanuel Macron's home town, into a prosperous family that owns a chocolate business.

In the early 1990s a confident 15-year-old acting in a production of Milan Kundera's "Jacques and his Master" caught her eye. It was Emmanuel.

She quickly agreed when he asked her to help him work on a script and a remarkable relationship began.

Brigitte, who was then 39, recalls she was "totally captivated" by Emmanuel's intelligence.

Two years later he made an audacious prediction.

"At the age of 17, Emmanuel said to me 'whatever you do, I will marry you'," she told Paris Match last April.

Emmanuel was sent off to finish high school at an elite establishment in Paris, but he kept pursuing her and gradually she was won over.

- 'When I decide something...' -

Brigitte left her husband Andre Louis Auziere, a banker, in 2006 and married Macron a year later. She moved to Paris where he continued his studies and she worked as a teacher.

"When I make up my mind about something, I do it," she said in a documentary.

"She didn't love me for what I had, for the standing, the comfort or the security that I could give her. She gave up all of that for me," Macron wrote in his campaign-launching book "Revolution".

Known as "Bibi" to friends, Brigitte is described as warm, down-to-earth and unfailingly positive by those who know her.

One of them, Gregoire Campion, met her on a beach in the northern resort town of Le Touquet over 40 years ago. Their beach huts were next to each other and he remembers the young Brigitte "wasn't a party animal" but was "very educated".

Le Touquet has remained a part of her life and the now grandmother of seven spends many weekends there with her family and her husband.

It is a place to gather with her son and two daughters from her first marriage -- who have grown up to be an engineer, a cardiologist and a lawyer.

She enters the Elysee Palace with words of encouragement ringing in her ears. One of her short-lived predecessors, Valerie Trierweiler, had an unhappy experience as the companion of outgoing president Francois Hollande. The journalist left Hollande in 2014 after discovering he was having an affair with actress Julie Gayet.

"I have only got thing to say to her: Good luck Brigitte!" Trierweiler said on Friday.

US-China trade pact: a Trump triumph or rehashed news?

The new trade agreement unveiled Friday between China and the United States is yet another olive branch from the Trump White House to Beijing, but some skeptics wonder how long the cooperative tone will last.One thing is sure: the initial measures of t…

The new trade agreement unveiled Friday between China and the United States is yet another olive branch from the Trump White House to Beijing, but some skeptics wonder how long the cooperative tone will last.

One thing is sure: the initial measures of the 100-day action plan launched in mid-April by China and the United States stand in stark contrast with the anti-Chinese rhetoric Donald Trump used on the campaign trail.

The president has significantly softened his stance, declining last month to declare China a currency manipulator -- one of the most strident pledges he made as a candidate.

And, at least at first glance, the new Sino-American trade deal appears to have vindicated this softer approach that is starting to bear fruit.

"We have made...more progress in 40 days than the prior trade negotiators had in this century," Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said recently on Fox News.

- Seemingly familiar aspects -

The two-page plan of action calls for the lifting of the 13-year embargo Beijing had kept on American beef, as well as gradually opening the Chinese market to certain US financial services.

"It's impossible to overstate how beneficial this will be for America's cattle producers," said Craig Uden, president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, adding that he was eager to court 1.4 billion new consumers in China.

As important as they may be, these developments are not entirely new. Plans to lift the beef embargo had already been agreed to in principle last September under former President Barack Obama.

The only truly new development was the plan to speed up direct exports of American liquefied natural gas to China, delighting some in the American hydrocarbon industry.

"It's a strong signal from both governments that there is a real interest in using LNG produced in the US in China," Charlie Riedl, director of the Center for Liquefied Natural Gas, told AFP.

As for the Chinese, they got the US to lift trade barriers to Chinese exports of cooked poultry, a concession that does not appear to worry US producers.

"It would serve a niche market and we don't think that it would be a problem for our domestic industry," said Jim Sumner, director of the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council.

According to Douglas Paal, a China expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, these achievements are the low-hanging fruit.

- The easy steps -

"It's not negative but it's not a major step," he said. "These are the easy steps. The heavy work hasn't started yet."

Indeed, the agreement does not touch on theft of intellectual property or the American manufacturing sector, which has suffered most of all from Chinese competition -- and which Trump had promised to rescue on his arrival in the White House.

Imports of Chinese-manufactured goods are nevertheless blamed for the colossal US trade gap in goods with China, which stood at $347 billion in 2016. Trump has vowed to reduce it.

"For American manufacturing, there's not a lot there although I'm not terribly surprised," said Scott Paul of the Alliance for American Manufacturing.

"Those issues are going to be much harder to solve."

Paul said the Trump administration may need to get tougher, even threaten sanctions or fresh trade barriers, to win concessions from Beijing.

"The administration may need to take a more aggressive stance," he said.

Analysts say that, despite its repeated promises on joining the World Trade Organization in 2001, China has still not honored promises to open its markets to foreign competition.

"There's a lot of skepticism about whether or not China will really follow through," said Paal.

Macron to take office as French president

Emmanuel Macron will be inaugurated as France’s youngest ever president on Sunday, facing daunting challenges to rejuvenate the economy and breathe new life into the beleaguered EU.Macron, a 39-year-old centrist, will take over from President Francois …

Emmanuel Macron will be inaugurated as France's youngest ever president on Sunday, facing daunting challenges to rejuvenate the economy and breathe new life into the beleaguered EU.

Macron, a 39-year-old centrist, will take over from President Francois Hollande, the Socialist whose five years in power were plagued by stubborn unemployment and bloody terror attacks, in a ceremony at 0800 GMT.

After ascending the red carpet at the Elysee Palace in central Paris, Macron and Hollande will have a private meeting in the president's office where Macron will be given the codes to launch France's nuclear weapons.

Hollande is clearly delighted at the election of the former investment banker, who scored a clear victory over far-right candidate Marine Le Pen on May 7.

The current president launched Macron's political career, plucking him from the world of investment banking to be an advisor and then his economy minister.

"I am not handing over power to a political opponent, it's far simpler," Hollande said on Thursday.

Security will be tight with around 1,500 police officers deployed near the presidential palace and the nearby Champs Elysees avenue and surrounding roads will be blocked off.

At the end of the ceremony, a 21-gun salute will ring out from the Invalides military hospital on the other side of the River Seine.

After a formal lunch, Macron will visit Paris's town hall, a traditional stop for any new French president in his "host" city.

He will be accompanied by his wife Brigitte, his 64-year-old former drama teacher whose romance with the new president, and their 25-year age gap, has already generated media interest around the world.

- PM named, then Berlin -

On Monday, Macron is expected to reveal the closely-guarded name of his prime minister, before flying to Berlin to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

It is virtually a rite of passage for French leaders to make their first European trip to meet the leader of the other half of the so-called "motor" of the EU.

Pro-EU Macron wants to push for closer cooperation to help the bloc overcome the imminent departure of Britain, another of its most powerful members.

He intends to press for the creation of a parliament and budget for the eurozone.

Merkel welcomed Macron's decisive 32-point victory over Le Pen, saying he carried "the hopes of millions of French people and also many in Germany and across Europe".

In June, Macron faces what the French media are calling a "third round of the presidential election" when the country elects a new parliament in a two-round vote.

The new president needs an outright majority to be able to enact his ambitious reform agenda.

The year-old political movement "Republique en Marche" (Republic on the Move, REM) that he formed to launch his presidential bid intends to field candidates in virtually every constituency in the country.

It unveiled 428 of its 577 candidates this week, saying it wants to bring fresh faces into the National Assembly lower house of parliament.

Half of them have never held elected office, including a retired female bullfighter and a star mathematician, and half of them are women.

- Host of new faces -

Macron met many of the candidates gathered at a Paris museum on Saturday and told them they had an "immense responsibility".

"You are the new faces of French politics," some of those present quoted him as saying.

Macron won one of the most unpredictable French elections in modern history marked by scandal, repeated surprises and a last-minute hacking attack on his campaign.

Just as campaigning ended, hundreds of thousands of emails and documents stolen from his campaign were dumped online, leading Macron to call it an attempt at "democratic destabilisation".

US authorities have said they believe Russian hackers were behind the attack.

The election saw voters reject France's two traditional political forces of left and right. Their candidates were eliminated in the first round.

Unpopular Hollande was the first to bow to the rebellious mood in December as he became the first sitting president not to seek re-election in the French fifth republic, founded in 1958.

Red tape and taxes put brakes on ‘Make In India’ push

When Saurabh Ahuja tried to import a $600 3D printer for manufacturing drones in his Delhi workshop, he ended up spending another $900 in taxes and bribes and waited three months for it to clear customs.”We lack in technology and industry to make the s…

When Saurabh Ahuja tried to import a $600 3D printer for manufacturing drones in his Delhi workshop, he ended up spending another $900 in taxes and bribes and waited three months for it to clear customs.

"We lack in technology and industry to make the smallest things, so we have to import," Ahuja said as he listed the frustrations entrepreneurs still encounter since the government launched its "Make In India" project.

"If my business grows, the country grows with me. But the government won't let me grow."

Since coming to power in 2014, Narendra Modi has been looking to overhaul India's image as an awkward country in which to do business and instead emulate China by becoming a global manufacturing hub.

In September that year, the right-wing premier unveiled "Make in India" as a flagship initiative which would have an "unprecedented overhaul of out-dated processes and policies" at its core.

The government has tried to woo investors by promising to simplify the tax regime and liberalise rules on foreign direct investment (FDI).

But in the World Bank's most recent chart ranking countries for their ease of doing business, India came 130th out of 190.

While much of the focus has been on the travails of foreign firms, local entrepreneurs who should be the poster boys of Indian manufacturing are also struggling.

The printer that Ahuja did eventually manage to import from China to build everything from drones to robots had nearly 300 parts.

He first had to submit a sheaf of documents, including details of the exporter and the product catalogue to officials at Delhi airport.

He was then told each part would have to be tested before being let through. Three months and 150,000 rupees ($2,250) in warehouse charges later, he got his consignment only after he coughed up a bribe, he said.

Officials at the airport did not respond to an emailed query for comment.

Ahuja, 29, launched his company Nuts and Boltz six years ago from a basement in northwest Delhi to provide other budding entrepreneurs a place to experiment with product ideas.

For an hourly rental fee, clients have access to equipment such as 3D printers and circuit boards.

But while the prototypes can be crafted in India, nearly all the manufacturing ends up being outsourced overseas.

- 'Mad in India' -

"Maker spaces are great because you can quickly launch a prototype and get credibility," said Navi Radjou, co-author of the book "Frugal Innovation".

"But then you open a Pandora's Box because if a customer asks for 2,000 units of your product, you're screwed since you can't make it at that scale and that leads to a lot of frustration."

While India's big business houses are among Modi's loudest cheerleaders, economist Sunil Sinha said making things at home remains a fraught process for smaller firms.

"It's one thing to say we want to focus on manufacturing and that's why we have liberalised FDI and that's why we're trying to improve the ease of doing business," Sinha, principal economist at Fitch India, told AFP.

"But the crucial component is what's happening at the state level, at the local level.

"Anyone setting up a factory or business needs water and electricity connections and various permissions and annual regulatory filings to different government watchdogs. Those are the major stumbling blocks and there are no significant changes at that level.

"Many of the large companies ... have special access to the corridors of powers, but for the small guy no one will even answer his call so he has to strike a deal with whoever is the hurdle."

Ahuja was reminded of how onerous it was to manufacture at scale when the government last year banned the imports of lithium polymer batteries, needed to power the drones.

He now buys the batteries from Mumbai from someone who smuggles them in and then charges $300 a go, double the actual cost.

"Since the parts are not easily available, we've put on hold our classes to teach people how to make drones," Ahuja said.

His complaints find echoes among large-scale manufacturers such as Rajiv Bajaj, head of the Bajaj Auto conglomerate.

A long-established motorbike manufacturer, Bajaj wants to introduce a quadricycle but has encountered multiple obstacles.

"If your innovation in the country depends on government approval or the judicial process, it will not be a case of 'Made in India', but 'Mad in India'," Bajaj said in a speech this year, using a twist on the government's campaign slogan.

Emmanuel Macron: France’s youngest president

France’s 39-year-old president Emmanuel Macron is an ex-investment banker whose rapid rise has smashed traditions and raised expectations sky-high.The son of two doctors from the northeastern city of Amiens — the youngest president in French history -…

France's 39-year-old president Emmanuel Macron is an ex-investment banker whose rapid rise has smashed traditions and raised expectations sky-high.

The son of two doctors from the northeastern city of Amiens -- the youngest president in French history -- breaks the mould of a traditional French leader.

The pianist and poetry lover is married to his former teacher, glamorous 64-year-old Brigitte Macron, a divorced mother of three children whom he fell in love with as a schoolboy.

Their relationship has been a subject of fascination, often encouraged by the media-savvy Macron, and she is set to take on a prominent role as a First Lady focused on education and charitable causes.

He has also charted one of the most unlikely paths to the presidency in modern history, from virtual unknown three years ago to leader with no established party behind him.

In a country where political careers have traditionally been built over decades, he has never before held elected office.

He launched his independent movement Republique En Marche (Republic on the Move, REM) only 13 months ago, which he said was "neither of the left nor the right".

This unusual positioning for France, which has seen him borrow economic policies from the right coupled with social measures from the left, was initially met with cynicism.

"There is a left and a right... and that's a good thing, that's how our democracy functions," former critic Manuel Valls, a Socialist ex-prime minister, said at the time.

Others saw the ambitious graduate of elite public sector university ENA as too young and too inexperienced to become leader.

Few apart from his loyal core of advisors believed that he had the ability to triumph in 2017 at the age of 39, a year younger than Napoleon Bonaparte when he took power in 1804.

- Momentum -

But Macron pressed on, using his image as a dynamic young moderniser to draw in thousands of volunteers to En Marche, which was modelled partly on the grassroots movement of ex-US president Barack Obama in 2008.

After resigning from his job as economy minister in August last year, he set about writing his pre-election book "Revolution" and then finally declared he was running for president on November 16.

"We can't respond with the same men and the same ideas," he said at the launch in a jobs training centre in a gritty Parisian suburb.

After that, he benefited from the woes of the Socialist party and a scandal that engulfed one-time favourite Francois Fillon from the rightwing Republicans party, the other mainstream force in French politics.

Fillon was accused of paying his wife hundreds of thousands of euros from the public purse for a fake job as a parliamentary assistant -- allegations he denied but which sunk his campaign.

"He's been lucky," veteran political journalist Anne Fulda, who wrote a recent biography called "Emmanuel Macron, Such A Perfect Young Man", told AFP. "That's something that helped him considerably. The stars aligned."

With frustration at France's political class running high, Macron was able to tap into a desire for wholesale change that also propelled his far-right rival Marine Le Pen into the final round of the election last Sunday.

Fans compare him to ex-British prime minister Tony Blair or reformist Italian premier Matteo Renzi, while his most ardent admirers see parallels with assassinated US president John F. Kennedy.

- Already hated? -

But he will now face formidable political opponents in the Republicans party and Le Pen's National Front as well as fierce resistance from the country's powerful trade unions which are gearing up for a fight.

"I've spoken with hundreds of people and you can feel it in the air: you are already hated," one far-left critic, Francois Ruffin, wrote recently in Le Monde newspaper.

While at ease among ordinary voters, Macron has been accused of being condescending in the past, whether referring to "illiterate" abattoir workers, "alcoholic" laid-off workers or the "poor people" who travel on buses.

In an infamous exchange, when confronted by a protester in a T-shirt in May last year, he lost his cool, saying: "The best way to buy yourself a suit is to work."

His immediate task now will be to name a prime minster and government, then set about winning a majority in parliamentary elections set for June 11 and 18.

Macron has promised to refresh France's parliament and his party unveiled 428 out of its 577 candidates on Thursday. Half of them had never held elected office and half were women.

China hosts global Silk Road forum

Preview Beijing has welcomed dozens of world leaders and hundreds of business representatives at the Belt and Road Forum where China’s president, Xi Jinping, provided a platform for building a new reality of fair and mutually-beneficial cooperation.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview Beijing has welcomed dozens of world leaders and hundreds of business representatives at the Belt and Road Forum where China’s president, Xi Jinping, provided a platform for building a new reality of fair and mutually-beneficial cooperation.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Leading soprano Renee Fleming bids adieu to signature role

Opera superstar Renee Fleming bid adieu Saturday to one of her trademark roles, performing Strauss’s “Der Rosenkavalier” for the last time before a warm and enthusiastic crowd at the Metropolitan Opera in a sold-out matinee.Fleming beamed from the stag…

Opera superstar Renee Fleming bid adieu Saturday to one of her trademark roles, performing Strauss's "Der Rosenkavalier" for the last time before a warm and enthusiastic crowd at the Metropolitan Opera in a sold-out matinee.

Fleming beamed from the stage and patted her heart in gratitude to the cheers at the finale of Strauss's bittersweet comedy as confetti shimmered to the stage from above.

Fleming, 58, often considered the leading American soprano of her generation, plans to continue to sing in concert and some staged opera.

But she has retired many of her signature opera roles, saying she is excited about new singing challenges and that she feels it is time to move on from playing women decades younger who comprise most of the possibilities for a lyric soprano in the opera repertoire.

Fleming is not on the Met schedule for 2016-7, but a Met spokeswoman said she will be back in the 2018-9 season.

In "Der Rosenkavalier," Fleming was cast as the wife of a field marshal in Vienna high society in the early 20th century who turns away a much junior lover, sensing that it is only a matter of time before he rejects her for a younger woman.

An emotional high point occurs at the end of the first act when Fleming, whose character is called the Marschallin, ponders the passage of time and imagines herself as an old woman.

"Everything fades away like mist and dreams," she tells the young lover Octavian, shortly before she sends him away.

Fleming has praised the character as one of opera's most fully developed for a woman.

"There is so little repertoire in the classical literature that has anything to do with women who are really fully drawn, who have the complexity and the challenges that they truly face," she told AFP last year.

"So often in opera, women are symbolic and sort of archetypal and mostly very young, mostly victims," she said.

- 'People's diva' -

Raised in Rochester, New York, and the daughter of two music teachers, Fleming has attained unique stature within opera, enjoying rare crossover appeal among the general public and a nickname as "the people's diva," a testament to a combination of glamor, talent and a touch of grittiness.

She sang the "top 10" list for former late-night host David Letterman in 2013 and won praise for her rendition of the national anthem at the 2014 Super Bowl.

That prominence has made Fleming a reliably bankable star, a status on full display with "Der Rosenkavalier," one of the Met's most highly anticipated new productions of 2016-7, a season that commemorates 50 years at Lincoln Center.

Five of the nine Met performances of "Der Rosenkavalier" completely sold out and the run as a whole reached 98 percent capacity, making it the best attended Met opera of the season, a Met spokeswoman said.

Besides "Rosenkavalier," Fleming's other signature parts include Dvorak's "Rusalka," Tatiana in Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin" and Desdemona in Verdi's "Otello." She has appeared nearly 250 times at New York's premiere opera house in 22 roles. She has also sung in all of the world's major opera houses including Milan, London and Paris.

A representative for Fleming said the diva "does not like to be a repeater" and has already performed most classic roles for which her voice is suited.

Fleming has increasingly shown an interest in fresh works, seeking newly composed pieces that befit a grown woman.

Throughout her time on stage Saturday, Fleming's voice revealed a combination of lightness and richness, especially near the end of act one and in a trio near the finale of the opera with Octavian and Sophie, the younger woman whom Octavian falls for. Fleming acted with understatement and reserve that lent weight to the sense of melancholy at the passage of time.

While the Strauss opera worked thematically as a kind of not-quite-sendoff for Fleming from the Met, it did not include obvious applause lines for the audience to express its appreciation during the performance.

The Met crowd on Saturday however made up for that with a standing ovation for Fleming at the end.

Ryan’s goal lifts Senators over Penguins in NHL East finals opener

Bobby Ryan scored 4:59 into over-time Saturday to give the Ottawa Senators a 2-1 victory over defending champion Pittsburgh in the opening game of the NHL Eastern Conference finals.The visiting Senators seized a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven playoff se…

Bobby Ryan scored 4:59 into over-time Saturday to give the Ottawa Senators a 2-1 victory over defending champion Pittsburgh in the opening game of the NHL Eastern Conference finals.

The visiting Senators seized a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven playoff series that continues Monday in Pittsburgh. The series winner will play either Nashville or Anaheim in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Ryan assisted on Jean-Gabriel Pageau's goal 14:32 into the first period, his backhand pass setting up the Canadian center to fire the puck past Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.

But after Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin equalized with 5:35 remaining in the third period to force over-time, Ryan saved the best for last.

The American right wing outraced a defender, crossed left across the front of the Pittsburgh goal, pulled the puck to his backhand and flipped it past Fleury high into the upper left corner of the net.

"We talked about it all night, just winning those little puck battles," Ryan said. "I felt good with the puck and the decision making."

Pageau has eight goals in this playoff run for Ottawa, which improved to 6-1 in over-time games this year.

"Bobby was everything on both goals," said Pageau. "I just had to put it in and on the last goal I didn't know he could skate that fast. He's a real dangerous skater on the breakaway."

The Penguins enter the series a heavy favorite after winning the Cup last year and ousting Washington in the second round in a battle between the NHL's two winningest teams this season.

"We feel like nobody is picking us," Ryan said. "We stuck with our game. We didn't collapse when they scored. Now here we are with a 1-0 lead and we will take an hour and then we'll get ready for game two."

The Senators clung to their lead until the dying minutes, when Russia's Malkin deflected a shot between Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson's legs for his sixth goal of the playoffs.

"It's not hard for us to come in here and give everything we have," Pageau said. "It has gone well for us so far."

Nepal votes in first local election in 20 years

Voting began in Nepal on Sunday in its first local elections in two decades, a landmark moment in the country’s fraught transition to democracy.Polls opened in three provinces at 7 am (0115 GMT) with nearly 50,000 candidates vying for the position of m…

Voting began in Nepal on Sunday in its first local elections in two decades, a landmark moment in the country's fraught transition to democracy.

Polls opened in three provinces at 7 am (0115 GMT) with nearly 50,000 candidates vying for the position of mayor, deputy mayor, ward chairman and ward member in 283 local municipalities.

The ballot paper in the capital Kathmandu -- one of the largest constituencies -- was around one metre long (3 feet) to accomodate the 878 candidates.

The vote has been split into two phases because of unrest in the southern plains bordering India, where the minority Madhesi ethnic group is refusing to participate until an amendment to the constitution is passed.

The remaining four provinces, considered potential flashpoints for election-related violence, will vote in the second phase due to be held on June 14.

Local government representatives were last elected in 1997. Their five-year terms expired in 2002, at the height of the country's civil war, and their mandate was allowed to lapse.

Bureaucrats have since filled those positions, many appointed on the basis of allegiance to the main political parties.

Corruption has flourished, hampering the delivery of basic services -- from healthcare to the appointment of teachers at government schools.

The peace deal that ended the decade-long Maoist insurgency in 2006 began the impoverished Himalayan nation's transition from a Hindu monarchy to a secular republic.

As part of the accord, a new constitution was written and finally adopted in September 2015, nearly a decade after the end of the conflict.

The charter mandated that local elections, followed by provincial and then national elections, be held by January 2018 -- the final step in the drawn-out peace process.

But the constitution sparked protests by the minority Madhesi community -- who say the document leaves them politically marginalised -- and led to a months-long blockade of the India-Nepal border that caused a crippling shortage of goods across the country.

The Madhesi community threatened to boycott the local polls unless the constitution is rewritten and forced the government to split the vote into two phases.

The government has promised a vote on an amendment to the constitution after Sunday's election, but the fragile ruling coalition is struggling to get the necessary majority in parliament to pass the bill.

Trump weighs further US troops for Afghanistan

Hanging in a corridor outside the Pentagon press office, a blow-up of a Time magazine cover shows a weary US soldier drawing deeply on his cigarette. Barbed wire and snowy foothills loom behind him.The headline: “How Not to Lose in Afghanistan.” The da…

Hanging in a corridor outside the Pentagon press office, a blow-up of a Time magazine cover shows a weary US soldier drawing deeply on his cigarette. Barbed wire and snowy foothills loom behind him.

The headline: "How Not to Lose in Afghanistan." The date: April 20, 2009.

More than eight years later, the Pentagon finds itself in the same quandary.

Again.

This time round, it is President Donald Trump looking for answers, just as Barack Obama and George W. Bush did before him.

Having given Afghanistan little more than a passing mention as president, he is now being forced to confront the issue by a grim drumbeat of bad news and warnings from his generals.

Almost any year from its turbulent recent past can serve as a showcase for Afghanistan's dire predicament.

Take 2016, which marked 15 years since the US-led invasion. Nearly 11,500 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded, according to the United Nations.

Adding to the carnage, local officials say, the Taliban and other insurgent groups killed about 7,000 Afghan security force members -- many of whom had been trained and supported by US and NATO experts.

Dan Coats, Trump's director of national intelligence, hammered home the depressing point this week, warning that the political and security situation will "almost certainly" continue to worsen.

"Meanwhile, we assess that the Taliban is likely to continue to make gains, especially in rural areas," he said.

Trump, who campaigned on an "America First" platform and a pledge to reduce US overseas involvement, must now decide whether to approve expected requests from the military's top brass to send thousands more US troops back to Afghanistan.

Administration advisers are reportedly urging him to green light some 3,000 to 5,000 additional troops, adding to the 8,400 already there.

The president is expected to make the decision this month, and Pentagon chief Jim Mattis said his own recommendation would come "very shortly."

- 'Change something' -

US troop levels peaked at around 100,000 under Obama, who later embarked on a steady drawdown aiming to completely end America's combat role in the country.

The United States and NATO handed security responsibility over to Afghan forces at the start of 2015, but the outcome has been brutal.

Local troops have been slain in their thousands, corruption remains endemic and as the Taliban continues to gain ground, even US commanders concede the situation is a stalemate at best.

"Unless we change something... the situation will continue to deteriorate and we'll lose all the gains that we've invested in over the last several years," Defense Intelligence Agency chief General Vincent Stewart told lawmakers this week.

However, a new troop commitment would stir resentment in America, which has seen about 2,400 troops killed in Afghanistan since 2001 and another 20,000 wounded.

Plus the US government has already spent around $1 trillion on fighting and rebuilding, much of which has been squandered on wasteful projects.

Trump is expected to announce a decision while he travels to NATO in Brussels and a G7 summit in Sicily later this month.

He will need to outline a coherent Afghanistan policy and explain how a few thousand extra troops will win -- or at least not lose -- there, when 100,000 troops could not.

"What we will have at the end of this next few weeks here is an opportunity for a much more effective strategy for the problem set in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the region broadly," said Trump's national security adviser, H.R. McMaster.

Administration officials acknowledge military gains can succeed only if reforms take place in the heart of the Kabul government.

Mattis this week sounded an optimistic tone on the country's current leaders, President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.

Officials say the government is working to root out the corruption and bad governance that defined Hamid Karzai's decade in power.

They are "committed to working in a responsive way with their citizens, and therein lies the path forward," Mattis said.

"When a government wins the affection, the respect and the support of their people, then no enemy can stand against them."

NATO currently has about 13,500 soldiers in Afghanistan, including the Americans.

They do not typically fight the Taliban, serving a "train and advise" role for the local forces instead.

Extra troops could free up Western advisers to get closer to the fight. While that would help them gain better battlefield understanding, it would also put them at greater risk.

But Americans have little appetite for more deaths in a war that many view as unwinnable and would rather forget.

Portugal’s big-hearted crooner wins Eurovision

A few weeks ago, Salvador Sobral, the 27-year-old Portuguese crooner who won Saturday’s Eurovision Song Contest, was an unknown artist waiting for a heart transplant.But his intimate rendering of the melancholic “Amar Pelos Dois” (For the Both of Us) w…

A few weeks ago, Salvador Sobral, the 27-year-old Portuguese crooner who won Saturday's Eurovision Song Contest, was an unknown artist waiting for a heart transplant.

But his intimate rendering of the melancholic "Amar Pelos Dois" (For the Both of Us) written by his older sister Luisa -- a success in her own right -- scored a huge victory in the kitschy contest in Kiev.

At first glance, his decision to forgo the elaborate choreography and heavy dance tempos favoured by most contestants had made him a long shot.

Shunning English to sing in a Portuguese tremolo that reflects a severe heart condition would also seem to bode ill for the Lisbon native, whose beard and ponytail make him look more of a hipster than a budding pop star.

"I don't like pointless 'fast food' music, my songs have to have meaning, I sing with my heart," he said recently.

- Something to say -

Sobral's low-key performance beat more traditionally flamboyant acts like bookmakers' favourite Italian Francesco Gabbani and his "dancing naked ape", as well as Azerbaijan's entry featuring a man on a stepladder wearing a horse's head.

Ahead of the final, Sobral held a press conference wearing a sweatshirt calling attention to the plight of refugees, saying he was not only taking part in the contest to sing.

"When I learned that I was going to participate at Eurovision I first thought about the refugees, because they leave their country to escape death," he said.

Sobral himself cannot go anywhere for more than two weeks without his medicine, and he did not attend earlier rehearsals in Kiev because of health worries.

But he plays down his heart ailment, even though he is still waiting for a transplant.

"The disease is a small problem, really, certainly the only one I have in my life."

- Highs and lows -

Discovered in 2009 while competing in Portugal's version of "American Idol" -- as his sister had a few years previously -- Sobral was barely 18 and had a hard time adjusting to his sudden popularity.

He quit singing shortly afterwards, and in 2011 he left Portugal for Spain's Balearic Islands, where he studied psychology during an Erasmus programme.

It was during this time Sobral fell into heavy drug use, including regular use of psychedelic mushrooms.

But he gradually cleaned himself up and started singing in the bars and hotels on Mallorca.

"It was hard to sing every night until midnight, but it was worth it," he said recently.

"I thought about staying on the island, but when I saw that nothing happens there in winter, I knew I had to make a decision."

So he left for Barcelona to study jazz and work on his voice, and it was in the Catalan city that he discovered Chet Baker, the trumpeter Sobral now calls his biggest musical inspiration.

The emotional force of his singing has touched a nerve in Portugal, which had never before won higher than sixth place at Eurovision.

Speaking to reporters after the final Saturday, Sobral downplayed his popularity, joking: "I don't know about national hero, I think the real hero is (Portuguese footballer Cristiano) Ronaldo."

Rare Super Rugby away triumph for Western Force

Western Force of Australia won on the road in Super Rugby for the first time since last May when they upset Jaguares of Argentina 16-6 in Buenos Aires on Saturday.The Perth outfit remained fourth in the Australian conference despite a win clinched five…

Western Force of Australia won on the road in Super Rugby for the first time since last May when they upset Jaguares of Argentina 16-6 in Buenos Aires on Saturday.

The Perth outfit remained fourth in the Australian conference despite a win clinched five minutes from time by a try from substitute forward Isi Naisarani.

He achieved the seemingly improbable by barging between two opponents and stretching to dot down at Estadio Jose Amalfitani.

Although second last in the standings, Force are just six points behind leaders ACT Brumbies and four of their remaining five fixtures are at home.

However, the next Super Rugby visitors to Perth are the last two title-holders, Otago Highlanders and Wellington Hurricanes of New Zealand.

Force are desperate for victories to prove they are worthy of retention in the competition next year ahead of last-place Melbourne Rebels.

One of those two Australian sides, plus two from South Africa, will be axed in a finance-related Super Rugby revamp that cuts the number of teams from 18 to 15.

By scoring, Naisarani deprived Jaguares of even a losing bonus point and left them nine points behind Coastal Sharks of South Africa in the race for a quarter-finals place.

In a scrappy, error-riddled match, a record low score for a Super Rugby game seemed possible at half-time as Force led 3-0 through a penalty from scrum-half Ian Prior.

With an hour gone there were only six points on the board, fly-half Juan Martin Hernandez having equalised with a penalty.

The unwanted record of fewest points was set in 2009 when Hurricanes defeated Canterbury Crusaders 6-0 in a New Zealand derby.

Finally, the scoring tempo in Buenos Aires increased as Prior and Hernandez exchanged penalties within four minutes.

The first try came 12 minute from time when persistent Force pressure paid off as Prior sent winger Alex Newsome over far out, but failed to convert.

Prior also missed the conversion of the Naisarani try, but it did not matter as Jaguares had run out of try-scoring ideas in their worst home display this season.

The scoreline would have been more embarrassing for the Argentines, who started with 14 Test players, had a harsh obstruction call not ruled out a Force try from replacement back James Verity-Amm.

Force had the best back on view in winger Semisi Masirewa and the Australians scrummaged powerfully until tighthead prop Lucas Noguera Paz came on and made an immediate impact.

The Australians host 2015 champions Highlanders next Saturday while Jaguares have a bye before another home fixture, against Brumbies.

Garcia charges as Stanley, Holmes share PGA Players lead

Masters champion Sergio Garcia charged into contention during Saturday’s windy third round of The Players Championship while Americans Kyle Stanley and J.B. Holmes shared the lead after 54 holes.Spain’s Garcia, the 2008 Players winner, and Argentina’s …

Masters champion Sergio Garcia charged into contention during Saturday's windy third round of The Players Championship while Americans Kyle Stanley and J.B. Holmes shared the lead after 54 holes.

Spain's Garcia, the 2008 Players winner, and Argentina's Emiliano Grillo each fired five-under par 67s at the TPC Sawgrass course to leap up the leaderboard even as Holmes and Stanley clung to the lead of the US PGA Tour event at nine-under 207.

"Even though it was much tougher with the windy conditions and how gusty it was out there, I was able to hit some really quality shots," Garcia said.

In his first start since last month's breakthrough win at Augusta National after 73 prior major failures, Garcia shined with six birdies, three bogeys and a 17-foot chip-in eagle at the par-5 16th.

"I've always been confident with myself," Garcia said. "I've always believed in the ability that I have. It does help to win a major and to win the Masters the way I did it, but I don't feel like I'm that different a player -- maybe a little bit more confidence here and there, but that's about it."

Stanley fired and 72 and Holmes a 70 with each making a birdie at the par-3 17th island green to stay one stroke ahead of South African Louis Oosthuizen, who shot 73 to stand on 208.

South Korea's Kim Si-Woo was fourth on 209 after a 68 with Grillo and Britain's Ian Poulter on 210 and Garcia sharing seventh on 211 with American Patrick Cantlay and Swede Alex Noren.

Stanley, who birdied 17 for the third day in a row, took his only PGA title at the 2012 Phoenix Open. It came a week after his only prior 54-hole lead, a six-shot edge that he squandered at Torrey Pines, a triple bogey at the last hole leading to a playoff loss to Brandt Snedeker.

"I know what I'm capable of doing. I'm happy with the way things are," Stanley said.

As for his success at 17, Stanley said, "It's a nerve-wracking hole. It's nice to play it well."

Holmes made an 18-foot birdie putt at the 11th and five-footers at 12 and 17 for birdies to boost his chances of his fifth PGA title, his first since the 2015 Houston Open.

"I've made some great putts. I feel really good over the putter," Holmes said. "It would be awesome to win this tournament. I just want to have fun tomorrow, win or lose, enjoy it no matter what happens."

- Poulter unflappable in wind -

Kim birdied the par-5 second and ninth holes, began the back nine with another birdie had a tap-in birdie at 12. He found the water at the par-5 16th and made bogey but answered with a five-foot birdie putt at the par-3 17th.

"My shot feels really good and I'm getting better," Kim said. "Just trying to be aggressive in these conditions."

Poulter, whose last victory was at the 2012 World Golf Championships event in China, looked to lose his US tour playing rights before a recalculation of points earned on a medical exemption showed the 41-year-old Englishman had done enough to keep his card.

"It was a relief to get the call to say you're good, you did enough to secure your card," Poulter said. "To come here this week and play well means an awful lot."

Poulter made 17 pars and a birdie, dropping his approach two feet from the cup and tapping in at the par-5 second.

"It was extremely difficult," Poulter said. "It was very gusty. The key to me was to be patient, don't go pin hunting, don't make silly decisions.

"I had a lot of opportunities over the last few holes. I didn't take advantage of them, but I'm in a great position for tomorrow."

Belt & Road: China welcomes heads of state & intl bodies at global cooperation forum

Preview Beijing is hosting a high-level international cooperation forum, dubbed “One Belt, One Road,” which brings together dozens of heads of state and government, along with financial organizations and hundreds of business representatives and entrepreneurs.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview Beijing is hosting a high-level international cooperation forum, dubbed "One Belt, One Road,” which brings together dozens of heads of state and government, along with financial organizations and hundreds of business representatives and entrepreneurs.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Chelsea’s Premier League title-winner Batshuayi eyes Watford reward

Scorer of the goal that won Chelsea the title, Michy Batshuayi will hope to make his first Premier League start for the club in Monday’s home game with Watford.The Belgium striker came off the bench to score the decisive goal in Friday’s 1-0 win at Wes…

Scorer of the goal that won Chelsea the title, Michy Batshuayi will hope to make his first Premier League start for the club in Monday's home game with Watford.

The Belgium striker came off the bench to score the decisive goal in Friday's 1-0 win at West Bromwich Albion, which confirmed Chelsea as champions.

Batshuayi is yet to start a league game since arriving from Marseille last year, but could be given a run-out if, as expected, manager Antonio Conte elects to shuffle his pack.

"I'm delighted for Michy," said centre-back Gary Cahill following victory at The Hawthorns. "He hasn't played as much football as he would want, but to score the winner is great for him.

"We've been together as a group all season -- that's what got us to where we are."

Chelsea's failure to qualify for European competition this season, coupled with a remarkably good injury record, means Conte has had to make very few adjustments to his starting XI during the campaign.

Cesc Fabregas and Willian have both been in and out of the team, but Chelsea's other reserve players have become very well acquainted with the seats in the Stamford Bridge dug-out.

Batshuayi is not alone in having had to wait for playing opportunities, with Kurt Zouma, club captain John Terry and Nathan Ake, who returned from a loan spell at Bournemouth in January, all in the same boat.

Terry, Chelsea's emblematic skipper, will end his 22-year association with the club at the end of the season and seems certain to start at least one of their final two games.

Despite Chelsea having sealed the title, Terry will not get an opportunity to lift the trophy until after the final home game of the campaign against relegated Sunderland next Sunday.

Youth-team graduates Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Nathaniel Chalobah will also hope to make their first league starts of the campaign in Chelsea's last two fixtures.

But with an FA Cup final against Arsenal awaiting on May 27, David Luiz says it is vital Chelsea do not allow themselves to take their foot off the pedal.

- 'Go there and fight' -

"There's still some work to do, not just in the final. There are still two league games to go, so let's rest a bit and prepare ourselves," said the Brazilian centre-back.

"If I say I'm not thinking about winning the Double, I am a liar! Of course we think about this.

"But we need to think day by day, rest well, keep ourselves very good in these next two games to have a top performance against Arsenal.

"It will be a difficult game against a fantastic team, so we need to be at a high level."

Watford, 15th, are not yet mathematically safe from relegation, although it will take a minor miracle for them to be caught by third-bottom Hull City.

Following Friday's 1-0 defeat at Everton, Walter Mazzarri's side have lost their last six away games without scoring.

Stefano Okaka knows his side will be up against it at a partying Stamford Bridge, but he is hopeful his side can exploit any groggy heads in the Chelsea ranks.

"Football is like this. Sometimes you score a lot, sometimes you don't," said the Italian striker.

"In these six games we created some chances. Sometimes we play well, but concede a goal and then it's difficult to get back in the game.

"I hope we can do something good in the next game. It'll be a difficult game against Chelsea. I'm not a stupid guy.

"I can't say we're going to go to Chelsea and win 3-0 or 4-0. But we will go there and fight."

Fixtures

Monday (1900 GMT):

Chelsea v Watford

Tuesday:

Arsenal v Sunderland (1845 GMT), Man City v West Brom (1900 GMT)

Wednesday (1845 GMT):

Southampton v Man Utd

Thursday (1845 GMT):

Leicester v Tottenham

McCall says more to come from ‘hungry’ Euro kings Saracens

Saracens boss Mark McCall said “there’s no reason why we can’t get better” after his side beat Clermont 28-17 to win back-to-back European Champions Cup titles.Unlike last year’s 21-9 final win over Clermont’s French rivals Racing 92, where England’s O…

Saracens boss Mark McCall said "there's no reason why we can't get better" after his side beat Clermont 28-17 to win back-to-back European Champions Cup titles.

Unlike last year's 21-9 final win over Clermont's French rivals Racing 92, where England's Owen Farrell kicked all of Saracens' points in a match where neither side managed a try, Saturday's clash at Murrayfield was a far more exciting contest.

Saracens, belying their reputation as a dour, forward-orientated team, almost scored a try in the second minute.

In any case, McCall's men were 12-0 up following the end of the opening quarter after Chris Ashton, bound for France with Toulon, scored a tournament career record 37th try and England lock George Kruis also crossed Clermont's line.

Clermont, who came into the match with a reputation for blistering starts, fought back thanks to Remi Lamerat's first-half try before English wing Nick Abendanon crowned a length of the field move for a superb score in the 51st minute.

Morgan Parra's penalty left Clermont just a point behind at 17-18 heading into the final quarter before Saracens pulled clear, with fullback Alex Goode's try seven minutes from time putting the London club two scores clear after Farrell converted.

Victory left Saracens, the reigning English champions, just two matches away from completing a 'double Double' and with the likes of Farrell (25) and man-of-the-match Billy Vunipola (24) still having plenty of rugby to look forward to barring injury.

"I think the pleasing thing today was it felt and looked like we had improved from last year," said McCall, whose side face Exeter in the English Premiership semi-final play-offs.

"It was a different kind of final from last year and allowed us to show different signs of ourselves," the former Ireland centre added.

"I thought we showed a lot of great qualities.We think the age profile of the group is good and if we're hungry enough, we're hungry enough so there?s no reason why we can't get better."

- 'Reaction' -

Having seen Saracens charge into an early lead, McCall was proud of the composure his players displayed to weather Clermont's fightback in Edinburgh.

"It is great to win back-to-back (finals) but the manner in which we did it was the hugely encouraging thing," Saracens' director of rugby explained.

"It felt we were dominant for long periods -- with a strong scrum and line-out we dominated territory and attacked very well -- but we were never away on the scoreboard.

"It was one of those games where they scored their 100-metre try, a great try, but our reaction was outstanding.

"We really attacked the game for the last 20 minutes, kicked behind them and put them under pressure, and I think we got what we deserved at the end."

For Clermont, still searching for a first major European crown, and their huge travelling 'Yellow Army' of supporters, it was yet another miserable day in a showpiece match.

Saturday's reverse was their third European Cup final defeat, with Clermont also having lost 11 of their 12 appearances in France's Top 14 title-decider.

But they could end the season as champions of France, with Clermont facing either Montpellier or Racing 92 in a Top 14 semi-final in Marseilles in a fortnight.

"We didn't give up, we didn't break, but Saracens were favourites and it showed," said Franck Azema, the Clermont coach.

"We weren't able to reverse the pressure.

"Of course we believed we could win after our second try but they put us under pressure all the time."

Nevertheless, a defiant Azema added: "Our group is strong, we have a great team. I don't think we should be ashamed of this game.

"We have to accept the bitterness of this loss, people will say 'Clermont can they react?, but we will focus on the next match.

"The boys are not giving up. We still have one competition to win."

Nadal primed as Murray seeks clay court redemption in Rome

Whether he likes it or not, Rafael Nadal will seek to rubber-stamp his status as the favourite for the French Open when he heads to the Rome Masters Monday looking to underline his return to form on clay.World number one Andy Murray may have wowed the …

Whether he likes it or not, Rafael Nadal will seek to rubber-stamp his status as the favourite for the French Open when he heads to the Rome Masters Monday looking to underline his return to form on clay.

World number one Andy Murray may have wowed the crowds at the Foro Italico last year when he bossed Serbia's four-time champion Novak Djokovic in the final to claim his maiden win in the Italian capital.

But what was just the Scot's third title on the surface, following wins in Munich and Madrid, has never looked further away.

A year on from a triumph that suggested Murray had finally mastered the toughest surface of them all, the 29-year-old is back to square one after a humiliating exit to unseeded 20-year-old Croat Borna Coric before the business end of the Madrid Masters began earlier this week.

By contrast, Nadal cruised to a 14-0 win record on clay when he ousted long-time rival Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals on Saturday.

Currently ranked fifth in the world, the Spaniard will now meet Austrian Dominic Thiem in the final.

"It is a great result," said Nadal. "To win against Novak by that score you have to be playing very well, otherwise it's impossible."

Yet Nadal, coming back into form after two underwhelming years, was quick to play down suggestions he was already the favourite for the French Open and, by default, the Rome Masters -- a tournament he is looking to win for the eighth time.

"I know that I am playing well. I'm on the right track," added Nadal.

"It's really important being able to make it to another final in a Masters 1000, especially here in Madrid, at home. Right now I'm not thinking of anything else."

Given his past record in Rome -- Nadal won seven titles from 2005 to 2013 -- the 30-year-old Spaniard can look forward to a rousing reception from the notoriously noisy Rome crowd.

Even moreso if he comes up against Murray, who, to his credit, has blamed himself for an early-season slump in form that has placed huge question marks over his chances of a Rome repeat.

"There's no blame on anyone, it's down to me," Murray said after an error-strewn performance against Coric.

- Right mindset -

But Murray, who said he has been talking to part-time coach Ivan Lendl "every Monday", is hoping fortune turns in his favour.

"Things can turn around quickly in tennis. Borna lost in the qualifying here a few days ago. Now he's in the quarters playing very good tennis. Things can change fast," he added.

"But you need to have the right sort of ideas, correct ideas, understand why you're in the position you're in. Hopefully I can do that with my team and play better in Rome and Roland Garros."

For the third straight clay-court Masters 1000 event, Djokovic and Nadal have been drawn in the same half.

Despite a straight sets defeat to Nadal that suggested the Serb, too, has yet to reach his peak, Djokovic remains buoyed.

"It was a positive week, a positive experience. I take more positives than negatives into the next week in Rome," said Djokovic, the second seed in Rome.

"As I go along, I hope to continue getting better and getting stronger."

In the absence of world number one Serena Williams, who is pregnant, top seed Angelique Kerber has been drawn in the same quarter as Russian Maria Sharapova, who will play Christina McHale in the first round, and Madrid Open winner Simona Halep.

Sharapova returns to the event for the first time since returning from a 15-month doping ban.