Time to assassinate Syrian President Assad & get to his allies in Iran – Israeli minister

Preview An Israeli minister has bluntly called for Syrian leader Bashar Assad to be assassinated after unsourced media reports claimed Damascus was using a “crematorium” to cover-up mass killings. He said the “serpent’s head” in Tehran should be dealt with next.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview An Israeli minister has bluntly called for Syrian leader Bashar Assad to be assassinated after unsourced media reports claimed Damascus was using a “crematorium” to cover-up mass killings. He said the “serpent’s head” in Tehran should be dealt with next.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Hamas releases suspects’ ‘confession’ in commander killing

Hamas released a recording Tuesday of the purported confessions of the men suspected of murdering one of its commanders in the heart of Gaza, allegedly on behalf of Israel.At a press conference in Gaza, the interior ministry in the Hamas-run enclave br…

Hamas released a recording Tuesday of the purported confessions of the men suspected of murdering one of its commanders in the heart of Gaza, allegedly on behalf of Israel.

At a press conference in Gaza, the interior ministry in the Hamas-run enclave broadcast a 14-minute video.

Images allegedly showed three men, presented as the murderer and his two accomplices, confessing to their roles in the death of Mazen Faqha, although their faces did not appear.

No independent bodies have had access to the suspects, and the images and recordings were impossible to verify.

?Widespread coercion, torture and routine deprivation of detainees' rights by Hamas security services in Gaza call into question whether these confessions were in fact voluntary or may have been extracted under duress," said Omar Shakir, Human Rights Watch director for Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Faqha, a senior member of Hamas' armed wing, was shot dead next to his home in Gaza City on March 24.

Hamas immediately accused Israel of carrying out the professionally planned operation.

On Monday, the group named Ashraf Abu Leila, 38, as chief suspect, saying he was arrested two weeks after the killing.

Two other unnamed men are alleged to have helped plan the killing with the help of Israel's security services.

The assassination in the middle of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip shocked the Islamist movement and raised fears of a new conflict with Israel.

The two have fought three wars since 2008.

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied the claims.

In the recordings broadcast on Tuesday, the chief suspect is not named but is identified only by his initials.

He confesses to cooperating with Israeli intelligence since 2004, with an Israeli agent asking him for information about Hamas bases.

His "last mission" was murdering Faqha, saying he shot him five or six times in the head and torso.

A security source recently indicated the suspect was a member of the armed wing of Hamas for several years before being expelled in 2008.

General Tawfiq Abu Naim, head of the Hamas security services in Gaza, said the assassination was prepared for eight months.

Shortly after the killing, the security services launched a campaign against so-called collaborators during which "45 people were arrested", he said.

On April 6, Hamas hanged three men accused of collaborating with Israel in cases unrelated to Faqha's death.

UN rights office eyes corporate cash after Microsoft deal

The UN human rights office on Tuesday announced a $5-million (4.5 million euros) donation from Microsoft, billing the gift as a key step towards increasing corporate support. The grant, to be doled out over five years through a combination of cash and …

The UN human rights office on Tuesday announced a $5-million (4.5 million euros) donation from Microsoft, billing the gift as a key step towards increasing corporate support.

The grant, to be doled out over five years through a combination of cash and services, is aimed at helping the rights office aggregate and analyse data on global abuses.

But the UN office also made clear that it wants to ramp up private sector donations to help fill perpetual funding gaps as support from member-states becomes increasingly uncertain, especially as major donor Washington is threatening deep cuts.

"I hope this is just the beginning of something much bigger," UN rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said in a statement.

The rights office has historically received almost no private support, a far cry from larger UN bodies like the children's agency UNICEF.

Deepening ties with major corporations like Microsoft could bring a series of conflicts for the rights office, as it is often compelled to speak out on issues like labour rights and data privacy.

But Peggy Hicks, the director of thematic engagement at the UN agency said it would never remain silent in order to preserve a financial relationship.

"The office obviously has quite a bit of experience dealing with getting funding from sources and then be in a position to express opinions that might not be entirely favourable to those sources", she told reporters.

Dumoulin flies to pink in Giro, Quintana drops to second

Dutchman Tom Dumoulin cruised to victory in the 10th stage time trial of the Giro d’Italia on Tuesday to claim the race leader’s pink jersey from Colombian Nairo Quintana.Dumoulin, of the Sunweb team, flew over the rolling, 39.8 km course in the Sagran…

Dutchman Tom Dumoulin cruised to victory in the 10th stage time trial of the Giro d'Italia on Tuesday to claim the race leader's pink jersey from Colombian Nairo Quintana.

Dumoulin, of the Sunweb team, flew over the rolling, 39.8 km course in the Sagrantino wine-growing region to finish in a winning time of 50min 37sec and live up to his name as the 'Butterfly of Maastricht'.

Britain's Geraint Thomas (Sky), still nursing a sore arm from the effects of a crash on stage nine, was second at 49secs, with Luxembourg's former race leader Bob Jungels (Quick Step) in third at 56sec and Italy's defending champion Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain) sixth, at 2min 07sec.

Movistar climbing specialist Quintana was expected to lose significant time to pre-stage favourite Dumoulin, and kept to the formbook over a rolling route from Foligno to Montefalco whose technical finish prompted a number of riders to crash.

After climbing to victory on the summit finish at Blockhaus on stage nine Sunday, Quintana -- covered from head to toe in pink -- dropped to second overall at 2:23 behind Dumoulin.

His fellow Dutchman, Bauke Mollema (Trek), failed to finish among the top ten but remains third at 2min 38sec, nine seconds ahead of Frenchman Thibaut Pinot (FDJ).

Although the race for the pink jersey will be decided in the climb-heavy third week of the race, Dumoulin was delighted with a stage win that boosts his chances of maintaining his challenge.

"It's a nice gap to go into the mountains with," said Dumoulin. "But like Nairo Quintana showed on (stage nine to) Blockhaus, he's the better climber, and a lot can happen in the third week.

"But this win is in the pocket. It was already a pretty successful Giro for us, but now we have the stage win and the jersey."

Wednesday's stage is a medium mountain stage over 161 km between Florence to Bagno di Romagna.

Cuban volleyball players appeal rape sentence

A Finnish court of appeal on Tuesday examined the case of five Cuban volleyball players sentenced to prison for aggravated rape in the southwestern city of Turku, a lawyer said.The five were convicted in September by a court in the southern Finnish cit…

A Finnish court of appeal on Tuesday examined the case of five Cuban volleyball players sentenced to prison for aggravated rape in the southwestern city of Turku, a lawyer said.

The five were convicted in September by a court in the southern Finnish city of Tampere. They immediately appealed the case and deny the charges against them.

Volleyball captain Rolando Cepeda Abreu and his teammates Abrahan Alfonso Gavilan, Ricardo Calvo Manzano and Osmany Uriarte Mestre were sentenced to five years in prison, while Luis Sosa Sierra was sentenced to three and a half years.

The athletes were arrested one day after the incident at a hotel in Tampere in July last year when Cuba competed in the World Volleyball League.

The victim, a young woman whose identity was not revealed, had met some of the men at a nightclub inside their hotel.

She went into Uriarte Mestre's room before they had sex, but did not consent to him inviting Calvo Manzano into the room and then the othes players, who she said raped her.

But Uriarte Mestre's lawyer, Kaarle Gummerus, reiterated that his client is innocent.

"The young woman always said her sexual relation with him was consensual. There is no reason why he should be convicted for rape," he told AFP.

As the appeals hearing began on Tuesday, the court in Turku examined evidence, including video surveillance, text messages exchanged between the men, and medical expertise.

The trial is expected to end on Monday, and the verdict is to be announced next month.

EU sets June deadline for Poland, Hungary to take migrant share

The European Union on Tuesday set a June deadline for Poland and Hungary to start admitting their share of migrants from overstretched Italy and Greece or risk sanctions.Eastern European countries like Hungary and Poland have opposed an EU plan adopted…

The European Union on Tuesday set a June deadline for Poland and Hungary to start admitting their share of migrants from overstretched Italy and Greece or risk sanctions.

Eastern European countries like Hungary and Poland have opposed an EU plan adopted in 2015 to take in 160,000 Syrian, Eritrean and Iraq asylum seekers from Greece and Italy.

"I call on Poland and Hungary who have not relocated a single person... to start doing so right now," EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told reporters.

"If no action is taken by them before the next (Commission) report in June, the Commission will not hesitate to make use of its powers under the treaties and to open infringement procedures," he said.

Avramopoulos said a total of 18,418 asylum seekers have been relocated to other EU countries from the two Mediterranean states.

Under so-called EU "infringement proceedings" Brussels sends a letter to national governments to demand legal explanations over certain issues, before possibly referring them to the European Court of Justice.

EU states can eventually face stiff financial penalties if they fail to comply.

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker and other EU officials have long expressed frustration with the slow pace of relocation of asylum seekers aimed at tackling the worst migration crisis since World War II.

More than one million migrants have poured into the bloc in the last two years.

The relocation plan was launched to help people fleeing the mainly Muslim war-torn countries of Syria and Iraq as well as the repressive east African state of Eritrea.

Controversial imam says anti-Semitic sermon ‘manipulated’ by pro-Israel conspiracy

Preview An imam accused of preaching anti-Semitic hate speech at a Copenhagen mosque has said he’s the victim of propaganda aimed at quashing criticism of Israel.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview An imam accused of preaching anti-Semitic hate speech at a Copenhagen mosque has said he’s the victim of propaganda aimed at quashing criticism of Israel.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Republicans, Democrats demand ‘full explanation’ on Trump sharing secrets with Russia

US President Donald Trump is facing criticism for sharing top secret intelligence with Russian officials during a meeting in the Oval Office last week, prompting both Democrats and Republicans to demand a “full explanation”.

US President Donald Trump is facing criticism for sharing top secret intelligence with Russian officials during a meeting in the Oval Office last week, prompting both Democrats and Republicans to demand a “full explanation”.

Austria snap elections set for October 15

Austria’s snap election will be on October 15, party chiefs agreed on Tuesday after the centrist “grand coalition” collapsed.The vote could see the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe), whose candidate narrowly failed to be elected president in December, ent…

Austria's snap election will be on October 15, party chiefs agreed on Tuesday after the centrist "grand coalition" collapsed.

The vote could see the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe), whose candidate narrowly failed to be elected president in December, enter government.

The coalition between Chancellor Christian Kern's Social Democrats (SPOe) and the People's Party (OeVP) was meant to govern until 2018.

But after months of bickering, the centre-right OeVP on Sunday appointed a new chief, Sebastian Kurz, who called for early elections.

The anti-immigration FPOe, like other populist parties in Europe, has seen its support rise on the back of concerns about immigration, terrorism and falling living standards.

And like elsewhere, Austria's two main parties, which have governed the EU country since 1945, have seen their support slide as they fail to connect with voters.

The FPOe, led by social media-savvy Heinz-Christian Strache, 47, is running neck-and-neck with the SPOe on around 30 percent in opinion polls.

The OeVP is lagging behind in the low 20s. However, surveys suggest that Kurz, who is only 30, could revive his party's fortunes and even make it the most popular force.

Austria's parties will likely on Wednesday present a motion for setting the election date, the Austria Press Agency reported said. It was unclear when this will pass, however.

Grenade kills Saudi policeman in Shiite town: ministry

A Saudi Arabian police officer was killed by a rocket-propelled grenade on Tuesday in a Shiite town, the interior ministry said, as deadly fighting escalated.The interior ministry said a member of the special police emergency forces died when “a rocket…

A Saudi Arabian police officer was killed by a rocket-propelled grenade on Tuesday in a Shiite town, the interior ministry said, as deadly fighting escalated.

The interior ministry said a member of the special police emergency forces died when "a rocket-propelled grenade (was) launched from inside the neighbourhood" and hit his patrol unit in the Almosara area of Awamiya.

"Five others were injured and taken to hospital," it said.

The officer is at least the third person killed in the Gulf coast town of Awamiya since last Wednesday.

The unrest centres on Awamiya's old Almosara district, which is the site of a redevelopment project.

"It's really war," said an area resident who reported his home has been shaken by explosions

in the past two days.

On Friday the ministry said a two-year-old boy and a Pakistani died when gunmen from within Almosara opened fire on passersby, security officers and workers on the project.

Residents gave a higher toll.

Iran vice president pulls out of election, backs Rouhani

Iran’s reformist first vice president, Eshaq Jahangiri, on Tuesday pulled out of this week’s presidential election and endorsed the incumbent, Hassan Rouhani, ISNA news agency reported.”I will vote for Mr Rouhani in the presidential election,” Jahangir…

Iran's reformist first vice president, Eshaq Jahangiri, on Tuesday pulled out of this week's presidential election and endorsed the incumbent, Hassan Rouhani, ISNA news agency reported.

"I will vote for Mr Rouhani in the presidential election," Jahangiri said as he announced he was withdrawing his candidacy.

"I have completed my historic duty and, together with you, I will vote for Rouhani to help continue on the path to progress for this country," he told a crowd of several thousand people gathered in the southern city of Shiraz.

"Vote for Rouhani because he is the man for difficult situations... I ran as candidate to make the voice of reformists heard," said Jahangiri.

His decision comes one day after Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf withdrew from the race, paving the way for a head-to-head battle between Rouhani and conservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi.

Jahangiri, a 60-year-old confidante of the moderate president, was a surprise last-minute entry for Friday's election.

It was assumed Jahangiri ran to back up Rouhani in pre-election debates and he said at his registration that he stood "side-by-side" with the president who is seeking a second four-year mandate.

Venezuela death toll hits 40 as boy dies: prosecutors

A 17-year-old boy died in Venezuela after being shot during anti-government protests, prosecutors said, bringing to 40 the number of people killed in six weeks of unrest.The boy was hospitalized Monday after being shot in the head during a demonstratio…

A 17-year-old boy died in Venezuela after being shot during anti-government protests, prosecutors said, bringing to 40 the number of people killed in six weeks of unrest.

The boy was hospitalized Monday after being shot in the head during a demonstration in the western town of Pedraza and died on Tuesday morning, the public prosecution service said in a statement.

He was at the scene of a demonstration "when suddenly a group of people arrived and fired several shots, wounding the young man in the head," it said.

Monday saw the latest in weeks of violent clashes as opponents mounted fresh demonstrations against President Nicolas Maduro.

The government and the opposition have accused each other of sending armed groups to sow violence in the protests.

Police have fired tear gas and protesters have hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails in a near-daily series of clashes since April 1.

The center-right opposition blames elected socialist leader Maduro for an economic crisis that has caused severe shortages of food and medicine.

It wants early elections to remove him from office.

Maduro has vowed general elections will take place as scheduled in late 2018 but not before.

He has accused the opposition of mounting an "armed insurgency" and "terrorist acts" against him with US backing.

A man of 18 also died from a wound to the chest during a demonstration in the western town of Palmira, the prosecution service said on Monday.

Two police and a civilian were injured by bullets in other towns, authorities and opposition leaders said.

Injured Kyrgios out of Rome Masters

Australian Nick Kyrgios pulled out of the Rome Masters on Tuesday, citing a hip injury.The world number 18 was replaced in the draw by lucky loser Alexandr Dolgopolov. There are now fears that Kyrgios might not be fit for the start of the French Op…

Australian Nick Kyrgios pulled out of the Rome Masters on Tuesday, citing a hip injury.

The world number 18 was replaced in the draw by lucky loser Alexandr Dolgopolov.

There are now fears that Kyrgios might not be fit for the start of the French Open on May 22.

The 22-year-old reached the Roland Garros third round a year ago.

Kyrgios was treated for a hip problem last week in Madrid.

Nadal can’t fault Federer for skipping clay season

Rafael Nadal believes the decision by Roger Federer to skip Roland Garros and the clay season is logical as the Spaniard on Tuesday prepared to start the Rome Masters.The world number four does not begrudge his Swiss rival for skipping the 2017 spring …

Rafael Nadal believes the decision by Roger Federer to skip Roland Garros and the clay season is logical as the Spaniard on Tuesday prepared to start the Rome Masters.

The world number four does not begrudge his Swiss rival for skipping the 2017 spring clay season to concentrate on Wimbledon and the grass-court run-up.

Federer owns an Australian Open title and Masters 1000 honours in Indian Wells and Miami this season since coming back from a six-month injury lay-off.

"Everybody does what feels better for them," Nadal, who starts in the Foro Italico second round against Nicolas Almagro, said.

"If he doesn't play one tournament before the French (Open), it's normal that he finally skip the French, no?"

Nadal suggested that the decision was made well ahead of its announcement and would have been taken as a strategy move by the 35-year-old's coaching team.

"Probably he had that decision before. Probably he didn't want to announce before," speculated Nadal, who has won three clay titles in three events competed in this season.

"But thinking in a logical way, it would be strange if you don't play on clay in one event and then you start on the biggest one, playing best of five."

- 'Very emotional' -

As for his own game, the Spaniard could not be happier as he keeps the chance of a record 10th Paris title next month in the back of his mind after winning Monte Carlo and Barcelona ten each and adding another last weekend in Madrid.

"I already won three tournaments on clay, so I am playing well. I am very happy about the beginning of the season," said the 14-time Grand Slam winner.

"Not only on clay. On every surface. I think I am playing great events in all the surfaces since the beginning of the year."

"Very emotional events everywhere, because in all of the events I'm playing on clay, I had a lot of success in my career, so I'm trying to enjoy every day, the fact I am playing again in these events."

Nadal added: "It's important for me that the clay court season started very, very well. It's very important part of the season for me."

With this week a new challenge, seven-time Rome champion Nadal is not dwelling on past successes.

"Here I am in Rome, I'm here to keep trying my best in an event that I love so much. I had some unbelievable memories in this court.

"A lot of important matches in my career I played here. So I'm just trying to be ready for that.

"I am happy to be here again, happy the way I am playing, and let's see what happens tomorrow.

"I want to be high in the ranking, because if I am high in the ranking means I am playing well. That's all. I said before the season that I'm not gonna to try to be number one again.

"If it happens because I am playing so well, great. But I am not going to do a calendar to try to be number one.

"What worries me is trying to be healthy, try to be competitive, and the most important thing is be happy."

France fines Facebook for data protection breaches

France’s data protection agency said Tuesday it had fined Facebook for collecting information on users without their knowledge, following a probe of the social network in cooperation with other European regulators.The CNIL agency said it had slapped a …

France's data protection agency said Tuesday it had fined Facebook for collecting information on users without their knowledge, following a probe of the social network in cooperation with other European regulators.

The CNIL agency said it had slapped a penalty of 150,000 euros ($160,000) on Facebook Inc and Facebook Ireland, for "several breaches of the French Data Protection Act", the maximum fine in such cases.

Following a two-year investigation, CNIL said Facebook had built up "a massive compilation of personal data of internet users in order to display targeted advertising".

The American internet giant had also "collected data on browsing activity of internet users on third-party websites, via the 'datr' cookie, without their knowledge", the agency said. This was "unfair tracking", it said.

The French action is part of a Europe-wide approach, CNIL said, with Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and the German city state of Hamburg also investigating and working with France.

Facebook had been put on notice twice to comply with French law, but provided "unsatisfactory responses", CNIL said.

Facebook has some 33 million users in France.

Facebook said in a statement to AFP that it "respectfully" disagreed with the ruling and that it complied with European data protection laws.

The company now has four months to file an appeal with the Conseil d'Etat, France's highest administrative court. It did not say whether it will.

Last year the CNIL slapped a 100,000-euro fine on Google, another US internet giant, for failing to delist user information from all of its search engine extensions at the request of users.

Google appealed and the case is ongoing.

‘Good-looking mom’: Berlusconi ‘flatters’ Macron with thinly-veiled jab at first lady

Preview Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has described Emmanuel Macron as a “good-looking lad with a good-looking mom,” an apparent reference to the French president’s wife, who is 24 years older than the newly-elected leader.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has described Emmanuel Macron as a “good-looking lad with a good-looking mom,” an apparent reference to the French president's wife, who is 24 years older than the newly-elected leader.
Read Full Article at RT.com

‘North Korea in Europe’: Ukrainians baffled, angry & sarcastic after ban on Russian social networks

Ukrainians have been venting their anger after the government decided to ban Russian social media networks and popular online services. The move by Kiev potentially impacts the lives of millions. Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview Ukrainians have been venting their anger after the government decided to ban Russian social media networks and popular online services. The move by Kiev potentially impacts the lives of millions.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Runaway Holocaust denier convicted for ‘Sieg Heil’ salutes faces return to prison

Preview An 81-year-old Nazi sympathizer – recalled to prison in Germany to complete a 10-year sentence for continuously breaking the nation’s Holocaust denial laws – has been arrested in Hungary.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview An 81-year-old Nazi sympathizer – recalled to prison in Germany to complete a 10-year sentence for continuously breaking the nation’s Holocaust denial laws – has been arrested in Hungary.
Read Full Article at RT.com

US-backed fighters advance on Syria’s IS-held Raqa

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces militia has advanced to within four kilometres north and east of the Islamic State group’s Syrian bastion Raqa, a spokesperson and monitor said Tuesday.The advances bring the SDF, a Kurdish-Arab alliance, closer t…

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces militia has advanced to within four kilometres north and east of the Islamic State group's Syrian bastion Raqa, a spokesperson and monitor said Tuesday.

The advances bring the SDF, a Kurdish-Arab alliance, closer than ever to the jihadist group's most important remaining Syrian stronghold.

But the fighters are still 40 kilometres (25 miles) from Raqa to the west, and they do not control any territory directly to the city's south, which is bordered by the Euphrates river.

The SDF "on Monday took three villages four kilometres (two miles) north of Raqa", spokesman Talal Sello told AFP.

The alliance also seized two more villages four kilometres to the east of the city on Monday night, he added.

"We are close to encircling Raqa from the east and the north, but we need to advance on the western front before launching the assault (on the city) at the right moment."

Last week, the SDF seized the town of Tabqa and the adjacent dam, around 55 kilometres (35 miles) west of Raqa, and the alliance will now push on towards their next target, the town of Al-Mansura.

The SDF has said the long-awaited attack on Raqa would start at the beginning of the summer, probably in June.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor confirmed the capture of the five villages, saying the SDF had advanced by four kilometres on the northern front and two kilometres on the eastern one.

"The SDF wants to link up its troops to the north and east of Raqa," said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.

IS fighters are still able to move in and out of the city via the area to its south, crossing the Euphrates by boat, according to SDF sources.

From there they head further south to the IS-held town of Al-Sukhna in Homs province, and onwards east, to Deir Ezzor province, which remains almost completely under the control of the jihadists.

The SDF launched an operation to retake Raqa city in November 2016 and it has received key backing from the US-led coalition carrying out air strikes on IS.

England begin Six Nations title defence against Italy

England will start the defence of their Six Nations title away to Italy, it was announced Tuesday after organisers published the fixtures for both the 2018 and 2019 Championships.Eddie Jones’s men begin their 2018 campaign in Rome on February 4 against…

England will start the defence of their Six Nations title away to Italy, it was announced Tuesday after organisers published the fixtures for both the 2018 and 2019 Championships.

Eddie Jones's men begin their 2018 campaign in Rome on February 4 against an Italy side who, although they finished bottom and without a win, briefly caused England problems with their 'no-ruck' ploy at Twickenham during this season's Six Nations.

England are then at home to Wales before travelling to Edinburgh for a Calcutta Cup clash against Scotland and playing France away before concluding their Championship at home to Ireland on March 17 -- the middle game of 'Super Saturday' when all six teams are in action.

Ireland, who denied England back-to-back Grand Slams this year, begin their Six Nations away to France on February 3 with Wales at home to Scotland on the same day.

The Championship has remained a seven-week competition, with rest weeks after the second and third rounds, despite the likes of England's 2003 World Cup-winning coach Clive Woodward calling for it to be shortened into a five-week event to better replicate what happens at rugby union's major global tournament.

France will continue to fly the flag for Friday night rugby, which has been criticised for making life more difficult for away supporters in particular, by hosting Italy in 2018 and Wales in 2019.

The 2019 fixture list also has England away to Ireland on the opening weekend -- a potentially key game in deciding the title-winners.

- Friday night fixtures -

Friday night rugby remains a part of the competition in both seasons, with France hosting Italy in 2018 and Wales in 2019.

The final round of matches on March 16, 2019 sees Italy at home to France, Wales welcoming Ireland to Cardiff and England taking on Scotland at Twickenham.

"We are delighted to confirm the fixture dates for the 2018 Championship, coming shortly after a record-breaking 2017 edition," Six Nations Rugby chairman Pat Whelan said in a statement.

"We enjoyed record figures across TV and digital and look forward to continuing that trend over the next two seasons."

Fixtures (all times GMT)

2018

Feb 03: Wales v Scotland (1415)

Feb 03: France v Ireland (1645)

Feb 04: Italy v England (1500)

Feb 10: Ireland v Italy (1415)

Feb 10: England v Wales (1645)

Feb 11: Scotland v France (1500)

Feb 23: France v Italy (2000)

Feb 24: Ireland v Wales (1415)

Feb 24: Scotland v England (1645)

Mar 11: Ireland v Scotland (1415)

Mar 11: France v England (1645)

Mar 12: Wales v Italy (1500)

Mar 17: Italy v Scotland (1230)

Mar 17: England v Ireland (1445)

Mar 17: Wales v France (1700)

2019

Feb 01: France v Wales (2000)

Feb 02: Scotland v Italy (1415)

Feb 02: Ireland v England (1645)

Feb 09: Scotland v Ireland (1415)

Feb 09: Italy v Wales (1645)

Feb 10: England v France (1500)

Feb 23: France v Scotland (1415)

Feb 23: Wales v England (1645)

Feb 24: Italy v Ireland (1500)

Mar 09: Scotland v Wales (1415)

Mar 09: England v Italy (1645)

Mar 10: Ireland v France (1500)

Mar 16: Italy v France (1230)

Mar 16: Wales v Ireland (1445)

Mar 16: England v Scotland (1700)

Trump defends ‘absolute right’ to share intel with Russia

President Donald Trump on Tuesday defended his right to share “facts pertaining to terrorism” and airline safety with Russia, saying in a pair of tweets he has “an absolute right” as president to do so.

President Donald Trump on Tuesday defended his right to share "facts pertaining to terrorism" and airline safety with Russia, saying in a pair of tweets he has "an absolute right" as president to do so.

HP Enterprise unveils computer ‘for era of Big Data’

Researchers from Hewlett-Packard Enterprise on Tuesday unveiled what they claimed was a breakthrough in computing with a new machine capable of handling vast amounts of data at supercomputing speeds.The prototype named simple “the Machine” uses a new a…

Researchers from Hewlett-Packard Enterprise on Tuesday unveiled what they claimed was a breakthrough in computing with a new machine capable of handling vast amounts of data at supercomputing speeds.

The prototype named simple "the Machine" uses a new approach to computer architecture which the company says can be adapted for a range of Big Data applications, handling tasks at thousands of times the speed of existing devices.

The new system is called "memory driven computing" and uses light waves to transmit data instead of electrical impulses traveling over silicon, bypassing what engineers say is an obstacle to boosting computing speeds.

Sharad Singhal, who heads machine applications for HPE, said previous efforts to boost computing power "were running into a brick wall into computation" because computing needs are increasing beyond the capacity of existing chips.

Singhal said the project is an effort "to rethink computers from the ground up."

This means instead of a silicon chip at the heart of the computer, "we are putting data at the center," the researcher said.

The prototype unveiled contains 160 terabytes of memory, capable of simultaneously working with the contents of approximately 160 million books, a task never before possible in a single unit.

Singhal said supercomputers accomplish this task by stringing together clusters of processors, but that the new machine can handle this more efficiently within a single unit.

HPE unveiled its first prototype last year, but in the current version has increased the number of computing nodes from two to 40. Singhal said the company hopes to be able to commercialize the machine within a few years.

He said one area where this can be useful is in health care, where powerful computing can analyze health studies, genetics and the potential for personalizing medical treatment.

"These kinds of things can be done a lot faster on the architecture we are talking about," he said. "The research still needs to be done. But for the people working in those areas, we are giving them a more efficient tool."

He said this approach can help shorten the time in which medicines are developed by better analysis of their effectiveness and side effects.

"The secrets to the next great scientific breakthrough, industry-changing innovation, or life-altering technology hide in plain sight behind the mountains of data we create every day,? said Meg Whitman, chief executive of HP Enterprise.

"To realize this promise, we can?t rely on the technologies of the past, we need a computer built for the Big Data era."

HPE, based in Palo Alto, California, was the created in November 2015 from the breakup of computing giant Hewlett-Packard into consumer and business units.

World close to ‘serious digital sabotage’: Dutch spy chief

The world may be close to a “serious act of digital sabotage” which could trigger unrest, “chaos and disorder,” Dutch spy chief Rob Bertholee warned Tuesday.Sabotage of critical infrastructure “is the kind of thing that might keep you awake at night,” …

The world may be close to a "serious act of digital sabotage" which could trigger unrest, "chaos and disorder," Dutch spy chief Rob Bertholee warned Tuesday.

Sabotage of critical infrastructure "is the kind of thing that might keep you awake at night," Bertholee told a timely cyber security conference in The Hague, as global experts grapple with the fallout of a massive cyberattack over the past days.

Digital threats "are not imaginary, they are everywhere around us," the head of the country's intelligence services (AIVD) told the conference organised by the Dutch government.

"In my opinion, we might be closer to a serious act of digital sabotage than a lot of people can imagine," he told hundreds of experts and officials.

Bertholee highlighted how in 2012 the computers at Saudi Arabia's largest oil company came under brief attack, or how three years later Ukrainian electricity companies were hacked causing a massive blackout lasting several hours.

The world's infrastructure was heavily interconnected, which had huge benefits, but also "vulnerabilities".

"Imagine what would happen if the entire banking system were sabotaged for a day, two days, for a week," he asked.

"Or if there was a breakdown in our transportation network. Or if air traffic controllers faced cyberattacks while directing flights. The consequences could be catastrophic."

Added Bertholee: "Sabotage on one of these sectors could have major public repercussions, causing unrest, chaos and disorder."

The threat of "cyber terrorism" from terror groups such as the so-called Islamic State jihadist and Al-Qaeda was still limited, he said, but "jihadist-inspired terrorism is the number one priority" of the Dutch intelligence services.

"The level of technical expertise available to a jihadist group is still insufficient to inflict significant damage or personal injury through digital sabotage," Bertholee said.

"They may not yet have the capability but they definitely have the intent," he warned.

Countries must be prepared for future threats in the digital domain, with governments and private sector working closely together, as this is "where our societies have become most vulnerable," he said.

Security researchers investigating the massive cyberattack campaign over past days on Tuesday reported signs that it might be slowing, and suggested a possible North Korean link.

In the first clues of the origin of the massive ransomware attacks, Google researcher Neel Mehta posted computer code that showed similarities between the "WannaCry" malware and a vast hacking effort widely attributed to Pyongyang.

Europol meanwhile said the number of affected IP addresses around the world was 163,745 -- a 38 percent percent fall from the 226,000 reported on Sunday.

Stray dog ate infant’s corpse in India while onlookers filmed gory carnage – reports

A stray dog was found eating the corpse of a baby outside a hospital in India, according to witnesses, some of whom reportedly recorded the gruesome incident on their cell phones. Authorities are unaware of the child’s identity. Read Full…

Preview A stray dog was found eating the corpse of a baby outside a hospital in India, according to witnesses, some of whom reportedly recorded the gruesome incident on their cell phones. Authorities are unaware of the child's identity.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Trump says he has ‘absolute right’ to share info with Russia

US President Donald Trump on Tuesday insisted he had the right to share “facts” with Russia, saying he acted to help Moscow in its “fight against ISIS and terrorism.”

His Twitter message came one day after news broke that he allegedly divulged classified information to Russia’s foreign minister and ambassador to Washington during their visit last week to the Oval Office.

“As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety,” he wrote in an early morning tweet.

In his tweet Trump wrote that he was motivated by “humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.”

The Washington Post, citing unnamed officials, had reported that Trump went off script during the meeting, describing details about an Islamic State group terror threat related to the use of laptop computers on airplanes, revealing the city where the information was gathered.

National Security Advisor HR McMaster had denied the president had revealed “intelligence sources or methods” but acknowledged that Trump and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had “reviewed a range of common threats to our two countries, including threats to civil aviation.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dubbed the news “nonsense,” saying it was “not an issue for confirming or denying.”

The revelations are the latest in a wave of crises to hit the White House, coming just one week after Trump shocked Washington by sacking his FBI director James Comey.

Comey had been overseeing investigations into links between Trump’s campaign and alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Trump’s meeting with top Russian diplomats came one day after Comey’s firing.

US President Donald Trump on Tuesday insisted he had the right to share "facts" with Russia, saying he acted to help Moscow in its "fight against ISIS and terrorism."

His Twitter message came one day after news broke that he allegedly divulged classified information to Russia's foreign minister and ambassador to Washington during their visit last week to the Oval Office.

"As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety," he wrote in an early morning tweet.

In his tweet Trump wrote that he was motivated by "humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism."

The Washington Post, citing unnamed officials, had reported that Trump went off script during the meeting, describing details about an Islamic State group terror threat related to the use of laptop computers on airplanes, revealing the city where the information was gathered.

National Security Advisor HR McMaster had denied the president had revealed "intelligence sources or methods" but acknowledged that Trump and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had "reviewed a range of common threats to our two countries, including threats to civil aviation."

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dubbed the news "nonsense," saying it was "not an issue for confirming or denying."

The revelations are the latest in a wave of crises to hit the White House, coming just one week after Trump shocked Washington by sacking his FBI director James Comey.

Comey had been overseeing investigations into links between Trump's campaign and alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Trump's meeting with top Russian diplomats came one day after Comey's firing.

‘Massive’ boar chases British ambassador

Britain’s ambassador to Austria has generally been given a warm welcome but one wild boar at least appears to have little time for diplomatic niceties.Leigh Turner, London’s envoy since August, has revealed that walking earlier this month in woods near…

Britain's ambassador to Austria has generally been given a warm welcome but one wild boar at least appears to have little time for diplomatic niceties.

Leigh Turner, London's envoy since August, has revealed that walking earlier this month in woods near Vienna he was chased by a "massive" specimen and sustained minor injuries.

Turning a corner, Turner found himself face-to-face with a group of "four or five hulking adults and countless piglets". He turned and walked slowly away.

"Moments later I hear a noise behind me like galloping horse, and turn to see a massive wild boar, head down, charging straight at me," Turner recounted on his blog on Monday.

Breaking into a run, Turner tried to escape by climbing a pile of tree trunks, but slipped on the wet wood, scratching and bruising himself in the process.

"By the time I turned round, the boar (no doubt thinking 'that's got rid of that swine') had trotted back to join the rest of the group, which was melting back into the forest," he said.

"All my minor injuries were self-inflicted: the boar never made contact."

According to a hunting website quoted by Turner, boars are "even more dangerous" to hunt than bears, with "thick, razor-sharp tusks, and a razor-sharp mind".

Man United predict record revenue for 2017

Manchester United predicted a record rise in annual revenue to between £560 million ($721.8 million, 652.4 million euros) and £570 million in their latest quarterly financial figures released on Tuesday.

United had previously told investors to expect revenue of between £530 million and £540 million for the 2016-17 financial year.

Broadcast revenue for the quarter rose by 12.9 percent to £31.4 million, largely due to the Premier League’s new bumper television rights deal taking effect.

“We are forecasting better full-year financial performance than expected and as such have raised our revenue and profit guidance for the year,” said United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward in a press release.

“We look forward to a strong finish to 2016-17, both on and off the pitch.”

United failed to qualify for this season’s Champions League, but their exploits in the Europa League have helped them to record strong financial results.

They have won the League Cup in Jose Mourinho’s first season as manager and will face Ajax in the final of the Europa League, the only tournament they have never won, on May 24.

They must win the Europa League to qualify for next season’s Champions League, having failed to secure a top-four finish in the Premier League.

The club’s operating expenses rose 27 percent to £129.8 million, partly due to the contracts offered to new signings including Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

United also hired a significant number of new non-playing staff members.

Net debt rose by £17.6 million to £366.3 million, which the club said was due to the strengthening US dollar.

Manchester United predicted a record rise in annual revenue to between £560 million ($721.8 million, 652.4 million euros) and £570 million in their latest quarterly financial figures released on Tuesday.

United had previously told investors to expect revenue of between £530 million and £540 million for the 2016-17 financial year.

Broadcast revenue for the quarter rose by 12.9 percent to £31.4 million, largely due to the Premier League's new bumper television rights deal taking effect.

"We are forecasting better full-year financial performance than expected and as such have raised our revenue and profit guidance for the year," said United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward in a press release.

"We look forward to a strong finish to 2016-17, both on and off the pitch."

United failed to qualify for this season's Champions League, but their exploits in the Europa League have helped them to record strong financial results.

They have won the League Cup in Jose Mourinho's first season as manager and will face Ajax in the final of the Europa League, the only tournament they have never won, on May 24.

They must win the Europa League to qualify for next season's Champions League, having failed to secure a top-four finish in the Premier League.

The club's operating expenses rose 27 percent to £129.8 million, partly due to the contracts offered to new signings including Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

United also hired a significant number of new non-playing staff members.

Net debt rose by £17.6 million to £366.3 million, which the club said was due to the strengthening US dollar.

Damascus says US crematorium claims ‘totally unfounded’

US claims that Syria’s regime is using a prison crematorium to destroy the remains of thousands of murdered detainees are unfounded and disconnected from reality, Damascus said on Tuesday.”These allegations are totally unfounded, they are nothing but t…

US claims that Syria's regime is using a prison crematorium to destroy the remains of thousands of murdered detainees are unfounded and disconnected from reality, Damascus said on Tuesday.

"These allegations are totally unfounded, they are nothing but the product of the imagination of this administration and its agents," state news agency SANA quoted the foreign ministry as saying.

"Successive US administrations have repeatedly fabricated lies and allegations to justify their aggressive and interventionist policies in other sovereign countries," the ministry said.

"Yesterday the US administration pulled out a new Hollywood screenplay disconnected from reality, accusing the Syrian government of having, according to the administration, built a crematorium at the Saydnaya prison."

The State Department on Monday released satellite images that it said backed up reports of mass killings at the Syrian jail north of Damascus.

"Beginning in 2013, the Syrian regime modified a building within the Saydnaya complex to support what we believe is a crematorium" built in "an effort to cover up the extent of the mass murders taking place in Saydnaya," said Stuart Jones, the top US diplomat for the Middle East.

Macron puts finishing touch to new-look French cabinet

French President Emmanuel Macron is set to unveil his cabinet on Tuesday, a delicate balancing act for the centrist who has promised to include faces from the left and right as well as political newcomers.On Monday, his first day in office, Macron name…

French President Emmanuel Macron is set to unveil his cabinet on Tuesday, a delicate balancing act for the centrist who has promised to include faces from the left and right as well as political newcomers.

On Monday, his first day in office, Macron named centre-right MP Edouard Philippe as prime minister and travelled to Berlin for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on reforming the EU.

On Tuesday, he and Philippe were finalising a government which Macron says will supersede France's entrenched left-right divide and breathe new life into the country's jaded political landscape.

Macron has said half his ministers will be women and that some will be high achievers in business, academia, the civil service or the NGO world.

Some could be replaced after next month's parliamentary election, depending on how many seats Macron's fledgling Republique En Marche (REM) party wins.

So far his appointments to his presidential team have all gone to men under 50, most of them graduates like him of France's elite ENA college for senior public servants -- which has turned out generations of French politicians.

His choice of Philippe, 46, for prime minister was seen as a strategic pick by the 39-year-old president, who is trying to woo modernisers of all stripes to his side.

A former minister in the outgoing Socialist government, Macron has already convinced dozens of Socialist MPs to run on his general election ticket.

But he also needs to win over a part of the right to deliver on his promise of a cross-party approach and weaken his opponents ahead of the two-round June 11-18 parliamentary vote.

Philippe -- a moderate member of the Republicans party whose presidential candidate crashed out in the election's first round -- is seen as Macron's Trojan horse on the right.

While some in the Republicans fumed at Philippe's appointment, seeing it as a betrayal on his part, others welcomed it and urged the parties to accept Macron's "outstretched hand".

"A whole section of the centre and the right is ready to cross the line," the conservative Le Figaro daily wrote Tuesday.

- Sole surviving Socialist minister -

Among the people tipped for cabinet jobs are conservative ex-agriculture minister Bruno Le Maire, centrist MEP Sylvie Goulard, Lyon's Socialist Mayor Gerard Collomb and popular outgoing Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

Le Drian is expected to be the only member of the outgoing Socialist government to be kept on, with Macron keeping a careful distance from the little-loved administration of his predecessor Francois Hollande.

Among the non-politicians to be offered roles is well-known environmentalist Nicolas Hulot, a source in the presidency said.

Hulot, who has previously turned down such offers, had "decided to go for it", provided certain conditions were met, the source said.

- 'Historic' EU reform -

A day after his inauguration the fervently pro-EU Macron made his first trip abroad, visiting Germany, the other half of the power couple driving European integration.

Merkel warmly welcomed the fourth president to occupy the Elysee Palace since she came to power 12 years ago.

Macron, who trounced far-right leader Marine Le Pen in an election fought on globalisation, urged a "historic reconstruction" of Europe to battle the populism sweeping the continent and widespread disillusionment with the EU.

Merkel said they had "a common understanding that we can't just focus on Britain leaving the EU but that, first and foremost, we have to think about how we can deepen and crisis-proof the European Union, and especially the eurozone."

Ahead of his visit, Macron's ideas on reforming the eurozone -- including giving it a separate budget and minister, moves that would require treaty change -- had sparked scepticism in Berlin.

Merkel, however, appeared keen to support Macron ahead of next month's general election in which he will faces a tough battle to win an outright majority.

"From the German point of view, it's possible to change the treaty if it makes sense", she said.

Britain’s Labour Party unveils ‘radical’ election manifesto

Britain’s opposition Labour Party pledged to raise taxes on the well-off, renationalise key industries and end austerity in its manifesto on Tuesday, presenting voters with their starkest choice in decades in next month’s election.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called the programme “radical and responsible”, saying the country had been run “for the rich, the elite and the vested interests” in seven years of Conservative government.

“It will change our country,” he said in his speech at the presentation of the manifesto in Bradford in northwest England.

“It will lead us through Brexit while putting the preservation of jobs first,” he said, appearing in front of Labour’s election manifesto: “For the many, not the few.”

Corbyn promised a Labour government would immediately guarantee the rights of EU citizens in Britain and during Brexit negotiations would aim to maintain access to the European single market.

The manifesto included a tax increase from 40 percent to 45 percent for salaries of between £80,000 (94,000 euros, $103,000) and £123,0000 a year, above which there will be a new 50 percent top rate of income tax.

The current 40 percent tax rate applies to people earning between £45,000 and £150,000.

Labour has said the rise would fund increased investment in the state-run National Health Service (NHS) and would only affect five percent of earners.

The party also plans a levy on businesses with staff earning large salaries over £330,000.

Labour also promised to renationalise the railways, water companies and part of the energy sector.

Corbyn promised to scrap university tuition fees, a pledge met with huge cheers from supporters gathered to hear him speak at Bradford University.

Labour has also promised it will increase corporation tax to 26 percent by 2020.

Such changes are among the measures to boost the state coffers by the £48.6 billion needed to meet the commitments outlined in the Labour manifesto.

“It’s a programme that will reverse our national priorities to put the interests of the many first,” Corbyn said.

“This is a programme of hope. The Tory campaign, by contrast, is built on one word: fear.”

Other pledges in the Labour manifesto include building one million new homes and adding four national holidays to the calendar.

The director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, Paul Johnson, said Labour’s tax changes would mark a significant shift.

“Tax burden already heading upwards. If Labour could raise the £49bn it claims we would have highest tax burden in 70 years,” he wrote on Twitter.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservatives immediately slammed the plan as “nonsensical” and not properly costed.

“It’s ordinary working people who will pay for the chaos of Corbyn,” Treasury Chief Secretary David Gauke said in a statement.

The Conservatives currently have a double-digit lead over Labour in opinion polls.

Britain's opposition Labour Party pledged to raise taxes on the well-off, renationalise key industries and end austerity in its manifesto on Tuesday, presenting voters with their starkest choice in decades in next month's election.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called the programme "radical and responsible", saying the country had been run "for the rich, the elite and the vested interests" in seven years of Conservative government.

"It will change our country," he said in his speech at the presentation of the manifesto in Bradford in northwest England.

"It will lead us through Brexit while putting the preservation of jobs first," he said, appearing in front of Labour's election manifesto: "For the many, not the few."

Corbyn promised a Labour government would immediately guarantee the rights of EU citizens in Britain and during Brexit negotiations would aim to maintain access to the European single market.

The manifesto included a tax increase from 40 percent to 45 percent for salaries of between £80,000 (94,000 euros, $103,000) and £123,0000 a year, above which there will be a new 50 percent top rate of income tax.

The current 40 percent tax rate applies to people earning between £45,000 and £150,000.

Labour has said the rise would fund increased investment in the state-run National Health Service (NHS) and would only affect five percent of earners.

The party also plans a levy on businesses with staff earning large salaries over £330,000.

Labour also promised to renationalise the railways, water companies and part of the energy sector.

Corbyn promised to scrap university tuition fees, a pledge met with huge cheers from supporters gathered to hear him speak at Bradford University.

Labour has also promised it will increase corporation tax to 26 percent by 2020.

Such changes are among the measures to boost the state coffers by the £48.6 billion needed to meet the commitments outlined in the Labour manifesto.

"It's a programme that will reverse our national priorities to put the interests of the many first," Corbyn said.

"This is a programme of hope. The Tory campaign, by contrast, is built on one word: fear."

Other pledges in the Labour manifesto include building one million new homes and adding four national holidays to the calendar.

The director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, Paul Johnson, said Labour's tax changes would mark a significant shift.

"Tax burden already heading upwards. If Labour could raise the £49bn it claims we would have highest tax burden in 70 years," he wrote on Twitter.

Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservatives immediately slammed the plan as "nonsensical" and not properly costed.

"It's ordinary working people who will pay for the chaos of Corbyn," Treasury Chief Secretary David Gauke said in a statement.

The Conservatives currently have a double-digit lead over Labour in opinion polls.

Ivorian defence minister announces deal with mutinous soldiers – again

Ivory Coast’s government has reached an agreement with mutinous soldiers who had taken to the streets in the West African nation’s largest cities to demand more pay, the defense ministry said.

Ivory Coast's government has reached an agreement with mutinous soldiers who had taken to the streets in the West African nation's largest cities to demand more pay, the defense ministry said.

Exclusive: On the frontline in the battle for western Mosul

As the months-long battle for Mosul reaches its most difficult stages in the crowded Old City, a FRANCE 24 team on the ground finds Iraqi soldiers, as well as their US and French military advisors, desperately trying to avoid civilian casualties.

As the months-long battle for Mosul reaches its most difficult stages in the crowded Old City, a FRANCE 24 team on the ground finds Iraqi soldiers, as well as their US and French military advisors, desperately trying to avoid civilian casualties.

Ukraine blocks popular Russian social networks

Ukraine on Tuesday blocked Russia’s most popular social networks and an internet search engine in response to the Kremlin’s alleged backing of a three-year separatist war in the east.The decision sparked an immediate outcry from Ukrainian internet user…

Ukraine on Tuesday blocked Russia's most popular social networks and an internet search engine in response to the Kremlin's alleged backing of a three-year separatist war in the east.

The decision sparked an immediate outcry from Ukrainian internet users and the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) press freedom group.

Some also pointed out that President Petro Poroshenko himself was an avid user of two of the Russian networks he had banned.

"Hello, North Korea," 112 rolling news channel editor Vitaliy Prudyus wrote on Facebook.

The presidential decree bars access to VK -- often referred to as Russia's Facebook and formerly known as VKontakte -- and Ukraine's version of the popular Yandex search engine.

The decision also covers the Mail.ru email provider and the Odnoklassniki (Classmates) social network.

A separate safety provision applies to the Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab and Dr.Web cyber security and anti-virus firms.

The provision remains in effect for three years.

Several social media users pointed to the irony of Poroshenko having his own VK and Odnoklassniki accounts that he last updated when Kiev staged the Eurovision Song Contest final on Saturday night.

A January 2016 ranking conducted by the Kiev-based Genius business consulting company placed VK and Mail.ru as the second and third most popular Ukrainian websites after Google.

- More Russians banned -

Kiev has been gradually expanding its list of outlawed Russian products and people barred for entering the country for either voicing support of the Kremlin's March 2014 annexation of Crimea or the self-proclaimed independence of Ukraine's east.

Numerous Russian television series and movies have been thrown off the airwaves and the silver screen. The blacklist also covers some books.

The West strongly supports Kiev's assertion that Russia has both plotted and backed the revolt in the eastern Lugansk and Donetsk industrial regions that has claimed more than 10,000 lives.

The war began less than two months after massive pro-EU street protests toppled a Kremlin-backed president in February 2014.

Both Kiev and the West see the conflict as Russia's retribution for the loss of its ally.

But human rights groups have criticised Ukraine's decision to apply its sanctions against various forms of cultural entertainment as a violation of free speech.

"VK provided a means of communication for Ukrainian individual entrepreneurs who had pages and advertised their goods," Ukraine's Reporters Without Borders representative Oksana Romanyuk wrote on Facebook.

"And this is not to mention the millions of citizens who used it to have a social life," she wrote.

Poroshenko also expanded the number of Russian citizens and Kremlin supporters from other countries who can no longer enter Ukraine to 1,228 from 682.

The sanctions already in place nearly overshadowed the Eurovision television extravaganza that concluded this weekend with the victory of Portuguese crooner Salvador Sobral.

Ukraine banned Russia's contestant for staging a performance in Crimea a year after its annexation.

Russia responded by deciding not to air the kitschy contest and organisers have warned Ukraine that it may be forbidden from taking part in upcoming events over its actions.

Pay cut for UN’s Geneva staff sign ‘happy days’ are over

On the list of workers facing pay cuts, United Nations staff in Geneva are unlikely to garner much sympathy.

UN employees are by contract the highest paid civil servants in the world.

Their tax-free salaries are often complemented by multiple benefits including subsidies for rent, healthcare and dependants, along with educational grants covering part of their children’s private school fees up through one university degree.

Compensation can vary widely based on seniority and other factors, but an employee in Geneva with three children and roughly a decade of experience could take home $147,000 (132,000 euros), including salary and dependants’ allowances.

If private school tuition for the employee’s children ran to $40,000, the UN would cover about $30,000.

A 7.5 percent pay cut due to hit Geneva-based UN employees in August has triggered fierce resistance and stirred broader questions about the world body’s future in the face of mounting financial pressures.

Even before US President Donald Trump took office, there were calls from major donors for the UN to tighten its belt.

The United States is the largest UN contributor by far — funding roughly a quarter of its operations.

Trump, a vocal UN critic, has proposed a budget calling for significant foreign aid reductions.

Some opponents of the looming Geneva salary cut say geopolitics may have influenced the decision.

“I think maybe it’s an anticipation of cuts coming from the US and maybe trying to show the US Congress that it takes some of the criticism seriously,” said Edward Patrick Flaherty, a lawyer with Schwab, Flaherty & Associates in Geneva who specialises in cases against international organisations like the UN.

Flaherty, who said he will represent staff if the salary row moves to court, argued that instead of trimming workers pay the UN should save by squandering less money.

“There is so much waste in the UN system… and probably abuse,” he told AFP.

– Month’s pay lost –

The pay cuts were recommended by the International Civil Service Commission, a body appointed by the UN General Assembly which governs UN employees.

It found that although Geneva is extremely pricey, the cost of living adjustment given to staffers in the Swiss city was excessive and unfair to other UN duty stations.

Union leaders have rejected those findings and have mounted several challenges, including possibly labour action.

“We are talking about almost of month (of lost salary) in one of the world’s most expensive cities”, said Ian Richards, who heads the UN staff union in Geneva.

He agreed with Flaherty that the push to cut was likely coming from some member-states, rather than within the UN.

But he also suggested that Geneva may have been the first target because of tensions with headquarters in New York.

“There is this thing of how do we attack the Francophone duty station,” Richards told AFP.

“A French-speaking office with a Francophone culture… doesn’t always resonate so well in New York.”

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, based in New York, has come out against the cuts as has UN-Geneva chief Michael Moller and the heads of all agencies based here.

But even if this proposed cut is amended, there is consensus that UN spending will be reined in, as the cost of responding to major international emergencies continues to soar.

– ‘Happy days’ over? –

In an interview with AFP late last year, Moller described the UN and its generous benefits package as “the last social democratic system in the world”.

While forcefully defending the UN’s work and arguing that concerns about waste were overblown, Moller conceded that “if our neighbours are not being given the same (compensation), there is a limit to how many years we can continue.”

Guterres, who took office in January has promised broad UN reform but has not yet detailed his plans. He has also urged Trump against forcing him to make knee-jerk cuts.

Guterres became known as an efficient bean-counter while based in Geneva as head of the refugee agency UNHCR after moving some support staff from Switzerland to far-cheaper Budapest.

Flaherty, the labour lawyer, maintains that hitting mid-career employees with a drastic pay cut is unfair and possibly illegal.

But he said that given the UN’s undeniable resource constraints you could make clear to new hires that they will not profit from the same benefits as their predecessors.

“For new recruits, you could just say ‘happy days are over'”.

On the list of workers facing pay cuts, United Nations staff in Geneva are unlikely to garner much sympathy.

UN employees are by contract the highest paid civil servants in the world.

Their tax-free salaries are often complemented by multiple benefits including subsidies for rent, healthcare and dependants, along with educational grants covering part of their children's private school fees up through one university degree.

Compensation can vary widely based on seniority and other factors, but an employee in Geneva with three children and roughly a decade of experience could take home $147,000 (132,000 euros), including salary and dependants' allowances.

If private school tuition for the employee's children ran to $40,000, the UN would cover about $30,000.

A 7.5 percent pay cut due to hit Geneva-based UN employees in August has triggered fierce resistance and stirred broader questions about the world body's future in the face of mounting financial pressures.

Even before US President Donald Trump took office, there were calls from major donors for the UN to tighten its belt.

The United States is the largest UN contributor by far -- funding roughly a quarter of its operations.

Trump, a vocal UN critic, has proposed a budget calling for significant foreign aid reductions.

Some opponents of the looming Geneva salary cut say geopolitics may have influenced the decision.

"I think maybe it's an anticipation of cuts coming from the US and maybe trying to show the US Congress that it takes some of the criticism seriously," said Edward Patrick Flaherty, a lawyer with Schwab, Flaherty & Associates in Geneva who specialises in cases against international organisations like the UN.

Flaherty, who said he will represent staff if the salary row moves to court, argued that instead of trimming workers pay the UN should save by squandering less money.

"There is so much waste in the UN system... and probably abuse," he told AFP.

- Month's pay lost -

The pay cuts were recommended by the International Civil Service Commission, a body appointed by the UN General Assembly which governs UN employees.

It found that although Geneva is extremely pricey, the cost of living adjustment given to staffers in the Swiss city was excessive and unfair to other UN duty stations.

Union leaders have rejected those findings and have mounted several challenges, including possibly labour action.

"We are talking about almost of month (of lost salary) in one of the world's most expensive cities", said Ian Richards, who heads the UN staff union in Geneva.

He agreed with Flaherty that the push to cut was likely coming from some member-states, rather than within the UN.

But he also suggested that Geneva may have been the first target because of tensions with headquarters in New York.

"There is this thing of how do we attack the Francophone duty station," Richards told AFP.

"A French-speaking office with a Francophone culture... doesn't always resonate so well in New York."

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, based in New York, has come out against the cuts as has UN-Geneva chief Michael Moller and the heads of all agencies based here.

But even if this proposed cut is amended, there is consensus that UN spending will be reined in, as the cost of responding to major international emergencies continues to soar.

- 'Happy days' over? -

In an interview with AFP late last year, Moller described the UN and its generous benefits package as "the last social democratic system in the world".

While forcefully defending the UN's work and arguing that concerns about waste were overblown, Moller conceded that "if our neighbours are not being given the same (compensation), there is a limit to how many years we can continue."

Guterres, who took office in January has promised broad UN reform but has not yet detailed his plans. He has also urged Trump against forcing him to make knee-jerk cuts.

Guterres became known as an efficient bean-counter while based in Geneva as head of the refugee agency UNHCR after moving some support staff from Switzerland to far-cheaper Budapest.

Flaherty, the labour lawyer, maintains that hitting mid-career employees with a drastic pay cut is unfair and possibly illegal.

But he said that given the UN's undeniable resource constraints you could make clear to new hires that they will not profit from the same benefits as their predecessors.

"For new recruits, you could just say 'happy days are over'".

IMF’s policies reduce parents’ ability to care for their children – study

Preview The International Monetary Fund’s austerity policies may be reducing the ability of parents to look after their children’s health in poor and middle-income countries, new research says.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview The International Monetary Fund’s austerity policies may be reducing the ability of parents to look after their children’s health in poor and middle-income countries, new research says.
Read Full Article at RT.com

#MosulSOS: Civilians become collateral damage in US coalition anti-ISIS strikes

Hundreds of thousands of civilians in western Mosul are at risk of becoming casualties as the US-led coalition and Iraqi military wage their operation against Islamic State. RT sheds light on their plight. Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview Hundreds of thousands of civilians in western Mosul are at risk of becoming casualties as the US-led coalition and Iraqi military wage their operation against Islamic State. RT sheds light on their plight.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Bitcoin: Hackers’ ‘anonymous’ currency

The perpetrators of the global cyberattack that caused havoc in 150 countries demanded “ransom” money in bitcoins, but experts believe the anonymity that the virtual currency affords is not necessarily impenetrable.Bitcoin, heavily-coded electronic tok…

The perpetrators of the global cyberattack that caused havoc in 150 countries demanded "ransom" money in bitcoins, but experts believe the anonymity that the virtual currency affords is not necessarily impenetrable.

Bitcoin, heavily-coded electronic tokens that take their name from software first put online in February 2009 by several software designers using the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto, essentially allow those who possess them to remain anonymous.

The message that flashed up on hundreds of thousands of screens infected by the WannaCry virus over the last few days demanded payment of $300 (275 euros) in Bitcoin, saying: "Ooops, your files have been encrypted!"

It warned that if payment was not made within three days the price would double, and if none was received within seven days the locked files would be deleted.

"Bitcoin is digital cash. The transactions are totally anonymous and non-refundable. However they are totally traceable, Nicolas Debock of London-based Balderton Capital that specialises in virtual currencies said.

"All the transactions are stored in databases called blockchains. It's anonymous but anyone can monitor a bitcoin address and see how the money moves," Debock said.

"No-one can take the money off those who hold it, but it is possible to follow in detail the activity on the account."

That is the problem for investigators, according to Pierre-Antoine Gailly, who compiled a study on bitcoin and other cyber currencies for French state body CESE in 2015.

"Bitcoin doesn't need a bank so this monetary flow escapes any supervision and any checks," he told AFP. "The accounts don't have a physical address or a bank address and they are not stored centrally -- anonymity comes before anything else."

- 'Ransom not the point' -

The extent of the damage caused to computers around the world, the number of victims and the sheer number of companies concerned is likely to push international investigators and national security agencies to investigate the bitcoin address to which any ransom money has been paid.

Adding to the complexity of tracking the hackers, the holders of bitcoins can use services available on the so-called dark web known as "tumblers" which can offer an additional layer of anonymity.

"The tumbler divides the bitcoin amounts into thousands of tiny pieces, spreads them around to millions of different addresses and carries out lots of transactions," said Manuel Valente, the manager of a Bitcoin-selling service in Paris.

"Within a week, all of the bitcoins can be put on a new address with the aim of covering (the holder's) tracks. It is essentially money-laundering of bitcoins. And people offer this kind of service on the dark web."

Clement Francomme, the director-general of Utocat, a software company that specialises in blockchains, said collecting ransoms was perhaps not the hackers' real aim.

"The idea was perhaps to show the rest of the world that they have pulled off a really, really big coup. With an attack like that, they're going to gain notoriety in the international hacking fraternity.

"They probably don't have any desire to spend the bitcoins, knowing they are being monitored. Their real aim is to use their reputation to sell other services."

And Francomme warned: "This team has made a show of force and I suppose there will be another attack before very long."

European police agency Europol said Tuesday it was too early to say whether North Korea was involved in the massive cyberattack.

Iraq forces say recaptured nearly 90% of west Mosul

Iraqi forces have recaptured nearly 90 percent of west Mosul from the Islamic State group after retaking the city’s eastern side earlier this year, a military spokesman said on Tuesday.IS still controls “10.5 percent of… the right bank,” Brigadier Ge…

Iraqi forces have recaptured nearly 90 percent of west Mosul from the Islamic State group after retaking the city's eastern side earlier this year, a military spokesman said on Tuesday.

IS still controls "10.5 percent of... the right bank," Brigadier General Yahya Rasool, spokesman for the Joint Operations Command, told a news conference in Baghdad, referring to west Mosul.

Iraqi forces launched the massive operation to retake Mosul from IS nearly seven months ago, fighting their way to the jihadist-held city, retaking its eastern side and then attacking the west.

IS now controls just a handful of neighbourhoods around the Old City, one of the country's heritage jewels.

The area's narrow streets and closely spaced buildings will make it difficult for federal forces to take on the jihadists, requiring them to fight on foot instead of from vehicles as they have previously done.

Some 250,000 civilians are estimated to be still trapped inside west Mosul.

The presence of a large civilian population, which either chose not to leave or was prevented from doing so by IS, also complicates any final assault to seal victory in Mosul.

IS overran large areas north and west of Baghdad in 2014, but Iraqi forces backed by US-led air strikes have since retaken much of the territory they lost to the jihadists.

Japanese tennis player Mitsuhashi gets life ban for match-fixing

Japanese player Junn Mitsuhashi has been banned for life following an investigation into match-fixing, the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) announced on Tuesday.He has also been fined $50,000 ($45,230 euros) after being found to have made corrupt approaches…

Japanese player Junn Mitsuhashi has been banned for life following an investigation into match-fixing, the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) announced on Tuesday.

He has also been fined $50,000 ($45,230 euros) after being found to have made corrupt approaches to other players and to have placed bets on matches.

The ban applies with immediate affect and means Mitsuhashi, 27, cannot "compete in, or attend, any tournament or event organised or sanctioned by the governing bodies of the sport," the TIU said.

In November 2015 he asked Joshua Chetty, a player he had previously coached, to make a corrupt approach to a fellow player during an ITF Futures tournament in Stellenbosch, South Africa.

The player was offered $2,000 to underperform in a singles match and $600 in a doubles match.

Chetty received a lifetime ban last September.

The following month, Mitsuhashi directly approached a different player at a tournament in Lagos, Nigeria to ask him to fix aspects of a match.

He also illegally placed 76 bets on tennis matches between October and November 2015 and refused to cooperate with the TIU investigation, both of which are separate offences.

Mitsuhashi achieved a career-high singles ranking of 295 in 2009. He was ranked 1,997th at the time of his offences.

Duterte says he’d sponsor Turkey & Mongolia for ASEAN, defying geography

Preview The Philippines’ outspoken President Rodrigo Duterte says he would push for the entry of Turkey and Mongolia into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). That’s despite neither of the countries actually being in Southeast Asia.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview The Philippines’ outspoken President Rodrigo Duterte says he would push for the entry of Turkey and Mongolia into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). That’s despite neither of the countries actually being in Southeast Asia.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Aviation fuel-sniffing craze puts youth at risk of ‘serious brain damage’

Preview Children in Australia’s Northern Territory are risking serious health issues and even death to get high from sniffing stolen aviation fuel, according to local reports.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview Children in Australia’s Northern Territory are risking serious health issues and even death to get high from sniffing stolen aviation fuel, according to local reports.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Gas explosion rocks apartment building in southwest Russia, casualties feared (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

A gas explosion has ripped through a residential building in the city of Volgograd, southwest Russia, media reported, citing emergency services. Reports indicate that there may be casualties. Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview A gas explosion has ripped through a residential building in the city of Volgograd, southwest Russia, media reported, citing emergency services. Reports indicate that there may be casualties.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Oil market ‘almost balanced’ despite rising US supply: IEA

Supply and demand in the oil market are close to matching up, the IEA said Tuesday, but rising US supply could mitigate landmark OPEC-led production cuts. In the first quarter of 2017, “the oil market was almost balanced,” the International Energy Agen…

Supply and demand in the oil market are close to matching up, the IEA said Tuesday, but rising US supply could mitigate landmark OPEC-led production cuts.

In the first quarter of 2017, "the oil market was almost balanced," the International Energy Agency said in its latest monthly report.

"It has taken some time for stocks to reflect lower supply when volumes produced before output cuts by OPEC and eleven non-OPEC countries took effect are still being absorbed by the market," the report said.

At the end of November, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) agreed to cut output by 1.2 million barrels per day (mb/d) from January 1, initially for a period of six months.

Then in December, non-OPEC producers led by Russia agreed to cut their own output to 558,000 barrels per day.

The aim was to reduce a glut in global oil supply that had depressed prices.

The compliance rate with that agreement "has generally been strong," the IEA said.

But oil at above $50 a barrel has, in turn, attracted higher-cost producers in the United States back to the market, and frantic American drilling will push non-OPEC supply throughout the year, the IEA predicted.

"Of course, things will change elsewhere in the balance, and today the most closely watched data point on the supply side is US crude production," the IEA said.

In February, US crude output increased again and "in line with stronger recent performance from the US shale sector we have revised upwards our expectation throughout 2017," it said.

"Such is the diversity and dynamism of the US shale sector that our numbers are likely to be a moving target as 2017 progresses."

The overall outlook for the non-OPEC countries, eleven of which were voluntarily cutting production to support OPEC, pointed to faster growth than previously anticipated in 2017, the IEA said.

On Monday, Russia and Saudi Arabia called for extending the output cuts ahead of an OPEC meeting on May 25.

And on Tuesday, Kuwait said it "gives its full backing and support to ... extend the oil output cuts deal between OPEC and other producers until March 2018."

Meanwhile on the demand side, the IEA left unchanged its estimates for the worldwide thirst for oil, with demand growth for 2017 expected to be 1.3 million barrels per day.

"Growth was weaker than expected in the first quarter, however, with notable downward revisions seen in the US -- where demand is essentially flat -- and in Germany, Turkey and India," the report said.

Azerbaijan destroys Armenia air defence system in disputed region

Azerbaijan has destroyed an Armenian air defence system in the breakaway Nagorny Karabakh region, officials in Baku said Tuesday, as separatist authorities vowed retaliation, raising tensions in the festering conflict.Ex-Soviet Azerbaijan and Armenia a…

Azerbaijan has destroyed an Armenian air defence system in the breakaway Nagorny Karabakh region, officials in Baku said Tuesday, as separatist authorities vowed retaliation, raising tensions in the festering conflict.

Ex-Soviet Azerbaijan and Armenia are locked in a protracted conflict over the disputed region, and frequent exchanges of fire nearly spiralled into all-out war last year.

"Azerbaijani forces destroyed on Monday an Armenian Osa air defence system and its crew in the Fisuli-Khojavend sector of Karabakh's frontline in order to avert the threat it posed to Azerbaijan's aircraft," an official from the press service of Azerbaijan's defence ministry told AFP.

The separatist defence ministry in Karabakh said in a statement that the Azerbaijani army had damaged its military equipment with a guided missile, but denied casualties among its troops.

"Azerbaijani forces' provocation will not be left unanswered," it said.

The incident came after bloody clashes erupted between Azerbaijani and Karabakh troops in February that killed several Azerbaijani servicemen.

In April last year, at least 110 people from both sides were killed as simmering violence flared into the worst clashes in decades over the region.

A Russian-brokered ceasefire ended the four days of fierce fighting but attempts to relaunch the stalled peace process since then have failed.

Baku and Yerevan have feuded over the Nagorny Karabakh region since Armenian separatists seized the territory in a war that claimed some 30,000 lives in the early 1990s and ended in a frail 1994 truce.

The two sides never signed a firm peace deal.

Energy-rich Azerbaijan, whose military spending exceeds Armenia's entire state budget, has repeatedly threatened to take back the breakaway region by force.

But Moscow-allied Armenia has vowed to crush any military offensive.

French expect backlash over Sharapova wildcard for Roland Garros

French Open organisers are bracing for controversy ahead of Tuesday’s decision on whether to grant Maria Sharapova a wildcard for Roland Garros.The decision on whether the former world number one, returning from a 15-month doping ban, will gain wildcar…

French Open organisers are bracing for controversy ahead of Tuesday's decision on whether to grant Maria Sharapova a wildcard for Roland Garros.

The decision on whether the former world number one, returning from a 15-month doping ban, will gain wildcard entry for the Grand Slam is to be announced at 1700 GMT by the president of the French Tennis Federation Bernard Guidicelli.

"Some say she shouldn't get it, others say she served her time," tournament director Guy Forget told the BBC.

"As you talk with players, it's very controversial. So no matter what happens, there will be a lot of questions around that wildcard."

The five-times Grand Slam winner was banned for two years for using meldonium, but the penalty was reduced to 15 months on appeal by the Court of Arbitration for Sport which ruled she was not an intentional doper.

After the ban expired last month, the Russian returned to competition at the Stuttgart Open, reaching the semi-finals, and progressed to the last 32 of the Madrid Open, too late to earn herself a qualifying spot for Paris.

On Monday she won her opening match at the Rome Masters, guaranteeing a qualifying spot at Wimbledon and she could earn a slot in the main draw if she reaches the semi-finals of the event she has won three times.

Strikes hit Greece ahead of cuts vote

Greek unions on Tuesday kicked off two days of labour action, shutting down ferries and news services ahead of a Wednesday general strike aimed at a new round of austerity cuts.Journalists walked off the job and sailors began a two-day shutdown that se…

Greek unions on Tuesday kicked off two days of labour action, shutting down ferries and news services ahead of a Wednesday general strike aimed at a new round of austerity cuts.

Journalists walked off the job and sailors began a two-day shutdown that severed maritime links to the Greek islands.

Ferry services will be paralysed Wednesday during the 24-hour general strike that will also shutter the civil service and disrupt flights.

The mobilisation is aimed against new pension and tax break cuts forced on Greece by its EU-IMF creditors in return for bailout cash.

The leftist government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras grudgingly accepted to legislate another round of pension cuts and lower tax breaks -- applicable in 2019 and 2020 respectively -- to unlock the cash payment ahead of looming debt repayments in July.

Athens hopes that the loan payment will be approved by a meeting of eurozone finance ministers on May 22.

The bill is to approved late on Thursday.

German investor confidence creeps up in May

Confidence among German investors inched up in May, a regular survey showed Tuesday, buoyed by optimism for the future of the eurozone following Emmanuel Macron’s election to the French presidency.The ZEW economic institute’s headline index measuring e…

Confidence among German investors inched up in May, a regular survey showed Tuesday, buoyed by optimism for the future of the eurozone following Emmanuel Macron's election to the French presidency.

The ZEW economic institute's headline index measuring economic expectations for the coming months added 1.1 points to reach 20.6, in a marked slowdown a 6.7-point leap in April.

Analysts surveyed by data company Factset had predicted slightly faster growth in confidence, to 21.6 points.

ZEW president Achim Wambach noted that a strong reading for German economic growth in the first quarter had confirmed a widespread good mood in financial markets and business surveys.

"Prospects for the whole eurozone are also gradually improving, further reinforcing the economic environment for German exports," he added.

The institute's separate index measuring expectations for the 19-nation single currency area leapt 8.8 points, to 35.1.

Investors' assessment of the present state of the economy in the eurozone also brightened faster than the same measure for Germany.

"Investors and analysts do not see an end to the current growth party in Germany any time soon," commented economist Carsten Brzeski of ING Diba bank.

"Fading political risks, low inflationary pressure, low interest rates and comfortable stock markets are feeding investors' optimism."

The ZEW institute compiled its index based on a survey of 219 financial players between May 2 and 15.

Controversy over Trump Israel policy ahead of visit

A surprise controversy erupted Tuesday over US policy towards Israel days ahead of a visit by President Donald Trump, with the potential move of the American embassy to Jerusalem again making waves.Separately, a reported comment by a US official helpin…

A surprise controversy erupted Tuesday over US policy towards Israel days ahead of a visit by President Donald Trump, with the potential move of the American embassy to Jerusalem again making waves.

Separately, a reported comment by a US official helping prepare Trump's visit also led to Israeli criticism, with the official allegedly telling Israeli counterparts that the Western Wall was part of the occupied West Bank.

The Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray, is located in east Jerusalem, which was occupied by Israel in 1967 and later annexed in a move never recognised by the international community.

Palestinians see east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

Both highly sensitive issues made headlines in Israel on Tuesday as preparations intensified for Trump's visit to the country and the Palestinian territories on May 22 and 23.

Trump's controversial new ambassador also presented his credentials to the Israeli president at a ceremony in Jerusalem.

Israel's right-wing had placed high hopes in Trump's presidency following his pledges of ardent support for Israel and a commitment to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to the disputed city of Jerusalem.

Some even called for the end of the idea of a Palestinian state.

But Trump has since backed away from the embassy move, saying it was still being looked at, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has faced political backlash at home over the issue.

A Fox News reporter cited sources saying Netanyahu had asked Trump not to move the embassy now, leading the prime minister to issue an angry rebuttal.

In an unusual move, Netanyahu also partially released the minutes of a meeting he had with Trump in Washington in February, showing he had pressed the new president to move the embassy.

The rival claims to Jerusalem lie at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and no countries currently have their embassies in Jerusalem, instead basing them in Israel's commercial capital Tel Aviv.

Palestinians say moving the embassy would be a de facto recognition of Israel's control of all Jerusalem.

- Swearing in ceremony -

Separately, Israeli officials have reacted angrily to reports in local media that representatives of the American consulate had suggested the Western Wall did not belong to Israel.

Trump is reportedly planning to visit the wall in Jerusalem's Old City and Israel's Channel Two reported that Israeli officials offering to help plan the event were told by American counterparts it was not their remit.

One US official said the Western Wall was part of the West Bank, Channel Two reported.

The White House distanced itself from the alleged comments, saying in statements to US media that they did not reflect the views of the adminstration.

The US, like most of the international community, considers Jerusalem disputed ahead of final-status negotiations.

Also on Tuesday, Trump's controversial choice for ambassador David Friedman presented his credentials in a ceremony at President Reuven Rivlin's residence in Jerusalem.

Jewish-American Friedman, a strong supporter of Israeli settlement building in the West Bank, entered the residence with a marching band playing.

Speaking after the ceremony, Friedman did not directly respond to the dispute over the Western Wall but pledged to "support the state of Israel in every way".

"I pledge to you to do all that I can to strengthen and enhance the relationship between our two great nations," he told Rivlin.

Speaking of Trump, he said: "His love for and commitment to the state of Israel is rock solid and it enjoys his highest priority."

Rivlin called on the "whole world to recognise Jerusalem as the official capital of the state of Israel".

Friedman arrived Monday and immediately visited the Western Wall, praying there and kissing the sacred site.

The former bankruptcy lawyer has expressed scepticism over the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the basis of years of US peace efforts.

He has also advocated moving the embassy to Jerusalem.

Bittersweet reaction to death of Britain’s notorious ‘Moors murderer’

Relatives of the children killed by Ian Brady, the man responsible for Britain’s notorious “Moors Murders”, gave a bittersweet reaction Tuesday to his death, as newspapers hailed the demise of a monster.The 79-year-old, who died Monday, and his partner…

Relatives of the children killed by Ian Brady, the man responsible for Britain's notorious "Moors Murders", gave a bittersweet reaction Tuesday to his death, as newspapers hailed the demise of a monster.

The 79-year-old, who died Monday, and his partner Myra Hindley tortured and murdered five children between July 1963 and October 1965.

The brutality of the crimes -- which in several cases included sexual assault -- and the role of a woman in luring innocent young children to their deaths, make it one of Britain's most notorious cases.

The brother of 12-year-old John Kilbride, who was strangled after Hindley lured him away from a market in November 1963, said "good riddance" to Brady but conceded his death would not help ease the pain.

"It's a lot to take in. It's been years and years of anguish and pain for us and the families of the victims," Terry Kilbride, 62, told The Sun.

"But nothing will change. He's dead but we will have to still live with the nightmare that he left behind.

"He's ruined our lives all these years and he'll still ruin it even though he's gone. I feel numb."

Four of Hindley and Brady's victims were buried on Saddleworth Moor, a national park near Manchester in central England, although the body of 12-year-old Keith Bennett has never been found.

The pair were jailed in 1966 for the murders of John Kilbride, Lesley Ann Downey, 10, and Edward Evans, 17.

Years later, they confessed to Bennett's murder and that of 16-year-old Pauline Reade.

But Brady never expressed remorse for the killings, and the judge in his trial said both he and Hindley were "evil beyond belief". Hindley died in prison in 2002.

Brady had been held in a high security hospital near Liverpool in northwest England. He was reportedly receiving palliative care for emphysema.

"We can confirm a 79-year-old patient in long term care at Ashworth High Secure Hospital has died after becoming physically unwell," a spokesman from the local health service told AFP late Monday.

"Monster Brady is dead", headlined The Sun, while the Daily Mirror splashed: "Burn in Hell Brady".

- 'Still one poor kiddie up there' -

Kilbride also expressed his sorrow for the family of Keith Bennett, who disappeared on June 16, 1964.

Brady and Hindley took police back to the moor to look for Bennett's grave, but it was never found.

Police said Tuesday they would keep the case open.

Terry West, the brother of Lesley Ann Downey, the youngest victim, told MailOnline: "We've been waiting for this day for such a long time."

Downey was lured from a fairground by Hindley on December 26, 1964, sexually abused and tortured.

A harrowing recording of her final moments, when she pleaded for her life, helped cement Brady's reputation after it was played in court.

West said he too felt for Keith Bennett's family, saying: "This probably means they'll never know where his body was buried.

"He's taken it to the grave. There's still one poor kiddie up there on the Moors."

The body of Pauline Reade, who vanished on her way to a disco in July 1963, was found in 1987. Her throat was cut and she was still in her party dress.

Hindley and Brady were caught after involving Hindley's brother-in-law David Smith in the murder of Edward Evans in October 1965.

Smith was forced to watch as Brady attacked the 17-year-old with an axe, but fled and called the police.