EU court deals blow to quick trade deals

EU trade deals must endure a potentially bruising process of ratification by all member states, the European Union’s highest court said on Tuesday, with possible consequences for Brexit.Britain hopes to win a fast-track trade deal with Europe after it …

EU trade deals must endure a potentially bruising process of ratification by all member states, the European Union's highest court said on Tuesday, with possible consequences for Brexit.

Britain hopes to win a fast-track trade deal with Europe after it negotiates its divorce from the EU but the decision by the European Court of Justice could cripple that plan.

In a closely watched decision, the EU court said that any trade deal that includes a non-court dispute settlement system would require ratification by the EU's 38 national and regional authorities.

"It follows that the free trade agreement can, as it stands, only be concluded by the EU and the Member States jointly," the court said in a statement.

The decision applied to an EU-Singapore treaty signed in 2013, but will stand as key jurisprudence for future trade deals including any deal with Britain.

Non-government arbitration systems are a core part of international trade deals and have drawn fierce opposition by activists who see them as being under the influence of corporate interests.

Last year the tiny region of Wallonia almost killed off a huge EU-Canada trade deal after years of talks, because of its opposition to this system.

That tussle highlighted the dangers of a marathon ratification process that involves high-tension votes in national or regional parliaments.

The European Commission, which handles trade negotiations for the EU, saw the Singapore deal as a new standard that reflected bigger powers won by Brussels.

In the commission's big plans, the Singapore deal would have only required the greenlight of the European Council, which groups officials and ministers from the EU's 28 governments, and the European Parliament.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has insisted that Britain could negotiate its departure from the European Union and a new trading arrangement within two years.

The EU-Canada accord took seven years to negotiate and has only begun the long national approval process.

N. Korea takes leap with missile test: analysts

North Korea’s latest missile launch represents a significant step forward in its weapons capabilities, analysts say, but Pyongyang could be looking to secure a position of strength before a return to the negotiating table.The intermediate-range missile…

North Korea's latest missile launch represents a significant step forward in its weapons capabilities, analysts say, but Pyongyang could be looking to secure a position of strength before a return to the negotiating table.

The intermediate-range missile fired by the North at the weekend, named the Hwasong-12, was its longest-range rocket yet, analysts say.

It was its 10th launch this year, after dozens in 2016, as it accelerates efforts to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to the continental United States -- something President Donald Trump has vowed "won't happen".

Leader "Kim Jong-Un has stepped up testing compared to his father and grandfather, and it is starting to pay off," Melissa Hanham of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in California told AFP. "This is a clear indication of progress."

Pyongyang has long had missiles that can reach targets across the South -- the 500 kilometre Scud -- and Japan, the 1,000-1,300 kilometre Rodong.

But with an imputed range of 4,500 kilometres the Hwasong-12 puts US bases on the Pacific island of Guam within reach.

More significantly, the new missile could be a stepping stone to a properly working ICBM -- which would fundamentally change assessments of the threat posed by Pyongyang.

"This is not that missile but it might be a testbed, demonstrating technologies and systems to be used in future ICBMs," wrote aerospace engineering specialist John Schilling, adding that it could represent the first two stages of such a device.

Pyongyang "may be closer to an operational ICBM than had been previously estimated", he said on the respected 38 North website.

A functional ICBM would need a nuclear warhead that can be mounted on to a missile.

The North's official Korean Central News Agency claimed the latest test had proved its guidance and re-entry technologies, and said the rocket was "capable of carrying a large-size heavy nuclear warhead".

It was "plausible that they have made a compact warhead after five nuclear tests", Hanham told AFP, but KCNA's phrasing was "interesting but vague".

"It?s really hard to take their claims seriously without verification from other governments," she added.

- The bigger they are... -

The launch came just four days after the inauguration of South Korea's new left-leaning President Moon Jae-In, who advocates reconciliation and dialogue with Pyongyang to curb its nuclear ambitions.

Moon was part of the South's last liberal government nearly a decade ago, which pursued a "Sunshine policy" of engagement with the North, and declared at his swearing-in that he would go to Pyongyang "in the right circumstances".

Instead, said Koo Kab-Woo of Seoul's University of North Korean Studies, he had been posed "an extremely difficult question" by the launch.

"Under the current circumstances, it's very hard" to hold any talks with the North, Koo said.

But the timing of the launch so close to Moon's installation was largely coincidental, he said. "They are just going their way consistently towards the goal of attaining nuclear deterrence capability."

Moon slammed the launch as a "reckless provocation" saying that dialogue would be possible "only if Pyongyang changes its behaviour".

The North "strongly wants to talk with Washington", Koo said, as expressed by a senior North Korean official following a meeting with former US officials in Oslo, Norway.

That remark came just two weeks after President Donald Trump said he would be "honoured" to meet Kim, after their tit-for-tat sabre-rattling raised tensions in the region.

Pyongyang insists it needs nuclear weapons to defend against the threat of invasion by the US, and shows no indication of any willingness to give them up, whatever concessions are offered.

The North's young leader is more focused on presenting Pyongyang to Washington and Beijing as their equals, equipped with weapons as devastating as their own, said Choi Kang of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul.

"The bigger you are, the bigger the advantage you will have over negotiations. Otherwise, you will be looked down on," he told AFP.

"In the Kim Jong-Il era, North Korea launched missiles to get Washington's attention," he said. "But now it's different."

‘Too early’ to say if N. Korea behind cyberattacks: Europol

The European police agency said Tuesday it was still too early to say whether North Korea was linked to a massive cyberattack which has caused global computer chaos.”We are open to investigate in all directions, but we don’t speculate and we cannot con…

The European police agency said Tuesday it was still too early to say whether North Korea was linked to a massive cyberattack which has caused global computer chaos.

"We are open to investigate in all directions, but we don't speculate and we cannot confirm this. It's still too early to say anything," said senior spokesman for Europol, Jan Op Gen Oorth.

"We are working on it. The investigation is ongoing," he told AFP. "It could come from everywhere, it could come from any country."

Security researchers investigating the massive cyberattack campaign on Tuesday reported signs of a possible North Korean link, with one expert warning there could be more to come.

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.

In signs however the attack was slowing, Europol 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.

The attack blocks computers and puts up images on victims' screens demanding payment of $300 (275 euros) in the virtual currency Bitcoin, saying: "Ooops, your files have been encrypted!"

Europol, the cross-border policing agency which is based in The Hague, said some 243 payments of a total of about $63,000 (57,000 euros) had been made since the attack was launched late Friday.

Dutch cyber spy chief Rob Bertholee meanwhile refused to be drawn on the identity of the attacks at a top cyber security conference being held in The Hague.

The Netherlands has already fingered Pyongyang as a possible threat to its national digital systems, he said.

"Every state actor could be an actor in cyber space. But we are specifically worried about a limited number of state actors. In our list of favourite state actors you can find Russia, you can find China, you can find Iran."

"And I think we might have a very capable adversary in North Korea as well," he added.

Macron to boost Paris 2024 Olympic bid at Lima vote

French President Emmanuel Macron will travel to Lima for the IOC’s September 13 vote on the 2024 Olympics, Paris bid team member Guy Drut announced on Tuesday.Drut confirmed the new French head of state’s presence in Peru for the crucial vote after tal…

French President Emmanuel Macron will travel to Lima for the IOC's September 13 vote on the 2024 Olympics, Paris bid team member Guy Drut announced on Tuesday.

Drut confirmed the new French head of state's presence in Peru for the crucial vote after talks between Macron and the IOC's evaluation commission over coffee and croissants at the Elysee Palace.

"Emmanuel Macron told Patrick Baumann (head of the IOC's inspection team) that he would definitely be in Lausanne for the IOC's debriefing and also in Lima on September 13," Drut, France's 110m hurdle champion at the 1976 Games, said.

Paris are battling with Los Angeles for the right to succeed 2020 hosts Tokyo and stage the Games in seven years time.

Macron's commitment to securing the Olympics was underlined by his one hour meeting with the IOC taking place just two days after his inauguration as France's youngest president at 39 years of age since Napoleon.

"This is evidence of commitment. It is not just a word, there is a unity up to the highest level of the state," suggested Paris 2024 co-president Bernard Lapasset.

"This could help our candidacy for sure - the new president, who receives the commission just two days after his nomination, and who is the same age as our co-president Tony Estanguet.

"The members of the bid committee were very touched by this gesture," a spokesman for the Paris bid team added.

Macron is a strong supporter of the Paris bid to host the Olympics for the first time in a century and even before Sunday's investiture he had telephoned Olympic chief Thomas Bach to confirm his support.

On Monday, he told Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo the bid stimulated the kind of national optimism he hopes to generate during his mandate.

"I'm right with you on your venture for the Olympics, Paralympics and the 2024 objective," he declared.

His decision to attend the Lima vote adds significant political capital to the Paris bid, but the presence of presidents or political leaders at recent votes has proved mixed.

Former French president Jacques Chirac's decision to press the flesh with IOC delegates at the 2005 vote in Singapore for the 2012 Games when Paris were hot favourites was spectacularly undone by Britain's then prime minister Tony Blair's more determined networking amongst Olympic delegates with London upsetting the odds.

Blair, in his autobiography A Journey, recalled: "(The French) affected an attitude of 'we are going to win and aren't you lucky when we do' and tried to sweep people along as if invincible ? very French.

"We affected an attitude of 'we humbly beg to offer our services to your great movement' and paddled and conspired like crazy underneath."

At the IOC's 2009 vote in Copenhagen even the star presence of then-US president Barack Obama and his wife Michelle could not prevent Chicago getting knocked out in the first round of voting with Rio awarded the 2016 Games.

This time around the Los Angeles 2024 team have said they are cautious about asking Obama's successor Donald Trump to attend in Lima.

Los Angeles bid chairman Casey Wasserman said in London last week that he had heard "very bad" stories from the Copenhagen vote when some International Olympic Committee members were said to be furious to be kept waiting outside the venue whilst Obama's security detail swept the building having flown in to give his support to Chicago.

It is said to have cost Chicago votes.

Live: France gets new government as Macron team takes reins

Welcome to another very political day in Paris. A day after new French President Emmanuel Macron named centre-right prime minister Édouard Philippe, the nation awaits the naming of a new government. Follow our live blog for all the latest.

Welcome to another very political day in Paris. A day after new French President Emmanuel Macron named centre-right prime minister Édouard Philippe, the nation awaits the naming of a new government. Follow our live blog for all the latest.

Trump, Erdogan seek to mend strained ties at White House meeting

Turkey’s leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets with President Donald Trump at the White House Tuesday, hoping to repair ties frayed over Syria and the presence in the US of a bitter political foe.The meeting comes after Erdogan won a hotly contested refere…

Turkey's leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets with President Donald Trump at the White House Tuesday, hoping to repair ties frayed over Syria and the presence in the US of a bitter political foe.

The meeting comes after Erdogan won a hotly contested referendum boosting his powers and as he aims to entice the American leader into major policy shifts to solidify an increasingly strained relationship.

US-Turkish ties became poisoned in the waning months of Barack Obama's administration by venomous disputes over US support for Kurdish fighters in Syria.

The White House said in a statement that Trump and Erdogan will give joint press statements Tuesday followed by a working luncheon.

Turkish officials had hoped for a "new page" after the bickering with Obama, but the Trump administration's announcement that the US would arm the Syrian Kurdish Peoples' Protection Units (YPG) -- which Ankara views as terrorists -- put a damper on such optimism.

Ankara regards the YPG as the Syrian arm of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged a deadly insurgency inside Turkey since 1984.

"YPG and PKK are both terror groups, there is no difference at all between them. They only have different names," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said recently.

Although they are allies in NATO, conflicting goals between Turkey and the United States in the Middle East are seen as one factor leading Ankara to cultivate closer ties with Iran.

- 'Restore democracy' -

Turkey has also forged ahead with an increasingly close relationship with Russia's President Vladimir Putin to the alarm of its Western allies.

Another stumbling block to improved US-Turkish relations has been the presence in the US state of Pennsylvania of the Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen, whom Erdogan blames for last year's July 15 failed coup.

Erdogan has made clear he expects steps from Washington over the fate of Gulen, who denies any role in the coup but whom Turkey wants to see extradited and face trial at home.

Yet analysts warn that Trump -- even if he wanted to -- cannot simply promise Erdogan that Gulen will be extradited as the process depends on the independent American judicial system.

The Muslim cleric, meanwhile, needled Erdogan in an article appearing in the Washington Post on the eve of the summit, accusing the Turkish leader of authoritarian rule.

"The Turkey that I once knew as a hope-inspiring country on its way to consolidating its democracy and a moderate form of secularism has become the dominion of a president who is doing everything he can to amass power and subjugate dissent," Gulen wrote in an op-ed piece in the daily.

Erdogan last month narrowly won a referendum to implement an executive presidency from November 2019, axing the role of prime minister and empowering the president to appoint ministers.

"Since July 15, following a deplorable coup attempt, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has systematically persecuted innocent people -- arresting, detaining, firing and otherwise ruining the lives of more than 300,000 Turkish citizens," Gulen said, urging the nations of the West to use their moral authority to help reverse the crackdown.

"The people of Turkey need the support of their European allies and the United States to restore their democracy," he wrote.

EasyJet losses climb on Brexit-hit pound, Easter

EasyJet’s losses grew significantly in the first half due to the Brexit-fuelled slump in the pound and the later timing of Easter, the British low-cost airline said Tuesday.

Losses after taxation stood at £192 million ($248 million, 226 million euros) in the six months to the end of March, EasyJet said in a results statement. That contrasted with a slender loss of £15 million a year earlier.

Pre-tax losses expanded to £236 million compared with £18 million last time around. Sales rose 3.2 percent to £1.8 billion.

Easter — a peak-time for holidaymakers — fell in April this year, outside of EasyJet’s reporting period. However, it fell in March in 2016.

“The first half loss is in line with market expectations and reflects the movement of Easter into the second half as well as currency effects which together had an estimated impact of circa £127 million on the bottom line,” said chief executive Carolyn McCall.

However, McCall added that summer bookings are ahead of last year and that demand for flights and holidays remains “strong”, with consumers prioritising travel expenditure over “non-essential” items.

One of the biggest consequences of Britain’s June 23, 2016 referendum to quit the European Union has been the slump in the pound against the euro and dollar. That has dragged on the profitability of EasyJet.

The collapsing value of the pound weighs on EasyJet’s performance because it makes dollar-priced jet fuel more expensive, ramping up the cost of running aircraft.

EasyJet's losses grew significantly in the first half due to the Brexit-fuelled slump in the pound and the later timing of Easter, the British low-cost airline said Tuesday.

Losses after taxation stood at £192 million ($248 million, 226 million euros) in the six months to the end of March, EasyJet said in a results statement. That contrasted with a slender loss of £15 million a year earlier.

Pre-tax losses expanded to £236 million compared with £18 million last time around. Sales rose 3.2 percent to £1.8 billion.

Easter -- a peak-time for holidaymakers -- fell in April this year, outside of EasyJet's reporting period. However, it fell in March in 2016.

"The first half loss is in line with market expectations and reflects the movement of Easter into the second half as well as currency effects which together had an estimated impact of circa £127 million on the bottom line," said chief executive Carolyn McCall.

However, McCall added that summer bookings are ahead of last year and that demand for flights and holidays remains "strong", with consumers prioritising travel expenditure over "non-essential" items.

One of the biggest consequences of Britain's June 23, 2016 referendum to quit the European Union has been the slump in the pound against the euro and dollar. That has dragged on the profitability of EasyJet.

The collapsing value of the pound weighs on EasyJet's performance because it makes dollar-priced jet fuel more expensive, ramping up the cost of running aircraft.

Strike grounds Air Algerie apart from inbound flights

Air Algerie on Tuesday suspended all flights in and from the North African country due to an indefinite strike action by its employees.The strike covers all domestic and out-bound international services but not Air Algerie flights from abroad.The airli…

Air Algerie on Tuesday suspended all flights in and from the North African country due to an indefinite strike action by its employees.

The strike covers all domestic and out-bound international services but not Air Algerie flights from abroad.

The airline, in a statement carried by national news agency APS, called on passengers not to head for airports before an announcement that the strike had ended.

Britain’s Labour 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 will say in his speech at the presentation of the manifesto in Bradford in northwest England, according to extracts released by the party’s press office.

“It will lead us through Brexit while putting the preservation of jobs first,” he said.

The manifesto is expected to include a tax increase from 40 percent to 45 percent for salaries of between £80,000 (94,000 euros, $103,000) and £150,0000 a year, according to The Times and The Daily Telegraph.

The current 40 percent tax rate applies to people earning between £31,500 and £150,000.

There would also be a new top rate of income tax of 50 percent, the reports said.

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 Guardian reported that the party was also planning a levy on businesses with staff earning large salaries, set at 2.5 percent on those earning over £330,000 and 5.0 percent on those earning more than £500,000.

Labour will also promise to renationalise the railways, the Royal Mail postal service and water companies, according to various reports.

Labour has also promised it will increase corporation tax to 26 percent by 2022 and impose a “Robin Hood tax” on financial transactions.

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

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

But 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 will say in his speech at the presentation of the manifesto in Bradford in northwest England, according to extracts released by the party's press office.

"It will lead us through Brexit while putting the preservation of jobs first," he said.

The manifesto is expected to include a tax increase from 40 percent to 45 percent for salaries of between £80,000 (94,000 euros, $103,000) and £150,0000 a year, according to The Times and The Daily Telegraph.

The current 40 percent tax rate applies to people earning between £31,500 and £150,000.

There would also be a new top rate of income tax of 50 percent, the reports said.

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 Guardian reported that the party was also planning a levy on businesses with staff earning large salaries, set at 2.5 percent on those earning over £330,000 and 5.0 percent on those earning more than £500,000.

Labour will also promise to renationalise the railways, the Royal Mail postal service and water companies, according to various reports.

Labour has also promised it will increase corporation tax to 26 percent by 2022 and impose a "Robin Hood tax" on financial transactions.

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

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

But 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.

S. Korea, US to hold Washington summit in June: Seoul

South Korea’s left-leaning new leader Moon Jae-In will travel to the US for a summit with President Donald Trump next month, Moon’s spokesman said Tuesday, amid high tensions over the North’s nuclear ambitions.The summit will be held in Washington in l…

South Korea's left-leaning new leader Moon Jae-In will travel to the US for a summit with President Donald Trump next month, Moon's spokesman said Tuesday, amid high tensions over the North's nuclear ambitions.

The summit will be held in Washington in late June, Yoon Young-Chan said, adding that details of the precise date and agenda would be decided later.

Moon backs engagement with nuclear-armed North Korea to try to reduce tensions, while Trump's administration has said military action was an option under consideration.

"We will prepare the summit as an opportunity to cement personal ties and friendship between the two leaders," Yoon said.

The announcement came a day after the North boasted a "successful" launch of the longest-range missile it has ever tested, sparking global alarm.

Tensions have been ratcheted up as Pyongyang and Washington exchanged hostile rhetoric, but Trump recently softened his posture, saying he would be "honoured" to meet the North's leader Kim Jong-Un.

Sunday's missile launch angered the White House which said the North had "been a flagrant menace for far too long" and called for tougher sanctions against Pyongyang.

Moon has said he would be willing to visit the North "in the right circumstances", but also slammed Sunday's launch as a "reckless provocation", saying dialogue would be possible "only if the North changes its attitude."

Tuesday's announcement came as Matt Pottinger, senior director for Asian affairs at the US National Security Council, vowed joint efforts to curb the North's military ambitions during a visit to Seoul.

Pottinger and his South Korean counterpart agreed that the two allies would seek "bold and practical" approach over the North, with dialogue with Pyongyang possible but only "when conditions are right", Yoon said.

Kuwait backs call to extend oil output cuts

Kuwait on Tuesday backed a call by top oil producers Saudi Arabia and Russia to extend a deal on crude production cuts for nine more months.”Kuwait gives its full backing and support to the joint position of Saudi Arabia and Russia to extend the oil ou…

Kuwait on Tuesday backed a call by top oil producers Saudi Arabia and Russia to extend a deal on crude production cuts for nine more months.

"Kuwait gives its full backing and support to the joint position of Saudi Arabia and Russia to extend the oil output cuts deal between OPEC and other producers until March 2018," Oil Minister Essam al-Marzouk said in a statement.

Russia and Saudi Arabia on Monday called for extending the deal struck late last year, ahead of an OPEC meeting on May 25.

In a joint statement the two countries said an extension to March 31, 2018 was needed "to ensure market stability, predictability and sustainable development".

World oil prices leapt after the Saudi-Russian announcement and made further gains on Tuesday in Asian trade, with benchmark West Texas Intermediate up 19 cents at $49.04 per barrel.

OPEC members agreed in November to cut production by 1.2 million barrels per day for six months beginning from the start of the year, in a bid to reduce the glut in oil supplies and shore up prices that had fallen to historic lows.

The move was partly matched by non-cartel producers led by Russia.

Asian energy firms fired up by rally in oil prices

Oil prices pressed on with fresh gains in Asian trade Tuesday, boosting energy firms, after Russia and Saudi Arabia indicated they could extend an output cut into next year.

The world’s top two crude-producing nations raised the idea at the weekend, with a deal agreed between OPEC — of which Saudi Arabia is the key player — and Russia coming to an end in six weeks.

The news sent oil prices soaring about two percent on Monday, in turn dragging global energy firms with them.

Monday’s gains come after the commodity was battered earlier this month on worries that the production cut was not enough to make a dent in a worldwide supply glut and increasing output from the US and other nations.

“The comments from Saudi Arabia and Russia are driving prices up but I’m sceptical that crude will see a new level,” Hong Sung Ki, a commodities analyst at Samsung Futures, told Bloomberg News.

“As producers in the US are expected to increase output, prices will continue to be restricted from rising.”

But Greg McKenna, chief market strategist at AxiTrader pointed out that traders were overlooking the fact that the need for a further cut in oil output suggested problems persisted.

“That such a large output cut extension is a tacit admission of failure is for another day and discussion,” he said in a note.

Hong Kong-listed PetroChina gained almost one percent and CNOOC put on 0.4 percent, while Woodside Petroleum in Sydney was up 0.2 percent and Rio Tinto jumped 1.4 percent.

– Euro extends gains –

On equity markets Tokyo edged up 0.3 percent by the close, Hong Kong slipped 0.2 percent on profit-taking in the afternoon following a six-day rally, while Shanghai finished up 0.7 percent, marking a fourth straight day of gains.

Seoul and Sydney each added 0.2 percent.

But Singapore, Taipei and Wellington were all lower.

In New York the S&P 500 and Nasdaq each ended at record highs, as did London and Frankfurt, with German traders cheering a strong win for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party in a regional vote.

In early European trade Tuesday London opened slightly higher but Frankfurt lost 0.2 percent while Paris was 0.5 percent lower.

On currency markets the euro extended gains to break above $1.10 after the German election result while the dollar’s weakness has also been caused by a series of below-par results out of the US, including on inflation.

“The euro is strengthening as political concerns in Europe ease while the dollar is being sold” after the weak economic data, Marito Ueda, a senior dealer at FX Prime, told AFP.

The greenback was also down against most other higher-yielding currencies, with the South Korean won 0.7 percent higher, the Thai baht up 0.2 percent and the Malaysian ringgit 0.5 percent stronger.

– Key figures around 0720 GMT –

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: UP 0.3 percent at 19,919.82 (close)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: DOWN 0.2 percent at 25,328.02

Shanghai – Composite: UP 0.7 percent at 3,112.96 (close)

London – FTSE 100: FLAT at 7,546.63

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1010 from $1.0977 at 2100 GMT

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 113.40 yen from 113.75 yen

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.2921 from $1.2897

Oil – West Texas Intermediate: UP 23 cents at $49.08 per barrel

Oil – Brent North Sea: UP 24 cents at $52.06 per barrel

New York – Dow: UP 0.4 percent at 20,981.94 (close)

Oil prices pressed on with fresh gains in Asian trade Tuesday, boosting energy firms, after Russia and Saudi Arabia indicated they could extend an output cut into next year.

The world's top two crude-producing nations raised the idea at the weekend, with a deal agreed between OPEC -- of which Saudi Arabia is the key player -- and Russia coming to an end in six weeks.

The news sent oil prices soaring about two percent on Monday, in turn dragging global energy firms with them.

Monday's gains come after the commodity was battered earlier this month on worries that the production cut was not enough to make a dent in a worldwide supply glut and increasing output from the US and other nations.

"The comments from Saudi Arabia and Russia are driving prices up but I'm sceptical that crude will see a new level," Hong Sung Ki, a commodities analyst at Samsung Futures, told Bloomberg News.

"As producers in the US are expected to increase output, prices will continue to be restricted from rising."

But Greg McKenna, chief market strategist at AxiTrader pointed out that traders were overlooking the fact that the need for a further cut in oil output suggested problems persisted.

"That such a large output cut extension is a tacit admission of failure is for another day and discussion," he said in a note.

Hong Kong-listed PetroChina gained almost one percent and CNOOC put on 0.4 percent, while Woodside Petroleum in Sydney was up 0.2 percent and Rio Tinto jumped 1.4 percent.

- Euro extends gains -

On equity markets Tokyo edged up 0.3 percent by the close, Hong Kong slipped 0.2 percent on profit-taking in the afternoon following a six-day rally, while Shanghai finished up 0.7 percent, marking a fourth straight day of gains.

Seoul and Sydney each added 0.2 percent.

But Singapore, Taipei and Wellington were all lower.

In New York the S&P 500 and Nasdaq each ended at record highs, as did London and Frankfurt, with German traders cheering a strong win for Chancellor Angela Merkel's party in a regional vote.

In early European trade Tuesday London opened slightly higher but Frankfurt lost 0.2 percent while Paris was 0.5 percent lower.

On currency markets the euro extended gains to break above $1.10 after the German election result while the dollar's weakness has also been caused by a series of below-par results out of the US, including on inflation.

"The euro is strengthening as political concerns in Europe ease while the dollar is being sold" after the weak economic data, Marito Ueda, a senior dealer at FX Prime, told AFP.

The greenback was also down against most other higher-yielding currencies, with the South Korean won 0.7 percent higher, the Thai baht up 0.2 percent and the Malaysian ringgit 0.5 percent stronger.

- Key figures around 0720 GMT -

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: UP 0.3 percent at 19,919.82 (close)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: DOWN 0.2 percent at 25,328.02

Shanghai - Composite: UP 0.7 percent at 3,112.96 (close)

London - FTSE 100: FLAT at 7,546.63

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1010 from $1.0977 at 2100 GMT

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 113.40 yen from 113.75 yen

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.2921 from $1.2897

Oil - West Texas Intermediate: UP 23 cents at $49.08 per barrel

Oil - Brent North Sea: UP 24 cents at $52.06 per barrel

New York - Dow: UP 0.4 percent at 20,981.94 (close)

Vodafone dials up 6.3-bn-euro annual net loss

British mobile phone giant Vodafone logged on Tuesday an annual net loss of 6.3 billion euros ($6.9 billion) after slashing the value of its troubled Indian division.The performance in the 12 months to March compared with a net loss of 5.4 billion euro…

British mobile phone giant Vodafone logged on Tuesday an annual net loss of 6.3 billion euros ($6.9 billion) after slashing the value of its troubled Indian division.

The performance in the 12 months to March compared with a net loss of 5.4 billion euros in the previous financial year, it said in a statement. Revenues declined 4.4 percent to 47.6 billion euros.

At the same time, however, operating profit excluding exceptional items almost tripled to 3.7 billion euros on the back of a painful cost-cutting drive.

In the first half, Vodafone initially took a non-cash impairment of 5.0 billion euros on its Indian activities and blamed a sharp increase in competition.

However in March, Vodafone announced the merger of its Indian unit with Idea Cellular in order to create India's largest telecoms operator and fight ultra-competitive new player Reliance Jio.

Following the deal, Vodafone added Tuesday it had partially reversed the Indian impairment -- but it still stood at 3.7 billion euros over the year.

Indian girl, 10, seeks abortion after rape

An Indian court will decide whether a 10-year-old Indian girl left pregnant after she was repeatedly raped should be allowed to have an abortion, police said Tuesday.The child, who was often left at home while her mother went out to work on constructio…

An Indian court will decide whether a 10-year-old Indian girl left pregnant after she was repeatedly raped should be allowed to have an abortion, police said Tuesday.

The child, who was often left at home while her mother went out to work on construction sites, has said she was raped by her stepfather, who has since been arrested.

Her case only came to light last week, by which time she had crossed the 20-week legal limit after which terminations are only allowed where there is a danger to the life of the mother or the baby.

"We have filed an application in the concerned court seeking an order for abortion," said Pankaj Nain, the police chief of Rohtak district in northern Haryana state.

"Now it is for the courts to decide," Nain told AFP.

In recent months India's top court has received a number of petitions from women -- including rape survivors and trafficking victims -- seeking abortions where pregnancies had gone beyond 20 weeks.

Activists say the restriction should be extended to 24 weeks as victims of rape are often late to report their pregnancies.

In 2015, the Supreme Court allowed a 14-year-old rape survivor to abort a foetus after the 20-week limit.

Nain said the 10-year-old had made a statement to police and was being given counselling and medical care.

Her ordeal came to light when her mother called a women's helpline last week to register a complaint after her daughter confided in her.

Rohtak hit the headlines last week when a 23-year-old was abducted, raped and killed by her ex-boyfriend.

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

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

Ancient human sacrifice discovered in Korea

Evidence of human sacrifice to try to ensure the success of ancient construction projects has been found for the first time at a Korean site, officials said Tuesday.Two skeletons dating from the 5th century were found under the walls of the Wolseong, o…

Evidence of human sacrifice to try to ensure the success of ancient construction projects has been found for the first time at a Korean site, officials said Tuesday.

Two skeletons dating from the 5th century were found under the walls of the Wolseong, or Moon Castle, in Gyeongju in South Korea, the capital of the former Silla kingdom, Seoul's Cultural Heritage Administration said in a statement.

"This is the first archaeological evidence that folklore about humans being sacrificed for the foundations of buildings, dams or walls were true stories," spokeswoman Choi Moon-Jung of the Gyeongju National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage told AFP.

The burial of living victims with dead kings to serve them in the afterlife is well known in ancient Korean cultures.

How the Wolseong victims were put to death was not yet clear and further research was being carried out, but they did not appear to have been buried alive.

"Judging from the fact that there are no signs of resistance when they were buried, they must have been buried when they were unconscious or dead," said senior researcher Park Yoon-Jung.

"Folklore indicates humans were sacrificed to appease gods and plead with them to ensure the structures being built lasted a long time."

The two skeletons were found side by side under a western corner of the castle's earth and stone walls, with one facing upward, the other turning its face and arms slightly towards the first.

The Silla kingdom was one of three that emerged on the Korean peninsula in the first millennium, eventually conquering the other two to unify the territory in 668. It later split up and was finally overwhelmed in 935.

Artefacts from the period include some of Korea's most precious cultural treasures and the historic sites of Gyeongju are a major tourist attraction.

DNA and other tests were being carried out on the remains to determine their physical characteristics, health, diet and genetic attributes.

Other finds included wooden inscription tablets and 6th-century animal and human figurines, including one whose turban and clothing appeared similar to those worn in the ancient Central Asian civilisation of Sogdiana.

Philippines’ Duterte says Turkey, Mongolia could join ASEAN

Controversial Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Tuesday he would push for the inclusion of Turkey and Mongolia in a grouping of Southeast Asian nations, dismissing concerns about their geographic location.Duterte said leaders of Turkey and M…

Controversial Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Tuesday he would push for the inclusion of Turkey and Mongolia in a grouping of Southeast Asian nations, dismissing concerns about their geographic location.

Duterte said leaders of Turkey and Mongolia told him about their desire to join the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) while they were in China over the weekend for a summit on a global trade infrastructure project.

Duterte, whose nation holds the rotating ASEAN chairmanship this year, held separate meetings with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Mongolian Prime Minister Jargaltulga Erdenebat on the sidelines of the summit.

"They want to join ASEAN and since I am now the chair, the Philippines is, they wanted me to sponsor their entry and I said, 'Yes, why not,'" Duterte told reporters in the Philippines.

The 10-member ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

A NATO member bordering the Middle East, Turkey straddles Europe and Asia. It's application for membership of the European Union has been bogged down for years.

Mongolia is a landlocked nation wedged between China and Russia.

Geographic location is the first criterion for ASEAN membership, along with recognition by all other members.

Duterte said Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who also attended the summit in China, asked him if he had considered geography in deciding to sponsor Turkey and Mongolia's ASEAN membership.

However Duterte insisted that the two nations were part of the region.

"They are. I would say that they are," Duterte said.

"Turkey seems to be ambivalent on whether to be a bridge of Europe and Asia or being an Asian ... Sometimes they say they are part of Asia. Sometimes they say they are a bridge of Asia to Europe."

There was no immediate response to a request for comment from the ASEAN Secretariat, which is based in Indonesia.

Countries within the region like East Timor and Papua New Guinea have for years sought ASEAN membership but only hold observer status.

Ford to cut 10% of global workforce: report

US auto giant Ford is poised to cut thousands of jobs worldwide, with reductions expected to total about 10 percent of its global workforce, the Wall Street Journal reported late Monday.A source confirmed to AFP that massive job cuts are planned at For…

US auto giant Ford is poised to cut thousands of jobs worldwide, with reductions expected to total about 10 percent of its global workforce, the Wall Street Journal reported late Monday.

A source confirmed to AFP that massive job cuts are planned at Ford in the coming days, affecting as many as 20,000 salaried workers.

America's second largest carmaker, Ford currently employs some 202,000 workers worldwide.

The announcement comes as the company grapples with slowing sales after several years of growth.

April saw the automaker sell 214,695 vehicles, some 7.2 percent fewer than the same time one year earlier.

Ford spokesman Mike Moran said the company's immediate goals "include fortifying the profit pillars in our core business, transforming traditionally underperforming areas of our core business and investing aggressively, but prudently, in emerging opportunities."

To that end, Ford will make efforts at "reducing costs and becoming as lean and efficient as possible," said Moran, who offered no comment on rumors of major staffing reductions.

"We have not announced any new people efficiency actions, nor do we comment on speculation," he said.

Thailand backs down on Facebook ban over royal posts

Thai authorities Tuesday backed down on their threat to ban Facebook over posts deemed critical of the royal family after officials said the social networking giant had agreed to expunge such content.Thailand ferociously enforces a draconian lese majes…

Thai authorities Tuesday backed down on their threat to ban Facebook over posts deemed critical of the royal family after officials said the social networking giant had agreed to expunge such content.

Thailand ferociously enforces a draconian lese majeste law which outlaws any criticism of the monarchy.

Since ultra-royalist generals seized power three years ago more than 100 people have been charged, many for comments made online, and some people have been jailed for decades.

The authorities have redoubled efforts to purge the Thai web following the October ascension of the country's new king Maha Vajiralongkorn.

Last week Thailand's telecom regulator, the NBTC, said it would file a police complaint against Facebook's Thailand office and shut down the hugely popular site if it did not remove more than 130 "illegal" posts by Tuesday.

"Facebook is cooperating with Thailand," Takorn Tantasith, secretary general of the NBTC told reporters after the 10am deadline passed.

Takorn said some 97 web pages deemed critical of the monarchy remained on the platform but authorities were seeking court orders to send Facebook demanding their removal.

Thai authorities last week previously said Facebook had already removed some 170 posts.

The social network giant declined to comment on how many posts it had made unavailable in Thailand since the recent requests.

Under its published policies, Facebook says it will comply with a country's request to remove content if it receives a valid court order.

"When we receive such a request, we review it to determine if it puts us on notice of unlawful content," the company told AFP.

"If we determine that it does, then we make it unavailable in the relevant country or territory and notify people who try to access it why it is restricted."

According to its published data, Facebook made 50 posts unavailable to Thai users after requests from the government in 2016.

No items were restricted in 2015 and 35 items were removed in 2014, the year of the coup.

Vajiralongkorn, 64, became king following the death of his father King Bhumibol Adulyadej who reigned for seven decades.

He has yet to attain his father's widespread popularity.

At least seven people are known to have been charged with lese majeste since he took the throne.

One, human rights lawyer Prawet Prapanukul, is facing up to 150-years in prison after being charged with a record ten separate counts if lese majeste.

Media inside Thailand must heavily self censor when reporting on the monarchy making it perilous to detail what content has angered the authorities.

Somsak Jeamteerasakul, an exiled Thai academic and monarchy critic, posted a letter from Facebook on his own account informing him that some of his posts were among those censored.

The posts included photographs and video footage taken of Vajiralongkorn in Germany where he spends much of the year.

Leitch to leave Waikato Chiefs to return to Japan: report

Japan rugby captain Michael Leitch said he will leave New Zealand’s Waikato Chiefs after this season with an eye toward joining Japanese side Sunwolves, according to an interview published on Tuesday.The planned move should help him and Japan build the…

Japan rugby captain Michael Leitch said he will leave New Zealand's Waikato Chiefs after this season with an eye toward joining Japanese side Sunwolves, according to an interview published on Tuesday.

The planned move should help him and Japan build themselves up for the 2019 home World Cup, Leitch told nzcity.co.nz.

Leitch was the skipper of the Japanese national team Brave Blossoms during their showing in the 2015 World Cup, when they pulled off a stunning upset victory against South Africa.

He said the decision to quit the Chiefs came after Colin Cooper was named to coach the New Zealand team from next year and Canadian forward Tyler Ardron brought in as his replacement.

"I love playing for the Chiefs but they're looking to build for the future with Colin Cooper coming in and they wanted to sign their key players pretty soon so I had to make the decision," he said.

By returning to Japan, his adopted homeland, New Zealand-born Leitch said he will be closer to Jamie Joseph, who coaches the Brave Blossoms.

After the ongoing Super Rugby season ends, Leitch will play for the Toshiba Brave Lupus Club in Japan's Top League, which will begin its season in August.

"We're just going to see how the schedule looks and how the Top League season goes, and what type of contract we can negotiate," Leitch said.

"In order to play for Japan at the World Cup you need to be playing for the Sunwolves in 2019 but I guess if Jamie wants me in the mix next season I will be playing for them," he said.

Cannes 2017: where political films meet the politics of cinema

There’ll be politics aplenty on Cannes film screens this year. But the run-up to the 70th edition of the world’s most glamorous festival has been overshadowed by a very French fracas over the inclusion of streaming upstart Netflix.

There’ll be politics aplenty on Cannes film screens this year. But the run-up to the 70th edition of the world’s most glamorous festival has been overshadowed by a very French fracas over the inclusion of streaming upstart Netflix.

Chelsea Manning prepares for freedom, as a woman

After seven years behind bars, Chelsea Manning will walk out of the security gates of the Fort Leavenworth military prison Wednesday, finally able to complete her transition as a free, openly transgender woman.When she first arrived at the military bar…

After seven years behind bars, Chelsea Manning will walk out of the security gates of the Fort Leavenworth military prison Wednesday, finally able to complete her transition as a free, openly transgender woman.

When she first arrived at the military barracks, the petite Manning was a male soldier -- then known as Bradley -- who stunned the world by releasing a huge trove of more than 700,000 classified military and diplomatic documents via WikiLeaks.

Her release follows a last-minute commutation of her sentence by president Barack Obama in the waning days of his administration.

Without Obama's parting gift, Manning would have remained behind bars until 2045, after a 35-year sentence.

Her supporters worried she would not be able to survive the long sentence.

Manning, now 29, made two suicide attempts last year alone, along with a hunger strike to denounce the disciplinary measures to which she was subjected.

But the devastating cycle of depression, desperate measures and stays in solitary confinement is now over for Manning, who now turns a new page.

"For the first time, I can see a future for myself as Chelsea. I can imagine surviving and living as the person who I am and can finally be in the outside world," she wrote last week.

"Freedom used to be something that I dreamed of but never allowed myself to fully imagine.

"Now, freedom is something that I will again experience with friends and loved ones after nearly seven years of bars and cement, of periods of solitary confinement, and of my health care and autonomy restricted, including through routinely forced haircuts."

Her defense team is intent on protecting the Oklahoma native. Manning had a difficult childhood. After her parents' divorce, Manning moved with her mother to Wales, where she repressed her sexuality and was mocked for her effeminate ways.

- Quiet release -

The military is therefore keen on keeping her release low-key. No press conference is planned in Arkansas.

"To ensure the privacy and security of Inmate Manning, no further information concerning the release will be provided," US Army spokesman Dave Foster said in a statement.

Manning, of whom few photographs are publicly available, could find refuge at the home of an aunt in the Washington region.

She will rely on a solid network of volunteers ready to help her.

Virtually unknown at the time of her arrest, Manning today is a well-known figure around the world.

Labeled a traitor by President Donald Trump, she has gained the support of major celebrities like R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe and British designer Vivienne Westwood.

For tens of thousands of Americans who petitioned the White House, she is a courageous rights activist.

Supporters say Manning was handed an unfair sentence for embarrassing US diplomatic circles and revealing civilian deaths caused by US bombings in Iraq and Afghanistan.

She wasn't able to flee abroad like Edward Snowden, who in 2013 released documents showing that the NSA was sweeping up US citizens' communications metadata.

- Trans icon -

Manning has also surreptitiously become an icon for transgender activists.

"The first thing Chelsea always says when we talk about her freedom is that she wants to give back to the trans community -- to fight for the many trans people, largely trans women of color, held in custody; to continue to connect with trans young people; to share our victories and our struggles," said Chase Strangio.

"She has an unrelenting sense of compassion and justice despite all that she has faced," added Strangio, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who is himself transgender.

Manning will celebrate her 30th birthday in December. Perhaps by then she will have gained an appearance she finds desirable, after prison authorities refused to allow her to grow her hair beyond the detention center's two-inch (five-centimeter) limit.

Through her lawyers, however, she was able to start hormonal treatment in prison to begin transitioning toward her female identity. This transition is certain to speed up outside a prison environment Manning said denied her "right to exist."

While Manning's sentence was commuted, her conviction remains intact. Manning has appealed.

She is also still employed by the army, and retains its insurance coverage.

"Inmate Manning will remain on excess leave while the court-martial conviction is under appellate review. PVT Manning is statutorily entitled to medical care while on excess leave in an active duty status, pending final appellate review," said Foster, the Army spokesman.

"In an active duty status, although in an unpaid status, Manning is eligible for direct care at medical treatment facilities" along with other work benefits, he added.

Seoul cyber experts warn of more attacks as North blamed

More cyberattacks could be in the pipeline after the global havoc caused by the Wannacry ransomware, a South Korean cybersecurity expert warned Tuesday as fingers pointed at the North.More than 200,000 computers in 150 countries were hit by the ransomw…

More cyberattacks could be in the pipeline after the global havoc caused by the Wannacry ransomware, a South Korean cybersecurity expert warned Tuesday as fingers pointed at the North.

More than 200,000 computers in 150 countries were hit by the ransomware attack, described as the largest ever of its kind, over the weekend.

Since Friday, banks, hospitals and state agencies have been among the victims of hackers exploiting vulnerabilities in older versions of Microsoft computer operating systems and demanding payment in the virtual currency Bitcoin.

The code used in the latest attack shared many similarities with past hacks blamed on the North, including the targeting of Sony Pictures and the central bank of Bangladesh, said Simon Choi, director of Seoul internet security firm Hauri.

Choi, known to have vast troves of data on Pyongyang's hacking activities, has publicly warned against potential ransomware attacks by the North since last year.

"I saw signs last year that the North was preparing ransomware attacks or even already beginning to do so, targetting some South Korean companies," he told AFP.

He cited a major attack last year that stole the data of over 10 million users of Interpark, a Seoul-based online shopping site, in which hackers demanded bitcoin payments worth about $3 million.

Seoul police blamed the North's main intelligence agency for the attack.

More attacks were possible, Choi said, "especially given that, unlike missile or nuclear tests, they can deny their involvement in attacks in cyberspace and get away with it".

Security researchers in the US, Russia and Israel have also reported signs of a potential North Korean link to the latest cyberattack, although there is no conclusive evidence of that.

Google researcher Neel Mehta posted computer code showing similarities between the "WannaCry" malware and a vast hacking effort widely attributed to Pyongyang.

The isolated, nuclear-armed state is known to operate an army of thousands of hackers operating in both the North, and apparently China, and has been blamed for a number of major cyberattacks.

In November 2014, Sony Pictures Entertainment became the target of the biggest cyberattack in US corporate history, linked to its release of North Korea satire "The Interview", hated by Pyongyang.

Washington blamed Pyongyang for the hacking, a claim it denied -- though it had strongly condemned the film, which features a fictional CIA plot to assassinate leader Kim Jong-Un.

Singapore’s GIC cuts stake in Swiss bank UBS at a loss

Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC said Tuesday it has sold, at a loss, almost half its stake in Swiss bank UBS, which it bought early in the global financial crisis.GIC said in a statement it was “disappointed” with the loss but added that conditions…

Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC said Tuesday it has sold, at a loss, almost half its stake in Swiss bank UBS, which it bought early in the global financial crisis.

GIC said in a statement it was "disappointed" with the loss but added that conditions had changed since it bought the stake and it now made sense to invest the money elsewhere.

The fund said its holdings in the Zurich-based bank had dropped to 2.7 percent from 5.1 percent.

"GIC made the UBS sale despite the loss because conditions have changed fundamentally since GIC invested in UBS in February 2008, as have UBS' strategy and business," said GIC chief executive Lim Chow Kiat.

"It makes sense now for GIC to reduce its ownership of UBS and to redeploy these resources elsewhere."

No amount was disclosed for the losses.

Analysts say UBS is focused on its wealth management business after giving up ambitions to become a top global investment bank.

UBS and other global banks received massive capital injections from various investors such as GIC as they reeled from the financial crisis sparked by the collapse of the US housing market.

GIC in late 2007 injected 11 billion Swiss francs ($10.2 billion at the time) into UBS, and in January 2008 said it would pump $6.88 billion into US banking giant Citigroup.

The Singapore group said in its statement Tuesday that while it lost money in UBS, it has "earned a positive return" on its Citigroup investment.

"The UBS stake has been one of the big weights around GIC's leg. I suppose now is as good a time to cut their losses," Song Seng Wun, a Singapore-based regional economist with CIMB Private Bank, told AFP.

"It's a painful decision. They will surely get a lot of flak from Singaporeans."

Advocate for missing Argentines, 88, charged in graft case

The 88-year-old leader of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo group and an ex-aide were charged Monday with alleged misappropriation of funds meant for building homes for the poor, a court source said.”Thanks, Macri, for giving me the honor of being charg…

The 88-year-old leader of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo group and an ex-aide were charged Monday with alleged misappropriation of funds meant for building homes for the poor, a court source said.

"Thanks, Macri, for giving me the honor of being charged," Hebe de Bonafini said in a video posted on a page for the group.

She was referring to President Mauricio Macri, whom she believes arranged for the prosecution, which is related to an alleged scheme to skim housing funds between 2005-2011.

Judge Marcelo Martinez de Giorgi laid charges against Bonafini, 88, and Sergio Schocklender, 58, for allegedly siphoning at least 13 million dollars in funds from state coffers during the governments of Nestor Kirchner and Cristina Kirchner (2003-2015).

Bonafini, whose two sons and daughter-in-law are missing and presumed dead, says she gave authorities more than 60 boxes of documents she maintained would prove her innocence.

During and after Argentina's last period of military dictatorship, which ended in 1983, the Mothers and Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo threw the spotlight on abductions and killings of young people for being leftists and even suspected of being leftists or their friends.

That was compounded by the drama of widespread kidnapping of babies born to suspected dissidents being held during the right-wing dictatorship -- hence the Grandmothers.

Many babies -- offspring of now dead dissidents -- were born in captivity without the knowledge of their blood relatives and were given to military families to adopt.

The Grandmothers gave genetic information for a database that has helped reunite some of these blood relatives.

And many of those who were abducted during the dictatorship -- often left-wing activists, as well as trade unionists, journalists, or students -- were killed by military forces or right-wing death squads.

Argentine courts have handed out prison sentences to more than 1,000 officials, military officers or agents of the dictatorship since the government of Nestor Kirchner (2003-2007) repealed the country's amnesty laws.

N. Korea missile tests: UNSC threatens Pyongyang with sanctions, says launches must stop

The UN Security Council has warned it may hit North Korea with a new round of sanctions in response to its latest missile launches, which it blamed for stirring up regional tension, and urged Pyongyang to stop its nuclear and ballistic mi…

Preview The UN Security Council has warned it may hit North Korea with a new round of sanctions in response to its latest missile launches, which it blamed for stirring up regional tension, and urged Pyongyang to stop its nuclear and ballistic missile activity.
Read Full Article at RT.com

China denies universities hit hard by ransomware

Chinese authorities have said 66 of the country’s universities were affected by the global ransomware attack, but have rejected reports of widespread damage in higher-education computer systems as “malicious” hype.The China Education and Research Netwo…

Chinese authorities have said 66 of the country's universities were affected by the global ransomware attack, but have rejected reports of widespread damage in higher-education computer systems as "malicious" hype.

The China Education and Research Network, which operates under the Ministry of Education, said 66 out of 1,600 Chinese universities were affected, mainly due to operating systems not being regularly upgraded rather than any major security shortcomings in university systems.

The statement issued late Monday was perhaps the most detailed comment yet on the cyberattacks by Chinese authorities, who have said little about the contagion since it erupted on Friday even as reports emerged of widespread infection in China.

Qihoo 360, one of China's leading suppliers of anti-virus software, had said Sunday that at least 29,372 institutions ranging from government offices to ATMs and hospitals had been "infected", singling out universities as particularly hard-hit.

But the China Education and Research Network pushed back against such claims.

"These inaccurate statements have seriously misled public opinion, caused panic among teachers and students, and affected the normal order of instruction and life," it said, giving no further details.

Beijing University and Tsinghua University, two of the country's premier institutions located in the capital, have issued statements saying quick security action prevented "large-scale" infection on their campuses, without giving details.

Major universities in Shanghai told AFP on Monday they were not affected.

The indiscriminate attack began Friday and struck banks, hospitals and government agencies worldwide, exploiting vulnerabilities in older Microsoft operating systems. But it appeared to have peaked over the weekend.

Security researchers on Monday said it bore the technical hallmarks of North Korean hacking, though the evidence remained inconclusive.

The muted public response by China could be linked to the sensitive fact that use of pirated computer software is rampant in the country, a sore point with trading partners like the United States who have complained for years of Chinese counterfeiting.

Security experts say pirated software is particularly vulnerable to security threats, but so far no evidence has emerged indicating whether that played any role in the virus's spread in China.

Chinese state media quoted the official Cyberspace Administration of China as saying the ransomware's spread had slowed significantly in China by Monday.

It had urged computer users to install and upgrade security software, but otherwise said little about the cyberattacks.

Among major Chinese entities affected, state-owned oil giant PetroChina has said its payment networks at petrol stations across the country were disabled for about 12 hours over the weekend.

Syria’s SDF leads anti-IS fight, stoking tension with Turkey

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces militia is set to lead the fight for the Islamic State group’s bastion of Raqa, but its role has stoked tensions between Washington and Turkey.The alliance of Arab and Kurdish fighters has advanced to within a few…

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces militia is set to lead the fight for the Islamic State group's bastion of Raqa, but its role has stoked tensions between Washington and Turkey.

The alliance of Arab and Kurdish fighters has advanced to within a few kilometres (miles) of Raqa on several fronts, and last week captured the strategic town of Tabqa and the adjacent dam from the jihadists.

However, Ankara considers the key Kurdish component of the SDF to be an affiliate of the designated "terrorist" group Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long insurgency inside Turkey.

What is the SDF?

The alliance was formed in October 2015 in part to address Turkey's concern about the rising profile of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia.

The militia had won a string of victories over IS with the US-led coalition's support, including the highly symbolic recapture of the border town of Kobane in January 2015.

But Ankara considers the YPG to be the Syrian branch of the PKK, and was increasingly unhappy about the swathes of territory coming under YPG control.

The advances were also stirring local tensions with Syrian Arabs concerned that Kurdish forces were seeking to dominate non-Kurdish regions.

The SDF was "designed to facilitate recruitment among Arabs and provide an additional nominal degree of separation between US support and the PKK", the International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank said in a report last month.

But the SDF's ranks, which estimates place at anywhere between 25,000 and 45,000 fighters, remain dominated by the YPG, which also retains control of the alliance's command, analysts say.

Since its formation, the SDF has won multiple victories against IS, and in November 2016 it announced the start of a long operation to oust the jihadists from Raqa.

In the months since, it has gradually closed in on Raqa, working to encircle it before launching a final assault, expected to start next month.

Why is US support growing?

With the formation of the SDF, Washington began channeling more direct support to the anti-IS fighters on the ground in Syria.

But it continued to insist that supplies including armoured cars went to the Arab components of the alliance, not the YPG.

Last month however, President Donald Trump's administration announced that it would for the first time directly arm the YPG elements of the alliance.

"The US administration appears to have concluded that the benefits of driving IS from Raqa as soon as possible justify the potential costs of further damaging Washington's strategic alliance with Ankara, and the risks associated with attempting to seize an overwhelmingly Arab city... with a Kurdish dominated force," the ICG report said.

Washington has sought to placate Turkey by saying that the weapons will be metered out carefully, and insisting it still wants to "work with the Turks... to take Raqa down".

And US and SDF officials say post-IS Raqa will be administered by a civilian council of local residents.

But the issue is still likely to be among the top issues on the agenda when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets Trump in Washington on Tuesday.

How might Turkey react?

Turkey's concerns about the YPG were significant enough for Ankara to launch its own military operation inside Syria in August 2016, dubbed Euphrates Shield.

The operation had the dual goals of targeting IS and the Kurdish militia, particularly to prevent the YPG from controlling a contiguous strip of territory along the Syria-Turkey border.

While the Kurds have failed to link up the two "cantons" under their control in the northeast with the Afrin region to the west, the Turkish operation has largely floundered.

In April, Turkey launched raids on Kurdish positions in northeast Syria that killed at least 28 people, mostly YPG fighters, prompting a public expression of US concern.

Experts say Ankara lacks good options to prevent the SDF from continuing to lead the fight against IS, with international backing.

"Turkey has few options, other than to escalate," said Aaron Stein, resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

"They can invade Tal Abyad (on the Syria-Turkey border), bomb YPG, or move on Sinjar in neighbouring Iraq," he said.

"All of these options could slow the Raqa operation, but Ankara would then be placed in the untenable position of trying to slow a campaign to kill IS dudes. No one wants to be that country."

‘Cannes is a casino, the best and worst place to show a film’

The Cannes film festival — the world’s greatest movie showcase — celebrates its 70th anniversary this year.AFP asked actors and directors who made their names at the festival to recount their highs and lows of the star-studded event.- Claude Lelouch …

The Cannes film festival -- the world's greatest movie showcase -- celebrates its 70th anniversary this year.

AFP asked actors and directors who made their names at the festival to recount their highs and lows of the star-studded event.

- Claude Lelouch -

French director Claude Lelouch first attended Cannes in 1959, arriving directly from a military base while on leave. He was denied entry for wearing a uniform and had to sneak in through an emergency exit. He says he picked the right film to see, Marcel Camus' "Black Orpheus", which won the Palme d'Or that year.

But his best memory is of winning the Palme d'Or in 1966 for "A Man and A Woman".

"Cannes is the most beautiful place in the world, and the worst, too, for showing a film," he says. "It's like a casino: you win or you lose."

"There is no halfway with Cannes. I've known the worst and the best there, I know what I'm talking about," he added. "Today, all the great directors dream of presenting a film. It's not for nothing it's the biggest festival in the world."

- Mahamat-Saleh Haroun -

Twenty years ago, Chadian film director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun spent 11 hours on a train from the French southwest city of Bordeaux to get his first taste of Cannes. It was May 1997 and he only had one night.

He was able to get an invite to a screening by Abbas Kiarostami, the Iranian film director, and enter the Grand Theatre Lumiere.

"You have the feeling of walking in slow motion, as if time was standing still," he said. "The vastness of the hall. To reach my seat, on the last row, I needed to climb the endless staircase".

Once seated, about 20 metres (65 feet) off the ground, Haroun turned his head and was struck with "vertigo" and "nausea," but as soon as the lights went off, "I forgot everything."

Haroun won the Jury Prize in 2010 for "A Screaming Man," and his first reaction was to raise his head to those sitting in the nosebleed seats.

"I wanted to believe that among them was a young director watching the show with his head full of dreams".

- Brillante Mendoza -

Filipino director Brillante Mendoza has many happy memories from Cannes: The first time he trod the red carpet in 2008 when his movie "Serbis" competed for the Palme d'Or or his victory as best director in 2009 for "Kinatay".

But his favourite memory is still his first appearance at Cannes in 2007 when his movie, "Foster Child" was screened at the Director's Fortnight.

"The mere fact that they chose me was already overwhelming because at the time, there were only three Filipino (directors) who made it to Cannes and it had been almost 20 years since the last one," he told AFP.

"I didn't realise after the screening there would be a standing ovation. I could not believe it. I was a bit embarrassed. I had to stand up and then sit down but every time I sat down, the clapping became louder."

"I got a bit emotional, I cried. I couldn't believe what was happening. After that, it took me a long time to control my emotions," he said.

Kessel ends drought as Penguins level series

Phil Kessel scored the only goal as the Pittsburgh Penguins won a tense battle with the Ottawa Senators 1-0 to square their best-of-seven series.Kessel rifled his shot past Craig Anderson’s left pad with 6:55 left in the third quarter to settle an attr…

Phil Kessel scored the only goal as the Pittsburgh Penguins won a tense battle with the Ottawa Senators 1-0 to square their best-of-seven series.

Kessel rifled his shot past Craig Anderson's left pad with 6:55 left in the third quarter to settle an attritional game at the PGG Paints Arena.

Ottawa had won Saturday's opener 2-1 to take a 1-0 lead in the series.

But Kessel ended a three-game scoring drought to make it 1-1 heading into Game in Ottawa on Wednesday.

Pittsburgh were indebted to a superb display from Marc-Andre Fleury, who made 23 saves to record his second clean sheet in three games which have given up only two goals.

Anderson meanwhile made 28 saves for Ottawa but could do nothing about Kessel's well-struck winner.

The win came at a cost though for Pittsburgh, who saw both right wing Bryan Rust and Justin Schultz leave the game early with apparent injuries.

Rust headed to the locker room after a crunching hit from Dion Phaneuf in the first period while Schultz was injured after crashing into the boards following contact with Mike Hoffman.

Ben Johnson ad slammed for ‘glorifying drug cheats’

A controversial commercial by an Australian sports betting company featuring disgraced sprinter Ben Johnson has been slammed by the government for glorifying drug cheats.The 90-second advert by gambling firm Sportsbet introduces Johnson, at a desk surr…

A controversial commercial by an Australian sports betting company featuring disgraced sprinter Ben Johnson has been slammed by the government for glorifying drug cheats.

The 90-second advert by gambling firm Sportsbet introduces Johnson, at a desk surrounded by a medal and a trophy, as the 1988 Olympic gold medallist while attempting to make light of the scene by superimposing "*For 48 hours" below the fallen star.

"When it comes to performance enhancement Ben really knows his stuff, which is why he is happy to endorse Sportsbet's new juiced-up Android app," the narrator says, claiming the firm's phone betting application was putting "the roid into Android".

Australian Sports Minister Greg Hunt blasted the ad as "sending a message that cheating?s okay and should be rewarded and laughed at and glorified".

"They?re glorifying a drug cheat and they?re paying a known drug cheat a huge princely sum of money," he told radio station 2GB late Monday.

"So it?s an insult to clean athletes and, frankly, my view is they should pull the ad and they should pay the same amount to junior sport as they paid a known drug cheat."

Johnson was stripped of his 100-metre gold medal in the 1988 Seoul Olympics after testing positive to steroids.

The Canadian is joined in the advert by a range of drug-cheating stereotypes, including a cyclist in a yellow jacket, a muscular swimmer and a Hulk-like body builder.

The Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority said it had registered an official complaint.

"This advert makes light of the use of performance enhancing drugs in sport and sends the completely wrong message that the use of drugs in sport is normal," the doping watchdog said in a statement.

"This advertising campaign belittles the achievements of clean athletes and denigrates those who work to protect clean sport across the world."

Sportsbet laughed off the controversy.

"The outrage is so severe you could roast a marshmallow on it," the firm said on its website.

"There was just one problem with all of this public outrage though. The public didn?t seem to be outraged at all. In fact, people kinda liked it," Sportsbet added, pointing to dozens of social media posts endorsing the commercial.

UN vows to up sanctions against N. Korea over latest missile test

The UN Security Council on Monday strongly condemned North Korea’s latest ballistic missile test and vowed to ratchet up the pressure on the regime, including sanctions, ahead of an emergency meeting to discuss the launch.

The UN Security Council on Monday strongly condemned North Korea's latest ballistic missile test and vowed to ratchet up the pressure on the regime, including sanctions, ahead of an emergency meeting to discuss the launch.

The superhighway threatening Nigeria’s tropical rainforest

When bulldozers rolled into their forest at the start of last year, the Ekuri community in southeast Nigeria protested: “Indigenes say no!”They didn’t want a superhighway that would wipe their ancestral lands in the Cross River National Park off the ma…

When bulldozers rolled into their forest at the start of last year, the Ekuri community in southeast Nigeria protested: "Indigenes say no!"

They didn't want a superhighway that would wipe their ancestral lands in the Cross River National Park off the map.

Under pressure, the earthmovers left to do their work elsewhere.

But community spokesman Martin Egot said: "They destroyed all the crops, the source of our wealth: cassava, cocoa, plantain... ."

The 800-billion-naira ($2.6-billion, 2.3-billion-euro) highway project, launched in 2015, is huge.

It envisages six lanes, 260 kilometres (162.5 miles) long linking the regional capital Calabar and a new deep water port with Benue state to the north.

- 'Ecological disaster' -

At nearly 4,000 square kilometres (1,500 square miles), the Cross River National Park is the biggest forest in Nigeria, a paradise of endangered gorillas, elephants and other species.

In Africa's most populous nation, the countryside has increasingly been tamed by rampant urbanisation, forest management and poaching.

"Our fathers, our grandfathers used to live in this forest before us and we value what we inherited. It gives us all that we need," said Egot.

The isolated Ekuri -- who live in the middle of the forest -- have been fighting for 30 years to maintain their lifestyle of sustainable subsistence farming.

The mammoth road project threatened to strip more than 50,000 people of their land rights and their homes.

Trees and villages were to have been razed in a corridor 20 kilometres wide, which environmentalists said would have been an "ecological disaster".

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has criticised the lack of transparency and consultation on the project by the Cross River state government.

It "could allow developers to cut down, burn and replant one of Africa's oldest intact rainforests with palm oil or other farming", the environmental charity added.

- Power struggle -

For the last year those for and against the superhighway have been locked in a power struggle.

The project's main backer, Cross River state governor Ben Ayade, has repeatedly vaunted the future economic benefits of linking Calabar with the rest of the country.

"How will this state grow, how will we continue to sustain the payment of salaries, how will we manage our demographics, with 80 percent of our population below the age of 35?" he said in March.

"God made those plants and animals for us and not the reverse. You must have a delicate balance between development and environmental protection."

Against it, two petitions have garnered more than 350,000 signatures, leading Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari to suspend the project pending an environmental impact survey.

After stormy negotiations, the road's route was changed to spare some of the communities and endemic species under threat.

The 20-km wide corridor has also been significantly reduced.

Few environmentalists are convinced, however.

"It's a first step," Odey Oyama, the head of the Rainforest Resource and Development Centre (RRDC) in Calabar, told AFP.

"But the superhighway is still crossing the park, which is completely unacceptable."

The environmental activist said he had received a number of death threats because of his opposition to the road and the uncontrolled expansion of the palm oil industry in the region.

But he has not been deterred from taking powerful multinationals to court.

- Palm oil -

The damage, in part, may have already been done.

Wilmar International, a Singapore-based palm oil giant, in 2011 and 2012 obtained several concessions in the region totalling 30,000 hectares (74,000 acres).

Friends of the Earth in 2015 accused Wilmar of having expanded its activities into the national park and other protected areas, where thousands of hectares have already allegedly been deforested.

The company has said its acquisition was legitimate and that it "categorically" refutes claims of encroachment on to the park.

Logging is of particular interest to companies working in the area, according to one environmentalist.

"The park is home to an abundance of valuable timber. That is a lot of money," said the activist, on condition of anonymity.

According to a map drawn up by WCS from satellite images, other companies such as Dansa Agro Allied, which specialises in pineapple plantations, are also operating illegally in the park.

The company is a subsidiary of the Dangote Group, owned by Africa's richest man Aliko Dangote.

The firms themselves reject the claims, asserting that their activities respect international environmental standards and have created thousands of jobs.

Dansa's lawyers have said the company has no operations in the park and has supported its conservation.

- Divided communities -

The fate of the superhighway remains on hold pending the final decision of the Abuja authorities, expected in the coming weeks.

It also continues to divide locals, where some villagers support the project enthusiastically.

Glory sat on a makeshift stool at the side of a rutted track having her long hair braided.

"We have no good roads, no good water, no electricity, we are suffering a lot," she complained. "The superhighway will help us."

The signs of poverty are everywhere in Obung, a village of houses with roofs of corrugated iron sheets that lies on the park's southern flanks.

Like elsewhere, recession has hit hard and the few employers in the remote region have packed up and left months ago.

Obung's inhabitants are hanging on to the governor's promises to bring modern life to the village.

"The national park didn't bring anything to us. We cannot hunt anymore, we cannot cut timber anymore, we don't have anything to do again," said the village chief, Ntufam Igne.

"With the superhighway, Obung will become a big city. We pray for it."

Saving Pakistan’s lost city of Mohenjo Daro

The centre of a powerful ancient civilisation, Mohenjo Daro was one of the world’s earliest cities — a Bronze Age metropolis boasting flush toilets and a water and waste system to rival many in modern Pakistan.Some 5,000 years on archaeologists believ…

The centre of a powerful ancient civilisation, Mohenjo Daro was one of the world's earliest cities -- a Bronze Age metropolis boasting flush toilets and a water and waste system to rival many in modern Pakistan.

Some 5,000 years on archaeologists believe the ruins could unlock the secrets of the Indus Valley people, who flourished around 3,000 BC in what is now India and Pakistan before mysteriously disappearing.

But they warn, if nothing is done to protect the ruins -- already neglected and worn by time -- it will fade to dust and obscurity, never taking its rightful place in history.

"Everybody knows Egypt, nobody knows Mohenjo Daro, this has to be changed," says Dr Michael Jansen, a German researcher working at the sun-baked site on the banks of the Indus river in Pakistan's southern Sindh province.

Jansen is at the forefront of a new effort to promote the site internationally while finding ways to protect what is left.

In summer temperatures can soar above 46 degrees Celsius (115 Fahrenheit). "There is enormous thermo-stress," says Jansen, adding that salt from the underground water table is also damaging the ruins.

But it's more than just the weather and time. Pakistan's bloody fight against militancy has also raised the spectre of destruction by an Islamist group, much like Islamic State destroyed the ruins in Syria's Palmyra.

Most horrifying, however, is the wanton disregard for Mohenjo Daro -- or "mound of the dead" -- by ordinary citizens.

In 2014 police stood atop the main stupa as hundreds of people swarmed the site to, ironically, commemorate Pakistan's cultural heritage -- complete with scaffolding, dancing, fireworks, heavy spotlights and lasers.

Sardar Ali Shah, cultural minister in Sindh province, vowed never to let such a thing happen again.

"It's like you are jumping on the bed bed of a 5,000-year-old ailing patient," he tells AFP.

Yet today curious visitors still roam the remains with impunity, many leaving rubbish in the once pristine-streets and wells.

- 'Foreigners are afraid' -

Jansen and his Friends of Mohenjo Daro society aim to promote the site internationally, with plans to recruit Pakistanis around the world for conferences, seminars and debates.

Dr Kaleem Lashari, chief consultant to the Pakistani government over Mohenjo Daro, said they will also digitally archive the Indus script -- which has never been deciphered -- in hopes that making it accessible will increase the site's profile.

At the site itself, he said, technical reviews are being held to examine the water logging issue and other ways to shore up the ruins, while exploring new, modern technology that allows researchers to ascertain what lies beneath the surface in the portions of the city not yet excavated.

But, Lashari says, perhaps the biggest challenge remains Pakistan's international image, tarnished by extremism, corruption, poverty, and insecurity.

"Foreigners are afraid to visit Pakistan and the site because of the chronic issue of law and order," he warns.

- All roads lead to equality? -

The issues he cites underscore unsettling differences between modern day Pakistan and the civilisation found among the ruins.

At their peak during the Bronze Age, the Indus Valley people are believed to have numbered up to five million, with Mohenjo Daro their largest and most advanced settlement.

Clay and metallic seals, coins, standardised weighing stones, gold and bronze ornaments, toys and whistles -- the bric-a-brac of ancient lives have revealed volumes about thriving Indus trade and commerce.

The layout of the city itself suggests an egalitarian people more concerned with cleanliness than hierarchy, says Dr Jonathan Mark Kenoyer of the University of Wisconsin.

"In Mesopotamia, the streets went from the city to the palace ... whereas in (Indus) cities all the streets were organised to allow access to the whole city," he says.

Mohenjo Daro had a complex water and waste management system which observers have wryly noted was better than in many parts of Pakistan today.

Only a small portion of the site has been excavated properly, but the most important building appears not to have been a palace or a place of worship, but a massive public bath.

Houses had tiled bathrooms and their own cylindrical brick wells, sometimes raised to the second floor to allow for a flush system.

None of this, however,has yet explained why such a powerful, advanced and flourishing civilisation disappeared so abruptly around 1900 BC.

Currently, there is no bid to excavate further among the plans being laid by Lashari and Jansen. "It is actually preserved when it is buried," explains Harvard University's Dr Richard Meadow.

Despite their access to new technologies, that puts researchers in a quandary, especially as they try to understand what happened to the Indus people. As Jansen says, the "best way to learn information is to excavate".

But mysteries take time to solve: for now, the researchers say, they will settle for ensuring that Mohenjo Daro endures for a few centuries more.

Philippines’ Duterte open to South China Sea deals

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Tuesday he was open to exploring the South China Sea’s natural resources with rival claimants China and Vietnam, after securing a “windfall” while in Beijing.Duterte also emphasised he had no immediate plans to…

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Tuesday he was open to exploring the South China Sea's natural resources with rival claimants China and Vietnam, after securing a "windfall" while in Beijing.

Duterte also emphasised he had no immediate plans to pressure China over an international tribunal's ruling last year that its sweeping claims to most of the sea were unlawful.

"If we can get something there with no hassle at all, why not," Duterte told reporters when asked about a proposal for jointly exploring the sea with China and Vietnam.

He emphasised the deal would have to be "fair and balanced".

Duterte made no mention of Malaysia and Brunei, the two other Southeast Asian nations that also have claims to the sea.

The competing claims to the sea, which is believed to sit atop vast oil and gas deposits, have for decades made it one of Asia's potential military flashpoints.

China's efforts to cement its claims in the sea in recent years by building artificial islands and expanding a military presence there have added to the tensions.

Duterte, who took office last year, abandoned the policy of his predecessor, Benigno Aquino, to forcefully challenge Beijing in diplomatic circles and instead sought to repair bilateral relations.

Duterte has said his decision has earned the Philippines billions of dollars in Chinese investments and aid.

Duterte spoke Tuesday morning immediately after returning from Beijing, where he had separate meetings with Chinese Premier Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang.

Duterte praised China's leaders as "generous", "very liberal" and "sincere".

Duterte described his trip to Beijing, his second since assuming office, as a "windfall" for the Philippines, saying more Chinese investments or aid had been offered although he gave few details.

Duterte said he told Xi and Li that he would not raise last year's international tribunal ruling, which was filed by Aquino and deeply angered China.

"We decided that there is a time for me to ask about the ruling but it is not now," Duterte said.

The Philippines and China are due this week to hold direct talks on the sea, which Aquino had avoided for fear of placing the Philippines in a vulnerable negotiating position.

Duterte said he wanted the talks to involve a code of conduct for the sea, which China and Southeast Asian nations have been discussing for more than 15 years.

The Philippines, under then president Gloria Arroyo, entered into an agreement with China and Vietnam in 2005 to jointly study potential oil deposits in the sea.

But the deal collapsed after Filipino politicians questioned its legality. They alleged it infringed on Philippine sovereignty and accused Arroyo of treason.

Amnesty demands probe into PNG prison killings

Amnesty International Tuesday called for an independent investigation into the killing of 17 prisoners who broke out of a jail in Papua New Guinea, voicing alarm at the gunning down of unarmed people.The men were shot dead after a mass breakout by inma…

Amnesty International Tuesday called for an independent investigation into the killing of 17 prisoners who broke out of a jail in Papua New Guinea, voicing alarm at the gunning down of unarmed people.

The men were shot dead after a mass breakout by inmates from the Buimo jail in the Pacific nation's second largest city of Lae on Friday, police said.

At least 57 remain on the run. Many were serving time for armed robbery, car thefts, and breaking and entering.

Police shot dead 12 prisoners during a jailbreak at the same prison last year. The National newspaper said only 15 of the 87 who fled at the time were caught and most were badly injured.

Amnesty International's Southeast Asia and Pacific director Champa Patel said: "It is alarming that the security forces' first response was to use lethal force against unarmed people without any concern for their right to life."

"The Papua New Guinea authorities must immediately order an independent and effective investigation into these killings," she said.

"They must suspend any officers involved until the investigation is concluded, and hold suspected perpetrators to account through fair trials without recourse to the death penalty."

Crime and lawlessness is rampant in PNG, a sprawling nation where many still live traditional and subsistence lives in remote areas.

Jails in the country -- which is due to host an APEC leaders' summit next year -- are often overcrowded, with prisoners forced to endure poor sanitary conditions, which Patel said was part of the problem.

"Prison reforms and accountability mechanisms are crucial to stop these incidents from happening again. Whatever the crime committed by inmates, they have the right to be treated humanely," she said.

Police have urged those on the run to surrender.

"These are undesirable people and will be a threat to the community," Lae police official, Anthony Wagambie Jr. said.

"I am warning them that they will be caught. They must do what is good for them and surrender."

Priest stabbed at mass in Latin America’s biggest cathedral

A knife-wielding assailant stabbed a priest in the neck as he said mass in Mexico City’s cathedral Monday, then tried to flee the church before being caught, officials said.”We are united in prayer for Father Machorro who just was gored in the neck in …

A knife-wielding assailant stabbed a priest in the neck as he said mass in Mexico City's cathedral Monday, then tried to flee the church before being caught, officials said.

"We are united in prayer for Father Machorro who just was gored in the neck in the cathedral," fellow priest Jose Aguilar said on Twitter.

Dozens of worshippers were in the Mexico City cathedral, Latin America's largest and a popular tourist draw on the landmark Zocalo square, when the assailant stabbed the priest.

The priest was rushed to hospital for treatment of neck wounds, police said. They declined to give the identity of the assailant, who was turned over to prosecuting authorities.

Mexico City prosecutors then said the man identified himself as a US national, called himself an artist and refused to give any motive for the attack.

They said he had told authorities he would not offer information that could incriminate him, a prosecutors' statement said.

Plastic trash chokes remote South Pacific island

One of the planet’s most remote islands is polluted with the highest density of plastic particles ever reported, with more than 3,500 pieces washing up daily, researchers said Monday.Henderson Island is uninhabited, and lies far out in the South Pacifi…

One of the planet's most remote islands is polluted with the highest density of plastic particles ever reported, with more than 3,500 pieces washing up daily, researchers said Monday.

Henderson Island is uninhabited, and lies far out in the South Pacific -- east of New Zealand and west of Chile -- some 3,100 miles (5,000 kilometers) from the nearest major land mass.

This 9,100 acre (3,700 hectare) limestone atoll, one of the UK's Pitcairn Islands -- is prized for its biodiversity.

But it is also littered with an estimated 37.7 million pieces of plastic, said the report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a peer-reviewed US journal.

"What's happened on Henderson Island shows there's no escaping plastic pollution even in the most distant parts of our oceans," said lead author Jennifer Lavers, a researcher at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) at the University of Tasmania, who co-authored the report with the British conservation charity the Royal Society for the Preservation of Birds.

"Far from being the pristine 'deserted island' that people might imagine of such a remote place, Henderson Island is a shocking but typical example of how plastic debris is affecting the environment on a global scale."

- 'Focal point for debris' -

The island is so remote that it is visited only once every five to 10 years for research purposes.

It was during the most recent scientific expedition to the island in 2015 that researchers discovered the extent of the pollution problem.

"Its location near the center of the South Pacific Gyre ocean current makes it a focal point for debris carried from South America or deposited by fishing boats," said the report.

"We estimated a minimum of 3,570 debris items were deposited on North Beach daily, five orders of magnitude greater than the accumulation rates reported elsewhere."

About 27 percent of the items were identifiable as being from South America, including beach equipment and fishing gear.

The beaches were found to be littered with between 21 and 671 items per square yard (meter), said researchers.

Samples were taken at five sites on the island, from as far down as four inches (10 centimeters) below the surface.

Researchers did not check cliffs or rocky coastline, leading them to warn that their report likely underestimates the true scope of the problem.

- 'Long-term impact' -

Since humans do not live there, the pollution on Henderson Island has also never been cleaned up.

Some 300 million tons of plastic are produced around the world annually, and most is not recycled.

"It's buoyant and durable, it has a long-term impact on the ocean," Lavers said.

Plastic can harm fish, turtles and seabirds. Experts say hundreds of species are at risk from ingesting it.

A separate study out last month found that some seas in the Arctic are heavily polluted with plastic because of an Atlantic ocean current which dumps debris there, particularly in the Greenland and Barents Seas.

Experts say such findings underline the importance of properly managing plastic litter at its source, and preventing it from entering the ocean through storm drains or poor waste management practices.

Olynyk shines as Celtics down Wizards in NBA East Conference semis

Kelly Olynyk scored 26 points from the bench as the Boston Celtics outmuscled the Washington Wizards 115-105 to clinch their Eastern Conference semi-final series on Monday.Olynyk produced a superb display of shooting from distance as Boston pulled clea…

Kelly Olynyk scored 26 points from the bench as the Boston Celtics outmuscled the Washington Wizards 115-105 to clinch their Eastern Conference semi-final series on Monday.

Olynyk produced a superb display of shooting from distance as Boston pulled clear of the Wizards in the late stages of the game to take the series 4-3 and set up a Conference final clash with Cleveland.

Isaiah Thomas topscored for the Celtics with 29 points and weighed in with 12 assists while Al Horford (15), Jae Crowder (14) and Marcus Smart (13) also made double figures.

But it was Olynyk's remarkable display off the bench that proved decisive as the Celtics clinched their first Eastern Conference finals berth since 2012.

"A friend called me and said 'Be at your best when your best is needed' and my best was needed tonight," Olynyk said after the win.

"Everybody gave it their best and it turned out for us tonight," added the 26-year-old Canadian power forward.

Olynyk described the series win as a "a team effort."

"It was hard work, that was a tough seven-game series. Both teams played tough -- we just kind of outlasted them at the end there. We're lucky to move on," Olynyk said.

Boston now host NBA champions Cleveland on Wednesday. "We've just gotta keep playing our brand of basketball and we'll see what happens," Olynyk said.

The defeat marked another frustrating end for Washington however.

Bradley Beal exploded for 38 points but it was not enough to overcome the Celtics rugged defense. Otto Porter Jr added 20 points while John Wall and Markieff Morris scored 18 each.

No other Washington player made double figures, highlighting the team's threadbare relative lack of options off the bench. Wall meanwhile made only one of eight attempted three-pointers.

WannaCry ransomware shares code with North Korea-linked malware – researchers

The source for WannaCry ransomware, which has spread to 150 countries, may be Pyongyang or those trying to frame it, security analysts say, pointing to code similarities between the virus and a malware attributed to alleged hackers from N…

Preview The source for WannaCry ransomware, which has spread to 150 countries, may be Pyongyang or those trying to frame it, security analysts say, pointing to code similarities between the virus and a malware attributed to alleged hackers from North Korea.
Read Full Article at RT.com

What’s at stake in Iran’s presidential election?

Iran’s presidential election Friday is effectively a choice between moderate incumbent Hassan Rouhani and hardline jurist Ebrahim Raisi, with major implications for everything from civil rights to relations with Washington.Rouhani is still seen as the …

Iran's presidential election Friday is effectively a choice between moderate incumbent Hassan Rouhani and hardline jurist Ebrahim Raisi, with major implications for everything from civil rights to relations with Washington.

Rouhani is still seen as the frontrunner, but he faces a tougher than expected challenge from Raisi, who has rallied religious traditionalists and working-class voters disillusioned with the stagnant economy.

The economy

This is the issue driving the campaign on all sides as the Islamic republic struggles with a 12.5-percent unemployment rate and minimal growth outside the oil sector.

Rouhani won praise for taming inflation and easing sanctions through a nuclear deal with world powers, but his promises of massive foreign investment have not materialised, and Raisi has criticised his lack of support for the poor.

"Rouhani stemmed the decline, but he over-did the austerity. Inflation was already falling. He failed to jumpstart the economy by spending more on development projects," said Djavad Salehi-Isfahani, an economics professor at Virginia Tech in the US who blogs about the Iranian economy.

Raisi has pushed his charitable credentials as head of the powerful Imam Reza foundation and vowed to create jobs, though with a notable lack of detail on how.

The president says patience is needed for his plans to bear fruit, although it may be too late to win over struggling families.

Regime legitimacy

For Clement Therme of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, the turnout will be the biggest issue in the election.

"The regime needs participation. What matters most is the turnout, not the result," he said.

"It's a difficult balance: if they control too much, people won't bother voting. But they can also use this part of the system to express their dissatisfaction."

With many disillusioned by the lack of improvements after past elections, this is a particular fear for the Islamic regime this year, and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has called for a massive turnout.

Nuclear deal

Because it had the tacit approval of the supreme leader, Raisi supports the 2015 deal with world powers which saw curbs to Iran's nuclear programme in return for an easing of sanctions.

"The nuclear issue is not decided by the president and the future of the deal will depend on the Trump administration which is trying to change Iran's behaviour with the threat of force," said Thermes.

But Raisi has attacked the Rouhani government for his "weak" stance during negotiations and for having failed to cash in on the deal.

"We should not show any weakness in the face of the enemy," he said in a televised debate, raising the possibility that he could deepen already worsening tensions with Washington.

Social freedoms

Rouhani has put civil liberties front and centre, knowing that this was key to his 2013 victory.

He says his conservative opponents represent "violence and extremism" and that their era is over, but has struggled in the past four years to make headway against Iran's conservative-dominated judiciary and security services.

Raisi has tried to present a relatively liberal image, emphasising that his wife is an independent and highly educated professional.

But his gender-segregated rallies are in stark contrast to the mixed, youthful and middle class crowds turning out for Rouhani, who has been endorsed by leading reformists and celebrities such as Oscar-winning director Asghar Farhadi.

Foreign trade

The government says it needs $50 billion a year in foreign capital to get the economy moving, but investors and global banks remain nervous about remaining US sanctions and Iran's shady financial system.

Meanwhile, Iran's supreme leader has called for a self-sufficient "resistance economy", a point emphasised by Raisi.

But in a country heavily dependent on oil exports, total independence is not realistic.

"No one is taking the 'resistance economy' idea to the extreme of Venezuela-style efforts to control prices and markets. Everyone sees some room for trade," said Salehi-Isfahani.

Brisk business for Mosul’s first post-IS liquor store

Abu Haidar tries to keep a low profile and there is no sign on his shop, the first liquor store to reopen in Mosul since the jihadists were beaten back.But it’s hard not to notice the steady stream of customers walking out with black plastic bags fille…

Abu Haidar tries to keep a low profile and there is no sign on his shop, the first liquor store to reopen in Mosul since the jihadists were beaten back.

But it's hard not to notice the steady stream of customers walking out with black plastic bags filled with Turkish beer, Iraqi arak liquor and cheap whisky.

The young man said he could get up to 1,000 customers a day at his tiny shop in an industrial area of east Mosul, which the Iraqi security forces retook from the Islamic State group in January.

Alcohol never completely disappeared from the city which for more than two years was the de facto Iraqi capital of the "caliphate" IS proclaimed in 2014 over parts of Iraq and Syria.

But drinking was an expensive and dangerous hobby.

"You only had smuggled alcohol -- this bottle used to fetch 50,000 or 60,000 dinars," he said, holding a quarter bottle of whisky.

"For a litre, you'd pay... up to $100."

Now prices have returned to their pre-IS levels, and the quarter bottle costs around $5.

"In the afternoon it gets very busy here," said Abu Haidar, standing behind his counter as he served more customers.

"For three years, people were deprived of it yet they had been used to it before. There used to be bars, clubs and casinos. All of them were closed and only now are people returning to drinking," he said.

His shop is stacked to the ceiling with alcohol, the same selection of ouzo, arak (a regional anise-flavoured spirit) and obscure brands of cheap vodka and whisky that can be found in Baghdad or in the Christian quarter of the neighbouring Kurdish regional capital Arbil.

- Fear not gone -

Two large top-loading refrigerators were filled with cans of beer, including Miller, Heineken and a wide selection of Turkish and South Korean brands.

Abu Haidar himself could barely tell one from the other: liquor shop owners in Iraq are usually Christians or Yazidis, but he is a Muslim and says he was convinced by a friend to invest in what looked like a good business opportunity.

A semblance of normality returned to east Mosul relatively quickly after Iraqi forces flushed out the last pockets of jihadists four months ago.

But while few attacks have occurred, many residents believe supporters of the now crumbling "caliphate" have blended back into civilian life and are still among them.

Abu Haidar kept glancing worriedly at the street for fear of an attack by remnants of the jihadists' dreaded "Hisbah" religious police.

While many customers refused to be interviewed, let alone photographed or filmed, Karim Jassem had no such compunctions.

"I feel so relieved -- there were a few illegal stores recently and people selling from their homes, but this is a proper licensed shop so it's cheaper and we want it cheaper," he said.

But Jassem also spoke with fear on his face of the risks he had to take under jihadist rule.

"I was afraid. I would drink and by 11:00 pm leave my friend's house and drive home using the back streets," he said.

"All my friends drink, you know. I'm from Nur neighbourhood and I won't say that all the people in Nur neighbourhood drink... but all my friends drink."

Oh brother! The sibling duos who dominate film

From the Warner and Lumiere brothers to the Boultings, cinema has been marked from its earliest days by remarkable sibling double acts.The Safdie brothers — Ben and Josh — are the latest directing duo to hit the headlines, the big surprise of this ye…

From the Warner and Lumiere brothers to the Boultings, cinema has been marked from its earliest days by remarkable sibling double acts.

The Safdie brothers -- Ben and Josh -- are the latest directing duo to hit the headlines, the big surprise of this year's Cannes film festival, which opens on Wednesday.

The New Yorkers, whose new grindhouse movie "Good Time" was described by its star Robert Pattinson as a "mentally damaged psychopath bank robbery movie", are the most eye-catching newcomers in the running for the festival's top prize, the Palme d'Or.

They join a long list of brothers from the kings of low-brow comedy, the Farrellys, to the Coens who have worked together behind the camera.

- The Coens -

Joel Coen and Ethan Coen are members of the elite club of filmmakers who have won best film Oscars and the Palme d'Or. Their genre-spanning and wryly comic movies like "Fargo", "The Big Lebowski", "Raising Arizona" and "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" have won them a huge crossover audience that combines arthouse cred with genuine crowd pleasers.

- The Wachowskis -

The brothers behind "The Matrix" franchise are now in fact sisters having both come out as trans women. Larry became Lana in 2010 and Andy Lilly two years ago, in one of the most high-profile coming outs in Hollywood. The sisters have continued to work together, mostly notably on "Jupiter Ascending" and the television series "Sense8".

- The Farrellys -

Peter and Bobby Farrelly cut their teeth as writers on "Seinfeld" before becoming the undisputed kings of American cringe comedy with such gross-out hits as "Dumb and Dumber", "Shallow Hal" and "There's Something About Mary". Peter Farrelly, the elder by two years, once joked that they "look up" to their stupid characters. "They are better than us," he said.

- The Afflecks -

Even when brothers work hand in glove there is always room for sibling rivalry. Take the Afflecks, Ben and Casey, who have a healthy Oscar rivalry as actors, directors and producers. Ben currently has two, while Casey won his first last year for "Manchester by the Sea", although he was previously nominated for "The Assassination of Jess James by the Coward Robert Ford".

- The Dardennes -

The Belgian brothers -- who have twice won the Palme d'Or with their gritty dramas "Rosetta" (1999) and "L'Enfant" (2005) -- are often mistakenly taken as twins because they look so similar, although Jean-Pierre is actually three years older than Luc. To further confuse things, their producer Denis Freyd is known as "the third brother".

- The Pangs -

The Hong-Kong-based duo Danny and Oxide Pang are best known for their seminal horror film "The Eye", which not only spawned a Hollywood remake of the same name but a Bollywood one too. The brothers began their career in Thailand with "Bangkok Dangerous" and still make films there from time to time, with Oxide marrying "The Eye" star Angelica Lee.

- The Russos -

Like the Farrellys, Anthony and Joe Russo began in television as writers on the cult comedy "Arrested Development". But they moved into the Hollywood big league with their superhero films adapted from the Marvel Comics character Captain America. They hope to repeat the trick with Marvel's Avengers superhero characters next year.

‘Odious’ Godard’s rebel years becomes Cannes comedy

Jean-Luc Godard is one of cinema’s towering giants, a revolutionary who turned the rules of film-making on their head in the 1960s.But the Swiss-born director who kickstarted the French New Wave with “Breathless” also had a genius for making enemies, a…

Jean-Luc Godard is one of cinema's towering giants, a revolutionary who turned the rules of film-making on their head in the 1960s.

But the Swiss-born director who kickstarted the French New Wave with "Breathless" also had a genius for making enemies, as his ex-wife, the novelist Anne Wiazemsky soon discovered.

Now with the kind of cheek that Godard himself was once notorious, Michel Hazanavicius, the Oscar-winning director of "The Artist", has filmed the most politically radical period of the director's life... as a comedy.

"Redoutable" will be premiered at the Cannes film festival on Sunday.

But Wiazemsky -- who was at first reluctant to allow him to adapt her memoir of their time together, "Un an apres" ("One year later") -- believes Hazanavicius has struck cinematic gold.

One of the few people to have seen the film, she told AFP that it makes a "odious" person into someone "moving and funny".

"I saw the film and I would love to see it again because I am both the best and the worst audience," said Wiazemsky, who met Godard when she was 19 and he 36.

She said Hazanavicius and actor Louis Garrel, who plays Godard "have succeeded in making this odious figure making grotesque speeches moving and funny."

- Revolutionary fervour -

Set against the backdrop of the May 1968 student protests, strikes and street demonstrations that almost toppled then French president Charles de Gaulle, it shows their marriage falling apart as Godard becomes gripped by revolutionary fever.

As talk of revolt gripped France, he broke with the "system" and renounced all his previous films including classics such as "Pierrot le fou" and "Contempt".

Hazanavicius "understood something very profound about Jean-Luc," Wiazemsky insisted. "And out of tragedy, he made a comedy," she said.

"He understood the crisis he was going through -- the consequences of which none of us, least of all me, foresaw."

The couple fell in love in 1966 and married during the shooting of Godard's 1967 film "La Chinoise" in which Wiazemsky played a member of a Maoist revolutionary cell.

Her grandfather, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Francois Mauriac, was not amused.

But the events of May 1968, in which Godard became a major player, bringing the Cannes film festival to a halt with a strike, overwhelmed them.

"The further it went, the more our paths diverged," Wiazemsky told AFP.

"I, who came from a university background, went increasingly towards the cinema. And he, who came from cinema, went further and further away from it.

"I think the film catches him very well, and makes him funny," the novelist, who is now 70, said.

- 'Amazing actor' -

She was taken aback by Garrel -- who, ironically, she held in her arms as a baby -- and his portrayal of Godard.

"I was really hypnotised by the amazing resemblance between him and Jean-Luc. He even talks like him. I don't know how he did, it's the work of a real actor," she added.

Wiazemsky starred in two of his father Philippe Garrel's early films, and she still remembers Godard's dramatic reaction to seeing his debut movie, "Marie pour memoire" (Mary for Memory) in 1968.

"There is Garrel now," Godard declared. "I no longer have to make movies."

(Garrel's latest film, "L'Amant d'un jour" [The Lover of a Single Day] is also showing at Cannes this year in the Directors' Fortnight.)

"Lots of loose ends are tying up in Cannes in a very romanesque way," Wiazemsky joked.

As for watching herself on the big screen -- played by the Franco-British actress Stacy Martin of "Nymphomaniac" fame -- Wiazemsky was a little less wowed.

"I was a lot less innocent than the character in the film. I had already made films. I came from that world. The girl in the film is younger and more naive," she said.

The big question, however, on everyone's lips is how the famously cankerous and reclusive Godard will take "Redoubtable".

So far there has been no reaction from his Swiss lair.

"I haven't heard anything from him in a long time," Wiazemsky said. "I know that to be on the safe side Hazanavicius has not sent him a DVD..."

Brancusi bronze sells for $57mn in New York

A bronze sold for $57.37 million in New York on Monday, setting a new auction record for Romanian-born sculptor Constantin Brancusi and fetching more than twice its lowest pre-sale estimate, Christie’s said.The sculpture of a sleeping woman’s head — “…

A bronze sold for $57.37 million in New York on Monday, setting a new auction record for Romanian-born sculptor Constantin Brancusi and fetching more than twice its lowest pre-sale estimate, Christie's said.

The sculpture of a sleeping woman's head -- "La muse endormie" -- by a pioneer of modernism sold after nine minutes of bidding at Christie's impressionist and modern art sale, kicking off a week of high-profile art auctions expected to rake in hundreds of millions of dollars.

The 1913 sculpture, cast by an artist who spent most of his working career in Paris, was snapped up by an anonymous bidder having been valued pre-sale at $25-35 million, the auction house said.

The second top selling lot was a Picasso portrait of his mistress, Dora Maar, called "Femme assise, robe bleue," painted on the Spanish master's 58th birthday, which sold for $45 million, Christie's said.

The oil painting was originally owned by the artist's friend and gallerist Paul Rosenberg, before being confiscated by the Nazis and being discovered and rescued by Rosenberg's son.

It was later acquired by US financier, industrialist and art collector George David Thompson. It was valued pre-sale at $35-50 million.

Christie's and Sotheby's -- the esteemed houses founded in 18th century London -- are chasing combined sales of at least $1.1 billion in offering for auction hundreds of contemporary, modern and impressionist works of art this week in New York.

The top estimate for the week is a 1982 "Untitled" by Jean-Michel Basquiat -- a skull-like head on a giant canvas in oil-stick, acrylic and spray paint -- for which Sotheby's hopes to smash a new auction record for the US artist at more than $60 million.

Much of the art being offered this season is fresh to market -- 84 percent of the works offered by Christie's on Monday had never been offered at auction or have been off the market for 20 years or more.

Christie's said the evening sale of impressionist and modern greats, including Monet, Chagall and Fernand Leger, fetched $289 million.

Buyers from 35 countries registered to bid, with 42 percent American and 23 percent Asian buying by lot, said Jessica Fertig, senior Christie's specialist in impressionist and modern art.

Picasso holds the world record for the most expensive piece of art sold at auction with his "The Women of Algiers (Version 0)" fetching $179.4 million at Christie's in New York in 2015.

China’s Xi seeks to rewrite global trade rules as US retreats

Chinese President Xi Jinping wants to rewrite world trade rules and cast himself as a champion of globalisation as he capitalises on a US retreat into “America First” policies, analysts say.But not everyone is buying the rhetoric.Xi’s plan was on displ…

Chinese President Xi Jinping wants to rewrite world trade rules and cast himself as a champion of globalisation as he capitalises on a US retreat into "America First" policies, analysts say.

But not everyone is buying the rhetoric.

Xi's plan was on display this week at an international summit in Beijing to promote his signature foreign policy, the One Belt, One Road initiative that aims to revive ancient land and sea trade routes.

The meeting gave Xi a spotlight to raise his standing abroad and at home, where he faces a crucial Communist Party congress later this year.

World leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, heaped praise on the idea which Xi boasted would be "a project of the century" and "unleash new driving forces for global economic growth".

Xi emerged as an unlikely capitalist hero at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January when he extolled open trade and denounced protectionism.

He now stands in stark contrast to US President Donald Trump whose pursuit of "America First" policies on trade and foreign relations has given China the chance to reshape the global and political landscape in its favour.

"He (Xi) is very anxious to move as early as possible to take advantage of the vacuum created by Donald Trump and show that China has the capacity to be a rule maker," China political analyst Willy Lam said.

But Xi's cherished Silk Road plan has raised concerns that he is seeking to expand China's economic and political ambitions abroad rather than open up his own country to further trade and investment.

"Hopefully (One Belt, One Road) is not a one-way street but two-way," European Union Chamber of Commerce in China President Joerg Wuttke told reporters recently.

"I hope China is not just reaching out to the world but actually embracing the world and opening up to foreign trade."

Despite claims that it welcomes foreign investment, China has long been criticised for erecting barriers in a wide range of sectors from automotives to finance, while also subsidising its own companies.

It ranked 84th globally -- behind Saudi Arabia and Ukraine -- in the World Bank's ease of doing business index for 2016, and second to last in an OECD report on the restrictiveness towards foreign investment.

- Financial risks -

Many doubt the motives behind its latest plan.

"I don't think many people are buying the spin that this is all in the name of free trade and global prosperity," said Andrew Gilholm from global risk consultancy Control Risks.

"I think a lot of countries are going along with it because that's how much significance political leaders attach to trying to benefit from aligning with China's economic priorities."

The China-bankrolled project involves a massive network of ports, railways, roads and industrial parks spanning some 65 countries across Asia, Africa and Europe.

Xi has pledged an extra $124 billion for the plan, on top of the $890 billion already earmarked by the China Development Bank for some 900 projects.

The huge spending plan comes as China looks for ways to spur economic growth, which has slowed in recent years as the country transitions away from a debt-fuelled investment-driven model to one more reliant on consumer spending.

But many of the countries involved in the initiative -- representing 60 percent of the world population and around a third of global gross domestic product -- have poor records on corporate and political governance and there are fears China could run into trouble.

"If projects are not commercially viable this becomes a very expensive commitment at a time when domestic financial strain is rising," said Gilholm.

- PR coup -

But Lam said problems would only start to emerge in the coming years, giving Xi time to use the Silk Road plan to burnish his credentials as a global statesman at home and abroad.

The summit comes ahead of a crucial Communist Party congress later this year.

Regarded as the most powerful Chinese leader in a generation, Xi will secure a second five-year term at the congress and will have the opportunity to promote his favoured allies to the country's ultimate decision-making body.

Enthusiastic state-media coverage of the two-day Silk Road summit, which was attended by leaders from nearly 30 countries, showered Xi with the sort of attention he craves.

"I think the optics worked out well for him," said Gilholm.

"But obviously there's a heck of a lot more to it than just holding an event and having people make nice speeches. It gets harder from now onwards."

Whiz kid who foiled cyberattack

They are called white hats — the good guys in the Wild West of the internet — and they ride to the rescue as in the case of the 22-year-old British expert who helped stop the WannaCry cyberattack.The young cyber security researcher, known only by his…

They are called white hats -- the good guys in the Wild West of the internet -- and they ride to the rescue as in the case of the 22-year-old British expert who helped stop the WannaCry cyberattack.

The young cyber security researcher, known only by his Twitter handle @MalwareTechBlog, says he found a weakness by chance that allowed slowing the spread of WannaCry, a type of malware called ransomware that encrypts files on an infected computer and demands money to unlock them.

Britain's National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) published his discovery, but also noted he was not an employee.

British media reported that he is employed in a cyber security firm and that he wishes to remain anonymous.

"He clearly succeeded in halting the spread" of WannaCry, said cyber security expert Marco Cova at Lastline.

According to Europol, the situation is now stable in Europe.

In China, which was also hard hit, the spread of the malware has slowed considerably according to authorities.

@MalwareTechBlog "stopped WannaCry by finding the 'kill switch' that the hackers introduced into the virus themselves to stop it if necessary," said Nicolas Godier, a cyber security expert at Proofpoint.

Godier said the British researcher worked closely with cyber security company Proofpoint expert Darien Huss over the weekend.

Contrary to the image of solitary hackers conversing through encrypted messages, the computer experts communicate most often through Twitter, according to Godier.

"All day long they analyse strains of computer viruses to see how they function" and find ways to stop them, said Godier.

"If each works in his own corner, it isn't effective, so they share their research. And with social networks, it moves quickly."

In this case it only took them several hours to find a weakness, said Godier.

- 'White hat' vs 'Black hat' -

The hackers who launch attacks and the cyber security experts who parry them have largely the same skills.

"In a certain way there are white knights and black knights" in cyber security, said Godier.

More often the terms are drawn from Westerns.

"The white hat is a researcher that does work for the good of the industry/society, the black hat's motivation is more nefarious in nature," said Raj Samani, Chief Scientist at McAfee, a leading producer of antivirus software.

They are in a perpetual race to discover vulnerabilities in software, which hackers will exploit to profit from while cyber security experts will develop solutions to protect their clients and the public.

In addition to the pride of a job well done, good publicity that comes from foiling a massive cyberattack can boost the reputation of white hats such as @MalwareTechBlog.

It can help them increase their circle of collaborators, thus improving their work.

The attention can also help a researcher get a job in a cyber security firm, if they don't already have one.

The same can be true for negative publicity, providing some hackers the opportunity to switch sides and join reputable firms.

Sued by Sony for hacking the PlayStation 3 games console, George Hotz was later recruited by Facebook in 2011.

Turkey brings back Ottoman sports to revive past glory

Brandishing their javelins and letting out a bloodcurdling war cry, the Ottoman horsemen charge at a thunderous gallop. Suddenly one is hit and thrown from his horse — making dozens of children gasp as they film the scene on their smartphones.It may b…

Brandishing their javelins and letting out a bloodcurdling war cry, the Ottoman horsemen charge at a thunderous gallop. Suddenly one is hit and thrown from his horse -- making dozens of children gasp as they film the scene on their smartphones.

It may be 2017, but Istanbul rolled back the years last weekend with the Ethnic Sports Cultural Festival (EKF), which aims to promote the sports practised by modern Turks' ancestors -- from the nomadic horsemen of Central Asia to the Janissaries, the elite troops of the Ottoman empire.

More than 800 athletes took part in traditional sports from Anatolia and Central Asia which President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government wants to develop to celebrate the glory days of Turkey's past.

The cavalry were taking part in "cirit", a riding sport created in Central Asia in which riders throw wooden javelins at the opposing team's horsemen.

"This is the king of sports, it embodies the Turkish spirit," said Erdem, 32, after dismounting.

The festival is part of Erdogan's efforts to revive Turkey's Ottoman roots after decades of Westernisation drive following the collapse of the empire.

The modern Turkish republic was founded in 1923 after over 600 years of Ottoman rule.

"We want to revive our traditional values, beginning with our sports, in order to move forward with these values," Bilal Erdogan, one of the president's sons and an archery fan who is also EKF's sponsor, told AFP.

- Art of war -

A huge area on the European side of Istanbul usually used for political rallies was transformed into an Ottoman encampment for the four-day event.

Wresters, archers and riders showed off their skills in between traditional cooking workshops, Central Asian dancing and carpet-weaving.

In front of a yurt, Adnan Balavan takes part in a "sword and shield game" consisting of simulating duels to produce a melody by rattling weapons.

"I started at the age of eight. Today, I am 57 but my hair still stands on end like the first day," said Balavan, originally from the northwestern province of Bursa, which was the first Ottoman capital.

Born of the wars that shaped Ottoman life and forged an empire that stretched from the Balkans to the Gulf, most of these traditional sports died when the old order fell after World War I.

Their survival today is due in large part to families passing the traditions on from one generation to the next.

Turkish Sports Minister Akif Cagatay Kilic promised the government would provide further financial support to develop such activities and suggested it would encourage clubs to show more interest in traditional sports.

- 'Power of the Turks' -

Traditional Turkish wrestling champion Sadi Bakir -- bare-chested and covered in oil -- said "interest in the sport has increased in recent times and the state is investing more effort in this field".

As a result, he said, "at the last European (wrestling) championships, we won five gold medals. The past power of the Turks is re-emerging."

Yakup, a traditional archery instructor, also said interest in the discipline has exploded. "We have over 1,000 members" in his archery club, he said as he put arrows in a leather quiver.

For the master archer, young people's enthusiasm comes mainly from television series about the Ottoman sultans which have multiplied in the past few years.

Organisers said 800,000 people came to the festival, voicing hope that it would spark a passion for the sports in schoolchildren visiting with their classes.

They even dream of one day organising a "Turkish Olympics" bringing together sportsmen and women from Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Balkans.

"Some people may not realise the importance of what we are doing here today, but we will reap the fruits one day," Bilal Erdogan said during his opening speech. "And God willing, the 21st century will be ours."

Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s ambassador for a gentler ‘America First’

With president Donald Trump’s first G7 summit just days away, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says US trade partners are warming to a softer version the new administration’s “America First” stance.”People feel much more comfortable about our position…

With president Donald Trump's first G7 summit just days away, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says US trade partners are warming to a softer version the new administration's "America First" stance.

"People feel much more comfortable about our position on trade," Mnuchin said during a news conference on Saturday concluding a meeting of G7 finance ministers.

Mnuchin has also made the case for Trump-era trade policies at recent G20 finance chiefs meetings: in Baden-Baden, Germany in March -- where disagreements over protectionism spilled out into the open -- and in April at the IMF-World Bank spring meetings in Washington, where the subject got only fleeting mention.

In Bari, the nettlesome question was not officially on the agenda and was studiously avoided in the final statement from the governments of the world's seven richest countries (Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States).

To avoid irking the Trump administration, the usual call to resist protectionism gave way to a vague commitment to "strengthen the contribution of trade to our economies."

According to Mnuchin, "people have a level of comfort and understanding" of Trump's policy goals, which nevertheless threaten to upend decades of prevailing trade policy.

Since Trump's first days in office, he has repudiated the Trans-Pacific Partnership, negotiated by the prior administration, and vowed to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Mnuchin used more nuanced rhetoric while meeting with his counterparts in Italy -- before Trump -- and France's new president Emmanuel Macron -- attend their first-ever meeting G7 meeting in Sicily later this month.

"We don't want to be protectionist, but we reserve the right to be if we believe trade is not free and fair," Mnuchin said.

- 'Less tense' -

He pointed to a newly concluded trade agreement with China as a model for the kind of bilateral dealings the US may favor in the future.

"I think we're very happy with how we're proceeding with trade," said Mnuchin

As for the Europeans, relations seemed "less tense" as the meetings in Bari concluded, according to the European economic commissioner Pierre Moscovici. Italian Finance Minister Pier Carlo Padoan said relations were "improving every time we meet."

But French Finance Minister Michel Sapin said "we have not moved an inch" on climate and international trade.

In Bari, the G7 partners in any event continued to press Trump's economic ambassador for details about Trump's plans for tax reform.

Some worry that by accelerating growth and inflation, Trump's new fiscal policies could provoke interest rate increases, driving up the value of the dollar. Developing countries with dollar-denominated debts could suffer as a result.

"People are not shy, asking direct questions and get direct answers," a senior Treasury official said on condition of anonymity.

Questions focused in particular on the timing of plans to slash corporate taxes, which Mnuchin has said he hopes to see accomplished this year.

In Bari, Mnuchin skipped a good share of the meetings devoted to income inequality and inclusive growth but the former Goldman Sachs banker said he appreciated a seminar at which economists denounced the Volker Rule.

The provision under the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform laws prohibits most of the so-called proprietary trading by banks, which can cause capital weakness.

Mnuchin was amused by one expert who said that bankers would need "a lawyer and a psychiatrist" to abide by the rule. On the flight back to Washington, Mnuchin told reporters this was one rule being reviewed by regulators.

With tax reform and deregulation, the United States hope to achieve three percent annual growth, according to Mnuchin, repeating the credo that what is good for the United States is good for the rest of the world.

Bach vs burka: Germany in election-year identity debate

What does it mean to be German? A minister close to Chancellor Angela Merkel has kicked off a divisive election-year debate about cultural identity — earning him praise, ridicule and charges of immigrant-bashing.Some say it’s high time to define share…

What does it mean to be German? A minister close to Chancellor Angela Merkel has kicked off a divisive election-year debate about cultural identity -- earning him praise, ridicule and charges of immigrant-bashing.

Some say it's high time to define shared values as Germany seeks to integrate more than a million mostly Muslim asylum seekers who arrived since 2015 under Merkel's open-door policy.

Others have slammed the initiative as a grab for right-wing voters who threaten to drift off to the nationalist, anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in September elections.

The eye-catching opening salvo was fired by Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere in the top-selling tabloid Bild on Sunday.

The front page showed the politician in charge of police and migrant affairs before the national colours black, red and gold, with the grammatically dubious headline "We Are Not Burka".

In a double-page spread, de Maiziere outlined in 10 points what he considers core elements of the German "Leitkultur", the guiding or dominant national culture.

He listed a diligent work ethic, respect for others, being an "enlightened patriot", a belief in Europe and NATO, and in education and the arts, including the works of Bach and Goethe.

The Christian Democrat also said being German means "showing our face" rather than wearing an Islamic full-face burka, and greeting others with handshakes, which some Muslims shun with non-family members of the opposite sex.

- Sandals with socks -

On Twitter, outrage and mockery rained down on de Maiziere, garnished with memes of German sauerkraut and garden gnomes.

An alternative "Ten Commandments" suggested adding "towels on deck chairs" and "sandals with tennis socks" as uniquely German traits.

The Berlin daily Tagesspiegel charged "the CDU has discovered the AfD within", while Greens party politician Juergen Trittin decried "right-wing rabble-rousing".

Berlin state secretary Sawsan Chebli, the daughter of Palestinian refugees, said she found it "off-putting" to claim virtues such as respect for education as uniquely German.

Former president Christian Wulff -- the first public official to proclaim that "Islam is part of Germany" -- said the constitution provides all the rules needed for life in an open, democratic society.

Nonetheless, polls by Insa and YouGov found that around half of Germans agreed with the concept of a "Leitkultur", which has been hotly debated in media columns and TV talk shows.

It is a painful debate in a country that, given its guilt over World War II and the Holocaust, long shunned open expressions of patriotism, but which is yet to fully embrace the concept of "multiculturalism".

One fifth of Germans have a migrant background, and four million of its 80 million people are Muslims, including a large Turkish diaspora, a legacy of post-war Germany's "guest worker" programme.

Yet the word "Multikulti" is still often used as a negative -- to evoke urban migrant ghettos, "parallel societies" and no-go areas -- rather than a rich, ethnically diverse society.

- 'Reject nationalism' -

The loaded term "Leitkultur" was first used in German politics by the CDU in 2000 to suggest that immigrants, then mainly from the former Yugoslavia, must follow Germany's customs and traditions as well as its laws.

The word was revived by the AfD, a party now polling around 10 percent, which has urged Germans to rediscover national pride and a Christian-rooted heritage.

Now, four months before elections, de Maiziere has taken ownership of the term.

"Populist, empty and slightly nauseating," was how Berlin graphic designer Bettina Braun, 37, characterised the phrase, adding that "if Germany needs a Leitkultur, it should be to reject nationalism."

Retired teacher Gerda Felgner, 68, judged it "problematic", because "if you want to exclude someone, you define what Leitkultur is".

Others were more sympathetic, including Thai-born office worker Somkiat, who said "every country has common rules that define day-to-day life".

"Foreigners can't just come and do whatever they want, they have to integrate themselves," said the 62-year-old.

Health care worker Uwe Liebrecht, 61, couldn't agree more, saying he felt ethnic Germans like him were "becoming a minority" and migrants "here should try to fit into our culture".

Iraqi-born Nora, 28, said the hijab headscarf she wears had "sadly become a symbol" and had led strangers to tell her she looks "like a ghost".

"Of course that hurts and I think to myself: 'you don't even know me'," she said. "I grew up in Germany and to a degree I can understand it. Many Germans don't know any foreigners and just see terror on TV.

"I think we need to talk to each other more and reduce those prejudices."

Alonso happy after Indy 500 practice

Fernando Alonso shrugged off searing temperatures to post the fastest rookie time during practice for the Indy 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Monday.The Formula One star, who jetted into the United States less than 24 hours after finishing 12th …

Fernando Alonso shrugged off searing temperatures to post the fastest rookie time during practice for the Indy 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Monday.

The Formula One star, who jetted into the United States less than 24 hours after finishing 12th in the Spanish Grand Prix, completed 36 laps on the famous oval at a best average speed of 221.63mph.

The former Formula One world champion admitted he had feared the blazing hot sunshine and temperatures around 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) might be a problem before climbing into his McLaren-Honda-Andretti.

"I was a little bit concerned about the temperature, as it was much hotter today than at the test we did here on May 3rd," Alonso said.

"But the car felt as good as it did at the test, and I was able to make some setup changes without losing the confidence in the car."

Under Indy 500 rules, practice sessions and qualifying are governed by top average speed. The opening session is for rookies and returning drivers who have not raced in the event for a significant time.

Alonso's top average speed was just faster than compatriot Oriol Servia, who had an average speed of 220.75mph and Ed Jones, who was third quickest with a time of 210.29mph.

Alonso's session was interrupted by a suspension glitch which denied him the opportunity to practice driving in traffic.

"Everything went very smooth. The last half an hour maybe we had some issues with the rear suspension, and we could not complete the program that we had planned to run a little bit in traffic at the end of the day, so we missed that part," Alonso said. "But over all, it was an amazing day.

"I'm happier than the first day with the car because I was able to feel some of the setup changes that we were planning in the morning.

"But we did not do much running in traffic, so that's still the thing that I need to go through in the next couple of days. But I did two or three laps behind some cars that were going out of pit lane, and it was good fun."

Alonso, who is skipping the Monaco Grand Prix to race in the Indy 500, is due to practice all week before entering qualifying at the weekend, hoping to reach Sunday's Pole Day. The Indy 500 takes place the following week on May 28.