Trump’s Comey memo: a 21st century Watergate?

Is Donald Trump the new Richard Nixon? That is the question being asked by media commentators and politicians of all stripes following Tuesday’s explosive allegations that he asked the head of the FBI to drop an investigation into one of his aides.

Is Donald Trump the new Richard Nixon? That is the question being asked by media commentators and politicians of all stripes following Tuesday's explosive allegations that he asked the head of the FBI to drop an investigation into one of his aides.

Japan princess’s betrothal highlights male royal succession woes

Emperor Akihito’s granddaughter’s upcoming engagement to her college sweetheart, a commoner, will cost the princess her royal status in a move that highlights the male-dominated nature of Japan’s monarchy as it faces a potential succession crisis.Publi…

Emperor Akihito's granddaughter's upcoming engagement to her college sweetheart, a commoner, will cost the princess her royal status in a move that highlights the male-dominated nature of Japan's monarchy as it faces a potential succession crisis.

Public broadcaster NHK broke the story of Princess Mako's engagement late Tuesday, sending the country into a tizzy with the news dominating television chat shows and newspaper coverage ahead of an expected official announcement in coming weeks.

Her reported fiance, Kei Komuro, a telegenic 25-year-old commoner once named "Prince of the Sea" in a tourism promotion contest, briefly met journalists on Wednesday, but dodged questions on the engagement, saying he would only speak about it "when the time comes".

The national rejoicing, however, has been tempered by concerns over the future of the royal family as the country prepares for its first imperial abdication in two centuries amid an acute shortage of male heirs.

Mako, 25, is the eldest daughter of Prince Akishino, Akihito's second son, and like all female imperial family members loses her royal status upon marriage to a commoner under a controversial law.

The law does not apply to male royals, with Akihito and both his sons marrying commoners, who are now part of the monarchy.

The news reignites a debate on whether the law should be changed so women can continue in their royal roles in a bid to increase the chances of potential male heirs to a monarchy that does not allow females to ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne.

Traditionalists, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, strenuously oppose such changes, even though Japan has been ruled by female sovereigns in past centuries.

The government is currently preparing legislation to allow Akihito, 83, to abdicate in favour of his eldest son, Crown Prince Naruhito.

Following Naruhito's reign, his brother Akishino and Akishino's son, 10-year-old Hisahito, will be next in line.

But after that there are no more eligible males, meaning the centuries-old succession would be broken if Hisahito fails to have a son in the future.

Russia threatened to use nukes? US commission produces wildest claims in push for military buildup

Preview The Helsinki Commission has gotten creative on the notorious “Russian threat,” pinning the blame for the death of an OSCE observer in Ukraine on Moscow and claiming it threatened to use “tactical nuclear weapons” – all while calling for more arms and troops on the Russian border.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview The Helsinki Commission has gotten creative on the notorious “Russian threat,” pinning the blame for the death of an OSCE observer in Ukraine on Moscow and claiming it threatened to use “tactical nuclear weapons” – all while calling for more arms and troops on the Russian border.
Read Full Article at RT.com

LeBron and Co. cruise past Celtics in NBA game one romp

LeBron James delivered 38 points and Kevin Love had a career playoff high 32 as the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers opened their Eastern Conference final series with a blowout win on Wednesday.The Cavaliers were coming off a 10-day break but sho…

LeBron James delivered 38 points and Kevin Love had a career playoff high 32 as the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers opened their Eastern Conference final series with a blowout win on Wednesday.

The Cavaliers were coming off a 10-day break but showed no signs of rust by going wire-to-wire to easily beat the Boston Celtics 117-104 at the Boston Garden arena.

Game two is Friday at the Garden before the series shifts to Cleveland for games three and four.

The Cavaliers dominated from the opening tipoff. They compiled a 26-point lead in the first half and expanding it to 28 in the third quarter before the Celtics cut it down to 17 at the end of the quarter.

James, who is seeking to reach his seventh straight NBA finals, scored 15 in the fourth quarter en route to his seventh straight 30-point game. He also had nine rebounds and seven assists.

Love also grabbed 12 rebounds. Tristan Thompson had 20 points and nine rebounds, and Kyrie Irving tallied 11 points and six assists.

Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder led the Celtics with 21 points apiece.

The Cavaliers managed to keep Isaiah Thomas in check as he finished with just 17 points and 10 assists. He was just seven of 19 from the floor, two of seven from beyond the arc.

The win was the Cavaliers' 12th in a row in the playoffs (one shy of matching the NBA record, set by the 1988-89 Los Angeles Lakers), dating back to last year's finals.

Boston had their five-game home playoff winning streak snapped.

Growing up transgender: US family confronts stigma

For months in the Lemay home, the same phrase was repeated over and over by their troubled young child, barely more than a toddler, who showed growing signs of depression.”It is a mistake. I am not a girl, I am a boy.”That convinced the Lemay family th…

For months in the Lemay home, the same phrase was repeated over and over by their troubled young child, barely more than a toddler, who showed growing signs of depression.

"It is a mistake. I am not a girl, I am a boy."

That convinced the Lemay family that Mia should become Jacob.

Mimi and Joe Lemay live in a large home similar to hundreds of others in the fashionable, family-oriented suburb of Melrose, north of Boston.

They are parents of two daughters, ages eight and four, and now a seven-year-old boy, born Mia in 2010 but who officially changed his name to Jacob at age four.

At a time of vigorous debate in the United States about transgender students, reignited by President Donald Trump when he repealed federal protections about bathroom use, the Lemays are determined to share their story, how it convulsed their family and how it can offer comfort and help to others who going through the same experience.

While there are no official statistics, child gender transition affects hundreds of American families, if a Facebook support page is anything to go by.

Nearly three years have passed since the Lemays accepted Mia would transition. Their circle largely accepts Jacob, but Mimi admits there were "some tough moments" and "days of genuine grief" along the way.

"It is bittersweet: there is a great joy in seeing your child being fulfilled, and also great concern about the hostility of the world," she tells AFP.

"There is also a sense of loss -- the person may not have been the person you thought they were but they still existed in your mind."

The family doesn't regret anything.

Jacob, sporting a crew cut, says he loves soccer and sewing -- with the toothless grin of a child who has lost his first baby teeth.

"Seeing that happiness that the transition brought was the best therapy that I could have asked for," says Mimi.

- 'Right decision' -

Within a couple of weeks, "he just brightened and turned into a different kid. He started laughing again," says Joe.

"Before he was a depressed person, not wanting to wake up," recalls his father. "In hindsight, it is obvious to us we made the right decision."

Jacob's 40-year-old mother, who was raised in a ultra-Orthodox Jewish community that she left as an adult, says her own rebellion helped her navigate her son's transition.

"Having already been through that process, I feel it was easier for me to say to my kid, whatever the social norms of the world, 'I see you, I see the person you are inside and that's far more important to me and I don't need to follow conventions'," Mimi said.

Joe, who is 39 and the co-founder of a start-up that makes electronic notebooks, says he's also happy with their decision.

"No one really wishes your child to be different in any big way, and in a way that could create challenges in their life," he said. "You can imagine how I felt."

"I used to call Mia my 'Buddha baby' because she was so happy and bright and always smiling," he said. "Then I watched that child turn into a very sullen, dark child."

- Life line -

After going to see specialists and support groups for transgender children, the choice crystallized, Joe says.

If they refused to let Mia live as a boy, it was at the risk of making him live another year of "shame and growing toward having real mental health issues," that can include increased risk of suicide, he explained.

If they agreed, then the danger of embarrassment or perhaps having to move out of town seemed less of a risk to the entrepreneur.

"I thought the conservative thing was to transition, and the real risky thing was to say 'no, not yet or not at all'," he said.

The Lemays don't know what will happen when Jacob reaches puberty and if he will want to start hormone therapy with a view to having surgery.

But in the meantime, the couple has become a lifeline to other parents confronted with young children rejecting the sexual identity dictated by their bodies.

On social networks as in seminars on transgender issues, or in the bosom of LGBT rights groups, they speak frequently about Jacob's return to happiness.

"We saw how much hostility there was towards the idea that a child may be transgender," says Mimi. "That was a mental bridge that people were not able to cross."

The Lemays recognize that thanks to their education and surroundings, they are "privileged." They live in Massachusetts, one of the most progressive states in the United States and the first to legalize gay marriage.

After his transition in June 2014, Jacob changed schools and is now accepted as a boy by classmates who have no idea about his previous identity.

With the help of the school district, principal Mary Beth Maranto organized training about transgender students and gave teachers an opportunity to ask questions "and become more familiar with this new part of our culture."

"Society will eventually accept it," says Joe.

"There is social media where people can educate each other, families can get together -- no one can pretend it is not happening."

Crusaders warned not to cross ‘that line’ against Chiefs

It will be mate against mate but no holds barred when the Canterbury Crusaders look to defend their unbeaten record against close rivals Waikato Chiefs in Suva on Friday. The pressure is mounting as the Super Rugby competition draws closer to determini…

It will be mate against mate but no holds barred when the Canterbury Crusaders look to defend their unbeaten record against close rivals Waikato Chiefs in Suva on Friday.

The pressure is mounting as the Super Rugby competition draws closer to determining the top eight, while New Zealand teams have the added weight of preparing for next month's British and Irish Lions tour.

Notably, All Blacks double World Cup winning centre Sonny Bill Williams, with limited time left to impress New Zealand selectors, is listed to return to the Auckland Blues after being sidelined with concussion.

The Wellington Hurricanes also have Dane Coles and Nehe Milner-Skudder back training although neither will front the Central Cheetahs this weekend.

While the injured start to return, there will be no holding back when the Crusaders and Chiefs, who have only lost one game, clash in a match which could determine both the outcome of the New Zealand conference and the overall top ranking.

The Chiefs, who have not lost to the Crusaders since 2014, have a reputation for provoking opponents, and Crusaders coach Scott Robertson has warned his players not to retaliate.

"There are a lot good mates and that adds to it," Robertson said.

"There will definitely be a fine line with the intensity of it and the Chiefs like to live on that line.

"It is a really good point around our discipline and making sure that we execute and we are tough, without crossing that line."

In a clash with intriguing match-ups that will be closely watched by the All Blacks selectors, Crusaders skipper Sam Whitelock returns from a two-week suspension for striking an opponent to mark his Test locking partner Brodie Retallick.

In the midfield, All Blacks Ryan Crotty and Anton Lienart-Brown oppose each other with Crotty noting that the Chiefs "always bring physicality and niggle. You just expect that."

The fixture is a Chiefs home game but they have opted to swap the New Zealand winter for the Fiji warmth to acknowledge the contribution Pacific islanders make to New Zealand rugby.

- Player workloads -

The Hurricanes have switched All Blacks' flyhalf Beauden Barrett to fullback for their home match against the Central Cheetahs on Saturday and relegated regular number 15 Jordie Barrett to the bench.

It is one of four changes after the Hurricanes lost to the Crusaders last week.

Coach Chris Boyd described the move as managing player workloads with Jordie having appeared in every game so far in his first season of Super Rugby.

The Cheetahs have lost their last eight games, and a Hurricanes win could see them move up to second in the New Zealand conference if the Crusaders win in Fiji.

The Golden Lions, top of the Africa 2 conference and poised to take the overall lead if the New Zealand trio of Crusaders, Chiefs and Hurricanes cancel each other out, face the Northern Bulls.

It has not been a good season for the Bulls with only three wins and now without lock RG Snyman who received a four-week ban for foul play during their 17-10 loss to the Otago Highlanders last week.

The Blues have been boosted by the return of Williams, a contender with Crotty and Lienart-Brown for the All Blacks midfield, when they play the Western Stormers in Cape Town.

The Stormers -- heavily beaten by the Hurricanes, Highlanders and Crusaders in recent weeks -- have Springbok locks Pieter-Steph du Toit and Eben Etzebeth back from injury and centre Damian de Allende is on the bench.

In the under-performing Australian conference, the Brumbies will look to protect their advantage when they face the Southern Kings who proved giant-killers last week when they upset the Coastal Sharks.

The NSW Waratahs, five points behind the Brumbies, are at home to the Melbourne Rebels who languish at the bottom of the Australian group.

India’s pampered pets lap up new treatments

Acupuncture, blood filtration, kidney cleanses. No treatment is too much for the furry friends of Delhi’s well-heeled residents, who splash out at five-star veterinary clinics to keep their pets healthy.Teams of nurses and even foreign vets offering st…

Acupuncture, blood filtration, kidney cleanses. No treatment is too much for the furry friends of Delhi's well-heeled residents, who splash out at five-star veterinary clinics to keep their pets healthy.

Teams of nurses and even foreign vets offering state-of-the-art healthcare to pets is a relatively new phenomenon in India, where millions live on less than $2 a day and even life-saving surgery is often beyond reach.

But in the posher suburbs of the capital wealthy Delhiites bring in their pets for high-tech treatments found at few Indian hospitals let alone ordinary vet clinics.

"My baby had been vomiting and refusing food. I really got worried," said Sunil Kumar, a tech executive who brought his dog Kuku for extensive blood work at Delhi's RenalVet clinic.

"The government-run clinics are free but they are really pathetic."

RenalVet claims to be the first pet clinic to offer procedures including acupuncture and haemodialysis -- a blood cleansing procedure -- in South Asia.

Chabhi, a 14-year-old Indian mongrel, is one "patient" undergoing kidney flushes for a chronic condition.

Blood is passed through a filter and cycled back through free of toxins at a cost of $100 per session -- a small fortune for most Indians.

"The good thing about haemodialysis in animals is that it is not forever," said Fernanda Scarpa Rodrigues, a Brazilian vet at RenalVet training her Indian counterparts.

"In fact just after a couple of sessions, the patient becomes stable and his condition can be controlled with specific diet and medication at home."

Success stories abound, like that of pomeranian Goldie. The small, fluffy dog was suffering from tick paralysis until treated with acupuncture, the alternative Chinese medicine where fine needles are inserted into the body.

"Goldie's hind legs collapsed one day and she could not walk," said Aman Kaur, an acupuncturist at RenalVet.

"We started acupuncture and soon she was back on her feet. We are now visiting other vets and telling them about these new techniques so that our animals don't suffer for lack of proper treatment."

Alone in Maiduguri: the orphans of Boko Haram

After a night on the streets, the pack of young boys move into Maiduguri’s abandoned amusement park in the early morning to play on the broken-down rides.Shoeless and wearing ragged clothes, they sprint to the merry-go-round, its chipped candy-coloured…

After a night on the streets, the pack of young boys move into Maiduguri's abandoned amusement park in the early morning to play on the broken-down rides.

Shoeless and wearing ragged clothes, they sprint to the merry-go-round, its chipped candy-coloured paint bleached by the scorching sun.

The horses are motionless but the boys laugh like they're in Disneyland, forgetting their troubles in a brief moment of joy.

They are among thousands of children orphaned by Boko Haram Islamists now living in the capital of Borno state, in northeast Nigeria.

"They are internally displaced persons (IDPs) but they are not in camp," said Salisu Ismail, a 42-year-old who works near the amusement park.

"There is no care for them, so they come here and play. They aren't supposed to be here, they should be in school but they don't have any access. It's really painful to see."

- 'Without education, they'll consume us' -

Boko Haram was founded in Maiduguri by a charismatic preacher who advocated a fundamentalist interpretation of the Koran and denounced Western influence in Nigeria.

Rampant poverty, high unemployment and government corruption attracted increasing numbers of followers even before the group turned to violence.

With those factors drivers for radicalisation, officials fear the city will remain a fertile breeding ground for extremism if the masses of orphans aren't taken care of.

Yet today they face the dilemma of how to get thousands of homeless children back to school in a desperately poor region where education has never been prioritised but is the key to preventing another jihadist uprising.

"We have an official number of over 52,000 orphans in Borno state," governor Kashim Shettima told AFP.

"Unofficially, the orphans may number over 100,000. Half of them may be in Maiduguri. Without educating these youth, they will be monsters that consume all of us.

"It's a very huge challenge."

- Relentless assault -

Even as the Nigerian army reclaims the last of the territory held by Boko Haram, whose name roughly translated from Hausa means "Western education is sin", their relentless assault on education continues to restrict development.

In some of the far-flung camps on the border of Niger and Cameroon, where the battle is still raging, there are no schools at all.

In Maiduguri, whose population has doubled to over two million due to those seeking shelter from the conflict, thousands of children are slipping through the cracks.

"A lot of children have never been to school," said UNICEF child protection specialist Samuel Manyok

"It's as bad as (the situation in) Somalia and South Sudan combined."

- Harrowing stories -

Getting children whose lives have been shattered by Boko Haram into class is just one hurdle to reintegrating them back into society when many have suffered traumatising experiences.

Sitting at a concrete table in the amusement park, 15-year-old Aisha -- not her real name -- says she was the only one of her family to survive when Boko Haram invaded her village in 2015.

When her parents refused to let her marry a Boko Haram fighter, the militants shot her father "on the spot" and tossed her mother into a makeshift prison full of urine and faeces.

Days later and starving, she finally let her daughter go.

"He forced himself on me," Aisha said of her new husband with whom she lived in Sambisa Forest, Boko Haram's stronghold in Borno state.

"He would bring bombs and tell me to pour water on them, so they didn't explode."

Wearing a white hijab with two ruby studs in her nose and a wary look in her eyes, Aisha says she saw militants strapping explosives to young girls and boys.

The rebels gave them 50,000 naira ($158, 145 euros) for their families and told them they would go to heaven. If they refused to blow themselves up, they would be shot, she said.

In December, the Nigerian military invaded Sambisa Forest and rescued Aisha. She now lives with a man from her village in an IDP camp in Maiduguri.

But she isn't going to school. Asked what she wants to do in the future, she doesn't seem to know.

"Clothes make me happy," she eventually replies.

- 'A time bomb' -

Schools were only officially reopened in Maiduguri and accessible areas of Borno state late last year after closing down in 2014.

Hundreds of others across the state are waiting to be rebuilt after being destroyed by Boko Haram.

To address the orphan crisis, Shettima's goal is to build "20 mega-schools across the state". His government has also floated plans to build a massive orphanage for 8,000 children.

Whether construction begins depends on how much the Borno government receives from the federal government, a notoriously unreliable benefactor.

It is also counting on the generosity and courage of international donors.

"The destruction of schools, the displacement and loss of school years, and the abduction of school children has reduced the level of access to education in a safe environment," said Oge Chukwudozie, manager of humanitarian organisation Plan International Nigeria.

"Given that the crisis directly targeted schools, non-government organisations had to play it safe so that children will not be exposed to direct attack by Boko Haram."

Nigeria's government is unlikely to resolve the school shortage quickly. But without urgent intervention, the risk of renewed violence increases.

"They need a second chance at life," said UNICEF's Manyok.

"Otherwise they become a destabilising factor. It's just a time bomb."

Senators strike early to take 2-1 NHL series lead

The Ottawa Senators exploded for four first period goals en route to a 5-1 rout of the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins in game three of their NHL playoff series on Wednesday.The Senators tossed away their defensive persona as they chased startin…

The Ottawa Senators exploded for four first period goals en route to a 5-1 rout of the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins in game three of their NHL playoff series on Wednesday.

The Senators tossed away their defensive persona as they chased starting goalie Marc-Andre Fleury from the net early then breezed to a one-sided victory which earned them a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.

Ottawa usually wins games by one or two goals but they came into Wednesday's contest knowing they had to create more offence after failing to register a shot on goal for almost 19 minutes in a game two loss on Monday.

Mike Hoffman, Marc Methot, Derick Brassard, Zack Smith and Kyle Turris scored for the Senators.

Sidney Crosby replied for the Penguins, who trailed 5-0 after two periods.

The Senators chased Fleury with four goals on nine shots in the first 13 minutes of the game. Fleury was replaced by Matt Murray, who made 19 saves.

Craig Anderson made 25 stops in the Senators' net. He lost his bid for a shutout when Crosby deflected a Phil Kessel shot though his legs just over six minutes into the third.

Lehmann plays down Ashes strike threat

National coach Darren Lehmann admitted Thursday a bitter pay dispute will be a distraction for Australia at next month’s ICC Champions Trophy, but played down a boycott of this year’s Ashes series.Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers’ Associ…

National coach Darren Lehmann admitted Thursday a bitter pay dispute will be a distraction for Australia at next month's ICC Champions Trophy, but played down a boycott of this year's Ashes series.

Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers' Association are locked in a tense stand-off over the long-running talks, with vice-captain David Warner warning of a strike during the showpiece series against England, starting in November.

Lehmann conceded the players' full focus wasn't on the Champions Trophy in England and Wales, but said he was confident there would be no Ashes disruption.

"I'd hope not as a fan. I'm sure that won't happen," he told reporters in Brisbane, adding that he was in regular contact about the issue with Australian captain Steve Smith, currently playing for Rising Pune Supergiant in the Indian Premier League.

"We've spoken quite a lot, on many issues at the moment," Lehmann said.

"He's really looking forward to getting the lads back together. There's been a lot of emails and text messages around the place.

"He is (in good spirits). He's been there (in India) for four months and hasn't been home. But he's ready to go."

Warner said this week players would not back down from their demand that CA keep its current revenue-sharing pay arrangement and cautioned they might walk out on the Ashes if relations became strained further.

Lehmann said he would address the matter once the entire squad for the Champions Trophy was together.

"You have to do that. You have to keep communication open so we know what direction everyone's going," he said.

"It is going to be a bit of a distraction, there's no doubt about that.

"Just getting together and working it out is the way to go. There's no panic, it's just about the two parties getting together."

CA chairman David Peever has rejected the ACA's request for the bodies to try mediation.

"While CA absolutely shares your stated desire for a new agreement ... it seems extraordinary to be considering the involvement of a mediator before the ACA has attempted to negotiate," Peever said in correspondence to the ACA.

"The approach the ACA has taken in demanding certain preconditions be met before it is prepared to begin negotiations is the fundamental reason why no progress has been made to date."

The two bodies have been at loggerheads for more than six months.

CA is determined to scrap revenue-sharing after 20 years, saying more funds were needed for the game's grassroots, and that its offer provided handsomely for players.

The ACA is equally resolved to keep revenue-sharing, saying the system was not broken and did not need fixing.

The notional deadline is June 30, when the current memorandum of understanding expires.

Last horsemen of Hunza: Pakistan Buzkashi game faces final whistle

In a remote northern Pakistani valley surrounded by giant ice-capped peaks, villagers gather to watch a game of Buzkashi, an ancient equestrian sport once seen as a key test of virility that is now struggling for survival.Baksh Dil Khan, a retired scho…

In a remote northern Pakistani valley surrounded by giant ice-capped peaks, villagers gather to watch a game of Buzkashi, an ancient equestrian sport once seen as a key test of virility that is now struggling for survival.

Baksh Dil Khan, a retired schoolteacher is saddling his horse as his wife sprinkles a pinch of flour over the animal for good luck, worried that the snowfall that blankets the Chapursan Valley will make the day's match too treacherous.

The burly, moustached 52-year-old is one of the sports' last two dozen players in this region of roughly 2000 people, which shares a border with Afghanistan to the east and the north.

A black goat is led out to the middle of the grounds for the players to inspect. Some pick it up before nodding their approval.

It is taken away, later returning as a headless, disemboweled carcass and is placed in a circle in the centre of the field.

This body is the prize the horseman will jostle over in the game, made up of a series of rounds in which they aim to throw it back into the circle.

Goals are met with enthusiastic shouts of 'Halal' from the crowd, a sign they believe it was legitimately scored.

Buzkashi is a way for players to show off their equestrian skills and manliness, but there are also prizes and cash to secure.

Baksh has won PKR 4,000 ($40), three packs of cigarettes and a cellphone.

"I almost broke my neck for these three packs of cigarettes and I am not even a smoker," he jokes -- he fell twice from his horse during the game.

Unlike in neighbouring Afghanistan or Central Asia where the sport remains vibrant, Baksh fears the tradition will die out in Pakistan.

"It is dying down and there are only half a dozen old players left, the new generation is not taking much interest in the game and we have only around a dozen young players," he explains.

Now even finding enough horses can be a challenge as many locals have sold their steeds to buy modern comforts, says 38-year-old Taj Muhammad.

"Buzkashi will be just an event of the past, a story for our children," he muses.

For Aziz Ali Dad, a cultural anthropologist, the decline of the bloodsport is a sign of Pakistan's diminishing cultural ties with Central Asia, where the game originated.

In Hunza, it has long been a mainstay of the Wakhi people, who are also found in Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Xinjiang in China.

But Aziz says the lack of contact between them today means Buzkashi is "on the verge of extinction in Pakistan."

Defiant, Baksh vows to ride on, even if others give up.

He insists: "I will continue to play even if I am the last player, the game should at least survive till my death."

-- This story accompanies a photo essay and video by Gohar Abbas --

In climate talks, it’s always been America first

The shadow of Donald Trump looms large over the climate-rescue Paris Agreement, thrashed out by nearly 200 countries over years of painstaking, often belligerent, bartering in which the United States has a chequered history.As power has changed hands b…

The shadow of Donald Trump looms large over the climate-rescue Paris Agreement, thrashed out by nearly 200 countries over years of painstaking, often belligerent, bartering in which the United States has a chequered history.

As power has changed hands between Republicans and Democrats, the country has alternatively played an inspirational or obstructionist role over two decades of negotiations for a UN pact to avoid the worst ravages of global warming, observers say.

Ultimately, the US president, in the person of Barack Obama, played a critical role in getting even the most reticent of parties to sign on to the 2015 Paris Agreement that requires everyone to cut back on coal, oil and gas emissions.

Now his successor is threatening to withdraw America from the hard-fought deal -- for many just the latest move in a two-steps-forward-one-step-back dance with the world's second-largest carbon emitter.

A history:

- Rio Earth Summit -

It all started with the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro which set up the UN's climate convention and launched negotiations for a global deal to rein in global warming.

From the very beginning, Washington resisted any attempt at a "top-down" imposition of emissions cuts, insisting on national sovereignty in setting limits.

Then president George H W Bush reportedly told the Rio summit that "the American way of life is not up for negotiations. Period", linking prosperity to continued carbon emissions.

"Even at that time, fossil fuel interests were quite strong in the process," said Christian Aid's Mohamed Adow, who has closely followed the negotiations for years.

- Kyoto Protocol -

Negotiations for a new deal saw the US stand firm on its objection to the so-called "top-down" approach.

America also insisted that responsibility for emissions cuts must be shared between rich and developing nations.

This put it in conflict not only with the developing world, who insisted that rich countries with a longer history of pollution must make the bigger sacrifice, but also some industrialised nations who saw a need for targets and deadlines.

America's negotiating partners ultimately agreed on a deal in Japan in 1997 that satisfied Washington's demands.

Bill Clinton's vice president Al Gore signed the treaty in 1998, but the administration could never muster the two-thirds Senate support required to officially ratify it.

His successor, George W Bush, an oil man, called the agreement "unfair and ineffective" and in 2001, months after taking office, announced he would not ratify it.

Observers say this was largely driven by fear that China and other fast-developing would have an unfair advantage in economic growth, with a licence to exploit fossil fuel.

The treaty entered into force, without America, in 2005, committing 37 developed economies to an average five-percent cut from 1990 levels in the period 2008-2012.

Canada later withdrew, and New Zealand, Japan and Russia failed to renew their commitments post-2012.

- Bali Action Plan -

In 2007, the world's nations gathered for their annual negotiating round in Bali to talk about a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol.

The Bush administration again objected to any differentiation between rich and developing country obligations.

This time, the rest of the world revolted, and the US delegation was booed and told in no uncertain terms by one participant: "If you're not willing to lead, please get out of the way."

Washington relented, and the Bali Action Plan was adopted, setting a 2009 deadline for a new treaty to fight global warming.

- Copenhagen -

The 2009 round of negotiations in the Danish capital, meant to deliver the first truly universal climate pact by the deadline set, ended in near-failure amid bickering between rich and poor countries.

The US, with backing from several other countries, insisted it not be a binding treaty. In the end, the meeting yielded a non-formal "accord".

- Warsaw -

In 2013, in Warsaw, the big fight was again about legal obligation, and the wording of a final accord opted for countries to pledge carbon-cutting "contributions" rather than "commitments".

- Paris Agreement -

The final result, the 2015 Paris pact, is a compromise.

It consists of a legally-binding core agreement and a supporting register of non-binding "Nationally Determined Contributions", or NDCs, to curb emissions -- decided by countries themselves.

This allowed Obama to pass the agreement by executive order, and meant the administration need not submit its NDC to a hostile senate for approval.

"Yet again, other countries went along to keep the US in the regime," said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists -- a veteran observer of the two-decade-old process.

But this very compromise also means there will likely be no repercussions if Trump's US scraps its NDC, or simply disregards it.

Chai Qimin of China's National Center for Climate Change Strategy and International Cooperation, says US participation in the climate process works in cycles, determined by domestic election outcomes.

After an imperfect Kyoto Protocol entered into force, "we waited for eight to 10 years" for a new pact, the Paris Agreement.

"Should we wait again?" he asked on the sidelines of UN climate talks in Bonn. "Maybe we should wait another eight or 10 years... But also, it's with uncertainty. After four years (of Trump) will there be a new president who is favouring" climate action?

"Maybe not."

Future stars on show as wide-open U20 football World Cup kicks off

The FIFA Under-20 World Cup kicks off in South Korea on Saturday and looks wide open after the 2015 champions Serbia and beaten finalists Brazil both failed to qualify.Some of the world’s top young footballing talent will be on display with more than 5…

The FIFA Under-20 World Cup kicks off in South Korea on Saturday and looks wide open after the 2015 champions Serbia and beaten finalists Brazil both failed to qualify.

Some of the world's top young footballing talent will be on display with more than 500 players in 24 teams taking part, but the bookmakers are split on who to make favourites.

Bet365 make 2013 winners and 2016 under-19 European champions France 6/1 favourites, followed by Germany at 7/1 and Uruguay and Argentina, both at 9/1. But Bwin have Germany 4/1, with Argentina 5/1 and France 7/1 and Italy 9/1.

France's Bleuets will be without Monaco prodigy Kylian Mbappe, who misses out at the insistence of his club and senior French coach Didier Deschamps, whose team have three matches to play early next month.

Saturday's opening game sees Venezuela -- whose squad includes four full internationals including the 12-cap Malaga forward Adalberto Penaranda -- take on Germany in a Group B encounter in Daejeon.

It is followed in Jeonju by one of the most eagerly-anticipated World Cup rivalries when England take on six-time winners Argentina.

The two old rivals were drawn together in Group A by Argentina's legendary former captain Diego Maradona -- whose infamous "Hand of God" goal set England on the way to elimination in the 1986 World Cup quarter-final -- and countryman Pablo Aimar.

The two countries' long history of senior World Cup clashes have included England's David Beckham being vilified for his infamous red card in France 1998 and the completion of his redemption as captain when he scored the winner against Argentina in Sapporo, Japan, four years later.

This England squad features right-back Kyle Walker-Peters, who has just signed a new contract with Premier League runners-up Tottenham Hotspur who think highly of his potential, and striker Dominic Solanke, who will be out of contract with Chelsea this summer.

Solanke, who is thought to be on the wishlists of clubs such as Liverpool, RB Leipzig and Celtic, enjoyed a succesful loan spell at Vitesse Arnhem last season where he bagged seven goals in 21 appearances in the Dutch top flight.

- Rich history -

Hosts South Korea are also in Group A, along with Guinea, and coach Shin Tae-Yong has hopes of at least making the quarter-finals.

His main weapon is the "Korean Messi" Lee Seung-Woo who plays for Barcelona and who the hosts hope can emulate 2005 Golden Ball winner (most valuable player)and namesake Lionel.

The under-20 tournament is held every two years and can boast a rich history with many of its top performers going on to global superstardom.

Among them have been Argentina trio Messi, Sergio Aguero (2007) and Maradona (1979), who is one of only 10 players to be part of under-20 and senior World Cup winning sides.

Messi and Manchester City's Aguero also won the "Golden Shoe" awarded to the tournament top scorer while Aguero is the only player to have won the U20 World Cup twice, in 2005 and 2007.

The world's most expensive player, France's Paul Pogba of Manchester United, won the Golden Ball in 2013 when the tournament was held in Turkey.

The former prolific England forward Michael Owen was another who has graced the tournament in the past (scoring three goals in 1997) and said that the under-20s "gave me a great grounding."

"You learn so much at tournaments like these.?

Aside from the major footballing powers among the 24 teams, Vanuatu and Vietnam are making their first appearances.

The final takes place be in Suwon on June 11.

Asian markets tank as Trump crisis threatens economic agenda

Asian equities nosedived Thursday while the dollar suffered fresh selling on fears the intensifying crisis surrounding Donald Trump could lead to his impeachment and shatter any chances of his economy-boosting agenda being implemented.Investors tracked…

Asian equities nosedived Thursday while the dollar suffered fresh selling on fears the intensifying crisis surrounding Donald Trump could lead to his impeachment and shatter any chances of his economy-boosting agenda being implemented.

Investors tracked the heaviest losses in New York since Trump was elected, following claims by recently fired FBI boss James Comey that the president pressed him to drop a probe into ex-national security advisor Michael Flynn's links to Moscow.

That came a day after it was reported Trump had divulged classified information to Russia's foreign minister, fanning further allegations about his own tied to the country's leaders.

While the tycoon says he will be exonerated by a newly appointed special prosecutor who will look into the claims, analysts said the uncertainty is rocking markets globally.

There is a growing fear that Trump's plans for tax cuts, big spending and red-tape slashing -- which had fuelled a global equities and dollar rally his November election win -- will be thrown off course.

"It?s all about president Trump this morning," said Greg McKenna, chief market strategist at AxiTrader, said in a note.

"Impeaching Donald Trump was a pipe dream for the Democrats but extremely unlikely to most other observers until a few days ago," he added. ?As it drags on, it hurts sentiment and recently often threatens the administration's agenda ? especially around tax and infrastructure."

- Fears of collapse -

By the break Tokyo had plunged 1.4 percent, while Hong Kong shed 0.4 percent, Sydney dived 1.3 percent, Seoul was 0.5 percent off and Singapore gave up 0.4 percent. Shanghai lost 0.2 percent, Wellington 0.7 percent and Taipei 0.6 percent.

There were also heavy losses in Manila and Jakarta.

"There is a very high level of uncertainty oozing from the markets but one thing that is crystal clear, investors now believe that at a minimum the rising US political entropy will jeopardise the White House policy agenda, and at the extreme, a Trump impeachment will lead to a flat out market collapse," said OANDA senior trader Stephen Innes.

The uncertainty fanned a flight to safe assets, sending the yen and gold rallying, while the VIX gauge of volatility -- also known as the fear index -- soared 50 percent.

The dollar tumbled as dealers began to reconsider the chances of a Federal Reserve interest rate hike next month, which had been widely expected.

In Asian trade the greenback sank below 111 yen for the first time since the end of April, while the euro -- itself buoyed by easing uncertainty in the EU and a pick-up in eurozone economic fortunes -- continued to levels not seen since Trump's election win.

- Key figures around 0230 GMT -

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: DOWN 1.4 percent at 19,529.70 (break)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: DOWN 0.4 percent at 25,188.09

Shanghai - Composite: DOWN 0.2 percent at 3,097.50

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1166 from $1.1157 at 2100 GMT

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 110.92 yen from 111.96 yen

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.2970 from $1.2967

Oil - West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 19 cents at $48.88 per barrel

Oil - Brent North Sea: DOWN 21 cents at $52.00 per barrel

New York - Dow: DOWN 1.8 percent at 20,606.93 (close)

London - FTSE 100: DOWN 0.3 percent at 7,503.47 (close)

Art community remains divided over Caravaggio found in French attic

An original Caravaggio or a master fake? This is the question that continues to befuddle art historians and experts about a painting discovered in a French attic three years ago.The 400-year-old canvas — depicting the beheading of an Assyrian general,…

An original Caravaggio or a master fake? This is the question that continues to befuddle art historians and experts about a painting discovered in a French attic three years ago.

The 400-year-old canvas -- depicting the beheading of an Assyrian general, Holofernes, by Judith from the biblical Book of Judith -- was found in 2014 when the owners of a house near the southwestern city of Toulouse were investigating a leak in the ceiling.

Discovered in remarkably good condition, the work was painted between 1600 and 1610, specialists believe, and could be worth as much as 120 million euros ($132 million).

But whether the spectacular large-format canvas is the long-lost masterpiece by Italian Renaissance master Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio or the work of Louis Finson, a Flemish painter and disciple of Caravaggio who died in 1617, has the art community divided.

Art historian Giovanni Agosti even resigned in protest over the issue when Milan's Brera Art Gallery, where he was a board member, decided last year to put the painting on display alongside authenticated works by the Renaissance master.

The disputed painting hung next to the authenticated copy of the same scene by Finson from around 1607.

The museum hedged its bets by including an asterisk on its caption attributing the work to Caravaggio but referring viewers to notes on its history in the exhibition catalogue, but that wasn't good enough for Agosti.

Eminent French art expert Eric Turquin -- who has the backing of Caravaggio specialist Nicola Spinosa and has been entrusted with the painting -- believes however that the tableau is the true work of Caravaggio.

It perfectly captures "the energy that radiates from the artwork and the expression on Judith's face," he said.

- Biggest such discovery? -

Turquin, who has kept the painting tucked away in a vault at his offices, pointed to the artist's rendering of the fabrics -- the drapes in the background, the red knot near the left corner. The very creamy texture of the painting is typical of Caravaggio's pictorial style, he said.

Turquin also highlighted the painter's brush strokes -- he did not draw or outline his images in advance -- noting the detailed depiction of Holofernes's short nails which he said is characteristic of Caravaggio's skill.

Regardless of its authenticity, France slapped an export ban on the canvas last April after experts from the Louvre museum in Paris spent three weeks studying it. The ban is in place until November 2018.

If France then wants to keep the painting out of the hands of collectors, the government will have to shell out the suggested going rate of 120 million euros.

The painting should stay on French soil "as a very important Caravaggian landmark, the history and attribution of which are still to be fully investigated," the culture minister said at the time.

If the painting -- which measures 144 cm by 175 cm (57 inches by 69 inches) -- is ever confirmed as an original, it would count as the biggest such discovery since another Caravaggio was discovered in Dublin in the early 1990s.

- 'Painted together' -

Caravaggio may have painted the gruesome scene, which also features a haggard old lady with goiters -- an abnormal enlargement of the thyroid gland -- in Naples while he was on the run from a murder charge in Rome.

His first version of Judith -- where the positions of Judith, in white, and the old lady are reversed -- was painted there around 1598 and now hangs in the National Gallery of Ancient Art in the Italian capital.

A note addressed to the Duke of Mantua a few months after Caravaggio left Naples for Malta mentioned a painting of Judith and Holofernes, with an asking price of 300 ducats, a considerable sum at the time, which could lend further weight to the French painting's authenticity.

The note also cited another Caravaggio painting, "The Madonna of the Rosary," now hanging in Vienna's Museum of Fine Arts.

But Caravaggio's second Judith composition has been missing since 1617, the last time a reference to it was made.

A scientific study conducted in Milan, where Caravaggio scholars gathered for a day-long conference in February, showed that the French Judith and the authentic Finson were painted using the same techniques, with the same fabrics on canvas and exhibited the same subtle changes to the original idea, visible by x-ray.

These features "can be explained only if the works were painted together, side by side in the same studio" by two different painters, said a summary of the study.

The report concluded that the French Judith was indeed an original, not a fake, but the burning question still remains -- was it painted by Caravaggio?

Philippines rejects European grants: EU

The Philippines will no longer accept grants from the European Union, the EU delegation to Manila said Thursday, following repeated tirades from President Rodrigo Duterte over its criticism of his deadly drug war. “The Philippine government has informe…

The Philippines will no longer accept grants from the European Union, the EU delegation to Manila said Thursday, following repeated tirades from President Rodrigo Duterte over its criticism of his deadly drug war.

"The Philippine government has informed us that they (will) no longer accept new EU grants," the delegation said in a brief statement.

The decision will affect grants worth 250 million euros ($278 million), according to Franz Jessen, the EU's ambassador to Manila.

Philippine government officials did not immediately comment, with the finance department saying a statement would be issued later on Thursday.

Duterte, 72, has repeatedly criticised European lawmakers and the EU for condemning his drug war, which has claimed thousands of lives and led to warnings from critics of a crime against humanity.

In comments last year, he used vulgar language and raised his middle finger in a response to a European parliament statement expressing concern over the killings.

The German government also expressed concern after Duterte last year drew parallels between his drug war and Nazi Germany leader Adolf Hitler's Holocaust.

"Hitler massacred three million Jews. Now there are three million drug addicts (in the Philippines). I'd be happy to slaughter them," Duterte said, underestimating the number of people killed in the Holocaust.

Duterte later apologised for the Hitler reference but said he was "emphatic" about wanting to kill addicts.

Duterte easily won presidential elections last year after promising to end crime by killing tens of thousands of drug traffickers and addicts.

Police have reported killing about 2,700 people since Duterte took office at the end of June and immediately launched his war on drugs.

Unknown assailants have killed more than 1,800 others, while about 5,700 other violent deaths are under investigation, according to police data.

Partly in response to American criticism of the drug war, Duterte has also loosened the Philippines' ties with traditional ally the United States.

He has instead embraced China, which has supported his drug war and sought to deepen economic ties by providing billions of dollars worth of investments and aid to the Philippines.

Duterte, a self-described socialist, has also forged warmer relations with Russia, and will travel to Moscow next week to meet President Vladimir Putin.

US firm sparks bidding war for Australia’s Fairfax Media

American investment firm Hellman & Friedman has kicked off a bidding war for Australia’s Fairfax Media by making a multi-billion-dollar offer to rival private equity company TPG Capital’s proposal, the publishing giant said Thursday.

Hellman & Friedman — former owners of US multimedia company Getty Images and German publisher Axel Springer — made an offer to acquire Fairfax at Aus$1.225-Aus$1.250 (91-93 US cents) a share late Wednesday, the Australian firm said.

The offer is higher than TPG’s revised bid of Aus$1.20 made on Monday, and values the publisher at Aus$2.82-Aus$2.87 billion.

Both bids are for the entire firm, which includes mastheads The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Australian Financial Review, the lucrative property advertising Domain Group and its events and digital business units.

“We have carefully considered the indicative proposals and believe it is in the best interests of shareholders to grant both parties due diligence to explore whether a potential whole of company proposal is available,” Fairfax chairman Nick Falloon said in a statement.

The offers are subject to due diligence, shareholder and regulatory approvals in Australia and New Zealand.

Fairfax shares were 6.47 percent higher at Aus$1.24 at mid-day trade.

Like its global peers, Fairfax has struggled with slumping revenues and in February said it was looking to spin off Domain as a separate entity while retaining up to 70 percent of its shares.

Hellman & Friedman’s chairman emeritus Brian Powers previously headed up John Fairfax Holdings Limited — Fairfax’s previous name — and billionaire James Packer’s Consolidated Press Holdings Limited and Publishing and Broadcasting Limited.

TPG’s first bid to buy out part of Fairfax came in early May just days after journalists from some of its publications walked off the job for a week in protest over hefty job cuts.

The group is the main national rival to News Corp Australia, Rupert Murdoch’s Australian empire, which is also suffering from falling revenues.

Fairfax in February reported a six percent rise in half-year net profit to Aus$84.7 million amid cost-cutting and a strong showing by Domain.

American investment firm Hellman & Friedman has kicked off a bidding war for Australia's Fairfax Media by making a multi-billion-dollar offer to rival private equity company TPG Capital's proposal, the publishing giant said Thursday.

Hellman & Friedman -- former owners of US multimedia company Getty Images and German publisher Axel Springer -- made an offer to acquire Fairfax at Aus$1.225-Aus$1.250 (91-93 US cents) a share late Wednesday, the Australian firm said.

The offer is higher than TPG's revised bid of Aus$1.20 made on Monday, and values the publisher at Aus$2.82-Aus$2.87 billion.

Both bids are for the entire firm, which includes mastheads The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Australian Financial Review, the lucrative property advertising Domain Group and its events and digital business units.

"We have carefully considered the indicative proposals and believe it is in the best interests of shareholders to grant both parties due diligence to explore whether a potential whole of company proposal is available," Fairfax chairman Nick Falloon said in a statement.

The offers are subject to due diligence, shareholder and regulatory approvals in Australia and New Zealand.

Fairfax shares were 6.47 percent higher at Aus$1.24 at mid-day trade.

Like its global peers, Fairfax has struggled with slumping revenues and in February said it was looking to spin off Domain as a separate entity while retaining up to 70 percent of its shares.

Hellman & Friedman's chairman emeritus Brian Powers previously headed up John Fairfax Holdings Limited -- Fairfax's previous name -- and billionaire James Packer's Consolidated Press Holdings Limited and Publishing and Broadcasting Limited.

TPG's first bid to buy out part of Fairfax came in early May just days after journalists from some of its publications walked off the job for a week in protest over hefty job cuts.

The group is the main national rival to News Corp Australia, Rupert Murdoch's Australian empire, which is also suffering from falling revenues.

Fairfax in February reported a six percent rise in half-year net profit to Aus$84.7 million amid cost-cutting and a strong showing by Domain.

UN court to rule on Indian ‘spy’ facing execution

The UN’s top court was to rule Thursday on an urgent bid by India to stop Pakistan from carrying out a death sentence imposed on an Indian national convicted of spying.In an emergency hearing on Monday held only days after India lodged its case, lawyer…

The UN's top court was to rule Thursday on an urgent bid by India to stop Pakistan from carrying out a death sentence imposed on an Indian national convicted of spying.

In an emergency hearing on Monday held only days after India lodged its case, lawyers for New Delhi called on the International Court of Justice to order Islamabad to suspend its execution of Kulbhushan Sudhir Jadhav.

Jadhav was arrested in the southwestern province of Balochistan in March 2016 and Pakistani officials claim he has confessed to spying for Indian intelligence services. He was convicted last month by a court martial and sentenced to death.

The UN tribunal, based in The Hague, said in a statement issued Wednesday that it "will deliver its order on the request for the indication of provisional measures made by India in the Jadhav Case (India v. Pakistan), tomorrow on Thursday 18 May 2017".

The president of the court, Ronny Abraham, will read out the decision at midday (1000 GMT).

The case -- a rare foray for the two nations into the international courts -- has highlighted the recent sharp upsurge in tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals.

India has denied Jadhav was a spy, and on Monday accused Pakistan of "egregious violations of the Vienna convention" by denying him access to legal counsel and consular visits, and refusing to reveal the charge sheet against him.

It wants the ICJ to decide whether Pakistan has broken the convention and international human rights law.

But in the meantime as the court considers whether to take up India's case, New Delhi asked the tribunal to order a stay of execution until the end of the legal battle.

Jadhav was "an innocent Indian national, who, incarcerated in Pakistan for more than a year on concocted charges ... has been held incommunicado... and faces imminent execution," Indian lawyer Deepak Mittal told the tribunal Monday.

But Pakistani representatives accused New Delhi of "political grandstanding" and told the court Jadhav "has confessed to having been sent by India to wage terror on the innocent civilians and infrastructure of Pakistan".

Lawyer Khawar Qureshi denied the execution was imminent, though he did not give a timeframe.

The ICJ was set up in 1945 to rule on disputes between nations in accordance with international law.

The last time India and Pakistan took a dispute to the ICJ was in 1999 when Islamabad protested against the downing of a Pakistani navy plane that killed 16 people.

In that case, the tribunal decided it was not competent to rule in the dispute and closed the case.

India and Pakistan routinely accuse one another of sending spies into their countries, and it is not uncommon for either nation to expel diplomats accused of espionage, particularly at times of high tension. But death sentences have rarely been issued in recent years.

Embattled Australian Rugby Union defends Super cull handling

Australia’s beleaguered rugby chiefs insist they have not botched their efforts to reduce the country’s Super Rugby presence despite players calling the saga a “fiasco”.The Rugby Union Players Association (RUPA) on Wednesday unanimously backed a Victor…

Australia's beleaguered rugby chiefs insist they have not botched their efforts to reduce the country's Super Rugby presence despite players calling the saga a "fiasco".

The Rugby Union Players Association (RUPA) on Wednesday unanimously backed a Victorian Rugby Union call for an emergency meeting of the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) voting members to examine the governing body's processes as the sport agonises over which team to axe from next year's competition.

The RUPA board, which includes Wallabies captain Stephen Moore and fellow Test stars Bernard Foley, James Slipper and Scott Sio, have blasted the ARU for a lack of transparency and consultation "in this ongoing fiasco".

It follows the ARU announcing in April that either the Western Force or Melbourne Rebels would be cut from the southern hemisphere competition along with two South African teams in 2018.

ARU chairman Cameron Clyne, who has agreed to the meeting, denied the culling process had been botched.

"Nothing could be more incorrect," he told The Australian newspaper Thursday

"We haven't botched the process ... we have been very clear about how the process is being run but a lot of that has got lost.

"There is no floundering. We are responding to people who are desperate to stay in the competition."

RUPA vehemently opposes any reduction to the number of Australian teams, presenting various models to the ARU for consideration by Super Rugby's governing body SANZAAR which support the retention of all five franchises.

Clyne said the ARU did not have a fallback plan.

"We are just focusing on working towards our stated position of having four (Australian) teams," he said.

RUPA chief executive Ross Xenos believes the threatened Rebels could potentially be bought by the ARU for up to Aus$10 million (US$7.4 million) and then shut down.

"The most consistent narrative we hear from the ARU is about the financial challenges the game faces and how tough times are," Xenos told the newspaper.

"Axing an Australian team and disenfranchising a rugby community was justified five weeks ago by the ARU on financial savings.

"Now, Aus$6-$10 million promised to be invested into the game, including at grassroots level, could be burned so that the ARU can cull a team and save face around the SANZAAR table."

Twombly, Bacon top Christie’s $448mn auction in NY

A largely abstract Cy Twombly sold for $52.89 million at Christie’s flagship post-war and contemporary art auction in New York on Wednesday, narrowly eclipsing a Francis Bacon triptych of his lover.The auction house said the evening sale netted a total…

A largely abstract Cy Twombly sold for $52.89 million at Christie's flagship post-war and contemporary art auction in New York on Wednesday, narrowly eclipsing a Francis Bacon triptych of his lover.

The auction house said the evening sale netted a total of $448 million in a week when Christie's and Sotheby's are chasing combined sales of at least $1.1 billion in auctioning off hundreds of pieces of art.

Twombly's "Leda and the Swan," in oil, lead pencil and wax crayon on canvas was produced after the US artist had established himself in Rome and left behind the New York art world.

The subject of a retrospective in Paris last year and the strong price -- narrowly beating the Bacon -- underscores an artist becoming an increasing commercial force despite being far from a household name.

Sotheby's set the Twombly auction record at $70.5 million in 2015.

Bacon's "Three Studies of George Dyer" scraped past its $50 million estimate after attracting a paucity of bids, closing at a hammer price of $46 million, which rose to $51.77 million with the buyer's premium.

Once owned by author Roald Dahl, the 1963 triptych was the British artist's first portrait of his long-time muse and lover, a handsome petty thief from London's East End.

It has been shown at the Tate Britain and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Otherwise Christie's said Jean-Michel Basquiat's "La Hara" -- a 1981 acrylic and oil-stick of an angry-looking New York police officer -- sold for $35 million shooting past its $22-28 million estimate.

Rising sales are catapulting the US wonderkid of Haitian and Puerto Rican descent, who died at 27, into the rostrum of 20th century greats.

The subject of much of his work -- ordeals endured by blacks in America -- is finding renewed resonance in the wake of nationwide US protests since 2014 about the shootings of unarmed black men by police.

A 1982 giant "Untitled" Basquiat is the top lot of the week in New York, valued at more than $60 million which Sotheby's hopes will smash the artist's $57 million record at auction on Thursday.

Christie's post-war and contemporary sales comes after a lackluster Sotheby's sale of $173.8 million in impressionist and modern art on Tuesday. The auction house dramatically withdrew from sale its star lot, an early Schiele masterpiece valued at $30-40 million.

Japan’s economy posts longest expansion in a decade

Japan has posted its longest economic expansion in over a decade, government data showed Thursday, chalking up a win for Tokyo’s growth bid even though the battle to conquer deflation is still far from won.The world’s number three economy grew 0.5 perc…

Japan has posted its longest economic expansion in over a decade, government data showed Thursday, chalking up a win for Tokyo's growth bid even though the battle to conquer deflation is still far from won.

The world's number three economy grew 0.5 percent in the first three months of 2017, its fifth straight winning quarter, up from a 0.3 percent rise in the last quarter of 2016, the Cabinet Office said.

Japan's prospects have been improving on the back of strong exports, with investments linked to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics also giving growth a boost. The labour market is tight and business confidence is high.

But consumer spending remains tepid and efforts to lift inflation have largely fallen flat despite years of monetary easing by the central bank. Individual spending accounts for more than a half of Japan's GDP.

Private consumption picked up a modest 0.4 percent in the first quarter from the preceding three months' zero growth.

The latest reading nonetheless means Japan's economy has had its best string of gains since 2006, during the tenure of popular former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi.

The figures are good news for the current prime minister Shinzo Abe -- whose brief and underwhelming first term as Japan's premier came directly after Koizumi.

A string of short-term leaders followed before Abe swept back to power in late 2012 on a pledge to reignite Japan's once-booming economy with a plan dubbed Abenomics.

The scheme -- a mix of huge monetary easing, government spending and reforms to the economy -- stoked a stock market rally and fattened corporate profits.

The Bank of Japan (BoJ), aiming to create two-percent inflation as a key part the growth bid, now expects to reach that goal by 2019 -- four years later than planned.

Still, the central bank and International Monetary Fund both recently lifted their projections for growth.

- 'Wages stagnating' -

A weak yen has helped prop up the economy as it makes Japanese exports more competitive and inflates profits when overseas income is repatriated.

An improving global outlook with strong demand for Japanese smartphone parts, memory chips and construction machinery has also been a tailwind, analysts said.

"With growing external demand set to continue, we believe there will be the need for many companies to replace machinery and equipment," Katsunori Kitakura, lead strategist at asset manager Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Group.

"The crucial question is how far capital expenditure will be increased in the meantime," he said in a commentary released ahead of the GDP data.

Cash-rich firms have also been stingy with pay hikes, which hurts spending and acts like an anchor on the economy.

In March, some of Japan's top companies, including Toyota and Hitachi, announced their lowest wage hikes in years.

"Wages are still stagnating, despite sharp falls in unemployment," research house Capital Economics said in a commentary.

"This seems to be because aggressive monetary easing has failed to lift expectations of future price rises among households and firms.

"Unless this changes, the chances of inflation settling at two percent or higher are slim," it added.

Despite healthy profits, many Japanese firms remain cautious about the world economy, partly due to worries that US President Donald Trump's protectionist leanings could hurt exports.

Japan has been struggling to conquer years of deflation and slow growth that followed the bursting of an equity and property market bubble in the nineties.

Falling prices can discourage spending by consumers, who might postpone purchases until prices drop more or they might save money instead.

That puts pressure on businesses, creating a cycle in which firms then cut back on expanding production, hiring new workers or boosting wages.

Brazil’s Temer recorded agreeing corruption case hush money: report

Brazil’s President Michel Temer was secretly recorded discussing payments of hush money to a former speaker of the house currently in prison for corruption, O Globo newspaper reported Wednesday.Temer immediately denied the report.According to the repor…

Brazil's President Michel Temer was secretly recorded discussing payments of hush money to a former speaker of the house currently in prison for corruption, O Globo newspaper reported Wednesday.

Temer immediately denied the report.

According to the report, which could not be immediately verified, an executive from the meatpacking giant JBS, Joesley Batista, met with Temer on March 7.

During the meeting, the report said, Batista recorded himself telling Temer that he was paying money to disgraced ex-speaker of the lower house Eduardo Cunha to buy his silence. Cunha has been found guilty of taking millions of dollars in bribes in Brazil's giant Petrobras oil company embezzlement scandal.

According to the account, Temer told Batista: "You need to keep doing that."

Temer's office issued a statement saying: "President Michel Temer never solicited payments to obtain the silence of former deputy Eduardo Cunha."

Globo did not say how it got the information, which it said came from a plea bargain between Batista and his brother Wesley with prosecutors.

The report immediately sparked calls from leftist opponents of Temer for his impeachment.

Temer took over last year after the impeachment of president Dilma Rousseff, a political earthquake to a large extent engineered by the then-powerful Cunha.

Swallowable balloons work to curb obesity: study

Weight-loss balloons swallowed rather than surgically inserted in the stomach were shown to be safe and effective in preliminary trials, according to findings unveiled Thursday at a medical conference.So-called intragastric balloons have been used for …

Weight-loss balloons swallowed rather than surgically inserted in the stomach were shown to be safe and effective in preliminary trials, according to findings unveiled Thursday at a medical conference.

So-called intragastric balloons have been used for decades to help obese patients shed unwanted kilos. Inflated with water, the devices curb hunger and make it easier to diet by inducing a feeling if fullness.

Up to now, however, they could only be implanted in the stomach surgically, a costly procedure requiring general anaesthesia or sedation.

In a small trial led by Roberta Ienca, a researcher in experimental medicine at Sapienza University in Rome, 42 obese patients -- 29 men and 13 women -- were fitted with balloons that were swallowed before being inflated with liquid.

"A catheter is attached to the balloon, which is folded into a capsule," Ienca explained to AFP.

A doctor fills the balloon via the tiny tube, which is then removed via the mouth with a tug. "This process takes just a few seconds," she added.

The body-mass index (BMI) of the volunteers varied between 30 and 45. The threshold for obesity is a BMI -- one's weight in kilos divided by one's height (in centimetres) squared -- of 30.

The balloons remained in the stomach for 16 weeks, during which time patients were put on a low-carb, low-calorie diet.

At the end of that time, an internal release valve automatically opens and drains the balloon, which is then excreted.

On average, volunteers shed more than 15 kilos (33 pounds), which amounted to 31 percent of excess weight.

No serious side effects were reported.

- Seeking FDA approval -

After the trial, patients were transitioned to a Mediterranean diet, heavy on vegetables and olive oil, and light on protein and starch.

The new technique "appears to be a safe and effective weight-loss method," Ienca commented in a statement.

Because the swallowable balloon "does not require endoscopy, surgery or anaesthesia, this may make it suitable for a larger population of obese patients not responding to diet or lifestyle treatment."

It could also lead to significant cost savings, she added.

"In itself, gastric balloons are not a long-term solution for weight loss," Simon Cork, a researcher in investigative medicine at Imperial College London who was not involved in the study, commented after reviewing the results.

"Nevertheless, gastric balloons are still useful for some patients, and the introduction of a device which doesn't require surgery to implant is a positive step forward."

Developed by US-based Allurion Technologies, the system is already marketed in Europe in France, Italy, Spain, Belgium and Greece. It is also available is Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

The company intends to begin the FDA approval process in the United States soon, Ienca said.

The findings were presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Porto, Portugal, which runs through May 20.

Money pit traps are harsh lesson for future football stars

When even international stars like former England goalkeeper David James are declared bankrupt it should make young footballers, suddenly flush with mind-boggling riches, sit up and take notice of the perils that lie ahead.

James, who won 53 caps for England and lifted the 2008 FA Cup with Portsmouth earning an estimated £20million (23.2m euros, $26m) during his career, is an example Peter Fairchild of London city firm Smith&Williamson likes to use.

He and his colleagues make presentations to young players about planning for their finances for the day they retire.

Fairchild told AFP that the clubs, beginning with Liverpool in 2012, had warmed to their ideas.

“We (the clubs said) want to grab their attention and shock the boys,” said Fairchild after AFP was given rare access to a session with second-tier side Queens Park Rangers at their training ground west of London.

“So for once they have to get off their mobile phones and social media and take note of what people are saying because there is a long term benefit for their lives and it affects them.

“‘Use some real life case studies’, they told us.

“Quite often the guys have their heroes on the screen and when they see them they go: ‘They are bankrupt? They can’t be’.

“To which I reply it is the case and please, please take heed. Don’t fall into the traps they did and seek advice so you get it right from the start.”

According to XPro, which helps players plan for their lives after they hang up their boots, two in five footballers go bankrupt within five years of retirement.

“It is a great shock when you see the big names like David James,” Under-23 central defender Alex Finney told AFP.

“I mean they were the top 1 percent of people who made it in football, it is a scary thought that people like them can have nothing at the end of it.

“It is an eye-opener for the boys in that it warns you be ready for what life can hold for you.”

– ‘Wrong advice, wrong people’ –

Fairchild says the presentations are free.

“In dealing with experienced clients and established players we found too often despite their sizeable earnings their financial affairs were not in the apple pie order you necessarily might think.

“When we dug under the surface we found a whole host of reasons: Wrong advice, wrong people involved with the wrong motivation for dealing with players.”

Finney, whose path took him from Leyton Orient to Bolton and then QPR with whom he has agreed a new one year contract, concurs.

“I am quite an open minded person and I understand everyone wants to make money off the back of others and not a lot of people want to make it off themselves,” said Finney, whose mother is an accountant and looks after his tax affairs.

“People have tried to approach me. I know people who have been approached by a ‘salesman’ with a great pitch and lost money. You have to have your eyes open the whole time.”

Fairchild can recite any number of horror stories from the sport, although they are not all doom and gloom.

There was a member of Manchester United’s treble winning squad in 1999 who lost a fortune through gambling and not paying taxes — he excuses it by saying he was the pauper of the squad at £60,000 ($78,000, 70,000 euros) a week.

On the other side, there is a recently-retired former England international who during his playing career built up an impressive property portfolio.

For Finney it is crucial to have someone reliable, with the expertise to manage whatever assets he might earn in the future.

“I asked the investment management expert (Michael Saunders) what his background was — not out of a lack of respect — because I don?t want to trust someone with my money if they don?t have a background in managing other people?s money and lack the understanding of the service I want.”

However, this (session) was useful as they are a third party, an independent voice neither involved in the football side or the politics.”

When even international stars like former England goalkeeper David James are declared bankrupt it should make young footballers, suddenly flush with mind-boggling riches, sit up and take notice of the perils that lie ahead.

James, who won 53 caps for England and lifted the 2008 FA Cup with Portsmouth earning an estimated £20million (23.2m euros, $26m) during his career, is an example Peter Fairchild of London city firm Smith&Williamson likes to use.

He and his colleagues make presentations to young players about planning for their finances for the day they retire.

Fairchild told AFP that the clubs, beginning with Liverpool in 2012, had warmed to their ideas.

"We (the clubs said) want to grab their attention and shock the boys," said Fairchild after AFP was given rare access to a session with second-tier side Queens Park Rangers at their training ground west of London.

"So for once they have to get off their mobile phones and social media and take note of what people are saying because there is a long term benefit for their lives and it affects them.

"'Use some real life case studies', they told us.

"Quite often the guys have their heroes on the screen and when they see them they go: 'They are bankrupt? They can't be'.

"To which I reply it is the case and please, please take heed. Don't fall into the traps they did and seek advice so you get it right from the start."

According to XPro, which helps players plan for their lives after they hang up their boots, two in five footballers go bankrupt within five years of retirement.

"It is a great shock when you see the big names like David James," Under-23 central defender Alex Finney told AFP.

"I mean they were the top 1 percent of people who made it in football, it is a scary thought that people like them can have nothing at the end of it.

"It is an eye-opener for the boys in that it warns you be ready for what life can hold for you."

- 'Wrong advice, wrong people' -

Fairchild says the presentations are free.

"In dealing with experienced clients and established players we found too often despite their sizeable earnings their financial affairs were not in the apple pie order you necessarily might think.

"When we dug under the surface we found a whole host of reasons: Wrong advice, wrong people involved with the wrong motivation for dealing with players."

Finney, whose path took him from Leyton Orient to Bolton and then QPR with whom he has agreed a new one year contract, concurs.

"I am quite an open minded person and I understand everyone wants to make money off the back of others and not a lot of people want to make it off themselves," said Finney, whose mother is an accountant and looks after his tax affairs.

"People have tried to approach me. I know people who have been approached by a 'salesman' with a great pitch and lost money. You have to have your eyes open the whole time."

Fairchild can recite any number of horror stories from the sport, although they are not all doom and gloom.

There was a member of Manchester United's treble winning squad in 1999 who lost a fortune through gambling and not paying taxes -- he excuses it by saying he was the pauper of the squad at £60,000 ($78,000, 70,000 euros) a week.

On the other side, there is a recently-retired former England international who during his playing career built up an impressive property portfolio.

For Finney it is crucial to have someone reliable, with the expertise to manage whatever assets he might earn in the future.

"I asked the investment management expert (Michael Saunders) what his background was -- not out of a lack of respect -- because I don?t want to trust someone with my money if they don?t have a background in managing other people?s money and lack the understanding of the service I want."

However, this (session) was useful as they are a third party, an independent voice neither involved in the football side or the politics."

Hollywood honors ‘Alien’ filmmaker Ridley Scott

“Alien” creator Ridley Scott said he hoped to make movie-goers ponder life’s bigger questions through his latest contribution to the “Alien” sci-fi blockbuster franchise — but also to scare them senseless.The veteran British director, who made the gro…

"Alien" creator Ridley Scott said he hoped to make movie-goers ponder life's bigger questions through his latest contribution to the "Alien" sci-fi blockbuster franchise -- but also to scare them senseless.

The veteran British director, who made the groundbreaking original movie in the long-running action horror series in 1979, is readying to release the sixth film, "Alien Covenant," in the United States on Friday.

"It's (about) origin of the species, and have we failed or have we not failed? And are we going to correct ourselves? Sounds highbrow, doesn't it? But this thing will still scare the shit out of them," he told AFP, summing up the movie.

The 79-year-old director offered his thoughts on his latest project and filmmaking in general ahead of becoming the 304th star to sink his handprints and footprints into cement at the TCL Chinese Theatre, a tradition for Hollywood's creme de la creme.

Scott chose the occasion to rail against the California tax system, which he said was not encouraging filmmakers who have left over the years to return to Hollywood.

Nine projects -- including Fox series "Scream Queens" and "American Horror Story" -- were allocated a total of $37.6 million in tax breaks last year as part of an expanded scheme designed to attract studios back.

But Scott told AFP it was "a pity" that California couldn't stretch to the kind of rebates that have been successful back home in Britain.

Scott's directing credits over a genre-straddling career spanning more than 50 years have included acclaimed works such as "Thelma and Louise" (1991), "Gladiator" (2000) and the Golden Globe winning "The Martian" (2015).

- 'Holy Grail' -

The filmmaker said he considered the handprint honor "a Holy Grail," recalling his first visit to the Chinese Theatre, which turns 90 on Thursday.

"I used to walk up and down here. Hollywood Boulevard was perfumed, very clean and very pretty in those days," he said. "It's getting better now but it did take a downturn. It's climbing out of that right now, and it should."

"I would look at the names every morning. I used to eat breakfast just around the corner -- two little old ladies with blue hair, great food -- and I'd walk past and look at the names."

The director -- who was also the brains behind "Blade Runner" in 1982 and is executive producing the sequel "Blade Runner 2049," due for release on October 6 -- says "Alien: Covenant" has a religious subtext, although he is agnostic.

Harrison Ford -- who starred in the original "Blade Runner" and is in the sequel -- introduced Scott in front of hundreds of wellwishers as "Alien: Covenant" stars Katherine Waterson, Danny McBride and Nathaniel Dean looked on.

"I come to praise Ridley, not to bury him," Ford joked.

Scott poked fun at Ford, calling the actor "a flipping nightmare" to work with, before telling the crowd he was "still learning and still curious."

"I don't feel I've ever worked a day in my life. I think to me it's one big holiday. I just adore it," he said.

"Alien: Covenant" the second of the prequel films, is set in 2104 on board a spaceship carrying 2,000 cryogenically frozen colonists to a distant planet when they chance upon an uncharted paradise.

But their voyage soon turns into a gory nightmare that makes "Alien"'s original "chestbuster" scene seem tame in comparison.

Certain nuts may help ward off return of colon cancer: study

Eating certain kinds of tree nuts, such as almonds, pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts and cashews, has been linked to a dramatically lower risk of colon cancer recurrence, researchers said Wednesday.The observational study involved 826 patients who had underg…

Eating certain kinds of tree nuts, such as almonds, pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts and cashews, has been linked to a dramatically lower risk of colon cancer recurrence, researchers said Wednesday.

The observational study involved 826 patients who had undergone treatment for stage III colon cancer, typically including surgery and chemotherapy.

Such patients -- whose cancer has not spread elsewhere in the body -- have a 70 percent chance of surviving three years after treatment.

Some 19 percent of patients consumed two or more ounces of all types of nuts per week.

These nut-eaters saw a 42 percent lower chance of cancer recurrence -- and a 57 percent lower chance of death than patients who did not eat nuts after completion of their cancer treatment, said the report, released ahead of the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting, held in Chicago next month.

When researchers looked only at tree nut consumption, the chance of recurrence was 46 percent lower and the chance of death was 53 percent lower for those who ate at least two ounces per week, compared to people who did not eat nuts.

Peanuts and peanut butter -- the most commonly consumed nuts in the United States -- did not appear to have any significant effect.

"Numerous studies in the fields of heart disease and diabetes have shown the benefits of nut consumption, and we felt that it was important to determine if these benefits could also apply to colorectal cancer patients," said lead study author Temidayo Fadelu, a clinical fellow in medicine at Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

"Patients with advanced disease who benefit from chemotherapy frequently ask what else they can do to reduce their chances of recurrence or death, and our study is an important contribution to the idea that modifying diet and physical activity can be beneficial."

Eating nuts should not be considered a substitute for standard chemotherapy and other treatments for colon cancer, experts said.

"Rather, patients with colon cancer should be optimistic, and they should eat a healthy diet, including tree nuts, which may not only keep them healthier, but may also further decrease the chances of the cancer coming back," said ASCO president Daniel Hayes.

Researchers cautioned that the study was observational in nature and did not prove cause and effect.

A separate study discussed Wednesday ahead of the Chicago cancer conference involved 992 people whose colon cancer had not spread. It showed that following a Mediterranean diet and exercising reduced their risk of dying prematurely by 42 percent and also cut their chances of seeing their colon cancer return.

Japan economy expands for fifth straight quarter: govt

Japan’s economy grew 0.5 percent in the first three months of 2017, its fifth straight winning quarter and the longest expansion in more than a decade, government data showed on Thursday. Robust exports boosted gross domestic product, up from a 0.3 per…

Japan's economy grew 0.5 percent in the first three months of 2017, its fifth straight winning quarter and the longest expansion in more than a decade, government data showed on Thursday.

Robust exports boosted gross domestic product, up from a 0.3 percent increase in the last quarter of 2016, the Cabinet Office said.

The latest reading matched market expectations.

The world's number three economy has been picking up steam on the back of strong exports, with investments linked to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics also giving growth a boost. The labour market is tight and business confidence is high.

But consumer spending remains tepid and efforts to conquer on-off deflation have largely fallen flat despite years of monetary easing by the central bank. Individual spending accounts for more than a half of Japan's GDP.

Private consumption picked up 0.4 percent from the preceding quarter after zero growth and the same 0.4 percent rise in the two preceding quarters.

The latest reading nonetheless means Japan's economy has had its best string of gains since 2006, during the tenure of popular former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi.

The figures are good news for the current prime minister Shinzo Abe -- whose brief and underwhelming first term as Japan's premier came directly after Koizumi.

A string of short-term leaders followed before Abe swept back to power in late 2012 on a pledge to reignite Japan's once-booming economy with a plan dubbed Abenomics.

The scheme -- a mix of huge monetary easing, government spending and reforms to the economy -- stoked a stock market rally and fattened corporate profits.

But critics have been increasingly doubtful about the plan's success in cementing a lasting recovery, as heavily-indebted Japan grapples with low birthrates and a shrinking labour force.

The Bank of Japan, aiming to create two-percent inflation as a key part the growth bid, now expects to reach that goal by 2019 -- four years later than planned.

Still, the central bank and International Monetary Fund both recently lifted their projections for growth.

A weak yen has helped prop up the economy as it makes Japanese exports more competitive and inflates profits when overseas income is repatriated.

An improving global outlook with strong demand for Japanese smartphone parts, memory chips and construction machinery has also been a tailwind, analysts said.

Colombia shipyard blasts kill six: officials

Explosions at a shipyard in Colombia killed at least six people, including one on the premises of a US company, and injured 23 others on Wednesday, officials said.The blasts struck at the shipyard in the Caribbean port of Cartagena, where police were “…

Explosions at a shipyard in Colombia killed at least six people, including one on the premises of a US company, and injured 23 others on Wednesday, officials said.

The blasts struck at the shipyard in the Caribbean port of Cartagena, where police were "investigating whether it was an accident or an attack," a source in the force told AFP.

"There were three explosions, two of them at the same spot," a spokeswoman for the local fire service said.

She said two of the blasts struck US shipbuilder Astivik. The third rocked the premises of Colombian naval corporation Cotecmar.

Authorities did not immediately clarify how many died at each site.

Firefighters put out blazes caused by the explosions, the spokeswoman told AFP.

The shipyards lie in an industrial zone some 15 kilometers (nine miles) from the tourist center of Cartagena.

Cotecmar's president Jorge Enrique Carreno told reporters one of the blasts was in a tanker vessel that was undergoing maintenance.

Officials speculated that the blast may have been caused by the ignition of gas inside vessels in the shipyard.

Berchelt faces Miura in super feather title twin bill

World super featherweight boxing champions Miguel Berchelt and Jezreel Corrales will defend their crowns in a July 15 fight card offering Japan’s Takashi Miura a chance to regain his crown.Mexico’s Berchelt, 31-1 with 28 knockouts, will defend the Worl…

World super featherweight boxing champions Miguel Berchelt and Jezreel Corrales will defend their crowns in a July 15 fight card offering Japan's Takashi Miura a chance to regain his crown.

Mexico's Berchelt, 31-1 with 28 knockouts, will defend the World Boxing Council title against mandatory challenger Miura, 31-3 with two drawn and 24 knockouts.

And unbeaten Panamanian southpaw Corrales, 21-0 with eight knockouts, defends his World Boxing Association title in his US debut against Mexico's Robinson Castellanos, 24-12 with 14 knockouts, at the Los Angeles Forum.

Miura, stopped by Francisco Vargas in November 2015 to surrender the WBC crown, comes off a January knockout of Mexico's Miguel Roman on the undercard of the bout in which Berchelt stopped Vargas in the 11th round to lift the title.

"I took on this challenge because I only want to fight the best," Berchelt said. "Miura is a true warrior and always leaves it all in the ring, but I am young and hungry and am confident I'll return to Mexico with the world championship belt still around my waist."

Berchelt, on a 10-fight knockout streak since suffering the only loss of his career three years ago, offers Miura the chance to reclaim the crown he held for more than 2 1/2 years.

"I have wanted to regain my championship belt from the moment I lost it in November of 2015," Miura said. "I know Berchelt is strong and I know that we'll go head to head for this world championship title. That will prove to be a great fight."

Corrales, 25, has won 20 fights in a row over the past seven years. He claimed the WBA crown by knocking out Japan's Takashi Uchiyama in Tokyo in April of last year and defended the title with a split-decision win in a rematch at Tokyo last December.

"I'm excited to make my US debut and defend my world title," Corrales said.

Castellanos, 35, earned his first world title chance after an upset with earlier this month of two-time world champion Yuriorkis Gamboa.

"This is the biggest fight of my career, and I am not going to let the opportunity slip away," Castellanos said.

Russia probe’s Robert Mueller: a lawman’s lawman

Robert Mueller, named Wednesday to take over the US probe into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election, has a reputation as a tough lawman who once even stood up to a president.Mueller, a Vietnam war vet who served as director of the FBI from 200…

Robert Mueller, named Wednesday to take over the US probe into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election, has a reputation as a tough lawman who once even stood up to a president.

Mueller, a Vietnam war vet who served as director of the FBI from 2001 to 2013, is described as enjoying seamless respect from Democrats and Republicans alike as he undertakes a high-stakes mission which could determine the fate of Donald Trump's presidency.

"Mueller is a great selection. Impeccable credentials. Should be widely accepted," tweeted Jason Chaffetz, the Republican chairman of the House Government Oversight Committee.

The New York-born Mueller boasts "determination and independence of mind," added Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, one of Trump's loudest critics.

"I think that Bob Mueller is the kind of prosecutor and investigator we need here," Blumenthal added.

Trump's opponents are suggesting the president may have committed obstruction of justice -- an impeachable offense -- by allegedly asking FBI director James Comey in February to drop an investigation related to the Russia probe before sacking him last week.

Mueller, 72, is known for a no-nonsense management style developed during a tenure that began with him firmly in the hot seat: he took up the FBI post just a week before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

Much of his work then centered on saving and reforming the Federal Bureau of Investigation amid calls for its dismantling after the agency missed clues that pointed to a massive attack against America being in the making.

Under Mueller, the FBI was rebooted into an agency with the new task of countering terror threats, and became a key part of the American national security apparatus.

- Showdown with a president -

One of Mueller's many accomplishments was the foiling of an Al-Qaeda attack on a commercial airliner bound for Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.

Mueller proved his mettle famously in a dramatic 2004 showdown in which he threatened to resign rather than go along with reauthorization of a post-9/11 domestic spying program under then president George W. Bush.

The Justice Department, which oversees the FBI, had determined that it was illegal.

Mueller and his eventual successor -- Comey, then deputy attorney general -- backed down when the Bush administration agreed to make changes to the program, which was eventually disclosed to the public in 2005 by the New York Times.

In the end, Mueller was in the top FBI post for the second longest period after J. Edgar Hoover, who held it for 48 years until his death.

Carter and Laulala driving Racing forward in French Top 14

Casey Laulala believes Dan Carter’s drink-drive shame has helped forge a strong bond of friendship between the New Zealand teammates which can help Racing 92 end a troubled season with a successful Top 14 title defence.All Blacks fly-half superstar Car…

Casey Laulala believes Dan Carter's drink-drive shame has helped forge a strong bond of friendship between the New Zealand teammates which can help Racing 92 end a troubled season with a successful Top 14 title defence.

All Blacks fly-half superstar Carter was pulled over for drink-driving in Paris in February and has since been stripped of his licence.

The World Cup winner's misfortune, however, at least helped Laulala get to know Carter better, an opportunity which never arose when they were at the Crusaders.

They may have been clubmates back in New Zealand but inhabited different rugby worlds -- Carter was to go on to play 112 times for the All Blacks while Laulala only pulled on the famous jersey on two occasions.

"I'm his Uber driver now," Laulala, who lives near two-time World Cup winner Carter in the plush Parisian suburb of Meudon, told AFP.

"I am the one who will look for him and bring him home every day...but he misses not being able to drive."

Centre Laulala, who is 35 years old, just like Carter, said he is seeing a new side to his illustrious colleague.

"I made sure that he was fine, that he had someone to talk to (after the drink-drive incident). Few people have access to him... I see him more than anyone else in the team."

Despite his off-field problems -- Carter, fellow former All Black Joe Rokococo and Argentinian winger Juan Imhoff were all cleared after testing positive for corticosteroids following last season's Top 14 final -- Laulala knows the importance of his countryman to Racing.

- 'Steps ahead' -

He will be key again on Saturday when the Paris giants tackle Montpellier in the play-offs with a semi-final spot at stake.

Carter has been in sensational form in recent weeks.

He created a memorable try for Laulala in last month's derby clash against Stade Francais before scoring the crucial try against Bordeaux last weekend to allow Racing to squeeze into the sixth and final play-off spot.

"It's thanks to him," added Laulala. "His brain has such an ability to anticipate. He is always one or two steps ahead of most of us. We have to adapt to what he is doing."

Racing will not be favourites against Montpellier on Saturday -- just three weeks ago, they were crushed 54-3 by Jake White's side.

But Laulala is keen for Racing's season not to end just yet for his sake and other Kiwi freinds.

Former All Blacks forward Chris Masoe, 38, will retire once the campaign ends while 36-year-old lock Ali Williams was booted out of the team after being arrested for possession of cocaine in February.

"Ali's fine, he's a very positive person, he's looking at the different options available to him," Laulala said.

Montpellier will be without South African lock forward Jacques du Plessis who was handed a season-ending ban on Wednesday for elbowing an opponent in the April 30 game against La Rochelle.

On Friday, three-time European champions Toulon face Castres in the first of the play-offs.

Toulon are likely to still be without Australian utility back Matt Giteau who hasn't played since February because of an ankle injury and will leave for Japan in the summer.

Springboks winger Bryan Habana is also a doubtful starter with a muscle injury.

Play-offs

1st rd

Friday

Toulon v Castres (1900 GMT)

Saturday

Montpellier v Racing 92 (1500 GMT)

Rossi, Vinales hope for better after Jerez woes

Yamaha duo Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales will look to rediscover their impressive early-season form at this weekend’s French MotoGP after a difficult race in Spain.Veteran Italian Rossi leads the championship with 62 points after four rounds, wh…

Yamaha duo Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales will look to rediscover their impressive early-season form at this weekend's French MotoGP after a difficult race in Spain.

Veteran Italian Rossi leads the championship with 62 points after four rounds, while Vinales is a close second after winning the first two races in Qatar and Argentina.

But the pair struggled in Jerez last time out, Vinales finishing sixth following his retirement at the Grand Prix of the Americas and Rossi trailing home in 10th as Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez sealed a one-two finish for Honda.

"After the difficulties during the Jerez weekend, the Le Mans GP will be very important," said Rossi, who finished on the podium in each of the opening three races before his Spanish travails.

"It is true that we are still first in the championship standings, and this is nice for us, but we need to improve the bike to be really competitive," added the 38-year-old, who is a three-time winner at Le Mans.

Vinales hopes the return to the site of his first MotoGP top-three finish a year ago, when he was still with Suzuki, can spark a quick recovery.

"The race in Jerez was very difficult for us," admitted the Spaniard. "Luckily during the test on Monday in Jerez we had a totally different result, it was a really good test.

"For that reason we're arriving in France with a positive mind. Le Mans is a good track for us, it suits my riding style, and we can do a really good job there."

Both Marquez and Pedrosa have both cranked up the pace after failing to finish in Argentina, but their thoughts were with former world champion Nicky Hayden on Wednesday after the American was seriously hurt while riding his bicycle in Italy.

He was rushed to hospital with severe chest and head injuries, according to local reports.

"Best wishes ! Stay strong my friend! ," Pedrosa tweeted, while Marquez also took to Twitter to post a picture of himself alongside the 2006 MotoGP champion. "My thoughts are with you," he added.

Over 100,000 fans are expected to flock to Le Mans for the race weekend, with French rookie Johann Zarco set to garner plenty of attention after making a seamless step up from the Moto2 category.

"I have the chance to really impress the general public in MotoGP. That wasn't the case in Moto2 despite my two titles," said Zarco.

Ferry service opens between N. Korea & Russia’s Vladivostok

Preview A tourist ferry has completed its first cruise from the North Korean port of Rajin to the Russian city of Vladivostok. The route’s opening marks Pyongyang’s bid to develop trade and tourism ties with Russia amid growing tensions on the Korean peninsula.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Preview A tourist ferry has completed its first cruise from the North Korean port of Rajin to the Russian city of Vladivostok. The route’s opening marks Pyongyang’s bid to develop trade and tourism ties with Russia amid growing tensions on the Korean peninsula.
Read Full Article at RT.com

Evan Huffman wins Tour of California’s fourth stage

Unheralded American Evan Huffman won Wednesday’s fourth stage of the Tour of California between Santa Barbara and Santa Clarita while Poland’s Rafal Majka retained the yellow jersey as overall leader. The 27-year-old Huffman won the 159.5-kilometer sta…

Unheralded American Evan Huffman won Wednesday's fourth stage of the Tour of California between Santa Barbara and Santa Clarita while Poland's Rafal Majka retained the yellow jersey as overall leader.

The 27-year-old Huffman won the 159.5-kilometer stage from the breakaway by finishing ahead of Canadian teammate Rob Britton and Dutchman Lennard Hofstede.

"I can't believe we did it," Huffman said. "It's surreal, amazing. I was thinking about last year's stage during the last 10km, and how much it would suck to not win again. I gave it everything I had in the last 100 metres."

Huffman and his teammates narrowly withstood the challenge of a peloton that featured some marquee sprinters. Slovakian Peter Sagan, winner of the third stage on Tuesday and Majka's teammate, settled for sixth.

Majka has led the Tour since his victory in the second stage on Monday. He now has a two-second lead in the general classification ahead of New Zealander George Bennett. American Ian Boswell is third, only 14 seconds behind.

Thursday's fifth stage, considered the most difficult of the event, is a climb up Mount Baldy that could result in a dramatic change to the leaderboard.

"Today was a very hard day but I had a great team to support me and my teammate Peter," Majka said. "We had all our teammates there, all at the front. I'm suffering a little today but maybe tomorrow will be better for me.

"I will have a lot of support from the team and I hope to have a great day. It's the first time that I will do this climb so we will see how it goes and how my legs are. If I have good legs then I will try to attack but if I'm tired I might follow.

"I hope I have good legs."