Romanian Social Democrat Mihai Tudose designated new premier

Romania’s outgoing economy minister Mihai Tudose was designated as the new premier on Monday, days after the ruling Social Democrats torpedoed its own government following an internal power row.Tudose, 50, now has 10 days to gain the vote of confidence…

Romania's outgoing economy minister Mihai Tudose was designated as the new premier on Monday, days after the ruling Social Democrats torpedoed its own government following an internal power row.

Tudose, 50, now has 10 days to gain the vote of confidence in his government and his programme.

The Social Democrat party (PSD) filed a no-confidence motion in former prime minister Sorin Grindeanu last Wednesday, accusing him of "delays" in implementing reforms in the European Union's second-poorest country.

MPs are likely to vote on Tudose's nomination on Thursday -- a formality given that the PSD holds a parliamentary majority with its ALDE ally.

The PSD unexpectedly withdrew its support for 43-year-old Grindeanu on June 14, barely six months after the party swept back to victory in elections.

Grindeanu however refused to resign and accused powerful PSD boss Liviu Dragnea, 54, of seeking to "concentrate all the power in his hands".

Dragnea, who is barred from running for office because of a fraud conviction, is widely acknowledged to pull the strings behind the scenes.

But Grindeanu, once considered Dragnea's puppet, began to assert his independence in recent months, which reportedly led to his fall from grace.

Romanian media on Monday highlighted the fact that Tudose was one of the ministers held responsible for the failure of Grindeanu's government to implement reforms.

It is the second major crisis to hit the PSD since it rode back into power in December, barely a year after being forced from office over a deadly nightclub blaze blamed on corruption.

In February, Romania's largest protests since the fall of communism forced the government to drop a bill aimed at watering down anti-corruption laws that critics said would help Dragnea himself.

Tiger won’t host PGA event as treatment continues

Tiger Woods will miss this week’s PGA National, skipping his usual host role while continuing treatments to manage pain medications after an impaired driving arrest last month, tournament officials said Monday.The former world number one, whose charity…

Tiger Woods will miss this week's PGA National, skipping his usual host role while continuing treatments to manage pain medications after an impaired driving arrest last month, tournament officials said Monday.

The former world number one, whose charity foundation stages the event, was arrested May 29 near his Florida home for impaired driving. A breathalyzer test showed no sign of alcohol but police video showed Woods struggling to answer questions.

Woods later said he did not realize how prescription drugs might interact and last week said he had sought treatment to cope with medications to ease back pain and sleep issues.

"I'm currently receiving professional help to manage my medications and the ways that I deal with back pain and a sleep disorder," Woods tweeted.

Tournament officials confirmed that Woods, 41, would not attend the National due to ongoing treatment. The 14-time major winner will be updated about the event during the week.

Woods has only played the National twice since 2012 because of injuries and was not slated to be in the field this year.

In April, Woods announced he had undergone his fourth back operation since 2014 to ease back and leg pain and would miss the remainder of the season.

Woods made his comeback last December in the Bahamas but has played only twice this year, missing the cut at Torrey Pines and withdrawing from a European Tour event in Dubai last February.

Woods, whose 79 career PGA wins are three shy of Sam Snead's all-time record, has not won a major title since the 2008 US Open and has not won any event since the 2013 World Golf Championships Bridgestone Invitational.

Top players have supported Woods as he fights to return after a mug shot seen around the world and years of struggles with back pain.

"I think we all want him to do what's best for him," world number three Jordan Spieth said last week.

"We all want him to be better. We want him to be healthy and we want him to be back out here. So whatever needs to happen for that to happen he knows and I'm sure he's doing it."

World number four Rory McIlroy has offered his support to Woods in his latest fightback bid.

"It's a tough one," McIlroy said last week. "I reached out to him whenever everything broke a few weeks ago and just making sure he was OK. He's OK. He has gone through a rough time the last few years with injuries and being in pain and not being able to sleep. I totally understand how that can happen.

"So it's good that he's getting help. It's good that he's on the road to recovery... he has felt an outpouring of love over the past few weeks after all this happened and he really appreciates that."

Woods said as much last week, tweeting, "I want to thank everyone for the amazing outpouring of support and understanding, especially the fans and players on tour."

Greenland now a major driver of rising seas: study

Ocean levels rose 50 percent faster in 2014 than in 1993, with meltwater from the Greenland ice sheet now supplying 25 percent of total sea level increase compared with just five percent 20 years earlier, researchers reported Monday.The findings add to…

Ocean levels rose 50 percent faster in 2014 than in 1993, with meltwater from the Greenland ice sheet now supplying 25 percent of total sea level increase compared with just five percent 20 years earlier, researchers reported Monday.

The findings add to growing concern among scientists that the global watermark is climbing more rapidly than forecast only a few years ago, with potentially devastating consequences.

Hundreds of millions of people around the world live in low-lying deltas that are vulnerable, especially when rising seas are combined with land sinking due to depleted water tables, or a lack of ground-forming silt held back by dams.

Major coastal cities are also threatened, while some small island states are already laying plans for the day their drowning nations will no longer be livable.

"This result is important because the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)" -- the UN science advisory body -- "makes a very conservative projection of total sea level rise by the end of the century," at 60 to 90 centimetres (24 to 35 inches), said Peter Wadhams, a professor of ocean physics at the University of Oxford who did not take part in the research.

That estimate, he added, assumes that the rate at which ocean levels rise will remain constant.

"Yet there is convincing evidence -- including accelerating losses of mass from Greenland and Antarctica -- that the rate is actually increasing, and increasing exponentially."

Greenland alone contains enough frozen water to lift oceans by about seven metres (23 feet), though experts disagree on the global warming threshold for irreversible melting, and how long that would take once set in motion.

"Most scientists now expect total rise to be well over a metre by the end of the century," Wadhams said.

The new study, published in Nature Climate Change, reconciles for the first time two distinct measurements of sea level rise.

The first looked one-by-one at three contributions: ocean expansion due to warming, changes in the amount of water stored on land, and loss of land-based ice from glaciers and ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica.

- 'A major warning' -

The second was from satellite altimetry, which gauges heights on the Earth's surface from space.

The technique measures the time taken by a radar pulse to travel from a satellite antenna to the surface, and then back to a satellite receiver.

Up to now, altimetry data showed little change in sea levels over the last two decades, even if other measurements left little doubt that oceans were measurably deepening.

"We corrected for a small but significant bias in the first decade of the satellite record," co-author Xuebin Zhang, a professor at Qingdao National Laboratory of Marine Science and Technology in China's Shandong Province, told AFP.

Overall, the pace of global average sea level rise went up from about 2.2 millimetres a year in 1993, to 3.3 millimetres a year two decades later.

In the early 1990s, they found, thermal expansion accounted for fully half of the added millimetres. Two decades later, that figure was only 30 percent.

Andrew Shepherd, director of the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling at the University of Leeds in England, urged caution in interpreting the results.

"Even with decades of measurements, it is hard to be sure whether there has been a steady acceleration in the rate of global sea level rise during the satellite era because the change is so small," he said.

Disentangling single sources -- such as the massive chunk of ice atop Greenland -- is even harder.

But other researchers said the study should sound an alarm.

"This is a major warning about the dangers of a sea level rise that will continue for many centuries, even after global warming is stopped," said Brian Hoskins, chair of the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London.

Trump travel ban: journey through the courts

The US Supreme Court on Monday partially reinstated Donald Trump’s controversial travel ban ahead of a full hearing on the case, the latest twist in one of the defining battles of the president’s young administration.Trump’s revised executive order — …

The US Supreme Court on Monday partially reinstated Donald Trump's controversial travel ban ahead of a full hearing on the case, the latest twist in one of the defining battles of the president's young administration.

Trump's revised executive order -- which bars access to the United States to all refugees and to travelers from six mainly Muslim countries -- replaced a broader ban that was blocked by US courts days after its chaotic rollout.

The decision by the nation's highest court to examine the travel ban in full in October this year could put the embattled measure on a path to final resolution.

Here is a timeline of the ban's legal journey:

-- January 27, 2017: Just one week after his inauguration, Trump unveils his original executive order on immigration with no prior warning, sowing travel chaos and igniting worldwide outrage. Legal challenges are quickly filed against the ban, which denies entry to all refugees for 120 days, and travelers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days. Refugees from Syria are blocked indefinitely.

-- February 3: A federal judge in Seattle, James Robart, suspends the ban nationwide after two US states ask for it to be overturned on grounds of religious discrimination and that it had caused "irreparable harm." Trump mocks the decision, calling Robart a "so-called judge."

-- February 5: A San Francisco-based federal appeals court rejects a Justice Department request to immediately reinstate the travel ban, scheduling a hearing for both sides to present additional documents.

-- February 7: A panel of three judges hears arguments in a contentious hearing that focuses on whether to immediately lift the lower court's stay, rather than on the decree's constitutionality.

-- February 9: The San Francisco federal appeals court refuses to reinstate Trump's controversial order, meaning the lower court's stay remains in place. The president vows a legal fight, tweeting: "SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!"

-- February 10: Trump denounces the previous day's ruling as a "disgraceful decision," vowing his decree will ultimately go into effect as the White House mulls its next steps.

-- February 16: Trump says he will announce a "new and very comprehensive" executive order on immigration the following week in a bid to work around hurdles blocking the initial decree, rulings the government opts not to appeal before the Supreme Court.

-- March 6: The president signs a scaled-back version of the travel ban, exempting Iraqis and permanent US residents.

-- March 16: A federal judge in Hawaii freezes the second version of the ban, while a US judge in Maryland issues a separate block on the core provision of travel from the Muslim world, saying it amounts to discrimination. The Trump administration vows to challenge the rulings.

-- May 8: The Trump administration defends the decree at an appeals court hearing in Virginia, with judges questioning whether Trump had acted in "bad faith," disguising an order targeting Muslims as one intended to prevent terrorism.

-- May 15: The order again faces judicial scrutiny, this time at an appeals court in Seattle. The US Justice Department's lawyer says the president is targeting "Islamic terrorist groups and the countries that sponsor or shelter them," not Muslims.

-- May 25: The appeals court in Virginia upholds a lower court's decision to block the measure, dealing a fresh setback to the president.

-- June 2: The Trump administration asks the Supreme Court to take on the case.

-- June 12: In a new defeat for Team Trump, an appeals court in San Francisco rules against the ban, saying the president exceeded his authority to make immigration-related national security judgments without justification.

-- June 26: The Supreme Court agrees to examine the travel ban case in full in October, and in the meantime rules that it can be immediately enforced for travellers from the targeted countries "who lack any bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States."

Travel ban ruling ‘victory for national security’: Trump

Donald Trump hailed Monday’s Supreme Court ruling which partially reinstates the US president’s travel ban targeting citizens from six mainly Muslim countries as “a clear victory for our national security.”Trump said the top court’s ruling “allows the …

Donald Trump hailed Monday's Supreme Court ruling which partially reinstates the US president's travel ban targeting citizens from six mainly Muslim countries as "a clear victory for our national security."

Trump said the top court's ruling "allows the travel suspension for the six terror-prone countries and the refugee suspension to become largely effective."

"As president, I cannot allow people into our country who want to do us harm," he added, in a White House statement.

In Monday's ruling, judges said the ban, which had been put on hold by lower courts, could be enforced for travellers from the six countries who had no "bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States".

The ruling would remain in force until the court hears the case in full in October.

It affects travellers from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days unless they can demonstrate personal links to the United States, including relatives or offers to attend American universities.

Trump has consistently argued that his ban, which was first introduced in January before being revised in March, was justified on security grounds.

But previous rulings had argued that the president overstepped his authority and that his executive order was discriminatory.

Trump said Monday's ruling was vindication of his approach and allowed him "to use an important tool for protecting our nation's homeland".

"My number one responsibility as Commander in Chief is to keep the American people safe."

During his campaign for the presidency last year, Trump had said he wanted to ban all Muslims from entering the United States.

Top US court to tackle religion, gay rights in wedding cake case

The US Supreme Court agreed Monday to review whether a Colorado baker discriminated against a gay couple by refusing to make their wedding cake on religious grounds.The high court took up the case exactly two years after it legalized same-sex marriage …

The US Supreme Court agreed Monday to review whether a Colorado baker discriminated against a gay couple by refusing to make their wedding cake on religious grounds.

The high court took up the case exactly two years after it legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

Lower courts had ruled against Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado, saying his right to exercise religious freedom did not outweigh the couple's protection under anti-discrimination laws -- decisions seen by activists as victories for gay rights.

But since its landmark 2015 ruling on same-sex marriage, the Supreme Court's makeup has shifted to the right, raising the possibility that it could rule in favor of Phillips.

Masterpiece Cakeshop is one of a number of businesses that have been successfully sued for discriminating against gay couples.

Charlie Craig and David Mullins filed a complaint under Colorado's anti-discrimination laws after Phillips told them in 2012 he wouldn't make them a wedding cake due to his religious objections to gay marriage.

Phillips argued that being required to make wedding cakes for gay couples violated his right to freedom of religion and his free speech rights as a cake "artist."

In 2015, an appeals court in Colorado rejected Phillips' stance, saying that requiring someone to comply with the law is not the same as compelling them to "endorse" something they don't agree with.

"Masterpiece remains free to continue espousing its religious beliefs, including its opposition to same-sex marriage," the court ruled.

However, it said, as a public business, it is prohibited "from picking and choosing customers based on their sexual orientation."

A number of lower-court cases in recent years have consistently rejected people's claims of their right to refuse services to same-sex couples getting married.

An Oregon bakery was ordered to pay $135,000 in damages in 2015 after refusing to bake a cake for a 2013 same-sex wedding.

In 2014, the Supreme Court refused to review a judgment against a New Mexico wedding photographer who refused to work for a lesbian couple in 2008.

Trump slams Obama, demands ‘apology’ over Russia probe

US President Donald Trump on Monday demanded an apology over the Russia investigation rocking his presidency, as he kept up a days-long attack on Barack Obama for his handling of intelligence about election meddling by Moscow.

Trump’s young administration has been consumed by allegations — under investigation both by Congress and the FBI, and furiously denied by the Republican president — that members of his campaign team colluded with a Russian effort to tip the electoral scales in his favor.

The Washington Post’s recent publication of a behind-the-scenes account of Obama’s reportedly hesitant response to the Russian threat has triggered a stream of angry tweets and televised attacks from Trump on his predecessor.

Doubling down in a Twitter storm Monday morning, he charged that Obama had “colluded and obstructed” by failing to act after the CIA informed him President Vladimir Putin personally ordered an operation to help defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton last November.

“The real story is that President Obama did NOTHING after being informed in August about Russian meddling,” Trump fumed, accusing Obama of holding back because “he expected Clinton would win, and did not want to ‘rock the boat.'”

“He didn’t ‘choke,’ he colluded or obstructed, and it did the Dems and Crooked Hillary no good,” the president tweeted, alluding to the Post’s description of Obama’s response.

“With 4 months looking at Russia under a magnifying glass, they have zero ‘tapes’ of T [Trump] people colluding. There is no collusion & no obstruction. I should be given apology!” the president charged.

The account published Friday by the Post reported that the previous administration issued four warnings to Moscow — including one Obama delivered directly to Putin — causing Moscow to pull back on possible plans to sabotage US voting operations.

But it said Obama opted to leave countermeasures for later, for fear of being seen as interfering in an election he was confident Clinton would win.

After Trump’s shock victory in November, some Obama administration officials expressed regret at the lack of tougher action.

“Wow, did we mishandle this,” a former administration official told the newspaper.

– ‘Transparent’ distraction –

Some Democrats saw abundant irony in Trump blaming Obama for indecisiveness against a Russian operation he himself has long seemed to play down — including when he fired FBI chief James Comey in May over his handling of allegations of meddling, and possible collusion with Trump’s campaign.

But others have joined in the criticism, including Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, who said at the weekend that Obama’s administration had made a “serious mistake.”

A former Obama White House official on Monday dismissed Trump’s attacks on the ex-president as “a transparent effort to distract” from the impact of the administration’s embattled efforts to repeal and replace Obama’s health care reforms.

“This situation was taken extremely seriously, as is evident by president Obama raising this issue directly with president Putin,” the official said.

As further evidence of the Obama administration’s determination to address the Russian threat, the official cited “17 intelligence agencies issuing an extraordinary public statement… the president directing a comprehensive intelligence review, and ultimately issuing a robust response including shutting down two Russian compounds, sanctioning nine Russian entities and individuals, and ejecting 35 Russian diplomats from the country.”

Criticism of Trump’s own failure to sharply condemn Russian interference has continued to vex his administration.

As recently as last Tuesday, White House spokesman Sean Spicer could not give a clear answer when asked repeatedly whether Trump believes the Russians interfered in the 2016 elections.

“I have not sat down and talked to him about that specific thing,” Spicer said. “Obviously we’ve been dealing with a lot of other issues.”

US President Donald Trump on Monday demanded an apology over the Russia investigation rocking his presidency, as he kept up a days-long attack on Barack Obama for his handling of intelligence about election meddling by Moscow.

Trump's young administration has been consumed by allegations -- under investigation both by Congress and the FBI, and furiously denied by the Republican president -- that members of his campaign team colluded with a Russian effort to tip the electoral scales in his favor.

The Washington Post's recent publication of a behind-the-scenes account of Obama's reportedly hesitant response to the Russian threat has triggered a stream of angry tweets and televised attacks from Trump on his predecessor.

Doubling down in a Twitter storm Monday morning, he charged that Obama had "colluded and obstructed" by failing to act after the CIA informed him President Vladimir Putin personally ordered an operation to help defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton last November.

"The real story is that President Obama did NOTHING after being informed in August about Russian meddling," Trump fumed, accusing Obama of holding back because "he expected Clinton would win, and did not want to 'rock the boat.'"

"He didn't 'choke,' he colluded or obstructed, and it did the Dems and Crooked Hillary no good," the president tweeted, alluding to the Post's description of Obama's response.

"With 4 months looking at Russia under a magnifying glass, they have zero 'tapes' of T [Trump] people colluding. There is no collusion & no obstruction. I should be given apology!" the president charged.

The account published Friday by the Post reported that the previous administration issued four warnings to Moscow -- including one Obama delivered directly to Putin -- causing Moscow to pull back on possible plans to sabotage US voting operations.

But it said Obama opted to leave countermeasures for later, for fear of being seen as interfering in an election he was confident Clinton would win.

After Trump's shock victory in November, some Obama administration officials expressed regret at the lack of tougher action.

"Wow, did we mishandle this," a former administration official told the newspaper.

- 'Transparent' distraction -

Some Democrats saw abundant irony in Trump blaming Obama for indecisiveness against a Russian operation he himself has long seemed to play down -- including when he fired FBI chief James Comey in May over his handling of allegations of meddling, and possible collusion with Trump's campaign.

But others have joined in the criticism, including Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, who said at the weekend that Obama's administration had made a "serious mistake."

A former Obama White House official on Monday dismissed Trump's attacks on the ex-president as "a transparent effort to distract" from the impact of the administration's embattled efforts to repeal and replace Obama's health care reforms.

"This situation was taken extremely seriously, as is evident by president Obama raising this issue directly with president Putin," the official said.

As further evidence of the Obama administration's determination to address the Russian threat, the official cited "17 intelligence agencies issuing an extraordinary public statement... the president directing a comprehensive intelligence review, and ultimately issuing a robust response including shutting down two Russian compounds, sanctioning nine Russian entities and individuals, and ejecting 35 Russian diplomats from the country."

Criticism of Trump's own failure to sharply condemn Russian interference has continued to vex his administration.

As recently as last Tuesday, White House spokesman Sean Spicer could not give a clear answer when asked repeatedly whether Trump believes the Russians interfered in the 2016 elections.

"I have not sat down and talked to him about that specific thing," Spicer said. "Obviously we've been dealing with a lot of other issues."

US firm stops sales of Grenfell Tower cladding for high-rises

The US supplier of the cladding which encased London’s Grenfell Tower before it was destroyed by a devastating fire announced on Monday it is stopping sales of the material for high-rise buildings.”Arconic is discontinuing global sales of Reynobond PE …

The US supplier of the cladding which encased London's Grenfell Tower before it was destroyed by a devastating fire announced on Monday it is stopping sales of the material for high-rise buildings.

"Arconic is discontinuing global sales of Reynobond PE for use in high-rise applications," a company spokesman told AFP.

The firm put the decision down to "issues that have arisen in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy" and differences in building regulations around the world.

The June 14 inferno left 79 people presumed dead after the fire spread rapidly up the 24-storey residential block in west London.

As emergency services continue to search through the ashes of the gutted building, suspicion has fallen on the recently installed cladding with allegations it may have contributed to the ferocity of the fire.

The Arconic spokesman said the company "will continue to fully support the authorities as they investigate this tragedy".

Sales of the Reynobond PE cladding for use in low-rise buildings will continue.

An estimated 600 tower blocks in England believed to have similar cladding to that used at Grenfell are currently going through tests.

Samples taken from 75 high-rises tested so far have all failed safety tests, communities minister Sajid Javid told parliament on Monday.

WFP chief urges EU to step up funds for Africa famine

The UN food agency’s director urged the European Union on Monday to help raise the $1 billion needed over the next few months to save hundreds of thousands of children from starving to death in Yemen and three African countries.In an interview with AFP…

The UN food agency's director urged the European Union on Monday to help raise the $1 billion needed over the next few months to save hundreds of thousands of children from starving to death in Yemen and three African countries.

In an interview with AFP, World Food Programme Director David Beasley said 20 million people were "on the brink of famine" in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria in the worst humanitarian crisis since 1945.

"I'm here to appeal to the goodness of some of the wealthiest nations on the face of the planet to please continue to step up at a time such as this," Beasley said after meeting EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

"I want the United States to contribute more, the EU to contribute more," he said.

He appealed to wealthy EU countries like Britain, Germany and especially France to send more aid, saying Paris was contributing too little at $30 million.

He said of the 20 million people facing famine, 5.7 million are children who are malnourished, with around 1.5 million of them severely so.

"Our numbers are showing us that if over the next three to four months, if we do not receive the resources we need to provide the food, you're looking at the possibility of 600,000 children dying," Beasley said.

"We need another $1.0 billion for the four countries," he added.

He added that the WFP had already cut rations in half for South Sudanese refugees in Uganda to spread aid to the most vulnerable in the four countries.

He said efforts to fight the famine have been hampered by the media focus on the French far-right politician Marine Le Pen, Brexit and the presidency of US President Donald Trump, while also noting donor fatigue at a time of conflicts worldwide.

"Because of all the distraction, I don't think the world knows the direness of the plight," he said.

Beasley, a former Republican governor of South Carolina and a Trump supporter, also predicted that Washington would correct its move away from foreign aid.

"I think President Trump, the White House and the (Congressional) leadership are coming to see the value of humanitarian assistance in fighting extremism," he said.

"I have been telling my friends on the floor of the Senate and House, if you want to spend another half a trillion dollars on the military, cut the World Food Programme," he said.

lc/bmm

Spain firefighters gain upper hand over blaze near nature reserve

Spanish firefighters on Monday beat back a wildfire which threatens a renowned national park that is home to endangered species and has forced the evacuation of over 2,000 people from homes, campsites and hotels.”The weather is evolving as we predicte…

Spanish firefighters on Monday beat back a wildfire which threatens a renowned national park that is home to endangered species and has forced the evacuation of over 2,000 people from homes, campsites and hotels.

"The weather is evolving as we predicted, winds are clearly more moderate than yesterday," said the official in charge of the environment with the regional government of Andalusia, Jose Fiscal Lopez.

"With all the prudence in the world, we are moderately optimistic," he added.

Over 600 firefighters, soldiers and volunteers supported by water-dropping airplanes were combating the wildfire on Monday at the Donana Natural Park in southwestern Spain near Huelva.

Strong winds and scorching heat complicated initial efforts to fight the blaze, which broke out Saturday near the town of Moguer.

The blaze comes a week after wildfires killed over 60 people in neighbouring Portugal.

There has been no official estimate regarding how much land has been burned but the WWF estimated it has so far affected about 10,000 hectares (25,000 acres).

"The area is an authentic powder keg for fires," the head of WWF Spain, Juan Carlos del Olmo, said in a statement.

The natural park is full of electrical wires, illegal mines with electrical installations surrounded by pine trees, and illegally built buildings, he added.

- 'Could not breathe' -

The fire prompted the closure of several roads and the evacuation of some 2,100 people, including guests at camp sites and several hotels.

Hundreds of people spent the night in gyms or other municipal buildings.

"There was so much smoke that we could not breathe," Macarena Medina, who was forced to flee her home in the resort town of Mazagon, told private television Telecinco.

She said she returned to find her home "without a roof" and with all her belongings "under rubble".

Popular beach resort Matalascanas, located roughly 20 kilometres (14 miles) south of Moguer where the fire began, was completely cut off for a few hours because of the fire on Sunday.

Roads in the area reopened on Monday but remained under tight police control.

The fire has not yet hit the neighbouring Donana National Park, which has been a UNESCO world heritage site since 1994 and is well known for the extensive biodiversity of its dunes, wetlands and woods.

"A special effort was made during the night on the front which threatened the park the most," Fiscal Lopez told Spanish public television.

The national park is one of Spain's most important wildlife sanctuaries and a popular tourist attraction.

It is home to a variety of animals, including endangered species such as the Spanish imperial eagle and the Iberian lynx, a large cat found only in Spain and Portugal.

- Endangered lynx death -

Officials temporarily evacuated a lynx breeding centre on Sunday as a precaution.

A female Iberian lynx died at the Acebuche captive breeding centre on Saturday "due to stress" during its capture for evacuation, the centre said in a statement.

The other lynxes are "safe and sound", said the mayor of Moguer, Gustavo Cuellar. "Each lynx held in captivity is receiving detailed care."

Police were investigating the cause of the fire. The regional president of Andalusia, Susana Diaz, has said that "the human factor cannot be excluded".

She vowed on Monday not to allow "even one metre" of the destroyed land to be rezoned to allow building to take place.

"We will continue until the end to find out what happened," she added.

Spanish environment group Ecologistas en Accion warned that this type of wildfire will become more frequent with climate change and urged the government to make sure no environmental crime goes unpunished.

May sets out Brexit proposals for EU nationals

British Prime Minister Theresa May faced a backlash Monday after setting out proposals for the rights of EU nationals after Brexit that include new residency permit requirements and family reunion rules.May promised to end the “anxiety” of 3.2 million …

British Prime Minister Theresa May faced a backlash Monday after setting out proposals for the rights of EU nationals after Brexit that include new residency permit requirements and family reunion rules.

May promised to end the "anxiety" of 3.2 million European nationals but is on a collision course with Brussels after vowing that the European Court of Justice would not be allowed to protect their rights.

"I want to completely reassure people that under these plans no EU citizen currently in the UK lawfully will be asked to leave at the point the UK leaves the EU," she told parliament.

"We want you to stay," May said, after last year's referendum to end Britain's four-decade membership of the 28-nation bloc put the future of EU citizens in doubt.

But she was heckled as opposition lawmakers accused her of using Europeans as "bargaining chips" by refusing to guarantee their rights until a reciprocal deal was struck for around one million Britons living elsewhere in the EU.

Resolving the issue is an early priority for both sides of the Brexit talks that began last week, but also threatens to cause major rows between London and Brussels.

- 'More ambition and clarity' -

May received a cool reception when she set out the principles of her plan to European leaders at a summit on Thursday, with EU President Donald Tusk warning that it fell "below our expectations".

And EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said Monday that Britain needs to offer EU citizens living there "more ambition, clarity and guarantees" on their post-Brexit rights than it has proposed.

In a 17-page policy document published Monday, May set out her proposals for family dependents of EU citizens and a promise to exclude those convicted of serious crimes.

But the offer on allowing spouses from outside Britain to move to the country after Brexit falls short of what Brussels had called for.

"I believe it's a generous offer," she said, adding that it would provide "reassurance and certainty".

But opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn accused of her of proposing "too little, too late", adding: "This is confirmation the government is prepared to use people as bargaining chips."

"After a year of uncertainty for those directly affected, and two months after the EU made a more generous offer, it is likely to be seen at best as a belated step in the right direction," said Jonathan Portes, senior fellow The UK in a Changing Europe programme.

- 'Number of limitations' -

The European Parliament's Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt welcomed May's proposal to simplify residency application procedures but said there were "a number of limitations" in the proposals.

Verhofstadt warned that "any degradation of the rights linked to freedom of movement" before Britain leaves the EU would be contrary to EU law.

EU citizens are currently free to move around the bloc's 28 countries but this right will end with Brexit, forcing those in Britain who remain to apply for a new immigration status.

New details on Monday say family members of EU nationals can apply for "special status", but spouses joining their families in Britain after Brexit would be subject to the same rules as non-EU nationals coming to join British citizens, which include a minimum income threshold.

"Theresa May has brought more precision on family reunification, and it is not very good news for EU citizens," said Dimitrios Giannoulopoulos, founder of the Britain in Europe think tank.

In another move likely to irk Brussels, officials confirmed that EU nationals would need some form of identity document.

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, a campaign group, said the proposal that EU nationals who have already applied for permanent residence need to start the process again was "unnecessary".

- 'Settled status' -

The government also unveiled plans to exclude "serious or persistent criminals, and those whom we consider a threat to the UK".

European rules already allow member states to expel other EU citizens on security grounds, and between 4,000 and 5,000 EU prisoners were deported from Britain last year, according to the interior ministry.

May proposes that those with at least five years residency before a cut-off date will be eligible for "settled status", granting them indefinite leave to remain with unrestricted access to healthcare, education, welfare and pensions.

Those who arrived less than five years before the cut-off date will be allowed to stay until they accrue the time necessary to apply for "settled status".

Europeans arriving after the date will have a grace period -- likely two years -- to seek a temporary permit to stay in Britain, but will also be able to work towards "settled status".

But the government has declined to set the cut-off date, offering a two-year window starting from March 29 this year -- when the formal Brexit began -- and saying the matter is one for the negotiations with the EU.

It has also rejected a demand by Brussels that the European Court of Justice arbitrate in any disputes over the new arrangements -- setting up a major row.

Cyprus signs deal for Europe’s largest casino: minister

Cyprus signed a deal Monday with Macau’s Melco International and America’s Hard Rock for the construction and operation of the biggest casino of its kind in Europe, a minister said.The casino resort — estimated to cost 600 million euros ($672 million)…

Cyprus signed a deal Monday with Macau's Melco International and America's Hard Rock for the construction and operation of the biggest casino of its kind in Europe, a minister said.

The casino resort -- estimated to cost 600 million euros ($672 million) -- will be the first in the internationally recognised south of the Mediterranean holiday island.

"This opens the road to realising one of the largest infrastructure projects that has ever been done in our country," said Commerce and Tourism Minister George Lakkotrypis.

Once completed, the complex would be the largest integrated casino in Europe with 500 hotel rooms and other facilities spanning more than 6,000 square metres (64,580 square feet).

"In addition, the casino resort will include the largest casino in Europe, with 136 gaming tables and 1,200 gaming machines," Lakkotrypis said at the signing ceremony in Nicosia.

The consortium has a 30-year licence to build an integrated casino resort in the southern coastal town of Limassol and set up four satellite casinos in other towns.

These should be operating next year but no timeline was given for when the main resort would be open for business.

There have long been casinos in the breakaway Turkish Cypriot north of the island, which is only recognised by Turkey.

But, until now, opposition from the influential Greek Orthodox Church and misgivings among many Greek Cypriots about the social dangers of gambling had kept them out of the south.

A casino complex is a key part of the current government's plans to stimulate the island's recovering eurozone economy with the creation of nearly 4,000 jobs to build it.

And a super casino is expected to add another 300,000 tourists annually, bolstering the already three million-plus arrivals.

"Our goal, of course, is to improve incoming tourism by increasing arrivals, average stays and average per capita spending," said the minister.

It is estimated revenue of around 100 million euros per annum could fill state coffers from the casino operation.

European Union member Cyprus plunged into a financial crisis in 2013, leaving a number of its top banks insolvent and forcing it to negotiate painful bailout with international creditors.

It has since recovered, after the imposition of harsh austerity measures in exchange for a loan of 10 billion euros (then $13 billion) from the International Monetary Fund and the EU.

The Cypriot economy grew by 2.8 percent in 2016 and a similar growth rate is expected for this year, buoyed by an anticipated increase in tourism revenue.

Information overload fuels ‘fake news’: US study

“Fake news” has become a troubling phenomenon, allegedly used to manipulate voters and fuel a rise in global populism. In one case, it inspired a man to shoot up a Washington pizzeria.On Monday, scientists revealed some of the reasons for the explosion…

"Fake news" has become a troubling phenomenon, allegedly used to manipulate voters and fuel a rise in global populism. In one case, it inspired a man to shoot up a Washington pizzeria.

On Monday, scientists revealed some of the reasons for the explosion of hoaxes and lies on social media -- an information overload has left consumers unable to discern the good from the bad.

"Our results show for the fist time that low- and high-quality information have the same chances to succeed," study co-author Diego Oliveira of Indiana University's School of Informatics and Computing told AFP.

"And such a lack of discrimination is a result of our limited attention and the amount of information (to which) we are exposed."

Hoaxes and fake news, the team found, are just as likely to go viral as well-sourced, accurate information.

The way it is constructed, the "social media market rarely allows the best information to win the popularity contest," said Oliveira.

In 2013, the World Economic Forum listed the threat of digital misinformation "wildfires" as a top risk for our society.

One form is "fake news" -- a term used for falsehoods, presented as truth, that are spread via traditional news channels or online social media to influence people or attract clients.

Such misinformation is suspected of having been used to try and influence the 2016 US presidential elections.

"Fake news" reports of a child-smuggling ring with connections to Hillary Clinton operating out of a Washington pizzeria, saw a man storm the eatery last December firing an assault rifle.

- Ban the bots -

The authors of the new study suggested cutting back on "bots" -- algorithms with fake "profiles" on social media networks. They flood the platform with messages on a certain topic in a bid to marginalise other viewpoints.

Such bot accounts "make up a significant portion of online profiles and many of them flood social media with high volumes of low-quality information to manipulate the public discourse," said the research team.

"By aggressively curbing this kind of abuse, social media platforms could improve the overall quality of information to which we are exposed."

But consumers can do something too: source your news well.

"Using social media as a source of news is not very reliable unless one focuses only on posts from trusted media sources that follow established journalistic practices," said Oliveira.

"Our friends are probably not good editors and are driven by emotions and biases more than objectivity and trustworthiness," he added.

"We should not assume that if something is shared by a social contact it is reliable, and we should avoid sharing something without reading it critically."

The study into what the team called "the digital misinformation that threatens our democracy" was published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour.

It followed the spread of thousands of memes on platforms like Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook.

Facebook unveiled a tool last December allowing users to report deliberate misinformation.

The term fake news is also used by US President Donald Trump and his followers to describe reports in traditional media that they do not agree with, further muddying the waters.

America’s Cup redemption beckons for New Zealand

Emirates Team New Zealand say they’re taking nothing for granted as they head onto Bermuda’s Great Sound on Monday with their eyes on America’s Cup glory.With 26-year-old Peter Burling at the helm, the challengers are on the cusp of reclaiming the olde…

Emirates Team New Zealand say they're taking nothing for granted as they head onto Bermuda's Great Sound on Monday with their eyes on America's Cup glory.

With 26-year-old Peter Burling at the helm, the challengers are on the cusp of reclaiming the oldest international sporting trophy for the first time since Kiwi victories with Black Magic in 1995 and 2000.

With a 6-1 lead in the first-to-seven points series, New Zealand need to win one of two races scheduled for Monday, with the first due to start at 1712 GMT.

Both boats warmed up Monday on the azure waters of the sound, where regatta director Iain Murray said the forecast was for light winds adequate for racing.

The desperate defenders opted against any radical crew change, and skipper Jimmy Spithill, who steered Oracle to victory in 2010 and 2013, was slated to take the wheel even after saying he would surrender the helmsman's role if he thought it would improve his team's chances.

Spithill piloted Team USA to one of the greatest comebacks in sport four years ago, when they erased a 1-8 deficit to stun New Zealand 9-8 in San Francisco.

Spithill said the memory of that fight-back now fuels Team USA.

"We're in a tough situation now," the 37-year-old match racing master admitted after he was schooled by Burling in two defeats on Sunday.

"I still think we can win races with this boat. We have proven we can win races and win races against these guys if we sail well ... we don't need to think too much about the end result. All we need to think about is one race."

While skipper and wing trimmer Glenn Ashby is the lone hold-over from the New Zealand crew that had their hearts broken in San Francisco, none of the Kiwis can escape the shadow of that debacle.

"We are not taking anything for granted," said Burling, who could supplant Spithill as the youngest to helm an America's Cup winning team.

Novak Djokovic says timing key for Eastbourne wildcard

Novak Djokovic on Monday credited perfect timing for his decision to seek a wild card at Eastbourne for the struggling Serb’s first Wimbledon warm-up event in seven years.”Because of the old schedule (two weeks between Paris and Wimbledon as opposed to…

Novak Djokovic on Monday credited perfect timing for his decision to seek a wild card at Eastbourne for the struggling Serb's first Wimbledon warm-up event in seven years.

"Because of the old schedule (two weeks between Paris and Wimbledon as opposed to the current three) we had a week less," the three-time Wimbledon champion said on Monday.

"Usually the Queen's and Halle tournaments were starting the week after Roland Garros, which was a bit challenging obviously coming from the slowest to the fastest surface in sport. It's a big shift, only few days.

"That's one of the reasons why I haven't participated over the years in any lead-up events to Wimbledon.

"This year I knew I wanted to play one, but I thought Queen's and Halle would be too early for me. I wanted to get some rest and get time to properly prepare.

"I wanted to play some matches coming into Wimbledon, because I haven't had too many matches this year all in all."

The former number one added that due to his exceptional success in previous seasons, he never felt the need to participate in a tournament prior to the grass-court major, which begins next Monday.

"I was fortunate to have lots of matches and lots of success in the first part of the year over the years, especially on the clay courts and always reaching the final stages of Roland Garros," Djokovic said after several days of practise on the grass of seaside Devonshire Park.

The 30-year-old saw his French Open title defence come to a surprise halt with a straight sets quarter-final loss to the up-and-coming Dominic, his quickest exit from the French Open since 2010.

Now down to fourth in the world behind Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal and Stan Wawrinka, Djokovic knows he must lift his game if he wants to eventually challenge for the points lead

Djokovic also confirmed the Wimbledon presence of his French Open VIP coaching advisor Andre Agassi.

"He will be in London for Wimbledon and will stay as long as I stay in the tournament, so that's great," Djokovic said.

"The eight or nine days that we spent together at Roland Garros were very valuable for me to get to know him, to learn from him.

"We shared a lot of experiences on and off the court, things that he has been through that I can relate to and vice versa.

"Having him around is not only great for myself but also for tennis. I can see how much he cares about the game, how much he knows the game.

"It was very interesting to hear his perspective on tennis before and now, current tennis, how he analyses my game and what he sees with things moving forward to improve and try to get back on the level desired."

Djokovic begins his grass season in the second round against qualifier Vasek Pospisil, who beat Jiri Vesely 6-3, 6-4.

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Family of US black motorist gets nearly $3mn over police shooting

The family of a black motorist fatally shot by a Minnesota police officer, whose dying moments were livestreamed on Facebook, said Monday it had reached a nearly $3 million civil settlement with the US city that employed the acquitted cop.The death of …

The family of a black motorist fatally shot by a Minnesota police officer, whose dying moments were livestreamed on Facebook, said Monday it had reached a nearly $3 million civil settlement with the US city that employed the acquitted cop.

The death of Philando Castile -- one in a series of high-profile shootings of African-Americans by police -- stunned the nation. His girlfriend Diamond Reynolds took to Facebook to livestream his agony as blood spread on Castile's shirt and the officer continued to yell orders with his gun drawn.

Jeronimo Yanez, 29, was found not guilty of manslaughter earlier this month for shooting the 32-year-old Castile during a traffic stop last year, after the driver informed the officer that he was carrying a gun, for which he had a legal permit.

The $2.995 million settlement with St Anthony, a suburb of the state capital St Paul, avoids a federal civil rights lawsuit, "which may have taken years to work its way through the courts, exacerbating the suffering of the family and of the community," according to a joint statement released Monday by the city and Castile family attorneys.

"No amount of money could ever replace Philando," the statement said, adding that the money -- to be paid by the city's insurance and not through taxpayer funds -- would be used to fund a foundation in Castile's name.

Police car video of the shooting released last week shows the exchange between Yanez and Castile lasting less than a minute before the officer shoots Castile at close range.

Following Yanez's acquittal, St Anthony said it would no longer employ him as a police officer.

The verdict, which sparked renewed protests in Minnesota, was the first of a string of three trials in one week in which US prosecutors failed to secure convictions of police officers in questionable shootings -- revealing the difficulty of prosecuting such cases, even with video evidence.

The trial of a former University of Cincinnati police officer accused of killing motorist Sam DuBose ended in a mistrial on Friday after the jury could not reach a unanimous decision.

And a Wisconsin jury last week acquitted a former police officer in the murder of Sylville Smith, a 23-year-old man who was carrying a pistol during a brief foot chase that ended with Dominique Heaggan-Brown fatally shooting him.

Supreme Court reinstates part of Trump travel ban

The US Supreme Court on Monday partially reinstated President Donald Trump’s controversial travel ban targeting citizens from six predominantly Muslim countries, before examining the case in full this autumn.The travel ban — which was put on hold by l…

The US Supreme Court on Monday partially reinstated President Donald Trump's controversial travel ban targeting citizens from six predominantly Muslim countries, before examining the case in full this autumn.

The travel ban -- which was put on hold by lower court rulings -- will apply to those "who lack any bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States," until the court hears the case in October, the justices ruled.

The decision is a win for the Republican leader, who has insisted the ban is necessary for national security, despite criticism that it singles out Muslims in violation of the US constitution.

Trump had suffered a series of stinging judicial setbacks over the measure, with two federal appeals courts maintaining injunctions on the ban.

Those courts had argued the president had overstepped his authority, and that his executive order discriminated against travelers based on their nationality.

"Immigration, even for the president, is not a one-person show," the three justices of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said in a ruling earlier this month.

"National security is not a 'talismanic incantation' that, once invoked, can support any and all exercise of executive power," they added.

The Supreme Court narrowed the scope of those injunctions, saying the government could enforce its measure against "foreign nationals unconnected to the United States" without causing injury to the parties who filed suit.

Conversely, those with a "close familial relationship" in the US are not affected.

The revised measure, announced in March, seeks to bar from US entry travelers from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days, as well as suspend the entry of refugees for 120 days.

The original measure, issued by executive order in January, also included Iraq on the list of targeted countries and had imposed an indefinite ban on Syrian refugees.

Britain’s offer to EU nationals after Brexit

Britain set out its offer on Monday to secure the rights of around 3.2 million European citizens living in the country after its exit from the European Union.

The 17-page policy paper stresses that Europeans are “valued members of their communities” in Britain, but makes clear any deal is contingent on Brussels agreeing reciprocal rights for around one million British expats living elsewhere in Europe.

Here are the main points in the proposal:

– ‘Settled status’ –

EU citizens living in Britain retain all their rights until the day of Brexit. But they will then have to apply for a new immigration status to retain access to public services and the jobs market.

Anyone with continuous residence of at least five years on the cut-off date will qualify for “settled status” — indefinite leave to remain, with access to healthcare, education, welfare and pensions.

Newer arrivals who have nevertheless moved to Britain before the cut-off date must apply for temporary leave to remain until they have accrued five years, when they can apply for “settled status”.

Those Europeans arriving after the cut-off date will be given a “grace period”, likely two years, to apply for another form of immigration status allowing them to legally reside in Britain, such as a work permit.

After five years, they too can apply for “settled status”.

Existing rights of EU citizens to vote in local elections are not covered in the policy document.

– Cut-off date –

Brussels has said the cut-off date should be when Britain leaves the EU, but London says this will be part of the negotiations.

Britain suggests a window between March 29, 2017, when Britain formally began the Brexit process, and its final departure from the EU two years later.

“We expect to discuss the specified date with our European partners as part of delivering a reciprocal deal,” the policy document states.

– Court oversight –

Brussels wants any disputes on EU citizens’ rights to be dealt with by the European Court of Justice.

But London argues that one of the reasons to leave the EU is to “take back control” of British laws, and has rejected this — setting up a major clash.

The new rights regime “will be enforceable in the UK legal system and will provide guarantees for these EU citizens”, the document said.

“We are also ready to make commitments in the withdrawal agreement (Brexit deal) which will have the status of international law. The Court of Justice of the European Union will not have jurisdiction in the UK.”

– Family members –

Family dependants who join a qualifying EU citizen before Britain leaves the bloc will be able to apply for “settled status” after five years.

But spouses moving after Brexit will be subject to the same rules that currently apply to non-EU nationals joining British citizens, which require the British citizen to meet a minimum income allowance.

This sets up another row with Brussels.

All children of qualifying EU citizens will be eligible to apply for “settled status”, while those born in Britain to EU residents already holding the status will automatically acquire British citizenship.

– Social security and education –

Europeans who have paid social security contributions — such as a pension — in Britain in the past will have these protected.

Parents claiming British welfare payments for children living elsewhere in the EU will have these preserved.

Britain will seek to protect existing EU healthcare arrangements, allowing the provision of free or reduced cost healthcare while abroad in the bloc.

Existing European students or those starting courses before Brexit will continue to be eligible for student support and lower fees.

Professional qualifications obtained elsewhere in the EU will be recognised in Britain, while London also promised to protect the right to be self-employed.

– Foreign criminals –

“We will apply rules to exclude those who are serious or persistent criminals and those whom we consider a threat to the UK,” the policy document says.

EU rules already allow member states to expel, or refuse entry to people considered to present a “sufficiently serious and present threat to the fundamental interests of the state”.

Time in prison will not count towards the five-year residency requirement.

– Streamlined system –

Britain has promised to streamline the application system for “settled status”, after Europeans applying for permanent residency complained of an 85-page document requiring proof of employment and all travel out of the country for the past five years.

European citizens will still have to apply and pay a fee around £65 ($83, 74 euros), and are likely to get some form of identity card or document confirming their status.

Amid concerns that the interior ministry will not be able to process all the claims before Brexit, EU nationals will be given a “period of blanket residence permission” until all documents are issued.

Britain set out its offer on Monday to secure the rights of around 3.2 million European citizens living in the country after its exit from the European Union.

The 17-page policy paper stresses that Europeans are "valued members of their communities" in Britain, but makes clear any deal is contingent on Brussels agreeing reciprocal rights for around one million British expats living elsewhere in Europe.

Here are the main points in the proposal:

- 'Settled status' -

EU citizens living in Britain retain all their rights until the day of Brexit. But they will then have to apply for a new immigration status to retain access to public services and the jobs market.

Anyone with continuous residence of at least five years on the cut-off date will qualify for "settled status" -- indefinite leave to remain, with access to healthcare, education, welfare and pensions.

Newer arrivals who have nevertheless moved to Britain before the cut-off date must apply for temporary leave to remain until they have accrued five years, when they can apply for "settled status".

Those Europeans arriving after the cut-off date will be given a "grace period", likely two years, to apply for another form of immigration status allowing them to legally reside in Britain, such as a work permit.

After five years, they too can apply for "settled status".

Existing rights of EU citizens to vote in local elections are not covered in the policy document.

- Cut-off date -

Brussels has said the cut-off date should be when Britain leaves the EU, but London says this will be part of the negotiations.

Britain suggests a window between March 29, 2017, when Britain formally began the Brexit process, and its final departure from the EU two years later.

"We expect to discuss the specified date with our European partners as part of delivering a reciprocal deal," the policy document states.

- Court oversight -

Brussels wants any disputes on EU citizens' rights to be dealt with by the European Court of Justice.

But London argues that one of the reasons to leave the EU is to "take back control" of British laws, and has rejected this -- setting up a major clash.

The new rights regime "will be enforceable in the UK legal system and will provide guarantees for these EU citizens", the document said.

"We are also ready to make commitments in the withdrawal agreement (Brexit deal) which will have the status of international law. The Court of Justice of the European Union will not have jurisdiction in the UK."

- Family members -

Family dependants who join a qualifying EU citizen before Britain leaves the bloc will be able to apply for "settled status" after five years.

But spouses moving after Brexit will be subject to the same rules that currently apply to non-EU nationals joining British citizens, which require the British citizen to meet a minimum income allowance.

This sets up another row with Brussels.

All children of qualifying EU citizens will be eligible to apply for "settled status", while those born in Britain to EU residents already holding the status will automatically acquire British citizenship.

- Social security and education -

Europeans who have paid social security contributions -- such as a pension -- in Britain in the past will have these protected.

Parents claiming British welfare payments for children living elsewhere in the EU will have these preserved.

Britain will seek to protect existing EU healthcare arrangements, allowing the provision of free or reduced cost healthcare while abroad in the bloc.

Existing European students or those starting courses before Brexit will continue to be eligible for student support and lower fees.

Professional qualifications obtained elsewhere in the EU will be recognised in Britain, while London also promised to protect the right to be self-employed.

- Foreign criminals -

"We will apply rules to exclude those who are serious or persistent criminals and those whom we consider a threat to the UK," the policy document says.

EU rules already allow member states to expel, or refuse entry to people considered to present a "sufficiently serious and present threat to the fundamental interests of the state".

Time in prison will not count towards the five-year residency requirement.

- Streamlined system -

Britain has promised to streamline the application system for "settled status", after Europeans applying for permanent residency complained of an 85-page document requiring proof of employment and all travel out of the country for the past five years.

European citizens will still have to apply and pay a fee around £65 ($83, 74 euros), and are likely to get some form of identity card or document confirming their status.

Amid concerns that the interior ministry will not be able to process all the claims before Brexit, EU nationals will be given a "period of blanket residence permission" until all documents are issued.

J. K. Rowling marks ‘wonderful’ Harry Potter anniversary

Author J. K. Rowling on Monday marked the “wonderful” two decades since her Harry Potter creation first hit the shelves, starting a global literary phenomenon which has inspired a generation.

“20 years ago today a world that I had lived in alone was suddenly open to others. It’s been wonderful. Thank you,” she wrote on Twitter.

A pair of rounded glasses and a lightning bolt accompanied the social media site’s special “HarryPotter20” hashtag — a nod to the boy and a zigzag scar, who emerged from a cupboard under the stairs to become the world’s most famous wizard.

Joanne Kathleen Rowling had struggled through poverty before winning a £1,500 publishing deal with Bloomsbury to print 1,000 copies of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”.

The seven volumes of the saga have since been translated into 79 languages and have sold more than 450 million copies worldwide — and those lucky enough to have bought a first edition of “Philosopher’s Stone” have in their possession a collector’s book worth thousands.

“Harry Potter has had a huge impact on a generation of children, who became so obsessed with reading that they would queue for hours to get their hands on the next book,” said Diana Gerald, head of the Book Trust, a charity which encourages youngsters to read.

– Fans celebrate Pottermania –

Events to mark the magical tale include a special exhibition at the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh, the city where Rowling penned much of the first novel.

“J. K. Rowling wrote the books just opposite, and just down the road as well, so it’s just really exciting to dress up and have some fun,” said Francine Millard, 47, visiting the library in a Potter-themed scarf and carrying a toy owl.

Despite being just four years old when the first book was published, Kimberley Best said she was “obsessed” with Rowling’s magical world.

“My life is heavily influenced by it, it just brought me out of a bad time so it’s actually very important that I come and see it,” she told AFP, referring to a “Philosopher’s Stone” first edition on display filled with notes by Rowling.

Curator Graeme Hawley said the book was on loan from a private collector for the library’s “party” to mark a hugely important literary milestone.

“It’s become disproportionately significant in terms of its reach into modern children’s publishing, a total game-changer — and the rest, as they say, is history,” he told AFP.

Bloomsbury have published four anniversary editions of the first Potter book, in the house colours of Hogwarts wizarding school, while quizzes and crafts were the order of the day at libraries and schools around Britain.

St Paul’s Cathedral in London on Monday published a video of music from the Harry Potter film series being performed at the famous site.

Pottermania over the past two decades has led to eight movies, a hit play and numerous spin-off books.

In October a “Harry Potter: A History of Magic” exhibition will open at the British Library in London, showcasing manuscripts and magical objects alongside Rowling’s archives.

The Harry Potter empire has earned Rowling — a committed philanthropist — an estimated fortune of £650 million ($825 million, 743 million euros), according to The Sunday Times newspaper’s 2017 Rich List.

Author J. K. Rowling on Monday marked the "wonderful" two decades since her Harry Potter creation first hit the shelves, starting a global literary phenomenon which has inspired a generation.

"20 years ago today a world that I had lived in alone was suddenly open to others. It's been wonderful. Thank you," she wrote on Twitter.

A pair of rounded glasses and a lightning bolt accompanied the social media site's special "HarryPotter20" hashtag -- a nod to the boy and a zigzag scar, who emerged from a cupboard under the stairs to become the world's most famous wizard.

Joanne Kathleen Rowling had struggled through poverty before winning a £1,500 publishing deal with Bloomsbury to print 1,000 copies of "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone".

The seven volumes of the saga have since been translated into 79 languages and have sold more than 450 million copies worldwide -- and those lucky enough to have bought a first edition of "Philosopher's Stone" have in their possession a collector's book worth thousands.

"Harry Potter has had a huge impact on a generation of children, who became so obsessed with reading that they would queue for hours to get their hands on the next book," said Diana Gerald, head of the Book Trust, a charity which encourages youngsters to read.

- Fans celebrate Pottermania -

Events to mark the magical tale include a special exhibition at the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh, the city where Rowling penned much of the first novel.

"J. K. Rowling wrote the books just opposite, and just down the road as well, so it's just really exciting to dress up and have some fun," said Francine Millard, 47, visiting the library in a Potter-themed scarf and carrying a toy owl.

Despite being just four years old when the first book was published, Kimberley Best said she was "obsessed" with Rowling's magical world.

"My life is heavily influenced by it, it just brought me out of a bad time so it's actually very important that I come and see it," she told AFP, referring to a "Philosopher's Stone" first edition on display filled with notes by Rowling.

Curator Graeme Hawley said the book was on loan from a private collector for the library's "party" to mark a hugely important literary milestone.

"It's become disproportionately significant in terms of its reach into modern children's publishing, a total game-changer -- and the rest, as they say, is history," he told AFP.

Bloomsbury have published four anniversary editions of the first Potter book, in the house colours of Hogwarts wizarding school, while quizzes and crafts were the order of the day at libraries and schools around Britain.

St Paul's Cathedral in London on Monday published a video of music from the Harry Potter film series being performed at the famous site.

Pottermania over the past two decades has led to eight movies, a hit play and numerous spin-off books.

In October a "Harry Potter: A History of Magic" exhibition will open at the British Library in London, showcasing manuscripts and magical objects alongside Rowling's archives.

The Harry Potter empire has earned Rowling -- a committed philanthropist -- an estimated fortune of £650 million ($825 million, 743 million euros), according to The Sunday Times newspaper's 2017 Rich List.

Mark Cavendish targets Eddy Merckx Tour de France record

British road cycling star Mark Cavendish will target Eddy Merckx’s Tour de France record of stage wins as he spearheads the Dimension Data team’s challenge alongside compatriot Stephen Cummings.Cavendish, 32, is just four wins away from equalling Tour …

British road cycling star Mark Cavendish will target Eddy Merckx's Tour de France record of stage wins as he spearheads the Dimension Data team's challenge alongside compatriot Stephen Cummings.

Cavendish, 32, is just four wins away from equalling Tour de France great Merckx's record of 34 stage wins.

Sprint specialist Cavendish has however just one stage win this year in the Tour of Abu Dhabi in February.

The rider from the Isle of Man was sidelined with glandular fever and only returned to competition mid-June.

Two-time British time-trial champion Cummings, 36, has focused on the three-week French race in recent years and has stage wins in each of the past two editions.

This year's tour starts in the German city of Dusseldorf on Saturday.

Dimension Data team for Tour de France:

Mark Cavendish (GBR), Edvald Boasson Hagen (NOR), Stephen Cummings (GBR), Bernhard Eisel (AUT), Reinardt Janse van Rensburg (RSA), Serge Pauwels (BEL), Mark Renshaw (AUS), Scott Thwaites (GBR), Jaco Venter (RSA)

Usain Bolt confirms he is in final season of ‘wonderful career’

Jamaican sprint star Usain Bolt insists this “emotional” season will indeed be his last, bringing the curtain down on a glittering career which galvanised track and field at a time of doping and corruption scandals.Bolt has won eight Olympic and 11 wor…

Jamaican sprint star Usain Bolt insists this "emotional" season will indeed be his last, bringing the curtain down on a glittering career which galvanised track and field at a time of doping and corruption scandals.

Bolt has won eight Olympic and 11 world gold medals in his career, but importantly was the outgoing, larger-than-life personality on whom athletics administrators could rely for a positive slant, an athlete widely recognised globally.

Asked whether he might carry on after this season, Bolt said: "No, I don't think so!

"It's just been a great career, I've really enjoyed the ups and downs, all the experience I've gathered, all I've been through, the happiness and the sadness.

"It's been a wonderful career and I've done everything I've wanted to do and it's coming to an end and I'm fine with it."

Speaking ahead of Wednesday's IAAF World Challenge meet in the northeastern Czech city of Ostrava, Bolt admitted that the season was an emotional one.

It started with a home swansong in Kingston before taking Ostrava, the Diamond League meet in Monaco in July and the World Athletics Championships in London.

"It's an emotional season. I'm looking forward to going out there and putting on a show for the fans for the last time because they look forward to it," said Bolt.

"Right now personally, I'm just focused on getting through the season. I just like entertaining the crowd. I definitely want to try and enjoy ever minute of it - it won't be the same sat in the stadium.

"The fact that I know it's that last time it will be emotional, just seeing it and feeling, being around people and athletes, sitting in the meal room around everybody, joking and laughing about old times, it'll be emotional."

- No 200m in London -

Bolt, 30, confirmed that he would not be competing in the 200m in London, but left the door open to a further finale being added to his programme.

"For sure I won't be running the 200m" at the worlds, he said. "People keep asking, but no."

Turning to any possible events after London, he said: "I've discussed with my coach (Glen Mills) what he thinks I should do, whether I end my season after the world championships, we haven't fully made up our mind on what we're doing yet.

"We'll see what happens, I'm not worrying about that until the world championships or at least getting close to it."

One of his potential rivals in London will be former doping cheat Justin Gatlin, who has maintained his late bloom, last week winning the US national championships at the age of 35.

"I was shocked he actually won, just because how quick young kids were running," said Bolt, 30.

"As older athletes in the sport, we have a lot of experience and know how to go through the rounds.

"But I was kind of shocked he came out victorious. It shows that Justin Gatlin is a competitor and he shows year after year that he is not to be taken lightly. I'm looking forward to competition, always."

Despite the void Bolt will leave, the Jamaican was confident for the doping-mired sport, with Sebastian Coe leading the purge as head of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).

"The sport has been going through a lot in the past couple of years, but I think you have to go through your worst time to your best. Seb Coe's doing a good job, they're really trying to make track and field as transparent as possible, they're using the independent doping system, so it will run a lot more smoothly," Bolt said.

"The competition's getting better, there are youngsters coming through, so the only problem we really have is doping.

"If we can control that problem, then track and field will be in the right neck of the woods and it will be going forward. When people can really start trusting track and field consistently then it will get better and we will be able to stand up with other sports. Over time it will get better."

Heino Kuhn heads uncapped S. Africa trio for England Test series

Heino Kuhn’s two centuries on the South Africa A tour of England earned him a call-up on Monday to the senior squad for their upcoming four-Test series with England.The 33-year-old batsman — who notched the landmarks against Hampshire and then the Eng…

Heino Kuhn's two centuries on the South Africa A tour of England earned him a call-up on Monday to the senior squad for their upcoming four-Test series with England.

The 33-year-old batsman -- who notched the landmarks against Hampshire and then the England Lions -- is one of three uncapped players along with Aiden Markram and Andile Phehlukwayo to be named at Test level.

"Heino Kuhn has shown outstanding form for South Africa A on their recent tour of England which included a double century in the four-day match against Hampshire and a further century against the England Lions," CSA selection convener Linda Zondi said.

"He certainly deserved his place on consistent form."

Established stars like batsman AB de Villiers and paceman Dale Steyn are unavailable for selection.

De Villiers is taking a break from Test cricket and Steyn hasn't fully recovered from a shoulder problem which has kept him off the pitch since the end of last year.

The team will be captained by Faf du Plessis and there is plenty of batting experience with Hashim Amla, JP Duminy and Quinton de Kock as well as on the bowling side with Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander.

Kuhn has some international experience having played Twenty20 cricket for his country.

Phehlukwayo, 21, has played not only T20 for 'The Proteas' -- including the just concluded 2-1 series loss to England -- but also appeared in the one day series in England and the disappointing Champions Trophy campaign which saw the world ranked number one side fail to reach the semi-finals.

"Andile's selection is a continuation of our drive to develop bowling all-rounders for the Test team," Zondi explained.

"He and Chris Morris will fill this role in support of Vernon Philander. At the age of 21 he is certainly one for the future."

Markram also impressed for South Africa A during their tour of England and will provide batting cover for du Plessis, who could miss the first Test at Lord's as his wife is due to give birth in early July.

Should du Plessis have to return to South Africa he will be replaced as skipper by Dean Elgar.

Squad

Faf du Plessis (capt), Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma, Theunis de Bruyn, Quinton de Kock, JP Duminy, Dean Elgar, Heino Kuhn, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, Morne Morkel, Chris Morris, Duanne Olivier, Andile Phehlukwayo, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada.

Test schedule (venue, date it begins)

1st Test at Lord's -- July 6th

2nd Test at Trent Bridge, Nottingham -- July 14th

3rd Test at The Oval -- July 27th

4th Test at Old Trafford, Manchester -- Aug 4th

Iraq forces comb west Mosul after IS counter-attacks

Iraqi forces launched a house-to-house search operation Monday in parts of west Mosul after a surprise attack by Islamic State group jihadists recently expelled from the area.Diehard IS fighters are putting up fierce resistance as an Iraqi offensive fo…

Iraqi forces launched a house-to-house search operation Monday in parts of west Mosul after a surprise attack by Islamic State group jihadists recently expelled from the area.

Diehard IS fighters are putting up fierce resistance as an Iraqi offensive for Mosul's Old City, where a few hundred jihadists are believed to be holed up, entered its second week.

On Sunday the jihadists launched a string of counter-attacks on the Tanak and Yarmuk neighbourhoods of west Mosul from which they had been routed, leaving several people dead, officials said.

A top commander in the Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS), which sent forces to fight the IS gunmen, said the attackers had infiltrated the area by blending in with returning displaced civilians.

"The group came with the displaced and settled in the Tanak district. They regrouped and launched counter-attacks," Staff Lieutenant General Abdulwahab al-Saadi told AFP.

"Yarmuk is being searched house to house," he said, adding that two groups of IS attackers were still believed to be in the area, which lies on the western edge of the city.

A CTS medic said the attack had caused deaths but he could not say how many.

"There are martyrs who were killed by Daesh," the medic said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

He said 15 to 20 jihadist fighters were also killed in the battle.

A local official told AFP the attacks were carried out by "sleeper cells" as a diversionary tactic to ease the siege on the Old City, where commanders say jihadists only control about one square kilometre.

"Operations to flush out pockets controlled by Daesh are ongoing," he said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

- Forces hoist the flag -

Iraqi forces, led by the CTS, launched a perilous assault on the Old City in central Mosul on June 18, eight months into an offensive to retake Mosul, the country's biggest military operation in years.

The latest fighting has focused on the neighbourhood of Faruq on the northern edges of the Old City and part of the district, known as Faruq al-Ola has been taken by the Iraqi forces.

"CTS forces liberated Faruq al-Ola neighbourhood in the Old City," said Lieutenant General Abdul Ami Rashid Yarallah of the Joint Operations Command coordinating the battle against IS.

"The Iraqi flag has been raised over buildings after large losses to the enemy," he added.

AFP reporters who toured the area gave a harrowing account of the devastation in the narrow alleyways of the Old City.

Buildings have been levelled entirely with electrical cables dangling from them and debris from blown up cars found on the upper floors of those still standing.

Carcasses of motorcycles and scooters that had been rigged with explosives and blown up are scattered along the sides of the narrow streets -- a legacy of IS suicide bombers who used them to slow the advance of the Iraqi forces.

And reporters spoke of the stench of decomposing bodies that permeated, including from the bloated remains of a jihadist half buried under the ruins of a building who died holding his weapon.

Hundreds of IS fighters have been killed since the operation started in October 17, and hundreds of civilians have also died.

More than 800,000 people have had to flee their homes and many are still housed in overcrowded camps.

- 'Hunchback' -

CTS Lieutenant Colonel Salam al-Obeidi told AFP that 65 to 70 percent of the Old City "has been liberated".

"There is less than a square kilometre left to retake," he said on Sunday, speaking inside the Old City near what is left of the Hadba leaning minaret the jihadists blew up last week.

The Old City resonated with the sound of gunfire from automatic rifles, exploding rockets and the thuds of mortar rounds.

The ornamental brickwork on the base of the 12th century Hadba (Hunchback) minaret, which was Mosul's symbol and one of the most recognisable landmarks in Iraq, was visible in the background.

The cylindrical shaft of the minaret came tumbling down when IS on June 21 detonated explosives the jihadists had rigged to it.

The jihadists simultaneously blew up the nearby Nuri mosque, where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi gave his first sermon as IS leader in July 2014, his last public appearance to date.

Cyprus president hopes to clinch peace deal in Switzerland

Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades said Monday he hopes to clinch a reunification deal laying out a new security blueprint for the divided island during a crunch summit in Switzerland this week.Anastasiades will attend United Nations-backed talks at …

Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades said Monday he hopes to clinch a reunification deal laying out a new security blueprint for the divided island during a crunch summit in Switzerland this week.

Anastasiades will attend United Nations-backed talks at the Alpine Crans-Montana ski resort Wednesday with "complete determination and goodwill... to achieve a desired solution", he said in a statement.

He said he hopes to "abolish the anachronistic system of guarantees and intervention rights", with a deal providing for the withdrawal of the Turkish army.

The eastern Mediterranean island has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded its northern third in response to an Athens-inspired coup seeking union with Greece.

Turkey maintains around 35,000 troops in northern Cyprus.

The so-called guarantor powers of Turkey, Britain and Greece retain the right to intervene militarily on the island.

Greek and Turkish Cypriots are at odds over a new security blueprint, but their leaders are under pressure to reach an elusive peace deal.

"I am going to Switzerland to participate in the Cyprus conference, with the sole aim and intent of solving the Cyprus problem," Anastasiades said.

Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci is also set to attend the summit, which is expected to last at least 10 days.

Greece, Turkey and Britain will send envoys along with an observer from the European Union.

UN-led talks on the island hit a wall in late May after the sides failed to agree terms to advance toward a final summit.

Unlocking the security question would allow Anastasiades and Akinci to make unprecedented concessions on core issues.

But they have major differences on what a new security blueprint should look like.

Anastasiades's internationally recognised government, backed by Athens, seeks an agreement to abolish intervention rights, with Turkish troops withdrawing from the island on a specific timeline.

Turkish Cypriots and Ankara argue for some form of intervention rights and a reduced number of troops remaining in the north.

Turkish Cypriots want the conference to focus on broader issues of power-sharing, property rights and territory for the creation of a new federation.

Much of the progress to date has been based on strong personal rapport between Anastasiades and Akinci, leader of the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

But that goodwill has appeared frayed in the build-up to their meeting in Switzerland.

The Greek Cypriot presidential election next February has also complicated the landscape, as has the government's search for offshore oil and gas, which Ankara argues should be suspended until the negotiations have reached an outcome.

Trump slams Obama, demands ‘apology’ over Russia probe

US President Donald Trump on Monday demanded an apology over the Russia investigation rocking his presidency, as he kept up a days-long attack on Barack Obama for his handling of intelligence about election meddling by Moscow.

In a storm of morning tweets, Trump charged that his predecessor “colluded and obstructed” by failing to act after the CIA informed him Russian President Vladimir Putin personally ordered an operation to help defeat Trump’s Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in the November vote.

“The real story is that President Obama did NOTHING after being informed in August about Russian meddling,” Trump wrote. “With 4 months looking at Russia under a magnifying glass, they have zero ‘tapes’ of T [Trump] people colluding. There is no collusion & no obstruction. I should be given apology!”

“The reason that President Obama did NOTHING about Russia after being notified by the CIA of meddling is that he expected Clinton would win, and did not want to ‘rock the boat.'”

“He didn’t ‘choke,’ he colluded or obstructed, and it did the Dems and Crooked Hillary no good,” Trump tweeted, alluding to a Washington Post article that laid out the timeline of Obama’s response to the Russian threat.

Trump hit out in a flurry of weekend tweets and a televised interview following the Friday publication of the behind-the-scenes account by the Post.

The paper reported that the previous administration issued four warnings to Moscow — including one Obama delivered directly to Putin — causing Moscow to pull back on possible plans to sabotage US voting operations.

But it said Obama opted to leave countermeasures for later, for fear of being seen as interfering in an election he was confident Clinton would win.

After Trump’s shock victory in November, some Obama administration officials expressed regret at the lack of tougher action.

Some Democrats saw abundant irony in Trump blaming Obama for indecisiveness against a Russian operation he himself has long seemed to play down — including when he fired FBI chief James Comey in May over his handling of allegations of meddling, and possible collusion with Trump’s campaign.

But others have joined in the criticism, including Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, who said at the weekend that Obama’s administration had made a “serious mistake.”

US President Donald Trump on Monday demanded an apology over the Russia investigation rocking his presidency, as he kept up a days-long attack on Barack Obama for his handling of intelligence about election meddling by Moscow.

In a storm of morning tweets, Trump charged that his predecessor "colluded and obstructed" by failing to act after the CIA informed him Russian President Vladimir Putin personally ordered an operation to help defeat Trump's Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in the November vote.

"The real story is that President Obama did NOTHING after being informed in August about Russian meddling," Trump wrote. "With 4 months looking at Russia under a magnifying glass, they have zero 'tapes' of T [Trump] people colluding. There is no collusion & no obstruction. I should be given apology!"

"The reason that President Obama did NOTHING about Russia after being notified by the CIA of meddling is that he expected Clinton would win, and did not want to 'rock the boat.'"

"He didn't 'choke,' he colluded or obstructed, and it did the Dems and Crooked Hillary no good," Trump tweeted, alluding to a Washington Post article that laid out the timeline of Obama's response to the Russian threat.

Trump hit out in a flurry of weekend tweets and a televised interview following the Friday publication of the behind-the-scenes account by the Post.

The paper reported that the previous administration issued four warnings to Moscow -- including one Obama delivered directly to Putin -- causing Moscow to pull back on possible plans to sabotage US voting operations.

But it said Obama opted to leave countermeasures for later, for fear of being seen as interfering in an election he was confident Clinton would win.

After Trump's shock victory in November, some Obama administration officials expressed regret at the lack of tougher action.

Some Democrats saw abundant irony in Trump blaming Obama for indecisiveness against a Russian operation he himself has long seemed to play down -- including when he fired FBI chief James Comey in May over his handling of allegations of meddling, and possible collusion with Trump's campaign.

But others have joined in the criticism, including Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, who said at the weekend that Obama's administration had made a "serious mistake."

Motorcycling star Max Biaggi out of intensive care

Italian motorcycling star Max Biaggi has left intensive care in a Rome hospital two weeks after being admitted following a training accident, he revealed on Twitter.”This time, I almost risked not being here,” wrote Biaggi, who celebrated his 46th birt…

Italian motorcycling star Max Biaggi has left intensive care in a Rome hospital two weeks after being admitted following a training accident, he revealed on Twitter.

"This time, I almost risked not being here," wrote Biaggi, who celebrated his 46th birthday on Monday.

"The greatest gift is to leave intensive care after 17 days," he added alongside the hastags #ritornoallavita (return to life), #paura (afraid) and #maxisback.

Biaggi underwent six operations after suffering severe chest injuries and broken ribs in a fall in training south of Rome on June 9.

The veteran racer is a two-time world champion in Superbike and a former four-time world champion in the 250cc class.

Swede held by Al-Qaeda in Mali since 2011 freed: Swedish govt

A Swede held hostage by Al-Qaeda in Mali since 2011 has been freed to head home, and is doing well although he is “overwhelmed” by his release, Sweden’s foreign ministry said Monday.”It is with great pleasure that I can announce that Johan Gustafsson h…

A Swede held hostage by Al-Qaeda in Mali since 2011 has been freed to head home, and is doing well although he is "overwhelmed" by his release, Sweden's foreign ministry said Monday.

"It is with great pleasure that I can announce that Johan Gustafsson has been released and can return to Sweden," Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said in a statement, giving no details about how his release was secured.

Gustafsson, 42, was abducted in Timbuktu, northern Mali, in November 2011 together with South African national Stephen McGowan and Dutchman Sjaak Rijke.

Rijke was freed in April 2015 by French special forces. The Swedish foreign ministry provided no details about McGowan's fate.

"I've already spoken with Johan and he is doing well and is overwhelmed by everything going on," Wallstrom told Swedish Radio.

Swedish daily Expressen reported meanwhile that Gustafsson was already on a plane bound for Sweden.

The trio were kidnapped by a group of armed men on the terrace of their hotel along with several other Westerners, including Rijke's wife who managed to escape. A German who tried to resist the abduction was killed.

AQIM claimed responsibility for the kidnappings. It was among several jihadist groups that took control of Mali's north in 2012 before being ousted by a French-led military operation launched in January 2013.

Recovered Angelique Kerber looking ahead to Wimbledon

After dealing with injuries and a chronic lack of solid results, Angelique Kerber confirmed on Monday she finally feels fit again and keen to challenge at Eastbourne and Wimbledon. The 29-year-old German remains locked in a battle to hold onto her top …

After dealing with injuries and a chronic lack of solid results, Angelique Kerber confirmed on Monday she finally feels fit again and keen to challenge at Eastbourne and Wimbledon.

The 29-year-old German remains locked in a battle to hold onto her top WTA status amid a pending challenge on the lawns from number two Simona Halep and Czech Karolina Pliskova, who stands third.

"I'm feeling good already," said Kerber, top seed at the joint ATP-WTA event this week. Kerber will play her first match in the second round after a bye against Czech Kristyna Pliskova.

"I pulled out from Birmingham (last week) because I was not 100 percent and I was feeling a little bit my leg.

"I had a lot of treatments and three or four days resting. Then I started practising again (in Mallorca). Now I'm feeling good. It's nice to be playing again on the grass courts."

Halep, losing Roland Garros finalist to young outsider Jelena Ostapenko, has her eyes set on seizing the number one ranking. One slip from Kerber and the Romanian could move closer into position with little more than 100 rankings points separating the top two.

The woman's form guide for the final portion of the brief grass seasons remains anyone's guess.

Kerber said that has been the recent trend.

"I think we saw it already in the last few weeks, few months. This is a challenge for everybody.

"But I have learned that I really can only focus on me and not think too much about all the other players and what they are doing.

"I will just do my things and my schedule; my preparation, deal with my side of the court and focus on me."

The German, who took the top spot from Serena Williams, knows she is under pressure from below and needs to turn in a good tournament performance on the English south coast at this week's joint ATP-WTA tune-up.

Kerber reached the Eastbourne final in 2012 and 2014.

"My goal is to have a lot of matches before Wimbledon. That's why I decide to take the wildcard," Kerber said.

"I want to feel the grass again. I'm happy to be back on, and I'm happy that the clay court season is already finished," said the first-round French Open victim.

"I'm not thinking about my Wimbledon results. It's still a long way. We are starting at zero this year. It's a new year and it's a different year.

"I'm thinking right now day by day and having match by match. If I'm at Wimbledon I will think about Wimbledon."

Buttler defends Morgan absence after Vaughan blast

Jos Buttler has defended England white-ball captain Eoin Morgan’s decision to leave himself out of the series-deciding third Twenty20 international against South Africa.England beat the Proteas by 19 runs at Cardiff on Sunday to seal a 2-1 series win, …

Jos Buttler has defended England white-ball captain Eoin Morgan's decision to leave himself out of the series-deciding third Twenty20 international against South Africa.

England beat the Proteas by 19 runs at Cardiff on Sunday to seal a 2-1 series win, with Morgan's fellow Middlesex left-hander Dawid Malan, who got his chance because of the skipper's absence, making 78 on his Twenty20 debut.

But following the toss, with Buttler leading the side instead of Morgan, former England captain Michael Vaughan tweeted: "1-1 ... Series decider ... and the England Skipper is resting !!1 #WTF ..... Worlds gone mad."

And former England batsman James Taylor, commentating on BBC Radio, said of Morgan: "He's the leader and he should be playing."

Morgan is now a limited overs specialist at international level and so is unlikely to be involved in the upcoming four-Test series against South Africa.

But Buttler defended Morgan's move by saying: "It shows how much cricket gets played.

"It's very important to keep guys mentally fresh," added the wicket-keeper, who had previously led England in Dubai and Bangladesh -- a tour that Morgan missed because of security fears -- but never before on home soil.

Buttler rejected suggestions that spectators in Cardiff had been short-changed by Morgan's absence.

"If you turned up here, saw a brilliant game of cricket and England win the series, then as an England fan I think you can go home very happy," he said.

- 'Development' -

Morgan previously justified his move by saying: "We recognise the series as a big opportunity to have a look at a younger group of players.

"If it was a case where I could go on and captain, I would. But this is an important part of our development for this series."

Malan was named man-of-the-match after posting the highest score by an England cricketer on their Twenty20 debut.

The 29-year-old was born in London but brought up in South Africa, where he made his first-class debut for Boland.

"Dawid showed by that performance that there are some good players really knocking on the door," said Buttler.

"It's not an easy thing to do, but he showed great composure on a wicket which he made look a lot easier than it was.

"He looked as if he was playing his 50th game, as opposed to his first."

Meanwhile Surrey quick Tom Curran, in just his second match at this level, took two for 22 following three wickets on debut at Taunton on Friday.

And Sunday's match also saw 20-year-old Hampshire leg-spinner Mason Crane dismiss one of the world's best batsmen in South Africa captain AB de Villiers for his first wicket in international cricket.

"I was impressed with Tom again," Buttler said. "He bowled well at Taunton and he knows his game very well, as does Liam Plunkett.

"Mason also seemed very composed. De Villiers obviously targeted that over to put pressure on a young guy in his second game.

"But Mason showed great heart and character to get his wicket."

J. K. Rowling marks ‘wonderful’ Harry Potter anniversary

Author J. K. Rowling on Monday marked the “wonderful” two decades since her Harry Potter creation first hit the shelves, starting a global literary phenomenon which has inspired a generation.

“20 years ago today a world that I had lived in alone was suddenly open to others. It’s been wonderful. Thank you,” she wrote on Twitter.

A pair of rounded glasses and a lightning bolt accompanied the social media site’s special “HarryPotter20” hashtag, a nod to the boy who escaped from a cupboard under the stairs to become the world’s most famous wizard.

Joanne Kathleen Rowling had struggled through poverty before winning a £1,500 publishing deal with Bloomsbury to print 1,000 copies of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”.

The seven volumes of the saga have since been translated into 79 languages and have sold more than 450 million copies worldwide.

“Harry Potter has had a huge impact on a generation of children who became so obsessed with reading that they would queue for hours to get their hands on the next book,” said Diana Gerald, CEO of the Book Trust.

Events to mark the magical tale include a special exhibition at the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh, the city where Rowling penned much of the first novel.

Visitors are being encouraged to don their wizard outfits as they view mementos including a “Philosopher’s Stone” first edition filled with notes by Rowling.

Bloomsbury have published four anniversary editions of the first Potter book, in the house colours of Hogwarts wizarding school, while quizzes and crafts were the order of the day at libraries and schools around Britain.

London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral on Monday published a video of music from the Harry Potter film series being performed at the famous site.

Pottermania over the past two decades has led to eight movies, a hit play, and numerous spin-off books being published.

In October a “Harry Potter: A History of Magic” exhibition will open at the British Library in London, showcasing manuscripts and magical objects alongside Rowling’s archives.

The Harry Potter empire has earned Rowling — a committed philanthropist — an estimated fortune of £650 million ($825 million, 743 million euros), according to The Sunday Times newspaper’s 2017 Rich List.

Author J. K. Rowling on Monday marked the "wonderful" two decades since her Harry Potter creation first hit the shelves, starting a global literary phenomenon which has inspired a generation.

"20 years ago today a world that I had lived in alone was suddenly open to others. It's been wonderful. Thank you," she wrote on Twitter.

A pair of rounded glasses and a lightning bolt accompanied the social media site's special "HarryPotter20" hashtag, a nod to the boy who escaped from a cupboard under the stairs to become the world's most famous wizard.

Joanne Kathleen Rowling had struggled through poverty before winning a £1,500 publishing deal with Bloomsbury to print 1,000 copies of "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone".

The seven volumes of the saga have since been translated into 79 languages and have sold more than 450 million copies worldwide.

"Harry Potter has had a huge impact on a generation of children who became so obsessed with reading that they would queue for hours to get their hands on the next book," said Diana Gerald, CEO of the Book Trust.

Events to mark the magical tale include a special exhibition at the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh, the city where Rowling penned much of the first novel.

Visitors are being encouraged to don their wizard outfits as they view mementos including a "Philosopher's Stone" first edition filled with notes by Rowling.

Bloomsbury have published four anniversary editions of the first Potter book, in the house colours of Hogwarts wizarding school, while quizzes and crafts were the order of the day at libraries and schools around Britain.

London's St. Paul's Cathedral on Monday published a video of music from the Harry Potter film series being performed at the famous site.

Pottermania over the past two decades has led to eight movies, a hit play, and numerous spin-off books being published.

In October a "Harry Potter: A History of Magic" exhibition will open at the British Library in London, showcasing manuscripts and magical objects alongside Rowling's archives.

The Harry Potter empire has earned Rowling -- a committed philanthropist -- an estimated fortune of £650 million ($825 million, 743 million euros), according to The Sunday Times newspaper's 2017 Rich List.

Dutch bank bonus caps scaring off Brexit business: bosses

Tough rules capping annual bonuses for banking bosses may cost The Netherlands 17,000 jobs and a billion euros in lost revenues after Brexit, a Dutch employers organisation warned Monday.Now the VNO-NCW is calling for the Dutch parliament to reverse a …

Tough rules capping annual bonuses for banking bosses may cost The Netherlands 17,000 jobs and a billion euros in lost revenues after Brexit, a Dutch employers organisation warned Monday.

Now the VNO-NCW is calling for the Dutch parliament to reverse a 2015 decision to introduce a cap of 20 percent of annual pay on the bonuses which can be paid out to top managers in the banking industry.

"Under European regulations it can be 100 percent," said the organisation, adding The Netherlands should "comply with the EU rules and not price itself out of the market".

With many banks now thinking of re-locating out of London as Britain leaves the European Union, Amsterdam has been jockeying to attract new business along with other cities such as Dublin, Paris and Frankfurt.

While the Dutch capital has proved attractive for its transport links, good infrastructure and internet and the Dutch people's fluency in English, the rules on bonuses are seen as a disadvantage for those banks thinking of moving.

Failing to attract some of the big banks "due to the strict caps, would according to conservative estimates lead to a loss of some one billion euros in tax returns," the VNO-NCW said.

"The Netherlands would also miss out on 7,000 direct jobs and another 10,000 indirect jobs," the organisation added.

The rules are to be debated on Tuesday in the Dutch lower house of parliament, media reports said, and the VNO-NCW president Hans de Boer said: "Our plea is that we should not be stricter than the EU is."

"The Dutch parliament has the chance to show this week that foreign banks are welcome in The Netherlands," he added.

He also revealed in an interview with the Dutch daily De Telegraaf that he has been holding secret talks in past months to try to woo some big commercial banks to the country.

Although he did not name them, the paper speculated that US banking giant JP Morgan, Switzerland?s UBS and Britain's RBS were seriously considering moving branches to Amsterdam if the legislation is changed.

Spain court orders exhumation of Dali’s remains in paternity claim

A Spanish court has ordered that the remains of Salvador Dali be exhumed after a woman who claims to be the daughter of the world-famous artist filed a paternity claim.The Madrid court said Monday the exhumation aimed “to get samples of his remains to …

A Spanish court has ordered that the remains of Salvador Dali be exhumed after a woman who claims to be the daughter of the world-famous artist filed a paternity claim.

The Madrid court said Monday the exhumation aimed "to get samples of his remains to determine whether he is the biological father of a woman from Girona (in northeastern Spain) who filed a claim to be recognised as the daughter of the artist."

"The DNA study of the painter's corpse is necessary due to the lack of other biological or personal remains with which to perform the comparative study," it added.

The court said the decision could be appealed.

A spokesman for the court said the woman who claims to be Dali's daughter is called Pilar Abel, but refused to give any further details.

- Psychic -

Dali is buried in his eponymous museum in Figueras, a city in the northeastern region of Catalonia where he died in January 1989 of heart failure after a life marked by the genius of his work and his own eccentricities and extravagances.

According to a media report in Catalonia's La Vanguardia daily, Abel is a psychic.

She says her mother had an affair with Dali when she worked as a nanny for another family that vacationed in Cadaques, a fishing village of white houses where the painter lived and worked for years with his muse Gala.

Born on May 11, 1904 in Figueras to a bourgeois family -- his father was a legal clerk -- Dali developed an interest in painting from an early age.

In 1922 he began studying at the Fine Arts Academy in Madrid, where, despite being expelled twice, he developed his first avant-garde artistic ideas in association with poet Federico Garcia Lorca and the filmmaker Luis Bunuel.

Soon he left for Paris to join the surrealist movement, giving the school his own personal twist and rocketing to fame with works such as "The Great Masturbator."

Dali also made forays into the world of surrealist filmmaking.

- Gala -

Returning to Catalonia after 12 years, he invited French poet Paul Eluard and his Russian wife Elena Ivanovna Diakonova to Cadaques.

It was love at first site between Dali and the woman to whom he gave the pet name Gala. She became his muse and remained at his side for the rest of her life.

During the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39, Dali took refuge in Italy.

The outbreak of World War II in 1939 saw Dali move to Arcachon, on the southern French Atlantic coast, but he left once the German army invaded France the following year and placed himself in self-imposed exile in the United States until 1948 when he and Gala returned to Spain.

Much later in 1982, he was shattered, on both a human and artistic level, by the death of Gala and after a seven-year physical and mental battle to give renewed meaning to his existence, Dali himself died in 1989 in a Figueras clinic.

First female captain a real change of the guard in London

Megan Couto on Monday became the first female officer to command the troops protecting Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace, as a Canadian battalion took over guard duties.Captain Couto, 24, has been given the prestigious role of Captain of The Quee…

Megan Couto on Monday became the first female officer to command the troops protecting Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace, as a Canadian battalion took over guard duties.

Captain Couto, 24, has been given the prestigious role of Captain of The Queen's Guard, responsible for guarding the London palace.

Based in the central province of Manitoba, The Second Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry has been invited to Britain to mark the 150th anniversary of the founding of modern Canada.

Queen Elizabeth is the head of state of Britain, Canada and 14 other realms including Australia, Jamaica and New Zealand.

Born in 1886, Princess Patricia was a daughter of Prince Arthur, the third son of Queen Victoria. He served as the governor-general of Canada, the monarch's representative there.

"I'm just focusing on doing my job as best I can and staying humble. Any of my peers would be absolutely delighted to be Captain of The Queen's Guard and I'm equally honoured," she said.

Carrying her sword and wearing a scarlet tunic and white hat, Couto marched her troops to Buckingham Palace from the nearby Wellington Barracks in the historic and colourful ceremony.

The changing of the guard, conducted on four days a week, draws thousands of tourists to Buckingham Palace and Monday was no exception, with large crowds outside the gates in the summer sunshine.

"I'm not feeling too nervous," Couto said beforehand.

"We've practised enough and all the guys have been through their paces -- I've just to focus on saying the right commands."

Elite soldiers have protected the monarch since king Henry VII established the Sovereign's Bodyguard in 1509.

Trump hosts ‘true friend’ Modi for first one-on-one

US President Donald Trump hosts Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday for a first face-to-face meeting, seeking to forge a chemistry that can add new fizz to a flourishing relationship between the world’s two largest democracies.Despite differe…

US President Donald Trump hosts Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday for a first face-to-face meeting, seeking to forge a chemistry that can add new fizz to a flourishing relationship between the world's two largest democracies.

Despite differences over issues such as immigration and climate change, Modi is expected to assure Trump that the US has nothing to fear from India's growing economic clout.

Trump, who described Modi as a "true friend!" on Twitter after the Indian leader's weekend arrival in the US, should find much in common with the Indian leader, with both men having won power by portraying themselves as establishment outsiders.

While ties with some of Washington's traditional allies have been strained by Trump's complaints that the US has been the loser in trade agreements, Modi appears alert to his host's sensitivities and emphasis on transactional diplomacy.

Writing in a Wall Street Journal editorial published just ahead of their meeting, Modi said that in "an uncertain global economic landscape, our two nations stand as mutually reinforcing engines of growth and innovation."

India is currently the world's fastest growing major economy, a status that Modi is hoping to cement by drawing in more foreign investment -- in part by encouraging manufacturers to do business in Asia's third-largest economy.

"The transformation of India presents abundant commercial and investment opportunities for American businesses," said Modi whose government is about to implement a new nationwide tax system designed to scythe through red tape.

"The rollout of the Goods and Services Tax on July 1 will, in a single stroke, convert India into a unified, continent-sized market of 1.3 billion people," he wrote.

- Day of meetings -

Ahead of his talks with Trump, Modi is also expected to meet with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis as India eyes the purchase of more military equipment from the US.

After an Oval Office meeting mid-afternoon, the leaders will dine together at the White House, though no press conference is scheduled.

That decision -- a contrast with high-profile visits from other leaders including Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe -- may reflect a White House effort to avoid a flurry of questions over the probe into suspected Russian meddling in the 2016 election, which has dogged Trump's young administration.

Relations between India and the US were generally cool until the 1990s but they warmed under Trump's predecessor Barack Obama, as India sought greater foreign investment and trade ties.

But it was not long after Trump's election that obstacles emerged on issues such as trade and visas for Indians wanting to work in the United States.

Then Trump accused India of seeking to profit from the Paris climate accord as he announced the US withdrawal from the deal this month -- drawing sharp denials from New Delhi.

A proposed overhaul of H-1B visas -- used by thousands of Indian software engineers to work in the United States -- has also caused concern in New Delhi.

But Indian officials have played down those differences, insisting that Modi was sensitive to his counterpart's concerns over American jobs and trade, and there were "no major sticking points" that could sour the talks.

"If there's one thing we want (from the talks), it's chemistry... If the chemistry is good, then frankly everything else gets sorted," a senior Indian official who is traveling with the prime minister told reporters in Washington.

- Afghanistan on agenda -

Regional security is expected to be high on the agenda as Washington considers deploying up to 5,000 extra troops in Afghanistan to help local forces fighting insurgent groups and seeks to encourage what an administration official describes as India's "positive role" in the country.

Trump's administration has meanwhile indicated it could take a tougher stance on Pakistan, which India has long accused of harboring militant groups.

Former Brazilian minister sentenced to 12 years prison

A Brazilian court sentenced Antonio Palocci, an influential minister during the leftist governments of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff, to 12 years prison for corruption Monday.Palocci, in custody since September, had been convicted of tak…

A Brazilian court sentenced Antonio Palocci, an influential minister during the leftist governments of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff, to 12 years prison for corruption Monday.

Palocci, in custody since September, had been convicted of taking bribes and money laundering as part of a huge corruption network centered on the state-owned Petrobras oil company.

He was sentenced to 12 years and two months behind bars by Judge Sergio Moro, who heads the "Car Wash" probe dismantling the embezzlement and kickbacks scheme at Petrobras.

A finance minister under Lula and chief of staff for Rousseff, both from the Workers' Party, Palocci is negotiating a plea bargain with prosecutors. That could add to the avalanche of evidence already driving scores of investigations into political leaders, including Lula who faces five corruption court cases.

Moro is currently considering a verdict in one of those cases, in which Lula is alleged to have received a seaside apartment as a bribe from one of Brazil's biggest construction companies.

Crystal Palace appoint Frank de Boer as new boss

English Premier League side Crystal Palace on Monday appointed former Dutch international Frank de Boer as their new managerThe 47-year-old — who guided Ajax to four successive league titles before a disappointing short spell at Serie A giants Inter M…

English Premier League side Crystal Palace on Monday appointed former Dutch international Frank de Boer as their new manager

The 47-year-old -- who guided Ajax to four successive league titles before a disappointing short spell at Serie A giants Inter Milan -- signed a three-year contract.

He fills the vacuum left by Sam Allardyce, who stepped down at the end of May shortly after steering Palace to safety.

Palace chairman Steve Parish hailed the hiring of de Boer -- who is the only coach in Dutch history to manage a side to four consecutive titles -- as a significant landmark appointment for the London club.

"It's just about the worst kept secret in football," he told a press conference.

"Fantastically exciting for this football club, an amazing milestone for us. I am excited to work with him and what we can achieve with the club."

De Boer, whose brother Ronald played alongside him internationally, was part of a talented Dutch side that lost on penalties in the 1998 World Cup semi-finals to Brazil

"The aim is to be a solid Premier League team, not to struggle with relegation. That is our main target. If we do more that?s nice," he said.

UK’s last governor demands China honour its word to HK

The world is watching Hong Kong as a “test case” of whether Chinese promises mean anything, Britain’s last governor said ahead of the 20th anniversary of his tearful departure from the city.Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit Hong Kong to mark the …

The world is watching Hong Kong as a "test case" of whether Chinese promises mean anything, Britain's last governor said ahead of the 20th anniversary of his tearful departure from the city.

Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit Hong Kong to mark the anniversary of its handover from British rule on July 1, and Chris Patten said Xi should reaffirm Beijing's respect for the city's unique brand of autonomy dubbed "one country, two systems".

By and large, he said, China had respected its treaty obligations to Hong Kong and Britain in the years after the 1997 handover.

But more recently, under Xi, Patten said: "I think there's been more and more indication of Beijing tightening its grip on Hong Kong and on Hong Kong's windpipe."

Building up to Xi's visit, Hong Kong has seen multiple protests by pro-democracy activists as concerns rise that Beijing is trampling over the handover agreement by interfering in a range of areas, from politics to the judiciary, education and media.

Xi's visit will be his first since becoming president in 2013 and will culminate with the inauguration of Hong Kong's new leader, Carrie Lam, on Saturday.

"It'll be interesting to see how well that's received or how well he's protected from a dialogue with people in Hong Kong," Patten told reporters in London.

He said it was "preposterous" of Lam to claim last week that the case of five booksellers who were allegedly abducted by Chinese police two years ago had nothing to do with Hong Kong's government.

- 'Routine humiliations' -

London protested over the case of one of the booksellers, who holds a British passport, but Patten said such complaints were merely an "admonitory clearing of the throat".

"It's all part of this illusion that the only way you can do business with China... is by bowing however low the Chinese say they want you to do," he said.

Patten is promoting a new memoir called "First Confession", which deals at length on his years of doing battle with Beijing when he promoted a measure of democratic reform in Hong Kong prior to the handover.

Those years were an exception to what he writes were Britain's "routine humiliations" at Beijing's hands in the 1980s and early 1990s -- and Patten frets that Britain's exit from the EU and the ensuing need to develop more trade outside Europe could make the country even less likely to tussle with China in future.

But Patten, who looks back at his governorship as the best years of his life, said trade was an example of where China does not always respect its promises.

European companies struggling to do business in China had already learned the hard way that Beijing's commitments to reform were not iron-clad, the former EU commissioner said at the press briefing.

Failure to abide by the promise to respect Hong Kong's basic freedoms would be a much bigger violation and would give the world pause for thought, he said.

"The way it meets its obligations contained in a treaty lodged at the United Nations ... the way it meets its obligations to Hong Kong, will be taken by many people as a test case of whether China's word is something that people can take as gospel."

Edi Rama: ‘Artist’ premier keen to lead Albania into Europe

Albania’s artist-turned-prime minister Edi Rama, who was heading for a second term on Monday, wants to transform his country from a poor Balkan state into a modern member of the European Union.”Albania is our homeland and Europe is our future,” he said…

Albania's artist-turned-prime minister Edi Rama, who was heading for a second term on Monday, wants to transform his country from a poor Balkan state into a modern member of the European Union.

"Albania is our homeland and Europe is our future," he said in an interview with AFP on the day he first came to power in July 2013, borrowing a phrase from former French president Francois Mitterrand.

A tall former basketball player who went to art school in Paris, Rama entered Albanian politics in the late 1980s, just before the fall of communism in what was then one of the world's most isolated countries.

The ambitious son of a sculptor and a doctor, the 52-year-old has often hailed the EU as a project of "peace and prosperity" -- one that could help keep peace in the Balkans.

In 2014, Rama became the first head of an Albanian government to visit Belgrade in almost seven decades. His Serbian counterpart at the time, Aleksandar Vucic, returned the courtesy the following year.

- Bitter rivalry -

A casual dresser who regularly sports a three-day beard, Rama has expressed a desire to make his country "a modern state ruled by law," and last year he began to reform its notoriously corrupt judicial system.

He has brushed off claims from his opponents on the right of links to organised crime, offering to retire from political life if the accusations are proven.

Rama has a long-running and bitter rivalry with Sali Berisha, a former president and prime minister and the former leader of the Democratic Party, who still wields huge influence over the centre-right party.

The two had a falling out as students over an ideological dispute, but their enmity deepened in 2009 when Rama claimed that an election he lost to Berisha was neither free nor fair.

Socialists supporters took to the streets for months of anti-government protests and four were killed in clashes with police.

Political analyst Alexander Cipa described the Rama-Berisha rivalry as a battle of wills between two proud men who "played for survival in a confrontational political scene marked by fifty years of communism and a difficult transition".

Rama has also ridiculed Berisha's successor as head of the Democrats, Lulzim Basha, saying during this year's election campaign that he was "only good for putting people to sleep".

- Modernising mayor -

Rama, who was mayor of Tirana from 2000 to 2011, set out to transform the impoverished capital into a lively modern city, sprucing up drab communist facades with brightly coloured paint.

The initiative won him awards and praise from the Western media, even though the renovation concerned only a few streets in the centre of a city struggling with galloping and chaotic urbanisation.

An active Facebook and Twitter user, the multilingual Rama has also made art an instrument of political communication and enjoys exhibiting his paintings outside Albania.

"I would say that I am still an artist and I'm trying to use politics as an instrument for change," he once said.

The premier's office is filled with his own artworks.

He has two sons, one with his current wife Linda, an economist, and another from a former marriage with a famous Albanian actress.

Spain court orders exhumation of Dali’s remains in paternity claim

A Spanish court has ordered that the remains of Salvador Dali be exhumed after a woman who claims to be the daughter of the world-famous artist filed a paternity claim.The Madrid court said Monday the exhumation aimed “to get samples of his remains to …

A Spanish court has ordered that the remains of Salvador Dali be exhumed after a woman who claims to be the daughter of the world-famous artist filed a paternity claim.

The Madrid court said Monday the exhumation aimed "to get samples of his remains to determine whether he is the biological father of a woman from Girona (in northeastern Spain) who filed a claim to be recognised as the daughter of the artist."

"The DNA study of the painter's corpse is necessary due to the lack of other biological or personal remains with which to perform the comparative study," it added.

The court said the decision could be appealed.

A spokesman for the court said the woman who claims to be Dali's daughter is called Pilar Abel, but refused to give any further details.

Dali is buried in Figueras, a city in the northeastern region of Catalonia where he was born in 1904 and died in January 1989 of heart failure after a life marked by the genius of his work and his own eccentricities and extravagances.

Falling aircraft sales prompt dip in May US durable goods orders

New orders for big-ticket US manufactured goods fell for the second month in a row in May, recording their biggest drop in six months, the Commerce Department reported Monday.The continued slowdown was largely driven by a second straight decline in sal…

New orders for big-ticket US manufactured goods fell for the second month in a row in May, recording their biggest drop in six months, the Commerce Department reported Monday.

The continued slowdown was largely driven by a second straight decline in sales of civilian aircraft, and could be a drag on the US economy.

Total orders for durable goods fell 1.1 percent to $228.2 billion, nearly twice the decline forecast by analysts. And April's already-weak orders were revised down by two-tenths to show a 0.9 percent decline, according to the report.

However, for the year to date, sales are still up 2.8 percent over the same period last year.

The volatile transportation equipment categories were the biggest losers, with orders for civilian aircraft falling 11.7 percent last month and the smaller defense aircraft segment plunging 30.8 percent.

Excluding transportation, orders actually rose 0.1 percent, reversing some of the 0.5 percent decline recorded in April. This measure has risen in four of the past five months.

The capital goods sector, which has suffered in recent years due to the falling price of oil, saw sharp declines, with non-defense orders falling 2.4 percent.

Excluding aircraft, the measure's weakness was less pronounced, with a decline of only 0.2 percent.

Orders of machinery, electrical equipment and motor vehicles were the bright spots, with the latter category rising 1.2 percent on top of April's 0.5 percent gain.

But elsewhere there were other signs of slowing orders for the manufacturing sector. Sales of communications equipment fell 3.1 percent, reversing gains made in April.

Stray wallaby has small Dutch town hopping

Dutch police are looking for the owner of a stray wallaby which made an unexpected appearance in a small town over the weekend, disrupting rail traffic before finally being lassoed by a local.Trains near Staphorst in the northern Netherlands were delay…

Dutch police are looking for the owner of a stray wallaby which made an unexpected appearance in a small town over the weekend, disrupting rail traffic before finally being lassoed by a local.

Trains near Staphorst in the northern Netherlands were delayed for at least half-an-hour Saturday afternoon after a driver spotted the small macropod hopping along the tracks before disappearing into the small town, Dutch media reports said Monday.

The animal, by then christened "Skippy" by Dutch Rail's Twitter feed, was again spotted by locals who were having an afternoon beer at a nearby cafe and who phoned local resident Patrick Dunnik to come help trap the wandering wallaby.

"I live just around the corner, so I ran out to help," said Dunnik.

"We failed several times to trap it, including once when it jumped right over the outstretched arms of a friend of mine," he told AFP.

Dunnik devised a lasso from rope and managed to snag the animal round a leg before finally bringing it down.

"It took both me and my two friends to hold down the wallaby because it was incredibly strong," he said.

Police and the Dutch "animal ambulance" arrived a short while later to take "Skippy" to an animal shelter.

"We're keeping it a few days at the shelter so it can de-stress," regional animal ambulance coordinator Edwin Budel said.

"At the moment, we have no idea who the owner is and how the animal got there," added Budel, who urged the owner to contact local police.

More than 500 wallabies are known to be kept in The Netherlands mainly by animal parks, according to the Dutch NOS newscaster. Some have escaped from time-to-time.

In a recent unfortunate incident involving a wallaby escape, one of the animals inadvertently hopped into a lion enclosure in an eastern animal park in March where it was promptly hunted and eaten.

Italy hopes Venetian intervention draws line under banking woes

Italy’s move to wind up two failing Venetian banks will be costly for taxpayers but should bolster the stability of the country’s troubled banking sector, experts said Monday.The government stepped in at the weekend to liquidate Veneto Banca and Banca …

Italy's move to wind up two failing Venetian banks will be costly for taxpayers but should bolster the stability of the country's troubled banking sector, experts said Monday.

The government stepped in at the weekend to liquidate Veneto Banca and Banca Popolare di Vicenza while keeping their viable activities operational under a plan that could cost the state up to 17 billion euros ($19 billion).

Under the deal, the two failing lenders' healthy assets are being sold to Intesa Sanpaolo, Italy's strongest bank, for a symbolic price of one euro.

At the same time, their "bad" or "non-performing" loans are being transferred into a so-called "bad bank."

The healthy assets being taken over by Intesa represent a workforce of 9,960 in Italy and a further 880 abroad, as well as a total 960 branches.

As part of the intervention, across the new Intesa group as a whole some 600 branches will be closed and 3,900 people offered voluntary redundancy, the bank said Monday.

The deal "makes it possible to avoid the serious social consequences that would have otherwise derived from compulsory administrative liquidation proceedings for the two banks," Intesa said.

'Domino risk'

The rescue "will safeguard the jobs at the banks involved, the savings of around two million households, the activities of around 200,000 businesses financially supported and, therefore, the jobs of three million people in the areas which record the country's highest economic growth rate," it said.

Credit Suisse analysts described the deal as "a happy ending" for Italian banks in general because it lowered the risk of a systemic crisis, and for Intesa in particular, because of the assets it acquired.

Intesa chairman Gian Maria Gros-Pietro said the state intervention had avoided the risk of a "domino effect" for the rest of the banking sector.

Had Italy's other banks been left to finance a resolution of their Venetian peers, several of them would have encountered difficulties raising the necessary funds, he said.

The European Commission approved the state-financed rescue after Italy argued that it was necessary to avoid significant damage to the economy in Veneto, the country's most prosperous region.

Italy's central bank, Banca d'Italia, said it would be business as usual at the two Venetian banks' branches.

"Clients are not affected by this move. All banking operations will proceed as normal, but under the responsibility of Intesa Sanpaolo," it said.

Intesa said it would "allocate 60 million euros in total as restitution to small savers who hold subordinated bonds issued by the two banks."

- Good step -

Intesa Sanpaolo said the acquisition of the two banks would be "fully neutral" to its core "Tier 1" capital ratio and dividend policy.

Under the rescue package, the government is paying five billion euros to Intesa to cover the costs of integrating the two banks, restructuring them and laying off employees.

The Italian government will also provide state guarantees worth up to 12 billion euros to cover potential losses at the "bad" bank.

LC Macro Advisors chief economist Loronzo Codogno said it was "a solution that preserves financial stability (at a potentially large cost for Italian taxpayers) and makes a good step in the direction of solving the remaining issues of the Italian banking sector".

The move would take 18 billion euros of bad debt out of the Italian banking system and help restore the sector's ability to provide much-needed credit to the sluggish economy, he said.

But the former director general of Italy's Treasury Department said the "whole problem should have been addressed long ago and the responsibilities are probably equally shared among Rome, Brussels and Frankfurt.

"The moral of the story is that the longer you wait to address banking issues the worse the situation becomes," he added.

New museum boosts Paris claim to be modern art capital

One of the world’s biggest art collectors unveiled Monday his plans for a spectacular new museum in Paris, cementing the city’s claim to be a modern art capital.French billionaire Francois Pinault will show his $1.4 billion (1.25 billion euro) collecti…

One of the world's biggest art collectors unveiled Monday his plans for a spectacular new museum in Paris, cementing the city's claim to be a modern art capital.

French billionaire Francois Pinault will show his $1.4 billion (1.25 billion euro) collection of modern masters in the domed Bourse de Commerce, within a stone's throw of the Louvre, long the world's most visited museum.

The new gallery, which he said would open in early 2019, is also within sight of the Pompidou Centre, which houses Europe's largest modern art collection.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo called the museum "an immense gift" to the French capital and told reporters that it would help put the city back at the top of the modern art tree.

Pinault, 80, holds an enormous trove of abstract and contemporary masterpieces in a 3,500-piece collection that goes from Mark Rothko to Damien Hirst.

He owns the auction house Christie's and built a fashion empire that contains labels like Gucci, Saint Laurent and Balenciaga, and already has his own private museum in Venice.

But he has been trying for decades to find a home for his collection in Paris.

That desire sharpened when his great business rival Bernard Arnault, who controls the LVMH luxury goods conglomerate, opened the Frank Gehry-designed Louis Vuitton Foundation for his art collection in 2014.

Pinault has commissioned another Pritzker-winning architect, the Japanese master Tadao Ando, to convert the magnificent 19th-century Bourse de Commerce, which sits on the edge of Paris's former central market district.

- 'Epicentre' of world culture -

Ando compared the circular building to the ancient Pantheon in Rome.

He said the concrete cylinder he plans for the inside of the building would be "the cultural epicentre of Paris which in turn is the epicentre of culture in the world."

He said he would create three floors of galleries under the building's dome, whose spectacular frescos representing trade with the five continents are also being restored.

The former corn exchange is a part of a one-billion-euro urban renewal project to give what Hidalgo calls a "new beating heart" to the city's Les Halles district.

Paris's beautiful central market was bulldozed in the 1970s to make way for an airless underground shopping complex and transport hub which many Parisians loathe.

But a vast new steel-and-glass canopy unveiled last year to put a lid on the problem has also been derided, with one critic branding it a "custard-coloured flop".

Asked earlier if he was going to his expand his collection to fill the new space, Pinault said, "When you see a new work you have to know when to jump on it. The big public institutions cannot do that.

"We are a museum in movement and (will be) very complementary to the existing institutions," he added.

In 2001, Pinault handed the reins of his empire to his son Francois-Henri, who is married to the Mexican Hollywood star Salma Hayek.

Since then the man once described as "the most powerful in the art world" has mostly dedicated himself to his art collection, installing it in the Palazzo Grassi in Venice and two other historic buildings there.

The Venice venues will work in tandem with the new Paris gallery, sources close to the collector told AFP.

Dutch scientists fete rare meteorite find

Dutch scientists on Monday celebrated the discovery of only the sixth meteorite found in recent history in The Netherlands, which at 4.5-billion years old may hold clues to the birth of our solar system.”Meteorites are very special because we do not ha…

Dutch scientists on Monday celebrated the discovery of only the sixth meteorite found in recent history in The Netherlands, which at 4.5-billion years old may hold clues to the birth of our solar system.

"Meteorites are very special because we do not have rocks of this age on earth," said geologist Leo Kriegsman from the Naturalis biodiversity centre in Leiden in a YouTube video marking the occasion.

The fist-sized meteorite, weighing about 500 grammes (one pound), crashed through the roof of a shed in the small town of Broek in Waterland, just north of Amsterdam, in January probably travelling at the speed of a high-velocity train.

It was discovered the next morning by the residents, but despite an extensive search, no other fragments were found.

Even though meteor showers probably reach the northern European country every four years, the small space rocks are very hard to find. This is only the sixth meteorite found in the past 200 years in The Netherlands.

"We can learn from it what happened in the very beginning of the solar system when you had a stellar cloud that collapsed and minerals started to form, when planetoids started to form for the very first time," said Kriegsman.

"So it gives us information on what happened at the very beginning when the Earth was formed."

He estimated that the meteorite probably came from the region between Mars and Jupiter where there is a large asteroid belt with "a lot of rocks and small planets" flying around which sometimes fall out of their orbit.

The Leiden centre was unveiling the meteorite on Monday, after carrying out extensive tests on it first.

"We wanted to be 100 percent sure of what kind of meteorite it was, so we needed to carry out some research first," Kriegsman told AFP.

Kvitova withdraws from Eastbourne after Birmingham triumph

Petra Kvitova has pulled out of the Wimbledon warm-up at Eastbourne this week with an abdominal injury, the WTA reported on Monday.News of the 27-year-old Czech’s absence came 24 hours after the two-time Wimbledon champion made a triumphant comeback fr…

Petra Kvitova has pulled out of the Wimbledon warm-up at Eastbourne this week with an abdominal injury, the WTA reported on Monday.

News of the 27-year-old Czech's absence came 24 hours after the two-time Wimbledon champion made a triumphant comeback from a knife attack by lifting the Birmingham title.

"Petra Kvitova has withdrawn from Eastbourne with an abdominal injury," the WTA announced on their official twitter page.

Kvitova beat Australian Ashleigh Barty 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 in the final of the grass-court event in Birmingham.

In December she suffered severe injuries to her left playing hand while fighting off a knife-wielding burglar at her home.

Bahrain accuses Qatar of ‘military escalation’

Bahrain’s foreign minister on Monday accused Qatar of a “military escalation” in the Gulf diplomatic crisis, an apparent reference to Doha’s allowing Turkish troops on its territory.”The disagreement with Qatar is a political and security dispute and h…

Bahrain's foreign minister on Monday accused Qatar of a "military escalation" in the Gulf diplomatic crisis, an apparent reference to Doha's allowing Turkish troops on its territory.

"The disagreement with Qatar is a political and security dispute and has never been military," Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa said on Twitter.

"But the deployment of foreign troops with their armoured vehicles is a military escalation for which Qatar will bear the consequences."

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain are among several countries which announced on June 5 they were suspending all ties with Qatar, accusing it of support for extremist groups -- a claim Doha denies.

They have also closed their airspace to Qatari carriers and blocked the emirate's only land border, a vital route for its food imports.

The countries have presented a 13-point ultimatum to Qatar but Doha has rejected their demands as unrealistic.

Turkey has given some support to Doha, with a bill fast-tracked through the Turkish parliament allowing Ankara to send as many as several thousand troops to a base in Qatar.

Ankara sent a contingent of 23 soldiers and five armoured vehicles to its Gulf ally on Thursday, adding to around 90 Turkish troops already stationed there.

"Certain regional powers are mistaken if they think that their intervention will resolve the problem," Sheikh Khalid said on Twitter.

Gloves off over Merkel ‘attack’ as vote fight heats up

Germany’s election campaign battle heated up Monday, with accusations of mud-slinging flying after Chancellor Angela Merkel’s rival accused her of an “attack on democracy”.Social Democrats chief Martin Schulz lashed out Sunday at the German leader, say…

Germany's election campaign battle heated up Monday, with accusations of mud-slinging flying after Chancellor Angela Merkel's rival accused her of an "attack on democracy".

Social Democrats chief Martin Schulz lashed out Sunday at the German leader, saying the famously cautious Merkel caused voters to disengage by refusing to air her views or engage in forceful debate.

"That's what's called, in Berlin circles, 'asymmetric demobilisation'," said Schulz, referring to Merkel's supposed tactic of making politics so dull that opposition voters don't bother showing up on polling day.

"I call it an attack on democracy," charged Schulz, whose Social Democratic Party (SPD) are now the junior partner in Merkel's right-left coalition.

But Schulz, who also accused Merkel of "arrogance", was swiftly met with a torrent of protest and accused of having crossed a line.

"Even if Mr Schulz is frustrated by the polls, he should remain measured," tweeted Peter Tauber, the general secretary of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

"The desperation must never be so deep that democrats accuse democrats of attacks against democracy," he said.

Tauber pledged that the CDU would pursue a "fair campaign", adding that "that's what we're expecting from the SPD, too".

But, defending his SPD party boss, its parliamentary group head Thomas Oppermann said Schulz has struck the right tone.

"An election campaign is not a pillow fight, one needs to be concrete. I find that he succeeded in this case," Oppermann told public broadcaster ARD.

Government spokesman Steffen Seibert declined to comment on issues of party politics but stressed that it was "clear" for the coalition that "we are all working for democracy".

- 'Sounds like panic' -

Schulz revitalised SPD support and enjoyed soaring popularity ratings when he took his party's reins in January, but the trend has since reversed.

Three months before Germany heads to the polls on September 24, the SPD is trailing Merkel's centre-right CDU by 15 percentage points, according to a survey published Sunday by Bild am Sonntag.

After four years in a coalition led by Merkel, the SPD has seen falling support as its left-leaning supporters accuse it of shifting too far right to accomodate the German leader's economically liberal policies.

For Horst Seehofer, who heads Merkel's conservative Bavarian allies the CSU, Schulz's harsh words for Merkel bode ill for the SPD candidate himself.

"It seems a little early in the campaign to have lost one's nerves," he said, adding that it's "not a good sign for a chancellor candidate but, actually, rather unworthy".

The head of the pro-business liberal FDP party, Christian Lindner, also waded in.

"When one uses vocabulary as serious as that which Mr Schulz did, then undoubtedly there is a danger of trivialising the real enemies of democracy," he told the Heilbronner Stimme newspaper.

But Lindner also took a swipe at the CDU over its reaction to Schulz's charge.

"The excitement in the (CDU-CSU) is somewhat disingenuous because it is obviously remaining vague and unambitious for tactical reasons," said Lindner, whose party is viewed as a potential candidate for a future governing coalition with Merkel's CDU.

Germany's biggest selling daily Bild also weighed in, saying that "Schulz resorting to accusing the chancellor of 'attacking democracy' sounds like panic".

Modi, in Washington, hails ‘growing convergence’ of US-India interests

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed the increasing “convergence” of US-Indian interests and values, as he prepared for his first face-to-face meeting Monday with President Donald Trump.Modi brimmed with optimism about the future of trade and di…

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed the increasing "convergence" of US-Indian interests and values, as he prepared for his first face-to-face meeting Monday with President Donald Trump.

Modi brimmed with optimism about the future of trade and diplomatic relations between the world's two largest democracies in an opinion piece appearing in Monday's Wall Street Journal.

Following a visit to the United States one year ago, when he addressed a joint session of the US Congress, Modi wrote that he returns "confident in the growing convergence between our two nations."

"This confidence stems from the strength of our shared values and the stability of our systems," the Indian leader wrote.

"In an uncertain global economic landscape, our two nations stand as mutually reinforcing engines of growth and innovation," he said in the daily.

"Whenever India and the US work together, the world reaps the benefits."

Modi and Trump are due to hold afternoon talks and a working dinner at the White House, though no press conference is scheduled.

On Sunday, the Indian leader met with top American executives, painting for them a picture of a business-friendly India with "minimum" governmental encumbrances.

That message is expected to resonate with Trump, who has proposed streamlining what he calls business-hampering US regulations and cutting the budgets of several US government agencies.

"India believes that a strong America is good for the world," Modi told the CEOs, according to the foreign ministry in New Delhi.

Despite the upbeat rhetoric, the relationship between the two leaders has hit some initial snags.

Trump accused India of seeking to profit from the Paris climate accord as he announced the US withdrawal from the deal this month -- drawing sharp denials from New Delhi.

A proposed overhaul of H-1B visas -- used by thousands of Indian software engineers to work in the United States -- has also caused concern in New Delhi.

N. Ireland’s DUP: A controversial partner for British PM May

Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, which struck a deal with the Conservatives on Monday aimed at keeping British Prime Minister Theresa May in power, has caused alarm in some circles over its incendiary views and virulent past.The self-style…

Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party, which struck a deal with the Conservatives on Monday aimed at keeping British Prime Minister Theresa May in power, has caused alarm in some circles over its incendiary views and virulent past.

The self-styled "Christian fundamentalist" party has softened its fiery anti-Catholicism and other harsh stances over the years -- it no longer calls for padlocking children's playgrounds and closing cafes and bars on Sundays.

But the party that in 1977 launched the "Save Ulster (Northern Ireland) from Sodomy" campaign still holds tight to what critics call its puritanical views, particularly on social issues such as abortion and sexual equality.

And its negotiations with May's government had prompted warnings in the Republic of Ireland of a disrupted balance of power in Belfast that could in turn upset a delicate peace struck after decades of sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland known as the Troubles.

In mainland Britain, protests have erupted over the DUPs opposition to gay marriage and abortion, as well as many senior members' support for teaching creationism, and a history of links to paramilitaries who fought Catholic nationalists during the Troubles.

The DUP has blocked same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland's assembly five times in recent years, with senior members threatening to leave the party if it ever votes in favour.

"Peter will not marry Paul in Northern Ireland," senior party member Jim Wells said earlier this year.

- 'Anti-Irish bigotry' -

Some senior DUP members -- many of whom belong to the right-wing, avowedly anti-Catholic Orange Order -- even advocate the literal biblical teaching of creationism in every school at the expense of evolution.

Jon Tonge, a professor of history at Liverpool University who has written extensively about the DUP, has said that while the party has become less dogmatic, it certainly cannot be described as pluralist.

In his 2014 book "The DUP: From Protest To Power", Tonge found that 54 percent of party supporters "would mind a lot" if someone from their family married a person of another religion and 58.4 percent would not want their child to go to a non-Protestant school.

So it was a surprise to many political commentators in 2005 when the party agreed to enter a power-sharing arrangement with its bitter enemy Sinn Fein, once the political mouthpiece of the Irish Republican Army, which fought an armed campaign for Irish unity over three decades.

Although the Belfast assembly appeared to operate with reasonable cordiality for much of a decade, it collapsed spectacularly in January over DUP leader Arlene Foster's involvement in a botched renewable heating scheme.

The clash led Sinn Fein to warn of a breakdown in trust, charging the DUP with "arrogance and a lack of respect" for minorities, particularly Irish nationalists.

"It is disappointing that the deep and overlapping anti-Irish and anti-Catholic bigotry of so many DUP-supporting unionists appears to still play a significant role in Northern life and politics," Andy Pollak, former director of the Centre for Cross-Border Studies, said at the time.

Foster has condemned political violence, but her party has long been criticised for sharing platforms with paramilitaries and for an apparent willingness to endorse armed resistance against perceived attempts to "sell out Ulster".

While the DUP promised to vote in favour of legislation linked to Brexit, it could prove a difficult partner during the negotiations.

The party campaigned for Brexit in last year's referendum but is faced with growing concern in Northern Ireland about the prospect of checks being reimposed the border with the Irish Republic -- a reminder of the bad old days of the Troubles.

In pro-EU circles, that has led some to hope that Foster could moderate May's stance on Brexit.

"The Democratic Unionists have chosen to prop up a government that remains intent on a hard and destructive Brexit," James McGrory, head of the Open Britain campaign, said on Monday.

"It is crucial that they do not betray the voters by going back on their manifesto promises and caving in to ministers' obsession with an extreme and chaotic exit from the EU.