EU to slap Google with record fine this week: sources

The EU’s powerful anti-trust regulator will slap Google with a record fine as early as Tuesday in another European blow against a US tech giant, sources said.Led by hard-charging European Commission competition chief Margrethe Vestager, the EU will imp…

The EU's powerful anti-trust regulator will slap Google with a record fine as early as Tuesday in another European blow against a US tech giant, sources said.

Led by hard-charging European Commission competition chief Margrethe Vestager, the EU will impose a massive penalty against Google that would break the previous record of 1.06 billion euros set in 2009 against Intel, the US chipmaker.

More importantly for Google, Brussels will demand that the US tech giant change its business practices to meet the EU's concerns.

The decision, expected Tuesday or Wednesday, comes a year after Vestager shocked the world and angered the Obama administration with an order that Apple repay 13 billion euros in back taxes in Ireland.

Sources close to the matter said Google's fine would range 1.1-2.0 billion euros. While an EU record, this is well below the maximum possible of about 8.0 billion euros or 10 percent of Google's total revenue last year.

Brussels accuses Google of giving its own online shopping services top priority in search results to the detriment of other price comparison services.

The case is one of three against Google and of several against blockbuster US companies including Starbucks, Apple, Amazon and McDonalds.

In the other Google cases, the EU is examining Google's AdSense advertising service and its Android mobile phone software.

If confirmed, the fine would come after a long period in which the two sides tried to settle the case amicably.

The cases have stoked tensions with Washington and could now face the wrath of US President Donald Trump, who won office on his "America First" slogan.

"We continue to engage constructively with the European Commission and we believe strongly that our innovations in online shopping have been good for shoppers, retailers and competition," said Mark Jansen, a spokesman for Google.

The European Commission refused to comment.

The Commission, which polices EU competition policy, launched an initial investigation into Google in 2010 following complaints from rivals such as Microsoft and Trip Advisor that it favoured its own shopping services when customers ran searches.

Claims that practices by Google Shopping harm competition "are wrong as a matter of fact, law, and economics," Google's general counsel Kent Walker wrote in response to the EU last year.

Vestager's predecessor, Joaquin Almunia, made three attempts to resolve the dispute but in each case intense pressure by national governments, rivals and privacy advocates scuppered the effort.

Italy’s left fears Berlusconi revival after rightwing parties win big

Italy’s right was celebrating Monday after big victories in local elections, with all eyes on a potential comeback for former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi just months before the country holds national elections.Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (Go Italy) …

Italy's right was celebrating Monday after big victories in local elections, with all eyes on a potential comeback for former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi just months before the country holds national elections.

Berlusconi's Forza Italia (Go Italy) party and the anti-immigrant Northern League won 16 of the 22 cities up for grabs Sunday in a shock setback for the governing centre-left Democratic Party (PD).

In the biggest blow of this second round of municipal elections, the northern city of Genoa -- traditionally a bastion of the left -- passed to the centre-right for the first time in more than 50 years.

Former centre-left prime minister Matteo Renzi, who hopes the next general election will return him to power, dismissed the wins as having little bearing on national voter sentiment, but the mood on the left was sombre.

"It couldn't have gone worse. And not just for Matteo Renzi, not just for the PD. But for the whole of the Italian left," editorialist Riccardo Barenghi wrote in the left-leaning La Stampa daily.

It was "as if we'd gone back 23 years to when the left was beaten by the Cavaliere (Berlusconi), who appeared on the scene like a rabbit from a magician's hat, and today reappears like a castigating ghost".

The next general election must be held by spring 2018, but the coalition supporting Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni is fragile and many experts say the government could call elections for late in the year.

At the national level, the PD and the populist Five Star Movement (M5S) are running neck-and-neck in the polls, each with about 30 percent of voter intentions, while Forza Italia and the Northern League are each hovering at around 14 percent.

Political commentator Stefano Folli called Sunday's results "a searing and very painful loss for the left."

"Berlusconi reveals himself to be politically immortal," he wrote in the centre-left daily La Repubblica.

Berlusconi, 80, had been largely absent from politics -- though not the gossip pages -- following his ousting in 2011 and his party had since struggled with internal divisions and corruption scandals.

On Sunday it benefited in part by picking up votes from supporters of Five Star, which performed poorly in the first round and failed to make it into run-offs in any of the largest cities.

"If we can stay united, we will win the legislative elections and govern," a triumphant Berlusconi said.

Renzi, 42, limited himself to admitting that "it could have gone better."

N. Korea voices doubts over South’s Olympic invite: report

A top North Korean sports official voiced doubts over a proposal by South Korean President Moon Jae-In to form a unified Olympic team, citing political tensions and a lack of time, a report said.The comment by Chang Ung, the North’s delegate to the Int…

A top North Korean sports official voiced doubts over a proposal by South Korean President Moon Jae-In to form a unified Olympic team, citing political tensions and a lack of time, a report said.

The comment by Chang Ung, the North's delegate to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) came after Moon suggested that two Koreas pool their athletes to form a joint team for the 2018 Winter Games, which the South is hosting.

The South and the nuclear-armed North are separated by one of the world's most heavily-armed borders and remain technically at war after the Korean War ended with armistice in 1953 instead of a peace treaty, and Pyongyang boycotted the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.

Organisers of Pyeongchang 2018 have urged it to take part to make them a "peace Olympics".

But unlike the summer version, the winter games have minimum qualifications because of the risks inherent in snow and ice sports, and so far no North Korean athletes have met the required standards.

That raises the prospect that none will attend, even if political issues over the North's nuclear and missile ambitions do not intrude.

A unified group could allow North Koreans to take part in team events such as ice hockey.

But with only seven months to go before the Games open in the South Korean resort of Pyeongchang, Chang said there was not enough time to reach an agreement.

"From a point of an Olympics expert, it is already too late," Chang told South Korean cable news outlet Channel A at the opening of the World Taekwondo Championships in the South.

A former national basketball captain and the North's sole IOC member, Chang stressed that so-called sports diplomacy takes months of painstaking preparations and political coordination.

The two Koreas held more than 20 meetings over six months before forming a unified team for the 1991 World Table Tennis Championships in Japan, he added.

"The political situation should be resolved first. Politics lies above sports," Chang told Channel A late Sunday, adding that the ping-pong diplomacy that helped improve China-US ties in the 1970s came after years of political negotiations.

"The achievement was made using ping pong as a catalyst, because a political foundation was already laid out," he said, adding: "The world says ping pong made everything happen, but it's not true."

The South's new President Moon, who took helm in May, advocates engagement with the North to bring it to negotiating table and Seoul's sports minister Do Jong-Hwan has also suggested holding some Olympic events at a ski resort in the North.

But Chang expressed scepticism, saying: "It's easier said than done."

Macron says France will not recognise Crimea ‘annexation’

President Emmanuel Macron said Monday France refuses to recognise Russia’s “annexation” of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea.Speaking after talks with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Paris, Macron said: “France is committed to Ukraine’s soverei…

President Emmanuel Macron said Monday France refuses to recognise Russia's "annexation" of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea.

Speaking after talks with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Paris, Macron said: "France is committed to Ukraine's sovereignty with its recognised borders."

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday visited Crimea, which Moscow annexed in 2014, in a trip that Kiev condemned as a violation of its sovereignty.

Western powers accuse Russia of failing to honour its commitments under the Minsk accords framework for ending the violence between government forces and Kremlin-backed rebels in Ukraine's east.

EU leaders agreed last week to extend stringent economic sanctions against Russia for another six months, saying Moscow had failed to meet its commitments on the ceasefire in Ukraine.

The French foreign ministry said OSCE observers in Ukraine were being subjected to "unacceptable intimidation and obstacles".

When Macron met Putin in May, shortly after the new French leader took office, he admitted the two had "disagreed on a number of things".

Netanyahu under fire after reneging on Western Wall deal

Israel’s shelving of a deal to allow mixed-gender prayers at the Western Wall echoed far beyond religion Monday, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused of abandoning reform efforts for political gain.Netanyahu’s cabinet voted Sunday to back out…

Israel's shelving of a deal to allow mixed-gender prayers at the Western Wall echoed far beyond religion Monday, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused of abandoning reform efforts for political gain.

Netanyahu's cabinet voted Sunday to back out of the hard-won deal, provoking a flood of criticism and warnings it could damage Israel's relationship with the United States' influential Jewish community.

That followed pressure from ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties who are part of Netanyahu's right-wing coalition and follow a strict interpretation of religious rules.

Such parties have often played a kingmaker role in Israeli politics and have opposed years of efforts by more liberal Jews to win equal rights for women at the Western Wall, one of the holiest sites in Judaism.

Women and men currently pray in separate areas at the site in Jerusalem's Old City, where religious affairs are overseen by Israel's ultra-Orthodox establishment.

A compromise reached more than a year ago would have created a third space near the wall, open to both women and men.

Sunday's cabinet vote froze the deal -- effectively cancelling it -- despite the government having earlier endorsed it.

In a sign of the tensions the decision provoked, the Jewish Agency, a quasi-governmental organisation that helped mediate the deal, heavily criticised the move and cancelled an event with Netanyahu scheduled for Monday evening in response.

Yair Lapid, an opposition figure and leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party, said the decision meant Israel was "the only democracy in the world without equality for Jews."

"Did Prime Minister Netanyahu and his ministers decide to cancel the framework because they thought it was the right thing for the people of Israel?" Lapid said on his Facebook page.

"Of course not. They did it because the only thing which motivates them is political pressure."

Netanyahu had not publicly commented on the decision.

His coalition, seen as the most right-wing in Israel's history, holds 66 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, or parliament.

Ultra-Orthodox parties control 13 of the coalition's seats. Some 10 percent of Israel's population are considered ultra-Orthodox.

- 'One Western Wall' -

The Western Wall, located in Jerusalem's Old City, is venerated by Jews as a remnant of a wall supporting the Second Temple complex, which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.

It is the holiest site where Jews are allowed to pray.

Israel's cabinet initially approved the mixed prayer plan in January 2016 after careful negotiations.

It was however never implemented, as ultra-Orthodox parties, under pressure from their supporters, moved to block it.

A case being examined by Israel's top court has put pressure on ultra-Orthodox parties to move to have the deal revoked.

The supreme court is expected to rule soon on a petition filed by more liberal religious movements to force the government to implement the agreement and create the mixed prayer space.

Sunday's move to back out of the deal prompted anger among Jewish movements in the United States, home to more than five million Jews, most of whom are not Orthodox.

"Prime Minister Netanyahu's decision to say 'no' to his previous 'yes' is an unconscionable insult to the majority of world Jewry," Rabbi Rick Jacobs, head of the US-based Union for Reform Judaism, said in a statement.

It is a sensitive issue for Israel, which relies on the United States as its most important ally, providing it with strong diplomatic support and more than $3 billion (2.7 billion euros) per year in defence aid.

Many Israelis see support from Jewish communities in the United States and worldwide as essential.

"We cannot let narrow-minded politicking threaten the unity of the Jewish people," Yohanan Plesner, president of the respected Israel Democracy Institute think tank, said in a statement.

"If we expect Jews abroad to support the state of Israel, we must also ensure their religious equality. Israel's national security is at stake."

But for Israel's ultra-Orthodox establishment, changes such as mixed prayer betray Jewish tradition.

"There was and shall remain one Western Wall to one people," Religious Affairs Minister David Azoulay of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party told army radio.

"I won't accept attempts to impose a different Jewish law or Torah."

Nestle and L’Oreal shares boom after Third Point move

Nestle and L’Oreal shares rose on Monday after US hedge fund Third Point bought a one percent stake in the Swiss food giant and immediately urged it to sell its large holding in L’Oreal.Third Point has a reputation for aggressively pushing for change a…

Nestle and L'Oreal shares rose on Monday after US hedge fund Third Point bought a one percent stake in the Swiss food giant and immediately urged it to sell its large holding in L'Oreal.

Third Point has a reputation for aggressively pushing for change at target firms, including Sony and Yahoo!, and in a letter to investors on Sunday, Third Point founder Dan Loeb announced the fund had acquired one percent in Nestle, worth $3.5 billion (3.1 billion euros).

The fund says Nestle, which makes Nescafe coffee and Perrier water, has probably the best portfolio of brands in the sector, but has not kept up with changing consumer tastes and buying habits in recent years.

Shares in Nestle were up 4.14 percent at 85.50 in Zurich at 11:38 am (0938 GMT), while in Paris L'Oreal was up 3.83 percent at 195.30 euros.

Third Point welcomed the appointment of Ulf Mark Schneider as chairman in January and urged him to act ambitiously.

The fund, which has had talks with Nestle management, called on the group to increase its margins to 18-20 percent by 2020 and build up funds to buy back stock.

It also said Nestle should sell the rest of its stake in L'Oreal, judging this the right moment to monetise the holding, worth some $25 billion.

Contacted by AFP, L'Oreal declined to comment on the matter.

Stalin tops Putin in Russian poll of greatest historical figures

Russians have picked Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin as the greatest figure in history, a new poll said Monday, beating President Vladimir Putin into joint second alongside poet Alexander Pushkin.In the poll conducted in April by the Levada Centre indepe…

Russians have picked Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin as the greatest figure in history, a new poll said Monday, beating President Vladimir Putin into joint second alongside poet Alexander Pushkin.

In the poll conducted in April by the Levada Centre independent pollster, Russians were asked to pick the ten greatest individuals of all time.

Stalin came out on top with 38 percent, while Putin shared second place on 34 percent with Russia's beloved national bard Pushkin.

Revolutionary Vladimir Lenin, Tsar Peter the Great and first man in space Yury Gagarin came next in the list of 20 people, with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in last place on six percent.

The list includes famed statesmen, writers and scientists but only three foreigners: Napoleon Bonaparte, Albert Einstein, and Isaac Newton.

Stalin topped a similar poll back in 2012 with an even higher score as Russians focus on his role in winning World War II rather the millions who were executed or sent to prison camps under his rule.

Putin's percentage was the highest since he began appearing in the poll in 2003.

In Mongolia, democracy unfolds in a yurt

At 6:55 a.m. on Monday, a man in rural Mongolia stood outside a yurt and looked down at his watch. Five minutes remained until presidential election polls opened in the country of just three million wedged between Russia and China. Clad in a bright gre…

At 6:55 a.m. on Monday, a man in rural Mongolia stood outside a yurt and looked down at his watch.

Five minutes remained until presidential election polls opened in the country of just three million wedged between Russia and China. Clad in a bright green traditional "deel" gown, Sharkhuu Gerelt-Od was ready.

The 39-year-old public servant was the chief organiser of a mobile polling station in Erdene Sum, a small city situated in Mongolia's sprawling steppes, where nomadic herders parked their yurts -- circular, collapsible tents -- and let their livestock graze among the rolling hills.

The polling station was set up to accomodate these herders, who move with the changing seasons to find the best pastures for their goats, horses and yaks.

"We have to provide the conditions for the herders to vote," said Gerelt-Od.

"We have to give them access -- it's their constitutional right."

Soon he was joined inside the yurt by other polling booth officials, all garbed in colourful traditional outfits.

At the centre of the tent was a tall stack of bread carrying curd sweets, cheese pieces and a thick cream.

It is Mongolian tradition to offer guests with the best food that one has on hand. Among herding communities, that food is often dairy.

"The voters are our guests in this yurt," Gerelt-Od said with a smile.

The first voters, a husband and wife herder pair whose yurt was stationed in the area, arrived wearing a suit and a printed dress.

- Dressing up -

Voting is a special event in the young democracy, which started holding elections in 1990 after decades of Soviet control. The day of the presidential elections is a national holiday, and Mongolians dress up for the occasion.

Aside from Western-style business casual and traditional Mongolian attire, several voters also came clad in fedoras and tall leather boots.

Gerelt-Od and the other officials greeted many of the arrivals with a small bottle containing a mixture of herbs and tobacco powder, which the voters passed around and sniffed in turn -- another traditional form of greeting.

This year's election campaign, however, was mired in corruption scandals plaguing all three candidates: Mieygombo Enkhbold of the parliament-ruling Mongolian People's Party, Khaltmaa Battulga of the outgoing president's opposition Democratic Party and Sainkhuu Ganbaatar of the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party.

- Searching greener pastures -

Although the national statistics office estimates that herders make up about a third of Mongolia's population, their nomadic way of life is increasingly threated by "dzuds" -- summer droughts followed by severe winters.

The growing frequency of the extreme weather phenomenon, which causes livestock to freeze to death, is attributed to climate change.

Gerelt-Od's full-time job for the Erdene Sum government involves monitoring the environmental impact of local businesses.

"I wanted to protect my country's natural environment," he said, "and to preserve the land as it was".

Environmental issues were foremost on voters' minds at the yurt polling station.

Vanganjal Tsendmaa drove 13 kilometres from her yurt to vote for Enkhbold.

"This year has been very dry," said Tsendmaa, 60.

"The government can help herders by making sure there are enough wells, especially in remote areas. The most important thing for raising animals is water."

Sundui Nemekhtuya, 58, said the next president should prioritise "issues concerning pasture land."

"If you respect the environment, nature will revive itself," she said.

After the voters filled out their ballots and placed them into a machine, they sat under a canopy and ate snacks with the election officials, who poured them salty Mongolian milk tea.

By 10 a.m., more than 50 people had passed through the station -- about 12 percent of the 443 who were registered for that location.

More voters were expected to arrive at noon, after most herders had finished tending to their animals.

When the polls close later that night, the voting machine will be transported to the city centre for ballot counting.

Until then, Gerelt-Od will tip his fedora at voters, sip his milk tea, and wait.

Hong Kong activists stage China protests ahead of Xi visit

Hong Kong saw multiple protests Monday ahead of a visit by President Xi Jinping to mark 20 years since the city was handed back to China by Britain. Pro-democracy activists including high-profile student campaigner Joshua Wong draped a black flag over …

Hong Kong saw multiple protests Monday ahead of a visit by President Xi Jinping to mark 20 years since the city was handed back to China by Britain.

Pro-democracy activists including high-profile student campaigner Joshua Wong draped a black flag over a statue symbolising Hong Kong's return to China in an early morning act of defiance.

Dozens more campaigners marched to China's representative office in the city in the afternoon in a rally against the detention of hundreds of human rights lawyers on the mainland, while a group of protesters also gathered in central Hong Kong to "sing for democracy".

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 comes as there are increasing concerns Beijing is trampling the handover agreement guaranteeing Hong Kong's semi-autonomous status by interfering in a range of areas, from politics to education and media.

In the morning demonstration, a dozen activists attached a black cloth to the giant golden bauhinia flower on Hong Kong's harbourfront as security tried to stop them climbing on the famous tourist attraction.

The sculpture of the bauhinia, which became the emblem of Hong Kong after the handover, was a present to the city from China in 1997 and stands outside the convention centre where Xi will attend anniversary events during a three-day visit starting Thursday.

Police were called to take the flag down while the protesters chanted "democratic self-determination for Hong Kong's future" and "one country, two systems has been a lie for 20 years", referring to Hong Kong's semi-autonomous status.

- 'Barbaric' treatment -

Campaigners like Wong are calling for democratic reforms, promised in the handover deal, to change a system where the city leader is still chosen by a pro-China committee and the legislature is weighted towards Beijing.

Wong led mass Umbrella Movement rallies calling for fully free leadership elections in 2014, but they failed to win concessions.

Since then calls for self-determination or even full independence from China have emerged.

Wong's party Demosisto wants a public referendum on Hong Kong's future in 2047, the year the handover agreement protecting the city's way of life and liberties expires.

Veteran politician and former legislator Emily Lau was among those who gathered in a separate protest Monday afternoon against the detention of lawyers by China, which she called "barbaric".

"We firmly believe that a regime that does not respect basic human rights... cannot maintain stability and cannot secure legitimacy," added activist Joseph Cheng.

Another group of around 20 protesters, including pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo, sang "Do You Hear the People Sing?" outside the Court of Final Appeal in central Hong Kong in the late afternoon.

The song from the musical "Les Miserables" was a popular chant for the tens of thousands who gathered during the 2014 Umbrella Movement which brought parts of Hong Kong to a standstill for over two months.

Protesters say they are preparing further actions during the handover celebrations and Xi's visit will be shrouded in a huge security operation.

Spain sends reinforcements as fire spreads near wildlife reserve

Firefighters were battling Monday to contain a blaze threatening a renowned national park in southern Spain which has already led to the evacuation of some 2,000 people.Authorities were sending additional firefighters to tackle the flames at the Donana…

Firefighters were battling Monday to contain a blaze threatening a renowned national park in southern Spain which has already led to the evacuation of some 2,000 people.

Authorities were sending additional firefighters to tackle the flames at the Donana Natural Park in southwestern Spain near Huelva, a fire service spokesman told AFP.

"The flames are not under control, they are spreading," he added, though no injuries have been reported.

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

Strong winds and scorching heat were complicating efforts to fight the blaze, which broke out Saturday near the town of Moguer, officials said.

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.

"The flames have not reached the national park," the official in charge of the environment with the regional government of Andalusia, Jose Fiscal Lopez, told Spanish public television.

"A special effort was made during the night on the front which threatened the park the most," he added.

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.

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."

Over 200 firefighters backed by 15 vehicles and seven planes were battling the blaze on Monday morning, emergency services said.

The cause remained unknown but Fiscal Lopez said officials were "certain" human activity played a role.

"It remains to be seen if this was with (criminal) intent or due to negligence," he added.

The fire prompted the closure of several roads and the evacuation of some 2,000 people, including guests at camp sites and several hotels.

There were no immediate details on how much land had been burned so far.

‘Troll’s Penis’ to be re-erected in Norway

Norwegians have come out en masse to raise nearly 20,000 euros to repair an eye-catching penis-shaped rock formation apparently knocked down by vandals, an online collection showed on Monday.The formation, which local guides had planned to make a touri…

Norwegians have come out en masse to raise nearly 20,000 euros to repair an eye-catching penis-shaped rock formation apparently knocked down by vandals, an online collection showed on Monday.

The formation, which local guides had planned to make a tourist destination, is known as "Trollpikken", or "The Troll's Penis" in a very conservative translation.

Hikers in southwestern Norway on Saturday found the massive rock sectioned off, lying on the ground at the base of the rock face from which it had protruded.

Media accounts of the damage showed traces of drilling on the geological formation. Police have launched an inquiry into potential vandalism.

A local entrepreneur has launched an online collection to raise money to put the pieces back together.

By Monday, almost 1,000 donors had responded to the appeal entitled "The Troll's Penis Will Be Re-Erected", raising more than 160,000 kroner (17,000 euros; $19,000).

May’s Conservatives sign power deal with Northern Ireland’s DUP

British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservatives signed a deal Monday with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party that will allow them to govern after losing their majority in a general election this month.”An agreement has been signed,” May’s…

British Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservatives signed a deal Monday with Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party that will allow them to govern after losing their majority in a general election this month.

"An agreement has been signed," May's spokesman told AFP without revealing the details.

Northern Irish DUP leader Arlene Foster said she was "delighted" that a deal had been struck, while May said the Conservatives and the DUP "share many values" and Monday's agreement was "a very good one".

The agreement was signed by senior Conservative official Gavin Williamson and senior DUP member Jeffrey Donaldson, as May and Foster looked on.

The Conservatives have 317 seats in the 650-seat parliament after the June 8 election and need the support of the DUP's 10 MPs to be able to govern.

Discussions between the two began immediately after the election and centred on a "confidence and supply" deal in which the DUP would support the government in any confidence votes and to pass budgets.

The prospect of a deal with the ultra-conservative DUP has caused consternation in Britain since the party opposes gay marriage and abortion.

Some of its representatives have also been criticised in the past for homophobic comments, climate change denial statements and sectarian rhetoric.

Ireland's former premier Enda Kenny has warned that a deal with the Protestant and pro-British DUP could upset Northern Ireland's fragile peace.

London's neutrality is key to the delicate balance of power in Northern Ireland, which was once plagued by violence over Britain's control of the province.

EDF reviewing Hinkley Point costs and calendar

EDF is carrying out a “full review” of the costs and schedule of Britain’s controversial Hinkley Point nuclear power plant, the French energy giant said Monday, after a press report of major budget overruns.

The project to build Britain’s first new nuclear plant in a generation, awarded to a French-Chinese consortium, has been dogged by controversies, with Britain’s National Audit Office (NAO) warning on Friday that the government had committed to a “risky and expensive” deal.

EDF said Monday that “a full review of the costs and schedule of the Hinkley Point C project is in progress”, as had already been indicated in the company’s annual financial report.

The company said the review would be finished “soon” and results would be published when it was completed.

France’s Le Monde newspaper on Saturday said the “first conclusions” of the review pointed to building costs overrunning the £18 billion ($23 billion, 21 billion euros) budget by one to three billion euros.

The NAO, which audits British public spending, said on Friday that the price guaranteed to EDF under the deal could add an extra £30 billion to energy bills of UK customers.

Critics of the project — which is expected to provide seven percent of the country’s power needs — have focused on an electricity price guarantee to EDF of £92.5 for every megawatt hour of power produced by Hinkley for the next 35 years, rising with inflation, despite falling energy prices.

Environmentalists are also strongly opposed, urging the government to instead focus on renewable sources like wind and solar power to meet Britain’s future energy needs.

EDF is carrying out a "full review" of the costs and schedule of Britain's controversial Hinkley Point nuclear power plant, the French energy giant said Monday, after a press report of major budget overruns.

The project to build Britain's first new nuclear plant in a generation, awarded to a French-Chinese consortium, has been dogged by controversies, with Britain's National Audit Office (NAO) warning on Friday that the government had committed to a "risky and expensive" deal.

EDF said Monday that "a full review of the costs and schedule of the Hinkley Point C project is in progress", as had already been indicated in the company's annual financial report.

The company said the review would be finished "soon" and results would be published when it was completed.

France's Le Monde newspaper on Saturday said the "first conclusions" of the review pointed to building costs overrunning the £18 billion ($23 billion, 21 billion euros) budget by one to three billion euros.

The NAO, which audits British public spending, said on Friday that the price guaranteed to EDF under the deal could add an extra £30 billion to energy bills of UK customers.

Critics of the project -- which is expected to provide seven percent of the country's power needs -- have focused on an electricity price guarantee to EDF of £92.5 for every megawatt hour of power produced by Hinkley for the next 35 years, rising with inflation, despite falling energy prices.

Environmentalists are also strongly opposed, urging the government to instead focus on renewable sources like wind and solar power to meet Britain's future energy needs.

Anger grows in Pakistan town after three attacks in six months

Shiites in Pakistan’s restive northwest protested Monday as the death toll from twin blasts three days earlier rose to 69, marking a grisly Eid for the town worst hit by militancy so far in 2017.Dozens of protesters offered their Eid prayers wearing bl…

Shiites in Pakistan's restive northwest protested Monday as the death toll from twin blasts three days earlier rose to 69, marking a grisly Eid for the town worst hit by militancy so far in 2017.

Dozens of protesters offered their Eid prayers wearing black armbands in the market in Parachinar, where the bombs tore through crowds of shoppers on Friday, local officials said.

"The death toll from Friday's blasts has reached 69," local administration official Basir Khan Wazir told AFP.

He said the local administration was trying to negotiate with the protestors.

Parachinar, capital of Kurram district, a mainly Shiite area of Pakistan's tribal belt, had already suffered two deadly bomb blasts in its markets this year.

It was the site of the first major attack in the country in 2017 when a bomb killed 24 people in January, an attack claimed by the Pakistani Taliban. In March, a second Taliban attack in another market killed a further 22 people.

Friday's assault brought the town's loss of life due to extremist attacks up to 115, more than any one city in Pakistan has suffered so far this year.

It was claimed by a little known group believed to be linked to Lashkar-e-Janghvi, one of Pakistan's bloodiest sectarian outfits.

Kurram, one of Pakistan's seven semi-autonomous tribal districts, is known for sectarian clashes between Sunnis and Shiites, who make up roughly 20 percent of Pakistan's population of 200 million.

"We have been a constant target of the Taliban but the government has always failed us," Muzamil Hussain, a Shia activists from Parachinar told AFP Friday.

Authorities have said that after the first two attacks checkposts and barriers were set up around the city's markets. Hussain said that suggested Friday's attackers had insider help.

"I don't understand how can someone drive a bomb-laden vehicle through all the checkposts of the military and other paramilitary troops and reach here, it simply isn't logical, and this is what we are protesting against," he said.

"We are demanding the government end supporting militant groups," he added.

Pakistan has long had a policy of offering covert support to militant groups it believes can further its own ends, particularly in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.

Shiites in other parts of the country also wore black bands in solidarity with those grieving in Parachinar, the Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen Pakistan Shia political party said in a statement.

The Parachinar blasts were the deadliest in a series of militant attacks across Pakistan Friday which killed a total of 77 people, unnerving citizens ahead of Eid, one of Islam's holiest festivals which closes the fasting month of Ramadan.

In Quetta, capital of southwestern Balochistan province, 14 people including 10 policemen were killed in a blast targeting police that was claimed by both Islamic State's local affiliate and an offshoot of the Pakistani Taliban.

While in Karachi four policemen were killed in a drive-by shooting as they ate dinner at a roadside restaurant in the port city.

Abducted priest seen alive as Islamists hold out in Philippines

A Roman Catholic priest abducted by Islamist militants who seized parts of a southern Philippine city has been seen alive, the military said Monday, as troops pressed on with their offensive.Air and artillery bombardment of enclaves occupied by the mil…

A Roman Catholic priest abducted by Islamist militants who seized parts of a southern Philippine city has been seen alive, the military said Monday, as troops pressed on with their offensive.

Air and artillery bombardment of enclaves occupied by the militants in the largely Muslim city of Marawi resumed after an eight-hour truce Sunday to allow residents to celebrate the end of the Ramadan fasting month.

Fires erupted and plumes of dark and white smoke billowed against a blue sky as the bombs slammed into their targets, AFP journalists in Marawi said.

But military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jo-Ar Herrera said the militants were also deliberately burning houses and using improvised bombs, booby traps and hostages as human shields to delay the troops' advance, five weeks into the fighting.

Hundreds of gunmen flying the black flag of the Islamic State (IS) group occupied parts of Marawi on May 23, triggering bloody fighting that has claimed nearly 400 lives according to an official count.

- Priest seen alive -

Father Teresito "Chito" Suganob, a Catholic priest assigned to Marawi, was taken hostage along with some parishioners early in the siege on the largely Catholic Philippines' most important Muslim city.

Herrera, spokesman for the military forces in Marawi, said the priest had been seen alive on Sunday in a part of the city still in the hands of the extremists.

"We don't have details of his health. We were just told that he was sighted alive," he told reporters in Marawi, citing accounts from civilians rescued from the battle zone.

He also said there were about 100 civilian hostages still in the hands of the gunmen, being used as "human shields", ammunition carriers and stretcher-bearers.

Most of Marawi's 200,000 residents have fled the fighting and the lakeside city, a favourite summer vacation destination in the south due to its cool climate, is now a ghost town.

Fighting resumed with renewed fury on Monday, with government fighter jets and other aircraft seen carrying out bombing attacks while sustained bursts of gunfire could be heard.

"Our offensive operations have resumed and will continue so we can liberate Marawi at the soonest time possible," Herrera added.

- Foreign bomb experts -

He said the bodies of two militants believed to be from the Middle East because of their physical features were found at the scene of an earlier airstrike, another sign that foreign fighters had joined the battle.

"These foreign terrorists involved in the hostilities are bomb experts. They are the ones facilitating the rigging of the buildings and houses with bombs," Herrera said.

Eight foreign fighters, including those from Chechnya, Indonesia and Malaysia, were killed in the early days of the battle, the government has said.

In May Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law in Marawi and the southern region of Mindanao to quell what he described as a rebellion aimed at establishing an Islamic State caliphate in the area.

Herrera said they were still trying to confirm reports that Isnilon Hapilon, a veteran Filipino militant said to be the leader of the Islamic State group in Southeast Asia, had escaped Marawi despite a military and police cordon.

An attempt by troops to arrest Hapilon in Marawi on May 23 triggered the rampage by the militants.

Hapilon was indicted in Washington for his involvement in the 2001 kidnapping of three Americans in the Philippines. He has a $5 million bounty on his head from the US government and is on its "most wanted" terror list.

The army has said it was checking reports that Omarkhayam Maute and Malaysian militant Mahmud Ahmad, both leaders of the Marawi offensive, had been killed in the fighting.

Colonel Edgard Arevalo, a Manila-based military spokesman, said two other militants leaders -- Maute's brothers Abdullah and Madi -- are still alive.

The pair met with peace emissaries during the truce on Sunday to discuss the release of hostages, he added.

The Maute brothers are leaders of the Maute Group, which joined forces with Hapilon's Abu Sayyaf faction to carry out the Marawi attack. Both groups have pledged allegiance to the IS.

Chile wait on Aranguiz’s fitness for semi-final

Chile coach Juan Antonio Pizzi hopes Charles Aranguiz will be fit for Wednesday’s Confederations Cup semi-final against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal after the midfield enforcer suffered a knock against Australia.A hard challenge from Socceroos veteran …

Chile coach Juan Antonio Pizzi hopes Charles Aranguiz will be fit for Wednesday's Confederations Cup semi-final against Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal after the midfield enforcer suffered a knock against Australia.

A hard challenge from Socceroos veteran Tim Cahill clattered Aranguiz, who had to be substituted at half-time of Sunday's 1-1 draw in Moscow.

The result meant Chile finish runners-up in Group B to face Euro 2016 winners Portugal in Kazan for a place in Sunday's Confed Cup final against either Mexico or Germany who meet on Thursday in Sochi.

Pizzi hopes to have the experienced Aranguiz, 28, fit to partner Arturo Vidal in Chile's defensive midfield core which helped win the Copa America title last year.

"He was in a bit of pain and we hope he will be able to recover, but like his team-mates he is strong, he wants to play," said Pizzi.

If fit, Aranguiz faces a busy night at the Kazan Arena trying to ensure Ronaldo has a quiet night with the Real Madrid star having won man-of-the-match awards in all three of Portugal's games so far in Russia.

Pizzi says the south Americans can hold their own against Fernando Santos-coached Portugal.

"They are a very difficult opponent," said Pizzi.

"It is hard to win the Euro, which includes many of the best teams in the world, and they have the world's best player.

"They have a coach who has vast experience and knows the team very well.

"But it's going to be difficult to play against us too, we'll go toe-to-toe and try to win."

German business sentiment ‘jubilant’: Ifo

German business confidence soared to a “jubilant” new high in June, having already reached a quarter-century peak the previous month, a survey said Monday.The closely watched Ifo business confidence index set a new record of 115.1 points, defying expec…

German business confidence soared to a "jubilant" new high in June, having already reached a quarter-century peak the previous month, a survey said Monday.

The closely watched Ifo business confidence index set a new record of 115.1 points, defying expectations of analysts of a slight decline after it reached 114.6 in May, the highest since 1991.

The Munich-based Ifo Institute for Economic Research calculates the score from a survey of 7,000 companies, who are asked to give their assessments of the current business situation and their expectations for the next six months.

Analysts surveyed by financial services provider Factset had expected 114.4 points in June.

The strong optimism comes despite challenges for Europe's top exporters, from US President Donald Trump's "America First" stance on trade to Britain's looming exit from the European Union.

"Sentiment among German businesses is jubilant," said Ifo president Clemens Fuest in a statement.

"Companies were significantly more satisfied with their current business situation this month. They also expect business to improve."

The German economy expanded by 0.6 percent in the first quarter, and the government expects growth to hit 1.5 percent for the full year, while several economists have predicted it would reach or top last year's level of 1.8 percent.

Fuest said that "Germany's economy is performing very strongly. In manufacturing, the index rose slightly. Assessments of the current business situation remained unchanged at a very high level."

The optimism was shared by manufacturers -- who planned to ramp up production -- wholesalers and retailers, Ifo said, pointing to a lower index only in construction where the assessments of current and future business nevertheless remained at a high level.

Liu Xiaobo: Freed Chinese intellectual spoke out for change

Liu Xiaobo, who won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize from behind bars, was for decades a vocal champion of democracy and human rights until Chinese authorities locked him up for speaking out.The 61-year-old, who was previously jailed for his involvement in t…

Liu Xiaobo, who won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize from behind bars, was for decades a vocal champion of democracy and human rights until Chinese authorities locked him up for speaking out.

The 61-year-old, who was previously jailed for his involvement in the 1989 Tiananmen pro-democracy protests, was sentenced in 2009 to 11 years in prison for subversion -- a punishment that earned international condemnation.

To Beijing's fury, he was awarded the Nobel prize a year later -- and was represented by an empty chair at the ceremony in Oslo.

Last month the prominent activist was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer and released from prison on medical parole, his lawyer Mo Shaoping said Monday.

He is being treated in a hospital in the northeastern city of Shenyang.

Liu was arrested in late 2008 after co-authoring Charter 08, a widely circulated petition that called for political reform in the Communist-ruled nation.

The bold manifesto, which was signed by more than 10,000 people after it went online, calls for the protection of basic human rights and the reform of China's one-party system.

Beijing opposes the peace prize "because they fear that it will draw more attention to Liu Xiaobo and to China's situation (on democracy and human rights)," his wife Liu Xia told AFP after he was honoured by the Nobel committee.

"If they didn't fear this, then they would not have sentenced him to 11 years for writing an essay."

Liu Xia herself was placed under house arrest at the time of the Nobel award and could not be reached for comment on Monday.

She suffered a heart attack in 2014, when she was diagnosed with depression after years of detention, a rights group said at the time.

- Words seen 'as crimes' -

Charter 08 specifically demands the abolition of subversion as an criminal offence.

"We should make freedom of speech, freedom of the press and academic freedom universal, thereby guaranteeing that citizens can be informed and can exercise their right of political supervision," it says.

"We should end the practice of viewing words as crimes."

Liu is also known for his efforts to help negotiate the safe exit from Tiananmen Square of thousands of student demonstrators on the night of June 3-4, 1989 when the military bloodily suppressed six weeks of protests in the heart of Beijing.

He was arrested immediately after the crackdown and released without charge in early 1991.

Liu was rearrested and served three years in a labour camp from 1996-1999 for seeking the release of those jailed in the Tiananmen protests and for opposing the official verdict that their actions amounted to a counter-revolutionary rebellion.

Liu, who holds a doctorate in Chinese literature, was once a professor at Beijing Normal University, but was banned from teaching at state institutions over his involvement in the 1989 demonstrations.

As a leading member of the Independent China Pen Centre, a grouping of Chinese writers, Liu remained in close contact with key intellectuals and had been largely free to attend meetings and writer group activities despite constant police surveillance.

Although he has been banned from publishing in China, many of his writings advocating greater democracy and respect for human rights have appeared in Hong Kong and overseas Chinese publications.

Some of these served as evidence in his most recent trial.

- Award under arrest -

Liu still commands great respect among Chinese intellectuals, a fact that some say was central to the Communist Party's decision to bring charges against him.

Western governments, rights groups, scholars, and a coalition of Nobel prize winners have repeatedly called for his release.

Liu is the first Chinese citizen to win the Nobel peace prize and one of only three people to have won it while detained by their own government.

The Nobel announcement sparked renewed calls for his release, led by fellow peace laureates and then by then-US President Barack Obama. Washington has also called on Beijing to end its house arrest of Liu Xia.

Liu has been honoured by Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders and other rights groups. His essay "The Noble Paradise of Power, the Hell for the Meek" won the Hong Kong Human Rights News Prize in 2004.

Germany’s Timo Werner eyes Confederations Cup glory

Ambitious Timo Werner is eyeing Confederations Cup glory with Germany and hopes his two goals against Cameroon are enough to see him start Thursday’s semi-final with Mexico.The 21-year-old sealed the world champions’ 3-1 win in Sochi with a second-half…

Ambitious Timo Werner is eyeing Confederations Cup glory with Germany and hopes his two goals against Cameroon are enough to see him start Thursday's semi-final with Mexico.

The 21-year-old sealed the world champions' 3-1 win in Sochi with a second-half brace by heading home Joshua Kimmich's cross, then drilled in a second to calm German nerves just after Vincent Aboubakar netted Cameroon's consolation goal.

The win over Cameroon means Germany stay in Sochi to play Mexico for a place in Sunday's final in Saint Petersburg with Chile and Portugal to meet the day before in Kazan's other semi-final.

"Mexico will be tough to play, but we have also been good so far and I think we have a chance to go beyond the semi-finals," said RB Leipzig's Werner.

"We're in the semis, so the next aim is to reach the final.

"To say we want to win the final would be over ambitious, but it wouldn't be enough just to play in the third-place match."

The fleet-footed striker has a sharp eye for goal and justified Joachim Loew's faith with a man-of-the-match performance, which could be rewarded with another start against Mexico.

"Timo Werner really put in a lot of leg work," said Germany's head coach.

"At the start, our attacks somehow didn't come to much, on so he wasn't able to really shoot on target.

"It was a different story after the break, he was much more present in the box, that's where he's dangerous, he has a killer instinct.

"Both goals were nicely taken and he really earned them."

Werner is one of only three players have now so far scored twice at this Confed Cup.

He is in the company of global superstar Cristiano Ronaldo and team-mate Lars Stindl, whose place Werner took in Germany's starting line-up against Cameroon.

The inexperienced Germans made a nervous, hesitant start in Sochi and after a frustrating first-half of missed half chances and scuffed shots, Werner's game clicked.

- First-half frustration -

"I needed some time before scoring, I was a bit annoyed because leading up to (the goals), I had a couple of situation which weren't ideal," said Werner.

"I got a couple of good passes, so I have to thank those guys who provided those.

"The man-of-the-match award is a great distinction for me, I am happy we won in Sochi and can have an extra day to prepare for the semi-final.

"Of course, the fact we can stay here helps, it's nice to be by the sea."

Werner headed his first goal to put Germany 2-0 just after Cameroon's Ernest Mabouka was sent off for a dangerous tackle.

The German said he profited from confusion in Cameroon's defence, which was generated when the ref initially dismissed Sebastien Siani before the video assistant referee corrected the decision.

"I believe the red card contributed to the fact we were able to win with that score," said Werner.

"I didn't see whether or not it (the red card) was justified.

"Cameroon kept attacking, even when they were a man down and were courageous, but it meant there was more space for us, so yes, the red card had a contribution."

Werner only made his debut in March and is soaking up the experience of playing in Russia a year before the World Cup.

"The Confed Cup is a huge experience for all us young players," he said,

"We've all got a glimpse of what it is like to be in a big tournament, we're looking forward to every match and the challenges."

Glastonbury getaway after Ed Sheeran closes festival

Tens of thousands of revellers were making the great getaway from Glastonbury on Monday after Ed Sheeran closed the world’s biggest greenfield music festival.The 26-year-old singer-songwriter’s performance on Sunday ended three days of music from some …

Tens of thousands of revellers were making the great getaway from Glastonbury on Monday after Ed Sheeran closed the world's biggest greenfield music festival.

The 26-year-old singer-songwriter's performance on Sunday ended three days of music from some of the world's biggest acts at the celebrated fest, which drew an estimated 175,000 people this year.

Playing Glastonbury -- which is held on a farm in southwest England -- was "a dream of mine", Sheeran said, after performing with just his guitar.

"But I never thought I would even get to the point where I was playing this stage, let alone headlining it."

Radiohead topped the bill on Friday while the Foo Fighters headlined on Saturday.

Highlights on Sunday included Nile Rodgers and Chic, who brought some 1980s magic with disco hits such as "Everybody Dance", "I Want Your Love" and "Upside Down".

And many were dazzled by Barry Gibb, the only surviving member of the Bee Gee brothers, who reeled off hit after hit.

He donned a tight-fitting gold jacket that the exuberant crowd had tossed on the sage to him after chanting "Barry, wear the jacket! Barry, wear the jacket!". He wore it while playing hit song "Tragedy".

Meanwhile The Killers played a surprise set on the John Peel Stage -- the fourth-biggest -- 10 years after they headlined the festival.

Other top acts on the bill during the festival included included Katy Perry, Liam Gallagher, Kaiser Chiefs, Emeli Sande, Status Quo, Goldfrapp, The Pretenders, The Jacksons, Dizzee Rascal, Alison Moyet and Kiefer Sutherland.

Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn got a rapturous welcome from tens of thousands of revellers in a speech that focused on his pacifist, environmentalist and anti-racist policies.

- Litter-picking marathon -

Getting out of Glastonbury, can be a taxing and time-consuming ordeal.

"Take your time leaving the site today and please listen to all cops, stewards and security -- we all want you to get home safe and sound," the festival advised.

A litter-picking crew of up to 800 will begin to clear the vast site of rubbish on Monday, with tractors dragging magnetic strips across the fields.

It could take up to six weeks to convert the site back into a functioning dairy farm.

Glastonbury has a fallow year every five years, and so the next festival will be in 2019.

"The farm needs a rest. So does the village and the wildlife," organiser Michael Eavis said.

Glastonbury started off as a loss-maker in 1970, with 1,500 people paying one pound to watch Marc Bolan top the bill, with free milk from the farm to tempt music-loving hippies.

The festival celebrates its 50th year in 2020.

"We're already booking acts for that one," Eavis said.

"Half a century. It's an incredible feat, actually. We've been through so many struggles to get here."

Tanzania vows to arrest those ‘protecting’ gay interests

Tanzania has threatened to arrest and deport those campaigning for gay rights and de-register organisations protecting homosexual interests, local media reported Monday.”I would like to remind and warn all organisations and institutions that campaign a…

Tanzania has threatened to arrest and deport those campaigning for gay rights and de-register organisations protecting homosexual interests, local media reported Monday.

"I would like to remind and warn all organisations and institutions that campaign and pretend to protect homosexual interests ... we are going to arrest whoever is involved and charge them in courts of law," the state-owned Daily News quoted Interior Minister Mwigulu Nchemba as saying.

In the country's latest attack on its homosexual community, Nchemba also said foreigners involved in such campaigns would be "deported within no time ... they will not have even the time to unplug their mobile phones from the socket."

"Those who are interested in homosexuality should go and live in countries that entertain such businesses. If there's any organisation in the country that supports and campaigns for homosexuality ... it shall be deregistered."

Nchemba's comments come just days after President John Magufuli slammed NGOs who campaign for gay rights, saying they should be countered even if this meant losing foreign aid.

"Those who teach such things do not like us, brothers. They brought us drugs and homosexual practices that even cows disapprove of," Magufuli said in a speech last Thursday.

Gay male sex is punishable by anything from 30 years to life imprisonment under Tanzanian law, but there is no such ban on lesbian relations.

However, politicians have largely ignored the gay community -- which has not experienced the levels of discrimination seen in other countries such as neighbouring Uganda -- until a recent spike in anti-gay rhetoric by the government.

Last July, the regional commissioner for the port city of Dar es Salaam, Paul Makonda, announced a crackdown which was followed by arrests in clubs.

Dozens of men suspected of being gay have been detained and taken to hospital for anal exams to confirm their homosexuality.

In the same month, the government banned the import and sales of sexual lubricants, which Health Minister Ummy Mwalimu said encouraged homosexuality that led to the spread of HIV/AIDS.

And in February, the government said it was stopping many privately-run health centres from providing AIDS-related services after they were accused of providing services to homosexuals.

The government also said it would publish a list of gay people selling sex online, but retracted this threat several days later.

Homosexuality is illegal in 38 of 54 countries in Africa, and is punishable by death in Mauritania, Sudan and Somalia, according to Amnesty International.

Iraq forces combing west Mosul after surprise IS attack

Iraqi forces on Monday were searching neighbourhoods of west Mosul they retook weeks ago after a surprise jihadist attack on their rear that left several dead, officials said.The attack, which was claimed by the Islamic State group, sowed panic among r…

Iraqi forces on Monday were searching neighbourhoods of west Mosul they retook weeks ago after a surprise jihadist attack on their rear that left several dead, officials said.

The attack, which was claimed by the Islamic State group, sowed panic among residents who returned to live in the Tanak and Yarmuk neighbourhoods of west Mosul.

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 several victims 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.

Iraqi forces, led by the CTS, have for a week been pressing a perilous assault into the Old City in central Mosul, the last pocket still controlled by the jihadists.

Federal forces backed a US-led coalition launched an offensive to retake the country's second city from IS more than eight months ago.

The east bank of Mosul, a city divided by the Tigris River, was retaken in January and a push to wrest back the western side was launched in mid-February.

More than 800,000 people have been displaced from the Mosul area since October last year and the security forces are struggling to carry out effective screening.

While the exact circumstances were unclear, Sunday night's attack was described as a diversionary tactic by west Mosul "sleeper cells" to ease the pressure on the Old City, where the jihadists appear to be on their last legs.

"The sleeper cells carried out a surprise attack against the security forces, in an attempt to ease the siege on the Old City," a local official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"Operations to flush out pockets controlled by Daesh are ongoing," he said.

Hundreds of families, who in some cases had returned to their homes weeks ago, fled the area again overnight, fearing the return of jihadist rule.

US-backed force has seized a quarter of Raqa from IS: monitor

US-backed fighters have seized a quarter of Syria’s Raqa from the Islamic State group, a monitor said Monday, less than three weeks after they first entered the northern city. Arab and Kurdish militiamen from the Syrian Democratic Forces smashed into t…

US-backed fighters have seized a quarter of Syria's Raqa from the Islamic State group, a monitor said Monday, less than three weeks after they first entered the northern city.

Arab and Kurdish militiamen from the Syrian Democratic Forces smashed into the jihadists' main Syrian bastion on June 6 after a months-long drive to encircle it.

"Since the offensive began, the SDF have captured around 25 percent of the city's built-up neighbourhoods," Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told AFP on Monday.

Backed by US-led coalition air strikes, the SDF has fully seized the southeastern districts of Al-Meshleb and Al-Senaa, as well as Al-Rumaniya and Sabahiya in the west, he said.

From those neighbourhoods, they were bearing down on Raqa's Old City in a pincer movement on Monday, with fighting raging in the western Al-Qadisiya district and parts of the city's east.

SDF fighters also hold part of Division 17 -- a former Syrian army base -- and an adjacent sugar factory on the northern edges of the city.

"They want to cut off the city's northern part, including the Division 17 base, so that there's more pressure on IS in the city centre," Abdel Rahman said.

The battle for Raqa is the SDF's flagship offensive, with heavy backing from coalition air strikes, advisers, weapons and equipment.

The US-led coalition is also backing a major assault on the last IS-held pockets of Mosul in neighbouring Iraq.

IS overran Raqa in 2014, transforming it into the de facto Syrian capital of its self-declared "caliphate".

It became infamous as the scene of some of the group's worst atrocities, including public beheadings, and is thought to have been a hub for planning attacks overseas.

Vettel ‘freaked out’ in Azerbaijan, faces Hamilton retribution: Lauda

A crazy Sebastian Vettel “freaked out” under pressure in his “road rage” eruption during Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix — and is likely to be hit back with Lewis Hamilton’s fist, according to Mercedes boss Niki Lauda.The three-time world champion and …

A crazy Sebastian Vettel "freaked out" under pressure in his "road rage" eruption during Sunday's Azerbaijan Grand Prix -- and is likely to be hit back with Lewis Hamilton's fist, according to Mercedes boss Niki Lauda.

The three-time world champion and non-executive chairman of the "Silver Arrows" team said he had never seen anything like it before after Vettel had driven his Ferrari into Hamilton's Mercedes on lap 19 of Sunday's tempestuous race.

As four-time champion German Vettel woke to face the global reaction -- mostly disappointment -- to his actions and attitude as he sought out Hamilton's phone number for a private chat, many observers said the 10-seconds penalty he received for the incident was not enough.

Lauda's contemporary Briton John Watson suggested that the Ferrari driver should have been given a one-race ban, or other stronger sanction, while Lauda forecast that it would not be long before Hamilton punched back.

"He freaked out in himself," said Lauda. "When you hit somebody up the a*** it is your fault. No question. But then to drive next to him and hit him on purpose, I have never seen anything like this.

"To do that I don't understand. Vettel is a decent guy normally. This I don't understad. He is crazy. Lewis will hit him one day. Not with the car but with his fist."

Hamilton finished fifth, one place behind Vettel, and is now 14 points behind him in the title race after eight of this year's 20 races.

The three-time champion Briton managed to remain calm after the race, despite the provocation, after the stewards had confirmed that he had not 'brake-tested' Vettel, as he alleged, leading to the Ferrari driving into him.

"For him to pretty much get away with driving into another driver is a disgrace," said Hamilton. "He disgraced himself today. If he wants to prove that he is a man we should do it out of the car, face-to-face.

"It is a misjudgement from him and some people don't like to own up to their own mistakes. He was sleeping.

"The stewards looked at my data -- and the reason I didn't get a penalty is because I clearly did not brake test him. It could not be clearer.

"It is as clear as blue skies. Ultimately, what happened was disrespectful. There are kids watching us on TV. You think a multi-time world champion would behave better than that.

"I really hope that kids don?t see that and think that is the right way. That is not how you drive."

- "Gloves off" -

Vettel was also given three points on his driver's licence, increasing his total to nine, and any further misdemeanour before he loses two next month could see him face a one-race ban.

Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff welcomed the arrival of the "gloves off" moment that may signal the end of the two multi-champions' friendly rivalry.

"Nobody wanted to see the schmoozing anyway, so now the gloves are off," said Wolff. "The sport needs the rivalry. What we have seen today is the ingredient of a great championship.

"They are warriors. They are at war at that moment. They are fighting for the race wins and the championship.

"At a certain stage, the best ones that compete for the world championship in that phase of their careers can't be friends. Maybe we've seen the limit of that respect today."

Vettel refused to accept any blame for the incident and said he would call Hamilton to talk it over.

"I don't have a problem with him," insisted Vettel. "I respect him a lot for the driver he is, but now is not the right time to talk. I'll do that just with him and clear it and move on.

"Maybe I'm not clever enough, but I'm not complicated. I'm willing to sort it out with him. I don't think there's much to sort out."

Told of Vettel's planned call, Hamilton said: "He doesn?t have my number."

It was a succinct summary of an incident, and a day, that left Vettel and F1 in disarray.

Russian billionaire buys Holland & Barrett

Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman has bought British health food retailer Holland & Barrett for £1.8 billion ($2.3 billion, 2.0 billion euros), his investment fund said on Monday.

L1 Retail, which is a division of Fridman’s holding company LetterOne, said it has purchased Holland & Barrett from parent company Nature’s Bounty — which is owned by US private equity firm Carlyle.

“Holland & Barrett is a clear market leader in the UK health and wellness retail market, with attractive growth positions in other European and international markets,” said LetterOne managing partner Stephan DuCharme in a statement.

Holland & Barrett is Europe’s largest health food chain with more than 1,150 outlets and a workforce of some 4,200 people.

The group was founded in 1870 and is headquartered in Nuneaton in central England. Its annual revenues last year exceeded £610 million.

Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman has bought British health food retailer Holland & Barrett for £1.8 billion ($2.3 billion, 2.0 billion euros), his investment fund said on Monday.

L1 Retail, which is a division of Fridman's holding company LetterOne, said it has purchased Holland & Barrett from parent company Nature's Bounty -- which is owned by US private equity firm Carlyle.

"Holland & Barrett is a clear market leader in the UK health and wellness retail market, with attractive growth positions in other European and international markets," said LetterOne managing partner Stephan DuCharme in a statement.

Holland & Barrett is Europe's largest health food chain with more than 1,150 outlets and a workforce of some 4,200 people.

The group was founded in 1870 and is headquartered in Nuneaton in central England. Its annual revenues last year exceeded £610 million.

China releases Nobel laureate Liu with terminal cancer: lawyer

China’s jailed Nobel peace prize laureate Liu Xiaobo has been granted medical parole after being diagnosed with terminal liver cancer last month, his lawyer told AFP on Monday.Liu, who had about three years of his 11-year sentence to serve, was diagnos…

China's jailed Nobel peace prize laureate Liu Xiaobo has been granted medical parole after being diagnosed with terminal liver cancer last month, his lawyer told AFP on Monday.

Liu, who had about three years of his 11-year sentence to serve, was diagnosed on May 23 and was released days later, said lawyer Mo Shaoping.

The 61-year-old democracy campaigner was being treated at a hospital in the northeastern city of Shenyang.

"He has no special plans. He is just receiving medical treatment for his illness," Mo said.

The writer was jailed in 2009 for "subversion" after spearheading a bold petition for democratic reforms.

He was awarded the Nobel peace prize a year later. He is one of only three people to have won the award while jailed by their own government.

China strongly condemned his Nobel prize as unwanted foreign interference in its internal affairs, and refused to allow him to attend the ceremony in Oslo -- where he was represented instead by an empty chair.

Asked about Liu's release, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular news briefing: "I am not aware of the situation you?re talking about."

The international community has been calling for his release for years.

Liu was arrested in 2008 after co-writing Charter 08, a bold petition that called for the protection of basic human rights and the reform of China's one-party Communist system.

Charter 08, which was posted online, specifically demands the abolition of subversion as an offence in China's criminal code -- the very crime for which Liu has been jailed.

His wife, Liu Xia, has been under house arrest since 2010. She suffered a heart attack in 2014, when she was diagnosed with depression after years of detention, a rights group said at the time.

She could not be reached for comment on Monday as an automated message said her phone was no longer in service.

- Tiananmen role -

Liu is also known for his efforts to help negotiate the safe exit from Tiananmen Square of thousands of student demonstrators on the night of June 3, 1989 when the military quelled six weeks of protests in the heart of Beijing.

He was arrested immediately after the crackdown and released without charge in early 1991.

Liu was rearrested and served three years in a labour camp from 1996-1999 for seeking the release of those jailed in the Tiananmen protests and for opposing the government's verdict that they amounted to a counter-revolutionary rebellion.

The holder of a doctorate in Chinese literature, Liu was once a professor at Beijing Normal University, but was banned from teaching at state institutions over his involvement in the 1989 demonstrations.

As a leading member of the Independent China Pen Centre, a grouping of Chinese writers, Liu had remained in close contact with key intellectuals and had been largely free to attend meetings and writer group activities despite constant police surveillance.

Although Liu was banned from publishing in China, many of his writings advocating greater democracy and respect for human rights appeared in Hong Kong and overseas Chinese publications.

Some of these writings served as evidence in his most recent trial, according to rights groups.

Morocco king slams development delays in restive north

Morocco’s king has rebuked ministers over delays to a development programme meant to pump investment into a region rocked by months of protests over unemployment and perceived state neglect.Mohammed VI told ministers Sunday of his “disappointment, diss…

Morocco's king has rebuked ministers over delays to a development programme meant to pump investment into a region rocked by months of protests over unemployment and perceived state neglect.

Mohammed VI told ministers Sunday of his "disappointment, dissatisfaction and concern" that the $670 million (600 million euro) programme in the northern Rif region was behind schedule, according to a cabinet statement.

He also cancelled the annual leave of ministers involved in programme so they can "monitor" its progress, it said.

The Rif's main port, Al-Hoceima, has been rocked by protests since October, when a fishmonger was crushed to death in a rubbish truck as he tried to retrieve swordfish that authorities had thrown away because it was caught out of season.

Calls for justice snowballed into a wider social movement dubbed Al-Hirak al-Shaabi, or the "Popular Movement", demanding jobs, development, and an end to corruption in the mainly Berber region.

The government responded by relaunching a 2015 programme to improve the region's infrastructure, health facilities and education services by 2019.

Interior Minister Abdelouafi Laftit said in early June that the projects "respond to 90 percent of the demands of the population".

But security forces have also arrested more than 100 people including Hirak leader Nasser Zefzafi, and clashes between police and demonstrators have continued.

The Rif has long had a tense relationship with central authorities in Rabat, and it was at the heart of the Arab Spring-inspired protests in Morocco in February 2011.

King Mohamed VI relinquished some of his near-absolute control through constitutional reforms following the 2011 protests.

Russia says Telegram app used in Saint Petersburg attack

Russia’s FSB security agency on Monday said the Telegram messaging service was used by those behind the Saint Petersburg metro bombing, the latest salvo by authorities after they threatened to block the app.”During the probe into the April 3 terrorist …

Russia's FSB security agency on Monday said the Telegram messaging service was used by those behind the Saint Petersburg metro bombing, the latest salvo by authorities after they threatened to block the app.

"During the probe into the April 3 terrorist attack in the Saint Petersburg metro, the FSB received reliable information about the use of Telegram by the suicide bomber, his accomplices and their mastermind abroad to conceal their criminal plans," the FSB said in a statement.

They used Telegram "at each stage of the preparation of this terrorist attack," it said.

Fifteen people were killed in the suicide bombing, which was claimed by the little-known Imam Shamil Battalion, a group suspected of links to Al-Qaeda.

Telegram is a free Russian-designed messaging app that lets people exchange messages, photos and videos in groups of up to 5,000. It has attracted about 100 million users since its launch in 2013.

But the service has drawn the ire of critics who say it can let criminals and terrorists communicate without fear of being tracked by police, pointing in particular to its use by Islamic State jihadists.

The FSB charged that "the members of the international terrorist organisations on Russian territory use Telegram".

The app is already under fire in Moscow after Russia's state communications watchdog on Friday threatened to ban it, saying the company behind the service had failed to submit company details for registration.

Telegram's secretive Russian chief executive, Pavel Durov, who has previously refused to bow to government regulation that would compromise the privacy of users, had called that threat "paradoxical" on one of his social media accounts.

He said it would force users, including "high-ranking Russian officials" to communicate via apps based in the United States like WhatsApp.

The 32-year-old had previously created Russia's popular VKontakte social media site, before founding Telegram in the United States.

Durov said in April that the app had "consistently defended our users' privacy" and "never made any deals with governments."

The app is one of several targeted in a legal crackdown by Russian authorities on the internet and on social media sites in particular.

Since January 1, internet companies have been required to store all users' personal data at data centres in Russia and provide it to the authorities on demand.

Draft legislation that has already secured initial backing in parliament would make it illegal for messaging services to have anonymous users.

China releases Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo with terminal cancer: lawyer

China’s jailed Nobel peace prize laureate Liu Xiaobo has been granted medical parole after being diagnosed with terminal liver cancer last month, his lawyer told AFP on Monday.Liu, who had about three years of his 11-year sentence to serve, was diagnos…

China's jailed Nobel peace prize laureate Liu Xiaobo has been granted medical parole after being diagnosed with terminal liver cancer last month, his lawyer told AFP on Monday.

Liu, who had about three years of his 11-year sentence to serve, was diagnosed on May 23 and was released days later, said lawyer Mo Shaoping.

The democracy campaigner was being treated at a hospital in the northeastern city of Shenyang.

"He has no special plans. He is just receiving medical treatment for his illness," Mo said.

The international community had been calling for years for the release of the 2010 Nobel winner.

The writer, now 61, was jailed in 2009 for spearheading a bold petition for democratic reforms.

Ranks of homeless veterans keep swelling in Los Angeles

Kendrick Bailey is standing outside the tent he has pitched on a filthy sidewalk in downtown Los Angeles and points to the American flag he served proudly during the Vietnam War.”I didn’t have education back then,” says Bailey, recalling his time in co…

Kendrick Bailey is standing outside the tent he has pitched on a filthy sidewalk in downtown Los Angeles and points to the American flag he served proudly during the Vietnam War.

"I didn't have education back then," says Bailey, recalling his time in combat. "So most of us shot guns. Sometimes you could see people get shot by guns. It was horrible."

Bailey, who is in his sixties, is among an ever-growing population of veterans in Los Angeles who face challenges readjusting to civilian life and eventually become homeless.

"I never had a job," he says, standing in the searing California sun on a recent day and struggling to explain his predicament.

Though friends initially would offer their couch, he said he quickly overstayed his welcome and got sucked into the same vicious circle facing many veterans who struggle with PTSD, unemployment, alcoholism, family issues, and end up on the street.

Many have also served prison time.

The infamous Skid Row neighborhood of Los Angeles that Bailey now calls home has the largest concentration of homeless people in America, many of them veterans with mental issues and battling addiction.

Their plight has been at the center of debate for decades in an America that loves to glorify its "heroes," with successive administrations vowing to tackle the problem and pledging millions of dollars in assistance, including for housing.

But despite some 3,500 veterans finding housing last year in the Los Angeles area, recently released statistics serve as a sobering reminder of the scale of the problem.

According to a new count released in May, the number of homeless people in the Los Angeles area jumped by 23 percent in the last year to reach nearly 58,000. Of those, some 5,000 are veterans, the highest number of homeless veterans of any city in the country and a near 60 percent increase over the previous year.

- Moving in wrong direction -

"There is little doubt that veteran homelessness is now moving in the wrong direction," said Gary Blasi, a law professor at the University of California Los Angeles who has studied the issue.

"We do not house veterans as quickly as veterans are becoming newly homeless," he added. "The result is entirely predictable, tragic, and -- in the larger context of this country's wealth and military expenditures -- outrageous."

Blasi said one of the key obstacles to getting veterans off the streets is the lack of affordable housing in a city where rents are skyrocketing. Many landlords in addition are hesitant to rent to a veteran trying to get out of homelessness even though the state usually acts as a guarantor.

Veterans' advocates also denounce a drop in the number of case workers at the Veterans Affairs office in Los Angeles, which has led to delays in the processing of case files, despite hundreds of thousands of dollars in pledges to tackle the issue.

Several associations have meanwhile been engaged in a lengthy legal battle with Veterans Affairs, a government body, to force it to implement a plan to refurbish a run-down campus in Los Angeles for the purpose of housing veterans.

"The question everybody is asking is where is the money?" said General Dogon, an activist with the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LACAN).

Dogon, whose given name is Steve Richardson, lashed out at city officials, saying they were making empty promises that only look good on paper.

Alex Comisar, a spokesman for Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti, counters that he "has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in housing and services for homeless Angelenos" and led a campaign to secure "more than a billion dollars in new funding to do even more."

- Shameful predicament -

Activists also accuse officials of getting rid of buildings with affordable rents in favor of multi-million dollar high rises that are transforming the skyline of downtown Los Angeles.

Added to that, they say, are the numerous obstacles facing homeless veterans, many of whom are handicapped and don't know how to navigate the system to seek assistance.

"I don't have money on my credit card to get my birth certificate in San Antonio, Texas, so I can't get an ID," said Joseph Shokrian, 33, a US Army veteran who has been homeless for 14 months. "And because I don't have an address I'm having trouble getting identification, and without my ID it's very difficult to go to the VA and prove that I was part of the military."

As for Bailey, he says he has been accumulating citations -- to the tune of $1,200 -- for pitching his tent and few belongings on a sidewalk.

"These people have fought for this country and they come back and they have to camp out on the ground like they are still in Vietnam," said Dogon. "Now they don't combat in uniform, they fight the police who want to move them because they're bad for business."

China landslide rescuers ordered to evacuate: state media

Rescuers searching for more than 90 people missing following a huge landslide in southwest China were ordered to evacuate Monday due to the risk of another collapse, state media reported.Thousands of emergency workers have been digging through rocks an…

Rescuers searching for more than 90 people missing following a huge landslide in southwest China were ordered to evacuate Monday due to the risk of another collapse, state media reported.

Thousands of emergency workers have been digging through rocks and earth since Saturday when a landslide entombed 62 homes in Xinmo, a mountain village in Sichuan province.

At least 10 people have been confirmed dead and 93 are still missing after heavy rain brought down a side of the mountain.

Only three survivors -- a couple and their one-month-old baby -- have been found.

The onslaught of rocks struck the once-picturesque village in the early morning when most people would have been inside their homes.

Some 3,000 workers were taking part in the search, while excavators and bulldozers were being used to clear debris at the base of the slope.

The Sichuan provincial work safety bureau ordered rescue workers to be evacuated from the disaster zone on Monday morning after monitoring equipment picked up "moving and deformation of the hillside", the official Xinhua news agency said.

Xinhua said there were "risks of a secondary landslide".

Geological monitoring was continuing, the Maoxian county government said on its Weibo account.

Saturday's landslide blocked a two-kilometre (one-mile) stretch of river and 1.6 kilometres of road.

Landslides are a frequent danger in rural and mountainous parts of China, particularly at times of heavy rains.

At least 12 people were killed in January when a landslide crushed a hotel in the central province of Hubei.

More than 70 were killed in the southern commercial hub of Shenzhen in December 2015, by a landslide caused by the improper storage of waste.

Pakistan marks grim Eid after oil tanker inferno kills 153

Pakistan began Eid in mourning Monday as the death toll in an oil tanker explosion rose to 153, with scores injured after they were caught in a fireball while scooping up spilled fuel.Dozens of relatives were waiting outside hospitals in Bahawalpur, th…

Pakistan began Eid in mourning Monday as the death toll in an oil tanker explosion rose to 153, with scores injured after they were caught in a fireball while scooping up spilled fuel.

Dozens of relatives were waiting outside hospitals in Bahawalpur, the nearest major city, to claim the bodies of their loved ones as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif arrived early Monday to visit victims after cutting short a visit to London.

The explosion ignited early Sunday as crowds ignored warnings to stay away from the tanker which had overturned on a main highway from Karachi to Lahore, spilling some 40,000 litres of fuel.

Police have said details remain unconfirmed, but cited witnesses who said the tanker's tyre had burst.

The accident quickly drew scores of people from a nearby village, many armed with whatever containers they could carry to scavenge the spilled fuel despite warnings from the driver, who survived the crash and was later taken into custody, and motorway police, to stay away.

Minutes later the tanker exploded, engulfing the crowd as well as dozens of other vehicles in a massive fireball that sent a plume of thick smoke into the sky.

"The death toll has climbed to 153, and many are in critical condition in various hospitals in Bahawalpur and Multan," Javed Iqbal, chief of Victoria hospital told AFP.

State television aired images of Sharif arriving in Bahawalpur, and said he will visit victims at the hospital after being briefed on the incident.

The accident came after at least 69 people were killed in a series of militant attacks across Pakistan on Friday, compounding the country's sense of grief as Ramadan, Islam's holiest month, came to a close.

Pakistan has an appalling record of fatal traffic accidents due to poor roads, badly maintained vehicles and reckless driving.

The country has also long struggled to alleviate a chronic energy crisis, with regular blackouts crippling industry and exacerbating anger against the government.

Villagers near the town of Ahmedpur East, where the accident occurred, told AFP Sunday they were in shock after the accident.

"What is the use of this petrol, what will you do with it now?" asked resident Mohammad Shabbir, pointing to a bucket of scavenged fuel in his hand.

S. Korea’s Moon heads to US as North threat grows

South Korea’s dovish new President Moon Jae-In — who backs engagement with the nuclear-armed North — heads to Washington this week for talks with his hawkish US counterpart Donald Trump, as Pyongyang defies international sanctions to accelerate its m…

South Korea's dovish new President Moon Jae-In -- who backs engagement with the nuclear-armed North -- heads to Washington this week for talks with his hawkish US counterpart Donald Trump, as Pyongyang defies international sanctions to accelerate its missile programme.

Centre-left Moon suggested on the campaign trail that as president he would be willing to go to Pyongyang before Washington, but he is making the US his first foreign destination since he was sworn in last month after a landslide election win.

Washington is the South's security guarantor and has more than 28,000 troops in the country to defend it from its neighbour, which has been intensifying missile tests -- including five since Moon's inauguration -- as it seeks to develop nuclear-capable ballistic missiles that could reach the continental United States.

US Pentagon chief Jim Mattis has labelled North Korea as "the most urgent and dangerous threat" while Trump has made halting Pyongyang's weapons programme a top foreign policy priority.

There have been misgivings about the first tete-a-tete between Moon and Trump, who is pushing for tougher sanctions against Pyongyang to curb its nuclear ambitions and whose administration has said military action was a possibility.

That would put Seoul on the front line of any retaliation from the North.

But analysts say their first encounter is likely to be low on drama with the two getting a sense of each other, rather than displaying jarring differences.

Trump's policy of "maximum pressure and engagement" has a wide range from diplomacy to sanctions, allowing for an "overlap" with that of Moon, who has never denied the need for sanctions even while seeking dialogue, said John Delury, a professor at Yonsei University.

"So there doesn't have to be a train wreck over North Korea policy," he told AFP.

Also high on the agenda is likely to be a controversial US missile defence system that has been installed in South Korea to guard against missile threats from the North.

Though parts of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system are already in place, Moon suspended further deployment following a furious campaign of economic sanctions and diplomatic protests by Beijing against the US missile shield, dealing a blow to Washington's regional security policy.

Officially, the delay is to allow for a new, comprehensive environmental impact assessment, but analysts say the move is a strategic one by Moon to delay the tricky diplomatic situation he inherited.

- 'Ruffled feathers' -

Earlier this year Moon raised many eyebrows when he said in a new book that Seoul should learn to say "no" to Washington.

But analysts say the South Korean leader -- whose parents were refugees evacuated from the North by US forces -- will endeavour in Washington to portray their decades-old alliance as intact.

"Moon will seek to smooth ruffled feathers in Washington and give an impression that there is no daylight between the two allies," Sejong Institute analyst Hong Hyun-Ik told AFP.

Hong said that Moon "initially appeared to walk a tightrope between China and the United States" but was forced back to "the US orbit" under enormous pressure from his conservative political opponents.

The South Korean president advocates a two-phased approach to the North's nuclear issue, with Pyongyang first freezing its nuclear and long-range missile tests in return for the scaling back of annual US-South Korea military exercises.

In the second stage, the North's nuclear programmes would be completely dismantled in return for diplomatic ties and economic assistance.

The idea is similar to China's standing proposal of "dual suspension" of US-South Korea war games and the North's nuclear and missile tests, which Washington has already rejected.

For Moon, analysts say pursuing such an approach has been made more complicated by last week's death of American student Otto Warmbier, who had been jailed by the North.

Warmbier fell into a mysterious coma after being in prison for 18 months for stealing a political poster. He died days after being evacuated home, sparking outrage in the US.

Chinese court convicts Australians in Crown gambling case: consul

Nineteen current and former employees of Australia’s Crown Resorts company pleaded guilty to gambling-related charges in a Chinese court on Monday, with three Australian staffers sentenced to months-long jail terms.Jason O’Connor, the executive vice pr…

Nineteen current and former employees of Australia's Crown Resorts company pleaded guilty to gambling-related charges in a Chinese court on Monday, with three Australian staffers sentenced to months-long jail terms.

Jason O'Connor, the executive vice president of Crown division VIP International, was given a 10-month jail term, Australian Consul General Graeme Meehan told reporters outside the Shanghai court.

The two other Australians, Pan Dan and Jerry Xuan, were given nine-month sentences.

But Meehan said their sentences start from the day of their detention on October 14, 2016. This would mean they have already served at least eight months.

The consul did not say what sentences were given to the Chinese staffers and one employee from Malaysia.

"The Australian government has monitored this case very closely," Meehan said. "We will be continuing to provide consular assistance to the Australians and their families for as long as that's required."

The hearing was held behind closed doors, but the court schedule showed the 19 were on trial for "suspected gambling".

Several Chinese men and women streamed out of the Baoshan District Court after Meehan announced the verdict, but it was unclear if they were defendants in the case.

The marketing employees, including an executive in charge of luring rich Chinese to Australia, were detained in raids across China in October as Beijing cracks down on high-roller gambling promotions.

- Overseas junkets -

Crown Resorts said in a statement on June 13 that the employees were charged with "offences related to the promotion of gambling".

The company declined to comment on Monday.

O'Connor was the executive vice president of a Crown division called VIP International when he was arrested.

The Australians were suspected of arranging junkets overseas for wealthy Chinese gamblers.

A Malaysian executive, identified by Australian media as Alfread Gomez, was also detained.

Two of the 19 who were put on trial are former staff members. Three current employees had been granted bail, while the rest have been kept in detention.

Gaming is illegal in China and companies are not allowed explicitly to advertise gambling.

Crown operates casinos across Australia and the world, although this year it has undergone restructuring amid China's gambling crackdown, which has driven away many big-spenders and hurt revenues.

Last month Crown sold a remaining stake in its Macau operation to joint venture partner Melco International, after shelving plans late last year for a Las Vegas casino to concentrate on Australian luxury hotel and casino businesses.

Stolen boys: Life after sexual slavery in Afghanistan

Adorned in makeup, fake breasts and bells, Jawed whirls around middle-aged men at Kabul’s underground bacha bazi, or “boy play” parties, where the former child sex slave finds freedom of sorts as a dancing boy.Jawed was kidnapped by a former jihadi com…

Adorned in makeup, fake breasts and bells, Jawed whirls around middle-aged men at Kabul's underground bacha bazi, or "boy play" parties, where the former child sex slave finds freedom of sorts as a dancing boy.

Jawed was kidnapped by a former jihadi commander in Shomali, north of Kabul, when he was barely 14, a victim of a hidden epidemic in Afghanistan of culturally-sanctioned male rape.

He is one of three former "bachas" traced by AFP who managed to escape their abusers. Their testimonies shed searing light on the stolen lives of boy sex slaves, often seen as caricatures of shame and cast out of their families, with many like Jawed falling prey to a new cycle of abuse.

Four years after he was kidnapped, Jawed's commander replaced him with a new boy slave, and "gifted" him to another strongman.

The 19-year-old says he escaped one night amid the chaos of a gunfight at a wedding where his new captor took him to entertain guests.

But dancing is the only skill he has that can earn a livelihood, having had no education and with virtually no protection offered in Afghanistan for bacha bazi survivors.

Now he performs for powerful male patrons at dance parties, where the evening often ends in sex -? underlining how, even when they are free, victims struggle to break out of the role that has been forced on them.

"Fights usually break out over who will take me home" after the parties, 19-year-old Jawed told AFP, requesting that his real name not be revealed.

- 'Transform into a woman' -

Bacha bazi is not seen as homosexuality in Afghanistan's gender segregated society -- instead the possession of young boys decked out as pretty women symbolises power and primacy. It is carried out with impunity often within Western-backed Afghan forces.

After two failed attempts that resulted in a beating, 15-year-old Gul escaped barefoot at the end of three months of captivity in a police outpost in Helmand's Nad Ali district.

But there was no going home again. Gul lives constantly on the move, chased by the paralysing fear he will be kidnapped once more.

His parents and brothers, meanwhile, have been forced to flee their home over fears the powerful commander will come looking for him.

"'Transform yourself into a woman,' the checkpoint commander would tell me" with makeup and ankle bells, Gul told AFP by telephone from his hiding place.

Gul was one of three bachas at the checkpoint. Troublingly, he said, the policemen prowled for more victims ?- especially effeminate boys from poor families unable to fight back.

"They tried to outdo each other: 'My boy is more handsome than yours, my boy is a better dancer'," he said.

For some the only escape is to forge a secret deal with the Taliban, who have successfully recruited boy sex slaves hungry for revenge to kill their abusers within police ranks, AFP revealed last year.

- 'Save my boy' -

Unlike many other victims, Gul is relatively fortunate in that his family was ready to take him back.

"Family honour is like a glass of water. One speck of dirt ruins it," said Aimal, a former bacha in his 30s who was abandoned by his parents. "If I were a woman my family wouldn't leave me alive."

The shame also stalks parents who try to help their children, say medical professionals in southern Afghanistan who treat the brutally violated survivors.

"Increasingly parents will bring boys saying they have bowel problems," said a surgeon in Helmand province, where bacha bazi is widespread, corroborating what two other health officials told AFP.

"But a closer examination shows the boys were raped and need to be stitched up. The parents break down in tears: 'We want no publicity, just save my boy.'"

Aimal, who requested his real name be withheld, was discarded after years of enslavement to a jihadi commander in northern Balkh province as he began sprouting a beard.

Now a youth activist in Kabul, he said he did not want to end up the way that many other victims do -- becoming predators themselves.

President Ashraf Ghani this year laid out stringent penalties against bacha bazi for the first time in a revised penal code, but the government has given no time frame over when they will be enforced.

Instead, authorities in February launched a massive raid on a bacha bazi party in Kabul, jailing not the organisers but a handful of dancing boys, multiple witnesses told AFP.

"For me dancing is not a crime," said Aimal. "This culture of victimising the victim must end."

In a country with little legal protection or psychosocial support, victims might be lucky to escape their abusers but not their past. Almost by default, prostitution has become a common fallback for many abused boys.

"Dancing has become too risky" since the raid, Jawed told AFP before he sidled back into his underground life. "Now I might only do sex work."

Jeff Horn has ’10-point plan’ to upset Pacquiao

Australian challenger Jeff Horn has a 10-point plan to upset legendary Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao in their World Boxing Organization welterweight title fight, his trainer said Monday.Pacquiao (59-6-2, 38 knockouts) is one of the greats of his genera…

Australian challenger Jeff Horn has a 10-point plan to upset legendary Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao in their World Boxing Organization welterweight title fight, his trainer said Monday.

Pacquiao (59-6-2, 38 knockouts) is one of the greats of his generation and a strong favourite to overcome the unbeaten Horn at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium on Sunday.

But trainer Glenn Rushton said he has watched hours of the "Pac Man's" previous fights and is confident of having the blueprint to cause a major upset.

"I have no doubt this is going to be a much better fight than we've seen against (Floyd) Mayweather, even (Jessie) Vargas and (Timothy) Bradley," Rushton told reporters.

"I think we've eliminated all of the problems that a lot of these fighters have had.

"I've got a 10-point plan and Jeff is the only person who has that 10-point plan. I said to him, follow the plan and we win the fight, simple as that."

Former schoolteacher Horn, 29, who has won 16 of his 17 bouts with one draw, said he has been going over Rushton's plans and knew them almost off by heart.

"It's a plan I've heard him speak to me about 1,000 times. It's perfectly worded," he said.

"Reading over it is just like listening to him talk to me in the ring. What he's written down is spot on and I can get the job done if I follow it 100 percent.

"He only sent it to me on the weekend and just said to read it over a few times and make sure I've got it clarified, what I need to do."

- 'Fired up' -

Pacquiao, who briefly retired last year before making a successful comeback against Vargas in November, said after arriving in Australia at the weekend he was confident of taking out Horn before an expected crowd of 50,000.

"I have been fighting and training with brawler fighters, tough fighters," he said.

"I consider Horn a tough opponent. I never underestimate an opponent. He?s undefeated and young. He has a big right hand. He has good amateur experience."

The eight-weight world champion has said he is using the bout as an opportunity to prove he remains a global force at the age of 38 as he juggles boxing with a full-time job as a senator in the Philippines.

"In all my years of boxing, I have never been as motivated and fired up as this fight,? he said.

"My team is very happy with my preparation. I am looking forward to this and I will be going home as world champion."

He added that he knows how Horn will be feeling.

"I remember when I was starting out. I would lie awake at night and dream of winning a big fight. I know how Jeff Horn is feeling this week."

Italy to pay up to 17 bn euros to deal with two troubled banks: govt

Italy will pay up to 17 billion euros ($19 billion) to break up two insolvent Venetian banks, which have posed a threat to the country’s banking system, the government announced on Sunday.Both face bankruptcy and European authorities had urged Italy to…

Italy will pay up to 17 billion euros ($19 billion) to break up two insolvent Venetian banks, which have posed a threat to the country's banking system, the government announced on Sunday.

Both face bankruptcy and European authorities had urged Italy to devise a rescue framework, selling off the good assets of the stricken Banca Popolare di Vicenza and Veneto Banca and transferring their toxic assets to a "bad bank," essentially financed by Rome.

The move comes less than a month after the EU anti-trust authority approved Italy's massive rescue of the country's troubled third-largest bank, Monte dei Paschi di Siena (BMPS), which has been in deep trouble since the worst of the eurozone debt crisis.

The Italian government will stage the two Venetian banks' rescue with support from the country's biggest retail bank, Intesa Sanpaolo, which will take up the good assets to protect the banks' customers and to minimise staff lay-offs.

The European Commission in a statement said it "has approved, under EU rules, Italian measures to facilitate the liquidation of BPVI and Veneto Banca under national insolvency law".

EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager said that Italy considers state aid necessary "to avoid an economic disturbance in the Veneto region".

She added that "Italy will support the sale and integration of some activities and the transfer of employees to Intesa Sanpaolo".

- A symbolic euro -

Padoan said 4,785 billion euros would be set aside immediately to "maintain capitalisation" of Intesa Sanpaolo, which has made that a condition of any cooperation.

For its part Intesa has put one symbolic euro on the table and attached a further string to the deal by insisting its share dividend policy remain unaffected.

"The total resources mobilised could reach a maximum of 17 billion euros -- but the immediate cost to the state is a little more than five billion," said Finance Minister Pier Carlo Padoan.

"This decree allows the stabilisation of the Venetian economy and safeguarding of the economic activity of the Venetian banks," said Padoan.

Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni portrayed the move as necessary to shore up the situation of current account holders and ordinary savers as well as of bank workers, in order to bolster "the good health of our banking system."

The 19-member eurozone has expressed concern at the perilous state of some Italian banks as Rome tries to address piles of risky loans sitting on the books of some of them.

- 'Fully operational' -

In a statement released Friday night, the Italian finance ministry said Rome would "adopt necessary measures to ensure banking activity is fully operational, with protection for all current account holders, deposits and senior shares."

Media reports suggested the bill to the Italian taxpayer from the "bad bank" would be around 10 billion euros.

There is also the issue of some 3,500 to 4,000 bank employees set to lose their jobs as well as associated early retirement costs, La Repubblica reported Saturday.

But Intesa CEO Carlo Messina said late Sunday that there would be no redundancies.

"Our intervention will make it possible to secure more than 50 billion euros of savings entrusted to the two banks and to protect two million customers, including 200,000 companies," he added.

Earlier this month, the EU anti-trust authority approved the rescue of BMPS, founded in Siena in 1472, making it Italy's oldest bank.

Rome is set to take a majority stake on a provisional basis to prevent bankruptcy and inject capital in line with EU rules, while limiting the burden for Italian taxpayers after the lender failed to raise funds on the market last year.

In exchange, Rome must accept a drastic EU-approved restructuring plan for BMPS expected to involve mass layoffs.

The European Central Bank said in December that BMPS was short of a staggering 8.8 billion euros in capital.

Blake takes sprint double at Jamaica nationals

Olympic Games silver medalist Yohan Blake copped his third sprint double at the Jamaican national track and field championships on Sunday, winning the 200 meters in 19.97 seconds.It was just the second 200m race of the year for Blake who also won the 1…

Olympic Games silver medalist Yohan Blake copped his third sprint double at the Jamaican national track and field championships on Sunday, winning the 200 meters in 19.97 seconds.

It was just the second 200m race of the year for Blake who also won the 100m on Friday night and says he is pleased with how his comeback is progressing.

"I have been working for this, making my comeback," he said. "I just want to keep doing what I am doing."

Blake dominated a 200m field that was without superstar Usain Bolt, as he easily beat Commonwealth Games champion Rasheed Dwyer (20.26) and World and Olympic medalist Warren Weir (20.39).

"I am putting in the hard work every day in training and while I have not done a lot of 200m, I will get it right when the time comes. I will run faster as I am getting better and better," he said.

Danielle Williams, the World Championships defending champion, ran a personal best 12.56 seconds in the 100m hurdles.

Her time beat her previous 12.57 seconds set while winning in Beijing two years ago.

She says there is still room for improvement.

"I was hitting all the hurdles and that was not as good or as efficient as I wanted," she said.

"I am happy with the win, but not the execution. My aim is to get back on the podium. Each race I run I aim to get better."

Williams is the defending champion has a bye into the London World Championships in August.

Megan Simmonds was second in a personal best time of 12.63 seconds. Yanique Thompson who ran 12.69 seconds took third and Rushell Burton was fourth in 12.70 seconds.

Nathon Allen and World and Olympic medalist Shericka Jackson were first time winners of the 400m events.

Allen clocked a 44.58 seconds to snap the season-long unbeaten run of Demish Gaye, who ran a personal best of 44.64 seconds. Steven Gayle was third in 45.09 seconds.

Both Allen and Gaye came off the last corner in front and raced together until about 40 meters to go when Allen pulled ahead to win.

Jackson won in 50.05 seconds to win the women's race and beat Chrisann Gordon who ran a personal best 50.13 seconds. Novlene Williams Mills was third in 50.14 seconds.

World Championships bronze medalist Odayne Richards retained the shot put title with a season's best 21.29m.

Kimberly Williams had just three jumps but won the triple jump with a 14.60m as she recovers from a bruised heel.

Australia’s Crown Resorts staff face trial in China

A Chinese court opened a trial on Monday for 19 current and former employees of Australia’s Crown Resorts company who were charged with promoting gambling, including three Australians and a Malaysian.The accused arrived at the Baoshan District Court in…

A Chinese court opened a trial on Monday for 19 current and former employees of Australia's Crown Resorts company who were charged with promoting gambling, including three Australians and a Malaysian.

The accused arrived at the Baoshan District Court in Shanghai in the morning and a tribunal officer told AFP that a verdict may be issued later on Monday, but it was up to the judge.

The court schedule showed they were on trial for "suspected gambling".

The marketing employees, including an executive in charge of luring rich Chinese to Australia, were detained in raids across China in October as Beijing cracks down on high-roller gambling promotions.

Crown Resorts said in a statement on June 13 that the employees were charged with "offences related to the promotion of gambling".

The company declined to comment on Monday.

The Australians who were detained include Jason O'Connor, the executive vice president of a Crown division called VIP International.

They are suspected of arranging junkets overseas for wealthy Chinese gamblers.

A Malaysian executive, identified by Australian media as Alfread Gomez, was also detained.

Two of the 19 facing trial are former staff members. Three current employees were granted bail, while the rest remained in detention.

Gaming is illegal in China and companies are not allowed explicitly to advertise gambling.

Crown operates casinos across Australia and the world, although this year it has undergone restructuring amid China's gambling crackdown, which has driven away many big-spenders and hurt revenues.

Last month Crown sold a remaining stake in its Macau operation to joint venture partner Melco International, after shelving plans late last year for a Las Vegas casino to concentrate on Australian luxury hotel and casino businesses.

Myanmar and Thailand torch $1 billion of seized drugs

Myanmar and Thailand started torching nearly $1 billion worth of seized narcotics on Monday, a defiant show of force as law enforcement struggles to stem the rising flow of drugs in the region.The burnings, to mark world anti-drugs day, follow another …

Myanmar and Thailand started torching nearly $1 billion worth of seized narcotics on Monday, a defiant show of force as law enforcement struggles to stem the rising flow of drugs in the region.

The burnings, to mark world anti-drugs day, follow another year of record seizures of narcotics from the remote borderlands of Myanmar, Laos, southern China and northern Thailand.

Myanmar remains one of the world's great drug producing nations, a dark legacy of decades civil war in its frontier regions where government troops and ethnic rebel forces have vied for control of the lucrative trade.

Armed gangs churn out vast quantities of opium, heroin, cannabis and millions of caffeine-laced methamphetamine pills known as "yaba" which are then smuggled out across Southeast Asia.

An estimated $385 million in opium, heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine tablets was put to flames in three official ceremonies around Myanmar on Monday.

"It's the biggest burning of seized drugs in (Myanmar's) history," said a senior police officer from the anti-drugs department in the capital Naypyidaw, asking not to be named.

On an industrial estate on the outskirts of Bangkok, Thai authorities also torched some $589 million worth of drugs including 7,800 kilogrammes of yaba pills and 1,185 kilogrammes of the more potent crystal methamphetamine.

The huge seizures are often touted by Myanmar and Thailand as proof they are making inroads into the vast regional drug trade.

But law enforcement agents say they are just the tip of the iceberg as producers ramp up production to meet growing demand across Southeast Asia and increasingly in Bangladesh and India.

The Myanmar police officer said almost all of the drugs they burned originated in eastern Shan State, in areas controlled by ethnic armed groups.

The kingpins are the United Wa State Army (UWSA), a 25,000-strong militia known as Asia's most heavily-armed drug dealers who boast their own autonomous territories on the border with China and have close links with Beijing.

Despite their reputation the Wa deny producing drugs and even put on their own burning session in the village of Ponpakyin.

Myanmar has also been struggling to stem a growing tide of drug addiction inside its borders.

Experts say yaba use has exploded as ethnic armed gangs switched from exporting all the pills abroad to increasingly targeting domestic users.

Buddhist monks and military officers were among 13,500 people prosecuted for drugs crimes, up 50 percent from the previous year, according to data seen by AFP.

In a bid to combat the growing scourge, Myanmar's new civilian government is seeking to overhaul stringent anti-drug laws brought in under the former military government.

Current legislation means anyone found with even small amounts of drugs can be jailed for years.

"Handing out harsh penalties for drugs users can't combat the rise of drug-trafficking in the country," said the police officer.

Thailand meanwhile has the world's sixth-largest prison population and the tenth highest incarceration rate in the world, largely thanks to its strict anti-drug laws.

All Blacks coach Hansen blasts Gatland as ‘a bit desperate’

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen lit the fuse on simmering tension with rival Warren Gatland Monday, labelling the British and Irish Lions mentor “a bit desperate” for accusing his side of dangerous play.An irate Hansen took exception to Gatland claiming …

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen lit the fuse on simmering tension with rival Warren Gatland Monday, labelling the British and Irish Lions mentor "a bit desperate" for accusing his side of dangerous play.

An irate Hansen took exception to Gatland claiming the world champions targeted his scrum-half Conor Murray during their 30-15 win over the Lions in the opening Test in Auckland.

Hansen, who has traded barbs with Gatland throughout the series, called talkback radio to let off steam.

"It's predictable comments from Gatland, isn't it? Two weeks ago we cheated in the scrums and last week it was blocking and now he's saying this," he told Radio Sport.

"It's really, really disappointing to hear it because what he's implying is we're intentionally going out to injure somebody."

Hansen said that was never the case and Gatland, as a fellow New Zealander, should know better.

"We've never been like that and as a New Zealander I'd expect him to know the New Zealand psyche that it's not about intentionally trying to hurt anybody," he said.

"It's about playing hard and fair."

Hansen said the comments "take the gloss" off a great Test match that produced fine performances from both sides.

He said Gatland never raised any issues immediately after the match, so he was at a loss to explain why he was bringing them up so long after the final whistle.

"I guess he might be a bit desperate or something but I'm not sure, I don't know why he'd be saying it," he said.

Gatland told reporters on Sunday that Murray had been singled out by the All Blacks and he would speak to the referees about the issue ahead of the second Test in Wellington on Saturday.

"There was a couple of times on Conor Murray there was a charge down where someone's dived at his legs," he said.

"I thought it was a little bit dangerous, and after he's kicked he's been pushed a few times (too)."

China’s hydropower frenzy drowns sacred mountains

Towering walls of concrete entomb lush forests on mountainsides in southwest China as workers toil on the dry riverbed below to build the country’s latest mega-dam.The colossal construction site in Sichuan province swallows three rivers, providing anot…

Towering walls of concrete entomb lush forests on mountainsides in southwest China as workers toil on the dry riverbed below to build the country's latest mega-dam.

The colossal construction site in Sichuan province swallows three rivers, providing another display of China's engineering prowess but also of the trauma it inflicts on people and nature along the way.

Once completed in 2023, the 295-metre behemoth will be the world's third tallest dam, producing 3,000 megawatts of energy.

But for the communities around the massive project -- some as far as 100 kilometres (60 miles) upstream -- the Lianghekou dam will drown ancestral homes, revered Buddhist monasteri es, fertile crops and sacred mountains.

Beijing is building hydropower at a breakneck pace in ethnically Tibetan regions as part of an ambitious undertaking to reduce the country's dependence on coal and cut emissions that have made it the world's top polluter.

China had just two dams in 1949, but now boasts some 22,000 -- nearly half the world total -- in all but one of the country's major waterways.

- 'We have no land' -

Mountains and rivers are revered as sacred in Tibetan Buddhism, and the extensive construction, which began in 2014, has alarmed locals who believe they can only live peacefully if the nature around them is protected.

"Last year, people said that a big forest fire happened because they blasted a road into the holy mountain, and it took revenge," said villager Tashi Yungdrung, a farmer with red thread wound through her thick braid who tends a small herd of yaks in the pastures above her stone, square-windowed home.

Most would not dare remove so much as a single stone from the mountain Palshab Drakar, an important pilgrimage site, she said.

Villagers are bracing for mass relocations, an experience that has previously caused havoc elsewhere in China.

Beginning in the 1990s, more than a million were moved for the Three Gorges Dam, the world's largest in terms of capacity, with thousands still mired in poverty.

Plans posted at the Lianghekou construction site showed that 22 power plants will be built along the Yalong, a Yangtze tributary, collectively capable of generating 30 gigawatts of electricity -- a fifth of China's current total installed hydropower capacity.

Li Zhaolong, a Tibetan from Zhaba village, said he received 300,000 yuan ($44,000) in government compensation to build a new home on higher ground, where he will move next year.

But the 28,000 yuan moving fee his family received per person will not last long once their crops are submerged and they have no other sources of income.

"Before we were farmers, and now we have no land," said Li.

"We can't move to a township, because we are uneducated and there will be no way to make a living there."

Some 6,000 people across four counties will be relocated, according to a state-affiliated energy website.

Five monasteries have been or will be rebuilt on higher ground, but their spiritual importance will be diminished as the communities they serve are displaced, a lama named Lobsang said.

"The government is very big, and the valley is very small. So much is lost, but we cannot resist or fight," he said. "When you say something and try to protect your place, the government gives you another name: separatist."

Some 80 percent of China's hydropower potential lies along the high-flow, glacier-fed rivers of the Tibetan plateau, but dams there bring minimal local benefits because most of the power goes to smog-choked cities in the east, according to the non-governmental organisation International Rivers.

Construction worker Zeng Qingtao said the state-owned Power Construction Corporation had brought in some 10,000 employees, but none are locals.

"We can't hire Tibetans. They aren't reasonable," he said.

The Hubei native lives in Zhaba, a hamlet whose unique matrilineal customs are disappearing as residents scatter.

"The dams' negative impacts are very acutely felt at a local scale, while the positive impacts are very diffuse and broadly distributed," said Darrin Magee, a professor specialising in Chinese hydropower at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in the US.

- Quake fears -

Some experts question whether hydropower can cut coal dependence, as its low efficiency can spur the development of backup coal plants that operate during dry spells.

In addition, Fan Xiao, chief engineer of the provincial government's Geology and Mineral Resources Bureau, said studies show reservoirs in this region emit huge amounts of methane and carbon dioxide derived from organic matter trapped underwater during flooding.

Engineers and environmentalists also worry that Sichuan, which will receive a third of China's planned hydropower investment by 2020, is a hotbed of seismic activity that could damage hydropower stations.

Geologists believe the water pressure exerted by dam reservoirs can trigger earthquakes, which some suspect happened in the 2008 Wenchuan quake that claimed 87,000 lives, a few hundred kilometres from Lianghekou.

But once in motion, projects are nearly impossible to stop.

"Whether a project creates actual benefits or profit once it's built is not a concern of current government officials," Fan said.

Glencore makes new bid for Rio’s Australia coal assets

Rio Tinto said on Monday that Swiss commodities giant Glencore has upped its offerthe firm’s Australian coal assets,raising the stakes in a bidding war with China-backed Yancoal.

Rio, the world’s second-largest miner, said in January it was selling Coal & Allied to Yancoal Australia — majority-controlled by China’s Yanzhou Coal — for US$2.45 billion.

But Glencore, which like Yancoal also operates numerous coal mines in Australia, offered US$100 million more for the assets in New South Wales state earlier this month.

Rio last week said it still favoured Yancoal since the deal was expected to be completed faster due to greater funding and regulatory certainty, leading Glencore to deliver a fresh US$2.675 billion bid.

“We believe the Glencore offer satisfies the criteria for a ‘superior proposal’ — it delivers substantially greater value to Rio Tinto shareholders and low deal completion risk,” Glencore said in a statement.

Rio said that if it decides Glencore’s new bid was better, Yancoal would have two business days to respond, meaning its annual general meeting in London on Tuesday would be adjourned.

“If the Rio Tinto board decides to reject Glencore?s revised proposal, then the general meeting is expected to proceed as currently scheduled,” it added, with shareholders voting on the Yancoal deal.

In a sweetener, Glencore said it would provide full payment to Rio once the deal is completed. Its previous offer, along with Yancoal?s bid, provided deferred payments over five years.

Yancoal has already been given the green light by Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board, while the Glencore plan would be subject to regulatory approval.

Rio, which in February reported a surge in annual net profit thanks to improving commodity prices, is selling Coal & Allied in a divestment drive that analysts expect will lead to a complete exit from the sector.

Rio Tinto said on Monday that Swiss commodities giant Glencore has upped its offerthe firm's Australian coal assets,raising the stakes in a bidding war with China-backed Yancoal.

Rio, the world's second-largest miner, said in January it was selling Coal & Allied to Yancoal Australia -- majority-controlled by China's Yanzhou Coal -- for US$2.45 billion.

But Glencore, which like Yancoal also operates numerous coal mines in Australia, offered US$100 million more for the assets in New South Wales state earlier this month.

Rio last week said it still favoured Yancoal since the deal was expected to be completed faster due to greater funding and regulatory certainty, leading Glencore to deliver a fresh US$2.675 billion bid.

"We believe the Glencore offer satisfies the criteria for a 'superior proposal' -- it delivers substantially greater value to Rio Tinto shareholders and low deal completion risk," Glencore said in a statement.

Rio said that if it decides Glencore's new bid was better, Yancoal would have two business days to respond, meaning its annual general meeting in London on Tuesday would be adjourned.

"If the Rio Tinto board decides to reject Glencore?s revised proposal, then the general meeting is expected to proceed as currently scheduled," it added, with shareholders voting on the Yancoal deal.

In a sweetener, Glencore said it would provide full payment to Rio once the deal is completed. Its previous offer, along with Yancoal?s bid, provided deferred payments over five years.

Yancoal has already been given the green light by Australia's Foreign Investment Review Board, while the Glencore plan would be subject to regulatory approval.

Rio, which in February reported a surge in annual net profit thanks to improving commodity prices, is selling Coal & Allied in a divestment drive that analysts expect will lead to a complete exit from the sector.

Epic struggle of film about Cairo on eve of revolution

Everyone thought Tamer El Said had gone mad in the decade it took him to make his film “In the Last Days of the City”.”My friends would look at me with a mixture of pity and sarcasm when they asked how it was going,” he told AFP. “And then after a whil…

Everyone thought Tamer El Said had gone mad in the decade it took him to make his film "In the Last Days of the City".

"My friends would look at me with a mixture of pity and sarcasm when they asked how it was going," he told AFP. "And then after a while they stopped asking..."

El Said soldiered on even as the Egyptian revolution and counter-revolution seemed to have swept his years of agony and effort into irrelevance.

Now finally his award-winning movie about Cairo in the months before the 2011 Egyptian revolution is being released after being hailed as a remarkable portrait of a city on the brink.

Just six week after El Said finished shooting the impotent rage and surreal suspended reality of everyday life around his home under the geriatric dictator Hosni Mubarak, the same Cairo streets exploded into protest.

In one prophetic scene shot on a roof overlooking Tahrir Square -- which would weeks later become the epicentre of the Arab Spring -- the main character Khalid and his Iraqi and Lebanese friends despair of the violence, failure and fatalism the Arab world had sunk into.

But as El Said sat down to edit the movie, the world outside his window had begun to turn upside down. The resigned, melancholic Cairo that he had caught, weighed down by the military regime's propaganda and police, rose up in revolt.

"During the 18 days (of protests that forced Mubarak from power) I didn't feel the urge to film," said El Said, who lives five minutes from Tahrir Square.

- Sticking to his guns -

"I wanted to be part of this moment. But under the influence of others, we filmed for half a day, and it felt wrong.

"For the two years we had been shooting on the streets it always felt right, but it didn't feel right to use such a big moment as a backdrop," the 44-year-old added.

"We couldn't use it before we understood it. And to understand it we needed time."

Potential Western backers offered money to finish the film but wanted him to include the revolution.

"But I refused, I would have been betraying myself and the film" which was "about something that was ending and the price you pay for being from a place like this," he added.

In an irony that was not lost on him, El Said's own fate as he struggled to get finance came to mirror that of his lead character Khalid, who spends the movie not finishing his own film about Cairo.

But like his lugubrious hero, played by Scottish-Egyptian actor Khalid Abdalla of "The Kite Runner" fame, El Said had deeper emotional reasons for digging in his heels.

"The idea for the film came to me after the death of my father, and around the same time I lost friends in the terrible fire at the Beni Suef theatre festival in 2005" in which 46 people were killed.

"It was horrible to imagine people burning inside a theatre and nobody being held accountable. It said everything about the last years of Mubarak's rule. It was clear we couldn't continue.

- Mother acted from deathbed -

"For me cinema is a way of making things last forever," he said, tears welling in his eyes. "Yet I never filmed my father."

By the time he started filming, his mother was also dying, and he persuaded her to play Khalid's mother from her deathbed.

"She died in October 2010 in the last few weeks of the shoot."

In a scene that subtly caught the rising religious mood in the city, she covers her head as her strength ebbs, while in the world outside stickers appear on lifts urging men not to look at women and tailor's dummies are covered up in shop windows.

The Muslim Brotherhood government led by Mohamed Morsi that came out of the revolution was later overthrown by street protests and a military coup in June 2013 that brought General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to power.

That "In the Last Days of the City" has yet to be seen in Egypt despite winning a string of international prizes, including at the Berlin film festival, speaks volumes about artistic freedom and free speech under al-Sisi.

El Said insists it is not a political film.

Yet it languishes in legal limbo in his homeland, not banned but unable after 10 months of petitioning to get even a permit for a poster.

"The fact the film has never been shown in Egypt is a great scar for me," said the director, one of the founders of Cairo's Cimatheque hub for artists and film-makers.

"People say the film itself is not a problem... after all we shot it all in Mubarak's time. There is just no place at the moment for an alternative voice."

Erdogan’s Istanbul opera house plan sparks excitement, controversy

On the buzzing Taksim Square of Istanbul, the focal point of the modern city, a giant disused building looms over visitors, its glass windows broken and a few tattered advertising banners flapping disconsolately in the breeze.This is the Ataturk Cultur…

On the buzzing Taksim Square of Istanbul, the focal point of the modern city, a giant disused building looms over visitors, its glass windows broken and a few tattered advertising banners flapping disconsolately in the breeze.

This is the Ataturk Cultural Centre (AKM), opened in 1969 to realise the dream of modern Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk for the country to be a world-class centre for the arts, including Western genres such as classical music, opera and ballet.

But the glass-fronted AKM has endured a chequered, even cursed history.

It had to be rebuilt following a fire in 1970 and only reopened in 1978. It then served as the hub of Istanbul's cultural life for three decades before being shuttered in 2008 for restoration.

But no restoration ever took place and the building has since stood unloved and decaying through the tumult of the 2013 mass protests against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then premier, on Taksim and the July 15, 2016 failed coup against his rule.

Its brooding shell has become a symbol of the troubles dogging the arts in Turkey at a time of declining funding, claims of censorship under Erdogan and the terror attacks of 2016, keeping some foreign artists away.

- 'Knock it down' -

After years of debate on the future of the building, Erdogan this month offered a radical and clinical solution -- rip the entire edifice down and build a world-class opera house in its place.

His proposal has aroused excitement in some quarters but hostility from others -- particularly those who see the modernist building as a worthy example of secular Turkish modern architecture.

"The AKM project in Istanbul is over, we will knock it down and Istanbul will gain a beautiful new edifice," Erdogan said.

Erdogan's government has been criticised on occasion for showing a lack of interest in the arts beyond Turkey's internationally successful television dramas.

But the president said: "All we want is for Istanbul to have the culture and arts centre that it deserves."

- 'Opera without a home' -

The absence of the AKM left a gaping hole in Istanbul cultural life, with the opera and ballet companies largely performing at the Sureyya Operasi on the Asian side of the city, an architecturally significant 1920s building but too small for grand shows.

"We have been waiting for a proper concert hall and the news coming from President Erdogan made us more than happy," Yesim Gurer Oymak, director of the annual Istanbul Music Festival, organised by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (IKSV), told AFP.

"This means that there will be more and more international orchestras and big productions coming to Istanbul and the companies from Turkey can present more elevated productions.

"The closure of AKM means an opera company, a ballet, a state orchestra without a home. In order to develop, they need to have a base and a home," she added.

Gurer Oymak recalled how the AKM had been a popular Istanbul meeting place and put on ambitious productions, including as part of the Istanbul Music Festival, that now are no longer possible.

- Symbol of 'old Turkey'? -

Should a new opera house be built, Istanbul would be following other cities in the Islamic world, notably Dubai and Muscat, which have built new auditoriums that have been massively popular with locals and visitors.

It would also be a huge boost to Taksim Square, whose attractions have diminished especially since the 2013 protests and is now given a wide berth by many local residents.

The 1960s AKM, a brutalist edifice typical of its era, is regarded with scorn by some, who see it as an unwanted symbol of the "old Turkey" before Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002.

The pro-government Daily Sabah described the AKM as a "grim reminder" of the 1960s as well as an "eyesore and dull architectural work".

- 'Destroy the Republic' -

But for others the building is a proud symbol of the modern Republic set up by Ataturk -- himself an opera buff -- and must be restored rather than demolished.

Sami Yilmazturk, chairman of the Istanbul Chamber of Architects, said the plan to demolish the AKM was "part of a project to say 'stop' to modernisation and destroy the Republic."

"The (Republic) project put a dream, a utopia, an objective before Turkey. The plan to demolish AKM is an attempt to reverse that goal," he said.

He claimed that edifices linked with Ataturk were being knocked down under the current government, which insists it does its utmost to preserve Ataturk's legacy.

"It's an area where people meet, with art and culture," he added.

- 'Part of city identity' -

Under the shadow of the building's shell, locals were divided over what its fate should be.

"This building represents Taksim. They are ruining the silhouette of Taksim Square. I don't believe better things will be done. We've seen what's been done so far," said Hacer, a middle-aged woman, who declined to give her full name.

But a man identifying himself only as Mustafa added: "It's an ugly building. I don't know what they will do with it but at least they could do something nice."

Gurer Oymak said one solution could be to preserve just the facade of the building while creating other parts from scratch.

"The AKM left a very important trace in the identity of this city. I would like to see the facade preserved as it's in our memory."

Iceland, an open-air Hollywood studio

Crystal clear ice caves, glacial lakes, spewing volcanoes and crashing waterfalls framed by dark lava columns: Iceland’s breathtaking landscapes have become a magnet for Hollywood moviemakers looking to conjure up otherworldly scenery.In southern Icela…

Crystal clear ice caves, glacial lakes, spewing volcanoes and crashing waterfalls framed by dark lava columns: Iceland's breathtaking landscapes have become a magnet for Hollywood moviemakers looking to conjure up otherworldly scenery.

In southern Iceland, the massive Almannagja gorge stretches as far as the eye can see. Its spectacular setting was chosen as the location for an epic battle scene in "Game of Thrones" between the characters Brienne of Tarth and the Hound.

"The diversity is so big that you can create almost any kind of landscape," says Leifur Dagfinnsson, president of the Icelandic production company Truenorth, which holds 90 percent of the market.

"You can both shoot Iceland for Iceland or you can have Iceland double for other places like the Himalayas, the Mongolian tundra, Siberia or Greenland," he tells AFP.

Located in the North Atlantic, Iceland's moon-like landscape has served as a filmset for many science fiction films portraying other planets, Dagfinnsson, says.

From TV series such as "Black Mirror", to blockbusters including "Interstellar", "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider", "Star Wars", James Bond movies and "Fast and Furious 8", the list of films shot in Iceland in recent years is long.

- 'Surreal landscapes' -

The country's uninhabited landscapes offer moviemakers the opportunity to film everything from dramatic action-filled scenes to apocalyptic scenery and futuristic worlds.

Filmmaker Darren Aronofsky chose Iceland as a film location for his biblical blockbuster movie "Noah" in 2014, starring Russell Crowe.

"The landscapes are surreal -- practically of another world," Aronofsky's producing partner Scott Franklin told the Los Angeles Times at the time.

The sky can look as though it's on fire in the middle of winter, or teeming with roaring clouds trailed by black smoke.

These aren't caused by a volcanic eruption or a storm, but pyrotechnic explosions and swarms of helicopters from the movie sets.

And at the foot of a waterfall or on a beach of silvery pebbles, one might even encounter a strange sword-carrying soldier on horseback returning from battle...

- Post-financial crisis -

Iceland's economic collapse in 2008 has made it an inexpensive country in which to work and it boasts strong infrastructure with easy access to shooting locations, according to Kristinn Thordarson, president of the Association of Icelandic Film Producers (SIK).

The economy is once again growing thanks to a booming tourism industry and a thriving fishing sector, but a dark cloud looms over its rising currency, the krona, which the heavily export-reliant country has repeatedly tried to tame.

As an incentive to film in Iceland, a tax rebate was increased this year from 20 to 25 percent of the overall budget of producing a movie in the country, and Thordarson said he hopes it will be boosted to 30 percent within four years, just behind Ireland's 32 percent.

In the land of ice and fire, 2016 was a peak year for television and movie productions, with turnover for local companies of 20 billion kronur (173 million euros, $189 million).

But Thordarson wants to take it even further.

"If we build a studio here and if the filmmakers use the studio... (then) they would do more in Iceland than just film locations," he said.

Filming is strictly regulated, especially in the country's more than 100 protected areas, from nature reserves to national parks, where a licence from the Icelandic Environment Agency is required.

Shooting permits have been rising sharply since 2013 and "the conditions for obtaining (them) remain very strict," says Adalbjorg Guttormsdottir, who leads a team that manages licence applications.

Disrupting the country's flora and fauna is strictly forbidden, and even turning over a stone without putting it back in place is out of the question.

- Cinema tourism -

The Almannagja fault is now a popular destination for tourists and "Game of Thrones" fans.

Eddy Marks made a one-day return trip to follow a tour of the HBO hit series, after visiting other sets in Croatia's Dubrovnik and Malta.

"It's nice to see... something on the TV and then you come to see it in real life. It's a different experience," says the Californian after taking a selfie in front of the Langjokull glacier framed by snow.

Here, the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates divide, creating a deep canyon.

And it is at this spot, in the heart of the Thingvellir national park, now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, that the world's oldest parliament was created, in 930.

Marks is among 20 other tourists who came to the national park to see a territory in "Game of Thrones" called Beyond the Wall.

"The weather was different in some of the TV scenes," Glenn McGregor, a Canadian retiree, says with a chuckle, as heavy rain falls.

Iceland's unpredictable weather is known for tormenting film crews.

"Many days were lost because of this," recalls Theodore Hansson, 35, a long-haired, bearded "Game of Thrones" tour guide.

A medieval history student at the University of Reykjavik, he also appeared as an extra in season two, three and four of "Game of Thrones" as well as the most recent seventh season.

But the bad weather also has its advantages.

"(It) creates an even more realistic and more beautiful scenario," says Leifur Dagfinnsson.

"Sometimes it is a plus."

Asian markets lifted by oil price bounce but eyes on Trumpcare

Energy firms rose in Asia on Monday as another hike in oil prices chipped away at last week’s hefty losses, but investors are getting tetchy as Donald Trump struggle to pass his healthcare bill, raising concerns about his economic agenda.Crude’s gains …

Energy firms rose in Asia on Monday as another hike in oil prices chipped away at last week's hefty losses, but investors are getting tetchy as Donald Trump struggle to pass his healthcare bill, raising concerns about his economic agenda.

Crude's gains extended into a third straight trading day after being pummelled to 10-month lows Wednesday on fears that OPEC and Russia's output cuts will not avoid another global supply glut due in part to rising US production.

The drop had led to a sell-off in regional energy firms but the slight recovery provided some relief Monday, with Tokyo-listed Inpex rallying almost one percent, while Woodside Petroleum in Sydney and CNOOC in Hong Kong also advanced.

Adding to the upward pressure for oil in the ongoing crisis in the Middle East, where a Saudi Arabia-led blockade of Qatar has fuelled concerns of possible conflict.

Doha rejected at the weekend a list of demands -- ostensibly aimed at fighting extremism and terrorism -- in return for an end to the nearly three-week-old diplomatic and trade row, which has reeled in regional powers Turkey and Iran.

?In characterising it as a family fight, as White House spokesman Sean Spicer appeared to do over the weekend, it?s not taking sides or a leadership role. Which means it could easily kick off -- especially given Iran is the shadow issue,? said Greg McKenna, chief market strategist at AxiTrader.

However, analysts warned the oil gains would likely be limited as US firms continue to bring more rigs online.

- Takata bankruptcy -

On Asian equity markets Japan's Nikkei ended the morning 0.1 percent higher. Tokyo-listed airbag maker Takata was suspended after the crisis-hit firm filed for bankruptcy protection.

The company has been hammered and faces lawsuits as well as massive costs after deadly faults in its airbags triggered the auto industry's biggest ever safety recall.

Hong Kong added 0.5 percent and Shanghai gained 0.8 percent. Sydney put on 0.1 percent and Seoul was 0.4 percent higher.

Traders are also keeping an eye on Washington where Republicans look to be having trouble pushing through a controversial healthcare bill to overtake Obamacare.

Senate leaders last week unveiled a revamped health plan but so far have failed to garner enough support to pass with only Republican votes -- although the party has a majority in the Senate -- after a handful of GOP lawmakers revolted.

Failure to push through one of Trump's key policies, even with a majority in both houses of Congress, could throw a spanner in the works for his other goals, including tax reform and massive infrastructure spending.

?We?ll see if it actually comes to the floor for a vote. But if it does not, or if it is defeated, the path to Trumponomics and the economic stimulus becomes so much harder,? said McKenna.

- Key figures around 0230 GMT -

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: UP 0.1 percent at 20,157.42 (break)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: UP 0.5 percent at 25,803.79

Shanghai - Composite: UP 0.8 percent at 3,182.13

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1195 from $1.1197 at 2100 GMT on Friday

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.2747 from $1.2723

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 111.27 yen from 111.29 yen

Oil - West Texas Intermediate: UP 27 cents at $43.28 per barrel

Oil - Brent North Sea: UP 31 cents at $45.85 per barrel

New York - Dow: DOWN less than 0.1 percent at 21,394.76 (close)

London - FTSE 100: DOWN 0.2 percent at 7,424.13 (close)

South Korea’s Ryu moves to No. 1 with LPGA Arkansas win

Ryu So-Yeon seized the world number one ranking on Sunday as she closed with a two-under 69 at the Northwest Arkansas Championship for her 15th career international title.Ryu, who won her second major championship in April at the ANA Inspiration, finis…

Ryu So-Yeon seized the world number one ranking on Sunday as she closed with a two-under 69 at the Northwest Arkansas Championship for her 15th career international title.

Ryu, who won her second major championship in April at the ANA Inspiration, finished the 54-hole LPGA Tour event at 18-under 195 for a two-shot win over South Korean compatriot Amy Yang and Thailand's Moriya Jutanugarn.

"Dreams come true. I always dreamed about it. I cannot believe it," said Ryu. "I didn't expect two good things coming together."

This is the first time in her career that Ryu has reached No. 1, having just slipped past Ariya Jutanugarn, the younger sister of Moriya, when the numbers were calculated on Sunday night.

"First of all, I really appreciate everyone who has been supportive of me, to make me the No. 1 player in the world," she said.

"That's finally made my dream. This is going to be my first week as the No. 1 player in the world. I know it's going to be a lot of pressure and I know I can handle a lot of different things."

Yang fired a seven-under 64 to reach 16-under as she tied Moriya (66) for second place at the Pinnacle Country Club course.

Americans Michelle Wie (64) and Stacy Lewis (69) finished in a tie for fourth while Aussie Lee Min-Jee and Park In-Bee of South Korea both shot 67 to finish at 12-under 201, six shots adrift of Ryu.

Ryu is the first to win twice this season, the previous 15 tournaments having produced 15 different winners.

Ryu had not played since the ShopRight Classic two weeks ago where she missed her first cut in three years. She says the break was just long enough to help her put a series of poor performances to the back of her mind.

"To be honest, today my game wasn't really a great game," said Ryu. "Yesterday my psychologist said 'don't try to be perfect'.

"I had to tell myself 'OK, don't compare this to any other rounds. Just keep focused.'"

The 26-year-old now has five wins on the USLPGA Tour, nine on the Korean tour and one on the Ladies European Tour.

- Sunday charge -

She went into Sunday's final round with a five shot lead but says she didn't feel confident of a victory until she made the putt on 17.

"I made a birdie on 17 then I had a really good walk to 18," she said.

"I was really nervous last night. When you have a five-shot lead everybody is like, you are going to win the tournament for sure, but this is golf. I shot 10 under on Saturday and so that means someone had a chance to shoot 10 under today."

Yang made a Sunday charge after starting her day seven strokes back of Ryu. After the turn, Yang drained back-to-back birdies to pull within two strokes of Ryu but that is as close as she would get.

Moriya eagled 18 to post a bogey-free round and finish a career best tied for second at 16-under par. The finish marks the fourth consecutive top-10 for the Bangkok native who will continue the hunt for her first win on the Tour.

"I get a lot of confidence from this week and hopefully keep playing solid and finish in another good week," the former LPGA rookie of the year in 2013 said.

Great Barrier Reef a $42 billion asset ‘too big to fail’: study

Australia’s under-pressure Great Barrier Reef is an asset worth Aus$56 billion (US$42 billion) and as an ecosystem and economic driver is “too big to fail”, a study said Monday.The World Heritage-listed reef is the largest living structure on Earth and…

Australia's under-pressure Great Barrier Reef is an asset worth Aus$56 billion (US$42 billion) and as an ecosystem and economic driver is "too big to fail", a study said Monday.

The World Heritage-listed reef is the largest living structure on Earth and its economic and social value was calculated for the first time in the Deloitte Access Economics report commissioned by the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.

Using economic modelling, it said the reef was worth Aus$29 billion to tourism, supporting 64,000 jobs.

The "indirect or non-use" value -- people that have not yet visited the reef but know it exists -- was estimated at Aus$24 billion, with recreational users such as boaters making up the rest.

The study, based on six months' analysis, comes as the reef suffered an unprecedented second straight year of coral bleaching due to warming sea temperatures linked to climate change.

It is also under pressure from farming run-off, development and the crown-of-thorns starfish, with the problems compounded this year by a powerful cyclone pummelling the area.

Great Barrier Reef Foundation director Steve Sargent said the study showed that no single Australian asset contributed as much to international perceptions of "Brand Australia".

"At $56 billion, the reef is valued at more than 12 Sydney Opera Houses," he said.

"This report sends a clear message that the Great Barrier Reef -? as an ecosystem, as an economic driver, as a global treasure -? is too big to fail."

The study included a survey of 1,500 Australian and international respondents from 10 countries which found people value the reef for a range of reasons -? due to its importance for tourism but also the belief that Australia would not be the same without it.

Lead author, Deloitte Access' John O?Mahony, said it was clear the reef was "priceless and irreplaceable".

"But we?ve been able to look at it as an 'asset' that has incredible value on multiple fronts -- from its biodiversity and job creating potential to its support for critical industries and standing among international visitors to Australia," he said.

Australia last month hosted a summit of more than 70 of the world's leading marine experts to work on a blueprint on how best to respond to the threats facing the reef.

Options explored included developing coral nurseries, strategies to boost culling of crown-of-thorns starfish, expanding monitoring systems and identifying priority sites for coral restoration.

Key to the talks was the need to slash greenhouse gas emissions to prevent warming sea temperatures.

Bermuda banks on lasting America’s Cup benefits

Bermuda, with $77 million invested in the 35th America’s Cup, is hoping the buzz of yachting’s most prestigious event continues to ripple through its turquoise waters long after the regatta concludes.It was a massive outlay for a country of 65,000 peop…

Bermuda, with $77 million invested in the 35th America's Cup, is hoping the buzz of yachting's most prestigious event continues to ripple through its turquoise waters long after the regatta concludes.

It was a massive outlay for a country of 65,000 people occupying 21 square miles (54 square kilometers) in the Atlantic Ocean.

Michael Winfield, chief executive of the America's Cup Bermuda Development Authority, says that despite pockets of opposition the risk is proving worth it.

"Bermuda looked to get a 3- or 4-to-1 return and I think we will do that," he told AFP. "In fact, I think we will probably exceed that figure.

"But more important," he added, "was the opportunity to re-brand Bermuda to the world."

The self-governing British territory, whose economy was hit hard by the Great Recession, can benefit from increased exposure that can boost tourism and business investment, Winfield said.

"We have been seen in what I view as pretty spectacular photography and television by well over 100 million people," he said. "A succession of events has enabled Bermuda to emerge again as the destination of choice from the tourism perspective and the international business perspective."

Those concerned about an increasing socioeconomic gap in Bermuda have argued that the money invested in hosting the Cup would have been better spent on infrastructure and services.

Prime Minister Michael Dunkley, a vocal supporter of the America's Cup, will have a chance to gauge how many have been won over after calling a snap general election for July 18 -- aiming to head off a possible no-confidence vote by the opposition Progressive Labour Party.

- Critics won over? -

Winfield is confident that doubters have been won over.

"There were in the beginning those that questioned this perceptually rich, white sport coming to Bermuda," he said. "What were the benefits going to be? I think those numbers now are very small."

While the jobs that came with construction of the America's Cup Village, super-yacht slips and the like don't last, he insisted that Bermuda won't be stuck with white elephant facilities once Oracle Team USA and Emirates Team New Zealand have concluded hostilities sometime in the coming week.

"Within weeks this village on a new island that we have created will be back effectively to a flat surface enabling it to be used," he said.

While there's no telling yet if the America's Cup proper will return to Bermuda, Winfield said he was confident of a continued relationship via America's Cup World Series events, as well as an expanded Bermudian presence in the sport as "much more of an international sailing hub".