Scientists Captures 'First Image' Of Dark Matter Web

Image confirms predictions that galaxies across the universe are tied together through a cosmic web.

Toronto:  Scientists have captured the first composite image of a dark matter bridge, a web-like superstructure connecting galaxies together, which has been predicted for decades.

The composite image, which combines a number of individual images, confirms predictions that galaxies across the universe are tied together through a cosmic web connected by dark matter that has until now remained unobservable.

Dark matter, a mysterious substance that comprises around 25 per cent of the universe, does not shine, absorb or reflect light, which has traditionally made it largely undetectable, except through gravity.

“For decades, researchers have been predicting the existence of dark-matter filaments between galaxies that act like a web-like superstructure connecting galaxies together,” said Mike Hudson, a professor of astronomy at the University of Waterloo in Canada.

“This image moves us beyond predictions to something we can see and measure,” said Hudson.

Hudson and Seth Epps, researcher at the University of Waterloo, used a technique called weak gravitational lensing, an effect that causes the images of distant galaxies to warp slightly under the influence of an unseen mass such as a planet, a black hole, or in this case, dark matter.

The effect was measured in images from a multi-year sky survey at the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope.

They combined lensing images from more than 23,000 galaxy pairs located 4.5 billion light-years away to create a composite image or map that shows the presence of dark matter between the two galaxies.

Results show the dark matter filament bridge is strongest between systems less than 40 million light years apart.

“By using this technique, we’re not only able to see that these dark matter filaments in the universe exist, we’re able to see the extent to which these filaments connect galaxies together,” said Epps.

The research was published in the journal Royal Astronomical Society.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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JP Morgan Chase first-quarter profit rises 17%

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Profits at JP Morgan Chase jumped 17% in the first three months of the year, the US bank has said.

The bank’s first-quarter profits increased to $6.45bn (£5.1bn), from $5.5bn in the same period in 2016.

Higher interest rates helped lift the firm’s revenue to $24.7bn, up 6% from a year ago.

Provisions for credit losses fell 28% to $1.3bn.

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H-1B Visas Help Uplift Welfare Of Americans: Study

The H-1B visa allows US companies to temporarily employ foreign workers (Representational)

New York:  Even as uncertainty continues to mount over H-1B visa regulations promised by US President Donald Trump, a new study has found that foreign computer scientists granted such visas have helped increase welfare of Americans.

The H-1B visa allows US companies to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialised occupations. The number of these visas granted annually is capped by the federal government.

The researchers found that the high-skilled immigrants had a positive effect on innovation, increased the overall welfare of Americans and boosted profits substantially for firms in the IT sector.

Researchers John Bound and Nicolas Morales of the University of Michigan and Gaurav Khanna of the University of California – San Diego studied the impact that the recruitment of these foreign computer scientists had on the US economy.

They selected the time period of 1994-2001, which marked the rise of e-commerce and a growing need for technology workers. 

Immigration lowered prices and raised the output of IT goods by between 1.9 per cent and 2.5 per cent, thus benefiting consumers, the findings showed.

Such immigration also had a big impact on the tech industry’s bottom line.

“Firms in the IT sector also earned substantially higher profits thanks to immigration,” said Morales in a statement released by the University of Michigan.

On the flipside, the influx of immigrants dampened job prospects and wages for US computer scientists, the study said.

US workers switched to other professions, lowering the employment of domestic computer scientists by 6.1 per cent, according to the model developed by the researchers. 

Indian techies have been the biggest beneficiaries of the H-1B visas – obtaining about 70 per cent of such visas – with companies posting thousands of employees to the US.

This visa allows work in the particular area for six years, extendable after that. It is also the route to a US permanent residency or a US Green Card.

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on March 31 issued a clarification that computer programmers, to be eligible under the H-1B visa norms, must prove that theirs is a specialty occupation. Merely obtaining a computer degree may not be enough.

Coming just ahead of start of the new season for H-1B visas for skilled workers, it was largely seen as the tightening of norms by the US authorities for hiring computer programmers.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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Oil demand growth slows for second year

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Benchmark crude prices were volatile in March amid market uncertainty

Demand for oil is expected to slow for the second year in a row, the International Energy Agency has said.

The forecast comes after years of excess supply, which last year prompted major oil producers to agree to cuts in output.

The IEA said the oil market was now “very close to balance.”

But the organisation predicted supply would grow in coming months, with US oil-producing firms driving the increase.

The IEA said it expected non-Opec production, of which the US and Russia account for the biggest chunk, to rise by 485,000 barrels a day in 2017 to a total of 58.1 million barrels a day.

US production had already climbed to 9 million barrels a day in March, up from a September low of 8.6 million barrels per day.

The IEA said it expects demand to increase by just 1.3 million barrels a day in 2017, rising to a total of about 97.9 million barrels a day.

That is less than the organisation had anticipated previously and could prove an “optimistic” forecast, it said.

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I Hid Nothing About India Deals Unlike Khaleda Zia: Sheikh Hasina

Sheikh Hasina claimed Bangladesh has gained by signing the agreements and MoUs with India.

Dhaka:  Amid criticism by Bangladesh’s opposition leader Khaleda Zia of the latest deals signed with India, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has said she hid nothing during the visit, unlike Ms Zia did when she held the top post.

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party chairperson told a press conference on Wednesday that the Prime Minister brought “nothing from India, but assurances”.

Ms Zia also claimed the people saw the visit as the Bangladesh government’s failure to secure its interests from its stronger neighbour, reported on Thursday.

She was also sceptical about defence deals with New Delhi, saying the Awami League government was advised against these agreements by many political groups and civil society members.

Responding to Ms Zia’s criticism, Ms Hasina said: “The BNP leader said we kept the people in the dark while signing the memoranda of understanding (MoUs). I have only one question to ask her: Whom did she consult when she signed the defence deal with China? No-one saw what was in it.”

“At least, I didn’t hide anything like she did,” she added at a meeting of the Awami League’s Working Committee at the Ganabhaban.

Ms Hasina said the deals were placed for clearance by the cabinet before the signing, according to the report.

Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmud Ali spoke about the deals at a press conference before the visit and these were also disclosed in the Bangladesh-India joint statement, said Hasina.

“Now if someone can’t see even after having eyes, then I have nothing to do,” Ms Hasina retorted, in a dig at her arch political rival.

Ms Hasina claimed Bangladesh has gained by signing the agreements and MoUs with India.

“We will be able to bring power from India, diesel will come through pipeline, LNG will also be brought to overcome the gas crisis,” the Prime Minister said, adding that India extended a credit line of $4.5 billion.

About Khaleda Zia’s criticism of the failure to have India sign the Teesta river water-sharing deal, Ms Hasina asked, “Khaleda Zia was also in power, then why couldn’t she bring Teesta water?”

Ms Hasina said 11 deals and 24 MoUs were signed between the neighbours during her visit to New Delhi last week.

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United States' First Female Muslim Judge Found Dead In Hudson River

Sheila Abdus-Salaam, 65, was the first female Muslim to serve as a US judge.

A groundbreaking black jurist who became the first Muslim woman to serve as a US judge was found dead in New York’s Hudson River on Wednesday, police said.

Sheila Abdus-Salaam, a 65-year-old associate judge of New York’s highest court, was found floating off Manhattan’s west side at about 1:45 pm EDT (1545 GMT), a police spokesman said.

Police pulled Abdus-Salaam’s fully clothed body from the water and she was pronounced dead at the scene. Her family identified her and an autopsy would determine the cause of death, the spokesman said.

Abdus-Salaam, a native of Washington, D.C., became the first African-American woman appointed to the Court of Appeals when Democratic Governor Mario Cuomo named her to the state’s high court in 2013.

“Justice Sheila Abdus-Salaam was a trailblazing jurist whose life in public service was in pursuit of a more fair and more just New York for all,” Cuomo said in a statement.

The Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History said Abdus-Salaam was the first female Muslim to serve as a US judge.

Citing unidentified sources, the New York Post reported that Abdus-Salaam had been reported missing from her New York home earlier on Wednesday. Attempts to reach her family were unsuccessful.

A graduate of Barnard College and Columbia Law School, Abdus-Salaam started her law career with East Brooklyn Legal Services and served as a New York state assistant attorney general, according to the Court of Appeals website.

She held a series of judicial posts after being elected to a New York City judgeship in 1991.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Paul Tait)

© Thomson Reuters 2017

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Facebook Looking At Behavior To Weed Out Fake Accounts

Facebook has started weeding out bogus accounts by watching for suspicious behavior

San Francisco:  Facebook on Wednesday said it has started weeding out bogus accounts by watching for suspicious behavior such as repetitive posts or torrents of messages.

The security improvement was described as being part of a broader effort to rid the leading social network of hoaxes, misinformation, and fake news by making sure people are who they claim to be.

“We’ve found that when people represent themselves on Facebook the same way they do in real life, they act responsibly,” Shabnam Shaik of the Facebook protect and care team said in a blog post.

“Fake accounts don’t follow this pattern, and are closely related to the creation and spread of spam.”

Accounts suspected of being bogus are suspended and holders asked to verify identifies, which scammers typically don’t do, according to the California-based social network.

In France, the new tactic has already resulted in Facebook taking action against 30,000 accounts believed to be fakes, Shaik said.

“We’ve made improvements to recognize these inauthentic accounts more easily by identifying patterns of activity — without assessing the content itself,” Shaik said.

“With these changes, we expect we will also reduce the spread of material generated through inauthentic activity, including spam, misinformation, or other deceptive content that is often shared by creators of fake accounts.”

Under pressure to stymie the spread of fake news, Facebook has taken a series of steps including making it easier to report such posts and harder to make money from them.

Facebook also modified its displays of trending topics to find stories faster, capture a broader range of news, and help ensure that trends reflect real world events being covered by multiple news outlets.

Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg has sought to deflect criticism that the huge social network may have been used to fuel the spread of misinformation that affected the 2016 US presidential race.

Facebook last week unleashed a new weapon in the war against “revenge porn” at the social network as well as the messaging services Messenger and Instagram.

When intimate images shared on Facebook without permission are reported, confirmed and removed, the company will use photo-matching technology to prevent copies from being shared again on its platform.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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'With Heaviest Of Hearts', Court Rules To Switch Off Baby's Life Support

More than $1.5 million was raised online for eight-month-old Charlie Gard’s treatment.

London:  British doctors can allow a baby to “die with dignity” despite his parents’ wish to take him to the US for treatment, a high court judge ruled on Tuesday.

Justice Nicholas Francis ruled with the “heaviest of hearts” but “complete conviction” that life support treatment in London for eight-month-old Charlie Gard should be ended.

The baby boy suffers from a rare genetic condition and has brain damage, from which he will not recover according to experts consulted by the court.

The judge’s ruling was met with a scream of “no!” and Charlie’s parents, Connie Yates and Chris Gard, wept as the decision was announced.

Specialists at Great Ormond Street Hospital, where the baby is being treated, had asked the judge to rule it is legal to withdraw life-support treatment.

Francis had visited baby Charlie in hospital and during the ruling praised staff there for the “extraordinary care” provided to the child and his family.

charlie gard

Eight-month-old Charlie Gard suffers from a rare genetic condition and has brain damage

“Most importantly of all, I want to thank Charlie’s parents for their brave and dignified campaign on his behalf, but more than anything to pay tribute to their absolute dedication to their wonderful boy,” he said.

The child’s parents had hoped to take him to the US where he would undergo a treatment trial for his form of mitochondrial disease.

More than $1.5 million (1.4 million euros) was raised online for the treatment, through more than 80,000 donations.

The family’s lawyer Laura Hobey-Hamsher said they were “devastated” by the court’s decision and would consider appealing.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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Boy learns to drive on YouTube for McDonald's joyride

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The boy obeyed traffic lights as he made his way across town, witnesses said

An eight-year old boy in Ohio safely drove his little sister to McDonald’s after learning to drive from YouTube, local news report.

Ohio’s Morning Journal said police received calls from residents about a child driving through town.

Staff at the restaurant thought they were the victims of a prank when the underage pair stopped at the drive-through window, the paper added.

The boy obeyed all traffic lights and laws, witnesses said.

“He didn’t hit a single thing on the way there. It was unreal,” police officer Jacob Koehler, from the village of East Palestine, said.

The child told police he had learned to drive by watching YouTube videos.

The boy drove 1.5 miles (2.4km), covering four intersections, railway tracks, and several turns, Mr Koehler told Cleveland news outlet Fox8.

The children’s parents were asleep at home, reports said, when the siblings decided to take the vehicle keys.

The two children got cheeseburgers and chicken nuggets while they waited to be picked up by family. No charges were filed.

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Recycling-Mad Germans Turn To Sharing To Battle Waste

Juliane Kronen, founder of the Innatura cooperative, at a warehouse of the non-profit group in Cologne

Cologne:  In a warehouse in the western Germany city of Cologne, bottles of deodorant and shower gel plastered with the face of football manager Joachim Loew are stacked all the way up to the ceiling.

Whole pallets of the packages, a promotional offer for the Euro 2016 tournament, were headed for the incinerators once the final whistle sounded, but non-profit group Innatura has saved them for charities.

Further east in Berlin, residents are leaving extra salad, yogurt or bread in common fridges sitting in inner courtyards for neighbours to help themselves, in another effort to cut down on wastage.

Despite its well-established recycling movement, Europe’s most populous nation still generates enormous amounts of unnecessary waste, from usable consumer products to still-edible food.

And the population is starting to think up new ways to change that.

Juliane Kronen of Innatura set up the cooperative four years ago, urging businesses to donate items that have to be removed from retailers’ shelves for some reason or other.

The non-profit group then redistributes the bounty to charities around Germany for a small consideration of between five and 20 percent of the list price.

 ‘Cheaper to destroy’ 

Such forms of giving are a relative novelty in Germany, where heavy regulation can make giving away excess stock an expensive chore.

“It’s less expensive in Germany for a company to burn products than to give them away” due to a tax on donations, fumes Kronen, a lively 50-something entrepreneur sporting salt-and-pepper hair.

“Every year in Germany we burn or destroy seven billion euros’ worth of products.”

Kronen points out “completely new” packages of nappies, tubes of sun cream, dish soap, kitchen mixers, and trainers stuffing the Innatura warehouse — about 1,500 different items in all.

Bizarre relics of an economy powered by exports and consumer spending are everywhere in this Aladdin’s cave.

In one corner lie boxes of deodorant sprays whose labels make them unsuitable for export since the European Union imposed sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine conflict.

Further on are double-extra-large packages of dishwasher tablets from a forgotten limited-time-only offer — pulled from the shelves once the promotion was over.

Innatura has saved about 580 tonnes of products from the furnaces since Kronen founded the company four years ago, she calculates.

 313 kilos thrown away each second

While organisations like Innatura are battling the tidal wave of perfectly usable items being thrown away and burned, others are working from the ground up to make the most of food that would otherwise be dumped.

Germans throw away more than 18 million tonnes of food every year, or 313 kilos (690 pounds) every single second, according to charity World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

Some 600 kilometres (375 miles) from Cologne, Berliner Fenja is making a small dent in that total as she opens the door of a clapped-out fridge in the courtyard of an apartment block in the northeastern Prenzlauer Berg district.

Once she’s dropped off her chard vegetables and rocket leaf, Fenja posts the donation on the Foodsharing internet platform to let other users know about it — as does neighbour Silvia, who has contributed a kilo of onions and some rosemary.

Anyone can now help themselves to the ingredients at this spot or one of the other 300 fridges and drop-off points that have sprung up around big German cities.

“We’ve managed to save more than 8,000 tonnes of food” over the five years the platform has been active, says co-founder Frank Bowinkelmann.

Any food is welcome, from yoghurts that might otherwise get thrown away before holidaymakers set off, to leftover rolls after a hard day’s work at the bakery.

But “consumers aren’t the only ones responsible” for addressing the shocking levels of waste in Western societies, Bowinkelmann argues.

Manufacturers and retailers sell flour by the kilo or potatoes by the sack to customers who likely only need a fraction of what they are buying.

“How many of those end up in the rubbish? Manufacturers have to evolve as well,” he insists.

Foodsharing has “touched a sore spot” in society with its mission, Bowinkelmann is certain. “People are more and more conscious of the massive waste.”

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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Sainsbury's pushes ahead with Argos rollout in supermarkets

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Sainsbury’s plans to open 250 Argos concessions inside its supermarkets in three years

Sainsbury’s is opening its 50th Argos in-store concession as it takes on low-cost rivals and Amazon.

The supermarket chain, which bought Argos and Habitat for £1.4bn last year, said it was on track to roll out a further 200 Argos concessions.

Argos boss John Rogers said the catalogue retailer would still maintain its High Street presence.

But he also called for “radical reform” to business rates to help shops compete with online retailers.

Argos announced on Thursday that it would turn 60 more of its 800 UK stores into a digital format – where customers can order on an iPad rather than a catalogue.

Mr Rogers said the change and the Sainsbury’s concessions would not bring job losses.

‘Winning’ model

A major reason Sainsbury’s bought Argos was for its delivery network, as it looked to deliver goods to customers quicker than rivals such as Amazon.

But unlike Amazon, the group pays a large amount in business rates on its shops. That bill that was more than £500m last year for Sainsbury’s, Argos and Habitat, Mr Rogers said.

“We would ask government to radically reform business rates. It’s a very anachronistic tax in this very digital world,” he told the BBC.

But he added: “That doesn’t mean to say we can’t compete with Amazon.”

The Argos model, which delivers items to shoppers that day if they order before 18:00, is “winning in this market”, he said.

Sales in Argos concessions are growing rapidly, the company said. “It’s not just about the Argos sales that we’ve seen go up, but Argos customers come into our stores and they also pick up a pint of milk and a sandwich,” Mr Rogers said.

The UK’s biggest supermarkets face intense pressure from low-cost rivals Aldi and Lidl, as well as changes to shopping habits as consumers move away from the big weekly shop.

Competition is also coming from US online retail giant Amazon, which launched a grocery delivery service in the UK last year.

Sainsbury’s said it was also rolling out 10 more mini-Habitat outlets in its supermarkets.

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Endangered Sawfish No Match For Australian Crocodile

Sydney:  The sharpened teeth on the saw-like snout of the critically endangered Australian sawfish is proving little defence against its deadliest underwater predators, the crocodile and shark.

A rare photograph released by Murdoch University shows a young sawfish caught in the clutches of a freshwater crocodile’s jaw. 

It is a common occurrence for the struggling species which is also targeted by bull sharks, researchers said, as young sawfish venture upriver for the first five years their life before returning to the ocean as an adult.

“For a fish that is pupped at around 800 millimetres (31 inches) total length with formidable weaponry, one would assume that rates of natural predation would be low,” said the University’s lead fisheries researcher David Morgan Thursday.

“But their upstream migrations are fraught with danger, and we suspect they don’t always survive.”

Examining 39 sawfish, which can grow up to six metres (20 feet), in Western Australia’s Fitzroy River researchers found 60 percent had wounds received from crocodile or bull shark attacks, with their findings published in The Scientific Naturalist.  

“These scars suggest that freshwater crocodiles attempt to capture and consume sawfish regularly, but are unsuccessful possibly due to the size, sensory capabilities and defences of their prey,” Morgan added.

The risk of extinction for the sawfish is heightened by the loss of their natural habitat, getting caught in fishing nets and by hunters seeking a trophy fish.

Researchers are urging a rethink of management techniques for Australia’s northern river systems to better protect the vulnerable fish.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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Virgin Trains East Coast staff to stage 48-hour strike

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Virgin Trains East Coast runs services between London, the North East and Scotland

Staff on Virgin Trains East Coast are to stage a 48-hour strike in a row over the role of guards and jobs, the RMT union has announced.

The stoppage, on 28 and 29 April, follows recent strikes by three other train operators in rows over staffing.

The union said it wanted “explicit clarification” from Virgin on the future role of guards.

Virgin said it had not yet received any formal notice of industrial action from the RMT.

The company, which operates services between London, north-east England and Scotland, has so far not commented further.

A union statement said: “The only response the company has offered is to repeat the vague and non-committal mantra of ‘within our discussions we have confirmed that the safety-critical duties of the guard will remain on the train’.

“This mealy-mouthed form of words gives no reassurance to RMT members in the front line nor any protection from the possible introduction of driver-only operation.”

‘Simply appalling’

A spokesman said consultation over “widespread on-board changes” had been going on for more than a year, adding that the company had implemented the changes from March without a formal agreement.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash added: “It is simply appalling that Virgin East Coast have refused to give the most basic assurances on the safety-critical role of the guard on their trains continuing into the future.”

The RMT is already embroiled in disputes over staffing and driver-only trains with Southern, Merseyrail and Arriva Trains North.

Its members with the three operators staged a 24-hour strike on the day of the Grand National.

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From Trade To Trump, Tension On Rise Before Mike Pence To Visit Indonesia

JAKARTA:  Washington has billed Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to Indonesia next week as a booster for the Strategic Partnership between the world’s second and third largest democracies, but a raft of bilateral tensions could sap the goodwill from his trip.

Mr Pence’s counterpart in the world’s most populous Muslim country has voiced worries about US President Donald Trump’s immigration policy, which critics say is biased against Muslims, and about his “America First” mantra on trade and investment.

“We in Indonesia never change. The change is there. That’s why we’re asking them now, ‘what is your policy now on the economy, on democracy, now that Trump is in power?’,” Vice President Jusuf Kalla told Reuters on March 31.

“What does it mean, ‘America first’? I can say, too, ‘Indonesia first’ if you say ‘America first’.”

Indonesia is one of 16 countries against which the United States runs a trade deficit that will be investigated by the Trump administration for possible trade abuses.

Mr Trump’s combative approach will not sit easily with Indonesia, where economic nationalism and protectionist tendencies have flourished since a slump in commodity prices in recent years slammed the brakes on economic growth.

“Unfortunately I do see a hardening of attitudes on our side,” said a senior Indonesian government official, who declined to be named. “And it’s of particular concern because we’re on that list of 16 countries … that are going to be investigated.”

The official said a tougher stand by Indonesian authorities had also contributed to a series of disputes with US companies, including Alphabet Inc’s Google, miner Freeport-McMoRan Inc and financial services giant JP Morgan Chase & Co.

A Series Of Face-Offs

Indonesia has duelled with Google over back taxes and fines running into hundreds of millions of dollars, and with Freeport in a contract row that has crippled operations at the world’s second-largest copper mine, Grasberg.

It also dropped JP Morgan as a primary bond dealer after the bank’s research analysts issued a negative report on the country in November.

“It’s a very unfortunate series of issues which all happen to be American,” said the official, who expects them to come up in private during Mr Pence’s visit. Indonesia is the third stop on an April 15-25 tour that includes South Korea, Japan and Australia.

Google declined to comment for this report, and JP Morgan did not respond to a request for comment.

Freeport Indonesia spokesman Riza Pratama said, “This visit is happening entirely independent of our current negotiations with the government of Indonesia.”

However, billionaire investor Carl Icahn, Freeport’s third-biggest shareholder and now a special adviser to Mr Trump, has described Jakarta’s tactics over the mining contract as “disingenuous and insulting”, according to the New York Times.

Another potential irritant is biodiesel.

The US National Biodiesel Board (NBB), a producer group, has petitioned the US government to impose anti-dumping duties on biodiesel from Indonesia and Argentina, claiming they have flooded the US market.

“This is one of the issues that we have asked the trade ministry to bring to the meeting (with Pence),” Paulus Tjakrawan, a director at the Indonesia Biofuel Producers Association, told Reuters.

“Our hope is for the government to be firm … Otherwise we will be taken advantage of,” he said. “Not to act like thugs but, for example, if they put barriers to our exports, why not stop importing some of their goods?”

Despite the strains, the government official said Indonesia would be careful to start its relationship with the Trump administration on the right foot.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s approach to foreign policy has been led more by economic interests than geopolitical considerations, he has pursued increased trade and investment from China but keeps a diplomatic distance from Beijing and established a strategic partnership with Washington under former President Barack Obama.

US ambassador to Indonesia, Joseph R. Donovan Jr, said in a statement last week that Mr Pence’s visit reflected a continued commitment to that partnership, would deepen economic engagement and boost regional security cooperation.

“The US embassy here certainly is going to great lengths to make the visit a success,” said the Indonesian official. “My impression is he’s (Pence) not going to ruffle feathers in public, he’s not going to cause a ruckus.”

(Additional Reporting by Eveline Danubrata and Fergus Jensen, Editing by Lincoln Feast)

© Thomson Reuters 2017

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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As China Influence Exceeds, Japan Jet Fighters Scrambles Record High

Japan’s Air Self Defence Force reported its fighters scrambled 1,168 times over 12 months.

Tokyo:  Japan’s air force scrambled fighter jets to chase away foreign aircraft at record pace in the year to March 31, government figures showed on Thursday, as Chinese military activity in and around the East China Sea escalated.

Japan worries that China’s probing of its air defences is part of a push to extend its military influence in the East China Sea and western Pacific, where Japan controls an island chain stretching 1,400 km (870 miles) south towards Taiwan.

“Recently we have seen Chinese military aircraft operating further south and that is bringing them closer to the main Okinawa island and other parts of the island chain,” Japan’s top military commander, Admiral Katsutoshi Kawano, told a briefing in Tokyo.

Okinawa is home to the biggest concentration of US Marine Corp forces outside the United States, hosting the bulk of the roughly 50,000 US military personnel stationed in Japan.

Japan’s Air Self Defence Force reported its fighters scrambled 1,168 times over the 12 months, up from 873 last year. A record 851 jets headed off approaching Chinese planes, or 280 more instances than in the corresponding period last year.

The new figure was also well above the previous high of 944 incidents in 1984, when Russian, rather than Chinese, aircraft triggered most of the scrambles.

The uptick in Chinese activity has contributed to rising tension in East Asia since the start of the year as North Korea pushes ahead with ballistic missile and nuclear bomb tests that have stoked fears in Japan, the United States and elsewhere.

Japan’s navy plans joint drills around the East China Sea with the US Navy’s Carl Vinson carrier strike group, as it steams towards the Korean peninsula, two sources told Reuters.

Encounters with Russian aircraft, which are often bombers flying from the north that skirt around Japan’s airspace, rose 4.5 percent, to 301 scrambles.

(Reporting by Nobuhiro Kubo and Tim Kelly, Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

© Thomson Reuters 2017

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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FTSE 100 opens lower but Royal Mail rises

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London’s stock market opened lower, despite boosts for both Royal Mail and Associated British Foods.

The benchmark FTSE 100 share index was down 37.40 points, or 0.5%, at 7,311.59 shortly after trading began.

Standard Life and Reckitt Benckiser were among the biggest fallers as their shares began trading without the right to the latest dividend.

But Royal Mail rose nearly 2% after the postal service said it was closing its defined benefit pension scheme.

Royal Mail said there was “no affordable solution” to retaining the scheme, as it would have to more than double its contributions to the scheme to £1bn a year by 2018 to keep it going.

Shares in Associated British Foods rose 3% after analysts at Jefferies raised their rating on the company to “buy” from “hold”.

On the currency markets, the pound rose 0.1% against the dollar to $1.2557 and was 0.3% higher against the euro at 1.1794 euros.

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Canada Set To Unveil Legislation Legalising Cannabis

Cannabis legalization and regulation would follow in 2018, in time for Canada’s national day.

Ottawa:  The government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will unveil legislation Thursday to fully legalize recreational marijuana use, making Canada only the second country to do so, after Uruguay.

Its legalization and regulation would follow in 2018, in time for Canada’s national day on July 1.

The country’s ministers of health, justice, public safety and national revenue, as well as a former-cop-turned-MP who spearheaded the initiative, will make the announcement.

The stated aim is to reduce policing and prosecutions, and keep it out of the hands of children.

Canadian political leaders have also decried the current anti-drug regime as a failure.

Trudeau himself admitted in 2013 to having smoked pot five or six times in his life, including at a dinner party with friends since being elected to parliament.

He has also said that his late brother Michel was facing marijuana possession charges for a “tiny amount” of pot before his death in an avalanche in 1998, and that this influenced his decision to propose legalizing cannabis.

Police chiefs who support legalization point to the nearly 70,000 police-reported incidents related to cannabis, mostly possession, in 2014, saying police resources are being wasted and criminal convictions are causing undue harm.

In anticipation of the legislative move, there has reportedly been a rush on licenses to produce medical marijuana, pot stocks have shot up, and dispensaries have opened in cities across the country vying for market share in what promises to be a lucrative business.

The latter, however, has led to police raids and controversy, and pleas from the government to would-be sellers to be patient and wait for the legal regime to be announced.

Medical marijuana use has been regulated in Canada since 2001. But cannabis remains a controlled drug, for the time being.

What will legal market look like 

According to government statistics, as many as 4.6 million Canadians will consume an estimated total 655 metric tons of cannabis annually by 2018, spending an estimated Can$4.2 billion to Can$6.2 billion each year.

A task force led by former deputy prime minister Anne McLellan released a report last December outlining possible regulations for creating a legal market for cannabis including plain packaging and labelling, restrictions on advertising, and retail distribution.

The more than 80 recommendations included maintaining a separate medical marijuana regime, as well as criminal penalties for trafficking and selling cannabis to youth.

Under the proposed rules, individuals would be allowed to grow up to four plants at home for personal use.

Personal possession, however, would be limited to 30 grams (one ounce).

The report also noted that the biggest concerns in more than 30,000 submissions to the task force concerned the proposed minimum age and impaired driving.

Health groups expressed concern about the potential impact of marijuana on developing brains under the age of 25.

But the report concluded that the “current science is not definitive on a safe age for cannabis use.”

Since the intention of legalization is to stop criminalizing users the panel chose an age that would not force adults under 25 to turn to the illicit market.

It noted that US states where recreational marijuana use is legal had aligned the minimum age with alcohol consumption at 21. In Canada legal adulthood starts at 18 or 19, depending on the province.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, meanwhile, said officials are testing devices similar to roadside breathalyzers to detect cannabis.

The drug has created new enforcement challenges because there is no legal or verified scientific test to determine a level of THC — the psychoactive chemical in pot — that causes impairment.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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Kim Jong-Nam Murder Suspects Appear In Malaysian Court

Two women accused of assassinating the half-brother of North Korea’s leader appeared in a Malaysian court

Kuala Lumpur:  Two women accused of assassinating the half-brother of North Korea’s leader appeared in a Malaysian court on Thursday ahead of a murder trial that could see them hanged.  

Indonesian Siti Aisyah, 25, and Doan Thi Huong, 28, from Vietnam, were taken in bulletproof vests to a heavily guarded magistrate’s court close to the airport where Kim Jong-Nam was fatally poisoned two months ago.

Police accuse the pair of having wiped the banned nerve agent VX on Kim’s face at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on February 13 as he was about to board a flight to Macau, where he was living in exile. 

Rival South Korea accuses the North of masterminding the killing of Kim, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. Pyongyang denies the accusation, insisting he died of a heart attack.

In a brief hearing, the women were ordered to appear before the court on May 30 as state prosecutors sought more time to prepare their case. The pair did not enter a plea.

Doan’s lawyer asked the court to alter the murder charge since prosecutors have not identified four people mentioned in charge documents as accomplices to the women, but the judge did not entertain the request.  

About 100 police officers, include commandos in balaclavas and carrying assault rifles, guarded the court compound during the women’s appearance.

Dressed in a red top and blue jeans, Siti kept her head down throughout the hearing. Doang, also casually dressed, quietly observed the court proceedings.  

 ‘She was cheated’ 

The case is due to be transferred to an upper court where the women will be tried for murder. If convicted, they could face the death penalty, which is carried out by hanging in Malaysia.

The killing sparked a diplomatic crisis between Malaysia and North Korea which saw both countries banning each other’s citizens from leaving and withdrawing their ambassadors. 

The travel ban was lifted in late March after a deal was struck involving the return of Kim’s body to North Korea. 

Police are still looking for four North Korean men who are suspected to have taken part in the murder plot, but are believed to have returned to Pyongyang. 

Three other North Koreans earlier described as “persons of interest”, including a diplomat based in Malaysia, have been allowed to return home under the deal.

Indonesian officials have maintained that Siti was duped into believing she was taking part in pranks for a TV show, while Doan’s family said she was invited to Malaysia to be an actress. 

Tran Huy Hoang, a young Vietnamese man who attended the hearing and described himself as a cousin of Doan, told AFP: “She loves to travel and party but she never do anything violent.

“All of us believe she was cheated.”

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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Pakistan Airline Stewardess Abused, Harassed On Flight To UK

A passenger hurled verbal abuse at flight attendant when she confronted him for smoking in the lavatory.

London:  Police in the UK have arrested a British man of Pakistani origin for allegedly verbally abusing and misbehaving with a PIA female steward during a flight.

A group of five men of Pakistani origin were travelling together yesterday on flight PK-791 from Islamabad to Birmingham.

During the flight, the cabin crew found 2-3 men from the group allegedly smoking in the lavatory, a serious violation of flight rules, Dawn newspaper reported.

Pakistan International Airlines sources claimed that when a flight steward confronted the men over their action, they began misbehaving with her. One man in particular hurled verbal abuse at the flight attendant, they alleged.

The air steward complained about the incident to the pilot, who upon landing in Birmingham alerted the police.

British police personnel then made a number of passengers connected to the incident disembark and later arrested one man from the group.

When contacted, PIA Spokesman Danyal Gilani said that the airline is looking into the matter, the paper reported.

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Royal Mail to close defined benefit pension scheme

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Royal Mail has said it will close its defined benefit pension scheme in 2018.

The FTSE 100 company said that while its pension plan – which has 90,000 members – was currently in surplus, that would run out in 2018.

Royal Mail contributes about £400m a year, but it said this would have to increase to more than £1bn by 2018.

“We have concluded that there is no affordable solution to keeping the plan open in its current form,” the company said.

“Therefore, the company has come to the decision that the plan will close to future accrual on 31 March 2018, subject to trustee approval.”

Royal Mail wants members of the scheme to change to a defined contribution plan – in which the company and staff contribute to a pension fund with no guarantee of eventual income levels.

However, it said that it was working with unions on a sustainable and “affordable solution”.

In January, when the company began talks with unions over changes to the pension scheme, the Unite union said it would consider strike action if Royal Mail did not “respond positively”.

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'Yes' And 'No' Voices Of Divided Turkey Ahead Of Poll

The countdown starts for Turkey’s key referendum on expanding President Recep Erdogan’s powers.

Istanbul:  The ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ camps are increasingly polarised as the countdown starts for Turkey’s key referendum Sunday on expanding President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s powers.

With analysts predicting a tight race that will decisively impact the country’s future, here are a selection of voices from both sides of the divide.


 ‘Erdogan for a strong Turkey’

“Because we want Turkey to grow, because we want Recep Tayyip Erdogan to remain our leader, without him Turkey is not herself. We want to show that we are behind him,” Nahil Unal, a ‘Yes’ supporter, said at Erdogan’s giant rally in Istanbul on Saturday.

 ‘Standing up to foreign powers’

“For the future of our children, for Turkey to be independent again, we are here. Right now Turkey is not independent. The countries of the world are attacking us. From one side the Netherlands, from the other side the USA, France, Germany, Russia and even our neighbours,” said Ihsan Eksi.

 ‘Worthy successor of Ottomans’

“He has a lion’s heart. We know that he will defend Turkey like nobody before him,” 48-year-old Metin Kaya said in Erdogan’s home district of Kasimpasa. 

“Europe has been scared of us since the Ottoman Empire and our history is our honour which is being repeated today. That’s why (Europe) they are trying to intimidate us. Erdogan is the worthy grandson of Fatih,” he said referring to the Ottoman Sultan Fatih, the conqueror who seized Istanbul from the Byzantines.

 ‘He loves this nation’

“I watch almost all the speeches of the president. When you hear him you see that he sincerely loves this nation. No, I don’t find him too aggressive. He defends us, it’s normal, he’s our leader,” said Mesut Can, 49, a grocery store owner from the Istanbul district of Gaziosmanpasa.

 ‘No’ –

 ‘No to one man rule’

“We say ‘No’, to have a more democratic system, so that we can remain in a democratic, parliamentary system, to say ‘No’ to a man who alone would lead a country of 80 million people,” Saim Akbulut said at the pro-Kurdish HDP’s Ankara rally on Sunday.

 ‘Changes not helpful for future’

“why am I saying ‘No’? And why are these women saying ‘No’? It’s because there is not even one article in this text about women, nothing for children, it’s because we are against a regime led by just one man,” Burcu Zeybek, a female opposition CHP activist, said. 

 ‘Against further polarisation’

“He is already performing his current duties without recognising the law. It is nonsense to further polarise the country!” said Sukru Yalcin, rallying near a ‘No’ tent in the historic Eminonu square in Istanbul. “We are saying that it does not suit 80 million to be governed by one man’s thinking.” 

 ‘Yes won’t help Kurdish areas’

“They come to us and want ‘Yes’. We have no reason to say ‘Yes.’ Why ‘Yes’? They say it’s for peace. Then what’s your project?” said Halil Uysal, in his 30s and from the Kurdish majority province of Diyarbakir, in the conflict-torn southeast. “They say ‘Yes’ for development. Then what’s your project? Nothing.”

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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For Some Of World's Biggest Metro Projects, Coaches Being Made In India

India has already emerged as a base from where the likes of Hyundai, Ford, Renault SA export cars.

Drawn to India by an explosion in metro-rail projects, Alstom SA and Bombardier Inc are now poised to use the nation known for being the world’s back-office as a manufacturing export hub.

The French and Canadian multinationals set up manufacturing and engineering operations between 2008 and 2010 to tap into India’s rapidly-growing urban transportation market and will now export to Australia, the Middle East and Asia from these facilities, company officials said. PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates total investments in subway projects will reach $230 billion in Asia over the next 15 years.

Alstom and Bombardier want to exploit India’s large pool of engineers and cheap skilled labor that have helped turn the nation into a key center for auto companies including Ford Motor Co. and Hyundai Motor Co. New export avenues such as metro rail systems are critical to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promised economic rejuvenation. Shipments from Asia’s third-largest economy must grow about 15 percent a year to ensure the pace of expansion needed to create sufficient jobs, according to Modi’s top economic adviser Arvind Subramanian.

Sydney is going to be Alstom’s first project in Australia and it will supply railway coaches from India, said Bharat Salhotra, the company’s managing director for India and south Asia. “We will continue to look at India, not just for addressing the Indian market but for addressing markets beyond. Exports will continue to be on the radar.”

Alstom will fill the Sydney metro orders from its manufacturing units in south India and is looking at the Middle East and Southeast Asia, he said.

Cost Competitive

Bombardier has invested about 33 million euros in its Indian manufacturing facility and has orders to export 450 metro rail coaches to Australia and components to Brazil, Australia and Saudi Arabia, Harsh Dhingra, chief country representative of Bombardier India said in a phone interview. The Quebec-based company has manufacturing capacities in Gujarat state in western India and a transportation engineering services center in Gurgaon, near New Delhi.

“We will look at opportunities to export from India to other countries in the region,” he said. “India is a low-cost set up. That is why our exports are going out of India.”

India has already emerged as a base from where the likes of Hyundai, Ford, Renault SA and Suzuki Motor Corp. export cars to Africa, South America and Europe. The South Asian nation shipped 3.5 million vehicles in the year ended March 31, just below a record in the previous year, according to the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers.

While the government has tried to spur the manufacturing sector via its ” Make in India” push, the nation still ranks 130th in the World Bank’s ease of doing business ranking, slowing the pace of investment. It has fared better on the services side: The information technology industry is the nation’s largest private-sector employer, providing a livelihood to nearly 4 million.
Future Path

The domestic and regional opportunity for transportation companies only looks to be growing.

At least ten Indian cities are working on metro railway projects and the government initiated a plan in 2012 to study the feasibility of such networks in all cities with a population of more than 2 million. Most cities with ongoing projects require companies that bid for supply contracts to manufacture in India, which led to the setting up of facilities in the country.

More than 500 billion rupees ($7.7 billion) worth of metro projects are underway in India and this pile will probably grow, according to Manish Agarwal, leader – infrastructure at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

“All of this implies sufficient scale for parts of manufacturing to be located in India,” he wrote in an emailed response to questions. “The manufacturing base can then also serve the growing market in other parts of Asia (Dhaka, Colombo, etc) as also Africa (Mauritius, among others).”

To contact the reporters on this story: Saket Sundria in Mumbai at ;Dhwani Pandya in Mumbai at To contact the editors responsible for this story: Ramsey Al-Rikabi at Candice Zachariahs, Arijit Ghosh

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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Charging Bull artist wants removal of Fearless Girl statue

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The bull statue was already a well-frequented tourist spot in New York City

The sculptor that erected Wall Street’s Charging Bull statue is complaining about New York City’s decision to allow a nearby statue to remain in place.

Italian-born sculptor Arturo Di Modica says the Fearless Girl statue, which was placed nearby during International Women’s Day, is a copyright violation.

His lawyers argue that the new sculpture’s presence changes the artistic meaning of his famous statue.

Mr Di Modica’s statute was installed in 1987, without any city permits.

The 7,000 pound (3,175 kg) structure was placed on a New York City street after a financial collapse in the middle of the night, but was eventually moved to the Financial District, steps away from Wall Street, after the public called for the statue to be allowed to stay.

Mr Di Modica objects to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s decision to allow the Fearless Girl statue to remain in place opposite of the Bull for one year, after a public clamouring for the statue to become permanent.

His lawyers argue that proper procedure was not followed by city officials when choosing to grant the permit.

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Media captionThe statue, by artist Kristen Visbal, is called Fearless Girl

Mr Di Modica has argued that the girl is not a work of art, but rather an “advertising trick” since it was sponsored by investment firm State Street Global Advisers, and erected by advertising firm McCann.

The work was created to draw attention to women in leadership and the lack of women in Wall Street boardrooms.

“Everybody loves the bull,” Mr Di Modica told reporters at a press conference on Wednesday, adding that the renewed attention to his original work is “negative”.

“The girl is like – ‘I am here, what are you gonna do?'”, he told reporters, his voice breaking at times.

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His lawyers are requesting unspecified damages, due to a “copyright violation”.

Mayor de Blasio responded on Twitter on Wednesday, writing: “Men who don’t like women taking up space are exactly why we need the Fearless Girl.”

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Beijing bans property ads promising high returns and good feng shui

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A feng shui compass used for property readings

Online property portals in Beijing have been forced to remove “illegal information” in an attempt to curb rising prices in the capital.

The sites had until Wednesday to remove ads promising high returns and even good feng shui, state media said.

Beijing’s surging home prices have made it unaffordable for many, and led to high debt levels.

Authorities have issued new restrictions this year, calling the property market an economic risk.

This includes raising the minimum down payment on a second home and suspending individual mortgage loans of more than 25 years. Third property purchases and any form of financing advice are also banned.

The crackdown now extends to sales tactics used by online real estate portals, some of which tout “limitless potential for price gains,” according to Xinhua.

The Chinese state news agency said 15 property portals, including popular sites Lianjia and I Love My Home, were told to take out posting and claims that broke regulations on property advertisements.

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It listed several of these rules, including a ban on “fengshui and other superstitious content”, and a ban on “promises of appreciation on investment returns”.

Feng shui, which means ‘wind’ and ‘water’ in Mandarin, is often consulted when deciding property value.

Xinhua said authorities will begin checking the sites on Thursday.

The world’s second-largest economy is widely expected to show slowing growth as the impact of earlier stimulus measures wear off.

The property market contributes to around 20% of China’s gross domestic product and there are fears a crash would severely damage the economy.

China releases its first-quarter growth figures next week.

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Trump On NATO: 'I Said It Was Obsolete. It's No Longer Obsolete.'

During presidential elections, Donald Trump had said NATO is outdated and costing the US too much money.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday gave his full support to NATO reaffirming the United State’s commitment to the alliance and saying he no longer considers it “obsolete,” a sharp reversal from his rhetoric on the campaign trail and during his first weeks in office.

On a day when Trump dramatically changed his stance on several policy positions, his statement about NATO stood out given his consistent criticism of the military alliance and its importance to U.S. allies.

For more than a year, Trump has said NATO is outdated and costing the United States too much money, suggesting replacing it with an alternative organization focused on counterterrorism and repeatedly using the word “obsolete.” As recently as January, Trump continued to stand by this position – which alarmed many NATO members – saying in a Jan. 15 interview with the Times of London and Germany’s Bild that NATO is “obsolete because it wasn’t taking care of terror” and that critics of his comments have “started saying Trump is right.”

During a joint press conference Wednesday afternoon with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Trump said his comments led the alliance to make changes that satisfied his concerns.

“I complained about that a long time ago, and they made a change – and now they do fight terrorism,” Trump said. “I said it was obsolete. It’s no longer obsolete.”

It’s unclear what changes the president was referencing. NATO did add a new assistant secretary general position focused on intelligence and security in July 2016, although experts say the change does not mark a major shift for the organization and point out that NATO has long addressed concerns of terrorism. For months after the position was created, Trump continued to call NATO obsolete.

Stoltenberg told the president he was “right,” but described the change in far different terms.

“We have established a new division for intelligence, which enhances our ability to fight terrorism, and working together in the alliance to fight terrorism even an even more effective way,” Stoltenberg said. “But we agreed today, you and I, that NATO can and must do more in the global fight against terrorism.”

In brief remarks, Trump again called on NATO members to “meet their financial obligations and pay what they owe,” noting that member-nations are expected to contribute 2 percent of their GDP to defense. Stoltenberg confirmed that ensuring the cost burden is better shared among countries has become a top priority for him.

Later, Trump said he asked Stoltenberg to look into collecting back-dues from countries, something that Stoltenberg did not verbally agree to do. Trump has consistently misrepresented the financial obligations of NATO members, saying they “owe vast sums” in dues and the situation is unfair to the United States. NATO members do not owe dues or back payments.

Trump also thanked NATO members for condemning Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons and “the barbaric killing of small and helpless children and babies.” At one point, Trump referred to the Syrian leader as a “butcher.”

On Wednesday, Trump backed away from several other firm positions that he had held for months on the campaign trail. Early in the day, the government ended a federal government hiring freeze that Trump had promised to institute, although departments have been told to find other ways to shrink staff sizes. Then, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, the president announced he no longer considers China a currency manipulator, he now supports lower interest rates and the U.S. Export-Import Bank, and he would consider renominating Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen when her tenure is up next year, despite saying on the campaign trail he would “most likely” not reappoint her.

Last week, Trump abandoned his longtime stance that the United States should not get involved with Syria when he approved a strike on an airbase there.

“I felt we had to do something about it,” Trump said Wednesday of the Syria bombing. “I have absolutely no doubt we did the right thing. And it was very, very successfully done, as you well know.”

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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United Airlines CEO Felt 'Shame' Watching Video Of Deplaned Man

United’s efforts to contain a public relations crisis that has tarnished its image and led to calls for a boycott kicked into overdrive Wednesday with its chief executive appearing on national television to apologize, saying he felt “shame” when he saw video of the incident. The airline also promised refunds to the horrified passengers who watched as a fellow flier was dragged from his seat and down the aisle off the plane.

“This is not who our family at United is,” chief executive Oscar Munoz said in his first televised remarks since the incident Sunday. “You saw us at a bad moment. This can never, will never happen again on a United flight.”

When asked if the passenger, David Dao, was at fault for the actions that led to his removal from his Louisville, Kentucky-bound flight at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, Munoz said, simply: “No, he cannot be. He was a paying passenger sitting in his seat on our aircraft. No one should be treated that way.”

A man was pulled screaming from his seat by security and taken back to the terminal at Chicago Airport.

Meanwhile, lawyers for Dao filed an emergency bill of discovery in Cook County Circuit Court, asking that items in possession of United Airlines or the City of Chicago – which may contain information related to Sunday’s incident, including video footage of the boarding process, a passenger list and cockpit voice recordings from the flight – be preserved. A spokeswoman for the firms representing Dao said they will hold a news conference Thursday with a member of the Dao family. David Dao lives in Kentucky and was headed home when he was removed from the flight, they said.

Also Wednesday, two more officers involved in the incident were placed on administrative leave. The Chicago Department of Aviation placed one officer on paid leave Monday, pending an investigation. The officers’ names are not being released due to collective bargaining agreements, officials said.

Munoz’s appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America” was the first time he has spoken publicly about the incident that has led to international backlash against the airline.

The incident, and the actions by officers who boarded the plane to remove Dao after he refused a last-minute request to give up his seat to a crew member, have become a rallying cry for every traveler who has ever felt mistreated by an airline. There have been calls for a boycott of United from as far away as China, where the story has stirred outrage because Dao is Asian. United officials said that race was in no way a consideration when they chose who would be removed from Flight 3411.

In the GMA interview, a contrite Munoz apologized to Dao, his family and the other passengers aboard the plane.

He also expressed regret for initial statements in the days following the incident that appeared to blame Dao. In a letter to United employees that was leaked to CNBC, Munoz said Dao was “belligerent.”

“My initial words fell short of truly expressing what I was feeling,” Munoz said Wednesday. “That is something that I’ve learned from.”

In pledging a full investigation into the matter, Munoz also suggested there will be changes in the way local law enforcement deals with passengers aboard United flights. When Dao refused to leave the flight voluntarily, police were called to remove him.

“The use of law enforcement aboard an aircraft has to be looked at very carefully,” Munoz said. “That is a policy that we absolutely have to look at.”

Munoz said United will publicly release the results of its internal investigation by April 30.

Videos shot by passengers aboard the flight show Dao screaming as he is dragged down the aisle of the plane and again a few minutes later when he returns to the plane. Dao’s face is bloody and his clothing mussed. When asked his reaction to seeing the footage, Munoz said “shame” was among the words that came to mind.

The incident has raised hopes among passenger-advocate groups such as and the National Consumers League that Congress will act on overhauls to make air travel more consumer-friendly.

The video has caught the attention of members of Congress, many of whom are frequent fliers. Nearly a dozen members have sent letters to United, officials at O’Hare and the Transportation Department demanding an explanation for why Dao was forcibly removed from the plane. Transportation officials said the agency’s Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings is reviewing the matter. They noted that the flight was operated by one of United’s regional partners, Republic Airlines. D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D, has called for hearings into the matter.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said he is seeking support for a “Customers Not Cargo Act,” which would prohibit airlines from forcibly removing boarded passengers due to overbooking or airline staff seeking to fly as passengers.

“We were all shocked and outraged this week when United Airlines forcibly and brutally removed Dr. David Dao from Flight 3411,” Van Hollen wrote to his colleagues. “We should act immediately to ensure that airlines cannot force passengers who have already boarded to leave the plane to free up seats for others.”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, R, also joined the fray, saying on CNN that he has asked the Trump administration to prevent airlines from overbooking flights until new guidelines are put into place.

But the Trump administration has so far expressed little desire to get involved. During a briefing Tuesday, press secretary Sean Spicer said that while the video was “troubling,” he dismissed calls for a federal investigation into what he said should be “a very local matter.”

There also have been calls for Munoz to step down from the job he has held since September 2015, but he dismissed the idea.

“I was hired to make United better and we’ve been doing that, and that’s what I’ll continue to do,” he said.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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Man's Body, Seen Tossed From Plane, Found On Roof Of Hospital

The body landed on the roof of an IMSS hospital in the town of Eldorado. (Representational Image)

Mexico City:  The body of a man, who witnesses said was tossed from a plane, landed on a hospital roof in Mexico’s northern Sinaloa state on Wednesday, according to a public health service official in the region, which is home to notorious drug traffickers.

The body landed on the roof of an IMSS hospital in the town of Eldorado, around 7:30 a.m. local time, said the official, who was not authorized to give his name.

Witnesses standing outside the health centre reported a plane flying low over the hospital and a person thrown out, the health official said.

Later on Wednesday, Sinaloa’s Deputy Attorney General Jesus Martin Robles said a body, found on the hospital roof, showed injuries that appeared to be related to a strong impact. He did not confirm that it had been thrown from a plane.

The public health service official said two more bodies were reported to have been found in the town, about 60 kilometres (40 miles) south of Culiacan, the state capital. Local media reported that those two bodies were thrown from the same plane as the body that landed on the hospital.

The official did not know if the man was alive when he was thrown from the plane. Officials from the state prosecutor’s office were at the scene, he said.

“This is an agricultural area and planes are regularly used for fumigation,” the official said, adding that the IMSS hospital was operating normally.

Local media reported that suspected gang members had picked up the two other corpses.

Sinaloa is the home state of Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman, who ran the Sinaloa drug cartel until his arrest in 2016. He was extradited to the United States earlier this year.

Ever since Chapo’s arrest, security in the state has deteriorated, as the Sinaloa cartel struggles to adapt to infighting and fresh threats from rival groups.

© Thomson Reuters 2017

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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Donald Trump Gave Syria Attack Order 'During Dessert'

The US missiles struck a Syrian air base in retaliation for Syria’s alleged chemical attack.

Washington, United States:  US President Donald Trump gave the order to strike Syria with dozens of cruise missiles “during dessert” with visiting Chinese leader Xi Jinping, he said in an interview aired Wednesday.

“We had finished dinner. We’re now having dessert. And we had the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you’ve ever seen and President Xi was enjoying it,” Trump told the Fox Business television network.

“And I was given the message from the generals that the ships are locked and loaded, what do you do?” Trump said. “And we made a determination to do it, so the missiles were on the way.”

“And I said, ‘Mr. President, let me explain something to you’ — this was during dessert — ‘we’ve just fired 59 missiles.'”

Trump said Xi “paused for 10 seconds and then asked the interpreter to say it again. I didn’t think that was a good sign.”

But then, Trump said, Xi responded that “anybody that was so brutal and uses gases to do that to young children and babies, it’s OK…. He was OK with it. He was OK.”

Trump had been hosting Xi at his private Florida resort Mar-a-Lago on April 6. The US missiles struck a Syrian air base in retaliation for Syria’s alleged chemical attack on a rebel-held town, killing 87 civilians, many of them children.

Pentagon chief Jim Mattis said Tuesday there was “no doubt” the Syrian regime was behind the chemical attack. But Russia, Syria’s ally, disputes that, saying no evidence has been produced.

Trump, in his interview, said all 59 missiles fired hit their targets and called the display of military prowess “unbelievable,” “amazing,” “incredible,” “brilliant” and “genius.”

Trump regularly spends his weekends at his Mar-a-Lago resort, which his staff has nicknamed the “Southern White House.”

Members of the club pay a $200,000 fee, which gives access to its amenities and its eateries.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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United Passenger Launches Legal Action Over Forceful Removal

A man was pulled screaming from his seat by security and taken back to the terminal at Chicago Airport.

New York:  Lawyers for the passenger dragged from a United Airlines plane in Chicago filed an emergency request with an Illinois state court on Wednesday to require the carrier to preserve video recordings and other evidence related to the incident.

Citing the risk of “serious prejudice” to their client, Dr. David Dao, the lawyers want United and the City of Chicago, which runs O’Hare International Airport, to preserve surveillance videos, cockpit voice recordings, passenger and crew lists, and other materials related to United Flight 3411. Chicago’s Aviation Department said on Wednesday that two more officers had been placed on leave in connection with the April 9 incident, during which airport security officers dragged Dao from his seat aboard a United jet headed for Louisville, Kentucky. One officer was placed on leave on Tuesday.

Paul Callan, a civil and criminal trial lawyer in New York, said the public outcry over Dao’s treatment would likely push the airline to a quick and generous settlement.

“Because United has such a catastrophic PR problem, this case has a much greater value than such a case would normally have,” he said.

United Chief Executive Oscar Munoz on Wednesday apologised to Dao, his family and United customers in an ABC News interview, saying the company would no longer use law enforcement officers to remove passengers from overbooked flights.

“This can never, will never happen again,” he said.

Munoz is under pressure to contain a torrent of bad publicity and calls for boycotts against United unleashed by videos that captured Dao’s rough treatment by airline and airport security staff.

Dao was removed to make room for additional crew members, United said.

Footage from the incident shows Dao, bloodied and dishevelled, returning to the cabin and repeating: “Just kill me. Kill me,” and “I have to go home.”

As of Tuesday, Dao was still in a Chicago hospital recovering from his injuries, his lawyer said.

On Wednesday, United said it would compensate all passengers on board the flight the cost of their tickets.

Munoz said United would be examining the way it compensates customers who volunteer to give up seats on overbooked planes, adding that it would likely not demand that seated passengers surrender their places.

Some U.S. lawmakers called for new rules that could make it more difficult for airlines to overbook flights as a tool for increasing revenue.

U.S. President Donald Trump said it was “horrible” that Dao was dragged off the flight, according to an interview from the Wall Street Journal. Rather than calling for an end to the practice of overselling, Trump said that instead, there should be no upper limit to incentives carriers can offer passengers in exchange for their seats on overbooked flights.

Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate committee that oversees transportation have questioned United’s actions.

But Delta Air Lines Inc Ed Bastian on Wednesday defended overbooking as “a valid business practice” that does not require additional oversight by the government.

“It’s not a question, in my opinion, as to whether you overbook,” Bastian said on a call with analysts. “It’s how you manage an overbook situation.”

The backlash from the incident resonated around the world, with social media users in the United States, China and Vietnam calling for boycotts of the No. 3 U.S. carrier by passenger traffic and an end to the practice of overbooking flights.

Shares of United Continental closed 1.1 percent lower at $69.93. They fell as much as 4.4 percent on Tuesday.

Two online petitions calling for Munoz to step down as CEO had more than 124,000 signatures combined by Wednesday afternoon. Munoz told ABC he had no plans to resign over the incident.

© Thomson Reuters 2017

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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UK firms 'struggling to recruit staff'

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UK firms want to recruit more workers but cannot find or afford the right staff, a survey has found.

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) spoke to 7,300 businesses in the manufacturing and services sectors, and found the percentage seeking to hire had grown by up to 9% in the last quarter.

But most also experienced “high levels of recruitment difficulties” which the BCC said was a risk to growth.

The government said it was working to deliver a highly-skilled workforce.

According to the trade group’s quarterly economic survey, both manufacturing and services firms reported “solid growth” in their businesses in first three months of the year, with domestic and export sales up since the previous quarter.

It also found “confidence in turnover and profitability is improving”, and that some 86% of manufacturing firms, up from 77% in the last quarter, and 59% of services companies, up from 53%, wanted to find new recruits.

‘The right skills’

But despite this, around 74% of manufacturing firms and 58% of services firms said they were struggling to find staff.

Suren Thiru, head of economics at the BCC, told the BBC: “The main issue is finding enough people with the right skills, and of course the workforce is aging.

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“A lot firms are also finding their costs rising and this is deterring business investment, including investing in training their staff.”

He said new upfront taxes were partly to blame, such as the recently introduced immigration skills charge and new National Living Wage.

But he also said that the rising cost of imported raw materials, resulting from the weakness of the pound since the Brexit vote, had squeezed business spending.

“Another emerging issue is whether firms can continue to get workers from overseas both in the run-up to, and after, Brexit,” he added. “Industries like hospitality and construction are heavily dependent on EU workers.”

Rising confidence

A government spokesman told the BBC: “The UK economy has shown sustained momentum since the EU referendum and it’s encouraging to see continued investment and growth in important sectors like manufacturing and services.

“We know that businesses need a highly-skilled workforce to attract the right people for the right jobs and we are helping to deliver this through initiatives like our modern Industrial Strategy, our £500m annual investment in technical education and the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy.”

A separate survey by the Federation of Small Businesses has found confidence among small firms has risen to the highest level in over a year, despite spiralling business costs.

According to the index, confidence stood at 20.0 in the first three months of 2017 – the highest figure since the fourth quarter of 2015.

The FSB said the recovery had been spurred by increased international trade, with 15.6% of small firms reporting a rise in export activity during the past quarter.

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Prepared To Take On North Korea Without China If Needed: Donald Trump

Donald Trump said US is prepared to tackle the crisis surrounding North Korea.

Washington:  U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday the United States is prepared to tackle the crisis surrounding North Korea without China if necessary.

The president made the comments at a joint news conference with visiting NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. Trump met Chinese President Xi Jinping last week and spoke to him by phone on Wednesday night.

“President Xi wants to do the right thing. We had a very good bonding, I think we had a very good chemistry together,  I think he wants to help us with North Korea,” Trump said.

“We talked trade, we talked a lot of things, and I said the way you’re going to make a good trade deal is to help us with North Korea, otherwise we’re just going to go it alone, that’ll be all right too, but going it alone means going with lots of other nations.”

© Thomson Reuters 2017

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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Egypt Identifies Alexandria Church Bomber As Fugitive With Militant Ties

Egypt’s government imposed a three-month state of emergency in the wake of the attacks.

Cairo:  Egypt on Wednesday named the suicide bomber who attacked a cathedral in Alexandria as 31-year-old Mahmoud Hassan Mubarak Abdullah, describing him as a fugitive with links to militant cells that carried out previous strikes in the country.

Abdullah detonated his explosives at the entrance to Saint Mark’s Cathedral, the historic seat of the Coptic Pope, killing 17 people as mass was being conducted. Hours earlier, another bomb tore through a church in Tanta, a city in the Nile Delta.

Egypt’s government imposed a three-month state of emergency in the wake of the attacks.

The interior ministry said in a statement that Abdullah had been a resident of Suez province and used to work for a petroleum company.

It posted a photograph on its Facebook page of a man it said was Abdullah, placing the image alongside a picture taken by a surveillance camera outside the church.

© Thomson Reuters 2017

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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EU migrants make up 11% of manufacturing workforce – ONS

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EU migrants make up more than one in 10 manufacturing sector workers in the UK, official figures have shown.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) also said EU workers from outside the UK tended to work longer hours than the workforce average.

And it said non-UK workers were more likely to be overqualified for the jobs they were doing.

The government is planning to change the way migration is managed after Britain leaves the EU.

It has not yet set out the model it will adopt once EU free movement rules no longer apply, but has pledged that the “brightest and best” will continue to be attracted to the UK.

In a report, the ONS said that last year an estimated 3.4 million workers, amounting to 11% of the entire UK labour market, were foreign nationals.

This number was made up of about 2.2 million EU nationals (7%) and 1.2 million non-EU nationals (4%).

The report also said:

  • One in seven workers (14%) in the wholesale and retail trade, hotels and restaurants sector was an international migrant, with more than half a million coming from the EU
  • Workers from the EU made up 11% of the manufacturing sector
  • One in eight (12%) in the UK’s financial and business services sector were foreign nationals, including 382,000 from the EU
  • About 61% of workers from Bulgaria and Romania worked more than 40 hours a week, compared with about 32% of British workers
  • Almost 40% of non-UK workers were in jobs they were deemed to be over-educated for – this figure was 15% for UK nationals

“Today’s analysis shows the significant impact international migration has on the UK labour market. It is particularly important to the wholesale and retail, hospitality, and public administration and health sectors, which employ around 1.5 million non-UK nationals,” said Anna Bodey of the ONS.

“Migrants from Eastern Europe, Bulgaria and Romania are likely to work more hours and earn lower wages than other workers, partly reflecting their numbers in lower-skilled jobs.”

Compared with the national average earnings of £11.30 per hour, workers from a group of 14 EU countries including Germany, Italy and France earned more (£12.59), whereas those from Eastern Europe had the lowest pay at £8.33.

The highest employment rate was 83% among eight central and eastern European countries that joined the EU in 2004, as well as Romania and Bulgaria, while the rate for non-EU nationals was 62%.

The ONS said this was because many non-EU nationals come to the UK to study.

The government has also set a target of reducing annual net migration – 273,000 according to the most recent statistics – to below 100,000.

Alp Mehmet from pressure group Migration Watch UK said: “Business must now focus on recruiting and training from the domestic workforce and wean itself off the cheaper East European option.

“Employers should turn to overseas workers only when they face genuine skills or labour shortages.”

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United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz Says He Won't Resign

New York, United States:  United Continental chief executive Oscar Munoz said Wednesday he will not resign and again apologized for the removal of a customer from an overbooked flight by force — an incident that drew global scorn.

“I was hired to make United better and we’ve been doing that and that’s what I’ll continue to do,” Munoz said, when asked about calls for his resignation as leader of the embattled airline on the ABC show “Good Morning America.”

Munoz reiterated his regret over the incident Sunday, which sparked widespread outrage and mushroomed into a global public relations disaster after video of passenger David Dao, 69, his face bloodied, being dragged off the plane, went viral.

“Probably the word ‘shame’ comes to mind,” Munoz said, adding that he had not yet spoken to Dao, but his team had tried to reach out to him.

“We’ve not been able to contact him directly,” Munoz said. “I do look forward to a time when I can as much as I’m able to apologize directly to him for what’s happened.”

Munoz pledged a thorough review of United’s procedures and promised that police would not be used in the future to remove passengers.

United also said it would compensate all passengers on Dao’s flight.

United shares fell 1.1 percent to end the trading day at $69.93.

‘Tone deaf’ response

Meanwhile, attorneys for Dao filed papers in Cook County courthouse in Chicago demanding preservation of surveillance video, passenger and crew lists and other evidence, a first step in potential litigation.

“After being duly processed by the ticket agent, checked in by the attendant and seated in his assigned passenger seat, Petitioner was forcibly dragged and removed from the said aircraft by City employees, sustaining personal injury,” the filing said.

A spokeswoman for law firm Corboy & Demetrio said Dao remained in the hospital but that a family member is expected to participate in a news conference Thursday in Chicago.

Munoz also faced criticism for his initial response to the crisis in which he appeared to put partial blame for the incident on the passenger, saying he had “defied” authorities and “compounded” the incident.

PRWeek blasted the United CEO for his “tone-deaf” comments that seemed to be heavily lawyered and cast the incident “purely in terms of its effect on United, rather than the injured passenger.”

The magazine had last month named Munoz its “US Communicator of the Year” for 2016 based on his steadying of the airline after the prior chief executive resigned amid a scandal and Munoz himself suffered a heart attack.

“It’s fair to say that if PRWeek was choosing its Communicator of the Year now, we would not be awarding it to Oscar Munoz,” editor-in-chief Steve Barrett said in a column.

“Reputational risk is a huge concern for modern enterprises and relates to the value of a brand or company just as much legal and liability risk — lawyers cannot be the first line of a communications defense.”

Overbooking under scrutiny

The incident has spotlighted the common practice of overbooking and bumping passengers from flights, which airlines rely upon to avoid losing money on seats left empty by no-show passengers.

In this case, United needed to make room for a flight crew and called security personnel when no passengers volunteered to give up their seats.

A group of 21 senators on Tuesday sent a letter to Munoz announcing plans to examine the incident, and New Jersey governor Chris Christie called for the US Department of Transportation to suspend airlines from overbooking flights pending a review.

But Delta chief executive Ed Bastian called overbooking a “valid business process” that is sometimes unavoidable due to weather delays and other factors.

“It’s not a question in my opinion as to whether you overbook; it’s how you manage an overbook situation,” Bastian said on an earnings conference call with analysts and reporters Wednesday.

Delta in 2016 had 1,200 denied boardings for the entire year, or one in 100,000 passengers. Management of the problem, which involves compensating inconvenienced travelers with gift cards of as much as $1,000 or more, was praised in some media in comparison with United’s conduct.

“The key is managing it before you get to the boarding process,” Bastian said. “And that’s what our team has done a very effective and efficient job over.”

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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Donald Trump: China 'not a currency manipulator'

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Mr Trump made the comments days after meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping in Florida

Donald Trump has said his administration will not label China a currency manipulator, rowing back on a campaign promise.

The US president also left open the possibility of re-nominating Janet Yellen as the head of the Federal Reserve, despite having criticised her.

He made the comments days after meeting China’s President Xi Jinping.

China has been accused of suppressing the yuan to make its exports more competitive with US goods.

Before the US election, Mr Trump likened this to “raping” the US, and promised to label China a currency manipulator on his first day in office.

That would have triggered talks between the countries and potentially led to US sanctions – something experts warned would have prompted retaliation.

But in an interview with the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, Mr Trump said China had not been “currency manipulators” for some time and had been trying to prevent further weakening.

He also said: “I think our dollar is getting too strong, and partially that’s my fault because people have confidence in me.”

He added that while this had benefits, it would ultimately hurt the US economy.

“[It is] very, very hard to compete when you have a strong dollar and other countries are devaluing their currency.”

‘Respect’ for Yellen

Mr Trump has been highly critical of Ms Yellen in the past, saying that the Fed’s low interest rate policy had hurt savers.

He has also indicated that he would not nominate her for a second four-year term when her current one expires in February 2018.

But in Wednesday’s interview he said he now liked “a low-interest rate policy” and “respects” the Fed chair.

He also said she would not be “toast” when her current term ended, although he added: “It’s very early.”

Mr Trump’s administration was also said to be “very close” to filling three vacancies on the Fed’s board.

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Aga app 'could let hackers turn off oven'

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A security researcher found the issues when considering whether to upgrade to the latest Aga model

An app that lets Aga cooker owners remotely control their ovens could be hijacked by hackers, a cybersecurity researcher has claimed.

Ken Munro of Pen Test Partners was thinking of upgrading his Aga when he found vulnerabilities in the apps used to control the newest models.

It means ovens could be turned on or off, though not in a way that makes the cookers dangerous.

Aga has said it has contacted the third party that provided the system.

“If you were maliciously motivated, it wouldn’t be very difficult to switch off people’s Aga’s remotely,” Mr Munro told the BBC.

His investigation concerned the “iTotal Control” (TC) system, which Aga has marketed since 2012.

Among the security issues he says he found is the fact that SMS messages – which are used by the system to turn the oven on or off – are not authenticated by the cooker.

Nor is the Sim card set up to send the messages validated on registration.

Mr Munro also criticised the fact that user registration for the service allows passwords as short as five characters – security experts usually recommend using as many characters as possible, with a minimum of eight.

Email addresses are sent in plain text via the system, too, he explained – meaning personal data could be vulnerable to snoopers.

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the mobile and web app allows user registration with a very short, five character, password

He also said that attempts to contact Aga about the problems, including a tweet and emails on 3 April, fell on deaf ears.

When he did get through to someone and advised them to take the Total Control website down, he got a disappointing response.

“I asked to speak to relevant departments, they couldn’t put me through,” he said.

Third party provider

“Aga Rangemaster operates its Aga TC phone app via a third party service provider,” Aga said in a statement.

“Security and account registration also involves our [machine to machine] provider.

“We take such issues seriously and have raised them immediately with our service providers so that we can answer in detail the points raised.”

However, the firm did not comment on Mr Munro’s claims that it ignored his disclosure of the problems.

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Ken Munro

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The Aga cookers are controlled via SMS messages sent via the remote control system

“It’s kind of unacceptable that some random person could just take control of your Aga,” said Professor Alan Woodward, a cybersecurity expert at the University of Surrey.

“Will hackers try it? Who knows, but it just shouldn’t be possible.”

He added that he was surprised there seemed to be a flat response from the firm when Mr Munro tried to raise the issues.

“If somebody calls up, ‘I found a problem with your system,’ they should look at it,” Prof Woodward told the BBC.

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Dutch Panda Mania As Giant Bears Arrive From China

Giant pandas Wu Wen and Xing Ya arrive from China at Schiphol, on April 12, 2017.

The Hague, Netherlands:  Two giant pandas arrived by plane at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport Wednesday after a marathon 8,000 kilometre journey from China, the first breeding pair on Dutch soil in three decades.  

Female panda Wu Wen (Beautiful Powerful Cloud) and her male companion Xing Ya (Elegant Star) touched down at Schiphol at around 1730 GMT after leaving Chengdu in central China more than 10 hours earlier.

A giant television screen showed the pandas being lowered onto the tarmac from a passenger jet operated by Dutch national carrier KLM, surrounded by Dutch border police.

Later they were put on display for more than 100 journalists and guests straining to catch a glimpse of the two animals in their specialised cages which included see-through plexiglass.

“I’m so happy so many friends have come to welcome my two new colleagues,” China’s ambassador to The Netherlands Wu Ken told the crowd, speaking in Dutch.

“This is a huge step in bilateral relations between China and The Netherlands,” Wu said.      

The pandas are headed for the Ouwehands Dierenpark zoo in Rhenen, where they’ll stay on loan for the next 15 years as part of the park’s Asian exhibition.

The park has built a special enclosure for the two pandas at a cost of around seven million euros ($7.4 million), Dutch media reported Wednesday.

This includes separate indoor and outdoor spaces, night accommodation, a nursery, a cold store for their bamboo food supply, a special veterinary clinic and an area for their full-time keepers, the Ouwehands zoo said in a statement.

“A warm welcome awaits them, which will naturally be in an entirely panda-themed manner,” the park added.

The pandas will be housed at the park at a cost of around one million dollars per year for the rest of their stay, Dutch daily tabloid Algemeen Dagblad reported.

The Ouwehands zoo said it “will make a substantial financial contribution each year to support nature-protection activities in China.”

The zoo, with help from the Dutch government, has been negotiating for 16 years to bring the pandas to The Netherlands.

The deal to bring the pandas to The Netherlands was clinched during a state visit to China by Dutch King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima in October 2015, the zoo added.

Meanwhile, panda mania has gripped The Netherlands ahead of the bears’ arrival, with Dutch newspapers devoting pages of space to the bears’ arrival and the hashtags #Pandas #pandakoorts (panda fever) trending on the Dutch Twitter feed.

The last time there were pandas in The Netherlands was in 1987, when two giant pandas were on show at a Dutch safari park for four months.

An expectant Dutch public however will have to wait to catch a glimpse of the animals: the bears will now be kept in quarantine for up to the six weeks before an official opening date, yet to be announced.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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Record company revenues hit new high

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Revenue for UK record companies hit a five-year high in 2016, according to industry association the BPI.

Combined takings from streaming, downloads, physical sales and licensing for use in films, TV and computer games rose 5.1% to £926m.

The main contributor to growth was streaming, but vinyl revenues rose by more than two thirds.

However, more revenues could be generated by platforms such as Youtube, the BPI said.

Revenue from physical formats dipped below £300m last year, but remained just above the £274m generated by streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music and Deezer.

Geoff Taylor, chief executive of the BPI and the Brit Awards, said the increase in revenues was encouraging, as more and more consumers enjoyed the benefits of subscribing to a streaming service or rediscovered the joys of vinyl.

“Britain’s world-leading music sector has the potential for sustained growth in the years ahead, but this exciting future can only be realised if government makes creative businesses a priority post-Brexit,” he added.

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Rapper Big Sean and singer Jhene Aiko at a Spotify awards bash in Los Angeles in February

UK artists needed to be able to tour freely in EU markets, and UK businesses needed to be able to employ the best talent, Mr Taylor argued.

He added that strong intellectual property protections would need to be included in trade talks with third party countries.

An International Trade Spokeswoman said: “Music is one of our most important exports and trade policy has a key role in supporting growth in this market.

“We will in due course explore all options in the design of future trade agreements, including the role of intellectual property rights in boosting UK exports in overseas markets.”

Growing mismatch

Streaming revenues jumped more than 60% in 2016, and accounted for close to a third of label revenues.

The BPI said streaming would overtake revenues from physical sales in 2017.

However, the association added that there was a “growing mismatch between the huge value that certain digital platforms, such as YouTube, extract from music or other entertainment and the relatively small amount they return back to the creators concerned”.

A YouTube spokesperson said it was working “with the music industry to bring more money to artists, labels and publishers”.

He said that YouTube had paid out more than $1bn to the music industry globally from advertising in the past year.

“YouTube is contributing a meaningful and growing revenue stream for the industry.”

However, many argue that the Google-owned video site should pay out far more revenue to artists and songwriters.

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Russia Vetoes UN Draft Resolution On Syria Gas Attack Probe

It was the eighth time that Russia has used its veto power at the UN Security Council.

United Nations, United States:  Russia on Wednesday vetoed a UN draft resolution demanding the Syrian government cooperate with an investigation of a suspected chemical attack that the West blames on President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

It was the eighth time that Russia has used its veto power at the UN Security Council to block action directed at its ally in Damascus.

Britain, France and the United States put forward the measure in response to the suspected sarin gas attack in Khan Sheikhun on April 4 that left 87 dead, including 31 children.

China, another veto-holding power at the council, abstained in the vote, as did Kazakhstan and Ethiopia.

Bolivia voted against the measure and 10 other council members supported it.

Russia imposed its veto as US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said after talks in Moscow that there was a “low level of trust” between the United States and Russia.

The proposed resolution would have condemned the alleged attack and expressed the council’s full backing to investigators from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

The draft specifically would have demanded that the Syrian government provide flight plans, flight logs and other information on its military operations on April 4, hand over the names of commanders of any aircraft and provide access to air bases to UN investigators.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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Double lives

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Charlie Chan

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Charlie Chan says both of his careers are about people

Why settle for just the day job?

Charlie Chan is a breast cancer and melanoma surgeon. He is also a rock star photographer.

“My patients always come first so I work full-time as a surgeon and photography is my night job,” he says. “I decided to become a surgeon at the age of 12 and concentrated on that.”

But photography had been a passion of his since he was 15, and so he started smuggling his Leica camera into gigs.

He got his first press pass from the Cheltenham Jazz Festival and started music photography work 10 years ago.

His subjects include musicians Jamie Cullum, Gregory Porter and Wilko Johnson, who was encouraged by Mr Chan to seek a second opinion after he had received a terminal pancreatic cancer diagnosis in 2013.

Mr Chan arranged for Johnson to see surgeon Emmanuel Huguet, who later operated to remove the tumour and save his life.

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Charlie Chan

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Charlie Chan with musician Wilko Johnson (c) and Emmanuel Huguet, the surgeon who performed Johnson’s life-saving operation

You would think that being a surgeon would be more than enough career-wise for most people, so why pursue another profession?

Mr Chan says he uses similar skills in both professions. When shooting in black and white, he sees “light and composition which helps my day job, when performing a breast reconstruction, as you appreciate light and form in the same way”.

For Mr Chan, both careers are about people. He wants his photos to tell a story and for the “viewer to be there in the moment”, while he says a rewarding and wonderful part about being a surgeon is being able to share good news with his patients who are “very brave in the face of adversity”.

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Charlie Chan

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Jamie Cullum and Gregory Porter have been snapped by Mr Chan

Mr Chan is not alone in his “dual career”. While some people take more than one job out of financial necessity, many people are doing so out of choice and for the challenge.

Professional networking website LinkedIn has seen a growing trend in the registering of “multiple”, “dual” and “portfolio” career descriptions.

Just look at George Osborne: MP for Tatton, adviser at BlackRock Investment Institute, and soon-to-be editor of the London Evening Standard.

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Rupert Toovey

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Rupert Toovey has been working as an auctioneer for his entire adult life

Rupert Toovey founded Toovey’s auctioneers in 1995. Fifteen years later he was ordained as a deacon.

The Reverend Rupert Toovey says his secular work is as vocational as his work as a deacon, with each supporting the other. From his late teens, his faith and auctioneering work went hand in hand.

“To serve and listen to people has been a constant thread,” he says. “Each role is simultaneously rewarding and vocational.”

On visits to people’s homes to view antiques, Mr Toovey says: “The objects reflect the patchwork of their lives and it is a privilege to be invited to share these precious moments with them.

“As with the priestly work, I accompany people in profound moments of change in their lives in a particularly personal and private way.”

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Rupert Toovey

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The Reverend Rupert Toovey finds parallels between his religious and auctioneering work

He says his life has “a wholeness that fits together in a most unexpected way”.

The majority of people Mr Toovey attends to, baptises and marries, are people he has met through the network of his business life, including the Lord Mayor of Westminster.

“Modern society too often compartmentalises life. I am at once a father, priest, auctioneer, employer, [and] friend,” he says.

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Former Chancellor George Osborne has lots of lucrative lines of work

Professional careers adviser Rachel Brushfield says some people look for more than one career because they “want a better work-life balance, more meaning and purpose”.

The ability to be “as dynamic as the workplace” and the autonomy of designing your own “stimulating future-proof career” are motivating factors for her clients.

In 2007, New York Times columnist Marci Alboher popularised the term “slash careers” – as in surgeon/photographer – citing creative fulfilment and diverse skillsets as benefits for employers and employees.

But people taking second jobs has been a trend for decades.

According to the Office for National Statistics, the number of people with second jobs has stayed roughly between 1.1 million and 1.3 million since 1993.

Official statistics no longer break out earnings figures. However, looking back, in autumn 2001, men with a second job earned more on average in their main job than those with only one.

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Duncan McNair

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Lawyer Duncan McNair: “They aren’t jobs, they are component parts of my heart and soul”

One high earner with several jobs is Duncan McNair, a commercial lawyer, author and elephant campaigner.

He founded the charity Save the Asian Elephants in 2015 and has always written creatively.

Taking cases before the European Court of Human Rights, chairing a review of the RSPCA’s welfare scheme, and writing satire, all use his advocacy skills, stretching them further than legal practice alone.

Mr McNair finds his skills “built around the law to be hugely useful in campaigning” for elephants.

While working at Cubism Law and undertaking extensive pro-bono work, Mr McNair donates proceeds from his satirical book series, The Morello Letters, to Save The Asian Elephants.

“The practice takes the majority of time and the rest is filled drafting articles, speeches and writing the final third of the latest Morello book,” he says.

“Ideas for the letters come to me while waiting for buses, as sparks of the imagination, explaining my fanatical relationship with post-it notes.”

The Morello world offers a “nirvana of humans and animals living in humorous harmony”, with a rich source of characters he often finds in the legal profession.

“I’m incredibly lucky to be able to advocate for these causes and to have a various workload. They aren’t jobs, they are component parts of my heart and soul.”

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Donald Trump Puts Steve Bannon At Arm's Length

Steve Bannon is seen as the driving force behind Trump’s nationalist-populist agenda.

Washington, United States:  President Donald Trump offered a half-hearted endorsement of his chief strategist Steve Bannon Wednesday, fueling speculation that the controversial aide has fallen out of favor.

Trump distanced himself from Bannon and downplayed his role in the White House during an interview with the New York Post, which came amid intense White House infighting.

The 63-year-old Bannon is seen as the driving force behind Trump’s nationalist-populist agenda — making him a cause celebre of the far-right and a bete noire for centrists.

“I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late,” Trump said when asked if he had confidence in the former Breitbart chief executive.

“I had already beaten all the senators and all the governors, and I didn’t know Steve. I’m my own strategist and it wasn’t like I was going to change,” he said.

Bannon was brought in to lead Trump’s turbulent presidential campaign three months before Election Day in November.

Today, he occupies a West Wing office just steps from the Oval Office.

Such was the early value of his stock that he privately boasted about handpicking Trump’s cabinet.

Satirists painted him as the Grim Reaper. In largely Democratic areas of Washington, posters call for the impeachment of “President Bannon.”

‘Straighten it out, or I will’

Bannon’s high profile was said to irk the attention-hungry president and Trump’s comments could signal his patience is further fraying with the top aide.

Bannon recently lost his coveted place on the National Security Council, which decides issues of war and peace.

And last week, Trump ordered his son-in-law Jared Kushner, another top White House aide, and Bannon to meet and patch up their differences.

“Steve is a good guy, but I told them to straighten it out or I will,” Trump told the Post.

Kushner — who is married to Trump’s daughter Ivanka — has amassed a widening portfolio of responsibilities in the White House.

He has been tasked by Trump with solving Middle East peace, reforming the federal government and is seen by foreign capitals as the quickest, most reliable, way to get a message to the new president.

For many Bannon supporters, the Kushnerites are an invasive species of “Democrats” in a Republican White House, thwarting Trump’s promise to aggressively fight for white working-class voters.

Kushner has also been helped by the ascendancy of administration moderates such as ex-Goldman Sachs executives Gary Cohn and Dina Powell.

Their emergence has coincided with slow pedaling on some of Trump’s more protectionist trade promises such as withdrawing from NAFTA, imposing far-reaching tariffs and branding China a currency manipulator.

Earlier Wednesday, fellow aide Kellyanne Conway appeared to also take a shot at Bannon,  who described the media as the “opposition party.”

“Some of the words being used to describe (the press)… I do not use, and have not used,” she said at an event at the Newseum in Washington.

“I think it’s very important in a healthy democracy to have a free and fair press.”

In another apparent dig, Conway said, “One thing I have noticed that if you’re somebody who says ‘I never talk to the media’, you’re really free to talk to the media as much as you want, because nobody would suspect you’re talking to the media, which is fascinating.”

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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Surveyors get gloomy as property market stagnates

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Property surveyors are getting gloomier about the state of the housing market, according to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics).

Its latest monthly survey shows that stock levels are at a new record low.

The number of people interested in buying a property – and the number of sales – were also “stagnant” in March, it said.

However, because of the shortage of housing, it said prices in many parts of the UK are continuing to accelerate.

While prices carry on falling in central London, Rics said that price rises in the North West were “particularly strong”.

Most surveyors across the country still expect prices to rise over the next 12 months, but by a smaller majority than in February.

But on average, each estate agent has just 43 properties for sale on its books, the lowest number recorded since the methodology began in 1994.

“High-end sale properties in central London remain under pressure, while the wider residential market continues to be underpinned by a lack of stock,” said Simon Rubinsohn, Rics chief economist.

“For the time being, it is hard to see any major impetus for change in the market, something also being reflected in the flat trend in transaction levels.”

Earlier this week, the Office for National Statistics said house prices grew at 5.8% in the year to February, a small rise on the previous month.

However, both Nationwide and the Halifax have said that house price inflation is moderating.

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Donald Trump Says China Is Not Manipulating Currency

Donald Trump said Beijing has not been manipulating its currency for months.

Washington, United States:  US President Donald Trump reversed himself Wednesday and said China is not manipulating its currency to gain a trade advantage.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Trump appeared to lay to rest a simmering issue that threatened to erode relations with Beijing, just days after his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Florida.

“They’re not currency manipulators,” Trump told the newspaper.

In another apparent reversal, he left open the possibility of renominating Janet Yellen as head of the Federal Reserve.

The US leader had promised to label China as a currency manipulator on his first day in office, a move that would have initiated a process that includes talks but could lead to imposing unilateral trade sanctions, which almost certainly would have sparked retaliation.

But Trump told the newspaper Beijing has not been manipulating its currency for months — a point economists have been making for some time.

China for years was accused of keeping its currency artificially low to make its exports cheaper and more competitive compared to US goods, but in recent years the country has in fact been trying to keep the yuan from weakening further.

Trump also said imposing the manipulator label now could jeopardize his talks with Beijing on confronting the threat of North Korea.

The Treasury Department this month is due to release its semi-annual report on the foreign exchange policies of US trading partners, but Trump’s comments will deflate anticipation about the findings.

Rather than the yuan being too weak, the US currency has appreciated due to confidence in the economy, Trump said, taking credit for the development.

“I think our dollar is getting too strong, and partially that’s my fault because people have confidence in me,” he said. “But that’s hurting — that will hurt ultimately.”

And while there are “some very good things about a strong dollar,” Trump said, “It’s very, very hard to compete when you have a strong dollar and other countries are devaluing their currency.”

Yellen could stay at Fed

Although Trump was highly critical of central bank chief Yellen during the campaign, and indicated he would not nominate her to another four-year term as chair, he backed away from that position.

“No, not toast,” he said when asked about Yellen’s fate when her current term expires February 3, 2018. “I like her, I respect her.”

He added that “It’s very early.”

On monetary policy, Trump, who had accused Yellen of keeping interest rates low for political reasons, said in the interview, “I do like a low-interest rate policy, I must be honest with you.”

Yellen’s 14-year term as a member of the Fed board does not end until January 31, 2024, but it would be unusual for a Fed chair to stay on after relinquishing the top post.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who sat in on part of the interview, said the president was “very close” to filling some the three vacancies on the Fed board.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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Russia-US Relations Have 'Worsened' Under Donald Trump: Vladimir Putin

President Vladimir Putin said ties between Russia and US appear to have deteriorated under Donald Trump

Moscow:  President Vladimir Putin said ties between Russia and the United States appear to have deteriorated under Donald Trump in an interview released Wednesday as the countries’ top diplomats met in Moscow.

“You can say that the level of trust on a working level, especially on the military side, has not improved but most likely worsened,” Putin said in a transcript from an interview with Mir television posted by the Kremlin. 

The comments came out as US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov held tense talks following an alleged Syrian chemical attack and subsequent missile strike by Washington.

Moscow and Washington are trying to figure each other out during the first visit by a senior member of Donald Trump’s administration to Russia. 

The US has blamed Moscow’s ally and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of the deadly attack that killed scores of civilians and launched missile strikes against one of the regime’s airbases in retribution.

Putin has angrily rejected the accusations against Damascus and slammed the US bombing as “a violation of international law”.

Despite hopes of an improvement in Russia-US ties under Trump, the Tillerson-Lavrov talks look set to be dominated by the split over Syria — where more than 320,000 people have died in six years of war.  

Washington has said it is hoping to pry Russia away from its support for Assad, but the Kremlin on Wednesday decried any calls to drop the Syrian leader as “pretty absurd”.

Prior to Tillerson’s arrival, hopes in Moscow had already dimmed that Trump would make good on his pledge to improve ties with Russia, as relations with the Kremlin have become politically toxic on the back of claims that Putin conspired to get Trump elected.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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At Least 1 Killed In Suicide Bombing Near Ministry In Kabul: Report

Several cars were damaged, with possible injuries to the occupants. (Representational)

Kabul:  An apparent suicide bomb attack near the Afghan Defence Ministry killed at least one person on Wednesday and damaged several cars, officials said.

The target was a police post near the military headquarters, a ministry spokesman said.

A police officer at the scene told Reuters the attack appeared to have been carried out by a suicide bomber on foot.

A Reuters witness reported seeing several damaged cars, with possible injuries to the occupants.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but terrorists belonging to various groups including the Taliban and ISIS have claimed recent attacks in Kabul.

Last month, ISIS killed nearly 50 people when then stormed the main military hospital in Kabul.

(Reporting by Mirwais Harooni, Editing by Nick Macfie)

© Thomson Reuters 2017

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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Iraqi Girl Undergoes Stem Cell Transplant From German Donor

A 15-year-old Iraqi girl suffering from a rare bone marrow failure syndrome got a new lease of life

New Delhi:  A 15-year-old Iraqi girl suffering from a rare bone marrow failure syndrome got a new lease of life after she received stem cells from an unrelated German donor. 

Doctors at a private hospital in Faridabad, where the girl underwent the procedure, claimed that this was the first case in Delhi NCR where a patient suffering from of severe aplastic Anemia was treated with a a matched unrelated donor (MUD) stem cell transplant with donor cells from international database. 

Aplastic anaemia is a condition when the patient’s body stops producing enough new blood cells which leave the patient fatigued, and at a higher risk of infection as well as uncontrolled bleeding. 

The patient, Banin Mohammad Humza, had started showing symptoms two-and-a-half-years ago and her condition was deteriorating with every passing day as she would require frequent platelet and blood transfusion. 

“She would develop infections and require hospitalisation every other day, as the white blood cells, which fight against infection, were low in her body,” Dr Prashant Mehta, a bone marrow transplant specialist at the Asian Institute of Medical Sciences, Faridabad said. 

As doctors in her country gave up on her treatment, Banin’s family approached doctors here in India. “After evaluating her case, we reached the conclusion that the a bone marrow transplant was the only cure,” he said. In Banin’s case, the doctors could not find any genetically matching (HLA) donors within her family. 

In around 75 per cent of these cases, a match in the family is not found raising the requirement for an alternative donor. 

The doctors then started searching for a suitable donor and checked the registries of donors of stem cells in India but in vain. 

So the doctors started looking at the registries of other countries and luckily they found a donor who matched her HLA type in Germany. 

“We put forth our request and the stem cells of the donor, a 25-year-old male, was harvested in Germany and shipped to India.

 It was then stored at minus 80 degrees Celsius for two weeks before being transplanted,” said Dr Mehta. Banin was then subjected to chemotherapy during which the damaged cells in her body were destroyed and new cells were administrated in her simultaneously. 

In the weeks that followed, the patient underwent intensive monitoring.

 “Her body accepted the donor cells and the procedure was successfully completed. At present, she is free of the disease and the blood count has normalised. 

She is on follow-up care on an outpatient basis,” Dr Mehta said. MUD transplantation is uncommon in India due to risk of complications, besides logistic difficulties in procuring the cells from places outside India. 

Dr N K Pandey, Chairman and Managing Director of the hospital said, “While globally 45 million people are registered with ‘Bone Marrow Donor World Wide’ and other stem cell registries to meet the need of patients for a successful bone marrow transplant, in India the donor pool is very small.

 “It’s only around 3 lakh donor in Indian registries which is minuscule. It’s not only important to have more donors but also have the requisite technology to preserve the cells for a longer period,” he said.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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San Francisco Gets A Taste Of Robotic Food Delivery

Kevin Peterson loads a bag into a -Happy- ground-delivery robot at the startup’s base of operation. (AFP)

San Francisco:  San Francisco startup Marble on Wednesday began giving its home town a taste of restaurant orders delivered by robot, confident that appetite for such service will grow around the world. Marble partnered with take-away meal ordering mobile application Yelp Eat24 to put its boxy, wheeled robots to work handling local deliveries for some restaurants in the Mission and Portrero Hill districts of San Francisco. “It’s the real deal,” Marble co-founder and chief Matthew Delaney told AFP while providing a demonstration of one of the robots at the startup’s offices in Portrero Hill.”On select evenings, you might be getting a text message in the middle of your Yelp Eat24 order asking if you would like it delivered by robot.”

Marble is starting with a “handful” of robots and keeping it opt-in when it comes to whether machines handle deliveries.

Food orders are locked into robot cargo compartments large enough to hold about four standard shopping bags.

Marble robots, the current generation named “Happy” and numbered, roll along sidewalks and cross streets at walking speeds, relying on lasers, cameras and other sensors to maneuver.

The technology involved is similar to that used in self-driving cars.

Marble also created three-dimensional digital maps of neighborhoods where robots will be working

“This allows us to have the most intelligent and reliable robot that really knows its environment and is a bit socially aware so that it can have the right etiquette on the sidewalk and get around,” Delaney said of combining sensors and maps.

City ‘sweet spot’

Marble robots were designed to get around on their own, but they will have human escorts during the roll-out. Robots are also wirelessly linked to operators who, from Marble’s office, virtually ride along.

“We have basically eyes and ears there,” Delaney said.

“Operators can jump in at any time.”

He described the robot cargo compartment as being as safe as a typical car trunk. When robots arrive with food orders, customers get text messages containing codes to enter on key pads to unlock lids.

“We are always looking for innovative new ways to give diners what they want: efficient and affordable food delivery,” said Yelp Eat24 delivery operations head Shalin Sheth.

Marble robots are built by the startup, which would not disclose how much they cost. A revenue model had yet to be put in place. The delivery service launched Wednesday was described as a step on the path to perfecting the robots.

“Our long term goal is to drive down costs; make this something that is useful in every city across the globe for those kinds of neighborhood-centric deliveries,” Delaney said.

Marble saw ground delivery robots as filling a need for quick, inexpensive neighborhood deliveries in cities or other urban settings, freeing humans to tend to long drives or large orders.

“We think this is the sweet spot solution in urban environments; a very courteous , slow moving, safe, ground-based helpful robot that goes door to door,” Delaney said.

Rules regarding robots on sidewalks are still in flux and the startup is working with local regulators and community groups, according to Marble.

Infusion of  cash

The startup on Wednesday also announced it has raised $4 million in seed funding from investors including venture capital firms Eclipse, Maven Ventures,and Amplify Partners.

“With the rapid growth of the on-demand and e-commerce markets, solving the last mile delivery problem is incredibly important,” Eclipse general partner Greg Reichow said in a released statement.

“The existing solution of using 3000-pound fossil fuel burning, city-congesting cars does not scale.”

The funding will be used to continue developing the Marble robot fleet and expand service, according to the startup.

Marble co-founders Delaney, Jason Calaiaro, and Kevin Peterson met at Carnegie Mellon University’s robotics institute, where they worked on self-driving cars.

They also developed autonomous space robots and moon landers to compete in competitions such as the Google Lunar XPrize.

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Tesla board 'too close to Elon Musk'

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Tesla boss Elon Musk said the group “should buy Ford stock” instead

A group of Tesla shareholders has questioned the independence of the electric carmaker’s board, warning it is too close to boss and co-founder Elon Musk.

In a letter, they said the board was “largely unchanged” since the firm went public and at risk of “groupthink”.

They urged it to re-elect members annually and to add two new independent directors to the board.

In a tweet Mr Musk said the investors “should buy Ford stock” instead.

The shareholders include the California State Teachers Retirement System, Hermes Equity Ownership Services and CtW Investment Group, among others, and collectively manage assets worth $721bn (£547.5bn).

In a letter to Tesla lead independent director Antonio Gracias, they called for action before the firm launched its Model 3 sedan later this year – its first vehicle aimed at the mass market.

‘Dysfunctional dynamics’

“While meeting the technical definition of independence, five of the six current non-executive directors have professional or personal ties to Mr Musk that could put at risk their ability to exercise independent judgment,” the letter said.

“A thoroughly independent board would provide a critical check on possible dysfunctional group dynamics, such as groupthink.”

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This week Tesla became most valuable US car company, beating General Motors

Analysis: Dave Lee, BBC North America technology reporter, San Francisco

With an almost Trumpian flair, Elon Musk has regularly used Twitter to sound off about his frustrations with Tesla’s investors.

With stock surging, he gloated that there was “stormy weather in ShortsVille” – a dig at those who shorted – sold – their Tesla stock believing its value was about to fall.

On Wednesday, Mr Musk tweeted that the investment group should buy into Ford if they wanted a different corporate culture, a comment that has more weight now that Tesla is, according to market cap, worth more money.

I don’t see this demand gaining much traction. The concerned group thinks there are too many personal ties between board members at Tesla, potentially clouding judgement. But there are other investors who support Tesla precisely for that reason: it’s Mr Musk’s team, vision and ambition. And so far he’s doing very well.

Tesla board members include Mr Gracias, a shareholder and board member of SpaceX, another company controlled by Elon Musk; as well as Brad Buss, a former chief financial officer at solar power business SolarCity, which was founded by Mr Musk and later bought by Tesla.

The $2bn deal was widely criticised on Wall Street last year and led to a 13% fall in Tesla’s share price when it was announced.

New additions

A Tesla spokesman said it regularly engaged with shareholders and valued their feedback.

“We are actively engaged in a search process for independent board members, which is something we committed to do several months ago, and expect to announce new additions fairly soon.”

However, Mr Musk tweeted: “This investor group should buy Ford stock. Their governance is amazing…”

This month Tesla became most valuable US car company, beating General Motors for the top spot.

Last year it sold 76,230 vehicles, missing its target of at least 80,000 cars sold. In comparison, GM sold 10 million cars and Ford sold 6.7 million.

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