Space Sounds Like An Eerie Chorus Of 'Alien Birds'

Illustration of NASA’s twin Van Allen Probes in orbit within Earth’s magnetic field

If you ask Craig Kletzing, the recordings echo the chirping of crickets. To his wife, they sound like a chorus of alien birds.

But there is no life where these sounds are made, in the dazzling and dangerous stream of highly charged particles that surrounds our planet. For years, Kletzing, a physics professor at the University of Iowa, has been monitoring the radio waves that undulate through the void around Earth. When the data is turned into sound files, the result is an eerie cosmic symphony.

Although space is a vacuum, it is neither empty nor quiet. Just above our atmosphere exist two belts of energetic particles from the sun that get trapped by Earth’s magnetic field. This phenomenon is vital to making our planet livable; the captured electrons and protons zip back and forth between Earth’s magnetic poles instead of streaming through the atmosphere to bombard the surface. But the zones where these particles dwell, called the Van Allen Belts, are still dangerous: The trapped particles pose a threat to satellites and astronauts at the International Space Station, and the belts play a role in space weather that can destroy power grids on the ground.

van allen radiation belts nasa wp

A cutaway model of the Van Allen radiation belts.

“There are lots of practical reasons,” to be interested in the Van Allen belts, Kletzing said. The physics of this violent region is fascinating in and of itself. Fluctuating electric and magnetic fields plow through the cloud of charged particles, called plasma, stealing energy from some particles and giving it to others, pushing them to high speeds.

In 2012 NASA launched the Van Allen Space Probes, twin robotic crafts that orbit the Earth and monitor this roiling envelope of charged particles. The probes carried a suite of instruments called EMFISIS, short for Electric and Magnetic Field Instrument Suite and Integrated Science (apparently all aspiring physicists and astronomers take “Intro to Backronyms” before they get their PhDs). EMFISIS is designed to detect radio waves rippling around the Earth.

“It’s literally like sticking a microphone out into space, but instead of listening to sound waves we’re listening to electromagnetic waves,” said Kletzing, EMFISIS’s lead investigator.

Humans can’t hear all the activity in the Van Allen belts. Our ears respond only to sound waves, which we sense via the vibration of molecules that are disturbed by the waves as they propagate through the air. Space is airless – practically void of matter – and therefore soundless.

But the electromagnetic waves are in the same frequency range as the part of the sound spectrum that is audible to humans. It was a simple matter to translate those radio waves as MP3s – turning EMFISIS data into a radio broadcast from the heavens.

One variety of wave sounded like Star Wars light sabers. These “whistler waves” were generated by lightning in the Earth’s atmosphere, but escaped and bounced along the magnetic field. The lightning generates waves at multiple frequencies, and the faster (higher-pitched) waves reached the sensors just before the slower (and lower-pitched ones), resulting in the signature falling pitch that gives these waves their name.

When waves propagate through the plasmasphere – the shell of relatively low-energy plasma that encases the Earth just above the atmosphere – they generate what’s known as plasmaspheric hiss.

Beyond the plasmasphere, where the plasma is warmer, electrons are pushed around in explosions generated by tangled lines of the Earth’s magnetic field. As the particles from the sun are pushed toward the night side of the Earth, lower-energy particles create the “chorus” waves that Kletzing’s wife said sounded like alien birds.

“There’s a side of me that listens to it and says ‘Wow, what interesting wave forms,’ ” Kletzing said. “But there’s also a piece that just listens, and there’s sort of an amazement at a certain level that the universe produces things that you recognize: birds, and in the background it sounds to me … like crickets chirping.”

The cricket-like sounds are compelling to Kletzing, not just because they evoke a languid summer evening. These sounds suggest that there could be smaller waves in space that trigger the larger ones – something Kletzing never noticed when he simply looked at the data on a computer screen.

“There’s little bits of stuff in there that our ear can kind of pick out . . . that your eye on a plot doesn’t do quite the same way,” Kletzing said.

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Barbara Sinatra, Last Wife Of Frank Sinatra, Dies At 90

Barbara Sinatra died of natural causes surrounded by family and friends at her home

Former model Barbara Sinatra, a humanitarian activist who was Frank Sinatra’s last wife, died Tuesday in California, her foundation said. She was 90.

A family spokesman said Sinatra — born Barbara Blakely — died of natural causes surrounded by family and friends at her home in Rancho Mirage.

She wed Sinatra in Rancho Mirage in July 1976. She was 49 and he was 60.

They were married 22 years, the fourth and longest marriage for the American crooner. He died of a heart attack in 1998.

In 1985, she raised money with her husband’s support, to open the Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center for the youngest victims of physical, sexual and emotional abuse.

“Barbara Sinatra was not a woman who just lent her name to a cause or event,” her foundation said.

“Barbara was an avid and tireless fundraiser and child advocate… In her many travels, she served as keynote speaker and appeared before groups and organizations of all sizes on behalf of abused children in England, Australia, Canada, Italy and throughout the United States.”

Trough her efforts, more than 20,000 children have received therapy to cope with abuse-related trauma at the center, it said.

Sinatra was previously married to actor Zeppo Marx, of the Marx Brothers films.

Sinatra is survived by her son Robert Oliver Marx, his wife Hillary Roberts and her granddaughter Carina Blakeley Marx.

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Strange Foamy Balls Are Washing Up On The Shores Of Northern France

Unexplained arrival of spongelike balls baffled locals and tourists alike along France’s Opal Coast.

Nobody knew what they were at first.

They’ve been described as “strange spongelike clumps,” “yellow mousse” and, perhaps most disturbingly, “possibly the biggest balls of earwax ever.”

In recent weeks, hundreds of thousands of mysterious yellow blobs have swept across about 20 miles of the beaches in northern France, according to the Local. Ranging in size and shape, the balls looked like they had the consistency of anything from packing foam to unbaked scone dough.

The unexplained arrival of the spongelike balls baffled locals and tourists alike along France’s Opal Coast, usually better known for its tranquil beaches and laid-back fishing villages.

It wasn’t long before speculation and tongue-in-cheek headlines about the shapes emerged. Many jokingly pointed to a certain pineapple-dwelling underwater character.

Last week, local firefighters collected samples and sent them to be analyzed. The spongelike clumps were deemed to be paraffin wax, and Pas-de-Calais prefecture officials said in a statement that the substance did not pose any danger to public health or flora and fauna, according to La Voix du Nord.

The statement also noted that the paraffin wax did not need to be specially treated before being discarded – but did warn visitors with children not to accidentally eat any.

In an interview with Canadian Broadcasting Corp. Radio, however, Jonathan Hénichart, president of the nonprofit Sea-Mer Association, said he still had concerns about what the beached sponge balls could mean. He suspects that a cargo ship carrying industrial paraffin wax may have washed its tank and emptied the paraffin residue too close to shore. It wasn’t the first time paraffin wax had appeared on France’s shores, he added.

“The first time it was not yellow, it was a pink paraffin wax, and then this winter, we got three tons of this paraffin wax but it was white,” Henichart told “As It Happens” host Helen Mann. “And now we received some yellow ones. I don’t know maybe they think it’s funny to send us some different colors each time.”

Henichart added that even though local officials had said the substance was harmless, the sheer amount of wax on the beach “makes it toxic because the local wildlife will live with this.”

“It looks like regulations are too light,” Henichart told CBC Radio. “It’s too easy for ships are able to do what they want.”

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Trump 'Disappointed' In Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Decision 'Soon'

Washington, United States:  US Attorney General Jeff Sessions found himself in an increasingly untenable position Tuesday, as President Donald Trump once again publicly skewered his top law enforcement official, calling him “VERY weak” and saying he is “disappointed.”

Sessions was one of Trump’s earliest and most loyal supporters, but the Republican billionaire has turned on him publicly in the past week, as rumors fly that the former senator from Alabama will be replaced.

Trump has openly criticized Sessions for recusing himself from overseeing a federal probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to meddle in the 2016 US presidential elections.

On Tuesday, Trump berated Sessions over what he deemed insufficient efforts in pursuing intelligence leaks and for failing to go after former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton over her private email server.

“Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes (where are E-mails &DNC server) & Intel leakers!” Trump said in one of his trademark early morning tweetstorms.

Later, he again said he was “disappointed” in Sessions and reiterated that had he known Sessions would remove himself from the Russia probe, he would not have hired him.

“He should not have recused himself almost immediately after he took office and, if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me prior to taking office, and I would have quite simply picked somebody else,” Trump told reporters.

Decision ‘soon’

New White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders indicated Tuesday that Trump was not going to change his mind, and her boss, communications director Anthony Scaramucci said: “”We’ll get to a resolution soon.”

US presidents normally go to great pains to avoid being seen as influencing ongoing or possible investigations, making Trump’s attacks on Sessions all the more extraordinary.

With pressure mounting from the investigation led by special counsel and former FBI director Robert Mueller, Trump has sought to revive an election year controversy over Clinton’s use of a private server to send emails while secretary of state.

The Washington Post has reported that Trump’s team sees getting rid of Sessions as part of a potential strategy to fire Mueller and end the investigation.

Sessions, however, has said he has no plans to resign.

The website Axios reported that Trump was considering replacing Sessions with another early supporter, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani.

But Giuliani dismissed the report and said Sessions was right to have recused himself from the Russia probe, CNN reported.

On Monday, Trump had already wondered out loud why Sessions was not investigating Clinton.

“So why aren’t the Committees and investigators, and of course our beleaguered A.G., looking into Crooked Hillarys crimes & Russia relations?” Trump asked.

The White House also alleged last week that the Democrats colluded with Ukraine during the 2016 campaign, adding another twist to the president’s counter-offensive.

“Ukrainian efforts to sabotage Trump campaign – ‘quietly working to boost Clinton.’ So where is the investigation A.G.?” Trump asked in another early morning tweet Tuesday.

Kiev’s embassy in Washington refuted that claim, saying it didn’t help “any candidate” in the election.

‘Witch hunt’

Trump has expressed increasing anger with Sessions as his Justice Department’s investigations into possible Trump-Russia collusion has quickened.

Sessions recused himself because of his role on Trump’s campaign and because he failed to tell the Senate during his confirmation hearings about contacts he had with the Russian ambassador in Washington.

On Tuesday, senior White House aide Kellyanne Conway said Sessions’s recusal had opened the door to what Trump sees as a “witch hunt.”

Trump’s eldest son, son-in-law and top aides have become entangled in the widening investigation led by Mueller.

Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and a top White House official, was questioned Monday and Tuesday by lawmakers about contacts with then Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, a Russian financier and a Russian lawyer who offered dirt on Clinton.

Kushner made a statement Monday denying collusion after testifying behind closed doors, insisting the string of undisclosed meetings with Russian officials were “proper.”

“Jared Kushner did very well yesterday in proving he did not collude with the Russians. Witch Hunt. Next up, 11 year old Barron Trump!” Trump tweeted Tuesday, referring to his youngest son.

In May, Trump fired FBI director James Comey over the bureau’s investigation into Russia. That led to Mueller’s appointment as a special prosecutor.

Sessionss’ onetime Republican colleagues in the Senate came to his defense, saying he showed good judgment in removing himself from the Russia probe.

“Jeff understands that we are a nation of laws, not men,” said Lindsey Graham.

Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer chimed in: “It’s clear that President Trump is trying to bully his own attorney general out of office. How can anyone draw a different conclusion?”

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US Energy Secretary Thought He Was Talking To Ukraine PM. It Was A Prank

US Energy Secretary Rick Perry was convinced he was talking to the Ukrainian PM Volodymyr Groysman

It was a winding, wonkish and occasionally obscure conversation about foreign coal exploration, natural-gas pipelines and pig manure as a power source.

But only one of the men on the line – Energy Secretary Rick Perry – held sway over his nation’s energy policy. On the other end of the conversation were Vladimir “Vovan” Kuznetsov and Alexei “Lexus” Stolyarov, who had just added Perry to their list of high-profile hoax victims.

“Secretary Perry is the latest target of two Russian pranksters,” DOE Spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes said in an email to The Washington Post. “These individuals are known for pranking high level officials and celebrities, particularly those who are supportive of an agenda that is not in line with their governments. In this case, the energy security of Ukraine.”

During the conversation, which was posted in its entirety on Vesti, a Russian news site, Perry was convinced he was talking to the Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, who appears to speak through a translator. Perry talked about a potential pipeline across the Baltic sea for Russian gas, cyber attacks on the U.S. power grid, natural-gas exploration in Ukraine and the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord.

“I hope that stepping away from the Paris accord will not have any negative impact with our relationship with the Ukraine,” Perry said. “We tried to divorce the politics from this and really just let our record stand, one that I’m very proud of.”

He also talked about a meeting scheduled for August where they’d let American business executives talk about extracting oil natural gas in Ukraine.

“What we have seen in Texas is the great increase of productivity, particularly in shale gas because of hydraulic fracturing and the directional drilling,” Perry said.

Perhaps the only giveaway about the true nature of the call was a statement the “Ukrainian prime minister” made about a new biofuel invented by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, according to the Pravda Report newspaper.

The fuel was made from a mix of home-brewed alcohol and pig manure.

Perry said he’d like to get more information about the “scientific development.”

The pranksters seemed to get past Perry’s defenses with opportunistic timing.

On June 20, Perry hosted Groysman and his delegation at the Department of Energy, a meeting that was widely reported in the Ukrainian press, according to the DOE.

Three weeks later, the department received a request for a phone follow-up with the Ukrainian prime minster, in advance of another meeting with the Ukrainians in August.

That phone call happened on July 19.

The pranksters say they have a victims’ list that includes several high-profile names: Elton John, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Croatian prime minister, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. The rumor debunking website Snopes has said some of those claims are unproven, and points out that if the pranksters can impersonate one person on the phone, they can easily impersonate two.

The pranksters called singer Elton John in 2015 claiming to be Russian President Vladimir Putin. The call happened shortly after the singer had criticized the president’s stance on LGBT rights.

“We thought it wasn’t likely that Putin would want to meet with him and call, at least not so quickly,” Krasnov said, according to the Guardian.

“But it turned out that Elton John was really waiting for this call, and so he immediately believed it really was a conversation with the people who we said we were,” he told newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda.

Elton John was elated about the call with the Russian leader. He posted “an effusive Instagram post in which he thanks the Russian leader for having reached out to him.”

He took it down shortly afterward.

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Apple CEO 'Promised Me Three Big Plants,' Says Donald Trump: Report

Donald Trump’s comments on Tuesday were some of the first he has made regarding Apple’s manufacturing.

Chief Executive Tim Cook has committed to build three big manufacturing plants in the United States, the Wall Street Journal quoted US President Donald Trump as saying.

“I spoke to (Cook), he’s promised me three big plants-big, big, big,” Trump told the Journal in an interview on Tuesday. 

Trump didn’t elaborate on where those plants would be located or when they would be built, the paper reported.

Cook said in May that Apple planned to create a $1 billion fund to invest in U.S. companies that perform advanced manufacturing. He also said the company intended to fund programs that could include teaching people how to write computer code to create apps.

Apple came under fire from Trump during his campaign because it makes most of its products in China.

“We’re gonna get Apple to start building their damn computers and things in this country, instead of in other countries,” Trump had said in a speech in January last year. 

Apple, on its part, had been making disclosures to highlight how it had been contributing to job creation in the United States.

Cook said in February that Apple spent $50 billion in 2016 with its US suppliers.

The world’s largest company by market valuation had also claimed that it created 2 million jobs in the United States, 80,000 of which are directly at Apple and the rest coming from suppliers and developers for the company’s app ecosystem.

Trump’s comments on Tuesday were some of the first he has made regarding Apple’s manufacturing since assuming the presidency.

“I said you know, Tim, unless you start building your plants in this country, I won’t consider my administration an economic success,” the Journal quoted Trump as saying.

Apple didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump also said that Foxconn, a major Apple supplier, plans to build a big plant in the United States and is “strongly considering” putting it in Wisconsin, the Journal reported.

Foxconn said last month it plans to invest more than $10 billion in a display-making factory in the United States.

(Reporting by Supantha Mukherjee in Bengaluru and Stephen Nellis in San Francisco; Editing by Maju Samuel)

© Thomson Reuters 2017

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Will Strike 'Heart Of US' If Kim Jong-un Regime Threatened: North Korea

North Korea threatened to harm US with its “powerful nuclear hammer, honed and hardened over time”

Pyongyang:  North Korea has threatened a nuclear strike on “the heart of the US” if it attempts to remove Kim Jong-un as Supreme Leader, Pyongyang’s state-run news agency reported.

The report in Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Tuesday quoted a spokesman from the North Korean Foreign Ministry.

The spokesman said the law stipulates that if the supreme dignity of the nation was threatened, “it must preemptively annihilate those countries and entities that are directly or indirectly involved in it, by mobilizing all kinds of strike means including the nuclear ones.”

“Should the US dare to show even the slightest sign of attempt to remove our supreme leadership, we will strike a merciless blow at the heart of the US with our powerful nuclear hammer, honed and hardened over time,” the Foreign Ministry spokesman added.

The threat was in response to comments from CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who said the Donald Trump administration needed to find a way to separate Kim from his growing nuclear stockpile, CNN reported on Tuesday.

“As for the regime, I am hopeful we will find a way to separate that regime from this system,” Pompeo said last week.

“The North Korean people I’m sure are lovely people and would love to see him go.”

North Korea’s threat comes amid an ongoing assessment from the US intelligence community that Pyongyang has accelerated its intercontinental range ballistic missile program, CNN reported.

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North Korea Advances Rapidly In Its Ability To Strike US, Experts Warn

North Korea will be able to field a reliable, nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile as early as next year, U.S. officials have concluded in a confidential assessment that dramatically shrinks the timeline for when Pyongyang could strike North American cities with atomic weapons.

The new assessment by the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), which shaves a full two years off the consensus forecast for North Korea’s ICBM program, was prompted by recent missile tests showing surprising technical advances by the country’s weapons scientists, at a pace beyond which many analysts believed was possible for the isolated communist regime.

The U.S. projection closely mirrors revised predictions by South Korean intelligence officials, who also have watched with growing alarm as North Korea has appeared to master key technologies needed to loft a warhead toward targets thousands of miles away.

The finding further increases the pressure on U.S. and Asian leaders to halt North Korea’s progress before it can threaten the world with nuclear-tipped missiles. President Trump, during his visit to Poland earlier this month, vowed to confront Pyongyang “very strongly” to stop its missile advances.

The DIA has concluded that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will be able to produce a “reliable, nuclear-capable ICBM” program sometime in 2018, meaning that by next year the program will have advanced from prototype to assembly line, according to officials familiar with the document. Already, the aggressive testing regime put in place in recent months has allowed North Korea to validate its basic designs, putting it within a few months of starting industrial production, the officials said.

The DIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to address any classified assessments.

But Scott Bray, ODNI’s national intelligence manager for East Asia, said in a statement: “North Korea’s recent test of an intercontinental range ballistic missile – which was not a surprise to the intelligence community – is one of the milestones that we have expected would help refine our timeline and judgments on the threats that Kim Jong Un poses to the continental United States. This test, and its impact on our assessments, highlight the threat that North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs pose to the United States, to our allies in the region, and to the whole world. The intelligence community is closely monitoring the expanding threat from North Korea.”

One of the few remaining technical hurdles is the challenge of atmospheric “reentry” – the ability to design a missile that can pass through the upper atmosphere without damage to the warhead. Long regarded as a formidable technological barrier for impoverished North Korea, that milestone could be reached, beginning with new tests expected to take place within days, U.S. analysts said. U.S. officials have detected signs that North Korea is making final preparations for testing a new reentry vehicle, perhaps as early as Thursday, a North Korean national holiday marking the end of the Korean War.

“They’re on track to do that, essentially this week,” said a U.S. official familiar with the intelligence report who, like others, insisted on anonymity to discuss sensitive military assessments.

North Korea has not yet demonstrated an ability to build a miniaturized nuclear warhead that could be carried by one of its missiles. Officials there last year displayed a sphere-shaped device the regime described as a miniaturized warhead, but there as been no public confirmation that this milestone has been achieved. Preparations reportedly have been underway for several months for what would be the country’s sixth underground atomic test. The last one, in September, had an estimated yield of 20 to 30 kilotons, more than double the explosive force of any previous test.

North Korea startled the world earlier this month with its successful July 4 test of a missile capable of striking parts of Alaska – the first such missile with proven intercontinental range. The launch of a two-stage “Hwasong-14” missile was the latest in a series of tests in recent months that have revealed startlingly rapid advances across a number of technical fields, from mastery of solid-fuel technology to the launch of the first submarine-based missile, current and former intelligence officials and weapons experts said.

“There has been alarming progress,” said Joseph DeTrani, the former mission manager for North Korea for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and a former special envoy for negotiations with Pyongyang. “In the last year they have gained capabilities that they didn’t have, including ones that we thought they would not have been able to obtain for years.”

The July 4 missile test also caught South Korea’s intelligence service off guard, prompting a hasty revision of forecasts, according to South Korean lawmakers who have received closed-door briefings.

“The speed of North Korea’s ICBM missile development is faster than the South Korean Defense Ministry expected,” said lawmaker Lee Cheol-hee, of the left-wing Minjoo party, who attended an intelligence committee briefing after the July 4 test.

The South Korean government, which is actively trying to engage the regime in Pyongyang, has declined to call the most recent test a success. North Korea still has not proved it has mastered some of the steps needed to build a reliable ICBM, most notably the reentry vehicle, Lee said.

Still, officials across the political spectrum acknowledged that North Korea is rapidly gaining ground. “Now they are approaching the final stage of being a nuclear power and the owner of an ICBM,” said Cha Du-hyeogn, who served as an adviser to conservative former president Lee Myung-bak.

U.S. spy agencies have detected multiple signals that North Korea is preparing to test a reentry vehicle. Analysts believe that the July 4 test was intended to demonstrate range – the ability of its new two-stage ICBM prototype to reach altitude and distance milestones – while the new launch will seek to validate engineering features designed to protect the warhead as it passes through the upper atmosphere and then is delivered to a distant target.

The latest designs appear to cobble together older systems – including portions of a missile frame used to launch satellites into orbit –with a more advanced engine that North Korea began testing earlier this year. Much of the technology is based on old Soviet-era designs that have been reworked by what U.S. experts describe as an increasingly capable cadre of homegrown engineers, goaded along by a leadership that has pursued nuclear weapons and delivery systems with single-minded zeal.

Kim vowed in January to successfully test a nuclear-capable ICBM in 2017, achieving a long-sought goal that North Koreans believe will serve as the ultimate deterrent against threats to the communist regime’s survival. At the time, the U.S. intelligence community’s formal assessment still held that a credible ICBM threat would not emerge until 2020 at the earliest.

“North Korea’s timeline moved faster than we expected,” said the U.S. official familiar with the new DIA assessment. “We weren’t expecting an ICBM test in July.”

Former U.S. officials and weapons experts said a successful test of a nuclear-capable ICBM would dramatically raise the stakes in the North Korean crisis, putting new pressure on North Korea’s neighbors and increasing the risk of miscalculation.

“The danger is that decision time and warning is greatly reduced when North Korea has the weapons, and that escalation can happen quickly,” said Jon Wolfsthal, senior director for arms control and nonproliferation with the Obama administration’s National Security Council.

The specter of a nuclear-armed, ICBM-capable Kim “takes the risk to a new level but does not change the nature of the threat we have faced for some time,” Wolfsthal said. “We have to deter North Korea from ever using any nuclear weapons and make clear that any move to use these weapons is suicide.”

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Leo And Kate Will Be Your Date, For The Right Price

Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet played star-crossed lovers in James Cameron’s classic Titanic

Los Angeles:  Ever yearned to swap tales of the sea with “Titanic” stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet?

Well strap on your life jacket, because the pair are auctioning off a private dinner in their exclusive company for charity, a spokesman for the actor told AFP on Tuesday.

The glamorous date — planned for a restaurant of the winner’s choice in New York City in the fall — is among several lots being offered at the star-studded Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation gala in the French resort of Saint-Tropez on Thursday.

The environmentally-minded charity raised $45 million during its auction last year, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Oscar winners DiCaprio, 42, and Winslet, 41, played star-crossed lovers Jack and Rose in James Cameron’s 1998 retelling of the sinking of the Titanic, and were reunited in 2009 as a warring couple in “Revolutionary Road.”

While saving the planet has been DiCaprio’s preoccupation for years, Winslet is involved with charities helping autistic children, as well as organizations for the homeless and disadvantaged people with cancer.

The lot is the latest example of a burgeoning celebrity trend of offering dinner dates or other face-to-face meetings to raise cash for charity.

British actor Idris Elba agreed to share Valentine’s Day this year with the highest bidder in aid of the “W.E. Can Lead” initiative, which provides education for African youngsters.

“It is one of the easiest ways for celebrities to contribute,” a public relations specialist told AFP on condition of anonymity, adding that it generates huge amounts of cash.

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An Iranian Ship Did Not Heed The US Navy's Warning. Then Shots Were Fired

A U.S. Navy patrol boat fired a warning shot at an Iranian military ship Tuesday as it made an alarmingly fast and close approach in the Persian Gulf, marking the latest aggressive encounter between the two adversaries.

The unidentified Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessel got within 150 yards of the USS Thunderbolt and risked a collision, U.S. officials said, before the American patrol boat fired multiple warning shots and quickly ended the encounter.

One Pentagon official who spoke to The Washington Post on condition of anonymity described it as an isolated incident and confirmed that no one was hurt.

U.S. officials have not specified where the incident occurred, saying only that U.S. and coalition ships were participating in a daytime training exercise when the Iranians conducted an “unsafe and unprofessional interaction” by failing to observe internationally recognized maritime customs.

It’s also unclear how many Americans were aboard the Thunderbolt. Based in Norfolk, Virginia, it can carry a crew of 27 and is used primarily for patrolling coastlines and to provide surveillance for interdiction operations.

U.S. officials have not yet disclosed what type of weapons the crew fired. The ship is heavily armed, carrying chain guns, automatic grenade launchers and .50.-caliber machine guns.

At least three other American vessels were nearby at the time.

Video released by U.S. Central Command shows the Iranian vessel approaching the Thunderbolt’s starboard side, approaching extremely close to the ship’s bow.

“The Iranian vessel did not respond to repeated attempts to establish radio communications as it approached,” said Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a Defense Department spokesman. “Thunderbolt then fired warning flares and sounded the internationally recognized danger signal of five short blasts on the ship’s whistle, but the Iranian vessel continued inbound. As the Iranian vessel proceeded toward the U.S. ship, Thunderbolt again sounded five short blasts before firing warning shots in front of the Iranian vessel.”

Iranian military officials characterized the incident as a U.S. provocation and took credit for having “neutralized” the threat.

In a report published last winter, the Office of Naval Intelligence indicated that vessels operated by the Revolutionary Guard Corps routinely monitor U.S. and allied warships in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, a busy waterway that links to the Gulf of Oman. The majority of these encounters are “safe and routine,” it said, but “unprofessional or aggressive” run-ins are becoming more frequent.

“Such operations increase the likelihood for a mishap at sea, potentially leading to strategic tension and insecurity in the region,” the report said.

The Pentagon documented 35 such interactions with the Iranians last year, up from to 23 in 2015, according to the Associated Press. This year, it has acknowledged at least five.

Last month, Iranian forces harassed a formation of three American ships – the amphibious assault ship Bataan, the guided-missile destroyer Cole and the dry cargo ship Washington Chambers – shining floodlights on them from a distance of 800 yards and pointing a laser at an airborne U.S. helicopter.

Twice in March, the USNS Invincible, which is outfitted with sonar and radar equipment, had close encounters. In one incident, an Iranian frigate moved within 150 yards. In the other, Revolutionary Guard fast boats cut in front of the U.S. ship, forcing it to rapidly change course to avoid a collision.

Such adversarial behavior between the two nations’ navies belies what has become a more complicated dynamic on the ground inside Iraq and Syria.

Speaking at a security forum last week in Colorado, the head of U.S. Special Operations Command, Army Gen. Raymond Thomas, described how American troops now come “coffee-breath close” to Iranian-backed forces also battling the Islamic State, according to CNN.

The general also noted that during one of his recent trips to Iraq, his plane was parked next to one belonging to Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s infamous Quds Force.

“We bump into them everywhere,” he said.

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Trump Ex-Campaign Manager Manafort Not Testifying Wednesday

Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner are at the center of probes about a meeting with a Russian lawyer.

Washington:  A Senate committee investigating Russian election interference withdrew Tuesday its subpoena compelling President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort to testify, saying he has begun cooperating.

Manafort and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner are at the center of probes about a closely scrutinized meeting they and other campaign officials had with a Russian lawyer last year.

Manafort had been served a subpoena to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, but plans changed and the subpoena was retracted when he agreed to meet with committee investigators behind closed doors, Politico reported.

The panel said Manafort had “committed to negotiating in good faith” a time when he would be interviewed by the committee. 

The former Trump aide had tried to avoid a hearing in favor of a private transcribed interview submitted to one of the multiple congressional investigations into the alleged Russian interference. 

“It’s important that he and other witnesses continue to work with this committee as it fulfills its oversight responsibility,” Republican committee chairman Chuck Grassley and ranking Democratic member Dianne Feinstein said in a joint statement.

“As we’ve said before, we intend to get the answers that we need, one way or the other. Cooperation from witnesses is always the preferred route, but this agreement does not prejudice the committee’s right to compel his testimony in the future.”

Manafort spoke to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, Politico reported.

During last year’s election campaign, Manafort attended a meeting in Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer who had promised the president’s son Donald Trump Jr compromising material on Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate running against Trump.

Kushner, who is now a top aide to the president, also attended the June 2016 meeting and was interviewed Monday by the Senate Intelligence Committee. 

In a statement read out after the hearing, Kushner insisted he had not colluded with Russia to tip the election in his father-in-law’s favor. 

Kushner appeared again Tuesday before the House Intelligence Committee, one of a slew of bodies investigating the Russian meddling claims.

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

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Cardinal George Pell To Face Australia Court On Historical Sex Charges

Cardinal George Pell is on a leave of absence from his Vatican role as Francis’ economy minister.

Melbourne:  Vatican treasurer Cardinal George Pell arrived at a court in his native Australia on Wednesday for his first appearance to face historical sex charges as the most senior Roman Catholic official to face such accusations.

Pell, 76, a top adviser to Pope Francis, was escorted into Melbourne Magistrates’ Court by police through a large crowd of media, protesters and supporters.

Australian police charged Pell last month with “historical sexual offences” from multiple complainants.

Pell has previously said he was looking forward to his day in court to fight charges he said are false.

Protesters shouted as Pell climbed the steps of the courthouse. He did not speak to waiting media.

Pell’s appearance in court was expected to be brief as prosecutors formally file the charges against him. Australian court rules do not require him to enter a formal plea. A full trial was expected at a later date.

Pell is on a leave of absence from his Vatican role as Francis’ economy minister, which he started in 2014.

In testimony to an Australian government-backed inquiry into child abuse last year, Pell said the Church had made “catastrophic” choices by refusing to believe abused children, shuffling abusive priests from parish to parish, and relying too heavily on the counsel of priests to solve the problem.

(Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Jane Wardell and Paul Tait)

© Thomson Reuters 2017

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US Senate Advances Health Care Bill, Tough Debate Looms

Washington:  Donald Trump’s drive to abolish Obamacare scraped through a key Senate vote Tuesday, with John McCain coming to the US president’s rescue in a dramatic return to Congress following cancer surgery.

The vote, which allows the Senate to begin debate on health care reform legislation, was a victory for Trump, who had spent weeks cajoling, strong-arming and warning Republicans to get on board with his effort to overhaul Obamacare.

In recent weeks, several measures have been proposed — but ultimately collapsed, revealing fissures within the Republican Party on how to reach a goal they have had since the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010.

With Republican leaders earning the chance to begin debate, the path forward was no clearer than before the vote, as a multitude of different plans was now being considered for the legislation.

Despite the step forward, several Republicans remain skeptical about how the effort to dismantle the Affordable Care Act might affect millions of Americans.

Trump was nevertheless thrilled.

“This was a big step,” he said shortly after the vote at a press conference in the White House Rose Garden, calling Obamacare a “disaster for the American people.”

McCain, who announced last week he is suffering from brain cancer, cast a critical vote for the measure, leaving senators evenly split and forcing Vice President Mike Pence to break the tie for a 51-50 final count. 

All 48 Democrats and independents voted against, along with Republicans Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski.

McCain received a standing ovation from his colleagues as he entered the chamber, having made the trip from his home state of Arizona, where he was convalescing.

While he called for greater bipartisan cooperation in Congress, McCain directly denounced the closed-door process that has marked the health care reform effort, saying it was wrong to try to force lawmakers to “swallow our doubts and force it past a unified opposition.”

“I don’t think that’s going to work in the end, and probably shouldn’t,” he said.

Senators will now launch into long hours of debate, with Republican conservatives and moderates divided over how to proceed.

The first votes on changes to the bill could come as early as Tuesday night, a Republican leadership aide said.  

‘First step’

One Republican plan under consideration would dismantle Obamacare but delay actual implementation of the repeal to allow time for a viable replacement to be crafted. It is expected to fail. 

Another plan that repeals and replaces Obamacare, but includes other elements and is likely to require a 60-vote threshold because of procedural rules, is also set to fail.

The question then becomes what can get over the finish line. Lawmakers have begun speaking about a “skinny” repeal that would dismantle only parts of the Affordable Care Act, but it is not yet clear whether the plan will gain traction this week.

“We can do better than Obamacare,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said. 

“Today’s vote to begin debate is the first step.”

Trump has repeatedly grilled fellow Republicans for not following through on their — and his — campaign pledge to repeal and replace Obamacare. 

On the Democratic side, senators urged cooperation — and restraint.

“I can’t believe this process and the hard and calculated rhetoric we see,” Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia said Tuesday.

“The Affordable Care Act is not a perfect piece of legislation. It needs repair. We both agree to that. Then we need to fix it.”

Secretive process

Forecasts by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office on various health reform bills have predicted that millions of Americans would lose health care if the measures become law. 

In the case of a bill that repeals Obamacare and provides no replacement, 32 million more people would be uninsured by 2026 as compared to current law, CBO forecast.

Some Republicans have expressed concern with how the legislation would impact Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor and the disabled. 

The latest repeal-and-replace bill would roll back an expansion of Medicaid and slash its federal funding. 

It would also end the mandate that most individuals have health insurance, and allow states to let insurance companies offer bare-bones plans not allowed under current law.

Democrats have blasted the secretive process, accusing Republican leaders of rushing a mammoth bill to the floor without sufficient discussion or debate.

Several outside health groups have criticized the various iterations of the repeal-and-replace effort. 

One of the most emphatic rejections came from a group of some 7,000 Catholic nuns, who wrote Senate leaders on Monday to say the bill “would be the most harmful legislation for American families in our lifetimes.”

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

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Pak Breaking Ties Between Terrorists And Facilitators: Army Chief General

Qamar Javed Bajwa said hostile agencies are using terrorism as a tool.

Islamabad:  Pakistan is making progress in breaking connection between terror masterminds, their facilitators and executors, Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa said today.

Mr Bajwa said hostile agencies are using terrorism as a tool, a day after a terror attack in Lahore killed 27 people. “Regional actors and hostile intelligence agencies are fully involved to use terror as policy tool,” Mr Bajwa was quoted as saying by Radio Pakistan.

Mr Bajwa also said that cowardly incidents of terrorism cannot lower national resolve to eliminate militancy from its roots in the country.

“We are making gains in breaking connectivity between terror masterminds, their facilitators and executors,” he said.

He added that the army fully supports and stands with police and other law enforcement agencies towards performance of their role as first responders.

He said concurrent blasts at Kabul and Lahore are testimony of both Pakistan and Afghanistan are victims of terrorism and will continue to suffer if these actors are able to use Afghan territory with impunity.

At least 26 people were killed and 41 wounded today after a Taliban-claimed car bomb struck a bus carrying government employees through a Shiite neighbourhood in Afghanistan.

He reiterated that Pakistan is ready to help Afghanistan to eliminate terrorist safe havens in their border areas.

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US House Approves New Russia Sanctions, Defying Donald Trump

Washington:  The US House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to slap new sanctions on Russia, and force President Donald Trump to obtain lawmakers’ permission before easing any sanctions on Moscow, in a rare rebuke of the Republican in the White House.

House members backed the measure, which also imposes sanctions on Iran and North Korea, by a near unanimous margin of 419-3, with strong support from Trump’s fellow Republicans as well as Democrats, despite objections from Trump, who wanted more control over the ability to impose sanctions.

The sanctions bill coincided with lawmakers taking steps to show they are willing to push hard as they investigate possible meddling by Russia in the 2016 presidential election and potential collusion by Republican Trump’s campaign.

Moscow has denied it worked to influence the election in the Republican candidate’s favor, and Trump has denied his campaign colluded.

House Speaker Paul Ryan called the bill “one of the most expansive sanctions packages in history.”

Ed Royce, Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the three countries threaten US interests, and said the North Korea restrictions were important given Pyongyang’s repeated missile tests.

House members added the North Korea sanctions package, which passed the House by 419-1 in May, to the Iran and Russia bill after becoming frustrated with the Senate’s failure to advance the measure.

The combined sanctions bill must pass the Senate before it can be sent to the White House for Trump to sign into law or veto. The latest version of the legislation has run into objections from some Senate members, who are unhappy that the House added new sanctions on North Korea after holding up the measure for more than a month.

Senate leaders have not said when they might consider the House bill, and said that, with the Senate mired in debate over efforts to overhaul the US healthcare system, they did not know whether it would come up before lawmakers leave Washington for their summer recess.

The White House said the president had not yet decided whether he would sign the measure if it reaches his desk. Rejecting the bill – which would potentially hamper his hopes of pursuing improved relations with Moscow – would carry a risk that his veto could be overridden by lawmakers.

Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he was not sure the bill would “fly through” the Senate.

“The only language we agreed to was Iran and Russia. So adding North Korea on, I just don’t know how we’re going to deal with it yet,” Corker told reporters. “The better route would have been to send over what had been agreed to.”

The bill has raised concerns in the European Union, where the legislation could result in fines for companies helping Russia build gas pipelines like the 9.5 billion euro ($11.1 billion) Nord Stream 2 project.


The intense focus on Russia, involving several congressional probes and a separate investigation by a Justice Department-appointed special counsel, has overshadowed Trump’s agenda.

The scrutiny has angered and frustrated the president, who calls the investigations a politically motivated witch hunt fueled by Democrats who cannot accept his upset win in last November’s election against Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton, a former US secretary of state.

Without offering evidence, Trump lashed out on Twitter on Tuesday about “Ukrainian efforts to sabotage” his presidential campaign in order to aid Clinton. The Ukrainian embassy in Washington denied the accusations.

The Senate Judiciary Committee said on Tuesday it wanted Paul Manafort, a former campaign manager for Trump, to appear at a hearing as part of its investigation.

Also on Tuesday, Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, spent three hours with the House of Representatives intelligence panel, his second straight day on Capitol Hill answering questions about his contacts with Russians during the campaign.

Kushner had a “very productive session” with the House Intelligence Committee, Democratic representative Adam Schiff after the meeting.

Republican representative Michael Conaway said Kushner was “straightforward and forthcoming. He wanted to answer every question that we had.”

Kushner, who is now a top aide in Trump’s White House, told reporters on Monday he had no part in any Kremlin plot..

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Amanda Becker; additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, Steve Holland, Susan Cornwell, Susan Heavey and Karen Friefeld; Writing by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Frances Kerry, James Dalgleish and Grant McCool)

© 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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America's Warrior-Senator John McCain Returns To Senate – For Now

John McCain announced last week he was suffering from brain cancer.

Washington:  The scar above John McCain’s eye and purplish bruise on his face stood as evidence that all was not normal in the US Senate. 

But the veteran Republican lawmaker, who announced last week he was suffering from brain cancer, nevertheless made a triumphant and emotional return Tuesday, showing glimpses of the fiery passion that has defined his long career.

In dramatic style, the maverick McCain made his colleagues wait for it.

The other 99 senators erupted in applause and cheers when the 80-year-old strode into the chamber half an hour into an extraordinarily tense showdown over health care reform, walked to the center well and cast the final vote.

It was the first time that most had seen McCain since the shock news that the Arizona senator — who stared down his torturers in a Vietnamese prison and rose to become the 2008 Republican presidential nominee a generation later — was now facing the fight of his life against an aggressive cancer.

He took advantage of the moment to deliver a stern message to his colleagues in the body that has lost many of its bipartisan traditions: shape up, and quick.

“We’ve been spinning our wheels on too many important issues because we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle,” McCain said, as most senators sat listening at their desks — a respect seldom afforded these days to a lawmaker addressing the body.

The latest deliberations are “more partisan, more tribal, more of the time than at any time than I can remember,” he said.

“I hope we can again rely on humility on our need to cooperate, on our dependence on each other, learn how to trust each other again, and by so doing better serve the people who elected us.”

– ‘I’m glad he’s back’ –

It was a stirring speech, and most senators rose to hug the warrior-senator afterwards.

“There’s no one in the Senate like John McCain,” Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat who was not yet born when McCain was shot down over Hanoi, told AFP.

“I’m glad he’s back, and I hope that it lifts his spirits to be back on the battlefield.”

If only the political battles he is facing could be less ideological.

McCain has been a reliably even-keeled voice in an increasingly partisan chamber, a lawmaker whose quick temper has never prevented him from working with Democrats to craft important bipartisan policy.

He entered the Senate in the mid-1980s, and while he brought his military hot temper to Washington, he appreciated the comity and compromise of the upper chamber. 

He described himself as conservative, though he has never been ruled by party orthodoxy.

But the US political tones shifted, culminating with the verbal jabs of one Donald Trump, who beat all expectations and became president. 

In 2015, Trump angered millions when he said McCain was not a war hero because he was captured.

But on Tuesday, the billionaire president changed his tune, thanking him on Twitter “for coming to D.C. for such a vital vote.”

McCain, who said he would spend “a few days” in Washington before returning to Arizona for more treatment, looked back with fondness on his Senate service Tuesday, calling it “the most important job I’ve had in my life.”

But he also implored colleagues — in his own coarse way — to use more civility and compromise.

“Stop listening to the bombastic loud mouths on the radio, television and internet,” McCain boomed. “To hell with them!” 

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'I'm Not A Fan' Of Bashar Al-Assad: Donald Trump

Donald Trump said “I am not somebody that will stand by and let him get away.”

Washington:  US President Donald Trump accused Syria’s leader Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday of committing “horrible” crimes against humanity, and vowed to prevent his regime from carrying out any more chemical attacks.

Speaking at a White House press conference with Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Trump also called the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah a threat to the entire Middle East.

“I’m not a fan of Assad. I certainly think that what he’s done to that country and to humanity is horrible,” Trump said.

Recalling that he had ordered cruise missile strikes on Assad for using chemical weapons, Trump said: “I am not somebody that will stand by and let him get away with what he tried to do.”

Trump also said he believed there might not be any Russian or Iranian involvement in Syria today had former president Barack Obama taken action against Assad.

Trump accused Hezbollah and Iran of fueling the humanitarian disaster in Syria.

“Hezbollah is a menace to the Lebanese state, the Lebanese people and the entire region,” he said.

“The group continues to increase its military arsenal which threatens to start yet another conflict with Israel,” Trump added. “With the support of Iran, the organization is also fueling humanitarian catastrophe in Syria.”

Hezbollah’s “true interests are those of itself and its sponsor, Iran,” he said.

Trump demurred when asked to comment on sanctions against Hezbollah.

“I’ll be making my position very clear over the next 24 hours,” he said. “I have meetings with some of my very expert military representatives and others, so I’ll be making that decision very shortly.”

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Vatican Switches Off Fountains As Italy Battles Drought

Ten regions across Italy called for state of emergency to be declared country suffers drought.

Rome, Italy:  The historic fountains in Saint Peter’s Square at the Vatican lay empty Tuesday after the tiny city state turned them off as Italy struggles with a prolonged draught.

The dry basins of the two fountains by 17th-century sculptors Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini were symbolic of a period of sweltering temperatures which have devastated farms and forced Rome to consider water rationing.

Ten regions across the country have called for a state of emergency to be declared after Italy suffered the second-driest spring in 60 years and rainfall in the first six months of the year was down 33 percent.

The dry spell has deprived Italy of 20 billion cubic metres of water so far this year — the equivalent of Lake Como.

And there is little hope for those anxiously watching the skies in the capital: the national meteorological service has predicted small showers in the coming days but not enough to relieve the pressure.

Some 300 of the city’s famous “big nose” public fountains — so called because of their shape — have already been turned off and more will follow.

The Lazio region is considering rationing water in Rome from Saturday for 1.5 million inhabitants for up to eight hours a day — though the proposal is being fiercely challenged by the city’s anti-establishment mayor.

The rationing threat follows the decision to stop withdrawing water from Lake Bracciano near Rome because it had dropped to such a low level that it risked sparking an environmental disaster.

Acea, the utility firm which runs Rome’s water system, has slammed the stop on using water from the lake as “unnecessary” and said the move left it no choice but to cut off supplies to residents.

‘Rome water network leaking’

Farmers from the southern island of Sicily to the country’s northern plains are also raising the alarm.

The Po river, on which 35 percent of the nation’s agricultural production depends, lies 50 centimetres (20 inches) lower than the same period last year, according to Coldiretti, Italy’s agricultural union.

The union estimated that losses suffered by farmers and live-stock owners would exceed two billion euros ($2.3 billion), with production of crops from cereals to olives and tomatoes hit in two-thirds of the country.

Geologist Mario Tozzi told AFP that fountains were not the problem, the real issue was wasted water.

“The water network in Rome is leaking, almost 40 litres out of 100 are lost,” he said, adding that the cost of repairing damaged pipelines across Italy was estimated at about 60 billion euros.

He also pointed the finger at the low price of water: “Farmers pay so little that they don’t bother to put in place a system that would allow them to save water, it makes more sense for them to waste it,” he said.

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Hezbollah A 'Menace' To Entire Middle East: Donald Trump

Donald Trump said Hezbollah is a menace to Lebanese state, Lebanese people and the entire region.

Washington:  US President Donald Trump called the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah a threat to the entire Middle East on Tuesday, accusing it and Iran of fueling a humanitarian disaster in Syria.

“Hezbollah is a menace to the Lebanese state, the Lebanese people and the entire region,” Trump said at a joint press conference alongside Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri at the White House.

“The group continues to increase its military arsenal which threatens to start yet another conflict with Israel… With the support of Iran, the organization is also fueling humanitarian catastrophe in Syria.”

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Swiss Police Arrest Man Wanted For Chainsaw Attack

Swiss police had issued an international warrant for his arrest (Representational)

Schaffhausen, Switzerland:  Swiss police on Tuesday tracked down and arrested a man believed to have carried out a chainsaw attack in an office building which left several injured, local media said.  

The ATS news agency said the man, identified as Franz Wrousis, 51, was detained late Tuesday in Thalwil, a town south of Zurich. 

Wrousis, who has a criminal history and had reportedly been living in a forest, is alleged to have targeted the CSS insurance company on Monday in the northern town of Schaffhausen, storming into their office and injuring two people, one of them seriously.  

Three other people suffered various injuries amid the subsequent fracas, public broadcaster RTS reported.  

Wrousis was caught on camera after the rampage carrying a black bag and rucksack, local media said.  

Swiss police had issued an international warrant for his arrest. 

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New UAE Documentary Claims Qatar Complicit In September 11 Attacks

The documentary comes amid an ongoing diplomatic crisis in the Gulf (File Photo)

Deported camels. Rerouted planes. Just when you thought the Gulf crisis couldn’t get any more absurd, a media outlet linked to the Abu Dhabi ruling family has announced the release of a documentary claiming that Qatar was behind the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Sky News Arabia, owned in part by Emirati scion Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, will release the documentary, called “Qatar… The Road to Manhattan,” on Wednesday. It focuses on Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad’s visit to Qatar in 1996 as well as “Qatar’s long-term support for him, including protection and financial assistance, to achieve his terrorist goals and plans,” according to a report by Gulf News.

The documentary comes amid an ongoing diplomatic crisis in the Gulf. In early June, long-simmering tension spilled over into open hostility when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and other countries broke ties with Qatar over what they claimed was its financing of terrorism. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt have imposed a blockade until Doha accedes to their demands, isolating the tiny Gulf peninsula and strangling its economy.

Qatar lobbed the same accusation at the UAE back in June. “Emiratis, not Qataris, were among the hijackers who flew planes into the Twin Towers,” wrote Qatari Ambassador to the United States Sheikh Meshal bin Hamad Al Thani in a June 18 Wall Street Journal opinion piece. “The UAE was singled out in the 9/11 Commission’s report for its role in laundering money to terrorists.”

Reports that a high-ranking Qatari minister shielded Khalid Sheikh Mohammad from the CIA in 1996 are certainly known, but they are hardly new.

While none of the hijackers were Qatari nationals, two of them were from the UAE, and 15 out of 19 were Saudi. Osama bin Laden was born and raised in Saudi Arabia, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, currently held in Guantanamo, is Pakistani.

In response to the blockade, Qatar has launched an international public relations blitz in an attempt to win support against the three far larger countries, including lobbying in Washington, to play up the human rights violations the blockade has caused. Saudi Arabia has launched its own campaign, hiring top Washington lobbyists.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson traveled to the region in July, shuttling between capitals in an attempt to smooth the relationship between two of the United State’s most important regional allies. On July 10, he signed a memorandum with the Qatari government agreeing to work towards combatting terrorism financing.

An annual report released last week by the State Department indicated that Qatar cooperated with international efforts to combat terrorism and terrorism financing and that it had made strides in shutting down the informal financial system within its borders that had previously channeled some illicit funding into the wrong hands.

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US Detects Signs Of New North Korea Missile Test

In all, six sets of UN sanctions have been imposed on North Korea since 2006 (File Photo)

Washington:  The Pentagon has picked up signs that North Korea is prepping for another missile test, a US defense official said Tuesday, as the United States cited progress in pushing China to impose tough new UN sanctions.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official told AFP that if the test goes ahead, it would “probably” occur on July 27, which is the 64th anniversary of the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement.

The date is a public holiday in the nuclear-armed North and celebrated as Victory Day.

The official said the test would be of either an intermediate-range missile or North Korea’s ICBM — known as a KN-20 or a Hwasong-14.

That would be the second time Pyongyang has tested an ICBM, after its July 4 rocket launch that caused global alarm.

Experts assessed it could have put Alaska in range, bringing Pyongyang’s long-held dream of a missile that can deliver an atomic warhead to the United States within reach, and presenting President Donald Trump with a stark challenge.

South Korea’s news agency Yonhap quoted a government source as saying Seoul had seen North Korea moving transporter erector launchers carrying ICBM launch tubes in North Pyongan province.

“They’re setting up for something,” a second US defense official told AFP.

‘Pretty serious sanctions’

After North Korea’s July 4 test, the United States launched a push at the United Nations for tougher measures against Pyongyang.

US Ambassador Nikki Haley on Tuesday cited progress in talks with China on imposing what she termed as “pretty serious” new UN sanctions.

The United States has been locked in negotiations with China for nearly three weeks on a new raft of measures, and Haley said China was negotiating with Russia separately on possible tougher sanctions.  

“I think we are making progress,” Haley said. 

“It’s not as fast as I would like but these are pretty serious sanctions and so I think that there is a lot of thought going into this.”

Haley told the UN Security Council after the test that she hoped to present new measures in a few days, such as cutting off oil supplies, banning North Korean guest workers or imposing new air and maritime restrictions on North Korea.

In all, six sets of UN sanctions have been imposed on North Korea since it first tested an atomic device in 2006, but two resolutions adopted last year significantly toughened the sanctions regime.

Haley said the true test will be Russia’s role. Moscow maintains the July 4 launch was not an ICBM, citing its defense ministry’s assessment.

Moscow has also argued that sanctions are not the answer to rein in North Korea, and that talks, as advocated by Beijing, were needed.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, who personally oversaw the July 4 launch, described it as a gift to the “American bastards.”

‘Close surveillance’

CNN cited a US defense official saying transporter vehicles carrying launching equipment were seen arriving at Kusong in North Pyongan last Friday.

Kusong has been the scene of past tests, including in May when an intermediate-range ballistic missile traveled more than 700 kilometers (435 miles).

The North last week refused to respond to the South’s offer to open dialogue to ease tension. 

“We’re keeping close surveillance on the North for possible provocative acts,” a South Korean defense ministry spokesman told AFP.

Yonhap also quoted a different Seoul government source as saying that an 1,800-ton North Korean submarine in the Sea of Japan (East Sea) may be collecting data to prepare for a ballistic missile test-launch from the North’s largest submarine.

The North last August successfully test-fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile.

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Donald Trump Attacks US Attorney General As Weak On Clinton Emails

Donald Trump attacked Jeff Sessions calling him “VERY weak” in pursuing intelligence leaks.

Washington, United States:  US President Donald Trump attacked Attorney General Jeff Sessions again on Tuesday, calling him “VERY weak” in pursuing intelligence leaks and failure to go after former Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton over her emails.

Trump’s latest Twitter salvo followed a report in the Washington Post that the president and his advisers have discussed replacing Sessions, once one of his closest allies.

“Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes (where are E-mails &DNC server) & Intel leakers!” Trump tweeted.

Trump has openly criticized Sessions for recusing himself from overseeing a federal probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian to meddle in the 2016 US presidential elections.

Sessions has said he has no plans to resign.

With pressure mounting from the investigation led by former FBI director Robert Mueller, Trump has sought to revive a campaign year controversy over Clinton’s use of a private server to send email while secretary of state.

During the campaign, former FBI director James Comey, whom Trump later fired over the Russia probe, had declined to recommend Clinton be prosecuted over her handling of classified material on her email server.

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Turkish President Urges All Muslims To 'Visit' And 'Protect' Jerusalem

Trukish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also denounced attacks on synagogues in Turkey.

Ankara, Turkey:  Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday urged all Muslims to visit and protect Jerusalem after violence broke out over metal detectors that Israel installed and later removed from a sensitive holy site in the city.

“From here I make a call to all Muslims. Anyone who has the opportunity should visit Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa mosque,” Erdogan said in Ankara. “Come, let’s all protect Jerusalem.”

He was referring to the site, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, which is central to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel installed metal detectors at entrances to the site, which also includes the Dome of the Rock, following an attack on July 14 that killed two Israeli police officers.

Palestinians viewed the security measures as Israel asserting further control over the site and deadly clashes erupted during protests.

“They are attempting to take the mosque from Muslim hands on the pretext of fighting terrorism. There is no other explanation,” Erdogan said in a speech to ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lawmakers in parliament.

He said Israel’s legitimacy rested on the extent of the respect it showed to Palestinians and their rights.

Erdogan also denounced attacks on synagogues in Turkey, referring to reports that an ultra-nationalist group threw stones at a synagogue in Istanbul last week.

“It does not make sense to attack synagogues here because something has happened at Al-Aqsa mosque. This does not suit our religion and it is not allowed,” he said.

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US House Set To Vote To Sanction Russia, Iran, North Korea

Washington:  The US House of Representatives will vote Tuesday to slap new sanctions against Russia, a move that limits President Donald Trump’s ability to tinker with the penalties and has also triggered uproar in Moscow and Europe.

The legislation is the result of a congressional compromise reached at the weekend and is aimed at punishing the Kremlin for meddling in the 2016 US presidential election and Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

But it could end up penalizing European firms that contribute to the development of Russia’s energy sector.

New sanctions against Iran and its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which stands accused of supporting terrorism, and North Korea, for its missile tests, are also included in the bill.

The vote is expected around 5:00 pm (2100 GMT).

“The House will vote on bipartisan legislation to hold Russia, Iran and North Korea accountable for their aggression,” said congressman Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Key among the provisions is one that handcuffs the US president by making it difficult for him to unilaterally ease penalties against Moscow in the future — effectively placing him under Congress’s watch.

Initially, Trump resisted the legislation. But faced with near-total consensus among Republican and Democratic lawmakers, the White House blinked, but did not say directly that the billionaire president would sign it into law.

“He’s going to study that legislation and see what the final product looks like,” spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters Monday on Air Force One.

Veto likely not effective

In mid-June, the Senate voted 98-2 in favor of tough sanctions on Moscow and Tehran, but the text stalled in the House.

Now that an agreement has been reached, the House vote could be similarly overwhelming.

The measure would then return to the Senate for final passage, likely before summer break begins in mid-August.

US lawmakers, including Republican leaders, have remained wary of the intentions of the billionaire businessman-turned-president — who has called for better relations with Moscow — regarding a relaxation of pressure on Putin.

But even if Trump were to veto the legislation, Congress would likely be able to overcome such a blockage with a two-thirds majority in each chamber.

Russia says sanctions ‘counterproductive’

The Kremlin warned that fresh sanctions on Russia would adversely affect both sides.

“We consider such a continuation of the rhetoric of sanctions counter-productive and harmful to the interests of both countries,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday.

From Paris to Berlin, the sanctions bill was seen as a unilateral action by Washington that disrupts a carefully crafted order.

To date, sanctions against Moscow have been coordinated on both sides of the Atlantic, to maintain a united front.

“For us, G7 unity regarding sanctions is of key importance,” European Commission spokesperson Margaritis Schinas said.

European Union member states were due to meet Wednesday and discuss the issue — and a possible response.

Several European nations including Germany are livid because the new law would allow the punishment of companies working on pipelines from Russia, for example by limiting their access to US banks.

The provision could theoretically pave the way for sanctions against the European partners in Nord Stream 2, a project to build a pipeline carrying Russian gas across the Baltic which could boost supplies to Germany from 2019.

Such partners include France’s Engie, Germany’s Uniper and Wintershall, Austrian firm OMV and the Anglo-Dutch Shell.

To date, Washington and Brussels had agreed that sanctions would not affect Europe’s gas supply.

In an apparent concession, the House slightly modified a provision so that the bill only targets pipelines originating in Russia, sparing those which merely pass through that nation, such as the Caspian pipeline which carries oil from Kazakhstan to Europe.

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'We Don't Care' About US Travel Ban: North Korea Official

Pyongyang, North Korea:  Washington’s ban on US citizens travelling to North Korea will have no effect on the country’s tourism industry and Pyongyang does not care about it “at all”, a senior development official insisted Tuesday.

The measure is due to be enacted this week and once it goes into force US passports will no longer be valid for travel to the isolated country, which is subject to multiple sets of United Nations sanctions over its nuclear and missile programmes.

Around 5,000 Western tourists visit the North each year, tour companies say, with Americans numbering about 20 percent of them. Standard one-week trips cost about $2,000.

But Han Chol-Su, vice-director of the Wonsan Zone Development Corporation, denied that the loss of business would have any impact.

“If the US government says Americans cannot come to this country, we don’t care a bit,” he told AFPin Pyongyang.

Washington announced the move after the death of Otto Warmbier, the University of Virginia student who was sentenced to 15 years’ hard labour in the North for trying to steal a propaganda poster.

Warmbier was sent home in a mysterious coma last month — Pyongyang said he had contracted botulism — and died soon afterwards, prompting US President Donald Trump to denounce the “brutal regime”.

The State Department has long warned its citizens against travelling to North Korea, telling them they are “at serious risk of arrest and long-term detention under North Korea’s system of law enforcement”, which “imposes unduly harsh sentences for actions that would not be considered crimes in the United States”.

Han’s organisation is trying to promote the Wonsan-Mount Kumgang International Tourist Zone, a grandiose vision of a tourism hub on the east coast.

He said Washington’s move was politically motivated. “The US has been continuing with sanctions against us but we don’t care at all,” he said.

Pyongyang officials consistently say that sanctions against their country have no effect on it.

But according to tour companies business has already been hit hard by recent developments, including tensions over the North’s weapons programmes, with Trump administration officials warning that military action was an option on the table.

“Certainly, of all the dramas that have gone on lately, the Warmbier issue is the biggest one for tourism,” said Simon Cockerell, general manager of market leader Koryo Tours which has seen bookings fall 50 percent. “It’s depressed the market quite considerably.”

The US decision, he said, would hit North Koreans working in the tourist sector, and wipe out “any possibility of a humanising human element between those two sides who demonise each other so much”.

Matt Kulesza, of Young Pioneer Tours — the company which brought Warmbier to the country — said the ban’s effect on the North would be “absolutely nothing”.

But Americans, he added, would lose “the freedom to travel to DPRK (North Korea) and experience the DPRK for themselves”.

Gleaming towers

A promotional video for Han’s project takes in beach resorts, the Masikryong skiing centre, and Mount Kumgang, renowned throughout the peninsula for its beauty.

It shows the port of Wonsan transformed into a mass of gleaming towers, shopping, entertainment and trade districts, served by multiple transport links including a dual carriageway with four lanes in each direction — a far cry from the bumpy potholed road with unlit tunnels that currently links it to Pyongyang.

Air routes from China, Russia and Japan are also displayed, but no regular international flights have so far been scheduled to Wonsan’s newly-built airport.

In 2015, said Han’s colleague Ri Kyong-Chol, there had been negotiations to start direct flights to Beijing and Shanghai. But “since then, because of political circumstances, the participants of the other side balked”.

The vast majority of foreign tourists to North Korea are Chinese.

Han was unable to put a cost on the scheme. Foreign investment would be welcome, but so far none had been forthcoming due to US sanctions, he said.

Hundreds of thousands of South Koreans used to visit Mount Kumgang every year, travelling to a Seoul-funded tourist resort that was the first major inter-Korean cooperation project.

But that came to an abrupt end in 2008 when a North Korean soldier shot dead a South Korean tourist who strayed off the approved path and Seoul suspended the trips.

New South Korean president Moon Jae-In favours engagement with the North to bring it to the negotiating table as well as sanctions.

In a five-year plan unveiled last week, his government said it would move to resume tours to Mount Kumgang and re-open the shuttered Kaesong Joint Industrial Zone, where South Korean firms employed tens of thousands of North Korean workers, “when conditions are ripe”.

But the North’s tourism development plan did not factor in visitors from the other side of the divided peninsula, Han said.

“We don’t need to think of them,” he said. “North and South should cooperate among themselves but because of US sanctions, this is not being done. Southern authorities have no intention to do so either.”

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Man Shouting 'Allahu Akbar' In Spain Knife Attack

A grab from video shows Spanish Police apprehending a man armed with a knife.

Madrid, Spain:  A knife-wielding man shouting “Allahu Akbar” entered the border post between Morocco and the Spanish territory of Melilla on Tuesday, threatening police who wrestled him to the ground.

The man is in custody, Spanish Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido tweeted, without indicating whether the incident was an attempted terror attack.

Zoido posted security camera footage of the drama — which took place on Spanish soil — showing the man in a blue top walking slowly through the border post holding a knife, police closing in on him.

One of the officers hurled a portable road barricade at him, throwing him to the ground as other agents pounced to remove the knife.

“A man entered the border post and once inside, pulled out a large knife and confronted (police) shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is Greater), slightly injuring a policeman,” Irene Flores, spokeswoman for the central government’s representative office in Melilla, told AFP.

Flores said an initial investigation indicated the man was Moroccan, but this has yet to be confirmed.

A police spokesman had earlier said the man ran into the border post, but that is not visible on the footage.

Restive border

Melilla and its sister Spanish city Ceuta, both Spanish territories on Morocco’s northern coast, are the only two land borders between Africa and the European Union.

Many Moroccans live there or go there daily to buy tax-free products.

They are also a strong draw for migrants desperate to reach Europe, many of them from sub-Saharan Africa.

These regularly storm the border fences or try and smuggle themselves in.

The Melilla border has been hit by three car-ramming incidents this year, with people driving vehicles with migrants hidden inside into the border post at high speed.

But this is believed to be the first incident of this type.

Spain has so far been spared the kind of extremist violence that has occurred in nearby France, Belgium and Germany.

But it was hit by what is still Europe’s deadliest jihadist attack in March 2004, when bombs exploded on commuter trains in Madrid, killing 191 people in an attack claimed by Al Qaeda-inspired extremists.

Since 2016, Spain has emerged as a potential target for jihadists, with extremist websites mentioning it for historical reasons, since much of its territory was once under Muslim rule.

Third tourism destination

Generally, authorities in Spain — the world’s third largest tourism destination — remain discreet on the terror threat.

But they publicise every arrest of alleged jihadists, most of them detained for propaganda, recruitment for extremist groups or “glorifying terrorism.”

According to the interior ministry, more than 180 “jihadist terrorists” have been arrested since June 2015 when Spain raised the terror alert level to four out of a maximum of five, in domestic and foreign operations.

In Ceuta and Melilla, where poverty and unemployment are rife, such arrests are frequent.

The last in Melilla dates back to June 23 when a man suspected of having tried to recruit fighters for the ISIS group (IS) was detained.

“Radicalisation in Spain isn’t uniform over all the national territory but appears to be concentrated around clusters or pockets of radicalisation,” said Clara Garcia Calvo from the Real Instituto Elcano think tank, who researches global extremism.

She told AFP that these “clusters” were in Madrid, Barcelona, Ceuta and Melilla.

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Court Battle Over UK Baby Raises Ethical Conundrum

Charlie Gard’s parents Connie Yates and Chris Gard in London.

London, United Kingdom:  A five-month legal battle over the fate of a terminally-ill British baby that drew the attention of Pope Francis and US President Donald Trump has also stoked an often angry debate about medical ethics and the courts.

Charlie Gard’s parents waged a high-profile campaign with the help of social media and Britain’s tabloids for him to receive experimental treatment in the United States, striking a chord worldwide.

They are now spending the last few days with their 11-month-old son before life support is withdrawn at a hospital in London after acknowledging in court on Monday that therapy could no longer help him.

“No-one wanted this outcome. No-one believes this outcome was in Charlie’s best interests,” said Julian Savulescu, director of the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford.

“There has got to be a better way.”

Charlie was born on August 4 last year with a rare form of mitochondrial disease that causes progressive muscle weakness in the heart and other key organs and is only able to survive with life support.

His parents raised money to take their baby to the United States through crowdfunding but were prevented from doing so by the hospital and first went to court in March to try and overturn that decision.

Their appeals went all the way to the Supreme Court but were turned down at all stages of the judicial process and judges at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg refused to intervene.

Who should decide?

Charlie was due to be taken off life support before the Vatican intervened on July 2 with a statement in which Pope Francis expressed his support for the parents and said he hoped doctors would allow them to “care for their child until the end”.

Trump offered his support the following day, saying in a tweet that he would be “delighted” to help.

A Vatican-run hospital in Rome and a US hospital then offered to treat Charlie and London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital went to court to seek a ruling on whether to allow him to undergo experimental therapy.

There have also been small protests by supporters of Charlie’s parents — a group calling itself “Charlie’s Army” — outside Buckingham Palace and Downing Street calling for the hospital to listen to the parents.

Savulescu said social media had given greater power to parents to make their case heard.

“The question of who should decide is legitimate. Some people have wrongly concluded that these decisions should only be up to parents.

“But at the same time it is right that doctors, scientific experts and the courts should not be considered almighty, beyond question or account.”

He said doctors should only activate legal mechanisms if “there is disagreement between the parents, or they are going to an unsafe place or they are very confident the parents’ choice is unreasonable”.

“The problem is not who has the power, it is how it is used and the need for robust, and humble, ethical deliberation,” he added.

Charlie’s case is far from the only medical ethics case to end up in court in Britain and elsewhere.

In France, the case of a man who was left severely brain damaged and quadriplegic as a result of a 2008 road accident has been in the courts since 2014.

Family members of Vincent Lambert are divided on whether to withdraw life support.

Role for mediation

Dominic Wilkinson, a consultant neonatologist and professor of medical ethics at Oxford University said court reviews in cases like Charlie Gard’s was “not ideal”.

“It is adversarial, costly and lengthy,” he said.

“We need to find better ways to avoid cases of disagreement from coming to court. There is an important role for mediation to help parents and doctors where they have reached an impasse.”

But Ian Kennedy, emeritus professor at University College London said the courts must be respected.

“Parents cannot always be the ultimate arbiters of their children’s interests,” he wrote in The Guardian.

“We are not in the realm of there being a right answer. We are in the realm of judgment, reasoned judgment, and we look to the courts to provide this.”

Kennedy warned that campaigns against the courts were “increasingly a feature of modern discourse”.

“It is one thing to comment on or criticise a particular decision. It is a very different thing to attack the institution of the courts.”

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US Navy Ship Fires Warning Shots At Iranian Vessel: Official

The Thunderbolt was being accompanied by several US Coast Guard vessels.

WASHINGTON:  A US Navy ship fired warning shots toward an Iranian vessel near the northern Arabian Gulf on Tuesday after the vessel came within 150 yards (137 meters), a US official told Reuters.

The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the USS Thunderbolt fired the warning shots after the Iranian vessel ignored radio calls and the ship’s whistle. The Thunderbolt was being accompanied by several US Coast Guard vessels.

The Iranian vessel appeared to be from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the official added.

Years of mutual animosity had eased when Washington lifted sanctions on Tehran last year as part of a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But serious differences remain over Iran’s ballistic missile program and conflicts in Syria and Iraq.

US President Donald Trump’s administration recently declared that Iran was complying with its nuclear agreement with world powers, but warned that Tehran was not following the spirit of the accord and that Washington would look for ways to strengthen it.

During the presidential campaign last September, Trump vowed that any Iranian vessels that harasses the US Navy in the Gulf would be “shot out of the water.”

Similar incidents happen occasionally, the last in January when a US Navy destroyer fired three warning shots at four Iranian fast-attack vessels near the Strait of Hormuz after they closed in at high speed and disregarded repeated requests to slow down.

© Thomson Reuters 2017

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Woman Tries To Kill Bug With Lighter, Ends Up Setting Apartment On Fire

A woman in Topeka, Kansas, tried to kill a bug with a cigarette lighter. She wound up setting her apartment on fire, forcing an evacuation of the building and causing extensive damage.

Topeka Fire Marshal Mike Martin confirmed that the blaze, which caused $140,000 in damages and the displacement of 17 people, resulted from an “occupant trying to kill a bug with a lighter.”

Monique Quarles told the Topeka Capital-Journal that shortly before 3:45 Monday morning, her daughter Ausha Scott and 2-year-old granddaughter were on the third floor of their Fairlawn Green apartment complex.

In a video interview with the Capital-Journal, Quarles said her daughter alerted her to the bug. “I found the bug, picked the bug up and I put it in my hand and lit it on fire,” Quarles said.

She then decided to pick up her mattress to see if there were any more bugs. Quarles and her daughter saw a medium sized bug. Again Quarles tried to set it on fire.

But her flip-style lighter “started sparking” and the box spring ended up in flames.

At first, they tried to put out the fire themselves.

But as it spread, “I said, ‘Get out, get the baby, call 911.’ And that’s what we did,” Quarles said describing the scene. The mother and daughter said they started knocking on doors to alert their neighbors to get out.

It’s unclear why Quarles chose to kill the bug with a lighter instead of, say, a shoe.

Topeka Fire Department Battalion Chief Chris Herrera said two fire crews responded to the scene with “30-something” firefighters arriving in total.

Herrera said one resident was transported to the hospital for minor smoke inhalation. Later, a firefighter went to a local hospital after experiencing heat exhaustion.

He also said two or three cats were rescued and some had to receive oxygen.

Fire officials said 13 adults and four children have been displaced because of the fire. The Red Cross was on the scene to help residents.

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

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Ajit Doval Is 'Main Schemer': Chinese State-Run Media Lashes Out At Trip

Ajit Doval to visit China this week amid border dispute at Sikkim.

New Delhi/Beijing: 
Two days before National Security Adviser Ajit Doval lands in China, a nationalist state-run tabloid has said “the main schemer’s trip” will not persuade Beijing into talks on the border dispute at Sikkim unless Delhi commits to pulling back its soldiers.

Mr Doval is scheduled to visit China on Thursday and Friday for a meeting of top security officers from the countries that comprise BRICS -Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

The Global Times editorial is titled “Doval visit won’t sway China over border standoff”. It said, “As Doval is believed to be one of the main schemers behind the current border standoff between Chinese and Indian troops, the Indian media is pinning high hopes on the trip to settle the ongoing dispute.”

Both India and China have not ruled out a bilateral meeting between Mr Doval and his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi.

“New Delhi should give up its illusions, and Doval’s Beijing visit is most certainly not an opportunity to settle the standoff in accordance with India’s will,” said The Global Times.

The dispute at the Sikkim border began on June 16 after the Chinese army tried to build a road near the tri-junction of Bhutan, China and India.

Indian soldiers stopped the construction of the road. China says it has every right to build a road in the region it refers to as Donglang. India and Bhutan say the land belongs to Bhutan, which calls it Doklam.

About 300 soldiers from China and India have been standing 150-metres apart in a confrontation that has lasted well over a month with Beijing making a raft of aggressive statements including references to war.

Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj said last week that both armies should pull back to allow talks for a compromise.

Another Chinese paper took a gentler tenor today. “There are still hopes that the deadlock can be resolved peacefully, which serves both countries’ best interests,” the China Daily said.

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Dassault Systemes In 'Biggest Ever Contract' With Boeing

Boeing will expand the deployment of products developed by Dassault Systemes

Paris, France:  French industrial software company Dassault Systemes announced Tuesday it has reached a deal with US aerospace giant to modernise its production system, in what it said was its biggest ever contract.

“Boeing will expand the deployment of products developed by Dassault Systemes,” the company said in a statement, confirming information published by French newspaper Le Figaro.

The paper, which like Dassault Systemes is part of the Dassault Group, said “Boeing has signed a 30-year contract worth a billion dollars, renewable every 10 years”.

Contacted by AFP, Dassault Systemes declined to confirm the value of the deal, but said it is “the biggest in its history.”

Dassault Systemes also said Tuesday its second quarter net profit was up 21.4 percent at 123 million euros ($143 million), and lowered some of its objectives to take into account the rise in the value of euro.

The partnership with Boeing will focus on the use of its 3D EXPERIENCE software “to design future products, to modernise the entire production system and to deploy new services”, Le Figaro said.

It will hasten the digital switchover of Boeing’s production system and to give it “a competitive advantage in the commercial field, by reducing excessive delivery times”, Le Figaro said.

Boeing and its European rival Airbus have years of backlogs of orders for the most popular models of their commercial aircraft, and they get paid only when they deliver planes to their clients.

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

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Michael Kors To Buy Luxury Shoemaker Jimmy Choo For $1.2 Billion

A store of shoe designer Jimmy Choo in Switzerland (Reuters)

London:  U.S. retailer Michael Kors has agreed to buy luxury shoemaker Jimmy Choo for $1.2 billion, snapping up a British company whose towering stilettos have been made famous by celebrity customers from Princess Diana to Kendall Jenner.The move comes two months after rival handbag maker Coach struck a deal to buy quirky fashion brand Kate Spade & Co, as so-called affordable luxury companies look to go into new markets to try to boost flagging sales.

“Jimmy Choo is an iconic premier luxury brand that offers distinctive footwear, handbags and other accessories,” said Michael Kors, honorary chairman and chief creative officer.

“We admire the glamorous style and trend-setting nature of Jimmy Choo designs.”

Founded by bespoke shoemaker Jimmy Choo in the east end of London in the 1990s, Jimmy Choo Plc listed at 140 pence in 2014 and will sell out at 230 pence.

Its strong performance stands in contrast to Michael Kors which has lost 65 percent of its market value since 2014 due to fierce competition at the more affordable end of the luxury market and a drop in customers at department stores.

Michael Kors, which has tried to fight back by expanding into dresses and menswear and its online business, said in May that sales at stores established for more than a year fell 14 percent in its fiscal fourth quarter.

Under the terms of the deal, it will pay a premium of 36.5 percent to buy Jimmy Choo compared with the British firm’s share price before it was put up for sale.

At 1015 GMT, Jimmy Choo shares were up 17 percent at 228.25 pence. The company makes three quarters of its revenue from selling shoes and has a presence across the world, including around 150 company-operated retail stores.

Multi-brand strategy

Berenberg analyst Zuzanna Pusz said the deal followed in the footsteps of Coach’s recent acquisition and showed U.S. accessible luxury companies were pursuing the multi-brand strategy found in Europe, where cash flows from one large brand are reinvested into smaller but faster growing ones.

michael kors reuters 650

A Michael Kors retail store in La Jolla, California (Reuters)

Pusz said it was probably a sensible move in the long term, with competition unlikely to wane anytime soon.

“Multiple companies such as Jimmy Choo, Prada, Ferragamo, and Cucinelli have gone public over the past couple of years with the intention of financing their retail expansion plans, thus accelerating their investments and giving the luxury consumer globally more choice of brands anywhere they go.”

Jimmy Choo put itself up for sale in April after its majority-owner JAB, the investment vehicle of Germany’s billionaire Reimann family, signalled its intention to focus on consumer goods instead. JAB is also considering a sale of Bally International, the Swiss luxury shoes and accessories company.

The deal is the latest in a string of foreign takeovers of UK companies, as buyers abroad take advantage of a drop in the value of sterling since Britain voted to leave the European Union in June 2016.

Michael Kors, which said it had JAB’s backing for the deal, pledged to use its own infrastructure to help Jimmy Choo grow further via store openings and online.

Jimmy Choo will continue to be led by the same management team, including Creative Director Sandra Choi who joined the company at its inception.

Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan acted for Michael Kors on the deal, while Merrill Lynch, Citigroup, Liberum and RBC Europe acted for Jimmy Choo.

(Additional reporting by Helen Reid; Editing by Costas Pitas and Mark Potter)

© Thomson Reuters 2017

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

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China Urges US To Stop 'Unfriendly' Recon Flights

Chinese fighter jets intercepted a US Navy surveillance plane over the East China Sea (Representational)

Beijing, China:  China on Tuesday called on the United States to stop “unfriendly” and “dangerous” military flights after two Chinese fighter jets intercepted an American surveillance plane over the East China Sea.

The US Navy EP-3 reconnaissance aircraft took evasive action Sunday after a Chinese J-10 warplane zoomed underneath it, slowed down and pulled up in front of it, the Pentagon said earlier.

China’s defence ministry said the action of its pilots was “legal, necessary and professional”. “The US military aircraft coming near China’s border and carrying out reconnaissance has threatened China’s national security, damaged Sino-US military air and sea safety, endangered the personal safety of both pilots,” it said in a statement.

“The US side should immediately stop such unsafe, unprofessional and unfriendly dangerous military activities and take practical measures to add positive energy to the development of Sino-US military relations.”

Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis said the incident, which occurred west of the Korean peninsula, was an “uncharacteristic” example of unsafe behaviour by the Chinese military.

“There are intercepts that occur in international air space regularly, and the vast majority of them are conducted in a safe manner,” he said.

The US accused China of conducting unsafe intercepts twice in May, when similar encounters occurred between a WC-135 “nuclear sniffer” plane and Chinese SU-30 fighters over the East China Sea and later in the month between a US Navy P-3 and Chinese J-10s over the South China Sea.

In April 2001 a Chinese fighter jet collided with a US Navy EP-3 spy plane around 110 kilometres (70 miles) off Hainan Island over the South China Sea.

One Chinese pilot died and the US plane made an emergency landing on Hainan, where China held the 24-member crew for more than a week until Beijing and Washington cut a deal for their release.

The East China Sea is part of the Pacific and home to small islands whose ownership is disputed by China, Japan and Taiwan.

China also claims a string of islets across the South China Sea and its military expansion in the contested waterway has sparked heightened tensions with regional neighbours and the United States.

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India Scores, Sri Lanka Says China Cannot Use Its Port For Military Ships

A Chinese submarine had docked at a port in Sri Lanka in 2014 (File)

Sri Lanka’s cabinet cleared a revised agreement for its Chinese-built southern port of Hambantota on Tuesday, the government said, after terms of the first pact sparked widespread public anger in the island nation.The port, close to the world’s busiest shipping lanes, has been mired in controversy ever since state-run China Merchants Port Holdings, which built it for $1.5 billion, signed an agreement taking an 80 percent stake.

Under the new deal, which Reuters has examined, the Sri Lankan government has sought to limit China’s role to running commercial operations at the port while it has oversight of broader security.  The new terms will help allay concerns of India as  also in Japan and the United States, that the port won’t be used for military purposes

In 2014, India was alarmed when a Chinese submarine docked in Colombo, where another Chinese firm is building a $1.4 billion port city on reclaimed land.

India has long considered Sri Lanka, just off its southern coast, as within its sphere of influence and sought to push back against China’s expanding maritime presence. In May, Sri Lanka turned down a Chinese request to dock a submarine.

Chinese control of Hambantota, which is part of its modern-day “Silk Route” across Asia and beyond, as well as a plan to acquire 15,000 acres (23 square miles) to develop an industrial zone next door, had raised fears that it could also be used for Chinese naval vessels.

Sri Lankans demonstrated in the streets at the time, fearing loss of their land, while politicians said such large scale transfer of land to the Chinese impinged on the country’s sovereignty.

“The cabinet approved the deal and now it needs parliament approval. We will send it for approval this week,” cabinet spokesman Dayasiri Jayasekera said.

He didn’t provide details. A Chinese embassy spokesman said it had no comment to make on the deal. A source close to the Chinese Embassy in Colombo said both sides had reached a compromise and that Sri Lanka’s concerns had been addressed.

“They emphasised that they wanted to maintain balanced relations with other countries. But the deal is still beneficial for China in terms of revenue,” the source said.

China Merchants Port Holdings will take an 85 per cent stake in Hambantota International Port Group that will run the port and its terminals, with the rest held by Sri Lanka Ports Authority. The company’s capital will be $794 million.

A second firm, Hambantota International Port Group Services Co, with capital of $606 million, will be set up to oversee security operations, with the Sri Lankans holding a 50.7 per cent stake and the Chinese 49.3 per cent, according to the document.

China Merchants Port Holdings also agreed to reduce its stake in the joint venture running the commercial operations of the port to 65 per cent after 10 years, the document says.

© Thomson Reuters 2017

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Indian Muslim Woman Raped, Murdered In Suspected Honour Killing In UK

A post-mortem of the woman said the cause of death as an incised wound to the neck. (File)

London:  A 19-year-old Indian Muslim woman was kidnapped, raped and murdered in the UK in a suspected honour killing after she began a relationship with an Arab Muslim, a media report said today.

The deceased was allegedly kidnapped with the other woman, bound and gagged and taken to an address in Kingstonupon-Thames in south west London where they were raped and she was killed on Wednesday, a UK court has heard.

The body was found inside a 1.5 million pound home after the other woman in her 20s who had her throat slit alerted police from a hospital, The Mirror reported.

A post-mortem examination carried out on Friday gave the teenager’s cause of death as an incised wound to the neck.

Mujahid Arshid, 33, appeared in Wimbledon Magistrates’. Court charged with the murder, rape and kidnap of the woman. He is further charged with the rape, attempted murder and kidnap of the second woman.

He appeared alongside his co-defendant, Vincent Tappu, 28, who is charged with the kidnap of both women.

“The deceased was involved in a relationship with an Arab Muslim and the family members didn’t approve of this relationship because they are Indian Muslims,” said prosecutor Binita Roscoe.

Two men in balaclavas entered the property on July 19, the prosecutor said.

“Her face and mouth were covered in duct tape. Her hands were tied with cable tie. She believes a sock was placed in her mouth. She had heard the deceased who was in the shower screaming,” she told the court.

“The deceased was brought down tied up. They were bound in dust sheets and placed in a vehicle.”

District Judge James Henderson remanded Tappu and Arshid in custody.

Arshid will appear at the Old Bailey on July 28.

Both men are due to appear at the same court on August 21. 

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China Resorting To 'Coercive, Assertive Practices' To Achieve Goals: CIA

Washington:  China is increasingly resorting to “coercive, assertive practices” to achieve its goals in the Asia-Pacific region, as seen in the disputed South China Sea, a senior official of the US foreign intelligence service said.

The remarks from Michael Collins, Deputy Assistant Director at the Central Intelligence Agency’s East Asian Mission Centre, came as the Pentagon yesterday said that a US Navy surveillance aircraft was intercepted on Sunday by two Chinese J-10 fighters in an “unsafe” manner over the disputed East China Sea.

China and Japan, a longtime US ally, have rival claims over a chain of islands in the East China Sea. Tensions have flashed several times over the Senkaku Islands, which Beijing claims as Diaoyu Islands.

China has also been locked in territorial disputes with several of its other neighbours in the South China Sea, parts of which is claimed by Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and the Philippines.

It has heavily militarised some islands with major land reclamation work, drawing protests from several countries including the US – which has carried out “freedom of navigation” operations through the waters claimed by China.

At the Aspen Institutes’ 2017 Security Forum, Mr Collins said: “They (Chinese) are increasingly resorting to coercive, assertive practices to achieve their ends, things that we don’t subscribe to…And for that reason, for us to understand issues such as North Korea, South China Sea, trade, how China is approaching these issues, we have to be mindful of that.”

He, however, said that the Chinese behaviour “does not mean” the US and China were headed for war in the region. “They do not want backlash in East Asia. And they need a stable, robust relationship with the US and the international community for the economic needs and the technology they need to move their country forward,” Mr Collins said.

“We have to be mindful about what they face internally…And to them, they have to keep that quite secure. To that end, they need stability and close relations and stay in relations with United States,” the CIA official said.

While Mr Collins did not refer to the ongoing India-China border standoff in the Sikkim sector, Japanese Ambassador to the US Kenichiro Sasae brought India into the picture. “We continue to develop some of the alliance network and network of friends, including ASEAN, and also India these days,” he said.

“The Chinese ambition is not simply limited to try to equal with United States in the area of Asia-Pacific… That is not simply for the economic ambition, it’s more of the strategic ambition. They want to compete with US,” he said.

He said China has global expansion goals.

“It is obvious. I think that dream is like 12 and 13 century of Ming Dynasty. They reached over to the Indian Ocean and into the Middle East. I think that’s the region they might have are deep into their mind,” he said, responding to a question on China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative.

The OBOR is an ambitious Chinese plan to link the country to Africa and Europe through several trade corridors.

According to Bonnie Glaser, senior adviser for Asia and the director of China Power Project, Centre for Strategic and International Studies, the Chinese are trying to organise the regions in a way that it is more Sino-centric, where China can prevail and can essentially compel other nations in the region to put China’s interest first and show deference to China.

“That is a major challenge for the US,” he said.

“We have to think about China not just in terms of discrete issues like North Korea or cyber as we have talked about at this conference, but more of a global challenge, and we need more of a whole of government strategy to deal with the growing strategic competition between the US and China.

The competition is inevitable; war is not,” Glaser said.

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

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How Japan Plans To Cut Suicide Rate By 30 Per Cent In 10 Years

Japan has the highest suicide rate among G7 advanced countries

Tokyo:  Japan aims to cut suicides by 30 percent over 10 years, with the government Tuesday approving a plan which seeks to curb extreme work hours seen as contributing to one of the world’s highest suicide rates.

Japan has the highest suicide rate among Group of Seven (G7) advanced countries and the government describes the situation as “critical” in a country where more than 20,000 people kill themselves every year.

The suicide rate — the ratio per 100,000 people — was 18.5 in 2015 and the government wants to reduce it below 13.0 in 2025.

Suicides have fallen since peaking at 34,427 in 2003, with 21,897 taking their own lives last year.

The government in the plan cited measures taken nationwide over that time as being behind the drop.

The plan, approved at a cabinet meeting Tuesday, is reviewed every five years. The first one came in 2007.

It states that the government will push further for measures against work-related suicides, saying that cutting extreme work hours and preventing harassment by bosses are necessary.

Tokyo is ramping up efforts to tackle deaths from overwork following the suicide of a young employee at Japan’s biggest advertising agency Dentsu, who regularly logged more than 100 hours of overtime a month.

The death of Matsuri Takahashi in 2015 generated nationwide headlines, prompting the government to come up with a plan asking employers to limit overtime to a maximum of 100 hours per month. But critics say this is still too high.

The labour ministry in May released its first nationwide employer blacklist, naming-and-shaming more than 300 companies including Dentsu, for illegal overtime and other workplace violations.

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

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Moon May Have Water Trapped Under Its Surface: Report

The idea of the Moon being water-rich could have implications for future lunar explorations

Washington, United States:  The Moon may have huge reservoirs of water trapped under the surface in the form of volcanic ‘glass beads’, which could be extracted and used by astronauts in future lunar colonies, scientists have found.

A new study of satellite data found that numerous volcanic deposits distributed across the surface of the Moon contain unusually high amounts of trapped water.

The finding of water in these ancient deposits, which are believed to consist of glass beads formed by the explosive eruption of magma coming from the deep lunar interior, bolsters the idea that the lunar mantle is surprisingly water-rich.

Scientists had assumed for years that the interior of the Moon had been largely depleted of water and other volatile compounds.

In 2008, researchers detected trace amounts of water in some of the volcanic glass beads brought back to Earth from the Apollo 15 and 17 missions to the Moon.

In 2011, further study of tiny crystalline formations within those beads revealed that they actually contain similar amounts of water as some basalts on Earth, suggesting that the Moon’s mantle contains as much water as Earth’s.

“The key question is whether those Apollo samples represent the bulk conditions of the lunar interior or instead represent unusual or perhaps anomalous water-rich regions within an otherwise ‘dry’ mantle,” said Ralph Milliken, an associate professor at Brown University in the US.

“By looking at the orbital data, we can examine the large pyroclastic deposits on the Moon that were never sampled by the Apollo or Luna missions,” said Mr Milliken.

“The fact that nearly all of them exhibit signatures of water suggests that the Apollo samples are not anomalous, so it may be that the bulk interior of the Moon is wet,” he said.

Scientists used orbital spectrometers to measure the light that bounces off a planetary surface.

By looking at which wavelengths of light are absorbed or reflected by the surface, scientists can get an idea of which minerals and other compounds are present.

Researchers looked at data from the Moon Mineralogy Mapper, an imaging spectrometer that flew aboard India’s Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter.

They found evidence of water in nearly all of the large pyroclastic deposits that had been previously mapped across the Moon’s surface, including deposits near the Apollo 15 and 17 landing sites where water-bearing glass bead samples were collected.

Water-rich deposits are spread across the lunar surface, which tells us that the water found in the Apollo samples is not a one-off, Mr Milliken said.

The idea that the interior of the Moon is water-rich could have implications for future lunar exploration.

The volcanic beads do not contain a lot of water – about 0.05 per cent by weight – but the deposits are large, and the water could potentially be extracted, researchers said.

“Anything that helps save future lunar explorers from having to bring lots of water from home is a big step forward, and our results suggest a new alternative,” said Shuai Li, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Hawaii in the US.

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New HIV Vaccine Shows Promise In Human Trials

Researchers found that the vaccine called Ad26.Mos.HIV was most protective. (Representational)

Washington, United States:  An experimental HIV vaccine was well-tolerated and generated immune responses against the deadly virus in healthy human adults, scientists say.

The vaccine regimens evaluated in APPROACH – an early- stage clinical trial – are based on “mosaic” vaccines designed to induce immunological responses against a wide variety of HIV subtypes responsible for HIV infections globally, researchers said.

They found that different mosaic vaccine regimens were well-tolerated and capable of generating anti-HIV immune responses in healthy, HIV-negative adults.

Researchers found that the vaccine called Ad26.Mos.HIV was most protective in pre-clinical studies in animals elicited among the greatest immune responses in the study participants.

“A safe and effective HIV vaccine would be a powerful tool to reduce new HIV infections worldwide and help bring about a durable end to the HIV/AIDS pandemic,” said Anthony S Fauci, Director at National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in the US. “By exploring multiple promising avenues of vaccine development research, we expand our opportunities to achieve these goals,” Mr Fauci added.

Researchers randomly assigned 400 volunteers in the US, Rwanda, Uganda, South Africa and Thailand to receive one of seven experimental vaccine regimens or a placebo.

Participants received four vaccinations over 48 weeks: two doses of an initial, or “prime,” vaccine, followed by two doses of a booster vaccine.

The experimental regimens all incorporated the same vaccine components in the prime vaccination, Ad26.Mos.HIV.

The vaccine used a strain of common-cold virus engineered so that it does not cause illness, as a vector to deliver three mosaic antigens created from genes from many HIV variants.

The booster vaccination included various combinations of the Ad26.Mos.HIV components or a different mosaic component, and two different doses of a protein containing an aluminium adjuvant to boost immune responses.

Researchers found that the most effective prime-boost regimen reduced the risk of infection per exposure to simian human immunodeficiency virus (SHIV) by 94 per cent and resulted in 66 per cent complete protection after six exposures.

The team identified and characterised the vaccine-induced immune responses that correlated with this protection.

“The promising, early-stage results from the APPROACH study support further evaluation of these candidate vaccines to assess their ability to protect those at risk of acquiring HIV,” said Dan H Barouch from NIAID.

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Backlash In Hong Kong Over China Rail Link

The plan now needs approval from the city’s legislature, it is weighted towards the pro-China camp. (AFP)

Hong Kong, China:  A plan for mainland border staff to be stationed on Hong Kong soil as part of a new rail link to China sparked a backlash Tuesday as concern grows about Beijing’s reach into the city.

It is illegal for mainland law enforcers to operate in semi-autonomous Hong Kong under the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law.

But there are already concerns that Chinese operatives are working undercover after the alleged abductions of a city bookseller and a reclusive Chinese businessman.

The rail link plan comes at a time when fears are worsening that Hong Kong’s freedoms are under threat from an ever more assertive Beijing.

The high-speed connection out of the harbourfront West Kowloon station is set to open in 2018, linking to the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou 80 miles (130 km) away and then onto China’s national rail network.

A proposal backed by the Hong Kong government’s top advisory body Tuesday would see mainland border staff control a special immigration zone at the Hong Kong terminus.

There are already numerous transport connections between Hong Kong and the mainland, but Chinese immigration checks are done on the other side of the border.

City leader Carrie Lam insisted the new checkpoint arrangement was not a breach of the Basic Law and was designed to cut travel time.

“The crux of the matter is really to find a means that is legal to support this convenience for the people of Hong Kong,” Lam told reporters.

Pro-Beijing lawmaker Priscilla Leung said such joint immigration areas were common around the world and that Hong Kong would be “leasing” the portion of land at the terminus to China.

“Outside the zone both the officers and everyone else have to obey the laws in Hong Kong,” she told AFP.

But opponents say the new plan is a clear breach of the Basic Law and another sign that Hong Kong is being swallowed up by China.

Veteran lawyer and democracy advocate Martin Lee, who helped draft the Basic Law in the 1980s, said creating an exception within Hong Kong where mainland Chinese laws are enforced would set a “dangerous precedent”.

It would put at risk the semi-autonomous “one country, two systems” set-up guaranteed when Britain handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997, Lee told AFP.

The government wanted to force through the plan to make Hong Kong people “feel closer to Beijing, the sovereign power”, added opposition legislator Claudia Mo.

The plan now needs approval from the city’s legislature, which is weighted towards the pro-China camp.

The rail link is one of a number of cross-border infrastructure projects, including a new bridge to the mainland and the neighbouring casino enclave Macau.

Passengers from Hong Kong could reach Beijing in under 10 hours on the new line, but controversies have plagued the project, with snowballing costs now at HK$84.42 billion ($10 billion).

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

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Jim Mattis Bristles At Pentagon Waste Of $28 Million On Afghan Uniforms

A US Marine stands next to an Afghan National Army soldier during a training in Afghanistan (Reuters)

Washington, United States:  US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has criticized Pentagon officials for wasting as much as $28 million by making a questionable choice of forest camouflage-patterned uniforms for Afghan National Army soldiers.

The uniform pattern was selected without evaluating its effectiveness when only 2.1 percent of Afghanistan is covered by forests, the US government’s top watchdog on Afghanistan said in a report last month.

The Afghan minister of defense at the time “liked the woodland, urban and temperate patterns,” the report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said.

It potentially cost up to an additional $28 million dollars between 2008 and 2017, the watchdog said.

In a memo sent out to senior Pentagon officials on Friday and seen by Reuters, Mattis said the SIGAR report was an example of a “complacent mode of thinking.”

“Cavalier or casually acquiescent decisions to spend taxpayer dollars in an ineffective and wasteful manner are not to recur,” Mattis wrote.

“Rather than minimize this report or excuse wasteful decisions, I expect all DoD (Department of Defense) organizations to use this error as a catalyst to bring to light wasteful practices – and take aggressive steps to end waste,” Mattis wrote.

The US House of Representatives Armed Services Committee has a hearing scheduled for Tuesday that will look at Pentagon equipment and uniform procurement in Afghanistan and Iraq.

President Donald Trump is weighing sending more US troops to Afghanistan to reverse the gains made by Taliban terrorists and support the fight against ISIS and crafting a broader South Asia strategy.

In a sign of the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, a Taliban suicide attacker detonated a car bomb in the western part of Kabul on Monday, killing up to 35 people and wounding more than 40.

Nearly $110 billion has been appropriated in Washington for reconstruction in Afghanistan since 2002, when US forces drove the Taliban from power for harboring terrorists from al Qaeda, which carried out the Sept. 11 attacks.

In 2014, SIGAR said that more had been spent in current dollar terms on reconstruction in Afghanistan than had been spent on the Marshall Plan, which helped more than a dozen European countries after World War Two.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali; editing by Grant McCool)

© Thomson Reuters 2017

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UK's Johnson Plays Down Conservative Rift

Boris Johnson said Brexit is not about Britain turning away from the world. (file photo)

Wellington:  Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on Tuesday appeared to deny there was any infighting within the governing Conservative party during a visit to New Zealand, where he said the country was near the top of the queue for a trade deal post-Brexit.

Boris Johnson played down recent media reports in London of infighting in the Conservative party along the lines of the Leave-Remain rifts it suffered during the referendum.

Britain kicked off a first full round of negotiations with the European Union last week, a year after Britons voted narrowly to leave the European Union, but their government seemed at war with itself over the divorce terms.

Asked whether the infighting within the party could compromise Britain’s ability to clinch a timely, post-Brexit deal with the EU, Boris Johnson said:

“I don’t wish in any way to sound complacent but I have been travelling in Japan and the now beautiful New Zealand and any such activities completely passed me by …. no one has sent me news of any such infighting,” Boris Johnson told a news conference in Wellington.

“Our friends and partners around the world can be confident that we are going to get this thing done and done in style.”

Boris Johnson, whose backing helped secure a four-point victory for the Leave camp in June last year, said that no one would be worse off as a result of Brexit including New Zealand.

He said New Zealand was near the front of the queue for a trade deal with Britain once the latter left the European Union.

Boris Johnson said Brexit is not about Britain turning away from the world but, on the contrary, it is about “rediscovering and intensifying friendships and partnerships around the world.”

“In trying to do that we see New Zealand at or near the front of the queue.”

Neither Boris Johnson nor New Zealand Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee gave many specifics on the details and timing of a future deal. Asked whether this would happen any time soon, Brownlee said:

“They have to formally exit the European Union before they can engage in those discussions,” he said.

(Reporting by Ana Nicolaci da Costa; Editing by Michael Perry)

© Thomson Reuters 2017

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Saudi Economic Pain Tests Crown Prince's Resolve For Change

More than a year after the kingdom’s dominant leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, unveiled a blueprint for the post-oil era, the drop in crude prices is making economists more skeptical about whether some of the plan’s medium-term targets can be met. The reason: lower oil revenue deprives the government of money needed to balance its books by 2020 while trying to stimulate growth to ease the transition’s burden on the population.

IMF data released Friday underscored the challenge. The fund lowered its forecasts for Saudi economic growth this year to “close to zero.” Analysts at Citigroup, EFG-Hermes and Standard Chartered see a bleaker picture, expecting the economy to shrink for the first time since the global financial crisis in 2009, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Deeper economic pain will test the authorities’ resolve to pursue tough reform measures as they seek to go against the run of history, which suggests that successful diversification efforts depended largely on policies put in place before a price shock.

“Unless you start seeing some economic growth drivers kicking in, which would really have to come from the government and would require higher oil prices, the pace of fiscal reforms would likely remain slower than in 2016,” when authorities cut spending and lowered costly subsidies, Monica Malik, chief economist at Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, said in an interview.

“We see the possibility of having a very low growth or stagnant economic environment with the deficit still remaining high,” she said. “This is a key risk.”

Brent crude prices have declined 15 percent this year to $48 a barrel, well below the level that the kingdom needs to balance its budget, as producers grapple with how to eliminate a global supply glut. Under an accord between OPEC and other major producers, Saudi Arabia has cut its output.

The International Monetary Fund revised its forecast for Saudi growth this year to 0.1 percent from 0.4 percent. And while it now expects non-oil GDP to grow 1.7 percent after stalling last year, the new figures compare with an earlier estimate of about 2 percent.

The non-oil activity remains “too weak to offset” the expected overall contraction, said Mohamed Abu Basha, Cairo-based economist at EFG-Hermes, an investment bank.

“We don’t really see much quality growth,” he said by email. “Credit growth is nil, project awards weak and the contraction in cement consumption is in double digits.”

Just as oil discoveries transformed Saudi Arabia — dotting the Arabian desert with major cities and bolstering the kingdom’s political influence — so do low prices offer an opportunity to reshape the economy, Prince Mohammed says. In the past two years, authorities cut spending, curtailed costly energy subsidies and announced plans to sell government stakes in multiple companies, including oil giant Saudi Aramco.

But even a rebound in prices to as much as $55 a barrel won’t be enough to balance one of the highest budget deficits in the Middle East by 2020. To do that, according to Dima Jardaneh, head of Middle East and North Africa research at Standard Chartered in Dubai, the kingdom “would likely require an incremental increase in oil prices to around $70.”

The kingdom’s Tadawul All Share Index declined 0.4 percent at 1:19 p.m. in Riyadh, the most in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council. The index is little changed this year, compared with a 23-percent gain for the MSCI Emerging Markets Index.

Low crude prices are hobbling the crown prince’s economic plans at a time when foreign policy challenges threaten to cost him political capital. His military has been mired in a costly war in Yemen for more than two years, and he’s led a group of four nations into a diplomatic standoff with Qatar that could drag on.

To be sure, the IMF commended the Saudi reform efforts and said it expects the budget gap to fall to 9.3 percent of GDP this year from 17 percent in 2016 — and to just above 1 percent by 2022. “This assumes that the major non-oil revenue reforms and energy price increases outlined” by the government last year will go ahead as planned, it said.

The government has imposed taxes on tobacco and soda as well as a levy on expatriates’ families this year. Value-added taxes are set to be introduced from 2018. Officials have also touted plans to launch a four-year, 200-billion-riyal ($53 billion) program to support private sector activity this year.

Authorities, however, reversed a decision to cut public sector bonuses in April, citing better-than-anticipated budget data in the first quarter. The kingdom will also likely delay the second round of subsidy cuts to later in 2017 or early next year, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

“We believe that the government has already signaled that it is considering a slower pace of fiscal consolidation so as to support growth in the near term,” Jardaneh said.

Economic output shrank in the first quarter by 0.5 percent. Non-oil industries expanded at an annual rate of 0.6 percent from 0.4 percent in the previous three months.

“Any additional stimulus measures will have a confidence-boosting effect,” said John Sfakianakis, director of economic research at the Gulf Research Center in Riyadh. “But it will take time to impact headline growth numbers as we already done with the first half of the year.”

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

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US Judge Halts Deportation Of More Than 1,400 Iraqi Nationals

Protesters rally outside the federal court on behalf of Iraqi nationals facing deportation. (Reuters)

Detroit:  A federal judge in Michigan on Monday halted the deportation of more than 1,400 Iraqi nationals from the United States, the latest legal victory for the Iraqi nationals facing deportation in a closely watched case.

US District Judge Mark Goldsmith granted a preliminary injunction requested by lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union, who argued the immigrants would face persecution in Iraq because they are considered ethnic and religious minorities there.

Mark Goldsmith said the injunction provides detainees time to challenge their removal in federal courts. He said many of them faced “a feverish search for legal assistance” after their deportation orders were unexpectedly resurrected by the US government after several years.

Mark Goldsmith said the extra time assures “that those who might be subjected to grave harm and possible death are not cast out of this country before having their day in court,” Goldsmith wrote in his 34-page opinion and order.

The decision effectively means no Iraqi nationals can be deported from the United States for several months.

It was not immediately known whether Mark Goldsmith’s ruling would be appealed by the US government. A representative for the US Attorney’s Office in Detroit did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

There are 1,444 Iraqi nationals who have final deportation orders against them in the United States, although only about 199 of them were detained in June as part of a nationwide sweep by immigration authorities.

The ACLU sued on June 15 to halt the deportations of the detainees. They argued the Iraqis could face persecution, torture, or death because many were Chaldean Catholics, Sunni Muslims, or Iraqi Kurds and that the groups were recognized as targets of ill-treatment in Iraq.

Those arrested by immigration authorities had outstanding deportation orders and many had been convicted of serious crimes, ranging from homicide to weapons and drug charges, according to the US government.

Some of those affected came to the United States as children and committed their crimes decades ago, but they had been allowed to stay because Iraq previously declined to issue them travel documents, the ACLU said.

Mark Goldsmith sided with the ACLU, expanding on June 26 an earlier stay which only protected 114 detainees from the Detroit area to the broader class of more than 1,400 Iraqi nationals nationwide. Mark Goldsmith’s Monday decision came hours before that injunction was set to expire.

(Reporting by Steve Friess in Detroit; Editing by Eric M. Johnson, Bill Trott, Michael Perry)

© Thomson Reuters 2017

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2 Chinese Warplanes Buzz US Recon Plane: Pentagon

Chinese fighter jets intercepted a US Navy surveillance plane over the East China Sea (Representational)

Washington:  A US surveillance plane was forced to take evasive action after two Chinese fighters intercepted it over the East China Sea, the Pentagon said Monday.

The incident occurred Sunday when the two Chinese J-10 warplanes intercepted a US Navy EP-3 reconnaissance plane in international air space west of the Korean Peninsula, Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis said.

One of the Chinese jets came underneath the US plane at a high rate of speed then slowed and pulled up in front of it, he said.

“It was forced to take evasive action to prevent the possibility of collision,” Davis said.

Davis added that the incident was “uncharacteristic” of the normal safe behavior of the Chinese military.

“There are intercepts that occur in international air space regularly, and the vast majority of them are conducted in a safe manner,” he said.

The East China Sea is part of the Pacific and home to small islands whose ownership is disputed by China, Japan and Taiwan.

China also claims a string of islets across the South China Sea and its military expansion in the contested waterway has sparked heightened tensions with regional neighbors and the United States.

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

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Trump Accuses 'Fake News' Washington Post Of Being Amazon Lobbyist Weapon

Advancing his ‘Fake News’ rhetoric, Donald Trump accused the Washington Post of filing incorrect stories

Washington:  US President Donald Trump has attacked The Washington Post, owned by Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, alleging that the daily is being used against Congress for mounting pressure on politicians so that they do not look into the e-commerce giant’s alleged tax-monopoly.

Mr Trump accused The Post of filing incorrect stories.

“Is fake news Washington Post being used as a lobbyist weapon against Congress to keep politicians from looking into Amazon no-tax monopoly?” he said in a series of tweets late last night.

“So many stories about me in the @washingtonpost are Fake News. They are as bad as ratings challenged @CNN. Lobbyist for Amazon and taxes?” Donald Trump said.

“The Amazon Washington Post fabricated the facts on my ending massive, dangerous and wasteful payments to Syrian rebels fighting Assad,” he said as he challenged the Post for writing a story on Syria, which he said is wrong.

In a lead story, the Post said that cooperation with Russia is becoming a central part of the Trump administration’s counter-ISIS strategy in Syria.

US military planners are counting on Moscow to try to prevent Syrian government forces and their allies on the ground from interfering in coalition-backed operations against the terrorists, the daily said.

However, according to the daily, some lawmakers and White House officials have expressed concern that the shortsighted strategy gives the long-term advantage in Syria to Russia, Iran and Assad, and ultimately leaves the door open for a vanquished ISIS to re-establish itself.

Senator John McCain, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, alleged that by doing so the Trump administration is playing into the hands of the Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In an editorial, The Wall Street Journal wrote that the Trump administration seems to want to find some agreement with Russia to stabilise Syria even if that means entrenching Assad and the Russian and Iranian military presence.

The White House, meanwhile, reiterated its support to the Russia sanctions bill.

“The president has been very vocal about his support for continued sanctions on those three countries. He has no intention of getting rid of them, but he wants to make sure we get the best deal for the American people possible. Congress doesn’t have the best record on that,” said White House Press Secretary Sarah sanders.

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Unrest Bubbles Among Donald Trump's Key Foreign Policy Aides: Report

Washington, United States:  Frustration is mounting among leading foreign policy officials in President Donald Trump’s administration as they chafe at some policy and bureaucratic defeats and complain they lack independence to do their jobs, officials say.

The clash between internationalists urging the traditional US leadership role in the world and advocates of an “America First” approach has worn down foreign policy and intelligence professionals inside the government, according to the officials.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has told friends he will be lucky to last a year in his job, according to a friend, while two officials said national security adviser HR McMaster was frustrated by what he sees as disorganization and indiscipline on key policy issues inside the White House.

A source familiar with the situation told Reuters that Rex Tillerson was “very upset at not having autonomy, independence and control over his own department and the ability to do the job the way the job … is traditionally done.”

The source said he had heard nothing about any possible departure, but added: “The situation doesn’t seem to be getting any better, and in some respects appears to be getting worse.”

RC Hammond, Rex Tillerson’s spokesman, denied Rex Tillerson was considering leaving or that his frustrations were boiling over, saying he had “plenty of reasons to stay on the job, and all of them are important to America.”

“There’s a desperate need for American leadership in the world and that’s where the secretary’s focussing his attention,” he said.

Tillerson scored a policy win last week when the administration certified, albeit reluctantly, that Iran was complying with the 2015 nuclear deal under which Tehran agreed to restrain its atomic programme in exchange for sanctions relief.

He was upset, however, by fierce internal criticism from Donald Trump, as well as his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, and White House aide Sebastian Gorka, over the decision, said another US official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“The secretary does not feel that White House staff members should be in a position to conduct hostile cross-(examinations) of Cabinet officials,” the official said.

Hammond disputed the account of harsh discord between Donald Trump and Rex Tillerson regarding recertifying the Iran nuclear deal, saying: “I don’t buy this whole thing that there are tensions. Developing public policy is about vetting out ideas,” he said.

Following last month’s move by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt to boycott Qatar, which they accuse of financing extremist groups and supporting terrorism, Rex Tillerson publicly asked the nations to ease their blockade, and put the onus on both sides to end the crisis.

Less than 90 minutes later, Donald Trump accused Qatar of being a “high level” sponsor of terrorism and suggested he had helped plan the Qatar action with Arab leaders.

“As a government we offered some confusing signals, but we’ve since been able to clear up and clarify that,” Hammond said.

Politico reported last month that Rex Tillerson was furious with Johnny DeStefano, the head of the presidential personnel office, for torpedoing proposed nominees to key State Department posts.

‘Disruptive Figure’

Senior national security officials said McMaster was dismayed that his recommendations, backed by his senior director for Russia, Fiona Hill, about taking a tough stance with Russian President Vladimir Putin, had been ignored.

Donald Trump has questioned the US intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 US presidential election to try to help him defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.

McMaster, a three-star Army general who once praised Donald Trump as a “disruptive” figure, is also troubled by a protracted debate about sending more US forces to help Afghanistan reverse gains by the Taliban, officials familiar with the matter told Reuters.

Asked to respond to the characterisations of the views of McMaster and other officials, a White House official said: “Assertions not of fact but of state of mind in internal thought have no place in a story like this.”

While circumspect, Rex Tillerson talked about the challenges of his new job earlier this month, telling reporters that it differed from his former role as chief executive of Exxon Mobil Corp , where “I was the ultimate decision-maker. That always makes life easier.”

“I knew what to expect and we had very long-standing disciplined processes and decision-making,” he said. “Those are not the characteristics of the United States government.”

(Additonal reporting by Steve Holland and Yeganeh Torbati; Writing by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Peter Cooney)

© Thomson Reuters 2017

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Now Showing At A Disputed South China Sea Island Not Very Near You

The disputed Woody Island will soon be home to a cinema theatre (Reuters)

Beijing, China:  China has opened its southernmost cinema on a disputed island in the South China Sea, state media said, part on an on-going effort to build up civilian infrastructure and assert Beijing’s sovereignty.

The cinema is on Woody Island in the Paracels, which are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan, and is equipped with the most advanced projection equipment, state news agency Xinhua said on Sunday.

“The opening of the cinema is part of a plan by local cultural authorities to establish community services on islands under Sansha’s jurisdiction,” Xinhua said.

Woody Island is the seat of what China calls Sansha city that is its administrative centre for the South China Sea.

China took full control of the Paracels in 1974 after a naval showdown with Vietnam.

Though China calls it a city, Sansha’s permanent population is no more than a few thousand, and many of the disputed islets and reefs in the sea are uninhabited.

That has not stopped China’s ambitious plans for the islands there, including building airfields and allowing Chinese tourists to access the area via cruise ships.

China claims 90 percent of the potentially energy-rich South China Sea. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan lay claim to parts of the sea, through which passes about $5 trillion of trade a year.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)

© Thomson Reuters 2017

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

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Donald Trump Gives Boy Scouts At Jamboree A Taste Of Washington Politics

Donald Trump said he has 10 former Boy Scouts serving in his cabinet and White House. (file photo)

West Virginia:  After another challenging day in Washington, President Donald Trump flew to West Virginia to a field full of 40,000 chanting and cheering Boy Scouts, telling them he was happy to leave Washington behind.

“Who the hell wants to speak about politics?” Donald Trump boomed, telling the boys he wanted to talk about how to achieve their dreams.

But politics proved too hard for Trump to resist on a day he spent pleading for Republican senators to vote to advance his long-promised health care overhaul and watching his son-in-law Jared Kushner being grilled on Capitol Hill about contacts with Russia.

It did not take long for Trump to veer from inspiration to denigration. The teenaged boys loved it, cheering wildly at each sick burn, hooting and hollering like they were at a wrestling match.

“Tonight we put aside all of the policy fights in Washington, DC you’ve been hearing about with the fake news and all of that,” he told the teenaged boys, sitting state by state in brightly colored t-shirts.

“You know, I go to Washington and I see all these politicians and I see the swamp and it’s not a good place,” said Donald Trump.

“In fact, today I said we ought to change it from the word ‘swamp’ to the word ‘cesspool’ or perhaps to the word ‘sewer.’ It’s not good. I see what’s going on and believe me, I’d much rather be with you, that I can tell you,” Donald Trump said.

He told the boys that the media were dishonest and would not show the size of their jamboree on television.

“Fake media, fake media,” Donald Trump said, eliciting a chorus of boos and cheers.

Donald Trump recounted his election night victories, state by state, the boys from Wisconsin cheering when they heard their state mentioned, the boys from Michigan doing the same.

But the most sustained round of cheers and jeers came when Trump mentioned his predecessor President Barack Obama, who had declined invitations to speak to the scout gathering while he was in office.

“By the way, just a question: did President Obama ever come to a jamboree?” Donald Trump said.

Donald Trump said he has 10 former Boy Scouts serving in his cabinet and White House, and brought a few on stage as examples of Boy Scout leadership in action, including Tom Price, his health secretary.

“Hopefully he’s going to get the votes tomorrow to start our path toward killing this horrible thing known as Obamacare,” Trump said, referring to Obama’s signature health care legislation, as the boys booed.

“He better get them, otherwise I’ll say, ‘Tom, you’re fired!'” he said, borrowing the catch phrase from his reality television show, “The Apprentice.”

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Toni Reinhold)

© Thomson Reuters 2017

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