Energy industry has an 'opportunity' to oppose price cap

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Energy suppliers have a “window of opportunity” to address government proposals for a cap on energy prices, according to Steve Holliday, the vice president of the Energy Institute.

Mr Holliday said there was an opportunity “to come back with some serious suggestions”.

Last week’s Queen’s Speech appeared to water down commitments to a price cap.

Instead it said ministers were “considering the best way” to protect those on the poorest-value tariffs.

Before the election, the government had proposed intervening in the energy market to help millions of domestic gas and electricity customers by cutting around £100 off their energy bills.

Last year, a landmark investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority concluded that many households on standard variable tariffs were paying too much for their energy.

It calculated consumers were overpaying by up to £1.2bn a year and recommended a price cap for households using pre-payment meters.

Several large suppliers have questioned the findings. But they have come under increasing political pressure for their treatment of loyal customers on standard tariffs.

Some merit

Mr Holliday, a former chief executive of National Grid, said the energy industry’s reaction to the idea of a price cap was mixed.

He was speaking at the launch of the Energy Institute’s annual barometer, which gathers the views of industry members.

The survey, completed by 466 members across the energy sector, indicates that that some see merits in a price cap to tackle affordability and poverty.

But most respondents were against a cap. “There were lots of people identifying the negative impact on investment, decarbonisation and on competition in the supply industry” said Mr Holliday.

“When you looked across the whole of the participants here… more than half were not in favour of a price cap,” he added.


The Energy Institute’s barometer for 2017 also identified Brexit as a “material concern” to the energy sector.

Members of the institute were concerned about uncertainty around energy policy, the availability of skilled labour, future trading arrangements, energy costs, security of supply and investment.

“The stakes are high for the UK’s energy economy”, said Mr Holliday.

“Sound policy making should not be drowned out by Brexit or other political upheavals.”

A majority of those who responded to the survey want to keep most EU directives enshrined in UK law.

But a majority also want to see the UK abandon EU state aid rules and opinion is divided on British involvement in the EU emissions trading system.

As part of its Brexit plans, the government has confirmed that the UK will also leave Euratom, the European nuclear treaty covering the safety and the transport of nuclear material.

Energy professionals believe this move will negatively affect most aspects of the nuclear sector, including the cost and deliverability of new nuclear plants such as Hinkley Point C.

A majority also view President’s Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the Paris climate Agreement as a “material concern”, although one that can overcome by action at a state and federal level.

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Original Disneyland Map Sketched By Walt Disney Fetches Over $700K

The map was created as part of an effort to secure funding to build Disneyland.

Los Angeles:  The original, first-ever map of Disneyland sketched by Walt Disney in 1953 has been sold for a whopping USD 708,000 at an auction in the US. This made the work the most expensive Disneyland map ever sold at an auction.

The map – one of the most important drawings in Disney history – was created as part of an effort to secure funding to build Disneyland.

It depicts areas of Disneyland that never materialised – such as the “Lilliputian Land” – and some that took a very different form.

For example, the fairy-tale castle was originally positioned in a corner instead of the centre.

The map, a pencil-and-ink drawing on paper, is roughly three by five feet. It was hastily sketched by Disney and his friend Herb Ryman over a weekend in September 1953.

Ron Clark, a collector had bought the map 40 years ago from a former Disney employee, Grenade Curran.

Curran had noticed the map sitting in a corner of Walt Disney’s office in 1955, and had taken it home as a memento.

“I kept it because it was the first thing to show and display what a theme park would look like,” Curran was quoted as saying by ‘BBC News’.

“After some pretty exciting bidding the map sold for USD 708,000, making it the most expensive Disneyland map ever sold. We are beyond thrilled that the map will continue to be appreciated and cherished,” said Mike Eaton, owner of Van Eaton Galleries in Los Angeles.

“That an artifact like this, which is so deeply rooted in the creation of Disneyland, still exists today is astonishing,” Eaton added.

Nearly 1,000 other Disneyland artefact – including original props, wardrobe, ride vehicles, and souvenirs – from 1953 to the present were also auctioned. 

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

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Co-operative Bank no longer up for sale

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The Co-operative Bank says it is no longer up for sale, pending an announcement on fund-raising proposals aimed at safeguarding its future.

Co-op Bank was forced to put itself on the market in February after it was unable to reach a strong enough footing to satisfy Bank of England regulations.

But in June, it said it was in “advanced discussions” with a group of existing investors on recapitalisation.

Now the bank says the plan has been “substantially agreed”.

The Co-op Bank, in which the Co-operative Group still has a 20% stake, was rescued from the brink of collapse by a group of hedge funds in 2013.

In a statement, the bank also said talks were continuing over the separation of its pension fund from the Co-operative Group’s scheme.

Under the current arrangement, the bank must carry a share of the Co-op Group’s £8bn pension liabilities, something which is proving unattractive to potential investors.

Earlier this year, it reported its fifth annual loss in a row, although the £477m deficit for 2016 was an improvement on the £610m loss recorded in 2015.

When it offered itself for sale, the Co-op Bank blamed low interest rates and the higher-than-expected cost of its turnaround plan for its failure to meet the Bank’s Prudential Regulation Authority rules.

The Co-op Bank has four million customers and is well known for its ethical standpoint, which its board had said made it “a strong franchise with significant potential” to prospective buyers.

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Father Buries Man He Thought Was His Son. He Turns Up Alive A Week Later

It’s still unclear how, exactly, the authorities of Orange County, California, became convinced that a body pulled from the bushes behind a phone store was that of Frank M. Kerrigan – a beloved brother and son, and very much alive.

The dead man had a full head of wavy, brown-gray hair, the medical examiner noted in a report beneath Kerrigan’s name. He looked about the right age, 57; he had blue eyes; and he died with fluid in his lungs.

His identity had been confirmed through fingerprints, someone at the coroner’s office told Kerrigan’s father and namesake in a phone call in early May, he told ABC 7 last week.

So, no need come down and check the body.

“That was it,” 82-year-old Frank J. Kerrigan told the station. “My son was gone.”

In fact, the Orange County Register reported, the body had been identified based on an old driver’s license photo after someone told police it looked like Kerrigan, who is homeless and grew up near the scene of his reported death.

But Kerrigan’s family didn’t know that. And for nearly a month, they were so convinced that even the father’s final moment with an open casket didn’t stop Frank Kerrigan’s erroneous funeral.

Kerrigan’s sister, Carole Meikle, said that after getting the news, she rushed to the area behind a Verizon Store in Fountain Valley where the body had been found and forced herself to look.

It was, she told the Register, “a pretty disturbing scene.”

She recalled blood and dirty blankets. “I stood there, and I cried and I prayed,” Meikle told ABC 7, weeping again at the memory.

Father and sister told the station they had worried constantly about Kerrigan’s well-being. He was mentally ill, they said, and refused to stay in a shelter.

So with the medical examiner’s word that he was gone, Meikle said, she left some rosary beads in the bushes and the family set about planning a funeral.

The elder Frank Kerrigan was a bit puzzled, he told the Register, when his son’s purported belongings were given back to him by the state. The bag was different from the one his son carried, and Kerrigan’s favorite writing pen was nowhere to be seen.

Still, the family sent out announcements for a funeral, as seen on ABC 7. They printed up cards with a verse from Corinthians and a handsome photo of Kerrigan in a suit, his wavy hair combed neatly.

“In Loving Memory,” the cards read.

Before the ceremony, the elder Kerrigan said, he asked someone at the funeral home to open the casket for a last look.

“I didn’t know what my dead son was going to look like,” he told the Register.

Overcome with grief, he said, he patted the dead man’s hair and had the casket closed, not doubting it contained his son.

It was a beautiful ceremony in a Catholic church, the family told the Register. Dozens of people came from as far away as Las Vegas and Washington state. Kerrigan’s brother gave a eulogy, and the dead man was buried not far from the grave of the elder Kerrigan’s late wife.

The ceremony cost the family $20,000, according to a lawyer they have since hired to sue the county.

One night in late May, about a week and a half after the funeral, the elder Kerrigan got a phone call, he told the Register.

It was a longtime family friend, who had served as a pallbearer at the funeral – and he had called to say the dead man was standing on his patio.

“He said, ‘Hi, Dad,'” the father said.

Kerrigan’s sister told ABC 7 she fell to her knees. His father recalled thinking only: “Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God.”

They were joyful. But after they’d processed their emotions, they began to get upset.

Appearing with their new lawyers last week, Meikle told ABC 7 that the county would not have been so sloppy if her brother had had a home and his mental health.

“He was not given the dignity, due diligence and process a normal citizen of Orange County would get,” she said.

So the family is preparing to file suit against the coroner’s office, claiming that Kerrigan’s civil rights were violated, according to the Register.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department released a statement to the newspaper, apologizing to the family “for any emotional stress caused as a result of this unfortunate incident” and promising an investigation.

Apologies and lawsuits aside, there’s still the matter of who’s buried in Frank Kerrigan’s grave.

The family’s lawyer, Doug Easton, told the Register that they’ve been given the dead man’s name by the county.

But that’s happened before, of course. This time, the lawyer said, they’re waiting for independent confirmation.

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Stolen Boys: Life After Sexual Slavery In Afghanistan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transform into a woman’

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

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

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

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

Bacha bazi is not seen as homosexuality in Afghanistan’s gender segregated society. (AFP)

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

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

“They tried to outdo each other: ‘My boy is more handsome than yours, my boy is a better dancer’,” he said.

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

‘Save my boy’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Great Barrier Reef A $42 Billion Asset 'Too Big To Fail': Study

Great Barrier Reef was worth Aus$29 billion to tourism, supporting 64,000 jobs, the study said.

Australia’s under-pressure Great Barrier Reef is an asset worth Aus$56 billion (US$42 billion) and as an ecosystem and economic driver is “too big to fail”, a study said Monday.

The World Heritage-listed reef is the largest living structure on Earth and its economic and social value was calculated for the first time in the Deloitte Access Economics report commissioned by the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.

Using economic modelling, it said the reef was worth Aus$29 billion to tourism, supporting 64,000 jobs.

The “indirect or non-use” value — people that have not yet visited the reef but know it exists — was estimated at Aus$24 billion, with recreational users such as boaters making up the rest.

The study, based on six months’ analysis, comes as the reef suffered an unprecedented second straight year of coral bleaching due to warming sea temperatures linked to climate change.

It is also under pressure from farming run-off, development and the crown-of-thorns starfish, with the problems compounded this year by a powerful cyclone pummelling the area.

Great Barrier Reef Foundation director Steve Sargent said the study showed that no single Australian asset contributed as much to international perceptions of “Brand Australia”.

“At $56 billion, the reef is valued at more than 12 Sydney Opera Houses,” he said. “This report sends a clear message that the Great Barrier Reef — as an ecosystem, as an economic driver, as a global treasure — is too big to fail.”

The study included a survey of 1,500 Australian and international respondents from 10 countries which found people value the reef for a range of reasons — due to its importance for tourism but also the belief that Australia would not be the same without it.

Lead author, Deloitte Access’ John O’Mahony, said it was clear the reef was “priceless and irreplaceable”.

“But we’ve been able to look at it as an ‘asset’ that has incredible value on multiple fronts — from its biodiversity and job creating potential to its support for critical industries and standing among international visitors to Australia,” he said.

Australia last month hosted a summit of more than 70 of the world’s leading marine experts to work on a blueprint on how best to respond to the threats facing the reef.

Options explored included developing coral nurseries, strategies to boost culling of crown-of-thorns starfish, expanding monitoring systems and identifying priority sites for coral restoration.

Key to the talks was the need to slash greenhouse gas emissions to prevent warming sea temperatures.

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

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Trump Just Ended A Long Tradition Of Celebrating Eid At The White House

In the early days of December 1805, a handful of prominent politicians received formal invitations to join President Thomas Jefferson for a White House dinner.

Such entreaties were not uncommon: Jefferson frequently hosted lawmakers for political working dinners at the White House, almost always commencing them about 3:30 in the afternoon, shortly after the House or Senate had adjourned for the day.

But this gathering, scheduled for Dec. 9, would be slightly different.

“dinner will be on the table precisely at sun-set – ” the invitations read. “The favour of an answer is asked.”

The occasion was the presence of a Tunisian envoy to the United States, Sidi Soliman Mellimelli, who had arrived in the country just the week before, in the midst of America’s ongoing conflict with what were then known as the Barbary States.

And the reason for the dinner’s later-than-usual start was Mellimelli’s observance of Ramadan, a holy month for Muslims in which observers fast between dawn and dusk. Only after sunset do Muslims break their fast with a meal, referred to as an iftar.

Jefferson’s decision to change the time of the meal to accommodate Mellimelli’s observance of Ramadan has been seized on by both sides in the 21st-century debate over Islam more than 200 years later. Historians have cited the meal as the first time an iftar took place in the White House – and it has been referenced in recent White House celebrations of Ramadan as an embodiment of the Founding Father’s respect for religious freedom. Meanwhile, critics on the far right have taken issue with the characterization of Jefferson’s Dec. 9, 1805, dinner as an iftar.

Whatever Jefferson could have foreseen for the young country’s future, it appears the modern-day White House tradition of marking Ramadan with an iftar dinner or Eid celebration has come to an end.

Ramadan, which falls on the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, started on May 27 this year and ends at sundown Saturday. Muslims around the world will mark the end of the holy month by celebrating the holiday Eid al-Fitr, the “feast of breaking of the fast.”

For the first time in nearly two decades, Ramadan has come and gone without the White House recognizing it with an iftar or Eid celebration, as had taken place each year under the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations. In recent weeks, several former White House staff members told The Post they would usually begin planning an iftar “months in advance” and didn’t anticipate the Trump White House could pull something off before the end of Ramadan.

White House officials did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Late Saturday afternoon, the White House released a short statement from President Trump and the first lady recognizing the holiday.

“Muslims in the United States joined those around the world during the holy month of Ramadan to focus on acts of faith and charity,” the statement read. “Now, as they commemorate Eid with family and friends, they carry on the tradition of helping neighbors and breaking bread with people from all walks of life. During this holiday, we are reminded of the importance of mercy, compassion, and goodwill. With Muslims around the world, the United States renews our commitment to honor these values. Eid Mubarak.”

In late May, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reportedly said the State Department would break with recent tradition and not host a Ramadan reception, as it had done nearly annually for two decades. On Saturday morning, Tillerson also released a brief statement sending “best wishes to all Muslims celebrating Eid al-Fitr.”

“This holiday marks the culmination of Ramadan, a month in which many experience meaning and inspiration in acts of fasting, prayer, and charity,” Tillerson said in the statement. “This day offers an opportunity to reflect on our shared commitment to building peaceful and prosperous communities. Eid Mubarak.”

Tillerson’s and Trump’s brief remarks were in stark contrast to Obama, who released a lengthy statement for the holiday last year, as well as to ceremonies hosted at the White House for the last 20 years.

If there were any questions about whether Jefferson was aware of Mellimelli’s religious practices, the memoirs of John Quincy Adams – later compiled and published by his son – put those to rest, according to the Papers of Thomas Jefferson at Princeton University.

“I dined at the President’s, in company with the Tunisian Ambassador and his two secretaries,” Adams, at the time a senator from Massachusetts, wrote in his diary on Dec. 9, 1805. “By the invitation, dinner was to have been on the table precisely at sunset – it being in the midst of Ramadan, during which the Turks fast while the sun is above the horizon. Did not arrive until half an hour after sunset, and, immediately after greeting the President and the company, proposed to retire and smoke his pipe.”

In his diary, the future president described Mellimelli with an air of fascination, noting everything from how the envoy smelled (of rose-scented snuff) to how his appearance differed from that of the other “Turks” (Mellimelli wore his beard long, while the two secretaries who had accompanied him only had whiskers).

Adams, the son of President John Adams, captured few details about what was served for dinner itself, only that Mellimelli “freely partook of the dishes on the table without inquiring into the cookery” and that, soon after eating, he left for the drawing room to smoke his pipe again.

“His manners are courteous, but we were all unable to converse with him, except through the medium of an interpreter,” Adams wrote.

Compared with other, more thoroughly documented events that have taken place at the White House over the centuries, the details from the dinner are scarce. But what Jefferson couldn’t have known is that changing the time of the meal to accommodate Mellimelli’s observance of Ramadan would turn that dinner into a point of contention in America’s culture wars more than 200 years later.

It wasn’t until 1996 that the modern-day White House tradition of celebrating Ramadan with a reception or meal started. That February, first lady Hillary Clinton hosted about 150 people for a reception for Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month.

The person Clinton credited for teaching her about Islam? Teenage daughter Chelsea, who had the year before studied Islamic history in school, according to reports that year cited by Muslim Voices.

Clinton described the reception as a “historic and overdue occasion,” a precedent for Muslim religious celebrations at the White House, the Associated Press reported then. (It’s unclear if she knew about the Jefferson dinner.)

“A greater understanding of the tenets of Islam in our national consciousness will help us build strength and resilience as a nation,” Clinton told guests, according to the Associated Press. “The values that lie at the heart of Ramadan – faith, family, community and responsibility to the less fortunate – resonate with all the peoples of this earth.”

The tradition continued under President George W. Bush, who hosted an iftar dinner every year of his two terms in office – including shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when anger toward Muslim Americans was spiking. At the 2001 dinner, in mid-November, Bush emphasized that America was fighting against terrorism, not Islam, according to The Washington Post’s coverage then:

– – –

“All the world continues to benefit from this faith and its achievements,” Bush said. “Ramadan and the upcoming holiday season are a good time for people of different faiths to learn more about each other. And the more we learn, the more we find that many commitments are broadly shared.”

After a White House Rose Garden ceremony, Bush had said his message for the dinner would be, “We’re a nation of many faiths.” Asked if the sentiment was symbolic, he immediately replied, “No – it’s real.”

– – –

More than 15 years later, Charlotte Beers, who served as undersecretary of state for public diplomacy under Bush, can still remember how effective the iftar had been diplomatically, in being able to show that the United States respected all religions.

“We all agreed that we had to reach out to moderate Muslims and acknowledge that they had as much concern as we did about the circumstances,” Beers told The Post in a recent interview. “That dinner was extremely important and heard around the world. . . . My personal opinion was, this speaks to that whole underpinning of what makes the United States tick – freedom of religion. It was extremely timely, we felt.”

But it was under President Barack Obama that the annual White House iftar dinner began to cause a bigger stir – in part because the president resurrected the story of Jefferson’s 1805 dinner with Mellimelli.

“Ramadan is a reminder that Islam has always been a part of America,” Obama said in his remarks at the 2010 White House iftar. “The first Muslim ambassador to the United States, from Tunisia, was hosted by President Jefferson, who arranged a sunset dinner for his guest because it was Ramadan – making it the first known iftar at the White House, more than 200 years ago.”

Obama mentioned this historical dinner again in his 2012 White House iftar remarks; that year, organizers also had set up a special display of Jefferson’s copy of the Koran, on loan from the Library of Congress.

“And that’s a reminder, along with the generations of patriotic Muslims in America, that Islam – like so many faiths – is part of our national story,” Obama said.

Terence Szuplat, a speechwriter for Obama, told The Post he couldn’t pinpoint who had brought up the Jefferson dinner first.

“I remember thinking, that would be a very interesting and fascinating and powerful story, but we can’t have the president say it until we know that it’s 100 percent accurate,” Szuplat said. He does remember consulting with historians at Monticello; historian Gaye Wilson, who wrote a 2003 essay about Jefferson’s dealings with Mellimelli, also remembers working with the White House to confirm details about the dinner.

As Szuplat expected, far-right blogs seized upon Obama’s comments, insisting that Jefferson had not hosted an iftar, but rather had simply moved the time back as a courtesy. “He didn’t change the menu, he didn’t change anything else,” one blog declared, before calling Obama “disgusting” and accusing him of rewriting history to cast Islam in a favorable light.

One of the biggest problems with those arguments, historians say, is that they ignore Jefferson’s reputation as someone who was a staunch defender of religious freedom, whatever his opinions were of the religion in question.

Nearly 30 years before the 1805 dinner, Jefferson had drafted the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which he considered among his life’s finest works. Jefferson described initial resistance to the proposed bill, as well as the significance of its passage in 1786, in his autobiography:

– – –

The bill for establishing religious freedom, the principles of which had, to a certain degree, been enacted before, I had drawn in all the latitude of reason & right. It still met with opposition; but, with some mutilations in the preamble, it was finally past; and a singular proposition proved that it’s protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word “Jesus Christ,” so that it should read “departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion” the insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of it’s protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination.

– – –

That Jefferson would push back the time of a dinner by several hours is an indication for his respect for religious freedom, even though Jefferson was widely criticized in his time for his accommodation of the Tunisian envoy, said Scott Harrop, a professor of Middle Eastern and South Asian languages and cultures at the University of Virginia.

Those who insist Jefferson didn’t host an iftar – even if he intended to, in the spirit of religious freedom – are also missing the very simple definition of what an iftar is, historians and former White House staff members say. Much as one doesn’t need a roasted turkey or eggnog to celebrate Christmas, there does not need to be a certain menu in place to make an iftar dinner.

“All iftar is is people breaking their fast. If they broke their fast in the White House, then that was iftar,” said Zaki Barzinji, a former senior associate director at the Obama White House who helped plan the administration’s last Ramadan celebration. “If I’m with a group of friends who are not Muslim, and we go and eat super late, and I break my fast while I’m with them, technically there was an iftar at that dinner.”

John Ragosta, a historian and author of “Religious Freedom: Jefferson’s Legacy, America’s Creed,” agreed, saying that people trying to claim Jefferson’s 1805 dinner was not an iftar were playing a “rather childish semantic game.”

“Here is an ambassador, an honored guest. The dinner is specifically scheduled after sundown to accommodate him,” Ragosta said. “Yeah, it sounds to me like an iftar dinner. You’re breaking the fast during Ramadan with someone who is a Muslim.”

Rumana Ahmed, who helped plan several White House iftar dinners and one Eid celebration during the Obama administration, said it was unfortunate the tradition could end with Trump. For all of the events she helped coordinate, the focus changed slightly each year: from honoring Muslim American youth to recognizing the economic contributions of the community, for example. But the overarching message of each White House Ramadan event was always one of inclusion and respect, Ahmed said.

“If you look at when it started and how it’s evolved, in a way it’s kind of been in response to conversations happening on a national level and in our society,” Ahmed 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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Crown Resorts staff jailed for enticing Chinese gamblers

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Three Australian employees of casino group Crown Resorts have been jailed after pleading guilty to illegally promoting gambling in China.

Jason O’Connor, a senior executive in charge of attracting Chinese high-rollers, was sentenced to 10 months by the Baoshan District Court in Shanghai.

Jerry Xuan and Pan Dan received nine-month jail terms. All are likely to be freed soon after time spent on remand.

Casino gambling, and promoting gambling abroad, are illegal in mainland China.

The fate of 16 other current and former Crown staff who are also on trial, all believed to be Chinese citizens, is currently unclear.

The arrests took place in October last year, after a police operation believed to target Crown’s marketing activities.

VIP business

Crown Resorts is controlled by Australian billionaire James Packer.

Like other casino groups across Asia, it sees wealthy Chinese gamblers as an important part of their business.

International high-rollers, known as VIPs, gambled $46.8bn (A$61bn) in the last financial year in Crown’s Melbourne and Perth casinos.

Crown said that Chinese gamblers only made up half this total, and counted for just 12% of total revenue for the business.

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Video Shows Teen Falling 25 Feet From Ride, Crowd Gathering To Catch Her

A teenage girl escaped serious injury Saturday evening after falling 25 feet from an amusement park ride in upstate New York – and into the arms of a crowd that had gathered below to catch her.

The dramatic fall and rescue was captured on video by at least one bystander at Six Flags Great Escape in Lake George, New York, about 60 miles north of Albany, where the incident took place.

In the video, a girl wearing blue shorts and a gray shirt can be seen dangling from a stopped gondola and screaming as several onlookers shout in alarm. Another person is seated inside the two-person gondola, not in apparent danger of falling.

“I was sitting there waiting and I heard the people screaming,” Loren Lent, who witnessed the incident, told The Washington Post. He said he had been standing nearby waiting to photograph his own family members, who were in a later gondola on the same ride.

Instead, he filmed a tense, life-threatening situation. A crowd began gathering beneath the dangling girl, their arms outstretched, as one person climbed into the tree to try to break off and move back branches, Lent said.

“That was a very good idea,” he said. “It was just good to see people band together to do what they could do.”

After several moments, Lent can be heard in the video yelling: “They’ll catch you! They’ll catch you, honey, go ahead!” It was then that the girl plummeted to the ground, hitting a tree branch before being caught by several people below. The video showed onlookers cheering after the girl was caught and then the girl being carried away, limp.

The girl who fell was a 14-year-old park guest visiting from Greenwood, Delaware, according to a statement from the Warren County Sheriff’s Office. She was treated by park emergency medical staff first, then taken to a local hospital and finally flown by helicopter to Albany Medical Center. She remains in stable condition with no serious injuries, police said.

A 47-year-old man visiting the park from Schenectady, New York, was also taken to a local hospital for a back injury he suffered as he tried to catch the girl, police said.

Lent, who later uploaded video of the incident to his Facebook page, said it was “horrifying” to witness. He estimated the girl had been dangling for at least 90 seconds and possibly even a few minutes.

“There were a lot of people yelling and surprised as I was that there wasn’t something that could be done faster to help,” Lent said. He added he was also alarmed that the girl, after being caught, had to be carried about 30 feet to a waiting golf cart to receive medical attention.

“If there’s possibly neck or back trauma, you want to immobilize (the person),” he said.

Police described the “Sky Ride,” the attraction from which the girl fell, as a “very slow-moving, gondola-style attraction that spans several hundred feet across the park.” After receiving a call that a rider was in distress, park staff stopped the ride, police said.

It’s unclear how long the girl was dangling from the gondola. Investigators and park staff inspected the ride, including the gondola the girl had been in, and found that “everything was in proper working order and all safety equipment was intact and operational at the time of the incident,” the sheriff’s office said.

Six Flags spokeswoman Rebecca Wood told The Post in an email that the New York State Department of Labor had cleared the ride for operation as of Sunday morning.

However, “out of an abundance of caution, the ride will remain closed while we conduct a thorough internal review,” Wood said.

When asked whether the girl’s evacuation from the ride had followed protocol, Wood did not specify but said that all rides have a “standard evacuation plan.”

“As part of our annual practice an evacuation drill is conducted in partnership with local emergency personnel on this particular ride each spring,” she wrote. “Every situation is unique and requires the appropriate time and tools for the evacuation. We are reviewing our internal procedures to ensure the safety and security of our guests and team members.”

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

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90 Scary Minutes On A Plane That Shook 'Like A Washing Machine'

Whatever went wrong in the air off Australia’s west coast on Sunday, it started quickly and violently, and it did not stop for far too long.

First, AirAsia X passengers told Perth Now and other outlets, there came a loud bang about 90 minutes into the flight to Kuala Lumpur. It woke some people up. Sophie Nicolas said it was an explosion on left wing, while Dave Parry remembered a strange smell wafting through the cabin.

Then the shaking. Endless shaking, up and down the jet. “Like you were sitting on top of a washing machine,” a passenger told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

It lasted another 90 minutes, passengers reported – minutes full of tears, prayers and gallows humor as the rattling jet limped back toward Australia.

Brenton Atkinson told the broadcasting station he looked out at the window and could see the engine rattling on the wing.

Inside, seat backs shook like jello blocks. A deafening thud-thud-thud-thud soundtracks every cellphone video from the aisles. Some passenger gritted their teeth. Others just folded their hands and endured.

A blade had sheared off an engine, the captain told passengers at one point, according to Perth Now. But AirAsia, which did not respond to The Washington Post, told Nine News Australia it had no reason to to think the plane had engine troubles – blaming the incident vaguely on a “technical issue.”

A spokesman for Perth Airport said much the same to The Post: “There was a plane that discovered a technical issue and returned.”

In any event, an early report from the loudspeaker could not have done much to reassure passengers.

“Please listen to everything,” a man said. “Our survival depends on your cooperating. Hopefully everything will turn out for the best.”

Those first minutes were among the worst, some passengers reported.

“I was crying a lot,” Sophie Nicolas told Australia’s ABC. “A lot of people were crying, trying to call their moms and stuff. But we couldn’t really do anything. Just wait and trust the captain.”

The captain asked everyone to pray, Nicolas told Perth Now.

“I’ll be saying a prayer, too,” she recalled him saying.

Less than three years earlier, another AirAsia flight crashed into the Java Sea and killed everyone on board, the result of a faulty rudder control system. But if any of the passengers on Sunday’s flight remembered that, they did not recall it in their interviews.

At the captain’s request, Perth Now reported, some passed the time keeping an eye on the left engine in case something else went wrong.

After a while, a sense of quasi-normalcy returned to the jittery flight.

In one video, a man casually walks down shaking aisles. In another, two Australian men grin for motion-blurred selfies.

“Not great, not amazing,” says one, his voice muffled by the thumping. “We’re having 50 million beers when we get back.”

As the plane rounded back on Australia, police stood by for a possible water landing, according to Nine News.

For two full minutes of descent, CNN reported, passengers held the brace position – heads forward, unable to see if the plane was going to make it.

When it did, a passenger told CNN, passengers erupted in applause and later shook the pilot’s hand.

“I still arrive!!!” someone posted on Instagram. “Thank you God!!!”

The shaking was over then. No one was reported injured. Now to wait for explanations.

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

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Successful SpaceX Launch Delivers Satellites Into Orbit

It was the second series of Iridium satellites launched by SpaceX.

Los Angeles:  The American company SpaceX on Sunday successfully placed 10 satellites for the communications company Iridium into orbit using a Falcon 9 rocket.

After launching as scheduled from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 1:25 pm local time (2025 GMT), the Falcon 9’s first stage returned less than eight minutes after taking off.

As planned, it landed on a barge floating in the Pacific Ocean.

SpaceX has successfully landed multiple rockets on both land and water, as part of its effort to bring down the cost of space flight by re-using multimillion dollar components instead of jettisoning them in the ocean after launch.

It was the second series of Iridium satellites launched by SpaceX, after a set of 10 were delivered in January.

In total SpaceX, which is headed by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, will launch a series of 75 satellites for Iridium’s satellite constellation, Iridium NEXT by 2018.

The $3 billion project is a bid to upgrade the Virginia-based Iridium’s global communications network.

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

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Selfies Galore On Twitter As People Wish Each Other Eid Mubarak

Eid 2017: Many social media users posted selfies to show the virtual world their Eid celebrations.

As people across the world celebrate Eid this year, a festival that marks the culmination of the holy month of Ramzan and sees people hug each other thrice and wish Eid Mubarak, social media saw a  trend of selfies. The Twittersphere was abound with young men and women who posted their selfies coupled with the trending hashtag #EidMubarak.

After the crescent moon finally shows up in the sky, people complete their steadfastly observed Rozas or fasts and venture out to wish each other a joyous Eid-ul-Fitr followed by a day-long of festivities and mouth-watering delicacies. Among these, top spot is reserved for Qeemami Sevai and Sheer Korma, which also lends another name for the festival- Meethi (sweet) Eid. Hectic activity is seen in markets throughout this month, especially on Eid when people buy new clothes for themselves and their family.

Muslims in Saudi Arabia, UAE and some other parts of the world celebrated Eid on Sunday. Many countries in South East Asia witnessed the Moon last night and will celebrate today.

Social media platforms including Twitter had an early beginning to the virtual celebration. Many users shared solo pictures of themselves on the micro-blogging website.





London Mayor Sadiq Khan also posed for a selfie with a little girl.

Ramzan, the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, is observed as a fasting period by Muslims who abstain from food and water from sunrise to sunset. After sunset, those observing a fast break it with a piece of date and an elaborate feast called Iftar.

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Brexit: David Davis 'pretty sure' of free trade deal

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Media caption“Very French”: What David Davis thinks of his EU counterpart

Brexit Secretary David Davis has told the BBC he is “pretty sure”, but not “certain”, that he will be able to get a free trade deal with the EU.

He told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show that other EU states “have a very strong interest in getting a good deal”.

But he said that if the UK was only offered a “punishment deal” then it had to be prepared to “walk away”.

His Labour shadow Sir Keir Starmer said Mr Davis should focus on getting the best deal, not “preparing for failure”.

In his interview, Mr Davis also defended Theresa May as a “very good prime minister” – although said she was “under pressure”.

When asked if it would be “catastrophic” for Brexit negotiations for there to be a Tory leadership contest, he replied: “Yes.”

“Let me be absolutely plain about this, number one, I happen to think we have got a very good prime minister. I know she is coming under a lot of pressure at the moment, but I have seen her in action.

“I think she is very good. She makes good decisions. She’s bold. She takes her time.

“Point number two is, I want a stable backdrop to this Brexit negotiation.”

‘No deal’

Mr Davis is heading up the UK side of negotiations, and began talks last week with his EU counterpart Michel Barnier. Of Mr Barnier, he said: “He wants a deal as much as we want a deal, I think.”

Mrs May has been criticised by some for saying “no deal is better than a bad deal” with the EU.

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Mrs May has been under pressure since losing her Commons majority in the general election

Last week, Chancellor Philip Hammond said “no deal would be a very, very bad outcome for Britain” although he went on to say a “worse outcome” would be a deal “deliberately structured to suck the lifeblood out of our economy”.

When Mr Davis was asked by Marr whether he was sure there would be a deal, he said: “I’m pretty sure, I am not 100% sure, you can never be, it’s a negotiation.

Reminded of his past words that “we are guaranteed to get a deal”, Mr Davis said: “You can be sure there will be a deal, whether it’s the deal I want which is the free trade agreement, the customs agreement and so on – I’m pretty sure but I’m not certain.”

On the prospect of no deal, he said a bad deal “would be better than a punishment deal”.

“We cannot have a circumstance where the other side says that they are going to punish you. So if that happens then there is a walkaway, and we have to plan for that.”

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Mr Davis and EU chief negotiator Mr Barnier began talks last week

Mr Davis said he wanted to deliver an outcome “which helps both sides” and said it was likely there would be a transitional period, after the UK leaves the EU, for trade arrangements, probably of “one to two years”.

Sir Keir Starmer, shadow secretary of state for exiting the EU, said “no deal is not a viable option as it would be catastrophic for British trade, jobs and security. The sooner David Davis realises this, the better.

“Instead of preparing for failure the government should be putting all their efforts into getting a Brexit deal that works for Britain – that means putting jobs and the economy first and dropping the no deal mantra.”

Mr Davis also said he wanted to get a deal on the rights of EU citizens in the UK, and UK citizens living in other EU states, “through now” and to discuss the issue of how the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic will operate, although he acknowledged that it would not be concluded in the negotiations this summer.

‘Not good enough’

He said the government wanted to have an “invisible border” between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic and said there was lots of “technical stuff” to start working on now – such as number plate recognition and “trusted trailer schemes”.

But the Liberal Democrats’ Brexit spokesman, Tom Brake, said Mr Davis “inspires about as much confidence as a drunken trapeze artist”.

“It is the country as a whole that will suffer when he comes crashing to the floor.

“These negotiations will affect our lives for decades, but he’s only ‘pretty sure’ of getting a deal. It is simply not good enough.”


Meanwhile Shadow Cabinet Office minister Jon Trickett has been asked to clarify Labour’s position on the single market after 50 Labour politicians signed a letter to the Guardian urging the party to back staying in.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has previously said he did not think remaining a member of the single market was “feasible” and Mr Corbyn has suggested Brexit would mean an end to the UK’s single market membership.

Mr Trickett told BBC One’s Sunday Politics that while Labour’s position is to “have access to all of the tariff-free arrangements which exist within the customs union and single market” it was not wedded to any “particular institutional form”.

He said: “We are pragmatic about it. Let’s see how the negotiations go. We are not going to say one thing or another in terms of institutional relationships.”

The prime minister has said the UK “cannot possibly” remain in the single market as to do so would mean “not leaving the EU at all”.

EU leaders have warned that the UK cannot access the single market, which allows the free movement of goods, services and workers between its members, while at the same time restricting the free movement of people.

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Wonder Woman continues to smash box office records

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Gal Gadot takes the leading role in Patty Jenkins’ film

Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman film is on track to break box office records by becoming the top grossing live-action film from a female director.

The film has generated more than $620m worldwide since its launch 21 days ago, media reports say, and is on course to outperform the $665.7m made by Kung Fu Panda 2 – also directed by a woman.

Some analysts predict Wonder Woman will also overtake Frozen, made in 2013 by male and female directors.

It generated $1.28bn in ticket sales.

Ms Jenkins’ Wonder Woman is due to generate $319m (£250m; €285m) in the US in 24 days, Forbes’ Scott Mendelson reports, which is only a little less than the $325m and $330m US totals of Suicide Squad and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

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Israeli actress Gal Gadot has also starred in the Fast & Furious films

Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman salary seems low compared to male actors

Wonder Woman’s female director conquers box office

Does Wonder Woman live up to the hype?

Wonder Woman is soon likely to be the biggest US success for DC Comics, apart from the last two Batman Dark Knight sequels.

The film – starring Israeli actress Gal Gadot in the lead role – has already overtaken the international ticket sales of Phyllida Lloyd’s Mamma Mia!, which earned $609m in 2008, Mendelson says.

“[The] action spectacular is still doing ridiculously well, both in terms of raw numbers and legs,” he writes.

“It’s projected $27.5m fourth weekend is a drop of just 33% from last weekend, which is nuts for a movie like this.”

Wonder Woman is also due to secure “the seventh-biggest fourth weekend gross of all time”, he adds.

Wonder Woman is the first female-led superhero film to be directed by a woman. It has received largely positive reviews from film critics.

Hollywood is known for its reluctance to hire female directors, especially for blockbuster superhero movies.

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Takata: Airbag-maker files for bankruptcy

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The faulty devices have been linked to at least 17 deaths globally

Japanese car parts maker Takata has filed for bankruptcy protection in the US and Japan.

The company is facing billions of dollars in liabilities for its defective airbags, which have been linked to at least 17 deaths worldwide.

Some of the airbags contained faulty inflators which expanded with too much force, spraying metal shrapnel.

More than 100 million airbags have since been recalled, the biggest safety recall in automotive history.

Takeover expected

In January, Takata agreed to pay $1bn (£784m) in penalties in the US for concealing dangerous defects, and pleaded guilty to a single criminal charge.

The firm paid a $25m fine, $125m to people injured by the airbags as well as $850m to carmakers that used them.

But it is facing further legal action in the US and liabilities of 1 trillion yen ($9bn).

Filing for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the US – with similar action taken in Japan – will allow for an expected takeover by US-based Chinese company Key Safety Systems.

Trading in Takata shares – which dived last week on anticipation of the bankruptcy move – has been suspended in on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

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UK Fire Fears Continue As 60 Buildings Deemed Unsafe

The massive operation to test tower blocks follows the Grenfell Tower inferno earlier this month

London:  The fallout from London’s devastating tower block blaze continued on Sunday with the government announcing 60 high-rises have failed safety tests, as an insurance body said they had warned officials of the fire risks. The massive operation to test tower blocks follows the Grenfell Tower inferno earlier this month that is presumed to have killed 79 people after it spread at shocking speed.

Suspicion has fallen on the cladding installed on the outside of Grenfell and urgent checks have found such material used on 60 other residential buildings has failed fire tests.

“All landlords and fire and rescue services for these local authorities have been alerted to the results and we are in touch with all of them to support and monitor follow-up action,” said local government minister Sajid Javid.

The new figure is a significant jump from the 34 high-rise buildings in England deemed unsafe by the government on Saturday.

While many people have been able to stay in their homes despite the fire risk, thousands of residents from 650 flats in north London were evacuated on Saturday.

Failed fire tests

An inspection showed four of the five Chalcots Estate towers in Camden were at risk over cladding, fire doors, gas pipes and insulation, prompting a chaotic evacuation with temporary accommodation offered in a local leisure centre and hotels.

Despite the safety fears, around 200 residents have refused to leave their homes, some of whom suffer from agoraphobia, according to local authority leader Georgia Gould.

“I’m going myself back to the blocks to knock on doors and have those conversations,” she told BBC television of her efforts to convince residents to leave.

Gould refused to be drawn on whether there was a deadline to evacuate residents, saying: “The last thing I want to do is force people out of their homes.”

It is up to each local authority to decide whether to evacuate residents from blocks which have failed fire tests, a spokesman for the communities and local government department told AFP.

Warning over cladding

As tests continue to avoid a repeat of the horror which broke out at the Grenfell Tower on June 14,  the Association of British Insurers said it had warned of the risks posed by cladding in feedback to a government policy document.

“In our response to the government’s housing white paper in May this year we drew attention to the fact that external cladding made from combustible material can cause fire to spread,” ABI spokesman Malcolm Tarling told AFP by email.

The same government department which is now spearheading the safety checks ran a consultation between February and May, requesting feedback on its “white paper” policy document on overhauling the housing sector.

A spokeswoman for the department for communities and local government was not immediately able to comment on the ABI’s feedback, which has not yet been published.

As the charred skeleton of the 24-storey Grenfell block looms over the west of the city, London MP David Lammy said trust has hit “rock bottom” as many in the local community believe more than 79 people were killed.

“Survivors cannot believe that the death toll has not risen. Speaking to people on the ground, there is huge suspicion of a cover-up,” he said.

Police have warned that  the number of victims could rise still, with detective Fiona McCormack on Friday saying a full forensic search of Grenfell Tower could take until the end of the year.

All “complete bodies” have been removed from the wreckage but there remains “a terrible reality that we may not find or identify everyone who died due to the intense heat,” she said.

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

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Business confidence on the up, Lloyds survey finds

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Business confidence has jumped to an 18-month high, but companies are having trouble recruiting skilled workers, according to a new survey.

The Lloyds Bank Business in Britain report’s confidence index rose to 24% – double the level immediately following the EU referendum last year.

The index is a measure of expected sales, orders and profits.

The report surveyed the views of 1,500 UK companies in May, after the general election was called.

The average for the confidence index in the 25 years the report has been compiled is 23%.

The net balance of companies that said they had found it difficult to find skilled labour in the past six months hit a 10-year high of 52%.

That was up from 31% in January when the last report was released.

The share of firms facing similar issues with unskilled workers also rose to 26%, up from 14%.

Tim Hinton of Lloyds Banking Group said: “Although challenges remain in recruiting both skilled and unskilled labour, businesses are anticipating higher sales, increased profits and staffing levels to rise.

“However, the outlook remains mixed at best.”

According to the survey, four out of six business sectors reported higher levels of confidence since January.

That was attributed mainly to increased demand from UK customers, which Lloyds said suggested was due to factors other than the help that weaker sterling had given to exporters.

Hann-Ju Ho, senior economist at Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said: “Although the pound’s value is seen as nearer ‘fair value’, currency volatility remains a big concern for some UK businesses that trade internationally.”

Inflation fears

Meanwhile, the British Chambers of Commerce said that economic growth will remain weak anaemic over the next few years.

The business group, which represents thousands of small and medium-sized companies, said annual GDP growth will not exceed 1.5% by 2020 and inflation could end up being higher than expected.

The BCC expected inflation to average 2.9% this year and peak at 3.4% in the last three months of 2017, which it said would hit consumer spending.

The group raised its forecast for economic growth from 1.4% to 1.5% for this year, but expected GDP to increase by just 1.3% next year.

Adam Marshall, director-general of the BCC, said: “Over recent months, many of the businesses I speak to have expressed cautious optimism for their own prospects, but remain wary about the growth prospects of the UK economy as a whole.

“In the wake of an inconclusive general election, that wariness is set to increase.”

The group has urged the government to spend more on infrastructure, particularly broadband and mobile phone connectivity, while it has described the UK’s road network as sclerotic.

In May the Office for National Statistics said the economy expanded by 0.2% in the first three months of the year, down from its first estimate of 0.3%, as the key services sector lost momentum.

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Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif Cuts Short London Trip After Tanker Blast

An oil tanker caught fire following an accident on a highway near Pakistan’s Ahmedpur East. (AFP Photo)

Islamabad:  Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has cut short his London trip over the oil tanker fire incident that killed at least 140 people and injured over 100 others in Punjab province, the Prime Minister’s Office said.

A statement from the office said Sharif, who was originally scheduled to return home on June 30, will leave for Pakistan on Sunday, Xinhua news agency reported.

“Winding up his engagements in London, the PM has decided to immediately return back to country because terror attacks on Friday and oil tanker fire tragedy have grieved the nation immensely,” said the statement.

Shahbaz Sharif, Punjab Chief Minister, has announced a compensation package of Pakistani Rs (PKR) 2,000,000 ($19,100) for each of the killed and PKR 1,000,000 ($9,550) for the injured.

According to police, the tragic incident took place when an oil tanker fully packed with around 50,000 liters of petrol skidded off the road after tire burst on a highway in Ahmad Pur Sharqia, a small town about 400 from Lahore, capital city of Punjab province.

The fire broke out after many people from nearby villages came in motorbikes to collect the oil spilled out from the capsized oil tanker.

A total of 75 motorbikes and six vehicles including a traffic police vehicle were burnt in the fire, said police. The site was littered with numerous bodies burned beyond recognition, said eyewitnesses.

Imran Shah, spokesman of Pakistan Motorway Police, said that initial investigation suggested that the fire broke out after someone on the spot lit a cigarette. However, further probe into the incident is still underway, he said.

Four helicopters and a C-130 airplane were used to airlift the critically injured to hospitals in other cities.

Rana Saleem, Deputy Commissioner of Bahawalpur, said the toll might further rise as at least two dozen of the injured are in critical condition.

Both Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain and Prime Minister Sharif expressed deep sorrow over the loss of lives in the incident.

The Prime Minister also instructed all the concerned authorities to provide the best available medical treatment to the victims.

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

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Holland & Barrett sold for £1.8bn to Russian billionaire

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Holland & Barrett, the UK’s biggest health food retailer, is being bought by a Russian billionaire for £1.8bn.

L1 Retail, a fund controlled by Mikhail Fridman, is buying the 1,150-store chain from Carlyle, the US private equity firm, the Financial Times reported.

Carlyle acquired Holland & Barrett as part of its $3.8bn purchase in 2010 of US firm Nature’s Bounty, now NBTY.

The chain has about 600 stores in the UK as well as China, India and the UAE.

The retailer, which employs more than 4,000 people, was founded in Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire, in 1870.

Holland & Barrett has opened more than 300 stores in the seven years since the private equity takeover, the Financial Times reported.

The purchase is the first by L1 Retail, which was set up in late 2016.

It aims to invest $3bn in a small number of retail businesses that it believes can be market leaders by “moving with and leading long-term trends”.

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Mikhail Fridman’s L1 Retail fund is buying Holland & Barrett

The fund’s advisory board includes John Walden, the former chief executive of Home Retail Group.

The company owned Argos and Homebase before selling both chains last year.

Other members are Karl-Heinz Holland, who was chief executive of Lidl Group, the German supermarket chain; and Clive Humby, one of the founders of dunnhumby, which came up with the idea for Tesco’s Clubcard.

L1 also has funds focused on energy, technology and health.

Peter Aldis, Holland & Barrett chief executive, is expected to stay on.

Mr Fridman is best known for his role as chief executive of BP’s Russian joint venture TNK between 2003 and 2012, when it was sold to Rosneft for $56bn.

Mervyn Davies, the former Standard Chartered chief executive who is now Lord Davies of Abersoch, is chairman of L1 Holdings.

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‘I love doing battle’

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Claire Wood Photography

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David McCourt is proud of his Irish-American heritage

With his thick, working class Boston accent, David McCourt doesn’t immediately come across as a successful entrepreneur with a personal fortune of $750m (£589m).

If you ever saw the 58-year-old drinking in an Irish bar in his native “Southie”, the blue collar southern part of the US city, you’d be minded not to annoy him.

He looks like a tough guy who doesn’t tolerate fools; you’d guess he was an off-duty policeman, fireman, or construction boss.

A proud Irish American, he says this is his heritage.

“When I was growing up, every Irish guy in Boston was a contractor, a policeman, or a fireman.

“My dad was a contractor, my dad’s dad was a contractor, my dad’s dad’s dad was a contractor.”

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Mr Court’s business interests expanded out from his home town of Boston

However, Mr McCourt didn’t follow his father into the building industry for long. Instead he made his first fortune in the early 1980s as one of the first, and largest, installers of cable TV networks in the US.

A serial entrepreneur, he then went on to expand into telephone systems and making television programmes.

But while Mr McCourt is softly spoken and polite, the “Southie” steel is more than evident.

“I’m definitely not afraid of a fight [in business],” he says. “If I have been wronged, I will spend as long as it takes so that I feel I have been righted.”

After school in Boston, Mr McCourt went to Georgetown University in Washington DC, from where he graduated in 1979 with a degree in sociology.

Moving back to Boston he worked in construction for a year or two, until aged 24 he found out that cable TV was coming to the city, and firms were being invited to bid to lay the wires in the ground.

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David McCourt

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Mr McCourt has won numerous awards for his work as a television programme producer

Despite having no real knowledge of the sector, Mr McCourt decided to make a pitch.

Quickly doing some work in the industry so that he could learn the ropes and show he had experience, albeit brief, his bid was accepted.

What gave him the edge over his rivals was that he said he could start the work straight away.

While the other bidders were worried about delays in getting permits to dig up Boston’s roads, Mr McCourt says that thanks to his local knowledge he had a cunning plan.

He says he realised the city’s then mayor was being criticised in east Boston because he had agreed to the expansion of the city’s airport – located in that part of the city.

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ALTV has launched online in North Africa

So in order to help placate the local residents, Mr McCourt said he would start his work there, making them the first to get cable. It worked, and he quickly got his permits.

After Boston his business – McCourt Cable Systems – expanded across the US.

When problems arrived, it was invariably always a customer not paying him. Mr McCourt says he always resolved the issue with a tactic a friend taught him in a Boston bar.

“[On one occasion] my biggest customer had all my money, and all of sudden a tough guy starts taking my calls, telling me I had been charging them too much, and they were going to renegotiate my bill,” he says.

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David McCourt

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Mc McCourt has long mixed with the great and the good

“So I was in a pub… bitching about not getting paid, and the guy I was with grabs me by the tie and says ‘do something about it, or shut up’.”

Mr McCourt says his friend then told him about a builder who, after not being paid, turned up at a customer’s house with a hammer and said he would smash the wall he had built unless he got his money.

“That was my answer,” says Mr McCourt. “So I phoned up the company and said I’m going to start digging up all my cables.

“There was then a huge meeting with lawyers, chaos and threats, but by Thursday they had paid me everything, 100%.”

Within a few years Mr McCourt had expanded overseas, and was laying cable in Mexico, a business he subsequently sold to Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim.

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David McCourt

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He worked with Meg Ryan on a documentary in his native Ireland

As the US telephone network was opened up to competition, he also set up a phone business called Corporate Communications Network that he merged with another business before selling for $14.3bn.

He also bought a number of TV stations in the Caribbean, and moved into making TV programmes when he realised this was cheaper than buying them in.

His TV career as a producer has seen him win a number of Emmy Awards, and make documentaries with the likes of Michael Douglas and Meg Ryan.

Today Mr McCourt is chief executive of Granahan McCourt Capital (GMC), which has numerous business interests around the world. These range from Irish broadband business Enet to a Saudi Arabian joint partnership to develop satellite technology.

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The more recent ventures of GMC include TV business, which aims to help people in the developing world get paid for recording videos on their mobile phones, be it reporting news or making longer form films.

Mr McCourt also has high hopes for a smart phone app called Findyr, which he hopes will revolutionise information gathering around the world, as it enables members of the public to get paid for sending data to survey firms.

He explains: “So instead of the cost of having to send expensive survey staff somewhere, you pay members of the public to send in a geo-located photograph or piece of data.”

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Mr McCourt made his fortune installing cable TV across the US

Brian Morgan, professor of entrepreneurship at Cardiff Metropolitan University, says: “David McCourt is one of those entrepreneurs who has learned to successfully create and to navigate public-private partnerships in order to increase investment in mobile and cable connectivity in areas where it has traditionally been deemed as uneconomic.

“In the process he has made himself a very rich entrepreneur, but this is exactly what constructive entrepreneurship is all about – it’s about providing a service or product that people want, and/or introducing something new into the market that enhances the social capital of the region.”

Mr McCourt admits that he often takes on too many projects, but says he has no intention of slowing up.

“I love business, and I love doing battle, I love competition and I love to win,” he says.

“I like to accomplish stuff and I like to build stuff… I like all those better than golf, or drinking, or watching TV.”

Follow The Boss series editor Will Smale on Twitter.

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China, Pakistan, Afghanistan Agree To Maintain Peace

China said shuttle diplomacy was aimed at mediating between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Islamabad:  China, Pakistan and Afghanistan are committed to maintaining regional peace and stability, enhancing regional connectivity and economic cooperation and promoting shared security and development, a joint statement said. The joint press release by the three countries came after Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s shuttle diplomacy in Afghanistan and Pakistan that concluded on Sunday, Xinhua news agency reported. It said both Pakistan and Afghanistan “are willing to improve relations with each other, strengthen political mutual trust, enhance cooperation in various fields including counter-terrorism, and jointly meet security challenges”.

According to the statement, Afghanistan and Pakistan have agreed to establish a crisis management mechanism, which will include prevention through timely and effective intelligence and information sharing and other mutually agreed measures.

“This would enable the two sides to maintain timely and effective communications in case of emergencies, including terrorist attacks,” it said.

The three countries also agreed to establish the China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Foreign Ministers’ dialogue mechanism to cooperate on issues of mutual interest, beginning with economic cooperation, said the paper.

It added that “the three parties believe that the Quadrilateral Coordination Group should be revived to create an enabling environment for peace talks and for Taliban to join the peace talks.”

The statement said the three parties “support the Kabul process and hold the view that the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation-Afghanistan Contact Group should be revived as early as possible to play a constructive role in moving forward the Afghan reconciliation process.”

Ahead of his departure from Islamabad, the Chinese Foreign Minister told a press briefing that his shuttle diplomacy was aimed at mediating between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and help the reconciliation process in Afghanistan.

Wang stressed that China never interferes in other’s internal affairs, never imposes its will on others, nor does it get involved in geopolitical competitions but China is willing to lend a hand when friends are in need, adding that he had candid and in-depth talks with Afghan and Pakistani leaders and they reached broad consensus.

Wang said that China is willing to play a constructive role within its capacity to help Afghanistan and Pakistan in improving their relations.

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

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Tricky trade-off

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In January 1842, Charles Dickens arrived on American shores for the first time.

He was greeted like a rock star in Boston, Massachusetts, but the great novelist was a man with a cause: he wanted to put an end to cheap, sloppy pirated copies of his work in the US.

They circulated with impunity because the United States granted no copyright protection to non-citizens.

In a bitter letter to a friend, Dickens compared the situation to being mugged and then paraded through the streets in ridiculous clothes.

“Is it tolerable that besides being robbed and rifled,” he wrote, “an author should be forced to appear in any form – in any vulgar dress – in any atrocious company?”


It was a powerful and melodramatic metaphor. But the truth is the case for what Dickens was demanding – legal protection for ideas that otherwise could be freely copied and adapted – has never been quite so clear cut.

50 Things That Made the Modern Economy highlights the inventions, ideas and innovations that helped create the economic world.

It is broadcast on the BBC World Service. You can find more information about the programme’s sources and listen online or subscribe to the programme podcast.

Patents and copyright grant a monopoly.

Dickens’s British publishers will have charged as much as they could get away with for copies of Bleak House. Cash-strapped literature lovers simply had to go without.

But these potential fat profits encourage new ideas.

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Many US editions of Dickens’s work – including Bleak House – were pirated copies

It took Dickens a long time to write Bleak House. If other British publishers could have ripped it off like the Americans, perhaps he wouldn’t have bothered.

So, intellectual property reflects an economic trade-off, a balancing act. If it’s too generous to the creators, then good ideas will take too long to copy, adapt and spread. If it’s too stingy, then maybe we won’t see the good ideas at all.

This trade-off has always been coloured by politics.

The British legal system strongly protected the rights of British authors and British inventors in the 1800s because the UK was then – as now – a powerful force in world culture and innovation.

Brazen copying

But in Dickens’s day, American literature and innovation were in their infancy. The US economy was in full-blown copying mode: they wanted the cheapest possible access to the best ideas that Europe could offer.

US newspapers filled their pages with brazen copying – alongside attacks on the interfering Mr Dickens.

A few decades later, when American authors and inventors spoke with a more powerful voice, America’s lawmakers began to take an increasingly fond view of the idea of intellectual property. Newspapers, once opposed to copyright, now rely upon it.

And we can expect to see a similar transition in developing countries today: the less they copy other ideas and the more they create their own, the more they protect ideas. There’s been a lot of recent movement: China didn’t have a copyright system at all until 1991.

The modern form of intellectual property originated, like so many things, in 15th Century Venice. Venetian patents were explicitly designed to encourage innovation.

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Francesco Foscari was Doge of Venice in 1474 when the Venetian patent statute was introduced

The inventor would automatically receive a patent if their invention was useful. The patent was temporary, but could be sold, transferred or even inherited during its lifetime.

It would be forfeited if it wasn’t used, and invalidated if the invention proved to be closely based on a previous idea.

These are all very modern ideas. And they soon created very modern problems.


During the British industrial revolution, the great engineer James Watt worked out a superior way to design a steam engine. He spent months developing a prototype, but then put even more effort into securing a patent.

His influential business partner, Matthew Boulton, even got the patent extended by lobbying Parliament.

Boulton and Watt used it to extract licensing fees and crush rivals – for example, Jonathan Hornblower, who made an even better steam engine yet found himself ruined and imprisoned.

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Boulton and Watt put a huge amount of effort into protecting their invention

The details may have been grubby, but surely Watt’s famous invention was worth it? Well, maybe not.

The economists Michele Boldrin and David Levine argue that what truly unleashed steam-powered industry was the expiry of the patent, in 1800, as rival inventors revealed the ideas they had been sitting on for years.

And what happened to Boulton and Watt, once they could no longer sue those rivals? They flourished anyway. They redirected their attention from litigation towards the challenge of producing the best steam engines in the world. They kept their prices as high as ever, and their order books swelled.

Far from incentivising improvements in the steam engine, the patent actually delayed them.


Yet since the days of Boulton and Watt, intellectual property protection has grown more expansive, not less so.

Copyright terms are growing ever longer. In the US, they were originally 14 years, renewable once. They now last 70 years after the death of the author – typically more than a century.

Patents have become broader and are being granted on vague ideas – for example, Amazon’s “one-click” US patent protects the not-entirely-radical idea of buying a product on the internet by clicking only one button.

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Amazon’s “one-click” buying process is now protected

The US intellectual property system now has a global reach, thanks to the inclusion of intellectual property rules in what tend to be described as “trade agreements”.

And more and more things fall under the scope of intellectual property – for example plants, buildings and software have all been brought into its domain.

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These expansions are hard to justify, but easy to explain: intellectual property is very valuable to its owners, which justifies the cost of employing expensive lawyers and lobbyists.

Meanwhile, the cost of the restrictions are spread widely among people who barely notice it.

The likes of Matthew Boulton and Charles Dickens have a strong incentive to lobby aggressively for more draconian intellectual property laws – while the many buyers of steam engines and Bleak House are unlikely to get politically organised to object.

The economists Boldrin and Levine have a radical response to this problem: scrap intellectual property altogether.

There are, after all, other rewards for inventing things – getting a “first mover” advantage over your competitors, establishing a strong brand, or enjoying a deeper understanding of what makes a product work.

Financial upside?

In 2014, the electric car company Tesla opened up access to its patent archive in an effort to expand the industry as a whole, calculating the company would benefit overall.

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Tesla’s Model S was the world’s best-selling plug-in electric car for two years in a row, 2015 and 2016

For most economists, scrapping intellectual property entirely is going too far. They point to important cases – such as new medicines – where the costs of invention are enormous and the costs of copying are trivial.

But those who defend intellectual property protections still tend to argue that – right now – those protections offer more than enough incentive to create new ideas.

Dickens himself eventually discovered a financial upside to weak copyright protection.

Twenty five years after his initial visit to the US, Dickens returned, keen to make some money.

He reckoned that so many people had read cheap knock-offs of his stories that he could cash in on his fame with a lecture tour. He was absolutely right: off the back of pirated copies of his work, Charles Dickens made a fortune as a public speaker, many millions of dollars in today’s terms.

Perhaps the intellectual property was worth more when given away.

Tim Harford writes the Financial Times’s Undercover Economist column. 50 Things That Made the Modern Economy is broadcast on the BBC World Service. You can find more information about the programme’s sources and listen online or subscribe to the programme podcast.

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Boat In Colombia Carrying 150 Tourists Sinks In Reservoir

An official said rescued people are being sent to the local hospital in Guatape. (Representational)

Bogota, Colombia:  A boat carrying some 150 tourists sank Sunday in a reservoir in Colombia, the air force said. There was no immediate word on casualties. The accident happened for reasons unknown in the El Penol reservoir in the northwest tourist town of Guatape.

The air force said a helicopter was on its way to help in rescue operations.

The four-deck ship called Almirante went down Sunday afternoon. The reservoir is 68 kilometers (40 miles) from the city of Medellin and one of Antioquia department’s main tourist draws.

Video circulating on social media shows the ship going down and dozens of other vessels approaching it to try to rescue people.

“The situation looks serious,” said an official with the Antioquia government.

The official said rescued people are being sent to the local hospital in Guatape.

The town fills with tourists on long weekends like this one, since Monday is a holiday in Colombia.

Medellin’s mayor Federico Gutierrez said he is sending a team led by a firefighting crew captain and five scuba divers.

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

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Angela Merkel's Conservatives Widen Lead 3 Months Before German Vote

Merkel’s conservatives won three regional elections in the last three months.

Berlin:  German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives widened their lead over the Social Democrats (SPD) to 15 points in a weekly opinion poll by the Emnid institute published on Sunday, three months before the Sept. 24 election.

The Christian Democrats (CDU) and its CSU Bavarian sister party were steady at 39 percentage points in the Emnid poll published in Bild am Sonntag newspaper, while the SPD fell one percentage point to 24.

The SPD had surged from 16 points behind the CDU/CSU in mid-January to a 33-32 lead in mid February after nominating Martin Schulz as chancellor candidate. The SPD held even with the CDU/CSU at 33-33 until early April before falling behind.

Merkel’s conservatives won three regional elections in the last three months while the initial euphoria surrounding Schulz, a former European Parliament president, wore off.

Despite the widening lead, Merkel’s CDU/CSU is far short of a majority and might have a difficult time finding a junior coalition partner. Their preferred partner, the Free Democrats (FDP) were steady at 7 percentage points in the Emnid poll.

The pro environment Greens, who could form a centre left coalition with the SPD or a centre right alliance with the CDU/CSU, were up 1 point to 8 percentage points. The far left Left party were steady at 9.

The far right Alternative for Germany (AfD), ostracized by the other parties and without any coalition partner options, was steady at 8 percentage points

© 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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Mosul Celebrates First Eid Without ISIS In Years

Mosul:  People in the Iraqi city of Mosul celebrated their first Muslim Eid holiday without ISIS in years today after the terrorists were ejected from much of the city, and hoped the battle to recapture the remaining area would soon be over.

Children gathered in squares on the eastern side of the city. Some played on old swings and others with toy guns and rifles, which were among the toys allowed by ISIS terrorists after they took over the city in June 2014.

The terrorists implemented an extreme version of Islam which associated toys with a face, like dolls, with idolatry. They encouraged youngsters to train on weapons and changed text books to reflect their military ideology. Children were asked to add up bombs or bullets in maths exercises.

Eid prayers were allowed under ISIS but festivities were not.

But for many, Sunday’s Eid celebrations were overshadowed by the destruction of their historic leaning minaret, blown up by the terrorists on Wednesday, and fears for thousands of civilians trapped in the Old City in western Mosul still under ISIS control.

“It won’t be real Eid before we return home,” said a man in his sixties, displaced from the western side of the city, across the Tigris river, where fighting continues.

Some expressed sadness over the destruction of the 850-year-old Grand al-Nuri mosque and its leaning 150-foot (45-metre) minaret.

“Eid is not the same,” said a man who declined to give his name as fear is still present even though Iraqi forces dislodged the insurgents from the eastern part of the city months ago.

Iraqi forces took the eastern side from ISIS in January, after 100 days of fighting, and started attacking the western side in February. The terrorists are now besieged in Mosul’s Old City.

“As our heroic forces are closer to declaring final victory over the Daesh (Islamic State) gangs, I offer my most sincere congratulations for Eid al-Fitr,” Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a statement.

A US-led international coalition is providing air and ground support in the 8-month-old offensive to drive the militants from their de facto capital in Iraq.

About 350 ISIS fighters, most of them non-Iraqis, are defending their remaining stronghold in Mosul’s densely populated Old City, an Iraqi general said today. He expected the battle for the city to end in days.


“Most of the dead bodies are foreigners, most of the fighters are foreigners, we see some trying to escape across the Tigris,” said Major-General Sami al-Arithi, a Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) commander.

The US-trained urban warfare units are leading the fight in the narrow alleyways of the historic district which lies by the western bank of the Tigris.

More than 50,000 civilians, about half the Old City’s population, remain behind ISIS lines, complicating the troops’ advance, Arithi told state TV.

The civilians are trapped in crumbling old houses in harrowing conditions, with little food, water or medicines, according to those who have escaped.

Aid organizations say ISIS has stopped many from leaving, using them as human shields. Hundreds of civilians fleeing the Old City have been killed in the past three weeks.

Iraqi authorities were hoping to declare victory in the northern city by Eid, a three-day festival which started today for Mosul’s Sunni Muslim population and many Iraqi Shi’ites, celebrating the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

Arithi said the CTS were about 25 meters (yards) from the Nuri mosque, from where Islamic State’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed his “caliphate” over parts of Iraq and Syria three years ago.

The Iraqi government once hoped to take Mosul by the end of 2016, but the fighting has dragged on as the militants reinforced positions in civilian areas, launched suicide car bomb attacks, laid traps and kept up sniper and mortar fire.

The fall of Mosul would mark the end of the Iraqi half of the “caliphate”. ISIS remains in control of large areas of both Iraq and Syria.

Baghdadi has left the fighting in Mosul to local commanders and has been assumed to be hiding in the Iraqi-Syrian border area. There has been no confirmation of Russian reports over the past week that he has been killed.

In Syria, the insurgents’ “capital”, Raqqa, is nearly encircled by a US-backed, Kurdish-led coalition.

© Thomson Reuters 2017

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Prince Harry 'Wanted Out' Of Royal Role

Britain’s Prince Harry is the second son of Prince Charles.

London:  Britain’s Prince Harry once ‘wanted out’ of the Royal Family, but instead decided to ‘stay in and work out a role’ for himself, according to an interview with the Mail on Sunday.

The prince, 32, caused a stir earlier this week when he said that he didn’t think any member of the royal family wanted to become monarch, and revealed doubts about his own role in the family in his latest interview.

The fifth in line to the throne told the newspaper that being in the Army was ‘the best escape I’ve ever had’, and that his experience of being ‘just Harry’ led him to consider quitting his royal role.

“I felt I wanted out but then decided to stay in and work out a role for myself,” he said.

The popular royal has since become a champion of wounded soldiers, a calling that came to him during two front line tours to Afghanistan with the army.

Earlier this week, Harry spoke out about the heartbreaking images of him following his mother’s coffin during her 1997 funeral, telling Newsweek that no ”child should be asked to do that.”

He also revealed that no one in line to the throne was looking forward to taking over from Queen Elizabeth II.

“We are not doing this for ourselves but for the greater good of the people,” he said.

“Is there any one of the Royal Family who wants to be king or queen? I don’t think so, but we will carry out our duties at the right time.”


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Indo-Nepal Border To Be Sealed Ahead Of Nepal Civic Polls

Municipal elections will be held in Nepal on June 28.

Mahrajganj:  India’s border with Nepal will be sealed tomorrow, 48 hours before the municipal polls in the neighbouring country, to prevent anti-social elements from crossing the international boundary and vitiating the election atmosphere.

This was decided at a high-level meeting of a coordination committee, said VK Singh, District Magistrate, Maharajganj, today.

The meeting was attended by officers of the local administration, police, border guarding force Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), Army, customs, immigration and other departments of both the countries.

SSB, which works under the command of the Union home ministry, guards the 1,751 km long Indo-Nepal border.

Uttar Pradesh shares a 599.3 km long open border with Nepal touching seven districts – Pilibhit, Lakhimpur Kheri, Bahraich, Sravasti, Balrampur, Sidhharthnagar and Maharajganj.

Municipal elections will be held in Nepal on June 28.

Some Madhes-centric parties have opposed the elections seeking that the Constitution is amended to accommodate their demands for more representation in parliament and redrawing of provincial boundaries.

The Nepal government has tabled a new Constitution amendment bill in Parliament to address the demands of the agitating Madhesis.

Madhesis, mostly of Indian-origin, launched a prolonged agitation between September 2015 and February last year against the implementation of the new Constitution which, they felt, marginalised the ‘Terai’ community.

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Italy bails out two banks for 5.2bn euros

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Intesa Sanpaolo will take on the two failing banks’ good assets

Italy’s government is bailing out two banks in the Venice region at a cost of 5.2bn euros (£4.6bn; $5.8bn).

The good assets of Banca Popolare di Vicenza and Veneto Banca will be taken on by Intesa Sanpaolo.

Economy Minister Pier Carlo Padoan said Rome would also offer guarantees of up to 12bn euros for potential losses from bad and risky loans.

The government will appoint special administrators for the two ailing banks, which face bankruptcy.

They are being wound down under national insolvency procedures.

The move comes less than a month after Spain’s Banco Popular was rescued by Santander.

The European Central Bank said Banco Popular was “failing or likely to fail” due to its dwindling cash reserves.

The bank has struggled after billions in property investments turned sour.

The rescue will cost Santander about 7bn euros (£6.1bn).

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Families Separated By US-Mexico Border Have Fleeting Reunion

The Pastrana family meeting took place in the middle of the murky Rio Grande (REUTERS)

Ciudad Jurez, Mexico:  After more than a decade apart, the Pastrana family on Saturday finally got to embrace during a special event allowing nearly 200 families separated by the US-Mexico border to spend three minutes together.

The meeting took place in the middle of the murky Rio Grande — which divides the Mexican city Ciudad Juarez and El Paso, Texas and is crossable this time of year — under the watchful eye of Border Patrol agents.

“It has been a very long 11 years,” said Claudia Pastrana, a 42-year-old from Ciudad Juarez, after hugging her sister and niece who now live in Texas.

“It is an unforgettable moment.”

More than 2,500 people of the 195 families separated by immigration or deportations attended the event, dubbed “Hugs Not Walls,” which is organized by the non-profit Border Network of Human Rights group.

It is the fourth round of the event, and the second since the presidential election of Donald Trump, who has on numerous occasions targeted Mexicans with anti-immigration rhetoric.

“It is a way of protesting and raising a voice against aggressive policies of the current (US) president,” said Fernando Garcia, director of the Border Network.

Border patrol authorities stood on guard “so that no one is going to cross at the time of the hugs,” said Ramiro Cordero, spokesman for the El Paso sector’s border patrol.

After the brief but spirited meeting, Pastrana, who attended with her son and nephew, returned to the Mexican side.

From there she waved her arms in a long farewell to her sister, until she lost sight.

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

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Japan Eyes Free Trade Talks With Britain: Report

PM Shinzo Abe said he wants to reach a basic free trade agreement with the EU. (AFP)

Tokyo:  Japan wants to hold informal free trade talks with Britain as it also works to sign a deal with the European Union, a report said today.

Tokyo’s moves aim to minimise Brexit’s impact on Japanese companies as Britain negotiates its exit from the EU, the business daily Nikkei reported.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he wants to reach a basic free trade agreement with the EU next month.

More than 1,000 Japanese companies operate in Britain, employing some 140,000 people in the country, while Japan’s direct investment in the UK has topped 10 trillion yen ($96 billion) to date.

Japanese officials have already warned businesses with European headquarters based in Britain that they may have to relocate to continental Europe after a final deal is signed between London and the EU.

Japan’s major automakers have so far backed the British economy, with Toyota announcing a  £240 million investment in a car assembly plant while Nissan gave the green light to new investments at its plant in northeast England.

The announcements raised questions about what assurances they had been offered by the British government.

Japan is planning to start informal talks with Britain while it remains in the EU, but will wait until the country has left the bloc before launching formal bilateral negotiations, the Nikkei report said, without citing sources.

“As (the UK) is not allowed to launch formal negotiations with a third country under the EU rules, the Japanese and British governments will prepare (informal) talks behind the scenes,” it said.

Japan does not currently have a trade deal with the European Union but is locked in long-running negotiations with the bloc. On Saturday, Abe said he is aiming to reach a Japan-EU free trade deal during his visit to Germany to attend a Group of 20 summit.

“I hope to hold a summit meeting with the EU and reach a basic agreement there,” he said in a televised speech in western Japan’s Kobe.

“The Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement will be a model for 21st century economic order,” said Abe.

He added that he hoped the EU deal would provide the same stability promised by the enormous Trans-Pacific Partnership pact. US President Donald Trump has pulled out of the TPP, effectively putting the deal on hold.

Britain stunned the EU when it voted to end its four-decade membership of the 28-nation bloc in a referendum last year.

But Prime Minister Theresa May’s disastrous showing in elections on June 8, in which she lost her parliamentary majority, has sparked speculation that her Brexit plans may be watered down or even reversed.

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After String Of Defeats, Democrats Rudderless In Donald Trump Era

Washington, United States:  Frozen out of power in Washington and having lost a string of congressional races this year, Democrats are struggling to craft winning strategies to convert disillusionment with President Donald Trump into victory in 2018’s midterm elections.

The party fielded a hodgepodge of candidates in four special elections in recent months, including a banjo-strumming cowboy poet in Montana. Most recently Democrats nominated a young novice in Georgia, where the party, judging it had its best pick-up opportunity, threw millions of dollars into the race.

Yet each time, Republicans beat back the advances. And Democratic lawmakers, strategists and party officials have been left scratching their heads about how to turn it around and launch a viable bid to reclaim Congress next year.

“They’re definitely licking their wounds,” Kerwin Swint, professor and chair of the political science department at Georgia’s Kennesaw State University, told AFP.

Debate has swirled among Democrats about what strategy to deploy: going all in with a nationwide anti-Trump agenda, or tailoring individual races to local economic issues in a bid to repair fraying connections between the Democratic Party and the common voter.

The Georgia race showed “the effectiveness of Trump’s staying power” despite the scandals rocking the White House, Swint said.

“Democrats should not focus their campaigns about him, they should be about jobs,” he added. “They need a much more focused economic pitch.”

At the same time, Zac Petkanas, who directed Hillary Clinton’s rapid-response operation during her 2016 presidential campaign, said Republicans should not see their four congressional victories as a sign all is well in Trumpworld.

In a normal political environment, the races in Georgia, Kansas, Montana and South Carolina — to fill seats vacated by congressmen who joined Trump’s cabinet — would be blowouts for Republicans, given the overwhelming, ruby-red nature of the districts, Petkanas said in a telephone interview.

Instead, they were all within seven percentage points.

Trump and Republican lawmakers have gloated over the wins, “but I think in private they’re actually very scared,” he said.

“They are in for the races of their lives, and they know it.”

‘Unique opportunity’

As Democrats seek to regroup, they are hobbled by a glaring omission: no clear party protagonist has emerged as a potential challenger to Trump in 2020.

Absent such a standard-bearer, some Democrats have begun urging House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the icon atop the party’s hierarchy, to step aside and allow new blood into leadership.

“I don’t think people in the Beltway are realizing just how toxic the Democratic Party brand is in so much of the country,” congressman Tim Ryan, who unsuccessfully challenged Pelosi for the leadership position last year, told CNN in a blunt postmortem after the June 20 loss in Georgia.

The California congresswoman pushed back tensely against her party’s rebels, insisting she has brought unity to the Democrats.

“My decision about how long I stay is not up to them,” Pelosi, who is 77, told reporters.

Asked about the Democrats’ doldrums and Pelosi’s future role, Trump quipped that it would be “very sad for Republicans” if the congresswoman — a favorite target of Republicans — stepped down.

“I’d like to keep her right where she is, because our record is extraordinary against her,” he told Fox on Friday.

The party in presidential power traditionally fares poorly during US midterm elections. In 2010, two years into Barack Obama’s first term as president, Democrats got hammered, losing 63 seats and control of the 435-member House of Representatives.

Democrats now need to gain 24 seats to reclaim the House, and analysts say there are several dozen Republican-held seats in play.

In a memo this past week, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman Ben Ray Lujan described at least 71 districts that are more competitive than the four contested so far this year.

“We have a unique opportunity to flip control of the House of Representatives in 2018,” he wrote.

One reason Lujan is banking on victory: the Republican health care bill.

Senate Republicans on Thursday unveiled their plan, which would repeal much of Obama’s signature health care reforms.

It has had a frosty reception. Democrats are counting on voters revolting against any lawmaker who supports legislation that could leave millions of Americans without health insurance.

“A lot will depend on where Trump’s approval rating is next year, and health care will obviously mold that climate,” Professor Swint said.

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

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Parliament cyber-attack 'hit up to 90 users'

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Up to 90 email accounts were compromised during the cyber-attack on Parliament on Friday.

The House of Commons said that fewer than 1% of the 9,000 people who use its system were impacted by the hacking,

The hack prompted officials to disable remote access to the emails of MPs, peers and their staff as a safeguard.

Parliamentary authorities said hackers had mounted a “determined attack” on all user accounts “in an attempt to identify weak passwords”.

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Australian Police Use Pepper Spray To Stop Anti Immigration Rally Clashes

Australian police fired pepper spray to break up clashes between an anti immigration rally.

SYDNEY:  Australian police fired pepper spray to break up clashes between right wing nationalists and anti racism protesters on the streets of Melbourne on Sunday, the latest protest held by anti immigration groups in the country.

Far right activists from the True Blue Crew, which says it is opposed to refugees and the ‘Islamisation’ of Australia, faced off with members of a left wing coalition promoting tolerance in the city.

Australia has seen a rise in far right activist groups and political parties opposed to Islam and Asian immigration following a number of ‘lone wolf’ attacks by home grown Islamist radicals.

Victoria Police said one person was arrested for possession of a weapon and one detained for breach of the peace, and a knife and a knuckle duster were confiscated.

“Police were forced to deploy capsicum spray when a small number of protestors attempted to breach a police line, with one person given aftercare as a result of the capsicum spray,” a spokeswoman said.

TV footage showed nationalist protesters holding Australian flags on poles or draped around their shoulders, while opposition protesters held placards with anti racism messages.

The rally attracted hundreds of protesters and a heavy police presence kept the opposing groups separated, local media reported.

Australia, a staunch ally of the US, has been on high alert for home grown Islamist attacks since 2014 and authorities say they have thwarted a number of plots.

Far right groups and political parties like Pauline Hanson’s One Nation have seized on the mood to push anti immigration agendas.

Concern about immigration has also seeped into the mainstream political discourse, with the governing Liberal National coalition vowing to tighten rules around citizenship and require applicants to demonstrate how they have embraced ‘Australian values’.

Phillip Galea, a fixture at rallies organised by the True Blue Crew, was charged with planning a terror attack in August last year.

It was the first time federal terrorism laws had been used to target such right wing groups.

© Thomson Reuters 2017

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

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At Least 10 Dead In Syria's Idlib Province Due Car Bomb: Report

The blast in Syria injured at least 30 other people. (Reuters)

Beirut:  A car bomb killed 10 people in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province on Saturday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, reported on today.

The attack occurred in a market in the town of al-Dana, located in the north of the province near the border with Turkey, according to the Observatory.

Three people under 18 were among the dead and the blast also injured at least 30 other people, it said. Another bombing in the town after midnight on Friday killed two people, it added.

Rebel groups in Idlib province have been sporadically fighting each other since early this year. Rebels have also accused the ISIS terrorist group of carrying out attacks in the area.

Idlib province is a major stronghold of rebels in Syria and is situated along the border with Turkey, one of the main backers of their rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad.

Large numbers of fighters, along with their relatives and many other civilians, have moved into the area under amnesty after surrendering to the army in other parts of Syria.

The United Nations and aid agencies have voiced concern about the humanitarian situation in Idlib, where large numbers of people live in poor conditions and face aerial bombardment.

Syria’s civil war has lasted over six years, killed hundreds of thousands of people, driven millions more from their homes in a global refugee crisis and dragged in regional and world powers.

© Thomson Reuters 2017

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Leila De Lima Says No Regrets, On Life In Jail

Manila:  Philippine police have arrested more than 80,000 people during President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal war on drugs, but few as prominent or defiant as Leila de Lima.

A Philippine senator and Duterte’s long-time foe, Leila de Lima was arrested in February on drugs charges she says were trumped up as part of a presidential vendetta.

Held at police detention facility in Manila that she shares with murder suspects and mangy cats, the 57-year-old lawyer remains implacably critical of the anti-narcotics campaign and Duterte, who will complete his first year in office this week.

“The promise of eradicating drugs has defined his presidency,” she said. “It’s actually a sham because they are targeting the wrong people.”

Duterte’s drug war, she says, targets only small-time dealers and leaves drug lords untouched.

Called a “prisoner of conscience” by Amnesty International, de Lima believes the real reason she has been locked up is to stop her asking questions about the thousands of killings that critics say have stained Duterte’s presidency.

Police say they have shot dead 3,135 suspects in anti-drug operations. They have also identified drugs as the motive in another 2,000 killings, and are investigating a further 7,000 murders and homicides.

De Lima and other critics believe many victims were killed by undercover police or their paid vigilantes – a charge the police deny.

Last year de Lima chaired a Senate inquiry into the drug war, grilling senior police and a self-confessed hitman in televised hearings that transfixed the nation.

The inquiry looked into allegations that police were summarily executing drug suspects in a pattern similar to killings in Davao City where Duterte had been mayor for 22 years.

De Lima’s toxic rivalry with Duterte began in 2009 when, as chair of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights (CHR), she started investigating a spate of vigilante-style killings in Davao City.

“It’s personal because of my history as CHR chair,” she said. “I investigated him on his own turf in Davao.”

A CHR report three years later confirmed the “systematic practice of extrajudicial killings” by a group known as the Davao Death Squad. Duterte denied any involvement in the murders.


Dressed in her own clothes rather than prison uniform, de Lima appeared relaxed and healthy as she spoke to Reuters in the visiting room of the detention facility, sealed off by high walls and rusting barbed wire inside the national police headquarters.

But she described her incarceration as a kind of purgatory.

Pro-Duterte lawmakers threatened last year to screen a tape that purportedly showed de Lima having sex with her driver.

“They’re sexist pigs,” she said. “The whole point was to further embarrass me.”

The tape is fake, she said.

De Lima and her siblings have told their 83-year-old mother that she has gone to the United States to study, fearing the truth of her arrest would be too upsetting. De Lima said that someone always watches television with her mother so that they can change the channel if she appears on the news.

“Psychologically and emotionally this is very challenging,” said de Lima. “It’s worse than death.”

She said she feared that unknown enemies might poison her, and she only eats food brought in by family and friends.

De Lima is accused of accepting drug money from prisoners when she was justice secretary from 2010 and 2015. She is not entitled to bail and, if found guilty, faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

“I’m completely innocent,” she said.

De Lima is one of two women and 17 men at the facility. Two of de Lima’s fellow inmates are former senators detained on corruption charges after an investigation de Lima had carried out when she was justice secretary.

She said she is held separately from the ex-senators and the other detainees, most of whom are held on murder charges.

“My only companions are the stray cats,” she said. De Lima said she was given a rabies shot after one of them bit her.

With no television, cellphones or electronic devices allowed in her cell, de Lima said she was rediscovering books.

She was now reading The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, William Shirer’s landmark study of Hitler’s Germany. It was a gift from an early visitor to her prison: Benigno Aquino, Duterte’s predecessor as president.

She said she saw many parallels between Hitler and Duterte, who both “loved being surrounded by misfits.”

Asked if she had any regrets about opposing Duterte, de Lima replied: “No, none at all. If I had a second life and the circumstances were the same as they are now, I would do it again.”

© 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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Britain's David Davis 'Pretty Sure' He'll Get Good Deal To Leave EU

David Davis launched the Brexit talks with European Union negotiator Michel Barnier. (Reuters)

London:  Britain’s Brexit minister David Davis said today he was “pretty sure” he could negotiate a good deal to leave the European Union, something that would require a transitional arrangement for around one or two years.

Davis, who launched the Brexit talks with EU negotiator Michel Barnier last week, also threw his support behind Prime Minister Theresa May, saying he took his share of the blame for advising her to hold an early election this month in which her Conservatives lost their parliamentary majority.

Telling members of the Conservative Party to stop being “self-indulgent” at a time when local media are rife with reports about who will replace May, he said: “I happen to think we’ve got a very good prime minister.”

Asked whether he was sure there would be a Brexit deal, Davis told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “I am pretty sure, I am not 100 percent sure, it’s a negotiation … You can be sure there’ll be a deal, (but) the deal I want is the free trade agreement, the customs agreement and so on.

“I said it will be turbulent, there will be difficulties, but at the end of the operation there is a point of common interest in both sides, where we gain by being able to exploit global markets, where they gain by having a friendly and comfortable ally, not an irritating member of the club.”

May, struggling to restore her authority after the botched June 8 election, outlined her proposals on Friday to give EU citizens in Britain broadly the same rights after Brexit as they now enjoy – a plan that received a muted response.

But Davis said he expected the issue of EU citizens’ rights – seen as one of the easier parts of what will be a complicated Brexit negotiation – would be agreed “moderately quickly”.

He also said Britain wanted a transitional agreement to make sure businesses were not thrown into different trading circumstances on the day that the country leaves the EU.

“We think that there will be a transitional agreement, not that long .. I think one to two years is more likely,” he said.

“Let’s start talking about how it is going to work.”

© Thomson Reuters 2017

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Philippine, Vietnam Navies Play Sports On South China Sea Island

Philippine and Vietnamese navies have been playing together in mixed teams. (Reuters)

Manila:  Philippine and Vietnamese navies have been playing soccer, volleyball and tug-of-war games together on a South China Sea island, the latest get-together by two countries concerned by Chinese assertiveness in the disputed waters.

The two sides played in mixed teams on Thursday on Southwest Cay in the Spratly archipelago, the Philippine navy said, the third event of its kind since 2014 on an island held four decades ago by the Philippines, but now under Vietnamese control.

The games are among a series of exchanges between two countries, quietly demonstrating their unity in the face of Beijing’s expanding presence and signs of militarisation of manmade islands in the Spratly chain.

Ariesh Climacosa of the Philippine Naval Forces West said the games showed how the two sides could get along and would trust and understand each other better.

Relations strengthened under the previous Philippine administration, leading to the signing of a strategic partnership in 2015, at a time when both countries were locked in fierce disputes with China and enjoying warm ties with the United States.

But ties have since become more uncertain, due largely to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to charm rather than confront Beijing, while also turning more hostile towards Washington.

© Thomson Reuters 2017

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

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Turkey's P Erdogan Says Fine After Feeling Unwell In Prayers

Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he was in good health after feeling unwell during morning prayers in Istanbul.

Istanbul:  Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday said he was in good health after briefly feeling unwell during morning prayers in Istanbul.

The Hurriyet daily said Erdogan received medical attention after “briefly feeling unwell” during morning prayers at the Mimar Sinan mosque in Istanbul.

Some Turkish media reports said he had briefly fainted inside the mosque, although this was not immediately confirmed.

Erdogan said he had suffered from a blood pressure issue due to a sugar imbalance in the body.

“Thanks to God I recovered quickly. Now I am feeling good and we will continue with our programme,” he said, quoted by the state-run Anadolu news agency.

Erdogan said that in the afternoon he would be attending a ceremony in Istanbul of his ruling party to mark the festival celebrating the end of the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

Muslims for the past month have been required to abstain from eating and drinking between sunrise and sunset.

Erdogan is a pious believer but has continued to follow a full political programme during the fasting month, giving speeches nearly every evening over Ramadan at fast-breaking iftar meals.

The Turkish president, a former semi-professional footballer, projects an image of a strong and vigorous leader who is in good health.

Erdogan, 63, has been in power since 2003, first as prime minister and since 2014 as Turkey’s first directly elected president.

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

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6 Injured As Car Hits People In UK's Newcastle: Report

Hundreds of people were celebrating Eid which marks the end of Ramadan. (Reuters)

London:  At least six people were injured today after a car mounted a pavement outside a sports centre in the northern English city of Newcastle, but the incident is not believed to be terrorism-related, police said today.

Local media said hundreds of people were celebrating Eid, which marks the end of Islam’s holy month of Ramadan, at the sports centre and that two children were among the casualties.

“On Sunday June 25, at approximately 9:14 am Northumbria Police received reports that a vehicle had collided with pedestrians outside of Westgate Sports Centre, Newcastle upon Tyne,” the police said in a statement.

“Police enquiries are ongoing to establish exactly what happened but, at this time, it is not believed to be a terror incident.” Police said a 42-year-old woman had been detained and was in custody.

© Thomson Reuters 2017

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UK School Teacher Asks Students To Draft Suicide Note For Homework

An English teacher in the UK asked students to write suicide note for homework. (Representational image)

London:  An English teacher in the UK asked over 60 teenage students to draft a suicide note for homework as part of a module on Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth, sparking outrage and prompting the school to apologise.

Pupils at Thomas Tallis school, Kidbrooke, London, were asked to pen a final note to their loved ones after reading one of the play’s most celebrated scenes, when Lady Macbeth takes her own life.

However, the decision caused outrage among parents, some of whom claimed their children had been personally affected by the issue, The Telegraph reported.

Criticising Thomas Tallis for its lack of sensitivity, one mother said her daughter had been told to write the note – despite having lost three friends to suicide.

She was quoted as saying that her daughter had become “very distressed” over the issue, and had told the teacher in question that such material made her feel uncomfortable.

“My daughter had had personal experience with people her age committing suicide,” the mother said.

“On what universe was it ever, under any situation, a good idea to ask a group of teenagers to write suicide notes?” she said.

Other parents branded the decision “absolutely disgusting” and “insensitive”, with one claiming that the assignment had been ill-conceived given the age of the students involved.

“I can’t imagine why a place of education would do something so insensitive, especially as childhood and teenage depression and anxiety is at an all time high at the moment,” another parent said.

Headmistress Caroyln Roberts said, “A parent contacted us with concerns about a written exercise given to a class during studies of a play by Shakespeare.”

“We appreciate that the exercise was upsetting to the family and have discussed the subject matter and approach with teaching staff,” Roberts said.

“I met with the parent last week and apologised wholeheartedly on behalf of the school and reassured them about the actions that have been taken. The parent accepted the apology in a meeting that was friendly and cordial,” she 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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Afghanistan Attack That Killed 10 Did Not Target India-Made Dam: Envoy

India started rebuilding the dam in 2002. It has a power capacity of 42 MW (AFP)

Herat:  Ten security personnel and four others have been injured in a terror attack, reportedly carried out by Taliban, in Afghanistan’s Herat province. The attack took place nearly 13 kilometres from the Salma dam, rebuilt by India, in Chist-i-Sharif district in the western province. However, India’s Ambassador to Afghanistan Manpreet Vohra confirmed that the dam was not attacked.”There have been media reports, but I want to clarify that this is not an attack on the dam. It was some distance away,” said Mr Vohra to NDTV.

He did, however, confirmed that the dam has been a target for Pakistan-based terror outfits in the past. 

“Yes, I am aware of these reports in the past,” the envoy said.

The Salma Dam, or the India-Afghanistan Friendship dam, was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani in June, 2016. India started rebuilding the dam in 2002. It has a power capacity of 42 MW and irrigates 75,000 hectares of land in Herat and provides power to thousands. The original Cabinet approval of Rs 351.87 in 2004 escalted to Rs 1775.69 crore at the end of the project.

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Royal Bank of Scotland to move hundreds of jobs to India

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Getty Images

Royal Bank of Scotland is cutting 443 UK jobs dealing with business loans as it shifts many of the roles to India.

The state-owned bank said it was moving the jobs, which help to handle loans for small businesses, as part of an ongoing cost-cutting drive.

But it added that UK-based staff would continue to do the work that involved customer contact.

The Unite union said UK workers and taxpayers would lose out from the move.

“By shipping these jobs to India, RBS will be getting that work done more cheaply at the cost of jobs and livelihoods here in the UK,” a spokesman said.


RBS, which is still 73% owned by the government after a £45bn bailout in 2008, said credit decisions would continue to be taken in the UK.

A spokesman for RBS said: “As we become a simpler, smaller bank, we are making some changes to the way we serve our customers.

“Unfortunately, these changes will result in the net reduction of 443 roles in the UK.”

The bank said it would support staff affected by the “disappointing news”, including by moving them into new roles where possible.

It comes just weeks after RBS said it would cut 250 IT jobs in the UK and move dozens of the roles to India.


by Joe Lynam, business correspondent, BBC News

If you’ve just agreed a new mortgage or remortgaged, you’ll probably not have met the person who decided to give it to you (or not).

That’s not the case with small companies. They have a far closer relationship with their bank manager. The latter needs to know what kind of business you have and how you run it.

Some may have fretted that shifting more than 400 jobs relating to SME (small and medium-sized enterprises) lending to India might irrevocably alter than relationship.

And that’s why RBS is stressing that all credit decisions will continue to be taken here in Britain and no relationship managers with SMEs will be downsized.

RBS doesn’t want to damage its current position as the largest business bank in the UK.

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Drones Developed To Plant One Billion Trees Every Year

The drones can scan land and identify ideal places to grow trees.

Melbourne:  Scientists have developed new drones that can identify ideal places to grow trees and sow one billion plants every year, an advance that may help combat deforestation.

Deforestation and forest degradation make up 17 per cent of the world’s carbon emissions – more than the entire world’s transportation sector, according to the United Nations.

Researchers from UK-based company BioCarbon Engineering helped build a drone system that can scan the land, identify ideal places to grow trees, and then fire germinated seeds into the soil.

The new drones can plant in areas previously impossible to reach, like steep hills, researchers said.

The firing drone follows a pre-set planting pattern determined from an algorithm, which uses information from a separate scanning drone, they said.

To work out the best possible place to plant, the team used the drone to map the area, looking to create a 3D model of the land, ‘ABC News’ reported.

“The data gets downloaded and we’ve developed the algorithms that use that data to make smart decisions about exactly where to plant and how to manage that ecosystem,” said Susan Graham, from BioCarbon Engineering.

The planet loses 15 billion trees every year and much of it is cleared for farmland to feed the world’s booming population, but it is feared this could be exacerbating climate change.

 “Although we plant about nine billion trees every year, that leaves a net loss of six billion trees. The rate of replanting is just too slow,” Ms Graham said.

Ms Graham is hoping to change that with a system that plants at “10 times the rate of hand planting and at 20 per cent of the cost.”

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US Sets Guinness World Record With 1.9 Km-Long Pizza

Over 100 chefs gathered to make the 1.9 Km-Long Pizza in California.

Washington:  A new Guinness record for the world’s longest pizza has been set in the US where over 100 chefs cooked a pizza measuring a whopping 1,930 metres in length.

The attempt saw volunteers in California gather to help beat the previous record of 1,853.88 metres, which was achieved in Italy., a US-based restaurant equipment company managed to achieve a total length of 1,930.39 metres – just surpassing the former record holder.

Dozens of chefs were in charge of crafting the enormous pizza, which was made using 3,632 kilogrammes of dough, 1,634 kilogrammes of cheese and 2,542 kilogrammes of sauce.

As the dough was stretched for the record, it ran along a conveyer belt which passed through three industrial ovens, which cooked the pizza nonstop for eight hours.

Volunteers helped to shift the oven every 17 minutes so as to not burn the dough, according to the Guinness World Records.

Following the event, all pizza slices were donated to local food banks and homeless shelters.

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Over 10,000 People Participate In Final Yoga Event In China

The event was held in Wuxi in Jiangsu province in eastern China.

Beijing:  More than 10,000 people took part in the final event marking the third International Day of Yoga in China today, the largest participation of enthusiasts in a yoga programme organised in the communist nation this year.

The event – the final in a series of programmes organised in 12 cities – was held in Wuxi in Jiangsu province in eastern China. The setting to celebrate the grand finale was the scenic Lingshan Dafo (Buddhist Temple in Wuxi) and the Buddhist Palace.

Spread over 10 practice venues, with nearly nine Indian yoga teachers taking the stage, a mass yoga session was held concurrently for the 10,000 participants, according to a statement from the Consulate General of India, Shanghai.

The record number of participants turned up from Wuxi and its neighbouring cities for the event jointly organised by the consulate and Wuxi Municipal People’s Government.

A large number of Indian students, pursuing medicine at Suzhou and Yangzhou, also travelled to Wuxi for the event.

Mayor of Wuxi, Wang Quan, said that yoga is another facet of the long-standing cultural cooperation between India and China, and with today’s massive event he expects that yoga will become the “signature name card” for his city.

Since Buddhism came from India to China, it was ideal for Lingshan Dafo Buddhist Temple to host the event, he added. Stanley Tong, Director of ‘Kung Fu Yoga’ – a Chinese- Indian co-production movie, also attended the event and urged greater cultural exchanges between the peoples of India and China.

The film’s lead actress, Muqi Miya enacted a special yoga performance during the session.

The event concluded with a conference on the objectives of yoga and ayurveda at the Buddhist Palace, which was attended by yoga teachers and ayurveda doctors from India.

Over the past three days, Wuxi hosted a three-day workshop on the benefits of yoga. These sessions were conducted by KYM teachers and more than 300 participants turned up each day to participate in the workshops.

The consulate had organised yoga events in eastern China region of Shanghai, Zhejiang and Jiangsu from June 17-25, bringing together 20,000 yoga lovers closer to India and promoting healthy and harmonious lifestyles.

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

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Hundreds Evacuated Due To Forest Fires In Southern Spain

The blaze in southern Spain was detected on Saturday night. (Representational)

More than 700 people were evacuated from homes, campsites and hotels due to the threat from a forest fire in southern Spain, emergency services said on today.

Like much of Spain, the area near Huelva is on high alert for forest fires because of a heat wave. Last week, 63 people died in a forest fire in neighbouring Portugal.The blaze in southern Spain was detected on Saturday night in the Moguer area near Huelva and is being treated as a level 1 – or maximum threat – by emergency services.

By 11 a.m. (09:00 GMT) today emergency services had deployed 11 planes, 10 helicopters and dozens of land vehicles against the flames in a joint military-civilian operation.

Around 750 people were in local rescue centres, according to the emergency services. Some residents had already been allowed to return to their properties.

© Thomson Reuters 2017

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Sausage roll row: US 'invents' new summer snack

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Trader Joe’s

Image caption

Does Trader Joe’s new dish remind you of anything?

There has been a British outcry on social media after a US chain claimed to have invented a new summer snack that looks suspiciously like a sausage roll.

Supermarket Trader Joe’s has called it the “Puff Dog”.

Los Angeles-based lifestyle website Hello Giggles said it was “genius”.

However, the UK’s The Mirror newspaper was less impressed. “Sausage roll given ridiculous new name,” read its headline on Saturday.

Although other European countries also have a centuries-old fondness for meat wrapped in pastry, the UK has made the sausage roll its own.

British bakery chain Greggs sells more than 2.5 million of them every week.

It is typically a pork sausage wrapped in puff pastry, although the Puff Dog has opted to use beef.

Image copyright
Twitter / @scrapchallenge1

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Twitter / @Nexusdog_UK

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Twitter / @AndyElsender

Hello Giggles could have saved itself the backlash by looking in its own archive.

In 2015, it covered a previous twitterstorm when the New York Times published a sausage roll recipe.

“There are two sides to the social media storm that ensued following the release of the recipe. Americans don’t know what a sausage roll is, and the Brits can’t believe we haven’t experienced them yet,” wrote Hello Giggles at the time.

Americans are often more familiar with their version of “pigs in blankets” – a sausage wrapped in hard pastry, as opposed to puff pastry. In the UK, “pigs in blankets” are sausages wrapped in bacon, which are often served with Christmas dinner.

Image caption

The British version of “pigs in blankets” seen on the left-hand side of the plate

Yet can the UK really claim the last laugh?

Earlier this year, a large part of the Spanish-speaking world was amused when the UK’s Costa Coffee chain appeared to conceive the cortado coffee.

The cortado – a small coffee with a dash of milk – has long been popular in cafes from Spain to Argentina.

Yet sandwich boards spotted outside Costa Coffee in April heralded: “The next big thing in coffee.”

“2017: England invents the cortado,” read one widely shared, tongue-in-cheek tweet (in Spanish), accompanied by a picture of the advert.

“Clearly, the recurring Gibraltar issue is not the only pending dispute between Spain and the United Kingdom,” joked Spanish news site 20 Minutos.

Meanwhile, a civil war was almost sparked earlier this month when the BBC started its own in-fight over pasties.

Image copyright
Chris Jackson

Image caption

Prince Charles enjoying a Cornish pasty on a trip to Cornwall

BBC Radio Devon teased its colleagues over the country border in Cornwall by suggesting, on Twitter, that the Cornish pasty – its beloved meat-and-potato pastry – hailed from Devon.

It came after one of the station’s guests referenced a study by historian Dr Todd Gray from Exeter (which is in Devon), who says he can trace the earliest record of the pasty to 16th-Century Devon.

BBC Radio Cornwall was outraged and tweeted back a warning against ever questioning the Cornish pasties origins.

“Lovely Cornish peeps, please tell @BBCDevon why the Cornish Pasty is OURS!”, it wrote.

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Twitter / BBC

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Twitter / BBC

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