China urges ditching dollar & euro trade with Russia in favor of national currencies

By ethan / April 25, 2018

There is no need for Russian and Chinese businesses to pay each other in dollars and euros, when they can settle in rubles and yuan, according to Zhou Liqun, chairman of the Union of Chinese Entrepreneurs in Russia.

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© Thomas White

“The leaders of the two countries should think over improving relations, especially in financial cooperation. Why make payments with foreign currency? Why dollar? Why euro? They can be made directly in the yuan and the ruble,” he told RIA Novosti on the sidelines of the Valdai Discussion Club conference in Shanghai, titled “Russia and China: Contemporary Development Challenges.”

According to Zhou Liqun, American and European sanctions gave Russia and China a chance to build up trade and economic cooperation. “Of course, there are sanctions, there are problems, but there is hope and opportunity,” he added.

China is Russia’s largest trading partner, accounting for 15 percent of Russian international trade last year. In January 2018, it grew to 17.2 percent. Germany, which holds second place among Russia’s trade partners, has a share of about eight percent.

The countries have been gradually ditching the dollar and the euro in trade. In 2017, nine percent of payments for Russian imports to China were made in rubles; Russian companies paid 15 percent of Chinese imports in the renminbi. Just three years ago, the numbers were two and nine percent, respectively.

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Duma committee approves proposal for return of smoking rooms in Russian airports

By ethan / April 25, 2018

Despite protests from the Health Ministry, the Lower House committee for transport has approved a bill that, if passed, would allow the return of smoking areas in airports.

The sponsor of the bill, MP Sergey Boyarsky (United Russia), explained the motion by the fact that the current blanket ban on smoking in airports only increases the number of civil offences, because some smokers simply cannot stand prolonged deprivation regardless of punishment.

In addition, such illegal smoking subjects other people to tobacco smoke, potentially damaging their health, which would not happen in dedicated smoking lounges. Finally, smoking outside special areas in airports is dangerous as these facilities hold both highly flammable substances and a lot of visitors.

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Boyarsky also noted that the World Health Organization’s framework convention on tobacco control, which Russia signed in 2008, contains no recommendations on banning smoking in or near airports.

On Wednesday, the State Duma committee for transport and construction gave the go-ahead to the bill, saying that permitting smoking in specially equipped areas in airports was reasonable, considering statistics on civil offences and the harmful effects of passive smoking.

The Health Ministry, however, maintained its extremely negative attitude to the bill. “The realization of this motion could lead to violations of citizens’ rights to a healthy environment and health protection in airport buildings, which is against article 55 of the Russian Constitution,” the ministry spokesperson was quoted as saying by Interfax.

In July 2013, Russia introduced a law banning smoking in certain public places, including offices of state institutions, sports facilities, ships and trains, airports, railway stations and bus stops. One year later, the ban was extended to clubs, cafes and restaurants.

The sponsors of the ban said that it should help to fight widespread and hazardous smoking habits, which used to kill up to 400,000 Russians annually. They also quoted statistics which said that over 60 percent of men and more than 20 percent of women in Russia were smokers, and many of them developed the unhealthy habit from childhood.

In June 2017, Russian Healthcare Minister Veronika Skvortsova announced that the proportion of smokers in the Russian population had dropped from 39.4 percent in 2009 to 30.9 percent in 2016. The share of passive smokers dropped by over a third over the same period, she added.

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Vlogger crowdfunds £85K to appeal Nazi pug case, says he ‘can’t allow’ anyone the same ordeal

By ethan / April 25, 2018

A YouTube comedian who was fined £800 after teaching a pug to do a Nazi salutes while he made anti-Semitic comments has racked up over £85,000 on a crowdfunding page he set up to reverse the precedent set by his conviction.

Mark Meechan – also known as Count Dankula – was fined at a Scottish court on Monday after he posted a “grossly offensive” video on YouTube of the dog responding to phrases such as “gas the Jews.” He is now calling on people to fund his defense as he fears his conviction could set a precedent for courts to convict without considering relevant context.

Meechan claims the court only managed to deliver a guilty sentence after they “willingly ignored” the context of the video, which he said had twice been stated.

“This conviction will be used as an example to convict other people over the things they say and the jokes they make, it sets a standard where courts will be able to willfully ignore the context and intent of a person’s words and actions in order to punish them and brand them as criminals,” Meechan wrote on his GoFundMe page.

He justified the £100,000 (US$ 140,000) target by saying his lawyers had quoted such a figure as they want to make sure they have top representatives in order to have a higher chance of reversing the “standard that his case sets.”

“I cannot allow the two years of litigation I went through and having my life put on hold, to happen to anyone else,” Meechan added.

Meechan’s case has sparked a mass debate on free speech, with prominent figures, including comedian Ricky Gervais and satirical journalist Jonathan Pie defending him.

Both of them watered down claims of Meechan’s video being “grossly offensive” by claiming it was merely a “joke.”

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New York Times issues fake-news correction in article about fake news

By ethan / April 25, 2018

The New York Times was forced to issue a lengthy correction after it published a false statement in an article about “fake news” on Facebook.

In an article about Facebook’s Head of News Partnerships Campbell Brown, NYT journalist Nellie Bowles originally wrote that news about the Palestinian Authority paying rewards to the families of jihadists who die fighting Israel was “an example of the sort of far-right conspiracy theories that have plagued Facebook.”

The Palestinian Authority does in fact pay a stipend to the families of dead or captured jihadists, under the Palestinian Authority Martyrs Fund. The fund was introduced by Fatah in 1964, and is now administered by the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

“This financial reward clearly demonstrates the PA’s institutional commitment to sponsoring terror against Israel,” read a study from the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

The following day, the paper issued the following correction:

“An earlier version of this article erroneously included a reference to Palestinian actions as an example of the sort of far-right conspiracy stories that have plagued Facebook. In fact, Palestinian officials have acknowledged providing payments to the families of Palestinians killed while carrying out attacks on Israelis or convicted of terrorist acts and imprisoned in Israel; that is not a conspiracy theory.”

The error drew the ire of pro-Israel voices on Twitter, however:

Aside from the now-corrected statement, Bowles’ profile on Brown outlines how the Facebook news head has reacted to questions from the press on the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal, and details Facebook’s plans to launch its own news service.

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Shoplifting scandal forces Madrid premier to resign

By ethan / April 25, 2018

The head of the Madrid region resigned Wednesday after video emerged allegedly showing her being caught shoplifting. The revelation comes just weeks after she was accused of faking her master’s degree.

CCTV footage published by OK Diario Wednesday showed Cristina Cifuentes emptying her handbag in front of a supermarket security guard after being accused of taking two pots of anti-aging cream worth €40 ($ 50).

The 53-year-old politician from the ruling People’s Party (PP) said taking the cream was an “involuntarily error.” The incident took place in 2011 and Cifuentes was released after paying for the beauty products.

“I have made many mistakes, I will continue to make more but my whole life is being questioned with a certain intention,” she said during a hastily convened press conference on Wednesday, Reuters reports.

Cifuentes said she was planning to resign next week but decided to move it forward following the latest revelation. The master’s degree scandal emerged last month when El Diario revealed numerous alleged irregularities in Cifuentes’ graduate degree in public law from King Juan Carlos University.

She told reporters that the publication of the shoplifting video was a personal attack. “It was an involuntary mistake and it’s being used to go beyond political issues, it’s personal,” she said. “I was already the target of blackmail two years ago for that video, but this time I tell you a red line has been crossed.”

OK Diario’s editor, Eduardo Inda, dismissed swirling suggestions that the footage was leaked by Cifuentes’s own party in an attempt to force her resignation and to hold on to power in the region.

“The person who gave us the video had nothing to do with either the PP or politics,” Inda said to Spanish TV programme Al Rojo Vivo.

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One of the world's longest gas pipelines from Russia to China almost complete

By ethan / April 25, 2018

The construction of the 3,000km Power of Siberia gas pipeline or the eastern route, which is aimed to deliver Russian gas to China, will be completed by the end of the year.

The announcement was made by Deputy Chairman of Gazprom Management Committee Vitaly Markelov, who said: “By 2019, we plan to eliminate technical gaps after testing.”

The Power of Siberia pipeline is one of the biggest projects between Russia and China. Analysts say it could help Russia become one of China’s main providers of natural gas as demand in the country increases.

At 3,000km, the pipeline is one of the longest in the world, longer than the distance between Moscow and London.

The pipeline’s first section will run some 2,200km from the Chayandinskoye field (Yakutia) to Blagoveshchensk (Chinese border). The second phase of the project will include the construction of a section stretching for about 800km from the Kovyktinskoye field (Irkutsk Region) to the Chayandinskoye field. The third stage provides for expanding gas transmission capacity between the Chayandinskoye field and Blagoveshchensk.

The deal on the eastern route took more than a decade to negotiate. Last July, Gazprom and the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) inked an agreement to start gas deliveries via the route.

In May 2014, the two companies signed a $ 400-billion 30-year framework to deliver 38 billion cubic meters of Russian gas to China annually.

Moscow and Beijing plan to build another pipeline – Power of Siberia 2 or the western route – that will deliver another 30 billion cubic meters of Russian natural gas.

According to the head of Gazprom, Aleksey Miller, China’s growing gas consumption, which was more than 200 billion cubic meters in 2016, is soon expected to reach 300 billion cubic meters.

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Tory TERF? Cabinet minister Liz Truss under fire for retweeting praise of 'anti-trans' group

By ethan / April 25, 2018

A cabinet minister has been accused of being a “TERF” after she seemingly endorsed a feminist parenting group which has come under intense scrutiny over accusations of transphobia.

MP Liz Truss, chief secretary to the Treasury, is facing a barrage of criticism after she retweeted an article from right-wing magazine the Spectator which praised Mumsnet – an online forum which Pink News claims is led mainly by anti-trans feminist women. The article praised the group for allowing users to “question the tenets” of transgenderism – such as whether “self-defined gender trumps biological sex.”

Sharing the article, Truss tweeted: 

Mumsnet boss Justine Roberts has dismissed allegations against the platform of transphobia, branding critics “thought-police.” She also clarified that the site is “prepared to take any potential advertising hit” rather than clamp down on Mumsnet contributors.

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Transgender women's officer Lily Madigan and Jeremy Corbyn © Reuters/ Lily Madigan

Truss’ comments are likely to enrage her boss, Prime Minister Theresa May, who in October 2017 said her government is “determined to eradicate homophobic and transphobic bullying.”

The endorsement comes after a whistleblower last week alleged that Mumsnet staff had failed to act against users’ transphobic hate speech and their calls for a new Section 28, the infamous law imposed under former PM Margaret Thatcher which banned the promotion of homosexuality in schools. Now repealed, the law stirred so much backlash that former PM David Cameron apologized over it in 2009.

Delia Johnston, an activist for trans sportspeople, slammed Truss’ tweet, before branding the cabinet minister a “terf in disguise” – referring to so-called ‘trans women exclusionary feminism,’ a controversial subculture of feminism.

“She is giving kudos to Mumsnet who are particularly vicious on this particular front. Truss could be investigated for backing a group that is effectively advocating violence against the transgender community. She may be a terf in disguise,” she said, the Daily Mail reports.

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Detainee sat in human waste for 18 days in private prison transport van – report

By ethan / April 25, 2018

A detainee was forced to endure an almost three-week journey between Virginia and Texas in a privately-owned prisoner transport van. A lawsuit alleges he was denied medication, inadequately fed, and forced to sit in human waste.

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FILE PHOTO © John Gress

Edward Kovari was arrested in Winchester, Virginia, in 2016 on suspicion of stealing a car in Houston. While his charges were later dropped, a lawsuit filed in Virginia alleges that Kovari suffered inhumane conditions while en route to Houston, a violation of his 14th Amendment rights, reported the Washington Post.

The van, operated by Prisoner Transportation Services, stopped several times in seven states to pick up more prisoners. The normally 20-hour journey took 18 days.

Kovari was shackled tightly in chains, and denied his prescription medication for hypertension. When the van arrived in Houston, Kovari was unable to walk and his blood pressure was above 200, the lawsuit alleges.

Throughout the journey, cramped conditions meant that Kovari could not sleep for days on end. Water was rationed and detainees were occasionally fed fast food. In lieu of bathroom breaks, the prisoners were instructed to urinate in bottles or defecate in their clothes.

Kovari’s calls for medical attention were ignored, and he was threatened with tasing for causing a disturbance, the suit alleges.

Prisoner Transportation Services is America’s largest for-profit extradition company. Picking up as many prisoners in the same journey allows companies like this to maximize profits. Tens of thousands of prisoners are packed into vans every year, and multiple deaths and injuries have occured in these “mobile jails.”

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Dessert of discord: Japan whipped into fury over Korea summit mousse featuring disputed isles

By ethan / April 25, 2018

An edible Korean Peninsula map that Seoul will serve up during this week’s talks with Pyongyang does not sit well with Tokyo, after it spotted the silhouettes of disputed islets on the elaborate dessert course.

The dessert menu for the upcoming talks between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong-un features mango mousse with a white chocolate plaque featuring the Koreas painted as one country in blue. Also included are the disputed islets in the Sea of Japan, known as Dokdo in Korea and as Takeshima in Japan.

The mousse, meant to be a symbol of unification and dialogue, has now infuriated Tokyo, which has territorial claims over the isles currently administered by South Korea. The Japanese Foreign Ministry called the move “extremely regrettable,” urging Seoul not to serve the mousse. 

“We cannot accept it from our national standpoint,” Kenji Kanasugi, a top Foreign Ministry official, said of the Korean dessert, as cited by Asahi newspaper. Tokyo previously voiced its unease over the use of a flag with a similar design during the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. 

“The depiction of Takeshima also became an issue during the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, but a summit is on a different order from the Olympics,” the official argued.

The inter-Korean summit will take place in the ‘truce village’ of Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) 53km north of Seoul. The date and venue of the talks was agreed at a groundbreaking meeting between the two neighbors on March 29.

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South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon and his North Korean counterpart Ri Son Gwon pose for photographs before their meeting at the truce village of Panmunjom, North Korea, March 29, 2018. © Korea Pool/Yonhap

The meeting of such level will be just the third for the two nations divided after the Korean War. Two previous meetings, both of which had pressing economic and political issues on the agenda, took place in 2000 and 2007.

North Korea’s nuclear program is set to be the major theme to be discussed by Moon and Kim. Denuclearization aside, South Korea’s President is also expected to raise the issue of Japanese citizens who were abducted decades ago by North Korea and were never allowed to return.

The North-South summit at Panmunjom may be followed by another historic meeting between Kim and US President Donald Trump, planned for May or June. Trump signaled the North Koreans are keen to engage in direct talks, claiming Pyongyang agreed to halt nuclear tests before and during the meeting.

North Korea has been repeatedly hit with UN sanctions targeting Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear programs. Russia and China, which also backed the UN resolutions, have been calling for a diplomatic solution to the crisis. The Sino-Russian proposal, otherwise known as the “double freeze” initiative, seeks a simultaneous suspension of both the nuclear tests by North Korea and the large-scale US-South Korea military drills.

The two Koreas remain formally at war as the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice agreement, but not a full-fledged peace treaty.

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First paralyzed man to finish London marathon denied medal

By ethan / April 25, 2018

The first paralyzed man to complete the London marathon, Simon Kindleysides, has been denied a medal by the event organizers as he crossed the finish line more than a day after the start.

The 34-year-old Kindleysides began the race at 10am on Sunday along with thousands of other runners and completed the 26.2-mile course at 10:46pm on Monday – more than 36 hours after the start – becoming the last person to finish.

READ MORE: Egypt football fan embarks on cycle journey to 2018 World Cup

Kindleysides was diagnosed with glioma, an inoperable brain tumor, in 2013, which left him paralyzed from the waist down. He competed in the London marathon using a battery-powered exoskeleton suit which helped him to move.

“I want to be a role model to my children so they can say their daddy’s been the first paralyzed man to walk the London marathon ever,” Kindleysides told the BBC before the race.

The event organizers, however, refused to give an official medal to Kindleysides, as he failed to cross the line on Sunday. Instead, they presented him with the Spirit of London award, which the London marathon gives to competitors who “encapsulated the unique spirit” of the race.

Well-wishers impressed by the feat gave Kindleysides medals of their own in recognition of his unbending will and power to cover the distance despite all the difficulties.

Kindleysides says his main goal was to bring attention to the problem of brain tumors and raise money for the Brain Tumour Charity, which helps people to fight the dangerous disease.

“I am in a lot of pain. It has taken it out of me and I don’t know how it is going to affect me physically afterwards,” Kindleysides said after the race.

“I hadn’t walked 26 miles in my life when I was able bodied, so that is a massive achievement in itself. The support has just been overwhelming and like a dream come true. It is incredible because I didn’t expect it to be as big as it was.

“I just wanted to show that anything is possible if you put your mind to it. You can stay in bed and feel sorry for yourself or get out and enjoy your life, because you are only here once,” he added.

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