India & Iran drop dollar in oil trade to bypass US sanctions – report

By ethan / May 30, 2018

India will reportedly pay for Iranian oil in rupees as the two countries seek to bypass the US economic pressure on Tehran, industry officials have told the Sputnik news agency.

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© Eduardo Munoz

Under the deal, the payments for oil will be made through India’s state-run UCO Bank, which has no US exposure. The countries are also discussing the barter-like system to avoid US sanctions, Sputnik reports.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is on a visit to India this week, where he has met with Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj. “During the talks, the two sides also exchanged views on a further expansion of ties in banking, energy, trade, insurance, shipping, use of national currencies, Chabahar projects and Chabahar-Zahedan railway,” Zarif said in a statement.

India’s Swaraj said the country would ignore the US trade sanctions against Iran. “India will comply with UN sanctions and not any country-specific sanctions,” Swaraj said. Iran is India’s third-largest oil supplier. India bought a record 27.2 million tons of oil from Tehran during the last financial year, which ended in March 2018. It represents a 114 percent increase on the previous year.

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Labour plan to tackle anti-Semitism ‘crisis’ leaked – but will it satisfy critics?

By ethan / May 30, 2018

A 13-point Labour plan to tackle the “crisis” of anti-Semitism within the party, recommends that investigations should be depoliticized, time-limited and more consistent, reveals a leaked document seen by the Huffington Post.

The document appears to admit that “political forces” may have had an impact on the outcome of investigations. The report suggests that the political inclinations of NEC members, who sit on the disputes panel, and the accused – have affected previous decisions on anti-Semitism cases.

It claims that Labour members have complained about consistency in the NEC dispute panel’s decision-making, saying: “There is a perception that cases are not dealt with in a consistent manner due to political forces influencing decisions with particular respondents particularly at the NEC Disputes Panel stage of the process.”

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© Neil Hall

To tackle this issue, the report, drafted by the party’s anti-Semitism working group which includes Momentum founder Jon Lansman and Shadow Attorney General Shami Chakrabarti, recommends that “reports on antisemitism are anonymized when they are put to the 3 member antisemitism panel.”

These smaller 3 member anti-Semitism panels will be made up of “specially-trained investigators” that will allow for more disciplinary cases to be handled through written testimony rather than oral hearings. In addition, a new in-house lawyer will provide clearer evidence tests to standardize the process, creating enhanced transparency, it is claimed.

Labour appear to be trying to draw lessons from the recent spate of sexual misconduct allegations that have swirled around parliament’s corridors of power, which made political parties rethink their complaints procedures. The new anonymized system would work “in a similar way to how names are redacted from papers which go to the NEC Sexual Harassment Panel.”

The issue of anti-Semitism has engulfed Labour over the past couple of years, with accusations from pro-Israel factions within the party such as Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) and the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), as well as mainstream Jewish organizations and the press, that leader Jeremy Corbyn has failed to successfully tackle the perceived problem.

Supporters of the Labour leader such as the left-wing group Jewish Voice for Labour, have suggested such accusations are politically motivated, and are not driven by a true determination to address anti-Semitism.

While comment from anti-Corbyn groups and individuals on the leaked documents has not, at the time of publishing been forthcoming, many grassroots members have responded to the recommendations with positive soundings on social media.

Sanctions to be imposed on those found guilty of charges brought against them, range from verbal “reminders of conduct” through to more formal warnings, suspension and mandatory anti-Semitism training.

The leaked document may well be welcomed by a whole range of groups and individuals that have been concerned at alleged instances of anti-semitism within the Labour Party. However, it will be interesting to gauge the reaction of Corbyn’s critics over the next few days to see if finally, they too, can embrace Labour’s fresh attempts to seriously address the issue.

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Netflix says shows produced by Obama won’t be political, but Americans not buying it

By ethan / May 30, 2018

Netflix’s Chief Operating Officer Ted Sarandos has said the streaming service is not veering to the political left despite a $ 50 million deal with former US president Barack Obama — but people are not buying it.

Speaking at an industry event in Beverly Hills on Tuesday, Ted Sarandos said that Netflix’s multi-year deal with the former president and his wife, Michelle Obama, does not mean the company is leaning left.

“It’s not the Obama Network. It’s not the MSNBC shift. There’s no political slant to the programming,” he said, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Sarandos said that the Obamas would create entertainment content and not news content as part of the deal, which was announced last week and drew criticism from conservative commentators who are not happy with what they see as liberal bias in Hollywood. Some even announced they would cancel their Netflix subscriptions over the deal.

Sarandos’ latest comments have also drawn criticism from conservatives on Twitter who are not buying that content created by the Obama family will be politics-free.

One conservative commentator highlighted disparities between what Sarandos has claimed and what previous reporting had suggested about the kind of content the Obamas would be creating. He suggested there could be some “tension” between Netflix and the former president about exactly what kind of deal it is they have entered into.

While Sarandos claims there will be no politics, the New York Times reported last week that one of the ideas being discussed was a show where Obama would moderate discussions on “health care, voting rights, immigration, foreign policy, climate change.”

Sarandos explained that he didn’t want to see the deal going anywhere else because he believes the Obamas will be “great at it.”

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No to ‘Star Wars Style’: Ultimatums & raising stakes won’t solve international crises, says Lavrov

By ethan / May 30, 2018

Global issues such as the denuclearization of North Korea, the Iran nuclear deal or the Syrian and Ukrainian conflicts, can’t be solved by ultimatums in the style of ‘Star Wars,’ says Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

“Over and over again we come to realize that ultimatums and pressure, exerted externally, including by coercion, are inevitably doomed to failure, the attempts to raise stakes in the manner of westerns and Star Wars [saga] are doomed,” Lavrov said, speaking at the Primakov Readings international think-tank summit in Moscow on Wednesday. 

The policy of ultimatums may be helpful while doing business, but “escalation for the sake of de-escalation poses significant risks” in global politics, according to the foreign minister. The long-term settlement of the most acute modern international crises can be achieved only via “painstaking work on the basis of multilateral approaches and international law, involving all participants, especially the sides of a conflict,” Lavrov stressed.

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Iranians burn a US flag during a protest against President Trump's decision to pull out of the nuclear deal. © Reuters

Russia also hopes that the planned summit between Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un won’t result in ultimatums. The meeting has been the subject of a fierce back-and-forth for weeks now. Last week Trump briefly called it off but later made a U-turn, saying that the summit was back on the cards. 

“We are supporting the ongoing changes in the relations between the two Koreas, in the relations between Pyongyang and Washington. And we hope that these talks … will not result in an ultimatum,” Lavrov stressed. The minister is expected to pay an official visit to North Korea on Thursday. 

Speaking about the Iran nuclear deal, Lavrov also noted that Washington is currently trying to isolate Iran in order to “strangle” it and force it to change its policies. Russia doesn’t agree with assessments that rely on the fact that Iran is “the root of all problems in the region,” he stated. 

By withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as Iranian nuclear deal, the US expected to trigger “a total confrontation” with Tehran, Lavrov said.

Washington pulled out of a milestone 2015 deal earlier in May. This was despite the fact that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed Tehran’s compliance with the deal on numerous occasions, as well as attempts of world powers, including France and Germany, to talk US President Donald Trump out of the decision. 

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‘Like a queen from Wakanda’: Serena Williams says ‘superhero’ catsuit helped her to victory

By ethan / May 30, 2018

US tennis star Serena Williams said her new black catsuit made her feel like a superhero and powered her to victory at the French Open in Paris on Tuesday.

The tennis ace defeated Kristyna Pliskova of the Czech Republic 7-6 (7-4) 6-4 in the first round at Roland-Garros, and afterwards said the new black catsuit she was sporting on court had helped her win. 

“I fell like a warrior princess kind, a queen from Wakanda,” the 36-year-old said, referencing the blockbuster Black Panther movie from Marvel.  

“I’m always living in a fantasy world. I always wanted to be a superhero, and it’s kind of my way of being a superhero.”

Despite the temperature in Paris reaching 25C (77F), Williams kept her cool in her catsuit, and also said the sleek black number by sponsor Nike had aided her with preventing blood clots – something she has suffered with seriously in the past.

“I had a lot of problems with those – I don’t know how many I have had in the past 12 months,” she said. “[The suit] definitely has little functionality to it. It’s a fun suit, but it’s also functional so I’m able to play without any problems.”

READ MORE: ‘I almost died’: Serena Williams details how childbirth inspired her to support charities

Williams, who is chasing her 24th Grand Slam title, returned to tennis earlier this year after giving birth to her daughter, Olympia. 

Her comeback has been stop-start so far, and she dedicated her win on Tuesday to “all the moms out there who had a tough recovery from pregnancy.”

She was relaxed about her chances of adding to her three French Open singles titles.

“I don’t know [about winning the title]. I’m definitely here to compete and do the best that I can do. I’m not putting any pressure on myself as I normally do,” she said. 

Williams also said that being a mom meant managing her time differently at major events such as Grand Slams. 

“The biggest difference is definitely I’m semi on time today,” she said. “It’s because I want to get home to see Olympia, because I have been here all day.

READ MORE: ‘Black women: Be fearless!’ – Serena Williams pens essay on equal pay

“There were a couple of rain delays so I wasn’t able to [see her]. If I’m not practicing, we’re hanging out.

“I’m concerned how that’s going to work out for me, because normally in Grand Slams I do spend a lot of time at the site. She’s so young, I don’t really bring her.”

Williams will face Australia’s Ashleigh Barty in the next round, and will be hoping to draw on the same powers bestowed by her new catsuit.

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Eastern Europe & Baltic states may lose €37bn as EU redirects financial aid south

By ethan / May 30, 2018

Brussels may shift billions of euros in EU funding away from the Baltic states and the countries of the so-called Visegrad group in a move to offer more financial support to Greece, Italy and Spain.

The key changes proposed by the European Commission are aimed at the EU cohesion fund which currently amounts to €330 billion. The reforms are seen as the most significant and controversial elements of the bloc’s budget for 2021-2027, FT reports. The EU Commissioners are scheduled to discuss the draft on May 31.

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© Bernard Jaubert

According to the draft, seen by the media, countries of central and eastern Europe will be stripped of significant financial support from the bloc. The reform may reduce Poland’s funding by €19.5 billion to €64.4 billion, indicating a 23 percent cut. The probable reduction of financial support was met with criticism in Poland with the country’s development minister saying this “completely unfair” step may trigger east-west tensions within the EU. Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the state wouldn’t “agree” to the proposals.

The reform may leave Hungary, the Czech Republic, Estonia and Lithuania facing 24 percent cuts – the maximum the commission’s “safety net” allows. Some Baltic states reportedly faced cuts of 45 percent if the limits were not applied.

At the same time, the EC is planning to freeze or increase funding for southern states, which have been hit by the financial crisis. Spain may see a five percent increase to €34 billion, while Italy’s allocation is expected to grow by 6.4 percent to €38.6 billion.

If the draft is passed, aid to Greece will increase by eight percent to €19.2bn. The boost in the allocation for Athens was limited to an eight-percent maximum increased. Belgium, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands will reportedly be financed in the same scope.

The reform will “reshape the way resources are allocated in the future and this will better reflect the reality on the ground,” according to a European Commission Vice-President Jyrki Katainen, as quoted by the media.

“You have to look at how the economy has evolved since the launch of the cohesion policy . . . nobody should be dissatisfied if countries are doing better than before,” Katainen said.

All in all, the Baltic states and the countries of the Visegrad group, that includes the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, could be deprived of as much as €37 billion in the next budget period. Meanwhile, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece and Cyprus get a €3.7 billion increase in 2018 funding.

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Russian Upper House passes latest bill on reciprocal sanctions

By ethan / May 30, 2018

Russian senators have passed a framework law that allows the government to apply various restrictive measures on nations that use economic sanctions against Russia or make other attempts to impede its development.

During the presentation of the bill that took place on Wednesday, the head of the Upper House Committee for Economic Policy, Senator Dmitry Mezentsev, said that the document granted the government broad powers to react to foreign states’ unfriendly actions when necessary.

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The Russian State Duma looks into the bill on countering unfriendly actions by the United States and their allies © Vladimir Fedorenko

Upper House speaker Valentina Matviyenko emphasized that the bill describes, not sanctions, but countersanctions that would be applied to states that seek to contain Russia.

The bill was passed without further discussion. 152 out of 170 Russian senators voted for it.

The draft law outlining the Russian reply to the latest round of sanctions introduced by the US and its allies was drafted by State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin and the heads of all four parliamentary caucuses in mid-April, days after the US Treasury Department released a list of 24 Russian citizens and 14 Russian corporations that fall under new sanctions imposed over Russia’s foreign policy. The sponsors of the bill described its main purpose as defending Russian economic interests and security.

The initial document contained a long list of proposed restrictions, such as full suspension of cooperation with US companies in the nuclear, missile, and aircraft-building spheres, a ban on purchasing US securities, a trade embargo on US goods (in particular tobacco and alcohol), and a proposal to allow Russian companies to produce various goods copyrighted in the US or in countries allied with it, without obtaining licenses from the rights holders.

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People take fruits and vegetables given away in central Madrid by Spanish farmers to protest against Russia's ban on vegetables, meat, fish, milk and dairy imports from the European Union © Andrea Comas

However, the initial draft was met with criticism from a number of experts, journalists, and the general public, some of whom said the import bans could do more damage to Russian consumers and business partners of foreign companies.

As a result, the document was amended with the provision that “the restrictive measures should not apply to vitally important goods that have no analogues produced inside Russia.”

The State Duma also excluded almost all specific measures from the final draft and allowed the president to introduce particular restrictions under plans proposed by the government. The president will also be allowed to suspend cooperation between Russia and hostile nations, organizations registered in such nations, or controlled by them, either directly or indirectly.

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Going Underground investigates after London’s murder rate surpassed New York (VIDEO)

By ethan / May 30, 2018

Going Underground’s Afshin Rattansi and his team investigate the atrocious rise in knife crime sweeping London – speaking to former chair of the Police Federation Steve White about London’s skyrocketing murder rate.

In this week’s episode, Rattansi takes a look at the 62 people have been killed on the streets of London in 2018  – outstripping New York’s murder rate in early April as knife crime in the UK capital reaches crisis levels.

Also in this episode, Grime MC Marci Phonix tells us why he believes institutional racism thrives in Theresa May’s hostile environment and performs his new song ‘Liberties.’

READ MORE: Gang music video makers who incite violence to be treated as terrorist suspects

The Going Underground team also discuss ‘Drill music,’ and how the UK police force is censoring independent British musicians in an attempt to clamp down on crime – but is it a sign of desperation?

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‘Imminent dam failure’: North Carolina orders urgent evacuations after landslide

By ethan / May 30, 2018

North Carolina has ordered mandatory evacuations for anyone south of Lake Tahoma Dam after a landslide compromised the integrity of the structure.

Storm Alberto – the first named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season – brought several mudslides to the region following heavy rainfall. The Lake Tahoma dam is now in “imminent danger” of failure, according to authorities who are warning residents in McDowell County to immediately move to higher ground.

The National Weather Service declared a flash flood emergency and is reiterating that this is “a life threatening situation.” The weather agency is also warning that there is an increased risk of further mudslides.

McDowell County Emergency Management is asking people to be patient as it assesses the danger. State inspectors will evaluate the risk during daylight hours. Until then all residents living below Lake Tahoma are urged to evacuate.

Shelters have been set up in local churches and a YMCA. An interstate highway was closed for a time Tuesday and schools will not open Wednesday.

READ MORE:Cubans cheat death as bridge over floodwaters crumbles into raging rapids below (VIDEOS) 

Storm Alberto has killed at least four people in Cuba and two in Florida as it brought heavy rains, winds and floodwater over the Caribbean and eastern US.

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Turkey warns US it will look elsewhere if Washington fails to deliver F-35 fighter jets

By ethan / May 30, 2018

Turkey will go elsewhere if Washington fails to deliver on its sale of F-35 jets, the country’s foreign minister warned. It comes as US lawmakers aim to ban deliveries of the jets to Ankara over its purchase of Russian S-400s.

“If I need such weapons, I will certainly procure my immediate needs from somewhere. But I do not think there will be a problem. In many resolutions that stipulate sanctions, Congress leaves the last word to the administration,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters late Tuesday.

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© Axel Schmidt

He went on to explain that the deal between Ankara and Washington for the sale of the fighter jets is a “substantial legal agreement,” noting that Turkey has made all of its regular payments. “This deal has nothing to do with our procurement of the S-400s,” Cavusoglu said.

The US has not been hiding its disapproval of Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 anti-aircraft systems. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert stated earlier this month that Washington has “serious concerns” about Turkey’s potential acquisition of the systems. She said that as a fellow NATO member, Turkey should only be using NATO compatible systems, which could likely mean a purchase of the US-made weapons. Raising the stakes, US lawmakers introduced a bill which seeks to ban F-35 deliveries to Turkey, referring to the country as “increasingly hostile and authoritarian.”

Washington has not backed off from directly threatening its “strategic partner” and major NATO ally in a bid to pressure Ankara to back out of the S-400 deal. Assistant US Secretary of State Wess Mitchell stated in April that Turkey “should be mindful of the risks in making strategic concessions with Moscow,” noting that the purchase “could potentially lead to sanctions.”

Despite Mitchell’s words, both Turkey and Russia remain committed to their agreement, with deliveries of the S-400 systems set to begin in 2020. It could happen sooner, as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated in March that Moscow is ready to speed up its deliveries.

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© Igor Zarembo

Cavusoglu’s Tuesday remarks come as the US and Turkey continue to suffer from a tense relationship, particularly over Ankara’s ‘Operation Olive Branch’ which was launched against Kurdish fighters in Afrin, Syria, in January. The operation prompted the top US commander in the US-led coalition against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) to warn that Turkey would face a sharp response if it struck Manbij – a remark which prompted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to respond.

“It is obvious that those, who say they will ‘give a sharp response’ if they were hit, have not been hit by the Ottoman slap,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in response. His remark referenced a Turkish martial arts move that involves an open-palm hit, resulting in a one-hit knockout or even skull fractures and death.

However, the relationship between the two NATO members was already rocky before the operation began. Things worsened in October, when Turkey arrested a US consulate worker for alleged ties to exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara blames for a failed coup attempt in 2016. Ankara has criticized the US for failing to extradite Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania.

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