Channel NewsAsiahttp://www.channelnewsasia.comChannel NewsAsia Singapore was established in March 1999 by MediaCorp, and is an English language Asian TV News channel. Positioned to Understand Asia, it reports on global developments with Asian perspectives. Channel NewsAsia brings viewers not only the latest news but also the stories behind the headlines. NewsAsiahttp://www.channelnewsasia.com129137en-usUS committed to Europe alliances - Haley, 22 Feb 2017 01:10:27 +0800NEW YORK: NATO is the "strongest alliance in history" and the United States is committed to its alliances in Europe, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Tuesday.

The U.S. is working to make the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) "even more effective," Haley said, and policy differences with European allies should not be seen as anything less than "total commitment to (U.S.) alliances in Europe.

Newly appointed U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley presents her credentials to U.N.

Haley spoke to the U.N. Security Council as it met to discuss conflicts in Europe.

(Reporting by Rodrigo Campos; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Egypt, Jordan say no concessions on a Palestinian state WorldWed, 22 Feb 2017 01:08:57 +0800CAIRO: Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and King Abdullah II of Jordan agreed on Tuesday (Jan 21) there could be no concessions on establishing a Palestinian state, the presidency said after talks in Cairo.

The meeting between the leaders of the two Arab countries that have signed peace treaties with Israel came after US President Donald Trump's administration suggested it would not insist on a Palestinian state for a Middle East peace agreement.

Jordan's King Abdullah II (L) and and President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi meet in Cairo on February(Photo:AFP)

"The two sides discussed ways to push the stagnant Middle East peace process, especially in light of US President Donald Trump's administration coming to power," a presidency statement said.

A two-state solution "with a Palestinian state ... with east Jerusalem as its capital is a nationalist principle that cannot be conceded".

After meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington earlier this month, Trump said he would entertain a "two-state and a one-state" solution.

But his ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, later tempered this stance, saying Washington "absolutely" supports a two-state solution but wants new ideas on how to move forward.

The two-state solution - a Palestinian one alongside Israel - has long been the cornerstone of US and international policy, and the seeming American shift was greeted with hostility from other world powers.

EU agrees new rules to close tax loopholes for multinationals World BusinessWed, 22 Feb 2017 01:02:30 +0800BRUSSELS: EU finance ministers agreed on Tuesday (Jan 21) to close loopholes that multinational firms exploit to pay low or no taxes by shopping for better deals outside the 28-nation bloc.

They said the new rules aim to prevent firms from "exploiting disparities" in tax rates, particularly those in countries outside the bloc given that the EU issued a tax-avoidance directive for its member states last year.

Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos (left) talks with EU Economic Commissioner Pierre Moscovici(Photo:AFP)

The agreement to tackle so-called "hybrid mismatches" aims to end the erosion of taxable bases of corporate taxpayers in the European Union.

"Today is yet another success story in our campaign for fairer taxation" said Pierre Moscovici, the EU's top economic affairs official. "Step by step, we are eliminating the channels used by certain companies to escape taxation," he added in a statement.

The new rules are due to take effect in 2020, once member states enact them into law. In rare cases, they will apply from 2022.

The latest of many initiative comes amid growing public outrage about tax avoidance by multinational corporations.

Bao Bao the panda leaving National Zoo for new home in China, 22 Feb 2017 00:55:33 +0800REUTERS: Bao Bao, the 3-year-old giant panda who rose to fame while growing up on live video at the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington, will be flown to her new home in China on Tuesday under a long-standing breeding and research program.

Bao Bao will take off on a Boeing 777F freighter aircraft, customized with an image of a giant panda emblazoned on its side, from Dulles International Airport in Virginia for Chengdu, China in the afternoon, the zoo said in a statement.

Zoo keepers carry bamboo that will travel with giant panda Bao Bao as she is heads for her new home

With her will be handlers as well as 55 pounds of bamboo and several more pounds of biscuits, sweet potatoes and sugarcane.

Bao Bao was born at the zoo on Aug. 23, 2013 to mother Mei Xiang and father Tian Tian, who were loaned to the zoo as part of an agreement with the Chinese Wildlife Conservation Association.

Under the deal, all cubs born at the National Zoo must move to China by the time they reach 4 years old for breeding and research.

The National Zoo received its first pair of giant pandas in 1972 as a gift from the Chinese government to commemorate President Richard Nixon's landmark visit to China. That pair, female Ling-Ling and male Hsing-Hsing, lived at the zoo for more than 20 years, but produced no surviving cubs.

Mei Xiang and Tian Tian produced their first surviving cub on July 9, 2005, named Tai Shan, who left for China's Wolong Nature Reserve some four years later.

Bao Bao drew an international audience as the star of the zoo "panda cam," which documented her birth and childhood for millions of fans worldwide.

Admirers have included former first lady Michelle Obama, who sent a message to the giant panda cub on the day she was born.

In the week leading up to her departure, fans were allowed to observe Bao Bao as she was plied with her favorite treats, including ice cakes made of frozen fruit juices and vegetables.

The zoo, which is open to the public every day except Dec. 25, said it would close the first half of Tuesday for Bao Bao's departure.

Bao Bao's younger brother, Bei Bei, and parents will remain at the zoo as part of its breeding program, which runs until December 2020.

(Reporting by Laila Kearney; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Jonathan Oatis)

Sexton back in contention for Ireland NewsWed, 22 Feb 2017 00:50:16 +0800DUBLIN,: Ireland backs Johnny Sexton and Rob Kearney returned to training on Tuesday and are available for the Six Nations game against France in Dublin on Saturday.

“Both guys trained fully today and Rob Kearney trained yesterday. Johnny came in and out of yesterday’s session and no reaction from either of them," Ireland assistant coach Richie Murphy told reporters.

Ireland v Wales - RBS Six Nations Championship 2016

“He (Sexton) took a full part today and with a little bit of contact in there as well. Both guys should be ready to go,”

Winger Andrew Trimble and scumhalf Conor Murray also passed fitness tests on Tuesday.

Flyhalf Sexton, seeking to go on a second British and Irish Lions tour later this year has missed Ireland’s first two matches of the tournament with a calf injury.

The 31-year-old has suffered a spate of injuries over the last few years with numerous concussions, plus shoulder, hamstring, neck and calf problems. His replacement Paddy Jackson was lauded for his performances during the opening two games in the Six Nations in which Ireland lost narrowly to Scotland but beat Italy 63-10 away.

(Reporting by Mark Gleeson, editing by Ed Osmond)

Trump calls anti-Semitic threats 'horrible,' 'painful' WorldWed, 22 Feb 2017 00:50:04 +0800WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump on Tuesday (Jan 21) decried anti-Semitic threats against Jewish community centres as "horrible" and "painful," promising to work to bridge divisions in the country.

"This tour was a meaningful reminder of why we have to fight bigotry, intolerance and hatred in all of its very ugly forms," Trump said in remarks after visiting the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington.

US President Donald Trump gives a thumbs-up alongside Dr. Ben Carson (C), his nominee for Secretary(Photo:AFP)

"The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centres are horrible, and are painful - and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil."

At the weekend, more than 100 headstones were damaged at a Jewish cemetery in St Louis, Missouri, the facility's director said.

Nearly a dozen Jewish community centres received bomb threats that prompted evacuations on Monday. All of the threats turned out to be hoaxes.

The FBI and the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division are said to be investigating those incidents, and dozens more reported since the start of the year.

While Trump's daughter Ivanka, who converted to Judaism, denounced the threats over the weekend, saying on Twitter that "we must protect our houses of worship & religious centres," the president had not commented.

Following his museum visit, Trump also pledged "to do everything I can to continue that promise of freedom for African-Americans and for every American."

Accompanied by Ben Carson, the African American retired neurosurgeon he tapped to head the department of Housing and Urban Development, Trump praised the museum's work honouring "African American men and women who built our national heritage."

But it also was clearly intended to assuage concerns raised over Trump's embrace by white supremacist groups and an "alt-right" movement given a platform on Breitbart, the online news outlet once headed by Trump's chief White House strategist Steve Bannon.

The White House raised eyebrows on International Holocaust Remembrance Day late last month by issuing a statement that made no mention of the six million Jews killed in the Nazi genocide.

When an Orthodox Jewish reporter asked Trump at a White House news conference about a post-election surge in anti-Semitic incidents in America, Trump reacted defensively, telling his questioner to "sit down."

As he toured the museum, he was asked by an MSNBC reporter Tuesday whether he would clear up the confusion by denouncing anti-Semitism, Trump said, "I do all the time."

"I think it's terrible or horrible, whether it's anti-Semitism or racism or anything you can think about having to do with the divide," he said. "You don't know where it's coming from but I certainly hope they catch the people," he said.

Mugabe marks 93rd birthday with faltering TV interview WorldWed, 22 Feb 2017 00:46:03 +0800HARARE: Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, the world's oldest national ruler, turned 93 on Tuesday (Jan 21), using a long and occasionally rambling interview to vow to remain in power despite growing signs of frailty.

He celebrated the day at a private event in Harare with a cake and presents from staff as supporters and ruling ZANU-PF party officials filled state media with gushing messages of goodwill and congratulations.

Robert Mugabe has vowed to remain in power as he turns 93(Photo:AFP)

During an hour-long, pre-recorded television interview broadcast late Monday, Mugabe appeared to grow increasingly tired, pausing at length between sentences and speaking with his eyes barely open.

"The call to step down must come from my party... In such circumstances I will step down," he said.

"They want me to stand for elections ... If I feel that I can't do it any more, I will say so to my party so that they relieve me. But for now, I think I can't say so. The majority of the people feel that there is no replacement - a successor who to them is acceptable."

Mugabe, who has ridiculed regular reports that he is close to death, spoke about creating jobs in Zimbabwe's wrecked economy, the country's extreme cash shortage and his much-criticised wife.

Sitting in State House, his official residence in Harare, he appeared lucid at some points while at other times he drawled and lost track of his thoughts.


The Zimbabwean opposition used the birthday to say Mugabe was an outdated leader, incapable of solving the country's problems.

The president's main birthday celebrations will be held on Saturday at Matobo National Park outside Bulawayo, where thousands of officials and ZANU-PF faithful are expected to gather.

Large game animals are often slaughtered for the occasion. In previous years Mugabe has reportedly been offered elephants, buffalo and impala for the feast.

The veteran leader, who came to power when Zimbabwe won independence in 1980, is accused of holding onto office through ruthless repression of dissent and election rigging, while overseeing an economic collapse.

The state-owned Herald newspaper published a 24-page supplement of congratulatory messages from government departments and regime loyalists, while state television and radio broadcast tributes and songs of praise.

"As we celebrate his 93rd birthday today, we do so in the knowledge and comfort that our country is in very good and capable hands," the Herald said in its editorial.

The defence ministry message read: "Your wise visionary leadership continues to provide us with clear direction and greater resolve to defend our country."

Several incidents in recent years have highlighted Mugabe's advanced age - including a public fall in 2015 at Harare airport.

In September of the same year he read a speech to parliament apparently unaware that he had delivered the same address a month earlier.


His party has endorsed Mugabe as its candidate for general elections next year, and he remains widely respected as a liberation hero by other African leaders.

On Friday, his wife, Grace, 51, claimed that Mugabe would be the voters' choice even after he dies.

Grace, who has a reputation for extravagance and fierce verbal attacks on rivals, has also said she would use a wheelchair to transport him to election rallies if needed.

She was appointed head of the ZANU-PF women's wing in a surprise move that could make her a possible successor to Mugabe.

"She is very acceptable. Very much accepted by the people," Mugabe said in the interview, without giving further details.

Another leading candidate is Mugabe's vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa.

A spokesman for the Movement for Democratic Change opposition party wrote a stinging opinion piece in the privately-owned NewsDay paper.

"Today's problems need today's people. Yet you do not even belong to yesterday's generation. At 93, you certainly belong to yesterday but one," wrote Luke Tamborinyoka.

Last year, security forces quelled a series of street protests in Harare that were a rare public expression of opposition to Mugabe's regime.

According to Bloomberg News, Zimbabwe's economic output has halved since 2000 when many white-owned farms were seized, leaving the key agricultural sector in ruins.

Trump to leave protections for US 'dreamer' migrants, 22 Feb 2017 00:35:30 +0800WASHINGTON: U.S. President Donald Trump's administration will leave protections in place for immigrants who entered the country illegally as children, known as "dreamers," but will consider all other illegal immigrants subject to deportation, according to guidance released on Tuesday.

The Department of Homeland Security guidance is the implementation plan for executive orders on border security and immigration enforcement that Trump signed on Jan. 25, days after taking office.

A Donald Trump for President campaign sticker is shown attached to a U.S. Customs sign hanging on t

The Republican president campaigned on a pledge to get tougher on the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States, playing on fears of violent crime while promising to build a wall on the border with Mexico and to stop potential terrorists from entering the country.

DHS officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity on a conference call with reporters, said that although any immigrant in the country illegally could be deported, the agency will prioritise those deemed as posing a threat.

These include recent entrants, those convicted of a crime and people charged but not yet convicted.

However, many of the instructions to immigration agents outlined in the guidance will not be implemented immediately because they depend on Congress, a public comment period or negotiations with other nations, the officials said.

For example, the DHS will need to publish a notice in the Federal Register subject to review in order to implement one part of the plan that calls on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to increase the number of immigrants who are not given a hearing before being deported.

The new guidance would subject immigrants who cannot show they have been in the country for more than two years to "expedited removal." Currently, only migrants apprehended near the border who cannot show they have been in the country more than 14 days are subject to rapid removal.

The memos also instructs ICE to detain migrants who are awaiting a court decision on whether they will be deported or granted relief, such as asylum. DHS officials said they are reviewing what jurisdictions may have laws in place that prevent the amount of time immigrants can be held.

The agency also plans to send non-Mexican migrants crossing the southern U.S. border back into Mexico as they await a decision on their case. The DHS officials said this plan would be dependent on partnerships with the Mexican government and would not be implemented overnight.

Trump's planned measures against illegal immigrants have drawn protests, such as an event last week that activists called "A Day Without Immigrants" to highlight the importance of the foreign-born, who account for 13 percent of the U.S. population, or more than 40 million naturalized American citizens.

(Reporting by Julia Edwards Ainsley; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Frances Kerry)

US Powerball lottery jackpot snowballs past US$400 million, 22 Feb 2017 00:30:28 +0800NEW YORK: The expected jackpot in the U.S. lottery Powerball has surpassed US$400 million for one of the few times in its history ahead of the next drawing on Wednesday night.

The prize money grew to some US$403 million after there were no winners in Saturday's drawing, lottery officials said.

Lottery stubs are pictured at an ampm convenience store in Pasadena

Powerball's jackpot hit a record US$1.6 billion in January 2016, when there were three winning tickets sold in California, Florida and Tennessee. The game and a second major U.S. lottery, Mega Millions, have exceeded US$400 million only a handful of other times.

The odds of winning the top prize are 1 in 292 million.

Powerball tickets are sold in 44 states, as well as Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Players can buy the US$2 tickets with their own numbers, or have the numbers randomly generated by a computer.

The next drawing is scheduled for 10:59 p.m. ET on Wednesday (0359 GMT on Thursday) and the winner would receive annual payments over 29 years or US$243.9 million in a lump sum payment, before taxes.

Half of Powerball sales goes to prizes, 40 percent to state governments for items such as education and 10 percent to retailers who sell the tickets and for other administrative costs.

(Reporting by David Ingram in New York; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Chile demands explanation from Cuba after ex-minister denied entry, 22 Feb 2017 00:25:26 +0800SANTIAGO: Chile said Tuesday it was recalling its ambassador to Cuba for consultation and speaking to the Cuban government to establish why a prominent former minister was blocked from entering Cuba on Monday night.

Mariana Aylwin, a former education minister and daughter of ex-president Patricio Aylwin, was travelling to the island to receive a prize on behalf of her father. The event, planned for Wednesday, was organised by the Latin American Network of Youth for Democracy, which has been critical of the Cuban government.

The organisation has also invited Luis Almagro, the head of the Organization of American States, which suspended Cuba in 1962 for being Communist.

While the Washington-based OAS agreed in 2009 to lift the Cold War ruling, Cuba declined to rejoin the group, which it deems an imperialist instrument of its former Cold War foe the United States.

Aylwin was prevented from checking in to her flight in Chile's capital, Santiago, apparently at the request of the Cuban authorities, she told journalists on Tuesday.

"Exercising the right (to travel between nations) should not be interfered with, especially given that Chile has recognised the feats of various figures in Cuban history and politics," Chile's Foreign Relations Ministry said in a statement.

Mariana Aylwin served in Congress in the 1990s for Chile's centrist Christian Democratic Party, and later as minister in the 2000s under centre-left president Ricardo Lagos, who is running for president in Chile's 2017 elections.

She is seen as an ideological leader of the most conservative segment of Chile's centre-left ruling coalition.

Her father was Chile's first democratically elected president after the 1973 to 1990 dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, and is credited with successfully overseeing the nation's fragile political transition.

(Reporting by Gram Slattery in Santiago; Additional reporting by Sarah Marsh in Havana; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien and James Dalgleish)

Canadian judge agrees to publication ban in mosque shooting trial, 22 Feb 2017 00:25:23 +0800QUEBEC CITY: A Canadian judge on Tuesday agreed to a publication ban on evidence against the accused shooter in an attack on a Quebec City mosque in January that killed six men and wounded 17 others.

Alexandre Bissonnette, a 27-year-old former university student accused of six counts of premeditated murder and five charges of attempted murder, appeared briefly in court wearing a red T-shirt that said, "Physiotherapy integration" in French on the front and "Volonteer" on the back.

A young mourner lays her head on one of the caskets during funeral services for three of the victim

Jean Petit, Bissonnette's defence attorney, said he had received part of the evidence and will receive more on March 30. Quebec Court Judge Jean-Louis Lemay agreed to the defence's request to not make the evidence public immediately.

The January shooting at the Quebec mosque, condemned by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as a terrorist attack, is considered by police to be a lone wolf attack.

While Quebec police have declined to discuss possible motives for the shooting at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec, U.S. government security experts believe the gunman was most likely motivated by hatred for Muslims.

Among the six men killed in the shooting were a butcher, a university professor, a pharmacist and an accountant, according to police and Canadian media.

The attack was out of character for Quebec City, a city of just over 500,000 that reported just two murders in all of 2015. Mass shootings are rare in Canada, where gun control laws are stricter than in the United States.

Incidents of Islamophobia, including cases of Quebec mosques being vandalised, have increasingly made headlines in recent years. The Muslim face-covering, or niqab, became an issue in the 2015 Canadian federal election, especially in Quebec, where the majority of the population supported a ban on it at citizenship ceremonies.

(Reporting by Kevin Dougherty in Quebec City; Writing by Allison Lampert in Montreal; Editing by Dan Grebler)

Chinese buyers set to finalise AC Milan deal March 3 - sources NewsWed, 22 Feb 2017 00:25:17 +0800MILAN: The sale of prized Italian soccer team AC Milan to a group of Chinese investors is set to be finalised on March 3, two sources close to the matter said on Tuesday, in what would be the biggest Chinese investment in a European club.

The deal, valuing the club at 740 million euros (US$818 million) including 220 million euros of debt, was originally supposed to close at the end of last year but the Chinese buyers struggled to get final approval from Beijing.

The AC Milan logo is pictured on a pennant in a soccer store in downtown Milan

Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi agreed in August to sell one of his most cherished assets to an investment vehicle called Sino-Europe Sports Investment Management Changxing (SES), backed by Haixa Capital and entrepreneur Yonghong Li.

The investors are due to pay Berlusconi the outstanding 320 million euros and are also expected to inject a further 100 million euros into the team, as initially agreed in August, the two sources said.

The group has already paid 200 million euros in three separate payments to Berlusconi's family company Fininvest.

Fininvest denied to comment on the date of March 3.

The full composition of the Chinese consortium is still unknown and is due to be revealed at the closing, the two sources added.

(Reporting by Giulia Segreti and Elvira Pollina)

Five Russians to miss Nordic ski championships amid doping probe NewsWed, 22 Feb 2017 00:15:19 +0800ZURICH: The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has rejected requests by five Russian cross-country skiers who were suspended in a doping probe to be allowed to take part in this year's world championships, the tribunal said on Tuesday.

The ruling covers Alexey Petukhov, Evgenia Shapovalova, Maxim Vylegzhanin, Alexander Legkov and Evgeniy Belov, who had sought to compete at the 2017 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Finland from Feb. 22 to March 5, CAS said in a statement.

General view shows the Court of Arbitration for Sports in Lausanne

(Reporting by Michael Shields)

Blackburn sack Coyle as manager NewsWed, 22 Feb 2017 00:15:15 +0800LONDON: Blackburn Rovers sacked their manager Owen Coyle on Tuesday, two days after the team's 2-1 FA Cup defeat by Manchester United, the club said.

"Blackburn Rovers wish to announce that manager Owen Coyle has left his role at Ewood Park by mutual agreement," it said.

Blackburn Rovers manager Owen Coyle

Rovers have been caught in a spiral of decline since winning the Premier League in 1995 and are currently second from bottom of the Championship, in danger of relegation to English football's third tier for the first time since 1980.

Blackburn's problems have not been confined to the pitch, with supporters regularly protesting against the owners, Indian company Venky's, which bought the club in 2010.

Coyle is the 10th manager to be sacked in the 24-team Championship since the start of the season.

(Reporting by Neil Robinson; editing by Richard Lough)

EU tells Irish to use 'creativity' to avoid Brexit harm, 22 Feb 2017 00:05:39 +0800DUBLIN: Ireland needs to use "creativity" to ensure Brexit is as painless as possible, but must not negotiate directly with London, the European Commission's second-in-command said on Tuesday.

With an economy highly dependent on trade with Britain, and the only land border with the UK, Ireland is widely considered the country with the most to lose when its bigger neighbour quits the European Union.

FILE PHOTO: A scrabble board spells out Brexit in Dublin

Prime Minister Enda Kenny said last week it was of "vital national interest" that no physical barrier or customs controls be put back on the border with Northern Ireland, but neither Dublin or London have clearly said how this can be achieved.

"I'm here to stress very clearly that the European Commission will be at Ireland's side when we need to take into account the very special circumstances Ireland has to deal with in the Brexit debate," Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans told an Irish parliamentary committee.

"But for that to be successful we also need your very active engagement in this, all the creativity Irish people can muster to make sure that we find the best possible solution and do the least harm possible to all the parties involved."

Timmermans also said there was a duty to maintain the "miracle" of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that ended three decades of sectarian bloodshed in Northern Ireland.

But he said that which Ireland was a "very, very special case", it must resist the temptation to start parallel, bilateral talks with London which will spend the next two years negotiating with the EU about post-Brexit conditions.

"Let me brutally clear about this. Yes, exceptional circumstances. No to bilateral negotiations. That is exactly playing into the hands of the Brits who are trying to play off one country against the other," Timmermans said.

"They (Britain) will try with ever single member state. That's in the nature of diplomacy, and I don't blame them. They're fighting for the interests of their country like we are fighting for the interests of the remaining 27 countries."

(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Renault aims for fifth place in 2017 championship NewsTue, 21 Feb 2017 23:55:17 +0800LONDON: Renault unveiled their 2017 Formula One car on Tuesday and said it targetted fifth place in the championship and possible podium finishes after struggling among the backmarkers last season.

The former world champions, who returned as full constructors in 2016 after taking over the failing Lotus team, finished ninth out of 11 last year with drivers Kevin Magnussen of Denmark and Briton Jolyon Palmer.

Renault's Jolyon Palmer and Nico Hulkenberg unveil the new car

Magnussen has since left for U.S-owned rivals Haas F1 and been replaced by experienced German Nico Hulkenburg from Force India.

Russian Sergey Sirotkin retains the role of development driver.

The team, whose engine plant is in France and main factory in England, have invested heavily in adding headcount and infrastructure over the past year with the aim of returning to the top by 2020.

"We expect to be fifth in the championship," Renault Sport Racing President Jerome Stoll told the audience in a central London hall before the black and yellow RS17 car was presented to pounding music and strobe lights.

"We are hungry for the podium, hungry for success," said Stoll.

Renault Sport F1 managing director Cyril Abiteboul, who has effectively been running the team since the departure of principal Frederic Vasseur in January, said the key word for the year ahead was 'integration'.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Richard Lough)

Germany to increase army to 198,000 by 2024 amid NATO spending row, 21 Feb 2017 23:40:41 +0800BERLIN: Germany is to increase its army by 5,000 soldiers, the defence ministry said on Tuesday, bringing the total to 198,000 in 2024, at a time when U.S. pressure is mounting on European NATO members to raise military spending.

"The German army faces demands like never before," Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement, adding that the army had to be able to respond in an appropriate way to developments abroad and security concerns.

German Bundeswehr army demonstrate their skills at Kaserne Hochstaufen in Bad Reichenhall

Germany, reluctant for decades after World War Two to get involved in military missions abroad, has in the last few years become more active in supporting international deployments such as in Afghanistan, Mali and against Islamic State militants.

In January, Germany sent a battlegroup of more than 1,000 to Lithuania as part of a NATO mission to protect its eastern border with Russia in response to its annexation of Crimea and its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

On top of the 5,000 extra soldiers, Germany is also adding 1,000 civilians posts and about 500 reserves.

The increase, long flagged by von der Leyen, comes at a time when U.S. President Donald Trump is pushing NATO members, especially from Europe, to raise their military spending.

The defence alliance in 2014 agreed to end years of defence cuts and meet a target of spending 2 percent of economic output on defence by 2024. German defence spending is currently at 1.22 percent.

A defence ministry spokeswoman said provided the plan goes ahead, the increase would mean additional costs of about 955 million euros (£809.2 million) per year from 2024.

(Reporting by Madeline Chambers, editing by Ed Osmond)

Egyptian president and Jordanian king say two-state solution not up for compromise, 21 Feb 2017 23:40:36 +0800CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Jordan's King Abdullah said in a Cairo meeting on Tuesday that they were committed to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Sisi's office said in a statement.

"The two sides discussed future movements to break the gridlock within the Middle East peace process, especially with U.S. President Donald Trump's administration taking power," the statement said.

FILE PHOTO: Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi sits before a meeting with U.S. Secretary o

"They also discussed mutual coordination to reach a two-state solution and establish a Palestinian state based on the June 4, 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as a capital which is a national constant that cannot be given up."

(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Amina Ismail)

Italian taxi drivers protest, urge crackdown on competitors, 21 Feb 2017 23:40:19 +0800ROME: Italy's taxi drivers staged a sixth day of protests in major cities on Tuesday and blocked central Rome to try to force the government to crack down on burgeoning limousine businesses and the app-based Uber service.

The taxi revolt broke out last week when the ruling Democratic Party (PD) said it would delay yet again introducing norms aimed at regulating car-hire and car-share schemes.

Taxi drivers shout slogans during a rally in Rome

Taxi drivers operate under rigid regulation and say they are being penalised by the growth of little-monitored app-based services like Uber, which connect users to the nearest drivers via smartphone, and increasingly popular chauffeured limousines.

"We don't mind competition, but there isn't a level playing field. These companies don't have the same constraints as us," said Paolo Ricci, a taxi driver protesting outside the prime minister's office in the heart of Rome.

"We are a public service. We have fixed fares, fixed shifts and have to take any customer, even if it is only a short ride that makes no money. The competition don't have any of these problems and the government must act," he said.

The protest coincided with a demonstration by market and stallholders, who are up in arms over plans to implement the European Union "Bolkestine" directive aimed at opening up competition within the services sector.

While one group of protesters closed roads around the prime minister's office, another crowded around the entrance to the nearby PD headquarters. "Mafiosi, mafiosi," the men shouted.

"Let's work together, but without any violence and threats," said Transport Minister Graziano Delrio, who is due to meet the taxi driver leaders later on Tuesday.

The government looked to regulate the whole sector in 2008, but the initiative was struck down by the courts. The introduction of subsequent revisions to the law has been repeatedly delayed by successive governments.

Deputy Transport Minister Riccardo Nencini said that the delays had been excessive but that the norms had been made obsolete by evolving technology and needed further review.

"Reform is essential, but without penalising taxi drivers who have invested in their profession," he told Corriere della Sera newspaper.

The taxi unions are a strong lobby group in Italy and have repeatedly fought off attempts to liberalize the industry and increase the number of cab licenses available. Licenses are often passed down from father to son and, according to drivers, they sell for six-figure sums in the major cities.

(Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Iraqi forces fighting Islamic State set to storm airport, clear way to western Mosul, 21 Feb 2017 23:35:35 +0800SOUTH OF MOSUL, Iraq: U.S.-backed Iraqi forces closing in on the Islamic State-held western half of Mosul prepared on Tuesday to storm the airport and a nearby military base on its southern outskirts to create a bridgehead for a thrust into the city.

Since ousting IS from eastern Mosul last month, Iraqi forces have advanced in sparsely populated outlying areas but fighting will intensify as they near the teeming inner city of western Mosul and the risk to roughly 750,000 civilians there will rise.

Iraqi security forces' members are pictured in the liberated part of Albu Saif village south o

The U.S. military commander in Iraq has said he believes

U.S.-backed forces will retake both of IS's urban bastions - Mosul and Raqqa in neighbouring Syria - within the next six months, which would end the jihadists' ambitions to territorial rule three years after they declared a "caliphate".

Iraqi federal police and elite interior ministry units known as Rapid Response have made rapid progress towards western Mosul in a sweep upwards through stony desert terrain from the south since launching the offensive's second phase on Sunday.

After fighting their way with helicopter gunships, machine gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades to Albu Saif on Monday, Iraqi forces were building up their positions in the hilltop village that overlooks the airport and built-up western Mosul beyond, a Reuters correspondent reported from the area.

The corpse of an Islamic State insurgent with a missing leg lay in the street of Albu Saif village.

Iraqi forces reached the "vicinity" of Mosul's international airport on Monday, the military said. A Rapid Response spokesman said the airport, once retaken, would be a close-support base for the onslaught into the west of Iraq's second largest city.

Iraqi forces will also need to secure the Gozhlani military complex, which includes barracks and training grounds and sprawls across the area between the airport and the end of the Baghdad-Mosul highway.

A senior Iraqi official said the airport and Gozhlani base had been heavily damaged by U.S.-led air strikes to wear down IS militants ahead of the offensive. He said Iraqi forces did not anticipate much resistance at the airport or base especially as the area was exposed to air strikes and artillery bombardment.

"The next step, God willing, is to advance to the Ghozlani military base," said Rapid Response Captain Mohammed Ali Mohsen, speaking inside a house where the IS slogan, "The Islamic State is Staying", was scrawled in marker pen on the walls.

The Counter-Terrorism Service, Iraqi units that were trained by the United States for urban warfare and spearheaded the recapture of east Mosul, are now redeploying and are expected to surge into the city's west once regular forces clear access points.

Iraqi commanders expect the battle to be more difficult than in the east of Mosul, however, in part because tanks and armoured vehicles cannot pass through narrow alleyways that crisscross the city's ancient western districts.

Militants have developed a network of passageways and

tunnels to enable them to hide and fight among civilians,

melt away after hit-and-run operations and track government

troop movements, according to inhabitants.

The U.S. commander in Iraq, Army Lieutenant General Stephen

Townsend, told a news conference in Baghdad on Monday he had

been placing U.S. military advisers closer to front lines in


Islamic State is essentially under siege in western Mosul,

after being driven out of city districts east of the River Tigris after 100 days of heavy fighting ending in January.

IS has prevented residents from leaving but in the first two months of the Mosul campaign, in October and November, it forced thousands of villagers to march alongside its fleeing militants as human shields against air strikes.


"This is the grim choice for children in western Mosul right now: bombs, crossfire and hunger if they stay – or execution and snipers if they try to run," the Save the Children humanitarian agency said in a statement. It added that children comprise about half the population in the city's western sector.

Up to 400,000 civilians could be displaced by the offensive,

with western Mosul suffering food and fuel shortages and

markets closed, according to the United Nations.

Western Mosul contains the old city centre, with its ancient

souks, government administration buildings and the mosque from

which Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed his

self-styled caliphate over parts of Syria and Iraq after shock territorial advances by IS in 2014.

Mosul is the largest urban centre captured by IS in either country. As in Syria's Raqqa, IS imposed a radical version of sharia law in Mosul, banning cigarettes, televisions and radios, and forcing men to grow beards and women to cover from head to toe. Citizens who failed to comply risked death.

Townsend has said he believes U.S.-backed forces will

recapture both Mosul and Syria's Raqqa in Syria by mid-2017.

But even without notable territorial holdings, the resilient militants are likely to keep up a campaign of suicide bombings and inspiring lone-wolf shooting and bomb attacks abroad.

Islamic State was thought to have up to 6,000 well-armed insurgents in Mosul when the government offensive started in mid-October. Of those, more than 1,000 have been killed, according to Iraqi military estimates.

The remainder now face a 100,000-strong force made up of

Iraqi armed forces, including elite paratroopers and police,

regional Kurdish peshmerga forces and Iranian-trained Shi'ite Muslim paramilitary groups.

The westward road that links Mosul to Syrian territory was cut in November by the Shi'ite paramilitary known as Popular

Mobilization forces. They are now trying to sever the route linking Mosul to Tal Afar, a town under IS control 60 km (40

miles) to the west near the Syrian border.

The United States, which has deployed more than 5,000 troops

in the fighting, leads an international coalition providing air

and ground support to the Iraqi and Kurdish forces.

About 160,000 civilians have been displaced from the Mosul area since the start of the offensive, U.N. officials say. Medical and humanitarian agencies estimate the total number of dead and wounded - civilian and military - at several thousand.

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Lights! Camera! Action! Getting ready for the Oscars' red carpet, 21 Feb 2017 23:35:19 +0800LOS ANGELES: It's not just women who are getting ready for the Oscars' red carpet on Sunday.

Employing everything from paint to cosmetic procedures, Hollywood's leading men are increasingly getting a little help to look their best on the most high-profile red carpet in the world.

FILE PHOTO - Heidi Klum, Cate Blanchett and Emily Blunt pose on the red carpet in this combination

"I tell my male clients, this is not your sister's make-up. This is a cosmetic collection that's been tailored for men," said dermatologist Dr. Janine Hopkins.

Hopkins created the Minerals Black Tie collection to help men cover up severe skin blemishes, but it's also being used by celebrities who walk the red carpet.

"On the red carpet it would help to make the actor look just more youthful, more bright eyed and not have those dark circles showing up on camera," Hopkins said.

"Even though most of our male celebrities are quite flawless, they're still not immune to the occasional breakout," she said.

Estheticians say that to get the best results, it's best to start any procedures at least a week ahead of Sunday's ceremony, where more than 60 photographers will be positioned on the 500 foot-long (152-meter) red carpet outside the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.

An IV vitamin infusion is one of the latest offerings for achieving glowing skin.

"Initially it's internal because you're getting the hydration and you're getting all of the vitamins. But the effects of the vitamins are on the skin, on the immune system," said Joy Edwards, a nurse specialist at Cassileth Plastic Surgery and Skin Care in Beverly Hills.

As for the eyes, celebrities are moving away from fake eyelashes and opting for a more natural look with lash extensions, which are attached one by one to one's own lashes.

"The strip lashes, they look fake, they don't look real," said Candi Maldonado at Lash Loft in New York. "Lash extensions create more volume and extend the client's lashes ... that's why it gives a more natural look."

(Reporting by Reuters Television; Editing by Jill Serjeant and Sandra Maler)

Rooney misses United trip to St Etienne - reports NewsTue, 21 Feb 2017 23:30:27 +0800LONDON: Wayne Rooney has not travelled with the Manchester United squad for Wednesday's UEFA league game against French side St Etienne despite training earlier on Tuesday, British media reported.

The striker has been struggling with a muscle injury and last played at the start of February.

Manchester United's Wayne Rooney gestures towards referee Mike Jones

Rooney was pictured at the club's Carrington training complex on Tuesday morning before the 20-man party left for central France.

British media has linked the 31-year-old, who last month became United's all-time record scorer with 250 goals, with a move away from the club.

(Reporting by Neil Robinson; editing by Richard Lough)

Runoff likely in Ecuador's presidential election, with most votes counted, 21 Feb 2017 23:25:24 +0800QUITO: Ecuador looked set for an April runoff between leftist ruling party candidate Lenin Moreno and former banker Guillermo Lasso in its presidential election, with 94 percent of votes from the weekend's first round of voting counted on Tuesday morning.

Moreno was so far less than one percentage point short of the threshold needed to avoid a second round on April 2 and continue a decade-long period of leftist rule, just as South America is broadly moving to the right.

Lenin Moreno (C), presidential candidate of the ruling PAIS Alliance Party, gives a news conference

While Ecuadoreans are angry over an economic downturn and corruption scandals, the opposition split its votes among seven candidates and the ruling Country Alliance remains popular with many poor voters thanks to social welfare programs.

If a runoff goes ahead, the opposition is expected to close ranks around Lasso, who has promised to create jobs and investigate corruption scandals.

As results trickled in, Moreno, a disabled former vice president, was just short of the 40 percent of votes and a 10 percentage-point difference over his nearest rival needed to win outright.

He had 39.18 percent of valid votes versus 28.38 percent for Lasso, with 93.8 percent of votes counted, the official preliminary election count showed on Tuesday morning.

The electoral council has said full clarity would not arrive until around Thursday due to votes coming in slowly from isolated areas and Ecuadoreans abroad, bureaucratic delays and "inconsistencies" in some ballots.

The opposition has said it is worried about fraud and there have been protests by Lasso supporters in front of the electoral council headquarters in the capital, Quito.

Moreno has dismissed the opposition's stance, calling Lasso a "sore loser" and urging Ecuadoreans to wait for the final results.

(Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Trump to reverse Obama-era environmental rules in executive orders - report, 21 Feb 2017 23:25:18 +0800WASHINGTON: U.S. President Donald Trump will reverse a handful of Obama-era environmental regulations in executive orders that could be signed as early as this week, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday, citing unnamed sources with knowledge of the orders.

The orders will instruct the Department of the Interior to lift a ban on new coal mining leases on federal lands and will instruct the Environmental Protection Agency to make changes to greenhouse gas emissions curbs on electric utilities, according to the report.

U.S. President Trump pauses at Carson exhibit while visiting the National Museum of African America

EPA employees had been told that Trump could sign some executive orders shortly after his pick to head the agency, Scott Pruitt, was confirmed by the U.S. Senate, but they were not given the details of the orders, two EPA sources have told Reuters.

(Writing by Richard Valdmanis Editing by W Simon)

Kim Jong Nam death: How the arrest of a North Korean suspect went down in Malaysia PacificTue, 21 Feb 2017 23:12:04 +0800KUALA LUMPUR: There was drama surrounding the arrest of Ri Jong Chol, a North Korean arrested in connection with the suspected assassination of Kim Jong Un's half-brother Kim Jong Nam.

Neighbours Channel NewsAsia spoke to said they heard a huge commotion outside their homes on Friday night (Feb 17) and found at least 30 police officers swarming the narrow corridor of their condominium. They were told to return to their apartments immediately. 

A North Korean man identified by the Malaysian police as Ri Jong Chol and suspected by the authorit

Moments later, banging sounds were heard, as well as that of women screaming inside Ri's home. 

After police took Ri away, the neighbours said they saw Ri's 20-year-old daughter crying at the door. She said her mum was hurt and that she had slashed herself on the neck in a bid to stop authorities from taking her husband away. 

"She was trying to commit suicide and her daughter was crying, asking for help," said a couple who lived next door to the family. The couple, which declined to be named, added that an ambulance took the Ri family away and that was the last time they saw them.

Ri Jong Chol home

Signs of forced entry at Ri Jong Chol's condominium apartment. (Photo: Melissa Goh)

The Dynasty Garden condominium, tucked behind Old Klang Road on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, was where Ri Jong Chol and his family had been staying for the past year.

Ri is the only North Korean arrested in connection with Kim Jong Nam's death. At least four other North Korean suspects are wanted for investigations, Malaysian authorities said over the weekend.

Ri's neighbours said his family moved in about a year ago and that they were soft-spoken and kept to themselves. 

A check at HELP University, a private university in Kuala Lumpur where Ri's daughter is studying, showed she has not attended classes since Monday. Members of staff at the university said they were worried about her, but were too afraid to speak on camera.


MrChong Ah Kow, who applied for the employment pass for Ri Jong Chol, said he has been listed as Ri's boss for the past three years, even though Ri did not really work at his company, Tombo Enterprise, which deals with herbal supplements.

He said Ri has a degree in software engineering from the Kim Cheak University of Technology in North Korea and that Ri had wanted to open his own IT business in Malaysia. 

"He wants to bring his students over and asked me, but I said I'm already old. I'm not an IT man," said Mr Chong.

He shared that he met Ri during a trip to Pyongyang. Nicknamed Harmonica Chong, Mr Chong said had been invited to perform numerous times before North Korean leaders with his one-inch harmonica,. His guests included North Korea's founder Kim Il-Sung and current leader Kim Jong Un at birthday celebrations.   

Mr Chong said he is still shocked his friend has been arrested. "I can't believe it," he said, adding that it has never crossed his mind that Ri could be a secret operative for the North Korean regime.

North fit and firing for Wales, says Edwards NewsTue, 21 Feb 2017 23:10:27 +0800LONDON: Winger George North is fit for Wales in their Six Nations clash with Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday, Wales defence coach Shaun Edwards said on Tuesday.

"George has trained today and is raring to go," said Edwards.

George North of Northampton Saints

North missed the 21-16 defeat to England in Cardiff earlier this month after suffering a dead leg during Wales' victory over Italy, with his place being taken by Alex Cuthbert.

"We are looking very healthy all around at the moment," said Edwards. "We're definitely healthier than we were in the England week. We're selecting from a position of strength."

Wales must decide whether to change a back row who impressed against England, with the fit-again Taulupe Faletau, who was used as a replacement in that game, pushing for a start.

"It's a great position to be in," said Edwards.

(Reporting by Neil Robinson; editing by Richard Lough)

Burger King and Tim Hortons owner to buy Popeyes for US$1.8 billion, 21 Feb 2017 23:10:20 +0800REUTERS - Restaurant Brands International Inc, owner of the Burger King and Tim Hortons fast-food chains, said on Tuesday it would acquire Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen for US$1.8 billion in cash.

The deal is a bet by Oakville, Ontario-based Restaurant Brands that it can use its international reach to introduce Popeyes' Louisiana-style fried chicken and buttermilk biscuits to more diners globally.

FILE PHOTO: A BMW logo is seen on a wheel at the Brussels International Auto Show

Popeyes shareholders will get US$79.00 for each share they hold, a 19.5 percent premium to the stock's Friday close.

Popeyes, whose fans include pop singer Beyoncé, began 45 years ago as a Southern-fried "Chicken on the Run" restaurant in a New Orleans suburb. It has since expanded to more than 2,000 restaurants, of which 1,600 are in the United States.

Restaurant Brands was formed in 2014, when 3G Capital-backed Burger King acquired Canadian coffee and doughnut chain Tim Hortons Inc for US$11 billion.

Reuters reported on Monday that Restaurant Brands was nearing a deal to buy Popeyes, citing people familiar with the matter.

Restaurant Brands said on Tuesday it would finance the deal with cash on hand and a financing commitment from J.P. Morgan and Wells Fargo.

The company was advised by Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison LLP. Popeyes received financial advice from UBS and Genesis Capital LLC and legal counsel from King & Spalding LLP.

(Reporting by John Benny in Bengaluru; Editing by Maju Samuel and Sayantani Ghosh)

Iran Supreme Leader calls on Palestinians to pursue intifada against Israel, 21 Feb 2017 23:05:29 +0800BEIRUT: Iran’s Supreme Leader called on Palestinians on Tuesday to pursue an uprising against Israel, suggesting the Israeli government was a "cancerous tumour" that should be confronted until Palestinians were completely liberated.

"... by Allah’s permission, we will see that this intifada will begin a very important chapter in the history of fighting and that it will inflict another defeat on that usurping regime," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said, according to his website.

FILE PHOTO: Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks live on television after casti

The Supreme Leader’s bellicose comments, made during a two-day conference in Tehran focused on its support for the Palestinians, come at a time of increasingly heated rhetoric between Iran, Israel and the United States.

While on a visit to Washington last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Fox News that Israel and the United States had a "grand mission" to confront the threat of a nuclear Iran.

U.S. President Donald Trump has already been highly critical of a deal hammered out between Iran and world powers, including the United States, in 2015 intended to partially lift sanctions on Tehran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme.

Iran says its programme is for purely peaceful means.

When Iran carried out a ballistic missile test in late January, Trump’s then national security adviser Mike Flynn said the administration was putting Iran "on notice".

Ordinary Iranians have been posting their concerns about a possible military confrontation between Iran and the United States on social media.

Khamenei did not mention any Iranian military attack against Israel in his comments on Tuesday and was focused on gains that Palestinians could make in any confrontation with Israel, which he described as tumour developing into "the current disaster".

"The Palestinian intifada continues to gallop forward in a thunderous manner so that it can achieve its other goals until the complete liberation of Palestine," he said, according to the transcript of the speech posted on his website.

(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Alison Williams)

US top court rejects Boston Scientific's patent licensing appeal, 21 Feb 2017 23:05:18 +0800REUTERS: The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday turned away an appeal by Boston Scientific Corp of a Maryland state court jury verdict ordering the medical device company to pay US$308 million to a patent licensor for breach of contract concerning implantable cardiac devices.

Boston Scientific had asked the justices to hear its appeal in the dispute over its licenses to patented technology on the implantable devices owned by Mirowski Family Ventures, arguing the Maryland court made mistakes applying patent law, a job typically reserved for federal courts.

In its lawsuit, Maryland-based Mirowski claimed Massachusetts-based Boston Scientific did not pay all the royalties it owed after acquiring Guidant Corp, which had licensed the patents, and then settling patent infringement litigation involving Guidant.

The patents related to devices that can correct irregular heart rhythms, preventing cardiac arrest.

In 2014, a state jury awarded Mirowski about US$308 million in royalties and damages for breaching a license agreement. The Maryland Court of Appeals refused to hear the appeal last July.

Boston Scientific said the judge in the Maryland Circuit Court violated federal precedents by refusing to interpret the meaning of one of the patents, saying the task made him feel "queasy."

The case illustrates the hazards of relegating highly technical and complex issues of patent law to state courts, Boston Scientific said.

Mirowski had urged the Supreme Court not to hear the appeal, arguing the state court judge merely adopted the meaning of the patent made by a federal judge in a previous case.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York; Editing by Will Dunham)

Dutch parliament votes to regulate marijuana cultivation, 21 Feb 2017 22:45:15 +0800AMSTERDAM: Dutch parliament voted on Tuesday to allow the cultivation of marijuana, effectively legalising the country's longstanding tolerance policy.

Until now marijuana had been technically illegal, but police declined to prosecute possession of amounts less than several grams. The vote to permit professional cultivation of the plant will allow the country's "coffee shops", which sell the drug openly, to have a legal source of supply.

FILE PHOTO: A home-grown marijuana plant is seen at an undisclosed location in Israel

(Reporting by Toby Sterling; Editing by Dominic Evans)