Monthly Archives: April 2017

Verstappen apologises to Brazil for Massa remark

LONDON: Max Verstappen apologised to Brazilian Formula One fans on Monday after a comment about Felipe Massa caused offence at the weekend.

The 19-year-old Red Bull driver had accused the Williams veteran of wrecking his best lap in qualifying at the Bahrain Grand Prix and was asked by reporters whether he would be speaking to him.

“Well, he’s a Brazilian. So there’s not much to discuss,” Verstappen had replied.

The Dutchman, who won huge admiration for a stellar drive through the field to third place at a rainswept Interlagos circuit last year, took to Instagram to clarify remarks that went down badly in Brazil.

“Being a passionate racer, I was very disappointed with my last (qualifying) stint and gave an emotional reaction that was taken out of context,” he said.

“By no means did I mean to insult the Brazilian people who I greatly respect and are always very nice to me when I visit the country.

“I would like to apologise to any Brazilians that feel offended and look forward to racing in your country again,” he added, referencing Brazilian world champions Ayrton Senna, Emerson Fittipaldi and Nelson Piquet.

Massa, the only Brazilian driver on the current starting grid, told UOL Esporte that he had spoken to Verstappen after the race and warned him to “be careful what you say because you’re going to have to go to Brazil to race there”.

Verstappen crashed out of Sunday’s race at the Sakhir circuit after a brake failure.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ed Osmond)

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Turkey's security council advises extending state of emergency – statement

ANKARA: The Turkish National Security Council said in a statement on Monday that it had advised the cabinet of ministers to extend the country’s state of emergency by three months.

The cabinet will convene later on Monday and is expected to announce its decision on the matter.

Turkey declared a state of emergency soon after a coup attempt last July.

(Reporting by Umit Bektas; Writing by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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Bayern's Lewandowski set to face Madrid's shaky defence

REUTERS: Real Madrid’s struggling defence will probably have to keep Bayern Munich’s deadly striker Robert Lewandowski at bay in the Bernabeu to reach the Champions League semi-finals.

Real will be defending a 2-1 lead from the first leg of the quarter-final, which the Polish hitman missed with the shoulder injury that also kept him out of the German side’s 0-0 draw at Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga on Saturday.

However, Lewandowski trained on Sunday and is poised to return as Bayern look for goals on Tuesday against a Real side that have kept only one clean sheet in their last 12 games.

“I’m fine. I’m very pleased I was able to take part in training today. Everything’s OK,” said the Pole, who is Bayern’s top scorer with 38 goals in 40 games in all competitions.

Javi Martinez is banned after his first-leg red card, while Bayern may also be without the injured Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng, who both missed the Leverkusen clash.

“Of the three (injured), Lewandowski has the better chance of being fit to play,” said Bayern manager Carlo Ancelotti.

“It will be very difficult in Madrid but we still have confidence. We still have an opportunity and we’ll do our best.”

GOAL THREAT

Lewandowski has seven Champions League goals, level with Borussia Dortmund forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and only behind Barcelona’s Lionel Messi (11) and Paris St Germain’s Edinson Cavani (8).

He is also joint top of the Bundesliga scoring charts with Aubameyang on 26 goals this season.

Lewandowski joined Bayern from Dortmund in 2014, a few months after Real Madrid knocked the Bavarians out of the Champions League at the semi-final stage.

Bayern were thrashed 5-0 on aggregate three years ago but Madrid’s defence is weaker now than it was then.

Pepe broke two ribs in this month’s Madrid derby with Atletico and misses the Bayern game along with French centre-back Raphael Varane who still has a hamstring problem.

That leaves Sergio Ramos and Nacho Fernandez as the pairing at the heart of the defence for Real, who are also without forward Gareth Bale due to his calf injury.

Madrid last kept a clean sheet against minnows Alaves on April 2 and have not looked solid at the back all season.

They beat Sporting Gijon 3-2 on Saturday but conceded two sloppy goals, needing a 90th-minute winner from Isco to help them keep title rivals Barcelona at arm’s length.

“They had two chances and scored two goals,” Real coach Zinedine Zidane said after the game. “(The players) all lost concentration, we weren’t switched on for the free-kick (that led to Sporting’s second goal).”

The Madrid side could pay a high price for any similar slip-ups against Bayern, particularly with Lewandowski lurking.

(Editing by Ken Ferris)

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Taiwan says ready to review Chinese activist's asylum request

TAIPEI: Taiwan said on Monday it was prepared to review a petition for asylum from a Chinese activist who left his tour group in Taiwan without notice last week.

Local media reported on Sunday that Zhang Xiangzhong, whose whereabouts remain unknown, has said he will make an asylum request on Tuesday with the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), Taiwan’s China policy-making body.

“If he submits a political asylum request, we’re ready to review it,” MAC chairwoman Chang Hsiao-yueh told legislators in a parliament session.

“It is too early to say if we will allow it… We’re looking for him. He has not contacted any government agencies.”

Zhang, 48, is from Shandong province and was jailed for three years for participating in the New Citizens’ Movement in China, the reports said. He was released in 2016.

China has jailed several people for involvement in the group, which advocates working within the system to press for change, including urging officials to reveal their assets.

Chang said Taiwan does not offer political asylum to Chinese, but that Taiwan can offer “long term stay”, providing a visa to remain in Taiwan without officially calling it “asylum”. Chang said the government will review any request with the immigration authorities.

Zhang has said that a source of inspiration for his asylum request was the wife of Taiwanese activist Lee Ming-che, local media reported. She has been attempting to free her husband currently being detained by China on suspicion of activities harmful to national security.

Lee’s detention and Zhang’s potential defection could further exacerbate tensions between Taiwan and China. Relations have strained since Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, whose party has advocated independence for Taiwan, took office in 2016.

China has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control, which it deems a wayward province.

(Reporting by Faith Hung; Editing by Michael Perry)

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On Easter, Pope denounces 'oppressive regimes' but urges restraint

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis denounced “oppressive regimes” in his Easter message on Sunday but in an apparent call for restraint urged world leaders to prevent the spread of conflicts, as tensions rose in North Korea and Syria.

Francis, marking the fifth Easter season of his pontificate, said Mass before tens of thousands of people under exceptional security measures in St. Peter’s Square following recent vehicle attacks against pedestrians in London and Stockholm.

More police vans and army vehicles than usual were positioned at the entrances to the Vatican area and the faithful were stopped at several check points leading into the square, which was decorated with 35,000 flowers and trees.

In his Urbi et Orbi (to the city and the world) message, delivered from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, Francis spoke of a world lacerated by conflicts and laced with tensions.

From the same balcony from where he first appeared to the world on the night of his election in 2013, Francis spoke of God walking “beside all those forced to leave their homelands as a result of armed conflicts, terrorist attacks, famine and oppressive regimes”.

He did not name any specific governments.

“In the complex and often dramatic situations of today’s world, may the Risen Lord guide the steps of all those who work for justice and peace. May he grant the leaders of nations the courage they need to prevent the spread of conflicts and to put a halt to the arms trade,” he said.

Francis spoke hours after North Korea warned the United States to end its “military hysteria” or face retaliation as a U.S. aircraft carrier group steamed towards the region and the reclusive state marked the 105th birth anniversary of its founding father.

Concern has grown since the U.S. Navy fired 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airfield last week in response to a deadly gas attack. That raised questions about U.S. President Donald Trump’s plans for North Korea, which has conducted missile and nuclear tests in defiance of United Nations and unilateral sanctions.

Francis also condemned the bomb blast on a crowded Syrian bus convoy that killed at least 112 people outside Aleppo as an “ignoble” attack, asking God to bring healing and healing and comfort to civilian population in what he called the “beloved and martyred Syria”.

Speaking on the most important day in the Christian liturgical calendar, he called for peace in South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ukraine.

A surprise downpour hit Rome as the Mass was held but it passed quickly, allowing Francis to ride around in an open popemobile so people at the back of the crowd could see him.

Repeatedly during Holy Week services, Francis has drawn attention to the plight of war victims, refugees and migrants.

On Good Friday, he spoke of the “shame” of humanity becoming inured to daily scenes of bombed cities and drowning migrants.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella, editing by Louise Heavens)

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Barrett performance lauded by pundits, sends warning to Lions

WELLINGTON: British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland should take note – All Blacks flyhalf Beauden Barrett is on a different planet right now and might be even better than three-times World Player of the Year Dan Carter, New Zealand rugby pundits have said.

The 25-year-old Barrett, last year’s World Player of the Year, was instrumental in the Wellington Hurricanes’ 28-24 win over Auckland Blues at Eden Park on Saturday, scoring one try and setting up their other three.

New Zealand Herald columnist Chris Rattue said he had seen few better than Barrett, comparing him to All Blacks great Christian Cullen, whose electric pace and vision was credited with changing the role of the running fullback.

“Since I’ve been watching rugby, since the early ’70s, the only player who is on Planet Beauden Barrett is Christian Cullen,” he wrote on Sunday.

“He’s already a better No. 10 than Dan Carter, apart from kicking, which means the British and Irish Lions are in a lot of trouble.”

Gatland brings the Lions to New Zealand in June and July for a 10-match tour, which includes three tests against the All Blacks.

Carter made his test debut in 2003 but truly announced himself on the international stage during the Lions tour of New Zealand in 2015, most notably in the second test.

Carter totally overshadowed opposite number Jonny Wilkinson in the match, driving the All Blacks around Wellington Regional Stadium and scoring 33 points in a performance described as the most complete ever seen by a flyhalf.

In a scrappy game on Saturday, Barrett grabbed the match by the scruff of the neck and his searing pace and ability to exploit space led to all of the Hurricanes points.

He scored his try by anticipating a Blues lineout move that broke down and outstripped Auckland’s outside backs to run in untouched from 45 metres out.

Barrett’s pace also got him outside the Blues’ drifting defensive line to provide Ngani Laumape with his try, while his vision to kick into space and then regather the ball set up lock Mark Abbott’s second, and match-winning, try with seven minutes remaining.

Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd said Barrett’s influence had been key.

“We talked about that we had to win those big moments and he singlehandedly does that,” said Boyd. “And he is regularly responsible for seven or 14 points for us each week.”

Blues coach Tana Umaga, who played Super Rugby with Barrett’s father Kevin, said the flyhalf was only going to get better as the season progressed.

“He’s just unbelievable at the moment and playing with that much confidence and vision, with time on the ball,” Umaga said.

“He is the world’s best player at the moment and he’s still showing that.”

(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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Feel the pain of the poor and immigrants, pope says at Easter Vigil

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis, leading the world’s Roman Catholics into Easter, urged them on Saturday not to ignore the plight of immigrants, the poor and other vulnerable people.

In his homily at an Easter Vigil Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, Francis recounted the Biblical account of Jesus Christ’s mother Mary and Mary Magdalene, filled with grief, as they went to visit his tomb following the crucifixion.

Their grief, he said during the solemn ceremony, could be seen in the faces of many women today.

“In their faces we can see reflected all those who, walking the streets of our cities, feel the pain of dire poverty, the sorrow born of exploitation and human trafficking,” he said.

“We can also see the faces of those who are greeted with contempt because they are immigrants, deprived of country, house and family. We see faces whose eyes bespeak loneliness and abandonment, because their hands are creased with wrinkles.”

Francis has used the period leading up to Easter to stress his vision of service to the neediest. On Good Friday, he lamented that many people had become inured to daily scenes of bombed cities and drowning migrants. .

During Saturday’s service, he baptised 11 people, most of them adult converts to Catholicism, from Italy, Spain, the Czech Republic, the United States, Albania, Malta, Malaysia and China.

On Easter Sunday, the most important day in the Christian liturgical calendar, he will read his twice-annual “Urbi et Orbi” (“To the City and the World”) message in St. Peter’s Square.

Security has been tight for all of the pope’s Holy Week activities following recent truck attacks against pedestrians in London and Stockholm.

(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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AC Milan snatch extraordinary draw with Inter in first Chinese derby

MILAN, April 15: AC Milan hit back from two goals behind and equalised with the last kick of the game to force an extraordinary 2-2 draw against Inter Milan on Saturday as the historic derby was played at lunchtime for the first time and with both clubs under Chinese ownership.

Inter appeared to be cruising after Antonio Candreva and Mauro Icardi scored to give them a 2-0 halftime lead before Alessandro Romagnoli pulled one back with seven minutes left.

Milan then won a corner in the seventh minute of stoppage-time, Inter failed to clear and Cristian Zapata at the far post managed to force the ball back towards goal.

It hit the underside of the crossbar and was hooked away by Gary Medel but the referee, aided by goal technology, signalled that the ball had crossed the line, prompting wild celebrations among the Milan players.

There was not even time for the game to restart.

The result kept AC Milan sixth in Serie A, inside the European places, while Inter stayed outside in seventh, two points behind their rivals.

The match was played less than 48 hours after Milan were sold to a Chinese-led consortium in a 740 million-euro (629.39 million pounds) deal, following in the footsteps of Inter who have been owned by retail giant Suning Commerce Group since June.

The lunchtime kickoff, the first in 218 meetings of the old rivals, was designed for the Asian television market, though criticised by local fans. Media reports predicted a potential worldwide television audience of 862 million viewers.

(Editing by Ed Osmond)

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What would hardliner Raisi mean for Iran and the world?

TEHRAN: Ebrahim Raisi, the leading candidate for Iran’s hardliners in next month’s presidential election, has left many wondering whether the country’s fragile opening to the West could be under threat.

The 56-year-old judge and cleric registered on Friday for the May 19 vote and his candidacy is being closely watched by foreign investors and diplomats who fear the return of a hardline administration that could threaten the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and efforts to open up trade.

So far, Raisi has given little indication of his views on foreign policy, keeping his comments vague and predictable.

“Our relations will be ongoing with every country – except the occupying regime of Israel – but on condition of respect,” he said Friday.

Analysts describe Raisi as utterly loyal to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, meaning he would likely remain deeply suspicious of engagement with the West but unlikely to backtrack on the nuclear deal, which had the boss’s tacit consent.

“He has no experience in foreign policy, so at least initially he will have to follow the system’s grand strategy of preserving the nuclear deal and shifting any blame of undermining it to the US,” said Ali Vaez, Iran analyst for the International Crisis Group.

ENTRENCHED CONSERVATIVE

Raisi is entrenched in the conservative establishment, having served as attorney general, supervisor of state broadcaster IRIB and prosecutor in the Special Court for Clerics.

Press reports indicate he has recently been elevated to the status of “ayatollah”.

His father-in-law leads Friday prayers in Mashhad and both have seats on the Assembly of Experts that will choose the next supreme leader — a position for which Raisi himself is often rumoured to be in the running.

There is little chance he will ease social restrictions or release opposition leaders held under house arrest since the 2009 protest movement, known to conservatives as “the sedition”.

“The Islamic System has treated the heads of the sedition with mercy. Those who sympathise with the heads of sedition must know that the great nation of Iran will never forgive this great injustice,” he said in 2014.

Crucially, Khamenei picked him in March 2016 to head Astan Qods Razavi – the centuries-old foundation that looks after the Imam Reza shrine in Mashhad – placing him at the intersection of political, religious and economic power.

The foundation hosts 20 million pilgrims a year at the shrine, and has also developed into a sprawling, multi-billion-dollar conglomerate that runs everything from farms and power plants to brokerages and IT firms.

WHY IS HE RUNNING?

One big question is why Raisi would risk a run for the presidency if he has ambitions to become supreme leader as many speculate.

“If he loses, his status will be damaged, so it seems like a big risk,” said a Western diplomat on condition of anonymity.

“Moreover, all presidents end up facing criticism from the supreme leader – that’s how the system is set up – so why put himself in that position?”

The presidency could provide a stepping stone to the top – as it was for Khamenei in the 1980s.

“But if he loses to the incumbent, who has no rivals in his own camp and has remarkable executive credentials, Raisi’s future rise to the peak will be in question,” said Vaez.

For now, Raisi has focused on domestic economic issues, playing to the conservative base among poorer, more religious voters.

“Despite four decades of the Islamic system and many promising achievements, people are still suffering chronic problems,” he said when announcing his bid last week.

The 12 per cent jobless rate and slow trickle down of benefits from the nuclear deal are seen as Rouhani’s weak spots.

“Raisi’s lifestyle is modest and he regularly stays with the poor sections of society, while Mr Rouhani has more of an aristocratic, comfort-seeking spirit,” said Hamid Reza Taraghi, a member of the conservative Islamic Coalition Party.

His opponents are unimpressed.

“Mr Raisi has absolutely no plan to manage the country. Even (former hardline president Mahmud) Ahmadinejad had more experience and he was disastrous for the economy,” said reformist Tehran-based economist Saeed Laylaz.

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Dortmund blasts the 'hardest 15 minutes' of Bartra's life

REUTERS: Borussia Dortmund defender Marc Bartra has said he experienced the “hardest 15 minutes” of his life after fracturing his wrist in Tuesday’s attack on the team bus.

The 26-year-old had an operation after breaking the radial bone in his arm when three explosions went off as the bus made its way to the stadium shortly before Dortmund’s Champions League clash with AS Monaco.

“The pain, the panic, and the uncertainty of not knowing what was going on, nor how long it would last… they were the longest and hardest 15 minutes of my life,” the Spain international wrote on Instagram on Friday.

“About all of that I want to tell you that I think the shock of those days is easing all the time and the desire to live, struggle, work … play (and) train … is getting stronger.”

“What do I feel when I look at my swollen and badly damaged wrist? I feel pride, thinking that all the harm they wanted to do to us on Tuesday led to nothing worse than that.”

The accompanying photo showed Bartra looking towards his family. He had a cast on most of his right arm and around his left wrist.

Dortmund said on Thursday that Bartra, who joined the club for 8 million euros (6.78 million pounds) from Barcelona at the start of the season, should return to playing in “about four weeks”.

Tuesday’s match was rescheduled for 24 hours later and Monaco secured a 3-2 victory over Dortmund, who will next host Eintracht Frankfurt in the Bundesliga on Saturday.

German newspaper Bild said on its website that Dortmund’s stadium programme for the weekend game featured a message from the club’s chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke saying: “Like on Wednesday evening in the game against Monaco, we’re not playing just for ourselves today.

“We’re playing for everyone. We wanted to clearly express that terrorism and hatred should never be allowed to determine how we behave.

“It’s up to all of us – the players, officials and fans in equal measure – to show society that we won’t give in to terrorism.

“And of course we’re also playing for Marc Bartra, who wants to see his team win!”

On Thursday, a German judge authorised the arrest of a 26-year-old Iraqi man, who was detained after the attack and prosecutors said they believed he was a member of Islamic State.

The prosecutors, however, said there is no evidence he took part in the attack in Dortmund.

A spokeswoman for the federal prosecutors said on Friday there was no new information to give.

(Reporting by Hardik Vyas in Bengaluru; Editing by Toby Davis)

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