Russia ramping up domestic car exports to European market

Sales of Russia-made Lada cars increased by almost 11 percent across the EU in the first half of 2018, data from the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA) shows.

According to ACEA, January-June exports amounted to 2,770 vehicles. Last month, exports rose by more than 15 percent compared with June 2017.

In general, export sales of Russia’s AvtoVAZ, which manufactures Lada vehicles, increased by 64 percent, amounting to 16,592 cars.

ACEA said that the largest export markets for Lada were Kazakhstan and Belarus. Data showed 5,854 and 4,206 cars have been purchased respectively.

AvtoVAZ, which is part of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, exports its cars to 30 countries. It plans to boost sales to more than 100,000 vehicles by 2022.

The company has a stable market share in CIS countries, and also sells cars in Germany, Iran, Syria, Egypt, and Hungary. It plans to expand to the Czech Republic, Mongolia, and South-East Asia.

READ MORE: Russian-made cars now hold lion’s share of domestic market

In January, AvtoVAZ resumed sales to Cuba, delivering 300 Lada cars. That was the first shipment of Russian cars to the Latin American country in more than a decade. In May, official Lada sales started in Tunisia.

Last year, AvtoVAZ began exporting vehicles to the world’s biggest auto market, China. Sales also kicked off in the United Arab Emirates as the manufacturer seeks to win a share of the Middle East market.

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Israel helping move 800 White Helmets out of Syria via Jordan – report

Some 800 members of the controversial Western-backed White Helmets will be brought to Jordan through Israel to be reportedly resettled later in the UK, Canada, and Germany. The UN is overseeing the exodus.

Hundreds of the self-described aid workers, who operate exclusively in rebel-held areas, have crossed into Israel from southwestern Syria overnight on Sunday, German tabloid Bild reported, citing its own correspondents in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

The White Helmets’ passage has been facilitated by Israel, according to Bild, which reports they have been transferred through an Israeli military base. The evacuation kicked off at 9:30 pm local time on Saturday and was expected to continue into the night. Several roads were put on lockdown by the army and police as part of preparations for the exodus.

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FILE PHOTO © Hosam Katan

Israel previously admitted that it has been providing humanitarian assistance to Syrian militants, treating over 1,000 wounded rebel fighters in its hospitals. According to Israel’s ex-Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, the assistance was granted under the condition that the militants would not let Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) and Al-Qaeda affiliated fighters slip into Israel and would not do any harm to the population of Druze villages.

However, Israel has been adamant about not taking in Syrian refugees, with hawkish Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman stating last month that while the Jewish state keeps providing “humanitarian aid to civilians, women and children” camped on the Syrian side of the border, it “will not accept any Syrian refugee to our territory.”

It is supposed that the White Helmets will not stay in the Jewish state for longer than is needed to transport them to the Jordanian border. The transfer has been confirmed by Jordanian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ambassador Mohammad al-Kayed, as cited by Ammon News.

Al-Kayed said that Jordan had granted the request on purely humanitarian grounds after Britain, Canada and Germany each reportedly pledged to take in a share of the White Helmets fleeing what they describe as potential persecution by Damascus. Last month, Jordan, which already hosts some 1.3 million displaced Syrians, said it won’t take any more in, stressing the need for a “political solution.”

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White Helmets member walks on the rubble of destroyed buildings in Eastern Ghouta © Abdulmonam Eassa / AFP

Once in the Jordanian territory, the Syrians will be confined to a specially designated restricted area where they will stay for a maximum of three months until handed over to one of the Western countries, Al-Kayed noted, adding that the scheme should not place any additional burden on Jordan, as the organization of their passage has been arranged by the UN.

It’s yet unclear how the members of the White Helmets, who have on multiple occasions been reported as dealing with Al-Qaeda-linked militants, will be distributed among the potential recipients, with Bild reporting that it is yet unknown how many of them will come Germany’s way

A looming evacuation of the White Helmets from Syria was first reported by CBS News on July 14. The broadcaster reported that the issue was raised by US allies in conversations with US President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the two-day NATO summit on July 11- July 12.

Reportedly, UK Prime Minister Theresa May personally interceded on the White Helmets’ behalf during Trump’s visit to the UK, a day after the summit.

On Friday, CBS News reported that the operation was to be launched “very quickly” and proceed in accordance with a joint plan, thrashed out by the US, the UK and Canada.

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‘Why not start with Bellew at heavyweight?’ – Undisputed cruiser champ Usyk on future plans

Undisputed cruiserweight champion Alexander Usyk has said he has no problem fighting Briton Tony Bellew at heavyweight after unifying all four major titles at 200 lbs by beating Murat Gassiev in the WBSS final.

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© Vladimir Astapkovich / Sputnik

A masterful performance from Usyk recorded a shutout unanimous decision victory against Russian Gassiev in front of a partisan crowd in Moscow to unify the WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO titles as well as clinch the Muhammad Ali trophy in the World Boxing Super Series final match.

Bellew is currently campaigning at heavyweight and recorded a couple of stoppage victories over former heavy and cruiser king David Haye in his previous two fights. The Liverpool man has made no secret of his willingness to fight the winner of Usyk-Gassiev.

“I know that Tony Bellew said he wanted to fight the winner of this fight,” Usyk told journalists at the post-fight presser. “He’s currently fighting at heavyweight and has just had a great fight with David Haye. Why not start from here?”

Usyk said that if Bellew, the former holder of the WBC cruiserweight title now in the Ukrainian’s possession, does not drop down to the 200 lbs weight class again, he would happily make the jump to heavyweight to make the fight happen.

Following the fight, Bellew tweeted: “Usyk I was BORN READY!! Let’s get this done!!”

After 12 rounds of championship boxing, all three judges awarded the fight to Usyk by scores of 120-108, 119-109, 119-109 on Saturday at the Russian capital’s Olimpiyskiy Sports Complex.

Regarding his immediate plans, Usyk admitted he would “go straight to Kiev, grab my stuff, and head straight for [my] kids” who he told press have been spending time with their grandmother in Simferopol on the Crimean peninsula.

READ MORE: Usyk v Gassiev – WBSS cruiserweight final from Moscow (AS IT HAPPENED)

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Lavrov to Pompeo: Free Maria Butina arrested on fabricated spy charges

The US should immediately release Russian gun activist Maria Butina, who is being held in the US on espionage charges, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told his US counterpart over the phone, calling the case “fabricated.”

“Lavrov stressed that the actions of the US authorities that arrested Russian citizen [Maria] Butina on fabricated charges are unacceptable,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement, adding that the minister also called for her “immediate release” in his conversation with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday.

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The Foreign minister raised the issue during phone conversations that were made at the request of the US and aimed at “further normalization of the US-Russian relations” following the summit between the US President Donald Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. Lavrov and Pompeo also discussed the process of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, as well as the situation in Syria.

The 29-year-old Russian student and a gun activist was arrested in the US about a week ago and charged with acting as a foreign agent without registering her activities with the authorities. Butina has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

On July 16, a DC Federal Court rejected Butina’s bail plea and ordered her to be placed in custody pending trial over fears that she could flee or contact Russian intelligence officials. Her lawyer says the trial is being politicized and Russian embassy staff were only allowed to visit her in jail on Thursday.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has called Butina’s arrest politically motivated, adding that it could have been aimed at disrupting the Helsinki summit between Putin and Trump. On Thursday, the ministry also launched a campaign hashtagged #FreeMariaButina on Twitter to raise awareness of her case.

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Ecuador's president to hand Assange over to UK during London visit – Greenwald

Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno is either about to strike or has already struck an agreement with British authorities on withdrawing the asylum protection of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, Glenn Greenwald reports.

Moreno is visiting the UK as part of his European trip between July 22 and 28. His visit is not said to be an official one, so he is not expected to meet with any high-ranking UK officials and would instead participate in the Global Disability Summit on July 24, which is co-hosted by the UK government.

However, the Ecuadorian leader is also expected to use his trip to the British Isles to “finalize an agreement under which Ecuador will withdraw its asylum protection of Julian Assange,” according to the Intercept’s co-editor, Glenn Greenwald, who is best known for a series of reports detailing the US surveillance programs based on the documents leaked by Edward Snowden. Greenwald also supported and defended Wikileaks, as well as the whistleblowers who provided materials for the website, for many years.

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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. © Peter Nicholls

Moreno is “close to finalizing, if he has not already finalized,” the agreement, Greenwald writes, citing an unnamed “source close to the Ecuadorian Foreign Ministry and the President’s office.” Under this agreement, the WikiLeaks founder could be ejected from the Ecuadorian Embassy and handed over to the UK authorities “as early as this week,”Greenwald says.

Earlier, RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan said, citing her own sources, that Ecuador is ready to hand Assange over to the UK in “coming weeks or even days.” According to Greenwald, such a development could lead to Assange being sent to jail for at least one more year “under his best-case scenario,” which would mean that he would have spent nearly a decade imprisoned “despite never having been charged with, let alone convicted of, any crime.”

As Sweden dropped its sexual assault investigation against Assange back in May 2017, the only criminal proceeding he is now facing in the UK is a pending 2012 arrest warrant for “failure to surrender.” It goes back to Assange obtaining asylum from Ecuador and finding refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy instead of complying with bail conditions in the UK.

Such an offense carries a prison term of three months, Greenwald says, warning, however, that the UK authorities could potentially elevate charges against Assange to “contempt of court,” which carries a prison term of up to two years. Besides, UK authorities are unlikely to provide a guarantee that the WikiLeaks founder would not be extradited to the US, which is apparently bent on imprisoning him for releasing classified documents.

Publication of classified materials is technically a crime for anyone in the US, but US Department of Justice officials have been reluctant to prosecute anyone on such charges so far, due to concerns that such a case could lead to them being accused of violating press freedom rights and, thus, the First Amendment.

However, the Trump administration has seemingly made clear that they have no such concerns. While he was still in charge of the CIA, Mike Pompeo once said that while WikiLeaks “pretended that America’s First Amendment freedoms shield them from justice . . . they may have believed that, but they are wrong.”

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Ukraine's Usyk beats Russian Gassiev to win WBSS final & Muhammad Ali trophy in Moscow

Ukraine’s Alexander Usyk is the new undisputed cruiserweight champion of the world after recording a unanimous decision victory over Russia’s Murat Gassiev in Moscow in the WBSS tournament to claim the Muhammad Ali trophy.

Usyk now holds all four WBO, WBC, IBF and WBA world titles as well as clinching a top rank in the 200 pound division as he improved his undefeated streak to 15-0 with the win over Usyk at Moscow’s Olimpiyskiy Sports Complex.

Usyk won comfortably by wide scores of 120-108, 119-109, 119-109 by bamboozling a game and tough Gassiev who found no answer to the lightning hand speed and head movement in the Urkainian, who hands Gassiev the first defeat of his career.

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China must speed up development of nukes to deter US aggression – state media

China should reconsider the “sufficient” size of their nuclear weapons stockpile to scare off potential attackers, China’s Global Times said, pointing at the US’ “aggressive attitude” in the South China Sea and the Taiwan issue.

One of the lessons China has to learn from the Donald Trump-Vladimir Putin summit is that Washington respects military power in the first place and vast stockpile of nuclear weapons, in particular, the Chinese Communist Party-affiliated paper said in an editorial on Friday. The article suggests that Russia’s nuclear arsenal is behind the US leader’s “respect for the country and probably the only reason that had earlier deterred NATO from engaging “in open conflict in Ukraine and Syria with Russia.” 

“Just by looking at the US’ aggressive attitude in the South China Sea and the Taiwan question, we know that China’s nuclear strength is ‘far from sufficient.’ Part of the US’ strategic arrogance may come from its absolute nuclear advantage,” the editorial warned. It added that one day Washington may “turn this arrogance into military provocation” involving China.

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FILE PHOTO: Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin (DDG 89) with a formation of Japanese ships during training in South China Sea © David Flewellyn/U.S. Navy

Thus, boosting nuclear weapons development to show determination to defend its core national interests must be a “top priority” for the country, the article stressed.

While Moscow and Washington are global nuclear hegemons by the number of warheads, Beijing lags behind the two powers in the nuclear club. Chinese forces possess approximately 270 warheads compared to the several thousand-strong US and Russian arsenals, according to a Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) 2017 report

Beijing is “slowly increasing” the number of warheads and is currently developing the Dongfeng-41 (DF-41) – a long-range ballistic missile possibly capable of striking any potential target worldwide. However, it is unclear when the new weapon will enter into service.

Apart from the recently sparked trade war between the two powers, Chinese and American forces have long flexed their muscles in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, which Beijing claims as its national territory. Despite the fact that the US is not among the claimant states, it insists that the area should remain international waters. Washington routinely sends “freedom of navigation” missions, which include warships and bombers, to the region, drawing ire from Beijing.

READ MORE: China hits out at US for authorizing submarine technology sales to Taiwan

Taiwan is another sore point in US-Chinese relations, as the island is seeking wider autonomy and even independence from mainland China. Washington recognizes Chinese authorities’ “One China” policy, stipulating the country’s integrity, but that has not stopped it from conducting rather provocative maneuvers in the region. In another instance of turning deaf ear to China’s vocal protests, the US State Department greenlighted submarine technology sales to Taiwan. 

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1 year of liberation: Mosul people living among rubble & dead bodies while ISIS still around

Dead bodies, ruined houses and the risk of Islamists coming back are only a few perils people in Mosul have to cope with. Life in the liberated city is still full of fears, hopelessness and grief, RT’s Ruptly agency revealed.

It’s been a year since the US-backed Iraqi forces defeated Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) in the city of Mosul that had become their de-facto capital. Baghdad has declared a major victory in the war that gripped the country for several years in a row. On the back of the liberation, disturbing reports began emerging, telling of all-out destruction, extrajudicial killings and a looming humanitarian crisis. A new report from the ground now reveals that, since then, things haven’t improved a lot. 

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The ruins of al-Nuri Mosque are seen in Mosul, Iraq, on January 4, 2018. © Khalil Dawood

A Ruptly crew went to the city to talk to local people who went through enormous hardships while living in war-torn Mosul. A man named Mohammed Qadir told the crew a harrowing story of his small daughter being killed in the bombings in April last year. The girl was hiding in the toilet with her little sister when a bomb struck the man’s house.

“You know when a mortar falls you hear the sound, it’s loud. When this [projectile] fell we didn’t hear it even though it was right here. This is where it happened.” Shrapnel severely mutilated the girl, but the nearby doctors refused to save her.

“They said: ‘We are not going to treat her. Our priority is the fighters. We can give her an injection so she dies immediately. Better for her to die at home.’”

As locals struggle to get their lives back to normal, decomposing corpses continue to lie under the rubble. “Yes, there are two bodies still down there. And there are four more bodies in that house behind us,” Qadir said before adding: “The stench coming from them is very strong. Our children are getting sick because of this.”

Meanwhile, Iraqi commanders warn that IS fighters may still be holing up around Mosul and the rest of the country. “No, we cannot say for sure that it is 100 percent [that IS has been eliminated]. … Still, there are few IS sleeper cells hiding in places such as the desert, the jungles, in islands of the Tigris River, and some hiding amongst civilians,” Major General Najmi Al-Juhuri told Ruptly. “We receive tens of phone calls on a daily basis, with people leading us to sleeper cells or guiding us to IS elements appearing anywhere,” he added.

Aid agencies, for their part, are sounding the alarm about the dire state of affairs in Mosul. “It is unfair to say nothing has changed there, but what call for is that the chance should go quicker,” Benoit de Gryse, operations manager with Medecines Sans Frontieres (MSF), told RT.

“We see that the level of destruction that happened a year ago is still visible, even infrastructure hasn’t been repaired yet, hospitals haven’t been reopened yet, there’s a lack of water,” he warned.

At least 2,521 civilians were killed and 1,673 wounded during the nine month Mosul operation, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) said in November 2017, said last year, adding that the figures should be considered an “absolute minimum.”

However, National Public Radio (NPR) said that its investigation revealed that the Mosul morgue had issued 4,865 death certificates during the battle, while AP estimated the civilian death toll between 9,000 and 11,000 people.

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Usyk v Gassiev – WBSS cruiserweight final (BUILD-UP)

WBO & WBC champ Usyk, from Ukraine, takes on Russia’s IBF & WBA champion Gassiev for the right to become the undisputed world champion and first ever holder of the coveted Muhammad Ali trophy.

The matchup is already being tipped for fight of the year honours between two undefeated fighters, with many struggling to pick a winner from the bout at the Russian capital’s Olympiyskiy Sports Complex. 

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‘Out for season/no pay!’ Trump calls on tougher NFL suspension for protesting players

US president Donald Trump has called on National Football League (NFL) bosses to suspend players involved in kneeling demonstrations for an entire season without pay.

Trump has repeatedly admonished players who partake in kneeling protests since the problem emerged in 2016. In a Twitter post on Friday, the president called for a one-game ban for kneeling and a season-long ban for a repeat offence.

READ MORE: Leading US sports clubs cut ties with Papa John’s in wake of n-word scandal

“The NFL National Anthem Debate is alive and well again – can’t believe it! Isn’t it in contract that players must stand at attention, hand on heart?,” Trump tweeted. “The $ 40,000,000 Commissioner must now make a stand. First time kneeling, out for game. Second time kneeling, out for season/no pay!

The anthem protest issue flared up again after Associated Press reported Thursday that the Miami Dolphins planned to suspend protesting players for up to four games under a new team policy.

In the wake of the news, the NFL and NFL Players Association made a joint statement on Thursday saying that no anthem-related team policies will be enforced for the next several weeks as part of a standstill agreement between the two sides.

Anthem protests have been one of the highly debated issues in sport for almost two years after former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during pre-game ceremonies in protest of what he viewed as police brutality and racial discrimination in the USA.

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