Saudi Arabia orders drone enthusiasts to obtain fly permits after major shooting incident at palace

While new regulations are being finalized, Saudi Arabia has reminded drone owners, one day after a drone intrusion triggered heavy gunfire in the capital, that flying unmanned aerial vehicles without a special permit is illegal.

In 2015, the Gulf kingdom banned drones “of all types and sizes” from operating in Saudi skies without a special permit from the General Authority of Civil Aviation. Besides permanently banning recreational drones from airport and military airspaces, authorities restricted all privately owned unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from entering “prohibited or restricted areas,” including palaces, residences and other facilities belonging to members of the royal family.

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FILE PHOTO © Ian Cumming

However, despite the ban, remote-controlled drones are still being imported and operated in the kingdom, due to a loose enforcement of the law.

On Saturday, one UAV caused quite a furore when it entered restricted airspace over Riyadh. The intrusion sparked gunfire by the security forces, who shot down the object, “according to their orders and instructions.”

In the wake of the very serious incident, the Ministry of the Interior reiterated that the use of drones is only allowed within special “permitted sites,” and only after obtaining a license. The official statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) on Sunday added that a new “regulation for the use of remote-controlled drones is in its final stages.”

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‘Whole story was staged’: German reporter on live TV says Douma incident was false flag attack

The alleged chemical attack in the Syrian city of Douma was staged by local militants, who tried to frame it as a Syrian Army strike, a German TV correspondent, who travelled to Damascus, has said publicly, citing local witnesses.

“People told us in a very convincing manner that this whole story was staged,” Uli Gack, a reporter with the German ZDF public broadcaster, said (referring to the alleged Douma chemical attack) while he spoke live on ZDF Heute (‘Today’) show on Satuday.

Gack had travelled to Syria and visited one of the refugee camps near Damascus, where “some 20,000 people from Eastern Ghouta and particularly from Douma” were living.

The scene of the attack, which allegedly took place on April 7, was in fact the “command post” of a local Islamist group, the reporter said, citing the witnesses he was able to speak to at the refugee camp.

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Hassan Diab, who was featured in the video of the alleged chemical attack in Douma, talks to an RT Arabic crew

He went on to say that, according to the locals, the militants brought canisters containing chlorine to the area and “actually waited for the Syrian Air Force to bomb the place, which was of particular interest for them.”

As the Syrian forces eventually struck the place, which was apparently a high-priority military target, the chlorine canisters exploded. The locals also told Gack that it is not the first such provocation in Douma that was staged by the militants.

According to other witness accounts, the militants deliberately exposed people to chemical agents during what they called “training exercises” then filmed it and later presented as an “evidence” of the alleged chemical attack in Douma.

The reporter then said he could not verify the people’s statements and cannot say if they are all true but called them quite “convincing” and added that they deserve attention.

Earlier, the Russian military said that they had found a laboratory operated by militants in central Douma, which was capable of producing chemical weapons.

In particular they found a cylinder filled with chlorine, which looks similar to the one that was shown in one of the videos of the alleged chemical attack in Douma and presented as a “chemical bomb dropped from a helicopter.”

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A destroyed street in Douma in Eastern Ghouta on April 16, 2018 © Louai Beshara

The purported chemical incident in Douma allegedly took place on April 7. A week later, Washington and its allies launched a massive retaliatory missile strike against Syria, without even waiting for the Organization for the Prohibition of the Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to start its investigation of the incident.

Russia denounced those US-led strikes, calling them “hooliganism” in international relations and “an aggression against a sovereign state.”

In the meantime, western media embarked on a massive campaign of accusing Moscow and Damascus of “blocking” the OPCW investigators from accessing the scene of the alleged attack. Gack, however, also seemingly dismissed this narrative, saying that the delay in the OPCW team’s work may indeed have been caused by security issues.

The German reporter also pointed out that some hidden extremist cells might be still operating and carrying out attacks in the recently liberated areas, even “weeks” after they had been retaken from militants.

Gack’s report was immediately labeled as “propaganda” by some of his fellow journalists in Germany. A reporter with the German Bild daily, Bjoern Stritzel, who in particular is said to have been working undercover and actively communicating with Islamic State (IS, former ISIS) terrorists, lashed out at Gack, calling his report an “unbelievable pro-Assad propaganda on German Television.”

Last week, the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said that there are still militants in Douma who “terrorize citizens and, among other things, impede the normal work of representatives of the international community – the UN and the OPCW.” On Saturday, the OPCW eventually confirmed that its team visited one of the sites of the suspected chemical attack in Douma and collected samples for analysis.

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German police deploy water cannon as football fans’ celebrations descend into chaos (VIDEO)

Outdoor festivities in the German city of Magdeburg unexpectedly ended up with massive clashes between football fans and police. The street brawls left dozens of police officers injured and more than 10 fans arrested.

On Saturday evening, local fans were celebrating their team 1.FC Magdeburg being elevated to the second Bundesliga – the second division of professional football in Germany. Some 2,500 people gathered in the city center. However, what started as an ordinary celebration soon descended into chaos.

The fans started to burn garbage on the streets. They also attacked fire fighters who arrived at the scene to extinguish the fires. The fans then started throwing bottles at police officers trying to assist the fire crew, Die Welt daily reports.

As the situation heated up, the fans also damaged some CCTV cameras installed on the central Hasselbachplatz square. A group of particularly bloody-minded fans, who had their faces covered, attacked the police by throwing stones and bottles at officers. Some 150 fans took part in the clashes, according to the German media. The police responded with pepper spray.

Eventually, police had to call in reinforcements and used water cannon to disperse the angry crowd and clear the central part of the city. Footage from the Ruptly video news agency shows large groups of police officers in riot gear slowly moving along the Magdeburg streets under cover from the water cannons.

According to local media, order in the city was restored overnight into Sunday. The clashes left 28 police officers injured. Eleven rioters have been detained.

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UK seeks to extend MI5 & police powers and will target those ‘vulnerable to radicalization – report

UK police and domestic intelligence agency MI5 will get new powers to round up suspected terrorists before they strike, including targeting radicalization-prone communities, as terror threats grow, according to a media report.

The plan calls for a focus on “communities where the threat from terrorism and radicalization is highest,” according to documents obtained by the Sunday Times.

The police services and domestic intelligence agency MI5 will be focusing on individuals “who are vulnerable to radicalization or who are (or have been) of interest to the police and the security and intelligence agencies due to their possible links to terrorist activities, but who are not currently the subject of any active investigations,” the document outlines. 

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© David Ryle / Global Look Press

“By alerting a greater number of agencies to individuals of potential concern, we will improve our ability to assess the risk they pose,” the paper reports. It also states that the terrorist threat “is higher” than when the last counterterrorism strategy was published, in 2011, and calls for a “change of approach.”

While it warns that Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) “still represents the most significant” threat, with a “persistent threat from al-Qaeda”, it also underlines a “serious threat” of Northern Irish terrorist factions and a “growing threat” from far-right extremists.

Last year’s terrorist attacks in London and Manchester highlighted “ the pace at which plots can move to acts of violence,” the document warned, adding, “We will disrupt terrorist threats in the UK earlier, to take account of the scale of the threat and the speed at which plots are now developing.”
Some of the suspects involved in 2017 attacks at Westminster, London Bridge and Manchester, which saw 35 people killed, were known to the police and intelligence services, it emerged at the time. The revelation sparked an outcry among politicians and society, prompting UK security services to revise their counter-terrorism measures.

The paper also suggests that public places like airports, as well as sports and concert venues, should be better protected: “We will jointly, with industry, improve security at venues in the UK.”

The Home Office would not comment on the Sunday Times report, only saying that “The Home Secretary [Amber Rudd] has made clear her determination to leave no safe space for terrorists.”

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Protest leaders among nearly 300 detained in Armenia as authorities say law & order is threatened

Almost 300 people, including three leaders of the opposition, have been detained in the Armenian capital Yerevan as authorities claim that protests, now in their second week, are jeopardizing the country’s constitutional order.

Scuffles broke out as demonstrators again attempted to block traffic in the capital, with security forces reportedly using special tactics, including stun grenades, against the crowd. Protests have been constant in Armenia since the ruling Republican Party of Armenia nominated their leader and former president, Serzh Sargsyan for the position of Prime Minister in mid-April.

Seven people were hospitalized after the police dispersed an anti-government march in the city’s Yerebuni dormitory districts early on Sunday. Medics said the condition of those wounded was satisfactory.

“290 people were delivered to police stations since morning,” a police spokesman told TASS, adding that 228 of them had later been released. Those who remain in custody “have either acts on administrative violations drawn up against them or their files have been sent for verification of possible involvement in criminal activity.”

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A demonstrator argues with riot police during a protest in Yerevan, Armenia April 16, 2018. © Vahram Baghdasaryan

Opposition MPs Nikol Pashinyan, Ararat Mirzoyan and Sasun Mikaelyan, who were in charge of the protests, have been among those detained, the General Prosecutor’s Office confirmed. The three politicians have been charged with organizing and staging illegal mass gatherings, which went on since April 13, in violation of restrictions imposed by Yerevan’s mayoral office. According to the prosecutors, the MPs “encouraged” the thousands who participated in daily protests to “block the streets, block access to government buildings, break into government buildings and paralyze its operations.”

“During those illegal actions, the persons led by the deputies recurrently violated provisions of the law on peaceful assembly; hampered the free movement of citizens and access to a number of buildings; refrained from informing their supporters of the demands by the police to stop the gatherings,” it said adding that the National Assembly would have to hold an extraordinary meeting and strip the detained MPs of their immunity.

Armenia’s National Security Service has warned that “various individuals and groups have been preparing crimes against national security and constitutional order of the country.” The agency said the suspects were under surveillance, adding that it stood ready to protect the state and public security.

Earlier on Sunday, talks between Pashinyan and Sargsyan ended in failure. The politicians refused to shake hands as they met in one of Yerevan’s hotels, with the protest leader not even taking his baseball cap off during a swift conversation with the head of the government.

READ MORE: Police, anti-govt protesters injured in clashes near Armenian parliament (VIDEO)

Despite public discontent, the 64-year-old Sargsyan, who had held the president’s office for nearly a decade, was voted as the head of the government by the parliament on Tuesday. The role of Prime Minister became the key position in the country after a constitutional referendum in 2015 saw Armenia switch to a parliamentary system. The opposition claims that Sargsyan had promised not to seek the job but has now broken his vow in order to secure his grip on power.

Pashinyan stated that he wasn’t interested in any form of dialogue with the authorities, saying that he was only ready to discuss “the conditions of resignation and peaceful transfer of power” by Sargsyan. The PM said that such rhetoric was “an ultimatum and blackmail towards the state” and urged Pashinyan to “return to the legal field.”

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German MPs want Moscow back in G8, say peace in Europe possible ‘only with Russia’

The West should resume meaningful dialog with Moscow on all major international issues, and Russia should be invited to return to the G7, German opposition lawmakers say.

“If the West seriously intends to engage in a constructive dialog with Russia, it would be the right moment to do it now,” the head of the parliamentary faction of the Left Party, Sahra Wagenknecht, told DPA news agency. She added that the G7 group should once again become the G8.

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File photo: German Chancellor Angela Merkel receives her certificate of appointment from President Frank-Walter Steinmeier after being re-elected as chancellor, during a ceremony at Bellevue Palace in Berlin, Germany, March 14, 2018. Fabrizio Bensch

Her appeal was supported by another opposition MP, Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, who is also a member of the federal executive committee of the Free Democratic Party (FDP). “It is reasonable to strengthen and to better organize a dialog with Russia,” he told DPA, adding that “a G7+1 would be the right format for that.”

The MPs also said that major international issues cannot be resolved without cooperation with Moscow, and urged Western leaders to invite Russian President Vladimir Putin to take part in the upcoming G7 summit in Canada.

“Russia should again be at the table during the [June] summit at the latest,” Wagenknecht said, adding that “peace in Europe as well as in the Middle East” is “possible” only if the West cooperates with Russia. The summit is expected to be held in the Canadian region of Charlevoix June 8 and 9.

The G7 is a forum of major industrialized nations – including the US, UK, France, Germany, Canada, Italy, and Japan – which meet annually to discuss pressing international issues. The EU is also represented at the meetings. Russia was part of the group for 12 years, during which it was called the G8. It became the G7 again in 2014, when Western nations accused Russia of meddling in the Ukrainian conflict and refused to visit the group’s summit in Sochi.

The calls to bring Moscow back into the group came as G7 foreign ministers gathered in Toronto, Canada for a two-day meeting. The officials plan to discuss the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine, as well as North Korea’s nuclear program and tensions surrounding the Iranian nuclear deal.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who also took part in the Toronto meeting, faces criticism at home over his plans to pursue a more hardline policy in relations with Russia. The minister’s plans were particularly questioned by leading members of his own Social Democratic Party (SPD).

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Russian President Vladimir Putin (2nd R) and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (2nd L) attend a news conference after the talks at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia February 28, 2018. © Grigory Dukor

Interest in dialog with the Kremlin has not been expressed clearly enough by the new government, Manuela Schwesig, the prime minister of the German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, said. Stephan Weil, the prime minister of Lower Saxony, echoed the statement during a meeting of the SPD Federal Executive Committee on Sunday.

The Social Democrats have always believed that Germany should seek mutual “understanding” with Russia, and regularly send relevant “signals” to Moscow, according to Weil. The policy pursued by Maas only provokes “widespread irritation” within the party. The SPD politicians also warned that the political course chosen by the new foreign minister puts the party’s foreign policy traditions at risk.

Weil particularly criticized an interview that Maas gave to Spiegel on April 16. In the interview, the foreign minister accused Moscow of becoming “an extremely difficult partner,” adding that it “has increasingly defined itself in distinction to, and partly in opposition to, the West.”

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier recently warned against the demonization of Russia and its people. “Regardless of [President Vladimir] Putin, we cannot declare Russia as a whole, the country and its people, to be an enemy,” he said. “There is too much at stake.”

More than 90 percent of Germans want better relations with Russia, according to a recent poll conducted by the Forsa Institute on behalf of the Wiese Consult group. More than three-quarters of them also named US President Donald Trump as a greater threat to world peace than the Russian leader.

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‘There’s a price to be paid for threatening Israel’ – defense minister warns Iran as tensions flare

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman cautioned Iran that “there is a price to be paid” for jeopardizing Israeli security. In April, Tehran slammed Israel for hitting a Syrian base, reportedly killing seven Iranians.

“Those who threaten [Israel] need to understand there is a price to be paid,” Lieberman said on Sunday, speaking to Kan, Israeli public radio. “The State of Israel is acting out of a lack of choice and in today’s situation we have no other choice.”

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© Ronen Zvulun

Tensions between Iran and Israel flared following an airstrike on Syria’s T-4 airbase in Homs province on April 8. Iran and the Russian military accused Israel of being behind the attack, which, according to Iranian news agencies, claimed the lives of seven of its military personnel.

“The attack was a blatant violation of international law which would strengthen terrorists,” Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qassemi said at the time. “The Israeli regime’s aggression against Syria is a breach of that country’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity and contradicts all international regulations and principles.”

Israel did not initially comment on the attack. Later, however, a senior Israeli official told a New York Times columnist that Tel Aviv was behind the strike. 

The attack was the first reported incident of the kind since February, when the IDF struck the same military site after it claimed that an Iranian drone had crossed into Israeli airspace from Syria. 

In line with Israel’s narrative that Iran is trying to establish a serious military presence in Syria, the Israeli defense minister said that “We will not allow for Syria to become a military base [for Iran].” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also warned on Friday that the IDF “will not shy away from action against those who threaten our security.” 

Hossein Salami, the second-in-command of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, responded that Israel should “not trust” its air bases, as they are “within range of our fire.”

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Palestinian Hamas supporters  © Abed Omar Qusini

The latest escalation in rhetoric follows the statement by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Saturday that Iran’s atomic agency was ready with “expected and unexpected” reactions if Washington ditches the 2015 nuclear deal, as US President Donald Trump has threatened to do. The deadline for the US leader to sign a waiver to extend the deal is May 12.

The 2015 landmark nuclear accord was signed by the US, Britain, France, Germany, China, and Russia, lifting economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for limitations on its nuclear program. While Trump has slammed the nuclear agreement on numerous occasions, describing it as “the worst deal ever negotiated,” the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has repeatedly stated that all nuclear-related commitments undertaken by Iran under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) have been implemented.

Tehran has developed a range of “options” if the US decides to scrap the deal, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told CBS’ Face the Nation in an interview.

“We have put a number of options for ourselves, and those options are ready,” Zarif said, adding that the options include “resuming at a much greater speed our nuclear activities.” 

“Obviously the rest of the world cannot ask us to unilaterally and one-sidedly implement a deal that has already been broken,” he said.

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Yuan becoming safe haven for investors amid Russia-US standoff

Chinese assets have recently seen a significant inflow of investments after relations between Russia and the US took a turn for the worse, making investors search for a safe place for their cash.

The Chinese yuan is becoming a safe haven for global investors, Larry Brainard, TS Lombard chief emerging markets economist, told Bloomberg earlier this week. The analyst said that Chinese assets received a boost amid the sharp deterioration in Russia-US relations.

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Uma Thurman as Beatrix Kiddo aka Black Mamba aka The Bride in ‘Kill Bill: Volume 1.’ © Global Look Press

The yuan becomes a protecting asset when geopolitical risks intensify, as the Chinese government commonly remains neutral towards such conflicts, the head of analytics department at Grand Capita, Sergey Kozlovsky, told RT.

“The dynamics of the Chinese market this week has really confirmed the idea of safe haven,” the analyst said. “After a decrease in tensions, investors began to partially fix positions on Chinese securities, returning, for example, to Russian assets, which are more promising after the recent collapse of the ruble and the Russian stock market.”

The Chinese currency is currently one of the most attractive assets among foreign-exchange holdings, according to the head of AMarkets Analysys Department, Artem Deev, who also expects the yuan to become a safe haven.

“After all, the People’s Bank of China has managed to obtain for yuan a status of a reserve asset. Skeptics said that it is not enough to launch the currency into the orbit, it’s vital to support it,” he told RT. “And just several weeks ago, China made another breakthrough, launching national yuan-denominated crude futures and gold futures contracts denominated in yuan.”

The step will reportedly encourage investors to gradually replace dollar reserves with yuan reserves, inevitably bolstering the Chinese currency. According to Deev, this factor is one of the major drivers for the yuan gaining safe haven status.

In 2016, The International Monetary Fund included the Chinese yuan in the Special Drawing Right (SDR) alongside the US dollar, the Japanese yen, the euro, and the British pound. SDR is supplementary foreign-exchange reserve assets that is defined and maintained by the Washington-based organization. The inclusion of the yuan was considered an important step in the integration of the Chinese economy into the global financial system. The yuan is currently number three in the IMF basket, after the dollar and the euro.

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At least 55% of French ‘dissatisfied’ with President Macron – poll

Over half of the French people broadly disapprove of President Emmanuel Macron’s job performance, according to a new poll that took place around the time Paris joined US-led airstrikes on Syria, and amid protests over reforms.

As many as 55 percent of the respondents said they are “dissatisfied” with the president’s performance, says Ifop poll, published by Le Journal du Dimanche newspaper.

The study was conducted online and by telephone, from April 12 to 21, with a sample of nearly 2,000 people polled. 

People were asked: “Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with Emmanuel Macron as President of the Republic?” Only 44 percent of those polled said they were, with five percent of those “very satisfied” and 39 percent “rather satisfied.” Around 23 percent said they were “very dissatisfied,” and 32 percent “rather dissatisfied.” One percent did not answer. 

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Police use water cannons and tear gas to clear protesters during a demonstration in support of the Notre-Dame-des-Landes ZAD anti-airport camp on April 14, 2018 © Damien Meyer

A previous Ifop poll released on Wednesday showed that only 42 percent approve of Macron as the leader. Less than one-third of those polled (30 percent) said that Macron was “in touch with people’s concerns.” The survey was conducted between April 12 and 16 and included 1,200 people. 

The past three months have seen thousands protesting Macron’s decision to adopt wide-ranging reforms. Earlier this week, riot police in the French capital fired tear gas and used water cannons to disperse protesters angry at Macron’s decision to pursue job cuts and salary freezes across the public sector, including education, transport, and the courts. 

Students and staff at Paris, Toulouse, Montpellier, Bordeaux, Strasbourg, and Rennes universities have also voiced their outrage with the new reforms. Macron’s initiative to rebuild the education system was resisted by students who occupied universities across the country and had them shut down.

There are also mounting concerns about France’s involvement in coalition strikes against the Syrian government. Dozens of protesters gathered in Paris on Saturday to denounce “the false pretext” of this intervention and show their support for the government of Bashar Assad. 

Macron confirmed last week that jets from the Armée de L’Air were part of an operation to strike military targets and suspected stockpiles of chemical weapons in Syria. The aerial bombardments, also involving the US and UK, were in response to reports of a chemical attack in Douma, allegedly carried out by Assad’s forces – an allegation that has been denied by both Damascus and Moscow.

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iPhone X is dead as consumers turn their backs on pricey smartphones – analyst

Apple is likely to stop producing iPhone X smartphones, according to Mirabaud analyst Neil Campling. The oversupply of chips and high prices are the reason, he says.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing, or TSMC, the world’s largest semiconductor foundry company, is facing a problem with an oversupply of chips, and the company’s stock was down 6.3 percent on Friday.

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A woman takes a picture of herself using Apple's iPhone 4 in Seoul, South Korea © Jo Yong-Hak

This “has never been higher,” Campling says, as quoted by CNBC. His company has tracked inventory data at TSMC for more than 10 years. The problems at TSMC will raise concerns about AMS, Apple’s key supplier for the iPhone X’s Face ID feature which unlocks the smartphone when you look at it.

The record inventories at TSMC show that Apple will not be producing more iPhone X models next year, the analyst said. “With the declines in iPhone X orders and the inventory issue at TSMC at record highs, which basically reflect a need to burn off inventory. Why? Because the iPhone X is dead,” Campling wrote, as quoted by the media.

“The simple problem with X is that it is too expensive. Consumers are turning their backs on high-priced smartphones,” he said. The device typically costs $ 999.

The analyst expects that Apple would produce cheaper models on new iPhones, which would cost around $ 500. The iPhone X received mixed reviews after being released in November last year. Face ID has sparked a debate about security and privacy. Apple Stock was significantly down on Friday, losing almost 3 percent, falling to $ 167.73 per share, the worst result in two weeks.

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