Chinese Navy holds live-fire training in Mediterranean en route to joint drills with Russia

A Chinese fleet comprising warships that are “the best class of their category” has staged live-fire drills in the Mediterranean, according to the Chinese military. The contingent is now heading to Russia’s Baltic coast for the ‘Joint Sea 2017’ exercises.

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Soldiers of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) salute from a ship sailing off from a military port in Zhanjiang, Guangdong province, July 11, 2017 © Reuters

The Chinese armada, which includes the Hefei missile-destroyer and the Yuncheng guided-missile frigate, alongside the Luomahu replenishment ship, conducted the maneuvers in the Mediterranean Sea on Monday, according to a statement from the Navy of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

The warships “fired several rounds at sea targets” during the exercises, while the crew “used small arms to hit nearby targets.”

“The operation was aimed at honing crew members’ skills in attacking small targets,” according to a statement from the country’s Defense Ministry, which cited the captain of the Hefei destroyer, Zhao Yanquan.

“All of them [the warships] belong to the South Sea Fleet and are said to be the best class of their category,” the military stated.

The Chinese flotilla set off from China’s Hainan Province on Sunday to take part in the “Joint Sea 2017” drills with Russia. The first part of the exercises is to take place in the Baltic Sea off the Russian cities of St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad in late July. The second stage of the drills will be held in the Sea of Japan and Okhotsk in September. The exercises are aimed at “improving coordination between the two navies on joint defense operations at sea.”

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On Tuesday, China sent ships carrying military personnel to set up the country’s first overseas military base in the Horn of Africa, located in Djibouti.

In early July, Chinese warships led by Beijing’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, conducted trans-regional training exercises amid fierce tensions with the US in the South China Sea, after a US guided-missile destroyer sailed near a disputed island in the area.

The South China Sea has become a bone of contention between Beijing and Washington and its allies in the region, as China claims almost all of the waters in the area and has been expanding its military presence there.

Last week, long-range, supersonic US bombers flew over the disputed waterway, provoking sharp condemnation from Beijing.

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Bellator MMA star Michael ‘Venom’ Page takes up pro boxing

Unbeaten British MMA star Michael “Venom” Page, who has become known among fight fans for his stylish knockout finishes, is looking to make the transition into professional boxing.

Page, who’s coming from a kickboxing background and currently holds a 12-0 professional MMA record, has been performing in the second biggest mixed martial arts promotion, Bellator MMA, since 2013.

Nicknamed ‘MVP,’ Page is considered one of the most entertaining English MMA fighters for his unusual, fluid fighting style and an array of knockouts dealt out with a single strike, including the notable flying knee finish versus Evangelista ‘Cyborg’ Santos at Bellator 158 event, which fractured his opponent’s skull.

However Page, originally from London, England, is now also looking to cross over to professional boxing’s super middleweight division with the aim of dethroning some of the sport’s biggest names.

“I feel like I’ve done enough outside of boxing to come in and I’m good enough to be pushed in the right way. I reckon I can step in here and start challenging some of the big names, as soon as possible,” Venom said in an interview with IFL TV.

In his preparations for the step into the noble art, Page has sparred with an array of top boxing talent, including Olympic gold medalist and current IBF super middleweight champion James DeGale, and also Chris Eubank, Jr.

READ MORE: Bellator’s Michael Page celebrates knockout by throwing Pokeball at opponent (VIDEO)

Page has even hinted that he would be open to a fight with Eubank, who defends his IBO strap versus German veteran Arthur Abraham on Saturday, with the winner gaining a place in the World Boxing Super Series.

“He’s one of those names that everyone’s talking about, he’s at the top. I’ll wipe him out as well,” Page said.

It also became known on Tuesday that Page has signed with British heavyweight David Haye’s Hayemaker boxing promotional company.

Bellator MMA president Scott Coker has previously stated that he doesn’t mind if Page will fight by boxing rules. But he stressed, however, that MVP should be ready to return to the MMA cage to meet another notable English fighter, Paul Daley, in a bout which is planned to take place in early 2018.

“If you want to take a couple boxing fights, go ahead and just get ready for this fight at the beginning of next year,” said Coker during The MMA Hour show.

READ MORE: Santos suffers horrifying injury after a knee to head hit from Michael Page

Page’s decision to move into professional boxing comes after the recent announcement of the fight between boxing icon Floyd Mayweather Jr. and MMA superstar Conor McGregor, which is scheduled to take place at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on August 26.

The first press conference for that fight took place on Tuesday in Los Angeles, but Page was dismissive of the fight, claiming it is nothing more than “an expensive exhibition fight.”

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DeVos official under fire for siding with accused in sex cases

A high-ranking official from Betsy DeVos’ Department of Education is under fire for appearing to side with the accused in college sexual assault cases.

Candice Jackson, acting assistant secretary of the civil rights division, told the New York Times on Wednesday, “Rather, the accusations — 90 percent of them — fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk,’ ‘we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right.’”

Her remarks were immediately condemned by advocacy groups.

“Every allegation of sexual violence should be taken seriously, and it’s important to investigate them,” Jodi Omear, vice president of communications at Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, said in a statement to the Daily News.

“Survivors deserve to have their voices heard.”

Rape & justice on campus: Call the cops on sexual assault

Jackson’s remarks come as DeVos is scheduled to meet with victims and accused students, school officials and advocates on Thursday.

The sessions were organized by Jackson, who heads the department responsible for enforcing the Title IX law, regulation that prohibits sexual harassment in any school receiving federal funds. 

What’s at stake is a 2011 letter by the Obama administration, which mandates school officials must respond to sexual assault reports, and use the “preponderance of the evidence” standard to determine whether an incident occurred on campus. Most colleges have adopted the “clear and convincing” standard in the meantime.

Fatima Goss Graves, CEO and president of the National Women’s Law Center, called Jackson’s remarks “deeply concerning.”

Schneiderman among 19 AGs suing DeVos over student loan relief

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Betsy DeVos is scheduled to meet with victims and accused students, school officials and advocates on Thursday.

(Mike Blake/REUTERS)

“It perpetuates myths about sexual assault, and about the people who come forward and make reports,” she told The News. “It perpetuates myths that they are either lying or have regret.”

If the administration proceeds with the current framework under Title IX, “They will be okay,” Goss Graves added.

Jackson, a sexual assault victim herself, told the Times that college investigations are not “fairly balanced between the accusing victim and the accused student.”

She argued that students who have been accused in sexual assault cases are labeled as “rapists when the facts just don’t back that up.”

Jackson issued a statement Wednesday apologizing for her words in the Times’s interview.  

“As a survivor of rape myself, I would never seek to diminish anyone’s experience. My words in the New York Times poorly characterized the conversations I’ve had with countless groups of advocates,” she said. “What I said was flippant, and I’m sorry. All sexual assault must be taken seriously – which has always been my position and will always be the position of this Department.” 

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‘Dreamers’ may lose DACA deportation relief, Homeland chief warns Democrats

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly is advising Congressional Hispanic Caucus Democrats to work on immigration reform, as deportation protection for undocumented immigrants who illegally entered the US as minors may not survive a court challenge.

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Protesters rally outside the federal court just before a hearing to consider a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of Iraqi nationals facing deportation, in Detroit, Michigan, US, June 21, 2017 © Rebecca Cook

Kelly’s spokesman, David Lapan, told CNN and Politico on Wednesday that Kelly has been informed by legal experts within and outside of the White House that DACA, or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, will likely be struck down as unconstitutional in a US court.

Kelly shared that information with Democrats in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and also told them that he personally supports the program.

However, he wouldn’t say the same about the rest of the Trump administration, most notably Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an immigration hardliner who would shock many if he directed the Department of Justice to defend DACA in court.

The DACA program was instituted in June 2012 by President Barack Obama, who said the executive action was necessary as Congress had failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

Critics called the move an abuse of power, and President Donald Trump promised to terminate the program during his 2016 campaign.

Mixed signals have come out of the Trump administration on the matter ever since. Immigrant advocacy groups applauded Trump just fives days after he took office, when he told ABC News that so-called “dreamers,” people who came to the US illegally before reaching the age of 16, “shouldn’t be very worried.”

“I do have a big heart. We’re going to take care of everybody,” Trump said on January 25. “But I will tell you, we’re looking at this, the whole immigration situation, we’re looking at it with great heart.”

Earlier that same day, Vox published a leaked draft of an executive order that would discontinue DACA applications and renewals. That didn’t dissuade immigration restrictionists who had supported Trump and took him at his word that DACA would be eliminated on his first day in office.

In April, as news came out that the Trump administration was approving new DACA applications, Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies, accused Trump of flip-flopping in an interview with Breitbart News Daily. Around the same time, Trump was telling the Associated Press that those with DACA protection could “rest easy” as his deportation policy would go “not after the dreamers,” but instead “the criminals.” 

DACA could be challenged in court as soon as September, when a pending lawsuit will be heard against the related Obama-era program DAPA, which never went into effect but is meant to cover parents of children who illegally entered the US. Ten state attorneys general are challenging DAPA and could easily add DACA to their complaints.

Rep. Nanette Barragan, one of the Democrats who met with Kelly on Wednesday, told CNN that there was “there was a combination of laughter and appalled shock in the room” when Kelly said he was unaware of ongoing efforts to make DACA permanent, such as the bipartisan BRIDGE Act, after telling the group that they should work on a legislative fix.

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© Jose Luis Gonzalez

Kelly appeared next to Republican leadership after the House passed two immigration enforcement bills at the end of last month, but when asked to do the same for Democrats to encourage support for their bills, he did not commit but only indicated he would consider it, CNN reported.

“His urging is that Congress do something,” Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Arizona) told CNN. “Our urging is: Don’t be a fool. If you truly believe and Donald Trump believes that you should protect DACA, then the government should join and encourage the protection of DACA and fight against his attorney general.”

Pew Research Center has estimated more than 750,000 undocumented immigrants “have received work permits and deportation relief.” 

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Terrorist attacks in Western Europe dozen times deadlier in 2 years – report

Despite an overall drop in the number of terrorist attacks in Western Europe in 2016, such atrocities have become far deadlier, Reuters reported citing data from the Global Terrorism Database.

There were 30 terrorist attacks resulting in fatalities in the region in 2016, which equals 11.2 percent of fatal attacks compared to 239 non-fatal incidents, the report says.

The UK topped the blacklist, judging by the number of attacks in 2016 and in 2013, with nine and four fatal incidents respectively; last year, it was followed by Germany, France and other countries.

The 2016 victims included fatalities in such large attacks as the Nice truck attack in July, in which dozens of people became victims of a jihadi-inspired extremist; and a similar attack on a Christmas market in Berlin in December, when a massive industrial truck unexpectedly plowed through the crowd, leaving a dozen dead.

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© Fabian Bimmer

Fatalities of smaller attacks not related to Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), with several incidents in Belfast, UK were also included in the statistics.

In an effort to make the attacks “more cost-effective and simpler,” the IS terrorist group – which is responsible for seven of the 10 deadliest attacks since 2012 – was increasingly encouraging the use of knives and vehicles over firearms and explosives by extremists, Reuters reported, citing experts.

READ MORE: ‘Refugees to Europe are easy prey for Islamic radicalization’ – Italian police chief

However, firearms remain the primary weapon used by perpetrators in Western Europe.

In 2014, there were only two fatal attacks across the region, which stood at 0.9 percent compared to 183 incidents in which no one had been killed.

With perpetrators included in the number of fatalities cited by the report, the deadliest such incident in 2014 was a shooting near the Jewish Museum in the Belgian capital of Brussels, in which three people became victims of a gunman.

In 2015, there were 23 fatal attacks and 298 non-fatal, according to the data. The deadliest incident recorded in Western Europe was a November 13 attack on Paris, when the Islamic State terrorist group claimed the lives of 130 people in a series of coordinated attacks.

The ratio of fatal attacks compared to non-fatal stood at 7.2 percent in 2015.

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Rep. Steve Scalise out of ICU, still in serious condition

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, grievously wounded in a shooting at a baseball practice nearly a month ago, has been moved out of the intensive care unit of a Washington hospital but remains in serious condition.

The Louisiana congressman and third-ranking House Republican underwent surgery last week at MedStar Washington Hospital Center and is being treated for infection, according to an official familiar with his condition.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity to freely discuss Scalise’s condition.

Scalise and four other people were injured June 14 when a gunman opened fire on a practice in nearby Alexandria, Va. U.S. Capitol Police and other officers returned fire and killed the gunman.

The 51-year-old congressman was struck in the hip and the bullet tore into blood vessels, bones and internal organs.

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‘Ladies & gentlemen’ scrapped to make London Tube announcements gender neutral

London transport workers have been told to stop using the phrase “ladies and gentlemen” in announcements as part of a city-wide push to become more gender-neutral.

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© Getty Images

The order follows months of campaigning by LGBTQ activists, who appealed to London Mayor Sadiq Khan to change the language used by train and bus drivers, which they described as “polite but really belonging to yesterday,” according to the Evening Standard.

The Transport for London (TfL) rule book used to state: “When using the Public Address (PA) system, you must start all service information announcements with ‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ except for routine announcements such as ‘mind the gap’ and ‘stand clear of the doors.’”

Now staff will use terms such as “good morning everyone.” All new pre-recorded announcements are also set to be changed to new phrases.

TfL’s customer strategy boss, Mark Evers, said they want “everyone to feel welcome on our transport network,” adding “we have reviewed the language that we use in announcements and elsewhere and will make sure that it is fully inclusive, reflecting the great diversity of London.”

The move comes after Green Party equalities spokesperson Aimee Challenor was left “humiliated” after she was told she “didn’t sound like a Miss” during a telephone call to TfL’s Oyster helpline.

READ MORE: Unisex toilets planned for Glasgow primary schools to support LGBT pupils

Challenor, 19, welcomed the change, saying the terms “hello everyone” or “all passengers for…” would be more appropriate.

“People are saying it’s such a small thing and ‘get a life.’ It’s these little things which can make people’s lives better.

“London is a city I love travelling through, it’s diverse. But hearing these announcements – we are living in the 21st century, not the 19th.”

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Trump on Putin: We get along 'very well,' that's a 'good thing'

US President Trump has revealed in an interview with CBN News that he and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin “get along very well” and “that’s a good thing.” However, he thinks Putin would have been happier if Hillary Clinton had won the elections.

While the goals of President Putin are quite different from his, Donald Trump told CBN News on Wednesday, since the both statesman seek prosperity for their countries, they can find some common ground.

Well, he wants what’s good for Russia, and I want what’s good for the United States. And I think in a case like Syria where we can get together, do a ceasefire, and there are many other cases where getting along can be a very positive thing, but always Putin is going to want Russia and Trump is going to want the United States and that’s the way it is,” Trump said.

The very first face to-face meeting between the two leaders on the sidelines of the G20 summit proved to be fruitful and helped them to “get along,” Trump stated.

“Sometimes you’re not going to get along on things and sometimes you will. But we had a good meeting, it was a face-to-face meeting, it was a long meeting,” Trump said. “People said, ‘Oh they shouldn’t get along.’ Well, who are the people that are saying that? I think we get along very, very well. We are a tremendously powerful nuclear power, and so are they. It doesn’t make sense not to have some kind of a relationship.”

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US President Donald Trump © Wolfgang Rattay

Despite “getting along” with Putin, Trump believes that Russian leader would actually be happier if Hillary Clinton had won the 2016 US presidential elections.

“As an example, if Hillary had won, our military would be decimated. Our energy would be much more expensive. That’s what Putin doesn’t like about me,” Trump said.

“And that’s why I say, why would he want me? Because from day one I wanted a strong military, he doesn’t want to see that.”

“And from day one I want fracking and everything else to get energy prices low and to create tremendous energy. We’re going to be self-supporting, we just about are now. We’re going to be exporting energy – he doesn’t want that. He would like Hillary where she wants to have windmills. He would much rather have that because energy prices would go up and Russia as you know relies very much on energy,” he added.

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State Department spent more than $15,000 at Trump hotel

A new Trump hotel saw big bucks from a special party this year: The State Department.

The department spent more than $ 15,000 in February to book nearly 20 rooms at the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Vancouver, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.

It is yet another apparent conflict of interest between President Trump’s politics and business — and one of the few so far to involve a U.S. government agency.

According to the Post, the State Department reserved 19 rooms at the Vancouver hotel around the time three of Trump’s children — Donald Jr., Eric and Tiffany — traveled there to celebrate its grand opening.

Here’s why the Trumps are opening franchise hotels in Mississippi

They also partied at a VIP event hosted by developer Joo Kim Tiah, the son of a prominent Malaysia businessman.

It is unclear why the State Department was involved or which officials from the department may have stayed at the Trump property. The department works separately from the Secret Service, which provides security for the Trump family.

Protesters outside the Trump hotel in Vancouver during the grand opening.

Protesters outside the Trump hotel in Vancouver during the grand opening.

(Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

A Secret Service spokesman told the Post it is routine for the State Department to “assist us in facilitating our security plan” for trips abroad.

The Trump Organization — which is run by Eric and Donald Jr. but still controlled by President Trump — does not actually own the Vancouver hotel, but it still cashes in on management and licensing deals.

Trump Organization gets millions as Toronto Hotel removes name

President Trump declined to separate himself from his global business empire after taking office, even as ethics watchdogs warned he left himself open to conflicts of interest.

The Post previously reported on the Secret Service spending more than $ 88,000 on lodging when Eric Trump visited Uruguay in January to promote a Trump Tower that is under construction.

Trump’s new Washington, D.C., hotel has presented myriad conflicts this year as it has catered to foreign diplomats and hosted events on behalf of the President.

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General blasts activists who claim Mosul retaken from ISIS with excessive force

A senior British general has slammed Amnesty International’s claims alleging that coalition and local forces used “excessive force” to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul from Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).

General Rupert Smith was blunt in his condemnation of a report from human rights group Amnesty International that lamented the high civilian casualties and argued that disproportionate force had been employed.

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Destroyed buildings from clashes are seen during fighting between Iraqi forces and Islamic State militants in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq July 7, 2017 © Ahmed Saad

It strikes me as being written by people who simply have no understanding of the brutality of warfare. But we should be absolutely clear who were deliberately killing civilians,” Jones told the Telegraph.

“It wasn’t the government of Iraq, it wasn’t the coalition, it was ISIS – everybody should be entirely clear what they were doing with the civilians. It went way beyond human shields: they were out and out murdering civilians left, right and center,” he said.

British civilian casualty monitor Air Wars estimates that over 5,000 people may have been killed in the assault, and Iraqi authorities think 4,000 could still be buried under rubble.

The Iraqi army, which does not publish casualty figures, may have lost thousands of troop in what has been described as the most critical urban warfare battle since World War II.

Jones also defended the conduct of the Iraqi troops, telling the paper: “The Iraqi security forces have put the safety of civilians as the absolute centerpiece of the liberation of the city over the last nine months – that is beyond question.

Does that mean there have been no violations? No, of course there have, but whenever those are presented to the government of Iraq, they are taken very, very seriously.

Amnesty has called for a full inquiry into the tactics used, saying they fell short of the required standards for an assault on a heavily populated city.

Large parts of Mosul, including the historic Old City, were leveled during the siege.

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