‘Worst place on earth’: UN urges US-led coalition to pause airstrikes to spare Raqqa civilians

The situation in Raqqa, Syria is getting worse, with basic services “at all-time low” and thousands of civilians unable to get out of the besieged terrorist stronghold, the UN says, urging the US-led coalition to halt the bombing to allow people to escape.

“On Raqqa, our urging today from the UN side to the members of the Humanitarian Task Force, including the members of the Coalition that is helping retake Raqqa, is that they need to do whatever is possible to make it possible for people to escape Raqqa,” Jan Egeland, Special Advisor to the UN Special Envoy for Syria, said at a press briefing in Geneva on Thursday.

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Damaged buildings are pictured during the fighting with Islamic State's fighters in the old city of Raqqa, Syria, August 19, 2017 © Zohra Bensemra

Some 20,000 civilians remain trapped in dire humanitarian conditions in Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) held areas of the Raqqa city, he claimed.

“The five neighborhoods now held by the Islamic State [IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL], of the city of Raqqa, is an area where the needs are beyond belief and the protection concerns are acute,” Egeland said.

The civilians trapped in the city have virtually no access to basic services, including safe water and food, and are surviving on food they stored up earlier, David Swanson, public information officer from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told RT.

“The humanitarian situation – up to 25,000 civilians still trapped in Raqqa – is nothing short of dire. Access to safe drinking water, food and other basic services is at an all-time low with many residents relying on food they had stored up earlier to survive,” Swanson said, adding that the only functional hospital in the city remains in IS hands.

In the past few days, multiple media and humanitarian organizations are reporting mounting civilian casualties in the city. On Tuesday, the UN expressed“deep concerns” over the reports, urging all parties “to spare and protect civilians and civilian infrastructure.”

An escape from the besieged terrorist stronghold, however, seems almost impossible due to the intensive fighting, shelling by the mostly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and airstrikes by the US-led coalition, Egeland said.

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Raqqa, Syria August 11, 2017 © Zohra Bensemra

“There is heavy shelling from the surrounding and encircling SDF forces and there are constant air raids from the coalition. So, the civilian causalities are large and there seem to be no real escape for these civilians,” Egeland said, urging the coalition to “think of possibilities, pauses or otherwise that might facilitate the escape of civilians.”

“I cannot think of a worse place on earth now than in these five neighborhoods and for these 20,000 people,” the UN official added.

As a way to ease the people’s plight, Egeland cited the example of the Aleppo liberation, when the Syrian Army and Russia announced humanitarian pauses multiple times to allow civilians the chance to escape the crossfire and provide much-needed aid.

The situation, however, is more complicated in Raqqa, as IS terrorists do not want to communicate with the besieging forces at all, according to Egeland. The lack of such communication, however, cannot be used as an excuse to do nothing to help the trapped civilians, he added. According to the official, “this is time to try anything to allow their safe escape,” however pointing out that many civilians simply refuse to leave due to fear of terrorists, but also from “shelling” and “bombardment” of US-led coalition and forces its backs.

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'I hope to fight 1st week of April, Bobby Lashley’s very interesting' – Frank Mir (VIDEO)

Two-time UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir, who recently signed with Bellator, was in Russia again over the weekend to provide commentary for ACB 67 in Grozny, Chechnya, where he spoke exclusively to RT Sport.

Mir has been a part of the commentary crew for Russian promotion ACB for over a year now, and following the news of his release from UFC, the MMA world was curious as to which organization he would sign with.

ACB and Bellator seemed to be two of the most logical options, and as it turns out, the 38-year-old Mir could fight in both. Announcing the signing with Bellator on his podcast ‘Phonebooth Fighting’, Mir, who’s USADA suspension ends in April 2018, said he is also “keeping the door open for ACB.”

Talking to Mir in the ACB office a day after ACB 67, we spoke about the tournament itself as well as the fighter’s future plans.

RT: You were commentating at ACB 67 in Grozny, Chechnya, at the Colosseum arena, which was built specifically for MMA events. How did you like the arena and atmosphere?

Frank Mir: Grozny is just such a Mecca for mixed martial arts. Because of the culture here, people are not at the bars, partying or drinking, their kids don’t have Play Stations. They live a clean life here. And training is an outlet to do something and focus. So you have all these young guys that are talented and tough because of the history here. You know it doesn’t take much to google the Chechen wars and know what has occurred here. And basically people that rose from those ashes are as tough as nails. And now with the exposure, especially with Mairbek Khasiev (ACB head) doing what he is doing to help build the Berkut training facility here, bringing some of the best trainers in the world. It is inevitable that these guys are going to be world champions. And the fact that Grozny has facilities built specifically for MMA doesn’t surprise me, cause that’s the sport here. We go to other places and kids want to be baseball players, they want to be football players, they maybe want to play soccer. You grew up here – you want to be a fighter. That’s why the quality of the athletes they are getting is just second to none.

RT: We recently learned that you signed a four-fight deal with Bellator. But you also said that you are not closing the door on ACB. With that in mind, under which banner will we most likely see your next fight?

FM: I told Bellator that I need to fight immediately. It’s been two years. And if I don’t start fighting again, my wife is probably gonna shoot me in the leg. I’m a fighter, I like to fight. That’s who I am, that’s what I do. That’s my focus, that’s my meaning, that’s my Buddha. Hopefully that can give me a fight first week of April. First month (after the end of Mir’s disqualification). And even if they give me the fight I have something to start work on for the ACB. Hopefully the end of May, possibly in Poland, hopefully against a very big name out there, that will bring a lot of attention. Possibly with (Mamed) Khalidov on the card. Obviously we are not fighting each other, we are two different weight classes. Not that I wouldn’t do it. Khalidov is a tough guy. Martial artist might be interesting. But that being said, KSW fill out arenas when Khalidov is on the card. He has already fought once before with ACB, against Luke (Barnett), who is my friend. I wasn’t so happy about that outcome. But I like Khalidov, I am a fan. I think he is one of the best middleweights in the world right now. He is just kind of a secret here in Europe, that guys over in the US might not be aware of. Or they are aware of and they are just glad that he is over here, on the other side of the pond. Hopefully that is something that is going to work out, cause I also want to help and be a part of ACB. In ACB I am a part of the commentary crew. Myself and Bryan Lacey, that’s the team.

I tried experimenting, and I looked over Fight Nights Global, they offered some money, I looked at it, and I wasn’t happy. I don’t like the show – I like ACB, the ‘More Fight, Less Show’ mentality, I like the mindset they have. Plus I like working with Bryan, he is my guy, I think he have a great chemistry together. And broadcasting is not a singular man thing. Joe Rogan and Goldberg together made what the UFC was. And now without Goldberg, the commentary crew they still have Joe, who is a great color commentator. But it’s diminished their broadcasting. It’s very obvious to everybody who watches. I think that Bryan and I are on the up and we’ll be doing that for the next 20-30 years, until he gets tired of me. So that’s where I am planning on staying. So I can also fight for the ACB, to bring recognition there. Obviously Bellator, as simple as they have a lot of money, and I am going to help them out, and fight for them. Scott Coker, I like now working with people that I like. And Coker is a very good person. I’ve never met a fighter that has anything bad to say about him. He is like a fighter’s guy as a promoter. So I am very happy to be a part of this organization. But on the same side I am very happy to be here with Mairbek. He is the kind of guy you can shake hands with, he’ll look you in the eyes, whether you are the valet or the president of the United States. And I respect that. The first time I sat down and had a lunch with Mairbek, I watched how he treated the waiter, and the waiter made a mistake, he had no problem with it, he just wanted to get the situation fixed, didn’t scold him. The guy was terrified because of Mairbek, and he made a mistake. But he didn’t hold him to that. And when I saw that interaction, I immediately thought that this is someone I have a lot of respect for, and I’d want to be a part of business-wise and friendship-wise.

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Mairbek Khasiev © RT

RT: When you announced the news of the signing with Bellator on your podcast, you mentioned that ACB is interested in going to the places you are also interested in going to. You’ve already mentioned Poland. Could you name other places?

FM: Poland is the huge one. I think that Poland loves MMA, I think that we can just bring it there. UFC is downsizing the amount of shows they are bringing (to Europe). The UFC guys just paid $ 4.2 billion (to purchase the company). They are looking to get back in the positive cash flow probably as quickly as possible. You can already see that they pulled back. While ACB, we are on the flip side of that. We are looking to grow. We are not worried about if we are going to make money today. We just want to put on a great show. We have some of the greatest fighters in the world, that go out there and compete and put out their greatest product. At the end of the day if it doesn’t make money, the guys here, this is not the way they feed their children. So this is their love and their passion. And this is why I think you gonna see the ACB will do so well, and grow in leaps and bounds. That’s what the UFC was when I first became a part of it. It was two brothers from Las Vegas, two Italian guys, it was their passion. They made money in the casinos, that was their passion, they loved fighting. That’s why they named it Zuffa. A word for ‘fight’ in Italian. That was their thing. They weren’t businessmen when it came to this. And Mairbek is the same way. This is not a business to him. This is the passion and the way of life.

RT: You have already mentioned some names, such as Fedor Emelianenko and Brock Lesnar. Was it something you spoke about with Bellator or ACB?

FM: Both. Bellator right now has very deep pockets. Viacom. So maybe they can pull out a Brock Lesnar fight. If not, I think Bobby Lashley will be someone very interesting to fight, setting up for a Brock Lesnar fight, who is a very physical specimen. Extremely strong. Stronger than I am. Has a college wrestling background. Extremely high-level. Did pro wrestling, so he has that fan base. I mean I have no issues with the guy, but he is a fighter, he is on the roster. And I am here to go ahead and start cleaning the house.

RT: Since you are not with UFC anymore you are now open to sponsorship deals, did any big name talk to you already? And was ACB one of them?

FM: Right now Venum is someone I am talking to. I am possibly opening some training facility under the Venum name. They have franchises and put out a complete package of how to train like a mixed martial artist, not necessarily the aspirations that you want to walk in and fight professionally. I think a lot of people love martial arts, you know people take karate classes, take Jiu-Jitsu. It doesn’t mean you want to be a pro fighter. I think MMA is a great form of martial arts. You might want to go to an amateur show, you just want to the gym and train with other guys, learn the skillset. That being said, because I am doing that aspect with them. As far an apparel thing, right now I am in conversation with them, I think it will be very cohesive if I can also wear the Venum brand. But if they don’t, I am gonna move out to others. I think now with the ability of the Bellator, because they are on free television and on top doing pay-per-views. There is just too much exposure that I could give to the brand for me to sit and not [do anything].

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Italian-American leaders defend Christopher Columbus statue

Italian-American politicians blasted their paesano Mayor de Blasio for considering the removal of statues of Christopher Columbus as part of a commission to ditch symbols of hate.

“You’ve chosen to reopen historical arguments that are 400 years old,” Councilman Joe Borelli (R-Staten Island) said. “And your actions, whether you want to admit it or not, are going to be more divisive to New Yorkers than uniting.”

Borelli and others cited Columbus — who led expeditions on behalf of Spain that began Europe’s contact with the Americas — as a symbol of Italian-American pride. But others point to him as a colonizer of already occupied land whose arrival ultimately led to the the death of huge amounts of native people.

“That statue in Columbus Circle does not represent the explorer. It represents the experience of the Italian immigrant community who came here,” State Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island/Brooklyn) said.

Nicole Malliotakis defends city’s Christopher Columbus statue

Several in the crowd — including actor and radio host Joe Piscopo — acknowledged Columbus’ “flaws.”

“He’s flawed, we’re all flawed. I’m flawed,” Piscopo said. “Does that mean I’m not gonna get a rest stop named after me on the Jersey Turnpike?”

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“That statue in Columbus Circle does not represent the explorer. It represents the experience of the Italian immigrant community who came here,” State Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island/Brooklyn) said.

(Jefferson Siegel/New York Daily News)

De Blasio, who marches in the annual Columbus Day Parade, has said little about Columbus specifically except that his still-not-created commission would consider all suggestions for monuments that may be offensive. Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito has said the commission should consider removing it.

“The figure of Christopher Columbus is a controversial figure. There is nothing that is not factual in that statement,” she said Thursday, adding she respected the contributions of Italian immigrants.

ESPN’s Robert Lee moment proves Trump has won the monument debate

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A view of the statue of Christopher Columbus by Gaetano Russo in the middle of Columbus Circle.

(Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)

Joe Guagliardo of the National Council of Columbia Associations accused the speaker of acting “like a terrorist.”

And several deemed the controversy over Columbus sudden or a product of “revisionist history,” including Assemblyman Ron Castorina (R-Staten Island), who called Columbus an icon.

“The icon of Italian-American culture, why? Because of some of the revisionist history that you hear?” he asked. “No. Because he was the first European explorer to come this way, to chart this course, to defy the science of his day”

Columbus was not the first European to travel to the Americas; Norse explorer Leif Ericson led an expedition hundreds of years before. Castorina later said Columbus was the first to establish lasting contact between Europe and the Americas.

De Blasio, pols clash over statues symbolizing hate in NYC

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“He’s flawed, we’re all flawed. I’m flawed,” Joe Piscopo said. “Does that mean I’m not gonna get a rest stop named after me on the Jersey Turnpike?”

(Jefferson Siegel/New York Daily News)

Councilman Vincent Gentile (D-Brooklyn), who’s seeking to become the next Brooklyn district attorney, praised Columbus as a “warrior.”

“There were Native Americans that weren’t welcoming to him,” Gentile said, “so he had to be not only an explorer but a warrior too. But we understand that.”

Asked to clarify whether native people should have been more welcoming to someone who claimed their land, Gentile ignored the question, looked at his phone, and would not approach the microphone.

In a letter to the king and queen of Spain, Columbus wrote he encountered no trouble from the native Taino people in 1492 — writing he’d “taken possession” of them for Spain and “no opposition was offered to me,” according to the Library of Congress.

Mark-Viverito calls for removal of Central Park statue of doctor

The press conference also drew support from independent mayoral candidate Bo Dietl — who did not appear to be part of the speaking program but eventually took the microphone to decry Mark-Viverito’s support for FALN founder Oscar Lopez-River — and Controller candidate Michel Faulkner.

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New warrant issued for data on anti-Trump website visitors

A US federal judge approved the Department of Justice request to obtain information on visitors of a website which organized protests against President Donald Trump’s inauguration on January 20, after the government narrowed the scope of its search.

On Thursday, Judge Robert Morin of the District of Columbia Superior Court approved a DOJ request for a warrant seeking data on visitors of a website called disruptj20.org, which organized protests on inauguration day.

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© Steve Dipaola

The DOJ claims it’s looking for information on those who participated in riots that day. Judge Morin authorized the search, but said the government must ensure that the data of “innocent users” will not be seized by prosecutors.

In July, another judge granted a warrant demanding that DreamHost, the website’s hosting company, provide “all” information available to them about visitors to the page.

Last week, DreamHost made public its attempts to appeal the warrant, saying that complying with it would involve handing over 1.3 million IP addresses, in addition to contact information, email content, and photos of thousands of people.

“In essence, the Search Warrant not only aims to identify the political dissidents of the current administration, but attempts to identify and understand what content each of these dissidents viewed on the website,” the company’s general counsel, Chris Ghazarian, said in a legal filing challenging the request.

On Tuesday, the DOJ submitted a revised warrant request, narrowing the scope of the search to exclude “any unpublished media” as well as HTTP access and error logs, meaning that “visitors’ IP addresses are largely safe,” DreamHost said.

The change was made “in light of factual revelations since July,” the DOJ said. 

“The government has no interest in records relating to the 1.3 million IP addresses that are mentioned in DreamHost’s numerous press releases and Opposition brief,” according to court filings.

“The Warrant is focused on evidence of the planning coordination and participation in a criminal act – that is, a premeditated riot. The First Amendment does not protect violent, criminal conduct such as this.”

The government’s new, narrower warrant is an improvement — but problems remain, senior staff attorney at Electronic Frontier Foundation Mark Rumold told NPR. 

“Most critically, DOJ is still investigating a website that was dedicated to organizing and planning political dissent and protest. That kind of activity — whether online or off — is the cornerstone of the First Amendment, and DOJ’s ongoing investigation should be cause for alarm to anyone, no matter your political party or beliefs.”

Trump’s inauguration day saw massive protests in Washington, DC, which spilled into violence and riots in places. Over 200 people were indicted on rioting charges in connection with the protests, including several journalists who were covering the events.

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Premier League clubs head to Moscow on consecutive days after Champions League draw

English Premier League clubs Manchester United and Liverpool will head to Russia this season to play Moscow clubs on consecutive days in the UEFA Champions League.

Following UEFA’s Champions League group stage draw, held in Monaco on Thursday, Manchester United were drawn in Group A alongside CSKA Moscow, while United’s rivals Liverpool were drawn in Group E with CSKA’s rivals Spartak Moscow.

Shortly after, the dates of the games were released, with Liverpool being scheduled to play current Russian champions Spartak in Moscow on September 26, one day before last season’s Europa league winners Manchester United take on CSKA in the city on September 27.

The fixtures mean the teams will all play in the northwest England on consecutive days in December, each of the fierce rivals meeting once again for their respective return legs, which could turn out to be deciding games.

Full Champions League groups

Group A

Benfica, Manchester United, Basel, CSKA Moscow

Group B

Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain, Anderlecht, Celtic

Group C

Chelsea, Atletico Madrid, Roma, Qarabag

Group D

Juventus, Barcelona, Olympiacos, Sporting

Group E

Spartak Moscow, Sevilla, Liverpool, Maribor

Group F

Shakhtar, Manchester City, Napoli, Feyenoord

Group G

Monaco, Porto, Besiktas, RB Leipzig

Group H

Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Tottenham Hotspur, APOEL 

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Success Academy founder rips de Blasio for student test scores

The minor gains that city students made on state reading and math tests isn’t good enough, Eva Moskowitz says.

The Success Academy charter school founder blasted Mayor de Blasio for the incremental improvements at a press conference Thursday in her Wall Street headquarters.

Moskowitz’s 36 charter schools with testing grades outperformed district schools on the exams by a wide margin — but critics say they push out tough kids and enroll fewer difficult students.

That didn’t stop the fiery former city councilwoman from slamming her longtime foe’s handling of the public schools before a crowd of reporters and educators.

Protesters outside charter school call for Dan Loeb’s resignation

“You’re consigning a massive number of children to a dead-end future,” Moskowitz said of de Blasio.

“And if that weren’t bad enough – if you look at the color of these children, it is deeply, deeply segregated,” she added.

Nearly 38% of city students in grades 3 through 8 met state math standards in district schools citywide. That’s up from just over 36% in 2016.

Almost 41% of city public school kids passed reading tests in 2017, up from 38% in 2016.

Al Sharpton calls on hedge fund manager Daniel Loeb to resign

Mayor de Blasio and schools Chancellor Carmen Farina (left) announce that black and Hispanic students are graduating high school in NYC at the highest rate ever in February 2017. 

Mayor de Blasio and schools Chancellor Carmen Farina (left) announce that black and Hispanic students are graduating high school in NYC at the highest rate ever in February 2017. 

(Edwin J. Torres)

But black and Hispanic kids — who on average attend schools with fewer resources and more poorly rated teachers — fared worse on the tests.

Citywide, the portion of black students who met reading standards was less than 29% in 2017. Hispanic students’ pass rates in reading were just under 30%.

Gains made by black and Hispanic kids on 2017 state math tests were smaller than those by white and Asian kids, worsening the achievement gap faced by those students.

But Moskwitz’s privately run, publicly funded charter schools did much better.

Mayor de Blasio’s charter school thaw

A remarkable 95% of all Success Academy students passed math tests in 2017 and 84% met reading standards. Black and Hispanic Success Academy students managed a 95% math pass rate and an 83% pass rate in reading.

De Blasio spokeswoman Olivia Lapeyrolerie said the city is taking steps to improve the educational outcomes of black and Hispanic kids.

She said that Moskowitz is only drawing attention to her test scores to deflect criticism of Success Academy Chairman Dan Loeb, who has drawn criticism for comparing a black female state lawmaker to the KKK on Facebook in August.

“We have implemented real reforms to help close the achievement gap,” Lapeyrolerie said. “This is nothing more than a stunt designed to distract from the deeply offensive and disqualifying comments made by Success Academy’s leading financier.”

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Disturbing video showing cheerleader forced into split by coach

A video of a Denver high school cheerleader being forced into an extended split as she screams for her coach to stop has sparked a police investigation.

In the disturbing footage sent to local media outlets, 13-year-old Ally Wakefield is seen being pushed down into a split by her coach.

Wakefield, an incoming freshman at East High School, cries and repeatedly asks her coach to “please stop” as he pushes her towards the ground. The video also shows the teen’s arms being held by her teammates, making it impossible for her to move.

According to KUSA, the video was taken during the first week of East High School’s cheerleading camp with its new coach Ozell Williams.

Teen dies after collapsing at football practice in the Bronx

Parents said the school was notified of the shocking videos in June but never addressed them.

In a June email sent to the school’s assistant principal Lisa Porter, Ally’s mother said the teen injured her leg during one of the cheerleading practices.

http://www.9news.com/news/local/investigations/videos-show-east-high-cheerleaders-repeatedly-forced-into-splits-1/466845236

A video showing a Denver high school cheerleader forced into a split is sparking backlash.

(9NEWS)

“I have attached a video of the forced splits she and her team members were forced to do at cheerleading camps and practices; unless they had a doctor’s note,” Kristen Wakefield wrote, according to WFAA. “This is how Ally injured her leg. My husband and I would like to know what the administration is going to do about my daughter’s injury and how it happened.”

Another parent, Cheri Nickolay, told the outlet that her child Anna quit the team because of the forced splits.

Student caught on video punching teacher in head during class

Denver police launched an investigation into the videos on Wednesday. That same day Denver Public schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg announced that Williams, the assistant cheerleading coach Mariah Cladis, East High principal Andy Mendelsberg, assistant principal Lisa Porter and deputy general counsel Michael Hickman were placed on leave.

“I want to reiterate in no uncertain terms our commitment to the safety of our students,” Boasberg wrote in a statement. “We absolutely prohibit any practices that place our students’ physical and mental health in jeopardy. We do not and will not allow any situation in which a student is forced to perform an activity or exercise beyond the point at which they express their desire to stop.”

Williams is a well-known coach and tumbling instructor who was often seen at Denver Broncos games doing backflips down the field. He also appeared on “America’s Got Talent.” Williams did not return Daily News’ request for comment.

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China accuses US of damaging navigation safety with military activities at sea

The recent surge in US Navy activity represents a danger to the freedom and safety of navigation, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said, in response to a question on the dismissal of the US Seventh Fleet commander after a “series of incidents.”

“Many people are very concerned about the frequent US military activities at sea, which damage the freedom and safety of navigation. We hope that the United States will pay attention to and properly handle this issue,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters at a regular press briefing, while commenting on the recent developments following the incident with the US destroyer the ‘USS John S. McCain.’

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Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin, US 7th Fleet Commander © Kazuhiro Nogi

The spokesperson’s comments echoed an editorial published by the state-run China Daily newspaper on Tuesday. 

“The investigations into the latest collision [of the ‘USS John S. McCain’ with an oil tanker] will take time to reach their conclusions, but there is no denying the fact that the increased activities by US warships in Asia-Pacific since Washington initiated its rebalancing to the region are making them a growing risk to commercial shipping,” the editorial reads.

“While the US Navy is becoming a dangerous obstacle in Asian waters, China has been making joint efforts with the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to draw up a Code of Conduct for the South China Sea and it has boosted navigational safety by constructing five lighthouses on its islands.”

The ‘USS John S. McCain’ destroyer was damaged and partly flooded after a collision with an oil tanker off the coast of Singapore, east of the Strait of Malacca, on Monday. Five US sailors were injured and 10 went missing during the incident. On Tuesday, divers located “some remains” within the flooded compartments of the vessel. There was no information released on whether the remains had yet been identified. No tanker crewmembers were injured, but the vessel sustained damage near the bow.

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The US Navy guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain is seen after a collision, in Singapore waters August 21, 2017 © Ahmad Masood

The probe into the incident is underway, but the commander of the Japan-based 7th Fleet, Admiral Scott H. Swift, was relieved of his duties due to “loss of confidence” in his ability to command, after a chain of incidents plaguing the Seventh Fleet this year.

On June 17, seven American sailors were killed following a collision between the destroyer ‘USS Fitzgerald’ and a Philippine-flagged container ship some 56 nautical miles southwest of Yokosuka, Japan. The ship’s commander and executive officer were relieved of their duties following the probe into the incident, which was blamed on loss of “situational awareness” and poor seamanship.

Another notable incident involving US Navy ships occurred in January, when the guided-missile cruiser ‘USS Antietam’ ran aground in Tokyo Bay near the port of Yokosuka, Japan. No one was injured during the grounding, but the vessel damaged both its propellers and spilled 1,100 gallons of hydraulic oil, prompting environmental concerns.

In an incident not connected to the Seventh Fleet, the guided-missile cruiser ‘USS Lake Champlain’ crashed into a 60-ft South Korean fishing boat in May. No one was injured during the open sea incident.

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Mayweather v McGregor: Fight of the century or biggest con in sporting history?

On Saturday night, Las Vegas hosts what is set to be the most lucrative fight in boxing history. One half of the equation is an undefeated world champion, the other a boxing novice making his professional debut. On paper it is a non-event, yet the Mayweather-McGregor ‘super fight’ has been sold to the masses. We look at how it happened.

Mirage

The implausible nature of the fight very much reflects the city where it will take place.

From afar, Las Vegas looks like a glittering mirage in the Nevada Desert, a shiny apparition too improbable to be real amid the arid, rocky landscape.

Once inside the city, it is no less surreal. Giant faux global landmarks; huge, labyrinthine casinos where day and night meld into a permanent twilight zone; endless entertainment on every corner – Las Vegas is a place where disbelief is best suspended.

Indeed, that is what many will do on Saturday night, when the city’s T-Mobile Arena hosts a spectacle implausible and mirage-like even by its own outlandish standards. 

READ MORE: ‘Most unique piece in history of sports’ – WBC produces 3,360-diamond ‘Money Belt’ for MayMac

In one corner we have Floyd Mayweather, 40, widely regarded as the finest boxer of his generation and one of the best of all time, with an undefeated 49-0 record matched only by the late, great Rocky Marciano.

In the other, Conor McGregor, the 29-year-old Irish MMA star whose first foray into professional boxing will be in the biggest money-spinner ever seen in the sport. 

McGregor is a fine MMA fighter, and probably a decent boxer, but no respected commentator has given him a chance against a seasoned champion with the most famed defense in the sport’s history.

And yet part of the attraction to the fight stems from no one really knowing how things will pan out, considering we are breaking completely new ground. And isn’t Las Vegas’ specialty making the unreal real? It’s that uncertainty that is adding to the hype surrounding the bout. 

Masters of self-promotion

Then there are the fighters themselves. Both are brash self-promoters, both are open about their love of the riches that accompany big fight nights, both have willed this fight into existence.

McGregor first planted the genesis of the Mayweather megafight back in 2015, when still establishing a name for himself in UFC.  

The talk gained momentum as the Irishman took a stranglehold on MMA through his brilliant fighting performances and equally eye-catching interviews outside the ring, with razor-sharp trash talk arguably not seen since Ali.

READ MORE: Illegal blow disqualification will cost McGregor 90% of fight purse – Mayweather

He has met a willing opponent in ‘Money’ Mayweather. The American has never been shy in proclaiming financial gain as his primary motivation in the ring, and the prospect of stepping out of his 2015 retirement for one last mega payday was always likely to be too tempting to resist.

While the trash talk in the relentless buildup to the fight has skirted the borders of acceptability, if not transcended them – witness accusations of McGregor’s racism and Mayweather’s homophobic slurs – it has all added to the unstoppable momentum that will draw in millions on Saturday night.

No other pairing could have made this happen.     

Hype merchants

Those around the fighters have also done a spectacular job of making the bout happen. 

Despite it being a lopsided non-contest on paper, we now somehow have a situation where many are giving McGregor a chance.

Central to that is the drip-feed of information about McGregor’s training camp.

Doubt that McGregor can cut it in the boxing ring? Just check out footage UFC chief Dana White posted of him vanquishing sparring partners. Think McGregor doesn’t know the first thing about boxing? Listen to his protestations about being in the ring as a youngster. 

READ MORE: Mayweather munches burger while dishing out insults ahead of McGregor megabout

Unwittingly or not, Mayweather has also added to the impression that he might just be there for the taking. Think that the American is simply too good to be beaten? Listen to his quotes about not being the fighter we once was, look at the photos of him munching on a hamburger just days before the fight, consider the promotional attention he has paid to various business distractions during the buildup.

So much so, in fact, that many pre-fight fan polls – including RT’s – now show that large numbers of us are giving McGregor a shot at beating Mayweather.

While Mayweather is still 1-4 to win with most bookmakers, with McGregor at 3-1, some have reported of more and more money flowing to McGregor. 

The hype appears to have worked; the carefully-choreographed pre-fight promo has captured the attention of the millions who will be watching on Saturday and will help push the fight past the $ 500 million revenue barrier.   

Whether or not a real contest materializes on Saturday, those who organized it will care little – they will be too busy counting the profits.    

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Pound worth less than euro in British airports as it plummets to 8-yr lows

The official exchange rate of the British pound has fallen to €1.085, the lowest since 2009. But at British airports, one Sterling buys far less than €1.

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© Global Look Press

Travelers exchanging cash at Southampton Airport’s Moneycorp branch on Thursday were getting only 87 euro cents for every pound. This is the worst rate since the financial crisis. At the desk, travelers get just €439 from £500.

Moneycorp sold euros at a better rate in Southend and Stansted airports but also estimated the European currency higher than Sterling. Other currency bureaus like Travelex did the same.

The companies say that maintaining desks at airports is expensive, and if clients order cash 24 hours ahead, the rates would be better.

“The reason for our higher airport rates is the significant cost associated with operating there – from ground rent and additional security to the cost of staffing the bureaus for customers on early and late flights,” Pauline Maguire, retail director at Moneycorp told the Sun.

Britain’s currency has weakened dramatically since the Brexit vote in June last year. It has added uncertainty over the future of business, and trading arrangements in the country.

However, the pound is up eight percent against the US dollar this year, which makes it difficult for economists and analysts to estimate the fluctuations in Sterling.

“So which indicator is right? Eventually, economic fundamentals assert themselves, and they suggest that the pound’s journey south against the euro is probably closer to the end than the beginning,” wrote Dean Turner, an economist at UBS WM in a note last week.

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