Brussels to investigate Bayer's bid to take over GMO giant Monsanto

The European Commission has started a probe into Bayer’s planned $ 66 billion takeover of US agrochemical firm Monsanto. Officials in Europe are concerned the deal could create a monopoly that will dictate its own rules in the market.

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© Yves Herman

“The Commission has preliminary concerns that the proposed acquisition could reduce competition in a number of different markets resulting in higher prices, lower quality, less choice and less innovation,” the European Commission said in a statement on Tuesday.

“We need to ensure effective competition so that farmers can have access to innovative products, better quality and also purchase products at competitive prices,” Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said.

Last September, Monsanto accepted an offer from Germany’s Bayer to pay $ 57 billion to its shareholders and assume $ 9 billion in debt.

Following Dow Chemical’s $ 130 billion merger with DuPont and ChemChina’s $ 44 billion takeover of Switzerland’s Syngenta, the merger will shrink the market to four major companies.

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© Vincent Kessler

Monsanto has faced serious opposition around the world, as people are scared that glyphosate, the main ingredient in the company’s Roundup weed killer, may cause cancer.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” The US State of California has put glyphosate on a list of cancer-causing chemicals following the WHO decision.

Monsanto’s website claims glyphosate “does not present an unreasonable risk of adverse effects to humans, wildlife or the environment.”

In June, more than a million people signed an online petition demanding the EU ban glyphosate. The EU will decide whether to renew the license for the herbicide in December.

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Lib Dems leader confirms presidential ambitions, proposes single-term limit

The leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, has told reporters he will definitely participate in the 2018 presidential race, also urging changes to the current law that allows presidents to serve two consecutive terms.

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Vladimir Zirinovsky, (second left) leader of the Liberal Democratic Party. © Vladimir Astapkovich

I will definitely run as a candidate in the March 2018 elections,” Zhirinovsky told RIA Novosti. The politician, 71, who has headed the Liberal Democratic Party since its foundation in the late 1980s, also said that he considered himself to be a new figure in the executive branch of power because he has never assumed any executive state posts throughout his career.

If I win this race and become the head of state on March 18, 2018, we will immediately have new politics in our country,” he said.

Zhirinovsky also noted that in his opinion the best scenario for the race would develop if the incumbent Russian leadership voluntarily refused to participate. “In this case, I would have the best chances of all, because I have a lot of energy and experience while other potential opposition candidates are constantly giving up their positions. [The head of the Fair Russia party Sergey] Mironov and [the leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation Gennady] Zyuganov have not yet decided anything, because they are afraid to run. And the young ones they lack experience and authority, they will never win.”

In the same interview, Zhirinovsky said that the current Russian law that allows the same person to remain president for two consecutive six-year terms should be canceled. “We have proposed this many times: the Constitution must contain a very solid norm reading that one person can remain president for only one term. It can be five, six or seven years, but it must be only one term,” he said.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin during a meeting with volunteers of the Great Baikal Trail public organisation at the Baikal Reserve visitor center  August 3, 2017. 
© Aleksey Nikolskyi

Zhirinovsky is one of the best-known and most experienced politicians in Russia. The LDPR was among the first political parties to register after the Communist Party monopoly on state power ended in 1991 (the party had existed underground and under a slightly different name since 1989). If he keeps his promise to run, it would be Zhirinovsky’s sixth presidential bid – the fifth for president of the Russian Federation, plus one attempt in 1991 when Russia was a Soviet republic.

Another possible contender in the 2018 race is the founder of the liberal Yabloko party, Grigory Yavlinsky.

Anti-corruption activist Aleksey Navalny has also announced plans to run for the presidency, but is technically banned from doing so because he is currently serving a five-year suspended jail sentence that will not expire before the March 2018 election.

Russia’s largest opposition party – the Communists – has not yet announced its candidate, nor has the parliamentary majority United Russia party.

Incumbent President Vladimir Putin gave the first hint of his possible participation in the race in early August when a group of villagers in the Siberian republic of Buryatia asked him to register as a candidate. “All right, I will think about it, thank you,” Putin replied.

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Police make 26 ‘preemptive’ gangland arrests ahead of Notting Hill Carnival

At least 26 people have been arrested across London as police launch a preemptive crackdown on drug, knife and gang crime prior to this weekend’s Notting Hill Carnival.

Eight properties were raided in Lewisham, southeast London, in the early hours of Tuesday morning, where officers seized what they believed to be Class A and B drugs. Eight people were arrested.

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© Roland Weihrauch / AFP

A further 18 people were arrested after raids on 21 homes in Kensington and Chelsea – where the Notting Hill Carnival is due to take place – Hammersmith and Fulham, Westminster and Wandsworth.

The 29 raids on Tuesday were carried out by more than 100 Metropolitan Police officers, with the assistance of British Transport Police (BTP) and City of London Police.

The arrests were predominantly for possession with intent to supply drugs.

The raids come as part of a wider crackdown on gang, gun and knife crime prior to the UK’s largest African-Caribbean event this August Bank Holiday, which will see at least 2 million people turn out.

Since August 11, officers have made more than 290 arrests, recovering 190 knives and 18 firearms.

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Performers participate in the children's day parade at the Notting Hill Carnival in London, Britain August 28, 2016. © Peter Nicholls

The force said those who are released on bail will not be allowed to attend the event.

Met Chief Superintendent Robyn Williams, the force’s spokesperson for the Notting Hill Carnival, said: “Our officers have been proactive and focused on tackling serious violence and knife crime across London.

“Today’s operation is aimed at ensuring that those who intend to cause trouble at carnival are prohibited from doing so.

“We are committed to ensuring that carnival remains a safe, vibrant and enjoyable event; troublemakers are not welcome. We will be uncompromising in our operations to keep our communities safe and secure.”

The force added there will be highly-skilled officers known as “super-recognizers” on duty at the carnival and in the CCTV control room.

They will be responsible for picking out faces from the crowd and spotting anyone banned from Europe’s largest street festival.

There were more than 450 arrests at last year’s carnival, the highest since 2010. Four people were seriously injured.

More than 1,000 participants were treated by emergency services, mostly in alcohol-related incidents. At least 74 were admitted to hospital.

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Waiter tells gay couple at D.C. eatery they can't share dessert

A waiter at a popular Washington D.C. restaurant allegedly told a gay couple last week they couldn’t share an ice cream sundae because it didn’t “look right.”

At first, Ron Gage, 55, and his partner, Henry McKinnon, were joking with the waiter at the Prime Rib Thursday evening, but then things turned sour after the pair ordered dessert.

“When it came time for dessert, we asked for one sundae with two spoons,” Gage told The Washington Post.

Instead, their waiter “said he would bring it in two separate dishes. He said ‘It wouldn’t look right with two gentlemen eating out of the same sundae. It doesn’t go with the ambiance of the restaurant,’” he told the newspaper.

Mo. high school removes gay students’ quotes from yearbook

The couple was speechless and left the restaurant without mentioning the incident to the manager.

“I’m kind of embarrassed to say we didn’t say anything,” McKinnon, 58, told the Post. “It just took us back to such a shameful place, in a way.”

James MacLeod, the restaurant’s general manager, told the Daily News Monday that the waiter had been fired.

The incident to place at the Prime Rib Restaurant in Washington, D.C.

The incident to place at the Prime Rib Restaurant in Washington, D.C.

(Google Maps)

He said he didn’t know about the incident until Friday night during dinner service.

Portland transgender man gives birth to baby boy

“I was stunned,” MacLeod told The News. “I could not believe that could happen in this restaurant to be quite honest.”

MacLeod said he confronted the waiter, who denied shaming the couple.

“I do apologize. This restaurant in no way would have condoned any kind of action like that,” he stressed.

The general manager said the waiter is Bulgarian and speaks several languages.

“I’m not sure whether he mixed up his words,” MacLeod said. “It’s unacceptable no matter what.”

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Deal to supply Russian S-400 missile systems to Turkey in final stages – exporter

A contract to supply S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems to Turkey is in the final stages, but has not yet been signed or entered into force, the head of Russian defense giant Rosoboronexport said, retracting his previous statement reported by RIA Novosti.

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S-400 Triumph missile launcher © Ramil Sitdikov

“The contract to supply Turkey with S-400s is ready, but has not been signed or entered into force,” Rosoboronexport Director General Aleksey Mikheev told reporters on Tuesday, adding that “the work is still ongoing, technical issues remain.”

Earlier RIA Novosti quoted Mikheev as saying “the contract has been signed, but it has not entered into force yet.”

Russia and Turkey have been discussing the contract since November 2016, with top officials from both countries repeatedly confirming that the deal has been “agreed upon” and arrived “at the final decision point.”

The Russian-made S-400 system is capable of shooting down aircraft at ranges of up to 400km and ballistic missiles at a range of 60km. It can engage up to 36 targets simultaneously and can use various missile types for different targets. The Russian Army has already received the most sophisticated batch of missiles for the S-400, capable of shooting targets in the nearest space, according to military officials.

In June, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Moscow was “ready” to supply Ankara with the S-400 system.
“We discussed the possibility of selling S-400s [to Turkey]. We are ready for this,” Putin said. “We are ready to deliver these newest and most efficient systems. President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan and our countries’ militaries are aware of it.”

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First shipment of American coal sets sail for Ukraine

The first cargo of Pennsylvanian coal is on its way to Ukraine under a deal sealed between US Xcoal Energy & Resources and Ukrainian state-run Centrenergo earlier this year, the Ukrainian Embassy said on its Facebook page.

According to the contract, Ukraine will get 700,000 tons of coal from the US State of Pennsylvania this year.

“US coal will be a secure and reliable energy source for Centrenergo and its electricity customers. This shipment will boost both of our country’s economies by supporting jobs in the coal and transportation industries,” said US Energy Secretary Rick Perry in a statement.

Ukraine holds the third largest anthracite coal reserves in the world, according to the Ukrainian coal miner and trader Sadovaya Group.

However, over half of its coal resources are in the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Lugansk. The country faced massive disruption at power plants using anthracite coal after the railways leading to the territories were blocked by Kiev-backed militant groups.

In an attempt to maintain coal supplies, Kiev has turned to foreign producers and opted for anthracite coal from the US.

Earlier this year, US Energy Information Administration reported the price for coal shipped to Ukraine in the first quarter of the current year has almost tripled compared to the same period in 2016. At the same time, sales of American coal to Ukraine have more than doubled.

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US never really planned to leave Afghanistan, Russian senator says

Washington never really planned to end its military presence in Afghanistan as it needs it to apply leverage on India, Pakistan and China, a senior Russian senator told reporters after President Donald Trump’s “fight to win” announcement.

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© Finbarr O'Reilly

The USA will never leave Afghanistan and they have never had plans to do so. This is a key region for them considering the need to influence Pakistan, India and China,” Frants Klintsevich, the deputy head of the upper house Committee for Defense and a veteran of the Soviet campaign in Afghanistan, told RIA Novosti on Tuesday.

The senator added that the existence of US military bases in Afghanistan was critical for the Pentagon’s rapid reaction capability in the region.

We should not forget the fact that the United States have 700 military bases scattered all over the world. Four-hundred of these are in conservation status, they only have enough staff to maintain their functioning, but when there is a need for a military involvement these bases can be rapidly switched into operational status,” he said.

Klintsevich’s comments came soon after US President Trump announced that he had ordered the US military to aggressively engage the Taliban and “fight to win.”

My administration will ensure that you, the brave defenders of the American people, will have the necessary tools and rules of engagement to make this strategy work,” Trump said in a speech at the Army’s Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, next to Arlington National Cemetery.

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US President Donald Trump © Joshua Roberts

In the same speech, Trump played down any contradiction between the new Afghanistan strategy and his campaign promises to pull out troops from the country. He noted that a hasty withdrawal could create a vacuum for terrorists, adding that the 9/11 attacks had been planned and directed from Afghanistan when the country was ruled by a government that sheltered terrorists.

Trump also said that he has lifted restrictions by the previous administration “to expand authority for American armed forces to target the terrorist and criminal networks that sow violence and chaos throughout Afghanistan.”

In mid-August, the Taliban, which is designated a terrorist group in Russia, released an open letter to Trump in which it claimed that the military operation in Afghanistan was in vain despite the huge costs, both in terms of human casualties and material losses. The letter then urged Trump to make a decision that would always see him remembered as an advocate of peace. The US State Department has confirmed the receipt of the letter and said that Washington was considering various options as far as possible troop removal from Afghanistan is concerned.

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Report on child sex allegations against ex-PM Ted Heath ‘could be buried’

The police force investigating claims of pedophilia against former Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath has again been accused by his supporters of trying to bury the findings.

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Britain's former Prime Minister Ted Heath © Jonathan Evans

Wiltshire Police has been repeatedly criticized for spending two years and almost £2 million (US$ 2.5 million) probing allegations against Heath, who died in 2005 aged 89. Heath’s family and friends believe police want to bury their findings after the investigation could not support the claims made against him.

Last week, the force announced its investigation – Operation Conifer – was drawing to a close, with a report expected to be published in the autumn. Since then, however, the force has said the findings will be passed to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), chaired by Professor Alex Jay.

Supporters of Heath, who have described Operation Conifer as a “witch hunt,” have warned that Wiltshire Police could use the role of the inquiry to bury the findings.

Lincoln Seligman, Heath’s godson, told the Telegraph the force is trying to “kick Operation Conifer into the long grass,” adding that the Jay inquiry had already rejected the idea of dealing with the report.

“Lord MacDonald [ex-Director of Public Prosecutions] has already said the Conifer Report is ‘wildly beyond the remit of the Jay inquiry.’

“Alexis Jay does not want it and can’t take it, so Mr Veale [Chief Constable of Wiltshire Police] suggesting otherwise does not stack up.

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Former British Prime Minister Edward Heath. © STR

“Sadly for him IICSA cannot be the long grass into which he’s hoping to kick Conifer.”

Operation Conifer was launched in August 2015 when Wiltshire Police appealed for “victims” of Heath to come forward.

In April, police said two people arrested in connection with the investigation were released without charge.

In December, the chief constable of Wiltshire Police, Mike Veale, wrote a public letter to “set the record straight” about the investigation.

He described the former Tory PM as an “extremely prominent, influential and high-profile person” and said the decision to undertake the “incredibly complex and challenging investigation” was “not taken lightly.”

He said the probe was “complex” and was “not a fishing trip or a witch hunt.”

He added that he took his responsibilities “very seriously” and would not be “buckling under pressure not to investigate or to conclude the investigation prematurely.”

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N. Korea will ‘never step back an inch’ from nuclear arms development – diplomat to UN

A North Korean envoy to a UN disarmament forum has refused to negotiate its nuclear program, accusing the US and South Korea of using joint military drills to carry out “an aggressive war scenario” and “a secret operation” against the North’s leadership.

“The DPRK will never place its self-defense nuclear deterrence on the negotiating table or step back from the  path it took to bolster the national nuclear force,” a North Korean diplomat stated at the UN disarmament forum in Geneva, as cited by Reuters.

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© uriminzokkiri

The envoy accused the US and its ally in the region, South Korea, of worsening the situation on the Korean Peninsula, saying that the ongoing joint military drills “would certainly add fuel to the fire.”

Pyongyang considers the Ulchi Freedom Guardian maneuvers as “an aggressive war scenario,” targeting North Korea and its leadership, according to the envoy.

“As long as the US hostile policy and nuclear threat remains unchallenged, the DPRK will never place its self-defensive nuclear deterrence on the negotiating table,” Ju Yong-сhol, a North Korean envoy, stated at the UN disarmament forum on Tuesday.

Ju also said that the bolstering of North Korea’s nuclear program “is justifiable and a legitimate option for self-defense in the face of such apparent and real threats.”

The North has repeatedly called on the US to refrain from military exercises which could “ignite a nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula at any cost,” according to the North’s state news agency KCNA.

“The situation on the Korean Peninsula has plunged into a critical phase due to the reckless north-targeted war racket of the war maniacs,” KCNA reported on Monday.

Meanwhile, Pyongyang has again threatened to strike the US base in Guam, which it earlier promised to attack if “provoked” by Washington.

READ MORE: US-South Korea drills could lead to ‘uncontrollable phase of nuclear war,’ North warns

“As you know, we have completed the preparation of the Guam strike. Everything will depend on whether the United States acts sensibly or not. If they do not do so, they will be shamed yet again on the Korean Peninsula in front of the whole world,” Jin Jong-hyop, a representative of the North Korean embassy in Russia, told Sputnik.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have been rapidly increasing amid American drills in the region and the recent UN Security Council sanctions in response to continuous missile launches by North Korea. Russia has proposed a “double freeze” initiative, suggesting both sides suspend their military activities.

Some 40,000 American and South Korean troops are taking part in the Ulchi Freedom Guardian drills on land, air and sea, along with civilian South Korean government personnel who train their civil defense responses. The exercises kicked off on Monday amid calls to cease tensions, and will run till August 31.

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US bets Europe willing to pay more for less dependence on Russian energy

On Monday, Lithuania received a shipment of American liquefied natural gas (LNG) as Vilnius wants to strengthen links with Washington and diversify its gas supplies away from Russia. Lithuania is expecting another shipment next month.

Earlier this year, Poland became the first country in Central and Eastern Europe to have LNG delivered from the US. To avoid Russian “gas blackmail,” Warsaw announced plans to sign a long-term contract for American LNG supplies.

Shortly after the first delivery, Polish President Andrzej Duda announced plans to make the country a pan-European energy hub able to distribute gas across the EU.

Washington has made its goals clear in its latest round of sanctions against Moscow. Western companies can be penalized for taking part in joint energy projects with Russia.

Several EU leaders have accused the US of using unilateral action in threatening to punish European companies to force more expensive American energy onto the European market.

European energy consumers have traditionally looked beyond politics, searching for lower prices. This makes it a challenge for US producers to significantly decrease the dominance of Russia’s cheaper energy.

Russian energy major Gazprom is catching up with the changing environment of the market. The company is adjusting prices and developing infrastructure to provide stable gas supplies to Europe.

“We are tracking the situation on the global gas market and the growth of US shale gas production. Recently we have allocated a lot of efforts to boost our presence in the LNG market,” Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said last month.

The price for Russian piped gas is seen as a game changer. Fuel delivered by gas pipelines is initially cheaper than liquefied, shipped and regasified on arrival.

According to S&P Global Platts last year data, LNG delivered from the US cost $ 6.29 per million British thermal units (mmBtu), while Russian gas shipped to Germany cost an average of $ 4.86 per mmBtu.

Another problem with US energy ambitions is supply.

“Even if Americans supplied liquefied gas to Europe free of charge, they simply would not have had enough capabilities to replace the Russian supplies,” Russia’s envoy to the European Union (EU), Vladimir Chizhov said last week.

Ultimately, the competition between the US and Russia for market share in Europe’s gas market will boil down to how far Gazprom could lower prices without severely denting revenue, and at what cost and for how long European consumers will pay more for American LNG.

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