Small Asian nation dumps dollar & yuan for gold amid growing global trade hostilities

China’s neighbor Kyrgyzstan has been piling up gold reserves as a hedge against a possible trade war between Beijing and Washington.

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The country is seeking to boost the share of gold in its $ 2-billion international reserves to 50 percent from its current 16 percent.

“The rules of the game are changing,” Kyrgyz Central Bank Governor Tolkunbek Abdygulov told Bloomberg in an interview. “It doesn’t matter what currencies we have in our reserves; dollars, yuan or rubles all make us vulnerable.”

The Kyrgyz currency, the som, slumped to a record low in 2015 following steep depreciation of the Russian ruble amid an oil crisis and stand-off with the West. Since then, the country boosted the share of gold in its reserves from 8 to 15 percent.

Gold is Kyrgyzstan’s largest export. Since 2014, the country’s central bank has been buying up as much of the country’s gold as possible, Abdygulov said.

“If we decide to sell gold, then we can easily sell it and convert into the currency we need,” Abdygulov said. “Taking into consideration that we mine a lot of gold in our country, it’s God-given that we should keep a large part of our reserves in gold.”

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Russian Defense Minister calls for ‘symmetrical response’ to NATO activities near Western borders

An increase in NATO activities forces Russia to undertake symmetrical measures to negate the emerging threats, Sergey Shoigu said at the outside session of the Defense Ministry’s collegium.

The Russian minister noted that, in the first half of 2018, NATO conducted 13 large-scale military exercises involving over 40,000 servicemen and 2000 units of combat hardware near the bloc’s south-western borders.

Shoigu also told the Russian military command that when preparing a response to NATO’s unfriendly actions they should combine the operations aimed at strategic containment and boosting the combat preparedness of troops of the Southern Military District. However, the minister noted that a recent inspection at the district revealed that forces there were ready for any scenario involving confrontation with foreign opponents.

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Russian soldier with Igla manpad during the Clear Sky all-army contest © Vitaliy Timkiv

The minister emphasized that Russia was not increasing the strength of its military forces deployed on the “contact line” with the NATO bloc, but increased their combat ability through more intensive training and the introduction of new, more effective weapons.

At the same time Shoigu noted that, since 2015, the strength of NATO military groups stationed in the Baltic countries, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria increased from 2000 to 15000 people. This increase was conducted “on the background of the Baltic and Polish hysteria caused by imaginary plans of alleged Russian aggression,” he added.

As for the Crimean Republic which hosted Wednesday’s session of the Defense Ministry’s collegium, Shoigu emphasized that the Russian military group stationed on the peninsula “would not leave a single chance to any potential adversary who would risk making a claim on the originally Russian lands.” He also revealed that the Defense Ministry has created and is now perfecting a unique group that combines servicemen from various branches of the military.

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Italian troops of the NATO eFP battle group attend a joint exercise with the Latvian National Guard © Ints Kalnins

In late May, the chair of the Upper House of Russian Parliament, Valentina Matviyenko, reiterated the position that is currently shared by many Russian officials – that the image of a hostile Russia had been invented by NATO generals and Western spin doctors for internal purposes and has little to do with reality.

NATO is a relic from the bipolar period of history that by definition cannot survive without looking for opponents. Today they found this opponent in the so-called ‘Russian threat’ and I would like to emphasize that the so-called ‘hostile’ and ‘revisionist’ Russia is not an objective reality but purely internal project of the West itself through which the West is trying to solve its own internal problems,” Valentina Matviyenko said was quoted as saying by RIA Novosti.

In early June, Russian military forces conducted major exercises in the Crimea and in South Russia’s Krasnodar Region with participation of marines, anti-aircraft units, and about 100 helicopters. The war games were held at the time as Ukrainian Navy training which led to some parts of the Azov Sea being temporarily sealed off.

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Stop selling arms to ‘tyrannical’ Thai military regime, CAAT urges May ahead of PM visit

The UK government is “promoting” the use of “deadly” weaponry in Thailand by continuing to sell arms to the military regime despite its track record of human rights abuses, anti-arms campaigners have argued.

Ahead of the UK visit of Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha on June 20, Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) has called on Prime Minister Theresa May to halt all arms sales to the country. To maintain this trade will show that “the UK government believes the political rights of Thai people to be less important than arms company profits and cozy relations with a dictatorship.”

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The south-east Asian country is on the UK’s ‘core market’ list for arms sales. According to CAAT, the UK has licensed £48 million worth of arms to the Thai dictatorship since the military coup in 2014.

Andrew Smith of CAAT said: “Human rights must be on top of the agenda at the meeting. This cannot become yet another photo-op for human rights abusers on the steps of Downing Street. The government isn’t just overseeing the sale of deadly equipment, it is actively promoting it. It’s time for Theresa May to end the arms sales and call for democratic change.”

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), since the 2014 coup, Thailand has seen four years of systematic abuse of fundamental rights, Prayut Chan-ocha’s administration has banned political activity and public assembly, arbitrarily arrested militants and detained civilians.

The PM, a former army chief, has promised to restore democracy but so far has pushed back the date for a vote several times.

The Asia director of Human Rights Watch, Brad Adams, said in a statement that May and French President Emmanuel Macron, who the Thai PM will also visit, “should make clear to General Prayuth that there will be no return to business as usual until Thailand holds free and fair elections, establishes a democratic civilian government, and improves respect for human rights.”

The Thailand Human Rights Campaign has launched a petition calling on the invitation to the leader to be revoked given his use of “dictatorial power to systematically repress human rights throughout the country.

“Regarding arms exports to Thailand,” the petition reads on, “we ask that the British government puts human rights and democracy first and stops selling arms to undemocratic and repressive regimes.

“Under these circumstances, we regard any visit to the UK by this tyrant as insult to democratic values. We urge the government to withdraw it.”

When the first accusations of human rights abuses surfaced just a year after Prayut Chan-ocha assumed power, the Thai leader tried to justify his policies, saying: “To those who say we lost our democracy, I’d say I am sorry, but we cannot afford to waste the time we have now to change our country,” Prayuth said in December 2013.

“Those accusing me of breaching human rights, they need to understand that we are operating in unusual circumstances,” the Times reported him as saying.

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Power of thought and flick of a finger: MIT creates mind & gesture controlled robot (VIDEO)

Learning from your mistakes takes a while, even if you’re a machine. But new MIT robots can now understand their mistakes and correct them by reading the human mind and deciphering gestures.

Harnessing the power of thought, an MIT laboratory has developed brand-new technology that operates on a mixture of muscle and brain signals. It uses a Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) system to make controlling robots more intuitive. The system recognizes both hand gestures and brainwaves to ‘feel’ when you notice an erroneous action, and to allow a human to instantly correct it with the flick of a finger.

The research, supervised by CSAIL Director Daniela Rus, will be presented at the Robotics: Science and Systems (RSS) conference in Pittsburgh next week. A humanoid robot called Baxter, manufactured by Boston-based Rethink Robotics, was used to demonstrate the advantages of the new hybrid system.

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© Vincent Kessler/Reuters

Control over the robot resembles “communicating with another person,” according to PhD candidate Joseph DelPreto, a lead author on a paper about the project. An operator has a series of electrodes placed on their scalp and forearm, as the system uses electroencephalography (EEG) for brain activity and electromyography (EMG) for muscle activity. When the system notices so-called “error-related potentials,” which are naturally produced by a human brain, it stops so the user can correct it.

Using just EEG can be difficult as specific and hard training is necessary to make a machine read brain signals. The advantage of the CSAIL system is that such efforts are not required anymore, as its the accuracy is almost perfect – up to 97 percent, researchers say.

“What’s great about this approach is that there’s no need to train users to think in a prescribed way,” says DelPreto. “The machine adapts to you, and not the other way around.”

The hybrid system opens up a wide range of new possibilities, the researchers believe. The team says that it could be useful in construction and would also be helpful for the elderly, or workers with language disorders or limited mobility.

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Alan Sugar blasted for ‘racist’ tweet comparing Senegal World Cup team to street traders

Lord Alan Sugar, the businessman once at the helm of the UK version of ‘The Apprentice’ TV show, has been condemned online for posting a controversial tweet about the Senegal World Cup team.

READ MORE: Former ‘Apprentice’ contestant sues Trump for defamation, claims sexual harassment

Sugar posted a photoshopped image of the team standing over a row of sunglasses and handbags along with the caption: “I recognise some of these guys from the beach in Marbella. Multi-tasking resourceful chaps.” The line is seemingly a reference to immigrant street-traders operating around Marbella, the resort town on southern Spain’s Costa del Sol.

The post was soon deleted after a number of people took offence, but Sugar was unrepentant. In what could only be described as a classic ‘non-apology apology,’ he said: “I think it’s funny. But I will pull it down if you insist.”

That tweet has also been deleted. A second apology, this one more solemn in tone, was posted to Twitter an hour later.

READ MORE: Egos collide as Trump gives a ‘world exclusive interview’ to his apprentice Piers Morgan

The tweet was met with fury on Twitter, as commentators compared Sugar’s comments to past ‘Apprentice’ alumni, while a few lone voices have offered some defense of the former Tottenham Hotspur chairman.

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Two former Tory mayors found guilty of child-sex offences in just 48 hours

Two former Tory mayors have been convicted of multiple child-sex offences in just 48 hours. One of them has been found guilty of raping a young girl, while the other admitted to over 20 counts of child abuse.

Former mayor of the Welsh county town of Pembroke, David Boswell, 57, was found guilty of rape and three other indecent assaults against two girls at Swansea Crown Court on Monday.

The jury heard that he raped a nine-year old and indecently assaulted another girl aged around 13 between 1990 and 1994.

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© Michaela Begsteiger

Boswell, who is a still Pembrokeshire county councillor, was cleared of another three indecent assault allegations by two complainants.

He denied the allegations, which he described as “complete lies” and said they “made me feel sick.” He volunteered to take a lie detector test to prove he was telling the truth.

“I can put my hand on the Bible and say I have never sexually assaulted that girl,” Boswell said. “If I had done something, why has it taken so long for it to come out?”

He was remanded in custody by Judge Keith Thomas, who told him he should expect a lengthy jail sentence.

Separately, former councilor and Conservative mayor of Godalming, Simon Thornton, pleaded guilty on Monday to 22 child-sex offences and was subsequently jailed for nine years at Guildford Crown Court.

Thornton, whose offences include possession of indecent photographs and videos, had been in a sexual relationship with a 13-year old.

When he was arrested on October 24 last year at his butcher’s shop in Godalming, Thornton reportedly told police: “You know I’m the mayor of Godalming, you know I have a 10-year-old daughter.”

Investigating officer Police Constable Tamzin Ede said: “Simon Thornton displayed predatory behavior to abuse a child for a prolonged period. He clearly believed he would get away with this offending, given how long it carried on, and has now rightly been jailed for his abhorrent crimes,” Get Surrey reports.

“Simon Thornton’s crimes have impacted the victim through her childhood and into adult life, the offending against her have caused low confidence, depression and difficulties in building new trusted relationships.

“The victim in this case has shown real courage in reporting and supporting the police investigation,” Ede added.

Thornton, of Abraham Way in Borden, Hampshire, will be placed on the Sexual Offenders Register and will also be indefinitely subjected to a Sexual Harm Prevention Order.

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‘Man-made earthquake’: Russian documentary shares untold stories of 4yr Aleppo siege

Aleppo, once Syria’s thriving industrial hub, is now trying to rebuild itself from rubble. How did it happen, and why? A Russian documentary seeks answers to those questions, and tells stories of life during the siege.

Aleppo was Syria’s most populous city and a vibrant industrial hub before the war. Its residents were relatively well-off, with small businesses and tourists keeping most people afloat. None of this is the case anymore.

A 2011 rebel uprising and a terrorist invasion of Aleppo brought as much damage and death as the powerful earthquake that struck the ancient Syrian city back in the 12th century, according to a thought-provoking documentary by Russia’s ANNA news outlet.

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© Omar Sanadiki

Entitled ‘Aleppo Earthquake,’ the film features real-life stories heard by ANNA’s war correspondents from ordinary Syrians who lived in the city during the terrorist occupation, or those who joined the Syrian army and took up arms against foreign jihadists.

At the beginning of the film, Muhammad Abdallah, member of the pro-government Liva al-Quds militia force, tells of his family’s life before the war. “I worked as a bus driver on the Aleppo-Damascus route… it was a unique country,” he recalls in a trembling voice. “My wife could go to the market at one o’clock in the morning and buy everything she wanted, and then she would safely come home,” the man says.

Life has changed forever for all Aleppo residents following the Arab Spring-inspired protests which quickly turned violent. Isam Rifat al Shili, Aleppo Police chief, and Mudar Nadim al Jidari, a local police officer, recall how anti-government protesters were forming fully-fledged armed militias, which began to open fire at police and security forces as they tried to restore order in the troubled city.

All-out hostilities between rebels and the Syrian army broke out in 2012, with the former steadily losing ground to well-equipped militants. In a matter of months, rebel units – reinforced from abroad – encircled government troops trying to defend the Aleppo area, the documentary says.

“We spent eight months in encirclement,” says Yahya Khaled, a young cadet in Aleppo’s military engineering academy. “The hospital was defended by just 85 soldiers… we had little food and ammunition, we ate leaves from trees and orange juice from tablets.”

As the militants tightened their grip, pro-government forces decided to retreat to the Aleppo prison. “They have tried to storm the wall around the prison many times,” Abdallah recalls. “Every day they bombarded us with mortars, sent suicide bombers – there were even suicide bombers on BMPs.”

READ MORE: How Aleppo’s parkour stars withstood ISIS & reclaimed their dreams (VIDEO)

The militiaman, who has six daughters and a son, adds: “These were hard days. I don’t like remembering them because at the time I didn’t believe I would be able to get out of there alive.”

Watch the full film here:

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Return of the champion: Ronaldo graces Luzhniki 10 yrs after 1st UCL win in stadium

Cristiano Ronaldo will grace the Luzhniki Stadium turf when he captains Portugal against Morocco in their World Cup Group B match one decade after winning his first Champions League title in the same stadium.

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A bust of Cristiano Ronaldo © Rafael Marchante / Cristiano Ronaldo at the FIFA Ballon d'Or 2013 © Ruben Sprich

Ronaldo netted a stunning header during the 2008 Champions League final against Chelsea, but with the game tied at 1-1 after extra time, the winger dramatically missed his spot kick during the penalty shoot-out.

The man from Madeira went on to lift the trophy however, as Chelsea captain John Terry then slipped and missed the deciding penalty leaving Edwin van Der Sar to save Nicolas Anelka’s strike to hand United a third European title.

Ronaldo that year went on to Ballon d’Or honors, being named the best player in the world for his efforts helping United win the Premier League that season in an historic double.

Fast forward a decade and Ronaldo returns to Luzhniki as the current world’s best player and, having won the Champions League with current club Real Madrid last month, could be in the running to extend his ownership of that title another season.

Could those omens see we are about to see Ronaldo get his hands on another piece of silverware in Russia and bag the biggest prize of all? We will get a clearer picture of the answer to that question after the match with Morocco.  

READ MORE: He’s the best player in the world, but should pay taxes – Portugal fans on Ronaldo fraud scandal

In Portugal’s Group B opener against Spain, Ronaldo scored a hat-trick to rescue a point in Sochi in a pulsating 3-3 draw on the same day he was handed an astonishing two-year suspended jail term and agreed to pay an €18.2 billion (US$ 21 billion) fine to settle tax fraud allegations with the authorities in Spain

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China cuts US investments by 92% amid escalating trade war

The US market saw a significant plunge in investment from China in the first five months of the year amid a growing trade row between the world’s two largest economies.

Chinese investments totaled $ 1.8 billion from January through May, representing a 92-percent drop against the same period a year ago. That’s the lowest level in seven years, according to the latest report by Rhodium Group, a research provider that tracks Chinese foreign investment.

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© Eakachai Leesin

Chinese corporations that had been pumping cash into the US to cement ties over a long period have cut their investments in recent years. In 2017, investments declined by 36 percent to $ 29.7 billion from $ 46.5 billion during the previous year.

“The more confrontational approach of the Trump administration toward economic relations with China has cast some doubt, in these companies’ minds, about their position here,” said Thilo Hanemann, a director at Rhodium Group, as quoted by CNN Money.

The plunge was reportedly triggered by an ongoing trade conflict between Washington and Beijing, in which the US administration has taken an aggressive stance towards Chinese trade policies. Last week, the White House introduced 25-percent tariffs targeting $ 50 billion of Chinese imports to the country. US President Donald Trump threatened to hit another $ 200-billion of Chinese goods with an extra 10-percent tariff after Beijing retaliated.

Trump has persistently slammed Chinese trade practices, calling them unfair. The US president has also accused Chinese companies of stealing American technology and intellectual property. As a part of restrictive measures in March, the US imposed tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum from China along with other countries including India and Russia. Earlier this month, that measure was extended to some of the US’ traditional allies – the EU, Canada and Mexico.

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Head of Duma Family Committee proposes Father’s Day holiday in Russia

The head of the lower house Committee for Women, Family and Children has proposed that Russia institutes a separate holiday honoring fathers, in addition to Mothers’ Day, which was introduced 20 years ago.

The draft bill submitted to the State Duma by MP Tamara Pletneva provides that, starting from 2019, Russia would celebrate Father’s Day on the last Saturday of October.

In an explanatory note attached to the bill, the lawmaker wrote that the measure would add some balance to the situation by which Russia has celebrated Mother’s Day for 20 years, but fathers don’t have their own holiday.

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Participants of the May1 demonstration in the Russian city of Simferopol © Aleksey Malgavko

Fathers need a holiday too because women have various holidays and men only have February 23, but it is not for all men, it is the holiday honoring the Defenders of the Motherland. But the roles of the defender of the family and the bringer-up of children are equally important,” she wrote.

The official also wrote that the move was supported by the “Union of Fathers of Russia” movement and the participants of the “Strong Family” project, backed by parliamentary majority party United Russia.

A poll conducted by the state-run public opinion research center VTSIOM in mid-2017 revealed that 62 percent of Russians supported the idea of having a special national holiday for fathers. Respondents said that another holiday would help citizens to remember family values, give them time and opportunities to spend more time with their families, and to thank them for caring and supporting them.

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