‘Extremely dangerous’: Hurricane Willa bears down on Mexico as it nears category 5 (IMAGES)

By ethan / October 22, 2018

Hurricane Willa, a huge and life threatening storm that’s approaching category 5 status, could devastate Mexico’s western coast, forecasters warn.

The hurricane has grown rapidly as it made its way across the Pacific Ocean, its winds increasing from 40mph to 155mph in 48 hours. The US National Hurricane Center has warned that the storm system and could “produce life threatening storm surge, wind and rainfall” in Mexico on Tuesday.

READ MORE: Before & after PHOTOS show horrifying devastation of Hurricane Michael

Willa is expected to reach category 5 status on Monday – the highest classification for hurricanes. Forecasters predict it will make landfall between the resort towns of Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

READ MORE: Migrant caravan using women & children as human shields to break into Mexico – Pompeo

Some areas could see up to 18 inches of rainfall, likely triggering flash flooding and landslides in mountainous areas. A hurricane warning has also been issued for Mexico’s western coast between San Blas and Mazatlan.

Meanwhile, tropical storm Vicente, forecast to strike the south of Mexico, is expected to be reduced to a tropical depression by Monday night or early Tuesday. It will still produce heavy rainfall and flooding in parts of the south and southeast.

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China set to open world’s longest sea bridge to Hong Kong & Macau

By ethan / October 22, 2018

A $ 20 billion sea-crossing bridge, connecting mainland China to Hong Kong and Macau is to finally open on Tuesday. The six-lane bridge has been constructed in just nine years.

The 55-kilometer long bridge (34 miles) will cut travel time from Hong Kong to Zhuhai (in China’s southern Guangdong province) from three hours to 30 minutes. It is a key element of Beijing’s plan for a Greater Bay Area covering 56,500 square kilometers across southern China. The long-awaited bridge will encompass 11 cities that are home to a combined 68 million people.

Hong Kong’s transport secretary Frank Chan said: “With the bridge, the travel time between Hong Kong and the Western Pearl River Delta region will be shortened significantly, thereby bringing the Western Pearl River Delta region within three hours’ drive from Hong Kong.”

The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge was built to withstand magnitude 8 earthquakes, a super typhoon and strikes by super-sized cargo vessels. It incorporates 400,000 tons of steel which is 4.5 times more than in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.

The bridge includes a 6.7-kilometer submerged tunnel to help it avoid the busy shipping paths over the Pearl River Delta. The tunnel runs between two artificial islands, each measuring 100,000 square meters.

Although the bridge is opening to traffic this week, private cars will need a special permit to be allowed to drive on the bridge. Most drivers will have to park at the Hong Kong port, switching to shuttle bus or special hire cars. A single trip on shuttle buses will cost $ 8-$ 10, depending on the time of day.

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‘Big operation’ financed by ‘rich American Jews’ brought me down – Ex-Israeli PM Olmert

By ethan / October 22, 2018

In an explosive interview, former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert claimed that he was investigated and imprisoned for corruption after being targeted by a cabal largely financed by wealthy American Jews.

Olmert told TV channel i24NEWS that his six-year prison sentence for graft and bribery – he was released on parole last year, after serving just 16 months – was the result of trumped up charges.

“The nature of the allegations against me…were really at the end of the day very ridiculous, very insignificant…it was clear to me that those who were after me were ready to do everything, everything in order to get rid of me…,” he said.

“It was big operation, largely financed by rich Jews from America.”

Even before he was convicted on corruption charges, Olmert and his allies had accused wealthy, right-wing American Jews of trying to sabotage his peace plan with the Palestinians and push him out of office.

A source close to Olmert told the Jerusalem Post in 2012 that right-wing American casino magnate Sheldon Adelson played a major role in privately financing an investigation into Olmert’s alleged shady dealings.

READ MORE: ‘Netanyahu’s time is over’ – former Israeli PM Olmert calls for revival of his 2008 peace plan

Speaking with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in May 2012, Olmert insisted that he had been the victim of a right-wing conspiracy involving powerful American businessmen. However, he declined to name names.

“[Trying to make peace] was a killer for me,” he told Amanpour, adding that “millions and millions of dollars” had been provided by American right-wingers in hopes of toppling him.

Olmert, who led Israel from 2006 to 2009, also said during the i24NEWS interview that he thought that Donald Trump was serious about brokering an Israel-Palestine peace plan, since the US president “hates to be associated with failure.”

“If he decided to have a peace plan named after him, it’s called the Trump Peace Plan…he is ready to associate himself with a move,” Olmert mused.

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Sanctioned Russian assets attracting investment from biggest US pension funds

By ethan / October 22, 2018

Mounting political tensions between Moscow and Washington along with endless US threats to impose more and more sanctions haven’t prevented America’s biggest pension funds from investing in Russia.

The California Public Employees’ Retirement System (Calpers), managing retirement savings of nearly two million Americans, has $ 1.1 billion dollars invested in Russian assets, including state-issued bonds and shares of companies hit by US sanctions, reports Russian business daily RBK.

Apart from Russia’s state debt, the fund that controls pensions of California’s firefighters and police officers, reportedly holds $ 872 million in share depositary receipts of Russian firms – $ 658 billion of which are from companies subject to US sanctions.

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© Reuters / Max Whittake

Calpers has invested in Russian energy companies Rosneft, Gazprom, Novatek and Surgutneftegas. The Californian pension fund has added state-lender Sberbank shares, worth $ 238 million traded in the US, and VTB depositary receipts worth $ 12.5 million traded in Europe.

US sectoral sanctions do not ban American investors from trading previously issued papers. However, the Defending American Security From Kremlin Aggression Act (DASKAA) – the legislation lobbied by senators Lindsey Graham and Robert Menendez, demands that the assets belonging to Russian lenders such as Sberbank, VTB, Gazprombank, Russian Agricultural Bank and Promsvyazbank, should be frozen and isolated from dollar transactions.

The amount of investment made by the Calpers in Russian bonds has hardly changed in the last five years. In 2012, the share of Russian assets in its portfolio was hovering around $ 1.4 billion against $ 1.3 billion in current holdings.

Calpers is not the only institution investing in Russia. The second largest pension fund in the US, California State Teachers’ Retirement System, or Calstrs, held about $ 9.5 million in Russian bonds and nearly $ 164 million in Lukoil receipts as of the end of 2017,according to media reports.

Meanwhile, the country’s fourth biggest fund Florida Retirement Systems (FRS) held Russian investments worth $ 354 million as of June 30 this year. The holdings reportedly include shares of Novatek, Rosneft, VTB, Sberbank, Gazprom, Gazprom-neft, Lukoil, Surgutneftegas and Transneft.

At the same time, the New York State Common Retirement Fund, the third largest in the country, reportedly has $ 82.7 million worth of Russian investments in its portfolio – $ 59.3 million of which are companies on the sanctions list.

Investing in Russian state-issued obligations has been highly profitable over the last decade. The Central Bank of Russia is offering a yield up to 9 percent depending on the maturity of the bonds, while US Treasury bonds are luring investors with a maximum of 3.35 percent with a 30 year maturity.

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WATCH Ukrainian Su-25 fighter jets nearly hit landing strip in ultra-low flying stunt

By ethan / October 22, 2018

A video circulating online captured the dramatic moment a pair of Su-25 warplanes almost touched the ground as they buzzed over an airfield in Ukraine, while flying at a dangerously low altitude.

Several people can be seen running away from the landing strip right before the pilots in their Su-25MS1 jets execute the daring move, while a number of large transport planes and a helicopter are parked across the airfield.

It is not clear when the video was made. David Cenciotti, who writes for an aviation-themed blog, The Aviationist, suggested that the risky stunt may have been filmed at Melitopol airbase, in southeastern Ukraine, which houses the 25th Transport Aviation Brigade.

Ukrainian pilots have been spotted performing similar stunts in the past. A clip, reportedly filmed in 2014 and posted by the Aviationist earlier this year, shows an Su-24 attack plane performing a low pass at one of Ukraine’s air bases.

In June 2018, Ukrainian Su-25 did a flyby near a coastal beach in southeastern Zaporizhia region, flying just 10 meters above the sea. The military officials confirmed back then that the incident was part of a routine aviation drill.

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Putin signs decree allowing Russian counter-sanctions against Ukraine – Kremlin website

By ethan / October 22, 2018

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree allowing Russia to target Ukrainian companies and individuals with sanctions in response to Ukrainian sanctions against Russia, the Kremlin website reported on Monday.

The decree was issued as “a response to unfriendly actions of Ukraine” related to the introduction of sanctions against citizens and legal entities of Russia, as well as “in order to protect national interests,” according to the website.

The Russian government was ordered to “determine the lists of individuals and legal entities in respect of which special economic measures are applied”, and “identify special economic measures applicable to individuals and legal entities.”

Since February 2014, Ukraine has imposed sanctions against 1,228 Russian individuals and 468 legal entities. They include Russian officials, politicians, business leaders and journalists. Kiev has also banned several Russian media outlets and TV channels.

In 2017, Ukraine also imposed sanctions on Russian internet and media companies including Mail.ru Group, Yandex, VKontakte and Odnoklassniki, as well as antivirus software manufacturers Kaspersky Lab and Doctor Web.

Over the last four years, authorities in Ukraine have imposed several rounds of sanctions against Russia. The most recent update was signed by President Petro Poroshenko in May.

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Saudi operative wore Khashoggi’s clothes, acted as decoy to fool Turkish police – report

By ethan / October 22, 2018

An unnamed senior Turkish official has told CNN that one of the 15-man hit squad that allegedly murdered Jamal Khashoggi was a doppelgänger who left the Saudi Consulate in the slain reporters’ clothes moments after the killing.

“You don’t need a body double for a rendition or an interrogation,” the official reportedly told CNN. “Our assessment has not changed since October 6. This was a premeditated murder and the body was moved out of the consulate.”

Surveillance footage allegedly provided by Turkish authorities to CNN purports to show Khashoggi’s lookalike, named as Mustafa al-Madani, leaving the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul via the rear entrance, wearing the journalist’s own clothes that he wore on October 2. Madani also dons a fake beard and glasses to appear more like his alleged victim.

Four hours before the killing, al-Madani was seen entering the consulate building beardless, wearing a blue and white checked shirt and dark blue trousers but, moments after the incident, al-Madani can be seen wearing what appears to be Khashoggi’s own dark blazer, open-collared grey shirt and trousers.  

“Khashoggi’s clothes were probably still warm when Madani put them on,” the senior Turkish official told CNN.

Madani, 57, is of similar age and build to Khashoggi, 59, and was reportedly brought in as a decoy to throw Turkish investigators off the killers’ trail.

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Activists protest the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi during demonstration outside the White House in Washington © Reuters / Leah Millis

However, in the footage, Madani is wearing the same sneakers he had on prior to entering the consulate that do not match Khashoggi’s outfit. He then later appears at the city’s famous Blue Mosque, a popular tourist destination where he could blend in with the crowd, before changing back into his own clothes.

Additional surveillance footage allegedly shows Madani’s accomplices dumping Khashoggi’s clothes in a dumpster elsewhere in the city.

So far, the Saudis’ explanation for what fate befell Khashoggi has changed multiple times, having initially claimed his death was the result of a fistfight at the consulate, before claiming he had been placed in a chokehold and died accidentally, and later admitting that the journalist’s death was indeed murder and a “tremendous mistake.”

Khashoggi’s remains have yet to be found as pressure mounts on the Saudi government to clarify the circumstances of the dissident, vocal al-Saud critic and Washington Post journalist’s death.

Turkish officials have repeatedly leaked to the media throughout the ongoing investigation which has drawn global media attention and political uproar among the international community.

Authorities in Turkey have yet to confirm or deny the existence of a rumored audio recording of the killing from inside the consulate.

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Saudi Arabia says scandal over Khashoggi killing won't trigger another oil crisis

By ethan / October 22, 2018

There will not be a repeat of the 1973 oil embargo despite the crisis over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, the Saudi energy minister reportedly said on Monday.

On Friday, Saudi Arabia admitted for the first time that Khashoggi — a critic of Saudi leaders and former Washington Post journalist — had been killed by Saudi agents. Over the weekend, the US increased pressure on Riyadh with talk of possible sanctions. Some have accused Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of ordering the killing, a charge he has denied.

Speculation about possible sanctions against Riyadh have raised questions about the repeat of the 1973 oil crisis, when OPEC proclaimed an oil embargo against countries supporting Israel during the Yom Kippur War. The United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Japan and the Netherlands were among the first sanctioned countries.

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Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman © REUTERS/File Photo provided by a third party.

The embargo was later extended to South Africa, Rhodesia and Portugal. The embargo caused a sharp spike in oil and gasoline prices with long-term negative effects on the global economy.

“There is no intention,” Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Energy Khalid al-Falih told TASS news agency when asked whether the kingdom could impose the 1973-style oil embargo.

“This incident will pass. But Saudi Arabia is a very responsible country, for decades we used our oil policy as (a) responsible economic tool and isolated it from politics,” al-Falih said.

“My role as the energy minister is to implement my government’s constructive and responsible role and stabilizing the world’s energy markets accordingly, contributing to global economic development.”

With US sanctions against Iran coming up and possible sanctions against Saudi Arabia, analysts have said that oil could rise above $ 100 per barrel. “I cannot give you a guarantee, because I cannot predict what will happen to other suppliers,” al-Falih said, when asked if the market could avoid crude trading at triple-digits again.

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Streets turned icy rivers: Rome battered by hailstorm & heavy rain (PHOTO, VIDEO)

By ethan / October 22, 2018

Chilling pictures and videos of a heavy rainstorm battering Rome have emerged online. Nature’s rage got to the point where people were trapped in their half-submerged cars.

Images of cars being almost completely submerged by the floods and pieces of ice floating right through the streets have been circulating on social media. People who shared the videos and photos said they’ve never seen anything like it before.

Firefighters appeared to be quite busy on Sunday night, having received over 100 emergency calls. Local media report people left stranded on the roofs of their cars after they climbed onto them to avoid getting trapped as torrents swept through.

Rainfall reached almost a meter in some areas of the city. At least six tube stations have closed across the city.

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India offloading US Treasuries to support national currency & buy gold

By ethan / October 22, 2018

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is cutting down on its holding of US Treasuries, joining a number of countries which have been dumping US debt to bolster domestic economies.

The country’s share of US sovereign debt saw a gradual decline from $ 157 billion in March to $ 140 billion as of the end of August, according to the latest US Treasury report. RBI needed US dollars to sell in the market to stop the steep slide of its currency, the rupee. The bank has sold foreign currencies worth $ 18.6 billion in the spot market since April to rein the value of the rupee.

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© Sputnik / Natalia Seliverstova

Foreign portfolio investors (FPI) have pulled out more than $ 10 billion of their investments in the Indian markets since April. That has resulted in rupee losing more than 10 percent in value against the dollar.

“If FPI flows do not revive amid an US-China trade war, the RBI may need to sell another $ 10-15 billion by March,” said Bank of America Merrill Lynch. According to its report, there could be more pressure on India’s central bank to sell US bond holdings in order to meet the dollar demand.

Experts say the RBI may be using part of the sales proceeds of the US bonds to buy gold. Statistics showed that the bank’s gold reserves grew to 18.64 million troy ounces in August from 18.01 million troy ounces in March 2018.

Liquidating US sovereign bonds has recently become a trend among major holders. The latest data showed that Russia has dumped nearly all of its holdings of US debt, trimming 84 percent of them during 2018. Turkey’s share of US Treasuries fell by 42 percent in the first half of the current year.

READ MORE: Warning shot? China sells US Treasury bonds amid trade war

Japan and China, the biggest holders of the US securities, have also reduced their shares in August. Tokyo cut its holdings to $ 1.029 trillion, the lowest since October 2011. Beijing’s holdings are down to $ 1.165 trillion, from $ 1.171 trillion in July, marking the third consecutive month of declines.

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