‘Did I set a world record? I didn’t know’ — Zagitova on her stunning short program

By ethan / February 21, 2018

Fifteen-year-old Russian star Alina Zagitova, who won the ladies short figure skating program on Wednesday, said she didn’t know the scores the judges had given her were the highest in figure skating history.

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Olympic Athlete from Russia Alina Zagitova © Vladimir Pesnya

“I’m pleased with my today’s skating and with the score,” Zagitova told reporters after her world-beating performance in PyeongChang.

“I’m overwhelmed by emotions. Did I set a world record? I didn’t know, but I’m happy,” she added, according to TASS.

Zagitova nailed all of her jumps, including a rarely seen triple Lutz-triple loop combination, posting a jaw-dropping score of 82.92 points. The first year senior not only took the lead in the competition, but also broke the short program world record. The previous record had been set by her teammate Evgenia Medvedeva just minutes earlier.

Two-time world and European champion Medvedeva charmed the crowd with her mesmerizing routine to music by Chopin, earning an unprecedented 81.61 points, the highest score ever obtained in the women’s short program.

However, that record stood for just a few minutes before Zagitova outscored her fellow Russian skater by more than a full point.

“It’s not a secret that I have the most technically complicated program in the world. If I skate clean, I can receive the highest scores. We have worked on this program for quite some time, polishing every tiny element,” Zagitova said.

“The competition pushes us to move forward. First and foremost Zhenya (Medvedeva) and I are friends, but sport doesn’t exist without competition.”

“I did everything to please my coaches, spectators and myself. I did everything in my power to show my maximum potential. I’m happy that I managed to handle nervousness and deliver clean skating,” the skater added.

The winner of the women’s figure skating event will be crowned on Friday, after the ladies demonstrate their free programs. So far the first two places are occupied by the two Russians, who are competing under the name of Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR). Canada’s Kaetlyn Osmond currently sits in third place, more than four points behind Zagitova.

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Russian figure skater Medvedeva sets world record in short program

By ethan / February 21, 2018

The two-time world champion Evgenia Medvedeva representing Olympic Athletes from Russia delivered a stunning performance in the ladies’ short program, setting a new world record of 81.61 points.

Medvedeva managed to beat her previous achievement, recorded several days earlier in a team event, by 60 hundredths of a point.

However, the record was beaten just minutes later by her teammate Alina Zagitova, who received an incredible 82.92 points from the judges, thereby outscoring Medvedeva by 1.31 points.

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Olympic Athlete from Russia Alina Zagitova © Vladimir Pesnya

After her performance, Russian media cited Medvedeva as telling journalists “the performance was better than in the team championship, but the jump combination could have been done better.”

“It’s a very rare thing. I’m glad that two world records have been set at the Olympics,” the Russian skater said, adding that she was not surprised by the achievement of her teammate, with whom she has a good relationship.

The 18-year-old Medvedeva is competing at her first Olympics, though she has already established an illustrious career. Following numerous victories in international tournaments, she came to PyeongChang as the uncontested favorite to win the Olympic title.

Two-time world and European champion Medvedeva had long been unmatched at international level, until her equally-talented teammate Zagitova won the 2018 European Championship in Moscow. Medvedeva’s second-place finish marked her comeback from a break enforced by injury, missing several tournaments while recovering from a fracture in her foot.

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Philippines ‘very seriously’ concerned that US intelligence tags Duterte a ‘threat to democracy’

By ethan / February 21, 2018

The presidential office in the Philippines has been seriously disturbed by the US intelligence community’s assessment that Rodrigo Duterte represents a “threat to democracy.”

Last week, the US Intelligence Community, comprising 16 federal agencies, listed President Duterte as one of the leaders in Southeast Asia who continues to pose a “threat” to democracy and human rights.

“In the Philippines, President Duterte will continue to wage his signature campaign against drugs, corruption, and crime. Duterte has suggested he could suspend the Constitution, declare a ‘revolutionary government,’ and impose nationwide martial law,” a tiny paragraph on page 19 of the Worldwide Threat Assessment report said.

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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, wearing a military uniform  © Reuters

Duterte has long been under fire for alleged extrajudicial killings and human-rights violations in his no-holds-barred war on drugs. Over 4,000 suspected drug dealers and abusers have been killed by law enforcement and “unidentified gunmen” in the country-wide crackdown on drugs since July 2016.

Furthermore, the report blamed Duterte for declaring and extending the martial law on Mindanao, where Islamic State-affiliated militants seized parts of Marawi City last spring. The only other reference to the Philippines in the 28-page report said that the country was identified by the Freedom House in 2016, as one of 30 nations worldwide, which “used social media to spread government views, to drive agendas, and to counter criticism of the government online.”

But since those few hundred words marring Duterte’s reputation were penned by the US intelligence community, they were met with “concern” by the 72-year-old Philippine president.

“We view this declaration from no less than the intelligence department of the United States with some concern,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque told DZMM radio. “I do not think that’s true. [Duterte] is a lawyer, he knows the law, he wants to uphold the rule of law, he knows about the bill of rights.”

Despite previous virulently anti-American remarks towards Barack Obama and his administration, Duterte has welcomed the change in the White House, and began showing his softer side towards the United States last August when he called himself a “humble friend” of Washington while meeting Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.By November, the Philippines president was ready to sing for Donald Trump at an ASEAN summit gala dinner “upon the orders of the commander in chief of the United States.”

Duterte’s change of heart partly revolves around the fact that Trump, unlike his predecessor, has shown no interest in criticizing the drug war. In an April phone call with Duterte, Trump reportedly congratulated him for doing an “unbelievable job on the drug problem.”

While stressing that Manila still wants to be friends with Washington, Roque noted on Wednesday that “with declarations such as this, it is very difficult to be friendly with the United States…It doesn’t seem to be too friendly a declaration.”

“This is something we are taking very seriously. It is coming from the intelligence community. It is not even coming from the State Department. It is something that the President will take seriously as well.”

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Russian figure skating star Zagitova breaks Medvedeva’s newly-set world record in short program

By ethan / February 21, 2018

Alina Zagitova has taken the lead in the ladies’ short program receiving an incredible 82.92 points from the judges, beating the world record set minutes earlier by Zagitova’s teammate and training partner Evgenia Medvedeva.

Zagitova’s immaculately-executed technical elements, including her signature triple Lutz-triple loop combination, merited 45.30 points. It is the highest technical score ever recorded in the women’s short program.

The two-time world champion Evgenia Medvedeva, representing Olympic Athletes from Russia, delivered a stunning performance on Wednesday, flawlessly landing all of her jumps and perfectly executing spins and steps posting a new world record of 81.61 points.

However, that record stood for just a few minutes before Zagitova outscored Medvedeva by more than a full point.

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Tehran’s retaliation will ‘level Tel Aviv to the ground,’ Iranian official warns Israel

By ethan / February 21, 2018

Israel’s capital will be leveled “to the ground” by an immediate retaliatory strike if Benjamin Netanyahu follows through on his threat to attack the Islamic Republic, an Iranian politician has threatened.

Waving a piece of an Iranian drone, allegedly downed over northern Israel last week, the Israeli Prime Minister last Sunday warned Tehran against testing Israel’s resolve. “We will act without hesitation to defend ourselves. And we will act if necessary not just against Iran’s proxies that are attacking us, but against Iran itself,” Benjamin Netanyahu said at the Munich Security Conference, after Israeli forces conducted a massive cross-border intrusion into Syria to strike Iranian targets.

The threat seems to have struck a nerve in Tehran. Iranian conservative politician, Mohsen Rezaee, who is also secretary of the Expediency Discernment Council, warned that the Islamic Republic stands ready to retaliate and strike Tel Aviv before the Israeli PM even gets a chance to flee the capital.

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© Lennart PREISS / MSC Munich Security Conference

“About Netanyahu’s unwise words, I should say that if they carry out the slightest unwise move against Iran, we will level Tel Aviv to the ground and will not give any opportunity to Netanyahu to flee,” Rezaee told al-Manar news channel on Monday, according to Fars News Agency. “The US and Israeli leaders don’t know Iran and don’t understand the power of resistance and therefore, they continuously face defeat.”

READ MORE: Israel threatens to ‘bite hard’ after downing of its fighter jet in Syria

Tel Aviv has repeatedly warned Iran against meddling in Israeli affairs by supplying advanced missiles to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Israel also remains very concerned over the foothold the Islamic Republic has in Syria. Netanyahu, who branded the milestone nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers a “historic mistake” and a threat to Israel’s survival, also continues to argue that that the deal is flawed and allows Iran to potentially produce hundreds of nuclear weapons that can strike Israel.

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Venezuela raised $735mn on launch of oil-backed ‘petro’ cryptocurrency – Maduro

By ethan / February 21, 2018

Investors have purchased some $ 735 million worth of Venezuela’s oil-backed cryptocurrency on the very first day of pre-sale, according to President Nicolas Maduro, who praised it as means of breaching the US financial blockade.

“Today, a cryptocurrency is being born that can take on Superman,” Maduro announced on Tuesday, referring to the US as a comic character. The Venezuelan leader, however, provided no details about the first investors in the ‘petro’, which is backed by the country’s oil, gas, gold and diamond reserves.

“The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela guarantees that it will receive PETRO as a form of payment for national taxes, fees, contributions and public services, taking as a reference the previous day’s Venezuelan oil basket price with a discount,” says the official website for the newly-launched asset, which is set to go public next month.

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Nicolas Maduro speaks during a meeting with representatives of ALBA-TCP alliance on January 12, 2018 © Miraflores Palace

The official ‘white paper’ about the ‘petro’ emphasizes that the Venezuelan government is also “committed to promoting the use of Petro in the domestic market and making efforts to stimulate its acceptance throughout the world.”

Venezuela’s regulator said last week that it was planning to draw initial investment from Qatar, Turkey and other Middle Eastern countries, as well as from European nations and the US. The US Treasury Department, however, warned such investments would violate sanctions levied by Washington against Caracas, which technically prevents US banks and investors from openly acquiring petro.

The ‘petro’ cryptocurrency was announced by Maduro at the beginning of December as a way “to innovate toward new forms of international finance for the economic and social development of the country.”

Promoting it as the first state-issued cryptoasset, Maduro explained that the purpose of the currency was “to advance the country’s monetary sovereignty,” while the opposition-controlled legislature protested against the endeavor, slamming it as an illegal debt issuance and yet another attempt to circumvent lawmakers.

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Palestinian, Israeli & US reps clash at UNSC over who is ‘the problem’ and who is avoiding talks

By ethan / February 21, 2018

Israel and the US have slammed Mahmoud Abbas’ roadmap for peace at a UN Security Council meeting. The Palestinian president accused Washington and Tel Aviv of killing negotiations and abandoning the two-state solution.

Speaking at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on Tuesday amid the ongoing tensions between Israel and Palestine over the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish State, President Abbas proposed a peace plan to end the stalemate.

“To solve the Palestine question, it is essential to establish a multilateral international mechanism emanating from an international conference,” Abbas said, accusing Israel and the US of abandoning the two-state solution, which envisions the future Palestinian state within pre-1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital.

To return to the negotiations table, Abbas wants to see a freeze of the American decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and no embassy transfer there. He stressed that the foundations of any meaningful peace settlement must include East Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Palestine.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) meets with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia February 12, 201 © Maxim Shipenkov

At the same time, Abbas accused the Jewish leadership of “acting as a state above the law,” stating that it has transformed a temporary occupation to a “permanent settlement colonization.” The Palestinian leader also refused to accept the Trump administration as an honest broker for negotiations.

Washington’s decision marks the first time since the UN-brokered partition of Palestine in 1947 that a president of the US, a member of the Middle East Quartet – a well-known foursome of world powers mediating in the peace process between Palestine and Israel – has departed from the established policy that the issue of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital should be kept off the table.

Receiving a loud round of applause following his speech, Abbas and the Palestinian delegation stormed out of the UNSC meeting to the harsh criticism of the Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon, who told the 82-year-old president that he is “no longer” worthy to represent the Palestinians in the negotiations.

“I expected Mr. Abbas to stay for a dialogue, but once again he has run away instead of listening to what we have to say. Look what just happened. Mr. Abbas came here to put his demands on the table. Now he expects you to deliver. This is not the way to achieve peace. You cannot avoid direct negotiations,” Danon said just as Abbas was walking out.

Then, a personal onslaught on Abbas began. The Israeli Ambassador said that Abbas continues to seek international recognition while refusing to make an effort and drive “just twelve minutes” from Ramallah to directly talk to the Jewish side.

“You are no longer part of the solution. You are the problem,” Danon said, accusing PA leader of sponsoring terrorism with money derived from the international aid to the Palestinians. The Israeli ambassador then personally accused Abbas of inspiring a “culture of hate” within Palestinian society.

“The Palestinians need leadership that will invest in education, not glorify violence. They need leadership that will build hospitals, not pay terrorists. They need leadership that will negotiate with Israel and not run away from dialogue,” the Israeli said.

Danon also made clear that the status of Jerusalem is non-negotiable. “Jerusalem will remain the undivided capital of the State of Israel forever. We will always insist on Israeli sovereignty over a united Jerusalem.”

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley also had strong words to say to Abbas as she defended Donald Trump’s decision that sent the occupied Palestinian territories into a deadly spiral. Noting that the Trump administration “will not chase” after him, she offered Abbas a “choice.”

“There is the path of absolutist demands, hateful rhetoric, and incitement to violence. That path has led, and will continue to lead, to nothing but hardship for the Palestinian people,” Haley said. “Or, there is the path of negotiation and compromise.”

“You can choose to reject US role on peace talks and pursue international forums, but that will get the Palestinian people nowhere, or you can continue with us,” Haley said, adding, “Our decision on Jerusalem will not change.”

With no end in sight to preconditions from all sides of the conflict, Russian UN Ambassador Vasily Nebenzia proposed handling the rift within the so-called Quartet (United Nations, the United States, Russia and the EU). “We reiterate our readiness to provide the Russian platform for the meeting between the Palestinian and the Israeli leaders without preconditions,” he said.

“We think what is needed now is immediate [renewal of] direct negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis. We are convinced that the Middle East Quartet retains its unique mediation format… there is no doubt that the Quartet, together with the League of Arab States, can play a role in unfreezing the dialogue.”

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ICC records 1.17mn Afghanistan war crimes testimonies, but US ‘unlikely’ to be held accountable

By ethan / February 21, 2018

Over a million statements have been made to the International Criminal Court (ICC) by Afghan citizens claiming to be victims of war crimes by terrorist groups as well as by the Afghan military and the US-led coalition.

The ICC opened up an investigation into the situation in Afghanistan last November and began collecting testimonies with the help of organizations working both in Europe and Afghanistan. Up to January 31, the ICC received 1.17 million allegations of abuses and atrocities at the hands of the Taliban, the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIL/ISIS), Afghan security forces, warlords, the US-led coalition, as well as foreign and domestic intelligence agencies.

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A man reacts after hearing his son was killed during a car bomb attack in Kabul, Afghanistan January 27, 2018. Omar Sobhani/ File photo

“The depth of the crimes in Afghanistan is very extensive,” Abdul Wadood Pedram, of the Kabul-based Human Rights and Eradication of Violence Organization, which helped to collect data for the inquiry, told RT. “Unfortunately, the Afghan law and justice organizations have not catered to these cases so far.”

“The culture of impunity from law is expanding unfortunately in Afghanistan – the presence of warlords and human rights abusers is extensive right now … and [the ICC] need to provide an answer to the demand of millions of people who are victims, and have suffered.”

Along with the war crimes committed by Taliban and IS militants, the ICC is also looking into alleged abuses committed by the US-led coalition, which deployed troops to the country in 2001.

A document filed by the ICC in November said there was “a reasonable basis to believe that members of the US armed forces and members of the CIA committed acts of torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, rape and sexual violence” against prisoners in Afghanistan.

“There are different kinds of war crimes that have happened in Afghanistan in the past 16-17 years,” Abdullah Haiwad, of the Afghanistan Naween Research and Studies Organization, told RT.

“Americans bombed villages, they bombed wedding parties and that’s one kind of crime. Another type of crime [occurs when] Afghan security forces enter villages and kill people, without identifying whether the people there are armed and against the government. They are just simple people living in the village.”

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An IKONOS satellite image of a facility near Kabul, Afghanistan © Reuters

The ICC is the world’s first permanent court set up specifically to investigate and prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. In practice, however, it’s been dogged by charges of inefficiency, delayed justice and a bias against African countries. In Afghanistan, it is also limited in that it can only investigate war crimes committed after May 2003, when the Afghan government ratified the Rome Statute which established the court. Another problem is that any possible perpetrators from the United States, among the investigated parties, are likely to escape prosecution as the US itself has not ratified the Rome Statute.

“Now on the domestic side, the United States military code has a very strict and stringent and very long list of laws that military personnel, men and women, are subject-to and have to follow,” explained Jennifer Breedon, an attorney specializing in foreign policy.

“But in terms of international crimes that fall in the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, then the US cannot be held under their jurisdiction because the United States is not a signatory to the Rome statute … so in that case it would be less likely that they’d be brought to justice by members states or those that are aligned or fall under the jurisdiction of the ICC.”

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Hundestag? Germany’s SPD red-faced after dog joins party

By ethan / February 21, 2018

Members of Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) began casting their votes on Tuesday to decide whether they would enter into government with Angela Merkel’s conservatives. One of them was a new member – a dog called Lima.

The three-year-old mutt was signed-up for membership by Germany’s daily tabloid Bild. The paper claims that the stunt was designed to test the validity of the SPD’s online membership application process, specifically the identity-checking procedures, in the run-up to the vote.

For the ruse, Bild journalists applied for party membership using Lima’s personal details. They called her Lima B, using her owner’s surname, included her occupation as unemployed and her age in dog years: 21.

According to the publication, the party failed to spot the fraud and Lima was accepted as a member. The floppy-eared pooch was sent a postal ballot so she could participate in the vote due to end on March 2.

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Delegates attend the anti-immigration AfD party congress in Hanover, Germany, on December 2, 2017 © Hannibal Hanschke

“It is not about the dog Lima, but rather about how we at Bild proved how prone to falsification the SPD members’ vote is,” a spokesman for the paper told Reuters. “People who wish to manipulate the vote on a ‘grand coalition’ through criminality could do just the same.”

“A dog can’t vote,” Andrea Nahles, who is widely expected to be chosen as the new party leader in April, said in response to the prank. She added that the SPD will be looking to see if legal action could be taken over the deception.

“This is an attempt to make a farce out of strong internal party democracy, which other parties could use themselves,” SPD vice chairman Ralf Stegner said on Twitter.  

It was not a good day for the SPD, however. In addition to the embarrassing debacle with Lima, the results of a newly released opinion poll show that the party has fallen behind the far-right, anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AFD).

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‘Persecuted by govt & already convicted by press’: Major Catalan politician flees Spain

By ethan / February 21, 2018

Another leading political figure in the Catalonian movement for independence has fled to Switzerland ahead of a court hearing in Madrid, saying she won’t get “a fair trial at home”.

In an interview published in Switzerland’s Le Temps newspaper Anna Gabriel, a former Catalan lawmaker and member of the left-wing Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) party,  compares the situation in Catalonia to the crackdown in Turkey following the failed coup attempt in 2016.

She was due to appear before a Supreme Court judge on Wednesday over her role in last year’s independence push. “I will not go to Madrid. I am being prosecuted for my political activity and the government press has already convicted me,” she explained.

“Since I will not have a fair trial at home, I have looked for a country that can protect my rights.”

Gabriel denounced the situation in Catalonia, which has seen nearly 900 people placed under investigation or indicted following the failed independence drive. She also slammed the government for failing to protect separatist leaders from far right groups.

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Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont © Mads Claus Rasmussen/Scanpix Denmark

Four separatist leaders, including Catalonia’s former vice president Oriol Junqueras, have been jailed on charges that include rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds in the aftermath of the illegal independence referendum.

Six others, including former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, have fled the region. “I will be more useful to my movement free than behind bars,” Gabriel said.

READ MORE: Pro-independence protesters break police cordon on way to Catalan parliament (VIDEOS)

On Tuesday a spokesman for Switzerland’s Federal Office of Justice said Switzerland is prevented from extraditing Gabriel to Spain under Swiss law and the European Convention on Human Rights, because her alleged crimes were political.

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