‘Squalid’ Halloween bash in Italian church sees sexy satanic costumes, booze & smoke

By ethan / November 12, 2018

Outrage is growing in the Italian city of Naples as shocking pictures have emerged of young people dressed in skimpy satanic costumes while drinking and dancing at a Halloween party in one of its historic churches.

Baffling pictures, some of which have now been taken down, emerged on social media showing partygoers taking selfies as they smoked, drank, made out and danced in the iconic church of San Gennaro.

One girl can be seen wearing a mini-skirt and knee-high stockings as she sits on the church’s 6th century altar, just above an ancient underground cemetery.

Another picture on Facebook shows a young woman clad in a metallic-green corset as she strikes an all but saint pose for the photographer under one of the church’s monumental arches.

Locals have remained unimpressed at the sight of young people taking selfies in confession boxes and next to religious statues. Cups of booze could also be seen lying around, including on the marble balustrade before the altar, wrote Italian news site Anteprima24.

Another girl in a black tube top posed for the camera with a DJ set in the background, while to her left a woman smoked a cigarette unhinged.

To top it off, in what is the exact antithesis of what the Catholic Church should represent, the group went all the way to reproduce the grim scene of hanging in a corner where the choir used to sing.

READ MORE: Organ donor Jesus ad won’t go on air after 20,000+ sign petition

The church belongs to the archdiocese of Naples but had been given up for management to the Vico foundation. With the incident being reported all the way to the Vatican Church, the contract has now been rescinded, Il Fatto Quotidiano paper reports.

The managers were likely tricked, as the organizers of the event had asked to use the venue for a cultural evening with a theatrical act.

It is said that Napoli’s cardinal Crescenzio Sepe was unaware of the situation. People are nonetheless calling for his resignation following what has been branded a “blasphemous event.”

A local resident, Lucia De Felice, told RT the Halloween bash was a “squalid” act within the house of God: “It is squalid that the church lacks proper custody. Parties should take place in appropriate venues, not in a church.”

She said the dismissal of the cardinal is the least that can happen to make the situation right, and stressed that taking care of the church is important for all people, “whether they are Catholic or not.”

“It is a work of art for those who don’t believe, while for the faithful the house of God is sacred.”

“Rather than organizing bashes, why doesn’t the cardinal think about opening the doors to Christ’s home for the homeless as winter comes on?”

RT has approached the Vatican for comment but has yet to hear back.

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E-commerce behemoth Alibaba smashes ‘Singles Day’ records with $1bn in sales in just 85 seconds

By ethan / November 12, 2018

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba has smashed records for its Singles Day, the world’s biggest 24-hour shopping event, despite an ongoing trade war with the US and waning domestic interest in the event.

The 2018 edition of the 11/11 Singles Day brought in a record $ 30.8 billion (213.5 billion yuan, renminbi), beating Amazon’s Prime Day, as well as both US shopping holidays Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined.

Alibaba boasts a reported 666 million active monthly users, more than twice the population of the US, which may have helped.

“That trend [of a rising Chinese middle class] is not going to stop, trade war or no trade war,” Alibaba Executive Vice-Chairman Joe Tsai said in a company blog post on Sunday. Tsai estimates that China’s middle class would almost triple by 2030, from 300 million to 850 million.

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© Getty Images

In the nine years since Singles Day began, the number of brands that signed up to participate has gone from 27 initially, including Adidas, to 180,000. Alibaba’s main rival, JD.com, with backing from Walmart, Google and Tencent, posted its own Singles Day volume of $ 23 billion (RMB 160 billion).

The record $ 30.8 billion in sales marks a 27-percent increase on 2017. This does, however, mark a significant drop in overall growth, which is down compared to a rate of 39 percent year-on-year in 2017.

READ MORE: Jack Ma says US will ‘suffer more’ if it keeps trying to start Cold War with China

At present, only 17.5 percent of Chinese commerce is conducted online and Alibaba is trying to strike a balance between constructing more bricks-and-mortar ‘smart stores’ while maintaining a push towards digitization across the country.

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Adult film star lashes out at ‘jealous’ women after town hosts anti-porn rally

By ethan / November 12, 2018

An Australian adult film star is blaming “jealous” women for a town’s endless campaign against porn. The anti-smut crusade has received support from men, feminists, Muslims and even former French president Francois Hollande.

Kiki Vidis, who’s been an adult actress for 11 years, visited the town of Toowoomba in southeast Queensland weeks after the community’s third annual anti-porn rally. During the demonstration, which is hosted by Toowoomba Regional Council Mayor Paul Antonio, men from all over the city pledged to not watch pornography.

Mayor Antonio said he is “very passionate” about the issue and claims it’s not just women backing the campaign. However, Vidis says she blames jealous and insecure wives and girlfriends who don’t want their men lusting after women like her.

READ MORE: Indian govt orders ban of 827 websites with porn material amid claims it incites rape

“I get 90 percent fan mail and 10 percent hate mail, and the hate mail usually comes from the wives or girlfriends of men,” Vidis said to The Chronicle.

City Women, the group behind the anti-porn campaign, say there is an “avalanche” of information about the dangers pornography poses to communities and claims younger generations are especially “at risk.”

“There’s so much research out there now that porn fuels domestic violence, child-on-child sexual assault, grooms pedophiles and even links to human trafficking,”said campaign spokeswoman Letitia Shelton to the Daily Mail Australia.

Vidis hit back at the claim that a ban on porn is necessary to protect children by saying it’s up to parents to monitor what their children look at online.

“Porn isn’t a crime… My parents put the restrictions on the computer in the family room when I was growing up. If you choose to put a computer in a child’s room and no filters on, you are bringing it upon yourselves,” Vidis said.

READ MORE: ‘Porn as harmful as smoking, can lead to sexual violence,’ say British MPs

Shelton says while they’re not “out to ban porn” entirely, as that would be “an impossible task,” they are attempting to “raise awareness” and start a conversation about the so-called associated risks.

“We’re working with school principals, talking to them about how we can bring better education into schools locally, and also how we can help parents,” added Shelton, claiming their campaign has “thousands” of supporters.

Shelton says her campaign has support all over the county from “feminists to Muslims” and even from former French president Francois Hollande, who reached out to find out more about the initiative.

“The president was just fed up with the destruction that porn is doing, and saw there was a mayor in another city doing something,” Shelton said to the Catholic Leader.

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Iranian central bank disconnected from SWIFT messaging – US treasury

By ethan / November 12, 2018

The Iranian Central Bank has been cut off the SWIFT financial messaging system, the US Treasury Department has said. Disconnection makes it more difficult for the Islamic Republic to settle import and export bills.

SWIFT planned the cutoff for several days, having come under pressure from the US to do so. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that the move is “the right decision to protect the integrity of the international financial system.”

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A man walks past an anti-US mural in Tehran, Iran © Reuters /  Nazanin Tabatabaee Yazdi

Last week, SWIFT said that it would begin cutting off access to several unspecified Iranian banks. More than 70 Iranian and Iranian-linked financial institutions were sanctioned, including a host of banks that allegedly provided services to Hamas and Hezbollah, and others that provided services to the Iranian armed forces.

While the US could not directly force SWIFT to cut off Iranian banks, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had warned that penalties would be applied to firms that refused to comply with the latest sanctions.

A neutral entity, SWIFT had found itself torn between a US-EU diplomatic row as of late. Scrambling to save the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or Iran deal, EU leaders enacted a ‘blocking’ law in August, prohibiting firms operating in the bloc from complying with the US sanctions.

Now, in siding with Washington, SWIFT, which is based outside Brussels, may face penalties in Europe.

Meanwhile, European leaders are planning on introducing an alternative system to ensure that payments to and from Iran can be processed. Such a system will not be ready for several months at least, and Iran’s deputy foreign minister Kazem Sajjadpou expressed frustration last week with the delay, saying “what is lacking is both speed and efficiency.”

The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) is a financial network that provides high-value cross-border transfers for members across the world. It is based in Belgium, but its board includes executives from US banks with US federal law allowing the administration to act against banks and regulators across the globe.

It supports most interbank messages, connecting over 11,000 financial institutions in more than 200 countries and territories.

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Israeli fighter jets striking Gaza after massive mortar fire from the strip – IDF

By ethan / November 12, 2018

Israeli fighter jets have pounded the Gaza strip, after mortar fire from inside the Palestinian-controlled strip hit a bus in the Israeli side of the border, the Israel Defense Forces have said.

The airstrikes are the latest escalation in several days of reciprocal attacks between Israel and the Palestinian territories. Earlier on Monday, a barrage of mortar fire from Gaza hit an Israeli bus, wounding at least one person, Reuters reported.

Video from the scene showed Israel’s Iron Dome rocket defense system intercepting some of the incoming projectiles.


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Russia excels in ditching dollar ahead of pending US sanctions against country’s financial system

By ethan / November 12, 2018

The list of the countries currently taking active steps towards eliminating their economic reliance on the US dollar is growing. Russia has joined a league of nations is making a lot of headway with the task, the WSJ reports.

The share of foreign currency in corporate and personal deposits in Russia has declined to 26 percent in September from a 2016 peak of 37 percent, the newspaper reports, citing data from the Central Bank of Russia. Meanwhile, the share of dollar-priced export revenues reportedly dropped to 68 percent in the second quarter of the current year from more than 80 percent five years ago.

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Rapidly growing trade turnover with Russia’s partners in Asia, particularly China, is seen as one of the success criteria of the work on de-dollarizing the economy. The share of Russia-China trade priced in national currencies has quadrupled in four years to some 19 percent of the entire turnover, and is set to grow further, Moscow-based economist at ING Bank Dmitry Dolgin told the media.

The broad plan to eliminate Russia’s dependence on the greenback, which was pushed by the country’s President Vladimir Putin, came amid the constantly growing burden of sanctions that have been introduced since 2014 over a number of issues. The next round of US anti-Russian penalties may reportedly hit the country’s financial system.

Russia is hardly the only country trying to fight against the predominance of US currency across the global financial system. The European Union has recently announced plans to create a special purpose vehicle to keep on trading with Iran, as these transactions had become a target for US unilateral sanctions. The partners are reportedly working on using the euro in mutual trade and other business activities.

Earlier this year, China launched a long-anticipated crude oil futures contract that is priced in yuan and convertible into gold. The contract has gained widespread popularity among oil traders.

Last month, Venezuela announced plans to abandon the US dollar and start making all future transactions on the country’s exchange market in euro. The step is set to solve the problem of US sanctions that are cutting the Latin American country from dollar transactions.

“It’s not clear how much of this [de-dollarization] trend is poker games, but the unpredictability of current US foreign policy means that more countries need to question things that have never been questioned before,” said Thomas Flury, head of foreign-exchange strategies at UBS Global Wealth Management, as quoted by the media.

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Selfie-inflicted wound: France will scour social media to catch tax cheats

By ethan / November 12, 2018

Posing with luxury goods could soon land you in hot water in France as tax authorities are set to start trawling through citizens’ social media accounts, scouring for evidence of tax avoidance and fraud.

Budget Minister Gerald Darmanin announced that the pilot project will begin early next year. “(The fiscal administration) will be able to see that if you have numerous pictures of yourself with a luxury car while you don’t have the means to own one, then maybe your cousin or your girlfriend has lent it to you… or maybe not,” Darmanin said as cited by Reuters.

The move stems from a new law, enacted in October, designed to fortify anti-fraud measures and afford authorities better means of investigation and prosecution to stamp out avoidance, including through digital investigations of suspects’ social media accounts.

France is facing a 2.8 percent budget deficit already in 2019 following a reshuffling of its tax system, which resulted in a lower tax burden for private citizens as well as businesses by around 25 billion euros.

However, some respite may come from the impending EU ‘Digital tax’ deal targeting internet giants such as Google and Facebook.

“We are close to having a deal in our hands,” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Monday.

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Italy hosts Macron-snubbing Libya peace conference as Eni and Total race for petroleum assets

By ethan / November 12, 2018

A two-day Libya conference is starting in Palermo, Italy – an event widely perceived as a counter to a similar gathering organized by France in May – as two European countries compete for the fractured nation’s oil and gas assets.

The meeting in Sicily is meant to bring together key stakeholders involved in the ongoing turbulence in Libya. The North African country, which once prided itself for high standards of living that were paid for by oil exports, remains in chaos seven years after a NATO-backed uprising ousted long-time leader Muammar Gaddafi. There are two rival governments in Libya and numerous smaller players with various tribal, ideological and political affiliations playing their own games.

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Muammar Gaddafi © Reuters / Max Rossi

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte denied that the meeting organized by Macron last May had placed the two European countries at odds over Libya. However, Italy traditionally considers its former colony to be within its sphere of influence. France, which briefly occupied the southwestern Fezzan area after World War II, sees this part of Libya as important for the French presence in Central Africa.

Oil games

The two nations are also competing for Libya’s energy reserves, with both Italian Eni and French Total buying additional assets in the country’s struggling oil and gas industry. It remains the holder of the largest proven oil reserves in Africa, and is a major supplier of “sweet” crude, which is cheaper and easier to refine into petrol products.

Libya’s oil sales are affected by regular protests, security problems and rivalry between factions, which result in port blockades, attacks on fields, and other problems. Control over oil revenues is a major point of competition between Tripoli and Tobruk, which has to conduct financial transactions through the UN-recognized Central Bank despite controlling physical fields and terminals.

Will the top general attend?

As the event started on Monday, questions remained as to whether it would be attended by Khalifa Haftar, a powerful general allied with the government based in the eastern city of Tobruk. He controls half of the country and is trying to take the capital Tripoli to achieve legitimacy for his rule.

The strongman, who enjoys the support of France, Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, among other nations, announced that he was cancelling the visit at the last minute, undermining the Italian conference. The general objected to the presence of Qatar, the backer of the Islamist faction of the UN-recognized government in Tripoli, which Haftar accuses of supporting radical jihadists against whom he is fighting.

However, Italian PM Conte hasn’t lost all hope and said he still expected Haftar to come.

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Woman ‘who put needles in strawberries’ acted out of ‘revenge’ against Australian ex-boss

By ethan / November 12, 2018

A Vietnamese refugee turned Australian citizen who is accused of planting needles in strawberries that were distributed up and down the country is said to have acted out of “revenge” as she was angry with her boss.

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File Photo: Strawberry on a fork in an Australian restaurant, September 19, 2018 © AFP /Saeed Khan

My Ut Trinh, 50, is understood to have been in her 20s when she first sailed to Australia in the hope of a better future.

She seemed to have settled well in Oz, as she managed to obtain Australian citizenship and a job as a supervisor at the Berrylicious farm in Wamuran in the state of Queensland.

At some point, however, something must have upset or enraged her so much that she allegedly stuck needles in strawberries bound for shops across the nation, as she wanted to ruin the business for which she was working. What motivated her was allegedly “spite or revenge” against her former employer Kevin Tran.

According to 7 News, Trinh told others at her workplace that she “wanted to bring them down” and “put them out of business.”

She apparently planned the crime very carefully over the course of several months, Brisbane Magistrates Court heard. But what exactly prompted her to plunge the half-a-billion-dollar industry into crisis is still unknown.

The contaminated fruit was first found at the beginning of September, sparking a national panic which ultimately led to tons of berries being destroyed.

Up to 230 incidents were reported nationwide, affecting 68 strawberry brands.

Detective John Walker said earlier on Monday that the investigation had been unique in that it involved almost every state and jurisdiction in the country.

READ MORE: Australia’s strawberry needle scare spreads to New Zealand

Trinh was charged after DNA from one of the needles was linked to her.

She was remanded in custody until November 22. She is accused of seven counts of contamination of goods and faces up to 10 years in jail if convicted.

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Libyan govt claims it doesn’t know who benefitted from Gaddafi's billions

By ethan / November 12, 2018

Libya has received the interest on Gaddafi’s frozen funds in Belgian banks, but doesn’t know who benefitted, hinting that the money was either misused or embezzled, reports Al Arabia, quoting the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA).

The interest payments of nearly €5 billion ($ 5.7 billion) had been received until the end of October 2017 by the accounts that are “special authority accounts abroad,” the LIA said, alluding to probable misuse or embezzlement of the funds.

The LIA also said that withdrawing the interest was based “on the sanctions system imposed by the UN Security Council at the beginning of 2011 and which some countries, including Belgium, interpreted as lifting of the freeze over interests and dividends of the frozen funds.”

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The Zueitina oil terminal © Abdullah Doma / AFP

The LIA provided no information on where the funds were directed. The body added that the money was transferred during a former administration’s term. At the same time, the authority promised to start a probe to find out the fate of the funds. A report on the matter will reportedly be submitted to the UN and relevant authorities.

In late October, Brussels-based public-service broadcasting organization RTBF reported that Belgium prosecutors had launched an investigation into whether Belgian banks paid out interest and dividends on accounts frozen under UN sanctions in 2011 after the ouster of the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Nearly $ 70 billion from the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA) was seized across Europe and North America shortly after the UN introduced sanctions against the Libyan government’s assets in 2011. However, the European authorities had reportedly frozen only the initial amount, allowing the interest and dividends earned since 2011 to remain a liquid asset.

The latest claims by the LIA obviously contradict the previous statement, which was published shortly after the Belgium media’s report. Back then, the authority had said that the information on withdrawing the interest of UN-frozen Libyan funds represented “mere allegations” and there was “no evidence at all stipulating that the funds were used to fund armed groups.”

READ MORE: Billions missing from frozen Gaddafi accounts in Belgium – reports

The work of the LIA has been negatively impacted by the long-standing political instability in war-torn Libya. Over the past seven years, the organization has seen four presidents and armed groups, in control of Tripoli, who interfered in LIA’s work and installed its presidents by force, according to the UN’s latest report on Libya.

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