segunda-feira, 30 de janeiro de 2017

Nineveh, the ancient Assyrian capital reduced to rubble by the IS

(FILE) Archive image dated Jun 2014 showing  Iraqis inspecting the wreckage of the grave of the Nebi Yunus, or prophet Jonah, in Mosul, northern Iraq. The Islamic State, demolished the historic grave of the Nebi Yunus, the biblical prohet, along with the walls and gates of the Assyrian city of Nineveh.  EPA/STR
On the east bank of the Tigris river, very close to the embattled city of Mosul, stand the ruins of Nineveh, the Assyrian capital founded in 700 BC by King Sennacherib.

Although Iraqi government forces managed last week to liberate the site, archaeologists have been unable to enter and evaluate the damage due to the presence of booby traps and mines left behind by the Islamic State terror group, who in 2014 looted it and reduced it to rubble.

Archeologist Faisal Yeber, from the Gilgamesh Center for Antiquities and Heritage Protection, told EFE that with satellite imagery and long distance viewing it is clear that the 12 kilometer (7.5 mile) walls surrounding the mythical Assyrian capital have now been almost completely obliterated.

During the past two and a half years, the IS also destroyed the city gates that had been excavated to date _ the Mashki Gate (Gate of the Watering Places) and Nergal Gate (named in honor of a God), the only two excavated and restored gates, out of 14 or 15 that existed, to what once was the world's most majestic city.

"The IS even built a new street, carved through the walls and archeological site, that they named 'Califate'," said Yeber, who in 2015 founded the Gilgamesh Center along with other experts to inform and alert about the systematic destruction of the heritage being demolished by the militants.

A small neighborhood has also sprouted inside the archeological enclosure as the militants allowed residents to build within the site and sold plots of land to finance the war, the expert added.

Yeber admitted that the sale of lands within the archeological site is nothing new, as it was common practice during the early 20th century, although only farming was allowed as it is located on a hill in a green and fertile area.

He said the IS also allowed excavations and whoever found archeological remains had to pay them a tax.

On Kuyunyik hill stand the remains of Ashurnasirpal's palace, the son of Sennacherib who reigned from 668 to 627 b.C. and under whose rule Nineveh flourished, with the building of new palaces, temples and a library housing 30,000 cuneiform tablets with every possible sort of inscription on them, from poetry to legislation to the imperial accounting records.

Many of these valuable tablets ended up in London's British Museum, while other Nineveh antiquities stored in the Mosul museum suffered the IS' iconoclast savagery _ in 2015 the terror group systematically destroyed many treasured objects from the 7th and 8th century BC with drills and hammers.

Nonetheless, Yeber said that very little had been excavated, and thus they only managed to destroy less than 10 percent of the ancient capital.

Small and medium-sized artifacts were sold on the black market, Yeber explained, and illegal archeological trafficking has been one of the financing channels used by IS in Iraq and Syria.

On the other hand, Leyla Saleh, head of Antiquities of Nineveh province, of which Mosul is the capital, told EFE that the Nabi Yunes sanctuary where it is believed prophet Jonas is buried has been completely demolished.

The mosque, built on top of the alleged tomb of the biblical character inside Nineveh's enclosure, was dynamited by the militants soon after they occupied Mosul.

A UNESCO representative in Iraq, Mary Shaar, told EFE that they are unable to evaluate the true extent of the damage until they can access old Nineveh, although they fear the damage has been considerable.

"Nineveh was on the candidacy shortlist to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site," said Shaar due to its walls and gates, which have now been converted into rubble.

Source: EFE

Hugo Chavez rules again, this time on TVHu

Colombian actor Andres Parra (l.) seen in the role of Hugo Chavez in the new television series "El Comandante," which in 60 episodes recounts the story of the former authoritarian president of Venezuela and founder of the "Bolivarian Revolution. EFE/Channel RCN
Just like "El Cid," Hugo Chavez may be deceased but now he rules Venezuela again, this time on television as the leading character of the series "El Comandante" (The Commander), created by one of his harshest critics, journalist Moises Naim. The show debuts on the small screen this Monday.

"To those who wish me dead, I wish them long life, so they can see how the Bolivarian Revolution will progress from battle to battle, from victory to victory," Chavez once said, showing that his theatrics, expressions, political strategy and sharp tongue had everything it takes to be a TV character.

Source: EFE

Federer returns to top 10 in ATP rankings

Image result for Federer
Swiss tennis player Roger Federer returned to the top 10 in the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) rankings released on Monday, after winning his fifth Australian Open singles title.

Federer, who defeated Spanish player Rafael Nadal on Sunday, 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3, jumped seven positions and is now placed 10th.

Source: EFE

African Union: US, same country that took slaves, now banning our refugees

Image result for Chairperson Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini-Zuma
A top African Union official on Monday denounced the United States' recent travel ban affecting seven Muslim-majority countries, saying that the same country that once took African slaves by the million was now denying entry to refugees from the continent.

Chairperson of the AU Commission Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said that the ban decreed by US President Donald Trump was one of the greatest challenges to Africa's unity and solidarity.

Source: EFE

Virtual reality 'could help treat vertigo'

A man holding a VR headset
People with the condition suffer from dizziness and nausea and often cite places with repetitive visual patterns, such as supermarkets, as the trigger.

A team of psychologists is working to develop virtual environments to help with diagnosis and rehabilitation.

The scientists believe the approach has "real potential".

Dr Georgina Powell, of the School of Psychology, said: "We don't know very much about what causes visual vertigo at the moment.

"There also are not many effective rehabilitation therapies available, so the aim of our project is to try and understand those two things."

She said vertigo can be extremely debilitating, adding: "It can mean that a patient can't leave their house because they feel so sick and nauseous every time they walk around in their visual environment.

"They can't work, they just can't function."

The team said one of the most striking observations they had made about sufferers was the variation between what sparks their symptoms.

"All the patients are very different and some environments might trigger symptoms for some patients whilst other environments might trigger symptoms for others," Dr Powell said.

"So by using virtual reality (VR) we can have vast flexibility over the different types of environments that we can show to patients and we can find out what their individual triggers might be and then tailor specific rehabilitation therapies."

'We have a bucket ready'

Visual vertigo is often referred to as "supermarket syndrome" because large shops, with their cluttered shelves and repetitive aisles, can act as a catalyst to attacks.

"Other environments include walking by the side of a river, where you have motion one side of you but not on the other," Dr Powell said.

"Generally they can only handle so much of the virtual reality images at one time - we have a bucket ready," She added.

"But we give them lots of breaks and lots of water and monitor how they are feeling."

Source: BBC

Silicon Valley puts money and muscle into fighting Trump immigrant curbs

Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk in Hong Kong, China January 26, 2016.      REUTERS/Bobby Yip
Silicon Valley took the lead over the weekend in corporate resistance to President Donald Trump's clampdown on immigration, financing legal opposition, criticizing the plan, as well as helping employees ensnared by his executive order.

In an industry that has long depended on immigrants and celebrated their contributions - as well as championing liberal causes such as gay rights - there was little initial consensus on exactly how to respond to Trump's move on Friday.

But, while most in the tech industry stopped short of directly criticizing the new Republican president, they went much further than their counterparts in other sectors, who were mostly silent over the weekend. Most of the major U.S. banks and auto companies, for example, declined to comment in response to Reuters inquiries.

Trump ordered a temporary ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries and a 120-day halt to refugee resettlement. The action triggered a global backlash, and sowed confusion and anger after immigrants, refugees and visitors were kept off flights and left stranded in airports.

Bigger companies such as Apple Inc (AAPL.O), Google (GOOGL.O) and Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) offered legal aid to employees affected by the order, according to letters sent to staff. Several Silicon Valley executives donated to legal efforts to support immigrants facing the ban.

And Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk and Uber head Travis Kalanick both said on Twitter that they would take industry concerns about immigration to Trump’s business advisory council, where they serve.

Kalanick has faced opposition on social media for agreeing to be part of the advisory group. Kalanick in a Facebook post on Sunday called the immigration ban "wrong and unjust" and said that Uber would create a $3 million fund to help drivers with immigration issues.

 Among those affected by the ban was Khash Sajadi, the British-Iranian chief executive of San Francisco-based tech company Cloud 66, who was stuck in London. Like many tech workers, he holds an H1B visa, which enables foreigners with special expertise to work for U.S. companies.

Sajadi said he hoped big tech companies such as Google and Facebook would take legal action to protect affected employees. That could help set a precedent for people in similar situations - but at smaller companies.

"Ultimately, I think them simply speaking up is not going to move the needle with people" who are not wealthy and do not live on the East or West Coasts, he said.


The response from tech companies has been “as forceful as it possibly can be,” said Eric Talley, a corporate law professor at Columbia Law School.

“One of the difficult aspects of reaction to the Trump administration in its first couple of weeks is trying to balance the interest of expressing legitimate concern ... against the potential cost of being out too far ahead of everyone else,” he said.

The tech industry also has other issues where it may find itself opposed to Trump, including trade policy and cyber security.

The president of Mountain View, California-based startup incubator Y Combinator, Sam Altman, wrote a widely read blog post urging tech leaders to band together against the immigration order. He said he has spoken with a variety of people about organizing but remains unsure about the best course of action.

“The honest answer is we don’t know yet,” he said. “We are talking with legal groups and tech groups, but this is so unprecedented that I don’t think anyone has a manual.”

At Lyft, co-founders John Zimmer and Logan Green pledged on the company’s blog to donate a million dollars over the next four years to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which won a temporary stay of part of Trump's executive order on Saturday night.

Slack collaboration service co-founder Stewart Butterfield and Union Square Ventures partners Albert Wenger and Fred Wilson promised to match contributions to the ACLU.

Michael Dearing, founder of venture capital firm Harrison Metal, started an effort called Project ELLIS, short for Entrepreneurs' Liberty Link in Silicon Valley, to help startups and smaller tech companies with immigration issues. "ELLIS" is a also a reference to New York Harbor's Ellis Island, where millions of immigrants arrived.

In less than a day, the group has handled two cases, he said.

Dearing said the idea was to "get people in touch quickly with the ... resources they would have access to if they were in a Google or an Apple or a Microsoft.”

Dave McClure, the founding partner of 500 Startups and an outspoken critic of Trump, said his venture capital firm will soon open its first fund in the Middle East and will shift its attention to supporting entrepreneurs in their native countries, if bringing them to the United States proves impossible.

“Investing in entrepreneurs in other countries is probably one of the best things we can do to promote international awareness and understanding,” he said.

Rank-and-file employees were already prodding executives to go further over the weekend.

Shortly after learning of Trump’s order, Brad Taylor, a 37-year-old engineer for web analytics firm Optimizely, began organizing “Tech Against Trump,” a protest scheduled to take place on March 14.

In addition to holding a rally in Palo Alto, California, organizers of the event were urging tech workers at companies that have remained silent on Trump to walk out of their offices.

Taylor said he was heartened by tech leaders’ statements over the weekend but wants to see the industry go further.

“The purpose of this is not to be against tech, but to urge them to be on the right side of history,” he said.

Source: Reuters

Starbucks CEO Schultz plans to hire 10,000 refugees after Trump banS

Starbucks Corp Chief Executive Howard Schultz, pictured with images from the company's new ''Race Together'' project behind him, speaks during the company's annual shareholder's meeting in Seattle, Washington March 18, 2015.   REUTERS/David Ryder
Starbucks Corp Chief Executive Officer Howard Schultz said on Sunday that the company planned to hire 10,000 refugees over five years in 75 countries, two days after U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order banning refugees from certain countries.

Trump on Friday put a four-month hold on allowing refugees into the United States and temporarily barred travelers from Syria and six other Muslim-majority countries, saying the moves would help protect Americans from terrorist attacks.

The order sparked widespread international criticism, outrage from civil rights activists and legal challenges.

Starbucks in a letter from Schultz told employees it would do everything possible to support affected workers. (

The hiring efforts announced on Sunday would start in the United States by initially focusing on individuals who have served with U.S. troops as interpreters and support personnel in the various countries where the military has asked for such support, Schultz said.

Schultz has been outspoken on various issues and has put Starbucks in the national spotlight, asking customers not to bring guns into stores and urging conversations on race relations.

Schultz said on Sunday that if the Affordable Care Act is repealed and employees lose healthcare coverage, they would be able to return to health insurance through Starbucks.

Trump and a Republican-controlled legislature are seeking to undo much of the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.

Schultz will step down as CEO in a few months to focus on new high-end coffee shops, handing the top job to Chief Operating Officer Kevin Johnson, a long-time technology executive. He will become executive chairman in April.

Schultz also affirmed the company's commitment to trade with Mexico, another subject that has been front and center of Trump's campaign.

Source: Reuters

Tens of thousands in U.S. cities protest Trump immigration order

Tens of thousands of people rallied in U.S. cities and at airports on Sunday to voice outrage over President Donald Trump's executive order restricting entry into the country for travelers from seven Muslim-majority nations.

In New York, Washington and Boston, a second wave of demonstrations followed spontaneous rallies that broke out at U.S. airports on Saturday as U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents began enforcing Trump's directive. The protests spread westward as the day progressed.

The order, which bars admission of Syrian refugees and suspends travel to the United States from Syria, Iraq, Iran and four other countries on national security grounds, has led to the detention or deportation of hundreds of people arriving at U.S. airports.

One of the largest of Sunday's protests took place at Battery Park in lower Manhattan, within sight of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, long a symbol of welcome to U.S. shores.

Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York told the crowd that Trump's order was un-American and ran counter to the country's core values.

"What we are talking about here is life and death for so many people," the Senate Democratic leader said. "I will not rest until these horrible orders are repealed."

The march, estimated to have grown to about 10,000 people, later began heading to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office in lower Manhattan.

In Washington, thousands rallied at Lafayette Square across from the White House, chanting: "No hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here."

It was the second straight weekend that Washington was the scene of protests. Last Saturday, hundreds of thousands of women participated in an anti-Trump rally and march, one of dozens staged across the country.

On Sunday, many of the protesters left the White House area and marched along Pennsylvania Avenue, stopping at the Trump International Hotel where they shouted: "Shame, shame, shame."

A crowd that police estimated at 8,000 people eventually arrived at the steps of the U.S. Capitol, where a line of uniformed officers stood guard.

As the crowd passed the Canadian Embassy en route to the Capitol, protesters chanted: "Hey hey, ho ho, I wish our leader was Trudeau." It was a reference to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Saturday Twitter message affirming his country's welcoming policy toward refugees.

Trump defended the executive order in a statement on Sunday, saying the United States would resume issuing visas to all countries once secure policies were put in place over the next 90 days.

"To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting," Trump said. "This is not about religion - this is about terror and keeping our country safe."


Aria Grabowski, 30, of Washington, was carrying a sign that read: “Never again means never again for everyone.”

Above the slogan was a photograph of Jewish refugees who fled Germany in 1939 on a ship that was turned away from Havana, Cuba, and forced to return to Europe. More than 250 people aboard the ship were eventually killed by the Nazis.

About 200 protesters chanted on Sunday afternoon at Washington Dulles International Airport in northern Virginia near the U.S. capital.

About the same number gathered at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, where anxious families awaited relatives detained for hours after flights from countries affected by the presidential order.

At Los Angeles International Airport, police estimated 4,000 demonstrators crowded into and around terminals to protest Trump's order, as chants of "refugees are welcome here" echoed through the arrivals hall.

Organizers estimated that more than 10,000 people packed Boston's Copley Square to hear Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a vocal critic of Trump and a leader of the Democratic Party's liberal wing, and other speakers.

During the protests, dozens of Muslims, some of them kneeling on protest signs, bowed in prayer on rugs laid out on a grassy patch of ground in the square.

In Houston, which was already filling up with visitors for next Sunday's Super Bowl, about 500 people marched through the downtown.

Jennifer Fagen, 47, a sociology professor at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, said she hoped she did not lose her job for protesting.

"I'm Jewish, and it's supposed to be 'never again,'" Fagen said, referring to the Holocaust. "Jews should be the first ones to defend Muslims, considering what has happened to us, and it seems it's being repeated under Trump."

At Detroit Metropolitan Airport, police cordoned off sections of terminal as up to 3,000 demonstrators chanted, "No hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here."

Among the demonstrators were Wail Aljirafi and his wife, Samyeh Zindani of Ann Arbor, Michigan, and their three children.

"We want them to feel that they're always included," Zindani, a Yemeni-American, told Reuters.

In the Detroit suburb of Hamtramck, Michigan, home to a large number of Yemeni immigrant families and the nation's first Muslim-majority city council, at least 600 people rallied outside City Hall.

Rama Alhoussaini, 23, a Syrian immigrant who lives in nearby Dearborn, said she and her family emigrated to Michigan in 1999 when she was 6 years old.

"Now for us to see this kind of hatred and bigotry, it breaks my heart," she said. "It makes me feel like I am not wanted here."

Source: Reuters

Canadian PM says mosque shooting a 'terrorist attack on Muslims'

Six people were killed and eight wounded when gunmen opened fire at a Quebec City mosque during Sunday night prayers, in what Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called a "terrorist attack on Muslims".

Police said two suspects had been arrested, but gave no details about them or what prompted the attack.

Initially, the mosque president said five people were killed and a witness said up to three gunmen had fired on about 40 people inside the Quebec City Islamic Cultural Centre. Police said only two people were involved in the attack.

"Six people are confirmed dead - they range in age from 35 to about 70," Quebec provincial police spokeswoman Christine Coulombe told reporters, adding eight people were wounded and 39 were unharmed.

The mosque's president, Mohamed Yangui, who was not inside when the shooting occurred, said he got frantic calls from people at evening prayers.

"Why is this happening here? This is barbaric,” he said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement: "We condemn this terrorist attack on Muslims in a center of worship and refuge".

“Muslim-Canadians are an important part of our national fabric, and these senseless acts have no place in our communities, cities and country."

The shooting came on the weekend that Trudeau said Canada would welcome refugees, after U.S. President Donald Trump suspended the U.S. refugee program and temporarily barred citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States on national security grounds.

A Canadian federal Liberal legislator, Greg Fergus, tweeted: "This is an act of terrorism -- the result of years of sermonizing Muslims. Words matter and hateful speeches have consequences!"

The premier of Quebec province, Philippe Couillard, said security would be increased at mosques in Quebec City and Montreal.

"We are with you. You are home," Couillard said, directing his comments at the province's Muslim community. "You are welcome in your home. We are all Quebecers. We must continue together to build an open welcoming and peaceful society".

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said police were providing additional protection for mosques in that city following the Quebec shooting. "All New Yorkers should be vigilant. If you see something, say something," he tweeted.


French President Francois Hollande condemned the attack.

"The terrorists wanted to attack the spirit of peace and tolerance of the citizens of Quebec," Hollande said in a statement on Monday. "France stands shoulder to shoulder with the victims and their families".

Like France, Quebec has struggled at times to reconcile its secular identity with a rising Muslim population, many of them from North Africa.

In June last year, a pig’s head was left on the doorstep of the cultural center.

"We are not safe here," said Mohammed Oudghiri, who normally attends prayers at the mosque in the middle-class, residential area, but did not on Sunday.

Oudghiri said he had lived in Quebec for 42 years but was now "very worried" and thinking of moving back to Morocco.

Mass shootings are rare in Canada, which has stricter gun laws than the United States, and news of the shooting sent a shockwave through mosques and community centers throughout the mostly French-language province.

"It’s a sad day for all Quebecers and Canadians to see a terrorist attack happen in peaceful Quebec City," said Mohamed Yacoub, co-chairman of an Islamic community center in a Montreal suburb.

"I hope it’s an isolated incident."

Incidents of Islamophobia have increased in Quebec in recent years. The face-covering, or niqab, became a big issue in the 2015 Canadian federal election, especially in Quebec, where the majority of the population supported a ban on it at citizenship ceremonies.

In 2013, police investigated after a mosque in the Saguenay region of the province was splattered with what was believed to be pig blood. In the neighboring province of Ontario, a mosque was set on fire in 2015, a day after an attack by gunmen and suicide bombers in Paris.

Zebida Bendjeddou, who left the Quebec City mosque earlier on Sunday evening, said the center had received threats.

"In June, they'd put a pig's head in front of the mosque. But we thought: 'Oh, they're isolated events.' We didn't take it seriously. But tonight, those isolated events, they take on a different scope," she said.

Bendjeddou said she had not confirmed the names of those killed, but added: "They're people we know, for sure. People we knew since they were little kids."

Source: Reuters

sexta-feira, 27 de janeiro de 2017

Greenpeace unfurls giant banner near White House

Seven Greenpeace activists unfurl a 70-foot by 35-foot banner reading the word 'Resist' from a tower crane near the White House in Washington, DC, USA, 25 January 2017. EPA/JIM LO SCALZO
Greenpeace on Wednesday unfurled a massive "Resist" banner near the White House on Wednesday, a day after the president of the United States signed executive orders for two controversial oil pipelines.

Seven activists scaled a construction crane just a few blocks from the president's official residence and deployed the banner, which is around 21 meters (70 feet) long and 10.5 meters (30 feet) wide.

Source: EFE

Craft that carried Tim Peake to and from space exhibited in London

The Soyuz TMA-19M descent module at the Science Museum in London, Britain, on Jan. 26, 2017. EPA/ANDY RAIN
A spacecraft that carried British astronaut Tim Peake on his return journey to the International Space Station is to be exhibited at the London Science Museum starting from Thursday.

Peake, along with Russian Yuri Malenchenko and American Tim Kopra, rode the Soyuz TMA-19M to the ISS in 2015 and then back down to Earth on Jun. 18, 2016, having spent six months taking part in experiments and space walks.

Source: EFE

Indian state to ban Pepsi, Coca-Cola for alleged health risks

(FILE) Archive image dated Aug. 2013 shows cans at the new Coca-Cola bottling facilit in Greater Noida in Uttar Pradesh, India.
Shops in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu will soon no longer sell products made by US multinationals PepsiCo and Coca-Cola due to alleged health risks, a local government official told EFE Wednesday.
Shops in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu will soon no longer sell products made by American multinationals PepsiCo and Coca-Cola due to alleged health risks, a local government official told EFE Wednesday.

Shop-owners are to instead stock up on local brands of the products.

The new measures are due to come into effect at the beginning of March following a month-long educational campaign warning the public of the supposed dangers surrounding these products, such as their risk of causing "cancer and other illness," said U.S. Delu from the Tamil Nadu Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Deputy secretary Delu said the initiative has the backing of between 80 and 90 percent of the thousands of merchants in Tamil Nadu, a region home to some 70 million people.

The Chamber plans to fill the vacuum left by the US multinationals by backing national brands with sufficient variety and availability to deal with current demand, Delu added.

India's homegrown soda drink producers have been fighting the two US giants for years by betting on their local, quirky flavors and a dash of nostalgia with brands such as Bovonto, Torino or the "old-timer" Sosyo, launched in Gujarat state back in 1923.

Delu said PepsiCo and Coca-Cola were the only international beverage producers currently present in the regional market.

Both American multinationals, the two leading soft drinks companies in the world, have been singled out by consumer associations around the world for their product's alleged health risks.

Last Oct., a study published by Boston University's Journal of Preventive Medicine stated that both US corporations financed 96 healthy living organizations in the US instructing them to minimize public awareness of the link between sugary drinks and obesity.

Source: EFE

Microsoft's market value tops $500 billion again after 17 years

Microsoft Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Satya Narayana Nadella speaks at a live Microsoft event in the Manhattan borough of New York City, October 26, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Microsoft Corp's (MSFT.O) market capitalization topped $500 billion for the first time since 2000 on Friday, after the technology giant's stock rose following another quarter of results that beat Wall Street's expectations.

Shares of the world's biggest software company rose as much as 2.1 percent to $65.64, an all-time high, in early trading, valuing the company at $510.37 billion.

The last time Microsoft was valued more was in March 2000, during the heyday of the dotcom era, when it had a market value of a little above $550 billion, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Despite the gains, Microsoft still lags Apple Inc's (AAPL.O) market capitalization of about $642 billion and Google-parent Alphabet Inc's (GOOGL.O) market value of a little more than $570 billion.

Microsoft reported second-quarter results on Thursday that beat analysts' average estimate for both revenue and profit, mainly due to its fast-growing cloud computing business.

The company's profit and revenue have now topped Wall Street's expectations in seven of the last eight quarters.

Chief Executive Satya Nadella has been trying to reinvigorate Microsoft since taking over the lumbering giant nearly three years ago, and has helped build more credibility around the company's efforts in areas such as cloud-based services.

When he took the top job in February 2014, the company's stock was trading at around $34 and its market value was roughly $315 billion, according to Thomson Reuters data.

"The pieces are falling into place as we are starting to see an important shift in the model, with improving profitability in growth segments," RBC Capital Markets analysts wrote in a note.

At least 11 brokerages raised their price targets on the stock, boosting the median price target to $68.50 from $68.00.

Of the 37 analysts covering the stock, 27 rate it "buy" or higher, eight have a "hold" rating and two "strong sell".

Source: Reuters

Brazil police seek former billionaire Batista in graft probe

Brazilian tycoon Eike Batista walks as he leaves his court hearing in Rio de Janeiro November 18, 2014. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes
Brazilian police are seeking the arrest of fallen commodities tycoon Eike Batista as part of a vast political bribery probe, investigators said on Thursday, adding that the former billionaire appeared to have already flown to New York.

Batista, Brazil's richest man just five years ago, seems to have left the country on a German passport on Tuesday night and will be considered a fugitive if he does not surrender soon to authorities, police investigator Tacio Muzzi told reporters.

Representatives for Batista confirmed that he was outside of Brazil, citing professional obligations. They said he had offered to cooperate with investigations and would soon present himself to authorities, without commenting on allegations of criminal behavior.

Globo TV reported late on Thursday that Batista would fly back from the United States to Brazil on Friday, citing his lawyers. The report could not be immediately verified.

Police said they believe Batista and eight others facing detention orders on Thursday took part in a $100 million money laundering ring tied to kickbacks on lucrative contracts in a scheme centered on state-run oil firm Petrobras.

"We can't categorically affirm that there was an intention to flee," said Muzzi. Globo TV reported he had arrived in New York.

Brazilian police asked Interpol to issue a international "red notice" calling for Batista's arrest, according to a police media representative.

Batista's arrest would cap a dramatic fall for a man who was among the 10 richest in the world before the global commodities crash hammered the business empire he has been forced to sell.

One of Brazil's most outspoken entrepreneurs, Batista's fortune has dwindled from more than $30 billion to nearly nothing as his Grupo EBX, a constellation of energy, mining and transportation companies, crumbled in recent years.

Two of the companies that filed for bankruptcy protection, miner MMX Mineração e Metalicos SA and shipbuilder OSX Brasil SA, said in securities filings that the legal proceedings against Batista would have no effect on them.

Prosecutors said Batista had paid a roughly $16 million bribe in 2011 to former Rio Governor Sergio Cabral, who was arrested in November on corruption charges. Investigators did not specify what advantages Batista allegedly gained, but said he was part of the corruption and money laundering operation.


Brazil and the United States signed an extradition treaty in 1961. Police told a news conference earlier on Thursday that they could not yet be certain whether Batista had boarded the flight to New York with a ticket bought in his name or whether he might have flown onward from there.

Batista has family ties to Germany, which does not have a formal extradition treaty with Brazil but has collaborated in the past on high-profile criminal cases.

A federal police source told Reuters that it appeared Batista was followed to New York the next day by his wife and one of his children.

Police declined to say where Batista would be jailed once apprehended.

Inmates with a college degree, which Batista lacks, are usually separated from the rest of the population in Brazil's crowded and chaotic prison system, which has suffered a series of violent riots this year.

The collapse of Grupo EBX has already triggered fraud investigations into Batista. A ruling by Brazil's securities watchdog CVM in November 2015 barred him from any management role at publicly traded companies for five years. Regulators are also looking into allegations of insider trading by Batista.

Last year Batista testified in the sweeping Petrobras case that former Finance Minister Guido Mantega had allegedly solicited an illegal contribution to the ruling party at the time. Mantega has repeatedly denied the accusations.

Source: Reuters

Half of Brazil's population lack full property rights, government saysB

RIO DE JANEIRO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Half of Brazil's population cannot prove full legal ownership of their homes, depriving authorities in the recession-hit country of a major source of taxes and deterring local investment, a senior government official said.

An estimated 100 million people lack property rights, a senior Ministry of Cities official told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, highlighting the need for Brazil to bring its housing sector into the formal economy.

Title deeds for millions of unregistered homes would provide residents with greater security and investors with more stability, analysts said.

The government provided the figures revealing the size of Brazil's informal economy and the lack of property rights after it announced a drive to provide title deeds for tens of millions of Brazilians last month.

The program aims to help kick-start economic growth after two years of recession and the loss of two million jobs nationwide.

"Once the resident's (property) right is registered it can be pledged as a bank guarantee, increasing access to credit," Silvio Figueiredo, director of urban affairs for Brazil's Ministry of Cities, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"A number of benefits are guaranteed from urban land regularization."

Figueiredo could not say how much funding has been allocated to the government's title deed program nor could he estimate how many households would benefit.

However of the homes lacking full title deeds, officials say that more than 3.6 million are in Brazil's sprawling slums or favelas, which first developed as squatter communities and are home to millions of people.

Some urban economists and analysts believe granting title deeds in favelas will help residents break the cycle of poverty by providing security from eviction and encouragement and incentives for investment in improvements and small businesses.

"People with insecure tenure are less likely to make investments in the structure they are living in because they are worried they could lose it," Jan Brueckner, a University of California economist told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.


Across Brazil, a varied and complex system of informal property ownership has complicated government efforts to provide titles and regularize property ownership, said Vitor Bukvar Fernandes, a University of Campinas researcher who has studied land issues.

Some homes in middle class areas, for example, exist in a legally gray area where residents have a bill of sale affording them some security but the properties are not registered with the government and therefore do not exist within the formal title system, he said.

"Informality in big cities is rampant," Fernandes told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Land rights analysts generally support the idea of improving formal property ownership for the urban poor but some question the government's priorities.

"Getting formal titles is not a high priority for (favela) residents," said Tais Borges, an urban planner at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) who has worked with the Brazilian government on property regularization.

"The biggest complaints are sewage and parking," he said.

The government should focus first on building infrastructure and connecting services for poor communities and then work on regularizing land titles, Borges said.

For example, favela communities need postcodes so mail can be delivered and to make it easier for residents to apply for jobs, she said, adding that these basic facilities are needed more than formal property titles.

Currently, most favela properties are bought and sold informally - often among friends and neighbors - because they are not officially registered by the government, analysts said.

Source: Reuters

Putin and Trump likely to discuss Ukraine sanctions: White House aide

FILE PHOTO: Russia's President Vladimir Putin makes his annual New Year address to the nation in Moscow, Russia, December 31, 2016.   Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS/File Photo
Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump are likely to discuss the sanctions that Washington imposed on Russia over the conflict in Ukraine when the two leaders speak by telephone on Saturday, a senior White House aide said.

Trump has said in the past that, as part of a rapprochement he is seeking with Russia, he is prepared to review sanctions that his predecessor, Barack Obama, imposed on Russia over its 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula.

That move would face resistance from both influential figures in Washington and foreign leaders who believe sanctions should only be eased if Moscow complies with the West's conditions on Ukraine.

Among the U.S. sanctions causing the most pain to Russia are those targeting its financial services, limiting the Russian economy's ability to raise debt, and its energy companies.

On the same day he speaks to Putin, Trump will have telephone conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, White House spokesman Sean Spicer wrote in a Tweet. Both Hollande and Merkel have argued that it is premature to ease the sanctions.

Trump senior aide Kellyanne Conway said in U.S. television interviews on Friday that Trump and Putin would likely discuss a range of issues, including joint efforts to combat terrorism.

Asked on FOX News's "Fox & Friends" program to comment on suggestions that the Obama administration sanctions would be on the agenda, Conway said: “All of that is under consideration.”

The call will be the first between the Russian and U.S. leaders since Putin called Trump to congratulate him on his election victory in November.

It is a first step towards what Trump has billed as a normalization of relations after three years of tensions sparked by the conflict in Ukraine.

Trump and Putin have never met and it was unclear how their very different personalities would gel. Trump is a flamboyant real estate deal-maker who often acts on gut instinct, while Putin is a former Soviet spy who calculates each step methodically.


Both have spoken about ending the enmity that has dragged U.S.-Russia relations to their lowest ebb since the Cold War.

"Wouldn't it be nice if we actually got along with people? Wouldn't it be nice if we actually got along, as an example, with Russia? I am all for it," Trump told a news conference in July last year.

Trump is under intense scrutiny at home from critics who say he was elected with help from Russian intelligence -- an allegation he denies -- and that he is too ready to cut deals with a country that many of his own officials say is a threat to U.S. security.

Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov, said the Russian leader would use the call to congratulate Trump on taking office and to exchange views on U.S.-Russian ties.

Asked by reporters if Ukraine would come up, Peskov said: "This is the first telephone contact since President Trump took office, so one should hardly expect that (it)...will involve substantive discussions across the whole range of issues.

"We'll see, let's be patient."

If Putin and Trump can establish a rapport, it could pave the way for deals on Ukraine and Syria, two sources of friction during the administration of Barack Obama.

For the Russian leader, there is much to gain. Putin is expected to run for re-election next year, but is hampered by a sluggish economy. A softening or removal of sanctions would allow Western investment and credit to flow in, lifting growth and strengthening Putin's election prospects.

Any move by Trump to ease sanctions would create a dilemma for the European Union, which has its own set of sanctions against Russia linked to the Ukraine crisis.

Some governments in Europe are sympathetic with Trump's stance and keen for relief from sanctions that are hurting trade with Russia. Others in the bloc believe Moscow has not met the conditions for the sanctions to be lifted.

Merkel, who faces a re-election battle, has invested considerable political capital in keeping the EU aligned behind the sanctions.

A German diplomat told Reuters last month: “If Trump lifts the sanctions, I fear the consensus in Europe would crumble."

Merkel and French President Francois Hollande met in Berlin on Friday, underlining the challenges for European unity in the face of a new U.S. president who has promised to shake up the status quo in international affairs.

"Let's say it honestly, there is the challenge posed by the new U.S. administration, regarding trade rules and what our position will be on managing conflicts in the world," Hollande, who will leave office after an April-May election, told reporters.

Source: Reuters

U.S.-Mexico crisis deepens as Trump aide floats border tax idea

The White House on Thursday floated the idea of imposing a 20 percent tax on goods from Mexico to pay for a wall at the southern U.S. border, sending the peso tumbling and deepening a crisis between the two neighbors.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto announced on Twitter around midday on Thursday that he was scrapping a planned trip to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly demanded that Mexico pay for a wall on the U.S. border.

Later in the day, White House spokesman Sean Spicer sent the Mexican peso falling to its low for the day when he told reporters that Trump wanted a 20 percent tax on Mexican imports to pay for construction of the wall.

Spicer gave few details, but his comments resembled an existing idea, known as a border adjustment tax, that the Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives is considering as part of a broad tax overhaul.

The White House said later its proposal was in the early stages. Asked if Trump favored a border adjustment tax, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said such a tax would be "one way" of paying for the border wall.

"It's a buffet of options," he said.

The plan being weighed by House Republicans would exempt export revenues from taxation but impose a 20 percent tax on imported goods, a significant change from current U.S. policy.

"If you tax exports from Mexico into the United States, you're going to make things ranging from avocados to appliances to flat-screen tvs, you're going to make them more expensive," Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray told reporters at the Mexican Embassy in Washington on Thursday night.

Countries like Mexico would not pay such taxes directly. Companies would face the tax if they import products made there into the United States, potentially raising prices for American consumers.

The idea is unpopular with retailers and businesses that sell imported goods in the United States. It also has met opposition from some lawmakers worried about the impact on U.S. consumers.

Trump himself appeared to pan the idea in a Wall Street Journal interview last week, saying the House border adjustment provision was "too complicated."

Even after Trump's comments, congressional Republicans have continued to discuss the issue with White House officials in an effort to bring them on board with the idea.


Trump, who visited Republican lawmakers at their policy retreat in Philadelphia, told them he would use tax reform legislation to pay for the border wall.

"We're working on a tax reform bill that will reduce our trade deficits, increase American exports and will generate revenue from Mexico that will pay for the wall if we decide to go that route," he said.

Trump, who took office last week, views the wall, a major promise during his election campaign, as part of a package of measures to curb illegal immigration. Mexico has long insisted it will not heed Trump's demands to pay for the construction project.

He signed an executive order for construction of the wall on Wednesday. The move provoked outrage in Mexico. A planned meeting between Videgaray and U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly was canceled, a department spokeswoman said.

Videgaray said Mexico would work with Trump but that paying for the wall was out of the question.

"There are things that go beyond negotiation," he said. "This is about our dignity and our pride."

Pena Nieto, who had been under pressure to cancel the summit, tweeted on Thursday: "We have informed the White House that I will not attend the working meeting planned for next Tuesday with @POTUS."

Trump had tweeted earlier that it would be better for the Mexican leader not to come if Mexico would not pay for the wall. He said later the meeting was canceled by mutual agreement.

Relations have been frayed since Trump launched his presidential campaign in 2015, characterizing Mexican immigrants as murderers and rapists. His trade rhetoric has hit the Mexican economy, causing consumers to rein in spending and foreign businesses to wait on new investments, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Trump has vowed to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada and slap high tariffs on American companies that have moved jobs south of the border.

Mexico ships 80 percent of its exports to the United States, and about half of Mexico's foreign direct investment has come from its northern neighbor over the past two decades.

The United States runs a $58.8 billion trade deficit with Mexico, according to the latest U.S. government figures. But Mexico is also the United States' second-largest export market.

Source: Reuters

NATO, Russia and trade top the agenda for Trump talks with Britain's May

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May acknowledges applause before speaking during the 2017 ''Congress of Tomorrow'' Joint Republican Issues Conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. January 26, 2017.  REUTERS/Mark Makela
U.S. President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May, who share an unusual bond as the products of anti-establishment uprisings, will sit down on Friday for what could be a difficult search for unity on NATO, Russia and trade.

The meeting will mark Trump’s first with a foreign leader since taking power a week ago, and it could go a long way toward determining how crucial Trump considers the traditional “special relationship” between the two countries.

Trump rode an anti-Washington wave to win on Nov. 8, and May gained power in July after the "Brexit" vote that has put her country on a path to separate from the European Union. The meeting will conclude with a joint White House news conference.

Trump has declared NATO obsolete and expressed a desire for warmer ties with Russia. May considers the trans-Atlantic alliance crucial and is skeptical of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

They both want to begin work on a bilateral trade agreement, which for May would provide proof of stability amid the Brexit breakup and for Trump would support his belief that he can negotiate one-on-one trade pacts.

"They both need this to be a success," said Heather Conley, a European expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.

Trump, she said, "needs to demonstrate that he has a command of issues" while May "needs to hear strong messages of support for her vision of a Britain that works for everyone, a global Britain."

May, in a speech to Republican lawmakers gathered in Philadelphia on Thursday, suggested she saw the need for some reforms in NATO and for more countries to pay more to the alliance to help fund it, which has been Trump's main complaint about NATO.

"America’s leadership role in NATO – supported by Britain – must be the central element around which the alliance is built," May said.

But she said that EU nations "must step up" to ensure NATO remains the cornerstone of the West's defense.

Trump and May also seem somewhat at odds over how to deal with Russia. In her speech, May said Western leaders should "engage but beware" of Putin and should not accept Putin's claim that Eastern Europe is now in his sphere of influence.Trump, on the other hand, wants a strong U.S. relationship with Russia to fight Islamic State militants.

"I don't know Putin, but if we can get along with Russia, that's a great thing," Trump told Fox News' Sean Hannity" on Thursday. "It's good for Russia, it's good for us."

Source: Reuters

Brazil sees opportunities if Trump pursues protectionism: minister

Brazil has an opportunity to strengthen ties with Pacific and European nations that could be targeted if U.S. President Donald Trump pursues protectionist policies, the Brazilian trade minister said on Thursday.

In an interview with Reuters, Trade Minister Marcos Pereira pointed to Mexico, a longtime competitor for trade and investment in Latin America, as one of the countries that could develop stronger commercial relations with Brazil.

Tensions between Mexico and the United States have risen since Trump took office, with the U.S. president saying he intends to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement and build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto on Thursday scrapped a planned summit with Trump.

Pereira also said he hoped Chile and Peru would gravitate toward Brazil and the South American trade bloc Mercosur now that Trump has pulled the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

He added that Trump's political ascent and arrival in the White House has prompted the European Union to show greater interest in concluding a trade agreement with Mercosur that has been under discussion for 15 years.

At the same time, Brasilia is hoping Trump does not restrict U.S.-Brazilian trade. The United States is Brazil's second-largest trading partner after China and the largest market for its manufactured goods, including commercial planes.

"So far, Brazil has not appeared in Trump's sights," Pereira said. "I think Brazilian manufacturers will not be hurt and that our trade discussions with Washington will continue to advance."

Brazil may not be on Trump's radar because it buys more from the United States than it sells there - running a $646 million deficit last year - and is not drawing investment that threatens U.S. jobs.


Mired in its worst recession in a century, Brazil is keen to expand its exports and stands ready to pick up the slack in trade with countries that face setbacks in their access to the U.S. market.

Trade with Mexico, Latin America's second largest economy after Brazil, has the potential to grow as the U.S.-Mexican relationship sours.

"We see this as an opportunity to expand trade and hope they have the same view," Pereira said. "It would be good for Brazil and especially good for the Mexicans who are under pressure."

The minister also came away from the World Economic Forum in Davos last week convinced the EU is keener than ever to reach a deal with Mercosur.

He said an agreement could be agreed politically by early next year, leaving thorny issues such as French and Irish resistance to lower agricultural barriers to be worked out later.

Brazil is in free trade talks with the European Free Trade Association that groups non-EU states Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein, as well as with Canada.

The Trudeau government in Canada has also signaled it wants to negotiate a solution to a dispute over subsidies for plane-maker Bombardier that Brazil has threatened to complain about to the WTO, Pereira said.

"It is going to be a busy year with lots of talks between these players to deal with the protectionism that is coming ... given the stance of the new U.S. president," he said.

Source: Reuters

segunda-feira, 23 de janeiro de 2017

Uruguayan hails cooperation with China in Antarctica

Photo provided on Jan. 20, 2017 by Uruguay's Presidency showing a Uruguayan government delegation headed by foreign minister Rodolfo Nin Novoa  (6L) and Housing and Environment Minister Eneida de Leon (8L) during a visit to the Great Wall base on King George Island, Antarctica on Jan. 19, 2017. EFE/Uruguay's Presidency
Uruguay's foreign minister hailed the fruits of his country's cooperation with China in Antarctica during a visit Friday to Beijing's sprawling base in the White Continent.

Under an accord signed by Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez during a state visit to China in October, the two nations have established a mechanism for the exchange of personnel and scientific knowledge in Antarctica to study climate and climate change.

"It seems to me that that relationship with China advances very well. I believe that in addition to the good relations that exist and the proximity between the bases, we could also continue deepening our relations," Rodolfo Nin Novoa said at the Great Wall base on King George Island, not far from Uruguay's Artigas research station.

"We are studying the impact of climate change," he said. "This work help us to raise awareness around the world about human responsibility in climate change."

Nin Novoa led a Uruguayan government delegation that included Housing and Environment Minister Eneida de Leon, Deputy Defense Minister Daniel Montiel and Deputy Transport Minister Jorge Setelich.

Source: EFE

China plans to launch new lunar probe in November

(FILE) A boy looks at a gold-gilded 1/12 scaled model of the moon rover in the Chang'e-3 lunar probe mission for sale in a bookstore in Nanjing in east China's Jiangsu province 14 December 2013. EPA/DONG JL/CHINA OUT
China will launch its new lunar probe, Chang E-5, at the end of November, the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) said, according to official media reports Monday.

This mission, which will be the first to collect samples from the Moon's surface automatically and the first that will return to Earth, will take place four years after the deployment of China's last mission to the Moon and a little more than a year after the cessation of operations of the robotic Moon rover, which was part of that mission.

Source: EFE

European farmers spray milk in Brussels in protest over sector crisis

European Milk Board (EMB) representatives spray milk powder in front of the EU Council headquarters, during an EU Agriculture Ministers Council meeting in Brussels, Belgium, Jan. 23, 2017. EPA/STEPHANIE LECOCQ
Dairy farmers on Monday staged a protest which entailed spraying powdered milk outside the European Council buildings to call on European Union institutions to introduce additional measures to regulate milk production, as evident in scenes captured by epa photographers.

About 100 farmers from countries such as Belgium, France and Germany came together to demonstrate as EU agriculture ministers gathered for a meeting to discuss market situations, particularly with regards to dairy products, after a series of measures were adopted last year aimed at helping producers.

Source: EFE

Mobile payments in China grew 31.2 percent in 2016

(FILE) A woman looks at her mobile phone at a brokerage house in Beijing, China, 25 May 2015. EPA/WU HONG
The number of people, who opted for mobile payments in China soared by 31.2 percent in 2016 to reach 469 million, according to a study by the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) cited in official media reports Monday.

This strong growth was partly due to a continued increase in users connecting to the internet through their mobile phones, which grew 75 million, or 12.1 percent, in 2016, to stand at 696 million.

Source: EFE

Thousands of people who fled the Gambia return after Jammeh's resignation

Supporters of President Adama Barrow cheer Senegalese soldiers on patrol in Banjul, Gambia, 22 January 2017. EPA/LEGNAN KOULA
Thousands of Gambians who in the past weeks fled to neighboring Senegal due to a post-electoral political crisis have begun returning to the country in droves, local media reported on Monday.

Their return was prompted by the resignation on Saturday of President Yahya Jammeh, who ruled with an iron fist over the tiny West African nation for 22 years.

Source: EFE

As attacks grow, EU mulls banking stress tests for cyber risks

A man types on a computer keyboard in Warsaw in this February 28, 2013 illustration file picture. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Files
The European Union is considering testing banks' defenses against cyber attacks, EU officials and sources said, as concerns grow about the industry's vulnerability to hacking.

Cyber attacks against banks have increased in numbers and sophistication in recent years, with criminals finding new ways to target banks beyond trying to illicitly obtain details of their customers' online accounts. Last February $81 million was taken from the Bangladesh central bank when hackers broke into its system and gained access to the SWIFT international transactions network.

Global regulators have tightened security requirements for banks after that giant cyber fraud, one of the biggest in history, and in some countries have carried out checks on lenders' security systems.

But complex cyber attacks have kept rising, as revealed in November by SWIFT in a letter to client banks and by the theft of 2.5 million pounds ($3 million) from Tesco Plc's banking arm in the first mass hacking of accounts at a Western lender.

Banks "are struggling to demonstrate their ability to cope with the rising threat of intruders gaining unauthorized access to their critical systems and data," a report of the European Banking Authority (EBA) warned in December.

The next step from European regulators to boost security could be an EU-wide stress test.

The European executive commission is assessing additional initiatives to counter cyber attacks, a commission official told Reuters. "These include cyber-threat information sharing or penetration and resilience testing of systems."

The European Central Bank announced last year it would set up a database to register incidents of cyber crime at commercial banks in the 19-country euro zone. But exchanges of information among national authorities on cyber incidents remains scant.

The Commission is studying whether EU-wide tests would help step up security, a source at the EU executive said. This would be in addition to controls already carried out by national authorities.

EBA, which is in charge of stress-testing the bloc's banks, is expected to detail in summer the checks it intends to conduct in the next exercise planned in mid 2018.

EBA tests banks' capital cushions and can conduct checks on specific issues. Last year it monitored risks caused by fines, as EU lenders faced sanctions from U.S. regulators.

An EBA official said cyber security was on the agency's radar but no decision had been made on a possible stress test. The body's chairman, Andrea Enria, has urged EU states to stress-test their financial institutions for cyber risks.

Lloyds Banking Group is working with law enforcement agencies to trace who was behind a cyber attack that caused intermittent outages for customers of its personal banking websites almost two weeks ago, according to a source familiar with the incident. Lloyds said it would not speculate on the cause of the attack. No customers suffered any losses.


As European banks keep relying on digital infrastructure that is "rigid and outdated", according to EBA, regulators are considering new technologies that could boost security.

Blockchain, the technology behind the most successful virtual currency, Bitcoin, is being closely monitored in Brussels "to establish the advantages and possible risks" but also to weigh possible moves to enable blockchain where it is hindered, the Commission source said.

More than 1 billion euros have been invested in blockchain startups, a World Economic Forum report said.

The EU agency for network and information security (ENISA) said in a report last week the technology offered new opportunities and could cut costs, but may also pose new cyber security challenges, mostly caused by its decentralized network.

Source: Reuters

Expectations low as Syria's warring sides meet

Syria's warring sides met for talks for the first time in nine months on Monday, with frosty initial exchanges suggesting chances of a significant breakthrough were slim as the country's six-year-old conflict ground on.

They sat opposite each other at a round table in a hotel conference room before a day of negotiations - sponsored by Russia, Turkey and Iran in Kazakhstan's capital Astana - got under way.

Both delegations said the focus was on the country's ceasefire, a fragile precursor to a wider political solution.

But Bashar al-Jaafari, the head of the delegation representing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said negotiators for the rebel forces had been rude and unprofessional, accusing them of defending "war crimes" committed by Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, the militant group formerly known as Nusra Front.

A rebel source said opposition representatives planned to negotiate with the government side only via intermediaries.

Mohammed Alloush, the head of the opposition delegation, told delegates he wanted to stop "the horrific flow of blood" by consolidating the shaky ceasefire and freezing military operations, saying Iran-backed militias had to leave Syria.

Russian news agency TASS cited a draft communique in which Moscow, Ankara and Tehran would commit to jointly fighting Islamic State and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and set up a mechanism for trilateral monitoring of the ceasefire, which took effect on Dec. 30.

But fundamental divisions also remain between pro-Assad Russia and Turkey, which has supported anti-Assad rebels - including whether Syria's president should stay in power or, as the rebels are demanding, step down.

There were no senior government figures among the delegations in Astana and Kazakhstan's foreign ministry said it expected the meetings to be over by midday on Tuesday.


Some observers said the talks, which UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura is attending, could help jump-start U.N.-led negotiations that were suspended in late April.

De Mistura said it was crucial to get a mechanism to oversee and implement a nationwide ceasefire in place to build confidence.

"That by itself ... would be a major achievement," he said, adding he hoped Astana could pave the way for direct talks between the government and opposition in Geneva next month.

The Astana talks pointedly exclude the West, though Kazakhstan, with the backing of Moscow and Ankara, extended an invitation to the new U.S. administration last week, which Washington declined.

Iranian officials have said they strongly oppose U.S. involvement, though George Krol, the U.S. ambassador to Kazakhstan, attended as an observer.

Turkey and Russia - each for their own reasons - both want to disentangle themselves from the fighting. That has pushed them into an ad hoc alliance that some people believe represents the best chance for progress towards a peace deal, especially with Washington distracted by domestic issues.

The opposition arrived in Astana aware that the fall of their former urban stronghold, Aleppo, has shifted the momentum in the fighting in favor of Assad.

On Sunday, war planes bombed rebel-held areas of western Syria, killing 12 people in one location, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, while insurgent shelling of Aleppo killed six.

"The ceasefire is clinically dead, but the Russians and Turks want to keep it alive to send a message to the international community that they are the ones in charge of the Syrian situation," said Observatory director Rami Abdulrahman.

Source: Reuters

UK's Supreme Court to rule if May can start Brexit without parliament

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves the BBC's Broadcasting House in London, Britain, January 22, 2017. REUTERS/Neil Hall
British Prime Minister Theresa May will learn on Tuesday whether parliament must agree to the triggering of Britain's exit from the European Union, potentially giving lawmakers who oppose her plans a chance to amend or hinder her Brexit vision.

The UK Supreme Court will give its ruling at 9:30 a.m. (0930 GMT) in a landmark case on whether May can use executive powers known as known as "royal prerogative" to invoke Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty and begin two years of divorce talks.

Challengers, led by investment manager Gina Miller and backed by the Scottish government and others, say May must first get lawmakers' approval as leaving the EU will strip Britons of rights they were granted by parliament.

That view was backed by London's High Court, prompting the government to appeal to the Supreme Court, the highest judicial body in the land.

The case has attracted huge attention from markets, with investors hoping parliament will temper moves towards a "hard Brexit", and it has again brought to the fore some of the ugly divisions among Britons produced by last June's referendum.

Brexit supporters have cast the legal battle as an attempt by a pro-EU establishment to thwart the referendum result after Britons voted by 52-48 percent to leave the EU, with judges denounced as "enemies of the people" and Miller receiving death threats and a torrent of online abuse.

"We are not being asked to overturn the result of the EU referendum," David Neuberger, president of the Supreme Court said at the conclusion of a four-day hearing in front of all its 11 judges in December.

"The ultimate question in this case concerns the process by which that result can lawfully be brought into effect."

If May wins the case, she can follow her planned timetable for invoking Article 50 by the end of March.

If she loses - a more likely eventuality according to legal experts - she will probably need to bring in a parliamentary bill that will open up the Brexit process to scrutiny from lawmakers.


Last week May set out her stall for negotiations, promising a clean break with the world's largest trading block as part of a 12-point plan to focus on global free trade deals, setting a course for a so-called "hard Brexit".

Some investors and those who backed the "remain" campaign hope that lawmakers, most of whom wanted to stay in the EU, will force May to seek a deal which prioritizes access to the European single market of 500 million people, or potentially even block Brexit altogether.

Analysts said sterling would likely be lifted by a ruling against the government, though its gains would be limited as that outcome has already been largely priced in.

"I still think there is a lot to fight for," public relations executive Roland Rudd, who heads the Open Britain group that wants to keep ties with the EU as close as possible, told Reuters last week.

"The prime minister has articulated her early view about the direction of travel, but how we get there, in what form and how it finally gets driven, is all up for discussion."

While some in parliament remain strongly opposed to the path set by May, the main opposition Labour Party has said it would not block Article 50, and parliament's House of Commons overwhelmingly backed a motion backing her timetable, in a non-binding vote in December.

"Given the strong vote in the Commons, we would certainly be hopeful that the March 31 deadline can be achieved," a source from May's Conservative party told Reuters.

Labour's leader Jeremy Corbyn has said he would seek to amend any bill to ensure parliament can hold May to account. But he has also said he would not seek to delay triggering Article 50.

The small Liberal Democrat Party and Scottish nationalists, who are adamantly opposed to May's Brexit plans, are likely to take the chance to cause difficulties for the government.

Further problems could lie in the unelected House of Lords upper chamber, with Liberal Democrat peers expected to try to block the bill. However, the government remains confident it will be passed.

While the thrust of the Supreme Court case centers on whether the British parliament has to give its assent, the judges also heard arguments from the Scottish government and lawyers for Northern Irish challengers that Britain's devolved assemblies must give their approval too.

Should the court agree, an outcome ministers believe is unlikely, an ongoing political crisis in Northern Ireland could derail May's timetable, following the collapse of the province's power-sharing government.

Scotland's parliament, with a nationalist administration, is also strongly opposed to Brexit.

Source: Reuters

European stocks fall, investors seek safety after Trump address

European stocks and bond yields edged lower on Monday and the dollar briefly hit a six-week low after U.S. President Donald Trump began his term in office with a protectionist speech that drove a nervous market into safe-haven assets.

Wall Street was set to open slightly lower, tracking stock markets in Europe and parts of Asia, having hit multi-year highs earlier this month on expectations Trump would boost growth and inflation with extraordinary fiscal spending measures.

However, his inaugural address on Friday, signaling an isolationist stance on trade and other issues, led investors to retreat to the safety of higher-rated government bonds.

Trump also made it clear that he plans to hold talks with the leaders of Canada and Mexico to begin renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement.

U.S. stock futures were down 0.2 percent, pointing to a lower open after European stocks touched their lowest levels this year in early trades. By midday, the broad STOXX index had come off the day's lows but was still down 0.3 percent.

Earlier, Japan's Nikkei dropped 1.1 percent while shares in Australia fell 0.8 percent after Trump's administration also declared its intention to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a 12-nation trade pact that Japan and Australia have both signed.

Other Asian shares were more resilient, however, in part due to dollar weakness, and MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.3 percent.

"The focus this morning is on the protectionist rhetoric and the lack of detail on economic stimulus, so it's a nervous start (to the presidency)," said Investec economist Victoria Clarke.

"The other concern is how the Fed interprets Trump's stance, the worry being the less he does on fiscal stimulus the more nervous they may get on pushing the rate hikes through."

The U.S. Federal Reserve, which has indicated it expects to raise its benchmark interest rate three times this year, is due to hold its next meeting on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1.

Rabobank analyst Michael Avery said a more protectionist United States could lead to a U.S. dollar liquidity squeeze, with Mexico and Asia likely the most badly hit.

"We would see outright confusion over what currency to invoice, trade, and borrow in: a 19th century world of competing reserve currencies in different geographic zones, but without the underpinning of gold," Avery said in a note.

The problem would be exacerbated if China tightens capital controls further, he said.

The U.S. dollar was down 0.4 percent against a basket of six major currencies.

The nervous start on Monday saw safe-haven assets in demand.

The yield on Germany's 10-year government bond, the benchmark for the region, led most euro zone bonds lower and was down 2 basis points to 0.34 percent.

This followed 10-year U.S. Treasuries yields, which fell to 2.43 percent, after having risen briefly on Friday to 2.513 percent, their highest since Jan. 3.

Spot gold prices, meanwhile, rose on Monday to their highest in two months.

Source: Reuters