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Tuesday, 10 October 2017

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Thursday, 1 June 2017

On the SPOT Admission in Lagos 10th June to study Abroad


Dear Valued Student - A special invite to an on the SPOT Admission in a International Education fair in Lagos this coming Saturday for those who want to study further their education abroad either at Bsc, Msc or PhD. 

*Please forward to your contacts  who would be interested* Admission is free

Monday, 22 May 2017

ON THE SPOT ADMISSION IN LAGOS TO STUDY IN USA,CANADA,UK, AUSTRALIA & EUROPE UNIVERSITIES


JMA International Agency will be organising an ON-THE-SPOT-ADMISSION in conjunction with some of our partner University in UK, CANADA, USA. Students will have the opportunity of meeting International Staff from some of the below Universities. This is the perfect opportunity for you to

Get immediate admission to Bsc and Msc Courses
Find out about student’s partial scholarships available
Job opportunities while studying abroad
University of Bedfordshire UK, BPP University, London South Bank University,  NAVITAS Colleges , Florida Atlantic University, University of Massachusetts (USA),  Thompson Rivers University Canada,  Fraser International College / Simon Fraser University,  International College of Manitoba (ICM) / University of Manitoba,  La Trobe University Sydney,  Curtin University Sydney and many more
Students are expected to come along with writing materials their original & photocopies educational credentials for assessment  & admission

Date: Saturday 10th June 2017   Time: 11.00am – 5.00pm
Venue: SilverArk Workspace
3rd Floor, 47 Iwaya Road, Off Onike, Yaba Lagos. (Opposite Forte Oil filling station)

Want to study abroad for a Bsc or Msc in Finance, Marketing, Accounting, IT, Law, Nursing, Engineering, Inter’l Relations Mgt, Interl Business, MBA, Medicine, ACCA?
Invite someone by forwarding to your contacts.
Contact us.
JMA International Agency Services
Tel: +234(0)7033431959; +234(0)7037928848
Website: www.jmaintservices.com; www.opportunityblogpost.com


Monday, 6 March 2017

Russia mystery threatens to consume Washington

Source: Trump frustrated with senior staff

(CNN)The mystery over Donald Trump and Russia is taking a corrosive hold on his presidency, sowing accusations and hysteria that threaten to overwhelm his White House and drain his personal credibility.
Washington has become a hall of mirrors, where it's impossible to distinguish between rumor and fact as conspiracy theories and partisan paroxysms rage -- all arising from an alleged Russian spy plot to sway last year's election that is now clouding the new administration.
The White House is finding it impossible to put to rest claims it has improper ties to Russia. Often, President Trump himself reignites the drama — apparently to his detriment — as with his sensational claim Saturday that his predecessor Barack Obama tapped his phones.
Congress meanwhile is becoming consumed by gossip and hearsay, while a drip, drip, drip of disclosures about Trump world's contacts with Russian officials feed blockbuster news stories.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the intrigue over Russia, the election, and the new administration is deepening, and has the potential to distract the White House and the machinery of the US government for months.
Furthermore, ethical, political and personality dynamics at play at the top of the administration and incentives for Trump's enemies to prolong the sense of scandal are complicating the White House's effort to move on.

Russia mystery threatens to consume Washington
Only one thing is clear in the fog of accusations and allegations: If the goal of Russia's alleged intelligence swoop was to pit Washington's centers of power against one another, to foment political chaos and to cast doubt on the functioning of US democracy itself, it is working better than anyone in Moscow can have hoped.
"We are in the midst of a civilization-warping crisis of public trust," Republican Sen. Ben Sasse said in a statement on Saturday.

Questions focus on Russia meetings
Questions clouding the White House essentially revolve around extensive meetings between prominent Russian officials and members of the Trump orbit and whether there was collusion between them at a time when US intelligence agencies assessed the Kremlin was trying to interfere in the election.
As it stands, an FBI probe into whether such contacts were improper is underway. Several congressional investigations into hacking operations designed to influence the election are also being conducted.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announces his recusal.
In the latest developments, the position of Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been called into question after he recused himself from oversight duties after failing to disclose to Congress two contacts with the Russian ambassador.
The White House spokesman Sean Spicer insists that there is "no there, there" in the Russia intrigue.
But the conduct of the President himself often undercuts that message. Some observers have noted that while there may be nothing nefarious going on, the President often acts in a way that suggests there is.
For instance, the White House call Sunday for an investigation into "reports" that Obama ordered wire taps on Trump appeared to be a classic attempt to blur the issue and to distract attention from accusations against the President or the political blowback of the Sessions recusal.
But his claims seem likely to give the controversy new legs.
"He just put another quarter in the conspiracy parking meter, they have extended this story for a week, two weeks," former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers said on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday.

US Presidnet Donald Trump at his February 16 press coneference
The credibility of the President's statements on the issue is also eroding.
"Russia is a ruse, I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does," Trump said during his news conference on February 16.
But since then, details have emerged of repeated meetings between Trump aides and Russian officials, casting doubt on the president's words.
As well as the two Sessions meetings with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the campaign, it emerged this week that the President's son-in-law Jared Kushner and his first national security adviser Michael Flynn, who had to resign after not being truthful about phone calls with the ambassador also had talks with Kislyak in December at Trump Tower. Others associated with the Trump campaign including J.D. Gordon, Walid Phares and Carter Page have also disclosed meetings with the Russians.
Of course, just the fact that the meetings occurred do not mean that anything inappropriate was going on. But the fact Trump officials continued to meet the Russians while an alleged Russian espionage plot was public knowledge is raising questions about their nature.

White House unlikely to shake off drama
There are at least six reasons why the White House is unlikely to be able to shake off the Russian drama in the short term.
The first possibility is the most serious: that the rumors are true and the administration was the target of a Russian espionage operation.
It would not be surprising. After all, Russia is also reported to have tried to influence other key moments in Western democracy — like the forthcoming French and German elections for instance.

Russia: The problem Trump can't escape
CNN reporting meanwhile revealed earlier this year that US intelligence agencies presented Trump with evidence that Russian spy services tried to compromise him. The previous Obama administration issued an unclassified report alleging that hackers linked to Russian intelligence hacked servers belonging to the Democratic Party and the Hillary Clinton campaign in an operation intended to boost Trump's electoral hopes.
A second reason why questions about Russia will linger is because what some observers see as Trump's odd fixation with Moscow raises constant questions about his movies.
Former Obama administration national security adviser Tom Donilon told CNN's Fareed Zakaria on Sunday that the root of the issue was "an approach to Russia which has been uncritical, a refusal to criticize Vladimir Putin personally and a refusal to underscore a number of the steps the Russians have taken really in what has been a pattern of active hostility towards the United States."
"It really has been unexplained, there never has been a presentation on this," said Donilon.
Democrats are not alone in their puzzlement.
"I can't figure out why the administration is taking the position on Russia that it is," said Kori Schake, a former Bush administration Pentagon official.
"It doesn't make sense to me for all sorts of reasons," Schake said. "The obduracy with which they are committed to it. The kind of weird connections and weird answers that they keep giving. Something doesn't feel right."
It also seems curious how many of Trump's comments about Russia seem to line up with Russian foreign policy goals.
During his campaign, Trump slighted NATO and suggested he could lift sanctions on Russia and recognize its grab of Crimea from Ukraine. He called on Russia to release Hillary Clinton's emails, and cast doubt on US intelligence agency assessments that Moscow hacked her servers.

Trump's personality gives oxygen to story
The President's unique personality also appears at times to be exacerbating the sense of crisis being fostered in Washington.
In theory, he could flush away questions about whether undeclared links with Russia are influencing his attitude to Moscow by releasing his tax returns.
His refusal to do so gives oxygen to claims that he has some secret business or creditor relationships with Russia that compromise him.
Trump's praise for Putin and vows to revive relations with Moscow exposed him to fierce criticism during the campaign. A decision to walk back that position could be humiliating.
Another reason why the Russian story will fester is because there appear to be ideological similarities between foreign policy priorities of some top Trump aides and those in power in Moscow.
If Russia represents a populist, nationalistic strain of geopolitical thought in conflict with a more globalist, Western interpretation of international relations, it seems to have fellow travelers in the White House.

White House chief strategist Steve Bannon.
Russian hostility to Western institutions like the European Union seems mirrored by Trump aides like Stephen Bannon, for instance, who has laid out a deeply nationalistic vision for the administration.
That aside, it's also clear that the way the White House has handled the drum beat of accusations about Russia has suggested a new administration may not yet be up to the job of navigating treacherous Washington.
The White House has often seemed unable to coordinate its damage limitation and coordination efforts.
Both Trump and Spicer said last week Sessions didn't need to recuse himself. But within hours, he did just that, raising questions about the level of coordination within the administration.
Some observers have also meanwhile wondered why the White House does not simply list all the meetings top Trump aides have held with Russians to avoid the damaging litany of disclosures.
Inside the White House and among Trump supporters outside, there is a strong belief that the President is the victim of an orchestrated campaign of leaks to undermine his authority and discredit his election victory.
The President himself claimed there was a "witch hunt" against him last week.
Given his feud with the intelligence agencies since he won the election, it's not farfetched to think that disgruntled spy sources sense an opportunity to hurt the President by cooperating with journalists.
There's also a final reason why the Russia scandal is not going to end any time soon.Democrats have a clear political incentive to prolong a situation which is helping to unify them, to slow Trump's agenda by bogging the White House down with investigations and to present the President in a scary light

Trump to reportedly sign new travel ban order

John Roberts has the similarities and the differences

A revised executive order temporarily banning the entry of people from several Middle Eastern and African countries and halting the nation’s refugee program is set to go to President Trump on Monday, a White House official said.

The White House official spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

The administration has repeatedly pushed back the signing of the new executive order as it has worked to better coordinate with agencies that it will need to implement the ban. The new order has been in the works since shortly after a federal court blocked Trump’s initial effort.

Trump was elected in November in large part on a national security platform that included stronger U.S. borders and putting an end to ISIS and other radical Islamic terror groups.

One of his first official acts after taking office in late-January was to sign executive orders that temporarily halted the U.S. refugee program and travel from seven mostly-Muslim, Middle Eastern and African countries.

The orders have been held up in a federal appeals court since early-February, with Trump weighing his options but making clear as recently as last week that he fully intends to fulfill his campaign pledge.

“The vast majority of individuals convicted of terrorism and terrorism-related offenses since 9/11 came here from outside of our country,” Trump said during his address to a joint session of Congress last week.

“It is not compassionate, but reckless to allow uncontrolled entry from places where proper vetting cannot occur,” he said. “We cannot allow a beachhead of terrorism to form inside America. And we cannot allow our nation to become a sanctuary for extremists … That is why my administration has been working on improved vetting procedures, and we will shortly take new steps to keep our nation safe.”

The federal appeals court temporarily blocked parts of Trump’s executive orders and halted the travel ban, then denied the administration’s request to immediately lift the ban. Critics of the ban argue it was hastily crafted with parts lacking adequate constitutional authority.

To be sure, uncertainty about the status of green card holders caused confusion and sparked major protests at international airports across the country on the Saturday after Trump signed the executive order, which was followed by administration officials promptly issuing guidance on legal permanent U.S. residents, or green card holders, to exempt them from the ban.

According to a draft version of the new order outlined to lawmakers late last week, citizens of Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Syria and Libya will face a 90-day suspension of visa processing as the administration continues to analyze how to enhance vetting procedures.

The revised order is expected to remove Iraq from the list of countries that would be subject to a 90-day travel ban. That follows pressure from the Pentagon and State Department, which had urged the White House to reconsider, given Iraq's key role in fighting ISIS.

Other changes are also expected, including making clear that all existing visas will be honored and no longer singling out Syrian refugees for an indefinite ban. Syrian refugees will now be treated like other refugees and be subjected to a 120-day suspension of the refugee program.

The new version is also expected to remove language that would give priority to religious minorities. Critics had accused the administration of adding such language to help Christians get into the United States while excluding Muslims.

Fox News’ Joseph Weber and Serafin Gomez contributed to this report. The Associated Press also contributed to this report.

Friday, 9 December 2016

MLS Cup: Seattle, Toronto set for breakthrough battle



Both clubs are playing in their first MLS final but their 'barren runs' have been of starkly different character.









Saturday's title-deciding MLS Cup final brings together two of Major League Soccer's best supported and best financed clubs, Toronto FC and Seattle Sounders, each in search of a first ever championship.

Both clubs are playing in their first MLS final but their 'barren runs' have been of starkly different character.

Until this season, the Sounders were consistently the bridesmaids while the Canadians simply risked becoming the league's laughing stock.

Seattle, who average a league-high 42,000 fans at each home game, have made the playoffs in every season since entering the league in 2009 but never made it to the championship game.

In contrast, Toronto, who came into MLS in 2007, failed to make the post-season for eight straight years, breaking that run last season only to be knocked out by Canadian rivals Montreal in the first round, despite investing heavily in some big-money signings.

The club has recently expanded their BMO Field, with a 36,000 capacity for Saturday's game, and tickets sold out within minutes of going on general sale.

While last year's final featured two relatively small-market teams with the Portland Timbers beating Columbus Crew, this encounter should generate much higher interest among television viewers.

Toronto coach Greg Vanney played for the LA Galaxy against DC United in MLS's first ever title game in 1996 and believes this clash is set to be the most impactful in the league's history.

"This will be the biggest MLS Cup, yet, to date. Obviously, two countries are represented with teams, and two of the major market teams, in terms of fan support, media support, all those kinds of things.

"So I think this'll be, in terms of coverage and attention - I think it'll probably be the biggest MLS Cup that we've seen so far," he said.
'Big Three' boost Toronto

Toronto have taken full advantage of MLS's 'designated player' ruling which allows for three players on contracts that mostly do not count against the salary cap.

Diminutive Italian international forward Sebastian Giovinco was brought from Juventus while Americans Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley returned to the league from Europe creating an NBA-style 'Big Three'.

It has taken time for the investment in that trio to be complemented by a rounded squad but this season has seen the side find the kind of form that made them title contenders from early in the campaign.

Seattle have been without their biggest name, forward Clint Dempsey since August, with the US international having been diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat.

But in the absence of the former Fulham and Tottenham striker, homegrown youngster Jordan Morris has shined in attack.

Seattle recovered from a poor start to the season which cost their only coach from the MLS-era, Sigi Schmid, his job in late July.

Assistant Brian Schmetzer took over and the club's form enjoyed a major upturn, significantly helped by the arrival from Boca Juniors of the talented Uruguayan international midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro, who has quickly become one of the most watchable players in the league.

"We haven't made it easy on ourselves this year but that just makes it sweeter," said Sounders striker Herculez Gomez, looking back on the disappointing first half of the campaign.

In the often physical contest that MLS games tend to produce, the outcome of the game could well depend on the battle of two shaven-headed enforcers in midfield.

US national team captain Michael Bradley's form is crucial to Toronto while tough-tackling Cuban Osvaldo Alonso gives some real bite to Seattle's midfield.

EPL Review Cruising Chelsea set eyes on Cloud Nine











Antonio Conte's Chelsea juggernaut rolls back into action against West Bromwich Albion on Sunday with the Premier League leaders chasing a ninth consecutive win.

Chelsea produced the most impressive display of their winning streak last weekend when they came from behind to win 3-1 at Pep Guardiola's Manchester City.

They have not won nine successive league games within the same season since 2007 and ahead of West Brom's visit, Marcos Alonso has urged his team-mates not to let their level drop.

"Winning game after game gives you confidence, but you have to keep working," the Spanish wing-back told the Chelsea website.

"The results give you confidence to work in this way, though. We have got to use this momentum of the last eight league games and go on to have another good game against West Brom now."

While most of Chelsea's title rivals have been in European action this week, Conte's side have once again had a full week to prepare for the visit of Tony Pulis's side.

It is 32 years since West Brom last won at Chelsea, but they have drawn on two of their last three visits and have climbed to seventh in the table on the back of a four-game unbeaten run.

"(Chelsea) are on a great run of form," West Brom manager Pulis told the club website.







"The manager's come in and he's changed things around and got the players playing the way they can. It's a wonderful, wonderful squad of players. But we'll go there and do our best."

Guardiola's City will look to kick their title challenge back into gear when they visit unravelling champions Leicester City on Saturday.

The ill-tempered defeat at Chelsea's hands left a mark, with Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho picking up red cards that will keep them out until after Christmas.

City have slipped to fourth place in the table, four points below Chelsea, and although Leicester are toiling in 16th place, Pablo Zabaleta is taking nothing for granted.







"Always it's a difficult place to go. Even if they are not doing great in the domestic competition, they are still a good team, very competitive," said the City right-back.

"It is going to be a tough game. We need to win and get three points after the big defeat last weekend to stay in the fight for the title."

While City have won their last three away matches in the league, they have won just four of their last 14 games in all competitions as Guardiola continues to search for a durable winning formula.

His problems pale in comparison, however, beside those of Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri, who saw a second-string side trounced 5-0 by Porto in the Champions League on Wednesday.

With seven defeats already, Leicester's league form is as alarming as last season's was astonishing and has left them just two points above the relegation zone.

Second-place Arsenal, three points behind Chelsea, can provisionally take over at the summit if they beat Stoke City by two goals or more at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday.

Alexis Sanchez's hat-trick fired Arsenal to a 5-1 win at West Ham United last weekend, which was followed by a superb 4-1 win at Basel in the Champions League, but manager Arsene Wenger feels there is more to come.

"I feel the team is on the way upwards," he said.

"But we have as well to show that first of all we can improve, that we have the desire to improve as a team, and as well, that we can repeat the performances week in, week out.

"Stoke is another challenge for us that we can reset, refocus and continue our development and take the points."

Like Chelsea, third-place Liverpool have had a week off to prepare for Sunday's home game with West Ham.

Manchester United, in contrast, entertain Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday just two days after returning from a gruelling Europa League trip to play Ukrainian side Zorya Luhansk.

Jose Mourinho's side, currently sixth, trail fifth-place Spurs by six points and will have a mountain to climb in terms of Champions League qualification if they lose at Old Trafford.

Fixtures

Saturday (1500 GMT unless otherwise stated):

Arsenal v Stoke, Burnley v Bournemouth, Hull v Crystal Palace, Leicester v Man City (1730 GMT), Swansea v Sunderland, Watford v Everton (1230 GMT)

Sunday (1415 GMT unless otherwise stated):

Chelsea v West Brom (1200 GMT), Liverpool v West Ham (1630 GMT), Man United v Tottenham, Southampton v Middlesbrough





Park Geun-hye South Korea parliament introduces bill to impeach president



Opposition parties have said they believe they will get the two-thirds majority needed to pass the bill.




South Korea’s parliament introduced a bill on Thursday to impeach President Park Geun-hye, setting the stage for a historic vote to oust the embattled leader engulfed in an influence-peddling scandal.

Parliament is expected to vote on Friday in favour of impeachment, although the Constitutional Court must decide whether to uphold the motion, a process that could take up to 180 days.

Opposition parties have said they believe they will get the two-thirds majority needed to pass the bill, with support from about 30 members of Park’s conservative Saenuri Party to secure the necessary 200 votes.

Park, 64, said this week she would await the court’s ruling, signalling that the country’s six-weeks-long political crisis is set to continue.

Park, the daughter of a former military ruler, is under intense pressure to resign immediately, with big crowds taking to the streets of Seoul, every Saturday calling for her ouster.

Her approval rating is at a record low of 4 per cent. A Realmeter poll released on Thursday said 78.2 per cent of respondents wanted Park to be impeached.

She would be the first democratically elected South Korean president not to serve a full five-year term.

Former President Roh Moo-hyun was impeached by parliament in 2004, a motion that was overturned by the Constitutional Court which said grounds for impeachment were insufficient.

Park is accused of colluding with a friend and a former aide to pressure big businesses to donate to two foundations set up to back her policy initiatives.

She has denied wrongdoing but apologised for carelessness in her ties with the friend, Choi Soon-sil.

An impeachment vote must be held within 72 hours of the motion’s introduction, and the speaker of parliament, Chung Sye-kyun, asked for a vote on Friday.

European Union: EU says nations can return migrants to Greece from March



Avramopoulos said that "in practice only a very small number of people" are likely to be transferred back to Greece in the near future.











The EU proposed Thursday that member states resume returning asylum seekers to Greece from March next year, after transfers were suspended for five years because of poor conditions there.

The European Commission, the EU executive, said Athens had now partly improved conditions in line with 2011 court rulings that had suspended the transfers and encouraged the flow of refugees and migrants to wealthier EU countries.

"We are recommending the gradual resumption of Dublin transfers of asylum seekers starting next year," EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told a press conference, with aides saying the date is March 15.

"Greece has made significant progress under very pressing, very difficult conditions to put in place a fully functioning asylum system over the last months, and I want to praise Greece," said Avramopoulos, who is Greek.

People who have already moved on from Greece cannot be returned, and the returns system will only apply to people who move to other countries after March 15, he said.

Unaccompanied minors and vulnerable people will be excluded from the transfers, while Greece must also provide guarantees for each individual person returned that they will receive proper treatment.

Avramopoulos said that "in practice only a very small number of people" are likely to be transferred back to Greece in the near future.

Under the EU's Dublin asylum rules, countries where migrants first land must process their asylum requests, and must also take back any asylum seekers who travel to other countries in the bloc.

Greece and Italy have been the first point of entry for the lion's share of the more than one million migrants who have entered the bloc fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.

A ruling by the EU's top court in 2011 at the height of Greece's debt crisis said conditions for asylum seekers in Greece were degrading, meaning that other countries could not send them back.

Impetus for reform of the EU asylum rules grew in October last year when German Chancellor Angela Merkel said "let's be frank. The Dublin process, in its current form, is obsolete".

Migrant numbers had surged after Germany declared it would admit Syrians, even if they technically should have applied for refugee status in the first EU country they set foot in on their way to Germany.

Syria's President confident of victory in Aleppo



"Let's be realistic -- it won't mean the end of the war in Syria," Assad said. "But it will be a huge step towards this end."






President Bashar al-Assad said victory for his forces in Aleppo would be a "huge step" in ending Syria's war, as government troops battled Thursday to retake more rebel ground.

Despite pleas from increasingly cornered opposition fighters, Western countries and the United Nations, Assad also rejected talk of a ceasefire in Aleppo.

Repeated diplomatic efforts this week to end the fighting have stalled, with US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov failing to make a breakthrough in their latest talks on Wednesday.



In a wide-ranging interview with Syrian daily Al-Watan, Assad was confident of victory in Aleppo, though he admitted retaking the city would not end the country's conflict entirely.

"It's true that Aleppo will be a win for us," Assad said.

"Let's be realistic -- it won't mean the end of the war in Syria," Assad said. "But it will be a huge step towards this end."

Regime forces have retaken about 80 percent of former rebel territory in Aleppo since launching an all-out offensive three weeks ago to recapture Syria's second city.\





After a highly symbolic retreat from Aleppo's Old City, the rebels on Wednesday called for a five-day ceasefire to allow for the evacuation of thousands of civilians still in opposition-held territory.

But Assad's government has said a truce is only possible after a full rebel withdrawal from Aleppo, and opposition fighters have rejected any talk of abandoning the city.
'Must have been terrifying'

Asked about the possibility of a truce, Assad said: "It's practically non-existent, of course".

Assad's forces, backed by foreign fighters from Iran and Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah movement, were continuing to advance on Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.







The Britain-based monitoring group said there was heavy rocket fire on several rebel-held districts and fighting in the Salaheddin and Bustan al-Qasr neighbourhoods.

The assault has prompted a mass exodus of residents, with the Observatory saying at least 80,000 have fled their homes.

Syrian troops and aid groups have been helping to evacuate residents from newly retaken areas of east Aleppo, where civilians lived for months under heavy bombardment and a regime siege.







The International Committee of the Red Cross said Thursday it carried out an operation overnight with Syria's Red Crescent to evacuate 150 civilians, many disabled or sick, from a health facility in the Old City.

"These patients and civilians had been trapped in the area for days because of heavy clashes nearby and as the front line kept drawing closer," said ICRC Syria delegation head Marianne Gasser.

"Many of them cannot move and need special attention and care. It must have been terrifying for them," she said.



Six western powers -- Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and the United States -- called Wednesday for an "immediate ceasefire" in Aleppo, saying a humanitarian disaster was "taking place before our very eyes".

The government offensive has killed 384 civilians in east Aleppo, including 45 children, the Observatory says.

Rebel fire into the west of the city has killed at least 105 people, including 35 children, in the same period, it says.

Driving rebel forces from Aleppo would mark the biggest victory yet for Assad's forces in the country's civil war, which began in 2011.

In his interview, Assad said a rebel loss in Aleppo "will mean the transformation of the course of the war across Syria" and leave opposition factions and their backers with "no cards left to play".

Assad pledged to fight rebels even beyond Aleppo.

"Terrorists are present elsewhere -- even if we finish with Aleppo, we will continue our war against them," he said.







In France: Le Pen calls for end of education for illegal migrants



"That's finished now, it's the end of playtime," she told an audience at a conference organised by a polling group in Paris.









French far-right leader Marine Le Pen proposed Thursday that the children of illegal immigrants should be refused public school places as part of tough proposals to restrict state services.

"I've got nothing against foreigners but I say to them: if you come to our country, don't expect that you will be taken care of, treated (by the health system) and that your children will be educated for free," Le Pen said.

"That's finished now, it's the end of playtime," she told an audience at a conference organised by a polling group in Paris.

The leader of the National Front (FN) is forecast by opinion polls to finish second in next year's presidential election but she is hoping for new momentum after the victory of Donald Trump in the United States.

Speaking to AFP afterwards, she clarified that she only wanted to block education for immigrants who are in the country illegally, not all foreigners.

But she said that any foreigner using the public education system without paying tax in France should have to contribute.

"We're going to reserve our efforts and our national solidarity for the most humble, the most modest and the most poor among us," Le Pen told the conference.

The FN sees itself as part of a global revolt against immigration, established political parties and globalisation epitomised by Trump's victory last month.

It regularly criticises the use of France's chronically over-budget social security system for foreigners, arguing that French people should be prioritised.

Le Pen falsely claimed on Thursday that anyone aged over 65 could arrive in France and start claiming old-age social security payments.

Polls currently show her qualifying for the second-round of May's election where she is forecast to face -- and be defeated by -- rightwing Republicans party candidate Francois Fillon.

Few analysts see her as likely to take power, but the last 12 months has been an unpredictable year in politics and France's sickly economy and immigration are top issues for voters.

Le Pen wants to withdraw France from the eurozone and has called for a referendum on France's membership of the European Union.

Fillon has also taken a tough line on immigration in his programme, promising to reduce it to a "strict minimum" and calling on newcomers to adapt to French culture.

He has rejected the idea of "multiculturalism" and insists that France must defend its traditions, language and identity.

In Brazil: Senate speaker spared sacking by judges



Tens of thousands of protesters rallied on Sunday around the country demanding that Calheiros be sacked.









Brazil's Supreme Court Wednesday overruled a bid to suspend the powerful Senate speaker from his position as he faces trial for alleged embezzlement, offering some relief to the scandal-hit government.

The court's judges voted to let Renan Calheiros, 61, remain in his post but stripped him of his status as third in line after the president, on grounds that he faces corruption charges -- which he denies.

An earlier ruling by one of the judges, Marco Aurelio Mello, had threatened to disrupt President Michel Temer's efforts to push a sensitive public spending cap through the legislature.

The full board of judges voted by six to three to overturn that ruling.

They also ruled that Calheiros must be stripped of the constitutional role that would see him become the country's replacement president in the event that Temer or his number two, the speaker of the lower house, could not perform the task.

Calling the decision "patriotic," Calheiros said in a statement that "confidence in Brazilian justice and the separation of powers remains immovable."

Calheiros is considered Temer's most powerful ally.

Together they led impeachment procedures which ended in Temer's predecessor, Dilma Rousseff, being removed from office in August.

Now Temer is tasked with lifting Latin America's biggest economy out of crisis.

Following Wednesday's ruling, Calheiros will be able to preside over a Senate session next Tuesday, when the decisive vote on Temer's spending cap is scheduled.

Tens of thousands of protesters rallied on Sunday around the country demanding that Calheiros be sacked.

The court last week ordered Calheiros to face trial on embezzlement charges. He has denied accusations he used public money to make support payments to a woman with whom he had a child.

In a separate case, Calheiros is among numerous top politicians including an ex-president and lawmakers accused of helping steal billions from the state oil firm Petrobras.

Calheiros had tried unsuccessfully last week to push through an urgent reform that would challenge judges' powers to investigate corruption.

Prosecutors threatened to resign in response, saying the reform would undermine Operation Car Wash, as the Petrobras probe is known.

Temer went from vice president to president this year when he and Calheiros drove proceedings that saw Rousseff impeached for fiddling with government books.

Although Temer has not been formally investigated himself over the Petrobras scandal, it has forced the resignation of several of his ministers.

The political drama deepened last week when corruption suspects appeared to be lining up to make more potentially explosive revelations.

A source close to construction firm Odebrecht told AFP that 77 of its current and former executives had signed a plea deal with investigators in return for lighter sentences.

The 77 include the firm's jailed boss Marcelo Odebrecht, who was reported earlier this year to have named Temer in testimony to investigators.

NATO: 150 Turkish officers leave command after coup bid



In all, there was "about a 50 percent reduction" in the number of Turkish officers, or about 150 individuals, he said











Around 150 Turkish officers have left NATO's command structure following the attempted military coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the alliance's head of forces in Europe said on Wednesday.

"The Turkish military had a fairly sizeable number of officers that were either detained, some recalled from here, that worked for us here, and some retired from active service," US General Curtis Scaparrotti told journalists on the sidelines of a NATO meeting in Brussels.

In all, there was "about a 50 percent reduction" in the number of Turkish officers, or about 150 individuals, he said.

"I have refilled a little over half of that and there are more officers coming in," he said.

"It does have an impact because it was largely very senior personnel and you lose a good deal of experience.

"So we are seeing a bit of degradation there and we are also having to build relationships with new leaders, NATO partners. That's coming along fine but it is going to take some time... it puts an extra load on our remaining people."

Turkey has carried down a wide-ranging crackdown on its military following the botched coup of July 15.

It has arrested or discharged thousands of army personnel and detained more than a hundred generals and admirals.

On November 18, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said a number of Turkish officers serving in NATO command positions had requested asylum.

Erdogan, two days later, warned NATO against sheltering "terrorist" soldiers "involved in plotting a coup".

In a high-profile case, eight Turkish officers have sought asylum in Greece, a move that has strained relations between the two neighbours.

On Tuesday, a Greek court ruled that three should be sent back. On Monday, a request to extradite three others was turned down on the grounds that the Turkish authorities had not provided sufficient evidence, and that their personal safety was in jeopardy at home.

Scaparrotti admitted to being "concerned" about the safety of Turkish officers sent back to their homeland.

"Will they (the Turkish regime) follow the rule of law and treat their people appropriately?

"In some cases I really don't understand what their (the officers) future is at this point."

In Indonesia: Earthquake kills more than 100 in Aceh province



The rescue teams were scouring rubble across Pidie Jaya, about 70 miles southeast of the provincial capital, Banda Aceh











More than 100 people were killed early Wednesday and more were feared dead after a powerful earthquake struck the Indonesian island of Sumatra, with many of the victims crushed to death in their homes as they slept.

The earthquake, which shook Sumatra’s northernmost province, Aceh, had a preliminary magnitude of 6.5, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The Indonesian Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency said that the temblor, which struck after 5 a.m. at a depth of about 6 miles, was centered in Pidie Jaya, a region on Aceh’s east coast, adjacent to the Strait of Malacca.

Connie Magdalena, a duty officer at the National Search and Rescue Agency’s headquarters in Jakarta, the capital, said Thursday that at least 102 people had been killed. Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for the National Agency for Disaster Management, said earlier that more than 500 people had been injured, 125 of them seriously.

“But we are still doing search and rescue operations,” Magdalena said. “The communications with our teams in the field remains very bad, but they are still searching.”

The rescue teams were scouring rubble across Pidie Jaya, about 70 miles southeast of the provincial capital, Banda Aceh.

Sutopo said that panicked residents in Pidie Jaya had run from homes and other buildings. At least five aftershocks were felt, he said.

“Numerous homes and buildings collapsed; shop houses collapsed,” he said.

Sutopo said that more than 160 homes and more than 100 buildings, including 14 mosques and a school, had been damaged.

Medical teams were transferring some survivors to the town of Sigli, the capital of the neighboring region of Pidie, because of overcrowding at hospitals in Pidie Jaya, The Jakarta Post reported.

Both Indonesian and international aid organizations were sending teams to Aceh to assist in the disaster. As rescue and relief operations continued, another earthquake, with a magnitude of 5, struck nearby late Wednesday. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

Aceh was devastated by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that was caused by a giant earthquake off its western coast. The disaster killed 230,000 in more than a dozen countries, 170,000 of them in Aceh province alone.

Trump: President-elect picks fossil fuel ally to head environment agency



They described Pruitt as a spectacularly poor choice to lead the fight to protect America's natural resources.












President-elect Donald Trump announced on Thursday he had tapped Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, criticized as a climate change denier and a staunch fossil fuel ally, to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

"For too long, the Environmental Protection Agency has spent taxpayer dollars on an out-of-control anti-energy agenda that has destroyed millions of jobs, while also undermining our incredible farmers and many other businesses and industries at every turn," Trump said in a statement.

It was the property mogul's formal confirmation of reports Wednesday of Pruitt's pick, which drew outrage from Trump opponents.

Pruitt "will reverse this trend and restore the EPA's essential mission of keeping our air and our water clean and safe," the billionaire businessman said.

"My administration strongly believes in environmental protection, and Scott Pruitt will be a powerful advocate for that mission while promoting jobs, safety and opportunity."

Opponents, however, said Pruitt is anything but an environmental advocate, pointing out that he has spent much of his time as Oklahoma's top law enforcement official battling the very agency he is now being nominated to lead.

They described Pruitt as a spectacularly poor choice to lead the fight to protect America's natural resources.

"Scott Pruitt has spent the past several years fighting tooth and nail to help polluters erase or circumvent the critical environmental protections our nation has put in place," said Steny Hoyer, the number two Democrat in the House of Representatives, in a statement released Wednesday, as news of Pruitt's nomination began to circulate.
'Freedom for American businesses'

"To put him in charge of the very agency he has worked to undermine is an affront to all Americans who care about the health of our air and water and the very real threat we face from climate change," Hoyer said.

Pruitt's own official biography highlights his role as "a leading advocate against the EPA's activist agenda," and in the past he has sued the EPA on behalf of Oklahoma utilities.

Nevertheless, Pruitt, 48, said he is eager to take up his new post.

"I am deeply grateful and honored to serve as President-elect Trump's EPA Administrator," he said in the statement released by the transition team in New York City.

"The American people are tired of seeing billions of dollars drained from our economy due to unnecessary EPA regulations, and I intend to run this agency in a way that fosters both responsible protection of the environment and freedom for American businesses."

Republicans have long argued that President Barack Obama's administration, through the EPA, has imposed burdensome environmental regulations such as anti-pollution measures on US corporations, many in the name of fighting climate change.

Trump, who scored a surprise win in this year's presidential election, campaigned this year vowing to curtail or terminate such regulations.

The EPA chief also has a strong impact on US actions to combat climate change: the agency both determines what international commitments the country is able to make, and implements the measures.

Netanyahu: Israeli PM rejects Abbas peace talks in Paris: office



"Israel will not participate in an international conference that will not contribute to peace," it added.











Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday rejected the possibility of a meeting with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas at a France-led peace conference later this month, his office said.

Israeli officials have long opposed the initiative, which would involve an international summit in Paris at the end of December aimed at restarting long-stalled peace efforts with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu told French President Francois Hollande in a Wednesday phone call however that he was willing to meet Abbas "directly, without preconditions," his office said in a statement.

"Israel will not participate in an international conference that will not contribute to peace," it added.

The Palestinians strongly support France's international approach, saying years of negotiations with the Israelis have not ended the occupation.

Netanyahu has spoken out against "international diktats" and repeatedly called for direct negotiations.

Peace efforts have been at a complete standstill since a US-led initiative collapsed in April 2014.

A spokesman for Netanyahu repeated Israel's rejection of the French initiative on Wednesday.

"Peace will be achieved through direct negotiations with our Palestinian neighbours, not through international conferences," David Keyes said before Netanyahu's call with Hollande.

"Our position has not changed. Israel will not attend the French conference because it will push peace further away."

In South Africa: White men accused of forcing black man into coffin denied bail



The case has laid bare the racial tensions that endure over two decades after the end of apartheid rule in 1994.













A South African court on Thursday denied bail to two white men charged with assault and kidnapping after a video showed them forcing a wailing black man into a coffin, an act the judge described as “brutal racism”.

The case has laid bare the racial tensions that endure over two decades after the end of apartheid rule in 1994, as well as the inequalities between black and white people.

A 20-second video circulating on social media showing Victor Mlotshwa cowering inside a coffin as one man pushes a lid on his head and the other threatening to set the casket alight has caused public outrage.

The two accused, Willem Oosthuizen and Theo Jackson, told the court that Mlotshwa was trespassing on their farm in Middelburg about 162 km east of Johannesburg and was in possession of stolen copper cables.

Magistrate Jongilizwe Dumehleli, though denied the accused bail, said public outrage would worsen if the applicants were freed on bail.

“When the court looked at the tragedy as it unfolded, it is clear that the assault was triggered by brutal racism,’’ he said.

However, the case was adjourned to Jan. 25.

Report says black people make up 80 per cent of South Africa’s 54 million population yet most of the economy remains in the hands of white people.

It noted that they accounted for about 8 per cent of the population.


In Aleppo: White Helmet rescuers call for safe passage



A rebel call for a five-day ceasefire and the evacuation of civilians to opposition territory elsewhere has gone unanswered.












The White Helmets rescue group on Thursday urged international organisations to protect its members in rebel-held parts of Syria's east Aleppo in the face of an advance by government forces.

"If we are not evacuated, our volunteers face torture and execution in the regime's detention centres," the rescuers said in a statement released by the Syria Campaign advocacy group that handles communications for them.

The White Helmets, which was nominated this year for a Nobel Peace Prize for its work, said it believed it had "less than 48 hours left" before the army arrived in parts of east Aleppo still held by rebels.

Addressing the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the United Nations and Security Council members, the group called for an "urgent safe passage" for its staff, their families and other humanitarian workers.

In the last three weeks, government forces have seized around 85 percent of territory rebels controlled in east Aleppo.

A rebel call for a five-day ceasefire and the evacuation of civilians to opposition territory elsewhere has gone unanswered.

"We have good reason to fear for our lives," the White Helmets said.

It charged that the Damascus regime and its allies have "falsely claimed many times that our unarmed and impartial rescue workers... are in fact affiliated with radical extremist groups".

The group said its members in the city feared they would "be treated as terrorists" and could face detention or execution by advancing regime troops.

"We hold the ICRC, the United Nations and the Security Council responsible for our lives and we call on you to secure safe passage," it added.

The White Helmets operates in rebel-held territory throughout Syria and has won international acclaim for its daring rescues in the aftermaths of government attacks.

It was widely considered a frontrunner for this year's Nobel Peace Prize, and in September won a Swedish right award often described as an "alternative Nobel".

It is not without its critics, mostly backers of the government of President Bashar al-Assad who accuse it of being a tool of international donors that support the opposition.

But it contends it has no political affiliation, working only to save civilian lives in highly dangerous circumstances.

In Sudan: Government arrests top human rights activist



Ibrahim's family members also confirmed that he had been arrested and that they had no information on his whereabouts.














Sudanese security agents have arrested a prominent rights activist, Mudawi Ibrahim Adam, as part of an ongoing crackdown on dissent, Amnesty International said on Thursday.

The 58-year-old was taken into custody on Wednesday at the University of Khartoum where he works as a professor of engineering, the rights watchdog said.

"He was arrested by National Intelligence and Security Service agents... and taken to an undisclosed location where he is at a grave risk of torture and other ill-treatment," Amnesty said in a statement.

Ibrahim's family members also confirmed to AFP that he had been arrested and that they had no information on his whereabouts.

"Mudawi's arbitrary arrest underscores the government's desperate attempts to extinguish the last embers of dissent in the country," Amnesty's deputy director for East Africa, Michelle Kagari, said in the statement.

In recent weeks, Sudanese security agents have arrested several opposition leaders and activists in an attempt to crush widespread protests against a government decision to raise fuel prices last month.

The authorities are determined to avoid any repetition of 2013 unrest that was sparked by a similar round of fuel subsidy cuts.

It was suppressed only by a deadly crackdown by security forces that drew international condemnation.

Rights groups say that crackdown left about 200 people dead, while the government put the death toll at less than 100.

Groups of protesters have staged sporadic demonstrations against the latest round of subsidy cuts, but anti-riot policemen have swiftly dispersed them.

Opposition groups and activists had called for a three-day "stay-at-home" strike in November against the rising cost of living and subsidy cuts. The call had met with a mixed response.

Ibrahim, who has worked extensively on human rights causes in Sudan, has been arrested several times before for his work.

His organisation the Sudan Social Development Organisation was shut down by the government in 2009.