Inside US-Thai war games where soldiers guzzle cobra blood (PHOTOS)

American and Asian soldiers have been flexing their muscles in the latest Cobra Gold war games, where some participants are required to drink the blood of decapitated snakes.

The exercise kicked off last week in Korat, Thailand, where military personnel from the US, Singapore, Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and Malaysia joined the host nation in stress shooting and ambitious assault training. At least 6,800 US troops are taking part in the 10-day tournament, approximately double the number of personnel that attended the event last year.

READ MORE: S. Korea all smiles at Olympics, but troops stay ready in massive SE Asia drills (PHOTOS, VIDEOS)

On Monday, troops were taught how to trap wild animals, including a cobra. During the unusual jungle survival exercise, soldiers from units belonging to the US Marines and the Royal Thai Army handled live cobras before drinking blood from the decapitated creatures.

The Cobra Gold event, which is now in its 37th year, put troops through their paces in a mock amphibious assault at Hat Yao Beach on Saturday. Earlier, a reconnaissance unit from the Royal Thai Army engaged in stress shooting with US infantrymen.

Designed to test rifle accuracy, the stress shooting exercise involves soldiers doing squats and pushups before firing on multiple enemy targets.

“We began the training doing individual tactics, bounding and low crawl basics,” US Army infantryman Matthew Norcia told a US Department of Defense media outlet.

“After some training with that, we moved into the street shoot live fire exercise. The stress shoot was hot and tiring, but it was fun. I liked it and I think the Thai soldiers enjoyed it too.”

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‘I never lack motivation’ – Artem Lobov speaks on ‘decisive’ fight at UFC 223

UFC featherweight Artem Lobov says he doesn’t need any additional motivation going into his fight with Alex Caceres at UFC 223 in Brooklyn, New York, although he admits the bout could be decisive for both men.

Last week the UFC announced that 31-year-old Dublin resident Lobov will be on the UFC 223 card in Brooklyn against American Alex Caceres. Coming off two decision losses in 2017, Lobov now faces a tough challenge, as yet another defeat could end his time with the UFC, meaning it’s a make-or-break bout.

Same might imply the same is true for his opponent, the 29-year-old Caceres, who has suffered three losses in his last four fights.

“Yes, it’s a decisive fight for both of us,” Lobov admitted, talking exclusively to RT Sport.

“(But) obviously, (the UFC) is the best organization in the world, so you have to be performing accordingly. Those are tough challenges. Every single fight is a tough fight there. And you have to be winning. So it’s an important fight for me for sure.”

However, Lobov added that his motivation for any cage fight remains at the same high level, no matter how potentially important the bout is for his career.

“I never lack motivation. When you are going for a fight, the other person is there to hurt you. You have to make sure you hurt them more to get the win. I always put it on the line, I leave nothing behind, I never quit. And it won’t be any different this time around.”

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The UFC 223 fight card, which will be headlined by the lightweight championship bout between Tony Ferguson and Lobov’s fellow Russian, Khabib Nurmagomedov, will be hosted in a city that’s known as a hotbed for immigrants from Russian-speaking states.

Unsurprisingly, the event has long been rumored to feature a number of Russian fighters. Apart from Nurmagomedov and Lobov, the card is expected to see exiting UFC newcomer Zabit Magomedsharipov and Mairbek Taisumov.

Lobov also admitted that the choice of the card wasn’t accidental.

“I wanted to either fight at UFC London or else UFC in Brooklyn. I want to fight in front of my fans. And those were the best options. London has a big Russian and Irish community. And Brooklyn has probably even bigger Russian and Irish communities. So I look forward to putting on a show for my fans and fighting in front of my crowd.”

Lobov could have been added to the Brooklyn card for another reason as well. Lobov’s friend and longtime sparring partner Conor McGregor always corners him in fights, and the UFC would definitely want to see the ‘Notorious’ Irishman in the crowd during the fight for the lightweight belt.

READ MORE: ‘McGregor will have to wait in line when I win UFC belt’ – Khabib Nurmagomedov on lightweight rivals

“I guess that probably played the part. For sure they would like to see Conor in the arena when Khabib and Tony fight. They did this before his fight with (Jose) Aldo. When Aldo was fighting (Chad) Mendes, they flew Conor to Brazil, so he would watch the fight live, in front of them. And then he fought Aldo later on, the same year. So I guess it’s a history repeating itself again,” said Lobov.

While McGregor technically still holds the lightweight belt, and Ferguson is entitled as the interim champion, UFC head Dana White has already announced that the winner of the UFC 223 main event will be announced as champion.

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Use local elections to get your own back on PM for ‘Brexit chaos’ — Sadiq Khan

London’s Mayor has urged the city’s EU citizens to punish Theresa May in the upcoming local elections. Sadiq Khan has targeted the Tory government over their Brexit policy, predicted to bring them extensive electoral losses.

This May’s local elections will be the first chance that London’s one-million-plus EU citizens have had to voice their displeasure with the Tories, Khan told the Evening Standard.

Although EU citizens living in the UK cannot vote in general elections, they are entitled to take part in local elections — making the early summer vote the perfect way, according to Khan, to apply pressure to the Conservative party and the direction of their Brexit negotiations.

“We need to send the Tory Government a message that we don’t want their chaotic, extreme, hard Brexit approach — before it’s too late and the damage is irrevocably done,” Khan said.

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“The clock is ticking — and while the Tories fight amongst themselves, putting their narrow party interests first, the fate of jobs and growth for Londoners and people across the country hangs in the balance.

“This is our last chance to tell the Tories that we want a Brexit deal that works for us — including continued membership of the Single Market and Customs Union, and access to talent that we so desperately need to succeed.”

Roughly 1.1 million EU citizens are eligible to vote in London; an estimated 51,000 of them in Barnet and up to 39,000 in Wandsworth. The two boroughs will be key battlegrounds in the upcoming polls.

A “Brexit battering” at the polls could be significant for UK PM Theresa May — some Tories have said her performance in the local elections will help determine whether or not the Conservatives will go through a leadership contest.

While criticizing the government, the biggest lobbying group for EU citizens, The3million, has also called on Labour to give clearer guarantees on their rights after Brexit.

The group’s Director of Communications Maike Bohn said “the jury is out on Labour.”

“But I think there will be a much higher turnout of EU citizens in these elections,” she said. “Some people may vote for the Liberal Democrats or the Greens because they opposed Article 50.”

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US families illegally adopted 100s of Chilean children during Pinochet dictatorship

A bombshell report by the Chilean judiciary has revealed that hundreds of children illegally adopted by foreigners during the Pinochet dictatorship were sent to the US. A judge overseeing the probe called it “kidnapping.”

Judge Mario Carroza’s report, released Sunday, followed a probe into 579 adoptions between 1950 and 2001, 488 of those during the 1973-1990 dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. Of those, 525 were adopted by foreign families, and 432 went to the US. Calling the practice “kidnapping” and a “crime against humanity,” Carroza pointed out that Chile had no legal mechanism for overseas adoption until 1988.

Files on the 579 children of “vulnerable” mothers were discovered at the home of 96-year-old social worker Telma Uribe, who played a key role in the “irregular” adoptions according to Carroza. Mothers in financial hardship were paid to transfer their newborns to the legal guardianship of agencies. They were then “handed over” to families abroad.

The American Adoption Agency is linked to 206 of the cases; the Evangelical Adoption and Family Service to 22; the New York Study Service to 11; International Adoptions, Inc. to four; Catholic Charities of Richmond to three; Today’s Family, Inc. to three; and Homestudies, Inc. to two.

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Carroza, a Santiago Appellate Court judge, told the Chilean newspaper La Tercera his team were probing “abduction of minors” in relation to political violence and human rights violations during the Pinochet era. “But the investigation goes further, because there are various traces of irregularities that perhaps it would be best to clear up.”

Even if “we are talking about cases that are not considered crimes against humanity, we would be talking about acts that would be proscribed,” the judge said.

Uribe conspired with two doctors, a lawyer, a translator, two other social workers and organizations including children’s homes and maternity wards, the report said. She even advertised her services on radio to mothers thinking of putting their children up for adoption.

Most of the mothers were going through economic difficulties, the report said, and were paid in one way or another to give up their children.

“In the great majority of cases reviewed there is effectively an economic contribution for diverse reasons,” the report notes.

Pinochet took power in the September, 1973 CIA-backed coup against socialist leader Salvador Allende, who committed suicide as troops stormed the presidential palace.

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Anti-fascists clash with police as far-right demonstrators take to Italian streets (VIDEOS)

Italian far-right demonstrators were met with opposition from their anti-fascist counterparts in several Italian cities over the weekend amid heightened tensions in the run-up to national elections.

In the southern city of Naples two people required medical treatment, while 20 were arrested, when demonstrators protesting a rally by the neo-fascist CasaPound party clashed with police on Sunday.

Riot police can be seen charging the demonstrators, striking a number of them with batons as red flares illuminate the smoke-filled night. A number of demonstrators are seen in the video below being lined up against a fence and shop-front before being led away by police.

A larger group of demonstrators later regrouped outside police headquarters to protest the arrests reports La Repubblica. Meanwhile, further north in Venice protests were more subdued.

Around 1,000 anti-fascists protesters descended on the city, decrying the far-right group Forza Nuova. Organizers held banners reading “Venice is antifascist” as they marched through the Italian city, lighting flares and shouting anti-fascist chants.

One protester, Marco Baravalle told protesters, “Roberto Fiore (Forza Nuova leader) wasn’t able to land in Venice’s lagoon because it was blocked with a huge democratic demonstration.”

Police reportedly moved the Forza Nuova rally to the other side of the city where 60 far-right supporters gathered flanked by police in riot gear. Italian cities had been on high alert since clashes between anti-fascists and the police broke out in the centre of Bologna on Friday.

Police used water cannon to disperse the crowd, seven people were reportedly injured while two were arrested.

Tensions have been high in Italy since a one-time failed candidate for the right-wing Northern League party, Luca Traini, allegedly shot six Africans, during an apparently racially-motivated attack in the central Italian city of Macerata.

Traini was arrested at the scene with an Italian tri-color flag draped around his shoulders. A pistol was also reportedly found in his vehicle and police seized a copy of Adolf Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ and other Nazi-related publications from his home.

The shootings came shortly after news that a Nigerian man had been arrested for the murder of an 18-year-old girl on the outskirts of the city. 

READ MORE: Failed right-wing politician suspected in shooting of migrants in Italy

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Olympic lip-lock: Gay kiss at PyeongChang 2018 greeted with acclaim

A kiss between openly-gay Team USA snowboarder Gus Kenworthy and his boyfriend Matthew Wilkas at PyeongChang 2018 has received acclaim after it was candidly caught on camera and broadcast worldwide.

When slope-styler Kenworthy, competing with a broken rib, locked lips with Wilkas at PyeongChang’s Phoenix Snow Park at the ongoing Winter Games, the unwitting couple’s kiss was picked up by NBC TV cameras and reached millions around the world.

“Kiss Kiss Bish! Didn’t realize this moment was being filmed yesterday but I’m so happy that it was. My childhood self would never have dreamed of seeing a gay kiss on TV at the Olympics but for the first time ever a kid watching at home CAN! Love is love is love,” Kenworthy wrote on Instagram.

Back in 2014, Kenworthy had wanted to plant one on Wilkas after winning silver at the Sochi Games, but decided against it as he had not yet come out. He announced his sexuality a year later in an interview with ESPN.

Kenworthy, although placing 12th in his final, has been championed by many observers, who celebrated the first televised gay kiss involving an Olympian at a Games. Wilkas was much more conservative in response to the osculation.

“It was the tiniest kiss in the world. I could’ve made out with him had I known,” Wilkas told reporters, CNN reported. “I think it’s positive. I think it’s great exposure, a great thing for our community, but I also partly think, ‘What’s the big deal?’”

READ MORE: Flash dance: Costume malfunction leaves French Olympic figure skaters red-faced (PHOTOS)

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Top European banker arrested in money-laundering probe

The head of Latvia’s central bank and member of the European Central Bank (ECB) governing council has been detained as part of a corruption investigation in the country.

The arrest comes four days after the US Treasury accused Latvia’s third-largest lender of “institutionalized money laundering”. According to the US officials, Latvia’s ABLV bank had made money laundering into “a pillar of the bank’s business practices.”

“Illicit financial activity at the bank includes transactions for parties connected to UN-designated entities, some of which are involved in North Korea’s procurement or export of ballistic missiles,” the US Treasury said.

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Following the report, Latvia’s central bank governor Ilmars Rimsevics was interrogated for eight hours on Saturday. “We are facing a crisis of the international reputation of the Latvian financial system,” said Latvian Finance Minister Dana Reizniece-Ozolaana. Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis has called for the resignation of the central bank governor.

ABLV claims the US reports are based on unfounded and misleading information. The bank is based in the Latvian capital Riga but also has subsidiaries in Luxembourg and the US.

The European Central Bank (ECB) stopped all payments by ABLV on Monday. “In recent days, there has been a sharp deterioration of the bank’s financial position,” the ECB said in a statement on Monday.

“A moratorium was considered necessary given that the bank is working with the Latvian central bank and authorities to address the current situation.”

To stabilize the financial situation, ABLV asked the Bank of Latvia to issue a loan of €480 million, offering securities as collateral. It loaned ABLV €97.5 million on Monday.  Last year, two Latvian banks were fined for allowing clients to make payments to North Korea.

For more stories on economy & finance visit RT’s business section

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Anti-fur protesters cause mayhem at London Fashion Week show

Anti-fur campaigners have caused a stir at London Fashion Week, protesting designer Christopher Kane’s show. Kane is well known for using fur, most recently releasing a range of mink-covered Crocs shoes in 2017.

Animal rights group Surge has harried London Fashion Week (LFW) at every corner, protesting at the Burberry, Mary Katrantzou, and Christopher Kane shows, while also targeting 180 the Strand, the official home of the event.

At the Kane show, held on Monday afternoon at the Tate Britain in Millbank, Surge co-director Ed Winters told RT that the campaign group just wants to sit down with LFW organizers to discuss moving the fashion festival in a more ethical direction.

Winters said Monday’s Christopher Kane show had been targeted as the designer is a “prolific” user of fur.

“We’re not accusing people of being bad people, we’re just trying to raise awareness and show people that in 2018 there is no need for fur.

“We’re not cavemen,” he added.

While the animal rights group does not throw red paint on fur wearers, Winters said it does try to approach those wearing skins to educate them on the disturbing reality of the fur trade.

“We always try to go and chat to them. So I would go, are you aware that your fur came from an animal that suffered terribly in a fur farm? And it goes one or two ways; they say yes and it gets a bit hairy, or they don’t know. I think it is important to give them the benefit of the doubt.”

The British Fashion Council (BFC) said that while it does not believe in defining or wielding control over a designer’s “creative process,” it does “believe in the humane rights of people and animals and would encourage any designer who is using the platform of London Fashion Week to make ethical choices,” a BFC spokeswoman said.

“Over 90 percent of LFW designers that were interviewed confirmed they will not be using fur and we understand the remaining to be using bi-products of the food industry such as leather and shearling or ethically traceable sourcing,” she added.

While many designers at LFW 2018 may be doing the ethical thing, there are still many that use animal skins in their designs – and as long as that continues, groups like Surge will be there to voice their anger.

“We’d love to sit down (with LFW organizers) and just chat with them, and say ‘this is what we want’ and see if we can reach some kind of place where everybody’s happy,” Winters said.

“They definitely know that we’re here and they can hear us, and we know that they’re not happy with what we’re doing… as long as they continue to allow fur we’ll continue to protest.”

Both London Fashion Week and Christopher Kane have been approached for comment but did not respond by the time of publication.

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Rachel Lang, RT UK

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Trump supports more background checks on guns, says White House

President Donald Trump “is supportive of efforts to improve the federal background check system” for gun purchases. He was criticized for a pro-guns stance following the Florida high school shooting that left 17 people dead.

Trump spoke with Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, on Friday about a bill he introduced with Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, that aims to strengthen how state and federal governments report offenses that could prohibit people from buying a gun, according to White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

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While discussions are ongoing and revisions are being considered, the president is supportive of efforts to improve the federal background check system,”  Sanders said in a statement on Monday.

The bill, which was initially suggested in November 2017 following the shooting in Las Vegas,  would bolster the FBI database of prohibited gun buyers and would penalize federal agencies that fail to provide the necessary records. It would also reward states with federal grant preferences if they adhere to the rules.

The issue of background checks on gun purchases has erupted with fervor in the wake of last week’s deadly shooting in Florida. Suspected shooter Nikolas Cruz was “troubled” and reportedly suffers from mental ill-health, yet was still able to acquire an AR-15 rifle. He opened fire at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Wednesday.  

Trump has faced renewed calls for tighter gun laws from students and families of the Florida shooting victims.  A ‘March For Our Lives’ is planned for March 2018 in Washington DC to demand politicians take tougher action on gun violence and an end to school shootings.  

The president was also widely criticized for revoking Obama-era legislation that required the Social Security Administration to disclose information about individuals who are receiving disability benefits due to mental illness and are desirous of owning a firearm. The National Rifle Association (NRA) and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) argued that the rule violated the Second Amendment rights of individuals with mental illness without due process. Trump campaigned in 2016 on a commitment to protecting the Second Amendment. 

On Twitter, Trump hit out at Democrats over their alleged failure to pass gun control legislation.

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Measles cases surge 400% across Europe due to ‘vaccine supply issues’

Outbreaks of measles increased 400% in Europe last year, with the World Health Organization (WHO) warning the highly contagious virus has regained a foothold due to immunization decline and vaccine supply problems.

Reports of the disease, which can cause inflammation of the brain and pneumonia, reached an all time low in 2016. But the WHO has released new data revealing a sudden rise in measles cases.

READ MORE: World at risk of another global pandemic – but could it top these diseases that wiped out millions?

More than 20,000 cases of measles, for which there is no specific medication, were documented in Europe during 2017. The countries worst affected were Romania, with 5,562 new cases, along with Italy and Ukraine, which experienced a combined total of 9,773 potentially fatal measles reports.

“Every new person affected by measles in Europe reminds us that unvaccinated children and adults, regardless of where they live, remain at risk of catching the disease and spreading it to others who may not be able to get vaccinated,” said Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO regional director for Europe.

“Over 20,000 cases of measles, and 35 lives lost in 2017 alone, are a tragedy we simply cannot accept,” she said. Interruptions to vaccine supplies and a fall in overall immunization is blamed for the sharp increase. A UN ministerial meeting on the subject is due to take place in Montenegro on Tuesday.

“Elimination of both measles and rubella is a priority goal that all European countries have firmly committed to, and a cornerstone for achieving the health-related sustainable development goals,” Dr Jakab added.

READ MORE: Deadly flesh-eating illness has infected over 500 people in Japan

“This short-term setback cannot deter us from our commitment to be the generation that frees our children from these diseases once and for all.”

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