Like on Mars: African dust & sand turn Sochi snow slopes yellow (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

A mix of sand and pollen has covered Russia’s Sochi resort, leaving its mountains looking like sand dunes. However, the Martian landscape didn’t stop enthusiasts from hitting the hazy yellow slopes and posting apocalyptic photos.

Social media has been flooded with photos of the thick layer of yellowish dust on the snowy slopes of the Rosa Khutor ski resort near Russia’s southern city of Sochi. The venue hosted the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.

The color of such unconventional snow varied from light yellow to intense orange and even brown. “Snowy slopes were transformed into barkhan dunes,” one tourist wrote, adding an epic picture of the surreal landscape. Others noted that Krasnaya Polyana village, where the resort is located and which translates into English as ‘Red Meadow,’ has indeed become red.

The unusually-colored snow didn’t scare off tourists, though – they continued to ride the snowy dunes. “Martian landscape, Apocalypse Now,” one woman wrote.

Meteorologists say not to panic – the coloration of the snow was caused by dust storms from northern Africa and pollen and it’s harmless to people and animals. 

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The battle for China’s growing gas demand

Russia, in its efforts to develop its gas sector in as many geographical locations as possible, is also earmarking increased gas exports to China.

Russian natural gas giant Gazprom said that gas from its Siberia fields could start moving through pipelines to China within the next five years. The disclosure came as Gazprom representatives discussed the development of the Kovyktinskoye field with officials from the Irkutsk region in southeastern Siberia. The talks took place in Moscow on Tuesday.

Gazprom is shaping a major gas production center in the Kovyktinskoye field, which is unique in terms of its gas reserves (2.7 trillion cubic meters), Gazprom said. The energy giant is also preparing Kovyktinskoye to move from pilot development to commercial production.

In 2017, two exploratory wells were drilled and 3D seismic surveys covering 2,400 square kilometers were performed. Efforts are being made to design the site structures and facilities for production purposes, as well as having gas transmission capacities, Gazprom said in a statement. It is planned to start feeding gas from Kovyktinskoye into the Power of Siberia gas pipeline in late 2022, with a section of the pipeline to be laid in the Irkutsk Region.

Gazprom already has in place a 30-year sales agreement with state-owned China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC) that calls for 1.3 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of natural gas per year through the pipeline.

CNPC, with a market cap of $ 229 billion, is the world’s third largest oil company and China’s largest oil and gas producer and supplier.

Nearing completion

On Wednesday, Gazprom said that the Power of Siberia pipeline had reached a 75.5 percent completion rate, which it called the most ambitions gas project in the global gas industry. Gas shipments from the project to CNPC are scheduled to start on December 20, 2019.

The disclosure also comes as China’s natural gas demand is increasing amid a government mandate requiring at least 10 percent of the country’s energy mix used for power generation to be derived from gas. Further mandates are set for the year 2030 and beyond. China has been trying to offset stagnant air pollution in its major urban centers by replacing coal needed for power generation with gas as well as for industrial and manufacturing end-users.

This increased gas demand caught global LNG markets by surprise this past winter, resulting in gas supply shortages for both residential and industrial consumers, particularly in Northern China.

China’s winter gas usage spike sent spot LNG prices in the Asia Pacific to three-year highs, breaking the $ 11/MMBtu mark, before trending downward again as cold weather subsided in Northern Asia.

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Shanghai © Aly Song

China’s LNG imports hit record levels in January, totaling 5.18 million tons, compared with the previous record of 5.03 million tons set in December, up 51.2 percent from January 2017, according to data from China’s General Administration of Customs. China is the fastest growing LNG market in the world. Late last year, it passed South Korea to become the world’s second largest LNG importer after Japan.

China’s increased LNG usage could potentially help global LNG markets reach supply and demand equilibrium earlier than the often-forecasted date of 2022 or even later. Other variables in the equation include increased Qatari output, which will see the country raise its liquefaction capacity from 77 mtpa to over 100 mtpa within the next five years, as well as a so-called second wave of LNG project development in the US that will start to come on-line after the start of the next decade. Australia, for its part, will soon have as many as ten major LNG export projects operational.

In an effort to go long on gas and not get caught flat footed again during another cold winter, CNPC also plans to build eight gas storage facilities with a total capacity of 21 billion cubic meters (bcm), China’s state run news agency Xinhua said.

The gas storage facilities, located in southwest China’s Sichuan Province and Chongqing Municipality, will cost more than 21 billion yuan ($ 3.3 billion dollars), said Ma Xinhua, general manager of PetrolChina Southwest Oil and Gasfield Company, a CNPC affiliate.

More LNG deals needed

China is also keen to lock in more LNG supply deals, with numerous producers, including American producers. Last month, US-based LNG exporter Cheniere Energy announced that it had signed two long term LNG supply and purchase (SPA) agreements with CNPC. Under the SPAs, CNPC subsidiary PetroChina International Company Ltd. will purchase approximately 1.2 million tons per annum (mtpa) of LNG from Cheniere’s Corpus Christi export terminal under construction in Texas. Cheniere said that the deal will help it move closer to expanding the site.

A portion of the supply will begin this year with the balance beginning in 2023, Cheniere said. The term of each SPA continues through 2043. The purchase price for LNG will be indexed to the Henry Hub price plus a fixed component.

The long-term SPAs follow a MoU reached in November between Cheniere and CNPC during President Trump’s trade visit to Beijing. “We expect these agreements to support the development of Corpus Christi Train 3, and we are now focused on completing the remaining necessary steps to reach a final investment decision later this year,” said Jack Fusco, Cheniere’s President and CEO.

The SPAs mark the first-ever long-term deal between an American LNG exporter and a Chinese state-owned energy company. Cheniere was the first American company in the Lower 48 to export LNG and has already sold several LNG cargoes to Chinese companies on a spot basis.

Reuters, citing analysts, said that the deal should move Cheniere to the top of the pack of companies competing to build the next generation of US LNG terminals to meet possible supply shortages in the early 2020s.

This article was originally published on

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Object of affection: Meet the people ‘married’ to weird things

One woman’s inanimate object is another’s one true love. At least that’s the case for the growing number of objectum sexuals, i.e. people who fall in love with and often marry what most deem to be an insignificant other.

People who fall in love with objects identify asobjectum sexuals” or objectophiles and believe their love is reciprocated by telepathic communication.  Objects can range from the tiny to the monstrous and “relationships” can vary from innocent to…intimate.

The original object lover

Many OS people view Swedish-born Eija-Riitta as a pioneer for their people after she married the Berlin Wall in 1979 and officially changed her name to Eija-Riitta Berliner-Mauer. She is also credited with naming the sexuality, according to an online group set up to connect people who identify as OS.

The city of love… literally

No prizes for guessing the partner of Erika La Tour Eiffel. As her name reflects, Erika is ‘married’ to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, whom she believes to be a woman.

Erika traveled from San Francisco to ‘marry’ the tower in a commitment ceremony in 2007, however she also has intimate relationships with a bow, that helped her become a world-class archer, and a piece of fence she likes to keep in her bedroom.

A woman & her vintage chandelier

True love means age is nothing but a number, as was the case for Amanda Liberty, a 33-year-old woman from Leeds, England, who fell in love with a chandelier 57 years her senior. Liberty bought the 90-year-old light fixture, which she named ‘Lumiere,’ for £400 (€565) after stumbling upon it on eBay – a moment she describes as, “love at first sight.”

A rollercoaster of emotion

Linda Ducharme married her ‘husband,’ Bruce, in 2013 after a 30-year relationship full of ups and downs, literally. Bruce is a Ferris Wheel. Linda fell in love with Bruce at a carnival in 1982. The pair suffered a rough patch in 1986 when a storm knocked him down and put him out of commission, but Linda is now attempting to return him to his former glory and the couple live happily together in Florida.

Pirate ghost

While not necessarily an object, it’s an unconventional marriage all the same. Last year Irishwoman Amanda Teague married a 300-year-old Haitian ghost pirate named Jack Teague who died by execution in the 18th century.

Amanda and Jack married in international waters and she describes their physical relationship as being similar to that of a human couple.

READ MORE: ‘Melania’s Breasts’ or ‘Brezhnev’s Underwear’? Poll to name new Russian arms goes wild

Modern-day fairy tale

Los Angeles-based Aaron Chervenak eloped to Las Vegas to marry his smartphone after developing a deep and emotional relationship with the device.

“If we’re gonna be honest with ourselves, we connect with our phones on so many emotional levels. We look to it for solace, to calm us down, to put us to sleep, to ease our minds, and to me, that’s also what a relationship is about. In a sense, my smartphone has been my longest relationship,” he explained.

The deceiving laptop lover

Not all love stories have happy endings. Case in point Chris Sevier, who was denied the right to marry his laptop by a federal judge in Utah on Monday. US District Court Judge David Nuffer rejected Sevier’s plea as it appeared he was not actually in love with the computer, but was, in fact, attempting to make a mockery of same-sex marriage.

Sevier had argued that marrying someone of the same sex is comparable to marrying his laptop, and has filed similar lawsuits in several other states, in an apparent attempt to overturn the US Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges ruling that made same-sex marriage legal nationwide.

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#DeleteFacebook? Assange never had account with ‘giant intel database controlled by megalomaniac’

In the fallout from the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica data mining scandal, Julian Assange has reminded his followers that it is highly unwise to trust all their personal data to a “megalomaniac” who calls his users “dumb f**ks.”

READ MORE: Musk v Facebook: SpaceX chief deletes account

Assange recalled an exchange with an unnamed friend immediately after the beta version of the social media giant was launched in 2003. He spoke of how Mark Zuckerberg was surprised that the first “dumb f**ck” users immediately trusted the newly-launched platform with their private data.

Some fifteen years later, Zuckerberg’s disregard for users’ privacy misfired, when it emerged how effortlessly data from over 50 million Facebook accounts was collected, analyzed and manipulated by London-based Cambridge Analytica. The scandal led to thousands of Facebook users deleting their accounts over belated “privacy concerns.”

Even SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk and WhatsApp founder Brian Acton distanced themselves from their high tech industry colleague’s calamity. They joined a chorus of skeptical Facebook users who shut down their accounts. On Friday, WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange proudly stated “I have deleted my Facebook” – before clarifying that he in fact “never had one” and explaining his own reasoning for that.

“Friends don’t put their friends into a giant intelligence database controlled by a megalomaniac who calls his users ‘dumb f**ks’ for trusting him,” he tweeted.

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Death knell tolls for the euro as more European nations repatriate gold – expert to RT

The latest trend among European countries of bringing home their gold reserves has been raising concerns in Brussels. RT talked to Claudio Grass of Precious Metal Advisory Switzerland to understand what’s behind that trend.

According to Grass, the process means disintegration, which usually comes with instability, unrest, more government intervention and control.

“The central banks started the repatriation already a few years ago, meaning before we had Brexit, Catalonia, Trump, AFD or the rising tensions between the Politburo in Brussels and the nations of Eastern Europe,” he said.

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© Tamara Abdul Hadi

Grass explained that these are all symptoms that are evident today and “therefore the central banks might have seen this coming long before the public realized it.”

He said it is fair to say that the world is moving away from a centralized system.

“If we follow this trend, it should be obvious that the next step should be an even bigger break up into smaller units than the nation states. With such geopolitical fragmentation comes also the decentralization of power.”

Analysts have pointed out that EU countries see gold as insurance in case they end up returning to their national currencies. According to Grass, only a fool believes you can create wealth out of nothing, and use that as a basis for a sustainable system.

“Our system is based on 7 percent paper notes and 93 percent digital units backed up by nothing other than central bank promises to pay back the debt in the future through inflation and taxation.”

He explained that in the Western world, the government is forcing people to give up between 35 and 65 percent of their income and to put it into mandatory vehicles such as pension funds, retirement insurance, taxes, and so on.

“If you take away 100 percent of a person’s fruits of labor it is defined as slavery… So there is still some room but it doesn’t look good either.”

Grass added that with the “accelerating disintegration of the Eurozone and more nationalistic and right-wing parties popping up that have a clear policy, that is going against the EU.”

“It is just a matter of time before the Euro, the most artificial currency ever, is going to collapse,” he concluded.

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French cop injured after hostage swap in standoff with ‘Islamist terrorist’ dies – Interior Minister

The police officer who was gravely injured by an ‘Islamist terrorist’ gunman has succumbed to his injuries, the Interior Minister said. The officer had agreed to take a hostage’s place in the supermarket siege in southern France.

WATCH LIVE Morning scene outside the supermarket in Trebes, where a gun-wielding extremist killed four people as he hijacked a car, opened fire on police and took hostages on Friday:

Lieutenant-Colonel Arnaud Beltrame was among the first responders at the hostage-taking scene at the ‘Super U’ supermarket in the town of Trebes on Friday. 

“He volunteered to take the place of the other hostages… He saved lives and honored his colleagues and his country,” President Emmanuel Macron said in a televised address.  The 45-year-old officer sustained gunshot wounds before the intervention of the GIGN special forces, who neutralized the attacker.

“Lieutenant-Colonel Arnaud Beltrame has left us. He died for his motherland. France will never forget his heroism, bravery and sacrifice,” Interior Minister Gerard Collomb wrote on Twitter.

When the attacker opened fire and took hostages in the supermarket, Beltrame volunteered to take the place of the hostages. He was able to keep his cell phone switched on, and remained in contact with the security forces during the several-hour-long standoff. 

According to French media, in 2012 Beltrame was admitted to the National Order of the Legion of Honour, the highest order of merit for both military and civil deeds.

Beltrame’s life became the fourth claimed by a lone gunman’s assault on Friday, which left over a dozen more injured. The attacker, 26-year-old Redouane Lakdim, reportedly pledged allegiance to Islamic state (IS, formerly ISIS) and shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’ when he stormed the supermarket. Macron dubbed the attack an act of “Islamic terrorism,” though he added that security services were still working to establish whether IS was really behind the attack.

Since 2014, Lakdim had been monitored by the French security services because of his ties to radical Islam, the Paris prosecutor said. He was added to a list, known as “Fiche S,” of people considered a threat to national security who should be constantly watched.

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Venezuela's oil-backed cryptocurrency will be convertible to Russian rubles – President Maduro

The so-called ‘petro’ digital currency, which was successfully launched by Venezuela last month, will be traded for several global currencies, including the Russian ruble.

“Starting March 23, all legal and physical entities will be able to purchase the petro directly… within the next 15 days for convertible currencies: yuan, rubles, Turkish liras and euro,” said Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

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FILE PHOTO: Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro © Marco Bello

He described these are the most important currencies for “the economic future of the planet.”

Maduro said state companies that are exporting goods, such as the country’s energy giant PDVSA, can already trade for petro. “PDVSA and those enterprises that trade for foreign currency are authorized from now on to receive ‘el petro’ for their export deliveries,” he said, adding that they will be able to supply products for the Venezuelan cryptocurrency “to all countries and enterprises in the world.”

The president also announced four “exclusive economic zones” in the country, in which it will be possible to use the petro “for the sale of goods and [payment] of services.”

The Venezuelan petro, which first went on pre-sale on February 20, is the world’s first state-backed cryptocurrency. Its value is tied to the country’s oil reserves.

The virtual currency is aimed at breaching the US financial blockade. In January, US authorities warned potential investors in Venezuelan cryptocurrency over the risks connected to penalties imposed on Caracas. On Tuesday, President Donald Trump banned the use of the petro, calling it a ‘scam supporting dictatorship.’

After the oil-backed cryptocurrency managed to raise $ 735 million at the pre-sale, Maduro announced another virtual token. Dubbed ‘petro oro,’ the new cryptocurrency will be backed by precious metals.

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Japan restarts Genkai nuclear reactor after 7yr halt despite locals’ protest (PHOTOS, VIDEOS)

Hundreds of local residents have protested outside Genkai power plant in Japan, in a last-ditch effort aimed at preventing the Genkai power plant from restarting on Friday, after a seven-year break in operations.

Throughout this week locals living on 17 islands within a 30-kilometer radius of the Genkai plant have been staging protests trying to convince the government not to restart Kyushu Electric Power Co’s Number 3 Unit Genkai power plant. Fearing for their safety, the locals continued to voice their concerns over the lack of established evacuation procedures, should anything go wrong with the reactor.

At present, there are no bridges connecting the islets with the main island of Kyushu, so any potential nuclear incident would leave locals stranded for a while, waiting to be rescued. “An accident could deprive nearby residents of everything in their lives. We should not operate a nuclear plant that threatens our lives,” the head of one of the local activist groups, Kenichi Arakawa, was quoted as saying by Japan Today.

Despite concerns from the locals, the reactor was restarted at 11am local time on Friday, after passing the Nuclear Regulation Authority inspection in January. Kyushu Electric Power Co’s Number 3 unit reactor was halted in December 2010, three months before the massive earthquake and tsunami, which destroyed the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

READ MORE: Lethal radiation amounts still detected at crippled Fukushima plant 7yrs after disaster

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China warns trade war will directly hit US consumers & financial markets

American consumers will be the biggest losers if a full-fledged US-China trade war breaks out, Beijing has warned, after President Donald Trump signed a memorandum to impose new tariffs targeting over $ 50bn of Chinese imports.

“The US’ persistence in advancing the Section 301 investigation and publishing the so-called findings to pick a trade war will undoubtedly undermine the interests of American consumers, enterprises and the financial market directly,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said, a day after the US President ordered the US Trade Representative (USTR) to levy tariffs on at least $ 50 billion of Chinese imports. The move is designed to cut the US trade deficit and prevent alleged misappropriation of US intellectual property.

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FILE PHOTO: Aluminum ingots are piled up at a bonded storage area at the Dagang Terminal of Qingdao Port, China © Fayen Wong

Trump’s Thursday announcement of the new duties was accompanied by the 215-page USTR’s Section 301 of the 1974 Trade Act investigation report into China’s technology strategy, which, among other things, accuses Beijing of engaging in cyber espionage, intellectual property theft and pursuing aggressive investments and acquisitions in the US. “We have a tremendous intellectual property theft situation going on,” Trump said.

Beijing slammed Trump’s accusations as “unacceptable” and brushed aside all allegations of intellectual property theft.

“China’s innovation achievements are earned by the wisdom and sweat of 1.3 billion Chinese people, not by stealing and not by robbing anyone,” Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying insisted, during Friday’s press briefing. “Such achievements may make the US feel worried, but as the largest economy in the world, the US is supposed to be above making groundless accusations and blowing things out of proportion.”

The Foreign Ministry explained that low-cost and labor-intensive products from China have “considerably lowered” the consumption cost for the American consumer, all while helping the US deal with inflation. “The American consumers and enterprises will bear the brunt” of a trade war with China, Hua noted.

The spokeswoman also slammed statements from Trump’s economic adviser, Peter Navarro, who accused China of benefiting from bilateral trade much more than Washington benefits from trading with China.

“In making his remarks, [Navarro] is a little bit too arrogant. He has apparently miscalculated the situation and underestimated China’s resolve and capability to defend its own legitimate rights and interests as well as the price the US has to pay for its recklessness and willfulness,” the spokeswoman noted.

Although the USTR was given 15 days by Trump to propose a list of Chinese products that will be targeted, China’s commerce ministry has already threatened to take legal action against the US through the World Trade Organization. The ministry is also contemplating targeting 128 American products through an imposition of a 15 percent tariff on American steel pipes, fruit and on wine imports. It also wants to slap the US with a 25 percent tariff on pork and recycled aluminum imports.

Amid the looming threat of a trade war escalation, the World Trade Organization’s Director-General Roberto Azevedo urged the sides to talk, warning that there will be “no winners” in this confrontation.

“Disrupting trade flows will jeopardize the global economy at a time when economic recovery, though fragile, has been increasingly evident around the world. I again call for restraint and urgent dialogue as the best path forward to resolve these problems,” Azevedo said Friday.

The Internet Association, a Silicon Valley lobbying group comprising such giants as Google, Amazon and Facebook, also warned that a trade war between US and China will result in higher prices for consumers, and industry job losses. “The internet sector represents 3 million jobs and 6 percent of GDP, and these tariffs will leave our customers worse off, stifle growth, and make it harder for the digital economy to succeed,” the group said in a press release, warning that ordinary Americans will be caught in the crossfire.

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13 percent of people have drugs on their fingertips – study

More than 10 percent of people who don’t use drugs may still have traces of banned drugs on their fingers, new research suggests. The astonishing figures are a stark reminder of the prevalence of cocaine and heroin in society.

Scientists from the University of Surrey in the UK collected samples from the hands of 50 people who claimed not to use drugs and from 15 confirmed cocaine or heroin users. Traces of cocaine were found on around 13 percent of fingertips of those who said they have never used drugs. A metabolite of heroin was found on one percent of non-drug users.

READ MORE: From cocaine to crypto: Drug lord Pablo Escobar’s brother launches bitcoin spinoff

“We were quite surprised. We thought there might well be cocaine knocking around in the environment, but we did not expect to pick up these drugs at the fingerprint level,” lead author Melanie Bailey, a lecturer in forensic analysis, told the Guardian.

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U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks on the opioid crisis, March 19, 2018. © Jonathan Ernst

The study, published in the journal Clinical Chemistry, was designed to aid the development of a non-invasive forensic test for Class A drugs. The team based their test on the fact that drugs are secreted through the skin of their users. However, such is the high level of basic environmental contamination, the best results were achieved when participants washed their hands. After hand-washing, the test identified more than 85 percent of cocaine and 100 percent for heroin users.

The test could be hugely beneficial for police and employers, after a number of costly false positives in recent times. In March 2015, a bus driver in Bristol reportedly won a substantial payout after arguing that traces of cocaine found on his hands came from handling passengers banknotes.

Alan Bailes, 55, a driver for 22 years, was fired for gross misconduct after a saliva test returned a positive for the Class A drug. A hair follicle test conducted via his own doctor provided a negative result, which he said proved he had no drugs in his system for at least 90 days. Bailes received an undisclosed payout following an employment tribunal.

According to various studies, it is estimated that upwards of 80 percent of currency in the UK and US carries some traces of cocaine.

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