Croatia striker Nikola Kalinic refuses World Cup medal

Croatian striker Nikola Kalinic has rejected a World Cup silver medal after he was removed from the squad during the group stage of his team’s campaign in Russia.

Kalinic was sent home by Croatia boss Zlatko Dalic following the team’s opening group stage win against Nigeria, when the striker refused to come on as a substitute.

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The AC Milan forward, 30, said he had a back injury and was unable to play, although that did not go down well with the team’s management and medical staff, and the forward was removed from the 23-man squad.

Croatia coach Dalic said at the time that “I have calmly accepted that, and since I need my players fit and ready to play, I have made this decision.”

The Croatians went on a historic run in which they reached the final for the first time, where they lost to France 4-2.

Despite not featuring in the team’s campaign, Kalinic was still entitled to claim a runners-up prize as part of the original squad that set out for Russia.

However, the veteran forward has rejected the medal, saying: “Thanks for the medal, but I did not play a single minute in Russia,” the Independent reports, citing Croatian media.

READ MORE: Croatia team given heroes’ welcome on return to Zagreb after historic World Cup run (VIDEO)

The Croatian team were received as heroes on their return home, with thousands turning out to welcome the players back to Zagreb.

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UK space agency launch competition: Will the new Mars rover become the next Boaty McBoatface?

The UK Space Agency is taking one giant leap for mankind by asking the general public, yes, the same people that came up with Boaty McBoatface, to name an incredibly complex piece of machinery that will explore the Mars surface.

Expected to launch in August 2020, the rover is a collaboration with the European Space Agency’s ExoMars mission. The journey to the alien planet aims to investigate how Mars evolved and explore whether the planet could be colonised by humans in the future.

“The ExoMars rover will be the first of its kind to travel across the martian surface and drill down to determine if evidence of life is buried underground,” the ESA explains.

READ MORE: Russia to launch mission to Mars next year – Putin

But even before the arduous journey to the Red Planet, creators of the rover – which has six independently steered wheels and a whole host of gadgets like camera systems and ground penetrating radar – could be facing their biggest challenge, the power of the people.

The UK Space Agency has begun a competition to name the robot that scientists are pinning their exploration hopes. It means the machine could get the same treatment as Boaty McBoatface – a British Antarctic Survey submarine that was officially named after the surprise outcome of public poll.

The poll was originally to name a British polar research ship, but after the ridiculous name won a landslide victory officials named the vessel RRS Sir David Attenborough. Hilariously, a submersible onboard the ship is instead titled Boaty McBoatface.

Launching the competition, British ESA astronaut Tim Peake described the opportunity as a chance for people to put their mark on a new era of space exploration. But depending on the outcome, it might also lead organisers to utter the famed NASA phrase: “Houston, we have a problem”.

READ MORE: What has NASA’s Curiosity rover uncovered on Mars? (POLL)

“Mars is a fascinating destination, a place where humans will one day work alongside robots to gather new knowledge and search for life in our solar system,” Peake said.

“The ExoMars rover is a vital part of this journey of exploration and we’re asking you to become part of this exciting mission and name the rover that will scout the Martian surface.”

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'Trade war to produce only losers,’ French minister warns US

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire has bashed a recently started “trade war,” warning that no one will benefit from it. He said France will not negotiate a free trade agreement with the US while its tariffs are in force.

“We refuse to negotiate with a gun to our head,” Le Maire told reporters on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in Brazil on Saturday, according to French media. The official was responding to US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who said that Washington is ready for a free trade agreement, but only if it includes “no tariffs, no non-tariff barriers and no subsidies.”

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© Shannon Stapleton

“We are all, particularly us European countries, worried about this trade war that was launched a few weeks ago,” Le Maire said referring to US President Donald Trump’s decision to slap levies on EU steel and aluminum imports and threat to target European cars next. “This trade war will produce only losers, it will destroy jobs and put pressure on global growth.”

Le Maire also called the US imposing the tariffs “the law of the jungle” that cannot be the basis for world trade. And if Washington fails to change its mind, there will be “no choice other than to retaliate,” he warned. 

The French minister has already threatened that Europe will have to “defend” itself, after Trump vowed to impose 20 percent increase on cars in response to EU’s tit-for-tat measures. 

The EU took the US to the WTO to challenge its steel and aluminum tariffs. It was not alone at the complaint to the organization, as Trump’s levies also targeted Canada and China, who has long been protesting what it called US unilateralism referring to US protectionist policies.

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Oil sector under fire in Libyan corruption crackdown

The latest port blockade in Libya, which had sent the country’s oil production plunging and oil prices surging, was lifted last week with new promises of transparency and the fair distribution of oil revenues.

As part of the agreement for lifting the port closure, Libya’s central bank, national oil company, politicians, businessmen, and traders in the country could end up being probed in a wide-ranging corruption investigation to tackle the underlying problem of Libya’s oil wealth—accusations and counteraccusations of corruption and channeling of oil revenues to Islamist groups.

The Libyan National Army (LNA) of eastern strongman General Khalifa Haftar recaptured in June four ports in the Oil Crescent in the east from armed groups after a week of fighting, handing their control to an unrecognized oil company in the east. But last week, Haftar agreed to hand back control of the ports to the internationally recognized National Oil Corporation (NOC).

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The Zueitina oil terminal © Abdullah Doma / AFP

The port closure had blocked 850,000 bpd of Libya’s oil (nearly all Libya’s oil production) from being exported from the four ports for more than two weeks.

The agreement that resulted in Libya reopening its ports last week and beginning to restore the production lost during the blockade was backed by the United Nations, France, Italy, the UK, and the United States.

As part of the agreement, the governments agreed that there should be a wide-ranging corruption probe under the auspices of the UN, the UK’s newspaper The Independent reports, citing sources close to the Libyan authorities.

According to The Independent’s sources in the UK foreign office, there wasn’t a “firm” agreement between the parties, although Libyan sources said that “everyone around the table said it was a good idea”, with France, the UAE, and Egypt reportedly being in favor of such a probe.

General Haftar and his allies claim that Libya’s oil money is being mismanaged, stolen, or channeled to extremist groups. The accusations are mostly directed to the Central Bank of Libya. At a meeting with the foreign governments in Rome that later led to the agreement for returning the ports to the NOC’s control, Haftar’s side quoted 11 allegations of abuse of power and corruption at the Central Bank of Libya that it wanted investigated, according to The Independent’s sources.

Central bank governor Saddek Elkaber, for his part, has accused Libyan governments of using the central bank as a ‘scapegoat’ for their own mismanagement and misdeeds.

The latest agreement that lifted the oil port blockade may lead to a wide-ranging corruption probe, but any new deal on oil wealth distribution must tackle the structural corruption problems in Libya, analysts say.

Any new agreement “must not simply be a new agreement on who is allowed to steal from the state, but one that protects state spending from predation,” Tarek Megerisi, visiting fellow and Libya expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told The Independent.

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FILE PHOTO © Esam Omran Al-Fetori

Fayez al-Sarraj, Chairman of Libya’s Presidency Council, has asked the United Nations Security Council to create a technical committee to audit all accounts and transactions of the Central Bank of Libya in Tripoli and the parallel central bank in Bayda in the east, NOC chairman Mustafa Sanalla said in a statement about the action plan to resume production after the port blockade was lifted.

A spokesman for the Chairman of the Presidency Council said this week that the UN Security Council responded to the request to set up an international commission to review the revenues and expenditure of the two parallel central bank institutions, Libyan media report.

On Monday, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Ghassan Salamé, briefed the UN Security Council about the latest developments in Libya’s Oil Crescent, saying that “The end of the immediate crisis has brought a collective sigh of relief; but it is not the end of the matter.”

“The events have brought to the fore the underlying issues which plague the country and which I have repeatedly outlined to this Council. Namely, frustrations with regards to the distribution of wealth and the endemic plundering of resources.”

“If these matters are not expeditiously addressed, I fear the agreements made to resume the production of oil will not hold, and it will be difficult to advance the political process,” Salamé noted.

“If there has been a silver lining in the events, it is that the various authorities in Libya now accept that they need to take action to protect the country’s wealth.”

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Rouhani warns US against starting ‘mother of all wars’ with Iran

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has warned the United States against provoking Tehran, saying that conflict with the country would be “the mother of all wars.”

“Don’t play with the lion’s tail, this would only lead to regret,” the Iranian leader said while speaking to Iranian diplomats on Sunday, local news agencies reported. “The Americans must understand well that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace, and war with Iran is the mother of all wars.”


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Russia ramping up domestic car exports to European market

Sales of Russia-made Lada cars increased by almost 11 percent across the EU in the first half of 2018, data from the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA) shows.

According to ACEA, January-June exports amounted to 2,770 vehicles. Last month, exports rose by more than 15 percent compared with June 2017.

In general, export sales of Russia’s AvtoVAZ, which manufactures Lada vehicles, increased by 64 percent, amounting to 16,592 cars.

ACEA said that the largest export markets for Lada were Kazakhstan and Belarus. Data showed 5,854 and 4,206 cars have been purchased respectively.

AvtoVAZ, which is part of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, exports its cars to 30 countries. It plans to boost sales to more than 100,000 vehicles by 2022.

The company has a stable market share in CIS countries, and also sells cars in Germany, Iran, Syria, Egypt, and Hungary. It plans to expand to the Czech Republic, Mongolia, and South-East Asia.

READ MORE: Russian-made cars now hold lion’s share of domestic market

In January, AvtoVAZ resumed sales to Cuba, delivering 300 Lada cars. That was the first shipment of Russian cars to the Latin American country in more than a decade. In May, official Lada sales started in Tunisia.

Last year, AvtoVAZ began exporting vehicles to the world’s biggest auto market, China. Sales also kicked off in the United Arab Emirates as the manufacturer seeks to win a share of the Middle East market.

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Israel helping move 800 White Helmets out of Syria via Jordan – report

Some 800 members of the controversial Western-backed White Helmets will be brought to Jordan through Israel to be reportedly resettled later in the UK, Canada, and Germany. The UN is overseeing the exodus.

Hundreds of the self-described aid workers, who operate exclusively in rebel-held areas, have crossed into Israel from southwestern Syria overnight on Sunday, German tabloid Bild reported, citing its own correspondents in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

The White Helmets’ passage has been facilitated by Israel, according to Bild, which reports they have been transferred through an Israeli military base. The evacuation kicked off at 9:30 pm local time on Saturday and was expected to continue into the night. Several roads were put on lockdown by the army and police as part of preparations for the exodus.

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FILE PHOTO © Hosam Katan

Israel previously admitted that it has been providing humanitarian assistance to Syrian militants, treating over 1,000 wounded rebel fighters in its hospitals. According to Israel’s ex-Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, the assistance was granted under the condition that the militants would not let Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) and Al-Qaeda affiliated fighters slip into Israel and would not do any harm to the population of Druze villages.

However, Israel has been adamant about not taking in Syrian refugees, with hawkish Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman stating last month that while the Jewish state keeps providing “humanitarian aid to civilians, women and children” camped on the Syrian side of the border, it “will not accept any Syrian refugee to our territory.”

It is supposed that the White Helmets will not stay in the Jewish state for longer than is needed to transport them to the Jordanian border. The transfer has been confirmed by Jordanian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ambassador Mohammad al-Kayed, as cited by Ammon News.

Al-Kayed said that Jordan had granted the request on purely humanitarian grounds after Britain, Canada and Germany each reportedly pledged to take in a share of the White Helmets fleeing what they describe as potential persecution by Damascus. Last month, Jordan, which already hosts some 1.3 million displaced Syrians, said it won’t take any more in, stressing the need for a “political solution.”

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White Helmets member walks on the rubble of destroyed buildings in Eastern Ghouta © Abdulmonam Eassa / AFP

Once in the Jordanian territory, the Syrians will be confined to a specially designated restricted area where they will stay for a maximum of three months until handed over to one of the Western countries, Al-Kayed noted, adding that the scheme should not place any additional burden on Jordan, as the organization of their passage has been arranged by the UN.

It’s yet unclear how the members of the White Helmets, who have on multiple occasions been reported as dealing with Al-Qaeda-linked militants, will be distributed among the potential recipients, with Bild reporting that it is yet unknown how many of them will come Germany’s way.

A looming evacuation of the White Helmets from Syria was first reported by CBS News on July 14. The broadcaster reported that the issue was raised by US allies in conversations with US President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the two-day NATO summit on July 11- July 12.

Reportedly, UK Prime Minister Theresa May personally interceded on the White Helmets’ behalf during Trump’s visit to the UK, a day after the summit.

On Friday, CBS News reported that the operation was to be launched “very quickly” and proceed in accordance with a joint plan, thrashed out by the US, the UK and Canada.

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Facebook allows Radio Liberty to promote illegal political ads while touting stricter rules

Facebook now appears to watch RT’s every step, but it has allowed the US government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty to publish political ads targeting Americans, while introducing restrictions for other media.

The alarm over a federal-backed outlet targeting its Facebook ads at US audiences was sounded by the New York Times. The paper said that the move constituted a “potential violation” of the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, which protects Americans citizens from domestic propaganda. 

It’s illegal for federal-funded news organizations under the umbrella of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) to promote their content in the US without a special request – and no such request was received by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) this time around.

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© Regis Duvignau

RFE/RL removed the ads shortly after they made headlines, with BBG spokeswoman Nasserie Carew saying that the outlet “ceased the practice” and that “none of the BBG networks should be distributing or promoting our content domestically in order to develop or grow domestic audiences.”

Radio Free Europe was created during the Cold War with the mission of promoting “democratic values and institutions by reporting the news in countries were a free press is banned by the government or not fully established.” It currently operates in 20 countries, including Russia, and, according to its website, had a budget of $ 120 million last year.

RFE/RL placed several ads on Facebook, including one which stated that “61 percent of the surveyed population in 12 countries views NATO favorably.”  The graphics were promoted in mid-July when Donald Trump was lambasting NATO member states at a summit in Brussels for not contributing enough to the US-led military bloc.

The question remains: how did Facebook turn a blind eye to such an ad when the company just announced new strict rules regarding commercials with political content in the US.

READ MORE: Tech giants squirm and dodge when grilled about China & N. Korea ‘election meddling’ (VIDEO)

But the social media site didn’t even label the RFE/RL’s graphic about NATO and other posts as political ads. There was also no “paid for by” marker on the materials, which has now been made obligatory for such entries.

Facebook’s criteria on what constitutes a political ad is too vague, media contributor John Griffing told RT. “There’s these double standards,” he said, adding that, apparently, the platform has no problem with somebody breaking its rules to “help defend freedom” in accordance with Washington’s take on it.

“It’s OK to propagandize and blanket the rest of the world with a CIA funded message, but it’s not OK for Russia to finance a television network… Why is that not OK?” Griffing said referring to RT posts getting flagged by Facebook on numerous occasions.

And it’s not only RT that’s been affected, as Russian scholar Sean Guillory was also recently prevented by Facebook from promoting an interview about his paper on the coverage of Donald Trump in the Russian media.

RT has asked the BBG on whether it considered RFE/RL’s graphics about a political-military organization like NATO to be a political ad, and we are currently awaiting a reply.

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Rampaging tractor leads Denver police on slow-speed pursuit (VIDEO, PHOTO)

Trained canines had to be used to stop a joyrider who had led Denver authorities on what could only be described as one of the slowest police chases in recent memory.

The incident in an area of downtown Denver resulted in damage to several vehicles and properties after a man drove a John Deere tractor erratically down streets and onto a sidewalk, according to WEWS.

Footage from an eyewitness shows the subsequent bizarre police chase, with at least four cruisers seen following the tractor down a busy Denver road at half-pace. The strangely low-octane pursuit lasted for approximately 30 minutes, Denver Police spokesperson Tyrone Campbell admitted at a press conference.

At one stage, the tractor veers onto the sidewalk in an effort to escape the authorities, with a person filming from a building above exclaiming: “It’s so crazy.”

The chase finally ended when an officer used his car to ram the slowly rampaging tractor. According to the Denver Post, police dogs and a stun gun were also used to apprehend the suspect, who had driven the tractor into a number of parked cars.

The driver received a number of dog bites, and two officers were also taken to hospital after sustaining non-life threatening injuries.

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‘Why not start with Bellew at heavyweight?’ – Undisputed cruiser champ Usyk on future plans

Undisputed cruiserweight champion Alexander Usyk has said he has no problem fighting Briton Tony Bellew at heavyweight after unifying all four major titles at 200 lbs by beating Murat Gassiev in the WBSS final.

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© Vladimir Astapkovich / Sputnik

A masterful performance from Usyk recorded a shutout unanimous decision victory against Russian Gassiev in front of a partisan crowd in Moscow to unify the WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO titles as well as clinch the Muhammad Ali trophy in the World Boxing Super Series final match.

Bellew is currently campaigning at heavyweight and recorded a couple of stoppage victories over former heavy and cruiser king David Haye in his previous two fights. The Liverpool man has made no secret of his willingness to fight the winner of Usyk-Gassiev.

“I know that Tony Bellew said he wanted to fight the winner of this fight,” Usyk told journalists at the post-fight presser. “He’s currently fighting at heavyweight and has just had a great fight with David Haye. Why not start from here?”

Usyk said that if Bellew, the former holder of the WBC cruiserweight title now in the Ukrainian’s possession, does not drop down to the 200 lbs weight class again, he would happily make the jump to heavyweight to make the fight happen.

Following the fight, Bellew tweeted: “Usyk I was BORN READY!! Let’s get this done!!”

After 12 rounds of championship boxing, all three judges awarded the fight to Usyk by scores of 120-108, 119-109, 119-109 on Saturday at the Russian capital’s Olimpiyskiy Sports Complex.

Regarding his immediate plans, Usyk admitted he would “go straight to Kiev, grab my stuff, and head straight for [my] kids” who he told press have been spending time with their grandmother in Simferopol on the Crimean peninsula.

READ MORE: Usyk v Gassiev – WBSS cruiserweight final from Moscow (AS IT HAPPENED)

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