Twitter briefly out in W. Europe, Moscow & Istanbul (IMAGE)

Twitter users reported having trouble accessing the platform across parts of of Western Europe and Russia, according to complaints logged online.

The social media site wasn’t working in countries across Europe Thursday, and hundreds of users reported problems according to Downdetector.com.

Most of the problems were reported by desktop users, but the site was also not accessible on Android or Apple apps. The highest volume of complaints emanated from major cities including Moscow, Istanbul, London, Paris, and Berlin.

People attempting to visit the platform were met with a blank screen and a spinning loading bar. The problems began at approximately 8pm (GMT), and the site functioned normally again for many users approximately 20 minutes later. It’s not yet clear what caused the outage.

RT.com has contacted Twitter for comment.

Twitter is usually the first port of call for social media users when other platforms such as Facebook or Slack experience technical difficulties. However, with Twitter itself down, people were unable to tweet their frustrations at not being able to use the service, instead turning to Facebook in confusion over the outage.

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Fancy Bears leak reveals WADA and IOC ‘incompetence’ at Rio 2016

A hacker group has leaked emails showing the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) lost several TUE files and registered over 100 ‘unmatched’ doping probes during the Rio Olympics.

The latest Fancy Bears release of email correspondence between the IOC and WADA, obtained by RT, apparently reveals how the two organizations – who have accused Russia of alleged doping manipulations – botched the doping control process’ during the 2016 Rio Olympics.

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The leak revealed that more than 100 doping probes taken in Rio had no matches in the doping control database, the Anti-Doping Administration & Management System (ADAMS), which contained athletes’ medical and biological data.

Around 40 percent of the unmatched probes also had incorrect codes. “Following our compilation of the tests conducted in Rio, we identified some data entry errors within ADAMS. Nearly 100 samples analyzed by the Laboratory have not been ‘matched’ to the athlete in ADAMS,” WADA’s Director of Standards and Harmonization Tim Ricketts allegedly wrote in an email addressed to IOC Medical and Scientific Director, Richard Budgett.

“Approximately 40 percent of these are down to an incorrect bottle code being entered into ADAMS so DCFs will need to be checked and the entry amended. In some cases these samples are part of the ABP (Athlete Biological Passport) program, therefore, the blood data is currently not showing on the athlete’s profile,” Ricketts added.

In another email, written to professor Andrew Pipe who chaired FINA’s (International Swimming Federation) doping review board, Ricketts said the number of TUEs (Therapeutic Use Exemptions) he had in his notes didn’t match the number reflected in the ADAMS database.

READ MORE: WADA offered money to whistleblower athletes – Fancy Bears leak

“Further to my earlier email, I wanted to confirm, based on the number of TUEs in ADAMS, and what figures you last provided at the IOC MC (Medical Commission) meeting, what the gap is between the two figures,” he wrote.

“I have in my notes 67 TUEs received, of which 15 were not for substances prohibited, which leaves 52. ADAMS is showing [that] 44 TUEs have been entered as shown by the graph. On that basis, can you confirm the status of the 8 TUEs plus any others you may have received post the last IOC MC meeting?”

Fancy Bears also presented a file containing the names of 14 Australian Olympic team members, who were granted special dispensation to take prohibited medicine under the TUE program. Nine out of 14 athletes were approved to use adrenaline, including Rio 2016 Olympic champion rower Kim Brennan, and slalom canoeist Jessica Fox who won bronze in the K1 event.

The steroid prednisolone was prescribed to Olympic champion swimmer Madison Wilson, rower and Olympic medalist Alexander Belonogoff, as well as cyclist Jack Bobridge, who won silver in the team pursuit in 2016.

While Ryan Tyack, Olympic bronze medallist in the archery team event, was allowed to take terbutaline, known as a “reliever” inhaler that helps to ease asthma symptoms.

Each substance features on WADA’s prohibited list and can improve an athlete’s strength and performance, giving those who take the drugs a major advantage over their opponents.

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2017 was a hot one for Earth – NASA

Earth’s long-term warming trend continued in 2017, with the average surface temperature only slightly below the record heat of the two previous years, according to US government scientists.

The planet went through one of its warmest years on record in 2017, according to analyses from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on Thursday.

NASA said 2017 was the second-warmest year on record in its report. The NOAA report, using different methods, said 2017 was the third-warmest.

“Both analyses show that the five warmest years on record have all taken place since 2010,” NASA said in a press release.

El Niño, an annual ocean current that runs through the central Pacific that can cause temperature shifts in atmospheric circulation, was not behind the warm temperature in 2017, scientists said.

The trend is seen most dramatically in the Arctic, NASA said, as sea ice continues to melt. In order to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, scientists say global temperatures must not increase more than 2 degrees Celsius.

“Individual ranking of years is not necessarily the most important thing,” Gavin A Schmidt, director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the NASA group that conducted the analysis, told the New York Times. “What we’re seeing is an increasing string of years of temperatures more than 1 degree above the pre-industrial era. And we’re not going to go back.”

NASA release said the planet’s average surface temperature rising to about 2 degree Fahrenheit (a little more than 1 degree Celsius) during the last century or so to “a change driven largely by increase carbon dioxide and other human-made emissions into the atmosphere.”

The global average temperature in 2017 was 58.51 degrees Fahrenheit (14.7 degrees Celsius), which is 1.51 degrees (0.84 Celsius) above the 20th Century average and just behind 2016 and 2015, NOAA said. Other agencies’ figure were close but not quite the same.

“Despite colder than average temperatures in any one part of the world, temperatures over the planet as a whole continue the rapid warming trend we’ve seen over the last 40 years,” said NASA’s Schmidt.

NOAA and NASA analyses use temperature measurements from weather stations on land and at sea.

2016 was the planet’s warmest year since record-keeping began in 1880, and climate scientists attributed that in part to a strong El Niño Southern Oscillation climate pattern.

The warming trend continued as President Donald Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the 2015 Paris Climate Accord and repeal the Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era measure designed to reduce emissions from power generation.

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Crisis-hit Ukip leader shares taxi receipt to distance himself from Meghan Markle race abuser

The UKIP activist turned model who made racist remarks about Prince Harry’s fiancée and made graphic references to child rape has been spotted with the leader of UKIP – days after he claimed to have broken up with her.

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Henry Bolton new love affair sparked UKIP chaos © Twitter/ Jo Marney

Henry Bolton, 54, and Jo Marney, 25, were seen on a London Tube train last night, despite their claims that they are no longer romantically connected.

The crisis-rocked politician, who is being told to stand down from his party by the members he is supposed to lead, insisted he is not trying to hide the fact he is still friends with Marney.

Bolton posted a taxi receipt to her home in Maidstone from his London flat to prove Marney did not stay over after she was, according to Bolton,“collecting bags”.

Marney is currently suspended from UKIP, after text messages were leaked in which she racially attacked actress Meghan Markle, stating she would “taint” the Royal family when she marries Prince Harry in May.

However, the scandal-rocked duo, who reportedly went on their first date on Boxing Day – Bolton having left his wife and children on Christmas Eve – are still spending time together.

Bolton said that their relationship was “on hold” but that they had met for dinner at the National Liberal Club in Westminster. The Liberal-Democrat-turned UKIP-politician said the pair met to discuss threats made against Marney following the revelations.

However, hours later Bolton was involved in a Facebook row – for the second time in days.

“An organised coup and insurgency against my leadership of our party has begun,” Mr Bolton wrote.

“Prominent individuals both inside and outside the party have co-operated with left wing media to intentionally destabilize the party during this time and turn the members against me.”

Bolton took to social media to claim party members are discussing the sharing of private messages and leaking information to the press.

“The affection is still there, of course, it doesn’t switch off. We’ve been put under difficult circumstances and the relationship is on hold,” he said.

“We are still in touch and I met her three times in the last week.”

Bolton says messages from his ex were doctored to shame the pair and bring him down. Asked if he rules out getting back together with Ms Marney, he said: “I don’t rule it out, not at all.”

For her part, Marney said: “I don’t have a bad word to say about Henry. I still think he’s the perfect gentleman.”

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California city is ‘criminalizing homelessness’ with food-sharing ban, activists tell RT

At least 12 activists were arrested after they handed out food in Wells Park in El Cajon, California on Sunday. The activists doubt the authorities’ claim that they banned charitable acts due to a hepatitis A outbreak.

The activists are members of a group called Break the Ban group and are charged with a misdemeanor. The authorities dropped the charges against a 14-year-old activist.

“The homeless people who were there [at the event] were very thankful that we were standing up [to the ban],” Shane Parmely, a member of Break the Ban and the organizer of the event told RT. The homeless “were very upset that the mayor and the city council members could pass such a heartless ordinance and none of those government officials came out to the park and talk to those people,” she added.

Governments throughout San Diego County have taken several steps to address the recent hepatitis A outbreak in the area, including spraying a sanitizing formula on sidewalks and streets, placing restrooms and portable hand-washing stations in areas where the homeless population congregates and ramping up a campaign for immunizations.

“It means they are criminalizing homelessness. They’ve created 4 laws against the homeless. No camping, no sleeping in cars, no pan handling and no feeding the homeless,” Mark Lane told RT.

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© John Gastaldo / Global Look Press

Break the Ban formed in 2017 as a response to an emergency ordinance unanimously approved in October by the El Cajon City Council. It banned the distribution of food on city-owned property, ostensibly to stop the spread of hepatitis A amongst the homeless community in the county.

Parmely, however, doubts that the outbreak was the real reason behind the measure. “They say all the parks are so contaminated with hepatitis A that we don’t want the homeless people to catch it and so we are trying to protect them. But everybody else can still go and have a party in the park and share food with each other. Everybody else is not magically immune from the same hepatitis A within the same space.”

Homelessness has increased in the city and there is a problem with high property values, according to Parmely. “We have a high percentage of homeless who are veterans; we have high percentage of homeless who are working. There is growing criminalization of people who are poor and powerless.”

In 2017 the U.S. Census Bureau Supplemental Poverty Measure found California’s poverty rate to be the highest of any state, mostly due to the cost of housing.

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Afrin knot: How the battle for a small Kurdish enclave could be the death knell for US-Turkey ties

Turkey is gearing up to move troops toward Afrin, a Kurdish-held area of Syria. The battle over the tiny enclave, which many would struggle to find on the map, could put Ankara in open conflict with NATO ally the US – here’s how.

READ MORE: Erdogan demands NATO take stand on US-backed Syrian Border Force

This week, the countdown began for Afrin, a Kurdish-held enclave in the north of Syria which is feverously preparing for a major Turkish offensive. Over the past few days, international media have been reporting about Turkish troops, tanks and armored vehicles rolling towards the Syrian border. 

The upcoming intervention in Afrin is said to be an extension of Turkey’s Euphrates Shield Operation, the declared goal of which was to target Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) and drive Kurdish forces out of their enclaves in northern Syria.

As soldiers on both sides prepare for what is shaping up to be a fierce battle, we look at how the likely siege of a small enclave adds fuel to the fuel of already-strained US-Turkey ties, and how America’s policy of developing bonds with groups at odds with one another is leading to failure for Washington in Syria and beyond.

Turkey’s likely military plans

Not much is known about Ankara’s exact strategy of capturing Afrin, but a ground offensive seems to be the backbone of Turkish plans. Over the past week, tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and self-propelled howitzers have been arriving to the border areas inside Turkey, according to Turkish press reports. Notably, the army has deployed signal jammers, which indicates the intervention might also include electronic warfare.

However, it will not be the Turks themselves that lead the fight. In its previous operations on Syrian soil, Ankara heavily relied on pro-Turkish rebels who made up most of the manpower to fight against the Kurds. This time promises to be no different. On Tuesday, when asked if Syrian rebels would be involved in the Afrin operation, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: “Of course they will, together. This struggle is being conducted for them. Not for us.”

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FILE PHOTO: Kurdish fighters from the People's Protection Units (YPG) stand near US military vehicles in the town of Darbasiya next to the Turkish border, Syria April 29, 2017 © Rodi Said

Some Turkish media suggested that the offensive will start with airstrikes on 149 targets of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), with the air raids involving fighters and drones. Haberturk reported, citing military forces, that Afrin and the adjacent areas have been monitored for several weeks by Turkish special forces, who will also be taking part in the offensive.

‘Capturing Afrin is no easy task’

Meanwhile, experts have expressed doubt that Turkish military’s operation to enter Afrin will be an easy ride. Grigory Lukyanov, professor of the Moscow-based Higher School of Economics, told RT by phone that some of the Turkish Army’s most battle-hardened officers were expelled from the military or persecuted after the failed 2016 coup, and such “cleansing of the ranks” might have weakened the armed forces. “The Euphrates Shield offensive has shown that Turkish military leaders… have little experience in conducting complex operations involving combat aircraft, ground forces and heavy armor,” Lukyanov said.

While the army has no shortage of ammunition and manpower, Lukyanov said it still lacks personnel able to operate systems such as drones and manned aircraft. Previous Euphrates Shield offensives came at a high cost for the Turkish military, Lukyanov added, as large numbers of soldiers were killed or injured, and multiple armored vehicles were destroyed beyond repair.

The Kurds, for their part, have managed to build up a reliable fighting force, having received training and modern weapons from the US, Lukyanov said, adding that the combat experience that Kurdish militias have accumulated during their fight against Islamic State makes them a “near-peer opponent” of the Turkish forces.

Russia quiet, Turkey puzzled

Though a ground offensive seems the safest option for Turkish military planners, it certainly won’t be without air support. The Turks cannot afford a high number of casualties among their troops, which makes airpower a game changer in the Afrin invasion.

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© Ingo Wagner / Global Look Press

In addition, the Kurdish enclave lies close to Russia’s Khmeimim Airbase, and Moscow’s attitude towards the Afrin operation is probably the trickiest question for Ankara. The airbase is protected by sophisticated S-400 air defense systems, and the adjacent province of Idlib, including Afrin itself, is certainly within reach of its surface-to-air missiles.

However, Igor Korotchenko, Russian military expert and editor-in-chief of ‘National Defense’ magazine, says S-400s are deployed to protect the airbase against enemy intrusion, and have nothing to do with covering other parts of Syria. “When it comes to some missions of foreign aircraft in Syria’s airspace, this is the area of responsibility of Syria’s air defense forces, not Russia’s,” he said.

Moscow has generally been wary of Turkish actions in the north of Syria, urging respect for the war-ravaged country’s territorial integrity. But to stay on the safe side this time, Ankara needs to keep the Russian military updated on every step it takes, and do its utmost to avoid dangerous incidents.

In recent days, Russia has been noticeably quiet on Turkey’s plans to invade Afrin. The only official statement was that of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who urged on Monday for people to refrain from coercive actions and move to the negotiating table. “Indeed, the Kurds are part of the Syrian nation,” he told a news conference. “Their interests must be taken into account.”

In the meantime, as Turkey amasses troops and armor along the border, the Kurds are far from sitting idle. Kurdish militias, many of them trained by American instructors, have been honing their combat skills and receiving considerable arms supplies from abroad. And this is where the US comes into play.

Friendly foes: America between Turkey & the Kurds

Washington’s Kurdish policy has been ambiguous since the start of the US-led anti-IS operation. On one hand, the US has designated the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been fighting the Turks since the mid-1980s, a terrorist organization – as has the European Union and Turkey itself.
On the other hand, the US cultivated ties with Syria’s Kurdish YPG militia, despised by Ankara. YPG fighters proved effective in the fight against IS and Syrian government forces, and the group – which was set up by the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) – quickly became America’s key ally on Syrian soil.

And here is where it gets even more interesting – the US maintains that Turkey has the right to suppress the “terrorist” PKK, while at the same time siding with the YPG.

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FILE PHOTO A fighter of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) © Rodi Said

To make things worse, the Pentagon has launched a training program for Kurdish and Arab border guards in Syria to prevent the resurgence of IS. Details of the initiative soon came to light, with the US-led coalition unveiling a plan to set up a 30,000-strong “border force” on the basis of Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) veterans, who are set to make up half of the recruits.

The move caused predictable outrage in Ankara, with Erdogan promising “to drown this terrorist force before it is born.” The army of “traitors” that Washington seeks to create will point their guns against US troops at the first threat, Erdogan cautioned. Separately, Turkey raised the issue with NATO, demanding that the military bloc take action against the creation of the “terrorist army.” 

Fueling the unfolding spat, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu “bluntly told” US counterpart Rex Tillerson this week that the step“could threaten our bilateral ties and could lead us down an irreversible route.”

Some Turkish politicians have even called to ban the US Air Force from using Incirlik Airbase until the Pentagon ends its alignment with the Syrian Kurds. Dogu Perincek, leader of the left-wing Vatan Party, suggested that the American troops from Incirlik be removed and cooperation with Russia and Iran be forged “to deter the United States.”

READ MORE: Erdogan demands NATO take stand on US-backed Syrian Border Force

Notably, major Turkish media have also followed suit, ramping up rhetoric over the US presence in Syria, with leading newspaper Hurriyet writing in an opinion piece: “Is the US army ready to open fire on the Turks if the Turks open fire on forces that the US also once recognized as terrorists?”“Is this not a move that could lead to a de facto division of Syria and open another Cold War-era style politics, Mr. Trump?”

Afrin operation: Lose-lose for US

The US currently has an estimated 2,000 troops on the ground in Syria which were deployed without an invitation from Damascus or mandate from the UN Security Council. American soldiers were embedded with YPG forces taking part in a major offensive to capture the city of Raqqa from Islamic State last year.

As the outrage mounted, the Pentagon quickly backtracked on its support for the YPG or the Kurdish border force. “We don’t consider them as part of our Defeat ISIS operations which is what we are doing there and we do not support them,” Pentagon spokesman Major Adrian Rankine-Galloway told the Turkish state Anadolu news agency. “We are not involved with them at all,” the military official reiterated, adding: “There is no train, advise and assist program going [on] in Afrin.”

On Wednesday, the Pentagon tried to downplay the significance of the 30,000-strong Kurdish force. “The US continues to train local security forces in Syria,” it said. “This is not a new ‘army’ or conventional ‘border guard’ force.” The US military is “keenly aware of the security concerns of Turkey, our Coalition partner and NATO ally,” the statement added.

Washington’s statements seem to have had little effect on Ankara’s plans. Chairing a four-hour National Security Meeting on Wednesday night, President Erdogan said Turkey will never allow the creation of “a terrorist army” in Syria. “It is regrettable that a state, which is part of NATO and our ally in bilateral relations, declares the terrorists as its partner and provides them with weapons, without any concern for our safety,” the Turkish leader said. He also demanded that weapons and equipment supplied to the YPG “be collected without delay,” adding that Turkey is losing patience.

The troops fully deployed along the Turkish-Syrian border are still awaiting the signal to move, providing a small window of opportunity to find a peaceful solution to the Afrin knot.

READ MORE: Turkey vows to ‘eliminate any threat’ after US announces Kurdish border force in Syria

But will the Trump administration be able to pacify the Turks, calm down the Kurds and persuade the two to sit down and talk? Given the absence of a clear American strategy for the Middle East, the answer is probably ‘no’.

Indeed, it is chaotic, ambiguous and inarticulate US policy which is causing America to lose on every front in the region. A NATO partner engaging in an all-out war on your regional ally is a clear sign that something has failed in your foreign policy.

Why else would your friends become enemies?  

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Young brawlers: Mass fight breaks out between junior hockey teams in south Russia (VIDEO)

While Russia’s North Caucasus region is well known for its successful wrestlers and other combat sports athletes, ice hockey, where fighting is also part of the game, seems to be slowly gaining popularity.

Video footage of a mass fight last weekend between players of two junior hockey teams, local club Alania and visitors Haski (Nevinnomysk), which happened in the capital city of the Republic of North Ossetia, Vladikavkaz, appeared online on Thursday.

The fight between the two teams during the Southern Championship of Russia reportedly started after the final whistle, when most of the home team, which claimed a 6-3 victory on the night, had already left the ice.

However, they seemed to all rush back when the brawl started.

Alexander Basenko, the head coach of Haski, told Russian outlet Sport-Express it was not the first clash between the two teams, but added that “no one had any intentions to fight.”

“Though we lost the game 3-6, I told my guys that it was a logical outcome and we had no one but ourselves to blame.”

READ MORE: Videos of Russian kids’ crazy ice hockey skills go viral

As a result of the skirmish, three players – two from Alania and one from Haski – were disqualified and will miss the next game. According to local media, no one was seriously injured.

The Ministry of Sport of North Ossetia stated: “An official investigation will definitely be conducted. We have already discussed the incident with the referee of the game.”

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New Kiev law marks shift ‘from sabotage to burial’ on Minsk deal – Russian senator

The new Ukrainian law on the reintegration of Donbass means an end to the Minsk peace deal and will likely lead to a new war in the southeast of the country, Russian Senator Konstantin Kosachev warned.

“By adopting the odious law on the reintegration of Donbass, the Verkhovna Rada [parliament] of Ukraine has effectively axed the Minsk agreements (the mentioning of which was deliberately excluded from the text of the law in the final reading),” Kosachev, who heads Russia’s upper house Committee for International Relations, wrote on Facebook. 

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FILE PHOTO © Міністерство оборони України

He urged Germany and France, which are participants in the Minsk process together with Russia and Ukraine, to “give a proper assessment of Ukraine’s ‘anti-Minsk’ act that fundamentally overturns the situation in the intra-Ukrainian settlement.”

“Kiev has switched from sabotage of the Minsk agreements to their burial,” the senator wrote, adding that such a development was expected. “By doing so, it (Kiev) screwed over its Western backers, which now have a difficult choice to make. A choice between war, which will be an inevitable result of further support for the current Ukrainian authorities, and peace, which would require honest assessments and responsible behavior in the future,” he stressed.

The law on the reintegration of Donbass, which was accepted by the Ukrainian Rada on Thursday, labeled the self-proclaimed Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk in eastern Ukraine as “temporarily occupied territories,” while qualifying the actions of Russia as “aggression against Ukraine.” The legislation also grants President Petro Poroshenko the right to use military force inside Ukraine without consent from the Rada, including for reclaiming Donbass. A joint operative staff of the Ukraine Armed Forces is already being created to take command of all the military, police and volunteer units in the conflict area.

READ MORE: Russians view US, Ukraine and EU as country’s main enemies – survey

More than 10,000 people have been killed in the eastern Ukrainian conflict, which broke out in spring 2014 after the Donetsk and Lugansk Regions refused to recognize the new coup-imposed authorities in Kiev. The so-called Minsk II peace deal – which was signed in February 2015 and envisaged a ceasefire, withdrawal of heavy weaponry and a prisoner exchange, among other things – helped to achieve a sharp decrease in violence, but wasn’t fully implemented, mainly due to the position of Kiev.

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‘Branson bailout’ protests erupt as anger grows with East Coast rail (VIDEO)

Angry protestors have descended upon London’s Kings Cross Station to share their rage over the proposed £2 billion bailout for Virgin Trains East Coast rail service, owned by one of the world’s richest men, Richard Branson.

The train service, which is a joint venture between Stagecoach and Branson’s Virgin Group, pledged to pay more than £3 billion (US$ 4.1 billion) to run the rail service until 2023. In November, the rail line announced that the deal will be terminated with the government three years early.

Simultaneous protests kicked off on Thursday morning, with campaigners shaking money tins at commuters in London, Edinburgh, Manchester, Surrey, and Bristol to demonstrate their anger over the botched rail re-privatization.

Public service campaign group ‘We Own It’ director, Cat Hobbs, spoke to RT at Kings Cross Station, where a team of protesters were causing a ruckus to express their disdain at the proposed £2 billion bailout.

“Privatization has failed again and again,” Hobbs said.

“We’ve seen this week with Carillion that when private companies get things wrong the rest of us have to step in and pick up the pieces.

“We’re here today for Branson’s Big Bailout. He’s already sued our NHS and now he wants effectively a £2 billion bailout because he and Stagecoach have decided to opt out of the East Coast line.

“When it was announced that [Transport Secretary] Chris Grayling was effectively bailing out Virgin and Stagecoach, their shares leapt by 13 percent. Not only are they effectively bailing out, but the government will allow them to bid to run the franchise again.
“Privatization just isn’t working and we need to bring public services in-house and to public ownership. Our railways should be owned by all of us.

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Carillion will o into liquidation despite employing more than 20,000 in the UK © Reuters/ Darren Staples

“Branson and all of the other private companies are failing us. Our message is to the government and Chris Grayling.

“They need to bring the East Coast Line… and then bring the rest of the rail service into public ownership, where it belongs.”

In November, Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald the told Commons that the rail strategy announcement was “a total smokescreen.”

“The real issue is that the East Coast franchise has failed again and the taxpayer will bail it out,” he said.

Pointing out the spike in share prices, he said: “Markets don’t lie. The secretary of state has let Stagecoach off the hook for hundreds of millions of pounds. He’s tough on everyone except the private sector.”

Transport Secretary Grayling responded to his claims, refuting that a bailout would happen at all.

“As we bring this franchise to a close and as we move to the new arrangements, no one is getting any bailout at all,” he said. “Stagecoach will meet in full their commitments made to the government as part of this contract.”

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‘The wall is the wall’: Trump blasts Kelly’s claims of Mexico border rollback

US President Donald Trump has strongly reasserted his commitment to building a wall along the Mexican border after White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said he had changed his mind on one of his main campaign pledges.

Speaking to Hispanic lawmakers on Wednesday, Kelly said Trump was not “fully informed” about the situation when he pledged to build the wall along the 2,200 mile (3,550km) border.

The promise to build the wall, and have Mexico pay for it, was one of the central planks of Trump’s campaign – yet no major movement has been made on the project in the year since Trump’s inauguration.

In a later interview with Fox News, Kelly, who was previously secretary of Homeland Security, said Trump “has evolved in the way he has looked at things. Campaign to governing are two different things and this president has been very, very flexible in terms of the realm of what is possible.”

READ MORE: Are you following? Tillerson admits using Trump’s tweets for setting foreign policy issues

Kelly also discussed the project from an engineering standpoint saying there are places where “hydrographically, geographically, a wall would not be realistic,” he added that in other areas the existing fence “would suffice.”

The president launched a strong rejection of Kelly’s comments on Thursday morning, tweeting: “The Wall is the Wall, it has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it.”  He also restated the position that Mexico will pay for the barrier.

He later followed that up with another tweet, saying the wall is necessary for the safety and security of America: “We need the Wall to help stop the massive inflow of drugs from Mexico, now rated the number one most dangerous country in the world. If there is no Wall, there is no Deal!”

Considering Trump’s tweets came following Kelly’s pronouncements, they could, potentially, indicate that the president is losing patience with another member of his staff.

Trump and Kelly have reportedly always had a cold relationship. Michael Wolff’s explosive book ‘Fire and Fury,’ which details Trump’s first year in the White House, describes how the president obsessively asked people if his chief of staff liked him in the weeks after he appointed him in July 2017.

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