Agence France-Presse

Protesters demand release of Catalan leaders

BARCELONA, Spain -- Thousands of Catalans protested Saturday in Barcelona for the release of separatist leaders held over their role in the region’s secession bid and the return of those who fled abroad into self-exile. Catalonia’s pro-independence president Quim Torra took part in the march just a day after he met Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez, with both pledging to ease tensions even if their positions on self-determination remain very different. “Every minute that our prisoners are in prison and aren’t at home with their family, with their friends is a real political indecency and we won’t allow it,” Torra said before the march set off early Saturday evening. The protest comes after nine Catalan leaders who were being held near Madrid were transferred to prisons in Catalonia closer to home, in a bid by Madrid to further calm the situation. But for protesters this was not enough. Waving yellow, red and blue Catalan separatist flags, they held banners that read “Freedom for political prisoners” or “we want you back home”. Accused of rebellion along with deposed, self-exiled Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont for their role in the region’s failed secession bid in October 2017, those in custody face up to 25 years in jail when their case finally comes to trial. But a development this week raised questions over whether they can be tried on such a severe charge. On Thursday, a German court said it would allow the extradition of Puigdemont to Spain, but only for misuse of public funds -- which he is also wanted for -- and not rebellion. The court argued that the closest legal German equivalent, high treason, did not apply because Puigdemont’s actions were never accompanied by violence. European legal practice stipulates that the receiving country -- in this case Spain -- can try the accused only on the charges approved in the extradition order. This means the Spanish Supreme Court in charge of the case will not be able to try him for rebellion. So the nine separatists in jail in Spain could argue that given Puigdemont, who was Catalonia’s president, cannot be tried for rebellion, then neither can they.

Fed eyes 2 more rate hikes

The Federal Reserve said Friday low unemployment and rising inflation will keep it on track to raise interest rates at a gradual pace over the next two years. By late 2019, the Fed says its key policy rate should be at a level slightly restrictive for growth. The Fed’s projection on rate hikes came with release of the central bank’s semi-annual monetary report to Congress. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell is scheduled to testify on the report for two days next week. The Fed last month raised its policy rate for a second time this year and projected two more hikes in 2018. The monetary report says the expectation is that further hikes will leave the rate slightly above its neutral level by late next year. The Fed’s current projection for the neutral rate — the point where monetary policy is not stimulating growth or restraining it — is 2.9 percent. With the June rate hike, the current range for the policy rate, known as the federal funds rate, is 1.75 percent to 2 percent. The policy report says that officials’ median outlook for the future course of interest rates would put the policy rate “somewhat above” the neutral rate by the end of 2019 and through 2020. The report noted that the median projection for the funds rate has it rising to 2.4 percent by the end of this year, which would indicate two more rate hikes are upcoming in 2018, and then climbing to 3.1 percent by the end of 2019 and 3.4 percent by the end of 2020. That forecast would mean that the Fed’s interest rates would cross a major milestone next year toward a point where Fed interest rates are no longer being kept low to boost economic growth and will instead begin to slightly restrain growth in an effort to make sure that low unemployment does not cause the economy to overheat and trigger rising inflation. The Fed’s interest rate has not been restrictive for over a decade. In response to the 2008 financial crisis, the Fed cut its policy rate to a record low near zero in December 2008 and kept it there for seven years. It boosted rates by a modest quarter-point in both 2015 and 2016 and then raised rates by three times last year as the economic recovery finally began to gain momentum. Powell, who will testify next Tuesday before the Senate Banking Committee and on Wednesday to the House Financial Services Committee, said in an interview this week that he believed “the economy’s in a really good place” at the moment with unemployment at the lowest point in nearly two decades and inflation finally approaching the Fed’s optimal goal of 2 percent annual increases. In the monetary policy report, the Fed said that it expects “a gradual approach to increasing the target range for the federal funds rate will be consistent with a sustained expansion of economic activity, strong labor market conditions and inflation near the committee’s symmetric 2 percent objective over the medium term.” The monetary report noted that worries about rising trade tensions had caused a period of turbulence in financial markets earlier this year. In his interview with the radio program “Marketplace” on Thursday, Powell said that Fed officials have been hearing a “rising level of concern” from business executives following the tough talk from the Trump administration, which has imposed penalty tariffs on a number of countries in an effort to open markets for U.S. goods. The effort has provoked retaliation, and now the world’s two biggest economies, the United States and China, are in a full-blown trade war.

Philippines erupts in joy with Pacquiao triumph

Millions of boxing fans across the Philippines erupted in cheers and tears of joy on Sunday after national icon Manny Pacquiao beat Argentine Lucas Matthysse in a world title bout. In the run-up to the fight 39-year-old Pacquiao was trailed by whispers that he was past his prime and doubts he would be able to best the big-punching Matthysse, who is four years his junior. But when Pacquiao’s victory was sealed in the seventh round by technical knockout, fans around the nation of 100 million jumped to their feet and roared with joy. “I was confident he could do it. It’s not about his age,” Christopher Lasala, 39, told AFP. “I was so happy when he knocked out Matthysse, I kept clapping. I said I knew Pacquiao would win.” Flora dela Paz, a life-long boxing fan, had tears streaming down her face as she watched Pacquiao raise his arms in victory. “I am just so happy. I got goosebumps,” the 68-year-old retired shoemaker told AFP. “He won, he won!” Pacquiao’s rags-to-riches story, from high school dropout to millionaire world boxing champion in an unprecedented eight weight divisions, is a huge source of pride in the Philippines. In keeping with tradition, many Filipinos stopped what they were doing to watch Pacquiao’s fight, which took place around midday on Sunday in the Philippine time zone. President Rodrigo Duterte, who attended the bout at the Axiata Arena in Kuala Lumpur with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, flashed thumbs up after Pacquiao’s win. The boxer, who has a glittering 23-year career in the sport, is also a lawmaker in the nation’s senate and a staunch ally of the president. “This win will surely cement, yet again, your position and legacy in boxing’s Hall of Fame,” Duterte said in a statement. “May you continue to inspire Filipinos.

‘From doughnuts to billions’

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia-- Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao, who won back the welterweight world title in stunning fashion on Sunday, is idolized by tens of millions in the poverty-afflicted Philippines after rising from the streets to the pinnacle of boxing. Known to his countrymen in the Asian archipelago as “The National Fist,” Pacquiao knocked out Argentine Lucas Matthysse in Kuala Lumpur to be crowned World Boxing Association welterweight champion at the age of 39. To most of the 105 million Filipino population, the winner of an unparalleled eight world championships in different weight divisions is a beloved national symbol and living proof that success is possible with hard work even if you are dirt-poor. Pacquiao, 39, declared a net worth of 2.946 billion pesos ($56.2 million) in 2017 and placed 20th in Forbes’ list last year of the highest-paid athletes of all time with total earnings of $510 million. He has successfully parlayed his boxing fame into a political career, getting elected to the House of Representatives and then, in 2016, to the Senate, a high-profile, national position which is often used as a stepping-stone to the presidency. He admits to having considered running for president someday and many Filipinos are urging him on. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was ringside at the Axiata Arena Sunday to see his old friend triumph and has even mentioned “Pac-Man” as a possible successor. Pacquiao has also served as a celebrity endorser for products ranging from appliances to pizza and cars, hosted TV shows, starred in movies and had an improbable stint as a professional basketball player and coach. He launched his own professional basketball league in 2017 and last month founded his own cryptocurrency, the “PAC Token”. Known for his generosity and common touch, he has given away huge amounts to friends, supporters and to the poor. He is known for accommodating his fans, letting them watch his training sessions. The 1.66-metre (5ft 5.5in) southpaw began his professional ring career as a teenager, and in 23 years has compiled a 60-7-2 win-loss-draw record with 39 knockouts. In the ring he is a volume power puncher who uses lightning footwork to create angles with which to deliver flurries, the likes of which have felled Oscar de la Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto, Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera. Doughnuts to glory The son of a deadbeat father, Pacquiao dropped out of high school at 14, sold doughnuts on the roadside and became a grocery stacker to help his mother support two younger siblings. He became a pro boxer at 17. The sport brought him fame, power, influence and wealth, and with it the vices: booze, gambling, cockfighting and romantic links to beautiful film stars that at one point nearly wrecked his marriage. But in 2012 he found religion and he sold his shares in a Manila casino, nightclub and bar, giving away the proceeds to employees. He also gave away his 1,000-plus fighting cocks to friends. He often cites God as the source of his success, peppering his speech with biblical references. But Pacquiao has also suffered some setbacks in and out of the ring, leading some supporters to suggest that he should hang up his gloves. He hadn’t knocked out an opponent since 2009 but silenced all his critics with a seven-round destruction of champion Matthysse Sunday. Before that, his star had seemed to be fading: he lost on points in his much-anticipated 2015 super fight with American Floyd Mayweather as the two best “pound-for-pound” fighters of their generation squared off. Then a year ago, in a shocking upset, Pacquiao lost his World Boxing Organization welterweight belt to the lightly-regarded Australian Jeff Horn in Brisbane in 2017.

First kayo in decade

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Manny Pacquiao rolled back the years as he stopped World Boxing Association welterweight champion Lucas Matthysse on Sunday -- the 39-year-old Filipino icon’s first knockout win since 2009. It was a dominant, devastating display as “smoking hot” Pacquiao registered the 60th win of a fabled 23-year career that now looks certain to extend beyond his 40th birthday in December. Pacquiao knocked down the big-puncher from Argentina as early as the third round with a stunning left uppercut that thudded around the Axiata Arena in Kuala Lumpur. The 35-year-old Argentine, who came in with a reputation as a big puncher, had no answer to Pacquiao’s blistering speed and he dropped again in the fifth. When a right-left combination thudded home to send Matthysse crashing down for a third time in the seventh round referee Kenny Bayless stepped in to save him from further punishment. “It was a long time ago since I’ve done that. I came out smoking hot,” said Pacquiao who extended his record to 60 wins, seven losses and two draws. “I’m surprised I knocked him down so early -- in the third, fifth and seventh. We did a good job in training. We were not pushing hard -- we controlled our pace and ourselves,” he added. “I’m no longer young, so thanks to my trainer and all my team members.” A shell-shocked Matthysse, who had come in with a record of 36 knockouts in 39 wins with just four defeats, conceded he had no answer to Pacquiao’s speed, movement and power as the “old Manny” returned with a vengeance. “It’s most difficult to be fighting Manny Pacquiao,” he said. “He’s a great fighter. I lost to a great legend.”

Another Pinoy wins WBA crown

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Jhack Tepora gave fellow Filipino Manny Pacquiao a boost before his showdown with Lucas Matthysse on Sunday by stopping Mexico’s Edivaldo Ortega to win the interim World Boxing Association featherweight title. Cebu’s Tepora, fighting on the undercard of the Pacquiao-Lucas Matthysse world title bill in Kuala Lumpur, unleashed a wicked short right hand in the ninth round to knock down Ortega for the first time in what had been to that point an even contest. He swiftly followed up with a barrage of powerful swinging punches that forced the referee to step in after two minutes and 38 seconds of round nine. “I didn’t expect the win but I really trained hard for this fight for three long months,” said the big-punching Tepora who extended his unbeaten record to 22 wins with 17 inside the distance. He cited boxing icon Pacquiao as his inspiration. “This is more than a dream come true,” Tepora said. “When I saw Manny’s story, coming from the streets, I thought one day I could be like that and this is the first step to that dream.” Earlier Lu Bin’s brave bid for a historic world title win in his second professional fight came crashing to earth as he was knocked out in the dying seconds. The Chinese rookie from Jinan held his own in a battling display until experienced WBA light flyweight champion Carlos Canizales of Venezuela finished the contest in devastating fashion. Lu was felled near the end of the 11th round for the first time in his short pro career. And Canizales went for the kill in the 12th and final stanza. After a barrage of punches a storming straight right dropped Lu and the referee waved it off as the final bell was about to sound. The exhausted, stricken 23-year-old left the ring at the Axiata Arena on a stretcher wearing an oxygen mask. Lu is a former youth world amateur champion from Jinan in Shandong province trained by Pacquiao’s long-time corner man Buboy Fernandez. ‘I was ready for him’ “It was hard for me to figure out his style,” said Canizales who extended his unbeaten record to 21 wins and a lone draw. “I also fought as an amateur so I understood the rhythm, I was ready for him.” Victory for Lu would have set a record for fastest man to win a world title, in terms of number of fights. That record is jointly held by Thai super lightweight Saensak Muangsurin and Ukrainian lightweight Vasyl Lomachenko, who both won championships in their third pro bouts. Earlier Moruti Mthalane from KwaZulu Natal in South Africa got off the canvas to take home the vacant International Boxing Federation flyweight title by outpointing Waseem Muhammad, who was bidding to become Pakistan’s first ever world champion. “Baby Face” Mthalane had been in control of a hard-fought contest fight for long periods until Waseem found a stinging left to drop him to the floor just seconds from the end of the 11th round. The 12th turned into an all-action brawl as both men tried to finish it. But Mthalane had done enough to edge a unanimous decision 114-113, 114-113, 116-110 and extend his career record to 36 wins with two defeats. For 2014 Commonwealth Games silver medallist Waseem it was a first loss in his ninth professional contest.

EU takes anti-Trump trade show to China and Japan

The European Union’s top officials will meet the leaders of China and Japan next week to boost ties in the face of fears that US President Donald Trump will spark an all-out global trade war. The trip by EU Council President Donald Tusk and Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker includes the signing of a free trade deal with Japan, which was moved from Brussels last week because Japanese premier Shinzo Abe was dealing with deadly floods at home. Their Asian tour comes as the EU -- which, with 28 countries and 500 million people is the world’s biggest single market -- tries to forge alliances in the face of the protectionism of Trump’s “America First” administration. European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said the “landmark” Japan deal was the biggest ever negotiated by the European Union. “This agreement will create an open trade zone covering nearly a third of the world’s GDP,” Schinas added. In China on Monday, the two leaders will meet with President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang to discuss their shared tensions with Washington, having both recently announced new tariffs on US goods in retaliation for measures imposed by Trump. They are expected to reaffirm their support for the rules-based international order, including the World Trade Organization (WTO), which faces unprecedented criticism from Trump’s administration. The leaders will also discuss climate change — another area on which the EU is in disagreement with Trump after he pulled out of the Paris climate deal -- and nuclear issues in North Korea and Iran, Schinas said. ‘Signal to the world’ But the EU and China will have to smooth over existing differences over Beijing’s own restrictive market practices including the “dumping” of cheap Chinese imports, especially steel. Some of those concerns are shared by Washington. The EU recently pushed through measures targeting China that were intended to offset the consequences of granting China so-called market economy status at the WTO, which will make it more difficult to prove and punish illegal trade practices by Beijing. In Tokyo, talks will also focus on presenting a united front against the United States over its tariffs, with the Japanese government having slammed them as “extremely deplorable”. The EU-Japan deal was hailed recently as a “strong signal to the world” against US protectionism by EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, who is travelling with Juncker and Tusk to Asia. Abe was originally due to come to Brussels to sign the deal last week, but he called off the trip after flooding and landslides in Japan that killed more than 200 people. Tusk had said that after the “tragic circumstances” they would move the summit to Tokyo. Schinas confirmed that Juncker would stick to his “very demanding agenda” and go on the trip to China and Japan, despite suffering from a painful medical condition that made him stumble repeatedly at a NATO summit in Brussels this week.

Extradition sought for Iranian ‘bomber’

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- Argentina has asked Russia to arrest former Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati for extradition in connection with the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires, the foreign ministry said Thursday. Velayati is in Russia as a special advisor to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and will travel to China on Friday, so the same request has also been made to Chinese authorities, the foreign ministry said in a statement. Argentina is awaiting a response from Russia to the request, which was made “within the framework of the extradition treaty between the two countries,” the statement said. Velayati was foreign minister when a bomb destroyed the headquarters of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) on July 18, 1994 leaving 85 dead and 300 people wounded. He is charged with “committing the crime of homicide, classified as doubly aggravated for having been committed with racial or religious hatred and a suitable method to cause widespread danger,” according to the judge responsible for the case. Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah group is accused of the carrying out the bombing of the Jewish center and an attack on Israel’s embassy in Buenos Aires two years earlier at Iran’s demand.

Japan firms used foreign trainees at Fukushima

TOKYO, Japan — Four Japanese companies made foreign trainees in the country to learn professional skills take part in decontamination work after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, local media said Friday. The reports cited a Justice Ministry investigation, but the ministry declined immediate comment. The reports are likely to revive criticism of the foreign trainee program, which has been accused of placing workers in substandard conditions and jobs that provide few opportunities for learning. The misconduct was uncovered in a probe by the justice ministry conducted after a Vietnamese trainee was found in March to have participated in cleanup work in Fukushima, public broadcaster NHK said. A powerful earthquake in March 2011 spawned a huge tsunami that led to meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear plant, causing the world’s worst such accident since Chernobyl in 1986. The justice ministry said after the March discovery that decontamination work was not appropriate for foreign trainees. It was not immediately clear how many trainees were forced to take part in the decontamination work. Local media said one of the four companies has been slapped with a five-year ban on accepting new foreign trainees.
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