Russia claims that the search for its submarines by the Swedish military last year was based on a ‘myth’

Novorossiysk submarine

Over the weekend, Swedish Rear Adm. Anders Grenstad confirmed to the media that the apparent Russian submarine spotted in Swedish waters on October 31 was just a civilian working boat. The conclusion was reached after close examination of pictures taken by a former naval officer.

But the Swedish military remain steadfast in its claim that Russia was indeed sailing submarines around Swedish waters last year: “The assessment that Swedish territory was violated in October 2014 remains correct in its entirety.”

In an extraordinary retort, the Russian foreign ministry issued a statement decrying “anti-Russian hysteria and propaganda” in Sweden’s response to the mistaken submarine sighting. Russia apparently wants Sweden to believe its subs weren’t off the Swedish coast last year:

We could not help but notice the article in the Swedish media quoting Navy Rear Admiral A. Grenstad Sweden concerning the large-scale operation in Swedish territorial waters last Autumn to search for an unidentified foreign object underwater — allegedly a Russian submarine. In fact, as the Swedish Rear Admiral admitted, this object was a “technical ship.”

We would like to remind you that the representatives of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation from the outset rejected all insinuations Swedish side of the presence of Russian naval ships in the territorial waters of Sweden.

The unprecedented scale of the hunt for the Russian submarine was, therefore, nothing but a mindless waste of Swedish taxpayer money. This was done, it should be understood, for the sake of promotion of anti-Russian hysteria and propaganda “pumping” the myth of the “military threat” from the East.

While the individual sighting on October 31 was dismissed, the Swedish military remains convinced that incursions by a reconnaissance submarine into Swedish territorial waters did occur on October 17 and 24.

More than 200 service personnel took part in the search for the submarine as the military deployed minesweepers, helicopters, and an anti-submarine ship. At the time, Swedish intelligence reported intercepting encrypted messages that appeared to confirm the presence of at least one vessel, with another located in Kaliningrad, the base of Russia’s Baltic Fleet.

Moreover, the retired Swedish naval officer who took a picture of what he believed to be a Russian submarine in the waters around Stockholm has rejected claims that it was just a “civilian boat.” Sven Olof Kviman told the newspaper Dagens Nyheter that it was “completely impossible that we have got this wrong.” He said:

I saw the submarine above water: the bow, stern and tower. It is always difficult to determine the size, but it was around 20-30 metres long.

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700 feared dead in migrant shipwreck in Mediterranean: UNHCR

Rome (AFP) – Seven hundred people are feared dead after a fishing boat packed with migrants trying to reach Europe capsized off Malta, the UNHCR said Sunday.

Spokeswoman Carlotta Sami told the Skytg24 news channel that only 28 people had survived the shipwreck. The survivors indicated there had been more than 700 on board, she said.

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Ben Affleck asked for slave-owning ancestor story to be cut

Hollywood megastar Ben Affleck, also known for his support of liberal causes, asked documentary makers to censor their discovery that one of his ancestors owned slaves, according to a leaked email

Washington (AFP) – Hollywood megastar Ben Affleck, also known for his support of liberal causes, asked documentary makers to censor their discovery that one of his ancestors owned slaves, according to a leaked email.

The message published by WikiLeaks last week is part of a trove of embarrassing emails, film scripts and other internal communications that were accessed during a massive hack of Sony in 2014.

In one email exchange, Sony chief executive Michael Lynton and his friend Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates discuss a request made by Affleck that his slave-owning ancestor not be included in an upcoming show called “Finding Your Roots,” produced by the publicly funded PBS broadcaster.

“Here’s my dilemma,” Gates wrote. “Confidentially, for the first time, one of our guests has asked us to edit out something about one of his ancestors — the fact that he owned slaves. Now, four or five of our guests this season descend from slave owners, including Ken Burns. We’ve never had anyone ever try to censor or edit what we found. He’s a megastar. What do we do?”

In his response, Lynton advises Gates, who presents the series, to take out the information. 

“I would take it out if no one knows, but if it gets out that you are editing the material based on this kind of sensitivity then it gets tricky. Again, all things being equal I would definitely take it out,” he wrote. 

Gates goes on to say that he fears censoring the show would “compromise our integrity.”

Ultimately, though, the show did not mention Affleck’s slave-owning forebear and instead focused on other ancestors including a distant grandfather who was an occult enthusiast. 

Gates “and his producers made an independent editorial judgment to choose the most compelling narrative,” PBS said in a statement.

CNN presenter Anderson Cooper is also featured in the documentary series. One of his ancestors was a multiple slave owner — and was beaten to death with a garden hoe by a slave, who in turn was hanged without trial.

Affleck stars as Batman in the upcoming “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” movie. He is also known for supporting an array of causes including the Eastern Congo Initiative. 

The Sony hacking scandal has already led to the release of other embarrassing emails, including one in which a producer labeled Angelina Jolie a “minimally talented spoiled brat” and others that included racial slurs against President Barack Obama.

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Brazil executive says he paid $36.1 million to Petrobras: media

A top construction company executive has told investigators he paid .1 million in bribes to executives at state oil giant Petrobras, which is being rocked by Brazil's biggest ever corruption scandal, local media reported

Washington (AFP) – A top construction company executive has told investigators he paid $36.1 million in bribes to executives at state oil giant Petrobras, which is being rocked by Brazil’s biggest ever corruption scandal, local media reported.

Eduardo Leite, vice president at the construction firm Camargo Correa, told prosecutors the bribes stretched from 2007-2012. He is cooperating with authorities in exchange for a potential future reduction of his sentence, G1 news portal reported.

The construction firm is allegedly one of those that paid executives at Petrobras to give them contracts in exchange for overcharging. Then the executives would skim the difference.

“It was very easy,” Leite was quoted as saying in the report. He said overcharging on government contracts sometimes reached as high as 20 percent.

Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff chaired the Petrobras board during much of the period when the alleged corruption took place, though she has not been implicated in the scandal.

The scandal has taken a heavy toll on Petrobras, the largest company in the world’s seventh-largest economy.

Its chief executive and board of directors resigned in February, after the company lost nearly $9 billion in stock value after being downgraded by two ratings agencies.

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Armenians to mark ‘genocide’ centenary as Turkey dispute rages on

Young girls take part in a sit-in at Beirut's Martyr's Square on April 18, 2015, organised by Lebanon's principal Armenian political party, Tashnag, ahead of the 100th anniversary of the mass killings of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire in 1915

Yerevan (AFP) – Armenians prepare to commemorate a hundred years since 1.5 million of their kin were massacred by Ottoman forces, as a fierce dispute still rages with Turkey over Ankara’s refusal to recognise the mass murder as genocide.

Hundred of thousands are expected to flock to a towering memorial in Armenia’s capital Yerevan on Friday for an emotional ceremony to mark the centenary of the start of a tragedy that still stirs deep divisions.

Ex-Soviet Armenia and the huge Armenian diaspora worldwide have battled for decades to get the World War I massacres at the hands of the Ottoman forces between 1915 and 1917 recognised as a targeted genocide.

But for modern Turkey — the successor to the Ottoman empire — hundreds of thousands died on both sides as Ottoman forces battled Tsarist Russia and describing the events as a “genocide” is a red line it cannot cross. 

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian has said the centenary will be used to remind the world of the struggle to recognise the massacre as genocide.

“This is an important date for the Armenian people and international community not only to look back and think over historical facts but to say ‘never again’,” Sarkisian said in a recent speech.

But the spotty guest list for the event highlights the lack of international consensus on the issue. 

The presidents of Russia and France — two of less than two dozen countries to formally recognise the genocide — are expected to be among a handful of world leaders to join the crowds at the memorial, but others are shying away for fear of upsetting Ankara. 

Meanwhile, Turkey has sparked ire by scheduling a major event for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Gallipoli, usually marked on April 25, for the same day, in what Armenia says is an effort to steal attention from what they call their genocide commemorations. 

In Istanbul a small gathering will be held to mark the day now chosen to mark the start of the atrocity when a hundred years ago Armenian community leaders were rounded up in then Constantinople. 

Around the globe Armenians in the large diaspora — dispersed far and wide by the slaughter that followed — are planning to hold their own memorials from Los Angeles to Lebanon. 

A day ahead of the commemoration, Armenia’s influential orthodox Apostolic Church will hold a ceremony to officially canonise all the victims of the killings. 


- Pope’s recognition -


In the run-up to the centenary, the potent tensions over the century-old killings were laid bare as Pope Francis this month sparked blistering condemnation from Turkey after he referred to the massacres as “genocide” at a Vatican mass.

“We recall the centenary of that tragic event, that immense and senseless slaughter whose cruelty your forebears had to endure,” Francis said.

“It is necessary, and indeed a duty, to honour their memory, for whenever memory fades, it means that evil allows wounds to fester.”

The European Parliament also urged Turkey to use the centenary of Ottoman-era massacres to “recognise the Armenian genocide” and help promote reconciliation between the two peoples.

Last year Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan offered an expression of condolences to Armenians but this has not been followed by any further steps, with rhetoric sharpening even further.

In Turkey a Turkish-Armenian advisor to Prime Minister Ahmet Davutogou “retired”, days after he caused a furore within the ruling party by describing the mass killings as genocide.

For presidents in the United States — home to a large Armenian community — the issue has always been a particular thorny one.

Barack Obama — who pledged before he won the presidency to recognise the genocide — has sidestepped the contentious term by using the Armenian term Medz Yeghern, meaning great catastrophe.

The United States this month again called for a “full, frank” acknowledgement of the facts surrounding the mass murder of Armenians in World War I, but shied away from calling it “a genocide.”

As the international wrangling goes on with the centenary approaching, the remaining few who can just about remember the horror say hope is running out that the victims will get the recognition from Ankara.

“I always say to my children and grandchildren that it is very important for us — the living — to keep their memory alive,” said 105-year-old survivor Khosrov Frangyan, who was born under Ottoman rule in 1910 but now lives in Armenia.

“Their souls cannot rest in peace until the Turks accept what they did, ask for forgiveness and answer for their crimes. But I don’t believe that is possible.”


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Aussie PM downs beer in a few seconds, sparking debate

Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott has been hit by poor polling, policy backflips and an unpopular budget in 2014

Sydney (AFP) – Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott was caught on video downing a beer in a few seconds at a Sydney pub, prompting comparisons to another drink-chugging former leader and sparking a debate on social media.

The video, reportedly recorded on Saturday night, showed the leader knocking back a glass of Australia’s Victoria Bitter in about six seconds as a large crowd surrounding him yelled “scull” repeatedly.

“Scull” is a slang term for drinking a glass of beer in one go.

Abbott was “proud as punch” when he grabbed a beer and “drank from head-to-toe the entire schooner (glass), dribbling little bits on his shirt”, Simon Carrodus, an Australian Football Rules coach for the University of Technology, Sydney told the Australian Women’s Weekly magazine.

Carrodus said his university’s football club was holding an event at an eastern Sydney pub when they spotted the prime minister.

“I walked over to Tony and said ‘will you come over and have a beer with the best players as part of the (club’s) presentation’,” he said.

“He said ‘absolutely no problem’.”

Abbott drew parallels with Bob Hawke, who was prime minister from 1983 to 1991 and was reputedly a world champion for drinking a yard-glass of beer, about three pints or 1.7 litres, in a record time of 11 seconds.

Now in his eighties, Hawke has stunned and delighted Australian cricket fans by sculling beers at several matches in recent years.

Abbott’s glass was a schooner, which in New South Wales state where Sydney is located can hold 425 millilitres of liquid.

The prime minister, who last January warned of the dangers of binge drinking, was previously mocked by some for ordering a shandy — a half-beer, half-lemonade drink — during the 2010 general election.

Social media users debated Abbott’s beer-drinking actions, with some suggesting he had used it to get a boost in opinion polls after surviving a leadership challenge in February. 

“When Tony Abbott is so low on approval that he skulls a beer to try to make himself seem likable,” one user wrote on Twitter, posting a picture of the leader at the pub.

Others defended him. 

One tweet said: “Abbott sculled a beer and now all the tut-tutters are out in force. I’m certain that there are bigger issues to deal with.”

The conservative leader had been hit by poor polling, policy backflips and an unpopular budget last year. The upcoming budget announcement on May 12 has been touted as an important test of Abbott’s leadership.

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd recorded a lift in opinion polls in 2007 when the bookish then Labor candidate was exposed during the election campaign as having paid a drunken visit to a New York strip club several years before.

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British royal baby’s first A to Z

Picture taken on July 23, 2013 shows Prince William (R) and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge with their new-born baby boy, Prince George

London (AFP) – From baby fashion to specially-minted coins, here is an A to Z on the birth of Prince William and his wife Kate’s second child, as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge prepare for their new addition to Britain’s royal family.

A is for ANNOUNCEMENT. A proclamation will be displayed on an easel at the gates of Buckingham Palace, while news of the birth will be tweeted by Kensington Palace and emailed to the press. Gun salutes will also mark the new arrival.

B is for BROTHER. The new royal baby will be 21 months younger than older brother Prince George, who is directly in line to become king one day.

C is for CHRISTENING. The baby will be baptised wearing a replica of a lace and satin gown that has been used since 1841. Tradition dictates the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, England’s highest cleric, will conduct the christening.

D is for DUTY. Once an adult, a lifetime of royal duty on behalf of the sovereign awaits.

E is for EDUCATION. The royal youngster is set to enjoy exclusive schooling. Both William and his brother Prince Harry went to the elite boarding school Eton.

F is for FASHION. The new royal will be a trendsetter before it can walk and talk — anything George has been seen wearing has flown off the shelves.

G is for GRANDPARENTS. William’s father Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, and his wife Camilla are expected to visit the baby in hospital shortly after the birth, along with Kate’s parents Michael and Carole Middleton.

H is for HOME. The new baby will grow up at the Cambridges’ apartment in London’s Kensington Palace and Anmer Hall, a country house on Queen Elizabeth II’s private Sandringham estate in eastern England.

I is for INTEREST. The birth will spark huge interest around the world, with international media camped outside the hospital doors waiting for the first glimpse of the new royal.

J is for JORDAN. The baby will be baptised with water from the River Jordan.

K is for KATE. The 33-year-old duchess suffered acute morning sickness again during her second pregnancy, causing her to miss royal engagements.

L is for LINE OF SUCCESSION. The baby will be born fourth in line to inherit the throne, behind George and directly in front of uncle Harry.

M for MEMORABILIA. The Centre for Retail Research reckons the royal baby will bring retail sales of around £60 million to £70 million ($88-103 million, 84-98 million euros), rather than the £247 million boost attributed to George.

N is for NAMES. Royal babies often get several Christian names, with George getting three. Bookmakers’ favourites for a girl are Alice, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Alexandra and Victoria; for a boy, James, Arthur, Henry, Philip and Albert.

O is for OBSTETRICIANS. The medical team will be led by Guy Thorpe-Beeston, the surgeon-gynaecologist to the royal household, who will be assisted by his predecessor Alan Farthing.

P for PRIMOGENITURE. Laws which took effect in March ending male primogeniture mean girls born after October 28, 2011 can no longer be overtaken by younger brothers in the line of succession.

Q is for QUEEN ELIZABETH II. The baby will be the monarch’s fifth great-grand-child and her 17th descendant.

R is for ROYAL MINT. They will produce a £5 coin in celebration and gift a special “lucky” silver penny to 2,015 babies born on the same day.

S is for ST MARY’S HOSPITAL. The baby will be born in the private Lindo Wing of the hospital in Paddington, central London. A two-room suite costs £6,750 a night, though consultants’ fees can double that.

T is for TITLE. The baby will be known as His/Her Royal Highness Prince/Princess (name) of Cambridge.

U is for UNCLE HARRY. William’s fun-loving brother is coming out of the army and so may have more time to babysit. The baby will also have Auntie Pippa and Uncle James on its mother’s side. 

V is for VICTORIA. The baby will be the great-great-great-great-great-grandchild of 19th-century queen Victoria.

W is for WILLIAM. The 32-year-old duke is training to become an air ambulance pilot. He will take two weeks’ paternity leave. He could face a two-hour drive to London when Kate goes into labour.

X is for XX or XY? As with George, the couple do not know the sex of the baby. 

Y is for YELLOW. Bookmakers are taking bets on the colour of Kate’s dress when she leaves hospital, with a spring-like yellow among the favourites for the first baby pictures that will zip round the world.

Z is for ZZZ… William and Kate can expect months of sleepless nights, but their nanny will be on hand to ease the burden.

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Everyone Hates Superman in the Batman v Superman trailer

After a low-quality version was leaked online, director Zack Snyder released the HD teaser trailer for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice starring Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill. Unfortunately there’s no sign of Wonder Woman in the trailer, played by Gal Gadot, who will make her debut in this film before her own movie comes out.

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