Monthly Archives: March 2019

Taliban attacks kill four in Afghanistan

Twin Taliban attacks killed four people and wounded 24 others, including children, in the Afghan city of Herat and at an Italian-led NATO reconstruction team on Monday.

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The blasts came just weeks before the usually peaceful historic city is to become one of the first places in the war-torn country to transition from NATO to Afghan security control nearly 10 years after the 2001 US-led invasion.

Italian press agency Ansa reported that 15 Italians had been injured, quoting parliamentary sources, but the Italian defence ministry could not confirm this when questioned by AFP.

An AFP reporter at the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Herat said there had been a large explosion at the gate and there was a crater at the scene, with fragments of twisted metal from at least one car scattered around.

Herat provincial health director Ghulam Sayed Rashid confirmed the four fatalities.

“Among the wounded we have four children and a woman. The rest are men. There are two among them (the injured) who are in military uniform, they are guards of the PRT.

“Three of the injured are in critical condition.”

The attack was claimed by the Taliban. Its spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi told AFP: “Our mujahedeen are working on the operation in Herat.

“There have been explosions inside the compound as well as outside the PRT.”

Local television pictures showed extensive damage at the scene.

The area around the PRT, which is in a residential part of the city, had been cordoned off and both Afghan and international security forces were in the area, the AFP reporter said.

Herat, close to the Afghan border with Iran, is seen as one of the safest parts of Afghanistan and is among the first wave of seven places due to pass from foreign to Afghan security control from around July.

PRTs are typically joint military and civilian operations that work on trying to help build up Afghan government capacity in a province. There are 28 of them in total working in provinces across Afghanistan.

There are nearly 4,000 Italian troops serving in Afghanistan as part of a 130,000-strong international force fighting a Taliban-led insurgency.

The current conflict in Afghanistan has been running for nearly 10 years.

It started when a US-led invasion ousted the Taliban from power in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks for harbouring al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who was killed by US forces in Pakistan this month.

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Activists break into French nuclear plant

Activists from environmental group Greenpeace managed to sneak into a nuclear power plant near Paris in a move they said highlighted the dangers posed by France’s reliance on atomic energy.

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Police confirmed the intrusion and said activists had tried to break into two other nuclear sites in the south of France.

French energy giant EDF, which runs the nuclear plants that France relies on for 75 percent of its energy, sought to play down the incident, saying the activists at the plant near Paris had been detected but a decision made not to immediately intercept them.

EDF said activists had unfurled banners at two other sites but did not specify whether they had managed to enter the nuclear plants.

In a statement, Greenpeace said some members had entered the nuclear site at Nogent-sur-Seine, 95 kilometres (60 miles) southeast of Paris, to “spread the message that there is no such thing as safe nuclear power.”

“A group of militants managed to climb on to the dome of one of the reactors, where they unfurled a banner saying ‘Safe Nuclear Power Doesn’t Exist’,” said Greenpeace spokesman Axel Renaudin.

“The aim is to show the vulnerability of French nuclear installations, and how easy it is to get to the heart of a reactor,” said Sophia Majnoni, a Greenpeace nuclear expert.

EDF insisted it had been aware of the intrusion from the start.

The activists “were immediately detected by the security system and were permanently followed on the site, without a decision being made to make use of force,” the company said in a statement.

It said seven to nine people had been “calmly apprehended” by the French gendarmerie, a branch of the armed forces that protects nuclear sites.

Ladders and banners were also found near a nuclear power station in Blaye in southwestern France and at a nuclear research centre in Cadarache in the southeast, the gendarmerie told AFP.

EDF said banners had also been deployed at nuclear power plants in Chinon in central France and at Blayais in southwestern France, but “immediately removed.” The company did not say whether activists had managed to enter those sites.

Henri Guaino, an advisor to President Nicolas Sarkozy, said the activists’ move was “irresponsible” but raised questions about security at nuclear plants.

“It was irresponsible on their part,” he told BFMTV. “But this does make one think about the security of access to nuclear power plants. Conclusions must be drawn from this.”

The incident comes as some in France have begun to question the country’s long-held support for nuclear energy.

France, the world’s most nuclear-dependent country, operates 58 reactors and has been a leading international proponent of atomic energy.

But the country’s reliance on nuclear energy has been increasingly called into question since the Fukushima disaster in Japan, which prompted Germany to announce plans to shut all of its reactors by the end of 2022.

Ahead of a presidential election next year, Socialist candidate Francois Hollande has agreed a deal with the country’s Greens to push to reduce France’s reliance on nuclear energy to 50 percent by shutting down 24 nuclear reactors by 2025.

EDF and Greenpeace have a long history of confrontation, and last month a French court fined the company 1.5 million euros ($2 million) after it hired a private security firm to hack the computer of the group’s former head of campaigns in France.

Greenpeace’s action came as UN climate talks entered their second week in South Africa.

Near the Durban conference site six Greenpeace campaigners were arrested as they tried to hang a banner reading “Listen to the People, not the Polluters” at a hotel where a “Global Business Day,” hosted by business organisations, was taking place.

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Tour de France: Results after stage 10

Here are the overall and stage standings after the 10th stage of the Tour de France, a 158.

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0km ride from Aurillac to Carmaux.

STAGE 10

1. Andre Greipel (GER/OLO) 3hr 31min 21sec

2. Mark Cavendish (GBR/HTC) at 0:00.

3. José Joaquin Rojas (ESP/MOV) 0:00.

4. Thor Hushovd (NOR/GRM) 0:00.

5. Romain Feillu (FRA/VAC) 0:00.

6. Daniel Oss (ITA/LIQ) 0:00.

7. Sébastien Hinault (FRA/ALM) 0:00.

8. Borut Bozic (SLO/VAC) 0:00.

9. Geraint Thomas (GBR/SKY) 0:00.

10. Samuel Dumoulin (FRA/COF) 0:00.

OVERALL STANDINGS

1. Thomas Voeckler (FRA/EUC) 42h06min 32sec

2. Luis Leon Sanchez (ESP/RAB) at 1:49.

3. Cadel Evans (AUS/BMC) 2:26.

4. Frank Schleck (LUX/LEO) 2:29.

5. Andy Schleck (LUX/LEO) 2:37.

6. Tony Martin (GER/HTC) 2:38.

7. Peter Velits (SVK/HTC) 2:38.

8. Andreas Kloden (GER/RSH) 2:43.

9. Philippe Gilbert (BEL/OLO) 2:55.

10. Jakob Diemer Fuglsang (DEN/LEO) 3:08.

11. Ivan Basso (ITA/LIQ) 3:36.

12. Damiano Cunego (ITA/LAM) 3:37.

13. Nicolas Roche (IRL/ALM) 3:45.

14. Kevin De Weert (BEL/QST) 3:47.

15. Robert Gesink (NED/RAB) 4:01.

16. Alberto Contador (ESP/SAX) 4:07.

17. Tom Danielson (USA/GRM) 4:22.

18. Rein Taaramae (EST/COF) 4:52.

19. Christian Vande Velde (USA/GRM) 4:53.

20. Samuel Sanchez (ESP/EUS) 5:01.

67. Simon Gerrans (AUS/SKY) 25:59.

80. Richie Porte (AUS/SAX) 30:54.

97. Stuart O’Grady (AUS/LEO) 39:03.

102. Matthew Goss (AUS/HTC) 42:44.

144. Mark Renshaw (AUS/HTC) 1h06:37.

CLASS STANDING (Sprinters)

Points:

1. Philippe Gilbert (BEL/OLO) 226 pts

2. José Joaquin Rojas (ESP/MOV) 209

3. Mark Cavendish (GBR/HTC) 197

4. Thor Hushovd (NOR/GRM) 163

5. Cadel Evans (AUS/BMC) 135

6. André Greipel (GER/OLO) 123

7. Romain Feillu (FRA/VAC) 121

8. Sébastien Hinault (FRA/ALM) 78

9. Tyler Farrar (USA/GRM) 76

10. Borut Bozic (SLO/VAC) 69

KING OF THE MOUNTAINS

1. Johnny Hoogerland (NED/VAC) 22 pts

2. Thomas Voeckler (FRA/EUC) 17

3. Tejay Van Garderen (USA/HTC) 5

4. Marco Marcato (ITA/VAC) 5

5. Rui Costa (POR/MOV) 5

6. Sandy Casar (FRA/FDJ) 5

7. Juan Antonio Flecha (ESP/SKY) 4

8. Anthony Roux (FRA/FDJ) 3

9. Cadel Evans (AUS/BMC) 2

10. Philippe Gilbert (BEL/OLO) 2

TEAM OVERALL

1. Europcar 125h37:34.

2. Leopard at 0:32.

3. RadioShack 1:02.

4. Rabobank 1:18.

5. Garmin 1:50.

6. AG2R La Mondiale 4:23.

7. Katusha 4:40.

8. HTC 4:55.

9. Quick Step 6:14.

10. Omega Pharma 7:45.

11. Euskaltel 9:23.

12. Cofidis 10:45.

13. Astana 10:50.

14. Liquigas 11:25.

15. Sky 11:29.

16. Movistar 16:42.

17. Vacansoleil 18:26.

18. BMC 18:36.

19. FDJ 20:44.

20. Saxo Bank 23:46.

21. Lampre 26:45.

22. Saur – Sojasun 36:16.

BEST YOUNG RIDERS OVERALL

1. Robert Gesink (NED/RAB) 42h10:33.

2. Rein Taaramae (EST/COF) at 0:51.

3. Arnold Jeannesson (FRA/FDJ) 1:20

4. Rob Ruijgh (NED/VAC) 1:42.

5. Geraint Thomas (GBR/SKY) 1:50

6. Jérome Coppel (FRA/SAU) 2:34.

7. Rigoberto Uran (COL/SKY) 3:19.

8. Edvald Boasson Hagen (NOR/SKY) 3:44.

9. Cyril Gautier (FRA/EUC) 5:11.

10. Pierre Rolland (FRA/EUC) 5:19.

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Cavendish notches up 19 stage wins

Britain’s Mark Cavendish continued his domination of the Tour de France sprint stages Sunday by claiming his fourth win of the race to take his career tally to an unrivalled 19 on stage 15.

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France’s Thomas Voeckler, of the Europcar team, remained in the yellow jersey after the mainly flat but wind-buffeted ride over 193 km from Limoux to Montpellier which had the overall contenders fighting for survival.

Voeckler maintained his 1min 49sec lead on Luxembourg’s Frank Schleck, with Australian Cadel Evans in third at 2:06.

Andy Schleck, the runner-up the past two years, is fourth at 2:15 while three-time and reigning champion Alberto Contador of Spain is seventh at 4:00.

Cavendish meanwhile showed that when his team are in control, he is virtually unstoppable.

After a strong ride by HTC-Highroad, which helped chase down an earlier five-man breakaway and then countered a late move by Belgian champion Philippe Gilbert, Cavendish was quick to share the plaudits.

“I don’t think there’s been one of my 19 wins that I’ve done alone, and that just shows the commitment those guys have towards me and I’m incredibly lucky for that,” said Cavendish.

“I crossed the finish line first but it’s not just me. I did 200 metres today in a 200 km stage. The team rode and delivered me to the line. I’m incredibly proud to be associated with them.”

Although Belgian legend Eddy Merckx holds the race record of 34 stage wins Cavendish is by far the most successful sprinter ever on the race.

After a windy ride into Montpellier which had Evans, the Schlecks and Contador nervously trying to avoid losing time due to splits in the peloton, his team remained in control despite the technical approach to the finish line.

The cosmopolitan American outfit then kept their composure when Gilbert, Cavendish’s principle rival for the points competition’s green jersey, launched an attack with three kilometres to race.

Cavendish’s Australian teammate Matt Goss admitted Gilbert, who won stage one to take the yellow jersey and has been a threat for Cavendish throughout, had to be brought to heel.

“Gilbert went, and you’ve got to worry,” said Goss.

“You see how strong and how good he is. We certainly had to make sure we got him back.”

HTC-Highroad reeled the Omega-Pharma rider in and with just over 200 metres to race Cavendish emerged from the wheel of Australian lead-out man Mark Renshaw and drove hard for the finish where he beat American Tyler Farrar into second.

Garmin sprinter Farrar, who secured his maiden Tour victory on stage three, had hoped to benefit from the slipstream of lead-out man Julian Dean however the New Zealander got stuck behind HTC.

“I couldn’t come off the wheel there to give Tyler that extra bit of speed he needed at the finish. There was nothing we could do today,” said Dean. “HTC were right on their game.”

After surviving three tough stages in the Pyrenees Farrar admitted he is looking forward to a rest.

“It was a stressful day with lots of wind but the team rode all day and got me into good position in the finale,” said the American.

“I really wanted the win today but unfortunately it just didn’t turn out. I think we’re all ready for the rest day tomorrow and we will look forward to next week and another try on the Champs (Elysees).”

Monday is the second rest day of the race, which resumes Tuesday with a hilly 162.5 km ride from Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux to Gap on stage 16.

Voeckler is likely to keep the yellow jersey at least until then, however despite punching above his weight so far the Frenchman said he is under no illusions.

He said: “I give myself zero percent chance of winning the Tour de France.”

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Berlusconi suffers home-town blow

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s coalition suffered a humiliating defeat in mayoral elections in Milan and Naples on Monday, casting doubt over the legally embattled Italian leader’s future.

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Left-wing lawyer Giuliano Pisapia triumphed in Milan against Letizia Moratti from Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party, ending the right’s 18-year hold on the city and dealing a heavy blow to the Italian premier in his home town.

Pisapia garnered 55.10 percent of the vote, while Moratti won 44.89 percent in the second round of a mayoral vote held on Sunday and Monday.

In Naples, which was already controlled by the left, Luigi De Magistris, a former prosecutor, also won out against his rival with 65.37 percent.

The centre-right lost other votes in Cagliari, Novara and Trieste but the defeat in Milan — Italy’s economic capital — was seen as the most symbolically significant and a bellwether for anti-Berlusconi sentiment.

“I am delighted! This is an awakening of consciences that have been asleep during years of incivility, of an absence of culture,” said Giovanna Cardarelli, 55, in a crowd of thousands rallying in front of Milan cathedral.

Emanuele Crespi, a 28-year-old student, said: “Citizens understood that we needed real change. Pisapia is the right man to relaunch Milan, which needs radical reforms to become a city that can be a European player.”

“Free Milan!” Pisapia supporters chanted as he gave his victory speech.

Berlusconi had actively campaigned on Moratti’s behalf and declared the vote should be seen as a test of his popularity, which has been falling after a series of legal and sex scandals and continued weakness in the economy.

Berlusconi’s trial on charges of having sex with an underage prostitute and abuse of power is to resume in Milan on Tuesday, although he will not attend.

“I think the will for change is a signal for the entire country…. Berlusconi has become obsessed in recent years with his own affairs,” Pisapia said in an interview with news channel SkyTG24 after his election victory.

Speaking in Romania, where he was attending a bilateral summit, Berlusconi recognised his defeat but sounded combative, Italian news media reported.

“We lost, it’s clear. But now we have to remain calm and move forward. The majority is determined and united,” he said.

“Every time I suffer a setback, I triple my forces,” he added.

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