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Canada’s Sun Life to raise stake in Indian insurance joint venture | Reuters

TORONTO/MUMBAI Canada’s Sun Life Financial Inc (SLF.TO) signalled the significance of the fast growing Indian insurance market by revealing plans on Wednesday to increase its stake in life insurance joint venture Birla Sun Life Insurance, to 49 percent.

Toronto-based Sun Life, which currently owns 26 percent of Birla Sun Life, is buying an additional 23 percent in the venture from partner Aditya Birla Nuvo Ltd (ABRL.NS), which will keep the remaining stake. Sun Life will spend 16.64 billion rupees ($250 million) on the purchase.

The deal, which is expected to close by March 2016, comes months after Sun Life Chief Executive Dean Connor told Reuters the company was interested in raising its stake in the venture.

Birla Sun Life Insurance is among the top five private insurers in India and aims to crack the top 3 at some point.

“As Canada’s only lifeco in India, we’re doubling down on an important joint venture. It’s a natural step,” Connor said in an interview on Wednesday. “What it means for our shareholders is a bigger share of future growth in a really important market.”

“It’s a country that is seriously underpenetrated for insurance in an economy that is growing quickly,” he added. The deal is the latest in the Indian insurance sector this year after the government raised the foreign investment cap in the $50 billion sector to 49 percent from 26 percent earlier.

Japan’s Nippon Life and France’s AXA (AXAF.PA) recently announced deals to raise their stakes to 49 percent in their respective Indian insurance joint ventures.

Sun Life has a presence in seven Asian markets and is looking at a range of potential deals in the region, Connor said.

The company would be open to insurance and asset management deals in India, but only in conjunction with the Birla group, he said.

Sun Life also owns 49 percent of Birla Sun Life Asset Management, one of the largest mutual fund companies in India.

(Reporting by Devidutta Tripathy; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu and Andrew Hay)

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Manufacturing growth at 25-month low in November – Nikkei/Markit PMI | Reuters

India’s manufacturing sector grew at its weakest pace in over two years in November as demand and output continued to soften, a business survey showed on Tuesday.

Nikkei’s Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index, compiled by Markit, fell to a 25-month low of 50.3 in November from October’s 50.7. A reading above 50 indicates expansion.

The output sub-index fell to 50.4 from 51.2 the previous month as domestic demand remained weak.

The subdued domestic demand and competitive pressure appeared to slow new orders, whose sub-index fell to a 25-month low of 50.5, from 51.2 in October.

“Signs of the sector slowing have been building up, as growth of both new orders and output has eased in each of the past four months,” said Pollyanna De Lima, economist at Markit.

India’s economic growth picked up in the July-September quarter, outpacing China on improving domestic demand and manufacturing activity, so the latest survey will make disappointing reading for the government and central bank.

The Reserve Bank of India is expected to keep policy unchanged this week as it looks to control inflation, which edged up to 5.0 percent in October, leaving it to the government to implement growth policies.

Input prices increased for a second month although firms did not pass on the cost burden fully to consumers.

(Reporting By Krishna Eluri; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

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Nepal unrest leaves millions of children facing food, medicine shortages – U.N. | Reuters

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Unrest over Nepal’s new constitution has led to severe shortages of fuel, food, medicines and vaccines, putting more than three million children at risk of disease during the harsh winter months, the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF said on Monday.

Nepal has been in turmoil since September when it adopted a new constitution, sparking protests by members of the ethnic Madhesi groups, who argue that the country’s charter does not reflect their interests.

Protesters have blockaded trucks from India, leading to acute shortages of fuel and medicine in the landlocked Himalayan nation of 28 million people.

UNICEF said child survivors of two major earthquakes in April and May could be worst hit by the shortages. The tremors killed nearly 9,000 people and damaged or destroyed nearly 900,000 houses. Many remain homeless.

Newborn babies are at particular risk, as fuel shortages mean fewer women can get to hospitals and health centres to give birth, UNICEF said.

“The plight that children and their families are facing in the country has been worsening by the day and will deteriorate further in the winter months,” UNICEF’s regional director for South Asia, Karin Hulshof, said in a statement.

“There is no time to lose,” she added.

The fuel shortage has led to an increase in the use of firewood in homes, which raises the risk of pneumonia. More than 800,000 Nepali children under five contracted the illness last year, and around 5,000 died, the agency said.

The government’s regional medical stores have already run out of BCG vaccines against tuberculosis, and stocks of other vaccines and antibiotics are critically low, UNICEF said.

“The risks of hypothermia and malnutrition, and the shortfall in life-saving medicines and vaccines, could be a potentially deadly combination for children this winter,” UNICEF’s executive director, Anthony Lake, said in a statement.

“During my recent visit to Nepal, I witnessed first-hand the precarious living conditions of many of the earthquake survivors,” he added.

“They could now be facing a new disaster – without adequate food, protection from the cold, or healthcare.”

(Reporting by Alex Whiting, Editing by Katie Nguyen; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)

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IEA sees India’s oil imports rising despite plans to up domestic output | Reuters

NEW DELHI India’s reliance on foreign oil will jump from 80 percent to 90 percent by 2040 and it would lead global energy demand growth, the International Energy Agency said in a report on the world’s third largest energy consumer released in New Delhi on Friday.

“India is set to contribute more than any other country to the rise in global energy demand over the next 25 years, underlining its ever-greater influence in Asia and on the world stage,” the report said.

As a consequence India’s economy will remain vulnerable to oil price volatility and political turbulence in oil and gas producing countries.

IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said the think-tank expects global oil prices to hit levels of around $80 per barrel by 2020.

Brent crude weakened to $45.17 per barrel on Friday.

The Indian government is trying to make it easier for companies like Reliance Industries (RELI.NS), ONGC Ltd (ONGC.NS) and Vedanta Ltd (VDAN.NS) to tap small and difficult fields to boost domestic and meet a target to halve imports in 15 years.

But the IEA said India’s production will tail off due to limited resources and relatively high costs for new projects, leading to more imports as economic growth picks up speed.

India’s oil minister Dharmendra Pradhan has visited energy-rich countries including Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Canada and Colombia in his first 18 months in office.

(Writing by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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Brilliant Billings fires England to opening win | Reuters

DUBAI Sam Billings played an inspired innings to help England to a comfortable 14-run victory in the first Twenty20 international against Pakistan on Thursday.

Billings smashed 53 off 25 balls to lift England to a competitive total of 160 for five on a slow pitch and Pakistan lost wickets at regular intervals in their reply.

“I’ve been on the sidelines watching the guys smash it everywhere. It’s the nature of the job – you’ve just got to be ready,” man-of-the-match Billings told Sky Sports.

“How I played is a credit to Morgy (captain Eoin Morgan) – he said ‘play your way, play exactly how you got here in the first place’. Against a seriously decent attack, it’s really pleasing to make a contribution.”

England, who won the toss, slumped to 19 for three before James Vince, who made 41 on his debut, shared a third-wicket partnership of 76 with Morgan.

That laid the platform for Billings to use terrific improvisation to plunder runs all round the ground.

The young wicketkeeper, deputising for the rested Jos Buttler, hit two sixes and five fours in a stand of 65 with Morgan who finished unbeaten on 45.

Pakistan lost three early wickets and never looked like chasing down their target, Sohail Tanvir top-scoring with 25 not out as seamers Reece Topley and Liam Plunkett took three wickets each.

“Tonight was a really strong performance in which we showed a lot of character. To come back from 19-3 and then to defend 160 was really good,” Morgan said.

“It is always a good sign of a changing-room when players who haven’t played all tour come out and perform – I’m really proud of them.”

Pakistan captain Mohammad Hafeez tried to remain upbeat.

“It was a chaseable total. But we batted very poorly. I know we lost this game but we’ve got some positive things from it,” he said.

The second match in the three-game series is in Dubai on Friday.

(Reporting by Ed Osmond; Editing by Tony Jimenez and Ken Ferris)

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BMW to raise car prices in India by up to 3 percent starting 2016 | Reuters

NEW DELHI German carmaker BMW will raise the prices of its BMW- and Mini-branded cars sold in India by up to 3 percent starting Jan. 1, 2016, the company’s local unit said on Thursday.

BMW Group India has 39 dealerships across the country selling 20 BMW models, including the 5 Series, 7 Series, BMW X1 and BMW X3. It also sells four variants of the Mini.

(Reporting by Aditi Shah; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu)

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Negotiators at U.N. climate talks to meet Sunday, a day early | Reuters

OSLO Government negotiators at a U.N. climate conference in Paris will meet on Sunday, a day earlier than planned, to let them get down to work before world leaders arrive for a summit on Monday.

The U.N. Climate Secretariat said on Wednesday that senior officials from almost 200 nations would meet in the conference hall on the outskirts of Paris on Nov. 29 at 1600 GMT.

Until now, they had been due to meet for the first time only after about 140 world leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping attended on Monday to give speeches of encouragement.

Officials who oversee the talks “considered that an early opening of the session will offer an opportunity to make the best possible use of the very limited time available to finalise negotiations”, the Secretariat said in a statement.

The conference, lasting until Dec. 11, is seeking to agree a deal that signals a break with a rising reliance on fossil fuels, blamed by a U.N. panel of scientists for causing more floods, heat waves and rising sea levels.

(Reporting By Alister Doyle; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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2015 to be hottest year on record – until next year -WMO | Reuters

GENEVA This year will be the hottest on record and 2016 could be even hotter due to the El Niño weather pattern, the World Meteorological Organization said on Wednesday, warning that inaction on climate change could see global average temperatures rise by 6 degrees Celsius or more.

WMO director-general Michel Jarraud said it was still possible for a global climate summit starting in Paris on Monday to agree steps to could keep the rise within 2C (3.6 Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial times, a target set down in 2010 to try to prevent a dramatic increase in extreme weather.

“But the more we wait for action, the more difficult it will be,” he told a news conference.

“You have scenarios assuming very strong decisions, very quick and sharp reduction of greenhouse gases, and you have other scenarios with business as usual, where you end up with predictions of additional warming of 5, 6 degrees, maybe even more. That will very much depend on the decisions (in Paris).”

Jarraud said there was no “silver bullet” to stop climate change. As well as a strong deal in Paris, it needed citizens to choose public transport over cars and insulate their homes, and industry to tackle sources of greenhouse gas emissions such as power stations, transport, cement, farming and fertilisers.

Jarraud rejected climate sceptics’ arguments that the science underlying predictions of man-made climate change was flawed.

“It’s not about believing or not,” he said. “It’s a matter of seeing the facts. The facts are there.”

Paul Williams, climate scientist at the University of Reading, agreed: “All the thermometer readings, satellite observations, tree rings, ice cores and sea-level records would have to be wrong.”

“SIGNIFICANT MILESTONE”

Global average surface temperatures in 2015 are likely to reach what the WMO called the “symbolic and significant milestone” of 1.0C above the pre-industrial 1880-1899 era, and around 0.73C above the 1961-1990 average.

Jarraud said 16-20 percent of the 2015 rise may be due to El Niño, a natural weather pattern marked by warming sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. The current El Niño is one of the strongest on record.

But five-year averages showed temperatures were rising regardless of El Niño or its cooling counterpart La Niña, with eight of the 10 warmest years occurring since 2005.

The years 2011-2015 have been the hottest five-year period on record, with temperatures about 0.57C (1.01F) above the 1961-1990 reference period.

“This is all bad news for the planet,” Jarraud said.

Global ocean temperatures were unprecedented during the period, and several land areas, including the continental United States, Australia, Europe, South America and Russia, broke temperature records by large margins.

Next year may be even warmer; levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have risen to a new record every year for the past 30 years, and El Niño is likely to continue into 2016.

“The year whose annual mean temperature is likely to be most strongly influenced by the current El Niño is 2016 rather than 2015,” the WMO said.

(Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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Report says combination of errors led to U.S. bombing of MSF hospital – NYT | Reuters

WASHINGTON A U.S. air strike that destroyed a hospital run by Medecins Sans Frontieres in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz last month resulted from “human errors, failures in procedure and technical malfunctions,” the New York Times reported on Tuesday, citing military officials briefed on an internal investigation.

The Oct. 3 attack, condemned by the medical charity as a war crime, killed 30 people and wounded at least 37. The findings of a U.S. military investigation into the incident will be made public on Wednesday, the Pentagon said.

“It’s a combination of factors,” the Times quoted an unnamed senior Defense Department official as saying, describing the findings in what it said was a 3,000-page investigative file.

Two other military officials said the Air Force AC130 gunship that attacked the hospital was intended to target a different compound several hundred feet (metres) away that was believed to be a Taliban base of operations, the paper reported.

The “crew had been unable to rely on the aircraft’s instruments to find the target. Instead, they relied on verbal descriptions of the location that were being relayed by troops on the ground, a mix of American and Afghan Special Forces,” the Times said.

President Barack Obama apologised for the bombing of the hospital. MSF, or Doctors Without Borders, has demanded an international humanitarian commission to investigate the attack.

(Reporting by Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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Brighter, shorter ‘Sesame Street’ bows January on HBO | Reuters

NEW YORK A new Latina character, different sets, shorter episodes and an updated theme song are coming to long-running children’s show “Sesame Street” at its new home on cable channel HBO in January.

HBO and show producers said on Tuesday that Muppets Elmo, Cookie Monster and Big Bird will be joined by real-life character Nina – a young, bilingual Latina who works at the laundromat and bike store – when the educational series arrives at its new home on Jan. 16.

Episodes will be cut by half to 30 minutes, the set has been “reimagined” and the theme song has been given a “new upbeat update,” they said in a statement.

“Families will see fun and fresh changes to ‘Sesame Street’ and can depend on their favourite Muppet friends to provide them with engaging and educational content,” said Brown Johnson, creative director of Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit behind the 45-year-old show.

HBO (TWX.N) and Sesame Workshop announced in August that they had struck a five-year partnership that will make new seasons of “Sesame Street” available first on HBO and its on-demand and mobile services.

“Sesame Street” had previously been broadcast in the United States on publicly funded PBS, which is free of charge to TV viewers. Under the deal, new episodes of the show will run on PBS starting in the fall of 2016.

Aimed at pre-schoolers, “Sesame Street” created Muppets like Elmo that have become cultural icons around the world. The show has won more than 150 Emmy awards and is broadcast in some 140 nations.

In the new season, Big Bird has a new nest, Cookie Monster has moved above Hooper’s Store, and Elmo has moved into the 123 Sesame Street brownstone house.

The series is known as much for its celebrity cameos as its regular characters and the new season will see appearances by singers Gwen Stefani, Pharrell, Nick Jonas and Sara Bareilles.

(Reporting By Jill Serjeant; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

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Volkswagen denies German report of sales slump on CO2 confession | Reuters

FRANKFURT Volkswagen denied a report on Saturday that its sales have slumped since this month’s admission that it had understated the level of carbon dioxide emissions for some cars.

German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) had reported earlier on Saturday that Volkswagen’s sales were declining significantly, citing an unnamed dealer as saying business was “dead as a doornail”.

“We cannot confirm the statement quoted in FAZ,” a spokesman for Volkswagen told Reuters in an e-mailed statement.

“The feedback we are receiving from discussions with representatives of various dealerships across the country, as well as the numbers we have, paint a different picture of the situation in Germany,” he added.

VW said on Nov. 3 it had understated the level of CO2 emissions from about 800,000 cars sold mainly in Europe, and consequently their fuel usage.

That revelation deepened a crisis at Europe’s biggest carmaker which initially centred on software on up to 11 million diesel vehicles worldwide that VW admitted vastly understated their actual emissions of smog-causing pollutant nitrogen oxide.

Sales of Volkswagen-branded cars fell 5.3 percent in October, the first full month after the scandal erupted, a slightly steeper decline than September’s 4 percent drop.

(Reporting by Andreas Cremer; Writing by Maria Sheahan; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)

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Suspected architect of Paris attacks dead – Washington Post | Reuters

WASHINGTON Suspected architect of the Paris attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, is dead, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday, citing two intelligence officials.

The Post did not provide details, including the intelligence officials’ nationalities, and Reuters could not immediately confirm the report.

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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Wall St opens higher; Fed minutes eyed | Reuters

U.S. stocks opened higher on Wednesday ahead of the release of the minutes of the Federal Reserve’s October meeting, but investors remained cautious due to heightened security concerns after last week’s attacks in Paris.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 27.66 points, or 0.16 percent, to 17,517.16, the S&P 500 gained 5.11 points, or 0.25 percent, to 2,055.55 and the Nasdaq Composite index added 17.33 points, or 0.35 percent, to 5,003.35.

(Reporting by Sai Sachin R in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)

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India set to become surplus sugar producer | Reuters

LONDON India, which has had a big impact on global sugar prices because of swings between being a net importer and a net exporter of the sweetener, is set for a sustained period as a net exporter in coming years, a senior industry official said on Tuesday.

Barring an extreme weather event, the world’s second-biggest sugar producer and the top sugar consumer is set to cement its position as a net exporter because of remunerative sugarcane prices, the director general of the Indian Sugar Mills Association (ISMA), Abinash Verma, told an industry seminar.

The Indian sugar industry is becoming structurally a surplus producer, Verma said in a keynote address to the two-day International Sugar Organization (ISO) seminar.

“A surplus is expected in the next few years at least,” Verma said, adding that he expects surpluses to average about 10 percent of annual domestic production.

(Reporting by David Brough; Editing by David Goodman)

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At least 30 dead in Paris shootings – French media | Reuters

PARIS At least 30 people were killed in attacks in Paris and a hostage situation was under way at a concert hall in the French capital, French media reported on Friday.

Several explosions were heard near a stadium where a friendly France-Germany football match was being held, attended by President Francois Hollande.

Police helicopters circled the stadium north of Paris as Hollande rushed back to the interior ministry to deal with the situation.

Police confirmed there had been shootings and explosions at the stadium, but not the number of casualties.

Witnesses said police closed down a neighbourhood in central Paris where media said gunmen had fired in a restaurant, causing multiple casualties.

“I was on my way to my sister’s when I heard shots being fired. Then I saw three people dead on the ground, I know they were dead because they were being wrapped up in plastic bags,” student Fabien Baron told Reuters.

(Reporting by Paris Newsroom; Editing by James Dalgleish)

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BlackBerry Priv wins plaudits, but price tag questioned | Reuters

TORONTOBlackBerry Ltd launched its first Android-based device on Friday, with the future of the company’s hardware business riding on a slick smartphone called Priv that boasts an impressive array of features and a hefty price tag.

The company is betting the Priv’s large curved screen, full array of Android apps from the Google Play store and blend of productivity and security features will help it rebuild its share of the smartphone market, which has slid to under one percent.

With hacking and data theft issues becoming a bigger concern these days, BlackBerry expects keen interest in its pre-loaded DTEK feature that alerts users every time any app attempts to access data, or turn on the phone’s microphone or camera.

“You will be blown away by some of the apps you use and how much data they actually access of yours,” said BlackBerry’s head of devices, Ron Louks.

The smartphone’s “wow” factor, as Louks dubs it, is actually a throwback – a slide out physical keyboard. While the small number of such Android ‘slider’ phones that do exist have had little success in the market, most are dated and clunky, say analysts.

BlackBerry is hoping its sleek design and touch-sensitive keys that allows users to swipe, scroll and set up shortcuts will woo former loyalists back to using the Priv.

Initial reviews of the device were mixed, with many lauding its security offerings, long battery life, camera, dual-keyboard design and other features, but panning the Priv’s high price tag – $699 without a contract in the United States and C$899 without a contract in Canada.

Still, if the Priv does well, analysts note the device could be a game changer for the Waterloo, Ontario-based company.

“If the Priv – with its premium price of about $700 – is a hit, it could drive meaningful growth for the company. Moreover, the smartphone industry tends to be largely perception-driven, and a single hit flagship product can bolster a company’s brand image and create a halo effect around its entire product line,” said research firm Trefis, in a note on Thursday.

Blackberry is pivoting to focus more on software and device management services but has said it will stick with hardware if the segment is profitable.

BlackBerry shares rose 4.7 percent to $7.96 in early trading on Friday on the Nasdaq.

(Reporting by Euan Rocha; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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Radwanska wins classic to set up Kvitova final | Reuters

SINGAPORE Agnieszka Radwanska rallied past an exhausted Garbine Muguruza to book a maiden appearance in the WTA Finals title match with a 6-7(5) 6-3 7-5 victory over the Spaniard in a classic encounter on Saturday.

The Pole used all her guile and defensive skills to see off the powerful 22-year-old, setting up a showdown against Petra Kvitova, who stunned Maria Sharapova 6-3 7-6(3) in the second semi-final.

“I didn’t know I could come back after that first set,” world number six Radwanska said in a courtside interview.

“It was a great match from the beginning to the end, lots of ups and downs, so many rallies and a lot of running. I am just so glad I could win,” added the Pole, who secured a first final berth at the season-ending event in her seventh appearance.

The first set was a slow burner that turned into a thriller once both women had settled into a rhythm and the longer the contest progressed, the stronger Radwanska became against an opponent who is also playing the doubles event in Singapore.

Radwanska worked her way into the contest after the fast-starting Spaniard wavered, reeling off four straight games and looking likely to ride the momentum to a one-set lead before Muguruza came storming back to force a tiebreak.

The Pole raced to a 3-0 lead but Muguruza recovered to surge ahead with some trademark aggressive groundstrokes and sealed the opener on her second set point when Radwanska found the net at the end of a brilliant rally.

Muguruza greeted the decisive point with a fist pump and a roar but her play at the start of the second set belied her positive body language as Radwanska forced a plethora of errors to race to a 4-0 lead that she never looked like relinquishing.

A mini revival mid-set brought Muguruza to within one game but Radwanska pulled away again and levelled the contest with her third break of the set.

The exertions of her first WTA Finals were now clearly visible on Muguruza, yet somehow she found the energy to rally from 4-1 down in the third set and put the contest back on a knife-edge before Radwanska finally got a decisive break in the 12th game.

ABSORBING TENNIS

The second semi-final pitted two former WTA Finals champions against each other and while it was shorter than the first match, Kvitova’s stunning comeback from 5-1 down in the second set was equally as absorbing.

Kvitova and Sharapova, two of the strongest servers on the Tour, traded early breaks before settling into a baseline battle until the Czech edged ahead in the seventh game of the opening set.

The world number five could sniff blood and broke again in the ninth game to take a surprise lead against a player who had won all three of her round-robin ties despite arriving in Singapore short of matches after a long injury layoff.

Kvitova, however, is prone to bouts of erratic play and the confidence she exuded in the opener was replaced by uncertainty as Sharapova, who has added greater variety to her game as she has grown older, raced 4-0 ahead.

The Russian somehow contrived to hand back the double break advantage, even wasting a set point at 5-2, as Kvitova rediscovered her top form to reel off five straight games and force a tiebreak.

The 2011 champion was now in full control, setting up three match points with a booming serve down the middle and when Sharapova sent a forehand sailing over the baseline, Kvitova had completed the most remarkable of second-set turnarounds.

(Editing by Clare Fallon)

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Myanmar opposition NLD candidate attacked with machetes, hospitalized – NLD | Reuters

YANGON A lawmaker from Myanmar’s largest opposition party was attacked by three men with machetes on Thursday night, just over a week before a historic Nov. 8 election, and has been hospitalized, his campaign manager said.

Naing Nan Lynn, a lower house lawmaker from Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, who is running for a seat in the regional assembly in Yangon, was attacked while campaigning around 9:30 p.m. by three men holding machetes.

The men injured three people in Naing Nan Lynn’s campaign truck. The candidate suffered serious injuries after being hit on his head and his arm, said Aung Myo Oo, an NLD campaign manager who witnessed the attack.

The injured were being treated at Yangon General Hospital, where crowds of on-lookers, passers-by and NLD supporters wearing the party’s red shirts gathered.

(Reporting by Antoni Slodkowski, Soe Zeya Tun, Timothy McLaughlin; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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Death toll in Saudi haj disaster at least 2,070 – Reuters tally | Reuters

DUBAI The deadly crush that occurred at the haj near Mecca last month killed at least 2,070 people, nearly triple the number accounted for in a death toll maintained by Saudi authorities, a Reuters tally indicated on Thursday.

Saudi Arabia has come under heavy criticism for its handling of the disaster. Safety during the pilgrimage is a politically sensitive issue for the kingdom’s ruling Al Saud dynasty, which presents itself as the guardian of Islam and custodian of its holiest sites in Mecca and Medina.

The figure, based on information provided by the state and religious authorities and local media reports in the home countries of the victims, would make it the worst such catastrophe to befall the annual pilgrimage since 1,400 people were crushed to death in a tunnel in 1990.

Saudi officials have stood by their official counts of 769 dead and 934 injured, which have not been updated since two days after the crush. The healthy ministry has said any discrepancies in death tolls may stem from countries counting pilgrims who had died of natural causes.

The disaster triggered heavy criticism by arch-foe Iran, which lost the most pilgrims in the crush, but also from other Muslim countries which rarely, if ever, voice disapproval of the powerful and wealthy Saudi Arabia.

Anger was stoked by early Saudi comments that appeared to lay the blame on the pilgrims themselves.

In the wake of the crush, Saudi King Salman ordered an investigation into its causes. No date has been set to announce any results. Critics of the Saudi government challenge the independence of the probe.

Asked about the death toll compiled by Reuters, a Saudi health ministry spokesman said a high-level committee was running an investigation.

“All details related to this matter will soon be released following the completion of this committee’s investigation,” he said by email.

Some, including Iran, have suggested that the disaster may have been caused by authorities halting crowds to make way for a VIP, a charge Saudi officials strongly deny.

Iran reported 465 dead in the Mina crush. Other countries with large tolls included Indonesia with 127, India with 116 and Pakistan with 99.

(Graphic: link.reuters.com/vat85w)

(Compiled from reporting by Reuters bureaus across Africa, Asia and the Middle East; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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Civil rights retrial under way for Alabama officer who threw Indian man to ground | Reuters

An Alabama police officer returned to federal court on Wednesday as a jury weighed for a second time whether he violated an Indian man’s rights by throwing him to the ground and causing serious injuries in an incident recorded on video.

Eric Parker is being retried on accusations that he used unreasonable force while working as a Madison, Alabama, police officer during the February incident.

A jury in Huntsville, Alabama, deadlocked last month on whether to convict or acquit Parker, 27, of a single charge of depriving the Indian grandfather of his civil rights, prompting the judge to declare a mistrial.

The case centres on the officer’s treatment of Sureshbhai Patel, then 57, who had recently come to the United States and spoke no English when he was stopped outside his son’s home during a morning walk by police responding to a suspicious person call.

During the encounter, Parker abruptly flipped Patel onto the ground. Patel suffered extensive injuries from which he is not expected to fully recover, his lawyer has said.

The case drew international attention at a time of increased scrutiny on the use of force by U.S. police officers, particularly against minorities.

Patel, who testified during the first trial, took the stand on Wednesday, according to local media reports.

Parker also testified during the initial trial. He told jurors he was following his training and called Patel’s injuries accidental, according to local media reports. His attorney could not be reached for comment at the start of the retrial.

Madison police released video of the encounter, which had been recorded from inside a patrol vehicle, and apologised for Parker’s actions. The department recommended terminating the officer, which Parker challenged.

(Reporting by Letitia Stein in Tampa, Fla.; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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Jet Airways posts second consecutive quarterly profit | Reuters

MUMBAI Indian carrier Jet Airways Ltd said on Wednesday its net profit in the September quarter rose by a quarter, its second consecutive quarterly profit after a string of losses, bolstered by sharply lower fuel cost.

Jet, India’s second largest carrier by market share, said net profit in the July-September period rose to 875.9 million rupees ($13.50 million) from 698.2 million rupees a year ago.

The airline’s fuel expenses dropped by nearly a third in the period, its fiscal second quarter. Total income from operations grew by 10 percent to 52.6 billion rupees aided by a 20 percent surge in passenger traffic, the company said in a statement.

Despite rapidly rising demand for air travel in India, Jet has not made an annual profit since 2007, dragged into the red by high operating costs and fierce competition for passenger fares.

Jet, 24 percent-owned by Abu Dhabi’s Etihad, said last year it expects to make a full-year profit in 2017.

The outlook for Indian airlines has improved due to a drop in fuel prices, which accounts for bulk of their operating expenses, and growing passenger numbers in one of the world’s fastest-growing yet fiercely competitive aviation markets.

Enthused by the earnings prospects, InterGlobe Aviation Ltd, owner of Indian budget airline IndiGo, is raising as much as $464 million through an initial public offering of shares.

The IndiGo share sale has attracted strong investor demand, receiving bids for nearly 47 million shares, or 1.55 times the number of shares on offer by end of the trade on second day of bookbuilding. The offer closes on Thursday.

($1 = 64.8634 Indian rupees)

(Reporting by Himank Sharma; Editing by Sumeet Chatterjee and Adrian Croft)

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Pakistan beat England in nail-biting finish | Reuters

DUBAI Pakistan overcame belligerent resistance from England’s tail-enders to win the second test by 178 runs on Monday after bowling out Alastair Cook’s men for 312 with just 6.3 overs remaining.

Victory put Pakistan 1-0 up in the three-game series and maintains their record of never having lost a series in their adopted home of the United Arab Emirates.

Starting the final day on 130 for three and chasing an unlikely 491 for victory, England slumped to 193 for seven after lunch.

Adil Rashid (61) and Stuart Broad (30) then added 60 in 90 balls before the latter was bowled by an inswinging Wahab Riaz yorker.

Undeterred, Rashid and Mark Wood (29) were adroit in defence as Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq switched between pace and spin to try to end their resistance.

His team’s appeals grew more desperate as the overs ticked by and the game entered the final hour with two wickets remaining.

Seven fielders crowded the batsmen and the pressure told when Wood edged Zulfiqar Babar’s turning ball to Mohammad Hafeez in the gully.

Five overs later Rashid was last man out, caught attempting a drive through the covers off Yasir Shah.

WAHAB THREAT

Earlier, Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow extended their overnight partnership, repelling the threat of paceman Wahab who had engineered England’s match-defining collapse in the first innings.

However, the England pair proved less able to deal with the spin of Zulfiqar (3-53) and Yasir (4-87).

Root (71) was first to fall after edging Zulfiqar to Younus Khan. The slip snaffled the ball a fraction above the turf to reduce England to 157 for four.

Misbah turned up the heat by positioning helmet-clad fielders at silly point and short-leg to accompany two slips.

Bairstow initially read the spin well, lurching forward to pad the ball away and getting on his heels to defend, before he was clean bowled for 22 by a Yasir googly.

Jos Buttler continued his poor form, edging Yasir to Younus at slip on seven, and Ben Stokes was removed for 13 when his wayward drive off paceman Imran Khan went to Misbah at slip.

That brought Rashid and Broad together and they scored freely.

Rashid brought up his maiden test half-century with a scrambled single but ultimately it proved in vain.

Sharjah will host the final test from Nov. 1.

(Editing by Tony Jimenez)

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Rose, Bjerregaard set up final round showdown in Hong Kong | Reuters

HONG KONG England’s Justin Rose and Dane Lucas Bjerregaard matched each other shot-for-shot during the third round at the Hong Kong Open on Saturday as the duo surged four strokes clear of the chasing pack heading into the final round.

World number seven Rose, who led Bjerregaard by a stroke at the halfway stage, holed two eagles and two birdies in a blemish-free round of six-under-par 64 to move to 15-under.

Bjerregaard, who has three top-10 finishes in the last month, improved his chances of a first European Tour title by carding a 63 with a bogey on the last putting him on level with 2013 U.S. Open champion Rose.

“It was great. I really enjoyed it out there with Justin. He’s a really good guy and we kept making birdies, especially around the turn,” Bjerregaard told reporters.

“Obviously it’s not fun to finish off any round with a bogey and especially not today. I hit a bad tee shot on 18 there, pretty much my only bad shot of the day.

“So not the way I wanted to finish, but still, I’m very happy with the round today.”

Rose bagged an eagle three on the par-five third and repeated the feat on the 13th before he followed that up with his second birdie of the day on the next hole.

“Lucas played unbelievable golf today,” Rose said. “I actually didn’t know much about his game and first, he’s a lovely guy and second, he can really play.

“I hung with him and what impressed me today was the couple of par saves that I had to make and rolled.”

India’s Anirban Lahiri (65), the leader on Asian Tour’s order of merit, made the turn at even-par but gained five shots on the back nine to sit in third spot on 11-under.

His compatriot Jeev Milkha Singh and British Masters winner Matthew Fitzpatrick were tied for fourth spot, a further shot adrift.

(Writing by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; Editing by John O’Brien)

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Protester disrupts Pakistan prime minister’s speech in Washington | Reuters

WASHINGTON A protester disrupted a speech by Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at a Washington think tank on Friday, shouting slogans in support of freedom for the Pakistani province of Baluchistan.

A man in the audience at the U.S. Institute of Peace stood up and shouted “Free, Free Baluchistan!” and accused the Pakistani prime minister of being “friends” with late al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, just as Sharif was starting a speech.

Sharif looked up and paused briefly as the man was led away, but did not comment on the interruption.

Separatists have been waging a low-intensity insurgency in poverty-racked Baluchistan for decades, demanding an end to what they see as the exploitation of their gas and mineral resources by people from richer, more powerful parts of Pakistan.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Idress Ali; Editing by Susan Heavey)

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S&P 500 ends at highest in two months on upbeat earnings | Reuters

The S&P 500 closed at its highest in two months on Thursday as stronger-than-expected earnings from several top companies, including McDonald’s, relieved investors’ concerns about the profit outlook.

Adding to the day’s optimism, ECB President Mario Draghi said the bank could extend its stimulus program beyond 2016 to boost euro zone growth and boost inflation closer to 2 percent.

McDonald’s (MCD.N) shares jumped 8.1 percent to $110.87, giving the Dow its biggest boost, after its quarterly results beat estimates as demand recovered in China. EBay (EBAY.O) rose 13.9 percent to $27.58 after it reported better-than-expected results late on Wednesday.

Dow Chemical (DOW.N) rose 5.1 percent to $49.92 after its results, while the S&P materials index .SPLRCM jumped 2.8 percent and led the S&P sector gains along with the industrials .SPLRCI, also up 2.8 percent.

In another sign of diminished concerns, the CBOE Volatility Index .VIX – the market’s favoured barometer of volatility – closed at a 2-month low.

“Corporate earnings certainly helped because the season started off sort of sluggish and you had some nice surprises today,” said Eric Kuby, chief investment officer at North Star Investment Management Corp. in Chicago.

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI rose 320.55 points, or 1.87 percent, to 17,489.16, the S&P 500 .SPX gained 33.57 points, or 1.66 percent, to 2,052.51 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC added 79.93 points, or 1.65 percent, to 4,920.05.

Data on Thursday showed new claims for U.S. unemployment benefits rose by 3,000 to 259,000 last week, below the 265,000 expected, while existing home sales increased more than expected to an annual rate of 5.55 million units in September.

The Federal Reserve, which kept U.S. interest rates unchanged near zero in September, has said it will wait for signs of global economic resilience before pulling the trigger on its first rate hike in nearly a decade.

Nine of the 10 major S&P sectors were higher. Only healthcare .SPXHC appeared immune to the upbeat mood, declining about 0.5 percent.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 2,312 to 791, for a 2.92-to-1 ratio on the upside; on the Nasdaq, 1,777 issues rose and 1,001 fell for a 1.78-to-1 ratio favouring advancers.

The S&P 500 posted 41 new 52-week highs and 9 new lows; the Nasdaq recorded 82 new highs and 91 new lows.

(Editing by James Dalgleish and Dan Grebler)

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Pakistan umpire Dar withdrawn from India-South Africa series | Reuters

MUMBAI Pakistan umpire Aleem Dar has been withdrawn from the ongoing series between India and South Africa, the International Cricket Council (ICC) announced on Monday.

The ICC said it decided to remove Dar from the series after protesters stormed Indian cricket’s headquarters, demanding his removal.

“Under the present circumstances, it will be unreasonable to expect from Aleem that he will be able to perform his duties to the best of his abilities,” the ICC said in a statement.

“As such, he has been withdrawn and his replacement will be announced in due course.”

Dar, a member of the ICC’s elite panel of umpires, had been appointed to officiate in each of the five one-day internationals between India and South Africa.

He stood in the first three matches but will skip the last two with the ICC confirming the decision was made as a direct result of the protests.

“The ICC has made the decision following Monday’s incident in Mumbai where a group of extremists stormed the Board of Control for Cricket in India offices, and threatened to prevent the umpire from standing in the fifth ODI on Sunday.”

The fourth match is scheduled for Chennai on Thursday and fifth for Mumbai no Sunday.

(Reporting by Julian Linden; Editing by Rex Gowar)

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Refining records boost Reliance profits, 4G plan on track | Reuters

MUMBAI Indian oil-to-retail conglomerate Reliance Industries posted a stronger-than-expected quarterly profit, boosted by record refining margins, and confirmed plans to launch a keenly awaited 4G telecommunication service by “around December”.

Reliance, controlled by India’s richest man and the country’s second-largest company by value, said on Friday consolidated net profit rose 12.5 percent, even though plunging crude prices dragged revenue down by more than a third.

Higher profits came largely from gross refining margins, which rose to $10.60 per barrel, the highest in seven years and up from $8.30 in the same quarter a year earlier.

“We use a lot of crudes… You are able to use a market which is massively oversupplied and drive the bargain down. Once you do that, it improves your profitability,” co-chief financial officer V. Srikanth told reporters.

“We remain pretty constructive on refining.”

Reliance shook off an impairment of 26.6 billion rupees ($410.9 million) in shale gas assets, offsetting it with the sale of its investment in a U.S. shale gas joint venture.

The company, which generates the bulk of its revenue from refining and petrochemicals, has been expanding into consumer businesses such as retail and telecoms to aid growth. It has spent more than $14 billion to date on telecoms alone, and is spreading into fashion, grocery and online banking.

Reliance’s telecoms business is building India’s biggest fourth-generation (4G) broadband network and plans a December launch for its Jio brand.

It said on Friday it had the network in place and had thousands of professionals testing the system, covering a million kilometres a day.

“We now have close to 10,000 testers in the field, and this is getting enhanced,” said Anshuman Thakur, a former investment banker who joined Reliance to advise on telecoms strategy.

The company’s retail division will also sell its own brand of 4G LTE smartphones under the brand name LYF, pronounced “life”.

Reliance said it was in talks with five manufacturers to manufacture the phones, which would be priced “from premium to affordable”, at as little as 4,000 rupees, and will eventually be made in India.

Cash-rich Reliance’s entry into the crowded telecoms sector poses a potential threat for established players such as Bharti Airtel Ltd and Vodafone’s local unit.

For India’s thriving e-commerce players, however, the arrival of 4G is expected to galvanise business. This includes a new generation of niche banks, including Reliance’s own venture.

“All of the services we are offering, there are synergies, so we try and roll them out close together,” said Thakur, referring to retail, banking and other services.

($1 = 64.8550 Indian rupees)

(Additional reporting by Devidutta Tripathy; Editing by Jane Merriman and Jason Neely)

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Obama: Afghan troops not as strong as needed, U.S. forces to stay | Reuters

WASHINGTON President Barack Obama said on Thursday Afghan troops were still not as strong as they needed to be as he announced his decision to maintain 9,800 U.S. troops in the country through most of next year.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Obama said at the White House. “As commander in chief I will not allow Afghanistan to be used as safe haven for terrorists to attack our nation again.”

Obama said the decision should show the Taliban that the only way to achieve a full drawdown of U.S. troops was to reach a settlement with the Afghan government.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Roberta Rampton; Editing by Doina Chiacu)

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Reeling from protests and quakes, Nepal chooses new prime minister | Reuters

KATHMANDU Nepal’s lawmakers on Sunday chose a new prime minister who must reunite a country deeply divided over a fresh constitution, tackle crippling fuel shortages and kick-start reconstruction after two devastating earthquakes.

Many people from Nepal’s plains feel the constitution signed last month perpetuates long-standing domination by highland politicians. Fierce protests have left at least 40 dead and led to essential oil and gas deliveries from India being cut off.

The new prime minister, K.P. Sharma Oli, vowed after his confirmation to tackle Nepal’s woes, not least the devastation wrought by the earthquakes, which killed nearly 9,000 people in April.

“I will work alongside everybody to implement the constitution, repair the damage inflicted by the earthquake and address the hardships raised by the Indian blockade,” he said.

Nepal accuses neighbouring India of imposing a blockade in an attempt to force Kathmandu to listen to the demands of those in the plains of the south. India, while making clear its objections to the new constitution, denies this.

Oli, leader of the centre-left Communist Party of Nepal (UML), did win support in parliament from a group from the lowland Tarai region that had opposed the constitution.

The Madhesi People’s Rights Forum (Democratic) voted for Oli after he signed an agreement to review the demarcation of provinces – the key sticking point for ethnic groups that feel the new regional boundaries set down in the constitution take away their power.

NEED FOR COMPROMISE

In total, Oli won the support of 338 out of 587 lawmakers.

However, another lowland group said it would not take its seats in the newly formed parliament and would keep protesting.

Oli has until now taken a hard line towards demands from the south, although coalition politics may push him to be more flexible, since he is likely to need support from some plains parties to form a government.

Moreover, he will have to address relations with India, strained over Delhi’s opposition to the new constitution and the fuel shortages caused by the lack of deliveries from India.

“K.P. Oli is under pressure to deal with the Madhesi issue,” said Lok Raj Baral, a political scientist.

Almost six months after the earthquakes, the focus on party politics has drawn criticism.

Foreign donors gave $4.4 billion to Nepal in June to help earthquake reconstruction and rehabilitation, but political infighting has meant that the National Reconstruction Authority, formed the same month, has yet to begin work.

“The people of Nepal are terribly annoyed,” said Baral. “The politicians have become bogged down in non-issues like this election.”

K.P. Oli’s political journey began in a 1970s pro-democracy movement, inspired by Maoist Naxalbari insurgents in neighbouring West Bengal, that aimed to abolish Nepal’s monarchy.

After many years in prison, he emerged as a more moderate leftist.

(Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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Obama apologizes to MSF for air strike on hospital – White House | Reuters

WASHINGTON U.S. President Barack Obama telephoned the head of Medecins San Frontieres and apologized for a deadly air strike on the aid group’s hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, the White House said on Wednesday.

On the call with the medical charity’s president, Joanne Liu, Obama also said the U.S. investigation into the incident would “provide a transparent, thorough and objective accounting of the facts and circumstances of the incident. And that, if necessary, the president would implement changes to make tragedies like this one less likely to occur in the future,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.

MSF, also known as Doctors Without Borders, is calling for an independent international fact-finding commission to be established to probe the bombing, which took place over the weekend.

Obama also called Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to express condolences for the lives lost of patients and staff during the strike, Earnest said.

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert, Roberta Rampton and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Susan Heavey)

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Afghan Taliban storm jail, release hundreds of prisoners – police | Reuters

GHAZNI, Afghanistan Taliban insurgents stormed a prison in the central Afghan city of Ghazni early on Monday, killing police and releasing hundreds of prisoners, police said.

A Reuters reporter at the scene saw the bodies of two men who appeared to be suicide bombers and a blown-up car that had apparently been used to destroy the main entrance of the jail. It appeared almost all the prisoners had escaped.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said gunmen and three suicide bombers attacked the prison at 2 a.m. (2200 GMT Sunday) and freed 400 prisoners. The three bombers were killed, he said.

“Forty Afghan security forces and prison guards were killed in the prison break and important military mujahideen officials have been freed,” he said.

The Taliban often exaggerate casualty tolls in statements about attacks on government and foreign targets.

Mohammed Ali Ahmadi, deputy governor of Ghazni, said 352 prisoners had escaped, including around 150 Taliban. He said seven Taliban and four members of the Afghan security forces were killed in the attack in Ghazni, about 120 km (75 miles) southwest of the capital, Kabul.

Security officials would not confirm how many prisoners were in the jail or the number of casualties.

One security official said the attackers were wearing the uniforms of Afghan security forces.

The Taliban are fighting to overthrow the foreign-backed government of President Ashraf Ghani, expel foreign forces from Afghanistan and impose a strict interpretation of Islamic law.

(Writing by Mirwais Harooni; Editing by Katharine Houreld and Paul Tait)

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Mistrial for Alabama police officer charged after throwing Indian man | Reuters

A U.S. judge declared a mistrial on Friday in the case of an Alabama policeman on trial for violating an Indian man’s rights by throwing him to the ground and injuring him badly during an encounter captured on video, local media reported.

Eric Parker, 26, was tried in federal court on accusations that he used unreasonable force while a police officer in Madison, Alabama, during the February incident.

A jury in Huntsville, Alabama deadlocked on whether to convict or acquit him of a single charge of depriving an Indian grandfather of his civil rights, according to television station WHNT and local news website AL.com.

If convicted, Parker would have faced up to 10 years in prison.

The case involving 58-year-old Sureshbhai Patel, who did not speak English, drew international attention at a time when a series of killings of unarmed black men by police in the United States has raised questions about law enforcement’s use of force.

Patel is not expected to fully recover from the injuries he sustained when Parker abruptly flipped him onto the ground, his lawyer has said.

Testifying in his own defence during the trial this week, Parker said he was following his training and felt he had no other option, television station WAFF reported. He said the injuries were an accident.

Madison police released video of the encounter, recorded from inside a patrol vehicle.

The department apologised for Parker’s actions and recommended his termination, which he has challenged.

The grandfather had been on a morning walk about two weeks after moving from India to northern Alabama to help his son’s family care for a young child.

The officer was following up on a call about a suspicious person.

Patel, who also testified during the trial, has sued Parker and the city, alleging racism played into his treatment.

Parker was charged in state court with misdemeanour assault. That trial and his termination proceedings are on hold pending the outcome of the federal case.

(Reporting by Letitia Stein in Tampa, Fla.; Editing by Sandra Maler and Jonathan Oatis)

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Pennetta stuns Halep to reach U.S. Open final | Reuters

NEW YORK Flavia Pennetta crushed Romanian second seed Simona Halep 6-1 6-3 to kick off a packed day of action at the U.S. Open on Friday with an stunning upset that put the Italian into her first grand slam final.

Pennetta, 33, entered the contest as the clear underdog but the 26th seed showed her experience and was not overwhelmed on the big stage having reached at least the quarter-finals at Flushing Meadows in six of the last seven years.

“It’s amazing. I didn’t think to be so far in the tournament,” said Pennetta, who will play either compatriot Roberta Vinci or top-seeded Serena Williams in Saturday’s final. “Today I think I played really well.”

After rain forced officials to postpone the women’s semi-finals by a day, the clash had an undercard vibe to it as it preceded the match featuring Williams, who is two wins away from sweeping the year’s four grand slams.

Pennetta, playing in her 49th grand slam, needed 59 minutes to get by Halep and secure a long-awaited berth in the final of one of the sport’s four blue riband tournaments.

Aside from her U.S. Open resume there was little to hint at a U.S. Open final by Pennetta, who by her own admission had an unimpressive run-up to the year’s final grand slam that included second-round exits in Toronto and Cincinnati and a first-round loss in New Haven.

“I just tried to play every match the best I can from the first one. Try not to think too much about the draw, just play match by match,” Pennetta said after her win.

“I tried to be focused on what I have to do all the time when I get on the court and here I am, so I’m very happy.”

With the crowd still filing into Arthur Ashe Stadium Pennetta grabbed the first break of the match to go up 3-1 and then pulled away from an out-of-sorts Halep.

Halep’s problems followed her into the second set as Pennetta broke again to take the early initiative before the feisty Romanian finally began to push back breaking the Italian and surging into a 3-1 lead.

One of the WTA Tour’s best counter punchers, Halep tried to go on the attack but a calm Pennetta would not crack and swept through the next three games to regain momentum and a 4-3 advantage.

Serving to stay in the match, Halep fought off one match point before her resistance collapsed, Pennetta finishing off her opponent with stinging forehand winner.

(Editing by Frank Pingue)

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Controversy as Australia go 2-0 up in series | Reuters

LONDON Australia thumped England by 64 runs to go 2-0 ahead in the five-match series of one-day internationals although victory came with a large slice of controversy at Lord’s on Saturday.

England were 141 for three, chasing a daunting 310 to win, when Ben Stokes was given out by the TV umpire for 10 ‘obstructing the field’ for stopping paceman Mitchell Starc’s shy at the stumps with his left glove while out of his crease.

It was harsh on Stokes as he appeared to be acting more in self-defence than trying to prevent being run out.

The all-rounder had joined captain Eoin Morgan in the middle after James Taylor’s promising innings of 43 ended when he nicked Mitchell Marsh to Matthew Wade.

The Stokes decision, and another collapse that included a duck for Jos Buttler, left England in trouble but Morgan responded with a flurry of huge hits before holing out for 85 to end the match.

Pat Cummins had the England skipper caught by Glenn Maxwell as the paceman finished with four for 56.

Morgan was clearly angry, with the performance of his outplayed team and with opposing captain Steven Smith for not withdrawing the Stokes appeal.

“If the guy throws the ball in your direction from five yards then all you can do is flinch, you don’t have time to think,” said Morgan.

“The decision was made and I certainly feel it would have been different if we were fielding.”

Smith disagreed.

“It was blatantly out. The ball wasn’t going to hit him, Stokes was out of his crease, he put his arm out and got in the way of the ball,” he said.

After a rain-delayed start that reduced the match to 49 overs per side, Australia suffered a blow when David Warner was struck on the thumb by a venemous Steven Finn ball in the opening over and was forced off.

Warner suffered a fracture and will miss the last three matches.

Finn bowled Joe Burns for 22 before George Bailey and Smith set about building a solid platform.

The pair had put on 99 for the second wicket when Bailey went for 54, bowled by a turning Moeen delivery.

Smith was out for 70 but Maxwell, Marsh and Shane Watson then smashed 96 came off the last 10 overs.

Marsh was particularly cavalier, belting seven fours and three sixes in a 31-ball 64. Stokes was the pick of England’s attack with three for 60.

(Reporting by Martyn Herman,; Editing by Tony Jimenez)

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Millions strike in Kolkata to protest against Modi’s labour reforms | Reuters

KOLKATA, India Protesters wielding Communist flags clashed with police in Kolkata on Wednesday as millions of workers across India went on strike, the latest display of opposition to Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s economic reform package.

Modi’s plan for reviving India’s slowing economy has met with fierce protest and Wednesday’s strike came days after the premier abandoned a pro-industry land reform which the opposition had said would hurt India’s farmers.

Unions called the one-day action against Modi’s plans to loosen rigid labour laws, which they say will put jobs at risk.

Nearly 150 million workers in banking, manufacturing and construction, backed by 10 major unions, stayed away from work. Taxi and rickshaw drivers stayed off the streets in Delhi, and shops and banks closed in left-wing stronghold Kerala in the south.

In Modi’s home state of Gujarat, banking services were hit. Industry group ASSOCHAM estimated the strike cost the economy $3.7 billion.

OVERHAUL

Modi plans to launch the biggest overhaul of labour laws in decades, giving companies greater flexibility in hiring and firing workers – reforms that economists and businesses say will help job creation and unleash more economic growth.

These changes would make it tougher for employees to form unions or to go on strike, but include measures to expand the social security net to the huge unorganised sector, which refers to India’s millions of small, privately-owned businesses with uncertain legal status.

In Kolkata, a city with a strong socialist tradition, protesters said they were attacked by police, but police officials said 30 arrests were made after the strike threatened to turn violent.

TV images showed union members using the poles of hammer and sickle Communist flags as weapons in clashes with other political parties. Shops and schools were closed, and trains services disrupted.

Economists say India urgently needs to liberalise land and labour markets to speed up economic growth that slipped to 7 percent in the June quarter, raising worries that the full-year figure could undershoot the official target of 8-8.5 percent.

The proposed labour revamp did not reach parliament in the session that ended last month due to fears it would cause a political backlash, and unless unions back down, may not do so in the winter session.

Opposition parties already blocked Modi’s reform agenda in parliament, delaying the introduction of a uniform goods-and-services tax aimed at making it easier to do business in India.

“We are determined to go ahead with reforms,” said a senior government official. “But politics will determine the timing.”

(Writing by Rajesh Kumar Singh; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Raissa Kasolowsky)

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U.S. drone kills six suspected militants in Pakistan | Reuters

PESHAWAR, Pakistan A unmanned U.S. drone aircraft killed at least six suspected militants and wounded four others on Tuesday in a remote area of northwestern Pakistan near the Afghan border, officials said.

Pakistani security officials and tribal sources said attackers hit an suspected militant compound in Dattakhel, a village in North Waziristan, near the Afghan border.

“The drone fired two missiles and struck a house which was believed to be in use of the foreign militants,” a local tribal leader said. He asked not to be identified for security reasons.

American drone strikes have targeted al Qaeda and other Islamist militants in Pakistan’s northwestern border region for years, but there have been fewer strikes in recent months.

In 2015 so far, there have been at least 12 drone strikes in addition to Tuesday’s, according to the British-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism. There were 25 drone strikes in 2014, according to the organisation.

(Reporting by Jibran Ahmad; Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Alison Williams)

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Badminton World Championships: Chen overcomes Lee, Marin beats Nehwal | Reuters

JAKARTA China’s Chen Long produced a fitting display for a top seed and defending champion to claim a second straight world title with a pulsating 21-14 21-17 victory against Malaysian nearly-man Lee Chong Wei on Sunday.

Lee has topped the world rankings for a record 298 weeks during a long and illustrious career but once again came up short against a Chinese player at the top of his game in a fourth world championship final defeat in as many matches.

Chen has replaced Lin Dan as the top male player following his breakthrough world title triumph a year ago and the rangy 26-year-old has also replaced his compatriot as Lee’s arch nemesis after repeating last year’s win over the Malaysian.

Lin has beaten Lee in four major finals, including the last two Olympics, but Chen has emerged from the shadow of a player many believe to be the greatest ever with a complete game built on his supreme agility, speed, power and fitness.

At 1.87 metres, Chen also boasts a court-covering reach and used all of his attributes to rein in the fast-starting Lee, realising he was dominating when he attacked and coming off second best in the tactical rallies.

Once he took the lead at 11-10, Chen looked unstoppable and reeled off 16-of-20 points to claim the opening game before storming out of the blocks in the second to forge a six-point lead by the interval.

Lee battled gamely as Chen’s intensity levels dropped but the Malaysian was unable to get any closer than within two points of his opponent in the second game as a packed Istora Senayan roared in approval.

“Lee is a good player but I was better today,” Chen said in a courtside interview. “This is a very special arena, so it feels great to win the world title here.”

MARIN DEFENDS

Carolina Marin also enjoyed a successful title defence, the top-seeded Spaniard beating Saina Nehwal 21-16 21-19 in a high-class encounter to deny India a first world badminton title.

(See pictures from the match here)

The world number one had been under an injury cloud in the build up to the championships but twice relied on her ability to quickly string together points at crucial times to rally from behind in both games and secure victory in 56 minutes.

“I didn’t think I would be here when I was struggling with my injuries but my coaches said I should keep training and try to play at the world championships and just do the best I could in the tournament,” Marin said.

“I knew from the beginning it was going to be a very tough match because Saina is really good but I kept fighting until the end and am very happy with my performance today.”

Earlier, top seeds Zhang Nan and Zhao Yunlei stormed to a third mixed doubles world title with a comfortable 21-17 21-11 victory over compatriots and former junior world champions Liu Cheng and Bao Yixin.

Zhao returned to the court a few hours later to successfully defend another title when the 28-year-old partnered Tian Qing to a 23-25 21-8 21-15 win over Denmark’s Christinna Pedersen and Kamilla Rytter Juhl as they retained the women’s doubles crown.

The home fans were then rewarded for their patience as Indonesia’s Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan regained the men’s doubles title they won in 2013 with a 21-17 21-14 victory over China’s Liu Xiaolong and Qiu Zihan in the last match of the day.

(Reporting by John O’Brien in Singapore; Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)

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India expects state banks to raise $12.3 bln to boost balance sheets | Reuters

NEW DELHI The government expects public sector banks would be able to raise 800 billion rupees ($12.31 billion) from the markets to strengthen their balance sheets, Financial Services Secretary Hasmukh Adhia said on Friday.

Adhia also announced the appointment of new heads of five banks, including two from the private sector, as part of fresh measures to improve the performance of the state banks, which are struggling with rising bad loans.

Indian banks may need up to 1 trillion rupees to manage the risks from their exposure to debt-stressed firms, Fitch’s Indian unit said this month, on top of the tens of billions of dollars in capital they need to comply with global banking rules.

($1 = 64.9700 rupees)

(Reporting by Manoj Kumar and Nidhi Verma; Writing by Sumeet Chatterjee; Editing by Biju Dwarakanath)

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Google to become Alphabet Inc in shakeup | Reuters

SAN FRANCISCO Google Inc (GOOGL.O) announced a new operating structure Monday, creating a holding company called Alphabet to encompass the search engine unit and other subsidiaries.

Alphabet Inc will replace Google as the publicly-traded entity and all shares of Google will automatically convert into the same number of shares of Alphabet, with all of the same rights. (googleblog.blogspot.in/)

“This new structure will allow us to keep tremendous focus on the extraordinary opportunities we have inside of Google,” Larry Page said in a blogpost.

The unusual structure, announced after the close of stock market trading, leaves Page in charge of the company as CEO. Fellow co-founder Sergey Brin will become president of Alphabet, and Eric Schmidt will be executive chairman.

Sundar Pichai will be the CEO of Google Inc, while current Google Chief Financial Officer Ruth Porat will become CFO of Alphabet. Google’s current directors will become directors of Alphabet.

Page said “Alphabet is mostly a collection of companies, the largest of which is, of course, Google.”The company said the new arrangement will take effect “later this year.”

(Reporting by Steve Trousdale; Editing by Bernard Orr)

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IAAF denies accusations of widespread doping | Reuters

LONDON The world governing body for athletics (IAAF) on Tuesday dismissed media reports of widespread doping in the sport.

The IAAF said the reports by Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper and Germany’s ARD/WDR broadcaster offered no new evidence that any athlete had failed a drugs test and wrongly implied that the governing body had failed to look into the results when they first came out.

“The IAAF takes the allegations published by The Sunday Times and ARD very seriously and has investigated them thoroughly,” the IAAF said in a nine-page statement.

“The published allegations were sensationalist and confusing: the results referred to were not positive tests. In fact, ARD and The Sunday Times both admit that their evaluation of the data did not prove doping.”

The statement included a background summary on how blood testing is carried out and specific responses to some of the accusations,

Tthe IAAF condemned the publication of what it said was private and confidential data obtained without their consent.

“There is no space for shortcuts, simplistic approaches or sensationalism when athletes’ careers and reputations are at stake,” said Professor Giuseppe d’Onofrio, described as one of the world’s leading haematologists working as an expert in the field of the Athlete Biological Passport.

The sport of track and field, which has plagued by some spectacular doping cases over the past three decades, was thrown into crisis on Sunday after reports a whistleblower had released secret data indicating suspected widespread blood doping in athletics between 2001 and 2012.

The tests were analysed by two Australian scientists who later told Reuters that while more than 800 athletes had recorded one or more “abnormal” results, which is not proof of doping but still suspicious.

In addressing some of the accusations, the IAAF said the results were not secret and had been published by WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) four years ago.

The IAAF also said it investigated all of the results and at least six athletes who were found to have cheated, were suspended.

A large proportion of these blood samples were collected before the implementation of the Athlete Biological Passport (ABP) and could not be used as proof of doping, the IAAF said.

“The IAAF quite rightly operates within an anti-doping framework, provided by WADA, where suspicion alone does not equal proof of doping.

(Writing by Julian Linden in Singapore; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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Pininfarina says still hoping to agree sale to Mahindra | Reuters

MILAN Troubled Italian car designer Pininfarina (PNNI.MI) is still hoping to clinch a sale to Indian vehicle maker Mahindra and Mahindra (MAHM.NS) but has begun drafting a stand-alone business plan as its financial position worsens.

Pininfarina forecast on Thursday a full-year operating loss and said it did not expect to be able to meet at the end of the year a target for earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation agreed with creditors as part of its debt restructuring.

“Although it hopes for a positive outcome of ongoing talks (with Mahindra), the board is working on new standalone business and financial plan more in line with the group’s current ability to generate cash to repay its debt,” the company said in a statement.

The group famous for designing Ferraris such as the Testarossa said it expected to present the new plan to creditor banks in the last quarter of the year.

Pininfarina’s controlling shareholder Pincar and banking creditors failed to agree a sale of the indebted group to Mahindra this month, sources close to the matter said this week.

Talks would resume in September but one source said Mahindra was “very cautious” and wanted to invest in Pininfarina “at the lowest possible price”.

On Thursday, Pininfarina reported a first-half net loss of 4.4 million euros, in line with the previous year, and said its net debt stood at 52.7 million euros at the end of June up from 44.8 million euros at the end of December.

(Reporting by Valentina Za; Editing by Mark Potter)

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Democrat Clinton sent classified material from private account – WSJ | Reuters

WASHINGTON Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton sent at least four emails containing classified material from her personal account while she was U.S. secretary of state, the Wall Street Journal said on Friday, citing an inspector general’s review.

The Inspector General of the Intelligence Community said the information in the emails should have been considered “secret,” the second-highest level of classification, according to the Journal.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Bill Trott)

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India investigating breach of space agency unit’s website | Reuters

NEW DELHI The Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) commercial arm is investigating a suspected breach of its website on Sunday, an official said.

The homepage of ISRO’s commercial wing, called Antrix, was redirecting to another page on Sunday, space agency spokesman Deviprasad Karnik said. The Antrix website is currently being rebuilt.

“Antrix is investigating. There is no concern,” Karnik said on Monday. “Somebody has played a mischief.”

The breach came two days after ISRO successfully launched five British satellites. India is a small player in the $300 billion global space industry but aims to increase its presence over the coming years.

(Reporting by Aditya Kalra; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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Mayweather stripped of title he won in Pacquiao fight | Reuters

Floyd Mayweather Jr. has been stripped of the welterweight world title he won after beating Filipino Manny Pacquiao this year for failing to comply with rules, the World Boxing Organization said on Monday.

Mayweather, who improved to 48-0 by beating Pacquiao in May, missed a deadline by which he had to pay a $200,000 sanctioning fee from the fight and vacate the junior middleweight title he also held, the WBO said in a statement.

The WBO said it is against rules for boxers to hold world titles in multiple weight classes and that Mayweather had to indicate which weight division he would retain.

Mayweather, who finished ahead on all three scorecards of what proved to be the top-grossing prize fight of all-time, had until 4:30 p.m. ET (2030 GMT) last Friday to advise the WBO of his position.

“The WBO World Championship Committee is allowed no other alternative but to cease to recognise Mr. Floyd Mayweather, Jr. as the WBO Welterweight Champion of the World and vacate his title, for failing to comply with our WBO Regulations of World Championship Contests,” the WBO said in a statement.

Mayweather, who earned over $200 million from the fight which generated a record pay-per-view revenue in the United States of $400 million, has two weeks to launch an appeal.

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Ian Ransom)

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Mahindra’s offer for Pininfarina rejected by creditors-paper | Reuters

MILAN An offer by Indian vehicle maker Mahindra & Mahindra to take over Pininfarina has fallen through due to opposition from some of the Italian car designer’s creditor banks, newspaper Il Messaggero said on Saturday.

Expectations of a sale have recently fuelled gains in the shares of the loss-making Pininfarina group, famous for designing Ferraris and other luxury cars.

But three or four banks have rejected Mahindra’s offer because it envisaged writing off half of Pininfarina’s debts of 87 million euros ($97 million), the newspaper said.

Pininfarina declined to comment. It was not immediately possible to contact Mahindra.

Pininfarina will now seek to agree a new debt restructuring, Il Messaggero said.

($1 = 0.8957 euros)

(Reporting by Valentina Za; Editing by Greg Mahlich)

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Heat wave kills more than 400 in Pakistan’s Karachi | Reuters

KARACHI A heat wave has killed more than 400 people in Pakistan’s southern city of Karachi over the past three days, health officials said on Tuesday, as they set up emergency medical camps in the streets.

The heat wave coincides with major power cuts, leading to harsh criticism of the provincial government and K-electric, the company that supplies electricity to Karachi, the country’s richest city and home to 20 million people.

One of Karachi’s biggest public hospitals said all its beds were full, with more than 200 people dying there of dehydration or heat exhaustion.

“Some were brought in dead, while others died during treatment,” said Dr Seemin Jamali, joint director at Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre.

Civil Hospital was also full of heatstroke patients. A few old fans blew the sweltering air past stray cats sprawled in the dark corridoors as friends of an unconcious policeman rushed outside to buy him the cold water the hospital could not provide.

“This is how it is. No one cares for common poor man here,” Khadim Ali complained as he fanned his cousin, Shahad Ali, a 40-year-old vegetable vendor who collapsed in the heat.

Temperatures have touched 44 degrees Celsius (111 degrees Fahrenheit) in the steamy port city in recent days, up from a normal summer temperature of 37 C (99 F). But rain is due.

“A sea breeze will set in some time tonight. The temperature will come down as the monsoon rain enters the Sindh coast, bringing rain to the city,” said Ghulam Rasool, director general of the Meteorological Department.  

A morgue run by the charity Edhi Foundation had received more than 400 people who died of complications from the heat, official Anwar Kazmi told Reuters.

A full tally of deaths in the province was not available.

The paramilitary Rangers force has set up medical camps at several points in the city where they are providing water and anti-dehydration salts.

The provincial government is being increasingly criticized by opposition parties for not managing the crisis, which has been exacerbated by severe power cuts.

One lawmaker suggested that the parliament should turn off its air-conditioning for an hour to show solidarity with the people.

The electricity grid has been overwhelmed as people switch on fans and air conditioners, and as families all begin to cook at the same time.

The holy month of Ramadan, when most Muslims do not eat or drink during daylight hours, began on Friday. It is tradition for families to break their fast together.

(Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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Website with racist text, photos of Charleston suspect surfaces | Reuters

NEW YORK A website has surfaced with a racist manifesto and a series of photographs that appear to show Dylann Roof, the suspect in Wednesday’s Charleston church massacre, posing with a handgun and standing in front of a Confederate military museum and a plantation house.

Reuters could not immediately confirm who created the website or the authenticity of the photographs posted on it.

“We are told to accept what is happening to us because of ancestors wrong doing, but it is all based on historical lies, exaggerations and myths,” the author writes in the text of the site.

At the conclusion, the author provides a cryptic “explanation,” for action, saying “I have no choice… I chose Charleston because it is most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites in the country. … Someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.”

(Reporting by Frank McGurty; Editing by Paul Thomasch and Frances Kerry)

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Vedanta’s Zambia unit says cost of electricity biggest challenge | Reuters

LUSAKA Vedanta Resources’ (VED.L) Zambian unit Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) said on Thursday one of the biggest challenges it faced was the high cost of electricity in Africa’s No.2 copper producer.

“One of the big challenges that we have for the future, for us to be able to stabilize our operations, is to have affordable power,” KCM chief executive Steven Din said at a mining and energy conference in Lusaka.

“The other challenge that we have going into the future is just stable policies, whether its fiscal or regulations,” Din said.

Din added that the cost of electricity had trebled over the last 10 years from what was envisaged when Vedanta invested in the country.

Zambia in April 2014 increased electricity prices by almost 29 percent for mining companies, a move the Chamber of Mines said was likely to hit mining operations.

KCM had a large power requirement as it operated one of the wettest mines and needed to pump out huge volumes of water. “That makes us the largest power user in the country, but despite that we actually pay one of the highest prices in the country,” Din said.

(Reporting by Chris Mfula; Editing by Mfuneko Toyana and David Holmes)

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Police say suspect is dead after attack on Dallas police headquarters | Reuters

AUSTIN, Texas Dallas police said the person suspected of attacking its headquarters on Saturday is dead.

“We can now confirm that the suspect in the van is deceased but unable to confirm ID pending Med Ex. (medical examiner) identification,” the police department said on its Twitter feed.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Tom Brown)

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Iran’s Rouhani aims to limit nuclear inspections, warns of talks delay | Reuters

DUBAI Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Saturday a comprehensive nuclear deal could be delayed if world powers brought new issues into play, and he would not accept a U.N. inspections regime that jeopardised state secrets.

Iran is aiming to strike an accord with six powers by June 30 that would curtail its nuclear programme in exchange for relief from sanctions. But negotiators have hit an impasse in part over how much enhanced access International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors should have to Iranian sites. [ID:nL5N0YX22Y]

“Iran will absolutely not allow its national secrets to fall into the hands of foreigners through the Additional Protocol or any other means,” Rouhani said in a televised news conference, referring to an IAEA provision that would allow more intrusive inspections in the Islamic Republic.

U.S. and French diplomats have called for Iran to accept stringent measures including granting inspectors access to its military sites as well as inspections on as little as two hours notice — access that the Protocol could encompass.

Rouhani said Iran could embrace the Protocol, noting that other states that are signatories to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) had done so without problem. But he insisted Iran should not face especially far-reaching measures.

“A problem we face on many issues is that when we reach a framework in one meeting, our negotiating partners go back on it in the next meeting,” said Rouhani, a pragmatist elected in 2013 on a platform of limited Iranian engagement with the West, after many years of deepening hostility.

“If the other side sticks to the framework that has been established, and does not bring new issues into play, I believe it can be solved… But if they want to take the path of brinkmanship, the negotiations could take longer.”

The IAEA has long had regular, if limited, access to Iran’s nuclear-related sites. But Tehran has refused to let the agency visit military sites, citing the risk of security-sensitive information being passed on to Western intelligence agencies.

The U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, said on Thursday that additional nuclear transparency measures were outlined in a preliminary deal reached in April between Iran and its negotiating partners. [nL5N0YX1X7]

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final word on Iran’s foreign and security policy, has ruled out several requests by the West, including on interviewing its nuclear scientists and “extraordinary supervision measures”. [ID:nL5N0YB1Z7]

The Additional Protocol would also permit the IAEA to collect environmental samples like soil that can unearth military dimensions to nuclear activities years after they have taken place.

Western powers have long suspected Iran of trying to develop the means to make atomic bombs, while Iran insists its uranium enrichment programme is purely for peaceful purposes.

Rouhani said: “What is important to Iran is that, in implementing this protocol, we make it clear to the world that the accusations we have faced about trying to build a bomb are baseless.”

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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India’s data may add to doubts about economic health | Reuters

NEW DELHI Indian data on Friday is expected to paint a grim picture of the economy and could reinforce doubts about the health of the world’s fastest growing major economy.

Annual output growth at factories, mines and utilities INIP=ECI in April is estimated to hit a six-month low of 1.6 percent compared with 2.1 percent the previous month, according to economists polled by Reuters.

Consumer inflation INCPIY=ECI in May, meanwhile, will likely edge up to 5.0 percent from 4.87 percent the previous month on higher energy and food costs, the poll found.

“India is on a slow road to economic recovery,” said Radhika Rao, an economist with DBS Group Research. “Friday’s data would only support that view.”

India’s statistics office is due to release the data at 1200 GMT.

Weak output data would underscore the view of the central bank that India’s economy is not doing as well as the latest rosy GDP numbers suggest.

Data released last month showed India outpaced China by growing 7.5 percent in the March quarter. But the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) cut interest rates for a third time this year last week to put the economy on a sounder footing.

Adding to growth concerns is the forecast for below average rains in June-September, which are crucial to farm output and rural incomes.

Some private economists say poor farm output could pull down headline growth to as low as 7 percent from 7.3 percent last year.

Less rain could also drive up food prices, straining household budgets and crimping non-food spending.

“Overall, risks to agricultural production, rural demand and food price inflation have increased,” analysts at Nomura wrote.

The RBI has said further rate cuts would depend on the monsoon’s impact on food prices, which make up almost half the basket of goods used to measure inflation.

New Delhi says existing food stocks will be sufficient to contain any food price shock. As a pre-emptive measure, it has extended duty concessions on lentil imports and is ready to provide high-yielding seeds for replanting of crops.

“Still, some spillover into retail prices is inevitable,” said Rao.

(Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

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Apple expected to focus on watch, music at developer conference | Reuters

SAN FRANCISCO Apple is expected to unveil a new music service and better tools to build apps for its smartwatch at its annual gathering of developers on Monday.

Developers waited in long lines outside of San Francisco’s Moscone Center hours ahead of the keynote speech. Inside the event, Apple advertised its operating systems for its iPhone, Mac and Watch but gave no other indication of the announcements to come.

But at a recent tech event, a top Apple executive said the tech giant’s legion of independent developers will get a preview of a new software kit for the two-month-old Apple Watch at the conference. Apps built with the new toolkit will likely start arriving in the fall, said Jeff Williams, Apple’s senior vice president of operations.

Like other Apple products, the watch’s commercial success will likely hinge on a compelling collection of apps. But early apps for the timepiece have been tethered to the iPhone, placing some limits on what developers could do.The expanded software kit should lead to better and faster watch apps, said Bob O’Donnell, an analyst at TECHnalysis Research.

Many analysts expect that Apple will use Monday’s event to debut a new music streaming service, and in an interview in Cannes, France, the CEO of Sony Music, Doug Morris, confirmed the launch although he did not provide many details, according to a report in VentureBeat. The company behind the iPod and iTunes has long been a leader in digital music, but it has lost ground in recent years as subscription services such as Spotify have caught on with consumers.

Analyst Van Baker of Gartner said he expects Apple to release a new service to win a bigger share of the streaming business.

“This is catch-up for Apple,” he said.

An Apple spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Julia Love; Editing by Leslie Adler, Bernard Orr)

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One year on, Prime Minister Modi courts India’s poor | Reuters

NEW DELHI Prime Minister Narendra Modi told thousands of supporters his government was devoted to the poor on Monday, directly tackling criticism he has governed for the rich and failed farmers in his first year in office.

On the eve of the government’s first anniversary Modi travelled south from New Delhi to a region hard hit by crop losses and bad weather to counter opposition jibes that he is losing support of rural areas, home to 70 percent of Indians.

“Every moment of my time and every particle of my body is determined to secure the welfare of the poor,” he told a jubilant crowd that waited for hours in sweltering heat in the town of Mathura to hear the speech.

Distress among farmers suffering from lower commodity prices and damage caused by early rains has weakened Modi’s support in parts of the rural north, including around Mathura where at least two farmer suicides have been blamed on crop losses.

Modi vowed to end the rural crisis, farmer suicides and corruption in rural government schemes in the remaining four years of his tenure.

He listed his achievements on the economy — such as lowering inflation and raising billions of dollars through coal field auctions — while hammering the governments that came before.

“I must say that leaders in the past have failed to achieve what I have achieved in just one year,” Modi said, to cheers.

An opinion poll released by TV network Times Now showed strong support for Modi, with 65 percent of respondents saying the “good days” promised in his campaign had already arrived or were coming soon.

But criticism by opposition leader Rahul Gandhi has also hit home, with 44 percent echoing Gandhi’s jibe that Modi ran a “suit-boot” government, in other words one that favoured the wealthy.

Gandhi’s Congress party was demolished in the election last year, but has regained some vigour attacking Modi’s rural record, including falling farmer exports and an executive order to ease farmland acquisition for industrial projects.

Modi listed the names of over two dozen welfare schemes launched in the last 365 days and reminded supporters of the massive corruption that tainted the government that preceded him.

“Bad days have vanished. Those who plundered wealth and cheated you have been defeated. They can target me but I will continue to protect you,” said Modi.

(Reporting by Rupam Jain Nair; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Toby Chopra)

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Gaddafi’s son Saadi appears in Libyan court on murder charges | Reuters

TRIPOLI Muammar Gaddafi’s son Saadi who fled abroad during Libya’s 2011 revolution and was extradited from Niger last year appeared in a Tripoli court on Sunday at the start of a trial on murder charges but the judge adjourned his case until July.

Saadi, who had a brief career as a soccer player in Italy and had the reputation of a playboy during his father’s long rule, appeared in the Tripoli courtroom wearing a blue jumpsuit and watched the proceedings from behind bars.

“The trial of Saadi Gaddafi has been adjourned today by the court of south Tripoli until July 19,” the chief of the investigation office of the attorney-general, Sadiq Al-Sour, told Reuters. “The defence lawyers had asked for more time to read the case file and prepare for a plea.”

Saadi Gaddafi faces charges of killing a football player and unlawful imprisonment.

Since the 2011 fall of Gaddafi, Libya has slipped deeper into chaos with two rival governments and the armed factions that back them fighting for control. Islamist militants have gained ground during the period of lawlessness.

Gaddafi’s more prominent son, Saif al-Islam, is being held captive by fighters in the western Libyan town of Zintan. They refuse to hand him over to a government they deem too weak to hold him.

Since escaping Libya in 2011, Saadi had been held under house arrest in the Niger capital Niamey. Libyan authorities believe he was active from there in fomenting unrest in southern Libya. He was extradited back to Libya in March 2014.

(Reporting by Ahmed Elumami; Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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Search for bodies in Nepal village suspended due to avalanches | Reuters

KATHMANDU The search for missing trekkers, guides and residents feared buried in Nepal village by a massive landslide and avalanche triggered by last month’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake has been suspended due to bad weather, officials said on Sunday.

The suspension of the search in Langtang underscores the challenging conditions facing rescuers, soldiers and aid workers two weeks after the April 25 quake struck, killing at least 7,913 people and injuring more than 17,800.

“Fresh avalanches are hitting the area continuously,” Gautam Rimal, a district official, told Reuters. “Rescuers who were searching for bodies have now moved to safe places.”

Twenty bodies were recovered on Friday, bringing the total number of confirmed deaths in Langtang to 120. Two of the bodies, however, were almost immediately buried again in a new avalanche, Rimal said.

Large swaths of remote, hard-to-access locations such as Langtang, 60 km (35 miles) north of the capital Kathmandu, were devastated in the earthquake, and aid agencies say many places have yet to be reached to assess the damage or deliver relief supplies.

Officials remained unsure how many people were in Langtang village, in the heart of a popular trekking and climbing area, when the earthquake and landslide struck. Residents have said that as many as 180 people may still be buried under the snow.

Rimal said the search in Langtang would resume once the weather cleared and daily avalanches stop.

The bodies of nine foreigners killed in Langtang have been sent to Kathmandu, and bodies of residents have been handed over to relatives.

(Reporting by Gopal Sharma; Writing by Krista Mahr; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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Thousands flee homes ahead of expected battle near Afghan city | Reuters

KABUL (Reuters) – As many as 10,000 Afghan families have fled their homes as Taliban insurgents and government forces prepared for a major battle for control of the southern fringes of Kunduz city, officials said on Wednesday.

The World Food Programme is preparing food packages for displaced families and expects to start distributing them this weekend.

Afghan security forces and Taliban insurgents backed by foreign jihadists on the outskirts of Kunduz have been in a standoff for nearly a week since the militants launched an offensive on the city late last month.

The Taliban push on Kunduz, about 500 km (310 miles) north of Kabul, is the most serious threat to a provincial capital in years, although government forces insist the city will not fall to the insurgents.

The Afghan army and police are fighting without substantial help from foreign troops, after the NATO military mission ended its combat role at the end of 2014.

Kunduz police spokesman Sayed Sarwar Hussaini said government forces would soon launch a big offensive to drive the Taliban from Gul Tepa district on the southern outskirts of the city.

He said that the army and police had delayed in order to give civilians time to clear out of the area.

“The Taliban inside the surrounding villages want to use them as human shields, so the villagers have escaped to the central parts of the city,” Hussaini said.

More than 10,000 families have officially appealed for aid as refugees of the fighting, said Abdul Salaam Hashemi, the head of Kunduz’s refugee department.

He said survey teams were working to verify how many of those families needed aid.

The World Food Programme has verified 300 families in need of aid and is surveying more, spokesman Wahidullah Amini said.

The U.N.-affiliated agency is preparing emergency kits of flour, pulses, cooking oil and high-energy biscuits for 500 families, he said, adding that food distribution in Kunduz city would begin Saturday.

(Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

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Mayweather beats Pacquiao via unanimous decision | Reuters

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) – Floyd Mayweather Jr. preserved his unbeaten record as a professional with a unanimous decision victory over Manny Pacquiao of the Philippines in their welterweight megabout at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Saturday.

The 38-year-old American made a surprisingly strong start, then withstood some aggressive counter-punching by the Filipino southpaw in the later rounds as he improved his career record to 48-0.

Though Pacquiao repeatedly forced Mayweather to backpedal, the wily American blunted his opponent’s best efforts by using his renowned defensive skills while getting in several telling jabs and punches of his own.

The showdown between the two best boxers of their generation, dubbed the ‘Fight of the Century’, had been more than five years in the making and is expected to be the biggest-grossing prize bout of all time.

(Reporting by Steve Keating; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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Mayweather and Pacquiao promise to deliver on hype | Reuters

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) – Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao weighed in for what has been labelled the ‘Fight of the Century’ on Friday, promising to deliver on the massive hype and give fans the excitement they deserve.

What had been a subdued buildup to the most anticipated fight in decades exploded to life when Pacquiao and then Mayweather entered the MGM Grand Garden Arena to thumping hip hop music and deafening cheers from a seething crowd of 11,500, some of whom had waited three hours for a glimpse of the two boxers.

Pacquiao, 57-5-2 (38 knockouts) looking relaxed and confident, weighed in one pound lighter than the undefeated Mayweather 47-0 (26 KOs), tipping the scales at 145 pounds for Saturday’s bout.

Their meeting is expected to be the biggest grossing prize fight of all-time.

“I have dedicated myself to the sport of boxing for the last 20 years and I am ready,” declared Mayweather over a roar of boos and cheers.

Asked for a prediction about the fight, the 38-year-old American said, “I can’t really say but I am ready to fight. It’s an unbelievable turnout. I’m glad all the fans came out to here to support Manny and me.”

Normally free and open to the public, the weigh-in broke from tradition, charging $10 to watch Mayweather and Pacquiao step onto the scales in a move designed to maintain crowd control.

All money raised through ticket sales went to charity, but many of the tickets found their way onto the resale market with some commanding $500.

A smiling Pacquiao, dressed in a bright red track suit, waved and raised his fists into the air as he slowly made his way to the stage, playfully interacting with the crowd.

In stark contrast, Mayweather was serious and focussed, rarely looking up from under the brim of his ‘Money Team’ baseball cap to reveal a cheeky smirk.

Once the business of the official weigh-in was complete, the two welterweights moved to the front of the stage for the traditional stare down, the smaller Pacquiao looking up at Mayweather with a challenging smile while the stone-faced American stared straight-ahead unmoved.

“I have been fighting bigger guys like (Antonio) Margarito and (Oscar) De La Hoya,” said the Filipino southpaw. “It doesn’t matter to me. I feel tomorrow that the Lord is always with me and gives me strength.

“I know it’s a great, great responsibility for me to give enjoyment to the fans.

“Tomorrow the fans deserve to have a great fight.”

(Editing by Gene Cherry)

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Five car bombs kill 17 across Baghdad | Reuters

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Five car bombs exploded across Baghdad on Thursday evening, killing at least 17 people, in attacks that have become more frequent in the Iraqi capital since a decade-old night time curfew was lifted earlier this year.

The deadliest of the blasts, which appeared to be coordinated, took place in the Iskan neighbourhood, where five people were killed, police and medical sources said.

Iraqi authorities lifted the curfew on Baghdad in February, seeking to restore a sense of normality to the city as security forces battle Islamic State militants who overran large sections in the north and west of the country last summer.

But militants may be exploiting greater freedom of movement to carry out more attacks in the capital. Thursday was the third day of bombings in Baghdad this week.

Another of the car bombs on Thursday exploded near a children’s hospital in Jamila, killing three civilians.

Four people were killed by a bomb in a commercial street in al-Hurriya, three more in the Talbiya district and two in the Ur neighbourhood.

(Editing by Ruth Pitchford)

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China, India, on U.S. list for intellectual property concerns | Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – China and India remain on a U.S. priority watch list for lax rules on copyright, trade secrets and other intellectual property rights violations in an annual review of trading partners published by the U.S. Trade Representative on Thursday.

Thirteen countries are on the priority watch list for 2015, including Russia and Ukraine as well as China and India, and another 24 are on a lower-level watch list.

China was cause for concern because of online piracy and rising theft of trade secrets as well as rules aimed at fostering the local technology industry at the expense of foreign suppliers, the report found.

“We felt it was critical to call this out,” Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Robert Holleyman told reporters.

The United States has welcomed the suspension of rules forcing Chinese banks to buy local technology products and asking foreign firms to hand over source code.

But U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said this week the United States would take up issues like “buy local” laws and technology transfer as part of an investment treaty between the two countries.

The bilateral investment treaty, which is under negotiation, should also cover unfair competition by state-owned firms and discriminatory enforcement of China’s competition law, he said.

In India, USTR said there had been signs of progress in addressing intellectual property concerns and the United States expected “substantive and measurable improvements.”

No country was listed in the worst offender spot of “priority foreign country,” a label that can eventually lead to trade sanctions or the loss of trade benefits.

(Reporting by Krista Hughes; Editing by Bill Trott and Leslie Adler)

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