How to be lucky on Friday the 13th | Nigel Kendall

Today is a good day for the superstitious to drive to the Netherlands, says freelance journalist Nigel Kendall

There is a chance that you are reading this while curled up at home with the draperies described and doorways locked, convinced that the best way to avoid the malevolent influence of Friday the 13 th is to avoid all human contact. If so, you aren’t alone.

The fear of a Friday that falls on the 13 th day of a month is thought to be the most widely held superstition in the English-speaking world. It’s so common that two distinct words have been coined to describe it: paraskevidekatriaphobia; and friggatriskaidekaphobia.

These tongue-twisting words can give a bogus scientific cachet to an irrational faith, conjuring up white coats and clipboards. And sure enough, there have been surveys. Serious studies.

One of the most widely cited, published in the British Medical Journal in 1993 , noted that traffic on a section of M25 on Friday the 13 th was 1.4% lower than on the previous Friday( is recommended that some people had bided at home)- while hospital admissions for road accidents in the M25 region were higher. The writers concluded:” The hazard of hospital admission as a result of transport accident may be increased by as much as 52%. Biding at home is recommended .”

Stay at home? On Friday the 13 th? It’s the last place you want to be- as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents never tires of reminding us:” More accidents happen at home than anywhere else .” Your lounge and living room are particularly hazardous. You’re far safer outside.

This is the Dutch solution, and according to reports, it runs. On a typical Friday in Holland, insurers expect to be notified of 7,800 traffic accidents, but when Friday falls on the 13 th it drops to 7,500. It could be that Dutch drivers are staying at home more carefully than their British counterparts, or are driving in superstition to drive with more caution.

In other terms, Friday the 13 th could be said to provide an excellent example of confirmation bias. If we walk down the street half-expecting something terrible to happen, we nearly feel rewarded if it does. This builds the bad event more memorable and intensifies the superstition around the conjunction of date and day. Usually you’d just chalk it up to experience. But on Friday the 13 th? Never. Imagine how satisfied the 13 people in this article felt when their worst dreamings came true.

Psychologists connect this bias to the human need to feel in control of events. If something bizarre or random pass, it’s easier to blame the calendar than to face up to difficult truths. Would the City’s” Black Friday” of 1989 still be name-checked so frequently if hadn’t also been 13 October?

Worryingly, according to a 2008 study published in Science publication, it’s precisely when things like a stock market crash happen that we humans are most likely to try to form patterns, correlations and conspiracies. When we arrive at the limits of our understanding, we reach for the consolation provided by superstition to maintain the illusion of control.

This is where religion comes in, and the most commonly cited origins of the Friday the 13 th myth go back to the number of diners at Christ’s Last Supper. However, we know that ancient Egyptians and Romans had both previously taken a dim view of the number 13.

Modern Romans, by contrast, have no strong impressions about it. In Italy, 17 is the number to watch out for, while in Greece and many Spanish-speaking countries it’s Tuesday the 13 th that you need to be wary of.

So, the next time there’s a Friday the 13 th– April 2018 – you may be better off taking a city break in Madrid. Or perhaps that would be seducing fate?

* Nigel Kendall is a freelance journalist and former senior content director at Guardian Labs

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Italian woman granted sick pay for time off to look after her ill dog

Rome academic wins landmark court case where she argued that two days taken as leave to care for dog should be allowable

An Italian woman has won her battle to be granted sick pay for days she took off to look after her poorly puppy, in a first for the pet-loving country.

The woman, a Rome academic, won her instance with the help of lawyers from the Italian Anti-Vivisection League( LAV ), one of the biggest animal rights groups in Europe, the organisation said.

A judge accepted the lawyers’ example that her university should count her two days off under an allowance for absences related to” serious or household personal reasons “.

Their argument was underpinned by a provision in Italy’s penal code that provides for people who abandon an animal to” grave suffering” to be jailed for a year and fined up to EUR1 0,000.

” It is a significant step forward that recognised that animals that are not maintain for financial gain or their working ability are effectively members of the family ,” said LAV president Gianluca Felicetti.

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Israel hack uncovered Russian spies’ use of Kaspersky in 2015, report says

Information led to US decision to end employ of company software across federal government in December

An Israeli security agency hacked into Russian antivirus firm Kaspersky Lab in 2015, providing the crucial evidence required to ban the company from providing services to the American government, according to a report.

While the Israeli spies were inside Kaspersky’s systems, they find Russian spies in turn employing the company’s tools to spy on American spies, the New York Times reports. That info, handed to the US, led to the decision in September to end the use of the company’s software across the federal government by December.

The revelation answers some questions about the unfolding tale around Kaspersky Lab, a previously well-regarded info security firm founded in 1997 by Russian national Eugene Kaspersky. It seems to demonstrate why the US believes Kaspersky Lab software was involved in the hacking of an NSA contractor in 2015, as well as narrows down the nature of Kaspersky Lab’s supposed involvement in the Russian operation.

But it still leaves many further questions unanswered. Crucially for Kaspersky, the Israeli hack apparently failed to provide enough information to determine whether it was a willing, or even knowing, participant in the Russian espionage.

The Russian government exercisings tight control over domestic and foreign high-tech industries operating within its borders. In June 2017, it began demanding the source code for certain software imported, ostensibly to search for “backdoors” inserted by foreign intelligence agencies. In practice, it’s widely believed that the Russian security bureau scans the source code for undisclosed vulnerabilities it can use to improve its own hacking prowess.

Kaspersky vehemently denies any involvement in Russian state-sponsored hacking.” Kaspersky Lab was not involved in and does not possess any knowledge of the situation in question ,” the company told the Guardian.

” Kaspersky Lab has never helped , nor will help, both governments in the world with its cyber-espionage endeavours, and contrary to erroneous reports, Kaspersky Lab software does not contain any undeclared capabilities such as backdoors as that would be illegal and unethical.

stuxnet
Israeli security has had a tense relationship with Kaspersky Lab since the company’s research on Stuxnet, a specialised piece of malware created by the US and Israel to harm Iran’s nuclear industry. Photograph: Courtesy/ REX/ Shutterstock

” It is also important to note, Kaspersky Lab sees all kinds of threats, including nation-state sponsored malware, regardless of the origin or intent. The company tracks more than 100 advanced persistent threat actors and operations, and for 20 years, Kaspersky Lab has been focused on protecting people and organisations from these cyber-threats- its headquarters’ location doesn’t change that mission .”

In the tangled web of spies spying on spies, it can be difficult to take any statement at face value. The Israeli security community has long had a tense relationship with Kaspersky Lab, dating back to the company’s research on Stuxnet, a specialised piece of malware created by the US and Israel to harm Iran’s nuclear industry.

In fact, the way sophisticated Israeli hacking operation that targeted Kaspersky appears to have use the same malware that was used to spy on the Iran nuclear negotiations in 2014 and 2015.

Israel’s hacking of Kaspersky reportedly occurred in the same period Kaspersky publicly recognizes that it had been targeted by a” nation actor “. Kaspersky said the malware used in the attack was derived from the Stuxnet virus.

At the time Kaspersky researchers disclosed that dozens of machines in its networks had been infected by the Duqu 2.0 spyware, which appeared to be attempting to access research and datum, and which Kaspersky staff described at the time as being a” generation ahead” of anything they had insured before.

Although there was no concrete proof up to now, Kaspersky suspected Israel of being behind the two attacks , not least because the same malware was being used to target the P5 +1 talks on Iran’s nuclear programme. Kaspersky researchers also found that the work schedules of the Duqu attackers indicated they were physically can be found in or near to Israel.

Kaspersky said:” With regards to unverified assertions that this situation relates to Duqu2, a sophisticated cyber-attack of which Kaspersky Lab was not the only target, we are confident that we have identified and removed all of the infections that happened during that incident. Furthermore … Kaspersky Lab publicly reported the attack, and the company offered its assistance to affected or interested organisations to help mitigate this menace .”

The latest revelations over Israel’s electronic espionage activities appear to have come closer to joining the dots connecting a series of Israeli cyber-spying and cyberwar operations dating back to at the least 2011, beginning with the use of Stuxnet.

In 2015 officers in the Obama administration told journalists that Israel had snooped on the nuclear negotiations and used material that it had acquired to attempt to lobby the US Congress in 2015 to derail the deal.

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Rallies in Barcelona and Madrid urge leaders to hold talks on Catalonia

Thousands marching under slogan Shall we talk? as signs emerge that both sides may be trying to defuse Catalan crisis

Tens of thousands of demonstrators have rallied in Barcelona and Madrid amid growing calls for talks following the political crisis sparked by Catalonia’s push for independence.

People garmented in white gathered in both cities on Saturday under the slogan “Shall we talk?” in a message to Spain’s political leaders. Organisers of the rallies had asked people to not bring any flags, neither Spanish nor Catalan, and to wear white garment.

Miquel Iceta, the leader of the Catalan arm of the Spanish Socialist party, said:” We have to find a new route forward. It’s the moment to listen to the people who are asking for their own problems to be solved through an agreement, and without precipitated and unilateral decisions .”

In Madrid they gathered in a plaza outside the city hall and called for dialogue to objective the crisis.

Yurena Diaz, a 36 -year-old doctor, said she was demonstrating” so that there would be dialogue before we lose ourselves, so they they try and sit down and talk “. She said:” There is a lot more tension and violence. Each day it gets worse. Such violence induces you afraid. It has generated a lot of anxiety and that’s dangerous .”

A rival rally was also held nearby in Madrid’s central Plaza de Colon, where thousands waving Spanish flags joined a “patriotic” marching organised by activists to defend the unity of Spain and protest against Catalan independence.

Joaquin Penas, an off-duty soldier with a Spanish flag draped round his shoulders, said the crisis had” reached a turning point and we need to get actively involved in the defence of Spain’s values as a nation “.

If Catalonia were to declare independence” it would be like cutting off an limb”, he added, saying there was a lot of concern about the government’s perceived lack of action to resolve the crisis.” I don’t have much confidence in the government. It is not a very proactive government …[ Mariano] Rajoy is anything but a leader. To be honest, he’s awful .”

About 5,000 people dressed in white filled Sant Jaume Square in front of Barcelona city hall, municipal police said. Some waved white handkerchiefs, but there were no flags.

Ruben Vidal, a 41 -year-old DJ, said:” You can’t expect Catalonia to remain in Spain only based on fear .” He added that politicians should” talk or resign “.

Tentative signs have emerged that both sides may be trying to defuse the crisis after Madrid apologised on Friday to Catalans injured by police trying to stop people voting in the outlawed independence referendum last Sunday.

However, Catalan leaders have not backed down from plans to declare independence, possibly next week, after the outcomes of the referendum in which 90% backed independence on a 43% turnout. Many who support Spanish unity did not vote in the poll.

” There has to be a commitment to dialogue ,” said Jordi Cuixart, the president of one of the grassroots groups driving Catalonia’s separatist motion.” We will continue to demand a commitment that the referendum law be fulfiled .”

Rajoy, the Spanish “ministers “, has vowed to block independence and rejected calls for mediation.

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The Trump-Russia dossier: why its findings grow more significant by the day

As US officers analyse potential collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign, the series of reports by the former UK intelligence official Christopher Steele are casting an ever darker darknes over the president

Nine months after its first appearance, the situated of intelligence reports known as the Steele dossier, one of the most explosive documents in modern political history, is still hanging over Washington, casting a shadow over the Trump administration that has only grown-up darker as time has gone by.

It was reported this week that the document’s author, former British intelligence official, Christopher Steele, has been interviewed by investigators working for the special advise on Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The Senate and House intelligence committees are, meanwhile, asking to see Steele to make up their own intellect about his findings. The ranking Democrat on the House committee, Adam Schiff, said that the dossier was ” a very important and useful guide to help us figure out what we need to look into “.

The fact that Steele’s reports are being taken seriously after lengthy scrutiny by federal and congressional researchers has far-reaching implications.

Originally commissioned by a private firm as opponent research by Donald Trump’s Republican and then Democratic adversaries, they quote a range of unnamed sources, in Russia and the US, who describe the Kremlin’s cultivation over several years of the man who now occupies the Oval Office– and the systematic collusion of Trump’s associates with Moscow to help get him there.

The question of collusion is at the heart of the various investigations into links between Trump and Moscow. Even a senior Republican, Richard Burr, the chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, admitted this week it was an open question.

Burr said his committee needed to talk Steele himself to assess the dossier properly and recommended him to speak to its members or staff. According to an NBC report on Friday, Steele had expressed willingness to meet the committee’s leaders.

In his remarks this week, Burr said his committee had come to a consensus in supporting the conclusions of a US intelligence community appraisal in January this year that Russian had conducted a multi-pronged campaign to interfere in the 2016 election, in Trump’s favour.

It is a finding that echoes the reports that Steele was making seven months earlier. Trump has called the assessment a “hoax”, but there is no sign the three agencies that came to that conclusion, the CIA, FBI and NSA, have had any second thoughts in the intervene months.

” Many of my former CIA colleagues have taken[ the Steele] reports seriously since they were first published ,” wrote John Sipher, a former senior officer in the CIA’s National Clandestine Service on the Just Security website.

Christopher
Christopher Steele, the former MI6 officer who compiled the reports. Photo: Victoria Jones/ PA

” This is not because they are not fond of Trump( and many admittedly are not ), but because they understand the potential plausibility of the reports’ overall narrative based on their experienced understanding of both Russian methodology and the nature of raw intelligence reporting .”

Sipher emphasised the “raw” nature of research reports, aimed at conveying an accurate account of what sources are saying, rather than claiming to be a definitive summary of events. There are spelling mistakes and rough edges. Several of the episodes it described remain entirely unverified.

But as every passing month brings more leaks, revelations in the press, and more progress in the investigations, the Steele dossier has generally gained in credibility, rather than lost it.

Trump Tower meeting

One of the more striking most recent developments was the disclosure of a meeting on 9 June 2016 in Trump Tower involving Trump’s son, Donald Jr, and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, with a Russian lawyer closely tied to the government, Natalia Veselnitskaya.

After the meeting was first reported on 8 July this year, the president’s son claimed( in a statement dictated, it turned out, by his father) that it had been about adoptions of Russian children by Americans.

The next day that was exposed as a lie, with the publication of emails that made it clear that Veselnitskaya was offering injury material on Hillary Clinton, that an intermediary setting up the session said was ” part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr Trump “.

If it’s what you say, I love it, especially later in the summer ,” Donald Trump Jr responded.

Just 11 days after that meeting- but more than a year before it became public- Steele quoted information sources as saying that” the Kremlin had been feeding Trump and his squad valuable intelligence on his foes, including Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton”, for several years.

A subsequently report, dated 19 July 2016, said:” Speaking in confidence to a countryman in late July 2016, Source E, an ethnic Russian close associate of Republican US presidential candidate Donald Trump, admitted that there was a well-developed conspiracy of cooperation between them and the Russian leadership .”

The report said that such contacts were handled on Trump’s end by his then campaign director, Paul Manafort, who participated in the 9 June Trump Tower session.

Manafort has denied taking part in any collusion with the Russian nation, but registered himself as a foreign agent retroactively after it was revealed his firm received more than $17 m running as a lobbyist for a pro-Russian Ukrainian party. He is a subject of special attorney Robert Mueller’s investigation and in July the FBI raided his home in Virginia.

Other key protagonists in the Steele dossier have surfaced in subsequent revealings and investigation. Two of them, an Azeri-Russian businessman Araz Agalarov and his son Emin, are described in emails released by Donald Trump Jr as offering to serve as intermediaries in passing on damaging material on Clinton and is reported to have help set up the Trump Tower meeting.

Carter Page

Another key figure in the Steele dossier is Carter Page, an energy consultant who Trump named as one of his foreign policy advisors. Steele’s sources describe him as an “intermediary” between Manafort and Moscow, who had met a Putin lieutenant and head of the Russian energy giant, Rosneft, and a senior Kremlin official, Igor Diveykin.

Donald
Donald Trump and his son, Donald Jr. Photo: Jewel Samad/ AFP/ Getty Images

Page denied meeting either human on his trip-ups to Moscow, which he has said were for business purposes and not connected to his role in the Trump campaign.

Nonetheless, he has become a focus of investigation: it was reported in April that that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court issued an order last year for his communication to be monitored. To obtain the order, researchers would have to demonstrate” probable cause” to believe Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power. Page has said he welcomed the news of the order as it demonstrated he was being made a scapegoat of the investigation.

Elsewhere, a Steele memo in September 2016 mentions a “Mikhail Kulagin” who had been withdrawn from the Russian embassy in Washington because of his” heavy participation in the US presidential election operation “.

There was no envoy of that name at the mission, but there was a Mikhail Kalugin; five months ago, it emerged that he had left the embassy in August 2016.

McClatchy reported he was under investigationfor his role in Russia’s interference in the campaign. The BBC reported that the US had identified Kalugin as a snoop.

Facebook

More lately, there has been a slew of revelations about the role of disinformation spread by Russians and other eastern Europeans posing as Americans on social media. The New York Times reported that hundreds and possibly thousands of Russian-linked fake accounts and bots on Facebook and Twitter were used to spread anti-Clinton narratives and messages.

Facebook disclosed that it had shut down several hundred accounts that it believes were fabricated by a Kremlin-linked Russian company to buy $100,000 in ads that are typically promoted racial and other divisive issues during the campaign.

This week, Facebook handed over to Congress 3, 000 ads bought by a Russian organisation during the campaign, and it was reported that many of those ads, some of them Islamophobic, were specifically targeted on swing states, Michigan and Wisconsin.

A Steele memo from August 2016 states that after Russia’s hand had been discovered in the hacking of Democratic party emails and passing them to WikiLeaks for publishing, another boulevard of influence would be explored.

The memo says” the tactics would be to spread rumours and misinformation about the content of what already had been leaked and make up new content “.

The
The Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who fulfilled Donald Trump Jr and other campaign figures. Photograph: Yury Martyanov/ AFP/ Getty Images

The Russian official alleged by Steele’s sources to be in charge of the operation, Sergei Ivanov- then Putin’s joint chiefs of staff- is quoted as saying:” The audience to be targeted by such operations was the educated youth in America as the PA[ Russian Presidential Administration] assessed that there was still a chance they could be persuaded to vote for Republican candidate Donald Trump as a protest against the Washington establishment( in the form of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton ).”

The Steele dossier said one of the aims of the Russian influence campaign was to peel off voters who had supported Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries and nudge them towards Trump.

Evidence has since emerged that Russians and east Europeans posing as Americans targeted Sanders advocates with divisive and anti-Clinton messages in the summer of 2016, after the primaries were over.

Unsubstantiated claims

There are other details in the Steele dossier that have echoed in subsequent news reports, but there are also several claims and accounts for which no supporting evidence has emerged.

The startling claim that Trump was filmed with prostitutes while staying at a Moscow hotel in November 2013, when he was staging the Miss Universe contest there, has not been substantiated in any way.

Nor has the allegation that Trump’s lawyer and vice-president of the Trump Organisation, Michael Cohen, travelled to Prague in August 2013 to conspire with a senior Russian official. In a letter to the House intelligence committee, Cohen said he never went to Prague and took issue with a string of other claims in the dossier.

It has however emerged that Cohen was involved in investigating a real estate deal in Moscow for the Trump Organisation while the campaign was in full swing. He has been summoned to appear in open hearing before the Senate intelligence committee later this month.

The Steele dossier, its writer and the firm who hired him, Fusion GPS, have become favoured targets for Trump’s loyalists on Capitol hill. They point to the fact that the genesis of the documents was a paid commission to find damaging facts about Trump.

But the dossier has not faded from view. Instead, it appears to be growing in significance as the investigations have gathered pace.

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Europes governments look to bypass Trump to save Iranian nuclear deal

Despite pressure from UK and France, US president expected to declare Tehran in violation of agreement but Senate could yet block reimposition of sanctions

European governments dread a concerted effort to persuade Donald Trump to continue to certify the Iran nuclear bargain may have failed and are now go looking for other ways to try to salvage the two year-old agreement.

European lobbying endeavours are now focused on Congress which will have two months to decide- in the is a lack of Trump’s endorsement of the 2015 deal- whether to reimpose nuclear-related sanctions.

Fresh sanctions could in turn trigger Iranian withdrawal and a ramping up of its now mostly latent nuclear programme, taking the Middle East back to the brink of another major conflict.

When Trump threatened to withhold certification by a congressional deadline of 15 October, the UN general assembly in mid-September was assured by the European signatories of the agreement- the UK, France and Germany- as the last best chance to convince Trump of the dangers of destroying it.

But according to the accounts of several envoys involved, the effort got nowhere.

Angela Merkel, in the final stages of an election campaign, could not attend, so it was left to Theresa May and Emmanuel Macron to use their meetings with the US president in New York to make a personal plea to keep the bargain alive.

The French president made no headway. To his consternation, Trump maintained repeating that under the bargain, the Iranians would have a nuclear bomb in five years, and nothing Macron could say would persuade him otherwise.

May’s session with the US president two days later was equally fruitless. She used half the 50 -minute meeting trying to engage Trump on the merits of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action( JCPOA ), but he grew testy in response. He said he had decided on what to do, but categorically refused to tell her what that was. And he shrugged off her arguments, telling her” You attain your decisions; I’ll construct mine “. A British diplomat described it afterwards as a “robust” conversation.

Another opportunity for the Europeans to defend the deal came on the evening of 20 September, when the foreign ministers of all signatory nations attended a meeting of the Joint Commission charged with implementing it, presided over by the EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini.

The US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson and his Iranian equivalent, Mohammad Javad Zarif, both attended the meeting around a long table in one of the security council’s meeting rooms, marking the first high-level meeting between Tehran and the Trump administration.

There was no chance of any personal chemistry breaking the ice, however. It was a perfunctory meeting, with Tillerson afterward observing drily that the two men at least” didn’t hurl shoes at one another “. Mogherini convened its present session observing that Iran had been abiding by the terms of the agreement.

When it was Tillerson’s turn, he did not repeat the debates the administration attained in public that Iran was somehow in violation. Instead, he conceded that Tehran was maintaining to its obligations but he observed that he served a president, and had been confirmed by a Congress, who reflected the will of the people- and they did not like the deal.

The former oil executive suggested the other countries around the table had made a “mistake” in striking a enter into negotiations with the Obama administration which enforced it through executive order and did not seek congressional ratification. We want to renegotiate the terms, Tillerson said, but if other parties reject, what are we to do?

When their turn came, the European pastors around the table all observed that Iran was keeping its side of the bargain but expressed willingness to confront Iran separately about its rocket programme and its role supporting armed groups around the region. The Russians and Chinese, meanwhile, were adamant there could be no renegotiation.

Speaking near the end of the meeting, Zarif declared Tillerson was ” ill-informed” for failing to acknowledge the fact that the JCPOA had been are set forth in a resolutions of the security council, which the US, a permanent council member, was now threatening to violate. Tillerson dismissed the reference to the UN resolution, and repeated his line that the JCPOA was not a formal ratified treaty, so it should be open to renegotiation.

Emerging from the meeting, Mogherini was clearly furious, and she echoed Zarif’s argument in her own statements to the press.

” This is not a bilateral agreement. This is not an agreement that involves six or seven parties ,” she told reporters.” This is a UN security council resolution with an annex … So it doesn’t belong to one country, to six countries, to seven countries, to the European union- it belongs to the international community .”

The
The EU foreign affairs chief, Federica Mogherini :’ This is not a bilateral agreement … it belongs to the international community .’ Photograph: Eduardo Munoz/ Reuters

In a postmortem teleconference last week, the political directors from the foreign ministries of UK, France and Germany agreed to plan for the worse and marshall European political the resources available for a potential rearguard action lobbying in Congress.

” The E3[ the three European states] are keen not to make it all about the president’s decision ,” one envoy said.” Even if the decision is not to certify, we will want to see on what terms he passes it to Congress .”

One possibility is that Trump will gale the deal by refusing to certify, but not push for a restoration of sanctions. The state department is reported to be talking to Congress to revise its legislation so that Trump does not have to certify the bargain every 90 days, a political embarrassment. But such maneuvers also open up new opportunities for adversaries of the JCPOA to insert” poison pills” into the legislation that will ultimately succeed in killing it off.

The Senate currently appears exquisitely balanced on such issues, with almost all Republican and Democrat likely to vote by party line. The majority leaders in the Senate and the House, Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy, are hesitant to get bogged down in gruelling debate on an issue they believe the president should decide.

” Congress doesn’t want to get in the middle of this and own it ,” said Ilan Goldenberg, a former state department official now at the Centre for a New American Security.

However, the hand of the congressional leadership could be forced by hardline opponents of the bargain who are seeking to make it a test of conservative credentials for senators wary about eluding Trump.

One of the most vociferous critics of the Iran deal in the Senate, Tom Cotton, launched his campaign in a speech on Tuesday. He recommended Trump not to certify the deal in order to clear the way for a period of “coercive diplomacy” and to persuade European governments, Russia, China and Iran to open the agreement for renegotiation. He backed the risk of being more sanctions and ultimately” calibrated strikes” against Iran’s nuclear programme.

” The United States has the ability to totally destroy Iran’s nuclear infrastructure ,” Cotton told the Council on Foreign Relations.” If they choose to rebuild it we can destroy it again .”

On the same day, however, the defence secretary, James Mattis, gave strong backing to the nuclear deal, telling the Senate that Iran was abiding by the terms and that the agreement was serving national interests. His intervention, backed by the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General Joseph Dunford, is likely to make it harder for Trump to withhold certification, and could swing elections in a Senate decision on sanctions.

The Europeans can count on resistance from party leaders annoyed at having an executive decision palmed off on them. There are also signs that most if not all the four Democrats who voted against the JCPOA two years ago would not vote to destroy it now.

Among the 52 Republican senators, meanwhile, there are likely to be a handful unwilling to take responsibility for steering the US towards another conflict.

” Congress has an insatiable craving for sanctions. But it would be disastrous to impose new sanctions on Iran now and senators know that ,” said Joe Cirincione, the head of the Ploughshares Fund, a non-proliferation advocacy group. How the vote would go, he added, was anybody’s guess.

Even if the JCPOA’s adversaries did not manage to kill it with their first shot, said Reza Marashi, the research director of the National Iranian American Council, they are unlikely to give up.

” The Iran hawks will try to have multiple bites of the cherry and will keep pushing for more referendums ,” Marashi said. If the Europeans wanted to try to save the JCPOA, he added,” they now have very little time “.

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Amazon ordered to repay 250m by EU over ‘illegal tax advantages’

Commission also says it plans to take Irish government to European court of justice over failure to collect 13 bn from Apple

Amazon has been was necessary to repay EUR2 50 m( PS222m) in illegal country aid to Luxembourg, as EU authorities continue their campaign against sweetheart deals that help the biggest firms slash their taxation bills.

The European committee also announced on Wednesday that it planned to take the the Irish government to the European court of justice( ECJ) over its failure to collect EUR1 3bn in unpaid taxes from Apple, in relation to an earlier ruling.

Margrethe Vestager, the EU commissioner in charge of competition, said Luxembourg’s” illegal taxation advantages to Amazon” had allowed almost three-quarters of the company’s gains to run untaxed, enabling it to pay four times less taxation than local rivals.

” This is about rivalry in Europe , no matter your flag , no matter your ownership ,” Vestager said, dismissing suggestions she was targeting non-European companies.” Paying taxes is part of doing business in Europe .”

The commission said Amazon had benefited from an illegal taxation deal granted by the Luxembourg authorities that allowed the company to artificially reduce its taxation bill by EUR2 50 m from 2006 to 2014. The company has been was necessary to repay the full amount plus interest.

Amazon rejected the findings of the commission investigation.” We believe that Amazon did not receive any special treatment from Luxembourg and that we paid tax into full conformity with both Luxembourg and international taxation statute. We will study the commission’s ruling and hold our legal options, including an appeal .”

The country’s government said:” As Amazon has been taxed in accordance with the tax rules applicable at the relevant hour, Luxembourg considers that the company has not been granted incompatible state aid .”

In a separate announcement, Vestager said she was appealing to Europe’s highest court to enforce an earlier ruling against Apple to ensure the iPhone manufacturer repaid EUR1 3bn in back taxes.

Apple, which has appealed to Europe’s highest court to contest the decision, has neither repaid the money to the Irish government nor placed the money in an escrow account, a standard practice when court proceedings are under way.

Dublin said it disputed the commission’s ruling that it attained the incorrect decision in the Apple tax deal, but has promised to collect fund owed as soon as possible. Citing its” intensive work” on recovering the funds, the Irish government described the decision as “extremely regrettable” in a statement.

” Irish public officials and experts have been engaged in intensive work to ensure that the nation complies with all its recovery obligations as soon as is practicable, and have been in constant linked with the European commission and Apple on all aspects of this process for over a year ,” it said.

EU member states risk multimillion-euro fines when they fail to act on EU competition rulings. In 2015 the commission requested a EUR2 0m fine plus daily penalty pays against Italy over the country’s refusal to collect back taxes from Sardinian hotels that had benefited from special deals.

The commission acknowledged that Ireland had begun to work on the recovery of the back taxes, but deems the Irish deadline of” March 2018 at a very early” not good enough.

The case against Amazon centred on two subsidiaries incorporated in Luxembourg and controlled by the US parent- Amazon EU group and Amazon Europe Holding Technologies. The latter was described by the commission as” an empty shell” that had no employees or offices, but was used to bring down the company’s taxation bill.

Amazon EU group, which operates the internet company’s operations in the region, transferred 90% of its operating earnings to the holding company, where they were not taxed. As a outcome, Amazon paid an effective tax rates in Luxembourg of 7.25%, compared with the national rate of 29%.

Amazon’s blueprint was Project Goldcrest, a taxation strategy named after Luxembourg’s national bird, based on a 2003 enter into negotiations with authorities in the Grand Duchy. Amazon changed its tax operations in June 2014, a year after Brussels began investigating tax rulings across the EU.

US authorities have also been investigating Project Goldcrest, but lost in court to the retail firm. In March a court ruled against the Internal Revenue Service, which had argued Amazon owed the US $1.5 bn( PS1. 13 bn) in unpaid taxes linked to its Luxembourg companies.

Luxembourg’s role in orchestrating taxation avoidance bargains for hundreds of global companies was revealed by the Guardian in 2014, creating the issue of tax policy in one of the EU’s oldest member states.

The case continues to hang over Jean-Claude Juncker, the European commission chairperson, who served as Luxembourg’s prime minister from 1995 to 2013, and acted as finance minister for much of that period.

The commission launched the Amazon investigation in October 2014, only weeks before Juncker took office, while the fallout over the Luxleaks revelations clouded his early weeks.

Many European political leaders and business groups argue generous tax breaks dedicate Amazon an unfair competitive advantage over smaller rivals, inspiring the recent announcement of a plan to rewrite EU tax rules. But investigations conducted by unjust country assistance run broader, with the EU authorities expected to conclude an inquiry into the fast-food chain McDonald’s in the coming weeks.

The commission has also ruled unlawful tax bargains between Starbucks and the Dutch authorities, as well as Fiat’s arrangements with Luxembourg. The Apple case has generated the biggest furore, with the chief executive, Tim Cook, rejecting the claims as” total political crap “.

The commission said the sweetie deal with the Irish government allowed Apple to pay a maximum tax rate of 1 %, which fell to simply 0.005% in 2014.The usual rate of corporation tax in Ireland is 12.5%.

If the UK leaves the EU single market, it will not be bound by European the standard rules on fair taxation competition. However, any free-trade deal with the EU is likely to constrain the government’s ability to turn the UK into a low-tax haven. Vestager said she was not expecting British government’s to seek this course:” I don’t see why[ UK policy] would change .”

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After the Catalan referendum: what happens next?

Likely scenarios following Sundays referendum, after which the Catalan government proclaimed 90% of voters were in favour of freedom from Spain

What precisely happened in Catalonia on Sunday?

As promised, the region’s pro-independence majority government staged a unilateral referendum on separating from Spain. In doing so, it defied the Spanish constitutional court and the Madrid government. The Spanish government had made it very clear that it would not tolerate such a direct challenge to the unity of Spain or the constitution itself. More than 800 people were injured as police stormed polling stations, seized ballot boxes and dragged away voters.

What was the result of the vote?

According to the Catalan government, preliminary results showed that 90% of people cast their votes in favour of independence. A total of 2.26 million Catalans- 42% of the region’s 5.3 million eligible voters- are said to have taken part in the referendum.

Is the result legally binding?

The Catalan government, which passed legislation last month to begin creating an independent state, says it is. The Spanish government says it isn’t, pointing out that, in any case, the constitutional tribunal had specifically suspended the referendum in September.

What does the Spanish constitution say?

” The constitution is based on the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation, the common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards; it recognises and guarantees the right to self-government of the nationalities and regions of which it is composed and the solidarity among them all .”

What happens next?

The Catalan government has said it will make a unilateral declaration of freedom from Spain within 48 hours of a victory for the yes campaign. With no minimum turnout threshold for the referendum and 90% of voters apparently in favour of freedom, it is expected to construct the declaration this week.

What will the Spanish government do?

Just as Madrid will not recognise the results of a referendum both it and the courts have declared illegal, so it will not recognise an freedom declaration. The Spanish “ministers “, Mariano Rajoy, still has the option of tackling the freedom challenge by invoking article 155 of the Spanish constitution. The article, which has never been used, allows the Spanish government to step in and take control of an autonomous areas if it” does not fulfil the obligations imposed upon it by the constitution or other laws, or acts in a way that is seriously prejudicial to the general interest of Spain “.

Will it actually do this?

Article 155 remains the last resort. Not only has it never been used, such a move is also likely to prove highly risky in Catalonia given the enduring tensions and the violence that marred Sunday’s vote.

Any chance of proper negotiations between the two governments?

Very unlikely. Neither wants to be seen to make any concessions. The Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, has said he is willing to go to prison over the freedom issue and will only back down if the Spanish government offer a public assurance that a mutually concurred referendum will take place and provides a time frame. The Spanish government has categorically refused to engage in any negotiations on a referendum.

What about external pressure?

The European Union has said it will not intervene in the matter, which it views as an internal one for Spain. Jean-Claude Juncker, the European commission chairwoman, has said that Brussels must abide by the decisions of the Spanish government and of Spain’s constitutional court.

The commission has said on several occasions that a vote in favour of Catalan independence would be recognised but only if the referendum that produced it complied with the Spanish constitution and had been ruled legal.

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First same-sex couple to marry in Germany celebrate after long wait

Karl Kreile and Bodo Mende, the first to take advantage of the countrys new statute, strolled down the aisle in Berlin

As they entered the golden room of Schoneberg town hall to the stress of Mendelssohn’s Wedding March, Bodo Mende and Karl Kreile were only doing what tens of thousands of other couples had did before- tying the knot in front of friends and family in the southern Berlin district.

But they were also making history as the first same-sex couple able to marry in Germany, after a new statute came into force which eventually puts gay and lesbian couples on an equal legal footing with heterosexuals.

” After 38 years together, this is a day we’ve waited a long time for ,” 59 -year-old Kreile told the Guardian ahead of Sunday’s ceremony.” We’ve actively campaigned for decades for the nation to recognise us as equals. and finally we are able to celebrate a day we once guessed may never come in our lifetimes .”

Mende, 60, said it was a” huge accolade” for the couple to be the first in Germany to marry.” I recollect the dishonor we felt when we were turned away from a registry office 25 years ago when we confronted the registrar as part of an organised protest. They constructed us feel like second-class citizens .”

Instead of feeling like pariahs, Kreile and Mende were on Sunday elevated to the status of heroes. Many of those who had campaigned with the couple over the years clapped and cheered alongside them as they kissed after saying their vows and signed their matrimony documents.

Germany has now become the 14 th European country to legalise lesbian matrimony, and the 23 rd worldwide following an historical Bundestag vote in June.

Gordon Holland, the registrar overseeing the ceremony, said Schoneberg was proud to be” firing a symbolic starter handgun “. Since the 1920 s, the district has been a centre for gay and lesbian life, its free-spirited culture immortalised in the fictions of Britain’s Christopher Isherwood, who lived in different districts. It has also been the centre stage, over the decades, of strident battles for homosexual rights, a reputation it first earned when it held the world’s first gay demo in 1922.

” Schoneberg has been shaped by the way it has stood up for gay rights for the best part of a century ,” said Mende, who has lived there for years.” The world’s first homosexual and trans bars started here, and it has survived two world wars and many attempts to eliminate it ,” he added, remembering the thousands of homosexuals from the district who were murdered by the Nazis.” So it’s fitting we’re here again today to mark this historic moment ,.”

Since 2001, same-sex couples in Germany have been allowed to register civil partnerships. At the time they were introduced, Germany was praised by campaigners for its trailblazer role. But it went on to lag behind other countries that subsequently introduced gay wedding. When Ireland induced it legal in 2015, German campaigners called it highly embarrassing that Germany had been beaten even by a country with strong Catholic roots.

In June, apparently caught off-guard by a question on gay marriage fired at her at an event hosted by a women’s publication, Chancellor Angela Merkel said she believed same-sex partnerships were” just as valuable” as heterosexual ones. The U-turn following years in which she had defied devoting the questions her supporting was confiscated on by the Social Democrat( SPD ), junior partners in her government, who called a snap vote on it ahead of the summer recess. The motion considered 393 voting in favour of its adoption, to 226 against. Merkel, who invited MPs to vote according to their conscience, voted against the move.

Mende said he still did not know whether he should feel grateful towards Merkel.” Was it political calculus, to take the wind out of the SPD’s sails, or was it one of those things that just happened by accident, like the opening of the Berlin Wall ?” he said, referring to the gaffe made by East German functionary Gunter Schabowski that unwittingly led to the opening of the wall.

But, he added, amid the political upheaval caused by Germany’s election last Sunday, in which the far right Alternative fur Deutschland won 94 seats in the Bundestag, lesbian rights campaigners were under no illusion that such a vote would be as easy to push through under the future government.

Karl
Karl Kreile and Bodo Mende cutting their cake. The slogan reads” matrimony for all “. Photograph: Odd Andersen/ AFP/ Getty Images

Jorg Steinert, head of the Berlin branch of Germany’s lesbian and lesbian association LSVD said now couples would be able to adopt, to enjoy equal tax and inheritance rights and the right to determine end-of-life care for a partner. Some issues still remain unresolved however, including women not having motherhood of a lesbian partner’s child automatically recognised.

Following their rite, Mende and Kreile cut into a huge wedding cake decorated with a rainbow and the phrase” Ehe fur alle”,( wedding for all ). The reception was to be followed by a short break for the two bureaucrats in Vienna.

” We partied big when we celebrated our civil partnership in 2002, so we don’t feel the need to do so in quite the same style this time ,” said Kreile.” Since then we’ve referred to each other as’ husband ‘, but the state has not insured it that way. We’re relieved they came here round eventually .”

But one obstacle still remains for the couple. Their union cannot yet be entered in the wedding register because the software has yet to be updated to allow for two entries with the same sex.

” Having built such a leap in other ways, it’s a bit embarrassing for the German state that they couldn’t rise to such a straightforward digital challenge ,” said Steinert.

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Man shot dead by French army after killing two people at Marseille train station

Assailant with knife killed by paramilitary forces after stabbing two people to death at main Saint-Charles station

A man armed with a knife fatally stabbed two women at the main train station in the southern French city of Marseille on Sunday afternoon before soldiers on patrol shooting him dead.

One of the victims was stabbed while the other had her throat slit by the man who is believed to have shouted” Allahu Akbar” (” God is greatest “) in the early stages of the attack, a source close to the investigation told Agence France-Presse.

Anti-terror attorneys have opened an investigation into” killings linked to a terrorist organisation” and the” attempted killing of a public official “. But researchers remained prudent and did not attain conclusive statements about the nature of the incident. The investigation has been handed to central police forces , not anti-terrorism police.

The interior minister, Gerard Collomb, said:” It might be a terrorist act, but at this point we can’t say so with certainty, so I prefer to wait and watch .”

He said the man attacked the first woman, then retraced his steps to attack a second woman nearby.

On Sunday night, Islamic State’s news agency, Amaq, claimed an Isis militant was responsible for the attack.

The attacker, who was reported to be in his 30 s, was not carrying identity documents. AFP quoted a source close to the inquiry who indicated “the mens” was known to police for criminal offences.

Passengers
Passengers wait in front of a line of police officers blocking access to Saint-Charles in Marseille. Photo: Claude Paris/ AP

If the attack is found to be a terrorist incident, it would be the first fatal jihadist knife attack at a public transport site in France.

In July 2016, two teenage jihadists slit the throat of a clergyman celebrating mass at a Normandy church. Other attempted knife attacks in public places — often targeting soldiers on patrol — have been frustrated and not caused fatalities. France, where more than 230 people have been killed in terrorist attacks since 2015, remains on high alert and under a state of emergency.

The attacker struck at the bustling central Saint-Charles station in the Mediterranean port city at around 1.45 pm.” Everyone operated out screaming; that’s when I hear two gun shootings ,” Lionel, a student physician, told Le Figaro.” In less than five minutes, dozens of police were there and blocking the station .”

Another witness told France Info radio the attacker had approached the victims from behind.

Armed police were deployed afterwards and the grand and ornate rail terminus in France‘s second biggest city was evacuated, stopping all develop traffic on one of the country’s busiest lines.

The soldiers who shot the attacker dead were posted at the station as part of Operation Sentinelle, in which combat troops patrol streets and protect key sites- from synagogues to art galleries, nursery schools to mosques and Metro stations- in the army’s first wide-scale peacetime military operation on mainland France.

Sentinelle was launched after the murder at Charlie Hebdo magazine and a kosher supermarket in Paris in January 2015. But after the November 2015 attacks that killed 130 people, the former Socialist president Francois Hollande increased the presence to 10, 000 troops across the nation, with about 6,500 of them in the Paris area.

Caroline Pozmentier, Marseille’s deputy mayor in charge of security, said the city hall had paid tribute to the soldiers” when the number of victims could have been much higher “.

marseille graphic

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, praised the reaction of the security services.” I hail the Operation Sentinelle soldiers and the police forces who reacted with extreme calmness and efficiency ,” Macron wrote on Twitter.

Samia Ghali, a Socialist senator for the Bouches-du-Rhone, said:” This is shocking and fretting. We must remain prudent in the coming hours and days .”

Earlier this month, the French home minister, Gerard Collomb, told a parliamentary hearing that 12 jihadist assaults had been thwarted since the start of 2017, including what he described as a potential attack on theMetro train system in the northern city of Lille.

In recent days, Islamic State released a recording purporting to be of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, urging his followers to strike their enemies in the west.

France has deployed troops and its us air force to the Countries of the middle east and is a resulting partner in the US-led international alliance opposing Isis in Iraq and Syria, where jihadists are being driven back.

France has suffered several major terror attacks since 2015, including a truck attack on the Nice seafront on Bastille day last July, which killed 86 people.

There have also been numerous smaller attacks on police officer, soldiers or members of the public, but some have been carried out by people not connected to terrorist groups.

Since November 2015, France has been in a state of emergency which dedicates the government and security forces special powers to raids homes and put people under house arrest.

Macron had vowed to end the nation of emergency next month. In order to aim it, the government has proposed a new counter-terrorism statute transferring some of the exceptional, emergency policing powers into permanent law.

United Nations human rights experts this week advised the tough new counterterrorism bill could have” discriminatory repercussions” especially for Muslims and risked negative consequences for the country’s human rights.

Despite criticism from human rights groups that the law reduces judicial oversight over the actions of the police, the lower house of parliament is expected to vote on a first draft of the law on Tuesday.

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