Fifa to elect new President

Fifa will get a new president on Friday when 207 delegates from around the world gather in Zurich, Switzerland to vote for a successor to Sepp Blatter, the BBC reports.

In charge of world football’s governing body since 1998, Blatter, 79, said last year he was standing down amid a growing corruption crisis.

Five candidates want to replace him.

They are Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa, Gianni Infantino, Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, Tokyo Sexwale and Jerome Champagne.

The election process is expected to begin at 12:00 GMT, but several rounds of voting may be required before a winner is known.

Syria conflict: Warring parties accept US-Russia truce plan

Photo: Reuters

 

The Syrian government and the main opposition umbrella groups say they accept the terms of a deal to cease hostilities from Saturday, the BBC reports.

The government said it would halt “combat operations” in line with the plan announced by the US and Russia.

But the opposition said its acceptance depended on government forces ending sieges and air strikes of civilians.

The deal will not apply to the two main jihadist groups in Syria, Islamic State (IS) and the rival al-Nusra Front.

Al-Nusra is an affiliate of al-Qaeda and forms part of a major rebel alliance.

Under the terms of the agreement announced by the US and Russia on Monday, the Syrian government and opposition were required to indicate by noon on Friday whether they would comply with the cessation of hostilities.

Two anti-Armenian reports at PACE come to prove Azerbaijan’s non-constractive stance: Edward Nalbandian

“Azerbaijan’s approach on the settlement of the Karabakh conflict contradicts not only that of Armenia, but also the Minsk Group Co-Chairs,” Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian told a press conference today.

Summing up the activities of the past year, Minister Nalbandian said “Armenia, in cooperation with the OSCE Minsk Group, maintained efforts towards the peaceful resolution of the Karabakh conflict.” At the same time, he blamed Azerbaijan for the frequent violations of the ceasefire regime and the use of heavy weapons.

The Minister added that the two anti-Armenian reports considered by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe a few days ago come to prove Azerbaijan’s non-constructive policy.

“It was an attempt by Azerbaijan to take the Karabakh issue from the Minsk Group format to a different platform, thus causing damage to the settlement process. This is not the first time Azerbaijan is trying to use the PACE podium for taking the issue into a different direction,” Minister Nalbandian said.

Minsiter Nalbandian said the Iran deal was the most significant achievement in international relations in 2015. “The lifting of sanctions against Iran will boost the development of Armenian-Iranian relations,” he said.

As for the willingness of Iran to assume a mediating role in the settlement of the Karabakh conflict, Minister Nalbandian noted that “the lack of progress in the talks is not because of “bad” mediators, but because of lack of will on the part of Azerbaijan.”

Relations with Russia are a key element in the foreign policy of Armenia, Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian said.

“Strengthening the allied, strategic partnership with Russia is high on Armenia’s foreign policy agenda,” he said. Nalbandian recalled that in 2015 the Presidents of the two countries had held about a dozen meetings in the bilateral and multilateral formats.

Minister Nalbandian reminded that during a dozen of meetings last year the Presidents of the two countries reached a number of agreements of strategic importance in the political, military and technical, science and education, cultural and other areas.

The Minister added that the membership in the Eurasian Economic Union as of January 2014 “stemmed from Armenia’s strategic interests” and “opened up new opportunities for the country’s economic development.” Besides, Armenia assumed the chairmanship of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in September 2015. The country “continues to act as an initiator and active participant in this association,” the Armenian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.

EBRD buys equity stake in Armenian bank

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is investing US$ 40 million in the acquisition of an equity stake in Ameriabank CJSC, a leading private bank inArmenia. This is the largest single-ticket equity deal the EBRD has signed in the region to date.

As a first step the EBRD will acquire a stake of around 20 per cent for US$ 30 million. The remaining US$ 10 million will be used for future capital increases. The goal of the investment is to strengthen Ameriabank and prepare the bank for a future IPO. In the course of 2016 an independent director representing the EBRD will join Ameriabank’s Board of Directors.

Prior to a possible listing, the EBRD investment will support the growth of Ameriabank by providing additional funds for lending to large corporate and private customers, small and medium-sized enterprises and retail customers. More lending to the real sector will strengthen the growth of Armenia’s economy.

Mark Davis, EBRD Head of the Yerevan office, said: “We welcome the opportunity to become a shareholder in Ameriabank and see this as a further step towards strengthening and consolidating the local banking sector. Increased access to finance is key to enabling local companies to realise their potential. As a shareholder the EBRD will support Ameriabank’s development, with a special emphasis on corporate governance.”

“We highly appreciate this new level of partnership with the EBRD. It is a great support for Ameriabank in global capital markets, in line with our strategic goals and aspirations. I am sure that our joint efforts will promote the development of Armenia’s banking sector and contribute to economic growth in our country,” added Andrew Mkrtchyan, Chairman of the Board of Directors at Ameriabank.

Since the start of its operations in Armenia in 1992, the EBRD has invested over €1.04 billion in 148 projects in the country’s financial, corporate, infrastructure and energy sectors, with 88 per cent of these investments being in the private sector.

Pope’s visit to Armenia on 101st anniversary of the Genocide a possibility

Visiting Armenia in April 2016, the 101st anniversary of the 1915 genocide, is a possibility for the Pope, although this has not been absolutely confirmed, according to .

He hopes to visit the country, but admits, “I am old and these trips are heavy.”

The Pope may also visit three South-American nations: Peru, Colombia and Venezuela. Argentina, Chile and Uruguay are also awaiting a visit from the Pope.

Pope Francis confirmed that he will be visiting Mexico in the first half of 2016.

Pope Francis will also be leading World Youth Day in Kraków, Poland, the city of Pope John Paul II and Divine Mercy mystic, St. Faustina Kowalska.

The real focus of the Pope’s 2016 schedulve will be the Jubilee of Mercy, which may attract 25 million visitors. He will be modeling the corporal and spiritual works of mercy in Catholic doctrine, starting with a Jubilee for Pilgrimage Workers from January 19-21, 2016.

FIFA release three-man Ballon d’Or shortlist

Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar will contest the 2015 Ballon d’Or competition after the shortlist was whittled down from 23 names to just three, FIFA has announced.

Messi is the favourite to land the accolade, having led Barcelona to a famous treble last season, while Ronaldo is looking to defend his crown and draw level with the Argentine for overall wins.

Were he to pick up the Ballon d’Or at the ceremony in Zurich on January 11, 2016, it would be Messi’s fifth World Player of the Year title, more than any other player.

This year he is joined on the podium by Barca team-mate Neymar, who netted 10 goals en route to Champions League glory, including scoring in the final against Juventus in Berlin.

The Brazilian was also the joint-third topscorer in La Liga last season with 22 goals – and already has 14 this term – though his haul was put in the shade by those of Messi (43 goals) and topscorer Ronaldo (48).

Pep Guardiola (Spain/FC Bayern Munich), Luis Enrique Martínez (Spain/FC Barcelona), Jorge Sampaoli (Argentina/Chilean national team) will compete for the FIFA World Coach of the Year.

All of the nominees were confirmed after a voting process, which was open to the captains and head coaches of the men’s and women’s national teams of the 207 member associations as well as international media representatives selected by FIFA and France Football.

In addition, the three nominees for the FIFA Puskás Award for the “most beautiful goal of the year” were announced. The three final goals are: Alessandro Florenzi – 16.09.2015, AS Roma – FC Barcelona, UEFA Champions League / Wendell Lira – 11.03.2015, Atletico-GO –Goianesia, Campeonato Goiano (Brazil) / Lionel Messi – 30.05.2015, Athletic Bilbao  – FC Barcelona, Copa del Rey (Spain).

All of the awards will be presented at the FIFA Ballon d’Or award ceremony at theKongresshaus in Zurich on 11 January 2016 during a televised show to be streamed live on FIFA.com and FIFA on YouTube.

Italy police seize nearly 800 guns heading en route from Turkey to Belgium

Photo: Getty Images

 

Italian police in the northern city of Trieste have seized nearly 800 shotguns en route from Turkey to Belgium, the BBC reports.

The firearms were found packed in individual boxes aboard a Dutch-registered truck that arrived on a ferry in the port city.

Although customs rules were not broken, the Turkish driver did not have licences for the weapons, police said.

Controls at Italian ports have been stepped up in the wake of the 13 November Paris terror attacks.

EU interior ministers meeting in Brussels last week agreed to tighten security and share more information about the gun trade to prevent trafficking of illegal weapons.

It came after attackers with semi-automatic rifles and suicide belts killed 130 people at a number of sites in Paris. Some of the attackers had lived in Belgium.

Suicide bomb in Baghdad kills at least 18

Photo: AFP 2015/ KHALIL AL-MURSHIDI

 

At least 18 people were killed and 41 wounded when a suicide bomber detonated his explosive belt at the funeral of a pro-government Shi’ite Muslim fighter in a southwestern Baghdad district on Friday, police and medical sources said, Reuters reports.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, but the ultra-hardline Sunni militants of Islamic State who control large parts of the country’s north and west frequently set off bombs in the capital.

Real Madrid’s Benzema faces charge in Valbuena sex tape case in France

French footballer Karim Benzema has been placed under formal investigation in connection with a sex tape blackmail plot involving another player, the BBC reports.

The Real Madrid striker appeared before a judge in Versailles after being held in police custody overnight.

Police are investigating what part he played in an alleged attempt to extort money from fellow French international Mathieu Valbuena.

A source told AFP news agency that he had admitted involvement.

The 27-year-old star told investigators he had approached Mr Valbuena about the tape on behalf of “a childhood friend,” the report said.

According to French media, Mr Benzema mentioned the tape to the midfielder during a national team training session at Clairefontaine in early October, ahead of matches against Armenia and Denmark.

It was unclear whether he was offering friendly advice or trying to press his team-mate to pay the blackmailers.

The prosecutor’s office has confirmed that Mr Benzema is now under formal investigation for complicity in attempted blackmail and participation in a criminal conspiracy.

When a suspect is placed under formal investigation, he or she is then examined by a judge, who determines whether there is sufficient evidence for the suspect to be charged.

If formal charges do follow, Mr Benzema could face a minimum jail sentence of five years, the prosecutor said.

Meanwhile the court has banned the striker from contacting his France team-mate, or any other people charged in the case.

Correspondents say Thursday’s court judgement exposes the footballer to a lengthy period of doubt ahead of the Euro 2016 tournament that France hosts next year.

 

Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema arrested over Valbuena sextape blackmail

Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema has been arrested over an alleged plot to blackmail fellow footballer Mathieu Valbuena with a sex tape, legal sources have said, reports.

The Real Madrid and France star arrived at the police station in Versailles, near Paris, early on Wednesday and was placed in detention, the local prosecutor confirmed, without giving further information.

The case also saw four other people arrested last month, including former French international footballer Disséjibril C.

Cissé took to live television the day after his arrest to insist that he was innocent.

The existence of any x-rated video involving Lyon player Valbuena and his partner, however, has not actually been confirmed.