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Russians living in Ukraine will be unable to vote in Russia's presidential election because access to Moscow's diplomatic missions will be blocked, Kiev said Friday.

"On Sunday, March 18, 2018, security arrangements for Russia's Ukraine-based diplomatic missions in Kiev, Kharkiv, Odessa and Lviv will not provide access to these facilities for Russian nationals voting in the election," Ukraine's interior minister Arsen Avakov said.

The announcement came in retaliation for Russia's annexation of Crimea, which votes in a presidential election for the first time since it was taken over in 2014.

"Ukraine's interior ministry states that conducting illegal elections on Ukraine's sovereign territory in violation of all norms of international law is unacceptable," Avakov said on Facebook.

He also pointed to "Russia's aggressive hybrid war against Ukraine" and "the occupation of parts of Donetsk and Lugansk regions" in eastern Ukraine.

Sunday's date March 18 will mark four years since Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty that declared Crimea part of Russia following its annexation from Ukraine, a move that led to the outbreak of a pro-Kremlin insurgency in the industrial east of the ex-Soviet country in April 2014.

Putin, who has ruled Russia for 18 years, is polling at around 70 percent and is expected to extend his term to 2024.

The Russian government is behind a sustained hacking effort to take over the control systems of critical US infrastructure like nuclear power plants and water distribution, according to US cyber security investigators.

A technical report released by the Department of Homeland Security on Thursday singled out Moscow as directing the ongoing effort that could give the hackers the ability to sabotage or shut down energy and other utility plants around the country.

It was the first time Washington named the Russian government as behind the attacks which have been taking place for nearly three years.

The allegation added to a series of accusations of political meddling and hacking against Russia that led to Washington announcing fresh sanctions against the country this week.

"Since at least March 2016, Russian government cyber actors ... targeted government entities and multiple US critical infrastructure sectors, including the energy, nuclear, commercial facilities, water, aviation, and critical manufacturing sectors," the report from the DHS Computer Emergency Readiness Team said.

DHS, together with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said the Russian hackers targeted two groups -- the infrastructure operators themselves, and also peripheral "staging targets" which could be used as stepping stone into the intended targets.

Staging targets included third party firms supplying services and support to the main targets but may have less secure networks. The hackers had a deep toolbox of methods to enter target systems, they said.

The hacking effort paralleled Russia's alleged operation to interfere with the 2016 US presidential election and continue with online media manipulation throughout 2017.

DHS did not identify specific targets which the Russians broke into. But it said they were able to monitor the behavior of control systems, install their own software, collect the credentials of authorized users, monitor communications, and create administrator accounts to run the systems.

- Sustained attack -

The government has been issuing warnings to operators of US infrastructure -- power producers and distributors, water systems, and others -- about foreign hacking since 2016.

In January a White House report said cyberattacks cost the United States between $57 billion and $109 billion in 2016, and warned that the broader economy could be hurt if the situation worsens. It pointed the finger mainly at attackers from Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea.

Last September the private security firm Symantec outlined hacking efforts focused against US and European energy systems by a high-skilled group it dubbed Dragonfly 2.0.

"The Dragonfly group appears to be interested in both learning how energy facilities operate and also gaining access to operational systems themselves, to the extent that the group now potentially has the ability to sabotage or gain control of these systems should it decide to do so."

Symantec did not name the origin of the group, but the DHS report included Symantec's Dragonfly analysis in its allegations against Russia.

On Thursday the government announced sanctions against Russia's top spy agencies and more than a dozen individuals, citing both the election meddling and cyberattacks.

"We will continue to call out malicious behavior, impose costs, and build expectations for responsible actions in cyberspace," said Rob Joyce, the cybersecurity coordinator on the White House's National Security Council.

More than 57,000 refugees have crossed into Uganda this year after fleeing ethnic strife in the Democratic Republic of Congo's northeastern Ituri province, the United Nations refugee agency said Friday.

That rate of flight far surpasses the 44,000 refugees who made a similar journey through all of 2017, UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch told reporters in Geneva.

Refugees are primarily entering Uganda via Lake Albert on makeshift boats, a dangerous crossing that has already proved fatal for "several" people, UNHCR said in a statement.

Fighting in Ituri has involved the Hema and Lendu communities, respectively cattle herders and farmers who have a long history of violence over access to land.

At least 130 people have been killed since clashes flared anew in December, according to an unofficial toll compiled by AFP, while humanitarian workers say around 200,000 have been displaced.

The conflict is one of many plaguing the chronically insecure central African nation.

UNHCR noted that the struggles aid workers face in accessing Ituri made it "difficult to offer a detailed picture of the situation."

But the agency said it "has received chilling accounts of violence," including rape and murder, and had stepped up measures to help survivors.

Tensions in DR Cogo have heightened amid the political uncertainty surrounding President Joseph Kabila's future.

In December, Kabila faces elections that have been twice delayed since his second presidential term -- the last under the country's constitution -- expired at the end of 2016.

A car hit a crowd of people including Israeli soldiers in the occupied West Bank on Friday, injuring several people, the Israeli army said.

Israeli media reported two people were killed and three injured in what they described as a suspected car ramming near the Palestinian city of Jenin in the northern West Bank.

Israeli army spokesman Jonathan Conricus confirmed that a number of people had been hit but told AFP the authorities were still investigating whether the incident was an attack or an accident.

There have been a number of previous attacks by Palestinians using cars to ram into groups of Israeli soldiers or civilians.

Thousands of Iraqi Kurds clad in black and many tearful marked on Friday the 30th anniversary of the Halabja gas massacre that killed some 5,000 people.

They died when deadly gas was released on the northeastern Iraqi town by the forces of now executed dictator Saddam Hussein, in what is believed to have been the worst-ever gas attack targeting civilians.

The mourners, including some survivors, carried pictures of the victims, most of whom were women and children, as they walked down a red carpet to the Halabja Memorial Monument to lay wreaths for the dead.

The families, then gathered in a nearby cemetery where tombstones were covered in the Kurdish red-white-green-yellow flag, to pray for their relatives.

Fatima Mohammad, who was 17 when Halabja was gassed with what experts say was mustard gas, is among thousands of wounded survivors.

Each day, for the past three decades, she still suffers from "respiratory problems."

"I am in pain and I take medicine," she told AFP as she joined the town's now 200,000-strong inhabitants to remember those killed in the gas attack.

The attack on Halabja came from the skies after ethnic Kurdish fighters who had sided with Iran in the eight-year Iran-Iraq war withdrew from the rural farming town.

It marked the culmination of a ruthless campaign of retribution by Saddam against those seen as siding with his arch-foe Iran.

Iraqi and Kurdish officials as well as diplomats based in the country took part in Friday's commemoration.

Meanwhile Kurds observed on Friday a minute of silence in tribute for the Halabja dead across Arbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Twenty years after the massacre, Saddam's cousin General Ali Hassan al-Majid was sentenced to death for ordering the gas attack.

Known as "Chemical Ali" he was executed by hanging in 2010.

Three years after he was ousted in a US-led invasion of Iraq, Saddam was hanged in 2006 for the massacre of Shiite villagers.

A massive new British paedophile scandal that could involve hundreds of victims is to be the subject of an independent investigation "to get to the truth", the interior ministry said Friday.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse follows newspaper revelations that young girls had been targeted in the English town of Telford since the 1980s.

The inquiry will "expose what has gone wrong and learn lessons for the future" including "institutional responses to child sexual exploitation by organised networks," a ministry spokeswoman told AFP.

"This was a truly terrible case of some of the most vulnerable in our society being preyed upon by ruthless criminals," said the spokeswoman as public anger mounted over the scandal.

Up to 1,000 children, including some as young as 11-years-old, were assaulted and raped, sometimes by gangs, in this town of 170,000 inhabitants located near Birmingham, the Sunday Mirror reported.

Two teenagers and their mother were murdered and two other youngsters died in tragedies linked to the scandal, it reported.

The newspaper alleged that police and other local authorities had failed to properly investigate the network.

It accused council staff of viewing abused and trafficked children as "prostitutes" and said officials had avoided passing on information about the abusers to Asian communities for fear of being accused of "racism".

Speaking to MPs on Wednesday, Prime Minister Theresa May said: "We have all been shocked" by the "horrific" case.

The inquiry will examine what institutions could have done to protect the children.

- Raped nightly -

One 14-year-old told the paper that she was groomed and abused after her phone number was sold to paedophiles.

"I hated what was happening and my abusers made my skin crawl but I was told that if I said a word to anyone they'd come for my little sisters and tell my mum I was a prostitute," she said

"Night after night, I was forced to have sex with multiple men in disgusting takeaways and filthy houses.

"I fell pregnant twice and had two abortions. Hours after my second termination, I was taken by one of my abusers to be raped by more men," she added.

Telford's Conservative MP Lucy Allan demanded a public inquiry over the "extremely serious and shocking" findings.

"These young girls, too often, are white, working class, with multiple vulnerabilities and that is why the perpetrators are targeting them," she told MPs.

In Crimea, which votes this weekend in Russian presidential elections for the first time since annexation from Ukraine in 2014, loudspeakers blast out the message: "Choose a president! Choose a future!".

Local authorities say the polls are a chance to thank President Vladimir Putin for taking control of the peninsula, but activists have complained of a crackdown ahead of what Kiev maintains is an illegal vote.

Crimea has suffered under Western sanctions following a hastily organised referendum to rejoin Russia four years ago, but the Kremlin is making efforts to ease the area's isolation.

"We see the election as a second referendum and as an opportunity to thank Putin for what he did in 2014," said Alexander Formanchuk, an adviser to Sergei Aksyonov, the Moscow-installed Crimean leader.

With Putin sure to return to the Kremlin with a landslide on Sunday, authorities across Russia have led a campaign to convince people to turn out to vote.

On the Black Sea peninsula, this campaign is even more intense, with election posters covering public transport as well as the loudspeakers blaring in public areas.

Formanchuk - who calls the result "absolutely predictable" - told AFP he is convinced most Crimeans will take part, saying the peninsula has a history of high voter turnouts.

He cited the 2010 Ukrainian presidential election when Crimea overwhelmingly supported pro-Kremlin Viktor Yanukovich, currently living in exile in Russia, as an example.

- Putin's flying visit -

Vladislav Ganzhara, who was seven years old and a Ukrainian citizen when Vladimir Putin first came to power in Russia, is now a Kremlin-loyal MP in the Crimean parliament.

He brushed off threats from Kiev that organisers of the vote in the peninsula could face criminal charges in Ukraine, and said it did not matter if the outcome of the election was already known.

"If you support a team, you go to a game even if you know it will win because it is the strongest," he told AFP.

This week Putin paid a flying visit to Crimea, where several thousand supporters queued for up to five hours to see him speak.

The president was late and spoke for less than two minutes before taking a helicopter out of the port city of Sevastopol.

"Even if he was a bit late, it's because of his busy schedule. People would have waited for him long into the night," Ganzhara said.

The Russian leader earlier visited the construction site of the Kerch bridge, Moscow's major construction project to unite the peninsula with Russian mainland.

He also opened a new "international" airport, despite no flights from outside Russia flying to the disputed peninsula, as part of a wider move to counter the area's isolation.

- The price to pay -

Much of the peninsula's food supplies arrive by ferry from Russia, often resulting in shortages in shops.

Since Crimea is cut off from the global banking system, locals make the two-hour voyage by ferry and car to Russia's southern city of Krasnodar to withdraw cash with international cards.

Anastasia Arslanova, a 35-year-old lawyer from Sevastopol, said life has become more expensive but that it is a price she is willing to pay to be part of Russia.

"We are Russian and we feel good in Russia," she said.

Moscow's supporters often blame Crimean bureaucrats for economic hardships rather than the Kremlin and Putin himself.

Those Crimeans who do criticise Russian rule say they have faced increased pressure from local security services, who have been given a carte blanche on the peninsula.

Russian security services questioned an AFP correspondent for almost two hours as they entered Crimea by land from Ukraine, and demonstrated how they would track modes of communication.

Several interviewees cancelled meetings for fear of problems with the Russia?s Federal Security Service (FSB).

- Tortured by masked men -

Sevastopol-based activist Alexei Shestakovich, 37, was recently released after spending ten days in jail for a social media post in connection to a case against a local anarchist.

He said he was tortured by masked men in a detention centre.

"They choked me with a bag over my head, broke my finger, pulled my arms behind my back, pulled my trousers down and threatened to rape me," he said.

Shestakovich -- who says the difference between the freedom of speech in Russia and Ukraine is "like heaven and earth" -- views the case as part of a crackdown ahead of the vote.

"Local authorities want to boast to Moscow to show that everything in Crimea is under control, that everyone is for Putin and that there can be no opposition here," said Simferopol-based activist Alexei Yefremov.

Many who are against Putin's rule have left Crimea for Kiev or Moscow, while those who have stayed have little support from Ukraine or Russian opposition activists.

"We try to organise ourselves, look for lawyers when we are detained, but we have little support from anyone," said Yefremov.

"People who have opposition views in Crimea are in limbo."

The United Nations on Friday launched an appeal for nearly $1 billion to care for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, while underscoring that efforts must remain focused on securing the safe return to Myanmar of those displaced.

UN agencies asked for $951 million (774 million euros) through the rest of the year to provide basic needs for the nearly one million Rohingya Muslims in Bangladesh, including the almost 700,000 who have crossed the border since August.

The head of the UN refugee agency, Filippo Grandi, told reporters that the immediate concern was mobilising life-saving aid for refugees, especially with monsoon season approaching and tens of thousands of people living in areas prone to landslides and floods.

Grandi again acknowledged that it "may take a very long time" before any Rohingya can return to their home in Myanmar's Rakhine state, in the absence of any evidence that they will be safe if they go back.

The Rohingya fled after Myanmar launched a brutal crackdown on insurgents six months ago that the UN has called "ethnic cleansing" -- a claim the country vehemently denies.

But Grandi insisted that despite those circumstances, he would not stop fighting for the repatriation of those who wish to return home.

"I think it is very important to talk about the right of the Rohingya to return," he said, adding that he "cannot entertain the notion" where their displacement is deemed permanent.

Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed in November to begin repatriating Rohingya who volunteered to return to Rakhine state, where the persecuted Muslim minority has lived for generations.

Grandi conceded that the conditions for safe return are not in place and that discussions with Myanmar on repatriation "have been pretty basic, not very frequent (and) not very advanced".

But, he added, those talks "have continued".

"We have to take this thing one step at a time," he said, reiterating the need for humanitarian assistance while repatriation negotiations play out.

The United States said Friday it "firmly opposes" any new tax aimed at big technology firms, in a sharp challenge to a European proposal aimed at American digital titans.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin issued the statement days ahead of an EU summit debating the tax proposal.

"The US firmly opposes proposals by any country to single out digital companies," Mnuchin said.

"Some of these companies are among the greatest contributors to US job creation and economic growth."

Mnuchin added that US officials "fully support international cooperation to address broader tax challenges arising from the modern economy and to put the international tax system on a more sustainable footing."

The statement was issued in response to an Organisation for Economic Cooperation report on taxation of the digital economy, but appeared clearly aimed at the proposed EU plan.

EU officials have drafted the proposed digital tax that would hit US tech giants like Facebook, Amazon and Google amid accusations they divert European earnings to low-tax countries.

The proposal calls for large tech firms to be taxed on overall revenue in the bloc and not just on their profits, at a rate somewhere between two percent and five percent, according to a draft obtained by AFP.

The plan will target companies with worldwide annual turnover above 750 million euros ($924 million), such as Airbnb, Facebook, Google, Twitter and Uber.

Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain -- the EU's five G20 members -- are pushing first for a European solution that can set an example for the rest of the world.

But for the plan to become reality, it must be unanimously approved by all EU countries, and it remains to be seen whether the big states can win the support of smaller ones that offer tax breaks to the tech titans.

Turkish prosecutors on Friday demanded prison sentences of up to 15 years for 13 staff from the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper, the daily and state media reported.

A total of 17 current and former writers, cartoonists and executives from Cumhuriyet ("Republic") are currently on trial on terror charges in a case which has raised alarm over press freedom under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The trial began on July 24, 2017, and despite several conditional releases in previous hearings including two last week, the paper's chairman Akin Atalay remains in jail.

The prosecutor requested between 7.5 and 15 years in jail for 13 staff for "helping an armed terror organisation without being a member" during the hearing in Istanbul, Cumhuriyet and state news agency Anadolu reported.

The 13 included Atalay, the daily's editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu, investigative reporter Ahmet Sik, cartoonist Musa Kart and veteran political commentator Kadri Gursel.

Cumhuriyet did not specify what the prosecutor demanded in relation to the others.

The prosecutor also asked that Atalay -- who spent his 500th day in prison on Wednesday -- remain behind bars.

The Cumhuriyet staff have been accused of coverage which offered support to three groups Turkey views as terrorists -- the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), the ultra-left Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), and the movement of US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen who is accused of ordering the July 2016 attempted coup.

The P24 press freedom group said this week there were 153 journalists behind bars in Turkey, most of whom were arrested under the post-coup state of emergency.

Turkey ranked 155 out of 180 countries listed in the 2017 World Press Freedom index published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Friday cautioned Berlin and Paris not to try to push through their ambitious EU reform plans against the will of other member states.

Rutte, who believes deeper integration is not the answer to the club's problems, told German news weekly Der Spiegel that countries would not just "nod along" to French-German proposals to shake up the bloc, particularly the eurozone.

The warning came just hours before German Chancellor Angela Merkel was due in Paris for talks with French President Emmanuel Macron, who is eager to push his vision for an overhaul of EU institutions.

"We have freedom of movement in the EU, and of course the German government can meet the French government without us being there," Rutte told Spiegel in an interview.

"But that doesn't mean that we and other EU countries agree with everything the Germans and French agree on. We won't just nod along to everything."

Macron has called for a major reform drive to reinvigorate the European Union and deepen eurozone cooperation to respond to rising populist challenges on the continent.

While Merkel has cautiously welcomed his ideas, Rutte is firmly opposed to many of Macron's plans -- especially his proposal of a common eurozone finance minister and budget.

"I believe that in the first place it's every EU country's own responsibility to prepare itself for crises," he said. "Sound finances are the best precaution."

Rutte also objects to raising his country's contributions to the EU's budget from 2020 to plug a multi-billion-euro hole left by Brexit Britain and has called for spending cuts instead.

This puts him at odds with Merkel, whose new coalition government recently committed to lifting its contributions, despite the fact that Germany, like the Netherlands, is a country that pays more into the EU coffers than it gets out.

Rutte is not alone in his criticism.

Finance ministers from Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Sweden as well as the Netherlands last week issued a joint statement calling for "structural reforms" to strengthen the bloc's economic stability.

But in an implied broadside at Macron, they said more modest goals such as completing the eurozone banking union should have priority over "far-reaching proposals" for change.

Cyber-attackers tried to trigger a deadly explosion at a petrochemical plant in Saudi Arabia in August and failed only because of a code glitch, The New York Times reported.

Investigators declined to identify the suspected attackers, but people interviewed by the newspaper unanimously said that it most likely aimed to cause a blast that would have guaranteed casualties.

A bug in the attackers' code accidentally shut down the system instead, according to the report.

The cyber-attack -- which could signal plans for other attacks around the world -- was likely the work of hackers supported by a government, according to multiple insiders interviewed by the newspaper.

All sources declined to name the company operating the plant as well as the countries suspected to have backed the hackers, The New York Times said.

Security experts however told the newspaper that Iran, China, Russia, Israel and the United States had the technical capacity to launch an attack of that magnitude.

There was no immediate comment from Saudi Arabia, which has come under frequent cyber-attacks, including "Shamoon", the aggressive disc-wiping malware that hit the Saudi energy sector in 2012.

Saudi Aramco, the world's biggest oil company, was among the firms hit by Shamoon, which was believed then to be the country's worst cyber-attack yet.

US intelligence officials at the time said they suspected a link to the kingdom's regional rival Iran.

But the August attack was "much more dangerous" than Shamoon, according to The New York Times, and likely aimed to send a political message -- investigators said the code had been custom-built with no obvious financial motive.

Tasnee, the Saudi Arabian industrialisation company, had also been attacked by hackers in January 2017, according to Tasnee officials and researchers with the Symantec cybersecurity company interviewed by the newspaper.

The attack destroyed the company's hard drives, wiped all data and replaced it with the now-iconic image of Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian boy in a red T-shirt who washed up dead on the Turkish coast.

Saudi Arabia was also hit by Powershell malware targeting government computers in November.

An 18-year-old Iraqi asylum seeker was on Friday found guilty of attempted murder over the botched bombing of a rush-hour London Underground train that injured 30 people.

"The prosecution argued that Ahmed Hassan made this homemade bomb with the aim of indiscriminately killing as many people as possible. The jury has agreed," said Sue Hemming from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) after the verdict at London's Old Bailey.

Hassan left the improvised bucket bomb filled with shrapnel and "Mother of Satan" TATP explosives in a carriage carrying 93 passengers on September 15, last year.

It partially exploded at Parsons Green tube station in west London, one stop after he had alighted.

Dean Haydon, head of Scotland Yard's Counter Terrorism Command, called Hassan "an intelligent and articulate individual that is devious and cunning in equal measures.

"He kept secret what he was planning and plotting. We describe him as a lone actor."

Commuter Stephen Nash earlier told jurors that he was on his way to work when he experienced a "blinding flash" before being "engulfed in flames".

"I was thrown to the ground," he said. "The flames were overwhelming... It was intense heat, I thought I had lost my ears, I thought my head was on fire."

Fellow witness Aimee Colville said she heard a "loud bang" and "cracking" before "a wall of glass came across".

"That morning I had curled my hair and I had put hairspray in my hair so when the flames came over me my hair immediately caught fire," she added.

Hassan arrived in Britain in October 2015. He told authorities he was in fear of the Islamic State group which he said had taken him by force in Iraq and trained him "how to kill".

He was given a home by foster parents Penny and Ron Jones, and studied media and photography at Brooklands College in Weybridge, south of London.

Following the verdict Hassan was remanded in custody to be sentenced next week.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's hardline new interior minister declared that Islam is "not part of Germany" in an interview published Friday, setting off a political storm two days into her fourth term.

Asked by the top-selling Bild daily whether the influx of Muslim migrants and asylum seekers to Europe's top economy meant that Islam now belonged to the fabric of the nation, Horst Seehofer replied "no".

"Islam is not part of Germany. Christianity has shaped Germany including Sunday as a day of rest, church holidays, and rituals such as Easter, Pentecost and Christmas," he said.

"The Muslims who live among us are naturally part of Germany. But that of course does not mean that we, out of a false sense of deference, should sacrifice our traditions and customs."

Germany's Muslim community is estimated to count about 4.5 million members, around 1.8 million of whom are German citizens.

Most are descendants of Turkish so-called "guest workers" invited to Germany in the 1960s and 1970s.

The community grew again with the arrival since 2015 of more than one million asylum seekers from war-torn Muslim-majority countries such as Syria and Afghanistan.

- 'Completely superfluous controversy' -

Seehofer's provocative comments come just 48 hours after Merkel was sworn in for a fourth term with a new right-left "grand coalition" government.

The outspoken Seehofer, leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party of Merkel's Christian Democrats, is new to the cabinet.

His expanded interior super-ministry also covers "Heimat" or homeland affairs, intended to recapture claims to patriotism and national identity from the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which won nearly 13 percent of the vote in September's general election.

Powerful conservative Wolfgang Schaeuble said in 2006 that Islam was part of Germany and Europe as interior minister in Merkel's first cabinet, drawing little reaction.

Christian Wulff, then president of the country, revived the phrase in 2010, this time touching off a heated national debate, with right-wing conservatives accusing him of denying Germany's Judeo-Christian roots.

Merkel has come down firmly on the side of inclusion, repeatedly stating that Islam and Muslims belonged in Germany, and vocally defending the stance at the height of the refugee influx.

Her spokesman Steffen Seibert reiterated Merkel's stance Friday, stressing the German constitution's protections for religious freedom and saying the government would "expand" a dialogue with the Muslim community started by Schaeuble in 2006.

Seehofer's comments are likely to prove divisive in the fledgling coalition, which only came together when the reluctant Social Democrats (SPD) got on board after months of political paralysis.

The premier of Lower Saxony, Stephan Weil of the SPD, dismissed Seehofer's claim and accused him of sparking "a completely superfluous controversy" for Merkel.

- 'Quoted from our platform' -

The head of the Central Council of Muslims, Aiman Mazyek, said a minister who started work with such a "lack of solidarity" with minorities in Germany had "immediately disqualified" himself and acted "extremely irresponsibly".

Juergen Trittin of the opposition Greens also sharply criticised Seehofer, saying exclusion would be "catastrophic" for integration efforts and only benefit the anti-immigration, anti-Islam AfD.

The AfD for its part welcomed the remarks, with its Saxony state leader Andre Poggenburg claiming that Seehofer had "quoted word-for-word from our platform".

Bavaria is holding a state election in October, when the CSU is expected to face a strong challenge from the far-right.

Seehofer, the harshest critic of Merkel's border policy within her conservative bloc, fought for and won an agreement to set a maximum target in the government coalition pact of around 200,000 new arrivals to Germany per year.

Most of those who came across the Balkans route in 2015 passed through Seehofer's southern state of Bavaria, at times more than 10,000 a day, sparking a strong backlash in the region.

He has vowed to now take a tough line against convicted criminal migrants and speed up repatriations of rejected asylum seekers.

Egypt's national carrier EgyptAir said Friday it would resume direct flights between Cairo and Moscow, three years after they were halted following the bombing of a Russian charter jet over the Sinai.

The announcement came three days after Russian flagship carrier Aeroflot said it would restart flights between the two capitals from April 11.

EgyptAir flights are set to resume the following day.

Both companies suspended the route in October 2015 after an airliner operated by Russia's Kogalymavia, carrying holidaymakers from the south Sinai resort of Sharm El-Sheikh, crashed, killing all 224 people on board.

The Egyptian branch of the Islamic State group claimed the attack.

Safwat Musallam, head of EgyptAir Holding, said on Friday the carrier planned to operate three Cairo-Moscow flights a week.

Aeroflot is planning the same number of flights but will run extra services during the football World Cup, to be held in Russia from June 14 to July 15.

The Russian airline said on Tuesday that Egypt had met its demands for stricter security measures.

Prior to the attack, Egypt vied with Turkey as the most popular destination for Russian tourists.

But the 2015 attack dealt a heavy blow to Egypt's tourism sector, already suffering from low visitor numbers in the wake of the 2011 revolt that toppled longtime president Hosni Mubarak.

The Philippines has given official notice to the United Nations that it is withdrawing from the International Criminal Court, which is probing President Rodrigo Duterte's deadly drug war, Manila said Friday.

The move comes two days after Duterte announced his nation would quit the court, and triggered warnings Friday from a top tribunal official that it would harm global efforts to end impunity for the world's worst crimes.

The ICC, based in The Hague, last month launched a preliminary inquiry into Duterte's bloody crackdown on narcotics, amid allegations that actions by Philippine security forces amount to crimes against humanity.

Philippine police say they have killed roughly 4,000 suspects who fought back during arrest, but rights groups allege the actual number is three times higher and accuse the authorities of murder.

The ICC opened in 2002 to try abuses in countries where national courts cannot or will not prosecute. Manila joined the Rome Statute in 2011.

But on Thursday the Philippines said in a letter to the UN, which oversaw negotiations to found the court, that it was pulling out of the Rome Statute, the tribunal's founding guidelines.

"The decision to withdraw is the Philippines' principled stand against those who would politicise and weaponise human rights," the letter said.

Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, speaking from Manila, said the Philippines was quitting due to "the well-orchestrated campaign to mislead the international community, to crucify President Duterte... by distorting the human rights situation in the country".

But the tribunal urged Manila to reconsider its decision, and the president of its governing body, the assembly of state parties (ASP), said he deeply regretted the move.

"A state party withdrawing from the Rome Statute would negatively impact our collective efforts towards fighting impunity?, said ASP president, O-Gon Kwon.

"The ICC needs the strong support of the international community to ensure its effectiveness. I encourage the Philippines to remain as a party to the Rome Statute."

Officially quitting the court requires a year's notice and does not stop the ICC from continuing its investigation of the killings, which have drawn international concern.

- 'No impact' on ICC probe -

"A withdrawal would have no impact on ongoing proceedings or any matter which was already under consideration by the court prior to the date on which the withdrawal became effective," the ICC said Friday, its first comment since Duterte's announcement.

"The court encourages the Philippines to not follow through with the reported/stated intention to withdraw, as it is... an integral part of the international criminal justice system," it added.

Should the Philippines fully withdraw from the court it would not be the first to do so, as Burundi became the first ever nation to leave in October 2017.

The Philippines said in its letter that it "affirms its commitment to fight against impunity for atrocity crimes", despite its withdrawal.

Duterte, who is buoyed by high popularity ratings at home, has fiercely defended the drug war as a battle to bring safety to the nation's 100 million people.

He has frequently urged authorities to kill drug suspects while promising to protect police from legal sanction.

Hollywood director Terry Gilliam said Friday that the #MeToo movement has morphed into "mob rule", claiming that while some women suffered, others used Harvey Weinstein to further their careers.

The Monty Python member said Weinstein "is a monster" and that there are "plenty of monsters out there... There are other people (still) behaving like Harvey" in the film industry, abusing their power for sex.

Weinstein was exposed because he "is an asshole and he made so many enemies," he told AFP.

But Gilliam said the reaction against the wave of sexual abuse and harassment revelations had become ugly and "simplistic... people are frightened to say things, to think things.

"It is a world of victims. I think some people did very well out of meeting with Harvey and others didn't. The ones who did knew what they were doing. These are adults, we are talking about adults with a lot of ambition.

"Harvey opened the door for a few people, a night with Harvey -- that's the price you pay," said the maker of "Brazil" and "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas."

"Some people paid the price, other people suffered from it."

Gilliam, who is in Paris to direct an opera, "Benvenuto Cellini", said the atmosphere around #MeToo has "got silly, people are being described in ridiculous terms as if there is no real humanity left anymore.

"I feel sorry for someone like Matt Damon who is a decent human being. He came out and said all men are not rapists, and he got beaten to death. Come on, this is crazy!"

- 'No intelligence anymore' -

"I know enough girls who were in Harvey's suites who were not victims and walked out.

"It's crazy how simplified things are becoming. There is no intelligence anymore and people seem to be frightened to say what they really think. Now I am told even by my wife to keep my head a bit low," said the 77-year-old American-born animator.

"It's like when mob rule takes over, the mob is out there they are carrying their torches and they are going to burn down Frankenstein's castle."

But Gilliam said the truth was that abuse of power has "always happened. I don't think Hollywood will change, power always takes advantage, it always does and always has.

"It's how you deal with power -- people have got to take responsibility for their own selves."

Human beings, he said, "are physical creatures. There is touching and there is grabbing, that is the problem. I find it funny that (while this is going on) a self-confessed pussy-grabber is the president of the US and is just walking around.

"I find it incredible," he said, calling Trump a "conman".

- 'A nightmare world' -

Gilliam, who is now a British citizen, also took a swipe at Python colleague John Cleese, saying that "he is an idiot" to support Brexit.

"Look at America under Trump, look at England under the Conservatives -- it is just a joke and it is costing fortunes. Britain is part of Europe and to think it can be Great Britain again is utterly foolish.

"It makes me feel like I've gotten very old and I am living through a nightmare world at the moment," he added.

Gilliam said the biggest failure of the 1960s generation was not delivering true equality for women.

"The only thing that we did not do well is get women paid the same money as men are paid for the same job, that's the one big failure of our time."

Spanish authorities arrested six people during a violent protest in Madrid over the death of a Senegalese street vendor, police said Friday, adding 10 officers were injured.

The clashes on Thursday evening in Lavapies, a district in the centre of the Spanish capital with a large immigrant population, saw angry protesters set fire to dustbins and motorbikes, and throw stones at riot police.

A police spokesman said six Spanish people had been arrested, including a minor and a woman.

He added 10 police officers were injured in the unrest, while emergency services said four people were slightly hurt in the protest.

Demonstrators at the time told AFP they were protesting in support of Mame Mbaye.

Mbaye was a street vendor in his mid-thirties from Senegal, who arrived in Spain by boat 12 years ago.

Emergency services said he was found unconscious on a street in Lavapies by police on patrol.

"They were busy trying to revive him" when emergency workers arrived, a spokeswoman said. However he died of cardiac arrest.

She did not know what had happened to Mbaye before he collapsed, but several other street vendors who were with him said he had been chased by police from the central Puerta del Sol square.

"Municipal police arrived and chased him from Sol to Lavapies with a motorbike," said Modou, a 25-year-old vendor from Senegal who refused to give his surname.

Street vendors are a fixture of Madrid, and are often seen laying out items like perfume or hats on white sheets, which they can quickly pick up and take away when the police arrives.

While illegal, the trade is often the only way to make money for migrants struggling to find other employment.

Mbaye "had arrived by boat, he was unemployed which is why he worked as a street vendor, and he helped his family in Senegal," said Modou.

He was one of thousands of migrants who have reached Spain over the years in search of a better life.

Spain is the third busiest gateway for migrants coming to Europe, with close to 23,000 arrivals in 2017. Hundreds have died along the way.

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa said Friday that the country "has moved on" in response to claims by former president Robert Mugabe that he was ousted in an illegal "coup d'etat".

Mnangagwa added in a short statement that he "noted recent remarks made to the media" by Mugabe who spoke to foreign journalists at a location in Harare on Thursday.

It was Mugabe's first public statement since his resignation in November which was triggered by a brief military takeover and the threat of a no-confidence motion tabled in parliament by his own ZANU-PF party.

"I say it was a coup d'etat -- some people have refused to call it a coup d'etat," Mugabe, 94, told South Africa's SABC broadcaster, referring to the brief army takeover which led to Mnangagwa assuming power after Mugabe's resignation.

"We must undo this disgrace which we have imposed on ourselves, we don't deserve it... Zimbabwe doesn't deserve it."

Mnangagwa's brief response, posted on his official Twitter account and bearing the seal of the presidency, added that Mugabe "is entitled to express himself freely, as is the case for any private citizen".

"The nation has moved on. Our focus at this time shall remain on preparing for free, fair and credible elections in 2018."

Mnangagwa, 75, stressed that "the Zimbabwe government continues to honour all its obligations towards the former President's welfare and benefits, as provided for under the Constitution of Zimbabwe".

- 'Betrayed the whole nation' -

Mugabe's golden parachute reportedly includes a pension of several thousand dollars a month, a retinue of staff, a fleet of luxury cars and a round-the-clock protection detail.

Mugabe told his interviewers he did not hate his successor, but alleged that he had "betrayed the whole nation".

The ousted leader insisted he would not work with Mnangagwa and suggested that his presidency was "illegal" and "unconstitutional".

"People must be chosen in government in a proper way. I'm willing to discuss, willing to assist in that process -- but I must be invited," he said.

Gideon Chitanga, an analyst at the Johannesburg-based Political Economy Southern Africa think-tank, said that Mugabe's intervention was significant "coming at a time of elections".

Presidential polls are due by the end of August in which Mnangagwa will face his first major electoral test.

Mugabe's media appearance was apparently organised by the new National Patriotic Front (NPF) party which hopes to unseat Mnangagwa's government in polls expected by August.

Mugabe sent shockwaves through the ZANU-PF ruling party when he recently met with the NPF's leader, retired general Ambrose Mutinhiri.

In response to a widely-shared image of the two, ZANU-PF Youth League supporters chanted "down with Mugabe" at a rally, a rare outburst from the normally disciplined party that Mugabe led for nearly four decades.

The military moved against Mugabe after he sacked his then-deputy and heir-apparent Mnangagwa, seemingly fearing the nonagenarian was grooming Grace to succeed him as president.

North Korea's foreign minister held talks in Stockholm with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven on Friday amid reports Sweden could play a role in setting up a proposed summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un.

"They had a meeting. We will not disclose what they talked about," Lofven's spokesman Jonatan Holst told AFP.

Ri Yong Ho arrived in the Swedish capital on Thursday evening with Choe Kang Il, deputy director general of the foreign ministry's North America section.

Ri held talks late Thursday with his Swedish counterpart Margot Wallstrom, discussions which according to Swedish officials were to focus on the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and a possible Trump-Kim summit.

The talks were to continue on Friday.

"Right now, dialogue is needed and we are happy to have this meeting. But we're not naive, we don't think we can solve the world's problems. It is up the parties to decide how to move forward," Wallstrom told Swedish media in parliament on Friday.

"If we can use our contacts in the best way, we will do so," she said, noting the situation on the Korean peninsula was "of interest to us all" in terms of security.

Some Swedish and foreign media have said that Ri -- who was stationed at North Korea's embassy in Stockholm in 1985-1988 -- will stay in the Scandinavian country until Sunday for other talks, though Swedish officials would not confirm those reports.

"We can't rule out the possibility of a contact between the North and the US" during Ri's visit, a Beijing source told South Korea's Yonhap agency.

Swedish public broadcaster SVT meanwhile said the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) was involved in the talks, though SIPRI did not return AFP's calls for a comment.

Sweden has longstanding ties with North Korea. Its diplomatic mission in Pyongyang, which opened in 1975, was the first Western embassy established in the country.

The embassy also represents US, Canadian and Australian diplomatic interests in North Korea, with Sweden playing a key role in liaising diplomatic talks.

- 'Ready to play a role' -

International media have speculated that Sweden could either help set up a proposed summit or be a potential location if a tete-a-tete were to be confirmed.

Sweden's foreign ministry has refused to comment on that possibility, saying only that the talks would "focus on Sweden's consular responsibilities as a protecting power for the United States, Canada and Australia."

"They will also address the security situation on the Korean peninsula, which is high on the (UN) Security Council agenda," a ministry statement said. Sweden is currently a non-permanent member of the Security Council.

"The aim of the visit is to contribute to the effective implementation of the resolutions" voted by the Security Council against Pyongyang over its nuclear programme, as well as those calling "for intensified diplomatic efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict".

After months of tension and warmongering over Pyongyang's nuclear programme, Trump has agreed to a summit proposal relayed by South Korean envoys who met Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang.

But no specific time or venue has been set and North Korea has yet to confirm it even made the offer to meet.

Lofven on Thursday said Sweden was "ready to" play a role if asked.