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Donald Trump's abrupt cancellation of his summit with Kim Jong Un will strengthen the hand of the reclusive state's leader, analysts say, re-invigorating Pyongyang's relationship with China and driving the two Koreas closer together.

Only a day before the sudden U-turn, Trump and US officials had been indicating there was every chance the historic pow-wow between a sitting American president and the third generation Kim would go ahead in Singapore.

The meeting, scheduled for June 12, was to be the consummation of a relationship that had raced from threatening each other with nuclear destruction to chummy bonhomie and talk of a peace treaty -- all in a few short months.

Decades of diplomatic stalemate had given way to what appeared to be genuine progress in one of geopolitics' stickiest issues, thanks, supporters said, to Trump's unorthodox approach and willingness to engage an international pariah.

Pyongyang had released three American prisoners, agreed to a moratorium on missile tests, quietly accepted a US-South Korean military exercise on its doorstep and even blown up its only atomic weapons testing site.

Then, barely hours after the dust had settled at the Punggye-ri nuclear facility, Trump announced the summit was dead in a personal letter to Kim.

"The timing of this letter is... highly questionable," said Abraham M Denmark, director of the Asia Program at the Wilson Center.

"Coming just a few hours after NK demolished its nuclear test site, it guarantees that the US takes the blame for undermining diplomacy. NK comes out looking like the reasonable one."

Pyongyang furthered that impression in the hours after Trump's letter, defying expectations in some quarters that it might launch a missile, or at least a volley of abuse.

Instead, it described the decision as "regrettable" and calmly declared its officials were willing "to sit face-to-face at any time".

- 'Shaky alliance' -

Such an overt display of levelheadedness leaves US demands for continued pressure on North Korea looking hollow, said Denmark -- especially for one key regional player.

"China is likely to more openly back North Korea. Sanctions enforcement will soften, and I expect high-level contacts will continue," he said.

And where Beijing had, until a few months ago, appeared almost ready to cast its troublesome younger brother to the wind, that looks a lot less likely now.

"If US returns to talk of (attacking North Korea), expect Beijing to be more explicit in its willingness to intervene."

Pyongyang's new-found moderatism has also won plaudits -- and allies -- south of its highly-fortified border.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who leapt on the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics as an opportunity to broach a detente with his prickly neighbour, is unlikely to abandon the process now -- even at the cost of a deterioration of his country's US alliance.

North Korea's willingness to keep the door open for talks gives Seoul the cover it needs to press ahead with engagement, said Go Myong-hyun, an analyst at Asan Institute of Policy Studies.

"It won't be like last year when South Korea and the US stressed their firm alliance and pressured North Korea," he told AFP.

"Moon has to double down. In short, he will push ahead with the policy of engagement and focus on dialogue with the North. The South Korea-US alliance will be shaky."

But, Go added, it isn't all bad news for Trump.

Analysts have decried the pace of events over the last few months, pointing out that the diplomatically untested businessman-president appeared to have little understanding of the complexities of dealing with North Korea.

He and his hawkish administration talked of "denuclearisng the Korean peninsula" as a readily-navigated one-way street that simply involved North Korea mothballing its weapons.

Pyongyang's understanding of the term has always been more nuanced, and likely involves retaining some of its nuclear arsenal whilst pushing for a reduction of American troops in South Korea and weakening Washington's alliance with Seoul.

Granting Kim a one-on-one before any concrete moves to scrap his nuclear arsenal was always akin to rushing downhill without looking, observers said.

Yet Trump's equally sudden willingness to walk away from an agreement -- a strategy he advocated in his "Art Of The Deal" memoir -- might just help to level the playing field.

"North Korea will have to propose more detailed plans for denuclearisation if it wants to talk in the future," said Go.

Russian aluminium giant Rusal said Friday that Oleg Deripaska has resigned his seat on the board, a key step in the company's efforts to escape US sanctions targeting its founder and key shareholder.

"Mr Oleg Deripaska, non-executive director of the company, has tendered his resignation as a director of the company with effect from 25 May 2018," Rusal said.

In a statement it said the resignation was in line with "the efforts that have been made by the management of the group to protect the interests of the company and its shareholders since the OFAC sanctions were imposed."

The US Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced fresh sanctions against Russia last month following the diplomatic crisis sparked by the poisoning on Britain of former double agent Sergei Skripal.

The sanctions hit oligarchs close to President Vladimir Putin, including Deripaska.

The announcement prompted the shares of the firm responsible for seven percent of the world's aluminium production to tumble while the price of the metal soared.

Manufacturers feared they would no longer be able to purchase supplies from the firm, potentially snarling production in many sectors of the US economy and elsewhere.

Faced with the market turmoil, the US government then indicated Rusal could avoid being caught up in the sanctions by cutting ties with Deripaska, one of the so-called Specially Designated Nationals targeted by the sanctions.

On Thursday, Rusal announced that its chief executive and half of its board of directors had resigned.

Deripaska, who is the major shareholder in Rusal via a holding company, had already indicated he would not seek reappointment to the board and would reduce his stake.

As a young Austrian law student, Max Schrems took on Facebook and won, and seven years ago he was already raising the alarm over the flaw Cambridge Analytica allegedly exploited to obtain the data of millions of users for political purposes.

So, as a new EU law -- billed as the biggest shake-up of data privacy regulations since the birth of the web -- comes into force Friday, Schrems might be forgiven for thinking his work is done.

Far from it. In fact, he has chosen the day to launch four court cases under the new legislation against some of the tech world's biggest names.

"One is in France against Google on Android, the other one is on Instagram in Belgium, the third one is in Hamburg against WhatsApp and the fourth one is in Austria against Facebook," Schrems told AFP, adding that the cases were being brought by his new NGO None of Your Business.

The problem with all these sites, he said, is with the pop ups that have been appearing on them in recent weeks, asking users to agree to new terms of use.

He says this amounts to a system of "forced consent" from users.

"All of them basically have a situation where you have to consent to the privacy policy otherwise you're not allowed to use their service.

"It's clear in the law -- there are decisions by European data protection authorities and guidelines that this (practice) is prohibited," he said.

The EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) aims to make it simpler for people to control how companies use their personal information.

- Facebook's 'apology tour' -

According to Schrems, despite "a lot of legal uncertainty, mainly out of the industry lobbying that tried to water the law down", the GDPR represents "a good start" and reflects the high importance already given to privacy in European regulations.

"The laws are pretty much the same as we had before -- the big difference that we have now is that they're enforceable," he said, pointing to the high financial penalties envisaged under GDPR, which for large companies like Google or Facebook could run into billions of dollars.

When the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke, Schrems pointed out that the controversial data harvesting methods used by the company were at the heart of the case he brought against Facebook back in 2011.

And Facebook's claims that it had been betrayed were "laughable", he said.

So what does he make of Mark Zuckerberg's recent appearances before Congress in Washington and, this week, before the European Parliament?

"It's probably the 51st 'we are so sorry for what we did' tour," he said with a wry smile.

The fact that Zuckerberg is now facing the music personally, rather than sending spokespeople, is probably a positive sign that pressure is rising on the company, he said.

But nevertheless, he is clear that bringing the giants of the tech world to heel will be a long process.

"It will probably take 20 years until they don't have to argue... because they're finally complying with stuff, but it is a first step, I guess."

Two former French spies are facing trial for treason over allegations that they passed state secrets to a foreign power, France’s defence ministry said.

Australia's spy chief has issued a new warning that foreign interference and espionage in the country had reached "unprecedented" levels that could cause "catastrophic harm" to Canberra's interests.

Duncan Lewis, head of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), did not single out any specific country but his remarks coincided with a sharp escalation of concerns over Chinese interference in domestic politics.

Lewis, in remarks in parliament late Thursday, said the "current scale of foreign intelligence activity ... is unprecedented".

He said foreign actors were targeting privileged and classified information on Australia's alliances, partnerships and positions on diplomatic, economic and military issues.

Information on energy, mineral resources and science and technology innovations was also of interest, he added.

"Espionage, interference, sabotage and malicious insider activities can inflict catastrophic harm on our country's interests," Lewis told a parliamentary hearing in Canberra.

"It undermines potentially our sovereignty, our security and our prosperity... The grim reality is there are more foreign intelligence officers today than during the Cold War, and they have more ways of attacking us."

Lewis backed efforts by the government to pass wide-ranging reforms to strengthen and modernise laws when investigating and prosecuting alleged political meddling.

Under the proposed laws, a transparency scheme would also require people to declare which foreign actors they are working for.

Lewis' remarks follow allegations raised by senior politician Andrew Hastie on Tuesday that a billionaire Chinese-Australian businessman, a major political donor, had been identified by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation as a co-conspirator in a plot to bribe a top UN official.

Beijing criticised the disclosure, made under parliamentary privilege, and has also reacted angrily to the foreign interference laws, which came in the wake of fears about Chinese efforts to shape policy and opinion in democracies.

The United States produces natural gas in abundance and is poised to become the world's third-largest exporter by 2020, a production ramp-up supported by President Donald Trump.

Thanks to advances in shale gas production, notably in the northeast, America has been the world's largest natural gas producer since 2009 and extracted two billion cubic meters per day in 2017.

The United States is now seeking fresh international export markets for the product.

"This 2018-2019 time period was always flagged as being a crossroads in the global natural gas conversation," said Breanne Dougherty, head of natural gas research at Societe Generale.

The United States already exports some of this bounty through pipelines to Canada and Mexico.

But to reach more distant markets, US industry is betting on liquefied natural gas, which can be exported by ship.

LNG exports began to grow in 2016 when for the first time Cheniere Energy chartered a tanker from its gas terminal at Sabine Pass in Louisiana. Prior to that, US exports had come solely from an Alaskan terminal that closed in 2015.

LNG exports quadrupled in a year and the United States became a net exporter in 2017 for the first time in 60 years.

More than half of this went three countries: Mexico, South Korea and China. About a third was bound for Europe.

Shipments are due to soar even higher since Dominion Energy brought a new terminal online in Cove Point, Maryland in March, with four other projects due to be completed by the end of next year.

- Trump and US 'energy dominance' -

This should bring US exports to 272 million cubic meters a day.

As a result, according to the US Energy Information Agency, the United States should become the world's third-largest LNG exporter by 2020, behind Australia and Qatar.

American exporters can expect to find eager buyers. The International Energy Agency estimates demand should grow by 1.6 percent a year through 2040, compared to growth of 0.5 percent for oil and 0.2 percent for coal.

Trump is encouraging this effort.

After calling US "energy dominance" last year, Trump has several times hailed the virtues of American natural gas, saying for example during a visit to Poland last summer that European countries had an interest in diversifying their sources of supply.

Asia is also a particular target. The IEA said 80 percent of the growth in demand expected between now and 2040 should come from emerging markets, China and India chief among them.

European officials say they suspect Trump's decision to withdraw from the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, which could hold down Iranian gas production, and his recent critical remarks about the Nord Stream 2 pipeline intended to link Russia and Germany, could also serve as a means of expanding US export markets.

Dougherty said it would be an exaggeration to assume such considerations were Trump's main motive, but she noted that "There is no doubt that there are energy implications associated with these geopolitical decisions."

It takes a few moments to sift through the years of chaos and dislocation before Rohingya refugee Robi Alam settles on the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, August 2012, as the last time he saw his seven brothers together in Myanmar.

"We were still a family then under one roof, in one country," the 16-year-old says, from his current home -- a bamboo shack in a Bangladesh refugee camp.

By then Myanmar had already lurched into a dark new phase of an old conflict between their Muslim Rohingya minority and the Buddhist ethnic Rakhine.

Violence unravelled after the alleged rape and murder of a Buddhist woman by Rohingya men; neighbour turned on neighbour as villages across Rakhine state were set ablaze.

Still, where they could, Rohingya families celebrated Eid, the end of the fasting month of ramadan.

Robi recalls being carried on his older siblings' shoulders as they went door-to-door through the village of Yae Twin Kyun in Maungdaw district gorging on snacks.

Nearly six years on, the eight brothers are now split across four countries: Bangladesh, India, the United States and Myanmar.

One is in a Myanmar jail, another has vanished on the treacherous trafficking route south -- a painful family history that traces the key events in the dispossession of the Rohingya in Myanmar, and their dispersal overseas.

When the brothers were last united, in 2012, there were around 1.2 million Rohingya living in Rakhine state.

Now fewer than a third remain.

Myanmar, which denies the Rohingya citizenship, drove most of the minority out in October 2016 and August 2017 in army-led crackdowns that the United Nations has said may amount to "ethnic cleansing".

Separated from their four older brothers, the younger siblings - Robi, Jaber, 18, Hashim, 17, and Faiz, 12 -- are starting new lives as refugees.

For now, home remains a 10-metre (30 foot) hut covered by a UN-branded tarpaulin in the Kutupalong camp, which the brothers share with 15 other relatives including their mother.

"We can't work here, it's a place we know nothing about," says Robi. "But how do we go back to Myanmar again?"

- Mohammad Rashid -

The first of the brothers to flee Rakhine was Mohammad Rashid.

It was early 2013, and by then conditions described as "apartheid-like" by Amnesty International were biting hard, with Rohingya locked out from hospitals, schools and their own farms.

Worn down by the asphyxiating security controls, Rashid crossed the Naf River into Bangladesh, paying a broker 30,000 Taka ($355) to take him to Malaysia, where menial jobs await Rohingya.

Robi shows a photo on his mobile phone of the 25-year-old on the day of his departure -- staring confidently back, an arm slung around a cousin.

"We haven't heard from him since."

Rashid disappeared as a transnational trafficking network was at its peak, spinning a fortune carrying a desperate human cargo of Rohingya and Bangladeshi economic migrants south by sea.

They docked in Thailand, where gangs -- including a powerful southern army general -- corralled the migrants overland to Malaysia.

That escape route collapsed in May 2015, when shallow graves of migrants were found pitting the hills along the Thai-Malaysia border.

Authorities closed in on the traffickers, who abandoned migrant boats in the Andaman Sea, leaving starving and dehydrated passengers to drift south, hoping for rescue by Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian authorities.

No one knows exactly how many died in the migrant camps or at sea.

- Abdur Rashid -

His older brother had disappeared, but Abdur Rashid chose the same escape route.

"I tried to stop him, I begged him," his mother Khadija Begum says.

"But he is stubborn. He said 'I will swim to Malaysia if I can't get a boat' and so he went."

His months-long odyssey, which began around early 2014, eventually led to resettlement in the United States, via detention in Thai immigration facilities.

"I wasn't scared. It was pre-destined," the 23-year-old told AFP from Colorado, where he is now learning English and working in a cake factory.

"After 10 days at sea we were near Thailand... we came to shore in smaller boats, 50-60 people on each, but when we landed Thai police, military and even journalists were there," he said.

Thailand does not accept refugees and so, after several months in immigration detention, the UNHCR secured the US move -- but resettlement is open to only a tiny number of Rohingya refugees.

He moved in 2017 and, when he can, sends money to his brothers 8,000 miles away in the world's biggest refugee camp.

- Abul Kashim -

Violence and repression have hit the Rohingya in waves since the late 1970s.

In 1982 Myanmar's ruling junta stripped the Muslim minority of citizenship, stirring up hatred towards the group and casting them as "Bengali" infiltrators to the Buddhist-majority country.

As such, life in Rakhine has always been hard, says Jaber, the oldest of the four brothers in the Kutupalong camp.

"But after the violence started in 2012, the "Moghs" (a pejorative word for ethnic Rakhine) gradually took everything."

Rohingya who strayed from their villages were frequently lynched or beaten, he says -- allegations backed up by rights monitors.

One of the brothers, Abul Kashim, now 19, suffered a beating while fishing with friends.

A teenager at the time, he was jolted into leaving by the brutality of the attack, first for Bangladesh, then overland to join an uncle in India.

For now, he has a made a decent life -- he is married and works as a mason in Haryana state.

But India has threatened to deport 40,000 of the minority.

"I miss my family," he told AFP, saying each phone call leaves a yearning to travel to Bangladesh.

"But I can't. I don't have any travel documents."

- Hamid Hussein -

On October 9, 2016, Rakhine again went up in flames as a nascent Rohingya militant group -- known now as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) -- raided border posts.

The army response was swift and unforgiving.

Tens of thousands of Rohingya were driven into Bangladesh, fleeing murders, rapes and mass arrests.

The crackdown visited more tragedy on Robi Alam's family.

Their 60-year-old father Nagu Miah was arrested and, the family alleges, beaten to death in police custody.

Confined to their homes with food running scarce, the oldest brother Hamid Hussein, 28, defied a strict curfew and went fishing after his children complained of eating rice every day.

He was arrested by soldiers and taken to Buthidaung jail.

Soon after, soldiers swarmed their village, ordering Rohingya residents to sit hands on their heads in a field as they ransacked homes.

"Then they started to burn our homes, they raped some women and pushed them inside burning homes," says 17-year-old Mohammad Hashim, from Kutupalong camp.

"We could not stay any longer."

Over the next six weeks the extended family crept over to Bangladesh.

In August 2017, another 700,000 others began to join them after an even more ferocious army crackdown.

With their land taken and security still parlous, Robi and his family have little expectation of returning to Rakhine.

Instead they are preparing for long-term life as refugees.

And in their freshly trimmed haircuts, football shirts and fixation with mobile phones, there are even flickers of teenage normality in the most abnormal of circumstances.

But the fragmentation of their family is never far away.

Through the smudged memories of life in Rakhine, the youngest brother Abul Faiz recalls flecks of freedom -- playing football or fishing -- as a child in Rakhine.

"My older brothers would hug me, give me money for the shop," the watchful youngster adds in a near-whisper.

"I miss them."

Malaysian police said Friday they found cash amounting to almost $30 million in a raid on a luxury apartment as they probed corruption allegations swirling around ousted leader Najib Razak.

The money was seized along with 284 boxes containing designer handbags, as well as watches and jewellery from a condominium in Kuala Lumpur, which was raided along with Najib's home and other sites last week.

Najib's coalition was thrown out of power for the first time in over six decades in the May 9 poll, defeated by a reformist alliance headed by his former mentor Mahathir Mohamad.

Public disgust at allegations of corruption swirling around Najib was a major factor for the loss, with the ex-leader, his family and cronies accused of looting billions of dollars from sovereign wealth fund 1MDB.

There has been much speculation about what the seized goods consisted of and their value after five trucks were reportedly brought in to help move the vast stash.

Giving an update, the police's head of commercial crime Amar Singh said: "From the money found, there were 26 currencies, the total amount as of yesterday is 114 million (ringgit) ($28.6 million)."

The money was found in 35 bags while another 37 bags contained watches and jewellery, he told a press conference. The value of other items will be calculated later, he said.

The seizure of the luxury goods added to public scorn of Najib's wife Rosmah Mansor, long reviled by Malaysians for her perceived haughty demeanour and reported vast collection of designer bags, clothing and jewellery.

Her love of overseas shopping trips, as middle class Malaysians struggle with rising living costs, added to a sense of spreading, deeply-entrenched rot in the country's long-ruling elite.

The couple's fall from grace has been swift and hard.

They have been barred from leaving the country and the ex-premier has been questioned by anti-graft investigators over claims 1MDB money ended up in his bank accounts, and looks likely to be charged.

Najib and the fund deny any wrongdoing.

Seven years of war and massive displacement have redrawn Syria's demographic map, erecting borders between the country's ethnic, religious, and political communities that will be hard to erase.

Displaced Syrians, analysts, and rights defenders have described to AFP a divided country where regime opponents have been driven out, minorities stick closer together and communities generally have become more homogenous.

The demographic reshuffle is likely to last, they say, with around 11 million Syrians displaced either abroad or within the country and unsure if they can go home.

Abu Musab al-Mukasar, a 25-year-old rebel fighter, doubts he'll ever return to his birthplace in Homs city, now fully held by Syrian troops.

"I could never go back to regime territory -- or live side by side with Alawites," he says, referring to the religious minority sect of President Bashar al-Assad.

The minority-led government has ruled a Sunni-majority population for decades, but Abu Musab says the rifts are now deeper than ever.

"Of course I'll tell my son all this, so he'll hate the people that did this to us, too," says the fighter, contacted by AFP on an online messaging platform.

Abu Musab, a Sunni, first left Homs for rural rebel zones nearby in a 2014 evacuation deal.

Last week, another negotiated withdrawal saw him, his wife, three-year-old son and infant daughter bussed north to Idlib province.

Idlib has become a dumping ground for hundreds of thousands of Sunni rebels and their families transferred from areas recaptured by the regime.

"The demographics changed without us even noticing. The country has been divided," says Abu Musab.

- Tit-for-tat -

The fighter described the broad outlines of what he saw as Syria's new sectarian map: "The north is Sunni, the northeast is Kurdish, those in (coastal) Latakia, Tartus, and Homs are Alawite and Shiite Muslim."

Syrian rebels pushed Alawite and Christian minorities out because they were perceived as Assad loyalists, says Fabrice Balanche, an expert on Syria's population and politics.

Before the war erupted in 2011, Sunni Arabs made up 65 percent of the population, Kurds about 15 percent, and all religious minorities about 20 percent.

The regime has lost territory, but the consolidation of Alawites, Shiites, and Christians around it has actually granted it a stronger base, according to Balanche.

"Today, 70 percent of Syria's population is in regime territory, and more than a third of them are minorities," he says.

Some of those shifts were through population swaps, including the controversial "Four Towns Deal" that tied the fate of Sunni-majority Madaya and Zabadani to the Shiite villages of Fuaa and Kafraya.

Since 2015, thousands were transferred from Fuaa and Kafraya to Damascus, in exchange for similar numbers leaving Madaya and Zabadani for Syria's north.

In a 2017 AFP interview, Assad admitted that displacement was "compulsory" but temporary.

- 'Things are different' -

But minorities say they cannot imagine going home.

Abbas Abbas, 36, fled Kafraya years ago for Sayyida Zeinab, a neighbourhood near Damascus that hosts a shrine revered by fellow Shiites.

"Most people from Kafraya don't want to go back. At least I'm not afraid of being kidnapped here," he tells AFP.

In the past, Kafrayans mixed with other villagers. "But eight years into Syria's war, things are different," says the sound engineer.

He expects the remaining 8,000 residents of Fuaa and Kafraya to be forced out "sooner or later."

Not far from Abbas's estranged hometown, another communal conflict is unfolding.

A Turkish-led assault this year displaced over 137,000 people from Kurdish-majority Afrin to nearby regime zones, or even farther to Kurdish areas in the northeast.

Some of their homes now house other displaced. Around 35,000 of those bussed out of the onetime rebel bastion of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus have resettled in Afrin.

Their houses either destroyed or occupied, Afrin's original residents see return as a distant dream.

"I'm not optimistic. The more time passes, the more entrenched the demographic changes are," says Ahmad Yussef, an academic who fled Afrin.

Kurdish authorities accuse Turkey of ethnic repopulation, and observers say Ankara wants to resettle the 3.5 million Syrian refugees in its territory into Afrin.

The accusations go both ways: Syrian Arabs accuse Kurdish fighters of preventing them from returning to their northern hometowns after ousting jihadists.

Widespread destruction and complex legislation on property restitution have compounded fears of permanent displacement.

And despite calls to include transitional justice in a political solution, real reconciliation remains unlikely, says Diana Semaan of Amnesty International.

"Because there won't be a truth commission or public acknowledgement by the government towards the Sunnis or armed groups towards Alawites or Christians, there will be no accountability or justice," Semaan says.

"This is why Syrian society will be polarised and disintegrated, and why all the sects will turn internally."

She fought through a male-dominated world to become perhaps Iran's first female manufacturing boss, and was on the cusp of major success with the help of a European investor.

Until Donald Trump brought her crashing back to earth.

When Leila Daneshvar was a little girl, she used to sit on the floor of her father's workshop, asking for small jobs.

"He was a mechanic, and I always had the most fun when I was in the garage with him," she told AFP.

"But in those days, there were no mechanical careers in Iran, so I went to college in India. Even there, I was the only girl in my year of 139 students. I had a hard time."

But she persevered. Now 37, she runs her own company in Iran, making mobility equipment for hospitals and the elderly.

"I went to Europe and saw how disabled people live happy, independent lives. I wished my own people had this equipment, and I thought: 'This doesn't look complicated. I'm a mechanical engineer -- I can do it.'"

The breakthrough for the company, called KTMA and selling under the brand "Lord", came in early 2016, just after Iran's nuclear deal with world powers came into force, lifting international sanctions.

Within a couple of months, a Swedish investor, Anna Russberg, had agreed to buy 25 percent of the company, bringing much-needed business acumen and capital.

"Leila had a reputation for quality production, which was practically unknown here. But I needed to turn the business upside-down," said Anna.

"It worked. People could tell we were a good mix. We respect each other's knowledge. She's the engineer, I'm the businesswoman."

Being women in Iran's patriarchal business world could be tricky, but also an advantage.

"Hijab is difficult when you're a manufacturer. You have to climb things, go below things," said Leila, laughing.

"But being a woman has its advantages. Everyone remembers you."

Anna added: "People don't know how to treat us exactly, which is useful in negotiations."

- 'Breaks my heart' -

Things were looking up: low production costs meant they could charge five times less than foreign firms and they were doubling sales each year, finally landing a major contract with Qatari hospitals.

But then Trump happened.

Even before he pulled the US out of the nuclear deal, the American president's constant threats to reimpose sanctions had a chilling effect on trade.

It soon became hard to import crucial raw materials, particularly stainless steel.

"We already had problems in getting raw materials... and now it's impossible. Either I have to close the factory, or have to continue with much higher prices," said Leila.

"We had to let four or five workers go last month because we couldn't pay their salaries, and it breaks my heart."

She watched Trump deliver his speech on May 8, reimposing sanctions on Iran, with a mix of horror and fury, particularly when he claimed to be on the side of the Iranian people against their government.

"That made me so angry. These sanctions are not on the government, it's on the people. I can give less to disabled people, to the elderly. Our saying was that we are providing European quality with affordable prices. Can I do that anymore? I don't know."

Anna remains defiantly positive.

"Iran has 10 million older or injured people who can use our product. With or without Trump, we still have a business," she said.

But whether or not the business can survive the Trump administration's vow to "crush" the Iranian economy with sanctions, it is already clear that investors like Anna are no longer coming to Iran.

The dream of the nuclear deal -- that hundreds of small businesses would blossom with European support, creating an important constituency supporting good relations with the West -- was dead long before Trump finally yanked the US out of the agreement.

"It's a real pity. Being an investor in Iran is a rollercoaster -- you take one step forward, three steps back. But it's an amazing country with great opportunities," Anna said.

Leila stays positive by remembering her father, who passed away last month.

"When I become weak and tired... I remember his strength," she said.

"There is no going back. Iran faces so many problems, but I learned from him that the strength is inside me, and my partner. When we believe we can do it, we will do it."

A female journalist was found dead Thursday at her home in Monterrey, northern Mexico, having apparently been severely beaten, according to law enforcement sources.

Alicia Diaz Gonzalez "was on the floor, face down, in a pool of blood having suffered blows," a source from the Nuevo Leon state prosecutor's office told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The 52-year-old reporter's death was confirmed by El Financiero newspaper, where she had worked since January. Editor Mauricio Mejia called for an "urgent ... official response" to the death on social media.

The source added Diaz was found by her son.

Authorities have not established a motive for the crime. Diaz's colleagues told AFP they reported on local business activity and financial issues, but denied they worked with "sensitive" information.

Last week, journalist Juan Carlos Huerta was shot dead as he left his home in a suburb of Villahermosa in southeast Mexico.

His murder took place one year after Javier Valdez, who received international recognition for his coverage of drug trafficking, was gunned down in broad daylight in his native Culiacan, Sinaloa, where powerful cartels operate.

Mexico is considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a journalist, with more than 100 reporters killed since 2000. Most of those crimes remain unpunished.

At least seven people were killed and around twenty others injured late Thursday in a car bomb attack in the centre of Benghazi in eastern Libya, a local security official told AFP.

The bomb exploded close to the Tibesti hotel on a busy road where many people go to celebrate during the month of Ramadan, the official said, adding that the victims were civilians.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack but the Libyan official blamed the assault on "terrorist sleeper cells who want to send a message that Benghazi is not safe".

Libya has been rocked by chaos since a 2011 uprising which toppled and killed dictator Moamer Kadhafi, with two rival authorities and multiple militias vying for control of the oil-rich country.

Military strongman Khalifa Haftar in July announced the "total liberation" of Benghazi, three years after his forces launched a military operation to seize the city from jihadists who had made it a stronghold following the revolution.

But clashes and attacks in the city have continued, including against diplomatic facilities and security forces.

Almost 40 people were killed following a double car bomb attack in front of a mosque in January. In February, another attack left one person dead and nearly 150 wounded, also in front of a mosque.

Haftar supports a parliament based in the far east of Libya, while a rival United Nations-backed unity government in the western capital Tripoli has struggled to assert its authority outside the west of the country.

Earlier this month Haftar returned to Benghazi after a two-week stint in a Paris hospital to launch a new anti-jihadist offensive.

Presenting himself as the scourge of Islamist militancy, he announced the start of a military campaign to retake the eastern city of Derna from jihadists.

The city is the only part of eastern Libya to remain out of the control of Haftar's Libyan National Army, which has the backing of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

It is currently held by the Mujahideen Shura Council of Derna, a ragtag collection of Islamist and jihadist militias that includes Al-Qaeda and is hostile to both Haftar and the Islamic State group.

Haftar was also celebrating the fourth anniversary of his ongoing anti-jihadist "Dignity" operation, initially launched in 2014 to retake Benghazi after it fell to hardline militias.

Separately, a suicide attack in early May claimed by the Islamic State group against the headquarters of the electoral commission in Tripoli killed more than a dozen people.

The international community is pushing for elections in Libya that it hopes will help calm the turmoil that has plagued it since Kadhafi's fall.

President Donald Trump has often bragged of his friendship with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, but recent events point to growing stresses between Washington and Beijing.

This week, the Pentagon pulled its invitation for China to participate in maritime exercises in the Pacific, then Trump on Thursday scrapped a summit with North Korea after suggesting Xi may have exacerbated a breakdown in communications.

And all this against a backdrop of simmering trade tensions -- and a bizarre case involving a US official and a possible "sonic attack."

- Summit sunk -

Trump on Thursday scrapped the historic summit with Kim Jong Un -- set to take place June 12 in Singapore -- to discuss the "denuclearization" of North Korea.

Before he pulled the plug, Trump had suggested Xi might have played a role in a recent toughening of North Korean rhetoric.

"There was a difference when Kim Jong Un left China the second time," Trump said.

"There was a different attitude after that meeting and I was a little surprised. ... And I think things changed after that meeting so I can't say that I am happy about it."

On Monday, Trump suggested China might have prematurely eased up on enforcing economic sanctions against Pyongyang, a move that runs counter to the US leader's "maximum pressure" campaign.

China insists it is strictly enforcing sanctions adopted by the UN Security Council.

- Pacific exercise -

The Pentagon on Wednesday withdrew its invitation for China to join maritime exercises in the Pacific because of Beijing's "continued militarization" of the South China Sea.

China hit back at the decision to disinvite it from the Rim of the Pacific exercises, calling it "very non-constructive" and saying it was taken without due reflection.

"It's also a decision taken lightly and is unhelpful to mutual understanding between China and the US," China's Foreign Affairs Minister Wang Yi said.

- Trade war -

China and the US have stepped back from a potential trade war after Beijing officials were reported to have offered to slash the country's huge surplus by $200 billion.

But no formal deals have been struck, and China has denied that any figure was set during negotiations in Washington.

Trump -- who once accused China of "raping" the US -- said he was "not satisfied" with the agreement and the issue is sure to keep grating on relations with Beijing.

- Sonic strains -

On Wednesday, the US embassy in Beijing issued a warning after reporting that an employee in the southern city of Guangzhou was diagnosed with mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI) apparently linked to "abnormal sounds."

"The medical indications are very similar and entirely consistent with the medical indications that have taken place to Americans working in Cuba," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.

In Cuba last year, 24 diplomats and their family members were left with mysterious injuries resembling brain trauma, which were suspected of being caused by a "sonic attack."

China said it had investigated the issue but hadn't found that any organization or individual had "carried out such a sonic influence."

Panama's former president Ricardo Martinelli, currently in a US prison and wanted in his own country on corruption and espionage charges, announced Thursday he would end his fight against extradition.

Martinelli, 66, is accused of embezzling public funds to create a network to spy on his political opponents while he was president from 2009 to 2014.

Martinelli's lawyers filed a motion in federal court in Miami indicating he would not move forward with an appeal of an August 2017 ruling that he could be extradited, court documents showed.

The former president, who had gone into exile in Miami in 2015, was arrested on June 12, 2017, and has been in federal prison ever since.

Now, his case will pass to the State Department, which will decide whether to go ahead with the extradition and under what conditions.

Lawyer Sidney Sitton told AFP Martinelli's goal was to "remain in the hands of the State Department to be sent to Panama," but under a clause that guarantees he will be prosecuted for only the crimes on which he will be extradited, and no others.

"I am accepting what the extradition treaty of 1905 says with its specialty clause. It is up to the State Department to make the final decision," Martinelli wrote in a letter dated Thursday.

A Catholic priest has been quarantined after being infected with the Ebola virus in the town of Mbandaka in the Democratic Republic of Congo, medical sources said Thursday.

"We have quarantined a priest from the diocese of Mbandaka-Bikoro who tested positive" for the Ebola virus, a medical source told AFP on condition of anonymity. Religious authorities could not be immediately contacted.

DRC health officials launched a small, targeted vaccination campaign this week to help rein in the latest Ebola outbreak in the country, which so far has claimed 27 lives.

Kinshasa announced on May 8 that there had been cases of the notorious haemorrhagic fever in a remote northwestern district called Bikoro.

Last Thursday, the first case was reported in a city -- Mbandaka, a transport hub located on the Congo River.

According to a World Health Organization count, 58 cases have been identified since early April. It was not possible to establish on Thursday whether the priest was among them.

Meanwhile, UNICEF said Thursday it was committed to helping schools and children in the fight against the spread of the virus.

The charity's DRC representative Gianfranco Rotigliano told AFP if a student becomes infected, he or she would be promptly taken care of.

Following a visit to schools in Bikoro, Rotigliano said: "I spoke with the schoolchildren, and they know the basic rules including washing their hands regularly, and not shaking hands."

Ebola spreads through contact with bodily fluids and is both highly infectious and extremely lethal.

In Mbandaka, several families have installed buckets of water and soap at the entrance of the house for hand-washing, an AFP correspondent said.

"I asked my children to be careful not to shake hands with people and stop playing with their friends in games that would cause contact between them," Claude, a father of several children, told AFP.

Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro was sworn in Thursday for a second term as president of the crisis-wracked Latin American country, just days after winning an election boycotted by the opposition and decried abroad.

In a wide ranging speech, Maduro promised to defeat US sanctions and take steps to correct the course of an economy in ruins, including seeking OPEC support to nearly double its oil output.

Wearing a ceremonial sash in the Venezuelan colors, Maduro swore "to respect and enforce the Constitution and lead all revolutionary changes" in a ceremony before the Constituent Assembly, which he set up himself last year and stacked with his supporters.

The socialist leader said those changes should lead Venezuela to "the peace, prosperity and happiness of our people."

Striking a rare conciliatory note, Maduro admitted a fresh take on Venezuela's problems was needed, in a lengthy speech before the military and government hierarchy.

"We need a profound rectification, we have to do things anew and better, we are not doing things well and we have to change this country," he acknowledged.

He admitted that tighter sanctions imposed by Washington after his re-election will bring more difficulties to the oil producer, not least because they will prevent "necessary imports."

"I cannot deceive anyone, they are going to create serious difficulties for us, painful difficulties, that we will face gradually -- we will defeat them. Trump's sanctions will be nullified and defeated," he said.

Venezuela is going through the worst economic crisis in its history. Hyperinflation has crippled the economy, leading to shortages of food and medicine. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled the country to escape the growing deprivation.

- Oil output increase -

Despite sitting on the world's biggest oil reserves, lack of investment in infrastructure has led to a catastrophic fall in oil production to a 30-year low of just 1.5 million barrels a day.

Turning to Venezuela's oil minister, General Manuel Quevedo, who was attending the ceremony, Maduro said Venezuela would have to increase its output by one million barrels per day.

"This year we have to increase one million barrels. If we have to ask for support from OPEC, ask for it major general -- support from Russia, China, the Arab countries, let's ask!"

Oil contributes 96 percent of Venezuela's foreign revenues. Production fell to 1.5 mpd in April, according to OPEC figures. However, sources cited by the cartel claim the level fell even lower, to 1.4 mpd.

Maduro also promised to work for reconciliation and offered to free political opponents who have not committed serious crimes, to "overcome the wounds" of the protests against him, which have left some 200 dead since 2014.

Maduro planned later Thursday to attend an event at the defense ministry in Caracas to receive a "reaffirmation of loyalty" from the armed forces' high command.

The 55-year-old former bus driver's re-election Sunday in a vote boycotted by the main opposition was widely condemned by the international community, including the United States, which denounced it as a "sham."

Venezuela expelled two US diplomats after the US move to tighten sanctions and the US responded with a similar move.

The European Union said it was also weighing new sanctions after the election was marred by "irregularities" and failed to meet international standards.

Maduro, whose term as president now extends to 2025, leads a government facing increasing international isolation, with the United States, the European Union and the 14 countries of the Lima Group -- which includes Argentina, Brazil and Canada -- refusing to recognize the election result.

President Donald Trump's cancellation of a summit with North Korea's Kim Jong Un dashed hopes for a quick denuclearization deal Wednesday, but the door remains open for talks between the two countries.

The meeting, planned for June 12 in Singapore, would have been the first ever between a US president and a member of the Kim dynasty -- the crowning moment of an extraordinary diplomatic partial-thaw unthinkable one year ago.

The question now is what happens next. A return to Kim launching test long-range ballistic missiles in the direction of the United States and Trump threatening to rain "fire and fury" on Pyongyang?

"It depends on how the North Koreans respond" to the summit being called off, said Lisa Collins, a Korea expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"If North Korea reacts to this in a more drastic way and ramps up rhetorical threats or even conducts missile tests, we could see a return to the cycle of high tensions that we saw about six months ago," Collins told AFP.

That would only stoke the views of Trump administration hawks such as White House National Security Advisor John Bolton, who have openly suggested that a military attack on North Korea is better than negotiating with an unreliable regime.

"There's an outcome that's potentially worse than zero, which is one in which voices like Bolton use the failure of this process as a justification for ramping up considerations of military options," said Vipin Narang, a professor in security studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

- Restraint needed from Trump, Kim -

Narang says it is too early to conclude that. The diplomatic process could resume, if the two sides exhibit restraint.

Analysts note the curious warmth of Trump's letter to Kim. "I felt a wonderful dialogue was building up between you and me," Trump wrote.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who did the groundwork for the summit with two visits to Pyongyang in the past two months, said he hopes to "quickly" get back to talks with Pyongyang.

"The best outcome is that they started a working-level dialogue. If that continues that's great," said Narang. "The process started, the summit is just delayed."

Trump had sought to avoid getting bogged down in low-level discussions, as past administrations have, and instead start off with a top-level summit. That, he hoped, would create a strong impetus to get an agreement from the outset, explained one official.

Kim raised expectations by releasing three Americans held prisoner in North Korea, in turn earning praise from Trump.

- No-show at planning meeting -

But preparations stalled in recent weeks over the goals of the summit, according to Collins.

"Both sides have very different perspectives on what denuclearization of the Korean peninsula or of North Korea would look like," she said.

Washington sought a rapid plan toward a "complete, verifiable and irreversible" denuclearization by Pyongyang.

On the table were economic aid and security guarantees, but only if Kim's regime gave up its nuclear weapons.

Pyongyang viewed that as a demand for unilateral disarmament. Its negotiators skipped a planning meeting in Singapore with a top Trump aide, without informing US officials.

"They simply stood us up," said a senior White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, calling it a "profound lack of good faith."

"That gulf was not going to be bridgeable by the time the Singapore summit happened," said Narang.

Yet that could prove to be a good thing.

"If North Korea is not willing to commit seriously to denuclearization in Singapore, better to continue talks at lower levels," said Nicolas Burns, a former senior US diplomat.

"Cancellation with a door open is probably the least bad option," added Aaron David Miller, a veteran of Middle East peace negotiations.

So far neither Trump nor Kim have changed their collegial tone with regard to the other, suggesting both are open to suggestions.

But it remains to be seen whether this will persist, without a summit to prepare for. Much could depend on China, which, though an ally of Pyongyang, has been willing to support Washington's economic sanctions to pressure Kim to deal with, rather than menace, the United States.

Agence France-Presse (AFP) will launch fact-checking sites in English, Spanish and Portuguese with financial support from Facebook, the international news agency announced on Thursday.

The new websites, based on AFP's current Factuel site, will be dedicated to verifying and debunking fake news and disinformation spread online.

They will initially be dedicated to news from Brazil, Colombia and Mexico, with three more countries to be added soon, and AFP journalists on the ground will contribute to the service.

The expanded collaboration between AFP and Facebook and is a continuation of a 2017 contract between the social media giant and five French news organisations, including AFP, the agency said in a statement.

"We're taking action to reduce the spread of misinformation on our platform, but we know we can't do it alone," said Facebook Product Manager Tessa Lyons.

"AFP is a well-respected news organisation with a deep understanding of local contexts in many countries around the world," she added.

"We are delighted with this new contract, which is testament to AFP's expertise and credibility in the verification of information", said AFP Global News Director Michele Leridon.

AFP will have full independence to choose what content is checked under the agreement, the agency said. Some of the fact-checks will be posted on Facebook and flagged to users.

Disgraced former Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein is expected to surrender to authorities in New York on Friday following a months-long investigation into allegations that he sexually assaulted women, US media reported.

The New York Times said Weinstein was expected to surrender on Friday morning, citing unnamed law enforcement officials. Weinstein's defense attorney, contacted by AFP, declined to comment Thursday.

The reports surfaced with the Manhattan District Attorney's office and New York police department have been investigating Weinstein for months.

Weinstein was facing charges in connection to at least one accuser, Lucia Evans, who reported that the fallen power broker forced her to perform oral sex on him in 2004, the New York Daily News reported.

The district attorney's office did not immediately respond to an AFP request to comment.

Weinstein's career went down in flames last October over sexual abuse allegations following bombshell articles in The New York Times and New Yorker magazine, which sparked a sexual harassment watershed across the United States.

More than 100 women have since accused the 66-year-old of impropriety going back 40 years and ranging from sexual harassment to assault and rape.

The twice-married father of five has been investigated by British and US police, but has not yet been charged with any crime. He denies having non-consensual sex and has reportedly been in treatment for sex addiction.

France's highest court on Thursday upheld a landmark conviction against a former Rwandan intelligence agent for his role in the country's 1994 genocide.

Pascal Simbikangwa, 58, was sentenced to 25 years in 2014 in a trial that marked a turning point in France's approach to genocide suspects living on its soil.

The former presidential guard member had already lost an appeal against his conviction for crimes against humanity and genocide in 2016.

The Cour de Cassation, France's court of final appeal, on Thursday ruled it was "obvious" that Simbikangwa had "willingly participated in abuses against the Tutsis and against the civilian population in general".

Simbikangwa, who has been confined to a wheelchair since a car crash in the 1980s, was accused of organising roadblocks where Hutu militia carried out murders, mainly targeting the Tutsi minority. He always insisted his innocence.

More than 800,000 people died during the Rwanda genocide, mostly ethnic Tutsis as well as some moderate Hutus.

The three-month slaughter began after the plane of then president Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, was shot down in April 1994.

In a separate case, prosecutors in Paris asked judges to order a Rwandan former doctor accused of being an accomplice in the genocide to stand trial in a criminal court, following an investigation that began 23 years ago.

- Tense relations -

Prosecutors accuse Sosthenes Munyemana, who fled to France after the end of the massacre, of signing a "motion of support" for government genocide and detaining Tutsi civilians under inhumane conditions.

His lawyer, Jean-Yves Dupeux, said the former gynaecologist had "behaved as he should have in trying to protect refugees in a difficult situation".

Meanwhile, other cases in France involving Rwandans accused of committing atrocities in the genocide are also being appealed.

Former eastern Rwandan mayors Octavien Ngenzi and Tito Barahira -- prosecuted over the genocide -- are both appealing life sentences they were handed in 2016.

The two were convicted of crimes against humanity and genocide over the "massive and systematic summary executions" of Tutsis in Kabarondo in 1994.

For decades, the genocide has led to tensions between France and the small East African country.

Rwanda has accused France of complicity in the mass killings through its support of ethnic Hutu forces who carried out most of the slaughter.

France has admitted it made mistakes but insists it never had a role in the massacre. It had previously also been accused of dragging its feet over prosecuting cases.

After meeting Rwandan President Paul Kagame in Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday backed a Rwandan candidate to head the world association of French-speaking nations, in a move likely to strengthen France's ties with Rwanda.

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