Russia says may have killed Islamic State chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

The Russian army on Friday said it hit Islamic State leaders in an airstrike in Syria last month and was seeking to verify whether IS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had been killed.

In a statement, the army said Sukhoi warplanes carried out a 10-minute night-time strike on May 28 at a location near Raqa, where IS leaders had gathered to plan a pullout by militants from the group’s stronghold.

“Senior commanders of the military groups of the so-called IS military council, 30 mid-ranking field commanders and up to 300 militants who provided security for them were eliminated,” it said.

“According to information which is being checked through various channels, the leader of ISIL Ibrahim Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi was also present at the meeting and was eliminated by the strike,” it said.

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ISIL is an acronym for the so-called IS group, also known as ISIS and Daesh.

The US has been informed about the attack, the statement added.

Elusive IS supremo Baghdadi has not been seen in public since proclaiming himself “caliph” in the Iraqi city of Mosul three years ago.

His group has earned global notoriety for imposing a hardline form of Islam that has included stonings, beheadings and amputations.

The Iraqi-born world’s most-wanted man has been rumoured wounded or killed a number of times in the past.

He has been nicknamed “The Ghost” as he has been reportedly spotted around the Syrian-Iraqi border but his whereabouts have never been confirmed.

US-backed Arab and Kurdish forces broke into the IS bastion of Raqa last Tuesday for the first time since it became a hub of the group’s self-declared caliphate and the scene of its most gruesome atrocities.

Source – TheJakartaPost

Bottas seeks to double up in Barcelona

Valtteri Bottas seeks to prove his maiden Formula One success at Sochi was no fluke by repeating the feat for champions Mercedes in this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix.

The unflappable Finn, who has emerged as a serious threat not only to his more celebrated team-mate Lewis Hamilton, but also Ferrari’s championship leader Sebastian Vettel, believes his determination, form and speed justify his optimism.

“Getting that win has definitely given me a lot of confidence that I can do it – because I always thought that I had the ability.

“And now it’s done all I want to do is to go and win again and again,” said Bottas.

Another Bottas win would not be a surprise at a venue that has a habit of producing more different winners than anywhere else – if he is successful, he will be the 11th different winner in as many years.

The Circuit de Catalunya, a track drivers and teams know intimately from days of pre-season testing, is capable of throwing up the most unexpected and unpredictable results.

That was demonstrated last year by Dutch teenager Max Verstappen’s win on his debut for Red Bull.

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Bottas’ recent bright form – pole position in Bahrain and victory at Sochi – has confirmed him as a worthy successor to retired 2016 world champion Nico Rosberg at Mercedes where, temporarily, he has managed to put three-time world champion Hamilton in the shade.

But that does not mean much as the teams, all with upgraded packages, begin the European season with Ferrari likely to set the pace if the weather conditions put the onus on tyre management.

– marginal –

The Italian team has a car that is less demanding on its rubber and operates well across a wider range of temperatures than the Mercedes.

For Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, it is a concern, but not yet a serious worry.

“I don’t think there is a particular pattern yet,” he said. “It is all very marginal with tyre compounds, interaction with the track, the surface of the track and the track temperature itself.

“But, one thing is for sure — we have a very fast race car and a fast qualifying car. We just need to tune it and this is an exciting exercise.”

Tyre suppliers Pirelli will take their harder tyres, not greatly loved by Mercedes on the evidence so far this year, to Barcelona this weekend.

“I think it will be close – in fact more than very close,” added Wolff.

“Ferrari came out of the winter with a good car and it seems to suit Sebastian a lot. So, we just need to stretch ourselves to perform as good as we can and, if we do like we did in Russia with Valtteri, we are able to compete.”

He said the team had no immediate explanation for Hamilton’s uninspired form in Sochi where he struggled with the car.

“Lewis had a difficult weekend in both qualifying and the race,” said Wolff.

“We’ve since been unpicking what happened to understand why we couldn’t get the car in the right window so he could feel comfortable with it.”

Hamilton said he was mystified by his lack of pace as he finished fourth to fall 13 points adrift of Vettel after four rounds of the championship.

“We must give him the tools he needs to do the job in the next races and that will be a big focus for us,” added Wolff.

“Barcelona will be interesting as our pre-season was not spectacular in Spain. It’s a very different track to Sochi and we’ll be running with harder tyres. So, we are taking this season one race at a time…”

Ferrari and Mercedes may be the front-runners again, but Red Bull expect to be close in pursuit with a heavily-updated car while local hero Fernando Alonso has more modest hopes.

After failing to start in Russia, he is just hoping his revised McLaren will be on the grid to take part in his home race this Sunday.

Source – TheJakartaPost

Iran, Russia agree on visa-free stay for tour groups

Iran and Russia have eased visa requirements for Iranian nationals visiting Russia and vice versa, following an agreement signed by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Russian President Vladimir Putin in late March.

Tehran Times reported on Monday that “based on the agreement, tour groups of 5 to 50 people heading to Russia from Iran or vice versa will be granted a visa-free stay of up to 15 days”.

The move is expected to increase tourism between the two countries.

Russia’s Tour Operators Association executive director Maya Lomidze said that Russia was welcoming more Iranian visitors following the launch of direct flights from Iran to St. Petersburg, Moscow and Sochi.

Source – TheJakartaPost

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‘Tulips production to 2 billion pieces’

HILLEGOM – The Tulips production exceeds this year is expected for the first time limit of 2 billion tulips. Which provides for the Royal General Bulb Growers (KAVB).

According to the trade association’s demand for the famous flower especially abroad firmly in the elevator. Last year production was 1.9 billion cut tulips and a decade ago, there were still approximately one billion pieces.

Export

Approximately nine out of ten tulips are destined for export. Main market is Germany. There are likely a billion tulip there and the demand is still there.

Also in Russia is the tulip according to André Hoogendijk, deputy director of the KAVB still popular. Russians cut by the dire economic situation in the country firmly on flowers, but the relatively inexpensive tulip is just additional demand, so the industry leader.

National Tulip Day

Saturday is the National Tulip Day, the day when the start of a new tulip season is officially celebrated. On the Dam in Amsterdam puts the industry a temporary garden with more than 200,000 tulips. The total turnover of the Dutch tulip production is about 300 million.