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Sharp Federer gives Switzerland winning start at Hopman Cup
30 December 2017, 3:07 PM

Roger Federer dismissed Japan’s Yuichi Sugita 6-4 6-3 in just over an hour on Saturday to give Switzerland a winning start at the Hopman Cup and send out a signal to his opponents ahead of next month’s Australian Open.

Coming off a fruitful year which yielded two grand slam titles, world number two Federer looked fit and sharp while other members of tennis’s ‘Big Four’ are grappling with injury issues.

Federer hurried to save a break point in his first game but otherwise did not have any trouble against the 29-year-old Sugita, whom he broke in the fifth game, and there was no looking back from there.

“It’s been an absolute dream run,” the Swiss said, looking back at the year.

“It’s gone by too fast to be honest, you know. When you’re having fun things go too fast but what a year it has been, (I) could not be happier.

“Such a huge surprise. I’m healthy, had a great off-season, so pleased to have the year that I had.”

The 19-times grand slam winner, who will be defending his title at Melbourne Park next month, was happy with the way he coped with the demands of the game.

“I feel the game has evolved again in the last 10 years or so. I have made some adjustments to my game, I’m trying to hit through the backhand a bit more, maybe I have a bit more pop on the serve and naturally the whole rally has changed because you have different options.

“I think I’m playing very well, otherwise I wouldn’t be having the results that I’m having. I’m happy I’m still playing at this level. I was always hoping to play for a long time and I’m doing that.”

Belinda Bendic beat Naomi Osaka 7-5 6-3 in the women’s contest to clinch Switzerland’s victory in the round-robin stage of the mixed team event.

Earlier, CoCo Vandeweghe beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Jack Sock downed Karen Khachanov to help United States beat Russia at the Perth Arena.

Soccer star George Weah wins Liberian presidential election
28 December 2017, 8:18 PM

Former soccer star George Weah has defeated Vice President Joseph Boakai to win Liberia’s presidential election run-off with 61.5 percent of the vote, based on 98.1 percent of ballots cast, the election commission said on Thursday.

The announcement by commission chairman Jerome Korkoyah means Weah will succeed Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as Liberia’s president next month, in what will be the country’s first democratic transition since 1944.

Earlier, the U.S.-based Carter Center said there were “notable improvements” in the handling of Tuesday’s vote from the first round in October, echoing positive assessments from other international observers.

“We are very confident. We have not heard from Mr. Boakai but we anticipate a call at some point,” the secretary-general of Weah’s campaign, Janga Kowo, told Reuters.

Kowo said his team’s figures were based on nearly 60 percent of ballots cast and showed him ahead in 14 out of Liberia’s 15 counties.

In an interview in the courtyard of his home on the outskirts of the capital Monrovia, Boakai said he thought he would win.

“I don’t have a sense of losing the election,” he said.

“What we wanted and all hoped for were free, fair and transparent elections. I doubt seriously if that is what we are going to get,” he added, without elaborating.

Weah, the only African ever to be named FIFA World Player of the Year, was widely considered the favourite to succeed outgoing president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Liberia is Africa’s oldest modern republic and was founded by freed U.S. slaves in 1847. Its last democratic transfer of power occurred in 1944 and was followed by a military coup in 1980 and a 14-year civil war that ended only in 2003.

Hundreds protest against high prices in Iran
28 December 2017, 6:03 PM

Hundreds took to the streets of Iran’s second largest city of Mashad on Thursday to protest over high prices, shouting slogans against the government.

Videos posted on social media showed demonstrators in Mashad in northwest Iran, one of the holiest places in Shia Islam, chanting “death to (President Hassan) Rouhani” and “death to the dictator”.

The semi-official ILNA news agency and social media reported demonstrations in other cities in Razavi Khorasan Province, including Neyshabour and Kashmar.

Rouhani’s signature achievement, a deal in 2015 with world powers to curb Iran’s nuclear program in return for lifting most international sanctions, has yet to bring the broad economic benefits the government says are coming.

Many Iranians believe their economic situation has not improved due to corruption and mismanagement.

Unemployment stood at 12.4 percent in this fiscal year, according to the Statistical Centre of Iran, up 1.4 percent from the previous year. About 3.2 million Iranians are jobless, out of a total population of 80 million.

Mashad governor Mohammad Rahim Norouzian was quoted by the semi-official ISNA news agency as saying that “the demonstration was illegal but the police dealt with people with tolerance”.

He said a number of protesters were arrested for “trying to damage public property”.

Videos posted on social media showed riot police used water cannon and tear gas to disperse crowds.

Norouzian was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA that the protests were organised by “enemies of the Islamic Republic” and “counter-revolutionaries”.

Demonstrators also chanted “leave Syria, think about us”, criticising Iran’s deployment of troops to support President Bashar al-Assad against the uprising that broke out in 2011.

Tehran has also provided funds to prop up Syria’s struggling economy.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has repeatedly criticised the government’s economic record, said on Wednesday that the nation was struggling with “high prices, inflation and recession”, and asked officials to resolve the problems with determination.

Liberians head to the polls in historic, delayed election
26 December 2017, 5:52 PM

Liberia went to the polls on Tuesday for a presidential election that voters hope will mark the country’s first democratic transfer of power in over seven decades, despite it being tarnished by allegations of fraud.

Former world footballer of the year George Weah is squaring up against vice president Joseph Boakai, with both men promising a break with a heritage of poverty and corruption in a country where most citizens have no reliable electricity or clean drinking water.

They are bidding to succeed Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in a run-off vote delayed for over a month after Boakai and third-placed Charles Brumskine of the Liberty Party alleged widespread fraud in October’s first-round vote, a challenge that the Supreme Court rejected this month.

There were no early reports of violence as voting proceeded under sunny skies in the capital Monrovia, with polling stations opening at 0800 GMT and election agents telling Reuters first indications pointed to a lower turnout than in the first round.

“It is great day for Liberia – a test day for democracy,” said Boakai after casting his vote in Paynesville. “We will accept the results provided they meet all the standards.”

Johnson Sirleaf’s 12-year rule cemented peace in the West African country after civil war ended in 2003, and brought in much needed aid.

But critics, including much of the country’s youth, say her administration was marred by corruption and that she did little to raise most Liberians out of dire poverty.

Liberia was also racked by the Ebola crisis, which killed thousands in the country between 2014 and 2016, while a drop in iron ore prices since 2014 has dented export revenues.

Tuesday’s poll follows a month of political tensions fuelled by claims that the first-round poll was rigged in Weah’s favour.

Weah, world footballer of the year in 1995, won with 38 percent versus Boakai’s 29 percent.

“I voted George Weah because I believe that he will do better for me and my country. I want change,” said Miama Kamara, a 32-year-old businesswoman, before casting her ballot in the capital.

Boakai’s ruling Unity Party had accused Johnson Sirleaf, who is herself a member of the party, of interfering in the October vote by holding private meetings with election magistrates.

Boakai has found it harder to convince voters that he will bring change, given that he worked alongside Johnson Sirleaf for 12 years. Weah, by contrast, has won the hearts of mostly young Liberians through his star performances for Europe’s biggest football teams in the 1990s.

His arrival at a polling station in Paynesville was met with cheers by a crowd of supporters.

“My focus now is to win,” he told reporters. “From there, I am going to get on the drawing board with my team and then we’ll put a plan together to move our country forward.”

Some however are wary of Weah’s lack of political experience, education and concrete policy.

“Boakai understands diplomacy,” said McArthur Nuah Kermah, a school registrar in Paynesville. “Weah is not experienced and doesn’t know the workings of government.”

 

 

[Watch] Liberians vote for a new president

Sudan to devalue pound currency to 18 per dollar in January
26 December 2017, 4:29 PM

Sudan is to devalue its currency to 18 Sudanese pounds per dollar in January from the current exchange rate of 6.7, the finance minister said on Tuesday.

The International Monetary Fund urged Sudan earlier this month to float its currency to boost growth and investment, but the government has ruled out a market-determined exchange rate.

The devaluation which includes the customs exchange rate – the rate used to calculate customs duties – is timed to take place when the 2018 budget begins, in the first week of January, Finance Minister Mohamed Othman Rukabi told Reuters.

Traders said the black market rate jumped to 27 SDG per dollar from 25 SDG per dollar on Tuesday after the devaluation was announced.

“The whole budget for the new year is based on a an official rate of 18 SDG per dollar. We expect the results of this policy to be positive for the Sudanese economy,” he said.

The Sudanese pound has weakened sharply against the dollar since Washington lifted 20-year-old economic sanctions in October, encouraging traders to step up imports and putting pressure on scarce hard currency.

Businesses are unable to secure their hard currency needs at the official peg of 6.7 pounds to the dollar and are forced to resort to a parallel market.

To stem the flow of scarce currency out of the banking system, Sudan announced emergency measures last month after the pound fell to a record low of 27 against the dollar on the black market.

The country also imposed tight restrictions on imports of luxury goods, directing remaining liquidity toward “sectors that boost growth”, the central bank said.

The import-dependent country has suffered both from the sanctions and from the secession of the south in 2011, when it lost three-quarters of its oil output, its main source of foreign currency.

The IMF last year agreed to loan Sudan’s neighbour Egypt $12 billion if it implemented tough fiscal reforms.

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