Wall St’s ‘Charging Bull’ artist challenges ‘Fearless Girl’ sculpture

The sculptor of Wall Street’s “Charging Bull” statue is seeing red over New York City’s decision to keep in place the “Fearless Girl” sculpture that now stares it down, saying the adjacent art has changed the meaning of his work and violated his legal rights.

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The city’s ruling to let the bronze depiction of a defiant girl remain until February 2018 just feet from the bull’s flaring nostrils should be reviewed, said a lawyer for sculptor Arturo Di Modica.

“How did the process happen and should permits be revoked?” the attorney, Norman Siegel, said in an interview on Wednesday, adding that his client ought to have been consulted.

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“He should have been asked, never was,” Siegel said. “There are copyright and trademark infringement issues.”

Di Modica told a news conference he envisioned his statue as a positive symbol, but that the addition of the courageous girl turned his bull into a villain.

“It’s really bad,” Di Modica said, sounding distraught and adding that the bull was loved by people “all over the world.”

The 50-inch (127-cm) girl stands fists on hips on a cobble stone plaza, eye-balling the 11-foot (3.4-meter) bull that has occupied the space in Manhattan’s financial district for nearly three decades.

Siegel said they want the girl sculpture moved and for Di Modica to be awarded damages for the violation of his legal, statutory rights.

Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted in response: “Men who don’t like women taking up space are exactly why we need the Fearless Girl.”

‘Commercial purposes’ 

Initially installed to mark International Women’s Day on March 8, the girl statue was meant to be removed on April 2. But the city extended its stay amid ebullient interest on social media, generous press attention and at least two petitions.

State Street Global Advisors, a subsidiary of State Street Corp, said it financed the installation by artist Kristen Visbal to highlight the need for more women on corporate boards. Twenty-five percent of the largest 3,000 U.S. companies have no female directors, State Street noted at the time.

Siegel said the intent was less high-minded, adding, “They did it for commercial purposes.”

A plaque originally placed at the girl’s feet read: ”Know the power of women in leadership. SHE makes a difference.” It refers to an exchange-traded fund dubbed “SHE,” which invests in companies with women in top executive posts.

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“They have since taken the plaque away,” Siegel said. “Which acknowledges perhaps it never should have been there in the first place.”

Siegel said he has filed Freedom of Information requests about the permitting process with various city offices. He said he hopes to avoid going to court and would rather negotiate.

The 7,100-pound (3,200 kg) bull itself originally appeared as guerrilla art, installed unofficially in front of the New York Stock Exchange by Di Modica in 1989 and intended to convey the fighting spirit of the United States and of New York.

After police seized the sculpture, public outcry led the city’s parks department to reinstall it days later nearby at its current location.

Kate Harding, assistant director of Cornell University Women’s Resource Center, said the bull’s “hypermasculine, aggressive image” belongs to a different era of New York.

She said images of “Fearless Girl” did not go viral online because people wanted to promote an investment company, “but because she represents a refreshing, inclusive, 21st-century vision of core American values like courage and righteous defiance.”

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Bellamy’s interim CEO now permanent

The man filling in as chief executive of infant formula supplier Bellamy’s Australia has been tasked with the job of steering the company out of its current woes.

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Andrew Cohen has been in the role since January 11, replacing long-term chief executive Laura McBain, who resigned after a torrid time for the company.

“Andrew has shown himself to be a highly focused and capable senior executive and we believe that he brings the right qualities and skills for the role of CEO of Bellamy’s,” chairman Rod Peters said in a statement.

Mr Cohen said he looked forward to working closely with senior management and the Bellamy’s board to restore shareholder value after a difficult period for the business.

Tasmania-based Bellamy’s endured a massive share price plunge in December and January after it flagged a significant drop in sales in the key China market and twice downgraded its full year earnings forecast.

Most of the company’s board resigned or were then dumped in a shareholder backlash in February, and Bellamy’s is also facing a class action from shareholders seeking to get back some of the losses from the massive share price fall.

Bellamy’s has also appointed John Ho, the founder and chief investment officer of Hong Kong-based investor Janchor Partners, which has a stake of 7.01 per cent in Bellamy’s, as a non-executive director.

Mr Ho is also the deputy chairman of the Hong Kong Exchange listing committee that oversees the listing rules and companies in Hong Kong.

“He has deep experience investing in both China and Australia, including in consumer and health sectors, and has been a director of publicly listed and private companies with strong governance experience,” Mr Peters said.

Further appointments to the Bellamy’s board will be made in due course, he said.

Shares in Bellamy’s were down one cent at $4.44 at 1450 AEST.

Whitehaven expects sales rise after Debbie

Whitehaven Coal is hoping to cash in on the recent spike in metallurgical coal prices as disruptions from Cyclone Debbie affect global supplies.

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The company has an optimistic outlook despite a four per cent drop in its third quarter production, due to maintenance work at its Narrabri mine in NSW.

The east coast miner expects coal prices to remain high for several months, and said it is likely to boost metallurgical coal sales in the last quarter of the financial following increased enquiries for the steel making ingredient.

Coal prices have soared since Debbie hit Queensland in late March, and caused severe flooding and landslides that forced the closure of key ports, railways and mines.

Five major miners have declared ‘force majeure’ for their coal deliveries from the region, and analysts have estimated a loss of roughly 15 million tonnes of coal shipments from the world’s seaborne coking coal supplies.

“This loss of exports is likely to be positive for coal prices until normal production and shipments resume and any contract delivery shortfall recovered, which could take some months,” Whitehaven said on Thursday.

The company operates mines in NSW and has not been impacted by the natural disaster.

Whitehaven still expects to achieve full year production of 21 to 22 million tonnes, despite lower production during the quarter at the Narrabri mine.

The miner realised an average price of $US119 per tonne for metallurgical coal during the quarter, up from $US104 a tonne in the preceding three months.

For thermal coal, its main export, the average realised price was $US83 per tonne, compared to $US92 in the previous three months.

Whitehaven shares dropped 22 cents, or 6.9 per cent, to $2.98.

Slater can’t leave Origin behind to retire

Billy Slater has given his strongest indication that he won’t join Johnathan Thurston in farewelling State of Origin at Suncorp Stadium next month.

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And NSW will have Wednesday night’s second-half collapse against Queensland to blame for another year of having to face the Slater magic.

Playing in his first Origin in 735 days at ANZ Stadium on Wednesday night, the Melbourne fullback offered another reminder of why he is arguably the greatest player to wear the No.1 jersey for the Maroons.

The 34-year-old is yet to confirm his plans for next season, but if he was to retire from the NRL or the representative arena, it would leave a massive hole in the Maroons’ generational shift in 2018.

Queensland are already set to be without Thurston next season upon his representative retirement, while his halves partner Cooper Cronk’s future is also uncertain.

But after having a hand in the match-winning Dane Gagai try in game two, Slater said he was looking less and less likely to give it away at the end of the season.

“There’s more chance than not that I’ll play on next year,” Slater said.

“At the moment, I’m feeling really good, the body is in a really healthy spot and I’m enjoying my football.

“I really enjoy playing for Queensland, so I’d like to think that if I did play on next year, I’d play for Queensland again.”

Slater has scored 12 tries in 28 matches for Queensland, contributing to seven series wins since his Origin debut in 2004.

He has also played in 17 victories, however few were as special as Wednesday night’s come-from-behind 18-16 success to keep hopes of an 11th series win in 12 years alive.

Slater was in tears after the match, capping off a return from back-to-back career-threatening shoulder surgeries.

And he admitted that reminder of the Origin emotion was helping convince him to play on another year.

“This is certainly a great feeling after what I’ve been through to come out and be involved in this,” Slater said.

“I honestly didn’t know if I was going to play another game of football, let alone be at ANZ Stadium in front of a packed house and be involved in an Origin match like that.”

Wallabies need to find motivation within

The Wallabies have absorbed a week of supporter fury and are ready to let it out on an inexperienced Italy in Saturday’s Test, captain Stephen Moore says.

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But, the veteran hooker warned Australia needed to find their motivation from within – not from external sources like Jack Quigley’s now-infamous viral Facebook rant.

The Lismore rugby fanatic struck a chord with a frustrated domestic support base as more than 50,000 people endorsed his lengthy open letter to Michael Cheika, which prompted a return phone call from the coach on Monday as he dealt with the issue.

Cheika printed it out and posted it on the walls of the team’s training base this week in Brisbane to ensure they received the message after last weekend’s horror loss to Scotland.

Moore, who has been named for his first start of the season against the Azzurri after two Tests on the bench, said it had been received.

“Cheik handled that pretty well early in the week and was probably talking to all the fans when he was speaking to that person,” Moore said on Thursday.

“I was just staggered that he had 18 beers – that was a lot, I probably wouldn’t have that many in a couple of weeks.

“It’s about the sentiment that’s generally out there and, if that’s the case, if we’re not conveying how we want to play to our fans and supporters, that’s our issue to deal with.

“For me, that’s a big part of playing for your country – you’re representing everybody.

“There’s a lot of people who want us to do well and we feel the frustration when it doesn’t go well.

“It’s a big week, no doubt, particularly after last week. The game can’t come quick enough for everyone.”

However, Moore said it was dangerous to let results – much less social media posts – dictate how they behaved.

“Sure, we certainly feel how the fans feel as well and we take that all on board… (but) we want to be consistent,” he said.

“At the end of the day, you need your own motivation and it’s got to be something that comes from within.

“If you’re looking for external motivation, that’s a little bit shallow.”

Moore will become the 10th most-capped international player in Test history on Saturday, surpassing Italy’s Martin Castrogiovanni and England’s Jason Leonard in making his 120th appearance.

CIMIC, John Holland win harbour tunnel bid

Work is set to commence on the first rail tunnel under Sydney Harbour after the NSW government awarded a $2.

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81 billion contract for its construction to a consortium led by CIMIC Group and John Holland.

The twin-tunnel rail line will run more than 15 kilometres under the harbour and CBD, and revolutionise travel in Sydney, according to engineering giant John Holland.

The state government confirmed CIMIC, John Holland and Ghella as the successful tenderers for the project after NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet’s Tuesday state budget promised to deliver $73 billion of infrastructure investment over four years.

Preparation work will begin immediately to get the first of five tunnel boring machines in the ground by the end of 2018, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Thursday.

“The scale of this project and what it will do for the ease and speed of travelling across Sydney is hard to comprehend,” Ms Berejiklian said.

The twin rail tunnels will be completed by mid-2021, and are part of Australia’s biggest public transport project – a 66 kilometre line that will link Sydney’s northwest to the southwest, via the city, due to be operational in 2024.

John Holland chief executive Joe Barr said the new rail tunnels will revolutionise Sydney’s public transport.

“This iconic project will build the first ever rail tunnels under Sydney Harbour – a crucial transport connection to meet the ever growing needs of our global city,” Mr Barr said.

Roman Garrido, the managing director of CIMIC’s CPB Contractors, said construction of the twin rail tunnels will deliver jobs and opportunities for local workers and businesses, as part of a “sustainable and socially-inclusive” procurement strategy.

The project also includes the creation of six new underground metro stations.

John Holland and CIMIC, formerly known as Leighton Holdings, are also responsible for the $8.3 billion Sydney Metro Northwest project.

CIMIC shares gained 65 cents, or 1.7 per cent, to $39.13.

SA budget: The key points

SOUTH AUSTRALIA’S BUDGET:

* The budget surplus to be $72 million in 2017/18, rising to $132m in 2018/19, $193m in 2019/20 and $462m in 2020/21.

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* The state economy to grow by 2.25 per cent in 2017/18 and by the same amount across the forward estimates.

* Employment growth to be flat at one per cent across the forward estimates, below the national average.

* A $200 million future jobs fund to focus on creating jobs in the defence, renewable energy, mining, tourism, health and IT sectors. There are also payroll tax cuts for small businesses and incentives for companies to take on apprentices or trainees.

* The government will raise $370 million over four years with a levy on the major banks along with legislation to prevent them passing it on to customers.

* The government to spend $1 billion on hospitals including $528 million on a new women’s hospital and $250 million to upgrade the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

* The government has reaffirmed its $550 million energy plan to provide security of electricity supplies. Includes money for a new gas-fired power station and for a battery to store renewable energy.

* Two new schools to be built in Adelaide’s south and north to each cater for 1500 students.They will be built using funds from the private sector.

* A $48.8 million slug (over four years) on foreign buyers of residential properties who will have to pay a four per cent surcharge from January next year.

* The government has found $31 million for upgrades to the courts, including funds for an extra Supreme Court judge and an extra deputy coroner after calls for more resources from the judiciary.

RBA chief sees ‘half-glass full’ outlook

It doesn’t look like Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe and the central bank board are about to push for another interest rate cut.

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Lowe told a conference this week he was a ‘half glass full’ kind of guy and that there’s a lot to be positive about when it comes to the economic outlook.

The global economy is in a better position than it has been for some time and the “animal spirits” of the business world – missing for “quite a while” – might be on the comeback.

The pick-up was helping Australia, which will likely see economic growth a bit stronger than recent times.

However, there are potential headwinds that the central bank is watching carefully.

In particular, Lowe told the Australian National University’s Crawford Australian Leadership Forum wage growth was “unusually low”, average working hours had declined, household debt was rising and house prices were high in the largest cities.

All up, financial markets see no change in the RBA cash interest rate this year, and possibly a rate hike towards the end of 2018.

While some economists, like those at JP Morgan, believe there’s still a chance of another cut in the rate – which has been at a record low 1.5 per cent since August – the general view is monetary policy is on hold for the foreseeable future.

Of course, that doesn’t preclude retail banks from independently increasing their lending rates for commercial reasons in the interim.

However, the big four banks are under the scrutiny of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission as part of the Turnbull government’s major bank levy, which cleared parliament this week.

From July 1, ANZ, Commonwealth Bank, National Australia Bank and Westpac, along with the nation’s largest investment bank Macquarie, will pay the six basis point levy, raising $6.2 billion over the next four years that will go to budget repair.

Treasurer Scott Morrison insists the banks can absorb the levy, in the same way small business and families have to absorb increased costs.

“Implementation of the levy is not an excuse for applicable banks to increase costs for customers,” Morrison says.

The consumer watchdog has been directed to undertake an inquiry into residential mortgage pricing to make sure the levy is not being used as an excuse to lift rates.

However, few believe the levy won’t be passed on to customers and shareholders.

Even Treasury, Morrison’s own department, conceded to a Senate hearing its modelling assumed some “pass through” to customers and shareholders.

Complicating matters, global ratings agency Moody’s Investors Service downgraded 12 Australian banks, including the big four, this week.

The downgrade suggests bank funding could be slightly more expensive when raising money overseas, a factor that has forced higher independent interest rate increases in the past.

Moody’s vice president Frank Mirenzi insists the downgrade had nothing to do with the bank levy, saying the majors should be able to cope through repricing some of their products or passing some of it onto their shareholders.

Rather, Moody’s believes there is an elevated risk from increased household sector indebtedness.

“The action we’re taking is about the way households might respond if there is a change in their financial circumstances – that it makes them harder to repay their mortgage debts,” Mirenzi says.

Which brings us back to wages growth, which Lowe believes is at crisis levels in many countries.

Because people feel there is more competition in the labour market, they are less inclined to ask for a wage rise.

However, Lowe thinks the labour market has become quite tight in a number of countries.

“At some point, one imagines that’s going to lead to workers being prepared to ask for large wage rises,” he says.

“If that were to happen, it would be a good thing.”

And we can all raise our half-full glasses to that.

Four arrested over Brussels bomb attack

Belgian authorities say that police have detained four people in a series of raids in Brussels linked to the failed bombing at a rail station this week by a man shouting “Allahu akbar.

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The federal prosecutor’s office said that the four were picked up during searches in the Molenbeek neighbourhood, as well as in Anderlecht and Koekelberg.

The attacker in Tuesday’s violence at Brussels Central Station was a 36-year-old Moroccan national also living in Molenbeek, but he wasn’t known to authorities for being involved in extremist activities.

Many of the suspects linked to attacks in Brussels and in Paris in November 2015 lived in or passed through the Molenbeek neighborhood

Prosecutors said in a statement that the four suspects allegedly linked to the latest incident in Brussels were “taken in for thorough questioning” and that an investigating judge would decide whether to keep them in custody.

Authorities didn’t say whether anything had been seized in the raids, and declined to provide further details.

The raids are among several launched since Tuesday’s attempted attack at Brussels Central Station in which the man blew up a device that didn’t fully detonate.

He was then fatally shot by soldiers after charging at them while shouting “Allahu akbar,” the Arabic phrase for “God is great.”

No one else was hurt.

Belgium has been on high alert since suicide bombers killed 32 people at the Brussels airport and a subway station last year.

Authorities said the quick shooting of the attacker averted fatalities. He had been trying to detonate a larger nail bomb.

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Hanson defends comments about children with autism

Senator Hanson, speaking during debate on schools funding on Wednesday, raised the prospect of autistic children being segregated from mainstream classrooms in order to receive special attention.

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She said it was no good allowing kids with autism to feel good about themselves without considering the impact it was having on other children around them.

Her comments have sparked outrage among parents of autistic children and she has come under fire from Labor and Greens senators.

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But Ms Hanson refused to back down and dug in behind her original speech at a press conference in Canberra on Thursday.

“I will not take away back my comments.”

She continued: “If I upset people, that was not my intention. My intention is to raise these issues, speak about them openly, honestly, on the floor of Parliament.”

She labelled criticism of her position as political point scoring, saying her comments had been misrepresented.

Federal Labor MP Emma Husar, who has a child with autism, has demanded an apology from Ms Hanson.

“She owes an apology to every single autistic child in this country, every one of the parents who are like me – because we’ve got better things to do than defend our kids,” Ms Husar said.

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Greens leader Richard Di Natale described the remarks as some of the most “hateful, outrageous” and “disgraceful” comments towards young children in need of extra support.

Ms Hanson said every child deserved an education, but students with autism needed special attention and could be taught in special classrooms.

“The rest of the time they are allowed to mix with the other kids in the playgrounds and sporting events. Whatever.”

She said parents and “teachers around the country” had thanked her for her frank comments and she read a letter from a 15-year-old boy who said he hated being at a mainstream school.

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France’s Plisson back for Boks rugby Test

Jules Plisson has been restored at five-eighth as one of three backline changes by French coach Guy Noves for Saturday’s third and final Test against South Africa at Ellis Park.

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France are seeking a consolation win having been well beaten in the first two Tests, and Noves has made a further six changes in a revamped bench.

Plisson started the first game in Pretoria and has been preferred in the No.10 jersey to Francois Trinh Duc, who is named among the replacements.

The other two changes to the starting XV are also in the backline, as Brice Dulin comes in for South African-born Scott Spedding at fullback and Nans Ducuing gets a first Test start ahead of Yoann Huget, who suffered a cut last weekend to his mouth.

In changes on the bench, prop Xavier Chiocci comes in for Eddy Ben Arous, lock Paul Jedrasiak is preferred to Julien le Devedec, flanker Loann Goujon is in for Bernard le Roux, halfback Maxime Machenaud takes over from Antoine Dupont, Trinh-Duc features instead of Jean-Marc Doussain and Vincent Rattez takes the place of Ducuing.

South Africa won the first test 37-14 and followed that with a 37-15 victory last weekend in Durban. They have never beaten France at Ellis Park, though, losing all four previous Tests.

FRANCE:

Brice Dulin, Nans Ducuing, Damian Penaud, Gael Fickou, Virimi Vakatawa, Jules Plisson, Baptiste Serin, Louis Picamoles, Kevin Gourdon, Yacouba Camara, Romain Taofifenua, Yoann Maestri, Rabah Slimani, Guilhem Guirado (capt), Jefferson Poirot.

Res: Clement Maynadier, Xavier Chiocci, Uini Atonio, Paul Jedrasiak, Loann Goujon, Maxime Machenaud, Francois Trinh Duc, Vincent Rattez.

France’s Emmanuel Macron gears up for first EU summit

France’s new President Emmanuel Macron heads to his first EU summit pledging to breathe new life into the bloc after Britain’s shock Brexit decision and to bolster European defences in the face of Donald Trump’s “America First” policy.

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The 39-year-old takes his place among fellow European Union leaders in Brussels flush from emphatic electoral victories at home, although his post-election honeymoon was upset this week by a high-level cabinet reshuffle that saw the departure of his justice minister Francois Bayrou, a key ally.

Macron was quick to bond with the doyenne of the EU, Germany’s Angela Merkel, making a point of visiting her on his maiden foreign trip the day after his May 7 election.

Early this month, Brussels unveiled a Franco-German blueprint for the creation of a European defence fund with an annual budget of 5.5 billion euro ($6.1 billion).

Macron’s office said Paris and Berlin, traditionally the twin engines of European integration, hoped their partners would sign off on the defence plan at the two-day summit.

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The idea for the fund, which would finance joint military hardware projects including drones as well as pooled research and development, is to help Europe stand alone as a global military power in the face of US President Trump’s “America First” policy.

Trump berated his European partners on military spending at a raucous NATO summit in Brussels last month.

Macron has called for a permanent European defence headquarters that would plan and monitor defence operations in close cooperation with NATO command centres in the 22 countries that are both EU and NATO members.

Merkel, who herself faces elections in September, said the two core European powers would work to give “new momentum” to the Franco-German axis – whose hand is strengthened by Britain’s shock Brexit decision last year.

‘Awakening ambitions’

On Tuesday, she said she was prepared to consider additional Macron proposals, which include a finance minister and parliament for the eurozone, “if the circumstances are right”.

“We could also consider a euro-budget if it is clear that we are really strengthening the structure of the economy and doing sensible things,” she added, backing another suggestion by the French leader.

But Merkel’s support comes at a price: she will expect Macron to adhere more closely to the EU’s Stability Pact budget rules for countries in the eurozone.

Paris already on notice from the EU Commission that France is on course to overshoot its deficit limit once again in 2017.

The macro-economic straitjacket was all too familiar to Macron’s predecessor Francois Hollande, whose attempts to comply helped make the Socialist leader one of the most unpopular French presidents in the postwar era.

During his electoral campaign, Macron put forward ideas for reforming the eurozone, noting that the 19-nation currency bloc cannot go on as it is if it wants to avoid falling prey to protest and populism.

“We need Europe, so we will remake it,” Macron said on the campaign trail. “I will be the president of the awakening of our European ambitions.”

With the European Union under attack from eurosceptics such as his presidential rival Marine Le Pen, Macron made support of the EU the cornerstone of his campaign.

In contrast, the far-right Le Pen, whom he defeated by a 20-point margin in May, had vowed to scrap the euro and call a referendum on EU membership.

The EU summit will be the third top-level international meeting for Macron after a NATO gathering and a Group of Seven summit in Sicily.

‘High expectations’

The young new leader, a former Rothschild banker and economy minister, has impressed with self-assured appearances, including staring down Trump in a high-profile handshake.

“There are pretty high expectations among his partners (but) the wind is at his back,” said Francois Heisbourg, president of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.

A senior EU diplomat told AFP in Brussels that Macron was in a line of French presidents going back six decades who have “promised reforms and a total revamp”.

He said if Macron succeeds, “the Franco-German engine will start running, and running very fast.”

But he warned: “If the engine works too well, it is not always good for the EU … Let’s hope Paris and Berlin know how to control their speed.”

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Twenty casualties as car bomb hits bank in south Afghanistan

Twenty people were killed Thursday when a powerful car bomb struck a bank in Afghanistan’s Lashkar Gah city as government employees were queueing to withdraw salaries, the latest bloody attack during the holy month of Ramadan.

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At least 50 wounded people were rushed to hospital after the bombing at New Kabul Bank which upturned vehicles, left the area littered with charred debris and sent a plume of smoke rising in the sky.

No group has claimed responsibility for the brazen attack, but it comes as the Taliban ramp up their nationwide spring offensive despite government calls for a ceasefire during Ramadan.

“The blast killed 20 people and left 50 others wounded, both civilians and military officials,” government spokesman Omar Zwak said, warning that the toll could rise.

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The bomb tore through a queue of civilians and government employees who had lined up outside the bank to collect their salaries. The bank is believed to have been especially crowded ahead of the Eid holidays marking the end of Ramadan.

For years Helmand province, of which Lashkar Gah is the capital, was the centrepiece of the Western military intervention in Afghanistan, but it has recently slipped deeper into a quagmire of instability.

The insurgents control vast swathes of the province, blighted by a huge opium harvest that helps fund the insurgency, and have repeatedly threatened to seize Lashkar Gah. 

The Taliban effectively control or contest 10 of the 14 districts in Helmand, the deadliest province for British and US troops over the past decade.

Intensified fighting last year forced thousands of people to flee to Lashkar Gah from neighbouring districts.

Since they launched their spring offensive in late April, the Taliban have been mounting lethal assaults on the Afghan army and police outposts in Helmand.

Washington is soon expected to announce an increase in the US military deployment to bolster Afghan forces as they struggle to contain the insurgency. American military commanders in Afghanistan have requested thousands of extra boots on the ground.

US troops in Afghanistan now number about 8,400, and there are another 5,000 from NATO allies, a far cry from the US presence of more than 100,000 six years ago. They mainly serve as trainers and advisers.

Pentagon chief Jim Mattis this month acknowledged that America still is “not winning” in Afghanistan nearly 16 years after the US-led invasion toppled the Taliban regime.

Mattis said he will present a new US military strategy for Afghanistan, along with adjusted troop numbers, in the coming weeks to President Donald Trump.

The Afghan conflict is the longest in American history, with US-led forces at war since the Taliban regime was ousted in 2001.