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Leader of world chess body steps down over alleged ties to Syrian regime

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The head of the World Chess Federation (FIDE), Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, has temporarily transferred most of his powers to his deputy after being added to a US sanctions list for alleged ties to the Syrian regime, the organisation said Sunday.

At a FIDE meeting in Athens, Ilyumzhinov “informed the presidential board that he will withdraw from any legal, financial and business operations of FIDE until such time as (he) is removed from the (US) Office of Foreign Assets Control sanction list,” FIDE executive director Nigel Freeman said in a statement.

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“Mr Ilyumzhinov’s decision… is to enable him to concentrate on clearing the situation with the US Department of the Treasury,” he said.

Ilyumzhinov, a 53-year-old Russian politician, was first elected FIDE president in 1995, and was re-elected by a large majority in 2014 against chess legend Garry Kasparov, who opposes Russian President Vladimir Putin.

His stand-in is the federation’s vice president, Georgios Makropoulos, a Greek.

The US Treasury Department accuses Ilyumzhinov of “materially assisting and acting for or on the behalf of” the Syrian government and central bank, as well as central bank governor Adib Mayaleh.

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The sanctions forbid US individuals or entities from doing any business with those on the blacklist, restricting their access to international financial networks crucial to doing business.

A wealthy Buddhist who has also served as head of Russia’s Republic of Kalmykia, Ilyumzhinov hit the headlines over his close ties to authoritarian leaders.

They included former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi, with whom he played a media-friendly game of chess in Libya in June 2011 as NATO was bombing the country.

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He has described the sanctions decision unveiled last month as a “provocation”

He said he had frequently been to Syria and met top officials, including President Bashar al-Assad, but had “no economic interests” there, or in Iraq.

Sunday’s statement said Ilyumzhinov had informed FIDE that he had launched legal procedures in the United States “to request additional information and reverse (the) restrictive measures”.

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The Treasury Department named four individuals and six entities for sanctions for their support of the Assad regime, “including a middleman for oil purchases by the Syrian regime from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL),” another name for the Islamic State group.

Russian Financial Alliance Bank, of which Ilyumzhinov is a major shareholder, was also targeted by the sanctions.


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New ‘Lord of the Rings’ show to start filming in New Zealand`

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US-based streaming giant Amazon announced Wednesday its big-budget "Lord of the Rings" series will within months start filming in New Zealand, home to Peter Jackson's movies of the fantasy epic.

Amazon is reportedly spending US$1 billion-plus on the series as it seeks to emulate the runaway success enjoyed by "Games of Thrones".

Showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay said the South Pacific nation offered the "primordial beauty" of Middle Earth, the setting for J.R.R. Tolkien's tales of elves, dwarf and hobbits.

"We needed to find somewhere majestic, with pristine coasts, forests, and mountains, that also is a home to world-class sets, studios, and highly skilled and experienced craftspeople," they said in a statement.

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Mitch McConnell crony running for Kentucky AG is ineligible for office: lawsuit

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On Tuesday, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported that a new lawsuit seeks to remove Daniel Cameron from the ballot as the Kentucky GOP's nominee for state attorney general.

According to the lawsuit, filed by retired union worker and "concerned citizen" Joseph Leon Jackson Sr. in Jefferson Circuit Court, Cameron does not meet the office requirement of having practiced law for eight years — because although he was admitted by the Kentucky Bar Association in 2011, he spent two of the following years clerking for U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove.

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Trump lashes out at Lindsey Graham after he accuses the president of showing ‘weakness’

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President Donald Trump and Sen. Lindsey Graham, once bitter enemies, have become close allies since the 2016 election as the South Carolina Republican realized it was in his personal interest to cozy up to the White House. But on Tuesday, fractures emerged between the two in public over a key issue for Graham: Iran.

Graham is on the severely hawkish wing of the Republican Party, and he clearly wants a war with Iran. He began a series of tweets Tuesday by praising Vice President Mike Pence’s briefing that day about the recent attack on Saudi oil infrastructure, saying he believes that “such a sophisticated attack could not have occurred without Iran’s blessing and direct involvement.” He called it an “an act of war” and lauded the Trump administration’s “efforts to create a regional coalition, thoroughly brief the Congress on the actions taken, and come up with a plan of action to restore deterrence against an evil regime in Iran.”

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