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Federal regulators and Citigroup are set to announce Monday a $7 billion settlement to resolve charges that the bank sold faulty mortgage-backed securities ahead of the 2008 financial crisis, US media reported.

The deal ends months of negotiations between US Treasury Department investigators and Citigroup, people briefed on the matter told The New York Times.

Citigroup initially proposed paying $363 million, while the Department of Justice was seeking $12 billion and threatening to sue the bank.

Bank of America is reportedly in talks with the Justice Department on a similar deal for $12 billion or more. That would follow a $9.5 billion settlement with the Federal Housing Finance Agency over mortgage-backed securities sold by BofA to mortgage giants Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.

 

 

 

 

 

As some European cities install spikes on pavements to prevent homeless people bedding down for the night, one architect in Slovakia plans to give them a proper abode -- made from billboards.

The Gregory Project uses advertising hoardings, usually placed along roads in a V-shape to be visible from both directions, to create small but functional homes for the homeless by adding a third wall and a roof.

Slovak architect Michal Polacek told AFP he hopes his novel design will "help the homeless to return to normal life, find a job and eventually find a better place to stay".

Polacek's one-bedroom triangular homes include a kitchen and bathroom and are powered by solar panels or connected to the same network that lights the billboards at night.

He says the cost of building the homes can be covered by billboard advertising revenues.

"I was inspired by a friend who once pointed at a billboard and said 'Hey, I could live up there!' and also by the desire to help those less fortunate," Polacek added.

He has yet to construct his design but says it is available as a free, open-source platform for anyone wanting to use it.

 

 

 

 

Air France-KLM on Tuesday slashed its earnings forecast for 2014, hit by over-capacity in traditionally lucrative long-haul routes and persistently weak cargo demand.

Europe's second biggest airline after Lufthansa said earnings before tax, depreciation and amortization for the full year would now reach around 2.2 billion and 2.3 billion euros ($3.0 billion and $3.1 billion), rather than 2.5 billion euros previously forecasted.

In its monthly traffic update, the airline said passenger numbers rose by 2.9 percent in June, but yields did not keep pace as intense competition held ticket prices down.

"While not representing a turning point in market trends, the June traffic figures published today as well as bookings for July and August nevertheless reflect the over-capacity on certain long-haul routes, notably North America and Asia, with the attendant impact on yields," the airline said in a statement.

 

 

 

 

China will next month put on trial two foreign investigators linked to drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), which is facing allegations of bribery, in a closed trial shut to relatives and diplomats, people familiar with the case said.

British national Peter Humphrey and his wife Yu Yingzeng, an American citizen, will on August 7 face charges of illegally obtaining personal information, a family friend who asked not to be identified told AFP.

Britain's Sunday Times newspaper has reported that GSK hired Humphrey to investigate the origin of a sex tape of the former boss of its China division, which emerged just before Beijing launched a bribery probe into the British company.

In May, Chinese authorities accused Mark Reilly, shown in the tape with his girlfriend, of ordering employees to commit bribery, following a 10-month probe. Reilly is believed to be in China after returning to assist in the investigation.

Humphrey, a veteran fraud investigator and former journalist for the news agency Reuters, is the founder of Shanghai-based risk advisory firm ChinaWhys, while Yu worked as its general manager.

A court has barred their son, 19, from attending the trial which was originally planned for July 29 but changed for unknown reasons, the family friend said.

"I'm shocked and upset, and I appeal to the authorities to let me attend. I haven't seen my parents for a year," Harvey Humphrey said in a statement provided by the friend.

The pair were detained in Shanghai last July.

A spokesman for the US Embassy in Beijing, Nolan Barkhouse, confirmed an August trial and that US government representatives were barred from attending, despite a bilateral agreement allowing them to do so.

 

 

 

 

A new Japanese nursing home has everything seniors could want, from a hair salon and 24-hour medical care to comfy beds and a swimming pool to keep those legs in shape -- all four of them.

The facility in a Tokyo suburb is throwing open its doors to ageing dogs of all shapes and sizes with the promise of a comfortable retirement for the elderly canines, and their equally wrinkly human owners.

Aeonpet Co., a unit of major shopping mall operator Aeon, billed its nursing home as the ticket for a pet-loving nation which also has a rapidly ageing population.

"Many pets are getting old while their owners are also ageing. This is a serious social issue," company president Akihiro Ogawa said during a media tour Wednesday.

"I hope this business will provide part of the solution for this problem."

 

 

 

 

Pope Francis returned from a brief respite on Saturday, receiving the Madagascan president and delegates from the Orthodox Church after a "sudden indisposition" forced him to cancel a visit a day earlier.

Witnesses said the pontiff, who is aged 77, seemed tired but was smiling as he entertained his guests.

The day before, he had cancelled a trip to a hospital in Rome at the last minute, with a spokesman mentioning "the intense pace" of the pope's schedule by way of explanation.

"With so many undertakings, it's clear there's a need for a break every now and then," Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told AFP.

 

 

 

 

When Kiab turned 16, her brother promised to take her to a party in a tourist town in northern Vietnam. Instead, he sold her to a Chinese family as a bride.

The ethnic Hmong teenager spent nearly a month in China until she was able to escape her new husband, seek help from local police and return to Vietnam.

"My brother is no longer a human being in my eyes -- he sold his own sister to China," Kiab, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, told AFP at a shelter for trafficking victims in the Vietnamese border town Lao Cai.

Vulnerable women in countries close to China -- not only Vietnam but also North Korea, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar -- are being forced into marriages in the land of the one-child policy, experts say.

China suffers from one of the worst gender imbalances in the world as families prefer male children.

As a result millions of men now cannot find Chinese brides -- a key driver of trafficking, according to rights groups.

The Lao Cai shelter currently houses a dozen girls from various ethnic minority groups. All say they were tricked by relatives, friends or boyfriends and sold to Chinese men as brides.

 

 

"I had heard a lot about trafficking. But I couldn't imagine it would happen to me," Kiab said.

As trafficking is run by illegal gangs and the communities involved are poor and remote, official data is patchy and likely underestimates the scale of the problem, experts say.

But rights workers across Southeast Asia say they are witnessing "systematic" trafficking of women into China for forced marriages.

"This problem has largely been swept under the rug by the Chinese authorities," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at New York-based Human Rights Watch.

- Tricked and sold -

Vietnamese girls are sold for up to $5,000 as brides or to brothels, said Michael Brosowski, founder and CEO of Blue Dragon Children's Foundation, which has rescued 71 trafficked women from China since 2007.

"The girls are tricked by people posing as boyfriends, or offering jobs. Those people do this very deliberately, and for nothing other than greed and a lack of human empathy," he added.

 

 

 

It is likely that many of the girls end up working in brothels, but due to the stigma of being a sex worker they will usually report they were forced into marriage.

Communist neighbours Vietnam and China share a mountainous, remote border stretching 1,350 kilometres, marked primarily by the Nam Thi river and rife with smuggling of goods of all kinds: fruit, live poultry and women.

"It is mostly women who live in isolated and mountainous areas who are being trafficked across the border, because there is no information for us," said 18-year-old Lang, from the Tay ethnic minority, who walked across the frontier illegally and was sold to a Chinese family by a friend.

In northern Vietnam, trafficking has become so acute that communities say they are living in fear.

 

 

 

A Turkish court on Thursday handed a 15-month jail term to a teacher over Twitter posts deemed religiously offensive, local media reported on Thursday.

The court in the eastern city of Mus ruled that the man, identified as Ertan P., insulted Islamic values with his Twitter handle -- @allah (cc) -- and a series of tweets he posted, Hurriyet newspaper reported on its website.

The defendant claimed his account had been hacked and appealed against the sentence, Hurriyet said.

Pretending to tweet as God, he wrote: "In my present state of mind, I would not have created the little finger of human beings".

"Here (heaven) is very safe because there is no police," he tweeted in reference to police crackdown on protesters during mass anti-government demonstrations in June last year.

The Islamic-rooted government banned Twitter in March after the micro-blogging site was used to spread corruption allegations against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his inner circle.

 

 

 

 

Though no stranger to controversy or diatribe, the European Parliament is set to usher in its first fully-fledged neo-Nazi members, from Germany and Greece.

With around 300,000 votes at Sunday's European elections the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) is expected to claim one of the country's 96 seats in the new Parliament, in a historical ground-breaker.

A recent change in German electoral laws, scrapping all minimum thresholds, paved the way for the march into parliament of the NPD, which has 6,000 members.

It describes itself as "national socialist," just like Germany's Nazis in the 1930s, and is openly xenophobic and anti-semitic so a group of German regional governments have tried to have it banned for propagating racism.

Meanwhile, with almost all ballots counted in Greece, the neo-Nazi "Golden Dawn" party is claiming over nine percent of the vote, which would net it three seats in the 751-member Parliament.

 

 

 

 

A 100-year-old beggar in a threadbare coat, "Grandpa" Dobri, is already celebrated as a saint in Bulgaria -- a symbol of goodness in a country ravaged by poverty and corruption.

For over 20 years, Dobri Dobrev has been begging on the streets of Sofia, collecting alms worth tens of thousands of euros. And he has given it all to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.

This has made him the largest private donor of the golden-domed Alexander Nevski cathedral even as he maintains an ascetic lifestyle.

"Take some bread, it comes from God!" the hunched old man mutters under his straggly white beard, offering believers the buns that other people give him as they drop coins into his plastic cup and bend to kiss his hand.

"He gave us 35,700 leva (18,250 euros, $24,900) in 2009, while living a life deprived of all comfort," Bishop Tikhon, chairman of the cathedral’s trustees board, told AFP.

"Dobri is an extremely rare phenomenon."

Several smaller monasteries and churches also say they have received between 2,500 and 10,000 euros each from the small man wearing peasant leather sandals.

These sums are considerable in Bulgaria, which remains the European Union's poorest member seven years after joining the bloc and where the average monthly salary is about 420 euros.

 

Dobri is a comforting figure to Bulgarians amid pervasive corruption and deprivation, sociologists say.

 

 

"While the media is full of scandalous reports on the luxurious lifestyle of certain Church dignitaries, Grandpa Dobri personifies moral values such as self-denial and generosity," said Theodora Karamelska, a sociology professor at Sofia's New Bulgarian University.

For Bulgarians he is like a saint "thanks to his romantic appearance and the richness of his soul," she added.

The background of this man, who refuses any interviews, is patchy. Born in the summer of 1914, he partially lost his hearing in one of the bombings of the Bulgarian capital during World War II.