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  • G7, tech giants agree on plan to block jihadist content online

    G7 countries and tech giants including Google, Facebook and Twitter on Friday agreed to work together to block the dissemination of Islamist extremism over the internet.

    "These are the first steps towards a great alliance in the name of freedom," Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti said after a two-day meeting with his Group of Seven counterparts, stressing the role of the internet in extremist "recruitment, training and radicalisation."

    French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said the goal was to ensure pro-jihadist content "is taken down within two hours of it going online".

    "Our enemies are moving at the speed of a tweet and we need to counter them just as quickly," acting US Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke said.

    While acknowledging progress had been made, Britain's Home Secretary Amber Rudd insisted "companies need to go further and faster to not only take down extremist content but also stop it being uploaded in the first place".

    Senior executives from the internet giants and Microsoft attended the ministerial session devoted to the issue but did not offer any explanation on how they might go about clamping down on web extremists.

    - Jihadists fleeing Syria -

    The meeting on the Italian island of Ischia off Naples also focused on ways to tackle one of the West's biggest security threats: jihadist fighters fleeing Syria. The European Union has promised to help close a migration route considered a potential back door for terrorists.

    Tens of thousands of citizens from Western countries travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight for the Islamic State group between 2014 and 2016. Some then returned home and staged attacks that claimed dozens of lives.

    Minniti warned last week that fighters planning revenge attacks following the recent collapse of the IS stronghold in Raqa could hitch lifts back to Europe on migrant boats from Libya.

    The US and Italy signed an agreement on the sidelines of the G7 meeting to share their fingerprint databases in a bid to root out potential extremists posing as asylum seekers.

    The group also said international police agency Interpol -- which currently holds details of nearly 40,000 foreign fighters -- would play a bigger role in information sharing.

    Interpol's secretary general Juergen Stock said the agency's global databases could "act as an 'early warning system' against terrorists and crime threats and help close potential loopholes for terrorists".

    - 'De-radicalisation' -

    Earlier, EU President Donald Tusk promised the bloc would fork out more funds to help shut down the perilous crossing from Libya to Italy -- a popular path for migrants who hope to journey on to Europe.

    The EU would offer "stronger support for Italy's work with the Libyan authorities", and there was "a real chance of closing the central Mediterranean route", he said.

    Italy has played a major role in training Libya's coastguard to stop human trafficking in its territorial waters, as well as making controversial deals with Libyan militias to stop migrants from setting off.

    Minniti said the G7 ministers had discussed how to go about "de-radicalising" citizens returning from the IS frontline, to prevent them becoming security risks in jails.

    - UK's hard approach -

    The Group of Seven --- Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the US -- said it had also called on the web giants to work with their smaller partners to bolster the anti-extremism shield.

    Rudd said the UK government would do its part by changing the law so that those accessing and viewing extremist material on the web could face up to 15 years behind bars.

    But Julian Richards, security specialist at BUCSIS (Buckingham University Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies), said the rest of the G7 was unlikely to get behind her on that front.

    "The UK's fairly hard approach of introducing legislative measures to try to force companies to cooperate... and suggestions that people radicalising online should have longer sentences, are often considered rather unpalatable and too politically sensitive in many other advanced countries," he told AFP.

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  • Obama slams 'politics of division' on return to campaign trail

    Barack Obama returned to the campaign trail on Thursday, railing against the "politics of division" after keeping a low profile and avoiding direct confrontation with his White House successor since leaving office.

    Speaking at a rally in New Jersey to support the Democratic Party candidate for governor, the 56-year-old former president took aim at the fear and bitterness that marked the 2016 campaign which led to Donald Trump's presidency.

    "What we can't have is the same old politics of division that we have seen so many times before, that dates back centuries," Obama said at the event in Newark for Phil Murphy.

    "Some of the politics we see now, we thought we put that to bed. That's folks looking 50 years back," Obama added. "It's the 21st century, not the 19th century."

    Obama later appeared at an event in Richmond to support Ralph Northam, his party's gubernatorial candidate in Virginia, at which he obliquely criticized the way Trump gained the White House.

    "If you have to win a campaign by dividing people, you're not going to be able to govern them. You won't be able to unite them later," Obama said.

    "We are at our best not when we are trying to put people down, but when we are trying to lift everybody up," he said.

    Voters in both New Jersey and Virginia will decide the contests on November 7, one year after Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton and stormed into the White House on a wave of anti-establishment fury.

    The races are potential indicators of voter sentiment ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, which will be a major test for Trump and his Republican Party.

    University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato said the New Jersey and Virginia governor races are the only "big elections" for 2017.

    "What's at stake is bragging rights headed into the 2018 midterm elections," Sabato told AFP.

    Obama has remained largely detached from the political debate since leaving office on January 20, in keeping with presidential tradition.

    Trump has meanwhile used his first nine months in the White House to methodically demolish key Obama administration policies.

    After three months of vacation Obama began writing his memoirs. He has said little in public and granted almost no interviews.

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  • Blatter says he is going to World Cup at Putin's invitation

    FIFA's disgraced ex-president Sepp Blatter has told AFP he will go to next year's World Cup in Russia at the invitation of President Vladimir Putin, despite being banned from football.

    "I will go to the World Cup in Russia. I received an invitation from President Putin," the 81-year-old said in an interview.

    A Kremlin spokesman said Russia will "be happy to see (Blatter) in Moscow".

    "You know that Putin and Blatter have for a long time been, you could say, friends", Dmitri Peskov told reporters.

    "The World Cup is a great celebration of football and everyone who is invited will be welcome, and old friends will also be welcome," the Kremlin spokesman further said.

    Blatter told AFP that Michel Platini, the ex-UEFA president who is banned from football over corruption, had also been invited to the tournament by Putin.

    But according to one of his close allies Platini "hasn't received an invitation from Putin to go to the World Cup and doesn't know what he will be doing next summer".

    Blatter, who led world football's governing body for 17 years, was thrown out of the sport in 2015 at the height of a massive corruption scandal.

    FIFA's ethics committee has suspended him from all football-related activities for six years after finding him guilty of accepting an improper 2 million Swiss franc ($2.1 million, 1.8 million euros) payment from then-UEFA chief Platini.

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