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Thanks NATO, but what about missiles? Ankara urges US to deploy Patriot systems to Turkey amid Idlib standoff

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called on Washington to redeploy its Patriot anti-aircraft systems on Turkish soil, insisting that the country needs some “support” from its NATO allies amid the crisis in Syria’s Idlib.

Cavusoglu thanked NATO for its quick reaction to the strike on Turkish troops in the Syrian province that left 33 soldiers dead, but urged the bloc to show more support – which he suggested might come from individual allies.

“The US Patriots were stationed in Gaziantep before. They can send them again. Especially since a NATO member, Turkey, needs support from its allies,” Cavusoglu said on Saturday after meeting with his US counterpart Mike Pompeo in Qatar.

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Turkish Armed Forces' soldiers continue to conduct fortification and transition activities in Idlib, de-escalation zone in Syria on February 20, 2020 © Getty Images / Ibrahim Hatib / Anadolu Agency
Even NATO is unwilling to touch Turkey’s Idlib mess with a ten-foot pole

Patriot anti-aircraft systems belonging to the US and the Netherlands had indeed been stationed in the country, but they were removed back in 2015. This prompted Ankara to go on a quest to buy own anti-air defenses from abroad, ultimately resulting in the S-400 deal with Russia.

Turkey’s desire to get its hands on the Patriot missiles has been widely reported by Turkish and American media, but all the available official statements have so far been sending mixed signals.

Earlier in the week, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed doubts that Ankara would be able to acquire any Patriots from the US, stating that “they have no such thing in their hands.” Turkey will have to rely on Russian-made S-400 systems which are expected to become operational in April, he added. It was not immediately clear whether Erdogan was speaking about purchasing Patriots or getting them deployed under NATO cooperation.

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FILE PHOTO: Patriot systems © Inquam Photos/Ovidiu Micsik/via REUTERS
There are ‘no Patriots’ US could give Turkey, Erdogan says as its S-400s get prepped for deployment

Reinvigorated rumors about Patriot deployment in Turkey come amid soaring hostilities in Syria’s province of Idlib, where Turkish and Syrian soldiers were fighting this week, resulting in dozens of Turkish soldiers getting killed in strikes said to be targeting jihadists. While Ankara claims it seeks to protect “Syrian people” by backing the attack on the Syrian Army, Damascus insists that Turkey rushed to support assorted “rebel” and terrorist groups that have been on the verge of defeat in Idlib.

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Coronavirus death toll in Italy jumps to 29 as number of infected passes 1,000

Italy reported eight new deaths from COVID-19 on Saturday, bringing the total number of deaths in the country as a result of the disease to 29. The Italian authorities have also confirmed as many as 239 new cases of people infected with the virus, raising the number of confirmed cases in Italy to 1,128.

Italy is experiencing the worst coronavirus outbreak seen in Europe so far. The deadly disease has spread to at least 48 countries from its point of origin, China, where some 80,000 people contracted COVID-19 and almost 3,000 have died.

Elsewhere in the world, more than 4,000 cases have been registered, with the death toll standing at around 70. The situation prompted the World Health Organization to update the coronavirus global risk assessment, describing it as “very high.”

‘THIS GOAL IS CRAZY’: Media hails Jordan Flores’ stunning strike as a surefire Goal of the Season contender (VIDEO)

Irish league side Dundalk’s Jordan Flores may not be a household name, but he’s being considered as an early front-runner for the prestigious Puskas Award, thanks to his stunning volley against Shamrock Rovers.

Flores connected beautifully with a Michael Duffy’s driven corner to slam the ball into the top corner of the net for one of the most spectacular strikes you’ll see in a long, long time.

The goal has gone viral, with more than three million fans watching the original video posted to Irish broadcaster RTE’s social media channels, while media outlets across Europe are hailing the strike.

Sky Sports dubbed it a “wonder volley” while respected football website France Football called it “La folle reprise de volee” which translates as “The Crazy Volley.”

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© AFP / John MacDougall
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Spanish outlet AS suggested it was so good that no other strike this year could beat it to FIFA’s Goal of the Year award.

“The 2020 Puskas Award has just been ‘won’ by Dundalk’s Jordan Flores,” it declared.

Meanwhile, the Twitter account for ESPN’s flagship highlight show SportsCenter tweeted the clip with the all-caps headline, “THIS GOAL IS CRAZY.”

It’s certainly right up there with the best volleys we’ve seen, and it’s going to take some strike to beat it in the 2020 goal of the year stakes.

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Over 100,000 flock to watch exiled ex-Catalan leader Puigdemont speak (PHOTOS, VIDEOS)

Catalonia independence supporters flocked to the French town of Perpignan for a huge rally to listen to former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont speaking to them in person for the first time since his exile.

The small southern French town of Perpignan is located in what Catalan independence supporters consider to be Northern Catalonia. With a population of 120,000, Perpignan suddenly witnessed just as many Catalonians flooding its streets. The town, located just 30 kilometers from the French border with Spain, became the venue for an event featuring a speech by Carles Puigdemont, the former Catalan pro-independence leader who fled his home country following the ill-fated 2017 referendum.

Over 100,000 people joined the rally at a Perpignan Exhibition Center parking lot, according to various estimates. The organizers put the number at as many as 150,000. Some demonstrators went to the city the day before to not miss anything. The number of those trying to attend the event, organized by a group called the Council for the Catalan Republic and headed by Puigdemont himself, was so big that thousands of people were still stuck in traffic on the border when the exiled pro-independence leader was about to begin his speech.

Photos and videos posted on social media show huge crowds of people occupying the broad sun-lit parking lot and waving Catalan flags, as well as holding signs and banners reading: ‘Independence’ and ‘freedom’.

In his short address that lasted only about 12 minutes, Puigdemont took a jab at Madrid by saying that an independent Catalan Republic is the “only way out of a monarchy that descended directly from Francoism.”

Former Catalan regional leader Carles Puigdemont blows a kiss to the audience during a rally in Perpignan, France, on February 29, 2020.

©  Reuters / Nacho Doce

He also vowed to “never stop” and called on his supporters to mobilize and “prepare” for future victories. “The state only hears the voice of mobilized people so we must be in a state of constant mobilization.”

The rally was also attended by other pro-independence leaders, including the former education minister, Clara Ponsati, who also addressed the crowd, urging Catalans to “fight the Spanish state both through the institutions and in the streets.” Current Catalan leader Quim Torra delivered a speech as well. Ahead of the event, the exiled Catalan leader was welcomed by Perpignan Mayor Jean-Marc Pujol, who said that “freedom of expression has no borders.”

This is the first time the former Catalan leader, who is wanted in Spain on charges of sedition, has come so close to his homeland. Following the referendum, in which 92 percent voted to split from Spain (with a turnout of 43 percent), Puigdemont was forced to flee from prosecution, along with Ponsati and several other regional government officials, and has resided in Belgium ever since.

In May 2019, Puigdemont was elected to the European Parliament, while the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that his status of MEP grants him parliamentary immunity from prosecution.

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© Reuters / Nacho Doce
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The situation in Spain following the referendum, which was met with a brutal crackdown by Spanish law enforcement, remains quite tense. The region has seen massive demonstrations both in favor of independence and unity with Spain.

The jailing of major figures behind the independence push, including Catalan Vice President Oriol Junqueras, by the Spanish authorities only added fuel to the fire as they were met with massive protests as well. Rallies repeatedly spiraled into clashes with police.

October 2019, when the independence leaders received their sentences, saw particularly massive outbreaks of violence as hundreds of thousands took to the streets in Barcelona and blocked major regional transport routes as well as the city’s airport.

On Saturday, French authorities took extensive security measures ahead of the rally in Perpignan by mobilizing all regional police forces. Police were additionally reinforced by five gendarmerie squadrons and a riot police company from Carcassonne. The event, however, was peaceful.

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Shocking mass brawl breaks out between football fans in Moscow metro station (VIDEO)

A huge fight involving hundreds of football fans erupted at Mayakovskaya metro station in Moscow ahead of Saturday’s derby between Spartak and Dynamo.

According to local reports, several hundred Spartak supporters arrived at the station to walk to VTB Arena – the venue for the game – and the clash began when they met some Dynamo fans who had also gathered inside.

READ MORE: Taking the kid gloves off: Mass brawl between 11yo players breaks out at Russian ice hockey tournament (VIDEO)

Video footage shared on social media shows both groups of fans participating in a huge skirmish, with people fiercely kicking and punching one another.

The uncontrollable brawl, which then spilled over onto the streets of Moscow, left at least three people seriously injured.

Dozens were arrested as police attempted to bring the violent scenes under control.

Going into the match, Dynamo had a two-point advantage over Spartak – which they then squandered, losing the game 2-0.

The clubs swapped places in the Russian Premier League (RPL) table, with Spartak moving to ninth place and Dynamo dropping down to 10th.

Corona-fear: France bans all mass public gatherings in confined spaces as German, Swiss fairs canceled

No gatherings of more than 5,000 people in confined spaces will be allowed in France due to fears of the coronavirus epidemic, Paris has announced, as neighboring nations have canceled mass events, bracing for an outbreak.

The French authorities announced the restrictions as the number of confirmed cases in the country climbed to 73. Fifty-nine people remain in the hospital after testing positive for the infection, Health Minister Olivier Veran said at a press conference on Saturday. Twelve people have successfully recovered while two died from the disease: a 60-year-old French teacher and an 80-year-old Chinese tourist.

The minister spoke after emergency meetings of the French cabinet and National Security Council to assess the epidemics.

The ban on mass gatherings will remain in place until further notice. Among the scheduled events affected by it are a half-marathon run in Paris and an agriculture show, both of which were supposed to take place on Sunday.

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On Friday, the French authorities declared the coronavirus a stage-2 outbreak on a 3-stage scale. Veran said his ministry’s recommendation to the public is to wash hands regularly and avoid handshakes.

Notably, the virus has already disrupted the operation of the 110 Air Base Creil outside Paris, where several cases of Covid-19 were identified. The military facility has been put on lockdown due to the outbreak.

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Other nations in Europe are taking their own precautions against the spread of the virus. Germany’s ITB Tourism Fair was canceled on Friday. The event was scheduled for next week and was projected to attract 10,000 visitors.

The event was called off by the organizers on the advice of the German government and after local health officials instructed them to impose strict checks on attendees. They would have been required to prove they hadn’t visited places with high risk of infection in recent weeks, which Messe Berlin, the organizer of the fair, found too difficult to guarantee.

Switzerland imposed its own ban on events likely to attract more than 1,000 people on Friday for the same reason as France. This means the country will not be able to host a car show in Geneva, a 10-day international event that was supposed to start next week. The Swiss authorities said the prohibition will remain in place at least until mid-March.

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Doors not really open: Greek police stop wave of refugees with closed border gates, tear gas (VIDEOS)

Greek police used tear gas to turn back 4,000 people at the border with Turkey who flooded the checkpoint after Ankara announced it will no longer stop people from crossing into the EU.

People seeking to enter Europe rushed to the Turkish border town of Edirne on Friday, but found the Greek authorities were not willing to let them in. Since the 2015 migrant crisis, both Greece and Bulgaria have erected fences on their borders with Turkey. Both nations ramped up security after Ankara effectively tore up its agreement with the EU, under which it kept millions of refugees in its territory in exchange for financial aid and political concessions.

In the first 24 hours of the border crisis, 4,000 people were stopped from crossing into Greek territory, Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas said on Saturday. Footage from the scene shows large crowds of masked men walking and running near the barrier chanting “Turkey, Turkey.” Clouds of tear gas can also be seen.

The crowd trapped in the buffer zone between the Turkish and Greek checkpoints is, of course, not all male. Women and children also got caught up in the confrontation between police and the more active migrants.

The Greek police officers may not have been the only ones armed with gas grenades, however. Police showed journalists Turkish-made devices which they say landed on the Greek side of the border after being tossed by people in the crowd.

© Sputnik Ελλάδα

The problem is likely to escalate further as more people are led to the border by the hope of a better life in Europe, only to find that the doors which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared open, are anything but.

Ankara’s move came amid a military crisis in Idlib, Syria, where Turkish and Syrian soldiers were engaged in heavy fighting this week. Erdogan declared on Saturday that as many as 4 million new refugees could enter Turkey across its fortified border with Syria and that the EU’s failure to meet its part of the bargain left Turkey with little choice.

Petsas said 66 people have been detained by Greek police at the border and that none of them had anything to do with Idlib.

Greece was the primary entrance point into the EU from Turkey and is still struggling with the large number of asylum-seekers. Local residents on Lesbos staged violent protests this week after the government in Athens announced plans to build a new center for housing immigrants on the already-overcrowded island.

A group of 27 people reportedly arrived on Lesbos Saturday morning after a five-hour trip from Turkey.

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WBC creates championship belt in memory of deceased NBA legend Kobe Bryant

The World Boxing Council (WBC) has created a championship belt in honor of NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna, who tragically died in a helicopter crash on January 26.

The belt, made in the purple and gold colors of the Los Angeles Lakers, contains portraits of Bryant and his daughter and includes the numbers 8 and 24, Bryant’s two numbers he played under in the NBA.

READ MORE: ‘Don’t you dare buy these’: Sneaker fans warn resellers as Nike releases pics of special edition Kobe 5 ‘Lakers’ basketball shoes

Kobe Bryant, a huge boxing fan, played for the Lakers for 20 seasons, five of which ended with NBA championships. Bryant played in the NBA all-star game 18 times and is ranked fourth on the list of the league’s top scorers with 33,643 career points.

Last month, he was killed in a private helicopter crash in California along with eight other passengers, including his 13-year-old daughter Gianna.

Emergency personnel who arrived at the scene less than 10 minutes after the shocking tragedy declared there were no survivors.

Later, it was revealed that Bryant’s Sikorsky S-76B helicopter had been given special permission to fly in dangerous conditions beforehand.