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By Naomi Tajitsu AUCKLAND (Reuters) - Internet tycoon Kim Dotcom holds court while bathing in the pool of a sprawling New Zealand mansion, fist bumping and chatting with some of the 700 guests gathered to celebrate the political party he launched last month to promote Internet freedom. In Dotcom's alternate universe, he is fighting extradition from his adopted country to the United States, where the hulking 40-year-old stands accused of massive copyright infringement related to the Megaupload file sharing site he founded in 2005. Last week, Hollywood studios filed their own lawsuit against Megaupload and Dotcom, and a few days later four major music labels followed their lead, cranking up pressure on the father-of-five who faces an extradition hearing in July. His anger over the injustice he says he faced during and after the dramatic raid, which was swiftly followed by the closure of Megaupload, prompted him to set up a political organisation called the Internet Party.
By William Schomberg and Ana Nicolaci da Costa LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's unemployment rate unexpectedly dropped in the three months to February, reviving speculation the Bank of England will start raising interest rates earlier than it has signalled. Sterling jumped and government debt prices fell after the Office for National Statistics reported on Wednesday that the jobless rate sank to a five-year low of 6.9 percent, down from 7.2 percent in the three months to January. The sharp fall - helped by a big increase in self-employed people - took the rate below the 7 percent level originally set by the Bank for considering an increase in interest rates. George Buckley at Deutsche Bank said there was no prospect of an imminent rate hike, with markets pricing in a first increase in the first quarter of next year.
By Sarah Young LERWICK, Shetland Islands (Reuters) - Twelve hours by ferry from the Scottish mainland, hundreds of miles from Edinburgh and closer to Oslo than London, the windswept Shetland islands have their own aspirations about Scottish independence. Many Shetlanders see the September 18 vote on whether Scotland should end the 307-year-old union with England as an opportunity to gain control over local services and a share of revenues from the oil pumped from the North Sea. It is ours," said Shetlander Hazel Mackenzie, 43, who works in the livestock auction house in Shetland's main town of Lerwick. "If we could have all the revenue from all the oil then we could probably be very self-sufficient." One example: Over the last four decades, Britain's oil fields have pumped out 42 billion barrels of oil equivalent;
France vowed on Wednesday to honour its Europeans commitments on deficit reduction and rushed out details of its grand plan to curb public spending by 50 billion euros (41 billion pounds) between 2015 and the end of President Francois Hollande's term in 2017. Prime Minister Manual Valls, named in a government reshuffle at the end of March after heavy town hall election losses for the ruling Socialists, outlined where the spending curbs would come and said a civil service wage freeze would remain. Valls said 18 billion euros would come from central government spending, 11 billion from local authorities, 10 billion from healthcare, and 11 billion from broader social welfare spending. Valls' government - revamped by President Francois Hollande after the heavy local election losses to the political right and far-right National Front - sought to erase doubts about Paris's commitment to reduce its public deficit to 3 percent of national output in 2015.
By Radu Marinas and Bogdan Cristel BUCHAREST (Reuters) - When French film actress Brigitte Bardot began a campaign to spare the thousands of stray dogs in Romania's capital from being put down, she did it with a $150,000 (89,306.98 pounds) donation scheme. A similar campaign is being waged by Ana-Maria Ciulcu, a 13-year-old schoolgirl with braces on her teeth who uses Facebook to appeal to dog lovers all over Europe - and to make sure the dogs go to the right homes. But Bucharest's state-funded wards now hold 2,800 dogs, and 2,000 dogs have been euthanized in the past two months, according to Romania's Authority for Animal Surveillance and Protection. Some 60,000 strays roam Bucharest.
The London Metal Exchange (LME) on Wednesday lost the first stage of an effort to appeal against a court ruling which halted a reform aimed at reducing logjams at its global network of warehouses. Last month, the High Court in London ruled in favour of Russian aluminium producer Rusal, which feared it would suffer from further falls in aluminium prices if the LME changed rules to make warehouses deliver metal more quickly to customers. A judge in the same court on Wednesday declined a request by the LME to appeal against the judgment, LME spokeswoman Miriam Heywood said. The LME, the world's biggest marketplace for industrial metals, still can seek to overturn the ruling through the Court of Appeal, but Heywood said the LME was taking legal advice and had not decided whether to pursue that.
The deadly February 21 assault on the Villa Somalia compound was the closest al Qaeda-linked insurgents had got to President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. The assault by al Shabaab at the heart of government, and a bloody attack five months earlier on a Kenyan shopping mall, showcased the rebels' destructive reach at home and abroad and cast more doubt on Mohamud's pledge to improve security. "The government's sugar-coated promises are the norm in Mogadishu. Since February, Somalia's Western-backed government and security services have taken new steps to improve security and regain the confidence of their potentially most effective ally - the public.
Israeli riot police entered one of Jerusalem's most revered and politically sensitive religious compounds on Wednesday to disperse rock-throwing Palestinians opposed to any Jewish attempts to pray there. The confrontation erupted after Israeli police tried to escort some 20 visitors onto the plaza revered by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and by Jews as the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's walled Old City. Israeli police in riot gear pushed onto the plaza and used stun grenades to disperse the demonstrators, but did not enter al Aqsa itself. Tensions at the site run high during Jewish holidays - Jews are now celebrating Passover - when Palestinians oppose having Jews try to pray on the compound.
Russia is looking at the possibility of filing a lawsuit against the United States in the World Trade Organisation over sanctions hitting Russian banks, Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev said on Wednesday, according to Russian news agencies. St Petersburg-based Bank Rossiya was sanctioned alongside its chairman and largest shareholder Yuri Kovalchuk in March as part of punitive measures by Washington over Russia's annexation of Crimea. Russian bank SMP was also indirectly affected as co-owners Boris Rotenberg and his older brother Arkady fell under U.S. sanctions. SMP chief executive Dmitry Kalantyrsky has said that an estimated 9 billion roubles (148.24 million pounds) had been withdrawn after the sanctions were imposed.
Mt. Gox, once the world's biggest bitcoin exchange, is likely to be liquidated after a Tokyo court dismissed the company's bid to resuscitate its business, the court-appointed administrator said on Wednesday. CEO Mark Karpeles is also likely to be investigated for liability in the collapse of the Tokyo-based firm, the provisional administrator, lawyer Nobuaki Kobayashi, said in a statement published on the Mt. Gox website. "The Tokyo District Court recognised that it would be difficult for the company to carry out the civil rehabilitation proceedings and dismissed the application for the commencement of the civil rehabilitation proceedings," he said. In Wednesday's order for provisional administration, the court put the company's assets under Kobayashi's control until bankruptcy proceedings officially commence and a bankruptcy trustee is named.
By Paul Sandle LONDON (Reuters) - British housebuilder Persimmon said demand for new houses continued to strengthen, helped by government intervention to help first-time buyers. Persimmon, which builds homes across the country apart from central London, said its new financial year had started well, with private sale rates per site up 25 percent in the first 15 weeks of its year compared to a year ago. The lenders are supportive of it and it really does deliver affordability for the buyer," Chief Executive Jeff Fairburn said in an interview on Wednesday. "It is also giving builders the confidence to continue to invest." Persimmon said it had forward sales of 1.87 billion pounds for 2014, 35 percent higher than in 2013.