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IOC vows 'toughest sanctions' after report finds Moscow ran broad doping scheme

TORONTO With the Rio Olympics less than three weeks away, the IOC on Monday promised "the toughest sanctions available" after a report found Moscow had concealed hundreds of positive doping tests in many sports ahead of the Sochi winter Games.The International Olympic Committee (IOC) did not spell out whether it would heed growing calls for Olympic bans already imposed on Russia's track and field athletes and weightlifters to be extended to all its competitors in Rio.However, IOC President Thomas Bach said the independent World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) investigation had revealed "a shocking and unprecedented attack on the integrity of sport and on the Olympic Games.The IOC Executive Board is to hold a telephone conference on Tuesday to take its first decisions, which may include provisional measures and sanctions with regard to the Rio Olympics."Therefore, the IOC will not hesitate to take the toughest sanctions available against any individual or organization implicated."WADA itself explicitly urged the IOC to consider banning Russia from the Rio Olympics altogether.Russian President Vladimir Putin, who staked his reputation on the Sochi Games, the costliest in history, said the WADA-backed report was the result of political interference and that the Olympic movement could now split.The report confirmed allegations made by Grigory Rodchenkov, former head of the Moscow Anti-Doping Laboratory.He told the New York Times two months ago that dozens of Russians had used performance-enhancing drugs in Sochi with the support not only of national sports authorities but even the domestic intelligence service, the FSB.Monday's report said Russia, a traditional sporting superpower, had been stung into action by its performance at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, where it finished 11th, with only three gold medals."The surprise result of the Sochi investigation was the revelation of the extent of State oversight and directed control of the Moscow Laboratory in processing and covering up urine samples of Russian athletes from virtually all sports before and after the Sochi Games," said the report, unveiled in Toronto. "FAILSAFE STRATEGY"The investigation was led by Canadian sports lawyer Richard McLaren, who sat on the independent commission that last year exposed doping and corruption in Russian track and field, leading to its exclusion from international competition.The report said Deputy Sports Minister Yuri Nagornykh had been advised of every positive test across all sports from 2011 onwards and decided "who would benefit from a cover up and who would not be protected."The State implemented a simple failsafe strategy," it said. "If all the operational precautions to promote and permit doping by Russian athletes proved to have been ineffective for whatever reason, the laboratory provided a failsafe mechanism."The State had the ability to transform a positive analytical result into a negative one by ordering that the analytical process of the Moscow Laboratory be altered."Among the hundreds of samples that disappeared were 35 from Paralympic athletes. In Sochi itself, where international observers were scrutinizing the drug tests, positive results could not simply be brushed away, so the FSB developed a method of opening urine bottles to allow samples to be swapped undetected.Rodchenkov spoke of a clandestine night-time operation in which staff secretly took samples from the lab via a "mouse hole" cut into a wall, and replaced them with clean samples taken from the same athlete months earlier and sometimes manipulated."CREDIBLE WITNESSES"McLaren said Rodchenkov and all other witnesses interviewed had been deemed credible, and the report said the investigators "confirm the general veracity of the published information concerning the sample swapping that went on at the Sochi Laboratory during the Sochi Games".The investigations showed that caps had been removed from a number of samples, and that they contained unusually high levels of salt, "significantly exceeding the levels produced by the human body". Nagornykh and Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, who was mentioned 21 times in McLaren's 97-page report, were not immediately available for comment.Putin said in a statement that there was "no place for doping in sport", and that the officials named in the report would be suspended.Following the statement, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev suspended Deputy Sports Minister Nagornykh.Putin also said the allegations were based on the testimony of only one man, and were an attempt to "make sport an instrument of geopolitical pressure, to form a negative image of countries and peoples".Harking back to the tit-for-tat superpower boycotts of the 1980s, he said: "The Olympic movement ... may again be on the verge of a split."In a leaked draft letter intended to be sent to the IOC on Monday, U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) CEO Travis Tygart called for a ban on all Russian athletes, not only in track and field.Paul Melia, head of the Canadian Center for Ethics in Sports, said the letter was backed by various athletes' committees and the anti-doping organizations of the United States, Germany, Japan and New Zealand, among others.However, Russian track and field athletes have appealed against their ban to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which is due to rule by Thursday.If it finds in their favor, there would seem to be little chance of a wider ban on Russian competitors holding up.Bach had indicated last week that he was reluctant to see athletes from one sport punished for the crimes of athletes or officials from another. (Writing by Frank Pingue and Kevin Liffey; Additional reporting by Gene Cherry in the United States and Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow; Editing by Ken Ferris/Peter Rutherford)

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Philistines were more sophisticated than given credit for, say archeologists

ASHKELON, Israel Philistines were no "philistines", say archaeologists who unearthed a 3,000-year-old cemetery in which members of the biblical nation were buried along with jewelry and perfumed oil.Little was known about the Philistines prior to the recent excavation in the Israeli port city of Ashkelon. The famed arch enemies of the ancient Israelites -- Goliath was a Philistine -- flourished in this area of the Mediterranean, starting in the 12th century BC, but their way of life and origin have remained a mystery.That stands to change after what researchers have called the first discovery of a Philistine cemetery. It contains the remains of about 150 people in numerous burial chambers, some containing surprisingly sophisticated items.The team also found DNA on parts of the skeletons and hope that further testing will determine the origins of the Philistine people.We may need to rethink today's derogatory use of the word philistine, which refers to someone averse to culture and the arts, said archaeologist Lawrence Stager, who has led the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon since 1985. "The Philistines have had some bad press, and this will dispel a lot of myths," Stager said.Stager's team dug down about 3 meters (10 feet) to uncover the cemetery, which they found to have been used centuries later as a Roman vineyard.On hands and knees, workers brushed away layers of dusty earth to reveal the brittle white bones of entire Philistine skeletons reposed as they were three millennia ago. Decorated juglets believed to have contained perfumed oil were found in graves. Some bodies were still wearing bracelets and earrings. Others had weapons. The archeologists also discovered some cremations, which the team say were rare and expensive for the period, and some larger jugs contained the bones of infants. "The cosmopolitan life here is so much more elegant and worldly and connected with other parts of the eastern Mediterranean," Stager said, adding that this was in contrast to the more modest village lifestyle of the Israelites who lived in the hills to the east.Bones, ceramics and other remains were moved to a tented compound for further study and some artifacts were reconstructed piece by piece. The team mapped the position of every bone removed to produce a digital 3D recreation of the burial site.Final reports on the finds are being published by the Semitic Museum at Harvard University. (Editing by David Goodman)

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Giacometti art trove at center of Franco-Swiss legal tussle

ZURICH A rich trove of drawings by Alberto Giacometti and photographs of the renowned sculptor and artist has been lying in sealed storage cartons in a Swiss museum for more than two years due to a legal dispute over their rightful ownership.Swiss prosecutors said they had ordered the seizure of the collection pending a decision by a French court after the Paris-based Alberto and Annette Giacometti Foundation alleged that the works had been stolen decades ago.The Swiss-born Giacometti, who died in 1966, is one of the best-known sculptors of the 20th century. His "Pointing Man" sold last year at Christie's for $141 million, the largest sum ever for a sculpture.But the legal tussle over a relatively obscure collection of drawings and photos has played out quietly, in lawyers' offices and hushed museum corridors in what Swiss courts call a "prosecution against unknown persons" by French authorities.The Foundation in Paris, home to some 5,000 Giacometti works, the world's largest collection, has not said whom it accuses of theft. Sabine Longin, director of development at the foundation, told Reuters it would speak publicly of the issue only after the ownership battle had been resolved."They have asked us to confiscate the drawings and photographs, which we have done," said Claudio Riedi of the local prosecutors' office in the Swiss town of Chur where the museum holding the drawings and photos is located."Whether there is a separate request for them to be returned is up to the French court."The collection includes 16 Giacometti sketches and 101 photographs of him by famous photographers including Man Ray, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Doisneau covering a period from the 1920s to the 1960s. Though Swiss court documents are heavily redacted -- in no place is Giacometti ever named -- Reuters was able to reconstruct the case by speaking with people familiar with its details."GREAT ART LOVER"The collection was in Giacometti's possession when he died in Chur in 1966, but may have changed hands among family members before finding its way to an unidentified "great art lover" in Switzerland around 1998, according to the Swiss court documents.After learning of the collection in 2009, the Grisons Art Museum in Chur enlisted Remo Stoffel, a local real estate tycoon and patron, to buy it for more than $1 million. Stoffel then loaned it to the facility for 15 years.With the collection's first public exhibition in 2011, however, the foundation in Paris lodged a complaint alleging the works had been "fraudulently stolen," Swiss documents indicate.Since the Swiss police intervened in February 2014, the works have been kept in storage at the museum. A Swiss appeals court two months ago rejected a bid to at least allow the collection to be exhibited, pending a court ruling.On Monday Stoffel confirmed his role as a benefactor to the museum, but declined direct comment on the case. Museum director Stephan Kunz and his predecessor, Beat Stutzer, who organised the original deal with Stoffel that brought the collection to Chur, also declined comment, citing the legal proceedings.Art historians say the collection provides an intimate glimpse into the life of Giacometti and his contemporaries.In one 1946 photo, for instance, Bresson captures Giacometti and his wife descending a staircase to his Parisian studio. Another shows him sculpting in the Swiss village of Stampa in 1964, two years before his death from heart and lung disease.And in a sketch dashed off almost casually on a magazine page, Giacometti offers his rendition of a Picasso nude on the facing page -- art imitating art."It offers a very important documentation of the artist and his private side," said Katharina Ammann, a Swiss art expert who helped produce a catalog of the works that accompanied the 2011 exhibition. "It is also the perfect accompaniment for the few Giacometti works already part of the Grisons museum's collection." (Reporting by John Miller; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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Firefighters gain ground over devastating California blaze

LOS ANGELES Firefighters in the foothills of central California have made significant gains against a blaze that has killed at least two people and destroyed scores of homes in a devastating start to the state's wildfire season, authorities said on Monday.Crews had carved containment lines around 40 percent of the fire's perimeter by Sunday night, up from 10 percent earlier in the day, and evacuation orders were lifted on Monday for two communities previously threatened.Officials however reported a higher toll of property losses on Monday, with about 250 structures reduced to rubble, 50 more than estimated the previous day, and 75 buildings damaged.The so-called Erskine Fire had blackened more than 45,000 acres of drought-parched brush and grass by Monday morning on the fringes of Lake Isabella in Kern County, California, about 110 miles (180 km) north of Los Angeles.The blaze erupted Thursday afternoon and spread quickly through several communities south of the lake, driven by high winds, as it roared largely unchecked for two days and forced hundreds of residents from their homes. Some 2,500 homes were threatened by flames at the fire's peak.On Friday, at least two people were confirmed to have been killed in the blaze. Kern County fire authorities warned that the death toll could rise as investigators combed through the rubble of homes that went up in flames.Anglican priest Byron McKaig and his wife, Gladys, were killed in the fire, Bishop Eric Menees of the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin said in a statement. The cause of the fire was under investigation.More than 2,000 personnel have been assigned to the blaze, the biggest and most destructive of nine large wildfires burning up and down the state, from the Klamath National Forest near Oregon to desert scrubland close to the Mexico border. Most of those were at least 60 percent contained by Monday.A blistering heat wave that has baked much of California in abnormally high temperatures ranging from the upper 90s to the triple digits has been a major factor contributing to the conflagrations. While California's wildfire season officially began in May, the rash of blazes since last week signaled the state's first widespread outbreak of intense, deadly fire activity this year.Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said the state had already experienced some 2,400 wildfires, small and large, since January. They burned a total of 99,000 acres (400 square km).Winter and spring rainfalls helped ease drought conditions but also helped spur growth of grasses and brush that have since dried out, providing more potential fuel for wildfires, he said. (Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Paul Tait)

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Paris exhibition displays Chirac-like 18th century Japanese masks

PARIS Three antique Japanese theater masks that bear a striking resemblance to former French president Jacques Chirac will go on display from Tuesday in a Paris museum he set up 10 years ago and that will now bear his name."There are thousands of Chiracs in Japan," said Jean-Jacques Aillagon, who served as culture minister during Chirac's presidency, explaining that the late 18th century masks represent a Japanese theater character that was always carved with similar features.The museum, which specializes in early art from Africa, Asia and the Americas, will be renamed "Musée du Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac". The exhibition delves into his long-hidden passion for such works of art. The 83-year-old Chirac was better known for his taste for food and beer, and a pundit once said about him: "Men usually read Playboy hidden behind the cover of a poetry book, but Chirac reads poetry behind a copy of Playboy."Saying she also spoke in his name, Chirac's wife Bernadette told reporters: "France is never greater than when it engages with other cultures, other people. It's a strong message and one that is very relevant now." Chirac, a center-right politician who was a prominent figure in French politics for decades, was president from 1995 to 2007. (Reporting by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Dominic Evans)

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