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By Ed Cropley JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - 'Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom' won rave reviews from South Africans who flocked to its opening night but critics were unimpressed, with one describing the latest biopic about the anti-apartheid leader as overly reverential ANC propaganda. With South Africa's first black president now 95 and in poor health, cinema-goers were in emotional mood at Thursday's first airing of the 150-minute epic, which stars British actors Idris Elba as Mandela and Naomie Harris as his wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. "I grew up in the streets of Alexandra township and for me every step that Mr Mandela took, it was as if I was taking that step again. I feel very loved and fortunate to be a South African." Mandela, who became president in 1994 but stepped down after one term in office, gave independent South African producer Anant Singh the film rights to his 'Long Walk to Freedom' autobiography more than 15 years ago.
Rawalpindi (Pakistan) (AFP) - General Raheel Sharif on Friday formally took over as the head of Pakistan's army, the most powerful position in the troubled military-dominated nation which is battling a homegrown Taliban insurgency. Sharif, named chief of the army staff on Wednesday, took charge from predecessor General Ashfaq Kayani at a ceremony at military headquarters in Rawalpindi. The country is struggling with the Taliban campaign which has claimed thousands of lives, vexed relations with India and the winding-down of the 12-year NATO mission in neighbouring Afghanistan. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif passed over two more senior generals to appoint his namesake, who is no relation, and will be hoping to avoid a repeat of events the last time he named an army chief -- General Pervez Musharraf overthrew him in a coup in 1999.
The Netherlands on Friday dropped out of the exclusive club of "AAA" rated countries after Standard and Poor's agency downgraded it to "AA+", citing weakening growth prospects. S and P on Friday also upped Cyprus' long-term rating to a B- and improved Spain's BBB- negative outlook to stable. "The downgrade reflects our opinion that the Netherlands' growth prospects are now weaker than we had previously anticipated," S and P wrote in a statement. The long-term outlook for the Netherlands, the eurozone's fifth-largest economy, remained stable.
Angola on Friday denied a report by Portuguese state TV that the oil-producing African state's long-serving President Jose Eduardo dos Santos was undergoing cancer treatment in Spain. "I don't have anything to say, because it is not true," Angolan Foreign Minister Georges Chikoti told reporters in Luanda. The RTP report, broadcast late on Thursday, said dos Santos had checked in to the oncology unit of a clinic in Barcelona. The 71-year-old dos Santos has been in power in Africa's second-biggest oil producer since 1979, making him the continent's second longest-serving leader.
A British exit from the European Union would be a dreadful decision that would cost billions of pounds and leave the world's sixth largest economy isolated, former Prime Minister John Major was quoted as saying on Friday. Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to try to renegotiate the terms of his country's EU membership before holding an "in-out" referendum if re-elected in 2015, which could lead to Britain dropping out of a club it joined in 1973. Major, who served as prime minister from 1990 to 1997, backed attempts to renegotiate Britain's EU ties but said the government needed to be realistic about what it could achieve. In a speech to business leaders at the Institute of Directors, Major said Britain would pay a severe price if it left the EU.
Alice Springs (Australia) (AFP) - Gary Ballance boosted his chances of playing in next week's second Ashes Test with a half-century while others failed on a sweltering first day for England in their tour match on Friday. The Yorkshire left-hander, promoted to number three, scored 55 off 134 balls as the tourists could only muster 212 for seven before declaring against the Cricket Australia Chairman's XI in Alice Springs. It was Ballance, bidding with Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes to replace Jonathan Trott in the second Adelaide Test, who compiled his maiden half-century for England to hold the innings together. Stokes and Bairstow chipped in with 28 and an unbeaten 31 respectively on a day of sapping heat when the batsmen struggled to convert starts.