Friday 23 June 2017

In the world

(AFP )

The woman at the centre of South Korea's corruption scandal, Choi Soon-Sil, was handed a three year jail term Friday for bribery in the first of a string of criminal cases against her.

A long-time friend of South Korea's disgraced ex-president, Choi was found guilty of bribing professors to have her daughter admitted to Seoul's prestigious Ewha Woman's University and receive good grades, despite a poor attendance record.

"The court sentences the accused to three years in prison," the Seoul Central District Court said in a statement.

(AFP )

The first women settled on this stony slope outside Kabul in the 1990s hoping to escape the stigma those like them are forced to endure.

Today it is known as Afghanistan's 'hill of widows', home to a cluster of women who have eked out independence in a society that shuns and condemns them as immoral.

The rocky summit 15 kilometres south-east of the capital has gradually been swallowed by the city, becoming a distant Kabul suburb. But for its residents, it remains "Zanabad", the city of women.

(AFP )

Grizzly bears native to Yellowstone National Park and the surrounding area are being removed from the endangered species list, the US government said Thursday, calling efforts to replenish the population a major success.

Conservation groups were however quick to criticize the move, saying dropping federal protections would again put grizzly bears at risk.

The grizzly bear was first placed on the endangered species list in 1975, when the population was down to 136.

(AFP )

As a girl, Karelle Vignon-Vullierme loved eating the Beninese dishes her mother cooked but never bothered following her into the kitchen to learn how to make them herself.

But that has not stopped the Senegal-based blogger, now in her 30s, from building up an adoring online audience of thousands by whipping up mouth-watering meals from all corners of the globe.

Hers is a story of love, the internet and plenty of chocolate cake.

(AFP )

A 22-year-old man was shot dead on Thursday during an anti-government protest in Caracas, becoming the 75th victim in three months of unrest over the rule of President Nicolas Maduro.

The young man was killed during a demonstration in the capital's Altamira area, the public ministry said on Twitter, without specifying the type of weapon that killed him.

Opposition lawmaker Jose Manuel Olivares said the man had been shot by a member of the National Guard.

Near-daily protests against Maduro began April 1, with demonstrators demanding his removal and new elections.

(AFP )

A country armed with nearly one pistol, rifle or shotgun for every citizen, the United States has a worldwide reputation for being gun-crazy.

But the reality is much more complex, according to a survey released Thursday, which says gun violence is contributing to significant ambivalence even though it encourages some to arm up.

The Pew Research Center survey confirms well-known basics: four in 10 US households have a gun, more often than not a handgun, often loaded, and seen as essential for their protection.

(AFP )

Mongolians pick a new president Monday after a campaign marred by corruption scandals plaguing all three candidates, from jobs for cash to offshore accounts and donations from an alleged cult.

The allegations have sapped enthusiasm among voters in a country that remains mired in poverty despite having billions of dollars worth of natural resources buried beneath its sprawling steppes.

(AFP )

The United States on Thursday accused pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine of a campaign of "violence and harassment" against unarmed OSCE teams monitoring the conflict.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Washington is "deeply concerned" about the situation, describing the rebels as "Russian-led, Russian-funded and Russian-trained."

A ceasefire between Ukrainian troops and the separatists is to come into effect this weekend, under the watchful gaze of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

(AFP )

EU leaders agreed Thursday that the post-Brexit locations of key bank and medical agencies currently based in London would be decided by November, EU president Donald Tusk said.

"Agreed. EU27 will decide by vote in November on relocation of EU agencies currently in UK. Confirms EU27 unity. Reduces Brexit uncertainty," Tusk tweeted after a summit meeting in Brussels.

The post-Brexit future of the European Banking Authority (EBA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) is important in itself, given their key regulatory role.

(AFP )

Spanish lawmakers on Thursday as expected threw out a Catalan bid to hold an independence referendum which a court had already ruled illegal.

Pro-separatist regional president Carles Puigdemont presented a bill calling on Madrid to "respect" the wealthy northeastern region's attempt to hold a vote in October.

But 250 out of 350 lawmakers, led by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's conservatives and backed by the main opposition Socialists and centrist Ciudadanos, voted down the move.

(AFP )

Mourners turned out in droves to pay their final respects Thursday to Otto Warmbier, the US student imprisoned for more than a year by North Korea and sent back home in a mysterious coma that proved fatal.

The 800-capacity auditorium at Warmbier's high school in the Cincinnati suburb of Wyoming was packed, as were overflow rooms set up to accommodate additional attendees.

(AFP )

Germany on Thursday passed a controversial new law that expands the power of authorities to spy on the content of encrypted message services such as WhatsApp and Skype.

Amid the wave of jihadist attacks in Europe, German lawmakers voted in favour of the law designed "to reinforce the effectiveness of criminal procedures".

(AFP )

Altice USA shares rallied Thursday in their New York market debut after the telecom group controlled by French billionaire Patrick Drahi raised some $1.9 billion in an initial public offering.

Shares jumped nine percent to close at $32.71 in the first day of trading, giving it a market value of over $20 billion.

Altice USA priced some 63.9 million shares at $30 in the biggest telecom IPO since the dotcom collapse in 2000. The offering was the second largest of the year after Snapchat parent Snap Inc.

(AFP )

Julian Assange's lawyer accused Britain on Thursday of breaking international law by denying the WikiLeaks founder safe passage out of the country if he leaves Ecuador's embassy in London.

"Britain is... violating all the norms of international law, human rights and humanitarian law," said Baltasar Garzon, a Spanish ex-judge who leads Assange's defense team.

He spoke in the Ecuadoran capital at an event marking the fifth anniversary since Assange sought asylum in the embassy to avoid arrest on Swedish rape charges.

(AFP )

A powerful 6.8-magnitude earthquake hit near Guatemala's coast Thursday, injuring four people and damaging homes and roads, officials said, just eight days after another strong tremor killed five people in the Central American country.

The quake struck at 6:31 am (1231 GMT) with its epicenter in the Pacific Ocean at a depth of 46.8 kilometers, about 23 kilometers (14 miles) southwest of Puerto San Jose, the US Geological Survey said.

The Guatemalan Seismological Institute measured the quake at a magnitude of 6.7.

(AFP )

French President Emmanuel Macron's government on Thursday set out a tough new anti-terrorism law that has already faced protests from civil rights groups.

The proposals presented to the first meeting of a reshuffled cabinet appointed Wednesday are designed to allow the lifting of the state of emergency that has been in place since the November 2015 attacks in Paris.

The state of emergency has been extended five times since it was introduced by the then Socialist government in response to the gun and bomb rampage that left 130 people dead.

(AFP )

US Senate Republicans on Thursday unveiled a revamped health care plan aimed at fulfilling President Donald Trump's pledge to repeal Obamacare, but a revolt by four conservatives put the bill in immediate jeopardy.

Democrats formed a united front against the controversial measure that was drafted in secret, criticizing it as a "war on Medicaid," the health care program for lower income Americans, and calling it a worse plan than one that passed the House of Representatives in May.

(AFP )

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday attacked new US sanctions against his country, saying they "seriously threaten the whole relationship" between Moscow and Washington.

The measures are "vain attempts to pressure Russia," Lavrov said in a statement published by the foreign ministry after a phone call with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

"These kinds of actions seriously threaten the whole relationship" between America and Russia, which is "already experiencing a difficult period without this," Lavrov said.

(AFP )

The body size of some whale species diminished by several metres decades before 20th-century factory fishing caused their populations to collapse, researchers said Thursday.

If that pattern holds true for other commercially harvested marine species, a drop in body size could serve as early warning that protective measures are needed, they reported in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

(AFP )

EU leaders agreed Thursday to roll over damaging economic sanctions against Russia for another six months because Moscow has failed to meet its Ukraine ceasefire commitments, EU president Donald Tusk said.

"Agreed. EU will extend economic sanctions against Russia for their lack of implementing the Minsk agreement," Tusk tweeted at an EU leaders summit in Brussels.

The decision will be formalised in July and become effective on July 31, when the current measures are to expire.

(AFP )

In a diplomatic blow to Britain, the United Nations voted Thursday to ask the International Court of Justice to rule on the fate of the British-ruled Chagos islands, which host an important military base.

The Indian Ocean archipelago has been at the center of a decades-long dispute over Britain's decision to separate it from Mauritius in 1965 and set up a joint military base with the US on Diego Garcia, the largest of the islands.

(AFP )

Germany's parliament voted Thursday to quash the convictions of 50,000 gay men sentenced for homosexuality under a Nazi-era law which remained in force after the war and offer compensation.

After decades of lobbying, victims and activists hailed a triumph in the struggle to clear the names of gay men who lived with a criminal record under Article 175 of the penal code.

An estimated 5,000 of those found guilty under the statute are still alive.

(AFP )

Red Cross volunteers prevented a significant number of Ebola cases during the 2013-2016 epidemic in West Africa by using safe burial techniques, according to a study released Thursday.

The outbreak that killed more than 11,300 people and sickened nearly 29,000 -- mainly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone -- could have been much worse, according to the study published in the PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases medical journal.

(AFP )

South Sudan's media authority will lift a ban on around 20 foreign journalists who had been refused access to the country, a top media official said Thursday.

Earlier this month the government's media regulatory authority said it had banned the journalists over "unsubstantiated and unrealistic stories".

The National Dialogue Steering Committee -- tasked with leading consultations to restore peace in the country -- put pressure on the Media Authority to lift the ban.

(AFP )

Australia captain Mark Milligan converted a second-half penalty in Thursday's 1-1 draw with Cameroon in Saint Petersburg that left both teams heading for an early Confederations Cup exit.

Cameroon midfielder Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa scored with a superb flick on the stroke of half-time, but Milligan slotted home a spot-kick on 60 minutes as both sides picked up their first point in Group B.

The draw left both sides trailing Germany and Chile, who meet later in Kazan, and needing to win their final match just to have any hope of reaching the semi-finals.

(AFP )

Indian police said Thursday that 15 Muslims arrested for celebrating a recent Pakistani cricket victory over India would not be charged with sedition, but could still face prison for cheering the rival side.

The villagers from central Madhya Pradesh state were arrested Monday after letting off fireworks and cheering for Pakistan as the underdogs beat India in the final of the Champions Trophy in England.

(AFP )

Sears Canada filed for court protection from creditors Thursday as the onetime retail giant seeks to adapt to a changed landscape and tougher online competition.

The company's roots in the American mail order business Simpsons-Sears sprouted a chain of department stores across Canada that anchored hundreds of malls.

In 1999, it bought up the assets and locations of failed rival Eaton's.

But moves into Canada by both low- and high-end American stores, and new online competition squeezed its market share.

(AFP )

Twelve months after British voters rejected the EU, university cities such as Canterbury are on the frontlines of a political realignment shaped in part by students' revulsion at Brexit.

Britain's general election two weeks ago featured a surge in turnout by younger voters, who plumped by and large for the opposition Labour party led by socialist firebrand Jeremy Corbyn.

That surge powered Labour's candidate in Canterbury to victory by just 187 votes, marking the first time the constituency has failed to return a Conservative MP since it was created in 1918.

(AFP )

The alleged kingpin of a human trafficking gang accused of killing 71 migrants found in a truck in Austria refused to testify on the second day of his trial on Thursday.

"I will only speak once I've heard what my associates have had to say," 30-year-old Afghan Samsoor L. told the court in the Hungarian town of Kecskemet.

He added however: "I know what is true (in the charge sheet) and what is false. Some parts are correct, others are false."

(AFP )

Colombia's National Liberation Army admitted Thursday that it has detained two Dutch journalists and announced plans to free them, in the midst of talks for the country's last guerrillas to end more than five decades of fighting.

Derk Johannes Bolt, 62, and his cameraman Eugenio Ernest Marie Follender, 58, who were kidnapped Monday, "are in good health and will be released," the ELN rebels announced on one of their social media accounts.

The two men were stopped in El Tarra, a region in the Norte de Santander district near the Venezuela border.

(AFP )

Chancellor Angela Merkel's party on Thursday placed the German flag front and centre in its campaign advertising for September elections, in a bid to snatch back a claim on patriotism from anti-immigration populists.

About 100 days before the polls, the Christian Democratic Union unveiled its campaign adverts bearing the slogan "for a Germany in which we live well and happily," against the flag's black, red and gold colours.

(AFP )

US Ambassador Nikki Haley on Thursday called for international action to address the crisis in Venezuela, after a US-backed proposal for regional mediation failed to win support at the Organization of American States.

"The tragic situation in Venezuela calls out for action," Haley said in a statement a day after the meeting of the 34-nation OAS in Mexico.

"The Venezuelan people are starving while their government tramples their democracy," she said.

(AFP )

The EU pledged 85 million euros ($95 million) to Uganda Thursday, ahead of a summit to raise twenty times that amount to help it deal with nearly one million refugees from South Sudan.

Uganda is facing the world's fastest growing refugee crisis as South Sudanese pour over the border to escape more than three years of civil war in their country.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is visiting a refugee settlement Thursday, before joining other top officials, donors and regional leaders for the Refugee Solidarity Summit in Kampala on Friday.

(AFP )

A French farmer who became a symbol of the migrant crisis for helping Africans sneak across the border from Italy has been detained again, his lawyer said Thursday.

Cedric Herrou, a 37-year-old organic olive farmer, has been hailed as a hero by some and branded irresponsible by others for driving migrants across the border and then giving them accommodation.

He was let off with a suspended fine of 3,000 euros ($3,300) in February after going on trial charged with assisting some 200 illegal immigrants, most of them Sudanese and Eritreans.

(AFP )

British Prime Minister Theresa May promised Thursday to let EU citizens stay after Brexit as she met sceptical European leaders for the first time since her disastrous election gamble.

Under pressure from all sides since losing her parliamentary majority in the June 8 vote, May held out an apparent olive branch on the uncertain fate of three million Europeans living in Britain.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the plans were a "good start", but added that "there are still many, many other questions" to be dealt with over Brexit.