Thursday 19 October 2017

In the world

(AFP )

Catalonia's separatist leader Carles Puigdemont must abandon his bid for independence from Spain on Thursday or face an unprecedented move by Madrid to seek a suspension of his region's autonomy.

Puigdemont, who sparked Spain's worst political crisis in decades by holding a banned independence referendum on October 1, has been ordered by Madrid to say by 10:00 am (0800 GMT) whether or not he is unilaterally declaring a split from Spain.

(AFP )

The United States vowed Wednesday to work with India in preference to China over the next century to promote a "free and open" Asia-Pacific region led by prosperous democracies.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivered his unexpectedly sharp message to Beijing on the same day President Xi Jinping opened the Communist Party congress.

His upbeat speech was designed to set the stage for a visit next week to China's main Asian rival India, and to lay out a vision for a 100-year "strategic partnership" between Washington and New Delhi.

(AFP )

The shocking assassination of an influential anti-corruption blogger has brought to a head the public frustration at Malta's stagnating institutions, bubbling away for years beneath the Mediterranean holiday island image.

Academics, lawyers, friends of Daphne Caruana Galizia and mourners alike tell a common tale of failing confidence in the tiny country's politicians, police, business culture and justice system.

(AFP )

Police arrested a man suspected of killing three people and wounding two on Wednesday at a Maryland business park before shooting another person in neighboring Delaware.

Radee Prince, 37, was caught as he fled on foot in Delaware after a manhunt that saw local Maryland schools in lockdown and the nearby set of Netflix drama House of Cards reportedly sealed off.

Police said the latest mass shooting to hit the United States was a "targeted attack".

(AFP )

British Prime Minister Theresa May will appeal to European Union leaders at a crunch summit in Brussels on Thursday to push forward the deadlocked Brexit negotiations.

At a meeting moved to a new venue at the last minute due to an eruption of toxic gas, May will urge her colleagues to start looking now at a future trade deal and a transition period after Britain leaves in 2019.

(AFP )

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appears poised to secure a fresh term at the helm of the world's third-biggest economy Sunday, as he seeks a mandate for his nationalist agenda and hardline stance on North Korea.

Pyongyang has vowed to "sink" Japan into the sea and fired missiles over northern Japanese islands, providing a tense backdrop to an election campaign that has also revolved around how to pep up the country's once world-beating economy.

(AFP )

Dozens of tents stud a hillside surrounded by olive trees, while children in flimsy sandals -- the lucky ones wearing socks -- play on mounds of stinking garbage as the sun rises on the Greek island of Samos.

Almost two years since more than a million migrants and refugees crossed into Europe, thousands are still living in squalor after risking their lives crossing the Aegean sea.

"We arrived last night. 42 of us on a small boat," said Naween Rahimi, an Afghan from Kabul, who is travelling with his wife.

(AFP )

Foreign powers are waging an "extensive, unrelenting" campaign of espionage and meddling in Australia, notably targeting ethnic and religious minorities, the country's spy chief warned Thursday.

The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) said it was struggling to cope with the threat, with its resources stretched from fighting terrorism.

Spy chief Duncan Lewis said in a forward to ASIO's annual report that over the past year there had been a "steadily worsening overall security and operational environment".

(AFP )

The International Criminal Court said on Wednesday it was investigating several potential war crimes including murder in Mali, months after finding an ex-jihadist guilty liable for millions worth of damage in the landlocked country.

"Our investigations are continuing (into) other crimes... sexual crimes and crimes against peacekeepers, killings and all those," ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told reporters in Bamako.

(AFP )

A Frenchman and a Tunisian woman were convicted on Wednesday on appeal in Tunis for "public indecency" after an altercation with police who arrested the couple while they were hugging in a car.

The couple, who maintain that they were not kissing, were given a lighter sentence than the original term handed out at their October 4 trial, after widespread outrage on social media and in the press over the incident.

(AFP )

Myanmar's government has failed to meet its international obligations and protect Rohingya Muslims from the atrocities taking place in Rakhine state, two UN special advisers said Wednesday.

The statement from the UN special adviser on the prevention of genocide, Adama Dieng, and the special adviser on the responsibility to protect, Ivan Simonovic, added the international response to the crisis was a failure.

(AFP )

A Brazilian congressional committee on Wednesday voted against making President Michel Temer stand trial on corruption charges.

The 39-26 vote by the justice committee in the lower house was non-binding but gives Temer political momentum ahead of the full chamber taking up the issue.

Temer, the first president in the country to face criminal charges while in office, is accused of obstruction of justice and racketeering. He denies any wrongdoing and has argued that the country needs him at the helm to bring in market-friendly reforms after two years of deep recession.

(AFP )

The International Monetary Fund's lending policies are undermining United Nations human rights and development goals, an independent expert commissioned by the UN said Wednesday.

In nations facing poverty and health crises, the global crisis lender's conditions on support can weaken social spending and hinder countries' respect for human rights, increasing unemployment, lowering labor standards and harming public health and the environment, according to a report by the expert.

(AFP )

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is traveling to the Central African Republic next week to draw attention to the world's "forgotten crisis" and its heavy toll on aid workers and UN peacekeepers.

"The Central African Republic is very far from the attention of the international community," Guterres told AFP and Radio France Internationale in an interview on Wednesday.

"The level of suffering of the people but also the trauma suffered by aid workers and peacekeepers are deserving of our solidarity and heightened attention," he said.

(AFP )

The death toll from California's wildfires rose to 42 on Wednesday, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said, as rescuers found another body.

The latest victim was found in Sonoma County, the worst-hit part of California's wine-growing region which has been scorched by multiple infernos raging since October 9 but now largely under control.

Cal Fire said almost 10,000 firefighters were still battling 13 major fires, however, with more than 325 square miles (850 square kilometers) burned across the state.

(AFP )

A Croatian court ordered Wednesday that the boss of ailing Balkans food and retial giant Agrokor, who is suspected of financial wrongdoing, be detained as soon as he returns to the country.

Judges in Zagreb said that if Ivica Todoric fails to appear in Croatia within the next few days an international warrant will be issued for his arrest.

He is accused, along with 14 others including his two sons and other former top executives at the company, of abuse of trust, forging official documents and failure to keep proper business records.

(AFP )

Days ago in Syria's Raqa, die-hard jihadists made their final stand in the city's national hospital. On Wednesday, it stood eerily silent, its entrance inhabited only by swarming flies and two rotting corpses.

Each body lay next to an overturned motorcycle on the side of a thoroughfare leading to the abandoned, bullet-riddled complex, which US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces announced on Tuesday was clear of Islamic State group fighters.

(AFP )

The honorary leader of Poland's Catholic Church on Wednesday said he would suspend any priest who takes part in anti-migrant demonstrations.

"If I hear... of a protest against refugees where my priests participate, I will have a swift response: Each priest that joins in will be suspended," Archbishop Wojciech Polak, primate of Poland, said in an interview with the Roman Catholic weekly magazine.

"There's no other path to take, as I am responsible for my diocese. In situations where (priests) explicitly support one side in a conflict, I need to act immediately."

(AFP )

Former French minister Rachida Dati on Wednesday urged tougher action against sexual harassment, saying efforts should target powerful abusers rather than "street harassment."

With the issue in the headlines after a string of allegations against disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein going back decades, Dati demanded political efforts targeting "men in power" who she said should face "really heavy" punishment.

"This story (concerning Weinstein), shows as ever how the elites protect their own backs," she told France's BFMTV.

(AFP )

American Caitlan Coleman was rushed to a hospital only days after being freed with her family from five years captivity at the hands of Taliban-linked kidnappers, local media reported.

Canadian broadcaster CTV, citing her husband Jonathan Boyle, reported late Tuesday that Coleman had been "rushed to hospital" on Monday.

No details of her illness were provided, but Boyle told CTV that "he and their three children are by her bedside."

Boyle could not be reached for comment. Hospital officials would not confirm that Coleman had been admitted, citing privacy laws.

(AFP )

Hundreds of flower species have evolved the ability to project ethereal halos of blue light invisible to humans in order to lure pollinating bees, researchers revealed Wednesday.

In laboratory experiments, bumblebees were drawn to synthetic flowers designed to generate the same kind of ultraviolent rings, they reported in the journal Nature.

"The effect occurs in the ultraviolent part of the optical spectrum that we cannot see," co-author Ullrich Steiner, a researcher at the Adolphe Merkle Institute in Fribourg, Switzerland, told AFP.

"But bees can."

(AFP )

The computer that stunned humanity by beating the best mortal players at a strategy board game requiring "intuition" has become even smarter, its makers said Wednesday.

Even more startling, the updated version of AlphaGo is entirely self-taught -- a major step towards the rise of machines that achieve superhuman abilities "with no human input", they reported in the science journal Nature.

(AFP )

Portugal's interior minister has been replaced amid criticism over the government's handling of a series of deadly forest fires that have killed more than 100 people in four months.

Constanca Urbano de Sousa handed her resignation to socialist Prime Minister Antonio Costa Wednesday, bowing to increasing political pressure as the death toll mounted.

(AFP )

The Weinstein revelations have once again shone a light on Hollywood's seedy underbelly -- but rampant sexual harassment in the workplace is hardly confined to the glamorous world of show business.

From the cleaning industry to the corporate world, a common thread is bosses or colleagues who abuse positions of authority to coerce their victims, often safe in the knowledge their behavior can remain hidden.

(AFP )

Spain will not carry out its threat to suspend Catalonia's autonomy if the region's separatist leader agrees to call fresh elections, a government source said Wednesday.

Madrid had earlier warned Carles Puigdemont that unless he drops his bid for an independent Catalonia by 0800 GMT on Thursday, the central government would start proceedings to reintroduce direct rule -- an unprecedented escalation of Spain's worst political crisis in decades.

(AFP )

US Ambassador Nikki Haley urged the UN Security Council on Wednesday to follow in the US footsteps and confront Iran over what she described as its "aggressive, destabilizing and unlawful behavior" in the Middle East.

The council met for its monthly debate on the region just days after US President Donald Trump refused to certify the Iran nuclear deal, leaving its fate to the US Congress.

"The United States has embarked on a course that attempts to address all aspects of Iran's destructive conduct -- not just one aspect," Haley told the council.

(AFP )

Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega said Wednesday his government would sign the Paris Agreement, a move set to leave the United States and Syria as the only two countries outside the global climate pact.

Nicaragua had previously refused to sign the 2015 agreement on the grounds that it did not go far enough to combat global warming.

Ortega gave no date for the signing however, only that it would be in the next days or weeks.

(AFP )

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson promised India a new century of "strategic partnership" on Wednesday, accusing its Asian rival China of undermining international order.

Setting the stage for an upbeat visit next week to Delhi, Washington's top diplomat drew an explicit comparison between China and the world's "two greatest democracies."

Washington and India have been building stronger ties for some time, but Tillerson made one of the clearest cases yet for the "shared values" underpinning the relationship.

(AFP )

EU President Donald Tusk on Wednesday warned Britain not to expect any breakthrough in Brexit negotiations at a European summit this week, saying London needed to come up with more concrete proposals.

Leaders of the other 27 EU members meeting in Brussels on Thursday and Friday are set to postpone until at least December a decision on whether enough progress has been made in talks to move on to discussing Britain and the EU's future relationship.

(AFP )

Russian journalist, former reality show host and socialite Ksenia Sobchak announced Wednesday that she intends to stand for president in 2018 as an opposition candidate.

"My name is Ksenia Sobchak. I am standing for president," she wrote on a website announcing her bid, declaring that her campaign slogan is "I am the 'none of the above' candidate."

Russian elections used to allow voters to tick a box titled "none of the above" to reject all candidates.

(AFP )

Russian performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky and his partner were charged on Wednesday with torching the facade of a Paris branch of France's central bank and placed in pre-trial detention, a legal source said.

Pavlensky -- best known for nailing his scrotum to Red Square in 2013 to denounce Russian state power -- and his partner Oksana Shalygina were accused of "dangerous destruction of property" following the early Monday stunt.

(AFP )

The militant commander accused of masterminding Pakistan's deadliest ever extremist attack, a massacre at a school in Peshawar in 2014, has been killed, the Pakistani Taliban said in an email to media Wednesday.

The message from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the umbrella group which forms the Pakistani Taliban, did not say when or where Khalifa Umar Mansoor had been killed, and there was no immediate comment from the Pakistani military or government.

(AFP )

A second judge ordered a freeze on President Donald Trump's newest travel ban order on Wednesday, saying it was essentially targeted at Muslims in violation of the US Constitution.

Maryland federal judge Theodore Chuang said the ban affecting travelers from six majority-Muslim countries and North Korea, as well as many officials from Venezuela, essentially had not changed from the first two versions, which were shot down in lower courts as discriminating against a single religion.

(AFP )

The French parliament on Wednesday adopted a controversial anti-terror bill that gives the authorities permanent new powers to search homes, shut places of worship and restrict freedom of movement.

The new law, which will replace the state of emergency imposed after the 2015 Paris attacks, was approved by the Senate on its second reading, despite campaigners warning of a threat to civil liberties.

The lower house National Assembly overwhelmingly approved it last week.

(AFP )

A manned Soyuz rocket suffered a partial loss of pressure as it returned to Earth earlier this year, Russia's space agency said Wednesday, in the latest glitch to hit the country's space industry.

The incident during a voyage back from the International Space Station in April did not put the crew's life in danger, the Roscosmos space agency said in a statement.

"As the Soyuz MS-02 (space capsule) descended from orbit, it experienced a slight loss of pressure during the opening of its main parachute," Roscosmos said.