Saturday 24 March 2018

In the world

(AFP )

British regulators finished searching the offices of Cambridge Analytica, the firm at the centre of a Facebook data scandal, before dawn on Saturday and said they would examine the evidence before considering "next steps".

After receiving a warrant from a judge, about 18 enforcement agents from the Information Commissioner's Office entered the company's London offices at around 8:00 pm (2000 GMT) Friday.

"Our investigators left the premises at about 03:00 am," a spokesman for the data watchdog said Saturday.

(AFP )

Finnish police said Saturday they had requested more information from Spanish authorities before acting on an arrest warrant issued against Catalonia's former president Carles Puigdemont, though it was unclear whether he was actually in Finland.

Puigdemont, who lives in exile in Belgium, visited the Nordic country on Thursday and Friday to meet Finnish lawmakers and hold a seminar at the University of Helsinki. He had been due to leave Finland on Saturday afternoon, but his exact whereabouts were unknown.

(AFP )

Facebook and psychologists who have worked with it are grappling with their "Oppenheimer moment", experts say, over revelations that its data may have been used to help elect US President Donald Trump.

The scandal over the way Cambridge Analytica obtained personal information to try to manipulate US voters "is the most important moment that Facebook has faced since it went public (in 2012)," according to Professor Andrew Przybylski of Oxford University, one of the world's leading authorities on social media psychology.

(AFP )

In Syria's Kurdish-controlled Manbij, salesmen shout as customers bustle through the city's packed marketplace -- an everyday scene that masks residents' deep fears of a Turkish attack.

Despite the presence of US troops nearby, Manbij could become the next target of a Turkey-led battle against Kurdish militia in Syria's north.

Ankara and allied Syrian rebels seized the northwestern city of Afrin on March 18, and Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly threatened to push eastwards and take Manbij.

(AFP )

Former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe says South Africa should have sent troops instead of a team of negotiators to prevent his ouster by the military last year.

Mugabe said his regional neighbours betrayed him "in a sense", in an interview with the privately-owned Zimbabwe Independent newspaper and other regional and international media.

"When you look at their conditions, except for South Africa, they haven’t got the capacity to intervene," the 94-year-old is quoted as saying.

(AFP )

Parents and friends of Kim Wall honored her memory in New York Friday on what would have been the slain Swedish journalist's 31st birthday.

Wall's remains were discovered in plastic bags over a series of weeks after she vanished while interviewing Danish inventor Peter Madsen aboard his homemade submarine.

Madsen currently is on trial in Copenhagen in the grisly case that sent shockwaves worldwide, with charges including premeditated murder, desecration of a corpse and sexual relations other than intercourse.

(AFP )

European countries are set to take further steps as early as Monday to punish Russia over the poisoning of a former spy in England, officials said, as diplomatic pressure builds on Moscow over the nerve agent attack.

Russia, for its part, accused London of trying to force its European allies to take "confrontational steps" and unleashing an "anti-Russian campaign".

EU leaders meeting in Brussels have agreed to recall the bloc's ambassador from Moscow over the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury.

(AFP )

The US and China's top economic officials agreed by phone Saturday to "continue to communicate" on trade issues, Chinese state media said, as President Donald Trump pledged his escalating trade showdown would get results despite pushback from Europe and Beijing.

In his latest jolt to the prevailing global order, Trump on Thursday authorised tariffs on as much as $60 billion of Chinese imports, targeting sectors in which Washington says China has stolen American technology.

(AFP )

US President Donald Trump late Friday rolled back his blanket ban on transgender people serving in the military -- but they will still face major restrictions in the American armed forces.

Trump signed a memorandum in August that effectively barred transgender people from the military but the ban faced multiple legal challenges.

The White House has now come back with a modified version of the original plan -- as with Trump's efforts to ban travelers from several Muslim-majority countries, which was repeatedly challenged in court.

(AFP )

A French policeman who offered himself as a hostage to help end what President Emmanuel Macron branded an "Islamist terrorist attack" died of his wounds Saturday, becoming the fourth victim of the shooting spree and supermarket siege.

Lieutenant-Colonel Arnaud Beltrame, 45, was among a group of officers who rushed to the scene in the town of Trebes in southwest France on Friday after the attacker, who claimed allegiance to the Islamic State group, stormed a supermarket and fired at shoppers and staff.

(AFP )

Egypt, known worldwide for its ancient pyramids, is the Arab world's most populous country and has been under military control for decades.

It is ruled by ex-army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is assured of a second term in elections next week.

Here is some background about the country.

- Army's grip on power -

After a period of British rule, Egypt gained independence in 1922 under King Fuad I.

In 1952, charismatic army colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser overthrew Fuad's son, King Farouk. A republic was declared in 1953, headed by General Mohamed Naguib.

(AFP )

Young orangutan Utu clings to one of his rescuers as he is freed from the tiny wooden cage that has been home for five years.

The tiny primate, covered in fuzzy auburn hair, is one of three Bornean orangutans saved in Indonesia over the past two weeks.

Environmentalists and local officials rescued Utu and another youngster, Joy, from tiny 1.5 by one metre (five by three feet) cages where they were kept as house pets in West Kalimantan on the island of Borneo.

(AFP )

North Korea on Saturday agreed to hold high-level talks with Seoul next week to discuss logistics for a rare inter-Korean summit, the South's Unification Ministry said, as a diplomatic thaw on the peninsula gathers pace.

The two sides will each send a three-member delegation to the border truce village of Panmunjom on Thursday for talks aimed at paving the way for a summit due in late April, it said.

South Korea on Wednesday had proposed holding high-level talks with the North to discuss details including the summit's dates and agenda.

(AFP )

A new Balkan route through Bosnia has opened up for migrants, four years after a crisis in which more than one million people landed on Europe's shores.

Hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, took the so-called Balkans route northwest of Greece in 2015 and 2016.

The route was effectively closed in March 2016 and until recently the few still making the journey avoided Bosnia and its mountains.

(AFP )

Turkey on Friday condemned a statement by European Union leaders bitterly critical of Ankara's policies towards bloc members Cyprus and Greece, raising tensions just days ahead of a key summit.

"The statement that was issued contained unacceptable comments against our country that serve the interests of Greece and the Greek Cypriots," foreign ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy told reporters in response to Thursday's EU statement.

(AFP )

British regulators on Friday began searching the London offices of Cambridge Analytica (CA), the scandal-hit communications firm at the heart of the Facebook data scandal, shortly after a judge approved a search warrant.

Around 18 enforcement agents from the office of Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham entered the company's London headquarters at around 8:00pm (2000 GMT) to execute the warrant.

(AFP )

Thousands of protesters across Slovakia called for snap elections Friday, in a sign that a change of government ministers has not been enough to quell a public backlash triggered by the murder of a journalist probing corruption.

The president on Thursday appointed the new cabinet led by Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini, whose predecessor and close ally Robert Fico had quit over the scandal.

Demonstrators in the capital Bratislava chanted "we want elections" and "shame" and held up signs with slogans such as "we have the right to vote" and "we don't want this government".

(AFP )

By tapping conservative firebrand John Bolton as his national security chief and hardliner Mike Pompeo as his top diplomat, US President Donald Trump has dramatically raised the stakes in world affairs.

Now, if Trump decides to abandon the Iran nuclear deal he has an adviser who thinks Iran can be disarmed by force -- and was one of the principal players who pushed for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

If Trump's planned summit with Kim Jong Un does not lead quickly to North Korea's nuclear disarmament he has a team that is more ready than his last to contemplate pre-emptive war.

(AFP )

The gunman who killed three people in southwest France on Friday before being shot dead by police was a 25-year-old small-time drug dealer with a history of minor crimes.

The rap sheet against Redouane Lakdim, a French citizen born in Morocco according to sources close to the inquiry, eventually drew deeper scrutiny by investigators worried he was at risk of Islamic radicalisation.

In the summer of 2014 Lakdim, who lived in Carcassone, was added to a watchlist of people considered possible extremists.

(AFP )

Local and foreign reporters in Haiti are urging authorities to investigate the disappearance of Vladjimir Legagneur, a freelance photojournalist who has been missing since last week.

Legagneur, 30, left his home in the capital Port-au-Prince on the morning of March 14 to take pictures of living conditions in the impoverished neighborhood of Grand-Ravine, an area that has endured violent clashes between rival gangs in recent years.

(AFP )

The use of Facebook data to target voters has triggered global outrage with the Cambridge Analytica scandal. But the concept is nothing new: Barack Obama made extensive use of the social network in 2008 and stepped up "micro-targeting" in his 2012 re-election effort.

The unauthorized gathering of data on 50 million Facebook users by a British consulting firm that worked for Donald Trump has sparked intense debate on how politicians and marketers -- appropriately or not -- use such personal information.

(AFP )

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) issued a dire diagnosis Friday of Earth's plant and animal species.

Here's what we know:

- Europe and Central Asia -

- Soil erosion has affected 25 percent of agricultural land in the European Union, and 23 percent in Central Asia.

- Availability of clean drinking water has decreased by 15 percent per person since 1990.

- More than a quarter of marine fish species have declining populations.

(AFP )

The United States warned Friday that it was losing patience and again threatened to quit the UN Human Rights Council after the Geneva-based body adopted five resolutions condemning Israel.

US Ambassador Nikki Haley said in a statement that the council was "grossly biased against Israel," noting that it had adopted only three resolutions separately targeting North Korea, Iran and Syria.

"When the Human Rights Council treats Israel worse than North Korea, Iran, and Syria, it is the council itself that is foolish and unworthy of its name," said Haley.

(AFP )

Five Catalan separatists, including current presidential candidate Jordi Turull, were placed in custody on Friday by the judge investigating the region's breakaway bid, the Supreme Court said.

The judge detained former Catalan parliament president Carme Forcadell and three former regional ministers alongside Turull, who will no longer be able to attend a debate scheduled Saturday on his nomination to lead the region.

The judge decided that the five pose a flight risk, after Marta Rovira became the latest leading pro-independence figure to flee abroad to escape charges.

(AFP )

John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the UN named by President Donald Trump to serve as his new National Security Advisor, does not mince words.

Here are some of the most notable quotes from the arch conservative who is replacing General H.R. McMaster:

- North Korea -

"It is perfectly legitimate for the United States to respond to the current 'necessity' posed by North Korea's nuclear weapons by striking first."

- February 28, 2018 op-ed in The Wall Street Journal

(AFP )

Croatia's former prime minister Ivo Sanader pleaded not guilty Friday to accepting a bribe from an Austrian bank during the country's 1990s conflict, at the start of his war profiteering retrial.

Sanader, who confidently steered the Balkans country into NATO and to the European Union doorstep, was charged for accepting almost 500,000 euros ($617,000) in bribes from Austrian Hypo Group Alpe Adria.

(AFP )

Tumblr announced Friday the blogging platform was used by a shadowy Russian internet group to spread disinformation during the 2016 election campaign as it published the 84 account handles linked to the effort.

Tumblr, which was acquired by Yahoo in 2013 and now is part of Verizon unit Oath, said it uncovered the scheme late last year, helping an investigation that led to the indictment in February of 13 individuals linked to the Russia-based Internet Research Agency.

(AFP )

President Donald Trump abandoned a threat to shut down the US government Friday, signing off on a budget despite being "unhappy" with many of its provisions -- and warning he won't back anything similar ever again.

He later tweeted his desire to have a "line-item veto" over future bills that would allow him to remove parts he disagrees with -- a measure that would alter the balance of the government and was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1998.

(AFP )

A deal with South Korea resolving differences over steel and aluminum tariffs and revising the bilateral trade pact with the United States could be announced next week, US officials said Friday.

President Donald Trump said the two sides are "very close" to finalizing the updated pact known as KORUS "and we're going to have a wonderful deal with a wonderful ally."

The Trump administration in July convened talks to renegotiate the treaty, arguing the 2012 deal was lopsided because the US trade deficit ballooned since it was signed.

(AFP )

President Donald Trump provoked a fresh political crisis Friday, threating to veto an already approved budget and shut down the federal government.

The US leader was to address the media at the White House after he appeared to reverse his support for the $1.3 trillion spending bill, amid unfavorable television coverage.

Trump's administration had categorically said he supported the deal brokered by the Republican controlled Congress and passed in a dead-of-night vote, claiming it as victory before the 71-year-old's change of heart.

(AFP )

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker insisted on Friday that his top aide "will not step down" despite a spiralling promotion scandal.

The leaders of France and Germany also said they "appreciated" the work of Juncker's former chief of staff Martin Selmayr -- dubbed "The Monster" by Juncker himself for his capacity for work.

Their comments came after Juncker told his party he would resign if Selmayr was forced out of his new job as secretary general of the commission, a party source told AFP, confirming reports in Politico and Der Spiegel.

(AFP )

Latvia's foreign ministry on Friday said the Baltic state would expel "one or several" Russian diplomats over the nerve agent attack on an ex-spy in the English city of Salisbury.

The move comes after Britain, which blames Russia for the poisoning, expelled 23 Russian diplomats they said were spies and pressed EU allies to follow suit despite Moscow's warning against confrontational steps.

(AFP )

Danish inventor Peter Madsen, who is accused of brutally killing Swedish journalist Kim Wall on his submarine, described himself as a "loving psychopath," a former associate told a court Friday.

"His sexual fantasies slowly got out of hand," the associate, who had worked in Madsen's laboratory, told the Copenhagen district court, adding that the inventor called himself a "psychopath, but a loving one."

(AFP )

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on a visit to Kiev Friday accused Russia of being directly responsible for the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine as the "aggressor country."

Le Drian said he had discussed "the conflict with Russia" with the Ukrainian authorities, referring to Kiev's struggle with Kremlin-backed separatists in the country's east.

(AFP )

Martin Vizcarra was sworn in as Peru's new president Friday, catapulted to the post when Pedro Pablo Kuczynski resigned to avoid impeachment.

Vizcarra, who had been serving as both vice president and his country's ambassador to Canada, took the oath of office and donned the red-and-white presidential sash before the Peruvian Congress.

The ceremony came shortly after lawmakers voted to accept Kuczynski's resignation, rather than push ahead with impeaching him over corruption allegations.