Monday 21 August 2017

In the world

(AFP )

Skygazers across the United States awoke in excited anticipation Monday of witnessing the Sun briefly disappear, with the first total solar eclipse in 99 years to cast a shadow on the entire continent just hours away.

Millions of travelers converged in cities along the darkest path of what has been coined "The Great American Eclipse," which begins in the morning over Oregon and exits in the afternoon over South Carolina.

(AFP )

US-led coalition strikes on Sunday killed 27 civilians in part of Syria's Raqa city held by the Islamic State group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.

Seven children were among the dead in the strikes that "hit the densely-populated Al-Badu area in the centre of the city," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said on Monday.

Once a jihadist stronghold, more than half of Raqa city has fallen to the Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters that entered the city in June.

(AFP )

Brazil's army went into action again Monday to support police in raids on some of Rio de Janeiro's most violent favelas -- but reportedly not before a rogue soldier managed to tip off the drug gangs.

In the third such operation in just over two weeks, marines, army soldiers, air force personnel, police and agents from the elite federal intelligence service launched raids at dawn in seven neighborhoods, the Rio state security office said.

(AFP )

Kyrgyzstan's Prime Minister Sooronbai Jeenbekov announced his resignation on Monday, saying he planned to run for the presidency in a hotly contested poll in the ex-Soviet Central Asian country in October.

"I am resigning due to the fact that I am running for the presidency. I do not have the moral right to remain in this post," Jeenbekov said in a speech to parliament shown by state broadcaster KTR.

(AFP )

Veteran diplomat Anatoly Antonov, appointed Russia's new ambassador to the US Monday at a time when ties are at dangerously low ebb, has the reputation of being a tough negotiator with a deep suspicion of Washington.

But he is also a seasoned pragmatist able to adapt to sudden shifts in relations with the West.

The 62-year-old deputy foreign minister will need all his skills and experience if he is to help pull US-Russia ties out of the deep freeze.

(AFP )

Two of 114 egg samples tested in Italy have shown traces of the insecticide fipronil, Italy's health ministry said Monday, making the country the latest to become embroiled in a Europe-wide scandal.

The ministry did not specify where the insecticide traces were found. The samples came from Italian and imported eggs or from food containing eggs.

Fipronil is commonly used to get rid of fleas, lice and ticks from animals but the European Union has banned its use in the food industry.

(AFP )

The US destroyer John S. McCain collided with a tanker early Monday as the warship prepared to make a routine port call in Singapore, leaving a gaping hole in its hull and 10 sailors missing.

It was the second recent accident involving an American warship after a collision off Japan in June, raising questions about the US Pacific fleet and whether it is taking on too much as it tackles multiple challenges.

Here are some questions and answers about collision avoidance procedures and what may have caused the latest accident:

(AFP )

Angola goes to the polls Wednesday in a historic election marking the end of President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos's 38-year reign, with his party set to retain power despite the country's economic crisis.

The MPLA (People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola), which has ruled the country since its 1975 independence from Portugal, is expected to defeat opposition parties that struggle under an authoritarian regime.

(AFP )

When Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos steps down and his successor is chosen in Wednesday's elections, it will bring to an end a 38-year reign dominated by his unrelenting authoritarian style.

Though seldom seen in public, he has been a looming presence in daily life for as long as most Angolans can remember, maintaining fierce control over the country throughout its devastating civil war and recent oil boom.

(AFP )

The likely next president of Angola, Joao Lourenco, is a ruling-party loyalist andformer general who endured several years out of favour after he angled for the top job in the 1990s.

Since then, Lourenco, 63, has convinced key regime players he is the right man to succeed President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who has ruled the oil-rich southwest African nation for 38 years.

(AFP )

A UN official on Monday called on donors to provide more assistance to Sudan after the world body received only a fraction of the $804 million it needs for humanitarian aid.

Marta Ruedas, the UN resident humanitarian coordinator, told a news conference in Khartoum that only 23 percent of the humanitarian aid for Sudan in 2017 had been raised.

The United Nations and its aid agencies had so far managed to raise only about $182 million, she said.

(AFP )

Hong Kong's leader Monday defended a court's decision to jail three leading democracy activists including Joshua Wong after the move triggered international criticism and a major protest march.

Their imprisonment has been slammed by international rights groups and politicians and prompted accusations that the independence of Hong Kong's courts has been compromised under pressure from Beijing.

Tens of thousands took to the streets of the semi-autonomous Chinese city Sunday to condemn the prison terms.

(AFP )

One person was killed and another seriously injured in the southern French city of Marseille on Monday after a van ploughed into people at two bus stops, police sources said, adding that the suspected driver had been arrested.

Marseille's prosecutor Xavier Tarabeux said that investigators had "no element pointing to a terrorist attack" and that the driver was suffering from psychiatric problems.

"He was found with a letter from a psychiatric clinic and we are leaning towards treating it as a mental health case," Tarabeux told AFP.

(AFP )

India's home minister said Monday he believed a border stand-off with China would end soon, after new footage emerged showing border guards from both countries fighting on a disputed patch of land in the Himalayas.

Indian and Chinese soldiers have for more than two months been facing off on a disputed tract of land known as Doklam that India says is Bhutanese territory and China claims for itself.

Some analysts have said the dispute amounts to the worst crisis in relations between the two nuclear-armed neighbours in decades.

(AFP )

The French presidency said Monday that Brigitte Macron, the wife of President Emmanuel Macron, would have a official role representing France but would not be paid or have her own budget or staff.

A proposal by Macron during campaigning earlier this year to create a new First Lady status for her has been shelved following an outcry, but the presidency had promised to clarify her position and the resources at her disposal.

(AFP )

China's Great Wall Motor signalled on Monday its intention to make an ambitious acquisition deal with Italian-American car maker Fiat Chrysler Automobiles following a report that it wants to buy the Jeep brand.

An agreement would be a major coup for the Chinese auto industry, though it may cause political waves in the United States, where President Donald Trump has railed against his country's trade imbalance with the Asian giant.

(AFP )

Iraqi forces closed in Monday on Tal Afar on the second day of an offensive against the last major bastion of the Islamic State group in the country's north, after seizing several villages around the city.

The offensive launched at dawn Sunday comes only weeks after Iraqi forces seized second city Mosul from IS and as the jihadists also face assaults on their positions in Syria.

(AFP )

China's Great Wall Motor signalled on Monday its intention to make an ambitious offer to buy all or part of Italian-American car maker Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

A deal would be a major coup for the Chinese auto industry but it may cause political waves in the United States, where President Donald Trump has railed against his country's trade imbalance with the Asian country.

"There is an intention to make the purchase," the spokeswoman told AFP, though she declined to say if the possible deal would be for the entire auto giant or just one of its brands.

(AFP )

Islamist gunmen killed nine people and injured ten others as they attacked a town in the Philippines at dawn Monday, burning houses in which women and children were sleeping, police said.

About 60 members of the notorious Abu Sayyaf kidnap-for-ransom group entered a town in their stronghold on Basilan island in the southern Mindanao region and began shooting, local police chief John Cundo told AFP.

(AFP )

More than 750 people have died in floods across South Asia, officials said Monday, with monsoon rains also causing the deaths of hundreds of animals, including rhinos and a tiger.

The human toll is steadily rising across India, Nepal and Bangladesh following the latest in a series of deluges since August 10, as the annual monsoon hits the north and east of the region.

Nearly 50 bodies were found overnight in Bihar, in India's east, taking the number of dead there to 253, a state disaster official told AFP.

(AFP )

The Danish inventor of a do-it-yourself submarine has said that a Swedish journalist missing since August 11 died in an accident on board the vessel, and that he dumped her body in the sea, Danish police said Monday.

The inventor, Peter Madsen, had initially claimed that he last saw Kim Wall when he dropped her off on the tip of an island in Copenhagen late on August 10.

(AFP )

One of Australia's top Catholics has warned the church's thousands of employees it will only tolerate traditional views on marriage, as the country prepares for a vote on whether gay couples can wed.

After years of fierce political debate, Australia will hold a non-binding, nation-wide postal vote on marriage equality next month, with the issue proving politically strenuous for the Malcolm Turnbull government.

The 'Yes' campaign has received support from both sides of politics and polls indicate it is favoured by most Australians.

(AFP )

Qatar on Monday denied it had banned Saudi Arabian flights from landing in the emirate to transport Muslim pilgrims to Mecca, after an accusation by authorities in Riyadh.

Saudi Arabian Airlines on Sunday said Qatari authorities had refused to grant a Saudi Arabian Airlines flight, scheduled to transport Qatari hajj pilgrims, permission to land at Hamad International Airport.

(AFP )

Elon Musk is leading demands for a global ban on killer robots, warning technological advances could revolutionise warfare and create new "weapons of terror" that target innocent people.

The CEO of Tesla and SpaceX joined more than 100 robotics and artificial intelligence entrepreneurs in signing a letter to the United Nations calling for action to prevent the development of autonomous weapons.

(AFP )

A Vietnamese sailor kidnapped by Islamist militants off the southern Philippines has been rescued after nine months in captivity, the military said on Monday, following the beheading of two fellow crewmen in July.

Philippine troops rescued the hostage on Sunday on Basilan island in the southern Mindanao region, a stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf kidnap-for-ransom group, following intensified operations against the militants, authorities said.

(AFP )

Marcelino is calling to her, but Cecilia cannot be with him. Not yet. He may be handsome, but she has suffered a lot and isn't ready for a relationship.

This is not a soap opera. It is just the way things go in a Brazilian refuge for abused and depressed chimpanzees.

Cecilia, 20, sits on a rooftop and gazes wistfully around -- perhaps remembering her childhood spent in a cramped zoo, or her two friends who died there.

Luckily she is now in the best place to have her depression treated: the Sorocaba Great Primates Sanctuary.

(AFP )

New Zealand's conservative Prime Minister Bill English conceded Monday he was "worried" about next month's general election, as support for the opposition continued to surge.

The centre-left Labour Party has enjoyed a huge boost in support ahead of the September 23 election after gambling on a charismatic new leader in 37-year-old Jacinda Ardern.

In a phenomenon local media have dubbed "Jacinda-mania", Labour's support has rocketed since she took over earlier this month, making a change of government a realistic possibility.

(AFP )

Ceramics, carpentry, calligraphy and gem cutting: centuries of Afghan craftmanship honed on the ancient Silk Road are being preserved in Kabul, a rare success story for an aid project in the war-torn country that organisers are now hoping to replicate with refugees from Syria.

In the sixteen years since the fall of the Taliban, the Turquoise Mountain foundation has found some of Afghanistan's best artisans and helped them preserve and pass on their skills, as well helping them showcase their work in international markets.

(AFP )

Tamara Makarovna spends her afternoons sitting in a dilapidated armchair upstairs in her care home, watching an old TV set and talking to her neighbours.

Her way of life may seem peaceful at first glance, but the 81 year-old is a resident of a state-run care home in war-torn eastern Ukraine, just a few kilometres from the front line with the pro-Russian rebel insurgency.

She is one of thousands of elderly and ailing people, who have found themselves stuck in state institutions as the deadly conflict rages close by.

(AFP )

Two months into a bitter Gulf crisis, Saudi Arabia's use of a previously unknown Qatari royal family member has opened a new -- and bizarre -- front in the conflict.

On August 17, it was announced that Saudi's King Salman had ordered the reopening of the Qatar border to allow pilgrims from the emirate to join the annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.

(AFP )

London landmark Big Ben will fall silent for four years from Monday as a political revolt rumbles on over renovations that will rob Britain of a cherished symbol at a time of national uncertainty.

Westminster's Elizabeth Tower, one of Britain's most popular tourist attractions, is due for conservation work.

The famous clock's bells are set to stop ringing at midday over safety concerns, silencing an emblem of continuity as Britain grapples with Brexit negotiations.

(AFP )

Spain appealed for unity after the deadly attacks in Catalonia but tensions between Madrid and Barcelona over the region's separatist drive have endured and have even flared up in the police probe.

The regional Catalan government is determined to push ahead with an independence referendum in the wealthy northeastern region on October 1, which Madrid has vowed to stop.

Spaniards have dubbed the confrontation a "head-on train collision".

(AFP )

Ten US sailors were missing and five injured after their destroyer collided with a tanker near Singapore Monday, tearing a large hole in its hull in the second accident involving an American warship in two months.

The badly damaged USS John S. McCain limped into port in the city-state in the afternoon under escort after the dramatic pre-dawn accident, which sent water flooding into the vessel.

(AFP )

Clashes erupted Sunday between police and dozens of anti-racist activists on the sidelines of a pro-immigration rally in Quebec City, an AFP journalist witnessed, while a demonstration organized by extreme-right activists gained little traction.

A few hundred people gathered in Quebec City's center early afternoon to counter-protest a planned far-right rally, supporters of which spent much of the day stuck in a parking lot.

(AFP )

Colombians in the city of Itagui hauled mattresses and hammocks into the streets Sunday to mark the annual "World Laziness Day," a quirky effort to urge overstressed workers to slow down.

The daylong celebration of relaxation has been held annually since 1985 in this small city of some 200,000 in northwestern Colombia.

The city is known, rather paradoxically, for its bustling commerce and its thriving industrial park.