Wednesday 13 December 2017

In the world

(AFP )

The United Nations peace envoy for Syria called Wednesday on Russian President Vladimir Putin to "have the courage" to convince his ally in Damascus to hold new elections in the war-ravaged country.

Staffan de Mistura, who is mediating peace negotiations in Geneva, said that a military victory alone in Syria's six-year civil war was not enough for President Bashar al-Assad and that new polls were needed for him to "win the peace".

(AFP )

Dublin councillors on Wednesday voted to revoke an award given to Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi to protest her handling of violence against Rohingya Muslims in her country, Irish media reported.

The vast majority of councillors backed the move to revoke the Freedom of the City of Dublin award, with 59 votes in favour, two against and one abstention, broadcaster RTE said.

(AFP )

Romania's lower house of parliament on Wednesday passed two controversial reforms which the opposition says risk limiting judicial independence and weakening the fight against corruption.

For several weeks, thousands of Romanians have staged mass street protests every Sunday to demand the withdrawal of the proposed legislation, which would overhaul the justice system and reduce the powers of the country's anti-corruption directorate.

(AFP )

Greece on Wednesday said EU President Donald Tusk's rejection of refugee quotas was "ill-timed" and had no hope of being accepted at a summit this week.

"Donald Tusk made an aimless, ill-timed and pointless intervention on the refugee issue, and I don't think his proposal has any hope of being adopted," Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras tweeted ahead of the two-day EU meetings starting on Thursday.

"We will not accept any phrase in the (summit) conclusions that does not refer to equal (burden) sharing," Tsipras said.

(AFP )

Austrian airline Niki said Wednesday that it would stop flying from Thursday after German giant Lufthansa gave up plans to buy it from bankrupt Air Berlin in the face of EU competition concerns.

Niki said earlier that it had applied to open insolvency proceedings following Lufthansa's announcement that it had "informed Air Berlin and its insolvency managers that it will pursue the planned transaction without the purchase of Niki."

(AFP )

US officials unveiled criminal charges Wednesday against a former university student and two others in the Mirai botnet attacks which shut down parts of the internet in several countries starting in mid-2016.

The Justice Department announced plea agreements for Paras Jha, 21 -- a former Rutgers University computer science student who acknowledged writing the malware code -- and Josiah White, 20, and Dalton Norman, 21, who helped profit from the attacks.

(AFP )

US prosecutors urged a New York jury to convict three wealthy South American former soccer officials "on all counts" in the face of "overwhelming" evidence, delivering closing arguments Wednesday at the FIFA corruption trial.

"The three defendants thought the payouts would last forever but they won't," assistant US attorney Kristin Mace told the federal court in Brooklyn, a day after the defendants declined to take the stand in their own defense.

(AFP )

Guinea-Bissau President Jose Mario Vaz has proposed fresh talks on the country's grinding political crisis days before the issue was to be raised at a regional summit, but opposition parties have rejected the plan, both sides revealed on Wednesday.

The tiny west African state has been in the grip of a power struggle since August 2015, when the president sacked then prime minister Domingos Simoes Pereira, leader of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC).

(AFP )

The United States on Wednesday imposed economic sanctions on two Africans accused of using the illegal ivory trade to funnel weapons and money to Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army.

Washington blacklisted Kony and his rebel guerilla group last year, accusing them of targeting civilians in the Central African Republic, displacing populations and carrying out abductions.

(AFP )

Last year's global heat record, extreme heat in Asia and unusually warm waters off the coast of Alaska happened purely because the planet is getting warmer due to human activities like burning fossil fuels, a study said Wednesday.

The findings mark the first time that global scientists have identified severe weather that could not have happened without climate change, said the peer-reviewed report titled "Explaining Extreme Events in 2016 from a Climate Perspective."

(AFP )

Nine European press agencies, including AFP, called Wednesday on internet giants to be forced to pay copyright for using news content on which they make vast profits.

The call comes as the EU is debating a directive to make Facebook, Google, Twitter and other major players pay for the millions of news articles they use or link to.

"Facebook has become the biggest media in the world," the agencies said in a plea published in the French daily Le Monde.

(AFP )

Brazil's most wanted alleged narco trafficker was arrested Wednesday in neighboring Paraguay, Brazilian officials said.

Marcelo Fernando Pinheiro Veiga, known as "Marcelo Piloto," is accused of murder and supplying drugs and weapons to Rio de Janeiro's biggest criminal gang, the Comando Vermelho, or Red Command.

He was detained in the Paraguayan city of Encarnacion on the Argentinian border and just west of the Brazilian border, said Rio state's security service, which called the fugitive "the most wanted trafficker in Brazil."

(AFP )

The European Commission won support on Wednesday for a new plan to regulate chemicals which can potentially disrupt the body's hormones, expressing hope it can take effect next year.

Member state experts endorsed a proposal from the commission, the EU executive, that revises criteria to identify endocrine disruptors in products used to protect farm animals and plants from disease and insects.

The commission said the proposal targeted concerns of the European Parliament, which in October blocked a previous list of identification criteria.

(AFP )

Poland's broadcasting regulator moved Wednesday to justify its 350,000 euro ($410,000) fine for the American-owned television station TVN24, after the decision drew criticism from the US State Department and a media watchdog.

The National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT) accused the station, one of the country's two leading private news channels, of giving "a one-sided presentation of events" in coverage of protests against the government last year.

(AFP )

The UN's top expert on torture on Wednesday said reports from sources indicated at least one inmate was still being tortured at the US detention centre in Guantanamo Bay and reiterated his request to visit.

Nils Melzer, the UN special rapporteur on torture, said he had received information that torture using noise and vibrations was continuing against one of the suspected 9/11 plotters being held at Guantanamo.

(AFP )

British Prime Minister Theresa May faced a rebellion by her own MPs on Wednesday over parliament's role in authorising a final Brexit deal, threatening a damaging defeat at home even as she makes progress in Brussels.

Members of May's Conservative party are demanding that an explicit legal guarantee be included in the landmark EU (Withdrawal) Bill to ensure MPs get a vote before any deal is signed.

(AFP )

Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam's lawyer asked on Wednesday for next week's opening of his client's trial in Belgium to be postponed, a senior court official said, adding it is "highly likely" it will be delayed.

Abdeslam, the sole surviving suspect in the November 2015 Paris attacks, had been due to go on trial Monday for his alleged role in a 2016 shootout in Brussels that led to his capture, which in turn investigators believe precipitated the Brussels suicide bombings in March last year.

(AFP )

The European Parliament on Wednesday narrowly failed to block a proposal to allow the use of phosphates in kebab meat, an additive which critics say is linked to heart disease.

As a result, the European Commission, the bloc's executive arm, can now authorise the addition of phosphates to "vertical meat spits" -- the official EU term for the rotating towers of seasoned lamb and chicken beloved of late-night drinkers across the continent.

(AFP )

Corruption-tainted former Brazilian president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva said Wednesday that a "diabolical pact" has been struck to prevent his return to the presidency in 2018.

Lula, who holds a comfortable first place lead in the polls ahead of the October presidential vote, was speaking a day after an appeals court announced it will rule on January 24 whether to uphold a nearly 10-year sentence for accepting bribe money.

(AFP )

A row over controversial quotas for the sharing out of refugees across EU countries broke out on Wednesday on the eve of a summit where leaders will discuss the way forward on migration.

EU President Donald Tusk said in a pre-summit letter to leaders that mandatory relocation was "ineffective" and "highly divisive", recommending that efforts should instead be directed to securing Europe's borders.

(AFP )

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and his Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda on Wednesday said they would work to defuse recent tensions over the wartime killing of Poles by Ukrainian nationalists.

The Polish president's visit to Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine came after Warsaw denounced Kiev for banning the exhumation of victims of massacres in the Ukrainian Volyn region, which borders Poland.

The move was a tit-for-tat response in protest against Poland destroying a number of memorials to Ukrainian nationalists.

(AFP )

Revenge is sweet for the makers of France's traditional "calisson" candies, who have won a months-long legal battle with a businessman who trademarked the product's name in China.

The lozenge-shaped sweets, made of a mixture of candied fruit and ground almonds topped with icing, are widely enjoyed in France's southern Aix-en-Provence region.

Their makers were none too pleased when Chinese entrepreneur Ye Chunlin spotted a sweet opportunity in 2015 to register the "Calisson d'Aix" name for use at home, as well as its Mandarin equivalent, "kalisong".

(AFP )

Saudi Arabia has pledged $100 million towards a five-nation anti-terror force in the Sahel region of West Africa, while the United Arab Emirates has offered $30 million, French President Emmanuel Macron said Wednesday.

Macron made the announcement at a meeting to drum up support for the G5 Sahel force, an initiative pooling troops from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

(AFP )

UN prosecutors Wednesday sought to overturn the surprise acquittal of ultranationalist Serbian politician Vojislav Seselj on war crimes charges, arguing last year's ruling had been deeply flawed.

"Your Honours, justice has not been done in the case against Vojislav Seselj," said prosecutor Mathias Marcussen, adding his office had "identified numerous errors" in the 2016 ruling which found Seselj not guilty on nine counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

(AFP )

Two Reuters journalists have been arrested in Myanmar for the possession of "important security documents", the government said on Wednesday.

Myanmar reporters Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, had been missing since Tuesday evening, the news agency had earlier said.

The pair were arrested under the Official Secrets Act, for allegedly intending "to send important security documents regarding security forces in Rakhine State to foreign agencies abroad," the statement released by the information ministry said.

(AFP )

Rohingya Muslims remaining in Myanmar's Rakhine state and other communities in the violence-racked region are so terrified of each other that life has basically ground to a halt, the Red Cross said Wednesday.

More than 620,000 of Myanmar's Muslim minority have fled across the border to Bangladesh since late August, when the Myanmar army launched a sweeping crackdown on Rohingya rebels in northern Rakhine state.

(AFP )

The Czech president on Wednesday named a minority government led by Andrej Babis, a billionaire populist facing fraud charges who is struggling to win a confidence vote in parliament next month.

Campaigning on an anti-corruption, anti-euro and anti-migrant ticket, Babis' ANO movement won 78 of 200 seats in parliament in October's general election, far outstripping eight other elected parties.

(AFP )

A thin, waning moon should allow for uninterrupted views Wednesday night of the annual Geminid shooting star show, set to be "spectacular" this year, astronomers say.

At its height, the meteor shower should yield a shooting star every minute, offering plenty of opportunity for wish-making, they said.

Peaking on Wednesday night, it will be "particularly rich in bright meteors, or fireballs," the Irish Astronomical Association (IAA) said.

"There will be no moonlight to interfere so observing prospects this year are very good."

(AFP )

Greece's Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered that a Russian accused of laundering $4 billion using bitcoin digital currency be extradited to the United States, a court source said.

Greece's justice minister will now have the final say on whether to extradite Alexander Vinnik, who headed BTC-e, an exchange for the cyber currency.

He was indicted by a US court in July on 21 charges ranging from identity theft and facilitating drug trafficking to money laundering.

(AFP )

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted on charges of genocide and war crimes, attended Wednesday an emergency summit of the world's main pan-Islamic group in Istanbul.

Bashir was among leaders who responded to a call by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to attend the meeting after US President Donald Trump outraged the Islamic world with his recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Images showed Bashir warmly greeted by Erdogan and then attending the family photo and summit plenary session in traditional dress.

(AFP )

Palestinians have the right to Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem as their capital, Saudi King Salman said Wednesday, echoing calls at an Islamic summit in Istanbul from which he had stayed away.

"The kingdom has called for a political solution to resolve regional crises, foremost of which is the Palestinian issue and the restoration of the Palestinian people's legitimate rights, including the right to establish their independent state with east Jerusalem as its capital," the king said.

(AFP )

The German government said Wednesday it would ramp up support for relatives of victims of attacks, after facing accusations of insensitive handling of last year's Christmas market assault.

Several relatives of the 12 people who were killed in the December 19, 2016, truck rampage in Berlin had vented their anger in a withering open letter to Chancellor Angela Merkel, accusing her of "political inaction" and of failing to reach out to the bereaved.

(AFP )

The European Parliament on Wednesday gave its backing to opening the next phase of Brexit talks, but said Britain must "fully and faithfully" turn last week's hard-fought divorce deal into a final exit treaty.

Parliament President Antonio Tajani welcomed the vote in Strasbourg, eastern France, as "an important step forward" but said MEPs still had concerns about citizens' rights and the Irish border.

(AFP )

Dutch police have clipped the wings of their airborne drone-fighting force of eagles, and fired their winged warriors deeming them too expensive and too unruly to be effective.

After a series of tests in 2015, the police last year announced they were putting into operation a flock of the birds of prey to take down drones believed to be posing a danger to the public, such as near airports.

But now the feathered force has been grounded, with police realising that demand for their services was not very high, and their upkeep was more expensive than first thought.

(AFP )

British Prime Minister Theresa May was Wednesday facing a rebellion from her own MPs over whether parliament will have a "meaningful vote" on the final Brexit deal in what would be a damaging defeat.

A vote is expected later on Wednesday on an amendment to a landmark bill ending Britain's membership of the European Union and incorporating thousands of pieces of EU legislation into the British statute books.

Dominic Grieve, an MP in May's Conservative Party, proposed the amendment requiring any Brexit deal to be made law by a binding parliamentary vote.