Saturday 17 February 2018

In the world

(AFP )

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in an interview to air Sunday that he is "listening" for signs that North Korea is ready to engage in direct talks.

"My job as chef diplomat is to ensure that the North Koreans know, we keep our channels open," Tillerson told the CBS news show "60 Minutes."

"I am listening. I am not sending a lot of messages back because there's nothing to say to them at this point. So I am listening for you to tell me you are ready to talk," he said, according to excerpts of the interview.

(AFP )

When the gunshots rang out at her Florida high school, Lorena Sanabria hid in a classroom with friends, forced to listen to the blood-curdling screams of victims as they waited for help and prayed they wouldn't be next.

Now Lorena, 16, is among a new wave of survivors determined to add their uniquely powerful voices to the cause of gun control, which has failed to make headway despite the alarming frequency of such attacks in the United States.

(AFP )

Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko on Saturday urged lawmakers to find a compromise on a draft law paving the way for a new anti-corruption court, demanded by Kiev's Western allies.

The bill, which in its current form has faced heavy criticism from the International Monetary Fund, provides for the creation of dedicated anti-corruption prosecution and investigative teams.

On the sidelines of a security conference in Munich, Poroshenko told AFP that Ukrainian MPs were currently studying the draft law.

(AFP )

Thousands of Kurds marched through the French city of Strasbourg on Saturday to call for the release of jailed PKK founder Abdullah Ocalan and protest against Turkey's military offensive in Syria.

"UN, take your responsibility and stop the genocide in Afrin," read one banner, referring to the region in northern Syria where Turkey is waging a campaign against a Syrian Kurd militia.

The protesters who came from across Europe also waved Kurdish flags and pictures of the leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), chanting "Freedom for Ocalan".

(AFP )

Kenya's former world 400m hurdles champion Nicholas Bett made a winning return to the track on Saturday to secure a place at the Commonwealth Games at Gold Coast in April.

The 25-year-old, who became Kenya's first gold medal winner in the sprints at the 2015 world championships in Beijing, announced he was back to full fitness when he led a magnificient gun-to-finish victory at the Kenya national trials.

Bett clocked 49.14secs, with his twin brother Haron Koech a distant second in 50.68. Willy Mbevi was third in 51.01.

(AFP )

So good has been Liverpool's Egyptian winger Mohamed Salah's start to life at Anfield, fans are singing about converting to Islam in honour of their new idol.

Salah became the second fastest Liverpool player to reach 30 goals in a season with a balletic finish in just his 36th appearance for the club in Wednesday's 5-0 Champions League rout of Porto.

And in the streets of the Portuguese city in midweek the travelling Liverpool fans struck up a new chant to the tune of 90s hit 'Good Enough' by Dodgy with the line: "If he scores another few, then I’ll be Muslim too!"

(AFP )

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki sparked a storm of criticism Saturday after defending his country's new law concerning the Holocaust, which he said had involved "Jewish perpetrators" as well as Polish.

The controversial law passed by Poland's senate this month sets fines or a maximum three-year jail term for anyone ascribing "responsibility or co-responsibility to the Polish nation or state for crimes committed by the German Third Reich".

(AFP )

Moscow on Saturday dismissed as "blabber" and "fantasies" allegations that it interfered in the election that brought President Donald Trump to power, denials that drew immediate scorn from US officials.

The traded barbs, made at the Munich Security Conference, came a day after the United States indicted 13 Russians for running a secret campaign to sway the 2016 vote.

"I am amazed that... the Russians come, send someone every year to basically refute the facts," US Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said.

(AFP )

The Vatican said Saturday it has renewed its anti-paedophile panel as Pope Francis acts to quell the global scandal over the sexual abuse of children by priests.

The panel had come under fire from two high-profile members, former sex abuse victims who quit at what they saw as a lack of reform and obstruction at the highest level of the Catholic Church.

Victims have come forward from across the world over the past two decades accusing priests of sex crimes, unleashing one of the biggest crises faced by the Catholic Church.

(AFP )

A South Korean director in the eye of a #MeToo storm defiantly rejected abuse accusations against him at the Berlin film festival Saturday, saying he ensures no one "suffers" on the sets of his ultraviolent, sexually explicit art movies.

Acclaimed filmmaker Kim Ki-duk, who has picked up prizes at the Cannes, Venice and Berlinale festivals, faced a barrage of reporter questions about allegations of physical and sexual abuse by an actress he worked with in 2013.

(AFP )

China on Saturday warned it would take necessary measures to protect its interests if the US imposes tough trade sanctions against its steel and aluminium exports.

The US Commerce Department on Friday recommended imposing heavy tariffs on China and other countries to counter a global glut in steel and aluminum, laying out an array of possible options in a report to President Donald Trump.

(AFP )

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani agreed on Saturday to step up efforts to bring stability to war-ravaged Afghanistan.

Modi reiterated India's commitment to help Afghanistan become "a peaceful, secure, permanent, prosperous and pluralistic country" after holding talks with Rouhani in New Delhi on the last day of his three-day visit.

(AFP )

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Saturday dismissed as "blabber" accusations that Moscow had interfered in the US election that brought President Donald Trump to power.

"So as long as we don't see facts, everything else is blabber," Lavrov said at the Munich Security Conference, a day after the US indicted 13 Russians for running a secret campaign to sway the American vote.

(AFP )

Iran's wrestling federation has said it will protest a decision to ban one of its athletes and the national coach for deliberately throwing a match to avoid fighting an Israeli opponent.

Alireza Karimi Mashiani threw a match against his Russian opponent in the under-23 world championships in Poland in November to avoid fighting Israel's Uri Kalashnikov in the next round.

The Islamic republic does not recognise the Jewish state and forbids its sportsmen from competing against Israelis.

(AFP )

The biological children of French rock legend Johnny Hallyday have launched court action to get access to his planned posthumous album, their lawyers said Saturday, in the latest battle in a case that has transfixed France.

Tensions between the feuding members of the country's first family of showbiz blew up into full-scale war earlier this week when his children Laura Smet and David Hallyday challenged his "rewritten" will, in which he left everything to his fourth wife Laeticia, 32 years his junior.

(AFP )

Leaders of Germany's Social Democrats voiced hope Saturday they would be able to persuade rank-and-file members to join forces in government with Chancellor Angela Merkel and end a damaging political impasse.

The SPD started campaigning Saturday ahead of a referendum that spells the last threat to Merkel's hopes of forming a new government, five months after an inconclusive election.

(AFP )

They have hunkered down through a hurricane, fought their own governing body for better support and endured a heartbreaking loss to Canada in the 2014 Olympic final.

Now the world-champion US women's ice hockey players are unified and confident of ending Canada's 16-year hold on the Olympic title at the Pyeongchang Winter Games.

"The scariest thing is we're even better than we were before," US forward Hilary Knight said. "What we've been through off the ice, I would hate to have to be the team to suit up against us."

(AFP )

South Korea's President Moon Jae-in on Saturday said it was too early to think about a summit with North Korea despite the Olympic-driven rapprochement with its nuclear-armed neighbour.

Moon last week received an invitation from the North's leader Kim Jong Un for a summit in Pyongyang. The invitation was extended by his younger sister Kim Yo Jong, who visited as part of a high-level delegation to attend the Winter Games in the South.

(AFP )

A Pakistani court Saturday handed four death sentences to a man charged with raping and murdering a six-year-old girl, in a case that shocked the country and sparked major riots in his home district.

Imran Ali, 24, was on trial for killing Zainab Fatima Ameen in the eastern city of Kasur last month.

(AFP )

British Prime Minister Theresa May pleaded Saturday for an urgent deal with the European Union on post-Brexit security cooperation, warning that citizens' lives were at stake.

In a speech at the Munich Security Conference, she acknowledged that no deal currently exists between the EU and a third country "that captures the full depth and breadth of our existing relationship".

But she said there was no reason both sides could not come up with practical ways to create a "deep and special partnership" on security.

"We cannot delay discussions on this," May said.

(AFP )

The death of Russian citizens in Syria from a US coalition strike last week, which has been played down by both Moscow and Washington, has exposed the role of Russian mercenaries in the multi-front conflict.

The incident followed a steady trickle of reports about Russians dying in battle in Syria while employed as guns for hire in a privately-owned outfit whose role may be securing oilfields for President Bashar al-Assad.

(AFP )

Indian investigators have arrested three people who allegedly helped a billionaire jeweller obtain fake documents for overseas loans in one of the country's biggest bank scams, an official said Saturday.

Investigators are looking into allegations that Nirav Modi and his business partner Mehul Choksi were involved in defrauding India's second-largest state-run lender the Punjab National Bank (PNB) of 2.8 billion rupees ($43.8 million).

(AFP )

Syria's civil war is in danger of flaring into a regional or even global conflict, but some diplomats hope the high stakes could, paradoxically, pave the way for a peace accord.

Last week, five Russians were likely killed in a US-led coalition bombing on pro-regime Syrian fighters, the Russian government said.

A few days later Israel lost an F-16 warplane in reprisal attacks against Syrian and Iranian military targets after intercepting an alleged Iranian drone.

These serious and unprecedented events were discussed in an urgent mid-week UN Security Council meeting.

(AFP )

More than a hundred relatives and supporters of a Filipina maid whose body was found stuffed in a freezer in Kuwait brandished banners demanding justice as her coffin was returned home on Saturday.

The family of Joanna Demafelis openly wept as the white casket was unloaded at an airport cargo terminal in the central city of Iloilo.

(AFP )

"Ice Prince" Yuzuru Hanyu clinched the first back-to-back men's Olympic figure skating titles in 66 years on Saturday as snowboarder Ester Ledecka pulled off an unbelievable shock by skiing to women's super-G gold.

Hanyu, back from injury, lost his balance twice in his free skate but a total score of 317.85 gave the peerless Japanese gold with room to spare over compatriot Shoma Uno and Spain's Javier Fernandez.

(AFP )

Philippine lawyer Jude Sabio felt it was his duty to bring President Rodrigo Duterte's deadly war on drugs to the attention of international war crimes prosecutors, but now that a probe into the killings is under way, he fears he too has become a target.

Sabio, who describes himself as penniless and on the run, said he had received death threats from Duterte supporters on social media after filing a petition with the Hague-based International Criminal Court in April last year.

(AFP )

A helicopter carrying the Mexican interior minister and a governor crashed near the epicenter of a powerful earthquake in the country's south on Friday, killing two people who were on the ground, officials said.

Interior Minister Alfonso Navarrete and Alejandro Murat, governor of the state of Oaxaca, were on their way to survey the scene of the destruction left by the 7.2 magnitude earthquake when the accident occurred, the interior ministry tweeted.

"Unfortunately, two people who were on the land lost their lives in this incident," it added.

(AFP )

Kosovo, which celebrates 10 years of independence on Saturday, has a flag that few people care about, four international telephone codes and a judoka hero.

Here are five things to know about the youngest European country.

- 'Towel' for a flag -

Kosovo's flag bears the shape of its territory and six yellow stars, for its six main ethnic groups, on a blue background.

It is mockingly called a towel by members of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority, who believe it was adopted largely to please Western patrons.

(AFP )

Kosovo on Saturday celebrates 10 years since it declared independence, a moment of pride for its ethnic Albanian majority, although sovereignty remains fiercely contested by Serbia.

The capital Pristina is covered in the blue and yellow colours of the Kosovan flag for a weekend of festivities, with Kosovo-born British pop star Rita Ora due to headline a concert in the main square on Saturday night.

(AFP )

Germany's Social Democrats start campaigning Saturday ahead of a party referendum that spells the last threat to Chancellor Angela Merkel's hopes of forming a new government, five months after inconclusive elections.

In a vote expected to be tight, the more than 460,000 members of the deeply divided centre-left SPD will cast their ballots on a plan to enter a new coalition as junior partners to Merkel's conservatives.

(AFP )

The Guantanamo trial of the chief suspect in the deadly 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen was shut down Friday as defense lawyers refused to return to the case, Pentagon officials said.

Military commissions judge Air Force Colonel Vance Spath halted the case, which could lead to the death penalty for Abdel Rahim al-Nashiri, in frustration that he could not compel Nashiri's main lawyers to show up in court.

"The USS Cole bombing trial ... military judge has abated indefinitely the pre-trial proceedings," Pentagon spokeswoman Commander Sarah Higgins said.

(AFP )

A strong earthquake shook southern and central Mexico Friday, causing panic less than six months after two devastating quakes that killed hundreds of people.

No buildings collapsed, according to early reports. But two towns near the epicenter, in the southern state of Oaxaca, reported damage and state authorities said they had opened emergency shelters.

Later in the day, a helicopter en route to the scene carrying the country's interior minister and the governor of Oaxaca crash landed, killing two people on the ground even as the passengers survived.

(AFP )

British Prime Minister Theresa May will restate her case Saturday for an unprecedented security partnership with the European Union after Brexit, warning that lives depend on it.

In a speech to the Munich Security Conference, she will acknowledge that no deal currently exists between the EU and a third country "that captures the full depth and breadth of our existing relationship".

(AFP )

A strong earthquake shook a large swathe of southern and central Mexico on Friday, triggering the quake alarm system in Mexico City and causing buildings to sway.

There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries from the quake, which measured 7.2 in magnitude, according to Mexico's National Seismological Service and the US Geological Survey.

Panicked residents flooded into the street, fearing a repeat of two earthquakes last September that caused buildings to collapse and killed 465 people combined.

(AFP )

With the surprise indictment Friday of 13 Russians for meddling in the US election, Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of possible collusion between Donald Trump's 2016 campaign and Moscow has entered new territory.

In the first charges directly related to the election, the indicted Russians were accused of running a secret campaign to tilt the vote, including by churning out online posts that were damaging to Trump's political rivals.