Saturday 21 April 2018

In the world

(AFP )

Investigators from the global chemical arms watchdog collected samples Saturday from the site of a suspected gas attack in Syria two weeks ago, after security concerns delayed their probe.

Gruesome footage of the alleged toxic attack on April 7 in the town of Douma, just outside Damascus, horrified the world and prompted unprecedented Western strikes on Syrian military installations.

Just hours after the joint missile strikes, a team from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) arrived in Syria to investigate the claims.

(AFP )

Past presidents, family and friends came together Saturday to bid farewell to Barbara Bush, the matriarch of one of America's most prominent political dynasties, at a funeral service in Texas.

Bush -- wife to the 41st US president and mother to the 43rd -- died Tuesday at her home in Texas aged 92, surrounded by her family.

(AFP )

European Parliament leader Antonio Tajani called on authorities to pursue those who ordered the killing of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia after colleagues published more of her investigations and delved into the mystery surrounding her death.

Caruana Galizia was murdered last year in a car bombing after exposing entrenched corruption among Malta's elite, and this week journalists released a series of revelations that emerged from documents she had left behind.

(AFP )

The family of a Palestinian professor and Hamas member accused Israel's Mossad spy agency of assassinating him on the streets of Kuala Lumpur on Saturday.

Malaysian authorities said Fadi Mohammad al-Batsh, 35, was killed by two suspects believed to have ties with a foreign intelligence agency in a drive-by shooting on his way to dawn Muslim prayers.

Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, quoted by the state-run Bernama news agency, said Batsh was "an electrical engineer and an expert at making rockets".

(AFP )

An actress from the popular TV series "Smallville" has been arrested on sex trafficking charges for allegedly recruiting women to a purported self-help group which forced them to have sex with its leader, US prosecutors say.

Allison Mack, 35, who was arrested Friday, recruited women for what was described as a female mentorship group, US attorney Richard Donoghue said in a statement from the Justice Department.

"The victims were then exploited, both sexually and for their labor, to the defendants' benefit," the prosecutor said.

(AFP )

India's government on Saturday approved the death penalty for child rapists, after the gang rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl and a series of other horrific sexual assaults caused nationwide outrage.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi called a cabinet meeting to pass the measure Saturday on his return from the Commonwealth summit, a government official told AFP.

Protests have erupted across India in recent days over the rape and killing of the young Muslim girl by a group of Hindu men in Jammu and Kashmir state, increasing pressure on Modi to take action.

(AFP )

China has carried out aircraft carrier drills in the Pacific, its navy said Saturday, ramping up tensions with Taiwan over its military exercises in the sensitive region.

Beijing's sole aircraft carrier and two destroyer ships carried out "offensive and defensive drills to test their combat muscle" on Friday, China's navy said on its official microblog site on Weibo.

The exercises took place in an area east of the Bashi Channel, which runs between Taiwan and the Philippines, it said.

(AFP )

The deadlock in Italian politics for the past two-and-a-half months shows little sign of loosening after a court ruled that former government officials colluded with Sicily's Mafia in the early 1990s.

A third round of talks for a new government between the Five Star Movement (M5S) and Matteo Salvini's nationalist League, which leads a right-wing coalition that includes Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, went nowhere on Friday as M5S leader Luigi Di Maio continues to demand Salvini dump his scandal-dogged partner.

(AFP )

Several thousand teachers rallied in Warsaw on Saturday demanding wage hikes a week after Poland's right-wing government announced a raft of generous spending measures in other sectors ahead of local elections this fall.

Public sector wages, especially in education and health care, have long been notoriously low in Poland, a 2004 EU member of 38 million people, where the average gross monthly salary is around 5,000 zloty (1,200 euro, $1,500).

(AFP )

An actress from the US TV series "Smallville" has been arrested on charges of sex trafficking for recruiting women to a purported self-help group in which they were forced to have sex with its leader, US prosecutors say.

Allison Mack, 35, who was arrested Friday, recruited women for what described itself as a female mentorship group, US attorney Richard Donoghue said.

The leader of the group was one Keith Raniere, also known as "Vanguard," it said.

"The victims were then exploited, both sexually and for their labor, to the defendants' benefit," the prosecutor said.

(AFP )

The Russian foreign ministry on Saturday slammed the US for refusing an entry visa to a prima ballerina at the country's Bolshoi Theatre.

"It did not come to this even during the Cold War. On the contrary, the arts, including ballet, always helped us to understand each other better," the foreign ministry said.

"However, today influential forces in the US interested in pressuring Russia as much as possible do not stop at anything," it added.

The foreign ministry blamed the US for arts exchanges between the two countries being called off.

(AFP )

Queen Elizabeth II marked her 92nd birthday on Saturday with traditional gun salutes and a Commonwealth-themed charity concert featuring Tom Jones, Kylie and Shaggy.

Horse-drawn guns fired 41 times in Hyde Park and 62 times at the Tower of London, while at Windsor Castle, the band played "Happy Birthday" during the changing of the guard.

In the evening, the monarch and her family were due to attend a concert with performers from around the Commonwealth, the 53-nation grouping which held its summit in London this week.

(AFP )

Armenia's political crisis deepened Saturday as demonstrations continued and protest leader Nikol Pashinyan said he was only prepared to discuss the exit of the country's newly elected prime minister, former president Serzh Sarkissian.

"We are only ready to discuss the conditions of his departure," news agencies quoted Pashinyan as saying after Sarkissian called on the opposition to enter into talks with authorities.

(AFP )

Michael Barrett has an old-fashioned flip phone. But when his hotline rings, he has three hours to ready equipment for experts on a dangerous mission to probe if toxic weapons have been unleashed -- again.

As appalling images of panicked children and adults apparently victims of poison gas or cruel nerve agents go viral, the labs and the equipment store of the world's global chemical arms watchdog hum with activity.

(AFP )

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he would halt nuclear tests and intercontinental missile launches, in a Saturday announcement welcomed by US President Donald Trump ahead of a much-anticipated summit between the two men.

Pyongyang's declaration, long sought by Washington, will be seen as a crucial step in the fast diplomatic dance on and around the Korean peninsula.

(AFP )

A deaf and partially blind dog that kept a lost three-year-old girl safe in Australian bushland overnight was awarded police honours Saturday after leading rescuers to the child.

Emergency services began a search on foot and from the air for Aurora Friday after the young girl wandered off into bushland on a rural property in Queensland state.

Seventeen-year-old blue heeler Max stayed with the child through a rainy night before leading family and rescuers to her Saturday morning after more than 15 hours in the wild.

(AFP )

Hollywood actress Natalie Portman said she was backing out of a Jerusalem ceremony where she was to receive a $2 million prize to protest against the policies of Israel's prime minister.

"I chose not to attend because I did not want to appear as endorsing Benjamin Netanyahu, who was to be giving a speech at the ceremony," Portman said in a statement posted late Friday on Instagram.

She also denied accusations by Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev who on Friday said Portman subscribed to the ideology of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

(AFP )

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani on Saturday appeared to criticise the morality police after a video emerged of a violent encounter with a woman accused of breaching the country's strict dress code.

"Some say the way to promote virtue and prohibit vice is... by going to the street and grabbing people by the neck," said Rouhani in a wide-ranging speech to government officials carried on state television.

"Promoting virtue will not work through violence," he added.

(AFP )

Violent protests against a proposed change to Nicaragua's pension system have left at least 10 people dead over two days, the government said Friday.

In the biggest protests in President Daniel Ortega's 11 years in office in this poor Central American country, people are angry over the plan because workers and employers would have to chip in more toward the retirement system.

The government is willing to hold a dialogue and Ortega will issue a formal call on Saturday, Vice President Rosario Murillo said, adding: "At least 10 compatriots have died."

(AFP )

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared Saturday that Pyongyang would halt nuclear tests and intercontinental missile launches, five months after its last ICBM launch amid a rapid diplomatic thaw.

Here are the key steps in the development of the regime's banned nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes:

- The beginnings, 1970s -

North Korea starts working in the late 1970s on a version of the Soviet Scud-B missile with a range of around 300 kilometres (around 200 miles), carrying out a first test in 1984.

(AFP )

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has declared an end to the nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests that sent tensions soaring on the peninsula, in the region, and beyond.

The move, enshrined in a decision by the ruling Workers' Party, comes ahead of a summit with the South's President Moon Jae-in next week, and with a much-anticipated meeting with US President Donald Trump due later.

But it is only one step in a complicated sequence of moves that has a long way to play out. Here are some questions and answers on the latest developments.

(AFP )

Kim Jong Un has halted North Korea's nuclear tests and intercontinental ballistic missile launches, as diplomatic efforts to ease tensions on the Korean peninsula gather pace.

Here are the key quotes from the North Korean leader's announcement, made at a meeting of the central committee of the ruling Workers' Party, as reported by the official KCNA news agency.

- 'Brilliant victory' -

Kim described building North Korea's nuclear force as a "miraculous victory".

(AFP )

Nguyen was nine when he boarded a boat alone to escape the communist regime in Vietnam for the United States. Some 40 years later, he returned in shackles, deported from the only country he really knows to one he can scarcely remember.​

With conspiracy and fraud convictions under his belt, he was expelled in line with a Trump administration push to remove immigrants with criminal records for convictions ranging from traffic offenses to drug-related crimes and murder.

(AFP )

The UN Security Council met in a secluded farmhouse on the southern tip of Sweden on Saturday in a bid to overcome deep divisions over how to end the war in Syria.

In a first for the Security Council, which normally holds its annual brainstorming session in upstate New York, the 15 ambassadors and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres were this year invited to hold an informal meeting in Backakra by Sweden, a non-permanent member of the body.

The United Nations' special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, is expected on Sunday.

(AFP )

They talk regularly, have shared memorable handshakes and supposedly have an "unbreakable" friendship. When US President Donald Trump and France's Emmanuel Macron meet next week, there will be more back-slapping -- but also major differences.

The Trump-Macron relationship has been one of the few stable elements in recent American foreign policy, with the French leader emerging as the privileged European partner for the White House.

(AFP )

Saudi Arabia hosted its first public film screening in over 35 years on Friday, two days after US movie giant AMC unveiled the kingdom's debut theatre in Riyadh.

Clutching prized tickets for what AMC said was a sold-out showing of Hollywood blockbuster action film "Black Panther", men and women walked into the movie hall with tubs of popcorn and fizzy drinks.

Families huddled around movie posters to take selfies, soaking up an experience that is mundane in most parts of the world but a novelty in the ultra-conservative desert kingdom.

(AFP )

President Donald Trump's secretary of State pick Mike Pompeo is likely to be rejected by a Senate panel after all its Democrats opposed his nomination, but he may still win final confirmation next week.

Senator Chris Coons on Friday became the last Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to announce his position.

The panel has 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats.

(AFP )

Two German tourists died and 12 other people were injured Friday when their minibus fell into a ravine on an Andean road in southern Peru, police said.

The vehicle, which carried 12 German tourists along with their Peruvian driver and another Peruvian, fell about 20 meters (65 feet) while traveling from the city of Arequipa to the town of Chivay around 3:00 pm (2000 GMT).

The surviving 10 German tourists and their two Peruvian crewmembers were taken to hospital in Arequipa, a police official in Chivay said.

(AFP )

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he would halt nuclear tests and intercontinental missile launches, in a Saturday announcement welcomed by US President Donald Trump ahead of a much-anticipated summit between the two men.

Pyongyang's declaration, long sought by Washington, will be seen as a crucial step in the fast diplomatic dance on and around the Korean peninsula.

(AFP )

The Federal Aviation Administration on Friday ordered emergency inspections of jet engines like the one that ruptured during a recent Southwest Airlines flight, leaving one passenger dead.

"Fan blade failure due to cracking, if not addressed, could result in an engine in-flight shutdown (IFSD), uncontained release of debris, damage to the engine, damage to the airplane and possible airplane decompression," the regulatory authority said.

(AFP )

The maker of a jet engine that ruptured during a recent Southwest Airlines flight, leaving one passenger dead, called Friday for rapid inspections of all of its engines powering Boeing 737 aircraft.

CFM International, a joint venture between America's GE Aviation and France's Safran Aircraft Engines, said it "recommends ultrasonic inspections within the next 20 days to fan blades of CFM56-7B engines with more than 30,000 cycles since new."

(AFP )

French President Emmanuel Macron hopes an oak sapling that he will give his American counterpart Donald Trump next week will be planted at the White House as a symbol of lasting friendship, he told Fox News on Friday.

Macron, who arrives in Washington Monday for a state visit while transatlantic tensions persist over trade, Syria and Iran, said he was mindful of how France was the first international ally of American revolutionaries during their war for independence.

(AFP )

The death Friday of 28-year-old Avicii, one of the world's most successful DJs, stunned his fans and the music world.

Here are some of the key reactions to the death of Avicii, a Swede whose real name is Tim Bergling and who was found dead in Oman.

"So sad. So Tragic. Good Bye Dear Sweet Tim. Gone too Soon." -- Madonna, who hired Avicii as a producer on her last album, on Instagram

"We had the honor to have known him and admired him both as an artist and the beautiful person that he was." -- Sweden's Prince Carl Philip and his wife Sofia

(AFP )

Peruvian ex-president Alberto Fujimori, just four months out of prison under a controversial pardon, was in court Friday facing charges linked to the killing of seven farmers in 1992.

Fujimori, president from 1990-2000, had been serving a 25-year prison sentence for crimes that included commanding death squads that killed suspected civilian sympathizers of leftwing guerrillas his regime was fighting.

The ex-president was pardoned on December 24 by then-president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski on humanitarian grounds because of ill health.

(AFP )

The US-led air strikes against the Syrian regime also sent a message to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ahead of talks with President Donald Trump, Japan's defense minister said Friday.

Observers have suggested the strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could strengthen Trump's hand in talks, as they showed Kim that the West has the political will to back up its rhetoric -- as well as the capability for precise strikes launched from afar.