Friday 23 February 2018

In the world

(AFP )

EU leaders minus Britain will debate for the first time Friday how to fill a Brexit-sized hole in the bloc's budget and how to choose a successor to European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker.

Grand plans pushed by French President Emmanuel Macron to reboot the European Union after Britain leaves in 2019 will collide with issues of cold hard cash and sovereignty at the summit in Brussels.

(AFP )

Anna Gabriel, a pro-independence former member of the Catalan parliament, says she has not sought to flee justice in choosing Swiss exile, but on the contrary wants to see justice done.

"I have not abandoned the Spanish state by choice. I have not fled justice, I want justice ... even if it comes at a personal cost," Gabriel told AFP in an interview in Geneva Thursday.

(AFP )

Police have seized nearly 400 kilos of cocaine from the Russian embassy in Buenos Aires and arrested several members of a drug trafficking gang, Argentina's security minister announced Thursday.

Patricia Bullrich told a press conference that the drugs discovered in an annex of the embassy had a street value of around 50 million euros (about $62 million).

"A gang of narco-criminals was trying to use the diplomatic courier service of the Russian embassy" to ship the drugs to Europe, she said.

(AFP )

A right-wing coalition shepherded by ex-prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is capitalising on anti-immigrant feeling in the lead up to Italy's general elections on March 4.

Here are four sets of facts about common complaints, misconceptions and other aspects of immigration in Italy:

- 'Too many of them' -

Italy's national statistics institute Istat says that there are five million foreigners legally resident in Italy. That's 8.3 percent of the country's population of 60.5 million.

(AFP )

"There's starting to be too many of them," says a young man at a bar in the central Italian city of Macerata.

He does not wish to give his name, but the "them" he talks about are migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

The issue has dominated political headlines in Italy ahead of parliamentary elections next month.

"If you walk in certain areas at night, you see them in groups. You can't help but be scared," the man says.

(AFP )

Most teachers would not be impressed to discover a student playing video games in their class. But at a school in eastern China it is mandatory, part of a drive to train eSport champions and tap into the booming industry.

"Dammit, I'm dead!" exclaims one student at the Lanxiang Technical School in eastern Jinan province as dozens of his classmates who are still in the game continue to furiously bash their keyboards.

Once associated with teenagers stuck in their bedrooms, eSports -- where players square off in lucrative video game tournaments -- are growing fast.

(AFP )

European leaders will Friday give a financial boost to a joint African force tackling jihadists in the Sahel at an international conference in Brussels, as fresh violence highlights the region's fraught security situation.

The European Union will announce 50 million euros ($61 million) for the G5 Sahel force at talks with heads of state from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, adding to around 280 million euros already pledged by international donors.

(AFP )

Australia's scandal-hit deputy leader Barnaby Joyce announced Friday he was quitting and moving to the backbench amid claims of sexual harassment and controversy over an affair with a now-pregnant former aide.

Joyce, whose National Party rules alongside Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's Liberals, has been front-page news in Australia for two weeks since it emerged he had left his wife of 24 years for his younger former media adviser, who is now expecting their baby boy.

(AFP )

The folds of flesh on Juan Pedro Franco's back sway heavily as he cranks the pedals of a modified bicycle with his arms, exercising to boost his already jaw-dropping weight-loss total of 250 kilos (550 pounds).

Franco, who comes from northern Mexico, used to be the world's fattest man.

Guinness World Records certified the title after he weighed in at 595 kilos (1,310 pounds) in October 2016.

(AFP )

North Korea on Thursday accused UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres of being a "kind of henchman who is representing the United States" after the UN chief said sanctions were essential to pressure Pyongyang.

North Korea's mission to the United Nations released a statement complaining of "reckless remarks" by Guterres during the Munich Security Conference last week.

(AFP )

Venezuela's opposition-controlled legislature on Thursday branded the government's plan to hold elections for the assembly two years early an "attempted coup."

The vote for the National Assembly is scheduled for late 2020, but Diosdado Cabello, the powerful number two of President Nicolas Maduro's socialist party, said the legislative polls could be held on April 22, the same day as the presidential election.

For the legislature, the proposal indicates the "totalitarian intent" of Maduro's government to control "all public powers through a mega electoral simulation."

(AFP )

Haiti on Thursday suspended the operations of British charity Oxfam pending the outcome of its investigation into allegations that its staff sexually exploited Haitians after a devastating 2010 earthquake.

The country's ministry of planning and foreign aid said Oxfam GB had made a "serious error" by failing to inform Haitian authorities of the actions by their staff at the time they occurred.

(AFP )

Dutch lawmakers Thursday overwhelmingly voted in favour of recognising the 1915 massacres of Armenians as "genocide", in a move likely to further worsen already-strained ties with Turkey.

"The motion is accepted," parliamentary speaker Khadija Arib announced after the lower house voted 142 to 3 in favour of the proposal "that parliament in no uncertain terms speak about the Armenian genocide".

It also agreed to send a cabinet representative to Yerevan in April for the commemorations of the killings and every five years afterwards.

(AFP )

After two weeks of negotiations, Russia on Thursday told the UN Security Council that there was still no agreement on a 30-day ceasefire in Syria, dimming hopes of international action to halt the carnage in Eastern Ghouta.

During a council meeting called by Russia, Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia presented a new raft of amendments to a draft resolution that would allow deliveries of humanitarian aid and medical evacuations during the pause.

(AFP )

A French court on Thursday dismissed a bid by Tariq Ramadan, the prominent Islamic scholar detained on rape charges, to be released on health grounds, legal sources said.

Ramadan's lawyers had pushed for his release since he was detained on February 2, arguing his multiple sclerosis and nerve damage could not be adequately treated behind bars.

The Oxford University professor, a prominent TV pundit whose grandfather founded Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood movement, denies charges that he raped two Muslim women in France.

(AFP )

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico on Thursday said he refused to ratify a treaty safeguarding women because he considers it at odds with the country's constitutional definition of marriage as a heterosexual union.

Just over half of the members of the Council of Europe have ratified the human rights watchdog's 2011 Istanbul Convention, which is the world's first binding instrument to prevent and combat violence against women, from marital rape to female genital mutilation.

(AFP )

Romania's justice minister launched on Thursday a procedure to sack the popular and internationally respected head of the anti-corruption investigation body.

Tudorel Toader from the left-wing Social Democratic Party (PSD) said that Laura Codruta Kovesi had "damaged the image" of Romania abroad and accused her of being "authoritatian".

"The battle against corruption cannot be allowed to hide anti-constitutional, illegal and defamatory behaviour towards officials in public institutions," Toader told a news conference.

(AFP )

Hardline former French MP Marion Marechal-Le Pen told American conservatives Thursday that her nation's far-right movement was "standing side by side" with the supporters and nationalist policies of President Donald Trump.

"Just like you, we want our country back," the telegenic 28-year-old niece of failed presidential candidate Marine Le Pen said from the main stage of the Conservative Political Action Conference, held each year just outside Washington.

(AFP )

Palestinians threw eggs at a delegation including New York City Council members visiting the occupied West Bank Thursday, AFP reporters said, amid anger over US President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Several members of the council and New York civil society groups were meeting a Palestinian polling company in the city of Ramallah, the polling company confirmed.

As they left they were pelted with eggs by several dozen protesters, who also chased their bus.

Palestinian security forces protected the Americans.

(AFP )

Iran is still sticking to the 2015 nuclear accord, a UN atomic watchdog report showed Thursday, four months ahead of US President Donald Trump's deadline to fix its "disastrous flaws".

The International Atomic Energy Agency document, the ninth since the deal came into force in January 2016, showed Iran complying with the accord's key parameters.

The number of centrifuges to enrich uranium was below the agreed level of 5,060, while Iran's total stockpile of low-enriched uranium "has not exceeded 300 kg", said the report seen by AFP.

(AFP )

A Pablo Picasso painting depicting his muse Marie-Therese Walter with future lover Dora Maar emerging from the shadows behind is expected to fetch an eye-watering sum at a London sale next week.

The 1937 "Femme au Beret et a la Robe Quadrillee (Marie-Therese Walter)" is expected to reach $50 million (40 million euros) at a sale of Impressionist, Surrealist and Modern Art at prestigious London auction house Sotheby's on Wednesday.

The identity of its current owner remains a mystery.

(AFP )

Amsterdam was under pressure Thursday as EU deputies visited the site for the new post-Brexit headquarters of the European Medicines Agency, amid concerns over the hotly-contested relocation.

"I have to say that huge doubts on the proceedings remain," Italian MEP Giovanni La Via said.

He led a group of about 12 parliamentarians to the Dutch capital to inspect the site where the new building is under construction.

(AFP )

President Emmanuel Macron promised measures Thursday to help prevent foreign investors buying French farms amid concern that Chinese businesses are taking advantage of low land prices and distressed rural communities.

"For me, French agricultural lands are strategic investments on which our sovereignty depends, so we can't allow hundreds of hectares of land to be bought by foreign powers without us knowing the aims of these purchases," Macron told a crowd of young farmers at the presidential palace.

(AFP )

UNICEF deputy director Justin Forsyth on Thursday resigned from the UN children's agency following complaints of inappropriate behavior towards female staff in his previous post as head of British charity Save The Children.

He apologized again for his past "mistakes", but said his decision to step down from the top role was driven by concern that the scandal would hurt both organisations.

(AFP )

Hundreds of African migrants protested Thursday outside an Israeli prison where at least nine others have been incarcerated under Israel's controversial new policy of expelling or imprisoning them.

They marched a short distance from the Holot open detention centre to Saharonim Prison, chanting slogans and carrying signs demanding the prisoners' release.

They said they were on a hunger strike and vowed to continue it until a solution is reached.

(AFP )

The head of America's National Rifle Association lashed out Thursday at critics of the powerful gun lobby, accusing them of exploiting last week's deadly school shooting in Florida for political advantage.

In his first public comments since the Parkland shooting that left 17 dead, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre accused gun control advocates within the Democratic Party of seeking to roll back the constitutional right to bear arms.

(AFP )

Every morning, Umm Jamal stirs her coffee as heavy bombardment thuds overhead. This sparsely furnished basement in Syria's Eastern Ghouta has become her home since bombardment made life above ground too dangerous.

Like Umm Jamal, many in the rebel-controlled enclave outside the Syrian capital have been forced to live in spartan basements and makeshift shelters by fierce government shelling.

The mother of two moved underground with her children over a month ago, fleeing bombardment on her nearby home in the town of Medeira.

(AFP )

Staunchly anti-nuclear Austria lodged a legal complaint with the European Court of Justice on Thursday against the EU's approval of the expansion of a nuclear plant in neighbouring Hungary.

The approval, granted by the European Commission in March, would allow the expansion of the Paks nuclear plant outside the Hungarian capital Budapest with a 10 billion euro ($12.4 billion) Russian loan.

The plant is Hungary's only nuclear facility and supplies around 40 percent of its electricity needs.

(AFP )

Critics voiced outrage Thursday that Iran's justice minister will travel to Geneva next week to address the UN's top human rights body despite facing Swiss and EU sanctions over rights violations.

Alireza Avaie figures among some 100 government ministers and other dignitaries from around the world due to address the opening of the United Nations Human Rights Council's main annual session.

(AFP )

President Donald Trump's controversial nominee to lead the UN migration agency dismissed allegations of anti-Muslim bias on Thursday, telling AFP he "never" considers the faith of those in need.

But Ken Isaacs, also accused of being a climate science sceptic, did not directly confirm that he recognises climate change as a key driver of global migration, a central conviction of the International Organization for Migration.

(AFP )

Fresh bombardment on Eastern Ghouta killed dozens Thursday, bringing the number of dead civilians in a five-day assault by the Syrian government to more than 400.

Mounting calls for a humanitarian truce in one of the bloodiest episodes of Syria's seven-year conflict failed to stop 46 more people being killed by air strikes and rocket fire.

(AFP )

A German food bank said Thursday it would temporarily stop accepting new non-German clients, citing a huge influx of migrants that was displacing locals in need.

"We want the German granny to be able to keep coming to us," said Joerg Sartor, chairman of the charitable group that serves free meals to the poor in the western city of Essen.

He said especially German elderly people and single mothers had been gradually displaced over the past two years as the share of migrants had risen to three-quarters of recipients.

(AFP )

A four-million-euro mosaic depicting Jesus Christ inside the world's second largest Orthodox church was unveiled in Belgrade on Thursday.

The giant mosaic, which weighs 40 tons and was worked on by 70 Serbian and Russian artists, decorates the central dome of the city's Saint Sava Orthodox cathedral.

The unveiling was attended by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who arrived in the capital on Wednesday for a two-day visit, alongside Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Bosnian Serbia leader Milorad Dodik.

(AFP )

President Donald Trump and America's powerful gun lobby on Thursday cast citizens with weapons as a solution to shootings, as it emerged an armed deputy was on campus during a deadly Florida rampage but failed to act.

National Rifle Association chief Wayne LaPierre hit back at what he called "the shameful politicization of tragedy" and repeated the organization's position that "to stop a bad guy with a gun, it takes a good guy with a gun," while Trump made a controversial call to arm teachers.

(AFP )

Over 200 people on Thursday protested outside the Russian consulate in Istanbul against the deadly assault on Syria's rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta.

More than 350 civilians have been killed in the five-day-old blitz by the Syrian regime led by President Bashar al-Assad in the rebel-held enclave near Damascus.

Regime supporter Russia has been accused of taking part in air strikes but the Kremlin denied involvement, on Wednesday calling the accusations "groundless".