Saturday 21 October 2017

In the world

(AFP )

A 1,200-kilometre (750 mile) round bus trip taking about 22 hours: that is the weekly grind faced by families of activists arrested over a protest movement in northern Morocco if they want to see their loved ones jailed in Casablanca.

"The families of those detained are exhausted, every week it's the same ordeal," complained Rachid Ahbbad, as he visited his 19-year-old son Bilal who was jailed in June.

"Why do they make us go through this suffering?"

(AFP )

Spain will on Saturday take unprecedented steps to seize powers from Catalonia's separatist government after Madrid won powerful backing from the king and the EU in its battle to keep the country together.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy will meet with his cabinet at 10.00 am (0800 GMT) to set out specific powers it plans to take away from the wealthy northeast region, which currently enjoys wide autonomy including control over its own policing, education and healthcare.

(AFP )

A Korean drama about desperate teens and a movie that exposes the hardships of daily life in the Iranian capital Tehran shared the top prize at Asia's premier film festival on Saturday.

The two grim tales left award jurors at the 22nd Busan International Film Festival concerned that modern cinema was heading "towards visions of darkness and desperation".

Korean director Kim Ui-seok's teen-themed drama "After My Death" and "Blockage" from Iran's Mohsen Gharaei were announced as the two winners of this year's New Currents award for first or second-time filmmakers.

(AFP )

A century after its revolution shook the world, Russia strives to strike an odd balance between remembering the uprising that brought about the Soviet Union, while stopping short of romanticising regime change.

In a series of seismic events, the year 1917 saw Tsar Nicholas II abdicate in March and the Bolsheviks led by Lenin seize power in October.

Civil war erupted immediately afterwards, followed by the creation in 1922 of the USSR, built on the ruins of the Russian empire.

(AFP )

Australian police offered a record $4.75 million in rewards Saturday to catch the serial killer or killers behind the murders of six Melbourne women in the 1980s.

The women, ranging in age from 14 to 73, disappeared in separate incidents as they traveled on foot around Melbourne over an 18-month period in 1980-1981.

Their remains were found in scrubland in several locations on the outskirts of the city.

(AFP )

An elderly woman hunched over a cane stares intently as Japanese political hopeful Asami Miwa greets locals in the rural voting district the former flight attendant is contesting in Sunday's election.

Waving her white-gloved hands and bowing to potential voters in drizzly Saitama, an hour north of Tokyo, the 30-year-old Party of Hope candidate is a welcome splash of colour in a sepia-tinged world dominated by men in grey suits.

"Japan talks a good game about women's role in society," Miwa told AFP as the leathery-faced pensioner wished her luck before shuffling away.

(AFP )

Tears streaming down her freckled face, 35-year-old Asya took in the shattered glass, gutted storefronts and crumbling cafes -- all that remain of her favourite shopping street in Syria's Raqa.

"This was once the most beautiful city, my God," said the woman in a mustard-coloured headscarf, gesturing out of the back seat of a car moving slowly down Raqa's once-bustling Tal Abyad boulevard.

"Now look around you. Look at our homes," she wailed.

(AFP )

It took the fall of a US movie mogul to breach the culture of silence around sexual assault and harassment in France, but French feminist Caroline De Haas believes the country has turned a corner.

"There will be a before and an after #balancetonporc," she told AFP.

The #balancetonporc (expose your pig) hashtag is the French variant of the #metoo campaign launched in response to the plethora of abuse allegations that toppled movie producer Harvey Weinstein.

(AFP )

From campaign mini-vans staffed by "warbler birds" to "gutter lid" politics, a Japanese election has many quirks.

Here are five good ways to win votes in the world's number three economy:

- He who bows, wins -

To an outsider, Japanese bow a lot at the best of times and rarely more often or deeper than when politicians are looking for votes.

Campaigners bob up and down in campaign speeches, seeking to demonstrate the proper democratic deference towards voters.

And when the big boss comes to town, there's no limit to the back-breaking amount of bowing.

(AFP )

A billionaire populist dubbed the "Czech Trump" vowed a new stage in Czech politics as voters head to the polls Saturday in day two of an election expected to sweep him into power.

Betting on his anti-euro, anti-migrant and anti-corruption ticket, ANO (Yes) movement chief Andrej Babis topped opinion polls by a wide margin ahead of the ballot that ends Saturday afternoon.

Babis said he expected his country to "enter a new stage" after voting near Prague on Friday, adding it needed "a government which will really tackle people's problems."

(AFP )

Candidates in Japan made a last-ditch plea to voters Saturday on the last day of campaigning before an election expected to return Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to power with a comfortable majority.

Polls show Abe and his conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) are clear favourites to win Sunday's election, handing him a fresh mandate for his hardline stance on North Korea and "Abenomics" growth strategy.

Abe's coalition is on track to win around 300 seats in the 465-seat lower house of parliament, according to a projection published by the Nikkei daily.

(AFP )

Three men were arrested after a shooting following white supremacist Richard Spencer's controversial speech at the University of Florida, police said Friday.

Spencer, leader of the so-called "alt-right" movement -- encompassing white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan -- appeared Thursday on campus in Gainesville, in the north of the state.

Just over an hour after his speech ended, three of Spencer's followers stopped their car in front of a group of anti-racism protesters at a bus stop, police said in a statement.

(AFP )

International experts announced Friday that Chilean Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda did not die of cancer, but could not conclusively determine if he was assassinated by late dictator Augusto Pinochet's regime.

Neruda, a celebrated poet, politician, diplomat and bohemian, died in 1973 aged 69, just days after Pinochet, then the head of the Chilean army, overthrew Socialist president Salvador Allende in a bloody coup.

(AFP )

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis thanked his French counterpart Friday for France's assistance in the immediate aftermath of a Niger ambush that killed four US troops, as questions mounted in Washington about what happened.

French warplanes flew overhead and armed helicopters evacuated the US wounded following the October 4 attack near the Mali border, which is thought to have been carried out by jihadists.

(AFP )

At least 35 Egyptian troops and police officers were killed in clashes with Islamist fighters in the Bahariya oasis in the country's Western Desert on Friday, security and medical sources said.

An interior ministry statement confirmed the incident and said some of the "terrorist" attackers had died, without giving any figures for casualties or further details.

The small extremist group Hasm claimed the attack, saying in a statement that 28 members of the security forces were killed, with 32 injured.

(AFP )

A body recovered from a river bed in southern Argentina was that of a missing activist who disappeared two months ago during a police operation, his brother confirmed Friday.

Santiago Maldonado, a 28-year-old tattoo artist, was last seen being detained by paramilitary police as they moved to disperse a protest march by the Mapuche indigenous group in Chabut, Patagonia on August 1.

The case has embroiled President Mauricio Macri's government in a political storm and revived dark memories of the country's years of dictatorship and the forced disappearances of opponents.

(AFP )

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis visited Congress on Friday to assure Senator John McCain that lines of communication were open, amid demands the Pentagon reveal more about a Niger ambush that killed four US servicemen.

Tempers have flared in recent weeks between President Donald Trump's administration and lawmakers frustrated about the lack of clarity regarding the clash with suspected jihadists in an area where an Islamic State group affiliate operates.

(AFP )

The United States called Friday for Iraqi federal forces to limit their "movements" in areas claimed by both them and the country's Kurds to avoid more violence between Washington's allies.

Iraqi forces clashed with Kurdish units in the northern province of Kirkuk on Friday, part of a largely bloodless operation that saw them retake swathes of disputed territory from the Kurds in a matter of days.

(AFP )

Spain's King Felipe VI on Friday blasted what he said was an "unacceptable secession attempt" by Catalonia as the government prepared for unprecedented steps to take back some of the crisis-hit region's powers.

European Union leaders, in Spain to collect a prestigious peace prize, gave their backing to Madrid with EU parliament chief Antonio Tajani warning that attempts to redraw European borders have often "resulted in a hellish mess".

(AFP )

The United States does not intend to disrupt European business deals with Iran, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in comments published Friday.

Tillerson, speaking one week after President Donald Trump refused to certify the Iran nuclear deal and left its fate to the US Congress, said that he would address European allies' business concerns.

"The president's been pretty clear that it's not his intent to interfere with business deals that the Europeans may have under way with Iran," Tillerson told The Wall Street Journal.

(AFP )

A young student at a private school in Brazil shot dead two other children and wounded four more Friday, the emergency services said.

There were conflicting reports from the authorities about the ages of those involved.

All the victims were 12 or 13 years old, police and the fire department in the central city of Goiana said initially.

However, police investigators told AFP that the suspected shooter, who was arrested, was 14 and that students shot could be anywhere from 11 to 16.

(AFP )

A former actress accused Harvey Weinstein Friday of unzipping his pants and forcing himself on her, as a separate alleged victim publicly repeated rape allegations she had made in a newspaper interview.

Heather Kerr, who appeared on 1980s US sitcom "The Facts of Life," claims Weinstein attacked her during a private meeting when she was an aspiring actress in her 20s.

(AFP )

A Guatemalan indigenous leader and environmental activist who is among the finalists to receive a prestigious European human rights award says she owes her fighting spirit to her mom.

"With my mother's milk, I nursed on rebellion, on revolution, on redefining myself," said Aura Lolita Chavez, a 45-year-old Mayan who is among three finalists for the Sakharov Prize handed out by the European Parliament.

(AFP )

A suspected Islamic State recruiter has been arrested in the Russian city of Saint Petersburg, officials said Friday.

Tajikistan national "Farkhod Nazarov, suspected of aiding terrorism, has been arrested and will be detained until December 12," said a statement from a court in Russia's second city, scene of a deadly underground train bombing in April.

The 33-year-old suspect recruited central Asian targets online "to wage jihad in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan and to organise terrorist acts on Russian territory," according to security sources cited by the local press.

(AFP )

The death toll from forest fires that have devastated parts of central Portugal in recent days rose again on Friday to 44, following the death of one of the people injured in the blazes, authoriities said.

"It was a person who was seriously injured and hospitalised in Coimbra," Patricia Gaspar, spokeswoman for the civil protection authority, told AFP.

"The number of injured is still around 70," she added.

(AFP )

Colombia's efforts to bring former FARC rebels back into mainstream society are faltering, a senior UN official said Friday after returning from a trip to the South American country.

Under a historic peace deal reached last year, the rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia laid down their weapons and agreed to begin new lives as civilians.

"Although disarmament, demobilization has gone well (...) the reintegration is not going so well," said UN assistant secretary-general for human rights Andrew Gilmour.

(AFP )

Argentine President Mauricio Macri's minority government faces a mid-term electoral test Sunday that is likely to confirm the political comeback of ex-president Cristina Kirchner, who is set to win a Senate seat.

Macri's centre-right Cambiemos coalition, seeking a mandate to push forward with plans to overhaul the economy, is on track to strengthen its hand in both houses of congress in the legislative polls.

(AFP )

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian who tried to blow up a US-bound aircraft in 2009 with explosives hidden in his underwear, has sued the US Justice department for alleged mistreatment in prison.

Sentenced to life in a hyper-secure Colorado "Supermax" prison, Abdulmutallab said in a suit filed Wednesday that he had been denied contact with family members, placed in solitary confinement indefinitely, and unconstitutionally denied the opportunity to practice Islam.

(AFP )

Nearly 60 people were killed when suicide bombers blew themselves up in two separate mosque attacks in Afghanistan on Friday, officials said, capping a bloody week in the war-torn country.

In the first attack, on a Shiite mosque in the Afghan capital Kabul, at least 39 people including women and children were killed and 45 others wounded when a suicide bomber exploded his device as worshippers gathered for evening prayer.

(AFP )

Iraqi forces clashed with Kurdish fighters Friday as the central government said it had wrested back control of the last area of disputed Kirkuk province in the latest stage of a sweeping operation after a controversial independence vote.

Iraq's Joint Operations Command said police, counter-terrorism units and allied militias seized the Altun Kupri region, extending the central government's territory to within 50 kilometres (30 miles) of Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region.

(AFP )

The widow and son of late Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar are facing scrutiny as part of an investigation into money laundering in Argentina, judicial sources said Friday.

Investigators suspect Maria Isabel Santos and Sebastian Marroquin's involvement when their names appeared on papers seized in raids on a property owned by Mateo Corvo -- a real estate entrepreneur in Buenos Aires' exclusive Pilar district who is accused of laundering drug money.

(AFP )

US Ambassador Nikki Haley will be the highest-ranking administration official to visit Africa next week when she travels to South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia.

Haley will meet with officials from the African Union in Addis Ababa on Monday before traveling on to Juba and Kinshasa for talks with leaders and to meet with UN peacekeepers, said a US statement.

(AFP )

Could Harvey Weinstein go on trial for sexual assault, rape or harassment? Experts assess his mounting legal woes with around 40 actresses publicly accusing the disgraced Hollywood mogul.

New York police are pressing two sex crime investigations, London police are pursuing allegations from three women and Los Angeles detectives have interviewed an Italian actress alleging she was raped in 2013.

(AFP )

US President Donald Trump jettisoned his past criticism of the United Nations Friday, as he lavished praise on the organization's Secretary General.

Hosting Antonio Guterres in the Oval Office, Trump described said the pair were "friends" and embraced efforts at reform.

"You have done a very, very spectacular job at the United Nations," Trump said. "You need talent, and he's got the talent."

"I have to say the United Nations has tremendous potential. It hasn't been used over the years nearly as it should be," Trump said.

(AFP )

The regions of Lombardy and Veneto vote Sunday in referendums on greater autonomy within Italy against the backdrop of the crisis created by Catalonia's push for independence from Spain.

- Why the votes and what are they about? -

The referendums, initiated by the two regional presidents, are consultative.

Voters will be asked to say Yes or No to the principle of the two regions having greater autonomy under a procedure provided for in Italy's constitution.