Sunday 25 June 2017

In the world

(AFP )

Italy will pay up to 17 billion euros ($19 billion) to rescue two Venetian banks that are facing bankruptcy, the government said Sunday.

"The total resources mobilised could reach a maximum of 17 billion euros -- but the immediate cost to the state is a little more than five billion," said Finance Minister Pier Carlo Padoan.

After Brussels last week firmly placed the liquidation ball in Rome's court, Padoan's ministry said late Friday that the government would put up state cash to rescue the stricken Banca Popolare di Vicenza and Veneto Banca.

(AFP )

President Donald Trump on Sunday stepped up his criticism of Barack Obama's response to concerns Russia was trying to disrupt the 2016 election, and some Democratic lawmakers agreed, with one calling the former leader's handling of the threat a "serious mistake."

In a flurry of weekend tweets and a prerecorded television appearance, Trump said his predecessor failed to act after the CIA informed him in August that Russian President Vladimir Putin had personally ordered an operation to help Trump defeat Hillary Clinton in the November election.

(AFP )

Thousands gathered in Vilnius on Sunday for the beatification of a bishop imprisoned by the former Soviet regime, the first such event in the devoutly Catholic Baltic EU state.

Some 30,000 Catholics gathered at the city's central cathedral square for a mass honouring Archbishop Teofilius Matulioni, who was officially recognised as a martyr in December by Pope Francis.

Lithuania's Soviet-era rulers repeatedly sent him to prisons and labour camps for standing up to the atheist regime.

(AFP )

As Paris men's fashion week comes to a close Sunday, one trend for spring summer 2018 and could not be clearer -- bare legs.

Fashion clearly feels that the time is right for men to get their legs out for the girls -- or for other men who like to admire a well sculpted calf.

In a week in which a heatwave across Europe saw British schoolchildren and French bus drivers don skirts in protest at not being allowed to wear shorts, the momentum behind taking the trouser above the knee -- or further still -- seems unstoppable.

(AFP )

Chad President Idriss Deby said Sunday his country had been "irresponsible" in striking oil for cash deals with Swiss commodities giant Glencore, given the subsequent slump in crude prices

"We thought it was opportunity -- but it was a fool's bargain," Deby said in an interview with Radio France International, Le Monde and broadcaster TV5 Monde.

"It was an irresponsible step. I realise that today.

(AFP )

Iraqi forces battled deep into the devastated historical heart of Mosul and closed in fast on the last pockets of jihadists Sunday, eight months into an epic battle to retake the city.

Three years after overrunning Mosul and making it the de facto Iraqi capital of the "caliphate" they proclaimed, the jihadists only controlled about a square kilometre in the city, commanders said.

(AFP )

Social Democrat chief Martin Schulz lashed out Sunday at Chancellor Angela Merkel, accusing her of "arrogance" as he sought to reverse his party's plunging popularity.

At a special congress to decide his party's campaign programme for September 24 elections, Schulz accused Merkel and her conservative CDU party of "systematically refusing debate on the future of the country".

Merkel's tactic, he said, is to hold off on airing her views rather than engage, thereby making the people lose interest in politics.

(AFP )

Dawid Malan became England's top-scoring Twenty20 international debutant before Dane Paterson led South Africa's recovery at Cardiff on Sunday.

With the three-match series all square at 1-1, England captain Eoin Morgan took the controversial decision to drop himself, with his place going to Malan.

And fellow Middlesex left-hander Malan responded by making 78 in England's total of 181 for eight.

(AFP )

Pakistan has deployed a 15,000-strong military force to protect Chinese nationals working on energy and infrastructure projects in the country, the president said Sunday, after the abduction of a Chinese couple raised safety concerns.

President Mamnoon Hussain told visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Islamabad that the protection of Chinese citizens working in Pakistan was the "top priority" of the government, according to a statement issued by the presidency.

(AFP )

Britain's minister in charge of Brexit talks warned Sunday that any bid from within the Conservative Party to unseat Prime Minister Theresa May would be "catastrophic" for negotiations.

David Davis also said he was "pretty sure" Britain could reach a satisfactory deal with the European Union, and that no deal would be better than a "punishment deal."

When asked by the BBC's Andrew Marr whether May's ouster would be catastrophic, Davis replied "Yes. Yes.

(AFP )

More than 1,500 people were evacuated as a precaution Sunday after a fire broke out at a nature reserve in southern Spain famed for its biodiversity, authorities said.

The fire started overnight and had by morning encroached on the Donana National Park at Moguer in the southern region of Andalusia, Jose Fiscal, deputy head of the regional environment protection authority, told Spanish television.

The reserve enjoys UNESCO protected status as an important biosphere reserve and is a tourist attraction. Many of those evacuated were staying at a camp site, Fiscal said.

(AFP )

Iraqi forces have retaken two thirds of old Mosul, a week after launching an offensive against the Islamic State group's last bastion in the city, a senior commander said Sunday.

Lieutenant Colonel Salam al-Obeidi was speaking to AFP inside the devastated Old City, about 50 metres (yards) from what is left of the "Hadba" leaning minaret the jihadists blew up four days earlier.

(AFP )

The creator of a wizarding empire which has dazzled the world, J. K. Rowling struggled through hardship to become an unrivalled children's author with a global voice.

Rowling once told a beaming crowd of Harvard University graduates how she had initially failed "on an epic scale".

"An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless," she said.

(AFP )

Turkish police on Sunday prevented an attempt by Gay Pride activists to hold a parade in Istanbul, the country's largest city, in defiance of an official ban by the local authorities.

Police fired rubber bullets at a group of around 40 activists, an AFP journalist reported, a day after the city governor's office banned the march citing safety and public order concerns.

Small groups gathered at Taksim Square but witnesses said there was a heavy police presence which outnumbered the activists, and at least four people were detained.

(AFP )

Albanians were voting in a parliamentary election on Sunday hoping to end a tradition of fractious and disputed polls and prove the country's readiness to begin European Union accession talks.

Socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama, 52, is seeking a second term in office, pledging to boost economic growth and complete sweeping reforms demanded by Brussels of Albania's notoriously corrupt judicial system.

(AFP )

Britain's Prince Harry once "wanted out" of the Royal Family, but instead decided to "stay in and work out a role" for himself, according to an interview with the Mail on Sunday.

The prince, 32, caused a stir earlier this week when he said that he didn't think any member of the royal family wanted to become monarch, and revealed doubts about his own role in the family in his latest interview.

(AFP )

An eight-hour ceasefire in a Philippine city allowing residents to celebrate the end of Ramadan came to an abrupt end Sunday afternoon as the government continued its offensive against Islamist militants occupying parts of war-torn Marawi.

Assaults backed by air and artillery bombardment had stopped at the start of Islamic prayers at 6am but gunfire broke out as soon as the truce ended around 2pm, AFP reporters in Marawi said.

(AFP )

At least 123 people were killed and scores injured in central Pakistan early Sunday when a fire erupted after crowds rushed to collect fuel from an overturned oil tanker.

Here are the most serious such incidents around the world over the past decade. In many of the most deadly of these, people were trying to recover spilt fuel and were caught in the subsequent fire.

- November 17, 2016, Mozambique: At least 93 killed and dozens wounded when an oil tanker carrying petrol explodes in the west of the country. Hundreds of people were trying to siphon off the fuel at the time.

(AFP )

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday welcomed Qatar's dismissal of a sweeping list of demands from Saudi Arabia and its allies in an escalating crisis and said the ultimatum was "against international law."

"We welcome (Qatar's position) because we consider the 13-point list against international law," Erdogan was quoted as saying by the state-run Anadolu news agency.

Erdogan, who spoke to reporters after morning prayers at an Istanbul mosque, said the demands on its embattled regional ally Qatar had gone "too far."

(AFP )

A Vietnamese dissident blogger with dual French citizenship arrived in Paris on Sunday after he was stripped of his birth nationality by authorities in the one-party state and deported.

Former mathematics lecturer Pham Minh Hoang was put on a plane to Paris late Saturday, weeks after his Vietnamese citizenship was revoked -- a rare move that has sparked outrage among critics of the communist government who accuse it of quashing dissent by any means available.

"I am very sad," Hoang told AFP by phone after his arrival in Paris.

(AFP )

India's leader Narendra Modi arrived in the US for his first meeting Monday with President Donald Trump, seeking to build on growing ties and move beyond disagreements over climate change.

Relations between the world's two largest democracies warmed under Trump's predecessor Barack Obama as India sought greater foreign investment and trade ties with Western nations.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi vowed to work closely with the Trump administration, but obstacles soon emerged on issues such as trade and visas for Indians wanting to work in the United States.

(AFP )

An overturned oil tanker exploded in a huge fireball in Pakistan Sunday, killing at least 139 people and injuring scores as crowds scavenging for fuel ignored warnings to stay clear, officials and witnesses said.

The horrific early morning tragedy came hours before Pakistan was due to begin Eid al-Fitr celebrations marking the end of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan.

The tanker carrying 40,000 litres of fuel overturned on a main highway while travelling from Karachi to Lahore, near the town of Ahmedpur East in Punjab province.

(AFP )

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad led Eid al-Fitr prayers in the central city of Hama on Sunday, appearing in public outside the capital for the first time in a year.

Assad's office published images of him praying inside the brightly-lit Al-Nuri mosque at dawn on Sunday before greeting worshippers outside.

He was flanked by Islamic Endowments Minister Mohammad Abdel-Sattar Sayyed and Syria's top Muslim cleric Ahmad Badredine Hassoun.

Eid al-Fitr marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, during which Muslims fast from dawn until dusk.

(AFP )

Frozen out of power in Washington and having lost a string of congressional races this year, Democrats are struggling to craft winning strategies to convert disillusionment with President Donald Trump into victory in 2018's midterm elections.

The party fielded a hodgepodge of candidates in four special elections in recent months, including a banjo-strumming cowboy poet in Montana. Most recently Democrats nominated a young novice in Georgia, where the party, judging it had its best pick-up opportunity, threw millions of dollars into the race.

(AFP )

Two alleged Islamic State group militants stabbed a police officer to death in western Indonesia, authorities said Sunday, in the latest assault targeting officials in the world's most populous Muslim country.

The two attackers shouted "Allahu Akbar", or God is great, as they entered a security post in North Sumatra's police headquarters in Medan city where they stabbed a police officer, officials said.

Several police officers fought back against the militants, killing one and critically injuring another.

(AFP )

Hanuman Prasad Garg doesn't blame rising fuel prices or pressure from cheap knock-offs for the slow demise of the glass industry where Indian artisans have forged bangles for centuries. He blames the Taj Mahal.

The ancient glass quarter in Firozabad never recovered after authorities blamed smoke drifting from its furnaces for yellowing the Taj's magnificent white marble, threatening the beauty of India's number-one tourist attraction.

(AFP )

When senior bureaucrats visited the remote Thai province where local official Boonyarit worked, the routine was often the same: welcome them with the finest food and drink and then bring out the teen girls, often referred to as "dessert".

The tradition -- known by the euphemistic Thai phrase "treat to food, lay down the mat" -- refers to the expectation that underlings lavish superiors and VIPs with local delicacies, top-notch accommodation and sex services.

(AFP )

President Xi Jinping will visit Hong Kong this week to celebrate 20 years since the former British colony's return to China, state media confirmed Sunday, a trip that will stoke resentment among pro-democracy activists.

It will be Xi's first visit to Hong Kong since the head of the Communist Party became president in 2013.

Xi will be in the city from Thursday to Sunday to attend a ceremony marking the anniversary of the handover, which took place on July 1, 1997.

(AFP )

The scene has become familiar in Greece in recent months -- a middle-aged woman in a courthouse, trying to dodge an angry crowd shouting inches from her face.

"Get out, crow!" is the usual cry at notaries -- in most cases women -- seeking to carry out court-mandated property auctions. "Not a single home in bankers' hands!"

A tacit ban on thousands of property foreclosures in Greece, stalling sales for years, is now under threat as cash-strapped banks and social insurance funds start to turn the screws on borrowers.

(AFP )

A Vietnamese blogger with French citizenship has been deported to Paris, the wife of the former political prisoner said Sunday, in a rare move by authorities in the one-party state.

Former math lecturer Pham Minh Hoang was put on a plane to Paris late Saturday, after the Vietnamese government stripped him of his citizenship last month.

"My husband left Vietnam at 11:30 last night, on a direct flight to Paris," Le Thi Kieu Oanh told AFP Sunday.

Oanh said Hoang was granted access to a lawyer before boarding the plane, but that she was not given a chance to see him.

(AFP )

Rival Cypriot leaders at a make-or-break summit in Switzerland this week will come under pressure to seal an elusive peace deal for their divided island or face the consequences.

"We are looking for a final settlement… We expect both parties to come with determination, will and leadership for a final settlement," a UN spokesperson told AFP.

"We are expecting all parties to come to the table and settle this once and for all, including Greece, Turkey and Britain," the three so-called guarantor powers of the former British colony.

(AFP )

The Philippine military declared an eight-hour ceasefire Sunday in its offensive against Islamist militants occupying parts of the war-torn city of Marawi, to allow residents to celebrate the end of Ramadan.

Assaults backed by air and artillery bombardment stopped at the start of Islamic prayers at 6am but gunfire erupted as soon as the truce ended around 2pm, AFP reporters in Marawi said.

(AFP )

India's leader heads to the US this weekend for his first meeting with President Donald Trump, seeking to build on growing ties between the world's two largest democracies and move beyond disagreements over climate change.

Relations between New Delhi and Washington warmed under Trump's predecessor Barack Obama as India sought greater foreign investment and trade ties with Western nations.

(AFP )

After more than a decade apart, the Pastrana family on Saturday finally got to embrace during a special event allowing nearly 200 families separated by the US-Mexico border to spend three minutes together.

The meeting took place in the middle of the murky Rio Grande -- which divides the Mexican city Ciudad Juarez and El Paso, Texas and is crossable this time of year -- under the watchful eye of Border Patrol agents.

"It has been a very long 11 years," said Claudia Pastrana, a 42-year-old from Ciudad Juarez, after hugging her sister and niece who now live in Texas.

(AFP )

Cristina Kirchner, the leftist ex-president who dominated Argentine politics for years alongside her late husband, has remained a divisive figure since leaving power -- and is now seeking public office again.

The 64-year-old will make a bid for a Senate seat in October's midterm elections -- despite facing corruption charges -- two top party officials in her party announced Saturday.