Sunday 22 October 2017

In the world

(AFP )

All five of America's living former presidents took the stage Saturday at a benefit concert in Texas to raise money for victims of the hurricane-ravaged southern United States and Caribbean.

Former presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter appeared together onstage at Texas A&M , praising Americans for their willingness to help fellow citizens and urging them to do more.

(AFP )

Chancellor Angela Merkel hails from Germany's ex-communist East, yet it is here where the anger against her runs deepest and the far-right protest party AfD has celebrated its strongest gains.

The electoral success of the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany, which scored 12.6 percent in September 24 elections, stunned much of the country.

But in Cottbus, located in the Lusatia coal mining region near the Polish border, many cheered the strong result for the party whose battle cry is "Merkel must go".

(AFP )

The lights go out, the projector whirls and entertainment-starved Saudis sink into plush seats to soak up an experience they have been denied for decades —- a trip to the cinema.

The rare movie night this week in Riyadh was a precursor to an expected formal lifting of the kingdom's ban on cinemas, long vilified as vulgar and sinful by religious hardliners.

Following a decree allowing women to drive, authorities have hinted cinemas would soon be permitted as part of ambitious reforms for a post-oil era that could shake up the austere kingdom's cultural scene.

(AFP )

While Chinese President Xi Jinping and his cohorts chart the nation's future at their leadership conclave in Beijing, his citizen army of red-armbanded foot soldiers are keeping an eye out for trouble outside.

Stationed on street corners, in front of shops and outside bars, civilians with armbands labelled "Public Security Volunteer" have deployed across the capital as the Communist Party holds its crucial five-yearly gathering.

(AFP )

Citizens mourning the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia are calling for Malta's deeply-ingrained tribal politics to be put aside so the shaken island nation can begin healing its wounds.

The initial shock at Monday's car bomb assassination is now turning into demands for a united front -- with tens of thousands, party allegiance aside, expected at a national rally on Sunday demanding justice for the journalist.

(AFP )

After prayers at the Chantelle Abbey in Allier, central France, a marketing meeting between the abbey's nuns and their employees discusses the latest orders for its on-site soap and cosmetics products, the delivery destination: Germany.

The community of Benedictine sisters has been manufacturing cosmetics since 1954, after two sisters, a chemist and a mathematician, began the practice.

Body lotions, shower gels and moisturisers are among the products made in the abbey's own laboratory, where the nuns acknowledge they must now make time for prayer and business.

(AFP )

Voters in the northern Italian regions of Lombardy and Veneto vote Sunday in autonomy referendums attracting additional interest against the backdrop of Catalonia's push for independence from Spain.

The consultative votes are only the beginning of a process which could, over time, lead to powers being devolved from Rome. Secessionist sentiment in the two wealthy northern regions is restricted to fringe groups with little following.

(AFP )

A spate of deadly Taliban attacks targeting Afghan forces this week was a show of strength against Donald Trump's new strategy, and signalled a push to strike security bases rather than cities, analysts said.

In three of the four ambushes since Tuesday, militants used bomb-laden Humvees to blast their way into targets, seeking to demoralise war-weary security forces, and steal weapons and vehicles to fuel their insurgency.

(AFP )

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is set to walk free on Sunday after a 20-day jail term for organising protests against President Vladimir Putin.

Navalny, who has declared his intention to stand for president in 2018, is set to be released between 0600 and 0700 GMT, his lawyer Vadim Kobzev told AFP.

He is being held in a detention centre in western Moscow but police may release him in a different location to evade media attention as they have done previously.

(AFP )

"Special operations by the Caliphate's soldiers!" boasts a torn, blood-stained pamphlet at a bombed-out media kiosk in Syria's Raqa, a symbol of the Islamic State group's once fearsome propaganda machine.

As well as serving as the Syrian capital of IS's "caliphate," Raqa was the beating heart of much of its media output and was painstakingly portrayed as a jihadist paradise where Islamic law had finally been applied.

But since a US-backed offensive brought IS's three-year reign over the city to an end, the backbone of the jihadists' macabre marketing now lies in ruins.

(AFP )

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is to launch a fresh bid Sunday to ease a crisis between Riyadh and Doha, both allies of Washington, but without high hopes of a breakthrough.

Apart from the months-long crisis, Iran's rising influence in the Middle East is also expected to figure high on the agenda of America's top diplomat during talks in the two capitals.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt cut ties with Qatar and imposed an embargo in June, accusing it of supporting terrorism and cosying up to Iran.

(AFP )

Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament's Brexit coordinator, told British Prime Minister Theresa May on Sunday to confront the Brexiteers in her cabinet and offer greater concessions to the EU.

Verhofstadt told The Mail on Sunday newspaper that May should confront Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and other Brexit cheerleaders and outline what sort of trade deal she wants, following this week's summit in Brussels.

(AFP )

Australian police divers have recovered the bodies of two fishermen from a sunken trawler and were Sunday searching for four others missing since the boat capsized nearly a week ago.

The commercial fishing trawler with seven on board sank in rough seas off the coast of central Queensland state on Monday.

Rescuers have been scouring the waters near Middle Island, north of the town of Seventeen Seventy, but just one crew member has been found alive.

(AFP )

More than 1.1 billion people worldwide officially don't exist -- going about their daily lives without proof of identity.

The issue leaves a significant fraction of the global population deprived of health and education services.

Among these "invisible people" -- many of whom live primarily in Africa and Asia -- more than one third are children susceptible to violence whose births have not been registered, the World Bank's "Identification for Development" (ID4D) program recently warned.

(AFP )

Inside a locked room in an office building in Caracas, 20 humming computers use their data-crunching power to mine bitcoins, an increasingly popular tool in the fight against Venezuela's hyperinflation.

In warehouses, offices and homes, miners are using modified computers to perform complex computations, essentially book-keeping for digital transactions worldwide, for which they earn a commission in bitcoins.

(AFP )

France has charged eight men, including three minors, following an investigation into far-right activists allegedly plotting to target politicians and mosques, prosecutors announced Saturday in Paris.

The men -- aged between 17 and 29 -- are accused of being party to a "criminal terrorist conspiracy", and of links to Logan Alexandre Nisin, a militant who was arrested near Marseille in June.

Nisin is the founder of a group dubbed OAS. He was detained after posting that he planned to attack blacks, jihadists, migrants and "scum".

(AFP )

A Chinese whistleblower, now seeking political asylum in Germany, has claimed there was a systematic doping programme in China during the 1980s and 1990s across a range of sports.

In a television interview with German broadcaster ARD, Chinese doctor Xue Yinxian, 79, claims more than 10,000 athletes in different sports were involved in a state-backed doping programme.

(AFP )

With Karl Marx looking on from an image on the wall, convicted killer-turned-novelist Cesare Battisti says tension is high as a Brazilian court prepares to consider his possible extradition to Italy.

His four-year-old son Raul runs around him and Battisti, 62, seems marked by the nearly four decades he has spent on the run from murder charges in his native Italy.

The fugitive is wanted in connection with four killings -- including of two policemen -- attributed to a far-left extremist group active in the 1970s.

(AFP )

Malta's government offered a one-million euro ($1.2 million) reward Saturday for information to help solve the brutal murder of journalist and anti-corruption campaigner Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Announcing the move, the government also promised to protect anyone who came forward, following the death of the 53-year-old in a car bombing on Monday.

(AFP )

Millions of Japanese braved typhoon conditions Sunday for a snap election likely to hand Prime Minister Shinzo Abe a fresh mandate to revive the world's third-largest economy and press his hardline stance on North Korea.

If pre-vote surveys prove correct, Abe's conservative coalition will cruise to a crushing majority to win a fresh term at the helm of the key US regional ally and Asian economic powerhouse.

Polling stations opened at 7:00am (2200 GMT Saturday) with voters battling high winds and driving rain as an election-day typhoon barrelled towards Japan.

(AFP )

He may be facing charges over alleged EU subsidy fraud, but billionaire businessman Andrej Babis has won the support of voters in the Czech general election by pushing his trademark anti-corruption and anti-euro ticket.

Dubbed the "Czech version of Trump" by Forbes, the wiry, grey-haired, Slovak-born farming, media and chemicals mogul is the Czech Republic's second-richest man.

(AFP )

The United States on Saturday sharply criticized the appointment of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe as a World Health Organization goodwill ambassador, saying it "contradicts United Nations ideals."

"The United States government has sanctioned President Mugabe due to crimes against his people and the threat he poses to peace and stability," the US State Department said in a statement.

"This appointment clearly contradicts the United Nations ideals of respect for human rights and human dignity."

(AFP )

The appointment of Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe as a goodwill ambassador for the World Health Organization is "absolutely unacceptable" and "ridiculous," Canada's premier said Saturday.

"When I heard of Robert Mugabe's appointment... quite frankly, I thought it was a bad April Fool's joke," Justin Trudeau said during a press briefing.

"It is absolutely unacceptable and inconceivable this individual would have a role as a goodwill ambassador for any organization, much less the World Health Organization," Trudeau said.

(AFP )

Catalonia's leader accused Madrid on Saturday of waging the "worst attack" on his region since dictator Francisco Franco after the central government took drastic measures to stop it from breaking away.

In a televised announcement, Carles Puigdemont said Madrid was failing to respect the rule of law after Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced he would move to dismiss Catalonia's separatist executive, take control of regional ministries and call elections. The premier said he had no other choice faced with the threat to national unity.

(AFP )

The head of the World Health Organization said Saturday that he was "rethinking" his decision to name Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe a goodwill ambassador, as global outrage over the move mounted.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the UN health agency, had this week asked Zimbabwe's 93-year-old authoritarian leader to serve in the role to help tackle non-communicable diseases like heart attacks, strokes and asthma across Africa.

(AFP )

US President Donald Trump said Saturday he will allow long blocked secret files on the assassination of John F Kennedy to be opened to the public for the first time.

The November 22, 1963 assassination -- an epochal event in modern US history -- has spawned multiple theories challenging the official version that Kennedy was killed a lone gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald.

So the release of all the secret documents has been eagerly anticipated by historians and conspiracy theorists alike.

(AFP )

Croatian prosecutors said Saturday they issued an arrest warrant for the boss of ailing Balkans food and retail giant Agrokor, suspected of financial wrongdoing and currently outside the country.

A police spokeswoman told AFP an international warrant for Ivica Todoric, the prime suspect in an ongoing probe, will be issued once they officially receive the warrant from the prosecutors.

(AFP )

US President Donald Trump said Saturday a transition can soon begin to set conditions for lasting peace in Syria now that the end of the Islamic State "caliphate is in sight" with the fall of Raqa.

The United States and its allies will support diplomatic negotiations "that end the violence, allow refugees to return safely home, and yield a political transition that honors the will of the Syrian people," Trump said in a statement.

(AFP )

Argentina's campaigning Grandmothers mark their 40th anniversary Sunday vowing that age will not deter them from their struggle to identify hundreds of children stolen by the dictatorship and reunite them with their families.

The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, formed in October 1977, have so far identified 124 babies whose parents were killed by the 1976-1983 military junta and given new families and new identities.

"They were victims of tremendous violence during the dictatorship," Ignacio Montoya Carlotto, one of the symbols of the Grandmothers' struggle, told AFP.

(AFP )

Some 450,000 people took to the streets of Barcelona on Saturday, local police said, after Spain moved to dismiss Catalonia's regional government to thwart its leaders' independence bid.

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont was among the huge crowds filling the streets around the Paseo de Gracia boulevard, with many chanting "independence" and "freedom".

(AFP )

Sixteen Egyptian policemen were killed in a shootout with militants on the road between Cairo and the Bahariya oasis in the country's Western Desert, according to an official toll released Saturday.

The figure from the interior ministry was lower than a toll given earlier by security and medical sources of at least 35 Egyptian police officers killed in the clashes which began on Friday night.

(AFP )

After finishing work on Friday Jan Ali took his two sons to their local Shiite mosque in Kabul to worship, along with dozens of other ordinary Afghans.

Despite the growing threats of violence against Shiite sites in Afghanistan, the 47-year-old mason took his place among the 150-strong faithful at the Imam Zaman mosque where he is a regular.

But the evening prayer session soon turned into a bloody nightmare when a suicide bomber posing as a worshipper blew himself up, causing devastation inside the cavernous room.

(AFP )

US President Donald Trump said Saturday he will allow long blocked secret files on the 1963 assassination of John F Kennedy to be opened to the public for the first time.

The November 22, 1963 assassination -- an epochal event in modern US history -- has spawned multiple theories challenging the official version that Kennedy was killed a lone gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald.

So the release of all the secret documents has been eagerly anticipated by historians and conspiracy theorists alike.

(AFP )

The World Health Organization on Saturday cited Zimbabwe's anti-tobacco record and efforts against non-communicable diseases as justifications for making President Robert Mugabe a "goodwill ambassador", as International criticism of the move mounted.

The UN health agency, led since July by former Ethiopian health minister Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has asked Mugabe to serve in the role to help tackle NCDs like heart attacks, strokes and asthma across Africa.

(AFP )

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in Saudi Arabia Saturday, his second visit to the region in recent months as he seeks a breakthrough in a diplomatic crisis gripping the Gulf.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt cut ties with Qatar in June, accusing it of supporting terrorism and cozying up to Iran. Doha denies the charge.

Tillerson made an unsuccessful attempt to resolve the dispute during a trip to the region in July.