Friday 23 February 2018

In the world

(AFP )

South Korean lawmakers protested Friday over a visit by a top North Korean general for the Pyeongchang Olympics, labelling him a war criminal over the 2010 sinking of a warship and calling for his execution.

Kim Yong Chol will head an eight-member delegation to arrive on Sunday for the Games' closing ceremony -- which will also be attended by US President Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka, creating protocol headaches for Seoul officials.

(AFP )

Oil that has washed ashore on several southern Japanese islands is likely from an Iranian tanker that sank in the East China Sea last month, Japan's coastguard said Friday.

Analysis of samples of heavy fuel that began washing up on remote Okinoerabu and Yoron islands this month found similar components to the fuel used by the Sanchi tanker, coastguard spokesman Takuya Matsumoto said.

"We are not aware of any other maritime accident in the region that resulted in oil leaks," he told AFP.

(AFP )

European leaders on Friday doubled their funding for 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 announced an extra 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 )

Syrian regime air strikes and artillery fire hit the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta for a sixth straight day Friday as the world struggled to reach a deal to stop the carnage.

More than 400 civilians have been killed in one of the seven-year Syrian conflict's bloodiest episodes and rescuers were finding more bodies buried in the rubble.

Russia, whose warplanes are also bombing the Eastern Ghouta region, stalled a deal at the United Nations for a 30-day humanitarian ceasefire late Thursday but a vote was rescheduled for later Friday.

(AFP )

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas appeared on local television Friday to downplay concerns over his health after undergoing what were described as routine tests in the United States.

In an interview with Palestine TV while in the US, 82-year-old Abbas rejected reports he had been rushed to hospital during his visit.

"It was a suitable opportunity to be here to conduct some medical tests, and these tests have been conducted and now we left," he said after leaving hospital.

"Thank God all the results are positive and reassuring."

(AFP )

The deputy head of UNAIDS, accused of sexually assaulting a female colleague but cleared of wrongdoing by an internal United Nations probe, announced his decision to step down on Friday.

Luiz Loures "has communicated his wish to the UNAIDS executive director not to seek the renewal of his position," the agency said in a statement.

Loures, a Brazilian national, "will end his term as deputy executive director at the end of March 2018," it added.

(AFP )

A former South African soldier was sentenced to death in South Sudan on Friday for attempting to overthrow the government.

Ex-colonel William Endley, 55, was "sentenced to death by hanging" for espionage and conspiring to overthrow the government, said judge Lado Eriminio Sekwat at a court in the capital Juba.

Endley, who can appeal the ruling, was also sentenced to nine years and four months in prison for other related crimes, which must be served before his execution.

(AFP )

A UN rights commission in South Sudan said Friday there was sufficient evidence to charge at least 41 senior officers and officials with war crimes and crimes against humanity.

South Sudan's four-year-old civil war has been characterised by extreme brutality and attacks on civilians.

But no high-ranking officials have been held to account, despite African Union (AU) promises to establish a special court to try alleged crimes.

(AFP )

Dubai has said it is seeking international arbitration against Djibouti after the Horn of Africa nation terminated its concession at a key port that is the main transit route to landlocked Ethiopia.

The emirate said the Djiboutian government's termination Thursday of the 50-year concession it granted to Dubai-owned DP World to operate the Doraleh container terminal in 2006 was "illegal".

(AFP )

The Maldives has warned India against interfering in its political crisis, deepening a rift with the country once seen as its closest ally.

New Delhi has expressed concern about the situation in the honeymoon islands, whose president has sacked top judges, jailed political dissidents and imposed a state of emergency in recent weeks.

On Wednesday it said it was "deeply dismayed" by the extension of emergency rule, earning an official rebuke from the Maldives foreign ministry.

(AFP )

Teenage figure skating sensation Alina Zagitova expressed disbelief Friday after winning her duel with Evgenia Medvedeva to claim Russia's first gold medal at the Pyeongchang Olympics.

The 15-year-old took the women's title for the Olympic Athletes from Russia by a slender margin of just 1.31 points from her friend, compatriot, training partner and arch rival.

Bronze went to Canada's Kaetlyn Osmond.

"I can't believe I'm the champion," said Zagitova after a fairytale debut season on the senior ciruit. "It'll take some time to sink in."

(AFP )

Roaming the Olympic venues in their red winter suits and white woolly hats, North Korea's cheerleaders have been on a mission to show the human side of the nuclear-armed state, but observers say they have seen little success.

The 200-plus young women make up a large part of the huge North Korean delegation at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, the result of a rare inter-Korean agreement last month.

(AFP )

Teenage figure skater Alina Zagitova prevailed in her duel with Evgenia Medvedeva to claim Russia's first gold medal at the Pyeongchang Olympics on Friday.

The 15-year-old took the women's title for the Olympic Athletes from Russia by a slender margin of just 1.31 points from her friend, compatriot, training partner and arch rival.

In bronze came Canada's Kaetlyn Osmond.

"I can't believe I'm the champion. It'll take some time to sink in," said Zagitova, who beat two-time world champion Medvedeva despite both scoring matching 156.65 points in the free-skating Friday

(AFP )

With his tight trousers and boots, Luis Miguel Castrillon is dressed to kill as he prances, feints and pirouettes around a charging bull. The crowd applauds, but for animal rights campaigners in Colombia, the bullfighter is a cruel killer.

Applause swelled around Bogota's arena for the past month as Castrillon and other matadors taunted and dispatched bulls during the city's annual bullfighting festival.

(AFP )

South Korean lawmakers protested Friday over a visit by a top North Korean general for the Pyeongchang Olympics, labelling him a war criminal over the 2010 sinking of a warship and calling for his execution.

Kim Yong Chol will head an eight-member delegation to arrive on Sunday for the Games' closing ceremony -- which will also be attended by US President Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka, creating protocol headaches for Seoul officials.

(AFP )

Still basking in acclaim for his visceral documentary on African-American social critic James Baldwin, Raoul Peck has turned his creative energies on another of history's indispensable political minds -- Karl Marx.

The project comes with the Haitian filmmaker at the peak of his powers, having won best documentary at Sunday's Baftas -- Britain's version of the Academy Awards -- for "I Am Not Your Negro," his meditation on Baldwin's racial philosophies.

(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 )

The UN Security Council will vote Friday on a draft resolution demanding a 30-day ceasefire in Syria to allow for humanitarian aid and medical evacuations.

A slightly amended text was circulated to council members late Thursday but it was unclear whether Russia would support the measure which has been under negotiations for two weeks.

The council will meet to vote at 1600 GMT.

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told a council meeting on Thursday that there was "no agreement" on a truce and presented a new raft of amendments.

(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.