Tuesday 12 December 2017

In the world

(AFP )

Polish lawmakers on Tuesday approved the cabinet of Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who promised to maintain the previous administration's focus on social welfare but barely mentioned the issues that have put Warsaw at odds with the European Union.

The Western-educated ex-banker was tapped by the governing right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party to take over as prime minister, notably to mend ties with Brussels.

(AFP )

The United States is ready to talk to North Korea "without preconditions" but remains determined to force it to abandon its nuclear arsenal, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday.

But even as Washington stressed the importance of a negotiated end to the standoff, Kim Jong-un vowed to make his nation "the strongest nuclear power and military power in the world."

President Donald Trump has promised that Kim will not be allowed to complete his effort to develop nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching mainland US cities.

(AFP )

The United States is seeking a $250 million cut to the core budget of the United Nations for 2018-2019, on top of $200 million in savings already proposed by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, diplomats said Tuesday.

The budget is under negotiations in a General Assembly committee which is expected to adopt it before the end of December.

Guterres has proposed capping the UN biennial budget at $5.4 billion, shaving off $200 million from the 2016-2017 budget.

(AFP )

Russia has asked the UN Security Council for permission to supply light arms and ammunition to the struggling armed forces of the Central African Republic beginning next week, according to a request obtained by AFP on Tuesday.

The move has raised concerns from France which has questioned Russia's plan, notably over the storage of the weaponry, according to a Security Council diplomat who declined to be named.

Russia is asking for an exemption to the arms embargo imposed on the Central African Republic in 2013 when the impoverished country descended into violence.

(AFP )

Amnesty International on Tuesday accused Italy and other EU governments of being "knowingly complicit" in horrific abuses of migrants in Libya, warning of legal action against them at European and UN rights institutions.

The charges by the London-based rights group mark a ratcheting up of criticism by activists and others of the European Union's policy of aiding the UN-backed government in Tripoli in order to stop migrants from travelling to Europe.

(AFP )

The United States is ready to begin talks on North Korea's nuclear disarmament without prior conditions, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday.

"We're ready to have the first meeting without preconditions," Tillerson told a meeting on the crisis at the Atlantic Council policy forum in Washington.

"Let's just meet and let's talk about the weather if you want and talk about whether it's going to be a square table or a round table if that's what you're excited about."

(AFP )

Leftist stalwart Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Tuesday joined the race for Mexico's presidency, pledging to reverse government reforms and offer criminals amnesty as a new way to target rampant violent crime.

Hoping the third time is the charm, AMLO as he is nicknamed for his initials, registered as a primary candidate with the National Renewal Movement (Morena) he founded after losing the race in 2006 and 2012 as the candidate of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD)

(AFP )

Princes William and Harry attended the European premiere of "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" on Tuesday, joining the all-star cast in London for the latest instalment of the sci-fi saga.

The British royals walked the red carpet dressed in tuxedos for the screening at London's Royal Albert Hall, where they were greeted by the rolling droid character BB-8 who dutifully bowed to the princes.

The two reportedly have cameo roles as stormtroopers in the film, after visiting the set in April 2016 when they were rumoured to have shot the scene.

(AFP )

China on Wednesday marks the 80th anniversary of the Nanjing massacre by Japanese troops, an enduring source of bad blood as present-day rivalry between the two countries keeps a spotlight on historical animosities.

Top leaders will preside over memorial services in the eastern city, Beijing says, but it is yet to confirm whether President Xi Jinping will lend weight to the occasion by attending.

(AFP )

Kim Jong-Un has vowed to make North Korea the "world's strongest nuclear power," state media reported Wednesday, as the reclusive nation shows little sign of reining in a weapons programme fuelling global alarm.

The North has rattled the international community with a flurry of missile launches and its largest ever nuclear test in recent months in its bid to develop a warhead capable of striking the United States.

(AFP )

Brazil's leftist former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will learn in January whether a prison sentence against him is upheld, officials said Tuesday, potentially knocking him out of next year's presidential election.

Lula was sentenced in July to 9.5 years behind bars after being convicted of corruption in Brazil's huge "Car Wash" graft scandal. The court in Porto Alegre said it will rule on his appeal January 24.

That could decide whether Lula can take part in October 2018 presidential elections in which he is currently the frontrunner.

(AFP )

An Ariane 5 rocket took off from the Kourou Space Centre in French Guiana on Tuesday, taking with it four satellites for Europe's Galileo navigation project, Arianespace said.

The European space workhorse took off at 1836 GMT and was scheduled to deploy its cargo four hours after launch.

The Galileo programme, when complete, will have 30 satellites in three orbital planes by 2020. If all goes according to plan the system will be able to pinpoint a location on Earth to within a metre -- compared to several metres for the United States' GPS and the Russian GLONASS systems.

(AFP )

Venezuela's chief prosecutor said Tuesday that he had placed former state oil company boss Rafael Ramirez under investigation for corruption, a move critics said was part of a political purge by President Nicolas Maduro.

"We have decided to open a criminal investigation into citizen Rafael Ramirez," prosecutor Tarek William Saab said on state television.

Ramirez led PDVSA for a decade before becoming Venezuela's ambassador to the UN, a post from which he resigned last week -- saying it was at Maduro's request.

(AFP )

The United States on Tuesday unveiled federal terrorism charges against the Bangladeshi driver who detonated a bomb in a New York subway passageway, after allegedly being inspired by the Islamic State group and self-radicalizing as early as 2014.

Akayed Ullah, 27, who migrated to the United States in 2011 and lived in Brooklyn, was hit with a five-count indictment, which includes providing material support to IS and use of weapons of mass destruction, according to the complaint.

(AFP )

Spain's Court of Auditors ordered on Tuesday the seizure of former Catalan president Artur Mas's home to cover costs generated by the nonbinding independence referendum his government organised in 2014.

In September the court had ordered Mas and eight other top Catalan officials to pay 4.8 million euros ($5.6 million) with interest of 400,000 euros to cover the expenses of the ballot, which was declared illegal by the Constitutional Court.

(AFP )

Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said Tuesday that Italy could "hold its head high" with regards to its treatment of migrants, after Amnesty International accused Rome and other EU governments of being "knowingly complicit" in abuses of migrants in Libya.

"Finally, the spotlights have been turned to the human rights situation in Libya. This is to our credit," Gentiloni said in an address to senators and later to MPs before an EU summit in Brussels this week.

(AFP )

A rapidly warming Arctic, where temperatures are rising twice as fast as the rest of the planet, is the "new normal," and the melting ice is triggering environmental changes that will affect the whole world, warned a global scientific report Tuesday.

The Arctic is going through "an unprecedented transition in human history," that will accelerate sea level rise and boost the frequency of extreme weather events, said the Arctic Report Card, released annually by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

(AFP )

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson expressed confidence Tuesday that Washington is doing all it can to force North Korea to negotiate its nuclear disarmament.

But -- even as he vowed to pursue his diplomatic strategy "until the first bomb drops" -- he also warned that the US military stands ready to act if necessary.

And he added that if diplomacy and sanctions fail and the fighting erupts, it will have been a personal failure of his efforts to resolve the crisis.

(AFP )

Moving away from using fossil fuels and leaning heavily on businesses to green up their act, the "One Planet Summit" in Paris on Tuesday set out a raft of wide-ranging commitments to turn the tables on climate change.

Here are five of the major areas covered during the summit:

- Oil and gas -

The World Bank said it would stop financing oil and gas exploration and extraction -- representing about two percent of its current portfolio -- from 2019, becoming the first multilateral bank to take such a step.

(AFP )

The EU on Tuesday warned Britain against "backtracking" as it rounded on a top minister for suggesting that London could back out of its Brexit divorce promises if it does not get a trade deal.

Britain's Brexit minister David Davis caused alarm by saying that a crucial agreement struck last Friday on separation arrangements was a "statement of intent" rather than "legally enforceable".

(AFP )

Venezuela's chief prosecutor said Tuesday that he had placed former state oil company boss Rafael Ramirez under investigation for corruption.

"We have decided to open a criminal investigation into citizen Rafael Ramirez," prosecutor Tarek William Saab said on state television.

Ramirez led PDVSA for a decade before becoming Venezuela's ambassador to the UN, a post from which he resigned last week -- saying it was at the request of President Nicolas Maduro.

(AFP )

The runoff in Liberia's presidential elections will be held on December 26, the country's electoral overseer announced on Tuesday, clearing a last hurdle in a protracted saga.

It means the final round of voting between the two leading candidates -- ex-footballer George Weah and Vice President Joseph Boakai -- can go ahead.

"I am pleased to announce that the 2017 presidential runoff elections will be conducted on Tuesday December 26, 2017," the president of the National Elections Commission (NEC), Jerome Korkoya, said.

(AFP )

US forces in Somalia conducted an air strike Tuesday against a bomb-laden vehicle outside Mogadishu that was deemed an "imminent threat" to the capital, officials said.

The strike occurred about 65 kilometers (40 miles) southwest of Mogadishu and comes after as many as 512 people were killed in a massive truck bombing in October.

(AFP )

The first Russian troops returned home Tuesday from their deployment in Syria, beginning a partial withdrawal from a mission widely seen as decisive in swinging the war in favour of President Bashar al-Assad's regime in Damascus.

Some were welcomed by small crowds holding patriotic banners in ceremonies with Soviet-era music in the background. Others were greeted by high placed military officials.

On a surprise visit to Syria on Monday, Putin ordered the start of a pullout of Russian troops, saying their task in the war-torn country had been largely completed.

(AFP )

By subsidising fossil fuels, humanity was "investing in its own doom", UN chief Antonio Guterres said Tuesday at a Paris summit seeking to unlock funds for the global shift towards greener energy.

"Fossil fuels remain heavily subsidised -– meaning we are investing in our own doom," he told delegates at the finance-themed climate gathering called by French President Emmanuel Macron.

Guterres described climate change as the "defining challenge of our times," and warned that humanity was losing the war "for the very existence of life on our planet as we know it".

(AFP )

The United States on Tuesday unveiled federal terrorism charges against the Bangladeshi driver accused of detonating a bomb in the New York subway after being inspired by the Islamic State extremist group and self-radicalizing as early as 2014.

Akayed Ullah, 27, of Brooklyn, was hit with a five-count indictment, which includes providing material support to IS and use of weapons of mass destruction, according to a 10-page complaint released on Tuesday.

(AFP )

A keenly awaited major trial in Austria delving into alleged high-level corruption began on Tuesday as a flamboyant jet setting former finance minister and 14 others appeared in court.

The so-called Buwog affair centres on 9.6 million euros ($11.3 million) in alleged bribes paid out following a 2004 government sale of state properties.

Karl-Heinz Grasser was finance minister at the time -- as well as a society and tabloid darling married to a jewellery heiress -- and is accused of having known about the payments.

(AFP )

Russia said Tuesday that it had ordered the blocking of websites linked to an opposition movement founded by exiled former oligarch and Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky over "undesirable" activities.

Khodorkovsky, who spent a decade in prison and now lives in exile in Britain, founded an organisation called Open Russia that advocates political diversity.

It has organised protests against President Vladimir Putin's rule under the slogan "Sick of him," though it does not have mass public support.

(AFP )

France's new opposition leader Laurent Wauquiez scrambled Tuesday to hold his Republicans party together, two days after it picked the controversial rightwinger to take on centrist President Emmanuel Macron.

Wauquiez was elected head of the centre-right Republicans on Sunday, running on a hard-right platform that has seen him accused of cosying up to far-right National Front (FN) voters.

Twenty-four hours later, Xavier Bertrand, a party heavyweight from the northern Pas-de-Calais region, quit the Republicans -- the first of a handful of politicians to walk out.

(AFP )

Russia will "do everything necessary" to facilitate an agreement between rival camps in Libya to end the country's political crisis, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday.

"We will assist in resolving all questions in negotiations between Tripoli and Tobruk, with whom we are regularly in contact," Lavrov said at a press conference following a meeting with his Libyan counterpart Mohamad Taha Siala in Moscow.

(AFP )

NATO on Tuesday reappointed Jens Stoltenberg as secretary general to serve until 2020, as the alliance undergoes its biggest revamp since the Cold War to counter the perceived threat posed by Russia.

The former Norwegian prime minister, who took the helm in October 2014, will lead the alliance into its next summit in Brussels in July with the North Korean nuclear crisis and US President Donald Trump's apparent ambivalence towards NATO looming large.

(AFP )

By repeatedly hitting out at the US move to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan may be catering to his voter base, but he risks sabotaging Turkey's already fragile relations with the Jewish state.

While President Donald Trump's decision last week was met with near-universal condemnation, particularly from the Muslim world, Erdogan has emerged as its most outspoken critic.

(AFP )

More than 170 people have been killed in fighting between rival cattle herders in central South Sudan in the past week, a lawmaker said on Tuesday.

"When it comes to those who are wounded, it is almost 200," added Dharuai Mabor Teny, a member of parliament from the Western Lakes area, some 250 kilometres (155 miles) northwest of the capital Juba.

It more than doubles a previous toll issued late last week, since fighting between rival factions of the Dinka people, the Rup and Pakam clans, broke out on December 6.

(AFP )

Bangladesh Tuesday launched a massive drive to vaccinate Rohingya children against diphtheria after a suspected outbreak killed nine refugees and infected more than 700.

Health workers in Bangladesh said they had been caught unawares by the outbreak of the bacterial disease in the Rohingya refugee camps of southeast Bangladesh

More than 646,000 Rohingya are based in these camps, having fled violence in Myanmar in recent months.

(AFP )

Former basketball star Dennis Rodman is perhaps the only person in the world to call both US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un "friend".

The ex-Chicago Bulls power forward -- who has swigged vodka with Kim and been fired by Trump on "Celebrity Apprentice" -- believes the two unpredictable leaders "are pretty much the same people".

"They love control," Rodman told AFP Tuesday in Beijing, adding that warnings of nuclear peril are harmless "entertainment".

"Ain't nobody got no finger on the button."