Monday 29 May 2017

In the world

(AFP )

Russian President Vladimir Putin is a bigger threat to world security than the so-called Islamic State group, according to veteran US Senator John McCain who also admits Donald Trump makes him "nervous".

Republican McCain -- one of US President Trump's most outspoken critics in his own party -- said Russia's alleged meddling in elections was a danger to democracy.

"I think he (Putin) is the premier and most important threat, more so than ISIS," McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation late Monday.

(AFP )

Ecuador's new President Lenin Moreno criticized Julian Assange as a "hacker" but stressed his country would continue providing asylum to the WikiLeaks founder fleeing international arrest.

Moreno, who took office this month, has struck a more critical tone toward Assange than his predecessor, Rafael Correa, who said earlier his country had "done its duty" by granting Assange asylum in 2012.

(AFP )

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn took diverging tacks over Brexit negotiations on Monday as they faced a live televised grilling ahead of June's general election.

Ten days before the snap polls on June 8, the two rivals separately faced wide-ranging questions from members of the public before interrogations by veteran bulldog broadcaster Jeremy Paxman.

May declined a face-to-face debate with Corbyn, whose opposition party has in recent days narrowed the gap in opinion polls, though the ruling Conservatives remain in front.

(AFP )

North Korea confirmed its test-firing of a precision-guided ballistic missile was "successful", the state-run news agency KCNA reported Tuesday, a day after the projectile landed in waters provocatively close to Japan.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un supervised the launch of the "new-type precision guided ballistic rocket" -- the third missile test by the nuclear-armed regime in less than three weeks and carried out in defiance of UN sanctions warnings and US threats of possible military action.

(AFP )

Thousands of Venezuelans demonstrated Monday after the opposition vowed to intensify pressure on President Nicolas Maduro as they seek to stop him from strengthening his grip on power.

Masked and helmeted protesters hurled stones and petrol bombs at riot cops who fired tear gas, water cannon and buckshot as demonstrators tried to advance toward the state ombudsman's office in central Caracas.

Maduro's political opponents vowed earlier to step up protests over his plan to reform the constitution, which they say is a bid to cling to power.

(AFP )

Police arrested eight people including a government minister in the Dominican Republic on Monday in a corruption probe into disgraced Brazilian firm Odebrecht, prosecutors said.

They were the latest arrests in a graft scandal spanning several Latin American countries which has caused political ructions in Brazil.

The Dominican Republic's Trade and Industry Minister Juan Temistocles Montas was among those arrested in dawn raids on the Caribbean nation, a source in the public prosecution service told AFP.

(AFP )

Bangladesh has evacuated nearly 300,000 people as Cyclone Mora barrelled towards its southeastern coast at speeds of more than 85 kilometres (53 miles) per hour, officials said Monday.

The cyclonic storm was 385 kilometres from the port city of Chittagong and likely to make landfall early Tuesday, meteorologists said.

Evacuation efforts were ongoing, with nearly 300,000 people already shifted to cyclone shelters, disaster management authority spokesman Abul Hashim said.

(AFP )

Greece's finance minister Euclid Tsakalotos on Monday said he was "confident" that an upcoming eurozone meeting would reach a "good solution" on debt relief, whilst calling on creditors to end their "procrastination".

"We're looking for a good solution. We're not looking for a perfect solution. I'm confident we'll get a good solution," Tsakalotos told reporters in reference to the June 15 meeting.

"The pressure is on all sides...don't procrastinate at the cost of the Greek economy," Tsakalotos said.

(AFP )

More than 30 migrants were rescued at the weekend off the coast of Spain after their rubber speed boat caught fire, forcing them into the water in a dramatic moment caught on camera and broadcast Monday.

The video tweeted by EU border agency Frontex shows the 34 migrants travelling on board a black boat Sunday when flames suddenly erupted at the back near the engine, and rapidly spread through the small vessel.

(AFP )

A rattled White House braced Monday for a fresh wave of scrutiny in the ever-widening investigation into Russian election meddling, as President Donald Trump rallied behind his embattled son-in-law and top aide Jared Kushner.

The US leader visited Arlington National Cemetery to mark Memorial Day, a day of remembrance for the nation's war dead, but had to quickly pivot his attention to the Russia scandal after returning to Washington late Saturday from his first international trip since taking office.

(AFP )

Germany unleashed a volley of criticism Monday against US President Donald Trump, slamming his "short-sighted" policies that have "weakened the West" and hurt European interests.

The sharp words from Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel came after Trump concluded his first official tour abroad which took him to Saudi Arabia, Israel, Brussels and then Italy for a G7 summit.

They followed Chancellor Angela Merkel's warning on Sunday that the United States and Britain may no longer be completely reliable partners.

(AFP )

Ukraine's security service on Monday searched offices of Russian internet giant Yandex as part of a treason probe after Kiev banned its popular search engine earlier this month.

"Employees of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) conducted sanctioned searches in the offices of the subsidiary of the Russian company Yandex in Kiev and Odessa", the SBU said in a statement.

The security agency said the searches were part of a treason probe and accused Yandex of passing on the personal details of Ukrainian citizens, including military personnel, to authorities in Russia.

(AFP )

A violent storm swept through Moscow area Monday, leaving 13 people dead and dozens injured as freak winds toppled hundreds of trees, officials said.

"The storm killed 11 people and 70 others have been seriously injured," Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin said, according to Interfax.

"The victims are receiving proper care".

Two more deaths were reported later, with the investigative committee of the Moscow region saying that an 11-year-old girl and a 57-year-old man were killed, one by a falling tree and the other a flying fence.

(AFP )

Up to 200,000 civilians caught between fanatical jihadists and advancing Iraqi forces are in grave danger in the final stages of the battle for Mosul, a senior UN official said Monday.

More than seven months into the massive operation to recapture Mosul from the Islamic State group, Iraqi forces have retaken the city's east and large parts of its western side, but the jihadists are putting up tough resistance in areas they still hold.

(AFP )

Pope Francis on Monday met Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was expected to seek an apology over the abuse of indigenous Canadians at church-run boarding schools.

A Canadian truth and reconciliation commission sought an apology from the Roman Catholic church in an extensive list of recommendations in a 2015 report.

The report into a "cultural genocide" of more than a century of abuse collated evidence over six years from some 7,000 former students in Canada.

(AFP )

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Monday held talks in Cairo with Russia's foreign and defence ministers on ways to battle "terrorism", his office said.

A statement said the talks with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu focused on "the struggle against terrorism" and bilateral cooperation.

Lavrov earlier discussed the situation in chaos-riddled Libya with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry, the foreign ministry in Cairo said.

(AFP )

The European Union imposed sanctions Monday on nine more officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo, including government spokesman Lambert Mende and Kalev Mutondo, the head of the National Intelligence Service, amid unrest after President Joseph Kabila's refusal to step aside.

The people targeted by asset freezes and travel bans "hold positions of responsibility in the state administration and in the chain of command of the security forces," the EU said in a statement.

(AFP )

The European Union moved Monday to crack down on emissions cheating after the Volkswagen "Dieselgate" scandal by giving the EU executive more powers to monitor testing and fine automakers.

The European Council of 28 member states overcame the initial objections of Germany and agreed the broad lines to reform the system for approving vehicles in Europe.

The draft now goes for negotiations with the Commission, the EU executive's arm, and the European Parliament where the auto industry holds a strong influence.

(AFP )

President Donald Trump on Monday called North Korea's latest missile test a slap in the face for its main ally China, which the US leader praised for trying to rein in the regime.

"North Korea has shown great disrespect for their neighbor, China, by shooting off yet another ballistic missile... but China is trying hard!" Trump said in a tweet.

North Korea launched its 12th ballistic missile test this year on Monday, this one falling provocatively close to Japan.

(AFP )

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, a fiercely pro-European conservative, announced Monday his plans to stand for re-election in January 2018, where he is seen as a favourite.

Niinisto, 68, was elected to a first term in 2012 at a time when Finland -- which joined the eurozone under his tutelage as finance minister from 1996 to 2003 -- was experiencing a severe economic crisis.

(AFP )

France's President Emmanuel Macron and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin sought to improve their countries' strained ties Monday during talks at Versailles palace the French leader described as "extremely frank."

Their first meeting since Macron took office provided another test of the Frenchman's diplomatic skills after his memorable vice-grip handshake last week with US President Donald Trump.

This time, the handshake was warmer but the tone guarded after an hour of talks on the 300th anniversary of a visit to Versailles by tsar Peter the Great.

(AFP )

Britain on Monday said it would be a "strong partner" to Germany in response to comments by German Chancellor Angela Merkel about Britain and the United States no longer being reliable allies.

"As we begin the negotiations about leaving the EU, we will be able to reassure Germany and other European countries that we are going to be a strong partner to them in defence and security and, we hope, in trade," interior minister Amber Rudd told BBC radio.

(AFP )

Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska on Monday said he was ready to cooperate with US congressional probes into election meddling by Moscow without immunity, insisting he has evidence against claims of Kremlin interference.

The New York Times cited congressional sources on Friday saying that aluminium magnate Deripaska had requested immunity to cooperate with committees investigating alleged Russian involvement in the US elections.

(AFP )

Kagiso Rabada sparked a dramatic England collapse as South Africa won by seven wickets to record a consolation win in the third one-day international at Lord's on Monday.

England slumped to 20 for six -- the first time in an ODI that six wickets had gone down in the first five overs of an innings -- after losing the toss.

Jonny Bairstow's fine fifty helped England recover to 153 all out.

But it never looked like being enough and South Africa finished on 156 for three, JP Duminy sealing victory with a four off David Willey.

(AFP )

China is taking care of a pressing need: Authorities have installed or upgraded over 50,000 lavatories in a "national toilet revolution" designed to clean up filthy public restrooms.

Relief is coming soon, and by the end of the year China expects to have added or upgraded a total of 71,000 toilets, well exceeding a target initially set in 2015.

The plan to fix the country's bad reputation for grimy and smelly facilities has focused on restrooms in tourist sites.

In some places, shiny new toilets have replaced unhygienic open pits that offered little privacy.

(AFP )

Passengers faced a third day of disruption at Heathrow on Monday as British Airways cancelled short-haul flights after a global computer crash that unions blamed on the outsourcing of IT services to India.

The embattled airline said it was cancelling 13 short-haul flights from Heathrow Airport, Europe's busiest, but was aiming to operate a full long-haul schedule from the hub and was operating a full service from Gatwick Airport.

Tens of thousands of passengers were left stranded over a busy holiday weekend in Britain after BA scrapped hundreds of flights worldwide.

(AFP )

British police said they had arrested a new suspect on Monday over the Manchester bombings, bringing to 14 the number of people they have in custody over the attack.

Authorities detained a 23-year-old in the southern coastal town of Shoreham-by-Sea, more than 400 kilometres (250 miles) from Manchester.

In addition, police raided a property in a southern Manchester suburb as they step up their investigation into last week's bombing that killed 22 people.

(AFP )

Former Greek Prime Minister Constantine Mitsotakis, an early proponent of austerity cuts that Greece eventually had to adopt during the economic crisis, died Monday aged 98, his family said.

A patriarch of one of Greece's most influential political families, Mitsotakis quit politics in 2004, aged 85, after serving as the country's longest-serving parliamentarian.

"He died at 0100 (2200 GMT) surrounded by the people whom he loved and who loved him," a family statement said. It did not indicate the cause of death.

(AFP )

An elderly Australian fisherman has lived to tell the tale after a great white shark leapt into his boat, surviving with only an injured arm after he was sent flying by the thrashing beast.

Terry Selwood, 73, was enjoying some quiet time on the water off Evans Head in northern New South Wales state when he was given the fright of his life.

(AFP )

Army helicopters fired rockets at Islamist militants in a southern Philippine city Monday, as fears grew for up to 2,000 people unable to escape a week of relentless fighting that has left women and children dead.

President Rodrigo Duterte imposed martial law across the southern third of the Philippines shortly after the fighting erupted, warning the gunmen were involved in an effort by the Islamic State group to set up a local caliphate.

(AFP )

Thousands of Sri Lankan troops battled Monday to get relief supplies to nearly half a million people displaced by the island's worst flooding in well over a decade, which has killed 169 people.

The military said a lull in torrential monsoon rains had allowed it to deploy aircraft, boats and ground troops to evacuate people from flooded areas and deliver food and other essentials.

Almost half a million people have had to abandon their homes after the island suffered its worst flooding in 14 years.

(AFP )

Days after a bomb ripped through the Manchester Arena, locals take their seats at a comedy club where British humour is helping people cope with the aftermath of the terror attack.

"It's important to have a bit of humour when you're dealing with real-life stress and challenging events, because it helps people deal with it in a way, it's like a coping mechanism," said Cate Gardner, who had come to the Frog and Bucket comedy club to celebrate her birthday.

(AFP )

Kanishk Sajnani did not receive so much as a thank you from a major Indian airline when he contacted them with alarming news -- he had hacked their website and could book flights anywhere in the world for free.

It was a familiar tale for India's army of "ethical hackers", who earn millions protecting foreign corporations and global tech giants from cyber attacks but are largely ignored at home, their skills and altruism misunderstood or distrusted.

(AFP )

Thousands of voracious white maggots wiggle frenetically while tearing through trayfuls of leftover meat, vegetables and fruits in an unusual farm in southwestern China.

It may not be a pretty sight, but the gluttonous larvae could help China eat away something far uglier: the country's mountain of food waste.

(AFP )

France's new President Emmanuel Macron was to host Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Monday in the latest test of his diplomatic mettle after vowing firm stands on Ukraine and Syria.

"It is essential to talk to Russia because there are many international issues that will not be resolved without a tough exchange with the Russians," Macron said at the G7 summit in Sicily which wound up on Saturday.

The 39-year-old centrist leader's meeting with Putin, 64, caps a whirlwind of diplomacy including the G7 talks as well as last week's NATO summit in Brussels.