Monday 22 January 2018

In the world

(AFP )

Hundreds of thousands of US federal employees were forced to stay home without pay Monday after lawmakers failed to reach an agreement on ending a government shutdown before the start of the work week.

Although leaders of President Donald Trump's Republican Party and opposition Democrats touted progress during weekend talks, they pushed back a scheduled late-night vote on a stopgap funding measure to Monday at noon (1700 GMT).

(AFP )

President Nicolas Maduro's government condemned European Union sanctions against seven Venezuelan officials Monday, accusing the bloc of subservience to the "supremacist and racist" US government.

"The European Union once again offers irrefutable proof of its remarkable subordination to the supremacist and racist government of Donald Trump," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

(AFP )

Pope Francis on Monday offered "apologies" to victims of sexual abuse after he caused outrage by appearing to support a controversial Chilean bishop.

The pope acknowledged he had "hurt" people by suggesting there was no "proof" against Juan Barros, who is accused of covering up another priest's abuse of boys.

"The day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, then I will speak. There is not a single piece of proof against him. Everything is slander. Is this clear?" the Argentine pontiff said abruptly on Thursday when questioned by journalists in Chile.

(AFP )

Athens said Monday it will hold talks with Skopje this week amid a renewed UN-backed push to solve a name row that has poisoned relations between the neighbours and sparked protests in Greece.

Athens argues that the name Macedonia suggests that Skopje has territorial claims to Greece's historic northern region of the same name.

Both countries returned to the United Nations last week hoping to reach a compromise that could end the 27-year dispute.

On Sunday, tens of thousands of Greeks protested against any deal allowing Macedonia to keep its constitutional name.

(AFP )

Pressure is mounting on South Africa's President Jacob Zuma to leave office, with the ruling ANC party confirming talks are underway over his possible departure.

His authority slipped further this weekend when his party vowed to "act decisively" to rebuild its reputation in the wake of the many scandals that have dominated his nine-year rule.

Here are the ways by which Zuma could leave power before the end of his term, which finishes in 2019:

- Vote of no confidence -

(AFP )

Sudan on Monday freed Agence France-Presse's reporter in Khartoum, Abdelmoneim Abu Idris Ali, and a Reuters journalist who were arrested last week while covering protests.

Idris Ali, a 51-year-old who has worked for AFP in Khartoum for nearly a decade, was covering the protests on Wednesday in the Sudanese capital's twin city of Omdurman, where riot police broke up a demonstration of about 200 protesters against rising food prices, notably bread.

He had been arrested along with a journalist from international news agency Reuters and a third colleague.

(AFP )

Global economies are recovering simultaneously and at a stronger pace, and will get at least a short-term boost from the US tax cuts, the International Monetary Fund said Monday.

In the latest update to the IMF's World Economic Outlook (WEO), nearly all the forecasts for 2018 and 2019 were revised upward compared to the October edition.

However, the fund warns that exuberant financial markets could be due for a reversal.

(AFP )

Ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont on Monday vowed to form a new government despite "threats" from the central government in Madrid, after a Spanish judge refused to re-issue a European warrant for his arrest.

Speaking at a debate on Catalonia at the University of Copenhagen, Puigdemont said: "We will not surrender to authoritarianism despite Madrid's threats."

"Soon we will form a new government... it's time to end their oppression and find a political solution for Catalonia," the 55-year-old politician added.

(AFP )

Afghanistan's Kam Air has been left reeling after nine personnel including five pilots were killed in the Taliban attack on a Kabul luxury hotel where the airline housed its foreign staff.

Forty Kam Air employees were at the Intercontinental Hotel Saturday night when gunmen opened fire on guests and employees, killing at least 22 people including 14 foreigners.

The slaughter has left the company deeply shocked and struggling to maintain its flight schedule as employees try to come to terms with the loss.

(AFP )

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Monday he was "concerned" about Turkey's new offensive against Kurdish militia in northern Syria, as he urged all sides to show restraint in the conflict.

Tillerson was speaking in London as Turkey intensified its assault on Kurdish militia targets in Syria, aiming to oust the People's Protection Units (YPG) which Washington relies on to fight the jihadist Islamic State group.

"The US is in Syria to defeat ISIS," he said, using another acronym to for IS, as he began a meeting with his British counterpart Boris Johnson.

(AFP )

A television report shot with a hidden camera showing members of a Polish far-right group celebrating Adolf Hitler's birthday sparked uproar on Monday, in a country still grappling with the memory of Nazi occupation.

The alarming footage, filmed in southwestern Poland and aired on news channel TVN24, shows a group of men wearing Nazi-inspired uniforms and performing Nazi salutes.

Among those caught on camera was a man identified as Mateusz S., the leader of neo-Nazi group Pride and Modernity (DN).

(AFP )

The trial of Angolan former vice-president Manuel Vicente for alleged corruption opened Monday in his absence in the Portuguese capital, raising tensions between the oil-rich African country and its former colonial ruler.

Vicente, who headed Angola's state oil company Sonangol, is accused by the Portuguese attorney general of bribing prosecutor Orlando Figueira 763,500 euros ($934,600) to scrap two probes into suspected money-laundering opened in 2011.

Angola, along with Nigeria, is one of Africa's biggest oil producers, pumping 1.7 million barrels per day.

(AFP )

Attackers on Monday killed a Rohingya representative in a Bangladesh refugee camp, the second such death in three days as tensions mount over the planned repatriation of some 750,000 refugees to Myanmar.

Sources said the dead man Yusuf Ali was a camp leader at the Balukhali camp on the border with Myanmar. Mohammad Yusuf, a leader in the neighbouring Thaingkhali camp, was shot dead last Friday.

Yusuf Ali, 60, was stabbed to death, district police chief Iqbal Hossain told AFP. Another police official described him as a Rohingya "majhi" or camp leader.

(AFP )

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson defended the "special relationship" between Britain and the United States during a visit to London on Monday, following a series of spats since the election of Donald Trump that have strained ties.

Tillerson paid a discreet visit to the new US embassy in London after Trump cancelled plans to open it himself -- the latest in a spate of damaging rows.

The top US diplomat later met with counterpart Boris Johnson and Prime Minister Theresa May, speaking of the need to reset the relationship between the historic allies.

(AFP )

A strike by French prison guards entered its second week on Monday, with at least 50 jails blocked over demands for better security and pay after a series of attacks on staff by inmates.

The protests, which have disrupted prisons across the country, began after a convicted Al-Qaeda extremist attacked guards in a high-security facility with a razor blade, injuring three of them.

On Monday, around 150 guards continued to block access to the Fleury-Merogis prison south of Paris -- Europe's biggest -- with tyres and pallets.

(AFP )

A year after the terror attacks that struck Paris in November 2015, Jeff Koons said he would give the city a monumental sculpture meant to honour the victims -- but critics of the project are saying 'no thanks'.

About two dozen artists, gallery owners and officials wrote an open letter Monday urging the city of Paris not to install the 12-metre-tall "Bouquet of Tulips" outside the Museum of Modern Art and adjacent Palais de Tokyo, a contemporary art centre.

(AFP )

German and French lawmakers on Monday marked the 55th anniversary of a friendship treaty between their countries with a plea for closer cooperation as Paris seeks Berlin's backing for ambitious EU reforms.

"France and Germany are not just a couple anymore. We're family," the visiting speaker of the French parliament, Francois de Rugy, told German MPs.

In simultaneous sessions, lawmakers in both countries debated a resolution for an updated Elysee Treaty to renew their bond more than half a century after the original pact sealed their nations' post-war reconciliation.

(AFP )

The European Union on Monday blacklisted seven senior Venezuelan officials over human rights violations, including the regime's intelligence chief, who the bloc accused of torture.

Interior Minister Nestor Reverol and the head of the Venezuelan Supreme Court are among those hit by asset freezes and travel bans in the EU's first targeted sanctions against members of President Nicolas Maduro's administration.

(AFP )

Taliban militants who killed at least 22 people at a luxury Kabul hotel went from room to room searching for foreigners, survivors and a security source said Monday as more details of the victims emerged.

Insurgents armed with Kalashnikovs and suicide vests attacked the landmark Intercontinental Hotel overlooking the Afghan capital late Saturday, in an assault that lasted more than 12 hours and prompted questions over how the attackers breached security.

(AFP )

The Philippines said Monday it would deport an elderly Iraqi man described as a scientist for Hamas and accused of helping the Palestinian militant group lob missiles at Israel.

Iraq tipped off the Philippines about the presence of Taja Mohammad Al Jabori, who was arrested on Sunday, national police chief Ronald Dela Rosa told reporters.

However, the arrest was due to visa problems rather than any evidence of militant activity, the police chief emphasised.

"He's an illegal alien, his visa is expired so he has to be deported right away," Dela Rosa said.

(AFP )

Turkey on Monday intensified its offensive against Kurdish militia targets in Syria as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed there would be no stepping back in a campaign that has stoked concern among Ankara's allies and neighbours.

The Turkish military on Saturday launched operation "Olive Branch", its second major incursion into Syrian territory during the seven-year civil war.

(AFP )

Russia said Monday it has invited Kurds to take part in an upcoming Syrian peace congress in Sochi despite a Turkish offensive against Kurdish militia in northern Syria.

"Kurdish representatives have been included on the list of Syrians invited to participate in the Syrian National Dialogue Congress which will take place in Sochi next week," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

(AFP )

Israeli scholars have pieced together and deciphered one of two previously unread manuscripts of the Dead Sea Scrolls more than half a century since their discovery, an Israeli university has said.

The more than 60 tiny fragments of parchment bearing encrypted Hebrew writing had previously been thought to come from a variety of different scrolls, a Haifa University spokesman told AFP on Sunday.

(AFP )

Indian state governments made a last-ditch attempt Monday to ban a Bollywood film about a mythical Hindu queen which has sparked violent protests by radical groups.

The Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh governments asked India's top court to retract a ruling ordering states to show the film "Padmaavat", which is due to hit screens on Thursday.

The urgent petitions, which the Supreme Court will hear on Tuesday, were lodged a day after Hindu extremists set fire to buses and blocked roads in Gujarat state.

(AFP )

Tourist Muskan Mahuwakar pictured the Taj Mahal as a dazzling vision of symmetry and beauty but upon reaching the monument, she -- like thousands of other visitors -- was disappointed to find it covered in scaffolding, its once white marble now yellowing due to pollution.

Building restoration at India's most popular tourist attraction is now into its fourth year, with work yet to even begin on its imposing dome.

(AFP )

President Emmanuel Macron's campaign for a "French Renaissance" kicks into overdrive Monday as he welcomes 140 multinational business leaders before this week's jamboree of the rich and powerful in Davos.

The business-friendly president will host executives at the grand Versailles chateau near Paris for an event billed as a warm-up for Tuesday's opening of the World Economic Forum in the Swiss mountains.

(AFP )

Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont arrived in Copenhagen on Monday, defying a threat by Madrid to issue a warrant for his arrest if he leaves Belgium, where he has been in exile since a failed independence bid.

Danish broadcaster TV2 released an image on its website of Puigdemont being surrounded by reporters after his plane landed in Copenhagen Airport.

A source in his entourage also confirmed his arrival in the Danish capital.

Puigdemont is to take part in a debate on Catalonia at the University of Copenhagen later Monday.

(AFP )

Turkish authorities have detained 24 people on suspicion of disseminating "terror propaganda" against Turkey's military operation inside Syria, state media said on Monday.

The suspects are being held in a nationwide crackdown on those posting social media messages deemed to be supportive of terror groups, the state-run Anadolu news agency said, quoting the interior ministry.

The arrests come after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged national unity over the operation, warning those who respond to calls for protests will have to pay a "heavy price".

(AFP )

The repatriation of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who fled violence in Myanmar will not begin as planned, Bangladesh said Monday, with authorities admitting "a lot of preparation" was still needed.

Bangladesh had been due to start the huge process on January 23, after agreeing a two-year timeframe with Myanmar.

But Bangladesh's Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam announced Monday there was much more work to be done.

(AFP )

At least 22 people are now known to have died when Taliban militants slaughtered guests at a luxury Kabul hotel, Afghan officials said Monday, as fears grew that the attackers may have had inside help.

Authorities warned they were still investigating how militants breached security, which was taken over by a private company three weeks ago, at the landmark Intercontinental Hotel late Saturday.

(AFP )

A giant mushroom-shaped cloud shot up from the Philippines' most active volcano on Monday, darkening the skies and raining ash on communities where tens of thousands have fled after warnings of an impending eruption.

Mayon volcano's new activity prompted state volcanologists to raise the alert level one notch higher than the initial warning scientists issued last week, meaning a hazardous eruption is possible within days.

(AFP )

A motorcycle bomb killed three civilians and wounded two dozen others on Monday at a bustling morning market in Thailand's insurgency-hit south, the first such attack by suspected militants on a 'soft target' in the Muslim-majority region for months.

A rebellion against Thai rule in the country's culturally distinct "Deep South" bordering Malaysia has left nearly 7,000 dead -- the majority civilians -- since 2004.

(AFP )

The president of Ecuador Lenin Moreno on Sunday described WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as an "inherited problem" that has created "more than a nuisance" for his government.

"We hope to have a positive result" on the issue, he said in an interview with television networks.

Earlier this month, Ecuador announced it had granted citizenship to Assange, in an unsuccessful attempt to provide him with diplomatic immunity and usher him out of its London embassy without the threat of arrest by Britain.

(AFP )

The spill from a sunken Iranian tanker off China's east coast has more than trebled in size, just over a week after the ship sank in a ball of flames.

Authorities spotted three oil slicks with a total surface area of 332 square kilometres (128 square miles), compared to 101 square kilometres reported on Wednesday, the State Oceanic Administration said in a statement late Sunday.

(AFP )

South Korea's efforts to bring the North to its Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang next month are provoking a backlash among its own people, with accusations that Seoul risks turning the Games into a "Pyongyang Olympics".

Many are fuming over what they see as exploitation of the South's own athletes for political purposes, and accusing President Moon Jae-In's government of making too many concessions to please its hostile, unpredictable neighbour.