Tuesday 24 October 2017

In the world

(AFP )

Residents of a southern Philippine city where Islamic State supporters waged a brutal five-month battle began returning home on Tuesday, but gunfire greeted them as soldiers scoured devastated neighbourhoods for remaining militants.

Defence chiefs announced on Monday that the fighting, which claimed more than 1,100 lives and left the eastern half of Marawi in ruins, had ended following a final clash in a mosque in which dozens of gunmen were killed.

(AFP )

The eight-month-old Rohingya boy was close to death when he arrived at the field hospital in a Bangladesh refugee camp, his tiny lungs racked by pneumonia as he struggled to draw breath.

But he made it -- saved by doctors at a new Red Cross field hospital in Cox's Bazar, the largest clinic of its kind in the overcrowded camps stretching along the border with Myanmar.

"Had he come even an hour later, he would have no chance to survive," Peter Meyer, team leader at the 60-bed hospital the size of two football fields, told AFP.

(AFP )

Napoleon Bonaparte and Auguste Rodin are both household names in their own right. But a bust of the French emperor created by the master sculptor faded into oblivion in an American town, only to be discovered by chance.

The white marble statue was certainly visible in the meeting room of the borough hall of Madison -- a municipality of 16,000 people in New Jersey.

In fact for some 80 years, the bust was positioned on a pedestal, carelessly leaned on during meetings.

(AFP )

Two women on trial for murdering the North Korean leader's half-brother have visited the Malaysian airport where they allegedly poisoned him, escorted by huge numbers of heavily armed police on Tuesday.

Indonesian Siti Aisyah and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, wearing bulletproof vests, were brought to Kuala Lumpur International Airport's budget terminal along with the judge in the case, defence lawyers and prosecutors.

About 200 police, many armed with rifles and wearing masks, fanned out as the entourage arrived at the terminal, where a huge pack of journalists was waiting.

(AFP )

Maria Ryabtseva was just a baby when the 1917 October Revolution broke out. Since then the former nurse has lived through extraordinary events from the USSR's birth and death to the dominance of President Vladimir Putin.

Born on June 14, 1917, in northern Moscow, Ryabtseva witnessed the Civil War between the Bolsheviks and the "Whites" who opposed the revolution, and World War II, during which two of her four children died.

(AFP )

Germany's newest parliamentary bloc comes under the banner of the far-right AfD, which has smashed taboos by staking a claim to national identity and challenging the culture of atonement over World War II and the Holocaust.

The AfD (Alternative for Germany) party is the first hard-right nationalist party to enter the Bundestag in large numbers in the post-World War II era, an epochal event that stunned most Germans.

Since the party's breakthrough in the September general election, the biographies of the often little-known newcomers have been closely scrutinised.

(AFP )

Faced with daily squabbling by politicians over Catalonia's independence drive, Spanish humorists have found ways to make light of a dire situation and laugh away the tension.

Over the past month, social media networks have been flooded with memes poking fun at the main players in Spain's biggest political crisis since returning to democracy following the death of dictator General Francisco Franco in 1975.

(AFP )

Dozens of lawmakers from the far-right AfD party make their debut on Tuesday at the first sitting of Germany's newly-elected parliament, an unprecedented showing for a nationalist force since World War II.

A record 709 MPs will gather for the session, with all eyes on the 92 members from Alternative for Germany (AfD), which took 12.6 percent of the vote in September's watershed elections and became the country's third biggest party.

(AFP )

French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to Paris on Tuesday under pressure from human rights groups to end what they call France's "disgraceful policies of indulgence" towards him.

Sisi, a former general who ousted the elected Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013, will meet the French defence and foreign ministers as well as business groups during his three-day trip that started on Monday.

(AFP )

The United States is considering a stepped-up military presence in Africa to pursue Islamic State group jihadists looking for new havens after the fall of their "caliphate," American officials say.

After IS lost its de facto capital Raqa in Syria this month, and its Iraqi stronghold of Mosul earlier, the group "has aspirations to establish a larger presence" in Africa, the US military's top officer General Joseph Dunford said on Monday.

(AFP )

Mexican cartels are by far the biggest source of illegal drugs flooding the US market, while Colombian criminal gangs are strengthening their hand, the US Drug Enforcement Agency said Monday.

In its annual report on drug trafficking, the DEA also found that heroin overdose deaths "continue to rise" from already high levels, while cocaine use and availability was rebounding.

"The increased mixing of heroin with analogues of the highly-potent synthetic opioid fentanyl and other synthetic opioids has exacerbated this situation," it said.

(AFP )

Jailed democracy activists Joshua Wong and Nathan Law were released on bail Tuesday pending an appeal against convictions for their role in the 2014 Umbrella Movement protests.

The sentences handed down by the city's Court of Appeal in August came as fears mount that Beijing is tightening its grip on the semi-autonomous city and that the rule of law is being compromised.

Wong, 21, who became the face of the mass pro-democracy protests while still a teenager, was jailed for six months while Law, 24, was imprisoned for eight months.

(AFP )

More than one in five women and a sixth of men in Europe over the age of 65 will be afflicted by serious physical disabilities before mid-century, according to a study published Tuesday.

That is only somewhat higher than the proportion today, but ageing populations and increasing longevity across Europe mean that the number of older people -- with and without disability -- is set to increase sharply, researchers reported in the medical journal BMJ Open.

(AFP )

A sharp increase in forest fires stoked record losses in global forest cover equivalent to the area of New Zealand in 2016, a Global Forest Watch report said Monday.

The alarming pace of destruction -- 51 percent higher than the prior year with a loss of 73.4 million acres (29.7 million hectares), according to data from the University of Maryland -- was partially due to climate change that has increased the risks and intensity of wildfires by triggering temperature rise and drought in some places, the monitor said.

(AFP )

A group of men seen swimming inside a baited crocodile trap in Australia near where a woman was recently eaten were blasted as "idiots of the century" Tuesday.

Photos posted on Facebook showed the four men clambering on the floating trap set near a marina at Port Douglas in northern Queensland state and even posing inside it.

It is not far from where a 4.3-metre (14-foot) croc killed dementia sufferer Anne Cameron.

(AFP )

EU ministers on Monday struck a compromise after marathon talks about low-cost labour from eastern and central Europe, a decision affecting workers posted temporarily to more affluent bloc members.

Since 2004, when several eastern and central countries joined the EU, the issue has riled richer nations as the workers' taxes and social charges are paid into their home countries, making for cheaper employment.

(AFP )

US President Donald Trump is "standing on the wrong side of history" in withdrawing from the Paris climate accord, former UN chief Ban Ki-moon told AFP in London on Monday.

"I am deeply concerned about what President Trump of (the) United States has declared that the US is withdrawing from this Paris agreement.

"I have been speaking out that his vision is politically short-sighted, and economically irresponsible and scientifically wrong. So he is standing on the wrong side of history," Ban said on the sidelines of a London peace walk.

(AFP )

The pregnant widow of an American soldier killed in an ambush in Niger said Monday that Donald Trump struggled to remember his name during a condolence call, in an account the president immediately disputed.

Trump's call to Myeshia Johnson, whose husband Sergeant La David Johnson was one of four US soldiers killed in the October 4 jihadist attack, has generated a storm of controversy and comes as questions swirl over how the attack happened.

(AFP )

Chinese leader Xi Jinping was elevated to the pantheon of the country's greatest leaders Tuesday as his name was enshrined in the Communist Party constitution alongside Chairman Mao.

The inclusion of Xi's eponymous guiding philosophy for the nation cements his place as the most powerful Chinese leader in decades and suggests he could remain its paramount leader throughout his lifetime.

(AFP )

Donald Trump's detractors may label him one of the world's most powerful bullies, but that did not discourage America's first lady from championing the fight against bullying at a Detroit area school on Monday.

Melania Trump has publicly embraced the anti-bullying cause at the risk of drawing unfavorable parallels with a president who routinely resorts to brutal personal attacks and name-calling both on and off social media.

(AFP )

The United Nations Security Council will vote Tuesday on whether to extend an international investigation of chemical weapons attacks in Syria -- a measure that could be vetoed by Russia.

The United States requested a vote on a draft resolution it presented last week that would allow the joint UN-Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) panel to continue for another year its work of identifying who is behind toxic gas attacks in Syria's six-year war.

(AFP )

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi met top US diplomat Rex Tillerson in Baghdad on Monday, challenging the secretary of state over his comments on Iranian militias in Iraq.

Tillerson, in Riyadh on Sunday, had called on Iranian militias in Iraq to "go home" as the fight against the Islamic State group was ending.

His comments prompted a sharp response from Baghdad.

"The fighters of the Hashed al-Shaabi are Iraqis who have fought terrorism, defended their country and made sacrifices to defeat (IS)," Abadi said, according to a statement from his office.

(AFP )

EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker and his senior aides on Monday vehemently denied a German newspaper report saying British Prime Minister Theresa May pleaded with him for help in stalled Brexit negotiations at a dinner in Brussels last week.

German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) said May "begged" Juncker for assistance, warning Europeans of the immense political risk she had taken domestically in backing away from a hard Brexit and asking for a two-year transition period.

(AFP )

Elephant poaching in Africa declined for a fifth straight year in 2016 but seizures of illegal ivory hit records highs, the CITES monitor said Tuesday, calling it a "conflicting phenomena".

In its latest report, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species also noted that despite the overall fall in poaching, Africa's elephant population has continued to drop "due to continued illegal killing, land transformation and rapid human expansion."

Global illegal ivory trade has remained relatively stable for six years, CITES reported.

(AFP )

US soldiers will continue assisting local forces in Niger despite the deaths of four American soldiers in an ambush, the top uniformed American military officer said Monday.

"Our intent is to continue operations there," Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford told reporters as he provided new details on the October 4 attack by Islamic State-linked fighters.

(AFP )

US Vice President Mike Pence described the 1983 bombing of a Marine Corps barracks in Beirut as the opening shots of the "war of terror" Monday, as he issued fresh warnings to Iran and Hezbollah.

Speaking during a ceremony at another building used to house Marines in Washington, Pence berated Tehran and framed the attack that killed 241 Americans as part of a series of outrages that included 9/11.

"Thirty-four years ago today, America was thrust into war with an enemy unlike any we had ever faced," said Pence -- who is the father and brother of US Marines.

(AFP )

Germany on Monday signed a deal to sell three submarines to the Israeli navy in an agreement of "strategic importance" to the Jewish state, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu "welcomed the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Germany and the state of Israel to acquire the submarines," his office said in a Hebrew-language statement.

(AFP )

Populist billionaire Andrej Babis held difficult coalition talks on Monday despite his weekend election win, as potential partners appeared loath to form a government with the "Czech Trump".

Campaigning on an anti-corruption, anti-euro and anti-migrant ticket, Babis's ANO (Yes) movement won 78 of the 200 seats in parliament.

But none of the record nine parties that made it into parliament in the fragmented vote was willing to cooperate with ANO, which currently forms outgoing coalition government led by the Social Democrats.

(AFP )

Anti-Kremlin activist William Browder said Monday he had been blocked from flying to the United States after Russia placed him on an Interpol wanted list.

Browder, a Briton based in London, said the move was in retaliation for his support of Canada's passage last week of its "Sergei Magnitsky Law," which targets Russian officials for human rights violations and is named for a former employee of Browder who died in a Russian prison after exposing massive corruption.

"Putin adds me to Interpol wanted list in retaliation for passage of Canadian Magnitsky Act," he tweeted.

(AFP )

Nicaragua signed the Paris climate agreement Monday, leaving the United States and Syria as the only two holdouts on the global climate pact.

The government of President Daniel Ortega said the global 2015 pact represented "the only international instrument that offers the conditions to face global warming and its effects," according to a statement read out by Vice President Rosario Murillo.

(AFP )

French backers of Catalonia's possible secession from Spain plan to "offer hospitality to president Carles Puidgemont to lead a government-in-exile in Perpignan," a southern French city with deep Catalan roots, a statement said Monday.

Catalan separatists have threatened "mass civil disobedience" if Madrid carries out threats to depose their leaders, including Puidgemont, as tensions rise over a bid to sever the region from Spain.

(AFP )

France has issued an arrest warrant for a Moroccan man being held in Germany who is suspected of helping plan a 2015 attack on a Paris-bound train, a judicial source said Monday.

Redouane Sebbar, 25, is suspected of having a hand in the August 2015 attack by fellow Moroccan Ayoub El Khazzani on a high-speed Thalys train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris.

Khazzani, a member of the Islamic State group returning from Syria, shot and seriously injured a passenger just after the train had entered France.

(AFP )

President Mauricio Macri's center-right coalition's victory in mid-term elections has paved the way for a tilt at a second term in Argentina's presidential elections in 2019, analysts said Monday.

All the more so as the vote delivered a setback for his main rival Cristina Kirchner, beaten into second place in a Senate race in Buenos Aires province, a key battleground representing 40 percent of the national electorate.

"This election allows the government to consolidate," said analyst Gabriel Puricelli.

(AFP )

Turkey's long-serving mayor Melih Gokcek announced on Monday he will step down, after coming under pressure from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who is seeking to refresh the ruling party ahead of elections next year.

Gokcek, 68, who has been the mayor of the capital Ankara since 1994, had been one of the three greater city chiefs resisting pressure from Erdogan to quit.

(AFP )

The European Union said Monday it has given a "yellow card" to Vietnam, warning the Pacific country it could ban seafood exports unless Hanoi did more to tackle illegal fishing.

The European Commission, the executive of the 28-nation EU, said Vietnam should fix the problem "within a reasonable timeframe" but did not set a deadline.

"We cannot ignore the impact that illegal activities conducted by Vietnamese vessels are having on marine ecosystems in the Pacific," European fisheries commissioner, Karmenu Vella, said in a statement.