Saturday 23 September 2017

In the world

(AFP )

A shallow 3.5-magnitude earthquake hit North Korea near the country's nuclear test site Saturday, US seismologists said, in what China's seismic service said was a "suspected explosion", but Seoul deemed a "natural earthquake".

The earthquake came after days of increasingly bellicose rhetoric between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un's regime over Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions raised international alarm.

(AFP )

Iran said on Saturday that it had successfully tested a new medium-range missile in defiance of warnings from Washington that such activities were grounds for abandoning their landmark nuclear deal.

State television carried footage of the launch of the Khoramshahr missile, which was first displayed at a high-profile military parade in Tehran on Friday.

It also carried in-flight video from the nose cone of the missile, which has a range of 2,000 kilometres (1,250 miles) and can carry multiple warheads.

(AFP )

New Zealand's conservative Prime Minister Bill English had raced to a strong lead midway through election counting Saturday, although the figures still gave opposition leader Jacinda Ardern a realistic prospect of forming government.

Central to the vote count was the performance of maverick Winston Peters' New Zealand First (NZF) which loomed as the likely kingmaker.

With 50 percent of the vote counted, support for English's National Party was 46.7 percent, while Ardern's centre-left Labour was on 35.5, with NZF at 7.3 and the Greens at 5.9.

(AFP )

The influx of Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh has ground to a virtual halt, officials said Saturday, almost a month after the eruption of violence in Myanmar which has seen nearly 430,000 flee in four weeks.

The Rohingya Muslims have jammed camps around the Bangladesh border city of Cox's Bazar, stretching government and UN agencies to the limit.

(AFP )

Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani on Saturday delayed a scheduled news conference on a controversial independence referendum he has called for next week as international pressure mounts for a postponement.

There has been uncertainty about whether the vote will go ahead on Monday as Iraq's key allies the United States and Iran, as well as powerful neighbour Turkey, have stepped up their opposition.

"The news conference will take place on Sunday and the time and venue will be announced later," Barzani's office said without elaborating.

(AFP )

Myanmar's army chief on Saturday blamed Rohinyga militants for an explosion outside a mosque in Rakhine state, as a rights group accused the military of starting fires in the region to prevent refugees from returning.

The unrest comes days after Myanmar's civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi declared troops had ceased "clearance operations" in the border area that have forced more than 430,000 Rohingya refugees to flee for Bangladesh in under a month.

(AFP )

Voting has closed in New Zealand's general election Saturday where pre-election polls indicated it was too close to call between the centre-right National Party of Prime Minister Bill English and the centre-left Labour Party of Jacinda Ardern.

Under strict election day laws New Zealand does not allow exit polls during voting, which opened at 9am (2100 GMT Friday) and closed at 7pm (0700 GMT).

However, a firm indication of the outcome is expected within about three-and-a-half hours after the end of voting.

(AFP )

Syria's war has taken a new turn with the expected recapture of Raqa from the Islamic State, but world leaders gathered at the United Nations this week seem to be paying little attention.

Once the focal point of a myriad of high-powered meetings during the UN General Assembly, Syria this year dropped off the diplomatic agenda, dwarfed by the crises over North Korea and the Iran nuclear deal.

(AFP )

Iran said on Saturday that it had successfully tested a new medium-range missile in defiance of warnings from Washington that it was ready to ditch a landmark nuclear deal over the issue.

State television carried footage of the launch of the Khoramshahr missile, which was first displayed at a high-profile military parade in Tehran on Friday.

It also carried in-flight video from the nose cone.

The broadcaster gave no date for the test although officials had said on Friday that it would be tested "soon".

(AFP )

Sergio Lopez spends his days inspecting buildings at risk of collapse in Mexico City following Tuesday's quake. And he still can't believe that a school where 19 children and six adults died collapsed like a house of cards.

"It just should have stood up. It shouldn't have come down," he says angrily.

Lopez is a structural engineer and he knows the ins and outs of earthquake-resistant construction code improvements as well as anyone.

Those improvements were developed after a 1985 earthquake that killed more than 10,000 people in the capital.

(AFP )

Coach Michael Cheika says he is working on the mental obstacles as the Wallabies chase a rare win over the Springboks on South Africa's Highveld in the Rugby Championship.

The Wallabies left for the republic on Saturday with Cheika aiming to break Australia's struggles against the Springboks in Tests at high altitude.

The Wallabies tackle the Springboks at Bloemfontein on September 30 at the venue where they last won at high altitude seven years ago.

(AFP )

North Korea has become "more opaque" to the outside world following a decision by YouTube to silence an official propaganda channel, a monitoring group has warned, as new sanctions over Pyongyang's nuclear programme begin to bite.

Observers have long relied on state-run news for glimpses into Pyongyang's shadowy regime and weapons programme, but one such source -- the Uriminzokkiri channel -- went dark earlier this month.

(AFP )

Thailand's deputy junta leader has accused three police officers of helping sneak ex-prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra out of the country last month, a vanishing act that stunned the kingdom.

Yingluck, whose government was toppled by the military in 2014, has not been seen since August 25, when she failed to turn up for a court verdict in her criminal negligence trial.

Thailand's junta says it was unaware she was planning to escape -- something many Thais have found difficult to believe given the round-the-clock surveillance Yingluck frequently complained of.

(AFP )

Policeman Ahmad regrets the day he detained a motorist at a checkpoint for possession of a gun without a licence, bringing the weight of Iraqi tribal customs down on his head.

Faced with threats and the reality that state law in Iraq cannot stand muster with tribes and their customs, the police captain gathered his family and fled Baghdad to take refuge in the south of the country.

He had been posted at a checkpoint in an eastern district of the capital when he discovered the gun in a car.

(AFP )

Universities have become the latest battleground over freedoms in Hong Kong as a ban on signs on campuses advocating independence from China sparks fresh fears that the city's liberties are under threat.

As term kicked off earlier this month, posters and banners calling for semi-autonomous Hong Kong to split from the mainland were plastered on walls and bulletin boards after a tense summer that saw pro-democracy lawmakers ousted and leading activists jailed.

(AFP )

Tourism to Mexico City was dealt a harsh blow by this week's deadly quake, scaring off visitors and resulting in thousands of hotel cancellations in a central zone that is normally the buzzing, trendy heart of the city.

But by Friday, three days after the 7.1-magnitude earthquake levelled dozens of buildings, local hipsters were starting to return to the Condesa/Roma area, albeit in muted fashion out of respect for the deaths and damage evident in every second street.

(AFP )

Tens of thousands of French leftists are expected to answer a call by firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon to throng the streets of Paris on Saturday in protest over President Emmanuel Macron's sweeping reforms of the labour code.

The third in a series of nationwide protests comes a day after Macron signed his signature reforms into law using a fast-tracked procedure that avoided a lengthy parliamentary debate.

(AFP )

Italy's populist 5-Star Movement (M5S) announces its candidate for prime minister Saturday as it braces to attempt a revolutionary shift from protest to ruling party.

Political darling Luigi di Maio, 31, is the reassuring face of Italy's anti-establishment insurgency and is widely seen as having the vote in the bag.

The clean-shaven lawmaker has been openly groomed to run for the top job in the spring 2018 general election as an everyman able to win over average voters and financial markets alike.

(AFP )

Forty years ago next month, German anti-terror commandos stormed a Lufthansa jet in Somalia, shot its Palestinian hijackers and freed 90 hostages, a climax in a bloody era of far-left militancy.

The 1977 Mogadishu raid became a symbol of the "German Autumn" when the state was at war with the "urban guerrillas" of the Red Army Faction (RAF), also known as the Baader-Meinhof gang, and their international allies.

(AFP )

Just four metro stops separate Gracia from Nou Barris, two districts in Barcelona that are nevertheless sharply divided over whether they want to stay in Spain or leave, as a banned independence referendum looms in Catalonia.

The issue has the entire northeastern region split roughly down the middle, with the most recent poll commissioned by the regional government in July finding that 49.4 percent of Catalans were against independence while 41.1 percent were in favour.

(AFP )

After decades of railing against the French establishment, hard-left firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon suddenly finds himself the closest thing the country has to a leader of the opposition.

Grey-haired, bespectacled and often seen clad in his trademark Chairman Mao-style jacket, the Communist-backed 66-year-old cuts an unassuming figure.

But his curmudgeonly image belies a charisma that helped him win a surge in support in this year's presidential election, finishing fourth in the vote that brought Emmanuel Macron to power.

(AFP )

Chancellor Angela Merkel and her rival Martin Schulz rallied voters on the eve of Sunday's vote, urging Germans to shun the first hard-right party expected to enter parliament in force since the end of World War II.

Merkel, the clear frontrunner after 12 years in power with a double-digit lead, also told her conservative base not to get complacent and to cast their ballots, rousing them with a folksy call to "bring home the bacon".

(AFP )

Thousands of Brazilians demonstrated for gay rights Friday after an uproar over a judge's ruling that psychologists can administer so-called "cures" for homosexuality.

About 5,000 activists marched in central Sao Paulo, Brazil's biggest city and site of the world's largest annual gay pride parade. More than 1,000 turned out in Rio de Janeiro, carrying a huge rainbow-colored flag.

Violence against homosexuals and transgender people is common in Brazil. The country is the world's most deadly for transgender people, according to Transgender Europe.

(AFP )

Pop star Justin Bieber, known more for headline-grabbing scandals than activism, on Friday took an unexpected political turn as he hailed the Black Lives Matter movement.

The 23-year-old, who abruptly cut short a tour in July, took to Instagram to show support for the movement that has arisen in response to police killings of African Americans.

"I am a white Canadian and I will never know what it feels like to be an African American but what I do know is I am willing to stand up and use my voice to shine light on racism," he wrote.

(AFP )

A veteran Syrian opposition activist and her journalist daughter were found stabbed to death at their apartment in Istanbul, Turkish media reported Friday, in a crime supporters claimed was an "assassination" to avenge their work.

Friends raised the alarm after being unable to reach Aroubeh Barakat and her daughter Halla Barakat by telephone for two days, the Dogan and Anadolu news agencies said.

Turkish police then arrived at their apartment in the Uskudar district on the Asian side of Istanbul and found both women dead.

(AFP )

The remains of a feared ex-guerrilla chief killed in a bombing raid seven years ago were laid to rest in Colombia Friday, with tributes led by the new Common Alternative Revolutionary Force (FARC) political party.

Jorge "Mono Jojoy" Briceno -- real name Victor Julio Suarez Rojas -- died in an attack ordered by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in 2010 against the rebel army then also known as the FARC.

(AFP )

Erika Albarran, a 33-year-old street vendor, was feeding her baby when the 7.1-magnitude quake struck Mexico City.

Both survived, but her home was damaged and now she's in a shelter, with no money, not knowing how to face the future.

Like thousands living in the capital, Albarran saw her daily life upended in the long seconds of the earthquake, which killed more than 270 people.

It is estimated that 2,000 homes suffered structural damage, with many too unsafe to return to. Their occupants are homeless.

(AFP )

Prince Harry attended a training session Friday for athletes who will compete in the upcoming Invictus Games for soldiers and veterans wounded or disabled in battle.

The British royal is scheduled to inaugurate the third Invictus Games at a ceremony late Saturday, which US First Lady Melania Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are expected to attend.

Dressed in a black polo shirt and jeans, Canadian television showed the prince grinning in the bleachers poolside, lending encouragement to the swimmers and later chatting with British athletes.

(AFP )

The calamity of Hurricane Maria could not have come at a worse time for Puerto Rico.

The US island territory buckled under the weight of $70 billion in debt and filed for bankruptcy protection in May.

Now, with its power grid wiped out and many roads, homes and buildings water-logged ruins, the Caribbean vacation destination faces months of slow, painful reconstruction.

(AFP )

Donatella Versace authored the defining moment of Milan fashion week on Friday with a blockbuster show honouring her late brother Gianni which closed with a surprise supermodel reunion that brought the cheering crowd to its feet.

Security guards had to brush back the audience when it rushed the catwalk once a white curtain at the head of the room peeled back at the show's close to reveal the guests of honour.

(AFP )

French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday told Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipila of his "total inflexibility" to plans by telecoms giant Nokia to cut nearly 600 jobs in France.

The Finnish group said this month it planned to reduce its headcount in France by 597, a little over 10 percent of its total workforce in the country.

"I told the prime minister of my concerns over this issue and my total inflexibility," Macron told reporters after meeting with Sipila.

(AFP )

More countries could be hit with tough travel restrictions to the United States after the ban on people from six mainly Muslim countries expires from Sunday, Trump administration officials hinted Friday.

White House and Homeland Security officials said that after a 50-day review, they had identified a number of countries that could not or were not willing to meet US standards for identifying potential terror threats.

(AFP )

Bangladesh authorities Friday released two Myanmar photographers covering the Rohingya crisis for a German magazine after they were granted bail by a court, police and a lawyer said.

Minzayar Oo and Hkun Lat were detained early this month in the border district of Cox's Bazar, where more than 420,000 Rohingya Muslims have sought refuge from violence in Myanmar's Rakhine state since August 25.

Police have said they were arrested on suspicion of espionage -- a charge rejected by the pair's lawyers.

(AFP )

Brazilian soldiers deployed by armored vehicle, truck and helicopter Friday to reinforce police after heavily armed drug traffickers rampaged through the country's biggest favela, spraying bullets and terrifying locals.

Intense exchanges of gunfire between police and criminals began early morning inside the Rocinha favela, where approximately 70,000 people live in a teeming cluster of small houses on hillsides overlooking wealthy western Rio.

(AFP )

Former Spanish king Juan Carlos at 79 has been named world sailing champion along with his crew during the classic six competition in Vancouver that also included American Dennis Conner.

Juan Carlos, who abdicated in 2014 to make room for his son Felipe VI, won late Thursday in the Six Meter Class World Championship at the end of the regattas in the Pacific Ocean.

Juan Carlos and his crew aboard the all-new Bribon Gallant outpaced American Peter Hofmannn and Brazil's Lars Grael, according to the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club.