Tuesday 20 February 2018

In the world

(AFP )

Oxfam said Tuesday it was investigating 26 new cases of sexual misconduct which had been reported since a scandal broke earlier this month over its handling of a 2011 case in Haiti.

The British charity's chief executive Mark Goldring told a parliamentary committee in London that 16 of the cases related to its international operation.

"There are 26 cases that have come forward... They range in time frame from more recent events to long historic events where people did not report them at the time," Goldring said.

"We really want people to come forward," he added.

(AFP )

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday said Turkish forces would soon besiege the town of Afrin as a Turkish cross-border offensive targeting a Kurdish militia enters its second month.

On January 20, Ankara launched an air and ground operation supporting Syrian rebels against the People's Protection Units (YPG) in the Afrin region of northern Syria.

Turkey views the YPG as a Syrian offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been waging an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.

(AFP )

Germany's Social Democrats started a membership ballot Tuesday on whether to again govern under Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives after an opinion poll showed them trailing the far-right AfD for the first time.

The referendum for the 460,000 members of the crisis-hit SPD is the last hurdle for veteran leader Merkel as she seeks to launch a new government, five months after an inconclusive election.

(AFP )

A former Catalan lawmaker and major figure in the region's secession drive has fled to Switzerland ahead of a court hearing and may seek asylum there, the sixth separatist to leave Spain in months.

In an interview with Switzerland's Le Temps newspaper published Tuesday, Anna Gabriel, a top member of the far-left separatist CUP party, said she had decided to leave as she would not have "a fair trial at home".

She also compared the situation in Catalonia, whose separatist leaders are under investigation for their attempt to break from Spain, to Turkey's post-coup crackdown.

(AFP )

Residents of drought-stricken Cape Town received good news Tuesday when city officials said they now face losing piped water to their homes by July 9 -- a month later than last forecast.

But Capetonians are not yet out of the woods. If drastic consumption reductions are not achieved by so-called "Day Zero" -- the last day of normal water supply -- people will have to queue at 200 standpipes for daily rations of 25 litres (6.6 US gallons).

(AFP )

A cholera outbreak in Malawi described as "very difficult to contain" has claimed nine lives and affected a total of 541 people nationwide, health officials said on Tuesday.

The outbreak began in November near the landlocked southern African nation's northern border with Tanzania and has since spread to other regions of the country.

UNICEF's representative to Malawi Johannes Wedenig told local media that "as long as people in Malawi don't change the behaviour of using unsafe water, it'll be very difficult to contain".

(AFP )

Nearly half of the opposition supporters arrested during a wave of anti-government demonstrations in Togo will be pardoned, Ghanaian mediators have said as talks to end a six-month political crisis got under way in Lome.

Togo's President Faure Gnassingbe "has decided to give a presidential pardon to 45 of the 92 people detained ... following their participation in protests," said Ghanaian delegation spokesman Daniel Osei late on Monday.

"Togo's courts will look at the situations of the other detainees on a case-by-case basis," he added in a statement.

(AFP )

Seventeen Turkish nationals, including six children, have requested asylum in Greece after crossing over from Turkey, the Greek coastguard said Tuesday.

The group -- seven men, four women and six children -- on Monday reached the small island group of Oinousses, opposite the ports of Cesme and Izmir.

"They were picked up by a coastguard vessel and taken to the island of Chios for registration," a coastguard spokeswoman said.

Chios news portal politischios said the asylum seekers were civil servants and judicial staff. The authorities declined to give more details.

(AFP )

The deputy head of security at Kabul's Intercontinental Hotel says guards were ordered to wave through a car later revealed to be carrying militants and explosives ahead of a deadly assault one month ago.

His account reinforces earlier speculation from survivors that the terrifying hours-long assault at the government-owned hotel, which killed at least 25 people including 15 foreigners, had inside help.

It comes in the face of official silence over how the attack on the hilltop hotel unfolded on January 20.

(AFP )

The family of slain Cambodian political analyst Kem Ley has arrived in Australia after being granted refugee status there, an Australian lawmaker's office said, more than a year after fleeing home in the wake of his brazen murder.

Kem Ley, a popular analyst and critic who dabbled in grassroots political organising, was shot at point-blank range while having his morning coffee at a gas station cafe in Phnom Penh in July 2016.

(AFP )

Turkey will lay siege to Afrin in northern Syria, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday a month after Ankara launched an offensive against Kurdish militia in the region.

"In the coming days, swiftly, we will lay siege to the centre of the town of Afrin," Erdogan told parliament.

His remarks came as Turkey's operation "Olive Branch", a ground and air offensive against the People's Protection Units (YPG) militia which Ankara brands "terrorists", entered its second month.

(AFP )

A former Catalan lawmaker and major figure in the region's secession attempt has fled to Switzerland ahead of a court hearing in Madrid, comparing the situation in Catalonia to Turkey's post-coup crackdown.

In an interview with Switzerland's Le Temps daily published Tuesday, Anna Gabriel, a top member of the far-left, separatist CUP party, said she had decided to leave Spain as she would not have "a fair trial at home."

(AFP )

A Malaysian artist was jailed for a month Tuesday for publishing a caricature of scandal-plagued Prime Minister Najib Razak looking like a clown, the latest government critic to be imprisoned.

Fahmi Reza's picture of the premier wearing powder-white clown make-up, with evilly arched eyebrows and blood-red lips, went viral and the image was widely used in demonstrations against Najib.

(AFP )

Iranian rescue teams struggled to recover bodies on Tuesday from the wreckage of a plane that crashed in hazardous terrain near a mountain peak two days earlier with 66 people on board.

"Deep and dangerous crevices in the area of the crash have made it impossible for helicopters to land," Ghafoor Rastinrooz, director of the regional medical centre, told official news agency IRNA.

"The bodies must be transferred by hand to the foot of the mountain which will be time-consuming," he said.

(AFP )

Nepal's ruling party has merged with a former Maoist rebel group to form a super bloc that experts say will reshape politics after years of turbulence in the Himalayan nation.

Officials said Tuesday the new alliance, the Nepal Communist Party, was formally signed into agreement following late-night negotiations between the two sides Monday.

They forged a political alliance to trounce the incumbent party in last year's landmark general elections, but this formal merger creates a political behemoth unprecedented in Nepali politics.

(AFP )

Rohingya refugees living in no man's land refused Tuesday to return to Myanmar without guarantees of citizenship and security after Bangladesh and Myanmar officials met to discuss their repatriation.

The 6,000 Rohingya were among the first to flee Myanmar in the wake of a brutal military crackdown on the Muslim minority in late August. They have been living ever since in a makeshift camp in a strip of unclaimed land between the two countries.

(AFP )

The US and South Korea will go ahead with joint military drills after the Paralympics, both of them confirmed Tuesday, despite the exercises always infuriating Pyongyang and the Olympics having driven a rapprochement on the peninsula.

Washington previously agreed to a request from Seoul to delay the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises -- which usually begin in late February or early March -- until after the Pyeongchang Games in the South, to try to avoid stoking tensions.

(AFP )

A Japanese court on Tuesday ordered the operator of the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant to compensate relatives of a 102-year-old man who killed himself at the prospect of fleeing his home.

The Fukushima District Court ordered Tokyo Electric Co (TEPCO) to pay 15.2 million yen ($143,400) in damages to the family of Fumio Okubo, according to their attorney Yukio Yasuda.

(AFP )

Israeli police revealed Tuesday that two close associates of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were among the suspects in a new corruption probe, with five others central figures in the Bezeq telecommunications group.

The seven were arrested on Sunday, just days after police said there were grounds to indict Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of public trust, in the biggest challenge yet to the right-wing premier's long tenure in power.

(AFP )

Unrest has spread in Cameroon's English-speaking regions since October as a secessionist movement has pushed for independence.

Tensions can be traced back to events a century ago, when Britain and France occupied Cameroon, taking over Germany's major colony in West Africa.

- World War I split -

Cameroon was a Germany colony until 1916, when British and French troops forced the Germans out.

The two countries divided it into separate spheres of influence that were later formalised by the League of Nations, the forerunner to the UN.

(AFP )

The theft of a thumb of an ancient Terracotta Warrior statue on display in the US incited a wave of criticism on Chinese social media Tuesday, following China's calls to "severely punish" the thief.

Michael Rohana, 24, has been arrested over the theft during an after hours "ugly sweater party" just before Christmas at the Franklin Institute in Pennsylvania where 10 of the figures are on display.

According to an arrest affidavit filed by an FBI agent, Rohana snuck into the closed exhibit and snapped a selfie with the warrior, worth $4.5 million.

(AFP )

Japan's defence ministry demanded explanations Tuesday from the US military after a fighter jet experiencing an engine fire dropped two fuel tanks into a lake in the country's north.

The incident, which caused no injuries, is the latest in a string of accidents involving the US military that have prompted concern from Japanese officials and renewed criticism of the US military presence in the country.

(AFP )

Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas will urge world powers at the UN Security Council on Tuesday to stand up to the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and establish a revamped peace process.

President Donald Trump's decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem infuriated the Palestinians who declared that the United States could no longer play a role as lead mediator in the Middle East peace process.

(AFP )

Turkey's offensive against a Kurdish militia in northern Syria will enter a second month Tuesday having made little progress while straining relations with Washington and The European Union.

Ankara on January 20 launched a cross-border air and ground operation against the People's Protection Units (YPG) supporting Syrian rebels in the Afrin region.

Turkey views the YPG as a Syrian offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been waging an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.

(AFP )

The US Secret Service denied Monday reports that one of its agents and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly wrestled with Chinese security officials over the "nuclear football" during President Donald Trump's visit to Beijing in November.

Chinese security officials blocked the US military aide carrying the briefcase that carries the procedures and communications equipment that allow the US leader to launch nuclear missiles as the official entered the Great Hall, according to the Axios news website.

(AFP )

A wealthy Japanese man was Tuesday granted "sole parent" rights to 13 children he fathered through Thai surrogate mothers, in a court ruling that paves the way for him to take them in Japan.

Mitsutoki Shigeta, 28, became the centre of a "baby factory" scandal in 2014 after Thai police linked him via DNA to nine infants found under the care of 24-hour nannies in a plush Bangkok apartment.

(AFP )

A Bangkok court on Tuesday granted a Japanese man "sole parent" rights to 13 children he fathered through Thai surrogate mothers, a ruling that paves the way for him to take custody of the group.

Mitsutoki Shigeta caused a "baby factory" scandal in 2014 after Thai police said DNA samples linked him to nine infants found in a Bangkok apartment, plus at least four other babies born by surrogates.

The murky case threw the spotlight on Thailand's then unregulated rent-a-womb industry, and helped push authorities to bar foreigners from paying for Thai surrogates in 2015.

(AFP )

The heart-rending photo went round the world in 2015, showing an eight-year-old boy from Ivory Coast crammed into a suitcase that was found at a Spanish border crossing.

His father goes on trial Tuesday in Ceuta, a Spanish overseas territory in northern Morocco which migrants from Africa regularly try to reach by scaling high border fences, hiding behind car dashboards or in bus chassis.

Prosecutors are seeking a three-year prison term for Ali Ouattara for facilitating his son's illegal entry into Europe and endangering the child's life.

(AFP )

An Uzbek asylum seeker who killed five people last year in a Stockholm truck attack testified Tuesday that he wanted to pressure Sweden's government to end its support of a coalition fighting the Islamic State group.

On the first day of his trial last week, Rakhmat Akilov, 40, pleaded guilty to stealing a beer truck on April 7, 2017, and mowing down pedestrians on a busy shopping street, swerving wildly to hit as many people as possible.

(AFP )

One of Germany's top courts will decide Thursday whether some diesel vehicles can be banned from parts of cities like Stuttgart and Duesseldorf to reduce air pollution, a possible landmark judgement for the "car nation".

Eyes have turned to the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig after years of failure by federal, state and local governments to slash harmful emissions.

Fine particle pollution and nitrogen oxides (NOx) contribute to as many as 400,000 premature deaths from respiratory and cardiovascular disease per year in the European Union.

(AFP )

When Amir al-Awad fled Syria for Egypt, he intended to cross the Mediterranean for a European country.

But instead, the boyhood Syrian wrestling champion opted against the risky sea journey and found work at a restaurant in Alexandria, where he was introduced to the city's Syrian community.

Together they established the Syrian Sports Academy, and he replaced his dream of an Olympic medal with a goal to "create champions from the young refugees" from his country, says Awad.

(AFP )

The counter-terrorism plot seems more far fetched than many action thrillers, yet "7 Days in Entebbe", which premiered at the Berlin film festival Monday, depicts a real-life airline hijack drama.

The movie recounts what is often called the most audacious hostage rescue mission ever staged, Israel's 1976 "Operation Thunderbolt" in Uganda, but aims to be more than a tale of military heroism.

(AFP )

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro took to the US president's favorite medium, Twitter, on Monday to ask him to start a dialogue between the two countries.

"@RealDonaldTrump campaigned pledging to promote non-interference in the domestic affairs of other countries. It's time to keep your pledge," Maduro wrote, encouraging Trump to hold a meeting in Washington or Caracas.

(AFP )

Iraq must stabilise the northern region of Sinjar to help the Yazidi minority brutalised at the hands of the Islamic State group return home, the International Crisis Group said Tuesday.

A report by the conflict analysts said Baghdad must set up a local administration and mediate between factions who hold sway over Sinjar to pave the way for the return of the Yazidis.

The Kurdish-speaking Yazidis follow their own non-Muslim faith that earned them the hatred of the Sunni Muslim extremists of IS, who seized Sinjar in 2014 and unleashed a brutal campaign against the minority.

(AFP )

Archaeologists who have been exploring the world's largest underwater cave -- recently discovered in Mexico -- presented their findings Monday, including fossils of giant sloths and an elaborate shrine to the Mayan god of commerce.

Researchers discovered last month that two large networks of underwater caves in Mexico's Yucatan peninsula, the Sac Actun and Dos Ojos networks, are in fact connected, forming the largest such structure on Earth.