Tuesday 22 August 2017

In the world

(AFP )

With hair newly shaven in accordance with Hong Kong prison rules, jailed pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong was in court again Tuesday on more protest-related charges.

Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow were sent to prison last Thursday for their leading role in the initial protest that sparked the months-long Umbrella Movement of 2014 -- demonstrations and street blockades calling for democratic reforms.

(AFP )

A magnitude-4.0 earthquake struck the Italian holiday island of Ischia, causing destruction that left two people dead at peak tourist season, authorities said, as rescue workers struggled early Tuesday to free two children from the rubble.

A woman was killed in Casamicciola, in the north of the small tourist island, hit by debris that fell from a church, with the body of another spotted in the rubble of a collapsed house, local media reported.

(AFP )

The Taliban warned that Afghanistan would become "a graveyard" for the United States Tuesday after President Donald Trump cleared the way for thousands more American troops to be sent to the war-torn country.

"If America doesn't withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, soon Afghanistan will become another graveyard for this superpower in the 21st century," Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban in Afghanistan, said in a statement.

He added that America should think of an exit strategy "instead of continuing the war".

(AFP )

As night falls on a square in the village of Matai'an, young women cast critical eyes over a dancing circle of men in embroidered skirts and feathered head dresses as part of an ancient match-making ritual.

Known as "Lovers' Night", it is the grand finale of the annual harvest festival in the settlement which belongs to the Amis tribe, the largest of the 16 recognised indigenous groups in Taiwan.

Near the island's rugged east coast, the village is a collection of basic, low-lying houses along meandering streets, located in a valley between two mountain ranges.

(AFP )

A prominent Chinese human rights lawyer whose disappearance had raised international concern late last year appeared in court on Tuesday and confessed to charges of "inciting subversion of state power".

Jiang Tianyong, 46, sat in court in the southern city of Changsha as he made his confession in what rights group Amnesty International called a "sham trial".

Jiang had taken on many high-profile cases, including those of Falun Gong practitioners, Tibetan protesters and victims of the 2008 contaminated milk powder scandal before being disbarred in 2009.

(AFP )

Salsa and paragliding may not seem unusual to many visitors to the Colombian city of Cali. But exotic dances and extreme sports are brand new thrills to blind tourists from around the world.

Nearly 70 blind or partially-sighted visitors from Latin America and Europe came to the southwestern city last week in one of its first "blind tourism" expeditions.

They tried salsa dancing while riding around town on a colorful local bus, clay modeling, rock climbing and even paragliding.

(AFP )

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Tuesday called for respectful debate on an upcoming same-sex marriage vote, saying he "deplores" the homophobic slurs aired by anonymous opponents of the reform.

But Turnbull also warned cruel comments were often part of democratic discussion and could not be curtailed without impinging on free speech.

"I deplore disrespectful, abusive language whether it is directed at young gay people or people of other religions or other races," Turnbull told Sydney commercial radio station 2DAY FM.

(AFP )

It's a world apart from the polished atmosphere of traditional classical music concerts.

Way up near the roof of London's Royal Albert Hall, spectators at the summer-time Proms soak in the music without worrying about the conventions.

"If you're sitting in a seat, you have to sit with your back straight all the time and you can get a bit uncomfortable," said Lisa Beecham, a 38-year-old teacher from London.

"But up here you can lie down, you can walk around, you can move position."

(AFP )

From his office in the shadowy "House of Leaves", Nesti Vako would listen to the private conversations of his fellow Albanians, spying for the state during the country's communist era.

"I had a table, a strong coffee and some equipment," the 74 year-old said, as he escorted AFP around the feared former secret service headquarters in Tirana, which opened in May as a museum.

(AFP )

A 4.0 magnitude earthquake struck the Italian holiday island of Ischia late Monday, causing destruction that left one person dead and one missing at peak tourist season, authorities said.

A woman was killed in Casamicciola, in the north of the small tourist island, hit by debris that fell from a church, with around 25 people injured in the quake, for the most part lightly.

(AFP )

Donations to the Anti-Defamation League, one of the oldest anti-discrimination, anti-Semitic organizations in the United States, have spiked sharply since the violence in Charlottesville, the group said Monday.

ADL spokeswoman Betsaida Alcantara said donations like the one from James Murdoch -- head of Fox News, who last week announced a million-dollar donation -- as well as those from corporations like Apple, Uber and MGM Resorts yielded a rise of "1,000%" last week, compared to the weekly average donations since the beginning of the year.

(AFP )

A 3.6 magnitude earthquake struck the Italian holiday island of Ischia on Monday, prompting destruction that left at least one dead and seven missing at peak tourist season.

A woman was killed in Casamicciola, which is in the island's north, by debris that fell from a church, Italian media reported. Seven people were also missing after a building collapsed and 25 were slightly injured.

The tremor hit at 8:57 pm (1957 GMT) and came just days ahead of the first anniversary of the 6.0 magnitude quake that killed nearly 300 people in and around Amatrice central Italy.

(AFP )

Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel said Monday his US tour with Venezuela's government-backed National Youth Orchestra has been canceled.

The Los Angeles Philharmonic director, who hails from Venezuela, said the decision, which followed a public rebuke from socialist President Nicolas Maduro, was "heartbreaking."

"My dream to play with these wonderful young musicians cannot come true -- this time," Dudamel, who also directs the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, said on Twitter.

(AFP )

The alleged Barcelona attacker who was killed Monday grew up in a small Catalan town where he seemed "nicely integrated" like his younger brother who also died as part of the same terror cell, residents said.

Younes Abouyaaqoub, a 22-year-old Moroccan, was shot by police not far from Barcelona in northeastern Spain after a four-day manhunt for the man who allegedly drove a van through crowds in the popular Mediterranean city, killing 13.

He didn't stop there, fleeing his vehicle on foot after Thursday's attack, hijacking a car and stabbing its driver to make his getaway.

(AFP )

Chile's Constitutional Court on Monday approved a bill to decriminalize abortion in certain cases, a move decried by conservative opponents but hailed by Socialist President Michelle Bachelet as a victory for women's rights.

The bill will allow abortion in cases of rape, threat to the mother's life or deadly birth defects.

Judges voted by six to four to dismiss challenges brought by conservative parties opposed to the reform, the court's secretary-general Rodrigo Pica told a news conference.

(AFP )

Colombia offered asylum and government protection Monday to Venezuela's sacked chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega, who fled her country after defying President Nicolas Maduro over a deadly political crisis.

The move by Colombia's Juan Manuel Santos risked raising tensions with Maduro, under pressure from regional and international powers who accuse him of repressing his opponents.

A former loyalist of the socialist leadership, the 59-year-old Ortega had broken ranks with Maduro to become his most high-ranking domestic critic.

(AFP )

Chile's Constitutional Court Monday approved a measure to ease the country's strict abortion ban by decriminalizing the procedure in certain cases.

The bill will allow abortion in cases of rape, threat to the mother's life or deadly birth defects.

Judges voted by six to four to dismiss challenges brought by conservative parties opposed to the reform, the court's secretary-general Rodrigo Pica told a news conference.

The bill can now be signed into law by socialist President Michelle Bachelet, who launched the reform in 2015.

(AFP )

Croatian firefighters and armed forces were fighting dozens of wildfires on Monday along the Adriatic coastline and on the popular tourist islands of Hvar and Brac, officials said.

The situation was most severe in the mountains around the mainland city of Zadar, where 32 fires have broken out since late Sunday, according to Slavko Tucakovic, chief commander of Croatia's firefighters.

(AFP )

Court documents on Monday identified the suspect in a stabbing spree in a Finnish city last week as 18-year-old Abderrahman Mechkah, with the country's intelligence agency saying he may have been radicalised.

The stabbing is being probed as the country's first-ever terror attack.

Police had previously described the suspect as an asylum seeker from Morocco, though court documents did not mention his nationality.

He targeted women in the attack at a market square in the southwestern port city of Turku on Friday. Two people were killed and eight were injured.

(AFP )

Colombia offered asylum Monday to Venezuela's sacked chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega, who fled her country after defying President Nicolas Maduro as a deadly political crisis rages on.

"Luisa Ortega is under the protection of the Colombian government. If she asks for asylum, we will grant it to her," Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos said on Twitter.

A former loyalist of the socialist leadership, the 59-year-old Ortega had become Maduro's most high-ranking critic in Venezuela.

(AFP )

A strong explosion at a house in Alcanar in southern Catalonia which was initially treated as a random gas blast was in fact the trigger to the twin vehicle attacks which shook Spain, and unified it in defiance.

The accident deprived a jihadist cell of bomb material they planned to use in a larger attack and prompted them to instead use vehicles to plough into pedestrians, killing 14 people.

(AFP )

Disgraced ex-IAAF president Lamine Diack's son Papa Massata Diack, former Russian athletics chief Valentin Balakhnichev and coach Alexei Melnikov lost their appeals Monday against life bans imposed over corruption.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport said the evidence presented against the trio showed that the charges were "established beyond reasonable doubt and that the sanctions imposed should be upheld."

(AFP )

Court documents on Monday identified the suspect in last week's stabbing spree in a Finnish city as 18-year-old Abderrahman Mechkah, with the country's intelligence agency saying he may have been radicalised.

The stabbing is being probed as the country's first-ever terror attack.

Police had previously described the suspect as an asylum seeker from Morocco, though the court documents did not mention his nationality.

He targeted women in the attack at a market square in the southwestern port city of Turku on Friday. Two people were killed and eight were injured.

(AFP )

London landmark Big Ben fell silent for four years in front of a reverential crowd on Monday amid an outcry over the temporary loss of a cherished symbol of stability at a time of national uncertainty.

At midday, 12 bongs from the famous bell rang out in front of around 1,000 local residents, tourists and MPs who came out to mark Big Ben's longest silence in its 157-year history for extensive repair work.

The atmosphere was sombre as the hour chimes heralded the final bongs.

The 12th and final bong was followed by sustained applause and cheering.

(AFP )

A Turkish-born German writer stuck in Spain because of an Ankara arrest warrant said Monday he never imaging being pursued in an EU country by those who want to "silence" him.

Dogan Akhanli, 60, said his arrest Saturday at Turkey's behest was a "terrifying experience because I thought I was safe in European countries and that the long arm of arbitrariness and arrogance would not reach that far".

(AFP )

Iraqi forces closed in Monday on Tal Afar on the second day of an offensive against the last major bastion of the Islamic State group in the country's north, seizing several villages around the city.

In the desert plains around Tal Afar, convoys of tanks and armoured vehicles could be seen heading for the jihadist-held city, raising huge clouds of dust.

The offensive launched at dawn Sunday comes only weeks after Iraqi forces retook second city Mosul from IS and as the jihadists also face assaults on their positions in neighbouring Syria.

(AFP )

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday warned a top Turkish general who played a key role in defeating last year's failed coup and led a cross-border operation in Syria that he must accept a surprise demotion without rancour.

In a rare show of tension between the military and Erdogan, Turkish media reported that Lieutenant General Zekai Aksakalli had wanted to resign from the armed forces after he was moved from special forces chief to a less significant position.

(AFP )

British goods placed on the market before Brexit should be sold in EU countries under current conditions even after the UK leaves the bloc, the British government said on Monday.

The government also emphasised that current negotiations about the divorce are "inextricably" linked to future trade arrangements and should therefore be discussed at the same time.

(AFP )

A Danish inventor accused of killing a Swedish journalist on board his homemade submarine claims she died in an accident before he dumped her body in the sea, Danish police said Monday.

Peter Madsen initially claimed that he last saw Kim Wall when he dropped her off on the tip of an island in Copenhagen late on August 10 after she had interviewed him aboard the do-it-yourself craft.

(AFP )

Sky-gazers stood transfixed across North America Monday as the Sun vanished behind the Moon in a rare total eclipse that swept the continent coast-to-coast for the first time in nearly a century.

Millions of die-hard eclipse chasers and amateur star watchers alike converged in cities along the path of totality, a 70-mile (113-kilometer) wide swath cutting through 14 US states, where the Moon briefly blocked out all light from the Sun.

(AFP )

US-led coalition strikes on Sunday killed 27 civilians in part of Syria's Raqa city held by the Islamic State group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.

Seven children were among the dead in the strikes that "hit the densely-populated Al-Badu area in the centre of the city," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said on Monday.

Once a jihadist stronghold, more than half of Raqa city has fallen to the Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters that entered the city in June.

(AFP )

Brazil's army went into action again Monday to support police in raids on some of Rio de Janeiro's most violent favelas -- but not before a rogue soldier allegedly tipped off the drug gangs.

In the third such operation in just over two weeks, about 5,000 marines, army soldiers, air force personnel, police and agents from the elite federal intelligence service launched raids at dawn in seven neighborhoods, an army spokesman and the Rio state security office said.

(AFP )

Kyrgyzstan's Prime Minister Sooronbai Jeenbekov announced his resignation on Monday, saying he planned to run for the presidency in a hotly contested poll in the ex-Soviet Central Asian country in October.

"I am resigning due to the fact that I am running for the presidency. I do not have the moral right to remain in this post," Jeenbekov said in a speech to parliament shown by state broadcaster KTR.

(AFP )

Veteran diplomat Anatoly Antonov, appointed Russia's new ambassador to the US Monday at a time when ties are at dangerously low ebb, has the reputation of being a tough negotiator with a deep suspicion of Washington.

But he is also a seasoned pragmatist able to adapt to sudden shifts in relations with the West.

The 62-year-old deputy foreign minister will need all his skills and experience if he is to help pull US-Russia ties out of the deep freeze.

(AFP )

Italy said Monday it has found traces of fipronil in two eggs samples, making it the latest country hit by the Europe-wide insecticide scandal, while a batch of tainted frozen omelettes was also withdrawn.

The two positive samples were from a total of 114 samples so far tested. One involved Italian-sourced eggs, while the other was still under investigation, said the Italian health ministry.

Separately, a regional official said a batch of frozen omelettes containing traces of fipronil had been withdrawn from sale in Milan.