Monday 22 May 2017

In the world

(AFP )

Nineteen people have been killed in a suspected explosion at the end of a pop concert by US star Ariana Grande in Manchester in northwest England that is being treated as a terrorist incident, police said.

Eyewitnesses described a "huge bomb-like bang" and scenes of panic as young fans fled the venue.

A fleet of ambulances was seen rushing to the venue and bomb disposal teams were dispatched soon after.

(AFP )

Cuba's first ultra luxury hotel opened its doors Monday in Havana, with guests paying up to $2,500 a night to stay in five-star comfort on the Communist island.

The "Gran Hotel Manzana," part of the Swiss group Kempinski Hotels, is situated in the heart of the Cuban capital in front of the verdant gardens of Parque Central and the grand Alicia Alonso theater, home to the Cuban National Ballet.

Guests in each of the hotel's 246 rooms, 50 of which are suites, have the pick of four bars and two restaurants and can take a swim in the rooftop infinity pool.

(AFP )

Eurozone finance ministers failed to reach a deal for fresh bailout cash for Greece on Monday, as a row with the International Monetary Fund over debt relief dragged on.

After more than eight hours of talks in Brussels, ministers from the 19-member single currency bloc could not settle deep differences on debt relief pitting Germany, the eurozone's most powerful member, against the IMF.

(AFP )

The US Senate on Monday confirmed Iowa Governor Terry Branstad as the next ambassador to Beijing, providing President Donald Trump with an envoy whose decades-long connection to China could smooth relations between the global powers.

The confirmation, by a bipartisan vote of 82 to 13, comes with the White House beset by scandal, but also at a time when Trump is looking to Beijing, its biggest rival and trading partner, to step up economic pressure on North Korea's irascible regime.

(AFP )

President Donald Trump's former national security advisor Michael Flynn defied a Senate subpoena Monday for documents on his links to Russia, saying it came amid a stream of "outrageous allegations" that "feed the escalating public frenzy against him."

But Flynn quickly faced fresh accusations from a top Democrat saying he misled the Pentagon about his Russia contacts one year ago.

(AFP )

South Korea's ousted president Park Geun-Hye was due in court Tuesday to face trial over the massive corruption scandal that led to her stunning downfall.

The fallen head of state will be taken from the detention centre where she is being held to Seoul Central District Court, for the opening of the final act in the drama that has engulfed her.

(AFP )

Police in Brazil's biggest city, Sao Paulo, erected road blocks on Monday around a notorious neighborhood nicknamed "Cracolandia" or Crack Land to keep out drug dealers following a mass raid.

Police checked people going into the neighborhood in an attempt to prevent what had been a haven for dealers and drug users from reestablishing itself.

On Sunday, some 900 police officers poured into "Cracolandia," which swarmed with addicts living under makeshift shelters.

(AFP )

Putting his hand against one of the most sacred sites in Judaism, Donald Trump on Monday became the first sitting US president to visit the Western Wall in the disputed city of Jerusalem.

Wearing a black skullcap, he paused in front of the holiest site where Jews can pray, then placed what appeared to be a written prayer or note between its stones, as is custom.

Trump was not accompanied by any Israeli leaders during the hugely symbolic visit.

(AFP )

The UN Security Council on Monday vowed to push all countries to tighten sanctions against North Korea as it prepared for a closed-door meeting called in response to the latest missile launch.

In a unanimous statement backed by China, Pyongyang's ally, the council strongly condemned the test-firing on Sunday and instructed the UN sanctions committee to redouble efforts to implement a raft of tough measures adopted last year.

(AFP )

Turkey summoned the US ambassador on Monday to protest "aggressive behaviour" by American security personnel and "security lapses" during Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's visit to Washington last week.

The key visit was marred by bloody clashes that took place outside the Turkish ambassador's residence after Erdogan met American counterpart Donald Trump.

(AFP )

First Lady Melania Trump is set to have a surreal experience in Brussels this week as her hosts line up a visit to a museum of the works of artist Rene Magritte.

While US President Donald Trump meets NATO leaders on Thursday, his wife will join new French first lady Brigitte Macron at the museum dedicated to the life of the surrealist painter, according to the official programme.

(AFP )

Despite little progress in the latest round of Syrian peace talks, negotiations are set to resume in June, the UN envoy said Monday.

Staffan de Mistura told the Security Council that "important gaps remain between the parties on major issues" following the sixth round in Geneva held last week.

The Syrian government and the opposition took part in four days of indirect talks aimed at ending the war that has killed more than 320,000 people since 2011.

(AFP )

Brazilian President Michel Temer warned opponents Monday he will not go without a fight as he won more breathing space in a corruption crisis sparking calls for his resignation.

"If they want to, then they have to force me out, because if I resign, that is an admission of guilt," he said in an interview with Folha newspaper.

Temer, who faces multiple impeachment demands, told Folha he had been "naive" in stumbling into the crisis that could bring him down just over a year since he replaced impeached president Dilma Rousseff. But he again insisted he had done nothing wrong.

(AFP )

Despite little progress in the latest round of Syrian peace talks, negotiations are set to resume in June, the UN envoy said Monday.

Staffan de Mistura told the Security Council that "important gaps remain between the parties on major issues" following the sixth round in Geneva held last week.

The Syrian government and the opposition took part in four days of indirect talks aimed at ending the war that has killed more than 320,000 people since 2011.

(AFP )

The World Health Organization's outgoing chief Margaret Chan defended her legacy Monday, insisting the world had become better prepared to face health emergencies like Ebola on her watch.

In her final address to WHO's member states, Chan acknowledged that mistakes had been made during her decade at the helm, but stressed that while "we falter sometimes, ... we never give up."

"The world is better prepared, but not nearly well enough," she told the some 4,000 delegates gathered from WHO's 194 member countries for its annual assembly in Geneva.

(AFP )

Not even Donald Trump can stop the campaign to roll back climate change, Al Gore said Monday as the former US vice president's sequel to Oscar-winning documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" screened at the Cannes film festival.

"An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power" received a special screening at Cannes after premiering at the Sundance film festival in January, a decade after Gore's first documentary warned of environmental catastrophe.

(AFP )

A young protester was killed Monday after a national guard vehicle "accidentally" ran him over in south Tunisia, raising fears of mounting social unrest in a region rocked by weeks of protest.

The death comes as tensions have risen between protesters and security forces outside the El Kamour oil and gas pumping station.

Protesters have been camping outside the desert installation in the Tataouine region for around a month, blocking trucks from entering, to demand a share of local resources and priority for jobs in the sector.

(AFP )

South Sudan's President Salva Kiir declared a unilateral ceasefire Monday as he launched a national dialogue, a controversial bid to end a civil war that excludes his rival Riek Machar.

It is not the first time Kiir has vowed the army will lay down arms in the three-year conflict, and he warned that his troops would defend themselves if attacked.

(AFP )

Brazilian President Michel Temer said Monday that he'd been "naive" to hold the late-night meeting which sparked an explosive corruption scandal, but insisted he'd done nothing wrong and wouldn't resign.

Temer, who faces multiple impeachment demands, told Folha newspaper he had innocently stumbled into the crisis threatening to bring him down just over a year since he replaced impeached president Dilma Rousseff.

"Naivety. I was naive," he said.

(AFP )

Doctors rallied in Venezuela Monday in the latest street protests against President Nicolas Maduro, as a young man lay in hospital after being set on fire by an angry crowd.

A 19-year-old man died from a gunshot, bringing the death toll to 49 as the unrest entered its eighth week, the public prosecution service said.

The man was killed in the western town of Barinas, where an AFP reporter saw demonstrators burn a government office and a police car.

(AFP )

Italy has signed a deal with Libya, Chad and Niger to try to stem the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean by beefing up border controls and creating new reception centres in the African nations.

A joint statement by the interior ministers of the four countries said they had agreed to set up centres in Chad and Niger, key countries of transit for migrants who travel to Libya and on to Italy from sub-Saharan Africa.

(AFP )

Tough negotiations on forming a Dutch coalition government appeared to hit an impasse Monday, despite the winners of the March elections spending the weekend mulling their options.

Veteran politician Edith Schippers, who is in charge of the negotiations, announced last week that four-way talks had collapsed mainly due to differences over immigration, and spent Monday huddled in meetings seeking to break the stalemate.

(AFP )

Spain's prime minister on Monday accused Catalonia's separatist government of blackmail after a newspaper reported it was planning to declare independence unless Madrid allows the wealthy region to hold a referendum on secession.

"The threats and blackmail which have been put on the table are intolerable," Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy told a hastily convened press conference.

What Catalan leaders "intend to achieve is the complete rupture of what Spain is today," he added.

(AFP )

Killers gunned down a Mafia boss in Sicily on Monday as the Cosa Nostra flexed its muscles on the eve of the 25th anniversary of one of its most notorious murders.

Giuseppe Dainotti, 67, was shot in the head as he cycled along a street in Palermo, almost 25 years to the day since anti-Mafia magistrate Giovanni Falcone was blown up in an explosion on a motorway on the Italian island.

(AFP )

Donald Trump on Monday became the first sitting US president to visit the Western Wall in the disputed city of Jerusalem, placing his hand on one of the most sacred sites in Judaism.

The Western Wall is the holiest site where Jews can pray. Trump, wearing a black skullcap, paused in front of it, then placed what appeared to be a written prayer or note between its stones, as is custom.

He was not accompanied by any Israeli leaders during the hugely symbolic visit.

(AFP )

French President Emmanuel Macron will host Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin next week as the countries look to reset strained relations, notably over Syria and Ukraine.

The meeting at the Versailles palace outside Paris will coincide with an exhibition celebrating 300 years of Franco-Russian ties since the visit of Russian tsar Peter the Great to France in 1717.

(AFP )

A bomb struck a Bangkok military hospital on Monday and wounded 21 people -- one seriously -- three years to the day after the Thai army seized power in the politically unstable kingdom.

The small device -- which police said was potentially deadly -- went off near the VIP section of King Mongkut hospital as patients and their families waited for prescriptions, shattering glass and sending smoke into the corridors.

Hospital director Saroj Keokajee said the "low intensity bomb" injured 21 people, among them retired military officers.

(AFP )

Despite impassioned pleas from several countries, the World Health Organization's annual assembly refused Monday to even discuss admitting Taiwan to the meeting, under pressure from China.

Self-governing Taiwan, which China sees as a renegade province awaiting reunification, has been invited to attend the WHO's main annual meeting as an observer every year since 2009, but this year it did not receive an invitation.

(AFP )

Istanbul authorities on Monday demolished the Reina nightclub that was hit by a deadly jihadist gun attack on New Year revellers, saying the venue had violated Turkish legislation.

Once the favoured glamour haunt of the city's monied elite, the waterside Bosphorus nightclub was the scene of horror in the early hours of January 1 when an Uzbek gunman went on the rampage, killing 39 people, most of them foreigners.

The bloodshed was claimed by the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group, the first clear claim it had made for an attack in Turkey.

(AFP )

British Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday amended an unpopular campaign proposal for elderly care just days after unveiling it, prompting accusations that she could not be relied upon in upcoming Brexit negotiations.

May came under fire following a speech in Wales, where her Conservatives are hoping to make historic gains against the opposition Labour party in the June 8 general election.

In the speech she announced a cap on the amount people would be asked to pay, which was in response to a backlash against proposals in her party's manifesto on paying for elderly care.

(AFP )

Donald Trump was on Monday to become the first serving US president to visit the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray, located in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.

The city is revered by three major faiths but mired in political, as well as religious, disputes and its status is one of the thorniest issues of the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

- Whose capital? -

(AFP )

EU ministers on Monday unanimously gave Michel Barnier the green light to start Brexit talks, with the Frenchman hoping to sit at the table from June 19 after Britain's general election.

Barnier said the backing of the remaining 27 countries was a further show of "determination and confidence" in what promise to be two years of bruising negotiations with London.

(AFP )

China and Russia on Monday launched an ambitious project to jointly develop a long-haul jet to challenge Boeing and Airbus, just two weeks after the successful test flight of the first made-in-China large passenger plane.

State-run Chinese manufacturer Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) and Russia's United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) said they formally established the previously announced joint venture in Shanghai on Monday.

(AFP )

US President Donald Trump spoke of a "rare opportunity" to bring stability to the region as he landed in Israel on Monday to seek ways to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.

Trump also hailed the "unbreakable bond" between the United States and Israel as he spoke at a brief ceremony at the airport in Tel Aviv after landing.

"On my first trip overseas as president, I have come to this sacred and ancient land to reaffirm the unbreakable bond between the United States and the state of Israel," Trump said.

(AFP )

The yawning gap between Tehran and Washington has grown even wider with US President Donald Trump's latest efforts to isolate Iran, which accused the United States of "milking" Saudi Arabia for petro-dollars.

Trump's choice of Saudi Arabia, Iran's bitter regional rival, for his first official foreign visit reflects the deep antagonism of his administration towards the Islamic republic.