Thursday 14 December 2017

In the world

(AFP )

Walt Disney Co. on Thursday agreed to buy key film and television operations of 21st Century Fox in a $52.4 billion stock deal that could reshape the media-entertainment world and step up a challenge to Netflix and emerging tech platforms.

The blockbuster transaction also vastly reduces the Fox media empire built by Rupert Murdoch, leaving the 86-year-old tycoon and his two sons with a more tightly focused group including the Fox broadcast network, Fox News Channel and sports channels.

(AFP )

EU leaders headed for a new east-west clash at a Brussels summit Thursday over how to deal with large numbers of migrants coming to Europe.

European Council President Donald Tusk irked some nations when he said in a pre-summit letter that a mandatory quota scheme for relocating refugees from frontline states was "ineffective" and "highly divisive".

Eastern European states including Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic have backed his approach, but Germany and others say the quotas are a necessary way of showing solidarity in the EU.

(AFP )

Italian police were on Thursday searching the homes and businesses of known allies of mobster Matteo Messina Denaro, looking for hidden bunkers where the fugitive godfather may be hiding.

Two hundred officers were executing search warrants in farmhouses and warehouses belonging to some 30 suspected gangsters in and around Castelvetrano, the Mafia boss' hometown in Sicily, police said.

The suspects have either been named in wiretaps or singled out by mafia turncoats.

(AFP )

An Afghan man who was illegally expelled from Germany has arrived back in Frankfurt, a refugee rights group said Thursday, after a three month bureaucratic struggle.

Hasmatullah Fazelpur, 23, had in September been sent from Germany to Bulgaria -- his first port of call in the European Union and which promptly put him on a plane back to Afghanistan.

But it turned out a German court had issued an emergency injunction prior to the deportation -- making the expulsion to Bulgaria illegal. German authorities were therefore ordered to take Fazelpur back.

(AFP )

Kenyan security forces raped, beat and assaulted civilians during violence in recent elections, Human Rights Watch said Thursday, claims rejected by police.

"There was widespread sexual violence against women and girls, and sexual attacks on men," HRW said, in a report titled, "They were men in uniform."

The violence, documented during Kenya's election in August by HRW and other rights groups, recorded "police use of excessive force against protesters, killings, beatings and maiming of individuals, looting and destruction of property".

(AFP )

A Senegalese court on Thursday delayed the trial of popular Dakar mayor Khalifa Sall on charges of embezzling public funds until January 3, as his lawyers denounced a "hasty" start to proceedings.

Sall is accused of misappropriating 1.83 billion CFA francs ($3.3 million, 2.8 million euros) -- a charge he denies and which backers say is politically motivated.

(AFP )

The European Central Bank upgraded its growth and inflation forecasts for the coming years Thursday but stood by its massive support to the economy, with President Mario Draghi saying it won't reach its cherished price growth target by 2020.

"Even though the situation on growth has improved and will continue to improve... the news on inflation remains somewhat muted," Draghi told journalists in Frankfurt after a gathering of central bank governors.

Growth is expected to hit 2.4 percent in 2017, 2.3 percent next year and 1.9 percent in 2019.

(AFP )

Some 20,000 people demonstrated in Greece on Thursday as a general strike against new budget cuts and labour reform paralysed the civil service and disrupted transports.

Around 16,000 mainly Communist demonstrators marched in Athens while another 4,500 protested in Thessaloniki, local police said.

Some of the protesters held banners in support of Palestine and against the US decision to name Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Greek unions called the 24-hour labour action against new budget cuts and plans to revamp labour mobilisation rules.

(AFP )

Syria's Kurds fear the steadfast ally they found in the US to successfully take on Islamic State group jihadists may now leave them to face threats from Turkey and Damascus alone.

Across Syria's north, Kurdish authorities have spent more than four years steadily building public institutions including elected councils, security forces, even schools.

They felt they had found an international sponsor in the United States, which relied primarily on the fighters of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) to roll back IS in northern and eastern Syria.

(AFP )

Israeli pharmaceutical giant Teva announced Thursday it plans 14,000 job cuts over two years as it unveiled a wide-reaching restructuring plan after facing low prices for generic drugs.

Teva also said it was suspending dividends on ordinary shares and its annual bonus for 2017 will not be paid "due to the fact that the company's financial results are significantly below our original guidance for the year," it said.

The job cuts will amount to more than 25 percent of the global workforce for Teva, the world's biggest maker of generic drugs, it said in a statement.

(AFP )

French-Tunisian fashion designer Azzedine Alaia will be honoured by London's Design Museum with a major exhibition next year following his death on November 18 at the age of 77.

"Azzedine Alaia: The Couturier" will run from May 10 to October 7, showcasing more than 60 pieces personally selected by the iconic designer.

"Azzedine Alaia was recognised throughout his life as a master couturier who expressed the timeless beauty of the female form in the most refined degree of haute couture," the museum said.

(AFP )

A rebellion in Britain's parliament over Brexit legislation spells trouble ahead for Prime Minister Theresa May as she heads to an EU summit Thursday, hobbled by divisions within her party.

May took over after the 2016 Brexit referendum and called a general election in June, hoping to strengthen her hand in the negotiations with Europe.

However, the gamble backfired and she lost her centre-right Conservative Party's parliamentary majority, forcing her into a deal with Ulster's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) for support.

(AFP )

Hungary's rightwing government, a fierce opponent of mass immigration, on Thursday welcomed EU President Donald Tusk's rejection of mandatory refugee quotas.

Tusk called the relocation scheme -- introduced in 2015 at the height of the migrant crisis -- "ineffective" and "highly divisive", in a letter sent to EU leaders ahead of the bloc's two-day summit in Brussels.

He recommended that efforts should instead be directed to securing Europe's borders.

(AFP )

A North Korean defector interrupted a United Nations human rights press conference in Seoul on Thursday to plead tearfully to be allowed to go back to her relatives in Pyongyang.

More than 30,000 North Koreans have fled poverty and repression in their isolated homeland to move to the South.

But they often struggle to make a living in the capitalist South and sometimes fail to adjust to their new lives.

(AFP )

Friends of the late Chinese democracy advocate and Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo voiced concern about his widow's health on Thursday after she sent a letter showing signs of deep depression.

The poet Liu Xia, 56, has been under police watch without charges since her husband was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, a recognition that deeply angered the Communist regime.

In a letter written in the form of a poem to the 2009 Nobel Literature Prize Laureate Herta Mueller, Liu said she was "going mad".

(AFP )

An Indian court Thursday handed down the death penalty to a man found guilty of raping and murdering a law student in a brutal knife attack in southern Kerala state.

The murdered student was found dead in a pool of blood in her home in Perumbavoor town on April 28, 2016, with nearly 30 stab wounds and bite marks on her severely disfigured corpse.

Muhammed Ameerul Islam was convicted by a district court in Kerala over the gruesome attack which sparked nationwide outrage and drew comparisons with the high-profile gang-rape and murder of a Delhi student in 2012.

(AFP )

China has summoned the Australian ambassador amid a growing row over allegations of Chinese meddling in politics in Australia.

"Officials of our ministry had an important dialogue with the Australian ambassador," foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Thursday, without specifying when the meeting took place.

"The Australian side is very clear with our position on bilateral relations and the relevant issue," Lu told a regular news briefing.

(AFP )

A bid to make all sex outside marriage illegal was rejected by a top Indonesian court Thursday, in a ruling that surprised many as concerns grow about rising intolerance in the world's biggest Muslim-majority country.

Five out of nine judges on the Constitutional Court in the capital Jakarta narrowly rejected the push to criminalise extramarital relations, including gay sex.

The unsuccessful petition would have affected both unmarried heterosexuals and gay people, who cannot marry in Indonesia.

(AFP )

At least 6,700 Rohingya Muslims were killed in the first month of a Myanmar army crackdown on rebels in Rakhine state that began in late August, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said on Thursday.

The figure is the highest estimated death toll yet of violence that erupted on August 25 and triggered a massive refugee crisis, sending some 655,000 Rohingya fleeing across the border to Bangladesh.

The UN and US have described the military operation as "ethnic cleansing" of the Muslim minority, but have not released specific death tolls.

(AFP )

United Nations chief Antonio Guterres Thursday warned the world against "sleepwalking into war" over North Korea, as he called for diplomatic efforts to banish nuclear weapons from the Korean peninsula.

Speaking on a visit to Japan, Secretary-General Guterres said: "The worst possible thing that could happen would be for us all to sleepwalk into a war that might have very dramatic circumstances."

The UN Security Council has imposed three rounds of sanctions over the past year against North Korea over its increasingly powerful missile and nuclear tests.

(AFP )

The powerful secret confidante at the centre of the sprawling corruption scandal that brought down South Korean president Park Geun-Hye should spend the next quarter of a century in prison, prosecutors demanded Thursday.

Park's longtime friend Choi Soon-Sil -- the daughter of her religious guru -- was vilified at the massive nationwide protests last year that rocked Asia's fourth-largest economy and led to Park's impeachment.

(AFP )

Air strikes by a US-led coalition killed 23 civilians Wednesday in a village held by the Islamic State group in Syria's eastern Deir Ezzor province, a monitor said.

"At least 23 civilians, among them eight children and six women, were killed Wednesday before dawn by air strikes carried out by the US-led coalition, targeting a village controlled by IS on the eastern banks of the Euphrates river," the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

(AFP )

The acrimonious battle over "net neutrality" in America comes to a head Thursday with a US agency set to vote to roll back rules enacted two years earlier aimed at preventing a "two-speed" internet.

The Federal Communications Commission was expected to narrowly pass the measure to scrap the 2015 neutrality rules, which require internet service providers to treat all online traffic equally without blocking or hampering of rivals.

(AFP )

A bid to make all sex outside marriage illegal was thrown out by an Indonesian court Thursday, as concerns grow over rising intolerance in the world's biggest Muslim-majority country.

Five out of nine judges on the Constitutional Court in the capital Jakarta narrowly rejected the push to criminalise extramarital relations.

The unsuccessful petition would have affected unmarried heterosexuals and gay people, who cannot marry in Indonesia -- several months after the arrests of a group of men accused of holding a "gay party".

(AFP )

Billed as the world's longest sea bridge connecting Hong Kong, Macau and mainland China, it has been touted by supporters as an engineering wonder.

But critics say the multi-billion dollar infrastructure mega-project is politically driven and a costly white elephant.

Dogged by delays, budget overruns, accusations of corruption and the deaths of construction workers, there is little prospect it will open by the end of 2017 as hoped.

(AFP )

Secured by family and party ties, Chinese cash and his own ruthless political instincts, Cambodian strongman Hun Sen has taken a wrecking ball to the kingdom's fragile democracy in a campaign to extend his 32-year rule.

The 65-year-old is now the world's sixth longest-serving civilian leader, bumped up a place by last month's fall of Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe.

And his grip on the country is stronger than ever, as the brash premier extinguishes rivals and fortifies his family's control over the poor nation.

(AFP )

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday said the opposition was hoping for a "coup", during a marathon press conference that marked his first major public appearance since announcing he would seek a new six-year term in March 2018 elections.

At the annual event, which this year lasted almost four hours and saw more than 1,600 journalists accredited, Putin also touched on Olympic doping, North Korea and the achievements of US leader Donald Trump.

(AFP )

As their crucial regional election nears, separatists in Catalonia are accusing the Spanish government of acting like the late dictator Francisco Franco, in a country that has yet to heal the wounds of his regime.

The claims have fanned a bitter debate about the nation's democratic credentials.

Catalan leaders liken the tactics of Spain's conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to those of Franco, who suppressed the region's language and culture during a rule that ended with his death in 1975.

(AFP )

The art is striking -- a miniature three-masted ship in cardboard, with bits of T-shirt for the sails and threads from a prayer cap for ropes. A picture of a huge mosque at water's edge. A shadowy and faceless Statue of Liberty.

The pieces are all part of a surprising exhibit in New York with an unlikely source -- the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

(AFP )

British Prime Minister Theresa May heads to a Brussels summit Thursday reeling from a parliamentary defeat over Brexit that threatens to undermine her just as EU leaders back the opening of trade talks.

The other 27 leaders are expected during the two-day meeting in Brussels to endorse an interim deal on the terms of Britain's divorce that May sealed with the EU last week after months of torturous negotiations.

(AFP )

Israel carried out a series of air strikes against Islamist group Hamas in Gaza early on Thursday, the army said, hours after more rockets were fired from the Palestinian enclave.

The Israeli army also announced it would close the border crossings between blockaded Gaza and Israel -- Kerem Shalom for goods and Erez for people -- from Thursday "due to the security events and in accordance with security assessments."

A military spokeswoman could not say whether the closure would be for one day or more.

(AFP )

Canada on Wednesday authorized the export of automatic weapons to Ukraine, citing its "steadfast" support for the security and sovereignty of a country engaged in a conflict with pro-Russian separatists.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, who is of Ukrainian descent through her mother, "announced that Canada will include Ukraine in the Automatic Firearms Country Control List (AFCCL)," the government said in its official newspaper.

(AFP )

A Salvadoran court on Wednesday upheld a 30-year prison sentence being served by a woman whose miscarriage in 2007 was prosecuted as homicide under draconian anti-abortion laws, prompting outrage from rights groups.

The San Salvador tribunal rejected an appeal filed by Teodora Vasquez, 34, who has already spent a decade behind bars.

"The tribunal has reached the conclusion that the prison sentence against Teodora Vasquez should be confirmed," one of the judges said.

(AFP )

As Democrats reveled in a stunning Senate win in Alabama, mainstream Republicans wasted no time in blaming a powerful strategist for the party's disastrous political setback: anti-establishment rabble-rouser Steve Bannon.

From the halls of Congress to party operators, analysts and conservative media figures, Republicans heaped scorn on the former White House advisor, upbraiding him for backing such a tainted candidate in Roy Moore that the party lost a Senate seat from a state that Trump won last year in a landslide.

(AFP )

The World Trade Organization concluded a ministerial meeting Wednesday with nothing significant to boast -- a meager outcome for its first gathering in the Donald Trump era.

Trump is outspokenly hostile to multilateral trade accords, and his top delegate here launched a broadside at the WTO, accusing it of losing its focus on trade negotiation and becoming a "litigation-centered" body.

The three day meeting ended with no significant deal on promoting global trade.