Tuesday 23 January 2018

In the world

(AFP )

US attorney general Jeff Sessions was named Tuesday as the first known member of Donald Trump's cabinet to be questioned over ties between the president's campaign and Russia, as Republicans hit back with allegations of anti-Trump bias in the FBI investigation.

The Justice Department confirmed that Sessions -- who has downplayed the notion that Russia meddled in Trump's favor in the 2016 election -- was heard for several hours last week, in a sign that special counsel Robert Mueller's probe has reached new levels inside the administration.

(AFP )

The US-led coalition has killed as many as 150 Islamic State fighters in an operation in the middle Euphrates River Valley in Syria, officials said Tuesday.

According to a statement from the coalition, the air strikes took place Saturday near Al-Shafah, in Deir Ezzor province, on an IS headquarters where the jihadists appeared to have been "massing for movement."

(AFP )

A teenaged boy opened fire with a handgun at a Kentucky high school on Tuesday morning, leaving two fellow students dead and more than a dozen people wounded in the latest mass shooting to hit the United States.

A 15-year-old student, now in custody, is alleged to have carried out the attack at the Marshall County High School in Benton, a small town in western Kentucky.

Two students -- both also aged 15 -- died of gunshot wounds, while 12 other people were shot and five suffered other injuries during the shooting, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin told a news conference.

(AFP )

A video of Catalonia's ousted leader Carles Puigdemont kissing a Spanish flag at the insistence of a man who confronted him over his independence push went viral in Spain on Tuesday.

In the video reportedly taken during Puigdemont's visit to Copenhagen earlier this week a young man can be seen approaching Puigdemont as he was having coffee at a shopping centre cafe.

The man thrusts a red and yellow Spanish flag towards Puigdemont and says: "I have a Spanish flag here Puigdemont, that I know you like. Take it and kiss it please."

(AFP )

Venezuela will hold presidential elections by the end of April, the ruling Constituent Assembly said Tuesday, pulling forward a vote in which President Nicolas Maduro hopes to triumph over a divided opposition and win a second term.

The 55-year-old Maduro, a towering mustachioed former bus driver who was Hugo Chavez's handpicked successor, said he is ready to run if he receives the party's nomination.

"I am a humber worker, a humble man of the people," he told reporters before taking the stage at a rally in Caracas.

(AFP )

After days of heavy snowfall, the World Economic Forum opened for a full day of business in the ritzy ski resort of Davos.

Here is a taste of some crunchy quotes from the global gathering so far:

"I want that the winds of cultures of all countries to enter my house with aplomb and go out also. However, I will not accept my feet to be uprooted by these winds." -- Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the forum's opening day headliner, channelling his country's founding father, Mohandas Gandhi.

(AFP )

The Gates Foundation will invest $45 million in nutrition and family planning programs in Burkina Faso, Melinda Gates said on Tuesday during a visit to the capital Ouagadougou.

"The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will invest $45 million (23.5 billion FCFA) over three years in various programs to improve the nutrition and health of women and children in Burkina Faso," said the foundation in a statement.

The bulk of the money, $34 million, aims to fund programs that promote nutrition in infants and young children and improve access to healthy, affordable diets.

(AFP )

South Africa's Winnie Madikizela-Mandela who is popularly known as "the mother of the nation" has been admitted to hospital with a kidney infection, the family of her ex-husband Nelson Mandela said Tuesday.

Winnie, 81, is an icon of the anti-apartheid struggle and was persecuted by authorities during white rule, going on to hold a ministerial post after democratic elections in 1994.

"The Mandela family wish to inform the public that Mrs Winnie Madikizela-Mandela has been admitted to the Milpark Hospital" on Sunday, said the statement.

(AFP )

Influential Chilean poet Nicanor Parra died Tuesday aged 103, leaving a legacy of "anti-poetry" with which he revolutionized Latin American literature and won the Spanish-speaking world's highest literary honor.

Chile's President Michelle Bachelet called Parra "one of the greatest authors in the history of our literature, and a unique voice in Western culture."

Parra died early Tuesday at his home in Chile's capital Santiago, his family announced.

(AFP )

Six-time Olympic medal winner Aly Raisman, among dozens of American gymnasts who have testified they were abused by former team doctor Larry Nassar, has ripped the US Olympic Committee saying it had "failed" the young athletes and must be held accountable.

As Nassar continued to face his accusers Tuesday on the sixth day of a sentencing hearing in Michigan, Raisman addressed the resignation a day earlier of three top executives from the USA Gymnastics board of directors, as well as comments from USOC president Scott Blackmun.

(AFP )

The US military funded Afghan police and security units even though American officials knew members were implicated in gross human rights violations, according to a watchdog report released Tuesday.

The previously secret report, first provided to Congress in June but now declassified, lays bare the cultural rifts that can exist when America works with local partners.

(AFP )

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen took another step Tuesday towards booting her estranged father Jean-Marie from her National Front once and for all, as party leaders voted to axe his honorary position.

In 2015 Marine Le Pen kicked her father out of the party he founded, for reiterating his view that the Nazi gas chambers were a mere "detail" of history and defending France's collaborationist wartime Vichy regime.

But he kept his title of honorary president of the FN, a post created in 2011 when he stepped down as leader to be replaced by his daughter.

(AFP )

The UN envoy on Western Sahara talks between Morocco and the Polisario Front has invited the parties and neighboring countries to Berlin for bilateral talks, a UN spokesperson said Tuesday.

Former German president Horst Koehler has invited the foreign ministers of Morocco, Algeria and Mauritania, as well as Polisario Front Secretary-General Brahim Ghali, Koehler's spokesman said.

No date was given in the statement beyond mention of "this January and February."

(AFP )

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau criticised the protectionist policies of US President Donald Trump at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Tuesday while fervently defending the virtues of free trade.

In a speech alluding to Trump and his threat to pull the United States out of the North American Free Trade Agreement, Trudeau said his administration is "working very hard to make sure that our neighbour to the south recognises how good NAFTA is, and that (NAFTA) has benefited not just our economy, but his economy and the world's economy."

(AFP )

Venezuela will hold presidential elections by the end of April, the ruling Constituent Assembly said Tuesday, pulling forward a vote in which President Nicolas Maduro hopes to triumph over a divided opposition.

The polls were scheduled to be held by the end of the year, but analysts had predicted Maduro would seek an early election to seize the advantage over his opponents as they reel from a string of recent defeats.

A top Socialist Party official, Diosdado Cabello, confirmed to the Assembly that Maduro would be the party's sole candidate.

(AFP )

The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party secured the chair of the country's powerful budget committee Tuesday, after being repeatedly being shunned for top parliamentary jobs which were shared out among more established parties.

The move comes after the Social Democratic Party (SPD) agreed Sunday to open coalition talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives, leaving AfD lawmakers as potentially the largest opposition grouping -- traditionally called on to head up scrutiny of government finances.

(AFP )

Pakistani police Tuesday arrested the key suspect accused of raping and murdering a young girl in a case that enraged the country and stoked fears a serial killer was preying on children in the city of Kasur.

The killing of six-year-old Zainab Fatima Ameen -- the 12th child found raped and murdered in Kasur within a two-kilometre radius in the last two years -- sparked riots, with thousands swarming police stations and setting fire to politicians' homes, accusing authorities of inaction.

(AFP )

Seven high-powered women dominate one stage while panellists elsewhere agonise over sexual harassment and pay inequality -- but despite efforts to redress the gender imbalance, Davos still remains a man's world.

After the #MeToo campaign gripped Hollywood in 2017, scrutiny turned to the World Economic Forum (WEF) this week to see whether the movement against sexual harassment and discrimination could conquer the business world too.

(AFP )

The far-right candidate in an Austrian state election was under pressure Tuesday following a magazine report about song lyrics celebrating the Holocaust and other Nazi atrocities.

According to the Falter weekly, Udo Landbauer of the Freedom Party (FPOe), which is in the national governing coalition, is deputy chair of a student fraternity behind a songbook containing the texts.

The left-leaning magazine reported the lyrics of one song reads: "In their midst comes the Jew Ben Gurion: 'Step on the gas, old Germanics, we can make it to seven million'."

(AFP )

Canada announced Tuesday it will sign on the Trans Pacific Partnership, moving to diversify its trade relationships as Canadian, US and Mexican negotiators kicked off a sixth round of talks on a 1994 free trade pact that Washington has threatened to dump.

Canada had initially balked at joining the proposed TPP last year, acting as the main holdout in negotiations after US President Donald Trump decided in early 2017 to go it alone under his "America First" policy.

(AFP )

Another potential challenger to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi appeared in danger Tuesday of dropping out of the election race after he was accused of breaking the law with his candidacy announcement.

The allegations against General Sami Anan, a former armed forces chief of staff, mean that Sisi seems to be heading towards the March polls with most of his possible rivals already out of the running.

The general command of the Egyptian armed forces, in a video posted on Facebook, accused Anan of crimes including forgery.

(AFP )

Nigeria's former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, on Tuesday called on the country's current leader not to seek a second term of office.

Obasanjo, who headed a military government in the 1970s and was Nigeria's first president when civilian rule was restored in 1999, said Muhammadu Buhari needed a "deserved rest".

With a nation increasingly divided, insecure and in an economic slump, to ask Nigerians to vote for Buhari for another four years was "unrealistic," Obasanjo argued.

(AFP )

The Turkish army on Tuesday clashed with Kurdish militia in Syria in an operation that has already left two of its soldiers dead, as the United States voiced alarm the offensive could endanger attempts to end the Syrian civil war.

Speaking at the funeral of the first of two Turkish soldiers to be killed so far in the four day cross-border campaign, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed that Ankara would emerge victorious.

(AFP )

Catalonia's ousted leader Carles Puigdemont asked Tuesday to return to Spain "without any risk" of being detained for his role in the independence drive despite Madrid warning he would not be let in "even in the boot of a car."

Speaking from Copenhagen on his first trip from Belgium where he now lives in self-exile, he said: "My intention in the coming days is to contribute to restoring democracy in order to respect election results."

(AFP )

Americans were among the dead and wounded in the weekend attack by Taliban gunmen on a Kabul luxury hotel, a State Department official said Tuesday.

"We can confirm that there were US citizen fatalities and injuries," the official said, without specifying how many Americans were involved.

‎"We offer our deepest condolences to the families and friends of those who were killed and wish for the speedy recovery of those wounded.

"Out of respect for the families of the deceased, we have no further comment."

(AFP )

Germany's Red Cross on Tuesday said it would end its search for missing persons from World War II in 2023, leaving the fate of 1.2 million people a mystery.

"We won't be able to shed light on their fates," the head of the German Red Cross's tracing service, Thomas Huber, told DPA news agency.

His office and the German interior ministry have agreed to halt efforts to determine what happened to the disappeared in five years' time, he said, 78 years after the end of the devastating war.

(AFP )

Dolores O'Riordan's duet of "Ave Maria" with Luciano Pavarotti rang out at her funeral on Tuesday as Ireland bade farewell to the Cranberries singer following her shock death aged 46.

Around 200 people, largely members of O'Riordan's family and close friends, gathered at Saint Ailbe's church in Ballybricken, outside the western city of Limerick.

Her mother, her three children, her six siblings and the other three members of the Cranberries were among the congregation.

(AFP )

Spain's interior minister said Tuesday that troops were on alert 24/7 to prevent sacked Catalan president Carles Puigdemont from sneaking home from exile even "in the boot of a car".

Charged with rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds, Puigdemont faces arrest if he returns to Spain over his role in Catalonia's independence drive. He has been living in Belgium in self-imposed exile since the end of October.

(AFP )

Myanmar blamed Bangladesh on Tuesday for delays to the start of a huge repatriation programme for Rohingya refugees, as the UN warned of the dangers of rushing their return to strife-torn Rakhine state.

Nearly 690,000 Rohingya escaped to Bangladesh after a brutal Myanmar army crackdown began in the state last August, while around 100,000 fled an earlier bout of violence in October 2016.

In signs the unrest was continuing despite the repatriation plans, Bangladesh officials said a huge fire burned and gunshots were heard in a village in Rakhine.

(AFP )

A former Gurkha soldier who lost both his legs in Afghanistan hit out Tuesday at new rules by the Nepal government that ban double amputees from climbing its mountains, dashing his Everest dreams.

Hari Budha Magar, 38, had been training hard in hopes of becoming the first above-the-knee double amputee to scale Mount Everest until his plans were scuppered by the law introduced in December.

The rules ban double amputee and blind climbers, a move that has drawn criticism from disability rights groups around the world.

(AFP )

Bangladesh officials said Tuesday a huge fire burned and gunshots were heard in a village across the border in Myanmar's conflict-scarred Rakhine state, where authorities want to return Rohingya refugees.

A "big fire" was seen raging late Monday in an abandoned village from Tombru, a frontier post in Cox's Bazar district, a senior Bangladeshi border guard told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The fire occurred the evening before Bangladesh was due to start repatriating hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees to Rakhine state under an agreement with Myanmar.

(AFP )

France braced for floods Tuesday as the Rhine threatened to overflow and the rapidly rising Seine forced Paris authorities to halt trains on a busy commuter line.

Heavy rains have lashed France for days, leaving 30 departments across the country on flood alert. Some towns and villages in the east are already inundated, leaving homes and shops filled with muddy water.

The Seine, running through the centre of the French capital, had already burst its banks in some places Monday, growing into a powerful muddy torrent that has submerged riverside parks and footpaths.

(AFP )

North Korea's figure skaters Ryom Tai-Ok and Kim Ju-Sik are "friendly and kind and a little bit shy", South Korea's Kim Kyueun said Tuesday ahead of their hugely anticipated Olympic appearance.

The skater is competing with her partner Alex Kam in the pairs competition against the North Koreans at the Four Continents championships in Taipei this week, where the North Korean duo have been closely guarded from journalists.

(AFP )

US Vice President Mike Pence visited Jerusalem's Western Wall, one of the holiest sites in Judaism, on Tuesday as he wrapped up a trip to the disputed city that Washington has declared Israel's capital.

Pence and his wife Karen visited the wall separately as required by the ultra-Orthodox Jewish authorities who govern the site under strict interpretation of religious law.

The vice president, wearing a black skullcap, inserted a piece of paper inside a crack in the ancient wall's stones in accordance with the tradition of leaving a prayer.

(AFP )

Egypt's military on Tuesday accused a former armed forces chief of staff who plans to stand in presidential elections in March of forgery and other crimes linked to his candidacy announcement.

The general command of the Egyptian armed forces made the allegations against General Sami Anan in a video posted on its official Facebook page.

It accused Anan of announcing his intention to run in the election "without getting the approval of the armed forces or following the required procedures to end his service in the military."