Thursday 21 September 2017

In the world

(AFP )

The UN Security Council on Thursday warned that a referendum on independence by Iraq's Kurdistan region was potentially destabilizing, adding its weight to international opposition to the vote.

In a unanimous statement, the 15-member council said the referendum planned for Monday could hinder efforts to help refugees return home and weaken the military campaign against the Islamic State group.

The move heightened pressure on Iraqi Kurd leaders to call off the vote after Turkey, Iran and Iraq urged them to abandon the plan that is also opposed by the United States.

(AFP )

Mexico waited anxiously on Thursday for signs of life in the rubble of collapsed buildings as a desperate search for survivors of a devastating earthquake entered a third day.

Authorities put the death toll from Tuesday's 7.1 magnitude quake at 272 people, with the number expected to rise.

Volunteer rescue workers who have been seeking survivors since Tuesday fought off growing fatigue to continue removing tons of rubble at dozens of flattened buildings in the capital and across several central states.

(AFP )

Bangladesh's prime minister on Thursday proposed creating UN-supervised safe zones inside Myanmar to protect Rohingya Muslims who are fleeing a military crackdown to seek refuge in her country.

"These people must be able to return to their homeland in safety, security and dignity," Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told the UN General Assembly.

The United Nations says more than 420,000 Rohingya have fled for safety to Bangladesh in the face of an army campaign in northern Rakhine state that includes rape and the burning of villages.

(AFP )

US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley tried to scotch speculation Thursday that she is gunning to become secretary of state, saying she is not interested in the role.

Facing questions about her political ambitions, the outspoken and charismatic diplomat said that "there is going to be chatter about things."

Asked if she wanted to be secretary of state, Haley gave a definitive-sounding "no I do not."

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's tenure at the State Department has been a rocky one, with diplomats uneasy at promised budget cuts and suffering low morale.

(AFP )

A frail, elderly woman wipes away tears as she takes in the harrowing sight: a bulletin board with the names of people still trapped in the rubble of one of the many buildings leveled in Mexico's killer earthquake.

Others at this particular scene of angst in the upscale Roma neighborhood of Mexico City are too upset to talk, even.

(AFP )

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe did not mince words at the United Nations Thursday about Donald Trump, mocking the US president as the "Giant Gold Goliath."

Addressing the UN General Assembly, where reproaches of other leaders are generally less personal in tone, the 93-year-old veteran leader took Trump to task both on policy and appearance.

"Some of us were," Mugabe said, pausing for emphasis, "embarrassed, if not frightened, by what appeared to be the return of the biblical Giant Gold Goliath."

(AFP )

A young girl supposedly trapped in the rubble of a Mexico City school toppled by a powerful quake this week never existed, officials said Thursday, denying accounts that had gripped all of Mexico and spurred international media attention.

"We are certain that she was not real," Angel Enrique Sarmiento, a top officer in the Mexican marines, told reporters.

"We never had knowledge" of the version relating to her, he asserted.

(AFP )

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un Friday mocked Donald Trump as "mentally deranged" -- and warned he will make the US president "pay dearly" for threatening the destruction of his country at the United Nations.

Kim lashed out after Trump stunned the world on Tuesday when he used his maiden UN General Assembly speech to warn the North that Washington would "totally destroy" it if the US or its allies were attacked.

(AFP )

European leaders braced on Friday for a speech by British Prime Minister Theresa May that is expected to spell out key positions on Brexit after wrangling and tension in her own government.

With the clock ticking ever faster towards Britain's departure from the EU on March 29, 2019, May's address in Florence, Italy seeks to break a deadlock in negotiations whose fourth round starts next week.

Among the many issues dividing the two sides, money dominates.

(AFP )

A private jet crashed on landing and burst into flames Thursday while making an emergency landing at Istanbul's main international airport, leaving four injured, officials said.

The incident forced the temporary closure of Ataturk International Airport and while it later reopened passengers were still experiencing delays.

Istanbul governor Vasip Sahin said the Cessna Citation plane had two pilots on board, one crew member and one passenger, all Turkish citizens.

(AFP )

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon expressed concern Thursday about the Spanish government's crackdown in Catalonia, as demonstrators gathered in Glasgow in support of self-determination.

Sturgeon was speaking after thousands of people took to the streets of Barcelona on Wednesday to protest against the detention of key members of the team organising an independence referendum for Catalonia set for October 1 which Madrid and Spanish courts say is illegal.

(AFP )

As Catalonia's independence referendum crisis deepens, EU officials are staying doggedly tight-lipped even as diplomats privately voice serious concern at a situation some regard as a challenge to fundamental European values.

The Catalan government's plans to hold a vote on October 1 in defiance of court orders ruling it illegal have triggered major protests in Barcelona and a major crackdown from Madrid.

(AFP )

Police in Oklahoma came under intense scrutiny Thursday for fatally shooting a deaf man who failed to respond to their commands, even as neighbors were alerting officers of the man's disability.

Officers went to the Oklahoma City home of Magdiel Sanchez looking for his father, who was involved in a hit-and-run car accident. They instead killed the 35-year-old who could neither hear nor speak, according to witnesses.

(AFP )

Declaring that Canada is "no land of wonders," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the United Nations on Thursday that his country was working to address failures in the treatment of its indigenous people.

Trudeau told the UN General Assembly that Canada's 1.2 million indigenous people had mostly known "humiliation, neglect and abuse" in a country often held up as shining example of diversity.

(AFP )

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday took an indirect swipe at the United States, telling the United Nations that "military hysteria" over North Korea's nuclear and missile tests would lead to "disaster."

"We resolutely condemn the nuclear and missile adventures of Pyongyang," Lavrov said, "but military hysteria is not just an impasse, it's disaster."

The foreign minister spoke to the UN General Assembly two days after US President Donald Trump threatened to "totally destroy" North Korea if it launches attacks on his country or its allies.

(AFP )

France will not attend the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang if the current international stand-off over North Korea's atomic weapons programme worsens and security cannot be guaranteed, the country's sports minister said Thursday.

"If this gets worse and we do not have our security assured, then our French team will stay here," Laura Flessel told RTL radio. "We will not put our team in danger."

(AFP )

Yemen's president on Thursday promised the United Nations to open the entire war-torn country to aid as millions of people are at risk of famine and cholera.

Addressing the United Nations, President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi urged international pressure on Huthi rebels who control the capital Sanaa and also appealed for greater humanitarian assistance.

"We in the Yemeni government are ready to provide all facilitation so that humanitarian assistance can reach anywhere in Yemen, and also the areas under the control of the Huthis," he told the General Assembly.

(AFP )

Hurricane Maria left more than 15 people dead in hard-hit Dominica, the small Caribbean island's Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit announced on Thursday.

The toll from Dominica brings the overall number of confirmed deaths caused by Hurricane Maria to 18, including two in Guadeloupe and one in Puerto Rico.

"So far, we would have buried in excess of 15 people," Skerrit told a television network of Antigua and Barbuda, a neighboring country.

"If there (are) no other fatalities, it is a miracle," he said.

(AFP )

NATO's chief on Thursday backed sending UN peacekeepers to Ukraine but said the force should operate throughout the zone of violence which Western powers say is backed by Russia.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov of Russia, which has proposed a limited UN mission.

"I welcome the proposal to have UN peacekeeping forces in Ukraine," the head of the Western military alliance told a group of reporters after his meeting.

(AFP )

Slovakia plans to increase its military budget to the NATO target of two percent of gross domestic product by 2024, according to an official document released Thursday.

The NATO and EU member state of 5.4 million people currently allocates 1.16 percent of its GDP to defence.

Slovakia "expects to increase the budget of the defence ministry to 1.6 percent of GDP in 2020 and 2.0 percent of GDP in 2024," the document said.

Defence Minister Peter Gajdos told reporters that reaching 2.0 percent would enable the country to "realise our commitment from the NATO summits."

(AFP )

The EU agreed Thursday on new sanctions against North Korea, diplomatic sources told AFP, as the international community steps up efforts to punish the pariah state for its nuclear weapons programme.

The bloc has agreed a new package of measures, including a ban on investments in North Korea and on European Union exports of oil, the sources said on condition of anonymity.

EU members also want to blacklist more North Korean individuals and entities, a move that would freeze their assets in the bloc and ban them from entering its territory.

(AFP )

Mexico waited anxiously on Thursday for signs of life in the rubble of collapsed buildings as a desperate search for survivors of a devastating earthquake entered a third day.

Authorities put the death toll following Tuesday's 7.1 magnitude quake at more than 250 people, with the number expected to rise.

Rescue workers scrabbled to remove tons of rubble at dozens of flattened buildings in the capital and across several central states.

But time is running out. Experts say the average survival time in such conditions and depending on injuries is 72 hours.

(AFP )

A top Saudi relief official called Thursday for Myanmar to take back Rohingya refugees and let them live in peace.

Dr. Abdullah al-Rabeeah, former health minister and now leading the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre, said major global powers need to press Myanmar to stop its violent expulsion of the Muslim ethnic minority into Bangladesh.

(AFP )

The United States said Thursday it will spend another $575 million dollars to help the millions facing starvation and violence amid wars and unrest in Yemen, South Sudan, Nigeria, and Somalia.

"This additional funding brings the total US humanitarian assistance to nearly $2.5 billion for these four crises since the beginning of Fiscal Year 2017," the US Agency for International Development announced.

(AFP )

Supporters of Hassan Diab, a Canadian professor suspected in a deadly 1980 attack on a Paris synagogue, asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Thursday to encourage French authorities to release him.

"We urge you to intervene and bring Hassan home," said a letter to Trudeau signed by more than 600 people and organizations.

A petition delivered to the Canadian parliament calling for his release was also signed by thousands more.

Diab, 63, has been in pre-trial detention in France since being extradited from Canada in November 2014 and charged with the attack.

(AFP )

A Frenchman who allegedly shot dead four people at a Jewish museum in Brussels was denied medical care in prison for a suspected brain tumour and is unfit for trial, his lawyers said Thursday.

Mehdi Nemmouche, who allegedly carried out the May 2014 jihadist attack at the museum in Brussels, will refuse to appear at his trial if treatment is denied, lawyer Sebastien Courtoy told reporters.

Nemmouche, held in solitary confinement in a Belgian prison for three years, is exhibiting symptoms of "a brain tumour."

(AFP )

The translator of "Harry Potter" and a Congolese priest are but some of the 2,200 residents in the Catalan town of L'Esquirol, the region's most enthusiastically separatist town.

And they are determined to vote in an independence referendum in Catalonia slated for October 1 deemed illegal by Madrid.

During Catalonia's last regional election in 2015, pro-separatist parties captured 91.6 percent of the vote in L'Esquirol, which is nestled in the middle of corn fields some 90 kilometres (55 miles) north of Barcelona and is home to around 2,200 people.

(AFP )

Anonymous threatening letters in Arabic containing white powder and razor blades have been sent to German Chancellor Angela Merkel's home and other politicians before Sunday's election, police said.

First analysis of the substance suggested it was harmless soda powder, police said Thursday.

The text contained spelling errors, raising doubt whether it was sent by Islamists or far-right activists trying to stoke fear, said one of the recipients, Greens party lawmaker Hans-Christian Stroebele.

(AFP )

Bangladesh said Thursday it had treated more than 2,350 Rohingya refugees for serious injuries sustained during ethnic violence in Myanmar, including bullet and machete wounds and trauma from landmines.

About 422,000 refugees from the stateless Muslim minority have fled Myanmar's westernmost Rakhine State since August 25, overwhelming camps along the border ill-prepared for an influx of desperate civilians.

(AFP )

Syrian fighters backed by US special forces were on Thursday clearing the last remaining Islamic State group jihadists from their Syrian bastion Raqa, a monitor said.

"The Syrian Democratic Forces and American special forces began a mopping up operation in Raqa," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The Britain-based monitor said jihadists were still hiding in underground shelters in a part of the city centre, where a football stadium and former government buildings are located.

(AFP )

A large majority of Muslims in Europe feel closely connected to the country they live in and trust public institutions despite facing "widespread discrimination", a study suggested Thursday.

The findings come ahead of elections in Germany on Sunday and in Austria next month when rightwing parties critical of Muslim immigration are expected to perform well.

(AFP )

US efforts to train Afghanistan's security forces are being hampered by slapdash instruction, shoddy oversight and failures in governance, a watchdog warned Thursday as America sends thousands more troops to the war-torn nation.

American assistance to the Afghan army and police has topped $70 billion since efforts to build the security forces began following the 2001 US-led invasion, but 16 years later they are still struggling to contain a Taliban-led insurgency.

(AFP )

The European Union's chief Brexit negotiator said Thursday there could be a quick deal on the conditions of Britain's departure as he urged London to table new proposals next week.

"I am convinced that a rapid agreement on the conditions of the UK's orderly withdrawal, and a transition period, is possible," former French minister Michel Barnier told an Italian parliamentary commission in Rome.

"For that to happen, we would like the United Kingdom to put on the table, as soon as next week, proposals to overcome the barriers."

(AFP )

The UN Security Council on Thursday unanimously decided to set up an investigation team to collect evidence on the massacres of Iraq's Yazidi minority and other atrocities committed by the Islamic State group in Iraq.

Britain drafted the resolution to help bring perpetrators of IS war crimes to justice -- a cause championed by international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, who was present for the vote.

The Lebanese-British lawyer represents Yazidi women who were taken hostage and used as sex slaves by IS as it swept into Iraq's Sinjar region in August 2014.

(AFP )

An attack on an aid shipment in Myanmar's violence-wracked Rakhine state and a deadly Red Cross truck crash in Bangladesh on Thursday hampered desperately needed relief efforts for Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution.

Communal tensions remain high across Rakhine where raids by Rohingya militants at the end of last month sparked a massive army crackdown, driving more than 420,000 people into Bangladesh in what the UN has called a campaign of "ethnic cleansing".