Friday 19 January 2018

In the world

(AFP )

Pope Francis sounded a stark warning about the future of the Amazon and its peoples during a visit to the region on Friday, saying they had "never been so threatened."

In a speech to thousands of tribe members on the edge of the rainforest in Peru, he said the Amazon and its peoples bore "deep wounds."

Francis lamented "the pressure being exerted by great business interests that want to lay hands on its petroleum, gas, lumber, gold and forms of agro-industrial monocultivation."

He later highlighted the "endless violence" endured by the region's women.

(AFP )

Mobile phone access was partially restored in war-torn eastern Ukraine on Friday after it was lost more than a week ago, the last major Ukrainian provider in the area said.

Almost two million people lost mobile connection in the devastated region after a Vodafone Ukraine fibre optic line was cut on January 11 as a result of fighting.

The provider sought to restore service after its workers had received security assurances from the warring parties in a conflict that has claimed more than 10,000 lives in nearly four years.

(AFP )

Tourist hotspots in Mexico's Baja California Peninsula were shaken Friday by a 6.3 magnitude earthquake -- but no injuries or damage were reported, authorities said.

The epicenter was located in the Gulf of California, 76 kilometers northeast of Loreto, a small city in the state of Baja California Sur, the National Seismological Service said.

"There are no reports of people being affected or material damage," Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto posted on Twitter.

(AFP )

French President Emmanuel Macron said Friday that his ambitious EU plans to reform the European Union need German backing, as Chancellor Angela Merkel gears up for a crucial vote on forming a new coalition government.

"Our ambition cannot come to fruition alone," Macron told a joint press conference with Merkel before talks in Paris. "It needs to come together with Germany's ambition."

Merkel's immediate focus is domestic, with her political future on the line after more than 12 years in power.

(AFP )

Unions representing staff on the Paris metro staged strikes on Friday to denounce rising crime linked to crack and heroin use on the network.

The CGT and SUD unions called for the walkout to protest the increasing presence of drug addicts at stations on the northern end of the lines 4 and 12.

Some conductors have resorted to skipping stations to avoid groups of users and dealers on the platforms, worried about them confronting their passengers.

"Employees and passengers are angry, exasperated and can't put up with it anymore," the CGT union said in a statement.

(AFP )

French President Emmanuel Macron said Friday that his ambitious EU plans to reform the European Union needed German backing, as Chancellor Angela Merkel gears up for a crucial vote on forming a new coalition.

"Our ambition cannot come to fruition alone," Macron told a joint press conference with Merkel before talks in Paris. "It needs to come together with Germany's ambition."

On Sunday, some 600 delegates from Germany's Social Democrat (SPD) party will be asked to give the green light to a preliminary coalition agreement reached with Merkel's conservatives last week.

(AFP )

The funeral of Cranberries singer Dolores O'Riordan, who died suddenly in London this week, will take place near Limerick, Ireland on Tuesday, the church where she will be buried said Friday.

"The Funeral Mass for the late Dolores O'Riordan... former member of the Cranberries will take place in the Church of Saint Ailbe, Ballybricken, at 11.30am on Tuesday 23 January followed by private family burial," the church announced.

(AFP )

Greece on Friday won a green light for more bailout cash from its eurozone creditors after pushing through a wave of controversial reforms that drew angry strikes and protests earlier this week.

A meeting of senior officials from the 19 countries that make up the single currency bloc rubber-stamped the reforms, which will now go to finance ministers on Monday for a formal decision to disburse bailout loans.

(AFP )

Russia's foreign minister on Friday described a new US national defense strategy as "confrontational" after Washington singled out China and Russia as growing threats.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov rejected US suggestions that China and Russia were undermining international efforts to strengthen global security.

(AFP )

An Australian man, one of 17 people injured when a car crashed into a crowd at Rio de Janeiro's Copacabana beach, was in a serious condition Friday, health officials said.

A nine-month-old baby girl was killed when a man having an epileptic seizure crashed his car into the tourist-packed crowd.

The 68-year-old Australian was among 10 people still in hospital on Friday, most suffering multiple fractures after the accident, a statement from the Rio de Janeiro health secretariat said.

(AFP )

President Donald Trump heaped pressure on Democrats Friday to yield in an acrimonious budget showdown that threatens to shut down the US government when money runs out at midnight -- a year to the day after the Republican president took office.

The Senate's top Democrat, Chuck Schumer, arrived at the White House in the early afternoon for 11th hour talks with Trump on averting a shutdown, but there were no obvious sign of a breakthrough.

"Shutdown coming?" Trump tweeted as the day began, seeming to revel in the chaotic, high-stakes brinksmanship unfolding on Capitol Hill.

(AFP )

Former president Dilma Rousseff said Friday Brazil will be ungovernable if a court decision due next week blocks Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva from running in October polls, and upholds his corruption conviction.

"Any government that assumes power by winning the 2018 elections, without a transparent and correct electoral process, without maneuvres to invalidate candidates -- as in Lula's case -- will not be able to govern this country," Rousseff told AFP in an interview.

(AFP )

Russian police searching a suspect's home for a weapons stash in the northwestern city of Saint Petersburg were surprised to encounter a large crocodile living in the basement, city police said Friday.

Officers were inspecting a property owned by a man suspected in a case of illegal arms possession and trafficking in Petergof, a suburb of Saint Petersburg famous for its tsarist palace.

"In the basement of the house, the officers uncovered a crocodile," the police statement said.

(AFP )

Turkey on Friday started fresh shelling of the Syrian town of Afrin in a move to oust a US-backed Kurdish militia that Ankara considers "terrorists" and vowed to press on with a full-scale operation against them.

The Turkish government has repeatedly warned it will strike Syrian towns controlled by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia, including Afrin, after the US said it was training a 30,000-strong border force there.

"The Afrin operation will take place," Defence Minister Nurettin Canikli told A Haber television.

(AFP )

A recent arson attack on Russian rights group Memorial and the arrest of its Chechnya head are the latest steps by Chechen authorities to quash dissent as strongman Ramzan Kadyrov's influence continues to grow, activists and observers told AFP.

It has become "practically impossible" for rights workers to do their job in the region, said Oleg Orlov, a member of Memorial rights centre.

The group's office in Ingushetia, which borders Chechnya, was torched Wednesday in an arson attack.

(AFP )

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Friday that America is facing "growing threats" from China and Russia, and warned that the US military's advantages have eroded in recent years.

Mattis's assessment came as he unveiled the Pentagon's vision for the future detailed in a document called the national defense strategy.

"We face growing threats from revisionist powers as different as China and Russia, nations that seek to create a world consistent with their authoritarian models," Mattis said as he unveiled the unclassified section of the document.

(AFP )

US forces in Somalia said Friday that four Al-Shabaab militants were killed in an airstrike as part of the ongoing offensive against the jihadist rebels.

The US Africa Command said the strike took place on Thursday in southern Somalia, around 50 kilometers (30 miles) northwest of the port city of Kismayo.

Africa Command did not provide details on the attack, which it said was undertaken "in coordination with the Federal Government of Somalia."

But it said no civilians were killed.

(AFP )

The Czech parliament on Friday stripped billionaire Prime Minister Andrej Babis of immunity as a lawmaker, allowing the police to investigate his alleged role in EU subsidy fraud from 2007.

"The decision was adopted," said deputy parliament speaker Tomio Okamura in a 111-69 vote.

Police have charged Babis with fraud, alleging the 63-year-old Slovak-born chemicals, food and media tycoon pulled his Stork Nest farm out of his sprawling Agrofert holding to make it eligible for an EU small-company subsidy before eventually putting it back in the holding.

(AFP )

China's Communist Party proposed on Friday to engrave President Xi Jinping's guiding philosophy in the country's constitution, further cementing his status as its most powerful leader in decades.

Xi's eponymous "thought" was already enshrined in the Communist Party constitution at the 19th Party Congress in October, elevating him to the same status as modern China's founder Mao Zedong.

The architect of China's economic reforms, Deng Xiaoping, is the only other leader whose name appears alongside his guiding principle in both the state and party constitutions.

(AFP )

A quarter of a century after Greece saw an unprecedented million-strong march in its name row with Macedonia, nationalists are trying to whip up similar sentiment amid a new push to solve the festering issue.

Athens argues that its neighbour's name -- adopted after the Balkan country won independence in 1991 -- suggests that Skopje also has territorial claims to the northern Greek region of Macedonia.

The region boasts the important port cities of Thessaloniki and Kavala and was the centre of Alexander the Great's ancient kingdom, a source of Greek pride.

(AFP )

French President Emmanuel Macron said Friday that the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq would be defeated militarily "in the coming weeks," as he laid out plans for bolstering France's defence capabilities.

"Today, thanks to the efforts of all the nations involved, the Daesh military organisation in the Levant is almost completely defeated," Macron said in a speech aboard a helicopter carrier in the southern port of Toulon, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

"I'm confident that in the coming weeks we will achieve a military victory on the ground," he said.

(AFP )

Chechen police raided the office of human rights group Memorial on Friday for the third time this week in connection to the internationally condemned arrest of its director, the group said in a statement.

The North Caucasus republic ruled by strongman Ramzan Kadyrov arrested local Memorial director Oyub Titiyev last week on alleged drug possession charges that activists say are bogus.

"On the morning of January 19, employees of the Chechen police came to the Grozny Memorial office," Memorial's statement said.

(AFP )

News that Jacinda Ardern will juggle the prime ministership of New Zealand with starting a family was hailed Friday as another milestone for women in politics.

Here are some of the others:

- Women get the vote -

New Zealand has a track record of being progressive on women's issues -- in 1893 it became the first country to give women the right to vote. Australia extended the franchise in 1902.

Major powers of the era followed later, with the United States granting women the vote nationally in 1920. Women in Britain had to wait until 1928.

(AFP )

Foreign minister Boris Johnson floated the idea of building a bridge between Britain and France, during a meeting with President Emmanuel Macron, the French leader's office said Friday.

Johnson made the radical suggestion during Thursday's Franco-British summit near London, a source in the French presidency said, prompting reactions ranging from polite diplomatic putdowns to bemusement to scorn.

The Daily Telegraph reported him telling the French leader that it was "ridiculous" that the neighbours were "linked by a single railway".

(AFP )

Bayern Munich coach Jupp Heynckes has backed the decision by Bundesliga rivals Borussia Dortmund to drop star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang amid reports he is chasing a move to Arsenal.

Aubameyang was again omitted from the Dortmund squad for Friday's German league clash at Hertha Berlin having also been suspended by Borussia head coach Peter Stoeger for last Sunday's goalless draw at home to Wolfsburg.

The 28-year-old has hit 13 goals in 15 league games this season, scoring 21 times in 23 matches in all competitions.

(AFP )

A Taiwanese businessman who has been investigated and sanctioned by authorities on suspicion of selling oil to North Korea attempted suicide on Friday, prosecutors said.

Chen Shih-hsien was rushed to hospital in southern Kaohsiung city where he lives and was later discharged.

"We are aware of Chen's attempted suicide. We will consider his health state before deciding on the date for his next questioning," said Ke Kuang-hui, a spokesman for the Kaohsiung district prosecutor's office.

(AFP )

India's top court on Friday upheld the acquittal of a Bollywood director accused of raping an American research scholar in a case that has sparked intense debate about consent in a country with high levels of sexual violence.

Mahmood Farooqui was initially found guilty of rape in 2016, but the Delhi high court last year overturned the conviction on appeal, ruling the incident had been consensual.

(AFP )

An Iraqi teenager on Friday pleaded not guilty to allegations he was behind the attempted bombing of a London underground train last year which left 30 people injured.

Ahmed Hassan, 18, is facing charges of attempted murder and causing an explosion over the September 15 attack at Parsons Green station.

Wearing a purple jumper, Hassan appeared at the London court by video link from prison.

The blast, which occurred during rush hour, inflicted flash burns on passengers, while others were injured in the subsequent panic to escape the packed London Underground train.

(AFP )

Vienna is marking 100 years since the death of a string of luminaries from its fin-de-siecle glory days with an avalanche of exhibitions of modernist art, design and architecture that still inspire and shock today.

The year 1918 did not only mark defeat in World War I and the end of the Austro-Hungarian empire but also saw artists Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele and Koloman Moser and architect Otto Wagner pass away.

(AFP )

Peter Mayle, who wrote the best-selling novel "A Year In Provence", has died at the age of 78, his publishers announced.

Following a short illness, the British author died on Thursday in a hospital near his beloved home in southern France, publishing house Alfred A. Knopf said.

"A Year In Provence", his memoir about his first 12 months after relocating to the south of France, was released in 1990 with an initial print run of 3,000.

(AFP )

Catalonia's former leader Carles Puigdemont, who was sacked by Madrid over his attempt to break from Spain, said Friday he can govern the region from Belgium where he is in self-exile as he eyes a comeback after scoring big in elections.

"There are only two options: in prison I would not be able to address people, write, meet people," Puigdemont, who risks arrest on charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds if he returns to Spain, told Catalunya Radio.

"The only way is to continue doing it freely and safely."

(AFP )

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has released new age-progressed images of four suspects in the deadly hijacking of a Pan Am plane in the Pakistani city of Karachi in 1986.

Twenty passengers and crew, including two US citizens, were killed on September 5 that year when the hijackers took control of Frankfurt-bound Pan Am flight 73 for some 16 hours during a stopover in the southern port megacity.

It came to an end when the hijackers opened fire on passengers and crew, causing Pakistani commandos to storm the plane.

(AFP )

French police fired tear gas to break up a picket line of striking prison guards outside Europe's biggest prison on Friday as unions pressed a fourth day of strikes across France over security concerns.

The scuffles took place outside the Fleury-Merogis facility just south of Paris as prison guards protested after a string of brutal attacks that have focused a spotlight on security problems and radicalisation inside often overcrowded French facilities.

(AFP )

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa wants international observers including UN officials to watch over the country's upcoming elections, he said in a Financial Times interview.

Mnangagwa has adopted a more diplomatic tone since taking over as leader in November, after the ousting of the authoritarian Robert Mugabe, his former boss.

After announcing earlier this week that elections will be held in four to five months, the new president invited international observers to Zimbabwe for the vote.

(AFP )

A teenage boy injured six people, five of them minors, in an axe attack in a Siberian classroom on Friday, local authorities said, days after 15 were injured in a knife fight at another Russian school.

Investigators said the boy, thought to be 15 or 16, carried out the attack in a class of children aged around 12 or 13 in the city of Ulan-Ude near the Mongolian border.

He also set the classroom on fire with a bottle of fuel, before jumping out of the window.